I began writing books for children because I love the world as children see it. It's so fresh and exciting and full of life. I have mutliple, published picture books and a middle grade novel, Dragon Wishes. I have two upcoming picture books in 2014 - Toby and Waggers. Toby is about a sea turtle's adventures from egg to ocean. Waggers is about a dog who wants to be good, really good, but his tail gets in the way.
I earned a PhD from the University of Virginia in 2000, and recently completed an MFA in Writing for Children at Vermont College (2011).
One of the highlights of being a writer, is school visits. I learn as much from the children and their teachers as I hope they do from me. To help that happen, I treat presentations like my writing. I sculpt and revise them regularly to keep them interesting and fun for everyone.
Below is a short description of what I do during a school visit. I've developed my programs, very generally, to build upon one another and grow with the children:
Grades K - 2:
This presentation has three main parts. First, we talk about how a book goes from an idea to a finished project. I talk to them briefly about getting an idea down and into a story, as well as show them early dummy books, illustrations, press proofs, and fold and gathers. Next, we read one of my books. Finally, we launch int o Q & A.
I use a power point presentations for this talk, "ideas to books". As a follow up for teachers, I also have various exercises on line in a teacher pack, one of which is a writing assignment, that they can use in the classroom after my visit. Time: 30-45 min
Grades 3 - 8:
This presentation focuses on the nuts and bolts of the writing process. We use a picture book as a tool to talk about story structure - exciting event/hook, building problems, climax, wrapping it up, ending with a twist - and story arc, and dissect the picture book story into its parts as examples of story development. I use a power point for this, so that we can talk about each section in detail. I segway from story structure into the writing process and revisions. I explain with examples from my own work and others why revisions take so long. I tell the students that it's almost embarassing to show my early drafts, but I do so to make a point. Even published authors have to hone. Time: 45 min - 1 Hour
Writing Workshop for Grades 3 - 8 (smaller groups):
This is a character development workshop that I do with smaller groups of students in grades 3 - 8. It builds upon the story structure and writing process talk by guiding students through creating their own character and then writing a short story about them. I use a sentence in which they must come up with a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, and mysterious note. We use the sentence to set up the story for its character, place, and mood. We go through each of these sentence parts, i.e. noun, verb, adjective, etc, talking about what would work well together and making sure they all fit together. We then begin character development. I give them general ideas they can use to build their character, from personality to features to main emotion. Then the students spend about 20 minutes writing up their story. The length of the stories vary. For 3rd graders I ask them to write 10 sentences. 4th graders, 15 and 5th-8th graders 20 sentences - up to a page. Students generally seem to be able to complete the assignment and still have time for sharing. I save about 15 minutes at the end to read through some of the stories and offer tips on how to improve. I also use a power point for the workshop. Often, teachers ask for a copy so that they can use it in class and build upon it. Time: 1 hr - 1 hr 15 min
This is a multi-part presentation that begins with a short tell all about my road to authorhood, that then segways into an amalgamation of story structure, writing process, and the nuts and bolts of revisions. Power point presentation, 1 hour.
Lunch with the Author:
This is a fun chance for a meet and greet with the author in a slightly less formal setting. Smaller sized groups, e.g. 20 and less seem to work best. It gives children a chance to ask questions they may have been too nervous to ask in the larger groups, as well as pick an author's brain.
I have spoken to all sizes of groups, ranging from 10 to 1500. I am pretty comfortable with just about any size. The writing workshop usually works better if it is just students and myself, in smaller sizes (50 or less). It works as a large group (I've seen up to 750 students), provided there are extra teachers to help field questions.
Some programs I've been asked to do:
1) 1 general session for k-2, 1 general session for 3 - 5, 3 individual writing workshops, one for each grade 3 - 5, Lunch with a group of students
2) 5 sessions, one for each grade level and Lunch with a group of students
3) 1 general session with 3 - 5, 3 individual writing workshops, one for each grade 3 - 5 and Lunch with a group of students
4) 5 smaller sessions with grades K - 2 only and Lunch with a group of students
What we end up doing is really up to the librarian and what works best for the school. I'm flexible. I can put together just about anything.