Thursday, November 1, 2018

Two Treats -- No Tricks -- for Halloween!

The signs of Halloween have been hard to miss. Decorations on doorsteps. Thriving Halloween pop-up shops. Costume parades at many preschools and elementary schools this week. Tonight was finally the night for many of us to hover behind our doors, waiting for the bell to ring so we could be charmed by all those darling costumes and all those little voices reciting "Trick or Treat!"

Well, here are two treats of a different kind, delivered straight to your computer screens this Halloween evening...or perhaps a day or so later by the time some of you read this.

The first treat is a short, playful poem I wrote to capture the spirit of Halloween, at least from the perspective of young children, many of whom are all about dressing up and trick or treating with friends...

Ghosts and goblins. 
Wicked witches.
Frankensteins with
Monster stiches.

Friends with frightful
Faces meet…

Knock. Knock. 
Who’s there? 

Trick or treat!

The second treat is the new picture book Monster Boogie by Laurie Berkner and Ben Clanton. In addition to being an author, Laurie is a singer and songwriter with many a catchy tune for young children under her belt. Monster Boogie is actually one of her songs turned into a book!

The big purple monster you see on the cover of the book does the "monster boogie" and the "monster wiggle" with a young brother-and-sister duo all "round the room." As you'll see from the following YouTube video of Laurie singing the song for a group of children in monster masks, it is very infectious! This book is perfect for getting kids moving -- at home, during story time at the library, or in a dance class. And don't forget to play the song after reading the book to really get the kids moving around your room! 

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

"Favorite Things" & Giveaway for Diva Delores!

Diva Delores is a big seal, with an even bigger ego, who's finally graduated from the opera chorus to center stage. But she's a little too full of herself to admit she might need help preparing for her new role. Fernando is a tiny, ultra-cute mouse who has all the knowledge and talent to help Delores succeed. But will she let him?

Welcome to the final stop on the blog tour for Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse by Laura Sassi and Rebecca Gerlings! Told in humorous verse with illustrations bursting with personality, Diva Delores is one of my favorite new picture books. So this post is going to be all about favorites! It includes:

  • Illustrator Rebecca Gerlings' and author Laura Sassi's favorite parts of working on the book
  • My favorite things about the book -- written as a poem to be recited to the tune of "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music
  • A **GIVEAWAY** courtesy of publisher Sterling Books (U.S. and Canadian addresses only)

Thanks, also, to Sterling for letting me include a couple spreads from the book in this post.

There's a lot to cover, so let's get started!


What was your favorite part of illustrating this story?

My favorite part of illustrating a picture book is always the character development. It's brilliant fun to bring characters to life and imbue them with personality. And what wonderful personalities Delores and Fernando are! (My second favorite part was choosing the color palette -- I hope it conveys the richness and old-world glamour of an opera theatre.)

Do you have a favorite stanza or stanzas from the book?

I particularly enjoyed illustrating the stanzas where Delores was huffing and tantrumming! It meant I could really go to town with her body language and accentuate the contrast between the two characters' personalities for added humor. Having young children means I have a lot of first-hand experience of temper tantrums to draw inspiration from...

The cast and the maestro
were greatly relieved,
but Diva Delores, 
quite frankly, was peeved. 

She bellowed and bawled.
"You helped me, it's true,
but a mouse help a diva?
That simply won't do!"


What was your favorite part of writing this story?

My favorite part of writing this story, once I had settled upon the story's structure in terms of meter and rhyme, was to play with plot and wording until the story sang! And I love Rebecca's response to the illustrator's version of this question, because for me, too, it was loads of fun (and hard work) to really develop Delores' and Fernando's characters and to think about what made each one tick...and how to convey that within the framework of a rhyming text. It was a truly joyful moment for me when I had the idea to add the varying "Tra-la-la-las" at the end of the certain spreads to convey Delores' inner mindset, and eventually, her growth. Once I added that element, I knew the manuscript was getting close to submissions stage.

Do you have a favorite illustration from the book? 

This is an extremely difficult question because I am smitten with each and every one of Rebecca's charming illustrations! However, since story beginnings are very important in capturing and keeping the reader's attention, I think I will choose the opening spread. By using opposite background colors (gray and white) for this spread, Rebecca cleverly and effectively sets up from the outset the very different life goals and perspectives of Diva Delores and that adorable opera house mouse, Fernando. 

