Perfection in Finding Perfect

We had the Opportunity to meet with Elly Swartz, creator and author of the book Finding Perfect, and the not yet released Smart Cookie, coming out January 2018. All three storymamas agree Finding Perfect is a book that will stick with us forever. Elly chatted about her book, her journey as an author and what you might expect to find in her refrigerator.

THE BOOK


Finding Perfect is a story about Molly who has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It is a story about her difficult and emotional journey trying to navigate through middle school with this disease no one knows she has, including herself.

One of the many reasons we fell in love with Finding Perfect was because it’s a book filled with  emotion through Elly’s words and her development of characters. Elly describes her book using three words: heartfelt, authentic and informative. As non-writers we can only imagine how difficult it must be to write a book with such feeling and emotion, but Elly explained that it wasn’t really an easy or hard book to write, just that it was emotional. Many times she would be writing through tears because the emotions her characters were experiencing were her own. While she doesn’t have OCD, she has friends and friend’s children who do have OCD, and she explained in order to create authentic characters it is important to allow the emotions in your own life to guide your writing. While writing this book she would go back to the places in her own life where her heart was hurting. She went to the difficult or dark places in order to create authenticity.

Elly’s hope after writing this book was for it to become universally relatable, and in our opinion, it completely is. As readers, teachers, and mothers, we were able to connect and feel for Molly throughout the book. This is one of those books that makes you gain a better understanding of not only someone struggling with OCD, but also feel empathy for those struggling with any type of anxiety or stress, which is a part of everyone’s life. Children and adults are constantly looking for how to connect with others and when there is a disconnect it can be very scary. Elly explained that there are moments when we all think, ‘What’s going on with me? I’m so scared to find out, scared to actually know and scared to tell anyone there is something going on.’ We all have to overcome hard and difficult things that can feel scary and Elly wants to make sure kids know they aren’t alone in that journey. She wants kids to know nobody’s perfect and no one’s life is untainted by difficult moments.

THE AUTHOR

When Elly writes she usually has a morning routine that goes something like this…

  1. Walk the dog
  2. Workout
  3. Shower
  4. Get dressed
  5. “Put her brain on”

But when she’s really in it, there are times she doesn’t get out of her pajamas, has her coffee, and the next thing she knows she has missed lunch because she’s in the zone.

However, just like other writers, Elly can sometimes get stuck. When she does, her trick is to go somewhere she usually doesn’t associate with her writing, like a coffee shop or to head to the doctor’s office an hour early. This way she says no one sees her and no one sees what she’s doing and there is no pressure.

After talking with Elly for over an hour we learned she is a very dedicated and persistent person, in all the best ways possible. Fifteen years ago her writing journey began, she had read Mick Harte was Here by Barbara Park with her then 4th grade son, and while reading, she felt so many emotions; she was so moved that she decided she wanted to be a storyteller. She started writing, writing, writing. Young writers would be very surprised to know that her journey to getting Finding Perfect published was a long and hard one. Finding Perfect wasn’t her first book, it was actually the 5th book she wrote and it took 8 years to write. Talk about persistence! Even after getting the book sold she spent four years working with a pediatric specialist to make sure her story was authentic and relatable. She wanted to get it right and it was imperative to do so out of respect for the OCD community.

Interestingly though Elly has had many other jobs as well as being a writer. She’s a lawyer and for twenty years she wrote and edited law books with her father-in-law and her husband. Six years ago she started a business to help families navigate the college entrance process. She has a love for helping kids in such a pivotal time in their lives. But she’s been writing all along.

ADVICE

One would think with the very long, and what sounds like a difficult, journey to publish her first book, she would give up, but no. Like we said, she’s extremely persistent. She has a very strong support system and that helped when she wasn’t getting published. Even with the rejection she said, “I love writing more than I hate rejection.” She would give herself 48 hours to be mad or sad but every time she’d end up back in her chair writing. Elly compares writing to the switchback trails in hiking saying, “you see a lot of gems along the way that you wouldn’t have seen if you went straight down”. During the fifteen year journey of writing this book she was fortunate enough to be a part of a writing community where she learned a lot about herself and met some of her closest friends who helped her writing along the way.

