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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. 49-Second Poetry Prompt Guaranteed to Change Your Writing

Howdy, Campers--Happy New Year and Happy Poetry Friday! Today's host and my (very odd) poem are below.

To start the new year--and we hope yours is copacetic thus far--we, at the brand-ndew corporate headquarters of TeachingAuthors, will each be offering a book, a tip, a tool--something which helps us read / write /create. 

The new corporate offices of TeachingAuthors.com
Ready? Hang on for the wild ride (or better: a wild write): Esther started us off in her post telling us about Shaun Levin's Writing Map, MY WRITING LIFE. Fascinating concept, sure to set your teeth on fire.

Today, it's my turn. As regular readers know, I've been an instructor in UCLA Extenstion Writers' Program since the invention of goat cheese. Recently, UCLA Extension Writers' Program invited its instructors to offer a writing tip in under one minute. The videos that have been filmed so far can be viewed here; more will be added as they're filmed, including mine--coming soon.

What's so cool about these is that when you're feeling parched, dried-out, and California-drought-ish, wondering what in heaven's name to write, or why the heck you think you can write, simply watch one of these babies and try the tip.

I especially like this 49-second tip by poet Rick Bursky. Could you do me a favor and watch it right now? Because what comes next assumes you've listened to him.

Okay--you've watched Rick? Thank you kindly.

So today's poem is the third draft of a poem inspired by his tip. It may not be for kids, it may not be much, but I was grabbing things from all over the internet and deep in the darkest corners of my brain, and man was it fun to write!

by April Halprin Wayland

Once upon a time, there was
a train came down the track faster than it was supposed to
its feet shoulder-width apart, 90 degrees to the target
but Froggy didn't feel like getting
a lawyer for Teresa Giudice, who was freed at 5 a.m. Wednesday.

Ah, changes!
Ah, the ghastly smell of salmon which spoils so quickly in the refrigerator!
Ah, Old Dresser Redo, DIY Cloud Pillows, Easy Floating Shelves.
How we each, in our own little worlds,
carrot and stick,
the atmosphere of Mars,
water overflowing sidewalks of Hermosa Beach,
how we each change the world.

It's raining again
and there are mouse parts all over the house.
What has been your lollipop moment?
Have you thanked that person?
And they lived happily
A New, Easier Method To Use A Printer For Ink Image Transfers!
ever after

poem (c) 2016 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

TeachingAuthors hope our tips and tools will jump-start your writing year, Dear Reader. 

May this be your Year of Yes!

Watch for a related post on our Wednesday Writers' Workout on January 13th ~

Thank you, Tabatha, for hosting PF today at The Opposite of Indifference ~

posted by April Halprin Wayland with help from Eli, who was tearing up Mouse as I wrote the poem.
Eli swears he didn't do it

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2. Finding Our Way to Writing in the New Year

To welcome in 2016,  my fellow TeachingAuthors and I wish to gift our readers with singular items and opportunities meant to keep everyonewriting.
My gift for this brand new year of endless possibilities?
Shaun Levin’s Writing Map MY WRITING LIFE.

I first discovered these handy, interactive, pocket-sized writing prompts and exercises inside my SCBWI Europolitan Conference folder last April in Amsterdam.
Since then, I’ve done my due diligence, thanks to, fortuitously enough, THE LOOKING GLASS used book store in Oak Park, Illinois. 

Themed by elements of narrative, settings, occasion and emotion, each of the 15 maps lives up to its billing – i.e. “portable, practical, inspiring.”
I’ve showcased MY WRITING LIFE because IMHO, it’s the perfect map to help you find your way to writing – as well as – keep you writing once you’ve learned what’s driving you.

Last January, in my post titled HAPPY DRIVING, I encouraged readers to discover their writing Wants and Needs.
We do the same for our characters, I shared, so we can tell their stories well.  We must do so for ourselves so we can keep on telling the writer’s story we’re living.
In truth, though, that wasn’t the whole picture; knowing the Want, and even better, the Need, doesn’t do the job for our characters or us.
If we’re to tell our stories true – either those we’re writing or the writer’s story we’re living, we need to know the WHY behind the WHAT.

MY WRITING LIFE can help all of us do just that, allowing a closer look at various elements of the writing life: commitment, community, setting, subject matter.

We’re to think of the map’s questions as coming from someone who loves us, someone who is interested in how and why we write.

What does writing mean to you?
Who are your writing friends and allies?
Who has encouraged you?
What kind of writer are you?

Maps provide information, all in the name of navigation.

Here’s to 2016 and again, Happy Driving! May MY WRITING LIFE help you write happily ever after!

Esther Hershenhorn

Speaking of maps and writing, check out the Landgrove Inn in beautiful Landgrove, Vermont.
I’m honored to be continuing Barbara Seuling’s Manuscript Workshop July 10-15.
A Writing Map will sit inside each writer’s workshop folder. J

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3. A Few of My Favorite Books

It’s hard to believe but we are getting ready to close the book on 2015.  So today is the last blog installment for 2015 TeachingAuthors, but we will be back after a short break.  We will ring in the new year as we begin blogging again on January 4.  So stay tuned.  By then, we will all be back at work.  And some of us (ahem, me) should also be back at the gym…   

It seems fitting to end our blogging year with a series on great books.  It may not come as a surprise that my favorite books are nonfiction.  But this year I’ve read lots of nonfiction picture books.  I’ve found many that I’ve admired.   The three I want to mention today are not new books.  But they are books that I’ve read over and over and admire the craft of good writing every time. 

The first one I want to share is Thank You, Sarah: The Woman who Saved Thanksgiving by Laurie Halse Anderson.   It is the story of Sarah Hale (author of Mary Had a Little Lamb) and her 38 year campaign to get Thanksgiving declared a national holiday on one specific date.   Finally Abraham Lincoln did so.  The story of Sarah Hale is a great example of what one woman of grit and determination can do.  That powerful story combined with Anderson’s brilliant storytelling ability makes this book informative, funny, and charming.  Matt Faulkner’s illustrations fit the cheeky attitude of the text.   

 Next is Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson.  This true story tells of the amazing feats accomplished by Bass Reeves, a man born into slavery who became a deputy U.S. marshal in Indian Territory.  Over three decades Reeves arrested more than 3000 outlaws.  His little known story is one of a true hero of the Old West.  This powerful story combined with Nelson’s choice of voice and storytelling style makes this book really special.  From the first word to the last word the reader is drawn into the world of heroes and outlaws in the lawless Indian Territory.  R. Gregory Christie’s illustrations add to the feel of the time and place. 

Another of my favorites is Wisdom, The Midway Albatross: Surviving the Japanese Tsunami and other Disasters for over 60 Years by Darcy Pattison.   This is a biography of completely different kind, not of a person but of one single albatross-named Wisdom-who just happens to be the oldest bird in the world.   This story includes how scientists tracked Wisdom who against all odds-even survived the Japanese tsunami.   Pattison’s storytelling ability gives readers a powerful glimpse into the world of blue sky and rolling sea as one amazing bird (still) continues to survive and hatch her babies.  Kitty Harvill’s beautiful illustrations are a perfect compliment to the time and space of Wisdom’s world. 

Oh, how I love a great true story!

On a different note, teachers may be interested to check out a National Handwriting Contest for students in K-8th grade.  It seems like a great way to encourage students in this area.   For more information about the details and how your students can participate:  National Handwriting Contest

Carla Killough McClafferty

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4. Of Story and Hope

These past few months have been defined by an anger born of despair, and by a loss of kindness born from want of hope. It seems this season of light and joy is in dire need of healing.

Hope comes from many places: your family, your friends, your heart, your faith. Where I find hope is in stories. Every writer and poet, every teacher and parent – everyone who has lived a life – knows that life isn’t always easy. Life isn’t without its fears and despairs. In fact, dare I say, it is impossible to experience life without experiencing pain. Complete freedom from pain, says Daniel Taylor (The Healing Power of Stories, 1996), means separating yourself from life.

Stories remind us what it means to be human. Not perfect, by any means. But certainly Human.

As Taylor suggests, we are the product of all the stories we have heard and lived. Our stories are interwoven, and we cannot live our stories separate from each other because we are characters in each other’s story.

Stories fill us with the courage to face life’s possibilities. They show us the way to be more than what we are now. They remind us of what we are capable of doing, if only we work together.

While there were many great and inspiring stories published, I offer the following stories -- and by coincidence, all animal stories -- that reminded me of this hope, demonstrating what can happen when the best of humanity comes together.

 And they make me smile.

Grant and Tillie Go Walking, by Monica Kulling (July 2015), is a gently wise picturebook on the power of friendship. Grant Wood struggles to find his artistic voice and runs off to Paris to find himself. However, he soon discovers there is no place like home. He learns to be true to himself by painting what makes his heart sing. And in this case, it's beautiful and peaceful Tillie.

Call Me Amy, by Marcia Strykowski (May, 2013), is a wonderful coming-of-age tale about friendship, teamwork and community responsibility. The three protagonists – shy Amy, quirky Miss Cogshell, and the mysterious Craig – come together to save a stranded, injured seal pup.

