Friday, October 24, 2014

3 Leading Ways to Target Your Writing for Children--NOT!....and Poetry Friday!

.
Howdy, Campers!  Happy Poetry Friday!  Poem and link to Poetry Friday are below ~

Our topic this round is Do you try to appeal to reluctant readers, or any particular type of reader, when you write? 

Carmela's post addresses the topic of writing to reading levels thoroughly. She writes:"If you want your writing to appeal to boys and other reluctant readers, don't try to target this particular audience. That's right, DON'T target them. Instead, write what moves, excites, or interests YOU."

Mary Ann's post, agrees: "I write what I am passionate about. I write for my inner eleven-year-old. It's the best that I can do. It's all any of us can do."

As for me?

I titled this 3 Leading Ways to Target Your Writing for Children--NOT!  because I agree with Carmela and Mary Ann's conclusions.  Essentially, write with passion and you'll hit a bullseye.

from morguefile.com
Here are three thoughts hopefully slightly related to this topic:

1) I am a reluctant reader.  Always have been. Once I dive into a book, I'm swimming, but getting to the edge of the pool, dipping my toe in? Terrifying.  Every book.  Every time.

2) Many years ago, former bookseller, and book reviewer Janet Zarem was hired by my son's elementary school to talk to parents about reading.  She began by passing out a paragraph in and asking us what it said.  Okay, so let's try it.  I'd like you to read this paragraph and tell me what it says.  You have two minutes:

*see bottom of this post for attribution*

When we saw the paragraph, we were scared'r than a long-tail cat in a room full of rockin' chairs.**

Isn't that a powerful way to show someone the world from a new or challenged or reluctant reader's point of view?

3) That's how scared many of us feel about learning anything new.

For example, UCLA Extension's Writers' Program is in the process of changing how its instructors post course materials for our students.  We are moving from a platform called Blackboard to one called Canvas.

When I saw the first email about this, I rolled into a little ball.  I felt as outdated and useless as a screen door on a submarine.***

I see now that I went through the five stages of loss and grief, finally arriving at acceptance: Wow--it's done, it didn't take long, and I am truly invincible.
Tah-dah--I did it!
RELUCTANT
by April Halprin Wayland


New?
New?

Who are you talking to?

You’ll have to leave a message—
I think I have the flu.

It’s too bad that you saw me
I stick with tried and true.

If you want revolution,
I’ll leave it up to you.

Who?
Me?

You found me up this tree?

Just cut that sheet in two?
And paste it here with glue?
That’s all we have to do?

I’m standing on my head, now:
I see your point of view.

poem & drawing (c) April Halprin Wayland 2014
=====================

Don't forget to enter our latest book giveaway for a chance to win a copy of the 2015 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market (in which our very own Carmela Martino has an article!). See Carmela's post for all the details.

The giveaway ends Oct 31.

Poetry Friday is at Merely Day By Day ~ Thanks, Cathy!



poem & drawing (c) April Halprin Wayland 2014

posted by April Halprin Wayland, who thanks you in Greek for reading all the way to here.

*from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odyssey
**from: http://charlottenewcomers.blogspot.com/2008/01/southern-expressions-uglier-than.html
***from: http://www.examiner.com/article/southern-isms-50-of-the-funniest-southern-expressions-and-colloquialisms

Monday, October 20, 2014

Hitting the Target Without Really Trying

     The question I am most asked by parents is "What is the reading level of your books?"

     I am currently teaching an adult class on writing for children.  The first question I am usually asked by those students is "How do you write at an appropriate reading difficulty for an age group?"

    Those questions are not as easy to answer as you might think.

     Carmela's Friday post stated that in reaching "reluctant readers" a writer should simply write whatever they are passionate about and the readers will follow.  I have most certainly found this to be true.

     When I first began writing, "targeting" a group, or writing with a specific grade level vocabulary never crossed my mind.  Thanks to years and years of working in children's library service, I have read thousands and thousands of children's books for all ages.  When I write, my brain goes into "child mode."  That's just the way I write, period.  My normal style involves short sentences and short paragraphs using simple words.

     I was not aware of my writing style, until my then elementary school-aged daughter introduced me to "Accelerated Reader."  This was the program her school used for "pleasure" reading. (I am not sure how pleasurable it was since it was required.)  Only books on the Accelerated Reader program were counted for the reading grade.  Books had point values, based on complexity of language and interest level.

