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A short list of tweets from the past week of interest to teens and the library staff that work with them.
Do you have a favorite Tweet from the past week? If so add it in the comments for this post. Or, if you read a Twitter post between September 12 – September 18 that you think is a must for the next Tweets of the Week send a direct or @ message to lbraun2000 on Twitter.
This was the fifth year of the Writers Police Academy. I've been to four, so you can tell how much I love it. The first year, most of the attendees hadn't been published. I remember looking around thinking, "Why isn't everyone here?" Now the event sells out in a few hours.
Where else are you going to be able to:
ask questions a Secret Service agent
hear a guy who spent two years deep undercover with the Mongols motorcycle gang (and said frankly that he would never have done it if he knew how it would blow his family up and put a price on his head - forever)
put on a firefighter's turnout and work a fire hose
watch how firefighters and EMTs handle a mass casualty accident
search a building (and maybe get "killed" if you don't search well enough
talk to an expert in biological weapons
learn how forensic artists work their magic
hear from a domestic violence investigator
watch experts breach doors with explosive devices
have drinks with all the experts in the bar at night
use a firearms training system and learn what it's like to make life or death decisions in a split second
watch divers recover evidence underwater
and a million more things
This year I won the jail tour. This included a stop in the Seg Unit. Prisoners shrieked and shouted obscenities, pounded on the plexiglas and metal doors, stared and made gestures. The deputy said, "Don't worry. We are perfectly safe." But of course I had seen enough horror movies to know that you NEVER say that.
Are staffers outside of youth services ever responsible for staffing your children’s desk in a programming pinch? Would employees outside of your department feel comfortable and confident in providing this service or would they feel stunned like a deer caught in the headlights?
At our community branch library, information services staff members also staff our children’s services desk, and we receive a great number of children’s reference questions at our adult information services desk. Staff members outside of youth services must be familiar with the needs of children and those that work with them. Being cross-trained to provide customer service to customers of all ages is a necessity, but how do we ensure that staffers receive the training necessary to handle the unique needs of our young customers?
My colleague recently presented training for library staff outside of youth services. Not meant as a substitute for advanced youth services training in reference or readers’ advisory, this overview highlighted many of the traditional questions staffers receive when they work in the children’s services department. This training served as a perfect introduction for those employees who may occasionally need to staff this service desk.
Where are the BOB books?
(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)
During this youth services basics training, my colleague used questions that have been previously asked by customers as training examples. Just as when working in the information services department, training participants realized that questions are often not as simple as they appear. The question, “where are the BOB books?” is a perfect example. The answer could mean numerous things in our library system, depending on the needs of the library user, and could include a request for a standard beginning reader series; it could also serve as a request for the TV inspired books based off the popular Bob the Builder character, or the extremely popular Battle of the Books (BOB) competitions sponsored by our public school system. Understanding how this one type of question, “where are your BOB books?” could mean various things to different people, was rated by attendees as one of the most valuable pieces of information they learned during the training.
Let’s Take a Tour
As part of the training, participants toured our children’s department at our Headquarters Library. This touring component provided staffers with a close and personal look at our collection and was helpful to staffers from each of our branches as our youth services departments are structured similarly in each of our eight library locations. By including this hands-on training component, participants were able to view exactly where items were located, from the juvenile biographies placed at the end of the children’s nonfiction collection to the difference among board books, picture books, and beginning readers. Knowing our collection is critical in providing excellent customer service, and this tour helped our trainees gain confidence in providing that service for our young patrons.
Priorities of Programs and Services
Questions about children’s programming, and the specialized services offered within the children’s services department, are often questions asked by patrons. Adults may frequently register their children to attend special programming, request information on how to duplicate the story time experience at home, or request tutoring resources. Staffers must be able to quickly address these questions while also being aware of the unique services offered within the children’s department, such as our picture book bundle service, where customers may check out a group of books organized by a specific theme. Children’s unique interests and needs must be understood by all staff, not just those librarians specializing in children’s services.
(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)
This training helped staff members without a background in children’s services to gain a better understanding of the interests and needs of our young patrons. Our goal is to prepare our colleagues to feel as comfortable and confident as they can when working with children and their families, instead of feeling caught like a deer in the headlights! What topics do you believe are important to introduce to staff members outside of your department if they were to staff your children’s desk? How do you ensure staffers are most effectively able to reach out to your customers? Please share in the comments below!
Early this year, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts launched its interview series, In Conversation, with Benedict Cumberbatch. (Good choice!) Something he said about how he researches a new role struck a chord with me:
“[Research is] a security blanket. Not all of it — very little of it ends up on screen, often. And it’s just to take a little bit more possession of the extraordinariness of what I’m being asked to do. Because it’s so far removed from my experience. It just gets me a little bit more… It just gives me a little bit more courage to pretend to be something I’m so far from.”
I literally couldn’t have said it better, because I’m not Benedict Cumberbatch! But I feel the same way about novel research. Obviously, before you start writing about something you don’t know much about, like say computer hacking — the topic of my next book, The Silence of Six — you have to find out more about it. But the tricky thing about research is you don’t necessarily know what information you will need before you start outlining or writing the book. The natural solution is to learn everything you can, just like Sherlock, but as Cumberbatch said so sexily: most of that isn’t going to end up on the page, and it shouldn’t.
A “security blanket” is a perfect metaphor for the way I research, because I don’t feel comfortable enough to start a new project until I’ve read a bit about it — even if I’m just going to be making things up. Research also gives me a better idea of the kinds of things I’ll need to learn in more detail to make the book as authentic as possible, and the more I learn, the more ideas I have that will make the book even better.
My research usually starts off on the internet (where else?). I’ll probably start by visiting Wikipedia and various websites to get a basic introduction to a particular topic. This usually leads me to books and movies and documentaries that they’ve referenced, which soon become my primary sources, and I’ll start looking up fiction books on the same topic.
Some of my research books for The Silence of Six.
I know a lot of writers don’t or can’t read books similar to what they’re writing, because they’re worried about being influenced by them too much, but I find it helpful to see what’s out there. They help me discover the right tone for my book. It’s good to know how other writers have approached the same ideas, so I can avoid duplicating them and, maybe so I can try to do better. For instance, many technothrillers in film and print treat hacking like magic; a few minutes in front of a keyboard, and a hacker is deep in the Pentagon’s most top secret files, when in reality, a hack of that magnitude would take months, or much longer. In fact, before many hackers try to break into a facility or system, they do research too!
Research is one of my favorite parts of writing. I love to learn new things, and since my school days are long behind
me, researching new stories introduces me to all sorts of topics I wouldn’t have found out about otherwise. Research can also be fun — it gives you “permission” to read a bunch of books and watch TV shows and movies, while still considering it a productive part of writing. I finally started watching the show Leverage as inspiration for some of the infiltration scenes in The Silence of Six. I got to read Michelle Gagnon’s PERSEF0NE series and Robin Benway’s Also Known As books for great examples of how to write computer scenes and tense, action-filled chases. I watched The Fifth Estate, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange (but sadly I can’t recommend it, for reasons that have nothing to do with his performance). I also probably ended up on some NSA and FBI watchlists for Googling things like “How to hack into a Macbook,” “How to hack a car,” and how to do Google searches like that anonymously.
The danger of research is you can get a little too attached to that security blanket. There’s so much to read and watch, you can feel like maybe you’ll never be ready to start writing that book. You cram too much of your research into the book, so your editor starts giving you notes like, “It feels like there’s a subplot about Wi-Fi.” (All I can say about that is Wi-Fi is fascinating! And there are lots of ways to exploit it.) When research turns into procrastination, it’s time to put those books aside and start writing, confident that you know enough to get through a first draft, and you can always do more focused research later when you need it. Just highlight the sections that need to be filled in on your manuscript (I like to mark them “TK”), and keep going. And try to avoid falling into another Wikipedia spiral as you look up those missing details!