And speaking of animal rescues, what a powerful story of human achievement and connection is Robert Burleigh’s Trapped! A Whale Rescue, illustrated by the incomparable Wendell Minor (April, 2015). Burleigh tells the true story of an adult female humpback whale tangled in fishermen’s nets. Despite the dangers, a team of rescuers and divers fight the odds to save her life. At first, the terrified whale struggles against her rescuers. But in the end, as she is freed from her prison, she circles the divers in recognition and appreciation before she returns to the sea.

And finally, Lee Wardlaw offers a charming tale told in haiku, Won Ton and Chopsticks (March, 2015). Irascible cat Won Ton needs to learn how to get along with the new “baby”, Chopstick the puppy. It’s a struggle, to be sure, but finally the two discover they have more in common than not, and finally make peace. Isn’t that the story of the day?

 What are your stories of hope?

Bobbi Miller

Don't forget to check out the other Teaching Authors' series of unforgettable books. JoAnn adds her favorites, with some wonderful reads. Esther highlighted one that carried her heart in its heart.  April offered her poetry favorite of the year and Mary Ann listed three memorable YA novels.

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5. Good Books to Treasure All Year Long

I’m continuing our Teaching Authors series on good books we’ve been reading. Esther began with her list and highlighted one that carried her heart in its heart. (How I love that description!) April continued with her poetry favorite of the yearone of mine, too! Mary Ann listed three memorable YA novels. Ive added them all to my long To Be Read list.

Like Mary Ann, I read a lot. Unfortunately, I dont remember much, so when I find a book I really enjoy, I read it again. And maybe again after that. Here are a few of my recent reads that deserve a second or third look. Im including brief excerpts to give you a taste of their tone and style.

Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz. I love the inventive yet understandable language. This book made me think about gender identity and how complicated our society makes it.

I have ten ticks to clean up and get to the Mealio. I drop the komodo in my pocket with the acorn, strap on my frods, and take off at a run. Pounding the earth, sucking in air, fire in my heart and blood rivers rushing through my body. Theres nothing in the world that feels as good as Lizard Radio in the great non-imaginary outdoors.

Coincidentally, several of my recent reads have strong fairy tale themes. 

Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell. After her father dies, a girl becomes a servant to her stepmother and stepsisters in her own home. She finds her mothers hidden workshop and learns how to build magical mechanical creatures.

“Most wonderful of all, I found other survivors from Mothers insect-making days, the buzzers Id so loved as a child, hidden in little boxes between her books or forgotten at the backs of drawers. By my fourth day in the workshop I had discovered two fat, gold-plated beetles; a week later, a many-jointed caterpillar that made loud ratcheting noises as it crawled across my desk joined their ranks. Within a month, I had found three spiders with needles for legs and steel spinnerets loaded with real thread; a large copper butterfly, so light and delicate that even with a metal wingspan the size of my two hands, it could glide and flutter about the room; and a little fleet of five dragonflies, their wings set with colored glass. 

Ash & Bramble by Sarah Prineas. Pin is a Seamstress, playing a role in a Story controlled by the powerful Godmother. Pin and Shoe, a Shoemaker, decide to break out of its confines.

“Coming around a bend, we see the waterfall slamming into the river with the city high on the cliff beyond. The sun is setting, and the waterfall looks like a veil of lace, and the white stone of the castle in the distance is tinged pink and gilded at its edges.
Then the sun drops out of the sky and the hollow boom of the castle clock rolls out—it is the sound of a gravedigger knocking on a tomb door.

Dark Shimmer by Donna Jo Napoli. I havent even finished this one yet, but Im awed by the eerie perspective with which it begins. It turns into a huge surprise that I wont reveal here. 

My knee split open in the fall. But Im all right. I pick pebbles from the gash. Im all right, Im all right.
The boys creep up on bowed legs white as sticks without the bark, especially Tonsos skinny leg, the one that never grew right. They peer in all directions.
I stand up. Im older than these boys, but not by much. Still, theyre half my size.

Eager to look ahead, I started gathering all the best books lists I could find. Because I think the world needs more awareness, I added a few lists that celebrate diversity. Then I found Publisher’s Weekly’s comprehensive “A Roundup of 2015’s Best Book Lists for Kids and Teens,” a good place to start. Here are links to more lists.
  • Chicago Public Library’s Kids’ Lists (Best Informational Books for Older Readers, Best Fiction for Older Readers, Best Informational Books for Younger Readers, Best Fiction for Younger Readers, and Best Picture Books of 2015
  • Toronto Public Library’s First & Best 2015 (best Canadian books to help kids get ready for reading)

I cant wait to dig in! Happy reading!

Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at A Teaching Life. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

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6. Faith, Courage and the Power of Music: My Favorite YA Books of 2015

     Santa isn't the only making his list and checking it twice. It's Award Season, when everyone and his dog make up "Best of the Year" book lists. This month, Teaching Authors takes a more casual approach; we're talking about the books that were memorable to us.

     I read a lot. So how did I narrow down my "memorable" books? They are the ones I could remember the author, title, story and characters, without consulting my reading journal. My number one choice was a no brainer, since I put my life on hold until I finished the book.  However, two others were a dead tie for second place. Surprise, surprise, all three are young adult. No grand plan on my part.  They are the most outstanding books as far as I am concerned.

   In a tie for second are:

Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert--What made this book memorable is that religion is part of the everyday lives of the characters without it being a book about religion. Religion is not viewed in a cynical way, nor is it presented as the answer to life's questions. In fact, the characters
discover religion generates more questions than it "answers." A messy, complicated story that hops around from various points in the past, to the present, but somehow never loses the reader along the way.


Dime by E.R. Frank.  Frank is known for her fearless approach to tough topics. She took on a big one this time; teen age prostitution.
Dime is a fourteen-year-old, lost in the foster care system. All she wants is a family and someone to love her.  She finds it on the streets of Newark--a "daddy" to "take care of her," along with two other "wifeys" who work for Daddy. Dime will do anything Daddy tells her to because he "loves" her. Gradually, Dime sees the truth about her "family." The voices of Dime, Daddy and the wifeys are distinct, and non-stereotypical. To be honest, this book was heavy and intense that I wasn't sure I could finish, especially after I thought I where the story was heading. Dime herself, compelled me to finish. I'm glad I did.

So what kept me up nights, reading reading reading, even though, I knew how the story ended?" My first choice for personal reading is non-fiction, so it figures that one would be my "most memorable" of the year. My winner is a volume with the intimidating title of Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson. (Disclaimer: Although M.T. Anderson was one of my instructors in the Vermont College MFA program, we haven't been in touch in 15 years.)
I had misgivings. The book is 450+ pages (70 of which turned out to be documentation and indexes.) I already "knew" what happened: Shostakovich writes writes his Seventh Symphony, the "Leningrad" and the Nazis lose the Siege of Leningrad. Reading this book is truly not about the destination, but enjoying the ride. Even with such a potentially heavy subject, Anderson always finds a touch of humor in events. We see young Dmitri, a sheltered piano prodigy in Czarist Russia, evolve into a master composer within the confines of the Soviet system. We also see his career nose-dive when his work falls out of favor with The Party. What struck the deepest chord (sorry for the pun) in me was that while his physical world was in constant turmoil (messy love affairs, unemployment, starvation, Nazis...and a whole lot more) what gave his life meaning was music. He composed the "Leningrad" during the two and a half years the Nazis first tried to bomb, then starve, the city out of existence. Creativity triumphs all. Shostakovich's story (as well as the city of Leningrad's) has everything I love in a book...suspense, adventure, danger, intrigue, love, and most of all music. You don't have to know anything about Shostakovich, music or even Russia, to be sucked into this impeccably research story.

May 2016 be blessed with such terrific books as those of 2015!

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

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7. Fav Poetry Book 2015!

Howdy, Campers, and Happy Poetry Friday!  Buffy hosts today--her link is at the bottom.

The topic we TeachingAuthors are tossing around now? A favorite children's book we've read this year. Esther's weighed in with a touching picture book; I'm up to bat.

I almost went with the audio book of Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time (read by the author!). This classic celebrated it's 50th anniversary three years ago, but it was in September, as I zoomed up the 405 freeway to pack up family memories, that I was transported by L'Engle's words...and her worlds.

But the book which electrified the poetry particles in my brain is Deborah Ruddell's inventive collection, The Popcorn Astronauts--And Other Biteable Rhymeswhimsically illustrated by Joan Rankin.

As soon as I read it, I searched for Ms. Ruddell on Facebook and (blush) sent her this fan mail:

Hi, Deborah! I just read The Popcorn Astronauts and I'm blown away by your oh-my-gosh-REALLY?? metaphors that are so out-of-the-box they leave me gasping. And inspired.  

Here's just a taste of how Ruddell sees at the world: fresh-popped kernels of corn are astronauts, a strawberry is royalty in a beaded suit, and raisins are wrinkled rocks with "the bold, enchanting taste of well-worn pirate socks." 

Raise your hand if you've ever struggled to describe peach skin. In fact, stop reading this and close your eyes. Try to imagine peach skin with fresh eyes. Can you describe it in a completely original way?

Okay--open your eyes..  Now, raise your hand if you came close to this"flannelpajamaty skin."

