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1. BLUE BIRDS Resources and Lost Colony News!

Here are two new resources for those of you interested in learning more about Blue Birds.

Educator’s Guide
Lost colony timeline

map of algonquian tribes

And breaking news! Evidence that colonists indeed were on Hatteras Island (Croatoan)!

Archeologists Find New Evidence of Lost Colonists on Hatteras :: The Outer Banks Voice

The post BLUE BIRDS Resources and Lost Colony News! appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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2. Classroom Connections: LOVE TWELVE MILES LONG by Glenda Armand

Last summer at SCBWI‘s national conference, I struck up a conversation with another attendee while standing in a winding sandwich line. It was absolutely my pleasure to befriend a fellow former teacher turned author, someone who also writes historical fiction and picture books and has even tried her hand at verse. That night I bought a copy of Glenda Armand’s Love Twelve Miles Long, a beautifully moving story. I’ll let Glenda tell you more.

genre: historical fiction
setting: Maryland, 1820s
age range: 6-11
teacher’s guide
Glenda Armand’s website

This poignant story, based on Frederick Douglass’s childhood, tells how his mother, a slave, would walk twelve miles at night for a brief visit with her son. Soothing text describes how she overcomes the monotony and loneliness through songs (joyful and sad), the solace of prayer, and love. Emotional paintings capture moods, especially the joy of reunion that wipes away weariness. — Horn Book

Starting with the boy’s elemental question, “Mama, why can’t I live with you?,” the words and pictures tell the family separation story in all its heartbreak and hope. — Booklist

Share this with young readers as a series of homilies on dreams and a family love strong enough to overcome any adversity. — Kirkus Reviews

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Please tell us about your book.

Frederick Douglass was born a slave, escaped and went on to become a great orator and writer who championed the cause of freedom for his fellow African Americans. In his autobiography, Douglass showed the cruelty of slavery from his unique perspective as a former slave. It is a testament to Douglass’s remarkable life that President Abraham Lincoln called this former slave, “my friend Douglass.”

Love Twelve Miles Long takes place long before Frederick Douglass has become famous and successful. The setting is a farmhouse kitchen on a Maryland farm. It is evening and 5-year-old Frederick’s mother, Harriet, a slave who lives on different farm on their master’s plantation, has come to visit. The story allows the reader to peak in on mother and son as they share a few precious moments.

What inspired you to write this story?

When I read his autobiography, I was struck by Frederick Douglass’s strong feelings for his mother despite his having spent so little time with her. In fact, he only remembered seeing his mother at night on the few occasions that she was able to walk the twelve miles to spend time with her son. I believed that there was a story in those visits that spoke to the universal bond between mother and child.

Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching? 

I read Frederick Douglass’s autobiography while preparing to teach eighth grade US history after many years of teaching in the elementary grades. The passage in which Douglass mentions his mother’s night time visits touched my heart. I could just imagine the love it took for her to walk twelve miles (one way!) to spend time with her son, who lived with the cook who served as babysitter for the slave children who were too young to work.

After reading his other autobiography written later in life, I came up with the way I would tell the story of Frederick and his mother.

I decided to envision Harriet and Frederick in their master’s kitchen, the place where the visits occurred. Then, with pen in hand (literally), I “listened” in on their conversation. There were times when I felt that Harriet was guiding my pen as I wrote. For instance, at one point Frederick asks, “Why did God make us slaves?” After writing the question, I crossed it out because I really didn’t have an answer. But then I heard Harriet’ voice saying, “Let him ask the question.” So I did.

What are some special challenges associated with writing historical fiction?

I love the challenge of writing historical fiction. I like taking events that I know happened to real people (like the visits Harriet paid to Frederick) and imagining things that could have happened (their conversation) and mixing them together to make a story. To me, this makes historical figures interesting, accessible and human. 

My books are introductions to real events and people that I hope invite the reader to find out more about the subjects.

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

Love Twelve Miles Long lends itself to many classroom discussions/topics:

  • United States History/African American History/Black History Month
  • Mother’s Day/Families/Mother-child relationships/Love
  • Childhood experiences/Memories/Separation
  • Frederick Douglass/Abraham Lincoln/Slavery/Civil War
  • Dreams/Aspirations/Empathy/Compassion/Esteem/Confidence
  • Realistic Fiction/Historical Fiction

The post Classroom Connections: LOVE TWELVE MILES LONG by Glenda Armand appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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3. So. The Nightstand Kinda Exploded.

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Remember this (relatively) neat and tidy picture from a few weeks ago? Things have changed a little around here. Part two of the Laura Ingalls Wilder class has begun, meaning I have five Laura books to re-read plus her daughter Rose’s Young Pioneers (Something I read just a few months before thinking up May B. I know it played into my story in some way. Curious about finding parallels.).

