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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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April Halprin Wayland
, Encouraging young writers
, Greg Pincus
, Inspirational Quotes
, Poetry Friday
, Richard Wilbur
, writing conferences
, Add a tag
Howdy, Campers--and happy Poetry Friday!
(See below for a poem about being a writer by Richard Wilbur and for today's PF host.)
We're in the middle of TeachingAuthors' series on Summer Learning Opportunities.
So far we've heard from JoAnn--who, through her own fascinating Summer Science Experiments, is learning more about hatching monarchs in her backyard; Esther--who's learning about authors from her own fair city (Chicago), discovered four "eye-openingly insightful" blogs, learned about the "3-paragraph query," and how to "attend" the National SCBWI conference if you can't be there in person. Carla shares what she's learned about the unexpected benefits from attending an SCBWI conference, and Mary Ann inspires us with her summer Young Writer's Camp.
As for me, I'm looking forward to being on the faculty of the National SCBWI Conference from July 31 through August 2nd (with intensive workshops available for an additional fee on Monday, August 3rd). Once again I'll be critiquing manuscripts submitted by conference attendees who've paid extra for written and face-to-face critiques.
My very smart friend, author and poet Greg Pincus (who blogs at GottaBook) posted the link to this fabulous blog post on attending an SCBWI conference by art director Giuseppe Castellano...and our own Esther has written what is by now a classic essay on attending an SCBWI conference.
Esther and I come at conferences from two very different perspectives. Basically, She jumps into the fray carrying a bunch of balloons; I get overwhelmed by more than 10 people at a party.
So, here are three things I've learned about conferences (how they affect me and how I cope) in the 24 years I've attended SCBWI in Los Angeles:
1) Be kind to yourself. This conference can be overwhelming. No--I take that back: this conference is overwhelming. This summer 1000 people are attending from around the world.
A few of the attendees at this year's SCBWI Conference
We crowd into a posh hotel over a long summer weekend. The excited, anxious, ecstatic, frightened, enthusiastic, vibrating energy of 1000 friendly/shy/talkative/mute children's book professionals and pre-professionals (thanks for that term, Carla!
) can be paralyzing. The air in any hotel over that many days with that many people gets used up. And so do I.
2) Take breaks.
I usually stand in the back because there's simply TOO MUCH SITTING! That's one way I've learned to give my body a break. I've also learned (to my astonishment) that it's okay not to attend every single session. I can actually go outside and gulp fresh air...sit on the grass with my eyes closed for a few minutes. It's amazing how so simple an action as breathing can change my body chemistry. Ahhhhhh....
3) And I've learned that some years I just need to be VELCROÂź.
Although there have been many years I couldn't wait
to sign up for the conference, couldn't wait to bond with new peeps, couldn't wait to find out what everyone was doing and share what I was up to, there have been other years, too.
Years when I couldn't figure out how to write that book--the one that was going to put me on the map, years when no one had invited me to submit a poem since the Ice Age, years when I was raw, raw, raw
from rejection, Those are the years when I did NOT want to attend that stupid conference. Nope. Not gonna do it. And you can't make me.
It's about the shame, of course. I'm judging my insides against everyone else's outsides. It's like that false fog which hovers over FaceBook where I see those sparkling photos and know
that every one of my FB friends are completely fulfilled, are always at goal weight, and have (just yesterday) signed a three-book deal. (It's true--they have, you know.)
That's when I've learned I need to VELCROÂź
myself to real-life friends at the conference. Hang with them. Go into the hall with them. Choose whatever breakout session they choose--it doesn't matter. They're my peeps. My buds. The ones who believe in me...and I believe in them. They save me from the darkness every time.
So, if you're coming to the SCBWI conference, please come up and say hello!We can VELCROÂź
together for awhile.
And Campers--if you are going to any
gathering this summer that makes you a teensy bit uneasy, a little bit insecure, maybe the following quote will help. It's helped me.
Just for today, be open to the possibility
that there is nothing wrong with you.
Finally, here is a poem to inspire you:
In her room at the prow of the houseWhere light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,My daughter is writing a story.
I pause in the stairwell, hearingFrom her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keysLike a chain hauled over a gunwale.
Young as she is, the stuffOf her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:I wish her a lucky passage.click here for the rest of this poem
The poetry gods and goddesses bring Poetry Friday
to Keri Recommends
today. Thanks for hosting, Keri!
posted live from the floor of SCBWI's National Conference in living color and with love by April Halprin Wayland
On July 3, I saw my first "back-to-school" ad. Outside it was 97 degrees. On TV, children dressed in sweaters and boots did handsprings over the notion of new notebooks and backpacks.
Even though school in Georgia starts ridiculously early (sometime in the first two weeks of August), I can't get serious about "back-to-school" while I am in the heart of my summer. The week of the 4th I was halfway through what I call my Young Writer's Camps. (The sponsoring organization...two different ones this year...call them something else, that I promptly forget.)
Young Writer's Camps have been the best part of my summer (or year, for that matter) for nine years. While my Facebook friends are posting from Maui and Montana and Myrtle Beach, I take a twice-a-day selfie at camp,perhaps to compare the damage done after seven hours with twelve young authors. Young Writer's Camps are my idea of vacation. Seriously. Yes, the first camp week reminds me of my public school teaching days when I felt as if I had been worked over with a Louisville Slugger, standing on cement floors in hard soled shoes, after a summer of sneakers and sand. But now, as then, no matter how wasted I feel, emotionally and physically, it's a good feeling. Every day is a good day at writing camp.
Starting out with one camp per summer in downtown Atlanta (the commute alone would kill you), I moved on to two camps with my local parks department (zero commute!) This year we not only added an Advanced Writers Camp for returnees and serious writers, but I also conducted a camp for the Historical Society of a neighboring county (hello, long commute!) Both my sponsoring groups are hoping to add additional weeks next summer. This summer there were four sessions. Next year we are aiming for a minimum of six, maximum enrollment of twelve.
These are creative days, where my writers can continue the dystopian novel they started last summer, write stories based on family history (some are pretty hair raising), personal essays, poetry. If it is not
part of the Georgia writing curriculum, it's part of mine.
Like most American public schools, the emphasis is on essay and report writing. I understand. Being able to write well as an adult is an important skill. But in a world where recess has vanished in favor of more "instruction time," and music and the visual arts are considered so much expensive foofaraw, the child whose talent is creating fantasy worlds or sonnets...well, do it on your own time, kid. After you finish that enormous amount of homework.
When I first began the camps, deep in the darkest days of No Child Left Behind, I had kids who were afraid to write anything, for fear that it was wrong.
Wrong spelling, punctuation, grammar, subject...they were terrified of writing. My first rule that year and forever after is this: There is no right or wrong way to write in my camps. I make sure they understand that creative writing and whatever it is they do in a classroom are two different things. The kids seem to get the difference. You can just see those tight little shoulders and pencil-gripping fingers relax as soon as they know they are free to mess up. It's my own version of Anne Lamott's giving yourself permission to write terrible first drafts.
Once they know there are no writing rules, I tell them that they are all writers
right now. This is not strictly the truth since there are always those kids who are there because their parents need childcare and we are a bargain compared to horseback riding camp or Young Gourmet camp. With one exception, in nine years of camps, I have never had a parent or student tell me they didn't enjoy the week, even if they were massively unenthusiastic about being there on day one.
I begin by telling them they are good writers, but by the end of the week they'll be better writers. I tell them how even after my books are published, I always want to go back and fiddle with them. I am never finished with them in my head. This is a less threatening way of easing kids into being critiqued. I call it "conferencing" where we meet one-on-one to praise their strengths, and sneak in a few subtle grammar points. ("Does this story all take place in the past or in the right-now? You can fix that by making all the verbs "match.") I try to use as little "teacher talk" as possible. After all, it's summer, this is a camp. Camps are supposed to be fun.
I disguise writing skills as "contests." Vocabulary building is "re-branded" into "Can you name an animal (or color or action verb or adjective) for every letter of the alphabet?" This particularly good when I have kids who are ESOL, or whose parents insist they speak their native language at home. We play "charades" by acting out action verbs. We make lists of words to substitute for more pedestrian ones. (This year's favorite word...undulate!)
We talk about books we love and why, as well as books we disliked and why. I don't force anyone to "share" their work with the group, although 99% of them do. I do insist on two things on two share items every morning. One, they have to tell something unusual they have observed, This is considered "homework" and must be read from their notebooks. This is to get them in the habit of keeping a writer's notebook of story ideas. The other is that they have to contribute to "Ms Rodman's reading list" by giving me a suggestion for my own reading. This not only lets me know what kids like (as opposed to what librarians, teachers and book reviewers like), but has broadened my reading tastes considerably. Thanks to their suggestions, I have come to enjoy dystopian worlds (!!!) any number of new-to-me series, and my newest love, graphic novels. I learned about the world of Fan Fiction through my students. At the end of the week, I feel that I have learned more from them than they have from me.
