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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: April Pulley Sayre, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Exuberant Days



Sometimes life is so beautiful it’s almost hard to live it. At times, the work, too. In Spring, there are days when I actually live the life that people imagine children’s book authors do every day of the year. 
Yesterday, I had a big plan for serious checking things off my list. (Respond to book proposal from editor who wants me to write to go with a photographer’s photographs, write endmatter on current nutty main project, update website, respond to someone about changing a talk description, sort three weeks of photographs from marshes in Ohio, file bills, make travel decisions, book necessary travel, set up house repairs, etc.) 
Chickadees interrupted me with flurry, alarm calls, and general fuss, and before I knew it, I was out in the yard with my camera.  What could I do but witness and somewhat photograph what was going on? 

Chickadees cleaning out the next box. 
Chickadees leaving the nest box for the first time...and predators threatening the chicks. 
Three species of woodpeckers feeding babies high up on the oak trees. 
Squirrels being squirrels. (Three species of those, too.)
An indigo bunting popping in and out of the scene.

I did eventually manage to get back to my computer to announce the release of my new book Go, Go, Grapes: a Fruit Chant. Then I got to work on my current work, the sequel, Let’s Go Nuts: Seeds We Eat. 
7 Comments on Exuberant Days, last added: 5/27/2012
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2. The Math Behind Poetry



Consider a series of names. 
Of fruit. 
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
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3. Creative Nonfiction Doesn’t Always Tell a Story

In recent years, we’ve heard a lot about narrative nonfiction—books that uses scene building, dialog, and other elements borrowed from fiction to tell true stories. But narrative texts are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creative nonfiction for young readers.

Here are some examples:

Lyrical nonfiction employs such language devices as alliteration, rhythm, and repetition to infuse prose with combinations of sounds and syllables that are especially pleasing to the ear.

Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre (illus by Steve Jenkins)

Lightship by Brain Floca

Swirl by Swirl: Spiral s in Nature by Joyce Sidman (illus by Beth Krommes)

The Secret World of Walter Anderson by Hester Bass (illus by E.B. Lewis)

1 Comments on Creative Nonfiction Doesn’t Always Tell a Story, last added: 4/2/2012
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4. Research and Primary Sources

Mom says she’ll shoot me if I use anything from Wikipedia. You should know that I wouldn’t use such an variable, unreliable source for anything more than an initial search, not for a final source. You should also know that the part of my family that has the shootin’ and murderin’ history is several generations back and only by marriage, as certain relatives, every time of the story tellin’ make clear. So I am in no serious shootin’ danger from mom. Yeah, I have the stories passed down from one of the most famous feuding families in the U.S. We keep track of this stuff in my family.

That, in fact, is where this whole Wikipedia thing started up. I spent yesterday in a Rubbermaid tub, visiting with some Mayflower relatives. Eleven generations ago, three of my ancestors arrived on the Mayflower and two helped with the Mayflower Compact. One of these ancestors was a young woman. Yeah, I know. Write a story, A! But I’ve never professionally written this history stuff. Couldn’t there have been an armadillo on the Mayflower or something? Now, that, I could have written. . .

Instead I have slipsliding piles of carefully researched stories and family trees. Civil War. 18th century valentine. A stitched sampler from my ancestor, age 14. And reams of history researched by exchanging letters and visiting archives. My grandfather, mother, and a few other relatives did this work, painstakingly working from primary sources, all footnoted with quotes from deeds of sale and marriage notes in books and these kinds of things.

Mom doesn’t want me to muddy the good stuff with any malarky from Wikipedia. Anyone can make changes in Wikipedia. That makes it both a great source, a piece of collective wisdom from generous experts, and a very questionable source, one polluted by people with an agenda. (As opposed to family stories which OF COURSE are solid gold in terms of accuracy. See me wink.)

Yes, history can always be mangled by people with an agenda. But that’s another track, for others on this INK blog to delve into more deeply. All I know is that I googled the ship my Grandfather was on, that was torpedoed in WWI, and I found so many varying accounts, I was confused. Was it torpedoed, or did it just catch on fire? Did it sink after my grandfather floated away on that lifeboat and was pulled onto a British ship in the inky dark of night?

Whatever—it makes a great story in his rich but cracking 90-year old voice. I love oral history. That has been a lifelong passion—interviewing people about the past. My joy has always been sound, voice, language. There’s nothing like hearing the stories of growin’ up in rural Mississippi in the 1890s-1920. Or the stories of New England during World War II. Or the story of my grandfather abandoning the sinking ship in WWI. The Civil War stories, too, are fuzzier with time, but so polished by telling, generation after generation. I have a computer full of all these voices, these stories at my fingertips. So I teach people about how to honor others by recording the stories not just of the old, but also of the young. Because our young perspectives and voices, too, are lost with time, long before we die.

