Sunday, June 13, 2010


School ends on the 18th, and I'm taking the summer off from creating book-based activities. I look forward to posting and connecting again in September. Have a wonderful summer.

Happy travels!

Happy reading!

Take care,

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


KN: I love the diverse and vibrant characters in ROCKY ROAD. How did you create characters that feel like best friends?

RK: Thank you, Kate. Character development is a process that I work hard at, and it takes time. I liken this to the way close friendships develop and blossom. First you meet, have an exchange and a spark of connection that grows stronger as you get to know each other on, during both good times and bad. Sometimes I’ll “interview” a character before I write a scene. I ask her questions about what makes her mad or sad or what she wants. The process of writing down responses feels like a chat over tea and cookies. (Okay, sometimes I enjoy tea and cookies during these interviews!)

I am drawn to “diverse” characters in many senses of the word. Tess, for example, stood out with her gentle spirit and fashionable style, even if she was a kid who had struggled and hadn’t lived a privileged life. I’ve noticed in stories that the stylish girl is usually the snooty one. (Think Sharpei in “High School Musical.”) I wanted to create a character whose face lit up when she talked about plush fabrics she could sew with, but who would also do anything in the world for her little brother. Winnie, Tess’s senior, African-American friend from the Mohawk Valley Village, drew me because she was a breath of fresh air. Her love of Motown coupled with her wisdom, caring nurse instincts, and spry sense of humor were very appealing -- and just what the Dobsons needed in their lives.

KN: Along that same line, how did you distinguish your characters’s voices from one another?

RK: I think some of this happens on a subconscious level. It’s kind of like how we know our family members so well that, when one calls us from afar, we don’t need to see their faces to recognize them. I work at finding the essence of my characters’ voices before I begin writing. How they speak, how they feel, even the words they chose to make a point. Take Delilah Dobson, for example. She considers herself a proud Texan through and through, and I wanted to reflect that, in part, through her language. For this reason I studied up on Texan slang. That was fun research, even if it didn’t all make its way into Rocky Road. For example, here’s a Lone Star description that makes me smile: “To a Texan, ‘arrogance’ means you’ve got more crust than a pecan pie factory.”

KN: Why did you choose to feature mental illness in ROCKY ROAD?

RK: A few years back a family friend was in crisis after his teenage son made a suicide attempt. I remember my friend telling me that he felt like he couldn’t share this heartbreak with many of his friends, even though it was the most difficult thing he and his wife had ever endured. The stigma attached to mental illness prevented him from doing so. And in a few cases, when he did confide to others about it, friends seemed paralyzed, unable to respond. That stayed with me. It must be hard enough to cope when your child is in such crisis, and twice as hard if you feel you can’t reach out to others.

In any given year mental illness affects about fifty-eight million people. That’s one in four adults struggling with bipolar disorder (like Delilah Dobson) and other mental health conditions. I wanted to shed some light on this. And I also wanted to show hope. Having a mental illness, though difficult, is not a terminal diagnosis. I don’t think many people realize that the best mental health treatments are highly effective. While it is far from easy, people can take care of themselves and live quality lives, providing they get the support of medical personnel and their families. I also have empathy for family members with a loved one dealing with mental illness. In Rocky Road I wanted to show the impact that mental health has in a family and in particular, on children who feel so powerless.

KN: Your first novel, Kimchi and Calamari, has a food-based title. When you set out to write Rocky Road, did you intend to pick another food-based title based on your favorite ice-cream flavor or did the story lead you to the title?

RK: I didn’t set out to give Rocky Road a food-related title, like Kimchi & Calamari. Its working title in fact was “Whatever It Takes” because that epitomized Tess’s spirit. The title drew upon the Dobson family motto: “Ice cream warms the heart, no matter the weather”. Then I learned about a study that linked ice cream flavor preference to personality, and it hit me that Tess indeed was a rocky road lover who had experienced a rocky road life. (Rocky road lovers are balanced, charming, and goal-oriented.) That, of course, served up the title. (Pun intended!) Full disclosure: coffee is my favorite ice cream flavor, although I certainly wouldn’t turn down rocky road if you offered it to me.

