Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Notes from "Don't Quit Your Day Job" FEB. 18, 2017

Attendees at the event

On February 18, 2017, the Bear Pond Books Educator Series hosted a working writers' workshop led by Ryan Kriger and Christy Mihaly. It was well-attended with about 25 participants, but in case you missed it, here are some notes:


Picture books these days are generally 600 words.

Know what the magazine you’re submitting to is looking for. For example, Highlights doesn’t want any “talking animals.”

“Don’t get obsessed with your one great masterpiece”-- Keep writing as you’re waiting to hear back from editors, etc.


Conferences like SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) can help you find out what is trending and what genres are “passe.”

At these conferences it is worthwhile to pay an agent to pitch your ideas to-- they will usually give you feedback. Many agents are not available to submit work to otherwise.

Writing is not an isolated task-- find your people.
  • This will motivate you to get to the writing table.
  • Deadlines are great for motivation.
  • Writing/critique groups make you a better writer.
  • Check out the Burlington Writers' Workshops.


When you’re not writing, do other things related to it, like getting yourself into schools. See what they are reading. Spend time reading aloud to a kid.

Ideas/Goals from the audience:

  • Check out Book Stock in Woodstock, VT.
  • Revise that manuscript in your drawer!
  • Find a critique group.
  • Read 2 books a month in your genre.
  • Find an accountability partner.

Download a PDF of the resources handout here.

Also, Christy wrote about this event in her blog post "To be a Writer, You Need a Community," published at GROG on March 6th. Read it here.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Francisca Goldsmith on Multimodal Literacy & The Alex Awards

A sneak peek into the books that will be discussed at Ready to Launch: a Panel of YA Lit and The Alex Awards on January 28, 2017 at Bear Pond Books:
Seventeenth Summer, by Maureen Daly (originally published 1942, current edition Simon Pulse, 2010)

Imani All Mine, by Connie Rose Porter (Houghton Mifflin, 1999)

Stiff: The curious lives of human cadavers, by Mary Roach (WW Norton, 2003)

My Jim, by Nancy Rawles (Crown, 2005)

My Friend Dahmer, by Derf Backderf (Abrams, 2012)

Bellweather Rhapsody, by Kate Racculia (Houghton Mifflin, 2014)

Those Who Wish Me Dead, by Michael Koryta (Little Brown, 2014)

The Terrorist's Son: A story of choice, by Zak Ebrahim (TED Books, Simon & Schuster, 2014)

The Book of Unknown Americans, by Cristina Henriquez (Vintage, 2014)

The Unraveling of Mercy Lewis, by Keija Parssinen (Harper, 2015)

Says librarian and panelist Francisca Goldsmith:
"There are two themes running through here. First, they represent a range of adult high interest for teen on which the Alex Awards are posited. Second, these specific titles speak to the flexibility of enjoying books, as some of these have been recorded as really excellent audiobooks, others have become movies, and there are fiction, nonfiction, and graphic novel (in this case, nonfiction) among the 10. I'll be talking to both these points."

She will also talk about multimodal literacy, and will note two audiobook initiatives, SoundLearning APA, and AudiobookSYNC, both of which she is deeply involved in developing and coordinating.

Goldsmith is the author of half a dozen professional books including, for this audience's possible interest, The Readers' Advisory Guide to Graphic Novels, which is coming out in its second edition next month (ALA Editions).

Monday, January 16, 2017

What Are The Alex Awards?

The Alex Awards are given annually to ten adult books published in the previous year that have high appeal for readers ages 12-18.  They are named in honor of Margaret “Alex” Edwards, who was a champion of what was in her era the new field of young adult library services.  Selections are made by a committee of nine librarians who spend the year culling recently published books for possibilities, narrowing those down into nominated titles, and analyzing their merit in group discussions. The ten award books and a list of vetted titles are then chosen by vote.  

Why have an award that highlights this niche? Although Young Adult literature has flourished in recent years, there are plenty of teen readers who for a variety of reasons are more drawn toward books published for adults.  There are the readers who read so much that they’ve read practically every YA book so they need more material. Or there are readers who have tired of the YA “problem” novel – the dystopias, the dead or troubled parent -- or teens who don’t want to read (another) 500 page book with a dragon on the cover. They need material that is presented in a different way, even if it might still be full of strife or dragons. And reluctant readers are sometimes drawn toward adult books more than ones written for their age group.  

