July 29, 2011

Scribblitt - Writing Fun For Kids Of All Ages!

I discovered something fun, and of course couldn't wait to share it!

Whether you're a parent or teacher with children who love to write or children who need to find the fun in writing, or a writer who wants to play around, you're going to like this!

It's fun, it's free, it's safe for kids, and it's called Scribblitt,
and here with us today is Scribblitt's creator, Andrea Bergstein.  Welcome, Andrea!
Andrea Bergstein and her girls - the inspiration for Scribblitt

SLH:  Where did you get the idea for Scribblitt?

AB:  My daughter, an avid writer for her age, writes story after story and always asks me to help her get them published.  My younger daughter, a budding illustrator draws non stop.  The trail of paper in my house is endless!  I wanted to encourage their efforts as I learned through research that reading helps develop your writing skills, but writing helps develop your cognitive growth, organizational ability and the power to influence others through persuasion.  I decided to create an online space for all kids to be able to create, write, and illustrate and then, the ultimate goal, to professionally publish their stories.  There are lots of helpful writing tools, illustrating tools, word games, writing contests, and even celebrity author interviews.
An overview of Scribblitt's Home Page
SLH:  Do you have credentials that make you uniquely suited for developing Scribblitt?

AB:  My expertise is actually in Marketing Kids products.  I spent 10 years (in 3 countries) Marketing some of the world's most loved toys - Barbie, Polly Pocket, and Hot Wheels.  I also ran the Marketing for Nelvana Animation Studios, building brands like Babar, Franklin and Beyblade.  Then I spent many years working as a Consultant on kids products like Universal Studios Home Video, Campbell's Soup, Danon and more.  Not only that, I am a Mom!  I have spent years looking at what kids like to do online, how to encourage educational use of the computer, what tools would be helpful to them in the writing and illustration arena, and how to keep them safe online.  I have gathered all this valuable information, talked with teachers and many in the online fields.  

SLH:  Did you create the whole site yourself, or did you hire a computer-savvy someone to construct it to your specifications?

AB:  I wrote an outline of what I wanted Scribblitt to look like and what functions I wanted it to have and then hired specialists to help me make it happen.

SLH:  What are your goals for the program?

AB:  Scribblitt is an amazing tool for kids, to encourage them to create and write.  I would like to spread the word about Scribblitt to all kids 7-12 years old - everyone has a story to tell! I am committed to adding features to the site that matter to kids, tools that will help them achieve a fabulous finished products, and more products that they can create.
A sample of the type of illustration you can create

SLH:  What do you wish people knew?

AB:  Writing is such an important skill and we should be spending more time on it with our kids to help foster their creativity, develop their cognitive growth, organizational abilities and levels of persuasiveness.  

SLH:  Anything else you'd like to add or talk about?

AB:  Scribblitt also makes a great fundraiser for schools or organizations!  Simply register at www.scribblitt.com/fundraising, we will give you a special code to share with your school or organization.  Kids write a story and publish it and earn their school/organization 10% of all sales (within an agreed upon timeframe).


Thank you, Andrea!  I would like to add that Scribblitt has many helpful features.  The "Write It" section includes story starters and tips on how to plan characters, setting, and main idea, as well as how to map beginning, middle and end.  By answering the questions posed, young writers will grasp the basics of story by coming to it in their own way rather than by being told what to do.  For the child who loves to write, this is an opportunity to give wings to their imagination.  For the child who isn't sure how to write, Scribblitt will give them the tools they need to make writing accessible and fun.

Please visit Scribblitt (www.scribblitt.com) and like Scribblitt on FaceBook!

I hope everyone will go give Scribblitt a try.  If you do, please let us know how you like it, and spread the word to others who might be interested.  If you have any additional questions for Andrea, ask them here :)
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July 27, 2011

Would You Read It Wednesday - The First Pitch!

My little heart is going pitter-pat and it is certainly not because I've had too much coffee.  (Really, I'm shocked you even thought that!)