When we speak to our students during their own writing, some advice Elly gives is to use your senses in your writing because it helps create authenticity. How does something taste, feel, smell, etc. But they don’t have to be huge moments, they can be “the little slivers in life.” Use what you have; the emotions you’ve experienced to write. Even as simple as the best pizza ever!

THE FRIDGE

Inside of Elly’s fridge you can find:

  • Vanilla Coffee-mate because she always starts her day with a humongous cup of coffee
  • In the summer a bottle of white wine because that is how she ends her day
  • Lots of green vegetables, salads
  • Something yummy that she will cook that night because she likes to cook
  • Twizzlers (not in the fridge but around the house all over) because she love them and so does Molly, and she can eat them because of her allergies.

Storymamas highly recommends Finding Perfect and we hope you will pick up a copy because it is truly amazing. It will make you feel so many emotions while reading. It will make you want to hug Molly, the main character. It will make you want to read her next book too Smart Cookie.

Check out Elly’s website http://ellyswartz.com/ to learn even more about her.

#storymamassummerselections

Check out our @storymamas Instagram and Twitter feeds for more information about the books we chose this week!

The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli 

Sam & Dave Dig A Hole by Mac Burnett

Double Take! A New Look At Opposites by Susan Hood

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

Hiding Phil by Eric Barclay

#authorsaturday Mo Willems

Moo Moo, Monsters & Middle Grade Books!

This is the week in review! Check out @storymamas on Instagram and Twitter to learn more about our picks this week! week 3 story mamas review

Fish in a Tree

Moo Moo in a Tutu
Wolfe the Bunny
The Lion Inside
My Teacher is a Monster
Tek- The Modern Cave Boy
#authorsaturday Elise Gravel

Week in Review

#storymamasbookaday #authorsaturday

Here are the books we recommended this week. Also, follow us on Instagram and/or Twitter @storymamas to find out why we loved these books!

week 2 blog storymamas

A Sick Day for Amos McGee – Philip C. Stead

https://instagram.com/p/BUE5elaBqwv/

Pass It On Sophy Henn
Zoe’s Rescue School – The Puzzled Penguin
Counting Crows – Kathi Appelt
The Donut Chef – Bob Staake
Happy Dreamer – Peter Reynolds
# authorsaturday – Jennifer L. Holm

I Wish You More

Here is the journey of how the book  I Wish You More  by Tom Lichtenheld and Amy Krouse Rosenthal, came into my life and has stayed in my heart. If you haven’t read it, please put it on your shelfie (a term I use for my mental shelf of books I want to read).

I first heard about the book on the Nerdy Book Club blog in May of 2015. As soon as I read that post I knew I had to get a copy and read it immediately.

Life got in the way for the next two weeks and then I was gifted the book for my birthday from co-blogger Ashley and another friend. I read the book for the first time to my son, who was then about 9 months. He sat there on my lap quietly I read each brilliant page aloud. As I turned to see what was next the tears started to form. “I wish you more umbrella than rain”. The tears came slow and steady as each page made me feel like I wanted to be the best person I can be, for myself and my son. After I finished the book I gave him a big hug and said “ I wish you more hugs than ughs”

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As much as I love this book, I have to admit I can’t read it everyday, it would be one when I was looking for hope, love or inspiration.

Almost two years later, on the night I get home from the hospital after having my second son, comes the death of Amy Krouse Rosenthal. A true loss to the children’s literature world. I knew that for our first night as a family of 4 we would have to read  I Wish You More.  Having both boys on the couch next to me, again, tearing up as I read this book. “I wish you more can than knot”.

The book is simple yet makes so many wonderful emotions come through the page in both the words and illustrations. I hope you take the time to read it and let me know your favorite wish is from the book.

