Calling All Young Writers +Give and Get Books.

Do you have a budding writer in the house? Why not have him or her check out the online writing community called The Young Writers Society.  Their purpose is to “promote creative writing as a pastime”and “prepare aspiring writers for future publication “. This site is free and recommended for ages 13 and up.

Can you ever have too many books?  If storage space was not an issue, we wouldn’t have to worry about where to put all the books we want.  If you’re thinking of getting rid of some no longer wanted books, check out Book Mooch.  This site lets you give away books you no longer need and get books you want.  For free. Enough said.


Interview With Children’s PB Author Laurie Wallmark: Blog Tour Exclusive + Give away!

Today I am pleased and excited to be a stop on a blog tour for debut PB Author Laurie Wallmark.  She’ll be talking about her wonderful historical PB about the life of Ada Byron Lovelace, the first female computer programmer.   The book has already earned critical acclaim and a starred review from Kirkus.  If you’d like to be entered in a drawing for a free signed copy of the book, check out the end of this post.


First, give us some background on how you came to the field of writing for children.
Unlike many of my fellow children’s book authors, I didn’t grow up dreaming of being a writer. I wrote some protest poetry and songs as a child, but that was about it. I didn’t major in English or Creative Writing. Instead, my undergraduate degree is in Biochemistry and my masters is in Information Systems. I’ve always loved reading children’s books, though. One day, out of the blue, I thought of an idea for a middle grade novel. I wrote for about an hour every day and soon had produced the perfect manuscript, or so I thought. I was wrong. Many years and many manuscripts later, not to mention a great deal of time spent working on my writing craft, I finished Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine.

Your debut PB Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books 2015) is historical non fiction. How did you discover Ada and decide to write about her?
The question of how I discovered Ada is one I’m often asked. The answer? I have no idea. Ada is one of the many historical figures and their associated accomplishments I’ve learned about growing up. As a child, like Ada, I wanted to be a professional mathematician, so I read many math-related books and articles. I would guess I heard about her from one of them. Another possibility is from my mother, since she was a math teacher. Maybe she introduced me to Ada. No matter how Ada came to my attention, she was clearly a good subject for my first picture book biography. In a previous career I was a programmer, and I now teach computer science. Ada Byron Lovelace was the world’s first computer programmer. Without a doubt, I had to share her story.

What kind of research was involved in writing the book? What part of the research process did you enjoy?
I was fortunate in my research efforts become Ada lived at a time when people wrote letters. In doing my research, I relied heavily on a book (Ada, the Enchantress of Numbers) which contains a curated collection of letters to and from Ada throughout her lifetime. These letters provided great insight into Ada’s character and her relationship with others. I worry that future biographers will not have access to these treasure trove of primary research material, since fewer and fewer people write letters.

What was the most surprising thing you learned throughout the whole process of writing, editing, publication, etc.?
Although I knew that after a manuscript was acquired, you still have to do further revisions, I was surprised by the number of them. Each new version I created uncovered yet another area in the text that could be improved. My wonderful editor, Marissa Moss, was invaluable in leading me to find the true heart of Ada’s story. For the record, from when my agents first expressed interest in my story to when it was sent to the printer, I did about fifteen revisions. These were, of course, in addition to the multitude of revisions I had done throughout the years.

What’s next?
First up is celebrating the launch of  the book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, on October 13, 2015—Ada Lovelace Day. (For those who don’t know, this is an annual celebration of women in technology.) Two months later, I graduate from Vermont College of Fine Arts with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. I will continue to write for children, both picture books and novels, fiction and nonfiction, prose and poetry.                 Ada cover 72dpi

ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE (Creston Books, October 2015) is a picture-book biography of the world’s first computer programmer. Ada was born two hundred years ago, long before the invention of the modern electronic computer. At a time when girls and women had few options outside the home, Ada followed her dreams and studied mathematics. This book, by Laurie Wallmark and April Chu, tells the story of a remarkable woman and her work. Kirkus Reviews describes the book as a “splendidly inspiring introduction to an unjustly overlooked woman.” [starred review]

Laurie Wallmark writes exclusively for children. She can’t imagine having to restrict herself to only one type of book, so she writes picture books, middle-grade novels, poetry, and nonfiction. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. When not writing or studying, Laurie teaches computer science at a local community college, both on campus and in prison. The picture book biography, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books, October 2015), is Laurie’s first book.

Join Laurie as she travels from blog to blog to introduce her debut picture book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine. The next stop on the tour is:  November 6, 2015 – Guest Post (Five Favorite STEM Women in History) Picture Books Help Kids Soar (Vivian Kirkfield)

All stops are listed at:

Now, to win a free signed copy of ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE, leave a comment below and your name will be entered in a drawing.  Share this post on social media and you will get a second chance to win.  You have until Monday, 11-2-2015 to enter.  The lucky winner will be announced on this blog on Wednesday, 11-4-2015.

Interview With Illustrator Karen Romagna + Win One of Her Illustrations!

Today it is my pleasure to bring you a post featuring one of my favorite children’s book illustrators, Karen Romagna.   Karen tells us a bit about how she came to illustration and the projects she’s working on.  Here’s Karen:

When I was in the 7th grade my mom dropped me and my 15 year old sister, Michele, off at the train station in Morristown, New Jersey. We had enough money between us to find our way up to Newport, Rhode Island to visit our older sister in college. I remember wandering through the streets of Newark looking for Penn Station. and then running to catch a Greyhound in Providence that would drive us to Newport. Once we arrived in Newport we met up with our older sister and walked for miles to get to her college dorm. It never dawned on us that this was something we couldn’t do. … or maybe shouldn’t do. We had a fun weekend and made it back home Sunday night. I knew we would.

The same applies to my art. My parents always said “Of course you can!… Just don’t leave a mess.” So I spent years trying new things. Some turned out better than others, but I never thought that I might not be able to do something.

I attempted to learn the dulcimer, piano, banjo and ukulele before realizing the tambourine was more my thing. I went through a pottery making, stained glass, candle making, pickling, canning, bread making, mural painting, faux finishing decade. I even owned a stencil design business for a few years. Through it all the one constant was my love of painting. The other constant was that I ALWAYS left a mess.

In the early 1990’s I studied painting and illustration with Milton Charles, a retired Art Director from Pocket Books. He was an incredible teacher who also made me believe that “Of course I can!”. For years I used the tools and techniques I had learned from Milton to paint children’s portraits and landscapes. At the time my children were young and great subject matter.  Spot #1 Casting Off

Spot #2 Matt Study


Fast forward to current day. I have transitioned from painting children to illustrating for children. I am a traditional painter who really needs to learn more tricks in Photoshop. I switch back and forth from oil paint to watercolor. Both are so much fun.

My Process:   My process is simple. I paint what I love. Once inspiration strikes it is a matter of painting what I see. The hard part is learning how to see! And very often what I am seeing is in my imagination.

In Once Upon a Time study  Spot #3 Study-Once Upon a Time I was sure I had seen a duck and some birds.
By the time I went to the final I decided “Nah”, they had just been passing through in the process of seeing what it is that I really love.
The result is Once Upon a Time       Spot #4 Once Upon A Time


Voyage, A Book!

Voyage, my first picture book debuted in October 2014. It is based on a poem written by Billy Collins, former U.S Poet Laureate. While Billy was in office he wrote the poem about the adventures reading can take you on. It was presented to John Cole to celebrate his 25 years as Director for the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress. An editor from Bunker Hill Publishing noticed Voyage hanging in John Cole’s office. Billy agreed to let them publish the poem as a picture book.

Billy likes to choose the illustrators for his books. He chose me! I asked the publisher if he wouldn’t mind telling me exactly which illustration Billy Collins had seen that made him feel that I was the right artist for his book. “Of course!” he said “It’s the one of the boy in a boat.”

My heart melted… that was one of my paintings, not one of my children’s illustrations… somewhere out there Billy found a painting of my younger son, Tim. One of those paintings I had done so long ago. There was something magical about Tim. He would find himself in a great adventure with a piece of rope that he’d found. Tim was a creative spirit and truly believed that he could do anything. He was the perfect character for Voyage.     Spot #5 Voyage Cover



Now What?

