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    family fun, literary road trip series

    I Wish We Could Stay Here Forever: My Woodloch Story

    Disclaimer: Thank you to Woodloch for providing me and my family with complimentary access to the resort. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

    Nominated as the number one all-inclusive family resort in America by USA Today, Woodloch has been owned and operated with pride by the Kiesendahl family since 1958. Woodloch is a beautiful four-season Poconos family resort nestled in a pristine mountain lake vacation setting. As their website states:


    Their traditional warm hospitality has been nurturing and embracing the spirit of spending quality time with friends and family for nearly sixty years.

    If you’ve followed the blog for a while, you may know our family takes literary road trips each year. This is a tradition we started in 2016 and it continues to be something we look forward to each year.

    During our road trips we visit various family resorts or museums and then find the nearest local library or bookstore to visit as well. Our literary road trip series is always a hit and well received by our audience.  Many people are eager to know the best libraries or bookstores in surrounding areas when visiting family-friendly locations.

    Vacationing During a Pandemic?
    Deciding to take a summer vacation in the middle of a pandemic was not an easy decision to make. With two small kids, safety and cleanliness were our two biggest concerns. Thankfully, Woodloch helped ease our minds with their Resort Responsibly initiative.

    Upon arrival all guests have their temperature checked in the wellness check area. In addition, all guests (ages 2 and older) and staff are required to wear masks in all public places except when eating, drinking or swimming. There are plenty of hand sanitizing stations throughout the property and an array of socially distant activities. During our stay we felt very safe and welcomed by the staff and other guests.

    You can read Woodloch’s COVID-19 special statement here to see how they’re handling their guests’ safety during the pandemic.

    Activities Galore at Woodloch
    There is literally something to do at Woodloch for people of all ages. The best part? Since they are a four-season resort open year round, their activities change and adapt with each season.

    Here are just some of the resort amenities:

    • Indoor Spash Zone (water slide and splash pads)
    • Indoor and outdoor heated pools + hot tubs
    • Miniature golf (one of our family favorite activities)
    • Archery
    • Bumper cars
    • Climbing wall
    • Bumper Boats
    • Lakeside activities
    • Indoor and outdoor playgrounds
    • Water Skiing
    • Tennis courts
    • Snow tubing (during winter)
    • Ice skating (during winter)
    • Exercise rooms and so much more!

    All classes and activities must be booked in advance using the Woodloch App. This allows Woodloch to monitor and cap class sizes for social distancing. It also allows for proper sanitizing between guests. Also, by having a scheduled time we didn’t have to worry about waiting in a long line causing the kids to get antsy. It was easy to just show up at our scheduled time and participate in the activity. Overall, our family thoroughly enjoyed all of various daytime activities and nighttime entertainment Woodloch has to offer.

    The Food
    Let’s talk about how GOOD the food was…yummmmm! Each meal we had was so delicious and tasty. They have meal choices, drinks and dessert for both adults and children.

    We enjoyed the fact that each family is assigned the same table during mealtimes throughout their stay. We never had to worry about others sitting at our table (for safety reasons) when it was time to eat breakfast, lunch or dinner.

    If you don’t feel comfortable eating in the dining hall, you have the option have your food or drinks packaged as take-out to enjoy in your room or at one of the many outdoor picnic areas on the property. There are also quick bite ala carte options on-site at North Lodge Bar, Gigi’s Coffee Shop, the Poolside Bar, and Lake Grill.

    The Hawley, PA Public Library
    We opted to explore and visit the Hawley, PA public library. The library is just a short 15-minute drive away from Woodloch. There you’ll also find a local park, playground and walking trail right next to the library.

    The children’s librarian was kind enough to share their outdoor art storytime trail with us which was so much fun! She read the book The Little Engine that Could and at each character on the art trail we had to try and figure out the riddle before moving on to the next one. If you’re ever in the area, be sure to visit and support this quaint library. I was pleased to see so many diverse children’s books prominently displayed on their bookshelves.

    Hawley, PA Public Library

    I cannot recommend Woodloch more!  Visit at least once to experience all the resort has to offer for a fun family adventure. Yes, even during a global pandemic. You won’t regret it!

    Ready to head to Woodloch for your next family trip? Head to their website to book your adventure! Also, be sure to help Woodloch win the title of Best All-Inclusive Family resort for the second year in a row – cast your vote for them HERE.

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    children's books, giveaways

    Bears Make the Best Science Buddies by Carmen Oliver + A Giveaway!

    Bears Make the Best Science Buddies
    by Carmen Oliver, illustrated by Jean Claude

    Age Range: 5 – 7 years
    Grade Level: Kindergarten – 2
    Hardcover: 32 pages
    Publisher: Capstone Editions

    Synopsis
    It’s time for the first science lab, and nobody can agree on an experiment. But why pick just one when Bear is around? Bears makes the best science buddies, and Bear proves it by helping each group use the scientific method for its special experiment. This fourth picture book in Carmen Oliver’s Bears Make the Best…series will bring the excitement of science to a new level. One of the four experiments used in the book is detailed in the back matter.