Fernando loved chocolate
and cheese on dry toast,
and popcorn and gumdrops,
but what he liked most...

was feasting on Mozart, 
Puccini, and Strauss,
and lending a paw 
at the Old Opera House.

Delores loved glamour and
spotlights and praise.
She longed to be showered 
with fragrant bouquets.

Now here was her chance, 
after years in the chorus,
to take center stage and be 
Diva Delores!

I feel compelled to add that I also love the glorious joy of the spread where Rebecca depicts Delores and Fernando singing on stage, but I don't want to spoil the story, so I don't want to comment too much on that one. Please note, however, that this is the spread that I have chosen to have framed so it can join the collection on the special wall in my house that showcases illustrated spreads from each of my published books.

What a wonderful idea to have a special wall in your house to "house" some of your favorite illustrations! I ADORE the spread you are speaking of and hope that our readers will buy the book -- or enter our giveaway -- so they can see it, too. But if they just can't wait, they should go to stop seven on the blog tour, at KidLit411, to see the spread :)


Diva Delores
A mouse named Fernando
One knows what pride is and one knows glissando
Red and gold artwork and verse that all sings
These are a few of my favorite things

Pink fluffy wig that looks fab on Delores
Unlikely friendship
And tra-la-la chorus
Sparkly gold cover that's worthy of kings
These are a few of my favorite things

When the book's done
When I close it
When I just can't grin
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I must read again


Now it's your turn to talk about favorites. You can enter the giveaway for one copy of Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse by leaving a comment on this post that mentions one of your favorites related to the opera. It can be your favorite opera, your favorite song from an opera, your favorite experience at an opera, or anything else along those lines. I, for instance, might say that my favorite part of going to the opera is seeing the dancers! (Had to get dance into this post somehow :)

If I might not know how to contact you, please leave an email address or link to your social media site. One lucky winner will get picked randomly one week from today -- on April 17 at 11:59 pm EST. Good luck!!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Poetry Friday: Wintry Night

It's been a while since I've posted here, and even longer since I've participated in Poetry today is a doubly good day! Thanks to Raincity Librarian for hosting the roundup and to all you poetry lovers out there for participating.  

Officially, winter is still pretty far away. But the shorter days and more frequent cloud coverage are certainly making it feel like winter. The newfound darkness has also affected my spirits, as I have to admit I was in a bit of a fog last week. Luckily I started adjusting toward the end of the week, and inspiration slowly crept back in. Ahhh...what a comforting feeling.

On Sunday afternoon, I turned on our gas fireplace for a true wintry experience--with my computer in my lap of course. While I was fireside with our dog, reminiscing warmly about the fires and fireplaces of my childhood, the following poem came to be. It's less playful than the poems I usually write for the littlest of tots, and is perhaps for a slightly older audience, so I wasn't quite sure what to do with it. This seemed like a good place to put it.

Even though the poem relays a moment of stillness, I'm still posting it here on my blog, which emphasizes movement and dance. Moments of stillness can be integral to telling the story of a dance or relaying the emotion of a piece of choreography. This is also a reminder that amid the chaos of the upcoming holiday season, don't forget to enjoy your own little moments of stillness!

Found this after I wrote the poem. So perfect!
Art by Tom Woods for Puzzle Warehouse

Wintry Night

Crackle crackle
Orange light
Burning embers
Wintry night

Nuzzle nuzzle
Furry friends
Snuggle closer
Stirring ends

Drifting drifting
Wondrous dreams
Just as purrr-fect
As it seems...

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Imagination Abounds in The Green Umbrella

I'm honored and excited today to be the last stop on the blog tour for the new picture book The Green Umbrella, written by debut author Jackie Azúa Kramer and illustrated by the talented Maral Sassouni. As a special treat, after you read this post, head over to Maria's Movers to read dance educator Maria Hanley's ideas for incorporating movement into a reading of this imaginative and heartwarming book!

We've lived in northern California for about three and a half years, and it's rained more in the past two months than it has in all the other months we've lived here combined. That's a lot of much-needed rain for California...and why I especially appreciate the timing of The Green Umbrella's publication by NorthSouth Books. Given that this is the rainy (or snowy) season in many parts of the country and even some parts of the world, I'm sure I'm not the only one who can relate to the opening scene of the book...

