Monday, April 16, 2018

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

I’m working on choosing final images that will go in my book Buried Lives: The Enslaved People of George Washington’s Mount Vernon.  Images are critical for a nonfiction book like this.  

One part of the book includes a chapter about the archaeological dig that is taking place in the Slave Cemetery at Mount Vernon.  I want to include photos of volunteers working there and there are some great images to choose from.  But each photo needs to meet a list of factors for it to work for the book.  

This is a photo of me working the sifter during the dig.  While it does fit the text of the book it is more important to use images of other volunteers.

I took this photo, but it isn't the right choice to be in the book.  Other images are better and will carry more weight.

Here are a few details I look for when choosing a photo for my book: 

Is it needed?  Photos take up a lot of real estate in a book, so each image must carry it’s weight and be worth the space.  

It must compliment the text. The photo needs to either add a deeper understanding to what I’ve written or give a platform to use more information in the caption to get across information that didn’t fit within the text.    

It matters what is in the background of the pic.  Does what is behind or beside the subject add to the photo?  Or can it be cropped?

Is it blurry?

Is the photo hi res enough for publication?  Some images must be deleted because they aren’t good enough for print.  


—you must have written permission to use 
every photo you publish.    

And finally for me at least, I want to make sure I have permission from the people who are in the photos (if they are recognizable).  I’m working on this part right now.  While the photos I want to use technically belong to Mount Vernon, the people in the photos are volunteers.  So I want each one of them to tell me it is acceptable for me to use the photo in my book.   To ask for permission, I’ve got to communicate with them.  Sometimes that is harder than it sounds.  At times I’ve had to be a real bloodhound to find people. It is all part of the research. Just this morning I sent out another round of emails seeking permission from people in the pics I want to use.  I hope to hear from them very soon because the book is with the book designer now.  If I don’t hear from them giving me permission, the pic won’t be in the book. 

Got to go now—maybe the people I’m looking for sent me an email . . . I hope so.   

Carla Killough McClafferty 

Friday, April 13, 2018

I Love Novels in Verse

 My turn to weigh in on National Poetry Month. Topic: novels in verse.  I'm fascinated with this way of storytelling, and have been trying to write one myself for longer than I care to reveal.

My hero, Karl Shapiro--writing his verse in the Pacific during WWII
 I don't get regular poetry (especially the rhyming kind).  Maybe it was the dismal poetry I was "exposed" to in school. Two weeks of Longfellow...we ALWAYS had two weeks of Longfellow.  You spend two weeks reading Evangeline and see if you don't want to pull your hair out.

The only poet I really loved was Pulitzer Prize Poetry winner, Karl Shapiro (who incidentally, was the only then-living-poet was in my high school literature books). Not only was he my introduction to free verse ("It doesn't HAVE to rhyme?) but he wrote about concrete situations and objects that I recognized.  You gotta love a guy whose poems had titles like "Auto Wreck" and "Manhole Covers." Nary a daffodil, meadowlark or fluffy cloud wafted through his poems. He influenced me to write terrible free verse, which I thought was terribly Shapiro. (I was 16. I eventually forgave myself.)

Mostly, I learned to slink down in my seat whenever we had a "poetry unit."

Fast forward 20 years. I was a university librarian when I discovered my first verse novel, Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff. Wow! A story told in free free that you are never sure of the personal details of the main character, LaVaughn, and her friend, Jolly. What they look like, where they live. Wolff leaves the reader to fill in those details for himself. Each poem like a chapter. A one or two page chapter. What a concept!! This was a literary whack on the side of the head. Of course, I reasoned, this was just a quirky concept. No one else would ever write such an outrageous book. Of course I was wrong. Wolff 's sequel, True Believer, won the National Book Award and was a Printz Honor book.

Fast forward, and it's 1998.  The next verse novel that caught my attention was Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, that year's Newbery winner. Not only a Newbery winner, but also winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for best historical fiction. This is in My Top 10 of Books Published in the Last 20 years. It has everything I look for in a book--a girl standing up to hard times (in this case, the American Depression--one of my favorite historical periods) An absent parent, and one who is emotionally absent. A struggle for a dream. All in free verse. I know some people don't share my love of this book. Well, we all have our opinions and now you know mine.

