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Welcome! We are six children's book authors with a wide range (and many years) of experience teaching writing to children, teens, and adults. Here, we share our unique perspective as writing teachers who are also working writers. Our regular features include writing exercises (our "Writing Workouts"), teaching tips, author interviews, book reviews, and answers to your "Ask the Teaching Authors" questions.
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1. 3 things About Commas To Make You Smile

.
Howdy, Campers--and Happy Poetry Friday (original poem and PF link below)!

This is the last of our series about punctuation and related topics. Bobbi started us off with For the Love of Comma (her post was mentioned in Quercus), Esther offers A New Mark of Punctuation (sort of)...,Carla illustrates her point with specific examples from her books in How You Tell the Story Makes a Difference, and Mary Ann pleads, Can We Give the Exclamation Point a Rest?

*    *    *   *
When my son was four, he was lying on the floor leisurely looking at a book one morning when I rushed in. "C'mon, honey--we've gotta go!"

"Okay, Mommy," he said marking his page, "lemme put it on pause."

Don't you love that?

my kiddo...who will be entering medical school in January

Put it on pause.  Commas, line breaks and periods give pause; they remind us to breathe. Like Bobbi, I love commas.  My summer present to you: three things about commas to make you smile:

1) A few years ago, I bought my mom (a true Punctuation Queen) this plaque.  

from signals.com
(Mom loved it.)

2) When my son was in elementary school, I read poetry to his class once a week.  I was trying to be like my teacher, Myra Cohn Livingston: I wanted to share poetry with no strings attached.  As I read, they listened, just listened.  Nothing was expected of them.  I read every poem twice.

At the end of each year, I gave them each a collection of the poems they loved; in third grade, this was one of their favs (make sure to take a big breath before attempting to read it aloud!):

Call the Periods
Call the Commas

By Kalli Dakos

Call the doctors Call the nurses Give me a breath of
air I’ve been reading all your stories but the periods
aren’t there Call the policemen Call the traffic guards
Give me a STOP sign quick Your sentences are running
when they need a walking stick Call the commas Call
the question marks Give me a single clue Tell me
where to breathe with a punctuation mark or two


From If You're Not Here, Please Raise Your Hand; Poems about School by Kalli Dakos, illustrated by Brian Karas (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1995) 

3) We're told so much about the health benefits of deep breathing; of taking time to slow down. Remember to Breathe, they say.

And just think: as writers, with our very own fingers, we have magic power. Add a comma, push the pause button.

Applause for the Pause
by April Halprin Wayland

A comma,
a breaking line
a period.

A day off,
a week away
summer.

poem (c)2015 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

*   *   *   *
And finally, congratulations to TeachingAuthors' latest Book Giveaway Winner:
Em M, who won JoAnn Early Macken's Baby Says Moo wonderful board book--lucky Em!

Poetry Friday is at Carol's Corner this week--thanks for hosting, Carol!

As I said, TeachingAuthors is taking our annual Summer Blogging Break after this post (our sixth annual blogging break, for those of you who are paying attention). We'll be back in two shakes of a lamb's tail--which technically is Monday, July 13th. So, grab your towel, dive into the pool, and swim a few laps while we're gone ~ TTFN!

posted on a summer's day by April Halprin Wayland--with help from Eli (dog), Snot (cat), and Monkey.

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2. Can We Give the Exclamation Point a Rest?

     Young Author's Camps are well under way. It's Sunday night, and I am anticipating tomorrow's new group of writers. To (sort of) quote Forrest Gump, "Writing campers are like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you are going to get."

    If this camp is true to form, it will be a Whitman's Sampler of writers. Kids whose parents think I am running a remedial writing boot camp despite the Parks' Department naming the program "Writing is Fun!"  (Remember that exclamation point.)  Learning disabled kids.  Kids who are there because their parents need a place to park them for the week...and mine was the only camp that still had openings. (Always flattering to hear, "You're all that was left.") And of course, there are usually some kids who there because they love to write. Usually. Not always.

   For the last several years, every session has had a core of writers for whom English is a second language. No one can put together a perfect English sentence the way a 10-year-old who learned the language in school can. Their subjects and verbs agree, something that seems "optional" to a number of "English only" kids. Tenses don't leap from past to present to future in the same sentence.  Punctuation is meticulous. Speaking of punctuation, these ESOL kids have learned the Power of the Punctuation Point.

    A lot of kids let the exclamation point do all the heavy lifting in a sentence.  Rather than show the reader fear, joy, surprise (fill in the emotion here), they toss big handfuls of exclamation points instead.  A paragraph of five sentences will include six exclamation points. (More is better, right?) After awhile those little points seem to rise off the page in platoons, stabbing at my eyeballs. A slight exaggeration, but after awhile all you see on the page is !!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Example:  I was so sad when we moved!  I left all my friends behind!  I didn't know anybody at school!  I hated school! I was always in a bad mood!  Even my dog was in a bad mood!!!!

    Why are these kids so dependent on the point?  My first thought is to blame texting and email which has shrunk language down to emoticons and acronyms (OMG, LOL, 😄).  But most of my students are not allowed on social media, or have email accounts. Back in the day, teachers blamed comic books for sloppy punctuation (Pow! Biff! Bam!  Take that, Batman!).  I haven't run across any of comic fans among my writers.  Video games like World of Warcraft or Call of Duty, yes.  Comic books, no.

     There are a handful of chapter book writers who go over the top with the punctuation points for comic effect. I'm not laughing, but the kids are.  Still, even those writers do it a couple of times per book at most, not every sentence.

    It comes back to something I've posted about before...vocabulary.  For my young writers, it is easier to use my two pet peeves, the word "very" combined with an adjective and an exclamation point.  In revision of their work, I encourage them to find another way of expressing the emotion without using "very."

   Example:  The test was very hard!

  Alternatives:  The test was: challenging complicated confusing demanding difficult exhausting puzzling tiring unclear. (Pick one.)

  Each of the alternatives offers a clearer picture of how or why the test was "hard."  Was it physically
hard?  Did your head ache?  Did you write so much your hand hurt?  Or was it hard to understand?  Were the directions unclear?  Did you mix-up your facts?  Or were the questions more difficult than you expected?  Or did it just make you think harder?  "Hard" can mean a lot of things in describing a test.  What exactly did you mean?

    At this point I bring out my trusty thesaurus collection: beginners, intermediate and Roget's.  My students are familiar with the thesaurus...the one on their word processing program.  I compare the meager selection offered by the computer program to the many, many options in the thesaurus. They learn they cannot slide by with what I call "wimp words"...words too general to say what they mean. The substitutions for wimp words are in the thesaurus.  By the end of the week, they have almost eliminated phrases such as very beautiful, very hot, very boring. Instead, flowers are exquisite, days swelter and TV shows uninteresting.

    Once the "enabler" word "very" disappears, the punctuation marks often disappear as well.  At least they do in descriptive passages.  They still seem to show up in dialog.  How else do you show some one is excited?  Example:  "It's raining!" she said excitedly.

   In this case, the culprit is "said." Said is a perfectly good word.  It's meant to be unobtrusive in dialog.  Sometimes, however, you want to know how that sentence is...well...said. How could you show the speaker is excited without that pesky exclamation point?  Swap said for one of the following verbs:  screamed, shouted, yelled, exclaimed, moaned, groaned, cried, wailed, howled, wailed, gasped, choked,shrieked, rejoiced, squealed, cheered, announced.

   If after all those choices the writer still can't let go of that exclamation point, I issue an ultimatum. Two exclamation points for the whole piece.  More than two, I tell the student, "Imagine that I control  the world supply of exclamation points.  If you wan to use on, they are now a hundred dollars apiece."  The silliness of the notion usually makes the writer think twice about using them.

    Again, in the words of Forrest Gump..."And that's all I have to say about that."

    No exclamation point.

    BOOK GIVEAWAY

    Today is the last time to register for our give away of JoAnn Early Macken's board book, BABY SAYS MOO.  For details, see JoAnn's June 12 post.

    Posted by Mary Ann Rodman



    

   

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3. How You Tell the Story Makes a Difference

As I write nonfiction books, I carefully consider sentence length and punctuation.  Every sentence is crafted in a way that will support the pacing of my (true) story.  Does sentence structure and punctuation affect the pacing of the story?  Absolutely!  How you write the text makes all the difference. 

As an example, let’s consider the opening scene from my book,

Fourth Down and Inches: 

Concussions and Football’s Make-or-Break Moment


 

I could have begun this book in countless ways.  I chose to begin the book with a young man named Von Gammon because I believe it sets the scene for the whole book.  I wanted to pull the reader in by giving them a glimpse into Von’s life.  Once I decided to open the book with this young man, there were countless ways I could have written the scene. 

