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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. Dear DEAR Teen Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s my variation and Dear Teen Me letter.

Dear Teen Me:

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

Really and truly. 


Esther Chairnoff Hershenhorn

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2. Dear Younger Me

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

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

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

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

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

More weeding ahead!

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

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

JoAnn Early Macken

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3. It's Raining Bats and Frogs!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pinpoint your book’s USP

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

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

Research relevant curriculums

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

Make teachers happy

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

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

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

Where to share

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

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

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

Illustration by Steven Henry

Thank you for stopping by, Rebecca!

Bobbi Miller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's one of my poems from the book:

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

my father and mother on the farm

The second book, relevant this time of year is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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5. Wednesday Writing Workout Summer Fun!

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

Magic Rhyming Spells

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

· Hubble, bubble, toil and trouble.

· Hocus pocus, magic crocus.

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

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

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

· Eight nine, ten, turn into a _____________.

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

· Stir the brew in the vat, . . .

· Eye of newt, tongue of snake, . . .

· Wave your wand over the box, . . .

· One more wave, here I go, . . .

Now it’s your turn!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bobbi Miller

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6. Why I Wrote First Grade Stinks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

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

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

How I Spent My Summer Vacation.  

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

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

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

Where Ideas Come From:  
Brainstorming with a Nonfiction Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Carla Killough McClafferty

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8. Using Repetition in Poetry

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

Here’s an excerpt from the book:

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

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

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

Have fun! Have fun! Have fun!

JoAnn Early Macken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Esther Hershenhorn

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10. Back-to-School Book Giveaway!

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

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

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

The Beach

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

Sarah Ilbek, Grade 3

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

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

Don’t forget to enter our Book Giveaway below!

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

JoAnn Early Macken

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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11. Making Connections


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kinza Riza/Courtesy of Nature.com. 

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

Thank you for connecting with me and the Teaching Authors!

Bobbi Miller

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

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

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12. 3 things I've learned About Conferences & Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

from morguefile.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, here is a poem to inspire you:

by Richard Wilbur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    It's my vacation.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman


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14. What Writing Conferences Can Do For You

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

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

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

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

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

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15. One Writer's Nuggets from Her Summer...So Far

Chicago’s June through July rains and cold temps marked Summer as it’s 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.
So first, the writing.
I was honored to be invited to contribute 3 blog posts to the Newsletter of the American Writers Museum – 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 children’s book authors.
My first, titled “Somewhere, Over Lake Michigan,” shares L. Frank Baum’s Chicago connection to THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ.
Few know the author wrote the book while living on the northwest side of Chicago – and – that his visits in 1893 to the Columbian Exposition’s White City led to his imagining the Emerald City.
Next on deck:  a blog about Chicago-born Shel Silverstein’s sidewalks and attics.

As for my reading,
this summer, thanks to my Newberry Library’s “Write Place” workshop students, I’ve 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 children’s book creators.  

In June I was lucky enough to hear Andrea Brown Literary Agent Kelly Sonnack present to the Illinois SCBWI Chapter’s City Network on How to Write a Query Letter.
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 Kelly’s suggestion for the third paragraph that struck me as brilliant: the inspiration for the writer’s 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 children’s literature, though she is currently not accepting queries.
Alas, I’m unable to attend the July 31-August 3 44th Annual SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles, at least in Real Time.
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 who’ll 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. 
They were also able to do the same via the June, 2015 acceptance speeches of Newbery medalist Kwame Alexander, Coretta Scott King medalist Jaclyn Woodson and Pura Belpre medalist Marjorie Algosin.
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 Writer’s Group, we’d take turns sharing what we planned to wear when we accepted our particular awards, be they Newbery, Dr. Gesell, Prinz or Siburt.
I’m 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

Here’s hoping the golden nuggets I shared from my Summer so far will keep you writing, reading, connecting and dreaming.

Esther Hershenhorn

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16. Summer Science Experiments

So far this summer, we’ve stuck close to home. We’re working on projects around the house and the yard, and some days, everything feels like a science experiment. Lucky for us, we’re still learning!

I’m tending monarchs in the backyard—this is my sixth year—and finding them fascinating as usual. I learn something new every year. This year, I’m taking a more hands-off approach. I trust that they know what they’re 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 year’s butterfly milkweed plants are blooming, but this year’s 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.

We’re experimenting with food, too. My husband discovered a mulberry tree, so we’ve 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 year’s garden includes way too much kale, which we’ve added to salads, given to neighbors, and last night baked in a quiche with oven-roasted tomatoes and cheddar cheese. Possibly the best quiche ever—so glad I made two!

My summer reading includes a large pile of botany books for a new nonfiction picture book I’m excited to work on. My writing group gave me positive reviews, encouragement, and a number of helpful suggestions I can’t wait to try. Must get back to it! But first, here’s a mulberry poem:

Squirrel stares at me—
mulberry stained, pail half full.
We can share, can’t we?

Kimberley Moran is hosting today’s Poetry Friday Roundup. Enjoy! And happy summer!

JoAnn Early Macken

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17. Hot Summer History Reads


It's summer time! Yahoo! And what better way to celebrate summer than to indulge in some summer time reading.  It’s 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, “…historical fiction [is] a bastard child of letters, respectable neither as history nor as fiction.”  I’ve 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, “…In many instances, historical fiction is much more realistic than a lot of today’s realism…Nothing becomes dated more quickly than contemporary fiction.” 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. Maks’ sister Emma has been arrested and he has only four days to prove her innocence.

