Thursday, March 12, 2015

100 Days 'til Summer - The Countdown Begins!

Winter has gone on long enough, so forget spring!  We want to go straight to summer!   

We can't wait to feel the warm sun on our faces, scrunch our toes in the sand, feel the cool grass under our feet, swim in the ocean, jump in the lake, catch fireflies, chase frogs, and have ice cream run down our chins.  

Baseball, barbeques and bicycle rides are just around the corner, but summer still seems just out of our reach.  

What can we do to make summer get here faster?  Use our brains and have (parent- and teacher-approved) fun in the process!  Let's get those creative juices flowing to finish out the school year strong.  Brains need exercise, too!  And we're about to take our brains to the gym... the brain gym, that is!

How are we going to exercise our brains, you ask?  You did ask, didn't you?

Here's how.  Beginning today, Friday, March 13th (insert scary music here!) we're going to take pictures, share stories, have fun days and play games.  I want to know what you're up to as we count down to the longest day of the year, June 21st.

What can you expect?  Fun writing prompts, silly scripts, picture scavenger hunts and goofy holidays.  Help us celebrate summer's arrival by following along and posting on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or here on my blog, and visiting my website.  When possible use the hashtag #100DaysTilSummer. 

I promise you there will be something new and silly and fun to do every single day, and before you know  it, summer will be here!  

Oh, I almost forgot.  I have a surprise for you!  

June 21st is not only the first day of summer, it's also a special birthday -- for my picture book A Reel Cool Summer, so I'm giving away one paperback copy every day for those hundred days (US addresses only).  Or, if you're a bit too old for picture books and you have a Kindle, I'll send you an electronic copy (.mobi file) of Smell My Feet! 10 Seriously Silly and Sweet Short Stories for Squirts or What About Barnaby? A Gumshoe Crew Mystery by email.

Scroll down for giveaway entry form and to follow our 100 Days 'til Summer countdown fun!


I hope you're as excited as I am to use our brains for fun, which will keep them healthy for all that learning that's still to be done in school.

Let the 100 Days 'til Summer countdown begin!

And as always... stay cool!

Day 100:  March 13th
Today is Friday the 13th, but not even a black cat, scary horror movie music, blood-curdling screams or creepy shadows can stop us from having fun.
1.  Write about that time you saved your best friend from the worst Friday the 13th mayhem.
2.  Look up the words triskadekaphobia and paraskevidekatriaphobic.
3.  Picture scavenger hunt!  Take a picture of something related to Friday the 13th or join us in the countdown with a picture of a 100 (find one or make one out of stuff around your house).

Day 99:  March 14th
It's National Pi Day, but we prefer National Pie Day!  And it's also National Potato Chip Day!  I think we'll need to throw a vegetable in there it's parent approved, of course!
1.  Describe your favorite pie or potato chip flavor.  It's much more fun if you make one up and tell us why it's your favorite.
2.  Take a picture of a pie, or 99 pies, or just your face full of pie, or a potato chip that looks like something or reminds you of someone.  Potato chips have a lot of personality, you just have to look to find it, and preferably before you put it in your mouth!

Day 98:  March 15th
It's Incredible Kid Day!  We know you're out there and we want to hear from you. 
1.  Write about why you are so incredible.  Do you have a superpower?  Are you triple-jointed?  Or, perhaps you can talk to squirrels?
2.  Share a picture of yourself or another incredible kid and tell us about him or her.
3.  Today Jacqui from my book A Reel Cool Summer has a birthday.  Who do you know with a birthday today?

Day 97:  March 16th
It's Panda Day!  This has got to be one of the cutest days of the year!
1.  Write about why you would be a good Panda.  Do you have extra awesome rolling-around-like-a-ball-all-day skills.  Maybe you're just super lazy and like to hand out in a tree.  Or tell us what you think it would be like to have a Panda for a pet.
2.  Look up the word Pandemonium.
3.  Check out the PandaCam at the National Zoo to see what the Bao Bao the Panda is up to today.

Day 96:  March 17th
Today is St. Patrick's Day!  Remember to wear your green!  You don't want to get pinched!
1.  When we think of this day we think of luck and four leaf clovers.  When was your luckiest day ever?  Tell us your story or make one up.  Or tell us how you met a lucky leprechaun and what you did for fun.
2.  Are you going to a St. Patrick's Day parade?  Take a photo and share it.  Or, let us see how you became Irish today by wearing green.

Day 95:  March 18th
Oh boy, this is awkward.  Guess what today is.  National Awkward Moments Day!  We've all had them, especially in school!  Like that time you told your teacher that your goldfish ate your homework... AWKWARD!  Or that time when your school librarian turned 50 and you told him he didn't look a day over 70... AWKWARD!
1.  Write a story about the most awkward moment in your life or when you felt bad about another person's awkward moment.  There's nothing wrong with using your imagination to make up the most awkward moment.  Try that!
2.  Say the word awkward 3 times fast.  Awkward, isn't it?  Now try saying it 5 or 10 times in a row.  I have the giggles already!

Day 94:  March 19th
Are you a tee-hee-hee-er or a Bwa-ha-ha-er?  Either way, do your thing today.  It's Let's Laugh Day!  Make a silly face, do your craziest dance, tell your best joke.
1.  Our writing prompt for today is a MadLib-style story.  Grab a piece of paper and a pen or your computer.  Make a list like the one below and fill in each blank with the word indicated.  (Moms and dads may need to help with some of the words.)  Then, scroll way, way down to the very end of this post.  Use the words you've selected to plug into the paragraph.  NO PEEKING UNTIL YOU'VE FILLED IN ALL THE BLANKS UP HERE!  Now use the completed story as your writing prompt.  Add details to each paragraph to make the story come to life as only you can.  The sillier the better!

