Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Reasons to Go to A Highlights Foundation Writers Workshop

My Trip to Attend Highlights Foundation's An Introduction to Novels in Verse, Oct. 7-12, 2012


Imagine a week spent writing and taking writing classes with outstanding children's writers while staying in your own cabin in the Poconos. Sound idyllic? The Highlights Foundation offers several writing workshops in Honesdale, PA where you can do exactly that!

In mid-October, I was fortunate to attend the Introduction to Novels in Verse workshop. Initially, I wasn't entirely certain whether I should go since I don't primarily write verse novels. But I had started an attempt at one and thought I had better grab this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study with the talented verse novelists Virginia Euwer Wolff, Sonya Sones and Linda Oatman High.

And it turned out to be an excellent workshop and a delightful experience.

Since I live in a big city, I especially enjoyed getting away to stay in a cabin in the woods. Here are some photos of the charming and comfortable cabin where I stayed. So peaceful and free of television. No distractions or excuses not to write!

The workshop kicked off with dinner on Sunday night (the first of many delicious meals) and went through brunch on Friday. While it included time for writing, primarily it was a scheduled retreat with daily classes. The classes encompassed both basics (What is a Verse Novel?) and 'insider' information (Tips and Secrets with Sonya, Linda, and Virginia) and even branched out to cover book publishing tips. The balance of class and personal time worked well for me.
The generous and insightful teachers who taught the classes made this workshop special. They inspired us with their stories and words, gave creative writing exercises and prompts, and advised us in one-on-one critiques. Sharing daily meals with these writers offered a unique chance to get to know them and to learn about writing in a personal way.

The sixteen writers/students who attended really made this workshop zing.
We shared our stories and poems at Open Mic Nights, at the meal tables, in the classes, and sitting around the beautiful new barn where the classes were held.
Writers came from all across the country from Portland to Boise to Florida to  North Carolina.  Everyone seemed devoted to their writing craft and many shared both writing battle stories about the challenges getting published and success stories (here's my new book!). 

The Barn
It was great attending classes in the new barn built mostly from wood from old, local barns. The quiet rural setting included walking paths by a stream, the old Highlights family farm house, and a quaint 19th century post office down the road.

We also got to visit and tour the Highlights for Children Press building and meet the staff.

Finally, I have to mention the food at the retreat.  Local chiefs lovingly prepared their own recipes often with local ingredients. Delicious!

What a terrific workshop! I'll be sharing more about the the novelists who led the workshop and their books in upcoming posts, so stay tuned.

For more information on Highlights Foundation workshops, visit

Have you been on a writers workshop that you liked?

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Monday, July 16, 2012

Purr-fect Kids' Books for Cat Lovers

Carolyn Crimi's Tabby D. Cat Makes Summer Reading Fun

By Special Guest Sylvia the Cool Book Cat

Sylvia heads for her local library branch
Now I'm a cool cat but I have a problem. So, I wrote Tabby D. Cat who has been helping the furry, the finned and the feathered for all nine of his lives:

Dear Tabby D. Cat,

I love to read. I read on my cat pad, I read in my tree top, I read whether or not I get a tea biscuit. In short, I'm hooked on books. But the cats I live with, sadly, do not like to read! Hair-raising! 
What's a kitty to do to help these ruffians discover the joys of reading, especially during the summer months when so many of them are out of school. There must be some great reads out there for cats and cat lovers, even though that actor Alec Baldwin is telling folks to read Walter the Farting Dog (yes, really, about a dog who lets gas). Please advise.

Sylvia the Cool Book Cat

Here's the letter I got back from Tabby:

Read the book! Available now at bookstores and libraries!Dear Sylvia,

It's simple. You lure those bad kitties with alluring books. Here are my picks:

PeteThe Cat: I Love My White Shoes by James Dean and Eric Litman
Ages 3 to 8. 40 pages

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
Ages 3 and up. 72 pages.

Binky The Space Cat by Ashley Spires
Ages 7 and up. 64 pages.

What Will Fat CatSit On? by Jan Thomas
Ages 4 and up. 40 pages.

WonTon: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku
by Lee Wardlaw, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin.
Ages 4 and up. 40 pages.

No Dogs Allowed! written by Linda Ashman; illus. by Kristin Sorra
Ages 3 and up. 32 pages.

P-awsome! I can't wait to read these books. 
But, first, I just have to share another thing Tabby advises: Don't let your kitties stop working on their writing skills just because the fish are jumping in that ol' summer watering hole. Keep them writing, writing, writing and they're really shine when school starts up again.

Tabby D. Cat’s Five Writing Tips:

Snacks always help fuel the muse

Dogs are a distraction and should be banned from all homes

A little catnip before a writing session never hurt anyone

Shredded manuscripts make excellent cat litter

When in doubt, eat a sardine

Thanks, Tabby!

Now I've got a few tips of my own about reading with your humans. Occasionally, I do it with the kids who live in my house just to make them think I enjoy their company. Here's what I suggest to get your kids (and other humans) reading:

Whenever they complain that they're bored, hand them a BOOK!

Get your kids their own library cards.

Go to your local library. Libraries usually feature children's summer reading programs. My kids love picking out their own books. Summer can be a great time for children to discover their own book adventures.

Start a home reading club. To begin, invite your kids to read the children's books you enjoy or ask them what their choices are. I'm inviting my kids to read What Will Fat Cat Sit On? The whole family can read the same book and discuss it together.

Create a reading space for your kids to curl up with a book. Make sure it's comfy and has good lighting and lots of books.

Here's more about children's writer Carolyn Crimi:
CarolynCarolyn Crimi enjoys snacking, Zumba, pugs, Halloween, and writing, although not necessarily in that order. She is quite proud of the fact that she was awarded the Prairie State Award in March for her body of work. She received her MFA from Vermont College in 2000 and has the diploma to prove it. Over the years she has published thirteen funny books for children, including Don’t Need Friends, Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies, Where’s My Mummy?, Rock ‘N’ Roll Mole, and Pugs in a Bug. She visits over 50 schools and libraries all over the country each year but she never tires of hearing kids laugh. Her proudest moment came from a second grader who declared her to be a “Very Silly Grown-up.” Her pug Emerson agrees. For more information about Carolyn, visit her website at

Got any favorite summer reads? Tabby D. Cat and I would love if you'd share them here. Got any tips on getting your kids to read? Post away! Curious cats want to know.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ten Benefits of Going on a Writers' Retreat

While writers need solitude for honing their craft, going on a writers' retreat provides an opportunity to immerse in an intensive, uplifting and focused writing experience.

When I got an email from the Illinois chapter of The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) inviting writers to get lost in the tranquility of nature and find your Words in the Woods at a June retreat, I couldn't resist applying.

And, yes, I'm very glad I went to the Words in the Woods 2012: Moving your Story Forward retreat. Here are ten benefits I and other writers experienced in just one long weekend, Friday, June 22 to Sunday, June 24 at Villa Maria in Springfield, IL:

Face-to-face critiques with an editor, agent or writer
Alexandra Penfold, "Ty" King, Marissa Moss

Front-row seats to listen and learn from guest speakers: editor Alexandra Penfold (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), agent Kristy “Ty” King (Writers House), and author/illustrator/publisher Marissa Moss

Workshops on creating characters and developing vivid settings and plots for page-turning middle-grade and young adult novels, as well as picture books

Speaker panels on revision, marketing and career-development

Manuscript exchanges and camaraderie with other writers sharing stories and ideas in a cozy environment
Lake Springfield, our backyard

Open mic time to read stories and works-in-progress

Lovely natural treasures such as the Lincoln Trail and Lake Springfield right in our backyard

Delicious meals and freedom from time spent cooking and caring for family members

Singing by the campfire under a starry sky

And, yes, even dancing in pjs at a pajama party 
What a wonderful event! If you have the opportunity
to go on a writers' retreat, take it.

A heartfelt thank you to the Words in the Woods retreat committee (Louann Brown, John Bowen, Anastasia Ely, Sara Latta and Alice McGinty) for awarding me the Becky Mabry “Go for It” Words in the Woods scholarship covering full tuition, a professional critique and room and board. Thank you!

Thank you, Illinois SCBWI, for bringing in such high-caliber publishing professionals.

Now I am inspired to write, write, write!
Have you been on a writers' retreat? Like them? Don't like them? Know of any great ones? Please share your experiences below in comments. 

Pajama Party art goes hog wild
Quiet writing time in the library

Kathy on Google+

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ten Activities for Celebrating National Poetry Month with Young People

April is National Poetry Month, a special time to celebrate and get young people excited about poetry. Try these ten activities to help children develop a love of poetry throughout the entire year:

Publish poetry online. Young people can write and publish online with the all-new game Martha’s Rhyme Time at Click here for more learning activities from Martha. You may also write and share poems online with Fern’s Poetry Club at

Paint or draw a poem.
Read poetry and paint or draw pictures of what it makes you feel and think.

Dress up
as your favorite character and dramatize poems. Put on a Dr. Seuss hat or costume, grab some props, and perform a poetry book. 

Attend a children's poetry reading at a local library or arts council. Participate in The Academy of American Poets' Poetry Read-A-Thon. Click here for more information. 

Go on a poetry treasure hunt
. Hide poems for children to discover around a classroom, library or at home. Have the kids share and talk about the poems they find. Create and keep a treasure chest for keeping the poems.

children's poets and poetry websites. For starters, click here to meet Children's Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis on The Poetry Foundation's website. Check out the site's many poetry resources and offerings (Poem of the Day, poetry videos, articles and much more).

a poem. Look for a poem's rhythm. Once you find it, try clapping the rhythm and then add some steps. Presto! With a hop, a skip and a twirl, you can make your own poetry dance.

Celebrate national Poem In Your Pocket Day
on Thursday, April 26, 2012. Choose a poem during National Poetry Month, then carry it with you to share with co-workers, family, and friends. You can also share your poem selection on Twitter by using the hashtag #pocketpoem. Poems from pockets will be unfolded throughout the day with events in parks, libraries, schools, workplaces, and bookstores. Click here for more ideas.

Encourage children to memorize
poems and recite them at an Open Mike Poetry Event.

Shape up!
Write a shape poem. Choose any object you would like to write about animals, foods, stars and planets — the possibilities are endless. Create a list of words that describe the object. Arrange your words in the shape of the object. You can draw, color or paint the words. For the tech savvy, try it on the computer.

Spread the word about National Poetry Month to your friends, family, and community by sharing this blog post. Feel free to post below in the comments information about poetry events and activities in April and the rest of the year. Got any you'd like to share?