As we all have busy lives, in the words of Tom Lichtenheld and the late, great Amy Krouse Rosenthal “I wish you more pause than fast forward”

 

A Child of Books

With a new baby comes a lot of quiet time at all hours of the night. It’s a time for me to think, a time to snuggle, a time to troll the internet, and a time for me to binge watch Netflix on my iPad. Sorry books, but I’ve fallen asleep on more than one occasion. When I’m not glued to watching the entire series of Gilmore girls, I’ll often peruse Facebook and Twitter, catching up on the latest scoop. The other night I saw a tweet by Candlewick Press, asking, “What made you a child of books?”. Where do I begin?

The question itself elicits so many thoughts in my head. I love the idea that my own children will be surround by and raised on books. I love it so much, I have a poster promoting Oliver Jeffers latest book, (signed by him and Sam Winston, which makes it even cooler) in my son’s room. My son doesn’t know it yet, but he too will be a child of books. My three year old is surrounded by stories, whether from books or simply ones from our imaginations. “Tell me a story”, she often says. And we abide. When she isn’t behaving, we threaten to take away a book before bed. We’ve only had to follow through once, and I’ve never seen her little heart so broken. When we go to a restaurant or a doctors appointment, there is always a book in the toy bag. My favorite is when she brings the Frozen chapter book that she took from my classroom over the summer, solely because Anna and Elsa were on the cover. She “reads” the book cover to cover, using intonation and voices for the characters, retelling the plot of the movie. It makes her teacher mama proud. We have books scattered around our house; they are in every room. My children are literally children of books.

Then I started thinking about myself as a reader. I don’t remember actually learning to read, it was just a natural hobby in our house. Growing up, my dad and my sister were wonderful role models of what voracious readers look like. Still to this day, there hasn’t been a single Christmas where books weren’t wrapped beneath the tree.

When I think back to what made me a child of books, it wasn’t just having good role models, or a mother that would take me to the library whenever she could, but it was the actual books themselves. I don’t remember how old I was, but one year for my birthday my aunt and uncle had bought me my first chapter book series, the original “The Kids of the Polk Street School.” I had crossed over from picture books and I was in the big league with my new chapter book series. They started my love affair with books, and to this day, they are proudly displayed on my bookshelf at home. There was something about these books that fulfilled my infatuation. They were a series, they were just right, they had actual plots and continuation, and they were sparkly and new. I was hooked. Other books have come and gone, other series became the “it” books of the time, and other favorites have emerged. But I’ll never forget those kids of The Polk Street School. They’re forever in my heart.

Paying it Forward

For as many years as I’ve been teaching I’ve been doing a very special Thanksgiving lesson with my students. It has been so long since I started it that I don’t remember how the idea came to me. I just know that it has been a favorite in my lesson box. I talk to the kids about how during Thanksgiving time we are asked to think of what we are thankful for, and the kids come up with the same answers, family, friends, dogs, etc. Then I tell them that there is a whole group of people that we don’t often stop and thank, our past and present teachers. I then read them to wonderful book by the talented author/illustrator Patricia Polacco, Thank You Mr. Falker .

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If you have never read it, it is a story about a young girl who loves to draw and has trouble learning to read. When she finally gets to 5th grade her teacher recognizes her struggles and spends time before, during and after school helping her finally learn to read. There is so much more, but I don’t want to spoil it.

After we read the story we talk about how important teachers are in our lives. Then I ask the kids to think of a teacher to write a letter to to give them thanks. We define teacher as anyone who has played a role in teaching us something, school teachers, coaches, parents, etc. I require the students to include at least two specific memories or things the teacher did that you remember. After they draft, revise and edit the letters we gather them up to be delivered. I include this note so the receiver understands why they got the letter.

Thank You! After reading the book Thank You Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco, the third graders chose a teacher they wanted to recognize and write a letter and thank them for specific memories they had. You are the lucky teacher chosen!

