Friday, March 27, 2015

Out and About with Carla in Miami



One of the great parts of being an author is speaking to audiences about my books.   While I enjoy every group, some are extra special.  Recently I had the opportunity to travel to Miami, Florida, to share my book In Defiance of Hitler: The Secret Mission of Varian Fry.  This book is about Varian Fry, an American journalist who volunteered to go to Nazi controlled France in 1940 to order to rescue (mostly) Jewish refugees whose lives were in danger.   This true story of one man who believed he could make a difference is filled with intrigue and danger.  Ultimately, Varian Fry rescued more than 2000 people.  Yet few Americans have ever heard his name.


   
I was invited by the Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach to share the work of Varian Fry as part of Holocaust Education Week.  They asked me to speak to three different audiences.   The first night, I presented my program for the public at the Holocaust Memorial.   It was an honor to speak about rescue during the Holocaust at a place dedicated to the memory of so many who were not rescued.  Every Holocaust Memorial is different, and here the centerpiece is the massive statue of a hand reaching toward the sky with human figures huddled around the bottom.  The sculpture is powerful and moving.  It says so much-silently.   In the audience that night, listening to my program were Holocaust survivors and the descendants of some who had been killed at Auschwitz.


       
The next morning I spoke to university students at Miami Dade College.  Many in the audience – including one of the administrators – had come to American as refugees.  As I shared about the refugees of 1940 leaving their homes, these young adults understood the concept in a much more personal way than my usual audience does.


 
In the afternoon, I presented my program to students at a private Jewish high school.   These modern American students carrying their backpacks entered the room and chatted as they took their seats.  While relating the work of Varian Fry, I told them about several people who helped him.  One of them was a seventeen-year-old boy named Justus Rosenberg.   He was their age and his life was in danger because he was Jewish.   Rosenberg survived but countless other teens didn’t.
 
I shared the work of Varian Fry with three different audiences in Miami.  Each one was very special.
  
Carla Killough McClafferty


We are currently running a giveaway for IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD that ends at midnight on April 1.  (CORRECTION NOTE:  There was a typo in an earlier post that said the end date was April 6.  The correct end date is April 1.)  For more details see Esther Hershenhorn’s post:    
http://www.teachingauthors.com/2015/03/a-two-for-price-of-one-interview-with.html

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

WWW: Dr. Steven L. Layne's Read-aloud Tips and Recommendations

My Monday’s post introduced readers to Dr. Steven L. Layne, my former Newberry Library Picture Book Workshop student and exceptional TeachingAuthor, as well as his newest professional book, IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD.(Stenhouse).

Jim Trelease, author of THE READ-ALOUD HANDBOOK, properly praised this essential book for teachers and librarians in his review:  "Amidst the clanging noise of today's technology, Steven Layne offers here a clear clarion call on behalf of reading to children.  It is insightful, reasoned, entertaining (rare in the field), and carefully researched for those who might doubt the urgent need for something that doesn't need a Wi-Fi hot spot.  It should be on every teacher's must-read list."

Be sure to enter our Book Giveaway of an autographed copy of IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD.  Instructions are in Monday's post. The deadline to enter is April 1.

Were I entering our TeachingAuthors Book Giveaway, I’d share my #1 read-aloud title - Norton Juster’s THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH (Random House).
As I wrote in my post celebrating Leonard Marcus’ 50th anniversary annotated edition of THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, reading aloud this beloved classic marked the first day of school for every fifth grade class I taught. Once grown and married, many of my students wrote me to share how they in turn shared Milo’s tale with their children.

So what about you?  What is your favorite read-aloud title?

Once again, I thank Steven – this time for allowing me to share his Read-aloud Tips and Recommendations - as listed in IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD, in today’s Wednesday Writing Workout.

Enjoy!

Esther Hershenhorn

                                    . . . . . . . . . .

Wednesday Writing Workout:
Dr. Steven L. Layne’s Read-aloud Tips and Recommendations


As Dr. Layne declares in his newest book, when it comes to read-aloud, practice makes perfect!

Here are a few of his practical read-aloud guidelines as shared in his March 1-released IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD (Stenhouse).

Become familiar with the book before reading it.

Launch the book successfully.

·        Provide a purpose for listening.

·        Work out an advantageous seating arrangement.

·        Plan your stopping point.  “Every stopping point is a secret reading-skill-reinforcement lesson just waiting to happen.”

