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Results 26 - 50 of 135,922
26. Guest Post: Mary Atkinson Asks Am I A Radical?

Author Visit with Mary Atkinson
By Mary Atkinson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Recently, I received an email from Abby, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She was working on a research project about Lollipop Power, a small press established in Chapel Hill in 1970.

She wanted to know if I was the author of one of their books, María Teresa. She’d found correspondence between the author and the press archived in the university library.

“Looking at your website,” she wrote, “I see you are a great educator! I am teaching in Texas after I graduate so I always love stumbling upon other teachers and seeing their wisdom.”

Of course I got right back to her! Now in my 60s, I am full of wisdom and I’m always happy to share!

I had written María Teresa when I was living in Cincinnati, Ohio in the late 1970s. I taught Spanish then to first and second graders at Silverton Elementary School in a magnet program to attract white students to the predominantly black school. Because I only had high school certification, I needed to get my elementary certificate to keep my job. I enrolled in the necessary courses at Xavier University.

I signed up for History of Children’s Literature, a course that ultimately guided me to my life’s passion—writing for children. One day, we had a guest speaker: Lucille Clifton.

What she said had a profound impact on me. She said that all children deserve to see themselves in children’s books. In 1977!

As a teacher in a school where most of my students were black, Clifton’s comment resonated with me. I’d already looked in my local library for picture books where both the students I taught and the children who spoke the language I taught were represented. I’d found very few.

One assignment in the children’s literature course was to write and illustrate a children’s book. Another life defining moment!

Thus, María Teresa was born. María Teresa tells the story of a young Mexican American girl who finds her voice in her Anglo classroom through her puppet, Monteja la Oveja.

I decided to try to get María Teresa published. I combed through the thick volume of the Writer’s Market at the Cincinnati Public Library. Why did I pick Lollipop Power Press among all the others listed?

Because I loved the Lollipop mission.

The Lollipop Power Press was a non-sexist and non-racist children’s book publishing collective, a feminist press concerned with issues of class, race, and gender equality.

It published books such as Martin’s Father by Margrit Eichler about a boy and his black single-parent father; Jesse’s Dream Skirt by Bruce Mack about a boy who sews his own skirt and wears it to school; and In Christina’s Toolbox by Dianne Homan about a girl who loves to build things just like her mom.

I was thrilled when Lollipop accepted my manuscript for publication. That was easy, I thought! I’m going to be a children’s author! I’ll write stories, send them to publishers and they’ll become books. (Little did I know…)

Abby, the college student, and I spoke on the phone. Her curiosity about and enthusiasm for María Teresa touched me deeply. It took me back to a time when a book about a girl and her toolbox, a boy who wears a skirt, and a boy with a single black dad were unusual, and in many places, controversial.

“Were you a radical?” she asked me when I told her about how Lollipop Power’s vision back then was so new.

Well, I joked, if believing in equality and access to children’s literature for all children was radical, I guess I was.

And still am. It all goes back to my ah-ha moment when listening to Lucille Clifton. Every child deserves to see themselves in the books they read.

As I think back on it, two things are notable. One, that as a WASP New Englander, it had never occurred to me back then to even think about how there were children who couldn’t find themselves in books. And two, that as soon as she said it, it touched a deep well inside me.

I understood what she was saying. I understood how important it was. And I wanted to be a children’s author who wrote stories for and about all kinds of children.

Forty years later, the vision of We Need Diverse Books is “A world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book.”

Am I a radical to ask, “Why is this taking so long?”

Cynsational Notes

Mary Atkinson has taught Spanish to students of all ages, been a third grade teacher, and hosted a Spanish radio show. Her poetry for children has appeared in magazines and anthologies, and her fiction and non-fiction have been published widely in educational markets. She is the author of Owl Girl (Maine Authors Publishing, 2015).

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27. Cybils Speculative Reader: POWERLESS by TERA LYNN CHILDS & TRACY DEEBS

Welcome to the 2016 Cybils Speculative Reader! As a first run reader for the Cybils, I'll be briefly introducing you to the books on the list, giving you a mostly unbiased look at some of the plot.Enjoy! Tera Lynn Childs' previous novels dealt with... Read the rest of this post

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28. Author Interview: Debbie Levy on I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Happy Election Day! Go vote!

We welcome author Debbie Levy to talk about her new picture book biography. 

From the promotional copy of I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley (Simon & Schuster, 2016):

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has spent her lifetime disagreeing . . . with creaky old ideas. With unfairness. With inequality. She has disagreed. She has disapproved. She has objected and resisted. 

She has dissented!

Disagreeable? No. Determined? Yes! 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has changed her life, and ours, by voicing her disagreements and standing up for what’s right. This picture book about the first female Jewish justice of the U.S. Supreme Court shows that disagreeing does not make you disagreeable and that important change can happen one disagreement at a time.

See also the Glorious RBG Blog (click to view 11 entries).

Welcome to Cynsations, Debbie! We're both graduates of The University of Michigan Law School. Did you practice law or go straight to writing for young readers like I did (or rather like I did after clerking)?

I did practice law for several years after law school. But writing books for children is the only job I’ve held for more than six years. Lawyer at a big Washington, D.C. law firm: six years. Newspaper editor: six years. Then I took a class at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland, with the excellent Mary Quattlebaum. (Check out her books, and her reviewing work!)

Writing for children: This was a vocation with long-term potential.

Michigan Law School Reading Room
Hey, I have a newspaper background, too--so much in common! You write fiction and nonfiction across formats and age levels. Often I hear from new writers that they feel pressured to pick one focus. What has your range of pursuits done for you in terms of craft and career?

I think the writers you’re hearing from are telling a truth: There can be pressure to pick one focus or, to put it otherwise, to establish a “brand.”

I think I must have subconsciously scoffed at the notion that I could ever be a brand—ha, a Debbie Levy brand!—so, for better or worse, I’ve mostly followed my interests and allowed serendipity a role in choosing projects.

Also, one solution for writers who do want to be multi-focal is to have more than publisher. I realize that doesn’t solve a beginning writer’s problem, who may be looking for Publisher #1. But it is an option once you start getting published.

Congratulations on the release of I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley (Simon & Schuster, 2016)! What about Ruth Bader Ginsburg called to you as a writer?

Thank you! Like many people, I knew that the Glorious RBG was the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States and the first Jewish woman on the Court.

I knew that, before that, she was a federal appeals court judge in Washington, D.C., and, before that, one of leading lawyers in the field of equal rights for women and girls.

What I didn’t know, until I started researching more deeply about her, is that she has been disagreeing with unfairness and with things that are just plain wrong from the time she was a little girl.

I mean, she objected to being excluded from shop class in grade school, and being required to take cooking and sewing instead! When on a car trip with her parents, she disagreed with she saw a sign outside a hotel that read “No Dogs or Jews Allowed.” Later, of course, she went on to disagree, resist, object, and dissent her way into big things.

And she’s been doing this for years with a voice that is not loud (people lean in to hear her words), in a manner that is not obnoxious (more benefit of the doubt than bashing, more insight than invective), and in service of justice.

So, I realized, the story of her life offers this inspiring lesson: Disagreeing does not make you disagreeable, and important change happens one disagreement at a time. Is it any wonder, then, that I thought she was a great person to introduce to young people in a picture book?

Agreed! Many of my favorite people disagree strongly with injustice. What were the challenges (research, psychological, logistical) in bringing the story to life?

I feel lucky to live in the Washington, D.C. area, because although Justice Ginsburg didnot find time for an interview with me last summer when I was working on this book, she did grant me access to her papers on deposit in the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress (practically next door to the Supreme Court!).

I’ve gone through at least one Manuscript Division collection before, but none like this. So tidy! Meticulous! Her speeches typed on 4 x 6 cards: impeccable! Her handwritten notes on yellow legal sheets discussing and advocating for the Equal Rights Amendment that never got adopted!

Although I didn’t absolutely need to read piles of drafts of legal briefs and memoranda, I dived into this stuff with gusto; you do get a sense of a person from their papers.

Oh, wait. You asked for challenges. It is a challenge to write about someone, a living, active person, without having an interview. But there were many, many print and video interviews of RBG for me to consult. Many scholarly articles, by and about her.

And she did review the manuscript last October. She sent a nice little note, and wrote in some handwritten notes in the margins of my typescript. I took all her edits!

Since you’ve specifically mentioned “psychological challenges”—I lost my mother three years ago.

Debbie's mother kayaking on the Wye River
She was a vibrant, ever-curious, outgoing woman, someone always interested in another person’s story, someone who as a girl dreamed of being a journalist (she ended up in the wholesale costume jewelry business instead), and she would have been over the moon to know that I was writing a book about RBG, to know that I was elbow-deep in RBG materials at the Library of Congress, to know that RBG looked over my manuscript pre-publication.

I’m answering your questions, Cyn, the morning after the book launch for I Disssent, which we held at D.C.’s great Politics & Prose Bookstore. Many friends who had known my mother attended.

I said there, “I cannot help but think that had my mother still been alive, she would have figured out a way to get me into RBG’s chambers for an interview—and she along with me!”

