Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Dear friends,

In this post, my dear friend, the lovely Jamie Michalak, shares about her early school days and her inspirations for becoming a writer. Her early reader series (published by Candlewick Press) feature the fabulous and funny Joe and Sparky. I know you'll want the entire set for yourself, your classroom, and your favorite young readers, so be sure to read all about this dynamic duo below. But first this very important announcement:

The winner of the Comment Contest picked by Random.org for the Back to School Book by Kay Winters is:
                      ****JANET MARTIN****  CONGRATULATIONS, JANET!
(Janet, please e-mail me: claragillowclark(at)gmail(dot)com with your mailing address, to whom you'd like your book personalized by KAY WINTERS, and which featured book you'd like to receive! Here's the list: Did You See What I Saw: Poems about School; My Teacher for President; The Bears Go to School; This School Year Will Be Special.

This week's featured guest, Author Jamie Michalak, is generously giving away one of her JOE and SPARKY titles--Winner's Choice--in the comment contest. All you have to do is leave a comment for JAMIE for a chance to win. But, we also hope you'll share our BACK TO SCHOOL blog series with your friends! THANK YOU!

AND NOW. . .here's the talented and lovely JAMIE MICHALAK. . .

The Start of a Story by Jamie Michalak

In elementary school, I was a true blue, through-and-through daydreamer. Unless I was in one of my favorite classes, Reading or Art, you’d find me staring out the window or doodling in the margins of my mimeographed math worksheets. Paying attention was not my strength.

“Your mind is like a feather in a windstorm,” my frustrated teacher would say.

At the start of every school year, I’d try my best to pay attention, filling the first few pages of freshly bought notebooks with neat, uniform letters. But as they days went on, the pages devolved into chicken scratch and drawings.

I wasn’t much different at home.

“Earth to Jamie . . .” my parents would say. “You have your head in the clouds again.”

I couldn’t help it. My imaginary world, full of wild adventures and dramatic characters, was so much more interesting than reality. I concocted fictional lives for my teachers and classmates. (My Phys Ed teacher was a spy, who used the gym’s parachute to skydive into enemy territory. Danielle, the girl with the Princess Leia buns, lived in a mansion with a robot butler. And my principal, Mrs. Tabb, secretly founded the Tab soda company.) But my stories never left my head.

Until one day, in fourth grade, a life-changing opportunity came across my desk. Literally. My teacher had handed out story starters. The best part? We could finish the story however we wanted. No rules. We would write just for FUN. Imagine that!

Now this assignment caught my attention. I couldn’t wait to finish the story, and the words flowed out of me. That year, I finished dozens of these story starters. Finally, the tales in my head had a place to go. Sometimes my teacher even asked me to read what I wrote in front of the class. Just me! I don’t remember if I dreamed of becoming an author back then, but this rare creative freedom sparked a lifelong love of writing.
Jamie's winning story starters!

It took me much longer to discover that my daydreaming was actually story-creating. I’ve also since learned that doodling helps one pay attention. (Yes! Validation!) I’m beyond thankful I can now daydream for a living. If you catch me staring out a window or if I seem a million miles away, I’m probably working on a book.

When I speak to children as a visiting author, I show them how to get what’s in their head onto paper. We have anything-goes brainstorms, and yes, even finish story starters. My early reader, Joe and Sparky Go to School, was conceived during a school visit.

So, thank you, Mrs. Slasinski, my fourth-grade teacher, for giving your students the freedom to follow their imaginations and write outside the lines!



Joe and Sparky Get New Wheels: Junior Library Guild Selection, Kirkus Best Book of the Year,
Chicago Public Library Best Children’s Book of the Year
★ “Utterly charming!” —Kirkus (starred review)


Joe and Sparky, Superstars!: Bankstreet Best Book of the Year
★ “This little treasure is one that will get passed around.” —Kirkus (starred review)

Joe and Sparky Go to School: Amazon Best Book of the Year, Cybils finalist, 1 of 52 Great Reads by the Library of Congress

“Perfect for the newly independent reader and makes a fine bridge from Amelia Bedelia to Ramona.” —The Horn Book (starred review)

"Michalak will have readers giggling over the silly exchanges and comedic misunderstandings that follow as Sparky and Joe attempt to fit in at school.” —Publishers Weekly

Coming August 2017!: Joe and Sparky, Party Animals!
Joe decides to throw a surprise party in honor of his pet worm, Wiggy—except that nobody has ever seen Wiggy. According to Joe, Wiggy leads a busy life. He sails ships, climbs mountains, and even plays in a band, the Worms. (They are even bigger than the Beetles!)
    Soon it’s party time, and all the animals in the zoo are there. But where is Wiggy?
    Young readers will revel alongside this hilarious duo in this story about being willing to take a leap of faith for a friends—especially if there’s a party involved.

