Thursday, November 29, 2012

Press Release: PBS Kids Announces Annual Writer's Contest (Grades K-3)

National Contest Open to Kids in Grades K-3; Panel of Acclaimed Honorary Judges to Review Top Twelve Entries             
ARLINGTON, VA, November 29, 2012 – Today, PBS KIDS announced its annual PBS KIDS GO! Writers Contest, a national initiative designed to promote the advancement of children’s literacy skills through hands-on, active learning. The Contest, made possible in part by financial support from Easy Student Publishing and managed by member station WNED, partners with PBS stations nationwide and encourages children in grades K-3 to celebrate creativity by submitting their own original stories and illustrations.

“The PBS KIDS GO! Writers Contest offers a fun and exciting opportunity for kids to express their creativity while gaining valuable literacy skills for success in school and life,” said Lesli Rotenberg, Senior Vice President, Children’s Media, PBS. “Together with local stations, we hope this Contest will spark a passion in children and inspire them to explore a world of possibilities.”

How the Contest Works
PBS stations throughout the country will collaborate with schools, public libraries and other community-based organizations to present the Contest in local communities. Each station will select local winners and award prizes.

These local winners will then be entered into the national contest where a panel of esteemed judges will select the top 12 winners.  National winners will be announced during the summer of 2013 and the winning stories will be featured on

The national winners will receive prizes, including tablets, e-readers and MP3 players. Additionally, Highlights for Children has joined the Contest as a new promotional partner and all participants will have the option to receive a print or digital version of Highlights magazine.

PBS KIDS GO! Writers Contest Honorary Judges
A panel of America's foremost children's authors, illustrators and content experts will serve as honorary judges for the PBS KIDS GO! Writers Contest. The 2013 honorary judges include:  
  • Lisa Henson: As Chief Executive Officer of The Jim Henson Company, Henson serves as an executive producer of Sid the Science Kid and Dinosaur Train, both currently airing daily on PBS KIDS, and Pajanimals, a musical puppet series airing daily on Sprout.
  • Jeff Kinney: As a New York Times bestselling author, online game developer and designer, Kinney has been named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. His seventh book, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel, is the biggest print book of 2012. His book series has over 83 million in print worldwide, translated into more than 40 languages. He spent his childhood in the Washington, D.C., area and moved to New England in 1995. Jeff lives in southern Massachusetts with his wife and their two sons.
  • Kate Klimo: As Vice President and Publisher of the Random House/Golden Books Group, she has been responsible for extending the Seuss brand into new formats including board and novelty books, and publishing non-fiction celebrations of Dr. Seuss's life and works. Klimo has nearly 30 years of experience at Random House; more than 15 of them spent working on All Things Seuss. She is also the production executive of The Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That! Kate is the author of many books for young readers, including 12 titles in the Cat in the Hat's Learning Library series. She has also written for young adults (The Centauriad Series) and has a new series for children, Dog Diaries, launching in January 2013.
  • Jarrett Krosoczka: Two-time winner of the Third to Fourth Grade Book of the Year in the Children’s Choice Book Awards, author and illustrator for sixteen published books – ten picture books and six graphic novels. He has seen his work recommended by national publications like Newsweek, The New York Times and USA Today. His Punk Farm and Lunch Lady series are also in development to be feature films.
  • Susan Meddaugh: Author and illustrator of Martha Speaks, the best-selling book series, as well as a creative producer of the award-winning PBS KIDS series of the same name. Susan grew up in New Jersey, studied art and illustration, and now lives in Massachusetts with her family — including her dogs of course.
  • R.L. Stine: As one of the best-selling children's authors in history, he has sold over 450 million books that have been read all over the world including Goosebumps - one of the best-selling children’s series of all-time.  R.L. lives in New York City with his wife Jane and his dog Minnie.

Creative Writing Resources
The Contest is supported by a robust set of resources for children, parents and teachers.  Story ideas, activity sheets, along with the previous winning entries are available on the Contest website to inspire children during the brainstorming process. PBS LearningMedia is also offering a collection of online teacher resources for use in classrooms nationwide. 

