Friday, December 15, 2017

3 Favorite Reads of 2017: 2 Historicals Plus a Modern Classic


Happy Poetry Friday! In today's post, I include an excerpt from a Byron poem quoted in one of the titles I share for our end-of-the year series on our Favorite Reads of the Year. If you haven't entered our current giveaway yet, see the link at the end of this post.

I've enjoyed reading about my fellow TeachingAuthors' favorites: voracious reader Mary Ann shared SIX titles, Esther gave us FOUR, April hosted a guest TeachingAuthor interview and giveaway of her ONE favoriteand Bobbi shared THREE books, including one for adults on the craft of storytelling. 

Like Bobbi, I'm sharing THREE titles today, which brings the total of TeachingAuthor favorites of 2017 to 17 so far, and we still have one more TeachingAuthor to hear from! Some of you have affirmed our suggestions, but if we haven't mentioned one of YOUR favorites of the year, please give us the title in the comments. Meanwhile, here are mine:

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk was a 2017 Newbery Honor book, but our Not For Kids Only (NFKO) Book Club didn't read it until this year. I was immediately drawn in by the book's first line and have added it to my list of great opening sentences:


The year I turned twelve,
I learned how to lie.

As I read Wolf Hollow, I felt I was living inside of the narrator, Annabelle's, skin, walking in her shoes every step of the way. I shared her fears and admired her courage, especially at the end.


Wonder by R.J. Palacio

This book is the "Modern Classic" I'm alluding to in this post's title. Our NFKO Book Club read it first back in 2012, not long after Wonder first came out. This year, we all went to see the movie together. I re-read the book the week before and was pleased to see that the movie stays fairly true to the book, even shifting the point-of-view character as the book does. All eight of us loved both the book and the movie versions of Wonder. We still don't understand how the American Library Association neglected to give the novel any medal recognition back in 2012. However, I hope this story about the power of kindness does indeed become a modern classic. 

Like Wolf Hollow, the third book I'm sharing is historical. But unlike my other two favorites of the year, this one is for adults: Enchantress of Numbers: A Novel of Ada Lovelace by Jennifer Chiaverini. I don't typically read books for adults, but I couldn't pass up this biographical novel about Ada Lovelace, whom many consider the world's first computer programmer. I've mentioned here before that I have an undergraduate degree in Mathematics and Computer Science. That is part of the reason I ended up writing my young-adult novel Playing by Heart, which is inspired by composer Maria Teresa Agnesi and her mathematician sister, Maria Gaetana Agnesi. Ada Lovelace was born less than 100 years after Maria Gaetana Agnesi, and the two faced similar challenges when it came to earning respect as female mathematicians. Still, I was pleasantly surprised to find the little-known Agnesi mentioned in Enchantress of Numbers. Unfortunately, the reference says Agnesi was a 16th-century mathematician when she actually lived in the 18th-century. I've written to the author pointing out the typo--I hope the publisher corrects it in the next edition.

Ada Lovelace was the daughter of Lord Byron, whom the book's back copy describes as "the most brilliant, revered, and scandalous of the Romantic poets." Chiaverini uses verses from Byron's poems as her chapter titles, and she occasionally includes excerpts from his poems. In honor of Poetry Friday, today I'm sharing one of those excerpts, which Chiaverini took from the third canto of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. The stanza mentions Ada and appears at the end of chapter one of Enchantress of Numbers. The chapter title is a line from the stanza: Sole Daughter of My House and Heart.   

   from Childe Harold's Pilgrimage
   by George Gordon, Lord Byron

Is thy face like thy mother's, my fair child!
ADA! sole daughter of my house and heart?
When last I saw thy young blue eyes they smiled,
And then we parted,--not as now we part,
But with a hope.--
      Awaking with a start,
The waters heave around me; and on high
The winds lift up their voices: I depart,
Whither I know not; but the hour's gone by,
When Albion's lessening shores could grieve or glad mine eye.

You can read the rest of the canto here.

If you haven't already entered our giveaway for a chance to win the acclaimed middle-grade novel Train I Ride by Paul Mosier, be sure to read April's post and do so now.

And then head on over to the Poetry Friday roundup hosted by Diane at Random Noodling.

