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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. Favorite and Fabulous Animal Stories


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

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


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

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


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




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




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




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




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



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

What are your favorite animal stories?

Bobbi Miller




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2. The ABCDs of Research

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

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

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

A
ALWAYS CHOOSE A TOPIC THAT INTERESTS YOU.

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

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

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


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



Carla Killough McClafferty

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

Contact Carla Killough McClafferty

iNK THINK TANK

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

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

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

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

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


It bears repeating: thank you!

Esther Hershenhorn


            It’s Mutual!

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

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


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


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4. I Was a Teenaged Poetry Hater

       I was a teenaged poetry hater.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     "We Real Cool."

     We real cool. We
     Left school.  We

    Lurk late.  We
    Strike straight. We

    Sing sin.  We
    Thin gin.  We

    Jazz June.  We
    Die soon.

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

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman
     



     

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5. 5 ways to use poetry in class RIGHT NOW

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

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


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

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

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

and

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Esther Hershenhorn

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


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7. The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations! Hooray!

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

JoAnn Early Macken

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8. 2 Paul Janeczko Freebies: a Book Give-Away & a Poetry Writing Exercise

.
Howdy, Campers!

Lucky you--you arrived just in time for another episode in TeachingAuthor's 5-Star series,

to binge-read all of our WWWs, click on the menu button above, "Writing Workouts"

Today's WWW is brought to you by Paul B. Janeczko (who visited our blog last week), author of--gasp!--50 books, including his latest, The Death of the Hat--which you could WIN--yes, you--your very own autographed copy--simply enter our book-giveaway which runs until April 22, 2015 (details at the end of last week's post)!


Okie dokie--welcome back, PBJ! Would you elaborate on the writing exercise you talked briefly about last Friday?

What I said last Friday was that it was more an approach than an exercise. I like to use poetry models when I work with young readers. I try to show them poems by published poets, but also poems by their peers. When you’re in the 4th grade, Emily Dickinson or Robert Frost may not impress you, but reading a poem by another 4th grader may be just the motivation that you need. And before I turn the kids loose to write, we read the poem, and I give them the chance to talk about what they notice in it. Then we do something a group rough draft so they can begin to see the writing process in action. Then it’s time for them to write.

One of the poems I use is based an an English street poem called “I’d Rather Be.” Here are a few lines:

I’d rather be hands than feet.
I’d rather be honest than cheat.
I’d rather be a bed that a seat.
I’d rather be a blanket than a sheet.
  1. I give the kids a copy of this poem, which runs about 20 lines.
  2. I break it into 3 parts and have a different student read each part. (Part of every workshop is reading aloud!)
  3. I then ask the students if they detected any pattern in the poem. Rhyming poems generally follow a pattern.
  4. The kids can identify 3 ingredients of the pattern: end rhyme, repetition of “I’d rather be” at the start of each line, a comparison or opposite in each line.
  5. Taken together, these 3 ingredients give the 4 part of that pattern: rhythm.
  6. Before I turn the kids loose to write 3-4 lines of their own “I’d Rather Be,” we try to create an example of 4 lines out loud. The kids are usually quick to get the hang of it. 
  7. Just to make sure, we try another 4 lines with a different end sound.
  8. Then they are ready to read.
  9. After 10-15 minutes of writing, it’s time to read examples aloud. Usually, there are many takers.
This is one poem that they will have the chance to continue and complete with their teacher.

The kids write stuff like this:

 I’d rather be wood than concrete
 I’d rather be huge that petite

 I’d rather be gloves than a hat
 I’d rather be a ball than a bat

 I’d rather be hands than toes
 I’d rather be a finger than a nose

 I’d rather be love than hate
 I’d rather be alone than a mate

Sounds like an exercise that I can take directly to the classroom--and one that packs a lot of punch, Paul.  Thanks again for dropping by!  (AND surely that English street song is the origin of Paul Simon's El Condor Pasa (If I Could)...)

Readers, here's a preview from Candlewick about Paul's latest collaboration with illustrator Chris Rashchka (for a chance to win an autographed copy, see our latest Give-Away which ends 4/22/15...enter at the end of last week's post):

A celebrated duo reunites for a look at poems through history inspired by objects—earthly and celestial—reflecting the time in which each poet lived.

A book-eating moth in the early Middle Ages. A peach blossom during the Renaissance. A haunted palace in the Victorian era. A lament for the hat in contemporary times...In The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects, award-winning anthologist Paul B. Janeczko presents his fiftieth book, offering young readers a quick tour of poets through the ages. Breathing bright life into each selection is Chris Raschka’s witty, imaginative art.

Thank you for reading this today.

posted with affection by April Halprin Wayland and Eli (who--at this very minute is ripping apart his beloved stuffed animal, Rabbit)
You'll find my poems, posted each day of Poetry Month 2015, here.


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9. Three Favorite Sparklie Poems


I so enjoyed April Halprin Wayland's interview with Paul B. Janeczko! Thank you, April!

And congratulations to Jone M, who won IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD!


Continuing our celebration of poetry, here's another of my favorite poets.

morguefile.com

 Cynthia Cotten   is a gentle writer. Her poetry sparkles like the water on a creek chanced upon during an early morning walk. Very gentle and soothing, and unexpected. Cynthia’s poetry, like all good poetry, is an emotional exchange. The language of the poem, as Mary Oliver taught us, is the language of the particulars. And Cynthia’s language incorporates images that are at once tender and sensuous. Her rhythm twinkles, as in her Night Light, and sometimes the rhythm pops like a good smirk, as in her Ack!

But sometimes, just like that early morning creek, Cynthia's poems sends shivers up our spine, as in her poem, Missing.



Night Light

 Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
 I know what you really are:
a blinking bug in flickering flight,
 lighting up my yard tonight,
in the treetops, near the ground,
 winking, flashing all around.
 I watch you and I'm mystified--
 how did you get that bulb inside?


(from Switching on the Moon: A Very First Book of Bedtime Poems, collected by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters. Illustrated by G.Brian Karras. Candlewick Press, 2010)




  ACK!

 I always know just what to say.
 The perfect words are there--
words that render others speechless,
uttered with such flair.
My comments are insightful,
my wit is unsurpassed.
Oh, yes, I know just what to say--
too bad the moment's passed.

(from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School - compiled by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong. Pomelo Books, 2013)




Missing

 My brother is a soldier
 in a hot, dry
sandy place.
He's missing--
missing things like
baseball, barbecues,
fishing, French fries,
chocolate sodas,
flame-red maple trees,
 blue jays,
and snow.


I'm missing, too--
missing
his read-out-loud voice,
his super-special
banana pancakes,
his scuffed-up shoes
by the back door,
his big-bear
good night
 hug.



There are people
with guns
in that land of sand
who want to shoot
my brother.


I hope
 they miss him,
 too.

 (from America at War - Poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Illustrated by Stephen Alcorn. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2008)



morguefile.com
 
“Hello, sun in my face. Hello you who made the morning and spread it over the fields...Watch, now, how I start the day in happiness, in kindness.” -- Mary Oliver 

And don't forget our giveaway!   Enter here to win an autographed copy of Paul's newest anthology, his 50th book, Death of a Hat, illustrated by Chris Raschka.  You can enter between now and 4/22/15 (which just happens to be TeachingAuthors' 5th Blogiversary!)


Bobbi Miller


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10. 7 Things I Betcha Don't Know about Paul B. Janeczko

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Howdy, Campers!  Be sure to enter our Paul Janeczko BRAND NEW Poetry Book Give-Away (details below).

