The holiday season is here! Are folks asking you for gift ideas? Are you searching for the perfect item for a writing colleague? 24 Carrot Writing has compiled the dream wish list for writers.
24 Carrot Writing's guest bloggers, contributors, and active founders have each shared a special item that makes their creative endeavors happier, successful, and more productive. We hope you find ideas you want to share and maybe a few carrots for your next month of goals.
Ana Siqueira is a Spanish-language elementary teacher, and an award-winning Brazilian children’s author. Her picture books include BELLA’S RECIPE FOR DISASTER/SUCCESS (Beaming Books, 2021) and IF YOUR BABYSITTER IS A BRUJA/CUANDO, TU NIÑERA ES UNA BRUJA (SimonKids, 2022). Learn more about Ana here.
I'd heard about Highlights -- how amazing it is -- and had planned to travel there. When I received an invitation to serve as a faculty member in their Summer Camp in Fiction program in July, I gladly accepted; it was definitely a highlight (yes, it's a pun!) of my summer. I was excited to return in September for an Amplify Black Stories retreat, which was equally enjoyable. I'm already planning for a visit in the spring -- with a group of kidlit creators represented by my agent, James McGowan (Go, #TeamJames!) -- and will, hopefully, be invited back in the near future as a faculty member.
I cannot recommend Highlights enough. The setting is serene; the meals are fabulous; and the community is so warm and welcoming. This experience needs to be on every writer and illustrator's wish list. Highlights also offers numerous scholarships, so don't miss their window to apply.
Valerie Bolling is the author of the 2021 SCBWI Crystal Kite award-winning and CT Book Award finalist LET’S DANCE! (March 2020). In 2022 Valerie launched TOGETHER WE RIDE (April) and RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN! (October). To learn more about Valerie, visit here.
Nancy Tandon is an author of middle grade novels, including THE WAY I SAY IT (Charlesbridge, 2022), and THE GHOST OF SPRUCE POINT (Aladdin, 2022). She pulls on her past as a teacher and speech/language pathologist to fuel her current joy: writing stories about awesome kids doing brave things. Visit her at www.nancytandon.com.
your feet cozy during a virtual school visit. I have also packed these to take on writing retreats because it’s nice to have a few of the comforts of home. Also if you haven’t tried their regular socks, you really should!
Carrie Finison writes picture books with humor and heart, including DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS (2020), DON'T HUG DOUG (2021), and – new in 2022 – LULU & ZOEY: A SISTER STORY, and HURRY LITTLE TORTISE, TIME FOR SCHOOL!. For updates and giveaways, subscribe to her newsletter, check out her website, or follow on Twitter or Instagram.
Kirkus called Elisa Boxer's picture book, COVERED IN COLOR: CHRISTO & JEANNE-CLUADE'S FABRICS OF FREEDOM, "compelling from cover to cover" in a starred review. She is also the author of THE VOICE THAT WON THE VOTE, ONE TURTLE'S LAST STRAW, and SPLASH! (a Junior Library Guild Selection). Visit her at https://www.elisaboxer.com.
June Cotner is the author of FOR EVERY LITTLE THING and 37 other books, which collectively have sold more than one million copies and have been featured in many national publications. To find out more about June, visit her website at www.junecotner.com.
Alison Goldberg is the author of the picture book BOTTLE TOPS: THE ART OF EL ANATSUI, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon (Lee & Low Books, 2022) and I LOVE YOU FOR MILES AND MILES (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017). Learn more about Alison at www.alisongoldberg.com.
Kelly Carey is an award winning children’s fiction author from Massachusetts. Her debut picture book, HOW LONG IS FOREVER? (Charlesbridge, 2020) received a glowing review from Kirkus and was named a MUST READ by the Mass Center for the Book. Kelly is a 24 Carrot Writing co-founder. To learn more about Kelly visit here.
Annie Cronin Romano is one of the co-founders of 24 Carrot Writing and is a published picture book author. In addition to her love of kidlit, she also writes adult fiction, works as a bookseller at an indie bookstore, and is a literary associate with Olswanger Literary. Learn more about Annie at www.anniecroninromano.com.
Megan Litwin is a 24 Carrot Writing Regular Contributor and author of TWINKE, TWINKLE, WINTER NIGHT (Clarion, 2022) and the upcoming early reader series, DIRT AND BUGSY (Penguin Workshop, 2023). Learn more about Megan at www.meganlitwinbooks.com/.
Kristi Mahoney is a children's book writer from Massachusetts and a 24 Carrot Writing Regular Contributor. Her debut picture book, ALPACAS MAKE TERRIBLE LIBRARIANS, will be released by Gnome Road Publishing in Fall 2024. She can be reached at www.kristimahoneybooks.com.