No!  I'm excited because last week I thought up a game that over 4 people expressed an interest in, and one of them has even sent an entry!

So we're off and running with Would You Read It Wednesday!!!  SO exciting!!!

(Okay.  Now I'm putting on my announcer voice because I know how much you like it.)

It's time to play Would You Read It!  Please welcome our very first contestant, Andrea from Canada.  Let's give her an extra round of applause, ladies and gentleman, for being brave enough to go first AND tell us her real name!

Andrea presents us with this entry:

Working Title:  Wild (Girl) Genius
Age/Genre:  MG
The Pitch:  After girly Jade persuades her adventure-enthusiast parents to get her into a special camp led by wilderness expert Carson Riley, Jade's plans to show Carson she’s skilled enough to host a youth segment of his new TV show get messed up by a secret celebrity and someone sabotaging the camp.

So now it's up to you folks.  Let's vote.  Would you read it?  YES, MAYBE, or NO?

If your answer is YES, please feel free to tell us what you particularly liked and why the pitch piqued your interest.  If your answer is MAYBE or NO, please feel free to tell us what you think could be better in the spirit of helping Andrea improve her pitch.  However, I must ask that comments be constructive and respectful.  I reserve the right not to publish comments that are mean because that is not what this is about.

And now that you've all seen how fun this is in action, please send your pitches for the coming weeks and spread the word to all your writer friends so everyone can benefit!  All we need are the working title if you have one, the age/genre you're writing for, and The Pitch, (and your pitch can be anonymous if you prefer.)  Try out pitches you're polishing for submission to get a sense of how they're working, or try out pitches for ideas you're mulling over to see if they have merit.  Writers and readers are here to help!  Please send pitches to susanna@susannahill.com (you can use the EMAIL ME button in the right hand column too if that's easier :))

Looking forward to your thoughts on Andrea's pitch, and to your pitches as well!
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July 25, 2011

The Freshman Fifteen

Does everyone know about The Freshman Fifteen?

If you guessed the fifteen pounds American girls are supposed to gain their freshman year in college, you receive partial credit because that is, technically, one definition.

But I am not talking about muffin tops or thunder thighs.  (Thank goodness!  That is really not a topic ANYone wants to discuss!)

No, I am talking about an amazing organization that I'd like to spread the word about.  Here's the story:

A man in New York City was involved with a school in Harlem.  A very bright girl who attended that school was accepted to a prestigious New England college and, fortunately, given a scholarship to cover her tuition.  When the time came for her to go though, she had a problem: she had no way to get there - no car, and no money for a bus, train, or plane ticket.  Her mother, sadly, suffered from drug addiction.  She did not want her daughter to go away to school.  She wanted her to stay and work and support her.  She was in no position to help.  So the girl called the man at the school, and he arranged for a teacher to drive her to college.  The teacher arrived to pick the girl up at her projects apartment, and the girl came out to the car carrying nothing but a partially filled pillow case.  It contained all her possessions - the only things she would bring with her to college.

The teacher was dismayed.  This girl was heading off to college with nothing!  She had no bedding, no toiletries, no lamp, not even a pillow in her pillow case - none of the basics she would need for her dorm room.  The teacher called the man, who told her to stop at a Bed, Bath and Beyond on the way up and get the girl the basic necessities - he would pay for it.  So that's what the teacher did.

But the man realized this girl was not the only one in this situation.  He went home and told his wife, Mary, the story, and from that conversation The Freshman Fifteen was born.

Mary and her daughter Meaghan, a social worker in New York City, came up with a plan to raise money to buy the fifteen essential items kids would need to set up their dorm room - bedding, towels, a shower caddy and toiletries, a lamp, a fan, etc.  They called it The Freshman Fifteen.  

They describe their mission as follows:


Each year many at-risk high school seniors overcome the pitfalls of our most challenging neighborhoods, graduate from high school and are awarded college financial aid packages. While college aid packages may provide tuition, room and board, sadly, many of these students lack additional support for the all-important transition into college life.

