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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!
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.
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
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
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.
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.
How fitting that today, the 522nd anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the New World, I share with you my recently-discovered resource, thanks to my writer Bridget Conway of Camden, Maine – NAMING THE WORLD (and other EXERCISES for the CREATIVE WRITER), edited by Bret Anthony Johnston (Random House, 2007). Johnston writes in his introduction that “much of the writer’s work must be – can only be – accomplished by doggedly venturing into territories unknown, by risking failure with every word. His purpose in gathering writing exercises from well-respected authors was “to create an environment in which each writer feels invited and prepared to take such risks.” Like all discoveries, this collection of focused and insightful writing exercises widened my eyes, raised my eyebrows and had my brain whirling in record time.What I especially like about NAMING THE WORLD is Johnston’s organization: 8 sections, 7 of which focus on a key element of fiction. Each section begins with relevant perceptive quotes by well-known writers, then offers an overview of the particular element. Chosen authors’ understandable, doable exercises follow, exercises designed to “demystify the common and complex mechanisms by which the specific element operates.” Getting Started exercises and Daily Warm-ups bookend the sections which focus on: · Descriptive language and setting I loved reading how some of my favorite authors, including Joyce Carol Oates, Elizabeth Strout, Elizabeth McCracken and Richard Bausch hone their craft. I also loved discovering authors heretofore unknown to me.Be sure to check back on Wednesday for Paul Lisicky’s exercise on the rhythm of language.(His award-winning book THE BURNING HOUSE is currently on reserve at my Chicago Public Library.) I’m happy to report my Newberry Library Picture Book Writing Workshop students this semester are also enjoying the exercises, completing one per week. Explorers such as Columbus looked to the stars to help find their way. With that thought in mind, I hereby declare NAMING THE STARS stellar, as in *-worthy. The collection of exercises is certain to help writers discover their stories and how best to tell them. In celebration of Signor Columbus’ 1492 New World landing, Happy Discovering!
As promised, I’m sharing a most original WWW I came upon while reading NAMING THE WORLD, the collection of writing exercises gathered by Bret Anthony Johnston (Random House, 2007) I reviewed in Monday’s post. The author, Paul Lisicky, titled the exercise “All About Rhythm.” It appears in the section “Descriptive Language and Setting.” Lisicky writes about finding a rhythm that matches the meaning of our story's drama – not a distracting rhythm but one that is crucial, that makes our fiction sing. He began by quoting Virgina Woolf. “Style is a very simple matter; it is all about rhythm. Once you get that, you can’t use the wrong words….Now this is very profound, what rhythm is, and goes far deeper than words. A sight, an emotion creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it.” How can we bring a poet’s central tools to our own work, he wondered, “and be more deeply aware of pauses, sentence length, stops, even alliteration and assonance in the prose we read and write,” all the while opening ourselves to our own rhythms?
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Paul Lisicky’s ALL ABOUT RHYTHM
“Take a paragraph by a writer whose work has been important to you. Once you’ve done that, substitute your own noun for each noun, your own verb for each verb. Replace all the adjectives and adverbs. Play with it for a few days. If you’re lucky you might have the beginnings of a story.
Or, at the least, a more intimate sense of that writer’s rhythms.”
Meet my fellow Chicago children’s book author, the lovely and talented Claudia Guadalupe Martinez who so generously agreed to share today’s Wednesday Writing Workout in celebration of the release of her second Cinco Puntos Press book, the YA novel PIG PARK.