Here's a snippet of Jama Rattigan's fabulous book review and interview of Deborah Ruddell this spring:
Jama: Which poem was the most fun to write and why? Which poem was the hardest? Do you have a favorite?
Deborah: NO poem is ever easy for me to write. I am a slow and tormented poet! The hardest part is when I think I’ve almost got something, but it’s just out of reach. That happened with “Welcome to Watermelon Lake.” I had the image of the pink lake and the pale green shore, but making that image work as a poem was a struggle. Just when I thought I finally had it made, my editor suggested a third stanza in which I introduce the seeds! Argh!
Deborah's answer makes me feel better--I'm not alone!  And yet, look how effortlessly that poem seem to flow (click to enlarge):
In the same interview, Deborah said that the poet who most inspires her is Alice Shertle.  Me, too, me, too! 
So check out Poetry Friday at Buffy's today...then find this book and feast on it!
P.S: Check out the brand-new SCBWI Book Launch Parties!  Here's mineand here are 400+ more! 

posted joyously by April Halprin Wayland, with help from her elves, Monkey and Eli

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8. The 2015 Children's Book That Carried My Heart in Its Heart

Oh, the possibilities when forced to choose my favorite children’s book of 2015!

There’s Mo Willems' I REALLY LIKE SLOP! - which my grandson and I really really REALLY like.
And my writer Dr. Tererai Trent’s picture book autobiography THE GIRL WHO BURIED HER DREAMS IN A CAN.  (There’s a reason why Tererai was "Oprah’s Favorite Guest!")
and Laura Amy Schlitz’s THE HIRED GIRL gifted me respectively with 9-year-old Anna Bauman, 11-year-old Nell Warne and 14-year-old Joan Skraggs, characters whose stories kept me turning the pages as I lived and breathed alongside them – in WWII Warsaw, 1860’s Chicago and 1911 Baltimore.

The above titles did what children’s books must do: amuse, inform, inspire, encourage and always, always, leave the reader hopeful.

The one book, though, that carried my heart in its heart? 
Author-illustrator Emily HughesTHE LITTLE GARDENER.

I first learned of this singular picture book in Maria Popova’s August 10Brain Pickings.
She’d called it “a tender illustrated parable of purpose and the power of working with love.”
Publishers Weekly called it, in its starred review, “a tender metaphor for the miracle of gardening.”
School Library Journal praised its spirit that applauded tenacity.

For me, a TeachingAuthor, it was surely and purely a Two-fer.

The writer in me sighed as I read of the little gardener toiling away in his garden that meant everything to him.  “It was his home. It was his supper. It was his joy.” Alas, “he wasn’t much good at gardening,” even though “he worked very, very hard.  He was just too little.”  But there was that one  “alive and wonderful” flower that gave the little gardener hope and made him work even harder, that one bloom that made him wish he had a little help.

The teacher in me smiled.
Seeding and feeding writers, helping them grow their stories, is how I spend my days.

I ordered up THE LITTLE GARDENER pronto and read it aloud to welcome my Newberry Library Workshop picture book writers this Fall.
Help was on the way, I assured them. 
And soon they would learn they meant everything to their stories.

Writing? Gardening? To me they’re the same.

It’s all about growing, yes?
Hurrah for children’s books and how they help us grow, no matter their pub dates!

I wish our TeachingAuthors readers Happy Holidays and Happy Bloomin’ in 2016.

Esther Hershenhorn

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9. Thankful For Teachers and More

I have the honor of wrapping up the TA Three Weeks of Thanks-Giving.  To read the eloquent posts of my fellow TAs, follow these links: 

Like all of you, I’m thankful for many things like family, friends, church, health, a place to live and thousands of other things that I sometimes take for granted.  But since this is a TeachingAuthors blog, I’ll confine my thankful thoughts –online anyway – to blessings in that part of my life. 

I’m thankful for great teachers.  I recently spoke at the Arkansas Reading Association where I did a session titled “Writing Nonfiction Using Fiction Techniques” which was attended by some amazing teachers.   Teachers today are given the task of teaching students how to write.  It is a tall order and not an easy thing to pull off even for a professional author of books.   I’m thankful for teachers who do their best even though their classes are filled with a wide range of students that include both gifted and talented and struggling readers.

I’m thankful that people, organizations and museums through the years have preserved our history by preserving documents and artifacts.  As a nonfiction author who does lots of primary source research, I can do research like I do because those before me had the forethought of preservation.   

I’m thankful to enter this holiday season with an exciting new project spinning through my mind.  In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had the real treat of having my newest project go to auction.  It is a dream of authors for more than one editor would want to publish their next book.  I know the new publishing house and editor is just as excited about the project as I am. 

What are you thankful for?  

Carla Killough McClafferty 

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10. My Broken Haiku

For the last three weeks, Teaching Authors has celebrated the season of gratitude by writing Thanks-Giving Thank U Haiku. And with each offering, CarmelaEstherApril,  Mary Ann,  and JoAnn offer hauntingly beautiful poetry that, as JoAnn stated so eloquently, asks us to add our light to the sum of light.

Now it’s my turn. 

Alas, I am not a poet. After hours of trying to compose a Thank U Haiku, I concede that I cannot do it.  It’s worrisome.

There are many things that I cannot do, of course. 

I cannot drive a truck. I’m not talking about the little SUVs, complete with manual five-speed stick shift. I’m talking about those eighteen-wheeler, semi-trailer big rigs. Complete with forward engine, steering axle, two drive axles. Ten forward drive gears and two reverse gears. And a bed. Vroom, vroom! Wouldn’t it be fun to drive across country, to see this vast and changing landscape? To see those very steps where Martin Luther King said he had a dream? Where on Christmas Day George Washington crossed the river for his own country’s honor? Where Abraham Lincoln spoke about a new birth of freedom? What about to walk the ruins of the Alamo or march across the fields of Gettysburg? Or the hills of San Francisco, where Harvey Milk imagined a righteous world?

Well, true enough I have seen many places. And you don’t really need a truck. As a working writer, I visit the landscape where my characters once walked. I do that to make them more alive. But it’s more than that, too. It’s why I write historical fiction. History is important. As Penelope J. Corfield said,  “All people and peoples are living histories,” and studying those stories that link “past and present is absolutely basic for a good understanding of the condition of being human.” That’s true now more than ever, given recent events. Still, wouldn’t it be fun to be a truck driver? Vroom, vroom! 

There are many things I cannot be, of course.

I cannot be a worm. How important are worms! Big worms! Small worms! Rain worms! Dew worms! And everyone’s favorite, angleworms! They burrow beneath our feet, sight unseen, churning the inorganic into the organic. Even their poop – I mean, worm casts – are invaluable in enriching soils. Which grows gardens. Which feeds the world.

I am not near as important as a worm. Still, I am a writer, and if I do my job as well as a worm does his, perhaps I might enrich at least one mind.

Speaking of important, I suppose I cannot be a rose either. Even the most imperfect rose is perfect compared to other flowers. Or, so a rose thinks. They are an old, old flower. Maybe that’s why they feel so entitled. Sacred to their Goddess Venus, Romans covered their sofas with roses. Cleopatra covered her floor with roses whenever Marc Antony was about to visit. Roses even have their own language: red rose for love, yellow rose for joy, purple rose for royalty, and white rose for innocence and peace. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” wrote William Shakespeare. In a story that has lasted hundreds of years.

I have wild roses growing like brambles in my back yard. They certainly share the same hoity toity attitude as their hybrid cousins, despite having the nastiest thorns around. Still, bees love them. And in their thorny tangle hide rabbits and wild turkeys with their fledglings. And skunks. There’s nothing sweet smelling about them.

All the same, I prefer the dandelions that blanket my acres every spring. When they bloom, they look like a thousand bright yellow suns, shooing away the last memory of winter. When the blooms turn into puff balls, they look like a thousand moons. And when the puff balls explode, dispersing their seeds, they look like a thousand shooting stars. My galaxy is growing!

Of course, the result of all those shooting stars is a yard full of weeds. But I like weeds. “And, constant stars, in them I read such art as truth and beauty shall together thrive,” as Shakespeare also wrote.

But the question remains, how can I write a haiku? I'll try once more...

My Broken Haiku

Discover your world

Honor what lies beneath

Expand your galaxy

Thank U for being a part of my universe.

Bobbi Miller
(PS: All photos courtesy of morguefile.com)

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11. The Task That Stands Before Us

Continuing our “Three Weeks of Thanks-giving” series, I add my Thanku:

Like so many people I know, I’m struggling to respond to acts of terror around the world. I search for wisdom, look to other thinkers, try to make sense of the senseless.

In his book What Then Must We Do? (first published in 1886), Leo Tolstoy asks that question over and over. Jane Addams said in an Introduction, “Tolstoy’s presentation of the contrast between the overworked and the underfed poor on the one hand, and the idle and wasteful rich on the other, was felt as raising unanswerable questions in every country where the book was read.”

I learned about the book in a scene from The Year of Living Dangerously that has stuck with me for years. Linda Hunt’s character Billy Kwan, a photojournalist, says, “I support the view that you just don’t think about the major issues. You do whatever you can about the misery that’s in front of you. Add your light to the sum of light.”