The Freshman Fifteen is a modest, but targeted effort created to assist selected students through this transition by providing them dorm-room essentials. These include items that many of these students cannot afford and that many of us take for granted such as towels, sheets and blankets.


To that end, Mary and Meaghan began to make and sell jewelry.  Together, they go to New York City's bead district (who knew there was such a thing?!) and hand-pick beads of all kinds - agate, jade, sterling.  The beads are not inexpensive, even purchased wholesale.  Mary says when they first started, an ounce of sterling beads cost $11.  Today the same purchase is $40!  Then, using thread and impossibly tiny crochet needles, they weave the beads into beautiful, intricate designs - bracelets and necklaces in all colors of the rainbow.  Each bracelet takes many, many painstaking hours to complete, yet Mary and Meaghan sell them for an exceptionally reasonable price.  Here are just a few examples of their exquisite work:




all images taken from www.thefreshmanfifteen.org
And look!  Here's mine:
Pretty, isn't it?  Although actually, it doesn't show up very well on my kitchen counter.  I need a spotlight or something.  Wait!  I know!  I'll model it for you!
Hmm... still needs better light.  But I am GOOD at this!  I may have missed my calling.  Maybe I should have a career as a professional bracelet model!  But I digress....

Thanks to a deal with Bed, Bath and Beyond, Mary and Meaghan are able to outfit one student with the items they need for $500.  The first year they could help only a few out of their own pockets, but this past year they have helped 64 students head off to college with basic essentials they wouldn't have had otherwise.  Even more wonderful, this year they are expanding to Boston.  100% of proceeds from the sale of the jewelry goes to help these under-privileged college-bound kids.

Should you happen to be in the market for some unique and beautiful hand-made jewelry - for yourself, for a friend or family member's birthday, for a holiday gift when that time rolls around - please consider purchasing from The Freshman Fifteen.  Your gift will do double the good.  And Mary and Meaghan will make items to your specifications - you choose colors, materials and size - if you so desire.

What a generous service they provide for kids who really need it.

There are some genuinely wonderful people in the world, aren't there?

Please share the link with anyone who might be interested, especially teachers who might have students who could benefit.

Who do you know who is doing something good in the world?  Please share!
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July 20, 2011

Would You Read It? Wednesday

I've been reading a lot about the importance of pitches lately and it got me thinking:  we can all use a chance to brush up our skills, and we can all use a little input on how we're doing.

So I thought up a new game!  (Are you surprised?)

It's called Would You Read It? (I'm using my Game Show Host Voice) and if you guys think it's fun, we could make it a regular weekly Wednesday feature.  It sounds like fun to me (but then, I love games :))

Here's how we'll play:  people can send their one sentence pitch along with the title (if you have one) and the genre/age intended (just so we have a vague idea where you're aiming) to moi and I will post them on Wednesdays.  There will be a poll so readers can vote yes they would read it, maybe they would read it, or no they wouldn't.  If you get a lot of yeses - great! you're on the right track; a lot of maybes, then maybe it's not quite strong enough. If you get a lot of nos, then you know you need to work on your pitch a little more before striking up a conversation with a famous editor in an elevator somewhere :)  And we could make the pitches anonymous if you want to protect your ego privacy :)

You can send pitches of WIPs that you're readying for submission, or you can send pitches of possible ideas to see if you get a good response and it may be a story worth writing.

Here's a sample game so you can see how we'd play:

#1
Title:  Where The Mountain Meets The Moon by Grace Lin
Age/Genre:  MG
The Pitch:  "Minli, an adventurous girl from a poor village, buys a magical goldfish, and then joins a dragon who cannot fly on a quest to find the Old Man of the Moon in hopes of bringing life to Fruitless Mountain and freshness to Jade River."
Would You Read It?  YES MAYBE NO?

#2
Title:  Ribbit Rabbit by Candace Ryan
Age/Genre:  PB
The Pitch:  "Frog and Bunny are the best of friends, even though sometimes they get into fights."
Would You Read It?  YES MAYBE NO?

