Sunday, February 28, 2021

Work Ethic + x = Success

Hello, Willard Wild Cats! Thanks for letting us get in on the CLAWS thing!

For my post today, I'm going to focus on the W, work ethic, because I think it's the key to success in any endeavor.

In my latest book, Wonder Women of Science, my co-author Tiera Fletcher and I had the pleasure of interviewing a dozen extremely smart women who are killing in right now in various STEM fields. (Tiera actually rounds out the baker's dozen: she is a rocket scientist working with NASA on the Mars mission!) Some of the women we interviewed were blessed with natural talent. They never struggled in school and were always at the top of their classes. But a few of the women in our book did struggle. So how'd they make it?

In 2017, Dr. Mareena Robinson Snowden, now a senior engineer at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, became the first black woman to earn a Ph.D in Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT. Not too shabby! 

You'd probably assume that she was naturally great in her STEM classes, but that actually wasn't the case.  She told us, "There were other students in my classes who 'got it' immediately, whatever the concept was. That wasn't me. I absolutely hated those math problems that said things like, 'It is intuitively obvious that...' or 'It can easily be derived...' because math wasn't intuitively obvious to me or easy to derive." So Robinson Snowden put in the work, and that's what she credits for her success. "There are a lot of talented people who never realize their goals because they don't have the work ethic," she told us. 

I am so grateful that Dr. Robinson Snowden shared that with us. When something isn't easy, it's so tempting to just say, "That's not my thing," and give up too quickly. But people such as Robinson Snowden can inspire us to keep working towards our goals. 

Maybe someday, someone will be writing a book about highly successful people and include YOU!

Ginger Rue's next book, Wonder Women of Science, is now available for pre-order. Co-authored with rocket scientist Tiera Fletcher, who is currently working with NASA on the Mars mission, the book profiles a dozen amazing women (besides Tiera!) who are blazing new trails in their respective STEM fields.  

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Even When I Don't Want To (Holly Schindler)

Most students I talk to want to know where I get my ideas. I think most students (and even young writers) believe it happens this way:

Idea First. Writing Second.

Truth time: It doesn't happen that way at all.

One of my favorite quotes about creativity comes, I believe, from Stephen King: "Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration. The rest of us just get to work."

The thing is, I work usually ten hour days. That's ten hours of actual work. The clock stops when I'm cooking or walking my dog or doing anything non-writing-related. Do I always know exactly what I'm doing when I sit down to write? Nope. In fact, some days, I feel totally lost. I feel like every sentence is wrecking a project I'd loved just a couple of days earlier. 

But I don't quit. I keep going.

That's the thing about doing something creative. Yes, sometimes, it's a ton of fun. Other times, it's confusing and hard. Still others, it feels like there are no good ideas to come by. 

That's when it's most important to show up and get to work. To brainstorm. To talk the problem through with someone I trust. If it's a technical problem (something's going wonky with software or I can't get a cover to come out like I'd like), I hit YouTube for some instructional videos. 

I know, as a student, there are times when your least favorite subject (mine was math) makes you feel like you're slamming your head against  the wall. It feels tedious and boring and pointless. But in all honesty, it's great training. In order to do any job, you'll have tasks along the way that feel boring and pointless. You have to do the boring, unfun tasks right along with the fun ones. 

You have to show up, even when the work doesn't feel good. You have to show up when you have no answers for the questions you have. 

You don't wait for inspiration. You just work through it.

That's what having a great work ethic is. It's showing up even when you don't want to. It's working through the hard patches and making sure the job gets done. Without it, the job very rarely gets done. I know I never would have ever finished a book, let alone published one. 

So do yourself a favor. Show up today. Do the work. The math problem. The history chapter. Work through it.

Trust me. You'll thank yourself later.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

What Does Your Imagination Serve? Smack Dab in the Imagination by Dia Calhoun

Writer and psychologist James Hollis invites us to ask: What am I living my life in service to? What ideas? Whose ideas? If we don't consciously ask ourselves this question, we will often live it out unconsciously, destructively, materialistically. Money. Stuff. Likes. Processed Vanilla Wafer Ideas. Contemporary Pop Culture's Vanishing Point. Mind-numbing Entertainment.

As a writer, I like to ask this related question: What is my imagination in service to?" This doesn't mean what "message" do I want to communicate through my work. It means what values do I want my imagination to serve. Truth. The quiet moment that will hum through time. The bigger picture conveyed through the exquisitely chosen detail. Our inseparable inter-connection with the good, green world. The spirit that wants to flower. The hum of the honeybee making sweetness.

