Monday, October 31, 2011

The Children's Book Project a Huge Success in Tanzania

There is blue carpet on the library floor of Miembeni Primary School.  It’s a simple addition that helps foster a welcoming environment at the Tanzanian government school.

Project CODE(Please see video of the school and The Children's Book Project in action at bottom of post.)

In one of the world’s poorest countries, it’s not easy providing free primary education for all.
Too often there is a lack of basic infrastructure.  Children learn as best they can crammed into sterile concrete rooms, some with floors of gravel.

It’s difficult to promote literacy when a school doesn’t have library books.  The few available textbooks are shared one for every four or five students  Yet the library at Miembeni primary school in Dar es Salaam is a relative oasis. There are bookshelves that hold a wealth of reading – 485 books at last count.

CodeIn the underprivileged area of Vingunguti , books in the local language of Kiswahili are a luxury.  In fact, the Children’s Book Project, which provides the school and 110 other school libraries with books, is the primary developer of children’s storybooks in Kiswahili.

Although classroom space is a precious commodity in government schools, where up to 200 students can cram a single class, Miembeni Primary has decided to dedicate space to a library. 

The walls are alive with color from the numbers painted in canary and coral to the hand-drawn posters. There’s a paper mache giraffe learning on a bookshelf and several hand drawn portraits of current and past leaders. Each decoration demonstrates how far students and teachers have come in developing and using teaching aids.

Grade 3 student Balozi Tesha is among the students visiting the library one afternoon. He is reading his favorite book, Maandazi Matamu. It’s a book about snacks and he says he likes it because it teaches how to eat a balanced diet. Tesha speaks in confident, even tones as he explains in Kiswahili that if it were not for the school’s library, he would go to the national library.

Balozi says he likes the library because it will help him get educated and be aware of different issues. One day he hopes to become a pilot.

As a testament to the students’ dedication to the program, it is the students who are responsible to help clean, maintain and operate the library.  The program is paying dividends and Miembeni primary regularly comes out with several awards given out by the Children’s Book Project each year to recognize children.

The improvement can be seen in cold, hard numbers too. Pass rates in the primary school leaving exam have gone from 65 per cent in 2002 to 89 per cent last year.

A real reading success story in Tanzanea thanks to people who care about kids and their future.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Percy Jackson is Back-Thanks to Rick Riordan!

Percy Jackson is back!

Son of Neptune Final Cover.jpgThat's the huge news about Rick Riordan's newest book, "The Son of Neptune" (Disney/Hyperion, $19.99, ages 8 up), which has a first printing of 3 million copies.

Two years ago, when Mr. Riordan ended the wildly popular five-volume "Percy Jackson & the Olympians" series, fans were crushed. Mr. Riordan, however, promised that Percy would reappear, at some point, in the new series he was writing, "The Heroes of Olympus."

In "The Lost Hero," the first volume of the new series published last year, Percy is scarcely mentioned. But he's one of three major characters in "The Son of Neptune," another amazing book from Mr. Riordan.

In it, he combines complex strands of both Greek and Roman mythology (the glossary at the end helps) with action, humor and compelling characters.

But Mr. Riordan's fans likely will be most thrilled by Percy's reappearance. As the book begins, he is suffering from amnesia and being chased around the San Francisco area by gorgons who are trying to kill him. Fortunately, he finds safety in a place called Camp Jupiter.

Like Camp Half-Blood, made famous in the "Percy Jackson & the Olympians" series, Camp Jupiter is a place for demigods, those who have one human parent and one parent who is a god. But there's one big difference about Camp Jupiter: It's filled with Roman demigods -- not Greek ones, as at Camp Half-Blood.

At Camp Jupiter, Percy is befriended by two other teens, Frank Zhang and Hazel Levesque. The three of them are quickly tasked by Mars, the Roman god of war, with what seems an impossible quest: head to Alaska, known as the "land beyond the gods," and free Thantos, the Greek god of Death, from giants. This has to be done in less than a week.

As with "The Lost Hero," this newest book has an ending of sorts, but it's also clearly not the end of the story. Fans will have to wait until next October for the next volume in the "Heroes of Olympus" series. Fortunately, Mr. Riordan will publish the third book in another series, "The Kane Chronicles," which focuses on Egyptian mythology, next spring.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Take a Look at the Rise of Infant and Toddler Screen Time

Young children are using digital media frequently, and a new study from Common Sense Media shows that infants and toddlers spend twice as much time with screen media as they do with books.