Happy Poetry Friday (today's host link is below)...and happy

!
In honor of USA's annual poetry jubilee, I've invited someone to climb into the TeachingAuthors' treehouse who looks a lot like my co-op roommates in the 1970's.


Who? Why Paul B. Janeczko, that's who--magnificent poet, poet herder, anthologist, author, speaker, teacher, compassionate human and all-round cool guy. (Does this sound a little too fan-girl-ish? Full disclosure: my poems appear in five of Paul's anthologies.) Here's a previous TeachingAuthors post about his beautiful, multi-star-reviewed collection illustrated by Melissa Sweet, FIREFLY JULY--a Year of Very Short Poems.  (And here are all the TA posts which include the tag "Janeczko".) 

Years ago, I was invited to shadow Paul when he visited schools in Southern California.  Paul's a masterful and charismatic teacher, and he spreads poetry like Johnny Appleseed spread his you-know-whats. Paul's collections of poetry and his anthologies make poetry enjoyable and do-able. (

Paul B. Janeczko and April Halprin Wayland 
ha ha ha

Howdy, Paul! How did you become interested in writing?
I got interested in writing when I was a 4th or 5th grader. Not by writing poems or stories, but by writing postcards and sending away for free stuff. I’d see these little ads in my mother’s Better Homes and Gardens: “Send a postcard for a free sample of tarnish remover.” I had to have it! I had nothing that was tarnished or would ever be tarnished, but I had to have it.  It was the first time that I really wrote for an audience. And I knew I had an audience: I’d send off a postcard and get a free packet of zucchini seeds.

From postcards to post graduate...how did you officially become a TeachingAuthor? That is, tell us how you went from being an author to being a speaker/teacher in schools, etc, if this was your trajectory.
Actually, for me in was more of a coming back to where I started. I started out as a high school English teacher. Did that for 22 years. During that time, I published 8-10 books, but I decided that I’d like to have more time to write. So, when my daughter, Emma, was born in 1990, I became a mostly-stay-at-home parent. Emma was with me a couple of days week and in child care the other days, and that’s when I did my writing and started doing author visits. So, in a lot of ways, it was a very easy transition for me.

I've seen the map, Paul--you're been to a gazillion schools.  What have you noticed as you visit schools is a common problem students have these days? 
One of the main problems that I see is not so much a “student problem” as a “system problem,” and that is that most schools to not give writing the time it needs to have a chance to be good. The time pressure on teachers is enormous, notably when it comes to “teaching for the test.” So, teachers are, first of all, losing time to the actually testing, but they are also losing time prepping their kids for things that they do not necessarily believe in.

Can you hear our readers murmuring in agreement? But--how can you address this?
Because it is a systemic problem, there’s little I can do about as a visiting writer. However, I make it clear to the teachers and the students that our goal in the workshop is not to create a finished poem. That will take time. What I do, however, is usually get the kids going on a few different poems and get the teacher to agree that he/she will spend class time working on those drafts.

You say you get the kids writing poems.  Would you share one of your favorite writing exercises with our readers?
More an approach than an exercise: I like to use poetry models when I work with young readers. I try to show them poems by published poets, but also poems by their peers. When you’re in the 4th grade, Emily Dickinson or Robert Frost may not impress you, but reading a poem by another 4th grader may be just the motivation that you need. And before I turn the kids loose to write, we read the poem, and I give them the chance to talk about what they notice in it. Then we do something a group rough draft so they can begin to see the writing process in action. Then it’s time for them to write. (Readers, Paul has agreed to elaborate on this when he comes back here on Wednesday, 4/8/15 and gives us step-by-step instructions.)



You're so productive, Paul! What else is on the horizon for you?
I am finishing an anthology of how-to poems, which will be published in the spring of 2016, with the illustrator to be determined. And I have 3 non-fiction books lined up for the next three years. Little Lies: Deception in War will be a fall 2016 book. The two after that will be Phantom Army: The Ghost Soldiers of World War II and Heist: Art Thieves and the Detectives Who Tracked them Down. And I’m mulling a book of my own poems. Nothing definite on that project.

WOWEE Kazowee, Paul!  

Since it's Poetry Friday in the Kidlitosphere, would you share with our readers?

This is poem that I wrote for a book of poems and illustrations that marked the 200th anniversary of the White House.

Mary Todd Lincoln Speaks of Her Son’s Death, 1862
by Paul B. Janeczko

When Willie died of the fever
Abraham spoke the words
that I could not:
“My boy is gone.
He is actually gone.”

Gone.
The word was a thunder clap
deafening me to my wails
as I folded over his body
already growing cold.

Gone.
The word was a curtain
coming down on 11 years,
hiding toy soldiers,
circus animals,
and his beloved train.

Gone.
The word was poison
but poison that would not kill
only gag me with its bitterness
as I choked on a prayer for my death.

Abraham spoke the words
that I could not:
“My boy is gone.
He is actually gone.”
And I am left 
with grief 
when spoken
shatters like my heart.

poem © Paul B. Janeczko 2015 ~ all rights reserved

Incredibly haunting, Paul. Thank you so much for climbing up to our treehouse today!  
And readers: remember, we're in for TWO treats:
(1) Enter below to win an autographed copy of Paul's newest anthology, his (gasp!) 50th book, Death of a Hat, illustrated by Chris Raschka.  You can enter between now and 4/22/15 (which just happens to be TeachingAuthors' 5th Blogiversary!)



a Rafflecopter giveaway(2) Paul is coming back this Wednesday to this very blog to explain how he teaches on his poetry writing exercise.  Thank you, Paul!


(P.S: Every April I post original poems. This year's theme is PPP--Previously Published Poems and you can find them here.) 

Thank you, Amy of the Poem Farm for Hosting Poetry Friday today!

posted poetically by April Halprin Wayland and Monkey--who offered lots of ideas today...

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11. Libraries--Better Than Ever

     On our first date, my husband-to-be asked what I did for a living.  I told him I was a school librarian.  "Well there's a profession that will be obsolete in twenty years," he chuckled. I did not chuckle. I did marry him and twenty five years later I am still waiting for his prediction to come true.

   OK, I admit that twenty five years ago I never dreamed that I would have a phone that could help me find my way around the zillion streets of Atlanta named "Peachtree."  Or a device that could download hundreds of books, cutting down considerably on overweight luggage fees. My 1989 school library had computers, but they were little more than fancy typewriters. Who knew that entering the right search words on my jazzy little laptop could find pictures of the battleships my father-in-law served on in WWII?  Or the history of the long demolished amusement park of my childhood, the genesis of The Roller Coaster Kid?  Yes, Craig was right...I could access all that information without setting foot in a library.

    But yet there are still libraries. In my neck of the woods, it appears that most people are there for free computer time and to check out videos. If I am there, it is to do research. Guess what? Not everything is available on the Internet. At least not for free.  When I wrote Jimmy's Stars and Yankee Girl I spent months reading newspapers from WWII and the 1960's....on microfilm machines.  While there are a good number of old periodicals available online these days, they never seem to be the ones I need or there is a hefty fee to join a database.  All the branch libraries in my immediate area were built in the last 15 years and don't have microfilm machines. But if I need one, all I have to do is go downtown to the main library.

   The library is a source of professional literature such as Library Journal or Publisher's Weekly. Usually they are kept in the librarians' work area, but they have always let me read them on the premises if I ask.  There are also databases and reference materials that I can't find anywhere else...at least not for free.

    I have had the good fortune to have worked in a university library which gave me access to all
kinds of information not found in a public library. My library allowed the public to use the collection for a nominal yearly fee. As an employee I had free reign, but even if I hadn't, I would have paid the fee.  It's something to investigate.

