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By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for CynsationsEsther, welcome back to Cynsations! What’s new in your writing-teacher life?
I’m happy to report: the teaching part of my teaching-author life is taking off in all sorts of new directions this year, literally and figuratively. I continue to teach writing for children workshops at both the University of Chicago’s Graham School’s Writer’s Studio
and Chicago’s Newberry Library
, where I’ve taught since 2001 in alternating seasons.
However, this April and May I’ll be facilitating a Writers Group at the Writer’s Studio for middle grade and young adult novelists. This June I’m introducing a new hands-on workshop in which writers use common marketing tools to create a GPS to guide their final submission-worthy revisions.
Both institutions bring me stellar students from all walks of life, so committed to telling their stories to children they wring me out like a sponge.
I love it and remain “Jewish-Mama proud” as they fully immerse themselves in learning and honing their craft.
Come July, I’ll be flying northeast to Landgrove, Vermont, where I’m honored to continue Barbara Seuling’s venerable Manuscript Workshop from July 10 to July 15 at the Landgrove Inn
I’m back in Chicago July 23 through Aug. 3, again honored, this time to facilitate a writing for children workshop, along with Joan Bauer
and Sara Holbrook
, in Judson University’s Doctoral program.
We’ll spend time on campus grounding the soon-to-graduate Doctorate in Literacy candidates
in the Children’s Book World’s story-telling opportunities and possibilities; we’ll then retreat to a northern Michigan resort where we’ll work one-one-one with our writers to help each ready his or her manuscript.How exciting that you’ll be leading the Manuscript Workshop at the Landgrove Inn in Landgrove, Vermont! Would you please tell us about the history of the program?
The one-and-only Barbara Seuling - children’s book author of more than 60 titles, illustrator, former children’s book editor and esteemed children’s book writing teacher, founded The Manuscript Workshop in New York City in 1982, moving it to Vermont in 1992 and then to the Landgrove Inn these last few years.
That’s Barbara Seuling, the expert author, as in How To Write A Children's Book and Get It Published
(Wiley, 2004), Barbara Seuling, whose dedication to craft and children’s literature as well as to her students and fellow children’s book creators is known to all in the children’s book world.
I’m mindful I’m stepping into some mighty huge shoes.
An early brochure’s cover quote underscored Barbara’s heart and the workshop’s intent: “Spread your writer’s wings…and discover how high you can soar.”
Countless working writers who attended the workshop and retreat have indeed flown high, connecting with fellow writers, learning new skills and polishing their work.
The good news is: my heart lies with Barbara’s; the workshop’s intent remains the same.
The small (up to eight writers) week-long workshop continues its tradition of offering insightful, informative and inspiring one-to-one student-teacher connections.
Morning sessions include hands-on writing exercises and instruction on craft – story and its structure, format and genre considerations, the young reader’s needs.
Afternoons are set aside for individual writing and/or re-visioning of manuscripts, optional special interest sessions or free time.
Evening sessions focus on readings of the day’s work and guided critiques.
Throughout the week, focused food-for-thought conversations at meals highlight the writing process, paths to publications, writer’s tips and sustaining the creative spirit.
Appropriately enough, manuscript workshop founder Barbara Seuling ices the week’s cake with a guest speaker visit.How about your personal philosophy of teaching? What should your students expect from you?
As corny as it sounds, like Barbara I do things “the old-fashioned way” – up close and personal, eyeball to eyeball, heart to heart.
In my humble opinion: each of us has a story and the right to tell that story. It’s my job, as well as a privilege, to help the writer do just that if children are his or her audience. I do indeed invest in that story – in its construct, its telling, its place within the body of children’s literature.
But as important, I also invest in the writer. Knowing what
our characters want/need/wish for and why
isn’t enough; we need to know our own what's
. As Marion Dane Bauer
taught me, the writer needs to be somewhere in his story if it’s to re-sound in the reader’s heart.
This was a truth that came late to me in my own path to publication, a career that – proudly - earned me the title “The Susan Lucci
of Children’s Books.”
Again, it might sound corny, but I do my best to give my students and the writers I coach what I needed while out and about on my own writer’s plotline: I needed someone seeding me, feeding me, cheering me on, believing in my story, believing in me.
Like the earlier-mentioned Jewish Mama, I’m tough – because children deserve the very best, I nurture and I take enormous pride in the strides my students and coached writers – my “storied treasures” - continue to make.One of the great lures of any workshop is the location. How would you describe it?
I cannot tell a lie: I’ve yet to visit the Green Mountains in person!
However, I’m counting the days ‘til I arrive.
Paging through Vermont travel guides and scrolling down the pages of online Vermont websites, I know what awaits me: majestic mountain peaks, rolling hills, picturesque valleys and verdant forests, scenic roads, hiking trails and quaint charming towns. “Idyllic” is the word most travel writers choose to describe the Green Mountain State.
Tom and Maureen Checchia, proprietors of the historic Landgrove Inn
, known, incidentally, for its award-winning meals, describe their country inn and town as “authentically Vermont.”
The truth is: a whole lot of magic can happen when we leave our known and familiar writing rooms, when we take ourselves and our stories to new places and spaces and surround ourselves with like-minded, like-hearted folks who share our passion.Tell us more what you’re doing in your writing life.
Ah! The author part of teaching-author.
Alas, when I do claim writing time between my teaching and coaching, my work, like my teaching, has taken off in new directions, literally and figuratively. Now, when I do write, I’m usually writing nonfiction.
I found this funny at first, since I was somewhat reluctant to join my fellow TeachingAuthors bloggers
, certain the writing would not fulfill me as my fiction did. (How wrong I was!)
I also found my reluctance ironic. I minored in journalism at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communication
and cut my writer’s teeth working for a local newspaper, then educational text book publishers.
Researching and writing S is for Story
, illustrated by Zachary Pullen
(Sleeping Bear, 2009) turned me around 360°. The writing itself, straightforward and concrete, came so naturally, lost as I was in that creative flow Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Recently I began blogging for the American Writer’s Museum
, scheduled to open in Chicago in late 2016/early 2017.
Given my love of Chicago and All Things Children’s Book, my posts have featured Shel Silverstein
(“A Chicago Gift Named Shel”), L. Frank Baum
(“Somewhere, Over Lake Michigan!”) and The Center for the Book’s Letters About Literature project
(“Dear Author”). Future posts will feature Gene Luen Yang
(the new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature), the Walter Dean Meyers Award and a favorite author’s upcoming 100th Birthday.
Currently, I’m working with a graphic designer to create a new alphabet book concept.
And that one middle grade fictional character whose story grabbed my heart a life-time ago?
Fortunately, she’s making herself known on a daily basis.How would you say your journey has evolved over time?
Leo the Late Bloomer and I have much in common.
For starters, like most beginning children’s book writers, I had no idea I was embarking on a journey, and a Hero’s Journey, to boot.
I was simply writing a picture book to be published in time for my son’s third birthday. It would be easy. It would be fun. And how nice that while doing so I could realize my childhood dream of seeing my name on the cover of a children’s book. I mean, I did teach fifth grade, right? I did write for newspapers, yes? I did write text books.
Fast forward lots
of years dotted with lots of rejections and “oh, no!” Moments, past lots
of twists and turns, not to mention lots
of mentors and allies. To my amazement, as story helps the reader discover/uncover/recover his story, writing – and revising - my never-published picture books and middle grade fiction helped me discover/uncover/recover my story. I’d finally found my voice. I could speak from the heart. Published picture books soon indeed followed.
But wait! Just as the hero surprisingly returns with something so much better than what he first sought, I did too.
Once published, I went on to become a teacher and coach of children’s book writers.
In Elizabeth Strout
’s new novel My Name is Lucy Barton
(Random House, 2016), the title character and narrator shares remembered advice from a famous author whose writing workshop she’d attended. “You will have only one story,” Sarah Payne told the class. “You’ll write your one story many ways. Don’t ever worry about story. You have only one.”
I’ve come to see that all of my books, whether fiction or nonfiction, picture book or novel, and all of my characters from Lowell Piggott to the referenced and cited children’s book creators in S is for Story, tell the reader: you
Which is just what I tell my students and writers.
In so many inevitable yet surprising ways, I now understand my story may well be helping other writers tell their stories.
I look forward to doing just that July 10 to July 15 at the Landgrove Inn in Landgrove, Vermont.
Through February, The Inn offers a discount for accommodations. You can email Tom Chechhia at email@example.com.
