Sunday, July 17, 2011

What I'm Reading This Summer

After completing a couple of projects and getting a few submissions into the mail, I decided to take a break from writing and focus on reading. This is difficult for me to do without feeling guilty about not writing. But the books I've chosen to read are probably some of the best choices I've made so it's helped me get over feeling too guilty. Here's a peek into what I've had on my nightstand, coffee table, kitchen table, car, pool...

Right now I'm in the middle of Moon Over Manifest which I happened to spot on the library shelf and couldn't understand why it wasn't checked out. So, although I had a handful of other books in my arms I added this one to my pile and I'm thoroughly enjoying it.

Our book club's choice this month is The Weight of Silence which I just couldn't put down and read it in just a few days leaving lots of time to read other books before our next meeting:)

Then I picked up this book, The Glass Castle which we were going to make a book club choice but didn't. Again, another book I couldn't put down. Reading this book made me count my childhood blessings over and over with each new chapter. My one-word description for this book...unbelievable!

And finally, I had this book on reserve, Heaven is for Real so I had to pick it up from the library. I started reading the book jacket, then the prologue, and then the first chapter. I found it so compelling I never put it down until I finished it that same night.

I have four days until our next book club meeting and the challenge is going to be how many more books can I read in the next four days...without feeling guilty!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Meet Guide Dog, Panzy

Dogs have helped guide people who are blind or visually impaired for many years. I found several people who are "puppy raisers" or people who volunteer to be foster families for puppies but I decided to approach The Seeing Eye in Morristown, New Jersey to find a guide dog and his partner for the Guide Dog Heroes  book. Living in close proximity to such a great resource I was able to tour their facility where they offered me access to their library and they even let a photographer take some great photos of guide dogs and their partners in action on the streets of Morristown.

ISBN 978-0-7660-3198-2
I never had the opportunity to meet Izzy and his guide dog Panzy in person during the writing of this book. Izzy was busy at school so we did the initial interview over the phone and then followed up with emails. Izzy explained that his email program reads aloud to him since he can't read from the computer. During school visits I explain to children how Izzy never had a guide dog until he went to college and found it difficult to get around both on campus and in his dorm room. When Izzy told me all the different ways Panzy helped him to lead a more independent life it touched my heart. He told me how Panzy helped him to ride the right train so he didn't have to rely on other people take him back and forth to school or work. My favorite story he told me was the time he took Panzy to class with the most boring teacher ever and even Panzy didn't want to stay he was so bored. Izzy made me laugh and cry with his stories.

All of the dogs featured in this series are heroes in their own special way. I'm grateful that I had the opportunity to speak with so many incredible people who have either changed people's lives by their passion for their work with dogs or have had their lives changed by a dog. A very wise person who knew little about this project told me I needed to go out and meet the dogs. She suggested I go to the dog show to speak with dog handlers. I realized later that maybe going to the dog show wasn't exactly right but perhaps her words  about meeting the dogs and their handlers was what I needed to take away from our conversation. It not only brought something special to each one of these books but it forever changed the way I view dogs.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Meet Therapy Dog, Tuxedo

Therapy dogs bring positive changes by visiting people. They often visit assisted-living centers and hospitals. Many libraries and schools use therapy dogs for their reading programs. Kids love to read to dogs and dogs love to listen!

Tuxedo is a Portuguese water dog, the same breed as the Obama's dog. I never heard of this breed until I met Tuxedo and his handler Melanie.I met Melanie and her mom through a friend who thought that they would be a good fit for my Therapy Dog Heroes book.They turned out to be perfect. Tuxedo was a very friendly and gentle dog. He kept sticking his head in my pocketbook that was on the floor and I couldn't understand why until I realized I had a bag of cough drops that he must have been able to smell. We look some pictures before we headed out to the assisted-living center where Melanie, her mom, and Tuxedo often visited. That's Tuxedo on the cover of the book!

ISBN 978-0-7660-3200-2
We spent an hour at the center visiting with people who anxiously came down the hallway into one of the dining rooms when we told them we were looking for people to be in pictures for a book. There was no lack of participation that's for sure and Tuxedo seemed to enjoy the attention. There was a time when most nursing homes would not allow animals to visit. That has changed, thanks to published research about the benefits of therapy dogs.

If  you have a dog that is calm, gentle, and especially friendly, you might consider training him as a therapy dog. Therapy dogs can be any breed. Before your dog can perform therapy work, he must be properly socialized and trained to receive certification and he should be checked over by a vet to make sure he's in good health.

