Storyfest at the Virginia Festival of the Book

This year, in addition to visiting schools, I gave a book talk as part of Va Book's Storyfest line-up. It was a rainy day, but we had a lovely group of families. Here are a few pictures, taken by my dad, our photographer for the day.

Coloring sheets for all:

Artwork on display:

Talking to kids about how to make a book:

Drawing demo:

Kids making their own illustrations:

And coloring in my drawings:

A quiet moment at the end of the day:

The Funky Zebra

I had a school visit in Newton a few days ago, where I drew with a class of second graders at the end of my talk. I asked the group to help me come up with a brand new character; they choose an animal, activity for her to do, and the clothes she wears and I do my best to draw it. They chose a zebra swimming at the beach and wearing a bikini. Once I started on the bikini they broke into hysterics. Someone shouted "she's wearing a 'ZI-KINI'!" Kids have such fabulous ideas. They titled the illustration "The Funky Zebra."

Two visits and a review

The past week has been a busy one! Here are a few highlights:

*On Father's Day I visited Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast to talk about the making of A Photo for Greta. A big thanks to Jules for having me! Read my post here.

*I had a lovely school visit in Newton, the first after taking some time off for maternity leave. It was a lot of fun to read my new book to a group of kids at last (I've read it during some Skype visits this spring, but this was the first time in person). When I tell kids about the book making process, I describe how I made a watercolor "test" of my palette in order to choose which colors I will use in the illustrations. I usually show them this palette, which I made for Francine's Day:

When I got home I was greeted by a sweet email from the organizer, whose son attended my talk. When he arrived home he pulled out his watercolors and made his own paint palette, then proceeded to paint all of his stuffed animals:

Such a talented artist, nice work Jared! I hope you will keep painting and visit the library often.

*Publisher's Weekly gave A Photo for Greta this lovely review. A snippet: "As she did in Disappearing Desmond, Alter displays notable sensitivity to children’s insecurities and doubts, while providing reassurance of their worth." Thanks PW!

*And lastly, Tilda is now eating butternut squash, which she prefers to feed herself. Next thing you know she will be applying to college.

Skype visits

Spring is usually my busy time for school visits (by usually I mean when I am on the east coast and not juggling a new baby), this year I had to make some changes. Lately I've been loving doing skype school visits. You can visit schools all over the place (next month I'm skyping with a school in Alaska!) without having to get on a plane, which is a lot more convenient now that I'm a mother. I plan to resume regular visits soon, but in the mean time its been a great solution. Kids get excited about the new technology (a couple of times its started some interesting discussions about time zones) and I get to talk with kids about books from home. The other day I got an awesome package of thank you notes from a skype visit in Masbeth, New York:

(Sorry about the hard questions Lindsey)

Sometimes there are technical issues, Skype can freeze or pixelate if you have a bad connection. I'm hoping the technology evolves soon. I've heard googlechat is pretty good quality, though I don't know how it would look when blown up by a projector. If anyone has had some experience with it or any other video chat I'd love to know what you think!

Ella the Octopus

Friday's visit to the Mattapoisett Public Library was a delight! After my presentation to the kids I did some drawing with them. First I drew some of the characters from What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe?, then I had them help to brainstorm a new character. This is what they came up with: an overall wearing octopus about to attack a diver with popcorn. Once we were finished the kids put on the finishing touches by coloring it in. Good fun!

Happy Earth Week!

I often completely forget to take pictures when I do school visits, so I don't have much to show from my adventures on Boston's North Shore last week. But I did recently receive an awesome package from a school where I did a Skype visit. They did an author study and had each student write a project just like the reuse activities in What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe?. To celebrate Earth Week I'll posting some of my favorites all week!

This one I love for a number of reasons. Most importantly what a great idea! When the sleeves fall off my next sweater I will definitely stick them on my cat. Also I find the author bio quite charming.

Winchester Authorfest

If any of you are in the area, come see me Thursday at the Winchester Authorfest! I'll be presenting at some local schools in the morning, then signing books at the Town Hall Book Signing in the afternoon, which is open to the public.

Here are the details:

Town Hall Book Signing
71 Mt. Vernon Street (next to Public Library)
Winchester MA 01890

3:00-5:00 pm

Last time I participated in the Authorfest there were dozens of other authors there. I don't know who will be participating this year but there is bound to be lots of amazing local talent. Its not often you have that many authors in one place!

I likt yors books vare muh

One of the best parts of school visits is going through the thank you letters afterwards. They are beginning to arrive from last week's trip.

Check out these hip rollerskating foxes:

On the back of this one it says "I likt yors books vare muh":

One packet included some Abigail coloring sheets (you can download them here), I like this kid's abstract approach:

And of course there is always at least one big letter from the whole class:

Back North

Last week was the busiest I've had in awhile! As I mentioned in my last post, I was traveling down South to give school visits as part of the Virginia Festival of the Book and a few other lovely book gatherings. I am from Virginia, so its always fun to go back there and visit family and friends while I have some book fun. And of course its encouraging to see the first signs of spring that have not yet made their way to Massachusetts:

I had the pleasure of speaking to both little kiddos and teachers... the week began at James Madison University speaking to their kidlit class, taught by the amazing Joan Kindig. Teachers always have such great questions and are so polite, enthusiastic, and fun to talk to, truly its one of my favorite groups to visit.