The room was filled with knowing smiles and laughter. Someone even called out my mother’s signature phrase: “Let me ask you a question”—her way of getting people to open up to her.

That helped with the pain of not having Mom there. (And, really, she would have snagged me an interview.)

Talk to us about disagreeing. It sounds like a negative focus for a children's book. Is it? In either case, why do you think it's important in the conversation of youth literature?

Yes, let’s talk about disagreeing! The theme of disagreeing is really what sold my editor at Simon & Schuster on this book.

From the very beginning, we were really excited about creating a book that said to all kids, and to girls in particular, that disagreeing does not make a person disagreeable, and that you can accomplish big things for yourself and for the world through dissent and by finding another way when the world says “no” to you.

It’s a positive message, but it’s also a message that says you don’t have to be positive—that is, you don’t have to sound or look positive, you don’t have to just say yes and smile and go along with things that you believe are wrong—to be a good person.

At the same time, simply disagreeing without more isn’t really enough if you want to change your life or anyone else’s. On the back of the book, we’ve put this RBG quote: “Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

Seems simple, right? But it’s that second sentence that is so hard to pull off.

Many authors discover reoccurring themes in their work? Is this true of you? If so, could you tell us about it and how I Dissent fits in?

I seem to return to the theme of Outsiderness. My mother, protagonist of the nonfiction-in-verse The Year of Goodbyes (Hyperion, 2010), being an outsider as a girl in Nazi Germany in 1938. Danielle, protagonist of my young adult novel Imperfect Spiral (Bloomsbury, 2013), who finds an unexpected antidote to her feelings of being the outsider in an unlikely friendship with the six-year-old boy she babysits one summer.

The African American individuals and communities, outsiders in their own country, in my nonfiction picture book We Shall Overcome: The Story of A Song (Disney-Jump at the Sun, 2013).

Today we may look at RBG and see the ultimate insider—she’s a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, for heaven’s sake! But she overcame the outsiderness of being a Jew in a sometimes hostile Gentile world, of being a young woman in the (then) overwhelmingly male-dominated world of law school, of being a female lawyer in a (then) man’s profession, and of being an advocate for legal and social changes that went against the grain of society’s traditional norms. There’s my theme.

What do you love about your writing life?

Other writers. What good communities and friendships I’ve found!

What do you do when you're not writing or out-and-about in your author hat?

Walk in the woods or along the nearby Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. Kayak in the Chesapeake Bay area. Fish in the Chesapeake Bay area. Read.

Think about whoever my next dog will be.

Apologize to my cat for thinking about my next dog.

You know, the usual.

What can your readers look forward to next?

In February 2017, Soldier Song, A True Story of the Civil War (Disney-Hyperon). An 80-page picture book for older children about a remarkable event that occurred after the Battle of Fredericksburg. Illustrated by the excellent, creative Gilbert Ford, with lots of room for excerpts from soldier’s letters and diaries. I’m excited about this!

Don't miss The Glorious RBG Blog!


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29. The Children’s Literary Salon and the World of Rebecca Dudley

For those of you in the Chicago area, here’s a bit of happiness.  This Saturday I’ll have the pleasure of hosting artist Rebecca Dudley of the incomparable Hank Finds an Egg in my Literary Salon.  Here’s the long and short of it:


 

Evanston Literary Salon: Rebecca Dudley’s Miniature World

alt

Saturday, November 12th, 1:30 – 2:30, Community Meeting Room, 1st Floor

Artist Rebecca Dudley wowed the publishing world when she adapted her remarkable tiny world into the picture books HANK FINDS AN EGG and HANK HAS A DREAM.  Join this fantastic illustrator for an explanation of her process and a peek into the remarkable worlds she creates.  No registration required.

And for fun, check out this awesome diagram she created on her process.  I just love this thing:

dudleydiagram

See you then!

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30. Cybils Speculative Reader: ON THE EDGE OF GONE by CORINNE DUYVIS

Welcome to the 2016 Cybils Speculative Reader! As a first run reader for the Cybils, I'll be briefly introducing you to the books on the list, giving you a mostly unbiased look at some of the plot.Enjoy! Many readers know author Corinne Duyvis from... Read the rest of this post

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31. Fusenews: But you tell me over and over and over again my friend

weasleywizardwheezesRemember the moment at the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when he funds Fred and George’s joke shop?  What is it he says to them?  Ah yes. “I could do with a few laughs. We could all do with a few laughs. I’ve got a feeling we’re going to need them more than usual before long.”  I feel like, once again, Rowling put her finger on the pulse of what we need to hear.  Today’s post is in honor of that spirit.


 

Here’s a little happy news for you to kick it all off.  The World Science Fiction Society (WSFS), coordinator of the World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon) has given first approval to a new Young Adult Science / Fantasy Award.  The problem?  It needs a name!  That’s where you come in.  There’s a name-the-award-survey out there, but the deadline is November 15th.  Now, could we talk about doing something similar for ALA’s YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults?  Perhaps rename it and stat?


 

In other news, the nominees for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for 2017 were announced.  If you’re unfamiliar with that particular award, it’s the one with the biggest monetary prize attached to it.  The prize can go to any author, illustrator, storyteller or “reading promoter”.  American nominees on this year’s list include:

Anderson, Laurie Halse
Bányai, István
Blume, Judy
Carle, Eric
Children’s Literature New England (CLNE) & The Examined Life (EXL) Organisation
Dezsö, Andrea
Friends of African Village Libraries (FAVL) Organisation
Kalman, Maira
LeGuin, Ursula
Lowry, Lois
Maguire, Gregory
Neighborhood Bridges
Pellowski, Anne
Room to Read
Shihab Nye, Naomi
Taylor, Mildred

On Saturday I offered you the chance to win some original Sophie Blackall art.  Today, I’m offering you the chance to bid on some original John Parra art.  In 2017 his book Frida and Her Animalitos, written by Monica Brown, will hit shelves everywhere.  Now you have a chance to bid on this painting, inspired by the book by its illustrator:

fridaparra

Gorgeous, no?  Best of all is the cause.  SCBWI-IL  is auctioning it during the week following Prairie Writer’s and Illustrator’s Day 2016 to raise funds for SCBWI-Illinois’ Diversity Initiatives. Better hurry, though.  Bidding ends Saturday, November 12th. More info here.


I’ve very much been enjoying the multiple articles out there about Are You an Echo?, that remarkable picture book biography/poetry collection about Misuzu Kaneko.  First there was this 7-Imp interview with David Jacobson, the writer/translator of the book.  Then there was this great piece over at Playing By the Book that gives additional background information about its illustrator Toshikado Hajiri.  Love it.  Be sure to check out the interior art at 7-Imp here as well.


 

It occurs to me that I don’t think I’ve ever had a chance to examine Robert McCloskey’s artwork and sketches up close before.  If I were in Boston I could remedy the situation with the upcoming Make Way for Ducklings: The Art of Robert McCloskey, held at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.  Good to know about in any case.


 

It’s not uncommon for me to be the last to know when a picture book has struck a nerve.  Such was the case with Shmelf the Hanukkah Elf, though if I’d taken even two seconds to think about it I probably could have seen it coming.  Marjorie Ingall slices and dices the book, clarifying precisely why what it does doesn’t work.  There’s also a truly lovely shout out in there for  Dear Santa, Love Rachel Rosenstein which I gave too little attention to when it came out.  Well played, Marjorie.


 

By the way, I feel I should also mention her stellar post How to Explain the Refugee Crisis to Kids as well.  If you read nothing else today, read this.


 

folioawardOh.  I won a thing but I don’t think I mentioned it before.  Remember when I said in an earlier post that A Fuse #8 Production was nominated for a 2016 FOLIO: Eddie and Ozzie Award?  Well, it won!  Yep!  Neat!


 

Conspiracy theories and children’s books: Two great tastes that taste great together.  Nowhere more true than in the recent 100 Scope Notes piece We Found a (Man in the Yellow) Hat? It ties an old picture book to a new one in an original way.  No small task.


 

Boy, if it weren’t for the Cubs winning the World Series, I’d swear the universe had it out for me.  Now I hear that the Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia lost a significant chunk of its case against the Sendak Estate?  Doggone it.  That’s it.  I’m moving to Australia.


 

Hey!  Did you know that there’s a Chicago Book Expo?  News to me.  Better still, there’s a neat event going on there called Our Voices Initiative: Encouraging Diversity in Publishing.  Here’s the program description:

The demand for diverse, quality books is great. Independent publishers have responded with an explosion of books by and about diverse people. Join members of the American Library Association Our Voices advisory council, who represent professionals from across the book ecosystem, to discuss the issue of diversity in publishing and the work they are doing to promote and support diverse content. Come and add your voice to the discussion.

Panelists will include Curt Matthews, Founder and Chairman of the Board for the Chicago Review Press and Independent Publisher’s Group; Jeff Deutsch, Director of the Seminary Co-op Bookstores, which includes 57th Street Books; Felicia Shakespeare, best-selling author and library media specialist; and Joy Triche, Founder and Publisher of Tiger Stripe Publishing. Donna Seaman, Editor, Adult Books at Booklist, will moderate the discussion.

