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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Rosalyn Schanzer, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 46
1. GOING AWAY PRESENT

Hello and goodbye everybody—
Thanks for tuning in all this time. As part of my 70th and final post for I.N.K., I thought you might like to visit a few great folks who made a bow on these pages at one time or another.  And as an extra added bonus, a wondrous going away gift awaits you at the bottom of the page.  It should take you straight to the most high-tech source of nonfiction on Planet Earth, and I promise you'll like it.  So let’s begin with……

100% TRUE FACTOIDS FROM RANDOM BLOG POSTS:

Before he was saved by a bald 10 or 12 year old Indian girl named Pocahontas, Captain John Smith had already won a Turkish fortress by stuffing a bunch of explosives into metal pots and catapulting them into the Turks’ camp while they slept. He was also great at making fireworks, but that didn't keep him from being captured and enslaved by Turks or being kidnapped by pirates.

When the California Gold Rush was in full swing, a single piece of paper cost $150 but you could get 12 shirts washed and ironed at the Chinese Laundry for $3. One time a chicken gizzard panned out at $12.80.

Here's what a couple of guys said on board the sailing ships headed for the gold fields:
“The water is becoming bad. I don’t mind it much. I have a way of killing the bugs before drinking them.” Anonymous

The journey by land wasn't much better: “Hail exceeded anything I ever saw, being as large as pigeon eggs. There may be fun in camping, but we haven’t discovered any.” Elisha Douglass Perkins

During the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Meriwether Lewis wrote that: "the musquetoes continue to infest us in such manner that we can scarcely exist; for my own part I am confined to my bier at least 3/4ths of my time. my dog even howls with the torture and we frequently get them in our thr[o]ats as we breath."

Lewis also included a couple of fashion statements showing how the Chinook Indians flattened their infants' heads so much that they measured only 2 inches from front to back and were even thinner at the top. (Head flattening didn't lower the babies' IQ’s one bit....but don't try this at home.) Their moms wanted to look good too. They made their legs fashionably fat by tying cords so tightly around their ankles that the circulation was cut off and their legs swelled right up.

When the American Revolution was heating up, Patrick Henry famously said:
“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God!—I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

Whereupon Samuel Johnson, the greatest English writer of his day, made this response:
How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty from the drivers of Negroes?”

Thomas Jeffersonsecretly hired a Scottish scandal monger named James Callender to write scurrilous tales about John Adams, so Callender obligingly called Adams a repulsive, hideous, mentally deranged hermaphrodite who wanted to crown himself king.  (Later Callender got so mad at Jefferson that he printed the story of Jefferson’s affair with his slave, Sally Hemings.) 
This time our target audience chimes in….

REAL LIVE KIDS WHO ARE AUTHORS:

In one blog, I mentioned showing a bunch of fourth graders some fun ways to do interviews and write the stories they uncovered. The big idea was to tell how their own families came to America, whether they got here last Wednesday or 300 years ago. All of their stories were wonderful, but here are some excerpts from two funny ones:

“During the first year of medical school, my mom had to dissect a human body.  It was a smelly task and after they were done for the day, they would be smelly too.  Something that she thought was pretty funny was the comments that people would say and the funny faces they would make when they would smell the anatomy students.”

“dad was such a dare devil that he went car surfing with his friends. His friend tried to throw him off!, but my dad was good at staying on.  He only fell off a couple of times! ...my dad thinks cliff jumping is the most fun stunt because he loves the rush of falling through the air!”  (the author included lots more stunts his dad’s mom didn’t know about plus a photo of Christopher Reeve as Superman.)

SOME FAN MAIL REAL LIVE KIDS SENT AFTER SCHOOL VISITS:

I had a good time.  I liked your book.  Thank you for comeing.  I was not here that day I whish I was.

We really like reading your books they are geater then all of the books I’ve readed  Because it is most funny. But it is not geater then pokemon but I still like it

The ting I liked best about your books are the pictures.  I was wondering how do you paint your pictures without going out of the lines.

Thank you for letting us talk with you!  Even though I cannot pronounce your name.

I love your books.  I wish I had all of them. Truth is I do nat have any.

I wanted to order one of your books but my dad wouldn’t let me.  Por me I really wanted one.

When I grow up I might make books or be a vet I’m not sure about that yet.

If I were an author I would write about a little girl that was an orfin.  I think that idea I gave you was a good idea.  Write me back if yo use my idea. 

Well, I promise to write you back one way or another, so keep in touch.  But for now, that’s all, folks.  Many thanks to Linda Salzman for putting this blog together, and to all the rest of our amazing authors and readers as well. I've enjoyed meeting you enormously.   And now, HERE'S YOUR PRESENT (just skip the ad).www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhcPX1wVp38 (or if any of those don't work, try this:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhcPX1wVp38

Adios muchachos-

Roz 

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2. VERY SAME TOPICS, VERY DIFFERENT BOOKS Rosalyn Schanzer


It's pretty impressive to see how many different ways nonfiction authors can present the very same subject matter or the very same people in their books. To get the gist, today I thought it might be fun to compare some examples of books on the same topic--mostly (but not entirely) by our own INK authors and illustrators. I'll be brief, I promise.  


So how about starting with our foremost founding father, George Washington himself. Each of these 3 authors has come up with entirely different hooks to pique your interest, so a young audience could get a pretty well-rounded view of our guy by checking out these true tales.



First up is The Crossing: How George Washington Saved the American Revolution by Jim Murphy.  His hook is to focus on Washington's growth as a leader, obviously leading up to the famous crossing of the Delaware on Christmas in 1776. He's used some very interesting artwork from the period to enhance the tale.

Next comes an entirely different take on George from Marfe Ferguson Delano. Her book, Master George's People, tells the story of George's slaves at Mount Vernon, and she has collaborated with a photographer who shot pictures of reenactors on the scene. 


And this one is  (ahem) my version. George vs. George: The American Revolution as Seen from Both Sides shows how there are two sides to every story.  I got to meet George Washington and King George III and paint their pictures myself.
OK, on to the second set.  In one way or another, the next 3 books are all based upon Charles Darwin and his Theory of Evolution. Let's start with Steve Jenkins' handsome book Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution.  With a nod to Darwin, Steve has created a series of stunning collages along with fairly minimal text in order to focus on the history of all the plants and animals on the planet. 
And here's yet another nod to Deb Heiligman for her celebrated true tale of romance between two folks with opposite views of the world. Despite Emma's firm belief in the Bible's version of life on earth, she and Charles enjoy a warm and loving marriage.
Mine again. What Darwin Saw: The Journey that Changed the World, tells about Darwin's great adventures as a young guy while traveling around the world. We're on board In this colorful graphic novel as he picks up the clues that lead to his Theory of Evolution and then does the experiments that prove it.
And here's series number 3.  Apparently these authors and illustrators were hard at work at the very same time on three very different picture books about the very same person; her name is Wangari Maathai, and she won the Nobel Peace Prize for bringing Kenya's trees back to life after most of them had disappeared. 

The artwork in all three books is outstanding, and each version is truly unique. The writing styles vary enormously too. I strongly recommend that you look at them side by side to prove that there's more than one way to skin a cat.  

Planting the Trees of Kenya was written and illustrated by Claire A. Nivola.


Wangari's Trees of Peace was written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter. 
And Mama Miti was written by Donna Jo Napoli and illustrated by Kadir Nelson.  
I'd bet anything that these folks didn't know they were creating books about the same person until all 3 versions were finally published....writing and illustrating books is a solo occupation if there ever was one. 