Here's a picture my daugher's dog who lives with us provides us therapy all the time! He's a shih-poo, a shih-tzu/poodle mix and is often mistaken for a Portuguese water dog puppy.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Meet Service Dog Hero, Kazi

ISBN: 978-0-7660-3199-9

     Service dogs are trained to help make people who have physical disabilities live's easier.Service dog, Kazi does just that. He picks up dropped keys, pulls out pots from lower cabinets, and even opens the refrigerator door. When I was greeted by Jacqueline and her beautiful four-year-old golden retriever,Kazi wasn't wearing his working vest so I was able to pet him. After Jacqueline and I spoke for a while about how Kazi helps her to live a more independent life, it was time for Kazi to show me what he could do. Once Jacqueline strapped on Kazi's working vest, I wasn't allowed to pet him or talk to him. Jacqueline explained how this would distract him from doing his job. When I speak to children about service dogs I share the message that you should never approach a dog that is wearing a service vest because they are doing a job. Distracting a working dog of any kind could result in an injury to his handler. It is, however, okay to talk to the dog's handler. 
     In the Service Dog Heroes book I was able to include quotes from my interview with Dr. Bonnie Bergin who founded Canine Campanions for Independence, the first service dog program. Her program trained and assisted in the placement of service dogs for people with physical disabilities. I was amazed to find out that it was donkeys she saw being used in Turkey to help people walk and guide dogs being used in the United States that gave her the idea to train dogs to perform service work. In 1991, Dr. Bergin founded the Assistant Dog Institute at the Bergin University of Canine Studies in Santa Rosa, California. It is here where people learn to breed, train, and place service dogs with physically disabled people. Dr. Bergin continues her work today at the University and hopes that her students will discover new ways to improve on the amazing work she has already done.  
     Of all the interviews I conducted for this series, I have to say, Dr. Bergin's impacted me the most. I believe the events that led Dr. Bergin on the path to do the work she does were not coincidences, but that they were meant to be so people with physical disabilities would have the chance to live more independent lives. 
     I recently learned that the Service Dog Heroes book has been nominated as a finalist for the 2011 SCBWI Crystal Kite Member Choice Award. My hope is that this nomination will bring more attention and support to service dog programs and that this book will help educate young readers about service dogs.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Meet Fire Dog Hero, Ashly

     The proper name for fire dogs is accelerant detection dogs and when I do school visits I find the one dog hero children know the least about is the fire dog. I'm not surprised as it was also the job I was least familiar with.
     Fire dogs detect accelerants that help start or spread a fire and ultimately their work is used as evidence in court to help convict arsonists. I also learned that fire dogs perform field searches for evidence that the arsonist may have tried to hide. They can sniff clothes or other samples that may have been removed from the fire scene.
    Meet fire dog, Ashly and her handler, Deb Mullins. They work for the Dallas Fire Department. When I was looking for an arson dog and fire investigator for the Fire Dog Heroes book I came across Debra and Ashly on an internet search. They turned out to be a perfect match for the book. Debra was helpful in every way. The publisher loved this photo so much it made the front cover of the book!
Ashly is a Labrador retriever and Border collie mix. She was found abandoned and was rescued by two members of the Dallas Fire Department. Shortly after, Ashly was adopted by Debra.
When doing the research on the history of fire dogs, I learned that three instructors from the Connecticut State Canine Training Center were assigned to train the first fire dog, Mattie. I was able to track down Mattie's trainers. I interviewed Jim Butterworth and Doug Lancelot. They provided me with lots of  information and I was able include some great quotes in the book about Connecticut's accelerant detector dog program and how it started. Jim even offered to dig through old photographs and was able to provide the publisher with a photo of the him and Doug with Mattie. I was thrilled because I knew no else had this photo and it wouldn't be found in another book. Jim and Doug turned out to be great primary sources!
So many people helped with the research for this book from firefighters to handlers and trainers. I couldn't have done it without all of them!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Meet Search and Rescue Dog, Radar

ISBN 978-0-7660-3201-9

Two-page spread.

Search and rescue K–9 teams most often help search for lost or missing people. Radar was a search and rescue dog with a sheriff's department. I've met with his handler, Lt. Mitch Ellicott numerous times as Mitch is a very experienced handler who is passionate about his dogs and his work. While I was able to tell Radar's story in the Search and Rescue Dog Heroes book, I never had the opportunity to meet him. During the writing of the book, Radar passed away. The book is dedicated to Lt. Ellicott and to the memory of his K–9 Radar.

K–9 Radar during a training session.

     As I continued to be in touch with Mitch during the many stages of writing the book he told about his new
K–9, Blaze that he was training. Three months into training Blaze, Mitch invited me to come and watch Blaze perform a training exercise in the woods. How could I not go?
     A fellow officer went into the woods while we played fetch with Blaze in a nearby field. After about ten minutes, Mitch put Blaze's working vest on, brought Blaze to the edge of the woods, and gave him the search command. I followed Mitch and Blaze into the woods not on a marked path. It was only a few minutes before I could tell Blaze had caught the scent of the hidden officer. In less than ten minutes Blaze located the officer crouched down behind a huge rock. During school visits I ask kids what they think is Blaze's reward  for his finds. Many guess a dog treat or food. They giggle when I tell them it's a tennis ball since this is Blaze's favorite toy. Mitch explained that Blaze only had a few months of training and he would continue to train him to perform more complex tasks in the months ahead. I appreciated that Mitch invited me to watch a search. It helped me understand how these dogs work by seeing it first-hand. I like to tell the kids about my trek through the woods. I think it's important for children to know that writers don't just do their research in the library or while sitting at their computers. 
     While writing this series I tried to use as many primary sources as possible. In doing so, I not only wrote  well-researched books, I met some amazing dogs and their handlers who are all truly heroes to me.
Me presenting the Search and Rescue Dog Heroes
 book to Lt. Mitch Ellicott and K–9 Blaze.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Meet Police Dog Hero, Lucky!

For Grades 3–4
ISBN 978-0-7660-3197-5

2-page spread from Police Dog Heroes
This week I'll be blogging about my new series, Amazing Working Dogs with American Humane. I thought it would be only fitting to start with my Police Dog Heroes book since police dog, Lucky and Officer Shawn Mead from the Edison Police Department will be joining me at a book signing at Camp Bow Wow in Middlesex, New Jersey on Sunday, April 3rd from 11 a.m. - 1 p.m..  People can meet the police dog featured in the book and Officer Mead can answer any questions you may have about police dogs. All of the books from this series will be on hand to purchase and Camp Bow Wow is donating a portion of the proceeds to  the Bow Wow Buddies Foundation who is now raising funds for the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation who has a team assisting in Japan. For more information about the book signing and Camp Bow Wow click here. I grew up in Middlesex and Camp Bow Wow is actually just around the corner from where I lived so I'm so excited about this event and hope some of my hometown friends (and my Mom) will stop by to see me.

Me presenting Officer Mead and Lucky with a copy of
"Police Dog Heroes" at a  press conference.

     I ask kids at school visits how they think I met Officer Mead and police dog, Lucky. One of the funniest responses I've received was from a student who yelled out, "You got pulled over!" The truth is, I met officer Mead during an unfortunate accident. I was playing softball in Edison when a player on the other team got hurt and we had to call an ambulance. Officer Mead arrived on the scene to assist and I noticed his patrol car said "caninie" on the side. I approached him and briefly explained the project I was working on and how I needed a real police dog story to include in the book. We exchanged business cards and later discussed the project through emails.     
     After receiving permission from the police department, Officer Mead agreed to help with this project. People who agree to assist an author with a book need to know up front that it will take up some of their time. Officer Mead was kind enough to agree to meet with me in person for an interview.

Officer Shawn Mead and K–9 Lucky from the Edison Police Dept.

     He brought Lucky with him in his patrol car so I could even see how his patrol car is specially equipped for a police dog. Following the interview, Officer Mead continued to help answer questions I had not only about Lucky but about police dogs in general. During the revision process I was in touch with Officer Mead on a daily basis as questions arose and fact checking was essential.
     I learned that police dogs work hard on the job but what I didn't know was that when these dogs are not working they are the family's pet. I also came to learn about the close bond between the handler and their dog, so close that I find it hard to describe in words. I also learned that when the use of police dogs spread to the United States from Europe, it was in South Orange, New Jersey that three police dogs could be seen patrolling the streets in the spring of 1907.  I was able obtain a copy of a 1956 newspaper article about the use of police dogs in London that caught the attention of the Baltimore, Maryland police department. The city of Baltimore is still known for its K–9 training center today. Police representatives from all over the United States and other countries have traveled to the center to have their K–9 units trained.
     I worked on this series for nearly two years, so to finally see it in print is very rewarding. Talking to children and using these books as a tool for teaching children about canine heroes is everything I hoped it would be.