I’m in this exciting research phase with my next project. All I’ll tell you about it is that Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry, and The Lost by Sarah Beth Durst are on my reading list. I actually think these books aren’t at all similar to what I want to write, and this project shouldn’t need much research, but they’re going to get my subconscious thinking about the story so when I do start writing, I’ll feel ready.
Do you like researching your stories? How do you go about it? Do you like Benedict Cumberbatch?
The Bechtel Fellowship is designed to allow qualified children’s librarians to spend a total of four weeks or more reading and studying at the Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature, a part of the George A. Smathers Libraries at the University of Florida, Gainesville.
The Baldwin Library contains a special collection of 130,000 volumes of children’s literature published mostly before 1950. The fellowship is endowed in memory of Louise Seaman Bechtel and Ruth M. Baldwin and provides a stipend of $4,000.
Applicants must be personal members of ALSC, as well as ALA members to apply. Deadline for submissions is Wednesday, October 1, 2014.
Digital Inclusion is more than Digital Literacy, focusing on not just access but supporting users to engage in digital communities. The report explored the roles of public libraries in four main areas:
Quality access to digital technology
Access to a range of digital content
Services and programs that promote digital literacy
Programs that address key community needs, such as health and wellness and education, and that promote workforce development and civic engagement.
Overwhelmingly what we discovered is that libraries have increased access to computer workstations and faster internet and technology infrastructure like outlets and wireless printing.
All libraries offer access to online databases.
Almost all libraries offer homework assistance.
Most libraries offer access to e-books,
While over a quarter of libraries provide patrons with e-readers to check out.
The survey has also documented the innovations that are happening in libraries like Mobile Technology and 3D Printers which have been adopted in 1.5% of libraries.
What the survey highlighted is that while we are providing access to technology and content we are creating a different type of digital divide.
City Libraries are able to
make more upgrades to technology infrastructure like workstations and outlets,
offer an Average Internet Download Speed that is 5X faster than Rural Libraries.
Only 32.5 percent of rural libraries can support formal technology classes,
while 77.6 of city libraries offer formal computer skills training
100% of city libraries surveyed reported that they offer either formal or informal technology training.
We know that rural communities have less access to resources, but as we work to support STEM in schools these gaps can put communities even further behind.
In addition to being an information center, many libraries serve as a central location where members can gather to foster community.
Over half of Suburban and City Libraries host community engagement events
while less than half of town libraries and less than one-third of rural libraries are able to engage and support the community in this way.
As more and more people connect online, the library can be one of the few places where the public can engage with members of the community, be exposed to diversity, and gain a better appreciation for and connect to their neighbors in a comfortable and relaxed environment. While hosting a book club, candidate forum, or gaming seems small, these can be one of the few places in the community outside of school where everyone has a chance to interact and participate.
Lastly Health and Wellness is an area we can all improve. With the move to National Health Care, and the confusion of much of the public I expected to see many libraries offering programs and support, but a mere 37% of surveyed libraries offered programs that assisted patrons in finding and accessing health insurance information.
The one area of Health and Wellness that libraries are addressing is promotion of a healthy lifestyle, but only 55% of libraries offer these types of programs and it drops to 44% for Rural Libraries.
We have made many strides since the last study was conducted in 1994, but we still have a long way to go. With so many free online courses available libraries have even more access to resources than they did before. We can partner with organizations like Workforce Career and Job Training, CoderDojo, Code.org, Healthcare.gov, local health providers, and other community organizations to help serve patrons and create a more informed citizenry.
This is the first survey to provide detailed data about how libraries are serving the public. As we apply for grants to support the needs of our communities, I hope this survey helps frame the needs of our library users.
Ipac has framed the survey results in the context of the communities libraries serve. You can access a mapping tool online at http://digitalinclusion.umd.edu to explore the services available in your community.
I’m on a board for people whose write about murder and theft, poisons and fires. In addition to writers, there are a lot of professionals on the board - people who are or have been cops, paramedics, FBI agents, firefighters, PIs, and more.
A writer recently posted a question about what kind of gun her character should get. She said she knew nothing about guns, and she wanted to know what her equally ignorant character would experience if she went to a gun shop and asked for help.
At which point I (and several other writers) chimed in. Why not just go into a gun store and explain what she was working on and ask their advice? This was one real-life situation (unlike questions about, say, the best undetectable poison) where it would be easy to experience it.
And experience will give a writer so MUCH more than reading about it ever would. She’ll be able to describe the shop without trying to google images of “gun shop.” She’ll know the heft of a gun, and the feeling of the grip, learn it’s surprisingly heavy even though parts of it appear to be made out of plastic. There may be smells and even tastes she would not expect. Since her character and the writer herself are both coming from the same place (not knowing much about guns) she’ll be able to ask the questions her character would and hear the answers her character would as well.
I have found that almost everyone likes to talk about themselves and what they do to an interested person. I have interviewed teens, death investigators, DNA experts, and curators. In some cases, I have gone in cold (as I would in the gun situation above). In others, I have done the professional the courtesy of learning as much as I could before I went to them. With Dr. Dan Crane, the DNA expert, for example, it would be a waste of his precious time to sit down and say, “What’s DNA?” Instead I learned a lot on my own and asked about Y-STR and familial DNA testing.
When I was working on the end to The Body in the Woods, I knew it took place in Forest Park. And I knew my bad character would be armed, and my good characters wouldn’t be. They needed something they could use as a weapon. But what? I took the same walk they would have to get into the park, past nice homes, and I photographed everything I thought they might consider for use as a weapon. Real life thought of many more alternatives that I did.
Wait—what day is it? I’m supposed to post today, right? I’m happy to say that we're having a busy, active summer so far with more adventures planned. Here’s what I’ve been reading:
Road maps. I have practically no sense of direction, but given enough time, I can figure out which way to go with a decent map, especially if it comes with step-by-step instructions. We just returned from a two-week trip to Colorado, and I took advantage of Map Quest and other smart phone apps for the first time.
Monarch butterfly information. Home from our trip, we found our backyard milkweed plants loaded with monarch eggs and caterpillars. I joined the Monarch Butterfly discussion list, where people post fascinating updates about current research as well as their own observations. In the past four days, I’ve gathered about 75 eggs and 15 caterpillars. Two chrysalises also hang in our backyard mosquito net tent. (A neighbor kept an eye on them while we were gone.)
Research on multiple topics for future books of my own and a couple freelance fact-checking projects.
An adult book (gasp!) I borrowed from my husband because I didn’t make it to the library before we left town. I’m finding it a bit too long and convoluted, but I’ve grown attached to the characters, so I’ll probably finish the book just to find out what happens to them.
It bothers me when I read something in a book that I know is wrong. Wrong and Google-able. (I started writing before the Internet, or at least before a widely available Internet, when it was not quite so easy to check things out. Twenty years ago, I felt more comfortable just guessing or making stuff up. No longer.)
(Guess what doesn't have a safety? That was the end of this book for me.)
With a little bit of time, you can figure out nearly anything without having to step away from your computer. Like:
Do red-tailed hawks eat road kill? (If fresh, yes).
Does Oregon pay for braces for kids in foster care? (No.)
What time are trial advocacy classes at the University of Washington. (Late afternoon.)
What testimony did the original grand jury hear in the Phoebe Prince case? (Actually, I couldn’t find that, which makes sense. Grand jury testimony is sealed. Still I would like to know more.)
