Meet Children’s Authors at the Newburyport Literary Festival

Newburyport Literary Festival - Under the Monkey Bars blog

Sweet Pea and Bean at a workshop with children’s author Anica Mrose Rissi during last year’s Newburyport Literary Festival.

For book lovers, literary festivals are akin to music festivals. Live discussions, readings, and conversations with those who inspire us with the written word are often a once in a lifetime opportunity.

The Newburyport Literary Festival is just that, taking place in our historic city for its 11th year on April 29th and 30th. This year, the festival boasts an impressive line up of novelists, poets, and children’s authors. We are so fortunate to have such a comprehensive, annual literary festival right here in Newburyport!

Last April, our family attended almost all of the children’s events at the festival. We spent the day at the library together, with a stop back home to rest and eat lunch. It was our first experience with the festival, and one of the monkeys favorite weekends of the year!

We met Jarrett Krosoczcka (Lunch Lady series), Anica Mrose Rissi (Anna, Banana series), and the Newbury-Award winning author Avi. Not only were the monkeys captivated by their presentations, but we were also impressed with the stories the authors shared about their writing journeys. The monkeys even asked questions, eager to learn more. It was an engaging experience for kids and grown ups alike.

After each event, the authors were available to chat and sign books, which you could purchase through local bookstores. To be a kid and have a book that was touched by and signed by the actual person who wrote it? Priceless.

Instilling a love of reading has always been a priority of mine as a Mom. It’s so important for kids to learn outside the classroom. I go out of my way to bring the monkeys to meet authors. I’ll never forget the first author they met when Sweet Pea was 2 and Bean was 5: Victoria Kann (Pinkalicious series). They were completely star struck!

Newburyport Literary Festival - Under the Monkey Bars blog

Author Victoria Kann signing a copy of “Silverlicious” for Bean back in 2010 at Newbury Elementary School.

For children, meeting an author is like meeting a rock star. With their name across the bottom of a favorite book, they’re totally famous. Some more than others, but that’s not the point. Authors bring stories to life in your imagination, taking children to places they’ve never been before.

Literacy is even more critical in this digital age. Interpreting information from multiple sources makes growing up today much more complex. Discussing books becomes even more important than reading them. And what could be better than discussing a book with the person who wrote it?

Children learn from modeling our behavior. If we’re excited about a literary festival, they’ll be excited too. Check out the schedule and mark your calendar for the events that interest you most. Most events are free! Then head to the library to borrow some of the books that will be discussed at the event. Get excited together!

Events we’re planning to attend at the Newburyport Public Library:
– 9:00 a.m. Red Knit Cap Girl: Make origami hats with Naoko Stoop.
– 11:00 a.m. Pets With Benefits: Learn how to build a worm farm with Newburyport author Lucia Greene.
– 1:00 p.m. Let’s Make a Poem: Create and illustrate your own poem through collage with Micha Archer.
– 1:00 p.m. Families: The Good, the Bad, and the Wacky: Win door prizes and learn author secrets with Elizabeth Atkinson and Newburyport author Dana Alison Levy.
– 2:30 p.m. Writers in Wonderland: Write about your own wonderland with Genevieve Morgan.

Writing is a gift that authors share with us page by page, book by book. I hope you can make it to the Newburyport Literary Festival this year. Who knows? Maybe you’ll learn something.

If you’re not in the area, stay in touch with your library to find out when authors will be visiting for local events.

You Make My Heart Glow

You Make My Heart Glow - Under the Monkey Bars blog

YOU GUYS make my heart glow. For real! Thank you for being here and joining me on this blogging journey. I’m seriously beyond grateful. Will you be my Valentine?

The monkeys gave their school friends these super cute glow stick valentines. Our local print shop printed and cut the valentines, making it really easy this year. I ordered way too many glow sticks, but I’m sure we’ll use them for dance parties. I got the idea for glow stick valentines on Pinterest from Delia Creates. Never too early to collect ideas for next year, right? 

