Dots Helps Us Make Our Mark!

Every September, we participate in International Dot Day – a global celebration of courage, creativity, and collaboration. It is based on the Peter H. Reynolds’ book entitled The Dot—the story of frustrated grade school artist, Vashti, as she sits slumped over her blank piece of paper at the end of art class. “I just CAN’T draw!” she tells her teacher. Her teacher first uses wit, then subtle yet clever encouragement to inspire her student to go beyond her insecurities and become, in the words of a younger boy who “can’t” draw either, and laments that he could never become “a really great artist” like Vashti. However, she encourages him to try, just as her
teacher did. The open-ended conclusion encourages students of all ages to contemplate how they can make their own mark in the world.

Peter H. Reynolds is one of my favorite author/illustrators!

We discussed fixed versus growth mindset, making our mark, and then students created their own art to take home and share with their parents.

Students used our recycled dot-shaped crayons, too! This is a great use for old, broken crayons — find out how to make them here.

2018 National Energy Conference for Educators

The National Energy Education Development (NEED) Project began “over 35 years ago as a one-day celebration of energy education when National Energy Education Day was recognized by a Joint Congressional Resolution. In the same year, President Jimmy Carter issued a Presidential Proclamation stressing the need for comprehensive energy education in our schools, a reduction of our dependence of fossil fuels, and increasing use of renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency.”

This year, MCPS school library media programs partnered with The Energizing Student Potential (ESP) program to bring resources to educators so that they may teach their students with their awesome hands-on learning activities.  This past year, my 5th grade students enjoyed the ESP lessons, and were able to present their anemometer and windmill projects, and demonstrate wind energy with our KidWind turbines, at our school’s STEM Night and Science Fair in April. 

This coming year, I hope to start an Earth Conservation afterschool program for my 4th and 5th grade students that will include the energy lessons, as well as others that focus on the Three R’s – reduce, reuse, and recycle.   My goal is for them to submit their year-long project to for consideration in the Youth Awards Program.

At the 2018 National Energy Conference for Educators in Galveston Island, Texas, we were able experience the ESP lessons with the dynamic facilitators, and the networking opportunities were invaluable.  The friendships that I made with educators in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Massachusetts will hopefully be lifelong! I am looking forward to a long partnership with !

2018 Gaithersburg Book Festival (in review)

Being a part of Gaithersburg Book Festival planning committee is magical for me, because it allows me to be on the ground level of creating this amazing event each and every year.  As I watch the list of featured authors and illustrators grow, and help to recruit authors, illustrators, poets and other creative sorts for our writers’ workshops, my anticipation grows as well.  I encourage my students and their families to attend, hoping they will be as excited as I am about the “big day”.  There is nothing quite like listening to an author talk about their writing, or watching an illustrator create magic on an easel!

In case you missed my earlier posts about GBF 2018:

And The Children’s Book Podcast by Matthew Winner

Pop-Up Interviews at the Gaithersburg Book Festival (The Children’s Book Podcast #447)

In Conversation with Matthew Winner of The Children’s Book Podcast

The Children's Book Podcast logoAs a new educator, I met Matthew Winner at the Maryland Association of School Librarians annual conference where I attended one of his workshop sessions.  I have been one of his biggest fans ever since.   I have found his children’s literature podcast to be one of my favorite forms of professional learning and one of the best resource tools for library collection development.  But they are wonderful resources for anyone who loves children’s literature from librarians, to teachers, to parents – and to the children who love to read. Matthew’s interviews encourage the listener to look at each book with eyes that see the wonder in its words and illustrations.  Every time I listen to his podcast, I am filled with joy.

Matthew is a “Rock Star” school librarian in Howard County Public Schools. In 2013 he was named Mover and Shaker by School Library Journal for his work incorporating technology into his classes.  That same year, he was invited to the White House as part of the Champions of Change program.  Matthew is the co-founder of All the Wonders children’s literature website, and the founder of The Children’s Book Podcast.

On Saturday, May 19, Matthew will be in conversation with Gayle Forman, prolific author of young adult fiction titles including Just One, Leave Me, I was Here, If I Stay, and Sisters in Sanity about her newest release, I have Lost my Way – a powerful story of empathy and friendship.  In live recording for The Children’s Book Podcast, Matthew will explore Gayle’s craft as a writer, asking questions with a sense of curiosity and wonder for her artistry.


What do you appreciate the most about interviewing authors and illustrators?