Yes, the great challenge of history is sources, reliable sources. The other part is the narrative through line. Because history has twists and turns, and loses threads sometimes, just when the story gets meaty and marvelous. Oh well, I’ll see what I can find. Perhaps it’s time to take a little detour away from squirrels and vultures and into some people history. There is a moth on that 19th century valentine. Will I write about human history? Probably not. Too busy with nature. For this material, I’ll probably just be a recorder, not an interpretive writer. So many others do this work with passion and grace.
3 Comments on Research and Primary Sources, last added: 2/23/2012
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5. Honoring Work

Nonfiction is about honoring and reflecting the truth in the world. It asks us to look with fresh eyes at what is around us, at the underpinnings of our lives whether that be in geology, geography, or history. Nonfiction is important and far reaching. Usually, I remember that. But not first thing this morning.


This morning I read an email by a fiction writer friend about an extraordinary fan letter she had received. Moved and amazed by the letter, I thought to myself: I bet those kinds of letters are elicited more often by fiction. Then I experienced the “twinge.” Yes, it was that mosquito-like, momentary, should-I-write-a-novel-instead pinch that plagues nonfiction writers.


This in my mind, I drove to the farmer’s market. A young woman at one of the farm stands stopped me. She had told me, months ago, how much she loved Rah, Rah, Radishes: a Vegetable Chant, and how special it was to her because she picks some of the vegetables that come to market.


Today she told me that her father, after heart attack and stroke, was in the hospital. He had a hard time remembering. But he enjoyed looking through Rah, Rah, Radishes, again and again. I asked if he was a farmer. No, she said, he just likes looking through the book. He doesn’t remember many things. But every time someone comes in the room, he shows them the book photos and he proudly tells them: This is what my daughter does.


I thanked her, teary-eyed, daughter-to-daughter, for sharing her story. Once again, nonfiction surprises. It seems like a good time, near Thanksgiving, to think about how words, photos, art can shine a light on unheralded essentials in our lives.



6. Hooray for gardens--and gardening books!

A couple of days ago I started wondering what to blog about this month. I was feeling pretty smug about not waiting until the last minute this time, but guess what? No ideas, nothing, nada, nichts, rien, niente, nihil, tidak ada, wala, nic, ingenting, kitu. (Google Translate--so much fun!) Anyway, as usual when I'm feeling stuck or squirmy, I laced up my sneakers and whistled for my pup (that's kutsikas in Estonian). "Wanna go look for ideas? Wanna go look for squirrels?" Wise dog wagged his tail yes to both.

We took our usual route, heading east toward the Potomac River and River Farm, which was part of George Washington's huge estate in the 18th century. Now it's the headquarters of the American Horticultural Society (AHS). Aha, inspiration, less than a mile from home! The mission of AHS, according to its website, is
"To open the eyes of all Americans to the vital connection between people and plants, to inspire all Americans to become responsible caretakers of the Earth, to celebrate America's diversity through the art and science of horticulture; and to lead this effort by sharing the Society's unique national resources with all Americans."

One way AHS seeks to fulfill these goals is by promoting youth gardening programs. It also paired up with the Junior Master Gardener Program to create the
“Growing Good Kids – Excellence in Children’s Literature” award program, which honors outstanding children’s books that promote "an understanding of, and appreciation for, gardening and the environment." Of the 22 winners selected since the first awards were given in 2006, by my count four have been nonfiction titles. They are:

Big Yellow Sunflower, by Frances Barry

Flip, Float, Fly: Seeds on the Move, by JoAnn Macken, illustrated by Pamela Paparone

A Seed is Sleepy, by
Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long

Miss Lady Bird’s Wildflowers: How a First Lady Changed America, by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Joy Fisher Hein

Surely there's room for more nonfiction books here. I hope you'll help spread the word about these awards! (If I were April Pulley Sayre's publisher, by the way, I would definitely submit her wonderful RAH, RAH, RADISHES!) And if you're ever in the Alexandria, Virginia, area, I encourage you to visit AHS headquarters at George Washington's River Farm. Take time to enjoy the beautiful grounds and gardens, to learn from hands-on demonstrations about composting and raised vegetable beds, to play in the Children's Garden, to stroll through the Andre Bluemel Meadow down to the Potomac. You might see a bald eagle. You'll almost certainly be inspired.


P.S. In case you're wondering:
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3 Comments on Hooray for gardens--and gardening books!, last added: 10/14/2011
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7. RAH, RAH RADISHES

RAH, RAH, RADISHES! A Vegetable Chant, by April Pulley Sayre (Beach Lane 2011)(ages 4+).  This whimsical picture book offers bright illustrations of vegetables at a farmers' market and accompanying cheerleader-style text.

It's terrific fun and provides a great introduction to familiar and obscure vegetables alike.  

0 Comments on RAH, RAH RADISHES as of 10/9/2011 8:31:00 PM
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8. Layers in Nonfiction Illustration: Bryan Collier

Last weekend I had the privilege of speaking at the Elizabeth York Children’s Literature Festival at the Nicholson Library at Anderson University in Anderson, Indiana. This conference, in its 3rd year, helps celebrate an impressive collection of about 11,000 children’s books and poetry books—specializing in rare first editions and signed volumes. It would be a great spot for author and illustrator research.


