Monday, November 20, 2017

My Thanku to Sue (Alexander)!

I know in my heart there are legions of children’s book creators who re-express on a daily basis their gratitude Sue Alexander entered their lives.
I am but one such writer, and a lucky one at that.

All sorts of nouns in apposition describe Sue’s long-time residency in the Children’s Book World, chief among them TeachingAuthor and SCBWI’s Very First Member and #1 Supporter. 

After publishing her first book, SMALL PLAYS FOR YOU AND A FRIEND (Scholastic), in 1973, Sue went on to publish 24 other tiles, including my favorite, the picture book BEHOLD THE TREES (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, 2001).  As a teacher, she loved sharing all she’d learned - “from the best,” she’d like to say, and that included Myra Cohn Livingston. Sue joined SCBW in 1971 and went on to grow the organization as it took on the “I” for “Illustrators. She served as SCBWI’S Chairperson of the Board of Advisors for 33 years while helping to organize conferences and the Golden Kite Awards and watching over all.

While I’d admired Sue from afar at my very first LA SCBW Conference in 1986 (!), it wasn’t until the early 90’s, when I assumed responsibilities for my Illinois SCBWI Chapter, that I came to know this red-headed Energizer Bunny-like force of nature.
As dedicated as she was to helping children’s book creators be the best they could be, that’s how dedicated she was to making sure those of us working on SCBWI’s behalf did so with professionalism, dedication and kindness. 
Her diminutive size belied the enormity of her spirited actions. Excellence was Sue’s only standard.

IMHO: Sue’s verbs describe her best.
She taught, modeled, mentored, guided, encouraged and supported, not to mention believed in SCBWI and its members.
In so many ways, she “mothered” so many.
And like any mother, she saw the promise in each of us.

SCBWI’s Sue Alexander Manuscript Award, established in 1996, is the perfect award to honor Sue’s dedication, service and, since 2008, her memory.  It’s given to the manuscript submitted for critique to the SCBWI Annual Conference in LA deemed most promising for publication. Conference critiquers determine the finalists and a three-member panel of industry professionals make the final selection.  The work or a synopsis of the work is then presented to an esteemed group of hand-selected editors and agents.  Winners become instant Success Stories.

Whether writing, teaching, coaching or engaging in an SCBWI event, Sue is with me,
perched on my shoulder, whispering in my ear what needs to be done and how well I need to do it.  The height of the bar she set hasn’t slipped an inch. 

Here’s hoping the 17 syllables of my traditional TeachingAuthors Thanku, this time to thank Sue, keep Sue’s Spirit alive.  Paying Sue Alexander forward is something those of us who knew her do gladly and often.

          Sue Alexander –
          the gift that keeps on giving
          so we keep writing!

Happy Thanku-ing – and – Thanksgiving!

Esther Hershenhorn

Friday, November 17, 2017

Jella Lepman: Children's Books for the World

Howdy Campers! Happy Poetry Friday! Today's poem and the link to PF is below.
It's time once again for TeachingAuthors' annual...

Mary Ann began our series giving thanks to the best teacher ever; Carla thanked her favorite teachers; Carmela thanked her history teacher; Bobbi thanked the many teachers who appeared in her life throughout this difficult year. It's my turn to thank someone.

Who Was Jella Lepman And Why Am I Giving Thanks To Her?

This year I'm thanking a different kind of teacher: Jella Lepman, whose memoir, A Bridge of Children's Books, which I've just finished, has inspired me to rise up from my couch of despair and continue fighting for what's right, no matter the obstacles.

Here are some adjectives which describe this visionary librarian/teacher/leader:
Tenacious. Purposeful. Unfaltering. Dogged. Unwavering. Ambitious. Generous. Unstoppable. I could go on and on. Campers--if you are flagging, if you need inspiration, run, don't walk to pick up her memoir, A Bridge of Children's Books.

'This is the story of a remarkable woman and an important document in the history of international children's literature' -- Inis Magazine

From Amazon:
"The remarkable story of Jella Lepman, who, having left Germany to escape the Nazi regime in the 1930s, chose to return in the aftermath of the Second World War, as 'Adviser on the Cultural and Educational Needs of Women and Children in the American Zone'. She soon decided that what Germany's war-ravaged children needed was to see a world of the imagination, beyond their landscape of bombed-out buildings and military vehicles. Battling with bureaucracy and meeting with generals and statesmen, including Eleanor Roosevelt, she founded the International Youth Library, filling a huge void in the lives of Germany's children with books from all corners of the world. The IYL included a children's art studio, story- and play-writing classes, readings, foreign language classes, and the foundation of the Young People's United Nations. In 1951 Jella Lepman founded the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), dedicated to promoting international understanding through children's books. This is a story of tireless courage and conviction in the face of desolation and cynicism."

