Book Review: Penguinaut!

Who couldn’t love a little penguin with a big dream? Orville does not disappoint. This is a unique, sweet, and lively story that encourages individuality and at the same time demonstrates the importance of community. The illustrations are so entertaining and support the story well for young readers. All this and a penguin who strives to be an astronaut…what are you waiting for? Congratulations to the author and to Orville on a smash hit!

Book Review: Writers Read Better!

December 23, 2018

I had the privilege of working with Colleen Cruz in New York City for ten years. During this time, she served as a staff developer for Teachers College/Columbia University, supporting the teaching of writing and reading in the school where I taught. I moved out of state and continued to implement what I had learned in my new teaching position, and my students’ scores went up two grade levels after the first year! I credit the focus on writing that Ms. Cruz helped me develop in my practice. This book is a treasure and is put together with the greatest of care. There is a script for each lesson for your guidance and inspiration. There is also a link in the book to extremely helpful videos that demonstrate the method in action. The writing lessons are matched with reading lessons that would naturally follow. Part of the key is that the students LOVE learning this way. If you have to choose one book to jumpstart or strengthen your teaching of literacy, this is the one. Thank you, Colleen!

I’m back (in case anyone noticed I was missing)! And, I turned down a book deal.

Well, it’s been a while! That’s what happens when you are a full-time elementary school teacher.

I had a personal trainer (don’t be impressed, it only lasted a season!) who talked about her friend Nancy, and said this friend really was two different people: “Teacher Nancy” and “Summer Nancy”. The same holds true here. Only when the school year ends (as mine just did) does my head clear enough to be able to write even one post! Sad but true, at least for this past year (which was a very trying one for other personal reasons). Perhaps I’ll “disappear” again by the fall, but only time will tell.

Okay, so last month I turned down a book contract!!!

It was not an easy decision at the time.

The offer came about in an unexpected way and very quickly. It was a small publishing house, and I did my research and actually found out many good things about it. And no, it was not a vanity press. The offer included a fair percentage of royalties and did not require any money up front.

However, it just was not a fit. Once I got in deeper, I learned their other publications in my genre were limited, and they had a very small pool of people I would need to work with in ways that would enormously affect the style of the final product. They would not guarantee what I asked for in writing, as they refused to make any changes to their contract. There were some other concerns, but that was the final deal-breaker for me.

So I politely turned it down.

I feel good about it. It was not the right time or place, just not a match.

I wish them well!

I am now preparing a manuscript for the 2018 SCBWI Conference in Nashville this fall where I will receive another professional critique. The deadline for submission is next week, so once that’s done I can shop it around in its current incarnation.

Happy (almost) June!

All the best,

“Summer Victoria Winifred”

SCBWI Midsouth Conference 2017

The Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators
Midsouth Conference 2017
Nashville, TN

Attending my first ever writer’s conference earlier this month was a rich and fascinating experience! What a treat to make new writer/illustrator friends, to have a face-to-face critique with the senior Scholastic editor, and to hear my first page receive such a positive reaction at the First Pages event.

The faculty shared their wealth of experience with us during numerous workshops, and I learned so much that I now can put into action.

Current life events here and my full-time work as a teacher do offer quite the challenge to a writing schedule, but whenever I am inspired and find those magic moments, I now have a clear direction.

If you have never attended a writers conference, I encourage you to do so! It does not matter where you are on your journey. You will become more inspired and better equipped to seriously pursue your dream. Find the next group and meeting that matches your genre, and register today!

The Chickadee Chronicles, Part 2: Bringing Birds to School

RubyThroated drawing by studentStudent’s drawing of a 
ruby-throated hummingbird

Once I soared into the world of ornithology, I knew I needed to “herd” the birds into my classroom.

The first thing I did was share my enthusiasm.  Sincere excitement modeled by an instructor about a topic generates ENORMOUS interest in students. Although enrichment models do point to having students choose their own areas of research, it is crucial to realize most students, especially (but not only) in elementary school, need a Phase One where they are first exposed to a variety of topics. On the subject of ornithology, very few students start off being able to identify more than a robin or a blue jay, and some not even those. After a session or two, all my students show a great interest, and in no time learn and know more about birds than most adults! Although plenty of topics are shared in my classroom, the truth is that the subjects I am most excited about pull in the most followers. And besides, today’s blog is about the birds, so I shall continue! 🙂

Years ago, I came across and purchased a fantastic curriculum from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, featuring large beautiful sets of flashcards for birds. Each student borrows one card that becomes his or her “Personal Bird” (my phrase, it makes me smile!) until the end of the school year. On one side of the card is a full-color picture of a species. On the back are many fun and interesting facts about it, plus a map of the United States showing their personal bird’s range. MANY standards across the board can be accessed through activities using these cards alone!