I finished Fish in a Tree and You Are Not So Smart (both so good!) and have added in Amherst (because I can’t pass up an Emily Dickinson book, especially one that deals with a key storyline in Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds, which I read a few years ago.). Then there’s Bone Gap, which has gotten such amazing buzz (and was super quick to show up in my request queue).

My younger guy requested a new Agatha Christie to read together. So I added A Pocket Full of Rye to the pile. This is the same kid who made me that wonderful paper airplane.

The purple notebook is full of notes I took while reading You Are Not So Smart and will perhaps, perhaps be used in some sort of future novel. Who knows? The stickies I used to mark quotes have been transferred to You Are Now Less Dumb , since I’m sure there’ll be more I’ll want to write down. One, of course, is decorating my paper airplane because it’s extra pretty that way.

There are three pens stashed up there because I’m always convinced I won’t have one when I start on the Sunday crosswords. I suspect the pencil is left over from picture book drafting (because I can’t draft in pen and I refuse to work a crossword that way).

So now you know what’s going on in my little corner of the reading world.

 

 

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4. The Kind of Email that Warms My Heart

The subject line says We Loved May B!

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Hello, Ms. Rose. 

I am sitting at my computer at school.  A lovely group of my fifth grade girl students and I JUST FINISHED reading May B!  We plan to write you “old-fashioned letters”, but just had to visit your web site and tell you how much we loved the book.

“ I liked how May was a very persistent girl.”  ~ V.

“ I liked how she was brave enough to dig out a hole and try to walk home. “  ~ M.

“I like how she took care of herself by herself in the soddy.” ~  M.

“ I like how she was brave with the wolf.”  ~M.

We loved it!!!!  Thank you!

I pretty much have the best job in the world.

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5. Bring the Joy

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I love this picture taken by verse novelist Sarah Tregay, who is working on a verse novel alphabet for National Poetry Month.

This is the first time in years that I haven’t devoted the entire month of April to poetry here on the blog. Part of this might stem from the fact I’ve written over a dozen guests posts and interviews of late, many focusing on poetry. Part certainly comes from a lack of preparation. I didn’t think to put out word to potential guest post writers ahead of time. And perhaps spotlighting poetry all of April has run its course for me. I’m not sure, really, where the truth lies. But I believe this month with poetry at its core is essential in the world of literature and a wonderful part of a rich and satisfying life.

I’ve gone through some of those guest posts I’ve worked on of late, pulling quotes that I hope might inspire you to speak of poetry joyfully to children:

On sharing poetry with children:

Because poets use line and stanza breaks to communicate, I feel like it’s helpful to both see and hear poetry. But please don’t let this stop you from sharing poetry with your children in a more informal way.

My love of poetry started with A.A. Milne. Hearing and then reciting his words, I could feel the rhythm, rhyme, and repetition that is such a mainstay in his style. Poetry’s word play and its similarity to music where the things that fired me up as a girl.

Share all sorts of poetry with your children. Let it be playful, joyful, fun. — Simple Homeschool

On encouraging children to try verse novels:

My plea to well-read and well-intentioned adults is to not let your biases or perceptions discourage a child from trying a verse novel. I’ve heard a librarian say she’ll only buy the books her students will read. How is she sure exactly what that is? Is she just serving the largest reading audience in her library? Is there a smaller number of readers who would pick a verse novel first thing and is waiting for the opportunity? And what about exposure to all types of books, whether it’s a child’s first choice or not? Our job as adults is to inspire children to read and to celebrate literature in all its forms. Let’s make sure verse novels are a part of the reading materials we make available to the young people in our lives. — Clear Eyes, Full Shelves

And finally, from the brilliant Billy Collins, consider coming to poetry this way:

…take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
Introduction to Poetry

Happy National Poetry Month, friends!

 

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6. An Interview with Anna Ingwersen, author of THE MOON GARDEN

Anna Ingwersen is a native Texan who spent her crucial years in New Mexico (still miss those sunsets) and has now settled in Edinburgh where she writes, reads, mothers, and teaches yoga. Currently, she’s working on another historical fiction novel and a short story. Her last short story,” The Snowbird,” was published in Deep South magazine. Anna’s been writing stories for as long as she can remember, including a sequel to Gone with the Wind, co-authored by Caroline Starr Rose, at the age of ten.

Please tell us about your book.

The Moon Garden is historical fiction taking place against the backdrop of pre and post Civil Rights Texas. Both main characters live under different societal constraints, James, as a black man passing for white, and Elana, as a free spirited abstract artist. Their attraction is strengthened by their shared identities as outsiders. However, their love affair cannot protect them from circumstances beyond their control, forcing decisions that, thirty years later, may finally be redeemed.

