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26. Wisdom from THE WOLF WILDER

… the beauty of the world is itself a kind of company…

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Wisdom from THE WOLF WILDER originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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27. Subject to Sorrows and Death

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin

For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is— limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death—He had the honesty and the courage to take His own medicine. Whatever game He is playing with His creation, He has kept His own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that He has not exacted from Himself.

He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair and death. When He was a man, He played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile.
— Dorothy Sayers

The post Subject to Sorrows and Death originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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28. KidLit Auction: Bid on a Verse Novel Critique

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KidLit Auction for John and Betsy MacLeod

Recently one of our own in the KidLit community, Betsy MacLeod, and her husband John, were dealt a cruel blow when John was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Beyond the heartbreaking reality of his diagnosis, John and Betsy are faced with enormous and mounting medical expenses, many of which are not covered by insurance. To help them financially and in spirit, we are offering wonderful items through this online Kidlit Auction, which will run from March 17th to March 30th, 2016.

Signed books, artwork, manuscript critiques, vacation homes from Vermont and Cape Cod to Scotland, and more will help raise money to improve the quality of what remains of John’s life.

Join me in supporting John and Betsy MacLeod. I’ve donated a full verse novel critique (which will include manuscript notes and an editorial letter) as well as a signed copy of Blue Birds. If you are an aspiring verse novelist or know someone who is, please spread the word. And please share with others you know who might be interested in supporting the MacLeod family.

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post KidLit Auction: Bid on a Verse Novel Critique originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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29. Straight From the Source: Author Kate Hannigan on Writing Historical Fiction

Kate Hannigan writes fiction and non-fiction for young readers. She got hooked on historical fiction when she discovered a copy of The Thorn Birds on the tippy-top highest shelf when she was in seventh grade – clearly forbidden reading, which made it even better! She used to work in daily newspapers but now spends her time down the rabbit hole researching her next books. The Detective’s Assistant was named a 2016 Golden Kite Award winner from SCBWI, a Booklist “Best of 2015” pick, as well as a “Best of the Best 2015” book with Chicago Public Library. Visit Kate online at KateHannigan.com.

Detectives Assistant cover medium

Why is historical fiction important?

It’s a window into the past, and for children who are meeting historical figures for the first time in our books, it’s so important that we engage and inform as well as entertain. If a reader really takes to a historical fiction work, then that might open up a whole new world to them. They might dig deep into learning more about a particular era in history, or pursue more historical work. It’s very exciting!

What kinds of sources do you use? 

I try to do full-immersion research, and I tap from anywhere I can find material. Right now, for a new project, I have a couple documentaries I’m watching, stacks of library books (shhh, don’t turn me in, but I use FOUR cards for our public library; mine and my three kids’ cards), original writing or reporting when I can find it, as well as museum trips so I can see and absorb all I can.

For The Detective’s Assistant, I was wandering the Chicago History Museum when I saw their beautiful exhibit of Daguerrotypes. And I knew at that moment that a framed photo like I was seeing in the museum would play a part in my book.

To get a sense of the language of the times, I try to read books that would have been in circulation at the time my book is set. So for The Detective’s Assistant, I read books like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which published in 1852 but would have still been read and discussed when my book is set in 1859. Sister Carrie, which came later, helped me understand the desperation a woman might feel moving to the big city and trying to fend for herself in the 19th century.

I found a copy of “Godey’s Ladies Book,” the popular magazine of the 1850s, for sale on eBay. So I got an 1856 copy and read what women in my book might have been reading. And newspapers! I am a former newspaper gal, so my heart is with newspaper research. The headlines, the way stories are presented, the language of the times: newspaper archives are a rich source of understanding the day to day living.

What are some obstacles writing historical fiction brings?

Sometimes the subject of our research has been obliterated by time. For the research into Kate Warne’s life, I had to rely on Allan Pinkerton’s writing. But the Great Fire that wiped out Chicago in 1871 destroyed Pinkerton’s detailed record-keeping of his operatives and cases. So what I could find of her was very limited.

What is your favorite thing about research?

It is endless! It’s like falling down a rabbit hole.

What’s your least favorite thing about research?

It is endless! It’s like falling down a rabbit hole!

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

There was a whole lot of Underground Railroad research in my book, as well as the buildup to the Civil War. And best of all, Abe Lincoln. I learned so many interesting things by reading so much about this era. I’d say the most interesting thing I read, among so many wonderful anecdotes, had to do with the connective tissue of Life.

People might already know this one, but it was fascinating to me to learn that Lincoln’s son Robert was once saved from grave injury or death by John Wilkes Booth’s brother, Edwin Booth, a popular actor. Robert Lincoln was waiting for a train in 1863 or ’64 when he was jostled by the crowd and fell into the gap between a moving train and the platform. Robert Lincoln recalled the incident later:
. . . the train began to move, and by the motion I was twisted off my feet, and had dropped somewhat, with feet downward, into the open space, and was personally helpless, when my coat collar was vigorously seized and I was quickly pulled up and out to a secure footing on the platform. Upon turning to thank my rescuer I saw it was Edwin Booth, whose face was of course well known to me, and I expressed my gratitude to him, and in doing so, called him by name.
Such a human moment – one individual coming to the aid of another. We know what transpired just a year or so later between Edwin’s brother and Robert’s father. It reminds me how our lives are all so closely intertwined. And it’s one of the reasons why I love history!

