Sunday, December 8, 2019

Holiday Potluck Recipe - Carolee's Gluten Free Southwest Cornbread

Since my daughter has celiac disease, I'm always on the lookout for good gluten-free recipes. The ones I love most are the recipes that are naturally GF. The following is a twist on an old favorite. It makes a large batch. It is perfect for holiday potlucks or as a fun substitute for cornbread dressing. The creamed corn and sour cream give it a texture somewhere between a spoon bread and a moist cornbread. Perfect for cold winter nights.

1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 Tb baking powder
3 eggs - beaten
1/3 cup corn oil
1 - 8 oz carton sour cream
1 - 13 oz container Bueno frozen green chili (thaw and drain excess liquid)
2 cups colby jack grated cheese

Grease a large 8x12 inch baking dish. Mix together dry ingredients. Mix together wet ingredients and add to dry ingredients. Stir in grated cheese. Bake for one hour at 350 degrees.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Interview with Author Caroline Starr Rose

In November 2020, my new educational book on narrative structure will be published by Brookes Publishing - Story Frames - Using Narratives to Improve Reading Comprehension, Writing, and Executive Function Skills for Struggling Learners. In Chapter eleven, I analyze the plots of several narrative non-fiction picture books including A Race Around the World: The True Story of Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland written by Caroline Starr Rose and illustrated by Alexandra Bye (2019, Albert Whitman & Company). In Chapter thirteen, I analyze the plots of several novels with historical connections including the verse novel, May B. (2014, Yearling), also by Caroline Starr Rose. 

Although I examine books through the lens of narrative structure, many of the authors I discuss do not think of themselves as Plotters. Others have a plotting process very different from mine. Over the next several months, I will be interviewing many of them and talking to them about their writing process. The first author is Caroline Starr Rose, but before we get started with Caroline, let's clarify the difference between Plotters and Pantsers.

A Note about Plotters and Pantsers

Some authors think of themselves as Plotters, some as Pantsers, and others as something in between. Plotters spend a lot of time setting up a story before they ever start writing. They may organize scenes using index cards, create elaborate outlines, and have key beats or turning points in mind that they use to organize the events of a narrative. Pantsers tends to jump into a story and fly by the seat of their pants. They may come back later to refine the plot or not. Even authors who spend a lot of time researching a non-fiction topic may vary widely in the way they plot (or don't plot) their stories. Now let's find out about Caroline and her writing process.

1.      Do you consider yourself a Plotter, a Pantser, or something else? 

Caroline: I consider myself as a plotster, a combination of the two. While I can recognize story structure in other’s work, it’s often hard for me to find the same patterns in my own for a very long time. My aim when I’m beginning is to get familiar with my main character, the setting, and major turning points. The story grows (with some dead ends and wrong turns) from there.

2. What has been your most interesting research experience so far?

Caroline: I loved learning about the real-life race featured in A RACE AROUND THE WORLD.  The history gave me a built-in structure to shape the story around. I ended up creating a huge day-by-day chart of the race so I could have a sense of the event in its entirety. My editor referenced it when we worked on the manuscript, so did the art director and illustrator!

3. What is your favorite childrens book?

Caroline: I adore THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH. I’ve probably read it thirty times over the years, first as a student, then to my students, and finally to my own boys. It’s a great book to use in mapping out the twelve story elements, from Crossing into the New World, called The Lands Beyond, to the Climax / Final Test, which includes climbing the Mountains of Ignorance to the highest physical point (and climatic point) in the story, the Castle in the Air.

4. Do you have any advice for young writers?

Caroline: Read, read, read, read, read. Read everything. It will be your greatest writing teacher. Let writing be fun! Sometimes the word “write” carries some negative connotations, even for me, and this is my job. Instead of writing, I often tell myself I’m about to explore, create, experiment, tinker, or play. There’s no wrong way to do those things, is there? This is a freeing way to approach my work! I hope it helps you, too.

To read more about the plotting structure outlined in Story Frames, visit my page for The Secret Language of Stories. To read more about Caroline and her other amazing books, visit

Monday, September 2, 2019

Courage vs. Violence

We have been splitting our time this past year between Midland, Texas and Denver, Colorado, so the recent shootings in Odessa, as well as Highlands Ranch, were very close to home.

We traveled the highway from Midland to the airport between Midland-Odessa around noon on Saturday, August 31, chatting with the driver about her previous work as a special education teacher and her husband's recent return from the Middle East where he was deployed with the national guard. I consider people like that to be everyday heroes working in the trenches. She was a fascinating person with a remarkable story.

We didn't know until we landed that someone had gone on a rampage and killed seven people on the highway between Midland-Odessa. I don't mention the gunman's name because it's not important.

A gunman randomly shooting people is NOT a compelling story. It takes no unique skill or ability. It requires no courage or bravery.

I want to know about the other people involved. I read the tributes to the people who died in the incident, but I don't want to know about their deaths only. I want to know about their lives. I want to know about the histories of the first responders. Any of them could have been making a lot more money working in the nearby oil fields. Instead, they chose to stay in public service where they knew their lives could be in jeopardy. I want to know about the people evacuated from the movie theater that came close to disaster but escaped it. I want to know about the small kindnesses and acts of bravery.

I appreciate the Midland Reporter-Telegram reporting on the shooting victims as well as describing the bravery of Zack Owens, one of the police officers who risked his own safety to keep the gunman from going into the nearby Cinergy Movie Theaters. I hope we hear many more of these stories.

In May there was a similar incident at the STEM School in Highlands Ranch, five miles from our home in Colorado. That's old news now.  So many tragedies have happened in the months between. I liked the way the Denver News handled the STEM School incident. Their focus was on Kendrick Castillo, the young man who lost his life when he charged one of the shooters. Very little was said about the shooters, but Kendrick, his life, and his story were all over the news. Brendan Bialy, a survivor who also ran at one of the shooters said it best:

"As the trend is now to propagate the name of the shooter, shooters and their intents just kind of glorifies it, if anything inspires other people," Bialy said. "So in this happenstance, the absolute legend of the events of yesterday, Kendrick Castillo is the name I think should not go away to the sands of time." See Bialy's story at NBC NEWS.

It is of value to understand why people commit violence. When someone figures it out, I'd like to know that story, if it's short. But random violence isn't very interesting. It's easy. Anyone can replicate it. What I really want to know about are the everyday citizens who react to tragedy with courage, kindness, and fortitude. I want to know about heroes who don't even know they are heroes until they are suddenly called to action.

I hope that the news stories over the next few days and weeks focus on those heroes and their stories, and I hope that we, as a culture, start to value those stories more than we value stories of senseless anger. As we choose what to retweet, share to social media, and talk about around the water cooler, I pray that we can find those gems that may be hidden, but shine so much more brightly.

Sunday, August 25, 2019


My new favorite children's bookstore, Second Star to the Right, is on Pearl Street, the same location as my favorite Farmer's Market. Today I picked up these treasures I had on order, along with some Patter Bars and caramelized onions.

While I was there, I found out that Colorado native, Lindsay Lackey, will be launching her new book, All the Impossible Things, at Second Star on Tuesday, September 3 at 6:30pm. It's on my calendar! 

Here's what Katherine Applegate, New York Times–bestselling author of Wishtree has to say about Lindsay's book,  "Wise and wondrous, this is truly a novel to cherish.” You can tell from the cover that this will be a magical book.

All the Impossible Things is a middle-grade novel about a young girl with special powers who moves from foster home to foster home as she tries to find her place in the world. If you are in Denver, be there on September 3.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Captain Underpants and Dog Man to the Rescue of Struggling Readers

I recently started reading the Dog Man series by Dav Pilkey with my students with dyslexia. Even the girls love this unlikely crime-fighting hero who is part cop and part dog. What makes these books even more meaningful is the fact that Dav has dyslexia and ADHD. He has several YouTube videos where he speaks very frankly about his experiences as a struggling reader. Check out the video on Reading Rockets. Pilkey was often sent out into the hall for being disruptive in class and would draw cartoons that he later shared with his peers. He was in second grade when he first came up with the ideas for Dog Man and Captain Underpants.

Feeling nostalgic, I looked through my son's old treasures and found the Captain Underpants books I bought for him seventeen years ago. He wasn't much of a reader at the time. I still remember him jumping up and down on the bed each night as I read to him and his sister. I wasn't sure if anything was soaking in. One day he came home from the school library with a Captain Underpants. When I saw the pure delight these stories of underwear and evil cafeteria ladies inspired, I went out and bought more. Those books are what turned my son into a reader.

My first young adult novel, Comfort, came out around that time. It tackled tough issues like alcoholism and family dysfunction. I remember wanting to write "important" children's literature and I thought a lot about what that meant. What I learned from my son's experience with Captain Underpants is this:

Important children's literature is the stuff kids choose to read when no one is making them read it.

With that definition, I'd have to say that Dav Pilkey's books rank right up there with Shakespeare. Interestingly, the same son who couldn't sit still for a bedtime story later took an entire class on Shakespeare in high school. In college, he gravitated to books on philosophy that I didn't even understand. I personally believe Captain Underpants is partially responsible for these successes.

Dav Pilkey recently talked to UNDERSTOOD.ORG about how he believes every kid has some kind of superpower, even if it is just imagination. He considers his dyslexia and ADHD to be his superpowers because they helped him to be very cautious about the words he chooses for each of his books and to "not be boring." See the post HERE and check out the other helpful resources at UNDERSTOOD.ORG for kids and parents. Pilkey created a free coloring sheet that is downloadable on that site.

Kids with learning disabilities and other challenges often feel alone. It helps for them to have role models to look up to who have overcome significant learning challenges. We have to be cautious, though, and not make kids feel that on top of all their other challenges, we have huge expectations for them to become Olympic athletes, famous illustrators, or billionaire entrepreneurs (Several of the entrepreneurs on Shark Tank have mentioned that they have dyslexia). That's why I really like what Pilkey says about imagination itself being a superpower. I also love that his Captain Underpants characters, George and Harold, are such unlikely heroes with the primary mission of defending, "truth, justice and all that is pre-shrunk and cottony." Their main gift is their imagination, and that is a superpower we must foster in all children.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

My New Favorite Children's Bookstore and My New Favorite Illustrator

Last week several children's authors from the Rocky Mountain Branch of The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (RMC-SCBWI) met at Second Star to the Right Children's Books to mingle, socialize, and learn about the store's community outreach programs. This little bookstore does a lot of big work to promote literacy including arranging book drives and author visits for low-income schools. They will be expanding the size of their space over the course of the next year and want to become a community hub by providing room for everything from art classes to birthday parties. They are located on Pearl Street in Denver where my favorite farmer's market happens every Sunday.

I ordered a picture book, Titan and the Wild Boars: The True Cave Rescue of the Thai Soccer Team, to pick up while I was at the store and was surprised and delighted to discover that one of the illustrators at the gathering, Dow Phurmiruk, was the illustrator for the book! Titan was written by Susan Hood and Pathana Sornhiran, one of the reporters on-site during the eighteen-day ordeal. Titan is the true story of the heroic rescue of the boy's soccer team that got stuck inside a cave in Thailand for over two weeks in the summer of 2018 when a storm came up unexpectedly and flooded the area they were exploring. It took a team of international divers, Navy Seals, and scientists to devise a plan to get them out.

Dow was kind enough to pose with me above. She is also the illustrator for Counting On Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 which I used with my elementary school students for several weeks last spring. It is based on the life of Katherine Johnson, one of the women from the movie Hidden Figures, who helped to bring Apollo 13 home after an explosion in space. Dow does a brilliant job of simplifying abstract concepts related to calculus, physics, and aerodynamics through her artful and insightful illustrations. I wondered how an artist had developed such a deep understanding and appreciation of science. Then I found out that Dow is also a pediatrician and teaches at a medical school part-time.

I plan to highlight both of these books in my upcoming title with Brookes Publishing - Story Frames: Using Narratives to Improve Reading Comprehension, Writing, Executive Function Skills and More coming October 2020. Stay tuned for more details and sign up for my newsletter HERE.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Pseudoscience, Fringe Theories and MESMERIZED

The July 2019 issue of the ASHA Leader, a publication of the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association, has a very insightful article by Nancy Volkers about why pseudoscience is often more popular than statistics and real evidence. The article is entitled, “Does Truth Have A Future?” It looks at why fringe theories are so popular and what to do about their growing influence. 

Volkers points out that one of the reasons for the popularity of fringe theories is that blogs seem as credible to the unknowing reader as peer-reviewed research articles. Blogs are certainly easier to digest. As someone with a master's degree in science, I still find it a challenge to plod my way through research articles, even in my field. They are filled with statistics and jargon I can't always decipher. 

Blogs, on the other hand, can present ideas that make sense on a gut level, even when there is absolutely no science backing their claims, which means that we must all exercise caution when determining their value.

To counteract the effect of pseudoscience in social media, Volkers suggests that researchers (and the rest of us who appreciate real science) should be more visible on social media, which is the reason I'm exploring this topic on my blog. It’s also important to admit that science can be full of bias. Even deciding which hypotheses to test is a form of bias. 

Another article in the July issue of the ASHA Leader, “The Research Translation Problem: A Modest Proposal,” by Meredith Harold, suggests that clinicians (SLPs and audiologists), scientists, business owners, and leaders should use “Empathy-Rooted Problem-Solving” to bridge the gap between research and its practical application. Dr. Harold points out that the expected audience of a typical research article is other scientists, NOT therapists or teachers and certainly not the general public. She suggests that spreading the information in these articles in a way that others can understand could be done much more effectively than it is happening now. Also, more research should focus on the needs of the people in the trenches - the therapists, teachers, administrators, and publishers of educational resources who are responsible for putting research to practical use.

I recommend that anyone who has access to the ASHA Leader articles look these over closely. It is available to SLPs and audiologists who are members of ASHA. 

On this topic, I believe it's crucial to teach children from a young age how to understand the scientific process and how to recognize bias so that they will grow up to be wise consumers of the growing sea of information coursing through the internet.

One book that does this brilliantly but simply in a fun but compelling non-fiction narrative is Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France written by Mara Rockliff with illustrations by Iacopo Bruno. 

Benjamin Franklin travels to France to ask King Louis for financial assistance with the revolutionary war. While Franklin is in Paris, Dr. Mesmer creates quite a stir by claiming to have discovered a mysterious, new, invisible force with the power to cure any kind of illness. Benjamin Franklin exposes Mesmer for the fraud that he is by running experiments using the scientific method. The author and illustrator do an excellent job of explaining terms like hypothesis and placebo effect in a way that is both humorous and accessible.

I will be discussing Mesmerized at length along with several other non-fiction narrative picture books in my upcoming educational book, Story Frames: Using Narratives to Improve Reading Comprehension, Writing, Executive Function Skills and More (Brookes Publishing, October 2020).

For updates, articles, and free offers sign up for my monthly newsletter CLICK HERE.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Special Announcement: STORY FRAMES Coming October 2020!

I'm excited to announce that Brookes Publishing has offered a contract for my educational book, Story Frames: Using Narratives to Improve Reading Comprehension, Writing, Executive Function Skills and More. Publication is scheduled for October of 2020. Even more exciting, they have agreed to use the illustrations created by my very talented brother, Chris Jochens. Here's a sample of his artwork:
In Story Frames, I combine my understanding of story structure (from my perspective as a young adult author) with my years of experience using narratives with struggling students in the public schools working as a speech-language pathologist. I have been fine-tuning this approach for years. A detailed description of the twelve story elements along with examples of stories I have analyzed using this method may be found on this blog at the tab for  The Secret Language of Stories.

Free activities may be found on my Teachers Pay Teachers Page HERE.

If you want to keep up with news and other free offers, sign up for my free newsletter on my CONTACT PAGE.

Thanks to everyone who has offered support and encouragement for this project. It has been quite a labor of love. I couldn't have done it without you!

Thursday, April 25, 2019


May is Better Speech and Hearing Month and the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association has developed many free resources to educate the public about what speech-language pathologist do as well as the nature of speech and language disorders. The following resources were developed by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

1. Communicating with Baby - Tips and Milestones from Birth to Age 5. Check out this free toolkit for parents with downloadable PDFs in English and Spanish. It outlines the communication skills you should expect your child to have at each age and gives helpful tips for encouraging development through reading aloud and other activities.

2. Signs of Speech and Language Disorders. Learn the signs that a child or adult may be exhibiting if they have a speech and language disorder. There is a link to find a speech-language pathologist in your area.

3. Signs of Hearing Loss. Sometimes hearing loss comes on slowly. It's not always easy to know what the problem is. These signs for adults and children are red flags that the difficulty may be due to a hearing loss.

4. 21 Day Reading Challenge. Reading with your child for just 15 minutes a day can have a profound effect on later reading and learning. Find small, practical tips for enhancing this experience in a reproducible PDF.

Sunday, April 21, 2019


It's poetry month, my favorite time of year. Spring is in the air, school is almost out, and people everywhere are celebrating in verse. Here is a fresh take on a popular format, the cinquain. A cinquain is a five line poem traditionally written with a syllable structure of 2, 4, 6, 8, 2; however, a popular form with students uses word count instead of syllables as follows: 

Line 1 - one word title (subject of poem)
        2 - two adjectives describing the title
        3 - three word phrase or 3 gerunds
        4 - four words related to the subject
        5 - one word relating back to the title

I used a variety of poetry forms, including the cinquain, in my verse novel, Forget Me Not. I chose the cinquain to create brief character sketches to give the feeling of introducing a cast of characters.

afraid, alone
hurting, hiding, biding
never can go back

brave, bold
knowing, helping, showing
he risks it all

 Copyright 2012 Carolee Dean

If you are a teacher, consider having students do a fresh take on the traditional book report by incorporating character sketches written either in this format or the traditional 2, 4, 6, 8, 2 syllable structure of the cinquain. This is an activity that can be fun for all ages. 

If you are a writer, think about using the cinquain to create sketches for your original story characters.

Another poetry form I used in Forget Me Not was the pantoum. It can feel constricting and circular since the beginning of the poem often comes back around again at the end. A pantoum consists of four-line stanzas with the second and fourth lines of one stanza repeating as the first and third lines of the next one. Traditionally, these rhymed in quatrains of a,b,a,b. In many pantoums, the first and third line from verse one repeat in the final stanza.  The poem below from page 221 of Forget Me Not is an example of a pantoum.

In nice straight lines
He sets up pens
He orders life
He schedules plans

He sets up pens
the black, the blue
He schedules plans
For both of us

The black, the blue
Words on the fridge
For both of us
Tell where to go

Words on the fridge
Our whiteboard week
Tell where to go
The clock is king

Our whiteboard week
Filled to the brim
The clock is king
And I comply

Filled to the brim
A tight-run ship
And I comply
But it can sink

A tight-run ship
A neat abode
But it can sink
If there are holes

A neat abode
Is not enough
If there are holes
It fills up fast

It's not enough
He thinks that if
It fills up fast
He'll keep us both

He thinks that if
He orders life
He'll keep us both
in nice straight lines

Copyright 2012 Carolee Dean

The theme of this poem is fairly dark. Ally's father is a tightly wound and highly controlling man. Consider, though, what fun you could have with this poetry form if you had students take turns writing stanzas about a story they had read or perhaps a humorous subject or theme with the requirement that they need to repeat the second and fourth lines of the previous student's stanza as the first and third lines of their own.

While we are on the subject of poetry, consider using verse novels for your next class project. They are great for struggling readers because there is a lot of white space on the page. Also, if you are working on having students understand the main idea of a reading passage, you can focus on a page talk instead of a chapter. A page can be a much more manageable amount of information for many students.

Here are a few of my favorite verse novels:

May B. by Caroline Starr Rose (ages 8-12)

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate (ages 10 and up)

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (ages 10 and up)

Girl Coming In for a Landing by April Halprin Wayland (ages 12 and up)

and my own Forget Me Not by Carolee Dean (ages 14 and up)

Last but not least, I was very excited to learn that Bethany Hegedus has a book coming out in August of 2019 about the life of Maya Angelou. That one is definitely going on my "to buy" list. See her post on the Nerdy Book Club page about Rise! From Caged Bird To Poet of the People, Maya Angelou (Lee & Low/ August 6, 2019). Maya's grandson, Colin Johnson, writes about her childhood in the foreword of the book.

Sunday, March 17, 2019


Last weekend we flew to Texas and had a brief layover at Love Field in Dallas. At least we thought it was going to be "brief." As it turned out, our flight was canceled as were most of the flights that afternoon, for reasons that remain a mystery. One Southwest Airlines employee told us it was because of high winds. Earlier that day, flights had been diverted to Austin because of hail in Dallas, but when we arrived, the skies were clear and blue.

Another Southwest employee told us it was because of mechanical issues. Apparently, there has been a labor dispute going on with the mechanics union since 2012. CBS News reported that last Tuesday the airlines sewed its mechanics for a "bad faith bargaining tactic." Southwest claims that their mechanics are deliberately grounding planes which is resulting in massive numbers of flight cancellations and that they are doing this because of the contract disputes. Southwest is claiming that the union's actions are resulting in an "operational emergency" that is costing them millions of dollars per week. The mechanics claim that Southwest has terrible safety standards and they are deflecting by blaming them. See the CBS News article HERE. Either way, I have an upcoming trip to Vegas planned and I'm wondering if I'll ever make it there.

I always say, "When life gives you lemons (can airplanes be considered lemons like cars are?)- make lemonade, or go to the Galleria Mall."

My husband wanted to stay at the airport for the next eight hours until our rescheduled flight. My shoulder had gotten out of whack from carrying my laptop case all over the place. I said I'd only stay if they had one of those massage places like we have at DIA (Denver International Airport). Alas, they did not, so I took emergency measures and called Uber.

Needless to say, we ended up in a rather seedy part of Dallas, looking for a spa that seemed totally legit online, so I redirected our Uber driver to the Galleria Mall. We found a nice little massage place there and then had a wonderful dinner at a restaurant called Oceanaire. It was delicious AND I racked up a bunch of points on my Landry's Select Club card, so all's well that ends well.

While we were in Texas, we missed the bomb cyclone that hit Denver and trapped cars on the interstate for hours. By the time we returned, it was sunny and warm. We took United Airlines back to Denver, and it was a direct flight. No layover, no delay, no nasty "operational emergency."


As a writer, I know that any story worth telling has conflict, anticipation, or at least some excitement.
The same is true for the personal stories we tell about our lives. It's the juicy ones that get people excited around the water cooler at work. No one walks around repeating the uneventful tale of good service and fair weather. See my tab for The Secret Language of Stories on this blog and read about Problems, Prizes, and Plans.

My problem was an eight-hour layover and a sore shoulder. The prize was finding a massage. The plan was calling Uber. Our midpoint attempt was disappointing but the climax of our story was a lovely dinner at Oceanaire. Our reward for our ability to look for the good in every situation was this amazing dessert.  It's a huge piece of peanut butter chocolate pie with caramel and chocolate sauces to pour on top. Then we made it back to Love Field with no TSA line and an uneventful flight to our final destination.

Does anyone else have tales to tell about their experience with Southwest Airlines? I'd love to hear them. I'd really like to know if I should reschedule my trip to Vegas. The hostess at Oceanaire told us she had been there the week before and her Southwest flight got canceled and rescheduled three times before she finally made it back to Dallas.

Sunday, February 17, 2019



Gingerbread for Liberty: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution is the true tale of Christopher Ludwick, written by Mara Rockliff and illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch It is a perfect story to share with student's of all ages when talking about President's Day. The narrative is fun and playful but still packs in some wonderful but little-known tidbits of history. Ludwick's wife tells him he is too fat and old to join George Washington and his troops, but Ludwick still finds a way to help the revolution, by baking gingerbread for the soldiers. By the end of the story he has become a spy who crosses enemy lines and convinces the German troops hired by the king to join the American side. I have a free resource on my Teachers Pay Teachers Site so go on over and check it out.


Have you ever wondered why some books put you to sleep while other's keep you awake all night long as you turn page after page, racing to the end? Read this ARTICLE from Reader's Digest on how authors to build suspense in their writing.