It’s a love story, but also a story about identity, ethics, and how the daily decisions we make shape the course of our entire lives. I also explore how we are limited by the times we are living in and how we struggle to create authentic lives under these constraints.

I’d never heard of Texas’s Veterans’ Land Act Scandal before reading your book. What drew you to this subject?

The Texas Veterans Land Board Scandal provided additional historical backdrop for the story. It was the biggest scandal in state history, one in which state land promoters and politicians were involved in cheating veterans, many of whom were black, out of low interest state backed loans for land. I was drawn to this scandal because at the time I was working in state government and could see how easily people can forget their ethics and forget they work as civil servants. After reading about the scandal, it just seemed ripe for a juicy novel! It was unbelievable how high and deep it ran, how a prominent lawyer investigating the scandal was the victim of an attempted murder via a car bombing, and how the story broke because an intrepid reporter from a small town followed his instincts and went on to win a Pulitzer for his work.

The glimpses you give us of both Austin and Galveston feel intimate and familiar. Can you talk a little about the importance of setting and specifically why you’re drawn to write about Texas?

I’m a Texan and spent most of my life in Austin and near Galveston. I love these two places for different reasons, and both places are very dear to my heart. Both places are very evocative for me. I suppose I’m always a bit homesick, and writing about these places helps me to be there on those days I miss hearing a mourning dove cooing outside my door or a cheeky grackle giving me a disapproving look.

Also, as a writer, I feel setting is an essential character in a book. I want a reader to feel they are fully immersed in the story and setting allows that to happen. As a reader I also love books with a well-drawn setting. It takes me somewhere new, a little holiday without leaving home.

Moon Garden moves between the 1950s past and the 1980s present. What made this the best way to tell your story?

I liked the idea of a man who had lived an extraordinary life during difficult times, looking back on his life and trying to make sense of it all. America’s history is so short and I felt contrasting the 1980s and the 1950s illustrated that really well. Only thirty years span between Jim Crow and the 1980s. So much had changed, yet for many, what they had experienced in terms of social change, wasn’t ancient history, and still isn’t!

What are some challenges associated with telling a story from two different character’s perspectives? What are some advantages?

I felt like I really knew James and Elana, so for me, I had to write from both perpectives. Both suffer from different, yet powerful societal constraints, and I was passionate about exploring that. I think if your characters both have a story to tell, then do it, just make sure they both need to be there. For a while, I didn’t want to listen to Elana and then she came out and demanded to be heard. It evolved that way naturally and through valuable feedback, I was able to let her come through.

I think the advantages of writing from two perpectives are that you get to see two different takes on the same events, that you see reality can be extremely different for two people living in the same time. I’ve always been fascinated by the diversity of experiences we all have and how it shapes our actions and who we are.

The post An Interview with Anna Ingwersen, author of THE MOON GARDEN appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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7. Good Friday

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By Thy birth, Thy cross, and passion
By Thy tears of deep compassion
By Thy mighty intercession
Lord and Savior, help us!

Lo, The Storms of Life Are Breaking

 

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8. Links for National Poetry Month

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Writing the Young Adult Verse Novel :: Axon Journal

Concerning Craft: Poetry as Practice, Poetry as Life :: Little Patuxent Review

The Art of Writing and Reading the Verse Novel :: The Children’s Book Review

Top Ten Poetry Videos for National Poetry Month :: Booksource Banter

30 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month :: National Poetry Month

Young Readers and the Magic of the Verse Novel :: Clear Eyes Full Shelves

Field Notes: “This is Too Much!” Why Verse Novels Work for Reluctant Readers :: The Horn Book

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9. On My Nightstand

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Yes, one book has been here quite some time. I’ll read it soon. Really!

What’s on yours?

 

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10. Why We Read

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A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.
—Italo Calvino

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11. Straight From the Source: Kathryn Fitzmaurice on Writing Historical Fiction

When Kathryn Fitzmaurice was thirteen years old, her mother sent her to New York City over the summer to visit her grandmother, who was a science fiction author. After seeing how her grandmother could make the characters in her books into whomever she wanted, Kathryn decided that she, too, wanted to become a writer someday. Years later, after teaching elementary school, she now writes full time and lives with her husband, two sons, and her dog, Holly, in Monarch Beach, California.

Kathryn is the author of The Year the Swallows Came Early (2009, HarperCollins), A Diamond in the Desert (2012, Viking), and Destiny, Rewritten (2013, HarperCollins). Visit her at www.kathrynfitzmaurice.com or at http://kathrynfitzmaurice.blogspot.com/   

How did you conduct your research for A Diamond in the Desert?