The post Straight From the Source: Author Kate Hannigan on Writing Historical Fiction originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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30. Why We Read

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A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.
−Samuel Johnson

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Why We Read originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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31. 6 Take Aways from a Stay-at-Home Writing Retreat

Klondike Boo

Last week my husband took the boys to the Mountain West Basketball Tournament, giving me four days with the house to myself. I planned to use the time as a stay-at-home writing retreat, just Boo and me and fiendish typing.

It was spectacular.

I decided I needed to be prepared but open when it came to this writing time. While I hoped my Klondike manuscript would be back in my possession, I couldn’t plan on that happening (It wasn’t. I worked on it anyway and am thrilled with what I’ve accomplished). My goal was to have a sense of how I wanted to use the four days, but not be so rigid that I missed a creative opportunity. I ended up splitting the time between two projects, one in its very beginnings and the other nearing its end.

I planned ahead about regular commitments and how I’d handle them. For example, I got up at roughly the same time I would have had my family been home. I kept my Thursday running date and attended church on Sunday. But I made room for flexibility, skipping the gym on Friday and going to a book signing Saturday afternoon. As for meals, I pulled a few things out of the freezer, cooked twice (with leftovers for when my family returned), and even ordered pizza one night.

Most importantly, I knew I needed to have realistic, relaxed expectations while still committing to hard work. I am not a fast writer and never will be. With four days stretching before me, it would have been very easy to convince myself I’d do super-fantastic, out-of-character things, like write 10,000 words a day. Not happening, ever. Instead I focused on these things:

  •  I decided not to serve my ego (those 10,000 words) or my anxiety (worry I wouldn’t accomplish anything), but simply show up and enjoy the work.
  •  I told myself it was more important to be productive instead of producing. (In other words, I didn’t have to have loads to show for all the time I put in. Creativity isn’t always something that can be measured. I’m learning to be okay with this.)
  • I strongly believe that every writing moment teaches me. That makes it worth it, whether it’s eventually cut or kept, whether it sells or doesn’t.

If I ever have the opportunity to do this again, I hope I can enter in with the same mindset and experience the same satisfaction. The writing life is one pretty wonderful thing.

 

Sunday will be the last day readers may take my blog survey. If you have a few minutes, I’d love to hear what you think!

The post 6 Take Aways from a Stay-at-Home Writing Retreat originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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32. Classroom Connections: The Last Boy at St. Edith’s by Lee Gjertsen Malone

The Last Boy at St. Edith’s
age range: 8-12
genre: contemporary fiction
Lee Gjertsen Malone’s website

This is a funny, emotional book that will quickly become a favorite to many a reader, regardless of age. Sweet, funny, exciting—a spectacular debut. — Kirkus, starred review

Humor mixes with more serious issues in this clever debut. — Booklist

Malone’s debut is a sweet, candid novel about fitting in, messing up, and making amends. — Publisher’s Weekly

Please tell us about your book.

It’s the story of a boy named Jeremy who goes to an all girl’s school that tried to go coed but failed. He ends up being the very last boy left at the school, because his mother works there and won’t let him transfer, so he hatches a plan with his best friend to pull some epic pranks in an effort to get himself expelled.

What inspired you to write this story?

It began with a conversation with my husband. He went to an all-boy’s school that went coed a few years after he graduated, and we got a fundraising newsletter from his alma mater. As a graduate of public schools, I was fascinated with the whole idea – why a previously single gender school would decide to go coed, and, because this is where my mind goes, how would they know it would work? And what would happen if it didn’t work, and instead of there being more and more kids of your gender each year, there were fewer and fewer?

And the same time I was also thinking I wanted to write a book about a strong boy-girl friendship that was tested by growing up, and the combination of those two ideas got me started writing this book.

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

I love doing research, even if it’s not obvious in the finished book. I love it almost too much. For this book I researched a lot of things – saint names, the economic development of western Massachusetts, and how doorknobs are put together. Oh, and pranks. Lots and lots of pranks.

What are some special challenges associated with writing middle grade?

First, I think that while it’s true that in any novel every scene has to have a purpose, in middle grade I think it’s even more important – because of the space constraints, every scene needs to do double and triple duty. There’s also the tricky issue of the middle grade voice. It’s not easy to find that balance where your kids sound like kids and the story feels like something they would be interested in without becoming a parody of the way kids talk.

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

The book touches on a few topics I think would be great for classroom conversations. The first is gender – what does it mean to act like a boy? What does it mean to act like a girl? And why does it matter? Do you need to have friends and role models like yourself in order to know how you are supposed to be?

Secondly, Jeremy, the main character, is a lot of ways a cultural norm in our society. He’s white, male, middle class. He wouldn’t stand out at all in a lot of places. But he definitely does stand out at St. Edith’s. Which leads to the question, what makes something a norm anyway? How can you decide what’s normal without considering the context?