Interested writers can also email me their questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To welcome in 2016, my fellow TeachingAuthors and I wish to gift our readers with singular items and opportunities meant to keep everyonewriting. My gift for this brand new year of endless possibilities? I first discovered these handy, interactive, pocket-sized writing prompts and exercises inside my SCBWI Europolitan Conference folder last April in Amsterdam. Since then, I’ve done my due diligence, thanks to, fortuitously enough, THE LOOKING GLASS used book store in Oak Park, Illinois. Themed by elements of narrative, settings, occasion and emotion, each of the 15 maps lives up to its billing – i.e. “portable, practical, inspiring.” I’ve showcased MY WRITING LIFE because IMHO, it’s the perfect map to help you find your way to writing – as well as – keep you writing once you’ve learned what’s driving you. Last January, in my post titled HAPPY DRIVING, I encouraged readers to discover their writing Wants and Needs.
We do the same for our characters, I shared, so we can tell their stories well. We must do so for ourselves so we can keep on telling the writer’s story we’re living.
In truth, though, that wasn’t the whole picture; knowing the Want, and even better, the Need, doesn’t do the job for our characters or us. If we’re to tell our stories true – either those we’re writing or the writer’s story we’re living, we need to know the WHY behind the WHAT. MY WRITING LIFE can help all of us do just that, allowing a closer look at various elements of the writing life: commitment, community, setting, subject matter. We’re to think of the map’s questions as coming from someone who loves us, someone who is interested in how and why we write. What does writing mean to you? Who are your writing friends and allies? What kind of writer are you? Maps provide information, all in the name of navigation. Here’s to 2016 and again, Happy Driving! May MY WRITING LIFE help you write happily ever after! Speaking of maps and writing, check out the Landgrove Inn in beautiful Landgrove, Vermont. A Writing Map will sit inside each writer’s workshop folder. J
Jo holds a Master’s Degree in Children’s Literature from Simmons College and she teaches in the MFA program at Southern New Hampshire University. Her awards and honors include NY Times and ALA Notable Book distinctions and the PEN New England Children’s Book Discover Award.
Thanks to Stenhouse – and – Jo for their permission to present the following warm-up as today’s Wednesday Writing Workout.
. . . . . . . . . .
A Jo Knowles Warm-up
One of my favorite exercises to help people get started is to have them describe the kitchen of their childhood. If you moved around a lot, choose the one that has the strongest memories. Place your child self in that room. Now: What do you see? Describe the room in as much details as you can remember. What do you smell? Was yours a kitchen of delicious odors? Or was it rarely used? What kinds of foods were cooked? Did you like them? Why or why not? What do you hear? What kinds of conversations took place in the kitchen, if any? Were there moments of joy? Arguing? Worry? Love? What do you taste? What are the strongest tastes you remember? A morning bowl of cereal? The batter on a spoon? Who made the food? As you write, you will likely notice a plethora of memories flooding your brain and your heart. Seize these and write them down. Describe them in as much detail as you can. Soon, you will discover a story taking shape. Grab it!
Even more terrific is that each of us poetically celebrates by penning a Thanku. As I shared last year, I often borrow the words of former Ambassador Walter Annenberg to describe my never-changing state of mind: i.e. grateful and hopeful.
Gratitude begins my day – gratitude for my family and friends, especially my carioca grandson, for my writers, students and Children’s Book World, for my fellow TeachingAuthors and of course, you, our readers.
Hopefulness propels me forward. This year I express my heartfelt thanks to the 2015 National League Central Division Champions, the 40-man roster of the 2015 Chicago Cubs, inspiringly led by their Manager Joe Maddon.
In a crazy-crazy oft-dark April through mid-October when making sense of the world sometimes proved head-shakingly challenging, my Cubbies, with their Can-Do boundless Spirit, proved to be the cure-all, the vaccination against succumbing.
They pierced through the gloom and doom, to those blue skies above Wrigley Field dotted with flying WIN pennants, enabling and ennobling me to keep keepin’ on. They perched in my soul like that feather of Emily Dickinson’s.
Thanku to My Home Team
Just what the Doctor ordered All together now, even though I can sing the tune without the words: Go, Cubs, Go! May you always have reason to give thanks and be hopeful. Don’t forget to share your Thanku!
For the last three weeks, Teaching Authors has celebrated the season of gratitude
by writing Thanks-Giving Thank U Haiku. And with each offering, Carmela
, Mary Ann
, and JoAnn
offer hauntingly beautiful poetry that, as JoAnn stated so eloquently, asks us to add our light to the sum of light.Now it’s my turn.
Alas, I am not a poet. After hours of trying to compose a Thank U Haiku, I concede that I cannot do it. It’s worrisome.
There are many things that I cannot do, of course.
I cannot drive a truck. I’m not talking about the little SUVs, complete with manual five-speed stick shift. I’m talking about those eighteen-wheeler, semi-trailer big rigs. Complete with forward engine, steering axle, two drive axles. Ten forward drive gears and two reverse gears. And a bed. Vroom, vroom!
Wouldn’t it be fun to drive across country, to see this vast and changing landscape? To see those very steps where Martin Luther King said he had a dream? Where on Christmas Day George Washington crossed the river for his own country’s honor? Where Abraham Lincoln spoke about a new birth of freedom? What about to walk the ruins of the Alamo or march across the fields of Gettysburg? Or the hills of San Francisco, where Harvey Milk imagined a righteous world?
Well, true enough I have seen many places. And you don’t really need a truck. As a working writer, I visit the landscape where my characters once walked. I do that to make them more alive. But it’s more than that, too. It’s why I write historical fiction. History is important. As Penelope J. Corfield
said, “All people and peoples are living histories,” and studying those stories that link “past and present is absolutely basic for a good understanding of the condition of being human.” That’s true now more than ever, given recent events. Still, wouldn’t it be fun to be a truck driver? Vroom, vroom! There are many things I cannot be, of course.
I cannot be a worm. How important are worms! Big worms! Small worms! Rain worms! Dew worms! And everyone’s favorite, angleworms! They burrow beneath our feet, sight unseen, churning the inorganic into the organic. Even their poop – I mean, worm casts – are invaluable in enriching soils. Which grows gardens. Which feeds the world.
I am not near as important as a worm. Still, I am a writer, and if I do my job as well as a worm does his, perhaps I might enrich at least one mind.
Speaking of important, I suppose I cannot be a rose either. Even the most imperfect rose is perfect compared to other flowers. Or, so a rose thinks. They are an old, old flower. Maybe that’s why they feel so entitled. Sacred to their Goddess Venus, Romans covered their sofas with roses. Cleopatra covered her floor with roses whenever Marc Antony was about to visit. Roses even have their own language: red rose for love, yellow rose for joy, purple rose for royalty, and white rose for innocence and peace. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” wrote William Shakespeare. In a story that has lasted hundreds of years.
I have wild roses growing like brambles in my back yard. They certainly share the same hoity toity attitude as their hybrid cousins, despite having the nastiest thorns around. Still, bees love them. And in their thorny tangle hide rabbits and wild turkeys with their fledglings. And skunks. There’s nothing sweet smelling about them.
All the same, I prefer the dandelions that blanket my acres every spring. When they bloom, they look like a thousand bright yellow suns, shooing away the last memory of winter. When the blooms turn into puff balls, they look like a thousand moons. And when the puff balls explode, dispersing their seeds, they look like a thousand shooting stars. My galaxy is growing!
Of course, the result of all those shooting stars is a yard full of weeds. But I like weeds. “And, constant stars, in them I read such art as truth and beauty shall together thrive,” as Shakespeare also wrote.
But the question remains, how can I write a haiku? I'll try once more...My Broken Haiku
Discover your world
Honor what lies beneath
Expand your galaxy Thank U for being a part of my universe.Bobbi Miller (PS: All photos courtesy of morguefile.com)
Oh, the possibilities when forced to choose my favorite children’s book of 2015! and Laura Amy Schlitz’s THE HIRED GIRL gifted me respectively with 9-year-old Anna Bauman, 11-year-old Nell Warne and 14-year-old Joan Skraggs, characters whose stories kept me turning the pages as I lived and breathed alongside them – in WWII Warsaw, 1860’s Chicago and 1911 Baltimore. The above titles did what children’s books must do: amuse, inform, inspire, encourage and always, always, leave the reader hopeful. The one book, though, that carried my heart in its heart? I first learned of this singular picture book in Maria Popova’s August 10Brain Pickings.
She’d called it “a tender illustrated parable of purpose and the power of working with love.”
Publishers Weekly called it, in its starred review, “a tender metaphor for the miracle of gardening.” School Library Journal praised its spirit that applauded tenacity. For me, a TeachingAuthor, it was surely and purely a Two-fer. The writer in me sighed as I read of the little gardener toiling away in his garden that meant everything to him. “It was his home. It was his supper. It was his joy.” Alas, “he wasn’t much good at gardening,” even though “he worked very, very hard. He was just too little.” But there was that one “alive and wonderful” flower that gave the little gardener hope and made him work even harder, that one bloom that made him wish he had a little help. The teacher in me smiled. Seeding and feeding writers, helping them grow their stories, is how I spend my days. I ordered up THE LITTLE GARDENER pronto and read it aloud to welcome my Newberry Library Workshop picture book writers this Fall. Help was on the way, I assured them. And soon they would learn they meant everything to their stories. Writing? Gardening? To me they’re the same. It’s all about growing, yes?
Hurrah for children’s books and how they help us grow, no matter their pub dates!
I wish our TeachingAuthors readers Happy Holidays and Happy Bloomin’ in 2016.
Chicago’s June through July rains and cold temps marked Summer as it’s supposed to be a Very Late Arrival.
Still, I found sunshine aplenty to keep me on task in the golden opportunities that kept me writing, reading and connecting.
I was honored to be invited to contribute 3 blog posts to the Newsletter of the American Writers Museum – a national museum celebrating American writers, opening in Chicago in 2016. Early word about this museum quickly captured my attention. You can read all about it here.
Be sure to scroll down to the bottom of the home page so you can subscribe to the Newsletter and learn about its soon-to-be-announced location.
I chose to focus my blogs on Chicago children’s book authors. My first, titled “Somewhere, Over Lake Michigan,” shares L. Frank Baum’s Chicago connection to THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ. Few know the author wrote the book while living on the northwest side of Chicago – and – that his visits in 1893 to the Columbian Exposition’s White City led to his imagining the Emerald City.
Next on deck: a blog about Chicago-born Shel Silverstein’s sidewalks and attics.
this summer, thanks to my Newberry Library’s “Write Place” workshop students, I’ve been checking out all sorts of early chapter books and all sorts of relevant Kidlitosphere blogs, especially those that present diverse cultures.
Here are 4 blogs I found eye-openingly insightful:
As always, my best connecting opportunities arrived courtesy of SCBWI, THE Connection Vehicle for children’s book creators. Kelly recommends a 3-paragraph query: the first paragraph is personal, sharing why the writer seeks representation from the particular agent and the second paragraph offers an overview of the story, comparisons to similar titles and never gives away the ending. It was Kelly’s suggestion for the third paragraph that struck me as brilliant: the inspiration for the writer’s work! Just how and why did this book come to be? What a clever way to get a true sense of the writer.
Kelly represents illustrators and writers for all age groups within children’s literature, though she is currently not accepting queries.
I do plan to attend vicariouslyvia SCBWI's Team Blog.
Click here now to read the pre-conference interviews and learn about the 25 editors and agents, the Golden Kite Winners and a host of authors who’ll be presenting workshops.
Of course, besides writing, reading and connecting, writers dream.
This summer, I began each workshop session with the inspirational words of ALA-award-winning authors. My students took heart and hope from Sid Fleishman, Christopher Paul Curtis, Greg Pizzoli and John Green via their past acceptance speeches. FYI: The Horn Book Magazine publishes a special July/August 2015 Special Awards issue that includes the above speeches in print. Confidentially, I love getting lost in these speechifying moments. Whenever despair descended upon my very first Writer’s Group, we’d take turns sharing what we planned to wear when we accepted our particular awards, be they Newbery, Dr. Gesell, Prinz or Siburt. I’m not so sure now about that navy blue gab pencil skirt with the front slit, or even the white silk blouse, long-sleeved, Georgette neckline. My ankle-strapped heels are still in the running, though. J Here’s hoping the golden nuggets I shared from my Summer so far will keep you writing, reading, connecting and dreaming.
The topic of a few TA blog posts this summer will deal with conferences and other types of summer learning experiences.
JoAnn Early Macken has a fascinating post about tending monarch butterflies in her garden, Summer Science Experiments
Since I live in an area through which monarchs migrate, I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe JoAnn’s butterflies will flutter by my house and land on the blooms in my flower bed.
Esther Hershenhorn detailed some of the great blog posts she is working on this summer in One Writer’s Nuggets from Her Summer… So Far
Not only does she give lots of wonderful details about Chicago, Esther also talks about SCBWI conferences.
I attended several national conferences while I was a SCBWI Regional Advisor. They are an exciting adventure. It’s great to meet the authors whose books you admire, hear them speak, and buy an autographed copy. Conferences give writers the opportunity to meet others who share their passion of writing for young readers. The world of children’s book authors is a friendly place and conferences give you the chance to get to know people from all over the county and the world. Writers find themselves in the midst of a crowd of people who understand the joy and the rejection of writing to publish.
Nearly every pre published writer at an SCBWI conference hopes they will make a connection with an editor who will publish their book. And that is always possible. But when I look back to my early years as a writer, I see now that the most important lessons I learned at SCBWI conferences did not result in a published book. One clear benefit is the wonderful friends I made, including Esther Hershenhorn. For me, another benefit was that I began to see how the creative side of writing must coexists with the business of publishing.
Conferences teach writers about the craft and the business of writing. What can be learned at SCBWI conferences can speed up the process of both sides. Like Joann’s butterflies, change happens and pre published writers change into published authors.
“We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.” ~ William James
I have so enjoyed this unit on summer experiences presented by the Teaching Authors. At the core of these discussions is the importance of making connections. JoAnn
connects to nature, offering interesting experiments with monarch butterflies.Esther
explore the important connections to be made at writing conferences that go above and beyond the business of writing.Mary Ann
connects to the next generation of writers in her discussion of summer camp,“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” ~ Herman Melville
We know stories are old. Humans have been telling stories for over 100,000 years. Not every culture had developed codified laws, or even a written language, but every culture in the history of the world has had stories. Some research suggests stories predate language, that language came about in order to express story concepts.
And those first stories are found in paintings buried in prehistoric caves. An ancient man reaches out and across 40,000 years to his descendents, connecting past to present. It is the essence of humankind to connect. As Eric Booth states, in The Everyday Work of Art, “Art is not apart. It is a continuum within which all participate; we all function in art, use the skills of art, and engage in the action of artists every day.”
“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tired into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.Thank you for connecting with me and the Teaching Authors!Bobbi Miller
|Kinza Riza/Courtesy of Nature.com. |
About the photograph: A stencil of an early human's hand in an Indonesian cave is estimated to be about 39,000 years old. Kinza Riza/Courtesy of Nature.com.
See More about the Cave Art here: Rock (Art) of Ages: Indonesian Cave Paintings Are 40,000 Years Old. Cave paintings of animals and hand stencils in Sulawesi, Indonesia, seem to be as old as similar cave art in Europe. Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/rockart-ages-indonesian-cave-paintings-are-40000-years-old-180952970/#8DR5O3DYTByKccpx.99.
Just in time for our back-to-school TeachingAuthors posts, which JoAnn kicked off Friday with a Book Giveaway of her WRITE A POEM STEP BY STEP, I share my THUMBS UP review of Kate Messner’s REAL REVISION (Stenhouse, 2011) – a must-read for anyone any time of the year (really!) who wants to get his or her writing right. Personally, I’m a Big Fan of the prefix “re” – as in, back to, return to, again and again. According to my trusty online dictionary, verbs affixed with re connote restoration and repetition, a backwards motion, a withdrawal. REAL REVISION makes all of the above possible, breaking down the revision process into doable, fun-even tasks, by sharing the revision strategies of a bounty of award-winning children’s book writers – Mentor Authors who truly show readers that all writing is revising. Kirby Larson, Nora Raleigh Baskin, Jane Yolen, Kathi Appelt, Mitali Perkins, Donna Gephart, Tom Angleberger, Tanya Lee Stone, G. Neri, Rebecca Stead, just to name a few – share honest-to-goodness manuscripts and revision experiences of specific titles they’ve published in order to illustrate a key element of narrative – say, voice or characterization, setting or plot, and the writing process – maybe research, seeing the Big Picture, word choice, copyediting or brainstorming. I’m talking REAL examples that lead to raised eyebrows and bulging eyes and all sorts of head-shaking responses. Each Mentor Author’s offering is the stuff of a mini, personalized writer-to-writer one-on-one. Each Mentor Author also offers a Try Out for the reader that accompanies the teaching point of each chapter– an easily-reproducible hands-on, doable, concrete exercise that underscores what’s – really – important. The quotes that begin each chapter are delicious, too. For instance, Lisa Schroeder’s: “Revision is like cleaning your room because it may not be fun while you’re doing it but when you’re finished, you can stand back and see what you’ve done, and think, ‘Wow! That looks great!’” “Revision is like a newborn because it’s a 24/7 commitment and worth every sleepless night.” “Revision is like a lottery ticket because it’s a golden opportunity to make your work even better!” Throughout REAL REVISION, Kate herself wears both her author and teacher hat, sharing her writing life, her process and the revision stories of her books. Kate happens to be a National Board-certified teacher – and – the award-winning author of such books as the E.B. White Read Aloud Award winner THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z., SUGAR AND ICE and the Marty McGuire chapter book series. I don my two TeachingAuthor hats to sincerely thank Kate for bringing REAL REVISION’s Mentor Authors and their realistically-presented, insightful and informative revision strategies to the page in such a fun and readable instructive way. Whether it’s back-to-school for you, and/or back-to-writing, don’t leave home without this anytime/anyonetool. Oh, and don’t forget to enter our Book Giveaway for JoAnn Early Macken’s WRITE A POEM STEP BY STEP. Here’s to that prefix “re” and second chances!
As JoAnn shared in her Friday post
, in this current series my fellow Teaching Authors and I are writing to our younger selves, inspired by the authors’ letters of the Dear Teen Me
At first, this letter-writing idea grabbed me. For years I’ve tasked my writers to pen all sorts of letters – to their future selves to envision their journeys, to their characters to learn their stories more fully, to the author of the book that made them a Reader, to the author whose writing changed their lives. I also believe in writing Thank You notes, in haiku or not. But then Second Thoughts took center stage, overwhelming me and holding me back. So I considered sharing Jake Wizner’s new Stenhouse book WORTH WRITING ABOUT – EXPLORING MEMOIR WITH ADOLESCENTS.
Or Carolyn Mackler’s September-released Harper Teen YA novel INFINITE IN BETWEEN
, in which “five ninth graders write letters to their future selves, promising to reunite on graduation day and read them together.”
Or even reviewing DEAR TEEN ME
which gathered over 70 letters noted YA authors wrote their teenaged selves.
And then I saw my badge from my 50th
High School Reunion (!) and I knew just
what I wanted to tell that E
nthusiastic and R
esourceful about-to-enter-college voted “Likely to Succeed” Teacher-Writer Wannabe – the one (I've since surprisingly learned) her fellow classmates viewed as confident, even though she knew “S
elf-UNassured” was the more appropriate and telling S
that her metaphorical non-stop paddling feet beneath the water’s surface belied the appearance of smooth and happy sailing.
I wanted to riff on borrowed words from Dennis Palumbo’s WRITING FROM THE INSIDE OUT to tell her what I've spent a lifetime learning. Palumbo wants the writer to know, “…you - everything you are, all your feelings, hopes and dreads, fears and fantasies – you are enough.” Here’s my variation and Dear Teen Me letter.
As your Life unfolds, no matter the circumstance and the verb
you choose/need/desire to undertake - to love, befriend, embrace
or honor, achieve, create, realize or become, confront, rebound,
overcome, triumph, I absolutely assure you:
you are MORE than enough!”
Esther Chairnoff Hershenhorn
How appropriate that while we TeachingAuthors share epistles to our Teen Selves these two weeks, invited Guest Author Angela Cerrito’s WWW focuses on letter writing! Angela is my treasured SCBWI kin. We first met in 2004 at the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York; she’d (deservedly) won the Kimberly Colen Memorial Grant which funded research in Warsaw, Poland that led to her recently published middle grade novel THE SAFEST LIE (Holiday House). That research included interviews with the novel’s inspiration, Irena Sendler, the Catholic social worker and spy who rescued more than twenty-five hundred children from the Warsaw ghetto, as well as readings of testimonies from many of those children held in the archives of the Jewish Historical Institute. This powerful historical novel tells the story of nine-year-old Anna Bauman who in 1940 is smuggled out of the Warsaw ghetto and struggles to both hide and hold onto her Jewish identity. Her journey brings to the page the sacrifices endured, the dangers faced and the heroism shown by the children rescued, their parents and their saviors. It illuminates yet another tragedy of the Holocaust: rescued children who lost not only their loved ones, but their very identities and Jewish heritage. Anna is a truly unforgettable character. Her first person narrative falters not once. This novel’s craft is noteworthy. Just enough reader-appropriate concrete details and dialogue allow the young reader to live inside this long-ago ugly world, yet like Anna, miraculously take heart and hope. Anna's attempts to retain her identity will make for meaningful connections and reflective discussions. The Kirkus reviewer wrote that “Cerrito effectively evokes the fears, struggles, and sheer terror these children faced through her protagonist's first-person account, which allows readers into her private thoughts. Anna's three years in hiding encompass much of what these saved children experienced... and readers are left to ponder what the future might hold for this brave girl. Balancing honesty and age-appropriateness, Cerrito crafts an authentic, moving portrait.” The School Library Journal reviewer commented that “Anna's present-tense narrative voice is vivid, and readers will connect with her from the start. From the moment she recommends her friends for scarce vaccinations to her inquiries about a baby she helped rescue years ago, she demonstrates her loyalty. Fans of Lois Lowry's NUMBER THE STARS or Kimberly Brubaker Bradley's THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE are likely to enjoy reading this book next. VERDICT: a suspenseful and informative choice for historical fiction fans.” You can read an excerpt here. Angela currently serves as SCBWI’S Assistant International Adviser and is co-organizer of SCBWI’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair. Thank you, Angela, for sharing your writer’s expertise today. I am beyond delighted to introduce you to our readers.
* * * * * * * * *
Dear Protagonist/Dear Antagonist
In THE SAFEST LIE, the main character reflects on three letters sent by her grandmother from the Łodz ghetto. Letters are a powerful way to record history and convey ideas. A particular advantage is that the letter writer can record his or her thoughts without interruption. Below is a two-part writing exercise that can be used with students from the moment they have identified a protagonist and antagonist or at any time during the writing and revising process.
Have your protagonist write a letter to the antagonist. IMPORTANT! This is a letter that will never be delivered. Allow the protagonist to get all of his or her feelings into the letter- every grievance, every gripe, and be sure to include as much detail as possible. [Don’t reveal Step 2 until students have completed Step 1] Discussion points after Step 1: How did it feel to write that letter? Did you learn anything new about your protagonist? About the antagonist? How would your protagonist feel if the letter were actually delivered? How would the antagonist react? We are about to find out…. Very unexpectedly, the letter was delivered to the antagonist who read it, reacted and wrote back. Now, write the letter your antagonist would write to the protagonist after reading the letter in Step 1. How did if feel writing from the antagonist’s point of view? Did you learn anything new about the antagonist? About the protagonist? What did you learn about their conflict? Will this change anything in your plot as you revise the story? Use the premise above to: (1) write emails between the protagonist / antagonist (2) create audio recordings / video recordings of messages acting as the protagonist / antagonist. Note: Is the story set in the future? If so, use the message system the characters would use (i.e. brain chip messages, laser portals, inter-space pod transmissions, optic output devices) or whatever fits your story. Additionally, rather than use your own story, use these protagonist/antagonist writing exercises with a recent book you’ve read.
Carmela’s Friday post not only announced our Book Giveaway of the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market 2016 (Writer’s Digest), the details of which follow today’s post. It also highlighted her CWIM 2016 article “Make a Living as a Writer,” thus beginning our TeachingAuthors conversation about how we writers earn our keep doing what we love.
Money. That taboo $ubject we’re not $uppo$$ed to talk about.
Just Saturday, in a Small Session talk at the Chicago Writers Conference, I suggested writers keep their day jobs, especially if the job offers health insurance, and definitely if that health insurance includes dental coverage.
“There are all sorts of currencies in this world,” I tell children’s book writer wannabe’s and my school visit questioners who always feel comfortable asking my income. I tap my heart and smile. “Money isn’t the only thing that keeps a person going.”
Which is not to say, I don’t get it – literally and figuratively! J Like so many of my fellow children’s book creators, schools and libraries pay me to visit and speak.
Fortunately, though, my additional tools - I hold a B.S. in Elementary Education, ½ a Masters Degree in Curriculum Instruction and an Illinois Teaching Certificate, plus my additional experiences as both a classroom teacher and professional journalist have also paid off.
Take, for example, the year 2000.
The two picture books I’d recently sold had respective publishing dates of 2002 and 2005. What’s a children’s book writer to do - besides write and do school and library visits?
I, for one, said “YES!” to any opportunity that came my way.
