Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How I Became a TeachingAuthor.......

Posted by Esther Hershenhorn

Inclusion in a group so-titled gladdens my heart.
Our blog’s name is the end-all/be-all descriptive phrase in apposition I’ve had in mind since I learned my ABC’s.

For most of my Little Girl Years, I played at school, knowing teaching was something I’d someday do. But buried deep within my pretend teacher’s heart was a want and a wish to someday author children’s books. When readying books to share with friends and dolls, I’d close my eyes and picture my name following the Written By on the chosen book’s front cover.

Teaching came easy. A Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from the University of Pennsylvania. An Illinois K-8 Teacher’s Certificate. Fifth grade teaching assignments in outstanding Chicago-area private and public schools.

The authoring, however? The authoring proved hard.

Despite my Journalism coursework at Penn’s Annenberg School for Communication and my published educational textbook writing, years and Presidents (two re-elected!) came and went while I told my stories across formats and genres, learning my craft, honing my craft, digging deep to uncover my voice. A die-hard Cubs fan, I knew, I believed: my next book would be The One to win me the wished-and-wanted naming word Author.

How fitting that my first published book, the Holiday House picture book There Goes Lowell’s Party!, told of a Birthday Boy who never stopped believin’. His Ozark kin would a-make to his party, no matter the twisters those May storms a-spawned!

Fortunately, one published book led to another.

As further luck would have it, my hard-won authoring returned me to the classroom. The former fifth-grade teacher in me couldn’t sit still. She and I embraced the opportunity to once again teach, only this time Writing - and - to writers of all ages.

I now share my books, process and writer’s life with young writers in public and private city and suburban schools across Chicago, Illinois and the Midwest.

And I do the same, teaching Picture Book and Novel workshops to young-at-heart writers, at the Newberry Library and the University of Chicago’s Writer’s Studio respectively.

Inside the classroom as well as out, whether presenting to or coaching children’s book writers, facilitating Writer’s Groups or readying teachers to help them grow young writers, I inform, affirm, inspire and celebrate. I ready the soil, so to speak, then seed and feed. Helping others tell their stories well is how I spend most days.

In many ways, S is for Story: A Writer’s Alphabet(Sleeping Bear Press, Fall, ’09), my newest book, is but the proverbial cherry that tops my sundae’s whipped cream. Both my writing and teaching experiences informed the A to Z entries. It’s the book I wish I’d owned when I first learned my letters and tucked away my dream of writing children’s books someday.

Thanks to my five fellow children’s authors who also teach writing, I’ve entered a new classroom of sorts, this group blog in Cyberspace. I welcome yet another opportunity to teach writing to all ages, to share my stories, life and process with present and future authors.

Esther Hershenhorn

Writing Workout: Creating Biographies in Shorthand

Creating the above introductory biographical blog entry forced me to determine my professional story’s essence, to single out its key, relevant elements - i.e. teaching and authoring.

I asked myself: “What did I want the reader to know about me, to take-away, from reading my entry?”

Once I had the answer I thought next about my readers. Then and only then did I put fingers to keyboard.

Try your hand at writing your get-acquainted biography, as a blog entry or the copy on your website’s home page, as a brief bio perhaps that appears beneath a presentation’s title or beside a piece of original writing, or maybe as the shortened back flap copy for your next published book. What are the key, relevant elements of your professional or life story which communicate the essence of who and what you are?

What are your nouns, your naming words, which tell the world about you?

What are your verbs, your action words?

How might you combine these parts of speech, originally, interestingly, to tell your story instantly?

And, remember: no where is it written you can’t create shorthand biographies for your story’s characters. In fact, branding your story’s characters – real, imagined, major and minor, helps you create rounded characters ready to claim the stage. Try the above exercises for any and all characters.

My own branded characters include Lowell Piggott, the silver-lining finding Birthday Boy in There Goes Lowell’s Party!, Rudie Dinkins, the memory-stirring soup-maker in Chicken Soup By Heart, Howie Fingerhut, the junior businessperson dreamer who authors The Confe$$ion$ and $ecret$ of Howard J. Fingerhut, and Pippin Biddle, Fancy That’s young portrait painter family man.


Esme Raji Codell said...

Welcome to the blogosphere, Esther and TeachingAuthors, and thank you! What a boon to educators and writers.


Wonderful post, thank you!


The Wild About Writing Trio said...

Congratulations and welcome to the wonderful world of blogging! Each of you brings a wealth of knowledge and inspiration to this new endeavor. What a wonderful resource for teachers and writers. Now I'm off to think about that bio :)

All my very best,
Kim Hutmacher

Brenda Ferber said...

Wonderful blog! Esther, I hadn't seen your new book jacket... it's terrific!

Esther Hershenhorn said...

Thanks for the warm welcome in Cyberspace!

My fellow TeachingAuthors and I look forward to sharing our lives,smarts and experiences with writers of ALL ages.

And, that former fifth grader teacher inside of me is keeping me company as I smile-smile-smile.

JaneJaneJane said...

Hi Esther,
Brilliant introduction to yourself. Thank you and also, it is exciting to see the cover of your next publication. Can't wait to read it!

Thank you, too, for sharing your deconstruction and analysis of your writing process.

This is Chris V., BTW :-)

Ruth Spiro said...

LOVE this new blog!
All the best!

Lee Wind said...

Esther, that was elegantly done. I love how you managed to take a story bio of yourself and make it a lesson in how to bio OURselves and our characters.
Welcome to the kidlitosphere!

Esther Hershenhorn said...

Thanks, Lee, for your Kind Words and Warm Welcome.
The Kidlitosphere has been so generous in sharing how we can make our group blog the best it can be.
I was so glad to read you're part of the SCBWI Blog Team for the upcoming LA Conference.
See you soon!