  1.  Past tense verb __________

  2.  Animal __________
  3.  Vegetable __________
  4.  Adjective __________
  5.  Noun __________
  6.  Color __________
  7.  Noun __________
  8.  Girl's name that starts with the letter A __________
  9.  Boy's name that starts with the letter N __________
10.  Planet __________
11.  Adjective __________
12.  Food __________
13.  Shape __________
14.  Plural noun __________
15.  Noun __________
16.  Past tense verb __________
17.  Adjective __________
18.  Fruit __________
19.  Adjective __________

Day 93:  March 20th
It's Extraterrestrial Abduction Day!  Wait!  Is that a good thing or a bad one?  Well it could be interesting to write about.
1.  Write a story about being abducted by aliens.  They can't all be bad, right?  Be sure to use lots of details when describing your aliens, their spaceship or the planet they take you to.  Or maybe it's more fun to write from the alien's point of view.  What do we look like to them?  What do they think about Earth, or our spaceships?  Mmmmmmmm.
2.  Draw an extraterrestrial or dress up like one.  We'd love to see that!

Day 92:  March 21st
It's Maple Syrup Saturday! I started my day with homemade waffles and delicious syrup.  Do you like waffles or pancakes with syrup?  What else do you put on them?
1.  Tell us about your ideal pancake or waffle.  Some of us like chocolate chips and some like them plain.  Or just make up the craziest pancake or waffle you can think of.  Or the craziest flavored syrup you think you might like to taste.  It might not be a good idea to actually eat it but it can be fun to imagine it!
2.  Where does syrup comes from?  For most of us it's the grocery store.  Find out where syrup really starts and how it gets to your table.

Day 91:  March 22nd
It's National Goof Off Day!  Wow, what a perfect day to just hang out with friends, be super goofy and just all-around silly.
1.  What is your favorite thing to do when you goof off?  Plop on the couch and watch a favorite TV show or movie, sit in the sun and read a book, invent a silly sport to play with your friends?  Write about it or make up the goofiest way you can think of to goof off!
2.  Take a picture or draw a picture of yourself with your goofiest face!  Or have a contest with your friends for the goofiest face in the world!

Day 90:  March 23rd
It's National Puppy Day!  Aw, how sweet is that?  Our favorite pup was Pickles.  She was cute, sweet, silly and had a sassy little butt!  She's in doggy heaven now watching over us, but we'll never forgot how happy she always made us.  Do you have a special pup in your life?
1.  Write about your special pup.  If you don't have one, write about why you'd like to have one (sorry Moms and Dads) and what kind you'd like to have.  Or just write about your favorite pet or what kind you'd like to have.  A snake perhaps?  Or a dinosaur?!  Hey, what if you were the pet and the animal was your master.  What a crazy story that would be.  Now, go write it!
2.  Take a picture with your pet or draw a picture of yourself with your favorite animal.

Day 89:  March 24th
So, today was going to be National Chocolate Covered Raisin Day, but it's turned into I'm Running Late Day for me!  So much to do and so very little time!
1.  Let's write about being late today.  Maybe something bad happened when you were late, like you missed a walrus balancing a seal, balancing a puppy, balancing a ball on their noses.  I would have been upset to miss that!  Or maybe the opposite happened, maybe being late meant that you got the last raffle ticket and you won a shiny new bike.  Tell us your real or made-up story.  Either way, we know we'll love it!
2.  What do you look like when you're late?  Is your hair sticking up because you woke up late?  Are you're eyes popping out because you know mon or dad are going to wag their finger at you.  Take of picture or draw a picture of your late face!

Day 88:  March 25th
Today is another cute day.  It's Manatee Appreciation Day!  I used to live in Florida, where there are many manatees.  They are chubby and cute and move really slowly through the water.
1.  Find a book about manatees in your library or learn about manatees on-line on the National Geographic website here.
2.  Pretend you're a manatee.  What do you think you'd do all day.  What fun things would you do with your friends.  How do you think humans and other aquatic creatures would look like to you.  Would they be your friends?  Become a manatee today!

Day 87:  March 26th
It's Make Up Your Own Holiday Day!  I wish I had made that up, but I can't take the credit.
1.  This writing prompt is too easy.  You decide what you want to celebrate today.  I want to know all the details about this special day and how you celebrate it.  Do you have to wear a special hat or socks to celebrate your own holiday?  Is there a song or dance you have to sing or do?  What foods are eaten on your holiday and what decorations do you use?  Be as silly or as serious as you want, after all, it's your own holiday!

Day 86:  March 27th
Is your name Joe?  No?  Well it is today.  It's National Joe Day! 
1.  Imagine how your life would be if you were a Joe or Josephine.  Would you be an "average Joe" or a "Joe Cool"?  Maybe Joe is your spy name?  Tell us the story of you, Joe!
2.  If your name is Joe, what about changing it for the day?  How would your friends react?  Would you feel any different?  Tell us the story of un-Joe.
3.  Did you know that coffee is sometimes called Joe and other weird names?  See if you can find out why.  Ask your teacher or parent or look it up!

Day 85:  March 28th
It's Something on a Stick Day!  That's a weird holiday, but weird is fun to write about.
1.  What do you think would be the silliest thing to eat on a stick.  Spaghetti on a stick?  Is that even possible?  What about milk on a stick?  That's just crazy!!  Write you're wackiest story.
2.  Draw a whole meal on a stick.  I'm sure each of you will draw a one-of-a-king masterpiece!