“I have always loved having a venue to speak openly, honestly, and sincerely about the books I love with the people who made them. More often than not I have seen something beautiful or challenging or new important (or all of the above) in these books. That opportunity to get to know the storyteller as well as the origins of the stories themselves is something I’ve always valued.”

What have you learned about yourself and about the KidLit industry as your podcast has evolved?

“I think the biggest things I’ve learned are that modeling diversity and representation through your art or platform take concentrated intention, and with said platform comes responsibility.  I strive to champion as often as possible authors and illustrators of color, LBGTQ authors and allies, and historically marginalized voices. But in doing so I find I spend a lot of time looking at my recording schedule and being as deliberate as possible as I consider what my guest list says about my values and goals on the podcast. It’s important I stay cognizant of my own biases and gaps in knowledge as I approach each interview. It’s something I strive to improve with each and every episode. I think that everyone in children’s publishing, from authors to illustrators, editors to publishers, bloggers to teachers, we’re all still trying to find our way, to navigate these uncertain waters with care and respect. It’s nice to know that all of us are learning together.”

What keeps you coming back year after year to the Gaithersburg Book Festival?

“I live in Ellicott City, just a short hop down the road to the GBF, and I am continually impressed with the list of authors hosted each year. The setting of downtown Gaithersburg feels intimate and even quaint, but the authors, illustrators, and cartoonists that come to speak rival that of The National Book Festival some years. It’s really a great way to hear a world class author on a close-seat stage.”

Since you are a KidLit expert, how do you feel about interviewing young adult author, Gayle Forman? Do you think you’ll continue to expand your podcast and interview more young adult authors in the future?

“The books that are most often on my radar as an elementary school librarian tend to be books that would appeal to that age range, but I definitely try to “read up” as often as time allows (and usually through audiobooks). I don’t feature YA as often as I’d like, but I’m blessed to have a great group of friends who work in middle and high school libraries and are always willing to share what books are on their radar or won’t ever stay on the shelves. But in terms of the interview, I’ll approach my interview with Gayle with the same sense of curiosity and exploration as I do with any other guest. I look forward to speaking with Gayle Forman at GBF and all that we’ll all learn together about her craft and her new book!”

Gayle Forman will be in conversation with Matthew Winner in the Ogden Nash Pavilion   1:15p-2:05pm – I hope you’ll join in on the conversation! 

For more information about Gayle Forman and her books, visit

Award-winning author and journalist Gayle Forman has written several bestselling novels for young adults, including the Just One Series, I Was HereWhere She Went and the #1 New York Times bestseller If I Stay, which has been translated into more than 40 languages and in 2014 was adapted into a major motion picture.

To listen to The Children’s Book Podcast, visit

Hosted by Matthew Winner, co-founder of All The Wonders. The Children’s Book Podcast features insightful and sincere interviews with authors, illustrators, and everyone involved in taking a book from inspiration to bookshelf.

Zooming through Space with Dave Roman

GBF starbunny_gaithersburgDave Roman is one of our most popular children’s book presenters we’ve had crash land at Gaithersburg Book Festival.  His graphic novels are exciting to read, and he has a great way with kids – he “draws” them out (pun intended) and helps them get their creative juices flowing with his interactive presentations and workshops.

Dave’s books – especially the Astronaut Academy series – are very popular at my elementary school library and copies are rarely on the bookshelf in my ever growing graphic novel section — they are out in the hands of my students!

On Saturday, May 21st, you will find Dave leading the Comics Character Team Up (with Special Guest) a workshop for middle school-aged kids 11:00-11:45 am in the Children’s Workshop Tent and moderating the Science Comics Series discussion 12:15-1:05 pm in the Willa Cather Pavilion.

Dave stopped by to chat with me about the upcoming Gaithersburg Book Festival…

Have you been attending GBF since the beginning in 2010?  

I’ve attended all but the first Gaithersburg Book Festival. I was trapped on another planet that year, but was eventually saved by the intergalactic hero, Jud Ashman and his team of literacy robots!  

What keeps bringing you back to crash land in Gaithersburg each May?

Gaithersburg puts on one of the best book festivals I’ve ever been to. The attendees are such an enthusiastic community of people who care deeply about literacy and supporting the arts. The kids who come out to the comics-making workshop are like mad scientists with their boundless creativity. So kids have come back year after year and just keep getting more creative. I look forward to seeing their own books featured at the festival in the near future!  