·         Teach reading skills such as visualization, inferring, and sequencing.

·         Plan strategically for the end of the read-aloud.

·         Work out a positive solution for those students who get the book and read ahead.

·         Choose and balance the books and genres we read-aloud.


Just in case you’re looking for a good book to read aloud, read through his list of “The Twelve Books Steven Loves to Read Aloud.”

·         COUNTERFEIT SON by Elaine Alphin  (“My go-to- read-aloud for high school kids who need to be enticed back into the experience of being read to by an adult.”)

·         Sue Stauffacher’S DONUTHEAD  (“It has proven itself to me time and again when it comes to delighting students in the intermediate grades.”)

·         Bill Grossman’s MY LITTLE SISTER ATE ONE HARE.  (“How can you not fall in love with a picture book about a girl who eats all manner of disgusting things and then throws up – when it’s written by a guy whose last name is Grossman?”

·         Jerry Spinelli’s STARGIRL. (“Of all the books I have read aloud to students in my career, it is Jerry Spinelli’s STARGIRL that takes center stage.”

Happy reading aloud!


And don’t forget to enter our TeachingAuthors Book Giveaway! The deadline is midnight, April 1.

Monday, March 23, 2015

A Two-for-the-Price-of-One Interview with Dr. Steven L. Layne

Today’s interview subject qualifies as a Student Success Story + a TeachingAuthor.
But, truthfully, to label Dr. Steven L. Layne a “TeachingAuthor” is an understatement.

He’s a national-award-winning former suburban Illinois across-the-grades classroom teacher and reading specialist who currently serves as Professor of Literacy Education at Judson University in Elgin, Illinois, directing the university’s Master of Education in Literacy program and co-directing the university’s doctoral program in Literacy Education.

He also authors picture books, including STAY WITH SISTER (Pelican), (which he wrote in my 2011 Newberry Library Picture Book Workshop), YA fiction, including THIS SIDE OF PARADISE (Pelican) and academic books for teachers, including LIFE’S LITERACY LESSONS,  IGNITING A PASSION FOR READING and, as of March 1, IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD (all Stenhouse).

Dr. Layne also recently served as an elected Board Member of the International Reading Association, now the International Literacy Association. 

I’m honored to call this amazing former student-dash-TeachingAuthor both “Steven” and “friend” and welcome this opportunity to share him with our readers.  His earnest zeal for literacy is nothing short of contagious.

Steven travels the world igniting his audiences of teachers and writers. 
His mission statement as expressed on his website says it all.  Passionate about reading.
“Building lifetime readers,” he writes, “is what it’s all about for reading teachers and librarians.  If we aren’t doing that – what are we doing?”

In IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD, Steven puts forth the research, the insights, the experience of teachers, librarians and authors to reinforce readers’ confidence to continue and sustain the practice of reading aloud in grades K through 12.

Thank you, Steven, for all you do to keep literacy alive – and – for sharing your smarts and experience with our TeachingAuthors readers.

Thank you, too, for offering one lucky reader a signed copy of IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD via our TeachingAuthor Book Giveaway.  (Instructions appear following the Q and A.)

* * * * *

So, let’s divide the standard First Question of our Student Success Story/ TeachingAuthor Interview into two parts.

How did your teaching career begin?   

I wanted it to begin right after college—but I had no teaching degree.  My parents assured me I would starve if I became a teacher, so I became a therapist—who married a teacher.  It took only two months of listening to her talk about her students for me to return to college again—and to follow my destiny.  Over the years I worked with the impoverished, the insanely wealthy, the middle class – you name them, I taught them – every race, religion, shape, and size.  I like to think those experiences taught me a few things.

How did your writing career begin?  

I loved writing in school.  I often made up my own cast of characters for dramas and wrote short stories and plays.  My poetry and prose were awarded honors throughout high school.  Many years later, when I was in a doctoral course called “Writing for Publication” and had finished all of the required “academic” submissions, I asked about writing a picture book.  The professor encouraged me to “go for it.”  I did, and 27 rejection letters later – I sold it.  My mother and my aunt Mary bought copies right away but beyond that the sales were less than inspiring.  My second book, The Teachers’ Night Before Christmas, became a national bestseller—selling over 100,000 copies.  Suddenly, people wanted to talk to me about writing.



How does each role (teacher/author) inform and impact the other?  