One of the absolute best parts about my job as a mystery and thriller writer is doing research. In the past couple of years, I've:
Taken a class in fighting in close quarters. At the end, someone sat behind you in your car and attacked you with a training gun, a training knife, a plastic bag, and a rope.
Pulled out everything from underneath my kitchen sink, crawled into the space, and taken a picture to prove to one of my editors that yes, a body would fit under there.
Asked my kajukenbo instructor to drag me across the room, his hands underneath my arms, so that together we could figure out how a character could fight and get away.
Spent a day with a criminalist at Forensics Division of the Portland Police.
Faced down armed muggers, home invaders, crazy people, and robbers - all while armed with a modified Glock that uses lasers instead of real bullets. I did this at a firearms training simulator facility (the only one like it in the world that is open to civilians) which, lucky me, is just 20 minutes from my home. You interact with life-sized scenarios filmed in HD. The scenarios change depending on what you say (for example, “Hands in the air!”) and where your shots hit (a shot that disables versus one that injures). Meanwhile, the bad guys are shooting back. If you choose - and I do - you can wear a belt that gives you a 5000-volt shock if you’re shot. The facility even offers a simulation that is nearly 360 degrees, so you feel like you are standing in the middle of, say, the convenience store or the parking lot. This teaches you to look behind you for that second or third bad guy.
Every year, I go the Writers Police Academy, which is in North Carolina at a real police and fire academy. I also graduated from the FBI’s Citizen Academy, which is taught by real FBI agents and included a stint at a real gun range where I shot a submachine gun. I’m a member of Sisters in Crime, and my local chapter has experts speak every month (the blood spatter expert was particularly interesting). And I’m an online member of Crime Scene Writers, which has lots of retired or even active law enforcement personnel who answer questions.
In April I reminisced about six + years of blogging with this wondrous group of authors. I've so appreciated the opportunity to come up with something every month at least vaguely related to this quirky profession we’ve chosen.
For my last go-round, I’ve decided give a glimpse of one writer's life day-to-day. It’s not all creating deathless prose. So here's as much as I can remember of my to-do and have-done lists in the last two weeks.
• Revise my next book. It’s a middle grade group biography due out in 2016.I’ve been working on this book since 2009 and so last week I decided to google one of my subjects once again. I found a 2011 book I hadn’t seen before, with a chapter on my subject. I couldn’t find the book in the Los Angeles system, so I consulted WorldCat:The World’s Largest Library Catalog and found that six miles away, Mt. St. Mary’s College had an ebook copy.
• So up up up into the Santa Monica Mountains I drove, to a beautiful Spanish-style library. Well, I drove to the parking garage and then hiked up some more steep hills to the library. I had the complete attention of three librarians, it being summer break. They all worked to figure out how to print a few pages from the e-book, but in the end, job done. This research yielded details and quotes I hadn’t found elsewhere.
• Reviewing my original research, I found a tidbit I’d not included in the manuscript.My subject inspired a minor character in an 1828 adventure-romance novel.Being a lover of tidbits, I ordered an interlibrary loan of the book on microfilm through my public library. This last week I spent part of two afternoons skimming through this forgettable tale of a beautiful and virtuous heroine whose romance with a worthy suitor is thwarted by a dastardly villain. My ‘subject’ helped to save said heroine from said villain, as well as perform some brave deeds in American Revolution. The hours spent skimming added three sentences to my manuscript.
• Chapter completed, I emailed it to my critique group who will meet this week and tell me how to make it better.
• I’ll critique their work as well.
• I’m meeting my editor at ALA in Las Vegas this weekend. She wants to read my revised chapters on the plane flying west, so I emailed her to ask about the last moment I can send her those chapters.
• Speaking of ALA, where I’ll be signing at two booths on Saturday (see below,) I must remember to call my trusty auto mechanic (named Toolsie!) to fix my failing a/c. Will need all I can get for the drive to LV.
• Made arrangements to meet with Starwalk Kids Media at ALA about signing up an out-of-print book for their e-book list.
• Confirm ALA meeting for coffee with INK Author Jan Greenberg.
• I’ve been a member of the Authors Guildfor decades. They offer so many benefits to their members, one of which is a free legal critique of contracts. I finally got around to integrating their suggested changes to my contract for the above book and sending it back to the publisher. The Authors Guild also hosts my website for pennies, but perhaps their most important mission is their lobbying on our behalf to Goliaths like Google and Amazon.Support yourself – and them – and join!
• I’ve nudged an editor who has had a ms. of mine for months and promised to give me an answer last week. Still waiting. I need to nudge a couple more editors who are sitting on my middle grade novel.
•Last month I reported on the excellent BIO conference (Biographers International Organization) in Boston.There I met Dorothy Dahm, creator of Kids Biographer's Blog, a first-rate collection of reviews and interviews.She reviewed Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence, and asked for an interview.I wrote that last week and it’s here.
• I’m returning to London again in the autumn for another three-month home exchange. I’ve got some fans in Yorkshire, so I emailed four schools about return author visits. Have confirmation for two already.
• I wrote this INK blog.
• The World Cup: I’m trying to limit myself to one game a day, or two halfs of different games.It’s hard though. Drama is building every day!
Traveling to libraries, reading, marketing, contracts, nudging, emailing, critiquing, blogging, and, yes, writing.On and on it goes.
Finally, to quote my favorite English major: “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.” My ALA Signings: Saturday June 28 • 10-11am: Boyds Mills/Calkins Creek • 2-3 pm: Lerner/Carolrhoda
So you have an idea. A persistent something that has gnawed at your brain doggedly enough for you to start jotting it down. You’re getting to know your characters, and laying down the brickwork on the bumpy path that will become your plot. What next? Well – unless you’re writing a real-time testimonial of your own life (mine might be called Girl Who Stares at Computer and Drinks Many Teas) – you’ll probably need to do some research.
Astonishingly, most fiction authors are not in fact experts in every worldly field. Whether your book is set in a suburb that isn’t your own, or on a space station orbiting Pluto – whether your character is a forensic genius or plays the flute or is champion chess boxer (yes that is a thing) – chances are, your story will demand knowledge of some things that are unfamiliar to you. Writers always walk a line between creating their own worlds, which they set the rules for, and ensuring those rules make at least some real-world sense. Bringing into existence another person who has skills that are not yours can be pretty daunting. There’s always the fear of getting something wrong, or simply of being ill-equipped to execute the story you want to tell…
[For the month of June, I will be writer-in-resident at the fab Inside a Dog - you can read the rest of this post here]
“I can only find three leg hairs” observed my youngest from the back seat. The chemotherapy killing her tumors also attacks any fast-moving cells – thus the hair loss, fingernail lines, and white blood cell reduction. She is twelve and had kind of fuzzy, blond legs a couple of months ago. Her smooth legs weren’t troubling to her, just something she noticed.
“Well, that would come in handy if you cared about that stuff yet,” I said, glad she didn’t.
“Why do girls shave their legs anyway?” she wondered. “I mean, who started that whole thing?”
A very interesting question. Who did start that? I assume Eve had leg hair when Adam popped the question. Do you think when they ate from the tree, not only did they figure out they were naked, but Adam also noticed her furry legs for the first time? Did he made a snide remark about Eve being only a slight step up from his former companion, the chimpanzee? Every guy knows the remorse of SCS – Stupid Comment Syndrome. The moment you say something to your wife and immediately wish you could turn back time to retract it. Adam’s comment sent Eve into a tizzy trying to scrape the hair off with a stick while stitching together the fig leaf bikini we see in all the pictures. If God created enmity between woman and serpent, imagine the enmity Adam created with his wisecrack.
Ah, here is where I began a quest for knowledge. I had no interest in important knowledge, anyone can get that. The learning I sought is practically irrelevant outside of bar bets, board games, and trivia competitions. When did women first start shaving their legs?