    I was thrilled to learn that all my books were on the Accelerated Reader list, which increased the likelihood of their purchase by a school library. However, I was puzzled to learn that my middle grade books, Yankee Girl and Jimmy's Stars, were not being read by the fourth and fifth graders, my intended audience.

     The mystery was solved when one of my daughter's friends told me how much she liked Jimmy's Stars "even though it doesn't have many points."  A trip to the school library informed me that both of the books had a point value of 3.  For comparison, anything written by J.K. Rowling had a point value of upwards of 7.  That particular year, my daughter was supposed to read 7 points worth every six weeks.  How could I compete with Harry Potter?

     A little digging into the mysteries of Accelerated Reader yielded the information that while my middle grade books had a third grade reading level, their content was appropriate for upper fifth grade and sixth grade students.  Considering that the subjects of those books were Civil Rights Era Mississippi and the ravages of World War II, I thought that was a fair evaluation.

     Then parents began to ask me that troublesome reading level question.  This was often prefaced with something like, "My daughter is in second grade but she reads on a fourth grade level. She should be able to read your books, right?"

     I found myself in the strange position of talking down my own books. While the child in question would be able to read and recognize the words I had written, would they be able to understand the events in the book?  It had never occurred to me that a seven-year-old might read those books.  Tough things happen in them:  racial prejudice, death, violence.  Although I didn't "target" my writing, I didn't think anyone under ten would be reading them.  I started hedging my answers by telling parents they could buy the book but perhaps they should put it away until their child was older.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.  No matter what I said, some parents completely missed the fact that some "low reading level" material might contain concepts too mature or sophisticated for a first grader who was "a really good reader."

     What did I learn from this experience?  Did this cause me to become a cautious, self-censoring writer?  Do I now write in a more complex style?

     No.

     I write what I am passionate about.  I write for my inner eleven-year-old.  It's the best that I can do.  It's all any of us can do.

     Don't forget to enter our latest book giveaway for a chance to win a copy of the 2015 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market.  See Carmela's post for details.

     The giveaway ends Oct 31.

     Best of luck,  Mary Ann

Friday, October 17, 2014

Reaching Reluctant Readers, Poetry Friday, and a CWIM Giveaway!


Happy Poetry Friday, Everyone! Today I'll be sharing a fun, "spooky" poem by David L. Harrison. But first I'll tell you about my latest publication, an article in the 2015 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market (Writer’s Digest Books), edited by Chuck Sambuchino. Then, at the end of this post, you'll find instructions for how to enter to win your very own copy of the 2015 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market!


If you're not familiar with the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market (also known as the CWIM), here's an excerpt from the book's blurb.
"If you write or illustrate for young readers with the hope of getting published, the '2015 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market' is the trusted resource you need. Now in its 27th edition, 'CWIM' is the definitive publishing guide for anyone who seeks to write or illustrate for kids and young adults. Inside you'll find more than 500 listings for children's book markets (publishers, agents, magazines, and more)--including a point of contact, how to properly submit your work, and what categories each market accepts." 
In addition to the market listing, the CWIM includes great articles, interviews, and success stories. This year's edition features my interview roundup article, "Writing for Boys (and other 'Reluctant Readers')." The piece contains advice and insights from four award-winning authors known for writing books that appeal to reluctant readers: Matt de la Peña, Lenore Look, David Lubar, and Steve Sheinkin

Although  these authors write a wide variety of books, and everything from picture books to young adult novels, there was one bit of advice they all agreed on: If you want your writing to appeal to boys and other reluctant readers, don't try to target this particular audience. That's right, DON'T target them. Instead, write what moves, excites, or interests YOU. Then, "revise it over and over until it hums," as Matt de la Peña said. All four of the authors shared additional, specific advice on how to reach reluctant readers, especially boys. So be sure to enter our giveaway below for a chance to win your own copy of the CWIM!  

