Saturday, June 29, 2013

Second Sight Saturday - 5 ThingsThat Made Me Smile

Thanks to some professional development, I haven't really had a full week of summer vacation yet, but last year at this time I did.  I originally posted this on July 2, 2012:

July 2, 2012
Five things that made me smile during the first week of summer vacation:
    5.  The very words, "First week of summer vacation"
    4.  Justice Roberts
    3.  Farmers' Markets
    2.  The beach
    1.  My children

Of course this year, I'd have to substitute #4, Justice Roberts, who last year impressed me by voting his conscience and not party line, with The Supreme Court (or at least 5 justices).

Happy summer reading,
Literacy Connections Blog

Friday, June 28, 2013

What I'm Reading Now

I just finished Gillian Flynn's first book, Sharp Objects.  It was suspenseful, but nowhere near so as her bestseller, Gone Girl.  This is what I posted about Gone Girl on August 8, 2012:

August 8, 2012
I just finished reading New York Times bestseller, Gone Girl, about a young woman who disappears on her fifth wedding anniversary.  This thriller is told from the point of view of the husband beginning with the day of the disappearance, and from the point of view of the wife, through old diary entries.  And that duality, shows that author, Gillian Flynn can write voice!  This is how to develop characters. (And she develops them so well, that you might not like either of them.)
SPOILER ALERT!!  If you are currently reading this book, or are thinking of reading this book for narrative suspense, navigate yourself away from this blog post right now!  I mean it.  Check your email, play Logo Quiz, do something else.  Anything else.
Ok, if you're still with me, I want to tell you that I was disappointed in the ending.  Very near the end is a plot twist that will leave you staring at your book, Nook, iPad or Kindle, shaking your head, thinking, "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOH!"  "No, no, no."  However, even though the end of the plot disappoints, the voice is so well written that I strongly recommend this book to all aspiring writers and writing teachers.  This is a model text of writing voice, maintaining voice and enriching that voice as plot twists reveal additional facets of a character's personality. 
More examples of voice and character-development tomorrow.
Happy reading and writing,

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Thank You, Kathy Temean

Writer and Illustrator, Kathy Temean blogged about my summer reading book review in the July 2013 issue of Parenting.  Kathy is very supportive of writers and illustrators.  As RA of the NJSCBWI, she has organized countless workshops, conferences and networking opportunities for fellow writers and illustrators.  Several years ago, I wrote about her infectious enthusiasm and  wonderful workshop in a piece published in Sprouts.   You can read a reprint of that piece below:





            I cried all the way from Long Island to New Jersey.   It was the first time I went away without my husband and children, and was on the verge of turning around and coming home, several times.

            Something, however, kept propelling me onward. Perhaps it was the dream of publication.  Perhaps it was my growing stack of personalized rejection letters stating how much this-or-that particular editor enjoyed my manuscript, but in the end “it just wasn’t right for me.”  More likely, it was Kathy Temean’s infectious enthusiasm about the mentor workshop.

            Wiping away tears, I mustered up the courage to enter the guest house of the Tom’s River Country Club and was greeted with smiles, wine, great conversation and a delicious dinner.   

            Over the next two days, I was reinvigorated with all the writing axioms we’ve heard before, but sometimes lose sight of through our many rewrites.  Among the best tried and true tips that I revisited in Toms River were:

·         No set-up without a payoff, no payoff without a set-up.  In other words, avoid any superfluous exposition.  Unless the reader needs to know it for a climatic event in the plot, cut it out.  Similarly, don’t pull unjustified plot twists out of thin air.

·         Be fastidious with your words in picture books.  In picture book writing, make every word count.  If it doesn’t further the plot, cut it.   

·         Highlight sensory information.  After you’ve revised and revised and revised, take your fifth/sixth/ twentieth draft and highlight all your sensory images.  Are you just using visual images?  Are you engaging all senses?

·         !Viva la vivid verbs!  Avoid the passive voice.  Instead of “The car went by,” try “The corvette raced away.”

·         Strengthen your dialogue and say no more.  If the dialogue is strong enough, you only need the word said with no qualifiers.

·          Avoid adverbs.  Again, vivid verbs and strong dialogue should take care of this.

·         Don’t be authorial.  This tip came from the first page session.  Agent, Nadia Cornier pointed out that an author’s voice was sneaking into the character’s voice, making it seem inauthentic.  It’s an interesting distinction to make.  To read more on this topic, I would recommend James Wood’s book, How Fiction Works.    


            I had time to reflect on these tips during my long drive home.  As I crossed the Verrazano bridge and hit the sea of brake lights on the Belt Parkway, I smiled because I was home.  Stuck in my own New York traffic, I looked up at the sign that read Brooklyn, how sweet it is! 

Sweetest of all, I met fantastic women with whom I am still critiquing.  We exchange manuscripts and comments via email.   So, would I go back to Toms River in the future?  ABSOLUTELY!  - Only next time I would bring my family and get a hotel room nearby, so I could snuggle my babies at night. 
To read my  current Parenting piece that Kathy so graciously blogged about, pick up a copy on newsstands now!
Happy reading,

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter

The New York Public Library is currently hosting an exhibit, The ABC of It:  Why Children's Books Matter.  The curator of the exhibit is Leonard S. Marcus, who wrote Golden Legacy:  How Golden Books Won Children's Hearts, Changed Publishing Forever, and Became an American Icon Along the Way.  It is a great read for any aspiring children's writers, or for anyone who loves children's literature.  (Mr. Marcus, also reviewed books for Parenting magazine, so I feel like I'm in pretty impressive company!)  When I read the description of the exhibit and the importance of children's books, I couldn't help thinking of one of my favorite lines from the movie, You've Got Mail:
"When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity like no other reading in your whole life does."
                                                                   - Nora Ephron, You've Got Mail

Happy reading,
Literacy Connections Blog

Monday, June 24, 2013

Stephen King - Under the Dome

The TV adaptation of Stephen King's Under the Dome debuts tonight.  Read The New York Times piece about it here.  Even if you're not a horror fan, it is interesting to read how long Mr. King had the idea percolating before publishing this story.  For literacy teachers, it is also interesting to note that when interviewing script writers for the series, the producers asked writers what they would do if they were trapped in their own hometown and cut off from the outside world.  Sounds like a good writing/critical thinking prompt for older students. 

Happy reading,
Literacy Connections Blog
my teacher webpage

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Second Sight Saturday - You're Not Special

I originally posted this on June 28, 2012.  Since it is commencement season, I thought it would be a good time to revisit this post.
By now, we've all heard or read about snippets of David McCullough Jr.'s "You're Not Special" commencement address, but the entire speech is a thing of beauty.  Apparently, his father isn't the only gifted writer in the family.  More importantly, the act of such a talented writer dedicating his life to education rather than material pursuits, truly exemplifies the advice dispensed in his speech.  Enjoy the video below:

Happy reading,
Literacy Connections
my teacher webpage

Friday, June 21, 2013

Friday Film Clip - Summer Solstice

Happy summer!  If you are a parent of a young child, you may remember the Little Bear episode in which the characters  plan a Summer Solstice Party.  If you love literature, you may remember that in The Great Gatsby, Daisy looks forward to the longest day of the year.  Although I have always loved the book, (I just reread it yet again) I think the longest-day-of-the-year scene is one of the most irritating scenes in the 1974 version of the film.  I don't know why, but it is like nails on a chalkboard to me.  (Which probably means the scene is well-acted/well-directed.  Both Daisy and Tom seem too rich, too spoiled, too whiny to be remotely likeable.)  Watch it below and decide for yourself:

Happy summer reading,
Literacy Connections
my teacher webpage

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


June 19, 2013

Welcome to my new blog!  You probably found your way here from my previous blog,,  or from my most recent piece in the July 2013 issue of
Parenting: School Years.
Just like my Literacy Connections blog, this blog promises discussion and debate about reading, writing, publishing, the Common Core and educational issues.   Unlike my Literacy Connections blog, this blog promises to be more interactive and user-friendly, thanks to ITS guru, Ryan Case.
If you miss the old blog, don't worry.  You can still link back to it, and I plan on highlighting some of my more popular posts in a new feature I'm calling, "Second-Sight Saturdays."  (If you suspect that might be a cheap ploy to recycle some old blog posts, you're right!)
And of course, what would any blog be without references to food and pop-culture?  There will be plenty of that, too, so relax, eat, read and enjoy!
Thank you for following me here.

Happy reading,
Literacy Connections
my teacher webpage