OK, that's it--though we could easily go on and on.  Here's hoping that if any kids examine a whole series of books on the same topic written and illustrated in such different ways, they can come up with some unique new versions of their own....and have some fun at the same time. 

0 Comments on VERY SAME TOPICS, VERY DIFFERENT BOOKS Rosalyn Schanzer as of 3/25/2014 1:49:00 AM
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3. THE COOLEST RESEARCH IN THE WORLD



“They have circular houses made of wood and covered with felt, which they carry about with them…wherever they go.  For the framework of rods is so neatly and carefully constructed that it is light to carry.  And every time they unfold their house and set it up, the door is always facing south…They live on meat and milk and game and on Pharaoh’s rats, which are abundant everywhere on the steppes.  You should know that they drink mare’s milk; but they subject it to a process that makes it like white wine and very good to drink and they call it koumiss.  They rely mainly on their bows, for they are excellent archers.  They are stout fighters, excelling in courage and hardihood.  Their horses, meanwhile, support themselves by grazing, so that there is no need to carry barley or straw.”  Marco Polo

This is a ger, the same kind of circular house Marco Polo describes above
          
This is the door facing south.  (Click each photo to enlarge)

To me, one of the best parts about writing nonfiction is the travel. I’ll go just about anywhere to dig up research for true stories from history, and this summer, I got lucky and discovered a goldmine. 

How cool would it be to physically fly back in time for hundreds or even thousands of years? If you could journey through some ancient, distant land, what would its crystal clear lakes and road-less mountain passes and sinuous sand dunes and unpolluted star-filled night skies look like? And better yet, what if you could meet people who were living in much the same way they have lived for uncountable generations?  


Minus watching costumed actors in a movie or conjuring up a fictional time machine, is it possible to visit such places in real time?  It is.  With a few caveats (off-road vehicles and small planes, for example), that’s exactly what I did this summer during an expedition to photograph vanishing cultures in Mongolia.  


The magnificent country of Mongolia is sandwiched between Russia to the north and China to the south, and it is enormous—larger even than India, which is packed to the gills with over a billion people. Yet outside of Mongolia’s booming capital city of Ulaanbaatar (where over one out of every three citizens lives in the midst of ancient monasteries, ultramodern glass skyscrapers, heavy traffic, and unremarkable Soviet-style concrete buildings) lies this surprise:  An endless sweeping landscape almost devoid of human beings.  


A young monk in a monastery in  Mongolia's capital city of Ulaanbaatar

A performer from the Mongolian Opera in Ulaanbaatar
Mongolia’s entire total population is barely over 3 million people, and its population density is a mere 4.7 people per square mile, by far the lowest in the world except for the tiny Falkland Islands.  This means that you can fly across the steppes or over the Altai Mountains or the Gobi Desert for hours at a time without seeing one single hint of civilization.                                                     
See what I mean?
                                             

Scattered throughout this land are a nomadic people whose babies learn to ride horses bareback before they can even walk, and whose families live in portable gers built exactly the same way as the ones Marco Polo described in the 13th century.  It’s so cold during the winter that temperatures regularly plummet to 50 degrees below zero and the families have to migrate to somewhat warmer territory along with their herds of horses and goats and cattle, often battling with wolves that attack the livestock along the way. 

So for fun during the brief balmy summertime, they don brightly colored silk robes or barely-there fighting gear or ornate boots with turned-up toes or elegant hats from ages past to celebrate at festivals in which muscular men with enormous thighs wrestle, small children between the ages of 5 and 11 race horses 12 miles across the steppes at breakneck speed, archers of all ages hold archery contests, and men somehow gallop bareback to scoop long poles or small rocks off of the ground without ever falling off their steeds. Their intricate ancient music and dance, often haunting and even more often high-spirited, spans the centuries. Elsewhere, Animist shamans go into trances before a smoky fire and beat their drums. 

Winning wrestlers are crowned at a festival

Young riders race across the steppe
Yet despite the ancient ways of life that still persist, this is not at all an intellectually backward nation. Mongolia's national literacy rate is 97%, perhaps the highest in the world and certainly higher than our own.  For many Mongolians, this is their life of choice.

A camel caravan in the Gobi Desert sand dunes
   
An archer shoots a typical Mongolian bow.  Everyone is deadly accurate from years of practice
The scenery in Mongolia looks like it came straight out of an air-brushed fantasy travel catalog that has been cut and pasted to hide all the buildings and traffic (only these perfectly uncluttered views are for real). There are mountainsides covered waist deep with wildflowers and overlooking gigantic icy blue lakes.  There are camel caravans crossing sculpted dunes or canyon lands, and when you hike, you might smell the scent of herbs crushed beneath your feet or get a pungent whiff of onions from the crunchy onion grass in the Gobi Desert. And the sky. You can see the weather for miles and miles around.

Welcome back to INK, everybody.  Now to write the book.  Stay tuned…

Sundown looks just like this every day

7 Comments on THE COOLEST RESEARCH IN THE WORLD, last added: 9/6/2012
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4. A GAZILLION LETTERS



Last night I noticed that the big long wooden shelf above my desk was about to collapse. That’s when I realized that about a third of it was jam packed with fat manila envelopes full of letters from kids, mostly written after I spoke at their schools. So before disaster could strike, I took them all down and started to read. 

Lots of these letters are illustrated to the hilt (plenty of future competition since I’m an illustrator too).  One class actually re-drew every single page in one of my books using their own interpretations. It must have taken forever. A fourth grade girl sent me a glamorous message with every single letter written in a different color, including silver.  Several kids have sent me entire stories of their own, and others send long and eloquent and effusive and flattering letters that are good for the ego.  I'm positive their teachers told them to be nice, but hey. The letters can also be short and punchy—I especially love the ones written in kindergarten and first grade.   But all of them make me smile...or laugh out loud.  Check it out. Here are some very brief excerpts.

Surprises


I had a good time.  I liked your book.  Thank you for comeing.  I was not here that day I whish I was.

[written back in 2004] We really like reading your books they are geater then all of the books I’ve readed Because it is most funny. But it is not geater then pokemon but I still like it. 

The ting I liked best about your books are the pictures.  I was wondering how do you paint your pictures without going out of the lines.

Thank you for letting us talk with you!  Even though I cannot pronounce your name.

I love your books.  I wish I had all of them. Truth is I do nat have any.

I wanted to order one of your books but my dad wouldn’t let me.  Por me I really wanted one.

Flattery will get you everywhere


What I liked about the author was she had instyle clothes.

You are asame!!!!! I love Divie cakit [Davy Crockett] I love tall talls. Its fun when you put [on] the scoon scin cap.

I loved your presentation on Louis & Clark!  I learned that William was a horible speller!  He spelled water melon water million!

WADA BING! One day I will be just like You!  But I will also be an Athleat!

I hope you visi Churchill Road a 100 times.

Thes wuz fune I likt It.

Der Ms. Schanzer, I rilly liked yor pichers! And wold Like to see more of yor books I wold like to talk to you on the phone with you.

From shows with costumes and sound effects


I love that song we singed. I had so much fun.…I also want to thank you for letting us be very very lowd.  My favorite part was when everyone was yelling.  Everyone was giggling!

You are a great arthr artis witier and cowwoman.  I really liked when Isha, Lochar, and Jack said “Yeehaw!”  I also liked when Amy, Nick, and Sarah said “Mooo.” 

When I showed my mom the mustache she laughed.

My favorite part was when you talked Tennessee. Did you know blue is one of my favorite colors. I think you did wonderful.  I think your pictures look great. When is your birthday?  My birthday is December third.
 