KN: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

RK: I want to thank you for your time and for your blog, Kate. It’s a terrific source of information for me as an author. I love hearing other writers reflect on their craft & the inspiration for their work. And I am in awe of how teachers take texts, analyze and interpret them, and facilitate so much creative learning with students through them. Three cheers for you and for all educators!

And before I forget... I’m excited to share my book trailer with your readers. It gives a little “sample” of Rocky Road. You can view it at!

KN: Thanks so much for the interview. Check out the March 14th post for Rocky Road activities.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


KN: In your fantastic back matter, you note that so far scientists have discovered more than 5,000 different species of frogs. A Place for Frogs features 12 different species. How did you decide which 12 frogs to include?

MS: Whittling down frog possibilities until I ended up with that perfect core group was half the challenge of researching the book. The endpapers of the book feature range maps that show where each frog lives. I wanted to be sure that no matter where a reader lives in North America, there would be at least one frog in his or her area. For the most part, there are at least two frogs in each geographic region.

I also wanted to include some large frogs and some small frogs, some toads and some tree frogs, some common frogs and some rare ones. Also, I need to think about what the illustrator, Higgins Bond, would show in her paintings. I needed diversity in habitats and settings too.

And, of course, each frog I discuss faces a different environmental challenge, and that challenge is being successfully addressed by people. Focusing on problems that people, including kids, can and are doing something about helps to make the book more positive, more hopeful. I’m hoping this book and it’s companions, A Place for Butterflies [link:] and A Place for Birds [link:] help to promote environmental stewardship.

KN: Another back matter feature I love is the Fascinating Frog Facts. Would you please share one of those facts with our readers? Also, I know you feature Friday Fun Facts on your blog. Could you include a link to one of those posts for our inquisitive readers?

MS: Kids love fun, weird, wacky, gross, and goofy facts, so I try to include them as much as possible. I want kids to say, “Oh, wow! That’s cool. Science is cool.” My favorite fact from the back matter of A Place for Frogs is “Harlequin frog tadpoles only eat one kind of food—extra eggs laid by their moms.” Talk about cannibals!

You’re right, Kate. I do often include five fascinating facts on my blog on Fridays. In this [link:] post, I’ve listed facts about ears and hearing, and this [link:] post includes some pretty surprising facts about spit. These are pulled straight out of a series of books I wrote called Gross & Goofy Body [link:]. Six of the books were published last fall, and six more will come out in September.

I always include five facts because some teachers have told me that they like to use the facts to refresh the science center in their classrooms. The five facts I offer on Friday mornings give teachers a different fact for each day the following week.

KN: The structure of the book features an environmental problem that affects frogs and ecosystems, and then you offer a solution. When writing fiction, authors of all ages are encouraged to have their main character encounter a problem and find a solution. What inspired you to use a similar format for this non-fiction series?

MS: Hmm, the parallel that you draw to fiction is very interesting. I’d never considered that. I chose the problem/solution format for each spread because while I was writing the first book, A Place for Butterflies, I was also working as a substitute teacher. One day at lunch, I overheard two teachers discussing the difficulty of teaching their students the concept of cause and effect. They said they wished there were resources for them to use. I had that conversation in mind as I developed the structure for the book’s main text.

Substitute teaching also exposed me to a popular program called Reading Buddies, in which a first or second grader who is just learning to read is paired with a third, fourth or fifth grader. Both students gain from this partnership. The younger child develops his/her reading skills, and acting as a mentor builds the self-esteem of the older child.