One rainy day an Elephant was taking a walk with his green umbrella.

Hopefully the children who read this book (or who have it read to them) will also relate to how imaginative the characters in the book are. Besides the elephant, there's a hedgehog, a cat, a bear, and an old rabbit -- and each has a different idea of what the green umbrella actually is.

Along came a Hedgehog.
"Excuse me," said the Hedgehog. "I believe you have my boat."
"Your what?" asked the Elephant.

The hedgehog thinks the umbrella's a boat, the cat says it's a tent, the bear is sure it's his flying machine, and the old rabbit is convinced it's a cane. It's not clear if the animals actually believe the umbrella is the objects they mention, or whether they are just being imaginative. But honestly, it doesn't really matter, and therein lies the beauty of this book. Children, after all, play with their stuffed animals as if they are alive, and some even have imaginary friends. Who are we to tell them what is real and what is not, when their minds are so active and their inner worlds so rich.

Through the imagination of illustrator Maral Sassouni, several little mice also appear and re-appear throughout the book, carrying warm-colored umbrellas of their own to contrast nicely with the cool green of the elephant's umbrella. Young children are so good at picking up all the artistic details in picture books, so I'm sure they'll enjoy searching for, and maybe even counting, all the mice they see.

In addition to being imaginative in its writing and illustration, The Green Umbrella is likely to spark the imaginations of its readers. You could help this process along by asking a young reader "What else could we use a green umbrella for?" Or you could brainstorm other everyday objects such as, let's say, a cooking pot. You could ask the reader to think about what else a cooking pot could be. A baseball cap? A drum? A bed for a small animal? The possibilities are endless!

This book could also be a great springboard for creating movement. I can imagine preschoolers or a class of young dancers moving as if they are boats, tents, or flying machines. I'm sure Maria Hanley from Maria's Movers has some other great ideas for movement, which you can check out here.

And even though this post focuses on imagination, The Green Umbrella also includes strong themes of friendship and generosity -- all of which you can see in this fantastic book trailer. Watch the trailer, pick up a copy of the book, and let your imagination soar along with it!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Deer Dancer Offers Inspiration

Wednesday morning was difficult for many, including me and the other three writers staying at the Wellstone Center in the Redwoods this week. Just after 9 am that day, to help clear our minds, we embarked on a one-hour hike through the trail just behind the center...

As we wound through the old, towering trees, climbing up and down the small inclines along the trail, we tried to steer our conversation away from politics. We also stopped to enjoy the scenery when it inspired us, especially taking notice of scattered rays of light streaming through the trees. It was exactly what we needed that morning, and exactly why I think we all came to the writing center -- to disconnect from our everyday lives, reconnect with our inner selves, and re-ignite our creativity and dare I say faith -- faith not only in the creative process but, as it turns out, in humanity as well.

The trees along the trail and the accompanying inspiration reminded me of the picture book Deer Dancer by Mary Lyn Ray and Lauren Stringer, which I brought with me to the writing center in hopes that I would find a good place and time to blog about it. There couldn't be a better place and time than here and now.

There's a place I go that's
green and grass, 
a place I thought that no one knew --

As you can see from the very poetic, opening lines of the book, the main character has a special place she likes to go for solitude -- a place not unlike the trail we hiked on Wednesday. And, as we found inspiration in the light shining through the trees on the trail, the little girl finds inspiration from a chance encounter with a deer...

I stayed still 
as he came nearer, nearer
until he was so close
I could almost have touched him.

He looked at me. I looked at him. 

As the book continues, we follow the girl to her ballet class and then back out to the special place where she first saw the deer. The deer returns, and the girl watches the way it lowers its antlers, grazes, and leaps and turns around her. Remembering how her dance teacher had told her to "hold your head as if you're wearing antlers," "listen with your cheekbones," and "look with the eyes in your shoulders," the girl responds to the deer's movements over and over. When the deer finally leaves, the girl realizes she had gotten lost in the inspiration the deer provided and found her own dance. The creative process had prevailed!

I hope that this week and in the coming weeks and months we can all find inspiration, and that we can re-ignite our faith -- faith not only in the creative process but, as it turns out, in humanity as well. 

Thanks to publisher Beach Lane Books for sending a review copy of Deer Dancer to me oh so long ago. Read one of my favorite other reviews of the book at What to Read to Your Kids.
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