Friday, December 12, 2014

Jimmy Cantore Steals Christmas

Ho, ho, ho!
It's time for another fun year of Susanna Hill's Christmas Story Contest. She's come up with a doozy this year.

The Contest:  Write a children's story (children here defined as approximately age 12 and under) in which wild weather impacts the holidays!  Your story may be poetry or prose, silly or serious or sweet, religious or not, based on Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or whatever you celebrate, but is not to exceed 350 words. Stories must be posted by Friday December 12 at 11:59 PM EST.

Here is my entry in 348 words. The original idea was ReindeerNado...but then the toys got mixed in, and here's where we ended up. (Note: This story is fictional and any resemblance to persons living or not is purely coincidental!)   :D

Jimmy Cantore Steals Christmas

By Lauri Meyers

Jimmy Cantore tightened the last nut on the Weatherstation 2000 Wind Turbine. His plan was simple. The machine would create enough wind to sweep over the block. All the presents Santa delivered would be blown right to Jimmy’s porch!

He flipped the switch.

Whirr, whirr.


A remote-controlled racecar! Winner!


A telescope – out of this world!


An X Box! Game on!

Whish, swish, plop!

A dragon! A train! A pee-pee doll?

The toys came faster and faster from every direction and buried Jimmy. He climbed over a rocking horse and pushed out a bouncy ball.


“Oh-sugar-cookies!” a voice called.


A fluffy white beard flew right into him.

"Why, hello, Jimmy. I hope you enjoyed the Understanding Weather Kit I brought last year."

"Um, yes. I've learned a lot," said Jimmy.

"Perhaps too much."

Jimmy's cheeks turned red.

Santa shimmied through the hole and pulled Jimmy out.

“I must be on my way. It’s a busy night for me.”

"But all these presents have to go back," Jimmy cried. Santa hiked up his red trousers.

"I didn’t mean for so many presents to fly here,” Jimmy said. Santa stroked his beard.

“Maybe if I flip the wind direction the gifts will fly away. But how will they get back to the right places?"

(Old Santa Claus by Alcide Nikopol via freeimages)
“I’ll take care of that,” Santa said.  

Jimmy flipped the switch. A tornado of presents lifted into the air. Santa laid a finger aside of his nose, and the gifts flew down chimneys and magically snuck through keyholes.

“I’m sorry, Santa,” Jimmy said, but no one was there. “Ho, ho, ho!” echoed through the sky.

Jimmy was surprised to see a present from Santa Christmas morning. He opened it slowly knowing it would be coal. His eyes lit up when he read the box – Deluxe Snow Making Kit.

“Wow, if I hook this up to the wind turbine, I could create a blizzard!” Just then a jingling bell reminded him to read the card.

Jimmy, I trust you’ll figure out how to use this, but please use only as directed. - Santa

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Geeking Out - Leveling Books for New Readers

My 6yo and I GEEKED OUT last week. 

Over 2 days, we leveled our personal library following the Fountas & Pinnell system her teacher uses. In her first grade classroom, books are in tubs with a letter on them. Kids know their letter levels, and they get to pick from the book boxes for independent reading. 

The Fountas & Pinnell system creates a gradient of text levels, assigning a letter to the text difficulty from A to Z. The system uses word count, vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, content, etc. to assess how accessible books are to young readers.

Image by Anissat via

I started wanting to help my new reader. It turns out I learned quite a lot about picture books in the process. I also discovered my daughter (who can be a handful at homework time) loves doing analytical things as much as I do! When I was pooping out, she would bring down "just one more" stack of books. Now, most of our books have a lovely hot pink post it note with the letter on it.

You don't have to do your whole library to get the feel for how the system works. Here are the resources we used:

Scholastic Look Up - Scholastic has a website and an app which covered many of the books. The best place to start. If you have a school age child, you will start to notice the levels listed for many books in the scholastic flyer.

Lexile Scores  Look Up - If a FP level isn't listed, you may still see a Lexile score. Use a conversion charts to turn it into FP.

A to Z Teacher Stuff - This site had a few books which were missing elsewhere.
Bound To Stay Bookstore - This bookstore site had a good number of AR Levels. Use the conversion chart to turn it into FP.

Reading Level Conversion Chart - This chart compares Lexile, AR, and FP levels. So with one data point, you can translate to the other methods.

Some Easy Readers have the levels listed on the back. Also, some publishers, like Peachtree, have levels listed on their websites. 

What if you can't find the levels for a book? Well, I asked my cousin who is a second grade teacher, and she said "After a while of leveling books, you can tell just by reading them and comparing them to similar titles." I thought she was just being a stinker J , but I have to admit after going through the exercise you do start to see it.

I realized I had pushed books where the content was appropriate (i.e. The First Day of First Grade) but the reading level was way off. We also had an easy reader shelf; however, half of those books were really second grade readers which weren't accessible to my daughter. Now, she can easily find books right for her, and she can celebrate when she's read something a few levels up. 

Have you leveled books before? Please share any insights in the comments.

First Grade targets levels D to J. Here's our library to "K" to give you some perspective on how books level out:

Picture Book F&P Levels

Bathtime for Biscuit (Harper My First I Can Read)
Silly Sally

Feathers for Lunch
Bring on the birds

No, David!
Biscuit (Harper My First I Can Read)
Pete the Cat: A Pet for Pete (Harper My First I Can Read)

David Gets in Trouble
Tiger in my Soup
How Do Dinosaurs Say Good night
Boy and Bot

Sammy the Seal
Big Snowman Little Snowman (Random House Step Into Reading 1)
If you Give a Pig a Party
Hey, Pancakes

Fly Guy Meets Fly Girl
Pinkalicious Pinkie Promise (Harper I Can Read 1)
Just a Mess
Max Spaniel Best in Show
If You Give A Dog a Donut
Splish Splash (Scholastic Reader 2)
The Day Sheep Showed Up (Scholastic Reader 2)
I Want My Hat Back
Prairie Chicken Little

Ten Apples Up On Top
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus
Hop on Pop
Harry the Dirty Dog
The Cat in the Hat
The Ice Cream King
Are the Dinosaurs Dead, Dad?
Curious George
Three Hens and a Peacock
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus

If you Give a Pig Pancake
If you Give a Moose a Muffin
Fluffy and the Firefighers (Scholastic Reader 3)
Splat the Cat with a Bang and a Clang (Harper I Can Read 1)
This is Not my Hat
Peppa Pig (The Tooth Fairy)
Children Make Terrible Pets
Camp K-9
Owl Babies
Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late
I’ve Got an Elephant
Snow Day
Knuffle Bunny
Kitten’s First Full Moon

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Subversive Picture Books (Part 6): Real Life Scary

I'm finally ready with my last post on subversive books: Real Life Scary.

The other topics I covered so far are:
Part 2: Nakeyness
Part 3: The Dark
Part 5: Mortal Danger

I didn't plan to write about real life scariness. It took brainstorming what made books scary to identify this area. I've also been procrastinating this one, because perhaps it scares me the most.

There's something refreshing about being able to close a book on gooey green monsters, which you know probably aren't real. And even though I'm scared of the dark, I know there's probably really not anything lurking in it. But real life. Now, that's scary.

It's probably not fair to call these subversive, but here's a selection of books that make me pause before reading to my kids. And my breath hitches when I consider there are little children who are living in similar situations to these today.

"Bullies might try to look big...but don't let them make you feel small."

(Bully: A Lift the Flap Book, illustrated by Naomi Tipping)

I really dislike having to talk about bullies and to think about my kids being bullied. Or my kids being bullies. This book gives children the tools they need to confront bullying and seek help. It also shines a light on behaviors they need to avoid. 

"Someday we'll be able to choose our own candidates...Someday we may even be able to choose a woman as a candidate."

(Mama Went to Jail for the Vote, by Kathleen Karr, illustrated by Malene Laugesen)

I enjoy a good woman's suffrage story. What makes this one feel risqué is how it gets real on the fight. The years of daily parades and pickets, the personal danger, and the risk of being hauled off in handcuffs. While this mama went to jail for six months, her daughter carried on the fight to gain the right to vote.

"We are quiet. The fear. We run. We crawl."

(Underground, by Shane Evans)

Short sentences and dark pictures show the journey of slaves toward the light of a free day. The background page succinctly sums up the setting: "until the abolition of slavery in 1865, people could lawfully own a fellow human being." But in our real world, young girls were stolen from school and sold off as soldier wives.

"Brundibar is big...and you are small...What to do when you are few? Ask for help, get more of you!"

(Brundibar, by Tony Kushner, illustrated by Maurice Sendak.)

Scary things: A dead daddy they don't remember at all. A very sick mother. A life or death mission to get milk. No money? No milk! Threats of being stuffed in a burlap sack. Children alone in an alley.

Beautiful things: 302 children singing a lullaby to defeat the bully Brundibar, earning milk money, and saving mommy.  

The story is based on an opera performed by the children of the Nazi concentration camp Terezin. The final pages offer a threat from the tyrant Brundibar which says: "Bullies don't give up completely. One departs, the next appears, and we shall meet again my dears!" And I think thank goodness my children don't have to face this. Then I remember children in the world are facing this right now.

"...but there are some things doctors cannot fix either. Ben was too sick for his body to live any longer."

(Ben's Flying Flowers, by Inger Maier, Illustrated by Maria Bogade)

In real-life sometimes little brothers get cancer and die. And big sisters need to mourn and learn how to smile again. This is a difficult topic to share with kids. But for the child going through this situation, it's critical that resources like this book exist.

"People called Ruby names; some wanted to hurt her."

(The Story of Ruby Bridges, by Robert Coles, illustrated by George Ford.)

In 1960 New Orleans a judge ordered a 6-year-old black girl Ruby Bridges to go to a white school. For months she faced pickets and insults and walking to school surrounded by federal marshals. The other children stopped coming to school, so she learned to read and write in a classroom alone. Each day she prayed for the people those people. Wouldn't it be neat to say, "Oh thank goodness this doesn't happen today"?

Did I just write a post with no humor and no farting? Yep. Real life is the scariest thing of all. I am very thankful to have humor to soften the edges of what can be a very frightening world. And I'm grateful writing allows me the time to fully investigate the beauty and wonder of this world, too. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Subversive Picture Books (Part 5) - Mortal Danger

My posts on scary books have covered my biggest fear: The Dark and the Scary Creatures which lurk in it. But why do these scare me so? Danger. Maybe even Mortal Peril. Clearly, this is too scary for picture books, right? Wrong. Let's enter the world of extreme danger in picture books. 

"I would not eat a rabbit."

(I Want My Hat Back, by Jon Klassen) 

Do you ever wonder, "What would my critique group say if my picture book murdered the antagonist in cold blood?"

"Murder in picture books is off limits."
"I think kids should learn to work it out."
"Maybe they could just hug instead?"

It didn't seem to concern Jon Klassen when he wrote his books This is Not My Hat and I Want My Hat Back.

"Nobody will ever find me."
(This is Not My Hat, by Jon Klassen) 

In both of these books we get a pretty good idea on Klassen's feelings on theft and the repercussions of one's naughty actions. Though we are left with great concern when we ask ourselves, "Why is my child giggling at this ghastly event?" Then, "Why am I giggling too?"

""What is the monster like? Is it the most terrible thing anyone has ever seen?""
(The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Ivan Bates)

Brave little mice think they are ready to see the dark at the top of the stairs even though they've heard the stories about the monster who lives up there. But when they come face to face with the ferocious cat, they quickly go bumpety-bump back down the steps to their safe home. The fear of a monster builds with each page turn, but the young reader gets some relief when they see it's just a cat. Of course, for the mice it's not just a cat- it's a deadly enemy.

