Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Blogging from A to Z Challenge (April, 2012)

 Hello, Dear Reader,

The month of April will be slightly different this year on my blog.  I've picked up the gauntlet thrown down by The Blogging from A to Z Challenge.  Each day I will have a different entry, each represented by an alphabetical letter.  Tomorrow, then, will begin with A.  All the other Sundays in April are a free day.

I hope you join me on this challenge and are entertained as well as perhaps learn something new.  Or just come on over out of curiosity.

Hope to see you here!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Janet Halfman--A Picture Book Writer for all Seasons

Today it is my great honor to have as my guest a prolific author, Janet Halfman.  Janet has written over thirty books during her career, and picture books are her forte. 

She has won many awards, including her latest, the Wisconsin Writers Children’s Literature Award for her picture book, “Star of the Sea: A Day in the Life of a Starfish.” The Council for Wisconsin Writers( announced the award March 22. Congratulations!

Janet was inspired to write "Star of the Sea" because of her long-time fascination with sea stars.  The book's collage-art illustrations are by Joan Paley, and the publiusher is Henry Holt/Christy Ottaviano Books.

NS  You are, I think, one of the few authors who began the writing dream early and never wavered from it.  Would you tell our readers a bit about your early love of writing and how that prepared you for your ongoing career.

JH  I’ve loved to write since I was a child, but I didn’t think about writing as a career until after I graduated from college. I took a course in children’s writing by mail, and soon was hooked. I sold a few articles to children’s magazines like Ranger Rick and Jack and Jill, but wanted to make a living writing, so I returned to college and got a second degree in journalism (my first was in English and Spanish, with plans to teach). My journalism degree led to a job as a daily newspaper reporter in Kansas, which gave me great research skills and improved my writing because I had to write every day. My next position as the managing editor of a national magazine for rural kids taught me to simplify my writing and make it more fun. Next came many years writing the text and planning the pictures for color and activity books. From that experience, I gained the skills of telling a story in a few words and showing a great picture on each page. Those skills are very useful now in writing picture books. 

NS  How did you come to the picture book genre?  Any thoughts about middle grade, or have you happily found your niche? 

JH  I started my children’s book career fifteen years ago writing nonfiction books, divided into chapters, for educational publishers. But whenever I had time to write something of my own, it was always a picture book. So I guess the picture book genre essentially found me, rather than vice versa. I am extremely happy writing picture books, and will likely continue to do so. 

NS  You have been so prolific with over thirty books published and more to come.  Tell us the genesis of your ideas for new stories. 

JH  Stories come from so many places—from my childhood, from experiences with my four kids and four grandkids, from something I see or read, etc. I have a file where I collect interesting items I find for possible future stories. I also love to read books about little-known or unusual things about people, events, history, animals, plants, etc. 

NS  My favorite book of yours is Good Night, Little Sea Otter.  What are your favorites and why? 

JH  Little Skink’s Tail will always have a special place in my heart because it was my first fiction picture book, and writing fiction had always been my dream. Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story is a favorite because I feel so honored to have been able to tell this true story of such an amazing African-American Civil War hero. Also, I’m immensely proud that my recent nonfiction picture book, Star of the Sea: A Day in the Life of a Starfish, was named an Outstanding Science Trade Book by the National Science Teachers Association and the Children’s Book Council.

NS  Please tell us about your new books.  I notice we share a publisher on one of them, A Rainbow of Birds, by Guardian Angel Publishing. 

JH  My book, Home in the Cave, illustrated by Shennen Bersani, is just out from Sylvan Dell Publishing. It is the story of Baby Bat, who never wants to leave his cozy cave, but changes his mind after he finds out how important the bats’ insect-hunting is to the survival of the other animals in the cave.

My book, Eggs 1, 2, 3: Who Will the Babies Be?, illustrated by Betsy Thompson, comes out April 24 from Blue Apple Books. I am very excited about this book because it is a Lift-the-Flap book. It is both a guessing and counting book, written in song-like, non-rhyming verse. My Guardian Angel book, A Rainbow of Birds, is a fun original bird legend about the origin of the rainbow that a father cardinal tells to his three chicks. It is being illustrated by Ellen Gurak and no publishing date has yet been set.