Over the years we have:

  • Identified birds by sight, sound, and description
  • Read books about birds and birders
  • Written about birds
  • Made speeches about birds
  • Created word problems about birds
  • Mapped about birds
  • Sang about birds
  • Drawn birds
  • Told jokes about birds
  • Made chess sets using the theme of birds!

If I left out a cross-curricular connection or twenty, it’s only for the sake of brevity!

I also came across a beautiful example of a kindergarten class who learns about the birds from a wonderful teacher. You will find additional resources on her page:

Keep on Birding!





The Chickadee Chronicles, Part 1: “My Little Chickadee”


For as long as I can remember, I fed the birds. Even when I was a wee child in Brooklyn, NY, my mother and I put seeds out on our fourth-floor apartment’s fire escape (shhh, don’t tell the fire marshalls!) and on our windowsills to see if birds might come. And come they did!

I am sure at least some of my passion for this hobby came from being entranced by the famous bird woman scene in Mary Poppins. I always wanted that snow globe with the pigeons…

But I never thought very much about what kinds of birds showed up. Oh, I recognized the sparrows, blue jays, and pigeons, of course. But that was the extent of my bird knowledge for a very long time.

About fifteen years ago, when I was still living on Long Island, the local store was out of the usual all-purpose bird food. The only bag left was a bit more expensive, and labeled, “For Chickadees”.

I had no idea what a chickadee looked like, or if they even existed in my part of the United States or planet. But I bought the bag, figuring my regulars would eat the seeds anyway.

No more than twenty (twenty!) minutes after I put out the seeds, a kind of bird I had never seen before in my life flew down to the feeder.  I stared in astonishment and looked again at the seed bag, and for the first time noticed there was a picture of a chickadee on it. A black-capped chickadee, to be precise. Just like the one that was now at my feeder.

I still ask myself, was the poor little fellow sitting up in a tree for a decade, looking down and just waiting for me to offer him a decent meal?

Ever since then, I have become an enthusiastic amateur ornithologist.  I have learned the truth of the concept, “If you build it, they will come,” in relation to bird feeders, bird houses, and birdseed. Over the years that followed, an amazing number of new species came to visit my own yard!

As a result, for many years now I’ve also used bird identification within my elementary school curriculum as an enrichment topic. It connects so well with so many subjects including nonfiction reading, writing, map skills, and art. Plus, kids LOVE it! More on that another time…

For now, look to the skies. You never know who might be watching and waiting.





Chess Magic in School, Part 2: Meet the Parents!

It was time for the first set of parent-teacher conferences since chess had taken over my classroom. I was concerned that families might not understand that chess is not “just a game”, and I was prepared to prove important strides were being made in every subject, thanks to having the theme of chess in place for our enrichment.

Along with all my student data, I had my “chess helps students learn” statistics stacked in a folder by my side and did not attempt to hide the many chess posters, chess sets, and demo boards spread around the classroom.

Enter Mr. Z., a very serious looking parent who at first did not have a lot to say. I embarked on my elevator speech about his son, with appropriate compliments and observations on his scores in math and literacy. I went on to discuss ways to prepare for the state exams ahead and offered helpful tips for home activities.

I thought we were done, but Mr. Z. remained seated. He looked down and pressed his lips together as though there was still unfinished business.

And then it happened. He looked up and stared me right in the eye.

“My son tells me you play chess almost every day in this room.”

I unsuccessfully tried to repress my big sigh.

Then as practiced, I reached for my folder and began.

“Yes, this is true. Studies have shown…”

Mr. Z. interrupted, “Can you teach me this game?”

I stopped talking.

He continued, “I would like to play it with my son.”

It was at this point I realized the man was not about to criticize me.

I was (and am) still learning.

This conference of inspiration sparked my additional practice of holding parent workshops on chess, where not only were they taught the game with the help of their own children, but I could share my fervor in detail for the wonders it works in an academic setting. Never have I experienced anything but mutual enthusiasm in return. That evening I realized chess is also a pathway to improved relationships within and between families, a connector across all playing fields, and an ever-flowing source for this humble teacher’s continuing education.

Snippets of Parent Feedback After First Family Workshop

parent chess feedback snippet picture.jpg