Friday, May 29, 2015

Inspiration from the Library of Congress

As a researcher, one of the places that inspire me is the Library of Congress (LOC).   The building itself is a national treasure, but the collections it holds are even more precious.   No matter what you are interested in, chances are that the Library of Congress has some material that relates to it.  It is a gold mine of primary source material for teachers, students, and writers. 

The LOC has a vast amount of material online, but let me give you an example of just one small slice of it.  Let’s take photographs from the Civil War.  When I look at this collection I see powerful, amazing images of people on both sides of the war.  While I’m interested in photos of the famous people like Lincoln, Lee and Grant, I’m even more fascinated by images of average soldiers who are often unidentified.  When I look at their faces, I wonder what they experienced and if they survived the war. 

 
 
 

Photos of soldiers are not the only type of images in their collection; many are of women and children.  This touching image of a young girl in a dark mourning dress holding a photo of her father, says a lot-silently.

  

This morning I found an unexpected collection at the LOC:  eyewitness drawings of Civil War scenes.  There are lots of battle scenes and landscapes, but the one that drew my eye was this sketch of a soldier.  It makes me wonder who this man was and why the artist sketched his image.  Was he a friend or brother?   Was he a hero or a deserter?



Images like these can teach students a lot about history.  And they can inspire both fiction and nonfiction writers. 

Carla Killough McClafferty


http://www.loc.gov/

Monday, May 25, 2015

An Inspiring Weekly Digest You NEED to Know About!


This is your brain.













And this is Maria Popova who will gladly pick it each and every Sunday morning if you register to receive Brain Pickings, her weekly free website digest that I promise you offers unlimited inspiration to keep you keepin’ on – personally, professionally and any way you need to. 



Ms. Popoval, “a cartographer of meaning in a digital world,” continues to offer visitors to her website “an inventory of cross-disciplinary interestingness, spanning art, science, design, history, philosophy and more.” 
The Sunday digest offers the week’s most “unmissable” articles.


Here’s who and what came my way last Sunday, May 17:

Wendell Berry on How to Be a Poet and a Complete Human Being 

The Heart and the Bottle (by Oliver Jeffers): A Tender Illustrated Fable of What Happens When We Deny Our Difficult Emotions   

The Magic of Moss and What It Teaches Us About the Art of Attentiveness to Life at All Scales


I owe fellow writer and friend Ellen Reagan untold thanks for first connecting me to
what’s now my weekly dose of inspiration, insights and mind-whirling knowledge I never even knew I needed to have.

WOW’s!” and sighs and smiles and “I didn’t know that’s!” usually punctuate my first reading of the digest.
At the end of the day, I return to save/copy to my journal particularly relevant and/or meaningful quotes and lines  - about life, love, children, work, writing, disappointment, joy, wonder, marriage, you-name-it.
Throughout the week that follows I find myself forwarding at least one article or quote to someone I care about.

You can listen here to Maria Popova talk about how and why she created Brain Pickings.
You’ll be so happy she did.

And do subscribe to the weekly digest. 
You’ll be so happy you did.

Happy Brain Pickings!

Esther Hershenhorn

P.S.
You can also savor Maria Popova's delicious and nourishing fare via Facebook and Twitter.
(www.facebook.com/brainpickings.mariapopova/Brain Pickings @brainpickings


Friday, May 22, 2015

Zooming In on Inspiration

When I finish a big project, I usually have to take a few days to get my bearings. I look around, dazed, trying to figure out what to do next. Morning Pages help. Walking to the lake helps. Spring is inspiring!

My camera helps me focus—literally—when I need to slow down and pay attention. For me, that can be the key to opening up to new ideas.

I just turned in the fourth (and final) book in a nonfiction series for an educational publisher. It drained me more than I expected. So I’m filling the well. Here are some things I’m paying attention to.


Last fall, I buried 40 potted milkweed plants  (3 varieties) under dry leaves next to the house. When the weather warmed up, I put them in the sun next to the garage. So far, 18 of them have sprouted. Three more plants (and one more variety) have popped up in the flower bed, which is shadier. Now I'm watching for monarchs. (Are you? Check the migration map to see if they're in your neighborhood yet.)


A pair of white-breasted nuthatches were cleaning out a hole in a branch above the garage the other day. Will they build a nest there? I hope so. I love their weird calls (described by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology as "a loud, nasal yank") and the way they hop down tree trunks head first.