What do you want your imagination to bring into the world? Our world, with its blizzard of troubles, needs what can only be born into the world through your eye, your pen, your paintbrush, and the lens of your own heart.

What will your imagination serve? Decide. Then bring it.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Just Lead the Way

by Charlotte Bennardo

Of the five traits, I think leadership is the hardest to be successful at. It demands that we step up to a challenge, step out of our comfort zone, and step into the unknown. It takes guts to convince people to do something, to put yourself out there, knowing there is a chance (sometimes a good one) that you'll fail. 

But I believe we all have it in us- if we feel the need is there. I live in a suburban neighborhood. The bus stop for our block and the next one over sits at the corner. Too many times drivers (young and old alike, certainly those who should have known better) zipped around the corner. When confronted the excuse was always the same: "Well, there's no stop sign. I don't have to stop." After one particularly harrowing experience where a former neighbor, speeding to get his child to daycare almost ran my kindergarten son and me over, I'd had enough. I called the town, the police, and the highway department about getting a stop sign put there. Of course I got the run around from every authority. I even offered to buy the sign, but was told, "Oh no, you can't do that." Did they really think I was going to be okay with letting my child, and all the others, stay in a dangerous situation? Hardly. It would have been easy to say "I tried" and I did, but I wasn't accepting defeat. 

I went right to the mayor. I pointed out that when a child got killed, it would be too late to do something then, and I would be the first to tell my story about how I petitioned for a stop sign but was turned down.

Here's my sign:

And, because I'd added that there was another intersection as dangerous just down the block, they put a sign there, too. My friends teased me saying I needed to get a sign in their neighborhood. (I don't know if any of them followed my example.)

There are opportunities for leadership everywhere, even if you're a kid. Think of Alexandra Scott, the young cancer victim who started a lemonade stand to help fight cancer. Today, Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation continues, even though she died. Think of Anne Frank, trying to keep up the spirits of everyone around her during the Nazi hunts. Everyone knows Helen Keller and how she became the world renowned advocate for the blind and deaf. Do you know about Yash Gupta, a 9th grader who started a foundation to donate used eyeglasses to kids in thir world countries who couldn't afford them? Or Kyle Freas, who wanted to help homeless, abused, and critically ill children and animals, and the Dallas Zoo, so he started the Youth Together Foundation. 

While ficitonal stories may be fun, the non-fiction stories about the people in our world who stood up and became leaders is far more fascinating- and inspiring. In your own town, you may know of a boy who uses his birthday money to buy food for someone. Or a girl who uses her sewing skills to make blankets for shelter dogs. 

If it's important, it needs to be done- and someone needs to lead the way. Why not you?

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Kindness in Five Minutes or Less

Five ways to choose kindness in five minutes or less:

Take five minutes to write a quick note to a friend letting them know how much you appreciate their friendship.  Send is snail mail.  Your friend will receive a surprise that will keep them smiling much longer than five minutes.

Take four minutes to do a household task for a family member.  Their pleasure in finding the task completed will last much longer than four minutes.

Take three minutes to leave a post-it note for a family member somewhere in the house thanking them for something they've recently done for you.  Their gratefulness for your thanks will last much longer than three minutes.

Take two minutes to use social media to thank an author for one of their books.  You'll be encouraging them and promoting their work all at the same time.  An author's gratitude for this will last much long than two minutes.

Take one minute to thank the Wal-Mart worker who helps all the hurried and disgruntled shoppers struggling through the self-checkout lane.  That employee's appreciation for your thanks will last much longer than one minute.

So, the dividends of small acts of kindness are much greater than the time it takes us to do them.  Just think of how many more smiles, how much more gratefulness, how much more gratitude, and how much more appreciation would be all around us if we all took five minutes or less for kindness.

Happy Small Acts of Kindness,

Nancy J. Cavanaugh    

Friday, February 19, 2021

Acts of Service in my Writing and Life

When I began to write, I explored topics I loved, was motivated towards and believed in. 


But also, service. Cats across the globe who are homeless and live without care or love. Lack of education that lead to more and more kittens and over-run, poorly-funded animal shelters. 

Growing up a country kid, my family saw our share of stray animals. Often, a car would drop them off in our yard and leave. It saddened me to no end. 