Where do I turn? My best friends and cohorts in the immaterial: Google and Wikipedia, of course. Google brought me facts that I have to believe. It seems that women were so covered before the turn of the 20th century that it wasn’t necessary for them to shave – their body hair was kind of a honeymoon surprise. But as hemlines raised in the early 1900’s, razor sales increased. I can buy that.
The more compelling facts I found were about why women began shaving their underarm hair. They involve motion pictures, flappers, and old western women of ill repute. I would explain, but everyone likes a cliffhanger. My true audience is only twelve and wanted to know about leg hair anyway.
Besides, while on my search, I found a website called Mental Floss. It is like a Mythbusters of the inane. My evening was shot. I learned why bacon smells so good, 15 reasons we love Mr. Rogers, and why baby names have become increasingly female-sounding. Forget Wikipedia, some of that might actually be true. I have a new homepage!
After about three hours of copious research into absolutely nothing worthwhile, my daughter asked me why women started shaving their legs and I had to admit that I could tell her all why cows moo with accents, but had crammed so much useless knowledge into my finite brain, I had forgotten why women shaved their legs.
She left disappointed. Back to Wikipedia to start over…
But wait – an article titled, Do Racehorses Really Pee All That Much simply has to be read!
I enjoyed reading Esther’s, Laura’s, and Jill’s posts about their clipping habits. Although I listen to Public Radio in the car and follow the news online and on TV, I rarely read newspapers or magazines. Instead of clipping paper, I keep too many tabs open in my browser. I periodically devote an hour or two to skimming, bookmarking, and adding links to don't-forget-to-read-later lists until I reduce the number to something more manageable.
This actually appeared on my computer screen once:
It’s a bit much, isn’t it? I know. I don’t want to miss anything.
Today’s post is a look at some of the many tabs currently open in my browser. Here are the latest I couldn’t resist but haven’t yet made time to explore fully:
Make Way for Monarchs: a June 6 research symposium at the Chicago Botanic Garden. I’m registered! Several varieties of milkweed grow in our backyard, I've raised monarchs there for the past four summers, and I plan to do it again this year. Last fall, my husband and I collected milkweed seeds and scattered them in hospitable locations all over the city. I've already started seeds in pots to give away, and I'm revising a monarch manuscript. I can’t wait to soak up everything I can at this meeting--I'm hoping for an on-the-brink-of-disaster recovery.
Never, Ever Give Up: Long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad's TED Talk about motivation, sent by my sister Eileen, who knows I need it!
These topics might seem random, but they are all parts of a big picture that includes everything from research for current projects to random things I’m curious about. I can never know all there is to know, but I’m always searching. I start by collecting everything I can, trying my darnedest to gather every last snippet of information.
Then I narrow it down to what’s usable, eliminate redundancies, and focus, hoping to locate that one magic nugget.
Framed above my computer is a birthday card from my sister Judy with a Gertrude Stein quote:
There ain’t no answer. There ain’t going to be any answer. There never has been an answer. That’s the answer.
I may never have The Answer, but I won't stop looking.
One of the best parts about researching a book is that I don’t know what I’m going to find. Each project is like a mystery, and I have the fun of solving it. Researching my new twin titles about a World War I service dog named Stubby proved especially challenging because so much of his historical trail had gone cold.
This stray dog turned soldier had gone from being one of the most celebrated participants in World War I to being forgotten by almost everyone. A few loyal fans have kept his story alive on the Internet--alive and evolving, I should add, which created one more layer of mystery--but most people who happen across Stubby's remains, which are mounted and on display at the Smithsonian, have no idea of his exploits. It became my job to sort fact from legend as I worked to revive the war hero's story.
...to young at heart (above, adult title).
My favorite surprise by far during my journey as history sleuth was the discovery that Stubby's best human friend, a fellow soldier named J. Robert Conroy, had descendants. When I began my research, I asked Smithsonian curators what they could tell me about Conroy. The answer, basically, was nothing. The museum had lost track of him after he’d donated Stubby and his belongings to the museum in 1956, and they’d barely learned anything about him even then. Other people had tried to trace him, I was told, but with no luck.
Research is not a particularly linear process. True, I may read a reference book from front to back, but the research threads I pick up in one source tend to fan out like rays to countless others. By the time I’m done, I haven’t so much connected the dots; I’ve more nearly created a web of facts. The stronger that web—the more connections and overlap that I uncover—the better I understand the history.
Those web-like rays inevitably lead me to unexpected places. One day a package of clippings arrived in my mailbox, as promised, from a librarian in New Britain, Connecticut. I’d tracked down the librarian by contacting the New Britain Public Library, and I’d contacted the library because New Britain was the city where J. Robert Conroy had grown up. I wasn’t the first person to inquire at the library about Stubby, and Patricia Watson kindly sent me her usual packet of clippings. One of those articles had been published in the 1990s and featured a quote from a man named Curtis Deane, who was cited as being the grandson of J. Robert Conroy.
Stubby on parade, 1921. LC-DIG-hec-31070
This was news. Up until that time, I’d found no references whatsoever to Conroy having any descendants. Now I’d found one, or at least found out about one. Fortunately, Curtis Deane hadn’t moved since he’d been quoted in that story almost two decades ago (a minor miracle, really, given how mobile people are these days). Before too long, I had been able to track him down by phone. “Can I call you back?” he asked, after confirming that, yes, he really was the grandson of J. Robert Conroy. He was digging out from three feet of snow, he explained, and he had been without power until that hour. “Sure,” I said, having learned that patience is an important part of the research and writing process.
True to his word, Curt Deane called me back the next day. We talked for 45 minutes and agreed to speak again soon. A number of conversations followed, and before long we’d made plans to meet in person. Other meetings followed as one thing led to another. The threads for that web stretched farther and grew thicker. Eventually Curt Deane introduced me to other family members, and I met more descendants of the soldier whose history I had set out to find. As we became better acquainted and I heard stories about the man these people had known as Grandfather Bob, Stubby’s best friend became as real to me as the dog that he had helped make famous. Their story became richer, and so did my ability to share it with readers. Best of all, I had made new friends—one more surprise, one more bonus, during the adventure of researching my books.
Posted by Ann Bausum during the release week for Stubby's new books. Follow his return to the limelight on my Facebook page.
Now it's time to bring focus to our research. Make it meaningful.
I began by thinking about what kind of final product I want my students to create. They've worked lots in Keynote, so that wasn't an option. We don't have enough time to learn a new tool like Prezi or ThingLink.
BEGIN AT THE END.
I decided on the tri-fold brochure templates in Pages. Looking over the templates, I saw there would be room enough for information about People, Places, the Past, the Present, and a Spotlight on one unique thing about the state.
But I didn't want them to simply copy the information we'd already gathered into a new format.
That's when I realized, as I scanned the brochure templates, that brochures are created for so many different audiences.
AUDIENCE was the missing piece.
Today, each student chose a state AND chose the audience they would write for in their brochure. Some of the audiences are: tourism, history, come live here, and sports. Energy is high because not only did each student get to pick their state, but they have a real focus for their research. Several states have been chosen by more than one student, but it's not a problem because their audiences are different.
I just did a quick revision of a picture book that’s in progress.
Shorter. One goal was to shorten the story whenever possible. I cut out an entire page, and an entire sentence. Doesn’t sound like much? At only 700 words, the story is as streamlined as I can make it. Well, no. I just cut out one page and a sentence. Honing the text to the tightest possible is important for picture book texts.
When I’m asked to read someone’s manuscript, here’s my main comment: Cut it in half.
And a friend adds this: After cutting it in half, cut another 100 words.
Classroom reading center: Will your picture book be useful in the classroom?
Common Core. The Common Core education standards are a couple years now and their requirements are definitely on my mind. I am constantly consulting the standards for each grade level and working to make sure the picture book is useful in the classroom. Because I write for early elementary, I consider this a crucial aspect of what I do.
First, I focus on the story. Is the story itself compelling and interesting for the audience? If so, then can I add anything that will enhance it’s use in the classroom, without changing the essential story elements? For example, my picture book, THE JOURNEY OF OLIVER K. WOODMAN is now ten years old and still selling well. Part of the reason is that the story is told in letters and postcards. Of course, children’s learn about writing letters and postcards in early elementary, so this book is a natural for teachers to use as a mentor text. The story came first and demanded to be written in an epistolary (big word for letters) format. But after the story worked, then the layout and design decisions enhanced its usefulness in the classroom. Story first; but don’t ignore the book’s classroom usefulness.
Details. The Work-in-progress is about cats and I’m looking at about 20 cats that could be used in various places in the story. Which cat goes where? It’s a balancing act which requires me to know something about different cat breeds and match them to my story. I also have to carefully tabulate and re-tabulate which breeds I’ve used. I can’t use one breed twice, but each of the 20 breeds must be used. Check. No, move that one to this place. Re-check. It was a morning of detailed work!
I know–everyone loves cat videos. But have you ever seen a Devon Rex cat?
In case you were wondering, according to the Cat Fancier’s Association, here’s the top 20 most popular cat breeds in 2013. (In other words, I am doing research to document and justify the breeds I am using in the story.)
3 Maine Coon Cat
5 British Shorthair
7 American Shorthair
10 Devon Rex
11 Norwegian Forest Cat
13 Scottish Fold
14 Cornish Rex
19 Russian Blue
20 Egyptian Mau
Today's guest post is by Karen Blumenthal—author of YALSA Nonfiction Award finalists Bootleg and Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different—and a committed researcher. Or, maybe, a researcher who should be committed? Read her post and decide for yourself!
One evening during a research trip to Washington, D.C., I missed the hotel’s revolving-door entry and slammed into a glass wall schnoz first.
While I reeled in pain, the guests in the lobby eyed me as if I'd enjoyed the happy hour a little too much. Embarrassingly, I was suffering instead from a wicked case of microfilm myopia. I had only been researching drinking, not actually doing it.
In writing nonfiction for young people, I know the quality of the research drives the story. But that all-important work, I've concluded, may be dangerous to your health.
Other afflictions from recent research were less painful, but almost as embarrassing:
Quarter hoarding:My obsession won’t make great reality TV, but I have stashed quarters everywhere, in pockets, wallets, and tote bags, and I won’t share them with you, even for a desperately needed soft drink. They’re crucial for parking meters, copiers and lockers for stashing your stuff while you research Al Capone at the Chicago History Museum.
Research fog: An ailment closely related to microfilm myopia, this dense stupor sets in around the fifth hour of reading, especially if you skip lunch to squeeze in more work during a research library's limited hours. As you emerge from the fluorescent-lit haze, jabbering about what you have learned, it slowly becomes apparent that no one you know cares that Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and Penney founder James Cash Penney had similar backgrounds.
Library breath: What is it about libraries that makes your mouth feels like a herd of camels just ambled across your tongue? Spend too much of the day inside one of these important (and low-humidity) places of knowledge and you'll find that your newfound trivia isn't all that will knock people out.
Chronic nerditis: Finding some new gem online can lead to mysteriously intense, heart-pounding excitement that will surely bore your family to death. You mean you can read 1920s magazines online? Find newspapers stories back to the 1850s? Look at a database instead of those fat green Reader's Guides to Periodicals?
Wait—what? You've never heard of the Reader's Guide to Periodicals?
“Just one more” syndrome: Now this is when things get really ugly. Researching is fun; writing, for me, is difficult. So why in the world should I want to stop searching for good stuff? What if there’s a better anecdote out there? What if I’ve missed a great example? If only the deadline wasn’t approaching!
Of course, the paper cuts and smudges on my clothes from newspapers and fresh photocopies are all worth the trouble when I finally sit down at the computer. Having great stories and specific detail is crucial to writing for young people because the story must crackle and pop, and every idea must be crystal clear for readers who have little experience or context to bring to a subject.
Just try not to get behind me when I take a break at the coffee shop. I may be paying with quarters.
The white paper explores the critical role libraries play in helping children make cross-cultural connections and develop skills necessary to function in a culturally pluralistic society. It states:
By including diversity in its programs and collections, the library has the potential for helping children make cross-cultural connections and develop the skills necessary to function in a culturally pluralistic society.
As this paper calls for libraries to include diversity in programming and materials for children as an important piece in meeting the informational and recreational needs of their community, ALSC encourage you to take action in your own library and community. The paper is available online at: http://www.ala.org/alsc/importance-diversity. Hard copies can be requested by emailing Joanna Ison at email@example.com.
The Importance of Diversity in Library Programs and Material Collections for Children, and its message, has the endorsement of ALSC, the world’s largest organization dedicated to the support and enhancement of library service to children.
Oxford Scholarship Online (OSO) launched in 2003 with 700 titles. Now, on its tenth birthday, it’s the online home of over 9,000 titles from Oxford University Press’s distinguished academic list, and part of University Press Scholarship Online. To celebrate OSO turning ten, we’ve invited a host of people to reflect on the past ten years of online academic publishing, and what the next ten might bring.
By Adrastos Omissi
As someone who has lived out his entire academic career in a research environment augmented by digital resources, it can be easy to allow familiarity to breed contempt where the Internet is concerned. When I began my undergraduate degree in the autumn of 2005, Oxford’s Bodleian Library, as well as every faculty and college library, had already digitized their search functions, Wikipedia was approaching one million English articles, and all major journals were routinely publishing online (as well as busily uploading their back catalogues). Free and instantaneous access to a vast quantity of research material is, for those of my generation, simply assumed.
The Radcliffe Camera, part of the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. By Kamyar Adl CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
The Internet’s greatest gift is text, in every permutation and definition of that word imaginable. For research students, one of the greatest obstacles is to acquire the necessary information that they need to make their own work a solid, and above all, living piece of scholarship, in communication with the wider academic world. Text is, ultimately, the sine qua non of this struggle.
Each specialism has its own particular loves, its debts owed to the Internet. Find any doctoral candidate in Britain today and they’ll each have their own version of ‘I couldn’t have completed me doctorate without online product X.’ For me, a classicist, it was the digitization and free availability of an increasing proportion of the written records of the ancient world. Online libraries of Greek and Latin texts, libraries like Perseus, Lacus Curtius, and the Latin Library, or searchable databases like Patrologia Latina brought the classical world to life (and to my laptop).
Of course, it’s not just ancient books that are now open to easy access from anywhere that the Internet can reach. When I was an undergraduate I looked into how much it would cost me to buy the entire Cambridge Ancient History series, which I felt would make an invaluable addition to my bookshelves. The answer – somewhere in the region of £1,600 – was enough for me to go weak at the knee. Now, I have all fourteen volumes in PDF. Google Books and the increasing digitization of the archives of publishers and academic libraries means that paradigm shifting debate can now beam into student rooms and even into private homes.
Just as the automated production line turned the automobile, once a bastion of elitism, into an affordable commodity for the average household, so the Internet is now putting books that would have once been hidden in ivory towers into the hands of any person with the desire to find them. And as hardware improves, these options become more and more exciting. Tablet computing means that this enormous corpus of academic texts and original sources is now available on devices that fit into a coat pocket. Gone – or going – are the curved spines and broken bag straps that were formerly the lot of any student forced to move between libraries.
Of course, not everyone is beaming as barriers of cost and inconvenience are stripped away from academic texts. Publishers still have businesses to run and it will be interesting to see in years to come how sharply the lines of battle come to be drawn. Nor is the marginalization of the book, a thing of beauty in its own right, much of a cause for celebration. But for those wishing to access academic texts, the trend is up, and texts that would once have been found only after a long search through some dusty archive or at the outlay of several hundred pounds are now nothing more than a Google search away.
Adrastos Omissi grew up in Jersey, in the Channel Islands. He recently completed a doctorate in Roman History at St John’s College, Oxford, and now works as a researcher for the social enterprise consultancy, Oxford Ventures.
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Last month I horrified historians by Messing About with Ancient History. This month, I hope I shall redeem myself slightly by talking about the importance of 'feet on the ground' research.
When you're chasing a historical character, trying to pin them down in a particular place, there's nothing quite like visiting sites they would have known and recognised. With most of history, that's not so easy, because a good deal of it will have disappeared in the interim. However, in Rome, history is so close to the surface that you trip over it. In my case, literally.
I was in the Forum last week, and (with my usual weather luck) it was raining. The Roman cobbles are very large, very uneven, and I caught my toe and fell over. I don't suppose I'm the only idiot ever to have done it, and now I have the makings of a ready-made scene for the new book. This sort of authentic detail is invaluable, once the bruises have faded, and would have been impossible to garner in any other way than by empirical experience. The colour of the sky, the way the river Tiber winds, the height of the seven hills, the pinoli trees - all these things are in my mind's eye now, along with the exact colour of a particular column, the way a belt hangs round a sacrificial swine's belly... and much more.
Yes, I could have looked these things up in a book, or read someone else's account of their travels, but I think the next installment of my Cleo's adventures will be all the richer for my visit - and I don't at all begrudge her my sore feet and banged knees. I even managed to find an exact copy of an Alexandrian Priestess of Isis in the Borghese Palace - just what I needed to see what robes she would have worn.
Now, if only Egypt wasn't so damned dangerous at the moment...
Okay, let's face it--a lot of books and movies don't accurately address teenage life. Like, I, for one, have never hit my head on a chandelier while drunk-dancing, which unfortunately means that I haven't been caught by a conveniently-placed Heath Ledger, either (womp). So let's examine a few of the misconceptions, shall we?
Bullying isn't as bad as it used to be.
*DISCLAIMER: My concept of "used to be" is drawn almost exclusively from nineties chick flicks.* Bullying is different, sure. It's needling. In a lot of cases, it's subtle. Lots of passive-aggressiveness, gossping behind backs, snide remarks followed by "Ehmahgawd, I'm just kidding! Lighten up!" Honestly? I've seen two primary kinds of bullying:
First: within cliques. You fall in with a group of people, and you let them step all over you and talk down to you. So that they'll like you. So that you'll have someone to sit by at lunch. You swallow their crap, you wake up the next morning and do it all over again, and eventually, you forget how to stand up for yourself. Or why you should.
Second: there are certain kids that a grade or an entire school will mark as "okay" to bully. Maybe they're not good in social situations. Maybe they don't shower as often as everyone else. Maybe the committed some stupid faux pas in middle school and people still won't let go of it. Whatever the reason, these kids get bullied. Their classmates bully them, and the worst part is, they don't recognize it as bullying it. Once, I confronted one of my friends about her stupid comments to a kid in band, and she replied, "Oh, come on. Look at him. He brings it all upon himself." Hell, even the teachers do it.
Example: there was this story a while ago about a group of kids that voted someone unpopular onto a dance court, and how the school/community wouldn't stand for it. It was a beautiful story, but why was that news? Because it's rare. At my school, they've voted someone unpopular onto basically every dance they've held since my freshman year, and our administration barely even addresses it. It's horrible and disgusting and people don't think twice about playing a prank like that, because your part is so small. One click on the computer next to someone's name. You laugh. They don't. You don't ever think of yourself as the antagonist in a story. We are not villains. We are not heroes. We are hormonal. Sometimes we make mistakes, and sometimes we don't.
Cliques aren't as bad as they used to be.
I have a friend who puts it like this: "They tell us not to label, but we can't help it. We put people in categories--it's biological. We label and then everyone tells us that labeling is bad, so we lie and say that cliques don't exist." To be clear, it isn't like Mean Girls. It isn't like there are the cool Asians and the nerds and the jocks, and no one intermingles. But there are definitely friend groups, and since my school is a very athletic-oriented one, most of them were formed around the teams you were a part of. And there's definitely a social hierarchy.
But then again, I've heard from friends at bigger schools that say that the social structures aren't as rigid as they used to be. It definitely depends on who you ask.
VERDICT: I DON'T EVEN KNOW
Teens are lazy.
Here is a typical day for me:
4:30 a.m. Wake up, write (this has been more sporadic this year, because damn, my bed is comfortable. And you could argue that most teens don't get up to meet a deadline. But a lot of sports teams have morning practices, and some classes are held during zero period. There's not a lot of sleeping in).
6:30 a.m. Start getting ready for school: last minute homework, morning routine, etc (this also varies. Like, at the beginning of this year, my morning routine was pretty standard: makeup, hair, and so on. I gave myself a break on No Makeup Mondays and Sweatpants Fridays. Now it's No Makeup Everyday and I'm lucky if I wear real pants twice a week).
7:45 a.m. Get to school, go to the coffee shop, etc.
7: 55 a.m. - 3:10 p.m. School. There might be a study hall in there if you're lucky.
3: 10 p.m. - 6:30 p.m. After-schools. Sports practices (though during tennis season, I rarely get home before seven. On game days, you get home anywhere between 8:30 and 11:30 or later. Games can be on Mondays, Tuesdays, or Thursdays. Except varsity football and boys' basketball, which have games on Fridays). When your sport isn't in season, you might be in the weight room, editing the newspaper, attending open gym, or doing some other extracurricular.
ALTERNATE: 4:00 p.m. - 9 p.m. (ish): this seems to be a popular work slot for most teens.
Whenever you get home, you finish everything else that needs to get done. I play piano, and I try to get in an hour or two of practice a day, but that's not always possible. We have two-three hours of Calculus homework 2-3 times a week. Three reading assignments for reading per reading. Spanish vocab tests, economics packets, and a lot of online work for science classes--all in all, anywhere from fifteen minutes to six hours of homework per night. Keep in mind that the six hours of homework could fall on a night on which we don't get home until ten or eleven.
So you see why it's frustrating when the protagonists in YA literature have no homework to worry about and don't seem to care about anything but their love interests? Jesus. Obviously I'd rather be thinking about Benedict Cumberbatch's cheekbones than conic parametric equations, but I also don't want to fail Calc. So drop some stuff, you suggest. Don't take on more than you can chew. You don't need to be in so many extracurriculars. BS. You do whatever you think it'll take to get into college. You snatch as many leadership positions as you can. You take every AP course even though you don't need most of them for the career you have in mind. And you claw your way along while trying to keep your class rank, in order to get scholarships.
Okay, so the psychologist Roy Baumeister once did this experiment during which he had two groups of students, right? He put one group of students in front of an oven full of baking cookies and gave them a bowl of radishes, saying the could eat as many radishes as they wanted but weren’t allowed to touch the cookies, and left them alone. The second group was allowed to eat as many cookies as they wanted. After thirty minutes, he gave both groups the same math problem. The group that got to eat cookies solved the problem way faster because the first group had already used up their store of mental energy. Willpower is a real thing, guys. After four years with a schedule like the one outlined above, you don’t have a ton of it. You replenish it with a good night of sleep and a good meal, right? But have to skip dinner at least a few times a week and get maybe five hours of sleep. My sleep deck is the goddamn Titanic. And it isn’t just me, it isn’t just because of writing—most of my friends are stressed. Like. I’m sitting here trying to remember if there’s one of us who hasn’t burst into tears at some point during this last year.
Another thing: all of our teachers, coaches, advisors, etc. tell us to prioritize. So we do. But prioritizing means that something has to come first, right? And everything else has to come after that, and that makes people mad. So prioritize really means this: Put my subject first. My sport. My club. And we’re in a stage of our lives where we really need to be liked, and when a teacher/coach/advisor is unhappy, we take it a lot harder than I think most people realize.
VERDICT: PFFT. EVERYBODY PROCRASTINATES
Teens are shallow.
So, I have a love affair with Buzzfeed. But this article pissed me off. At lunch on Friday, my friends and I talked about the gender gap, internalized misogyny, The Handmaid's Tale, and the tendency to fulfill expectations whether we want to or not. After school, we went out for coffee and talked about statutory rape, abortion, tried to figure out our political opinions, and acted out scenes from Frozen.
A lot of schools have done away with them due to low attendance, but the low attendance is caused primarily by rules about physical contact. For example, a few of our local schools saw a sharp decline in dance attendance after forbidding grinding. People don't buy tickets because the high school dance becomes more of a middle school formal, wherein you stand in your stupid little gender-segregated circles and jump around in time to the music. Less attendance = fewer tickets sold = less money to hire a DJ and buy decorations = crappy music and crappy decorations = an even small attendance for the next dance. So if schools do away with dances, that's usually why, not because we're too busy snapchatting/Facebooking/Tweeting/etc. But on the other hand, schools that do allow grinding tend to have pretty high attendance numbers. So are high school dances dying out? Should they? Meh.
Also: Jeez, CNN. Lighten up on the nostalgia. If you want, you can come to my school and relive your prom in our cafeteria, where on dance nights you walk in and smack into an almost-literal wall of heat slide around on the very literally sweat-soaked floors.
What do you guys think? Did I miss anything important? Leave below in the comments, and I'll do another post. Also, what do you guys think of having a Twitter chat about this? YA authors, do you have questions or want to do a fact-check on your contemp manuscripts?
On my mini book tour last week, I visited the lovely town of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. While writing and researching about Anna Keichline for Women of Steel and Stone, Anna's grandniece, Nancy Perkins, asked if I'd be willing to allow the Bellefonte Art Museum to host an author reception when the book was published. I responded immediately, "But, of course." Fast forward two years later and scheduled considering good driving conditions, I headed toward the center of Pennsylvania. My trip was filled with many fun surprises and observations. Here are just a few of them: Stayed in a Anna-designed house!
Anna's grandniece, Nancy, owns a home designed by Anna and asked me if I wanted to stay with her during my visit. What a treat! Almost surreal. What surprised me was the realization that one really doesn't get the true feel of a piece of architecture until you see the work first hand.
Anna Keichline Designed Home
Anna's houses were designed with many unique details. The house reminded me of the California Bungalow I owned in Long Beach California - built in 1930 - but Anna's house had a basement, a second floor, and stairs to an attic. Some details that stood out to me were a cozy breakfast nook, beautiful fireplace, hardware for drapes on french doors, arched windows and matching doorknobs.
Hardware for Drapes
Kitchen Patent #1,612,730 1924
First Floor Bathroom
Harvey Apartments 1935
Decker House 1931
Bible Home 1916
Harvey House 1939
Beautiful architecture can be torn down.
Sadly, the beautiful Garman Opera House was recently torn down. Anna's Cadillac Building is disrepair but the community is hoping that it will escape the wrecking ball.
Beautiful architecture can be transformed into other uses.
In 2001, the Plaza Theatre was shut down and turned into the Plaza Centre Antique Gallery. Turning a art deco theatre to a two-story store changed the entire structure and feel of the building, but the beautiful ceiling details and unique wall coverings still remain. If you go to the very back of the second floor, you can still peek into the "crying room"--- a room for mothers to take their fussy babies and toddlers, a feature not found in theaters in the 1920s.
Plaza Theatre 1925
Plaza Theatre Ceiling Detail
Crying Room in Back of Theatre
Anna's Childhood Home
Anna's Cabin in Fishermen's Paradise
Office Where Anna Worked w/ her Father
Anna Featured on Bellefonte Monopoly
Book Signing in Anna K Exhibit
Nancy and I next to Anna
To get another perspective of Anna's life and the town of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, here's an entertaining and informative YouTube video, that I just found.
In discussing the persecution of European Jews in the years before and during World War II, my students would often ask, "How could they let this happen?" Meaning, how could the rest of the world stand by and do nothing? For all the answers I can help students to find, I still can't answer this question myself.
The question asked nearly as often, however, is this: "Why didn't the Jews fight back?" But to that question I can readily answer, "They did. They did fight back. But realize that it wasn't just with guns; even children your age found ways to disrupt and defy the Nazis who tried to exterminate them."
In teaching the topic of Jewish resistance, I've found a great resource in an impressive series of six books from Enslow Publishing titled True Stories of Teens in the Holocaust.This seriesexplores, through hundreds of primary documents and photographs, the diverse experiences of Jewish and non-Jewish youth caught up in the Holocaust.
Check out the books below, and then read on for suggested sites for helping students learn history through analyzing primary sources.
Courageous Teen Resisters: Primary Sources from the Holocaust
The popular title Courageous Teen Resisters: Primary Sources from the Holocaust documents both violent and nonviolent defiance of Nazi terrorism, from the increasingly overt persecution of early 1930s Germany to resistance efforts in France to the twenty-seven days of the Warsaw uprising. Readers learn how subtle and secretive efforts by Jews and Gentile sympathizers disrupted and distracted occupying enemy troops in some circumstances, while outright armed resistance and acts of sabotage wreaked chaos and destruction in others.
From Courageous Teen Resisters:
Courageous Teen Resisters is recommended as a stand-alone volume for students seeking to learn more about Jewish Resistance, as well an informational text companion to Heroes of the Holocaust: True Stories of Rescues by Teens (available from Scholastic).
The remaining five titles in the Enslow series are described below with a short publisher's summary or excerpt as well as recommended companion titles. This series is especially useful in text pairings not only to meet demands of the Common Core emphasis on informational texts, but to provide students with the necessary historical and social contexts needed to truly appreciate biography and historical fiction rooted in the Holocaust. (If you're seeking Holocaust texts for lower-level readers, be sure to check out my Annotated List of Holocaust Picture Books).
Youth Destroyed - The Nazi Camps
"Alice Lok was deported to Auschwitz, a Nazi death camp, in 1944. Upon her arrival, she faced a "selection." Alice had to stand in line as a Nazi doctor examined the new camp inmates. If the doctor pointed one direction, it meant hard labor—but labor meant life. If the doctor pointed the other way, that meant immediate death. Alice was lucky. She survived Auschwitz and two other camps. However, millions of Jews were not so lucky." ~ from the publisher
"(M)any Jewish youth living in the ghettos in Europe... faced death, fear, hunger, hard labor, and disease everyday. Millions of Jews were forced into ghettos, where the Nazis kept them until they could be deported to the death camps." ~ from the publisher
"...A website about children, written for children. It portrays life during the Holocaust from the viewpoint of children who lived in the ghetto, while attempting to make the complex experience of life in the ghetto as accessible as possible to today’s children.
Along with the description of the hardships of ghetto life, it also presents the courage, steadfastness and creativity involved in the children’s lives. One of the most important messages to be learned is that despite the hardships, there were those who struggled to maintain humanitarian and philanthropic values, care for one another, and continue a cultural and spiritual life."
By examining writings, artifacts, and first hand interviews, students gain an understanding of the "anything-to-survive" mentality which the ghetto created, and demanded, of its inhabitants. Students can explore freely, taking advantage of the interactive elements, or respond to prompts in writing using the printable handouts (I downloaded the handouts, available in Word format, and adapted them according to my lesson objectives).
Once students have interacted with this site, they will have a mental bank of sites, sounds, stories, and symbols from which to draw upon, greatly increasing their understanding and appreciation of this nonfiction text as well as any novel with which they're working.
"Thousands of Jews lived on the run during the Holocaust. Some were able to escape Germany before the war started. Others had to move throughout Europe to flee the Nazis. And many more could not escape at all." ~ from the publisher
"(T)housands of Jews went into hiding during the Holocaust. Barns, trapdoors, bunkers, secret attics, forged identity papers, and fake names became tools for survival." ~ from the publisher
The fate of Jews who were hidden is of special interest to students. Even in a classroom that chooses not to embark upon a full Holocaust unit, time can certainly be devoted to learning about Jews who went into hiding rather than face extermination by the Nazis.
The uncertainty of such a choice is reflected in this diary entry from Anne Frank which appears in the book:
"Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party's rise to power in the 1930s changed life dramatically for all people living in Germany. Hitler used propaganda, fear, and brutality as his main weapons. Jewish children faced strong antiSemitism in their schools and on the street, and saw their families ripped apart. Non-Jewish children deemed "undesirable" suffered a similar fate. "Aryan" children were forced to enter Hitler Youth groups or endure humiliation." ~ from the publisher
This book is a real stand-out as it not only chronicles the experience of Jews in Nazi Germany, but also Gentiles who were reluctant to submit to Nazi ideologies.
In speaking of her accomplishment (which took five years to research and write), author Doreen Rappaport says,
"How Jews organized themselves in order to survive and defy their enemy is an important but still neglected piece of history. I present a sampling of actions, efforts, and heroism with the hope that I can play a role in helping to correct the damaging and persistent belief that Jews ‘went like sheep to the slaughter.’"
Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation
A key resource for teaching Jewish resistance, and for discovering a multitude of primary sources, is the web site of the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation, whose key mission is "to develop and distribute effective educational materials about the Jewish partisans and their life lessons, bringing the celebration of heroic resistance against tyranny into educational and cultural organizations."
Over 30,000 Jewish partisans, or “members of an organized body of fighters who attack or harass an enemy, especially within occupied territory.” joined the hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish resistance fighters who fought the Nazis. Interestingly, however, their assistance was not always welcome, as antisemitism was often common in non-Jewish resistance groups.
This comprehensive and well constructed site offers teachers and students myriad free resources including:
Professional Development modules which can be completed for continuing education credits (CEUs) (I highly recommend that prior to using this site you complete at least the first module, to better understand how to best access the site's videos, articles, lesson plans, student hand-outs, and more);
An extensive film collection, containing 3 to 20 minute films trhough which students can "witness the Jewish partisans' stories of endurance, victory, and struggle;"
A very unique tool called Someone Like Me, where a students enter a combination of characteristics which describe themselves, and the site presents a partisan who matches those characteristics. Students can then explore the life and work of that partisan through any of the resource links above.
Because the impact of Holocaust education relies heavily upon students learning the true events of this tragedy, primary sources should play a role in every Holocaust unit. The JPEF site described above provides a wonderful collection of sources from which to choose, but below I have compiled a number of additional resources which educators may find useful in planning their instruction. As always, please reach out and let me know what other sites, books, and documents you've found useful.
Primary Document Webinar This hour long recorded webinar present teachers with not only reasons for using primary sources, but also ten really easy-to-implement ideas for starting with primary sources in the classroom.
Making Sense of Evidence This is a highly recommended collection of articles written by experts in the field on how to make sense of films, oral histories, numbers, maps, advertisements, and more. While written by the experts, students will find the language they use to be accessible. From the site:
“Making Sense of Documents” provide strategies for analyzing online primary materials, with interactive exercises and a guide to traditional and online sources. “Scholars in Action” segments show how scholars puzzle out the meaning of different kinds of primary sources, allowing you to try to make sense of a document yourself then providing audio clips in which leading scholars interpret the document and discuss strategies for overall analysis.
Because of the career connections, this site is a valuable tool for achieving College and Workplace Readiness goals.
Where Can I Find Lesson Plans with Primary Sources?
I Witness From the USC Shoah Foundation, this site contains over 1300 video testimonies and other digital resources, as well as assistance for educators seeking to use these tools in Holocaust education.
The whole idea of traveling is to learn about new places and new people. You can buy tours where the itinerary is planned by someone else. But for me, the best trips are the ones where I start the process that will create a trip to research a new project. Make no mistake; it takes time and attention to plan such a trip. This winter I made two trips to research my next book How Could We Foil a Flood?I’m particularly interested in the engineering aspect of flood control because more than forty percent of loss of life and property from natural disasters comes from flooding, and because we’ve been engineering to prevent flooding for at least 1000 years. Most other natural disasters have had little to no engineering applied to controlling the phenomenon—we’re struggling hard enough learning how to predict them.
So the first question I ask, after reading extensively is on the subject is, who knows about this? It is always useful to start looking for contact information though tourism or government sources. So I made contact with the Mississippi Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) who connected me to the ACE in New Orleans, where they’re putting the finishing touches on an enormous post-Katrina resiliency post-flooding project. (It is no longer politically correct to call it “flood control.”)
Lexi poses next to the new West Closure Pumping Station --the most powerful pump in the world. It can fill an olympic-sized swimming pool in 5 seconds.
Next, I contact the tourism people and tell them where I plan to visit and ask if I can get media rates on accommodations, freebies, etc. Since New Orleans, a tourism mecca, was on the itinerary, I was booked into a great hotel in the French Quarter at an affordable price. My nineteen-year-old granddaughter, Lexi, had approached me last fall, “Please, please, please Gran, I’ve never been anywhere or seen anything. Take me with you.” How could I resist that gift? My response, “Okay, but you’ll have to work. I need you to listen to all the interviews, take photos and videos, and keep track of all my contacts.” And so the deal was struck. It took a good three months to make the arrangements.
Here I am in front of some major sluices that keep the North Sea from flooding the lowlands. It was cold and windy with wind turbines everywhere.
The second trip I made was to the place where they know more about keeping the sea at bay than any other nation—the Netherlands. Here, a peculiar serendipity (not unusual for these amazing trips) played a role. Over Thanksgiving my son had new guests—his wife’s mother’s first cousin from Scotland and her Dutch husband, Wim—were visiting from Canada. I told Wim I was planning to visit his country, so he offered the help of his brother Giovanni and his wife, Mechtild, who lived in the Hague. Giovanni was a recently retired diplomat with time on his hands. They stepped up and offered me a place to stay and would drive me to all my venues. In effect, they would do the job Lexi had done. (I had been planning to take Lexi along, but she’s in her first year of college/nursing school with a heavy schedule and prioritized well. She couldn’t take the time to come. I’m proud of her for that.)
I always thank the people I interview with a signed book and an acknowledgment when the new book is published
The arrangements and schedule of what I’d see and who I’d interview was done by Arjan Braamskamp of the Dutch Consulate in NYC. It was an amazing, exhausting and rigorous schedule. I was wished “bon voyage” in person by Rob de Vos, the Consul General who happens to be a friend of Giovanni (talk about a small world!)
My one day to relax was two weeks before the tulips so I settled for tiptoeing through the crocuses in the Hague.
These trips are like eating dessert first. Now comes the hard part of sifting through all the material and crafting it into something new, which will ignite the desire to learn from my readers.