PBS KIDS is a trusted guide nurturing young learners ages 2- 8. As America’s largest classroom, PBS inspires children to discover their full potential for success in school and in life and serves children wherever they live, learn, and play. More information on participating local stations, general entry rules and contest resources can be found on

PBS KIDS GO! offers early elementary children the opportunity to explore new ideas and new worlds through television, online and community-based programs.  For more information on specific PBS KIDS GO! content supporting literacy, science, math and more, visit, join our community online on Twitter and Facebook, or visit

About WNED
Through WNED-TV, ThinkBright and Well/WORLD TV, WBFO-FM 88.7 and Classical 94.5 WNED, member-supported WNED Buffalo/Toronto provides high quality programming and services to local, regional and national audiences that enlighten, inspire, entertain and educate Western New York and Southern Ontario communities. Additional information about WNED can be found at

About Easy Student Publishing
Meet writing standards and motivate students using book-making tools and resources from Easy Student Publishing.  With Classbook and Storybook options, free programs, online or mail-in production and expert resources, we have publishing solutions designed for educators.  Enhance curriculum, support literacy and promote creativity.  Every student can be a published author!

About Highlights for Children, Inc. ( 
Devoted to "Fun with a Purpose," family media brand Highlights for Children, Inc. has helped children become their best selves for generations. Its flagship publication, Highlights magazine, the most recognizable and widely read children's magazine in the nation, has printed more than a billion copies. Other Highlights offerings include a version for younger children, High Five magazine; a new magazine for babies and their caregivers, Highlights Hello magazine; Highlights for Children book clubs; and mobile applications like My First Hidden Pictures. Highlights can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and at its blog for thoughtful parents, Highlights Aha. Corporate offices are in Columbus, Ohio, and editorial offices are in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. Fun with a Purpose, Goofus and Gallant, and Hidden Pictures are trademarks of Highlights for Children, Inc.

Melissa Mills, PBS; 703.739.8134;
Caitlin Melnick, 360 Public Relations; 617.585.5775;

Monday, November 26, 2012

Blog Tour: Dragon and the Dangerous Princess

I hope everyone in the US had a great Thanksgiving. Today, I am sooo excited to take part in the "Dragon and Dangerous Princess" blog tour with authors Jim Averbeck and Dashka Slater My kidlets and I have been fans of theirs for a few years, and we read their books often. Check out my review of Jim's In a Blue Room and Dashka's The Sea Serpent and Me. Now, the two are back with two WONDERFUL picture books that would make perfect gifts for the little readers in your life!

First, Oh No, Little Dragon!  is both written and illustrated by Jim Averbeck. In the book, the super energetic Little Dragon is super mischievous and gets himself into funny antics that had my littles laughing out loud. Through a funny story and adorable illustrations,  Jim Averbeck successfully weaves in the overarching theme of a mother's love for her child.

Here's what Jim has to say about the book, reading with kids, and more:  

In 2008, you visited The Well-Read Child to talk about your first book, In a Blue Room. What have you been up to since then?
A lot! I was honored to illustrate a book for Linda Sue Park called A Long Walk to Water. It was a serial novel that appeared in newspapers.  Then I both wrote and illustrated Except If which came out last year. Then, of course, this year I finished Oh No, Little Dragon! 

Where did you get the idea for Oh No, Little Dragon?

It started with the name of the character. When I was traveling in China, my guide’s name was Xiao Long,  which he said meant “Little Dragon.”  I thought that sounded like a fun name for a character in a picture book and I spent the rest of the vacation thinking about it.  When I was taking a shower in the hotel, I swallowed some water and started coughing. That got me to thinking about what would happen if a dragon swallowed water. The story grew from there.

I have two rambunctious “little dragons” in my house. Is the Little Dragon character based on anyone in your life or maybe yourself when you were a kid?