Consider the following examples and choose which is more compelling: 

EXAMPLE 1

Von Gammon lay down on the grass.  He told his brother to stand on his hands. Von was strong and could prove it. He could lift his brother who was six feet six inches tall off the ground.  Von was strong and skilled. 

OR…
 
EXAMPLE 2

Von Gammon lay down on the grass and told his brother to stand on his hands. Von was strong, and he could prove it. Then he lifted his brother—all six feet and six inches of him—clear off the ground. And Von wasn’t just strong; he was skilled.
 

The second example is what appears in the published book.  The first example communicates the same information, but doesn’t pull the reader into the story.  The difference is in the sentence structure and punctuation. 

Just a few sentences later, I write about the moment things changed for Von.   Which of the following is more interesting? 

EXAMPLE 1
 
When Von was a sophomore, he played in a football game that took place on October 30.  He was on the University of George team and they were playing the University of Virginia.  Von’s team was behind by seven points.  The other team had control of the ball.  Von was a defensive lineman.  When the ball was snapped and the play began, the linemen hit each other.  Von laid on the field after all the other players walked away. 

OR…  
 
EXAMPLE 2

On October 30 of Von’s sophomore year, the Georgia Bulldogs were battling the University of Virginia. They trailed by seven points, and Virginia had the ball. Von took his place on the defensive line. The center snapped the ball. A mass of offensive linemen lurched toward Von, and he met them with equal force.
The play ended in a stack of tangled bodies.

One by one, the Virginia players got up and walked away. Von didn’t.


The second example appears in the published book.  Again it isn’t the information that is different; it is how the information is presented that is different. 

 Why did I begin
Fourth Down and Inches:
Concussions and Football's Make-or-Break Moment 
with Von Gammon? 
 
Because Von sustained a concussion and died a few hours later.  His death caused many to wonder if football was too dangerous.   
The year was 1897.  

Carla Killough McClafferty



BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Win an autographed copy Baby Says “Moo!” by JoAnn Early Macken.   For more details on the book and enter the book giveaway, see her blog entry on June 12, 2015.  The giveaway runs through June 22.  The winner will be announced on June 26.

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4. A New Mark of Punctuation (sort of)...

So,
how to continue our TeachingAuthors  Punctuation theme while following Bobbi Miller’s most illuminating “For the Love of Commas” post last Monday?

I considered showcasing one of my favorite books (Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s EXCLAMATION MARK!, seemingly punctuation-themed or not),
interviewing University of Chicago Press editor Carol Saller (author of THE SUBVERSIVE COPYEDITOR)
and reviewing New Yorker editor Mary Norris’ BETWEEN YOU AND ME: CONFESSIONS OF A COMMA QUEEN. 

[Please note: In the above sentence I proudly reveal my Medicare-eligibility by honoring Strunk and White’s Elements of Style rule that states that “in a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.” It’s hard to teach an Old Dog New Tricks.]

I was heavily leaning toward sharing EXCLAMATION MARK! – a. because this particular punctuation mark and I have a whole lot in common, spirit-wise, and b. the front book blurb so speaks to me  “…we all have an inner exclamation mark. The question is, how to find it…”

But then, while reading Hannah Pittard’s beautifully-written all-absorbing novel REUNION which features a most engaging heart-grabbing dysfunctional family, I came upon a scene in which the character Kate Pulaski who teaches script-writing speaks a word the author acknowledges in her closing she found in a NY Times Ann Beattie article “Me and Mrs. Nixon” – a literary term I’d never seen or heard before! 

The word? 
Irmus.

     “I talked to Elliot about this on the plane,” she says.
     “Irmus,” I say.
     “What?”
     “Irmus,” I say.  “When you reveal the meaning at the end.”
     “What are you talking about?”
     …..”You said, ‘I talked to Elliot about this on the plane,’ but you haven’t yet said what this is. Presumably you are now going to define ‘this.’”
     “Do your students have any idea what you’re talking about?”
     “No,” I say.  “Nope. Not a word.”

I quickly marked my place in the novel to check the word’s official definition.
To my surprise, my Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary did not include an entry for irmus.
Upon Googling “irmus,” I came upon Chris Bonney and her October 25, 2011 post “A New Word.” (Apparently Hannah Pittard was not the only one who’d read Ann Beattie’s NY Times article “Me and Mrs. Nixon" and taken notice of this unusual word.)
Bonney wrote that according to the BOOK OF LITERARY TERMS, an irmus describes the phenomenon in which “not until the end of a passage does the reader fully understand what is being spoken of.”
She herself described irmus as “the periodic sentence, characterized by the suspension of the completion of sense until its end.”
In other words, an irmus acts like a punctuation mark, giving meaning and punch, emphasis and force, to the sentences that preceded it.

Or so I've told myself so I could share this term with you and hopefully give your day some punch. ;)

Personally, I feel so much more alive when a heretofore unknown word which surprisingly has relevance in my writer’s life takes residence on my brain’s Hard Drive.

I hope the same is true for you.

Esther Hershenhorn




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5. Baby Says "Moo!" Book Giveaway!

Hooray for good news! After 2 1/2 grueling years, our son is cancer free! My husband retires today! And I have a new book! The padded board book edition of Baby Says "Moo!" is here, and you could win an autographed copy for you or your favorite baby.


You can read more about Baby Says "Moo!" in this interview with the VCFA Launchpad, the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults blog. Enter below to win an autographed copy. The giveaway runs through June 22. We'll announce the winner on June 26. Good luck!

Today's Poetry Friday Roundup is at Jama's Alphabet Soup. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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6. For the Love of Comma

My kitty, Comma.
 
What is one man’s colon is another man’s comma.” ~ Mark Twain

As a writing teacher, and a working writer, I found the greatest challenge is learning the fine art of punctuation. The secret, I discovered, is writing for the reader's eye. Understanding how the reader approaches text offers you key insight into how to write with clarity and grace.

 Readers approach the text by moving left to right. Readers interpret information by this forward projection. Readers expect subject-verb-object structures in sentences. They tend to focus on the verb that resolves the sentence's syntax, and in so doing, tend to resist information until after the verb is identified. This is why concrete subjects and action-oriented verbs carry the weight of the sentence. If the subject is vague or nonexistent, or the verb is passive, the sentence often falls apart.

Because readers project forward, they intuitively search for the subject, skimming over qualifying clauses or phrases that precede the subject. This becomes important in longer sentences, when the subject does not debut until mid-way or beyond. This is why subjects placed as close to the opening of the sentence as possible make for stronger sentences.

 Active voice maintains this forward process. It originates with the grammatical subject, flows through the verb, and results in an outcome. Some research suggests that readers understand and remember information more readily when structure corresponds to this cause-effect sequence. Passive structure forces this action in reverse: a subject is either implied or supplied in a subordinate phrase, and the outcome becomes the grammatical subject.

 The rhythm of a narrative is found in its punctuation. As sentences crash and fall “like the waves of the sea,” punctuation becomes the music of the language, says Noah Lukeman, in one of my favorite reads, A Dash of Style (2006).


Periods are the stop signs, says Lukeman, and hold the most power in the punctuation universe.
morguefile.com
All other marks – the comma, the dash, the colon and semi-colon, and so on – serve only to modify what lies between the periods. Sometimes a usurper, like the exclamation point or the question mark, intervenes, but its control is temporary. Imagine a book without periods, or a book that has periods after every word, and you begin to understand its supreme power.

 A well-placed period, especially in battle with one of its usurpers, helps pacing and adds emphasis. It speeds the narrative up in an action-sequence, heightening the drama. For example, can you hear the drum beat in this passage from my book, Girls of Gettysburg (Holiday House, 2014)?


Bayonets glistening in the hot sun, the wall of men stepped off the rise in perfect order. The cannoneers cheered as the soldiers moved through the artillery line, into the open fields.

The line had advanced less than two hundred yards when the Federals sent shell after shall howling into their midst.

Boom! Boom! Boom!

The shells exploded, leaving holes where the earth had been. Shells pummeled the marching men. As one man fell in the front of the line, another stepped up to take his place. Smoke billowed into a curtain of white, thick and heavy as fog, stalking them across the field.

 Still they marched on. They held their fire, waiting for the order.

 Boom! A riderless horse, wide-eyed and bloodied, emerged from the cloud of smoke. It screamed in panic as another shell exploded.

Boom! All around lay the dead and dying. There seemed more dead than living now. Men fell legless, headless, armless, black with burns and red with blood.

Boom! They very earth shook with the terrible hellfire.

