Three Ways to Honor the Season

Saturday November 13th was “World Kindness Day”. It seems awfully narrow (to me, anyway) to confine kindness to a single day. I would love it if we’d at least acknowledge the season of Thanksgiving as the season of giving kindness and joy. And heaven knows we could use a lot of both in our lives.

Whether you are a teacher, librarian, or parent, I know you are looking for ways to engender generosity of spirit, kindness, and compassion in the children around you. I do think these values can be taught. I’m quietly hopeful that my book CARRY ME HOME can inspire every reader to think about those less fortunate.

Some Suggestions

Here are a few suggestions for carrying kindness forward, and modeling generosity.

#1 Often we are hesitant to speak up about issues but a well-worded “letter to the editor” of your local newspaper can go a long way to raising awareness. Homelessness and hunger are on the rise, and those who suffer them are often voiceless. We can lift our voices on their behalf. Suggest ways that your community can come together around these issues, or at least open a discussion and acknowledge that homelessness exists. Help your older students write such a letter – it’s an excellent exercise in the persuasive essay.

#2 As a creative artist, I think a lot about the different ways we can be creative and also be generous to others. Here are a couple of things you or your kids could do, depending on your skills and interests:

  • Knit hats or socks or scarves (scarves are super easy to knit) for warming shelters. Last year I noticed that a lot of knitters had left hats in places like the public library for anyone who needed one to pick up.
  • Create a work of art, write a song, choreograph a dance that encompasses the notion of community. Share with your class.
  • Create “Blessing Bags” with your church or other group and have kids donate them to a warming center.

#3 Children learn by example, and donating either goods or time to a food bank is an excellent way to model generosity. Many food banks run drives at this time of year. Get kids involved in collecting and distributing.

And Around the Thanksgiving Table…

Finally, open conversation at the Thanksgiving table by not only giving thanks for those things that we are blessed to have, but also by taking a moment to recognize that others might not be so lucky. Ask, what can we do to help?

Let’s make 2022 the World Kindness Year.

Please share your ideas for giving back, and/or fostering compassion and kindness. With my deepest thanks to all of you, my readers and followers.

Video Interview: For Fun

Just a note – the next couple of weeks are busy with events so I won’t be bothering you! But…I did a livestream interview with 3 of my Spooky Middle Grade friends and it was SO much fun.

You can catch the video here (sorry, I can’t embed) and it will tell you a lot about CARRY ME HOME, what it means to me, and how I wrote it. I thought the questions were amazing.

Enjoy, and I’ll see you again soon!

BOOdles of Fun

Yes, I know – Halloween is over. But it does feel like this Halloween was even more of a needed treat than usual, doesn’t it?

As a member of the Spooky Middle Grade authors group, I believe that kids love spooky books for good reason: learning how to be scared of things when you can control them (like knowing that this scary thing is inside a story inside a book) helps kids deal with the scary things they can’t control. Golly, we all need that. (Invisible virus, anyone?)

As a part of this group, we recently recorded a group-written short story for Halloween, which you can listen to here, on the Reading with Your Kids podcast.

A Writing Exercise for All Ages

This brought up the point, made by the podcast host, Jed Doherty, that group-written stories are a super fun writing exercise for all adults as well as kids. Here’s how ours worked:

Jed suggested we write about a kid who was “having problems with AI” (artificial intelligence). Each author was to write one page and pass it along to the next author to write the next page, and so on. The eight of us had a ton of fun coming up with the weird ideas that developed in the story.

Other Spooky Treats

I’ve recently been reading about the origins of Halloween, or as the Celts called it, Samhain. The festival of Samhain was held at the cusp of the year when the veil thinned between the living and the dead – and between light (summer) and darkness (winter). Dead ancestors were invited to partake in gifts of food.

Since I’ve written about so-called “thin places” before, I find this mythology fascinating – you can bet I’ll use it in a future book.

Finally, one of my favorite things to do when I taught was to take a few days of class to read aloud to my students. And yes – this was the 8th grade, but everyone loves to be read to, right? The year I read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was one I’ll never forget.

You can find a lot of spooky books, ours and recommended, here.

What are your favorite things about Halloween?

Playing In The Sandbox: Canva

I really love YouTube self-help videos.

I’ve fixed the door latch on a microwave, figured out what was wrong with my dishwasher so I could tell the appliance guy what part to order, and decided which computer would be my next purchase.

I also love Canva. I love design, and color – for me, playing with Canva is like being a kid again with a blank sheet of paper and fingerpaints, or creating something cool in a sandbox. So when a friend confessed that she didn’t get Canva and another piped up that it made her cry, I decided to make a couple of self-help videos, and I’m sharing them with you all here.