Jamie Michalak is a former editor at Candlewick Press and the author of more than thirty children’s books, including the award-winning Joe and Sparky series of intermediate readers. She wrote Joe and Sparky Get New Wheels; Joe and Sparky, Superstars!; Joe and Sparky Go to School; and the forthcoming Joe and Sparky, Party Animals! She is also the author of many movie and TV show adaptations, such as the “Martha Speaks” PBS Kids! chapter book series. Jamie lives in Barrington, Rhode Island with her husband and two sons, who provide lots of inspiration for her stories. To learn more, visit www.jamiemichalak.com and http://thelittlecrookedcottage.blogspot.com.

THANK YOU, dear Readers, for stopping by. Don't forget to check out Jamie's website: www.jamiemichalak.com for more info about her school visits and her books! Be sure to leave a comment for a chance to win one of her books. The winner will be announced next week.

The final author in the BACK TO SCHOOL series is another alumni of the blog and an award winning author of MG Historical fiction! My talented friend, JOYCE MOYER HOSTETTER, will share about her new book AIM published by Calkins Creek (Boyds Mills Press imprint) released this month. Joyce will share with us the middle of September. But don't worry, there will be many more guests and giveaways coming in the months ahead! Happy Reading! ~Clara

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


Dear Readers,

Our amazing guest, Author Kay Winters has a number of wonderful picture books with a school setting that you'll want for yourself, your classroom, and your favorite young readers, but first this very important announcement: The winner of a Franklin School Friends book by our friend, Claudia Mills is:
               ****JANA ESCHNER****  !!!!CONGRATULATIONS, JANA!!!!
(Jana, please e-mail me: claragillowclark(at)gmail(dot)com with your mailing address, to whom you'd like your book personalized by Claudia, and which book in the Franklin School Friend series you'd like to receive! Here's the list: Kelsey Green, Reading Queen; Annika Riz, Math Whiz; Izzy Barr, Running Star; Simon Ellis, Spelling Bee Champ; and Cody Harmon, King of Pets.)

This week's featured guest, Author Kay Winters, is also generously giving away one of her titles--Winner's Choice--in the comment contest. All you have to do is leave a comment for Kay for a chance to win. But, we also hope you'll share our BACK TO SCHOOL blog series with your friends! THANK YOU!

NOW. . .here's the lovely KAY WINTERS. . .

Back to School. . .with Author Kay Winters

It’s time! It’s time… for school to start again.
A magical time of year for most young children, and I have to confess, it always was for me as a kid and a teacher as well. As a writer, one of my favorite topics is school
I loved school! And now as an author I love school visits.

My very first book that was published was Did You See What I Saw? Poems about School. It came out in 1996 and I am pleased to say…it’s still in print. The poetry book is stuffed with mentor poems which children can eagerly adapt and write their own. For example, Behind Closed Doors takes the idea of what happens when school is out.
                  The chalk talk?
                  The floor snore?
                  The computer tutor?

Children create their own version…not only using the classroom setting but imagining what happens to objects on the playground or at home, in their bedrooms or kitchens.That poem also lends itself to being a poetry troupe, with each child saying one line and performing it. Did You See What I Saw? Poems about School was a selection in the Scholastic book club.

My next school book was My Teacher for President, illustrated by Denise Brunkus, who also illustrated the Junie B Jones book. Junie B winds up in this book as well, and to my great surprise so do I! She drew me as the President. In this book, Oliver writes to a TV station to say he has learned at school about the President’s job and his teacher would be just right. With the current hub-bub over the election, teachers and parents will be talking even more than usual about the job of the person in the oval office. Anyone who is or has been a teacher can identify with…
My teacher goes to lots of meetings…
She’s always signing important papers…
She acts quickly in an emergency
She believes in peace.
In some schools, I have visited, they had a voting booth and students selected the teacher who would be a good president. In other schools, students picked a family member or friend and wrote about their favorite candidate. My Teacher for President, was also in the Scholastic Book Club.

My third book using school as the location is The Bears go to School. A bear came to our house! There I was setting the table for Sunday dinner, when I looked out the screen door and saw a big black bear stroll across the lawn heading for the neighbor’s blueberry patch. I began to wonder … what if he went to school?