#3
Title:  A Great And Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Age/Genre:  YA
The Pitch:  "After the suspicious death of her mother in 1895, sixteen-year-old Gemma returns to England, after many years in India, to attend a finishing school where she becomes aware of her magical powers and ability to see into the spirit world."
Would You Read It?  YES MAYBE NO?

Then in the comments you would write:  #1 Maybe, #2, No, #3 Yes (or whatever.)  Get it?  Sound fun?

Let's give it a whirl!  Comment with your thoughts on these three, and then start sending pitches for next week!  Also comment if you think the game would be fun and you'd be willing to pitch in (oops, my punster is showing again :)) or if this game sounds worse then getting root canal.
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July 18, 2011

Spinal Tap First, Puppet Show Last

Ah, the life of a traveling lesser-known children's author...

Have I mentioned that I am a huge fan of This Is Spinal Tap?  It is one of my all-time favorite movies.  If you haven't seen it, get thee to your netflix queue and remedy the situation ASAP :)


The reason I mention it is because I felt like Spinal Tap on Friday.

I was supposed to do a library visit.  (Yes, I realize I just gave away the ending.)

Now, please know that most of the school and library visits I do are wonderful.  People work hard to organize and publicize them and they are usually well-attended.  I am very grateful.  But there are always the odd few that just don't work out so well.

Here's what happened...

I set out in a blinding downpour.  (Remember a while back when I noted that an awful lot of my recent visits have involved heavy rain?  The trend, apparently, continues...)

Anyhoo, through the downpour I made my way in the trusty Dog Mobile (who, it must be confessed, had yet to be properly vacuumed since the Nantucket trip and was sporting a rather horrifying carpet of dog hair and sand, along with the unmistakeable aroma of eau de dead sea creature but was pressed into service anyway because, let's face it, it was too far to walk.)

Driving rain was not challenge enough on this outing, however.
I was journeying toward a little town in The Back of Beyond where, apparently, the prevailing sentiment was that road signs of any kind should not be used under any circumstances.  I was supposed to be on Route 44/55, but was I?  It was anyone's guess, and the Dog Mobile wasn't volunteering an opinion, so I was on my own.  I could have asked, but given the extremely rural area and savage weather conditions the roadsides weren't exactly packed with helpful bystanders.

So I kept driving around.  (And for any Spinal Tap fans, this is like the part where they're ready for the show and they wander around in a maze of tunnels from the dressing room and can't find the entrance to the stage!)

Meanwhile, the minutes were ticking by, and I was beginning to get nervous about my arrival time.  I do not like to be late!

AT LAST, more by luck than good navigation, I miraculously found the well-concealed library.  The attendant Farmer's Market which was supposed to be part of the evening's festivities, was not set up indoors as I had been told it would be if it was raining.  Instead, about 6 little tents were set up in the parking lot down the hill from the library.  A few hardy vendors were huddled underneath in their rain ponchos, hoping against hope that someone would venture out in this weather and make their suffering worthwhile.  The prospects were not looking good.

They were not looking good for me, either.  I hadn't seen a single notice of any kind to let people know I would be coming this evening - no email notices, no mention in the local paper, no flyers or posters, nada.  I felt a prickling of disquietude a la Puppet Show and Spinal Tap except I was worse than an afterthought.  I was not a thought at all.

I drove up the hill, parked outside the front door at 5:35, well in time for my 6 PM reading, and entered the silent library.  And when I say silent, I mean silent.

I had assumed I'd be met by the librarian who was organizing the event, but no.  The place appeared deserted.

After wandering around for a few minutes, I discovered a woman.

"Hi!" I said, relieved to have found someone.  "I'm looking for Anna.*"
(*Name changed so I don't get in trouble :))

"I'm Anna," she said.

"Nice to meet you," I said, extending my hand.  "I'm Susanna Hill."

"Oh," she said vaguely.

Hmm.  Inauspicious beginning.

