Happy Groundhog Day Phyllis!

Sharing a favorite from the archives today!

bildebok from Cathy Ballou Mealey

Let’s see what our good friend Phyllis from Susanna Hill’s charming book Punxsutawney Phyllis is up to for Groundhog Day 2013!

Phyllis was a tad grouchy when emerging from her den, lured by Pig Newtons and cream-phylled cookies. When we informed her that tomorrow was SuperBowl Sunday, she got all excited to cheer for her favorite team, the New England Patriots!

Feb 2013 008brady(I think Phyllis has a little crush on QB Tom Brady)

                                 She seized the TV remote and refused to come outside to check on  the status of her shadow.

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                                                                                                                                                              Even her friend red squirrel couldn’t persuade her to come out and play!

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                                                                                    We were worried how Phyllis would take it when we told her the Pats were not in the big game this year.  She promptly buried her head in the peanut bowl, refusing to listen.

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Feb 2013 014After nibbling a few nuts, Phyllis regained her composure and headed out to check…

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Of Brian and Bats, Sendak and Seismosaurus

bats beachI had the good fortune to hear Brian Lies (Bats at the Beach) speak at Lesley University recently while he was sharing some book writing and illustrating wisdom with MFA students. Brian is a thoughtful, eloquent speaker who tugged at our heartstrings while sharing his inspiration for Bats at the Library. If you ever have a chance to hear him speak – go! I’m certain he also delivers dynamic school visits to wow the kiddos as well.

Brian’s presentation included slides of his works in progress, illustrations as well as a tall stack of yellow-lined notepads filled with words, scribbles and cross-outs! He also shared a list of books to consult for further information about picture book writing.***  One title was new to me, so I jotted it down and found it at the library. Let me tell you – it was a treasure!

zinsserWorlds of Childhood The Art and Craft of WRITING FOR CHILDREN, Edited by William Zinsser.
Each chapter is devoted to one author, transcribed and adapted by Zinsser from talks given at The New York Public Library in 1989. The voice of each author, though modified for print, really shines, reflecting his or her unique perspective on writing for children. Sendak talks about music, and how he was impacted by The Wizard of Oz.  Rosemary Wells digs deeply into the reasons that all good picture books require emotional truths. Jack Prelutsky’s discourse on poetry is delightfully playful and inventive, filled with marvelous examples of his work. My favorite? The seredipity of a local seismosaurus discovery and his use of a thesaurus while wrapping up a book on dinosaur poems.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Seismosaurus – Image via Wikimedia Commons

If you are a fan of Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, collected and edited by Leonard S. Marcus, I highly recommend that you read Zinsser’s book as well. Brian Lies Michelle Knudsen was right. There’s nothing like hearing from the masters to encourage and inspire you!


*** Offering a big GIANT mea culpa to Brian and the brilliant Michelle Knudsen who was the first presenter and the author who actually made this recommendation. Clearly I am out of practice on taking good notes, or was far too engrossed in this dynamic pair of presenters to do it properly!  Huge thanks to Brian for sending me an incredibly kind message so that I might correct my mistake, and allow me to apologize to Michelle for the error in my post.

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Champagne, grapes and pigs

2015 December B 012The New Year is coming! The New Year is coming! Will you hop, skip, stroll or stumble toward the finish line for 2015? Whether you are hopeful, thoughtful, gleeful or glass half-full, perhaps you’ve pondered how to prepare for 2016. Chill champagne? Eat grapes? Swap pigs? Walk your suitcase in a circle? OK – those last three suggestions can be found here on the Scholastic Parent & Child website.

Many of us may write resolutions, although I tend to write very few worth sharing. But in the spirit of full disclosure and unvarnished authenticity, here are some of the resolutions that I am making for 2016:

  • On February 17, 2016 at 4:52 PM I will eat a piece of cheese.
  • On June 22, 2016 I will wear a blue shirt.
  • On September 9, 2016 I will jump on the trampoline at 5:38 PM.
Photo credit G. Mealey

Photo credit G. Mealey

Now you may not be overly impressed, but those resolutions are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound) and I know that I have a high probability of success. Sure, I could become lactose-intolerant, making February’s goal more challenging. Or if the trampoline blows away in a microburst, I’ll have to visit SkyZone come September. But no matter what happens, those resolutions will keep me honest about making plans and promises.