The role of “Teacher” informs EVERYTHING that I do from the way I parent, to where I sit in church, to the way I interact on an airplane.  When I write for kids – I draw on my knowledge from 15 years of classroom experience.  I typically write fast-paced, plot-driven YA because I am thinking of what I know will grab the kind of reluctant readers I taught.  When I write picture books, I try to stay under 500 words and to write about an issue that will emotionally resonate with primary-grade readers, again, because I taught those grades.  Those kids were my first loves, so to speak.  When I write for teachers—how can I NOT write “as teacher?”  I spend a lot of time in public and private K-12 classrooms even now.  A colleague and I have been teaching in three fifth-grade classes on and off this past year and those experiences are definitely going to play into the writing of an article, book, or curriculum. 

The role of “Author” informs my teaching, primarily when I am talking to teachers about the craft and the process of writing.  I try not to speak only from my own experience but from that of others.  In fact, I am often gently criticized for not shining a light on my own work, and while it is true that I can speak to my process better than anyone else’s—I am loathe to have audiences feel that I am trying to showcase my own work.  That being said, I often pull from my knowledge of how “real world writing works” and from my experience when I teach about writing but am able to do so without using my own texts as the examples.

How and why did you come to write IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD? 

My experience with read-alouds spans a wide range of grade levels.  I read aloud, even now, to both my masters and my doctoral classes.  The benefits are far-reaching and the research is sound, and yet the experience is often placed under the pedagogical microscope—raising eyebrows and leading to the question: “Is this a good use of instructional time?”  I wanted to write the book that would settle the questions once and for all which is why I enlisted an army of voices from throughout the literacy arena to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with me on this issue.  I know of no other book where an issue of instructional practice has received such a resolute stance from so many.  My prayer is that this book will be every teacher’s and librarian’s defense if their practice in reading aloud to children or teens is questioned by someone who is ill-informed.

Can you share one or two reader responses – to any of your books – that remain in your heart and keep you going…doing your important work? 

I wrote my first YA novel This Side of Paradise when a 7th grader in my classroom challenged me to write a book for kids who hate to read.  That title has won more awards and recognition than all my other books combined.  The other day I received a letter from a single mother from California.  She was writing to tell me that her middle-school son, who had been having a tough time in school and HATED books – had discovered mine.  He read it, then read the sequel, and then came to ask her if she could try to find out if and when another book in the series was coming.  To see this book still working magic warms my heart.

I receive a lot of mail about my professional book Igniting a Passion for Reading.  I am frequently told by teachers that their reading of this title has completely altered their practice.  Yesterday, I was contacted by a school district in Texas.  They are opening three brand-new elementary schools and hiring all new faculty.  Igniting and two other titles from my dear friends Regie Routman and Donalyn Miller are the three books around which they will anchor all instruction.  They have asked me to come out and work with the teachers.  What an honor – I am so blessed.



What’s the next Steven Layne children’s book and/or Dr. Steven L. Layne academic title for which we should ready our bookshelves? 

Oh, I wish I could give you a definitive answer.  I am due for a new picture book because I typically bounce between genres; however, I have four chapters of a YA novel started and an exciting new book for teachers also taking shape.  You never know what I’m going to do next (and neither do I), and I actually kind of like it that way.  Let’s just say, you can reserve a place on your shelf because something’s coming – we just don’t know what . . . or when.

                                                …………………..

Here’s a way to instantly fill that saved space:  
enter our Rafflecopter Book Giveaway and win an autographed copy of Steven’s IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD (Stenhouse)!

If you choose the “comment” option, please share your Favorite Read Aloud title – as either listener or reader.

If your name isn’t part of your comment “identity,” please include it in your comment for verification purposes.  Comments may also be submitted via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.

If the widget doesn’t appear for some reason (or you’re an email subscriber), use the link at the end of this post to take you to the entry form.

The Book Giveaway ends midnight, April 1.

Esther Hershenhorn

P.S. If you’ve never entered a Rafflecopter giveaway, here’s info on how to enter aRafflecopter giveaway.




Friday, March 20, 2015

What Would We Do Without Libraries?


Today, I continue our Teaching Authors series on libraries: how we use them, why we love them, and what we love about them.

Whenever I hear about a book I want to read—on a listserv, on the radio, in a conversation—I search the library catalog online. I can reserve books from anywhere in our county library system and pick them up from my local branch. For research, it’s priceless. I've even emailed articles to myself. Wonderful resources! And free!

Our library offers an amazing array of services from read-aloud programs for little ones to candidate forums for voters to book deliveries for shut-ins. Miss Heide, the children’s librarian, raises monarch butterflies every summer for visitors to watch.

I stopped in yesterday to drop off books I had read, pick up books I had requested, browse a bit, and take a few pictures for this post. Alas, although I can see the photos on the camera, my laptop will not read the disk.

Don’t we love technology?

Only when it works. I’ll leave you instead with some lovely spring flowers, photographed with my phone.

You’ll have to imagine the community bulletin board, the student art on display, the helpful staff. Imagine Miss Heide herding a flock of chirpy kids through the picture book area. Imagine two rambunctious boys rifling through a pile of books on a little black cart. They inspired this poem.

Little Black Cart 
Are you done with your books?
Please don’t put them back.
Shelving is tricky,
and we have the knack. 
Whatever you’ve finished—
The Farm Almanac,
Training Your Yak,
Baking a Snack,
Riding Horseback,
Ducklings that Quack,
Your Zodiac,
How to Kayak,
Programming a Mac
belongs in this stack. 
If you’re not checking out
that collection of art,
decided against
the novella with heart,
don’t need the recipe
for strawberry tart,
leave your books here
on the little black cart.

Not sure what your library has to offer? Check out the web site. Better yet, stop in and visit!

Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at Reading to the Core. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Essential Library



Every writer – fiction and nonfiction -- understands that the library is an essential tool to her craft. It’s more than a repository of information, or a quiet place to gather one's thoughts. A library is a place where ideas are born, and where the impossible becomes possible.




Recently, I read Yvonne Ventresca’s wonderful book, Pandemic


After surviving a horrific act of betrayal, teenager Lilianna suffers from post-traumatic stress. As Lil struggles to find her way “back to life,” imminent danger presses upon her home and neighborhood. An outbreak of a strange new flu is spreading quickly with deadly results. Her parents out of town on business, she finds herself alone as tragedy strikes. The plot is fast-paced and thoroughly engrossing as Lil struggles to find hope and trust amidst a terrifying life and death ordeal. It so happens that the Ebola outbreak was striking its own terror as I was reading this book. The realism depicted in this dystopian tale hit strikingly close to home. I had to ask Yvonne how she achieved this:



“Reading nonfiction books. Conducting interviews. Checking government websites. These might sound like typical tasks for a nonfiction writer, but they were actually all part of the research I conducted for my young adult book, Pandemic, which is a work of fiction.” – Yvonne Ventresca


Yvonne read books about contemporary and historical diseases: “For several months I had a rotating pile of disease-related books on my nightstand. Since Pandemic is about a contemporary illness (fictionalized bird flu), I read a lot about emerging infectious diseases, and I learned that because of airplane travel, germs can be transmitted almost anywhere in the world within 48 hours. I also researched the Spanish Influenza of 1918, which served as a model illness for my story. I discovered that the sanitation measures almost a century ago included blow-torching water fountains, hosing down streets, and locking public phone booths. Despite these measures, the Spanish flu killed more Americans than all of World War I.”


 Like Yvonne, I write fiction but I depend upon research to bring it depth. My favorite library is the U.S. Library of Congress

It is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution. While it serves the U.S. Congress, it is also the national library, and the world’s largest library. James Madison proposed the idea of a Library in 1783. But it wasn’t until April 24, 1800, that the library was established. This library brings to life the American story. And it proved unequivocally fundamental in bringing my story, Girls of Gettysburg, to life.

As I was researching another book, I came across a small newspaper article dated from 1863. It told of a Union soldier on burial duty, following the Battle at Gettysburg, coming upon a shocking find: the body of a female Confederate soldier. It was shocking because she was disguised as a boy. At the time, everyone believed that girls were not strong enough to do any soldiering; they were too weak, too pure, too pious to be around roughhousing boys. It was against the law for girls to enlist. This girl carried no papers, so he could not identify her. She was buried in an unmarked grave. A Union general noted her presence at the bottom of his report, stating “one female (private) in rebel uniform.” The note became her epitaph. I decided I was going to write her story.
The Library of Congress archives original photographs and newspaper artwork taken of the battle of Gettysburg. Truly, a picture is worth a thousand words!

 
Library of Congress
This includes a photograph of the Unidentified Soldier wearing a confederate uniform. Doesn’t this look like Annie? 
 
 
 
 
Library of Congress
 
 
 
 
 
The home of the real Abraham Bryan, where my protagonist Grace Bryan lived. 