 (Please see video at bottom of post of the one year old who thought the magazine was a broken iPad!)

On average, kids under the age of 8 spend about 29 minutes reading or being read to, while they spend more than 90 minutes in front of the television alone. They also spend about 17 minutes on the computer, 14 minutes playing video games and 5 minutes, on average, using a touchscreen device such as a cellphone or tablet.

The study, which was presented Tuesday, October 26, is based on a survey of more than 1,300 parents and found that more than 38 percent of children under 8 years old have used a smartphone, video iPod or iPad. And while television is still the dominant media device in most young children’s lives, some kids are also spending a lot of time with these newer devices.

On an average day, one in 10 children this age spends about 43 minutes using one of these devices to play games, watch video or use apps. Though a digital divide over access to technology was prominent in the study, over half the children included in the survey had access to a smartphone, video iPod, iPad or other tablet.

  There was a marked difference between low-income (less than $30,000 per year) and high-income (above $75,000 per year) households: parents from high-income households were far more likely to download new media apps for their kids.

The study also found that young children are multitasking with their media with over one-fifth of children ages 5 to 8 using more than one medium “most” or “some of the time.”

Toddler on iPadChild development experts have warned about too much screen time, particularly for young children. The American Academy of Pediatrics, for instance, says children under age 2 should have no screen time at all. Interactions should be in person.

Media changes how kids think, communicate, learn, even how their brains develop, Common Sense founder and CEO Jim Steyer told the Deseret News, noting this is the first such study in six years and that the technology itself has changed dramatically in that time.

"Kids even as young as 1 and 2 have access to this incredible digital and media reality today," said Steyer. "Parents are giving even young kids cell phones and smartphones and all that has enormous implications for childhood. Plus, TV is still the elephant in the room when it comes to the amount of usage; 30 percent of children under 2 have a TV in their bedroom.... There are enormous implications for childhood."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Internet Bookfair Blogfest Featuring the Bella and Britt Series

One Pelican at a Time:  A Story of the Gulf Oil Spill, the first US children's picture book about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010, was on Amazon's Bestselling Book List for Children for 18 weeks.  It is published by Guardian Angel Publishing, and the illustrator is Samantha Bell.

(Please see the PBS Tampa (WEDU) feature of my writing One Pelican at a Time at bottom of post and the Pelican trailer.)

Pelican is the first of the Bella and Britt Series.  Bella and Britt love living by the beach.  When they find oil washing to shore from a gulf spill, they want to help but are told there is nothing for kids to do.  But when their friend, the old crooked beak pelican becomes covered with oil, they help save his life by their quick thinking and action.  This is a kid empowering book that has the message, "little hands can help, too."

Sea Turtle Summer, the second book in the series, finds the girls discovering a sea turtle's nest in immediate danger from beach goers, volleyball nets and dune buggy traffic.  They go into action, but can their bravery and quick thinking save the baby sea turtles?  The book also contains some great sea turtle facts kids should love.  Sea Turtle Summer will be published in time for Christmas, 2011!

The third book in the series is Bella Saves the Beach and will be released in early 2012.  In this book, the girls tackle trash left by beach goers. 

They realize they can't do it alone, so how do they get the beach cleaned and how do they educate people about not leaving trash behind?

Mystery at Manatee Key will be released in 2012.  The girls find themselves in real danger when they discover a manatee poaching ring.  Britt finds it's up to her to rescue Bella and the ranger.  But can she do it?  (No cover is available as yet.)

Read what reviewers say about of One Pelican at a Time:

“If you are a concerned parent or teacher in search of a good book that will help children learn about caring for the planet, I highly recommend One Pelican at a Time.”            
                                                            Turning the Clock Back Blog

One Pelican at a Time can be bought in hard cover, paperback and Kindle at:
Guardian Angel Publishing
Barnes &

Trailer of One Pelican at a Time

PBS video of the writing of One Pelican at a Time

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Poll Sugests Kids Need to Get Outdoors and Play!

There is a growing disparity between the time kids spend indoors wired to technology and the time they spend outside enjoying nature. The vast majority of today’s kids use a computer, watch TV, or play video games on a daily basis, but only about 10 percent say they are spending time outdoors every day, according to a new nationwide poll from The Nature Conservancy.