Amanda Smith is a co-founder of 24 Carrot Writing. Her poems can be found in the Writer's Loft Anthology, Friends and Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children and in the upcoming anthology Bless the Earth (Convergent Books, 2024) Learn more at AmandaSmithWrites.
Guest Blog by Ellen Mayer
All picture books are works of collaboration. But with Leaves to My Knees, I had an extra-special helper: my young granddaughter. Elise was three-and-a-half years old when I first brought her in as a collaborator. A beta reader for this newly published book, she is now a first grader.
The Math Makes Sense
Leaves to My Knees is a playful STEM story about a little girl, Camille, who is determined to rake a pile of leaves all the way up to her knees to jump in. In the story I wanted to demonstrate how young children, before they use formal units of measurement like a ruler, measure by comparing sizes with their own bodies in everyday activities.
Elise at age three-and-a-half helped me “test out” the use of the math ideas on measurement and comparing sizes in my polished draft. As we raked leaves together in the backyard, I slipped in story character Camille’s mathematical thinking. How about raking a pile all the way up to your knees? I asked. The prospect not only delighted Elise, but the thinking felt true and natural to her, and soon she was chatting about the progress of the pile up her legs, just like story character Camille. She was also interested in comparing the size of her little toy rake against the big grown-up rake of her grandfather. For this young child, the math in the story made sense.
Clarification Is Needed
In the fall of 2019, I submitted the manuscript to the publisher. After I signed a contract for the book in the spring of 2020, Elise began to help me with revisions. While zoom readings during the beginning of the pandemic meant the loss of the lap, this technology did afford me a clear view of Elise’s four-year-old face, and I was able to make note of her expressions and body language as I read the text to her. Before the reading, I said:
Elise, there are no pictures yet. You’ll just have to imagine them for now. But I’ll read you the words.
She listened intently as I read through the entire text.
What do you think? I asked.
GOOD! she proclaimed.
Even without the art, the story kept her attention – and elicited smiles.
But I noticed one point where Elise furrowed her brows. When Camille sets out to rake leaves all the way up to her knees, she hoists her rake up onto her shoulder and does so “Because I mean business.”
Elise was clearly drawing a blank at the idiom.
Is “I mean business” kind of confusing? Should I change that a bit? I asked.
How about if I say: “Because I am serious––I mean business!”
That’s good, she said.
Of all the idioms in the story, that one needed a little explication for this four-year-old.
Reconsider a Character
Months later, a PDF arrived from publisher Star Bright Books with illustrator Nicole Tadgell’s full-color art in it. After reading it aloud to Elise, my beta listener paused thoughtfully and asked:
You know, Mimi, Jayden doesn’t say anything. How come?
That gave me pause. She found it odd that the goofy and playful two-year-old brother Jayden didn’t say anything. I never deliberately intended for him to be silent. Hmmmm.
My publisher was getting the files ready for the printer, but I had to email the editorial team.
If it's not too late, I have a suggestion for one more text edit. This suggestion is prompted by a comment made by my granddaughter when I read her the story recently. She pointed out – with some concern – that Jayden doesn't say anything in the story.
I suggested that we have Jayden join in with Daddy when he cheers Camille on with a GO! as she readies herself to jump into her leaf pile, now up to her knees.
Star Bright Books concurred. One of the editors wrote back:
It’s always fascinating to learn what children can see that adults don’t. Thank you, Elise, now Jayden has his own “voice.”
A Starred Review
I learned that the reception of the story only improved with repeated readings.
I watched my granddaughter sitting on the sofa beside her grandfather as he read aloud from the pages of the PDF, her face passing through a wide range of emotions as Camille suffers ups and downs in her leaf-raking project. When they got to the page where Camille steps into her hard-earned knee-high leaf pile, confirming that it indeed reaches to her knees, and shouts “TA-DA!”,
Elise sprang up on the sofa and raised her hands high above her head in victory, just like Camille, and shouted joyfully:
Months later, she insisted that she had “requested” that Camille say “TA-DA” back in the editorial stage. But then, that’s what happens in collaboration, isn’t it? We often forget who contributed what.
When she was six years old and a rising first grader, Elise wrote out her review.
To help her elaborate on her stickies, I said I wanted to “interview” her about each page. With much eagerness and solemnity, she pulled up a chair next to mine. As we slowly examined each page I asked her what she thought and she provided detailed feedback. She loved what the kids were wearing (it’s a Stegosaurus hood on Jayden), Jayden was so funny, her favorite image was the cover because Camille looks so happy.
Elise identified with Camille, and she thought her peers would, too. They would understand how Camille feels and they’d feel the same way in that situation.
Like, it’s a good book because it’s kind of like you’d be if you were Camille… I think the kids in my kindergarten class would’ve liked the book because it’s like them.