Kathryn:  Very carefully and with an amazing amount of note taking.  I conducted several interviews over the course of two years and read through four years of THE GILA NEWS COURIER, which was on microfiche.  I collected photographs and maps, printed several pages from the newspaper, and kept all of this in a file.  I made sure to find at least one other back-up source, which confirmed what I had learned, so that I had two primary sources.  In some cases, I was unable to do this, but for the most part, I did my best to confirm what I had learned.  This was so that when the copy editor asked a question, or was attempting to confirm a fact, I could easily send her what I had.

How long do you typically research before beginning to draft?

Kathryn:  I make sure ALL of my research is complete before I start writing.  This is because I want to understand everything that has happened in my story before writing the first word.  I need to know how the story will begin and how it will end.  I believe that by making a timeline in my office on the wall (with sticky notes) that this helps me to know where I am going.  Each day, I can write, using the timeline as a reference, and then the next day, I am able to pick up where I left off.  I also like to place photographs on my wall and maps of the area I am writing about.  All of these things help to keep me grounded in the time period I am writing about. 

What is your favorite thing about research?

Kathryn:  Finding something I had no idea had happened, and then deciding whether or not to include it in my manuscript. 

What kinds of sources do you use? 

Kathryn: Phone and in person interviews, newspaper articles from the Pacific Region National Archives Center in Laguna Niguel, online research, The Japanese American National Society in San Francisco, and California State University at Fullerton provided a collection of Japanese American interviews.

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

Kathryn: Being able to give a copy of the finished book to the person whose life it was written for.  In my case, I was able to do this because the gentleman I interviewed is still alive.  This was such a thrill and to this day, nothing brings more joy than to see how happy Mr. Furukawa was when he first opened A Diamond in the Desert and saw that it was dedicated to him.

Why is historical fiction important?

Kathryn: Historical fiction novels are able to show young readers a part of our history they may not be aware of.  These stories are important because often times, readers are introduced through a medium that brings more understanding and therefore, perhaps, more compassion toward a situation or group of people. 

The post Straight From the Source: Kathryn Fitzmaurice on Writing Historical Fiction appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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12. Writing Links

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Bullet Journaling (Children’s Author Version!) :: Kate Messner

Nine Things I Wish I’d Known About Publishing :: Alison Cherry

Protecting the Creative Self :: Mettie Ivie Harrison

The Privacy of Reading :: Avi

The Nitty Gritty on Authors, Signings, and Filthy Lucre :: Shannon Hale

Why You Should Do It For the Money (And Stop Feeling Guilty About It) :: Michael Hyatt

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13. Win a Ten-Copy BLUE BIRDS Book Club Kit!

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As I did with May B., I am donating to one lucky school, library, homeschool co-op, or reading circle a Blue Birds Book Club Kit. The kit will include the following:

  • 10 copies of Blue Birds
  • teacher / discussion guide
  • bookmarks and stickers for all readers
  • interactive Skype visit

Grades four through eight qualify. To enter, simply tell me about your readers and why Blue Bird is a good fit for your group in the comments below. That’s it! 

The contest is open to US residents only. Winners will be announced March 27. Thanks to G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers for providing the books.

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14. Classroom Connections: THE ACTUAL AND TRUTHFUL ADVENTURES OF BECKY THATCHER by Jessica Lawson

age range: 8-12

setting: 1860 Missouri; retelling of Tom Sawyer

curriculum guide

Jessica Lawson’s website

“The deliciously impetuous, devilishly clever, and uncommonly brave Becky Thatcher is now one of my all-time favorite heroines, and I’m desperate to follow her on more adventures. Captivating, exciting, and great barrels-full of fun, this is a book to adore.”
Anne Ursu, author of The Real Boy and Breadcrumbs

A delightfully clever debut.”
– Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Young readers will race through this adventure, while teachers and adults will delight in its gold mine of creative parallels.”
– BookPage

Please tell us about your book.

The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher is part origin story, part retelling of Mark Twain’s classic The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Written from the perspective of Becky Thatcher, it takes the setting and many characters from Twain’s beloved work and forms a new plot that puts Becky in the spotlight as she grapples with the after-effects of her brother’s death and has adventures in his honor. Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain), who was actually a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi during the time of the novel (1860), makes several appearances and serves as a reminder that every writer’s stories and characters have an origin.

What inspired you to write this story?

I’ve always admired the wit and wisdom of Mark Twain. His books are among the most treasured of my personal collection. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer caught my eye while I was dusting my bookshelf one day, and I found myself thinking about how, as a much younger reader, I had wanted nothing more than to run around with Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, making mischief and having adventures. As I thought about the other characters, I considered the fact that I’d never really connected with Becky Thatcher. Why was that? Upon reflection, I think it was because Becky, an iconic female character in her own right, didn’t get to embrace the same things/traits that the boys did. And although her actions and manner fit Twain’s image of the character perfectly, they didn’t really fit the girl I had been. So as an adult, I decided it could be fun to give Becky Thatcher an opportunity to embrace adventure and see what she did with it.