You can see more information at this Facebook link too.


 

The New York Times Best Illustrated list of 2016 children’s books was released earlier this month.  Some good choices.  Some choices that cause me to grind my teeth in a counter-clockwise direction.  In other words, a pretty standard year.


 

Fun Fact: Were you aware that Lois Lowry’s Anastasia Krupnik books were never meant to be a series?  Do you know what Ms. Lowry thinks about censorship?  Do you know what her next projects are (and that they’re completely out of her genre)?  Good news then.  Over at the Cotsen Children’s Library the podcast The Bibliofiles has an interview with Lowry about all these things.  And more.


 

Daily Image:

I’m fine.  I’m all fine here now, thank you.  How are you?

beautifulscreaming

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32. Cybils Speculative Reader: REBEL OF THE SANDS by ALWYN HAMILTON

Welcome to the 2016 Cybils Speculative Reader! As a first run reader for the Cybils, I'll be briefly introducing you to the books on the list, giving you a mostly unbiased look at some of the plot.Enjoy! Synopsis: Amani Al'Hiza is sixteen, and... Read the rest of this post

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33. Out of the Past



In the archives of the New York Times, materials about Germany and the rise of the Nazis to power are vast. It would take days to read through it all. Though it would be an informative experience, I don't have the time to do so at the moment, but I was curious to see the general progression of news and opinion as it all happened.

Here are a few items that stuck out to me as I skimmed around:

1932
7 February

10 March


29 May



12 June


1933

8 February


9 February


29 February


5 March

7 March


11 March

12 March

13 March

16 March


19 March



22 March

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34. Cover Reveal: And it’s for my own book!!!

Ladies and gentlemen . . . the moment I’ve been waiting for.

Wait! Wait!  Background information first!

So for years I worked as a children’s librarian and I’d get girl after girl after girl coming up to my desk asking for funny books.  I credit some of this to Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  The boys and the girls loved that series and wanted more of the same.  Sometimes they wanted it in a notebook novel format, like Kinney’s book.  Sometimes they just wanted something hilarious, and they seriously didn’t care who wrote it.  So I’d grab books for them and then it slowly began to dawn on me.  Huh.  For all that I could find some pretty fantastic and hilarious books out there for kids, where were the funny story collections written by women?  Turns out, there weren’t any.

Until now.

I would like you to join me in applauding the following authors and author/illustrators . . . .

  • Cece Bell
  • Sophie Blackall
  • Libba Bray
  • Lisa Brown
  • Adrianne Chalepah
  • Alison DeCamp
  • Carmen Agra Deedy
  • Kelly DiPucchio
  • Lisa Graff
  • Shannon Hale
  • Charise Mericle Harper
  • Jenni Holm
  • Akilah Hughes
  • Amy Ignatow
  • Christine Mari Inzer
  • Lenore Look
  • Meghan McCarthy
  • Mitali Perkins
  • Leila Sales
  • Raina Telgemeier
  • Deborah Underwood
  • Ursula Vernon
  • Rita Williams-Garcia
  • Delaney Yeager
  • and Mackenzie Yeager

Each one of these women has contributed to my new book Funny Girl: Funniest. Stories. EVER.

Behold!  The cover by the aforementioned Charise Mericle Harper:

funnygirl

And here’s the full jacket in its entirety:

funnygirlfull

A portion of the proceeds of this book go to Write Girl, a Los Angeles-based creative writing and mentoring organization that matches girls with women writers who mentor them in creative writing.

When’s it out?  May 9th, 2017!  Feel free to pre-order it.


 

Oh! And while I’m thinking of it, there’s this other really fun thing that just started that I have to let you know about.  As I may have mentioned before, my husband’s first book The Secrets of Story just came out recently and I could be prouder.  He’s already put up a couple great videos alongside it (the latest is here and is about those little moments of humanity that make you like a character).  But fun upon fun upon fun, he’s created a podcast with YA author and 90-Second Newbery Film Festival creator James Kennedy and it may well be my favorite thing of all time.  I love it when James and Matt get together because they agree on NOTHING!  And now they’ve a podcast together where they can extol the beauty of that nothing together.  It’s huge fun for me, and it ends with a little feature where they mention a story idea they had that they decided wouldn’t work and give it away (as it were) to the masses for use.  So if you like the process of writing or you just like banter, I’ve your new favorite podcast.  The Secrets of Storytelling podcast is available through iTunes.  Subscribe today!

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35. Around This Time It Would Make Sense to Do an Election Day Post

Though, to be perfectly honest, Saturday’s post sort of covered all the bases there.  Still and all, I wanted to do something in honor of the day.  It’s tricky.  I could do a post of links, like 100 Years of Women in Congress—12 Political Pioneers to Introduce to Kids or Vote Here: Books for Tweens About Elections or If Boys Could Vote.  Or I could whip up a list of recent picture books about elections in all their myriad forms.  But none of that seems special enough.

So I sat down with my husband and James Kennedy last night over ice cream to hash out the problem.  James mentioned off-handedly the picture book Duck for President, which is a notable title partly because it’s so old it contained outdated Bill-Clinton-playing-the-saxophone references.  I mentioned I liked that book and we got to talking about whether or not all these books for small children about elections are new or not.  Are there older ones out there?  Classic ones?  Books like . . .

hoohoohoover

Wait.  That’s not a book.  That’s a music score.  But surely SURELY there are older election titles out there.  Books that weren’t published in the last 10 years or so.

Well, I found a couple.  Actually I found a lot, but not that many with book jacket images online.  In respect of the day, then, enjoy this smattering of older children’s books on the topic of elections:

Let’s Go to Vote by Agnes McCarthy (1962)

letsgovote

A red book from the 60s on voting by someone named McCarthy?  Will wonders never cease?  Also . . . is that policeman encouraging that girl to vote?  Oh dearie dear.

Right On, Dellums! My Dad Goes to Congress by Bob and Lynn Fitch (1971)

rightondellums

There is nothing I don’t love about this boy.  His hat.  The fact he’s supposedly saying “right on”.  The power salute.  I know his dad’s the one running, but I’d vote for that kid any day of the week.  The dad, by the way, was Ron Dellums, and the salute was sort of his thing.  Google him and you’ll see him doing it quite a bit.  The description of the book reads, “After a long campaign, eight-year-old Brandy Dellums’ father is elected as the first black Congressman from Berkeley, California, and the family moves to Washington, D.C.

Maggie Marmelstein for President by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, ill. Ben Shecter (1975)

maggiepresident

Alas, poor Maggie.  She had quite the series in the 70s, with all sorts of editions.  Too much time has passed, however, and though I’ve no doubt that there are libraries all over the country that still carry her books, for the most part they’re forgotten.  I sort of love the vitriol in this description too: “Maggie Marmelstein thought that her friend Thad would be a good class president. But when he refuses her offer to manage his campaign, she decides to run against him with a vengeance.”  Rowr!  VENGEANCE SHALL BE MAGGIE’S!

It’s a Free Country! A Young Person’s Guide to Politics & Elections by Cynthia K. Samuels (1988)

itsafree

Are they singing?  Clearly they’re singing.  But what, I ask of you, would they have been singing in 1988?

Electing J.J. by James VanOosting (1990)

electingjj

Best I could do in terms of finding an image.  The plot reads, “In Framburg, a small farming community, lots of families face the loss of their farms. Three boys, one of them politically aware J.J. Ellison, decide to organize a campaign against the corrupt mayor of Framburg who is profiting from everyone’s misfortune.”

NEATE to the Rescue by Deborah Chocolate (1992)

neaterescue

I found this one through the Chicago Public Library.  Apparently it was a Chicago-based series in the 90s and this is the first one Ms. Chocolate wrote.  The plot is about a, “campaign for the reelection of Naimah’s mother to the city council. It’s a bitter struggle between the respected woman and her white male opponent, an unabashed racist who advocates the re-zoning of community districts to quash African American voting power.”  Yep.  A whole book for kids on re-zoning.  Um . . . can we get this republished with a new cover, please?  On second thought, I love this cover.  Can we make it historical fiction then?

Those are the best I could find.  I didn’t want to go much further than The Boy Who Ran for President, due to its recent popularity and all.  Instead, let’s finish with a bang.  I give you . . .

Duck for President!

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36. Books from my Bookshelf - Tale of a One-Way Street and other Stories


In this collection of eight original stories, Joan Aiken takes us on a journey to a land where all the magical things that only seem to happen in dreams really happen. 

The stories are: Tale of a one-way street, The lions, Bridget's hat, The goodbye song, The queen of the moon, Clean sheets, The alarm cock (not clock!) and The tractor, the duck and the drum. The illustrations are all by Jan Pienkowski. 

Image above from THE ALARM COCK 

Once there was a shop with a sign over the door that said, VINE, WOLF, AND PARROTT, HELPERS. If you opened the door and went in, you saw the Vine right away, for it grew out of the floor and up the walls of the little shop, so the whole room was lined with leaves, and clusters of flowers hung from the ceiling.... A sign over the counter said, No fee unless satisfied.  Payment in kind Accepted. We help you with all your problems!

