“Creatives on Camera” Course with Jess Keating: Week One Reflections

I am taking a “Creatives on Camera” class with the talented author, scientist, and presenter, Jess Keating. It seems fairly impossible that I would become comfortable on camera and embrace the social media possibilities of video in my career as a writer and educator but I am up for the challenge.

This first session has taught me so much! One example: Look at the camera, not at the people on the screen. Also, the looking straight at your audience and being physically present in your body helps your audience feel at ease. Jess is a master of connecting through video with a sense of intimacy and joy.

For homework this week, we have 4 assignments:

  1. What is your “why?”

Why am I taking the “Creatives on Camera” class?

Inner beauty is the only true beauty yet when I come face-to-face with myself on camera, I judge rather than embrace my imperfections. I also talk too fast. I would like to become more comfortable on camera.

Jess cultivates a thoughtful online social media presence. She stresses being perceived over being visible. I need to learn more about this.

I would like to share my passion for reading, writing and creating with others. I also have a desire to make a difference for those readers and writers who haven’t yet found success in the classroom.

Through my writing, I want to speak about nature, resilience, suffering, and joy.

I am looking forward to learning from and getting to know Jess and the other members of our “Creatives on Camera” community.

2. FaceTime with a friend.

My husband graciously FaceTimed with me from his office. Employing Jess’ tips helped me to speak more slowly and looking directly into the camera helped me focus on what I was saying rather than responding to his body language. Hmm. Is that a good thing? Yes, I think it is because it means that I am taking the space to communicate what I wish to communicate. In the past, I was so alert to micro-expressions that I would hurry my presentation in response to my perceptions of the impatience or the boredom of others.

3. Short Video Message:

Compose a short video message with an introduction, one or two pieces of information, and a sign-off.

4. Clear Your Airways Before Public Speaking

As someone who usually starts my presentations by talking a mile a minute, I really appreciate this tip: Take a pen (or other object) and slowly describe what it looks like out loud for a few minutes. This helped me prime my speaking voice to present in a calm and composed manner.

In Session 2 of “Creatives on Camera,” Jess asked us to go deep and reflect on our visibility fears that are rooted in past experiences. We were encouraged to journal about our experiences related to “going public.” Growing up, the expectation was “be quiet” and when that changed by high school and college, I didn’t have the tools to speak up. It wasn’t until I had a mentor that encouraged and expected me to share my expertise with the school community that I started to become more comfortable with public speaking.

I believe that the world needs everyone to share their voice and heart. I will facilitate that through upcoming workshops.

If you would like to learn more about Jess Keating or her classes: https://www.jesskeatingbooks.com

The Peep

Source: GIPHY

     “When will the first frog peep?” Pinkletink asked Grady.

     “When you peep,” Grady answered. “Whoever asks is the first peeper.”

     “I withdraw my question,” Pinkletink said.

     “Impossible,” said Grady. 

     The frogs chanted, “You can do it!”  

     Pinkletink took a deep breath and …nothing.

     “You can do it!” said Grady

     “You can do it!” the frogs chanted.

     He took a deep breath and………….nothing….not a peep.

      “I can do it!” Pinkletink thought.

      Inhaling deeply, Pinkletink bottled up the air inside him until the great sac beneath his chin ballooned and…………he released the first high trilling thrilling peep of spring.

     Grady and all the frogs cheered and then joined Pinkletink in a chorus of peeping that rang out across the forest.

     “You did it,” peeped Grady.

     “You did it,” peeped all the frogs in the forest

     “I did it,” peeped Pinkletink.  “But you helped me believe that I could.”


THE PEEP is my entry for the #SpringFlingKidlit contest, hosted by Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez and Ciara O’Neal. Thank you so much to Kaitlyn and Ciara for creating this amazing opportunity for writers to craft a spring-themed story for kids 12 and under.

The story should include a spring-themed GIF and be 150 words or less. Read more about the contest, enter your own story, or get links to all the entries here.

THE PEEP was inspired by a childhood experience that I call, The Jump, where I was afraid to make the jump that was a rite of passage on my Bronx street.


“Empower children and show them their voices matter.”

Patricia Newman

“…ignite a sense of wonder about things we don’t understand and convey it’s okay not to know. It would show that we all have a role to play that, we are a functional, important part of the vastness.”

