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1. A Pawful of Poem Quotes — Lee Wardlaw


“A dog…is prose; 
   a cat is a poem.”
– Jean Burden

I’m a poet – and a cat person. So in honor of National Poetry Month, here is a small pawful of my favorite poem quotes and cat pix.  Enjoy!  – L.W.

“A poet is… 
a person who is passionately in love with language.”
– W.H. Auden

“Poetry is life distilled.”
– Gwendolyn Brooks

“A poet’s autobiography is his poetry. 
Anything else is just a footnote.”
– Yevgeny Yevtushenko

“Poetry and I fit together. 
I can’t imagine being without it…
It is food and drink, it is all seasons, 
it is the stuff of all existence.” 
– Lee Bennett Hopkins


“Like a piece of ice on a hot stove
the poem must ride on its own melting.”
– Robert Frost

“Never let the mud puddle get lost in the poetry
 because, in many ways, the mud puddle is the poetry.” 
– Valerie Worth

“Poetry is a language 
in which man explores his own amazement.”
– Christopher Fry

“I am a revolutionary so my son can be a farmer 
so his son can be a poet.” 
– John Adams


“Poetry is like fish: 
if it’s fresh, it’s good; 
if it’s stale, it’s bad; 
and if you’re not certain, 
try it on the cat.”
– Osbert Sitwell

“A poet dares be just so clear and no clearer….
He unzips the veil from beauty, but does not remove it. 
A poet utterly clear is a trifle glaring.” 
– E.B. White

“If you can’t be a poet, be the poem.” 
– David Carradine

“Poems are the ‘daredevil’ of writing
because a poem will say what nobody else wants to say.”
– Ralph Fletcher


“A good poem leaves me with further questions about
what came before and what came after, 
just like a photograph.
Of course, I could make up my mind
 that poetry is like pond algae, too.
Or even ice cream.”
– Thalia Chaltas

“Writing a poem is making music with words and space.”
– Arnold Adoff

“Prose is words in their best order;
 Poetry is the best words in their best order.”
– Samuel Coleridge

Kid snack

“Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.” 
– G.K. Chesterton

“Poetry is the tunnel at the end of the light.” 
– J. Patrick Lewis

“The distinction between historian and poet
is not in the one writing prose and the other verse…
the one describes the thing that has been,
and the other a kind of thing that might be. 
Hence, poetry is something more philosophical
 and of graver import than history,
 since its statements are of the nature rather of universals, 
whereas those of history are singulars.” 
– Aristotle

“We especially need imagination in science. 
It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, 
but it is somewhat beauty and poetry.”
– Maria Montessori

“As poets we are archaeologists of the interior and external worlds.  
Our work builds bridges between the two.”
– Ellen Kelley

“I have no doubts that the Devil grins,
As seas of ink I spatter.
Ye gods, forgive my ‘literary’ sins –
The other kind don’t matter.”

– Robert W. Service


“I once found a pretty good poem in the ear of my cat.”
– Alice Schertle

Lee Wardlaw swears that her first spoken word was ‘kitty’. Since then, she’s shared her life with 30 cats (not all at the same time!) and published 30 books for young readers, including WON TON – A CAT TALE TOLD IN HAIKU (illustrated by Eugene Yelchin), recipient of the 2012 Lee Bennett Hopkins Children’s Poetry Award, the 2012 Myra Cohn Livingston Poetry Award, and the Beehive (Utah) Poetry Book Award.  WON TON AND CHOPSTICK, a companion title also illustrated by Yelchin, will be released by Holt in 2015.



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2. Tropical Rain Forest Sky Ponds — Margarita Engle

Here’s a poem by Margarita Engle from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science.

engle tropical jpg

Looking for more ways to connect science and poetry? Here’s a great place to start.

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3. Jumping In Feet First: A Guest Post at the Art of Simple


My first blog post ever  talked about my decision to leave the classroom and pursue writing full-time. Now I’m sharing about the experience over at The Art of Simple — how this crazy, counter-cultural choice was exactly right for me. Will you join me today?



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4. Poems About Science — Margarita Engle

My passion for poetry is combined with a love of nature. As a children’s book author, botanist, and agronomist, I don’t see why I should have to choose. There was a time when many naturalists also wrote poetry. During the twentieth century, specialization became the norm, and most scientific writing was strictly technical.

science front cover jpeg

Now, with THE POETRY FRIDAY ANTHOLOGY OF POEMS FOR SCIENCE, Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong offer teachers and students a chance to once again unite the two. Verses written in many styles help teach a wide variety of specialties, through the voices of an amazing array of poets.  I feel fortunate to have several botanical and ecological poems included. Even better, some of them are offered in a bilingual format.

The tropical island of Cuba has always been at the heart of my writing. As my mother’s homeland, it was the place where summer visits to relatives inspired my childhood love of nature. At the same time, I was an avid reader, and poetry books were my favorites, so any opportunity to combine nature and culture in my writing is treasured. My new verse novel, SILVER PEOPLE, is not only a historical tale about the laborers who dug the Panama Canal.  It is also a love letter to the tropical rain forest, using the voices of animals and plants to convey the astounding diversity of life forms.  In my middle grade chapter book in verse, MOUNTAIN DOG, I filled an adventure story with scientific facts.  Several of my picture books—currently in the illustration stage—combine poetry with science.

In short, one of the reasons I love writing for children is the freedom to experiment.  Unlike scientific works written at the specialized professional level, books for children can be filled with fascinating factual information, without sacrificing the beautiful mysteries of language.