Image from TALE OF A ONE-WAY STREET 

They saw a great forest of pipes, each pipe mended in a different way. They saw streams and fountains of letters and numbers sparkling in the purple rays of the sun, making hundreds and thousands of different words, giving the answers to any number of sums...

 Image from THE LIONS

At each corner of the little park, facing inwards so that they could see on another comfortably, crouched four stone lions. One had moss growing on his tail. One had a swallow's nest of straw built between his ears. One had a broken paw, where a boy had thrown a brick. And somebody had written I LOVE FRANK on the fourth lion ...

 Image from BRIDGET'S HAT

"Now," he said. "Pay careful attention. The diamond that fastens your right-hand boot is a very old and precious one; it is called the Eye of the Desert, and has the power to take you wherever you want to go, if you step out with your right foot first, and wish at the same time. Is that clear?


A second image from BRIDGET'S HAT

Image from THE GOODBYE SONG

But one night, out of the depths of her worry, she dreamed a song, and the next day, when she woke up, she remembered the words of it, and the tune.  These were the words:

Road, river, mountain, sea,
Bring my boys safe to me
Earth, air sun, moon,
Bring my sons back soon
Luck, chance, wish, will
Keep them safe from all ill.

Black and white image from BRIDGET'S HAT

Image from THE QUEEN OF THE MOON

Tansy walked along the side of the field till she came to a little stream. She built a dam out of sticks and mud. Then she built an island out of stones, and put smaller stones and earth on top. Over the earth she laid green moss, and then she picked moon daisies and stuck them into the moss. They looked as if they were growing...

Image from THE TRACTOR, THE DUCK AND THE DRUM

So Euan wrote to his Aunt Bertha:  Dere Ant Birthday I shd bee verry great full if u cd send mee a track tor I can ride on wat goes chug chug chug & a drum I can play on wat goes rub a dub dub & a duk to swim in my barf wat goes quak quak quak.

 Image from CLEAN SHEETS

So Gus had to go to bed, but he took the leaf with him. And lying in bed, holding the leaf scrunched up in his hand, he remembered floating down the Colorado river in a canoe past great golden cliffs. He remembered scoring the winning goal in an ice-hockey match. He remembered getting into the pilot's seat of a small aeroplane he had been given. Then he went to sleep ...



I’m so happy I stumbled across this beautifully illustrated book in a local charity shop.  I love the intense colours and the silhouettes by Jan Pienkowski, plus the stories are fun and imaginative.  This from the introduction:

What very strange creatures you are apt to meet if you dare to go the wrong way up a one-way street. What splendid things you can remember, even if they didn't happen (like the zebra you got for your birthday or all the doughnuts in the world which you ate without being sick), if you hold the leaf of a memory tree in the palm of your hand. What a peculiar muddle your presents can get into when your birthday cake is baked with a wishing spoon, and what magical rewards come your way if you save the king of grasshoppers from drowning in your porridge.  

Tale of a one-way street
Joan Aiken with pictures by Jan Pienkowski. 
Published by Jonathan Cape Ltd. 1978

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I’m going to leave you with a funny story as told by our daughter in law Karen.  She is talking about her youngest daughter (our granddaughter) Lilly.  

... Lilly decided to help me with the washing ... after loading the washing machine I said ok now shut the door like you are really cross, meaning slam it shut … as she slammed the door she yelled "I am sick of this".   

Tada!!  Thank you Lilly ... please take a bow!



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37. Ten Years Old! A Blogiversary Retrospective

Today I am celebrating 10 years in the blogosphere, and more specifically, the Kidlitosphere. It's been an amazing ride. I've found a community here that humbles, inspires, educates, and supports me in ways I never would have imagined when I started this journey. 

To celebrate the big day, I've decided to share some of my favorite posts, memories, and personal experiences that have grown out the real, live human connections I've made in this digital world. So, here we go!

*****
When I started this blog, my son had just started kindergarten. He's now a sophomore in high school.
 
I'll admit to being a bit embarrassed about my early posts. I'm not really sure what I wanted to blog to be. I knew I wanted it to be about teaching and books and math and science and .... probably too many things in the beginning. What's interesting about reading those early posts is that some of the ideas and issues that I grappled with then, I continue to grapple with. For example, in an early post I wrote this after my first parent-teacher conference sitting on the parent side of the desk.
My biggest concern was in fact, his teacher's concern. I have a kid who hates to make mistakes, puts too much pressure on himself to get everything right, and just wants to be downright perfect.
...
I was thrilled with the fantastic report I received from William's teacher, but found myself wondering on the drive home, how do I fix this? How do I teach him it's okay to make mistakes, that everyone does, and that this is really what learning is all about? I'm not sure, but when I find out, I'll let you know.
Fast forward ten years. This week in class we focused on math talks and the "productive struggle" that's so important in math. And we talked about mistakes ... how we need to value them and how we can't fear them as kids do the hard work of learning something new.

In those first few posts I wrote about teaching, planning, historical fiction, "busy" children's books, and more. What led me down the rabbit hole, and opened up a new world on the blog was my post on January 1, 2007 highlighting the Cybils shortlist. That year, 482 books were nominated to produce a list of 45 finalists. This one post led me to the kidlitosphere, and it ultimately helped me find my tribe. My "tribe" consists of authors, teachers, librarians, poets, and a whole host of folks I never would have met were it not for this blog. My blogroll would be hundreds of links today if I actually listed every one on this blog. Now I can follow many of these folks on Twitter.

If I'd been thinking ahead, or much more creative, I would have turned this into a lengthy celebration and started weeks in advance, sharing some of the more interesting bits and bobs along the way. Ten years is a long time to do one thing. Heck, people today often don't hold a job that long! The blog has definitely morphed a bit, but it's still a place I love to hang out. Here are some of the highlights from my first year of blogging.

*****
January 7, 2007
I entered Lisa Yee's Bodacious Book Title Contest. The rules were:
1. Think of a title from a children's/middle grade/young adult book.
2. Change the FIRST LETTER of ONE of the words to make it into a whole new title.
3. Then add a sentence describing the new book.

Here's one of my entries. It seems appropriate to share so close to election day.
Original Title: Duck for President
New Title: Puck for President
Summary: Upon escaping from the pages of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Puck finds himself in a land ruled by a ridiculous republican leader and, convinced he can do better, decides to run for President.

January 26, 2007
I participated in Poetry Friday for the first time! I didn't know to link up with others at that point, but I was finding a place to share and slowly finding my way into a community that I still participate in.

January 29, 2007
I posted my first thematic book list and Mary Lee Hahn of A Year of Reading stopped by to recommend a book. I'm so glad she did, and I'm so glad we're still talking about books and poetry together.

March 5, 2007
I wrote my first fib and walked through my writing/revising process. And Greg Pincus of GottaBook stopped by! (You're shocked, right?)

April 9, 2007
I wrote my first book review and was thrilled to find the author stopped by. This has happened a lot over the years, and it still makes me giddy. And that book I reviewed then is still in my teaching library and gets regular use.

May 15 - June 4, 2007
I traveled to Taiwan, China, and Tibet with a group of faculty members and blogged about my adventures. Here's a link to my summary post about what I learned.

July 16, 2007
I wrote about the book Ten Little Rabbits and the difficulty in evaluating books about other cultures. Debbie Reese of American Indians in Children's Literature stopped by and my education began. I still read her blog and am inspired by her tireless work.

August 6, 2007
I posted my very first poetry stretch. The form was the bouts-rímes. It's called the Monday Poetry Stretch now. I don't republish the poems in a new post, just hope folks will drop into the comments to read the great things people share.

September 28, 2007
John Green came to campus as part of a lecture series. (This was just one year after An Abundance of Katherines was published.) I'd been following the Vlog Brothers since he was awarded a Printz honor in January, so meeting him was great fun.

October 6, 2007
I attended the very first Kidlit conference in Chicago and met all these amazing people.

October 15, 2007
The kidlit community came together in an event called Blogging for a Cure, spearheaded by Jules and Eisha of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. More than 60 bloggers worked to highlight an amazing group of illustrators who created snowflakes in support of Robert's Snow 2007. I may have even purchased a few ...


And that, my friends, is just a recap of one year of blogging! I've written numerous thematic lists since then, continue to host poetry stretches, participate in Poetry Friday, still speculate on the nature of diversity in children's books, write about poetry in many varied forms, and post original poetry supported by my amazing poetry sisters. I've experienced the highest highs and some of the lowest lows with this community. I'm so very grateful to have you. Thank you for reading, commenting, and stopping in to share my little corner of the internet. I love seeing you here.

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38. #andnowwewrite

Over on the readergirlz facebook page, we are sharing the thoughts of YA writers post U.S. election, 2016. Feel free to add your views as well. #wethepeople #inked #andnowwewrite #love.

Onward, rgz. Read, reflect, and reach out! ~Lorie Ann Grover


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39. Debbie--have you seen Nathan Hale's ALAMO ALL-STARS?

