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Other people’s lives are our business, as writers.
Tamsyn Murray wrote a lovely and important post a few days ago, about how vital empathy is for writers, readers, and the world. I agree with her entirely. When we stop imagining, and stop trying to understand the way other people (and cats!) think and feel and live, we start wars.
Here are some photographs I’ve come across in the last few months, from other people’s lives. A doorway to imagination, to empathy. What are the stories behind these pictures? Who and what did these people love, hate, fear, desire?
I know some of the stories. Others, I’ll never know. But if all of us can imagine, and do our best to empathise, maybe some of these stories will never be repeated.
|Crimean Tatar girls in national costume, Crimea, 1930s|
|Ukrainian village women in national costume, central Ukraine, 1950s |
|Crimean Tatars in exile. Those who managed to take a sewing machine with them when they were deported from Crimea could make a living. Uzbekistan, 1950s |
|Photos retrieved by rescue workers from a bombed residential building in Nikolayevka, East Ukraine. Nearly two months later, no one has collected them from the grass outside|
By: Jen Robinson
Blog: Jen Robinson
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Book: A Baby Elephant in the Wild
Author: Caitlin O'Connell
Photographs by: Caitlin O'Connell and Timothy Rodwell
Age Range: 4-8
A Baby Elephant in the Wild is a nonfiction picture book that conveys facts about elephants by telling the story, with photographs, of the early life of a baby elephant named Liza. It's not clear to me who named the elephant Liza, but an author's note indicates that the author was a researcher studying elephants in Namibia who happened to be nearby when Liza was born. In any event, the narrative device of focusing the story on Liza works well, turning what could have been a dry recitation of facts into an engaging story.
I think that readers of A Baby Elephant in the Wild will find themselves thinking, as I did, "elephants are really cool." My own daughter, on her second read-aloud of the book, was eager to tell me that Liza could still stand underneath her mother's belly, that all of the elephants were part of Liza's extended family, and that the mothers form a circle to protect the babies from lions. These details stuck with her, perhaps because of the truly fabulous photos.
Here are a couple of snippets from the text:
"In this desert, a baby elephant named Liza takes her first breath after growing inside her mother for almost two years.
Liza is born weighing 250 pounds, the size of a grown black bear. Her mother weighs about 8,000 pounds."
"And within a day, she is able to keep up with the rest of her family: her mother, and aunt, and older brother, and a female cousin."
This second quote illustrates how the author keeps a very specific focus on Liza. She's not just some placeholder - she's a baby who has a brother and a cousin. I think this will help kids to relate to the story.
I did choose, spontaneously, to edit some of the later pages in reading this book aloud to my daughter. She is 3 1/2, and I'm not sure that she needs to know that elephants might not have enough food to survive in the wild, or that "poachers looking for either meat or ivory also threaten elephants". But that's obviously each parent's decision.
I do think, despite the universal appeal of elephants, that this would be a better book for elementary school kids than for preschoolers. It is fairly text-dense. A "Did you know?" page at the end of the book adds additional facts about elephants, perfect for feeding the hunger for information of a curious 7-year-old.
A Baby Elephant in the Wild offers young readers an in-depth look at the lives of African elephants, with stunning visuals. As it's clearly designed to do, it leaves readers with a sense of wonder about elephants in general, and a feeling of familiarity towards Liza in particular. It would make a nice addition to any elementary school library, or to the home bookshelves of those with a particular affinity for animals.
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHBooks)
Publication Date: March 18, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook.
2013 GradeReading.NET Summer Reading Lists
Keep your students reading all summer! The lists for 2nd, 3rd and 4th, include 10 recommended fiction titles and 10 recommended nonfiction titles. Printed double-sided, these one-page flyers are perfect to hand out to students, teachers, or parents. Great for PTA meetings, have on hand in the library, or to send home with students for the summer. FREE Pdf or infographic jpeg.
See the Summer Lists Now!
I just got home from ten days in Europe and I am ready to write. Why?
Because getting out of my writing cave makes me bump up against people, against history, against emotional struggles.
Belzec Death Camp Memorial, Poland
One place we visited is a memorial for the Belzec (Bee AWA zhek) Death Camp in eastern Poland, the first and worst of the Nazi camps which tried to exterminate Jews, gypsies and handicapped people. Over 600,000 people died here in 1941-1943. Then, the Germans flattened the camp and planted trees, in an attempt to hide what they had done.
This is history and deep emotions rolled into one poignant visit. For example, there was only one survivor of the camp–only one!–and his stories are heartbreaking. One quote was from a young boy who had entered the gas chambers and was heard to cry out, “It’s dark, it’s dark. Mama, haven’t I been good?” His last words.
For a writer to experience a sobering memorial something like this is to plumb the emotional depths to which a character might be forced to go.