And finally, the main characters make some really bad decisions in the book that seem like good ideas at first. They never intend to hurt anyone with their pranks but they end up causing a lot more trouble than they expected. I think it’s interesting to think about what you should do when something you never intended to cause people trouble backfires.

What do you think of the blog? I’d love to hear from you.
Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Classroom Connections: The Last Boy at St. Edith’s by Lee Gjertsen Malone originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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33. Writing Links

airplane view

Evolution of a Writing Process by Donna Galanti :: Project Mayhem

Ingredients of Good Multicultural Historical Fiction: Psychology :: Mad About MG History

Writing Rules :: Writer Unboxed

That One Time When Linda Urban Put Me In My Place :: SharpRead

The Editorial Dance: Finding the Right Editor :: Darcy Pattison’s Fiction Notes

Sarah Aronson Talks Desserts, Playing, and Rebooting One’s Writing Career :: Greenhouse Literary

What do you think of the blog? I’d love to hear from you!

The post Writing Links originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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34. Tell Me What You Think

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It’s been a long time since I’ve conducted a reader survey. I’d love to hear what first brought you here and what (I hope!) keeps you coming back.

The survey is nineteen questions long and should take five minutes, maybe ten if you have a lot to say. It is also anonymous. I won’t know who you are unless you choose to identify yourself somehow. Please know you can be completely candid. Simply click through to begin. Thank you to Sheila of The Deliberate Reader for letting me tweak a survey she used a couple months ago.

Thank you so much for reading here, friends!

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Tell Me What You Think originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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35. Classics Take up Residence in Our Hearts

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. . . When we read the classic stories that make us laugh aloud or cry, or shrivel with fright or hug ourselves with happiness, it is my hunch that we could, if we tried, track the main idea down to a pivotal moment in the writer’s life—or several pivotal moments. These classic stories have the quality of ‘difference.’ They are here today, and here tomorrow, and here the day after, since children’s books and folktales which are loved and remembered do more than entertain for a while: they move children profoundly, and having done so they take up residence in their hearts and stay there. They are remembered affectionately, sometimes word for word, into adulthood.
— Mem Fox

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Classics Take up Residence in Our Hearts originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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36. Top Posts of All Time

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In 2009 I stopped teaching without any publishing prospects, but with the burning conviction it was time to put everything behind my efforts to finally sell a book. I did what every other aspiring author was doing then: I started a blog.

A few months later, I signed with my first agent. Four months after that, May B. was under contract. Through highs and lows this blog has been a constant, a place for me to think through ideas, share bits of encouragement, introduce readers to new books, and celebrate my own. Whether you’ve been here from the beginning or are entirely new, I thank you for the ways you’ve added to the conversation and become a key part of my writing life.

Over the next few months I plan to highlight key posts that have risen to the top. Today’s are the posts that are read most often (I wrote this before last week, when this post, now the top post of all time, went live). While my sense is most regular readers are aspiring writers, it’s interesting to note these posts almost exclusively speak to teachers, librarians, and parents looking to share books with their children.

Running a Book Club for Kids

The first post in a series based on my experience running after-school book clubs, this post has been number one around here for years. Included in the post are links to the rest of the series.

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The Gift of Friendship

I love knowing that the second most-widely read post on the blog is essentially a love letter to my dear friend, Jamie C. Martin, whose own book comes out later this year. The post touches on the ways friends bolster and inspire us, in this case how Jamie pushed me to be brave when writing Blue Birds.

Third-Grade Book Club Reading Lists

Straight from my after-school book club days, this is the list I used with third-grade readers, plus a run down of everything I included in my Welcome to Book Club handout.

Classroom Connections: Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Lynda’s had a pretty phenomenal year, hitting the NYT Bestseller’s List with her second middle-grade novel, Fish in a Tree, and going on to win the American Library Association’s Schneider Family Book Award, which “embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.” This interview includes links to Lynda’s website and educator’s guide.

Fast Five: Novels About Teachers and Their Students

This one’s been a favorite for a long time, with a number of oldie but goodies sure to inspire.

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Reading in the Wild: 5 Things Wild Readers Do

Teacher turned author turned Scholastic Press guru, Donalyn Miller, has written two glorious books about reading and teaching that I devoured. This post is one of several that grew out of her second book, Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits. Read our interview based on Donalyn’s first book, The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, here.

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Top Posts of All Time originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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37. On Writing

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A writer should concern himself with whatever absorbs his fancy, stirs his heart, and unlimbers his typewriter… A writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.
— C. S. Lewis

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post On Writing originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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38. Why Pay Authors for School Visits Anyway?

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Yesterday I shared tips on finding authors who are interested in school visits. Today I’m going to bring up compensation, a topic that is never easy to discuss but is nevertheless necessary, especially if you’re interested in inviting an author to your school. Let’s look at some commonly-held assumptions about authors and visits and contrast them with a more realistic glimpse at things.