"They buried Niki. (...) Then they sang sad songs."
(Maggie and the Pirate, by Ezra Jack Keats)

I confiscated this book from my parents house last time I visited because I adored it so. Maggie lives a dangerous life by my suburban standards - living in an old bus and rafting the river to the grocery store alone. Then she must face a mysterious pirate which results in the tragic drowning death of her pet cricket. The pirate redeems himself by explaining his motivations and giving her a new cricket.

"I want something to eat and I want it NOW!"
(One Dark Night, by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Ivan Bates)

This one started in my dark list, but the true worry here is the juxtaposition of  friends mouse and mole venturing out in the dark while a bear is growling and stomping in his cave. You know the two will meet, and it will probably turn oh-no! 

""I think we should all sit on my branch," said Sarah."

(Owl Babies, by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson)

Three owl babies venture out of their home after realizing mommy is gone, facing nighttime, moving creatures, and the fear a fox got mommy. Of course she comes home, but the tension of danger is woven through every page.

"Pardon me, but you're sitting on a..."

(Pardon Me, by Daniel Miyares)

A little bird is getting frustrated with all the animals landing on his island. The last one tries to warn him, but he just wants everyone to leave. Then he gets eaten by the alligator he is sitting on. I guess this is a "sharing is caring" message book? Great illustrations, btw.

What picture books scare you with the fear of mortal danger, or gulp, murder?!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sulky Spider's Spooky Webs

Susanna Hill is hosting her annual Halloweensie Contest. The rules are to write a Halloween story in 100 words or less including the words pumpkin, creak, and broomstick.

After having a good poem at 111 words, I cut it down to 109. Then I thesaurused (that's a word right?) a few more changes to get to 105. Then I stomped around and pulled my hair out and threw myself on the bed and cried, "Why? Why only 100 words?" I rubbed some fake spiderweb for inspiration and finally got to 100 exactly.

Sulky Spider's Spooky Webs
By Lauri Meyers

Sulky Spider planned a scheme
For making trick or treaters scream.

Spider silk began to spin
A Jack 'o Web with wicked grin.
"Pretty pumpkin," cowgirls said.
"Pretty?" Sulky hung her head.

"A webby ghost will do the trick!"
She spun a spooky ghoul up quick.
Pirates shouted, "Ghosts are neat!"
She gobbled up her web. "Defeat."
Spinnerets began to twitch.
"A warty-broomstick-riding-witch!"
A princess cooed, "That witch is sweet."
She stomped all eight offended feet.

"I need a buggy snack," she frowned. 
Sticky thread went round and round.
She didn't hear the stairway creak.

"A spiderweb!" they hollered, "Eek!"

I'd like to thank the Orb Spider (I think that's the right identification) who has been living in my shed for weeks for the inspiration. This spider moved her gigantic web every other day so we had to approach cautiously not knowing where it could be now. My husband suggested (gasp!) killing the spider. But this spider was working hard to deal with the bugs in our shed, and I classified her as "too big to squish" anyhow. Yeah, bigger than a quarter = too much spider guts. 

Make sure to check out all the other great entries for the Halloweensie contest too!

Update: Sulky Spider's Spooky Webs won THIRD PLACE, and I won a critique from Alayne Christian!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How to Summon Your Muse

The leaves are turning red, zombies are roaming my neighbor's yard, and I'm wearing my gray writing sweater every day, it must be...PiBoIdMo time!

Logo by Vin Vogel
This is my third Picture Book Idea Month, and I am primed and ready to fill another notebook with ideas inspired by fabulous daily guest posts. But I'm not sure my muse is ready. She's having a really hard time adjusting to back to school. Just because I have a tiny bit of free time, doesn't mean she's no longer needed.

Tara Lazar (whose sixth picture book just sold, btw!) posed a question about how a writer can summon their muse. I always revert back to my corporate training in flowcharting when it comes to questions like this.

Easy Peasy!
Enjoy spending the month of November with your muse, and the fresh smell of unicorn rainbow gas. 

UPDATE: I won a guest posting spot on PrePiBoIdMo from Tara. SQUEE! Read the final post here along with Summoning Your Muse with amazing illustration by Julie Rowan Zoch. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Subversive Picture Books (Part 4)- Scary Creatures

My last post on scary books covered my biggest fear: The Dark. But the thing that makes the dark so scary is the fear of the Scary Creatures which lurk in it. With the exception of some overlap in the Halloween books, each of these books features a completely different chill making critter.

I think I'll take this in order of scariest illustrations.

"The roof space is creeping and crawling with things, things that have horns and raggedy wings."

(In the Haunted House, by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Susan Meddaugh)

The first read of this is scary with two sets of feet walking through a house full of scary creatures. Knowing the twist at the end - a little girl drags daddy through this pretend Halloween house again - helps kids appreciate following reads.

""Oh," said Dave. "Why is it...trying to eat my burger?""

(Are the Dinosaurs Dead, Dad?, by Julie Middleton and illustrated by Russell Ayto)
These dinosaurs are pretty cute. Well until the end. Their teeth are a bit sharp. And their proximity a little close. And their sneakiness is a bit scary.

"His eyes are orange. His tongue is black. Sharp purple prickles cover his back."

(The Gruffalo, by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Alex Scheffler)
I dunno, the Gruffalo is kinda cute. But I have to admit I fell into a false sense of security that the Gruffalo wasn't real. Well, the little mouse pulled one over on me... BAM! Oh, no! A Gruffalo!

"Those spooky, empty pants and I were standing face to face!"

(What Was I Scared of, by Dr. Seuss)
Now, I don't know if green pants with nobody inside them are creatures, per se, but they certainly are something creepy. Super creepy. Because an apparition who can put on pants could do any number of scary things. And why green? To hide behind Brickel bushes and scare us? Yes! The ending is supposed to give us closure - aww, look they're friendly! - but all I keep thinking is why are those green pants talking out of their butts?! Scary. 

"A ghoul! A ghastly drooling graveyard ghoul..."

(By the Light of the Halloween Moon, by Caroline Stutson and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes)

Combination of scary creatures and a scary setting and a little girl about to lose a toe, collude to make this near-horrifying. The witch sports uber pointy nose, matching chin, gnarly teeth, and pop out of her ead wide eyeballs.  A pirate ghost looks real. (if you've ever seen a pirate ghost, you'll know what I mean.) A sprite has no cover of cuteness, he's just creepy.  Luckily this little girl is tough as nails and gives all these ghastly creatures a swift whack to save her toe.

" the goblins pulled baby out, leaving another all made of ice."

(Outside Over There, by Maurice Sendak)
Classic dystopian picture book by the master. The goblins hidden in their robes are scary, but they turn out to really just look like babies. Thank goodness for that relief, but it doesn't fix the problem of what my imagination had come up with. The scariest creature in the book is actually the baby made out of ice the goblins leave when they steal Ida's baby sister.

"If a big, quick, strong, scary, hairy, dirty wants it, then cheese belongs to her."

(Cheese Belongs to You! By Alexis Deacon, illustrated by Viviane Schwarz)
I learned a lot about rat law in this book, which unfortunately is kinda close to human rules. The rats in this book get progressively scarier, culminating in a giant scary rat brawl. I always find one critter may be not too scary or even kind of cute, but a whole mess of critters always creeps me out.

"His horns were bright red and his cape midnight black, and his pencilly fingers tapped "clickety-clack.""

(The Monster Who Did My Math, by Danny Schnitzlein, illustrated by Bill Mayer)
Totally cute idea of a monster who does your math, but makes you look like a fool when everyone finds out you haven't learned anything. Cute except the illustrations are incredibly horrifying. Like scary clown jumping out of a barrel of diseased monkeys in a haunted house horrifying.

I'm sure you've read some picture books with SCARY creatures, so please share them in the comments.  I have to say it's surprising just how scary some of these creatures can get!

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