HOW A BOOK IS BORN: Creating the story

September 14, 2009 at 5:53 am | Posted in about life, Book reviews, Education, Educators, Kids and reading, Librarians, Mystery books, Publishing your story, Writing | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Now I had an author to write our story but what form should the story take? Gloria Smith Zawaski is unbelievably creative and has more ideas than I can keep up with. We met and shared.

At our next meeting Gloria mentioned that there would be a cemetery with a ghost near Aunt Jean’s farm. The kids meet the ghost who wants to return to the homeland of his ancestors in Africa. Great idea because our region has a number of black cemeteries. And Sojourner Truth was born about 1797 in Ulster County, which is the region where we live. So it would all fit.

Great idea Gloria, but I need to go back to Holland because of this Quadricentennial celebration coming up.  I want to use the celebrations being planned as a vehicle to sell the book. I figure the events will bring out many people, especially families, and that is the market I want to target.

So back to Holland we go. The kids would come from New York City to their aunt’s farm for a vacation. They would travel, through some kind of magic, to Holland where they would share adventures with Dutch kids. That would be the basis of the story.

As a publisher, you may ask, “What is my role?” I ask that all the time. I come up with ideas and share them with Gloria. Gloria develops the story and I provide feedback.

Gloria researches our stories and brings them to life on the printed page. My role make to make the sale of the book a reality.

 As we finish the first book, ideas for the next two books are coming from unusual sources.

 In the second book, Gloria takes kids to Mongolia. Why Mongolia? Gloria and I agreed that each book should visit another part of the world and possibly another continent.

I read the Wolf Totem by Jian Rong which takes place in Outer Mongolia. A beautiful setting for a people who are being overtaken by the Chinese. Then on NPR I head a story about a young man who uses throat singing to preserve the stories of his Mongolian ancestors. Gloria and I agreed to take our kids to Mongolia for 2010.

 And then, once again, we will visit Gloria’s ideas for an African adventure for 2011.

How is a book born?

September 2, 2009 at 1:55 pm | Posted in about life, Education, Educators, Publishing your story, Writing | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

It’s been 18 months since I had an idea about helping kids learn about the Dutch Heritage that finally led to our becoming a book publishing group. Want to learn how an idea goes from the light bulb going off in your head to a reality? Follow my journey.

 I have always been an avid reader which led me to publishing two regional magazines for the past 15 years. But is that enough experience to publish a book? I would soon learn that the road is never straight, and there is a strong learning curve every step of the way.

 Where do ideas come from?
Along comes 2009 and the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s sailing from the Netherlands to New York and everyone is a flutter with excitement about what will happen this year. I happened on a newsletter from Hugo Gajus Scheltema, the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York, who said in a newsletter that he hopes that the legacy of diversity and tolerance of New Amsterdam will be recognized by those living in New York as well as the broader public in the United States. He suggests that the emphasis should be on education.

 And I thought, “Who better to carry out the legacy of understanding than our children?”

 Gloria, who eventually authored the first book we published, and I have been friends for many years. I also knew that she worked with the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines account as a copywriter when she was on Madison Avenue. Who better to call, if I am looking for someone to tell the story of the Dutch?

 We talked and she contacted her friends in Holland. I thought we were on our way. The discussions went back and forth.

 How should the story be told? What vehicle should we use?
I first thought this would be a short book, maybe 1,500 to 2,000 with separate pull out pages of dolls that kids could dress in clothing of the period when Henry Hudson sailed. I would include a carrying case for the dolls and the clothes. The dolls would be magnetic with magnetic clothing that adheres to the doll surfaces.

 I wasn’t sure about using magnetic dolls so I explored Colorforms. Remember Colorforms…where you stick and peel items on a page? I would print the stick n peel pages directly in the book and eliminate the need for carrying cases. But it was not so easy to find a printer who knew about the materials and could print it for me. I spent weeks looking for vendors until I happened on a group in California that publishes oversees. Not an easy process. Not quick turnaround. Not for me.  

 Now the tale was no longer a short story. At this point I was still negotiating with Gloria’s contacts and meeting with Gloria to discuss the project. I was not sure what direction we were going in.

 At one meeting I said to Gloria, “How about you writing the book? You know Holland and you know what I am looking for.” That was the beginning of our publisher-author relationship.

 While I can write, I do not consider myself a writer. I am better at conjuring up ideas and watching them fly.

Author shares her horse TC with us.

August 4, 2009 at 8:47 pm | Posted in about life, Community groups, Educators, Kids and reading, Mystery books, Parents | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , ,

How to use books in school programs

July 26, 2009 at 4:22 pm | Posted in about life, Community groups, Education, Educators, Kids and reading, Mystery books, Parent Teacher Groups | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Our goal is to develop programs that are fun for the kids that is provides an educational experience. This has not been an easy task and I will keep you informed as we move forward.

We tested our initial program with 60 kids from 4th to 6th grades. The program worked well for the 5th and 6th graders, but we found we needed to revamp the program for the 4th graders.

 The presentation encourages kids to write their own Undercover Kid story. We figure we can do it for classes up to 30 kids. After that we have to change our strategy.

Here’s how it works: The teachers are provided with a copy of the book together with a suggested list of pages to read before the author and our staff visit. They also receive a program guide to use after our presentation.

 We introduce the program by getting the kids to talk about their travels and then about the lead characters, Katie, Jake and Cooper.  We play a word game where kids get into groups and are given 5 Adventure Cards with words they must use to create their own their own Undercover Kids Adventure story. They get two more series of Adventure Cards to use to complete their story. And then kids get a chance to read their completed adventure.  

Then Gloria Smith Zawaski, our author, tells the kids how she developed the series and the kids get a chance to ask her questions. The kids are encouraged to post their stories online.

What do you think works best for kids, whether its in the classroom or as part of a community group?

Creating effective program for kids in the classroom

July 21, 2009 at 12:33 am | Posted in Community groups, Education, Educators, Kids and reading, Parents | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , ,

Right now we are creating and testing school presentations. Our goal is to develop programs for 4 through 6th graders that introduce The Undercover Kids’ Holland Adventure and use their knowledge of the book to create their own stories.  We want to encourage kids to read as well as to write.

I mentioned in my previous blog that we went to the Bishop Dunn Memorial School to test out our initial school presentations.

We visited three classes with kids from 4th to 6th grades. The author, Gloria Smith Zawaski, came to the first class with us. We introduced the characters and the book. Then we played word games where we handed out cards with 5 words in a group. The kids were asked to use the assigned words as a basis for their own Undercover Kids adventure. Once one kid read his story, it encouraged others to get up and read as well.  In their reviews, they said they liked the program.

They really enjoyed talking to the author. I was fascinated with their questions: Is Katie based on you? If you found a hole with a cover on it, like the Undercover Kids did, would you go down the hole? Those were two questions I hadn’t heard before.

But one thing we realized is that the program we designed worked great with 5th and 6tth graders. They didn’t need much coaching to develop story ideas, but the 4th graders require a more structured approach.  So for us it is back to the drawing board.

We are looking for new approaches for classroom presentations. What can you suggest?

By the way, if you would like us to come to your school send me an email at

Kids give new book a rousing 9 review

July 19, 2009 at 5:02 pm | Posted in Book reviews, Kids and reading, Librarians, Mystery books, Parents | Leave a comment
Tags: , , ,

trunk in the attic cover.qxpWe want to thank Nicole and her sister Sami for taking a look at “The Undercover Kids.” Nicole who is 16 asked her younger sister Samantha, who is 12, to read and review the book.  Nicole writes a blog on books.
” Okay, time to review. Even though this book was a little younger then the books I normally read, it was still good non-the-less. It was fun to find out that pannenkoeken is really pancakes with ham, cheese, and tomato on top. I wish I could’ve seen a bit more, but of course, Cooper’s gone and what not. I suggest that ages 7-12 read this book, maybe younger if they are good readers.”

Sami gave the book a 9/10. Great going! Check it out.

Illustrators tell their own stories

July 19, 2009 at 3:06 pm | Posted in Book reviews, Kids and reading, Librarians, Parents | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , ,

Three illustrators share their vision

Elizabeth Kennedy‘s reviews on kids’ books are right to the point and provide a wonderful insite into the genre. If you have not visited Elizabeth’s Children’s Books Blog click on the link above and see if you agree with her review of The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Brian Selznick is a genius storyteller and illustrator

hugo_cabret_17Brian Selznick, the author of Hugo Cabret, has a marvelous talent for creating a beautiful story and providing the key illustrations that make the story more meaningful.  I was fascinated with his illustrations because they now only supported the storyline but provided additional insite…something I rarely find in books today.

Illustrators tell stories

The Grave Yard BookIf you are fascinated with how illustrations add to a story look at the drawings in The Graveyard Book from Dave McKean. His illustrations set the tone for the story by Neil Gaiman.

The Arrival written entirely with images.

The Arrival written entirely with images.

And then check out a book written entirely with illustrations called The Arrival by Shaun Tan. The book, written in 2006, tells they story of an immigrant family that seeks to leave their mystical homeland for a better place…supposedly New York City. Only the dad gets to leave and he trys to create an environment where he can help his entire family escape from their oppressive environment.

Shaun Tan was born in 1974 and grew up in the northern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia. He graduated from the University of WA in 1995 with joint honours in Fine Arts and English Literature, and currently works full time as a freelance artist and author in Melbourne. He is best known for illustrated books that deal with social, political and historical subjects through surreal, dream-like imagery

What are your kids reading now?

July 1, 2009 at 5:44 pm | Posted in Book reviews, Education, Kids and reading, Mystery books, Parents | 2 Comments
Tags: , , ,

I spoke to my son yesterday about the story I wrote about kids and reading. He remembers reading The Hardy Boys. To be honest, I don’t remember the series. Shows what a great mom I was.

So take a few minutes to share books your kids love. I am sure other parents would love the recommendation.

By the way, if any of your kids have read The Undercover Kids’ Holland Adventure would love to hear your comments and as well as theirs. Thanks.

Our kids are falling behind in reading

July 1, 2009 at 10:25 am | Posted in Book reviews, Education, Kids and reading, Mystery books | Leave a comment
Tags: , ,

Study shows our kids are falling behind

Recently I was browsing the web when I found a report called “What kids are reading: The Book-Reading Habits of Students in American Schools.” I am an avid reader and through our magazines I always look for ways to encourage others to enjoy reading as I do.

 rlimainlogo_0609_02The report, which assessed the reading habits of kids k-12th grades, was published in 2008 by Renaissance Learning , an educational resource company located in Wisconsin. They used their database of questionnaires completed by over 3 million students in 9,800 schools in the United States to compile the report.

 Some of the figures startled me. For example, in the 2nd grade the average student reads over 46 books a year. By the 7th grade the number dips to fewer than 11 books and by the 12th grade they read 4.5 books. Why the drastic change?

 I called Roy Truby, senior vice-president of state and federal programs for Renaissance Learning to find out why the number of books read declines steeply as they enter higher grades.

Our kids need practice to be better readers

 His answer…­ practice. “If a parent takes his kid to a baseball program he expects his child to receive instruction, maybe see some videos and then he would practice on the field,” says Truby. “If the kids get the instruction and see the videos but then are expected to go out and play their game without practice, they would never win.”

 “We make the assumption in terms of sports or piano or languages that kids need to learn the skills and then practice before they actually play or perform in public,” continues Truby. “But we don’t make that assumption in terms of reading.”

 “The need for practice comes out time and time again,” says Truby.

We do not rate well relative to the rest of the world

 How do we rate with other countries of the world? Truby says that in the early years up to the 4th grade, we are very competitive in all areas, but as our kids reach the higher grades we are barely ahead of the poorer South African nations. Other countries surpass us because they have longer school days, a longer school year and in some countries the workload is so significant kids don’t have time for an afterschool job.

3 steps to take to help your kids succeed.

 Want your kids to succeed. Take these three easy steps: 1. Get the kids a library card. It’s free. And be sure to use it. 2. Determine a reading time in your household. (By the way, in Finland and Sweden kids read at least 35 minutes a day. In the US our kids read 7 minutes a day!) 3. Take an interest in what they are reading. Talk about it at dinner or when ever you gather as a family.  

 Want one more shocking statistic? Many American boys graduate high school and never read another book. 

What do you do to encourage your kids to read?

Also if you want to browse our new book series visit The Undercover Kids.  After you and your kids read the adventures of Katie, Jake and Cooper, be sure to encourage your kids to write their own kids’ adventure. If they submit it online, they may be published in the next book in the series.

Autistic kid solves mystery

June 26, 2009 at 1:53 pm | Posted in Book reviews, Kids and reading, Mystery books | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , ,

As the recent publisher of a new kids’ book, The Undercover Kids’ Holland Adventure, I am always on the lookout for great books for kids.

I read Tanya’s blog on books. She mentioned that she only reviews books once they come out in paperback.  And so the reviewer waited a year, when the paperback version of  The London Eye Mystery was published, to talk about this kid’s adventure book.

She admitted in her review, she missed the mark in this book by waiting the year. And I agree.

Kids overcoming differences makes this a great read.

london eye mysterySiobhan Bowd’s book, The London Eye Mystery, introduces the readers to Ted, the younger brother of Kat. Ted loves to talk about weather patterns; he has a great memory for facts and has a hand he has difficulty in controlling – it shakes. He also has trouble in dealing with his emotions and can’t seem to quite understand the feelings of others. Dowd creates this character Ted with all the revealing symptoms of autism, but the word is never used to describe him. She talks about Ted’s teacher, who advises Ted to smile when others smile because that will help him make friends. And he is leaning other things to: To look in the direction of people who are speaking to him; to understand that if someone is crying they are having a problem and to try an control his shaking hand.

But through it all, he solves the mystery of the disappearance of his visiting cousin, Salim. Ted’s favorite thing is to fly the Eye. Like a Ferris Wheel, you sit in a capsule with 21 other folks and twist and turn above London. Salim goes on the first capsule while Ted and Kat wait on the ground for Salim to complete his spin. But the brother and sister don’t see Salim get off his capsule. And now the adventure begins.

Dowd is great in getting the true sibling love-hate relationship. We “listen” to Ted work out his frustrations as he tries to get others to listen to the nine scenarios he has created as to what might have happened to his cousin. There is the understanding mom who gets frustrated with Ted’s frantic ways. The dad who bulldozes large building to make way for the new. A crazy Aunt Gloria who uses a long cigarette holder as she smokes.  And Salim’s dad who is an doctor.

The issues of sibling relationships, relationships with moms and dads and a international flavor that we don’t often see in kids’ books. All this, plus the unusual Ted, makes this a must read for kids and their parents.

I am sorry to report that Siobhan Dowd died of breast cancer on 21 August 2007, aged 47, Just before Dowd’s death, the Siobhan Dowd Trust was set up, where all the proceeds from her literary work will be used to assist disadvantaged children with their reading skills.

Have you found a book that you wished you read earlier? Share your story.

Create a free website or blog at
Entries and comments feeds.