Kid Lit Author Theresa Julian Walks Into a Bar…and Tells Us How to Write Humor. There will be a give-away!

The Joke Machine: A Creative Writing Tool That’s Disguised as a Joke Book by Theresa Julian

So, two guys walk into a bar…

Wait, that’s not how I meant to start. I meant to start by telling you that I’m the author of The Joke Machine, a new non-fiction book that teaches middle graders how to create their own jokes and become funnier. I’m nervous because my spellcheck mysteriously switched into Hungarian and I can’t tell if words are misspelled.

The Joke Machine: Create Your Own Jokes and Become Instantly Funny! by [Julian, Theresa]

Spelling words wrong is something I do knot want to do. I know the importance of proper spelling, it’s something my feather taught me. If I mix up even two letters, this whole post is urined.

Now you’re probably wondering, is she kidding about the spellchecker? The urined post? And most importantly, what happened to the guys who walked into a bar? Well, the answers are yes, yes, and two guys walked into a bar – the third one ducked.

Apologies for a long introduction, I just wanted to make you laugh.

Making someone laugh is one of the best feelings in the world. Growing up as a shy child, I always wished I was funny. As an adult, I started wondering if being funny is something you’re born with, or if it’s something you can learn. I started doing research and concluded it’s something you can learn, and I was going to learn it!

I figured out that the basis of humor is surprise. It’s leading a thought one way, and then turning it in an unexpected direction. It’s the quick twist that surprises us and makes us laugh.

I worked with that concept and came up with a few lines that – remarkably – were funny! Encouraged, I started studying humorous lines. I tried to figure out what made each one funny, and being a word-loving nerd, I put the quotes into categories such as ones that use contrast, comparison, exaggeration, etc. I started seeing patterns and my book, The Joke Machine, was born!

One of the things I’m proudest of is that the book teaches a difficult, almost mysterious subject using basic tenets of English, such as contrast, comparison, literalness, etc. It teaches in a fun, funny, kid-friendly way, that keeps kids laughing and turning the pages.

Now I’m going to tell you a secret. Lean in, because I’m going to whisper this so kids don’t hear. Though The Joke Machine explains how kids can become funnier, it’s also a book that teaches them how to express themselves more creatively and how to become better, more confident writers.

The Joke Machine teaches basics, such as using similes, metaphors, homonyms, homophones, etc., to punch up sentences, but the real message is deeper. The real message is reaching past the plain “vanilla” and expressing yourself more creatively, confidently, and humorously.

For example, The Joke Machine teaches middle graders to create humor by comparing two things that don’t ordinarily go together, by using irony to call out an unusual situation, and by using literalness to respond to someone’s actual words instead of their meaning.

The book explains how to fancy-schmancy it up by using specific details, too. It shows how to change “my shoes smell bad” into “my shoes that smell like they’ve been in my gym locker since second grade”. The book encourages kids to play with words, punch up puns, twist common catchphrases, exaggerate and understate facts, and even invent words that their friends will understand just by their sound.

Finally, The Joke Machine teaches middle graders to be more confident writers because being funny is about teasing out your message, having the courage to say something and then pull it back. It’s presenting a thought, then twisting, bending and reversing it. It’s like starting with “two guys walk into a bar” and then admitting that’s not what you want to talk about – but now that I have your attention, stick with me. It’s about thinking outside of the box, playing with a message, and holding your reader’s attention, all the way down to the very last line.

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Theresa Julian writes humorous children’s fiction, nonfiction, screenplays and teleplays. In addition to The Joke Machine, Theresa has sold dozens of humorous stories to Amazon Rapids which have been consistently listed on the Popular and Funny rows on the Amazon app. She is also the author of a humorous ‘tween TV pilot and two screenplays that have all won or placed in multiple national writing competitions. Theresa is a graduate of Boston College and has a Master of Arts in Corporate Communications. When she’s not writing, Theresa likes to run, eat chocolate, and lip sync to her favorite songs even though she never knows the lyrics. She always wished she had a superpower, but makes a really mean eggplant parmigiana so…maybe that counts?