My favorite part was when you talked like a girl from Tennesse.  The mustaches were very very funny easpeacialy the yellow one.

Insights and ideas


At school our class has written children’s books. That was when I realized how hard it really is to write a book. [From one of the long eloquent letters]

When I grow up I might make books or be a vet I’m not sure about that yet.

If I were an author I would write about a little girl that was an orfin.  I think that idea I gave you was a good idea.  Write me back if yo use my idea.

The best part I liked was when the dog was siked about being eaten alive and his eyes bugged out.

Questions


Do you have a jet and a manshin?

Do you like pizza?  Do you have a son?  I have a little brother. Do you have a dog?  I like pizza.

doesn’t your hand get tired once you write a lot?

What do you do at your house.  My favorite to do is play on the piano and play babies. 

How much years have you been an Artist and the writer.  My first book was called My friends.  My other book was called MD v.s Duke

I was wondering how she got the [Lewis and Clark] journals? And when she got them was it hard to read them because of Louis and clark’s bad spelling?

Your books are the best books in the world. Are you going to come again?  We still remember every word you said. Why did you come up with history instead of non.fichion?

I liked your work because it was realistic and I want to be a part time artist.  Where did you start painting and why do you like painting?  Did it come in your harritage?

Final word


Well time is almost out.  I Just want to say thank yo so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so much!!

And thank YOU so much too, letter writers!

2 Comments on A GAZILLION LETTERS, last added: 10/2/2012
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5. MAKING HISTORY BOOKS THAT SHINE



I write a lot of books about history because history’s cup runneth over with the best stories of all time.  So with an ocean of great tales to choose from, picking something fabulous and delicious and unusual should be as easy as pie, right?  Well, guess what.  It ain’t.  Why not?  Some Restrictions Apply.


Restriction # 1:


Since publishers want to make a buck, they strongly encourage children’s nonfiction authors to write about famous heroes and events from American history, especially when these topics are covered in the school curriculum.  That’s because the vast majority of nonfiction books for kids are sold to schools. The heroes and events in history books have already been covered a gazillion times, but (in my experience, at least) whenever we authors suggest new topics that are off the beaten path, our publishers Just Say No and we have to file for unemployment.


Possible solution that keeps us in business and (we hope) keeps us from selling our souls at the same time: 


Uncover something entirely new about the same old same old.  Do we have to focus only upon heroes and heroines?  Who says that all stories from history have to be uplifting?  They are not.  So sometimes I cover a period in history by sidetracking the good guys and writing about the bad guys instead.  (Surprise—kids actually love that.)  Sometimes I focus on just one small part of a famous person’s story, especially if it has been overlookedSometimes--lots of times, actually--I use humor.  Sometimes I tell both sides of a story. And sometimes I tell the entire story via my artwork or use the art to set a mood in ways that words alone can never do.



Restriction # 2:  

 

In nonfiction, you can never EVER embellish the truth or make anything up, so every single detail in every single book has to be accurate and every single word your protagonists utter has to come straight from the horse’s mouth.  Them’s the rules, period.  The problem is that this is a hard row to hoe. It can take months or even years to ferret out the accurate material. 


Possible Solution that speeds up all that research and helps us retain our sanity:


Guess what.  There isno solution.  I have written books of fiction in two weeks or less, and they have sold as many or more copies than my nonfiction books.  You just have to love being the detective who ferrets out the juicy details nobody else has found.  You just have to get a kick out of traveling around the world to find new material.  You just have to be the spy who gets a kick out of reading dead people’s private letters and diaries. You just have to be a glutton for punishment.  I highly recommend it.

5 Comments on MAKING HISTORY BOOKS THAT SHINE, last added: 2/12/2013
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6. ALERT THE MEDIA – YOU ARE ABOUT TO BECOME A FAMOUS AUTHOR AND ILLUSTRATOR



 Hey teachers!  Kids too!  Are you writing any nonfiction stories in class these days?  Lots of schools are trying out this approach to writing in general, and they’re studying the different ways good nonfiction books are written in particular, especially in light of the CCSS.  So what different kinds of writing might work nonfiction-wise?  There are plenty.

 

Try doing live interviews or writing a journal, for example—they both count as nonfiction. A few ideas:

Maybe your class can interview various folks who were on the scene during a great or terrible historic event, such as the Summer Olympics or even 911. Or try interviewing somebody who has an unusual job; maybe the old Santa Claus at the mall  or a fireman (naturally) or your mayor or a local musician or a TV personality or your own bus driver. 

And maybe you can pen some truly amazing journals during a field trip to a museum or a festival or an historic site. (Of course if you aren’t going on any field trips, you can always write some pretty entertaining journal entries about the food in your cafeteria.)

Or take a stab at uncovering the true story of how your own family came to America. Whether they got here last Wednesday or 300 years ago, doing the research is a hoot…and be sure to ask your parents or grandparents. You'd be surprised what they know and what you don't.

Or you can write research papers about things you’re learning in class—some examples might include compiling all sorts of comments about the frogs (living or dead) in your science lab, or researching and writing about a disterous Civil War battle for your history class, or making like a professional critic who’s writing book reviews for your English class, or examining the statistical issues behind today’s economic crisis in your math classes without putting anyone to sleep.  Now there's a challenge for you.
 
IT IS OK TO HAVE FUN WHILE YOU DO THIS…YOU DON’T NECESSARILY HAVE TO GET ALL SERIOUS (UNLESS YOU WANT TO.)

Yup, your writing has to shine; that’s a given.  But here’s an outstanding tool that lets you spice up everything you write, gets people interested in your stories and papers, helps you learn faster, makes sure readers remember your most complex material in a flash, and entertains your own self at the same time:
 
JUST STIR IN ALL KINDS OF PICTURES AS YOU GO ALONG.

Really?  Most definitely!  After all, just think about it.  Whenever you go online or watch movies or TV or play video games or look inside certain books, they’re all about the pictures.  Lots of you are probably taking pictures yourself today by using a cell phone, or you’re adding pictures to online sites like Facebook.  So while you’re busy writing papers and journals and stories at school, why not think the way you do in the real world…whenever you write, stir plenty of artwork and photos and other visuals of your own into the mix.

Here are a few tiny examples of the gazillion ways to add pictures to your writing:

TAKE THE JOURNALS, FOR EXAMPLE:
 
When you bring your journal along on a school field trip – or even on a regular day – be sure to bring some colored markers or colored pencils or just regular lead pencils. Then draw the coolest things you see.  Try to show the real world and still use your artistic imagination at the same time.  Put pictures next to the words you just wrote or use pictures to make a rebus or spread pictures into the margins or make them into cartoons or make them extremely realistic.  Let some of the pictures fill a whole page or two or three of their own.  They can most certainly be funny. They can most certainly be serious  or scientific. Doodling is just fine.  Cartoons are just fine.  Beautiful pictures are, well, beautiful and wonderful.  And of course you can draw all kinds of fancy lettering in your topic headings along the way. 
 
Trust me, people will want to see what you wrote if it’s illustrated.  When explores like Lewis and Clark or scientists like Charles Darwin wrote journals, they did these exact kinds of things. Their writing was incredibly fun to read and was informative to the max at the same time.  Yours should be too.
 
Another idea is to take photos during the day, print them out, and tape them in later.  Or collect small stuff you find and glue that in too—for example, add brochures or cut them up and tape some of the picture into your journal. Or add small parts of the plants you see on a farm visit. Or leaves you pick up on a hike during the fall.