I think I’d have to own the title “rambunctious child” much to my mother’s chagrin. One year I was so rambunctious that I broke my arm three times in the space of twelve months. The police actually had to investigate my home life, for fear that I was being abused. My poor mother, pinned under the unwavering gaze of the law! I’m sure when I told the police how I liked to play “tightrope walker” on the narrow pipe at the top of the swing set, or “paratrooper” from the top of the apple tree, they decided my mom was innocent.

What is your favorite mythical creature?

Besides dragons, I would have to say pegasuses. Or is that pegasi? Anyway- winged horses. They seem like the most useful of mythical creatures, good for traveling long distances, carrying heavy loads, easy to stable and feed.  But in honesty, I’d just as soon stick with my plain old, non-mythical pet dog Bella, who is licking my arm as I type this response.

You are an author AND an illustrator. What do you love most about writing and illustrating your own books?

The interplay of words and pictures. I love the ability to tell a large part of the story with the art. For example, the last image of Oh No, Little Dragon lets us know that Little Dragon has learned a thing or two from his adventure in the book, but it isn’t stated explicitly. It’s all in the visual. So, telling much of the story with the art let’s me concentrate on picking only the best words, since I will need so few of them.

What do you love most about writing for children?

I think I love the way it keeps me connected to my own inner child. It enables me to continue to view the world with a sense of wonder, and get paid for it!

Why do you think it’s important for adults to read with the children in their lives?

For most people, their world doesn’t extend too far past the place they were born. Reading is really the only way to open the world up for them, to expose them to different cultures and ideas. Children need to have reading modeled as an activity that’s good, worthwhile and enjoyable, so they can become readers for life.  The best way for that to happen is for the adults in their life to read to them or with them. An adult who reads to a child is giving them the world.

A lot of people ask for tips about turning reluctant readers into lifelong readers. Do you have any suggestions?

Start with their interests and work outward. So, for example, if your reluctant reader likes Spiderman movies, go out and buy him a trade paperback of a good Spiderman story arc. Or if he likes sports, get him a biography of a top player. Look for any inroad you can find. And even if one book doesn’t pique his interest, keep looking. Also- be sure to buy age appropriate books. If you buy books too advanced for your reluctant reader, he may lose interest.  Keep feeding that interest then branch out. So from Spiderman, introduce him to other great graphic novels, working up to ones with more depth. And then maybe to books that deal with similar subject matter- fantasy etc.  I think the important thing is to use their interests to guide what books to give them, rather than trying to use books to interest them in something they don’t care about.

What kinds of things do you like to do when you’re not writing or illustrating?

I’m  a city boy. I’ve lived in metro areas since I was 18.  Recently my partner and I decided we needed to spend at least three nights each week enjoying the city of San Francisco. I like to find weird little performance venues for an evening of cheap, unusual entertainment. So I guess one answer is “nightlife.” I also like to run on the beach with my dog, work out, hang out with friends and explore the great restaurants here in the city.

What can we expect to see from you next?
My next book to be published will be The Market Bowl.  It’s an original folktale set in Cameroon, where I was a Peace Corps Volunteer. I was recently informed that it is a Junior Library Guild Selection, which is great news. It’s the story of Yoyo, who loses the blessing on the bowl her family uses to collect money for the goods they sell at market. No blessing means no money, so she has to find a way to get that blessing restored.

I’ve also written a novel called A Hitch at the Fairmont which my agent is currently presenting to editors. Several are interested, so I expect it to sell soon.

Next, Dashka Slater's Dangerously Ever After
 features a really tough Princess named Amanita. Princess Amanita loves to do dangerous things, and when her neighbor Prince Florian gives her a bouquet of roses, she scoffs until she sees that they have thorns. She wants to grow rose seeds of her own, but instead of roses, she grows really loud, sneezing, sniffling noses that threaten the peace of the kingdom. So Amanita sets out on a dangerous adventure to get rid of the noses. I really love this story of an "unconventional" princess with a taste for adventure. 

Here's what Dashka Slater had to say about the book:

Where did you get the idea for Dangerously Ever After?
When my son was in first grade, he announced that he had a funny idea for a story about a queen who wanted to plant rose seeds and ended up planting nose seeds.  As soon as he described it to me, I could picture the hilarious possibilities that could ensue – Sneezing! Snoring! Snot! For days I pestered him to write the story himself, but he never did. Then I was forced to wrestle with the ethics of stealing story ideas from a small child, particularly my own. At last I sat down with him and suggested we write it together. He was mildly interested in the project, but eventually wandered off to build something with blocks, leaving me to finish it on my own.

Princess Amanita is a pretty tough little princess. Why do you think it’s important for children’s books to have strong female characters?

Children’s books are all about possibility – they allow children to try on different personalities and imagine themselves living through different scenarios. And while the words “role model” have been so overused as to have lost their meaning, I think it’s important for children of every variety to be able to see themselves as strong and capable and even a little dangerous – and that means that there have to be stories featuring strong, capable and dangerous girls. One of the surprising things I’ve discovered is that boys love Dangerously Ever After. I never set out to write a princess book for boys, and yet I keep getting letters from parents telling me that their sons can’t get enough of it. I love that because conventional wisdom has it that boys won’t read books about girls.

Are Princess Amanita and Prince Florian based on real people in your life?
My son had a friend in elementary school who was very much a dangerous princess. She dressed like a goth in kindergarten and was profoundly attracted to anything with a whiff or risk to it. I have a very vivid memory of standing mortified in the supermarket as she loudly announced that her favorite drink was Kahlua. “Kahlua!” she sang happily. “Kahlua! Kahlua!”  All eyes turned to me, the adult clearly responsible for turning this adorable child into a souse. I’m sure she’d never tasted Kahlua in her life, but she did know how to get a reaction. Princess Amanita definitely embodies some of her edgy persona. Prince Florian is a lot like my son, who is a pretty gentle soul.

Aside from Princess Amanita, do you have another favorite princess or fairytale?
I was raised on the Oz books which feature the wise Princess Ozma, the girlish princess who started out as a boy  (just in case you thought there were no transgender characters in classic children’s books). But probably my favorite princess tale is E. Nesbit’s Melisande, about the princess whose hair won’t stop growing. Melisande is a very sensible princess and the story not only features three white roses, but also a very nice prince named Florizel.

What did you think when you saw Valeria DoCampo’s illustrations?
I thought, “So that’s what nose flowers look like!” Valeria had found a way to make them look so perfectly botanical – like some kind of sub-tropical orchid, but perfectly recognizable as sneezing, snorting noses, too.

What do you love most about writing books for kids?
Children’s literature is pure storytelling. When you write for children, you write entirely for the purpose of creating a moving, exciting, rewarding experience for the reader. You’re not writing to impress anyone, or to give anyone something to discuss in their graduate seminar. You’re writing to have fun – and to create fun. What could be better?

Why do you think it’s important for adults to read with the children in their lives?
Reading a book together is  pretty much the coziest experience you can have with another human being. Not only are you snuggled up together in bed or on the couch, but your minds are snuggled up too – you’re sharing a whole world together. Those worlds will become touchstones and common references forever and ever. And when you share a book that you love, you’re letting someone else see a little bit of the inside of your head and heart. You’re saying, ‘This is  what moves me,’ or ‘This is what interests me,’ or ‘This is what I think is funny,’ or even, ‘This is how I wish I could be.’ And your child is saying the same to you.

Do you have any suggestions or tips for helping reluctant readers learn to like reading?

Read aloud! We get very hung up on independent reading, which means that we’re confusing the mechanics of reading (decoding, phonics, etc.) with the content of reading. Books that we have read to us often go much deeper than books we read ourselves and kids who are social by nature are more apt to enjoy a book that’s read together, even if they can read it perfectly well themselves. Find a book you think your kid will like and read it aloud together, or listen to a recording of it on your next long car ride or cross-country flight (the double headphone jack is key here).