Still they marched on.
Long sentences can be very effective to heighten emotional drama even as it slows the action down. In another example from Girls of Gettysburg: “Dawn broke still as pond water, and the army was already on the march, moving east along the Pike. As the bloody sun broke free of the horizon, the mist rose, too. The air heated steadily, another hellfire day.”

But, as the cliché reminds us, there can be too much of a good thing (except chocolate, of course). A string of short sentences can become a choppy ride. Like riding in a Model T Ford. Stuck in the wrong gear. Chug! Chug! Chug! Going over a rutted road. It bounces. And bounces. And bounces. My head hurts. Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! Stop. This. Car. And. Let. Me. Out.

 And no one wants to read a sentence that never ends, one that goes on and on and on and on, in some stream-of-consciousness rambling of fanciful swooping and looping and drooping that serves no purpose other than to satisfy the writer’s ego.

If the period is the stop sign, then the comma is the speed bump, says Lukeman. It controls the ebb and flow of the sentence’s rhythm. A comma connects and divides. In fact, as Lukeman warns, it’s downright schizophrenic. It divides the sentences into parts, clarifying its meaning, or in some cases, changing its meaning. Consider this favorite Facebook meme: A woman, without her man, is nothing. But, with a wave of the magic punctuation wand, it changes to this: A woman: without her, man is nothing.

A comma connects smaller ideas to create a more powerful idea: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Everyone has heard the saying, placing a comma is like taking a breath in a sentence. But a sentence with too many commas sends the reader into hyperventilation. And one with not enough commas forces the reader to hold her breath unto she turns blue. So, where do you place your comma?

There are a thousand handbooks on punctuation, each offering a thousand rules on where and when to place a comma, and each rule has a thousand exceptions. Perhaps the better question is: what is your purpose in using the comma? As a stylistic devise, I offer that it’s one of the most emotive punctuation marks because it mimics the character’s state of mind. For example, from my Girls of Gettysburg, you know this poor character is frightened: “Weezy sang, quiet as a cricket’s whisper. But in the tiny room, in the dark, it seemed loud enough.”

Somewhere between the period and the comma is the semi-colon. This is the mediator, says Lukeman, and “a bridge between the two worlds.” With a style all its own, the semi-colon connects two thematically-related ideas while maintaining the independence of both.
morguefile.com
 It can be used to smooth out the choppy ride found in a string of short sentences, or give a breath of air in a long-winded sentence.

However, the semi-colon doesn’t always play well with others. It competes for attention with the comma. Because a semi-colon slows the action down, the effect of a comma and, most especially the period, is minimized.

And then there are colons. Colons are just plain bossy. They don't like to share. They especially don’t like semi-colons, despite the similar names. With a flair for the dramatic, colons are the master magicians: they reveal. (<See what I did there?) Colons hold the audience in suspense, says Lukeman. Then, at the right moment, the writer pulls the curtain back to reveal some fundamental truth of the narrative. Remember the Facebook meme example? A woman: without her, man is nothing.

But too often misunderstood and underappreciated, the colon tends to be reduced to mundane tasks, like signaling lists and offering summaries.

Then, of course, there are the dashes, ellipses, slashes and myriad of other punctuation marks. Alas, I’ve run out of space. In the end, as Noah Lukeman says, punctuation is organic, a complex universe subject to the writer’s purpose and personal tastes. What works in one narrative doesn’t work in every narrative. And for every rule, there is an exception. At its core, however, punctuation is a journey of self-awareness and reveals as much about the writer as it does about the writing.


For more information, you might find these useful:

Boyle, Toni and K.D. Sullivan. The Gremlins of Grammar. NY: McGraw-Hill, 2006.

Lukeman, Noah. A Dash of Style. NY: WW Norton, 2006.

Bobbi Miller


 “Punctuation in skilled hands is a remarkably subtle system of signals, signs, symbols and winks that keep readers on the smoothest road. Too subtle, perhaps: Has any critic or reviewer ever praised an author for being a master of punctuation, a virtuoso of commas? Has anyone every won a Pulitzer, much less a Nobel, for elegant distinctions between dash and colon, semi-colon and comma? ~ Rene J. Cappon, Associated Press Guide to Punctuation
 

 

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7. 3 Ways To Inspire a Poem--Oops!

.
Howdy Campers!

I'm wildly inspired by the postings of my fellows at Poetry Friday today--see the link below.

Bobbi begins our What-Inspires-You series with Inspirations and Geniuses; Jo Ann is up next with the help of her camera: Zooming in on Inspiration; Esther offers An Inspiring Weekly Digest You Need to Know About; Carla opens our eyes to Inspiration From the Library of Congress; and Mary Ann touches us with tales about family members in Inspiration is a Blast From the Past.

So what are the top three things that inspire my daily poems?

1) Um...deadlines. 

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” ~ Douglas Adams

I was inspired to write this post today when I was putting an appointment in my calendar...and saw that I was supposed to have posted this morning.  Oops!

"My sole inspiration is a telephone call from a director." ~ Cole Porter, composer and songwriter

Deadlines and assignments mean that I cannot take all day cleaning my proverbial closet. I write and rewrite...and bam!--even if it's not the world's most perfect piece, I post it or send it off--done!

2) Life. Especially the sad parts. 

"I've had an unhappy life, thank God." ~ Russell Baker, author, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist

The difficult and/or unhappy times of my life are rich grounds for writing.  I can create this richness, though, even when my life is humming along, if I listen to what's happening in my chest cavity. If I walk into the world looking for my poem, all senses open.

The last time my mom and I took a nature walk.  She's the shorter one.

3) Someone who believes in me.  Two or three someones is even better. 

"Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher

My husband came with me on a quick trip to meet with my agent and two of my editors this week.  I wanted him to meet these significant people in my work life. New York can be exhilarating...and it can scare the pants off me, too.  It always takes me a day to remember how to use the subways and navigate the city.  His presence on the subway and in those meetings meant the world to me.

My sailing-around-the-world friend, Bruce, is a daily supporter of my work, even when he says the poem doesn't work (which of course I know he's just not reading correctly--he's clearly tired from working on the boat all day).

Every writer in my critique groups past and present and everyone in the Kidlitosphere community: we cheer each other on; that cheering echoes and echoes and echoes inside all of us.
my team

And so? Here's today's (raw) poem written 1) for a deadline, 2) based on life, and with the support of--well, all of you.

LOOKING FOR INSPIRATION
by April Halprin Wayland

bald little god
sits on the pond’s rim, 
his feet all in

his head turning side to side
toward fluttering leaves
toward ebbing tide 

below impatient clouds
that mumble, 
This is going too slow

so they snap out 
a spiky lighting streak 
and Man—does little god go!

He jumps right up and does he run!
He’s going, going, getting things
DONE!

poem and drawings (c) April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

Get inspired by the bounty at Buffy's Blog today--thanks for hosting, Buffy!

posted by April Halprin Wayland, Monkey, and our always inspired dog, Eli

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8. Inspiration is a blast from the past

     I find inspiration in real life. Rummaging through flea markets and antique stores, examining the jumbled pieces of other peoples' lives sets my story radar pinging. How did these odds and ends come to rest, unwanted by their "families," in a junk store? A story begins simmering in the back of my brain.

    I am addicted to old family pictures. I gaze at the walls of other people's houses, memorizing family portraits. My mother practically raised me at estate sales and junk stores. I was not allowed to touch anything, but I could ask all the questions I wanted. What was this metal thing used for? Who wore shoes that buttoned up the sides? Did you have a doll like this when you were a little girl?

   The two people who encouraged my curiosity in the past would be surprised to learn I consider them the fairy godmothers of my writing.  Those two people were my Grandmother Rodman and my mom, both natural born storytellers.

The couple in the middle are my Rodman grandparents
      Although her father had been a country schoolmaster, my Grandmother Rodman's education ended at 11. However, she loved to read and never stopped learning through out her very long life (she lived to be 97). Her childhood was positively Dickensian; orphaned at 11, she lived with an "evil stepfather" and numerous half-siblings. Her older brothers had gone off to "seek their fortunes" and escape their abusive stepfather.  Murder, the county poor farm, setting off on her own at 15 to make her way in the world...all these elements were part of my grandmother's story.  As a young mother she survived the most deadly tornado in U.S. history. She told "The Storm Story" when few people talked about tragedies.  My grandmother made sense of her own life by telling the stories, over and over, always in an undramatic, matter of fact voice.

     She knew which details would make her story real for a little listener...the taste of homemade peanut brittle, the mustard color of a funnel cloud so enormous it blocked the sky, the stiff, slick material of her mother's "Sunday dress." Her stories were peopled with characters named Country and Myrtle and Ardell.  She evoked the sound of their voices, the way they stood and moved, the little quirks that made those long-dead people come alive. She was economical with her words, as she brought the events to the climax, never once saying "Oh I forgot to say that..."