Pickett’s Charge, the climax of my story.
Library of Congress
“A library is … a place where history comes to life!” – Norman Cousins

Yvonne is happy to send free bookmarks to public and school libraries in the US. Librarians can email her at Yvonne @ YvonneVentresca.com (remove spaces) with the librarian’s name, library, and address where the bookmarks should be sent.

Bobbi Miller

For more information on the fascinating history of the Library of Congress, see Jefferson's Legacy: A Brief History of the Library of Congress.


Friday, March 13, 2015

2 Reasons I Love My Library--and Happy Poetry Friday!

.
Howdy, Campers!

Happy Poetry Friday!  The link to today's PF host is below.

This round, we at TeachingAuthors have decided to trot out the topic, Ways I Use the Library, and I'm the first to saddle up.  My horse is a little rebellious today, so I'm going to change the topic slightly to: Reasons I Love My Library.

How do I love libraries? Let me conjure up memories:

The word library
from morguefile.com
sends me back to Franklin Elementary School and its smoky-voiced librarian, Mrs. Orbach.  I will always be grateful to her for breaking the rules and letting me check out The Complete Sherlock Holmes 13 times.

The word library stands me next to my mother, choosing Wind, Sand and Stars for me as if she were sharing an important secret from her childhood.  This sacred act in the Yuba City, California library is tied to that cool oasis from Yuba City’s heat—the downstairs rooms, dark walls painted during the WPA…and that good book-composty smell.


I love my library for a raft of reasons, but I especially love libraries (1) as a quiet place to write without holing up in my house, and (2) because they hold a treasure trove of audiobooks. Joy, joy, joy--audiobooks!

I love being read to. I'm probably an audio learner.

from morguefile.com (As I am posting this photo, I just learned today is National Earmuff Day.)
I remember Mom cracking up as she read to us from Kids Say the Darndest Things, Archie & Mehitabel, The Joys of Yiddish, Catcher in the Rye, and any stories by Thurber, Dorothy Parker, Mark Twain and Molly Ivins.  My teacher and mentor, poet Myra Cohn Livingston, always set aside time in class to read poetry.  Nothing was required of us.  Listen. Absorb. Enjoy.

These days, the word library means a place I go to write.  I like being surrounded by books and by quiet bookpeople working and reading.  A true Southern California commuter, when I walk back to my car, my arms are full of audiobooks, to sustain me on my long drives to my writing group and to UCLA. ( In one just-before-summer post, I recommend three audiobooks...and today I'd add Deborah Wiles' Each Little Bird That Sings to that trio--all from my lovely local library.)

Here's a library poem from my 2011 Poetry Month blog:

The story behind the poem: I was in the library, and as the librarian waved her wand over an audiobook, I heard it click…I began wondering how many sounds there were in a library…including the sounds a book’s story makes in one’s head.

IT’S NOT QUIET IN THE LIBRARY
by April Halprin Wayland

The electric door is opening, it sucks in outside air.
A carpet rubs as a patron sits down on his chosen chair.

The blonde librarian waves her wand—I can hear it whisper-click
six times as it moves back and forth o’er six non-fiction picks.

There are sounds that bounce around the rows of all the Y.A. books
if you listen closely you can hear folks’ irritated looks

at that oops-he-forgot-to-turn-off-his-cell’s rock ‘n rolling ring
while on this page I hear the voice of Martin Luther King:

and as I read, “I have a dream” reverberates in my head
near Charlotte, who is loudly spinning words into her web.

There are sounds around this building, there are sounds in books like these.
It’s not quiet in the library and that’s okay by me.

(c) 2011 April Halprin Wayland, all rights reserved

It’s your turn. Take your notebook to a park or a restaurant or a school or the beach and write down the sounds.  It may help to close your eyes to hear them.  Select the most interesting; write a poem.

The host of Poetry Friday is our beloved Author Amok, Laura Shovan ~ thank you, Laura!

posted quietly by April Halprin Wayland and Eli, immersed in his favorite novel.



Monday, March 9, 2015

We Are Story Animals



These last few days, fellow Teaching Authors Mary Ann,  AprilJoAnn, Esther and wonderful new TA Carla have discussed the blending of fiction and nonfiction. In the end, as I noted in my post, I offered that we are story animals, as Kendall Haven (Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story, 2007) suggests. 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 are so old, so intimately connected with language, some researchers suggest that language was created to express stories. Researchers have found that telling stories at an early age helps develop math abilities and language literacy. And teachers know that understanding the story process helps young readers understand the organization of language.