Ready to Read
Soon after Elise started first grade, I had a surprise for her. It was the “F&G”, the folded and gathered advance pages of the book, before it was bound. It was a glossy splash of fall color, all ready to read, with real pages to turn. She was the person I most wanted to share it with. I jumped right in and started reading.
After several pages, she put her hand over mine.
She had a surprise for me, too.
STOP, MIMI! she said. Let me read. I’ll read this page.
Since I couldn’t see very well through my tears, I let her take over.
The book had come far in those last three years.
And so had Elise.
Lessons Learned From a Young Beta-Reader
Quite apart from the joy our journey together afforded me, getting reactions from a real child helped my writing process:
Each child and each book process is unique. For myself in this case, I came away with some thoughts about how to incorporate a young child into the making of a picture book:
You will never sell a book by claiming that your grandchild loves it, but working with a young reader in your family to critically evaluate your manuscript can make it stronger and help it find publishing success. I hope the collaboration I enjoyed with my granddaughter, as I worked on Leaves to my Knees, makes you think about using your own young beta-reader to improve your work.
Leaves to My Knees, illustrated by Nicole Tadgell, and published by Star Bright Books in October 2022, is Ellen Mayer’s ninth book for children and her third math-infused one. Before focusing on writing for children, Ellen was an education researcher at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, studying family engagement in young children’s learning, and an early literacy specialist home visitor with the Cambridge Public Schools in Massachusetts. To learn more about Ellen and her various books for children, visit her website at www.ellenmayerbooks.com. To learn more about illustrator Nicole Tadgell visit her website at http://nicoletadgell.art/.
by Kelly Carey
For two years I have enthusiastically participated in World Read Aloud Day. This annual event, held on the first Wednesday in February, brings authors and teachers together to host a day of virtual author visits in classrooms around the world. The day is fun and exciting, and meant to inspire students. But if authors don't take a few simple steps, it can also be nerve-racking and exhausting.
If you are a published author with a book to share and want to join this annual event, here are some tips to make your World Read Aloud Day run smoothly.
Visit the World Read Aloud Day (WRAD for short) site here to learn all about the WRAD program. The site is filled with information on how WRAD works, and offers great resources to make your involvement special. Once you decide to be a participant, you can register as a volunteer author on Kate Messner's blog here. It’s free to participate and you are not required to send books. All that is required is that you offer a few free virtual classroom visits on the first Wednesday in February.
Before you register, finish reading this blog. You'll want all the tips before you fill out your registration form.
The first time I participated in WRAD, I was SO excited that I booked visits from early in the morning and then every thirty minutes until late in the afternoon. Each WRAD visit is set to be fifteen to twenty minutes long. I foolishly thought that a ten-minute break between meetings was ample time to reset. By the end of the day, I was frazzled and exhausted. Not to mention hungry and needing a bathroom break!
Think about your energy level and stamina and consider how many high energy visits you can really do. My improved WRAD plan has me starting at 9am with visits on the hour until 4pm. I also built in a lunch hour. This is doable for me. Setting visits on the hour versus the half hour alleviates the stress if a school signs in late, or if technical difficulties cause delays. Sometimes, an energized classroom needs just a few extra minutes so one or two more students get a chance to ask a question. Building in a cushion will not only give you a chance to regroup, but it could also be important for the teacher and students excited for your visit.
Create A Sign-Up Form
Once you have decided how many visits you want to offer and at what times, you will want to create a sign-up form. I didn't create a form on my first year and the result was email chaos. Teachers were asking for odd times, conflicting times, cancelling, rebooking, and just when I thought I had overlaps smoothed out, emails requesting another change would hit my inbox.
A clear sign-up form ensures that teachers reserve a visit for an available time and only when they are really ready to commit.
I recommend using Sign Up Genius to administer your WRAD schedule. Sign Up Genius is free and easy to use. Check out Sign Up Genius here and for a sample of my WRAD sign up form go here.
My form asks teachers to provide the student's grade level, and the name, state, and country of their school. I also ask for an email contact that I use later to confirm the visit and gather information on a link for the visit.
Your sign-up form is the perfect place to layout expectations for the visit. WRAD visits are meant to be twenty-minute virtual visit where authors greet students, read their book, and offer a quick Q&A. This is NOT an hours long classroom visit with crafts and activities. Being clear on the format when teachers sign up helps ensure that everyone understands the structure of the visit.
When you register for WRAD, use the web address for your sign-up form on the registration. That way interested teachers will be directed to your form. Then go ahead and blast a link to the form out on social media. If you get email requests from teachers, you can eliminate confusion by replying with an email directing them to your sign-up form.
Once your form is full, you can direct teachers to an author friend or two who might still have open slots. Keep a few of these authors in mind and be ready to send teachers to their forms.
