No Passive Learning Here - WORDPLAY!

WORDPLAY makes grammar studies seem like a day at the waterpark. It is such fun! Author Adam Lehrhaupt personified parts of speech then placed them on a playground to do what kids do. Play hard. Get a little jealous. Bicker a bit. Jockey for social ranking. Take up for each other. And, eventually become good friends. Adam nailed it.

Even though illustrator Jared Chapman’s brilliant use of bright primary and secondary colors suggest that the book is suited only for the very young, I think WORDPLAY is beneficial for any student – young or old – who struggles with the fundamentals of grammar. Teachers, WORDPLAY needs to be on your shelves. Trust me on this one. For real.

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The projects in the Discussion/Activity Guide compliment the active spirit of the story. No passive worksheet coloring in this one. That just wouldn’t be right. Instead, we’ve got kids up and at ‘em, rocking and rolling word cubes, embodying Adam’s personifications by dramatizing the grammatical structure of silly sentences in true Mad Libs fashion. Fun. Fun. Fun.

Character Cards serve to keep the crazy cast members somewhat orderly. These cards are simple to make and are super handy when lining up young actors to participate in an impromptu performance. The WORDPLAY character cards are labeled and color-coded to represent each role.  All a teacher needs to do is trim around the borders, punch a couple of holes in designated spots, and then secure a bit of yarn on the card to create a hanging tag.  Kids love these things. Teachers will, too.

If you’d rather have your students make their own Character Cards, click here to download blank copies. Use them to create a cast for Reader’s Theater productions, imaginative play activities, and anything else you might think of. Let the kids illustrate them; choosing colors and shapes that best represent their characters’ true nature.

No passive worksheet coloring, right? Never! Instead, taking Adam and Jared's lead, let’s make word play lively and fun!

I Geeked Out on This Guide, Big Time - GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE

Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code is an inspirational story about a dynamic, tenacious, and accomplished woman whose entire life was guided by insatiable curiosity.  It was clear from the beginning that Grace Hopper was going to make a lasting impact on the world. As a child, she was driven to understand how and why things worked as they did. Her tolerant mother accepted her daughter’s continual dissections of alarm clocks and other household items as “Grace just being Grace”.  As an adult, Grace’s perpetual need to question the scientific status quo, coupled with her deep patriotic devotion, affected every project she was involved in, as well as the people she served along the way. Grace Hopper was one of kind, to say the very least.

As a teacher, I’ve worked with lots of kids like Grace Hopper. Brainiacs obsessed with math and science. Kids that won’t take an adult’s word for an answer. Instead, they are driven to comprehend why and how about everything and will not stop questioning until they do. (I once had a batch of students that found memorizing the numeric sequencing of pi to be entertaining! Good times, right?) Because of my experiences with Grace’s clones, I particularly enjoyed creating a guide for Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code. Ideas for projects kept on coming.

One of Grace Hopper’s most remarkable scientific contributions was developing computer code using the English language, rather than relying totally on the binary system.  In the guide, I created a lesson in which young readers could experience the tediousness and attention to detail computing with base-two, the binary numeric system. To think that Grace Hopper had to use that system to write code all the time! Yikes!  

There is also a manipulative historical timeline in this guide. Because Grace’s life was so extraordinary, readers deserved an elaborate one.  The dated timeline strip is documented with tabs describing key events in her life which coincide with others noting historic occurrences of the day, highlighted by labeled phrases derived from a lively list poem found in the introduction to the book.  I can just imagine Grace Hopper Mini-Me’s huddled around the timeline and the other projects in the guide, exploring the life and times of this astonishing woman.

I only wish I could be there with them.

Beautifying Bird Nests - A Simple Craft Idea

I'm excited to include some of my most favorite simple craft ideas in an upcoming guide for a book with an awesome nature theme. One project that I particularly like and will include in the guide is Beautifying Bird Nests (Not that birds need much help in creating their masterpieces, mind you.). This craft is most effective when created in the early spring, when birds are busily building their nests. This project is as simple and simple can be. Kids love it. Birds benefit, too.

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The supply list is short and cheap! All you need to gather is a mesh produce bag, scissors, and an assortment of thin ribbon, yarn, and string.

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Cut ribbon, yarn, and string into short strips about 3 or 4 inches long. 

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Loosely insert bits of ribbon, yarn, and string into the produce bag mesh. Once complete, hang mesh bag outdoors near a tree. Wait and watch. Soon birds will snitch some of the strips to use as construction material for their nests! Truly! I've seen this happen.  

Who would've thought enhancing nature could be such fun!