Could you share with readers a lesson learned while conducting research?

During my normal research process for historical fiction, one of favorite things to do is read old newspapers. Not only do I discover a sense of what sort of things were newsworthy, but I get a sense of language and culture. I also like to hunt down academic articles; for a recent Work-In-Progress, an internet search helped me find some article titles that sounded informative, intriguing, and pertinent to my setting/plot. I sent an email to the author, a professor at New York University’s Irish House, explaining who I was and that I was hoping to get access to a few of his articles that were only published in a (very large, very expensive) anthology. I was so thrilled when he responded, attaching the requested articles and wishing me luck with my project. The lesson I learned is that people, even ones that may seem intimidating in skill level/profession, are nearly always willing to help. So ask. 

With my Becky Thatcher book, my research was fairly limited, concentrating mostly on finding biographical information about Samuel Clemens’s life. I avoided close re-readings of Tom Sawyer until after I’d written several drafts to avoid any subconscious tendency to try to copy Twain’s voice. I wanted any similarities in tone to come out naturally and not be forced.

What are some special challenges associated with retellings?

I wrote something several months ago about the nature of retellings and how such a large variety of approaches exist, making it difficult to establish “rules.” But my personal guidelines for retellings always involve the following three things:

First, you should love the original work as written and have respect for the author. In my opinion, a retelling shouldn’t be undertaken in order to “fix” something that the original author did wrong, but rather to bring fresh attention and a new perspective to a well-loved tale.

There must be at least one large twist. But the twist should be a playful/thoughtful/deliberate one that has meaning within the original elements, not just a random item. Know why you’re changing a key element of the story and be confident in your reasoning.

Keep the heart of the original in mind and try your best to honor it. While my own retelling of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer alters personalities and changes plot elements, the themes of learning what it means to grow up and struggling with losing pieces of childhood are still there and are recognizable.

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

I think the inclusion of historical figure Samuel Clemens could promote interesting classroom discussions on who the “real” Mark Twain was as a younger man and how writers form their stories.

Themes touched upon in my book are things that students deal with each day in both home life and school situations (morality, friendship, telling truth and lies, labeling people, decision-making, consequences of choices) as well as a couple of more personal, sensitive themes (loss and grieving).

Simon & Schuster was kind enough to put together a curriculum guide for the book as a standalone and also as a companion to both The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 

The post Classroom Connections: THE ACTUAL AND TRUTHFUL ADVENTURES OF BECKY THATCHER by Jessica Lawson appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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15. An Afternoon in Pictures

Yesterday we celebrated Blue Birds at Page One.

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I got to give a little Over in the Wetlands: A Hurricane-on-the-Bayou Story previewAlso, it seems I took a nap.

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Look! There’s my student teaching partner, Eva!

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Thank you, friends, for all your kindness these last few days. It’s been a wonderful privilege giving my book over to you.

 

 

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16. Reviews are In!

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Don’t forget to enter for a chance to win one of four Blue Birds poetry rings.

Composed in varying formats, the descriptive and finely crafted poems reveal the similarities the two girls share, from loved ones lost to hatred between the English and the Roanoke to a desire for peace…Fans of Karen Hesse and the author’s May B. (2012) will delight in this offering.
— Kirkus

Rose skillfully paints the abject loneliness that primes both girls for friendship… Though the poems generally alternate between the girls’ voices, Rose occasionally combines both perspectives into a single poem to powerful effect… Rich with detail, it’s a memorable account of a friendship that transcends culture and prejudice.
— Publisher’s Weekly

With two compelling main characters and an abundance of rich historical detail, Rose’s latest novel offers much to discuss and much to appreciate.
— School Library Journal

The author skillfully builds conflict between the colonists and the Native Americans and between Alis and Kimi and their respective families… It is an excellent historical offering and belongs on public and school library shelves.
— VOYA

An imaginative historical novel with two sympathetic protagonists.
–Booklist

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17. Four BLUE BIRDS Poetry Rings: A Giveaway

Last fall I decided I wanted some sort of artistic representation of Blue Birds. It was meant to be a gift to myself, a celebration of the love and hard work I’d put in, and perhaps something I could share with readers, too. Some of you have seen (and received) the lovely, lovely Pinch of Daring print Annie Barnett of Be Small Studios made.

Today I want to share another beautiful Blue Birds token.

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Kerry Gauthier of CS Literary Jewelry has designed two different Blue Birds rings, each with a different portion of a poem. I have four rings to give away.

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The way to enter to win a ring is super easy. Simply take a picture of yourself with a copy of Blue Birds and share it on Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #BlueBirds. Because the book is about friendship, here’s where I sweeten the deal: Take a picture with a friend, add in a copy of Blue Birds, and you’ll both be entered to win. Winners will be announced Wednesday, March 18.