After penning my first two middle grade mystery novels featuring Ace the Cat, I wanted to give Ace a voice big enough to serve and educate people and cat lovers about the issues pets face. Several of the felines in the mystery live without a companion or a steady home. They create networks between themselves, even work to find homes for their kind. It was my way of giving the nameless, faceless cats at shelters and in the streets a voice. 

I also became a volunteer with a local pet food pantry. Often, people find themselves in dire needs or out of a job and cannot afford to keep their pet or pets. Thus, many are left on their own. Our program was non-profit and we worked to stock a pet food pantry. With vouchers, pet owners came to us for cat or dog food in all varieties to better help them get through rough patches and still have their buddies warm and safe with them. 

I still believe in taking care of animals and providing service to give these furry buddies a voice. 

Last summer, my fiancé and I adopted a cat from a shelter - Emma. It turned out Emma herself also believed in service. She was a homeless young mom with her own kittens - already hard without a home. But when a stray bunch of older kittens without a mother found Emma’s family, Emma took them in, too. Emma was the last one left at the shelter. All her kittens had been adopted. She’s now 2 years old and an absolute joy. 

Happy reading!

AM Bostwick


Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Inspired, Compassionate, Involved

    Three little words. 

    No. Not those. 

    These three little words were chosen years ago at my school.  They encompass all that we hope our students can be, and all they will become. Inspired. Compassionate. Involved. Of course, our job as educators is to help kids learn reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. To show them the importance of art, music, and exercise in the creation of a balanced life. But our role doesn't end there. We also have a responsibility to do our best to elevate our students to greater things. Hence, those three little words.
    We've inspired our students by bringing in successful athletes, authors and artists to speak to classes and to work with them. Nick Hanson, who is known as the Eskimo Ninja Warrior, Nicole Johnston, one of the most successful athletes in the history of the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics, and Olympic cross-country skier Aelin Allegood, have spoken, done demonstrations, and taught at our school. Matt de la Peña, Tricia Brown, Mary Shaw and "String Man" David Titus have visited, reading their books and interacting with students. And one of the best things that happens regularly at our school is the Artist in Residence program, where a local artist spends two weeks at the school and works with students to create some form of art. Cartoonist Jamie Smith, painter Iris Sutton and glass artist, Margaret Donat are some who've spent time at Pearl Creek in recent years.
    Compassion is something that our staff works to instill in our students, through classroom lessons, thoughtfully selected literature, and special events. When the remote and isolated village of Kaktovik lost its school to a fire last spring, Pearl Creek's community came together to provide hundreds of books to start a new library for them, and a parent who worked for the Fish and Wildlife Service arranged for free delivery on a supply flight. Previously there had been a winter gear collection for the village of Savoonga, a coin drive for Becky's Fund, annual food drives to support the community food bank, a pet food drive for the local animal shelter, a Math-a-thon to support St. Jude's hospital, and another collecting special items for The Door, a shelter for homeless teens. 
    We have a school garden, and all classes find some way to become involved in spring-time planting and fall harvest, which then culminates in an annual Harvest Festival, which many people think is one of the best days of the year. One of our first-grade teachers has developed a relationship with the elders of the Fairbanks Native Association, which has evolved into a yearly schoolwide potluck, and an enduring friendship. Our school demographic is not terribly diverse, and is primarily white collar and privileged. It's so important for children who tend to have their needs met to recognize that there are many others who do not. We help them recognize that they can do something about the ills they see in the world, that they too can become involved.
    I have been so fortunate that three of my own children have been able to go through Pearl Creek Elementary. Not only did they get a great education, but I believe that it made them better people. After all, school is not just about teaching the traditional "Three R's." It's also about helping our students become the best people they can be, so that they can grow up to be caring and contributing human beings. 

Monday, February 15, 2021

A Message from Bobbi

 Life has gotten a bit too demanding of late. Just wanted you to know that I'll be taking a hiatus for a bit while I take care of a few things. Hope all is going well with you, and I'll see you soon!


Sunday, February 14, 2021

Take One, Leave One (Make a difference!) by Jennifer Mitchell

As an educator, I believe providing students with an education is more than just academics.  Over the course of my career I’ve realized how important it is to build character education within the school.  One of the ways I try to promote leadership is by hosting an after school Service Club with some colleagues.  Service Club fosters the belief that we can make a positive impact on the lives of others.  At our meetings we ask the students how they can make a difference within the school, or the community.  We take the ideas and then vote on which ones to implement first. 