WAIT FOR ME by Caroline Leech

To be honest, I’m not a big WWII buff. Perhaps the reason why I lack enthusiasm is due to dull and dry history lessons of my youth. Although I enjoyed map-making, I’d blank out when instructed to memorize dates and battles, the names of planes and ships, and so on. I remember thinking that my teacher seemed just as bored with the rote Friday quiz prep as I was. Too bad WAIT FOR ME ( Harper Teen, 2017) hadn’t been published back then. World History would’ve taken on a whole new dimension if it had.

In WAIT FOR ME, debut author Caroline Leech did a masterful job of first telling an intriguing story of love and loss, and then sewing facts throughout using tiny, transparent, yet historically sound stitches. She gave me well-developed characters that I could believe in, agonize for, and fall in love with.  She gave me a rich setting – Scotland – home of my ancestors, the mighty Mackay clan. As a bonus, she gave me a dog whose devotion shifts from its master to a stranger, which is highly unsettling for those of us smitten with passion for pups.  Most importantly, Caroline boldly explored the definition and humanity of an enemy.  Are all enemies inherently evil? Can allies behave like enemies to their own? Do enemies have redemptive qualities? Do enemies feel heartache? Is it wrong to love an enemy?

The last thing Caroline gave me is ample fodder to develop an Educator’s Guide. Capitalizing on her expert fusion of fact and fiction, I approached this project with the intention to inspire the forlorn World History student I once was. WAIT FOR ME showed me the error of my WWII resistant ways. I’ve been redeemed. I got totally lost in researching facts for the guide. My hope is that, unlike my experience with WWII studies, this guide will help encourage contemporary students to do the same.

MAUD by Melanie Fishbane

MAUD (Penguin Teen, 2017) is based on the life and times of the prolific author Lucy Maud Montgomery. Crafted by author Melanie Fishbane, a lifetime L. M. Montgomery devotee, this debut novel is as unforgettable as the countless novels, short stories, and poems Lucy Maud created. MAUD is an inspirational testimony to a life led by faith, determination, and a deep-seeded passion to write.

Fishbane examines aspects of Maud’s, at times, traumatic childhood with tender consideration, gradually revealing the truth about her parents’ relationship, a mysterious burden Montgomery unwittingly carried her entire life. She experienced a perpetual feeling of misunderstanding and lack of acceptance within the community in which she lived, as well as from her father, with whom she loved. Guided by opportunities Providence provided, Maud found solace in her love of writing.  She poured her soul onto pages and pages on her beloved journals, recording fodder that would later become the emotional core of publications winning the hearts of readers for ages to come.

The Educator’s Discussion & Project Guide created for MAUD deeply delving into the themes tying this beautiful novel together. The notions of faith, reputation, sacrifice, and perseverance are just a few of the concepts explored in the discussion questions and through written expression.  The guide serves as an insightful compliment to Melanie Fishbane’s stunning masterpiece!

BOB, NOT BOB! by Liz Garton Scanlon & Audrey Vernick

What child hasn’t suffered through the torture of a horrific cold?  The misery of achy sinuses? The hopeless yearning for relief? Who does a child turn to when plagued by such painful distress? You got it. Mom. That’s it. No one else will do.

Authors Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick, with illustrator Matthew Cordell nailed this exasperating, snot-filled scenario to a tee! Their BOB, NOT BOB! (Disney Hyperion, 2017) is a delightful story about Little Louie, a boy who is afflicted by the worst cold ever. Because his nasal cavities are swollen with mucus, Little Louie’s plugged-up calls for Mom sound more like Bob, which happens to be the name of his devoted, slobbery dog. Frustration adds to agony as every time Little Louie pleads for his loving mother’s care his goofy, fun-loving Dalmatian arrives ready to play. And, when this happens, everyone is miserable!

I invite you to take a look at the Standards-aligned Educator’s Guide crafted for BOB, NOT BOB! It’s formatted more like a press-release, and yet it is comprised of contents that educators and at-wits-end parents will find useful. Functional and fun, this guide is the perfect complement for one of the most charming books I’ve read in a long time.

PRUDENCE THE PART-TIME COW by Jody Jensen Shaffer, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis

PRUDENCE THE PART-TIME COW (Henry Holt & Company, 2017) is heart-warming, charming story about how a misunderstood cow uses thoughtfulness, consideration, and scientific reasoning to find a special place in the heart of the herd.

Prudence is simply not wired like the other cows. Instead of thinking and acting like a regular member of the herd, she’s preoccupied with engineering projects designed to improve the lives others. Ultimately, her inventions unintentionally create havoc on the farm, leaving her isolated and friendless. Motivated by the desire for acceptance, Prudence draws upon COW POWER inspiration to develop inventions benefiting everyone.  In the end, Prudence finds friendship by caring for others and being true to herself.

