Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Back to School Fun!

Do you find back to school scary? It's not as scary as  Monster Sciencenew from Kids Can Press this fall!

You'll meet six of the world's most fearsome creatures and put them under the microscope to determine fact from fiction. Could monsters really exist? What science might make that possible? WARNING: what you discover might surprise - and even terrify - you!

Consider these hair-raising possibilities:

* Can you stitch together body parts and z-z-zap them to life, like Dr. Frankenstein? Shocking!Can you drink blood and live forever, like Dracula? Gulp.* Can you raise the dead and start a zombie apocalypse? Eek!* Can you transform into a werewolf under the light of the full moon? Arooo!
Monster Science tackles these questions and more, giving you the information you need to unlock dangerous scientific secrets. Read on, if you dare. And then take the quiz at the end of each chapter to see how you would fare as a mad scientist. Mwa ha ha!

Read the reviews here.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Tips for a Great Author-Visit to Your School

Spring at last, and with it, many teachers begin to think about inviting an author to their classrooms. They know how a visit from a "real live" author can both excite and inspire students. It can stimulate a desire to read in even the most reluctant kids, and provide an opportunity to build other skills as well - letter writing, creative thinking, research. The possibilities are limitless!

Hooray! It's Spring!
I've done hundreds of school presentations in the course of my career, and seen time and time again how teacher preparation makes all the difference. No matter how polished or perfect my presentation is,  I can't actually make it great alone. A bit of advance planning on the part of my school partners turns a ho-hum hour into a learning extravaganza.

So if you are thinking of bringing in an author to your school or library, here are some tips I've gathered over the years for making the event terrific. And in tight budgetary times, don't you want to get the most out of the dollars you spend? Of course you do!


  • Send home a letter to parents announcing the upcoming visit. 

The letter can include a list of books by the author and a book list and/or order form. If the parents are informed and excited about the author, the child will be too.

(Side note:  When I book a school visit, I  provide a confirmation letter with the date, price and other particulars spelled out, as well as a parent's letter template that teachers can easily adapt.)
  • Consider whether or not you wish to give students the opportunity to purchase books either through advance order or on the day of the event. 

While this may not be appropriate for your school, keep in mind that if students go home with a book after they've met the author, you've just  set up the ideal conditions for creating an enthusiastic reader. If you will be allowing kids to buy books, leave 15 minutes between presentations for kids to get their books and have them signed.

  •  Ensure that teachers or parent volunteers will be available to remain in the room and to be active participants during the entire event.

One of the hardest situations for visiting authors is when they are expected to give a bang up presentation and maintain class discipline at the same time. I think I can safely say that I'm a 'pro' at doing school presentations - I've been doing school and library presentations, now, for 15+ years.  I've learned during that time how to both read and 'manage' an audience, whether it is composed of restless kindies or rambunctious grade 8s.

Yet even so, there are times when even the best performance techniques, by the most experienced presenters, don't work. Usually it's because the adults in the room are not performing their roles effectively.

It's painfully obvious to the author when teachers consider our sessions to be "break" time.
  It's obvious to the kids too. If they see their teachers talking, grading papers, or working on a lap top during the presentation, they are getting the not-so-subtle message that the author is not worth listening to. No wonder the kids act up.

That puts the author in the difficult situation of having to stop the presentation until order is restored, or calling out misbehaving students. Now, the whole aim of the presentation - making books and literacy fun! - is undermined, and replaced with a squiggly feeling in the pit of the stomach (and not just in the author's!). 

If we work together, though, we can achieve much more positive results. Make sure all the adults who will be present - teachers and parents - know what they will be responsible for. They are expected to: maintain class discipline, focus and stimulate student questions, and model appropriate active listening behavior.  

  •   Make sure there are several copies of the most appropriate titles for your school in the library. 
Your teacher-librarian should show the books to the students ahead of time, and encourage them to take them out since they will be meeting the author. 