In the past, we have picked up trash around the school, collected toiletries for overseas soldiers, made Valentine Cards for the patients at Children’s Mercy, created bulletin boards promoting leadership in our school, collected money for Alex’s Lemonade stand, and the list goes on.  One of my favorite projects we have implemented is called, Take One, Leave One.  This idea came after I went to an art fair at the Plaza, in Kansas City.  At one of the booths someone had taken baseball card holders and placed tiny sketches in the pockets.  The idea was that you took one, but created one to leave in its place.  I loved the idea, but wanted to add the twist of leaving a positive message to go with the artwork.  I loved how these tiny messages could change the attitude or outlook of someone’s day.  Our Service Club placed some baseball card holders in the hall and left the first batch of positive messages.  We then left blank cards on a desk for students to create one and leave once they took one.  For me it was such a simple idea, but has instilled in our students how small acts of kindness can make a difference in your day.  

As a teacher, academics is obviously our top priority, but when students leave us with both academics and leadership skills it makes you feel proud knowing these are our future leaders!

Happy Valentine's Day!


Saturday, February 13, 2021

Even Fictional Characters Can Have CLAWS

by Debbie Smith

Because I spend a good part of my day reading books and writing reviews, I immediately thought about sharing a book where the character displayed CLAWS, yet still had room for growth. And though there were several good books that I could have chosen, I decided on one of my favorite middle-grade books, A Many Feathered Thing by Lisa Gerlits.

Clara and Orion Will Take You On An Interesting Journey

The Journey Begins

When eleven-year-old Clara, whose full name is Clarity Kartoffel, and her friend Orion break their neighbor's glass gazing ball, it is a bigger problem than you might imagine. Why? Because rumors have been flying around for years about the scary old man who lives at the end of the street. 

Yes, the very man who lives in the house that once was adorned with an intact gazing ball!

What about an artist's life?

Clara is a budding artist who, through research, has decided that most "real" artists live or have lived a tough and tortured life. So even before this horrible gazing ball accident, she'd begun to realize that her present life wasn't indicative of a true artist. 

So what's a non-tortured, budding artist to do?

Why of course she should suffer like a true artist and trudge up the scary walkway to the scary old house and apologize to the frightening old man. She will ask what she can do to make things right.

And she will do this all alone. After all, Orion has asthma and there's no need to overexcite him.

Surely what she is doing will contribute to a tough, tortured life, right? And it's just the right thing to do, anyway.

But what Clara discovers inside old Mr. Vogelman's house completely surprises her and leads her on a new journey. One far from what she could have ever imagined.

What's the deal?

To pay for the broken glass ball Clara and the old, sometimes scary Vogelman strike up an unusual deal. You see, while waiting to apologize, Clara stumbles on the fact that her reclusive neighbor is an artist. They make an arrangement that ends up working for both of them. She can be his helper as he works on his art. He ends up challenging her to throw away her eraser and drawing what she sees, not what she wants to see

Huh? Do you have to be an artist to understand that?.  

. . . and other stuff

As if paying off a broken gazing ball isn't enough, Clara gets paired up on a project with a new girl in her class, and Orion and Clara face a challenge regarding their friendship.

 And The Real Tragedy Comes Crashing Down

Life is always full of opportunities to grow and learn. In this book both Orion and Clara allow you to amble down their eye-opening, wonderful journey that starts with a broken gazing ball and ends with lots of new understanding of people, circumstances, bullying, sadness, and much more.


When you read a book do you search for characters with CLAWS?

Friday, February 12, 2021

Speaking of Character by Darlene Beck Jacobson

In keeping with our CLAWS theme this month, I am going to speak a bit about CHARACTER and how it relates to my own storytelling.When I looked up character in my trusty old Webster's New World Dictionary there were sixteen definitions for the word.

Bendon Webster's Dictionary of The English Language

The ones that cut to the heart of Character for me as a writer are also the ones that build the best qualities in individuals as characters.

A distinctive quality or trait

The pattern of behavior or personality found in an individual or group.

Moral strength or fortitude

An odd, eccentric, or noteworthy person.

 A person in a story or novel. 

Which brings us to a writer's use of the word. For some authors, a solid idea and plot structure are the elements that launch a story. Others might have a setting so compelling they have to write about it to see where it takes them.

