Thursday, August 15, 2019

Interview With Teacher/Author Anthony Manna

Anthony Manna is a retired professor of literacy development-reading, writing, drama and other language arts. He is also an author of picture books and a collection of twenty fairy tales and folk tales.

He loves all kinds of books, whether paper or electronic. He also loves writing and helping other writers.

Now that I’ve introduced you to Anthony, let’s get to know him a little better.

Hello, Anthony, welcome to Lemon Drop Literary. Thank you for agreeing to do this interview.

Thank you for having me.

Why did you become a teacher?

I was drawn to teaching as a profession because of instructors I had the pleasure of working with when I was in a Catholic seminary.

From them I learned just how valuable a teacher can be in helping young people grow mentally and spiritually while learning how to make sense of human experience—mine and others.

In the seminary and later in a monastery, I gained my first awareness of the value of embracing human diversity, civil rights, and social justice.

What grade did you teach?

Teaching hooked me when I was an aide in a Head Start classroom many years ago.

Following my seminary experience, I became an English literature major, then onto a master’s degree in English Education a.k.a. the language arts. After a three-year teaching gig in Istanbul, Turkey, I worked on a Ph.D., again with a focus on English language arts teaching and learning and drama as a learning medium.

Along the way, I taught language arts in a preschool, middle school, and high school. And I loved the interactions, the connections with students, and all the learning I was doing about reaching our to students to motivate them to become confident, skilled readers and writers.

When I moved into the university, in addition to teaching children’s, tween, and teen literature, and courses in writing—always with future and veteran teachers and their students as my primary audiences—I developed research projects that brought me into classrooms where I collaborated with teachers to explore activities that encouraged kids and teens to love reading and writing as they gained their proficiency.

Eventually, I totally lucked out and was invited to teach teachers in Greece and Albania. Those were life-changing experiences that awakened me to cultural experiences outside my comfort zone.

How has your teaching experience influenced your writing?

As a writer, I draw on many life experiences. As I continued teaching and researching at the university, I got deeper and deeper into the styles and manners of many literary texts, particularly texts that explored cultural diversity. Literature of many genres consumed me.

In the back of my mind I wondered if I would ever try my hand—and mind—at crafting a story. You see, as a university educator I was obliged to either publish or perish, so I kept my job and did a lot of academic publishing.

But writing stories or poems or plays? That seemed the kind of writing reserved for folks with special talent and skills. Ones, I imagined, I didn’t possess.

What inspired you to become a writer?

I ventured into writing stories because of my experience in a kindergarten in Greece. I had gone to Greece on a grant from my university. The grant directed me to teach and conduct research in the education department at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki.

What better way to learn about Greek culture than in a school. Into a kindergarten I went to collaborate with two very fine Greek teachers whose English language skills allowed them to help me navigate life in their classroom.

When story time rolled around each day, these kids stepped into the worlds of myths I was very familiar with. Worlds inhabited by Zeus, Demester, Atlas, Helios, Athena, Artemis, Icarus and other personages in that population of intriguing characters.

But then I found myself in a fascinating story world filled with giants, rival step-parents, charming princes and princesses, struggling brothers, nasty goblins, mysterious asking spirits, and the like. These stories were Greek folk and fairy tales.

With a Greek colleague, I researched these stories, translated them into English, and reimagined them for English speakers. That launched the Greek Folklore Project and my debut as a story writer. 

Which genres do you write?

So far, my books are reimagined folk and fairy tales. Notice, please, how I avoid the more common term when it comes to working with these tales, the word, “retelling.”

I soon learned that the process of writing involved so much more than a mere “retelling.” It involves shaping a narrative just the way any story writer does it. 

The labor of developing authentic characters in space and time conflicting, struggling, losing, winning—whatever characters do to live a life and survive—or not.

With my most recent book, Loukas and the Game of Chance, I reimagined a Greek tale of loss, struggle, and the search for redemption into a middle grade/middle school fantasy, which draws on some characteristics of the source tale, but moves into story territory far beyond the source’s economic narrative.

I invented characters and situations that turn the tale into a full-bodied fantasy driven by suspense.

What do you find most challenging writing for your genre?

This is a question kids like to ask when I visit them in their schools. I tell them my challenge is to sustain trust in myself as a writer once I’m engaged.

I struggle to step away from those pesky inner voices which tell me the writing is bad or too simple or utterly uninteresting. Whenever these voices talk to me, I tell them, “Don’t disturb me. You’re not my business anymore. Leave me alone.”

Then I move on, staying with the process and always reminding myself that writing is rewriting, that drafts are rough, and that if I keep working at it, something satisfying may emerge. Writing is a discipline. I need to discipline myself to keep writing. And it can be a labor of love.