James Taylor sings about light in his “Shed a Little Light.”
“Let us turn our thoughts today to Martin Luther King
and recognize that there are ties between us,
all men and women living on the Earth.
Ties of hope and love, sister and brotherhood,
that we are bound together
in our desire to see the world become
a place in which our children can grow free and strong.
We are bound together by the task that stands before us
and the road that lies ahead.”
What then must we do? One person alone can never make up for lives lost, homes destroyed, families torn apart. But I believe that we are bound together. Together we can begin to lift a burden for someone.

We have so many burdens to lift.

What matters to you? Poverty? Hunger? Refugees? Racism? Health care? Education? Women’s rights? Voter rights? The environment? Climate change? Animal welfare? The list goes on and on.

The only response I know is to try to do some good in the world.

Do whatever you can about the misery that’s in front of you.

Add your light to the sum of light.

Be sure to see the other posts in our “Three Weeks of Thanks-giving” series:
We invite you, our readers (and your students), to join in by sharing your own "gratitudes" with us in one of three ways:
  • Share them in a comment to any of our blog posts from today through Nov. 28.
  • Send them to us via email to teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com, with "Thanks-Giving" as the subject. Depending on the number of emails we receive, we may share some of your gratitiudes in our posts.
  • Post them on your own blog and then share the link with us via a comment or email. (Feel free to include the above image in your post.) On November 28, we'll provide a round-up of all the links we receive.
Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at The Miss Rumphius Effect. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

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12. Three Weeks of Thanksgiving: A Teacher's Thanku

We are deep into our season of gratitude here on Teaching Authors. The series started off with Carmela giving thanks for insights gained through the loss of her kitchen.  Esther thanked the Chicago Cubs for a season of hope, with April appreciating good health. And now it's my turn.

Five years of Thanksgiving posts. here on Teaching Authors. Each year I struggle to write our traditional thanku, our many blessings, in haiku form. Each year I've had to be thankful outside of the five syllables-seven syllables-five syllables structure. So this year (among many other thing)...I'm grateful for mastering the thanku! (You can tell me if I really have when you send your own thanku.)

If you have read this blog for awhile, you know that my year is divided into three seasons--"the holidays" (which now kicks off on Labor Day, chugging relentlessly through to January 6th, the last of the Twelve Days of Christmas, in my religion), post-holiday (January and February are the dreariest months, no matter how many "national holidays" there are.) And then there is Camp Season, which for me, begins in April, when the redbud blooms, and I start planning this year's activities for my Young Author's Camps in June and July.
Writer up a tree!

"Camp Season" is checking rosters for returnees, as well as sibs of former campers, and new writers.  It's studying the composition of each week's camp. How many girls? How many boys?  The campers are (supposedly) ages 9 to 14 (with some birthdate slight-of-hand by some parents on the registration). Is this group mostly rising fourth graders? All sixth graders? Or a lovely balance of ages. (That's happened twice in ten years!)  I tailor the weeks to suit the age and gender makeup. In my advanced classes of returnees, I am careful not to repeat activities and exercises (except for the Traditonal Writer's Walk.)

Our writing HQ (in winter), a converted carriage house.
Just thinking about those steamy June and July days, full of creative young minds, instant friendships and...juice boxes...excites me on a blue-and-gold-autumn morning, crispy enough to require my cuddly chenille lap robe as I compose this post. I am ever thankful for my students, who inspire me to improve my craft so I can inspire them in return. The days are long and hot, but always fun for us all.

So with that in mind, here is my Thanku 2015.

    For Authors Everywhere--
Inspiration glows
Imagination surrounds
A writer matures.

Now it's your turn to share your gratitudes with us, both here on your comments or on your new Teaching Authors Facebook Page. For more details, see April's Poetry Friday post.

Does anyone suddenly have the urge to draw and color a handprint turkey? Have good one, writers!

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

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13. What's a Thanku? A Writing Prompt for Poetry Friday!

Howdy, Campers--and Happy Poetry Friday!  My poem is below, as is the link to PF.

What are you thankful for? Since 2011, we TeachingAuthors have each written a thanku (a haiku expressing gratitude) every November. Join us--use it as today's writing prompt!

Carmela started this round expressing her thanks in a graphically beautiful thanku about being in the middle of a house remodel. Esther's post followed--she's jumping up and down with gratitude for a particular sports team. Now it's my turn.

I was noodling around last week, thinking about which of my many blessings I wanted to write about here: I'm grateful for monthly hikes with five amazing women; for my best friend who taught me that if I ever think about doing something nice, don't question the thought--just do it; for my husband, who taught me that a fork in the sink does not mean he doesn't love me. It's just a fork in the sink.

That's just the tip of the iceberg, the edge of the forest, a lick of the frosting, the preface in my gratitude book, of course.

Just this weekend I was strutting around like a proud you-know-what,

from morguefile.com
congratulating myself that I hadn't gotten a flu shot and grateful that I was just fine, thank you very much, while several of my friends and family who HAD gotten flu shots were sick as dogs. Ha, ha, HA, said the evil green woman inside me!

And then...well, you know what happened.
from morguefile.com
BUT...I'm sure you'll be glad to know that the raging headache has abated and my eyes don't hate bright sunlight this morning.  Yay, health, yay, sunlight (especially the glorious slant of morning sun)!

So...here's my...

by April Halprin Wayland

Bees stopped stinging my
eyes...raise our curtains! The light
now tastes like honey.

poem (c) 2015 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.
(And if you ever want to know anything about REAL haiku, click on over to the wonderful Robyn Hood Black's bounty of haiku resources.)

So, You, reading this...what are YOU thankful for?  Join us in one of FOUR ways:

1. Share a thanku--or simply tell us what you're grateful for--in a comment to any of our blog posts from November 6th through Friday, November 27th.
2. Send them via email to teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com, with "Thanks-Giving" as the subject. (Depending on the number of emails we receive, we may share some of your gratitiudes in our posts.)
3. Post them on your own blog, on your Facebook page, etc., and then share the link with us via a comment or email. Feel free to include our Three Weeks of Thanks-Giving image (above) in your post. On Saturday, November 28, Carmela will provide a round-up of all the links we receive.
4. And NEW THIS YEAR: share them as a comment on our TeachingAuthors Facebook page. While you're there, we hope you'll also "Like" our page.

And thank you, Bridget, for hosting Poetry Friday
on your Wee Words for Wee Ones blog!

posted by April Halprin Wayland, who is grateful she is no longer in bed, but bouncing on her bosu:

photo (c) Jone MacCulloch

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14. Three Weeks of Thanksgiving: Chicago-style

How terrific that our blog’s traditional Weeks of Thanksgiving celebration now enters its 5th year.

Even more terrific is that each of us poetically celebrates by penning a Thanku.

As I shared last year, I often borrow the words of former Ambassador Walter Annenberg to describe my never-changing state of mind:  i.e. grateful and hopeful.
Gratitude begins my day – gratitude for my family and friends, especially my carioca grandson, for my writers, students and Children’s Book World, for my fellow TeachingAuthors and of course, you, our readers.
Hopefulness propels me forward.

This year, 2015?
This year I express my heartfelt thanks to the 2015 National League Central Division Champions, the 40-man roster of the 2015 Chicago Cubs, inspiringly led by their Manager Joe Maddon.

In a crazy-crazy oft-dark April through mid-October when making sense of the world sometimes proved head-shakingly challenging, my Cubbies, with their Can-Do boundless Spirit, proved to be the cure-all, the vaccination against succumbing.
They pierced through the gloom and doom, to those blue skies above Wrigley Field dotted with flying WIN pennants, enabling and ennobling me to keep keepin’ on.
They perched in my soul like that feather of Emily Dickinson’s.

Thanku to My Home Team

2015’s Cubs!
Just what the Doctor ordered
to validate Hope.

All together now, even though I can sing the tune without the words: Go, Cubs, Go!

May you always have reason to give thanks and be hopeful.

Don’t forget to share your Thanku!

Esther Hershenhorn

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15. Three Weeks of Thanks-Giving, 2015 edition

If you've followed our TeachingAuthors blog for a year or more, you know about our tradition of setting aside time in November to give thanks. It started in 2011, with our Ten Days of Thanks-Giving, inspired, in part, by Esther's post about thank-you haikus, also known as Thankus. In 2012 we expanded to Two Weeks of Thanks-Giving, which we repeated in 2013. And last year we stretched our Thanks-Giving posts to a full Three Weeks of Thanks-Giving!

Over the next three weeks, each of the TeachingAuthors will blog about 3 (or more!) things we're grateful for in each of our posts. I'm kicking the series off with a Thanks-Giving Thanku poem below. As in the past, we're also inviting you, our readers (and your students!), to join in by sharing your own "gratitudes" with us. And this year you can participate in one of FOUR ways:
  1. Share your "gratitudes" in a comment to any of our blog posts from today through Friday, November 27.
  2. Send them to us via email to teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com, with "Thanks-Giving" as the subject. Depending on the number of emails we receive, we may share some of your gratitiudes in our posts.
  3. Post them on your own blog and then share the link with us via a comment or email. (Feel free to include the image below in your post.) On Saturday, November 28, I'll provide a round-up of all the links we receive.
  4. AND NEW THIS YEAR: share them as a comment on our TeachingAuthors Facebook page. While you're there, we hope you'll also "Like" our page.  