Sign the PledgeWhy? Lack of access to natural areas and discomfort with the outdoors are two primary factors identified by the Conservancy’s poll.

The poll was conducted from July 28 through August 4, and asked 602 kids between the ages of 13 and 18 about their attitudes toward nature, outdoor activity and environmental issues.

The bipartisan polling team of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (D) and Public Opinion Strategies (R) conducted the poll, which was funded by The Toyota USA Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, and the Foundation for Youth Investment.

The poll found a wide range of reasons kids don't spend more time outside. However, in the face of record-breaking temperatures across much of the country this past summer, discomfort from heat and bugs topped the list of obstacles youth cited for not spending time outdoors:
  • 80 percent said it was uncomfortable to be outdoors due to things like bugs and heat
  • 62 percent said they did not have transportation to natural areas, and
  • 61 percent said there were not natural areas near their homes.
Three quarters of the respondents reported they had little if any access to nature through their schools.

Exposing kids to nature is a crucial step to getting kids to care about environmental issues, the poll finds. Those with personal, positive experiences with nature were twice as likely to view themselves as strong environmentalists and were significantly more likely to express concern about water issues, air pollution, climate change and the overall condition of the environment.

Despite their lack of access to nature, America’s youth do have an over-riding concern with environmental issues and – most importantly – are optimistic that their generation can find solutions to the world’s toughest environmental problems.

Featured ImageThe majority also stated that previous generations have damaged the environment and left it to their generation to fix. Roughly 76 percent of youth today strongly believe issues like climate change can be solved if action is taken now. They also think safeguarding important lands and waters should be a priority regardless of any ancillary benefits and the struggling economy.

The poll suggests that the best way to get kids more involved in nature may be through peer pressure – 91 percent said that if a friend encouraged them to spend more time outdoors they would listen.

This poll is a snapshot of US kids today, and there is a lot to be learned by it.  Let's do our part to help get our kids moving, active and outdoors.  It's the healthy thing to do!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bilingual Children's Book Nominated for Prestigious Canadian Silver Birch Award

An Inuktitut and English children’s book, Uumajut, which received support from the Qikiqani Inuit Association’s community initiatives program, has won a nomination for a Silver Birch Express Award, the QIA announced Oct. 19.

A page from Uumajut: volume 2, a children's book Arctic wildlife. This new release from Inhabiit Media teaches young readers about Arctic animals and their traditional Inuit uses. Uumajut is written by Simon Awa, the late Seeglook Akeegok, Anna Zeigler and Stephanie McDonald and illustrated by Romi Caron. (FILE PHOTO)The award is part of the “Forest of Reading Program,” an awards program in Ontario.  A committee of educators and librarians from across that province nominate titles.

Its members assess all the nominated works based on their literary merit and their contribution to the enrichment of Ontario students.  Nominated books are then distributed to every participating classroom in Ontario. 

“We are proud to have partnered with the Nunavut Bilingual Education Society by funding Uumajut in our effort to promote and advance Inuktitut literature. Our Community Initiatives Program is making a positive difference for our region and the territory,” said QIA president Okalik Eegeesiak in a news release.

The Silver Birch nomination means that Uumajut will be read by more than 2,000 Grade Three students across Ontario and introduce these southern students to Inuit conservation values, traditional practices, and language.

“Without the combined efforts of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, the Nunavut Bilingual Education Society, Inhabit Media Inc., and the GN Department of the Environment, this book could not have been such as success. This project involved working together with Inuit and non‐Inuit to ensure that northern perspectives are represented in Canadian literature,” said Louise Flaherty, who is vice-president of the Nunavut Bilingual Education Society, and a co-founder of Inhabit Media.

Uumajut, published by Inhabit Media Inc., has already been distributed free of charge to Nunavut schools.  Inhabit Media is also sending dozens of “cold, creepy Canadian monsters” down south in time for Halloween, the publisher said in a recent news release.

Included in the 2011 “Canadian Monsters” promotion are three brand-new Inhabit titles: The Shadows the Rush Past: A Collection of Frightening Inuit Folktales, Ajiit: Dark Dreams of the Ancient Arctic, and The Legend of the Fog.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse by Eric Carle

Picture book genius, Eric Carle, has written more than 70 picture books over a career that began more than 40 years ago.