That honesty comes into play with my long list of writing goals for 2016 ranging from the very broad to minutely specific. I plan to tackle those with the same determination and positivity. If your resolutions also include goals around writing and/or publishing books, don’t miss this terrific post from Miranda Paul at the Children’s Book Academy. Miranda created a checklist of 100 ideas to help you along your writing journey. I’ll bet you get a feeling of accomplishment by crossing off things you have already done!

However you choose to observe, embrace or celebrate the coming year, I wish you all the best. Thank you for reading along!

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A PiBoIdMo 2014 O.M.G. Moment

piboidmo2015participantIn October I was cleaning and organizing files, preparing to add 30 more inspirational picture book tidbits from Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo 2015 Challenge. I discovered a manila folder, stuffed with notes, stuck in a three ring binder. Although I’m not prone to text-speak, I had an O.M.G. moment. But let’s begin at the beginning…

Day 7 of PiBoIdMo 2014 featured this brilliant post from Jen Arena about her George Stanley Idea Generator.  Jen said George was known around Golden Books as “Captain Hook because, more than any other author we’d worked with, George had a knack for coming up with books with hooks, books that kids really and truly wanted to read based on the idea alone.” She offered this clever chart and suggested we pick two words from the chart, mash ’em together with a kid-friendly hook and PRESTO! Story inspiration.






In December Tara emailed me with the welcome news that my name had been drawn as the winner of the Day 7 prize, a thirty-minute brainstorming session/Q&A/editorial consult with Jen. Wow – out of 523 comments, somehow I’d gotten very lucky!

I knew I didn’t want to waste this great opportunity. Jen has twenty years of experience as an editor with Putnam, Golden Books, and Random House and has been writing for kids just as long.  Her books include Besos for Baby and 100 Snowmen, plus dozens of readers for DK, Penguin Young Readers, and Kane Press. 100 snowmen

I sent emails thanking Tara and Jen, promising to be in touch after the holidays to set up the consult. Next I asked my library to reserve every book Jen had written so I could study them. The books trickled in, I made a list of questions, debated which of my PiBoIdMo ideas I could ask her about, and then…forgot to follow up.

Until October! When that manila file fell into my lap, I sent a speedy apologetic email and Jen kindly agreed to chat with me despite the lengthy delay.  And it was terrific! Jen shared up-to-the minute information on picture book trends and how editors, authors and illustrators work together to polish manuscripts into books. We had a chance to indulge in some myth-busting about the book industry (i.e. do clown and/or snake books sell?) and she gave me some terrific suggestions for a particularly pesky story idea that I’m trying to nail down.

Write from the perspective of a different character, she suggested, or change the time and place where the story occurs. Write multiple versions and identify the strengths and weaknesses of each. The best advice she gave me? “You’re only limited by the amount of time and effort that you are willing to dedicate in order to write the best book you can write.”

Jen also offers freelance editing services if you wish to contact her via her website. I’m sure you would find that she is a skillful, reflective and talented resource able to help you strengthen and refine your writing skills.  I hope sharing a few tidbits of  Jen’s wisdom will serve you well as you begin turning PiBoIdMo 2015 ideas into stories, or mashing them up a la the George Stanley Idea Generator. And if you are lucky enough to have your name drawn as a PiBoIdMo prizewinner – I hope you prepare well and follow-up promptly!

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Goodnight Halloween

Halloween 2013 024Goodnight Halloween

In the dark gray room
Lay a tattered costume
A dim glow-stick
And a bent witch broom
And the smell of
Fresh chocolate’s sugar perfume

And there were three little ghosts
Haunting a house
And a pair of black cats
With a little toy mouse
And a sad saggy pumpkin, flame guttered out

Goodnight room
Goodnight broom
Goodnight sweets I can’t consume
Goodnight mouse
Goodnight cat
Goodnight house and witch’s hat

Goodnight glowstick
Goodnight ghosts
Goodnight pumpkin-love you most
Goodnight socks and tired feet
Goodnight Halloween
Goodnight trick or treat

Come join the fun at Susanna Leonard Hill’s Fifth Annual Halloweensie event!
Write a spook-tacular story for little ones no more than 100 words long, using the words costume, dark and haunt.  Share your post on Susanna’s blog, then follow the links to read and enjoy dozens of fabulously creative Halloweensie tales.