Seth Fishman

Perhaps we don’t choose to write a story, including a nonfiction story, perhaps the story chooses us. I recently participated in a book club for adult writers where we read and discussed this wonderful book over the course of many weeks. It was particularly striking how passionate each author was about their subject matter and the extensive research each did to make their story come alive. Nonfiction is not just the facts, although the facts matter, but the story. In essay after essay, authors stressed how their personal connections informed the writing. Whether they were writing the book so they could finally see someone who looked like them in a book, heal, share pain or wonder, right wrongs and/or make the world a better place, it was personal connections that made each of their picture books book so memorable.

As a practical guide for the student or adult nonfiction writer, NONFICTION WRITERS DIG DEEP offers advice from authors, gorgeous mentor texts and exercises to prompt ideas (including theme), revision and connection. I especially love the four questions Melissa Stewart has students ask after the research has been completed:

  1. This idea gives me….
  2. I was surprised to learn….
  3. This makes me think….
  4. This is important….

I also learned from this book how important it is to pause after research and ask, “How do I personally connect to these facts? What am I still wondering? What is emotionally wowing me?” Michelle Markel reminds the writer to seek out the “expressive, artistic, poetic” in the writing.

One comment from a fellow book club member really captured the heart of the book for me: “Art comes from the collection of stories that we carry.” When those stories meet facts, authors craft books that move readers.

This is a book that I will return to again and again for its warmth and wisdom.

Here is the launch video: https://tinyurl.com/y46cxcx2?fbclid=IwAR2KkhKPL1V6_FAzZt4W4IUw0fgI9KdUUyQdIWXHyODT8SxvIleoD1J34tQ

Melissa Stewart’s blog: Celebrate Science: http://celebratescience.blogspot.com

and website https://www.melissa-stewart.com



#50 Precious Words Contest

Art by Vicki Fang

The writer, Vivian Kirkfield’s #50PreciousWords contest, asks adults (a children’s #50PreciousWords is coming later in the year) to create a story using just 50 words! Such a fun and creative exercise. Here’s my entry:

Nicky and the Night Terrors
By Mona Voelkel

Nicky wanted a good night’s sleep but…

Monday: Blobs chased him.
Tuesday: Robbers cornered him.
Wednesday: Quicksand caught him.
Thursday: Sharks circled him.
Friday: Wolves surrounded him.
Saturday: Nicky turned to the spiders and yelled, “You go away!”
Sunday: Nicky woke up and never had night terrors again.

I think this exercise is, similar to the one page plays we used to write for playwriting class, a wonderful way to get practice story writing. It is also an incredibly enjoyable learning experience to see how other writers rose to this challenge! The contest is open until March 7th! Contest information and entries here.

7 Things I Learned from Ursula Nordstrom

The librarian at the public library in the Bronx used to light a candle before reading aloud to the children gathered before her, highlighted her reverence for time spent reading together.  As a classroom teacher and a reading specialist, I wasn’t able to light candles before I read to my students but I carried that reverence inside me.  As any parent knows, there is magic in reading a book aloud to a child.  

As I read, Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom (Collected and Edited by Leonard S. Marks), I was stunned that one editor was responsible for nurturing so many incredible books and authors: The Carrot Seed, Harold and the Purple Crayon, May I Bring a Friend, Millions of Cats, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Chicken Soup with Rice, Danny and the Dinosaur, Where the Wild Things Are, A Baby Sister for Frances, Ben’s Trumpet, The Important Book, The Snowy Day, Goodnight, Moon, Runaway Bunny, Stevie (the author later wrote Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters), Moon Jumpers, A Hole is to Dig, Poky Little Puppy, Harriet the Spy, Charlotte’s Web, William’s Doll, Stuart Little…the list could go on and on.  As the famed editor and director of Harper’s Department of Books for Boys and Girls from 1940 to 1973, Ursula Nordstrom changed the face of children’s literature with her vision.

It was pure joy to read Ursula Nordstrom’s letters as she joked with, consoled, inspired, badgered, encouraged but, most of all, respected her authors and illustrators.  Read this book if you love children’s books or if you are a writer or illustrator.  

Here are 7 things I learned from Ursula Nordstrom:

  1. Respect Your Audience

“I am a former child and I haven’t forgotten a thing.” 

                                                           Ursula Nordstrom

Not only did Ursula Nordstrom deeply respect the authors, she respected the children for whom the books were being created.  In letter after letter, Nordstrom holds the bar high for her writers.  She recognized that children would welcome books that dealt with the emotions and situations reflected in their own lives, whether it was a first period, a hole in the ground or more mature situations.  She believed that children responded best to strong characters, funny names and lots of action.

