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?