AND HOW ABOUT ART FOR YOUR INTERVIEWS?
 
One idea is to draw the person you are interviewing yourself! Or take your own photos of them doing something verrry cool and then paste or tape them into your written work. Or if they have any pictures taken when they were kids, make photocopies and add them to the mix. Even if you write your interview (or any other stuff) online, you can scan in your pictures and imbed them. 

GEOGRAPHY CAN BE MEMORABLE IN SPADES:
 
Make colorful illuminated maps of the places you’re studying and add them into the mix.  To see exactly how this works, go here and check out the pictures
 
MORE TIPS:

Think of cool and colorful pictures you can add to your charts and graphs:
 
If they look great, they can offer readers a fast and entertaining way to learn a lot of boring stats in a single glance.

Try putting the quotes inside of talk balloons that point at a picture of the person who's being quoted.  Maybe this person is a new cartoon character of your own creation (kind of like the one Jeff Kinney made up for his Wimpy Kid), or maybe you can research what the people you quoted really looked like and what they really wore, and then draw them accurately.

FAMOUS LAST WORDS:
  

YIKES! Art is in danger of disappearing from our schools, and that would be a DISASTER.  Help bring it back by adding artwork to your written work in school.  

Paint pictures on wood! 

Rough canvas! 

Pebble board!  

Write words on all kinds of unusual paper.  

Try playing around with paint, scraps of cloth, cut paper, or scratch board, and then add them to your written work.  

Experiment with your photographs.   

Make collages using buttons, flowers, seeds, or leaves picked up off the ground....if your essay or journal is lumpy, so what? Your writing will end up being a keeper, and you will learn to think, be creative, do research, and remember what you wrote about for a very long time.

4 Comments on ALERT THE MEDIA – YOU ARE ABOUT TO BECOME A FAMOUS AUTHOR AND ILLUSTRATOR, last added: 3/5/2013
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7. Peaks and Valleys

A couple of weeks ago I was in a waterfront hotel in Vancouver BC where I received a Lifetime Achievement Award from AAAS/Subaru Science Books & Films. It was certainly a validation, a crowning moment, (here’s the video) but awards are a funny thing. If one is truly engaged in life, it’s the struggles that are the focus. So right now I’m thinking about what happened this past weekend.

We are midway through the school year and about half of the authors participating in iNK’s pilot project, where we are collaborating with both teachers and students of Bogert Elementary School, have completed their missions. Roz Schanzer worked with two fourth grade classes. They had to learn about New Jersey’s government, a somewhat dry subject. But under Roz’s direction they produced an amazing book called The Golden Government. You can read a rave review of the project from teacher Heather Santoro
here. Dorothy Patent worked with two fifth grade teachers. Read what Chris Kostenko said about that experience here. I worked with Carla Christiana and Alicia Palmeri on the solar system and we’re about halfway through the unit. I’ve written an article about our experience that will be the lead feature in the April edition of Science Books & Films but you can see the effect on student learning in this video where the kids are exclaiming over the NASA website. What we’re doing is groundbreaking because of its scale, its intimacy, and the effective timing of the conferences so that we are truly transforming the learning of the children. That’s where the rubber meets the road in education. It’s far more effective than a school visit, which generates enormous interest and excitement, very little of which is channeled into the work kids do in the classroom every day.

I may be a little impatient, but I want people to realize that using children’s nonfiction authors and their books as a resource for education produces powerful results. So whenever possible I’ve been submitting proposals to conferences to present our work. The conferences are NOT library conferences. (Librarians have their own problems trying to get classroom teachers to use nonfiction.) I’ve been sending in proposals to conferences for teachers of technology. I figure that many schools have videoconferencing equipment sitting around, gathering dust and the techies in charge of the equipment are looking for reasons to use it. It stands to reason that they’d like to find something that their classroom teacher colleagues will appreciate. Maybe this is a kind of oblique approach to marketing but hey, I have an experimental nature. I have no illusions that my reputation as an author is meaningful to technology teachers. Basically, I’m starting over, a humbling experience. So finally, after being rejected twice by the BIG conferences ISTE (international Society for Technology in Education) and NYSCATE (New York State Association for Computers and Technology in Education) I was finally accepted, for this past weekend at a little regional NYSCATE conference in Wappingers Falls, NY (about an hour from my home.)

Wow! This was exciting news. So I lined up Bogert’s media specialist, Heidi Kabot, and Dorothy’s two teachers, and Roz and Dorothy, to hang around their computers on a Saturday afternoon, so I co

5 Comments on Peaks and Valleys, last added: 3/8/2012
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8. THE LAW OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: PART 4


My fellow Americans, I wrote about this terrible law three times already, and sure enough, it’s time for number four. Laugh or cry, every one of these posts told about well-intended folks who made American education worse by trying to make it better.

To recap, Part One featured twisted tales and outright lies we told kids to make them honest. Part Two explained how 70’s textbook tales aimed to foster racial and gender equality by turning everyone into model citizens—everyone, that is, except for white males. Part 3 said that when American students were ranked 22nd and 27th in the world in science and math, educators started testing kids like mad and drumming rote facts into their heads in an effort to play catch up. The Unintended Consequence? A nation of bored kids poised to lose their creativity and joy of learning in the process.

So ladies and gentlemen, what new Unintended Consequences have reared their heads this time around? May I present The Technology-will-Save-Us Kitchen Sink Solution. It says that students can use high tech gadgets to find out everything they’ll ever need to know, and here’s how it works:

The vibe is that traditional textbooks are a thing of the past. Despite some publishers’ best efforts, a lot of textbooks are bland, boring, and full of errors, and they promote politically correct agendas that obscure vital but inconvenient truths. Besides that, they’re expensive, they weigh a ton, and they take up way too much space in kid’s lockers.

So what’s the educational wave of the future? Meet South Korea, which boasts the fastest internet speed in the world (the US is ranked 13th). Five years ago, the South Koreans decided they wanted to become the world’s leaders in education, so they swapped their traditional textbooks for digital devices that incorporated all kinds of bells and whistles; high definition videos, embedded assessments, plenty of interactive features, links to a multitude of online sources, and more.

Well now we’re gearing up to do the same thing big-time in the United States. In fact, Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants schools to put digital textbooks into every classroom within the next five years. Apple recently unveiled its interactive digital textbooks for high school math and science, and Discovery Education is featuring cloud-based digital textbooks for K-12 science and middle school social studies.

You can see the advantages right off the bat: Digital textbooks are cheaper than paper ones; kids won’t have to break their backs carrying around a load of books (though maybe they could use the exercise); and you can find loads of material wherever there’s an internet connection.

But what’s the Unintended Consequence? Let’s take a look at what has happened in South Korea during their grand experiment. The surprise is that they have decided to reverse course because the kids are so hooked on all the gadgets that they’re often way too distracted to concentrate on a given subject. And what’s worse, it’s often hard to figure out what’s true and what’s not when you search for material online.

According to a March 25 article in The Washington Post, “At Seoul’s Guil Elementary School, where fifth- and sixth-graders participate in the trial…students toggle between their digital textbook and the Internet, which they use like an encyclopedia for fact-checking and research… On this particular day, students are learning about pinho

4 Comments on THE LAW OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: PART 4, last added: 4/3/2012
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9. Nonfiction Monday: Witches!

Witches: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem Rosalyn Schanzer

GUYS! How did this NOT get nominated for the Cybils?! It was a Sibert Honor and totally deserving. It should have been a Cybils book. As a community (myself included) we totally dropped the ball on this one. It wasn't even nominated. WTF?!

