Monday, September 18, 2023

Highlights of the Letters and Lines Conference for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators

Earlier this month I attended my first Letters and Lines Conference for Children's Writers and Illustrators. It is put on every year in Colorado by the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. I have attended many similar conferences while living in New Mexico, but this was my first Colorado conference. It was held at the Denver West Marriott in Golden.

One of the best perks of being a member of SCBWI is getting to know so many talented children's authors and illustrators. It is a pure delight when I already love a book and then get to meet the author or illustrator behind that book at an SCBWI event. That happened a few years ago when I ran into Dow Phumirik at Second Star to the Right Bookstore. I already loved her masterfully illustrated Counting on Katherine: How: Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo Thirteen written by Helaine Becker. I was in the process of highlighting it as one of the titles I explored in my book, Story Frames for Teaching Literacy: Enhancing Student Learning Through the Power of Storytelling, so it was great fun to meet the illustrator. Since then I have become a big fan of anything illustrated by Dow, so I was thrilled to see another book of hers that I already loved at the Letters and Lines Conference Bookstore - Hello, Tree. Even more special, the author, Ana Crespo, was a conference presenter. She is an agent as well as an author and had wonderful insights to share during a pitch panel and a picture book critique seminar. In the photo below, Dow is pictured on the right and Ana is on the left.

Hello, Tree fits perfectly with my blog theme for the year on stories about resilience. Although it is a work of fiction, it was inspired by the 2013 Black Forest fire in Colorado. Watch a video of Ana talking about the book HERE. What I love most about this book is that it is written from the perspective of the tree which makes it a wonderful selection to use with any age group to explore point of view. I suggest comparing it to Almost to Freedom written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson (a friend from SCBWI New Mexico) and illustrated by Colin Bootman. Vaunda's book is a story about the Underground Railroad written from the perspective of a doll. Because they are short, using picture books for POV discussions provides the opportunity to discuss two or more complete works in a limited time frame.

I also got to catch up with Beth Anderson and Jolene Gutierrez. We presented an author/educator panel on "Using Narratives as a Bridge to Informational Text" at Reading in the City in Denver last April and will be presenting the same panel in Copper Mountain at Reading in the Rockies on September 30. Please attend if you happen to be at that conference sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Branch of the International Dyslexia Association. 

Last but surely not least, Andrea Wang, author of Watercress, was the keynote speaker. We all loved Andrea and her work before her book won the Caldecott, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and a Newbery Honor, so it has been especially exciting to watch her popularity as an author grow and expand. See the author panel below on promoting storytelling that Beth, Dow, and I did with Andrea before she and Watercress were so famous. 

Check out these blog posts:

Interview with Beth Anderson on The Resilience of English Language Learners.

Interview with Jolene Gutierrez on The Resilience of Bionic Beasts

Children's Author Panel on Promoting Storytelling with Dow, Beth, and Andrea.

Watch for upcoming blog posts where I will share more book titles from Letters and Lines.

Sign up for my newsletter to keep up with upcoming author interviews and book news. Visit the Sign Up Page on my website at for details and discover free offers. 

Sunday, August 6, 2023

TOO MUCH! An Overwhelming Day - Book Launch

Too Much! An Overwhelming Day is a picture book by author/educator Jolene Gutierrez about what it feels like to be a child with sensory processing challenges. Too Much! fits well this year's blog theme of "Books About Resilience" because it provides so many practical suggestions for helping kids build skills and gain confidence in their ability to self-regulate. 

Jolene has experience as both a teacher and a librarian working with kids with autism and sensory processing issues. Most important, she has sensory processing difficulties of her own which she discussed at her book launch on Saturday, August 5 at Second Star to the Right bookstore in Denver, CO.  

Jolene's "Note to Caregivers and Educators" at the end of Too Much! provides useful tips about going from TOO MUCH! to JUST RIGHT. There are practical suggestions for what to do when a child is overwhelmed by specific types of stimuli like sound, textures, touch, and sight. The author's note provides definitions for the different types of sensory systems and ideas for helping adults to help children with identifying their sensory likes and dislikes. There is even a section on creating a sensory diet. 