I am currently working on a picture book about a lonely frog looking for adventure and love. Spot #6 Flying Frog


Since completing Voyage I have taken on several painting commissions for private clients. I love new challenges to see, if in fact, I still “can”. You know what? My studio is a little messy, but of course I can!

Thanks so much for having me on your blog Darlene!

Karen Romagna’s debut picture book, Voyage, launched at The National Book Festival in Washington, DC on August 30, 2014. Written by former US Poet Laureate, Billy Collins, Voyage is the tale of a young boy setting off for an adventure on the open sea. Karen used the softness of watercolor in illustrating this wonderful dreamlike tale.

Karen grew up surrounded by art, music, brothers, sisters and parents that always supplied paint, paper, and the freedom to try new things. She lives in rural New Jersey where she and her husband, John, raised two sons, Matt and Tim, in a house filled with music and art… and hopefully a spirit that has allowed her sons to try new things too.

Karen is the Illustrator Coordinator for the New Jersey Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  http://www.njscbwi.orgSpot #7  Romagna, Karen Headshot

You can see more of Karen’s work at:

And now for the giveaway:  A limited edition archival print.
Title: Goose Girl     

One lucky winner’s name will be drawn from a hat.  To enter the give-away, leave a comment at the end of this post for one entry.  Share this post on Twitter or Face Book or other social media site and get a second entry.   If you reblog the post, you’ll get a third entry.  You have until Monday, 11-2-2015 to enter.  Winner will be announced on Wednesday, 11-4-2015.  (Sure wish I could enter. What a gorgeous illustration!) Spot #8 Goose Girl



TWELVE TIPS to Engage VERY Young Audiences at Picture Book Author Events

Laura Sassi Tales

image_2Reading to the very young is fun, but challenging.  Here are twelve tips for capturing and keeping the attention and interest of very young audiences at picture book author events.


  1. Have the children gather around you – close up.
  2. Begin with a focusing activity, such as a song or clapping response game.
  3. Briefly tell a little bit about who you are, your inspiration for story etc. in a playful, kid-friendly way.  (Optional:  Bring a long a couple of props to help with this.  I bring puppets, for example.)


4. Be animated and excited.  Read with expression.

5.  Make eye contact. Remember, you aren’t just reading, you are interacting with your readers.

6.  Before turning each page, be sure to hold the book up and pan it around the room slowly so everyone has a chance to enjoy the illustration.

7. Involve the children in the storytelling. (By using body motions…

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Hooray For Teachers: Book Event For Educators Was a Success

On Friday evening, 10-16-15, I had the honor of participating in the annual Teacher Appreciation Evening at the Barnes & Noble on Parsonage Rd. In Edison, NJ.  I shared the evening with fellow CRESTON BOOKS authors Robin Newman, Laurie Wallmark, Rachelle Burk, and met some wonderful local authors and educators while discussing our books and signing copies.  I’ll let these photos tell the rest.   2014-10-16 04.56.42


Author Laurie Wallmark with her new PB Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (CRESTON BOOKS 2015)

Author Laurie Wallmark with her new PB Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (CRESTON BOOK 2015)

With other Children's book Authors of the evening.

With other Children’s book Authors of the evening.

Signing books for a young fan.

Signing books for a young fan.

With other Creston Books authors, Robin, Newman, Rachelle Burk, Laurie Wallmark.

With other Creston Books authors, Robin, Newman, Rachelle Burk, Laurie Wallmark.


With KidLit TV personality Katya Schewczek

With Kid Lit TV personality Katya Szewczuk.

It’s Time to Visit the Pumpkin Patch by Marilyn Ostermiller

Pumpkins are ripe on the vine and ready for picking now through early November. A trip to a pumpkin patch can be fun for the whole family. Even toddlers can manage to capture one just the right size.

Some search for the perfect pumpkin to sculpt into a Jack O’ Lantern. Others are interested in making their own seasoned pumpkin seeds or even pumpkin pie.

There are two types of pick-your-own pumpkin patches, those where you go out into the field and pull them off the vine and those where the pumpkins have already been pulled off the vine. Those that are off the vine are usually displayed either out in the field where they grew or on tables. Some pumpkin patches provide entertainment and seasonal treats like apple cider and donuts.                    IMG_1022

Where to pick pumpkins:
For a list of pumpkin patches across the country, visit the Department of Agriculture website in states were pumpkins are grown.

Here’s a trio of popular pumpkin patches in New Jersey:
Alstede Farms, 1 Alstede Farms Lane, Chester, NJ 07930. Phone: 908-879-7189. Email: Weekend activities include picking, hayrack rides and a 10-acre corn maze.
Terhune Orchards, 330 Cold Soil Road, Princeton, NJ 08540. Phone: 609-924-2310. Email: Weekend activities include hay bale maze, adventure barn, pony rides.
Johnson’s Farm, 133 Church Road, Medford, NJ 08055. Phone: 609-654-8643. Email: Hay wagon rides to the picking areas, petting zoo, playground.

If you go:
• Call first to make sure they have an ample supply of ripe pumpkins.
• Wear clothes and shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty.
• Take a plastic or recyclable bag big enough to tote the pumpkin.
• Take water or juice and hand sanitizer.

Learn More:
America’s Greatest Pumpkin Patches by Randy Schmitz. Published in 2014 by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. The book introduces readers to the five big-gest pumpkin farms in the United States. In addition to full walk throughs and histories of those farms, there are descriptions of 11 more pumpkin farms around the country. Appropriate for adults looking for the ultimate family pumpkin picking experience. Non-fiction.

The Pumpkin Patch (Robin Hill School) written by Margaret McNamara and illustrated by Mike Gordon. The story is about a class trip to a pumpkin patch and a search for a perfect pumpkin. Early reading book suitable for Preschool through First Grade. Fiction

It’s a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, written by Charles Schultz and illustrated by Scott Jeralds. Published by Simon Spotlight with audio recording in 2015. The Peanuts gang is up to their old tricks. Suitable for Preschool and older.

Life Cycle of a Pumpkin, written by Ron Fridell and Patricia Walsh, Published by Heinemann in 2009. An in-depth look at pumpkins from planting the seeds to harvesting a ripe one. Suita-ble to First through Third Grades. Non-fiction.

ROTTEN PUMPKIN, author David Schwartz, photographer Dwight Kuhn 2013 Creston Books               RottenPumpkinCvr001
Compost won’t mean the same thing to you after you’ve seen the amazing transformation of Jack from grinning pumpkin to mold-mottled wreckage to hopeful green shoot. The story of de-composition is vividly told so that science comes to life (and death). Part story, part science, and a whole lot of fun.

These books are available at

This post was prepared by Marilyn Ostermiller, a long-time business journalist who has begun writing for children. You can follow her on Twitter @Marilyn_Suzanne.      

With Marilyn Ostermiller

With Marilyn Ostermiller

Show Me the Money! By Gigi Collins

These days we can’t live without our smart phones. There’s an app for everything. The latest is the digital wallet. While it may be convenient for adults, it’s not the best way to teach your children about money and financial responsibility.

Think about when you buy something with your credit card versus handing over the cold hard cash. If you are like me, it hurts a little more to count out the money. Swiping the plastic card or waving your phone over the electronic pad doesn’t have the same impact.

If you want to teach your kids and teens about money, start with the green stuff. That’s right, pay allowance in cash. Let your kids learn to count the currency and verify they were paid the correct amount. They can’t do that on a phone app.             piggybank blog

Next, they should split their cash allowance into the three categories that imitates an adult financial plan:

1. Spending: This should be about 70% of their allowance for immediate needs or wants. They can keep their cash safe in a wallet or other container. For teens, you can consider a high school checking account. Take your teen to the bank and have them ask the bank questions about the account such as, balance minimums, check fees, monthly fees, ATM fees, Debit card fees, and any other hidden fees.

2. Savings: This should be about 20% of their allowance for big-ticket items or longer-term goals. They can start a piggy bank or other container. When the cash starts to pile up, take your child or teen to the bank to open a savings account. Have them ask the bank questions about the account such as, balance requirements, number of free deposits and withdrawals allowed, interest rate earned, and any other bank fees.

3. Sharing: This should be about 10% of their allowance. They can start a ‘sharing container.’ With your help, have them set a goal amount that they want to give to a charity of their choice. Research the charity with them to see how they spend their donations. Not all charities are created equal. Charity Navigator is a good place to start your research.