(Please see the marvelous video of Eric Carle talking about and reading his new book at bottom of post.)

The Artist Who Painted a Blue HorseMr. Carle was born in Syracuse, N.Y., to German immigrant parents. When Eric was 6 years old, they returned to their homeland. It was not a happy move for young Eric, who missed his life in America.

Fortunately, he developed a special connection with his high-school art teacher, Herr Krauss.  He secretly showed Eric works by painters like Picasso, Matisse and a German named Franz Marc, whose work had been banned by the Nazis. Mr. Carle has said this experience deeply affected his own artistic work.

Now, he directly references that experience and pays homage to Marc's Expressionist art in his newest book, "The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse" (Philomel, $17.99, ages 3-6). 
Eric Carle and The Very Hungry Caterpillar
The artwork is done in Mr. Carle's trademark tissue-paper-collage style.  It is a series of images of brightly colored animals bookended with pictures of an artist, who begins the book by saying, "I am an artist and I paint."

He ends the book with the powerful word, good, when he says, "I am a good artist." Young readers, many of whom, exhibit self-confidence in their own abilities, may mirror image the artist's self-assurance.

The double-page portraits of animals, each more beautifully colored than the last, are gorgeous to behold. Of course, there's a blue horse, but there's also a pink rabbit, a green lion, a purple fox and a donkey sporting primary colored polka dots, among others.

"The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse" will have a first printing of 300,000 copies -- a huge number for a picture book, so Philomel obviously expects Mr. Carle's latest to be another best-seller.

This blogger wishes him the best of luck with the book.  Mr. Carle validates and gives permission to each small reader to paint in his or her own way and be a good artist.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Dolphin Tale Opens in the UK to Great Reviews

Winter the dolphin danced in delight while her trainer looked on approvingly in the marine aquarium at Clearwater, Florida. Made from plastic and silicone, the artificial tail was specially designed for the little bottlenose dolphin after she lost her own in a crab trap.

(Please see video of Winter at bottom of post.)

Winter with her Prosthetic Tail
The inspiring story of how Winter defied death and turned tragedy into triumph by learning to swim normally again is told in the 3D film Dolphin Tale, released in the UK this past weekend.

The Warner Bros blockbuster was shot over three months at Clearwater with a cast led by Morgan Freeman, Harry Connick Jr and Kris Kristofferson.

Not surprisingly, tourists are flocking to the aquarium to see the dolphin diva with her magical "inbuilt" smile, white flashing teeth and, of course, that 30-inch prosthetic tale.

Winter's courage has inspired Americans everywhere. One war veteran who lost an arm and leg turned his life around after meeting Winter, declaring: "If that damned dolphin can do it, I can do it."

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium can be found on Island Way, Clearwater.  It is undergoing a huge expansion at the moment.  The facility will be able to care for many more sick and/or wounded marine animals than previously.

The facility will also provide stadium seating for demonstrations by the resident dolphins, including Winter and the recently rescued, eight month old orphaned bottlenose dolphin, Hope.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

White Pelicans Thriving on a Desert Island in Northern Nevada

Anaho Island, located off the east shore of Pyramid Lake, is a volcanic formation studded with odd-shaped tufa deposits.

A young American white pelican takes flight from Anaho Island in Pyramid Lake Thursday July 21, 2011 past other young pelicans.  The young can be identiifed by their light or gray beaks and pouch.  The adults have orange beaks and pouches.It’s one of the few American white pelican nesting colonies in North America. This year, thanks to plentiful water and lots of fish for food, four times the number of pelican chicks were produced than were last year.

“This island is really amazing,” said Donna Withers, a refuge specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Withers, who spends her time on the island studying pelicans and other inhabitants, said this year was an important one for Anaho.

That’s because like other places, Anaho benefited substantially from a big winter that left a huge mountain snowpack, swelling the region’s rivers and streams and raising the levels of lakes and reservoirs.

One result was a huge spawning run for Pyramid Lake’s cui-ui fish, a primary food source for pelicans. A big year for cui-ui translates to a big nesting year for pelicans.

18 Weeks-Amazon Bestseller List for Children
After only about 500 pelican chicks were produced during nesting season last year, roughly 8,000 adult pelicans converged on the island this spring and summer, producing about 2,000 juveniles, Withers said. The adults hung around in large numbers, producing and protecting their young because of the presence of plentiful food.