Margarita Engle is a poet and novelist whose work has been published in many countries. Her books include THE SURRENDER TREE, a Newbery Honor book and winner of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, the Pura Belpré Award, the Américas Award, and the Claudia Lewis Poetry Award; THE POET SLAVE OF CUBA, winner of the Pura Belpré Award and the Américas Award; and HURRICANE DANCERS, winner of the Pura Belpré Award. Her most recent book, SILVER PEOPLE: VOICES FROM PANAMA CANAL, released March 25.

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5. Language and Imagination in Poetry — Robert Forbes

In my travels to schools and libraries doing readings of my poetry, I tell my listeners that word choice is the vehicle of writing, and imagination is its unlimited supply of energy.

For poetry, because it is such a distilled and precise form of writing, word choice is even more important. I tell them: find words with pizzazz, which say something about you, which are not expected and are not clichés. Be thoughtful, be playful, see where the words take you, let your words reflect who you are.

Here are a few of my poems that show this.

Dizzy Lizzie

A friend of mine, a giraffe named Lizzie
Also has the nickname Dizzy.

Her neck is very, very tall,
So tall she towers o’er us all.

She’s so tall it makes her proud,
For only she can eat a cloud.

Well of course giraffes have long necks, so how can you make a giraffe poem not be a cliché? So I made her different from the other giraffes. I think all of us at times have felt we were different from the other kids, so there is a lesson here. Lizzie likes her difference because it allows her to do something none of the other giraffes can do, and that is to eat a cloud. I then ask, What do you think a cloud tastes like? The answers usually start off with a scientific approach such as “water” and “fog” but then someone says “cotton candy!” Off we go! Imaginations kick in and soon we cover practically every food group!

Bitty and Bobby

Bitty the Bedbug bit Bobby the Bat
While he was tucked into his bed.
But he sleeps upside down
So she got turned around
And instead of his toe bit his head.

Ouch! This limerick form has a few elements going on. The ending is a bit unexpected and makes for a punchier poem. It is the first line, though, that I go back and reread and then have everyone repeat along with me. It’s a tongue twister, yes, but what is going on? I am having fun using the same letter, B, for most of the words. I am delighted when a 3rd Grader can tell me that this is a device called alliteration. (So is the teacher!) This is some of the fun found in writing a poem.

As you can see, I inhabit an imagined world where the animals are my friends, and sometimes they talk to me, but in certain ways they always maintain their natures. I let each poem take me – and the reader – to a new place, using language and word choice to define the situation and personalities. What joy when I find the right combinations! Try writing poetry yourself and see what happens. You will be amazed at what you discover.

“He spends a lot of time looking out the window,” read one of Robert Forbes’ 7th grade report cards. Even so, he managed to graduate from school and university, and had a full-time career in the family business, Forbes Media. After 25 years in New York City and six in London, he and his wife and new dog Luna now reside in South Florida. Luna is a Jack Russell Terrier mix and is full of beans. Robert is the author of three books of poetry for children, BEASTLY FEASTS! A Mischievous Menagerie in Rhyme, 2007; LET’S HAVE A BITE! A Beastly Banquet in Rhyme, 2010; and, BEAST FRIENDS FOREVER!, Animal Lovers in Rhyme, published in 2013.  All three are from Overlook Press and fully illustrated by master caricaturist Ronald Searle.  Visit him at his website robertlforbes.com.



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6. Growing — Theresa Milstein

A year ago, I wrote the little poem “Becoming”  on Caroline’s blog as a way to portray my evolving relationship with poetry. Over time, my confidence as both a poetry reader and writer has grown. Publishing poems in places like Vine Leaves Literary Journal  and Halcyon magazine  further boosted my belief in my ability.

While I don’t devote nearly us much time to poetry as I do to reading and writing children’s books, it has become a thread in my life’s fabric. In fact, I’ve included poems in my recent YA to lyrically reflect my main character’s challenges and growth. And during this snow-centric winter, I wrote a little haiku:

Hush of falling snow
Shovel scraping on pavement
Mars the quiet mood

Floating, fleeting flakes
Ethereal, crystalline
Cannot capture—free

Did you know the snow
watched waited swollen crested
upon smoky breath?

Thick flakes descending
Like tears running down mourning
Wintertime farewell

My passion for poetry has found a perfect outlet. Recently, I joined the Vine Leaves Literary Journal staff as Publishing Editor’s Assistant.  One of my tasks is to read and vote on the shortlisted submissions. While workshops have challenged me to analyze poetry and determine why a particular poem is praiseworthy, I’ve never had to determine which ones fit a specific journal. It’s been thrilling and humbling. There are many talented poets. I’m proud to have contributed to the April issue. 

While I wait for the next batch of shortlisted submissions, I continue to read and write poetry. After this seemingly endless winter, which inspired too much bleak haiku, I want to share a little bit of warmth:

Trellises cradle
Vine leaves’ ascent while splendid
Morning Glories soar

I’d love if you’d share a spring haiku in the comments, written either by you or a favorite poet.

Theresa Milstein has poetry and short stories published in various journals and anthologies. While her small pieces are for adults, she primarily writes middle grade and young adult novels, and is active in the New England chapter of SCBWI.  She works in the public school system, which gives her ample time to observe tweens and teens in their natural habitat.

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7. Celebrating MISS EMILY — Jeannine Atkins

In April thoughts turn to poetry, and with poetry, thoughts often turn to Emily Dickinson whose life inspired this happy circus of a book. Almost every page of MISS EMILY by Burleigh Mutén gave me something to smile about as four children and the poet go on a small adventure. Ten-year-old Mac, a preacher’s son based on a real-life neighbor, narrates the verse novel aimed at children around his age. Characters easily shift the curtain of imagination as Miss Emily takes the role of Queen Prosperina and Mac becomes known as King Boaz the Brave. Queen Prosperina tells stories while leading the children through darkness to met night train carrying circus animals. The children feel safe with a trusted adult who follows the tradition of someone older and trustworthy, while not as dull and dependable as a parent, like Mary Poppins or the Professor in the house where children find a wardrobe that takes them to Narnia. Who’s child and who’s adult? What’s real and what’s pretend?


An invitation to imagine comes through both the beautifully-chosen words and Matt Phelan’s charming graphite illustrations. No answers are pounded, so readers can enjoy the wondering, which is heightened, not lessened, when a mishap that briefly changes the tone, but only deepens the joy, teaches Mac about when to pay attention to Consequences. This book offers both an invitation to meet a poet and a reminder to keep playing. Miss Emily tells Mac, something most of us ache to hear: “Please never improve – you are perfect now.”

Jeannine Atkins is the author of Borrowed Names: Poems about Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C. J. Walker, Marie Curie and Their Daughters (Holt) and Views from a Window Seat: Thoughts on Writing and Life. You can learn more on her website at http://www.Jeannineatkins.com.




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8. Valerie Geary’s CROOKED RIVER has a cover!

Just have to jump in during the middle of National Poetry Month to share my my dear friend Valerie‘s cover for her debut novel, CROOKED RIVER, coming October 2014 (William Morrow). It’s an amazing book. I can’t wait for others to have a chance to read.

With the inventiveness and emotional power of Promise Not to Tell, The Death of Bees, and After Her, a powerful literary debut about family and friendship, good and evil, grief and forgiveness.

He is not evil. I am not good.

We are the same: broken and put back together again.

Still grieving the sudden death of their mother, Sam and her younger sister Ollie McAlister move from the comforts of Eugene to rural Oregon to live in a meadow in a teepee under the stars with Bear, their beekeeper father. But soon after they arrive, a young woman is found dead floating in Crooked River, and the police arrest their eccentric father for the murder.

Fifteen-year-old Sam knows that Bear is not a killer, even though the evidence points to his guilt. Unwilling to accept that her father could have hurt anyone, Sam embarks on a desperate hunt to save him and keep her damaged family together.

I see things no one else does.

I see them there and wish I didn’t. I want to tell and can’t.

Ollie, too, knows that Bear is innocent. The Shimmering have told her so. One followed her home from her mom’s funeral and refuses to leave. Now, another is following Sam. Both spirits warn Ollie: the real killer is out there, closer and more dangerous than either girl can imagine.

Told in Sam and Ollie’s vibrant voices, Crooked River is a family story, a coming of age story, a ghost story, and a psychological mystery that will touch reader’s hearts and keep them gripped until the final thrilling page.

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9. Anaphora — Margaret Simon

I am particularly fond of poets laureate.  In my experience, every one I have met has  a gentle, generous soul.  Ava Leavell Haymon is no exception.  She is the Poet Laureate of Louisiana for 2013-2014.  She recently came to my hometown for a poetry reading.  The best part of her visit was the personal time I was able to spend with her.

As a poet and teacher myself, much of our conversation turned to poetry and teaching.  She told me about the technique of using anaphora.  Anaphora is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive phrases for poetic effect.   In her latest collection, Eldest Daughter, Ava uses anaphora in a few of her poems.  She explained to me how this technique helps you focus on the details.  A simple test: Read this poem aloud and then list all the details that you remember.  There are probably quite a few.

2014-01-13 17.03.55

Color of the Moon

Anyone can name a baby
Anyone can name the town, too, at least in theory
Anyone can name the color of the moon

Who can name the last time?
Who can see it coming far enough ahead?
Who can find the marigold bed?
Who can remember the smell?

Anyone can guess what happened
Anyone could forget the next day
Anyone could hear the conviction in her voice
Anyone could see she has it all mixed up
Who could forget a thing like that?

Who can see as far as the river?
Who can try any harder than she did?
Who could leave after that? Who could stay?
No one says the same thing any longer
No one remembers the last thing they said
No one quite remembers how they got there
No one wants to be outside alone

–Ava Leavell Haymon, used with permission by the author

Another poet-friend, Clare Martin, used this technique in a poem she had published in the Mad Hatters Review.


This morning the house empties its sugar.
This morning something good has gone to rot.
This morning fire catches the pillows under our heads.
This morning the ground quakes with your rising.
This morning the night no longer haunts the air.
This morning the mirror reflects another mirror. Who is there to see it?
This morning we feed ourselves silence after silence.
This morning the cup cracks.
This morning: a new sun.
This morning crooked lines right themselves.
This morning the cat reveals her throat in a yawn.
This morning we walk into spider webs.
T his morning grief sours on our tongues.
This morning is written on a blank sky.
This morning a woman becomes more herself.
This morning there are shards of china under our bare feet.
This morning we weep in our sewing.

–Clare L. Martin, all rights reserved

This method of writing a poem works for students in upper elementary through high school.  Much like the I am From poem form of George Ella Lyons, the repetition of a line helps focus the poem.  For my students in 6th grade, I gave them a list of possible beginning words to use, such as anyone, someone, today, yesterday, in time, when I knew you, this morning, everyone, everybody knows, for you, until, how often, etc.

Whenever I ask students to write to a prompt, I write too.


Something rustles the leaves.
Something steams on the stove—
beans, tomatoes, thyme.
Something sounds like the morning,
but the sun is low in the sky.
Something rocks the chair.
Something chimes in the distance—
a church bell? a neighbor’s wind chime?
Something enters this poem without
me knowing it’s there.
Something squirms in the window.
Something sparkles in her hand—
a crystal? glint of glitter?
Something feels as soft as my grandmother’s cheek
When I kissed her goodbye.

–Margaret Simon

Margaret Simon is a Mississippi native who married into a Louisiana life.  She lives on the Bayou Teche in New Iberia, Louisiana with her husband, Jeff.  Their now empty nest once housed three daughters, Maggie, Katherine, and Martha.  Margaret has been an elementary school teacher for over 20 years, most recently teaching gifted students in Iberia Parish.  She has published poems in the journal The Aurorean, and wrote a chapter about teaching poetry to young children for Women on Poetry published in 2012 by McFarland  & Company, Inc. Publishers.  Border Press published her collection of poems with her father’s Christmas card art, Illuminate in fall of 2013.  Blessen, a novel for young readers, was published in April 2012, also by Border Press. In her teaching profession, she has a Masters degree in Gifted Education and certification by the National Boards for Professional Teaching Standards.  Margaret writes regularly about teaching, writing, and living athttp://reflectionsontheteche.wordpress.com.



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10. The World According to Uncle Charles — Charles Waters

Welcome to National Poetry Month.  In the next few weeks we’ll join the celebration by sharing posts from readers, teachers, authors, and poets. Here’s our first, from poet Charles Waters.

Ever tried.
Ever failed.
No matter.
Try again.
Fail again.
Fail better.

–Samuel Beckett

Those 12 words by Mr. Beckett pretty much describe what human existence is all about.  No one is great at EVERYTHING.  There’s always room for improvement, room to allow grace to come in and take you in a journey, whatever it may be.  I’m coming up on the 10 year anniversary of when I wrote my first poem, and in that time I realized that no matter how many children’s poems I write (or rewrite as it were) the process humbles me.

Poetry time Logo (1)To get you started on your poetic quest I suggest that you dear readers follow the advice of Uncle Charles and read children’s poems by the boatload.  Heaven knows there are enough books for you to get lost in.  Go to Section 811 of your library; pick out anything by old school masters such as Langston Hughes, Myra Cohn Livingston, Valerie Worth, Eve Merriam and David McCord as well as contemporary poets like Lee Bennett Hopkins, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Nikki Grimes, J. Patrick Lewis, Jane Yolen, Arnold Adoff and Allan Wolf.  That’s just for starters.  I advise you to take it one poem at a time, say the words at loud, read it multiple times, let the words flow out of your mouth into the universe.  This is what I did 10 years ago and the words of these poets and many others have never let me down.

When you write your own poems please don’t be afraid to make mistakes, you should make mistakes, otherwise you’re not writing.  Cross out words that don’t feel or sound right when you say them, flip sentences around, think in metaphors and similes, think about how your day was and write about it, think about your summer vacation, time spent with your beloved pet or pets, describe what usually happens at your family dinners.  There’s so much material you have inside you … unlock it.  One last bit of advice, believe in yourself because Uncle Charles believes in you.


Gazing at gothic,
Rib-vaulted ceiling
I pray for gentle hugs
To be received
Throughout humanity.

© Charles Waters 2014 all rights reserved.

Charles Waters’ poems have appeared in several anthologies: Amazing Places, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins (2015), The National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry, edited by J. Patrick Lewis (former Children’s Poet Laureate), The Poetry Friday AnthologyThe Poetry Anthology for Science and The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School, edited by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong, The Arrow Finds Its Mark: A Book of Found Poems, edited by Georgia Heard and The Crowd Goes Wild: A Global Gathering of Sports Poems, edited by Carol-Ann Hoyte and Heidi Bee Roemer.

Charles conducts his one man show POETRY TIME, as well as poetry performance workshops for elementary and middle school audiences all over the nation.

You can find him in the following places:

Website: www.charleswaterspoetry.com
Blog: www.charleswaterspoetry.com/#!blog/c16qh
Facebook: www.facebook.com/charleswaterspoetry
YouTube: www.youtube.com/thecharleswaters
Twitter: www.twitter.com/waterscharles

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11. And Finally…

…wrapping up the running theme

Some days are great, some days aren’t:
Some running days are fun, some start hard and get easier, some start easy and get hard. And there are some that you just have to get through. Writing is the same. Don’t let a hard writing day scare you from getting back into the groove.

Love what you do:
I’m slow, I’ve got funny form, but I love the way running makes me feel: strong and powerful and joyful, like a little kid.

While I set goals and due dates for certain projects, I never know how easily the words will come. This is where love for the writing process helps to sustain me. Last summer I got stuck on two stanzas for a picture book and couldn’t move forward for weeks. I spent hours and hours on what amounted to roughly twenty words. Twenty words! As frustrating as this was, I’m so thankful I kept returning to the story, sat with what I had, and trusted the words would come. The writing process has never worked the same way twice for me, but I love what eventually unfolds.

Find your rhythm:
There is something very familiar and comfortable about settling into your pace. The same can be said about your own writing process. Maybe you need music in the background. Maybe you have to re-read everything you wrote the last time you sat down. Whatever your system, if it works for you, use it. From that familiar place your work will grow.

Keep track of your goals:
Just like runners love to record their fastest times, make sure you’re paying attention to — and celebrating! — your progress: finishing a manuscript, positive feedback from critique partners, requests for partials from agents. Those milestones keep you moving forward.

When things don’t work, try something new:
I’ve had my share of injuries and have had to alter the way I’ve approached running. For months I practiced the walk/run system my sister swears by. Other times I kept all running to a mile — holding onto the fun and cutting back on the work.
Are you working on a manuscript you need to retire? Are you writing in a genre that just doesn’t fit? Give yourself permission to try something new or approach your work differently.

Metaphor for life:
Running is hard, but life is harder. When I push myself physically, I feel like I can take the world on.

Isn’t it just the same with writing?

This post originally ran March 16, 2011

Update:  A friend just told me about  What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, a memoir by author Haruki Murakami. Can’t wait to dig in!

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12. Running as a Metaphor for Writing

On Wednesday I posted about the similarities between running and writing. Today I thought it would be fun to look at some of these more closely:

In it for the long haul:
Just like the hard work required to add miles or increase speed, writers need to be committed long term. You can’t “become” anything overnight.

Every step counts:
It’s not glamorous to think about those early mornings you force yourself out of bed just to put one foot in front of the other. Neither is it deeply exciting to recall every word you’ve ever put down on paper. But each small effort builds on the next.

Hold onto success to motivate later:
Early last December, my sister called to tell me my brother-in-law wasn’t going to be able to make the half marathon they’d planned to run together. The race was in ten days. Would I like to take his place?

My longest race before this was a 5k. I had no time to train. My sister flew me out to Kiawah, South Carolina, where we walk/ran the first six miles. Then something came over me: I wanted to finish out the race on my own. Though I hadn’t run that far in years, I finished the last seven miles without stopping. I’ve used this moment as motivation ever since.

Have you ever had a breakthrough writing moment? A time you knew what your story was missing, a writing session where every word worked? Save those moments to use as future motivation.

This post originally ran March 11, 2014


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13. Writing and Running

Most of my life, I’ve thought runners were like Chemistry majors — skilled in a way I wasn’t and fans of pain and tedium. This all changed after my second son was born, when my walking partner of many months turned to me and said, “We’re running the next mile. Go!”

For weeks, we steadily built our distance. I insisted Rachel talk to me the entire time about books, teaching, raising boys, recipes — anything to distract me from the hard work. Somehow, while pushing that double jogging stroller and learning about couscous salads, I got hooked.

My husband wasn’t surprised. He’s always said I have the perfect personality for a runner: outdoorsy, disciplined, someone who craves time alone. I’ve never been fast, and as I’ve gotten older, worked through injuries, taken time off, and battled the adjustment moving from sea level to a mile above, I’ve gotten slower still.

Lots of runners talk about the grand thoughts they have while they’re covering the miles. While I’m not one of those (my mind is usually in rest mode while my legs do the tough stuff), I have, at times, thought through the similarities between running and writing.
Here are a few I’ve come up with:

  • be in it for the long haul
  • every step counts
  • hold onto success to motivate later
  • some days are great, some days aren’t
  • love what you do
  • find your rhythm
  • keep track of your goals
  • when things don’t work, try something new

Any other running writers out there? What similarities do you find between the two?

This post originally ran March 9, 2011

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14. Classroom Connections: WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE by Rebecca Behrens

age range: middle grade
setting: the White House

Please tell us about your book.

WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE is about what happens when Audrey, a somewhat lonely thirteen-year-old First Daughter, finds Alice Roosevelt’s long-lost diary hidden under the floorboards of a White House closet. After reading about Alice’s wild antics—carrying around a pet snake to parties, going for joyrides in her red runabout, traveling to Cuba, and throwing a huge White House debut—Audrey is inspired to find her own ways to “eat up the world.” But trying to live like Alice threatens to get Audrey into more trouble than she can handle—and may even affect her mother’s political career.

WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE features fictional diary entries from Alice’s point of view, along with an author’s note, bibliography, and many ancillary resources available on the publisher’s website (such as an Educator’s Discussion Guide, Women’s History Month lesson plan, and ALICE FOR REAL, an annotated version of the diary entries).

What inspired you to write this story?

Growing up, I was fascinated by children living in the White House. I’m still interested today in what private life is like for presidential families. Particularly when President Obama was elected in 2008, I wondered how the lives of his daughters would change as they headed to Washington. I imagined that there would be a lot of wonderful and exciting opportunities for them in the coming years—and probably some hardships, too. The idea of a “First Daughter” feeling a little isolated and constrained stuck with me and soon developed into Audrey’s character.

I also had long wanted to write fiction about Alice Roosevelt’s wild life. Interest in Theodore Roosevelt runs in my family—my great-grandfather was present at the famous speech TR gave in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, after TR had been shot in an assassination attempt. My father is a history buff and told me many stories about the Roosevelt family, and I found Alice particularly fascinating.

Then one day I was walking near 62nd and Madison in New York, and suddenly I had the initial spark to combine those two story ideas into one. Interestingly enough, while researching I found out that Alice’s aunt had lived at that very intersection, and that was a place where Alice had spent time as a young person. Weird!

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

Much of my research was done the old-fashioned way: heading to the public library and checking out lots and lots of books on Alice Roosevelt and White House life. I also used many online resources, including official White House websites, the White House Historical Association, National Parks Service sites, and unofficial pages that detail White House history.

I also was fortunate enough to be selected to attend a private White House Social garden tour. With about twenty other attendees, I got to tour the grounds and meet with White House employees. It was so helpful to get to see this particular setting in person, and to experience things like the security process for visitors.

While I was writing the first draft, a good friend happened to work in the West Wing. It was great to be able to send someone there an email asking, “What would happen if someone ordered a pizza to Pennsylvania Avenue?” Some of my friend’s responses made me interested in aspects of White House life I wouldn’t have thought of myself, such as food security at the White House.

What are some special challenges associated with writing historical fiction?

For me, it was challenging to balance the occasionally competing demands of factual accuracy and good fiction. Especially because I had so much information about Alice’s real life, I felt a bit of a responsibility to respect the facts while writing her diary entries. Sometimes, though, it felt more true for my Alice’s story to stray from what really happened, either because it fit the character I’d created or because it tied the two girls’ stories together more neatly.