STEM enthusiasts will enjoy the lessons included in the Prudence the Part-Time Cow Discussion & Activity Guide. Using Prudence’s projects as inspiration, students analyze her inventions through the use of the Scientific Method. Students are asked to first observe how each project potentially benefits members of the herd. Next, they define the problem that is met by the project. From there, young students learn how to formulate a hypothesis, then describe and analyze the experimentation process. Finally, students are instructed to articulate a conclusion for the overall experimental process. Pretty advanced thinking for the PK-3 crowd, wouldn’t you say?

A de Coubertin Conundrum

Say what? Pierre, you can't be serious.

I have news for you, my friend. Things have changed since 1894, during the time you established the modern Olympic Games. Big time, brother. While you may not have fully intended for females to take part in the Olympic games, this summer in Rio, females are doing so and are coming on strong!

The Father of the Modern Olympic Games

The Father of the Modern Olympic Games

We appreciate that you darn-near single-handedly pulled together the first Olympic Games in Athens. Despite all kinds of odds, you and a few others invited athletes from nine different countries to attend and compete in a sports conference modeled by the Grecian games of yon. Bravo! You might be happy to know that your five-ring Olympic symbol is alive and well, too.

You once said, “The important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part. Just as in life, the aim is not to conquer but to struggle well.” I wish were here to witness the tenacity and prowess of the 2016 Olympic female athletes. Pierre, your legacy lives in these women as they compete in the games they love. You’d be astounded by their strength of mind and character, typifying the motto you established way back when – Faster. Higher. Stronger. They’re simply incredible.

All in all though, Pierre, we have to thank you for your Olympic vision. You accomplished a great deal for athletes – worldwide! For that, we’re extremely grateful.

But the notion of counting girls out?

The girls in Rio 2016 are proving you wrong on that one.

Promoting My Peeps With Panache

It’s been a busy time, I have to say. 2016 has started off with a bang! Along with a surge of new Educator Guide opportunities and other cool deals, I’ve been happily promoting for both of my beloved writing communities’ upcoming events.  I’ve had my nose buried in Photoshop, Wordpress, and Hootsuite for weeks!

SCBWI-MI has kept me hopping as the Social Media Maven touting the ever-so-awesome roaring twenties-themed Wild Wild Midwest Conference 2016 being held in Naperville, Illinois from Friday, April 29 to Sunday, May 1. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill-everyday conference, mind you. No way. You see, six Midwestern SCBWI chapters have joined forces to host a shindig to beat the band. Get this – 600 participants, 35 speakers, 40 sessions, 8 intensives, portfolio reviews, critiques, contests and a costume party! It’s going to be SUCH FUN! I cannot wait. Registration opens Monday, Feb. 1. 

And, then there’s the event that is super-close to my heart – The VCFA AMR being held on campus in Montpelier from June 16 to 19th. Oh, how I love coordinating this homecoming! I so enjoy touching base with alums all over the nation. Being that we have a new two track registration option this year, I have a feeling I’ll get to be in contact with even more of my MFA brethren. Want to know more about the AMR? Feel free to download an informational flyer here. It’s pretty darned swanky. I tell you.

Registration for the VCFA WCYA Alumni Mini Residency will opens on Friday, Feb. 12. Two weeks from now my inbox will be bursting and absolutely nothing will make me happier!

Adventures of a Debut Author - Counting Kisses

It’s been a worrisome week. I’ll not deny it. Two good friends, who happen to be debut authors, have fallen on hard times. Really, really hard times. My heart aches when I think about the impact these situations will have on all aspects of their lives. We’re not playing games with this stuff. It’s the real deal.

While I’m terribly concerned for their personal and families’ well-being, I am really bummed that these incidents add burden to what should be a joyful experience – being a debut author! They’ve worked so hard. They’re such deserving people. It just ain’t fair.

And, then, as I over-think their situations (a practice I often engage in), I have to wonder if the very nature of being a debut author, and all the trappings therein, contributed to their distress. Not that being a debut author is the primary reason trouble showed up at their doors, mind you. Instead, that perhaps, the stress and demands of preparing for their debuts may have played a role in their angst. I certainly hope not. But it’s possible. Right?

There’s got to be a way to strike a balance in this thing and I'm on the hunt to find it.

I truly admire the authors and illustrators I’m privileged to know who have lovely families and full-time jobs and are physically fit and publish on a regular basis! How, the heck, are they able to do it all? It’s amazing to me.

Author Nikki Loftin - isn't she lovely?            Inside and out, I tell you.

Author Nikki Loftin - isn't she lovely?            Inside and out, I tell you.