In an interesting bit of Synchronicity, a friend of mine recently posted a link on her Facebook page to an article on the science of the benefits of gratitude. The article quoted Dr. Emiliana Simon-Thomas, science director of the Greater Good Science, as saying:
"Speaking of stress, writing thank you notes has been shown to ease stress, reduce depressive symptoms, and encourage people to be more mindful of what makes them happy (just ask Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon), as well as foster better relationships."
I'm definitely in need of some stress relief right now. The past month has been rather nerve-wracking. We're in the midst of a major home remodel project encompassing our family room and kitchen. I'm currently without a working kitchen, and the furniture that used to be in our family room is scattered about the rest of our small house.

In my thank you note for last year's Three Weeks of Thanks-Giving, I expressed gratitude to my family, my writing friends, and to all our TeachingAuthors' readers. Of course, I'm still grateful for all three groups of people, but I'd like to add three more groups this year. I'd like to thank:
  1. The students of my COD class, Beginnings, Middles, and Ends, for their patience with me if I was a bit distracted/frazzled during the last two weeks of class.   
  2. My family members and friends for all their help and support during this time. In particular, for my husband's siblings and their families for providing temporary homes for my father-in-law. (He normally lives with us, but his bedroom is currently storing some of our family room furniture.) And also to the dear friends who allowed my husband and me to stay with them for two nights while our new hardwood floors were stained and finished.
  3. The wonderful craftspeople carrying out our remodeling project. They've been careful, courteous, and punctual throughout the whole project AND they're doing marvelous work!
The target completion date for the kitchen/family room remodel is Saturday, November 14--the same day I'll be attending the SCBWI-Illinois Prairie Writer's and Illustrator's Day. We'll still have lots to do afterward, but if all goes well, I should have my kitchen back then. I'm definitely looking forward to that!

The other day, my husband and I were eating dinner in our makeshift kitchen (in our dining room) when the Passenger song "Let Her Go" came on the radio. In case you're not familiar with the lyrics, the song begins:
Well you only need the light when its burning low
Only miss the sun when it starts to snow
Only know you love her when you let her go . . .
I began singing a revised version that went something like:
Well you only need the kitchen when it's been torn out
Only want to cook when there's no stove about
Only miss the cupboards when you must do without . . .
I thought of turning this into a poem for Poetry Friday, but decided to go with a Thanku instead:

I invite all of you to also participate in our Three Weeks of Thanks-Giving by sharing your "gratitudes" with us in one of the four ways I listed above. And don't forget to also check out this week's Poetry Friday round-up over at Write. Sketch. Repeat.

And if you're looking for more resources about gratitude and its benefits, see the links on the resource page of Gratefullness.org.

Happy Thanks-Giving to all!

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16. A Luddite Celebrates Internet Day!

Remember the Egyptian Revolution of 2011? For two weeks and three days, the whole world watched as millions of protestors across Tunisia and Egypt demanded reform, ultimately toppling two powerful regimes. While other regional issues certainly followed, it doesn't minimize the enormous change that the internet helped bring about. The people had connected, and used the internet to show the world a new wave of revolution, ending a 31-year state of emergency.

On a much, much, much smaller scale, though just as fervent, the internet has certainly changed my world. I’m a Luddite by nature. I write manuscripts in longhand, use postnotes to organize everything, and write grocery lists on the back of envelopes. I prefer real books to ebooks. And yea, I still use snail mail. Only recently have I let go of my beloved stickshift, a relationship that lasted 200,000 miles. In its place is an automatic complete with all the computerized bells and whistles of modern convenience. This is me, rolling my eyes as I turn on the radio to listen to tried-and-true NPR. Not even the Tardis is this decked out. And this new car isn’t even high end!

Still, once upon a time I had spent hours in the university’s basement archives. Now, all of history is just a click away because of the internet. Remember my discussion on the Library of Congress?

Of course, the most powerful connections have been about people. It's always about the people. And these connections I’ve made by way of the internet have been at the very least life affirming, and at its best, life-saving.

In the two and some decades since I entered the business of writing for children, I’ve met some phenomenal people. Some had been my heroes and have now become close friends. (I’m talking about youuu, Eric Guru!) Some had begun as friends and have now become my heroes. (Thinking of you, Monica!)

And through all the good and the bad, and sometimes the very bad, that comes with the writing business, these connections have made the journey more than just bearable. They’ve made the journey worthwhile. (Always ever grateful, dear Karen!)

I’ve included below some of my favorite connections and favorite people I’ve gathered along the way. This is by no means a complete list. But, in celebrating Internet Day, it's always nice to remember the people on the other end of the wire.

The amazing Emma Dryden, otherwise known as Dumbledore, is a legend in the business, sharing her wisdom on life and writing in her blog, Our Stories, Ourselves.

Award-winning writer and teacher, Marion Dane Bauer is a national treasure. She shares her insights on life and writing on her blog, which includes a special section for educator’s at Educator’s Endnotes.

A mainstay in the business is editor Harold Underdown and his website, Purple Crayon.

Yvonne Ventresca, author of the amazing young adult novel Pandemic, always offers some interesting research and tidbits about a variety of topics.

Joanna Marple, long known for her wonderful explorations of children’s literature at Miss Marple’s Musings, recently went on an inspirational life-affirming cross-country journey, and shared her adventures on her blog.

Brainpickings is a wondrous exploration into all things art and human!

Bruce Black’s blog Wordswimmer meditates on the art of life and writing, using the metaphor of swimming. Calming, serene, wise and inspirational.

Recently I chanced upon Elaine Kiely Kearns and Sylvia Liu at KidLit411, and discovered a treasure trove of all of my favorite writing sources.

A group of ten writers after my own heart share their love of historical fiction, their insights and experiences about the genre on their group blog, Mad about MG History.

Another favorite group blog is From the Mixed Up Files, in which thirty authors write about all things middle-grade. A great resource for teachers, librarians, parents and everyone with a passion for children’s literature.

I could go on, but I don't want to hog the conversation. Who or what are some of your favorite  connections that you've made because of the internet? Feel free to share them in the comments!

Of course, the worse thing about the internet is the ever-so-easy access to online bookstores.  New books just a click away!

O no!! 

~ Bobbi Miller
(p.s. All photos courtesy of morguefile!)

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17. Internet Wonders and Woes

For this brief series of posts, we Teaching Authors are celebrating Internet Day. April started last Friday with a little history, a Paul Simon song, and a thought-provoking poem. On Monday, Mary Ann discussed movies, marriage, and misinformation. Heres my take: Like all technology, the Internet is wonderful when it works. Unfortunately, it can’t do everything.

Take my brand-new Dell Inspiron laptop—please. I bought it during a back-to-school sale and used it just long enough to invest in and install some new software, create a couple of conference presentations, and transfer a few files. Last weekend, the entire left half of the keyboard went dead.

At Dells Technical Support center in New Delhi, technicians work at night so we can reach them during our daytime hours. My email got no response and the chat option was unavailable, so I finally called. Two hours later, after the technician took control of my computer from halfway around the world, I had a diagnosis (faulty motherboard), a promise that a shipping label would be on its way as soon as I hung up (It was.), and multiple reassurances that my computer would work just fine in five to ten days if I sent it to a service center. (I did.) I hope the old one, which now shuts itself off spontaneously, lasts that long.

I went for a walk. Stomping through the park, I started thinking in haiku. Short, curt lines expressed my frustration but didn’t give me enough room. Back at home, I decided to explore the tanka form. I started (of course) with a Google search.

Tanka have syllable counts similar to haiku: five lines of 5, 7, 5, 7, and 7 syllables. Many poems have a turn or pivot in the third line. Other than that, as this helpful article by Michael McClintock points out, “in form, techniques, and subject matter, the modern English-language tanka shows wide variation and invention, and appears disinclined to observe any rigid set of ‘rules’ or conventions.”

                    Fancy new laptop
                    diagnosed from India
                    but not fixed. Oh, well.
                    I’ll write with paper and pen
                    and flaming leaves streaming by.

I’ll play with the form some more while I wait for my laptop’s return. Wish me luck!

[Note from JoAnn: Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup? Not where I thought it would be. I'll post an update when I find it.]

JoAnn Early Macken

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18. Welcome to Wild Wild Cyberspace!

Happy (early) Internet Day.

My husband and I are former drama majors, who met in community theater.

What does this have to do with the Internet?  Patience, please!

We are huge movie fans. Pre-child, we would see three or four movies a week. Post-child and Pre-Netflix, we were Blockbusters' best customers. Watching movies is not a passive experience for us. We discuss the direction, the acting, the anachronisms that pop up. (The average upperclass American 1950's wife did NOT have pierced ears!)

 For years our biggest argument was over a line in The Godfather.  Did Tom Hagen say to Michael Corleone, "You know Pop worked hard to get you a deferment" or "You know Pop worked hard to get you into Furman"? (A small Baptist college in South Carolina...my husband is a South Carolinian.) It didn't matter that the book said Michael went to Dartmouth.

"They changed it for the movie," my husband insisted.

This guy went to Dartmouth.

    Enter the Internet!  I first met "the 'Net" when I was a university reference librarian in the mid-90's. I learned that the right combo of search terms on the right search engine (my favorite was Alta Vista) would get me any information my heart desired. The Godfather screenplay was online. Yes, Don Corleone got Michael a deferment, not into Furman.