Paul Fleischman’s 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 readers’ theater.

Laurie Halse Anderson’s 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 country’s 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 Lawrence’ 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 Stevenson’s Kidnapped.

Let the adventure begin! 

Bobbi Miller

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18. 3 things About Commas To Make You Smile

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.  

from signals.com
(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 Commas

By Kalli Dakos

Call the doctors Call the nurses Give me a breath of
air I’ve been reading all your stories but the periods
aren’t 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, they say.

And just think: as writers, with our very own fingers, we have magic power. Add a comma, push the pause button.

Applause for the Pause
by April Halprin Wayland

A comma,
a breaking line
a period.

A day off,
a week away

poem (c)2015 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

*   *   *   *
And finally, congratulations to TeachingAuthors' latest Book Giveaway Winner:
Em M, who won JoAnn Early Macken's Baby Says Moo wonderful board book--lucky Em!

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.

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19. Inspiration is a blast from the past

     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

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20. 3 Ways To Inspire a Poem--Oops!

Howdy Campers!

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?

1) Um...deadlines. 

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” ~ 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.
my team

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.

by April Halprin Wayland

bald little god
sits on the pond’s rim, 
his feet all in

his head turning side to side
toward fluttering leaves
toward ebbing tide 

below impatient clouds
that mumble, 
This is going too slow

so they snap out 
a spiky lighting streak 
and Man—does little god go!

He jumps right up and does he run!
He’s going, going, getting things

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

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21. For the Love of Comma

My kitty, Comma.
What is one man’s colon is another man’s comma.” ~ Mark Twain

As 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 “like the waves of the sea,” 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 – the comma, the dash, the colon and semi-colon, and so on – 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: “Dawn 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 cliché 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 writer’s 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 sentence’s rhythm. A comma connects and divides. In fact, as Lukeman warns, it’s 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 it’s one of the most emotive punctuation marks because it mimics the character’s state of mind. For example, from my Girls of Gettysburg, you know this poor character is frightened: “Weezy sang, quiet as a cricket’s whisper. But in the tiny room, in the dark, it seemed loud enough.”

Somewhere between the period and the comma is the semi-colon. This is the mediator, says Lukeman, and “a bridge between the two worlds.” 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 doesn’t 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 don’t 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, I’ve run out of space. In the end, as Noah Lukeman says, punctuation is organic, a complex universe subject to the writer’s purpose and personal tastes. What works in one narrative doesn’t 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

 “Punctuation 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


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22. Baby Says "Moo!" Book Giveaway!

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. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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23. A New Mark of Punctuation (sort of)...

how to continue our TeachingAuthors  Punctuation theme while following Bobbi Miller’s most illuminating “For the Love of Commas” post last Monday?

I considered showcasing one of my favorite books (Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s EXCLAMATION MARK!, seemingly punctuation-themed or not),
interviewing University of Chicago Press editor Carol Saller (author of THE SUBVERSIVE COPYEDITOR)
and reviewing New Yorker editor Mary Norris’ BETWEEN YOU AND ME: CONFESSIONS OF A COMMA QUEEN. 

[Please note: In the above sentence I proudly reveal my Medicare-eligibility by honoring Strunk and White’s Elements of Style rule that states that “in a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.” It’s hard to teach an Old Dog New Tricks.]

I was heavily leaning toward sharing EXCLAMATION MARK! – 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  “…we all have an inner exclamation mark. The question is, how to find it…”

But then, while reading Hannah Pittard’s 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 “Me and Mrs. Nixon” – a literary term I’d never seen or heard before! 

The word? 

     “I talked to Elliot about this on the plane,” she says.
     “Irmus,” I say.
     “Irmus,” I say.  “When you reveal the meaning at the end.”
     “What are you talking about?”
     …..”You said, ‘I talked to Elliot about this on the plane,’ but you haven’t yet said what this is. Presumably you are now going to define ‘this.’”
     “Do your students have any idea what you’re talking about?”
     “No,” I say.  “Nope. Not a word.”

I quickly marked my place in the novel to check the word’s official definition.
To my surprise, my Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary did not include an entry for irmus.
Upon Googling “irmus,” I came upon Chris Bonney and her October 25, 2011 post “A New Word.” (Apparently Hannah Pittard was not the only one who’d read Ann Beattie’s NY Times article “Me 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 “not until the end of a passage does the reader fully understand what is being spoken of.”
She herself described irmus as “the periodic sentence, characterized by the suspension of the completion of sense until its end.”
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 writer’s life takes residence on my brain’s Hard Drive.

I hope the same is true for you.

Esther Hershenhorn

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24. How You Tell the Story Makes a Difference

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, let’s consider the opening scene from my book,

Fourth Down and Inches: 

Concussions and Football’s 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 Von’s 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 brother—all six feet and six inches of him—clear off the ground. And Von wasn’t just strong; he was skilled.

The second example is what appears in the published book.  The first example communicates the same information, but doesn’t 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.  Von’s 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 Von’s 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 didn’t.

The second example appears in the published book.  Again it isn’t 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 “Moo!” 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.

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25. Can We Give the Exclamation Point a Rest?

     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, 😄).  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



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