NS   Where can the readers find you and your amazing books? 

JH  My books can be found just about anywhere–at your favorite bookstore or online. Several of them also are available in various e-book formats, including several of them in Spanish. My new book, Home in the Cave, is featured as a free e-book all during March at Sylvan Dell Publishing:

I also can be found on:

Monday, March 26, 2012

Katrina and Winter: Partners in Courage (My New Chapter Book Biography of Katrina Simpkins with Winter, the Dolphin)

Katrina Simpkins is a hero to everyone who meets her.  She is certainly a hero to me.

(Please see video about Katrina and Winter, the dolphin of the Dolphin Tale film at the bottom of this post.)

I heard about Katrina three years ago at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, Florida, where we had gone to see Winter the young dolphin who had lost her tail in a crab trap line.  She had been fitted with a prosthetic tail to help her swim the way a dolphin does. 

A video had been produced by the aquarium about Winter's meeting children fitted with prosthetic limbs who found strength and solace in this amazing dolphin.  Katrina, whose life had been profoundly changed by meeting Winter, was featured in the video. 

Two and a half years later, I received a phone call from a woman who identified herself as Martie Simpkins.  I immediately thought, "I've heard of this woman."  And I had.  

Martie is Katrina's mom.  She'd seen what I'd written about Winter on my blog and wanted me to write the authorized biography of Katrina, as it related to her relationship with Winter.

Katrina's first look at Winter, the dolphin
I was excited and apprehensive about doing the book.  I'd never done a biography, and it was instantly crucial to me to do the best job I could for Katrina.  It was both frightening and exhilarating.

And then I met Katrina.  She and her family, who live in Indiana, visited us one weekend.  That's all it took.  She captured my heart as she does everyone's.  The book is important for Katrina.  For me, it is serious, and it has become personal.

Katrina Simpkins, who was born with Proximal femoral focal deficiency , is the bravest person I've ever met.   She is kind, loving, expansive and wise.  And she's only twelve.  It is my honor to have written her biography.  The book will be released in May, 2012 by Guardian Angel Publishing. 

Katrina and Nancy at the author's home.
The story of Katrina and Winter is inspiring.  Her life is remarkable, as is Winter's.  These two youngsters are forever inextricably connected.  Each has a formidable story.  Each is a hero of the first water.  Put them together with the help of Guardian Angel Publishing, and you have Katrina and Winter:  Partners in Courage.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Smellessence by Autumn Publishing-Kids' Books that Smell, Including Farts!

 Autumn Publishing Group is to launch Smellessence, a division which will use new technology to create a range of scented books.

Earlier this week Bonnier announced it had bought the global rights to this technology, which uses micro-encapsulation and touch activation to put different scents into the pages of books. The technology, which has only been used in the textile and cosmetics industries, has a shelf life of three years. It is non-toxic and compliant with the EN71 Standard and the 2013 toy directive.

The Smellessence list will launch in July with the four-title strong The SPLOTZ!™ range, a group of characters “with a distinct smell and personality to match”. Each of the four books will contain nine “smelly stickers."

This series will feature nice smells: bubblegum and berry flavors. This spring, though, Autumn Publishing will release a book titled The Story of the Famous Farter.  It will include a fart smell on its last page. Autumn's PR said of the book,  "It will be as palatable as farts go."

You heard it here first, folks!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Guest Post with Sheila Welch and Her New Book, Waiting to Forget

Today I am delighted to have Sheila Welsh as a guest on the blog. She writes and illustrates for children of all ages. Her story "The Holding-On Night," published in Cricket, won the International Reading Association's Short Story Award.

Sheila's new book, Waiting to Forget, (namelos Publishing) has  launched to rave reviews.  Kirkus Reviews says:

 T.J.'s authentic voice and the multilayered presentation of his memories, shifting between the waiting room and his past, make for a poignant, realistic tale of child-survivors.

Welcome, Sheila!

As an author who writes for children, I always enjoy interacting with my young audience through programs at bookstores, libraries, and schools. Now that I'm older and not quite so eager to drop everything and travel, I've been using Skype to make that vital connection with readers.
Although the technology for this visual and audible form of communication is amazing, it's not perfect, and I'd be lost without my husband, who's resident assistant for all things digital. Despite a few glitches in the screen image and the audio, Skype has made it possible for me to make five virtual appearances since the recent publication of my novel, WAITING TO FORGET.

Certain parts of a Skype visit are actually quite similar to one in person. An initial contact must be made between the host and the author. Arrangements and schedules have to be worked out and confirmed. Payment needs to be discussed and agreed upon. (Many authors do these virtual visits for free.) Both the author and the teacher or librarian need to prepare themselves and the students for the program.

There are some negative aspects of a Skype visit. The most obvious disadvantage is that the children miss out on the fun of meeting an author in person. Of course, if technical problems occur during the virtual visit, everyone is dissatisfied.

On the positive side, the advantages of Skype are obvious: no travel, no expenses for the author, low fees (if any) for the host to pay, and a chance for an author to do distant visits or a series of visits over an extended period of time.

In the past, I've traveled reasonable distances for all-day presentations, and I've done residencies of several weeks at a few nearby schools. Via Skype, I've spent an hour with a 'tween book club in California over 1500 miles from home. And I am currently involved in an on-going, in depth discussion of WAITING TO FORGET with a class of interested and perceptive sixth graders who live in Nebraska.

Sheila Kelly WelchIt's been exciting for me to meet these kids, listen to their comments, and answer their astute questions about my book. The main characters in WAITING TO FORGET are twelve-year-old T.J. and his eight-year-old sister, Angela. Most of the story is told in chronological flashbacks, beginning when T.J. is only five years old. Although I wanted to tell the story this way, I realized that defining the audience would be difficult. WAITING TO FORGET is about a serious subject, child neglect and abuse, yet the protagonist is very young. I was fairly certain that it would appeal to kids between ten and fourteen; it's been good to find these preteens so engrossed in the story.  I've worked with their enthusiastic teacher and the librarian at their public library to coordinate my visits.  The structure was already in place since this class has read other books as a group.  Once each week, the librarian reads aloud a chapter of the novel, and the students then read the next few chapters to they're ready for a discussion with me the following week.

I divided my book into five sections of four or five chapters.  For each section, I've sent questions to the teacher that are open-ended and intended to encourage the students to stretch a little beyond their comfort zone.  I've been surprised at some of their reactions.  They show a real un derstanding and empathy for the characters.  Some adult reviewers have been quite critical of the birth mother in my story.  She's a single parent who is irresponsible and consistently makes poor choices.  And yet, the sixth grade readers are willing to see that Celia, herself, may not have had a perfect childhood.  Like T.J., some of them are willing to give her a measure of love despite her faults.

What more can an author ask for?  I've located a group of readers who "get" my book, and I have a way to chat with them again and again as they read it.  The possibilities are unlimited.  Or, to say it another way, yes, the Sky (pe's) the limit!

Thank you, Sheila.  This was a pleasure, indeed.  Come back soon!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Do Books Make Us Human?

“Books are really part of what makes us human.” So says  Rosemary Agoglia, curator of education at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts, in a New York Times article about efforts to teach children the merits and pleasures of the “pre-web page,” of books.

Do Books Make Us Human?In New York City, the Morgan Book Project seeks to “instill in children of the digital age an appreciation for books by providing authentic materials to write, illustrate and construct their own medieval and Renaissance-inspired illuminated manuscripts.”

The NYC Department of Education developed the free program for children in grades 3 through 7, in conjunction with the world-renowned Morgan Library and Museum, which houses a rich collectionn of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts.  It also has a priceless collection of printed books, including Gutenberg Bibles.

Students who participate in the Morgan Book Project make their own illuminated manuscripts, even mixing the pigments using 16th century techniques. Cochineal — dried insects — makes red dye; malachite (a green mineral), spinach, fish glue, gum arabic, saffron threads and 22-karat gold are also used.

Agoglia of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art also says she thinks that “digital and physical content delivery formats will co-exist for the next generation of readers.” But she does describe those aspects of physical books that cannot be recreated on an iPad, the tactile pleasures of turning pages, marking them, folding down corners, writing your name or gluing in a bookplate. Books, she says, are more than just the text on their pages:

Kids working on the Morgan Library Project
It is those dog-eared pages, coffee-stained covers or where you signed your name in the front when you were 4 years old. That memory is attributed to a physical object. Books are really part of what makes us human.