Barn Swallow Nest
One place we stayed was a horse farm in eastern Poland and one morning I walked out with my camera to see what was around. Under the eaves of the horse barns were nest after nest of barn swallows. I like trying to find the small, hidden things to photograph, because as a writer, it reminds me to pay attention to the landscape, to notice the “telling details” that could make a story come alive.
"Beware of Dog" in Polish
I snapped this photo while we were stopped for a break along a country road. Writers need to remember that there are common emotions and thoughts across all languages and cultures, they are common to humanity. Fear of dogs is one of those things.
Window in Zamosz, Poland
And you can find beauty across the world, too, beauty in the common things of life such as a window.
The trip was amazing: as a writer, the trip reminded me that stories are universal, that evoking emotions–both happy and sad–is universal, and that beauty is found in the common things of life.
|Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ggbain-19173|
Well, maybe not 1,000, but even as a writer I can’t deny the power of a photograph. One click of a shutter release and BAM, we see a story. Photos capture drama (left, survivors from the 1915 sinking of the Lusitania). They convey emotion. Sometimes they offer clarity. At other times they fill us with questions. And that’s where the words come in (thank goodness, say the writers).
I owe at least two of my books to photos. I became so captivated by the Earnest Withers “I AM A MAN” image from Memphis 1968 that I wrote a whole book about it, Marching to the Mountaintop. Ditto for the “Blood Brothers” image of John Lewis and Jim Zwerg, following their beating as Freedom Riders on May 20, 1961. (See page 42 of this title.)
I’m not sure which I love more, writing or photo research. Both are passions for me, so I am lucky to work in a genre that seamlessly weaves the two media into a powerful forum for conveying the stories of history. If you read these words on their magical 12-12-12 posting date, you can imagine me engaged in photo research. I’ll be in Washington, D.C., that day, wrapping up three days of research for my latest project which, come to think of it, started with an image, too. (Or at least it started during an earlier round of photo research when my efforts to track down the background of one picture led to the discovery of a whole new story from the past.)
|Photo courtesy Library of Congress, LC-DIG-highsm-01901 |
So what is photo research like? Truthfully it’s about as glamorous as a day of writing, which is to say not very. By the end of the day my back aches for bending over images. My mind is so warped by time traveling through thousands of windows into the past that it is jarring to step out into real time. My sleep is animated by disjointed pictures as my mind races to process all the scenes it has observed.
But photo research is also as rewarding as writing. That moment when you revise to the perfect conclusion is matched by the discovery of a gotta-have-it photograph. I suspect there is some chemical parallel between gambling and photo research, because that rush of excitement from finding one great picture becomes the fuel for the next few hours of fruitless searching.
Sometimes I do photo research using on-line databases. Sometimes I’m on site, glove-adorned, paging through carefully catalogued original prints. And sometimes I’m cut loose in an archive of dog-eared, we-should-organize-these-some-day gems. I become a treasure hunter, gently sifting through the sheets of chemical-infused paper to find just the right shades of sepia and cream. Here a dramatic smile. There a scene filled with action. Now a glimpse of a forgotten figure. Then a fresh look at a favorite icon. Sorting the wheat from the chaff, the powerful from the mundane.
|Courtesy Library of Congress, LC-DIG-highsm-03177|
One of my favorite places to conduct photo research is the Library of Congress,
and I will be there at least twice during my current research trip. Those on-site trips offer access to materials that are otherwise inaccessible, but these days it’s getting easier and easier to find treasures using the online databases of the Library’s Prints and Photographs Collection. I’m a big booster of this site, especially when I do school visits. Anyone who hasn’t used it should kill an hour or two playing around with the search engines. More and more material is now accessible off-site, and any images that can be downloaded from a remote location can be used with a clear conscience as material in the public domain. These are our tax dollars at work, people. It’s wonderful! Enjoy!
Blog: Kid Lit Reviews
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National Veterans Awareness Week United States Senate Resolution 143 November 11 to November 17, 2012 The resolution calls for educational efforts directed at elementary and secondary school students concerning the contributions and sacrifices of veterans. Veterans Day “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to [...]
Inspirational author Karen Malena tells us about A Figure Larger Than Life.
One faded black and white photo and my life would change.......
Sifting through old photographs one day with my mom, I felt drawn to one of a young man in dirty overalls, haunting eyes, and beautiful hands. When she told me this was her grandfather, Pietro, and she never knew him, I hungered to know more about him.
He came to this country in the early 1900's looking for work and a new way of life for his wife and four children. My great-grandfather, Pietro paved the way for us, and brought a legacy to me that I will never forget.
A quiet, gentle man, he was a carpenter by trade. He was born in Patrica, Italy in the late 1800's. He came to this country when he was twenty years old, seeking a good life for his family.
I think back to being twenty years old. Thoughts of fun, dating, parties, selfish ambitions. Yet this simple man, at the same age already had so many responsibilities. Poverty beckoned at the door in his hometown. Who knows how tough it had been trying to feed a wife and four children?
Many already had made the decision to strike out to America for a new life and new opportunities. It couldn't have been easy leaving behind loved ones, not knowing if you would ever see them again, yet hopeful that you would.
What was the boat journey like? An unending, long, nauseating trip with at least nine hundred others. Was he fearful, hopeful?
And when he first got to Ellis Island, what thoughts were on his mind? Did he kiss the ground, so grateful to see land again? Was there anyone waiting for him, a brother perhaps?
Again, I think of myself. I was lucky to be able to drive to another town when I was the same age. For I was a fearful, scared rabbit back in the day. Afraid to venture outside of the confines of my comfortable, small world.
Yet this man, who couldn't read, write, or speak the strange language of English, risked it all for a chance, a dream, a hope.
I sit here now, thinking back on my own life. I have come so far in such a short time. Once afraid of my own shadow, I now venture into strange, new places. Once so timid I could barely speak to others, I am meeting new, exciting people and sharing stories of my own with them.
Could it be perhaps this patriarch, my great-grandfather, Pietro, this figure larger than life, has inspired me to be courageous, to seek so much more in this beautiful world? I believe so. And I am grateful to him for paving the way for my family and I as we travel this wonderful journey together.
Thank you, Pietro. Grazie.
Ahh… the perplexing rules of picture permission. Every freelance writer should have at least a basic understanding of photography permission forms and when to use them. When pictures are included with prose the burden of rights and permissions falls to the writer/photographer, not the editor.
As with any written law, the guidelines can seem both vague and complex. Two things to remember:
- Law definitions can be much broader than your own understanding of them.
- Cover your you-know-what.
It is my intent to offer you enough information to assist you in the most common circumstances. If you plan on taking writer/photographer assignments on a regular basis I encourage you to do a little more research; that’s my disclaimer—I’m not an attorney and am not attempting to offer legal advice. :)Pictures of People:
If the people are not identifiable—not the focal point of the picture—and the picture is to be used for editorial/informational purposes you do not need a permission release.Exceptions:
- The people are posing or otherwise made the focal point of the picture.
- The picture will be used for advertising purposes (brochures, etc…)
- There are children in the photograph.
- There is someone in “trade dress” such as a circus performer.
- The person is a celebrity. We won’t get into that but the rules are different for them.
A note about children:
Anyone under 18 years of age must have a permission form signed by at least one parent or guardian.Schools and other organized groups generally have standard forms. Read these carefully, they may cover the organization but not necessarily the photographer.Pictures of Property:
You may take pictures of houses, buildings, cars, etc… while standing on public property. However, be sure that the owner of the property can not be identified by the picture. Again, if the shot is for editorial purposes you should be fine. If it is for promotional purposes, get a property permission form signed.Cautions:
What do I do with the signed permission forms?
- If the icon on the vehicle is visible you may have copyright issues with the manufacturer.
- Trademarks on buildings are copyrighted and the buildings themselves may belong to another company or individual.
Keep them—forever. It is a good idea to make notes on the back of the form that will remind you as to which form goes to which picture. When you get back to your office print a copy of the picture on plain paper and attach it to the permission form.Where do I find permission forms?
Photo release forms are available online at:
Free Legal Documents http://www.free-legal-document.com/photography-contracts.html
The American Society of Media Photographers http://asmp.org/tutorials/forms.htmland
and other similar sites.
By Robyn Chausse
I've been remiss in posting here the last few weeks. A shortage of both time and focus are to blame, I'm afraid. Last January (2012) God let me know that the focus of my life in 2012 will be my family; the first four months of this year have verified that message for me. Please pray for me as God sends family matters my way, that I will handle them with grace, love and joy.
I have been able to
In 2006 I watched British chef Jamie Oliver's 4-part BBC documentary, "Jamie's School Dinners," in which he interviewed children and found that many didn't know the names of vegetables. As a girl who grew up picking vegetables on her grandparent’s farm, that shocked me. I had to do something.
I’d already been worrying about childhood obesity because of my work as a visiting author in schools; I see about 17,000 school kids each year. I’ve noticed that some audiences are sluggish, having a tough time brainstorming, asking questions, and responding quickly and creatively. It just seems like they’re not feeling good. These audiences also seem to have the highest numbers of kids struggling with obesity, and the worst time to speak with them is soon after a greasy school lunch.
After watching the BBC show, I wondered, how could these kids change their eating habits? How could they find, choose, or prepare healthy foods such as vegetables if the entire vegetable aisle was a foreign country to them?
I knew from my work, and from my previous chant books, that kids can easily learn new words if they are in a chant form. Then, when kids are out in the world and they see a chant word, they connect with it. Perhaps I could do something in this small way.
Rah, Radishes: A Vegetable Chant (Beach Lane Book/S&S, release June 14, 2011) is about having fun with vegetables—and with delicious words, colors, and shapes. I photographed the book at our local South Bend Farmer’s Market over the course of four years. The farmers are so excited about the book. (They know which carrot or celery is theirs!)
Once kids read the book, I hope they'll have vegetable names, colors, and shapes in their heads. Perhaps they'll stop and actually point at a potato, laugh at a rutabaga, try broccoli for the first time.
Of course, this book is just a tiny piece of what needs to be done to help kids have healthier lives. So many people are putting their hearts and hands into the work of providing kids with better food choices. My hope is that folks doing this important work will find the book—and any joy and conversation it sparks—helpful in their efforts.
My phone rang last month and a smokejumper was on the other end. “I’m jumping this week, lots of blazes, but I got your message and I’ll find a way into that safe for you even if we have to crack it open.”
I had been waiting for this call for weeks. It all started with a cold call to a guy named Steve who knew a lot about the history of smokejumping—including the period of time when the paratroopers I am writing about worked for the Forest Service as smokejumpers. This guy was an absolute wealth of information, and he ended up sending me interview transcripts and knowing just whom I should talk to.
One of the guys Steve sent me to was Wayne. Wayne was equally enthusiastic and genuinely excited to talk with me. With Wayne I hit the photographic jackpot—almost. He told me an incredible story that resulted in a big orange carrot dangling in front of my nose.
One day, as he was busy manning the jump station, a man came up to him, handed him a manila envelope, said there were priceless pictures inside the Forest Service should have, and walked away. When Wayne had a chance to look at them, he knew immediately what they were, and stashed them in the safe in his office for, you guessed it, safekeeping.
Time went by and Wayne retired. The photos, he realized when we were talking, must still be in that safe—which no one had opened for years. “Call Dan (his successor) and tell him Wayne said to find the combination to that old safe and get those photos for you.”
Okay—I had a location, information, and a plan. The first time I called Dan he was out on a jump. The second time, too. I left a message that must have sounded crazy, to the effect of ‘you don’t know me, but the guy who worked in your office before you left some photos in a safe and he wants you to get them for me.” I didn’t know if I would ever hear from him.
It took a while, what with Dan being kind of tied up smokejumping into blazing forest fires, but he did call me back. He also promised that he would find the combination of the safe in his office. A week later came the bad news that no one seemed to know where that combination was, and the safe was so old and tough it was looking like it would be a big job to break into it by force. Still, he told me not to worry. He’d get the job done. Firefighters are like that.
Not long after, Dan had more news for me. They still hadn’t located the combination, but he had discovered the photos had been digitally scanned at some point. A CD was on its way to me! Some time after that, a package arrived in the mail. On that CD were a few old images I had seen before, but instead of the old blurry, many-photocopied, hard-to-reproduce versions I kept finding, these were crisp and clear and bright. Better still, there were a few images I had never seen before. Jackpot!
These are the kinds of detective trails that need to be found and followed for just a handful of photographs that will end up in my forthcoming book, Courage Has No Color.
There are many more photo stories where that came from. Sometimes these chases turn out to be of the wild goose variety; sometimes they are sheer gold.
Thank you Steve, Wayne, and Dan!
Welcome to the World by Valerie Wyatt. Photographs by Lennette Newell. 2011. Kids Can Press. 24 pages.Dear Baby,Welcome to the world and all its wonders. You will feel the sun on your skin and be warmed by it. You will see light chase darkness as clouds pass by. You will hear the wind in the trees and feel cool raindrops. You will see flowers in bloom and smell their sweet scent...
If you love looking at lovely photographs of babies, then you may enjoy this little picture book. The photographs are lovely. I could look at photos of babies all day long. There's just something adorable and sweet and precious about it all. The text itself is a 'welcome' message of sorts, introducing babies (supposedly) to the world around them. There is a strong emphasis on nature.
This one is not a board book. It is a 'delicate' book in that its pages could be ripped by young hands. So your audience needs to be young enough so that they are not reaching and grabbing or chewing and sucking. OR old enough that they know how to treat books well--gently.
I don't think the text of this one is 'entertaining' enough for preschoolers to appreciate or enjoy.(Because the text isn't a story so much as it is a sentimental letter.) Though of course that depends on YOUR child. I think the text may appeal more to adults--because it means something more
Text: 2 out of 5
Photographs: 4 out of 5
Total: 6 out of 10
© 2011 Becky Laney of Young Readers
I am currently in the thick of telling a story visually. What do I mean by that? The text of Courage Has No Color is nearly done, and now it is time for me to choose the images that will add additional layers of meaning to that text. It is not at all as simple as choosing photographs to illustrate something I have said. That is what I used to think I was doing when gathering images and writing captions. But I have learned over the years that it is much, much more than that. It is an opportunity to tell MORE of the story. To elaborate, both with an image and with its caption, upon an aspect of the story that did not necessarily belong smack dab in the middle of the text. It can be distracting to the narrative to go off on an interesting-yet-not-crucial point. That is one of the many powerful uses of visual storytelling.
For example, if I wanted to show how television had a powerful impact on how we saw women in society in the 1950s, but didn’t want to veer off my beaten track with a lengthy description, I can (and did, in Almost Astronauts) show this quite effectively using images from Father Knows Best, the Mary Tyler Moore Show, and I Love Lucy. Looking at photographs also stirs ideas in me about what the images do NOT show as well as what they do show. This classic photo may conjure heroic images of America’s fearless astronauts to most people, but what I saw in this photo when collecting images for Almost Astronauts was what was NOT represented. The road not taken. The opportunity missed. The women in my story whose tale needs to be told.
It is the same for my newest book (Courage Has No Color) about the Triple Nickles. I continue to see what is—and sometimes more tellingly what is not—in the hundreds of photos I am looking through. I don’t just look at them; I listen to them. They speak to me. What are the images saying? What pops out at me that needs attention; that needs a voice? What more of the story is lurking in these photos, waiting for me to tease out and add to the overall narrative in the form of images?
This is my job, and I love it so, so much. I believe it is this love that makes my hands stop on one photo rather than another and take a closer look. What will I find? I can’t wait to find out!
In 1995 I wrote my first book The Wind At Work, a history of windmills, and sent it to Chicago Review Press. They liked it, but replied that all their children’s books include activities. Would I be willing to write some? Would I!
Creating activities was fun, relating windmills to science, creative writing, drawing and painting, sewing, cooking, singing, environmental research, and community action. Who knew?
Researching way back then
All this took place back in the Dark Ages, AKA pre–internet.
To research the book I read books and more books, using local and university libraries, interlibrary loans, and used bookstores. I traveled to the Netherlands, the American Midwest, and a wind turbine factory. To find photographs, paintings, etchings, and the like I searched through books. I visited and/or wrote to historical societies, the Library of Congress, tourist sites, and libraries. I received originals and photocopies and then sent purchase and permission letters, all by snail mail. And finally I sent off packages of photographs, slides, drawings, etc. to the publisher, all printed on paper!
I’m stumped. Here I sit pondering which words of wisdom I should expound upon in today’s blog, only I can’t think of any. All traces of wisdom I may have possessed at one time or another have rolled out of my left ear, scrammed outta the conga line, and headed off to the beach.
NOOO!!! It’s already paragraph #2, and still I’m stumped! Should I write about strange-but-true factoids, like the factoid that says manhole covers are round because if they were rectangular or square, they would fall into the manhole? Nah. Then I’d have to think up a lot more strange factoids. Besides, does anybody care about manhole covers? Not really.
Should I write about adding humor to nonfiction books for kids? Nah. I do love the idea of adding humor to my books; everything is so much more memorable when it’s funny. Except that today, I can’t think of a single funny thing to say in a book.
If I make a lot of paragraphs, there will be more spaces in this blog and it will take up a lot of room.
There. I just made another paragraph.
Look, I did it again!! :-) Now I’ll probably get kicked out of the blog! :-( All my faithful readers will accuse me of snorting something strange and my reputation will be toast. Maybe I can just use a lot of exclamation points and take up even more space!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Or I could just find a humongous piece of art and plug it in because it could swallow up entire paragraphs worth of space, like this:
OR IF IT'S NOT TOO OBVIOUS, I CAN JUST USE REALLY BIG TYPE.
Oh. I guess that was a little too obvious.
Maybe I can say that quotes are a good thing to use in your books. That would actually be true, and then I could go look up a bunch of cool quotes. That could take up a whole lot of space too. OK, why not. Here’s a quote from Will Rogers (1879-1935):
“It’s awful hard to get people interested in corruption unless they can get some of it.”
(I added the dates after Will Rogers' name to take up space.)
9 Comments on STUMPED, last added: 3/7/2012
Consider a series of names.
And the few words that rhyme with those fruit.
Or rhyme with some kind of descriptive about fruit.
Now consider which fruit names bounce and bump against each other in a tongue-pleasing way.
Next consider which fruit are in season. In. The. Same. Month.
And can be sourced by someone in a town with no Whole Foods.
Consider which fruit happen to be in season and available in the many weeks a certain person struggling with permutations is off speaking at ALA, a conference, or photographing whales in Canada. (Totally worth it for the whales!)
2 Comments on The Math Behind Poetry, last added: 4/26/2012
Even though I am working on my rewrite like mad, I am taking time out to share my husband's wonderful photography exhibit in Galicia. Our friends, Terri and David Anderson set it up with the mayor of Ferreira, a small town near our village. The sneak preview was this week-end but it's really for the wine festival which begins June 2nd.
They did an awesome job of setting it up, and I hope you will go take a peek at the album I set up on Facebook on my timeline: here is my FB Timeline site. When you go there, just click on "Photos".(It's the first album. You'll recognize the cover picture.)
Sooo. . . , back to work now! See you in a couple of weeks.
32:17 (HCSB) Ah, Lord God! You Yourself made the heavens and earth by Your
great power and with Your outstretched arm. Nothing is too difficult for You!”
If draping the heavens over the earth isn’t too hard for God,
why do I continue to think that providing for me, protecting me, and filling me is?
I'm on my way to The Writer's Plot Conference.
Tuesday I'll post photos, ooohs! and ahhhs!
Meanwhile here's a little food for thought. What do you suggest for the last line of this poem? [Yes, it's a product of my silly imagination.]
He loves to jump and play and bounce
She doesn’t really give an ounce
For lessons to be learned
Each day at school.
He wants to touch
I am fortunate to serve as the poetry coordinator for the CYBILS awards, and in 2009 I was double fortunate because I was also on the nominating panel. This meant I got to read all of the eligible books that were nominated in the poetry category. Among my favorites was a wonderful book by poet Avis Harley, which was "illustrated" with wildlife photographs taken by Deborah Noyes, entitled AFRICAN ACROSTICS: A Word in Edgeways.
In addition to providing spectacular photographs of African wildlife including elephants, hippos, crocodiles, giraffes, zebras, impalas and more, the poems include factual information about the animals, all in the form of acrostic poems - a form known by many teachers and children, and one that usually results in rather simplistic poems. Not so with Harley's work - she takes acrostics to a whole new level of clever.
To write an acrostic, you take a word (or phrase) and write it down the left-hand side of the page, then you start each line with the applicable letter. In the case of the poem entitled "A Croc Acrostic", the acrostic is the name of the profiled animal: "CROCODILE". Harley, however, got creative with other animal. The poem about the rhinoceros is not a 10-line poem based on the animal's name. Rather, it is a 16-line poem based on the acrostic "BEAUTY IN THE BEAST".
Interior spread showing the rhinoceros poem
The book includes fabulous back matter, including an explanation of what an acrostic is and how to write one as well as short, factual paragraphs on each of the species profiled in the book. A must-have for libraries, poetry lovers, and animal lovers - particularly those interested in the wildlife of Africa.
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Craig Robertson is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Northeastern University. His new book, The Passport in America: The History of A Document, examines how “proof of identity” became so crucial in America. Through addressing questions of identification and surveillance, the history of the passport is revealed. In the excerpt below we learn about photographs on passports.
On 21 December 1914, Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan issued an order requiring two unmounted photographs no larger than three inches by three inches to be submitted with passport applications – one attached to the application, the second to be put on the passport. Citizens who had been issued passports without photographs were required to have a photograph added. Photographs were introduced to make the passport a more accurate identification document in a time of war. The use of the passport in the name of national security also brought with it an increased concern to make the document more secure. Less than a month after adding photographs to passports, the State Department acknowledged the need to more effectively ensure that the correct photograph was connected to the correct document. When applications were submitted to local courthouses, clerks were now requested to affix photographs to the application with a seal to avoid subsequent substitution of the photograph prior to the issuance of a passport. In Washington and at embassies around the world, officials stamped their seal of their office over the top left corner of the photograph when they attached it to the passport instead of the initial practice of simply pasting it to the document. In addition to being an attempt to secure the passport, the legend made explicit the purpose of the photograph and the authority the legitimized the identification process. The legend stated: “This is to certify that the photograph attached hereto is a likeness of the person to whom this passport is issued. In witness whereof the seal of the Department of State is impressed upon the photograph.” In 1928, as part of continuing attempts to make the passport a more secure document, the State Department began to use a machine that perforated a legend across the lower part of the photograph after it was attached to a passport. This made it more difficult for someone to cleanly remove the photograph, and it was assumed to be more difficult to replicate than the rubber stamp.
All of this effort was necessary because officials considered the photograph to be an authoritative likeness of a person – hence their concern that a substituted photograph would allow someone to easily claim the citizenship and identity the state had intended for someone else. The concern with fraud led officials to employ the relatively less “accurate” identification technologies of the signature and the physical description to further ensure the photograph on the passport was indeed that of the person the State Department had issued the passport to. Officials reduced the categories in the physical description to height, hair, and eyes, but as noted retained the recently added category for “distinguishing marks.” From 1924 applicants had to sign the back of the passport photograph. According to a State Department publication, this signature “provided a written record to identify the rightful bearer in the passport, reduced the possibility of fraud, and insured that the proper photograph was attached to the application and the passport.”
During the 1920s the State Department also clarified its policy to ensure that all passports carried a photograph of the bearer. In 1921 the secretary of
My post this month is going to be a tad different than usual because I firmly believe that every milestone in this tough business of ours should be celebrated—and that’s exactly what I did last night. Celebrate.
You may think that nonfiction books and a rockin’ party don’t go together—but you would be wrong! Last night was the official launch party for my new book The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie: A Doll’s History and Her Impact on our Culture. And let me tell you, people were In the House to celebrate nonfiction!
The place: Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, Vermont.
The time: 7:30 p.m. on a Wednesday evening.
The crowd: SRO!
Even after a long day of working, shuttling kids to play rehearsals and soccer games, nonfiction aficionados showed up to usher in this newest addition to the Dewey Decimal shelves. There were parents, teachers, librarians, and kids armed with questions (as well as a few Barbie dolls). Who says nonfiction is dead? Phooey!
On hand were Karen Pike--the photographer I hired for the bulk of the interior images--and Peter Harrigan--the theatre professor/Barbie collector who made the photos possible.
The questions from the audience were fabulous. We talked about writing process, how do you know when it’s time to stop your research, and the many, many cultural questions that come up when people start to talk about Barbie.
The question I addressed first seems to be the most frequent and obvious one surrounding the publication of this book. The question posed to me, in its many forms, always comes from this place: “YOU wrote a book about Barbie? Really? Barbie? You?”
Although I actually anticipated and dreaded this questions several months ago, now I really enjoy it. Why? Because the question is at the heart of why any nonfiction writer (any writer, really) chooses to write about a topic—and why they are the right person to tackle it. It opens up all kinds of avenues for thought and discussion.
Yes, I often write what might be called feminist books, or books that have at the heart of them a desire to empower girls. And yes, on the surface, the topic of Barbie seems at odds with that. But that’s what’s so fantastic about immersing yourself in a topic of nonfiction, looking at the back story, discovering the who, what, why, where, and when of a topic, looking at it from all sides and ultimately synthesizing an understanding of it.
I won’t give away what my conclusions are, lest I be accused of treading into Spoiler territory. But I will tell you that every time I answer the question of “Why, why, why, would YOU of all people choose to write about Barbie?” I am rewarded with the facial changes, head nodding, and verbal feedback that indicate I have made a connection with my audience. I have expressed myself. I have initiated a thought process out in the world that leads to discussion.
This is why I write nonfiction. And THAT is definitely something to celebrate.
So come on Barbie, let’s go party!
One thing that many folks don’t know about me— unless they’ve seen one of my keynotes— is that I am a photographer. I’ve been taking photos since I was 11. Decades of travel have given me a library of 60,000 wildlife and landscape photos from Madagascar to Michigan. But until recently, they only appeared as small spot photos in my book. Words are a passion and I’ve been working professionally mostly in that realm; it wasn’t until scanners and iphoto became available that I could efficiently organize my photo content.
Still, even though I’m now doing several books illustrated entirely with my photos, I’m not sure I’d say I’m a master photographer. I’d say I can get 98% on a photo. Solid focus, composition, inspired subject, and sometimes fortunate timing. But then, there’s that 2%. Ah, that last 2%. That’s what takes time–gobs of time. Most of a photographer’s time.
What does that extra 2% look like? Take a peek at the kingfisher diving photos/article by Andy Rouse. Click on the photos to see larger versions of his exquisite work. The dripping bird clutching the fish. The water droplets. The water entry. Ahhhh. You are there.
That last 2% is what makes a master photographer. That extra boost of quality is what takes the most skill and preparation and dedication. It’s the days/weeks/months spent in those waders, setting up blinds, studying behavior to catch just the right moment. Those photos are nonfiction dreams. They are beauty. I think lots of us, with our fancy digital cameras, great lenses can do such consistent good work that we’ve forgotten what GREAT work is in the photo world.
Sometimes I pause to look at the Outdoor Photographer’s Network (http://www.naturephotographers.net/) just to appreciate what photo artisans on this level can do. The group includes passionate amateurs and professionals; some of the photos are glorious.
What does it take to get that extra 2% in the world of photography? Andy Rouse describes the work he did just to set up and photograph kingfishers on the nest in this article.
[Before taking on this subject, I’d like to thank Barbara Kerley. Her September 9 blog, “An Old Dog, A New Trick,” was the push I needed to go to the bright side, to go Mac.]
I recently participated at a media specialist conference in Florida, where I heard a number of interesting presentations by our fiction writing colleagues. Gayle Forman when she writes she hears the voices of her characters. We nonfiction authors do that, too, of course, but there’s an additional step. First, we must search out real characters, alive or dead, and then find ways to integrate them into our heads. At least that’s my process. Nonfiction writers’ search for characters is indeed a long, twisty road.
This subject led me to the master of all character searches, Luigi Pirandello, who I assume reads INK somewhere in the Italian grand beyond.
I ask him: Caro Senore Pirandello. Per favore. Your Six Characters in Search of an Author is great theater, but how about some help for us nonfiction writers? After all, we share much in common. Just as your characters take control of your play, people represented in nonfiction literature usually take control of the books right from the start. Primary sources are our bread and butter. For this writer, my primary sources, my people, ARE the book.
The way I work is somewhat logical and somewhat not. Before I meet anyone, I need to understand my subject – just enough to be able to ask decent questions – but not so much as to enable preconceived ideas to drive the book. That’s the characters’ domain. Meanwhile the networking in search of said characters begins.
To network, timidity has no place in the lexicon of nonfiction. We must be tough, just like your pushy six characters, Senore. I’ll call anyone I know who might know someone who might know someone. Emails go out to suggested organizations, and to the friends of friends of friends. Fingers crossed, I await the responses. In the best of all worlds, doors fly open, private intimate materials are gingerly handed over, and the most fascinating, introspective, articulate people whoever walked the planet start talking. Oh-oh, now I’m verging into fiction. Truth-be-told, this doesn’t happen quite so quickly, but hey, this is a blog, and our readers are busy people.
While the hopefully discovered most fascinating person talks, I tape, listen, and watch. Does she lean to the left? To the right? Does his upper lip curl when revealing an inner truth? Is she a blinker? When does he laugh nervously? Also: Am I pushing too hard? Not enough? Asking the right follow ups? This is a balancing act whose high wire is based on trust. It’s extraordinarily exhilarating – when it works.
Up to this point, the interviewees are people, not characters who will take over the book. To become characters, they have to go through me. First, all the tapes, every last word, need to be personally transcribed. While pushing rewind, again and again, their voices slowly begin to creep into my being. Suddenly, their speech patterns become my speech patterns, their body language and movement slowly becomes mine. They attach themselves to my bones and seep into my blood. I literally need to know how it feels to be ze [him or her]. I know, I know, this is more than a little weird, but the creative process is usually weird. [Just watch the anomalous routines baseball players go through at bat.]
It isn’t every day that a TV award show inspires a whole new direction in one’s artistic life, but a few years ago, that’s what happened to me. I was watching the Independent Spirit Awards, that hip and laid-back paean to independent cinema celebrated annually the evening before the Oscars. During the program, several up-and-coming filmmakers won grants to finish their work and one of them, a woman, invited “anybody out there who has something to say” to embrace the medium of film to say it. Her words didn’t exactly send a lightning bolt to my brain, but a small, possibly 60-watt bulb did switch on. I’d always used photographs to tell the stories in my books, but should I explore using video?
Since I’d never even used a video or movie camera at that point, my first step was to determine how serious I was about this new outlet. After due consideration, I decided to buy a video camera, with some advice from people in the know. I choose a Canon that uses tapes, rather than one that stores everything on an internal hard drive, because it somehow felt better to have evidence of my movie shoots that I could hold in my hand and store as backup. With memories of my dad’s 8-millimeter camera from the 1950s in my head, I was astonished at the exquisite technology that’s now available to anyone with a few bucks. Skill, however, is another story.
I got my feet wet by shooting footage of a friend’s birthday party at a bowling alley, then did some video oral histories with my dad and the father of another friend. Concurrently, I started taking One-to-One lessons at the Apple store, learning how to use iMovie software to edit the footage I shot. Making movies in this way is hugely empowering—something that millions have discovered before me, as evidenced by the fact that people upload hundreds of thousands of videos onto YouTube daily, according to the site’s Fact Sheet. Well, better late than never.
As much as I enjoy the act of capturing movement and sound, I have a constant internal dialogue going on about whether to use my still or video camera. Sometimes video is an obvious choice. Still pictures of my once-in-a-lifetime attempt at karaoke in 2009 would not have the same entertainment value as the video footage that my friend and I shot. (Though those who watched the video might have appreciated the silence of a dramatic photograph of me at the mike.) But I like the ability of a still photo to communicate both information and mystery at the same time. When I look at a photograph, I wonder what happened j
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The Sun Will Return
(c) by Mary Nida Smith
WIND OF CHANGE
©By Mary Nida Smith
I live the life
of constant motion
like the wind
one emotional direction.
to the directional
mood of the wind.
I stay calm
who created me
to blow me calmly
in the right direction.
I stay happy
For I will move
when the wind
I have never been