What are you working on now?

These days, I’m working with a book marketer as I move toward the release of Loukas and the Game of Chance on October 1, 2019.

Folks—kids included—are surprised when they hear about the social media outreach authors must engage in these days if they want to make their books and themselves known.

With a book marketer, I’m learning to be active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, and other social media platforms. I’m learning about the best content I can come up with to draw attention to myself and my new book.

You’ll hear a lot of writers—myself included—complain about the time social media activity takes, and that means the writing must be set aside temporarily. Complain and then accept outreach as a reality of a writer’s life these days. In the little time that remains to write, I am working on two stories. Anthousa Xanthousa Chrisomalousa (a young female character’s name) is a variation of Rapunzel. 

The Imposter is a tale of deception, intrigue, and the struggle the main character engages in as he tries to salvage his true identity from his enemy who stole it.

How many books have you written?

As an academic writer, I published several books—and many articles— about multicultural literature, teaching strategies, educational drama, and approaches to teaching writing.

As a story writer, I have co-authored Mr. Semolina-Semolinus: A Greek Folktale (Anne Schwartz/Atheneum), The Orphan: A Cinderella Story from Greece (Schwarts & Wade/Random House), and Folktales from Greece: A Treasury of Delights (CLIO/Libraries Unlimited).

My solo book is Loukas and the Game of Chance which will be released October 1, 2019.

Have you won any awards?

My book awards:

Mr. Semolina-Semolinus: A Greek Folktale (Anne Schwartz/Atheneum, 1997), co-authored with Soula Mitakidou, illustrated by Giselle Potter~

American Library Association Notable Children’s Book

Selected among one hundred best books of the year by the New York Public Library

Recipient of the 1997 Marion Vannett Ridgway Award for first-time authors and illustrators. 

The Orphan: A Cinderella Story from Greece (Schwartz & Wade/Random House, 2011)co-authored with Soula Mitakidou, illustrated by Giselle Potter~ is a Bank Street College of Education Best Book of 2012.

Loukas and the Game of Chance, illustrated by Donald Babisch—2019 Book Excellence Award Finalist.

What has been your most rewarding experience since publishing your work?

School visits are exciting and rewarding. I enjoy introducing kids and teens to my drafts while I’m in the process of composing, revising, and revising again.

I do this with PowerPoint slides. During these presentations, I like to dramatize my characters, using the voices I hear them speaking as I write.

Each presentation ends with a writing activity that I often assign to the groups I work with, giving them a few days to complete the assignment with their teacher’s assistance, of course.

When I return to the school, it’s time for the students to share their writing in small groups and also as solo presentations.

One successful writing prompt I’ve been using lately asks them to write a story based on this idea: ...And they lived happily ever after...or did they?...What might happen when “happily ever after” turns into “...and they lived happily ever after until... ...something really bad or strange happened?”

What advice would you give to authors just starting out?

Read, read, read books in the types of literature you like—mystery, suspense, realism, poetry, short stories, humorous stories, plays, fantasy, science fiction—whatever interests you.

Then, reach out and read beyond your comfort zone. Talk to teachers, parents, librarians and friends and ask them for recommendations.

Learn the craft of writing from good teachers, workshop presenters in local libraries, and in summer writing camps.

There are also many good books that help writers to develop their craft. Books like Leap Write In: Adventures in Creative Writing (Roost Books, 2013) and Rip the Page: Adventures in Creative Writing (Roost 2010)—both wonderfully interactive guides by Karen Benke.

What message are you sharing in your books?

Sooner or later, we all make mistakes, fail, and experience tough times, but we all can find the courage to face our struggles, persevere, survive, and turn our life around. 

When you’re not writing where can we find you?

In the summer, in my garden. I also spend a lot of time at the local gym in spinning, pilates, aerobic classes.

And I love all kinds of theatrical presentations—local and in New York, one of favorite cities. Theater is about life. Theater teaches me a lot about how to live and also how not to live.

I’m glad that I once pursued a career in acting—it was like living in stories that I presented to audiences with other characters in the stories.

What are your favorite books?

Oh, my favorites could fill a notebook or two.

Right now my favorites are Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson, Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners by Naomi Shihab Nye, Crossover by Kwame Alexander, The Day the Universe Exploded My Head: Poems to Take You into Space and Back Again by Allan Wolf, and Martin Rising: Requiem for a King by Andrea Davis Pinkney.

Classics I love to read and reread are the Harry Potter books, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine Engle, Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, Holes by Louis Sachar, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, and all the tales by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen.