Day 84:  March 29th
Smoke and Mirrors Day is here!  What does that mean?  It means we're all magicians!
1.  Your a magician on the big stage.  What trick would you perform?  Would you make your homework disappear?  Or make a big chocolate cake appear?  Wow us with your magic trick!
2.  Check out the magic tricks here!

Day 83:  March 30th
Today is Take a Walk in the Park Day.  This is one of my favorite days because I live near one of the world's most famous parks, Central Park.  There's so much to see and do there.  Even if your park is a little one or if you're just taking a walk around your school's playground or your neighborhood, there's plenty to write about.
1.  I want to know what you see on your walk.  Do you see a cute dog?  A jittery squirrel?  Maybe flowers are blooming or kids are playing.  Listen to the sounds all around you.  Is it quite or loud.  Are there good smells or bad?  We can't wait to find out... I think!
2.  Draw a map of your park or wherever you took your walk.  Was it a straight line or a twisty, turny path?

Day 82:  March 31st
It's here!  She's Funny That Way Day!  We love anything with the word funny in it!
1.  Write a story about a girl or woman you think is fun or funny.  It can be anyone; a friend, sister, cousin, mom, aunt, grandma, teacher, librarian.  We mean anyone!
2.  Think of a famous girl or woman in history (even if she's not particularly funny) and find out more about her and why she is famous.  What was she like when she was a kid?  Then write about what you want to be when you grow up.  Oh, yeah, then send me your autograph in case you do become famous one day! :)

Day 81:  April 1st
Do I even have to tell you what day it is today?  Don't be foolish!
1.  What was your best April Fool's Day joke on your friends or family?  Write about it and how you thought it up.  If you've never played an April Fool's Day prank, think of one you'd like to try.  Hey, by nice, though.  Nothing mean or scary!
2.  Look up the story of how April Fool's Day began.  It's very old and you'll be surprised why it exists!

Day 80:  April 2nd
Today is International Childrens Book Day!  We love celebrating books and reading.  It's also National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day!  Wow, two of our favorite things! 
1.  Tell us about your favorite book.  Why do you like it so much?  Is it the story, or that fact that someone special gave it to you or read it with you?
2.  Can you make up a funny story about the day that a peanut butter and jelly sandwich took over the world?  I can think of a few sticky situations that would pose!!

Day 79:  April 3rd
Today is Find a Rainbow Day!  That's easy to do in Hawaii because there's one practically every day, but can you find one in your town?
1.  Imagine you find a rainbow and there's that proverbial pot of gold at the end!  What would you do with all that gold.  What if someone else found the gold before you?  Then what would you do?
2.  Find out how rainbows and double rainbows form here.

Day 78:  April 4th
We love librarians and today is School Librarian Day!  Let's celebrate!
1.  Write a letter to your school librarian to tell him or her how much you appreciate them.
2.  Write a story about a fun or interesting thing you learned from your school librarian.  Or write an imaginative story about how your librarian has a super power that helps you learn about great books and love reading!

Day 77:  April 5th
It's Easter!  We're celebrating with family, good food and fun.
1.  Write about a special day that your family celebrates together.  What do you do on that special day?  What traditions do you have?

Day 76:  April 6th
Sorry Charlie Day sounds like such a sad day, but we can turn it around! Remember how we turned a bad day or event into something good.
1.  Tell us the story of that time when you were disappointed over something.  Maybe you didn't make the team or you got a bad grade.  What did you do with that experience?  Did you learn from it and turn it around into something good?  Did you practice hard and make the team the next time?  Did you try another sport?  Did you study hard and improve your grade?  Don't be sorry, you can turn things around and be proud!

Day 75:  April 7th
Ah, yes, Caramel Popcorn Day!  That crunchy, sweet, and borderline healthy treat.  We love it around here!
1.  What's your favorite snack?  When you write about it, use your senses to tell the story.  What does it smell like and feel like in your mouth?  Do you hear the crunching in your ears?  Does it leave your fingers orange (we all know we're talking about Cheetos!).  Now I'm hungry!
2.  Ask mom or dad to help with a fun game using your senses.  Ask them to pick out certain items at home that you must identify using one of your senses (smell, touch, sight, hearing, taste).  See how good you are at identifying the items.  Then reverse the game and see how well mom or dad do!

Day 74: April 8th
Draw a Picture Day! Wait! What does that have to do with writing?  A whole lot! You know that saying, "A picture is worth 1,000 words"?  Well, sometimes pictures can give you great ideas for writing.
1.  Draw a picture, any picture.  You're the artist!  Silly, sad, abstract, whatever, it doesn't matter.  Then use that picture to make up a story.  Take us into the picture with your words.
2.  Make up a story using this picture.  What's going on here?  Are these two statues or two people? Hmmmmm?!

Day 73:  April 9th
Today is Favorite Word Day!  My favorite word is discombobulated!  What's yours?
1.  Write a story using your favorite word.  If you can, include my favorite word, too.
2.  Look up the meaning of these funny words:  finnimbrun, nudiustertian and pulveratricious
3.  Ask your friends and family what their favorite words are.  Make a list and try to write a story using all the words!

Day 72:  April 10th
It's National Siblings Day!  I love my brother and sister and I'm sure you love your siblings, too.  
1.  Today let's write about our siblings.  I know they can we weird sometimes or out-of-this-world silly so that should make for good writing.  Tell us what you like to do together or how they can be pests sometimes.  
2.  Check out the book trailer for my book A Reel Cool Summer and you'll get a good idea of how my kids are.   The book is based on them!  What if you made a movie with or about your siblings, what would it be about?  Lights, camera, action!