   Having settled the matter of Michael Corleone's alma mater, my husband and I continue to "discuss" movies and actors. Thanks to a wonderful database, www.IMDb.com, our differences in opinion are settled before the first commercial.

"Oh there's what's-her-name.  You know her; she was the Lucky Hat Girl in Goodfellas?"

Tap tap tap. "Welker White. She does a lot of Law and Order."

"Didn't we see Goodfellas when we were dating?"

"Nope.  We were living in Wisconsin."

Tap tap tap. "We're both wrong.  Goodfellas  came out September 1990.  We were living Alabama."

     What does all this have to with writing? The Internet, used with caution, saves a boatload of research time. I wrote the first version of Jimmy's Stars in 1984. I spent months in the microfilm room of the Pittsburgh Carnegie Library reading old newspapers, making hundreds of pages of notes. After I finished the book, I sensed it was missing something. (A plot! A conflict!) So, Jimmy lived in my bottom desk drawer for nearly 30 years. (Never throw anything out. Especially something you have researched so long!) When I re-wrote the book (this time with a plot and conflict), I could re-verify my information from my home office with just a couple of hours of online searching.

   In the past, I would begin a writing project by collecting information.  Pictures, maps, books and bits of ephemera picked up here and there (ration books, streetcar schedules, old postcards.) My tiny office looked like an episode of Hoarders. Now my pre-writing prep consists of a list of questions and items in an notebook.  99% of what I need, I can find and use online. The other 1% comes from my collection of diaries, family letters and photo albums. (OK, there is a still a corner of my office that looks like Hoarders.)

   Fairy tales can come true, if you are a reference librarian! No more juggling enormous reference books. No more waiting for the new edition of that reference book to come out. Instant reference gratification! Almost everything you could ever want to know is online, somewhere.

   Along with the good stuff, comes the wrong, the bad and the half-truths (to say nothing about the wonderful world of Photoshopped pictures).  It's the Wild Wild Cyberspace out there. Anyone can publish anything online, and it doesn't have to be the truth. I am reminded of students from my first school library job, circa 1982.  Do you remember the old Sprite commercials, that showed a "limon--half lemon, half lime"?  I could not convince otherwise intelligent kids that a limon was not a real fruit because...they saw it on TV!  

A limon is a mythical fruit.
 Just because it's online, doesn't make it true.

There is no such thing as a jackalope, either!
The Internet is an endless source of information and misinformation. Some sites may or may not have accurate information (Wikipedia) that has to be verified another way. I found "satirical" news sites, such as The Onion, masquerading as legitimate information sources. If it's too weird to be true, I either search the name of the original source (which will tell me if the site is "satirical" or affiliated with a particular political agenda) or I hit www.snopes.com.  Snopes keeps up with latest rumors, urban legends and conspiracy theories.

 Some people avoid writing by playing Solitaire or Candy Crush online.  Me?  I can spend hours happily toggling from one site to another, answering for own curiosity (and not story research) question after question.  And then double checking those answers.

As the old Russian proverb (which was swiped by President Reagan's speechwriter) says, "Trust but verify." If you don't verify on the front end, some editor is going to ask you to do it eventually.

Now, I am taking a break from blog writing to scroll through my new obsession, www.murderpedia.org, a data base of murderers, living and dead, from around the world.

Don't ask, OK?

Happy Internet Day on the 29th, y'all

   Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

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19. Livin' La Vida Loca: I Love the Writing Life

I love writing for kids and working with them. But I have never (at least not as an adult) had any illusions that I could support myself working solely as a writer. This "Ah-Ha!" moment came during a banquet while I in library school, (as we called it back in the day.)

I was graduate assistant to the children's services specialist.  (Who knows where I'd be today if I assisted the specialists in government documents or cataloging?) He had put together an all-star children's literature symposium--Ellen Raskin, Ashley Bryant, Jean Fritz--award-winning authors and illustrators all. At the banquet, I was thrilled when my boss seated me next to the brilliant Ellen Raskin.  The year before, her Figgs & Phantoms had been named a Newbery Honor book.  Her own Newbery for The Westing Game would be three years in the future.

Always a big fan of Ms Raskin's funny, quirky books, I was thrilled to discover that the author was just like her books--funny, quirky and blunt. Too chicken to ask this Great Author anything more than to pass the salt, please, I listened as she answered the questions of our tablemates.  I learned that she had a daughter, was married to an editor at Scientific American and lived in a funny (quirky?) house on a private, gated street in Greenwich Village. Her studio on the top floor had a big skylight. (Odd the details the memory records.)

I was ready to chuck my previous career role model, Mary Tyler Moore, and move into Ellen Raskin's seemingly perfect life.  Then someone asked "that question" which really wasn't a question.

"So, you must be doing pretty well with your books," said a person whose name and gender is lost in time.

Ms Raskin's fork clinked against her plate."That depends on how you define 'pretty well'," she replied.

"I mean financially," the Person said blandly, with a smile that assumed Ellen would answer, "Oh yes, I am making buckets of money." Young, dumb me, assumed that would be the answer too.

Ms Raskin paused, as if calculating something in her head. "Well," she said. "I have ten books in print."

Wow! I thought. Ten books in print. She must be making a fortune. Three-story houses in Greenwich Village aren't cheap. The thought of anyone having ten books in print at the same time was simply mind-boggling.

But Ellen was still talking.  "...and last year I made..." and named a four digit figure. Even in 1976, it was a ridiculously low amount of money. Ten books and this is all she made?  She has a Newbery Honor book for crying out loud!

Long silence at our table. After a moment, Ellen laughed and made a comment about writers needing employed spouses. Dinner went on, but that conversation was a wake-up call for me. Now I knew what people meant went they said, "Don't quit your day job." And I didn't for a long, long time.

Quitting my day job was not my choice. My husband's company transferred him to Thailand, a country with notoriously tough labor laws. I became a full-time writer, whether I wanted to or not. I wrote ten and twelve hours a day.  I wrote and sold My Best Friend and Yankee Girl in those years.

Fast forward to today. I have written and published seven books, plus contributed to two YA short story anthologies. My Best Friend won both the Ezra Jack Keats and Charlotte Zolotow Awards, and is referenced in many children's literature textbooks. Yankee Girl was nominated for a dozen State Book Awards. I am extremely fortunate that all but one of these books is still in print. One, Jimmy's Stars, is only available as an e-book. For someone who is considered a mid-list author, someone who is not J.K Rowling or Suzanne Collins or Rick Riordan, I am doing really well.

Last year, my royalties were half of what my daughter makes as a part-time waitress at Golden Corral. My very best year, royalty-wise, equalled my teaching salary when I left to get married. That was 1990, and I taught in one of the poorest school systems in my state. My very best year, in real money terms, was a lot less than my best year teaching.

Luckily, I enjoy doing school visits and teaching. However, in the last couple of years, school budgets and curriculum have rarely accommodated author visits.  I pick up teaching/tutoring gigs here and there, mostly for homeschool groups. I've done freelance editing and worked as a private writing coach. My most reliable source of income is the Young Author's day camps I run each summer, with
weekend workshops during the school year.
One of my first school visits, Davis Elementary, Jackson, Ms 

    In the beginning, my non-royalty "author jobs" income equalled my royalties.  Now it surpasses it. I love working with these young writers. It's my dessert, after spending the rest of the year writing in solitude. I began with a single week camp. Now, ten years later, I  conduct writing camps for the Parks Department and local historical societies nearly every week from Memorial Day to the start of school.

Young authors at work! Roswell, Ga, summer 2013.
Sure, if I were still a school librarian, I'd be
making more money. I am super lucky to be married 25 years to my best friend, who has a good job and insurance.  If my income dried up to zero, we would not be out in the streets. But I have always been a working mom. I love what I do. I can't imagine ever retiring.

Don't forget to sign up for our latest Book Giveaway (click here) for info.  Don't miss out;  
the deadline is October 10.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

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20. While the Sun Shines

If you’re anywhere near Sheboygan, Wisconsin, look for me this weekend at the Sheboygan Children’s Book Festival. The celebration, October 9-11, features free programming for children, teens, and adults with 16 authors and illustrators presenting at three venues.

I’ll be presenting a program for children on Saturday at 11:30 at Bookworm Gardens. I’ll read Flip, Float, Fly: Seeds on the Move, and we’ll do a milkweed seed activity and talk about monarch butterflies.  I can hardly wait!

On Sunday at 1:30 at the Mead Public Library, I’ll present a workshop for adults about writing lively nonfiction and share examples from exciting nonfiction books for kids. I found such wonderful resources!

The following weekend is our SCBWI-Wisconsin Fall Conference, where I’ll present a breakout session on Activating Passive Language. I’m also doing critiques. Here, Im interviewed on the new SCBWI-Wisconsin Blog. You can read interviews with some of the other presenters here

Just in time for my conference planning, I finished revising a test passage for an educational publisher. Sometime before I take off for Sheboygan, I intend to send out a letter about a school visit. All this preparation can be a bit overwhelming, but it’s all fun stuff. After a pretty quiet summer, I’m happy to be busy! So when work is available, I always say "Yes!" if I can.

This week’s To-Do list demonstrates our current Teaching Authors topic: the variety of ways we try to make a living in addition to writing and marketing our books for children. Marti started us off with a post about her two articles in the 2016 Childrens Writers and Illustrator’s Market, including "Make a Living as a Writer." Last week Monday, Esther mentioned teaching, writing book reviews, and educational writing. On Wednesday, Laura Purdie Salas shared an exercise about writing on assignment. On Friday, April gave us three tips and a story. Mary Ann started this week with another story and her take on school visits and teaching. We all wear multiple hats!

When I’m busybusybusy, I have to remember to take breaks. Yesterday, I walked to the lake and saw this brief, tiny rainbow overhead.

Here’s a cloud-watching poem to go with the view:
Summer Job 
My favorite occupation
is to lie back and look at the sky.
If you find the right spot,
you can see quite a lot
in the shapes of the clouds rolling by. 
You can study the habits of insects.
You can see how they flutter and fly.
You’ll see birds on the wing.
You can hear how they sing
as they swoop and they soar through the sky. 
All in all, it’s a fabulous habit.
You really should give it a try.
There’s nothing to do
but consider the view.
As the day drifts away, so do I.
JoAnn Early Macken 
I hope to see some of you out and about! In the meantime, be sure to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a copy of the 2016 Childrens Writers and Illustrator’s Market (courtesy of Writer’s Digest Books)! Saturday, October 10, is the last day to enter.

Laura Purdie Salas is hosting this week’s Poetry Friday Roundup at Writing the World for Kids. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

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21. Cross-Platforming for Dummies (Me!)

I’ve so enjoyed reading this current Teaching Author series on how to make a living doing what you love. And, of course, JoAnn’s timely wisdom about taking a break during the busybusybusy making is especially important.

The internet has changed the nature of business, especially publishing. It has made this business so much more complex. Like it or not, writers now need to take charge of their own promotion. And for some of us Luddites who use pen and paper to write drafts, use notecards to make outlines, and stick purple postnotes on a manuscript to highlight changes, the task of internet promotion is a daunting, downright squirrelly endeavor.

Now I have to cross-platform? What? Do I have to twit now?

Jane Friedman defines cross-platforming as creating visibility, establishing authority and reaching your audience. The strategy involves presenting content across new and different media.

I joined Facebook. But apparently Facebook barely scratches the surface. In fact, as Michael Alvear suggests here, Facebook won’t necessarily help you sell books, at least not directly.

That’s just nuts. What’s a Luddite to do?

I so admire Roxie Munro. She’s the author and illustrator of more than 40 books, including the wonderful Inside/Outside picturebooks. She is also an all-around gizmo-wizard, creating a slew of interactive apps and speaking about how artists can use the internet to their advantage. And, according to Roxie (here) most of us are already disseminating content across media formats, and we don’t even know it!

 Really? Really? Even me?

Every writer has (or should have) a website these days, even those who have yet to find the perfect publisher. What a cracked catch-22: You want to build a presence in order to convince your publisher that you can build a presence, even before your book comes out! Likewise, most every writer is connected to a blog, sometimes an individual blog, a group blog (like Teaching Authors), or several group blogs. Roxie also highlights several online projects that use videoconferencing, connecting authors and illustrators with librarians and schools to talk about their work.

While Facebook may not directly sell books, it does reinforce and can sustain important relationships. And these connections can lead to further opportunities, all of which can influence sales. 

Other social media sites include Goodreads, an amazon company with a base of 20 million members. There’s also Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LibraryThing, Youtube, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and so many more. It’s enough to drive one nutty trying to figure out which site is the best. Natalie Sisson breaks down the demographics (here) to the different social media sites, so you can see which one might suit your needs. However, as she warns, focus only on your top three choices, and create a plan that will help you maintain these connections. If you tackle everything at once, it becomes overwhelming, and then you're up a tree. 

From these connections, writers join teachers, librarians, parents and reviewers (and children's literature enthusiasts in general) to engage in blog tours and scavenger hunts and book giveaways. They share information, classroom activities, resources and ideas,  all the while making even more connections. Some enterprising and clever sorts pool together their internet resources to create marketing co-ops, unfettered by geography. Such co-ops help members build their online presence even as they also help market books. 

Sylvia Liu and Elaine Kiely Kearns highlight here ten top signs that you are building a successful platform.

And look! Look! You're doing it, too!

It seems that you are limited only by your imagination. And writers, as we all know, have great imaginations. 

What do you think?

Bobbi Miller

P.S. No squirrels were harmed in the making of this post. All squirrels courtesy of morguefile.com.

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22. The Nonfiction Minute: A Teacher's Best Friend

First, let me give a big congratulations to Michelle H. who won the CWIM giveaway!  I know you will enjoy it.  

You know, it isn’t often that something truly innovative comes along in education or publishing.  But when it does, look out!  My post today is about one such unique project called The Nonfiction Minute  (NFM).   Check out the website at www.nonfictionminute.com

Each school day on The Nonfiction Minute website, a fascinating 400-word nonfiction article is published.  Each article is written by one of two dozen award-winning nonfiction authors.  The articles cover subjects that are as different as each author and include topics in history, sports, popular culture, space, math, government, music, and everything in-between.   Related photographs accompany each article.  NFM articles can be used to teach content, as well as reading and writing.
But, wait, there’s more. 
Every Nonfiction Minute has an audio file of the author reading his or her own article.  In this way, young readers or struggling readers can listen as they read along.   This feature allows the NFM to work across all age groups from primary grades through adulthood.   
But wait, there’s more.
The Nonfiction Minute is FREE!  That’s right ladies and gents, FREE. 

This revolutionary idea is produced by a group of nonfiction authors called Authors on Call, which is a subset of a larger group known as iNK Think Tank.  Each article is written by a professional nonfiction author, then edited by a top-tier professional nonfiction editor, Jean Reynolds.
To be fair, I must declare my disclaimer:  I am a member of iNK Think Tank, Authors on Call, and I write for The Nonfiction Minute.  However, the few articles I’ve written are a small part of the 170 Nonfiction Minutes that will appear in the line-up this school year.  I’m part of an ever-growing audience of NFM readers.  Every day, the articles written by my fellow authors fascinate me.  They capture the imagination of the reader with expertly crafted text in only 400 words.      

Vicki Cobb, award-winning author and founder of iNK Think Tank says:

"The Nonfiction Minute illustrates a variety of voices.   Authors are not homogeneous.  Readers will get to know each author as they read the article then hear the author speak.  This too is a learning experience as it demonstrates to students how various authors look at the facts and filter what to use.  Kids will see there is a big difference between what they read in a textbook and what they read in The Nonfiction Minute."  

This is the second school year for the NFM.  Since the beginning there have been around 300,000 page views, from 90,000 unique visitors.  Readership is growing fast as more teachers find out about the NFM.  At present, there are around 1200 page views per day.  
Responding to the needs of teachers who commented they would love to have advance notice of the coming week’s topics on the NFM, Authors on Call provided a way to do just that.  Now teachers can receive an email on Thursday of the previous week that lists the article topics for the next week.  This way, teachers have time to plan how they can incorporate NFM into their teaching plans.  To sign up for advance notice, teachers simply sign up through the website to receive the email--which is, again, FREE.
Great teachers all across America are finding ways to use the NFM with their students.  Here are two examples from teachers I know in Arkansas that demonstrate how one article can be used in a variety of ways.  These two teachers used a recent NFM I wrote titled “The Near-Death Experience of Football.”  The article deals with the deadly 1905 football season when America considered banning the game, and President Teddy Roosevelt called coaches to a meeting in hopes of saving football.   The same article, two different teachers, two different age groups:   
Melissa L., a media specialist in a tiny rural school, explained how she used this NFM with her 5th grade students:   

"I have a big screen tv at the front of my library (got it before we began purchasing Smart Boards) which is connected to my computer.  So I pull up the website at the beginning of each period along with any other peripheral webpages on info that I think may come into our discussion afterwards (for instance, this week I pulled up what the Ivy League Schools are on Wikipedia and we looked at their names and the years they were founded as well as Google images of football uniforms around the early 1900's - which led to a discussion of the dangers of even SIMPLE injuries in the days before "modern medicine.").  I also pull up a tab with a page for the author that has an image of the books that he/she has written - to introduce the kids to that person before we begin the Nonfiction Minute.  Then I turn up my audio and enlarge the words on my screen as big as I can so that at least the closest ones can read along (as I scroll) while the author reads aloud.  When done I then close that screen and have the discussion with questions about what we just listened to and learned - and any peripheral discussion (as I just mentioned).  In all it takes 5-10 minutes at the beginning of class."

The next example is from Cassandra S., an 8th grade English teacher:  

"I'm using this article and another one like it to discuss Teddy Roosevelt's involvement with saving football (leading to a discussion and writing prompt about presidents exerting personal preferences into national policies) which will then lead us to discussing Andrew Jackson's controversial decisions upon election and again...accountability for presidents and their personal motives. (This second portion is to supplement my struggling readers in the American History class while focusing on argumentative writing in mine)."

What I love about the above samples is that each teacher used the same NFM and found creative, effective ways to use it that fit the needs of her students.  Perhaps best of all, these amazing teachers guided their students in a way that encouraged them to use critical thinking skills.
Gone are the days when nonfiction equals boring.  Finally, nonfiction texts are available that are fun, fascinating, and free.  We the authors of The Nonfiction Minute hope great teachers around the country will use our work to promote a passion for learning. 
So, spread the word about this truly innovative project. 
Teachers and students will enjoy every minute.   

