Friday, September 19, 2014

Happy Birthday, Michael J. Rosen - September 20

Happy Birthday, Michael J. Rosen - September 20

"Slow down the important things in your life." This was advice from Michael J. Rosen to a group of aspiring children's writers at the Mazza Museum Summer Conference in 2013. I wrote these words in my journal so I would remember to apply it to my own writing. This week as I reread all the things I learned from Michael J. Rosen during that week in July, I realized that this advice not only works for me as a writer but as a parent.

"Slow down the important things in your life." I write these words again so that I remember to apply it to being a father. I am told at least once a week by someone while I am running errands, "Enjoy your children while they are little. The years go by too fast." I usually nod my head in agreement, but hurry off to the next scheduled event.  This week, thanks to two books by Michael J. Rosen I was given an opportunity to slow down, enjoy a few of my children's favorite activities, and just have fun!

Michael J. Rosen is the author of over 100 books for children and adults including The Cuckoo's Haiku and Other Birding Poems, illustrated by Stan Fellows and A Drive in the Country, illustrated by Marc Burckhardt. He has also written many cookbooks, books about dogs, and adapted his picture book Elijah's Angel: a Story for Chanukah and Christmas into a play. Before all the books, Rosen went to college to study pre-med and attended medical school briefly before deciding to become a writer. He received his Masters in Fine Arts in poetry from Columbia in 1981. (Ohioana-authors). His break into the publishing business came in 1983 when he published A Drink at the Mirage, a book of poetry for adults, which was published by Princeton University Press. (GalleyCat). Also in 1983, Rosen began working and spent 20 years as the literary director for The James Thurber House, a non-profit literary center and museum in Columbus, Ohio. Michael J. Rosen's career has been dedicated to bringing quality books to children, inspiring children and adults to write, and giving back to his local community through his many philanthropic efforts (The Company of Animals Fund and Share Our Strength).

I found Michael J. Rosen's book, Fishing with Dad at the library and I couldn't open it fast enough to read it. It looked like it would be the perfect book for my son and I -- and it was! Fishing with Dad is a story told from a boy's point of view about his tradition of fishing on Sundays with his Dad. The day starts with picking out donuts for breakfast, buying bait at Harry and Dot's, and hiking to the perfect fishing spot. The fishing experience is described, "Going fishing is really going waiting...with a little bit of fishing thrown in." The boy finds other things to keep himself busy while waiting; skipping stones, organizing the tackle box, and looking for treasures in nature. Amazingly, every time the boy's father has to stretch his legs and the boy to watches the lines he catches a fish.  The boy can't figure out his luck because his Dad is the "expert" fisherman.  The book ends with the boy all grown up and a father himself. The Sunday tradition continues but this time with Grandfather teaching grandson how to fish. As he watches his Dad and his son fishing together his memories of childhood are clear, and he realizes how his Dad made those fishing trips so special.

My six-year-old son loves fishing. It started last year when he participated in a local fishing derby and he did quite well catching a half-dozen fish.  This year, he attended the fishing derby once again and also fished for the first time at Lake Erie. Imagine his excitement when he found out his grandparents' new house has a well-stocked pond in their backyard. During the first overnight visit to Grandma and Grandpa's he fished almost the whole weekend! When he is not fishing for "reel" you will often find him playing Fishing Master on the Nintendo Wii.
On a beautiful sunny Sunday morning, my son and I packed up our fishing gear. All the normal gear a father and son would pack; lunches, folding chairs, bucket, poles, tackle box, and net. The only thing that we did a little different was to bring along Fishing with Dad.
We tried a new fishing spot at Tinker's Creek State Park. We hiked for about 15 minutes to find a clearing where we both could fish comfortably. 
My son wasted no time. His line was water waiting for his big catch.
We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day -- clear and cool.
Fishing with Dad. Notice the bag of sunflower seeds. It was his first time enjoying this simple pleasure!
The weather was perfect, but the fish weren't biting. We tried multiple locations around the lake, but didn't catch a fish all morning.
We may not have caught a fish, but like Michael J. Rosen wrote in the book the real reason I went out there was to "catch a beautiful Sunday morning" with my son.

My youngest son loves fall. It started before he was even two years old. We would walk around the neighborhood to count pumpkins on neighbors' front steps and look for ghost decorations. He loves attending harvest festivals, dressing up in costumes, trick-or-treating, and visiting pumpkin patches. A few weeks ago, we visited our favorite local farm, Monroe's Orchard, to pick red raspberries and we noticed that the pumpkins in the patch were already orange and getting pretty big.  This week, we went back and asked if we could pick a pumpkin a little early to help us celebrate Michael J. Rosen's birthday and his book Night of the Pumpkinheads. (A huge thank you to Rodger at Monroe's for letting us pick a pumpkin!)

My son loves Night of the Pumpkinheads because the pictures in the book are of real carved pumpkins! In the story the Pumpkinheads are not looking forward to sitting on the front steps of the houses in the neighborhood. Instead, they devise a plan to spook the trick-or-treaters with their creepy carvings. Word spreads of the plan and the other vegetables on the farm want to join in the fun. However, the Pumpkinheads want the fun of "Jack-o-ween" all to themselves and laugh at the veggies' belief that they could be scary too. Despite the Pumpkinheads looking like killer bees, skeletons, vampire mimes, and blood-thirsty bats the children of the neighborhood were not scared one bit. The Pumpkinheads were shocked when something truly frightening...very disgusting...and totally gross freaked out all the children at the end of Trick-or-Treat. My children weren't scared of the ending, but roared with laughter and poured over the carved creations on the last page!

Does it get any better than a good picture book and a pumpkin patch?
Ewww! A gross pumpkin!
They searched and searched for just the right pumpkin.
My son was very excited to find ladybug larvae that had entered the pupa stage in the pumpkin patch. He learned about ladybug larvae during our birthday celebration for Eric Carle in June.
He found it! The pumpkin he selected resembled Jackpot, head of the Union of Pumpkinheads, from Night of the Pumpkinheads.
Buy a copy of NIGHT OF THE PUMPKINHEADS on Amazon.
Our pumpkin carving had to wait until the next day. My son set up his pumpkin-carving work area.
I cut a hole in the bottom of the pumpkin because we used a light to illuminate our jack o'lantern instead of a candle.
"Whoa! Look at the guts!"
My son said, "The seeds are so slippery."
They tried to use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and guts, but I ended up using my hands to clear out the insides.
We noticed a recipe for roasted pumpkin seeds in the back of Night of the Pumpkinheads. We collected as many seeds as we could.
My son designed his jack o'lantern's face.
I used an X-acto knife to cut out his intricate jack o'lantern design.  My son added pieces of pumpkin to make the ears.
Two happy pumpkin carvers!
He enjoyed the seeds too. Notice the drawing he made of his pumpkin while he waited for the seeds to bake. 
I was surprised she liked the pumpkin seeds too!
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Michael J. Rosen thank you for writing books that allowed me "slow down" with my children.  Thank you for everything you taught me in the writing workshop at the Mazza Museum. You have no idea how helpful it was! Our family hopes you have a wonderful birthday!

Links:
1. Michael J. Rosen's website
2. Follow Michael J. Rosen on Twitter
3. Biography - Ohioana Authors
4. Columbus Author Finds for his Poetry, Children's Stories in Rural Retreat - Columbus Dispatch
5. Author Michael J. Rosen Discusses Picture Books - Vimeo
6. Interviews - School Library Journal (2012), Poetry for Children, Haiku by Two, Wordswimmer, The Open Book, Galleycat (2014)
7. Our Farm: Four Seasons with Five Kids on One Family's Farm - Ohio.gov

Monday, September 15, 2014

Happy Birthday, Karen Katz - September 16

Happy Birthday, Karen Katz - September 16

In March 2010 (Whew! That seems like a long time ago!), my children and I celebrated our 10th author birthday. I wanted to continue the fun we were having reading books, so I made a list of "Authors We Want to Celebrate." After researching the birthdays of the authors on my list, I had two authors that I didn't know their birthdays; Doreen Cronin and Karen Katz. I really wanted to know their birthdays; Doreen Cronin's birthday because I loved Diary of a Worm and Karen Katz's birthday because our bookshelves were filled with her board books. My wife and I were expecting our third child too. I thought celebrating Karen Katz's birthday would be fun with the new baby!

After much anxiety, I worked up some courage and emailed both authors to ask them to share their birthday with us. Unfortuately, after I sent the email to Karen Katz I realized that I made a cut-and-paste error and left "Doreen" at the top of the message! I was bummed. I assumed she would not email me back. However, on the day I arrived home from the hospital with our third child I had this response from Karen Katz:

"I'm not sure who Doreen is but I think you meant Karen. I am thrilled to hear you like my books and especially that your kids like them. As far as my birthday, it is September 16th. As far as the year...lets say I'm past 50. Have fun reading!"

I wrote her birthday in my planner and hoped for a celebration that September. However, it didn't happen that year or for the next three years! Each year, I regretted not putting together a celebration for the author whose books I have read to my children just as much as Dr. Seuss and Stan and Jan Berenstain. This year, I finally get to share with you how much our family loves books by Karen Katz!

Karen Katz is the author and illustrator of more than fifty books for young children including Counting Kisses and Ten Tiny Tickles. Most of Karen's books are published as novelty lift-the-flap books and board books including Where is Baby's Belly Button? and Daddy and Me; both of which I have read at least 100 times! Before Karen Katz created books for parents and babies to enjoy together she was a quilt maker, a costume designer, and a graphic designer. According to her website, it was after she and her husband adopted a daughter from Guatemala that she "was inspired to do a children's book." Her first book, Over the Moon: An Adoption Tale was published in 1997 after an editor viewed paintings in her portfolio that represented a poem that her husband wrote about the adoption of their daughter. (Doodlebugs). Since that first book, Karen Katz has sold millions of copies of her books.  These books can be found on bookshelves of most young children, often resting on night stands after parents have fallen asleep holding their babies in their arms, and are frequently at library book sales discarded after being well-loved by little hands. (We still read them even after the lift-the-flaps have been removed!)



This week, stacks of books by Karen Katz were piled up in our living room and outside the bathroom!  Recently, Potty for Me has risen to the top of the stack, because my two year old is going through potty training. I believe Potty for Me is one of the best books I have read about the process a child goes through learning how to use the potty. It explains everything; getting a potty, trying the potty, having accidents, and then having success. I love that Karen Katz included the idea that wearing a diaper at night is still important even though the child is wearing underpants during the day.
My daughter is doing a great job with the potty. The bathroom door is covered with sticker charts. In this photo she is adding a sticker to a chart I made that featured images from Karen Katz's books.
The more we read our stack of books by Karen Katz the more I realized that this birthday post was going to be about more than just my daughter's successes with the potty. One morning this week my daughter was reading her books in the living room and my son and I joined her.


We read the book Baby Loves Fall!. In this lift-the-flap book, baby explores and finds many fall things; apple pie behind the shutters and pumpkins behind the scarecrow.  The baby also finds acorns behind a rake. This gave me an idea.  I said to my youngest two children, "Do you want to go on a nature hunt? Maybe we can find some acorns just like the baby." (I knew of oak tree in our neighborhood that was starting to drop its acorns!)


My son was super excited to go on a nature hunt. One of his favorite things to do is to gather seeds and leaves. He said, "Can we make a craft out of the stuff we find?"  I thought it was a great idea.
He showed his sister how to find really cool leaves as they walked. He shared a few of the red leaves that he found. It was important to him that she had a container full of goodies.
She found an acorn!
What's a nature-hunt collection without some rocks?
After our nature hunt my children emptied their containers on the kitchen table.
Then, they started their "craft" which they called Leaf Pictures.
My son said, "Dad, this was a good idea." 
I was so proud of her for gluing all these items on her paper!
The next day was almost a replay of the day before. My daughter was reading her books and my son and I joined in. This time we read Princess Baby and Princess Baby Night-Night.  My son was intrigued by the illustrations, especially Princess Baby's crown and shoes. He rubbed his hand on them expecting them to be rough with glitter. I said, "It is smooth, but it looks like Karen Katz made the crown and shoes with glitter. Do you want to make something with glitter?"  Of course they said "yes".
For my daughter I drew a crown and shoes on a cereal box and cut them out.
She painted the crown with glue.
Then, she flipped it over onto a plate with gold glitter.
Wow! A pretty crown.
I pasted the crown and shoes onto a picture of my daughter to make her into the "Princess Baby"!
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Whew! What a celebration! I guess I am not surprised it turned into a week-long event. It had been building up for over 4 years! Happy Birthday, Karen Katz! Sorry it took so long for us to give you an official Happy Birthday Author celebration. We hope you enjoy your day!

International Day of Peace is coming up on September 21. Check out Karen Katz's book, Can You Say Peace?:



Links:
1. Karen Katz's website
2. Karen Katz website from Simon and Schuster
3. Baby Steps with Baby Books: a Parent's Guide - Simon and Schuster
4. Interviews - Up CloseLibrary Sparks, KarenKatz.com
5. Princess Baby Activity Guide and Resource Kit - RandomHouse
6. Activity Sheets - Simon and Schuster
7. Karen Katz shares her previous occupations before children's books - video
 

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