Then I began my week of visiting little ones. One school I went to was having a "book-in" on the day of my visit. Everyone came to school in pajamas, ate chocolate chip pancakes and waffles, and laid around reading books all day (sounds like a good time to me!). The campus was composed largely of log cabins in the woods and had the most adorable little library I've ever seen. Don't you just want to curl up in one of those rocking chairs and read all afternoon?

Here I am drawing a soccer playing dragon, as suggested by my very cute audience of K-3rd graders:

In my slideshow I start by showing a pic of me drawing as a little kid:

Then I show them all the cats in my house growing up, which inspired me to make up animal stories:

The week finished off at the New Jersey Annual Kindergarten Teacher's spring conference, where they had a "go green" theme, and thus brought me in to talk about What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe? A Green Activity Book About Reuse. I had a lot of fun walking through how this book evolved, and what the book making process is like. I went over my favorite art activities from my years spent teaching, such as painting with "texture paintbrushes" and making paper by hand:

Then I described how these led to the activities with reused materials I made up for Old Red Shoe, such as the flip-flop activity:

And of course what you can do with that old red shoe:

These teachers just blew me away with their creativity... they collected 20 pairs of old red shoes and made centerpieces for each of the lunch tables, with green chrysanthemums, that looked like this:

And a decoration for the podium (Dorothy shoes!):

Groups of teachers presented their own recycling activity ideas, including this tri-fold board with ideas about how to combine recycling with math activities:

There were recycling songs with Woodsy the owl (Smokey the Bear's sidekick, remember?) sung bravely for the group:

One teacher made a ring toss with an old soda bottle, an Edible Arrangements box, and some reused tinfoil:

There was also a hockey game made from a pizza box and laundry detergent bottle tops (genius!):

And another favorite, a bowling set made from milk jugs and a tinfoil ball:

Thanks to everyone who made the week so much fun!

Getting ready

Next week I'm headed to Virginia and New Jersey for some book talk fun. In one week I will give 4 school visits as part of the Virginia Festival of the Book, 1 college lecture at James Madison University, two presentations at the New Jersey Association of Kindergarten Educator's spring conference, and attend a fabulous book party. A busy week for sure.

To get ready I've printed bunches of school visit brochures to give out to teachers, bookmarks to give out to kids, and just made this new book plate design:

Sometimes schools don't have all the books they've ordered when I come for a visit, or there is not time to sign all the copies at an event... so I these are for those who want a signed book but didn't get one.

Do you have a copy of one of my books and want it signed? If so just send me an email (and then a self addressed stamped envelope) and I'll send you one of these!


Yesterday I did my first Skype classroom visit with a kindergarten class in Colorado, so fun! I'm new to Skype, but started getting requests for "virtual visits" so I got an account and am trying it out.

Things I liked:

I did not have to get on a plane.
The kids were all super excited.
The asked adorable questions like "how do you stay in the lines?"

Things that were confusing:

Where to look. I kept moving between looking at my computer camera, the screen where I could see the kids, and the picture of me so that I could make sure the book I was reading was in the frame. Strange.

Cute moment:

The kids filed one by one to the computer to ask me a question after I read Abigail Spells. But they didn't know to look at the camera, so they stood with their bellies at camera height. It was hard to keep from giggling as one belly after another moseyed up to the camera. Kids are so cute.

Virginia Festival of the Book

I am just settling back into Boston after a lovely in week in Charlottesville (my hometown) at the Virginia Festival of the Book. It wasn't quite as warm as other years, I didn't get to wear flip-flops like last year, but we did hit 70 on Wednesday! And I got to see some flowers in bloom before returning to the arctic north. Here is a little preview of spring for those of you weathering March in New England:

I was especially pleased to see these, clearly someone had an advance copy of What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe?:

The festival itself went great! I visited three head start programs, two elementary schools and met the most delightful librarians. On Saturday I threw an event open to the public at an art center with my mom, a local art teacher. The response was overwhelming- families began arriving half an hour before we planned to start, and quickly filled the room! As most authors will attest, its pretty challenging to draw people out to book signings these days, so I was really quite thrilled to see such a crowd. I was lucky enough to have my dad the photographer there taking pictures, he got this great shot of the room during my talk:

I began by comparing my very first book to my most recent, then went about explaining all the steps in between:

I finished by drawing some of the characters in RED SHOE:

Then invited kids to come color them in, which was a big hit:

After the talk kids rushed our recycling craft table, grown-ups had a peek at the original art for the book and I busily signed books and chatted with folks. All in all a great day! Its going to be a lovely spring.

Virginia Festival of the Book

This March, I'll be returning to the Virginia Festival of the Book in my hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia to visit schools and give talks about my work. This will be my third trip down for the festival, which is by far one of the best organized, well run festivals I've been to.

This year in addition to visiting local elementary schools (I've had the amazing experience of going back to schools I actually attended- there is nothing like walking the halls of a school etched in your childhood memory), the festival is sending me to visit several Head Start classrooms, which I am really excited about. Makes me miss teaching the little guys.

Here is a clip from a tv ad for the festival, if you look closely they are reading my book The Three Little Kittens! Woohoo!