· I critiqued children’s book manuscripts, sharing everything I’d learned and offering everything I’d needed when learning my craft. · I wrote my first alphabet book ever – I IS FOR ILLINOIS, as well as the accompanying workbook – ILLINOIS FUN FACTS & GAMES. · I used my research from previous books and stories, sold and unsold, to write critical reading test paragraphs and accompanying questions for Quarasan’s educational text book clients. · I put my story-telling to use creating formulaic generic under 400-word stories for children to personalize and reproduce when visiting the Sears Family Portrait website. · I reviewed children’s books for the new monthly, dads magazine. · I served as an editorial consultant for Childcraft’s HOW AND WHY LIBRARY's STORIES TO SHARE, working on themed stories about Heroes. · I sold my middle grade novel THE CONFE$$ION$ AND $ECRET$ OF HOWARD J. FINGERHUT to Holiday House! To my surprise, while each of the above efforts paid me, they also paid off in $urpri$ing ways.
Early critique clients showed me the need to create original teaching documents I use with the writers I coach. One client in particular recommended me to the Newberry Library, another to the University of Chicago’s Writer’s Studio - two institutions where I still teach today.
· Assessing the successful workings of themed fiction and nonfiction so they could work together as a whole sharpened my editorial eye. · Reviewing opportunities showed me ways to keep my finger on the pulse of consumers and my Children’s Book World marketplace. · Educational writing kept my readers, their abilities and interests on my radar. · I automatically return to one almost-impossible-to-write mini-story – “A Dino-mite Dinosaur Time” – every time I think I can’t do something. (The assignment had been “dinosaurs camping out!”) · Writing my Sleeping Bear Press LITTLE ILLINOIS was like going home again.
And each of the above efforts continues to pay off, not only for me the writer, the teacher, the presenter, but for my readers, my students and the writers I coach and care for.
One of my Heroines, Marian Dane Bauer, speaks of writers cobbling together a living – from writing, teaching, lecturing, whatever.
IMHO: that requisite cobbling often leads to unexpected riche$.
Speaking of which, don’t forget to enter our Book Giveaway to win a copy of The Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market 2016! Here’s to happy cobbling!
KateMessner is the first to admit: writing with her students made her a mentor – and – a far better teacher. Her newest Stenhouse book, 59 Reasons toWrite, offers teachers 59 Mini-lessons to help them become mentors and better teachers, too, along with prompts, Teacher-Q’s and Author-A’s and daily writing warm-ups and assignments. Walking the walk is suddenly doable – for all writers, classroom teachers or not. An outgrowth of her online summer writing camp Teachers Write, the book’s purposefully designed to get us writing every day, whether on our own or as part of a group.
Chapters move from getting started to organizing our time and stories, through narrative elements such as characters, point of view, voice, mood, setting, plot and pacing, nonfiction and fiction needs and poetry to writer’s block, revising, critiquing and reflection.
Everything we ask of our students Kate and her “faculty” of award-winning authors ask of us. It’s the luminous 52+ faculty members who both teach and inspire, underscoring how, when it comes to writing, we’re all in this together. Again, walking the walk is suddenly doable, thanks to this insightful, comprehensive, hands-on text. And who wouldn’t want to learn from talents such as Linda Urban, Donna Gephart, Jo Knowles, Shutta Crum, Jenny Meyerhoff and Barb Rosenstock, just to name a few? I was especially taken with the honest Q + A – The Best of the Q-And-A Wednesday sessions from the online summer camp. Again, notables truthfully responded to a host of questions, including those about intimidation, making and finding writing time, connecting with our characters, handling point of view, the passage of time and too much description. Tools, short-cuts, exercises. The list of writing aids goes on and on. Think Writer’s Notebooks, three-column brainstorming, outlining, world building, selecting and using mentor texts. “Write,” Kate tells her readers, “because you have things to say – arguments to make, stories to tell, poems to share – and no one else in the world has your unique voice with which to say them. And do it,” she adds, “for the young writers you hope to inspire. In making time for your own writing, you’ll be crossing a barrier, joining them as real, vulnerable members of a community of writers.” I add my “Amen!” to my sincere thanks for following her Real Revision with yet another valuable Kate Messner writing book for those of us lucky enough to be “TeachingAuthors” and writers.
You’ll be adding your thanks, too, once you read, learn, write and share Kate Messner’s 59 Reasons to Write.
I write this post enormously grateful for how smart each fellow blogger has made me these past two weeks thanks to her posts that addressed the telling of our stories, whether true or not. As I read Mary Ann’s, April’s, Bobbi’s and JoAnn’s posts, all I could think about was the tiny blue Post-It Note I’d affixed long ago to my first desk-top computer: “It’s the STORY, stupid!” We are, as Kendall Haven wrote, story animals; we are, as Lisa Cron tells us, wired for story.
I’d originally titled this abecedarian book W IS FOR WRITING. Brainstorming with my CPS Alcott School fifth graders helped me choose writing-associated words to represent the letters A through Z. But even once I fine-tuned those choices to ensure they totally embraced the writing information I needed and wanted to share, I knew those twenty-six words in no way told a story.
And they needed to, if I was to pull in readers and keep them turning the pages. My fifth-grader Alberto said it best. “You should change the title,” he boldly advised me. “W IS FOR WRITING sounds like a textbook. I’d never want to buy it. But if you call it “W IS FOR WRITER,” he added, “I’ll think you wrote a book about me.” Alberto wanted hard facts, inspiration and encouragement. But most of all, he wanted – and expected – a story about writers with which he could connect. So here’s what I did to tell that story: (1) First I thought about my take-away, what I wanted my reader thinking when he closed the book – i.e. writers are readers! (2) Next I thought about what I wanted my reader thinking while he was reading my descriptive and explanatory poems and sidebars – i.e. young writers and award-winning authors share the very same writing process! (3) I then made sure the true facts I chose to include - about children’s books, about children’s book authors, about the writing process– served as concrete details that supported my story's take-away’s. (4) Finally, I did my best to create a narrative arc, addressing the reader while moving him from the all-encompassing people, they and their in the beginning alphabet pages…. to the inclusive we,us and our in the middle pages…
to the focused you and your in the final pages.
Thanks to Alberto, my twenty-six letters told a story - of a writer's life and process, A through Z
Today’s interview subject qualifies as a Student Success Story + a TeachingAuthor. He’s a national-award-winning former suburban Illinois across-the-grades classroom teacher and reading specialist who currently serves as Professor of Literacy Education at Judson University in Elgin, Illinois, directing the university’s Master of Education in Literacy program and co-directing the university’s doctoral program in Literacy Education. He also authors picture books, including STAY WITH SISTER (Pelican), (which he wrote in my 2011 Newberry Library Picture Book Workshop), YA fiction, including THIS SIDE OF PARADISE(Pelican) and academic books for teachers, including LIFE’S LITERACY LESSONS, IGNITING A PASSION FOR READING and, as of March 1, IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD (all Stenhouse). Dr. Layne also recently served as an elected Board Member of the International Reading Association, now the International Literacy Association. I’m honored to call this amazing former student-dash-TeachingAuthor both “Steven” and “friend” and welcome this opportunity to share him with our readers. His earnest zeal for literacy is nothing short of contagious. Steven travels the world igniting his audiences of teachers and writers. His mission statement as expressed on his website says it all. Passionate about reading. “Building lifetime readers,” he writes, “is what it’s all about for reading teachers and librarians. If we aren’t doing that – what are we doing?” In IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD, Steven puts forth the research, the insights, the experience of teachers, librarians and authors to reinforce readers’ confidence to continue and sustain the practice of reading aloud in grades K through 12. Thank you, Steven, for all you do to keep literacy alive – and – for sharing your smarts and experience with our TeachingAuthors readers. Thank you, too, for offering one lucky reader a signed copy of IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD via our TeachingAuthor Book Giveaway. (Instructions appear following the Q and A.) So, let’s divide the standard First Question of our Student Success Story/ TeachingAuthor Interview into two parts. How did your teaching career begin? I wanted it to begin right after college—but I had no teaching degree. My parents assured me I would starve if I became a teacher, so I became a therapist—who married a teacher. It took only two months of listening to her talk about her students for me to return to college again—and to follow my destiny. Over the years I worked with the impoverished, the insanely wealthy, the middle class – you name them, I taught them – every race, religion, shape, and size. I like to think those experiences taught me a few things. How did your writing career begin? I loved writing in school. I often made up my own cast of characters for dramas and wrote short stories and plays. My poetry and prose were awarded honors throughout high school. Many years later, when I was in a doctoral course called “Writing for Publication” and had finished all of the required “academic” submissions, I asked about writing a picture book. The professor encouraged me to “go for it.” I did, and 27 rejection letters later – I sold it. My mother and my aunt Mary bought copies right away but beyond that the sales were less than inspiring. My second book, The Teachers’ Night Before Christmas, became a national bestseller—selling over 100,000 copies. Suddenly, people wanted to talk to me about writing.