Some time ago I asked the very, very talented Nikki Loftin what advice she might have for an embryonic debut author. Nikki is an incredible mom, a loving wife, and a full-time author who is pulling this gig off in style (All that, plus she’s fun to be with and as cute as a kitten.). I want to know what someone as prolific as Nikki has to say, don’t you?

“So… my advice,” Nikki said, “would be to keep a journal/notebook/mental tally of all the GOOD things that happen in the first year (before and after pub date). The bad stuff will start to seem overwhelming at some point (bad reviews, missed opportunities, rejections of the next book or four), and it can be really hard to see the amazing things that have happened in the middle of all the mud.”

There you have it. Count blessings, even if they’re sloppy. Nikki’s not glossing over the issue that publishing your first (and preceding) books is and will be hard work. Instead, she’s reminding us that it is critical to acknowledge and remember the butterfly kisses along the way, too. Great advice!

In closing, my wish for you, my troubled friends, is that a monarch stops by and lays a big, wet smooch on the tip of your nose to remind you that you’re loved and cherished by all.

Be well.

Starting the Year with Gratitude

After spending a lovely holiday with my husband, this week I've been back in the guide-crafting saddle again and loving it. I've also been taking some time to plan for new projects such as a public speaking opportunity and working on a brand-spanking new creative piece. The VCFA 2016 AMR is well underway. The SCBWI Wild Wild Midwest Chicago or Bust Conference social media campaign is gearing up nicely. Plus, I've got a number of Playing Like a Girl ideas rolling around in my brain just waiting to be born. For all of these prospects and projects, color me grateful.

Grateful for so many things - my home, my friends, and my work. In this moment, I'm appreciating the authors, illustrators, and publishers who I've had the great privilege to create guides for. It's just awesome to think that a simple act of making a Reader's Guide for a friend years ago has morphed into an enterprise of sorts! It makes me very, very happy to be of service to others in this way.

So, thank you to those whom I've had the joy of crafting a guide for and to those who are lined up in the queue to do. Your fascinating topics, innovative illustrations, and rocking writing continue to enrich my life. I look forward to each and every day getting to work with your masterpieces. Thanks!

Let's have some serious fun in 2016. Want to?

A Simple Saturday Craft for You - Merry Christmas Bows

I thought it might be fun to resurface an old Simple Saturday craft project blog post - one that was originally posted FIVE YEARS AGO! Isn't that crazy? I hope you enjoy this little blast from the past. Gather up scissors, ribbon, and a piece of florist wire and I'll show you how how crafting a Christmas bow is done!

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Simple Saturday - Dec. 17, 2010

You know you want one of these gorgeous bows nestled in the branches of your Christmas tree. After I show you how super-simple it is to make these loopy lovelies, you'll want to make a million of them!

Lean in and let me tell you a secret. It took me less than 5 minutes to make that ribbony treasure. With a little bit of practice, you'll be in the Simple Saturday Super Merry Christmas Bow making business in no time. Come on! Let's get started!

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 With our 1 3/4 inch wide ribbon, light gauged florist wire and scissors in hand we're ready to bring on the bow-ness. The only real challenge to making a holiday bow is to be certain that you've got a firm pinch going on. Powerful pinching pressure is the key to beautiful bow creating.

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To begin, cut a piece of ribbon about 2 1/2 feet long. Make that first pinch about 4 inches from one end of the ribbon. Now fold the long end of the ribbon back forming a loop about the same size as the ribbon strip to the left. PINCH! Bring it back and around on the left. Make a loop and PINCH! Repeat this procedure three times making 6 lovely loops.

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Let's add a little depth to this pretty puppy by making a couple of loops on top of the three we've previously made. What's the magic word? You've got it. PINCH!

To make a streamer, make a long loop at the base of your bow. For the finishing touch, make loop the ribbon over your thumb to create a nice center focal point and PINCH like you've never pinched before.

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At the back of the bow, lay the florist wire on top of your thumb and carefully gather the hoops together. Don't quit pinching until all of the loops have been securely gathered by the wire. Twist the wire tightly.

Cut the long loop at the bow base to form a streamer. Wiggle waggle the loops around, fluffing them up to create the rich fullness every holiday bow deserves. Attach your Super Merry Christmas Bow to a tree or a wreath...anywhere for that matter...with the florist wire. You know what to do with that wire, don't you? PINCH!

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 I'd like to end this post in deep gratitude for the bounty beneath my Christmas tree, for the blessings of friendship, and a sincere wish that you have the happiest holiday EVER!

Merry Christmas!

Adventures of a Debut Author - Establishing a Pre-Pub Platform with Vicky Lorencen

Vicky Lorencen and her family thrive in Michigan with a cat named Finn and a guinea pig named Oliver. By day, she is a communication specialist and media liaison for a regional health system, by night (or lunch time), Vicky writes picture books and middle grade novels. She’s been published in Highlights, Ladybug, Girls’ Life and many other children’s publications. Vicky is represented by literary agent Erin Murphy. Learn more at VickyLorencen.com.

Explain the inspiration for the title of your blog – Frog on a Dime.

Okay, well, in 2012, scientists met a frog in Papua New Guinea who was so small he could sit on a dime, with change to spare. He won the title of World’s Smallest Known Vertebrate. Once word got out about the wee dime sitter, amphibian experts noted that we keep finding smaller and smaller frogs. Why? An expert with Conservation International suggested the frogs are adapting to fill a niche that nothing else can fill. This teensy amphibian phenom of the rain forest captured my imagination because I see him as a metaphor for my little blog and its place in the blogosphere. And I guess that’s what I’m hoping my blog will do for readers (and for me)–fill a niche that nothing else can fill.

How long has Frog on a Dime been in existence? How often do you post? What topics do you tend to focus on?

Frog on a Dime celebrates its third anniversary this month. It debuted on December 15, 2012. I post 2 to 3 times a month. Frog on a Dime exists to be a source of encouragement. I’ve blogged about tough topics such as dealing with jealousy, writer’s block, rejection and as well as finding an agent or a critique group, and lots of how-to topics.

I noticed that you have well over 1000 followers. Have you engaged in promotional events in order to gain followers or has this number steadily grown over the years?

Followers have converged over time from a variety of sources—SCBWI, Facebook, conferences, and the like. Once in a while someone simply stumbles in while presumably searching for something else, likes what they read and stays. That’s gratifying. Promotional events have resulted in new followers each time, but so far, they haven’t caused a startling uptick.

Do you feel it is important for a pre-published author to have a web presence before launching their first book? Why or why not?

Absolutely. It’s important to have a positive and professional web presence, whether it be on social media, a blog, a web site, or any combination. If you don’t have a web site or don’t actively engage with social media, you’re pretty much invisible. That said, your writing and reading time must always have priority over building a web presence.

Even though I don’t have a published book, I chose to start a blog because I wanted to create a platform in preparation for the day I do. In the meantime, I knew I wanted to offer readers something. That’s when I decided that something would be encouragement because it’s something of value all creative folks need and I can give.

It might sound surprising, but as much as I enjoy Frog on a Dime, I believe blogs are not obligatory. Here’s a link to a post on the topic: http://vickylorencen.com/2014/07/06/4-reasons-you-really-mustnt-blog/

 Explain the purpose of hosting a book giveaway.

Frog on a Dime exists to encourage, so if promoting a book I love for an author I admire will help to increase readership and awareness for the author, I’m happy to do it. If the giveaway results in a few new followers or awareness for my blog, that’s a delightful bonus.

While I typically tie a giveaway to an author interview or guest blog, I have done a few fun “untied” giveaways to generate excitement, engage readers and reward followers.

List the benefits in hosting a book giveaway campaign.

A book giveaway raises awareness of the book and its author (and/or illustrator), which may encourage book sales for the author.

A giveaway naturally raises awareness and good vibes for your blog, which may result in an increase in followers or readers.

It’s fun—you get to make the winner and the author happy. Fun is my favorite.

Describe the steps required to establish a book giveaway.

Assuming you already have a guest author blog post or interview, and have a copy of the book in hand or have a guaranteed source and you’re ready to roll . . .

1.       Include the word giveaway in the title of your post. (The words Free and Giveaway were the prom queens of high school you know. So popular.)

2.      Let your followers know you’re giving away the book mentioned (and shown) in the post. If it’s a signed copy or you can get it personalized for the winner, be sure to mention that.

3.      You can let—uh, non-followers? pre-followers?—know about the giveaway via Facebook, Twitter, your SCBWI chapter’s list serve, telepathy or whatever medium you deem potentially effective.

4.      Set a date/time deadline for entering and state when you’ll choose a winner.

5.      Let contestants know what they need to do to enter—it can be as simple as leaving their name in the comment section of your post. I’ve asked for favorite quotes or feedback on my blog or suggestions for future posts or asked contestants to invite someone to follow, stuff like that. You could use bigger hoops, like “the person who writes the best whatever” versus a chance drawing, but that creates work for you. Ew.

6.      Ask contestants to enter on your site itself versus commenting on Facebook. Otherwise, it’s tough to track who posted what, where and when, and some folks—believe it or not—may just enter without ever placing an eyeball on your blog. I know. Shocking.