As her biography notes, Claudia grew up in a close family in Segundo Barrio in El Paso, Texas. Reading the Spanish subtitles of old westerns for her father, she soon learned that letters form words. By six she knew she wanted to grow up to create stories. Her father, who died when she was eleven, encouraged her to dream big and write many books. Cinco Puntos Press is located in El Paso, Texas, “a fact that informs every book that we publish,” publisher John Byrd shared. Along with others championing diversity in children’s books today, he considers PIG PARK and Claudia’s debut award-winning novel THE SMELL OF OLD LADY PERFUME to be worthy examples of the kinds of books the Cooperative Children’s Book Center and WeNeedDiverseBooks encourage and seek. “Claudia,” Byrd wrote, “has a clear fronterizovoice: innocent, shy, witty, full of border culture and understanding. She used that voice well in THE SMELL OF OLD LADY PERFURME, earning herself a great deal of attention with readers, teachers and librarians looking for new and talented writers coming up out of the Hispanic community. That voice has matured in PIG PARK, still shy and clear, but now feisty as well and full of opinions as she chronicles the summer that fifteen-year-old Masi Burciaga and her neighbors came together to save Pig Park.”I so appreciate Claudia’s willingness to share her insights and expertise on creating authentic characters with our TeachingAuthors readers and writers. Esther HershenhornP.S.To enter our latest giveaway, a copy of CHILDREN'S WRITER'S AND ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET 2015, check Carmela's Friday post.
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The face of America is ever-changing. “Minority” children are set to become the “majority” by the end of this decade, and are already such among babies under the age of one. Yet, among the children's book titles published, approximately only ten percent are by or about racially or ethnically diverse populations each year--according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Wednesday Writing Workout: Creating Authentic Characters
This conversation isn’t new, but the mainstream is taking note, thanks to the success of the recent WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. I am more frequently asked for advice on writing diversity, specifically when it comes to authenticity. In such instances, I refer my fellow writers to author Mitali Perkins' tips for writing diversity. Mitali lectures widely on the topic. When it comes to authenticity in racial identity, she advises writers to ask, "How and why does the author define race?” She suggests writers consider the following: “When race is explicit in a book, ask yourself and your students what would have been lost if a character’s race hadn’t been defined by the writer. Why did the author choose to define race?” The reason should be to establish something for the character, and not just to follow a trend or be politically correct. I, for example, wrote about young Chicana in THE SMELL OF OLD LADY PERFUME because I pulled from my own experiences growing up in a Texas border town. The Latino kids in PIG PARK were loosely based on my experiences in Chicago. Alternatively, writers can ask, “Why didn’t he or she let us know the race of the characters?” If no explicit race is mentioned, will this cause readers to default to white characters, or do other cues establish diverse identity? Physical appearance, language, names, food can all be used to designate diversity. While Mitali’s advice focuses on race, authors can apply it to creating authenticity for various other forms of identity. The point is to start thinking about how genuine the attempt at integration is. To figure out what this might mean for you, whether writing inside or outside your experience, try this exercise. Write a character biography based on his/her racial/ethnic identity. Answer the following questions: When and how did he/she become aware of his/her identity? What role has the specific identity played in his/her life? How does it affect his/her social activities? How does it affect his/her school activities? In what ways does the character benefit from this identity? In what ways doesn’t the character benefit? How does the specific identity affect your story? Variation: Write a biography based on another form of diverse identity (religious, sexual orientation, ability, etc.). We live in a complex world where identity is both assigned and assumed. Authentic diversity isn’t casual or happenstance, but something that we as writers must develop as carefully as all other aspects of our story.
