Read Local Oklahoma meets Oklahoma Teacher Connection

This past September, The Oklahoma Regents for Higher Education held its 12th annual Reading Conference at the beautiful Oklahoma City University. The topic of the conference this year was “Joy, Power, and Possibilities Through Diverse Literature.”


The event was headed up by some major names in the field of reading instructors, including Dr. Suzi Parsons-Oklahoma State University Literacy Education Professor and Dr. Elizabeth Willner-Oklahoma City University Professor and Director of Teacher Education. They talked about “Philosophy in Children’s Books” and “Morals in Children’s Literature.

To begin the conference, The Oklahoma School for the Deaf Ambassadors presented “The Star Spangled Banner” in American Sign Language majestically.

Missy Foster, Chairperson of the Reading Conference, asked me to lead a breakout session based on my book, Little Loksi. She was such a firecracker and an integral part in the furthering of reading education in the state of Oklahoma that I asked her to an interview right here on the Read Local Oklahoma Blog.


Hello Missy. Welcome to Read Local Oklahoma.

What is your background and what do you do now?

I  knew I wanted to be a teacher when I was in kindergarten in Ada, Oklahoma. That dream came true eventually and I was an elementary teacher in Oklahoma City Public Schools. First grade was my absolute favorite as I love a vast array of children’s literature and teaching children how to read is the best!

After that,  I did some historical acting and began summer camps in Edmond at the 1st Territorial Schoolhouse as an 1889 School Marm. firstSchoolhouseFacing_West

Then I went back to college and graduated with a Master’s Degree in Guidance and Counseling. Currently, I am the Coordinator for Teacher Education Programs at the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.  Through our grant programs that I oversee at various universities and our Teach Oklahoma high school class,  I inspire others to consider becoming a teacher for our state!

What is the reading organization you are a part of/leader of?

I am the chair of the reading conference that we host each year through the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. The specific department that I work for is the Oklahoma Teacher Connection.

Who are the founders, principle agents, etc… of the organization?logo


Senate Resolution No. 70 created the Task Force on Reading Curriculum and Instruction to conduct a study to gain data on the teaching of reading and the Reading Sufficiency Act. The task force recommended that the Oklahoma State Regents, in conjunction with higher education institutions, offer a reading conference that would focus on substantive reading professional development. We have an outstanding reading committee that makes the conference all come together seamlessly and they volunteer diligently over eight months getting ready for the best professional development conference possible for the state of Oklahoma.

What do you do?

I work in conjunction with the outstanding reading committee to plan the annual conference. My responsibilities are to carefully listen to the committee’s needs and suggestions,  gather speakers,  coordinate and plan the monthly meetings, oversee and fine-tune the myriad of details, help market the conference to the state, solicit door prizes, and plan the event so that it flows well for all.

How could we all collaborate as Read Local Oklahoma/Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators and your reading organization to challenge Oklahoma to be the best at reading and writing children’s literature?

Attending literacy conferences or reading events where we can meet and discuss our common objectives is an incredible way to start.   Another way is to have individual, in-person meetings where you can share your vision with others and see how everyone can come to the discussion to help promote reading statewide. We are a state that is passionate about education and literacy.

Have you ever wanted to write a book?

I wrote a historical fiction children’s book about the first Territorial School House. The title of it is The Camera Shop Kid. I am working on another book as well, but it is in the birthing phase!

What is your favorite book ever?

That is like asking what is my favorite flavor of ice cream.

I have a different “favorite” for different seasons. I love absolutely adore children’s literature,  The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is probably one like none other and definitely a favorite.  Every year I reread The Meaning of Life by Viktor Frankl.  I also deeply appreciate the message in The Pearl by John Steinbeck and anything by C. S Lewis is wonderful. Currently,  I am reading, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, by Brian Kolodiejchuk.

Thank you so much Missy! I hope to see you at next year’s conference, if not before!


cartoon-barn-imageOctober 12 is National Farmer’s Day. I’d decided to write something about Oklahoma’s wonderful Ag in the Classroom program for teachers, when I noticed that there was a special day for farmers. We can’t do without our farmers. They feed the world. And, Ag in the Classroom helps us learn about agriculture and farming.