Assumption #1: Shouldn’t authors offer free school visits? After all, it’s great for publicity. Some authors do offer free visits, whether when first starting out (I did that) or by offering one or two free visits each year (I’ve done that, too) or in other situations when they choose to do so. But here’s the thing:

An author is a professional. Just as we wouldn’t expect a plumber to fix a leak in exchange for publicity, we shouldn’t expect the same from an author sharing her expertise with young readers.

There’s an unspoken assumption attached to this one, the idea that once an author sells a book she has it made. In truth, it’s safe to say many of us make less (in many cases far less) than your average teacher. All of my books have sold for less than what I received my first year teaching, and that was in the mid-nineties in New Mexico, one of the poorest states in the US. For an author, there’s no such thing as a steady income. Selling new books to a publisher can be sporadic, if it happens at all. I share this because I think it’s important to have a sense of how slow and precarious establishing oneself in the writing world can be. 

Assumption #2: We’d like to have bookseller come when you’re at our school. Aren’t book sales enough to cover an author visit? Thank you to every school that considers book sales! To give a child the opportunity to own a book — any book — is a gift. And there is special meaning attached to a book written by an author the child has met. Unfortunately, though, book sales are not the same as compensation.

For example, for each book I sell, I earn around $1 for a hardback and $.50 for each paperback. So while selling books at a school visit is wonderful, it is primarily a benefit for young readers.

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Assumption #3: I’ve just looked at your rates. You sure expect to make a lot of money an hour! If you click through to my author visits page, you’ll get sense at what I charge for visits in the Albuquerque area, within New Mexico, and out of state. While some authors choose not to list their prices online, I like having that information available to anyone who might consider inviting me to present at their school.

An author’s rates can’t be translated into hourly fees. When a school pays for an author visit, not only are they compensating the author for the work she does that day, but all the preparation that went into the presentations beforehand, the time spent traveling to and from the school, and the author’s time away from her writing desk. An author visit isn’t just an event, it’s an experience, one that takes time and preparation to get it just right.

Assumption #4: There’s no way my school can afford to bring an author in. Not true! Scholastic has produced a great document about preparing for an author visit, which includes ideas for fundraising. SCBWI offers the Amber Brown Grant, which annually gives one school “an all-expense-paid visit from a well-respected children’s author or illustrator.” Here’s another page with information on funding, another on grants. Perhaps money earmarked for field trips might be used for a school visit (think of it as a field trip coming to the school). Or maybe the PTA could help out. And don’t forget Skype visits, which cost significantly less.

Dan Gutman shares a wonderful quote from a student on his Perfect Author Visit page.

I am now reading more than any other part of my life thanks to Dan Gutman.

Isn’t this ultimately the wish of every author and teacher? An author visit is an opportunity to hook young readers, keep them reading, and serve their creativity, writing, and imaginations for years to come. It’s an investment, for sure, one I wholeheartedly believe is worth making.

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Why Pay Authors for School Visits Anyway? originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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39. Four Places to Find Authors Who Want to Vist Your School

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Perhaps you’ve considered inviting an author to talk to your students but are unsure what to do. Maybe a neighboring school has just brought in an author to great success and you’d like to do the same.

But how exactly do you proceed? How do you find an author who does presentations? Are these visits free (and if not, shouldn’t they be)?*

Finding authors

Probably the most comprehensive list of authors who do school visits can be found through the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Speaker’s Bureau. Here you can find authors, illustrators, and children’s book translators by region or within a certain radius from where you are. Want someone who writes for a certain age range? You can do that, too.

For example, when I entered “All” (for authors, illustrators, or translators), “New Mexico,” and the age range 5-10, I was able to find six authors and illustrators who met that criteria. Because SCBWI is an international organization, you can find speakers from every corner of the globe and many who are willing to travel.

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Another way to find authors is to visit publishing websites directly. Scholastic, for example, has an Invite an Author page, where you can search a list of authors available for school and Skype visits. Here’s a similar page from Random House Children’s Books, one from Penguin, another from HarperCollins.

Author Kim Norman also hosts a blog called School Author Visits by State, where you can quickly scan lists of authors, arranged alphabetically by state, who are ready and willing to present at schools.

One final way to find an author to visit your school is to simply Google a few of your favorites. Many authors include on their websites information about school visits as well as presentations prospective schools can choose from. Here are a few examples I think are especially great:

Alexis O’Neill
Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Kate Messner
Don Tate
Deborah Wiles
Gordon Korman
Kekla Magoon
Barbara O’Connor
Terry Lynn Johnson

Once you’ve booked that author, consider reading these articles filled with great advice on making your visit spectacular.

Ten Tips for a Perfect Author Visit :: Nerdy Book Club
The Authors Answer: What Made Your Best School Visits Great? :: Publisher’s Weekly Shelftalker
The Perfect Author Visit :: Dan Gutman

*More on this second question in tomorrow’s post

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Four Places to Find Authors Who Want to Vist Your School originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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40. Blue Birds Love: Words from a Young Reader

blue birds paperback

Dear Ms. Rose,

I am a fifth-grader from Maryland. I enjoyed reading Blue Birds. When I first started reading I was a bit uninterested because it took so long for Kimi and Alis to meet. When they met, a whole new world was opened to my eyes. They didn’t look at each other like strangers; they looked at each other like best friends would, despite appearances. At first, they longed for their best friends that were like them, Joan and Alawa. They soon realized that best friends aren’t people who are like you, best friends are people who look up for you and protect you, yet show all their love.

I love reading historical fiction, it’s so fascinating. Thank you for making Blue Birds, sometimes, there is hardly any historical fiction in the library. I randomly grabbed your book off the shelf because it looked interesting. When I found out it was about Roanoke, I had to check it out. Did you like history growing up?

I also love writing. Writing stories is my favorite pastime. I get to be creative and use my imagination to inspire others. Please write more stories, preferably, about Valley Forge and the revolution. I’d also like some writing tips, or poetry tips.

I don’t really like poetry that much. I like writing things out and being descriptive. You mastered poetry.* You wrote poetically, yet made it intriguing. Once I started reading, I couldn’t stop.

Sincerely,
A Reader (age 10)

* the reader’s emphasis, not mine!

The post Blue Birds Love: Words from a Young Reader originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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41. Straight from the Source: Kristin O’Donnell Tubb on Writing Historical Fiction

Kristin O’Donnell Tubb is the author of The 13th Sign, Selling Hope ,and Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different . Watch for John Lincoln Clem: Civil War Drummer Boy this month (written as E.F. Abbott) and  Miss Daisy’s Job summer 2017. Tubb can be found far too often on Facebook and Twitter.  Oh, and she has a website, too.

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

An era or idea usually precedes the character for me, and once I’ve done some research, it becomes clear what kind of character would struggle in that setting. It can be painful to write the underdog or the outsider, but it’s usually much richer story if that’s the case, and I find it’s easier to do so knowing a lot about what constitutes “underdoggedness” in a certain era. (I think I just made up a word. ☺ )

You do have a specific system for collecting data?

I still use the system that my freshman English teacher, Linda McGill taught us! The method is this: each source gets a number depending on when I’ve read it/taken notes from it. Each notecard (more on that in a bit!) is one fact, and it’s coded with that source number and the page number or the specific URL where the information was found. After I’m done researching (which for John Lincoln Clem: Civil War Drummer Boy was four months, but for Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different was four years), the notecards are spread and shuffled EVERYWHERE to create the story outline. Once the outline is complete, the cards are finally put in subject-order, things like “Church,” “Medicines,” “Foods,” etc.

While I’m drafting the book, I look at these categories often: “Hmmm, what kind of a hymn would be sung at a funeral?” And because it’s coded with a source and page number, I can always go back to that source. For every book I’ve written, I’ve needed to, at some point, relocate a source to clarify a fact. So it’s a useful system for me. Thank you again, Ms. McGill!

And regarding notecards: I don’t use them any more, although I did for both Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different – my debut – and Selling Hope. Everything is in a Word document now, though all facts are still coded with a source and page number!

What kinds of sources do you use? 

For Autumn Winifred Oliver, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a goldmine of primary sources: the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has an archives located in the basement of the Sugarlands Visitor’s Center. Cookbooks, photographs, hymnals, school books: all used by the folks who lived in Cades Cove, Tennessee.

For Selling Hope, I found an amazing resource in the online photograph collection hosted by the Chicago Historical Society. (Since the writing of that book, many local libraries, historical societies and universities have done this for their city. Be sure and use those historical societies! They LIVE for requests like the ones historical fiction writers ask!)

For John Lincoln Clem, I watched hours of Civil War reenactors on YouTube, particularly the drummers. It was critical to the book to capture the sound and cadence of the drum calls, and this was amazingly helpful. I use YouTube a lot. A LOT. Also eBay, which, when you search for a year and/or a city, will often produce fantastic results: jewelry, books, clothing, dinnerware, etc. I’ve also used classic advertisements to describe cars and clothing, and the want ads (my FAVORITE!) to gather unique and wonderful vocabulary for an era. Each book has taken me to unique places that I didn’t know existed.

What is your favorite thing about research?

My favorite thing about research is that it often builds my plot and my characters for me. I mentioned above that I sometimes craft a character based on who might be an awful fit for a certain time and place. In Selling Hope, for example, Hope is a homebody who longs for permanence based largely on my research of those nomadic vaudeville troops.

Research also often uncovers plot points that I know I’ll want to include in my story. In John Lincoln Clem, the research I did on the Civil War uncovered the fact that some soldiers, in their boredom, would pick a louse – a single lice bug – off their body and “race” them across a tin plate. The winner would get out of chores or win brass buttons. I knew this was a story kids would eat up, so it became part of the plot of the book. 

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

The answer is there, it just needs dusting off, possibly while wearing white gloves. Search and ye shall find! That, and writing historical fiction, to me, is just like writing contemporary fiction but with a more thorough setting, a tighter lens. What people want – love, togetherness, family, health, friends, to make a difference – never changes. Themes are everlasting. So uncovering what people want, and looking at that need within the scope of the era, is a very satisfying way to tell a story.

Why is historical fiction important?

Because themes are everlasting – because people still want now what they’ve always wanted – historical fiction reflects humanity’s attempts at achieving goals. Sometimes those goals are achieved beautifully. Sometimes they are a disaster. Historical fiction shows readers that our ancestors worked and played and struggled and won and failed – and survived. Humans have attempted many different ways to survive. Historical fiction reflects our wins and our losses.

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42. Writing Links

snowy Sandias

33 Rules of Writing from Some of the Most Brilliant Women in Children’s & YA Literature :: Kate Messner

5 Traits that Foster Publishing Success :: Jody Hedlund

Resistance by Joanna Roddy :: Project Mayehm

Hope for Weary and Discouraged Writers :: Ed Cyzewski

What To Do When Someone Else Wrote Your Book :: Chatting at the Sky

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43. Wisdom from How They Choked: Failures, Flops, and Flaws of the Awfully Famous

how they choked

I listened to this book on my way to Mosquero and was so taken by its closing lines I checked out the hardcopy to share them with you:

There are so many ways to fail that it’s hard to pick which one is right for you. The possibilities are limitless, and the world is your failure playground. You can fail in ways you won’t even be able to predict. You’ll dive into things you’ll never finish, and finish stuff that stinks. Sometimes you’ll try really hard, and that won’t be enough.

Some people have good intentions, and end up failing anyway…but that’s not true for everyone. There’s no way to succeed at failing either. So fail the best you can: try something new, be brave, make mistakes*.

 

*This reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s “make glorious and fantastic mistakes,” part of his exhortation to those who wish to make great art.

 

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44. On Writing

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If you wrote from experience, you’d get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy.
— Nikki Giovanni

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45. Wholehearted in One Direction

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I love all things Gretchen Rubin, writer and podcaster extraordinaire who’s an expert on habits and happiness. She reads extensively and daily shares a Moment of Happiness quote to “remind you to make choices in your ordinary routine that will boost your happiness.” Here’s a recent favorite:

Happiness is essentially a state of going somewhere wholeheartedly, one-directionally, without regret or reservation.
-W.H. Sheldon

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46. A Visit to Mosquero, NM

mosquero readers

One of my greatest joys as an author is to meet with young readers. I get to pretend for an hour or a day than I am still teaching and that these students are mine.

Add to that joy the opportunity to travel to corners of New Mexico I’ve never seen before, and I’m a happy author indeed.

Last week I went to Mosquero, NM, a village ninety-three people strong, and one of the two communities in Harding County, NM (the other village, Roy, has a population of 234). The visit came about as a result of my postcard mailings last fall.

I met with the entire elementary school (pictured above). What a fabulous group of kids! For you to get a sense of all the wonderful things happening in this community, I’m adding here something I shared on Facebook last week:

I want to take a moment and brag on Mosquero Municipal Schools of Mosquero, NM. This tiny town (population 93) has one of the two school systems in Harding County, NM. I spent yesterday with the elementary school (an engaging, hardworking, sweet group of marvelous readers) and interacted a bit with the high schoolers, too.

Here’s a glimpse of what these kids do: Seventh and eighth graders work on the Mi Familia project, which is committed to recording the history of the people of Harding County. Since 2008, the high school has been working on Main Street murals, their first experience with art class (a mentor was hired to teach the students, but all the work is their own). They write, print, and distribute a quarterly newspaper for the entire county. Not only do they shoot all the school photos, they open their studio to the public. One student who decided the school should have a yearbook has made it happen on her own.

New Mexico’s educational system often gets bad press. We’re at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to national ranking. But I want everyone to know there are important, exciting, vital things happening in this place. Kids are doing marvelous work, work worth celebrating.

Hats off to the students and teachers of Mosquero Municipal Schools. It was a privilege to spend the day with them.

 

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47. SWEET HOME ALASKA by Carole Estby Dagg + Giveaway

SweetHome_FINAL

Please tell us about your book.

Terpsichore Johnson is thrilled when her family is chosen for the Depression-era program that would transport 202 families from northern Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan all the way to Alaska to be self-sufficient farmers. She had always loved Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, and now she was going to have a chance to be a pioneer, just like Laura Ingalls.

She hadn’t realized, though, just what pioneering would mean – giving up inside plumbing, electricity, and even libraries! Worse yet, fumbled management of the project leaves some families in tents as the first snow falls.

Despite challenges, Terpsichore comes to love Alaska. Her mother, however, still misses their home in Wisconsin. What could Terpsichore do to make her mother love Alaska like she does? She hatches a plan that involves a giant pumpkin and a recipe for Jellied Moose Nose.

What drew you to this story?

When I think of the Depression, I think of the dust bowl, college-educated men selling pencils on the street corner, and lines at the soup kitchen. I never realized that New Deal programs extended up to Alaska until my son moved to Palmer, Alaska and bought a rustic cabin on the outskirts of town next to a potato field.

I’ve always liked old houses, and in researching the history of the early days of Palmer, I discovered transcriptions of interviews of old-timers who had moved up with the program in 1935. What a trove of first-hand accounts! If other people also hadn’t heard about the history of the Palmer Colony, maybe I should write a book about it. I couldn’t use all the incidents they described, but I combined many of them and assigned them to my fictional Terpsichore and her new friends.

Palmer tent city B1970_019_106

Palmer tent city

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

I love the AHA! moments when I find just the right info to connect the dots between previously known facts. Or to discover new info about historic characters I thought I knew. For instance, who knew that Will Rogers and his pilot, Wiley Post spent one of their last days visiting the Palmer Colony before crashing near Barrow, Alaska?

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

I discovered a recipe for Jellied Moose Nose – someone on the Internet rated it as one of the ten most revolting foods.

The other oddest incident I ran across also involved a moose. A grave was dug the day before a funeral and during the night, a moose fell into it. The graveside service had to be delayed until the attendees figured out how to get the moose out of the hole. I wish I’d figured out a way to include that incident into the book!

Deer by Writer's Shack

I’ve always been charmed by your writing cabin. Could you tell us a little about it?

My writer’s shack started out as a wood shed – cement foundation with sturdy posts at the corners to support a roof. It’s one of the nicest spots on our get-away property on San Juan Island. Facing one direction, there’s a sliver of a view through the trees of Mosquito Pass. Facing the opposite direction, there’s a view of Garrison Bay and English Camp, established during the mid-1800’s when English and Americans were trying to decide which country owned the island.

Those views were too good to waste on a wood shed, so I asked my husband if I could claim it as my writing spot. I thought we’d just close in the sides with plywood and run an electrical wire out, but my husband found salvaged, leaded-glass windows for the view sides and had a small door custom made.

It’s only 7 feet by 8 feet, but it has all I need. I have a flat door held up by sawhorses for a desk, two lights, and a plug-in for an electrical heater so I can use it year-round. It’s about 30 paces from the house and another cup of tea.

What are you working on next?

My next book will be based on the Pig War, which took place on San Juan Island. 

Giveaway

Enter to win your own copy of SWEET HOME ALASKA below. The contest closes Wednesday, February 17. US residents only, please.

Carole - leaning smile-124 Carole Estby Dagg also wrote the middle-grade historical novel The Year We Were Famous. She was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and has lived in Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia. She has degrees in sociology, library science, and accounting. Her real-life adventures include tiptoeing through King Tut’s tomb, sand boarding the dunes of western Australia, riding a camel among the Great Pyramids, paddling with Manta rays in Moorea, and smelling the penguins in the Falkland Islands. She is married with two children, two grandchildren, a husband, and a bossy cat who supervises her work. She splits her writing time between her study in Everett, Washington, and a converted woodshed on San Juan Island.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

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48. Why We Read

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Books were my salvation when, as I was growing up, my mother and I endured poverty, betrayal, and humiliation because of my violent, alcoholic father. From library books, I learned that not every home was like ours, that there were many ways to live. Books inspired my imagination; and imagination is the mother of hope. At thirteen, working part-time, I bought paperbacks, which were my treasure–the only one I needed. Authors, booksellers, and librarians were my heroes, providers of truth, magic, hope. And so they remain.
— Dean Koontz

 

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49. Fast Five: Post-Apocalyptic Novels for Grown-Ups

Post-Apocalyptic Novels

There are a slew of young adult post-apocalyptic novels out here but not as many (that I’m aware of) for grown ups. I find these books interesting on two counts — the commentary on society as we know it and the theories about what in the human spirit and society in general would endure catastrophe and what might morph and change. Here are a handful I’ve enjoyed with their jacket flap descriptions as well as a few thoughts of my own.

The Children of Men – P. D. James

Told with P. D. James’s trademark suspense, insightful characterization, and riveting storytelling, The Children of Men is a story of a world with no children and no future. The human race has become infertile, and the last generation to be born is now adult. Civilization itself is crumbling as suicide and despair become commonplace. Oxford historian Theodore Faron, apathetic toward a future without a future, spends most of his time reminiscing.

Then he is approached by Julian, a bright, attractive woman who wants him to help get her an audience with his cousin, the powerful Warden of England. She and her band of unlikely revolutionaries may just awaken his desire to live . . . and they may also hold the key to survival for the human race.

I adore P. D. James’s mysteries, so when I found this book at my Michigan library almost ten years ago, I quickly picked it up. The description mentions both a “world with no children” and a woman and her band who “may…hold the key to the survival for the human race.” It’s not too hard to determine perhaps not everything is as first expected. One scene that especially stayed with me had to do with the elderly and death. Chilling and thought-provoking.

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

A searing, post-apocalyptic novel destined to become Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece.

A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other.

The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, “each the other’s world entire,” are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.

Probably the bleakest book of the five. The Road does end on a note of hope, but it’s a whisper-y, frail sort of note. The writing isn’t the lush McCarthy you’re probably familiar with but reflects the story exactly as it should. Not recommended as middle-of-the-night when you can’t sleep, in case you’re wondering!

The Girl With All the Gifts — M. R. Carey

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr Caldwell calls her “our little genius.”

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.

The Girl With All the Gifts is a groundbreaking thriller, emotionally charged and gripping from beginning to end.