Homemade valentines are our family tradition. Don and I gave up on flowers and gifts years ago. I’d much rather give and receive simple homemade valentines and be with my loves than anything else. I sometimes cheat and cut up a few store bought or recycled cards. Another one of my Mommy short cuts. Shhhh! Don’t tell.

Bean wrote this poem for a heart themed poetry contest this month: 

Whenever I look at the night sky,
I see a little star-heart.
Blinking, winking, shining.
Smiling right at me.
For me.
With me.
My star.
My home away from home.
My anchor.
My heavenly friend.
I twirl and bloom under the
Protection of my heart.

Words can’t describe how proud I am of my strong, creative 10-year old. Her writing skills have really blossomed this year. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for this little lady. 

What are you up to this chilly February 14th? We’re in Stowe for the week with plans for a cozy family pajama day today. Don’s going to stoke a roaring fire while we read books and play games together. No cooking for me tonight! We have a reservation at one of our favorite restaurants here in Stowe: Idletyme (owned by Chef Michael Kloeti of Michael’s on the Hill).  Fantastic prices for farm to table food — and they are extra attentive with food allergies. 

I’m super excited for a vacation with my monkeys. It’s been a rough couple of weeks for us with my Lyme symptoms starting up again. February vacation came just at the right time. Thank you Massachusetts 🙂 

Happy Valentine’s Day! Hope your day is filled with sweetness and love.

A Night of Stars

A Night of Stars - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

Last night’s talent show at the monkeys school was incredible! Newbury Elementary School’s A Night of Stars was much more than I expected.

I performed in the Oliver Ames High School talent show when I was in 9th grade with my friends to the song “Rump Shaker” (so not lying). I’ve never been to an elementary school talent show, nor have I been to a talent show as a parent.

To be honest, I didn’t have any expectations for last night. We left our ski day in Stowe early to be there to support friends and help raise money for the new playground. I wasn’t expecting the love and support in that room to be so contagious. I wasn’t expecting to see so much talent, creativity, and courage on that stage. I certainly wasn’t expecting to laugh myself to tears.

A Night of Stars - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

Photo Credit: Heather DePaolo

A Night of Stars literally blew me away. A third grade girl courageously sung “Mean” by Taylor Swift. I may have been the only one Y-M-C-A-ing with the 3rd grade girls who brilliantly lit the stage with glo sticks! A fifth grade boy started off his comedy act with, “So I’m single.” Hilarious! More fifth grade boys acted out a skit called “The Invisible Bench.” A shy first grade girl hula hooped to an entire song! And then there were the first graders who lip-synched and danced Milli Vanilli style to Disney’s Descendants. The monkeys flipped over that act! Drummers and guitarists rocked the stage, including Bean’s teacher. The gymnastics and dance acts were great — especially the fifth grade solo above whose joy touched everyone in that packed auditorium.

What a beautiful way to bring a community together. Times like this really restore my faith in humanity. This little small town talent show is proof that our world can be a wonderful place. These kids put themselves out there and they were all stars!

The playground at their school, Newbury Elementary School, is falling apart. All of the funds raised last night at A Night of Stars will benefit the schoolyard rebuild campaign to expand and update the playground. The new schoolyard will not only extend learning outside of the classroom, supporting both students and teachers, but it will also benefit all of the children in the community when school’s not in session. 

I don’t know about you, but I survived the early years of parenting at playgrounds, under the monkey bars actually. It’s where parents take kids to exercise, make new friends, and create a community. I love being part of this little community in the north shore of Massachusetts. 

The parents on the NES GROWS PTA committee are working hard to raise money for the playground but they need our help! Another $75,000 will make these kids dreams come true and give them an outdoor performance stage they can use every day at recess. Can you help? Every donation counts, whether it’s $1 or $1,000. Check out the GoFundMe page or buy a picket or paver

Share this post and help us spread the word. It takes a village. Thanks for taking time to read this post and be part of my village! 

Internet Safety

Internet Safety - Under the Monkey Bars blog

The internet suddenly became scary when we had kids. They can see and read anything with just a few clicks. Once they do, we can’t take it back. Images and words are so powerful. I know I can’t shelter the monkeys from everything, but it’s my job as a parent to help them find their way — safely.

It’s ironic that most of the information I’ve learned about internet safety I’ve read online. It wasn’t until I heard Detective Aaron Wojtkowski and Officer John Lucey III from the Newbury Police Department speak about internet safety that the topic really came to life.

The officers not only educated parents about the risks of social media, but also they shared real stories about local kids getting into trouble online. Big trouble. I got the chills more than once.

I’m quite certain that if I’m not vigilant, one of my monkeys could be their next case story.

It’s a complicated world out there. The internet is far from safe. Many social media applications can be dangerous. But regardless, kids are already using them or will be in the near future.

As parents, how do we keep our kids safe online? With new technology like mobile phones, iPods, laptops, and video games coming into our homes, we as parents need to educate ourselves and set family rules to protect our kids.

Officer Lucey recommends keeping all computers in a common area where an adult can monitor computer use at any time. He said that shared computers are easier to monitor and therefore safer. You’ll be more apt to check browser history on a computer you also use, not to mention how powerful walking by can be!

Well, that was my first mistake. I immediately took the laptop out of Bean’s room after the presentation. She has been respectful of our new “computers on the first floor only” rule but I’d image this will become more difficult as she gets older. Officer Lucey recommends that parents don’t allow kids to bring their phones to bed. We’re planning to have the kids leave their devices on the kitchen counter when we reach that point. This gives kids some healthy insecurity and gives you a chance for random checks.

Limiting the amount of time that kids spend online at night is another great tip. Most predators work during the day, making kids at greatest risk at night. This never would have crossed my mind and I definitely haven’t read about it online. “No computers after dinner” is another new rule at our house.

My monkeys don’t have mobile phones or an iPod touch yet, and I plan to hold out as long as I can despite the constant requests from the 10 year old. Common Sense Media, an online resource that helps kids and parents navigate our technology driven world, suggests that kids are mature enough to manage a phone at age 13 when they have a better sense of what’s happening in the world around them. Read more about their reasoning here

The internet brings cyber-bullying to the forefront 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Once kids are connected, they can’t avoid it. Victims can’t win. Detective Wojtkowski says not to engage bullies over social media and never reply impulsively. Some apps will allow you to access the privacy settings to block an abuser. Make sure to save and print the conversations first. It’s good to know that companies like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter that are based in the U.S. cooperate with law enforcement, but not all apps do.

If you have teenagers, watch the move Cyberbully on Netflix together. I watched it myself last week and can’t believe how much stress social media adds to teenagers’ already complicated lives. There are so many apps out there it’s hard to keep track. Take a look at this guide on Common Sense Media.

Surprisingly, dating sites and apps are really big right now in middle and high school. This was a bit of a shocker for me. Kids can lie about their age to get access to a number of apps. Some are designed for kids over 18 — but some allow access to 13 year olds. Have you heard of MeetMe, Tinder, Hot or Not, Plenty of Fish, Okcupid, and Zoosk? Time to get acquainted. Besides avoiding dating apps, Officers recommend steering clear of the following apps because of cyber bullying and predators:, Chat Roulette, Omegle, Kik, and YikYak.

Have open conversations with your kids about internet safety. Let your kids know that you’re watching. Keep track of their passwords. Set rules. Have clear, set consequences for when they’re broken.

For more information, check out the following websites:
– NetSmartz
– Yoursphere
– Facebook’s Family Safety Center
– Instagram Tips for Parents

Locally, the Newbury Police Department will hold another Internet Safety presentation for Triton Middle School parents on January 28, 2016 at 6:30pm in the Triton High School auditorium. Contact your local police department to find out if they host talks on internet safety for parents. 

You can reach Detective Aaron Wojtkowski from the Newbury Police Department at 978-462-4440 ext. 124 or via email at Greg Whitney is the School Resource Officer in Newburyport and can be reached at 978-462-4411 or via email at

Holiday Gift Guide 2015

Under the Monkey Bars Holiday Gift Guide 2015

1. For the selfie obsessed :: Fujifilm’s Instax Mini Instant Film Camera will be an instant hit this holiday. Jazz up the border of those plain polaroids with mini film stickers, or throw in an accessory bundle that includes a selfie lens, frames, stickers, album, and case. Don’t forget the film!

2. For the musicianKala Makala Shark Ukuleles come in a rainbow of colors and are easy on the wallet. Add a guide for self learners to get started on this entry level instrument. For tiny musicians, try the Hape Early Melodies Ukulele.

3. For the book worm…Naughty Mabel by Nathan Lane and Devlin Elliott is the new hilarious story of a naughty French bulldog that will entertain kids of all ages. Don’t miss Amazon’s list of 100 Children’s Books to Read in a Lifetime for filling the home library shelves. Add a fun headlamp to the stocking for monkeys to read in bed or the car.

4. For family game night…Jenga’s new GIANT game is 3ft tall and even more fun than the original. Play inside or outside with this hardwood classic.

5. For the techie… They’re asking for a phone but you’re not ready. FiLIP’s wearable watch with GPS locator displays date/time, calls, texts, and communicates location with up to 5 contacts. Consider the GizmoPal for younger kids. Families can stay connected without a smartphone. Now that’s smart.

6. For the movie lover…Schylling’s Star Wars jumbo inflatable R2D2 comes with sound and a remote control for kids of all ages to move the droid in every direction plus stunts and 360-degree spins! Seriously? A must for Star Wars fans.

7. For the artist….Coloring books are a must for kids of all ages this year. The Lost Ocean coloring book is the latest by pen and ink artist Johanna Basford. Not interested in going under the sea? Check out the Secret Garden, Enchanted Forest, and Tangle Wood coloring books. If your little artist doesn’t have a human mannequin body for freehand drawing, it’s a must-have — and fits in the stocking!

8. For the builder…Tegu magnetic wooden block sets make the perfect green gift for any age. Magna-Tiles taught us that the more you have, the higher you can build. Choose a classic set of Tegu wooden blocks, this robot, horse, car, or helicopter…and don’t forget the travel tote! Tegu is truly an investment in imagination.

9. For the fashionista…StyleModel Pocket Sketchbook provides pre-drawn models and stickers for fashionistas to create unique designs. Some images are a little edgy, but my monkeys absolutely love these books. Neutral colored pencils help create just the right shading. Little designers who love animals will flip over StyleModel Doggy.

10. For the traveler…Boogie Board Jot eWriter takes lists, games, and drawing to a new level by saving tons of paper. It’s perfect for little monkeys to practice writing their letters or playing hangman in the car. For a more retro travel game, check out these reusable bingo cards for the car.

11. For the scientist…Crazy Aaron’s Made by Me Thinking Putty is new this year, allowing kids to mix their own colors without making a mess. This new kit adds to Crazy Aaron’s creative line of over 40 putties to knead, bounce, bend, tear, stretch, snap, or pop while you think. Don’t miss holiday themed Thinking Putty for the stocking!

12. For the doll lover…Lottie is an age appropriate English doll without makeup or high heels that my monkeys have played with consistently since last holiday season. New this year as a collaboration with the European Space Agency and winner of the 2015 Space Age Awards, Stargazer Lottie includes a telescope and tripod. Finn was designed as a playtime buddy that boys can relate to, with a healthy childlike boy shape and a kite to fly. No matter what Lottie doll you choose, it will be received with a smile and hours of wholesome play.

Print this Under the Monkey Bars Holiday Gift Guide to take shopping with you, or click the image to pin it. Support your local toy stores and #shopsmall this Holiday season. The monkeys and I love to shop at the Dragon’s NestEureka, Jabberwocky, and Green Elephant Toys locally. What’s your favorite local toy and book store? What are your little monkeys wishing for this year? 


Note: This post was not sponsored by any of the companies included in the holiday gift guide. The opinions are my own. This post includes affiliate links, which means I could make a small commission on something you purchase at the corresponding site. However, products will not cost you more because of this. Thank you!