For me, a story always begins with CHARACTER. Or the strong, insistent voice of a character that will not be silenced. A voice that begs me to "listen, take note, pay attention because what I have to say is really important."

Ignoring the voice is not an option, When  I listen, I am amazed at the things the character tells me and how the story begins to grow. Even when I get stuck in the muddy middle of a manuscript, when I tune back into that character's voice, I usually get back on track and find a way out of the hole I'm in.

For me, the voice of the character leads to those qualities of character we want to see in our heroes and heroines.When you let a character take over, anything can happen. That's the best kind of writing there is.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

The Power of Knowing

 by Jody Feldman

I was in 1st or 2nd grade when I stumbled upon a report from a parent/teacher conference. Even though it was somewhere in the open – probably sitting on my parents’ dresser, until they could file it will other schoolwork – I stealthily read it.

The generic evaluation list was annotated with the usual high marks along with comments, probably praising my reading skills, my cooperative nature, and my ability to listen (no one knew the extent of my daydreaming). It was one note, however, that I still remember to this day, a single sentence that forever changed my life. It said something like this: Jody is a natural leader, who doesn’t seem to know exactly how much the other children listen to and follow her. 

It was a shock to my system. Me? A leader? Shy people aren’t leaders.

I can’t say I truly believed it. For certain, I didn’t act on it, at least not deliberately. But knowing that an unbiased observer deemed it true – seeing those words in print – brought out a certain confidence that grew as I did.

Would I have run for office and joined leadership teams in junior high, high school, and college if my teacher hadn’t written that? Would I have served on executive boards in various organizations since? Impossible to know.

What I do know is this: A person will not remember random snapshots in time unless those moments make an impact. As people – writers, educators, parents, children, relatives, friends, of any age – we have the power by a word or a smile or even a nod to make an impact. Quite simply, the power of knowing can change lives.


Wednesday, February 10, 2021

The Power of Service

Debbie Poslosky

The power of service became so clear to me during one year when I was teaching fourth graders.  So many in this class of children were bullies-and they didn’t even realize it.  It was just how “they did things”.  A particular group of boys constantly made fun of everyone-but especially the two children in our class with special needs. The traditional way of dealing with bullies, such as stern talks, conferences with parents, in school suspension in the principal's office did not work. This has always been a real trigger for me personally, having been bullied myself as a young child.  I decided I needed to do something totally unexpected and very “in your face” about treating all people with respect.  

Most bullies operate on putting on a bravado because they are scared of people who are different.  I asked questions like, “If you see a person in a wheelchair, would feel comfortable going up to the person to say hello?”  “How do you feel when you are in a restaurant and you hear someone speaking loudly and not clearly?” I began by doing a survey with this class trying to get attitudinal data as to how they perceive people who are different.  I called a school in St. Louis county who teaches children with developmental and special needs.  My principal and the parents were on board with our class going to that school to become their buddies.  My hope was that once my students experienced these kids as real people who need and want the same things they do, their opinions would change.

 It was a huge risk.  In explaining to the kids that we were going to begin I just spoke about how these children are looking for some friends.  I did not explain the “why” of wanting to do this...yet.  One child in particular really pushed back and said he didn’t want to go. Yep, the leader of the pack.  Some kids were really scared about going.  But we did go.  The first time was a huge eye opener for my students. They hugged the walls and just watched.  They watched how friendly these boys and girls were.  They noticed how their teachers treated their students just the way I treat them..  They noticed how hard it was for some to do the simplest things, but they were not sad about it at all!  Every student there just wanted to make a friend and were so happy to meet them! 

We processed when we got back and did a lot of talking.  The next visit, some of my students were beginning to engage, and as more did, others watched.  When those children shared their experiences, that is when I noticed a change coming.  Through many visits every single child in my class was totally engaged when we were there, looked forward to the visit, and felt so good about themselves.  The children in the other school would light up, clap, and be SO happy that our class was there.  My students became very protective of their “buddy” and began to know their personalities and often would make suggestions for example, what to bring or do with their buddy.  

At the end of the year we invited those children to visit our school.  Imagine the day when students at my west county elementary school saw a busload of kids with many physical and intellectual needs come down the hall! My biggest bully became the biggest cheerleader as he welcomed them to our school.  When another student walked by and made a snide comment, he stepped right up and explained that it is hurtful and his buddy is a real person and has feelings!  It was the most miraculous thing to witness. The last week of school I gave the students the same survey I gave before we started.  The differences in their attitudes was 180 degrees.  BOTH groups of children benefited so greatly from this partnership.  I was able to do this for three years before the district laid down all these liability issues and canned the program.  Yet, learning that when you allow yourself to look past the disability and see the human being inside, there is nothing to be scared of, and it is possible to be friends and champions of everyone.  Throughout the years students from that first class that did this service project would contact me to tell me they used this experience in college essays, and some said they went into special education because of this experience.  When we are able to open up our minds to learning, responding, and changing, our lives become better.  We ended up that year and every year after creating a school wide support patrol of my kids mentoring younger kids who were bullies! They made slideshows, gave talks, and shadowed the younger kids at recess to do “real time” intervention when bullying occurred.  Service. So powerful in all kinds of ways. Sometimes for your entire life.

Monday, February 8, 2021


"One of life's many lessons . . . ," Megan's dad tells her early in my novel NATURE GIRL.

Megan groans, of course.  She doesn't want a lecture. She just wants to avoid being forced to go on a punitive hike in the woods. But she gets Dad's lecture anyway.

"We don't always have control over our situations. But there is one thing we can control––our minds. Even if you can't change your circumstances, you can always change your attitude."

Megan thinks her dad is WRONG. She could easily change her circumstances. All she has to do is go back to the house and flop down on the sofa in front of the TV. But she thinks it's totally impossible for her to even PRETEND to like hiking in the creepy Woods. 

Her dad is right, however. She will never move past her unhappiness until she changes her attitude.

This illustration shows Megan's unhappy view of herself. The dots are mosquitoes. 

(Illustration by Heather Palisi) 

The things we have most control over is our view of our circumstances. If we're able to change that view, we can be happier and more productive.

But how can we change our attitude? 

Being a writer gave me a big advantage. I had control over Megan AND her attitude AND her circumstances. 

I could shape events to make her go on that hike, be miserable, learn some lessons, and become a better person for that. In the end, I could let her succeed.

Megan's story has resonated with many young readers. I think that's because as I wrote it I was actually shaping my own journey as a writer. I also had to change my attitude. My confidence needed strengthening. In order to help Megan and myself, I included some important things.

1. A goal. Without motivation, it's hard to move forward. Megan knew she was unhappy and wanted to do something about it. She wanted to be reunited with her friend. I wanted this novel to find a publisher.

2.  Reasonable challenges that could be accomplished. Megan couldn't cure her friend's mother's cancer. But she could dedicate her hike to that cause. And I could tackle a project that suited my abilities.

3. A Guide. We both benefited from Trail Blaze Betty's wisdom. As she said, "The only way to fail is to quit."

4. The chance to make good choices. Megan must eat some food she doesn't like and be willing to ask for help when she needs it. The same was true for me.

5. The time to reflect upon her experiences. It's hard to learn from our mistakes if we don't take the time to analyze what's going wrong and just as importantly what's going right. 

6. Success. I could give Megan a happy ending. I couldn't completely control finding a publisher. But I knew I had increased my chances of that by doing my best. And not quitting!

Unfortunately there wasn't much that could be done about those mosquitoes.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Small Acts of Service

I’m grateful that I’ve already had many opportunities in my life to give back to others. In high school, I was a part of a Student Senate group that had the chance to travel to New Orleans and participate in the Youth Rebuilding New Orleans project. On this service trip my classmates and I were able to aid the organization in their mission to rebuild houses that suffered great damage during Hurricane Katrina. The type of work we did was basically grunt work, nothing glamorous. We spent hours stripping nails from walls and shoveling rocks. But I remember being impressed at everyone’s attitude throughout the long day. The small tasks we were doing at times felt useless, but stepping back and looking at the big picture, it was evident that we did a lot of good for the organization. The trip taught me a lot about attitude and leadership. I think that when it comes down to it, leadership is about keeping a good attitude while modeling tasks that, to the leader, may seem unimportant.

More recently, I’ve had another opportunity where I’ve been able to give back to the community through seemingly small/unimportant acts of service. Last spring, just before COVID hit, some fellow MSU students and I were able to serve at Eden Village, a tiny home community for the chronically homeless. During this service day, I helped clean up the tiny neighborhood, plant flowers, and pave new brick walkways. Again these tasks felt small and somewhat unimportant. But when the man in charge of the organization mentioned how the flowers that might sprout up in the coming months could greatly improve the mental health of the tiny home residents, I understood that those acts could be worthwhile. I think in a time like we are going through right now, where people seem to be more isolated from one another it’s important to find your own personal moments of leadership where you might model the small act of doing something kind for another.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

D-39: A Robodog's Journey Has CLAWS

Hello Willard Wild Cats! Thank you for sharing your school theme with us this month. I decided to apply your CLAWS to my new middle grade dystopian verse novel D-39: A ROBODOG'S JOURNEY, which will be released from Charlesbridge May 18, 2021.