I can’t wait to see what you have to share!

 

 

 

 

 

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18. A Cover for the BEEN THERE, DONE THAT Anthology

Twenty children’s authors (including little ol’ me) have written pieces for the BEEN THERE, DONE THAT anthology, publishing this November. Each author contributed a piece of narrative non-fiction paired with a related short story. The purpose is to show young readers how real life influences fiction.

Been There, Done That cover (1)The fun thing about this cover, beyond its playful and engaging style, is the entire jacket — front, back, and flaps — includes images that represent each story in the book.

My contribution was inspired my my mother’s girlhood club, The Little Nippers. As a kid, nothing was better than a story about these fourteen girls who met weekly for four years without any adult supervision. The were smart, passionate, creative, strong-willed, and energetic. I never tired of hearing about their adventures, which sometimes included mischief, fights, and tears. My story, written in verse, centers on one of their activities meant to be constructive but that often ended in hurt feelings, a game the Nippers called a Lemon Squeeze.

Happy reading this November!

 

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19. On Writing Historical Fiction

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My beat may lie in another time, but my approach is that of a reporter, trying for a scoop, looking for clues, connecting facts, digging under the surface. . . . History is full of gossip; it’s real people and emotion. — Jean Fritz

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20. Straight From the Source: Janet Fox on Writing Historical Fiction

Janet Fox writes award-winning fiction and non-fiction for children of all ages. Her 2010 young adult debut novel, FAITHFUL, was an Amelia Bloomer List pick, and was followed in 2011 by a companion novel, FORGIVEN, a Junior Library Guild selection and WILLA Literary Award Finalist. Her newest YA novel, SIRENS launched in November 2012; the Kirkus reviewer said in part, “SIRENS is a celebration of girl power, sisterhood, and hope for the future.” Janet is a 2010 graduate of the MFA/Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts and a former high school English teacher. Janet and her family live in Bozeman, Montana, where they enjoy the mountain vistas.

What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?

Most of my stories begin with a scene, but it’s more like a dream sequence. I often have no idea what’s going on in the scene and who the characters are, but if it resonates at a deep level, has some meaning for me that I can’t – yet – put into words, then that becomes my mission: put this emotion into words. For example, the opening scene of SIRENS was also the first thing that came to me as I began thinking about the book, and that image of a wharf over the Hudson River at night was important but I had no idea why Jo was throwing medals into the water or why she was there, or even who she really was. Water, of course, became a motif, and Jo’s gesture was a metaphor for her to let go of the past.

As soon as I decide to go forward from my key scene, I focus on the character. I spend a lot of time thinking about my protagonist and my antagonist, although I do so very organically, because a great deal of what I learn comes through the drafting, since I’m a pantser. I write a lot of stuff that changes or goes away but that helps me discover who my character is and what she needs. My protagonist – her attitudes, behavior, dreams, desires – always drives my stories, not the other way around. When I write historical fiction it doesn’t change the fact that readers want stories that help them reach into their buried dreams, and they do that by identifying with the character.

What kinds of sources do you use? 

I use a number of sources, everything from primary on. I read novels written in the period because they tend to mimic the voice of their era, and contain details that I can use. I look for period costumes in pattern books and magazines of the times – which often reveal nice details like “hunting costumes” or the layers of undergarments. I do visit museums for visuals. And I try to find anything that will add nuance to the era I write about. In SIRENS, which is set in the 1920s, I wanted more than the usual flapper/gangster/Prohibition stuff, and while listening to the radio one night, I heard a discussion about the Spiritualism movement of the 1920s, and thought “that’s it.”

But my favorite resource, depending upon the era, is period newspapers. They are available on line, and I love perusing the society column and the ads, in particular. From those I can harvest a feeling for what people were dreaming about – what they wanted, aspired to acquire, and how much that might cost. And how the “society” behaved, which the lower classes might desire to emulate, or rebel against. Again, it comes down to individual desires and dreams.

At what point do you feel comfortable beginning to draft? How does your research continue once you begin writing?

I draft almost right away, because I start with that dream and character. I research as I go. That’s because I’m usually too impatient to start the story-telling to do research first! So I’ll write until I reach a point where I need to answer a question, like “what was the flu pandemic like?” or “what was happening in Chinatown then?” And then I’ll research, which is easy in this internet era. Other details – the sensory stuff that comes from place – I’ll either tap from memory and experience, or go to that place and soak it up. Or watch videos or comb through photographs, since I’m a very visual person.

I never spend much time researching in advance, because the story comes to me way before I know where and when to place it.