 A simple definition of a folktale would be that it is a traditional story, usually dressed in metaphor and symbol, told by a people—of a particular community, group, or nation—to help explain how and why things happen, how one meets the challenges of life, or how one might become a better, or wiser, person. But such a simple definition negates a bigger truth embedded in these tales.


Traditional tales are like icebergs; we see only the tip. Jung would call this tip the “personal unconscious,” the aspect of story derived from personal experience and acquisition. But the greater meaning of the tale lies beneath this surface of consciousness. Carl Jung calls this deeper layer the collective unconscious, an inherited “psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is defined in all individuals.” (Man and His Symbols, 1968).


As Rafe Martin tells us, traditional tales belong to the world of the imagined, to the portals of dreams. “They are the eternal literature of humanity.”


 Remember the child’s game, “Telephone”? Everyone sits in a circle, and then the teacher whispers a joke or a story to the student next to her. That student whispers the same story to the one sitting next to her. That student whispers the same story to the one next to her until the story makes its way around the circle. The last student recites the story to the group. Of course, with each retelling, the child puts her own spin on the tale, sometimes reordering the events, recasting it in personal symbols, and reinventing characters as she understands them. That’s the folklore process in action. Someone tells a story. That story is told and retold, and with every telling, the story changes as the teller makes it her own. Despite the many changes the story underwent, there remains intact certain kernels of emotional truth. An old Ibo (Africa) proverb states, “all stories are true.” Not necessarily factual, but certainly true to what it means to be human.  

Europeans left behind their own ancient histories to seek a new life in an unknown land. Upon arrival, they found that they needed to redefine themselves as a people. If the new land was a sanctuary in which they could pursue “life, liberty, and prosperity,” it also proved an overwhelmingly strange and alien place. These new immigrants dealt with their insecurities when faced with forces greater than themselves by overwhelming these forces through the “magnification” of the self, epitomized  in the unrestrained exploits of Davy Crockett, Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, and many others.


From the beginnings of the westward movement, the near incomprehensible vastness of the landscape, the extraordinary fertility of the land, and the variety of natural “peculiarities” inspired a humor of extravagance and exaggeration. The immigrant’s need to affirm the value of a culture independent of European refinements, constraints, and mores created a humor that became exclusive. The immigrants purged their terror of the overwhelming trials of life by minimizing it, and the storyteller as narrator became superior to circumstance with wit and humor.


In true rough-and-tumble fashion, the hero and heroine of the tall tale mocks and defies convention. The tall-talk of the tall tale, like the hero who inhabits these tales, is as wild and unabashed as the frontier that created it. The language defies the tidy and restrictive, even uptight, structure of formal grammar. It mocks it, in fact, using pseudo-Latinate prefixes and suffixes to expand on the root. The result is a teetotaliciously, splendiferous reflection of a frontier too expansive for mere words to capture. By creating such a grand language, the frontier storyteller found a means to make an unknown frontier less scary. The grander language captured the bigger ideas of frontier life.

 In reading such tales, a young reader develops an appreciation for language itself, for language is more than mere words: the rhythms and patterns, the musicality and the poetry of language.  Studies suggest that language acquisition is keyed to youth, and we can infer that language appreciation is similarly keyed.
 
As Mary and Herbert Knapp suggest, the traditional tale plays a vital role in holding together the frayed, factory-made fabric of our lives.” Such tales connect us to the past and to each other, exist when people share an identity, “and since all of us once belonged to that group of human beings we call children, the folklore of childhood brings together all of us.” (One Potato, Two Potato: The Secret Education of American Children, 1976).

What are your favorite traditional tales?


Thank you! A version of this article was published by Children’s Literature Network (2012). Thank you to Vicki Palmquist and everyone at Winding Oaks Children’s Literature for all their support for the children’s education and literature field.

Bobbi Miller




Friday, March 6, 2015

Writing Nonfiction Using Fiction Techniques

People understand that it takes creativity to write fiction.  But many don’t understand that it also takes creativity to write nonfiction.   As a nonfiction author I write true stories-but they are still stories.  When teaching students or teachers how to write nonfiction, I explain it like this: 

I don’t create the facts,
I use the facts creatively. 