Day 71:  April 11th
So, technically, today is Barbershop Quartet Day, but I don't know how many kids know what that it. I've decided to change it into Write a Song Day because I love music and singing.  Just don't tell anyone I have a terrible singing voice!
1.  Write your own song.  I think I'll write one about spring because it's the first real springy day around here!  Your song doesn't have to be a big hit, it just has to be fun to sing.  Once you're done, get yourself an audience and sing away.  Ask your audience to each write their own song and perform it.  Make musical instruments out of things around the house and put together a band!  Make it a musical festival!  

Day 70:  April 12th
It's Act Up Day!  Not in a bad way.  In a fun way!  
1.  Write a play or movie with your friends, make costumes, put on makeup and put on a show.
2.  Check out the free script for kids, Mama Mia Can't Believe Her Ears on my website!

Day 69:  April 13th
Did you know that today is Scrabble Day?  Well, now you do!  Playing Scrabble is actually a great way to get your writing juices flowing.
1.  Play Scrabble with your family or friends.  At the end of the game, write down all the words on the board.  Now use them to write a story.  You'll have a new story every time you play!
2.  Before you play your game of Scrabble, have each person write down a three- four- or five-letter word.  Don't show anyone what you wrote.  At the end of the game, give a prize (a hug or a cookie will suffice) to the person who used your word in the game!  Or, take all the words that everyone wrote before the game and try to write a story together.   

Day 68:  April 14th
Today is Look Up at the Sky Day!  I love to look at the sky and daydream.  What's up there?  What are the birds doing?  What do clouds smell like?
1.  If you also ask yourself these questions, then look up at the sky, day or night, and write about it.  Do you see a shooting star?  Where is it going?  What do the clouds look like?  Can you imagine yourself riding on one?
2.  Now change it up.  Pretend you're in the sky.  What do Earth or other planets look like?  What does it feel like floating in space or being on another planet.  So many interesting things to write about! 

Day 67:  April 15th
I have to admit that today is a weird day.  It's Rubber Eraser Day!  Or maybe, in the world of electronics, it's Delete Button Day!  This can be the author's greatest tool, especially on those days when the words just don't come together very easily.
1.  Write a story about anything.  You pick the topic.  Don't be afraid to use your eraser or delete button on your computer when it doesn't sound right.  Sometimes it take a couple of times to get it just right.
2.  Write a very short story (just three or four sentences) or have a friend or family member write it.  Then, erase or delete every third word.  What does the story sound like now?  A little silly I would guess!

Day 66:  April 16th
Just because 66 is a number that is the same forward or backward, I'm declaring today Palindrome Day!  Do you know what a palindrome is? It's a word that is spelled the same forward and backward.
1.  Write a story using these palindromes:  pep, sis, level, toot, did, racecar, mom, dad, Bob, Ana, sees, did, aha, noon, kayak, wow.
2.  What other palindromes can you think of?  Ask your family and friends.  Watch out, they may think so hard that smoke will comes out of their ears!

Day 65:  April 17th
I'm super excited to be going to a Mets baseball game tonight so I've decided that today is Root for your Team Day!
1.  Tell us about your favorite team.  It can be a professional one, a local one or a school one.  Why do you like going to their games or matches and what kinds of fun things do you do to cheer them on.  Have you ever put on a rally cap or done the wave or sung the team song?  Do you eat special treats while at the game?  We want to hear all about it!
2.  Pretend you are the mascot for your favorite team.  What do you think it would be like to be in that costume and what kinds of things would you do to get the fans excited about the game?

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What I did on My Summer Vacation
The best summer vacation ever started when my family and I (past tense verb) on a/an (animal) and headed to the beach.  There we saw a group of kids making a sand sculpture using a bucket, a shovel, and some (vegetable).  They let us join in the fun and when we were done, we had made the most (adjective) (noun) I've ever seen.
A few weeks later, my parents made me go to Camp (color) (noun).  I thought it was going to be boring, but once I met my new friends (girl's name that starts with the letter A) Asteroid and (boy's name that starts with the letter N) Nebula from (planet), I knew it was going to be fun.  Our favorite thing at camp was when we gathered around the campfire and ate (adjective) (food) out of (shape) (plural noun).
Finally, my cousin and I went to the movies to watch The Day the (noun) Stood Still.  The 3-D effects were awesome!  We (past tense verb) out of our seats every time the (adjective) (fruit) came off the screen toward us.  I don't think we'll ever see a movie as (adjective) as that one as long as we live.
That's what I did on my summer vacation.  What did you do?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

I Want to Win!

It can't get any easier than this to enter my weekly giveaway of a paperback copy of A Reel Cool Summer!  (US postal addresses only, please)  Just email me here.  Put "I want to win." in the subject of your email.  I will choose one winner, at random, each Friday.  Entries which do not win will be carried over to the next week so you don't have to enter more than once.  One entry per email address.

To learn more about my other children's books, click here.  

About A Reel Cool Summer:
It's the hottest, most boring day of summer vacation! It's so hot and boring, it feels like you're in a mall that's made of really, really hot lava! Confused? That's okay. It will all make sense once you meet Joey, Danny and Jacqui.

Will the three siblings find a way to cool down? Can they turn this boring day around? Will aliens take over the world? Wait... what?

A Reel Cool Summer has all the ingredients for a great movie adventure: a pirate, a princess, a prize and a pig (well, two pigs... well, actually, two guinea pigs)!

Read reviews of A Reel Cool Summer here.

Friday, June 21, 2013

2 + 2 = Summer Reading Fun!

Math is fun and summer reading is the new math.  Well, it is in our wacky little world!

Just in time for summer, my children's picture book, A Reel Cool Summer, turns two and I've decided a celebration is in order. 

Thru July 21, 2013, when you purchase the paperback edition of A Reel Cool Summer for the special price of $2, you will receive, for free, Kindle copies (.mobi files) of my books, Smell My Feet! and What About Barnaby?!

Click here to buy. 

So, my math does add up after all:  $2 + 2 free books does = Summer Reading Fun!

Here's another number.  1,000,000!  That's how many thanks I'm sending to you for purchasing my books.  I hope the kiddos enjoy them.  And another 1,000,000 thanks to the teachers and librarians who have invited me into their classrooms to chat with students about my publishing journey and to just be silly together.  I've had a blast!

Happy Birthday to A Reel Cool Summer and Happy First Day of Summer to all of you.  Have a safe one.

As always... stay cool!


P.S.  For more summer fun, try these writing prompts for kids.  And try Mama Mia Can't Believe Her Ears, a silly (and free) script.  Now kids can make a movie just like Joey, Danny, and Jacqui did in A Reel Cool Summer!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

He was Winston, Donatello, and Philippine

First, he was Winston.  No, not Churchill, the other guy.  Winston Zeddemore, the fourth Ghostbuster.  He squeezed himself into the very short straps of the Proton Pack and carried around a ghost trap.  Reciting, word-for-word, lines from the movies, they slunk around the house looking for ghosts wherever they may be.   Baby number two happened to be born on the exact day that Ghostbusters II was released on video.  His name was quickly changed from Danny to Oscar... just not on the birth certificate!

Then, he was Donatello.  No, not Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi the Renaissance Italian sculptor, the other guy.  Donatello, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle who wore the purple mask.  It's hard to do a surfer voice with a thick New York accent, but you do what you can.  Bo, katana, and nunchaku in hand the boys of the house went looking for bad guys in the sewers of New York... except that those sewers looked very much like a basement in New Jersey!

Finally, he was Philippine.  No, not Philippines the country, the other one.  Prince Philippine the handsome prince with whom Princess Beronica was in love.  Their Fisher-Price castle was the perfect place for the two lovebirds to live.  Together they rearranged the castle furniture and rode their majestic horses around the castle grounds which happened to be pink because green rugs weren't the style back then; it was the 90s after all!

Who is this man of many names?  Only the greatest dad in the world!  He's the one who changed their diapers from day one, who gave them a bottle in the middle of the night, who bandaged their boo-boos and wiped their tears.  He's the one who sat at the kitchen table for countless hours of math homework and who rummaged through the garage for bits and pieces of what would become a Science Fair project or a diorama.  He's the one who played Candy Land, videogames, baseball, football, Barbies, hockey, soccer, and Pretty, Pretty Princess.   He's the one who watched the countless movies they wanted to watch and then introduced them to the movies he loved.  How many kids do you know who can recite lines from Marx Brother movies?  Yeah, I thought so! 

Saturday mornings were about cereal and Looney Tunes when they weren't about 6 a.m. ice hockey practice, 8 a.m. flag football games, or 9 a.m. dance classes.  And every day was about love, compassion, understanding, supporting, encouraging, leading, teaching, and hugs and kisses that never ran out.    

June is for celebrating dads.  And the kiddos and I are celebrating the best dad in the world, my hubby, Jose.  He is a gift we're not sure we deserve, but who are we to question God?  Thank you sweetie for being strong and sweet, a rock when we need one and a softie at heart, and most of all the best hubby and dad in the world.  Happy Father's Day!

And Happy Father's Day to all the awesome dads out there.  I don't think I have to tell you how important it is for you to... stay cool.

Tell us your dad stories in the comment section below.


One more thing...  I lost my dad seven months ago and miss him more than words can ever express.  Before my children were blessed with the best dad in the world, I was blessed in the same way.  Papi, you were everything to me that Jose is to the kids.  I miss your sweetness, your sense of humor, and our long conversations about everything and nothing.  Thank you for the sacrifices you made for us and the loving way you taught us right from wrong.  And thank you for patiently waiting for me to understand your love of the beach.  It only took my 45 years.  I have no one to call me Martita now, but I still hear your voice and it comforts me.  My prayer for you this Father's day is that you may be enveloped in the loving arms of God and surrounded by all the angels in heaven.  I love you to no end.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Inspiring: A review of Hot Dogs & Hamburgers

Imagine not being able to read or write.  How would you fill out an employment application or a medical form?  How could you help your child with his homework or read the instructions on a medicine bottle? 

People who struggle with literacy issues don't usually volunteer that information to anyone.  Many devise ingenious ways to hide their lack of reading and writing skills from everyone, including family and friends.  They are smart, intelligent, productive, successful adults who want to do some of the things the rest of us take for granted.  They want to be able to read their Bibles, or bedtime stories to their children or grandchildren.  They want to get their high school diplomas, better jobs, or start a company using their unique skills, but all of that is beyond their reach. 

Rob Shindler knows some people just like this and his book Hot Dogs & Hamburgers: Unlocking Life's Potential by Inspiring Literacy at Any Age will give you a glimpse into their world and their literacy journey.       

At a very early age, Rob Shindler's son, Oliver, had a "situation."  That's how the preschool teacher put it.  That "situation" was a learning disability.  First there was the shock and then the wish to disappear, which Rob did for a while.  He didn't actually leave, he just checked out when it came to dealing with the dreaded "situation."  His wife took up the slack and that was okay with Rob... but not for long.

When he decided to reappear, Rob took it upon himself to teach Oliver to read.  Maybe the closet wasn't the best place to hold class, but it was quiet in there and there would be no distractions... or at least that's what Rob thought.  After a few tries this dad, who didn't want to quit on the child he loved with every ounce of his being, realized they were going nowhere fast.

What Rob needed in order to teach his son to read was for someone to teach him how to teach his son to read. 

(You may have to read that sentence again.  I know I did!) 

That would appear to be a selfish reason to volunteer as a tutor at Literacy Chicago, but in fact it turned out to be a selfless act that Rob would see duplicated by his son at the moment when he needed it most. 

Rob's sense of humor and talent for storytelling makes Hot Dogs & Hamburgers a great read.  You will most definitely feel every emotion, and one thing's for sure, you'll be glad you picked up this inspiring book!  Unique and colorful characters surround Rob at home, and in the Literacy Chicago office and classroom.  And when it comes to writing about himself Rob tells it like it is, warts and all.  And how can you not love a dad who just wants the best for his son; a dad who, in the end, brought out the best in his son and those whose lives he touched through tutoring?

When you finish this book you'll want to run to your local literacy initiative and sign up to tutor. As a former adult literacy tutor, I can tell you that you will be rewarded beyond belief for your service.  Don't be surprised if you learn as much from your students as they do from you--possibly even more.

Thank you, Rob, for sending me a copy of your wonderful book.  I enjoyed getting to know you, your family, and your students immensely.  They are very lucky to have you and I'm sure you already know how blessed you are to have them!   

Until next time... stay cool!


Learn more about Rob Shindler and Hot Dogs & Hamburgers: Unlocking Life's Potential by Inspiring Literacy at Any Age. 

While you're on Rob's website, click on the "Buy it forward" link and enter the coupon code dogood4 to buy the book for a special price.  Rob is also donating $4 from the sale of each book to my special charity, Wounded Warrior Project, when you use that coupon code.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Write On!

Summer is almost here!  Some kiddos are already out of school and some will be soon.  It's time to relax and enjoy a little time away from school, and with family and friends.  But that doesn't mean we should shut down our brains for three months!  It's important for kids to keep up with their reading and writing during the break so teachers don't have to jumpstart their drained brains when the school year begins.

Easier said than done, right?  Right!  I'm a mom so I know. 

If you have a reader in the house you'll probably be okay, but if you have a reluctant reader who needs some motivation you may want to try some of these tips. 

(Pssst.  Over here.  Don't tell a soul.  Some of those tips are sooooo sneaky, they won't even know they're reading!  Shhhhhhh.)

That takes care of reading.  What about writing? 

I love a good writing prompt to get my writing juices flowing and I thought the kids might, too, so I'll be posting a few prompts here each week during the summer.  If they'd like to share their stories with me and my readers, email them to me here.  Please indicate if you are granting permission for me to share them and include the first name of the author and his or her age.  I want to give credit where credit is due.

Week #14 Prompts:  Are there really 14 weeks in summer?  (See Week 1-13 Prompts below)

Summer's over.  Oh, no!  I realize that I started this writing prompt post to help kids write over summer vacation, but the weather has been so nice in my neck of the woods... er, big city, that I thought this would be a fun one to suggest.  Let's go outside and play.  It's a picture scavenger hunt/writing prompt all rolled up into one!  

For each age group I've made a list of things to look for.  Kids, take a picture of each thing and then write a story using some or all of the pictures as a prompt.  Don't be afraid to ask people you know to pose for some of the pictures.  Use plenty of detail when writing your stories and don't just focus on the item listed, but on what else comes out in the pictures.  This is a fun one to do with friends after school or on the weekend when you can go exploring in your neighborhood.  Be safe, have fun, and write on!  

Thru age 5:
1.   An animal
2.   A tree
3.   A number 5
4.   A hat
5.   A smile

6-10 year-olds:
1.   Painted toenails
2.   Someone or a group of people playing a sport
3.   A funny mailbox
4.   A flag
5.   Two people hugging
6.   A swing set or other playground equipment
7.   A plate of food
8.   Someone wearing funny socks
9.   A garage sale sign
10. An umbrella

11-13 year-olds:
1.   A person walking a dog
2.   A spider web
3.   A for sale sign
4.   Someone doing a cartwheel
5.   Someone making a silly face
6.   Weird shoes
7.   An old telephone or computer
8.   A billboard or a sign with an X on it
9.   A moustache or beard
10. Christmas decorations from last year that are still up

Week #13 Prompts:

Thru age 5:  Mom or Dad can help you write down your favorite animal, color, and food.  And the name of a person you love and your favorite book.  My purple guinea pig reads The Cat in the Hat while Bego and I eat pizza!  What's your silly story, little one?  PARENTS:  Just because very young children can't actually write down their stories, doesn't mean they can't make them up.  Have your child dictate a story to you.  Write it out or type it on your computer and have him or her draw some illustrations for it.  That's a fun activity for both of you!   

6-10 year-olds:  Write a very short story using only one word for each letter of the alphabet.  Your story can only have 26 words so make them count.  This is a tough one!  I think I can hear the gears in your brain turning from way over here.  If you can write the story using words in the order of the alphabet you'll be my hero!  And, if your story actually makes sense, you'll be the King or Queen of everything!  Good luck!

11-13 year-olds:  You find a strange helmet on a park bench.  It has a pair of glasses and headphones attached to it and some wires coming out of the top.  Its owner is nowhere to be found so you try it on.  What harm can that do, right?  Well, it turns out that when you wear the helmet, you can hear other peoples thoughts and see inside their hearts.  What will you discover about the people in the park?  I hope they're not thinking how ridiculous you look with that silly helmet on!

Week #12 Prompts:

For all ages:  I thought it would be nice to do something a little bit different this week with regard to the writing prompts.  Kids, I would like to encourage you to write a letter to someone in your life who means a lot to you.  It can be a family member, a friend, a teacher, or anyone else that you admire or have a special connection with.  Tell them what you love about them or how they make you laugh or grow or become the best person you can be.  I promise you it will put a smile on their face and on yours as well. 