     I could go on forever about the information that you will find only in a library....but why tell you?  Check it out yourself. By the way, my husband has had to finally admit that libraries and librarians are not obsolete or likely to become so any time soon.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

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12. Out and About with Carla in Miami



One of the great parts of being an author is speaking to audiences about my books.   While I enjoy every group, some are extra special.  Recently I had the opportunity to travel to Miami, Florida, to share my book In Defiance of Hitler: The Secret Mission of Varian Fry.  This book is about Varian Fry, an American journalist who volunteered to go to Nazi controlled France in 1940 to order to rescue (mostly) Jewish refugees whose lives were in danger.   This true story of one man who believed he could make a difference is filled with intrigue and danger.  Ultimately, Varian Fry rescued more than 2000 people.  Yet few Americans have ever heard his name.


   
I was invited by the Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach to share the work of Varian Fry as part of Holocaust Education Week.  They asked me to speak to three different audiences.   The first night, I presented my program for the public at the Holocaust Memorial.   It was an honor to speak about rescue during the Holocaust at a place dedicated to the memory of so many who were not rescued.  Every Holocaust Memorial is different, and here the centerpiece is the massive statue of a hand reaching toward the sky with human figures huddled around the bottom.  The sculpture is powerful and moving.  It says so much-silently.   In the audience that night, listening to my program were Holocaust survivors and the descendants of some who had been killed at Auschwitz.


       
The next morning I spoke to university students at Miami Dade College.  Many in the audience – including one of the administrators – had come to American as refugees.  As I shared about the refugees of 1940 leaving their homes, these young adults understood the concept in a much more personal way than my usual audience does.


 
In the afternoon, I presented my program to students at a private Jewish high school.   These modern American students carrying their backpacks entered the room and chatted as they took their seats.  While relating the work of Varian Fry, I told them about several people who helped him.  One of them was a seventeen-year-old boy named Justus Rosenberg.   He was their age and his life was in danger because he was Jewish.   Rosenberg survived but countless other teens didn’t.
 
I shared the work of Varian Fry with three different audiences in Miami.  Each one was very special.
  
Carla Killough McClafferty


We are currently running a giveaway for IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD that ends at midnight on April 1.  (CORRECTION NOTE:  There was a typo in an earlier post that said the end date was April 6.  The correct end date is April 1.)  For more details see Esther Hershenhorn’s post:    
http://www.teachingauthors.com/2015/03/a-two-for-price-of-one-interview-with.html

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13. WWW: Dr. Steven L. Layne's Read-aloud Tips and Recommendations

My Monday’s post introduced readers to Dr. Steven L. Layne, my former Newberry Library Picture Book Workshop student and exceptional TeachingAuthor, as well as his newest professional book, IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD.(Stenhouse).

Jim Trelease, author of THE READ-ALOUD HANDBOOK, properly praised this essential book for teachers and librarians in his review:  "Amidst the clanging noise of today's technology, Steven Layne offers here a clear clarion call on behalf of reading to children.  It is insightful, reasoned, entertaining (rare in the field), and carefully researched for those who might doubt the urgent need for something that doesn't need a Wi-Fi hot spot.  It should be on every teacher's must-read list."

Be sure to enter our Book Giveaway of an autographed copy of IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD.  Instructions follow after the Wednesday Writing Workout.  The deadline to enter is April 6.

Were I entering our TeachingAuthors Book Giveaway, I’d share my #1 read-aloud title - Norton Juster’s THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH (Random House).
As I wrote in my post celebrating Leonard Marcus’ 50th anniversary annotated edition of THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, reading aloud this beloved classic marked the first day of school for every fifth grade class I taught. Once grown and married, many of my students wrote me to share how they in turn shared Milo’s tale with their children.

So what about you?  What is your favorite read-aloud title?

Once again, I thank Steven – this time for allowing me to share his Read-aloud Tips and Recommendations - as listed in IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD, in today’s Wednesday Writing Workout.

Enjoy!

Esther Hershenhorn

                                    . . . . . . . . . .

Wednesday Writing Workout:
Dr. Steven L. Layne’s Read-aloud Tips and Recommendations


As Dr. Layne declares in his newest book, when it comes to read-aloud, practice makes perfect!

Here are a few of his practical read-aloud guidelines as shared in his March 1-released IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD (Stenhouse).

Become familiar with the book before reading it.

Launch the book successfully.

·        Provide a purpose for listening.

·        Work out an advantageous seating arrangement.

·        Plan your stopping point.  “Every stopping point is a secret reading-skill-reinforcement lesson just waiting to happen.”

·         Teach reading skills such as visualization, inferring, and sequencing.

·         Plan strategically for the end of the read-aloud.

·         Work out a positive solution for those students who get the book and read ahead.

·         Choose and balance the books and genres we read-aloud.


Just in case you’re looking for a good book to read aloud, read through his list of “The Twelve Books Steven Loves to Read Aloud.”

·         COUNTERFEIT SON by Elaine Alphin  (“My go-to- read-aloud for high school kids who need to be enticed back into the experience of being read to by an adult.”)

·         Sue Stauffacher’S DONUTHEAD  (“It has proven itself to me time and again when it comes to delighting students in the intermediate grades.”)

·         Bill Grossman’s MY LITTLE SISTER ATE ONE HARE.  (“How can you not fall in love with a picture book about a girl who eats all manner of disgusting things and then throws up – when it’s written by a guy whose last name is Grossman?”

·         Jerry Spinelli’s STARGIRL. (“Of all the books I have read aloud to students in my career, it is Jerry Spinelli’s STARGIRL that takes center stage.”

Happy reading aloud!


And don’t forget to enter our TeachingAuthors Book Giveaway! The deadline is midnight, April 6.

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14. A Two-for-the-Price-of-One Interview with Dr. Steven L. Layne

Today’s interview subject qualifies as a Student Success Story + a TeachingAuthor.
But, truthfully, to label Dr. Steven L. Layne a “TeachingAuthor” is an understatement.

He’s a national-award-winning former suburban Illinois across-the-grades classroom teacher and reading specialist who currently serves as Professor of Literacy Education at Judson University in Elgin, Illinois, directing the university’s Master of Education in Literacy program and co-directing the university’s doctoral program in Literacy Education.

He also authors picture books, including STAY WITH SISTER (Pelican), (which he wrote in my 2011 Newberry Library Picture Book Workshop), YA fiction, including THIS SIDE OF PARADISE(Pelican) and academic books for teachers, including LIFE’S LITERACY LESSONS,  IGNITING A PASSION FOR READING and, as of March 1, IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD (all Stenhouse).

Dr. Layne also recently served as an elected Board Member of the International Reading Association, now the International Literacy Association. 

I’m honored to call this amazing former student-dash-TeachingAuthor both “Steven” and “friend” and welcome this opportunity to share him with our readers.  His earnest zeal for literacy is nothing short of contagious.

Steven travels the world igniting his audiences of teachers and writers. 
His mission statement as expressed on his website says it all.  Passionate about reading.
“Building lifetime readers,” he writes, “is what it’s all about for reading teachers and librarians.  If we aren’t doing that – what are we doing?”

In IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD, Steven puts forth the research, the insights, the experience of teachers, librarians and authors to reinforce readers’ confidence to continue and sustain the practice of reading aloud in grades K through 12.

Thank you, Steven, for all you do to keep literacy alive – and – for sharing your smarts and experience with our TeachingAuthors readers.

Thank you, too, for offering one lucky reader a signed copy of IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD via our TeachingAuthor Book Giveaway.  (Instructions appear following the Q and A.)