In this picture book Pete and Gabby, two bear cubs, decide to visit that red building with all those yellow busses outside. After watching the custodian raise the flag, the bears placed their paws on their hearts, as their mother had taught them to do at the park where they lived. The bears sneak inside, visit the music room, the gym and the art room. My favorite page is where they go in the science room and free the animals from their cages. In the cafeteria, they create havoc and the fire alarm is sounded. Back to their park they go, til next time. This book was selected as a Teacher’s Choice by the International Reading Association.

My fourth book about school is This School Year will be THE BEST! Illustrated by Renee Andriani.
Children sit on the rug on the first day and share what they think. . .
                                            I hope I get the best seat on the bus!
                                            I’ll look really good in my school picture.
                                            We’ll have a chocolate fountain at lunch!

Many teachers use this book at the end of the year, as well as the beginning to ask, “What would make next year THE BEST?”

I have a 5th school book under contract from Penguin. My editor called and asked if I would write another school poetry book. I was delighted! The Principal Kissed a Pig is being illustrated by Patrice Barton. The publication date is yet unknown.

School has been a rich and interesting subject matter for me as a writer. During my frequent school visits, I see that although much has changed students still love…
being read to,
choosing their own books
and responding to literature through art, drama, science and math projects.

I think we authors should be cheerleaders for reading. And I hope whether you are an author, a mother, a father, a teacher, or a student
this School Year will be THE BEST!

Kay Winters was a classroom teacher, reading specialist and college instructor, as well as a language arts consultant for the American International Schools in Egypt, Nepal, India, Jordan, Greece, Israel and Italy before changing jobs to follow her dream and write for children. She specializes in picture books and chapter books, ages 3 to 12. She has appeared on CSpan Book TV and PBS.  Her twenty-two books have won numerous awards, and she has two books under contract. She is a frequent speaker at colleges, regional and national conferences for teachers, writers and librarians and loves doing school visits.

THANK YOU, dear Readers, for stopping by. Don't forget to check out Kay's website: www.kaywinters.com  for more info about her school visits and picture book titles! Be sure to post a comment for Kay for a chance to win one of her books. The winner will be announced next week.

Our next BACK TO SCHOOL featured author is the fabulous Jamie Michalak who will be sharing with us about her humorous duo: JOE & SPARKY from her early reader series with Candlewick Press. (I love Joe & Sparky!)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Back to School with Author Claudia Mills + Giveaway

Dear Friends,

Over the next month, I'll be sharing books by several of my good friends, authors you've met on my blog, but THIS time the books are about school life in different genres--picture books with Kay Winters; early readers with Jamie Michalak; historical fiction with Joye Moyer Hostetter; and first up is my dear friend and poetry buddy, Author Claudia Mills, who shares wonderful memories of her own school days and writing her own school series: "Franklin School Friends"

Each author is generously donating a book for the comment contest and since school is the theme, we'd love to have you share a school memory with us. Of course, we're delighted just to have you drop by to say hello! Please do! The welcome mat is out and the light is on!

Back to School By Claudia Mills

Nerdy confession: I have always loved school.

I loved school before I ever went to school, as I sat watching “Romper Room” on my family’s black-and-white TV. Once I finally had the chance to go there, I adored real school even more. I still remember my favorite chapter of Dick-and-Jane, the one where Sally gets closed up in the big umbrella: “Oh! Oh! Funny Sally!”

I literally crossed off the days of summer vacation till school would begin again on the Tuesday after Labor Day. My fanatically frugal mother allowed only one splurge throughout our entire childhood: she was willing to spend lavishly on school supplies. What joy to heap the shopping cart with binders, notebook paper, “reinforcements” for the notebook paper holes, a special pencil box that had a map of the world on the lid. An elementary school teacher herself, she knew how to make school – and schoolwork – fun for us. Major projects called for the ceremonial setting up of the card table in a corner of the living room. How happily my sister sat there assembling her elaborate report on Uruguay, as I wrote a three-act play about Revolutionary War patriot Thomas Paine.

So now – surprise, surprise – I specialize in writing school stories. What I love most about school as a setting for fiction – besides my undying passion for school itself – is that school is an environment that puts kids in contact with people who are different from them in various, intriguing ways. Boys who would choose only to associate with fellow boys are seated next to girls, and vice versa. Kids whose lives revolve around reading find out how much they have in common with kids who are wild about sports. Teachers provide an adult presence contrasting with that of parents. A wider world opens.