The last book that blew me away with it's innovation was Ellen Hopkins' first YA novel, Crank. Aside from Hopkins fearlessly tackling the road to drug abuse taken by the main character, Kristina/Bree, the author's poems are visually stimulating. Some chapters are obviously shape poems. In some there seems to be two separate poems on the same page.  Each is a poem to itself, but they are arranged so that they can be read as one whole. Who does this? (I'm sure someone else had before Crank was published in 2004, but I hadn't read it.) The way the poem is set on the page is organic to the words. Hopkins pulls no parlor tricks with her poetry. The poem looks that way, because it reads that way. (There are two more volumes in the Crank trilogy; Glass and Fallout.)

So why am I hooked on novels in verse? Certainly not because they are easy to write. They're not. The book may be 300 pages, but with this style of writing and page lay out, the actual word count is ridiculously low. As with picture books, every word must count. The writing is vivid, tight, and packs an emotional punch with the fewest words possible. It's a real writing challenge. Trust me; I know!

It is an easy read for the student, without the student being aware of how easy it is. They see a 300 page book, and think Nope. I don't like to read. I don't have time. I'm not a good reader. (Pick one.) Then they open the book and see all that lovely white space, a relatively small amount of words. (Nothing says I don't want to read this than large blocks of description.) Since each page or two is a complete episode, if not an entire chapter, the reader can put down the book without fear of losing track of the narrative when he picks it up again.

I have heard verse novel detractors dismiss the form as "just creatively arranging sentences on a page." If that is all there is to a book, just rearranging sentence breaks, or turning each page into a shape poem (which would be exhausting to write and read)I would agree. But I've never read a bad verse novel, and I've read every thing published in this genre for the last 20 years. You have to be a darn good writer to pull it off. A number of writers (Ellen Hopkins comes to mind) were primarily poets before attempting a verse novel.

The years I've spent writing and revising and ultimately rejecting my own verse novel have not been in vain. In the X number of years I've had this project in my computer (and head) I've honed my sense of what makes these books work. To contemplate why my book should be a verse novel. I have concluded that the subject is so intense that it bogs down in regular prose. I tried to write it that way for two years before I made the big leap to verse. Once I started, I knew this is the only way the story would make sense. to me.

I have this season's verse novels--Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough, The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry (this came out last year)--all cued up and ready to read on my Kindle. Perhaps one of them will have the key, the clue, the Golden Ticket that will help me finish my own book.

Now go read a verse novel!


The winner of our giveaway 30 People Who Changed the World edited by Jean Reynolds is....

Buffy S!

Congratulations, Buffy S. and thank you to all who entered out giveaway. Watch this space for our next giveaway.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Crowned Prince of Poetry

Photo by Charles Egita

We continue celebrating National Poetry month. Esther started off our celebration of National Poetry Month; April had a fabulous time at the Poetry Rodeo created and sponsored by Pomelo Books. As she puts it, “Truly P-o-e-t H-e-a-v-e-n.”

As we celebrate National Poetry Month, we also celebrate its luminaries, and none shines brighter than Lee Bennett Hopkins. If ever there was royalty in poetry, then surely the crowned Prince of Poetry would be the irrepressible Lee Bennett Hopkins. Educator, poet, author, and anthologist, he has written and edited over 100 books for children.Once a senior consultant to Bank Street College's Learning Resource Center, and a curriculum specialist for Scholastic Magazines, Inc, Lee has written and edited numerous award-winning books for children and young adults,  professional texts and curriculum materials. He has taught elementary school and served as a consultant to school systems throughout the country. In 1989, Lee received the University of Southern Mississippi Medallion for “outstanding contributions to the field of children’s literature” in recognition of his work; 2009 brought him the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Excellence in Poetry for Children, in recognition of his body of work. In 2010 he received the Florida Libraries’ Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2016, Hopkins received the prestigious Regina Medal award sponsored by the Catholic Library Association. Lee founded several poetry awards, including  the Lee Bennett Hopkins Award for Poetry in 1993 in cooperation with Pennsylvania Center for the Book.