Alas, things did not get significantly better during the ensuing conversation:

ME (brightly): So where shall I set up?

HER (vaguely):  The library closes at 6.

ME (patiently):  But I'm supposed to read at 6.

HER (vaguely):  I know.

ME (giving her every opportunity to show me she had a back-up plan):  Sooooo....?

HER (vaguely):  I guess you'll have to do it outside.

ME (observantly):  It's pouring.

HER (vaguely):  Yes.

ME (informatively):  I didn't come equipped for heavy rain since you said we'd be indoors if it was raining.

HER (vaguely):  Usually we are.

ME (still patiently):  So what would you like me to do?

HER (vaguely):  Maybe someone would let you squeeze under their tent?

ME (intelligently):  That's a big imposition, and besides, the tents are teeny.  There's no room for an extra table, and nowhere to read to kids.

HER (vaguely):  There's no one here anyway.  I don't think anyone will bring their kids out in this weather.

(At this point, I was sorely tempted to ask if she'd ever heard of a little device called a telephone.  We could so easily have rescheduled.  But I didn't want to be rude or seem unpleasant.  SO...)

ME (still patiently):  So what would you like me to do?

HER (vaguely):  I don't know.  I doubt anyone will come.  It's raining.

ME (problem-solvingly and looking pointedly at the completely empty parking lot):  Perhaps we should skip it for today then.  There doesn't seem much point in waiting around if we have nowhere to read and no one is coming.

HER (vaguely):  Yeah.

ME (uncertainly):  Okay, then.  I guess I'll head out?

HER (vaguely):  Maybe you'd like to come in the fall when the Farmer's Market is always inside.

ME:  Sure, let me know.  (But thinking when h-e-double hockey sticks freezes over!)

So I got back in the Dog Mobile without ever taking out a single book and drove back through the driving rain to the family I had abandoned on a Friday evening for absolutely no reason.

Two hours of time, 80 miles on the Dog Mobile (and, let's be honest, she's not getting any younger and she doesn't need the extra miles!), probably a good $15 in gas, and a missed evening with my family all for nothing.

Next time it better say Spinal Tap first and Puppet Show last!

Have you ever been an afterthought or worse?
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July 14, 2011

Being Transformed

Our first grandchild is due tomorrow (well, I guess if you want to get technical about it I should confess that it's my step-grandchild - there are those (me) who would say I shouldn't be old enough to have a genetic grandchild :))  Anyway, it's got me thinking about what it was like becoming a parent.

Parenthood is a transformation.  Once you have a child, you never look at the world quite the same way again.  You do the basics - feed, clothe, shelter, and care for your child - but it goes way beyond that.
You find out what delights them so you can hear them laugh again and again.  You sit with their little freshly-bathed pajamaed selves in your lap, breathing in the sweet scent of Johnson's baby shampoo and sleepy child while you read them bedtime stories.  You kiss boo-boos better, hand them pieces of bread to feed the ducklings, build block towers for them to destroy, listen to their thoughts, answer their questions, encourage their exploration of the world, sit up with them at night when they don't feel well, share their wonder as they discover new things about themselves and the world around them, chase away their bad dreams, comfort them when they're sad, bake cookies on rainy afternoons, hold onto them so they feel safe while the ocean licks at their feet, carry them when they're tired even if you are too, run beside the bike until they're ready for you to let go... - well, you know.

You do what makes them happy.

Case in point:  Last week, I took my kids to see Transformers.


And

(yes, there's more!)

I sat through the whole thing!

I'm pretty sure that qualifies as parental devotion.
Have you seen this film?  I don't know know how they took themselves seriously.  The drama of Optimus Prime (I did not make that up - that's one of their names!) and the other autobots (I think that's what they called the good transformers but I confess the decibel level beat me into a stupor) marching toward their exile was supposed to be so intense, and all I could think was, they're trucks that turn into robots - where's the emotional pull in that?  I guess I just don't get it.

Oh, darn.

Transformers is not a movie I would have chosen to see - ever - but my kids and their cousins wanted to go, so my sister and I did what parents do: we allowed our eardrums to be assaulted for, like, 2 1/2 hours (it was r e a l l y long - well, maybe not, but it seemed endless!) while we feigned interest in the robot drama so that our kids could have a good time.  Which they totally did.

But that's what I'm talking about.  Being Transformed :)

What have you done with or for your kids recently that you never would have done without them?

(And feel free to place bets on the actual arrival date and gender of our grandbaby - we've got a bracket going that rivals March Madness!)
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July 11, 2011

Word Fun Monday

It's Monday, and while I (as I've mentioned before) find that inspiring, many people look at the work week ahead and think oy!

So here's a little fun to brighten your day :)



My family is very game oriented, and especially word-game oriented (in case you haven't figured that out from my many posts about how much I love games :))  My sister is visiting with her kids, and last night at dinner the following questions were posed:

Only 2 words in the English language contain uu.  What are they?

Only 3 words in the English language begin with dw.  What are they?

What are the 2 longest one-syllable words in English?  (I'll give you a hint - one is 8 letters and one is 7 and they both begin with s - also, this game refers to root words, so no prefixes, suffixes or verb endings etc.)

Technically I should be offering a prize for the first person to guess all three, but I'm fresh out of prize ideas... unless someone wants one of those nameless dead sea creatures I mentioned on Friday (she said hopefully)?  For the time being, you will have to be satisfied with the fame of being the person connected with this blog who is That Smart!  If you can answer all three I will be impressed and if you think up a reasonable prize for yourself I'll consider it :)

Ready, set, GO!  I can't wait to see if you can guess the words!
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July 8, 2011

Getting Back In The Swing

I'm baa-aack!

And only 5 days behind schedule - how's that for promptitude (I'm on a sniglet roll:))

We had a lovely vacation (to Nantucket, as some of you smarties correctly guessed!) thanks so very much for asking.

We had beautiful weather - only part of one morning was a bit rainy.  The beach was gorgeous, the town quaint as always, the bike paths fun.  We walked and ran and biked and kayaked and built sand castles and dug tremendous holes and played endlessly with our cousins and all the other things that make vacation fun, and though we got a fair share of mosquito bites, nobody got sunburned and only one person (my son of course) got poison ivy!

Now we're home, and you should see my car.  Poor Dog Mobile.  She is FULL of sand.  And rocks.  And shells.  And questionable items of wet laundry.  And nameless dead sea creatures that smell evil (apparently these are valuable collectibles....)  And dog hair.  But that's nothing new!

One thing I discovered?  A week without the internet was heaven sent.  I forgot how relaxing it is to not be constantly checking email etc.  It's making it a little hard to get back in the swing of things :)  (I may revert to cave living... :))

But I was also distracted by losing my wallet... need I say more?

And by my daughter's discovery of Daily Grace and her recipe for Macachos (that's macaroni and cheese combined with nachos, for the uninitiated!)  I really can't in good conscience post the link here (there are a few bleeped out bad words but you can still tell what they are) but if any of you, like me, are not natural-born cooks, you should look up Macachos on YouTube.  I haven't laughed so hard in a while!!  If you watch it, PLEASE tell me what you think :)

And by receiving preliminary art for the first of my digital books for A Story Before Bed - so awesome!  I can't wait to share it when I get the real thing (and the go ahead)!

And by driving my children hither and yon and visiting with my sister and her family  and by the arrival of friends from Scotland who showed up and needed overnight accommodations in an already full house etc, etc, etc...

Do you see the distractions I deal with?  It's a miracle I'm here now :)  I'm actually typing from beneath a mountain of wet sandy laundry.

For your viewing pleasure, here is a picture from the Atlanta, GA Borders which made my little heart sing :)


And now I'm off to do more driving hither and yon, and I hope you have enjoyed this hodge-podge post which is very ADD for me :)

Hopefully I'll be back on track next week...!
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