One of my favorite wildflowers, a shooting star, is blooming in the park. What an encouraging surprise! Maybe I can go back to work now.

Bobbi started this series of Teaching Authors posts about inspiration with a collection of wonderful quotes. Be sure to check it out if you need a dose of inspiration—and who doesn't?

Congratulations to Karen C, who won our giveaway of the YA novel in verse Dating Down by Stephanie Lyons. (Read all about it in Esther's interview.)

Baby Says "Moo!" is now a board book! Watch for a Teaching Authors Book Giveaway in June.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

Monday, May 18, 2015

Inspirations and Geniuses




Thomas Edison, 1921.
Title adapted from Laurie J. Edwards’ discussion on inspiration. Thank you!

Fred White blogged in 2010 that “Being inspired smacks of amateurish, daydreamy passivity, the notion that some supernatural presence must appear before us before the words can flow. And we’re reminded to death of Thomas Edison’s overquoted words about invention demanding 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration, perhaps not realizing that without that primal 1 percent jolt from the gods, Edison might not have been driven to sweat out the hard work or to cope with a zillion things going wrong.”

Inspiration is important for any creative activity. In fact, some argue that art made the world (See Nigel Spivey’s How Art Made the World, 2005). When early humans produced art over 77,000 years ago, they crafted tools and embellished it with color, but the defining element that made it stand above their Homo habilis ancestors using tools is found the singular capacity of using the imagination. From these humble beginnings, civilizations were born.

And inspiration fires the imagination. I’ve asked some of my favorite people about their favorite inspirations, and include them below. All photographs are from the Library of Congress, used with permission.


 From Laurie J. Edwards, YA author extraordinaire:


Henry Ford, 1924. His first car and his ten millionth car.

 
 “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eye off the goal.” ~ Henry Ford

Bamboo Gardens, China, 1900.
From Rebecca Colby, author of It’s Raining Bats and Frogs and other picturebooks:

"The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it." ~ Chinese Proverb




 

Martha Graham, Age 67, 1961.
  From Marcia Strykowski, author of Call Me Amy:

"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of
you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost."  ~ Martha Graham



 



Eleanor Roosevelt, 1946.


 From Yvonne Ventresca, author of Pandemic:

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. . . .You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”  ~ Eleanor Roosevelt





And because it's Mark Twain:

Mark Twain, 1903.
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” ~ Mark Twain




 
From Christina Banach, author of Minty and other YA fiction: 
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”  ~ Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird.

 
Historic mural depicting the Harper Lee novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird" located in Monroeville, Alabama. 1961.
 “Inspiration matters because it prods us to traverse the full spectrum of human experience. An important part of what it means to be a writer is to become so turned on to the business of being alive, to be so completely inspired by life, that you will harvest ideas for writing everywhere—from books, from people, from music and other art forms, from the natural world, and most of all from your own inner resources.” ~ Fred White, 2010


What inspires you?


Bobbi Miller

Friday, May 15, 2015

Barbara Bottner's Feet, Go to Sleep blog tour--and Poetry Friday!

.
Howdy, Campers! What's store for you at TeachingAuthors today? A new picture book, its blog tour, a guest author and poet, two original poems, and a reminder to enter our latest book giveaway . Whew!

In honor of Poetry Friday, (link at the bottom of this post) my teacher and friend, New York Times bestselling author, Barbara Bottner has opened her notebook to share a poem with us from a work-in-progress (W.I.P.). And I've added my poem about being in her writing group.

But first: TeachingAuthors is proud to be part of Barbara's blog tour (see tour schedule below) celebrating her brand-new book, Feet, Go to Sleep (Penguin Random House), illustrated by Maggie Smith.


From the book flap:Fiona is not ready for bed. But after a long day at the beach, her mom knows she must be tired from her head to her toes. So together they send each part of her off to sleep.  As Fiona relaxes her body, she remembers a day when feet were for splashing in the waves, legs were for running after cousins, tummy was for holding strawberries, and arms were for throwing beach balls. And bit by bit, memory by memory, Fiona slips from a  great day into a good night.

Trust me, Campers, it's a perfect-for-summer bedtime book, weaving in a relaxation technique we can use to help kids go to sleep after an exciting day.

And when I asked Barbara if she would share a poem from her W.I.P. verse novel, I See Thunder, she said, "Sure!"

I’M A MONSTER
by Barbara Bottner

I’m not Davy’s mother
but Mother demands
that I do things she should do

like take him with me, everywhere I go.
And Davy walks really slowly.
Sometimes I wonder if he does it
just to annoy me.

Today, I’m going to the Grand Concourse
to buy fresh salty pretzels.

Just as I'm leaving, Mother says:
“take David with you.”
Her shrill voice
says do not dare object.

She has no idea how that makes
going to the Grand Concourse
nothing like what I had in mind.
 
“C’mon,” I say.
“Put your jacket on already!”
He's so easy going.
I'm so hard going.

“Where are your glasses, Davy?”
Now my voice
is shrill.

He looks at me with his big browns,
mumbles:  “It’s hard to be me
when you’re angry at me.”

That’s when I get a grip on my nasty self.
(c) Barbara Bottner from her work-in-progress, I SEE THUNDER. All rights reserved.


Thank you, Barbara.  I especially love these lines: He's so easy going./I'm so hard going....“It’s hard to be me/when you’re angry at me.”...and that last line. One poem can say so much.

When asked "Where do you get your ideas?" here are some pearls from Barbara:...the ‘material’ we use in the beginning is often our own.  So I wrote books about being the worst dancer in the class, being messy, being rebellious. It’s not the events themselves, it’s what they stir up in me…We are the clay and we are the potter and I believe you have to be both if you want to be an author…work authentically…follow where the story wants to go.

There's too much to tell you about what a fine teacher Barbara is...


...how intuitive she is, how she challenges us to dig deeper and deeper still...

AROUND BARBARA’S TABLE
by April Halprin Wayland

It's magic, you know
the tinkling of her full moon necklace
impossible feats of metaphor.
Six of us around her rosewood table
savoring tea

spilling over our pages
foreshadowing, fortune telling
drawing stories
out of the shadows
of her drapes.

The illusion of allusion.
A prophecy of sorcery.
She's a shaman jingling bracelets
on her sleight of hand.

It's wizardry, you know.
She's clairvoyant,
soothsayer,
sorceress,
source.

(c) April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

Thanks for including us on your blog tour, Barbara!  Jump on board her tour and you may win a copy of Feet, Go to Sleep! Here's the schedule:

5/21 Shelf-employed

And...you have until midnight, May 15, 2015 to enter TeachingAuthors' latest book giveaway for Stephanie Lyons' new book, Dating Down--don't miss out!

And thank you, Diane of Random Noodling for hosting Poetry Friday!

posted by April Halprin Wayland while sharing sips of Pellegrino with Barbara's new pup, Petey.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Talking Critter Books and Me

    Books where the main characters are animals are among my favorite.  Charlotte's Web is forever and always the one book I would take to a desert island.  I love the work of picture book authors Kevin Henkes, Carolyn Crimi and Lisa Wheeler, who often place their stories in the animal world.  (If there is a Hall of Fame for picture book authors, those three should definitely be included.)

     I love what I call "talking critter" books, in which the animals are anthropomorphic.  I just can't write them.

    To me, anthropomorphic books are a form of fantasy.  Animals don't talk or go to kindergarden or wear sneakers. Fantasy.  I don't write fantasy. I can't write fantasy.  My creative mind just doesn't work that way. My stories are mostly rooted in the real world of children. I'm a literal sort of person.

    I have published two "talking critter" books.
Surprise Soup was written about little boys. Something about that manuscript inspired the art department and the illustrator to make the little boys into little bears. Changing the species of the character made it a much funnier book...but I can't take any credit for writing an anthropomorphic book.  The illustrator did it for me. (Thank G. Brian Karas!)
     The other book, Camp K-9, was inspired by my dog, Nilla. She was a cocker-spitz mix, with floppy ears, a thick white coat, and a joyful personality.  In fact, Nilla was far more popular with the neighbors than the Downing family.  She was actually invited to parties that we weren't! Nilla was so human-like, it wasn't hard for me to imagine her as a teen-age girl.  My husband and I would invent adventures for her. Nilla as a Laker Girl.  Running up a phone bill.  Hanging out at the mall with her (also imaginary) BFF, Stacy.