Words and spirit were the stuff of my favorite books this year, beginning with Jen Bryant’s and Melissa Sweet’s already award-winning and multiply-starred picture book THE RIGHT WORD – ROGET AND HIS THESAURUS (Eerdmans Books, 2014). This story of how Dr. Peter Roget came to create a Thesaurus has been lauded for its lyrical text and brilliantly-detailed reader-friendly illustrations. I laud it for its celebration and love of words, its accessible story-telling of a one-of-a-kind long-ago individual hell bent on listing each and every one, its brilliant use of synonyms and downright gorgeousness. Just as every writer needs a Roget’s Thesaurus by his side, those of us who love words and good storytelling need THE RIGHT WORD on our bookshelf. Peter Roget remarks in the story “how wonderful it was to find just the right word!” My very sentiments. I love its subtitle: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have. A philosopher-poet and author, Repo wrote this book when “freshly on the other side of cancer.” He chose to exchange his life of words, he wrote, for a life of spirit. Each day’s entry offers a parable or a tradition, a quote or an insight, a poem or verse, followed by Repo’s beautifully-written comments and a related meditative exercise. Admittedly I don’t always do the exercises but instead journal about the eye-opening, heart-opening truths. Today’s December 15 entry opens with the truth, “The sun doesn’t stop shining because people are blind.” Repo then offers examples from the lives of Goya and Melville and closes with these words: “No one can really know what you are called to or what you are capable of but you. Even if no one sees or understands, you are irreplaceable.” Subtitled A SON’S SEARCH FOR HIS FAMILY’S PAST, journalist Sabar tells the story of his father Yona, a distinguished professor and author of the only dictionary of the language of Jesus, Aramaic. Aramaic was the language Yona's Jewish family spoke in the remote Kurdish village of Zakho in northeast Iraq. Mostly illiterate, Yona’s people lived harmoniously with their Muslim and Christian neighbors, considering themselves descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel. Part memoir, part history, part linguistic primer, part geography, at its core is the author’s story of reconnecting with a father he’d disparaged for his differentness. As the book’s cover states, it is “a son’s epic journey back to his father’s lost homeland.” The writing is superb, as in National Book Critics Circle Award Winner for Autobiography, allowing me to live inside this so unfamiliar story, no matter the locale, no matter the time period. “I am the keeper of my family’s stories," Sabar wrote. "I am the guardian of its honor. I am the defender of its traditions. As the first-born son of a Kurdish father, these, they tell me, are my duties. And yet even before my birth I resisted.”Sabar’s page-turning telling had the writer in me breathless, not to mention, envious. Finally, I consider Jacqueline Woodson’s BROWN GIRL DREAMING (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin, 2014) a book of words and spirit too.Recently named a National Book Award Winner, the novel in verse tells the story of Woodson’s childhood in the Jim Crow 60’s and 70’s and her longing to become a writer. I read the book from cover to cover in one sitting, then promptly returned to the first page and began again. Just the way Beverly Cleary took me back to West Philadelphia at age 9 with the mention of Ramona’s pink plastic raincoat, Jacqueline Woodson pierced my little girl’s longing to be a writer. "You’re a writer, Ms. Vivo says, her gray eyes bright behind thin wire frames. Her smile bigger than anything so I smile back, happy to hear these words from a teacher’s mouth."
May the above books gift you as they’ve gifted me this year.
Merry! Happy! Cheers for the New Year!
I meet the Best People doing what I do – for example Chicago writer, colleague, fellow teacher and SCBWI kin Barbara Gregorich who authors fiction and nonfiction for adults and children in a variety of formats on a variety of subjects.You can read a sample chapter of Guide here. To celebrate Barbara’s newest book, I invited her to share a Wednesday Writing Workout and lucky us – she agreed!Scroll down to read, enjoy and try Barbara’s exercises that demystify the all-important narrative element SETTING.Thanks, Barbara, for so generously sharing your smarts!Give Me Place, Lots of PlaceTwo summers ago I taught a week-long course on novel writing to 25 students: the youngest was fifteen, the oldest eighty-five. On our last day of class, three students read the first three pages of their novels-in-progress to all of us. All three novels were fantasy: two had human characters, one did not. Even now I remember those three stories vividly. Through skill, serendipity, or maybe even through my teaching, each of the students offered a piece in which the sense of place was palpable, and I’m convinced that one of the reasons I remember these three stories, their characters and conflicts, was because the settings were so well depicted.