Which book(s) will you be talking about at your featured presentation?

I’ll be moderating a presentation with Joe Flood and Falynn Koch, talking about the amazing Science Comics series from First Second. Joe is the brave author responsible for tackling Sharks: Nature’s Perfect Hunter and Falynn is the mad scientist who is spreading knowledge with Plagues: The Microscopic Battlefield. I was lucky to work with them as an editor, which means I got to read these books long before anyone else. Woo! I think the three of us are going to have a lot of fun drawing on stage and maybe I can convince them to draw a Plagues vs. Sharks crossover comic!

Do you have any book projects in the works that you can tell us about?  

I illustrated a book called Pluto is Peeved: An Ex-Planet Searches for Answers that was written by Jacqueline Jules and will be crashing to earth next month.

gbf pluto is peeved







Are you still creating the StarBunny webcomic? Anything you can tell me about it? 

It’s been a few months since I wrapped up the original Starbunny, Inc. story. But I have ideas for a follow up that I hope I can get to soon! Starbunny is probably my most personal work and it’s been super rad to hear from kids who really get into the idea of a lactose intolerant bunny hitchhiking across the galaxy on a shooting star caught with a butterfly net!yaytime

Hope you will come out to meet the amazingly talented Dave Roman (and our other authors and illustrators as well) at the 2018 Gaithersburg Book Festival!

Melissa McDonald

GBF Children’s and Teen’s Workshops Coordinator

Playing Catch with Fred Bowen

GBF 2017 - by Melissa McDonald (48)Attention sports fans – have you read books by sports author Fred Bowen? If you haven’t, you should!   He is the author of 22 sports books for kids AND he writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost.   In his fiction titles, he takes a true story in sports history, and creates a story for kids to help them understand it. “Most of my books are sports fiction that loop in real sports history and include a sports history chapter in the back.”    His books and columns are action packed – and after you read his work, I think you will agree!  Fred will be a featured presenter at Gaithersburg Book Festival 2018 (Jim Henson Pavilion, 1:15-2:05pm), as well as lead a writer’s workshop for kids (Journal Writing for Young Sports Fans, 3:30-4:15pm).  For the full schedule, click here!

I recently caught up with Fred and asked him a few questions:

How did you first hear about the GBF?

I heard about the GBF because I was invited to speak at the first one.  I accepted because I like to support local events.  Since then, I have been a presenter every GBF except one (the second one).  The event gets better and better with every year.  It really is one of my favorite book festivals.

What do you like most about the event?

I always say that being at the GBF is like going to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  I better explain. 

When you go to the Baseball HOF you are surrounded by people who love baseball.  So you can talk to anyone there because you automatically have something in common … your love of the game. 

It’s the same with the GBF.  When you are walking around the grounds or going to the author talks you are surrounded by people who love books and ideas.  So you can talk to anyone about the books you have read or want to read.  It is a wonderful gathering of like-minded souls. 

One more thing … the folks at the GBF throw a wonderful party for the authors the night before the event.  That is always great fun.

What do you like most about working with kids in the workshops?

I do a workshop on keeping sports journals.  In other words, I encourage the kids to keep a writing journal about the teams they play on.  So they can be sportswriters too!

 Kids are always full of enthusiasm and surprises.  The talk is very interactive with me asking lots of questions.  Believe me, the kids always come up with answers I would never have thought of.

Lucky Enough -Fred BowenAnything we should look forward to in this year’s author presentation or workshop?

Well, I have a new baseball book called Lucky Enough.  My books are for kids ages 7-12.  They combine sports fiction, sports history and there is always a chapter of sports history in the back.  The sports history in Lucky Enough is about baseball superstitions.  So there should be lots of talk about baseball superstitions – there are some crazy ones!

For more information about Fred Bowen and his books, visit or follow him on Twitter @FredBowenBooks.  See you at Gaithersburg Book Festival 2018!

Getting Real with Karina Yan Glaser

Vanderbeekers-510x680As a lover of children’s books (which is a good thing because I am an elementary school librarian) I was delighted to be handed a copy of The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser to read.  This debut novel for grades 4-6 follows the adventures of the six Vanderbeeker children as they try to save their family home when their curmudgeonly landlord refuses to renew their lease just days before Christmas.

I had the opportunity to interview Karina about her book, and am excited to share with you my questions, and her answers.  After reading this blog post, I hope you will be as excited as me to hear her speak  on Saturday, May 19th in the Jim Henson Pavilion 2:15-3:05pm.