Character: In a world where real dogs have been outlawed, D-39 is a relic, and Klynt is glad to tinker him back to life and add him to her Museum of Fond Memories. That tells you something about her character! D-39 is one of the most realistic looking robodog models that was popular before people grew tired of fur and feeding problems. And that's not all: D-39 is also a souped up version with a big secret!

Leadership: When boomblasts find their home in the Worselands, and Klynt is separated from her father, Klynt leads D-39 and a young neighbor boy Jopa across war-torn terrain in hopes of finding her mother—and also finding safety.

Attitude: Even as her world is constantly changing, from chaos to isolation, Klynt never gives up. She has faith that her mother is waiting for her, and that they can reach safety across the border, even when everything goes wrong.

Work Ethic: Klynt shows up every single day. Yes, there are disappointments and setbacks— D-39 runs out of m-fuel. There's no more food. Winter closes in. They don't know the way through the war-torn Worselands. But she doesn't stop moving forward.

Service: Klynt continues the legacy set forth by her mother Dr. Ersu Tovis, who, after the government ordered all dogs Eradicated, started the K-9 Corridor in an effort to secretly save dogs and move them across the border and into the Wilds. Of course Klynt does this in her own unique way—and in the process of getting to know her while creating this book, Klynt taught me what it truly means to be a hero.

Join the journey; read the book.


Irene Latham is a grateful creator of many novels, poetry collections, and picture books, including the coauthored Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship, which earned a Charlotte Huck Honor, and The Cat Man of Aleppo, which won a Caldecott Honor. Irene lives on a lake in rural Alabama.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Considering Character


At Smack Dab, we occasionally partner with schools to reflect on their own monthly (or semesterly, etc.) theme, blogging about how the theme shows up in our own lives and work. This month, we're reflecting on the yearly theme at Willard Middle School in Aldie, Virginia. At WMS, they're Wild Cats, so they show their CLAWS: Character, Leadership, Attitude, Work Ethic and Service. Suggested by Laura Hoyler, 6th grade instructor.


How do you assess someone’s character? Sometimes it’s easy. The person is so obviously awful, narcissistic, and scheming that there’s no question their character is not one to emulate. Other times, there’s someone who’s so inspiring or genuinely caring that you know you want to strive to be more like them.


My middle grade novels deal with presidents, specifically the first three: George Washington (George Washington & the Magic Hat), John Adams (John Adams & the Magic Bobblehead), and Thomas Jefferson (Thomas Jefferson & the Return of the Magic Hat).


Here are quotes from the three of them about character:


“I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.”—George Washington, letter to Alexander Hamilton, Aug. 28, 1788


“The longer I live, the more I read, the more patiently I think, and the more anxiously I inquire, the less I seem to know...Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. This is enough.”—John Adams, letter to his granddaughter Caroline Amelia Smith de Windt, Jan. 24, 1820


“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”—Thomas Jefferson, letter to Nathaniel Macon, Jan. 12, 1819


In my books, I try to give a nuanced portrayal of these early presidents, balancing all sides of their characters. Yes, they were inspiring leaders who helped create a country that endures almost 250 years later, but two of them, Washington and Jefferson, were slaveholders. It’s a complex legacy.


In a month that brings us both Presidents’ Day and Black History Month, as well as the second impeachment trial of a former inhabitant of the White House, presidential character is well worth considering.


--Deborah Kalb


Monday, February 1, 2021

Smack Dab News

 Smack-Dabber Irene Latham is proud to announce that her picture book THE CAT MAN OF ALEPPO, co-written with Karim Shamsi-Basha & illustrated by Yuko Shimizu has been awarded a Caldecott Honor!


This book chronicles the true story of Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel, who in the midst of the Syrian Civil War courageously offered safe haven to Aleppo's abandoned cats. It will renew your faith in humanity, and inspire you to act with compassion! We can all improve the world with kind deeds—and yes, love exists, even during a time of war.