Summer Camp Lessons for Writers and Teachers : )

Erin and Gianna dress up Reminders/lessons learned from the wonderful young artists I worked with this summer at Sugarloaf Fine Arts Camp:

1. This generation will change the world. How do I know this? If you listen, even teenagers will talk…about life, hope for the world, problems we never experienced in our childhoods, and fears of facing it all alone. As our lives speed up, it's hard to justify allowing ourselves TIME to just sit and listen to each other. Maybe we should write it in our planners. Or add it to our lesson plans. Or Twitter: What are you doing today? LISTENING.

2. Relish your place in the arts. Relish the art in you. This summer we discovered that doing so eliminates stage fright, writer's block, and so many other creative obstacles. Just DO it–Enjoy the feeling of creating, of tuning into the medium of your choice (painting, writing, music–not the psychic kind–although it sometimes feels that way, doesn't it?), of listening (hmmm there it is again), and taking creative risks. Relishing frees you to create!

3. The arts keep us alive! Literally and figuratively. One jam-packed week at Sugarloaf helpsIMG_0584 our campers (and staff–me included!) survive the craziness of the real world. Art, theater, dance, video, writing, photography, music teach problem solving and communication. The power to inform and entertain,the power to change opinions, get people talking, expose injustice, explore solutions, make friends, learn co-existence, and the joy of diversity. Teachers–Be subversive! Let's find ways to sneak the arts back into our curriculum. Sing the spelling lists! Act out the Pythagorean theorem! Sketch, dance–yeah you get the picture…

4. The arts help us PLAY.  Today's kids want knowledge. Anything that will give them the edge, the keys to success NOW. Many have so much going on in their lives they have no time to play. Or relax. Enjoy the here and now. To quiet ambition. The arts help us take the time. Those who write, paint, dance, CREATE in any art form, know that somehow in this often dark and crazy universe, we will be OK.  

Lucky me–I have another summer of Sugarloaf stored in my heart.

PS–Happy Back to School, teachers! A Zen saying for us all: "A wise man does not teach the end, he teaches the way, and he is not too serious about that."

My favorite End of the Year Writing Activity

Try this SWEET writing assignment.


Memorial Day and student brains (No that is NOT an oxymoron…) will soon switch to SUMMER if they haven’t already. (Don’t you love the fan mail I just got from Greenhills Elementary? But I digress..)

The end of school is SO CLOSE they can almost taste it–which is why I love this FUN How To assignment–adaptable for grades 2-12–that even your unmotivated writers will try!

“But I can’t have fun with only ____(fill in the blank) more weeks to cover the (evil laughter muoo-ah-ha-ha) Standards,” you lament.

Fear not! This activity covers Sequence of events, Clarity/word choice, main idea/details, public speaking/narration, FOOD, and if you plan it right, you won’t have papers to correct! So what are you waiting for?

Day 1: Supplies needed:

  1. Bring in 2-3 boxes of easy-to-prepare food from your pantry shelves. Something with a recipe or directions on the back. (Note–You’re not gonna make it. You just have to read the directions aloud.) Ex: Cake mixes, Cereal, or Mac cheese.
  2. 1 bag of individually wrapped bubble gum.
  3. 1 bubble mix with bubble wand

Day 1 Lesson: HOW TO  intro: Have students read directions on box(es) aloud.

HOW TO  model (in pairs or small groups): Have students write simple How To directions, choosing from How To Tie Your Shoe (no Velcro smarties or sandals allowed.) or How To Blow A Bubble.

Collect and ask for a volunteer to demo one of the HOW TOs. Volunteer selects a HOW TO at random and its author must read it aloud as volunteer attempts to follow the directions.

Writing Assignment (in class or homework): At the end of the HOW To models, instruct each student to now write HOW TO directions, choosing How To MaKe an Ice Cream Sundae  OR How to Make a P,B,& J sandwich. (Unless of course you have peanut allergies in class!)

YES, they will ask if they get to eat them. YES, you will answer, THOSE WHO COMPLETE THE ASSIGNMENT WILL GET TO EAT THE END RESULT. ; ) 

Day 2: (Suggest doing this next part outside or in the cafeteria.) I guarantee your students will complete this assignment and the results are always fun. Bring in whatever supplies (within reason–and budget. Ha–did I just say the B word? Like we have one? But this isn’t the first time you’ve paid for supplies out of your own pocket, is it?)