“With the amazing cui-ui run we had, that success will translate to the pelicans,” said Beverly Harry, environmental manager for the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe.  “It’s an amazing relationship,” Harry said. “The pelicans have always been here. This is their home.”

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What Are You Doing to Celebrate Earth Science Week?

Since October 1998, the American Geological Institute has organized this national and international event to help the public gain a better understanding and appreciation for the Earth Sciences and to encourage stewardship of the Earth.

(Please view video at bottom of post.)

This year's Earth Science Week is held from October 9-15 and is celebrating the theme, "Our Ever-Changing Earth."

“We invite you to join us online, explore our changing planet, and share this work with your students, family, and colleagues,” says Eric Brown de Colstoun, a scientist who also coordinates Earth science education for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

“You can also choose to reflect on how lucky we are to live on this beautiful and ever-changing planet, the home base from which we carry out our many explorations into the universe.”

There will be ann introduction to the next Earth-science satellite, NPP, set to launch later this month. The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project will play a key role in studying climate change. Learn more about NPP and its polar bear mascot NPPy at:

Let's be good to our planet, and become involved in activities of the week and beyond.  This is an important organization on so many levels.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Jumping Pages App Company Launches With a World Series Hero!

Jumping Pages, Inc., a new children's interactive book app company, is proud to announce their first titles -- David & Goliath and David & Goliath: The MVP Edition -- are now available on the App Store for iPad. David & Goliath: The MVP Edition is narrated by 2006 World Series Most Valuable Player David Eckstein.

The David & Goliath Apps are filled with animation, interactive components and an original musical score that will bring to life David and Goliath's epic battle.

 Young readers are able to immerse themselves in the story through dozens of activities, including catapulting burning weapons, defeating a lion and a bear. This company launches With a World Series Hero taking aim at Goliath and joyfully tossing David in the air after his victory.

 The MVP Edition celebrates the five year anniversary of David Eckstein's inspirational performance in the 2006 World Series and concludes with a short, narrated afterword by the actress, Star Wars Clone Wars star and David's wife, Ashley Eckstein.

It focuses on similarities between the story's David and his belief in overcoming the odds and her husband's unlikely journey to baseball stardom.

 "We wanted to tell this legendary tale to children in a way that it has never been told before," said Rania Ajami, founder of Jumping Pages. "We've created a visually stunning and interactive world for the young reader; further, the MVP Edition, narrated by David Eckstein, will surely appeal to the baseball-loving fathers and sons out there.

 "It was a thrill for Ashley and I to participate in this groundbreaking project," explained Eckstein.
 "The story of David and Goliath holds special meaning to both of us, and we hope that through our involvement others will be inspired to face life's challenges, or Goliaths, with perseverance and determination despite the odds."

The David & Goliath and David & Goliath: The MVP Edition Apps are available at the iTunes Store. Ten percent of the MVP Edition's proceeds will be donated by the Ecksteins to several non-profit organizations they support, including Bags of Hope of Central Florida's Feed and Read program for children.

Jumping Pages, Inc. is a children's app book company that employs animation, interactivity, music and exciting narration into each of its productions. The company was founded in 2011 by film director Rania Ajami, and is scheduled to produce updated versions of classic tales and new stories. For more information, visit Jumping Pages at www.jumpingpages

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Revision 911 SCBWI Workshop with Cynthea Liu

Wow.  What a way to spend a Saturday.  Yesterday was full of ideas, information and new ways of looking at old writing habits. What was the reason for all this?  Her name is Cynthea Liu, children's author, speaker and writing coach.  

Cynthea Liu
And coach she did.  Ours was a time of eye opening, hard core revision.  "The C Liu Wringer,"as her critique partner calls it.  

Now I can't speak for the rest of my powerful SCBWI group, The Bookends.  But I walked into the room yesterday morning full of confidence.  Yep. I knew the ten pages of my latest chapter book were splendid. Cynthea would give them back to me (after having read them earlier) with a, "Well done.  It's ready to send out."

Didn't happen.  Instead, something far better did.  I learned about revision in a deeper way than previously.  I learned my book needed real revising and new techniques applied. And I learned again what a supportive and intelligent writing group I am fortunate to call mine.