 

Theresa will give a signed copy of her book to one lucky winner. Share your favorite one- liner joke and Darlene will put your name in a hat for the drawing. Share this post on Twitter, or FB and receive a second entry. The winner will be announced on this blog. Good Luck!

Barbara Messinger Asks Questions.

Asking Effective Questions in Life As Well As Writing.

                                              by Barbara Messinger

Most of my life I was interested in science and became an RN. I had no real desire to write but that changed when I took a job in pediatric home care and saw firsthand the joy books brought to my patient’s limited world. I was taken in by children’s literature in a big way and gained a strong desire to write picture books (and eventually chapter books), I began learning the craft of writing. And for the first few years I experienced all the frustrations that can go along with the writing process.

One of the key things writers learn along the way is interviewing your main character even if you don’t use the information in your book. It speaks to the importance of questioning. So if we are the main character in our own lives how do we question ourselves. I looked back at the first part of my writing journey and the questions I asked myself. I realized plenty of them were more disempowering than empowering. For example, Why aren’t I further along in this process? Why am I not getting this?

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In nurse’s training there was a brief session on Therapeutic Communication. We learned not to ask the patient ‘why’ questions. Why questions put people on the defensive. When we ask ourselves those kind of questions we keep ourselves stuck where we are.

So I became more conscious and deliberate about asking myself empowering questions. (Which usually begin with how or what) My all time favorite question:

How can I let go of my limited thinking? (about anything really)

How can I let go of my limited thinking about my writing?

How can I let go of my limited thinking about the publication industry?

Or instead of why can’t I seem to get this, I started asking myself:

What is the nature of showing rather than telling?

What is the nature of an emotionally engaging character? A compelling character?

There are an infinite number of possible answers and information that can come to you when you inquire in a way that leaves your subconscious mind wide open to answers.

We live in a fast pace culture that expects answers immediately and I’m not promising you’ll get published any faster if you practice asking empowering questions. I’m still working toward publication. But I can promise it will be a more enriching experience that expands your mind rather than contracts it. Try making up your own empowering questions. Maybe you’ll be surprised by some of the answers you get. IMG_0686

Barbara Messinger transitioned from a nursing career to children’s writing after moving into pediatric nursing care. She saw firsthand the positive effects reading books aloud had on her patients. She enjoys her membership and camaraderie of the SCBWI-NJ. A lifelong shore resident you’ll most likely find her swimming, scuba diving, biking, practicing yoga and, yes, writing somewhere near a beach.

                                   

 

Authenticity in Historical Fiction: The Final Chapter.

To conclude this year’s series of posts on writing authentically in historical fiction, I am posting this entry that ran on the blog tour I did in 2014 for the launch of my first book WHEELS OF CHANGE. To celebrate the FIFTH ANNIVERSARY of the book’s debut, I am giving away a signed copy of the book, and – if a teacher wins – a free classroom SKYPE visit for the 2019-2020 school year. Leave a comment at the end of the post and let me know what grade you teach.  Curriculum guides and other goodies will be included with the book.

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Authenticity in Historical Fiction

To create authenticity or believability in historical fiction is just like setting a scene in any kind of writing.  The writer needs to pay attention to details. As a reader, I’m more likely to immerse myself in a story universe that is believable and accurate.  If I want readers of WHEELS OF CHANGE to follow Emily Soper’s adventures, they have to be grounded in the reality of 1908 Washington DC.

            What was life like in the Nation’s Capital 100 years ago?

It was very rural for one thing.  With the exception of Pennsylvania Avenue, the area around the train station, and a few streets bordering 7th Street – the main street of commerce – there was only gas lighting and no electricity. Indoor plumbing was still a novelty. Many roads were unpaved or had cobblestones. There were farms and wooded areas surrounding the government buildings. Most people still rode in horse-drawn wagons, carriages, or buggies.  Many goods were still made by hand. Incorporating these details into the story grounds it and fixes the time and place.

Character is another way to create an authentic story. When a story takes place in another era, the writer has to be sure to use language and sentence structure that rings true. In 1908, children spoke in a more formal style, like their parents. Very little slang was used. Children addressed other adults as Mr. or Mrs. and often used “sir” or ‘ma’am” when speaking to their parents.

A character’s actions and behavior was different than it is today. Expectations for males and females were much more divided and specific. Boys had more freedom to explore and be adventurous. They were expected to roughhouse and get into trouble now and then. Girls on the other hand, were expected to be lady-like and exhibit proper behavior at all times. They were encouraged to excel at the “domestic arts” such as sewing, cooking, housekeeping, and child rearing.

Here are some of the “Rules of Etiquette” young people were expected to follow at the turn of the Twentieth Century.

General Rules of Etiquette for Ladies and Gentlemen

13 Mannerisms to be avoided by all: 

  1. Whispering or pointing in company.
  2. Giving attention to only one person when more are present.
  3. Contradicting parents, friends, or strangers.
  4. Laughing loudly.
  5. Making noise with hands and feet.
  6. Leaning on the shoulder or chair of another.
  7. Throwing things instead of handing them.
  8. Crowding or bumping elbows.
  9. Contempt in looks, words, or actions.
  10. Drawing attention to self with dress.
  11. Lending a borrowed book.
  12. Reading when there is company, or when others are speaking.
  13. Laughing at the mistakes of others.

Manners appropriate for all:

  1. To be gentle and patient with others.
  2. To remember that while speech is wonderful, it is sometimes better to be silent.
  3. Speak with a gentle tone and never in anger.
  4. Learn to deny yourself and put others first.
  5. Give applause only by clapping hands – not by kicking or stamping feet.
  6. Rise to one’s feet when an older person or dignitary enters the room.

 All this makes me wonder: How many of these rules do any of us consider important today?

 

How to Keep on Writing When the Going Gets Tough by Wendy Greenley

Thank you so much, Darlene, for inviting me to chat on your blog!

After publication of my debut picture book, LOLA SHAPES THE SKY people began asking about my writing journey and tips to success. The best tip I know is to keep writing and seeking feedback.

It can be HARD to keep writing. The perfect sentence you wrote? Sometimes no one likes it. The fantastic idea you had? Being published next year, by someone else. In the spirit of keeping everyone writing, I’m sharing a list of ten things I embrace. Perhaps it will help other writers keep going when bad stories turn into bad days, turn into bad months (yup, had those!).

  1. Connecting with like-minded people
  2. Feeling pride in achieving my goals and joy in celebrating other people’s successes
  3. The thrill of finding the perfect image or word
  4. Being an example of bravery to my children in the face of rejection
  5. Finding a way to share my heart with the world
  6. Getting stories out of my head (am I the only one who hears “voices”?!)
  7. Having an excuse to daydream
  8. Learning about myself by embracing vulnerability and peeling back emotions
  9. Creating a vision of better lives, better places
  10. Having a reason to go to writing conferences and meet amazing authors I admire

Actual sales of my materials and publication aren’t on this list. I can’t control that, so while it’s fantastic when it happens, I can’t hang my happiness hat on those items. Publication is my ultimate objective, but thinking about it doesn’t always make me happy!

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“In this lyrical origin story Thor wants all the clouds to make weather, but Lola only makes shapes. LOLA SHAPES THE SKY embraces every child’s magical experience of imagining whimsical shapes in the clouds with the timeless theme of supporting what makes us each unique. Be who you are—who you need to be!”

Kirkus Reviews: “Lola’s attitude inspires confidence in one’s imaginative abilities to pursue life’s aspirations.”

 

The achievable goals that I can take pride in are things like—doing another revision. Finding the heart of a story that went in too many directions. Rewording the opening to a story. It may have to be rewritten ten more times, but the immediate goal is giving it one more try.

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Enjoy the process! Happy writing everyone!

If anyone is in MD area this weekend, I’ll be one of the authors at the Chesapeake Children’s Book Festival in Easton, MD. Stop by and say hi! http://chesapeakechildrensbookfestival.com/

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Bio: Wendy Greenley has been an ice cream scooper, night security guard, microbiologist, attorney, Cub Scout leader, Art Goes to School Volunteer, and public relations for a dog rescue. She enjoys being a critique group leader for the Eastern PA SCBWI. Connect with her at wendy@wendygreenley.com and Twitter @wendygreenley. A current list of events and appearances is on Lola Shapes the Sky’s Facebook page.

NJSCBWI Conference Rocks it Again!

This past weekend I attended my umpteeth conference with the NJ chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (NJSCBWI) at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick, NJ. It was fun and inspiring to spend the weekend with fellow authors and illustrators talking shop and re-igniting the writing spark thanks to workshops and critiques. Keynote addresses by PB Author Laurie Wallmark and MG Author Bruce Coville inspired us to keep on writing and reminded us that our stories have an impact and make a difference.

There were agents and editors looking for projects and plenty of attendees hoping to make a connection. I enjoyed seeing old friends again and making some new ones.

Here are some of the highlights in photos:

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Keynote Address by Award-winning author BRUCE COVILLE.

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With Author/Illustrators Patricia Keeler and Barbara DiLorenzo

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Illustrator Awards

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Enjoying cocktail hour with Marina Cohen, Kathy Temean, Johanna Staton

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Had a copy of WHAT THE NIGHT SINGS by award-winning Author/Illustrator  Vesper Stamper

Many thanks to Kim Pfennigwerth, Trisha Hamilton, Roseanne Kurstedt, Barbara DiLorenzo, Laurie Wallmark, Super agent Liza Flessig, all the other agents and editors who kindly shared their expertise, as well as everyone else who worked behind the scenes to make the weekend memorable.

If you missed the festivities, mark your calendar for next year’s event on June 20-21-2020.

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Fellow attendee Eileen Holden

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Agent Liza Fleissig with some of her NJSCBWI clients. So happy to be part of this distinguished group.

Researching Historical Characters: They Tell You Who They Are: by Dianne K Salerni

Today it is my pleasure to bring readers another installment in my posts on historical research. In this 6th article, YA and MG novelist and fellow Kid Lit Author’s Club member, Dianne K Salerni, will talk about researching historical characters. Here’s Dianne:

The very best thing about writing a book with real, historical characters is that you get to skip the process of building their personality from scratch: their strengths and weaknesses and emotional wounds. Historical characters tell you who they are through their letters and other writings. When I wrote about the romance of spirit medium Maggie Fox and Arctic explorer Elisha Kent Kane in We Hear the Dead, I had years of their love letters to draw upon.

Researching my upcoming novel, The Roosevelt Ghosts, I had not only letters to guide me, but also the autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt (who was born a Roosevelt long before she married her fifth cousin, Franklin). Eleanor’s first cousin Alice, daughter of Theodore Roosevelt, was so much a fixture of Washington D.C. for her 96 years that she was known as “the other Washington Monument” and left untold writings and interviews behind.

Eleanor’s primary emotional wound isn’t hard to identify. She spells it out pretty plainly in her autobiography: My mother was always a little troubled about my lack of beauty, and I knew it, as a child senses those things. I can remember standing in the door, often with a finger in my mouth, and I can see the look in her eyes and hear the tone of her voice as she said, “Come in, Granny.” If a visitor was there, she might turn and say, “She is such a funny child, so old-fashioned that we always call her Granny.” I wanted to sink through the floor in shame.

It is reported in multiple sources that Eleanor’s mother, Anna Hall Roosevelt, spoke quite harshly to her young daughter. You have no looks, so see to it that you have manners.

Eleanor

Eleanor was orphaned at the age of eight, losing her mother and one of her brothers to diphtheria and her father to the effects of alcoholism. Thereafter, she lived with her oppressive maternal grandmother, who ran an austere household and dressed Eleanor in made-over garments that left her sadly out of place among her peers. Her cousin, Corinne Robinson, commented (in regards to a dance when they were both young teens): No one, young or old, wore very short skirts in those days, even for sports, but her grandmother bought her a dress that could have been for a five-year-old. A friend of Corinne’s remarked, more bluntly, that Eleanor was a living freak.

