April Fools Hijinx, TLA, Free Stuff, Oh My!

In what section of the library can you get bitten by a snake?

What does a prank-loving author like me do when she’s booked for fourth-grade expository writing workshops on April Fool’s Day? Why, prank the librarian (sorry, David!) and infuse the workshops with a few shenanigans, of course. It was great fun to model the stages of a new essay with the prank-filled day as the topic itself. I find that there’s less wiggling and eye-rolling when I can spark students’ imaginations or tender memories, or when I can tickle funny bones during lessons about writing concepts. Connecting on an emotional or sensory level allows greater resonance and recall when we discuss topic sentences, anecdotes, and transitions. For students, there’s nothing quite like hearing writing lessons from authors themselves, even when the content mirrors their teachers’ lessons. The magic of school visits is in the synergy between book creators, educators, and the students. I hope you’ll find a way to bring an author to your school or library.

The Texas Bluebonnet Award Nomination Was a Thrill!

Having Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness on half a dozen 2018-19 state award lists was a thrill in every possible way. Ending that nomination year as the guest author at the Temple ISD Bluebonnet Extravaganza and the Round Rock ISD Battle of the Bluebonnet Books was a downright honor. I wish I had photos from all of these events. I managed to snag a couple from my hometown Battle. I’m mighty proud and fond of the Round Rock ISD librarians pictured below and ALL library professionals. One of the great benefits of the Bluebonnet nomination was the chance to establish new friendships.

While my home state schools and libraries often share with me the ways in which Step Right Up has been part of the celebrations and curriculum, I occasionally hear of other states’ book award events doing similarly wonderful things to inspire young readers, as with this Vigo County elementary school in Indiana. Thank you, literacy champions!

Does your school lack the funding for an author visit? Here are some resources for you.

RRISD librarians
RRISD Battle of the Bluebonnet Books
Let’s Meet at #TXLA19!

This year’s Texas Library Association conference will be close to home for me, and I sure hope to see you there.

Though my 2019 STEAM-infused book, King of the Tightrope: When The Great Blondin Ruled Niagara doesn’t release until October 1st, Peachtree Publishing has arranged to have a limited number of advance reader copies for TLA attendees. Even I haven’t seen them yet! Stop by the Peachtree Booth #2648 on Wednesday (11:00-11:45) for this special signing. Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Wordswhich was recently named an NCSS Notable Book and has become a useful text in character education units, will be available at the same time. I have two other signings where I will sign all of my books (Tuesday at 3:30 and Wednesday at 2:30 at the SCBWI booth #2530), plus a presentation, a panel, and speed dating. Whew! You can see my full conference schedule here. Let’s meet! Bonus for those who show up for my signings—sweet treats and a chance to win free books!

I’m co-teaching a picture book biography workshop for the Highlights Foundation with author/illustrator Don Tate on October, 2019. And my summer online classes will soon be announced. Click here for more information.
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Spring 2019 Newsletter, a School Visit Offer, & a Cover Reveal

 Welcome to my March/Spring E-newsletter, reproduced here for your convenience. If you’d like to subscribe to my newsletter so that it arrives in your inbox, click here. 
Special School Visit Offer
Happy almost spring! Thank you for taking a few moments to read my e-news.

While 2019 snuck in and raced through the first months, I enjoyed a heap of school visits (see below), wrapped up my next book, King of the Tightrope: When the Great Blondin Ruled Niagara (October 1, 2019) and extracted a few scholarship essays from my high school senior. I am full of gratitude for all of it.

My nine-year journey (yes, 9 years!) with King of the Tightrope—a STEAM-infused picture book biography—concluded with a frantic rush to ensure that advance copies will be available at the April 15-18, 2019 Texas Library Association (TLA) Conference in Austin. The art by acclaimed illustrator Adam Gustavson is gorgeous, as you can see from the above cover, revealed on Betsy Bird’s Fuse #8 Productions column for School Library Journal last week. The extraordinary research journey for this book involved surprising turns, a trans-Atlantic descendent connection, revelations of 160-years of perpetuated falsehoods, and a process-deconstruction that required consultation with multiple engineers. I can’t wait to share the journey on panels, in articles, and during presentations.

Printer proofs have now been approved, and lucky TLA attendees and reviewers will be able to snag early copies of King of the Tightrope, long before the October 1, 2019 release. I’ll also be signing 2019 NCSS Notable Book Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words (Peachtree Publishers, 2018) and multi-award winning Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness (Lee and Low, 2016) at TLA, too. Below is my preliminary schedule, though I know of two additional events that will be added soon. Stay tuned!