    Reflection
    When you stop and think about it, all kids are natural born scientists. From a very young age, they start experimenting with different things to see what will happen next. Once they are old enough to talk, they start asking, “why?” to everything.

    I love that this book allows kids to nurture their spirit of curiosity. Children will see a diverse group of students with faces that match their own and learn the proper way to conduct a science experiment.

    In addition to learning all the important safety protocols to conducting a science experiment, kids will also learn the four steps in the scientific method:

    1. Observe
    2. Make a Hypothesis
    3. Experiment
    4. Analyze Results

    Bears Make the Best Science Buddies is perfect for aspiring scientists and classroom read-alouds. As a fun added bonus, this book also features one of the four science experiments to try on your own in the back matter.

    Be sure to check out the other books in the series too!

    Bears Make the Best Reading Buddies
    Bears Make the Best Writing Buddies
    Bears Make the Best Math Buddies

    About the Author

    Photograph by Sam Bond Photography

    Carmen Oliver is the author of picture books A Voice for the Spirit Bears: How One Boy Inspired Millions to Save a Rare Animal, a Junior Library Guild spring 2019 pick, Bears Make the Best Reading Buddies and Bears Make the Best Math Buddies. She’s also the author of the forthcoming picture books Bears Make the Best Writing Buddies, Bears Make the Best Science Buddies, The Twilight Library (North-South Books, 2021) and The Favio Chavez Story (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers).

    Carmen’s work has been shortlisted for the Rainforest of Reading Award, The Writers’ League of Texas Awards and the CLEL Bell Picture Book Awards for Early Literacy. In 2014, she founded the Booking Biz, a boutique style agency that brings award-winning children’s authors and illustrators to schools, libraries, and special events. She also teaches writing at the Writing Barn and The Highlights Foundation and loves speaking at schools, conferences, and festivals.

    To connect or learn more about Carmen and her books,visit http://carmenoliver.com.

    The Giveaway!
    Five (5) lucky winners will win a copy of Bears Make the Best Science Buddies. Must be a US resident age 18 and over to enter. Good Luck!

    Bears Make the Best Science Buddies

    The Great Milk and Cookie Dunk Science Experiment

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    children's books, cover reveal, diverse books

    EXCLUSIVE COVER REVEAL: Michelle’s Garden by Sharee Miller

    Michelle’s Garden by Sharee Miller

    Today, I am thrilled to collaborate with author/illustrator Sharee Miller to reveal the cover of her forthcoming picture book Michelle’s Garden. This is reveal is especially exciting because Former First Lady Michelle Obama will be debuting her podcast on Spotify later this week! Check out the synopsis from the publisher written below.

    Publisher: Little Brown Young Readers
    On-sale Date: March 2, 2021 available for pre-orders now!

    About the Book
    A tribute to Former First Lady Michelle Obama and her contributions in building a healthier future for all children from acclaimed author and illustrator Sharee Miller.

    Former First Lady Michelle Obama had an idea. A big, inspiring, and exciting idea! She would grow the largest kitchen garden ever at the White House. This wouldn’t be easy, since she’d never gardened before: Where should she start? What tools did she need? What would she plant?

    Everyone needs help when they’re learning something for the first time, even the first lady of the United States. So she gathered the help of local students, the White House staff, and even President Barack Obama. Together, they wouldn’t just grow a garden — they would inspire a nation!

    Mark your calendars for this March 2021 release.

    About Sharee Miller

    Sharee Miller lives and works in Jersey City with her husband and their two cats, Pumpkin and Spice. Her illustrations combine bright colors, patterns, and expressive characters to tell the stories she wishes she had as a kid. She is the author of Princess Hair and Don’t Touch My Hair!

    Visit Sharee’s website here to see some of her work.

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    interviews

    Author Interview: Up Close and Personal with Zetta Elliott

    Author Interview: Up Close and Personal with Zetta Elliott

    I recently had the pleasure of asking the legendary and ever inspiring, Zetta Elliott a series of bookish questions in an interview. Her latest book for kids, A Place Inside of Me is my favorite picture book of 2020 (so far).

    Check out the highlights below including a snapshot of what’s currently on her nightstand and her upcoming projects.

    How did you come up with the story line for A Place Inside of Me?
    APIOM wasn’t really a story; when I wrote it back in 2001, it was a poem. I wanted to express the range of emotions that Black children feel in this country. At the time I was living in Ohio and I would often take a break from writing my dissertation (on lynching) to write stories for kids. It was therapeutic, in a way, to take such heavy material and turn it into something a child could comprehend. My editor, Grace Kendall, had the idea to use the illustrations to reflect a protest narrative. We rearranged some of the stanzas and that helped with flow.