I’ve read several reviews by adults, and they’re all great, but what are the kids saying about the Vanderbeekers? What is your favorite comment by a young reader?

I love hearing from readers! I have met so many kids through school visits, Skype visits, and book festivals, as well as through social media, email, and snail mail. Most of the kids I speak to ask, “Is there going to be another Vanderbeekers book?” And I happily tell them that the second book is called The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden and that it will come out on September 25, 2018, plus a third Vanderbeekers book is planned for 2019. Getting questions about whether the book is going to be a series is such a compliment because they liked the first book enough to want to read more! I received a beautiful drawing of the brownstones on 141st Street from a reader in Florida a few weeks ago, with a note that said she had bought The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street with money she had received for her eleventh birthday. “It was an outstanding book,” she writes, “and will always be one of my FAVORITE books.” So sweet!

How and why did you decide that Isa (and Luciana) should play the violin  – is there personal significance for including a violin in your story?

The violin was incorporated into the story mostly because I love music and wanted to have a classical musician in the Vanderbeeker family. On a practical note, both of my daughters play the violin, and I have picked up some knowledge about the instrument over the years.

The book cover is wonderful — I love the colors and the details of each building.  What is your favorite part of the cover art?

I love the book cover as well! Karl James Mountford, the cover artist, is so gifted and I’m glad he picked up this project. I love everything about the cover; it’s so hard to pinpoint a favorite aspect. I do love the kids in the window, the colors of the brownstones, the skyline…

What has surprised you most about your book?

It still surprises me that people have heard about The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street. In February, I was part of middle grade book panel with authors I really admire, and Jacqueline Woodson (Jacqueline Woodson!) came up to me and congratulated me on my book and told me that she had a copy at home and it was her family’s next read aloud. I just about fainted right there.

What are you most looking forward to at our book festival?

I am really looking forward to attending the other panels (so many amazing authors!), and I am super excited to do a session with Hena Khan, middle grade author of Amina’s Voice and Power Forward. I love book festivals because it connects me to readers in a very relaxed and authentic way. I cannot wait!

For more information about author Karina Yan Glaser, please visit her website here. For the complete Gaithersburg Book Festival author presentation schedule, please click here.

Melissa McDonald, MLS  (GBF Children’s and Teen’s Workshops Coordinator)


Choo Choo! Gaithersburg Book Festival is pulling into town on May 19th!

Known as The Creative Librarian, I love to read, write, and draw – just stop by my elementary school library and check out my bulletin boards and book displays (or follow me on social media) and you’ll see why!   This is why I am so excited about our children’s and teen’s workshop lineup this year. You and your child(ren) will thoroughly enjoy the variety offered at GBF 2018.

Elementary School

Journal Writing for Young Sports Fans

In an energetic and interactive workshop, join local children’s sports author Fred Bowen teach participants how to keep a sports journal about their favorite professional team or their own team

The Secret to Every Great Story

Participants will explore the question: what makes us tell each other stories? Through interactive activities, hunt for a secret to all great story-telling with author J.H. Deihl. This workshop is a great way to jumpstart writing one’s own story!

Drawing Dragons and Monsters

Come join author-illustrator Steve Light and learn how to draw a dragon and a monster! Steve will give some drawing demos of his favorite creatures and encourages kids and their grown-ups to follow along with him.

Popping up with Robert Sabuda

Ever wonder how pop-up books work? Learn from the world’s leading expert! Join bestselling children’s pop-up book artist and paper engineer Robert Sabuda as he leads children and their grownups on a pop-up making escapade.

Middle to High School

Make it Snappy!

Using mentor texts and examples from her own revision process, Author Sarah Albee will discuss strategies to help kids bring their own writing to the next level. Geared especially to those with an interest in humorous/lively writing, these craft techniques can be useful for writers of both fiction and nonfiction.

Untamed Voices – The Writer Within

Led by poet/writer/performer Vincent Hill, this workshop is a creative writing experience geared towards identifying the writer within each of us. In a fun, interactive space, participants will learn that everything in life can be a muse to their pen.

 Fantasy Prompts for Young Writers

In this workshop, published author Annabelle Jay will lead young writers in a series of fantasy prompts. Appropriate for beginners and more experienced writers alike, this session will inspire participants and give them several story beginnings to expand on at home. Adults are also welcome! 

Comics Character Team Up

Join author-illustrator Dave Roman (Astronaut Academy, Agnes Quill, Teen Boat) and special guest (it could be YOU)  for an interactive workshop that’s all about developing silly and unique characters and collaborating with fellow artists to create unexpected comic stories full of twists and turns.

See you at GBF 2018 on Saturday, May 19th!  ~Melissa McDonald (Children’s and Teen’s Workshop Coordinator)



I’m a Picture Book Month Ambassador – Are You?


I love Picture Book Month because I can highlight my favorite picture books throughout the month of November, and share my love of them with all my students – even the ones who think they are too old for picture books!

Some of my favorite picture books are these:

I Hate Picture Books by Timothy Young




Ryan T. Higgins Be Quiet!  is an amazing picture book — it is hilarious, and even my youngest students appreciate the humor (and the adults in the room, even more!!).

Absolutely all Elephant & Piggie books by Mo Willems- especially The Thank You Book and We are in a Book!  I even decorated pumpkins like Gerald & Piggie to celebrate autumn in my library!  Mo has many fun resources on his site to go along with the books, too.

EPLRBadgeelephant and piggie

Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown’s Creepy Carrots and Creepy Pair of Underwear have my students sitting on the edge of their criss-cross-applesauce-bottoms when I read in my best creepy voice.  Their book trailers are great, and they also have activity guides available:    Creepy Carrots and  Creepy Pair of Underwear (scroll down)

pete the cat

Pete the Cat books by James Dean are also extremely popular with my students!  Another picture book pumpkin that graces my book shelves in my library is Pete-the-Pumpkin 🙂   Be sure to check out the songs that go along with the books!


They have a great teacher activity guide – check it out here!

I hope you enjoy Picture Book Month as much as I do this November!

Box of Buttons, Room of Readers by Dana Kramaroff

I loved the analogy in this Nerdy Book Club post! I am just like the author’s daughter — I have an empty peanut butter jar filled with buttons, and it is fun to put my hand in there and feel the textures and shapes of the different buttons. Perhaps the 4-holed buttons could also be the two eyes of the adult and the two eyes of the child as they read a picture book together! Melissa


In those moments, I considered how each button tells a story.

You dig in and hold one in your hand, inspecting it up close you wonder where it has been.

Like buttons, readers come to us and tell a story about their reading journey. Some readers are shiny and new, eager and ready. Some are worn and experienced. Some are even broken, their love for books, seemingly ruined forever.

The similarities between a button and the bookish or not-so-bookish student runs deep.

Within a box of buttons, some have four eyes, some two, and some none at all. Within our students we might see that their eyes for reading are not open yet to the magical feeling one finds when they experience a book and feel it to their core. Our students may read with two eyes open but may lack the know-how, that reading is more than simply decoding the words. And those readers with four eyes wide-open, are able to reach new heights in their journey for they have the power within them already, to truly attach reader to their identity.

We wish for all of our students to live like this, open to the possibilities of the page.

We might find a broken button at the bottom of the pile. We imagine what it must have taken for it to break, knowing it would require super strength and we wonder how the unthinkable could be possible. Some might consider giving up, just throwing it away, but no. We dutifully search for the other half and when we find it, we lift those pieces up and fit them back together. Two halves of a broken button seem beyond repair but super glue and the human spirit are mighty. Anything is attainable if we try.

A reader of ours might come to us, in the very same way. Broken or even hanging on by a thread. But that does not mean they are beyond repair. We would never dare to throw a reader away or give up on them.

Like the box of buttons my three year old is enamored with, we too, become enamored with our room of readers that were given to us and we hold them close. We may only have them for a short while, but for that time, they are ours as we gently push them to see their world open up with each book they complete.

Like a needle and thread, we weave our own love for books throughout the school day in crafty ways, in hopes we may connect child to book, reader to the courageous act of reading. We show them the way, sharing aloud the most stick-to-our-gut stories. We model our own reading lives. We inspire, so that by year’s end we can hold each in our hands and know that we have impacted their journey.

Dana Kramaroff is a K-5 Instructional Coach. She is a proud fellow of the National Writing Project and is a co-director of her local site: the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project. In addition to being enamored by her work with teachers and students, she is a mom of three, a wife, a reader and writer, and an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Dana would be very happy to connect with you! Follow her @litdanak.

via Box of Buttons, Room of Readers by Dana Kramaroff