* * * * *

So, let’s divide the standard First Question of our Student Success Story/ TeachingAuthor Interview into two parts.

How did your teaching career begin?   

I wanted it to begin right after college—but I had no teaching degree.  My parents assured me I would starve if I became a teacher, so I became a therapist—who married a teacher.  It took only two months of listening to her talk about her students for me to return to college again—and to follow my destiny.  Over the years I worked with the impoverished, the insanely wealthy, the middle class – you name them, I taught them – every race, religion, shape, and size.  I like to think those experiences taught me a few things.

How did your writing career begin?  

I loved writing in school.  I often made up my own cast of characters for dramas and wrote short stories and plays.  My poetry and prose were awarded honors throughout high school.  Many years later, when I was in a doctoral course called “Writing for Publication” and had finished all of the required “academic” submissions, I asked about writing a picture book.  The professor encouraged me to “go for it.”  I did, and 27 rejection letters later – I sold it.  My mother and my aunt Mary bought copies right away but beyond that the sales were less than inspiring.  My second book, The Teachers’ Night Before Christmas, became a national bestseller—selling over 100,000 copies.  Suddenly, people wanted to talk to me about writing.



How does each role (teacher/author) inform and impact the other?  

The role of “Teacher” informs EVERYTHING that I do from the way I parent, to where I sit in church, to the way I interact on an airplane.  When I write for kids – I draw on my knowledge from 15 years of classroom experience.  I typically write fast-paced, plot-driven YA because I am thinking of what I know will grab the kind of reluctant readers I taught.  When I write picture books, I try to stay under 500 words and to write about an issue that will emotionally resonate with primary-grade readers, again, because I taught those grades.  Those kids were my first loves, so to speak.  When I write for teachers—how can I NOT write “as teacher?”  I spend a lot of time in public and private K-12 classrooms even now.  A colleague and I have been teaching in three fifth-grade classes on and off this past year and those experiences are definitely going to play into the writing of an article, book, or curriculum. 

The role of “Author” informs my teaching, primarily when I am talking to teachers about the craft and the process of writing.  I try not to speak only from my own experience but from that of others.  In fact, I am often gently criticized for not shining a light on my own work, and while it is true that I can speak to my process better than anyone else’s—I am loathe to have audiences feel that I am trying to showcase my own work.  That being said, I often pull from my knowledge of how “real world writing works” and from my experience when I teach about writing but am able to do so without using my own texts as the examples.

How and why did you come to write IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD? 

My experience with read-alouds spans a wide range of grade levels.  I read aloud, even now, to both my masters and my doctoral classes.  The benefits are far-reaching and the research is sound, and yet the experience is often placed under the pedagogical microscope—raising eyebrows and leading to the question: “Is this a good use of instructional time?”  I wanted to write the book that would settle the questions once and for all which is why I enlisted an army of voices from throughout the literacy arena to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with me on this issue.  I know of no other book where an issue of instructional practice has received such a resolute stance from so many.  My prayer is that this book will be every teacher’s and librarian’s defense if their practice in reading aloud to children or teens is questioned by someone who is ill-informed.

Can you share one or two reader responses – to any of your books – that remain in your heart and keep you going…doing your important work? 

I wrote my first YA novel This Side of Paradise when a 7th grader in my classroom challenged me to write a book for kids who hate to read.  That title has won more awards and recognition than all my other books combined.  The other day I received a letter from a single mother from California.  She was writing to tell me that her middle-school son, who had been having a tough time in school and HATED books – had discovered mine.  He read it, then read the sequel, and then came to ask her if she could try to find out if and when another book in the series was coming.  To see this book still working magic warms my heart.

I receive a lot of mail about my professional book Igniting a Passion for Reading.  I am frequently told by teachers that their reading of this title has completely altered their practice.  Yesterday, I was contacted by a school district in Texas.  They are opening three brand-new elementary schools and hiring all new faculty.  Igniting and two other titles from my dear friends Regie Routman and Donalyn Miller are the three books around which they will anchor all instruction.  They have asked me to come out and work with the teachers.  What an honor – I am so blessed.



What’s the next Steven Layne children’s book and/or Dr. Steven L. Layne academic title for which we should ready our bookshelves? 

Oh, I wish I could give you a definitive answer.  I am due for a new picture book because I typically bounce between genres; however, I have four chapters of a YA novel started and an exciting new book for teachers also taking shape.  You never know what I’m going to do next (and neither do I), and I actually kind of like it that way.  Let’s just say, you can reserve a place on your shelf because something’s coming – we just don’t know what . . . or when.

                                                …………………..

Here’s a way to instantly fill that saved space:  
enter our Rafflecopter Book Giveaway and win an autographed copy of Steven’s IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD (Stenhouse)!

If you choose the “comment” option, please share your Favorite Read Aloud title – as either listener or reader.

If your name isn’t part of your comment “identity,” please include it in your comment for verification purposes.  Comments may also be submitted via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.

If the widget doesn’t appear for some reason (or you’re an email subscriber), use the link at the end of this post to take you to the entry form.

The Book Giveaway ends midnight, April 1.

Esther Hershenhorn

P.S. If you’ve never entered a Rafflecopter giveaway, here’s info on how to enter aRafflecopter giveaway.




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15. What Would We Do Without Libraries?


Today, I continue our Teaching Authors series on libraries: how we use them, why we love them, and what we love about them.

Whenever I hear about a book I want to read—on a listserv, on the radio, in a conversation—I search the library catalog online. I can reserve books from anywhere in our county library system and pick them up from my local branch. For research, it’s priceless. I've even emailed articles to myself. Wonderful resources! And free!

Our library offers an amazing array of services from read-aloud programs for little ones to candidate forums for voters to book deliveries for shut-ins. Miss Heide, the children’s librarian, raises monarch butterflies every summer for visitors to watch.

I stopped in yesterday to drop off books I had read, pick up books I had requested, browse a bit, and take a few pictures for this post. Alas, although I can see the photos on the camera, my laptop will not read the disk.

Don’t we love technology?

Only when it works. I’ll leave you instead with some lovely spring flowers, photographed with my phone.

You’ll have to imagine the community bulletin board, the student art on display, the helpful staff. Imagine Miss Heide herding a flock of chirpy kids through the picture book area. Imagine two rambunctious boys rifling through a pile of books on a little black cart. They inspired this poem.

Little Black Cart 
Are you done with your books?
Please don’t put them back.
Shelving is tricky,
and we have the knack. 
Whatever you’ve finished—
The Farm Almanac,
Training Your Yak,
Baking a Snack,
Riding Horseback,
Ducklings that Quack,
Your Zodiac,
How to Kayak,
Programming a Mac
belongs in this stack. 
If you’re not checking out
that collection of art,
decided against
the novella with heart,
don’t need the recipe
for strawberry tart,
leave your books here
on the little black cart.

Not sure what your library has to offer? Check out the web site. Better yet, stop in and visit!

Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at Reading to the Core. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

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16. The Essential Library



Every writer – fiction and nonfiction -- understands that the library is an essential tool to her craft. It’s more than a repository of information, or a quiet place to gather one's thoughts. A library is a place where ideas are born, and where the impossible becomes possible.



Recently, I read Yvonne Ventresca’s wonderful book, Pandemic


After surviving a horrific act of betrayal, teenager Lilianna suffers from post-traumatic stress. As Lil struggles to find her way “back to life,” imminent danger presses upon her home and neighborhood. An outbreak of a strange new flu is spreading quickly with deadly results. Her parents out of town on business, she finds herself alone as tragedy strikes. The plot is fast-paced and thoroughly engrossing as Lil struggles to find hope and trust amidst a terrifying life and death ordeal. It so happens that the Ebola outbreak was striking its own terror as I was reading this book. The realism depicted in this dystopian tale hit strikingly close to home. I had to ask Yvonne how she achieved this:



“Reading nonfiction books. Conducting interviews. Checking government websites. These might sound like typical tasks for a nonfiction writer, but they were actually all part of the research I conducted for my young adult book, Pandemic, which is a work of fiction.” – Yvonne Ventresca


Yvonne read books about contemporary and historical diseases: “For several months I had a rotating pile of disease-related books on my nightstand. Since Pandemic is about a contemporary illness (fictionalized bird flu), I read a lot about emerging infectious diseases, and I learned that because of airplane travel, germs can be transmitted almost anywhere in the world within 48 hours. I also researched the Spanish Influenza of 1918, which served as a model illness for my story. I discovered that the sanitation measures almost a century ago included blow-torching water fountains, hosing down streets, and locking public phone booths. Despite these measures, the Spanish flu killed more Americans than all of World War I.”


 Like Yvonne, I write fiction but I depend upon research to bring it depth. My favorite library is the U.S. Library of Congress
It is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution. While it serves the U.S. Congress, it is also the national library, and the world’s largest library. James Madison proposed the idea of a Library in 1783. But it wasn’t until April 24, 1800, that the library was established. This library brings to life the American story. And it proved unequivocally fundamental in bringing my story, Girls of Gettysburg, to life.
 
As I was researching another book, I came across a small newspaper article dated from 1863. It told of a Union soldier on burial duty, following the Battle at Gettysburg, coming upon a shocking find: the body of a female Confederate soldier. It was shocking because she was disguised as a boy. At the time, everyone believed that girls were not strong enough to do any soldiering; they were too weak, too pure, too pious to be around roughhousing boys. It was against the law for girls to enlist. This girl carried no papers, so he could not identify her. She was buried in an unmarked grave. A Union general noted her presence at the bottom of his report, stating “one female (private) in rebel uniform.” The note became her epitaph. I decided I was going to write her story.
 
 
The Library of Congress archives original photographs and newspaper artwork taken of the battle of Gettysburg. Truly, a picture is worth a thousand words!
 
 
 
Library of Congress
 
 
 
This includes a photograph of the Unidentified Soldier wearing a confederate uniform. Doesn’t this look like Annie? 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Library of Congress
 
 
 
 
 
The home of the real Abraham Bryan, where my protagonist Grace Bryan lived. 




 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Pickett’s Charge, the climax of my story.
Library of Congress
“A library is … a place where history comes to life!” – Norman Cousins
 
Yvonne is happy to send free bookmarks to public and school libraries in the US. Librarians can email her at Yvonne @ YvonneVentresca.com (remove spaces) with the librarian’s name, library, and address where the bookmarks should be sent.

Bobbi Miller

For more information on the fascinating history of the Library of Congress, see Jefferson's Legacy: A Brief History of the Library of Congress.


 
 
 
 

 

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17. 2 Reasons I Love My Library--and Happy Poetry Friday!

.
Howdy, Campers!

Happy Poetry Friday!  The link to today's PF host is below.

This round, we at TeachingAuthors have decided to trot out the topic, Ways I Use the Library, and I'm the first to saddle up.  My horse is a little rebellious today, so I'm going to change the topic slightly to: Reasons I Love My Library.

How do I love libraries? Let me conjure up memories:

The word library

from morguefile.com
sends me back to Franklin Elementary School and its smoky-voiced librarian, Mrs. Orbach.  I will always be grateful to her for breaking the rules and letting me check out The Complete Sherlock Holmes 13 times.

The word library stands me next to my mother, choosing Wind, Sand and Stars for me as if she were sharing an important secret from her childhood.  This sacred act in the Yuba City, California library is tied to that cool oasis from Yuba City’s heat—the downstairs rooms, dark walls painted during the WPA…and that good book-composty smell.


I love my library for a raft of reasons, but I especially love libraries (1) as a quiet place to write without holing up in my house, and (2) because they hold a treasure trove of audiobooks. Joy, joy, joy--audiobooks!

I love being read to. I'm probably an audio learner.

from morguefile.com (As I am posting this photo, I just learned today is National Earmuff Day.)
I remember Mom cracking up as she read to us from Kids Say the Darndest Things, Archie & Mehitabel, The Joys of Yiddish, Catcher in the Rye, and any stories by Thurber, Dorothy Parker, Mark Twain and Molly Ivins.  My teacher and mentor, poet Myra Cohn Livingston, always set aside time in class to read poetry.  Nothing was required of us.  Listen. Absorb. Enjoy.

These days, the word library means a place I go to write.  I like being surrounded by books and by quiet bookpeople working and reading.  A true Southern California commuter, when I walk back to my car, my arms are full of audiobooks, to sustain me on my long drives to my writing group and to UCLA. ( In one just-before-summer post, I recommend three audiobooks...and today I'd add Deborah Wiles' Each Little Bird That Sings to that trio--all from my lovely local library.)

Here's a library poem from my 2011 Poetry Month blog:

The story behind the poem: I was in the library, and as the librarian waved her wand over an audiobook, I heard it click…I began wondering how many sounds there were in a library…including the sounds a book’s story makes in one’s head.

IT’S NOT QUIET IN THE LIBRARY
by April Halprin Wayland

The electric door is opening, it sucks in outside air.
A carpet rubs as a patron sits down on his chosen chair.

The blonde librarian waves her wand—I can hear it whisper-click
six times as it moves back and forth o’er six non-fiction picks.

There are sounds that bounce around the rows of all the Y.A. books
if you listen closely you can hear folks’ irritated looks

at that oops-he-forgot-to-turn-off-his-cell’s rock ‘n rolling ring
while on this page I hear the voice of Martin Luther King:

and as I read, “I have a dream” reverberates in my head
near Charlotte, who is loudly spinning words into her web.

There are sounds around this building, there are sounds in books like these.
It’s not quiet in the library and that’s okay by me.

(c) 2011 April Halprin Wayland, all rights reserved

It’s your turn. Take your notebook to a park or a restaurant or a school or the beach and write down the sounds.  It may help to close your eyes to hear them.  Select the most interesting; write a poem.

The host of Poetry Friday is our beloved Author Amok, Laura Shovan ~ thank you, Laura!

posted quietly by April Halprin Wayland and Eli, immersed in his favorite novel.



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18. We Are Story Animals



These last few days, fellow Teaching Authors Mary Ann,  AprilJoAnn, Esther and wonderful new TA Carla have discussed the blending of fiction and nonfiction. In the end, as I noted in my post, I offered that we are story animals, as Kendall Haven (Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story, 2007) suggests. We have told our stories for over 100,000 years. Not every culture has developed codified laws or written language, but every culture in the history of the world has created myths, legends, fables, and folk tales.

Stories are so old, so intimately connected with language, some researchers suggest that language was created to express stories. Researchers have found that telling stories at an early age helps develop math abilities and language literacy. And teachers know that understanding the story process helps young readers understand the organization of language.

 A simple definition of a folktale would be that it is a traditional story, usually dressed in metaphor and symbol, told by a people—of a particular community, group, or nation—to help explain how and why things happen, how one meets the challenges of life, or how one might become a better, or wiser, person. But such a simple definition negates a bigger truth embedded in these tales.


Traditional tales are like icebergs; we see only the tip. Jung would call this tip the “personal unconscious,” the aspect of story derived from personal experience and acquisition. But the greater meaning of the tale lies beneath this surface of consciousness. Carl Jung calls this deeper layer the collective unconscious, an inherited “psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is defined in all individuals.” (Man and His Symbols, 1968).


As Rafe Martin tells us, traditional tales belong to the world of the imagined, to the portals of dreams. “They are the eternal literature of humanity.”


 Remember the child’s game, “Telephone”? Everyone sits in a circle, and then the teacher whispers a joke or a story to the student next to her. That student whispers the same story to the one sitting next to her. That student whispers the same story to the one next to her until the story makes its way around the circle. The last student recites the story to the group. Of course, with each retelling, the child puts her own spin on the tale, sometimes reordering the events, recasting it in personal symbols, and reinventing characters as she understands them. That’s the folklore process in action. Someone tells a story. That story is told and retold, and with every telling, the story changes as the teller makes it her own. Despite the many changes the story underwent, there remains intact certain kernels of emotional truth. An old Ibo (Africa) proverb states, “all stories are true.” Not necessarily factual, but certainly true to what it means to be human.  

Europeans left behind their own ancient histories to seek a new life in an unknown land. Upon arrival, they found that they needed to redefine themselves as a people. If the new land was a sanctuary in which they could pursue “life, liberty, and prosperity,” it also proved an overwhelmingly strange and alien place. These new immigrants dealt with their insecurities when faced with forces greater than themselves by overwhelming these forces through the “magnification” of the self, epitomized  in the unrestrained exploits of Davy Crockett, Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, and many others.


From the beginnings of the westward movement, the near incomprehensible vastness of the landscape, the extraordinary fertility of the land, and the variety of natural “peculiarities” inspired a humor of extravagance and exaggeration. The immigrant’s need to affirm the value of a culture independent of European refinements, constraints, and mores created a humor that became exclusive. The immigrants purged their terror of the overwhelming trials of life by minimizing it, and the storyteller as narrator became superior to circumstance with wit and humor.


In true rough-and-tumble fashion, the hero and heroine of the tall tale mocks and defies convention. The tall-talk of the tall tale, like the hero who inhabits these tales, is as wild and unabashed as the frontier that created it. The language defies the tidy and restrictive, even uptight, structure of formal grammar. It mocks it, in fact, using pseudo-Latinate prefixes and suffixes to expand on the root. The result is a teetotaliciously, splendiferous reflection of a frontier too expansive for mere words to capture. By creating such a grand language, the frontier storyteller found a means to make an unknown frontier less scary. The grander language captured the bigger ideas of frontier life.

 In reading such tales, a young reader develops an appreciation for language itself, for language is more than mere words: the rhythms and patterns, the musicality and the poetry of language.  Studies suggest that language acquisition is keyed to youth, and we can infer that language appreciation is similarly keyed.
 
As Mary and Herbert Knapp suggest, the traditional tale plays a vital role in holding together the frayed, factory-made fabric of our lives.” Such tales connect us to the past and to each other, exist when people share an identity, “and since all of us once belonged to that group of human beings we call children, the folklore of childhood brings together all of us.” (One Potato, Two Potato: The Secret Education of American Children, 1976).

What are your favorite traditional tales?


Thank you! A version of this article was published by Children’s Literature Network (2012). Thank you to Vicki Palmquist and everyone at Winding Oaks Children’s Literature for all their support for the children’s education and literature field.

Bobbi Miller




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19. "Just the Facts, M'am"--fiction vs non-fiction on Poetry Friday

.
Howdy, Campers, and Happy Poetry Friday! (the link to this week's PF host is below.)

First: welcome, welcome to our newest TeachingAuthor, Carla!  I am in awe of your writer's journey, Carla, because when I learned that we would be discussing non-fiction, my legs trembled and my palms grew cold and damp.  Unlike you and Mary Ann, in her wonderful first salvo on this topic, I am not, by nature, a researcher.  I am NOT a "Just the facts, M'am."

Jack Webb as Joe Friday in Dragnet, from Wikipedia

But... is this really true?

Well...I DO tell my students that real details bring fiction to life, and have them listen to the following short audioclip from StoryCorps.  Talk about bringing a subject to life! The details Laura Greenberg shares with her daughter are priceless--not to mention hilarious.

Still, I struggled to write poems for The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science (Pomelo Books).  By "struggled" I mean I read science articles and wrote tons of stinky poems about rocks, astronauts, materials science, the expiration dates on seed packages,electricity, science experiments...and on and on and on.

But...I dread gettting facts wrong--my worst nightmare. (Confession: writing these blog posts scares the bejeebers out of me.)

In fiction, I can fly my fairy-self to Planet Bodiddley and make up all the materials science by myself.  But if I have to convey facts?  And then somehow bake them into a tasty poetry pie?  I get tied up in knots.  My writing becomes stiff as a board.  I'm afraid of...

But finally I stumbled on this fascinating fact, in a review of The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman:"The water coming out of your kitchen tap is four billion years old and might well have been sipped by a Tyrannosaurus rex."

Wow. Think of the water you drink.  Think of the water you take a BATH in!!!! Ten versions of "Space Bathtub" later (with considerable coaching from the ever-patient anthologists, Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell) this fact became a poem for kindergartners:

OLD WATER
by April Halprin Wayland

I am having a soak in the tub.
Mom is giving my neck a strong scrub.

Water sloshes against the sides.
H2O's seeping into my eyes.

The wet stuff running down my face?
She says it came from outer space!

The water washing between my toes
was born a billion years ago.

from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science
(c) 2014 April Halprin Wayland, all rights reserved

If you're a K-5th grade teacher, this book is so immediately useful, you'll cry with relief when you open it. Trust me. For details, and to watch under-two minute videos of poets (Bobbi Katz, Kristy Dempsey, Mary Lee Hahn, Susan Blackaby, Buffy Silverman, Linda Sue Park and me) reciting our science poems from this anthology, go to Renee LaTulippe's No Water River.  Again, trust me. (A little foreshadowing: Pomelo Books' newest anthology, Celebrations! comes just in time for Poetry Month this year--stay tuned!)

Here's a terrific vimeo of "Old Water" produced by Christopher Alello:


And thank you, Linda Baie, fabulous friend of TeachingAuthors, for hosting Poetry Friday today!

posted safely and scientifically by April Halprin Wayland wearing safety goggles

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20. The Greatest of Illusions


Morguefile.com
We are story animals, suggests Kendall Haven (Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story, 2007). We have told our stories for over 100,000 years. Not every culture has developed codified laws or written language, but every culture in the history of the world has created myths, legends, fables, and folk tales.


Stories are so old, so intimately connected with language, some researchers suggest that language was created to express stories. In fact, evolutionary biologists now believe we are hardwired to think in story forms. Cognitive scientists know that stories help us understand and remember information for longer periods. Researchers have found that telling stories at an early age helps develop math abilities and language literacy. And teachers know that understanding the story process helps young readers understand the organization of language.


Isn’t it a wonder that using fictional techniques to relay the telling of facts and biography seems a natural fit? After all, life is messy and fragmented. But stories provide a form for that experience. Stories shape random events into a coherent sequence. Stories help readers focus on the essentials, sifting through the distractions. As writer May Sarton once said,  “Art is order, but it is made out of the chaos of life.”

One criticism of narrative nonfiction is the use of psychological action and dialogue. Stories freely engage in psychological action to help readers empathize with the protagonist. But, in narrative nonfiction, how would the author know just how George Washington – or any historical character – really feels and thinks about an event?


Easy. Writers report on their protagonist’s thoughts and feelings by using inferences, in which a character’s state of mind is revealed by reportable observations. As Jon Franklin, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, stated, “People don’t think in words. They think in the experience of the moment.”

 One of my favorite authors, and one of my favorite books, that achieve this psychological action so magnificently is Russell Freedman’s Washington at Valley Forge (Holiday House, 2008). With his first sentence, Freedman establishes the desperate conditions faced by Washington and his men: “Private Joseph Plumb Martin leaned into the icy wind, pushed one sore and aching foot ahead of the other, and kept on marching.”


  Washington’s troops were beaten down and bedraggled. Martin was not only hungry; he was “perishing with thirst.” Freedman weaves primary sources into the narrative to demonstrate the psychological action.


Another favorite is Phillip Hoose, in his wondrous epic tale of The Race to Save the Lord God Bird (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2004). The book begins with Alexander Wilson and his quest for the ivory-billed woodpecker: “Alexander Wilson clucked his horse slowly along the margin of a swamp in North Carolina. Bending forward in the saddle…Wilson’s heart must have been racing as he dismounted and crept toward the bird…”

Likewise, readers hold their breath as the scene unfolds. The story sweeps across two centuries, never loosing hold of the reader’s attention as it explores the tragedy of extinction, and the triumph of the human spirit.  



As the great Virginia Hamilton once offered, every fiction has its own basic reality…


“…through which the life of the characters and their illusions are revealed, and from which past meaning often creeps into the setting. The task for any writer is to discover the ‘reality tone’ of each work – the basis of truth upon which all variations on the whole language system is set. For reality may be the greatest of all illusions.” (Virginia Hamilton, Illusions and Reality, 1980).

Bobbi Miller

 

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21. The A-Ha Moment! Wednesday Writing Workout with Monica Kulling


In my previous post I offered that isn't it a wonder that using fictional techniques to relay the telling of facts and biography seems a natural fit?
 
 Monica Kulling is the master of biography.
 Monica’s poetic narrative – a hallmark of all her books – breathes life to her characters as she explores the thematic values of determination and persistence. Her Great Idea Series, published by Tundra Books, is one of my favorite nonfiction series for young readers.

 
Monica excels at taking a moment in history, oftentimes a forgotten moment, and fashioning a story that is both compelling and informative. The books showcase inventors, some more known than others, and how they were inspired to create their inventions that, in many ways, changed the course of history. Monica’s fascination with the late 19th and early 20th centuries confined her research to that particular period. When choosing who to write about, says Monica, “I need enough material to make an interesting narrative.” Monica researches extensively, using online and in print sources.


Inventors are clever, says Monica, and they are ingenious in finding ways to realize their dreams. She focuses on that ‘a-ha’ moment, when a great idea clicks in your brain and has you racing off in pursuit.

The picture book format allows Monica to bring depth and breadth to each inventor’s story.


Her book, It’s a Snap: George Eastman’s First Photograph (2009), illustrated by Bill Slavin, tells the story how Eastman invented the photograph, and thus ushered in the new age of documenting history as well as the advent of ‘selfies. 

Another book in the series, Going Up: Elisha Otis’s Trip to the Top (2012), illustrated by David Parkins, depicts the founding of the elevator, allowing skyscrapers to literally touch the sky. And one of my favorites, the award-winning In the Bag: Margaret Knight Wraps It Up (2011), also illustrated by David Parkins, tells the story about the young inventor of the folded paper bag who eventually owned over twenty patents.


Says Monica, “I’ve always been more interested in the struggle than in the achievement. It’s the nail-biting will-they or won’t they, can-they or can’t-they, that engages a young reader most.”


Tundra Books chooses wonderful illustrators. Each of the four illustrators who have worked on the series has been able to depict the time period in all its glorious detail. 
Illustration by Richard Rudnicki. Used with permission.
 
  One of my favorites, Richard Rudnicki’s illustrations for Making Contact: Marconi Goes Wireless (2013) are full of the same energy as Monica’s characters. His sweeping landscapes, done in acrylics on watercolor paper, are particularly striking, depicting the Newfoundland coastline, with its cold grey colors, whirling storm clouds, and the bright dot of a kite flying in the wind make me shiver with awe.


Monica’s newest edition to the series is Spic-And-Span: Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen (2014).
This book follows the amazing story of Lillian Gilbreth, the inspiration for the matriarch in the movie and book, Cheaper By The Dozen. Her life is so much more amazing than a movie or a book, however. When her husband dies unexpectedly, Lillian forges ahead to raise her children alone. An efficiency expert, industrial engineer and psychologist, Lillian’s designs and inventions are still considered fundamental to contemporary kitchens eighty years later.

Thank you, Monica, for this neat activity from the Learning Activities for Spic-and-Span! Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen:



Talking about Clockwork:
“The kitchen is the heart of the home. It should run like clockwork.” What does it mean to say that the kitchen should “run like clockwork”? Why was Lillian’s kitchen not running like clockwork? What was her solution?


Can you think about anything in your classroom or your home that needs to “run like clockwork”? What steps must be taken in order for this to happen?


As a class, walk around the classroom and make a list of any “inefficiencies.” Is there anything about the classroom’s design that could be improved on in order to save time and space?

Bobbi Miller

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22. Facts + Poetry = Creative Nonfiction

In this series of Teaching Author posts, we’re discussing the areas of overlap between fiction and nonfiction. Today, I’m thinking about creative nonfiction.

What is Creative Nonfiction? According to Lee Gutkind (known as the “Father of Creative Nonfiction”), “The words ‘creative’ and ‘nonfiction’ describe the form. The word ‘creative’ refers to the use of literary craft, the techniques fiction writers, playwrights, and poets employ to present nonfiction—factually accurate prose about real people and events—in a compelling, vivid, dramatic manner. The goal is to make nonfiction stories read like fiction so that your readers are as enthralled by fact as they are by fantasy.”

One critical point about writing creative nonfiction is that creativity does not apply to the facts. Authors cannot invent dialog, combine characters, fiddle with time lines, or in any other way divert from the truth and still call it nonfiction. The creative part applies only to the way factual information is presented.

One way to present nonfiction in a compelling, vivid manner is to take advantage of the techniques of poetry. When I wrote the nonfiction picture book Flip, Float, Fly: Seeds on the Move (gorgeously illustrated by Pam Paparone), I made a conscious effort to use imagery, alliteration, repetition, and onomatopoeia while explaining how seeds get around. When she called with the good news, the editor called it a perfect blend of nonfiction and poetry. Yippee, right?

Fiona Bayrock’s “Eleven Tips for Writing Successful Nonfiction for Kids” lists more helpful and age-appropriate methods for grabbing kids’ attention, starting with “Tap into your Ew!, Phew!, and Cool!”

Marcie Flinchum Atkins has compiled a helpful list of ten Nonfiction Poetic Picture Books. She points out that these excellent books (including some by Teaching Authors friends April Pulley Sayre, Laura Purdie Salas, and Lola Schaefer) can be used in classrooms to teach good writing skills. We can all learn from such wonderful examples!

Heidi Mordhorst has this week’s Poetry Friday Roundup at My Juicy Little Universe. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

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23. S is for Story, True or Not

I join my fellow bloggers in welcoming award-winning nonfiction writer Carla Killough McClafferty to TeachingAuthors.com.

I write this post enormously grateful for how smart each fellow blogger has made me these past two weeks thanks to her posts that addressed the telling of our stories, whether true or not.

As I read Mary Ann’s, April’s, Bobbi’s and JoAnn’s posts, all I could think about was the tiny blue Post-It Note I’d affixed long ago to my first desk-top computer: “It’s the STORY, stupid!”

We are, as Kendall Haven wrote, story animals; we are, as Lisa Cron tells us, wired for story.