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I spend so much time hunched over a computer that I try to spend the rest of my time outside and moving! I love taking long bike rides, swimming, kayaking and hiking and I also do yoga. I love urban walks too, particularly walking around Oakland’s Lake Merritt, where I almost always see something remarkable, whether it’s a cowboy wedding or an osprey with a fish in its mouth. I’m also a huge baseball fan and am always happy to watch a game, whether it’s my beloved Oakland A’s or my son’s tournament team.

What can we expect to see from you next?
I'm currently working on several new picture books as well as my first middle grade novel, called The Roving Trees Railway. Which one will be ready for publication first is anybody's guess!

Thank you so much Jim and Dashka for your very thoughtful answers. I wish you both the best of luck with these books and your future books. I am honored to participate in the tour.

Check out other stops on the tour:

  • Lori Calabrese
  • Read, Writ, Repeat 
  • Monkey Poop
  • Elizabeth O. Dulemba 
  • Charlotte's Library
  • Design of the Picture Book
  • Katie Davis
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    Friday, November 2, 2012

    The Graceling Series by Kristin Cashore

    After years of hearing so many good things about Kristin Cashore's Graceling books, I finally had the opportunity to read all three. In this post, I'll provide a synopsis of all three books and then tell you why I love them.

    The series is set in a land comprising seven kingdoms. In the first book, Graceling, we meet humans called Gracelings who have two different colored eyes and have a special power, or "grace." Some graces are more powerful than others. For example, some are excellent archers, fighters, or mind readers, which makes them very useful in the seven kingdoms.

    Eighteen-year-old Katsa lives in the Middluns. Her grace is killing, and her power hungry uncle, King Randa uses her as a puppet to hurt people who have wronged him in some way. Katsa's reputation as a killer instills fear among those who come across her, but Katsa is not proud of how her uncle uses her and secretly starts an organization designed to help people who have been wronged by King Randa and other rulers of the seven kingdoms.

    The organization leads secret missions, and it is during one of these missions that meets Po, a Graceling who is graced with combat skills. Together, they go on a dangerous mission that not only changes both of their lives but the lives of people in the seven kingdoms.

    Fire takes place about 50 years before the events of Graceling and is set in The Dells, a kingdom separate from and unknown to the seven kingdoms in Graceling. The Dells includes a host of new characters, including the title character, Fire, a beautiful "monster" who has the power to control the the thoughts of others. War is coming to The Dells, and Fire decides to leave a life of comfort and relative seclusion to help the young King Nash hold on to the throne. Along the way, Fire finds love, learns more about her past, and overcomes a host of life-changing challenges. Also, we learn the history of King Leck of Monsea, the evil king in Graceling.

    In Bitterblue, it has been eight years since the events in Graceling. Young Bitterblue is the Queen of Monsea and for the past eight years, has relied heavily on the guidance of her advisors - advisors who were influenced by her mind-controlling father, the late King Leck. Seeking freedom from the confines of the palace, Bitterblue begins sneaking out in the middle of the night. During these explorations of the city, Bitterblue meets people who will change her life and who help her change the city that has been under the control of her father for years. This book ties up a lot of loose ends from the previous two, resulting in a satisfying ending to the story of the seven kingdoms and The Dells.

    I really enjoyed all three books for many reasons, but these are the top three:

    1. Strong Female Characters - Katsa, Fire, and Bitterblue are so different, but they are alike in two ways - they are strong and intelligent. They have diverse talents and each one faces and overcomes difficult obstacles.
    2. Powerful Writing - Kristin Cashore weaves together powerful stores full of detail and beautiful writing. Her descriptions of the world the people live in and the characters themselves are fascinating.
    3.  Compelling Stories - All three books are unique and include story lines that I could immediately fall into. Victorious, heart-wrenching, and fascinating are three words I'd use to describe all three stories. I highly recommend them. 

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