No wonder Lee is, according to Guinness World Records, "the world’s most prolific anthologist of poetry for children.”

Been to yesterdays,
lived through todays.
Looking on toward tomorrows -
new characters, new plays.
The whys of life change,
and so do ways,
new scenery is built,
to fill an empty stage.
(Been to Yesterday, Poems of a Life, Boyds Mill Press, 1995)

Lee has an amazing new collection out this very month: World Make Way: New Poems Inspired by Art from The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 Of all his anthology collections, this is – in my opinion – his most stunning, inspired by the Leonardo Da Vinci quote, "Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen." 

 As Lee explains during an NPR interview, “… the whole book is really based on a form from the Greek called ekphrastic poetry, where poems are inspired by art. I assigned these varied paintings to 18 of the top children's poets in America who would then write their emotions toward the painting. Rather than describing the painting, it's what they feel.”

The artists represented include Mary Cassatt and Winslow Homer. A painted plaster fragment from Egypt 1390-1353 B.C inspired Irene Latham's "This Is the Hour.” An illustrated manuscript "Book of the Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices" by al-Jazari inspired Naomi Shihab Nye’s “It’s All Magic.” Marilyn Singer’s “Paint Me”, inspired by Gustav Klimt's " Mada Primavesi, 1912-13," celebrates the painting’s defiant subject with the resolute phrase and title of the collection: “World, make way.”

One of the more dramatic poems comes from Cynthia Cotten, inspired by Rosa Bonheur's oil painting, The Horse Fair.
The Horse Fair, Rosa Bonheur (French, Bordeaux 1822–1899 Thomery). Public Domain.


He calls himself a handler,
this puny person
with his rope, his shouts,
his “I am your master”

Thinks he can subdue me,
stifle my spirit,
bend me
his will.

But no, I say,
I will not be broken,

Let others trot willingly
towards servitude,
towards mere

I choose life.
in the light of my
I will fight
until no fight

(©Cynthia Cotten 2018. All rights reserved)

For more history on Lee, check out these interviews with Joanna Marple and Miss Marple Musings interview from 2016 and Cynthia Leitich Smith’s interview from 2009, in which he discusses “... his unflagging belief that poetry is a necessity for children, at home and in the classroom.” 

Bobbi Miller

Friday, April 6, 2018


Howdy, Campers!

And yes, it's National Poetry Month!

But first...midnight tonight is the deadline to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win 30 PEOPLE WHO CHANGED THE WORLD (Seagrass, 2018).  Check out Carla Killough McClafferty’s March 26 interview with the book’s editor Jean Reynolds, then scroll down from the interview to enter our TeachingAuthors drawing.

Esther started off our celebration of National Poetry Month; now it's my turn.

I'm at the Texas Library Association's Annual Conference, #TLA18, having a fabulous time at the Poetry Rodeo created and sponsored by Pomelo Books.  Truly P-o-e-t H-e-a-v-e-n.

Here are a few photos from My Most Excellent Adventure:

me, ready for the conference!

Janet Wong

Dr. Sylvia Vardell & Juan Felipe Herrrera

David Harrison

Carmen T. Bernier-Grand  & Ann Whitford Paul

 the best 1/2 of Margarita Engle, Kathi Appelt, Nancy Bo Flood, Bob Raczka

my apologies to the rest of my poet friends whose photos were too blurry to share!

Ah, poetry.

Poetry Month inspired me to begin writing a poem a day in 2010...and I've never looked back. Maybe it will inspire you to write a poem each day, too.

This one is from August, 2013:

by April Halprin Wayland

It's like something that clings to your shirt—
one of those blue sticky flowers,
or a foxtail.