A reader wrote to ask if I've seen Nathan Hale's Alamo All-Stars. New in 2016 from Amulet, it is book six in Hale's "Hazardous Tales" series of graphic novels. Here's the synopsis:

In the early 1800s, Texas was a wild and dangerous land fought over by the Mexican government, Native Americans, and settlers from the United States. Beginning with the expeditions of the so-called “Land Pirates,” through the doomed stand at the Alamo, and ending with the victory over Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto, the entire Texas saga is on display. Leading the charge to settle this new frontier is Stephen F. Austin, with a cast of dangerous and colorful characters, including Jim Bowie, William Travis, David Crockett, and others.

I didn't know about this series, but it is quite popular. I'll see if I can get a copy at the library.

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40. Video Sunday: Creepiness Abounds!

Stranger Things, I credit you with this finally happening.

Let’s think about doing a Girl With the Silver Eyes film next!  Thanks to Liz Burns for the link.

Now when I heard that Nieman Marcus was offering 36 Caldecott Award winning picture books for $10,000 . . . *checks notes*  I’m sorry.  I typed the wrong number there.  I’ll begin again.

When I heard that Nieman Marcus was offering 36 Caldecott Award winning picture books for $100,000 (that’s better) I was a bit baffled.  Perhaps these would be books that were all signed by their authors and illustrators?  Well, they are first printings, or early editions, yes.  But one can assume that you could purchase 36 such similar titles for far less money.  This is part of Nieman Marcus’s “Fantasy Gifts” collection, and the idea is that they’ll donate $10,000 to their own charity if you buy this collection.

Now the collection of 36 has been curated by Johnnycake Books and E.M. Maurice Books.  Here is the video that accompanies it.  See if you see what I saw.  Click on the image below:

screen-shot-2016-11-05-at-10-16-43-pm

Did you notice the books chosen to appear on this list?  I am a librarian, so my take on curation is going to be different from that of a bookseller.  That said, I have to wonder how many booksellers today would hand a child a stack of Caldecott books that included problematic titles like They Were Strong and Good. This is not to say that I think the book should be removed from library or bookstore shelves or anything like that.  But if you’re looking for books that speak to kids today, then for the love of all that is good and holy switch that book out for something with some contemporary gravitas like Jerry Pinkney’s The Lion and the Mouse.  My two cents.  Thanks to Sharyn November for the link.

Oo!  This is neat.  Matthew Reinhart goes in-depth on pop-up books.

Interesting that he cites Transformers toys as being so influential on him.  Sorry, Autobots.  Thanks to 100 Scope Notes for the link.

This is neat.  Kidlit TV created a livestream of the Bank Street Bookfest this year, and now the full series of events is available in full.  Would that the Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder Award ceremonies were done in the same way.  I dare to dream!

 I know some of you out there harbor unkind thoughts about Amanda Palmer.  That’s fine.  But she apparently has an album out with her dad, Jack Palmer, who has a pleasant Leonard Cohenish quality to his voice, and one of their songs was turned into an animated video akin to the Brothers Quay.  I just like the song:

And if you prefer, you could watch this one with the world’s GREATEST sleeping baby. Seriously. He wakes up ONCE in the course of this film (if you don’t count the end). I don’t think that’s a trick.  Plus it was filmed with the cast of Welcome to Night Vale.  So.  Right there.

In terms of this latest Series of Unfortunate Events trailer, my thoughts are that they get two points for including Klaus’s glasses (thereby already improving upon the film) but one point is deducted for Violet’s hair ribbons, or lack thereof. Interesting that they made her SO much older. Not that I wanted a 12-year-old mock-married to Olaf. Ugh.

Zut! I wish I’d seen this next book trailer before Halloween!  It would have tied in so beautifully.  I tell you, it is hard to come up with an original trailer for picture books in this day and age.  Perl knocks it out of the park.

As for our off-topic review of the day, this one’s a no-brainer. There really isn’t a connection to children’s books here, and I should probably save it for Christmas but . . . aw, I just can’t. For the Stranger Things fans out there:

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41. New Voice: Katie Kennedy on Learning to Swear in America

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Katie Kennedy is the first-time author of Learning to Swear in America (Bloomsbury, 2016). From the promotional copy:

An asteroid is hurtling toward Earth. A big, bad one. 

Maybe not kill-all-the-dinosaurs bad, but at least kill-everyone-in-California-and-wipe-out-Japan-with-a-tsunami bad. Yuri, a physicist prodigy from Russia, has been recruited to aid NASA as they calculate a plan to avoid disaster.

The good news is Yuri knows how to stop the asteroid--his research in antimatter will probably win him a Nobel prize if there's ever another Nobel prize awarded. 

But the trouble is, even though NASA asked for his help, no one there will listen to him. He's seventeen, and they've been studying physics longer than he's been alive.

Then he meets (pretty, wild, unpredictable) Dovie, who lives like a normal teenager, oblivious to the impending doom. Being with her, on the adventures she plans when he's not at NASA, Yuri catches a glimpse of what it means to save the world and live a life worth saving.

Prepare to laugh, cry, cringe, and have your mind burst open with the questions of the universe.

How did you approach the research process for your story? What resources did you turn to? What roadblocks did you run into? How did you overcome them? What was your greatest coup, and how did it inform your manuscript?

Research was a huge part of writing Learning to Swear in America. The book is about an incoming asteroid, and the main character, Yuri, is a physics genius. I’m not.

I knew I didn’t want the book to be science-free. I mean, how could it be? It would be like a biography of a poet that doesn’t talk about the poetry—it would be missing a crucial element.

A physician friend told me about a Morbidity & Mortality meeting he attended as a young doctor. The physician in charge strode out onto the stage and wrote on the marker board:

  1. I didn’t know enough.
  2. Bad stuff happens.
  3. I was lazy. 

The man turned to the assembled doctors and said, “The first two will happen. You will have patients die for both those reasons.”

Then he slammed the side of his fist against the board and roared, “But by God it better never be because you were too lazy to Do. Your. Job.”

That’s how I felt about approaching research for Learning to Swear. I didn’t know enough. I would make mistakes. But it wouldn’t be for lack of trying.

I read Neil deGrasse Tyson, Brian Greene, Michio Kaku, and articles written by astrophysicists—for astrophysicists. You can find science simplified for the average educated reader—the basics on asteroids, for example. But if you want simplified information on spectral analysis? Forget it.

NASA’s website has all sorts of tables about asteroids, and it was a go-to source—until I discovered that the government shutdown also shuttered NASA. It was inconvenient not to be able to access information on which I was used to relying. It was chilling to realize that the people who usually stand sentry for Earth had been pulled in.

I should mention that a physicist who’s involved in security issues read for me—this is Dr. Robert August—and did me a world of good. Not only did he help me get the equipment right, but he corrected me on little cultural things. For example, he said that the computer programmers would have the name of their favorite pizza place written on their marker board. I included that.

Almost everything in the scenes with the programmers came from information Bob shared. He’s been in these kind of meetings, so that was incredibly helpful.

My biggest problem—outside of lack of background knowledge—was that I had envisioned exacerbating the problem mid-book by having the asteroid’s speed increase, so that it would arrive sooner than they expected.

Then I discovered this would violate the laws of nature.  

Stupid laws of nature. By this point I had half the book written, and knew I had to find another way to make it harder for Yuri to stop the asteroid.

So I ate a lot of mint chocolate chip ice cream and did more reading—and somewhere in the tiny print I found my answer.

I did a little happy dance, and my husband asked why. “I found a way for an asteroid to smash the Earth, and we couldn’t do anything to stop it!”

He gave me a very strange look.

As a teacher-author, how do your two identities inform one another? What about being a teacher has been a blessing to your writing?

Learning to Swear in America is based on an Immanuel Kant quote:

"Do what is right, though the world should perish."

I teach college history, and we talk about Kant as part of the Enlightenment. That quote is one that hooked my imagination—I remember walking across the college parking lot thinking, Yeah, but what if the world really would perish? What then?

This book is the outgrowth of my conversation with Kant about that.

So I think being an instructor is helpful in several ways. First, history is narrative--essentially I tell stories to my students. Some of them are pretty good!

Charlemagne and Pope Adrian I.
I look at the names in my lectures—the Gracchi, Charlemagne, George Washington—and I’m so grateful that I get to share their stories with my students. What a privilege!

Also—what good practice in storytelling. I get to see immediately when the students’ attention flags.

Second, I come in contact with interesting material all the time, through reading in support of my day job, and even through my own lectures—like the Kant quote.

In fact, the main character of my next book was inspired by an historical figure—but I’m not saying who it is.

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42. Cynsational News

Cyn & intern Gayleen Rabakukk
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The Children's Literature Community Responds to the 2016 Election by Travis Jonker from 100 Scope Notes at School Library Journal. Peek: "If you’re not up for a (mostly) Kumbaya sort of post (and I respect that), don’t read this post." See also Children's-YA Author Peni Griffin on The Morning After the Election.

Celebrate Native American Heritage Month with Poetry by Sylvia Vardell from Poetry for Children. Peek: "'Making Bread,' describes a beautiful family and Pueblo tradition complete with Tewa words (and a helpful pronunciation guide)."