I want to thank you for all you do and I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Love,

Mrs. McDermid

Most students usually choose someone in the building so delivering is usually easy. I am currently teaching in Denver and this year the students sent me on quite a bit of an address hunt. I tracked down some retired teachers, and I also sent letters to past teachers in Washington State, Michigan, and Israel.  

The response to this project has been tremendous.  Both teachers from the building and parents have told me how much the letters meant to them. And on a few occasions the students receive a letter back, via snail mail, from their chosen teacher.

Last week, Matthew, a student from my class, got a response from his first grade teacher, Mrs. Lieberman, in Michigan. Matthew and I opened the letter together. In it was a beautiful hand written note from her with her memories of Matthew, she included pictures of him in her class, and also added a word puzzle, because she remembered he liked them.  I was blown away and touched by this note.

I emailed Matthew’s parents to tell them how sweet this woman was. Matthew’s mom said that she was going to send her a thank you for the thank you. Here’s where it gets paid forward; when Mrs. Lieberman wrote Matthew’s mom back she told her that this lesson meant so much to her she was going to do it with her students.

To Mrs. Lieberman, I am happy to give you this lesson as I hope by having you continue the tradition with your kids, more teachers can be touched by students who are thankful for the things we have done.

Thank You, Mrs. Lieberman… Thank You…

Sudden Impact….

The voice inside my head was right, if you build it they will come.

I’ve spent the last 60 school days trying to instill a love of reading and books with my 3rd graders. And a few stand out moments are shining through that I am thankful for.

I got a tweet from a student the other day that she got a library card and took out her first book. I don’t care what age, finding the public library is a wonderful resource for any soon to be book lover. I was so happy she shared that experience with us, having her mom take the picture and tweet it to us.

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Student’s trip to the public library

Also, our typical snack time consists of half the students sitting around my kidney bean table and talking, while the other half sits on the couch and chats. I usually find myself at the table, but last week when I looked over to the couch, I found one student gathering the children for a read aloud. She had the book Tek: The Modern Cave Boy by Patrick McDonnell in her hand and she was saying something like “I’m going to read it to you”. The students all stopped what they were doing and found a spot surrounding her to hear the words and see the pictures.

group-reading

Since I’ve started to take the time to go to the library and bookstores, follow people on twitter, blogs and other social media, it has changed how my students engage with books. The excitement I get when I find a true “hidden gem”, as co-blogger Courtney puts it, is such a thrill. I love sharing it with them and the children hear that passion as I read or book talk my latest discovery!

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Friendsgiving

Cheers, where everybody knows your name. Who has or has longed for that place where you walk in and everyone does actually know you and your name? Well, I have that place, but it’s not a bar, it’s a children’s bookstore, called Second Start To The Right, in the city I live, Denver.

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I moved to this city over a year ago knowing not many people. I was told about this magical bookstore in Denver that I had to check out. I went the next week. I walked into the wonderfully name Second Star To The Right and I fell in love. The place is magical! It is a transformed house with a room dedicated to picture books, board books, and chapter books. Hidden throughout are comfy chairs and reading nooks. Most recently they’ve added an educational toy room and a Wild Rumpus Party room.

I was immediately hooked as a mother and teacher. I go to Second Star so often I am friendly with most of the staff. The owner, Dea, and husband, Marc, have been so kind to me and my son over the last year. We’ve talked books, they let me run a book club for kids over the summer, and Marc also came to my school dressed as Cat in The Hat to read to the students for World Read Aloud Day!

If you are ever in Denver you need to go to Second Star, but maybe if you can’t get to Denver, seek out other local bookstores. The feeling I get helping a small business is rewarding enough, but establishing a rapport makes it that much more worthwhile every time I visit.  

I checked my email a few weeks ago and I received an invitation to Second Star’s Friendsgiving. An event they created to invite their family, friends and favorite customers. They served food, had the kids run around their backyard and store after hours, and had crafts available for the kids. Declan and I went and had a blast, making new friends and chatting with old ones we’ve made this past year.

To my Second Star Friends, I thank you for all you’ve done for me this year and look forward to our many magical years of friendship.