   Not only could my grandmother put names to the family photos she kept in a big silk stationary box under her bed, she could spin stories about every one of them. She also told me about my father growing up in small-town, Depression-era,  Southern Illinois. My father did not tell me his own boyhood until very recently.  Learning what kind of little boy he had been, helped me understand my sometimes puzzling, taciturn dad.

Mom on the far right, her brother Jimmy and sister Agnes
   My mother would be shocked to learn that she inspired me. I was a sickly kid and missed a lot of school. Mom entertained me with stories of her childhood, first on a small family farm and then helping her mother run a Pittsburgh boarding house during the Depression. The middle child of eight, her stories seemed exciting and exotic, better than any library book. Mom prefaced her stories with, "Now times were different when I was a little. We probably shouldn't have done some of this stuff then, and you aren't to do it now. If you do, I will stop telling you stories." That was threat enough to keep me from trying some of the stunts of Mom and her family.  My uncles' trapeze in the farm's apple orchard. The Great Silverware War of Easter 1932. Their beloved maiden aunt who taught them to play poker. The first story I ever wrote at age seven was about Mom moving from to town after the bank took the farm.  My 11-year-old mother and her sister rode a streetcar back to their old home, to gather whatever they had could of what was left behind. (No, I'm not telling you what they took...I'm still working on this story.)

   Mom was a one-woman show. She imitated voices, created sound effects and even acted out the events when her vocabulary failed her.  Ironically, she considered herself shy and disliked speaking in public. Writing anything, such as a letter, was a laborious process that would go through several drafts before she would write on her good linen stationary with a fountain pen.  Since Mom wrote to at least some of her family every week, that was a lot of moaning and groaning and crumpled up notebook paper. (I learned the pain and value of revision early!)`

    Jimmy's Stars began when I found a WWII two-star service flag in a box lot of china I bought at an auction. I knew from photos that Mom's family had a four-star flag in the window of the boarding house (three for my uncles and one for Mom who was a WAVE). Looking at that flag, I heard my mother's voice recounting life on the Homefront, the terror of receiving a telegram, the peculiarity of wartime rationing. With those stories as a foundation,Jimmy's Stars was the fastest I've ever written anything...18 months. (That included lightening striking my computer and wiping out the unbacked-up first five chapters.)

  Yankee Girl is based on my own childhood stories I told my daughter. I am currently working on two books that are based on Grandmother Rodman tales.
                                                                                                             
    I'm sure that neither my grandmother or mother knew they would inspire my own books. Their stories taught me the beauty and drama of everyday life. This sense of wonder in what seems ordinary to us, I try to pass on to my own students. Over the years, they have told me about grandparents who wandered in the rubble of WWII Europe, orphaned and homeless. Of their parents as children, in refugee camps, fleeing Asia by boat. One girl's family escaped the Holocaust by immigrating to Cuba... and then fled Cuba after the Revolution. My hope is that these tales will live on in my students' writing.  I think the best gift you can give a child is a family story.

     I was blessed to be descended from two of the best storytellers ever. Thanks, Meemaw.  Thanks, Mom.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

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9. Inspiration from the Library of Congress

As a researcher, one of the places that inspire me is the Library of Congress (LOC).   The building itself is a national treasure, but the collections it holds are even more precious.   No matter what you are interested in, chances are that the Library of Congress has some material that relates to it.  It is a gold mine of primary source material for teachers, students, and writers. 

The LOC has a vast amount of material online, but let me give you an example of just one small slice of it.  Let’s take photographs from the Civil War.  When I look at this collection I see powerful, amazing images of people on both sides of the war.  While I’m interested in photos of the famous people like Lincoln, Lee and Grant, I’m even more fascinated by images of average soldiers who are often unidentified.  When I look at their faces, I wonder what they experienced and if they survived the war. 

 
 
 

Photos of soldiers are not the only type of images in their collection; many are of women and children.  This touching image of a young girl in a dark mourning dress holding a photo of her father, says a lot-silently.

  

This morning I found an unexpected collection at the LOC:  eyewitness drawings of Civil War scenes.  There are lots of battle scenes and landscapes, but the one that drew my eye was this sketch of a soldier.  It makes me wonder who this man was and why the artist sketched his image.  Was he a friend or brother?   Was he a hero or a deserter?



Images like these can teach students a lot about history.  And they can inspire both fiction and nonfiction writers. 

Carla Killough McClafferty


http://www.loc.gov/

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10. An Inspiring Weekly Digest You NEED to Know About!


This is your brain.













And this is Maria Popova who will gladly pick it each and every Sunday morning if you register to receive Brain Pickings, her weekly free website digest that I promise you offers unlimited inspiration to keep you keepin’ on – personally, professionally and any way you need to. 



Ms. Popoval, “a cartographer of meaning in a digital world,” continues to offer visitors to her website “an inventory of cross-disciplinary interestingness, spanning art, science, design, history, philosophy and more.” 
The Sunday digest offers the week’s most “unmissable” articles.


Here’s who and what came my way last Sunday, May 17:

Wendell Berry on How to Be a Poet and a Complete Human Being 

The Heart and the Bottle (by Oliver Jeffers): A Tender Illustrated Fable of What Happens When We Deny Our Difficult Emotions   

The Magic of Moss and What It Teaches Us About the Art of Attentiveness to Life at All Scales


I owe fellow writer and friend Ellen Reagan untold thanks for first connecting me to
what’s now my weekly dose of inspiration, insights and mind-whirling knowledge I never even knew I needed to have.

WOW’s!” and sighs and smiles and “I didn’t know that’s!” usually punctuate my first reading of the digest.
At the end of the day, I return to save/copy to my journal particularly relevant and/or meaningful quotes and lines  - about life, love, children, work, writing, disappointment, joy, wonder, marriage, you-name-it.
Throughout the week that follows I find myself forwarding at least one article or quote to someone I care about.

You can listen here to Maria Popova talk about how and why she created Brain Pickings.
You’ll be so happy she did.

And do subscribe to the weekly digest. 
You’ll be so happy you did.

Happy Brain Pickings!

Esther Hershenhorn

P.S.
You can also savor Maria Popova's delicious and nourishing fare via Facebook and Twitter.
(www.facebook.com/brainpickings.mariapopova/Brain Pickings @brainpickings


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11. Zooming In on Inspiration

When I finish a big project, I usually have to take a few days to get my bearings. I look around, dazed, trying to figure out what to do next. Morning Pages help. Walking to the lake helps. Spring is inspiring!

My camera helps me focus—literally—when I need to slow down and pay attention. For me, that can be the key to opening up to new ideas.

I just turned in the fourth (and final) book in a nonfiction series for an educational publisher. It drained me more than I expected. So I’m filling the well. Here are some things I’m paying attention to.


Last fall, I buried 40 potted milkweed plants  (3 varieties) under dry leaves next to the house. When the weather warmed up, I put them in the sun next to the garage. So far, 18 of them have sprouted. Three more plants (and one more variety) have popped up in the flower bed, which is shadier. Now I'm watching for monarchs. (Are you? Check the migration map to see if they're in your neighborhood yet.)


A pair of white-breasted nuthatches were cleaning out a hole in a branch above the garage the other day. Will they build a nest there? I hope so. I love their weird calls (described by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology as "a loud, nasal yank") and the way they hop down tree trunks head first.


One of my favorite wildflowers, a shooting star, is blooming in the park. What an encouraging surprise! Maybe I can go back to work now.

Bobbi started this series of Teaching Authors posts about inspiration with a collection of wonderful quotes. Be sure to check it out if you need a dose of inspiration—and who doesn't?

Congratulations to Karen C, who won our giveaway of the YA novel in verse Dating Down by Stephanie Lyons. (Read all about it in Esther's interview.)

Baby Says "Moo!" is now a board book! Watch for a Teaching Authors Book Giveaway in June.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

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12. Inspirations and Geniuses




Thomas Edison, 1921.
Title adapted from Laurie J. Edwards’ discussion on inspiration. Thank you! And don’t forget to enter to win a copy of Stefanie Lyon’s YA novel in verse, DATING DOWN. You can enter here between now and midnight, May 15, 2015.

Fred White blogged in 2010 that “Being inspired smacks of amateurish, daydreamy passivity, the notion that some supernatural presence must appear before us before the words can flow. And we’re reminded to death of Thomas Edison’s overquoted words about invention demanding 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration, perhaps not realizing that without that primal 1 percent jolt from the gods, Edison might not have been driven to sweat out the hard work or to cope with a zillion things going wrong.”