"Writing a great book is maybe 20% drafting, 80% revision."

Jonathan Schkade, Sherry Randle, Susan Barker, Cynthea Liu
So yesterday was a cautionary message for all of us writers out there. (Of course, I'm first in line on this one.)  Let's keep an open mind about our writing prowess and skills. Let's make our books the very best they can be. And let's continue to grow as writers for children, the best profession in the world. 

Cynthea, I want to say, "Well done." It was a splendid day. Not for the reasons I anticipated, but for the reasons I discovered.  Huzzah!  

Sarah Whitney, Cynthea Liu, Anastasia Burke-Ely, Jannean Muehlfeld

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Interview with Jonathan Schkade-Author of Icky Sticky, Hairy Scary Bible Stories

A treat is in store for you today!  My friend and colleague in SCBWI (The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators), Jonathan Schkade, is interviewed.  Jonathan and I meet every month with our powerhouse writing group, The Bookends.  On a personal note, he has been such a rich resource, and his critiques of my work are spot-on.  Always. 

Jonathan Schkade (pronounced "Skah-dee," rhymes with "body") at least halfway grew up in northern Texas. Now he lives in the village of Hamel, Illinois, with his sparkling wife, Kristi, and his sweet little daughter. Despite his best efforts, he graduated from Concordia University in Seward, Nebraska, with a degree in elementary education and a major in procrastination.

He's published five books with Concordia Publishing House, including Icky Sticky, Hairy Scary Bible Stories (2011) and the Arch Book The Father's Easter Story (2011), and has written for CPH's day school religion curriculum, Happy Times magazine, My Devotions, and Portals of Prayer.

While getting himself into and out of messes in his books fills up most of his time, he also loves singing in choir, eating tater tots, playing as many board games as possible, and daydreaming for fun and profit. In addition, he's a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Visit him at (aka

NS  You are a prolific author.  How did you begin this journey of letters?  Did the literary inkling reach back to your childhood? 

JS   I was something of a latecomer to the idea of writing as a possible profession. Early on, while I wrote my share of assigned stories, poems, and essays for school, it never occurred to me to write them on my own time. However, during my freshman and sophomore years in high school, I started writing lots of poetry. Most of the poems rhymed, some were funny, and a handful were pretty good. Through these and various school assignments, I gradually learned that a few English language tools came naturally to me: the rhythm of words, solid usage and mechanics, and transitional phrases.

To this day, these elements are the foundation of everything I write. I have to credit this to reading tons of books as a kid. I truly believe natural talent and intentional instruction are great but that the lion’s share of writing skill is absorbed by reading the words of others.  

Arch Books Bible Stories: Jesus Shows His GlorySpecifically, two projects in high school made me take myself more seriously as a writer. One was called “The Man,” a parody of Poe’s “The Raven,” in which a bird obsessed with eating boar rants about the crazy guy inside the house. This was done for a class assignment and made me realize how much fun writing could be. The second project was a Star Trek book I began writing. Though I never came close to finishing it, this was a wake-up call that I might actually be able to write about things I enjoy and get paid for it.

NS  A question close to the heart of every author:  How and when did you find the nerve/inspiration to quit your day job?

JS   By the time I got to college, I knew beyond a doubt that I wanted to be a writer someday, but my plans for how and when were a little fuzzy. While working as a teacher and then a proofreader and copy editor, I kept writing and eventually saw my first three books and some smaller items published. But I knew that I wanted to write a lot more and that every year I waited meant another book or two that I would never have time to write. About two years ago, though it was a good job with great co-workers, I just felt in my heart and my gut that I had no other choice. I had to write.

In the end, it was easier for me to become a full-time writer because (a) we had prepared for this financially, (b) my wife completely supported my decision, and (c) even though we hoped for the best, we planned for the worst. It’s hard to walk away from a regular paycheck, and it’s probably not the wisest course of action for a lot of people. For me, though, it was definitely the right move.  

So, I suppose my advice for others is this: it’s time to quit your day job when you’re (a) prepared to face the consequences of failure, (b) can continue meeting your financial and familial obligations, and (c) feel deeply like you have no other choice.

NS  Tell us about books published thus far in your career.

JS   I’ve had five children’s books published. In a little bit, I’ll talk more about the most recent book, Icky Sticky, Hairy Scary Bible Stories. One of the others, Jesus Teaches Us to Pray, is a picture book about prayer and was part of a short-lived series.