The Alex Awards are a useful tool for those readers and the parents, teachers, and librarians who help connect them with books. Being an “Alex” means a book has met with hours of critical reading and discussion by librarians who work with youth. Part of the vetting process also often includes asking teen readers to give feedback on the books as a way to ensure that the appeal is not just what adults think teens “should” like.  Because Alex books cover a wide spectrum of genres, formats, topics, and styles, readers with diverse taste are likely to find something on the list that piques their interest. Books with appeal for this age group play an important role in cultivating lifelong readers as school gets more demanding and responsibilities and distractions of adult life threaten to overshadow the rewards of recreational reading.

The Alex Awards kick off the Youth Media Awards each year at the American Library Association Midwinter conference. Full of suspense and oohs and ahs as the announcements lead up to the big reveal of the Newbery Award winner, this event is a must-see for youth literature geeks. Super fun and live-streamed bright and early January 23rd this year.

by Joy Worland

JANUARY 28, 2017, 11:00 am to 12:00 pm: Join librarians and Alex Awards committee members Joy Worland (Montpelier, Vt.) and Francisca Goldsmith (Portland, Maine), and YA/Middle Grade author Aaron Starmer, for a panel discussion on reviewing books for this award as well as a talk about writing for and expanding the world of literature for teens.

This Bear Pond Books Educator Series event is free and open to the public. Click Here to register.

Aaron Starmer is the author of numerous novels for young readers, including "The Only Ones" and "The Riverman." His newest novel "Spontaneous" (Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2016) is a TIME magazine Top 10 YA & Children's Book of 2016! He lives in Vermont with his wife and daughter.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Diversity Panel Highlights and Things To Come

Our diversity panel consisted of two parts: we began with reviews of books for ages Pre-K through teen that were presented by Hannah Peacock and Kelsey Psaute, both librarians at Burnham Memorial Library in Colchester. Hannah introduced the picture book Red, by Michael Hall, noting that there are 1.4 million transgender people in the U.S. and the suicide attempts for them are at 41%. Alas, the call to make all kids feel comfortable in their own skin is tantamount. Hannah finished up her reviews with the YA memoir Being Jazz, by Jazz Jennings. Hannah says Jazz knew she was transgender at age 2, and that Jazz is one of the lucky ones, with a strong family support system that enables her to be a positive spokesperson and ally for other transgender kids.

Kelsey mostly reviewed young adult fiction, including Shadowshaper, by Daniel Jose Older, in which the ethnically diverse character doesn't have to be "strong all the time" and The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle, a book about "not coping" in which the narrator happens to be gay. Kelsey discussed the value of having both "issues books" and books that "happen to have diverse characters" in them. See the complete list of the books Hannah and Kelsey reviewed here.

Will Alexander, whose most recent book is Nomad, and is currently serving on the National Book Award Committee for Children’s Literature and Kekla Magoon, author of the Dorothy Canfield Fisher nominee Shadows of Sherwood and its just published sequel Rebellion of Thieves joined the conversation for the second hour to discuss their viewpoints on diversity in children’s literature.

They began by discussing their own approaches to writing, with Will leaning more toward non-realist storytelling. “Kids are all perched on the verge of transformation. Some things we can’t fully express unless we come at it sideways. That’s what non-realist modes of story-telling – magic, fantasy and metaphor - allows. Plus, aliens! Fun! And, hey, let’s talk about immigration!”

Kekla opts for more realistic storytelling saying many writers have a tendency to write about what is needed by readers (such as the LGBTQ trend) but also what the writer needs to think about herself. She posed this writer’s dilemma: “Do I become a writer who can fill that need or do I just do what I do and hope people come along?” Will countered that a writer shouldn’t write something because he feels a need that a subject be covered. A writer can also be part of the conversation by reading diverse books and being an ally by championing others' work rather than being a megaphone for a cause.

The conversation quickly turned to the publishing industry after it was pointed out that diverse books are being written, they just aren’t necessarily being published. Will said that we need filters when editing books, but we also need to look at the filters we've been traditionally using. Kekla finds that even if people are well-intentioned they aren’t drawn to what they aren’t connected to: “Publishers say they want diverse content but they don’t connect with diverse stories”. Will agreed, but spoke to the industry’s efforts to bring in more young and diverse people, cautioning “this is a very long game", and that it will take decades for today’s interns to be in powerful positions in publishing. An audience member wondered, almost jokingly, if it would take someone like James Patterson using racially diverse characters to convince publishing that diverse characters sell.