On your website you have educational materials for teachers. Can you tell us a little about them?

My website @ is filled with supportive resources for parents, teachers, kids, tweens, and teens.

They’ll find word games and activities that encourage active participation in reading and writing.

They’ll also find videos; lists of recommended books, including award-winning graphic novels for kids, tweens, and teen; links to websites for readers and writers; lots of printable and downloadable teaching and learning aids; and kids’ written responses to my school visits.

I also like to recommend Reading With Your Kids  
( It’s a lively interactive website that features award-winning podcast interviews with authors and illustrators—mine will be available mid-September—book-buying programs, truly interesting blogs about reading and reading with kids, and fun activities.

What social media platforms do you frequent?

I am active on the following platforms:

Where can we find your books?

While Mr. Semolina-Semolinus: A Greek Folktale (Anne Schwartz/Atheneum) and The Orphan: A Cinderella Story from Greece (Schwarts & Wade/Random House) are out of print, copies are available on and in libraries. 

Folktales from Greece: A Treasury of Delights (CLIO/Libraries Unlimited)—a collection of twenty stories and information about Greece’s history, storytelling, and foolklore— is available wherever books are sold and from the publisher at


Thank you, Anthony, for spending time with us and sharing your story. We wish you continued success and lots of luck.

Loukas and the Game of Chance by Anthony L. Manna, Illustrated by Donald Babisch (Mascot Books, 2019). Synopsis:

A reimagined Greek folktale, Loukas and the Game of Chance is the story of  a flute-playing boy who befriends a magical talking, dancing snake. The snake bestows fortune and favor upon Loukas, but some years later, tempted by greed and pride, Loukas loses all his riches and even his family. He now must embark on a treacherous journey filled with suspense and intrigue to find Destiny, the Sun, and the Moon. They’ll surely allow him to reverse his misfortune, restore his honor, and win back all that he loves and treasures, won’t they?

The story is illuminated by ten pen and ink drawings. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

5 Free Library Books About Back To School

Photo courtesy of: libellule789; courtesy of: Pixabay

Back To School Season is nearly upon us. It may be July but the stores are chock full of school supplies, the commercials on TV are loaded with parents and children searching for unique items students can use in class, and the Summer Reading lists are starting to garner attention.

In light of this exciting and often tumultuous time of year, I went to the library and found five books that help prepare little ones for their first day of school. I've also done a series of mini-reviews to aid you in quickly finding quality books to read to your children.

1. The Night Before Kindergarten

Author: Natasha Wing

Illustrator: Julie Durrell

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap An Imprint of Penguin Group

ISBN: 9780448482552

Rating: 4 Lemon Drops

Book Summary:

A playful rhyming story about children preparing for their first day of kindergarten. An assortment of emotions circle the students the night before school begins and careens them into their classroom the next day. In no time at all, apprehension turns to joy as the teacher invites the children to play games and sing silly songs.

Caught up in the revelry, the children fail to recognize that their parents are watching them and in need of comfort. In the end, compassion and comunity are the most important lessons of the day.


Twas The Night Before Christmas gets schooled in how things go down in kindergarten!

A frolicksome tale that embodies the same rhythmic vibe as its classic holiday predecessor. Wings' delightful verses and Durrell's cheerful illustrations create a merry story children will enjoy listening to several times over.

2. Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come!

Author: Nancy Carlson

Illustrator: Nancy Carlson

Publisher: The Penguin Group

ISBN: 9780670833783

Rating: 4 Lemon Drops

Book Summary:

It's the first day of Kindergarten and Henry is bursting with excitment about finally starting. He eats a good breakfast, packs his bag and talks about all the things he's going to do when he gets there.

But, when he arrives the first day jitters set in. It's all so overwhelming. The building is so big; there are so many new faces. After some gentle persuasion, Henry takes a look around the classroom and decides kindergarten is going to be as much fun as he thought.


Carlson has captured the exuberance and hesitation most kindergartners feel when starting school. I met many students who acted the same as Henry, in the end, they also realized school was the place to be and stayed.

One of the things I liked most about the book was the discussion between Henry and his mother about the school day. It sets the stage for children and gives them an idea of what to expect when they finally arrive.

3. the CLASS

Author: Boni Ashburn

Illustrator: Kimberly Gee

Publisher: Beach Lane Books

ISBN: 9781442422483

Rating: 4 Lemon Drops  

Book Summary:

Bed head, mismatched socks, a morning buffet of emotions; twenty children prepare for their first day of school. A rhyming concept book that celebrates children on their fist day of school and invites readers to count them.


