Saturday, October 31, 2009

Language and Learning

Sherry Y. Artemenko is a speech language pathologist in Connecticut. Her practice, Play On Words, focuses on the speech and language skills of special needs children, and on the needs and questions of parents of young children. Her blog and articles cover topics such as language development, play ideas, book and toy reviews, and more.

Though I've never met Sherry in person, her inclusion of The Pout-Pout Fish in her online article "Cool Picks for Hot Summer Reading" summer before last led me over to her site and blog, and we've since corresponded a bit by email.

And so it was quite thrilling to see a letter to the editor by her in the New York Times. Click here, and then scroll down to the second letter.

Her letter, written in response to an article about the Walt Disney company offering refunds to purchasers of Baby Einstein videos, is a thoughtful and nicely worded reminder of what children truly need in order to learn.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Poetry Friday


Autumn shifts in her seat,

and suddenly the landscape changes. Gone

are the sun-kissed golden tresses,
the fiery reds,
the laughter of the pumpkins.
In their place,
low mounds
of soggy brown leaf sludge,
by the broad, wide scent of decay.

See the statue trunks.
Lift your eyes to the branch silhouettes.
What stands before you?
Is it ache and desolation?
Or is it beauty and magnificence?

Listen closely for the answer.

Hear it on the horizon.


Yes, it is.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Where's My Mummy? (Crimi & Manders)

For ages, I have been meaning to write a post about the adorable picture book Where's My Mummy?. Written by Carolyn Crimi and illustrated by John Manders, the story begins, "On a deep, dark night in a deep, dark place, Little Baby Mummy did not want to go to bed."

After darting out into the night for a final game of Hide and Shriek, Little Baby Mummy gets lost and can't find Big Mama Mummy. He encounters Bones (a skeleton creature), Glob (who looks as green and globby as you might imagine), and Drac (a vampire in vampire PJs), all of whom offer him kindly, cautionary advice about being out past bedtime.

Then Little Baby Mummy encounters... a mouse! This dreadful creature of the night scares him right back into the arms of his Big Mama Mummy, just in time to get ready for bed.

The text is great fun and the pictures are adorable (none of the "scary" creatures are too scary). Where's My Mummy? is a great book for the current Halloween season, but also a truly fun story to share with a young child any time during the year.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Rainy Day in August

Now that the Michigan Reads tour is complete, I look forward to writing up some blog posts about the experience. I've got some catching up to do first, though, so it may be a couple of weeks before I'm able to do that. In the meantime, I thought I'd take you back to a rainy day in August, when this year's Michigan Reads program was formally announced. This took place at the first Young Folk BookFest, held in conjunction with the Great Lakes Folk Festival.

I knew I'd be reading my story at the announcement, but I figured I might also have an opportunity to say a word or two. So I prepared a few remarks. Not being much of a public speaker, I can't say I gave a rousing speech; but my comments were heartfelt. As part of my look back at the Michigan Reads experience, I thought I'd share those comments here.

So here they are, pretty much in their entirety (less some thank yous at the beginning):

It is a true privilege to be here. The Pout-Pout Fish is my first book. My lifelong dream of becoming a published writer came true just last year. It’s been an amazing year and a half since Mr. Fish and his friends first arrived in bookstores and libraries. To be standing here today, to have had my and Dan Hanna’s book chosen for this honor, is extremely gratifying.

But what is important to me is not that this particular book was chosen. What matters is that the Michigan Reads program exists. Michigan Reads is a proactive program that directly supports childhood literacy. The existence of Michigan Reads says great things about our state. It speaks volumes for the importance Michigan places on our #1 natural resource: our kids.

Literacy is what launches a lifetime of learning. Without literacy, children can’t arrive where they are headed. Research shows us that children who have not developed at least some basic literacy skills by the time they enter school are three to four times more likely to drop out of school later. And the lifelong impact of poor reading skills is devastating.

But the good news is that the easiest and most effective way to promote basic literacy skills in young children –- skills that have fancy names such as phoneme awareness and alliteration sensitivity –- is simply to read aloud to kids. To read aloud fun books with silly sounds and plenty of rhyme and word play. To read aloud stories that are so enjoyable they demand to be read over and over again. The particular book doesn’t matter! But reading aloud does. Reading aloud is the easiest way for a parent or caregiver to teach literacy, without ever having to be “instructional.” It’s fun, and it promotes a love of reading that lasts a lifetime.

All of us here work hard in our lives to pass along our love of reading to our children, to our students, to our patrons. For many of us, this is the thing we do that we feel most passionate about. But I would like to suggest to you that there may be even more each of us can do, beyond what we’re already doing. And I would challenge each of you here today to think of some small way in which you can extend your already remarkable literacy reach.

Perhaps for you it might be the simple act of publicly modeling your own reading behavior, being “caught” reading in places kids will see you. For you, it might be offering to be a guest reader at your neighborhood school, or at the preschool you drive by every day on your way to work. Some of you might even consider volunteering time as a reading tutor. Small acts can have a huge impact, and you don’t need to be a celebrity to be a reading hero.

Learning to read is an individual act, but it is one that takes place in a context. When the context is a reading culture –- at the family, school, and community level -- literacy becomes contagious and all but inevitable. Here today, as we celebrate reading and books and kids, we are reminded that we are all a part of that context, that together we create a nurturing reading culture.

What a fabulous thing… that Michigan Reads. Thank you.

Friday, October 23, 2009

What You Wish You Knew About Librarians, Told!

For a peek into the inner world of librarians, head on over to 100 Scope Notes for the blog post, "Things Librarians Fancy."

(Just FYI, I stay out of the ironic/irony-free cardigan fray by eschewing cardigans entirely.)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Michigan Reads tour drawing to a close

Today is the last day of my Michigan Reads tour. I'll be in Hamtramck at 11 and 1 for my final stop.

What a great experience it has been! The children I've met, along with the parents, librarians, and teachers, have been wonderful, and inspiring. I feel like the luckiest person there is to have had this opportunity to travel throughout the state and share the joys of reading and literacy with children and families.

Once I've had a chance to catch my breath (and catch up my email, my paperwork, and my laundry!), I'll have a blog post or two about the Michigan Reads tour.

I also will get back to more regular postings to this blog, including the Michigander Monday feature (weekly profiles of Michigan children's book authors and illustrators); my off-topic but relevant-to-staying-healthy-so-I-can-write Wednesday Workout DVD reviews; and my earnest if awful Friday poetry.

Till then, head over to one of the blogs in the sidebar, and I'll be back in blog action soon!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Good News!

I very much enjoy Jo Dereske's Miss Zukas mysteries, so I was pleased to see this bit of news on her web site:
"Thanks to all the encouraging letters from readers, I’ve begun a new Miss Zukas mystery, to tie up (hopefully!) the loose ends so many of you mentioned. The publishing world is a tad grim right now, but sometimes you’ve just gotta do it and see what happens. I hope to complete it in the next few months, and I’ll post any good news. Thank you for the good words!"

Here's hoping for one more -- or even better, many more -- Helma Zukas mysteries!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Michigander Monday: Amy Huntley

I am thrilled this week to welcome my friend and critique group member Amy Huntley to Michigander Monday!

Debbie: Tell us a little about yourself.

Amy: I'm a high school English teacher, a wife and a mother to a seven-year-old. And now--how exciting to say it--I'm an author, too! I've lived in Michigan most of my life, and love this state. I'm an avid reader, enjoy playing the piano and attending the theater, and even though I HATE packing, I actually like traveling.

Debbie: And, of course, we want to know all about your new book!

Amy: The Everafter, published by HarperCollins (Balzer and Bray), is a young adult novel that explores the role loss plays in our growth as individuals. It tells the story of 17-year-old Maddy Stanton--who's dealing with the ultimate loss: her own life. She finds herself in a limbo state with all the objects she misplaced throughout her time on earth. Using the objects allows her to return to the moment where each one went astray. While there she can either observe or live her life. Maddy uses the objects to discover how she died and to help her cope with her own loss of life so she can embrace a new future.

Debbie: Other books and projects on the horizon?

Amy: I'm working on another young adult novel. Someday, I'd also like to work on writing a chapter book or mid-grade novel. The one thing I NEVER plan on doing? Writing a book for adults.

Debbie: Sounds like famous last words! In the meantime, any upcoming appearances?

Amy: I'll be at Schuler Books (Alpine Road Grand Rapids location) on October 15th at 7:00 pm, and then I'll be at the Okemos Meridian Mall Schuler Books on November 17th at 6:30pm.

Debbie: Your favorite places in Michigan?

Amy: I love Tahquamenon Falls, Greenfield Village, Charlton Park, all the little towns along Lake Michigan and visiting lighthouses in the UP.

Debbie: Favorite Michigan event or happening?

Amy: The Renaissance Festival is tons of fun. I'm amazed to discover how many other people like to go there to live in the past--at least temporarily. I'm not sure how many of us would actually opt for 16th Century medicine, diet and clothing as a true way of life!

Debbie: A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?

Amy: I realize that I am biased here, but I think Michigan has some absolutely awesome teachers. I get to meet teachers from all over the state, and the dedication that I see there is inspiring. Of course my family was important to me growing up, but teachers always came in a strong second for me. I know other states have highly dedicated and caring teachers, too, but Michigan teachers...I love you!

Debbie: And I second that: Michigan's teachers are top-notch!! Amy, how about something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about our state?

Amy: Its landscape is beautiful. We often have marvelous autumns, and come winter we get beautiful fluffy snow. Watching the leaves bud on the trees in the spring reminds me of what a miracle Planet Earth is. I know there are other states that have the beauty of seasons, too, but it's one of the coolest parts of living in Michigan. It's impossible for me to think about my novels without being highly conscious of the season in which action is taking place. I don't linger on long descriptions of the physical setting when I'm writing, but the beauty of the state is always in the back of my mind when I'm telling a story.

Debbie: Some residents of Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: Are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?

Amy: I'm a "Gander." Maybe that's because I grew up sharing space on my parents' property with some very assertive geese, but whatever the reason, that's what sticks in my mind.

Debbie: Amy, it's been great having you here today! You're a wonderful writer and a fine friend. I hope everyone who reads this blog post will take a moment to seek out your terrific novel The Everafter.

Thanks for stopping by for Michigander Monday!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Michigander Monday: Margaret Willey

This week we welcome Margaret Willey to Michigander Monday!

Debbie: Margaret, tell us a little about yourself.

Margaret: I have been writing in multiple genres for 30 years, but most of my published work is for children – 7 teen novels, 5 picture books and a new northwoods folktale scheduled for 2011. I also write essays, reviews and short stories. My entire writing life people have told me I need to stop spreading myself so thin and focus on 1 or 2 areas of writing, but I have never been able to do that. My dad was a visual artist who worked in many genres; so I guess I can both blame and thank him for that.

Debbie: What an amazing scope of work you have! Please tell us about your latest book.

Margaret: It’s a thrill to talk about my new novel for teenagers—A Summer of Silk Moths—because I have been working on it for TEN YEARS and there were many times when I almost gave up! But I kept coming back to it and having “aha” moments about how to improve and deepen it. It came out on October 1st. It contains so many elements that are important to me as an artist. Here are three: my fascination with silk moths, my belief that the natural world can be a place of healing and sanctuary for children, and my belief that a new generation can heal the wounds of the previous one. The novel is set in the southwest corner of Michigan where I grew up. It is also a tribute to a book I loved as a girl; Gene Stratton Porter’s A Girl of the Limberlost—a classic coming-of-age novel that is 100 years old this year!

Debbie: Margaret, A Summer of Silk Moths sounds like a must-read! Other books & projects on the horizon?

Margaret: I’m currently working on a new young adult novel about three teens in juvenile detention who have a sworn a pact of secrecy about their crime. Very different from Silk Moths, really fun, full of twists and surprises, no title yet.

Debbie: Sounds wonderful. Margaret, do you have any upcoming appearances?

Margaret: All still unfolding. I was recently at the Midwest Booksellers Association in St. Paul, Minnesota in late September. Check my novel’s website for upcoming appearances:

Debbie: Your favorite places in Michigan?

Margaret: I have traveled all over the world and I have come to really appreciate the natural wonders of Michigan: St. Joseph’s Tiscornia Beach in the summer, the Leelanau Peninsula in the fall, Hoffmaster Park ski trails in Muskegon in the winter, and year-round the great and historic city of Marquette in the Upper Peninsula. I also love my home town of Grand Haven—the beautiful boardwalk and the lighthouse, Morningstar Restaurant and the Bookman Bookstore, the deep ravine behind my house, full of deer and owls and an occasional fox. What would I do without these places?

Debbie: Do you have a favorite Michigan event or happening?

Margaret: Actually, as I’m getting older, I tend to avoid crowds, so a lot of the wonderful festivals—like the Cherry, Blueberry and Apple Blossom Festivals, Tulip Festival and Grand Haven’s own Coast Guard Festival—don’t tempt me like they used to when my children were small. I’m getting to where I get more excited about the local farmer’s market than a festival. I love the two weeks in early late May/early June when the lilacs bloom. Or the arrival of Michigan asparagus. Or the first cider pressing in the fall.

Debbie: Those are some of my favorite Michigan happenings, too. Love that fall cider! Margaret, tell us about a few Michigan people we should all know about.

Margaret: A lot of important writers have come from Michigan—two I would mention here are Iola Fuller, who was born in Marcellus, Michigan and was a librarian. She wrote The Loon Feather, a classic historical novel published in the 40’s and set primarily on Mackinaw Island, narrated by an Ojibwa girl, the daughter of Tecumseh. It’s an amazing, amazing book. I also love to mention the great Verna Aardema, whose work includes Why Mosquitos Buzz in People’s Ears, winner of the Caldecott in 1976. Born in New Era, she was a dedicated elementary school teacher in Muskegon before she was an author. The first booksigning I ever had was with Verna at the Bookman in Grand Haven, a very precious memory.

Debbie: What a wonderful experience that must have been!
Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about our state?

Margaret: I don’t think people who are not Michigan residents know or appreciate our Upper Peninsula—how geographically and historically unique it is up there. In fact, a lot of Michigan residents don’t know. It is a treasure trove of international folklore because of the immigrants who came from all over the world to work in the lumber camps and mining towns—the French Canadians, the Finns, the Swedes, the Irish, the Brits. There were African-American lumberjacks. There were Native Americans tribes long before the Europeans came and overdid the logging and mining thing. The U.P. still has wide areas that are undeveloped, unspoiled and gorgeous. The stretch along the lower shores of Lake Superior comes to mind. Marquette is one of my favorite cities in the world. And don’t forget the tiny & weird roadside historical museums...I’ve visited quite a few.

Debbie: Some residents of Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others, Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: Are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?

Margaret: Wow, I am really sounding like a Michiganian here!

Debbie: Michiganian it is! Margaret, I truly enjoyed this interview. Thank you for being here today!