This truth both grabbed and guided me while writing – forgive the coincidence – S IS FOR STORY: A WRITER’S ALPHABET (Sleeping Bear Press).
I’d originally titled this abecedarian book W IS FOR WRITING.  Brainstorming with my CPS Alcott School fifth graders helped me choose writing-associated words to represent the letters A through Z.  But even once I fine-tuned those choices to ensure they totally embraced the writing information I needed and wanted to share, I knew those twenty-six words in no way told a story.

And they needed to, if I was to pull in readers and keep them turning the pages.

My fifth-grader Alberto said it best.  “You should change the title,” he boldly advised me.  “W IS FOR WRITING sounds like a textbook.  I’d never want to buy it.  But if you call it “W IS FOR WRITER,” he added, “I’ll think you wrote a book about me.”

Alberto wanted hard facts, inspiration and encouragement.  But most of all, he wanted – and expected – a story about writers with which he could connect.

So here’s what I did to tell that story:

(1)   First I thought about my take-away, what I wanted my reader thinking when he closed the book – i.e. writers are readers!  

(2)   Next I thought about what I wanted my reader thinking while he was reading my descriptive and explanatory poems and sidebars – i.e. young writers and award-winning authors share the very same writing process!

(3)  I then made sure the true facts I chose to include - about children’s books, about children’s book authors, about the writing process– served as concrete details that supported my story's take-away’s.

(4)  Finally, I did my best to create a narrative arc, addressing the reader while moving him from the all-encompassing people, they and their in the beginning alphabet pages….


to the inclusive we,us and our in the middle pages


 to the focused you and your in the final pages.
  

Thanks to Alberto, my twenty-six letters told a story - of a writer's life and process, A through Z.

Happy STORY-telling!

Esther Hershenhorn

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24. Read Aloud!

Today, more than a million people in at least 80 countries around the world celebrate World Read Aloud Day. This annual event “calls global attention to the importance of reading aloud and sharing stories.” How will you take part?


My cousin Mary Jo  and her sweet dog Molly volunteer in the Paws for Tales program at the Weyers-Hilliard library in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Kids who are looking for good listeners can come in and read a book to Molly or one of the other “friendly, trained four-legged friends.” What fun—and what good practice!

Reading aloud is good practice for writers, too. Before you consider a poem or story complete, give it the read-aloud test. Read it yourself. Read it to a child or a pet. Ask someone to read it to you. Does it flow well? Does the rhythm fit the message? Listen to the sounds of the words. Do they match the tone of the manuscript? Be alert for any stumbles.

Note any issues on your manuscript as you listen. Focus on those spots in your next revision. Repeat as necessary. Have fun!

JoAnn Early Macken

P.S. I’m also celebrating March 4th (one of my favorite holidays) on my blog. Stop in and see why!


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25. Writing Nonfiction Using Fiction Techniques

People understand that it takes creativity to write fiction.  But many don’t understand that it also takes creativity to write nonfiction.   As a nonfiction author I write true stories-but they are still stories.  When teaching students or teachers how to write nonfiction, I explain it like this: 

I don’t create the facts,
I use the facts creatively. 

Nonfiction is based on facts found in primary source documents.  How an author uses those facts is what makes the difference between text that reads like a novel or a textbook.  The creative part of writing nonfiction is finding a way to keep the reader turning pages to see what happens next-and at the same time telling the story accurately.  To accomplish this goal, I use fiction techniques such as dialogue, sensory details, foreshadowing, pacing and all the rest. 

Let’s look at just one fiction technique I use in nonfiction books:  dialogue.  In my books, the dialogue comes from direct quotes from documented primary sources.  Teachers, students and readers can go to source notes in the back matter to see exactly where the quote was found. 

I’m often asked, how do I know
when to use a direct quote,
and when not to? 
 
I use a direct quote to accomplish one of three things:

1. To show characterization
2. To increase tension
3. To have greater impact


Below are a few examples from my books that demonstration how I used quotes as dialogue.  

 


To show characterization:


In one chapter of Fourth Down and Inches: Concussions and Football’s Make-or-Break Moment (Carolrhoda) I’m making the point about how football has become part of the American culture.  In this example, I quote Kevin Turner because it shows characterization of a passionate football player.   

“Kevin Turner, a former NFL player, still remembers the excitement of his high school football days. He recalls, “When I woke up on game day. I couldn’t wait until it was time for the kickoff. Wearing my jersey to school on game day was a big part of the experience. At game time, when I ran out on the field and heard the announcer call my name in the starting lineup, it was a rush, like nothing else. It was like having Christmas sixteen times a year. My parents were proud of me. Nearly everyone in our small town was cheering in the stands and spontaneously reacting to what happened on the fields. It was magical.”




To increase tension:


In this scene from Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium (FSG), I am showing this famous scientist at a difficult moment in her life.  At the same time Curie was planning to build the Radium Institute, the shed where she and her late husband, Pierre, discovered radium was going to be torn down.   I quoted Marie Curie’s own words about how she felt about visiting the shed for the last time.   

“I made my last pilgrimage there, alas, alone.  On the blackboard there was still the writing of him who had been the soul of the place; the humble refuge for his research was all impregnated with his memory.  The cruel reality seemed some bad dream; I almost expected to see the tall figure appear, and to hear the sound of the familiar voice.”


 


To have greater impact:

Varian Fry, an American journalist, volunteered to go to Marseilles, France, in 1940 to rescue refugees from the Nazis.  This scene from In Defiance of Hitler: The Secret Mission of Varian Fry (FSG), is about the moment he arrives in the city.  Fry wrote about this moment, so I chose to quote the entire segment exactly as he wrote it because his own words had greater impact than if I had paraphrased what happened.   

“’Aha, an American,’ he said in a gravel-rough voice.
“Yes,” I said, trying to keep my voice calm.
“Marseilles is like your New York City at rush hour, eh?”  he said, smiling. 
I smiled back.  “Quite a mob,” I said. 
“Refugees.  Pouring down from the north,” he said.  “We would like to pour them back.  But the Boches [Germans] have occupied Paris.  So the refugees all run to Marseille to hide, or maybe sneak across the border.  But they won’t escape.  Sooner of later we arrest all the illegal ones.”  He smiled again. 
“Too bad for them,” I said.
“Too bad for them; too bad for us!”  He gave me my passport.  Enjoy your stay in our country,” he said.  “But why you visit us at this unsettled time, I don’t know.”
His eyes narrowed, and I thought he looked at me suspiciously.  But as I went out through the gate, I decided it was my imagination.  He knew nothing of the lists in my pockets, nor did he know I had come to smuggle out of France the people whose names were on those lists.”





All three at once:

Many times, one quote like the example below accomplishes all three goals of characterization, tension and greater impact at the same time.  The following section from The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon (Carolrhoda) shows Washington in the days leading up to the historic crossing of the Delaware.  
  
“The Continental Army was in real trouble. At the beginning of the war, most soldiers had enlisted for short periods of time. Now that things were going badly, they left as soon as their enlistment commitment expired. At the beginning of December 1776, about half of Washington’s men went home.  He knew that the enlistment for many more would expire at the end of the month. General Washington had to do something fast to raise the moral of his men, or he would soon have no army to lead. David Ackerson, one of his commanders, recalled seeing General Washington at this time saying, “he was standing near a small camp-fire, evidently lost in thought and making no effort to keep warm . . . His mouth was his strong feature, the lips being always tightly compressed. That day they were compressed so tightly as to be painful to look at.”


 
When writing nonfiction, when you use quotes and how you use them makes all the difference. 

Carla Killough McClafferty

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