Week #11 Prompts:

Thru age 5:  Pretend that your window is a picture frame and what you see outside is a picture.  Tell a story about what you see and what you think will happen next.  Maybe you see clouds in the sky.  Will rain come next or will the sun peek through?  Do you see a cat?  Will he chase after a squirrel or just sit and lick his paws?  I see a man holding a pizza box.  I think he's going to have a yummy lunch with his friends!

6-10 year-olds:  You're playing outside with your friends when a dog comes running over.  He barks at you and grabs you by the pant leg.  He's not a mean dog; he's just trying to get you to go with him for some reason.  I feel an adventure coming on!  Tell us where the dog takes you and your friends, and what you discover there.  

11-13 year-olds:   Mom comes home from a shopping trip and hands you a bag.  When you open it you see the most hideous pair of shoes in the world.  Unfortunately, Mom thinks they are super cool and makes you put them on.  Little does she know that they are magical shoes.  It's going to be an interesting day when those shoes take you where they want you to go!

Week #10 Prompts:

Thru age 5:  What do you see when you're riding along?  Do you see squirrels while riding in a stroller?  Do you see trees passing you by in a car, bus, or train?  Do you see the lights of the station up ahead in a subway, or a tiny town from an airplane window?  I see you writing a story about what you see! 

6-10 year-olds:  Guess what day it is.  It's Opposite Day!  Up is down, left is right, and good is bad.  I wonder what kind of day you'll have on Opposite day.  One thing's for sure, your story will be boring!  (See what I did there?  "Boring" is really "exciting" on Opposite Day.  Oh, forget it.  Wait, that means remember it!  Make it stop!!)

11-13 year-olds:  Magic wands are so last year.  Be the coolest kid on the block with your magic pancake, lint, or nose hair clippers!  Well, maybe those aren't the best examples, but I know you can imagine something that's out of this world.  You start writing while I eat those magic pancakes!  Yummy!

Week #9 Prompts:

Thru age 5:  Ask Mom or Dad to put on some music or just sing your favorite song.  Now do a silly dance.  (Maybe Mom or Dad can take pictures or video.)  Tell a story about how your body moved when you danced.  Did your arms go up in the air?  Did you shake your hips?  Did you kick your feet?  It's fun to dance and to write stories!  

6-10 year-olds:  Pick any 10 food items (they can be gross or delicious) and write a story about why you love pizza with those toppings and what reaction you got from the waiter or cook when you ordered that crazy pizza.  My stomach hurts just thinking of all the weird possibilities!

11-13 year-olds:  Your scientifically talented best friend invents a time machine using a blender, a toilet bowl, and a cell phone.  How that's possible, I don't know!  Maybe you can explain it to us.  What time period would you and your friend visit?  Don't forget to come back in time for dinner.  You don't want your parents to worry!

Week #8 Prompts:

Thru age 5:  Look around your house or outside for things that are red, blue, yellow, and green.  Write or tell a little story about each thing.  You might see a bird, a blanket, some grass or a vegetable.  Draw pictures to go with your stories.  They will be very colorful!  

6-10 year-olds:  Guess what.  The new librarian at your school is... wait for it... AN ALIEN (insert blood-curdling scream here)!!  Wait!  Why are we screaming?  Maybe he or she is a nice alien.  Hey, you never know.  It's up to you to decide.  Wow us with your creativity and imagination!

11-13 year-olds:  Write an outrageous commercial like the ones we've all seen on television.  Take any normal item that you use every day and make it seem like the best new invention.  You can even act it out with your friends.  You know, like this.  "Shoes!  They're great for your feet!  Put your dad's shoes on a little kid and make him look like a clown!  Buy one shoe and get the second for free!  But wait, there's more..."

Week #7 Prompts:

Thru age 5:  One hot summer day a little boy (or girl) was splashing about in his pool.  He loved cooling off and playing with his pool toys. The plastic fish, whales, and seahorses bobbed in the waves the little boy created.  He wondered what it would be like to swim in the ocean with real fish, whales, and seahorses.  What do you think it would be like to be in the ocean with your fishy friends?  Tell us your story and draw a picture of your adventure. 

6-10 year-olds:  Ask a family member or friend to give you three verbs (action words).  No matter what they are, believe it or not, that's the latest sports craze.  Now write about playing that silly sport!  Tell us the rules, what the fans wear to watch, the team names, and why exactly it is the latest craze.  When I visited a school via Skype, the sport they came up with was Running-Walking-Sleeping. That's not a real sport... or is it? 

11-13 year-olds:  A letter with no return address arrives in the mail.  You open it and read in amazement that you have been granted three wishes. One wish you must give to someone else to use and the other two are for you to use as you'd like.  It warns that you must make the wishes and then say the magic words or things will go terribly wrong.  Once your wishes are made, the wish-grantor will be revealed.  I wonder who will receive your gift wish and why, what the magic words are, and who the mysterious wish-grantor is!  The suspense is killing me!

Week #6 Prompts:

Thru age 5:  Do you have a favorite doll, stuffed animal, or toy?  Tell a story about what you would do together if you could magically make it come to life.  Would you eat bananas with your stuffed monkey, have a real tea party with your dolls, or ride around the neighborhood in your toy train?  Those all sound like fun to me!   

6-10 year-olds:  In my book What About Barnaby? the main character, Zeke, has an awesome tree house that he built with his dad.  He has some pretty cool gadgets in it including a snack ordering system, a binocular stand, a firehouse pole, and a dog elevator.  If you could build the most awesome tree house or play house in the world, what would you put in it?  Make it so great that your friends won't ever want to leave!