Note, Campers, that the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) has been called "one of the most influential children's literature organizations in the world." (And the good news is that there's a United States national section we can join!)

The International Youth Library,
the world's largest library
for international children's and youth literature,
was founded in 1949 by Jella Lepman.

Check out this quick PowerPoint about Jella created by Canadian Laura A. Thompson, PhD in 2011.

I also owe thanks to Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell who introduced me to USBBY during this summer's ILA conference in Orlando, opening my eyes and heart to the world of international children's literature. And thanks, too, to Junko Yokota for pressing this book into my hands and urging me to read it. Reading how Jella climbed over obstacles to accomplish so much has lifted me up and changed my life.

Here's today's poem:

by April Halprin Wayland

she is one warm light
through this wet, winter night

just one woman
just one human

climbing chunks of bombed-out buildings
she is steady, she is feisty
and her goals 
are grand and mighty
no one says that she is cautious
skirting senseless rules and bosses

just one woman
just one human

she is one warm light
through this wet, winter night

poem (c) 2017 April Halprin Wayland

Thank you, Jella Lepman.

And thank you, Jane, who's hosting Poetry Friday on her Raincity Librarian blog.

posted by April Halprin Wayland, coming off the couch of despair and bouncing into the light

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Wednesday Writing Workout: VISUALIZING Your Characters!

Lucky us to have author-illustrator Jeanne B. de Sainte Marie stop by today Wednesday to share how we can visualize our characters!

An avowed daydreamer since childhood, Jeanne now dreams up fictional worlds for her children’s books – including her latest offering, MARIELLE IN PARIS, written by Maxine Rose Schur and published by Pomegranatekids.  Jeanne, it turns out, lives in Paris, too, though she was born in Michigan.  Jeanne has also created colorful stylized travel notebooks, Advent calendars, magazines and apps.
Her artwork is regularly exhibited on both sides of the Atlantic and is in the collections of the Mazza Museum: International Art from Picture Books and the Paris Library for the Arts, Bibliothèque Forney.

As for Marielle the mouse, a talented dressmaker, she lives in an upside-down flowerpot.  One day, the elegant Madame de Sooree asks Marielle to make nine dresses for her nine daughters  - Berenice, Babette, Belle, Bernadette, Blanche, Blondelle, Brie, Brigitte, and Beatrice - for their birthday party.  Marielle soon tours the city, looking for creative inspiration. With but ten days until the party, though, a big wind whooshes through her workroom, threatening the completion and delivery of her creations and Marielle, alas, is afraid of heights! What’s a mouse to do?!

MARIELLE IN PARIS includes a quiz for readers in which they match each party dress with the Paris scene that inspired it.

Jeanne is also an avowed – and discreet – observer, sketching people on the Paris subway or buses, taking in the variety of ears and noses, mouths and purses.  Like Marielle-mouse, she finds inspiration visiting museums, savoring the street markets or strolling without a particular purpose.

Thank you, Jeanne, for sharing your observational skills and smarts with our TeachingAuthors readers, creating today’s Wednesday Writing Workout for both writers and illustrators.

Here’s to beaucoup de plaisir!

Esther Hershenhorn

Visit Jeanne’s Instagram page @JustJeanneB to learn about the #Marielle Dress Design Contest for Kids.  Readers are invited to observe their neighborhoods to see what inspired them to create a new dress for Marielle-mouse.  A paper-doll figure of the character and some simple “starter shapes” are downloadable from a link on the page.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Visualizing Your Characters

Being a sensitive observer of Nature, people and your physical surroundings is important to being a successful artist or writer, especially since a well-developed character is essential for a successful story.

1) Cut out a lot of shapes from paper. Shuffle them around to make some characters.  Once you find one, photograph it and shuffle the pieces again. Make another character. Re-shuffle. Make at least 10. Don’t think about it too much. Have fun! These are just starting points.

2) Now do some drawings from these photos. Do more than just copy them. Develop them. You can change the features slightly, including ears, noses, mouths, etc. Clothe your characters. Add

3) Then on a large sheet of paper, randomly draw some simple closed shapes in pencil. Draw a triangle, a circle, an oval, a squiggle… Put your character into these shapes. Give the character a reason for the poses they take inside the shapes. Is he/she jumping for joy? Sleeping? Rushing?