7.      Hit your deadline, pick your winner (you can use an app or just draw from little slips of paper like I do) and announce your winner in a follow-up blog post.

8.      Let the winner know where to send his/her address.

9.      Mail off that book with a friendly note. Have a cup of tea. You did good.

Who typically initiates a book giveaway campaign, you or the author/illustrator?

So far, I’ve been the initiator. I especially like to do giveaways for debut authors, so I’ll invite the author to guest blog or to be interviewed so we can promote the shiny, new book.

Do you find that hosting book giveaway campaign generates more activity on your blog?

Indeed. I do see an uptick in activity whenever I offer a giveaway of any kind on my blog. It’s worth the fuss.

Thanks very much for this opportunity! It was fun to share.

Thank YOU, Vicky!!! Wishing you all the best in your publishing pursuits.

Adventures of a Debut Author - A Lesson in Networking with Kris Remenar

I’ve been snooping around discovering ways that clever Kris Remenar has been promoting her darling Groundhog’s Dilemma (Charlesbridge, 2015). She’s one smart debut author, I have to tell you.  

I invite you to take some time to peruse her exceptional website. Of course, being a librarian, Kris has a wealth of resources at her fingertips.  Take a moment and see how generously she shares her knowledge and expertise. I like the way the website reflects her likeable, charming personality, too. Nicely done.

My sleuthing uncovered an insightful Let’s Get Busy podcast Kris did with her acclaimed illustrator (and husband!) Matt Faulkner. The interviewer is Matthew Winner, elementary library specialist and cofounder of All the Wonders. I am so glad to have discovered this resource. After you’ve scoured Kris’ website, pop over to check it out. All the Wonders is packed with podcasts, videos, crafts, and projects. Oh, man! My head is spinning with ideas galore!

Friends, these folks will be good to get to know when my (our) time draws near.

In addition to the cool podcast, the talented and wonderful author Vicky Lorencen sponsored a Groundhog’s Dilemma giveaway. Giveaways are great to generate enthusiasm for new projects. I’ll find out how Vicky managed it. It’ll be good for a debut author to know, right?

Kris also asked the ReaderKidZ to do a review, which is printed below. We jumped at the chance to do so! Truth be told, Kris and Matt have created a masterpiece.  Groundhog’s Dilemma is a book that kids and their parents will, undoubtedly, want to read over and over again. On the surface, the story and illustrations are engaging and great fun. Dare to go a little deeper and the reader will discover the tenacity it takes to be true to oneself.

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Fair-minded Groundhog is caught in a conundrum. The seasonal prediction he makes on Groundhog Day pleases some of his friends, but not all. Bear and Hare want six more weeks of winter. Squirrel and Sparrow, most definitely, do not. Groundhog explains that he’s not in control of the weather. Instead, he merely “Calls it like he sees it.”

When springtime eventually arrives, the animals of the forest resort to manipulation and bribery hoping to influence Groundhog’s future shadow-watching declarations. His social calendar overflows with invitations to baseball games, dining opportunities, and entertaining experiences unlike those he’s ever known! Truth be told, he enjoys the attention. However, come February 2, there will be a price to pay. Will Groundhog be able to truthfully state what his shadow reveals or will he be swayed in efforts to please others?

Groundhog’s Dilemma (Charlesbridge, 2015) explores themes of friendship, integrity, and honor is the most delightful ways. Debut author Kris Remenar’s sparse, tongue-in cheek text is hilarious, lively, and perfectly complimented by husband Matt Faulkner’s incredibly detailed illustrations. Groundhog’s Dilemma is both funny and poignant, one that readers will enjoy time and time again.

Adventures of a Debut Author - In Gratitude for...

I’m including this commercial announcement for the Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children and Young Adults program as part of my Adventures of a Debut Author posts because I owe a great deal to the school, the staff, and the incredible faculty there. At VCFA, I discovered my voice, my passion, and I found my agent at the AMR! Hallelujah! Saints be praised!

An observation I’ve made over the years is that many successful writers continue to support organizations that helped them along the rocky road to publication. Be it SCBWI, a local writing group, or other esteemed writing programs, some of the finest authors and illustrators I know seem to find a way to “dance with the one that brought them.” While I’ve got a lot of two-stepping down the bumpy road to publication success ahead of me, I plan on demonstrating my gratitude to VCFA and SCBWI by chipping in any way I can.

Read the little ditty below if you’d like to know more about the upcoming VCFA WCYA Alumni Mini-Residency. If you have any questions at all, shoot me note and I’ll be glad to answer it!

Hey, alums! Hope to see you there!!!!