Also speaking was Bryan Collier, an illustrator who has twice been the recipient of Coretta Scott King Awards, and three-times a recipient of Caldecott honors. As always, his process captured me. His in-depth research on Rosa Parks—visiting Alabama, soaking up the atmosphere, researching the community, the buses, the circumstances—is a tale you have to hear directly from him. It has every element of research one would expect from someone writing such a book. Yet to see it through an illustrator’s eyes brings an extra dimension.


Many nonfiction writers speak of their research journeys. Yet, so often, the task of creating a nonfiction image is overlooked. You have to know a thing to write about it. But to draw it—sometimes, you must know more. (When I interned at National Geographic, years ago, I created huge research packets of historical material for each and every object in a single illustration for a children’s book!)


Bryan, though, is looking for more than precision in his work. From what I gathered, he is not limited by the idea that a nonfiction illustration must be like a snapshot, all objects order and historically what they were. He’s creating a moment, truer to those feelings in the air than you can create with a crisp photograph. Although he works very hard to be true to life about climate/people/objects, he also goes for soul—not just the emotion of individuals, but the soul of a community and moment. He adds hidden symbols, words, essence of experience to his illustrations.


As a fine artist, collage artist, and speaker, Bryan added layer by layer to our understanding of his subjects. One of his newer books is connected to South Carolina, where I grew up. He spoke of the soil, the many colors of clay. Immediately, as a tactile person, I was hooked. This book is Dave the Potter. Dave created 40,000 pots in his lifetime and along the way wrote poetry on them and signed his name. He did all this as a slave, somehow learning to read and write in a time when it was illegal for slaves to be taught these skills. Extraordinary. I could imagine a dozen ways teachers could fit the book into their work.

2 Comments on Layers in Nonfiction Illustration: Bryan Collier, last added: 9/29/2011
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9. Revision Week, Random Acts of Publicity, and Blogosphere Buzz

The International Reading Association (IRA) has declared Sept. 5-9, 2011 to be "Revision Week." Visit the IRA's Engage: Teacher to Teacher Blog this week to read/hear comments about revision from several well-known children's authors, including Cynthia Lord and Kate Messner.

Classroom teachers often tell me that one of their greatest challenges is helping students understand that a first draft is only the first step in the writing process. And many adult writers also dread the "R" word: Revision. Yet, as Kate Messner says today on the Engage: Teacher to Teacher Blog: “Revision is where writing really happens.”
(In the audio interview, Messner also talks about making time to write while working full-time and raising a family.)

One of the best ways I've found to help writers of all ages appreciate the benefit (and necessity) of revision is a bit of "show and tell." I "show" the drafts of my novel Rosa, Sola with all the post-it notes from my editor and I "tell" about how that feedback helped me polish that story. You can see some photos of one of my drafts and read a bit about that process in this post from last year.

For both young students and adult writers, it's often difficult to look at our own work objectively. Below is a revised version of the Writing Workout I shared last year. (Yes, even blog posts and writing exercises get better with revision!) The Workout is intended as a way to help trick ourselves into reading our work as though it were written by someone else.     

Speaking of revision, the next session of my Craft & Critique Workshop, which is held in Oak Brook, IL, begins on Tuesday, Sept. 27. That class is ALL about revision. For more information, see my website. If you don't live in the Chicago area and are looking for some feedback on your writing, check out the Blogosphere Buzz below for help finding a critique partner.

In addition to Revision Week, this is the third annual Random Acts of Publicity week, a chance to celebrate and publicize the work of our fellow authors. I'd like to take this opportunity to remind you that THREE of the TeachingAuthors have new books out this year. If you're new to our blog, please read these posts to learn all about them: JoAnn Early Macken's Baby Says "Moo!", Mary Ann Rodman's Camp K-9, and Esther Hershenhorn's Little Illinois.
 
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10. One Book's Roots

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.

5 Comments on One Book's Roots, last added: 5/26/2011
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11. Playing with Layout

Ever since desktop publishing software became available in the early 1990s, the visual appeal of nonfiction books for young readers has grown by leaps and bounds. These programs make it easy to experiment with a book’s layout.

As a result of this new freedom, many books now include multiple illustrations per spread and make clever use of white space. Examples include Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Aston, and Born to Be Giants: How Baby Dinosaurs Grew to Rule the World by Lita Judge.

One of the true masters of nonfiction book design is Steve Jenkins, who often works with his wife Robin Page. Books like How Many Ways Can You Catch a Fly?, Never Smile at a Monkey, What Do You Do with a Tail Like This, and Move! are all about animal adaptations. The fun, innovative design of these books couple with the brief, clear text is irresistible. Jenkins does a remarkable job of selecting animals with unique adaptations and organizing them into clever categories to create books with a game-like feel.

A current trend in science-themed titles for the picture book crowd is layered text. Books like Beaks by Sneed B. Collard III, When the Wolves Returned: Restoring Nature’s Balance in Yellowstone by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, Meet the Howlers by April Pulley Sayre, and my own book A Place for Butterflies feature two kinds of text that serve different purposes and that is distinguished visually by size and font.

For the most part, a larger, simpler text provides general information and can stand on its own. The smaller text presented in sidebars provides additional details to round out the presentation. These books are perfect for the Reading Buddy programs popular

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12. “Bystander” Named to Ballot of 2012 Charlotte Award Nominees

This is amazing good news. Great news, in fact. I’m happy and proud to say that my book, Bystander, is included on the ballot for the 2012 New York State Reading Association Charlotte Award.

To learn more about the award, and to download a ballot or bookmark, please click here.

The voting is broken down into four categories and includes forty books. Bystander is in the “Grades 6-8/Middle School” category. Really, it’s staggering. There are ten books in this category out of literally an infinity of titles published each year. You do the math, people.

For more background stories on Bystander — that cool inside info you can only find on the interwebs! — please click here (bully memory) and here (my brother John) and here (Nixon’s dog, Checkers) and here (the tyranny of silence).

Below please find all the books on the ballot — congratulations, authors & illustrators! I’m honored to be in your company.

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GRADES pre K-2/PRIMARY

Bubble Trouble . . . Margaret Mahy/Polly Dunbar

City Dog, Country Frog . . . Mo Willems/Jon J Muth

Clever Jack Takes the Cake . . . Candace Fleming/G. Brian Karas

Lousy Rotten Stinkin’ Grapes . . . Margie Palatini/Barry Moser

Memoirs of a Goldfish . . . Devin Scillian/Tim Bower

Otis . . . Loren LongStars Above Us . . . Geoffrey Norman/E.B. Lewis

That Cat Can’t Stay . . . Thad Krasnesky/David Parkins

Turtle, Turtle, Watch Out! . . . April Pulley Sayre/Annie Patterson

We Planted a Tree . . . Diane Muldrow/Bob Staake

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GRADES 3-5/INTERMEDIATE

The Can Man . . . Laura E. Williams/Craig Orback L

Emily’s Fortune . . . Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Family Reminders . . .

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13. Tasting Nonfiction Words

April is poetry month so it seems like a good time to celebrate jumping, thumping, nonfiction words. (Is any word not "nonfiction"?)

Below I've assembled sound samples to help in teaching language joy via my chant books. These books are a celebration of words, rhythm, rhyme, and biodiversity. (The newest celebrates veggies, farmer's markets, and farmers, too.)

After a quick reading of my upcoming (Beach Lane Books/S&S/June 14, 2011) book, Rah, Rah, Radishes: a Vegetable Chant, a 6-year old spontaneously practices, is able to chant a section, and has made up some dance moves to go with it. RahRahRadishesOutLoud

Here I teach the new chant to a large group, line-by-line. Rah Rah Radish youngauthorsconf

I teach word-by-word and challenge a group: Teaching Insect Chant

An older student rhythmically reads Bird, Bird, Bird_ A Chirping Chant

Here I perform a high speed version of the Fish Chant End

Another activity is to divide up into teams and have each act out a stanza of the chant. I wish I had video of what creative teachers did performing Ant, Ant, Ant: An Insect Chant during a recent inservice.

1 Comments on Tasting Nonfiction Words, last added: 4/28/2011
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14. The Problem of Knowing

The Problem of Knowing

Nonfiction has, at its roots, knowing. Paying attention to the real world. At times, that causes pain for reader and writer. No better time than the past few weeks of tsunami, earthquake, nuclear disaster, bombings, and the like to bring this to the fore. It's been a challenging for anyone watching the news and taking the time to understand the pain and problems for our planet and its people.


During the first thirteen years of my career, when I wrote environmental articles and books for adults and middle grade students, full time, I faced this issue a lot. Acid rain, deforestation, global warming, endangered species—you name it, I wrote about it, while working at National Wildlife Federation, interning at Nat Geo, and, later, authoring 27 middle grade books about biomes, continents, endangered species and the like. Been there. Seen stuff. So the issue of personal grieving about the planet's issues has been an ongoing process for me.


Unfortunately, my young readers don't yet know that the world can go through these horrible things and regular life will still go on, at least for those of us not directly impacted. Only experience can really give you that, although comforting grandmas, grandpas, aunties and other elders, can help, too.


As a writer about the environment, I've built an internal wall, the same wall that most folks build with age. This past week, by dropping that wall, I could walk away from the news barrage and plant peas, and do a school visit, a teacher inservice, a young author's conference where we celebrated words and wildness and, for a time, did not try to generate anything but sheer animal joy. Thank you, wall, you come in handy. Just don't stay closed.


The act of writing and reading, fortunately, seems to heal our brains, too. For me, science has a comfort to it: the comfort of being small, of being connected to the wondrous. That was why I wrote Stars Beneath Your Bed: The Surprising Story of Dust. Or Trout Are made of trees. But on a daily basis, here's what I use for my shot of big thinking as healing:


Astronomy Picture of the Day.


My husband keeps me updated on the number of earthlike planets estimated, which seems to keep increasing. Cool!

Just thinking about this kind of stuff lifts you out of everyday.


Ted Talks. Big thinkin

3 Comments on The Problem of Knowing, last added: 3/25/2011
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15. Cranky Blog Day

Writing this blog made me sick to my stomach. I often feel this way about blog writing. Because I don't like just throwing written words out there, willy-nilly. I like having editors. Blogging is just running around nude, not even getting dressed. And believe me, you don't want me streaking.


With all the recent talk of author power, hooray, publish-your-own-books, digital freedom, I'm going to temporarily crawl in my curmudgeonly corner. Yeah, I like freedom and I'm a longtime Mac head, videographer, photographer techno-geek. But, I WANT MY EDITORS! I want their counsel, their expertise, their push which makes the work better. I want their understanding umbrella, their picky questions, finding mistakes I did not see. My name and often an illustrator's name are on the books. But our editors (and designers and others) have made our work what it is. Just because we CAN wear all the hats and create something ourselves doesn't mean we should. Or that the work would be of comparable quality.


Authors and illustrators tend to remember, and relate, the times when they were right and editors were wrong. Yes, it happens. I still have a ghost words in my head, words that I sneak in at public readings even though they were cut from the final books. (Rebellious author moments!) But, oh, the improvements that have been made in my work by editors that pushed me. Better endings. Better wording. Deeper character. Better flow. I've learned so much from them over the years. I don't think enough readers appreciate the vast teams of people that work on each children's book. I'm not sitting in offices with these folks. But they are part of my daily work life. Bouncing text back and forth with them is productive, a satisfying, sometimes humorous, give-and-take. Hair-pulling hard work at times.


Recently, there were two places in a manuscript that were excellent. Yet whenever I read over them, I felt a faint tickle in my brain. The pieced flowed beautifully, so I sent it in. The manuscript returned from the editor. She had called me on each of those spots—pressing me, asking if something might somehow be better. I laughed to realize that she was echoing an instinct I'd had but couldn't follow without inquiry and encouragement.


Having a great editor on a project frees me to do what I do best—play with language, dig into concepts, explore, and experiment. Occasionally, I need reigning in. For a sometime picture book writer, I can get awfully wordy on occasion. Maybe a bit rambling. Oh, had you noticed that? Well, what do you expect? This is a BLOG, PEOPLE!


April Pulley Sayre

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This month I also have a nonfiction blog post about animals that hop, hosted on the Under the Green Willow blog. It's linked to a my fiction book, If You're Hoppy, which was released this week. (Shock! Horror! She writes… fiction?) Rest assured, the text of the

3 Comments on Cranky Blog Day, last added: 2/24/2011
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16. What I Dig

I had a big essay for today but it seemed like overstuffing the turkey. I'm imagining we're all just creeping back to work. So, I'm going minimal and bloggish with what I'm thinking, via linking. Here is much of what I what I was going to say. Consider it a peek at what a nf writer outlines before they, um . . . write!


WHAT I DIG


Dirt


Gloppy, tongue-tangling words


Maria Montessori (My K-5 years)


The wisdom of Kurt Hahn, founder of Outward Bound

The six declines of modern youth

Bio and quotes

Speeches/writings

The Children and Nature Network


The Global Education Conference where Dorothy Hinshaw Patent and I presented


This pie


OUTDOORS. PLAY. PIE. Need I say more?


2 Comments on What I Dig, last added: 11/29/2010
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17. That Makes Sense

Last month I wrote a post about lyrical language and many of you had great comments. Thanks so much! Jan Greenberg mentioned the role of sensory words in creating lyrical prose, and I couldn’t agree more. In fact, for today’s post, I’ve decided to highlight some of my favorite examples of writing that is enriched by sensory details.

Sensory details can really bring a piece of prose to life. Why is appealing to the five senses so powerful? Because they are how we experience and interpret the real, 3-D word we encounter every day.

Sights, sounds, and especially smells can instantly transport our minds to a specific time and place, an event from 10, 20, 30 or more years ago. They can also transport us to a time and place described in a book. Consider the following examples. Two are from adult books and one is from a book written by one of my fellow I.N.K. bloggers.


From Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey
“Sound preceded sight. Odor preceded sound in the form of an overwhelming musky-barnyard, humanlike scent. [Then we heard] a high-pitched series of screams followed by a rhythmic rondo of sharp pok-pok chestbeats . . . The three of us froze until the echoes of the screams and chestbeats faded. Only then did we creep forward under the cover of the dense shrubbery to about 50 feet from the group. Peeking through the vegetation, we could [see] . . . furry-headed [gorillas] peering back at us.”