    What messages are you hoping readers will take away from A Place Inside of Me?

    The subtitle really says it all—“a poem to heal the heart.” I hope that young readers will honor their emotions—all of them—and know that it’s okay to feel afraid or upset. When we’re honest about how we feel, we have the chance to forge connections with others; shame only leads to silence and isolation. I hope kids understand that connecting with others and working together is how we create change. 

    What are some of your must-have children¹s books for a home library?
    I don’t read a lot of kid lit and I don’t have kids, but I’d encourage parents to do an audit of their home library to make sure it’s inclusive.

    Besides reading, what are some other things parents can do to set their children up for literacy success?
    Understand how the publishing industry works (or doesn’t work). Then demystify the process—make sure your children understand what “gatekeepers” are–and encourage your kids to write! As a child I just accepted that books magically appeared in my classroom and at the library. I didn’t understand that a handful of people were deciding which stories would become books and which books would wind up in my hands. Kids have a keen sense of what’s fair and what’s not; they might become more engaged as readers when they realize the power of bypassing gatekeepers and becoming storytellers themselves.

    Do you have a favorite book that you have written?  If so, what is it and why?
    That’s like asking a parent if they have a favorite child! I don’t have a favorite, but some characters stay with me longer than others.

    If you could give parents one piece of advice about reading with children, what would it be?
    Let your child be an active participant—let them choose the books you read together and help them make books of their own. Children can be creators and not just consumers of books.

    Any advice for aspiring writers and authors?
    Develop a writing practice and set aside time every day to do nothing but write—even fifteen minutes a day is enough time to journal or write a haiku. For me, writing is 70% dreaming so you might also need to set time aside for that. Most importantly, have your own definition of success so that you aren’t pointlessly comparing yourself to others.

    Hardcover, Paperback or e-book (when reading a book on your own)?
    I don’t read e-books but would like to give audio books a try. Mostly I like the feel of a book in my hands. No preference for hard or soft cover, though the latter is more affordable.

    Fiction, non-fiction or some other genre (when reading a book on your own)?
    I only read non-fiction for research; I’m trying to read more poetry but mostly I read speculative or historical fiction.

    What books are on your nightstand or e-reader right now?

    The books currently on Zetta Elliott’s nightstand

    Are you working on any special projects that you want to share with others?
    Too many! I have a MG novel-in-verse that’s due to my editor at the end of August, but I just finished my second collection of poetry, American Phoenix, and I’m also working on an experimental novel about four teen girls working on an Amish farm here in Central PA.

    How can people get in touch with you on social media or on your website?
    There’s a contact form on my website (www.zettaelliott.com) and I’m on IG and Twitter: @zettaelliott.

    About Zetta Elliott

    Zetta Elliott is a Black feminist writer of poetry, plays, essays, novels, and stories for children. She was born and raised in Canada, but has lived in the US for over 25 years. She earned her PhD in American Studies from NYU in 2003; she has taught at Ohio University, Louisiana State University, Mount Holyoke College, Hunter College, Bard High School Early College, and Borough of Manhattan Community College. Her poetry has been published in New Daughters of Africa, We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices, the Cave Canem anthology The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South, Check the Rhyme: an Anthology of Female Poets and Emcees, and Coloring Book: an Eclectic Anthology of Fiction and Poetry by Multicultural Writers.

    Her essays have appeared in School Library Journal, The Huffington Post, and Publishers Weekly. Her picture book, Bird, won the Honor Award in Lee & Low Books’ New Voices Contest and the Paterson Prize for Books for Young Readers. She currently lives in Lancaster, PA.

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    children's books, diverse books

    Diversify Your Bookshelves: Download this FREE Printable Checklist

    If you’ve been following me for a while, you may know by now how passionate I am about teaching people understand the importance of daily reading and having diversity in literature. Through years of reading and research on my own, along with my own firsthand experience being a parent, I decided to create this checklist and other resources I’ve given away for free over the years, to help people like you and pass on the knowledge I’ve learned.

    My ultimate goal is to help parents, caregivers, grandparents, homeschoolers, librarians, and educators create a diverse library at home or school so they can teach the children in their lives about the importance of diversity, inclusion and the power of reading.

    By downloading this “Diversify Your Bookshelf” checklist, you can take your reading routine/habit the next level AND help diversify your bookshelf!

    This checklist is for you if…

    • You are a parent, caregiver or expecting parent and have a desire to diversify your home library
    • You are an educator or librarian who wants to enhance and diversify your school library
    • You have a desire to help children understand the importance of reading books that serve as both windows and mirrors (a phrase coined by Rudine Sims Bishop)
    • You want to raise anti-racist children

    Here are a few things to keep in mind if you have a goal to diversify your bookshelves:

    1. Start with a small subset of books if you have to, but just start.
    It’s okay if you start with a small, curated list of high quality books. If you can’t afford to purchase books all at once, borrow them from your local library or a discounted thrift store. Don’t worry about trying to check off all the boxes on this list at once. Curating a library takes time.