11-13 year-olds:  A freak power surge mysteriously zaps your friend into the video game you're playing together.  How will you get him or her out?  Oh, no, all those levels and bad guys!  If my friend got zapped into a video game, she'd probably be stuck there forever... that's how bad a player I am!  (If you prefer, imagine that your friend has been zapped into a television show or a movie instead.  Now write them out!)   

Week #5 Prompts:

Thru age 5:  I love snacks!  Fruit, veggies, and sometimes milk and cookies!  Write a story about your favorite snack.  How does it taste and smell and how does it feel in your mouth and in your tummy?  Do you buy it at the grocery store or do you help Mom or Dad make it at home?  I love ooey, gooey, chocolaty chip cookies and chilly, willy milk! 

6-10 year-olds:  Grab a piece of paper and a pen or your computer.  Make a list like the one below and fill in each blank with the word indicated.  (Moms and dads may need to help with some of the words.)  Then, scroll way, way down to the very end of this post.  Use the words you've selected to plug into the paragraph.  NO PEEKING UNTIL YOU'VE FILLED IN ALL THE BLANKS UP HERE! Now use the completed story as your writing prompt.  Add details to each paragraph to make the story come to life as only you can.  The sillier the better!

  1.  Past tense verb __________

  2.  Animal __________
  3.  Vegetable __________
  4.  Adjective __________
  5.  Noun __________
  6.  Color __________
  7.  Noun __________
  8.  Girl's name that starts with the letter A __________
  9.  Boy's name that starts with the letter N __________
10.  Planet __________
11.  Adjective __________
12.  Food __________
13.  Shape __________
14.  Plural noun __________
15.  Noun __________
16.  Past tense verb __________
17.  Adjective __________
18.  Fruit __________
19.  Adjective __________

11-13 year-olds:  Use the following 10 words in a short story titled This is What Happens When You Wake Up Late for School!  Will it make sense?  Probably not!  Is that okay?  It's not just okay, it's awesome!

  1.  Discombobulated
  2.  Ingenious 
  3.  Bewildered
  4.  Perhaps
  5.  Gaseous
  6.  Cinnamon
  7.  Amphibian
  8.  Meander
  9.  Shriek
10.  Bacon 

Week #4 Prompts:
Thru age 5:  Draw a picture of your family, then tell a little story about each person.  Do you have a silly person in your family?  What about a grumpy person?  Don't forget to tell us something about yourself, too! 

6-10 year-olds:  What do you see when you look at puffy white clouds?  A dolphin, a cupcake, a bicycle?  Write a story about what you see and how the clouds change as they zip across the sky.  When I look at clouds I see a good story!

11-13 year-olds:  Where's your favorite place to be?  The park, the movies, your room?  Go to that place or just think about being there.  Using your senses, tell us what you see, smell, taste (make sure it doesn't have mold growing on it), hear, and feel and tell us why it's your favorite place to be. 

Week #3 Prompts:

Thru age 5I love to go to the park and swing high on the swings and twirl around until I get dizzy.  Tell about something fun you like to do with your family or friends. 

6-10 year-olds:  Your parents finally let you have a pet, but it's not just any pet.  It's an elephant!  What would you do with your giant pet?  How would you give him a bath and would your teacher let you bring him to school on "Bring Your Pet to School Day"?  Don't forget the peanuts!

11-13 year-olds:  If you could write yourself into a book that you've read, which book would it be and what character would you be?  Write a scene where you would interact with the main characters.  Wow, talk about getting lost in a book!  Don't forget to come back!  

Week #2 Prompts:

Thru age 5:  Tell a story about the two little girls in the picture.  Do you know where they are and what they are doing?  What do you think they might be talking about? 

6-10 year-olds:  You enter a contest and win two airplane tickets to anywhere in the world.  Who would you take with you, where would you go, and what would you do in that special place?  Don't forget to send us a postcard!

11-13 year-olds:  You find the entrance to a secret tunnel behind an old piece of furniture in the basement.  Do you dare enter the tunnel to see where it leads?  If you do, give us every juicy, scary, adventurous little detail!   

Week #1 Prompts:
Thru age 5:  Pretend you are a puppy or a kitten.  Tell us what you look like, what your name is and what kinds of things you like to do. 
6-10 year-olds:  You're the designer so give us all the awesome details of the best kid's room ever!  I already know what I'd put in there... a giant jar of M&Ms! 
11-13 year-olds:  What if you could have a super power?  Well, you can if you imagine it.  Tell us what it would be and how you would use it.  Were you born with it or did you acquire it?  I can't wait to read all the details!
Come back again next week for more prompts to help you keep those writing juices flowing this summer!
Until then... stay cool!

Week #5 Prompt:  Use this story with Week #5 prompt above for 6-10 year-olds.

What I did on My Summer Vacation
The best summer vacation ever started when my family and I (past tense verb) on a/an (animal) and headed to the beach.  There we saw a group of kids making a sand sculpture using a bucket, a shovel, and some (vegetable).  They let us join in the fun and when we were done, we had made the most (adjective) (noun) I've ever seen.
A few weeks later, my parents made me go to Camp (color) (noun).  I thought it was going to be boring, but once I met my new friends (girl's name that starts with the letter A) Asteroid and (boy's name that starts with the letter N) Nebula from (planet), I knew it was going to be fun.  Our favorite thing at camp was when we gathered around the campfire and ate (adjective) (food) out of (shape) (plural noun).
Finally, my cousin and I went to the movies to watch The Day the (noun) Stood Still.  The 3-D effects were awesome!  We (past tense verb) out of our seats every time the (adjective) (fruit) came off the screen toward us.  I don't think we'll ever see a movie as (adjective) as that one as long as we live.
That's what I did on my summer vacation.  What did you do?