From The Outermost House by Henry Beston
“I like a good smell—the smell of a freshly plowed field on a warm morning after a night of April rain, . . . the morning perfumes of lilacs showery with dew, the good reek of hot salt grass and low tide blowing from

1 Comments on That Makes Sense, last added: 11/10/2010
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18. That Last Two Percent

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.

http://www.naturephotographers.net/articles0905/ar0905-1.html

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.

http://www.naturephotographe

5 Comments on That Last Two Percent, last added: 10/29/2010
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19. From Song To Book

If I had my own jazz band, my new book, Meet the Howlers, would not exist. That’s because I first imagined it as a song. Specifically, it was song sung in a jazzy swing by a finger-snapping Frank Sinatra wearing a silver suit. Yes, I actually imagined that. (Fiction has no monopoly on strange book backstory, folks!)

The book started simply. There we were on a tower in the Panamanian rain forest. My nephews and I were watching howler monkeys and one of my nephews said, “He’s a howler.” It’s an innocent enough phrase.

That’s all it took. One little alliteration can set me off. I started singing. “He’s a howler, dooby, dooby-dee-doh...” This became the refrain. (As you can now imagine, I am one of the world’s most embarrassing aunties.)

Once I had this melody, I needed verses. So, I sang those as well. My nephews contributed an idea or two, but mostly just looked on, skeptically. We often brainstorm book ideas together but the singing was a new thing. Later, at home, I did the major work of crafting the song. This included all the usual nonfiction steps of research and fact checking. Fortunately, though, I’d observed howler monkeys for years and also studied primatology at Duke University.

The song had rhythm and rhyme and facts. After some more struggling it had structure. Sorry, Sinatra, but the perspective of the song shifted to that of a child. My imagined narrator was a child bemoaning all the things wild howler monkeys can get away with a child wishes he/she could. Yet the book doesn’t really have a child as a character. That child is just in my head, the source of the nonfiction voice used in this expository piece about a howler family.

The problem with my song? Well, again, I lack a band. Where IS my band? Every girl needs a band . . . Anyway, the second problem was this song’s conversion to the picture book form. I’ve often lectured about the connections between song form, story form, and picture book form. (I discovered this song/picture book connection while on a long school visit drive when Loretta Lynn was on the radio. Her songs use a form called the Nashville turnaround which, I noticed, was a classic picture book structure.)

Alas, despite the similarities between songs and picture books, the differences can get you into a pickle during conversion. This, the book’s editor knows. The whole thing had a wild, syncopated jazz rhythm that she and I wrestled to iron out. It was in my head and I could have taught it to you in a minute. But it would have driven a reader mad. Next, we moved on to Woody Miller’s illustrations, which sp

6 Comments on From Song To Book, last added: 1/28/2010
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20. How Do I Find Ideas? A Roundabout Answer

When I was 17, I took a tour of Belize and Guatemala in rickety bus with 14 random strangers who would have been great characters for a Broadway play. There was the lady who thought she’d been bitten by a vampire bat and ran off to find a local shaman. There was the British Imperialist magazine writer who who wanted to buy a pig and stake it out so we could attract a jaguar. There was the tour guide who abandoned us so he could rescue a tapir from a well. Oh, and let’s not forget the matronly lady with the inescapable grinding voice who complained about every single thing.


But there was this couple—a friendly couple. The man had powers. He could find animals. Anywhere. He could find a speck on a hillside and it would be a toucan. His skill was almost magical. I craved it. Years later, I found his magic was a hunter skill that comes from practice, year after year. Experienced birders have it. Now, I have it, too. Someone can say, “See that warbler?” And I can often find that bird without any additional directions in about two seconds, 60 feet up in a distant tree.


I can barely remember what it was like not to be able to separate the layered calls of forest birds and identify them. It seems strange to remember a time when I didn’t know the insects, the plants, the ecological layers, and how to snap to see the slightest animal movement at the corner of my eyes. My husband and I have led rain forest tours to Panama and helped others who felt just like I once did—like they’ll never see that animal everyone else is seeing. Yet this skill comes with time and practice.


Another thing that comes with time and this particular career is an absurd amount of information about the natural world. At first, I had knowledge because I wrote so many books about biomes, endangered species, and environmental issues. (Okay, so I also have a biology degree from Duke.) Back then, before google, I dug through academic libraries for much of my information about taiga, tundra, acid rain, global warming, and the like. Yes, the book stuff migrated to my brain. Before that, I’d written dozens upon dozens of articles for encyclopedias, conservation newsletters, and geography texts while working at National Wildlife Federation and the National Geographic Society.


6 Comments on How Do I Find Ideas? A Roundabout Answer, last added: 2/27/2010
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21. Something About Sea Turtles

The life of a book is a curious thing. It ripples outward into places you never expected it to go. Such as been the life of Turtle, Turtle, Watch Out! When I first wrote this book, I knew about sea turtles. But I hadn't lived turtles, not the way I have in the years since. Where the book has taken me and other readers has surprised and thrilled me.

Like many authors, I have always been intrigued by sea turtles and the sea turtle journey, particularly the way females find their way back to the beach where they hatched. But what also impressed me is how many people love sea turtles and what they are doing to help them: turning off beach lights, guarding beaches, avoiding driving on beaches, preventing plastic pollution, and installing Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) on nets. (As an intern at National Wildlife Federation in 1987, I wrote conservation articles to encourage people to enact TEDs laws.)