Jolene invited Kaitlyn and Kayla, two delightful occupational therapists from the STAR Institute, to talk about sensory processing. They provided a checklist of "Red Flags of Disordered Sensory Processing" for infancy through adulthood.  I appreciated the perspective that their job is NOT to change a person's sensory integration profile but simply to give that person tools to be their best self and to find ways to self-regulate in difficult situations. 

One of the booksellers asked the OTs what Second Star could do to make their bookstore more accessible to kids with sensory integration issues.  Children's bookstores can be colorful and exciting places, but they can also be overstimulating. I think the suggestions made by the OTs are helpful for librarians and classroom teachers as well as bookstores:


1. Create calming corners with fewer stimuli where kids can snuggle up with a book or just take a few minutes to relax.

2. Provide an outdoor space if possible. Kids sometimes become overstimulated and benefit from going outside to center themselves. Outdoor spaces can be very calming to people experiencing dysregulation. 

3. When offering programs for children, make sure there are a variety of options for viewing (i.e. sitting in chairs, sitting on the ground, using other flexible seating options, or standing up). Be sensitive to the fact that some kids may need to get up and move around. Creative spaces near the event but on the fringe can provide opportunities for kids to engage to the extent that they are comfortable. 

4. Clapping at large events can be very loud and distressing. Before the event, encourage quieter ways of showing appreciation such as snapping fingers or waving hands. 

Learn more about the work of the STAR Institute at Check out their pages for:

  • Understanding Sensory Processing
  • Symptoms Checklist
  • Continued Education for Professionals.

Jolene and I will be presenting an author/educator panel with Beth Anderson on Saturday, September 30 at the Reading in the Rockies Conference at the Copper Mountain Resort in Copper Mountain Colorado. The subject is "Using Narratives as a Bridge to Informational Text." Find out more about the conference and my other 2023 presentations (including ASHA and IDA) on my EVENTS Page.

Sign up for my newsletter HERE to keep up with articles, free activities, and news about my decodable book series HOT RODs (Higher Order Thinking through the Reading of Decodables). 

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Great Minds in Your Neighborhood - Reflections on a Writer's Retreat

We know the names of the Great Minds around the world, but it is just as important to discover the Great Minds in our own neighborhoods. They may not get the same recognition as scientists like Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking. Their work may not be as easily recognized as that of Steven Spielberg or J.K. Rowling, but they are special to us in different ways. They are much more accessible, and they teach us that genius is all around us. I have been reflecting on this idea since attending a writer's retreat earlier this summer in New Mexico at the Norbertine Abbey. Twelve of us got together to write by day and talk about writing by night.

I left New Mexico in 2017 after spending nearly 30 years there. Every June I return for an informal writer's retreat loosely organized by one of our previous SCBWI regional representatives. The group includes both published authors (see some of our book covers below) as well as pre-published authors. One of our greatest joys this June was celebrating Susan Wider and her book It's My Whole Life: Charlotte Salomon: An Artist in Hiding During World War II. Her book won the 2023 Jewish Book Award for Juvenile Fiction. A few years ago,  Susan was one of our pre-published writers, wondering if she would ever find an agent and an editor. Now she is an award-winning author with worldwide recognition. Check out her book at Norton Books for Young Readers. 

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson has been a celebrity in our little circle for many years. She has a knack for finding little-known heroes and telling their stories. Let 'er Buck! George Fletcher, The People's Champion illustrated by Gordon C. James tells the true story of an African American black rodeo champion. Vaunda won the Coretta Scott King Award for Bad New for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. I love sharing this book with my struggling readers. Bass was a former slave and had to memorize the arrest warrants because he could not read. Unrelated to Vaunda's book, I recently found out that the creators of the Yellowstone series are creating a TV series based on Bass Reeves.  Vaunda has a wonderful blog called the Book Itch. It was inspired by her book,  The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, & Harlem's Greatest Bookstore, also illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. Check out The Book Itch and scroll to the bottom of Vaunda's blog to sign up for email updates.