The annual WCYA Alumni Mini-Residency, known as the AMR, is a weekend conference that mirrors the VCFA residency experience while focusing on the professional aspects of one’s writing career.  During the event attendees participate in a Master Class presented by the industry’s finest award-winning authors; interface with editors and literary agents; are coached by publicists; attend lectures and workshops led by VCFA faculty members; and are given multiple rich opportunities to elevate their writing careers to the highest level possible.

Every year WCYA alumni – from recently graduated to those from residencies long passed – return to campus for inspiration, collaboration, and in celebration of one another’s successes. The dates for AMR 2016 are June 17 to 19. Registration opens on February 15.

Please take a moment to review the AMR 2016 information posted on the VCFA website. You’ll find that the faculty and programming planned for this summer’s event is incredible. Whether you’re pre-published or have a series of books with your name proudly printed on the spine, the WCYA Alumni Mini-Residency is perfectly suited to support your writing career, no matter where you are in the publishing business.

Adventures of a Debut Author - A Tweet Cheat Sheet

I had some fun toying around with Twitter the other day. Check out how easy it is to support a friend in 140 characters or less.

Debut author Carmen Oliver is doing everything right. She recently had a book trailer made by Square Bear Studio and it is adorable. So much so that Carmen and her trailer were featured on Cynsations! Well, I had to jump on the promotional train, too, and tweet about it.

Y'all, Twitter is an absolute blast to use! It's a great feeling to witness the tweeting and retweeting 140 simple characters initiate. Twitter is a community builder, for sure.

I've created a .pdf tracing the steps I used to celebrate Carmen's good news. If you're not tweeting yet, look it over. You'll see just how easy it is to join in the Twitter chatter.

In closing, take a look at that adorable book trailer I mentioned earlier. It's mighty to hard to wait for that March pub date...

Adventures of a Debut Author - Website Stalking

Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_joebelanger'>joebelanger / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

I’ve been gathering website tips and ideas all week long. You see, website stalking is part of my teacher guide crafting business. I pull author and illustrator information from sites for reference in guides on a regular basis. I appreciate it when their information is structured and packaged in a convenient manner.  Oftentimes, I craft discussion topics based on the personal information they’ve offered. I like to quickly access facts I need, snag a picture, and pop them in the guide. Ba-da-bing! Ba-da-boom!

Let’s look at a fellow debut author's site I’ve most recently stalked. Want to?

I just finished working on a guide for my dear friend Carmen Oliver’s charming debut picture book, Bears Make the Best Reading Buddies (Capstone, 2016). Her new site was made by another dear friend, Erik Niells, the mastermind behind Square Bear Studios and it is stunning!

As you can see, Carmen’s site is crisp, clean, and easy to maneuver about. (Erik knows what he’s doing, I tell ya’.)  I was able to find Carmen’s professional scoop p.d.q. by accessing the ABOUT tab. Her interesting personal information is clear, concise, and right there for the sharing.

I do have a question for Erik, though. If you notice, on the ABOUT page, beneath the sub-title LINK, one can access a nicely formatted Press Kit. I wonder how to link a zip file to a web page. Hmmmm. Now there’s an idea to explore.

Thanks, Carmen and Erik, for letting me snoop around the new website. It’s a beauty!

I’m officially inspired to do the work I need to do.

Adventures of a Debut Author - Website Analysis (Full Disclosure)

Trent Reedy, author extraordinaire, wiser words were never spoken.

Redesigning a website? Ugh, that’s a monster of an ordeal.  Lucky for me, in January my daughter, Taylor, undertook that task of building this one for me. Gratitude for her swells within each time I access mine. I really like my Squarespace website. It’s clean, organized, affordable, and easy to update (when I get around to doing it).  I wonder what the internet thinks about www.debbiegonzales.com.  Let’s find out. Want to?

Here’s what Nibbler has to say about my site.

Nibbler 1.jpg

They’re giving me an Overall score of 7.6 out of 10. I’ll take it, for now.  I think that fact that I’ve had this site since 2009 helped the 8.4 score in the Amount of Content category. Whew.

Yipes! A 6.2 for marketing!!!! Goose eggs for Google+ and Analytics! And a 2.8 for Popularity? Oh, dear. I have my work cut out for me, don’t I? Boy, oh boy...do I ever.

As part of my debut author prep, I think it's important to wrap my head around this stuff. I'll bet, if I can change my red scores to green and the greens to blue I'll be stepping in high cotton with an Overall score of 8.5 or so! While I'm not going to go crazy over these numbers, I am going to learn about them. Because, face it, debut authors need a solid presence on the internet, one that has been established well before the book is in print. Yes ma'am, we sure do. 