The first book came to me as a circle of hands. In fact, I called the first versions of my manuscript "Turtle and the Unseen Hands." Because that's the way I imagined this loving circle of people working hard to help sea turtles survive. The book title changed but it was this human participation and positive environmental message that made the book popular in a field that already had some lovely sea turtle books. Schoolchildren celebrated the book by crafting paper plate turtles, setting the book to music, tracking the turtle's journey, and writing turtle poetry. Sea turtles connect with people on some kind of heart level. I cannot count the number of sea turtle shaped necklaces that librarians have worn. (Okay, so I have turtle earrings and scarf!)

Yet the book went out of print years later when Orchard was slimming its backlist. Soon, anguished teachers contacted me to try to buy the book, which was at times going for $400 on ebay. (Wow, why didn't I keep a few cases of those ol' books around? Could have paid off my mortgage!) Extraordinary science educators Emily Morgan and Karen Ansberry were championing the book in their NSTA bestseller, Picture Perfect Science Lessons. Many of my nonfiction books have had this slow burn, where they catch on in multiple formats or languages several years after their release.

Fortunately Charlesbridge, then spearheaded by Judy O'Malley who'd loved the book years before as a reviewer, rescued the turtle—okay, turtle book—again. The book was reborn with luminous new illustrations by Annie Patterson and additions to the main text plus whole new swaths of endmatter on recent conservation action and profiles of all sea turtle species.

2 Comments on Something About Sea Turtles, last added: 3/25/2010
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22. Book Giveaway and Guest Teaching Author Interview with April Pulley Sayre!

The Teaching Authors are happy to present an interview with our good friend and Guest Teaching Author April Pulley Sayre.

April Pulley Sayre is the award-winning author of over 55 natural history books for children and adults. Her read-aloud nonfiction books, known for their lyricism and scientific precision, have been translated into French, Dutch, Japanese, and Korean. She is best known for pioneering literary ways to immerse young readers in natural events via creative storytelling and unusual perspectives.

In 2008, Sayre accepted the Theodor “Seuss” Geisel Honor Award given by the American Library Association for her book Vulture View. It was also named a finalist for the 2008 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books.

Stars Beneath Your Bed: The Surprising Story of Dust won the 2006 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books and was named a 2006 ALA Notable Children’s Book. One Is a Snail, Ten Is a Crab was a 2004 ALA Notable Children’s Book and a 2003 Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books Blue Ribbon Book and received Britain’s highest literacy award. Dig, Wait, Listen: A Desert Toad’s Tale was a Riverbank Review Children’s Book of Distinction and a 2001 ALA Booklist Editors’ Choice and received starred reviews. The Bumblebee Queen marked April's third win of the John Burroughs Award.

Sayre has followed lemurs in Madagascar, pursued army ants in Panama, and eaten piranha in the Peruvian Amazon. She and her husband, native plants expert Jeff Sayre, love science and adventure.

Sayre is an expert speaker in the fields of writing, science education, children’s literature, and wildlife gardening. Each year, she speaks to over 15,000 students nationwide, introducing them to the writing process, the joy of words, the diversity of rain forests, and wacky things scientists do to find, follow, and study animals.

To celebrate April's appearance on our blog, we're giving away an autographed copy of her new book Turtle, Turtle, Watch Out! To enter the drawing, see the instructions at the end of this post.

Welcome, April! How did you become a Teaching Author?

My work as a teaching author came after publishing dozens of books and earning an M.F.A. in creative writing for children and young adults at Vermont College. By speaking to over 15,000 students each year during school visits nationwide, I learned how to communicate my writing process to students. Along the way, educators shared what they were doing. I found ways to meld my 20 years as a writer with what teachers needed. Now, I teach educators and aspiring adult writers at conferences, workshops, and inservices. Because of my travel/

19 Comments on Book Giveaway and Guest Teaching Author Interview with April Pulley Sayre!, last added: 5/18/2010
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23. Two Villages, One Book---One Happy Author

     The last time I posted I was on my way to Chicago for the One Book Two Villages Program (hence known as OBTV), hosted annually by the Winnetka-Northfield Public Library System. Each year, two thematically related books...one for children, one for adults...are selected for citywide reading in Winnetka and Northfield. This year, my middle grade historical fiction Yankee Girl was chosen as the children's book.

     I was thrilled to have my "first born" book so honored, and doubly so when I learned that the adult selection was Kathryn Stockett's The Help (the first time I have been associated in any way with a New York Times bestseller!)  Not only do both of our books take place in Civil Rights-Era Jackson, Mississippi, but both of us claim Jackson as our hometown. (Kathryn was really born there; I just sort of adopted it.)

       If knowing that your adult counterpart is a bestseller was not intimidating enough, I really felt out-of-my-league when I learned that my predecessors in the program include Laurie Halse Anderson, Pam Munoz Ryan and Deborah Ellis!
Luckily, I didn't come upon that information until after the first day of the program.  By that time I already knew that the readers and librarians of Winnetka-Northfield Public are the best.  I have never had more fun on a multo-day school/library presentation.  Because this program has existed for seven years, the whole three days were smooth, glitch-less and stress free for me.

     I visited two schools, Skokie and Sunset Ridge Schools, where I talked about the Civl Rights Movement, and the background of Yankee Girl. Snaps all around to the teachers and librarians at those two schools who made sure their students read YG before my visit. One of the schools even conducted book discussion groups for YG before I arrived. As a result of the pre-planning, the students were ready to ask me insightful and cogent questions.  When you have been doing school visits as long as I have for YG,
after awhile you know you have been asked every conceivable question. . . twice!  These students questions I had never considered, and found themes and nuances I was unaware of. . .and I w

5 Comments on Two Villages, One Book---One Happy Author, last added: 5/18/2010
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24. Every Word Counts: Lyrical Language

Whether a writer is crafting fiction or nonfiction, every word counts. This is especially true when it comes to picture books where just a few words have to do A LOT of work.

Since I’m as much a scientist as I am a writer, I’ll start out with a scientific finding: The anatomical structure of our ears and the physical laws of sound wave transmission make certain combinations of sounds and syllables particularly pleasing to us. That’s why devices like alliteration, rhythm, and repetition can give writing a magical quality. We call it lyricism.

Here are some examples of lovely lyrical books that focus on natural history topics.

Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre
The sun is rising.

Up, up.
It heats the air.
Up, up.
Wings stretch wide
to catch a ride
on warming air.
Going where?
Up, up.

Arctic Lights, Arctic Nights by Debbie S. Miller
The sun’s arc drops lower as the top of the world angles away from its source of heat. White sky and earth create flat light, and it is hard to see where land ends and sky begins.





Under the Snow by Melissa Stewart
In the heart of winter, a deep layer of snow blankets fields and forests, ponds and wetlands.


You spend your days sledding and skating and having snowball fights.


But under the snow lies a hidden world.

All of these books have a calming, comforting tone that make them perfect as bedtime stories but they can also enrich science lessons. The lyrical language helps readers fall in love with the books--and their topics.

Can you think of other books with beautiful lyrical language? If so, please share them in the comments section.

4 Comments on Every Word Counts: Lyrical Language, last added: 10/8/2010
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25. Imagination in All Things

We nonfiction writers often puzzle over the prejudice many teachers have against nonfiction. Sometimes these are so strong that they won't even allow a child to read a nonfiction book for credit or use one for a book report. One reason for this makes sense at first. Most of the school day, they will say, the children are reading fact after fact as they study math, science, social science, and grammar. They need a break. They need reading that will stimulate their imaginations.

Sounds good, doesn't it? Let's give the kids something to read that's different from what's required of them. Facts aren't all that matters in a good education; exercising the imagination is also important, and novels are what do that. But wait a minute--what's wrong with this picture? For one thing, where do the ideas for fiction writers come from? They come from the real world, from real events, things that really happened. And think about science fiction--it's a wonderfully imaginative genre that takes its inspiration from real scientific discoveries and inventions.

Some people prefer to call nonfiction books "informational books." I agree that the word "nonfiction" can have a negative sound to it--it says what our books are not instead of what they are. But "informational" sounds plodding and boring, and our books are far from that.

Reading exciting history, such as the recounting of the adventures of great explorers, for example, can really get children imagining. Take this tidbit from my book, The Lewis and Clark Trail Then and Now, describing the journey ahead:
"For more than two years, your diet will be limited to a few items.......You will work so hard that you can easily gobble down a meal of nine pounds of meat. Many times you will go hungry. You will be completely out of touch with family and friends except for one chance to send, but not receive, letters after the first winter."

A mathematically inclined reader might think for a moment, then realize--wow! Nine pounds of meat--that's 36 Quarter Pounders! The child who is constantly visiting his Facebook page and texting on his cell phone may wonder--how could I survive not being able to contact my friends? These kinds of reactions stimulate the readers imaginations to take them places mentally and emotionally that they have never been before.

Good nonfiction writing can also take something that seems mundane, like dust, and transform it into something magical. Here's a sample from April Pulley Sayre's book, Stars Beneath Your Bed The Surprising Story of Dust:
"Dust can be bits of unexpected things--a crumbling leaf, the eyelash of a seal, the scales of a snake, the smoke of burning toast, ash from an erupting volcano.......Old dust stays around. Dirt that made King Tut sneeze is still on Earth. It might be on your floor. That dusty film on your computer screen might have muddied a dinosaur." Now that's writing that will stimulate any reader's imagination!

One final point that has been brought up before in our blogs--there are children out there whose imaginations are more stimulated by nonfiction than fiction. They may even put down fiction as "just made up stories" and only be interested in reading about "real" things. If one goal of education

4 Comments on Imagination in All Things, last added: 10/13/2010
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