Our kids and teens don’t see enough cash. So, show them the money…the real currency not the digital numbers on the phone app.

By following this plan, you are building a foundation of knowledge about money matters that will help your children manage their finances more effectively for the rest of their lives.

ggc bw

Gigi’s background is investments and financial planning but currently she is living her dream working in her local independent bookshop and writing a YA novel. She has a son in high school and a daughter in college—both have received allowance since they were five!)

Got Tomatoes? Try Drying Them to Enjoy All Winter Long.

I don’t know about you, but as fall arrives, I’m still harvesting tomatoes from my garden.  If you have an abundance of tomatoes still available, why not try drying them to preserve that wonderful sweetness all winter long?  Today, artist, mom, writer, and blog follower  TERESA ROBESON gives us step by step instructions for doing just that.  Here’s Teresa:

Making your own dried tomatoes is so easy and produces a product that is tastier and far less expensive than what you can get at the store!  With a cutting board and some adult supervision, kids can help!

Some people use their ovens to dry tomatoes (directions for that method will follow), but we bought a dehydrator about 20 years ago and it has paid for itself many times over. Hubby did some research and found the Excalibur to be an excellent and reliable brand. We have not had any trouble with ours at all.                  DehydratorWhile you can dry just about any tomato, we have found that cherry or grape tomatoes are better for drying as they’re less watery and therefore dry faster. Any variety will do, but since hubby is not crazy about cloyingly sweet dried tomatoes (and the flavors intensify after all the moisture is gone), he doesn’t grow Super Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes anymore. These days, we grow a combination of less sweet cherries and grape tomatoes.

The dehydrator comes with 9 trays. We slice the cherry or grape tomatoes in half (or even quarters if they’re so large that they stick up too much and run into the tray above it) and space them out evenly on the trays.   Cuttingboard

Then we just slide the trays back into the slots…

…and set the temperature and time as advised by the instruction manual that comes with the dehydrator and let it do its thing.

Trays  Hubby likes to turn the trays around mid-way through drying as the fan is in the back, but sometimes we forget, and it’s been fine, too. Check it when it’s close to the end of the timed cycle; if it’s not at the dryness level you like, just add more time.

Here is the method by oven, shortened and adapted from “The America’s Test Kitchen D.I.Y. Cookbook”:

Adjust the oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions. Preheat to 425F. Spray wire racks with veggie oil spray and set them in 2 rimmed baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

Toss cut up tomatoes with 1/2 cup olive oil. Place cut side down on prepared wire racks. Roast until skin is a bit wrinkly (20 minutes or so).

For dehydrating larger tomatoes, you can discard the skin and cook for 20-30 minutes more on 300 degrees before flipping over for 3-4 hours more until they’re visibly shrunken, dry and slightly dark around edges.

For smaller tomatoes, I’d just turn the oven down to 300 and cook for 3-4 hours, checking on it every half hour to an hour to make sure they don’t burn.

After removing tomatoes from oven, let them cool to room temperature. Lightly pack them into a jar with tight fitting lids. Cover completely with olive oil and seal the lid. Can be stored in refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.   Or, store your dried tomatoes in baggies in the freezer until needed.

And here they are, the beauties!    To use, you can soak them in water or oil for however long it takes to get them to the softness that you want. Pretty easy, right? Beats paying $5 or more for a tiny jar with less than two ounces worth. Plus you know exactly who has handled your food and trust that it was grown and handled to your specifications.

Hope you’ll give it a try!

Teresa Robeson is a writer-artist with published illustrations and works of short stories, poetry, and nonfiction appearing in the SCBWI Bulletin, Ladybug, Babybug, and other magazines and anthologies. She lives on a small hobby homestead with her husband, two boys, and varying number of chickens. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest via the links her website:


Teresa Robeson
writer, artist, illustrator | w:    photo(10)

Wear Blue and Stomp Out Bullying

Wear your favorite BLUE T shirt today to raise awareness of the problem of bullying in schools and online.  BLUE SHIRT DAY was created by STOMP OUT BULLYING in partnership with Pilot Pen and supports anti-bullying education and programs nationwide.

To learn more visit: