Room 100 Holds the Secret to Fighting the War on Terror. Are you Interested?

Filed under: Check-it-out, Community, Family, Pondering

I am completely fascinated by this letter–A Daddy’s Letter to His Little Girl (About Her Future Husband) By Dr. Kelly Flanagan. It caught my interest and I can’t stop thinking about it.

After stumbling across destructive advice, licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Kelly Flanagan writes a letter to his daughter about what really matters in a relationship.

“…Because in the end, Little One, the only thing you should have to do to “keep him interested” is to be you.

Your eternally interested guy,


Quite a few thoughts have been running through my mind since my fellow Wolf Pack sisters, A.N. Remtulla, tweeted about this letter on Father’s Day. I’ve though about my Dad, my husband, my boys and myself. But as a mom, I keep coming back to my own children. I’ve come to realize that not only do I want to raise my boys to think and act this way, but I also want them to be treated this way by the females in their lives. Boys deserve to be loved for all the right reason too. I don’t want someone to marry them for money or reasons lacking in depth. I want my boys to have someone that loves and respects them. Like Dr. Flanagan, that is the one and only thing their future partner and I MUST have in common.

But the pondering doesn’t stop there. It feels bigger than just my own kids.

I’ve come to realize we are living in a generation of terrorism. And I don’t just mean religious and political attacks. We terrorize each other. Our children are born without prejudice and it is a beautiful thing, but it also means that someone is teaching hate and disrespect. There are too many children who find it easier to hurt one another than help each other. Whether we realize it or not, we role model how to be bullies or we turn the other cheek, pretending not to see what is happening in front of us. We put our heads down, afraid to step up and speak up, for fear of what it will cost us, forgetting that our children think everything we do is interesting. They rarely do what we say, but they often do what we do. It is time to flood the world with every day heroes. Enough small gestures can tip the scales…

I recently got to attend an end of the year celebration for my 4th grader. He’s in Room 100 and he’s been with the same teacher and the same group of students for two years, but that is not the amazing part. What brought me to tears was the sense of community and family that this amazing teacher created for these children. She made it very clear from day one that she found each and every one of her students interesting and valuable. I believe her gestures acted like an invitation. Take a journey with me. She was suggesting that if those kids invested in each other, they would find a classroom of interesting and valuable people. And they did. It was a gift.

There’s no bullying in this classroom. Some days there are kids who make mistakes–kids who make poor choices. But there are no bullies. There also doesn’t seem to be a lot of shame or insecurity. Instead there appears to be a lot of joy. They sing, dance, perform, joke, play and laugh. They cheer each other on. I wish I could show you the videos. It would make your heart soar. The potential. No one threatened them to “not be bullies.” Instead, they showed them how to be friends. There is respect, and it hovers around this class like an aura. It is beautiful to witness. So many of the things that seem to be “our issues” don’t seem to be “their issues.”

upset boy against a wall

There IS a difference between a child gaining resilience and a child being forced to survive.

Life and people will never be perfect, even in a great classroom in a really good school. In fact despite how much I adore what has happened in Room 100, I believe that my children still need to learn to roll with the punches–to weather other people’s mistakes. Life IS hard. They have to learn to navigate it in a healthy way.

I was recently reading a blog post by Kristen Lamb, on Handling Criticism, that included an experiment done in a Bio-dome. Under near perfect conditions, closely monitored trees planted within the dome, never grew as tall or strong as the trees that had to weather the storms outside. The trees in the wild were forced to make deep roots in order to hang on. Or grow tall to reach the sun. That is valuable. I do not want to take adversity away from my kids. It’s a tool they need to grow into amazing human beings. It is the doorway to kindness, empathy, success, self-worth and resilience. They need to learn to bend in the wind.

But they do not need to feel terror.

In Room 100, there isn’t perfection. There is not an absence of things gone wrong. Mistakes are made. Tears exist. But in the midst of all of that, something wonderful happened. Over the last two years, the teachers involved  with this class showed up. They lead and the kids watched very carefully. Then they became interested in changing their world for the better. Who would have suspected that Room 100 would hold the secret to fighting the war on terror?

Room 100 is the start. Are you interested?



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Entangled Roots: Once a Frog, Always a Frog

Filed under: Community, Family, Pondering, School Visits

Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.

– Mister Rogers


For those of you who are new to the blog. I guess I should warn you. I can’t separate my personal life from my writing life. They are inexplicably intertwined. I usually do my best to create some connectivity between the branches, but sometimes they simply are what they are–grafted together. In the past, I’ve blogged about the school my children have attended. I’ve written with joy and hope. (Room 100 Holds the Secret to Fighting the War on Terror. Are You Interested?) I’ve also had the heart crushing disappointment of writing about administrative failure. (A Person’s A Person No Matter How Small: An Open Letter to the Wappingers Central School District)

Today I get to write about entangled roots…

Yesterday I had the pleasure of returning to my boy’s old elementary school. The one from before we moved. We returned for HUGS Day, which is an epic field day and party. A celebration. It’s a great day to be a FES Frog. But for the Sabatini’s it was a little bit like the ups and downs in one of those bouncy houses. We were so excited to see all our friends again, but at times, no matter how much fun we were having, it was a little bitter sweet. We were forced to look at what we’d been missing–what we are still missing until school comes to an end next week. The boys and I discussed it afterwards and came to the conclusion that being there had far outweighed the small hurts that left little bruises we’d have to recover from later.

Here were some of the big bounces that made the day great…

Small bounce house

Yeah–HUGS day is a bouncy house bonanza!


 Good friends fall right back into place.

photo 1

Sharing the experiences of a new school with the old school.


 Visiting familiar friends of a different nature.


Reengaging partners in crime <3


Eating too much.


And singing and dancing–a HAPPY teacher flash mob.

But life is strange and somewhere in the middle of snacks, flash mobs and catching up with friends, I overheard conversations that caused me to step back. Everyone was talking about the up and coming 5th Grade Moving Up Ceremony (which we are happily participating in) and the last day of school. Everyone was discussing all the expected tears–how hard and sad it was all going to be. Huh? My mind spun a little trying to connect the dots. Then understanding hit me like a lightening bolt as I realized what I had been missing.

We were no longer standing in the same place our friends were.

We had already grieved the loss of things the way they were. We had had to say goodbye and it had been hard–really, really hard. For us, school being over will be a kind of relief, an end of a particularly rough and knotted branch of our lives. Everyone else at FES is now poised to be standing on the very thin line between the past and the future, with all the emotional and actual baggage that comes with it. And while we might be physically standing next to everyone on that thin line, it isn’t the same.  We are like a group of friends who has opted for different paths through the woods. We will arrive at the same destination–but now we have very different stories to tell about our journey to get there.

But sometimes there are advantages to hearing someone else tell the tale of their journey. This week in particular, as we meet back up to celebrate moving up, I’d like to share what we learned on the road less traveled to an FES graduation.


We’ll all be okay. We’ve got this, because we have each other.

Often in the hustle and bustle of our growth–our forward momentum–we forget about our roots. Our eyes gravitate to the part of the tree that is easy to see. We forget about the strength and beauty of the roots–the parts that have nurtured us and held us in place while we’ve grown. The part that is hidden. FES has given us everything we need to anchor us to the best parts of ourselves and each other. I know this because when my boys had their lives painfully pruned back, they continued to be resilient, to grow and thrive. They are firmly woven with their past, their mentors and their friends, which has allowed them to remain standing, no matter how hard the wind has blown.

Over the next week, the 5th graders at FES will begin the process of branching out–of growing up. They will often take different paths as they grow. But we are very lucky because these kids are all trees in the same beautiful wood and it is my suspicion that beneath it all–their roots are entangled–adding more strength and support for the years to come. It has been my family’s pleasure to be a part of the FES family. Once a frog always a frog. And that is the truth. But being one thing doest limit you from being more things. Love is not limits–it is opportunity. So I’d also like to take a moment to thank everyone at our new school. I’m so very lucky because they grow strong and sturdy trees with beautiful roots there, too. They mended and supported us when we were a little broken. They cared for us like we had always been there–instead of what we really were–shell-shocked transplants. And now, because we haven’t moved too far, we have roots in two wonderful places. All that is left to do is entangle them even further. Be prepared to make new friends…

Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.


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Will You Raise a Bully or an Original? I See What You’re Doing and It’s Not OK

Filed under: Check-it-out, Community, Pondering

Ran into a couple fabulous articles this morning that converged into an unexpected blog post. The first article was in relation to something I read in the book ORIGINALS by Adam Grant.


I loved this book for a million reason, but there was a particular concept that stuck with me and intrigued me. It also got me thinking about another article I saw this morning. But before I can build the connections, here is the back story…

Adam Grant talks about how to raise creative, original kids and how that might relate to the heroes who were Holocaust resisters–saving lives while putting their own at risk. This concept really stuck with me as I examined my own parenting, because who doesn’t want to raise the kind of kids who have enough moral fiber to be some body’s hero some day?

My friend Lynda Mullaly Hunt writes books and raises awareness about the impact every day heroes can have on every day lives…

BE SOMEONE’S HERO. NO CAPE REQUIRED ~~ Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things


Lynda also writes and talks about how…


I’m here to tell you that can be a beautiful thing. I know this concept (as Lynda is using it) is rooted in a subject close to me–dyslexia. But I also think it’s bigger than that. An important component of raising creative kids (according to this article by Jessica Stillman) is to reason with your kids–to create kids who think independently and don’t just follow the masses.

Laying down the law can be easier than explaining why the law is as it is, but if you’re interested in future creativity, you should take the time to reason with your little ones. Citing studies on the early lives of heroes who rescued people from the Holocaust and highly creative architects, Grant suggests parents “help children think about the consequences of their action for others,”

Not quite sure what Holocaust resisters (incredibly brave as they may have been) have to do with creativity? Morality and creativity are intertwined, Grant explains in another, illuminating TechCrunch interview. “Kids who evolve into creative adults tend to have a strong moral compass,” he says. “They’ve been nurtured by their parents, who’ve talked with them and modeled values of excellence for them that [seed ] concern for the consequences of their [kids’] actions on other people. At the same time, they’re given a lot of autonomy to figure out how they want to live with those values.”

But then the fireworks of connection really started firing in my head when I stumbled upon another article. It made me think about why we struggle to raise kids who are morally and creatively rich. There is a sad cycle holding us back.

Meet the Newest Bully on the Block: The Mean Mom by Mary Beth Sammons

Area of concern for parents in the digital age

Our children aren’t just battling their peers, who are also struggling to learn who they are and what they are about. Our kids are being terrorized by the very people who should be making them feel safe.

The good news, Saltz says, is that if you’re alert to the toxicity of bullying behavior, you can deflect it and send a strong message to your children, by example, that mocking, manipulating and swinging blows at other people is not okay. If you’re looking to stop a bully in her tracks, the best way to do so is to confront the bully directly. “Call it out,” Saltz says on TODAY. “Tell the bully, ‘I see what you’re doing, and it’s not OK. Let’s not do that.”

She adds that moms need to stand up to mom bullies to create a bully-free world. Parents have to teach by example


Here’s the thing, we all know that raising great kids and protecting children from bullying is a great thing to do. In the abstract–this is a no brainer. But we don’t always see the world from a place of perspective. We see it in relation to our own needs and interests and fears. I sympathize with that–it is human. But so is admitting we are sometimes wrong and  need to apologize.

So, I’m just going to lay it out there. If you’ve made a mistake–we can get through this–together.

But if you think bullying is a great way to go–we can’t be friends. It’s that simple. I don’t condone that behavior. This is me telling you…


Sometimes we get away from our better selves. It happens. It doesn’t make us bad people. It makes us people who need to be more original. We need to step away from the status quo and decide that it might be harder to own our behavior than to live in denial. But being brave enough to do it, might also make us exceptional.

Some days I look around me and realized it’s quite an uphill battle to teach our children to be original, moral, kind and brave.

We live in an environment where we don’t just worry about children being bullied by their day to day life–we have to fight this kind of ignorance on a cyber front. We live in a time that allows people to do and say things they wouldn’t have enough courage to stand up and say to someones face–in front of others. It’s a scary place out there, but it’s worse when bad behavior takes root and hides in the dark. We can’t let that happen.

What I’m asking of you today, is to stand up and be an original.

Behave better than the average person.

And use the internet to shed light, instead allowing bullies to hide in the dark behind cyber shadows.

You can repost this blog. Or you can share your own message.

But please find a way to be heard.

Will you be a bully or an original?

Will you raise a bully or an original?

Will you stand up and say…

I see what you’re doing and it’s not ok?

I’m counting on you…


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Speak Up–The Children Will Listen

Filed under: Check-it-out, Community, Pondering, Writing for Children

I’ve stepped away from social media quite a bit lately. The trolls and the drama of petty and cruel things has discouraged me. But I’ve always known the limit to my silence. A time would come when it would be impossible for me not to step forward and speak up. My fear of swallowing my words would be bigger than any terror I might feel in my exposure.


“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.”

— Robert Frost

On Tuesday I wrote a FB post in response to an article called Powerful Images Showing Where Young Syrian Refugees Sleep by Mangus Wennman. I felt the audience for my words was too limited, so I’d like to place that original post here.

I understand the legitimate fear of terrorist sneaking into our country on the backs of the Syrian refugee children and families in need of our help. But who ever said that doing the right thing–being a leader was easy? I believe more terror will be stopped by our kindness than will ever be stopped by our fear. When I think back at my personal heroes–the people I admire for their courage, intelligence and kindness–I know the kind of behavior I expect from myself.

If you watch a movie like Schindler’s list and walk out of the theater feeling good about yourself, you have to know that being someone’s hero must be earned–that it can never be without personal risk. I’m reading the book I AM MALALA right now and there is a quote from WWII that Malala references and it really stuck with me…

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

At my core I know what I would want someone to do for my children if this is what they looked like when they tried to go to sleep at night. How do you look these children in the eyes and turn them away? The day your fear becomes bigger than your humanity–there’s a good chance you don’t have anything worth defending anyway.

‪#‎realfirstworldproblems‬ ‪#‎bethechange‬

There were a range of thoughtful responses to my post. And those that saw things in a different way than I did, were in truth, just asking important questions. The biggest–how do we protect ourselves and our children from becoming victims too? I understand this. I have children. I wear the responsibility of their lives like an unprotected heart outside my chest. Some days it paralyzes me. But I have a truth I can’t deny. The finest and most satisfying moments in my life have been the ones where I’ve found my courage. I have never been as alive as when I’ve dared to be more–tried to be someone better. And as hard as it might be to put into practice, I don’t think I have a right to prevent my children from experiencing that depth of living. I wouldn’t want someone to take that away from me. When my boys were born and placed into my arms–I never once had visions of what they might one day lack in their lives. Instead, in an instant, their whole lives as extraordinary men played out before me. I could imagine who they would become and how that might change the world for the better. That was their gift.

I also mentioned in that FB post that I’m reading the book I AM MALALA. As every word of this young girls life slips into my ears and moves me deeply, I realize that her parents are the unsung heroes in her story. They never stopped their daughter from being the person they knew her to be in that moment she was first laid in their arms. As scary as it might be, they gave her the opportunity to be her best self. As a parent, may I always be that brave. #withMalala

“There is a moment when you have to choose whether to be silent or to stand up.”

Today I choose not to be silent. I do this–not despite the safety of my children–but for their protection. I do not want them living in a world where girls are beaten for going to school, where refugee children sleep in the gutter, where everyone waits for the next shooter or bomb to strike. I do not want my children to live in a world where the voice of terror is louder than the voice of love. I can not bear to have my children believe they are incapable of being the change they wish to see in the world. Living life to it’s fullest is not an absence of adversity. Living is the triumph of the human spirit no matter what obstacles are in the way.

Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
To learn what to be
Careful before you say “Listen to me”
Children will listen

–Into the Woods

“You may only be someone in the world, but to someone else, you may be the world.”

— Unknown Author

Please speak up. The children will listen if we give them a chance.

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Why the SCBWI Works–It’s Not Head Count, It’s Heart Count

Filed under: Check-it-out, Community, Family, Pondering, SCBWI, Writing, Writing for Children

I’ve been thinking a lot about the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) lately. Okay–I always think a lot about the SCBWI. Type #scbwi into my blog and you’ll find post after post about how this group has been an instrumental part of my growth and development as a writer. But you’ll also see posts describing how my tribe has given me a safe place to fall and supportive hands to push me forward when I’m weak and insecure. I love this group.

Simultaneously, I’ve also been pondering the state of the world around me. And one of the things I’m seeing is an increase in adult bullies. It’s in the news–countries bullying countries. Religious, racial and political terror grows like weeds. There are bullies in corporations, schools and neighborhoods. Sometimes it even comes from the people who are teaching our children how to be kind. Our supposed leaders. It makes my head spin.

But my personal response, to what I often consider an epic wave of ugliness, is to be the leader I want to see in the world. Some days I’m more successful than others. But even when I’m at my best, my world has a small footprint. And that is what has me thinking about why the SCBWI works so well and is so loved by it’s tribe members. It’s a safe place. As big as it’s grows, it remains a family like institution where we are encouraged to look after the person to our  left and the person to our right. When you allow yourself to be close to people and to care about them in a very personal way, your small footprint overlaps with their small footprint and a clear picture begins to emerge.


This TED talk is a little on the long side, but well worth a few extra moments of your time. It’s amazing–one of my favorites.


The SCBWI is a great institution because it has great leaders, but I feel it’s an amazing institution because those leaders encourage everyone to step into the circle of safety and add their footstep–to be a leader in their own way. We continue to grow, not because of our head count, but rather because of our heart count.

If you aren’t a member already, put your best foot forward and join our circle of safety.



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Book Blogger Appreciation Week 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized

It’s Book Blogger Appreciation Week 2011!!!!  I love book bloggers.  They are passionate, hard-working  people who love books, support authors, and provide a wonderful service to readers.  (((hugs)))  They are also really nice people.

But I’m going to tell you a little secret…

Despite how much I LOVE book bloggers–they scare the heck out of me.  *insert music from Jaws*

I know it’s silly–they’re a bucket full of awesome–but here’s the thing.  They haven’t actually read my book yet…but they will.  *gasp*  Obviously I didn’t think this whole “other people will actually read the book” thing completely through.  (I’m certain this will be a reoccurring theme in future posts–watch for the tag.)

TOUCHING THE SURFACE is set to come out in the Fall of 2012.  Right now, it’s pretty much the Fall of 2011, which means that the “365 days to go count-down-clock” could start ticking for me at anytime. *clutches stomach*  But here’s the catch–book blogger receive ARC’s (Advanced Reader Copies) prior to publication.  I don’t have any idea when my ARC’s will hit the world, but I know it’s in less than 365 days.  The thought of it makes my stomach dance and I can’t even sort out which part is excitement and which part is pure, unadulterated fear.  I feel like I’m standing on line for a really scary roller coaster ride.

Here’s the thing.  I believe that I’ve written the perfect book–for me.  And I should have, because I was the only audience that counted for a really long time.  But that is no longer the case and when I think about baring my soul, to folks who publicly post a written report about it–I start to whimper.  And while I’m optimistic that TOUCHING THE SURFACE will be embraced by many, I also know that there will be book bloggers who hate it.  Yes, I said it–they will HATE it. How do I know this?  Because it’s true.  I hug puppies and drool when someone tells me that they just can’t get into a Harry Potter novel.  I don’t understand it, but it happens.  *squishes puppy and wipes mouth with sleeve*  I also know there will be people who hate it because there are books that I…*covers mouth and whispers* HATE.   And sometimes I hate a books that everyone else loves.  *Bbbwwwaaaahhhhhh*

Hate is a strong word, but sometimes I tend to exaggerate in order to make my point. Or maybe I go to extremes to prepare myself for the worst possible outcome.  Kind of like building up a thick skin as protection.  And don’t worry, it isn’t like I spend all my time shaking in terror.  I’ve had many a snuggly night, half asleep under a down comforter, dreaming of the NYT’s Best Seller List.  Dreams are good.  But there is middle ground and when I’m there, I am confident that the book bloggers are not out to get me.  In fact, from everything that I’ve witnessed, they have done more to help books become a success than we authors could ever adequately thank them for.

Book bloggers are the best roller coaster ride that I’ve ever waited to go on.  Every time I queue up for one of those thrill machines in an amusement park, I ponder chickening out.  But then I do it–I take the ride.  I scream the whole way through.  I never throw my hands up to prove how tough I am.  (I’m too busy making sure I don’t pee my pants.)  And when I’m back down on the ground, I’m high-fiving everyone–pretty damn proud of having taken that ride, knowing that it was worth every moment of being scared.

It’s Book Blogger Appreciation Week and I’m standing on line for the biggest ride of my life.  For all you book blogger out there, I know I’m going to be screaming and closing my eyes the whole way through this process.   I also want you to know that I am looking forward to the ups and downs and I’m willing to accept all the fine print warnings that come along with taking this ride.  I know how lucky I am and I appreciate having you out there.

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SCBWI LA 40th Anniversary Conference-Part 9

Filed under: Apocalypsies, Conferences, SCBWI

This is it!  I’m ready to finish this up and move on.  Fasten your seat belts and get ready for your final SCBWI LA Conference installment!

This is not John Green.  Not a single one.

Nova Ren Suma, Julie Strauss-Gabel and Michael Bourret fill in for the missing John Green. (unable to make it due to medical issues)  I was seriously bummed not to get to meet one of my favorite authors, but so happy for my friend Nova (author of IMAGINARY GIRLS) to get this opportunity.  

I wasnt the only Nova fan!  Every crowd should have an enthusiastic Mike Jung in the back LOL!  (If you’re lucky)
Some highlights from their discussion…
*Nova-When something really scares you, its probably the right thing to explore.  I picked Michael as an agent because he pushed me to grow as a writer.
*Michael-I know that I’ve lost out on clients because I’ve been honest about what my expectations were.
From my own experience, I can’t agree more.  A great fit with your agent is the foundation you need and it will increase the chances that you’ll find an editor who is also an amazing match.
Time for the 2011 Golden Kite Awards Luncheon
We had a wonderful slide show, looking back over 40 years.  It was amazing.  Wish it was posted some place so that I could share it with you

This was dessert.  Everything about this made me smile.

Listening to the speeches of the Golden Kite recipients.  They were fantastic–so proud of them.

A special keynote from the impeccable Richard Peck.  I adore this man.  

Hanging with the Apocalypsies…Emily, Kim, Tamara and Mike.

This is when that big lunch and dessert became a problem.  Navigating the halls in a chocolate coma, I didn’t get to Bruce Coville’s workshop in time to get a seat or a piece of rug.  This picture was taken from the door with my hands up over my head.  The good news was that I could hear him just fine.

GAHHH!!!! Every word out of this man’s mouth is genius.  I’ll try to pick the best ones to share with you…
*Stories happen when a character is forced to make a difficult choice.  NEED DRIVES THE ACTION.
*Use yourself, steal from everyone around you.  Cast the book as if you are writing a play.
*Characters should have…
     -an agenda (theirs, not yours)
     -some inconsistencies (do you know anyone who doesn’t?)
*Plot is what happens when desire meets obstacle.
*If there is no chance to crash if you have not jumped.
Because the universe is fair, and wanted to make up for my inability to even cross the threshold of Bruce’s workshop, I was able to snag front row seats for the final keynote of the conference.  *squee*  While we waited for…drum roll…Laurie Halse Anderson.  We decided to take some pictures.  Guess who joined us?  Linda Sue Park!!!!!

Jodi, Laura, Edna, Amy N., Linda Sue Park, Kim and Amy S.

Then Linda switched out with our buddy Jeff so he could get in the picture too!
Laurie Halse Anderson-DARING THE UNIVERSE
Laurie, means so much to me.  I can’t put into words the effect that she has had on my life, the impact she has made.  The places I’ve dared to go because I knew I had a friend along for the journey.  Yes, because of her I have become someone who dares to disturb the universe.  I love that, I love her and I want a T-shirt that says it!  

Here is what you just can’t miss…
*Art disturbs the universe.  When we create it we make our neighbors nervous and our politicians fret.  
*We gather here to collect our courage.
*Revolutions of the soul are a scary thing.
*If you don’t jump, the wings never come.
*To write is to terrorize yourself.
*When things get bad, just remember, BABY…YOU’RE GOING TO DIE.  Puts it in perspective. Ha!
*It is your obligation to disturb the universe the best that you can.
*In 20 years, you will be more disappointed in the things you didn’t do than the ones you did.
*In children’s literature, we are not competitors, we are co-conspirators.
And here are the best co-conspirators that any of us could possibly have.  *sniff* 
Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser taking a bow after 40 years of love, dedication and brilliance.  <3

Dan Santat signing a book for the boys.

Kim and Dan giving K.L. Going the thumbs up.  (Dan is illustrating her new picture book)
The amazing author/illustrator Marla Frazee.  I adore her picture books.  *heart squish*

No one can blame me for sneaking Jon Scieszka the bunny ears.  He’s just mad because he didn’t think of it first. LOL!

No need to get teary about the end of the conference–yet.  It’s off to KidLit Night at the Pink Taco!!!!

What you don’t know is that we’re hungry enough to eat the table!  (Can you see me leaning in?)

Apocalypsies!!!!  Gretchen, Kim, Emily and Debra.  I love these gals!!!!

We ate.  We hung out.  A few of us even did the Pitch Slam with Mary Kole. 
 It was so hard to say goodbye to everyone.  The conference was amazing, but it was time to go home to the other people we love, to return to our writing, to once again sleep more than 4 consecutive hours and to begin to dream about going again next year.  Ummm and to do laundry.  *head thunk*
I know that these recaps have been endless.  I hope I was able to capture a little bit of the magic of the experience and share it with you.  Because honestly, I wish you’d been there too.  If you have any recommendations for things you’d like to see in future conference blogs–let me know and I’ll see if I can make it happen.  Hope to see you at a conference soon.  :o)

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The NY SCBWI 2010 Conference-Part 2-Saturday Morning

Filed under: Conferences

I’m just going to dive right in because nothing starts a conference better than an infusion of …

Stephen Mooser and Lin Oliver!
As always, Lin got everyone’s funny bone flexed when she gave us the stats on this years conference. Despite the stinky economy, the 2010 conference had the highest attendance in history. A whopping 1,047 children’s writers and illustrators gathered to be inspired and informed. We came from 14 different countries and 45 states. I won’t tell you which states have fallen down on the job. Just know that they’ve been severely reprimanded and feel rather silly after learning that Lin was in attendance after having heart surgery in November. The entire room was pleased that “the heart of SCBWI” was healthy and doing well. We don’t know what we’d do without her. She is the only one who can commander the men’s room for the ladies. Thanks Lin!

Are you excitedto hear about our first speaker? You should be because its the brand new Printz Award winner of Going Bovine….

Libba Bray!
It is going to be hard for me to express the sheer awesomeness of her speech…its hard to take notes when you are in simultaneous awe and hysterics. I can tell you that her first inclination for the title of her speech was PUNCTUATION. Lin Oliver shot that down LOL! So she spoke about WRITING AS AN EXTREME SPORT. Since everything Libba said was a double edge sword, both full of great insight and hilarity…I’ll just post some of her best phrases and thoughts and let you digest them at your leisure…
*Every time you write a cliche the terrorist win.
*I’m not known for my reckless abandon unless its in my writing.
*You take the neurotic things you spend your whole life trying to hide from everyone and you jam all of that into your writing.
*In reference to saying “serious sacks”…once you get a Printz you can reference testicles all you want. LOL!
Libba continued on by telling us to BE THE GIRAFFE. One evening she asked her son what he wanted to be when he grew up. She was half listening and expecting him to give a typical answer when he announced that he wanted to be a giraffe. She was a bit surprised LOL! This story was to remind us to take the road less traveled when we make choices in our writing. Where your mind goes first should be the last place where you actually end up. She recommended the book HOW TO SPEAK IN ROBOT as an example. She also reminded us that people ARE frustrating. Strive for the small unexpected moments in your writing. Her example was from the movie Star Wars.
Princess Leia-“I love you.” Han Solo-“I know.”
Kim-*Sigh* I love you too Han Solo…Han Solo? OK back to Libba and some more advice…
*Give your characters gritty bits.
*Sit at the kitchen table with your characters.
*Look at the layers…look past the stereotypical.
*It doesn’t pay to fall in love with your characters because if you do then you can’t “see” them.
Libba also cautioned us to say no to the Teradactyl boyfriend. As in…”should I add in a hot Teradactyl boyfriends with with a wing span into my YA novel? Everyone else has one!” *Don’t follow trends.
*Don’t let the “Should I’s” creep in.
*You have to write for yourself-listen to your pages.
*Make your writing true and then dig a little more.
As Ray Bradbury said…”First you jump off the cliff-then you build the wings.”
Before leaving the stage Libba implored everyone to join her in the YEAR OF WRITING DANGEROUSLY. I’m there! Hope you’ll be too. Like Libba said, “Write like it matters and it will.”
*Kim bows her head for a moment of silence*
I did get up from my homage eventually. Of course I needed a potty break and then it was off to Break-out session #1. But before we could get to the heart of the matter, we had to take care of our feet first. After acquiring the last pair of boots in Phoenix, AZ Amy Nichols, found that extended days in 2 inch heels had undesirable side effects. Lucky for her NYC has shoe stores!
Now back to our regularly scheduled programing with Ben Schrank, Publisher of Razorbill (an imprint of Penguin).
The topic for this break-out session was THE REAL DEAL ABOUT TEEN NOVELS. Ben started off by letting us know that there is a dream for writers of teen novels and we as writers should shoot for it. What he meant was that there was a real wild card factor in teen writing. No one knows for sure what is going to be the next big thing.
His biggest example of this was Jay Asher’s THIRTEEN REASONS WHY. Jay’s book was published two and a half years ago and is still out in hardcover and has spent 57 weeks on the NY Times Best Seller List. Why did this book go viral? According to Ben there was an almost 1 in 100,000 odds of this happening. He called Thirteen Reasons Why the GO ASK ALICE of this generation. How did all the stars align?
*Jay wrote a great book. *The packaging of the book was excellent, from the cover to the back-copy.
*Jay was great at connecting with his readers.
*The public consciousness was open to the book.
*Word of mouth was instrumental.
In summation, the perfect storm took happened, with all the components falling into at the right time. Ben also cautioned that really good writers can have one or more of these factors work against them. It does not make them bad writers, but it can make their books much less successful. So we should always dream big, because the dream can happen, but we shouldn’t be discouraged if it doesn’t.
Ben also gave a list of common mistakes:
*Writing for the market. The market is a weird beast that is hard to control, but be aware because there is a market. At the end of the day, if you try to write for the market AND don’t enjoy what you are writing, it will show.
*Don’t try to talk like a teen. People read all over the country and the world and the slang is different everywhere.
*Don’t introduce your character on the nose. *Don’t windmill-use lots of words that don’t progress the book.
*If you are telling a story that has been done before (and they all have been) you have to tell it in a unique way. His example was THE REPLACEMENT, a horror story version of Catcher in the Rye due out in September 2010.
*If what you’re writing doesn’t connect with the pecking order of what would happen in a school cafeteria, then it is unlikely that it will connect with readers.
Ben said he is looking for the book that nobody saw coming and cautioned us, as writers, to be nice, confident, secure and above all don’t yell at people. Behaving like that isn’t going to help you.
When asked what he expected from his authors, he responded by saying that he didn’t like them to talk about the inner workings of Razorbill. He didn’t want to “reduce the magic.” He also said that trust was an issue and it was important promote yourself.
Over the course of his presentation Ben highlighted Suzanne Young (One of the fabulous SCBWI Conference Bloggers) and her new series The Naughty List. He mentioned quite a few other great books that would be hitting the shelves soon, but I apologize for not catching all the pertinent information. A friend of mine Lara Zeisis (met her at the Easter PA Poconos Conference last year) also writes with Razorbill, so check out her Lola Douglas book TRUE CONFESSIONS OF A HOLLYWOOD STARLET.
Time for Break-out session #2 PICTURE BOOKS WITH ALLYN JOHNSTON.
Allyn is the Vice President and Publisher for Beach Lane Books and she made me and almost everyone else in her sessions cry. She is passionate about her Picture Books. She has strong memories of being read to as a child and believes that a good book changes the emotional temperature of the reader.
Things to pay attention to: *Your job is to make the words so fabulous that the reader wants to read them again.
*Example HADDIE AND THE FOX By Mem Fox-beautiful rhythm and repetition. *Picture Books are for an audience who can’t read. You are writing a play/performance for them. *You need to right a book so fabulous that you are making the reader the star.
Great Picture Book Beginnings:
If you are choosing to be a great picture book writer, you have to trust that if you’ve done your job well enough, then the illustrator will have something special to use to begin their own creation. Trust the artist. Embrace the mystery of the story.
Don’t forget to apply the same great story telling to non-fiction.
I mentioned earlier that I got misty eyed during while Allyn read some of these wonderful books. It was this last book that that pulled at my heart strings the most. You should all know it. So simple. So perfect. The next time you read it, just think of it in terms of the writer’s journey…or the journey of anyone who has a dream.
Lin Oliver slaved over that chicken all day! We also have to say a big thank you to AMAZON for stopping by with some great news. Amazon is donating $25,000 to SCBWI for work in progress grants.
Amazon’s Jon Fine
I’m going to stop here. We have food in our belly and money in the bank. Next blog installment coming your way soon. :o)





Freaky Friday-Interview with aspiring children’s author Laurie Krauss Kiernan

Filed under: Freaky Friday

If you’ve seen the movie Freaky Friday, you know that its premise is about change and growth through role reversal. For my Friday Blog entry I thought it would be interesting to interview aspiring writers; the same writers who spend lots of time reading the interviews of published authors and dreaming of the day when they might get their book on the shelves…
Today’s Freaky Friday interview is with Laurie Krauss Kiernan. I had the good fortune of meeting Laurie at the 2009 Rutgers One-on-One Conference.
Can you tell me a little bit about how you got started as a writer?

I had a fabulous boss and eight year career with (RESS) Remediation and Educational Support Systems, securing government funding and implementing programs in several states, before stepping down to devote more time to my children. I had five unforgettable years as a stay-at-home mom before my youngest started first grade. Then I decided it was time for me to go back to work. Unfortunately, RESS had folded, but my former boss was principal at a local school district, so I started working for him as a substitute teacher. At the same time, I went back to school to earn a Master’s Degree.
I hated substitute teaching and I sat in evening graduate classes, listening to fulltime teachers complaining about their jobs and students. The only enthusiastic person was my children’s literature teacher. His passion for books was infectious. I decided that I wanted to write the stories that would instill that kind of passion in readers. I also decided that I didn’t want to teach, but I had to earn money, so I thought about a brainless job that I could do, while I pursued a writing career. I started an in-home pet care service and have never once looked back. I love doing my brainless work. I get some of my best writing ideas while walking dogs.
From the look on your face in the picture it appears that your job is full of heart. I also have to say that it takes a smart woman to know what you love and how to be happy.

On your journey as a writer, you’ve had the opportunity to be an SCBWI RA. Can you tell us a little bit about the experience?

It’s really kind of funny. It begins in that children’s literature class. One of the assignments was to read and critique 40 children’s books. I read a lot of picture books and thought I could write those. No problem. I pounded out two in one night. Simple. HA! Another assignment was to read Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, because Laurie was going to visit the class. I remember standing in line with my copy of Speak to be signed by Laurie. I was so excited, I was shaking. When I made it to the front of the line, I fell into babble mode, telling Laurie how I wanted to write books and how I wrote 2 picture books in a few hours and asked her how I could get them published….quickly….like by Christmas. Laurie was very kind. She didn’t tell me that I was an annoying newbie with unrealistic expectations. Instead, she suggested that I join the SCBWI. She also mentioned that the Eastern PA Chapter of the SCBWI held an annual fall conference at this university.
Another reason to LOVE Laurie Halse Anderson :o)

I went home, looked into the SCBWI and signed up for the Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter’s Pocono Retreat. That event just made me more enthusiastic. But then the sad announcement came: There would be no annual Fall Philly Conference unless volunteers came forward. Well, I couldn’t let them cancel the conference that Laurie told me to go to, so I put my name on the list of volunteers. The other two people that wrote their names down didn’t want to direct the conference, so I agreed to plan and implement a conference that I had never attended for an organization that I had just joined. Yes, I’m insane! And I should probably mention that I had only a month to get the program together and mail out the brochure. Somehow, I managed to pull it off and over 100 people registered. Travel, hotel, venue, etc. were all in line. Then four days before the event was to happen, terrorists attacked our country. That’s when I realized what a great organization SCBWI was. Volunteers came forward to help me piece this program together and Jerry and Eileen Spinelli agreed to fill in for two scheduled speakers who couldn’t get out of airports as planned. A handful of people didn’t show and asked that their tuition money be donated to the Red Cross. The day was full of hugs, warmth, and a shared determination to show the terrorists that they could not stop us from doing what we had planned.
I’ve never heard that story, but it only verifies what I already know…you guys throw a fantastic conference and Children’s Writers are some of the BEST people in the world.

A few months after that infamous 2001 Fall Philly Conference, I reluctantly agreed to take LauraLee Wren’s place heading the Eastern PA Chapter of the SCBWI.
WOW! I must ask, even though I’m now sitting here with goose bumps on my arm…was there a downside to being RA? Do you have any regrets?
I won’t say that I regret my time as a RA, but I will say that I wish I had time to be just a member of SCBWI before taking on that role. I never had an opportunity to develop my craft before becoming consumed by the responsibilities of running events and a chapter of the SCBWI. I loved organizing, but it took me away from my original goal. I found that I wasn’t writing at all. I was putting every spare moment into running the chapter.
After two years of looking for somebody to replace me as RA, I became very ill with a crippling case of Lyme Disease. I could barely walk, form a full sentence, or make it through the day with less than 16 hours of sleep. I had no other choice than to announce that I would fold the chapter if no one came forward to take my place. I am so grateful that Marilyn Hershey stepped forward and she’ doing a great job.
I attended my first Eastern PA Poconos Conference with Marilyn last April. She had big shoes to fill, but she did an amazing job. I’ll be back this year for sure!

I know you just got back from the Rutgers One-on-One Conference. What’s currently on your agenda?

I’m still on the mend. After months of unsuccessful oral antibiotic therapy for the Lyme, my doctors had to get aggressive. They inserted a PICC line into my arm and taught me how to give myself a daily antibiotic IV drip. With the help of some awesome visiting nurses, I did that for a month and now am beginning to remember what life was like before Lyme. My friends and family helped me to keep my business alive when I was sick. Now I’m back to running the business and writing. And I’m loving life!
Yay! Before you go, can you give us your top 5 books and how they’ve influenced you?

My five favorite books :
Richard Peck’s A Long Way from Chicago. I love Grandma Dowdel! To my family’s dismay, I want to be just like her!
Joyce Moyer Hostetter’s Blue. Fabulous writing and I learned a lot too ☺
Jordan Sonnenblick’s Notes from the Midnight Driver. Sol is so real! Reminds me of my dad.
John Grogan’s Marley & Me. I still don’t know who the three anonymous people were that put that book in my mailbox, but I laughed and I cried and it helped me to get through making the difficult decision to euthanize my 16 year old yellow lab.
And my favorite picture book is Eileen Spinelli’s Sophie’s Masterpiece. Eileen just has a way of telling beautiful stories that make me say, “Awwwwwwwwwwwww”.
Thank you so much for stopping by and being freaky :o) Don’t forget to check in with Laurie Krauss Kiernan about her writing, SCBWI, Dogs or Lyme. Thanks Lauire-I’ll see you in April…watch out Poconos…here we come!
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