Last Friday was the end of camp season for this year. I packed up my gigantic sticky note pad, markers, thesauri and odds and ends of writing books. I said a mental good-by to the four girls who have attended camp every year in it's current location. The boys who wrote historical fiction about WWII and the Iraqi War. This year's edition of the Fan Fiction writer (a girl this time who was into Dr. Who). The kids whose powers of observation are almost superhuman. I load up my car, turn off the lights, and lock the door. I'll be back next year.
It's my vacation.
Posted by Mary Ann Rodman
The topic of a few TA blog posts this summer will deal with conferences and other types of summer learning experiences.
JoAnn Early Macken has a fascinating post about tending monarch butterflies in her garden, Summer Science Experiments
Since I live in an area through which monarchs migrate, I couldnât help but wonder if maybe JoAnnâs butterflies will flutter by my house and land on the blooms in my flower bed.
Esther Hershenhorn detailed some of the great blog posts she is working on this summer in One Writerâs Nuggets from Her SummerâŠ So Far
Not only does she give lots of wonderful details about Chicago, Esther also talks about SCBWI conferences.
I attended several national conferences while I was a SCBWI Regional Advisor. They are an exciting adventure. Itâs great to meet the authors whose books you admire, hear them speak, and buy an autographed copy. Conferences give writers the opportunity to meet others who share their passion of writing for young readers. The world of childrenâs book authors is a friendly place and conferences give you the chance to get to know people from all over the county and the world. Writers find themselves in the midst of a crowd of people who understand the joy and the rejection of writing to publish.
Nearly every pre published writer at an SCBWI conference hopes they will make a connection with an editor who will publish their book. And that is always possible. But when I look back to my early years as a writer, I see now that the most important lessons I learned at SCBWI conferences did not result in a published book. One clear benefit is the wonderful friends I made, including Esther Hershenhorn. For me, another benefit was that I began to see how the creative side of writing must coexists with the business of publishing.
Conferences teach writers about the craft and the business of writing. What can be learned at SCBWI conferences can speed up the process of both sides. Like Joannâs butterflies, change happens and pre published writers change into published authors.
Chicagoâs June through July rains and cold temps marked Summer as itâs supposed to be a Very Late Arrival.
Still, I found sunshine aplenty to keep me on task in the golden opportunities that kept me writing, reading and connecting.
I was honored to be invited to contribute 3 blog posts to the Newsletter of the American Writers Museum â a national museum celebrating American writers, opening in Chicago in 2016. Early word about this museum quickly captured my attention. You can read all about it here.
Be sure to scroll down to the bottom of the home page so you can subscribe to the Newsletter and learn about its soon-to-be-announced location.
I chose to focus my blogs on Chicago childrenâs book authors. My first, titled âSomewhere, Over Lake Michigan,â shares L. Frank Baumâs Chicago connection to THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ. Few know the author wrote the book while living on the northwest side of Chicago â and â that his visits in 1893 to the Columbian Expositionâs White City led to his imagining the Emerald City.
Next on deck: a blog about Chicago-born Shel Silversteinâs sidewalks and attics.
this summer, thanks to my Newberry Libraryâs âWrite Placeâ workshop students, Iâve been checking out all sorts of early chapter books and all sorts of relevant Kidlitosphere blogs, especially those that present diverse cultures.
Here are 4 blogs I found eye-openingly insightful:
As always, my best connecting opportunities arrived courtesy of SCBWI, THE Connection Vehicle for childrenâs book creators. Kelly recommends a 3-paragraph query: the first paragraph is personal, sharing why the writer seeks representation from the particular agent and the second paragraph offers an overview of the story, comparisons to similar titles and never gives away the ending. It was Kellyâs suggestion for the third paragraph that struck me as brilliant: the inspiration for the writerâs work! Just how and why did this book come to be? What a clever way to get a true sense of the writer.
Kelly represents illustrators and writers for all age groups within childrenâs literature, though she is currently not accepting queries.
I do plan to attend vicariouslyvia SCBWI's Team Blog.
Click here now to read the pre-conference interviews and learn about the 25 editors and agents, the Golden Kite Winners and a host of authors whoâll be presenting workshops.
Of course, besides writing, reading and connecting, writers dream.
This summer, I began each workshop session with the inspirational words of ALA-award-winning authors. My students took heart and hope from Sid Fleishman, Christopher Paul Curtis, Greg Pizzoli and John Green via their past acceptance speeches. FYI: The Horn Book Magazine publishes a special July/August 2015 Special Awards issue that includes the above speeches in print. Confidentially, I love getting lost in these speechifying moments. Whenever despair descended upon my very first Writerâs Group, weâd take turns sharing what we planned to wear when we accepted our particular awards, be they Newbery, Dr. Gesell, Prinz or Siburt. Iâm not so sure now about that navy blue gab pencil skirt with the front slit, or even the white silk blouse, long-sleeved, Georgette neckline. My ankle-strapped heels are still in the running, though. J Hereâs hoping the golden nuggets I shared from my Summer so far will keep you writing, reading, connecting and dreaming.
So far this summer, weâve stuck close to home. Weâre working on projects around the house and the yard, and some days, everything feels like a science experiment. Lucky for us, weâre still learning!
Iâm tending monarchs in the backyardâthis is my sixth yearâand finding them fascinating as usual. I learn something new every year. This year, Iâm taking a more hands-off approach. I trust that they know what theyâre doing. (You can see more photos, monarch info, and the tent where I keep them on my web site
I started milkweed plants from seed again this spring. A couple of last yearâs butterfly milkweed plants are blooming, but this yearâs are still tiny. I was surprised to see when I repotted a few that the roots were filling the pots. Lesson learned: Larger pots to come.
Weâre experimenting with food, too. My husband discovered a mulberry tree, so weâve been picking, baking, and eating them fresh by the handful. And in our granola, of course, the latest batch of which includes the maple syrup we bottled last winter. So satisfying!
This yearâs garden includes way too much kale, which weâve added to salads, given to neighbors, and last night baked in a quiche with oven-roasted tomatoes and cheddar cheese. Possibly the best quiche everâso glad I made two!
My summer reading includes a large pile of botany books for a new nonfiction picture book Iâm excited to work on. My writing group gave me positive reviews, encouragement, and a number of helpful suggestions I canât wait to try. Must get back to it! But first, hereâs a mulberry poem:
Squirrel stares at meâ
mulberry stained, pail half full.
We can share, canât we?
Kimberley Moran is hosting todayâs Poetry Friday Roundup
. Enjoy! And happy summer!
JoAnn Early Macken
It's summer time! Yahoo!
And what better way to celebrate summer than to indulge in some summer time reading. Itâs my favorite genre to write and read. Historical fiction is the coming together of two opposing elements: fact and fiction. But as the great Katherine Patterson once said, ââŠhistorical fiction [is] a bastard child of letters, respectable neither as history nor as fiction.â Iâve written before, how defining historical fiction shares similar idiosyncrasies as Doctor Who
When Patterson wrote historical fiction, she was often taken to task for writing stories that were considered not true to contemporary readers. But, said Patterson, ââŠIn many instances, historical fiction is much more realistic than a lot of todayâs realismâŠNothing becomes dated more quickly than contemporary fiction.â In the best of historical fiction, as with any story, a child becomes a hero who gains power over her situation, a theme that contemporary readers appreciate
And summer time is the best time for savoring my favorite historical reads.
An exciting read from Avi is City of Orphans
(2011). The book follows young Maks Geless, a newsie scraping a living on the mean streets of New York City in 1893. Maksâ sister Emma has been arrested and he has only four days to prove her innocence.
Paul Fleischmanâs award-winning Bull Run
(1993) brings together sixteen distinct viewpoints in the
gripping retelling of the first great battle of the Civil War. This can be either an easy afternoon read or a fun summer performance for readersâ theater.
Laurie Halse Andersonâs Seeds of America Trilogy begins with Chains
(2010). As the Revolutionary War starts, young Isabel wages her own fight for freedom. The story continues in its sequel, Forge
(2012) with Curzon as an escaped slave serving with the Continental Army. A particularly moving and heart-stomping depiction of the struggles that the enslaved and the freemen endured during the countryâs fight for its own freedom.
