STAYING AFLOAT: 4 Writerly Things I Learned From Noah and his Ark (And a GIVEAWAY!)


Couldn’t let this great opportunity pass …

Originally posted on Laura Sassi Tales:

IMG_0257With the release of the board book edition of GOODNIGHT, ARK just a week away, I thought it would be fun to share four things Noah and his ark have taught me about getting boats, er stories, to float.
Don’t expect your boat to float overnight. When I first got the idea for GOODNIGHT, ARK my mind whirred with possibilities. Which animals would be scared of what?  How would they get to Noah’s bed? And how would Noah ever comfort them and return them to their bunks?  I knew early on that I wanted to write the story in rhyme but finding the perfect meter and line length did not come easily. So I played around with plot and form again, and again, and again. Each time I finished a draft, I’d put it away and work on other things for several weeks so I could see it with fresh eyes…

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The Disappearing Butterfly…How You Can Help!

While many insects make a lot of people say “yuck”…butterflies are in a category of their own.  There is no ick factor to these beautiful and amazing creatures.  One of the most recognized – and perhaps most popular – butterflies in North America is the MONARCH. Sadly, this beautiful insect is disappearing at an alarming rate.  In the 1990’s up to 1 BILLION monarchs migrated from the Northern US and Canada each fall to the OYAMEL FIR forests of Mexico.  Another million wintered in forested groves along the California coast.       monarch Now, scientists estimate that only 56.5 MILLION remain.  This represents a decline of nearly 80%.  Most of the decline is blamed on changing use of land; but we homeowners can change that.  You can use your property to create “monarch way stations” by planting MILKWEED and other nectar filled plants.  These plots allow monarchs to successfully produce generations and sustain them for their annual migrations. Milkweeds are the ONLY plants on which monarchs deposit their eggs and on which their larvae feed.  Without milkweed, there would be no monarchs.     To learn more about monarchs and way stations visit: Milkweed is easy to grow from seed.  And, here is a link for free milkweed plants.  They require little care and will spread easily once they take hold.  They can take over a garden, so be careful where you plant them. Go to:          

Milkweed from my garden.

Milkweed from my garden.

  Not only will you bring beauty to your own habitat, but you will be helping an endangered species. Here’s a link to a wonderful post to start a discussion about Monarchs from Terry Jennings.:

Introducing Children’s Book Author/Illustrator, Patricia Keeler

Today it’s my pleasure to have an interview with an author/illustrator friend I recently had the pleasure meeting at the NJSCBWI Conference this past June.  Patricia Keeler’s work is playful, uplifting and filled with a sense of whimsy that is a joy to behold.  Here’s Patricia:

What kind of art interested you as a kid?
I would say everything I did in my free time as a kid qualified as art–decorating cookies, stapling together Halloween costumes, cutting my hair, making mud villages, and chalk drawing on the sidewalk. Drawing was in the mix, but it was probably one of my least favorite types of art.

To get the flavor of my home growing up, my mom was a fibers artist. She shaved our black French poodle and wove cloth for a dress for herself. I didn’t want a dress made from my dog.

When did you decide to pursue illustration as an art form?
I was hired to create sets, do advertising, and background images for PBS television programming in Virginia. I was amazed you could get paid for doing that!

Did you go to school or are you self-taught?
I’d say self-taught, as I got a Master’s in Art Education.

What advice would you give to kids who are interested in drawing and illustrating?
Say something through your art about your day. Got wet feet on the way to school? Mystery meat for lunch? New cat? Show what your feet feel like wet, what the lunch room mystery meat tasted like, and how happy your new cat was to see you. (Show what your cat would look like if you found her wet and eating mystery meat.)

Don’t worry about using a certain medium like watercolors or colored pencils. That ‘pick a medium’ is a made-up rule. Use whatever in that moment that helps to get your idea out.

Which illustrators do you admire?
I fall in love with every piece of children’s book art I see these days! It’s crazy–or folks are just that good. I think children are amazing artists! But my current perfect illustration person would be a mash-up between Laura Cornell and Frank Viva.

What is your process?
I get coffee from Starbucks and one of those chewy chocolate cookies. Those are scary good. I sit by the Hudson River and watch the boats go by, the dog walkers, babies . . . Then something floats up in my mind that makes me laugh. Like babies flying with books for wings.     BOOK FAIRY

After that it’s a wrestling match with pencil, colored pencil, watercolor, and digital. It’s like trying to pick out a tiny, slippery seed from the inside of a ripe tomato. I just keep picking at that idea until it fabricates.