Schanzer writes a fascinating account of the Salem witch trials and does an excellent job of putting the frenzy and fear into context. It's gripping and terrifying. Schanzer managers a real sense of immediacy that really makes you feel the fear going through this town. Here's what I love-- often when they talk about the fear of Salem, it seems like everyone was afraid of being falsely accused. Schanzer shows us that many people were actually afraid of being attacked by witches, because it seems like anyone and everyone could be and was a witch.

Even though I knew the story and the people and the facts and the legends, this book broke my heart in a way nothing else about Salem ever has. Schanzer tells us the how, and gives us some possibilities for the why, but the why has been lost over the centuries.

Also, the design is amazing. Schanzer has illustrated the book with pictures done in Ampersand Scratchboard, meant to mimic 17th century woodcuts. Throughout the book, red accents and details are used to great effect.

Plus, end notes! And an author's note! My only reservation is that there isn't a lot of context given for relations with the Native Americans. This is taking place against the backdrop of the Second Indian War and "Indian" is the term used throughout. There are several raids by Native forces in the book (one of the possible explanations is post-traumatic stress as many of the initial accusers witnessed their parents and other family members murdered during raids.) Now, this isn't a major focus of the book so it didn't need to dwell, but a sentence or two saying why these raids were happening and what the war was about would have gone a long way.

Overall though, a really strong book.

Be sure to check out the Nonfiction Monday round-up over at Gathering Books!

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

2 Comments on Nonfiction Monday: Witches!, last added: 5/2/2012
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10. IF YOU ARE NOT A PICTURE BOOK JUNKIE FREAKAZOID LIKE ME, DON’T READ THIS ARTICLE. REALLY.


Oh.  Hello, remaining freakazoids.

 
Check out these blockbuster award-winning best-selling top-flight PICTURE BOOKS for short people:  Don’t let the Pigeon Drive the Bus is funny. So are Knuffle Bunny, The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales, The Stupids Step Out, The Beast of Monsieur Racine, I Want My Hat Back, and Everything on It. Those 3 miniature females named Olivia, Madeline, and Eloise are funny too.  And Click, Clack, Moo, Joseph had a Little Overcoat, Frog and Toad are Friends, It Could Always be Worse, and everything Dr. Seuss ever wrote in his entire life are even funnier.  

 
Funny is fun.  I love funny…..who doesn’t?  But do you notice something weird about this list? Of course you do.  These hilarious picture book blockbusters are all FICTION! I know there must be funny blockbuster roll-on-the-floor-laughing nonfiction picture books out there, but where ARE they? 
 
Well, let me see….John, Paul, George & Ben is funny, and at the end it tells you which parts were fiction and which parts were nonfiction.  Does that count?  So You Want to Be President? is funny too.  Can you guys think of any other hilarious blockbuster nonfiction picture books that I left out?  I hope so. True stuff doesn’t have to be all solemn and serious and sedate, you know.

 So let's make this post short and sweet.  Of course the truth ain't always funny; far from it. And of course picture books don’t always have to be funny either, any more than they have

6 Comments on IF YOU ARE NOT A PICTURE BOOK JUNKIE FREAKAZOID LIKE ME, DON’T READ THIS ARTICLE. REALLY., last added: 5/1/2012
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11. There's a Sea-Change Coming to Education






One person I’ve gotten to know well and admire this year is Dr. Myra Zarnowski, Professor of Children’s Literature at Queens College School of Education, part of the City University of NY.  Myraspecializes in teaching undergraduate and graduate students how to teach nonfiction literature in the classroom.  She has studied the books written by iNK authors and she is an expert on the Common Core Standards, now the new educational objectives adopted by 47 states.  Recently she gave a webinarfor Capstone,a leading educational publisher, with Marc Aronson and Mary Ann Cappiello about how to meet Common Core Standards using  various strategies and children’s nonfiction.  Usually Myrainterviews authors (including moi) but today, I thought I’d turn the tables and interview her.


Myra, Can you explain, in a nutshell, what the Common Core Standards are about and how they will change the educational culture in this country?
The stated goal of the CCSS is to prepare students to be college and career ready. To get the skills they need, students in every grade will be spending more time reading nonfiction literature and thoughtfully responding to it—50% of all reading in elementary school and 70% in high school. That’s the exciting part.  Nonfiction is going to be central to much of what we do. Teachers at all levels will be using more nonfiction, and they will be using it to study selected topics in depth. It is our green light to dig deeply into topics in math, science, and history. We’ll be doing some close reading--comparing, integrating, synthesizing, and evaluating books and related materials. We’ll be looking at the craft of writing as well as the content.  Above all, we’ll be supporting students as they develop their own evidence-based ideas.

What are some of the problems teachers articulate about using children’s nonfiction in the classroom?
The biggest problem teachers talk about is that they don’t know nonfiction books.  As they strive to provide a better balance between fiction and nonfiction in their classes, teachers will be on the lookout for quality nonfiction.  That means that we all have to do our part to help teachers find the books they need. The curriculum isn’t going away. Teachers will still be teaching math, science, and social studies. So what they need is a means of finding nonfiction literature that can enhance what they are already doing.  They also need to understand the wide range

8 Comments on There's a Sea-Change Coming to Education, last added: 5/5/2012
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12. INK Authors at ALA in Anaheim



INK authors will be signing, speaking, and receiving awards at the ALA Annual Conference in Anaheim June 22-25.  Do come by and say hello!


LOREEN LEADY
• is one of twelve authors in the Nonfiction Book Blast, Saturday, June 23 1:30-3:30.
• is signing Seeing Symmetry at Holiday House Booth #2550, Saturday 4-5 p.m.

ROSALYN SCHANZER
is taking part in a Geopardy game show with National Geographic on Saturday, June 23, 5:30-7 pm.
• is signing Witches! at the National Geographic Booth #2525 on Sunday, June 24, 12:30-1:30 and Monday, 1-2 pm.
• is receiving her Sibert Honor award for Witches! Monday, June 25, 10:30 am.

STEVE SHEINKIN
is at the Macmillan Children’s Preview event on Saturday, 7-9 am presenting his new book Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon.
• is signing The Notorious Benedict Arnold and Bomb at the Macmillan Booth #2534 on Saturday, 10-11 am.

GRETCHEN WOELFLE
• is signing All the World’s A Stage: A Novel in Five Acts  at Holiday House, Booth #2550, Saturday, 11:00-11:30 am.
• is signing Write on, Mercy! The Secret Life of Mercy Otis Warren, at Boyds Mills/Calkins Creek, Booth #2435, Saturday, 12-1.

1 Comments on INK Authors at ALA in Anaheim, last added: 6/21/2012
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13. INK Photo Gallery at ALA


American Library Association (ALA) conferences are like Christmas (or Hanukkah) and birthdays rolled into one.  Christmas (or Hanukkah) because everyone is celebrating something we all love: children’s books!  Not to mention great presents from publishers: advance copies of their latest books, along with posters and pencils and bits of chocolate. And birthdays, because when you do a signing, people fuss over you, tell you how special you are, and buy your books, perhaps the best present we can get! An added bonus at ALA – the upper body strength one acquires toting all those freebies around the hall for hours and miles.

Here are a few pictures of INK authors at ALA in Anaheim, California last weekend.


 Loreen Leedy and I schmooze at a Holiday House reception.


 
Steve Sheinkin hard at work, signing his latest book, Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon.


 
Loreen Leedy, with Holiday House editor Mary Cash, signing 
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14. There's a Sea-Change Coming to Education










One of the advantages of the new blogger format is that we can see how many people read a post.  This post, which originally ran on May 2, not very long ago, had almost 800 views. This is substantially more than the average post.  For this reason, as per our July reruns, I'm posting it again.