Whether you are an educator looking to create a cool poster for your classroom, or a writer wanting to make a series of marketing items, I hope these will be helpful to you.

Small caveat: I was a Canva Beta user, so I’ve been playing with it for a while. When they offered the Pro version, I leapt. Some of the details may not be quite the same if you don’t have the Pro version, but most of them will still be available to you.

I would love to know what else you’d like me to explore!

The Simple Basics

Resizing Posts or Banners

One of the features I like the best is the “resizing” feature. You can create a single post (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) or banner/header, and then resize it in seconds. This shortens your work considerably. Here’s how you do that:

 

The Magic of Background Remover

This is probably the coolest thing in Canva (that I’ve discovered so far…). You can take a picture – even a complicated picture – of something and remove the background so that you can then reuse that image in new ways in Canva. As an example of what I mean, here’s a marketing image I made. The photo was taken on the surface of my carpet – ugly for sure. By removing the carpet, I added a new background, and:

This is a complicated photo, right? Lots of edges and corners. But Canva did it all for me. I could also have added text to this if I’d wanted, but I didn’t need it.

Here’s the video tutorial to using background remover:

Animations

Finally, here’s another short video on making things “move”:

Again, let me know if there’s anything else you want to learn – I love Canva!

Special Coaching Offer!

Are you writing a spooky middle grade novel this November? I have a special coaching offer just for you!

As you know, I’ve written two acclaimed spooky middle grade novels, and am a member of the Spooky Middle Grade Authors group. I’m also a book coach!

I’m offering a chance for you to craft a working plan for your spooky MG novel. I’ll read and comment on your 500-word synopsis, guide you through crafting a two-page outline, and discuss your project in a 15-minute Zoom or phone call. All this in a two-week window and for only $210.

 

Please contact me before October 15 to get in on this one-time offer. A limited number of spots are available, so don’t wait.

Jump-start your spooky middle grade novel with me!

 

Contact Me Here!

3 Ways to Bring Books Into Classrooms

This post is for both educators and writers. I hope it will be useful!

Text Sets

I had never heard of Text Sets until my friend Deb Gonzales directed me to Barb Rosenstock’s website. Barb has made Text Sets for her books, and they are an awesome teaching tool.

Text Sets provide, in two pages, book titles (fiction and nonfiction) and links to material that enhances and enriches the reading experience of a book. Here’s a screen shot of a small portion of the text set I’ve made for CARRY ME HOME:

 

And here’s a link to the pdf Text Set for CARRY ME HOME. Note that because of the live links embedded in the document, it’s easier to use on line, but can be downloaded and reproduced as well.

Teacher Guides

I’ve made downloadable pdf Teacher Guides for all of my books. Unlike Text Sets, Teacher Guides provide suggested activities. Early on my guides were lengthy – now I find that again, two pages is just about right.

Some of the kinds of things that can be included in a Teacher Guide are:

  • puzzles/games
  • science activities
  • vocabulary work/textual discussion questions
  • thematic discussion questions
  • character/plot analyses
  • critical thinking analyses

And so on. Here’s an example of the Teacher Guide for my picture book VOLCANO DREAMS.

Video/Audio Snippets

I’m about to start making video and/or audio snippets of my work. When I was teaching – 8th and 9th graders – I often read aloud to them in class. I don’t think we should ever stop reading aloud, honestly. Listening to a reading touches a different part of the brain, and enhances comprehension, particularly for auditory learners.

I made one video for my publisher this past spring, and an audio recording for TeachingBooks, and I read aloud from my books for both of these. My new goal is to offer very short read-alouds of portions of my books and post them on line. I’ll keep you informed, with links!

What suggestions do you have for ways to bring books alive in classrooms? Please share! With thanks!

Giveaways of CARRY ME HOME

A couple of giveaways of copies of CARRY ME HOME are running right now. First, this one ends at midnight on September 14, and these three copies are signed by me:

 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Carry Me Home by Janet Fox

Carry Me Home

by Janet Fox

Giveaway ends September 14, 2021.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

 

Enter Giveaway

 

And over at TeachingBooks.net, my publisher, Simon & Schuster, is giving away five copies, ending September 27. If you’d like a signed bookplate for one of these copies, contact me.

Contact Me For a Signed Bookplate

And you can always order signed copies from my indie bookseller, Country Bookshelf.

Order a Signed Copy of CARRY ME HOME

If you’ve read CARRY ME HOME, would you consider writing an honest review? I appreciate you!!

Write a Review of CARRY ME HOME

Self-care For Writers (& Everyone Else)

These two years have been so difficult for so many. And every day life throws another curveball into the mix, from weather nightmares to military nightmares to ethical nightmares to health nightmares.

For parents and teachers, this new school year is a mixed bag. Everyone’s thrilled to be back in the classroom (where that’s possible), but the lurking issues around Covid make it difficult to relax.

For writers, add the stress of the mixed-up publishing industry: mergers, overwhelmed editors and agents, shipping issues, and booksellers struggling with Covid, or storm or fire damage.

Yikes.

Time For Some Self-Care: Personal

I see the insecurities appearing in my coaching clients. Some have struggled with serious writer’s block, others with serious health problems, and still others with the pain of rejection. A lot of what I do is try to help my clients through these painful moments. Sometimes that means reconnecting with the important stuff: yourself.

So, take a deep breath. Place your feet flat on the floor to ground yourself. Place your hands in your lap, and let your shoulders relax. Sit still with your eyes closed for thirty seconds.

Now – what do you hear? Is the air around you warm or cool? Can you empty your mind of thought and just be in this moment with your sensory channels wide open?

Now, can you get up and take a walk, preferably outside in nature? (It goes without saying – leave the cell phone at home.) Let your mind rest.

Self-Care: Writerly

If you are having trouble with your current manuscript – if you are feeling stuck or hopeless or like it’s just not good enough – here’s are two exercises:

  1. Write, on one page, in a couple of paragraphs, exactly WHY you are writing this current work-in-progress. What are you trying to say – about yourself, the world, your character? What drove you toward this idea? Why is it important to you, right now?
  2. Write a backstory scene, with your main character, that goes to the heart of her internal conflict. What brought her to this place in her life, emotionally? What underlies all her dreams and wishes, as shown in that scene? For example, if you have a young character who has lost a parent, write the scene of that loss, that tragedy, from the point of view of that young character.

As a book coach, I give the writers I work with exercises like these. My Story Heart Workbook also contains a series of short exercises designed to get you thinking more creatively about your manuscript.

The Importance of Connection

One of the reasons I think so many of us are struggling now is that Covid, on top of the world’s politicized issues, has created deep divides. Many of us are alone, or isolated, and have lost connections.

One of the themes in CARRY ME HOME deals with connection. My main character Lulu is isolated by her fears. It isn’t until she realizes that she has an entire community around her of people who care (whether she knows it or not) that she can finally lean on someone else for help.

So my last suggested exercise: contact someone you haven’t seen in a while. Send them a note, an email, an actual letter, or make a phone call – and just say, “Hello! How are you?”

And – please let me and everyone here know if you have self-care exercises to share. With love and thanks.

Practice Kindness

Practicing kindness makes you happier, healthier, and more connected to those around you, but according to a recent survey from the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common Project, 80% of children in this survey believe that parents are more concerned about achievement or happiness than caring for others. How do we develop these social emotional skills in a way that will resonate with our young audiences? And how do we teach kindness to others as a priority, not an option?

Kindness doesn’t have to be complicated. In Carry Me Home, Lulu discovers genuine kindness can be found in even the most simple gifts. In the Shaker Hymn Simple Gifts, Lulu connects with her lineage, but also with a deep sense of love and caring. Lulu takes us on her journey to show us that the smallest acts have the deepest impact.

Simple Gifts

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free
Tis the gift to come down to where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right.
‘Twill be the valley of love and delight (pg. 65).

Now it’s your turn to positively impact the lives of those around you through a simple gift. Using the Carry Me Home Activity Guide, facilitate your own public service project offering hope, kindness and encouragement to those who are experiencing the heartache of homelessness. Gather your kind crew and make a difference in the life of someone in need by offering them the simple gift of a Blessing Bag made possible by your organizational efforts.

Blessing Bags

Each Blessing Bag will contain Lulu and Serena’s basics for good hygiene, but also the Simple Gifts lyrics bookmark, an Origami Crane craft card, and the Blessings Cards. Be sure to write your hopes and blessings for the recipient of your bag on the back of the Blessing Card print out. Write a note reminding your bag recipient that there are people who care and want to help. (Note that all of the above links take you to downloadable images.)

There was an old Japanese belief that anyone who made a thousand paper cranes by folding them in the origami way could make a wish and that wish would come true, so the girl began making paper cranes, wishing to get well (pg. 14)

What is your wish for those in need? How are you extending kindness– simply? Remember that kindness benefits those who receive it, but also those who give it.

Giveaway of Carry Me Home

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Carry Me Home by Janet Fox

Carry Me Home

by Janet Fox

Giveaway ends September 14, 2021.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway