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Welcome! We are six children's book authors with a wide range (and many years) of experience teaching writing to children, teens, and adults. Here, we share our unique perspective as writing teachers who are also working writers. Our regular features include writing exercises (our "Writing Workouts"), teaching tips, author interviews, book reviews, and answers to your "Ask the Teaching Authors" questions.
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1. Livin' La Vida Loca: I Love the Writing Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

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2. 3 Tips to Making a Living as a Writer & a Funny Story About Making Money as a Poet

Howdy, Campers ~ and Happy Poetry Friday!  My poem's below, as is the link to today's Poetry Friday round-up.

The topic we TeachingAuthors are knocking around this time is Making a Living as a Writer.

Carmela starts us off with a TeachingAuthors' Book Giveaway of the 2016 CWIM which includes two of her articles, once of which is aptly titled, Making a Living as a Writer; Esther addresses the many ways she's made writing pay...and other pay-offs that result, and our Wednesday Writing Workout, written by former TeachingAuthor Laura Purdie Salas, is titled Is Writing on Assignment Right for You?

So--what are my 3 Tips to Make a Living as a Writer?

1) Write a Classic.
2) Find a Secondary Occupation which actually pays.
3) Define Making a Living

(Hmm...maybe Define Making a Living should come first.)

from morguefile.com

And now for a story about making money as a poet.

I've sold poems to anthologies, testing services and magazines.  Between 1995 and 2011 I sold 30 poems to Carus Publishing Company (publisher of Cricket Magazine and many others). I'm going to brag here because it still makes me proud: in 2003 they asked me to write a poem for a progressive story in honor of the 30th anniversary of Cricket.

At the time, they paid $3 per line.

In 1997 I asked John D. Allen, my all-time favorite editor, if I might possibly be given a raise.

John's response: "As for $4.00 per line...well, I'm afraid we can't do that. Our policy is to keep the same pay scale for all poems.  Sorry. I hope that's not too much of a problem."

Okay, I wrote. Could you give me a free subscription to Cricket? My son was then eight years old.

He replied: "I wish I could offer you an author discount or a subscription credit against your sales, but I'm told I can't. We don't give out much of any discounts besides the early renewal one you checked on your form.  And shifting author payments toward subscriptions would create some sort of accountant's nightmare around here. (Actually, that's all a lie. I was told I could offer you any sort of discount I wanted, as long as the difference came out of my salary. So I thought, Well, I could make April's life a little easier, and it wouldn't cost me much--probably just the price of the cinnamon Pop-Tarts I was planning to buy for an afternoon snack. But then, well, one thing led to another, and to make a long story short, the Pop-Tarts were delicious.)

I loved working with John.  I loved seeing my poems in BabyBug, Ladybug, Spider and Cricket. I surrendered.  Sort of.

In 1998, I responded to his suggestion that I cut a repeated stanza from a poem he'd accepted:

"I'm so glad you like the poem, "Music Critic"! I have enclosed the poem as it reads without the repetition and also another version to see if there might be some way we could keep the repetition in the poem.  Do the new repeats make it any clearer for your readers? If not, I'd be glad to omit the second stanza. I do like the repetition and will probably re-insert it if it gets published again...but I also trust your judgment for your readers.

My husband Gary, who is a CPA (deep into Tax Season as I write this) asked me to ask you if you were going to pay me for the invisible stanza."

Here is the poem John critiqued--without the repetition:

by April Halprin Wayland

This guy drags his drum set onto the sand
so that I have a front row seat
takes off his jeans jacket
snaps his wide red suspenders
and lets loose:

he is in his space
sun is on his face
gulls in the air
clouds in his hair
Go man, go! 
I clap against the shore,

rise up and give him a standing ovation 

published in Cricket Magazine December 1999
© 2015 by April Halprin Wayland. Used with permission of the author, who controls all rights

This poem was subsequently awarded SCBWI's 1999 Magazine Merit Award for Poetry. (You're right, John!  I take it all back!)

*  *  *

If you haven't already done so, enter our latest Book Giveaway of the 2016 Children's Writer's & Illustrators Market

Now, click over to today's Poetry Friday on my juicy little universe ~ thanks for hosting, Heidi!

posted with love by April Halprin Wayland, who just got home after a beautiful and challenging six mile hike in Malibu followed by an electric car adventure (long story)

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3. Wednesday Writing Workout: The Cinderella Trifecta: Is Writing on Assignment Right for You?

Today, I'm happy to welcome back former TeachingAuthor Laura Purdie Salas with a guest Wednesday Writing Workout tailor-made for our current TeachingAuthors' series on how we each "Make a Living as a Writer." Laura was one of the authors I interviewed for my article of the same title that appears in the 2016 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market, edited by Chuck Sambuchino (Writer's Digest Books). If you haven't entered our drawing for a chance to win your own copy of the 2016 CWIM, be sure to do so here, AFTER you try Laura's eye-opening writing exercise below.

<!--[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE <![endif]--> Wednesday Writing Workout:
The Cinderella Trifecta: Is Writing on Assignment Right for You?
by Laura Purdie Salas

Hey, it’s fun to be back here at TeachingAuthors I was honored to be interviewed for Carmela's terrific article in the 2016 Children’sWriter’s & Illustrator’s Market.

BookSpeak! - trade market
You know, I make my living as a writer, and I love writing the books I choose to write (my trade market books), like BookSpeak! Poems About Books and WaterCan Be…. But, so far, the books I’ve loved to write have not exactly brought in millions. Or enough to keep my family in groceries. That’s OK. They’re books I had to write, and I adore them. 

But, I do need to pay bills, and one of my major sources of income is writing on assignment. I write books and short passages for publishers who hire me to write very specific works for particular age groups and, sometimes, reading levels.
Water Can Be... - trade market
If this is something that sounds interesting to you, you might want to give this exercise a try. Even though the majority of writing I do on assignment is nonfiction, I also do some poetry and fiction that way, too. We’re going to use fiction here, so that you don’t get caught up in research and getting your facts right (which is, of course, extremely important in nonfiction books!). 

For this exercise, we’re going to use a story we likely already know, and we’re going to shape it in three different ways.

I would like you to use the tale of Cinderella as the basis for your short works. I’ll use The Three Little Pigs as an example for each one. Don’t be nervous! This is just to see IF you’re comfortable with this kind of writing and, if so, what age range might work best for you. Ready?

Part 1: Retell the complete tale Cinderella in 150 words, for 1stgraders.

My example, based on The Three Little Pigs:

Once, there were three little pigs. They were brothers. One day, the pigs went out into the world. It was time to build their own homes. 

The first little pig built his home out of straw. The Big Bad Wolf huffed and puffed and blew the house down. 

The second little pig built his home out of sticks. The Big Bad Wolf huffed and puffed and blew the house down. 

The third little pig was a hard worker. He built a strong home out of bricks. The Big Bad Wolf huffed and puffed. But he could not blow it down.

The wolf was mad. And hungry. He came down the chimney to eat the pig. But the third little pig was also smart. He had built a fire in the fireplace. The wolf yelped in pain and ran away.

And the three little pigs lived happily ever after.

Colors of Fall - education market
Part 2: Retell Cinderella for 4th graders in 400 words, and emphasize narrative voice and theme.

My example is just the first couple of paragraphs (130 words) of such a passage, based on The Three Little Pigs. 

Once up a time, there were three little pigs. They were brothers, and two of the pigs were oh so lazy and not very intelligent! The third little pig, however, was not only a hard worker, but he was also very clever.

One day, it was time for the three little pigs to go out into the great wide world and build their own houses. The first two pigs did not want to put much effort into anything, so the first one built his house out of straw! The second built his house out of sticks! They should have known better. They had just finished when a big, bad wolf came along. This wolf was drooling and snarling and hungry. He thought a little pig sounded like a scrumptious treat.
Do you see the difference? Let’s try one more.

Part 3: Retell Cinderella for 7th graders in 600 words from the point of view of a wicked stepsister. 

Here’s my example, just the first few paragraphs (111 words), from the point of view of the big bad wolf. It’s a little low on readability, actually, so I’d have to make sure to use longer paragraphs and sentences here and there and keep the reading level up a bit higher.

You can’t blame me for trying. Really, who would be ridiculous enough to think that some insubstantial straw or rickety old sticks would be tough enough to thwart my attempts to enter? Oh, you haven’t heard about my adventure? Well, let me explain…

I was just wandering along the boulevard one day, minding my own business.  Suddenly, I heard a clattering sound further down the avenue. Then I spied three little pigs, all hard at work constructing residences. At least, one of them was working diligently. That one was mixing mortar and placing bricks and building a proper, sturdy house--I despise that. But the other two were much more promising.

So, how do you feel? Did at least one of these three pieces feel somewhat natural to you? Did you enjoy the puzzle of trying to tell certain information in a very specific way—as dictated by someone else?

Y Is for Yowl! - education market
If the answer to at least one of the above is yes, then you might want to try writing on assignment, too. If you’re interested in learning about writing for the educational market, you can check out my book, Writing for the Educational Market: Informational Books for Kids. And Lisa Bullard, who was also interviewed in Carmela's article, and I offer critiquing/coaching services for children’s writers at MentorsForRent.com. We have worked with a number of writers who have subsequently broken into the educational market. We’d be happy to schedule a consultation to answer your questions or review your introductory packet. I also sometimes discuss educational writing in my eletter for writers, A Writer Can Be…

I’d love to hear in the Comments what your experience with this Wednesday Writing Workout was like. Was one part super-easy for you and another part impossible? Were they all equal? Is this a market you might be interested in pursuing? Inquiring minds want to know:>)

Laura Purdie Salas

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4. Pay, as in PAYoff$!

Carmela’s Friday post not only announced our Book Giveaway of the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market 2016 (Writer’s Digest), the details of which follow today’s post.  It also highlighted her CWIM 2016 article “Make a Living as a Writer,” thus beginning our TeachingAuthors conversation about how we writers earn our keep doing what we love.

Money.  That taboo $ubject we’re not $uppo$$ed to talk about.

Just Saturday, in a Small Session talk at the Chicago Writers Conference, I suggested writers keep their day jobs, especially if the job offers health insurance, and definitely if that health insurance includes dental coverage.
“There are all sorts of currencies in this world,” I tell children’s book writer wannabe’s and my school visit questioners who always feel comfortable asking my income.  I tap my heart and smile.  “Money isn’t the only thing that keeps a person going.”

Which is not to say, I don’t get it – literally and figuratively! J

Like so many of my fellow children’s book creators, schools and libraries pay me to visit and speak.
Fortunately, though, my additional tools - I hold a B.S. in Elementary Education, ½ a Masters Degree in Curriculum Instruction and an Illinois Teaching Certificate, plus my additional experiences as both a classroom teacher and professional journalist have also paid off.   
Take, for example, the year 2000.
The two picture books I’d recently sold had respective publishing dates of 2002 and 2005.
What’s a children’s book writer to do - besides write and do school and library visits?
I, for one, said “YES!” to any opportunity that came my way.

·         I critiqued children’s book manuscripts, sharing everything I’d learned and offering everything I’d needed when learning my craft.

·         I wrote my first alphabet book ever – I IS FOR ILLINOIS, as well as the accompanying workbook – ILLINOIS FUN FACTS & GAMES.

·         I used my research from previous books and stories, sold and unsold, to write critical reading test paragraphs and accompanying questions for Quarasan’s educational text book clients.

·         I put my story-telling to use creating formulaic generic under 400-word stories for children to personalize and reproduce when visiting the Sears Family Portrait website.   

·         I reviewed children’s books for the new monthly, dads magazine.

·         I served as an editorial consultant for Childcraft’s HOW AND WHY LIBRARY's STORIES TO SHARE, working on themed stories about Heroes.

·         I sold my middle grade novel THE CONFE$$ION$ AND $ECRET$ OF HOWARD J. FINGERHUT to Holiday House!

To my surprise, while each of the above efforts paid me, they also paid off in $urpri$ing ways.

    Early critique clients showed me the need to create original teaching documents I use with the writers I coach.  One client in particular recommended me to the Newberry Library, another to the University of Chicago’s Writer’s Studio - two institutions where I still teach today.

·             Assessing the successful workings of themed fiction and nonfiction so they could work together as a whole sharpened my editorial eye.

·             Reviewing opportunities showed me ways to keep my finger on the pulse of consumers and my Children’s Book World marketplace.

·             Educational writing kept my readers, their abilities and interests on my radar.

·             I automatically return to one almost-impossible-to-write mini-story – “A Dino-mite Dinosaur Time” – every time I think I can’t do something.  (The assignment had been “dinosaurs camping out!”)

·            Writing my Sleeping Bear Press LITTLE ILLINOIS was like going home again.

And each of the above efforts continues to pay off, not only for me the writer, the teacher, the presenter, but for my readers, my students and the writers I coach and care for.

One of my Heroines, Marian Dane Bauer, speaks of writers cobbling together a living – from writing, teaching, lecturing, whatever.   

IMHO: that requisite cobbling often leads to unexpected riche$.

Speaking of which, don’t forget to enter our Book Giveaway to win a copy of The Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market 2016!

Here’s to happy cobbling!

Esther Hershenhorn

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5. 2016 CWIM Giveaway Celebrating TWO! New Articles, Plus a Poem Excerpt for Poetry Friday

I'm back!
Carmela here. I've been on a blogging break for much of this year, busy working on other projects, both personal and professional. (I have continued behind-the-scenes as our TeachingAuthors blog administrator, though, so I haven't been completely out of touch.) Today, I'm back to celebrate the publication of two of my articles in the just-released 2016 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market (also known as the CWIM) edited by Chuck Sambuchino (Writer's Digest Books).

At the end of this post, you'll have the opportunity to enter for a chance to win your very own copy of the 2016 CWIM (courtesy of Writer's Digest Books)!

Since today is Poetry Friday, I'll also be sharing a poem--an excerpt from Barney Saltzberg's new picture book Inside this Book (Are Three Books), published by Abrams Appleseed. One of my articles in the 2016 CWIM is an interview with Barney, who is an amazing author, illustrator, singer, and songwriter. More about him and his new book below.

First, I'd like to talk a little about my other article in the 2016 CWIM: "Make a Living as a Writer."
[My original title was "Making a Living Writing, Even If You’re Not a Bestselling Author" but I guess that was too long. :-) ]

For "Make a Living as a Writer," I invited four traditionally published trade book authors who are also successful freelancers to share their experiences and advice regarding ways to supplement book royalty income. The four authors included my fellow TeachingAuthor, JoAnn Early Macken, former TeachingAuthor, Laura Purdie Salas, author and writing coach, Lisa Bullard, and scientist-turned-children's author, Vijaya Bodach. The article includes their tips on landing work-for-hire assignments, balancing work-for-hire with other career goals, and preparing submission packages for educational publishers.

The four authors also shared specific resources for finding supplemental income, including:
Over the next few weeks, my fellow TeachingAuthors will continue the conversation on this topic by sharing their own advice related to finding supplemental income. And Laura Purdie Salas will return to post a special Guest Wednesday Writing Workout on September 30, called "Is Writing on Assignment Right for You?" If this topic is of interest to you, be sure to enter our giveaway so you can read more about how to "Make a Living as a Writer." 

Even if you're not looking for ways to supplement your writing income, you'll want your own copy of the 2016 CWIM for my interview with the amazing Barney Saltzberg, along with all the other helpful articles, interviews, and market information!

Barney Saltzberg, for those of you who may not know, is the author and/or illustrator of over FIFTY books. Back in January, April wrote a great post in honor of Beautiful Oops! Day, a day inspired by Barney's wonderful book, Beautiful Oops! (Workman Publishing). Since then, Barney has published three more books: The first two books in a new board book series from Workman Publishing, Redbird: Colors, Colors Everywhere and Redbird: Friends Come in Different Sizes, and the picture book Inside this Book (Are Three Books), published by Abrams Appleseed. Here's a brief description of Inside this Book:
"Inside This Book is a tribute to self-publishing in its most pure and endearing form. Three siblings create three books of their own using blank paper that they bind together (in descending sizes to match birth order). One sibling's work inspires the next, and so on, with each book's text and art mirroring the distinct interests and abilities of its creator. Upon completion of their works, the siblings put one book inside the other, creating a new book to be read and shared by all.
The second sibling in the book is named Fiona. She is "an artist and a poet," so her "book" is filled with poetry. In honor of Poetry Friday, here's an excerpt from Fiona's section of  Inside this Book.

            from Inside this Book, Too, by Fiona
            . . .  Can you tell I love to rhyme?
            I play with words all the time.
            I write a poem every day.
            My new favorite is “Who Wants to Play?” . . . 

 © Barney Saltzberg, used with permission, all rights reserved 

I've kept this excerpt short to inspire you to get Barney's book for yourself. After you've read it, you'll understand why the School Library Journal review of Inside this Book said:
 "Readers may well be empowered to write their very own stories or books." 
Be sure to check out today's Poetry Friday roundup over at the Poetry for Children blog AFTER you enter our giveaway drawing.

And now, for our giveaway info:

Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter to win your own copy of the 2016 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market , You may enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options.
If you choose option 2, you MUST leave a comment on TODAY'S blog post. If your name isn't part of your comment "identity," please include it in your comment for verification purposes!

(If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.)

Email subscribers: if you received this post via email, you can click on the Rafflecopter link at the end of this message to access the entry form.

The giveaway ends October 10 and is open to U.S. residents only.

Good luck and happy writing!

P.S. If you've never entered a Rafflecopter giveaway, here's info on how to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway and the difference between signing in with Facebook vs. with an email address.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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6. Happy Punctuation Day!

One of the most important punctuation marks goes about quietly, doing its job without any notice or fanfare. It’s also the oldest of all punctuation marks, dating back to ancient Greece. It’s used a thousand times in every book. As Noah Lukeman (A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation, 2006) suggests, “…it alone can make or break a work.”  What is it?

The paragraph break! 

Once upon a time, reading was hard work. There was no punctuation, no white-space, no lower case letters. There was nothing to indicate when one thought ended and the next one began.

Pilcrow symbol. Source at Image:Pilcrow.svg    

The pilcrow was the first punctuation mark. The word originated from the Greek paragraphos, (para=beside and graphos=to write). This led to the Old French, paragraph. This evolved into pelagraphe, and then to pelegreffe. Middle English transformed it into pylcrafte, and finally to pilcrow

Around 200 AD, paragraphs were very loosely understood as a change in topic, speaker, or stanza. But there was no consistency in these markings. Initially, some used the letter K, for Kaput, which is Latin for head. By the 12th century, scribes began using C, for Capitulum, Latin for little head or chapter. This C evolved because of inconsistencies in handwriting. By late medieval time, the pilcrow was a very elaborate decoration in bright red ink inserted in between shapeless paragraphs.

Villanova, Rudimenta Grammaticæ. Published 1500 in Valencia (Spain).. Licensed under Public Domain

As printing technology improved, and whitespace was deemed valuable in the reading process, pilcrows were dropped down to indicate a new line. Eventually the pilcrows were abandoned, and the paragraph indent was born. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that a standard method was devised to help organize paragraphs. Alexander Bain introduced the modern paragraph in 1866, defining it as a single unit of thought, and stressing the importance of an explicit topic sentence.

Just as a period divides sentences, a paragraph divides groups of sentences. But as the period is often hailed as the backbone of punctuation, the paragraph break is largely ignored.

The primary purpose of a paragraph is to define a theme, but there are no standard rules that dictate how that process plays out. Paragraphs tend to be organic, subject to the writer’s idiosyncrasies.

Some of us have quite a few idiosyncrasies. <See what I did there?

In a perfect world, a paragraph has a beginning, the main point stated in an explicit topic sentence. It has a middle, in which the writer elaborates on this one main point. And it has an ending, which wraps the entire package in a neat bow.

But the world isn’t perfect. Sometimes the writer places the topic sentence as the last line of a paragraph, playing “gotcha” like a punchline of a joke. Sometimes the topic sentence is a mere whisper, implied in the action. And then there’s the prankster, who places the topic sentence in the middle of a paragraph. Blink and you miss it.

Further complicating the process, there is no designated length that defines a paragraph. I have some students who insist that a paragraph be five sentences, even when the concept is so complex, it demands more explanation. They call this being succinct, but when I ask them for clarification, it takes them several minutes to explain one sentence. I remind them, succinct does not mean short. Succinct means precise. Meanwhile, some students go to the opposite extreme. They turn in five-page essays that are three – and sometimes less -- very long paragraphs. Their ideas trample over each other, undistinguished from each another, in one stampeding brain dump. Both of these writer types reflect a common issue: they don’t understand, and therefore are not connected to, their own ideas. As Lukeman states, messy breaks reveal messy thinking.

The long and short of it (and all puns intended), paragraphs affect pacing, showing the reader how to approach the text. This is especially true in fiction. Short paragraphs tend to be action-oriented, focusing on moving the plot forward. Long paragraphs slow the action down, and tend to be reflective, either setting the stage for the next chase or revealing character. Too many short paragraphs strung together can wear the reader out. Too many long paragraphs put him to sleep.

So what do I do?

I begin with the basics. I tell my students, first, do your thinking. While everyone is entitled to an opinion, not every opinion is equally weighted. In fact, some are distorted, misinformed, and downright wrong. Next, organize your thinking. Only then can you write it down.  I provide a fixed pattern that the beginning writer can easily manage: 1. Write an explicit topic sentence; 2. Elaborate, in which you explain what you mean by this point, and why is it important; 3. Validate, in which you use evidence to prove that your observations are valid;  4. Illustrate, in which you demonstrate with examples how your observations can be applied in real world time. I compare beginning writers to beginning musicians. Musicians need to learn the notes and play the scales -- over and over and over -- in order to master them. Once they master these notes, only then can they play around, making their own music, and writing their own symphony.

But first, they have to learn the basics.

What do you think?

Bobbi Miller

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7. Oh, What a View!

We're back from a brief camping trip in Wildcat Mountain State Park, where we hiked along nearly empty trails hoping for a glimpse of the Kickapoo River,

looked down on vultures soaring over the valley,

and rested and read in a secluded campsite. 

At night, we stared up at a skyful of stars, warmed by a cozy campfire.

Every once in awhile, I remember the advice I give to students:
  • Walk. The regular motion helps ideas flow.
  • Read. Take time to appreciate the sounds of the words as well as the meaning.
  • Slow down and pay attention. A change in scenery (especially outdoors) can bring inspiration.
Works for me, too!

This week's Poetry Friday Roundup is at Today's Little Ditty.  

JoAnn Early Macken

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8. WWW: Dear Protagonist/Dear Antagonist

How appropriate that while we TeachingAuthors share epistles to our Teen Selves these two weeks, invited Guest Author Angela Cerrito’s WWW focuses on letter writing!

Angela is my treasured SCBWI kin. We first met in 2004 at the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York; she’d (deservedly) won the Kimberly Colen Memorial Grant which funded research in Warsaw, Poland that led to her recently published middle grade novel THE SAFEST LIE (Holiday House). That research included interviews with the novel’s inspiration, Irena Sendler, the Catholic social worker and spy who rescued more than twenty-five hundred children from the Warsaw ghetto, as well as readings of testimonies from many of those children held in the archives of the Jewish Historical Institute.

This powerful historical novel tells the story of nine-year-old Anna Bauman who in 1940 is smuggled out of the Warsaw ghetto and struggles to both hide and hold onto her Jewish identity.  Her journey brings to the page the sacrifices endured, the dangers faced and the heroism shown by the children rescued, their parents and their saviors. It illuminates yet another tragedy of the Holocaust: rescued children who lost not only their loved ones, but their very identities and Jewish heritage.

Anna is a truly unforgettable character. Her first person narrative falters not once. This novel’s craft is noteworthy.  Just enough reader-appropriate concrete details and dialogue allow the young reader to live inside this long-ago ugly world, yet like Anna, miraculously take heart and hope.  Anna's attempts to retain her identity will make for meaningful connections and reflective discussions.

The Kirkus reviewer wrote that “Cerrito effectively evokes the fears, struggles, and sheer terror these children faced through her protagonist's first-person account, which allows readers into her private thoughts. Anna's three years in hiding encompass much of what these saved children experienced... and readers are left to ponder what the future might hold for this brave girl. Balancing honesty and age-appropriateness, Cerrito crafts an authentic, moving portrait.”

The School Library Journal  reviewer commented that “Anna's present-tense narrative voice is vivid, and readers will connect with her from the start. From the moment she recommends her friends for scarce vaccinations to her inquiries about a baby she helped rescue years ago, she demonstrates her loyalty. Fans of Lois Lowry's NUMBER THE STARS or Kimberly Brubaker Bradley's THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE are likely to enjoy reading this book next. VERDICT: a suspenseful and informative choice for historical fiction fans.”

You can read an excerpt here
An Educator’s Guide is also available. 

Angela currently serves as SCBWI’S Assistant International Adviser and is co-organizer of SCBWI’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair.

She’s also the author of the compellingly told THE END OF THE LINE(Holiday House).

Thank you, Angela, for sharing your writer’s expertise today. I am beyond delighted to introduce you to our readers.


Esther Hershenhorn

                                           * * * * * * * * * 

Dear Protagonist/Dear Antagonist

In THE SAFEST LIE, the main character reflects on three letters sent by her grandmother from the Łodz ghetto.
Letters are a powerful way to record history and convey ideas. A particular advantage is that the letter writer can record his or her thoughts without interruption.
Below is a two-part writing exercise that can be used with students from the moment they have identified a protagonist and antagonist or at any time during the writing and revising process.

Have your protagonist write a letter to the antagonist.
IMPORTANT! This is a letter that will never be delivered. Allow the protagonist to get all of his or her feelings into the letter-  every grievance, every gripe, and be sure to include as much detail as possible. [Don’t reveal Step 2 until students have completed Step 1]

Discussion points after Step 1:
How did it feel to write that letter?
Did you learn anything new about your protagonist? About the antagonist?
How would your protagonist feel if the letter were actually delivered?
How would the antagonist react?

We are about to find out….

Very unexpectedly, the letter was delivered to the antagonist who read it, reacted and wrote back.
Now, write the letter your antagonist would write to the protagonist after reading the letter in Step 1.

Discussion points:
How did if feel writing from the antagonist’s point of view?
Did you learn anything new about the antagonist? About the protagonist?
What did you learn about their conflict?
Will this change anything in your plot as you revise the story?


Use the premise above to:
(1) write emails between the protagonist / antagonist
(2) create audio recordings / video recordings of messages acting as the protagonist / antagonist.

Note: Is the story set in the future? If so, use the message system the characters would use (i.e. brain chip messages, laser portals, inter-space pod transmissions, optic output devices) or whatever fits your story.

Additionally, rather than use your own story, use these protagonist/antagonist writing exercises with a recent book you’ve read.

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9. Dear Insufferable Teen Me,

   I've had so much fun reading the Letters to My Younger Self of my fellow Teaching Authors.  Some TA's I know well, and some I have never met in person.  Every single post has resonated with me in some way, and allowed me to know them a little better.  Go back and check out Jo Ann's, Esther's, Carla's, and April's posts.  You might find a little of you there.

      Now it's time to talk to someone I haven't thought about in a long while, 16-year-old me.  I don't like her because she was cocky, insufferable and over confident as a writer.  She once told a Pulitzer Prize winning author that she never revised anything, "because I get it right the first time."

      See what I mean?

      Hello, Rodman (as you are known, back in the day).

This is Your Future Self speaking, and I have some bad news for you. You do not win the 1976 Pulitzer Prize as you predicted in the class prophecy. As bad as you are in math, I am sure you didn't realize that you would be a college senior in 1976. Saul Bellow wins. He gets interviewed by Johnny Carson instead of you.

Here's even worse news.

There is no Story Fairy.  You know her, first cousin to the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus.

13-year-old me
Right now, you think that Story Fairy waves her Magic Story Wand (sound effect: harp strings) sparkly story dust showers you and ta da! a story, appears, full-blown in your head.  A couple of hours later, you are ready to mail it off to the latest writing contest.

And you always win those contests.   Local, regional, national, you win them all. You are editor of your school paper. You write a weekly school column for the local paper for four years,  without breaking a sweat. Writing is easy. It's the one thing you know you can do. Even though it is not considered a real asset in your teen world (like cheerleading and looking like Christie Brinkley), Writer is a far better label than Nerd or Girl Without Boyfriend.

You eventually become an adult (even though you don't really want to) and something terrible happens.  Story Fairy deserts you.  You write as fluently as ever, sailing along on your little blue typewriter when bang!  You hit a wall. You don't know what happens next. The main character just sits there, staring at you, refusing to move or talk. Hey, Fairy.  Where are you?  There must be something wrong with me.  Maybe I'm not a real writer after all.  And you quit writing.

But you can't stop. You keep journals.  You go on writing and hitting walls.  Sometimes a kind editor will scrawl a sentence on the form rejection letters you receive. You write very well, but this isn't really a story. No one ever explains why it's not a real story. And you keep writing.  For many, many years. All alone.

Then one day, through a set of Magical Circumstances, you find yourself in an MFA Writing Program.  You discover there are lots of other people just like you, who write all the time, never get published and don't know why.  You go to lectures, work with real writers and talk to your new writer friends.  Eventually you learn (you are a very slow learner) that there is no Writer Fairy.

Stories don't just happen.  They come in dribs and drabs.  A character chatters in a corner of your brain.  You remember family stories.  Music will paint a mental setting, like a stage without actors. You go back to the journals you've kept since third grade and discover story treasures there.

In other words, writing takes a long time. Right now, a long time means two days, only because you are a slow and terrible typist. You discover it takes months and years to turn those dribs and drabs into a story. You will stop and start, write and rewrite. A little voice in your head tells you when something is not quite right.  You write some more. (This is different from that other voice that says Who do you think you're kidding?  You're not a writer!  You tell that voice to shut up and go away.)

There is no bibbety bobbety boo to writing. It takes the three P's--patience, persistence and perspiration. It means writing something--even a journal entry--every day you possibly can. (In years to come, you will read that Stephen King writes every day except Christmas.  You learn that most people are not Stephen King.)

Still there, Rodman?  Still awake?  Here comes the good news.  You never give up, you read and write and learn from others and when you are really old (like forty), you start writing real stories that other people (editors) like and publish.  You will still get rejection letters (sometimes they come in something called an e-mail that hasn't been invented yet, so don't worry about it) but you keep on writing.  Because it's a compulsion.

Because you are a real writer. You always were.

Love, Future You, Mary Ann Rodman, published author.

P.S.  No, you don't marry Robert Redford or ever look like Christie Brinkley, but you do OK.

Future you and your mom, at a signing for your first book, My Best Friend
Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

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10. 3 Words To The Wise To New Writers

Howdy, Campers--Happy Poetry Friday! The link is at the bottom of the page, right below my poem.

Our topic this round is Dear Younger Me. JoAnn started us off by encouraging her younger self not only to carry around notebooks...but to actually go back and mine them for ideas. Esther lovingly reassures her younger self--as she has encouraged me and countless others. Carla talks to her past self when she decided to write what would become her first nonfiction book.

I love this topic. We seem to be universally hard on ourselves. I am constantly giving myself tickets for the things I haven't accomplished...

Are you intimidated by the police in your head?
Have you considered the possibility that you haven't done anything wrong?
So here's what I'd tell my younger self...the one embarking on a voyage to the Children's Book Writers Planet:

Dear Enthusiastic, Younger, Much-Prettier-Than-You-Realize-Right-Now Me,

~ Trust your gut. I know, I know. Your mother kept saying this and you looked at her cross-eyed.

What in the heck does that MEAN?

Well--it means yes, take those classes, read children's literature, find a critique group, attend conferences, read how-to books...

...but give yourself the silence in which to discover that still, small voice within. She's there, I promise. But she whispers. The crazy clutter of our culture makes is hard to locate her (and Honey, it's only going to get worse, believe me. Buckle your seat belt.) 

She knows when that marvelous critique group is sending your story in the wrong direction, when the business advice you just heard from the podium does not fit your work habits or your style or your something-else.

Trust her. Wander with her. She usually doesn't take the well-traveled path.

~ Be patient. Ha ha--that's a good one, right? When you're still in your twenties, your very smart husband will say."Y'know...I think we'll both reach our peak in our 50s and 60s."  HA! He can't be right, can he?


~ Keep creating content.  That is, keep writing books. Because one day you could look up after visiting 19 gazillion schools, and you'll not only be exhausted to the bone...but your books will begin going out of print. ACK!

So yes, accept invitations to do school visits and teach workshops, because you love teaching.  But be careful not to let them take over your writing time like some big blobby thing.

It's so tempting, isn't it? Your ego is definitely well-fed by those second graders who think you're the Queen of England.
from Morguefile.com

That's all, Kiddo. You'll do fine.

Oh--one more thing: slow down when you read your beautiful kid bedtime stories. I know, I know: you want to get to your work, but trust me...take a breath, take your time, and soak in the pleasure of reading to your kid.


P.S: I know you're not going to take any of this advice. And that's okay, too.

by April Halprin Wayland

Michael is lying.

Michael is lying.
I know that you're flying on wings of romance.
His teeth gleam, he loves you--well, at least at first glance.

But Michael is caught in the web he is weaving
Michael is out the door.
Michael is leaving.
Michael is lying.
Michael is lying.
Oh, dear.
It's coming:

the Niagara of crying.

poem and drawing (c) 2015 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.
Thanks to my friend Robyn Hood Black for hosting today!

posted by April Halprin Wayland with the help of that still, small voice within.

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11. Dear Totally Clueless Nonfiction Author Me

In this series of posts, my fellow TeachingAuthors and I are writing letters to our earlier selves a la Dear Teen Me.  As I’ve thought about what to write, it is clear to me that the contents of such a letter would vary greatly depending on the phase of life I considered.   A letter to my teen self would be very different from a letter to my newlywed self, or to my busy young mother self, or my empty nester self, or my newly-divorced-after-being-married-my-whole-adult-life self. 

So the best approach for this assignment is to write a letter to the young woman I was years ago that decided to write a nonfiction book.  I had no idea what I was doing.  I had no idea where to start doing it.  And I had no idea how to finish doing it.   

But that didn't stop me.  

And I succeeded. 

So a letter to myself back then as I began what would become a long journey would go something like this:

Dear Carla,

You might not know what you are doing right now, but you will figure it out as you go. 

Trust your instincts as a researcher and as a storyteller. 

Think outside the box. 

Be fearless.

Don’t expect so much of yourself. 

From Your future self.

As I read back over this letter, I realize things haven’t changed all that much after all.  I still need to remember these things today.   

So maybe this is a letter to my past self, my present self, and my future self. 

Carla Killough McClafferty

Book cover of my first nonfiction book for young readers.
Published by FSG.

See the Dear Me letters of JoAnn Early Macken and Esther Hershenhorn. 

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12. Dear DEAR Teen Me

As JoAnn shared in her Friday post, in this current series my fellow Teaching Authors and I are writing to our younger selves, inspired by the authors’ letters of the Dear Teen Me project.

At first, this letter-writing idea grabbed me.  For years I’ve tasked my writers to pen all sorts of letters – to their future selves to envision their journeys, to their characters to learn their stories more fully, to the author of the book that made them a Reader, to the author whose writing changed their lives.  I also believe in writing Thank You notes, in haiku or not. 

But then Second Thoughts took center stage, overwhelming me and holding me back.
Let’s see….
I could say….
No way!

So I considered sharing Jake Wizner’s new Stenhouse book WORTH WRITING ABOUT – EXPLORING MEMOIR WITH ADOLESCENTS.
Or Carolyn Mackler’s September-released Harper Teen YA novel INFINITE IN BETWEEN, in which “five ninth graders write letters to their future selves, promising to reunite on graduation day and read them together.”
Or even reviewing DEAR TEEN ME which gathered over 70 letters noted YA authors wrote their teenaged selves.

And then I saw my badge from my 50th High School Reunion (!) and I knew just what I wanted to tell that Earnest, Smiling, Tenacious, Hopeful, Enthusiastic and Resourceful about-to-enter-college voted “Likely to Succeed” Teacher-Writer Wannabe – the one (I've since surprisingly learned) her fellow classmates viewed as confident, even though she knew “Self-UNassured” was the more appropriate and telling S and that her metaphorical non-stop paddling feet beneath the water’s surface belied the appearance of smooth and happy sailing.

I wanted to riff on borrowed words from Dennis Palumbo’s WRITING FROM THE INSIDE OUT to tell her what I've spent a lifetime learning.  Palumbo wants the writer to know, “…you  - everything you are, all your feelings, hopes and dreads, fears and fantasies – you are enough.

Here’s my variation and Dear Teen Me letter.

Dear Teen Me:

As your Life unfolds, no matter the circumstance and the verb 
you choose/need/desire to undertake - to love, befriend, embrace
or honor, achieve, create, realize or become, confront, rebound,
overcome, triumph, I absolutely assure you:
you are MORE than enough!”

Really and truly. 


Esther Chairnoff Hershenhorn

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13. Dear Younger Me

I only recently discovered the Dear Teen Me site, where young adult authors post encouraging, honest, heartfelt letters to their teenage selves. For this series of posts, we Teaching Authors are writing to our younger selves, inspired by those letters.

When our kids were still small, I started writing for children—poetry and picture books, fiction and nonfiction. I carried a pocket notebook around to keep track of ideas. The notebooks piled up in my desk drawer until I dumped them all into a box that I’ve been slowly weeding out.

Here’s what I’d say to that young mother:

Remember the notebooks! Yes, you carry one around most of the time. You’re always jotting down a favorite word or a quick observation or something funny one of the kids said. From time to time—especially when you’re stuck—stop and see what treasures you’ve gathered. Ideas and stories and poems are in there! Go back and find them!

The same thing with pictures. Look through them once in awhile. Remember the silly, wonderful, brave things you did. In another unsorted box, I just found this one of me and our (little!) boys on a camping trip. Priceless, right?

More weeding ahead!

Charlotte S. is the winner of our latest Book Giveaway, the autographed copy of Write a Poem Step by Step. Congratulations, Charlotte! Your book is on its way!

This week’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at Poetry for Children

JoAnn Early Macken

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14. It's Raining Bats and Frogs!!

We continue our discussion with word wizard Rebecca Colby as she travels around the world, celebrating her book, It’s Raining Bats & Frogs! Enter to win the overall giveaway for a $50 USD Amazon voucher (or £30 GBP Amazon voucher) at the end of the tour. You’ll find details about the tour here!

And who doesn’t love a scavenger hunt! Follow Rebecca’s tour to find out which blogs contain the clues and then collect all the answers. There are eight answers to find and submit in total.

So what should you be looking for? Witch names, of course! Each post will mention a fictitious witch somewhere in the discussion. To be in with a chance of winning, leave a comment on the blog where you found the name (but please DON’T reveal the name) , including Teacher Authors! At the end of the tour, send Rebecca (at website address here) a list of all eight names via her website contact page, and enter the Rafflecopter entry form on her page. You have until 11.59pm EST on 5 September to enter the scavenger hunt giveaway!

Today, Rebecca talks about her process how a writer (and a teacher) can create a teacher’s guide that teachers can use! Thank you, Rebecca!

When I began teaching, I was gobsmacked to learn how much the profession had changed from when I attended school. Gone were the handy, school-supplied textbooks that provided teachers with lesson plans and worksheets. Instead, I found myself spending all of my free time creating my own lesson plans and worksheets, or researching teacher websites for appropriate resources. My full-time teaching job quickly became two full-time jobs.

After publishing my first book, I was determined to make my book as accessible and as desirable as possible to teachers. Teachers are the busiest people I know! If I wanted teachers to use my book in the classroom, I knew I needed to both create the resources AND bring them to the teachers. By the way, here’s a scavenger hunt answer for you--today’s witch name is Ethel.

Pinpoint your book’s USP

One of the first things you need to do is pinpoint what your book’s unique selling point (USP) is in respect of teachers using it in the classroom. How does it fit in with what is taught?

My first book was about a wee lassie who swallows all manner of Scottish birds and animals. The USP was obvious: I placed my primary focus for the activity guide on Scottish wildlife and their habitats. However, with my second book, which is about a witch parade, the USP wasn’t as clear. I focused on several aspects of the book—after all, witches aren’t a typical classroom topic. So while the main English activity asked children to create their own rhyming spells, math found them comparing and ordering the size of frogs, science had them playing a game of bat and moth to learn about echolocation, and art saw them creating musical rainsticks.

Research relevant curriculums

Find out what is being taught at what grade level. The best way to do that is to research both The Common Core Standards and state curriculums. While researching your own state’s curriculum is a good place to start, keep in mind that unless your book releases with a regional publisher, then you also need to look at other states’ curriculums—particularly curriculums for the larger (and often bellweather) states. Two good examples are California and Texas.

Make teachers happy

Just producing an activity guide is sure to make a teacher happy, but if you want to go that extra mile, think about two things: 1) How can I make the activities cross-curricular? and 2) How can I extend children’s learning?

While my guide is cross-curricular and covers most subjects taught in school, some of the individual activities are also cross-curricular. For example, the art activity involves making a witch puppet, which can later be used in English to act out and retell the book. In this way, one activity allows for learning in two areas of the curriculum.

Teachers are also always looking for ways to extend children’s learning. In one of my science activities, children are asked to measure rainfall over the course of a week. This can be done simply by marking water levels on the side of the rain collection container with colored felt-tip pens and comparing levels. But if a teacher wishes to extend children’s learning and introduce standard units of measure (or the teacher wants a differentiated activity for more able students), he or she could ask the children to measure the rainfall in inches or centimeters with a ruler.

Where to share

Now that you have your guide, what do you do with it? I always make mine available as a download from my website. But teachers are incredibly busy, remember? Bring the guide to them. Post it on websites like Teachers Pay Teachers and Share My Lesson. Forward it to your publisher. They often hold a database full of educational contacts. Bring hard copies of the guide to library, festival, and bookstore event. And if you have some spare time, you could email teachers and let them know about your guide. After all, you’re probably going to email a few teachers anyway to see if they’d like to set up author visits with you. Mention the guide and where to find the download in the email.

Speaking of which, if you’re interested in downloading the free teacher’s activity guide to It’s Raining Bats & Frogs, you can find it here.

I want to say thank Teaching Authors for hosting me again today, and to all of you for reading this post! If you have any tips of your own, or if you decide to produce a guide for your book, I’d love to hear about it!

Illustration by Steven Henry

Thank you for stopping by, Rebecca!

Bobbi Miller

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15. Dear Tomato & New Year at the Pier: Food and Forgiveness for Poetry Friday

Howdy, Campers--happy Poetry Friday (link at the bottom) and happy home grown veggies to all! (Did you know that August 2-8th was National Farmers Market Week? Or that August 22nd is National Honey Bee Day and September 7th is National Acorn Squash Day?)

We're blogging about going back to school this round. Esther starts us off with a review of Kate Messner's book on revision, a useful and inspiring book; JoAnn writes about using repetition and how to Write a Poem Step by Step, and you can win her book of that very title by entering the latest TeachingAuthors' book giveaway (which ends tonight at midnight) Then Carla shows how to approach the familiar How I Spent My Summer Vacation essay as a non-fiction writer, and Mary Ann tells us the story behind her wonderful book, First Grade Stinks!

Now it's my turn. I'm here to suggest two very different books for this time of year. One about food, one about forgiveness...and the new year.

As the daughter of a farmer and the sister of a sustainable agriculture journalist, I was proud to be included in Carol-Ann Hoyte's latest anthology, DEAR TOMATO ~ an International Crop of Food and Agricultural Poems.  (Great title!)

This collection,with photographs by Norie Wasserman (wonderful cover!) includes poems about small gardens, free range chickens, bees, farmers' markets, fair trade, food banks, a poem that mentions Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez, and more.

Any of these would be a wonderful topic for student poems, stories or a class discussion about food and farming.  And the remarkable Renee LaTulippe, at No Water River, has created what she calls "poet-a-palooza" about Dear Tomato. which includes videos of some of the poets reading their poems from this book. Many of the poems are by friends from the Kidlitosphere, including B.J.Lee, Mary Lee Hahn, Charles Waters, Michelle Heidenrich Barnes, Matt Forrest Esenwine, Bridget Magee, Buffy Silverman, Stephen Withrow, J. Patrick Lewis, Elizabeth Steinglass, and I'm sure I've missed some others. This is the book I've been giving my neighborhood gardeners with whom I trade homegrown veggies.  

Here's one of my poems from the book:

           by April Halprin Wayland
            He knows a hoe.
            Never letting go.
            Holds me steady in his grip,
            lifts me up to rip against the weight of air.
            Then he pulls me back, bearing down,
            yielding to the power of the ground.
            Holds me steady in his grip,
            never letting go.
            He knows
            a hoe.
poem (c)2015 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

my father and mother on the farm

The second book, relevant this time of year is:

The Jewish New Year--Rosh Hashanah--is on September 13-15th this year, so now is a good time to read my picture book, New Year at the Pier--a Rosh Hashanah Story  illustrated by Stephane Jorisch. Here's Dial Books for Young Readers' summary:
Izzy's favorite part of Rosh Hashanah is Tashlich, a joyous ceremony in which people apologize for the mistakes they made in the previous year and thus clean the slate as the new year begins. But there is one mistake on Izzy's I m sorry list that he's finding especially hard to say out loud.
Humor, touching moments between family and friends, and lots of information about the Jewish New Year are all combined in this lovely picture book for holiday sharing.
Winner of the Sydney Taylor Gold Medal for best Jewish picture book of the year

Here are four ways to use New Year at the Pier with kids--and adults:
1) Use it to explain to students where absent schoolmates may be during the Jewish New Year.
2) Use it to open discussions about how to apologize and forgive.
3) Use it to show how other cultures celebrate New Year.
4) Give it to someone you’ve wanted to apologize to for a long time

Click here for more activities,and for New Year rituals around the world.

 And remember to enter our latest book giveaway (which ends tonight at midnight!)

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Reading To The Core--thank you!

It's been nice chatting with you today--thanks for allowing me to share ~ April Halprin Wayland

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16. Wednesday Writing Workout Summer Fun!

Summer isn't done quite yet, and what a great way to celebrate these last days of summer magic! The wonderful word wizard Rebecca Colby, author of It's Raining Bats & Frogs,  shares a magical writing exercise for your students. While it’s geared towards Grade 1 students, it could be adapted for older children.

Magic Rhyming Spells

Delia’s spells in It’s Raining Bats & Frogs are written in rhyme. Share some of the following spells with your students. Ask them to identify the words that rhyme.

· Hubble, bubble, toil and trouble.

· Hocus pocus, magic crocus.

Students will create rhyming spells of their own by filling in the blanks below.

· Zero, one, two, I’ll wave my wand at ______________.

· One, two, three, turn into a ____________.

· Eight nine, ten, turn into a _____________.

Working in pairs, students will create rhyming spells using the following starting lines. Ask students to create rhymes that are not used in the book. Extension activity: Students can create spells on their own without benefit of starting lines.

· Stir the brew in the vat, . . .

· Eye of newt, tongue of snake, . . .

· Wave your wand over the box, . . .

· One more wave, here I go, . . .

Now it’s your turn!

I challenge each one of you visiting the blog today to create your own magic spell. If you do, feel free to post it in the comments below. I’d love to read your results!

More Summer Fun! Join Rebecca as she celebrates  It’s Raining Bats and Frogs! Who doesn’t love a scavenger hunt! Follow Rebecca’s tour to collect the clues. There will be eight answers to find and submit in total to the link below.

 You can enter the overall giveaway for a $50 USD Amazon voucher (or £30 GBP Amazon voucher) at the end of the tour. Submit your answers here!

So what should you be looking for? Witch names, of course! Each post will mention a fictitious witch somewhere in the discussion. To be in with a chance of winning, leave a comment on the blog where you found the name (but please DON’T reveal the name) , including here at Teacher Authors! At the end of the tour, send Rebecca (at website address above) a list of all eight names via her website contact page, and enter the Rafflecopter entry form on her page. You have until 11.59pm EST on 5 September to enter the scavenger hunt giveaway!

Join me on August 24 as I talk with Rebecca about her book, the scavenger hunt and about creating teacher guides that teachers can use!

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.”   ~ Roald Dahl

Bobbi Miller

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17. Why I Wrote First Grade Stinks

    I don't remember a lot about kindergarten. I was in the "morning class" when three hours was all that educators thought five-year-olds could handle.

My teacher, Mrs. Palmer, looked exactly like "Dear Abby" in the newspaper. I was fire drill captain, or as I proudly told my parents, "If the school burns down, I'm the first one out." I tackled Jimmy R., my kindergarten crush, in the classroom playhouse and kissed him. (It was a decade or two before that happened again.)

     I nearly flunked kindergarten. In addition to such skills as using scissors "responsibly," counting to ten, and reciting the alphabet without singing it, you had to be able to tie your shoes. I tried and tried all year until it occurred to a neighbor that Mom being left-handed and me being right handed made a difference. She had a left handed son who couldn't tie his shoes either.  Moms swapped kids, and both of us skinned out of kindergarten with a day to spare.  Talk about academic pressure.

    Because kindergarten was so unmemorable for me, I looked forward to going through it with my own daughter, Lily. Boy had things changed! Kids wore Velcro strapped sneakers. They were supposed to count to 20 and know the alphabet BEFORE kindergarten. Lily had been in a Bangkok pre-school that was about learning through exploring rather than memorizing. Lily's kindergarten teacher was a Sweet Young Thing whose worst admonition was "someone is not being considerate." Her classroom was a mass of pinatas and Chinese dragon kites and African violets. Lily was proud to be named "Class Gardener" and "Permanent Paper Passer Outer." Sweet Young Thing figured out that Lily was ADHD and at her best when she was "helping"  It must have been a long day for both of them because by then, kindergarten was a full school day. However, Lily and her teacher had a mutual admiration society, even if Lily couldn't quite manage numbers and letters...at least not in their correct order.

    In promoting Lily to first grade, Sweet Young Thing took into account that Lily had spent two years of pre-school and half of kindergarten in a "foreign" environment. She was promoted to the ominously named "transitional" first grade, kids who weren't "reading ready." I didn't give it a lot of thought.  Neither did Lily. She knew she would sail through school, watering violets and passing out papers. What could go wrong?

   I picked Lily up that first day of first grade. She didn't say anything, but I figured she was pooped out, getting used to a new teacher and classmates.

   At home, I unlocked the front door and went in the house, knowing Lily was straggling behind me. Slam! went the front door. We don't slam doors in our house. Ever. I turned to see Lily fling her red backpack across the room, narrowly missing me.  She slumped against the door, crossed her arms, pushed out her lower lip and announced in a voice that I'm sure the neighbors heard. "That's it! I'm never going back! I hate my teacher and there's only one other girl in my class and there's only one recess and the kindergarten kids got lunch first and ate all the chocolate ice cream. I hate vanilla! First grade stinks!"

   Suddenly, I flashbacked to my first day of first grade, telling my mother that if school was going to be this boring, I wasn't going to college. I remembered my teacher, a troll (henceforth known as Mrs. Troll)who was about to retire after forty-something years of first graders. A woman who yelled a lot, slammed her fist on your desk if she thought you weren't paying attention, and when all else failed, used what I later learned was guilt as a motivator.

"You are thankless, spoiled children," she'd shrill.  "I work and work to teach you to(fill in the blank) but you just won't learn! What is wrong with you?" She didn't know? We were terrified of her. She yelled if we got the wrong answer, yelled if we asked a question.

     I made her mad the first day of school when she said "Now when you can read this big book" (a giant sized version of a pre-primer prominently displayed next to the teacher's desk) you can have your very own book. You let me know when you think you're ready."

    I raised my hand. I had taught myself to read from billboards and TV ads before kindergarten. And while I was sure the words "mouthwash" and "rest area next exit, clean restrooms" weren't in that big book, I had filled in my vocabulary with what are now called "Dolch words").

   "I didn't mean, now." Mrs. Troll squinted at her seating chart. "Mary Ann. I meant after you know how to read."

     "But I know how to read now," I insisted. As an adult who has been a teacher, I can sort of understand her exasperation. Five minutes into the school year and she already been challenged by the likes of me.

     "Fine, then," she said in an-I-dare-you-voice. "Come on up and read for us." She stood behind the book, simpering, waiting for me to fail.

     I didn't fail. Dick and Jane were a snore as literature but I read all 32 pages of it without a mistake.  Now Mrs. Troll was really mad, because she didn't have any primers.  She hadn't counted on anyone learning to read in the first month, let alone first day.  She sent me to the office to requisition my first reader, six weeks early. Although I pride myself on remembering the most insignificant details of my childhood, the rest of first grade disappeared in the mists of trauma.

    Now it was happening again with my own child. As the Mom part of my brain registered Lily's outrage, the writer part thought First Grade Stinks.  What a great title for a picture book!  As I explained to Lily that not only would she be going back to school tomorrow and the next day and the next for twelve years (it was a little early to spring college on her) My own first grade disappointments melded with Lily's.  I started listing my possible plot points.

    The year never got any better for Lily. I grew alarmed when Lily announced at the end of the first week that five kids had been "flunked back" to kindergarten.  I immediately showed up for a teacher's conference.  The teacher (aka Mrs. First Grade) was perhaps my age, but looked older. Much, much older. She had surgery three times that school year (the only days Lily arrived home happy) so I tried to cut her some slack. But Mrs. First Grade affirmed that yes indeed she had just demoted five kids back to kindergarten "because I could tell they weren't going to cut it." (After a week?) She left no doubt that Lily would be joining them if she would "stop being lazy." I already knew that Lily was dyslexic so I asked about special ed testing. "Oh we don't do that until the student has flunked first grade and kindergarten."  What? A classroom of eight-year-old first graders?  My sympathy was wearing thin.

   It wore out altogether when Mrs. First Grade informed in February to tell me she was flunking Lily for the year because "she won't do her board work." I snapped. "You do realize she can't read, right?"  Well, no apparently she didn't. Lily had kept her secret by having the teaching assistant read to her when the teacher wasn't looking. Then Lily, having memorized the story in one hearing, would recite it for the teacher, word perfect, right down to the timing of the page turns. I told the teacher to hand her a random book and ask her to read right then and there. Teacher called me back in ten minutes. "She can't read! I guess she's dyslexic!" You think, person with twenty-five years of teaching "transitional" children?  I couldn't finish writing First Grade Stinks fast enough.

    However, fiction and real life rarely turn out the same. In First Grade Stinks, the main character, Haley, realizes that although the two grades and teachers are entirely different, first grade would bring her the ultimate reward of learning to read on her own!  Haley learns to appreciate her new, less flamboyant teacher.

   In real life, Lily hated everything about first grade except for physical education and art.  She never did learn to read that year but was promoted to second grade anyway. We changed school systems. She tested into special education in second grade, where she stayed until she graduated from high school (in the college prep track and with a high B average.) Reading will always be a challenge for her but she has developed a repertoire of coping mechanisms. She is in college now,  Guess what her major is.  Go ahead.  Guess.  Pre-K special ed!

    "After all," she says, "I've had years and years of thinking how I would teach things differently."

     I guess Lily's first grade didn't stink entirely.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

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18. How I Spent my Summer Vacation: A New Twist on an Old Essay

When I was in elementary school, we were assigned the classic back to school essay:

How I Spent My Summer Vacation.  

It was a good way to start pulling us away from the carefree days of our break and back to the task at hand.  This old essay is still a good way to start the school year.  It is a creative way for your students to write nonfiction that does not need any research.   And it is a way to get the creative juices flowing again.

Teachers hope to see more than just a laundry list of summer activities.  I like to encourage young writers to think about an original way to approach this essay. 

I connect with students by providing interactive videoconferences with schools all over the country.   One of my favorites is a program I titled

Where Ideas Come From:  
Brainstorming with a Nonfiction Author

Teachers and students like this session because it is helpful and lots of fun.  It is truly audience participation because I believe that to model what I’m teaching them about brainstorming-we need to actually brainstorm together.  Live and on the spot.  Yep, it is risky.  I never know what they will say-or worse if they will clam up and say nothing.   So far, so good.  Every time I’ve done this program the students had lots to say!  

What I want to do with my students is to model how they can take a mundane topic and put their own unique spin on it.   I encourage them to think “out of the box”.  Sometimes in this session students come up with amazing creative ideas.  Yessss!! The goal is accomplished!

My session goes something like this:
When asked to brainstorm for ideas on an essay on How I Spent My Summer Vacation, most students will come up with the usual suspects:

I was out of school
I slept late
I went swimming
I went on a trip
I visited family
I watched TV and movies

All these are great places to start.  Now let’s take these ideas to the next level.  Reality is that in classrooms there are kids with a wide variety of experiences.  Some vacationed on sandy beaches while others stayed home alone all summer.  

Great writing doesn’t depend on having extraordinary life experiences. . .
it depends on putting a unique spin on 
ordinary life experiences.  
Carla Killough McClafferty

Let’s start with the students who stayed home all summer and played basketball in their own neighborhood.   If they wanted to write about this, the  following questions could generate something to focus on in an essay. 

Did you learn a new basketball skill?
How did you learn it? 
Did someone teach you? 
A new friend?  An old friend?  A brother, uncle, father, sister?
Did you win a game against someone for the first time?
Did you have a hot streak and make many baskets in a row?
For a student who played ball all summer, suddenly their essay could include friendship, family relationships, competition, or how they improved their skills.     


How about the student who traveled to the beach?  A little brainstorming could bring up some possibilities on how to go a different direction with their essay.    

Did you travel by car, plane, or train?
Did something interesting happen on the way there?
Did you make up your own travel games?
Did you devise a way to keep your brother from bothering you?
Did you get car sick? 
Did you see a dolphin? A shark?  
Did you walk on the beach and find a neat shell, or stone, or glass?
Did you learn to swim?
Or try to surf?
Build a sandcastle?
Find a tidal pool?

Suddenly, the essay can be more than going on a trip to the beach.  It could be about family relationships, building a fort in the sand, watching a sand crab, walking on the beach at night, or learning to do something new. 


No matter what, students can bring something unique to their own essay because each one is unique.  

So with a fresh school year upon us, let's brainstorm! 

If you want to learn more about my videoconferences, contact me through carlamcclafferty.com
or go to inkthinktank.com

Thanks to my fellow TAs for beginning our back to school posts with a bang.   Esther Hershenhornreviewed Kate Messner’s book Real Revision which sounds like a great way to get the creative juices flowing as the back to school season begins. 

JoAnn Early Macken started it off with a post about how to Write a Poem Step by Step.   And don’t forget to enterthe book giveaway.  You might be the lucky winner of a copy of this excellent book by JoAnn Early Macken. 

Carla Killough McClafferty

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19. What Writing Conferences Can Do For You

The topic of a few TA blog posts this summer will deal with conferences and other types of summer learning experiences.  JoAnn Early Macken has a fascinating post about tending monarch butterflies in her garden, Summer Science Experiments.  Since I live in an area through which monarchs migrate, I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe JoAnn’s butterflies will flutter by my house and land on the blooms in my flower bed.   

Esther Hershenhorn detailed some of the great blog posts she is working on this summer in One Writer’s Nuggets from Her Summer… So Far.  Not only does she give lots of wonderful details about Chicago, Esther also talks about SCBWI conferences.   

I attended several national conferences while I was a SCBWI Regional Advisor.  They are an exciting adventure.  It’s great to meet the authors whose books you admire, hear them speak, and buy an autographed copy.   Conferences give writers the opportunity to meet others who share their passion of writing for young readers.   The world of children’s book authors is a friendly place and conferences give you the chance to get to know people from all over the county and the world.  Writers find themselves in the midst of a crowd of people who understand the joy and the rejection of writing to publish. 

Nearly every pre published writer at an SCBWI conference hopes they will make a connection with an editor who will publish their book.  And that is always possible.  But when I look back to my early years as a writer, I see now that the most important lessons I learned at SCBWI conferences did not result in a published book.   One clear benefit is the wonderful friends I made, including Esther Hershenhorn.  For me, another benefit was that I began to see how the creative side of writing must coexists with the business of publishing.   

Conferences teach writers about the craft and the business of writing.  What can be learned at SCBWI conferences can speed up the process of both sides.   Like Joann’s butterflies, change happens and pre published writers change into published authors.   

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20. How I Spent My Summer Vacation and Loved Every Minute of It

     On July 3, I saw my first "back-to-school" ad.  Outside it was 97 degrees.  On TV, children dressed in sweaters and boots did handsprings over the notion of new notebooks and backpacks.

     Even though school in Georgia starts ridiculously early (sometime in the first two weeks of August), I can't get serious about "back-to-school" while I am in the heart of my summer. The week of the 4th I was halfway through what I call my Young Writer's Camps. (The sponsoring organization...two different ones this year...call them something else, that I promptly forget.)


 Young Writer's Camps have been the best part of my summer (or year, for that matter) for nine years. While my Facebook friends are posting from Maui and Montana and Myrtle Beach, I take a twice-a-day selfie at camp,perhaps to compare the damage done after seven hours with twelve young authors. Young Writer's Camps are my idea of vacation. Seriously. Yes, the first camp week reminds me of my public school teaching days when I felt as if I had been worked over with a Louisville Slugger, standing on cement floors in hard soled shoes, after a summer of sneakers and sand. But now, as then, no matter how wasted I feel, emotionally and physically, it's a good feeling. Every day is a good day at writing camp.

    Starting out with one camp per summer in downtown Atlanta (the commute alone would kill you), I moved on to two camps with my local parks department (zero commute!) This year we not only added an Advanced Writers Camp for returnees and serious writers, but I also conducted a camp for the Historical Society of a neighboring county (hello, long commute!) Both my sponsoring groups are hoping to add additional weeks next summer.  This summer there were four sessions. Next year we are aiming for a minimum of six, maximum enrollment of twelve.

    These are creative days, where my writers can continue the dystopian novel they started last summer, write stories based on family history (some are pretty hair raising), personal essays, poetry. If it is not part of the Georgia writing curriculum, it's part of mine.

    Like most American public schools, the emphasis is on essay and report writing. I understand. Being able to write well as an adult is an important skill. But in a world where recess has vanished in favor of more "instruction time," and music and the visual arts are considered so much expensive foofaraw, the child whose talent is creating fantasy worlds or sonnets...well, do it on your own time, kid. After you finish that enormous amount of homework.

   When I first began the camps, deep in the darkest days of No Child Left Behind, I had kids who were afraid to write anything, for fear that it was wrong. Wrong spelling, punctuation, grammar, subject...they were terrified of writing. My first rule that year and forever after is this: There is no right or wrong way to write in my camps. I make sure they understand that creative writing and whatever it is they do in a classroom are two different things. The kids seem to get the difference. You can just see those tight little shoulders and pencil-gripping fingers relax as soon as they know they are free to mess up. It's my own version of Anne Lamott's giving yourself permission to write terrible first drafts.

    Once they know there are no writing rules, I tell them that they are all writers right now. This is not strictly the truth since there are always those kids who are there because their parents need childcare and we are a bargain compared to horseback riding camp or Young Gourmet camp. With one exception, in nine years of camps, I have never had a parent or student tell me they didn't enjoy the week, even if they were massively unenthusiastic about being there on day one.

   I begin by telling them they are good writers, but by the end of the week they'll be better writers. I tell them how even after my books are published, I always want to go back and fiddle with them. I am never finished with them in my head. This is a less threatening way of easing kids into being critiqued. I call it "conferencing" where we meet one-on-one to praise their strengths, and sneak in a few subtle grammar points. ("Does this story all take place in the past or in the right-now? You can fix that by making all the verbs "match.") I try to use as little "teacher talk" as possible. After all, it's summer, this is a camp. Camps are supposed to be fun.

     I disguise writing skills as "contests." Vocabulary building is "re-branded" into "Can you name an animal (or color or action verb or adjective) for every letter of the alphabet?" This particularly good when I have kids who are ESOL, or whose parents insist they speak their native language at home. We play "charades" by acting out action verbs. We make lists of words to substitute for more pedestrian ones. (This year's favorite word...undulate!)

   We talk about books we love and why, as well as books we disliked and why. I don't force anyone to "share" their work with the group, although 99% of them do. I do insist on two things on two share items every morning. One, they have to tell something unusual they have observed, This is considered "homework" and must be read from their notebooks. This is to get them in the habit of keeping a writer's notebook of story ideas.  The other is that they have to contribute to "Ms Rodman's reading list" by giving me a suggestion for my own reading. This not only lets me know what kids like (as opposed to what librarians, teachers and book reviewers like), but has broadened my reading tastes considerably. Thanks to their suggestions, I have come to enjoy dystopian worlds (!!!) any number of new-to-me series, and my newest love, graphic novels. I learned about the world of Fan Fiction through my students. At the end of the week, I feel that I have learned more from them than they have from me.

     Last Friday was the end of camp season for this year. I packed up my gigantic sticky note pad, markers, thesauri and odds and ends of writing books. I said a mental good-by to the four girls who have attended camp every year in it's current location.  The boys who wrote historical fiction about WWII and the Iraqi War. This year's edition of the Fan Fiction writer (a girl this time who was into Dr. Who). The kids whose powers of observation are almost superhuman. I load up my car, turn off the lights, and lock the door.  I'll be back next year.

    It's my vacation.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman


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21. 3 things I've learned About Conferences & Me

Howdy, Campers--and happy Poetry Friday!
(See below for a poem about being a writer by Richard Wilbur and for today's PF host.)

We're in the middle of TeachingAuthors' series on Summer Learning Opportunities.

So far we've heard from JoAnn--who, through her own fascinating Summer Science Experiments, is learning more about hatching monarchs in her backyard; Esther--who's learning about authors from her own fair city (Chicago), discovered four "eye-openingly insightful" blogs, learned about the "3-paragraph query," and how to "attend" the National SCBWI conference if you can't be there in person. Carla shares what she's learned about the unexpected benefits from attending an SCBWI conference, and Mary Ann inspires us with her summer Young Writer's Camp.

As for me, I'm looking forward to being on the faculty of the National SCBWI Conference from July 31 through August 2nd (with intensive workshops available for an additional fee on Monday, August 3rd). Once again I'll be critiquing manuscripts submitted by conference attendees who've paid extra for written and face-to-face critiques.

My very smart friend, author and poet Greg Pincus (who blogs at GottaBook) posted the link to this fabulous blog post on attending an SCBWI conference by art director Giuseppe Castellano...and our own Esther has written what is by now a classic essay on attending an SCBWI conference.

Esther and I come at conferences from two very different perspectives. Basically, She jumps into the fray carrying a bunch of balloons; I get overwhelmed by more than 10 people at a party.

So, here are three things I've learned about conferences (how they affect me and how I cope) in the 24 years I've attended SCBWI in Los Angeles:

1) Be kind to yourself.  This conference can be overwhelming. No--I take that back: this conference is overwhelming. This summer 1000 people are attending from around the world.

A few of the attendees at this year's SCBWI Conference
(from morguefile.com)

We crowd into a posh hotel over a long summer weekend. The excited, anxious, ecstatic, frightened, enthusiastic, vibrating energy of 1000 friendly/shy/talkative/mute children's book professionals and pre-professionals (thanks for that term, Carla!) can be paralyzing.  The air in any hotel over that many days with that many people gets used up. And so do I.