Ultimately, I decided that I wanted to write the best piece of fiction possible, so I would have to side with that. Within reason, of course—I worked hard to make my Alice character as believable and true to her time period as possible.

I also think it can be tricky to get period writing for contemporary readers right. I hope Alice’s voice is believable as that of a seventeen-year-old in the early 1900s. I’m sure I’ve included a few anachronistic words here and there, even though I did rely heavily on the online etymology dictionary and other resources to see when terms came into use! But I also wanted her words to flow nicely and stay accessible for young readers today.

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

Presidential politics
Theodore Roosevelt, Alice Roosevelt, and family
Women in politics
Civil Rights and the 14th Amendment
Marriage equality
White House history and White House life
Women’s History Month
Researching fact versus fiction
Labor politics (Coal Strike of 1902)

Be sure to visit Rebecca Behrens at her website.

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15. The Native American Perspective in Literature

How to Write the Great American Indian Novel :: Sherman Alexie, Montana Public Radio
Diversity 101: Not Injun Joe :: Joseph Bruchac, CBC Diversity
American Indian Books for Young Adults :: CLN’s Heart of a Child
Native YA Protagonists :: Rich in Color
Best Native American Books for Children and Young Adults :: CLN’s Heart of a Child
Resources and KidLit on American Indians :: School Library Journal
Children’s Books for Native American Heritage Month :: Indian Country Today Media Network
Writing, Tonto and the Wise-Cracking Minority Sidekick Who Is the First to Die :: Cynsations


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16. Plowing, Planting, Hoping, Dreaming

I ran an earlier version of this post right after selling my first book. Because it’s one of my favorites, and because I so often need to hear these words myself, I share them again today. Keep plowing, friends.


It was 2004. While driving to meet my writing group, I happened to catch an interview on NPR with Adrienne Young, a folksinger just starting out. She talked about her first album, inspired by some advice she’d gotten while struggling to make it as a musician:

If you want to do this with your life, stay focused and see this through. You’ve got to plow to the end of the row, girl. That simple phrase – plow to the end of the row – was enough to push Adrienne to continue. It became the title of both her album and lead song. I can’t quite explain what that interview meant to me, hearing an artist choose to create despite the struggle, to push against fear and sensibility and make it “to the end of the row.” I’ve carried this image with me for years, the plant metaphor standing in for artistic endeavor, the plow the unglamorous slog needed to dig deep and make it to the end. Sometimes I find it funny I’d choose a profession so bent on forcing me to wait, so full of uncertainty and disappointment. An almost foolish optimism has kept me working, trusting that the next editor or the next agent or the next story would be the one to launch my career. I’ve haunted mailboxes and inboxes, waiting for something positive to come through. I’ve ceremoniously sent off manuscripts, chanting, “Don’t come back!” (entertaining postal workers, for sure). I’ve journaled again and again “this next editor is a perfect match!”, managing somehow to keep on plowing in midst of little validation. After twelve years of writing and hundreds of rejections, I sold my first book, May B., a historical verse novel about a girl with her own challenging row to hoe. May’s determination carried me through a rocky publication experience: losing my first editor; the closing of my Random House imprint, Tricycle Press; the weeks when my book was orphaned, with no publishing house to claim it and its future uncertain; the swooping in of Radom House imprint, Schwartz and Wade; edit rounds seven, eight, and nine with editor number two; and finally, May B.’s birth into the world only three months behind its original release date. Though each row’s length varies, they’re still mostly lonely, not very straight and loaded with stones. But the soil has gotten better as I’ve worked it, and each little sprout I’ve planted has been stronger than the last. And I keep at it — plowing, planting, hoping, dreaming — because I’m made for this. And knowing this is enough to continue, enough for my work to thrive.

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17. On My Nightstand

2014-03-08 16.45.55What’s on yours?


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18. Straight From the Source: Margarita Engle on Writing Historical Fiction

Please join me in welcoming Margaria Engle to the blog today.

Margarita is a poet and novelist whose work has been published in many countries. Her books include THE SURRENDER TREE, a Newbery Honor book and winner of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, the Pura Belpré Award, the Américas Award, and the Claudia Lewis Poetry Award; THE POET SLAVE OF CUBA, winner of the Pura Belpré Award and the Américas Award; and HURRICANE DANCERS, winner of the Pura Belpré Award. Her most recent book, SILVER PEOPLE: VOICES FROM PANAMA CANAL, releases March 25.final Silver People cover-1

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

I love to read anything I can find about Cuba, so when I encounter a historical figure who astonishes me, I get excited.  This is especially true for first person accounts.  For instance, while I was doing research for THE POET SLAVE OF CUBA and THE SURRENDER TREE, I encountered diaries that would later lead to THE FIREFLY LETTERS and THE LIGHTNING DREAMER.

How do you conduct your research? 

I love interlibrary loan!  I love diaries!  I love variety, so I read all the current nonfiction books and articles about a subject, then look at their bibliographies to find earlier works.  When I keep moving farther and farther back in time, sometimes I’m lucky enough to find first-person accounts.

You do have a specific system for collecting data? 

I’m an omnivore.  I read everything.  When something interests me, I fill index cards with notes.  It’s extremely low-tech.

What kinds of sources do you use?

New books, antique books, diaries, scholarly journals, bibliographies, helpful librarians, just about anything I can find.

How long do you typically research before beginning to draft?

A year of afternoons spent reading and re-reading about a subject (while writing my current project—using last year’s research—during the mornings.)  It’s difficult sometimes, because it means time traveling back and forth between the current project, future project, and my real life.

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

I don’t consider the research finished until I remember a lot about the subject without having to constantly look up details.  Of course, once the book is finished, I instantly forget everything, because my brain’s storage capacity is tiny, and by then it’s already starting to get filled up with information about the next project.

What is your favorite thing about research?

I love learning!  I’m in love with those aha moments when I wonder why I’ve never heard of this person, or this event, that seems so significant and inspiring.

What’s your least favorite thing about research?

The fear of making factual errors or incorrect assumptions, especially regarding earlier time periods, when there were few first-person accounts, and especially regarding indigenous cultures that left no written record.

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

The daydreaming!  I love to imagine.

What are some obstacles writing historical fiction brings?

Unfortunately, chain bookstores rarely stock my books.  They seem to be thought of as limited to the school and library “market.”  I don’t know if it’s because they’re historical, multicultural, or verse novels—possibly all three. I sometimes feel like a second-class citizen in the publishing world.

What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve learned while researching?

While researching HURRICANE DANCERS, I was invited to become a subject of the Cuban DNA Project.  I learned that my maternal ancestry is indigenous.  I am a descendant of the people I was researching!  This was especially thrilling because like all Cubans and Cuban-Americans, I had been brought up believing that Cuban Indians are extinct.  In other words:  the history books were wrong.

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

I once had an awkward experience at a conference.  I was sent into a roomful of teachers who were discussing THE FIREFLY LETTERS.  Most were polite, but one challenged me, saying she didn’t like the ending, because it was too hopeful.  She didn’t see hope as a realistic facet of slavery.  To quote her, she said my ending was, “happy ever after.”  In my defense, I explained that I only choose stories where I’ve found a hopeful ending.  Other stories might fascinate me as a reader, but as a writer, I don’t choose to offer hopeless endings to young people.

Because life isn’t always clear cut, the motives behind our actions don’t always make sense. But stories need to follow a logical path. What sorts of decisions have you had to make about “muddy” historical figures or events in order for your book to work?

Sometimes I create fictional characters in real situations.  Sometimes I combine fictional characters with historical figures.  This is the approach I took in my newest verse novel, SILVER PEOPLE: VOICES FROM PANAMA CANAL.  It’s such an incredibly enormous subject, involving hundreds of thousands of laborers from more than a hundred nations.  I had to narrow it down to a few characters.  When I tried to include too many, it fell apart, so I chose to focus on the ones I could picture most clearly, the ones whose voices reached me.

Why is historical fiction important?

Historical fiction can help us understand the enormous world, by learning about specific people, cultures, and events.  My hope is that young people will feel encouraged and inspired when they read about real people who made hopeful choices in times that must have seemed hopeless.


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19. Straight From the Source: Sonia Gensler on Writing Historical Fiction

I’m excited to share a new series about authors who write historical fiction. Please join me in welcoming Sonia Gensler today.

Sonia is the author of The Revenant, winner of the Oklahoma Book Award and a Parents’ Choice Silver Award. The Dark Between, her latest “lively Victorian mystey” (Kirkus), received praise for its “blending of the empirical and the ethereal” (School Library Journal) and “engaging, page-turning plot” (Examiner.com). Sonia grew up in a small Tennessee town and spent her early adulthood collecting impractical degrees from various Midwestern universities. A former high school English teacher, she now writes full time in Oklahoma. Learn more at www.soniagensler.com.

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

I usually start with a place. In the case of The Revenant, it was a building in northeastern Oklahoma—gorgeously Victorian with turrets and a clock tower—which I was surprised to learn had once housed a Cherokee girls’ boarding school. The Dark Between started with a city, Cambridge, and in particular a women’s college, Newnham, which lies a short distance away from the city center in a quiet wooded neighborhood. When a place intrigues me, I start to wonder what sort of people might have inhabited it, and what kind of joys and troubles they might have experienced.

What kinds of sources do you use?

I am very visually oriented, so I often start with Google image searches for people and places that relate to my story. Those images often lead me to historical documents, websites, and scholarly essays. I use Amazon as a database for books on my subject, and then do my best to check books out from our local university library (exploiting my law professor husband’s library privileges). I often end up buying books, as well—I can’t seem to help myself. Visits to historical societies and archives are also a must, but only after I’ve done some preliminary research and have a certain comfort level with the place and/or time period.

sonia's notebook for interviewWhat is your favorite thing about research?

Research is one of my favorite parts of story telling, but my very favorite thing about research is the travel! I simply have to see the landscapes of my stories first hand, which in the case of The Revenant meant many, many trips to Tahlequah, OK, (fortunately I have good friends there who welcome me into their homes) and four separate trips to Cambridge, England for The Dark Between. (Hey, it’s a write off, right?)

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

First of all, I love to time travel. But even more I appreciate the opportunity to show female characters as strong, intellectual, and independent in time periods when these attributes weren’t exactly valued as “ladylike.”

What are some obstacles writing historical fiction brings?

I suppose it’s more of a “pitfall,” but there’s often a temptation to show off all the fascinating little historical details one has learned by inserting them into the narrative. It’s hard to do this organically, and if it doesn’t serve story or character, it shouldn’t be there. Kate Atkinson, author of the fabulous Life After Life says it better:

As a reader I dislike historical novels where I am continually stumbling over an excess of facts although I readily understand the compulsion to include all the fascinating stuff that you’ve spent so much time reading about, but there are few things more uncomfortable for the reader than to be constantly stumbling over the pathologically recondite research of an author.

What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve learned while researching?