Laurie J. Edwards, under the pen name Erin Johnson, introduced Grace Milton in her Western for young adults, Grace and the Guiltless
(2014), Book One of the Wanted Series. When her family is murdered by the Guiltless Gang, Grace struggles to survive the wilderness and her grief. Her story continues in the sequel, Her Cold Revenge
(August, 2015), as Grace becomes a bounty hunter and hunts the gang that killed her family.
As one reviewer offered, this may just be the story that hooks a new generation of readers on the Western genre. For a summer treat, you can read the first chapters of Her Cold Revenge here
Another series that I have particularly enjoyed this summer is Iain Lawrenceâ High Seas Trilogy. The Wreckers (1998) and its companion The Smugglers (1999) follows young John Spencer in a high-sea adventure complete with swashbuckling characters, salty dialogue and a spine-tingling cliffhangers. The story continues with The Buccaneers (2001). This series reminds me of another favorite, Robert Lewis Stevensonâs Kidnapped.
Let the adventure begin!
By: Carmela Martino and 5 other authors
Blog: Teaching Authors
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April Halprin Wayland
, Baby Says "Moo"
, Book Giveaway Winner
, children's poems
, Poetry Friday
, summer vacation
, Add a tag
Howdy, Campers--and Happy Poetry Friday (original poem and PF link below)!
This is the last of our series about punctuation and related topics. Bobbi started us off with For the Love of Comma (her post was mentioned in Quercus), Esther offers A New Mark of Punctuation (sort of)...,Carla illustrates her point with specific examples from her books in How You Tell the Story Makes a Difference, and Mary Ann pleads, Can We Give the Exclamation Point a Rest?
* * * *
When my son was four, he was lying on the floor leisurely looking at a book one morning when I rushed in. "C'mon, honey--we've gotta go
"Okay, Mommy," he said marking his page, "lemme put it on pause."
Don't you love that?
my kiddo...who will be entering medical school in January
Put it on pause. Commas, line breaks and periods give pause; they remind us to breathe. Like Bobbi, I love commas. My summer present to you: three things about commas to make you smile:
1) A few years ago, I bought my mom (a true Punctuation Queen) this plaque.
(Mom loved it.)
2) When my son was in elementary school, I read poetry to his class once a week. I was trying to be like my teacher, Myra Cohn Livingston
: I wanted to share poetry with no strings attached. As I read, they listened, just listened. Nothing was expected of them. I read every poem twice.
At the end of each year, I gave them each a collection of the poems they loved; in third grade, this was one of their favs (make sure to take a big breath before attempting to read it aloud!):Call the Periods
Call the CommasBy Kalli Dakos
Call the doctors Call the nurses Give me a breath of
air Iâve been reading all your stories but the periods
arenât there Call the policemen Call the traffic guards
Give me a STOP sign quick Your sentences are running
when they need a walking stick Call the commas Call
the question marks Give me a single clue Tell me
where to breathe with a punctuation mark or two
From If You're Not Here, Please Raise Your Hand; Poems about School by Kalli Dakos, illustrated by Brian Karas (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1995)
3) We're told so much about the health benefits of deep breathing; of taking time to slow down. Remember to Breathe,
And just think: as writers, with our very own fingers
, we have magic power
. Add a comma, push the pause button.Applause for the Pauseby April Halprin Wayland
A comma,a breaking linea period.
A day off,a week awaysummer.
poem (c)2015 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.
* * * *
And finally, congratulations to TeachingAuthors' latest Book Giveaway Winner:
Poetry Friday is at Carol's Corner
this week--thanks for hosting, Carol!
As I said, TeachingAuthors
is taking our annual Summer Blogging Break after this post (our sixth
annual blogging break, for those of you who are paying attention). We'll be back in two shakes of a lamb's tail
--which technically is Monday, July 13th. So, grab your towel, dive into the pool, and swim a few laps while we're gone ~ TTFN!posted on a summer's day by April Halprin Wayland--with help from Eli (dog), Snot (cat), and Monkey.
Young Author's Camps are well under way. It's Sunday night, and I am anticipating tomorrow's new group of writers. To (sort of) quote Forrest Gump, "Writing campers are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get."
If this camp is true to form, it will be a Whitman's Sampler of writers. Kids whose parents think I am running a remedial writing boot camp despite the Parks' Department naming the program "Writing is Fun!" (Remember that exclamation point.) Learning disabled kids. Kids who are there because their parents need a place to park them for the week...and mine was the only camp that still had openings. (Always flattering to hear, "You're all that was left.") And of course, there are usually some kids who there because they love to write. Usually. Not always.
For the last several years, every session has had a core of writers for whom English is a second language. No one can put together a perfect English sentence the way a 10-year-old who learned the language in school can. Their subjects and verbs agree, something that seems "optional" to a number of "English only" kids. Tenses don't leap from past to present to future in the same sentence. Punctuation is meticulous. Speaking of punctuation, these ESOL kids have learned the Power of the Punctuation Point.
A lot of kids let the exclamation point do all the heavy lifting in a sentence. Rather than show the reader fear, joy, surprise (fill in the emotion here), they toss big handfuls of exclamation points instead. A paragraph of five sentences will include six exclamation points. (More is better, right?) After awhile those little points seem to rise off the page in platoons, stabbing at my eyeballs. A slight exaggeration, but after awhile all you see on the page is !!!!!!!!!!!!!
Example: I was so sad when we moved! I left all my friends behind! I didn't know anybody at school! I hated school! I was always in a bad mood! Even my dog was in a bad mood!!!!
Why are these kids so dependent on the point? My first thought is to blame texting and email which has shrunk language down to emoticons and acronyms (OMG, LOL, đ). But most of my students are not allowed on social media, or have email accounts. Back in the day, teachers blamed comic books for sloppy punctuation (Pow! Biff! Bam! Take that, Batman!). I haven't run across any of comic fans among my writers. Video games like World of Warcraft or Call of Duty, yes. Comic books, no.
There are a handful of chapter book writers who go over the top with the punctuation points for comic effect. I'm not laughing, but the kids are. Still, even those writers do it a couple of times per book at most, not every sentence.
It comes back to something I've posted about before...vocabulary. For my young writers, it is easier to use my two pet peeves, the word "very" combined with an adjective and an exclamation point. In revision of their work, I encourage them to find another way of expressing the emotion without using "very."
Example: The test was very hard!
Alternatives: The test was: challenging complicated confusing demanding difficult exhausting puzzling tiring unclear. (Pick one.)
Each of the alternatives offers a clearer picture of how or why the test was "hard." Was it physically
hard? Did your head ache? Did you write so much your hand hurt? Or was it hard to understand? Were the directions unclear? Did you mix-up your facts? Or were the questions more difficult than you expected? Or did it just make you think harder? "Hard" can mean a lot of things in describing a test. What exactly did you mean?
At this point I bring out my trusty thesaurus collection: beginners, intermediate and Roget's. My students are familiar with the thesaurus...the one on their word processing program. I compare the meager selection offered by the computer program to the many, many options in the thesaurus. They learn they cannot slide by with what I call "wimp words"...words too general to say what they mean. The substitutions for wimp words are in the thesaurus. By the end of the week, they have almost eliminated phrases such as very beautiful, very hot, very boring. Instead, flowers are exquisite, days swelter and TV shows uninteresting.
Once the "enabler" word "very" disappears, the punctuation marks often disappear as well. At least they do in descriptive passages. They still seem to show up in dialog. How else do you show some one is excited? Example: "It's raining!" she said excitedly.
In this case, the culprit is "said." Said is a perfectly good word. It's meant to be unobtrusive in dialog. Sometimes, however, you want to know how that sentence is...well...said. How could you show the speaker is excited without that pesky exclamation point? Swap said for one of the following verbs: screamed, shouted, yelled, exclaimed, moaned, groaned, cried, wailed, howled, wailed, gasped, choked,shrieked, rejoiced, squealed, cheered, announced.
If after all those choices the writer still can't let go of that exclamation point, I issue an ultimatum. Two exclamation points for the whole piece. More than two, I tell the student, "Imagine that I control the world supply of exclamation points. If you wan to use on, they are now a hundred dollars apiece." The silliness of the notion usually makes the writer think twice about using them.
Again, in the words of Forrest Gump..."And that's all I have to say about that."
No exclamation point.
Today is the last time to register for our give away of JoAnn Early Macken's board book, BABY SAYS MOO. For details, see JoAnn's June 12 post.
Posted by Mary Ann Rodman
As I write nonfiction books, I carefully consider sentence length and punctuation. Every sentence is crafted in a way that will support the pacing of my (true) story. Does sentence structure and punctuation affect the pacing of the story? Absolutely! How you write the text makes all the difference.