One person I’ve gotten to know well and admire this year is Dr. Myra Zarnowski, Professor of Children’s Literature at Queens College School of Education, part of the City University of NY.  Myra specializes in teaching undergraduate and graduate students how to teach nonfiction literature in the classroom.  She has studied the books written by iNK authors and she is an expert on the Common Core Standards, now the new educational objectives adopted by 47 states.  Recently she gave a webinar for

2 Comments on There's a Sea-Change Coming to Education, last added: 7/12/2012
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15. MAPS MAPS MAPS

I love maps—not necessarily the GPS versions that send your car straight to the middle of a construction site, but those mysterious ancient illuminated maps decorated with sea monsters, wind gods, ornate compass roses, miniature sailing ships, and oddly shaped lions or camels or kings or headless beasties with faces on their bellies.

I was a kid so many moons ago that our teacher's handouts had all been copied on mimeograph machines. Does anybody here remember those things? If so, you might also remember the bland purple mimeographed maps that were such typical fare, and of course, our homework assignment was to correctly label each city and state and country and river and ocean.

Well as I already said, I was a kid many moons ago, and we didn’t even have a TV to occupy our extra time until I was 12 years old. So during my plentiful spare moments, I used to gather up my Crayolas and spend way too long decorating these boring mimeographed maps by adding row after row of blue waves to an ocean filled with spouting whales, goofy mermaids, and sea bass. If I was really bored, I also added little pine tree forests and purple mountains majesty with snow on top. Drawing the pictures was just for fun; I didn’t exactly color any maps so that I could learn about geography. I don’t know—maybe all that coloring was a nerdy thing to do. But purely by accident, it did help me learn a whole lot more about geography than I would have done any other way.

Fast forward very, very far into the future. Because I get to illustrate the books I write, I still add plenty of maps to my stories from history every chance I get. I've also drawn such things as a cartoon map of America showing about 100 cities with strange names like Truth or Consequences New Mexico and Nag's Head North Carolina and Hoop and Holler Texas and Hog Jaw Alabama. And I've painted funny maps showing everything from tropical rain forest animals to medieval Paris to the modern-day canals of France and Panama and beyond. Besides the fact that maps are a hoot to draw, they're a great learning tool that can help readers find out lots of cool (but often important) stuff without even trying. Here are just a few small examples of my own maps from nonfiction books along with the reasons I drew them:


Above is an end paper map showing John Smith's journeys all the way around the world. Bet you didn't know he went to so many places. Maps like this can help put an entire series of historic adventures into perspective.

Here's a detail from the same map featuring a compass rose

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16. Oscar and the Rest of Us Creative Types

Huzzah! It’s official! On Sunday night, The Oscar for Best Picture was awarded to “The King’s Speech,” a beautifully crafted, feel-good tale from history that shows how King George VI kicked his stuttering problem and led his country into WWII with aplomb. Great movie. But some critics protest that the real King George VI didn’t stammer all that much and was short and skinny to boot—certainly not tall and attractive like Best Actor Colin Firth.

Maybe that’s OK, though….it’s all about telling great story, right? That’s Hollywood’s job. Besides, plenty of Oscar-winning movies about history explode from the silver screen on the backs of half-truths and falsehoods. After watching Peter O’Toole’s portrayal of Lawrence of Arabia in 1962’s history-be-damned award winner, Laurence’s brother said that if he hadn’t seen the movie’s title “I would have had a hard time recognizing my own brother.”

But hey—us poor slobs who write nonfiction history books live by a different set of rules. Our protagonists may sometimes look like movie stars, but mostly they don’t. And if and when they fail to speak in memorable sound bites, we can’t hire a Hollywood screenwriter to put better words in their mouths. Or recruit a Hollywood director to help a famous actor recite the improved dialog with passion. Or change our hero’s entire personality and point of view willy-nilly. Or rearrange the disorderly progression of real life to improve a story arc. Or conveniently reshuffle historic figures as if they were chess pieces. Or add a full orchestra and some fabricated chase scenes just to enliven our narrative.

As far as I’m concerned, though, there are two enormously appealing reasons to write about history without cheating, and here they are:

First of all, true tales from the past can be even more off-the-wall than anything the movies have to offer. And since nobody could even begin to make these stories up, you have to dig them up. The search is definitely half the fun. Be willing to put in some legwork and the results will knock your socks right off your feet. You absolutely will not believe what the world used to look like or what kinds of superstitions and passions and secrets and privations and bizarre shoes and strange hairdos and odd beliefs and bold adventures people once shared all those years ago in so many faraway places.

The second big appeal is this; figuring out how to enchant readers with 100% true tales from history is like working a puzzle. To put the pieces together and win the game, you must present the unadulterated truth in ways that are just as compelling and exciting and dramatic as the semi-truth in Oscar's history blockbusters. This is daunting. Besides, you have no budget. And writing dramatic stories with 100% accuracy is sorta like c

2 Comments on Oscar and the Rest of Us Creative Types, last added: 3/1/2011
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17. QUOTES


In days of yore, people wrote volumes of long newsy letters to far-off friends and loved ones, and these missives might travel for many moons and endure a series of perilous journeys by land and sea before ever reaching a recipient. So it's no surprise that letters tended to be treasured and saved by their readers.

It was also common practice in some circles to pen daily journals, transcribe trial testimonies and political debates, dream up scandalous pamphlets and outrageous slogans, or write out speeches on onion skin paper or on the backs of envelopes. Naturally, these items were stored away as well. And it’s a good thing for me that so many have survived, because whenever I write about history, they turn out to be the most colorful and entertaining and revealing sources I use. So today I thought it might be fun to serve up a few short outtakes showing how people dealt with some troublesome matters.

Take the gold miners during the California Gold Rush, for example. They were a bunch of jokers.


“I hate to desert. I am almost crazy, as I have the gold fever shocking bad.”
B. P. Kloozer, a California soldier


“The big excitement swept all Tennessee like a fire in prairie grass. Some men that was tied with families actually set down and cried ‘cause they couldn’t go.” J. H. Beadle


Here's what a couple of guys said on board the sailing ships headed for the gold fields:

“The water is becoming bad. I don’t mind it much. I have a way of killing the bugs before drinking them.” Anonymous

“The ship gave a lurch and threw me down. I rolled and pitched and tumbled against one side of the room and then turned two or three somersets and struck my shoulders against the other side.” Horace C. Snow


The journey by land wasn't much better:

“Hail exceeded anything I ever saw, being as large as pigeon eggs. There may be fun in camping, but we haven’t discovered any.” Elisha Douglass Perkins

Life in California's boom towns wasn't altogether user-friendly either:

“In Stockton we slept on barrel stays with scanty blankets and well filled with athletic and courageous and determined fleas.” Horace C. Snow

Here’s an excerpt of some testimony in 1692 that convinced a panel of judges to hang Bridget Bishop, a woman from Salem who was accused of being a witch:

“ I did see a black thing Jump into the window & stood Just before my face…the body of itt looked like a Munky only the feete ware like a Cocks feete w'th Claws… I strook at it with a stick butt felt noe substance … then it vanished away and I opened the back dore and Espied Bridget Bushop in her orchard goeing to wards her house. I Againe did see the creture … itt sprang back and flew over the apple tree flinging the dust w'th its feet against my stomake, upon which I was struck dumb…” John Louder

Go figure.

When America’s 13 Colonies wanted to break away from British rule, colorful oratory abounded. Benjamin Franklin always had a way with words. Upon signing the Declaration of Independence, he told his compatriots:


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18. Video Sunday: Sophisticated Vid Day

We begin this week with something extraordinary.  A book trailer that looks like a movie trailer (no real surprises there) but that includes so many specific details to its book that you’re half inclined to think that the movie version already exists.  Super 8’s actor Joel Courtney stars in trailer for The Dragon’s Tooth by ND Wilson.  What’s funny about it is that its locations are eerily perfect, the scenes amazing, and yet it has one aspect that makes me sad.  You see, the hero of this book and his sister are dark skinned.  Yet here you can see that they’re pretty darn white.  To be fair this is entirely due to the fact that Mr. Courtney is friends with Mr. Wilson’s kids and that’s how he got the part.  Still . . . sigh.  Ditto the fact that an elderly woman from the book now appears to be 45.  Perhaps elderly actresses are difficult to find sometimes?  But aside from all that this is a remarkable piece of work.  Maybe the best movie-like book trailer I’ve ever seen.  Little wonder since it was directed by the author himself!  If that whole writing books thing doesn’t work out, I can see a second career ready and waiting. Thanks to Heather Wilson for the link.

Along similar lines is this trailer for Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone.  When you’ve been following an author since day one, there’s an instinct to claim them.  I loved Ms. Taylor when she wrote her Faeries of Dreamdark books back in the day.  Now she’s hugely popular and I feel very possessive of her.  With a whopping 50,000+ views (holy moses!) this next video is not as sophisticated as Wilson’s, but it has its own ineffable charm, no?

A very different kind of book trailer involves the recent winner of The Society of Illustrator’s Original Art gold medal.  I daresay that this is the first time in my own recollection that a nonfiction title has won the award (and from National Geographic at that!).  And I can think of no better way to see the art than this little video right here:

Gorgeous. Thanks to Jules Danielson for the link!

If I hadn’t begun with all those book trailers I probably would have begun with this glimpse of the staged production of How to Train Your Dragon in Australia.  Because when it comes to stage puppetry, you ain’t never NEVER seen nuthin’ like this:

7 Comments on Video Sunday: Sophisticated Vid Day, last added: 8/14/2011
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19. Review of the Day: Witches! by Rosalyn Schanzer

Witches!: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem
By Rosalyn Schanzer
National Geographic Children’s Books
$16.95
ISBN: 978- 1426308697
Ages 10 and up
On shelves September 13th

Sometimes I wish I could sit down with my 10-year-old self and have a conversation. We’d chat about the improvements that will come to fashion someday (I think 10-year-old me would really appreciate knowing that 1988 was America’s low point), the delight to be found in School House Rock and eventually I’d turn the conversation to books. From there we’d give praise to good Apple paperbacks like The Girl With the Silver Eyes or pretty much anything with a ghost in it (does anyone even remember Ghost Cat?) but eventually I’d have to start pushing myself. “So what,” I might say, “would it take to get you to read nonfiction?” Even from a distance of twenty-three years I can feel the resistance to such a notion. Nonfiction? You mean like the latest edition of The Guinness Book of World Records, right? Nope. I mean like straight up facts about a moment in history. And not any of those Childhood of Famous Americans books either, missy thang. Then I’d pull out my secret weapon: Witches!: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem. The cover? Enticing. The subject? Not off-putting. The overall presentation? Enthralling.

When 9-year-old Betty Parris and 11-year-old Abigail Williams began to twist and turn in the home of the Reverend Samuel Parris there was only one possible reason for it: witchcraft. And why not? This was Salem, Massachusetts where the Puritan populace knew anything was possible. What they didn’t know was that the afflicted girls would be joined by fellow accusers and launch the town, and even parts of the state, into a series of witch trials the land of America had never seen before. Rosalyn Schanzer tells it like it is, recounting many of the details, giving information on what happened to all the players when the dust settled and things got back to normal. Notes, a Bibliography, an Index, and a Note From the Author explaining how she abridged, updated, and clarified some of the original texts follow at the end.

I’ll admit it. I’m not ashamed. Here I am, thirty-three years of age with a Masters degree to my name and if you had asked me to recount exactly what happened during the Salem Witch Trials I’d have been hard pressed to come up with anything I didn’t just learn from Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Okay . . . so I’m a little ashamed. And I didn’t even know how much I didn’t know until I started reading Schanzer’s book. The author lays out her book chronologically. It’s like watching an episode of Law & Order. You see the “crime”, the characters, and the endless strange courtroom scenes (Note: Teacher’s wishing

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20. WITCHES! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem


Welcome back to I.N.K. everyone! As our our opening act, I have a good story for you and an evil one too.


At exactly 10:03 A.M. on August 2, my 12-month-old granddaughter and I were sitting upstairs on the floor pretending to talk to each other on some broken old telephones I had never thrown away, when the real telephone rang. First I had to shut the door at the top of our long wooden staircase so that she wouldn’t fall down. Then I had to find the real phone, wherever it was. I almost didn’t find it before it stopped ringing, but it’s a good thing I did.


“Hello, is this Rosalyn Schanzer?”
“Um, yes….” (everybody I know calls me Roz, so this must be an ad, right?)
“Well, this is Kate Feirtag from the Society of Illustrators in New York, and I’m calling to let you know that you’ve just won the Gold Medal for the Best Illustrated Book of 2011!”


Wow….I have never won anything of this caliber in my entire life, so I was positive this had to be a joke. Then I saw the NYC area code on my phone and the hair and the back of my neck stood straight up. (That’s the good story - at least it sounds good to me - because it actually turned out to be, um, nonfiction!) Funny thing is that the book that magically won this award is supposed to make the hair on the back of your neck stand straight up too. (That’s the evil story….but I kinda like it anyway). Here 'tis:


WITCHES! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem will be released in exactly one week on September 13. Since the gold medal is for the artwork, I thought it would be fun to introduce this evil tale by showing you some art I did for my book trailer. By clicking right here, you can catch a glimpse of a most bizarre event in Salem and watch a fast paced time-lapse movie of the art being created all in one fell swoop. There’s even some spooky music and scary sound effects. (Be afraid….be very afraid…)


The artwork in this book was done on scratchboard, a hard thin board akin to masonite that's covered with a layer of white clay and then coated with black India ink. To make the demon swoop forth, I used an extra-sharp pointed scratch knife that cut away the black ink coating until its picture appeared. It takes forever to make a video this way but I think it's worth the effort.


Here’s the drill:

1) Clamp wooden frame to desk next to artist’s work space. Frame must be larger than scratchboard.
2) Mount camera on sturdy tripod so that camera lens points directly down at frame.
3) Draw picture with a scratch knife 1/8” at a time. Each time you scratch a new 1/8” line, put scratchboard inside left front corner of frame and take its picture. That way when all the thousands of photos are put together, the resulting movie is very smooth. Whew!!
4) Record scary narrative in soundproo

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21. The Trips of a Lifetime


In 1999, when we were all worried that Y2K was going to wreck the world as we knew it, maybe even blow it up, my family went to the Galapagos. My husband, who had written a book called The Beak of the Finch, about scientists Rosemary and Peter Grant studying Darwin's finches in the Galapagos, was invited to go on two back-to-back one week trips (on Lindblad Expeditions) and give some talks. He was allowed to bring our family along. Our sons were then 14 and almost 11. We all went for two weeks--Christmas week into New Year's week. If the world blew up, we'd be on the equator, in the Galapagos. What a way to go.
It was a magical trip. Our older son, in true teenager style, said to his father while walking on a gorgeous beach New Year's day, 2000, "Well Dad, short of taking us to the moon, this was the most amazing thing you could have done for us."
Writers are mostly poor. I don't know if you realize that. Especially if one writer is not married to, say, an investment banker. We two independent writers brought up our sons often wondering if we were going to be able to keep the show going. Some days (what am I saying?, some months, some years), I would go to the grocery store and panic--how was I going to buy pasta, cereal, laundry detergent, and still pay the electric bill? And then came the Pulitzer Prize, with all its shine. And still not a lot of money. We worked very hard, both of us, and loved our jobs, but.... not a lot of money, not a budget for luxuries like expensive family trips. But then. The Galapagos. Every once in a while, we were thrown a plum, and that trip to the Galapagos was a whole bushel of plums every day for two weeks. That bushel of plums lasted for years afterwards--unlike real plums. Someone once said, spend your money on experiences because experiences last longer than things. Let me chime in and say: YES! Because in our case it was really true.
When Jon was asked again to go to the Galapagos and yes, he could bring the family, I didn't know how the boys--now young men--would react. Could they commit, a year in advance, to spending two weeks with their parents? Would they even want to? Jon barely got the sentence out of his mouth. They each said YES without thinking about it. The Galapagos is that amazing a place.
So we went this past summer, again for two weeks. An added bonus was that I was also asked to speak, about Charles and Emma. To tell that story while on a ship in the Galapagos was pure joy. And going back with our now-grown sons (25 and 22) was also pure joy. It was epic and monumental and perhaps the most beautiful thing in the wor

7 Comments on The Trips of a Lifetime, last added: 10/18/2011
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22. Field Trips, Parties, and Where do I Get my Ideas?

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In response to Roz Schanzer’s hilarious post “Writing Right, Right?” about Rules for Writing, Jim Murphy commented, “You have to have some fun writing if you expect me to still be awake when I get to the conclusion.” That reminds me of a funny story.



Most of the books I do with Sandra Jordan begin with a field trip. But not all field trips turn into books. A few years ago Sandra and I had what we thought was a great idea. We set off for the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Museum of Modern Art to do some research. After two hours there, we went back to my apartment, sat down, and promptly fell asleep. Later we realized if our great idea put us to sleep, what would it do to our readers?



Where do you get your ideas? That’s the question I’ve been asked hundreds of times for the last thirty years. Some of my ideas seem quite interesting when I come up with them, often in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep. But in the light of day (is that a cliché, Roz?) in the midst of researching, I get so bored I end up eating lunch at 9:30 in the morning or writing frantic e mails to my daughters about nothing.


Here are some of my favorite field trips that did work out:



  1. A drive out to Storm King Sculpture Park resulted in our book “The Sculptor’s Eye.”

  2. On a visit to the National Gallery in Washington DC, Sandra and I stood transfixed in front of Jackson Pollock’s painting Lavender Mist and featured it in “Action Jackson.”

  3. A trip to the Isamu Noguchi Foundation in Long Island City to see his stage sets for dances by Martha Graham sparked our interest in doing a book on collaboration that resulted in “Ballet for Martha.”


Going to a party doesn’t constitute a field trip but it may inspire an idea. I once met the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude at a cocktail party and she and I struck up a conversation about

4 Comments on Field Trips, Parties, and Where do I Get my Ideas?, last added: 10/24/2011
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23. FINE ART FOR KIDS IS STILL LOOKIN’ FINE TO ME


I up and saw something pretty amazing last Thursday night. It was The Original Art Exhibition in New York City at the Society of Illustrators, featuring genuine artwork from lots of the very best children’s book illustrators in the business. Trust me. As every artist on the planet will tell you, no matter how beautifully the artwork in a book is reproduced, the original art is soooo much better and richer and juicier. So blog readers, if you’re anywhere even vaguely near the vicinity of 128 East 63rd Street, you are hereby invited to take a gander….this show will be hanging out on the walls over there until December 29th and then the whole thing will disappear.


Bad news:

In this digital age, free or almost free access to (mostly bad or boring) art is becoming the way of the world. Who wants to pay actual money when you can get pix for next to nothing, even if they’re full of, um, pap? And who knows how long we’ll be able to hold real books made out of real paper in our hot little hands?


Good news:

There are still brilliant illustrators out there who are passionate about using their brains, honing their skills, and inventing something unique, long-lasting, luminous, and memorable with their own two hands. And this show proves it.


Better news:

If you’re one of the lucky ones, illustrating books is among the most interesting jobs you can ever imagine. Why settle for an ordinary livelihood if you can do work you love in the arts? Oh. Did I say “work?” My bad. Despite the long hours and labor-intensive requirements, illustrating books somehow feels a lot more like play to me. (And besides that, you don’t have to drive in rush hour traffic to get to, um, work…)


Preaching-to-the-choir, get-on-your-high-horse type of news:

We dumb down our culture in the worst possible way when we ignore the arts. We put ourselves at risk of losing the very same kinds of creativity that can make us shine. We lose our ability to enrich our day-to-day lives in substantive ways and even—or especially—to have some fun.

Let’s take a quick trip backwards to the days when boatloads of people from around the world began to wander onto these shores. To make a better life for themselves and their families, the rules used to be as follows:


The first generation to come to America had to do hard manual labor to make sure that their children got a good education.


The second generation got the good education so they could become business owners or doctors or lawyers or scientists or engineers.


That way, the third generation could afford to reach the True Summit of Civilization by going into the arts if they were so inclined. I have absolutely nothing against hard manual labor. I have absolutely nothing against becoming a professional. But Choir, let’s make sure the arts survive and grow, OK?

24. PUSHING THE (NONFICTION) ENVELOPE


The best novels in the world of fiction tend to be page turners that tell a gripping story. You can’t put them down until you finish the last page, you can’t stop thinking about them after you’re done, and you become so entangled in their various webs that you can remember entire story arcs and even small details for a very long time.

The best books in the world of nonfiction are equally fascinating. Their details are memorable and the ideas they present are truly compelling. With some notable exceptions, though, they aren’t gripping page turners like novels and their story arcs (if any) can be pretty tenuous because the real world is so messy and unpredictable. The result? Readers might put nonfiction books down for a few days without staying awake at night wondering what happens next.

So when I sat down to write my latest book, I wondered if I could combine the best of both worlds by shaping it into a gripping YA novel; every word would be true AND the book would be a page turner with a story line that you couldn’t put down. That’s exactly what I’ve tried to do with Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem. If I could pull it off, it seemed to me that this terrifying episode in America’s history had just the right ingredients for cooking up a thriller, a mystery, and a literary mind-bender all rolled into one.

After all, the things that happened during the Salem Witch Trials were too jaw-dropping to ignore. Who wouldn't wonder why a four year old girl, a heroic minister from afar, a beloved grandmother, and three dogs were demonized and accused of being witches?



And why were most people who confessed that they had committed the crime of witchcraft set free while just about everyone who proclaimed their innocence was imprisoned? Did a shadowy beast really spring up into the sky and split apart into the spirits of three different witches? Wow. Surely I could write about such goings on in a story with a beginning, middle, and end.

The more material I uncovered about this incredible 100% true story, the more curious I became (and the more curious I hoped my readers would become too). Back in 1692, the Puritans thought that the devil and his witches lurked in every nook and cranny, just waiting to afflict innocent children with a dread dis

6 Comments on PUSHING THE (NONFICTION) ENVELOPE, last added: 12/7/2011
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25. STUMPED

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

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