The final three books are installments in a series of short, rhyming children’s Bible story books called Arch Books. These are Get Up, Lazarus! (the story of the raising of Lazarus), Jesus Shows His Glory (Jesus’ Transfiguration), and The Father’s Easter Story (the story of Easter from God the Father’s point of view). Concordia Publishing House advertises these books as cheaper than most greeting cards, so they’re a quick and inexpensive way to teach Bible stories.

An amazing fact about this series—especially given that many people haven’t heard of it—is that it’s one of the best-selling book series of all time (several online lists rank it as #32 or #33). With over 60 million copies sold, the series ranks just below the Little House books and a few spots above the Hardy Boys. Crazy! Of course, my three books only account for a small part of that.

NS  We are entering the Spooky Season of Halloween.  Your children's book Icky Sticky, Hairy Scary Bible Stories seems to have been written for the occasion.  Please tell us a bit about it.

JS  I never  really grew up, and this book shows it  Highlighting the silliest, scariest, and stinkiest stories in the Bible, Icky Sticky, Hairy Scary Bible Stories (128 Pages) is a collection of 60 short story- poems and surprising Scripture sayings.  Written especially for kids in grades 2-4, this book dusts off little-know stories and showcases well-known ones in a new light. 

It's gross, but it's not a gross-out book.  It's funny, but it's respectful of the source material.  This book emphasizes kid-friendly aspects of stories; it does not alter their content.
Artist Tuesday Mourning (perhaps best known for illustrating the Princess Peepers books) channeled her inner Shel Silverstein with black-and-white line art that makes kids smile and gawk.  Filled with whiny prophets, stinky feet, snakes and pigs, and bugs to eat, Icky Sticky, Hairy Scary Bible Stories shows that no matter what our problems, we are never too icky, too sticky, to hairy, or too scary for God.

NS   You've had several books published by Concordia Publishing House. How has the experience been for you?

JS    So far, it’s been great. Concordia is a medium-size religious publisher of books, curriculum, periodicals, and other resources for the Christian market. They have a pretty specific vision of what they’re looking for in terms of theological content and format. Since I worked there for a number of years, I had an insider’s familiarity with their product lines. This made it much easier to fit books I was interested in writing within the constraints of their publishing goals.

At conferences and in interviews, editors always stress how important it is to familiarize yourself with the books of publishers before you submit. They are so right.

I know guys aren’t supposed to use clothing metaphors, but here’s my lame attempt. A publisher is like a fashionista with a closet full of clothes (i.e., books). Even though your book is great and new and terrific, if it doesn’t accessorize well with anything in the publisher’s closet, they’re unlikely to buy it. If your book complements their favorite jeans, they’ll have a lot better idea of when and where to show it off (i.e., to sell and promote it). So, do your homework!

Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that my editor is a wonderful lady who always treats me with respect and kindness. I never doubt that she is a dedicated advocate for me and my books (and that goes for the rest of the Concordia team as well). In this business, that kind of support is invaluable.

NS  So many people want to know the answer to this one:  How and/or where do you find the inspiration for your stories within the religious experience?  And do you plan on writing any secular books?'
Inspiration is easy. Execution is hard.

The Fathers Easter StoryJS  I don’t say that just to be cute. Finding ideas to write about or—as is often the case with my religious writing—new angles for telling old stories has never been hard for me. What’s hard is plopping myself down in the chair and making myself get the work done.

 There always a bit of nagging concern that what I write won’t be quite as brilliant as I know it can be. I have a big enough ego to believe it will be good, but good isn’t good enough. I want excellent. I want perfect. And perfect is a pretty unforgiving standard to judge yourself against. So I have to put that aside, at least until I get to the revision stage.  ;)

Still, to take the question head on, I’ll say that getting ideas for religious works isn’t too different from getting secular ideas. I find a story that I have to tell. For religious works, the story is simple because it’s tied in with my personal faith beliefs and the biblical message. As for how to tell it, either it will demand to be told a certain way, or I’ll ask myself what the most effective approach would be for the target audience. What kind of wrapper can I put this story in that will make them most interested in devouring it? That was a pretty strong factor in developing the concept and format of Icky Sticky.