School Visit News, and a Special Offer:
Between mid-September, 2018 and March 1, 2019, I have had the great honor of speaking at fifty-four Texas schools, and I have more author visits forthcoming this spring. I LOVE connecting with young readers and educators this way! A few months ago, I reflected on how school visits have inspired me in profound ways. Many thanks to the librarians and educators who welcomed me into their libraries and classrooms, invited me to return to lead writing workshops, and recommended me to others. They, like all library professionals and classroom educators, are literacy heroes! If you are interested in hosting me at your school, conference, or professional development event during spring 2019 or the 2019-20 school year, contact me. I would be delighted to travel anywhere in the world, and I strive to accommodate all budgets, so don’t hesitate to ask.

Book a school visit or workshop by May 1, 2019 (event to occur by May 1, 2020) with the secret code SPRING10, and I’ll discount my honorarium by 10%. 

The Texas Bluebonnet Award
A big ole Texas-sized thanks to the library association awards committees in Texas, Tennessee, Utah, Indiana, Kansas, and Louisiana for nominating Step Right Up for their state awards. And to librarians and classroom educators everywhere who championed Doc and Jim’s message about kindness and then embraced the character education tie-ins in Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words. As a native Texan, I’m extra misty about the TX Bluebonnet nod. And I have friends to thank for the invaluable tips and advice for managing the wonderful outcomes, including author Chris Barton and author/illustrator Don Tate. Chris kindly invited me to respond to his two-question interview in January. I have a new appreciation for student-elected state awards programs because they not only inspire kids to read more, they also invite them to participate in the democratic process. Win-win! Hearty congratulations to 2018-19 Bluebonnet Award winner Patricia McCormick, author of Sergeant Reckless,and to all of the new and outgoing nominees.

Writing Workshops:
If you are a librarian or classroom educator whose young writers are struggling with a particular writing concept—or if you are eager to prime your young writers for upcoming standardized tests, writing workshops led by a qualified author can expand upon and reinforce your curriculum goals. Unlike traditional presentations, workshops are hands-on writing for kids. In fact, this week, I’m tweaking three requested workshops—about voice, expository writing, and scene-building, for Texas schools. I love the swish-scratch sound of 50-60 pencils in the hands of inspired youngsters. If you would like information about my offerings, contact me. If you’re looking for a recommendation for other available writers, I’d be happy to share that, too.

If you don’t already know about #KidsNeedMentors, I hope you’ll pop over to the dedicated page on founder/author Ann Braden’s website. 2018-19 is the group’s debut year, and I am delighted to be a mentor for two of the three hundred registered classrooms. A lovely part of this new outreach is the chance to support teachers. I’ve enjoyed meeting my third-grade mentee classes—one in Allen, TX and the other in Decatur, TX. In addition to Skype visits and a recent spontaneous in-person visit to their classrooms (so much fun!), I have sent letters, books and other goodies to further connect with the students and teachers. And they’ve sent me letters and artwork, too! Once you’ve checked out Ann’s website, I recommend you read her debut MG novel, The Benefits of Being an Octopus. It’s a truly heartwarming and enlightening story that humanizes issues of poverty, domestic violence, and even gun laws.

Other Book News:
* Step Right Up has been named to the 2019 Texas Topac Nonfiction Reading list
Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words is a featured American History selection on Betsy Bird’s Fuse #8 Productions column on the School Library Journal blog.
Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words has been named a 2019 NCSS Notable Book

Other Recent Reads that I Highly Recommend:
Chris Barton’s What Do You Do With a Voice Like That?, illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Martha Brockenbrough’s Unpresidented: A Biography of Donald Trump
Jenn Bailey’s A Friend for Henry, illustrated by Mike Song.
Lindsay Leslie’s This Book is Spineless, illustrated by Alice Brereton

Out-of-the-box Tips for Persuasive Writing in the Classroom:
Have students dissect effective TV commercials and compare them to Aristotle’s Rhetorical Triangle.

If you know somebody (perhaps a retired librarian?) who might be interested in a very part-time virtual assistant job, please send them my way. I could use help with booking and managing school visits and other speaking opportunities. Thank you!

Meet me at TLA 2018!

I look forward to a school visit in Arlington the day after Easter, followed by three days at the Texas Library Association conference in Dallas. I’ll be schmoozing as many librarians and educators as possible during that time.

If you will also be at TLA, please introduce yourself. Here’s my schedule: