Thinking Thursday – Book Reviews (#PBReview)


Thinking Thursday – Book Reviews

Book Reviews…. How do authors, illustrators, agents, and editors love you? Let us count the ways.

Yes, WE BOOK REVIEWS! <– Yes, I just shouted that.  😀   Because we do!!!

It’s like a High-5!

Or a warm, fuzzy hug!

clapping-hands-mdOr a stand “O”!

Now seriously, tell me WHO doesn’t like that???!!!???

As you know, The Children at the Playground has been released into the wild. I’m excited, because a few reviews have begun to come in. Click on the links and see what people are saying about my book:

Reviews help get books noticed. Here is a graphic I found to show you about how book reviews can influence Amazon:



Have you read any good books?
Do you post reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, on a blog?
Do you post your reviews on other social media like Twitter and Facebook?
Do you let the author, illustrator, or publisher know about your review?

Until next time…

Happy Writing!

* Don’t miss one post! Email sign ups are over here —>
* Did you enjoy this post? Feel free to LIKE, SHARE, and COMMENT ON THIS POST.
Easy, peasy buttons found  below.
* Sign up for my  N E W S L E T T E R ! I will be sharing writing challenges and other
tidbits related to the kidlit industry. Click  ~HERE~  to be directed to my
Newsletter sign up page.
Shaping Up The Year book       RibbertsWayHome8x300[1]       LGHL-small       justthethingtobe8x300       ADT-8x150       Arachnabet       The Children At the Playground

Teacher Guides + Common Core = Common Ground guided by Marcie Colleen



Hello everyone.

I have been wanting to address a subject that has been giving numerous writers, and parents, some trouble. I think it is in the understanding of the topic really. COMMON CORE has come to your local schools. While a lot of heated debates have happened, I have sat down and began to study it. Really dig deep, and try to understand it. While it can be overwhelming, I think it can be a good thing.

I asked one of my colleagues, Marcie Colleen, if she would answer a few questions about Common Core. I wanted to pass it along to my readers so they can benefit too. Marcie is so generous as you will see below. So, take a deep breath and lets look, really look, at Common Core and find out how it can be beneficial.

PLUS, for my writing friends, how adding a Teacher Guide (a/k/a Lesson Plan) can help your book become Common Core friendly, and hopefully get your book into more children’s hands.



I’m wanting to give my readers more information on the Common Core. It can be confusing when you first begin to look into it. How would you explain it to someone who has no knowledge?

I’d actually beg to differ. It’s not the Common Core that is confusing, it’s the emotionally charged opinions that are plaguing our media that are hard to decipher. When so many people are speaking out about their feelings, it can be difficult to make sense of it for ourselves.

Therefore, here are 3 helpful resources to help YOU make sense of the CCSS for YOU!

  • School Library Journal 6-part webcast series about the Common Core. This series is FREE and very helpful, especially Part One: Getting Real with Marc Aronson and Sue Bartle. Although they are geared toward professionals in the education world, they will give you a good overview on what the CCSS entail and how educators are “unpacking” the standards for themselves. You can find the entire series here.
  • The Common Core State Standards. It’s always best to go right to the source. These standards are not rocket science, but they can be overwhelming. Look at the tables which include each standard by grade level. Limit your focus by standard and grade level so that it is easiest to digest. They can be found, in detail, at

Unfortunately, there are really no shortcuts. If you want to be a part of the conversation, these resources will help you.

To better understand, let’s look closely at a few of the standards.

Excerpt from Grade 3 Reading: Literature Standards

Key Ideas and Details

1. Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.

2. Recount stories, including fables, folktales, and myths from diverse cultures; determine the central message, lesson, or moral and explain how it is conveyed through key details in the text.

3. Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events.

Craft and Structure

4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, distinguishing literal from nonliteral language.

5. Refer to parts of stories, dramas, and poems when writing or speaking about a text, using terms such as chapter, scene, and stanza; describe how each successive part builds on earlier sections.

6. Distinguish their own point of view from that of the narrator or those of the characters.

7. Explain how specific aspects of a text’s illustrations contribute to what is conveyed by the words in a story (e.g., create mood, emphasize aspects of a character or setting).

In isolation it becomes clearer that:

  • The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are a set of benchmarks which focus on the development of essential skills at the most appropriate age and development stage for students.
  • They are skill-based, not test-driven, and in theory will prepare students better for life post-school.
  • They also allow teachers to be unique in their approaches to instruction, not dictating what is to be taught or how. The focus is on results, not means.
  • They are not rocket science or really that confusing.
  • Every book can be Common Core compliant.


I wanted to ask you also to explain why is good to offer Teacher Guides.

A Teacher’s Guide is

  • A tool for teachers to use to gain immediate access into your book and adapt it quickly and easily for classroom use.
  • Aligns your book to the current curriculum and curriculum standards (state standards, as well as the Common Core)
  • A marketing tool which promotes you within the educational environment and helps you garner more school and library visits.

But to answer your question, I want to tell a story. I was recently hired by Adriana Brad Schanen to create a Teacher’s Guide for her debut middle grade novel Quinny & Hopper (Disney Hyperion, 2014). Fast forward to Adriana’s first school visit to a bunch of 4th grade classes. In addition to presenting to the classes, Adriana gave each teacher a copy of the Teacher’s Guide. By the end of the day, the teachers were raving about how comprehensive the guide was. They loved how many options and avenues into the book it provided. In fact, the teachers decided that perhaps next year they would forgo the usual Superfudge unit and instead teach Quinny & Hopper!!!

Teachers are busy. They are overworked. They are spread thin. The easier you can make it for them to use your book in the classroom the better your chances. Of course they have been teaching Superfudge. There are a zillion lesson plans and activities for free on the web on how to bring Superfudge into the classroom. A Teacher’s Guide can help you “compete”.


When should you think about teacher guides?

Truthfully? Once your book is finished. Just like I wouldn’t want a teacher to “teach to the test”, a writer shouldn’t write to a Teacher’s Guide. Once your book is finished you can start to think about its life outside.

Six months prior to the date of publication is usually sufficient start the process of creating a Teacher’s Guide.


What if your story is fiction, can you still incorporate teacher’s guides?

Absolutely! In fact, out of the 33 Teacher’s Guides I have created for clients, only 3 of them have been for non-fiction titles. To check them out, all of my guides are available for free download on my website at

You’d be surprised what academic goodies can be pulled out of a fiction story. After all, isn’t The Very Hungry Caterpillar a great springboard for learning about food choices, the life cycle of a butterfly and metamorphosis?


Thank you so much, Marcie. You really have gone above and beyond.





Education Consultant, Marcie Colleen, is a former classroom teacher and curriculum creator turned Picture Book writer. Her Teacher’s Guides, which align picture books and middle grade novels with the Common Core and other state mandated standards, have been praised by both teachers and librarians. Her Teacher’s Guide for Picture Book Month, Why Picture Books Belong in Our Classrooms, validates the use of picture books across EVERY curriculum and provides teachers with a hands on approach to adapt any picture book for educational use. Her work with Picture Book Month has been recognized by School Library Journal and the Children’s Book Council. Marcie is also an Education Strategist, providing one-on-one consultation guiding authors and illustrators to best position their books for school visits and classroom use. Visit her at to discover how Marcie can help you navigate the world of children’s literature and education.



I hope that give you all some stepping stones to begin the journey of understanding Common Core and how books, with Teacher Guides, can play a vital role in children’s education.

Happy writing/reading everyone!


*Don’t forget to sign-up for my blog updates.  —>
**Did you find this post informative? Feel free to LIKE and SHARE! Easy-peasy buttons found below.

#summersparks Thursday Thinking: 9 Ways to Tighten Your Story


9 Ways to Tighten Your Story


Donna Earnhardt wrote a terrific post, Burning Down the House, that covered how reading out loud helps to revise. Then, saputnam had a great comment about how she color-codes her submissions, and that reminded me of another way to revise. Then that got me to thinking of other ways to revise. That lead me to thinking, just how !any ways are there to revise. Here’s my list:

  • Read out loud (thanks Donna)
    This not only gets your brain working, but your ears as well. You will stutter and stumble over words and phrases that are out of place and don’t belong.
  • Read backwards (thanks again Donna)
    This will help see gaps in your plot, where you need to rearrange or add to build the right sequence.
  • Read to an audience (Donna is the bomb)
    This is where you can see how people react. Did they laugh? Was there an Ah-ha! moment.
  • Observe a reading.
    Here’s where you combine watching you audience reactions with listening to the story to see of things are off, Make notes. Don’t have a reader? Record yourself and play it back.
  • Highlight your text.
    Use different colors for dialog, action, passive texts. This will give you a color-coded visual of your story.
  • Cut up text and place in a storyboard.
    This will show pacing. you can see where there are holes and where text !at be too heavy.
  • Draw it out. (thanks Alison)
    You can also use doodles of your text to make sure your story is moving forward and hasn’t stalled out. In picture books, every word counts!
  • Draw a story arc. (thanks Alayne)
    This is also called ‘The W Factor’ or ‘The Heartbeat of the Story’ and shows pacing well too. Here you go up and down determined by the conflicts and resolutions -aka Cause and Effect– of your story.
  • Read, read, read.
    Yes read your story, parts of your story, and then read it some more. Make it flow effortlessly!
  • Set it aside.
    How is this revision?Think of wine, if you taste it right away, sure it will be good, but if you put it away. Don’t open it. The body develops. When you taste it again, there will be notes that highlight the flavor. The body will be fuller. It will be like tasting it for the first time. The same can happen with your story. You will have separated yourself from the text and can see it with fresh eyes. Mistakes will pop out. Things will make you smile. You will get the goosies when you read THE LINE.

So what are some of the ways you revise? Do you have a routine that is different from those listed?

:::Leave a comment:::
Let me know how you tighten a story.


You have one more day to finish qualifying for the raffle prizes!!! All entries must be done by Friday, July 11th, at 11:59 pm, est. THAT’S A WRAP post will explain the steps to qualify!


Missed a SUMMER SPARK? Don’t worry, you can find them here:

Day 1: In Celebration of Summer Magic  by Kelly Milner Halls
Day 2:  The Power of Doodling  by Alison K. Hertz
Day 3: Cause & Effect  by Alayne Kay Christian
Day 4: How to be a Marketing Ninja  by Corey Rosen Schwartz
Day 5: A Visual Writing Prompt: Begin at the End  by Julie Gribble
Day 6: The Final Word  by Jodi Moore
Day 7: Inspiration Station  by Susanna Hill
Day 8: Voice and Word Choice in Picture Books by Tara Lazar
Day 9: Platform Building Can You Build It? Yes, You Can!  by Tracey M. Cox
Day 10: 5 Ways to Hook Your Reader with Your Very First Line  by Kirsti Call
Day 11: Burning Down the House aka Revision by Donna Earnhardt
Day 12: Persistence  by Donna M. McDine
Day 13: Writing Your Way to a Spark  by Kris Dinnison
Day 14: Hope In Your Heart  by Carol Gordon Ekster
BONUS: What Songs Rock Your World?  by Claire Rudolf Murphy
Follow-up #1: TIPS
Follow-up #2: 9 Ways to Tighten Your Story
Prize Announcement: Winner! Winner! Chicken Dinner!

Thinking Thursday: How to Critique

So you written a story and would like a fresh pair of eyes… in exchange for you doing the same.

ideasBUT how do you critique a story?

While there is no Do THIS and DO THAT instructions, I have found people give the same advice and this is what I tend to do when critiquing a picture book manuscript:

  1. Read the story through twice
  2. Put it down for a day
  3. Read story out loud, while making notes
  4. Read again to myself, while making additional notes (if any)

What notes do I make you may ask?

  • flow pattern
  • pov shift
  • grammer
  • spelling
  • suggestions on how to improve
  • comments on what I think (love this line, etc)
  • add or delete word(s) or phrase
  • anything I think will help improve the manuscript

How do I format my critique? I like to think of  it as a sandwich. You get two pieces of bread and then the good stuff in the middle.
The first piece of bread is me giving some basic instructions and an overall feel of the story. *I make a point to stay positive. FIND something you like*
The middle is where I include my notes, suggestions, and comments. *This is the meaty part. Yes, there will be constructive criticism here, but you are wanting it to get better. VERY rarely will you run across something that is absolutely ready with nothing to comment on*
The last piece of bread is where I go into  my overall comments of the story. I may also comment about marketing, submitting possibilities, and other things that may pop into my head.

Critiquing is like writing though. You get better with practice. BUT even someone who is new can see things that others may overlook. The best thing is to take the plunge, jump in feet first, and enjoy the water.

Let me know if you have some other great tips when critiquing.
ALSO… I offer a critique service for non-rhyming pbs. You can click on the tab at the top of this post to read what my fees are and how to contact me.



SUMMER SPARKS Writing Challenge sign-up is still on going. Click HERE to comment on the correct blog post to be eligible to win some great swag!

Happy writing!


*Don’t miss one post. Email sign-ups are over here —>
**Please LIKE and SHARE this post. Easy, peasy buttons below.  🙂

Thinking Thursday: SUMMER SPARKS writing challenge

Summer Sparks

Hello people!

WHAT is Summer Sparks? Well, I’ll get to that in a little bit. First I want you to know that I know how hard coming up with ideas can be. To help me out I have participated in a a few writing challenges:

Shannon Abercrombie’s: START THE YEAR OFF WRITE


Tara Lazar’s: PIBOIDMO

THEN I like to participate in several writing challenges…

Julie Hedlund’s: 12×12



That being said, I still find myself stalling out mid-year.  *waaaaaaaaah*


I don’t know. Maybe it’s the nice weather? Maybe it’s the kids being out of school? The gardening needing weeding and planting and harvesting? Vacation to be taken? There are SO MANY things it could be. Sometimes it my ideas didn’t pan out. Sometimes I’m in a rut and need a good kick to get going again. SOOOOOOOOOO….

Summer Sparks

Is a brain child of mine. I will be hosting this writing challenge *YIKES!* during the first two weeks of Summer!
Here is the run down:

  • SIGN-UP: will go from June 1-15. I will blog a sign-up post on JUNE 1st. YOU MUST COMMENT ON THIS BLOG TO BE INCLUDED IN THE PRIZES AT THE END OF THE CHALLENGE.
  • SUMMER SPARKS: June 21-July4 will be the run-time of the challenge. You will have until July 11th to catch up on challenge. (because I know some of us will be busy during the holiday)
  • BLOG POSTS: Each day a guest blogger will talk about the different challenges and/or aspects of being a picture book writer. They will also give you a ‘spark’ of a writing prompt to give you an idea for a story.
  • PRIZES: Some bloggers will be giving away prizes. You will have to follow each day and participate the whole two weeks to be eligible.
  • ACCOMPLISHMENT: What I hope this will give you all is at least 14 sparks for new stories.


  1. Kelly Halls
  2. Alison Hertz
  3. Alyane Christian
  4. Corey Schwartz
  5. Julie Gribble
  6. Jodi Moore
  7. Susanna Hill
  8. Tara Lazar
  9. Tracey M. Cox
  10. Kristi Call
  11. Donna Earnhardt
  12. Donna M. McDine
  13. Kris Dinnison
  14. Carol Ekster
  15. Claire Murphy (BONUS Blogger)

To find out more information go to :  . You will find pictures and links to each blogger. Hope to see you all there.

Have fun writing!!!

Thinking Thursday: April!

We are into the 2nd quarter of 2014!

Boomm clipart

Pow! clipart


Holy smokes, Batman. How did that happen?


Did you have any writing goals set for this year?
If so, how are you doing?
Why not set some short term goals for the next three months and see how it goes?

Having goals doesn’t have to be a bad set up. Give yourself something to work with.
Maybe write one new story or chapter our outline a cb/mg/ya book that’s been nagging at you.
Maybe take notes on various characters you see or read about that you can incorporate into something of yours.
Maybe try a different medium. Only type? Try long-hand. One write? Try doodling. Only draw? Try writing a scene out.

The possibilities are endless. By giving yourself freedom of new things, you give yourself playtime. I went to a sign painting event last month and had a blast!

So, get to swinging you cape crusader!!!

Let me know what you are planning to do to kick of the 2nd Qtr of the year and get your creative juices flowing.

Happy Writing!


*DO NOT forget to sign up for email alert for when I post new content. Easy sign-up right over here! —>

**Did you find this post helpful or inspiring? Please feel free to like and share across your various social media outlets.  Easy-Peasy buttons below.

Thinking Thursday: Ideas… ???

Image courtesy of Sicha Pongjivanich /

Image courtesy of Sicha Pongjivanich /


“Where do you get your ideas from?”

This seems to be one of my most asked questions. Not just from students either, but other writers too.

I tell them everything! Which I know is a really vague answer, but it’s true.


When my children were small, I would watch their mannerisms and make notes. Listen to what they said and make notes. Paid attention to what they were interested in and made notes. But they are bigger than me now! I still watch children and take notes. They all want to know and absorb information. They are eager to know how to act or how NOT to act in certain situations. As a writer you can approach the same situation in different directions to get different angles on the story. Humor, literal, scary, ridiculous… you name it and the storyline will change.

What Is Happening

Listen to the news, read newspapers and magazines, and see what is going on. Then think… How would a child react to that? What would a child say about that? Is this something a child could relate to?
Stories can blossom out of a bad situation, a friendly situation, an awkward situation.


I love looking at pictures. Some catch my eye (and my brain) and get me thinking. It can be something as simple as a flower. It can be a scene with children in a bathtub. It could be the aftermath of a bombing and a tattered teddybear lays in the street.
Pictures are great jump-starters


Yes, DOODLE! Let your mind go free and create. Sometimes scribbling something on a paper and looking at it from different directions will let you ‘see’ something. Maybe a character? Maybe a setting? Maybe a situation to build on? Letting go sometimes kick-starts your creativity.

I tell students to really use their eyes and ears. Try looking at things from a different angle. Try listening to the underlying meaning to what is said.

IDEAS are everywhere.

We just need to pay attention.

Where do YOU get your ideas?
I would love to find out how you find your nuggets of ideas, what do you do to get the creative juices flowing, how do you get your thoughts out there.

Happy writing!

*If you have found this post to be of valuable, please feel free to like and share on your social media.
*DON’T MISS ONE POST! Sign up for updates on the right column.