In researching "Writing for Boys (and other 'Reluctant Readers')," I discovered some very discouraging statistics about boys and reading. Not only do girls, on average, score higher on reading tests than boys, but the gender gap is widening. Fortunately, the news isn't all dire. As Jon Scieszka, the first National Ambassador of Young People's Literature and founder of Guys Read points out on the GuysRead website
". . . the good news is that research also shows that boys will read—if they are given reading that interests them."
Poetry can be a great way to hook boys (and other reluctant readers), especially if it's short, funny, and/or focuses on boy-friendly topics, such as sports, adventure, animals, and the supernatural. You'll find some wonderful books that fit this bill on the GuysRead list of poetry books. I also recommend just about anything written by David L. Harrison. His book Bugs: Poems about Creeping Things (Wordsong), illustrated by Rob Shepperson, is chock-full of poems with lots of boy-appeal. Here's one example: 

              cicada ghosts

              Haunted skins
              cling
              emptily
              to the rough bark
             of the hackberry
             tree,

             and farther up
             where I can't 
             see,
             ghosts are 
             buzzing 
             eerily:
             zz-zz-zz-zz
             zeeeeee!

          © David L. Harrison, all rights reserved

If you'd like to see the wonderful illustration that accompanies this poem in Bugs: Poems about Creeping Things, visit this page on David's blog (after you enter our drawing below!). Also, David is celebrating the fifth anniversary of his Word of the Month ("W.O.M.") poetry challenge.  This month he's hoping for 100 poets to share poems inspired by this month's word: "spree."  Adults who'd like to participate may post their poems here. Young poets may post their poems here.

For additional resources on poetry and reluctant readers, see the Poetry Foundation article "Against Slogging: Engaging Poetry in the Classroomon" and the WBEZ piece, "Writing Poetry Improves Reluctant Readers." If you're a parent or teacher, you may also be interested in Literacy Connects compilation of activities to use with reluctant reader

Finally, before you head over to check out these resources or the other great poems in this week's Poetry Friday round-up at Today's Little Ditty, you'll want to enter to win your own copy of the 2015 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market. You can do that via the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post. You may enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options. For option 2, "Leave a Blog Post Comment," you must share a comment to TODAY'S blog post and include your name!
(If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com. )

The giveaway ends on Oct. 31. 

Good luck and happy writing!
Carmela

P.S. If you've never entered a Rafflecopter giveaway, here's info on how to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway and the difference between signing in with Facebook vs. with an email address. Email subscribers: if you received this post via email, you can click on the Rafflecopter link at the end of this message to access the entry form.


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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

WWW: All About Rhythm


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?

Enjoy! Enjoy!

Esther Hershenhorn

                                        * * * * * * * * * * 

Paul Lisicky’s ALL ABOUT RHYTHM

“Take a paragraph by a writer whose work has been important to you. 

Type it out once.

Then type it again.

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.

Then do another version.


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.”

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Resource Discovery: NAMING THE WORLD!


How fitting that today, the 522nd anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the New World, I share with you my recent discovery, 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.

Indeed, Betsy Lerner, author of another favorite resource of mine – THE FOREST FOR THE TREES: AN EDITOR’S ADVICE TO WRITERS (Riverhead, 2000) describes NAMING THE WORLD as “the equivalent of a master class in writing by some of the best writers/teachers around.”

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:

       ·       Character

·         Point of view and tone

·         Plot and narrative

·         Dialogue and voice

·         Descriptive language and setting

·         Revision

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!

Esther Hershenhorn

Friday, October 10, 2014

Lucky, Lucky Me!

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend David Harrison’s “Poetry for the Delight of It” workshop, organized by the Highlights Foundation. I’m happy to report that I found not only the poetry but the entire experience delightful. From my ride from the airport to the tour of the Highlights for Children offices to the comfy couches where we discussed poetry to the massive fireplace on the patio where we roasted s’mores, every detail was taken care of so that I didn’t have to think about anything but poetry. And the food—oh, my! We were spoiled. During breaks and in the evenings, we retired to our own cozy cabins with rocking chairs on the porches and plenty of wonderful books to read—a writer’s heaven!


David Harrison (a Guest Teaching Author in 2012) led group discussions with a reassuring blend of wit, humor, explanation, and examples. He supplied writing prompts that resulted in humorous and heartfelt poems, and he provided perceptive, encouraging critiques of our work. Poets Jane Yolen and Kenn Nesbitt visited via Skype to share their own tips and examples. Boyds Mills Press Senior Editor Rebecca Davis participated in a session about editorial and marketing practices, and Executive Editor Liz Van Doren joined us for dinner.

Lucky me! I’m still floating.

Here’s a poem I wrote there, inspired by one of David’s prompts, about waking up early:
Day 
Catbird screeches up the morning.
Acorns drop to mark the minutes.
Knock! Woodpeckers count the hours.
Crickets sing me back to sleep.
Another lucky surprise: I got to meet and hang out with our longtime friend Linda Baie, who wrote about connecting the experience to writing in one of her blog posts. What fun!

Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at The Miss Rumphius Effect. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

Monday, October 6, 2014

My No. 1 Tip: Writing by Hand!



Long, long time ago and in a galaxy far, far away, it was the time before computers. Even typewriters were not a common household item. At least, not in my childhood home on the front range of Colorado. Colorado Springs was small then, full of open spaces. The public library was way, way on the other side of town. There were no bookstores. The only library available to me was my school library. I checked out every book I could read. By fourth grade, my favorite authors were already Mark Twain, Jack London, Charles Dickens, James Fennimore Cooper, Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and many more. And if I wanted to have my very own copy of a book, so I didn’t have to return it, I copied the book.

By hand.

So is it a wonder that I became a writer when I grew up?

Even now, after all these decades, with the onslaught of computers, iPads and fancy programs that write text for you, I still write everything by hand. Even this article was first written by hand.

It turns out to be a good thing, to write by hand. Scientists now know that cursive writing is an important tool for cognitive development. It teaches the brain to be efficient, helps to develop critical thinking skills and refines motor control. In fact, children who learn cursive tend to learn how to read faster, generate more ideas and retain more information.

When I was copying my books in the fourth grade, I paid more attention to the details of the story. I experienced the characters on a deeper level because the very act of writing them out engaged all my senses. I had to pay attention to the words, how they were ordered, and how they were used. And, of course, I experienced the linear logic of the plot.


When I grew up, I began writing stories that featured the landscape and characters that were larger than life. A student of American history and folklore, my first books were picturebooks. If you want to know more about my picturebooks, check out JoAnn’s interview with me here!




 I continued exploring the American landscape, blending folklore and history in my first middle grade novel, Big River’s Daughter (Holiday House, 2013). The book comes recommended by the International Reading Association, and was nominated for the Amelia Bloomer Project (American Library Association, 2013). The book is listed on A Mighty Girl’s Top 2013 Mighty Girl Books for Tweens and Teens. My second middle grade historical fiction is Girls of Gettysburg (Holiday House 2014) and takes on the daunting challenge of researching the Battle of Gettysburg. For this story, I walked the battlefields four times, experiencing the very landscape where my characters lived and breathed, and died. If you are interesting in my research process for this book, you might enjoy this interview by Laurie J. Edwards, here.  The book comes recommended by Booklist as “a unique, exciting work.” School Library Journal calls the book a “riveting historical fiction.” The book is listed as a Hot Pick on Children’s Book Council for September 2014.


Of course, writers have to pay the bills. While I never planned to be a teacher, it seemed a natural fit. I teach college freshman and older students. Of course, now all the students use computers to read texts and compose their essays. And iPads, and even their phones. Most of them are proud to proclaim they have never used a pen or pencil. I make them print out the research and drafts, and have them write out their annotations and corrections on the paper. I make them experience the words and the organization in order to determine how everything fits together. They don’t always appreciate the experience. But their essays are usually better for it.

As Julia Cameron once said, “When we write by hand, we connect to ourselves. We may get speed and distance when we type, but we get a truer connection – to ourselves and our deepest thoughts – when we actually put pen to page.”

You might be interested to see more:

Why Writing by Hand Could Make You Smarter”, by William Klemm. Psychology Today. March 14, 2013.

Julia Cameron Live, "Morning Pages: why by hand?. The Artist’s Way." October 4, 2012

Bobbi Miller

Image from Morguefile




Friday, October 3, 2014

4 Reasons to Give Up Writing Creatively...and it's Poetry Friday!

.
Howdy, Campers!

The winner of  our latest autographed book giveaway is....KAY S!  Congratulations, Kay!

Today is Poetry Friday and the fabulous Jama Rattigan is hosting. A poem from my first verse novel is waiting for you at the end of this post. The poem is about... 

Creativity!

An example of creativity from morguefile.com
In case you've missed TeachingAuthors' series on Creativity, JoAnn started us off with kindness and community, Jill left us on a high note with 5 secrets of creativity, Esther got our juices flowing with a Writing Workout inspired by punctuation, Carmela offered "4 Ways I Boost my Creativity", and Mary Ann, back from a TA sabbatical (yay!), grants us permission.

My turn!

Here are four reasons why I think you should give up trying to be creative:
1) Don't you dare tell me what to do;
2) Get miserable;
3) Find someone so frickin' honest you want to hit them.
4) Write weird things.  Other peoples' brains are are loony as yours. Trust me.

1) Don't you dare tell me what to do.  For me, authentic ideas come most easily when no one is expecting a product; when I let myself play with words...the reason I fell in love with writing.

If you're our regular reader,you know I've been writing a poem a day since April 1, 2010.  I send them to my best friend, author Bruce Balan, who sails around the world in a trimaran, and he sends me his poem. (BTW, Oct. 2nd was Bruce's birthday. Since it's past his birthday, kindly sing to him the Birthday Song...backwards.)

Bruce can always smell if a poem is an assignment.  "It's stiff," he'll write.  "It's not you."

After I shake my fist at his sail mail critique, I pretend I'm not writing on assignment. I toss out everything I think I'm supposed to write and stand on my head...because I WANT to stand on my head. That's when words begin to flow from my heart.
Me, writing a poem...okay, not LITERALLY on my head...
2) Get miserable...(if you're already depressed, think of it as a big mud hole of ideas made especially for you!)  Some of my deepest, truest words are written when I am in a muddle of misery...or when I think back to some terrible time in my life, feeling every heartsick, petrified or bewildered feeling. (Why would anyone want to bring back life's worst moments in living color? You think writers might be just a teensy bit cuckoo?)

So, how can you stimulate creativity in students?  Make sure there's misery in their lives. When I read my students the tender book, I Remember Miss Perry by Pat Brisson, illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch (about the death of a beloved elementary school teacher), the topics they choose to tackle are much deeper than if I give them time to write without reading it first.

3) Find someone so frickin' honest you want to hit him. I write better when someone who believes in me and who is on the writing path with me (usually Bruce) reads my work and tells me his truth. (Sometimes I want to throw darts at him for his stupid, doo-doo head honesty--good thing he's in Thailand right now.)

Exhibit #1--recent correspondence between us:

From: Bruce 
To: April 
Subject: RE: poem for September 25, 2014 
Hi You,
This feels more like a very short story than a poem.
Doesn’t have your heart in it. It feels like an assignment.
Love,
B

(See what I mean?  Can't he just pretend a little bit that he likes it?)

From: April 
To: Bruce
Subject: Re: poem for September 25, 2014 

Well, damn.

I read it again tonight and see that you're right.  But maybe I can do something with it.  But maybe I can't.

Not sure it's worth it.

I am so tangled up in my novel.  I wish I could hire someone to sit with me and figure the darn thing out.

Why do we do this, again?  I forget.
xxx,
April

From: Bruce 
To: April  
Subject: RE: poem for September 25, 2014 

"I wish I could hire someone to sit with me and figure the darn thing out."

Unfortunately that is not possible. I, too, wish I could hire someone to fix so many problems but those problems always seem to be ones I need to deal with…not someone else.

I hate that part about writing.
B

4) Write weird things.  Other peoples' brains are as loony as yours. Trust me.  Go ahead, unlock the heavy wooden door in your brain and let the odd stuff out.

Let the odd stuff out (this odd stuff is from morguefile.com)
For example, here's a poem I thought no one would get. I wasn't even sure I got it.  And listen to this: my editor didn't throw it out--it's in my book, Girl Coming in for a Landing--a novel in poems (Knopf 2002)!

WRITER: CREATOR

I want to
make something
                         beautiful.

Peaches.

If I could
make peaches--grow them
from my pen...

or stretching my palms
up to the sun, watch as
they grow from my lifeline,

that
would be something
                               beautiful.

drawing and poem (c) 2014 by April Halprin Wayland.  All rights reserved.
  Okay, I'm done. I order you to be creative. GO.
And remember, Poetry Friday is at Jama's today!

Posted by April Halprin Wayland, who thanks you for reading all the way down to the end.