Sharon Sivinski, a retired middle school science teacher, has decided to tell her non-fiction STEM stories via a fun YouTube channel called STEM with COG.  I just watched a 9-minute video on How Crude Oil and Transportation Produce Carbon Dioxide. Her style has a definite Bill Nye the Science Guy feel to it. She explains complicated concepts in engaging and visual ways. 

Kimberley Griffiths Little has published multiple children's book series and is now publishing sweet romance and romantic suspense under the pen name of Kimberley Monpetit. She has a YouTube channel where her many book trailers may be found.  

Chris Eboch has published over 100 children's books. (Check out her website for her middle-grade novels and writing workshops.) She also writes mystery and romance under the pen name of Kris Bock, including The Accidental Detective mystery series and The Accidental Billionaire Cowboys sweet romance series. Check out her page at Tule Publishing

Molly Blaisdell started joining us a few years ago from Texas. My husband and I split our time between Denver and Texas these days, so Molly and I are almost neighbors (except for the fact that Texas is a VERY large state). She has more titles than I can count, many of them with a science emphasis. Check out her books at

Cynthia Grady, poet and picture book author has a website at Her most recent book Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind includes excerpts of correspondences between one caring librarian and her students who were interred during World War 2.

Last of all, check out the titles from my new project, The HOT ROD series of Decodable Books, on my website at Scroll to the bottom of the home page to see my list of titles, and then explore the rest of the website. There are pages full of strategies and free activities for working with struggling readers. Read Hank the Tank for free if you are a member of Kindle Unlimited.

Don't forget to SUBSCRIBE to my newsletter to receive updates about my new decodable book series.

The members of our little retreat are just a few of the many talented authors I have met through the local New Mexico Chapter of SCBWI.  When my husband and I moved to Colorado and I joined the Rocky Mountain SCBWI, I met dozens more. Whether you are an illustrator, an author, or a teacher wanting to connect with authors, checking out your local SCBWI chapter is a great place to start. You may just meet some great minds in your own backyard.

Monday, July 10, 2023

FREE Activity Guide for HANK THE TANK

I am excited to announce that my decodable reader, Hank the Tank, is available now in hardcover, paperback, and e-book formats. The e-book version is FREE if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited. The Activity Book is coming in August of 2023. Watch this blog or sign up for my newsletter for updates. This is a great book to share with kids who may be traveling to bear country this summer!

For a preview of the first chapter of the book, Download the FREE Hank Activity Guide. It includes a Scavenger Word Hunt based on Part 1 of the book (included in the Activity Guide.) The purpose of the Word Hunt is to encourage rereading in a fun and engaging way. Other activities cover phonological awareness, rhyme, and alliteration. There is also a fun Snack Attack Word Mash Up where kids get to invent their own words from food combinations. 

FREE Hank Activity Guide

The story is based on real events. In February of 2022, a black bear by the name of Hank the Tank made international news after he reportedly broke into dozens of homes in South Lake Tahoe. Concerned citizens made over 100 calls to the local authorities about a bear scavenging for food and destroying property. Authorities feared they would have to euthanize Hank.
Fortunately, Hank’s life was saved by science. Wildlife biologists made a very interesting discovery in the DNA left behind at the break-ins. Read the story to find out what happened. It is written in verse and is a fictional account, but it was inspired by real events. Then read the background information in the book to learn about the Real Hank, interesting facts about black bears, and tips for coexisting with wildlife. 
The story portion of the book was written to align with Level 2 of the HOT ROD Series (Higher Order Thinking Through the Reading of Decodables). It focuses on closed vowel sounds, digraphs (ck, ch, sh, th, ng), combinations (wh, qu), and nk. The Background Information section was written at approximately a 6th-grade reading level for independent reading (5th-grade for instructional level).
This book was specially designed for older students (grades 4 and up) and even adults who would benefit from controlled reading practice. Specific modifications are provided for grades 2-6+. Books in the series may be used to complement any reading program but were specifically designed for teachers who are implementing the Science of Reading in their instruction. There are also tips for parents on how to use a strategy called Pair and Share reading. The adult reads the Background Information, and the student reads the story, which is the portion written as a controlled text. Because of the focus on specific sound patterns, this book also provides an opportunity for children with articulation disorders to work on words in a story context with a speech-language pathologist. The higher-level vocabulary used in the background information section makes this book appropriate for students in general education as well. Lists are provided for target sound words as well as two different levels of vocabulary.

Books may be ordered through your local bookstore, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon.

For more information about the series and to find the Scope and Sequence, visit  

Friday, June 16, 2023

Children's Books Explore The History Behind Juneteenth

Juneteenth became a national holiday in 2021, but many people don't know its background or why June 19th has historical significance. Fortunately, there are several wonderful children's books that explore the history behind Juneteenth.

My first knowledge of Emancipation Day, celebrated across the nation before it ever became a federally recognized holiday, was through a book by my friend, Vaunda Micheaux Nelson co-wrote with her husband, Drew. The book is entitled Juneteenth and was published by Millbrook Press, an imprint of Lerner Books (2006). Read more about the book on Vaunda's website. You can also sign up for her blog while you are there. It is called, The Book Itch. As a retired librarian, she has many insights about books and the writing process. 

Lerner Books, has a website called the Lerner Blog. They just posted What is Juneteenth? They have also published several books for a variety of ages on the topic, including Vaunda's, which may all be found HERE

The Emancipation Proclamation which promised freedom to slaves was made on January 1 of 1863. It was a huge success for abolitionists, but most slaves were not actually freed until much later. The Proclamation only gave freedom to slaves in states that had seceded from the Union. Those states no longer recognized Lincoln's authority, so the South did not honor the Proclamation until they were forced to do so at the end of the Civil War. Ironically, the Proclamation did not free the slaves in the southern states that had remained loyal to the Union, though those states did finally have to acquiesce. The slaves in the District of Columbia had already been freed by a law passed in April of 1862. Slaves in US Territories were freed by a law signed by Lincoln in June of 1962.  

Nonetheless, the Proclamation was an important document. As Henry Ward Beecher stated, "The Proclamation may not free a single slave, but it gives liberty a moral recognition." It gave the Union a focused motivation for the war and opened up the admittance of black soldiers. By the end of the war, 200,000 black men had enlisted. 

What does June 19th, 1865 have to do with all of this? It is significant because it was the date when Union troops led by General Gordon Granger marched on Galveston, TX, and read the order announcing that the slaves had been freed. The war had ended two months earlier, but no one had told the slaves they were free. Finally, the vision of the  Emancipation Proclamation was fulfilled. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution that abolished slavery was ratified on December 18 of 1865.

The first official celebration of June 19th came one year later in Galveston in 1866 and spread through Texas. As people moved to other parts of the country, they took the tradition with them. Texas was the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday in 1980. It became a federal holiday in 2021.  

Juneteenth has become a day celebrated by people of all colors. It symbolizes the end of slavery, but more than that, it has also become a symbol of hope, resilience, and freedom for all people. Be sure to check out books on Juneteenth by Lerner.

Sign up for my newsletter to keep up with upcoming author interviews and book news. Visit the Sign Up Page on my website at for details and discover free offers. The website has several free downloadable activities including an activity guide for my new decodable book, Hank the Tank.

Saturday, June 10, 2023

So Many Amazing Children's Authors!

There were so many amazing authors (32 to be exact) at the event on Saturday, June 3, hosted by the Bookies Bookstore in Denver, CO, and the Rocky Mountain Branch of the Society of Children's Book Writers ad Illustrators (SCBWI). I sold all of the Hank the Tank books that I brought with me and was delighted to discover how many people have such a strong interest in decodable books. I am in the photo above on the far right. My two new friends, Christine Layton (middle) and Lauren H. Kerstein (third from the right), are at the same table. Lauren H. Kerstein is a social worker who writes books for children and young adults about social-emotional issues. Her new book, Home for A While, is about a boy in foster care finding a place that he can call home even if it's just for a while. I love social workers. They are some of my favorite people. Her book is important not only for kids living in any kind of transitional situation but also to help more advantaged children develop empathy and understanding. 