What do you think?  Will traditional books fall out of favor and become a relic of the past? Will iPads and such last as long as books have?  I'd love to have some comments from you, dear reader. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Sea Turtle Nesting Season Begins in Florida

Florida wildlife officials are warning beachgoers to watch out for sea turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs.Loggerhead, leatherback and green sea turtles regularly nest on Florida beaches from March through October. All three are federally protected species.

Green sea turtle
(Please see video of green sea turtle laying her eggs in video at end of post.)

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials warn beachgoers to leave the turtles and their nests alone.

Sea turtle eggs typically incubate for 45 to 60 days, and the vulnerable hatchlings will emerge through November.

Bella and Britt guiding loggerhead turtles safely to sea
Officials urge people to turn off or shield outdoor lights that face the ocean, because the artificial lights can disorient hatchlings heading toward the water.

 The commission says 2011 was an exceptional year for sea turtles in Florida, with a record number of green turtle nests and a high number of leatherback turtle nests.  

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Illinois Reading Council Conference is a Winner!

Wow.  What a terrific two days this has been. Titled, Literacy in the Land of Lincoln, the conference has been a time filled with ideas, new notions, old and new friends and talk of writing flowing like well aged wine.  Oh, yes.  There was well aged wine, too!

This evening will bring our formal dinner with an entrance by President and Mrs Lincoln.  Our menu is from a state dinner held during President Lincoln's tenure at the White House.  It promises to be lovely.

My presentation was today, and it was a full house--actually, standing room only. My power point, Every Kid Can (Write a Picture Book!) did not let me down, both technically and academically, so I feel great about the outcome.

And so the conference is winding down.  Authors, educators and vendors will soon be on their way home.  I for one, am glad to have attended another year.  I always come away feeling renewed and ready to continue the profession that is right for me--writing books for kids!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Scholastic Books is Developing App For E-Reading

Scholastic Inc. is developing an app called Storia, which includes around 1,300 e-books and multimedia e-books that can be bought directly from the publisher or from retailers. Such favorite picture series as "Clifford the Big Red Dog" and "Ready, Freddy!" will be in digital format for the first time. The app also will feature games, quizzes, interactive stories, an e-dictionary and a virtual book shelf that kids can organize.

Scholastic Media president Deborah Forte says the idea is to make e-books "more accessible and more relevant."

A beta version will become available soon for teachers and families who buy through the Scholastic Book Clubs and other Scholastic sales channels. Storia is expected to launch for the general public in the fall, when it should have more than 2,000 books.  Forte said Scholastic sees the app "as a way to support reading and something that's just plain fun."

The app is free and will be available first at, then on iTunes later this month. Those who download the app will get five free books, including two multimedia selections. Forte says the e-books should range in price from $1.95 to $20.

Storia is intended for children ages 3-14, and the app is tailored for each age, whether the books themselves or the difficulty of the quizzes. Parents can track which books their kids are reading, how long they read them and which new words they learned.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Nancy Stewart Presenting at Illinois Reading Council Conference

It is my distinct pleasure to be a presenter for the second year and a featured author at the Author's Luncheon at the Illinois Reading Council Conference in Springfield, Illinois, March 15 to 17.  I'd like to thank the organizers publicly for this honor.

The title of this year's conference is:  Literacy in the Land of Lincoln.  It should prove to be another successful event where teachers, librarians, authors, editors and publishers come together for the greater good of children's reading, from enhancing their skills to pleasure in enjoying their favorite books.

The title of my presentation for Friday, March 16, is: Kids Can (Write a Picture Book!).  I will present a power point and discuss how kids can plan, research, write and assemble their own picture book and have fun in the doing! 

Nancy Stewart and Jane Yolen
IRC Booth, 2011
Several of my writers' critique group, Bookends, will again organize and run the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) booth.  I look forward to seeing what visual treats are in store for us this year!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Judy Blume Books Being Offered in eBook Format

A large group of Judy Blume books are coming to the digital market.