I became obsessed with 19th century female mediums before I even had the plot established for The Revenant. When reading The Darkened Room: Women, Power, and Spiritualism in Late Victorian England, I learned that women often were attracted to mediumship because it offered a way to have power, prestige, and even wealth in a way that wouldn’t compromise their reputations as ladies, particularly to those who recognized Spiritualism as a religion. I was fascinated by how female mediums manipulated their clients, capitalizing on their own beauty, maternal qualities, spiritual authority, and/or exoticness. Like I mentioned in a previous answer, I love writing about active, intellectual females doing their thing in a time when women were supposed to remain passive in the domestic sphere.


Courage and Hope
Congratulations to Jessica Lawson, Allison Jackson, Katie Newington, Lorna Wheaton, Faith Hough, Nicole McInnes, Vijaya Bodach, Irene Latham, Marissa Burt, and Valerie Geary, who’ve all won copies of May B. Your book will be coming soon!

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20. Classroom Connections: ICE DOGS by Terry Lynn Johnson + Giveaway

age range: middle grade
setting: the Alaskan wilderness
discussion guide

“A page-turner full of white-knuckle action. . . . Readers will be riveted until the end.”
—Publishers Weekly

“[A] thoroughly engaging and incredibly suspenseful survival story. . . Well-crafted, moving and gripping.”
– Kirkus

 Please tell us about your book.

 ICE DOGS is about 14-year-old Victoria Secord, a dogsled racer who loses her way in a blizzard on a training run near her home in Alaska. She rescues Chris, an annoying city boy, and together they must trust the dogs and each other in order to survive.

 What inspired you to write this story?


 I used to own eighteen Alaskan Huskies. My dog team and I shared many exciting adventures together out on the trail. But the thing I most wanted to share in my novel was the respect, trust, and partnership between a musher and her dogs. It’s a special bond that goes beyond owning a pet dog. Sled dogs have a job, they are relied upon and they know it. Watching them navigate thin ice or a tough trail with obstacles, you can see them thinking things through and working together. And they absolutely LOVE to run.


 Mad frothing love. That kind of passion is inspiring and made me want to write about it.

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

 I didn’t have to research much since I’ve run dogs near Nenana, Alaska years ago, and of course, have known quite a few entertaining sled dogs whose characters come out in this story. But I did peel the bark off some birch and eat the cambium underneath, which wasn’t as bad as it sounds. And I forced my hubby to drink twig tea with me. Yum!

 For interesting tidbits about dogsledding, readers can visit my website – I’ve listed a few things they might enjoy.

 What are some special challenges associated with writing Middle Grade?

 The challenge I’ve repeatedly encountered in my writing is which shelf the novel will go on. This may sound strange, but there is a grey area around books with main characters between 13 and 15. Is this story middle grade or young adult?

 I enjoy writing about characters who are in this tween time of their life. They’re interesting and full of drama and hope and new ideas and firsts. It was a magical time in my own life as well. And the books I read at that age made a huge impact on me.

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


There are an increasing number of classrooms who follow the major dogsled races. Some of them such as the Iditarod, the Pedigree Stage race, the Yukon Quest now have a great educational component. The “teacher on the trail” program usually includes a blog written by a teacher, which other teachers can follow with ideas and lesson plans. Here are just a few:


One copy of ICE DOGS is up for grabs! To enter, leave a comment below about something you learned from this interviewThe contest closes Wednesday, 3/5.


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21. On Writing

eubankOne of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place… Something more will arise for later, something better.
– Annie Dillard

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22. Giving A WRINKLE IN TIME A Second Chance

2014-01-18 15.06.03

As a reader and certainly as an author I understand the universal truth that no book is for everyone. And for most of my life I’ve believed A WRINKLE IN TIME was a book not meant for me.

Join me at Nerdy Book Club today to read the rest.

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23. Writing Links


Respect Your Process: It’s the Only One You’ve Got :: Kimberly McCreight

A Brief History of Young Adult Literature :: CNN Living

Wise Words from Anne Lamott :: Lisa Schroeder

Top Ten Tips to End Writer’s Block Procrastination :: Psychology Today

False Starts :: Kate Griffin

What Happened to Your Book Today :: Kate Messner

Writer Imaging: Your Vision of Success :: Writer’s First Aid

9 Ways to Undermine Your Characters’ Best Laid Plans :: Writer Unboxed

I Don’t Want An Honest Critique :: Darcy Pattison

getting good at it: the three secrets of writing (and pretty much everything else) :: “Nothing is wasted on the writer.” (Crescent Dragonwagon)


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Making art now means working in the face of uncertainty; it means living with doubt and contradiction, doing something no one much cares whether you do, and for which there may be neither audience nor reward…Making the work you want to make means finding nourishment within the work itself.

One of the basic and difficult lessons every artist must learn is that even the failed pieces are essential. People who need certainty in their lives are less likely to make art that is risky, subversive, complicated, iffy, suggestive, or spontaneous. What’s really needed is nothing more than a broad sense of what you are looking for, some strategy for how to find it, and an overriding willingness to embrace mistakes and surprises along the way. Simple put, making art is chancy — it doesn’t mix well with predictability.

Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable, and all-pervasive companion to your desire to make art. And tolerance for uncertainty is the prerequisite to succeeding. …Fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work, while fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your own work.

Artists get better by…learning from their work. They commit themselves to the work of their heart, and act upon that commitment. So when you ask, “Then why doesn’t it come easily for me?”, the answer is probably, “Because making art is hard!” What you end up caring about is what you do, not whether the doing came hard or easy.

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25. Tomato Love

tomato loveI have this thing with finding hearts in unexpected places. Here’s one that will be lunch soon.

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