  1.  Believe You Can Create Great Art

            When Maurice Sendak lacked confidence or Ruth Knauss was misunderstood by  

             adults, Nordstom emphasized the singularity of artistic vision.  To read her 

             letters is to feel her bedrock belief in her authors and illustrator.  She only asks,    

             sometimes with great humor, that they do the work and do it to the high standards 

             that she believed that they had set for themselves.

  1. Dwell in Uncertainty when Giving Feedback to Others

When turning down a manuscript, Nordstrom always maintained a sense of humility   which was evidenced by her sharing her uncertainty about the accuracy of her judgement when turning someone down.

  1. Navigate Negative Feedback

There were a few times when an artist (who disagreed with Ursula Nordstrom’s feedback) left her publishing house.  As a reader, I was screaming in my head, “Don’t go!  Listen to Ursula!.”  Of course, it is their write to publish with whomever they wish but it probably is a good rule of thumb to develop some ability to navigate negative feedback, such as by not reacting in the moment and giving yourself plenty time to contemplate the feedback dispassionately.  Also, what’s the harm of creating a draft with the changes and then deciding which one works?  

  1. Write.

            Write.  Write.  Write.  Many of her letters are just Ursula Nordstrom begging authors to  

             write and/or turn in manuscripts.  She beseeches her authors to do the work to the

             exclusion of anyone and everything else, with great humor throughout. 

  1.  Be of Good Cheer

Through crushing disappointments and losses, Nordstrom was able to keep her equanimity and sense of humor.  To see her generous spirit unfold through these letters was a great gift.

  1.  Life is Short

Margaret Wise Brown (Goodnight Moon) and Louise Fitzhugh (Harriet the Spy) are two authors that died too young.  Just a reminder that our time here is not unlimited.

I loved this book so much that I just hated when it was over.  I have so many questions and wish that Ursula Nordstrom was still among us but, lucky for all of us, her legend lives on.

The Power of “Poem of the Week”

What is it?

“Poem of the Week” is an activity for home or school. All you need to do is select a poem and post it in an easily seen location, such as the chalkboard or refrigerator. Read the poem together. You can read the poem chorally, take turns reading a line or stanza or “echo read” (the adult reads a line and the child repeats the same line).

Why read a daily poem?

Reading poetry aloud every day builds poetry appreciation, fluency and a deeper understanding of the rhymes and rhythms of language.

How do I do it?

First: Select a poem that you enjoy and write the poem out on chart paper. There is something very tactile about writing the poem out in enlarged text that adds to the poetry experience while making the poem more visible. If that is too time-consuming, just mark your poem with a bookmark.

Second: Take time every day to read the poem together or take turns reading a line. For more difficult poems, “echo” read with the adult reading a line and the child reading the same line.

Third: Keep the emphasis on fun but do have conversation about what you and your child notice about the meaning, words and/or craft of the poem. Later in the week, you may want to talk about rhyming or favorite words. As the student becomes proficient at reading the poem, invite your child to read the poem to family members outside the household. (I would have students collect signatures from every person to whom they read aloud, each time they read, on the back of a copy of the poem.)

Fourth: Celebrate the final reading at the end of the week by making an audio or video recording. Invite your child to help stage the final reading with props or costumes.

Happy Reading! I would recommend starting “Poem of the Week” project with “School Daze Rap” from Carol Diggory Shields, Lunch Money and Other Poems about School, but there are so many wonderful poems! Here are some of my current favorite collections for selecting a “Poem for the Week.”

Carol Diggory Shields, Lunch Money and Other Poems About School

Nancy Larrick (editor), Piping Down the Valleys Wild

Jack Prelutsky (editor) and Arnold Lobel (illustrator), The Random House Book of Poetry for Children

Sylvia Vardell & Janet Wong and Franzi Paetzold (illustrator), Hop to it: Poems to Get You Moving

Alex Wharton and Kathy Riddell (illustrator), Daydreams and Jellybeans

These are so many beautiful poems and sharing the beauty with your students and children create beautiful memories. I have recently discovered the poetry of Alex Wharton and I just think any child would love a poem that starts like this (from “Midnight Wish”): “I’m a moon,/and I shine for you,”

May you find many poems together.