4) Give your “shaped” characters speech bubbles.

5) Ask yourself a lot of questions about your character:
What is their problem in the story and how will they solve it?

Is the way they look essential to the story?  Is it part of their problem? Should they be cute? Ordinary? Extra-ordinary?

Where does he or she live? What does their home look like on the inside and on the outside?

Is there something in their life they cannot live without?

What do they like to eat and drink?

What makes them sad, happy or mad?

Do they have any particular habits?

Keep asking yourself questions. I’m sure you can think of more. You are on your way to creating a new story!

Monday, November 13, 2017

For all Good Things

Teaching Authors continue our annual Three Weeks of Thanks-Giving series, remembering a teacher who inspired us. I would offer that everyone becomes a teacher, that person who inspires and supports, given the right moment and lesson that needs to be learned. It does sound a lot like Zen, but it’s also life at its best. And sometimes, worse.

I have often written about the power of stories. Stories make up the oldest invitation to the human experience. We have told our stories for over 100,000 years. Not every culture has developed codified laws or written language, but every culture in the history of the world has created myths, legends, fables, and folk tales.

Stories fill us with life’s possibilities, courage and hope. We are the product of all the stories we have heard and lived. Every dynamic character we’ve met along the way becomes intrinsic in our own story. Every plot a revelation to our journey.

And stories show us the way to be more than what we are. They tells us what it means to be human. No perfect by no means.

But Human.

Of course, to any daunting question posed, and any challenge faced, we learn there is no right or wrong answer, nor right or wrong way of moving forward. In the end, it is a lesson about how we see ourselves. Only when we take ownership of our learning does our story grow.

This has been a wretched year for me, after losing my job, then my beloved home, then my health insurance. I’ve had many lessons to learn. But I have also been blessed with many teachers who have inspired and supported me through this challenge. Even when I’ve been a royal pain in the pill.

For Eric, who after all these many, many, many, many years, continues to be my Master Guru.

For Monica, who has shared with me most graciously the poetics of her wisdom and story.

For Cynthia, fellow traveler and companion of space and time and everything wibbly wobbly.

For Bonny, for all things good and right in the world.

For Vera, for all things teddy bears and hugs.

For Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson, who offered me entry to their wonderful online class, “Revise and Reimagine Your Novel or Chapter Book Webinar.” It has kept my head in the game.

And, for all the Teaching Authors, who are the best of teachers.

Thank you. 

Bobbi Miller 

Friday, November 10, 2017

Thanks, Mr. Duffy!

I've enjoyed reading both Carla and Mary Ann's posts for our annual Three Weeks of Thanks-Giving series.

As I pondered who I wanted to thank this year, I realized that as much as I enjoyed my English classes over the years, the teacher who had the most impact on my writing was actually a history teacher. Mr. Robert Duffy was my teacher for Advanced Placement United States History my senior year in high school. It was a challenging class, and he required us to write several papers. Mr. Duffy didn't always agree with the stance I took in those papers, but his comments were always insightful and encouraging. I recall thinking that he took me seriously as a writer and that meant the world to me.

Years later, when rejections made me doubt my writing ability, I'd pull out those papers (which I saved and still have) and consoled myself by re-reading Mr. Duffy's praise of my work.

For this post, I pulled out my high school yearbook and found the note he wrote in it:
"Best wishes--your papers were a pleasure
(some sounded like me)."

Even after all these years, I'm encouraged by Mr. Duffy's words. I hope I can have a similar impact on my students. Thank you, Mr. Duffy!

Thanks, also, to everyone who entered our giveaway of Pet Crazy, and congratulations to our THREE winners:
Tanya C, Linda B, Danielle H 

Don't forget, today is Poetry Friday. This week's roundup is over at Jama's Alphabet Soup.

Remember, always Write with Joy!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Thanking My Teachers

Our Three Weeks of Thanks-giving for a teacher that inspired us brought back a lot of memories.  I went to a small school, which means there was only one teacher per subject.  And unless they quit and were replaced, we had the same teachers every year.  That is a good thing, if you had a great teacher.  It is not a good thing, if the teacher was not so great.   

Without naming a name here, I can tell you I had a math teacher that could really DO math.  But she could not explain to me how to do it.  So I don’t feel as though I learned much about math.  Surely it had nothing to do with the fact that I hated math and looked upon a word problem as if it was the very essence of all things evil.  Yet, somehow I learned enough math to get into and succeed when I went to school of Radiologic Technology-which I found out to my dismay-would require lots of math.  

I have a theory that people are either “numbers” people or “words” people.  I’m a “words” person.  

From the day I arrived on the planet I loved books, so English and Literature class was a good fit for me.  But aside from that natural bent, I had two excellent English teachers.  I can still remember the excitement Miss Jordan generated in class for Roman mythology.  When Miss Jordan left, Mrs. Thurmond took her place.  Her passion for literature showed through every day, in my memories I can still hear her reading poetry to us.  It was also in her class when I delivered my first “speech.”  No one in the room would have ever guessed that I would become a public speaker and book author. 

A great teacher rains down what they know over their students.  The lucky ones absorb some of that rain to germinate the seeds of future writers…

and maybe even mathematicians.  

Carla Killough McClafferty

Click here to find out how to enter to win the book Pet Crazy.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Three Weeks of Thanks-Giving; Thanks to the best teacher ever

We're b-a-a-a-ck!  It's Three Weeks of Thanks-Giving time, again. This is the time of year we give thanks for the teachers/writers who have influenced or encouraged us.

I've been blessed with many terrific teachers over the years. Today, I am giving thanks to a teacher whose class I did not attend, at least not in the traditional sense. And, unless he has been keeping a secret from me for the past 40-something years, he is not a writer. However, he is a dynamic teacher who, unknowingly, encouraged me to become a writer of historical fiction.

Coach Don Todd taught American history in the same 7-12 Tennessee school where I was librarian (excuse me: media specialist). I don't know about the rest of the country, but in the South, coaches teach social studies. Every single social studies/history teacher I had from grades 7-12 was a male coach. All of them with something more important to do than actually teach. My coaches were forever in their office (located at the other end of the school)making phone calls, leaving us to our own devices.

If the coach was actually in the classroom, the "teaching" went something like this:

"Y'all open your books to chapter six and answer the questions at the end of sections A and B."

With that, the good coach would rear back in his chair, plop his feet on the desk and flap open the sports section of the newspaper. Soon, the sports page would gently rise and fall in time to Coach's snoring.

Coach Todd was a totally different species of coach.

He taught! 

I had the privilege of observing him when his classes came to the library for research. I watched in wonder as kids, who were scraping bottom in the rest of their subjects, scrambled around in hot pursuit of information on say...The Robber Barons, and did any of them compare to the Kings of Wall Street in the 1980's? How did he get these students so fired up about Andrew Carnegie and Cornelius Vanderbilt?

"You got to fox them, Miss Rodman," he'd say with a wink. "You got to make them want to know more."

To Coach, history was not a bunch of facts and figures to be regurgitated on a multiple choice test. It was an always-exiting-never-ending narrative of our country. He made those historical figures real people, adding information that was not in the text book. They had wives and kids and problems and human failings. Their lives had beginnings and middles and ends, their stories woven into the lives of those who came before and after.  He may not have known it, but Coach Todd was one of the best storytellers I've ever heard. In his hands, American history was as enthralling as any miniseries.

It was Coach who gave me the idea to write historical fiction. As much as I loved writing, and reading historical fiction, it had never occurred to me to write it myself.

Coach (and most of the rest of the faculty) knew that my dad was a FBI agent.  Only Coach did the math and realized that Dad worked on the Mississippi Burning case, and that I was a ten-year-old witness to a lot of grizzly civil rights history. In the 1980's, the modern civil rights era, as covered in the American history texts, consisted of exactly two paragraphs  (Martin Luther King, Jr and Rosa Parks. The end.)  To supplement that unit, Coach started asking me to talk to his classes about growing up in Mississippi in the 60's.

"Why?" I puzzled. "Who wants to hear about my childhood?"

"Because you lived through history, Miss Rodman," he said. "It isn't all in the books. History comes from the people who were there, who lived it. And that would be you."

Once I started talking to his classes, I understood. What seemed every day, and not notable to me, was fascinating and sometimes unbelievable to Coach Todd's classes. The "everyday" indignities of the Jim Crow South were so outrageous that the students often accused me of "making up a story." I wish I had been, but no. Things were just that bad.

I assumed that the students, mostly Tennessee born and raised, would know something of the recent past.  But they didn't. Unpleasant history has a way of sinking into the swamp of time unless someone hauls it back to light and forces folks to look at it. That was what Coach did...and I got to help.

It was the students' questions, that made me realize that, yes, I did live through some pretty incredible times. Times that as far as I knew, were not written from the POV of an FBI agent's daughter. Maybe I should be the one to write that story. Twenty years later, I got around to writing that book, and lucky for me, someone actually wanted to publish Yankee Girl.

One of the best days of my life was when Coach Todd invited my dad (then long retired from the Bureau) to talk to his classes about some of his Mississippi cases, especially those dealing with the Ku Klux Klan (which was almost all of them.) I was reminded of that day again last week.

My dad passed away in September.  I was sorting through his files, looking for "necessary documents." However, Dad's habit of note taking during FBI interviews spilled over into his everyday life. He kept notes and documents on everything. If he ever threw anything away on paper, I don't know what it would've been. He was a hoarder, but a tidy hoarder...everything cataloged and filed away in his ten file cabinets. Along with the receipt for the furniture my parents bought for their first house (1950) and the maintenance manual for their 1963 Chrysler, I found the notes for Dad's talk with Coach Todd's classes.  Good times, good memories. (Thank you for the invitation have no idea how much that day meant to Dad.)

Coach was the first to make me realize that history isn't just Stuff that Happens to Important People. Sometimes history is the not-so-important people who are observing, or participating in their own small way. This is a lesson I've passed on to my own writing students.

"Well, yeah," my students protest, "but your family is interesting. Your parents were codebreakers and your dad was an FBI agent and..."  I tell them to listen to their parents and grandparents when they reminisce. I have had students whose "boring" families escaped from war, survived the Holocaust, outlasted Hurricane Katrina. History is story. Your story. And only you can write your story. The best lesson I learned, from the teacher I never had.

Thank you, Coach Todd.

One more thing we can be thankful for: book giveaways! Our current giveaway is Pet Crazy: A Poetry Friday Power Book by Sylvia Wardell and Janet Wong, which features the work of TA April Halprin Wayland. For details and a chance to enter click here.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Monday, October 30, 2017

Three New Books for Your Writer’s Bookshelf!

Oh, how I love recommending books about writing for our readers’ shelves!
This time around, while the first two titles target aspiring young writers, young-at-heart writers can also benefit.

Adam Lehrhaupt’s picture book THIS IS A GOOD STORY (Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster, 2017) does a very good job for readers 6 and older of nailing the essential components of story: character, plot, setting and conflict.  And all while the Narrator cleverly engages the reader’s participation in creating a story within a story to highlight each element. Kirkus writes, “This tongue-in-cheek way of delivering the rules of creative writing is clever, and paired with Magali Le Huche’s earnest, childlike illustrations, it seems to be aimed at giving helpful direction to aspiring young creators…”

Jack Gantos’ WRITING RADAR - USING YOUR JOURNAL TO SNOOP OUT AND CRAFT GREAT STORIES (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2017) does an exceptional job showing young writers how mining their journals helps them make their stories shine.
Thanks to text boxes highlighting writing tips, Gantos’ own illustrations, sample stories and snippets of his childhood journals, readers revel in the creative process.  In starred reviews, PW, Booklist and SLJ agree: it’s a funny, laugh-out-loud, focused, useful must guide for young aspiring writers.  It’s Lucy Calkins’ Book of the Year – “a life-changer for kids and for those of us who teach them.”

For those of us who write for kids, Eve Heidi Bine-Stock’s newest book OH! THE THINKS I THINK (Eve Heidi Bine-Stock Publishing, 2017) focuses on both STORY – and – PROCESS, offering children’s book writers a journal and a workbook.  It’s a welcome addition to her family of children’s book writing books, especially the recently-published how-to books (HOW TO SELF-PUBLISH A CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOK, HOW TO WRITE A PICTURE BOOK, HOW TO ILLUSTRATE A CHILDREN'S PICTURE BOOK IF YOU CAN’T DRAW).  Word prompts, brainstorming exercises and planning guidelines suggest ways for writers to structure, write, analyze and edit their stories.  Intermittent delicious poetic verse charms and delights.

Which reminds me: don’t forget to enter our Book Giveaway for PET CRAZY (Pomelo Books), Sylvia Vardell’s and Janet Wong’s newest Poetry Friday Power Book which features the original poetry of our very own April Halprin Wayland.
Click here for details.  The deadline is November 8.

Happy reading – and – writing, no matter your age or years on task!

Esther Hershenhorn