How does each role (teacher/author) inform and impact the other? The role of “Teacher” informs EVERYTHING that I do from the way I parent, to where I sit in church, to the way I interact on an airplane. When I write for kids – I draw on my knowledge from 15 years of classroom experience. I typically write fast-paced, plot-driven YA because I am thinking of what I know will grab the kind of reluctant readers I taught. When I write picture books, I try to stay under 500 words and to write about an issue that will emotionally resonate with primary-grade readers, again, because I taught those grades. Those kids were my first loves, so to speak. When I write for teachers—how can I NOT write “as teacher?” I spend a lot of time in public and private K-12 classrooms even now. A colleague and I have been teaching in three fifth-grade classes on and off this past year and those experiences are definitely going to play into the writing of an article, book, or curriculum. The role of “Author” informs my teaching, primarily when I am talking to teachers about the craft and the process of writing. I try not to speak only from my own experience but from that of others. In fact, I am often gently criticized for not shining a light on my own work, and while it is true that I can speak to my process better than anyone else’s—I am loathe to have audiences feel that I am trying to showcase my own work. That being said, I often pull from my knowledge of how “real world writing works” and from my experience when I teach about writing but am able to do so without using my own texts as the examples. How and why did you come to write IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD? My experience with read-alouds spans a wide range of grade levels. I read aloud, even now, to both my masters and my doctoral classes. The benefits are far-reaching and the research is sound, and yet the experience is often placed under the pedagogical microscope—raising eyebrows and leading to the question: “Is this a good use of instructional time?” I wanted to write the book that would settle the questions once and for all which is why I enlisted an army of voices from throughout the literacy arena to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with me on this issue. I know of no other book where an issue of instructional practice has received such a resolute stance from so many. My prayer is that this book will be every teacher’s and librarian’s defense if their practice in reading aloud to children or teens is questioned by someone who is ill-informed. Can you share one or two reader responses – to any of your books – that remain in your heart and keep you going…doing your important work? I wrote my first YA novel This Side of Paradise when a 7th grader in my classroom challenged me to write a book for kids who hate to read. That title has won more awards and recognition than all my other books combined. The other day I received a letter from a single mother from California. She was writing to tell me that her middle-school son, who had been having a tough time in school and HATED books – had discovered mine. He read it, then read the sequel, and then came to ask her if she could try to find out if and when another book in the series was coming. To see this book still working magic warms my heart. I receive a lot of mail about my professional book Igniting a Passion for Reading. I am frequently told by teachers that their reading of this title has completely altered their practice. Yesterday, I was contacted by a school district in Texas. They are opening three brand-new elementary schools and hiring all new faculty. Igniting and two other titles from my dear friends Regie Routman and Donalyn Miller are the three books around which they will anchor all instruction. They have asked me to come out and work with the teachers. What an honor – I am so blessed. What’s the next Steven Layne children’s book and/or Dr. Steven L. Layne academic title for which we should ready our bookshelves? Oh, I wish I could give you a definitive answer. I am due for a new picture book because I typically bounce between genres; however, I have four chapters of a YA novel started and an exciting new book for teachers also taking shape. You never know what I’m going to do next (and neither do I), and I actually kind of like it that way. Let’s just say, you can reserve a place on your shelf because something’s coming – we just don’t know what . . . or when. Here’s a way to instantly fill that saved space: enter our Rafflecopter Book Giveaway and win an autographed copy of Steven’s IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD (Stenhouse)! If you choose the “comment” option, please share your Favorite Read Aloud title – as either listener or reader.
If your name isn’t part of your comment “identity,” please include it in your comment for verification purposes. Comments may also be submitted via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.
If the widget doesn’t appear for some reason (or you’re an email subscriber), use the link at the end of this post to take you to the entry form.
The Book Giveaway ends midnight, April 1.
Jim Trelease, author of THE READ-ALOUD HANDBOOK, properly praised this essential book for teachers and librarians in his review: "Amidst the clanging noise of today's technology, Steven Layne offers here a clear clarion call on behalf of reading to children. It is insightful, reasoned, entertaining (rare in the field), and carefully researched for those who might doubt the urgent need for something that doesn't need a Wi-Fi hot spot. It should be on every teacher's must-read list."
Be sure to enter our Book Giveaway of an autographed copy of IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD. Instructions follow after the Wednesday Writing Workout. The deadline to enter is April 6.
Were I entering our TeachingAuthors Book Giveaway, I’d share my #1 read-aloud title - Norton Juster’s THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH (Random House). As I wrote in my post celebrating Leonard Marcus’ 50th anniversary annotated edition of THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, reading aloud this beloved classic marked the first day of school for every fifth grade class I taught. Once grown and married, many of my students wrote me to share how they in turn shared Milo’s tale with their children.
So what about you? What is your favorite read-aloud title?
Once again, I thank Steven – this time for allowing me to share his Read-aloud Tips and Recommendations - as listed in IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD, in today’s Wednesday Writing Workout.
. . . . . . . . . .
Wednesday Writing Workout:
Dr. Steven L. Layne’s Read-aloud Tips and Recommendations
As Dr. Layne declares in his newest book, when it comes to read-aloud, practice makes perfect! Here are a few of his practical read-aloud guidelines as shared in his March 1-released IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD (Stenhouse).
Become familiar with the book before reading it.
Launch the book successfully.
· Provide a purpose for listening.
· Work out an advantageous seating arrangement. · Plan your stopping point. “Every stopping point is a secret reading-skill-reinforcement lesson just waiting to happen.” · Teach reading skills such as visualization, inferring, and sequencing. · Plan strategically for the end of the read-aloud. · Work out a positive solution for those students who get the book and read ahead. · Choose and balance the books and genres we read-aloud. Just in case you’re looking for a good book to read aloud, read through his list of “The Twelve Books Steven Loves to Read Aloud.” · COUNTERFEIT SON by Elaine Alphin (“My go-to- read-aloud for high school kids who need to be enticed back into the experience of being read to by an adult.”)
· Sue Stauffacher’S DONUTHEAD (“It has proven itself to me time and again when it comes to delighting students in the intermediate grades.”)
· Bill Grossman’s MY LITTLE SISTER ATE ONE HARE. (“How can you not fall in love with a picture book about a girl who eats all manner of disgusting things and then throws up – when it’s written by a guy whose last name is Grossman?” · Jerry Spinelli’s STARGIRL. (“Of all the books I have read aloud to students in my career, it is Jerry Spinelli’s STARGIRL that takes center stage.” And don’t forget to enter our TeachingAuthors Book Giveaway! The deadline is midnight, April 6.
One of the great parts of being an author is speaking to audiences about my books. While I enjoy every group, some are extra special. Recently I had the opportunity to travel to Miami, Florida, to share my book In Defiance of Hitler: The Secret Mission of Varian Fry
. This book is about Varian Fry, an American journalist who volunteered to go to Nazi controlled France in 1940 to order to rescue (mostly) Jewish refugees whose lives were in danger. This true story of one man who believed he could make a difference is filled with intrigue and danger. Ultimately, Varian Fry rescued more than 2000 people. Yet few Americans have ever heard his name.
I was invited by the Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach
to share the work of Varian Fry as part of Holocaust Education Week. They asked me to speak to three different audiences. The first night, I presented my program for the public at the Holocaust Memorial. It was an honor to speak about rescue during the Holocaust at a place dedicated to the memory of so many who were not rescued. Every Holocaust Memorial is different, and here the centerpiece is the massive statue of a hand reaching toward the sky with human figures huddled around the bottom. The sculpture is powerful and moving. It says so much-silently. In the audience that night, listening to my program were Holocaust survivors and the descendants of some who had been killed at Auschwitz.
The next morning I spoke to university students at Miami Dade College. Many in the audience – including one of the administrators – had come to American as refugees. As I shared about the refugees of 1940 leaving their homes, these young adults understood the concept in a much more personal way than my usual audience does.
In the afternoon, I presented my program to students at a private Jewish high school. These modern American students carrying their backpacks entered the room and chatted as they took their seats. While relating the work of Varian Fry, I told them about several people who helped him. One of them was a seventeen-year-old boy named Justus Rosenberg. He was their age and his life was in danger because he was Jewish. Rosenberg survived but countless other teens didn’t.
I shared the work of Varian Fry with three different audiences in Miami. Each one was very special.
Carla Killough McClafferty
We are currently running a giveaway for IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD that ends at midnight on April 1. (CORRECTION NOTE: There was a typo in an earlier post that said the end date was April 6. The correct end date is April 1.) For more details see Esther Hershenhorn’s post: http://www.teachingauthors.com/2015/03/a-two-for-price-of-one-interview-with.html
Hip! Hip! Hooray! Today’s the day – I – post to celebrate As JoAnn noted in her Friday post, the anthology, which offers 156 bilingual (English/Spanish) poems celebrating 156 holidays, is the newest in a series of Poetry Friday anthologies compiled by award-winning poet Janet Wong and children’s poetry expert Dr. Sylvia Vardell, Professor in the School of Library and Information Studies at Texas Woman’s University.
The “transmedia” project offers its intended audience of K-5 readers and intended users of teachers and librarians a bounty of opportunities, including:
- a book version in paperback
- collectible trading cards, postcards and posters with poems on them, distributed or in sets as “Pocket Poems cards” or a “Book in a Box
- an e-book version, website and/or app featuring additional materials such as songs, audio readings, poem movies and video versions.
I am so honored Janet and Sylvia included my March 17 St. Patrick’s Day poem, which appears at the end of this celebratory post, in their original, child-friendly anthology. (Check my November 3, 2014 post as to the writing of this poem.)
How terrific of these talented anthologizing women to answer the following questions asked on behalf of our TeachingAuthors readers and honestly? – to satisfy my own curiosity as a participating poet.
With each title in The Poetry Friday Anthology series, you continue to mine new opportunities that invite young readers to embrace poetry and language. How did The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations come to be?
JW: Sylvia is FANATIC when it comes to holidays. Several years ago she loved creating our ebook holiday anthology, Gift Tag, I think she’s wanted to do a larger-scale holiday book ever since. SV: Yes, it’s true. I do love the preparation and celebration that comes with birthdays and other special occasions. But I also know that children find something to celebrate in lots of new moments they are experiencing and I love that energy and freshness. I’m hoping our book will introduce new ways to look at some of those familiar celebrations, as well as present brand new holidays and events that get kids thinking and trying new things. You invited an august body of poets to select an occasion and create a relevant poem. What were some of the challenges of the selection process?
JW: The hardest part of the selection process: having to say no to terrific poets and poems. We received triple the poems that we could accept. The 156 poems in both Spanish and English plus resources plus teaching tips makes the Teacher/Librarian Edition 372 pages and 1.8 pounds! We fit in as much as we could.
SV: An additional challenge was selecting the celebrations themselves. There are so many more holidays that we would’ve loved to feature. Janet and I went back and forth over which days to include. She wanted to omit Dewey Decimal Day—but there was no way that I’d let her do that! Which celebrations were most poet-popular/poet-unpopular? JW: We tried to limit the number of poems that we would receive for any particular holiday by steering poets toward unselected (or less-selected) holidays, but many poets sent us poems for a half dozen or more holidays, including ones that we already had “covered”—so we had multiple poems to choose from for just about every celebration. Pizza Day, Pasta Day, Sandwich Day, and Cookie Day were among the favorites. We poets apparently love our carbs! Can you share with our readers your vision for the “trading card” aspect of the experience? JW: Most kids love “stuff” more than they love books. A librarian once told me that the biggest sellers at her book fair were the little necklaces (that happened to come with a book). Making Pocket Poems® cards is a way to make poetry more accessible and inviting to everyone. People can find and print their own cards for free at our websites, PomeloBooks.com and PoetryCelebrations.com. What has been most gratifying for you in creating these singular collections? JW: For me, the most gratifying thing is that we've been able to inspire lots of educators (and whole school districts) to integrate poetry PLUS another content area—poetry plus science, for instance. SV: Personally, it’s been so fun to get to know so many poets who write for young people and sift through hundreds of poems—just a pleasure to read and read and read poetry. And professionally, I’ve been so gratified at the responses of teachers and librarians who learn about our anthologies, try the “Take 5” activities and say with surprise, “I can DO this!” For people who have never really been comfortable with poetry, that is the best compliment we could get!
Happy St. Patrick's Day, belatedly!
And Happy Poetry Month!
Don’t forget to enter our Book Giveaway to win an autographed copy of Paul Janeczko’s 50thbook, DEATH OF A HAT, illustrated by Chris Raschka. You can enter between now and April 22 (which just happens to be our SIXTH TeachingAuthors Blogiversary!).
By: Carmela Martino and 5 other authors
Blog: Teaching Authors
(Login to Add to MyJacketFlap
, April Halprin Wayland
, Esther Hershenhorn
, Janet S.Wong
, JoAnn Early Macken
, Lesson Plan
, National Poetry Month
, Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations
, poetry prompt
, Add a tag
Howdy, Campers! Happy Poetry Friday! (the PF link is at the end)
Authors-anthologists-publishers Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell have written an article well-worth reading (it's brief!) for National Poetry Month in the online magazine Bookology which begins:
"We are pressed for time, so we multitask. You might be eating breakfast while you’re reading Bookology, or doing laundry, or both. “Killing two birds with one stone” or “hatching two birds from the same egg”—integrated teaching—is the best way to fit everything in, especially in the K-5 classroom."
(read the whole article here
Janet and Sylvia's Poetry Friday Anthology
series does a LOT of heavy lifting including:
1) helping pressed-for-time teachers and librarians teach poetry while meeting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and the Texas TEKS for English Language Arts (ELA)/Poetry and Science & Technology,
2) including a “Take 5!” mini-lesson with every poem in their collection for librarians, teachers, and parents with instructions for sharing, picture book pairings, and curriculum connections.
And in their NEW collection Janet and Sylvia have added another bonus: each of the 156 poems in this newest book appears in both English and Spanish--WOWEE!JoAnne's recent post sang out about
this book (which includes JoAnne's terrific Graduation Day poem), and Esther's post continued
, including an interview
of these two visionaries and Esther's very green
Saint Pat's Day poem.
As JoAnne writes:I’m thrilled to be one of 115 poets (and 3 Teaching Authors!) whose poems are featured in the brand-new Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations!
I'm thrilled that they've included two of my poems. This one's for National Thrift Shop Day (who knew?)
(Click to enlarge )
Have a fabulous Poetry Friday...and consider donating to a thrift shop today and then shopping in one, too ~
Remember to enter our Book Giveaway to win an autographed copy of Paul Janeczko’s 50th book, DEATH OF A HAT
, illustrated by Chris Raschka. You can enter between now and April 22 (which just happens to be our SIXTH TeachingAuthors
And...please stop by my poetry blog
where all Poetry Month long I'm posting PPPs--Previously Published Poems--from anthologies, Cricket Magazine and my novel in poems
It’s our TeachingAuthors Blogiversary 6!!!!!!
Today I'm working out by writing our readers and my fellow TeachingAuthors a heart-felt Thanku².
All of you have kept me writing Sunday to Sunday these past six years.
It bears repeating: thank you!
gifting Six TeachingAuthors* with treasured smarts and hearts. gifting readers for six years with their hearts and smarts.
*Carmela, JoAnn, April,
MaryAnn and Jeanne Marie, Jill and Laura, Bobbi, Carla -
No matter how my writing students define “success” – perhaps beginning a picture book, completing a novel, earning an advanced degree or maybe winning a grant, their stories of success gladden my heart. Today I share my former student Stefanie Lyons’ Success Story to celebrate this month’s publication of her debut novel DATING DOWN (Flux), a YA novel in verse, with hopes her story will gladden your heart too. Thanks to Flux’s generosity, one lucky TeachingAuthor reader can win a copy of DATING DOWN simply by entering our Book Giveaway which runs from today May 4 through midnight May 15. (Please see details at the end of Stefanie’s Q & A). I first worked with Stefanie independently almost 15 years ago on a middle grade novel that still plays in my head. We worked together again in 2008 in my University of Chicago’s Writer’s Studio Novel Workshop. I was honored to recommend her to the Vermont College’s MFA in Writing for Children program in 2009 and of course, cheer her on as she completed her graduate degree. Stefanie describes herself on her website as a writer of all things young adultish.
The tag line for DATING DOWN is a grabber: When a good girl falls for a bad boy.