Inspiration is important for any creative activity. In fact, some argue that art made the world (See Nigel Spivey’s How Art Made the World, 2005). When early humans produced art over 77,000 years ago, they crafted tools and embellished it with color, but the defining element that made it stand above their Homo habilis ancestors using tools is found the singular capacity of using the imagination. From these humble beginnings, civilizations were born.

And inspiration fires the imagination. I’ve asked some of my favorite people about their favorite inspirations, and include them below. All photographs are from the Library of Congress, used with permission.


 From Laurie J. Edwards, YA author extraordinaire:


Henry Ford, 1924. His first car and his ten millionth car.

 
 “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eye off the goal.” ~ Henry Ford

Bamboo Gardens, China, 1900.
From Rebecca Colby, author of It’s Raining Bats and Frogs and other picturebooks:

"The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it." ~ Chinese Proverb




 

Martha Graham, Age 67, 1961.
  From Marcia Strykowski, author of Call Me Amy:

"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of
you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost."  ~ Martha Graham



 



Eleanor Roosevelt, 1946.


 From Yvonne Ventresca, author of Pandemic:

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. . . .You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”  ~ Eleanor Roosevelt





And because it's Mark Twain:

Mark Twain, 1903.
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” ~ Mark Twain




 
From Christina Banach, author of Minty and other YA fiction: 
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”  ~ Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird.

 
Historic mural depicting the Harper Lee novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird" located in Monroeville, Alabama. 1961.
 “Inspiration matters because it prods us to traverse the full spectrum of human experience. An important part of what it means to be a writer is to become so turned on to the business of being alive, to be so completely inspired by life, that you will harvest ideas for writing everywhere—from books, from people, from music and other art forms, from the natural world, and most of all from your own inner resources.” ~ Fred White, 2010


What inspires you?


Bobbi Miller

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13. Barbara Bottner's Feet, Go to Sleep blog tour--and Poetry Friday!

.
Howdy, Campers! What's store for you at TeachingAuthors today? A new picture book, its blog tour, a guest author and poet, two original poems, and a reminder to enter our latest book giveaway . Whew!

In honor of Poetry Friday, (link at the bottom of this post) my teacher and friend, New York Times bestselling author, Barbara Bottner has opened her notebook to share a poem with us from a work-in-progress (W.I.P.). And I've added my poem about being in her writing group.

But first: TeachingAuthors is proud to be part of Barbara's blog tour (see tour schedule below) celebrating her brand-new book, Feet, Go to Sleep (Penguin Random House), illustrated by Maggie Smith.


From the book flap:Fiona is not ready for bed. But after a long day at the beach, her mom knows she must be tired from her head to her toes. So together they send each part of her off to sleep.  As Fiona relaxes her body, she remembers a day when feet were for splashing in the waves, legs were for running after cousins, tummy was for holding strawberries, and arms were for throwing beach balls. And bit by bit, memory by memory, Fiona slips from a  great day into a good night.

Trust me, Campers, it's a perfect-for-summer bedtime book, weaving in a relaxation technique we can use to help kids go to sleep after an exciting day.

And when I asked Barbara if she would share a poem from her W.I.P. verse novel, I See Thunder, she said, "Sure!"

I’M A MONSTER
by Barbara Bottner

I’m not Davy’s mother
but Mother demands
that I do things she should do

like take him with me, everywhere I go.
And Davy walks really slowly.
Sometimes I wonder if he does it
just to annoy me.

Today, I’m going to the Grand Concourse
to buy fresh salty pretzels.

Just as I'm leaving, Mother says:
“take David with you.”
Her shrill voice
says do not dare object.

She has no idea how that makes
going to the Grand Concourse
nothing like what I had in mind.
 
“C’mon,” I say.
“Put your jacket on already!”
He's so easy going.
I'm so hard going.

“Where are your glasses, Davy?”
Now my voice
is shrill.

He looks at me with his big browns,
mumbles:  “It’s hard to be me
when you’re angry at me.”

That’s when I get a grip on my nasty self.

(c) Barbara Bottner from her work-in-progress, I SEE THUNDER. All rights reserved.


Thank you, Barbara.  I especially love these lines: He's so easy going./I'm so hard going....“It’s hard to be me/when you’re angry at me.”...and that last line. One poem can say so much.

When asked "Where do you get your ideas?" here are some pearls from Barbara:...the ‘material’ we use in the beginning is often our own.  So I wrote books about being the worst dancer in the class, being messy, being rebellious. It’s not the events themselves, it’s what they stir up in me…We are the clay and we are the potter and I believe you have to be both if you want to be an author…work authentically…follow where the story wants to go.

There's too much to tell you about what a fine teacher Barbara is...


...how intuitive she is, how she challenges us to dig deeper and deeper still...

AROUND BARBARA’S TABLE
by April Halprin Wayland

It's magic, you know
the tinkling of her full moon necklace
impossible feats of metaphor.
Six of us around her rosewood table
savoring tea

spilling over our pages
foreshadowing, fortune telling
drawing stories
out of the shadows
of her drapes.

The illusion of allusion.
A prophecy of sorcery.
She's a shaman jingling bracelets
on her sleight of hand.

It's wizardry, you know.
She's clairvoyant,
soothsayer,
sorceress,
source.

(c) April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

Thanks for including us on your blog tour, Barbara!  Jump on board her tour and you may win a copy of Feet, Go to Sleep! Here's the schedule:

5/21 Shelf-employed

And...you have until midnight, May 15, 2015 to enter TeachingAuthors' latest book giveaway for Stephanie Lyons' new book, Dating Down--don't miss out!

And thank you, Diane of Random Noodling for hosting Poetry Friday!

posted by April Halprin Wayland while sharing sips of Pellegrino with Barbara's new pup


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14. Talking Critter Books and Me

    Books where the main characters are animals are among my favorite.  Charlotte's Web is forever and always the one book I would take to a desert island.  I love the work of picture book authors Kevin Henkes, Carolyn Crimi and Lisa Wheeler, who often place their stories in the animal world.  (If there is a Hall of Fame for picture book authors, those three should definitely be included.)

     I love what I call "talking critter" books, in which the animals are anthropomorphic.  I just can't write them.

    To me, anthropomorphic books are a form of fantasy.  Animals don't talk or go to kindergarden or wear sneakers. Fantasy.  I don't write fantasy. I can't write fantasy.  My creative mind just doesn't work that way. My stories are mostly rooted in the real world of children. I'm a literal sort of person.

    I have published two "talking critter" books.
Surprise Soup was written about little boys. Something about that manuscript inspired the art department and the illustrator to make the little boys into little bears. Changing the species of the character made it a much funnier book...but I can't take any credit for writing an anthropomorphic book.  The illustrator did it for me. (Thank G. Brian Karas!)
     The other book, Camp K-9, was inspired by my dog, Nilla. She was a cocker-spitz mix, with floppy ears, a thick white coat, and a joyful personality.  In fact, Nilla was far more popular with the neighbors than the Downing family.  She was actually invited to parties that we weren't! Nilla was so human-like, it wasn't hard for me to imagine her as a teen-age girl.  My husband and I would invent adventures for her. Nilla as a Laker Girl.  Running up a phone bill.  Hanging out at the mall with her (also imaginary) BFF, Stacy.

     When we traveled, we boarded our "child" at a kennel called Camp K-9, which had a cute logo of a dog toting a sleeping bag and a tennis racquet. That got my imagination going.  What would dogs do at camp? I used my own experiences as a camper and a counselor to put together a day as a "doggy camper." I used a lot of dog puns and references to add humor.  The other "campers" were based on the dogs in my neighborhood.  That was pretty easy.

    After that, I had to find some tension, a problem, that my girl dog might experience with her bunkmates. That was the hard part. I fiddled and fiddled with the story for four or five years. Finally, after many many critiques by my friends and writing group, I felt Camp K-9 was as good as it was going to get. (Fortunately, my publisher liked it.)

     Will I write another "talking critter" book?  I don't know.  I had been inventing "Nilla adventures" in my head for ten years before I tried to write one down, and it was the most difficult thing I've ever written.  Cute one-liners and puns are one thing; shaping them into a coherent story, with a beginning, middle and end. Who knows?  Right now I am "inventing adventures" for my extremely ill-behaved cat, Rosie.  (She's giving me the evil eye right now.) Maybe...

     Don't forget to enter our latest book giveaway for Stephanie Lyons' new book, Dating Down.  The deadline is midnight, May 15 2015, so don't miss out.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

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15. And the Horse He Rode In On

 
Our theme this month is animals, so my thoughts immediately went to some fascinating details I like share with students when I do a school visit relating to my book The Many Faces of George Washington.  
 

George Washington trained his own horses and was considered to be an expert horseman.  During the American Revolution, General Washington rode one of two horses.  One was a brown horse named Nelson.  The other was a white horse named Blueskin.  During battle (yes, Washington actually fought in battle) he rode Nelson because the noise and chaos didn’t bother the calm horse.  But when Washington was just going about everyday life, he rode Blueskin. 

In portraits painted during the 18th century that depict Washington during the Revolution, he is shown with one of these two horses.  If the scene depicts a scene following a battle, Nelson is pictured.  But when the painting is not a battle scene, Blueskin is with him. 
 
General George Washington at Trenton by John Trumbull

 
Mount Vernon created three wax figures of George Washington. 
This one depicts General Washington at Valley Forge riding Blueskin.

Find out more about George Washington's historic home
 
 
 
To see a portrait of Washington with Nelson:
 
 
It fascinates me to think how much American history happened on horseback!
 
 
Carla Killough McClafferty
 
 
Remember to enter our book giveaway to win a copy of Stefanie Lyons’ YA novel in verse DATING DOWN (Flux). The deadline to enter is midnight May 15.
 

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16. Wednesday Writing Workout: Celebrate Children's Book Week!




Happy Children’s Book Week!

Since 1919, this national literacy initiative, the longest-running in our history and co-anchored by the Children’s Book Counciland Every Child A Reader, has celebrated books for young people and the joy of reading.

Visit the website to learn the bounty of events and activities that commemorate this once-a-year week and to read more about this  year’s poster creator, Grace Lee.

Book Week’s goal? To make sure every child is a reader!

But today is Wednesday, yes? – which means it’s time for a TeachingAuthors Wednesday Writing Workout, one that will give every child, both current and former, the opportunity to write.

Enjoy!

Esther Hershenhorn

P.S.
Don’t forget to enter our Book Giveaway to win a copy of Stefanie Lyons’ YA novel in verse DATING DOWN (Flux). The deadline to enter is midnight May 15.

                                                        . . . . . . . . 


Let’s tweak the Children’s Book Week goal a tad to read…. make sure every child – current and former (!) – is a reader who writes!

Click HERE to download these children’s book week story starters and create your own ending!


What I Did begun by National Ambassador Katherine Paterson (New!)
BLAM! begun by Mo Willems (2009 Children's Choice Book Award winner) (New!) 
The Night Visitor begun by Dinah Williams (2009 Children's Choice Book Award winner) (New!) 
And Then... begun by National Ambassador Emeritus Jon Scieszka
The Unexpected Blast begun by Elaine Landau (2008 Children’s Choice Book Award winner)
Surprise On the Mat begun by Lola Schaefer (2008 Children’s Choice Book Award winner)
One Morning... begun by Mary Pope Osborne

One Evening... begun by Lemony Snicket

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17. Student Success Story: Stefanie Lyons

No matter how my writing students define “success” – perhaps beginning a picture book, completing a novel, earning an advanced degree or maybe winning a grant, their stories of success gladden my heart.

Today I share my former student Stefanie Lyons’ Success Story to celebrate this month’s publication of her debut novel DATING DOWN (Flux), a YA novel in verse, with hopes her story will gladden your heart too.

Thanks to Flux’s generosity, one lucky TeachingAuthor reader can win a copy of DATING DOWN simply by entering our Book Giveaway which runs from today May 4 through midnight May 15.
(Please see details at the end of Stefanie’s Q & A).

I first worked with Stefanie independently almost 15 years ago on a middle grade novel that still plays in my head.  We worked together again in 2008 in my University of Chicago’s Writer’s Studio Novel Workshop.  I was honored to recommend her to the Vermont College’s MFA in Writing for Children program in 2009 and of course, cheer her on as she completed her graduate degree.

Stefanie describes herself on her website as a writer of all things young adultish.
The tag line for DATING DOWN is a grabber:  When a good girl falls for a bad boy.

     “She thought she loved him. She thought she could change him. She thought if she just believed in him enough, his cheating and his drugs and his lying would stop, and she'd be his and he'd be hers and they'd love each other forever.
     But for Samantha Henderson, X--the boy she will not name--is trouble. He's older, edgier, bohemian . . . and when he starts paying attention to Sam, she can't resist him. Samantha's family and friends try to warn her, but still she stays with him, risking her future and everything that really matters.”
The Booklist review lauded Stefanie’s musical, poignant verse, calling the story “lyrical and heart-wrenching, exploring the emotional vicissitudes of love, sex, and drugs.”
Kirkus recommended the book to fans of Ellen Hopkins.  “Turbulent love via turbulent poems.”

Stefanie is an active member of the debut MG and YA authors blog FearlessFifteeners.
She’s also appearing on my First-Timers Panel at the Chicago Printers Row Lit Fest the weekend of June 7 and 8.  

Take heart and hope from my interview with Stefanie and be sure to enter our Book Giveaway for a free copy of Stefanie’s DATING DOWN.

And thanks to Stefanie who's out and about connecting with her readers for taking time to share her Success Story with our readers.

Esther Hershenhorn

                        . . . . . . . . . . . . .



      Your unswerving focus from the year 2000 on to learn and hone your craft coupled with your non-stop efforts to grow as a writer, is note-worthy.  What’s kept you going all these years?  How did you come to know and believe what I shared in my 2009 VCFA recommendation: i.e. Stefanie Lyons was seated on the Right Pew in the Right Church.

      What has kept me going all these years was the thought that I couldn’t quit. I’m a very
      stubborn person when I want to be! Also, writing was something that took ahold of me from a young age and never let go. (Maybe it’s more stubborn than I am.) Writing is how I find fulfillment. It’s my joy. As for me being seated in the Right Pew in the Right Church, as you put it, I would rephrase it to say that I made sure I was in the Church and never got up from the Pew. It’s a story of tenacity, mostly.

      Can you share with our readers how DATING DOWN, a YA novel in verse, came to be – and the revisions it underwent, under the guidance of first your agent and then your editor?

      I was in grad school when I started DATING DOWN. I needed something to turn in and found this in a folder in my house. I pulled it out and thought, “Well, this isn’t as bad as I remember.” I revisited it and sent it in. My advisor loved it and helped me pare the voice into a more traditional verse novel. At the time, it was a prose/verse hybrid. My agent didn’t weigh in on this novel because it was already in the hands of Flux when we met. But that’s another story. 

      You’re an enthusiastic member of the debut 2015 debut author blog Fearless Fifteeners. How has this group helped you grow as an author now out in the world bringing her book to readers?

      I’ve learned so much from them. Honestly, they’ve made this journey so fun. Having a group of writers going through the same debut experience at the same time has made the scary stuff a bonding experience and the highs that much higher. They provided a place where I could ask the dumb questions without bugging my editor or agent. How do I request my book be stocked in independent bookstores? Where do I go to make bookmarks? How do you sign your name to readers? Stuff like that. And the cheer-leading on release day. Banding together to do panels. These things have made all the difference. It has been the #1 most defining thing that has shaped my debut year. And that’s saying a lot.

      You – also – have a solid career in advertising!  How do you balance your days so you have time to write – and – promote?

      Priorities. Some things are more important than others. Like sleep. Who needs it?

      What’s that One Thing You Wished You’d Known when you began your Writer’s Journey? 


      How truly wonderful the Children’s Writer’s community is. And how much I’d grow just by befriending them. I always considered writing as a solo sport. It is quite the opposite, actually.

. . . .

Enter via the Rafflecopter widget below to win a copy of Stefanie Lyon’s YA novel in verse, DATING DOWN.  You can enter between now and midnight, May 15, 2015.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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18. Poems, Animals, and Animal Poems

I’m sorry to see National Poetry Month end. Mine went out with a bang, though, in a wonderful Family Literacy Night celebration at an elementary school in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Happily, the date coincided with Poem in Your Pocket Day.

What fun to see students so excited about poetry! To watch them proudly pull out and unfold their handwritten index cards. To hear them bravely recite their favorite poems.

I was able to narrow my own favorite poems down to eleven—quite an achievement, I think! I brought five copies of each to hand out in case anyone forgot theirs. I’m glad to say that I came home with only three poems and that many of the ones I handed out went to parents. I hope they’ll keep sharing.

On to May! For this Teaching Authors series, we’re writing about animals. Bobbi began with some favorite animal books.

For all of April (National Poetry Month), I wrote a haiku a day. (You can see the April archive on my blog.) I looked back through the poems and found that 13 of the 30 addressed animals, mostly birds. Here in Wisconsin, we see a lot of birds migrating through to summer homes at this time of year, so that seems logical. One thing I loved about the daily haiku practice is that this year, I noticed.