Don't forget to Write with Joy!
Carmela

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

My Favorite Three!

We at TeachingAuthors are posting about our favorite book or books of 2017!  April’s pick is the stunning debut middle grade novel Train I Ride by Paul Mosier. I can’t choose just one. Every book I read tends to be my favorite. However, knowing I can’t include them all, I zeroed in on these three unforgettable reads.



The first is Monica Kulling’s Mary Anning’s Curiosity. 

What an imaginative recreation of Anning’s childhood! Born in 1799, Anning is considered the world’s greatest fossilist, discovering her first big find at the age of twelve. The cover art by Melissa Castrillon is exquisite. The middle grade novel is an accessible and inspirational read for second to seventh graders. It’s downright enthralling. Anning may have been uneducated, poor – and a woman! – but her groundbreaking work influenced modern understanding of prehistoric life. In 2010, she was named among the ten most influential British women of science. A perfect read to introduce the possibilities of science to young readers. For more information, please look here.


Yvonne Ventresca”s thrilling Black Flowers, White Lies is my next choice.

A 2017 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal Winner, this young adult psychological thriller is a page turner. The protagonist Ella's deep, almost supernatural connection to her deceased father has brought her great comfort. She always believed her father died a hero. Then her mother remarries and her stepbrother divulges that her father died in a mental hospital. Ella starts to spin emotionally out of control, facing unexplained events that shake her to the core. Is she going mad, just like her father? Or is she being haunted? For more information, please look here


My last book comes from Harold Underdown’s Kid’s Book Revisions workshop, held in partnership with Eileen Robinson. 

 Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder, is written for screenwriters, but the discussion targets plotting techniques that are invaluable for writers of any genre. “Save the Cat” is that moment that defines who your hero is and it makes the reader root for the hero for the rest of your story. It’s the scene where the reader meets the hero and the hero does something, says Snyder, like saving the cat. At this point, the audience – or the reader, as the case may be – becomes engaged in the hero’s story and invested in the outcome.

Don’t forget! To enter our drawing for a chance to win an autographed copy of Train I Ride (Harper), written by Paul Mosier, use the Rafflecopter widget on April's post (see below). You may enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options.

If you choose option 2, you MUST leave a comment on April’s blog post or on our TeachingAuthors Facebook page. If you haven't already "liked" our Facebook page, please do so today! In your comment, tell us what you'd do with the book if you win our giveaway--keep it for yourself or give it to a young reader?

(If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.)

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.

Note: if you submit your comments via email or Facebook, YOU MUST STILL ENTER THE DRAWING VIA THE WIDGET on April’s post here. The giveaway ends December 20, 2017 and is open to U.S. residents only. 

Happy Reading!!

Bobbi Miller

Friday, December 8, 2017

Book Giveaway:TRAIN I RIDE by Paul Mosier

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Howdy, Campers, and Happy Poetry Friday!

This time 'round, TeachingAuthors is posting about our favorite book or books of 2017.

My hands-down pick is the stunning debut middle grade novel Train I Ride by Paul Mosier, which so far has gotten four starred reviews.


Instead of posting a poem for Poetry Friday, I'm recommending this extraordinary book, in which poetry and a classic poetry book play a role.

I'll let the publisher, Harper, and those four star-givers tell you about this book:

From Publishers Weekly Flying Start author Paul Mosier comes a poignant story about a young girl’s travels by train...in which she learns...she can find family wherever she is. Perfect for fans of Rebecca Stead and Sharon Creech.

★ “A harrowing, moving, immersive, and ultimately uplifting debut novel.” — Kirkus Reviews

★ “In this debut novel, Mosier gives middle grade readers a character who battles life’s challenges with extreme honesty and doesn’t sugarcoat her inner battles. A tale that will stay with readers long after they reach the final destination.” — School Library Journal

★ “In his first novel, Mosier offers a cast of well-drawn characters, an unusual setting, and a rewarding reading experience.” — Booklist (starred review)

★ “An emotionally expansive and deeply affecting story. Heartbreaking and unforgettable.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

At the end of this post, you'll find instructions on how to enter for a chance to win your own autographed copy. Woo-hoo!