Well, fellow debut author, guess what we're going to doing over the next few weeks.

Yep. Grab that cheese grater. We've got some web work to do.

Adventures of a Debut Author - Befriending Community

Thanks to Andrea Cascardi’s wise words in last week’s post, I’ve been thinking a lot about befriending my community as being an early step to promoting my book. Even though the pub date for Playing Like a Girl isn’t until 2017, I’m heeding her words and starting early!

Andrea said to “go out personally and meet local booksellers and librarians.” This should not be that hard to do. Bookstores and libraries should be my way of life, right? Well, I have to confess that most of my book shopping online.  I can feed my book addiction without shedding my bath robe. Also, I don’t linger when I go to the library. I get what I need – pronto – and I’m out of there. It's clear that I have to make an effort to create a few more face-to-face opportunities with these folks.

Honestly though, when you get right down to it, I’m not entirely comfortable with the notion of talking up my book. Oh, I’m plenty friendly, for sure. Meeting people is one my most favorite things to do. I love finding out what makes people tick. Yet, to turn the conversation around on myself…uh... that’s a toughie for me. I’d best get over it and the sooner, the better.

This week offered two opportunities to befriend influential folk – a book launch on Wednesday and a Thursday morning back matter research session at the library.  While attending the launch at Nicola's Books, I did connect with Lynn, the event coordinator. She was really busy scrambling about stacking chairs. It didn't seem like the time to plug my book. Instead, we shook hands, I introduced myself as an author and that I'd come back sometime to get to know her better. It was a super pleasant exchange.

Engaging with the children's librarian was an equally delightful experience. Once again, I introduced myself as an author doing research on the Silk Road for a publisher, and would she have the time to point me in the right direction. She was helpful, cordial, and as cute as a kitten. There was a storytime session going on in another room. Those little rug rats were having FUN! The library was alive with the kids' electric energy! I decided that I'm going to make a regular practice of spending time in my sweet local library. Befriending those gatekeepers will be a blast!

You know, in a way, this week I think I befriended myself, too. Introducing myself as an author to influential professionals is a HUGE step for me. Doing so didn't feel hokey or fake. Instead, it felt all right. Believable. True.

How about you, fellow debut author? Will you go out and meet the librarians and booksellers, too? Will you introduce yourself as an author and talk about your book in a light, conversational manner? Will you connect with the community in a genuine way? How will you befriend the author in you? Come on. Let’s do this together.

Just for fun, I’ve made some downloadable Contact Cards. I haven't used the cards yet, but I plan on making notes on them and then transferring the information to my phone and, maybe, Evernote. I’ll be glad to share the .pdf with you. Click HERE to download the document. You’ll need to use scissors to trim around the borders.

Maybe keeping these cards nearby will keep us confident! We can do this! Yes, we can!

Adventures of a Debut Author - Where to Begin?

As luck would have it, this week I had the great pleasure of enjoying a phone conversation with one of the most delightful individuals I know – Andrea Cascardi. I first met Andrea when she was working as an agent with Transatlantic Literary Agency. I was serving as Regional Advisor for the Austin SCBWI chapter at the time. She was an esteemed guest during one of our most awesome annual conferences. As an RA, you relate with agents and editors on a personal level all the time. Getting to personally know Andrea was a sheer pleasure, to be sure.

During our phone conversation, Andrea and I chatted about successful marketing strategies for debut authors. Like many others, I wonder . . . what avenues are most effective in spreading the word about our books – blog tours, paid publicists, social media marketing, and speaking engagements? Where does a debut author start?

According to Andrea, one the most effective ways to promote your book is to connect with community – be it on the local level, a professional level such as with SCBWI or library associations, and/or through social media. She said to go out and personally meet local booksellers and librarians. Sure, let them know that soon there will be a book to buy. But let your intention be get to know one another. Become genuine friends.  Not what’s-in-it-for-me type of friends. The real deal.

Andrea said that people want to be invested in a writer’s success. They love being a part of grassroots campaign supporting an individual and a project they believe in. By reaching out and connecting in this way, we’re giving a community the opportunity to do just that.

She also said start early, well before publication. Don’t wait until you’re holding the book in your hand. Let the process of genuinely connecting with others begin right away!

I can do that.

Speaking of connecting, this week author pal and former SCBWI RA Erin Dealy shared a blog thread about debut authors from her website. The thread title is What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Book. In it, she toys with a pregnancy theme. It’s fun, clever, and insightful! Check it out.

So, the debut author tip of the day is to reach out to others in a genuine, friendly, and personal way locally, professionally, and in cyber space. Build authentic relationships. Also, don’t wait until publication. Begin today!