Most Reading Buddies programs use books written at the reading level of the younger child. I thought it would be even better if each spread featured text at two different levels. In the A Place for books, simpler main text is perfect for the younger child. The sidebars can be read by an older child (or a parent or teacher), and then the two buddies can look at the art and discuss the content together.

Whenever I write a book, I always think about its applications in the classroom when I am developing the structure and organization as well as the language.

KN: In the process of researching this book, did you become inspired to take a specific action yourself to help protect frogs? If so, could you tell us what you did?

MS: One spread in the book features wood frogs crossing a road (from the woods where they hibernate to the vernal pool where they mate and lay eggs) on Big Night—the first warm, rainy night of spring. Even before I started researching this book, I knew I wanted to include this example. I’ve been participating in Big Night amphibian rescue efforts in Central Massachusetts for almost 10 years. Of course, it’s important to help the frogs and salamanders, but I also really love watching how excited the kids are by the spectacular migration and how proud they are to be helping.

KN: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

MS: Thanks, Kate, for featuring my book and this interview on Classroom Book of the Week. I really like the creative activities you have come up with. If teachers are interested in more activities related to A Place for Frogs, they can find a Curriculum Guide on the Teacher Page of my website:

KN: Thanks so much for the interview.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


By Melissa Stewart
Publisher: Peachtree
ISBN 13: 978-1-56145-521-8

FROM THE FLAP: Frogs make our world a better place. But sometimes people do things that make it hard for them to live and grow.

In simple yet informative language, award-winning children’s science writer Melissa Stewart introduces readers to some of the ways human action or inaction can affect frog populations. More than just a book about frogs, A PLACE FOR FROGS will open readers’ minds to a wide range of environmental issues.

Describing various examples—from the northern leopard frog in Minnesota ponds to the harlequin frog in rainforests of Central America—the text provides an intriguing look at frogs, at the ecosystems that support their survival, and at the efforts of some people to save them.

At the end of the book, the author offers readers a list of things they can do in their own communities to help protect these special creatures.

Artist Higgins Bond ‘s glorious full-color illustrations vividly and accurately depict the frogs and their surroundings.

KATE’S TAKE: Young artists will hop for joy when they read Melissa Stewart’s A Place For Frogs.

FROG ART, ESSAY, AND POETRY CONTESTS ( Visual/Spatial and Verbal/Linguistic)

If you go to the Save The Frogs website at , you’ll find rules and guidelines for the above contests. They have a category for elementary students and offer cash prizes to the winners.

FROG LIFE CYCLES (Naturalist and Visual/Spatial)

Have students draw a version of the frog life cycle illustrated on the first few pages of the book. Ask them to fold their paper in half twice to create four equal rectangles. In one space draw eggs, the next a tadpole, then a froglet, and last a frog. Don’t forget to add the circular arrow. Teachers in the intermediate grades may choose to add the tadpole with legs stage to the life cycles.

LEAP FROG RELAY RACES (Kinesthetic and Interpersonal)

Divide your class into groups of four kids and see which team can leap frog to the finish line first. This could be a fun school-wide Field Day activity.

MATH FROG FACTS (Logical/Mathematical and Kinesthetic)

Cut out lily pads and write a different number on each one. Give students frog bean bags and call out a math fact. Ask students to throw their frog on the correct answer. Students can work in groups of three. One person can call out facts while the other two compete to be the first frog on the correct answer. Then, players can switch roles. You can get a set of six different colored frog bean bags for $15.95 at or a set of six identical green frogs for under $5 at .

SAVE THE FROGS DAY EVENT (Naturalist and Interpersonal)

The last Friday in April Save The Frogs Day is celebrated worldwide. As a class plan a school or community-wide event to help spread awareness about the declining frog population and the effect on our environment. Don’t forget to record your event at .


-A Place for Birds by Melissa Stewart
-A Place for Butterflies by Melissa Stewart
-All About Frogs by Jim Arnosky
-Frogs by Nic Bishop
-Frog Rescue by Garry Hamilton