Send Confirmations and Reminders
Once a classroom has signed up, I send a confirmation email. I reiterate the format of the visit, confirm the time and date, and ask if the school will provide a visit link or if they would like me to send a link. I also ask the teacher if they would like their students to have the opportunity to order signed copies of my book (more on this later). A week before WRAD, I send out a reminder that reviews all this information again. This reminder email is a terrific opportunity to ask the teacher to emcee the Q&A by calling on students during our visit. With a virtual visit, I find this format works best.
Check Your Technology
All WRAD visits are virtual. While many schools will send you a visit link, some may prefer you to provide them with a link. Make sure you are ready and comfortable to work in different virtual meeting platforms. I defer to the school’s meeting platform of choice as many schools are required to use an approved system. But if the school wants me to set up the visit link, I use Zoom. I have found it helpful to create a separate Zoom meeting for each school. Some authors have a single Zoom link for the day, but I always worry that one school will sign in on top of another’s school’s visit.
Regardless of the platform for the visit, you'll want to make sure your computer has a functioning speaker and camera. Set up a practice visit with a trusted KidLit friend to make sure things are working well. Be careful, sometimes when you move away from your computer and hold a book up, it blocks your voice and kids will not be able to hear you reading your wonderful words! To combat this, I recommend using Air Pods or headphones.
Make sure you create a visually appealing and appropriate background for your visits. Consider the lighting in your space and make sure that as the sun travels across the hours of your WRAD visits that you are easy to see and not shadowed or sun shined out. You can place copies of your books in the background and opt to wear colorful clothes that compliment your book’s cover.
Book or Slides
Think about how you want to present your book. Some folks will prefer to read a copy of their book as they hold it up for kids to see. Be sure you frame your book on the screen, so it is easily viewed. The advantage of holding up the book as you read is that you can point to certain things on each page for emphasis and pull the book closer to the computer camera for a zoomed in effect.
I prefer using a PowerPoint slide show as I read. The benefit here is that my face becomes a small little screen-in-screen image for my audience and the pages of the book fill their classroom monitor. For this method, I start out on camera, and then after introductions, switch over to the slideshow. After reading the book, I close out the slideshow and do the Q&A portion without slides. To create your book slideshow, you can ask your publisher to provide you with a PDF file of the book then build your slide show by making each page its own slide. If your publisher cannot provide a PDF, you can take pictures of each page of your book and upload them into a slide show.
Create a WRAD Day Schedule Sheet
Even if you have smartly assessed your stamina, set up a sign-up form, and managed expectations, the day can still be a bit hectic. Make a cheat sheet of the day for yourself with each visit, the teacher’s name, email, and a clickable visit link. This will keep your entire day and all those visit links in one place rather than having to click around looking for emails from individual teachers and nervously trying to remember where exactly you saved the link for each visit.
It’s a good idea to make sure the name of the school, town and state is on this sheet as this information can be a wonderful way to make a connection with the students in your opening introduction.
Option to Allow Book Purchases
Although it is not required, you can try to team up with a local indie bookstore and offer classrooms the opportunity for signed copies. You can also offer to send signed book plates to a bookstore near the school so that students can purchase signed copies. Both options involve planning.
To offer signed copies, I work in tandem with my local indie bookstore. I create and provide the school with a flyer they can reproduce and send home with their students detailing directions for ordering an autographed book. The bookstore agrees to facilitate the ordering. The benefit here is that I am not collecting forms or money, nor is the teacher. Instead, we direct caregivers/parents to order online directly from the sponsoring bookstore. To make this easier and cost effective for the bookstore, the bookstore bulk ships the books to the teacher for distribution to the students. Not every bookstore will be willing to partner with you to make this process happen, but you’ll never know if you don’t ask.
If you can find a bookstore partner and you want students to have the books in hand for WRAD, you will want to allow time for the teachers to distribute flyers, caregivers/parents to order books, and the bookstore to mail the books out. Set ordering deadlines and allow for the time the bookstore will need to assemble and ship the books before WRAD in February. If this is too complicated, it is also fine to tell students that books can be ordered up until the day of WRAD and books will be shipped out 2-3 weeks after WRAD. All these details can be worked out with the bookstore.
Getting book orders is not the point of WRAD. This is an option that I mention when I send out confirmation emails. Some teachers will love the idea and others will politely pass.
Finally, some authors send swag to the schools like bookmarks and stickers. This is not something I have the budget for and so I have not offered this perk. But if you want to send out a thank you note with swag, just be sure you know how many students are in the classroom so that you send the right amount.
World Read Aloud Day is a wonderful chance to share your book with students. Take some time to plan out the day so that you, and the classrooms you visit, have a fantastic WRAD experience!
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