At the end of the day,
you take off your jacket
and there it is,

soft like a real fox's tail,

and sometimes

It must be dealt with.

poem (c) 2018 by April Halprin Wayland, who holds all rights's the backstory, which I wrote to my friend Bruce, who also writes a poem a day--we send them to each other:

Gary came home last night and I was frantic because I like to write my poem before he comes home.  At least THAT.  So he came home and I asked him if he had any ideas for a poem, for something that sticks...and as I said it, I got an image of the things that stick to my clothes on a hike and I was off and running.

Sometimes God is good to me.

Well, most times, actually.

Make sure you check out Jama Rattigan's Kidlitosphere Poetry Events Round Up...

Then scoot on over to Amy at The Poem Farm, this week's Poetry Friday host

posted with love by April Halprin Wayland, who is grateful to our kind and inclusive Poetry Friday tribe

Monday, April 2, 2018

Shake It Up! It’s National Poetry Month!

                Draw a crazy picture,
               Write a nutty poem,
               Sing a mumble-gumble song,
               Whistle through your comb.
               Do a loony-goony dance,
‘             Cross the kitchen floor,
              Put something silly in the world
              That ain’t been there before.
              - Put Something In, Shel Silverstein

We’re one day in to National Poetry Month, the perfect occasion to shake it up!
Hurrah to the American Academy of Poets for gifting us with 30 original ways to do just that.

You could memorize a poem,
or enter the Dear Poet project,
pocket a ballad,
or chalk an ode on sidewalks.
Maybe request more U.S. stamps honor poets.
Or, why not buy a book of poems, say, SHAKING THINGS UP – 14 YOUNG WOMEN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD (Harper, 2018).

Women’s History Month concluded but two days ago, right?     
So Susan Hood’s collection is the perfect poetic companion to 30 PEOPLE WHO CHANGED THE WORLD (Seagrass, 2018), which happens to be our Book Giveaway through April 6. In fact, both books include tributes to Malala Yousafzai.
Be sure to read Carla Killough McClafferty’s March 26 interview with the book’s editor Jean Reynolds, then scroll down to enter our TeachingAuthors drawing.

Each of the 14 featured young women in Hood’s collection shook up the world and sparked change in revolutionary ways through singular persistence and determination – from Molly Williams, the first American female firefighter in the early 1730’s to teenage cancer researcher Angela Zhang in 2011.  In between, readers meet through Hood’s poetic portraits, each paired with the art of 1 of 13 female illustrators, inspiring role models who represent multiple disciplines – architect Maya Lin, storyteller Pura Belpre, WWII secret agents Jacqueline and Eileen Nearne and Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space.  Hood uses various poetic forms to craft her snapshots: ballads, alphabet poems, concrete poetry, limericks.  Rich on a multitude of levels, SHAKING IT UP will soon have young readers, both male and female and of all ages, doing just that.

I discovered Susan Hood’s book of poems on Sylvia Vardell’s Poetry for Children Sneek Peek List for 2018.
Check out this extensive list of winners along with Betsy Bird’s List of Best Poetry Books of 2017 for other book-purchasing/book-reading titles.
Both lists will give you LOTS of choices for poems you might even want to pocket on April 26, Poem-in-your-Pocket Day.

Happy Poetry Month!

Remember to shake things up!

Esther Hershenhorn
Check out the ballad by Mary Schmich I’m pocketing on April 26 in honor of another celebration this month – i.e. the start of Major League Baseball, and my certain-to-shake-things-up Chicago Cubs.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Wrapping Up Women's History Month

I'm beginning this wrap up of our celebration of Women's History Month with a reminder for all of you to enter our giveaway of 30 People Who Changed the World: Fascinating Bite-Sized Essays from Award-Winning Writers (Seagrass Press), edited by Jean Reynolds, if you haven't already done so.

Carla announced the giveaway on Monday, when she posted a terrific interview with Jean Reynolds. But Carla was too modest to mention that her essay, "Radium Girls," is included in the book, which is why we chose to offer this giveaway in conjunction with Women's History Month. In the essay, subtitled "The Taste of Death," Carla shares the sad story of how female factory workers contracted radiation poisoning from painting watch dials with radium so that they'd glow in the dark. Maybe in a future post Carla will share what led to her writing this essay. My guess is, it may be connected to her research for her acclaimed nonfiction book Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium.