Here’s one more haiku from this morning. I can’t seem to stop!


Squirrel winds her way
from limb to limb, encumbered
mouth full of dry leaves

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at A Year of Reading, at least for now. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

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19. The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations! Hooray!

Yippee! I’m thrilled to be one of 115 poets (and 3 Teaching Authors!) whose poems are featured in the brand-new Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations! Each of the 156 poems appears in both English and Spanish.

Here’s mine! (Click to enlarge if your eyesight is like mine!)



The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations is the newest in a series of Poetry Friday anthologies compiled by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong. Watch this space for more details and poems by Teaching Authors April Halprin Wayland and Esther Hershenhorn.

Look for more Poetry Celebrations fun at PoetryCelebrations.com. Then you can order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations from Pomelo Books.

Don’t forget to enter our Book Giveaway for an autographed copy of Paul B. Janeczko’s The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects, illustrated by Chris Raschka. You can also read about Paul’s approach to writing poetry with young writers.

For National Poetry Month, I’m posting a haiku each day on Facebook and Twitter (@JoAnnEMacken). As soon as I catch my breath, I’ll gather them all up on my blog.

Our friend Laura Purdie Salas is hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup today at Writing the World for Kids. And Jama Kim Rattigan has a 2015 National Poetry Month Kidlitosphere Events Roundup. Hooray! Celebrate! Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

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20. The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations Celebration – continued!

Hip! Hip! Hooray!
Today’s the day – I – post to celebrate

As JoAnn noted in her Friday post, the anthology, which offers 156 bilingual (English/Spanish) poems celebrating 156 holidays, is the newest in a series of Poetry Friday anthologies compiled by award-winning poet Janet Wong and children’s poetry expert Dr. Sylvia Vardell, Professor in the School of Library and Information Studies at Texas Woman’s University.

The “transmedia” project offers its intended audience of K-5 readers and intended users of teachers and librarians a bounty of opportunities, including:
  • a book version in paperback
  • collectible trading cards, postcards and posters with poems on  them, distributed or in sets as “Pocket  Poems cards” or a “Book  in a Box
  • an e-book version, website and/or app featuring additional materials such as songs, audio readings, poem movies and video versions.

And Good News!  Readers can find and print their own cards for free at the PomeloBooks and PoetryCelebrations websites – as well as – on Pinterest.   

I am so honored Janet and Sylvia included my March 17 St. Patrick’s Day poem, which appears at the end of this celebratory post, in their original, child-friendly anthology. (Check my November 3, 2014 post as to the writing of this poem.) 
How terrific of these talented anthologizing women to answer the following questions asked on behalf of our TeachingAuthors readers and honestly? – to satisfy my own curiosity as a participating poet.


With each title in The Poetry Friday Anthology series, you continue to mine new opportunities that invite young readers to embrace poetry and language. How did The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations come to be?
JW: Sylvia is FANATIC when it comes to holidays. Several years ago she loved creating our ebook holiday anthology, Gift Tag, I think she’s wanted to do a larger-scale holiday book ever since.
SV: Yes, it’s true. I do love the preparation and celebration that comes with birthdays and other special occasions. But I also know that children find something to celebrate in lots of new moments they are experiencing and I love that energy and freshness. I’m hoping our book will introduce new ways to look at some of those familiar celebrations, as well as present brand new holidays and events that get kids thinking and trying new things.

You invited an august body of poets to select an occasion and create a relevant poem.  What were some of the challenges of the selection process?
JW: The hardest part of the selection process: having to say no to terrific poets and poems. We received triple the poems that we could accept. The 156 poems in both Spanish and English plus resources plus teaching tips makes the Teacher/Librarian Edition 372 pages and 1.8 pounds! We fit in as much as we could.
SV: An additional challenge was selecting the celebrations themselves. There are so many more holidays that we would’ve loved to feature. Janet and I went back and forth over which days to include. She wanted to omit Dewey Decimal Day—but there was no way that I’d let her do that!

Which celebrations were most poet-popular/poet-unpopular?
JW: We tried to limit the number of poems that we would receive for any particular holiday by steering poets toward unselected (or less-selected) holidays, but many poets sent us poems for a half dozen or more holidays, including ones that we already had “covered”—so we had multiple poems to choose from for just about every celebration. Pizza Day, Pasta Day, Sandwich Day, and Cookie Day were among the favorites. We poets apparently love our carbs!

Can you share with our readers your vision for the “trading card” aspect of the experience?
JW: Most kids love “stuff” more than they love books. A librarian once told me that the biggest sellers at her book fair were the little necklaces (that happened to come with a book). Making Pocket Poems® cards is a way to make poetry more accessible and inviting to everyone. People can find and print their own cards for free at our websites, PomeloBooks.com and PoetryCelebrations.com.

What has been most gratifying for you in creating these singular collections?
JW: For me, the most gratifying thing is that we've been able to inspire lots of educators (and whole school districts) to integrate poetry PLUS another content area—poetry plus science, for instance.
SV: Personally, it’s been so fun to get to know so many poets who write for young people and sift through hundreds of poems—just a pleasure to read and read and read poetry. And professionally, I’ve been so gratified at the responses of teachers and librarians who learn about our anthologies, try the “Take 5” activities and say with surprise, “I can DO this!” For people who have never really been comfortable with poetry, that is the best compliment we could get!

Happy St. Patrick's Day, belatedly!
And Happy Poetry Month!

Esther Hershenhorn

p.s.
Don’t forget to enter our Book Giveaway to win an autographed copy of Paul Janeczko’s 50thbook, DEATH OF A HAT, illustrated by Chris Raschka.  You can enter between now and April 22 (which just happens to be our SIXTH TeachingAuthors Blogiversary!).


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21. 5 ways to use poetry in class RIGHT NOW

.
Howdy, Campers! Happy Poetry Friday! (the PF link is at the end)

Authors-anthologists-publishers Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell have written an article well-worth reading (it's brief!) for National Poetry Month in the online magazine Bookology which begins:


"We are pressed for time, so we multitask. You might be eating breakfast while you’re reading Bookology, or doing laundry, or both. “Killing two birds with one stone” or “hatching two birds from the same egg”—integrated teaching—is the best way to fit everything in, especially in the K-5 classroom." (read the whole article here)

Janet and Sylvia's Poetry Friday Anthology series does a LOT of heavy lifting including:

1) helping pressed-for-time teachers and librarians teach poetry while meeting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and the Texas TEKS for English Language Arts (ELA)/Poetry and Science & Technology,

and

2) including a “Take 5!” mini-lesson with every poem in their collection for librarians, teachers, and parents with instructions for sharing, picture book pairings, and curriculum connections.

And in their NEW collection Janet and Sylvia have added another bonus: each of the 156 poems in this newest book appears in both English and Spanish--WOWEE!


JoAnne's recent post sang out about this book (which includes JoAnne's terrific Graduation Day poem), and Esther's post continued, including an interview of these two visionaries and Esther's very green Saint Pat's Day poem.

As JoAnne writes:
I’m thrilled to be one of 115 poets (and 3 Teaching Authors!) whose poems are featured in the brand-new Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations

I'm thrilled that they've included two of my poems. This one's for National Thrift Shop Day (who knew?)
(Click to enlarge )

Have a fabulous Poetry Friday...and consider donating to a thrift shop today and then shopping in one, too ~

Remember to enter our Book Giveaway to win an autographed copy of Paul Janeczko’s 50th book, DEATH OF A HAT, illustrated by Chris Raschka.  You can enter between now and April 22 (which just happens to be our SIXTH TeachingAuthors Blogiversary!).

And...please stop by my poetry blog where all Poetry Month long I'm posting PPPs--Previously Published Poems--from anthologies, Cricket Magazine and my novel in poems.

Thank you, dear Robyn Hood Black for hosting PF today!
And thanks, too, to Jama Kim Rattigan for posting the 2015 National Poetry Month Kidlitosphere Events Roundup

posted with love by April Halprin Wayland with help from Monkey and Eli ~

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22. I Was a Teenaged Poetry Hater

       I was a teenaged poetry hater.

       There. I said it.  I blame whoever threw together the literature curriculum for the many school systems I attended.

      Poetry was no big deal in elementary school. Maybe once a year our teacher would substitute writing a poem for a book report,  Yes, it had to rhyme.  Yes, it had to have rhythm.  Yes, I was awful at them. I think I recycled the same poem about a pretty kitty in the city every year.  