  • A 'Countdown to Author Day' over the PA system is also a good way to build excitement (and build number and calendar skills to boot!)

  •   Teachers whose classes are attending the presentation should take the time to familiarize themselves with the author's work in advance

Imagine how the author feels when a teacher comes up to them, after a presentation, and says, "What's your name again? I should probably look up your books."  (Yes, this happens.) Now imagine how much opportunity the kids in that teacher's class have lost. 
Kids dressed up like characters from my books
A mural of Loons Canoing in the office!

  •  Use some of the author's books to do some cross-curricular activities with their class.
Doing research in class? Have students research the author on line. Learning about haiku or punctuation? Read some poetry or the first chapters of a novel and see how it relates to classroom activities. For PE or science lessons, play a game or do a science experiment related to the book. The possibilities are endless. (You will find some lesson ideas related to my books on the Teacher’s Page of my website at 

  •  Encourage kids to develop their own writing skills by writing their own letters of introduction to the author.

To stimulate critical thinking skills, have kids also craft questions which they may ask during the presentation.

Follow up by the presentation by having kids write thank you letters or their own stories or poems (or illustrations of favorite scenes or poems). 

These can be emailed to me at 

  • Younger kids can get involved by drawing pictures of what they think "the famous author" will look like! 
I've seen some fabulous crafts readied in advance of my visits: Carmen Miranda's fruit hats, choreographed dances to Mama Likes to Mambo, handmade books, rumbling, bumbling bees on springs, welcome banners, board games based on Boredom Blasters and more. 

Kids who engage in exciting, relevant book-related activities ahead of time are the ones who get the most out of my visit. They are more focused during the presentation, ask better questions, and elicit the most enthusiastic, and energized performances from the visiting authors.

Teachers, too enjoy the presentations more and wind up with a great 'hook' to hang other class activities on.  A successful author visit is a win-win for everybody. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

What's New for 2016, Part 3 #fb #kidlit #mglit #humor

Darren Dirkowitz thought his life was over when his tippity-top-secret alter ego, Dirk Daring, Secret Agent, was outed to the entire Preston Middle School student body. If only he’d been so lucky. Now the Wolf Lords—a gang of teen thugs bent on wringing every last penny out of Preston students—are breathing down his neck. There’s only one solution: Dirk Daring must embark on his most daring mission yet. A mission so audacious, so cunning, so doggone crazy, that if it succeeds, the Wolf Lords will wind up begging for mercy. But first, Darren must bring his own disobedient “associates” to heel.

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie is the sequel to the runaway bestseller Dirk Daring, Secret Agent. Like the first book, this one is full of codes, puzzles, cartoons, terrible puns -  and heart. I hope you like it!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

What's New for 2016 Part Two #fb #kidlit #nfkids

Do you have what it takes to be a super spy? Are you smart, sneaky, stealthy? Are you a master of disguise? Can you break a code in seconds flat? Take these quizzes and find out if you’re cut out for a life of intrigue and adventure.

I wrote Top Secret: Uncover Your Inner Spy as the Girl Power companion to my earlier The Quiz Book for Spies. Even though that book is not gender specific,it is indeed aimed at ALL kids, it somehow kept getting shuffled off to the "boy" book shelves. 

So my fabulous editor at Scholastic Canada, Tamara Sztainbok, and I put our heads together and came up with Top Secret, a very feminist version of that gender-neutral book. It's got all the humor and verve that we put into Spies. So what's different? Top Secret has 100% female spy references and trivia. For example, you'll learn about real life historic spies who were women, and why most espionage agencies think gals make the best spies in the world. Goodbye, James Bond. Hello, Kim Possible.

My goal with this book is to take back the power of pink - as it is with the other girl-oriented titles in my popular quiz book seriesThey all celebrate what girls really are - smart, capable, funny -  without suggesting for one red second that our interests or abilities fit into a corner (and that corner is filled only with makeup and cookery aids). 