Generally I make a lot of sketches, than paint a few loosely in watercolor. I scan the images into the computer. I change the colors and add textures.


Digital gives me so many colors, texture, placement options–and I’m learning more all the time. So mostly I run out of time. I feel like I could play with the ideas in Photoshop indefinitely.

Do you have an agent?
Yes! I’m excited to be working with Liza Fleissig and Ginger Harris of Liza Royce Agency.

Do you have new picture books coming out?
I have a busy year ahead because I’ll be illustrating two new books! Both books will be published by Sky Pony Press in the spring of 2017. The working title for the first book is LIZZIE AND LOU SEAL. For the second book we’re still working on the title.

I’ve illustrated, photographed, and/or written trade and educational books including DRUMBEAT IN OUR FEET, (Lee and Low Books, 2006) and A HUGE HOG IS A BIG PIG, (Greenwillow, 2002), a selection of the Junior Library Guild and the Children’s Book-of-the-Month Club. I received the Christopher Medal and the New York Book Festival First Prize in 2011 for illustrations in WOULD YOU STILL LOVE ME IF, an Indie picture book, written by Wendy LaGuardia. Over the years, my books have been reviewed by the New York Times Book Review, Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, Booklist and The Horn Book.

An original painting from DRUMBEAT IN OUR FEET went to the Children’s Art Auction, ABFFE, this past May 2014. This piece was purchased by the Kerlan Collection’s curator, Lisa Von Drasek. The Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota may be the largest collection of children’s books in the world, as they house more than 100,000 books, as well as original manuscripts, galleys and color proofs.

Eventually the Kerlan Collection was interested in the entire DRUMBEAT file, from illustrated pages, galleys, proofs, acceptance letter, contract, pages of editorial critiques, and early sketches to the original paintings. I’m pleased my work found a final home and is now available for students and artists to explore a comprehensive example of children’s book illustration process.      

Patricia in her studio.

Patricia in her studio.

More of my work can be seen at

You can also contact Patricia at:

Thank you, Darlene for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts and process.

Kudos: ‘Stargirl’ Movie Nabs The ‘Twilight’ Director & Give-away


This post was too good to not pass around. Kudos to Jerry Spinelli!

Originally posted on Writing and Illustrating:

stargirlAs most of you know, I’ve been Jerry Spinelli’s webmaster for the last 12 years. It’s been a fun journey with Jerry and Eileen (her webmaster, too). I’ve read and enjoyed all their award winning books (which is all of them).

I have always been amazed at the love readers have for Stargirl. Everyone sees a little bit of Stargirl in themelves. Even 55 year old women have written Jerry telling him how much they appreciated the book and how it helped validate their time in high school.

But now, we have gone to the next level. The movie rights were sold years ago, but last week Variety announced that ‘Twilight’s’ Catherine Hardwicke is on board to direct an adaptation of the bestselling YA novel “Stargirl.”

When Jerry told me about how Eileen and him drove up New York City to convene “Team Stargirl” with producers and publishers…

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Traveling with Toddlers – Tips, Tools and Tactics to Keep Them Smiling…and Keep You Sane. By Vivian Kirkfield.

Author Vivian Kirkfield is back this month with  some wonderful tips on safe and fun travel with toddlers.  PLUS…there’s a chance to win a free copy of her fabulous book SHOW ME HOW:  Build Your Child’s Self Esteem Through Reading, Crafting and Cooking.

Thank you, Darlene…I’m thrilled to be here. With summer upon us, I’d like to share a couple of thoughts about traveling with toddlers. As a mom, I know how difficult it is to pack up and take off…even for a day-trip, it used to feel like I was carting enough stuff for a month. I hope my tips, tools and tactics will be helpful.                DSCN0819
The kids are jumping up and down. The whole family is about to leave on vacation. Maybe you are flying to a famous amusement park. Perhaps you are driving several hours or days to visit with Grandma and Grandpa.
Traveling with young children is HARD…nearly impossible some might say. Two-year old Jake gets hungry when there is no food around, but when you get to the restaurant…he’s fussy and throws his food around. Three-year old Sarah won’t sleep on the plane, but when you arrive at your destination, she demands to be carried and your arms feel numb as you lug the weight of a sleeping child and try to juggle baggage claim and car rental.

Here are seven simple tips to make any trip go more smoothly:

1. If your kids are old enough to understand, tell them about the trip…kids appreciate being told ahead of time so they know what to expect.
2. Organize all of your travel documents and have them easily accessible…picture ID, rental car papers, hotel reservations, shuttle info, important phone numbers, etc. If you can find what you need in a hurry, there will be tons less stress.
3. Encourage kids to get rid of that excess energy before boarding…many airport terminals have special kid-friendly areas where little ones can run and play…check out your airport before you go. If you are driving, make frequent stops to stretch, snack and play.
4. In a handy carry-on (or in a small cooler if you are driving), have appropriate food, bottles, drinks and non-sugary snacks (cheese and crackers, peanut butter and crackers, dried fruit, oranges that can be peeled and sectioned, zip-lock bags with dry cereals).
5. KEEP THE KIDS BUSY, as needed. Some children will be happy looking out of the window or just talking.
a. Bring their favorite toys, ‘lovies’, books and electronics to keep them engaged, calm and happy.
b. A box of crayons and a pad of blank paper can provide an hour of quiet bliss as you and your child tell stories and draw pictures for them. I actually began my picture book writing career this way.
c. A surprise bag with small gaily-wrapped packages can provide a welcome distraction. And remember not to give the kids everything at once…bring out different items to amuse them as the trip progresses.
6. When you leave the plane or take a break from driving at a restaurant or hotel, make sure to check for all of your possessions…kids may have dropped a beloved toy or favorite book that wouldn’t be missed until it was too late.
7. Last, but not least, be positive, upbeat and calm, even when the situation may be difficult…kids take their cues from the adults around them…with your words and your body language, you communicate how you are feeling…and if you stay calm, they may also.

DSCN0867Kids are learning every minute – they are like sponges, soaking up what they see and hear. Why not take advantage of the close quarters in the plane or car or bus or train…and play some fun games that will build a young child’s phonemic awareness.

What is phonemic awareness, you ask?
• The understanding that words are made up of sounds
• The ability to pick out and manipulate sounds in spoken words
And why are these skills so important? Along with alphabet recognition, it is a key to early reading success. A child can build phonemic awareness by listening to rhymes, poetry, songs and wordplay.

Here are seven simple games you can play in the car or on the plane:
• Read poetry and enjoy lots of rhyming stories. When you reread the stories, pause when you come to the matching rhymes and see if your child can fill in the blanks…my grandson LOVES doing this.
• Play Hink Pink – A Hink Pink is a pair of rhyming words that answer a riddle. For example, a large hog is a Big Pig. For older kids you can play Hinky Pinky (using two syllable words as the answer) a fight over a baby’s toy is a Rattle Battle or Hinkity Pinkity (using three syllable words) such as something frozen in the shape of a riding toy is a bicycle icicle.
• Twist Your Tongue – Have fun with tongue twisters like Silly Sally Skates and Slides and Somersaults or Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers! Help your child to make up silly alliterative sentences.
• Make up an unusual list – ‘I’m going camping and I’m going to pack a bat, a cat, a rat.’ OR ‘I’m going camping and I’m going to pack a sock, a sleeping bag, a soccer ball, and a sandwich. Do you think I will want a sweater or a jacket?’ Ask your child to suggest some more things for your list. Can your child hear how your words work together?
• Play I spy with my little eye, something that begins with /s/ (use the letter sound rather than the letter name)
• Clap to the beat of songs and poems
• Make up word riddles – what starts with /b/ and rhymes with red?
And guess what? These simple word games are dynamite for older kids as well. You don’t have to use them only for traveling…they will help keep your little ones entertained while you wait in the doctor’s office or shop at the supermarket.               Picture 158 B 2

Now, if you sign up for Vivian’s newsletter     and leave a comment on this post that says you did, your name gets entered into the proverbial hat. :) to win a copy of  her wonderful book.

Vivian Kirkfield, BA, MS
Writer For Children – Reader Forever
Read my Blog
Follow on Twitter   SHOW ME HOW KINDLE Cover 01

Cool Apps For Cool Kids.

Here are some fun Apps you can download for free to keep your kids entertained on long car trips or while on vacation. 


1.  Despicable Me: Minion Rush

2. Frozen Free Fall:  This is a “match three” game that allows your child matches to unlock favorite Frozen characters.

3. Mouse Maze Free Game – by Top Free Games:  This is a Pac Man style game with a cat and mouse chase.

4. Tic Tac Toe Free: A great intro for young children in learning how to take turns.


1. Candy Island Free: Sweet Shop: Your child owns a candy shop that she must keep stocked to keep customers happy.

2. Wash Pets -Kids Games:  Your child can give a puppy or kitten a grooming session. 

3. Miles From Tomorrowland: This is a space-based racing game.

4. Tynker – Learn to Code: These games allow your child to learn about programming.

If you have any other Apps that your kids enjoy, please share them here.  May all your summer road trips be enjoyable one.