Esther's Women's History Month post included a great list of resources on the topic. I'd like to add one more: a Nerdy Book Club post by Kate Hannigan listing 31 New Picture Book Biographies to Celebrate Women's History Month as part of the #31Women31Books campaign. Kate is also featuring an interview on her blog with Heather Lang, author of one of the 31 biographies as well as books about other notable women of history. You can read that interview here

And don't forget about the Playing by Heart "Book Bag and Swag" giveaway I'm hosting for Women's History Month. You'll find all the details on this page of my website, along with a link to where you can download a free PDF excerpt of Playing by Heart. Don't delay. The giveaway ends tomorrow, March 31!

Be sure to check out this week's Poetry Friday Roundup hosted by Heidi Mordhorst at My Juicy Little Universe.

And remember to always Write with Joy!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Interview with Jean Reynolds and Book Giveaway for 30 People Who Changed the World

Today's post is an interview with editor, Jean Reynolds, and book giveaway for

30 People Who Changed the World:
Fascinating Bite-Sized Essays from Award-Winning Writers.  

Instructions on how to enter the giveaway 
for this book are at the end of this post.

It is my privilege to introduce you to our guest today.  Jean E. Reynolds co-founded The Millbrook Press in 1989, where she served as Executive VP and Publisher.  She developed Millbrook’s trade imprint, Roaring Brook Press, winner of two Caldecott awards.

Before founding Millbrook, she had been Editor-in-Chief of Young People’s Publications at Grolier and Editor in Chief of The Book of Knowledge and, prior to that, Senior Vice President / Editorial Director and a member of the Board of Franklin Watts, Inc.

Now retired, more or less, she edits a blog called The Nonfiction Minute consisting of daily postings of 400-word essays by 30 award-winning nonfiction writers for young readers.  She has edited two books based on this blog, 30 People Who Changed the World, and 30 Animals That Share Our World.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve come to know Jean as an editor recently because I’m part of the group of authors that make up iNK Think Tank, who produce The Nonfiction Minute.  Also, one of my essays appear in 30 People Who Changed the World. 

Congratulations on the book you edited, 30 People Who Changed the World, which was selected as a Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2018 by the NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Committee.  Can you tell us how this book came to be?

Vicki Cobb first started iNK Think Tank in 2009 when the Common Core Standards had just been implemented, requiring more reading of nonfiction. A number of her fellow nonfiction writers were pleased that the importance of their genre was being recognized by the education community.  But they also knew that most teachers had very little awareness of the trove of excellent nonfiction books related to their required curricula and that those books were actually sitting idly on their school library shelves. Vicki approached a number of her favorite award-wining nonfiction authors and convinced them to join with her in creating a database aligning their books to the new Standards.  They created a website, which launched under the domain name of (now  in October 2009. All 22 member-authors donated money to make it happen.
These authors used their combined strength to purchase electronic equipment and learn how to do two way virtual classroom visits.  But as they got to know each other, they all realized that they wanted to do something more to introduce fine nonfiction writing to the classroom.  Thus the idea of The Nonfiction Minute was born.  And this is the point where I was brought into the organization.  I was a newly-retired editor who had worked with many of the iNK Think Tank authors over the years.  I know it’s hard to believe that a group of authors voluntarily called in an editor, because as a group we do tend to create a lot of work for a good author – but that’s what they did!
The plan was for each member of the iNK group, which had grown to more than 30 at this point, to create multiple 400-word nonfiction essays with the intention of posting one each day for use in the classroom.  It was my job to organize the effort, sometimes suggest the topics, edit the articles, illustrate the articles with free materials, solicit and edit an mp3 of the author reading his/her essay, and prepare a description of the author’s latest book to be included at the end of the essay.  The first year, academic 2015-16, was a gargantuan effort for all of us in that we were all in unfamiliar territory.  I had to learn how to work not only as an editor but as a fact checker and copyeditor – the latter being the most difficult.  I had had a staff of copyeditors overseeing my work for decades, and it was very difficult to not only edit but copyedit the essays.  Fortunately I was working with authors who were the best of the best in the field, but I literally wore out my Chicago Manual of Style. 
I was worried that without the power of a major publishing house who was going to pay an author on the completion of the work, there were no carrots to keep the very busy volunteer authors on track.  But to my delight, I discovered that their carrot was not money at all, but rather their true belief in what we were giving to children.