     When we traveled, we boarded our "child" at a kennel called Camp K-9, which had a cute logo of a dog toting a sleeping bag and a tennis racquet. That got my imagination going.  What would dogs do at camp? I used my own experiences as a camper and a counselor to put together a day as a "doggy camper." I used a lot of dog puns and references to add humor.  The other "campers" were based on the dogs in my neighborhood.  That was pretty easy.

    After that, I had to find some tension, a problem, that my girl dog might experience with her bunkmates. That was the hard part. I fiddled and fiddled with the story for four or five years. Finally, after many many critiques by my friends and writing group, I felt Camp K-9 was as good as it was going to get. (Fortunately, my publisher liked it.)

     Will I write another "talking critter" book?  I don't know.  I had been inventing "Nilla adventures" in my head for ten years before I tried to write one down, and it was the most difficult thing I've ever written.  Cute one-liners and puns are one thing; shaping them into a coherent story, with a beginning, middle and end. Who knows?  Right now I am "inventing adventures" for my extremely ill-behaved cat, Rosie.  (She's giving me the evil eye right now.) Maybe...

     Don't forget to enter our latest book giveaway for Stephanie Lyons' new book, Dating Down.  The deadline is midnight, May 15 2015, so don't miss out.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Friday, May 8, 2015

And the Horse He Rode In On

 
Our theme this month is animals, so my thoughts immediately went to some fascinating details I like share with students when I do a school visit relating to my book The Many Faces of George Washington.  
 

George Washington trained his own horses and was considered to be an expert horseman.  During the American Revolution, General Washington rode one of two horses.  One was a brown horse named Nelson.  The other was a white horse named Blueskin.  During battle (yes, Washington actually fought in battle) he rode Nelson because the noise and chaos didn’t bother the calm horse.  But when Washington was just going about everyday life, he rode Blueskin. 

In portraits painted during the 18th century that depict Washington during the Revolution, he is shown with one of these two horses.  If the scene depicts a scene following a battle, Nelson is pictured.  But when the painting is not a battle scene, Blueskin is with him. 
 
General George Washington at Trenton by John Trumbull

 
Mount Vernon created three wax figures of George Washington. 
This one depicts General Washington at Valley Forge riding Blueskin.

Find out more about George Washington's historic home
 
 
 
To see a portrait of Washington with Nelson:
 
 
It fascinates me to think how much American history happened on horseback!
 
 
Carla Killough McClafferty
 
 
Remember to enter our book giveaway to win a copy of Stefanie Lyons’ YA novel in verse DATING DOWN (Flux). The deadline to enter is midnight May 15.
 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Wednesday Writing Workout: Celebrate Children's Book Week!




Happy Children’s Book Week!

Since 1919, this national literacy initiative, the longest-running in our history and co-anchored by the Children’s Book Council and Every Child A Reader, has celebrated books for young people and the joy of reading.

Visit the website to learn the bounty of events and activities that commemorate this once-a-year week and to read more about this  year’s poster creator, Grace Lee.

Book Week’s goal? To make sure every child is a reader!

But today is Wednesday, yes? – which means it’s time for a TeachingAuthors Wednesday Writing Workout, one that will give every child, both current and former, the opportunity to write.

Enjoy!

Esther Hershenhorn

P.S.
Don’t forget to enter our Book Giveaway to win a copy of Stefanie Lyons’ YA novel in verse DATING DOWN (Flux). The deadline to enter is midnight May 15.

                                                        . . . . . . . . 


Let’s tweak the Children’s Book Week goal a tad to read…. make sure every child – current and former (!) – is a reader who writes!

Click HERE to download these children’s book week story starters and create your own ending!


What I Did begun by National Ambassador Katherine Paterson (New!)
BLAM! begun by Mo Willems (2009 Children's Choice Book Award winner) (New!) 
The Night Visitor begun by Dinah Williams (2009 Children's Choice Book Award winner) (New!) 
And Then... begun by National Ambassador Emeritus Jon Scieszka
The Unexpected Blast begun by Elaine Landau (2008 Children’s Choice Book Award winner)
Surprise On the Mat begun by Lola Schaefer (2008 Children’s Choice Book Award winner)
One Morning... begun by Mary Pope Osborne

One Evening... begun by Lemony Snicket