Guadalupe García McCall Receives Center's Inagural Artist-in-Residence Fellowship from Arne Nixon Center. Peek: "McCall will spend one week on the Fresno State campus in spring 2017 working with students in English, education and additional courses. During McCall's stay, she will offer instruction on writing, provide presentations to education students on how to use fiction in the classroom and she'll visit two local high schools to talk about her work. An opening public reception will be hosted by the Arne Nixon Center Advocates and a culminating program will showcase the students' achievements."

A Picture Book is a Machine or This Machine Tells Stories by Susan Rich from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: "The ingredients of a picture book—the text, the art, the design, and production—all come to physical life in a published book, and then come to mechanical life in the reading."

The Present Need for Historical Fiction by Anne Nesbet from Project Mayhem. Peek: "What I didn't realize at the time was how the difference between "school history" and "Mom history" was itself playing out a meta-historical story. My mother--a history major and a schoolteacher, herself--had been swept up in the shift in historical studies from old-fashioned lists of the reigns of kings to a fascination with all the little details of 'everyday life.'" See also An Example of Serious World Building in Historical Fiction by Gail Gauthier from Original Content.

Diversity Within Diversity: Intersections by Margarita Engle from Uma Krishnaswami. Peek: "Even the Spanish language is not uniform, with indigenous and West African words varying from region to region, and in certain countries, a mixture of Chinese words as well. Chinese? Yes, specifically Cantonese."

Starts with Us: "We publish books and content that empowers youth to make a positive impact by pursuing their talents and interests."

Interview: Donna Janell Bowman on The Amazing William 'Doc' and Jim Key from Lee & Low. Peek: "Incorporating the theme into the story was a matter of focusing on Doc’s actions, his relationship with Jim, how people responded, and how humane societies flourished, thanks to proceeds from Doc and Jim’s performances. Doc and Jim’s example truly caused a ripple effect."

This Week at Cynsations



More Personally

A shorter roundup than usual, I know. The kidlitosphere is deep in post-election stress disorder. But we are strong, and we will persevere. Our work is more important with each passing day and with every young reader born into the world.

Breathe. Center yourself. Continue the journey.

Meanwhile, busy times! Texas Book Festival was last weekend.
Photo by C.S. Jennings

My montage of memories includes...
  • Nikki Loftin's terrific reading (and the BBQ) at the Texas State Library and Archives on Thursday night, 
  • meeting A.S. King at the kick-off party at Antone's on Friday, 
  • Janet Fox's sparkling insights on the "Supernatural Storytellers" panel I moderated on Saturday, 
  • signing copies of Jingle Dancer and Indian Shoes (both HarperCollins) as part of the diversity program at the Writers' League of Texas Booth that same time, 
  • watching a young girl listen oh-so attentively to Kekla Magoon's thoughts on all the different ways that girls can be strong on "Let's Hear it for the Underdogs" on Sunday, 
  • and relaxing that night with VCFA WCYA family at a get-together at Guerro's.

I look forward to a wonderful weekend at McAllen (Texas) Book Festival! Come heart me talk about writing supernatural stories and the Feral trilogy (Candlewick)!

Reminder! Tweeps! Join me Thurs., from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. central Nov. 17 for "Indigenous Voices in Middle Grade Novels," a #mglitchat on Twitter, featuring Lee Francis, Debbie Reese, Traci Sorell, and Tim Tingle.



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43. My Ride to Vote Giveaway, sponsored by Sophie Blackall and FSG

Unless you missed it, recently the New York Times Best Illustrated list was released.  And amongst the ten books listed was a very lovely title illustrated by Ms. Sophie Blackall and called A Voyage in the Clouds: The (Mostly) True Story of the First International Flight by Balloon in 1785.  Written by Matthew Olshan it has it all.  Jealousy.  Foul play.  Public urination.  The works!

To celebrate the book’s inclusion on the list, we’re doing a bit of a giveaway.  A giveaway where you can actually win a piece of Sophie Blackall art of your very own.  THIS art:

voyageblackall

What do you need to do?  It’s easy!  Sophie had an idea to get out the vote in a small way of her own.  Just share here in the comment section of this post your preferred mode of transportation you will use to get to the polls on Tuesday.  By air, by land, by sea, you name it.  The sillier, the better

Submit your suggestions by the end of Tuesday.  You’ll be getting out the vote and potentially winning gorgeous art.  It’s win-win!

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44. Review of the Day: Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders

fivechildrenwesternFive Children on the Western Front
By Kate Saunders
Delacorte Press (an imprint of Random House)
$16.99
ISBN: 978-0-553-49793-9
Ages 9-12
On shelves now

Anytime someone writes a new prequel or sequel to an old children’s literary classic, the first question you have to ask is, “Was this necessary?” And nine times out of ten, the answer is a resounding no. No, we need no further adventures in the 100-Acre Woods. No, there’s very little reason to speculate on precisely what happened to Anne before she got to Green Gables. But once in a while an author gets it right. If they’re good they’ll offer food for thought, as when Jacqueline Kelly wrote, Return to the Willows (the sequel to The Wind in the Willows) and Geraldine McCaughrean wrote Peter Pan in Scarlet. And if they’re particularly talented, then they’ll do the series one better. They’ll go and make it smart and pertinent and real and wonderful. They may even improve upon the original. The idea that someone would write a sequel to Five Children and It (and to a lesser extent The Phoenix and the Carpet and The Story of the Amulet) is well-nigh short of ridiculous. I mean, you could do it, sure, but why? What’s the point? Well, as author Kate Saunders says of Nesbit’s classic, “Bookish nerd that I was, it didn’t take me long to work out that two of E. Nesbit’s fictional boys were of exactly the right ages to end up being killed in the trenches…” The trenches of WWI, that is. Suddenly we’ve an author who dares to meld the light-hearted fantasy of Nesbit’s classic with the sheer gut-wrenching horror of The War to End All Wars. The crazy thing is, she not only pulls it off but she creates a great novel in the process. One that deserves to be shelved alongside Nesbit’s original for all time.

Once upon a time, five children found a Psammead, or sand fairy, in their back garden. Nine years later, he came back. A lot has happened since this magical, and incredibly grumpy, friend was in the children’s lives. The world stands poised on the brink of WWI. The older children (Cyril, Anthea, Robert, and Jane) have all become teenagers, while the younger kids (Lamb and newcomer Polly) are the perfect age to better get to know the old creature’s heart. As turns out, he has none, or very little to speak of. Long ago, in ancient times, he was worshipped as a god. Now the chickens have come home to roost and he must repent for his past sins or find himself stuck in a world without his magic anymore. And the children? No magic will save them from what’s about to come.

A sequel to a book published more than a hundred years ago is a bit more of a challenge than writing one published, say, fifty. The language is archaic, the ideas outdated, and then there’s the whole racism problem. But even worse is the fact that often you’ll find character development in classic titles isn’t what it is today. On the one hand that can be freeing. The author is allowed to read into someone else’s characters and present them with the necessary complexity they weren’t originally allowed. But it can hem you in as well. These aren’t really your characters, after all. Clever then of Ms. Saunders to age the Lamb and give him a younger sister. The older children are all adolescents or young adults and, by sheer necessity, dull by dint of age. Even so, Saunders does a good job of fleshing them out enough that you begin to get a little sick in the stomach wondering who will live and who will die.

This naturally begs the question of whether or not you would have to read Five Children and It to enjoy this book. I think I did read it a long time ago but all I could really recall was that there were a bunch of kids, the Psammead granted wishes, the book helped inspire the work of Edgar Eager, and the youngest child was called “The Lamb”. Saunders tries to play the book both ways then. She puts in enough details from the previous books in the series to gratify the Nesbit fans of the world (few though they might be) while also catching the reader up on everything that came before in a bright, brisk manner. You do read the book feeling like not knowing Five Children and It is a big gaping gap in your knowledge, but that feeling passes as you get deeper and deeper into the book.

One particular element that Ms. Saunders struggles with the most is the character of the Psammead. To take any magical creature from a 1902 classic and to give him hopes and fears and motivations above and beyond that of a mere literary device is a bit of a risk. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve not read “Five Children and It” in a number of years so I can’t recall if the Psammead was always a deposed god from ancient times or if that was entirely a product from the brain of Ms. Saunders. Interestingly, the author makes a very strong attempt at equating the atrocities of the Psammead’s past (which are always told in retrospect and are never seen firsthand) with the atrocities being committed as part of the war. For example, at one point the Psammead is taken to the future to speak at length with the deposed Kaiser, and the two find they have a lot in common. It is probably the sole element of the book that didn’t quite work for me then. Some of the Psammead’s past acts are quite horrific, and he seems pretty adamantly disinclined to indulge in any serious self-examination. Therefore his conversion at the end of the book didn’t feel quite earned. It’s foolish to wish a 250 page children’s novel to be longer, but I believe just one additional chapter or two could have gone a long way towards making the sand fairy’s change of heart more realistic. Or, at the very least, comprehensible.