Random House Children's Books announced Wednesday that 13 stories by the million-selling author will be coming out as e-books this year, starting with 10 on March 21. "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret"; "Deenie"; and "Blubber" are among the favorites that will be available for downloads.
9780142408810In a statement released by Random House, Blume says her fans have been "patiently waiting" for e-book editions and she's happy they can "choose which format works best for them to enjoy their favorite books."

For those of you who have been Judy Blume fans for years, this is the chance to get her books in a new format, thanks to Random House.


Read more here:

Monday, March 5, 2012

Children’s Ezine Guardian Angel Kids: The Human Body – March 2012 Issue

Welcome to the March 2012 issue of Guardian Angel Kids Ezine (GAK). This month our theme for GAK is The Human Body.

Did you know that you lose 60 – 100 strands of hair every day? Or that fingernails grow nearly four times faster than toenails? The distance around the earth is 25,000 miles. If you measured the length of all of a child's blood vessels, the total would be 60,000 miles. In an adult, it would be 100,000 miles or nearly four times the distance around the earth.
And that bothersome earwax that seems to build up so frequently? It protects the delicate inner ear. Our bodies are indeed complex and amazing.
Come explore the world of "The Human Body" through featured books, poetry, activities, engaging stories, and articles
Letter from the POETRY EDITOR: Donna J. Shepherd
Featured BookS:
Muscles Make Us Move: The Sum of Our Parts Series - Flip Book by Bill Kirk & Artist Eugene Ruble
Human Anatomy Video by Dejan Kober

Children’S poetry, ACTIVITIES, SHORT STORIES, and articleS:

In the Bone Zone by Bill Kirk – learn about the skeleton through this amusing poem.

Games and Activities to Teach the Human Body by Kathy Stemke – games and activities that require whole body participation will attract children’s imaginations.

If I Have to be Normal by Juliana Jones and illustrated by Clara Batton Smith – finding a healthy balance even if you don’t follow the “normal” way.
Listen Up! by Laura Thomas and illustrated by Jack Foster – school girl Jasmine discovers the hard way why we are created with two ears and just one mouth.
Excuse Me, I Burped! by Layne Fleming – you open your mouth to speak and out comes a burp. You’re embarrassed. You wonder why you burped.
Read Aloud Tips and Strategies: How Educators and Parents Can Sustain Interest by Dorit Sasson – both educators and parents play a strong role in ensuring young readers are engaged during read aloud time.

Visit Guardian Angel Kid today and and enjoy a child safe and ad free Ezine.
We also invite you to stay connected with Guardian Angel Kids through our Facebook Fan 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.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Bah Humbug to Blogging? Not So Fast

I wasn’t going to do it.  Nobody was going to make me do it.  What was “it?”  Blogging, that’s what.  I absolutely railed against it.  Well, you get the picture. 

The Future World Order
Or is it Here?
But, because many people, including my publisher, said I must, I began the blog.  No, actually, the truth is, I began learning about blogging.  My poor husband sat next to me many evenings trying to give as much help as he could, which turned out to be quite a bit.

A vocabulary had to be unlearned and a new one learned with words such as, widget, gadget and attribution.  I had to trust that one could move pieces around the site as if I were putting together a puzzle, and they would stay.  I have to admit it, but one evening I sat far too long a time trying to figure how to embed (another new’ish term for me then) a video into my lily-livered blog.

Bit by bit, though, like a creeping vine, I was taken in by technology.  First I hated it.  Then it was okay.  Then it was bearable.  Then I couldn’t live without it!  How’s that for being seduced by a new world order.

Now it is a part of my everyday life, and I can talk widgets with the best of them, and I do.  Have to admit, though, it did take me longer than I thought it would to feel comfortable with tech talk.
And what about today?  Even after an entry is posted, I’ll pour over it from every angle, perhaps move a photo a centimeter or two, recheck links to be sure they’re working, read my witty words for the zillionth time and be, well, blogging addicted. 


This post, then, is a cautionary tale of what can happen to one if s/he lets the guard down concerning blogging.  It’s habit forming and quite impossible to give up.  Take it from me, a used to be, non-wanna be, habit formed, blogger.