"These books are clearly written in personable style, with plenty of anecdotal and factual information, which makes them suitable for report writing and enjoyable for general reading."
     On Guide Dog Heroes, Police Dog Heroes, Service Dog Heroes
                     School Library Journal March 2011

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday Five

1. More snow dumped on central New Jersey. Need I say more? Oh yeah, there's broom buried in the snow somewhere next to the driveway. I stuck it in the snow and then I think it got buried by the snowblower. I made a meager attempt to find it but then decided it was easier to just buy a new one or not do any sweeping until spring.

2. Worked on several writing proposals this week to send out to more educational publishers. I forget how time consuming these proposals can be but I wanted to get them done before my writing class starts next week.

3. Researching packagers to submit to. I've never submitted to packagers before so this is a first for me.

4. I have designated one morning each weekend to taking the Princess Next Door to Panera to sprinkle some fairy dust and wave my magic wand over her. She's in the middle of being ripped apart so I'm hoping to put her back together this weekend.

5.  I'm REALLY enjoying our current book club book, The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. I'm so glad the weekend is here so I can read more!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Submitting to School and Library Publishers

The beginning of the year is when I revisit all of the school and library publishers and update them with my writing resume, unedited writing samples, and a list of book proposals. This takes alot of time because I need to do my homework. I browse their latest catalogs and websites so I can see if my book ideas might be a good fit for their list. You don't usually find these editors at conferences, so my annual or bi-annual submissions are my way of touching base with them. If anyone has any questions on how to solicit freelance nonfiction projects with school and library publishers I'd be happy to help you get started.

If you're a librarian or teacher that has seen a need for a particular subject for specific grades, authors are your links to publishers. Many of my ideas for book proposals are given to me by teachers and librarians. My new series, I Love My Dog, came from librarians who loved the My First Pet series and encouraged me to ask the publisher for a series of dog breeds.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

No Name Calling Week

January 24 - 28th this year has been designated as No Name Calling Week. This is the first year I've heard about it so I'm wondering how many schools are planning activities. I found this on the website:

"Motivated by this simple, yet powerful, idea, the No Name-Calling Week Coalition, created by GLSEN and Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, and consisting of over 40 national partner organizations, organized an actual No Name-Calling Week in schools across the nation during the week of March 1-5, 2004. The project seeks to focus national attention on the problem of name-calling in schools, and to provide students and educators with the tools and inspiration to launch an on-going dialogue about ways to eliminate name-calling in their communities."

When I went to school I remember people having nicknames, but I don't recall being called any harmful  names in school. Were there bullies? I'm sure there were. I guess I was one of the lucky ones that was never bullied. I don't remember my parents ever asking me if anyone was bothering me at school, a practice I took up several years ago with my teenage daughter. I occasionally work it into our everyday conversation when I ask how her day was or ask what she learned that particular day. I figure it doesn't hurt to ask. I never thought to ask her if anyone is calling her any hurtful names. No Name Calling Week sounds like a good time to start.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New Jersey SCBWI Conference

Pre-registration is open for the annual New Jersey SCBWI conference held in Princeton. I missed the conference last year so I'm really looking forward to attending this year. I hope you'll join me!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Picture Book Marathon

Looks like I'm going to be very busy. The Picture Book Marathon is about to begin. I participated last year and came up with some great new picture book ideas. It's not to late to join. The marathon starts in February 1st. Pair that with the a six-week Creative Writing Course I won from the Gotham Writers' Workshop through their sweepstakes and it seems like 2011 is off to a super start!
Here's the complete list of winners.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Writing Contest

I can't resist entering the Children's Writer Kindergarten Story Contest. I challenge everyone to join me, Super Author, to write a super story. The theme is fiction or nonfiction about family life or school for ages 5 to 6, up to 150 words. Sounds simple right? 150 words is nothing, right? Wrong. That's the challenge. Have you ever tried to write a story in just 150 words? If you haven't, now is the perfect time to give it a try because you can win up to $500 in this super contest.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Super Author

So I've already met one of my New Year's resolutions and that was to start a new blog. So here I am, ready for a new beginning in 2011. Each year I like to think of a theme. This year's theme is Super Author. I don't know..I just think it's cool. A co-worker found this great clip art and thought it looked like me and he even called it "Super Author." I loved it and decided to make it my theme for 2011.

Super Author, Linda Bozzo is going to do some super things in 2011 so check back often!