How is this book different from other books on the market today? 

There may be other anthologies in the children’s book market – although the only ones that occur to me now are poetry collections in which different poets are paid by the piece to be included in a single volume.  But I don’t believe that anything else exists that is based on the premise of good nonfiction writing.  I think such a volume would be very difficult to put together because the selection would be so subjective.  Also, the expense of paying for 30 essays would be major.  Remember that all of our authors are doing this without payment, which makes this book possible.

One of the many unique things about 30 People is that each of the 30 biographical essays is done with a different style and different approach.   It was an interesting experience for me as an editor transformed into an author to work with our very excellent copyeditor at Seagrass.  Coping with the work of 30 different authors was a real challenge for a copyeditor whose job is to assure uniformity of style -- and it was kind of fun for me as the author-once-children’s-book-editor to have to argue on behalf on inconsistency!

30 People Who Changed the World is interesting especially since it is a compilation of articles by different authors.  Can you tell us how it works to edit this type of book? 

Josalyn Moran, the Seagrass publisher who discovered The Nonfiction Minute online chose the topic.  She felt that introductions to new subjects or new details about old subjects would be helpful to upper elementary and middle school students who were involved in the inevitable assignment “Write an x-hundred word biography of a person you admire.”  Our Nonfiction Minutes fill that bill beautifully.  So for me, who was familiar with all of the Minutes, it was a question of picking 30 out of the 60 or so biographical Minutes.  I wanted to use not only all different approaches by different authors, but also a wide variety of subjects balanced between the well-known and the virtually unknown.  I wanted people from different eras, which we definitely achieved by including Imhotep of 2600 BCE and present-day Malala Yousafzai!  Also we wanted a balance between male and female, and of course, racial diversity. By the time these factors were all considered, the choices were pretty obvious.

Because the Minutes had been published previously and were still available for free on line, I wanted to add some additional factors and the logical thing to do was to help kids who were interested in knowing more to get started on their research by adding a Find Out More section to each Minute.  So I went back to the authors (who had already done a great deal of in-depth research on their respective biographees) and asked them to give me the title of the best book on their subject, the URL of the best introductory website, and the link to an interesting U-tube, all of which were then included at the end of each Minute.

As the book came together, I was very happy that I had been such a strict taskmaster about the length of the minutes.  As you know, I was adamant about the 400 word limit, and that helped the design flow very smoothly because our wonderful designer Marc Cheshire could perform his magic on the total layout even before he had the final text, knowing in advance how much room to allow for each minute.  I’m afraid that many of my free illustrations which worked well on a computer screen were not high enough resolution to work in a book.  So we had a lot of scrambling to find additional art.  It was wonderful to have professional researchers at the publisher working on it rather than me.   Like my copyediting knowledge, my picture research is rusty. I’ve been working with and selecting pictures for years, but always with lots of help from professional researchers.  Also, the publisher gave us a generous budget for pictures, whereas my budget for the illustrations for the online Minutes was zero. 

One problem was that the author’s book promotion could not be placed at the end of each Minute as it was on line.  I felt that information about each author was a must.  I lobbied hard for eight full book pages for author bios, photos, and book mentions.  We even included the author’s home town and email addresses.  I had to keep making suggestions about what photos we could cut, or even text we could cut to keep that eight-page section in tact – but it remained.  I felt that the volunteer authors needed some sort of major recognition in the book, not only for providing the one or two Minutes contained in the book, but for the scores of other Minutes they have produced over the past few years.

So all in all, editing this book and working with a publisher as an author rather than being the publisher myself was a really interesting experience.  Because she knew my extensive background, I think the editor, Josalyn, probably included me in a lot more decisions that the average author might have been able to participate in.  We consulted on the title and subtitle and cover design and cover copy – actually publishing details that I knew a lot more about than being an author.  It was fun.

One final thought on the topic.

Reading this book from an editor’s standpoint, can you give our readers some advice on writing captivating nonfiction? 

 I think captivating is the operative word in that question.  I think in order to captivate your reader, your topic has to have captivated you.  In that case, you do the best you can to share your enthusiasm.

Many years ago, I read an article that really helped form my love for what is called narrative nonfiction.  (Narrative nonfiction means that the author is really telling an interesting story and not presenting a series of facts and figures about the subject.)  The article, which probably was in an educational magazine, quoted two articles on the VietNam war.  The first was from a well-known American history text book, and I remember it began: “Vietnam is a Southeast Asian country on the South China Sea.” In the course of about 300 words it described the location and climate of VietNam, the years the war lasted, a bit about why the US was a combatant country.  I think the article lost me on the opening sentence.

The second article was from Time Magazine and it began with two American soldiers lying under some jungle foliage with artillery fire from the North Vietnamese passing just over their heads.  They had me!
I went on to read the rest of the dramatic story of what brought these Americans to this point, and the subsequent story, I learned a lot about VietNam.

In a widespread educational test, the text book article was given to a large group of students and the Time article was given to a different group.  Both were tested on the information two weeks later.  The textbook group remembered very very little, while the Time group could repeat parts of the story and actually remembered facts about VietNam and the course of the war.

Our aim in the Minutes is to have our writers tell an interesting enough story that our readers may mention something about it later on the playground, or talk about it at home over dinner.

Of course there are many other things about writing good nonfiction, but none are more important than captivating your reader.

Do you have some suggestions about how teachers could use this book in the classroom? 

I am not a teacher.  That’s a very hard job, and I don’t think that I’d be very good at it.  But I do spend a lot of time talking with teachers about how they work with kids and books.  As I mentioned earlier, 30 People is a great resource if there are students having trouble finding a topic for a biographical essay.  Also, I understand that some teachers are using the individual Minutes for (shudder) test prep.

We have added a new Transfer to Teaching section for each minute published this season which has a custom page with creative ideas for using the Minute in the classroom.  Organized by subject area and focused on critical thinking and problem-solving skills, these ideas have been created and organized by certified school librarian Karen Sterling, an iNK Think Tank member.  Each Minute is also categorized according to the Library of Congress Subject Authority headings to increase access points for users. So my suggestion would be for a teacher interested in specific ideas for any of the minutes in the book, use the archives on the website to find any of the Minutes in the book and click on the T2T link.

Are there more books like this one in the future?  

Absolutely.  30 Animals Who Share Our World is being released by Seagrass on April 4, 2018.  This book has some fascinating science, as well as some delightful stories about animal behavior.  This one has a huge variety of minutes ranging from a poetry collection in praise of vultures to the commuting habits of a British cat.  You’ll learn a lot, but this one is really fun!

We’re talking about a future STEM-themed book, but it is not yet under contract.

Thank you, Jean Reynolds!
Carla Killough McClafferty

Readers, to enter our drawing for a chance to win an autographed copy of 
30 People Who Changed the World, 
written by iNK Think Tank and edited by Jean Reynolds, use the Rafflecopter widget below. You may enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options.

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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Through Hazel's Eyes:

   As a child, I had lots of female heroes. They lived in the biography section of the library. Amelia Earhart, Clara Barton, Jane Addams. These women were daring and brave, breaking the female norms of their day. They had something else in common.

   By the time I was born, they were all long dead.

   I didn't realize as a pre-teen in 1960's Mississippi that I lived within fifty miles of a woman who would become one of my adult heroes.

    When I did school visits in connection with Yankee Girl, it was a twenty minutes of Civil Rights history.  Lynchings, bombings, segregation, and of course, the Ku Klux Klan. After all that, the first question during Q & A was always, "Weren't there any good white Mississippians? Did anyone stand up for the black people?"

   The first time I was asked, I hemmed and hawed and said I was sure there were, but I couldn't think of any.  I explained how dangerous it was for white people to take a stand. People kept their "different" views to themselves.

   By the next school visit, I had thought of someone. Yes, I did know a good and brave white woman (Alabamian by birth, but who lived in Mississippi).  Her name was Hazel Brannon Smith, a woman who was a journalist (a female journalist!), publisher, owner and editor of four small newspapers, mostly in Holmes County, Mississippi.  In 1964, she also became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing.
Hazel Brannon Smith in her newsroom, circa 1965

    I first heard of her through the four-page weekly, The Northside Reporter, my parents subscribed to. Each week there was an editorial column called "Through Hazel Eyes" written by Hazel Brannon Smith. I had never encountered a female journalist who wasn't a "society writer," relegated to what used to be called "The Women's Section": weddings, engagements, debutant balls, soirees and "ladies' club "meetings. This Hazel lady wrote about important things--like rights for black people, voter's rights, police brutality. She felt the same way about these events that my parents did: horrified. It was as if I had found a new friend. Up until then, I thought we were the only white family in Mississippi who thought these things were wrong.  Now, I had Hazel!

  I later learned that Hazel Brannon Smith owned The Northside Reporter..  The Reporter's office was fire bombed by the KKK in 1964.

   Even at 10 I knew about the Pulitzer (after all, I planned to win one myself some day!) I was so happy when my friend Hazel, won it for "Through Hazel Eyes." First female winner for editorials. Big stuff! Big news!

  But as Paul Harvey (a favorite in my neck of the Mississippi woods) used to say "And now the rest of the story."

  Starting in the late 50's, Hazel's columns took what the locals called "a radical turn." That meant she not only wrote editorials supporting the Civil Rights Movement, she presented the facts of unsavory incidents of white violence toward blacks. (Those stories never showed up in The Jackson Daily News, or the state-wide paper, The Clarion Ledger--both owned by the same family, and once labeled "the most racist, segregationist newspapers in the country.")

  Because Hazel was becoming all unhinged and dishonoring her "southern heritage," the White Citizens Council in her hometown decided to teach her a lesson. (The Citizens Council was a more upscale version of the KKK. Council members were white collar, professional men of the community---former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott was a member.) The WCC began publishing their own newspaper to compete with Hazel"s. Within two years, Hazel's paper was in financial trouble as her advertisers defected to the Citizen's Council paper. Then, as a final flourish, the WCC engineered the firing of Hazel's husband from his job as county hospital administrator.

   Friends in the civil rights community took up a collection to keep Hazel's paper going. She limped along until she was awarded the Pulitzer for "steadfast adherence to her editorial duty in the face of great pressure and opposition."

   Winning the Pulitzer only enflamed the Citizens Council more. They organized a boycott of Hazel's few remaining advertisers AND her subscribers. She had no choice. One by one, she sold off her papers. Within twenty years of winning the greatest prize in American journalism, Hazel was no longer a newspaper woman.  With time on her hands, she helped out with The Jackson Advocate, the weekly for Jackson's African-American community. It was a volunteer job that involved driving 100 miles, round trip, several times a week.

    Hazel Brannon Smith died in 1994, at the age of 80.  She had no survivors.

    And I am left with a mystery. How did a woman, raised in segregated Alabama ("The Heart of Dixie" is still part of the state's license plates), a sorority girl at the University of Alabama, seemingly the average career woman of her place and did she transform into a Civil Rights crusader? As of this month, there are only two biographies of this amazing woman. Many people who consider themselves scholars of the Movement have never heard of her.

How did she become the woman of "Through Hazel Eyes"?  Perhaps there is a hint in Hazel's own words:  I'm just a little editor in a little spot.  A lot of other little editors in a lot of other little spots is what helps make this country.  It's either going to help protect that freedom that we have, or else it's 
going to let that freedom slip away by default.

   I wish she were here and writing today.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman