While you were out…

John Lennon once said “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” I have been pretty busy lately, so I guess a lot of life has happened. I apologize for the lack of picture book reviews to those following my blog– they will have their triumphant return, I promise! I’ve been reading plenty of them, but the posts take a long time to put together. In the meantime, my literary life has been pretty full of other things (above and beyond my day job which right now involves scrambling to get grades in for the end of the quarter):

  1. My first “open-mic night”: Tonight I was a guest reader at my local public library’s annual “Community Poetry Night” to celebrate National Poetry month. I read five of my poems — forgot how much I love performing!
  2. Coaching my school’s Speech & Debate team: I am the assistant coach for our team and the past two months were filled with state competition and national qualifiers. Our small school is sending three competitors to nationals! I love working with these talented students and encouraging their love of words!
  3. Entering a writing contest!  I am excited to announce that I was named a finalist in Michelle Hauck’s “PB Party”!  My picture book “The Great Holiday Cookie Fight” and 26 other finalists will be going in front of agents on April 5th! Wish me luck!

And finally…

4.  Sparking a love of reading in my sons!! That’s hands down the biggest accomplishment of the bunch! Both of my boys are quite bright but reluctant readers and BOTH have managed to find series they are thrilled with. Max just finished up the “Wimpy Kid” series (Jeff Kinney) and has read the first book in the Origami Yoda series (Tom Angelberger).  Meanwhile, Robbie (8) can’t get enough of Ursula Vernon’s “Dragonbreath” series. All three are great, creative, unique creations and I’m thrilled.

And in the category of not specifically literary, but definitely linguistic, I’ll be traveling to Germany and Austria next week with 20 of my German students. We will spend 12 days visiting the sights and spending time with our sister school outside Stuttgart.  Introducing these kids to the magic of travel and watching as they interact with a new culture is the best part of my job and a definite inspiration for future writing.

So, watch this space! I’ve got some great things planned once life slows down a little!WimpyKid

Your turn…Game play as writing inspiration

gamepicMy sons got several games for Christmas and I bought another one at a recent after-Christmas sale. We love playing games at our house, and I realized during our gameplay this vacation that not only am I spending awesome quality time with them, but I can also consider it an important writing exercise. While strategy games like chess or Parcheesi may not be particularly inspiring linguistically, there are plenty of games which exercise the imagination.

Our newest game, “Pickles to Penguins” is an excellent example. This game is played with a huge deck of double-sided cards containing photos of everyday objects such as a kitchen sink, a lion, or a beach ball. Two cards are face up on the table and each player has a stack of their own cards. The object of the game is to get rid of all your cards by drawing connections between one of your cards and one of the cards on the table.

For example, in the photo shown, one of the “community” cards is a playground slide, and one of “my” cards is a banana. I could say “Sometimes people slide on a *banana peel* like they slide on a *slide.*”  You are not allowed to make the same connection twice (such as stacking animals on top of each other) or to connect things by simply their starting letter or background color. The remaining cards before me in the photo are “polar bear,” “ball,” “cello,” and “tiger.” Which of those can somehow connect to “banana” or “earrings”? The easy play is probably “ball”, the same round shape as the circles on the earrings…but you can see how making connections with words quickly leads to innovative thinking!

When I played with my 11 year old, we kept the pace relaxed and basically took turns, but the game could easily become frenetic with more equally matched competitors. (And if you try to make a connection which is too far-fetched, your opponents can penalize you!) Meanwhile, it was great mental gymnastics for me as I tried to force myself to make creative connections, and it was an equally useful learning experience for my son, who went from “they’re both animals,” to “they’re both mammals,” to “They’re both things you use on vacation.”

The title “Pickles to Penguins” might remind you of another classic party game which involves making creative connections:  “Apples to Apples.” Aside from being pretty hilarious, a few rounds of that game is bound to remind you of ways you can combine nouns with unexpected adjectives to make your writing more fresh and less cliché. Even a quick look at a finished Scrabble or Bananagrams board is a good way to brainstorm a new story or plot twist.

There are many other lesser-known games which can inspire writers, however. Some of my favorites are those with inherent story-telling characteristics. Three great examples to look into are “Rory’s Story Cubes,”  “Nanofictionary,” and “Once Upon a a Time.” In all of those games (which I highly recommend you check out), you create a story using elements on cards or dice either cooperatively or competitively. And of course, there’s also the world of Role-playing games (probably worthy of a separate post entirely), which are by their very nature, cooperative storytelling and a phenomenal way to work out a story. Dungeons & Dragons is one example, but there are many, many other systems out there to let you create just the kind of story world you would like to immerse yourself in.

So, don’t feel guilty about game night! Get out there and spend some quality time with friends and family– just think of it as another form of professional development!


Top 13 of 2016: Last Minute Shopping Edition

I originally intended to write a “Top Ten” list of my favorite books that I had reviewed in 2016. I started my blog in February of this year and I have read/reviewed a lot of wonderful books in that time! It’s very hard to narrow down the list, but I have come up with a “baker’s dozen” that might help you out if you’re still looking for a picture book to buy that voracious picture book reader for the holidays. They’re not all published in 2016, but most of them are at least within the past two years or so– links are to my reviews. I decided in the end not to number them because I love them all for different reasons.

So, read these when you want a book that will…

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Intersections: Dual-language poetry

We all wear a lot of hats– look at my Twitter bio and you’ll see that I’m a teacher, parent, musician, German-speaker, Christian, cook and heck, even a soap-maker in addition to being a writer. This past weekend I was at ACTFL – a conference for foreign language teachers – but since I’m also participating in a challenge to write 30 poems in 30 days,* my mind was constantly working on ideas for new poems as well as swimming with new ideas for teaching German.  The result– I decided to write a poem about my conference experience in German (followed by an English prose version– didn’t feel like being crazy enough to make them BOTH rhyme!). This is what my blog Schreibenfreude is all about: the joy (and sometimes overwhelming chaos) of writing AND of language. If you’ve been to a conference or really productive workshop, you may relate:

Auf der Sprachkonferenz

Alles was noch übrig bleibt,
Nach dem langen, vollen Tag
Wie ein Stift, der nicht mehr schreibt,
Wie ein Auto, das versagt,
Ist in meinem Gedächtnis wach.
Bilder Fliegen, Filme gleich,
Jedes Wort, das jeder sprach
Schwmmt wie im bespanntem Teich.

Durchsortieren mit der Zeit
Bringt Verständnis, klärt viel auf.
Doch hilft Abstand nur soweit
Bis Erinnerungsverlauf.

Ganz allein, lieg ich und denk:
Ich bin dankbar für mein Glück,
Was noch bleibt ist ein Geschenk
Auch wenn nur ein kleines Stück.

English Version in Prose:

At the language conference:

All that remains after a long full day,
Like a pen that is out of ink
Or a car that has stopped working,
Is awake in my consciousness.
Pictures fly by like films
And every word that everyone said
Swims like fish in a freshly stocked pool.
With time, sorting through these memories
Brings clarity and understanding…
Yet distance only helps so much until
The memories fade away.
All alone I lie and think:
I am thankful for my luck.
What remains is a gift
Even if only a small one.

*My 30 Poems in 30 Days challenge is part of a fundraiser for the “Center for New Americans.”  Click on the link for more information!


We didn’t start the fire….2016

Got the news yesterday about the death of poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen. Since I’m already writing a poem each day, it hit me hard and I had to pause and look at the wringer we’ve been through this year. All I could think of was the litany of news stories in Billy Joel’s “We didn’t start the fire” — except that his song covers decades and this is all in one year. So much tragedy I know I didn’t hit it all, but if you know the original song, I hope you’ll appreciate it:

We didn’t start the fire: 2016
(To the tune of the Billy Joel song)

David Bowie, EgyptAir
Brussels bombing, Zika scare,
Nancy Reagan, Alan Rickman, Janet Reno

Elie Wiesel, Patty Duke,
Five brave Dallas men in blue,
Leonard Cohen, Anton Yelchin, Umberto Eco

This was our year of trial,
Enough of being mean,
Two thousand and sixteen, because:
This was our year of trial,
It’s time for you to leave,
Can’t wait for New Year’s Eve!

Swimmer Ryan Lochte lied,
Innocent young black men died,
Kenny Baker was the droid we all were looking for.

Prince brought tears of purple rain,
Bastille Day brought France more pain
RIP my favorite Wonka, dear Gene Wilder.

Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe,
Boxer Ali’s gone now.
Trump and Clinton brought the country to a great divide.

Dead Gorilla at the zoo,
Britain’s out of the EU,
Shooting in Orlando and we’re out of tears to cry!

This was our year of trial,
Enough of being mean,
Two thousand and sixteen, because:
This was our year of trial,
It’s time for you to leave,
Can’t wait for New Year’s Eve!

NaNoWriMo isn’t the only writing game…

kimg1342For years I’ve thought Nanowrimo was an amazing challenge, but just out of reach for me. Not only do I tend toward picture books and poetry, but I’m also a full time teacher with two small children — it’s pretty much impossible for me to put everything aside and get the required word count in.

However, I’m always up for a challenge, and writing challenges are a great way to push ourselves to find time to create. About 8 years ago, I took part in “National Poetry Writing Month” (in April) and wrote a poem every day for a month. It was difficult, but exhilarating. I managed to keep it up for five years running.  Then last November, I heard about “PiBoIdMo” — Picture Book Idea Month, coordinated by the great picture book author Tara Lazar (author of Little Red Gliding Hood and Normal Norman). In this writing challenge, picture book authors are tasked with coming up with an idea for a picture book for each day of the month. That was an awesome challenge, and while it wasn’t easy, it was easier for me than a set word count because it only required coming up with the ideas, not fleshing them out. Even better, I now have a whole file full of ideas I can use. This year, Tara made the decision to move PiBoIdMo to next January, so watch for more posts about that in the coming weeks.

What now? It’s all come together in “30 Poems in November” — my 30 day poem challenge, but this time an event put forth by the “Center for New Americans” in Western Massachusetts.  The center works to provide literacy education and other tools to aid immigrants and refugees in reaching economic stability.  For more information, please consult the official CNA webpage. If you’re able, I’d appreciate a small donation. You’re more than welcome to “commission” a poem from me for the month– I love writing poems to honor people and events.

So here I am, back at it writing. I’ve been able to get in a poem a day so far, although a couple of them are unfinished. I’ll leave you with my poem for day 2:

I know why the caged dog bites.

They locked him up because he was a danger,

Then wondered why he growled and bit when the door was opened.

They kept him far from children,

Then wondered why he was not socialized.

They balanced biscuits on his nose

Then wondered why he ate them.

In dreams he runs free,

Without leash, collar or fence,

Without sharp voices cutting at his every leap.

A playful exuberance fuels his rambles over sunlit fields

And into happy waiting arms

That scratch in just the right spot.

His leg kicking reflexively, nose nuzzling, tongue giving wet kisses

In dreams he obeys,

Not for fear of the whip, but for joy

No he does not obey,

It is not a command, then, but merely

An unspoken partnership,

Born in mutual admiration and love.

And then…

With jarring clang the door swings open,

Awakening the sleeping dog with deep accusatory tones,

To play the role for which he has been trained.

November 2, 2016

Copyright MMK

Holiday Weekend PB Reviews

kimg1347Whew, it’s been a busy last couple weeks, but yesterday kicked off a rare four day weekend here in the home of Schreibenfreude! On Friday evening I was able to start and mostly finish a new picture book manuscript, this morning I met up with a couple writer friends for an impromptu chat, and this afternoon I took my older son to Barnes & Noble to see what’s new in picture books.  As always, the shelves are an embarrassment of brightly-colored riches and it was tough to decide what to read. Enjoy!

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