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

I do love history. It was my favorite subject in high school. I like the echoes and resonant desires, I like especially the somewhat mythic historic elements – things like Robin Hood, or the Roman conquest, or the western expansion in America. I like taking history and turning over the rocks to discover the personal and small within historical times. I love the idea of having a character hear a famous speech or witness an historical event, and then interpret it at the scale of an individual lifetime.

Has your research ever affected the overall thrust of your book? How so?

Always, but in unexpected fashion. In researching FAITHFUL, I learned that in the early 1900s there were still highway robberies taking place in Yellowstone Park, and tourists were relieved of their possessions, but thought this was highly romantic and exciting, so I worked that experience into the novel – and it became crucial to both FAITHFUL and FORGIVEN. In researching FORGIVEN I learned of the importing of young – very young – Chinese girls who were sold into terrible slavery in San Francisco, and this became my protagonist’s larger goal, to free some of these girls. So while I have my core emotion and my character’s desire up front, I often find historical details that will bolster the story in unexpected ways.

faithfulforgiven

Why is historical fiction important?

That old adage about being condemned to repeat the things we don’t learn the first time is true, and there are lots of historical moments I wouldn’t care to repeat. Historical fiction makes history more accessible, especially to young people. It personalizes history, and sheds a different spotlight on details, and can bring into focus comparisons between today’s events and historical events. Plus, well-written historical fiction is just plain fun to read.

 

 

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21. Free Online Laura Ingalls Wilder Course: Part 2

2015-02-16 10.57.51Author, teacher, and editor Pamela Smith Hill will begin the second part of Missouri State University’s Laura Ingalls Wilder course on April 6, 2015. The course runs for eight weeks and will cover the second half of Wilder’s Little House series, starting with By the Shores of Silver Lake as well as the second half of Hill’s Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life. Wilder’s recently released autobiography, Pioneer Girl, (edited by Hill) is recommended reading.

If you weren’t part of the 7,000 students who participated in the first course, no matter! Anyone can sign up. Click through to enroll.

 

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22. Navigating a Debut Year: Public Life

                           All Over But the Shoutin' Wildflowers from Winter: A Novel A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar Circle of Secrets A Kingdom Strange: The Brief and Tragic History of the Lost Colony of Roanoke

I first ran this series five months after May B. hit the shelves. With Blue Birds releasing next week (!), it feels like the right time for me to revisit my Writer’s Manifesto — a list of things I’d like to focus on in my public, private, and writing life. 

This is not in any way meant to be preachy or condemning (please notice I’m directing all of this to myself). I have yet to figure everything out and am in many ways a pro at doing the exact opposite of what I know is best. Yet these are ideas I’ve circled back to again and again, things I know will ultimately benefit my career, my friendships, my writing and my life. I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

In my public life I will…
  • Be generous: In my interactions with others and in the way I conduct myself, I’d love to be known as generous. This doesn’t mean committing to every opportunity or request that comes. It means being warm, friendly, and supportive of the writing community and the publishers, teachers, librarians, booksellers and readers who make it all happen.
  • Speak well of fellow writers: Whether I know them personally or not. Whether I like their work or not. These people are my people. This is enough of a reason to speak kindly or not at all.
  • Conduct myself in a becoming way: While I can’t control what others think of me (more on that below), I can choose to present myself in a way I’m proud of, whether that be in person or through social media. I am in no way perfect, believe me, but I strive not to embarrass myself, the children I write for, or the people who publish my writing.
In my public life I won’t…
  • Add to or perpetuate gossip: In just these few months as a debut, I’ve already heard things about fellow authors that have broken my heart. Whether shared maliciously, as some sort of cautionary tale, or just for fun, it’s been more than I need to know. I refuse to participate in keeping the stories going, and I will ask you not share whatever it is you’ve heard about others with me.
  • Disparage others’ books, genres, or talents but will find value in what they create: For much of my life, I’ve been a self-proclaimed book snob. Many writers talk of becoming more and more critical as readers the longer they write. For me, some sort of weird opposite has happened. Because I know first hand of the hard work the writing life demands, I’m learning to appreciate books, topics, and styles I would have ignored years ago. The books I don’t connect with aren’t really my concern: they weren’t written for me. There is an audience for them somewhere.

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23. Navigating a Debut Year: Private Life

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I first ran this series five months after May B. hit the shelves. With Blue Birds releasing next week (!), it feels like the right time for me to revisit my Writer’s Manifesto — a list of things I’d like to focus on in my public, private, and writing life. 

This is not in any way meant to be preachy or condemning (please notice I’m directing all of this to myself). I have yet to figure everything out and am in many ways a pro at doing the exact opposite of what I know is best. Yet these are ideas I’ve circled back to again and again, things I know will ultimately benefit my career, my friendships, my writing and my life. I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

In my private life I will…
  • Err on the side of love: I got this beautiful quote from author Irene Latham, who first heard it from her mama. It’s a good way to think about the world in general and is especially important in our small community. Assume the best of others, their intentions, their actions. It will make you happier and kinder, too.
  • Let go of what I can’t control: This is pretty much everything from how my work is received by professional reviewers, bloggers, readers, and friends to sales, publicity, and marketing efforts outside my hands. I can do what I can, and that is all. It isn’t right or fair to try to own things that aren’t mine and never will be.
  • Be real with other authors in a safe, closed community: I’ve talked a lot about the Class of 2k12 and The Apocalypsies around here. Though both function as promotional groups for debut authors, they are first and foremost a place I can go for support. The debut year is full of new experiences only other debuts can truly appreciate and understand. Knowing I can go to these stellar people with anything has helped bolster and encourage me.
In my private life I won’t…
  • Hold my colleagues to unspoken expectations: This one is easy to do without even realizing it — trusting a colleague will read my book as I have read hers, assuming someone else will talk up my titles as I have for him, believing another should comment on my blog as much as I do on hers and on and on. Insisting others are beholden to me because of what I’ve done for them is a sure formula for heartache, especially when those friends have no idea of my expectations. Maybe they haven’t read my book yet but still plan to. Maybe they have, and out of an attempt to be courteous haven’t mentioned it because it wasn’t their thing. Maybe they’re not interested in it at all. Ultimately, it’s none of my business and becomes another opportunity to err on the side of love.
  • Compare or begrudge the successes, sales, or careers of others: About six months ago, there were a number of posts in the blogosphere about envy and contentment. There was tremendous response from readers confessing similar feelings. The drive to compare is such a gut-level thing it’s sometimes hard to avoid. Some people are able to use comparison as a sort of motivation for their own work. Not so with me. Comparison leads to frustration and feelings of inadequacy…or feelings of superiority, neither of which benefits me. My friends’ successes don’t somehow negatively reflect on my own efforts. There is room for all of us. Just because my career will unfold differently from someone else’s doesn’t make it wrong and doesn’t give me the right to be bitter with others’ success.

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24. Navigating a Debut Year: Writing Life

                  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers The Name of the Rose The Crimson Petal and the White Crossing to Safety Sophie's World

I first ran this series five months after May B. hit the shelves. With Blue Birds releasing next week (!), it feels like the right time for me to revisit my Writer’s Manifesto — a list of things I’d like to focus on in my public, private, and writing life. 

This is not in any way meant to be preachy or condemning (please notice I’m directing all of this to myself). I have yet to figure everything out and am in many ways a pro at doing the exact opposite of what I know is best. Yet these are ideas I’ve circled back to again and again, things I know will ultimately benefit my career, my friendships, my writing and my life. I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

In my writing life I will…
  • Write the stories that speak to me: I will continue to write what nourishes and interests me first and worry about the market second.
  • Seek guidance, support, and direction when needed: I will ask questions of my agent and editor when I’m unsure or need help. I will go to other writers in the same life phase or those older and wiser when I need assistance.

In my writing life I will not…
  • Lose my love for story, kids, or words: Once you’re published, art becomes commodity. It’s not right or wrong, it just is. I want my motivation and passion to remain firmly in the place it always has been. While there are no guarantees of success in writing this way, their is much joy, and this, in the end, is more important to me.
  • Compare one book against another: I choose not to be paralyzed by comparing my titles to previous books I’ve written. Each deserves to stand alone and has its own merit. The rest of the publishing world has the freedom to compare if they choose. For me to do so is unfair to new stories beginning to form.
  • Despair: If you know me well, you know panic is a part of my writing when I’m drafting something new. I fret that I don’t know how to write or have nothing new to say. But I can’t let that panic lead to despair. Reminding myself that things always start this way keeps things in perspective. Allowing myself to play with language and ideas is much more doable than telling myself I’m writing an entire book. Choosing to nurture rather than berate gives me permission to try.

It’s my hope that holding to what I’ve processed these last few months will keep me grounded, help me grasp the deep satisfaction writing brings, and hold at bay the things that only lead to disappointment.

What about you? What things do you want to uphold in your public, private, and writing lives?

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25. Releasing a Book Into the World

I come back to this quote often. It feels extra appropriate with Blue Birds launching tomorrow.

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Once a book is published, it no longer belongs to me. My creative task is done. The work now belongs to the creative mind of my readers. I had my turn to make of it what I could; now it is their turn. I have no more right to tell readers how they should respond to what I have written than they had to tell me how to write it. It’s a wonderful feeling when readers hear what I thought I was trying to say, but there is no law that they must. Frankly, it is even more thrilling for a reader to find something in my writing that I hadn’t until that moment known was there. But this happens because of who the reader is, not simply because of who I am or what I have done.

-Katherine Paterson, A Sense of Wonder: On Reading and Writing Books for Children

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