Wednesday, January 29, 2014

BIO BLURBS for CALIFORNIA READERS: Recent Years in a Nutshell

The We Love California Authors and Illustrators Luncheon is coming up soon.  Click HERE for more information and online registration.
How many times have you been asked to prepare a bio in 50 words or less, 30 words or less, or some other seemingly impossible small number? Every year, for the California Readers luncheon, to be held this year on Saturday February 22, 2014, authors are asked to prepare a short bio to be read aloud for their introduction to the people in the audience--teachers, librarians, students, friends and other authors and illustrators.  The bios are meant to be short, and, if possible, contain some sort of twist, or surprise. I attend the luncheon almost every year, and as I looked through my computer files and read my bio blurbs for past luncheons I was reminded of the various books I've done over the past decade. A few years are missing either because I didn't attend the luncheon or I didn't save a copy of my blurb.  In any case, for highlights of my recent writing activities (and a few personal notes) here they are:
2013: Her newest book is TOO HOT? TOO COLD? Keeping Body Temperature Just Right.  You may not know that when Caroline was ten years old she attempted to read all the books in the public library.  Did she?  No, but she came close.

2012:  Her newest book, A WARMER WORLD, focuses on animals and how they have been impacted by climate change.  Caroline loves doing school visits.  Her favorite question came from a student who asked: If you could meet one extinct animal, what would it be?  Her, answer: a small feathered dinosaur.

2010: Her love of travel and fascination with the natural world has inspired her newest books, A POLAR BEAR'S WORLD, A WALRUS' WORLD, A MOOSE'S WORLD and A BALD EAGLE'S WORLD, all illustrated with her own cut paper art.  If she had traveled to the Arctic 65 million years ago, she might have seen dinosaurs instead of polar bears.  Read about these hardy polar reptiles in her other new book, GLOBAL WARMING AND THE DINOSAURS.

2009: Her newest books are A KOALA'S WORLD, A KANGAROO'S WORLD, A PLATYPUS' WORLD, and A WOMBAT'S WORLD, all illustrated with her own cut paper art.  Caroline recently returned to her home state of Minnesota to participate in a 5K snowshoe race. She didn’t win, but the trip helped her get in the mood for illustrating her upcoming books about Arctic animals.

2008: She had a bumper crop of new books in 2007 including WIGGLE AND WAGGLE, five stories about two hardworking worms, SUPER SWIMMERS: Whales, Dolphins and other Mammals of the Sea, GIANT SEA REPTILES OF THE DINOSAUR AGE, and TAJ MAHAL, co-written with Madeleine Comora, about the great love that inspired this magnificent building. 

2006: Her newest book is a tall tale, The TERRIBLE HODAG AND THE ANIMAL CATCHERS about a fearsome creature with the head of an ox, feet of a bear, back of a dinosaur and tail of an alligator.  Caroline has recently resumed her career as an artist and has four new books that she illustrated with cut paper collage.  The are all about black and white animals–pandas, zebras, killer whales and penguins–and she assures you that she cut out every single spot and stripe.

2005:  Her most recent title, PTEROSAURS: Rulers of the Skies in the Dinosaur Age, tells about amazing prehistoric flying reptiles with giant wing spans and difficult to pronounce names (the “p” in “pterosaur” is silent), that flew over the earth in dinosaur times.  Although most of Caroline’s books are nonfiction, she also writes fiction and has recently resumed her career as an illustrator.  She has two new board books for toddlers, WHO IS BIGGER? and WHO HAS MORE?, that she illustrated with cut paper collage.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Common Core's Impact on Children's Books: an AUTHOR'S VIEW

How will Common Core's impact books for children? Recently, I was asked to be on a panel to discuss the impact that Common Core will have on the future of children's books as seen from the point of view of an author of nonfiction books for children.  As I researched the topic, this is what I came up with:

1.  The Common Core emphasis on reading outside the textbook will hopefully lead to a wider use of trade books in the classroom.  This should be good for children’s book authors.
    And the emphasis on reading in all subject areas–science, math, social studies, the arts–opens all sorts of possibilities for topics to write about.
    Cautionary note: Common Core material refers to “texts” not “books” so it isn’t completely clear to me that all the extra reading will be in books. "Texts" can also be newspaper and magazine articles, pieces on the internet, diaries, interviews, video and all kinds of visual materials including maps, photographs and illustrations. 

2.  The shift to a greater emphasis on nonfiction–50% in the early grades and more as the students grow older–suggests a boon for nonfiction writers.
    My agent reports that she has seen a huge increase in nonfiction sales over the last year.
    In particular, I think there will be a demand for more informational texts for primary age children–both to read alone, and to listen to an adult read aloud.  While children just learning to read need texts that are short with limited vocabulary, they can listen to material much more complex.  Even so, the challenge for authors is that writing short is much harder than writing long.

3.  So what’s new?
    Primary sources: students are being asked to pay much more attention to primary sources, which means that as authors we must show the links to primary sources when we can.
    Back matter –maps, glossary, further reading, bibliographies, fun facts.
    When I asked the art director at my publisher if Core Curriculum had changed the way they designed books she said that the main thing is that they feel freer to have “the kind of back matter that makes a non-specialist reviewer understand the wonderful things the author has done.”
    Teacher guides: Many authors and  publishers are producing detailed guides for their books with questions and topics to discuss that are linked to particular curriculum areas.
    Many publishers are now including in their catalog copy all the relevant Common Core standards for each new book.
    Book proposals: I was asked if I still have to write query letters and proposals for new books.  Yes. The difference is that now, when proposing a new book to publisher, I include a section listing the relevant standards by grade level.
4.  Authors still have to write the best books possible.  Common Core won’t change that.
    But the emphasis on quality will reinforce the need to meet the highest standards.
    According to Common Core, the books must
         be worth reading and re-reading
         be well-written
         richly illustrated
    Students and teachers are going to be looking at text and pictures closely, so as authors and illustrators we have to be sure that our books and illustrations are worth a second look.

Monday, January 20, 2014

GIANT SHARK Now Available in Kindle Edition

My book Giant Shark: Megalodon, Prehistoric Super Predator with striking illustrations by Laurie Caple is now available as an Kindle e-book on Amazon. It is published by StarWalk Kids Media and is also available in the StarWalk Kids library.  Originally published by Clarion Books (2000), the hard cover edition is now out of print.  This has always been one of my most popular books so I am thrilled to see it available again.

For millions of years, a massive shark more than twice as huge as the modern-day great white shark cruised the depths of the ocean, attacking and devouring prey. Fossil remains reveal megalodon to have been more than fifty feet long, with razor-sharp teeth, each the size of a human hand, and jaws so large it could swallow prey larger than a common dolphin. Fluid, detailed watercolors accompany this clear and accessible account of one of the most incredible creatures to inhabit our world.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

SIGN-UP REMINDER: Fiction or Nonfiction: What's Best for Your Story? Class at UCLA Extension March 1, 2014

Update May 2016: I am not currently scheduled to teach this class. For other writing classes in the UCLA Extension Writer's Program, check the current catalog.
I will be teaching a workshop at the summer 2016 SCBWI conference at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. See my blog post 5/11/16
I will be teaching a one-day class in the UCLA Extension Writer's Program during Winter Quarter.  The class is on Saturday, March 1st and will be held from 10:00 to 3:00 on the UCLA campus, in Los Angeles. Look for information about registration in the UCLA Extension catalog (listed under Writing for the Youth Market.) Enroll at or 310-825-9971. Hope to see you there!
Here is the direct link to the class:

Here's a description of the course:

Fiction or Nonfiction: What's Best for Your Story?  Shaping your idea and turning it into a book just right for your intended audience involves many choices. This workshop covers both fiction and nonfiction techniques and how to use them to create a book for children that is both fun and informative--just right for the child and just right for you. From picture books to chapter books, you will learn how to develop an idea into a framework for a book or article, choose a point of view, write lively prose, and conduct research. Special attention will be paid to organizing material; selling your story to trade, school, library, and magazine markets; and editing your work.

Enrollment deadline: Feb 28

UCLA: 1284 School of Public Affairs Bldg.
Saturday, 10am-3pm,
March 1

1 meeting total

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Adelie Penguins and Climate Change

Some of the most dramatic evidence of climate change is occurring in the polar regions. 
I recently received an email from a teacher in Newton, Massachusetts, telling me how her first graders are reading my book A Penguin’s World as they follow the development of real live penguin chicks growing up at Cape Royds in Antarctica.  The students are learning about penguins via the internet with science teacher Jean Pennycook who is spending three months in Antarctica.  Students all around the world are able to  learn about penguins and follow the research process through the National Science Foundation penguin science program. The students in Massachusetts share the observations of "their" nest (#8) with their project partner, an elementary school in the Republic of Mordovia, Russia. The female is named 'Mordovia' and the male is "Jackson' after their own school name.

Here is a link to photos of the colony and of the  nests that are being followed this year.
Here is a terrific video explaining the goals of the penguin science program.  It has great visuals of penguins at their nests, walking across the ice, and diving and swimming in the ocean.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

WATERCOLOR PAINTINGS by Tom Scheaffer at the Blue Dot in Alameda

Tom Scheaffer and painting of Mount Tamalpais
I am just back from Oakland and helping my brother Tom Scheaffer hang his show of watercolor paintings at the Blue Dot Cafe in Alameda (the same place I exhibited my art last year and the year before.) His art--mostly California landscapes--looks great!  It will be up for six weeks.  If you are in the Bay Area stop by to see his paintings and have a delicious breakfast or lunch.  The Blue Dot is at 1910 Encinal Avenue, Alameda, CA 94501.
Watercolor Paintings at the Blue Dot
Thomas Scheaffer enjoys using nature as his subject matter.  The eleven paintings in this exhibit are watercolors and mixed media.  Most of them depict scenes from the northern California seascape and landscape. A few are scenes from Italy and northern Wisconsin.  Thomas received his BA in art at Humboldt State University.  He is certified as an art teacher, and has taught twenty-five years in California schools, most recently at Lu Sutton School in Novato.  His work has been exhibited in Mill Valley, Novato, Santa Barbara, and San Diego.

• Monday to Friday: 7:30am – 5pm
• Saturday: 8am – 4pm 
• Sunday: 8am – 2pm

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


Happy New Year!  Here's a new book for the new year--Octopus, Escape Artist of the Sea.

Now you see it, now you don't! In less than a second, an octopus can change the color of its skin. It also has many other tricks up its arms to get away from predators, including the ability to lose one of those arms or shoot a cloud of dark ink. Meet this master of escape and learn all about its story of survival.

Illustrated with spectacular color photographs, this 24 page book is written for third grade readers.  It is part of the Fountas Pinnell Leveled Literacy Intervention program.  Octopus, Escape Artist of the Sea is in the Intriguing Animals series. My book Sneezes and Sniffles is also in the Fountas Pinnell LLI program.