This is a book you really shouldn’t know anything about before going in. It’s probably my favorite on the list. Weird and fun and crazy and wild. I devoured it* while on a family road trip.

 

Station Eleven — Emily St. John Mandel

An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

Fabulous. You can read my earlier thoughts here. There are some strong parallels with World Made by Hand.

World Made by Hand — James Howard Kunstler

In The Long Emergency celebrated social commentator James Howard Kunstler explored how the terminal decline of oil production, combined with climate change, had the potential to put industrial civilization out of business. In World Made by Hand, an astonishing work of speculative fiction, Kunstler brings to life what America might be, a few decades hence, after these catastrophes converge.

For the townspeople of Union Grove, New York, the future is nothing like they thought it would be. Transportation is slow and dangerous, so food is grown locally at great expense of time and energy, and the outside world is largely unknown. There may be a president, and he may be in Minneapolis now, but people aren’t sure. Their challenges play out in a dazzling, fully realized world of abandoned highways and empty houses, horses working the fields and rivers, no longer polluted, and replenished with fish. With the cost of oil skyrocketing—and with it the price of food—Kunstler’s extraordinary book, full of love and loss, violence and power, sex and drugs, depression and desperation, but also plenty of hope, is more relevant than ever.

Like Station Eleven, this book reminded me of the show Revolution. I found the exploration of faith in both books interesting and disturbing, but utterly realistic. So much to think about on how communities might re-start after cataclysmic change.

*humorous attempt at a teeny-weeny spoiler

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50. Classroom Connections: The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price by Jennifer Maschari

The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price
genre: contemporary with magical realism
age range: 8-12
setting: Cincinnati
Jennifer Maschari’s website
discussion guide

Jennifer Maschari’s debut novel is a work-out for the heart. Charlie Price has to make a terrible choice between what has been and what could be, and readers will stick with him every poignant, suspenseful step of the way. Charlie’s journey is more than remarkable. It’s unforgettable.
–Tricia Springstubb, author of Moonpenny Island

What a beautiful book Jen Maschari has written—a brave and big-hearted exploration of the sustaining power of friendship and the infinite treasure of memory our loved ones give us.
— Anne Ursu, author of Breadcrumbs and The Real Boy

Beautifully crafted sentences read almost as if they were poetry…Fans of both fantasy and realistic fiction will appreciate this painful but ultimately triumphant, multilayered novel.
— School Library Journal, starred review

A beautifully written meditation on grief … Reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline”
— Booklist

Please tell us about your book.

My book is a middle grade novel about a boy named Charlie who thinks he is doing okay after the death of his mother. He has Mathletes, he has school, and he has his friends. But then his little sister, Imogen, finds a passageway under her bed to a world very much like their own, with one key difference: Mom is alive. But things are not as they seem. Charlie needs to find out the truth of this alternate world before he loses himself, the true memory of their mother and Imogen, forever.

My book has a little bit of everything: magic, math, hope, and a really great dog named Ruby.

What inspired you to write this story?

There are a lot of things that inspired the writing of Charlie’s story. My father passed away when I was younger so I think a lot of those feelings of loss and sadness and trying to find a new “okay” gave this story roots. I wrote the book that my younger self needed.

I also tutor students in math and used to teach fifth grade science. Charlie’s always been a mathematician to me. It was really interesting to contrast Charlie’s love of math (and its unchanging nature) with his constantly evolving feelings, hopes and understandings. Charlie wants there to be concrete answers, but life doesn’t always give them to you.

What are some interesting things you learned when researching for this book?

I did a lot of interesting research for this book. This research involved both using books and the internet to find answers.

Even though I grew up in Cincinnati where the book takes place, I made sure to look at maps of the area where Charlie lived. This added an extra layer of authenticity to his comings and goings (though I did take a few liberties). Google Maps was a great resource for this. Not only did I get to look at the street layouts but I also could look at pictures of the area. I researched the stars, constellation stories, different mathematical terms, and telescopes. An observatory in Cincinnati plays an interesting role in the story, and I e-mailed with the director to get the floor plans and discuss what could actually be seen by the telescopes. I love learning new things.

What are some special challenges associated with writing magical middle grade?

Defining the rules of magic was certainly a special challenge I had to face in writing this book. In an early draft, all kinds of magical things just happened at different times. I had to take a step back and actually write the rules down so I could refer to them as I was revising. It’s just like in real life. For example, take gravity. We know if we jump up, that we will come back down to earth. It’s what we expect. I had to build in that level of expectation with the magic. If this one thing happens, it causes this magical thing to happen, and I had to be consistent throughout.

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

I truly believe that books act as mirrors (reflecting back our own experiences) and windows (allowing us to see into the lives of others). I hope that this book would reach kids who are facing difficult things in their lives – whether it be a death of a loved one or something else entirely – and let them see it’s possible to come out the other side. Books build empathy and allow safe spaces for kids to experience different emotions and situations. I hope that my book allows for that as well.

I think my book also has a lot of opportunities for cross-curricular connections:
-outer space (stars, orbits)
-math (variables, equations, Möbius strip)
-the constellations (stories and history behind them)

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