As to your final question, since it’s about secular books, I will consult my pagan Magic 8-Ball. It says, “Outlook good.” There you have it. Who am I to argue with a plastic sphere?

Thanks, Nancy, and a big howdy to all your readers!

And to you, Jonathan!  You are an inspiration to so many others.  And, again, on a personal note, to me as well.  All best wishes to you as you continue this journey so many of us have chosen around the profession of writing.
Jonathan's books and more information about him can be found below:

Independent bookstores (, various Christian chains (in store and online)

Jonathan is a contributor to Pots 'n Pens, a blog about cooking and writing. Enjoy recipes, interviews, and more at

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Children’s Ezine-Guardian Angel Kids: Sports and Activities – October 2011 Issue

Although technology is a wonderful learning tool, it’s important to teach our children the importance of getting up and outside to enjoy the boundless adventures of sports and physical activity. Not only is it good for the body to stretch your muscles and participate in physical activity it does wonders for the brain and soul of one’s body by releasing endorphins.

(See video of Whispering Wally in The Trouble With Treasure at bottom of post.)

Join us at Guardian Angel Kids Ezine October 2011 issue and get you and your children grooving through physical action by becoming inspired by this month’s poetry, stories, activities and articles.

We also invite you to stay connected with Guardian Angel Kids through our Facebook Fan Page.

Letter from the PUBLISHER: Lynda S. Burch
Featured Book and video:

Cartwheel Annie Flipping Book by Marilee Crowe and illustrated by K.C. Snider – Annie likes being upside down. When the neighborhood children see her cart wheeling down the sidewalk on the way to school, they begin to tease her. That embarrasses her siblings. It seems everyone is tired of her gymnastics, until the circus comes to town, and Annie becomes the star of the show.

Whispering Wally, art and story by Kevin Collier – Watch a special video of Wally the Whale and his treasure hunt, keeping active swimming.

Children’s poetry, Short Stories, and Articles:

“The Name of the Game,” by Ellen Javernick – clever poetry that takes you for a whimsical ride through sports.

“Once Upon Home Plate,” Katie – 5th grader – self confidence soars at the awe inspiring homerun.
“The Magic Bat,” by Marcia Faber and illustrated by Samantha Bell – imagination and fantasy takes you on a delightful outcome of a special bat.

“Fall Freeze,” by Erin K. Schonauer and Jamie C. Schonauer and illustrated by Kathleen Bullock – two sports plus one party equals an icy situation. Can a figure skater and a hockey player learn to balance their differences or are they bound to collide?

“Turtle and Rabbit Relay,” by Karen Robuck – Does the turtle always win the race? In the familiar fable he does, but what about in real life?

Ways to Use Activities and Games to Teach Vocabulary,” by Dorit Sasson – Engage your students in games of vocabulary and have fun along the way.

Featured Drawing, Games & Activities:

Draw yourself being good with Painting Board – PAINT page
Featured Games from Books – GAME page

Please feel free to drop Editor-in-Chief, Donna McDine an email at and let them know what you think of Guardian Angel Kids and what you’d like to see in the future. They aim to please!

Monday, October 3, 2011

New Scholastic Ruckus Imprint for Kids' Books in Print and Digital

Children's digital developer Ruckus Media is joining with Scholastic to create the Scholastic Ruckus imprint, a joint venture that will publish a wide range of children's and teen content across all platforms.

From interactive content and transmedia projects to e-books, enhanced e-books and print, this is  a major expansion. The first titles from the Scholastic Ruckus imprint will be released in 2012.

Scholastic will oversee the marketing and distribution of print editions of Ruckus Media’s digital titles through Scholastic's network of school book clubs and book fairs, libraries and through trade book retailers. It will also manage the worldwide distribution and publishing rights for both print and digital content coming from the imprint.

Ellie Berger, president, Scholastic Trade Publishing, said, “Under the Ruckus imprint, we will expand the scope of our offerings to meet the rapidly growing demand for multi-platform properties that parents can

Richter emphasized that Ruckus Media remains an independent company. The digital house has about 30 full time and contract employees and has offices in Connecticut and New York City. He described the Ruckus Media program as being “story-based.

We’re focused on developing interactive story books rather than the trend toward gaming elements we’re seeing in some parts of the marketplace.” He joked that “we’re all trying to figure out how this car works while we’re driving it.”