Guest Teaching Author April Pulley Sayre.
April Pulley Sayre is the award-winning author of over 55 natural history books for children and adults. Her read-aloud nonfiction books, known for their lyricism and scientific precision, have been translated into French, Dutch, Japanese, and Korean. She is best known for pioneering literary ways to immerse young readers in natural events via creative storytelling and unusual perspectives.
In 2008, Sayre accepted the Theodor “Seuss” Geisel Honor Award given by the American Library Association for her book Vulture View. It was also named a finalist for the 2008 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books.
Stars Beneath Your Bed: The Surprising Story of Dust won the 2006 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books and was named a 2006 ALA Notable Children’s Book. One Is a Snail, Ten Is a Crab was a 2004 ALA Notable Children’s Book and a 2003 Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books Blue Ribbon Book and received Britain’s highest literacy award. Dig, Wait, Listen: A Desert Toad’s Tale was a Riverbank Review Children’s Book of Distinction and a 2001 ALA Booklist Editors’ Choice and received starred reviews. The Bumblebee Queen marked April's third win of the John Burroughs Award.
Sayre has followed lemurs in Madagascar, pursued army ants in Panama, and eaten piranha in the Peruvian Amazon. She and her husband, native plants expert Jeff Sayre, love science and adventure.
Sayre is an expert speaker in the fields of writing, science education, children’s literature, and wildlife gardening. Each year, she speaks to over 15,000 students nationwide, introducing them to the writing process, the joy of words, the diversity of rain forests, and wacky things scientists do to find, follow, and study animals.
Welcome, April! How did you become a Teaching Author?
My work as a teaching author came after publishing dozens of books and earning an M.F.A. in creative writing for children and young adults at Vermont College. By speaking to over 15,000 students each year during school visits nationwide, I learned how to communicate my writing process to students. Along the way, educators shared what they were doing. I found ways to meld my 20 years as a writer with what teachers needed. Now, I teach educators and aspiring adult writers at conferences, workshops, and inservices. Because of my travel/speaking schedule, I do not take on semester courses.
What is a common problem or question that your students have, and how do you address it?
Lots of my students have good ideas, great heart, and moments of beautiful language. What they need is compelling, dynamic structure. They need to fearlessly experiment with structure. Sometimes one has to break and remake a book to find the right structure. Many writing students haven't thought enough about structure, particularly creative nonfiction structures.
Although I teach fiction writing, even novel writing, most students look to me to bring their nonfiction to the next level of quality. For this, I have specific exercises to help students enliven their nonfiction. For instance, I have kids brainstorm and reach farther with their comparisons. Comparisons insert an image into writing. They impact how a reader feels. Comparisons can give readers a sense of scale. For example, you could write: "An adult loggerhead is big." But that's not specific or illuminating. Giving the exact weight helps make it more interesting. But even better is having the exact weight plus a comparison. Instead of saying an adult loggerhead is big, you could say: "An adult loggerhead turtle weighs as much as a refrigerator full of food." I had to call a moving company to find out the weight for that comparison.
How does your love of science and nature inspire your writing?
How can teachers use your books in the classroom?
Teachers use my books to teach creative nonfiction structures and devices such as alliteration and onomatopoeia. On my web site, I have hundreds of accounts of what teachers do with my books. These are searchable by educational terms and content areas such as birds, fish, trees, onomatopoeia, and so on. My work is also indexed on INK Think Tank, a free database of high quality nonfiction books correlated to national standards in math, science, social studies, etc.
Kids love to read nonfiction. But many of them haven't seen enough different kinds of nonfiction to appreciate the wide range of structures for writing about the real world. My books serve as a model for both narrative and expository writing. Really, it doesn't take much to get writers, young and old, fired up about nonfiction writing once they see how creative and joyous this work can be.
Another great thing is that teachers can now use me, in addition to my books, in the classroom! I'm part of Ink Link: Authors On Call, which is offering an entire slate of award-winning nonfiction authors to schools and districts for teacher training via high videoconferencing and webinars. I also do school visits/classroom drop-ins via Skype and iChat.
I encourage anyone interested in writing or teaching nonfiction writing to regularly read the Interesting Nonfiction for Kids (I.N.K.) blog.
Can you tell us about the moment you knew you were a writer?
My husband actually took a photo of the moment I knew I was a writer. I was sitting by a stream in a rain forest in Madagascar in 1990. This was a stream where a little warbler sang, a warbler which someone else later identified as a new species. It was a stream where we bathed and watched malachite kingfishers and found an amazing tarantula-ish spider on a rock. I was writing in a notebook after a long day following lemurs as part of a long term study of their behavior by my mentor, Patricia Wright. I was joyously, deeply in flow, that drilled down, one-with-the universe feeling that you have during inspiration. I was taking notes for an article about the wild life of scientists. I knew that I no longer wanted to do the science; I wanted to write about the science and scientists, and about the non-scientific part, such as the deep and mysterious connection between the Malagasy people and the "ancestors," as they call them.
Would you share a favorite writing exercise for our readers?
Here's a deep exploration for writers. I use this with adults who are trying to break through in their creativity. It's from my book Unfold Your Brain.
1. Explore the underpinnings of your life. Draw yourself as a home with foundations, pipes, and wires for your inflows and outflows: of water, energy, food, inspiration, money, love, health, joy, pain, stress, comfort, and whatever else flows through your days.
2. Now write about one or all of those underpinnings and what you have found through drawing.
Note to readers: Unfold Your Brain: Deepen Your Creativity, Expand into New Arts, and Prosper as a Writer, Musician, or Visual Artist is available at Lulu.
Thank you for joining us, April! Readers, before entering our contest, please read our Book Giveaway Guidelines.
For a chance to win an autographed copy of April Pulley Sayre's Turtle, Turtle, Watch Out!, post a comment to today's blog post telling us about a turtle experience you've had on land, in the sea, or in a classroom. To qualify, your entry must be posted by 11 p.m. Wednesday, May 19, 2010 (Central Standard Time). The winner will be announced by 11 p.m., Thursday, May 20, 2010.
April's web site includes photos of turtle activities, including sea turtles made out of paper plates. We look forward to reading your turtle comments. Good luck!