A lighthearted story that will bring a smile to readers' faces. The characters epotimize the silliness and apprehension of children preparing for their first day of school.

I like the picture of the easel on the title page. As soon as the reader opens the book they feel the creative possibilities school offers. The characters are adorable, playful and authentic. A fun story that  should spark children's attention and help them open up about their own concerns for the first day of school. 

4. Tinyville Town Time For School!

Author: Brian Briggs

Illustrator: Brian Briggs

Publisher: Abrams Appleseed

ISBN: 9781419725661

Rating: 3 Lemon Drops

Book Summary:

It’s Ellie Emberly’s first day of school in her new hometown of Tinyville. Amid the hustle and bustle, the principal, teachers and students give Ellie a warm welcome to the school. She even makes a new friend named Chloe.


A fast-paced story full of playful illustrations that draws the reader’s eye. Biggs’ enthusiastic portrayal of the first day of school should grab a pre-reader’s attention and have them talking about the characters’ activities in the pictures.

5. Adventure Annie Goes To Kindergarten

Author: Toni Buzzeo

Illustrator: Amy Wummer

Publisher: Dial Books For Young Readers


Rating: 5 Lemon Drops

Book Summary:

Adventure Annie is off to kindergarten. This high-spirited pioneer and extrovert extraordinaire simply bursts with childhood enthusiasm. Her creative spontaneity stuns her classmates and keeps her teacher, Mr. Todd, on his toes as he gently reminds Annie about the classroom rules. By the day’s end, Annie’s energetic leadership helps recover two missing classmates and the milk for snack.


Adventure Annie is a high-spirited character that will have children laughing in their seats. Teachers will find her impulsive antics relatable and endearing. A marvelous story to read children as they embark on their own kindergarten adventure!     

Friday, July 5, 2019

9 Sticky Note Teacher Hacks

post it notes
Photo courtesy of: Scara; courtesy of: Pixabay

The little sticky squares, used by thousands of people every day, were an essential tool in my teaching itinerary. They were all over my classroom.

To stay organized, I bought different colors, shapes and sizes and used them for many different reasons. I'd like to share nine of them with you now.

1. Tabs for notebooks or binders

Write the name of the topic on the sticky note and place it either on the top or along the side of your book.

2. Cubby Labels

There are so many cute shaped sticky-notes that will match your classroom theme.

3. Reminders

Write the subject of your reminder on the note then stick it in a place where you're sure to see it. I put mine on my calendar or in an unusual place where it will stand out.

4. Anecdotes

Whether it be for an academic subject or a behavior concern, teachers need anecdotes for their students. 

Pop a pad in your back pocket for the moment note taking arises. When you get a minute, file the notes wherever you keep your anecdotes.

5. Student Check-Ins

Sticky notes are a quick and easy way to have children interact with an anchor chart. I used them all the time for yes or no questions or for surveys like "What's your favorite color?"

Write your target question at the top, make your columns then have students put their labeled sticky note in the column where it belongs.

6. Read-Alouds

Before you read a book to your class, write your comprehension questions on sticky notes and put them on the page they pertain to. It's a great way to make sure you hit all of your target questions.

7. Use different colors and sizes.

Color code your notes for easier accessibility and to keep track of things.

8. Book Markers

Rather than dog ear your favorite read-aloud or reference book, slap a sticky note on the page you want to save for later.

9. Personalized Sticky Notes

As a small token of friendship for a grade partner, give them a pack of sticky notes with their initial on it. Oh, and don't forget to add a chocolate bar or a cup of their favorite coffee. Oh, or maybe a fresh pack of pens to replace the ones they lost. Pens are very hard to keep track of in a busy classroom.

I'd love to hear how you use sticky notes in your classroom.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

7 Free Library Books About Summer

Photo courtesy of: Pezibear; courtesy of: Pixabay

I was at my local free library again. Yay! It's one of the finest places on earth. This time I found books on everyone‘s favorite vacation time-Summer!

Once more I've done a series of mini-reviews to aid you in quickly finding quality books to read to your children.

1. Surf's Up

Author: Kwame Alexander
Illustrator: Daniel Miyares
Publisher: NorthSouth Books, Inc.
ISBN: 9780735842205
Rating: 5 Lemon Drops

Book Summary:

Bro and Dude are enjoying Summer in specific ways. Bro wants to read his book and Dude is ready to catch some waves. As Dude listens to Bro's enthusiasm while he reads, Dude can't help becoming invested in the story. By the time they arrive at the beach, each frog is engrossed in a spirited adventure. 


A wonderful shout out to the delights of Summer Reading at the beach.