Teens are cruel, but so, apparently are adults. Edith Roosevelt, Theodore’s second wife and Alice’s step-mother was as snide as they come. Eleanor has been here too – poor little soul; she is very plain. Her mouth and teeth seem to have no future. She was also a master of the side-slander. I got Alice a beautiful dress at Stern’s, dark large plaid with navy blue velour, but how much do you think it cost? Forty-two dollars. Alice is a child who needs good clothes and would look quite forlorn as Eleanor in makeshifts.

Only Alice defended Eleanor’s physical appearance: She was always making herself out to be an ugly duckling, but she was really rather attractive. Tall, rather coltish-looking, with masses of pale, gold hair rippling to below her waist, and really lovely blue eyes. It’s true that her chin went in a bit, which wouldn’t have been noticeable if only her hateful grandmother had fixed her teeth.

Alice, meanwhile, had her own emotional wounds. Her mother died shortly after her birth, and her father abandoned her to the care of an aunt while he ran off to the Dakotas to assuage his grief. Theodore refused to call his daughter by the name she shared with her mother, and when he married Edith, his childhood sweetheart, Alice felt that she became even more of a burden. My father obviously didn’t want the symbol of his infidelity around. His two infidelities, in fact: infidelity to my stepmother by marrying my mother first, and to my mother by going back to my stepmother after she died.

Alice

It was no wonder that Alice acted out in response to this domestic drama. As she got older and attempted, more and more dramatically, to capture her father’s attention, she alienated everyone in her immediate family.

Edith referred to her as a guttersnipe. One of Edith’s friends described her like a young wild animal that had been put into good clothes. Alice’s own half-sister, Ethel, said she was a hellion, …capable of doing almost anything to anyone at any time. When Alice was sent away, at age fourteen, to live with her aunt in New York because her family in Washington couldn’t stand her, Edith made sure Alice knew where she stood, remarking that Alice’s first letter home was so sweet, the family thought it must have been done by (your cousin) Helen.

Ultimately, I had little character-building to do at all. It was only left to me to construct the ghost that would bring these two cousins, similarly-rejected but with opposite personalities, together.

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DIANNE K. SALERNI is the author of the The Eighth Day fantasy series and historical novels, The Caged Graves, a Junior Library Guild Selection, and We Hear the Dead. Her next book, The Roosevelt Ghosts, featuring young cousins Eleanor and Alice Roosevelt and a vengeful ghost, will be released in the fall of 2020 by Holiday House.

Dianne K. Salerni
Author of Middle Grade and YA Fiction

  • The Roosevelt Ghosts (Holiday House) ~ coming Fall 2020
  • The Eighth Day (HarperCollins) ~Minnesota Young Readers Award Nominee 2017-2018, Young Hoosiers Book Award Nominee 2017-2018, Virginia Readers Choice Nominee 2016-2017, Tome Society It List 2016-2017
  • The Caged Graves (Clarion/HMH) ~Pennsylvania Young Readers Choice Nominee 2016-2017
  • The Inquisitor’s Mark (HarperCollins)
  • The Morrigan’s Curse (HarperCollins)
  • We Hear the Dead (Sourcebooks)

 

PB Author Vivian Kirkfield Presents:Unsolved Mysteries: Three Questions About Sarah E. Goode.

Thank you so much, Darlene, for inviting me to chat again on your wonderful blog. I wanted to share some details of the process I went through as I researched my non-fiction picture book SWEET DREAMS, SARAH. (Creston 2019)

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When I decided to write a nonfiction picture book story about Sarah E. Goode, I had no idea how difficult it would be to find information about her. I mean, you’d think, a person who was one of the first African American women to receive a U.S. patent would have a lot written about her, right? Especially since she’d been a slave when she was a child. Just think about that…from owned to ownership. Those words actually spurred me on as I dug deeper, trying to unearth more information.