Carla Killough McClafferty 
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23. Thumbs Up for Another Kate Messner Book That Helps Us Walk the Walk

KateMessner is the first to admit: writing with her students made her a mentor – and – a far better teacher.
Her newest Stenhouse book, 59 Reasons toWrite, offers teachers 59 Mini-lessons to help them become mentors and better teachers, too, along with prompts, Teacher-Q’s and Author-A’s and daily writing warm-ups and assignments.
Walking the walk is suddenly doable – for all writers, classroom teachers or not.

An outgrowth of her online summer writing camp Teachers Write, the book’s purposefully designed to get us writing every day, whether on our own or as part of a group.
Chapters move from getting started to organizing our time and stories, through narrative elements such as characters, point of view, voice, mood, setting, plot and pacing, nonfiction and fiction needs and poetry to writer’s block, revising, critiquing and reflection.
Everything we ask of our students Kate and her “faculty” of award-winning authors ask of us.

It’s the luminous 52+ faculty members who both teach and inspire, underscoring how, when it comes to writing, we’re all in this together. 
Again, walking the walk is suddenly doable, thanks to this insightful, comprehensive, hands-on text.
And who wouldn’t want to learn from talents such as Linda Urban, Donna Gephart, Jo Knowles, Shutta Crum, Jenny Meyerhoff and Barb Rosenstock, just to name a few?

I was especially taken with the honest Q + A – The Best of the Q-And-A Wednesday sessions from the online summer camp.
Again, notables truthfully responded to a host of questions, including those about intimidation, making and finding writing time, connecting with our characters, handling point of view, the passage of time and too much description.

Tools, short-cuts, exercises.  The list of writing aids goes on and on.  Think Writer’s Notebooks, three-column brainstorming, outlining, world building, selecting and using mentor texts. 

“Write,” Kate tells her readers, “because you have things to say – arguments to make, stories to tell, poems to share – and no one else in the world has your unique voice with which to say them.  And do it,” she adds, “for the young writers you hope to inspire.  In making time for your own writing, you’ll be crossing a barrier, joining them as real, vulnerable members of a community of writers.”

I add my “Amen!” to my sincere thanks for following her Real Revision with yet another valuable Kate Messner writing book for those of us lucky enough to be “TeachingAuthors” and writers.
You’ll be adding your thanks, too, once you read, learn, write and share Kate Messner’s 59 Reasons to Write.

Esther Hershenhorn

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24. Wednesday Writing Workout: A "59 REASONS TO WRITE" Warmup

Jo Knowles’ writing warm-ups are but one of many ways Kate Messner gets teachers walking the walk in her not-to-miss Thumbs Up book 59 Reasons to Write (Stenhouse, 2015).

The author of middle grade and YA novels including READ BETWEEN THE LINES, SEE YOU AT HARRY’S and JUMPING OFF SWINGS, Jo Knowles revved up Teachers Write campers’ engines each Monday with her Writing Warm-ups. 59 Reasons to Write shares many of them with readers, including today’s Wednesday Writing Workout, one of Jo’s favorites.

Jo holds a Master’s Degree in Children’s Literature from Simmons College and she teaches in the MFA program at Southern New Hampshire University.  Her awards and honors include NY Times and ALA Notable Book distinctions and the PEN New England Children’s Book Discover Award. 

Thanks to Stenhouse – and – Jo for their permission to present the following warm-up as today’s Wednesday Writing Workout.


Esther Hershenhorn

       . . . . . . . . . . 

A Jo Knowles Warm-up 

One of my favorite exercises to help people get started is to have them describe the kitchen of their childhood.  If you moved around a lot, choose the one that has the strongest memories.  Place your child self in that room.  Now:

What do you see?  Describe the room in as much details as you can remember.

What do you smell? Was yours a kitchen of delicious odors?  Or was it rarely used?  What kinds of foods were cooked?  Did you like them?  Why or why not?

What do you hear?  What kinds of conversations took place in the kitchen, if any?  Were there moments of joy?  Arguing?  Worry? Love?

What do you taste?  What are the strongest tastes you remember?  A morning bowl of cereal? The batter on a spoon? Who made the food?

As you write, you will likely notice a plethora of memories flooding your brain and your heart.  Seize these and write them down.  Describe them in as much detail as you can.  Soon, you will discover a story taking shape.  Grab it!

Jo Knowles

59 Reasons to Write

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25. MIRACLES AND WONDERS: Happy Internet Day! (It All Began with Leonard Kleinrock)

Howdy, Campers!  Happy Poetry Friday...and Happy Internet Day on October 29th!

The P.F. link and my poem are below (and trust me--today's host posts a tasty Poetry Friday!)

The Internet: it all began 46 years ago with Leonard Kleinrock

With this post, TeachingAuthors launches a short series celebrating the birth of the internet.  And we want to hear from you: has the internet changed you? In what ways? What comes to mind when you think of the internet?

According to TheInternetDay.com, on October 29, 1969, under the supervision of UCLA computer science professor Leonard Kleinrock, the first message was sent over an internet connection.(Click here for the sound of connecting to the internet via dial-up...)

When I think of the internet, I think of moving to a new town, into our new house and connecting to the internet, in 1994. Not long after, my friend Barney Saltzberg (whom we've featured several times on this blog) and I began to email each other. We could read each other's thoughts--instantly! We could complete each other's sentences!  We could talk deep into the night without speaking! We could collaborate on stories through the air! It was A-freakin'-MAZING.

My. Brain. Exploded.   Were our lives ever going to be the same again?

from morguefile.com

Mine was not. Not long after, I met Courtney Campbell, who regularly tours schools in Europe. She was incredibly generous, sharing the contact information of her host in Germany. If she had simply given me his snail mail address, I may have stuck that note in my desk and never done a thing about it. Instead, she gave me magic: his email address. I emailed him that evening: "Hello! Would you be interested in having an author visit your schools?"

In the morning, his reply arrived: "How soon can you come?"

And so began several years of my touring schools in Europe. Yup. My life had changed forever.

When I think of the internet, I also think of how each freshly-baked email, each amazing link, each post by every dear friend is a pretty shiny thing which grabs my attention...again and again and again...

...wait, what was my point?
My brain on the internet.
from www.gifbay.com

...and I see how the very structure of my life has changed since that initial euphoria Barney and I tasted, splashing in the shallow end of the 'net.

When I think of the internet, I also feel weighted down.

Off to chop down a few emails...

Do you?

These days the internet is an unending desire to send a friendly and intelligent reply to every message in my inbox.

It's perpetually polishing my shiny online portrait.

It's forever unfinished homework.

How did we go so quickly from "Oh, WOW--this internet thing is AMAZING!" to "I can't drive with you to the party tonight--I'll meet you there. I need to finish my blog post and I have too many emails to answer" which--and I swear this is true--I just said five minutes ago (paraphrased) to my husband.

Still, when I think of the internet, I also think of Paul Simon's stunning song (co-written by Forere Mothoeloa), The Boy in The Bubble, on Simon's Graceland album, 1986.

Here is the chorus:
These are the days of miracle and wonder
This is the long-distance call
The way the camera follows us in slo-mo
The way we look to us all
The way we look to a distant constellation
That’s dying in a corner of the sky
These are the days of miracle and wonder
And don’t cry baby don’t cry
Don’t cry
(here are the rest of the lyrics)

(If you'd like to simply listen to the song, then you can stare at a static image of the Graceland album's cover as you listen here.  On the other hand, if you'd like to see Simon's official music video--i.e. pretty shiny stuff--here 'tis.)

In the spirit of that song, here's a poem I wrote in April 2012--which I rewrote last night and again (and again) today--thank you, Bruce and ADR, through the miracle of the internet!

by April Halprin Wayland

"The average farmer’s wife is one of the most patient and overworked women of the time." ~ The American Farmer, 1884

Illinois, spring,
I am descending fifteen flights of stairs
from my lonely hotel room
to a breakfast of buttered toast and eggs.

Each empty floor’s the same:
the same metal stairs,
the same smell of dust and cleanser,
the same beige walls...

so I pull my cell out of a zippered pocket,
dial my sister to say hi, to keep me company,
and as her phone rings in California, 
I am descending in time.

I imagine a prairie wife,
one who helped lace the land with barbed wire,
churned butter, gathered eggs, fed the fire,
birthed and buried babies.

No time for mourning.
As winds scratched the plains,
she murmured to the hens.
She had no other company.

She might have called her sister
if she had had a phone,
might never have wandered off,
head tilted back, mumbling to the wide sky.

Each day was the same,
the same metal horizon,
the same smell of dust and scrub,
the same beige crops...her solitary lot.

If only a phone
instead of a lonely yearning;
with a single cell she might have kept 
her own fire burning.

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

So now,when I think of the internet--when I think of any technology--I may be overwhelmed (a dilemma which the next generation of users will undoubtedly solve) but I'm also singing about Miracles and Wonder.

Are you?

These are the days of miracle and wonder
And don’t cry baby don’t cry
Don’t cry

And now click on over to Jama's Alphabet Soup for a delectable array of poems!

posted in waves of wonder by April Halprin Wayland

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