And, whoa--look who's climbing up to the TeachingAuthors treehouse.... author Paul Mosier himself. Come on in and have a cuppa tea, Paul!

 author Paul Mosier

This is usually our first question, Paul: how did you become a TeachingAuthor?

After the release of  Train I Ride, I lined up appearances beginning with Phoenix's Madison Meadows elementary school, my alma mater. I have spoken to as many as 400 students in a gymnasium to a handful of home schooled kids at a public library. Since Arizona is among the nation's worst in education spending, I don't ask for an honorarium. I've extended this to Skype visits with out of state schools. Many kids I visit would never be able to see an author if it came down to money. 

Now I tell schools that while I don’t require an honorarium, I’d love a school mascot t-shirt!

(Maybe someday you'll make them into a quilt?)  And who was your favorite teacher?

When I was a sophomore in high school I had a young and pretty English teacher, Ms.K. On the first day of class, she asked if we would like to be called something other than our actual names; to be a smart-Alec I told her I went by “Smith.” Ms. K called me Smith all year, as she introduced me to the first poem which ever spoke to me–“The Plot Against The Giant” by Wallace Stevens, as we analyzed song lyrics such as “Born To Run,” as we wrote our own stories, as she grieved the death of John Lennon dressed in black, as she talked about the events that shaped her. By the end of the year I had developed such respect and affection for her, I cringed every time she called me “Smith.”

She left Arizona after one year teaching, but I remember things she said. Years later, she became the answer to my bank's security question, Name of your favorite teacher?

Recently I found her on Facebook, in spite of a name change, because I recognized her smile. I told her how much she meant to me, thanked her for being the teacher that she was, and apologized for duping her into thinking I went by the name Smith all year. She wrote back, “Of course I remember you, Smith!” She's still teaching high school and has lobbied for Train I Ride to be included in the curriculum of middle grade classrooms in her home state of Ohio.

When I tell this story to teachers, I say that it is my sincere wish that they have many such experiences with former students, even if mine was too long in being delivered.


This story makes me think about which teacher I'd like to find and thank. What would you tell someone who's banging her head against writers block...or someone who's discouraged about ever getting a book published?

Going with the second part of that question, I believe in my heart that the most important thing about telling a story is telling a story. Or writing a poem. Creative writing is its own reward. I’m fond of saying there are many ways one can make a living–though I’m not necessarily the best person to ask about that–but there aren’t many ways we can come to feel the way we do in giving birth to a novel, or a poem, or a painting.

Getting paid to do it is icing on the cake. I feel very fortunate to now be awash in that icing, but it was the fourth novel I wrote which got me a book deal, which now has become multiple books which will appear around the world in multiple languages.
Maybe I should say it quietly so the universe doesn’t hear, but I was going to keep on writing novels with or without a book deal and everything that arises from that.

Going with the first part of that question, I am fortunate to have had very little experience with writer’s block, but I think it is important to put down whatever the muse is showing you. She knows the correct order you are supposed to write in, even if it doesn’t end up being chronological for the story. Also, move from laptop to pen. Write about what you are writing.

Remember that stories don’t come from inside your head–they come from the muse, from the universe, and when they’re in your head, they’re just passing through. Do your best to love them and raise them well.

I love this answer, especially not having to know everything before beginning the book. And finally, could you share a favorite writing exercise with our readers?

I think it is important for a writer–especially a new writer–to understand that one doesn’t have to see the entirety of a story before beginning. All you need is an idea, a seed, a first line. Train I Ride came from a line in an Elvis Presley/Junior Parker song. Echo’s Sister came from real life. Summer and July came from the sense of place of a seaside town with an ice cream shop and boogie boarding, and I waited for the characters to walk into the scene.
I’d encourage writers to not try to design characters–let the muse, the universe, introduce them to you. I may not understand a character at all until I hear them speaking to another, and what they say may change the course of the story.

But here’s an exercise: Write down whatever song lyric is in your ears at this moment. Then make the next line your own. Follow it to the end of the story. 


Wonderful! Thanks so much for stopping by, Paul--please come again! 

Watch for Paul's next book, Echo's Sisterand many more, coming soon!

Readers, to enter our drawing for a chance to win an autographed copy of Train I Ride (Harper), written by Paul Mosier, use the Rafflecopter widget below. You may enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options.

If you choose option 2, you MUST leave a comment on TODAY'S blog post below or on our TeachingAuthors Facebook page. If you haven't already "liked" our Facebook page, please do so today! In your comment, tell us what you'd do with the book if you win our giveaway--keep it for yourself or give it to a young reader?

(If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.)

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.

Note: if you submit your comments via email or Facebook, YOU MUST STILL ENTER THE DRAWING VIA THE WIDGET BELOW. The giveaway ends December 20, 2017 and is open to U.S. residents only.

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.

And for goodness sake--don't forget Poetry Friday!
This week's roundup is hosted by Steps and Staircases

posted with bells on her toes by April Halprin Wayland, with the sleepy assistance of Eli, who was very sick this week but who is getting better, for which even Snot, the cat, is grateful.

Eli

Monday, December 4, 2017

My Favorite Children’s Books of 2017: Rx for Courage!




          1.n. quality of being brave: the ability to face danger, 
                  difficulty, uncertainty or pain without being
                  overcome by fear or being deflected.

Children’s books do Important Work. They help readers make sense of their world.
These past 338 days, though?  They’ve been working overtime.
L. Frank Baum’s Cowardly Lion is not alone.
The Good News is:  children’s books are gloriously succeeding.

My four favorite children’s books of 2017 are proof.  Each en-couraged me – both as a reader and a writer - to not only take heart, which is the root of the word “encourage,” but to bounce back and keep on keepin’ on so I could tell my stories and help others do the same.

Caldecott medalist Dan Santat’s picture book AFTER THE FALL
(Roaring Brook Press) should be required reading for every human being, no matter his or her age.  We all need to know how Humpty Dumpty (who was “sort of famous” for falling) got back up again, and even better, reached new heights.
As important, Dan Santat’s interview on ALL THE WONDERS should be required listening for storytellers. I laud his honesty in sharing this picture book’s personal inspiration – i.e. his story and his wife’s as well.  It reaffirmed Marian Dane Bauer’s advice that we need to put – our – story into the story we’re telling if our story is to resound in our readers’ hearts.

Erin Entrada Kelly’s middle grade novel HELLO, UNIVERSE (Greenwillow/HarperCollins) gifted me with 4 unforgettable “misfits” – Virgil Salinas, Valencia Somerset and Kaori Tanaka + the bully Chet Bullens – who found each other and themselves.  Each showed me the need to be open to the world’s surprises and thus say “hello” when we want to say “good riddance.”
Click here to see how a fan of this book was prompted to create the hashtag #you will be found.
I’ve been a fan of this author and her beautifully-crafted stories since reading  BLACKBIRD FLY and THE LAND OF FORGOTTEN GIRLS.
The structure of her latest novel was downright bold and had me revisiting storytelling rules: 4 intertwining viewpoints, 3 told in third person, 1 in first person.  Who says we can’t go forth and break rules to tell a good story well?

Hurrah for Tony Abbott for bravely bringing to middle grade literature the
unfortunate but true reality of child sexual abuse in the quietly powerful, beautifully-written friendship story THE SUMMER OF OWEN TODD (Farrar Straus and Giroux).  If 11-year-old Owen reveals what his best friend Sean secretly tells him, he’ll surely lose Sean's friendship. But if he doesn’t, something worse will happen to his friend.
Click here to read Abbott’s Nerdy Book Club post on why he wrote this important book.
His Author’s Note also shares how once he’d heard the true facts of this story, he couldn’t let it be. The story had to be told.  Abbott references the resources of RAINN – Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network – with its phone number, (800) 656-HOPE.

Prinz medalist John Green’s TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN (Dutton) is
certain to save lives, too – first by telling the story of 16-year-old Aza who’s trying non-stop to be what family and friends and she want, while struggling with the non-stop spiraling thoughts caused by her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Green does a masterful job of allowing the reader to live inside Aza, to know her pain, to know her heart.
Green is also certain to save lives by sharing his own OCD story while promoting the book.
Click here to listen to him talk about what OCD means to him.
Click here to read his brutally-honest interview with the New York Times.

I sincerely thank the authors of the above four titles – Dan Santat, Erin Entrada Kelly, Tony Abbott and John Green.  Their characters’ brave hearts and their heartful story-telling have given me the courage to keep keepin’ on.
May they do the same for all of our TeachingAuthors readers!

Onward – bravely - in the coming New Year!

Esther Hershenhorn

Friday, December 1, 2017

Tis the Season for Our Favorites

    They're heeree!...the end-of-the-year "Best Books" list.  I'm curious as to how they are selected. Starred reviews? Committee consensus? Secret ballot? Coin toss?

 This is my list, and my criteria is if the story stays with me. I read so much that if I can remember the title, author, and the main characters months later, that's good. Mostly. It can also mean the book was memorably bad.

Forget I said that. Let's focus on the good ones.

I love historical fiction. I really do try to read across genres, but when it comes to picking my favorites--surprise, surprise--they are mostly historical fiction.


Best picture book: Stolen Words by Melanie Florence, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimand. (Second Story Press, 2017)
When a seven-year-old Cree girl, eager to learn more about her heritage, asks Grandpa for the Cree word for "grandfather," he admits he does not know. In age-appropriate language, Grandpa tells her how "his words" were stolen from him when he and the other children of his village were forced to attend state-sponsored residential schools with the goal of total assimilation into white Canadian culture and extinction of First Nation culture. This is a harsh story, softened by the gentle illustrations, and the beautiful friendship between the unnamed little girl and her grandfather. I can think of any number of ways this book could be used with older students in discussing personal expression and cultural identity.

Best fiction: Ages 8-12: The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan (Wendy Lamb Books, 2016)
Ms Hill's fifth graders are the last class to graduate from their beloved neighborhood school, which is being torn down to make room for a supermarket. The narrative comes from the poetry journals of the eighteen students. Unlike many multiple narrator stories, the reader is easily able to keep track of the characters, each with a distinct voice and verse form. A terrific teaching tool for introducing various types of poetry, with a lesson in community responsibility and civic protest thrown in for good measure.

Best historical fiction: Middle grade and up: Clutch by Heather Camlot (Red Deer Press, 2017)
In 1946 Montreal, 12-year-old Joey Grosser struggles to keep his dead father's grocery alive. Resentful of his father's death and the family's poverty, Joey is determined to become a "big businessman," pursuing money and success at the expense of his own honest nature. In his quest of "a big house on the West Side," Joey unwittingly becomes a pawn of his best friend's father, Mr. Wolfe (!!!), a man with a record, but who can also make money. Woven throughout is the story of Jackie Robinson's season with the minor league Montreal Royals, with quotes from contemporary sports writers at the beginning each chapter. There are no "throw-away" characters. Each and every one --from Joey's Robinson-worshipping little brother David and BFF Ben, to the grocery's customers in this Jewish neighborhood--all are fully developed, and play an important role in Joey's story. This is a world you can lose yourself in. I loved it!

Best graphic novels
I love graphic novels so much, and there were so many good ones this year, I cheated and picked two. At least they are for different age groups. And I just now realized they are semi-autobiographical stories, taking place in the late 1970's (You've never seen so many illustrations of wall-mounted, push-button telephones!)

Ages 8-12: Swing It, Sunny by Jennifer L. Holm, ill. by Matthew Hale (Graphix, 2017) Although '70's in style (Sunny's family is pictured in Brady Bunch-style box frames) it's contemporary in subject. Sunny is not only coping with the stresses of middle school (remembering your locker combination is a timeless terror) but the absence of her beloved older brother, Dale, away at "boarding school." Illustrations of Dale in military school style uniform, personality changes and "getting in trouble" could lead the reader to assume Dale has substance abuse issues. At the least, he is going through a tough adolescence, leaving his adoring little sister confused and frustrated. Sunny's friendship with a new neighbor, Indian-American Neela, gives Sunny a new perspective on Dale and middle school. Funny and sad by turns, this is the only book I know with a Pet Rock as a secondary character!

Middle grade: Real Friends by Shannon Hale, ill. by LeUyen Pham (First Second, 2017)Real Friends is also a new-kid-in-middle-school story, but with more emphasis on the most traumatic aspect of the grade-to-middle-school transition--the loss of old friends, the frustration of finding one new "true friend." Since the main character is "Shannon," the reader assumes that this is the author's own story. Although there are details specific to Hale's own life (the middle child of a large Mormon family in Salt Lake City), her woes are universal; mean girls at school, a bullying big sister at home (who is sometimes depicted as a large, menacing bear!), chronic stomach aches from stress. Yep--this could've been my story (minus the bullying sibling) only fifteen years earlier and two thousand miles away. Which is to say, it is universal. That Shannon is Mormon serves gives her a moral compass to guide her, although the religious aspect is described in the most general of terms. Shannon could just as easily have been Catholic or Lutheran or Jewish. This is a darker, more mature story than Sunny. Because I so identified with Shannon, I felt a real catharsis at the book's end.

Other terrific graphic novels this year (and all geared for middle school): All's Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson (author of last year's fabulous Roller Girl), Invisible Emmie by Terri Libenson, Brave by Svetlana Chamakova (the main character is male) and Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier


Best book of the year:
The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbi, translated from Italian by Lilit Thwaites (Godwin Books/Henry Holt, 2017) Historical fiction:YA
As a former librarian and someone who has read a lot of Holocaust history, the title grabbed me first. A library in Auschwitz? As it turned out, the "library" was much more than books, but a collection of teachers and students, who for mysterious reasons, live in the "privileged" family camp, BIIb. Under the rule of the notorious Dr. Joseph Mengele, BIIb is a world apart from the rest of Auschwitz. Inmates are allowed to wear their own clothes and keep their hair. Most importantly, families, including young children and old people, are kept together within the confines of BIIb. But why? And for how long? This sense of living from minute to minute, always wondering how long this "luck" will hold out, drives the story relentlessly.

Based on the real life story of 14-year-old Dita Poach Kraus, and several others, the fictional Dita discovers a secret school for the children, run by the charismatic young Fredy Hirsch (another real-life character) Although too old to be a student, Dita inveigles her way into becoming the keeper of the library--a precious collection of eight books, smuggled from the possessions of less fortunate prisoners. The discovery of this motley collection--a math text, a Russian grammar,  copies of Freud and H.G. Wells A Short History of the World among others--would mean the immediate end of BIIb and it's inhabitants. Unexpected "inspections" by Mengele and his minions keeps Dita in constant peril, to keep the books from discovery. The school is the center that brings together the stories of several other narratives, but Dita's POV is the most important.

I hate when people say things like "I stayed up all night to finish this book" but...I stayed up all night to finish this book. Absolutely harrowing, riveting and ultimately, redemptive.

Happy reading, everyone.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman







Monday, November 27, 2017

What Writing and Painting Have in Common

I’ve always wished I could paint.  But I never had a chance to take any classes or really try it.  Earlier this year several of my friends felt the same way I did, we all wanted to paint and never had.  We decided there was no reason not to start painting, so we just did.  One in the group was an artist/art teacher, so she got us started in our new adventure in acrylic painting.  Now we get together each week for art. 

What I didn’t expect was to find so many similarities between painting and writing.  For example, though I was painting a “nonfiction” subject-a pumpkin-there were endless ways to paint said pumpkin.  Just like a book about a nonfiction topic, there are endless ways to do it.  I knew what a pumpkin looked like, but I painted my pumpkin, my way. 

My pumpkin, my way.

But that isn’t the only similarity for me between writing and painting.  Here are a few others: 


I choose what details to put in a painting and what to leave out, just like in my books.

Revision is necessary in art, just like my books. 

I decide when a painting is finished, just like my books. 

I sometimes look at the painting later and wish I’d done something a little bit different or better, just like my books.

When other people see my art and it isn’t the sort of thing they like-it is ok, just like my books.

As a beginning painter every piece of art I attempt is a challenge, just like my books.

There is satisfaction when a painting is finished to know that I started with a blank canvas and ended up with something, just like my books.


If I’m happy with the final piece that is all that matters, just like my books.  




Carla Killough McClafferty

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

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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:

ONE WARM LIGHT
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

P.S.
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
accessories.

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!