Thanks for reading my 91 word ode to Margaret Wise Brown’s beloved Goodnight Moon (link will take you to a very sweet animation narrated by Susan Sarandon). For a sillier, spookier tribute, try Michael Rex’s Goodnight Goon parody.

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Make Way for Animal Tales: Sculpture by Nancy Schön

2015 September E 037Nancy Schön has devoted much of her time and considerable talent to creating sculptures for non-profit, charitable organizations including hospitals, libraries, colleges and public gardens. Her works honor nurses, victims of domestic violence, missing children and cancer survivors, and raise funds for the blind, prevention of cruelty to animals, music schools, the elderly, and local community alliances.

2015 September E 058One of her most beloved public art pieces in the Boston area is Make Way for Ducklings, installed in 1987 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Boston Public Gardens. The bronze pays tribute to Robert McClosky’s popular children’s book, written in 1941, about a family of eight ducklings led safely by their mother through busy Beantown intersections with the assistance of a kind-hearted police officer.

2015 September E 030Classic books? Adorable ducklings? Illustrations? Sculpture? I could hardly wait to attend the opening of Animal Tales: Sculpture by Nancy Schön at the Wenham Museum on September 19th. It was spectacular! Filled with full size sculptures and tiny maquettes, everything could be touched, caressed, hugged and even ridden! Many maquettes were mounted to lazy-susan style display platforms that could be rotated to show every angle of the featured creature. The walls were hung with McCloskey original sketches, two Eric Carle giclee prints, and informative placards about Nancy’s lost wax cast bronze process. Here’s a glimpse of the exhibit:

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From McCloskey’s “Blueberries for Sal”

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Maquette for “Blueberries for Sal” Original in Boothbay, Maine.

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To celebrate the exhibit opening, the Wenham Museum prepared a special room with tables, clay, and sculpting tools so guests could create their own mini-masterpieces. Lots of little artists were inspired to make mythical beasts, cartoon characters or their family pets. Eavesdropping on their stream-of-consciousness storytelling while they rolled, pinched, squeezed and shaped their creations was half the fun! We came home with a swirled snail, a magic fish, and the requisite artist/ fangirl photo souvenir:

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We met Nancy Schön in person!

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I love that Nancy intends her work to be interactive, placing her art in accessible locations and creating them in child-friendly sizes. Her animals invite viewers to touch them, and they in turn touch our hearts. I’ve never stopped to admire the Boston ducklings without finding kids – little, big and all grown-up – swarming around to ride, pet, and hug Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, Quack and Mrs. Mallard.

The Wenham Museum exhibit runs through January 3, 2016, but if you can’t make it to Boston I highly recommend this terrific clip from Boston’s Chronicle about Nancy’s career, sculpture, and power tools! Set in her studio, it really captures the artist’s warmth, charm and thoughtful design: http://www.schon.com/about/wcvb.php

It has been some time since I’ve indulged in an Artist Date, a little “assigned play” per the wisdom of Julia Cameron. Meeting Nancy and spending a full day enjoying and exploring her art helped replenish my well of inspiration. To look back at some of my previous Artist Date posts, you may enjoy reading:

Follow Me to Folly Cove: Virginia Lee Burton

Spilled Paint – deCordova Series

An Artist Date with Milo and Thackery


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Adorable Guinea Pig Chooses Book Winner

Inspired by Cynthia Lord, whose sweet guinea pig Cookie selects her book giveaway winners, we proudly present the results for Maria Gianferrari’s debut picture book giveaway Penny & Jelly: The School Show as chosen by Storm!

Names were written on slips of paper and mixed in a bowl.
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Storm faced his options…
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And after bring fortified with a basil leaf…
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nibbled selected the lucky winner!
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Congratulations Lisa Robinson!

2015 July D 054Please forward your mailing address to cmealey@post.harvard.edu and a brand, spanking, sparkling new copy of Penny & Jelly: The School Show will be mailed to you!

Thank you everyone for your comments sharing your terrific school show talent ideas.

Congratulations again Maria!

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