The catch? Pick volunteer and select a random HOW TO as before. HOWEVER, if the author does not specify, “Open jar of Peanut butter/carton of ice cream” then the volunteer must proceed without opening the jar/carton. Follow the directions only.

Volunteer and Author get to share the end results–if they want! Send me photos if you have them!

RE Correcting Papers: If you really feel the need to give them a grade–Authors get 10 points each for (10) completing assignment, (10) reading it aloud, and (10) if end result is edible. Add ’em up and you’re done!


Children’s Book Week

Some recent school visit photos to celebrate Children's Book Week:


        One of my favorite challenges: Hooking that middle grades crowd!


Warming up my helpers with some quick improv games. (My 30 second audition.)


Little Bo Peep Can't Get To Sleep







Peep met a (very smiley) troll

along the way:

Who dares to cross my bridge today?


The end of a very fun day!

Next stop: Towne Center Books (Pleasanton CA) on Saturday,May 16th 1-3pm to celebrate Kids Otter Read Across the Bay!

School visit Mother’s Day poems

Poem 1

After two awesome assemblies during a recent author visit to Charles Brown Elementary School, I did some writing workshops and Q & A with the 4th and 5th grade classes. Since this was a return visit, the 5th grade teachers asked me to show their kids how to write a First Line/Last Line poem.  I always tell the students this poem writes itself (partly true) and we're off and writing, and this was the case at CB–just in time for Mother's Day! Lorena wrote hers in espanol (above), and I predicted her mom would cry when she gets it tomorrow. : )  Who wouldn't?

Let it be known, however, that the kids didn't shed any tears while they wrote. Here's the pattern to share with your young writers. (5-7 lines work great but the format is very flexible. In poetry, there are no wrong answers.)

A poem to the moms of the world.

The world is full of hope because of you.

You teach us to believe in our dreams. 

Dreams about life and love.

Love you so much we wrote you a poem.

A poem to the moms of the world.

See what I mean about this poem writing itself? You'll be surprised what your students come up with. Send me some of their poems if you try it!

 Happy Mother's Day to all! And to quote a Mom's day card I got at our local book store: Thank you, Mom, for reading us more than the riot act! Mom and rolling pin

SCBWI Davis and Style…

IMG_0308 Scholastic Art Director Marijka Kostiw's cool shoes sum up one of Golden Books Editor/Author Diane Muldrow's points at Saturday's SCBWI Davis conference: You have to have style.

Muldrow told pb authors to "think cinematically" and dummy their manuscripts to see if the story fits the visual medium of picture books.  

Author Chris Eboch (Her Haunted series debuts in August.)now has me thinking about virtual school visits, a more affordable option for this era of school- budgets-left-behind. Can't beat the commute!

The Persian Storytelling style wherein the narrator points to one character per finger on one hand (thanks Sara Kahn!)might help keep my pb characters to a manageable cast. (It won't work when I start getting material together for my theater kids this summer at Sugarloaf Fine Arts Camp! 40-theater kids per session…)

Congrats to my crit group pal, Linda Joy Singleton, for her successful presentation on Navigating the Blogging World (see her cool Dead Girl Walking book trailer at .)

And speaking of blogs, Curtis Brown agent Nathan Bransford answers all the How-do I? questions and more at . NOTE: If he can't answer them, go to . I sat next to Verla for most of the day and enjoyed all of our asides. Nathan's tip on series submissions: Don't assume it's a series. The first book must work as a stand alone. It's not a series until the second book is published.

But one of the main highlights for me was being able to thank Viking editor Kendra Levin in person for the helpful, encouraging two-page rejection letter she sent me a while back after reading my middle grades manuscript. Thanks for a rejection you ask? Heck yeah. Not only did she take time out of her crazy-busy schedule (Now that's style!), Levin's editorial suggestions helped me to revise and take my ms to the next level. My agent has it now. Fingers crossed. : )

For more details about the SCBWI Davis speakers, hop over to Laure Latham-Guyot's blog at . And MANY thanks to RA Tekla White and her committee for a great day!