Christine Layton is a brand new author who was at the bookstore with her debut book, Light Speaks. It is a picture book that reads like a poem while the back matter delves deeper into scientific concepts like how light waves travel through space and how we can still see stars today that died thousands of years ago. Christina has been an early childhood educator and is currently the Director of Adult Education at a public library in Colorado. You can tell from my book purchases below that I spent a fair amount of time shopping at this event.

I also had the opportunity to connect with familiar faces. Jolene Gutierrez is on the right below with Mac and Cheese, a book about respecting personal space. She has a new book coming out in August entitled, Too Much. It's about sensory integration and kids who are sometimes overwhelmed by sensory stimuli. She will have two occupational therapists at her book launch on August 5 at Second Star on the Right to talk about how the book can be used with kids with sensory integration issues. You can get more information HERE. Jolene is a teacher and librarian who works with kids with learning challenges. We recently did a presentation, along with author Beth Anderson, for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the International Dyslexia Association on "Using Narratives as a Bridge to Informational Text." Check out my interview with Jolene about her non-fiction book, Bionic Beasts.

Below are some of the other authors I got to meet at the Bookies. I will be interviewing several authors over the next few months.  Polly Holyhoke is the creator of the new middle-grade fantasy series, Skyriders. The main character is dyslexic, so you can be sure I will be talking about this book in October for Dyslexia Awareness Month. Kimberlee Gard is the author of The Mighty Silent e! I always love a book that plays with sound and spelling the way this book does. Finally, Nyasha Williams is the author of The ABC's of Inspiration for Black Kids. Her book offers many messages that are inspirational for all kids but that are especially important for kids who don't always see characters that look like them in picture books. My favorite message is, "I am my ancestors' wildest dreams." Nyasha's motto is, "Writing to Change the Narrative." I'm sure her ancestors are quite pleased with her success.

Support events like this one by shopping at local bookstores like THE BOOKIES and ordering books directly through the store. Any of the books mentioned here may be ordered through the The Bookies. Many are still on their shelves. They will be moving to a new location this fall at 2085 S. Holly Street in Glendale, CO. Their new building will have even more space for events and gatherings. Call them at 303-759-1117.  

Keep up with upcoming author interviews and book news by signing up for my newsletter. Visit the Sign Up Page on my website at for details and discover free offers. The website has several free downloadable activities including an activity guide for my new decodable book, Hank the Tank.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

THE WORDS WE KEEP - YA Winner of the Schneider Family Book Award

Keeping with this year's theme of resilience, this week I'm sharing two award-winning young adult books. The Words We Keep by Erin Stewart won the 2023 Schneider Family Book Award this year for the best teen title. This award showcases books that highlight the disability experience. 

Lily embarks with a fellow student on a search to find poetry in unexpected places for a class project. In the process, she learns to use art and verse to deal with anxiety and depression.. The book speaks to anyone dealing with any sort of mental health challenge or any challenge at all. In addition to anxiety and depression, the story tackles bipolar disorder, self-harm, suicide, and OCD. Ultimately, through the voice of the protagonist, it lets teens know they are not alone in their struggles whatever those struggles might be. 

Breathe and Count Back from Ten, written by Natalia Sylvester, is a Schneider Family Teen Honor Title. It is also a Pura Belpre Honor Book. The latter award is given to Latina/Latino authors and illustrators. Like the author, the main character is a Peruvian-American who suffers from hip dysplasia. See the author interview at Publisher's Weekly where Natalia Sylvester talks about her own experiences with being an immigrant with hip dysplasia. The story is so personal, she could have written a memoir but decided to create a work of fiction instead. It's interesting to read her reasons for that choice. It helps us understand how much personal information can go into a work of fiction. It might be interesting for high school students to compare this book to the picture book memoir, Watercress by Andrea Wang which reflects on her experiences as a Chinese American.

In the novel, Breathe and Count Back from Ten, the main character, Veronica swims as a form of therapy. When she wants to become a "mermaid" at a local Florida attraction, she clashes with her traditional Peruvian parents. The book explores themes of immigration, body image, and disability justice. It also delves into mermaid mythology in a variety of cultures.