One of the three was set in a dungeon, and the writer (the 15-year-old) was able to make us feel the environment. The prison cell was dank: we felt the chill and the damp. We saw the gray-green moss clinging to the wet stone walls. The bars were thick, rusty, and unbendable. We felt their tormenting power just as we felt the cold sea air that entered at will, just as we recoiled at the thin, gray, tasteless gruel delivered through the food slot each morning. In fiction, place isn’t just something for the reader to experience vicariously — though it is partly that. Place is the world the characters live in, and it helps shape these characters. Put your characters in a different setting, and they will behave differently. A writer who can create lifelike places through a few carefully chosen words that appeal to the senses is also well on the road to creating empathetic characters. When we see how place affects a fictional character we empathize, probably because we realize how real-life places affect us — isolated windowless work environments; cluttered, dog-hair-covered, stale-food-smelling cars; un-shoveled, foot-high hummocks of ice on city sidewalks; the welcome coolness of wet sand just below the scorching top layer on a summer day. Place, as I explain to my students, should never be depicted in such a way that it seems more important than the characters within that place. No description for description’s sake. Setting lets readers enter the world the characters live in and helps readers understand where the story is taking place. More than that, the more palpable the place, the better readers can see how setting influences character and how character modifies setting. In the dungeon story, for example, the place limited what the prisoner could do, but the prisoner also had an impact on the setting: he nurtured a small plant inside the cell, and he moved one of the stone blocks to where he could stand on it to look out the high, barred window. Here are some exercises I gave my 15-to-85-year-old students. Perhaps these, or modifications thereof, will inspire your and/or your students to think about the importance of place in fiction, and how setting and character shine light on one another.
Keep the Character, Change the Place
Ask students to take an existing story and change the setting completely. Have them rewrite the first two or three pages of the story with the new setting. Then compare the two stories: how does the character change? What is it that setting does to character?Comfortable Place or Not? Do your students tend to place their characters in places where the characters are comfortable? Say a dancer in the dance studio, or a great basketball player on the court? Or do they place their characters outside the comfort zone? Say a boy who has never, ever helped in the kitchen suddenly finds himself obligated to work in one to help his best friend. You might ask students to write acomfort-setting story first, and then rewrite it as an outside-the-comfort-zone story. It’s instructive to note how happy or sad setting can make characters feel, how good or bad, how confident or unconfident.
Same Place, Different Characters
Yet another approach to place is to have students write a two-different-POVs story, first from Character A’s POV, then from Character B’s. Both characters are in the same place at the same time. But are their reactions the same? How does setting impact each character? My experience has been that when students are asked to treat the setting as more than background information, they excel at bringing places to life and at showing how characters function in a particular setting.
We TeachingAuthors have been posting about our intended plotlines for 2015.
I so appreciate my fellow bloggers’ insights and their willingness to share their experiences, smarts and intentions for this coming year.
Like JoAnn, I’ve been walking a dog too this past week - my GrandDoggieDaughter Maggie, in the soul-freeing coatless-bootless-hatless-gloveless-scarfless clime of warm and sunny mountain-surrounded Phoenix.I’ve been thinking on what I need/want/wish to share in this post and it is this: when it comes to plotlines, the character’s in the driver’s seat. It took me forever - as in countless rejected manuscripts showcasing countless puppet-like characters - to understand this truth.And not just as it applies to the plotline of a story I’m writing…but also to the writer’s plotline I’m living every day. I need to know my character’s need/want/wish … and I need to know mine. Otherwise neither of us can act, re-act, grow and triumph as we drive the twists and turns of our stories’ highways. Digging deep within – my characters and myself - reveals the answer, always. Fortunately, we’re but 19 days into our new year. So as I work on my own writer’s story, I’m digging away, hoping to uncover my need/want/wish, helped by the following three insights I came upon the first week of January. Marketing guru Seth Godin’s January 1 post – “USED TO BE” – set off non-stop sparks in my mind and heart. The phrase “used to be,” it turns out, connotes neither failure nor obsolescence. Instead, it signals bravery and progress. “If you were brave enough to leap,” Godin posited, “who would you choose to 'used to be'?” Hmmmmm…..I pondered. The possibilities intrigued me.
In her January 4 Chicago Tribune column, writer Heidi Stevens suggested we skip declaring New Year’s resolutions and instead write a mission statement. A mission statement, she wrote, “was less about what she should tackle and more about the shape she wanted her life to take.” I liked that insight. What struck me most was her own mission statement: to focus on what she knows to be true. Hmmmmm….I pondered further. More possibilities to consider.
Finally, Stevens’ fellow Chicago Tribune writer Mary Schmich shared an idea in her January 7 column that April Halprin Wayland echoed in her January 9 post: choose one word to live by in the coming year. Having to select that one word that would guide your new year was akin to “being dropped inside a Super Target,” Schmich wrote, “and asked to pick one object, and only one, that you would carry with you for the next 12 months.” Once again, I pondered intriguing possibilities. Embrace? Flow? Risk? Grow? Leap? Simply, be?
What and who I used to be. My mission statement. My one word for the coming year.
I believe knowing all of the above will help me finally nail my need/want/wish for 2015.Just like that, I’ll be traveling my plotline, both hands on the wheel, eyes open and focused.
Happy Driving to our TeachingAuthors’ readers! Saturday, January 24, from noon to 4 pm (in respective time zones) is the first-ever National Readathon Day, a nation-wide reading session that allows you to promote reading while pledging and fundraising to support the National Book Foundation. Think of it like “a walk-a-thon charity drive, only you’re turning pages instead of walking laps.”
I had such a fortunate Teachable Moment while brainstorming my picture book FANCY THAT with my Holiday House Editor Mary Cash.I knew the setting – Berks County, Pennsylvania; I knew the time – 1841; and I knew my story’s Hero – young Pippin Biddle, orphaned without warning, the son of a limner - an itinerant portrait painter. Mary agreed with me that such a picture book would be ripe with historical and arts curriculum connections. My sketchy plotline was just that – i.e. sketchy: accompanied by his dog Biscuit, (whom I pictured to be lap-size), Pip would travel the Pennsylvania/New York area through the first 3 seasons of the year unsuccessfully earning his keep painting people’s portraits, returning at Thanksgiving with an empty purse and heart. “But why would young readers care about such a boy on such a journey?” I asked my editor. “Well,” Mary began, “could he have a few sisters who needed Pip to earn his keep?” she asked.Orphans, Mary shared, can be lovely in a story.“And, maybe,” she suggested, “Pip’s dog could be part of the resolution?”And then she paused, her gaze meeting mine.“You know, Christmas books do so much better than Thankgiving titles,” she commented. “What if Pip returned at Christmas?” Driven to tell this singular story, I back-burnered Mary’s 3 delicious suggestions with an open mind, even though I’m a nice Jewish girl from West Philadelphia and writing a Christmas picture book was not in my wheelhouse, as they say.
Fast forward to the stacks of the Wilmette Public Library, one week later, when I discovered (1) there wasno Thanksgiving to celebrate in the U.S. in 1841 and (2) few Americans celebrated Christmas at that time!
And OOPS²… except...the German immigrants, who’d just happened to settle in Berks County in central Pennsylvania, had brought along their Christmas tradition of making evergreen wreaths and decorating their fir trees!while Pip’s dog Biscuit gathers the greenery of each season, and Pip paints his portrait to send home to his Poor House-ensconced sisters Emma, Lyddie and Martha,
Pip’s sisters themselves, inspired by Pip’s portraits, create a livelihood that builds them their homeand Pip discovers his hidden talent.
Fancy that!Lucky Pip and his sisters! Lucky me and my readers!
And all quite by accident.
P.S.Jennifer T won the SKIN AND BONES giveaway!
P.P.S.A writer with whom I corresponded this past week shared the following Dalai Lama quote benath her name. I thought it relevant.
"Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck."
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.
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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