    2. Keep going. Learning to embrace diversity and anti-racism is an ongoing lifelong commitment.
    Once you’ve started reading diverse books, one of the most important things to do is to make it a priority. Be sure to include diverse titles in your family’s ongoing reading year round. By doing this, you may find that your conversations will deepen over time and the connections between the books and your real life may grow organically.

    3. Let this be about you as much as it is about your kids or students.
    It’s great that parents and educators are now envisioning a more hopeful future for their children or students, but it’s important to also take this journey alongside them. Always remember, kids learn more from what we do than what we say. Be sure to invest any necessary time looking inward too. This may include diversifying your own bookshelf and expanding your immediate social circle. Relish in the journey together.

    Happy Reading!

    Click HERE to download the checklist for FREE!

    Your turn: Have you recently diversified your bookshelves at home or in your school? Feel free to share in the comments.

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    family fun, summer camp at home, technology

    Go Girls! Virtual Summer Camp for Girls Ages 6 – 14

    Disclaimer: Our family was provided with a complimentary 5-week session of Go Girls! camp in exchange for an honest review. As always, all opinions shared are my own.

    For the past four weeks, my daughter has been participating in a virtual summer camp called Go Girls! at Home. I’m so glad this camp provides so much enrichment to help keep kids busy, learning, and having fun — while practicing safe social distancing.

    Go Girls! at Home has been teaching my daughter how to be a confident leader, the importance of building community and teamwork, the art of music, song and dance and so much more! It’s a social and emotional camp specifically designed for girls and I have loved watching my growing girl blossom over the past few weeks. Bonus points for it being a Black woman owned business.

    Go Girls! at Home is a virtual summer camp for girls and gender non-conforming kids ages 6-14 (rising 1st through 8th graders) to make art and media together – all while practicing the Go Girls! Culture Code, their highly effective social-emotional skills framework designed to help girls become their boldest, bravest selves.

    As stated on the Go Girls! website, here’s how the virtual camp works:

    Go Girls! at Home virtual summer camp takes place inside of a Google Classroom.  The primary learning will happen in 3 different formats:

    1. Live large group meetings via Google Meet – at the beginning and end of the week, Go Girls! will come together for connection and celebration
       
    2. Zoom and/or Video-enriched lessons led by talented Go Girls! teaching artists – Go Girls! will watch instructional videos whenever they want and complete the artistic projects at their own pace
       
    3. Live small group meetings – Go Girls! are assigned to a small “family group” with other girls their age.  Each week, the groups, led by a Go Girls! “Camp Mama,” meet to build deeper connections and practice the lessons of the Go Girls! Culture Code.

    My favorite part has been reinforcing how my daughter (and myself) have been able to apply to the Go Girls! Culture Code to her life (Say Yes, Give & Take, Make Mistakes, Feel My Feelings, Take Center Stage).

    Each week has a new theme that follows the culture code. This week the girls are learning about feeling their feelings and emotions.

    Have questions about this amazing virtual girls camp? Ask away in the comments.

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    cover reveal, diverse books

    Cover Reveal: Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho

    Cover reveals are always exciting around here! Today, I am pleased to collaborate with debut author Joanna Ho to reveal the cover of her forthcoming picture book Eyes That Kiss in the Corners. The book is illustrated by Dung Ho. Check out the synopsis from the publisher written below.

    Publisher: Harper Collins
    On-sale Date: January 5, 2021, available for pre-orders now!

    About the book

    Some people have eyes like sapphire lagoons with lashes like lace trim on ballgowns, sweeping their cheeks as they twirl. Big eyes, long lashes.

    Not me.

    I have eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea.

    That’s the opening lines to this forthcoming January 2021 picture book release from #ownvoices debut author Joanna Ho. Check out the synopsis below from the publisher.

    This picture book tells a story about learning to love and celebrate your Asian-shaped eyes.

    A young Asian girl notices that her eyes look different from her peers’. They have big, round eyes and long lashes. She realizes that her eyes are like her mother’s, her grandmother’s, and her little sister’s. They have eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea, crinkle into crescent moons, and are filled with stories of the past and hope for the future.

    Drawing from the strength of these powerful women in her life, she recognizes her own beauty and discovers a path to self love and empowerment.

    This powerful, poetic picture book will resonate with readers of all ages and is a celebration of diversity.

    Eyes That Kiss in the Corners is available for pre-orders now. Recommended for ages 4-8.

    Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho, illustrated by Dung Ho

    Visit Joanna’s website here to see some of her work.

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