As soon as I saw this book on the shelf, I knew I had to read it. The cover brought a big smile to my face. The picture of the two frogs cracks me up. It's hilarious! Alexander and Miyares definitely deliver an entertaining and comical story young readers will appreciate.

2. Arthur Goes To Camp

Author: Marc Brown
Illustrator: Marc Brown
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
ISBN: 9780316112185
Rating: 4 Lemon Drops

Book Summary:

Arthur's off to Camp Meadowcroak and he's not happy about it. He's homesick before he even arrives. Once he does, the food, the poison ivy, the ambitious girls, and the upcoming scavenger hunt with, Camp Horsewater, are too much for him to handle. So Arthur runs away. 

His desperate actions lead to a surprise ending that will inspire young readers to stay the course with a situation they find difficult.


For many children summer camp and all the uneasiness that goes along with it is a rite of passage. A shared reading of this book is an excellent way to start a conversation about your child's apprehension with sleeping away at camp.

3. Maisy Learns To Swim

Author: Lucy Cousins
Illustrator: Lucy Cousins
Publisher: Candlewick Press
ISBN: 9780763664800
Rating: 4 Lemon Drops

Book Summary:

Maisy and her friends are attending their first swimming lesson. After slipping on their swim suits, they get in the pool with Miss Poppy and practice kicking, floating, and blowing bubbles.


They labeled the book "A Maisy First Experiences Book". This is an apt description. The story is sweet, colorful and captures the spirit of little ones enjoying an unforgettable day at the pool with their friends.

4. The Great White Man-Eating Shark

Author: Margaret Mahy
Illustrator: Jonathan Allen
Publisher: Puffin Pied Piper Books
ISBN: 0140557458
Rating: 5 Lemon Drops

Book Summary:

Norvin is a talented actor with a strong resemblance to sharks. In addition to acting, he loves to swim, but he resents sharing, Caramel Cove, his favorite swimming spot with others. They prevent him from swimming through the water like the silver arrow he is.

One day he decides to scare the other swimmers away. He straps on the plastic dorsal fin of a great white man-eating shark and swims through Caramel Cove, creating such panic no one swims again for days.

Whenever people decide to enter the water again, Norvin pretends to be a shark and frightens them back to shore. Then one day Norvin comes face to face with an unexpected swimmer who finds him appealing and everything changes.


This was one of my favorite Summer or Ocean themed books to read to my Pre-K/K students. It's funny and teaches children a valuable lesson on sharing and karma.

5. Summer Supper

Author: Rubin Pfeffer
Illustrator: Mike Austin
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
ISBN: 9781524714642
Rating: 5 Lemon Drops

Book Summary:

S is for Summer, spinach, strawberries and a host of other words showcased in this story. Pfeffer and Austin have created a sequential tale beginning with a family planting seeds and ending with them sharing a scrumptious family picnic.


This book is appropriate for all new readers, from early emergent to emergent to early reading. The large print and simple alliterative phrases are easy to track; the vivid illustrations are bright, eye-catching and rich with lively details that should boost vocabulary development. A wonderful introduction to initial letter sounds and family togetherness.

6. Summer Days And Nights

Author: Wong Herbert Yee
Illustrator: Wong Herbert Yee
Publisher: Henry Holt And Company
ISBN: 9780805090789
Rating: 4 Lemon Drops

Book Summary:

Through detailed rhyme, a little girl describes her busy summer day- from tip-toeing through a patch of daisies to spying a barn owl beneath a moonlit tree. When she finally goes to sleep, she drifts into dreams of summer days and nights.


A sweet book that encapsulates the innocence of a youngster's early experience of Summer. Every day is an adventure filled with butterflies, swimming pools and picnics at the park with Mom and Dad. The soft-colored illustrations are a pleasing addition to this wholesome story.

7. Mama, Is It Summer Yet?

Author: Nikki McClure
Illustrator: Nikki McClure
Publisher: Abrams Books For Young Readers
ISBN: 9780810998742
Rating: 4 Lemon Drops

Book Summary:

As a little boy eagerly awaits Summer, he and his Mama watch for signs of the anticipated season. Winter drifts into spring and they sow seeds, observe buds on the trees and see a squirrel building her nest. Then one day Summer arrives and mother and son bask in all the significant moments that accompany this verdant season 


A story that embraces the impatience and curiosity of children as they watch and wait for the seasons to turn; and the perseverance of a mother teaching them to appreciate the special moments nature brings. 

McClure's black and white paper-cut art pops off the page and effectively highlights the primary and secondary colors used in isolation. An enjoyable story with a positive message about nature’s blessings.

What books are on your child's Summer Reading List?