I turned to my local librarian and she reached out to some of the larger libraries in the country. We were sure that the Chicago Public Library would have loads of stuff – after all – Sarah lived and worked and died in Chicago. But, when the librarian at the Harsh Research Collection answered our plea, here is what she said:

Wow! Your author seems to have amassed much more information than we ever dreamed there would be. We have nothing in our files on Goode and her name only comes up every Black History Month when some unlucky child has her name assigned for a report. All we’ve ever been able to lead them to is a photo of the patent and a brief blurb in a “Black Inventors” book. Essentially nothing more than can be found on the internet.

When I read her reply, I knew that I had to pursue this story because Sarah had obviously not received the recognition in life or in death that she deserved. She was a trailblazing courageous young woman who could inspire the children of today to build their own dreams.

But even though I searched high and low, there were three things I was not able to track down and verify.

WHAT DID SARAH LOOK LIKE?

Searching around the internet, I found two or three sentences repeated on just about every website that had a bit of information (often untrue) about Sarah E. Goode. Several of the websites had her photo.

NOT!

There is no known photo of Sarah E. Goode. The photo that appears on several websites? I don’t know who it is, but it is definitely not Sarah.

WHERE WAS SARAH BORN?

Some websites say Toledo, Ohio. Some websites say Toledo, Spain. What?

I can totally understand the confusion. On the 1870 Chicago census, Sarah was 15 years old and her parents listed her place of birth as Toledo, Ohio. However, in the 1880 Chicago census, when Sarah is a married woman of 25, she listed her place of birth as Toledo, Spain.

NOT!

From all the research I’ve done, I surmise that Sarah might have been born in Northern Virginia…a slave state in 1855, the year of her birth. The border of Northern Virginia runs along the southern border of Ohio…a free state in 1855. It might have made sense for Sarah’s father, a freeman, to claim that his daughter was born in Ohio where she would be considered free. And, as for Sarah claiming she was born in Toledo, Spain, again, we can only guess. Perhaps she thought if she said Spain, that would grant a bit of the exotic to her existence. I doubt we will ever know the true story.

WHAT HAPPENED TO SARAH’S BUSINESS?

By 1883, a time when most women didn’t own anything, Sarah owned a furniture store in downtown Chicago. She built the innovative cabinet bed and applied for a patent. A year later, her application was returned – DENIED. Other similar inventions had already been patented. Sarah could have given up. But she didn’t.

Carefully she changed a word here and a sentence there, explaining more about her unique mechanism, the idea that had come to her so long ago. Slipping the paperwork and a bit of her heart into the envelope, Sarah sealed her fate and sent it off.

A year later, on July 14, 1885, Sarah’s patent was granted. In 1886, her business appears in Chicago’s city listing. But sadly, by May of 1887, an advertisement in the Chicago Daily Inter-Ocean newspaper shows another vendor selling cabinet beds that look just like Sarah’s. “Manufacturer of these beds went bust and we are now the exclusive distributors.” We may never know why Sarah lost her business – illness, bad luck, or jealousy and possibly violence from business competitors—I did discover that her mother and one of her children had died the year before. She had lost two of the people she had loved the most. But there is one thing Sarah will never lose: her place in history. Sarah E. Goode will always be one of the first African American women in U.S. history to be recorded as earning a patent for her invention.

And now, the next time young students are given the name of Sarah E. Goode as a Black History Month or Women’s History Month project, there will be a book they can take out from the library, Sweet Dreams, Sarah. The author’s note, timeline of Sarah’s life and list of African American women patent holders in the back matter add rich STEM content to the book.

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BIO: Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more than five words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing and banana-boat riding. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books in the quaint village of Amherst, NH where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her young grandson is her favorite board game partner. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog, Picture Books Help Kids Soar. She is the author of Pippa’s Passover Plate (Holiday House); Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book (Pomegranate); Sweet Dreams, Sarah (Creston Books); Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books); and From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). You can connect with her on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Linkedin, or just about any place people with picture books are found