Nonfiction is based on facts found in primary source documents.  How an author uses those facts is what makes the difference between text that reads like a novel or a textbook.  The creative part of writing nonfiction is finding a way to keep the reader turning pages to see what happens next-and at the same time telling the story accurately.  To accomplish this goal, I use fiction techniques such as dialogue, sensory details, foreshadowing, pacing and all the rest. 

Let’s look at just one fiction technique I use in nonfiction books:  dialogue.  In my books, the dialogue comes from direct quotes from documented primary sources.  Teachers, students and readers can go to source notes in the back matter to see exactly where the quote was found. 

I’m often asked, how do I know
when to use a direct quote,
and when not to? 
 
I use a direct quote to accomplish one of three things:

1. To show characterization
2. To increase tension
3. To have greater impact


Below are a few examples from my books that demonstration how I used quotes as dialogue.  

 


To show characterization:


In one chapter of Fourth Down and Inches: Concussions and Football’s Make-or-Break Moment (Carolrhoda) I’m making the point about how football has become part of the American culture.  In this example, I quote Kevin Turner because it shows characterization of a passionate football player.   

“Kevin Turner, a former NFL player, still remembers the excitement of his high school football days. He recalls, “When I woke up on game day. I couldn’t wait until it was time for the kickoff. Wearing my jersey to school on game day was a big part of the experience. At game time, when I ran out on the field and heard the announcer call my name in the starting lineup, it was a rush, like nothing else. It was like having Christmas sixteen times a year. My parents were proud of me. Nearly everyone in our small town was cheering in the stands and spontaneously reacting to what happened on the fields. It was magical.”




To increase tension:


In this scene from Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium (FSG), I am showing this famous scientist at a difficult moment in her life.  At the same time Curie was planning to build the Radium Institute, the shed where she and her late husband, Pierre, discovered radium was going to be torn down.   I quoted Marie Curie’s own words about how she felt about visiting the shed for the last time.   

“I made my last pilgrimage there, alas, alone.  On the blackboard there was still the writing of him who had been the soul of the place; the humble refuge for his research was all impregnated with his memory.  The cruel reality seemed some bad dream; I almost expected to see the tall figure appear, and to hear the sound of the familiar voice.”


 


To have greater impact:

Varian Fry, an American journalist, volunteered to go to Marseilles, France, in 1940 to rescue refugees from the Nazis.  This scene from In Defiance of Hitler: The Secret Mission of Varian Fry (FSG), is about the moment he arrives in the city.  Fry wrote about this moment, so I chose to quote the entire segment exactly as he wrote it because his own words had greater impact than if I had paraphrased what happened.   

“’Aha, an American,’ he said in a gravel-rough voice.
“Yes,” I said, trying to keep my voice calm.
“Marseilles is like your New York City at rush hour, eh?”  he said, smiling. 
I smiled back.  “Quite a mob,” I said. 
“Refugees.  Pouring down from the north,” he said.  “We would like to pour them back.  But the Boches [Germans] have occupied Paris.  So the refugees all run to Marseille to hide, or maybe sneak across the border.  But they won’t escape.  Sooner of later we arrest all the illegal ones.”  He smiled again. 
“Too bad for them,” I said.
“Too bad for them; too bad for us!”  He gave me my passport.  Enjoy your stay in our country,” he said.  “But why you visit us at this unsettled time, I don’t know.”
His eyes narrowed, and I thought he looked at me suspiciously.  But as I went out through the gate, I decided it was my imagination.  He knew nothing of the lists in my pockets, nor did he know I had come to smuggle out of France the people whose names were on those lists.”





All three at once:

Many times, one quote like the example below accomplishes all three goals of characterization, tension and greater impact at the same time.  The following section from The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon (Carolrhoda) shows Washington in the days leading up to the historic crossing of the Delaware.  
  
“The Continental Army was in real trouble. At the beginning of the war, most soldiers had enlisted for short periods of time. Now that things were going badly, they left as soon as their enlistment commitment expired. At the beginning of December 1776, about half of Washington’s men went home.  He knew that the enlistment for many more would expire at the end of the month. General Washington had to do something fast to raise the moral of his men, or he would soon have no army to lead. David Ackerson, one of his commanders, recalled seeing General Washington at this time saying, “he was standing near a small camp-fire, evidently lost in thought and making no effort to keep warm . . . His mouth was his strong feature, the lips being always tightly compressed. That day they were compressed so tightly as to be painful to look at.”


 
When writing nonfiction, when you use quotes and how you use them makes all the difference. 

Carla Killough McClafferty