2) Take breaks. I usually stand in the back because there's simply TOO MUCH SITTING!  That's one way I've learned to give my body a break. I've also learned (to my astonishment) that it's okay not to attend every single session. I can actually go outside and gulp fresh air...sit on the grass with my eyes closed for a few minutes. It's amazing how so simple an action as breathing can change my body chemistry.  Ahhhhhh....

No--not me.
(from morguefile.com)

3) And I've learned that some years I just need to be VELCRO®.

from morguefile.com

Although there have been many years I couldn't wait to sign up for the conference, couldn't wait to bond with new peeps, couldn't wait to find out what everyone was doing and share what I was up to, there have been other years, too.

Years when I couldn't figure out how to write that book--the one that was going to put me on the map, years when no one had invited me to submit a poem since the Ice Age, years when I was raw, raw, raw from rejection, Those are the years when I did NOT want to attend that stupid conference.  Nope.  Not gonna do it. And you can't make me.

It's about the shame, of course. I'm judging my insides against everyone else's outsides. It's like that false fog which hovers over FaceBook where I see those sparkling photos and know that every one of my FB friends are completely fulfilled, are always at goal weight, and have (just yesterday) signed a three-book deal.  (It's true--they have, you know.)

That's when I've learned I need to VELCRO® myself to real-life friends at the conference.  Hang with them. Go into the hall with them. Choose whatever breakout session they choose--it doesn't matter. They're my peeps. My buds. The ones who believe in me...and I believe in them. They save me from the darkness every time.

So, if you're coming to the SCBWI conference, please come up and say hello!We can VELCRO® together for awhile.

And Campers--if you are going to any gathering this summer that makes you a teensy bit uneasy, a little bit insecure, maybe the following quote will help. It's helped me.

Just for today, be open to the possibility
that there is nothing wrong with you.

Finally, here is a poem to inspire you:

by Richard Wilbur

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.
click here for the rest of this poem

The poetry gods and goddesses bring Poetry Friday to Keri Recommends today. Thanks for hosting, Keri!

posted live from the floor of SCBWI's National Conference in living color and with love by April Halprin Wayland

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22. Making Connections


“We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.” ~ William James

I have so enjoyed this unit on summer experiences presented by the Teaching Authors. At the core of these discussions is the importance of making connections. JoAnn connects to nature, offering interesting experiments with monarch butterflies.

Esther Carla and April  explore the important connections to be made at writing conferences that go above and beyond the business of writing.

Mary Ann connects to the next generation of writers in her discussion of summer camp,

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” ~ Herman Melville

We know stories are old. Humans have been telling stories for over 100,000 years. Not every culture had developed codified laws, or even a written language, but every culture in the history of the world has had stories. Some research suggests stories predate language, that language came about in order to express story concepts.

And those first stories are found in paintings buried in prehistoric caves. An ancient man reaches out and across 40,000 years to his descendents, connecting past to present. It is the essence of humankind to connect.   As Eric Booth states, in The Everyday Work of Art, “Art is not apart. It is a continuum within which all participate; we all function in art, use the skills of art, and engage in the action of artists every day.”  

Kinza Riza/Courtesy of Nature.com. 

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tired into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thank you for connecting with me and the Teaching Authors!

Bobbi Miller

About the photograph: A stencil of an early human's hand in an Indonesian cave is estimated to be about 39,000 years old. Kinza Riza/Courtesy of Nature.com.

See More about the Cave Art here: Rock (Art) of Ages: Indonesian Cave Paintings Are 40,000 Years Old. Cave paintings of animals and hand stencils in Sulawesi, Indonesia, seem to be as old as similar cave art in Europe.  Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/rockart-ages-indonesian-cave-paintings-are-40000-years-old-180952970/#8DR5O3DYTByKccpx.99.

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23. Back-to-School Book Giveaway!

For the first time in nearly twenty years, no one in our house is going back to school! I won’t miss packing lunches or saying goodbye every day. But I am looking forward to visiting schools myself. I love working with students and teachers in poetry presentations and writing workshops. (For program details, see my web site.) 

Many teachers and writers I’ve worked with have asked for a poetry writing plan they could follow on their own. Write a Poem Step by Step is that plan, based on the workshops I present in schools. It describes a simple, logical method of writing a poem. It includes examples written by elementary school students in my workshops. And we’re giving away an autographed copy! You can enter to win below. The giveaway is set to begin on Friday, August 7, and run through Friday, August 21. 

In our neighborhood, we’ve still got time to squeeze in more summer fun before the back-to-school frenzy begins. Here’s a summertime poem from Write a Poem Step by Step.

The Beach

The waves come
and crash on shore.
Shosh, shwash, shosh, shwash
The sand is as smooth as a wooden polished floor.
The sand goes through my toes.
The day was as hot as a heating vent.
I built a sandcastle,
but the waves washed it away.
Shosh, shwash, shosh, shwash.

Sarah Ilbek, Grade 3

The line “Shosh, shwash, shosh, shwash” uses invented words that sound like waves crashing on the beach. Like many creative writers, Sarah made up words to fit her poem. I recommend using this technique sparingly and only when a reader can understand the meaning from the context.

Sarah also repeats the line “Shosh, shwash, shosh, shwash.” Watch for a Wednesday Writing Workout on using repetition in poetry next week.

Don’t forget to enter our Book Giveaway below!

Tabatha Yeatts is hosting this week’s Poetry Friday Roundup at The Opposite of Indifference. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

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24. Kate Messner’s Thumbs-Up Revision Tool for Anyone, Any Time

Just in time for our back-to-school TeachingAuthors posts, which JoAnn kicked off Friday with a Book Giveaway of her WRITE A POEM STEP BY STEP, I share my THUMBS UP review of Kate Messner’s REAL REVISION (Stenhouse, 2011) – a must-read for anyone any time of the year  (really!) who wants to get his or her writing right.

Personally, I’m a Big Fan of the prefix “re” – as in, back to, return to, again and again. According to my trusty online dictionary, verbs affixed with re connote restoration and repetition, a backwards motion, a withdrawal.
Think Second Chances.
Think Do-overs.
REAL REVISION makes all of the above possible, breaking down the revision process into doable, fun-even tasks, by sharing the revision strategies of a bounty of award-winning children’s book writers – Mentor Authors who truly show readers that all writing is revising. 

Kirby Larson, Nora Raleigh Baskin, Jane Yolen, Kathi Appelt, Mitali Perkins, Donna Gephart, Tom Angleberger, Tanya Lee Stone, G. Neri, Rebecca Stead, just to name a few – share honest-to-goodness manuscripts and revision experiences of specific titles they’ve published in order to illustrate a key element of narrative – say, voice or characterization, setting or plot, and the writing process – maybe research, seeing the Big Picture, word choice, copyediting or brainstorming. 
I’m talking REAL examples that lead to raised eyebrows and bulging eyes and all sorts of head-shaking responses.
Each Mentor Author’s offering is the stuff of a mini, personalized writer-to-writer one-on-one.

Each Mentor Author also offers a Try Out for the reader that accompanies the teaching point of each chapter– an easily-reproducible hands-on, doable, concrete exercise that underscores what’s – really – important.

The quotes that begin each chapter are delicious, too.
For instance, Lisa Schroeder’s:
Revision is like cleaning your room because it may not be fun while you’re doing it but when you’re finished, you can stand back and see what you’ve done, and think, ‘Wow! That looks great!’”
Or Kirby Larson’s:
“Revision is like a newborn because it’s a 24/7 commitment and worth every sleepless night.”
Or Donna Gephart’s:
“Revision is like a lottery ticket because it’s a golden opportunity to make your work even better!”

Throughout REAL REVISION, Kate herself wears both her author and teacher hat, sharing her writing life, her process and the revision stories of her books.  Kate happens to be a National Board-certified teacher – and – the award-winning author of such books as the E.B. White Read Aloud Award winner THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z., SUGAR AND ICE and the Marty McGuire chapter book series.

I don my two TeachingAuthor hats to sincerely thank Kate for bringing REAL REVISION’s Mentor Authors and their realistically-presented, insightful and informative revision strategies to the page in such a fun and readable instructive way.

Whether it’s back-to-school for you, and/or back-to-writing, don’t leave home without this anytime/anyonetool.

Oh, and don’t forget to enter our Book Giveaway for JoAnn Early Macken’s WRITE A POEM STEP BY STEP.

Here’s to that prefix “re” and second chances!

Esther Hershenhorn

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25. Using Repetition in Poetry

In Esther’s last post, she pointed out a series of “re-” words related to Kate Messner’s Real Revision. I’ll add another: Repetition. Along with rhythm and rhyme, it’s one of the three important patterns in poetry that I discuss in Write a Poem Step by Step. (By the way, we’re giving away an autographed copy! See below to enter for your chance to win!)

Here’s an excerpt from the book:

What do you do when you want to remember something? Do you say it to yourself again and again until you learn it? That’s using repetition. Repetition is an effective technique in poetry. It helps create a pattern in a poem. It can help us remember. It can add emphasis to a certain word or phrase. It can connect the parts of a poem to each other.

(Rahel Spilka wrote the following poem in one of my workshops many years ago. It's still one of my favorites.) Repetition ties Rahel’s poem together.

Blowing in the Wind
The tree’s branches are
blowing in the wind.
Like a cradle rocking
blowing in the wind.
It sounds like a baby crying
blowing in the wind.
The branches are swiveling
blowing in the wind.
Seems like a Mom saying,
blowing in the wind. 
Rahel Spilka, Grade 2
If your poem includes a word, a phrase, a line, or even a stanza that you want to use more than once, go ahead. Just make sure that what you repeat is important to the poem, or it can feel or sound overdone.

Have fun! Have fun! Have fun!

JoAnn Early Macken

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