“She thought she loved him. She thought she could change him. She thought if she just believed in him enough, his cheating and his drugs and his lying would stop, and she'd be his and he'd be hers and they'd love each other forever. But for Samantha Henderson, X--the boy she will not name--is trouble. He's older, edgier, bohemian . . . and when he starts paying attention to Sam, she can't resist him. Samantha's family and friends try to warn her, but still she stays with him, risking her future and everything that really matters.” The Booklist review lauded Stefanie’s musical, poignant verse, calling the story “lyrical and heart-wrenching, exploring the emotional vicissitudes of love, sex, and drugs.” Kirkus recommended the book to fans of Ellen Hopkins. “Turbulent love via turbulent poems.” She’s also appearing on my First-Timers Panel at the Chicago Printers Row Lit Fest the weekend of June 7 and 8. Take heart and hope from my interview with Stefanie and be sure to enter our Book Giveaway for a free copy of Stefanie’s DATING DOWN.
And thanks to Stefanie who's out and about connecting with her readers for taking time to share her Success Story with our readers.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . Your unswerving focus from the year 2000 on to learn and hone your craft coupled with your non-stop efforts to grow as a writer, is note-worthy. What’s kept you going all these years? How did you come to know and believe what I shared in my 2009 VCFA recommendation: i.e. Stefanie Lyons was seated on the Right Pew in the Right Church.
What has kept me going all these years was the thought that I couldn’t quit. I’m a very
stubborn person when I want to be! Also, writing was something that took ahold of me from a young age and never let go. (Maybe it’s more stubborn than I am.) Writing is how I find fulfillment. It’s my joy. As for me being seated in the Right Pew in the Right Church, as you put it, I would rephrase it to say that I made sure I was in the Church and never got up from the Pew. It’s a story of tenacity, mostly. Can you share with our readers how DATING DOWN, a YA novel in verse, came to be – and the revisions it underwent, under the guidance of first your agent and then your editor? I was in grad school when I started DATING DOWN. I needed something to turn in and found this in a folder in my house. I pulled it out and thought, “Well, this isn’t as bad as I remember.” I revisited it and sent it in. My advisor loved it and helped me pare the voice into a more traditional verse novel. At the time, it was a prose/verse hybrid. My agent didn’t weigh in on this novel because it was already in the hands of Flux when we met. But that’s another story. You’re an enthusiastic member of the debut 2015 debut author blog Fearless Fifteeners. How has this group helped you grow as an author now out in the world bringing her book to readers? I’ve learned so much from them. Honestly, they’ve made this journey so fun. Having a group of writers going through the same debut experience at the same time has made the scary stuff a bonding experience and the highs that much higher. They provided a place where I could ask the dumb questions without bugging my editor or agent. How do I request my book be stocked in independent bookstores? Where do I go to make bookmarks? How do you sign your name to readers? Stuff like that. And the cheer-leading on release day. Banding together to do panels. These things have made all the difference. It has been the #1 most defining thing that has shaped my debut year. And that’s saying a lot. You – also – have a solid career in advertising! How do you balance your days so you have time to write – and – promote? Priorities. Some things are more important than others. Like sleep. Who needs it? What’s that One Thing You Wished You’d Known when you began your Writer’s Journey? How truly wonderful the Children’s Writer’s community is. And how much I’d grow just by befriending them. I always considered writing as a solo sport. It is quite the opposite, actually.
Enter via the Rafflecopter widget below to win a copy of Stefanie Lyon’s YA novel in verse, DATING DOWN. You can enter between now and midnight, May 15, 2015.a Rafflecopter giveaway
Happy Children’s Book Week! Since 1919, this national literacy initiative, the longest-running in our history and co-anchored by the Children’s Book Counciland Every Child A Reader, has celebrated books for young people and the joy of reading. Visit the website to learn the bounty of events and activities that commemorate this once-a-year week and to read more about this year’s poster creator, Grace Lee. Book Week’s goal? To make sure every child is a reader! But today is Wednesday, yes? – which means it’s time for a TeachingAuthors Wednesday Writing Workout, one that will give every child, both current and former, the opportunity to write.
Don’t forget to enter our Book Giveaway to win a copy of Stefanie Lyons’ YA novel in verse DATING DOWN (Flux). The deadline to enter is midnight May 15.
. . . . . . . .
Let’s tweak the Children’s Book Week goal a tad to read…. make sure every child – current and former (!) – is a reader who writes!
Click HERE to download these children’s book week story starters and create your own ending! What I Did begun by National Ambassador Katherine Paterson (New!) BLAM! begun by Mo Willems (2009 Children's Choice Book Award winner) (New!) The Night Visitor begun by Dinah Williams (2009 Children's Choice Book Award winner) (New!) And Then... begun by National Ambassador Emeritus Jon Scieszka
And this is Maria Popova who will gladly pick it each and every Sunday morning if you register to receive Brain Pickings, her weekly free website digest that I promise you offers unlimited inspiration to keep you keepin’ on – personally, professionally and any way you need to.
Ms. Popoval, “a cartographer of meaning in a digital world,” continues to offer visitors to her website “an inventory of cross-disciplinary interestingness, spanning art, science, design, history, philosophy and more.”
The Sunday digest offers the week’s most “unmissable” articles. Here’s who and what came my way last Sunday, May 17:
Wendell Berry on How to Be a Poet and a Complete Human Being
The Heart and the Bottle (by Oliver Jeffers): A Tender Illustrated Fable of What Happens When We Deny Our Difficult Emotions
The Magic of Moss and What It Teaches Us About the Art of Attentiveness to Life at All Scales
I owe fellow writer and friend Ellen Reagan untold thanks for first connecting me to
what’s now my weekly dose of inspiration, insights and mind-whirling knowledge I never even knew I needed to have.
“WOW’s!” and sighs and smiles and “I didn’t know that’s!” usually punctuate my first reading of the digest. At the end of the day, I return to save/copy to my journal particularly relevant and/or meaningful quotes and lines - about life, love, children, work, writing, disappointment, joy, wonder, marriage, you-name-it. Throughout the week that follows I find myself forwarding at least one article or quote to someone I care about. You can listen here to Maria Popova talk about how and why she created Brain Pickings.
You’ll be so happy she did.
And do subscribe to the weekly digest. You’ll be so happy you did.
Happy Brain Pickings!
You can also savor Maria Popova's delicious and nourishing fare via Facebook and Twitter.
(www.facebook.com/brainpickings.mariapopova/Brain Pickings @brainpickings
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how to continue our TeachingAuthors Punctuation theme while following Bobbi Miller’s most illuminating “For the Love of Commas” post last Monday? I considered showcasing one of my favorite books (Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s EXCLAMATION MARK!, seemingly punctuation-themed or not), [Please note: In the above sentence I proudly reveal my Medicare-eligibility by honoring Strunk and White’s Elements of Style rule that states that “in a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.” It’s hard to teach an Old Dog New Tricks.] I was heavily leaning toward sharing EXCLAMATION MARK! – a. because this particular punctuation mark and I have a whole lot in common, spirit-wise, and b. the front book blurb so speaks to me “…we all have an inner exclamation mark. The question is, how to find it…” But then, while reading Hannah Pittard’s beautifully-written all-absorbing novel REUNION which features a most engaging heart-grabbing dysfunctional family, I came upon a scene in which the character Kate Pulaski who teaches script-writing speaks a word the author acknowledges in her closing she found in a NY Times Ann Beattie article “Me and Mrs. Nixon” – a literary term I’d never seen or heard before!
“I talked to Elliot about this on the plane,” she says. “Irmus,” I say. “When you reveal the meaning at the end.” “What are you talking about?” …..”You said, ‘I talked to Elliot about this on the plane,’ but you haven’t yet said what this is. Presumably you are now going to define ‘this.’” “Do your students have any idea what you’re talking about?” “No,” I say. “Nope. Not a word.”
I quickly marked my place in the novel to check the word’s official definition.
To my surprise, my Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary did not include an entry for irmus. Upon Googling “irmus,” I came upon Chris Bonney and her October 25, 2011 post “A New Word.” (Apparently Hannah Pittard was not the only one who’d read Ann Beattie’s NY Times article “Me and Mrs. Nixon" and taken notice of this unusual word.) Bonney wrote that according to the BOOK OF LITERARY TERMS, an irmus describes the phenomenon in which “not until the end of a passage does the reader fully understand what is being spoken of.” She herself described irmus as “the periodic sentence, characterized by the suspension of the completion of sense until its end.”
In other words, an irmus acts like a punctuation mark, giving meaning and punch, emphasis and force, to the sentences that preceded it.
Or so I've told myself so I could share this term with you and hopefully give your day some punch. ;) Personally, I feel so much more alive when a heretofore unknown word which surprisingly has relevance in my writer’s life takes residence on my brain’s Hard Drive. I hope the same is true for you.