Days after our diversity panel I was scrolling through Facebook and found this interesting blog post on Literary Hub by Marlon James titled "Why I'm Done Talking About Diversity". Some not so radical food for thought, because sometimes even the most well-intentioned white book people have a hard time getting things right.

Next Up in the Children's Room:
Friday, November 4, 9:30 - 11:30 am
Words Come Alive!
Dive into Red Clover books with activities from the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts' signature Words Come Alive! program.  Jump into the shoes of characters, travel to exciting settings and connect literacy learning to kinesthetic creativity. Led by Flynn Center artist teacher Karen Sharpwolf. This is a special opportunity to learn more about the multi-disciplinary program that the Flynn Center offers to Vermont students and educators.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Louisiana Book Drive Details

“Our rooms are bare- not even everyone has a while/chalk board. We’re having to bring in items from home to improvise an environment as normal as possible. Students don’t have any reading materials for when they finish their work or when they come into class. We also do not have a library at this location, so reading books is considered a luxury as of now.”   ~Lindsey Kelley, 4th grade teacher at St. Amant Primary School in St. Amant, Louisiana
Bear Pond Books, the Kellogg-Hubbard Library and several Central Vermont area schools are joining efforts to help rebuild the St. Amant Primary School library and classroom collections after the recent flooding due to heavy rainstorms around Baton Rouge.

Dates: Monday, Sept 19 through Sunday, October 2nd

Drop-Off sites: Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, Kellogg-Hubbard Library, East Montpelier Elementary School, River Rock School in Montpelier

What is needed: NEW or LIKE-NEW books for grades Pre-K through 5, both fiction and most especially non-fiction. Hardcovers are preferred.

Bear Pond Books wants to make it easy for you to donate a NEW book to this effort. We will be offering a 20% discount on all books donated to this cause during the book drive when you order on our website. Please note "book drive" in the comments when placing your order and we will adjust your total to reflect the discount.

Educators who would like to get involved:
  • If your school or classroom would like to collect books for this drive, please contact Jane at the email address below.
  • To make more connections with Baton Rouge area schools, see author Kate Messner's blog for a longer list of schools in need, including their contact info.
  • See author Tamara Ellis Smith's Another Kind Of Hurricane project to explore other ways to connect your classroom to those in need and to "to turn empathy into the power to help".
  • If this window of time does not work for your school, Phoenix Books in Essex, Vt. will be hosting a book drive in November. Contact them for more info.
For more information about this book drive, or a more detailed list of content areas that teachers at St. Amant are seeking replacement books for,  please contact Jane Knight at Bear Pond Books:

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Oh, Fall! (sigh)

It's that time of year when we are busy fitting all the pieces into our fall schedule puzzle, and most of you are attempting to find a steady routine in your busy days. It is a time filled with anticipation, inspiration, exhaustion and inward focus. We in the Children's Room hope we can provide a piece of the inspiration puzzle for you with the announcement of our fall Educator's Events schedule

There may be late additions to this line-up, so check back often!
Here goes:

Friday, October 14, 9:30 - 11:30 am
Materials Review- Diversifying and Representing
(A panel of rock stars)
We welcome Kelsey Psaute and Hannah Peacock from the Burnham Memorial Library in Colchester to review books that represent diverse perspectives of ethnicity, race, gender and sexual orientation. During the second hour authors Kekla Magoon and Will Alexander will speak to their experiences in schools and the publishing world, and will address the ongoing call to provide more windows for our predominantly white communities in Vermont.
Will Alexander's Nomad,  new in paperback, is the sequel to Ambassador, a science fiction adventure
for middle graders

Kekla Magoon's newest installment in the Dorothy Canfield Fisher nominated series Robyn Hoodlum
will be published in October.

Friday, November 4, 9:30 - 11:30 am
Words Come Alive!
Dive into Red Clover books with activities from the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts' signature Words Come Alive! program.  Jump into the shoes of characters, travel to exciting settings and connect literacy learning to kinesthetic creativity. Led by Flynn Center artist teacher Karen Sharpwolf. This is a special opportunity to learn more about the multi-disciplinary program that the Flynn Center offers to Vermont students and educators.