As an example, letâs consider the opening scene from my book,
Fourth Down and Inches:
Concussions and Footballâs Make-or-Break Moment
I could have begun this book in countless ways. I chose to begin the book with a young man named Von Gammon because I believe it sets the scene for the whole book. I wanted to pull the reader in by giving them a glimpse into Vonâs life. Once I decided to open the book with this young man, there were countless ways I could have written the scene.
Consider the following examples and choose which is more compelling:
Von Gammon lay down on the grass. He told his brother to stand on his hands. Von was strong and could prove it. He could lift his brother who was six feet six inches tall off the ground. Von was strong and skilled.
Von Gammon lay down on the grass and told his brother to stand on his hands. Von was strong, and he could prove it. Then he lifted his brotherâall six feet and six inches of himâclear off the ground. And Von wasnât just strong; he was skilled.
The second example is what appears in the published book. The first example communicates the same information, but doesnât pull the reader into the story. The difference is in the sentence structure and punctuation.
Just a few sentences later, I write about the moment things changed for Von. Which of the following is more interesting?
When Von was a sophomore, he played in a football game that took place on October 30. He was on the University of George team and they were playing the University of Virginia. Vonâs team was behind by seven points. The other team had control of the ball. Von was a defensive lineman. When the ball was snapped and the play began, the linemen hit each other. Von laid on the field after all the other players walked away.
On October 30 of Vonâs sophomore year, the Georgia Bulldogs were battling the University of Virginia. They trailed by seven points, and Virginia had the ball. Von took his place on the defensive line. The center snapped the ball. A mass of offensive linemen lurched toward Von, and he met them with equal force.
The play ended in a stack of tangled bodies.
One by one, the Virginia players got up and walked away. Von didnât.
The second example appears in the published book. Again it isnât the information that is different; it is how the information is presented that is different.
Why did I begin
Fourth Down and Inches:
Concussions and Football's Make-or-Break Moment
with Von Gammon?
Because Von sustained a concussion and died a few hours later. His death caused many to wonder if football was too dangerous.
The year was 1897.
Carla Killough McClafferty
Win an autographed copy Baby Says âMoo!â by JoAnn Early Macken. For more details on the book and enter the book giveaway, see her blog entry on June 12, 2015. The giveaway runs through June 22. The winner will be announced on June 26.
how to continue our TeachingAuthors Punctuation theme while following Bobbi Millerâs most illuminating âFor the Love of Commasâ post last Monday? I considered showcasing one of my favorite books (Amy Krouse Rosenthalâs EXCLAMATION MARK!, seemingly punctuation-themed or not), [Please note: In the above sentence I proudly reveal my Medicare-eligibility by honoring Strunk and Whiteâs Elements of Style rule that states that âin a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.â Itâs hard to teach an Old Dog New Tricks.] I was heavily leaning toward sharing EXCLAMATION MARK! â a. because this particular punctuation mark and I have a whole lot in common, spirit-wise, and b. the front book blurb so speaks to me ââŠwe all have an inner exclamation mark. The question is, how to find itâŠâ But then, while reading Hannah Pittardâs beautifully-written all-absorbing novel REUNION which features a most engaging heart-grabbing dysfunctional family, I came upon a scene in which the character Kate Pulaski who teaches script-writing speaks a word the author acknowledges in her closing she found in a NY Times Ann Beattie article âMe and Mrs. Nixonâ â a literary term Iâd never seen or heard before!
âI talked to Elliot about this on the plane,â she says. âIrmus,â I say. âWhen you reveal the meaning at the end.â âWhat are you talking about?â âŠ..âYou said, âI talked to Elliot about this on the plane,â but you havenât yet said what this is. Presumably you are now going to define âthis.ââ âDo your students have any idea what youâre talking about?â âNo,â I say. âNope. Not a word.â
I quickly marked my place in the novel to check the wordâs official definition.
To my surprise, my Random House Websterâs Unabridged Dictionary did not include an entry for irmus. Upon Googling âirmus,â I came upon Chris Bonney and her October 25, 2011 post âA New Word.â (Apparently Hannah Pittard was not the only one whoâd read Ann Beattieâs NY Times article âMe and Mrs. Nixon" and taken notice of this unusual word.) Bonney wrote that according to the BOOK OF LITERARY TERMS, an irmus describes the phenomenon in which ânot until the end of a passage does the reader fully understand what is being spoken of.â She herself described irmus as âthe periodic sentence, characterized by the suspension of the completion of sense until its end.â
In other words, an irmus acts like a punctuation mark, giving meaning and punch, emphasis and force, to the sentences that preceded it.
Or so I've told myself so I could share this term with you and hopefully give your day some punch. ;) Personally, I feel so much more alive when a heretofore unknown word which surprisingly has relevance in my writerâs life takes residence on my brainâs Hard Drive. I hope the same is true for you.
Hooray for good news! After 2 1/2 grueling years, our son is cancer free! My husband retires today! And I have a new book! The padded board book edition of Baby Says "Moo!" is here, and you could win an autographed copy for you or your favorite baby.
You can read more about Baby Says "Moo!"
in this interview with the VCFA Launchpad
, the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults blog. Enter below to win an autographed copy. The giveaway runs through June 22. We'll announce the winner on June 26. Good luck!
Today's Poetry Friday Roundup is at Jama's Alphabet Soup
JoAnn Early Mackena Rafflecopter giveaway
âWhat is one manâs colon is another manâs comma.â
|My kitty, Comma. |
~ Mark TwainAs a writing teacher, and a working writer
, I found the greatest challenge is learning the fine art of punctuation. The secret, I discovered, is writing for the reader's eye. Understanding how the reader approaches text offers you key insight into how to write with clarity and grace
Readers approach the text by moving left to right. Readers interpret information by this forward projection. Readers expect subject-verb-object structures in sentences. They tend to focus on the verb that resolves the sentence's syntax, and in so doing, tend to resist information until after the verb is identified. This is why concrete subjects and action-oriented verbs carry the weight of the sentence. If the subject is vague or nonexistent, or the verb is passive, the sentence often falls apart.
Because readers project forward, they intuitively search for the subject, skimming over qualifying clauses or phrases that precede the subject. This becomes important in longer sentences, when the subject does not debut until mid-way or beyond. This is why subjects placed as close to the opening of the sentence as possible make for stronger sentences.
Active voice maintains this forward process. It originates with the grammatical subject, flows through the verb, and results in an outcome. Some research suggests that readers understand and remember information more readily when structure corresponds to this cause-effect sequence. Passive structure forces this action in reverse: a subject is either implied or supplied in a subordinate phrase, and the outcome becomes the grammatical subject. The rhythm of a narrative is found in its punctuation
. As sentences crash and fall âlike the waves of the sea,â punctuation becomes the music of the language, says Noah Lukeman, in one of my favorite reads, A Dash of Style
(2006).Periods are the stop signs
, says Lukeman, and hold the most power in the punctuation universe.
All other marks â the comma, the dash, the colon and semi-colon, and so on â serve only to modify what lies between the periods. Sometimes a usurper, like the exclamation point or the question mark, intervenes, but its control is temporary. Imagine a book without periods, or a book that has periods after every word, and you begin to understand its supreme power.
A well-placed period, especially in battle with one of its usurpers, helps pacing and adds emphasis. It speeds the narrative up in an action-sequence, heightening the drama. For example, can you hear the drum beat in this passage from my book, Girls of Gettysburg
(Holiday House, 2014)?
Bayonets glistening in the hot sun, the wall of men stepped off the rise in perfect order. The cannoneers cheered as the soldiers moved through the artillery line, into the open fields.
The line had advanced less than two hundred yards when the Federals sent shell after shall howling into their midst.
Boom! Boom! Boom!
The shells exploded, leaving holes where the earth had been. Shells pummeled the marching men. As one man fell in the front of the line, another stepped up to take his place. Smoke billowed into a curtain of white, thick and heavy as fog, stalking them across the field.
Still they marched on. They held their fire, waiting for the order.
Boom! A riderless horse, wide-eyed and bloodied, emerged from the cloud of smoke. It screamed in panic as another shell exploded.
Boom! All around lay the dead and dying. There seemed more dead than living now. Men fell legless, headless, armless, black with burns and red with blood.
Boom! They very earth shook with the terrible hellfire.
Still they marched on.
Long sentences can be very effective to heighten emotional drama even as it slows the action down. In another example from Girls of Gettysburg
: âDawn broke still as pond water, and the army was already on the march, moving east along the Pike. As the bloody sun broke free of the horizon, the mist rose, too. The air heated steadily, another hellfire day
But, as the clichĂ© reminds us, there can be too much of a good thing (except chocolate, of course). A string of short sentences can become a choppy ride. Like riding in a Model T Ford. Stuck in the wrong gear. Chug! Chug! Chug! Going over a rutted road. It bounces. And bounces. And bounces. My head hurts. Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! Stop. This. Car. And. Let. Me. Out. And no one wants to read a sentence that never ends, one that goes on and on and on and on, in some stream-of-consciousness rambling of fanciful swooping and looping and drooping that serves no purpose other than to satisfy the writerâs ego.If the period is the stop sign, then the comma is the speed bump
, says Lukeman. It controls the ebb and flow of the sentenceâs rhythm. A comma connects and divides. In fact, as Lukeman warns, itâs downright schizophrenic. It divides the sentences into parts, clarifying its meaning, or in some cases, changing its meaning. Consider this favorite Facebook meme: A woman, without her man, is nothing. But, with a wave of the magic punctuation wand, it changes to this: A woman: without her, man is nothing.
A comma connects smaller ideas to create a more powerful idea: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
Everyone has heard the saying, placing a comma is like taking a breath in a sentence. But a sentence with too many commas sends the reader into hyperventilation. And one with not enough commas forces the reader to hold her breath unto she turns blue
. So, where do you place your comma?
There are a thousand handbooks on punctuation, each offering a thousand rules on where and when to place a comma, and each rule has a thousand exceptions. Perhaps the better question is: what is your purpose in using the comma?
As a stylistic devise, I offer that itâs one of the most emotive punctuation marks because it mimics the characterâs state of mind. For example, from my Girls of Gettysburg
, you know this poor character is frightened: âWeezy sang, quiet as a cricketâs whisper. But in the tiny room, in the dark, it seemed loud enough
.âSomewhere between the period and the comma is the semi-colon
. This is the mediator, says Lukeman, and âa bridge between the two worlds
.â With a style all its own, the semi-colon connects two thematically-related ideas while maintaining the independence of both.
It can be used to smooth out the choppy ride found in a string of short sentences, or give a breath of air in a long-winded sentence.
However, the semi-colon doesnât always play well with others. It competes for attention with the comma. Because a semi-colon slows the action down, the effect of a comma and, most especially the period, is minimized.And then there are colons
. Colons are just plain bossy. They don't like to share. They especially donât like semi-colons, despite the similar names. With a flair for the dramatic, colons are the master magicians: they reveal. (<See what I did there
?) Colons hold the audience in suspense, says Lukeman. Then, at the right moment, the writer pulls the curtain back to reveal some fundamental truth of the narrative. Remember the Facebook meme example? A woman: without her, man is nothing
But too often misunderstood and underappreciated, the colon tends to be reduced to mundane tasks, like signaling lists and offering summaries.
Then, of course, there are the dashes, ellipses, slashes and myriad of other punctuation marks. Alas, Iâve run out of space. In the end, as Noah Lukeman says, punctuation is organic, a complex universe subject to the writerâs purpose and personal tastes. What works in one narrative doesnât work in every narrative. And for every rule, there is an exception. At its core, however, punctuation is a journey of self-awareness and reveals as much about the writer as it does about the writing.For more information, you might find these useful
Boyle, Toni and K.D. Sullivan. The Gremlins of Grammar. NY: McGraw-Hill, 2006.
Lukeman, Noah. A Dash of Style. NY: WW Norton, 2006.Bobbi Miller
âPunctuation in skilled hands is a remarkably subtle system of signals, signs, symbols and winks that keep readers on the smoothest road. Too subtle, perhaps: Has any critic or reviewer ever praised an author for being a master of punctuation, a virtuoso of commas? Has anyone every won a Pulitzer, much less a Nobel, for elegant distinctions between dash and colon, semi-colon and comma?
~ Rene J. Cappon, Associated Press Guide to Punctuation
By: Carmela Martino and 5 other authors
Blog: Teaching Authors
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April Halprin Wayland
, children's poems
, critique groups
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I'm wildly inspired by the postings of my fellows at Poetry Friday today--see the link below.
Bobbi begins our What-Inspires-You series with Inspirations and Geniuses; Jo Ann is up next with the help of her camera: Zooming in on Inspiration; Esther offers An Inspiring Weekly Digest You Need to Know About; Carla opens our eyes to Inspiration From the Library of Congress; and Mary Ann touches us with tales about family members in Inspiration is a Blast From the Past.
So what are the top three things that inspire my daily poems?
âI love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.â ~ Douglas Adams
I was inspired to write this post today when I was putting an appointment in my calendar...and saw that I was supposed to have posted this morning. Oops!
"My sole inspiration is a telephone call from a director." ~ Cole Porter, composer and songwriter
Deadlines and assignments mean that I cannot take all day cleaning my proverbial closet. I write and rewrite...and bam!--even if it's not the world's most perfect piece, I post it or send it off--done!2) Life. Especially the sad parts.
"I've had an unhappy life, thank God." ~ Russell Baker, author, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist
The difficult and/or unhappy times of my life are rich grounds for writing. I can create this richness, though, even when my life is humming along, if I listen to what's happening in my chest cavity. If I walk into the world looking for my poem, all senses open.
The last time my mom and I took a nature walk. She's the shorter one.3) Someone who believes in me. Two or three someones is even better.
"Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher
My husband came with me on a quick trip to meet with my agent and two of my editors this week. I wanted him to meet these significant people in my work life. New York can be exhilarating...and it can scare the pants off me, too. It always takes me a day to remember how to use the subways and navigate the city. His presence on the subway and in those meetings meant the world to me.
My sailing-around-the-world friend, Bruce
, is a daily supporter of my work, even when he says the poem doesn't work (which of course I know he's just not reading correctly--he's clearly tired from working on the boat all day).
Every writer in my critique groups past and present and everyone in the Kidlitosphere
community: we cheer each other on; that cheering echoes and echoes and echoes inside all of us.
And so? Here's today's (raw) poem written 1) for a deadline
, 2) based on life
, and with the support
of--well, all of you.LOOKING FOR INSPIRATIONby April Halprin Wayland
bald little godsits on the pondâs rim, his feet all in
his head turning side to sidetoward fluttering leavestoward ebbing tide
below impatient cloudsthat mumble, This is going too slow
so they snap out a spiky lighting streak and Manâdoes little god go!
He jumps right up and does he run!Heâs going, going, getting thingsDONE!poem and drawings (c) April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.
Get inspired by the bounty at Buffy's Blog
today--thanks for hosting, Buffy!
posted by April Halprin Wayland, Monkey, and our always inspired dog, Eli
I find inspiration in real life. Rummaging through flea markets and antique stores, examining the jumbled pieces of other peoples' lives sets my story radar pinging. How did these odds and ends come to rest, unwanted by their "families," in a junk store? A story begins simmering in the back of my brain.
I am addicted to old family pictures. I gaze at the walls of other people's houses, memorizing family portraits. My mother practically raised me at estate sales and junk stores. I was not allowed to touch anything, but I could ask all the questions I wanted. What was this metal thing used for? Who wore shoes that buttoned up the sides? Did you have a doll like this when you were a little girl?
The two people who encouraged my curiosity in the past would be surprised to learn I consider them the fairy godmothers of my writing. Those two people were my Grandmother Rodman and my mom, both natural born storytellers.
|The couple in the middle are my Rodman grandparents|
Although her father had been a country schoolmaster, my Grandmother Rodman's education ended at 11. However, she loved to read and never stopped learning through out her very long life (she lived to be 97). Her childhood was positively Dickensian; orphaned at 11, she lived with an "evil stepfather" and numerous half-siblings. Her older brothers had gone off to "seek their fortunes" and escape their abusive stepfather. Murder, the county poor farm, setting off on her own at 15 to make her way in the world...all these elements were part of my grandmother's story. As a young mother she survived the most deadly tornado in U.S. history. She told "The Storm Story" when few people talked about tragedies. My grandmother made sense of her own life by telling the stories, over and over, always in an undramatic, matter of fact voice.
She knew which details would make her story real for a little listener...the taste of homemade peanut brittle, the mustard color of a funnel cloud so enormous it blocked the sky, the stiff, slick material of her mother's "Sunday dress." Her stories were peopled with characters named Country and Myrtle and Ardell. She evoked the sound of their voices, the way they stood and moved, the little quirks that made those long-dead people come alive. She was economical with her words, as she brought the events to the climax, never once saying "Oh I forgot to say that..."
Not only could my grandmother put names to the family photos she kept in a big silk stationary box under her bed, she could spin stories about every one of them. She also told me about my father growing up in small-town, Depression-era, Southern Illinois. My father did not tell me his own boyhood until very recently. Learning what kind of little boy he had been, helped me understand my sometimes puzzling, taciturn dad.
|Mom on the far right, her brother Jimmy and sister Agnes|
My mother would be shocked to learn that she inspired me. I was a sickly kid and missed a lot of school. Mom entertained me with stories of her
childhood, first on a small family farm and then helping her mother run a Pittsburgh boarding house during the Depression. The middle child of eight, her stories seemed exciting and exotic, better than any library book. Mom prefaced her stories with, "Now times were different when I was a little. We probably shouldn't have done some of this stuff then, and you
aren't to do it now. If you do, I will stop telling you stories." That was threat enough to keep me from trying some of the stunts of Mom and her family. My uncles' trapeze in the farm's apple orchard. The Great Silverware War of Easter 1932. Their beloved maiden aunt who taught them to play poker. The first story I ever wrote at age seven was about Mom moving from to town after the bank took the farm. My 11-year-old mother and her sister rode a streetcar back to their old home, to gather whatever they had could of what was left behind. (No, I'm not telling you what they took...I'm still working on this story.)
Mom was a one-woman show. She imitated voices, created sound effects and even acted out the events when her vocabulary failed her. Ironically, she considered herself shy and disliked speaking in public. Writing anything, such as a letter, was a laborious process that would go through several drafts before she would write on her good linen stationary with a fountain pen. Since Mom wrote to at least some of her family every week, that was a lot of moaning and groaning and crumpled up notebook paper. (I learned the pain and value of revision early!)` Jimmy's Stars
began when I found a WWII two-star service flag in a box lot of china I bought at an auction. I knew from photos that Mom's family had a four-star flag in the window of the boarding house (three for my uncles and one for Mom who was a WAVE). Looking at that flag, I heard my mother's voice recounting life on the Homefront, the terror of receiving a telegram, the peculiarity of wartime rationing. With those stories as a foundation,Jimmy's Stars
was the fastest I've ever written anything...18 months. (That included lightening striking my computer and wiping out the unbacked-up first five chapters.) Yankee Girl
is based on my own childhood stories I told my daughter. I am currently working on two books that are based on Grandmother Rodman tales.
I'm sure that neither my grandmother or mother knew they would inspire my own books. Their stories taught me the beauty and drama of everyday life. This sense of wonder in what seems ordinary to us, I try to pass on to my own students. Over the years, they have told me about grandparents who wandered in the rubble of WWII Europe, orphaned and homeless. Of their parents as children, in refugee camps, fleeing Asia by boat. One girl's family escaped the Holocaust by immigrating to Cuba... and then fled Cuba after the Revolution. My hope is that these tales will live on in my students' writing. I think the best gift you can give a child is a family story.
I was blessed to be descended from two of the best storytellers ever. Thanks, Meemaw. Thanks, Mom.
Posted by Mary Ann Rodman
As a researcher, one of the places that inspire me is the Library of Congress (LOC). The building itself is a national treasure, but the collections it holds are even more precious. No matter what you are interested in, chances are that the Library of Congress has some material that relates to it. It is a gold mine of primary source material for teachers, students, and writers.
The LOC has a vast amount of material online, but let me give you an example of just one small slice of it. Letâs take photographs from the Civil War. When I look at this collection I see powerful, amazing images of people on both sides of the war. While Iâm interested in photos of the famous people like Lincoln, Lee and Grant, Iâm even more fascinated by images of average soldiers who are often unidentified. When I look at their faces, I wonder what they experienced and if they survived the war.
Photos of soldiers are not the only type of images in their collection; many are of women and children. This touching image of a young girl in a dark mourning dress holding a photo of her father, says a lot-silently.
This morning I found an unexpected collection at the LOC: eyewitness drawings of Civil War scenes. There are lots of battle scenes and landscapes, but the one that drew my eye was this sketch of a soldier. It makes me wonder who this man was and why the artist sketched his image. Was he a friend or brother? Was he a hero or a deserter?
Images like these can teach students a lot about history. And they can inspire both fiction and nonfiction writers.
Carla Killough McClaffertyhttp://www.loc.gov/
And this is Maria Popova who will gladly pick it each and every Sunday morning if you register to receive Brain Pickings, her weekly free website digest that I promise you offers unlimited inspiration to keep you keepinâ on â personally, professionally and any way you need to.
Ms. Popoval, âa cartographer of meaning in a digital world,â continues to offer visitors to her website âan inventory of cross-disciplinary interestingness, spanning art, science, design, history, philosophy and more.â
The Sunday digest offers the weekâs most âunmissableâ articles. Hereâs who and what came my way last Sunday, May 17:
Wendell Berry on How to Be a Poet and a Complete Human Being
The Heart and the Bottle (by Oliver Jeffers): A Tender Illustrated Fable of What Happens When We Deny Our Difficult Emotions
The Magic of Moss and What It Teaches Us About the Art of Attentiveness to Life at All Scales
I owe fellow writer and friend Ellen Reagan untold thanks for first connecting me to
whatâs now my weekly dose of inspiration, insights and mind-whirling knowledge I never even knew I needed to have.
âWOWâs!â and sighs and smiles and âI didnât know thatâs!â usually punctuate my first reading of the digest. At the end of the day, I return to save/copy to my journal particularly relevant and/or meaningful quotes and lines - about life, love, children, work, writing, disappointment, joy, wonder, marriage, you-name-it. Throughout the week that follows I find myself forwarding at least one article or quote to someone I care about. You can listen here to Maria Popova talk about how and why she created Brain Pickings.
Youâll be so happy she did.
And do subscribe to the weekly digest. Youâll be so happy you did.
Happy Brain Pickings!
You can also savor Maria Popova's delicious and nourishing fare via Facebook and Twitter.
(www.facebook.com/brainpickings.mariapopova/Brain Pickings @brainpickings
When I finish a big project, I usually have to take a few days to get my bearings. I look around, dazed, trying to figure out what to do next. Morning Pages help. Walking to the lake helps. Spring is inspiring!
My camera helps me focusâliterallyâwhen I need to slow down and pay attention. For me, that can be the key to opening up to new ideas.
I just turned in the fourth (and final) book in a nonfiction series for an educational publisher. It drained me more than I expected. So Iâm filling the well. Here are some things Iâm paying attention to.
Last fall, I buried 40 potted milkweed plants (3 varieties) under dry leaves next to the house. When the weather warmed up, I put them in the sun next to the garage. So far, 18 of them have sprouted. Three more plants (and one more variety) have popped up in the flower bed, which is shadier. Now I'm watching for monarchs. (Are you? Check the migration map
to see if they're in your neighborhood yet.)
A pair of white-breasted nuthatches were cleaning out a hole in a branch above the garage the other day. Will they build a nest there? I hope so. I love their weird calls (described by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
as "a loud, nasal yank
") and the way they hop down tree trunks head first.
One of my favorite wildflowers, a shooting star
, is blooming in the park. What an encouraging surprise! Maybe I can go back to work now.Bobbi started this series
of Teaching Authors
posts about inspiration with a collection of wonderful quotes. Be sure to check it out if you need a dose of inspirationâand who doesn't?
Congratulations to Karen C, who won our giveaway of the YA novel in verse Dating Down
by Stephanie Lyons. (Read all about it in Esther's interview
.)Baby Says "Moo!"
is now a board book! Watch for a Teaching Authors
Book Giveaway in June.
The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme
JoAnn Early Macken
By: Carmela Martino and 5 other authors
Blog: Teaching Authors
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, Book Giveaway
, Christina Banach
, Eleanor Roosevelt
, Fred White
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, Inspirational Quotes
, Laurie J. Edwards
, Marcia Strykowski
, Mark Twain
, Rebecca Colby
, Yvonne Ventresca
, Add a tag
|Thomas Edison, 1921.|
Title adapted from Laurie J. Edwardsâ discussion on inspiration. Thank you! And donât forget to enter to win a copy of Stefanie Lyonâs YA novel in verse, DATING DOWN. You can enter here between now and midnight, May 15, 2015.Fred White
blogged in 2010 that âBeing inspired smacks of amateurish, daydreamy passivity, the notion that some supernatural presence must appear before us before the words can flow. And weâre reminded to death of Thomas Edisonâs overquoted words about invention demanding 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration, perhaps not realizing that without that primal 1 percent jolt from the gods, Edison might not have been driven to sweat out the hard work or to cope with a zillion things going wrong.â
Inspiration is important for any creative activity. In fact, some argue that art made the world (See Nigel Spiveyâs How Art Made the World
, 2005). When early humans produced art over 77,000 years ago, they crafted tools and embellished it with color, but the defining element that made it stand above their Homo habilis ancestors using tools is found the singular capacity of using the imagination
. From these humble beginnings, civilizations were born.And inspiration fires the imagination.
Iâve asked some of my favorite people about their favorite inspirations, and include them below. All photographs are from the Library of Congress, used with permission. From Laurie J. Edwards, YA author extraordinaire
âObstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eye off the goal.â ~ Henry Ford
|Henry Ford, 1924. His first car and his ten millionth car.|
From Rebecca Colby, author of Itâs Raining Bats and Frogs and other picturebooks:"The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it."
|Bamboo Gardens, China, 1900.|
~ Chinese Proverb
|Martha Graham, Age 67, 1961.|
From Marcia Strykowski, author of Call Me Amy
:"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one ofyou in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost."
~ Martha Graham
From Yvonne Ventresca, author of Pandemic:âYou gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. . . .You must do the thing you think you cannot do.â
|Eleanor Roosevelt, 1946.|
~ Eleanor Roosevelt And because it's Mark Twain
|Mark Twain, 1903.|
âTravel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.â
~ Mark Twain
From Christina Banach, author of Minty and other YA fiction: âI wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.â
~ Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird.
|Historic mural depicting the Harper Lee novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird" located in Monroeville, Alabama. 1961.|
âInspiration matters because it prods us to traverse the full spectrum of human experience. An important part of what it means to be a writer is to become so turned on to the business of being alive, to be so completely inspired by life, that you will harvest ideas for writing everywhereâfrom books, from people, from music and other art forms, from the natural world, and most of all from your own inner resources
.â ~ Fred White
, 2010What inspires you?Bobbi Miller
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 Sewellâs Black Beauty (1877), Robert C. OâBrienâs Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (1971), Walter Farleyâs The Black Stallion (1941), and the quintessential animal story, E.B. Whiteâs Charlotteâs Web (1952).
And this year, Iâve found more to add to my collection!
Lumpito and the Painter from Spain (Pajama Press, April 2013): Monica Kullingâs poetic narrative retells the story of a special friendship with sparse eloquence. Dean Griffithâs rich, vivid watercolors capture the luscious landscape, the bold personality of the painter, the soulful expression of Lumpito as he dodges Big Dog, and Lumpâs sheer delight as he finds his new home. A gorgeous and rewarding tale of love, and a perfect read-aloud for a rainy â 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 Strykowskiâs
coming of age story is a wonder. Amy Anderson is the shy protagonist. The quirky Miss Cogshell is dubbed Old Coot by the townâs children. And the mysterious Craig, the most popular boy in class who doesnât 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 âOn 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.
Itâs Raining Bats & Frogs!
(Feiwel & Friends, August 2015): Whatâs a witch to do when a rainstorm threatens the Halloween Parade? Rebecca Colbyâs
book doesnât come out until August, 2015, but I canât wait! I loved Rebeccaâs 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 âa wee Lassie who swallowed a midgie, so tiny and squidgy!â I have no doubts this one will be just as entertaining! âWhy 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.â
-- Charlotte's Web
, E.B. White What are your favorite animal stories?Bobbi Miller
Iâm sorry to see National Poetry Month end. Mine went out with a bang, though, in a wonderful Family Literacy Night celebration at an elementary school in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Happily, the date coincided with Poem in Your Pocket Day
What fun to see students so excited about poetry! To watch them proudly pull out and unfold their handwritten index cards. To hear them bravely recite their favorite poems.
I was able to narrow my own favorite poems down to elevenâquite an achievement, I think! I brought five copies of each to hand out in case anyone forgot theirs. Iâm glad to say that I came home with only three poems and that many of the ones I handed out went to parents. I hope theyâll keep sharing.
On to May! For this Teaching Authors
series, weâre writing about animals. Bobbi began with some favorite animal books
For all of April (National Poetry Month), I wrote a haiku a day. (You can see the April archive on my blog
.) I looked back through the poems and found that 13 of the 30 addressed animals, mostly birds. Here in Wisconsin, we see a lot of birds migrating through to summer homes at this time of year, so that seems logical. One thing I loved about the daily haiku practice is that this year, I noticed.
Hereâs one more haiku from this morning. I canât seem to stop!
Squirrel winds her way
from limb to limb, encumbered
mouth full of dry leaves
The Poetry Friday Roundup is at A Year of Reading
, at least for now. Enjoy!
JoAnn Early Macken
No matter how my writing students define âsuccessâ â perhaps beginning a picture book, completing a novel, earning an advanced degree or maybe winning a grant, their stories of success gladden my heart. Today I share my former student Stefanie Lyonsâ Success Story to celebrate this monthâs publication of her debut novel DATING DOWN (Flux), a YA novel in verse, with hopes her story will gladden your heart too. Thanks to Fluxâs generosity, one lucky TeachingAuthor reader can win a copy of DATING DOWN simply by entering our Book Giveaway which runs from today May 4 through midnight May 15. (Please see details at the end of Stefanieâs Q & A). I first worked with Stefanie independently almost 15 years ago on a middle grade novel that still plays in my head. We worked together again in 2008 in my University of Chicagoâs Writerâs Studio Novel Workshop. I was honored to recommend her to the Vermont Collegeâs MFA in Writing for Children program in 2009 and of course, cheer her on as she completed her graduate degree. Stefanie describes herself on her website as a writer of all things young adultish.
The tag line for DATING DOWN is a grabber: When a good girl falls for a bad boy.
âShe thought she loved him. She thought she could change him. She thought if she just believed in him enough, his cheating and his drugs and his lying would stop, and she'd be his and he'd be hers and they'd love each other forever. But for Samantha Henderson, X--the boy she will not name--is trouble. He's older, edgier, bohemian . . . and when he starts paying attention to Sam, she can't resist him. Samantha's family and friends try to warn her, but still she stays with him, risking her future and everything that really matters.â The Booklist review lauded Stefanieâs musical, poignant verse, calling the story âlyrical and heart-wrenching, exploring the emotional vicissitudes of love, sex, and drugs.â Kirkus recommended the book to fans of Ellen Hopkins. âTurbulent love via turbulent poems.â Sheâs also appearing on my First-Timers Panel at the Chicago Printers Row Lit Fest the weekend of June 7 and 8. Take heart and hope from my interview with Stefanie and be sure to enter our Book Giveaway for a free copy of Stefanieâs DATING DOWN.
And thanks to Stefanie who's out and about connecting with her readers for taking time to share her Success Story with our readers.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . Your unswerving focus from the year 2000 on to learn and hone your craft coupled with your non-stop efforts to grow as a writer, is note-worthy. Whatâs kept you going all these years? How did you come to know and believe what I shared in my 2009 VCFA recommendation: i.e. Stefanie Lyons was seated on the Right Pew in the Right Church.
What has kept me going all these years was the thought that I couldnât quit. Iâm a very
stubborn person when I want to be! Also, writing was something that took ahold of me from a young age and never let go. (Maybe itâs more stubborn than I am.) Writing is how I find fulfillment. Itâs my joy. As for me being seated in the Right Pew in the Right Church, as you put it, I would rephrase it to say that I made sure I was in the Church and never got up from the Pew. Itâs a story of tenacity, mostly. Can you share with our readers how DATING DOWN, a YA novel in verse, came to be â and the revisions it underwent, under the guidance of first your agent and then your editor? I was in grad school when I started DATING DOWN. I needed something to turn in and found this in a folder in my house. I pulled it out and thought, âWell, this isnât as bad as I remember.â I revisited it and sent it in. My advisor loved it and helped me pare the voice into a more traditional verse novel. At the time, it was a prose/verse hybrid. My agent didnât weigh in on this novel because it was already in the hands of Flux when we met. But thatâs another story. Youâre an enthusiastic member of the debut 2015 debut author blog Fearless Fifteeners. How has this group helped you grow as an author now out in the world bringing her book to readers? Iâve learned so much from them. Honestly, theyâve made this journey so fun. Having a group of writers going through the same debut experience at the same time has made the scary stuff a bonding experience and the highs that much higher. They provided a place where I could ask the dumb questions without bugging my editor or agent. How do I request my book be stocked in independent bookstores? Where do I go to make bookmarks? How do you sign your name to readers? Stuff like that. And the cheer-leading on release day. Banding together to do panels. These things have made all the difference. It has been the #1 most defining thing that has shaped my debut year. And thatâs saying a lot. You â also â have a solid career in advertising! How do you balance your days so you have time to write â and â promote? Priorities. Some things are more important than others. Like sleep. Who needs it? Whatâs that One Thing You Wished Youâd Known when you began your Writerâs Journey? How truly wonderful the Childrenâs Writerâs community is. And how much Iâd grow just by befriending them. I always considered writing as a solo sport. It is quite the opposite, actually.
Enter via the Rafflecopter widget below to win a copy of Stefanie Lyonâs YA novel in verse, DATING DOWN. You can enter between now and midnight, May 15, 2015.a Rafflecopter giveaway
Happy Childrenâs Book Week! Visit the website to learn the bounty of events and activities that commemorate this once-a-year week and to read more about this yearâs poster creator, Grace Lee. Book Weekâs goal? To make sure every child is a reader! But today is Wednesday, yes? â which means itâs time for a TeachingAuthors Wednesday Writing Workout, one that will give every child, both current and former, the opportunity to write.
Donât forget to enter our Book Giveaway to win a copy of Stefanie Lyonsâ YA novel in verse DATING DOWN (Flux). The deadline to enter is midnight May 15.
. . . . . . . .
Letâs tweak the Childrenâs Book Week goal a tad to readâŠ. make sure every child â current and former (!) â is a reader who writes!
Click HERE to download these childrenâs book week story starters and create your own ending! What I Did begun by National Ambassador Katherine Paterson (New!) BLAM! begun by Mo Willems (2009 Children's Choice Book Award winner) (New!) The Night Visitor begun by Dinah Williams (2009 Children's Choice Book Award winner) (New!) And Then... begun by National Ambassador Emeritus Jon Scieszka
Our theme this month is animals, so my thoughts immediately went to some fascinating details I like share with students when I do a school visit relating to my book The Many Faces of George Washington.
George Washington trained his own horses and was considered to be an expert horseman. During the American Revolution, General Washington rode one of two horses. One was a brown horse named Nelson. The other was a white horse named Blueskin. During battle (yes, Washington actually fought in battle) he rode Nelson because the noise and chaos didnât bother the calm horse. But when Washington was just going about everyday life, he rode Blueskin.
In portraits painted during the 18th century that depict Washington during the Revolution, he is shown with one of these two horses. If the scene depicts a scene following a battle, Nelson is pictured. But when the painting is not a battle scene, Blueskin is with him.
|General George Washington at Trenton by John Trumbull|
To see a portrait of Washington with Nelson:
It fascinates me to think how much American history happened on horseback!
Carla Killough McClafferty
Remember to enter our book giveaway to win a copy of Stefanie Lyonsâ YA novel in verse DATING DOWN (Flux). The deadline to enter is midnight May 15.
Books where the main characters are animals are among my favorite. Charlotte's Web is forever and always the one book I would take to a desert island. I love the work of picture book authors Kevin Henkes, Carolyn Crimi and Lisa Wheeler, who often place their stories in the animal world. (If there is a Hall of Fame for picture book authors, those three should definitely be included.)
I love what I call "talking critter" books, in which the animals are anthropomorphic. I just can't write them.
To me, anthropomorphic books are a form of fantasy. Animals don't talk or go to kindergarden or wear sneakers. Fantasy. I don't write fantasy. I can't
write fantasy. My creative mind just doesn't work that way. My stories are mostly rooted in the real world of children. I'm a literal sort of person.
I have published two "talking critter" books. Surprise Soup
was written about little boys. Something about that manuscript inspired the art department and the illustrator to make the little boys into little bears. Changing the species of the character made it a much funnier book...but I can't take any credit for writing an anthropomorphic book. The illustrator did it for me. (Thank G. Brian Karas!)
The other book, Camp K-9,
was inspired by my dog, Nilla. She was a cocker-spitz mix, with floppy ears, a thick white coat, and a joyful personality. In fact, Nilla was far more popular with the neighbors than the Downing family. She was actually invited to parties that we weren't! Nilla was so human-like, it wasn't hard for me to imagine her as a teen-age girl. My husband and I would invent adventures for her. Nilla as a Laker Girl. Running up a phone bill. Hanging out at the mall with her (also imaginary) BFF, Stacy.
When we traveled, we boarded our "child" at a kennel called Camp K-9, which had a cute logo of a dog toting a sleeping bag and a tennis racquet. That got my imagination going. What would
dogs do at camp? I used my own experiences as a camper and a counselor to put together a day as a "doggy camper." I used a lot of dog puns and references to add humor. The other "campers" were based on the dogs in my neighborhood. That was pretty easy.
After that, I had to find some tension, a problem, that my girl dog might experience with her bunkmates. That was the hard part. I fiddled and fiddled with the story for four or five years. Finally, after many many
critiques by my friends and writing group, I felt Camp K-9
was as good as it was going to get. (Fortunately, my publisher liked it.)
Will I write another "talking critter" book? I don't know. I had been inventing "Nilla adventures" in my head for ten years before I tried to write one down, and it was the most difficult thing I've ever written. Cute one-liners and puns are one thing; shaping them into a coherent story, with a beginning, middle and end. Who knows? Right now I am "inventing adventures" for my extremely ill-behaved cat, Rosie. (She's giving me the evil eye right now.) Maybe...
Don't forget to enter our latest book giveaway
for Stephanie Lyons' new book, Dating Down.
The deadline is midnight, May 15 2015, so don't miss out.
Posted by Mary Ann Rodman
By: Carmela Martino and 5 other authors
Blog: Teaching Authors
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April Halprin Wayland
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Howdy, Campers! What's store for you at TeachingAuthors today? A new picture book, its blog tour, a guest author and poet, two original poems, and a reminder to enter our latest book giveaway . Whew!
In honor of Poetry Friday, (link at the bottom of this post) my teacher and friend, New York Times bestselling author, Barbara Bottner has opened her notebook to share a poem with us from a work-in-progress (W.I.P.). And I've added my poem about being in her writing group.
But first: TeachingAuthors is proud to be part of Barbara's blog tour (see tour schedule below) celebrating her brand-new book, Feet, Go to Sleep (Penguin Random House), illustrated by Maggie Smith.
From the book flap:Fiona is not ready for bed. But after a long day at the beach, her mom knows she must be tired from her head to her toes. So together they send each part of her off to sleep. As Fiona relaxes her body, she remembers a day when feet were for splashing in the waves, legs were for running after cousins, tummy was for holding strawberries, and arms were for throwing beach balls. And bit by bit, memory by memory, Fiona slips from a great day into a good night.
Trust me, Campers, it's a perfect-for-summer bedtime book, weaving in a relaxation technique we can use to help kids go to sleep after an exciting day.
And when I asked Barbara if she would share a poem from her W.I.P. verse novel, I See Thunder,
she said, "Sure!"IâM A MONSTERby Barbara Bottner
Iâm not Davyâs motherbut Mother demandsthat I do things she should do
like take him with me, everywhere I go.And Davy walks really slowly.Sometimes I wonder if he does itjust to annoy me.
Today, Iâm going to the Grand Concourseto buy fresh salty pretzels.
Just as I'm leaving, Mother says:âtake David with you.âHer shrill voicesays do not dare object.
She has no idea how that makesgoing to the Grand Concoursenothing like what I had in mind. âCâmon,â I say.âPut your jacket on already!âHe's so easy going.I'm so hard going.
âWhere are your glasses, Davy?âNow my voiceis shrill.
He looks at me with his big browns,mumbles: âItâs hard to be mewhen youâre angry at me.â
Thatâs when I get a grip on my nasty self.
(c) Barbara Bottner from her work-in-progress, I SEE THUNDER. All rights reserved.
Thank you, Barbara. I especially love these lines: He's so easy going./I'm so hard going
....âItâs hard to be me/when youâre angry at me.â
...and that last line. One poem can say so much.
When asked "Where do you get your ideas?
" here are some pearls from Barbara:...the âmaterialâ we use in the beginning is often our own. So I wrote books about being the worst dancer in the class, being messy, being rebellious. Itâs not the events themselves, itâs what they stir up in meâŠWe are the clay and we are the potter and I believe you have to be both if you want to be an authorâŠwork authenticallyâŠfollow where the story wants to go.
There's too much to tell you about what a fine teacher Barbara is...
...how intuitive she is, how she challenges us to dig deeper and deeper still...
AROUND BARBARAâS TABLE
by April Halprin Wayland
the tinkling of her full moon necklace impossible feats of metaphor. Six of us around her rosewood table foreshadowing, fortune telling
The illusion of allusion.
A prophecy of sorcery.
She's a shaman jingling bracelets
(c) April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.
Thanks for including us on your blog tour, Barbara! Jump on board her tour and you may win a copy of Feet, Go to Sleep! Here's the schedule:
5/21 Shelf-employedAnd...you have until midnight, May 15, 2015 to enter TeachingAuthors' latest book giveaway for Stephanie Lyons' new book, Dating Down--don't miss out!
posted by April Halprin Wayland while sharing sips of Pellegrino with Barbara's new pup