Like many of my colleagues and friends, I deplore the pink-and-blue aisle thinking of our contemporary marketplace. We're all working to change it. But in the meantime, we can also use it - to deliver to girls the kind of material that makes them proud to be girls. To celebrate the accomplishments of incredible women like Barbara Lauer, Nancy Wake and Virginia Hall (If you don't know who they were, you'll have to read the book!). To give girls opportunities to use their smarts to solve logic puzzles and break codes. And to develop girls' belief in themselves, and their ability to become whoever they want, even if what they want to be is (shhhh!) totally top secret.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Silly, but not inane - that's me!

I am loving this review for Let Sleeping Dogs Lie from Kirkus!

"The author perfectly captures a middle school crush that is getting just deep enough to matter but not so much so that it's troublesome to either participant. The narrative is also peppered with the same spy jargon that made the first Dirk Daring adventure such a blast. This is a very silly book, but it never crosses the line into inanity."

My entire life purpose has now been fulfilled. 

Kirkus also says, 

"With a smart balance of humor and heart, this is a winning sequel."

If doesn't get better than that, does it? 

Friday, January 22, 2016


I am so pleased that Worms for Breakfast (Owlkids) has gotten a starred review from Kirkus.

Here's what they say:

"Monkey chow, mealworm mush, and predator popsicles, yum yum. Here's a lively introduction to the foods zoo and aquarium animals eat and some people who choose and prepare them. Becker opens her zoo cookery book with a recipe for an appetizer—platypus party mix (crayfish, earthworms, mealworms, and fly pupae, all live and wriggling—and a table of contents labeled "Menu." Each double-page spread is a chapter. There's a puzzle asking readers to match plated food with pictured animals and a spread describing a zoo kitchen. Further pages present additional surprising recipes, introductions to zoo nutritionists, and explanations of feeding methods—from formula for newborns to special treats for picky eaters—and parties, puzzles, and games mimicking feeding activities in the wild. The description of fish-feeding includes a shoutout to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's seafood guide, and the author emphasizes the conservation mission of today's zoos. Boake's humorous computer-generated illustrations look like animal photos set on animation cels. One spread features seven nocturnal animals helping themselves to midnight snacks from the refrigerator. Superimposed on the final image of humans and the primates who are our relatives are suggestions for supporting animals inside and outside captivity. With fascinating facts and a lively design, this is a surprisingly nourishing treat. (glossary, puzzle answers, index) (Informational picture book. 7-10)"

And here's what I say: Woohoo!!!

And the first review for Let Sleeping Dogs Lie Is IN!!! #fb #kidlit #mglit #humor #spy

It's always great when the first review for a new book comes in with three stars attached! CM Magazine really likes Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, the sequel to Dirk Daring, Secret Agent! Here is an excerpt.:

" Darren Dirkowitz is back, and this time he has a full spy team, including his older stepbrother (Code name: Waldo), Opal (Code name: Agent Jewel) and even his ex-best friend, Travis (Code name: T-Bone). This time the Wolf Lords, a group of older kids who go to Northern, are wreaking havoc on the group. Because of Dirk Daring’s success in shutting down the Detention Gang at Preston, the Wolf Lords aren’t raking in the cash any longer, and they put it on Dirk and his team to pay up each week. Meanwhile, rumors of a school merger between Preston and Northern circulate the school, giving the team the added pressure of formulating a plan to stop it.

     Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, Dirk Daring is well-written, like Dirk Daring, Secret Agent, the first book, and is thick with sarcasm, humour and wit. Unlike Dirk Daring, Secret Agent, which focussed on Darren feeling ostracized among his peers and bullied by Waldo for his interest in spying, this book focuses more on the friendships Darren has built within his group. It is also nice to see him work with his stepbrother, rather than against him....a great recommendation for reluctant readers as the pages are filled with diary entries, code logs and interview excerpts, making it a fun read.

You can see the full review here. And you can buy the books at your favorite indie bookstores everywhere!

Because: Science!

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