As I write my books, I do have to remember – well, try to remember – that many of my young readers are not as smitten with school as I am and don’t faint with joy at the thought of the next school project. And yet . . . and yet . . . oh, school projects are such fun to write about! I’ve borrowed shamelessly from my sons’ elementary school experiences to build stories around the “biography tea” (Being Teddy Roosevelt), the third-grade space sleepover (How Oliver Olson Changed the World), a Civil War diary assignment (The Totally Made-Up Civil War Diary of Amanda MacLeish), an Oregon Trail journal assignment (The Trouble with Babies), and too many science fairs to mention.

My most recent series, “Franklin School Friends,” has let me luxuriate in the world of school over a series of five titles: Kelsey Green, Reading Queen; Annika Riz, Math Whiz; Izzy Barr, Running Star; Simon Ellis, Spelling Bee Champ; and Cody Harmon, King of Pets. (The break in the pattern of rhyming titles occurred when the series grew beyond the original three titles, in which Simon and Cody had already been given names that lacked rhyming potential.) I had the chance to write about a reading contest, PTA fundraising carnival, track-and-field day, spelling bee, and third grade pet show. Bliss!

I know it’s a bit weird to love school as much as I do. My own favorite character in the series is the Franklin School principal, Mr. Boone, whose chief character trait is his boundless enthusiasm for every single school activity. He promises to shave his big, bushy beard at the end of the reading contest, cheerfully enters the dunking tank a few dozen times at the school carnival, sprains his ankle bouncing on hoppy balls on field day, hosts a pie buffet for the spelling bee winners (featuring his famous honey pie – recipe included), and wears an elephant costume to school on pet show day. Finally, I have a character who unabashedly joins me in loving school deeply, fully, with all his whole heart. And I hope that maybe, just maybe, his enthusiasm for school, and mine, will prove contagious to young readers as well.

Honors and Awards for Franklin School Friends

Cody Harmon, King of Pets, illustrated by Rob Shepperson (Margaret Ferguson Books/FSG 2016). Junior Library Guild Selection; starred review in Kirkus, Amazon Pick of the Month June 2016.
Simon Ellis, Spelling Bee Champ, illustrated by Rob Shepperson (Margaret Ferguson Books/FSG 2015). Junior Library Guild Selection.
Izzy Barr, Running, Star, illustrated by Rob Shepperson (Margaret Ferguson Books/FSG 2015). Junior Library Guild selection.
Annika Riz, Math Whiz, illustrated by Rob Shepperson (Margaret Ferguson Books/FSG, 2014). Junior Library Guild selection; Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Books of the Year
Kelsey Green, Reading Queen, illustrated by Rob Shepperson (Margaret Ferguson Books/FSG 2013). Junior Library Guild selection, Cybil Award finalist for early chapter books, (Washington D.C. ) Capitol Choice book, nominated for the Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Award, the Rhode Island Children’s Book Award, the Massachusetts Children’s Book Award, and the Land of Enchantment (New Mexico) Book Award; translated into Korean and Chinese.

Claudia Mills Author | Home
Claudia Mills. Welcome to my website! I'm always glad to have a chance to let my readers get to know me a little bit better. I hope you'll introduce yourselves to me ...


Claudia Mills holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University and an M.L.S. degree (with a concentration in children’s literature) from the University of Maryland and is Associate Professor Emerita of Philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The author of almost 60 books for young readers, most recently Write This Down (Farrar) and The Trouble with Babies (Knopf), she has also published scholarly articles on Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, Maud Hart Lovelace, Betty MacDonald, Rosamond du Jardin, and Eleanor Estes. Her recent edited collection, Ethics and Children’s Literature (2014, Ashgate), won the Best Edited Book Award from the Children’s Literature Association. Her children’s books have been named Notable Books of the Year by the American Library Association and Best Books of the Year by the Bank Street College of Education, translated into half a dozen languages, and nominated for scores of state readers’ choice awards. A mother of two grown sons, and now “Mimsie” to two young granddaughters, she has written all her books between 5 and 7 in the morning, while drinking Swiss Miss hot chocolate.

Didn't Claudia's "Back to School" memories warm your heart and call to mind a few good memories of your own? We hope you had some happy times!

Claudia is donating a copy of one of her titles in the "Franklin School Friends" series. All you have to do for a chance to win a personalized book is to leave a comment! The winner gets to pick which title in the series he or she would like. I'll be back next week to announce the lucky winner!