Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Interview with Marcie Colleen, Ask the Educational Consultant Blog Hop

We are so honored to be a participant in the
Ask the Educational Consultant Blog Hop.
Writer and educator Marcie Colleen is here to answer a few questions of specific interest to picture book writers.

And now, let's

1. Most how-to books don't include writing educational content. Which resources do you recommend for writers who want to learn to create teacher's guides and other supplemental materials for their books?

 The very first resource an author should turn to is the actual book. Chances are, up until this point, the author has only looked at their story through the lens of a storyteller. However, in order to create supplemental materials, the author will have to look at their book through a teacher’s eyes. Here are a few steps to help with that process:

  • Read carefully through the book, taking note of all themes/issues/elements that would be interesting to a classroom. Leave nothing unturned. Carefully scrutinize the setting, characters, and plot to uncover the hidden academic value in the story.
  • Take the extracted elements from the story and flesh them out through research. For example, if the story’s main character is a penguin living in Antarctica. Research penguins (their personalities, interactions with other penguins, daily life, living conditions, etc). And research the Antarctic (climate, living organisms, map study, etc.) How does the personality and actions of the penguin in the story compare or contrast to penguins in the natural world? How about personalities, interactions with other penguins, daily life, living conditions, etc). And research the setting? These are wonderful jumping off points for students to further study the book and learn fact from fiction, while also learning about geography, habitat and penguins. 
  • Reference the Picture Book Month’s Teacher’s Guide: Why Picture Books Belong in Our Classrooms. Even though I created it, I have found myself using it as a resource! Not only does it provide several classroom activities that can be tailored for any book, it also aids in knowledge of what ELA, Math, Science and Social Studies mean. With this information it is easier to find where a story fits in.
It is time-consuming, however can be a lot of fun to create these materials for your books. My suggestion would be to create a few simple activities and not to get bogged down with a full cross-curricular guide, unless education is in your background and a passion of yours. Other resources can be the School & Library Markets department at your publisher, as well as freelancers like myself who provide such services or consultations.

I am looking to launch a consultation service in 2014 for those who wish to save money and create the materials themselves. I also look to offer workshops and webinars to help authors in this way. If anyone is interested in either of these services, please email me at

2. More publishers are looking for authors with marketing ideas. When querying, should you include information on how your manuscript fits in the classroom, to show editors you've done your CCCS homework?

In my opinion…and this is purely MY OPINION…is no. Just as a good teacher will be able to look at your book and immediately find value to bring to his/her classroom, a good editor knows what makes a good book…and whether or not it “teaches any lessons” is not important at that point to a traditional publisher (educational publishers are a different thing altogether). Regardless of CCSS (Common Core State Standards) or other state mandated learning standards, the story must be good. An editor will be able to detect whether it has what it takes. 

Also, keep in mind that editors are editors. They are not educators. Therefore, for some of them the CCSS is confusing and sounds like a foreign language. Do not weigh down your query with a lot of gobbly-gook that they might not understand. What a turn off that would be! Perhaps this is also when an agent would be handy because they would know which editors were CCSS savvy. 

Once your book goes to Acquisitions, the Marketing and School & Library Departments will probably discuss CCSS and other potential for that market, but again, it is their job to be able to see these qualities within your book. It is not your job. You are a storyteller. 

Now non-fiction is different. But for a fiction picture book, the focus must be on the story, not on its academic value.

3. How do you convince schools to book author visits in this climate of economic cutbacks?

Many authors do create classroom materials or hire a professional to write a Teacher’s Guide for the sole purpose of marketing. It does give you a bigger chance of booking if you can provide such items. However, the reality is that money is tight all around. I would suggest providing a variety of opportunities at different price points (Author Visit, Assembly Speech, Skype chat, etc.) Provide a Teacher’s Guide online for free download. This will at least help get teachers interested in using your book in the classroom. And most importantly, be accessible. Create relationships and you will become the author teachers think of first when booking visits.

4. If you have considered Skype visits, what should schools do differently to prepare and get the most out of your visit?

Skype visits can be an excellent economical alternative. Although not as hands-on as a classroom visit, students can benefit greatly from these conversations. Skills in question-writing and asking, listening, and oral presentation are so important and can be highlighted in preparation for a Skype visit. 

After reading the author’s book(s), teachers should work with students to develop questions and the skills to present these questions. Note taking during the Skype visit can also lead to post-visit writing activities, such as journalistic reports, response essays or thank you letters.

5. In one interview, you mentioned you'd taught a Children's Literature course which was basically a course in writing teacher's guides.  Do you have plans to offer it as an e-book or a writing workshop?

Yes! I would love to. At this point it is all just brainstorming. But definitely subscribe to my blog at to be kept up to date on such events. I would be open to suggestions or opportunities anyone might have, so contact me and send them along! 

Thank-you for taking the time to share your insights. We look forward to making a greater impact on the educational community and long life to the picture book form.

Don't miss any of the other informative stops on her tour.

Lauri Meyers

Jean Reidy

Darshana Khiani

Joanne Roberts

Tina Cho, Nov 25

Julie HedlundDec. 4


  1. Great interview! How exciting to have all these possibilities for 2014, Marcie!

    1. Thanks, Tina. I'm looking forward to hopping to your blog next!

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks. Marcie is terrific and inspiring. And her tour comes at just the right time, when many writers and teachers are looking for direction.

    2. I am just glad I can use the knowledge I have to help others navigate these murky waters. :)


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