When Ms. Saunders figured out the Cyril and Robert were bound for the trenches, she had a heavy task set before her. On the one hand, she was obligated to write with very much the same light-hearted tone of the original series. On the other hand, the looming shadow of WWI couldn’t be downplayed. The solution was to experience the war in much the same way as the characters. They joke about how short their time in the battle will be, and then as the book goes along the darkness creeps into everyday life. One of the best moments, however, comes right at the beginning. The children, young in the previous book, take a trip from 1905 to 1930, visit with their friend the professor, and return back to their current year. Anthea then makes an off-handed comment that when she looked at the photos on the wall she saw plenty of ladies who looked like young versions of their mother but she couldn’t find the boys. It simply says after that, “Far away in 1930, in his empty room, the old professor was crying.”

So do kids need to have read Five Children and It to enjoy this book? I don’t think so, honestly. Saunders recaps the originals pretty well, and I can’t help but have high hopes for the fact that it may even encourage some kids to seek out the originals. I do meet kids from time to time that are on the lookout for historical fantasies, and this certainly fits the bill. Ditto kids with an interest in WWI and (though this will be less common as the years go by) kids who love Downton Abbey. It would be remarkably good for them. Confronting issues of class, disillusion, meaningless war, and empathy, the book transcends its source material and is all the better for it. A beautiful little risk that paid off swimmingly in the end. Make an effort to seek it out.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

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45. Monday Poetry Stretch - Macaronic Verse

In celebrating my blogiversary yesterday (10 years!), I went back and looked at all the poetry stretches we've done since I started posting them in August of 2007. It's been more than two years we wrote poems in the form of macaronic verse, so it seems like a good time to revisit the form. The Handbook of Poetic Forms defines macaronic verse in this fashion.
Macaronic verse is a peculiar, rare and often comic form of poetry that sometimes borders on nonsense. It is a mixture of two (or more) languages in a poem, in which the poet usually subjects one language to the grammatical laws of another to make people laugh.
Poetry Base describes macaronic verse this way.
The definition is a poem in a mixture of two languages, one of them preferably Latin. Usually the mixture of languages is a bit absurd. The word of one language may be terminated with common endings in the other.
So, your challenge for this week is to write a poem that uses more than one language. I hope you will join me this week in writing macaronic verse. Please share a link to your poem or the poem itself in the comments.

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46. New Voice: JoAnne Stewart Wetzel on Playing Juliet

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

JoAnne Stewart Wetzel is the first-time novelist of Playing Juliet (Sky Pony, 2015). From the promotional copy:

Beth Sondquist, 12 1/2, secretly dreams of playing William Shakespeare’s Juliet. 

When she learns the children’s theatre in her town is threatened with closure, she and her best friend, Zandy Russell, do everything they can to save it. 

But since Beth keeps breaking one theatre superstition after another in the process, she may never get onstage again.

Quotes from Shakespeare bookmark each chapter and foreshadow the next plot twist as a multicultural cast of kids fights to keep their theatre open.

Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision?

I love to revise. When I started my first novel, Playing Juliet, I worked on the first chapter for months. It was polished and perfect before I went on to the second chapter.

But by the time I had finished the first draft, the characters had changed, the plot had changed and I had to throw the whole first chapter out.

When the draft was finished, a New York editor read the first ten pages at a SCBWI conference. Of course I was expecting her to offer to buy it on the spot (don't we all) or at least to ask to see the full. Instead, she said she didn't find my main character, Beth, charming.

Charming? A 12-and-a-half-year-old narrator focused on getting onstage while her costume was falling apart had other things to worry about besides being charming. But I read over the chapter carefully. While Beth's focus was appropriate, was she a little self-centered? What if I had her do something for someone else?

Inspiration! Just So Stories, Palo Alto (CA) Children's Theater
I added exactly six sentences to an early scene that showed the cast waiting in the wings to go on. Beth notices that a younger actor playing a mouse is nervous, remembers that it's the Mouse's first play and that she'd seen her reapply her make-up in the dressing room at least four times.

Though they have to be very quiet backstage, Beth whispers, "Great nose." and outlines a circle on her own.

Sometimes it only takes six sentences. When the book was published, the review in the School Library Journal began "In this charming story featuring a relatable narrator and action-driven plot..." A blurb by the author Miriam Spitzer Franklin ended by saying the book "introduces a protagonist who will steal your heart as she chases after her dreams."

Another reader pointed out that while Playing Juliet started with lots of references to the superstitions around MacBeth and ended with a production of Romeo and Juliet, a few of the earlier chapters had almost no reference to Shakespeare. Was there a way to weave him into the rest of the book?

There was no room to introduce another play into this middle-grade story but I'd always loved reading books with epigraphs. Could I find enough quotes from Shakespeare's writings to serve as appropriate epigraphs before each chapter?

 I used the Open Source Shakespeare search engine, typed in a word like "jewel" or "duchess" and got a list of all the appearances of these words in his works. The perfect epigraph kept jumping out at me.

For the chapter in which the kids are looking for a lost diamond bracelet, I quoted "Search for a jewel that too casually Hath left mine arm" from "Cymbeline."

"What think you of a duchess? have you limbs to bear that load of title?" from "Henry VIII" made the perfect epigraph for the chapter in which Beth is asked if she can cover the part of a Duchess for an actor down with the flu during the run of "Cinderella!"

Joanne & daughter seeing Royal Shakespeare Co.
I was excited when an editor told me she'd brought the manuscript to committee, even when she added that they'd like to see a rewrite. They were uncomfortable with a scene in which Beth and two of her friends sneak out at night to break into the Children's Theatre.

I loved that scene. It was scary and exciting and the kids had the best of intentions. But I could make the plot work without it, so I took it out.

That editor didn't take the book. The next two editors it was sent to both commented that they felt the story was too quiet.

I put the scene back in. It wasn't necessary to the plot but it was vital to the development of the characters, for it showed what they would sacrifice to save their theater. The book sold right after that scene was restored.

I've brought all of the lessons I learned writing my first novel to the next one I'm currently working on. I'm going to finish the whole manuscript before I start to revise.

I will honor each critique I get, and find a way to solve any problem that's been identified. It could lead to a much richer book and may only take six sentences. But I will also evaluate how the changes have affected the story and if they don't help, I'll change it back.

Post-contract Revision Process

Sis-in-law, Elephant Cafe, Edinburgh
When Julie Matysic at Sky Pony Press acquired the manuscript, she sent her editorial comments to me in a Word document. I had the chance to approve, change or comment on the suggested changes. Most of the revision was copy edits and most of the time I couldn't believe I'd let such a glaring grammatical error slip through.

But one set of edits I disagreed with. I had capitalized the names of all the characters in the two plays that are performed in the book. The copy editor kept all the proper names—Juliet, Romeo, Cinderella— as I wrote them, but changed all the animal characters—the cat, horse, mice—to lower case.

I decided to email Julie to ask if I could change them back. She said yes, and suggested that since many of the parts were names that would not normally be capitalized, I make up a list of all the characters for the copy editor to work with. I'm so glad I asked for clarification.

Remember that you and your editor are working toward the same goal: to make your manuscript great. And you know she has impeccable taste: she picked your manuscript to publish.

Post-contract Bonus

Julie suggested I do a mood board for the cover. I'd never heard of this but she explained that all I had to do was open a PowerPoint file and create a collage using the covers of books that I like then include a second page with a written explanation of why I had chosen the images. It might be the font, the color, the mood or a combination of all three. When it was done, she would send the collage to the artist creating the design to use for inspiration.

It was so much fun to search through online bookstores to find covers I liked. Beth, my 12-year-old heroine, is threatened with losing the children's theater she has been performing in for years, but I didn't want the cover to be sad.

I wanted it to be a reminder of what Beth loves about theater, about being on stage and what she will lose if her theater closes.

The mood I wanted was joy, the joy of acting, of being onstage. The covers that showed images of flying, fairies, a figure with fantastically long fingers, captured the unlimited world the stage offers.

Because so much of the story takes place in a theater, I was drawn to covers that featured theater curtains opening. Three of the twelve covers I chose had a frame of red theater curtains and two others repeated that shape and color in the clothing of the women depicted: a partially open red coat, billowing red bell bottoms. That rich red set the color pallet that dominated my collage.

When Julie sent me the final cover, I opened the attachment with some trepidation. Up popped a design with a frame of rich red curtains opening onto a dark background that showcased the title of the book. And my name was in lights, just like on a Broadway marquee.

I loved my cover. And the Children's Books manager at Keplers, my local independent bookstore, told me the cover was so effective, the book was jumping off the shelves. My mood board had worked.

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making? Where did you get your ideas? To whom did you turn for support? Are you enjoying the process, or does it feel like a chore? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

Shakespeare puppets & stamp for JoAnne's signing
When the Royal Shakespeare Company announced it was devoting 2016, the year of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, to celebrating him and his work, I knew I had a great tie-in with Playing Juliet.

When I was in Stratford-upon-Avon last summer, I took a lot of pictures of the buildings that were standing when Shakespeare lived there to use on my web site and in my talks.

I also bought three Shakespeare puppets: a regular hand-puppet for most of my presentations, an elegant figure in a cloth-of-gold costume to use with a sophisticated audience and a finger puppet, because sometimes a smaller figure will just work better.

When I got home, I ordered a Shakespeare stamp to use at my book signings. After all, the Bard wrote all of my epigraphs.

I've struggled to get my web pages up. I have now checked off a web page for myself, with all of my books on it, and a web page for Playing Juliet with links to 13 Superstitions Every Theater Kid Should Know as well as links to photos of Shakespearian sites at Stratford-upon-Avon.

I've got an author's page on Amazon and Goodreads and SCBWI. I did a Launch Page on the new SCBWI web program. This all took a very long time.

Author/illustrator guest book, New York Public Library
Kepler's Bookstore, has been a great help. They invited me to have my book launch party there, which, on their advice, was held a week after the pub date because every now and then, books are delayed. The copies of Playing Juliet arrived on time but I was happy to have the extra week to prepare for the talk.

Kepler's is still supporting me. Want a signed or inscribed copy of my book? Just order it online from them.

I worked with my publicist at Sky Pony Press to have her send copies of the books to the winner of the giveaways I ran on Goodreads and to my alumni connections.

This resulted in a featured review, with a color picture of the cover of the book, in the ASU magazine, which is sent to 340,000 people.

So far I've spoken at an event at our local library, at my grandsons' school in Ghana, and sold copies at our regional SCBWI conference. I'll be talking at other schools in the fall. When I was in New York City recently, I introduced myself to the librarians at the Children's Room at the New York Public Library, and was invited to sign the guest book they keep for visiting authors and illustrators.

And online I've been invited to do an interview on Library Lions and Cynsations.

I've been enjoying the process, but it takes a lot of time and I'm impatient to dive into my next middle grade.

the Lincoln Community School in Accra, Ghana
What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

Start early. Well before your pub date, get your author's pages up on SCBWI, Amazon and Goodreads. Figure out how the book giveaways on Goodreads work, and think about posting one before your book is out. Don't wait until your book comes out to publicize any good news about it.

Jane Yolen wrote the most incredible blurb for Playing Juliet, saying "I couldn't stop reading," but I waited until the book came out to share it with everyone. I'm not making that mistake again.

My next book, My First Day at Mermaid School, is a picture book that will be coming out from Knopf in the summer of 2018 and Julianna Swaney is bringing her amazing talent to the illustrations.

Cynsational Notes

Waylon, writer cat
JoAnne's other publications include:
  • Onstage/Backstage, with Caryn Huberman (Carolrhoda, 1987); 
  • The Christmas Box (Alfred A. Knopf, 1992); 
  • and My First Day at Mermaid School, illustrated by Julianna Swaney, (Alfred A. Knopf, Summer, 2018).

In Playing Juliet, Beth continually quotes the web page, "13 Superstitions Every Theater Kid Should Know," which can be found on www.playingjuliet.com. This site also includes photos of Shakespearian sites in Stratford-upon-Avon (see below). 

Cynsational Gallery

View more research photos from JoAnne.

Shakespeare's Childhood Home
Shakespeare's Childhood Bedroom

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47. Well would you look at that!


It took a while but finally the page views on my blog have surpassed the one million mark. I wondered if the counter would return to zero once it reached a million, but it is still clicking up …phew! I know some blogs get a million page views or more a day, but I didn’t expect to get any so it means the world to me. I also know page views are not the same as unique views, but I don’t care! Thank you lovely blog readers you are the best! 



My wish is a long time in coming to you ...


But the longer I waited the bigger it grew - and ...


GREW!

THANK YOU!  Just like this little elephant I will never forget.  

* Colour printed birthday card part of my collection.  Published by Satchwell Smiths, London, c1950s.  One sheet of paper folded to create a card that ‘grows’. I’ve added quite a few vintage Christmas cards to my collection this year and will be sharing some of them in a future post.

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48. Guest Post: Ann Angel on The Sandbox & The Suck Pond

By Ann Angel
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The Hummingbird’s Daughter (Little, Brown, 2006), perceives drafting as something far more glamorous than me, and so I’m inspired by his words:

“Writing rules. Everything else sucks. Writing is a big sandbox and it’s full of Tonka Trucks and plastic Godzillas.”

Have you experienced that creative space? It’s when your writing feels most fluid and free.

You become so emotionally attached to the imaginative world that, at the end of the day, you struggle to return to reality. You might look up and realize starving people are in your kitchen. And you might think, who are these hungry people?

They’re not the characters you’ve played with all day.

I’ve been there with my four kids and husband who have all wondered, more than once, how writing can be so engrossing that I melted a pan of food to the burner of my stove.

But there are other times when writing is a total suck pond. You’ve probably experienced that too. It’s when you can’t decide if you want to slap the smile off a smarmy character or toss her from a moving car – I chose a moving truck myself. From there, you admit it isn’t just the characters. The plot is unwieldy. The rising action lacks motivation and falls flat. The tone is all wrong. You stop writing.

I’ve been there, too. About a year ago, I was so mired in muck that I feared I’d never finish another novel. The first draft can be, as Cynthia Leitich Smith reminds me, “Drafty.”

Those drafty drafts bring out the worst fear in all of us. Although I made myself sit down to write, it was a tortuous experience. Then I realized this is not writing fear I suffer, it’s the fear that I’ve lost it; I’m no longer good enough.

This is thick as mud fear arrives every time I start something new or go back to revise a work that’s in that drafty stage.

The only cure is to sit down to write every day—or almost every day. But I’m here to tell you that, after spending too much time in the suck pond, the creative sandbox doesn’t always fill easily.

The sandbox is especially evasive when I’m writing about oppression and other soul-wrenching issues which are typical of YA literature. Rising out of the suck pond becomes a serious struggle.

That’s when we need consciously seek inspiration.

I’ve been working on a novel about suffocating hate and xenophobia, and so I can speak from the bottom of the suck pond. Writing comes so slowly because I really don’t like what some of my characters are doing. It’s seriously depressing being inside some of their heads.

 Every day that I work on this novel I have to trick myself into beginning. I have gathered an arsenal to make this happen.


Elizabeth Gilbert, the newly christened guru of creativity, is no slouch with ideas for creative life in her book Big Magic (Riverhead, 2015). She cautions, “Don’t abandon your creativity the moment things stop being easy or rewarding—because that’s the moment when interesting begins.”

Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (Tarcherperigee, 2002) has always been a mainstay. I recently picked up It’s Never too Late to Begin Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond  (Tarcherperigee, 2016).

As always, Julia recommends long walks and writers’ dates—both good reminders that we can’t find creative inspiration if we’re always staring at a blank screen.

These are good ways to clear my head before and after a day of writing about the wicked side of the world. I’ve been rewarding myself for writing with artist dates.

Julia’s artist dates are permission to visit museums, beaches, art galleries, the zoo—where I recently witnessed giraffes wrapping their necks around one another to flirt.

Julia also advises, “Keep writing. If you keep writing, you will have a breakthrough.”

Through Julia’s suggestions, writers are more likely to create details that come from the observed world. In turn, the details layer and enrich characters, making it possible to write of human goodness even in the lowest moments.

Mary Karr’s, The Art of Memoir (Harper, 2015), helps writers look back into the history of our own crazy lives which are a great source of specific detail. In my life, parents warned the girls I attended Catholic school with not to hang with those wild Bonness girls (my maiden name), said as one word by mothers who must have believed the very mention of our names would taint their daughters. Karr gets that our lives are the stuff that makes stories come alive. I’ve developed some greatly cool friendship scenes around the close wildness of growing up one of seven sisters.

My cache of magic writing has been pulled together from my experience of consistently sinking into the suck pond. I had an editor once tell me my writing had serious potential. So I made a poster that says, “Serious potential happening here.” Of course I colored outside the lines when I filled in the letters to hang it above my computer.

Sometimes I play with poetry while I write. Different forms help resolve a variety of issues. A sestina is a great tool to learn more about developing characters, often providing an “a-ha!” moment in which a character takes charge of a sudden turn. Sonnets help me figure out what my character loves and hates. Found poetry and erasure poetry help uncover the details of a character’s private world. So I play with poetry a lot when I’m writing. It can trick me into that place of fluid writing.

A good resource to begin practicing poetry is The Teachers and Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms by Ron Padgett (Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 2002).

No matter where we turn for creative inspiration, it’s good to remember that serious potential is happening every time we excavate the world of our craft. So dig into that suck pond. If you stay at it long enough, you’ll find that sandbox overflowing with imagination.



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49. Unlock your creativity

We had a fantastic workshop with Yvette de Beer. The pictures tell the story. The workshop was held in Yvette's lovely home on Witbank Dam where she has a beautiful work room flooded with natural light. We began by painting backing board. Then we were asked to draw characters based on random pieces of driftwood and other natural items. We were asked to juxtapose two characters. We placed these

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50. Middle Grade Monday: MOON OVER MANIFEST by Clare Vanderpool

Synopsis: Yes, look, I'm participating in a Thing, and that thing is Middle Grade Monday! When am I ever organized enough to do that? Today, evidently. Anyway, I recently read Newbery Award winner Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool, who was one... Read the rest of this post

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