They say in the Ag in the Classroom program that you can’t have an agless day. And, they’re right. From the food we eat, the clothing we wear, the bedding we sleep on, and the wood we use to heat our homes or roast our marshmallows, all are a part of agriculture. In fact, ag constantly touches our lives.

Ag in the Classroom has wonderful programs and lessons for teachers. Melody Aufill, Audrey Harmon, and Emily Ague are professional educational coordinators for the program. They visit Oklahoma schools, provide workshops, and write curriculum as needed to help teachers learn more about agriculture. Their lessons are aligned with state standards in English, Science, Social Studies and Math.


Each year, there’s a summer bus tour to a different part of Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Beef Council is the largest sponsor of the “On the Road with Ag in the classroom.” This three day professional development opportunity for teachers helps improve ag literacy by giving teachers a chance to tour farms and ranches and other agricultural sites and companies. During the tour, teachers discover more about agriculture within the state and how to incorporate it into their classrooms. There’s also a one day Ag in the Classroom Conference in the summer. I’ve been a part of Ag in the Classroom for many years, and I’ve been on the bus tours and spoken at some of the summer conferences. Both the tours and the summer institutes are very beneficial.

There are many lessons available for teachers. If you need more information about beans, bees, and beef, there are lessons for those topics. Do you need to know more about hogs, horses, or hay? There are lessons available. Do you know how to measure a horse in “hands”? There’s a lesson for that. The lessons provide needed information and have activities to accompany them.


img_3500-heritage-horseAg in the Classroom partners with many ag resources and companies. Twice a year, the Pork Commission gives six $500.00 grants to teachers. The application is easy to fill out. The Noble Center and the Wheat Commission, contribute to the Ag in the Classroom program, too, along with many more ag companies and individuals too numerous to mention here.

Although there are many topics to teach in schools, I feel that learning about agriculture is important, too. One year, I received a map of Oklahoma commodities. It showed which ag products were produced or grown in different Oklahoma counties. I hung it on a wall in a hallway, and the children were fascinated by it. They found that some counties raised more beef while others counties raised more wheat or peanuts. There was always a crowd around the map as children learned more about Oklahoma’s ag products.

Yes, ag is important. We can’t live without it.

So Happy Farmer’s Day!

And, thanks, Ag in the Classroom, for what you do to help all of us learn more about agriculture.

Look up this link:

Keeping a Journal

Journaling. As Martha Stewart says, “It’s a good thing.” I’ve attempted many times over the years. For some reason, I never stick to it. 

Recently I enrolled in a writing class and the first assignment was to write in a journal a minimum of three times per week. Getting started was difficult, but after about six entries, it didn’t feel so intimidating. 

I didn’t realize there are tremendous benefits to spending as little as five minutes, three times per week putting your thoughts or dreams on paper. People from all walks of life are journaling and quietly reaping the rewards.

The top five reasons for me keeping a journal are: to boost memory and comprehension, to strengthen self-discipline, to spark creativity, to achieve my goals, and to solve problems.

Boosting memory and comprehension.  When you write something down, you’ve told your brain it’s important. It can be your hopes and dreams or something less exciting. Boosting memory and comprehension goes hand-in-hand with sparking creativity. 

Strengthen Self-discipline.  When you actually commit to writing in your journal (make an appointment if you have to), you are putting value to your writing. You’ve made it a priority. Not only for writing in your journal, but that same self-discipline can spill over into other aspects of your life. 

Spark Creativity. Writing in a journal the old-fashioned way (pen and paper) helps to spark ideas. There is a correlation between the hand and brain that typing on a keyboard does not capture. This is why many writers prefer to hand write their first draft. 

Many times, journaling drums up old memories and feelings. These can be bouncing-off points for that novel you’re working on. Once you start writing, the ideas seem to come at you more freely.  

Achieve Goals.  When you write out your goals, it’s like a plan of action. You know more about which direction to go to make it happen. You will discover what you are truly passionate about and pursue it.

Solve problems. Many times writing things down will help you to see the big picture. Maybe things aren’t as bad as you thought. Seeing your problems in written words may give you the courage to tackle problems head on. Maybe it will give you the will to forgive or to fight. Whatever the case may be, many therapists recommend journaling as a coping mechanism. 

These are only a few of the benefits of journaling. Other benefits are:  you may feel calmer, gain clarity, build empathy, decrease the symptoms of arthritis, counteract stress, and heal physically and psychologically. People from all walks of life are journaling. It’s the “in” thing. 

With so many wonderful advantages to keeping a journal, why would you NOT do it?

The Importance of Author Visits

I got my real teacher education in an Alt Ed classroom.  The Oklahoma program, before it was watered down by politics, mandated arts education and life skills as part of the core curriculum.

A good grant writer and matching funds helped me bring workshops to my school, including a poet, a cartoonist, and a found-objects sculptor.  Volunteers and friends made other experiences possible.  Dan, who’d served three tours of duty as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, taught my kids to cook.  Mila, who owned a quilt shop, taught them to sew.

How valuable was this hands-on education?  One of my students is a professional chef with his own restaurant.  Another became a math teacher. What I learned was that all students have gifts if we make the effort to uncover them, and that outside experts are invaluable in helping your students develop their gifts.

When a new superintendent farmed the Alt Ed program out to another district in the county, I moved to the high school English department.  Fortunately for me, many of my friends were writers.

My students were fortunate because the board of the local education foundation was made up of readers and book lovers. That year I wrote my first author-visit grant.  The board loved my idea, a visit from Anna Myers and an all-school read of her historical fiction novel Tulsa Burning.

The next author was storyteller Tim Tingle.  The all-school read was his Walking the Choctaw Road.

The third year, when I asked students whom to invite, they wanted Anna back.  We read Assassin. I moved to the elementary school. There we had visits from picture book author Tammi Sauer and nonfiction author Kay Jackson.

When I moved to another district, it was the principal at our school who recognized the importance of school visits.  She raised funds for books and authors, including Tammi Sauer, Barbara Lowell, and members of the Doodle and Peck team, including Sandra Lawson and Una Belle Townsend.

After visits from authors and illustrators, we saw the results.  Kids read more.  They chose favorite authors and would read everything their favorite wrote.  They started asking for particular books. They wrote more.   Some students started calling themselves writers. The artists showed off their illustrations.

Getting to know writers and realizing they are real people helps students see writing as a real choice. I know, because it is what my sixth-grade teacher, an author named Healion Toaz, showed me.

The importance of outside experts can’t be overestimated, whether they are poets, authors, farmers, or cooks.  They give students options they didn’t know they had.  As for kidlit experts, Oklahoma has some of the best in the country, and they are available to inspire your students.


Short stories are a great read anytime anywhere. But who are those short story authors, how do they write the perfect stories and where can you find the best short stories?

Anyone can write a short story. Students usually write many while in school. Lots of people journal the short stories of their daily lives. And professional authors write to entertain or inform their readers.

The best short stories are those that connect with the reader. The author first asks a series of questions:

  • Who is the reader?
    • Is the theme based on the author’s own interests or experiences or does he/she need to research the subject?
    • Is it about discovery or conflict?
    • Is it fiction or non-fiction?
    • Which point of view (POV) is it in? 1st person, 2nd person, 3rd person or omniscient? It’s best to use a single POV in short stories.
    • Is it in present tense or past tense?
    • Identify the Who? What? Where? When? characters, plot, setting and time period
  • Every story must have a beginning, a middle and an end.
    • The story is like an arc. It grabs the reader’s attention from the very first line. The middle of the story includes events that increase tension (the character struggles with troubles or dilemmas) and successfully reaches a climax (an unthinkable decision or action). Don’t give away the lesson learned or best summation too soon. Save it for the end. Then the story comes in for a smooth landing, bringing it back full circle with the protagonist making a decision or a discovery through realization that could be life changing.
    • You can guarantee this arc by outlining the story first OR making it up as you go and checking it later to ensure that the tension builds to a climax.
    • The body of the story is concise in setting, has crisp dialogue and ensures that the narrative moves the story (plot) forward and has a single, powerful effect on the reader. It does not include subplots.
  • Every word counts. The writer writes without thinking about using the wrong words. Then he/she gets rid of unnecessary words such as adjectives, adverbs, passive words and weak words.

Once a short story is finished, it can be published in many places. You’re probably most familiar finding them in blogs and magazines. An anthology is another place to find a collection of short stories. The stories can connect by theme (ex. Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dog Lovers) and/or age group (ex. Highlights or Ranger Rick).

A new anthology written by Oklahoma authors and published by Oklahoma small press Doodle and Peck is ready to hit the shelves just in time for Christmas. It has a Christmas theme and it’s a wonderful read for all ages. I asked Editor, Susan Meyers, to describe the anthology. Here’s what she said:

A Christmas Anthology for Doodle and Peck is a little different from most anthologies. Since it showcases the authors and illustrators of Doodle and Peck, it varies in content more than the usual short story anthology. I chose stories/artwork that give a good example of the writing/artwork of each contributor – to show what you can expect if you pick up and read one of their books. To that end, we have short stories, essays, poems, illustrations, and longer stories. These works range from stories for children to stories for adults.  

I put the anthology together to be visually appealing with the artwork interspersed throughout. Most of the works for younger children are in the beginning. The adult stories are towards the back.”

Short stories can be funny, action-packed, heart-warming or even scary. Whether you’re writing them or picking up the collections that you enjoy reading, the best short stories are those that will leave you feeling content and, hopefully, wanting more.

DARLINA EICHMAN is the author of her picture book SPACE STATION VACATION (2018 Doodle and Peck). She is a contributor to the several anthologies, including A CHRISTMAS ANTHOLOGY (2019 Doodle and Peck), SUMMER SHORTS (Blooming Tree Press), THANKING OUR TROOPS (Dorcas Publishing Company) and CENNTENNIAL STITCHES (Dorcas Publishing Company).

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Six ‘Scary’ Back-to-School Reads

Heading back to school is an amazing time of year when students reunite with old friends, meet new teachers and dive into the joys of learning. Right? Of course, but it can also be scary! From those first day jitters to aliens posing as educators. That’s why I decided to put together this list of back-to-school reads that might just scare your pants off. You’ll find a little bit of everything: haunted castles, fairytale villains, teachers who turn students into apples. Anyone who says that school is boring clearly hasn’t walked the halls of Splendid Academy or faced the wrath of the terrifying Miss Trunchbull.

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IMG_4560KIM VENTRELLA is the author of the middle grade novels HELLO, FUTURE ME (2020), BONE HOLLOW (2019) and SKELETON TREE (2017), all with Scholastic Press. She is a contributor to the upcoming NEW SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK anthology (2020, HarperCollins). Her works explore difficult topics with big doses of humor, whimsy and hope. She lives in Oklahoma City with her dog and co-writer, Hera. Find out more at or follow Kim on Twitter and Instagram.

Another “E” to Remember for Students

School begins soon, and I’ve recently notice the “ABC’s of Going Back to School” printed in some newspapers. Parents always read the list of items a child needs, although not all items listed are school supplies. While reading last week’s list, I noticed an “E” missing. That “E” should have been for eyes–more importantly, eye exams.

We know school supplies are important. By the time a family has purchased clothing, shoes, uniforms, an school supplies, money is definitely getting tight. However, it’s important to include an eye screening, too, before going back to school.

Many parents don’t schedule regular eye appointments for their children. The best exam is a developmental screening that is about an hour long. It has more components to it than just reading an eye chart, and it’s definitely important for the younger child.

As a former teacher, I’ve seen many students with eye issues. If parents read with their child, they may discover some issues, too. In time, parents realize that scheduling an exam really would be beneficial to their child.

While reading with their child, parents might look for the following possible clues of possible eye issues:

Notice if a child skips words when reading.

Watch to see if he has to keep his place with his finger.

Check to see if he is focusing on more than two lines and tryng to read both at the same time.

Watch to see if he’s squinting.

See if he rubs his eyes while reading.

Notice if he complains of a headache after reading.

Check to see if he’s pulling the book closer to him to see the words.

Watch to see if he’s holding the book out as far as he can to read.

When parents discover a child needs an eye exam, hopefully, it’s during the summer or at the beginning of the school year. It would be so much better to discover a visual problem as early as possible; and if it’s in the summer, the child would be able to adjust to his glasses before school starts. Any “beginning of the year” testing would be more accurate, and a child would be happier just able to see more around him.

If it’s discovered that an eye exam is needed after school begins, how much time has lapsed before the discovery? Think of all those wasted days when the child needed to be learning and could have used the glasses to help him with his eye issues.

Glasses can be expensive. However, what is the cost to a child who can’t see as well as his classmates? I think the big “E” for an eye appointment is important in a child’s life. It definitely needs to be on the “ABC’s of Going Back to School” list.