     When we moved to Mississippi when I was in fifth grade, I discovered we had a subject called "oral expression." (You can't make this stuff up.) Every Friday we had to memorize and recite a poem, the longer the better. That brought the natural ham out in me.  You haven't lived until you've heard 10-year-old me doing "Christopher Robin is Saying His Prayers"...complete with British accent copied from Herman's Hermits records.  I could always count on an "A" in "oral expression." I read a lot of poetry those years, looking for unusual choices (I just remembered another one..."Sea Fever" by John Masefield. Yep....another British accent.) I enjoyed the poetry because I could read whatever I wanted. However, all that reading didn't improve my poetry writing skills.  I was still using my "Pretty Kitty in the City" poem.

   Middle school let up on the poetry writing requirements except for the short and snappy (haiku and limericks). But oh the reading assignments. Someone on the curriculum committee had a thing for Longfellow and narrative poems.  We read "Hiawatha."  "Evangeline." "The Courtship of Miles Standish." I loathed them all. We had to keep voluminous notebooks of commentary on each one. God bless, Mrs. Stokes, my eighth grade English teacher who appreciated my snarky take on "Evangeline." At least I could put "Pretty Kitty" to rest.

    High school was more of the same. "Kubla Khan."  "Rime of the Ancient Mariner." When the school switched gears and allowed students to take specialized literature course such as "Modern Drama" and "Modern American Novels" I immediately signed up for all the courses that didn't involve poetry.  Goodbye, Longfellow. Hello, Faulkner.

     Fast forward many years. I am a high school librarian. I learn that every student is required to put together a poetry notebook, the major grade for the semester.  I, the librarian, am to lead my flock of students to the deep wells of Great Poetry.  I discover that these students are also weary of Longfellow.

   Flipping through the library's poetry selection, I re-discover a book that I read toward the end of my own senior year of high school, Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle compiled by Stephen Dunning and Edward Luedders.  These weren't childish poems, or poems written for teens.  They were just poems that could appeal to a teen. They certainly appealed to poetry hating me. They used plain English, sometimes slang. Sometimes they didn't even rhyme!  The poems were about flying saucers, The Bomb (the book was published in 1967 and is still in print) as well as more timeless thoughts on strawberries, popsicles and water sprinklers.  That collection got heavy circulation during "Poetry Unit" time.

     My favorite poem, however, is not fromWatermelon Pickle. It's by Gwendolyn Brooks. This is the poem I always showed "the dudes"....the boys who thought poetry was for geeks and girls. This one poem usually made them a believer, and sent them in search of more Gwendolyn Brooks.

     "We Real Cool."

     We real cool. We
     Left school.  We

    Lurk late.  We
    Strike straight. We

    Sing sin.  We
    Thin gin.  We

    Jazz June.  We
    Die soon.

     Years of "Poetry Units" introduced me to other kinds of poetry...free verse, blank verse. Cinquains. diamantes, shape poems.  I have a whole new bag of poetry tricks that I use with my Young Writer's Workshops.  And oh yeah.  I have started writing poetry myself...the non-rhyming kind.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman
     



     

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23. Wednesday Writing Workout: Sing a Song of Six TA's!

It’s our TeachingAuthors Blogiversary 6!!!!!!

Today I'm working out by writing our readers and my fellow TeachingAuthors a heart-felt Thanku².

All of you have kept me writing Sunday to Sunday these past six years.


It bears repeating: thank you!

Esther Hershenhorn


            It’s Mutual!

     Our true-blue readers
     gifting Six TeachingAuthors*
     with treasured smarts and hearts.

     Six TeachingAuthors*
     gifting readers for six years
     with their hearts and smarts.


 *Carmela, JoAnn, April,
  MaryAnn and Jeanne Marie,
  Jill and Laura,
  Bobbi, Carla -
  little ol’ me


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24. The ABCDs of Research

The last few posts from my fellow TeachingAuthors have been on poetry.  Each of them has written eloquently on the topic.  But trust me when I tell you that I have nothing worthwhile to contribute to the topic of poetry.   So, I’ll share a topic with you that I do know about:  research. 

I enjoy sharing how to do research with students and teachers.  I offer a variety of program options including several different types of sessions on brainstorming, research, and writing.   I love to be invited into a school for a live author visit.  But that isn’t always possible.  In the last couple of years, I’ve done lots of Interactive Video Conferences as part of the Authors on Call group of inkthinktank.com. 

During these video conferences, I’ve come up with ways to teach students from third grade through high school how to approach a research project.  One method I use is to give them an easy way to remember the steps to plan their research using A, B, C, and D:

A
ALWAYS CHOOSE A TOPIC THAT INTERESTS YOU.

B
BRAINSTORM FOR IDEAS THAT WILL MAKE YOUR PAPER DIFFERENT FROM EVERY OTHER PAPER.

C
CHOOSE AN ANGLE FOR YOUR PAPER AND WRITE A ONE SENTENCE PLAN THAT BEGINS:
MY PAPER IS ABOUT . . .

D
DECIDE WHERE TO FIND THE RESEARCH INFORMATION THAT FITS THE ANGLE OF YOUR PAPER.


The earlier students learn good research skills, the better.  Learning some tips and tricks like my ABCD plan will help.  I hope it makes the whole process less daunting.



Carla Killough McClafferty

To find out more about booking an Interactive Video Conference with students or teachers:

Contact Carla Killough McClafferty

iNK THINK TANK

Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (search for mcclafferty or inkthinktank)

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25. Favorite and Fabulous Animal Stories


Congratulations, Rosi H! You won THE DEATH OF A HAT by Paul B. Janeczko!

Animal stories have always been popular. Ancient peoples told stories of mythic animals depicting universal truths about humanity. Over two thousand years ago, Aesop told the story of the fox that coveted a bunch of juicy grapes, of the frog who wanted to be king, and of the proud town mouse who visited his country mouse cousin.


 Animal stories have always been some of my favorites reads, including Anne Sewell’s Black Beauty (1877), Robert C. O’Brien’s Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (1971), Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion (1941), and the quintessential animal story, E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web (1952).

 And this year, I’ve found more to add to my collection!


 
 
Lumpito and the Painter from Spain (Pajama Press, April 2013): Monica Kulling’s poetic narrative retells the story of a special friendship with sparse eloquence. Dean Griffith’s rich, vivid watercolors capture the luscious landscape, the bold personality of the painter, the soulful expression of Lumpito as he dodges Big Dog, and Lump’s sheer delight as he finds his new home. A gorgeous and rewarding tale of love, and a perfect read-aloud for a rainy – or any -- day!




When Emily Carr Met Woo (Pajama Press, August 2014): Monica Kulling is the master of biography. Her series depicting little known inventors, Great Ideas, remains one of my favorites on the topic. However, it is when her biography showcases the iconic relationships between human and animal that her poetic narrative truly shines. This book follows eccentric Canadian artist Emily Coo, who lives in a camper she calls Elephant. She takes her puppies for walks using a baby carriage.
Folks called the painter a strange bird! One day Emily Carr adopts a small lonely monkey, whom she calls Woo. And the fun begins!




Call Me Amy (Paperback, Luminis Books, 2013): Marcia Strykowski’s coming of age story is a wonder. Amy Anderson is the shy protagonist. The quirky Miss Cogshell is dubbed Old Coot by the town’s children. And the mysterious Craig, the most popular boy in class who doesn’t have any real friends. One day, Craig finds a stranded, injured seal pup and asks Amy to help him, and the three come together to save Pup. This book reminds me in many ways of Hoot, the 2003 Newbery Honor by Carl Hiaasen.




Snow Ponies (Paperback, Square Fish Reprint, October 2013): First published in 2001, the book begins “On a cold, gray day, Old Man Winter leads his snow ponies outside. "Are you ready?" he asks. Using her signature quiet, poetic narrative, Cynthia Cotten captures the magic of winter as Old Man  Winter takes the snow ponies across the frigid landscape. As the ponies gallop, faster and faster, everything they touch turns white with snow. This is a poetic masterpiece, and a perfect read aloud.




  It’s Raining Bats & Frogs! (Feiwel & Friends, August 2015): What’s a witch to do when a rainstorm threatens the Halloween Parade? Rebecca Colby’s book doesn’t come out until August, 2015, but I can’t wait! I loved Rebecca’s previous book, There Was a Wee Lassie Who Swallowed a Midgie (Floris Books, May 2014). Her language in this retelling of the familiar tale of the the old woman who swallowed a fly was so much fun! Rebecca used the Scottish landscape to tell the story about “a wee Lassie who swallowed a midgie, so tiny and squidgy!” I have no doubts this one will be just as entertaining!



 “Why did you do all this for me?' he asked. 'I don't deserve it. I've never done anything for you.' 'You have been my friend,' replied Charlotte. 'That in itself is a tremendous thing.” -- Charlotte's Web, E.B. White 

What are your favorite animal stories?

Bobbi Miller




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