We are also in the planning stages to host a book drive for an Elementary school in St. Amant, Louisiana.Bear Pond Books, Kellogg-Hubbard Library and Central Vermont area schools will be accepting book donations of NEW or LIKE NEW books to help them rebuild their collections.
From Monday, September 19th through Sunday October 2nd, we will be taking donations of NEW and LIKE-NEW books for grades Pre-K through 5. Bear Pond will pick-up all donations and take care of getting the books to Louisiana. I will be sending additional information in the next week. If you are interested in joining this effort email

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Poetry with VT Poet Laureate Chard DeNiord

Each April, PoemCity, Montpelier's celebration of National Poetry Month, reminds us how very alive and well poetry is in Vermont. Fittingly, for our April educator event (the last of the spring series) Chard deNiord, Poet Laureate of Vermont, joined us in the Children's Room for a presentation focused on getting students engaged with poetry.

Chard deNiord answers questions from the audience.

Chard offered three possible titles for his talk—"Amazing Sense of Disparate Things," "Panning the Unconscious," and "The Rainbow and the Grebe: The Unconscious and the Imagination"—all of which are different ways of thinking about the topic around which the event revolved. Chard guided audience members through a Mad-Libs style poetry exercise entitled "Testimonial," inspired by and borrowing from former US Poet Laureate Rota Dove's poem by the same name. In this exercise, students choose their own words and phrases to fill in the poem's blanks. The poem, which is rooted in natural imagery, is punctuated by headlines that define its stanzas; while Chard provided a handout of headlines plucked from newspapers (included, along with the exercise, as a PDF below), he noted that it was also fine to craft original headlines.

The exercise "Testimonial" is designed for high school students, however teachers can easily adapt it for middle school and even younger students. Chard read through the poem, asking audience members to fill in their copies with their own word choices as he read, after which several audience members shared their completed poems aloud with the larger group. Attendees' poems contained wonderful and varied opening phrases such as "Back when the world was divided between lava and snow" and "Back when the world was divided between tomato soup and ice cream" and contained lyrics from Bessie Smith and Bob Dylan.

Attendees compose their poems.
This particular exercise is an excellent vehicle for considering the difference between the unconscious and the imagination, as it asks students to employ both. Citing Alan Ginsburg’s motto "first thought, best thought," Chard encouraged audience members to move through the exercise quickly, and to do so as well when using it in the classroom, as this really allows the unconscious to emerge. "Testimonial" also works well for getting students to think about the act of reading poetry versus the act of writing poetry, as it asks students to be both reader and writer. (And, it occurred to me as I thought more about the exercise after the event, how you approach the act of choosing words to fill in the poem’s blanks—by either reading through the poem and selecting words to fit as you go, or simply filling in each blank before reading through the poem—affects the final product.) 

Some of our favorite poetry for young readers.
Chard recommended two books by Kenneth Koch for educators who want to introduce poetry writing to young children: Wishes, Lies, and Dreams: Teaching Kids to Write Poetry and Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?: Teaching Great Poetry to Children. Another exercise he likes that educators can adapt for writers of all ages is Ruth Stone's poetry game, in which preselected words are put in a hat and students create poems by pulling out words and arranging them together. Former Poet Laureate of Vermont Sydney Lea was in attendance, and he and Chard discussed the merits of asking students to focus on a poem's language and what it does, rather than what the poem means. Other practical poetry work to use in schools that Chard discussed includes getting involved in the Poetry Out Loud program, through which students select and read poems aloud in the classroom (librarians can also incorporate this into a library activity), and which sponsors an annual national poetry recitation competition; asking students to identify poems that relate to their experiences; and developing found poetry exercises, in which students choose lines from everyday sources including (but certainly not limited to) advertisements, songs, and television shows. Teachers can encourage students in grades 7-12 to enter their own poems in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, which offer scholarship and publication opportunities.

Chard's most recent book of poems, Interstate, as well as his previous titles, are available from Bear Pond. 

Further reading and resources on teaching poetry:


Our Educator Events will return in the fall; stay tuned for the 2016-17 program! If you have an idea for an event—be it a speaker or a topic—please email Jane at