Friday, May 14, 2010

Book Giveaway and Guest Teaching Author Interview with April Pulley Sayre!

The Teaching Authors are happy to present an interview with our good friend and 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.

To celebrate April's appearance on our blog, we're giving away an autographed copy of her new book Turtle, Turtle, Watch Out! To enter the drawing, see the instructions at the end of this post.

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?

My life is infused with science and immersed in nature study. I read science magazines and watch science shows. I scan scientific articles and news tidbits on the web. My husband and I study plants and animals at every break we have in the work day and on each vacation. We travel to hike rain forests and snorkel coral reefs for research, but even the common animals in our neighborhood teach us. Writing flows from the wonder and humor we find in the everyday world. Of course, our everyday world is squirrels, hummingbirds, and bumblebees in a 400-species native plant garden and an ever-expanding vegetable garden!

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!


Bobbi Miller said...

I was privileged to share time with April during my time at VC. I so admire her, how she infuses science and writing. Her acute observations, her lyrical sense of language...I'm a big fan. Now more than ever, after reading this interview! I already have a few of her books, and plan to get this one, so I won't enter the contest. BUT, I want to post my admiration. Cool, very cool. You guys are the best!

Esther Hershenhorn said...

Let's hear it for the award-winning April Pulley Sayre, who already taught me this morning via her generous answers before I was off to teach - my - Young Writers!
Thank you!
And, congratulations on your non-stop Success.
Your Fan Esther

Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford said...

April, thanks so much for visiting us here and for taking the time to give such detailed and terifically useful information. We heart your books here in New Market. 15,000 kids a year? WOW!!

Carmela Martino said...

You are an amazing writer and teacher. Thanks for sharing so generously with us today!

Sara F. Shacter said...

I love hearing from folks who are passionate about what they do. Thank you!

debcrabb said...

When our son was little(he is 27 now), he had a pet turtle for many years. One day I decided to clean out the aquarium house he lived in with SOS pads. The turtle died shortly after. Justwin still tells me SOS pads made his turtle sick and that is why it died.

anna j said...

I had the most delicious turtle stew in Grand Cayman . . . but I don't mention that when teaching about "la tortue" to my French students :-)

Pat Zietlow Miller said...

I'll always remember driving toward Milwaukee after all the flooding we had a few years ago and there were turtles everywhere on the road. Huge ones slowly making their way across that you had to dodge to miss.

elsie said...

I am amazed how turtles can inspire love in humans. A friend went to the pet store and he bought a tortoise and brought it home. As he watched it he began to think of the other one left at the pet store, so he promptly returned to purchase the remaining tortoise. They were small in the beginning, now they are huge. He has had to build a special shed to house the creatures during the winter with lights and heat to keep them warm. He must plan for them after he dies, as they will live beyond his years. All I can say is "Really?" (Does a tortoise count as a turtle experience?)

Carmela Martino said...

Oh, Deb. Sorry about the SOS-poisoned turtle.
Anna, Turtle really does need to "watch out" so as not to end up in turtle stew.
Pat and Elsie, thanks for sharing your stories, too. JoAnn posted the contest requirements, but I would assume a tortoise story counts as a contest entry. :-)

JoAnn Early Macken said...

Thanks, Bobbi, Esther, Jeanne Marie, Marti, & Sara, for your comments. Deb, Anna, Pat, & Elsie, I'm enjoying the turtle & tortoise stories. Keep them coming, readers! You still have plenty of time to enter yours for a chance to win an amazing new nonfiction book!

Buffy Silverman said...

Thanks for the inspiring post, April. We met a long time ago at an SCBWI-Michigan conference, and I've enjoyed following your success over the years. This post was timely for me, as I've been struggling with how to make the structure more compelling on my WIP.
And now on to my sad turtle tale. When I was seven or eight, we had a small plastic turtle tank, complete with an island, palm tree, and of course a pet-store turtle. The turtle tank lived on top of the toilet tank, and I often held the turtle and admired it while sitting on the toilet. As I flushed one morning, the turtle slipped from my hand, and I watched in horror as it swirled out of sight. That was the last turtle to live in our bathroom.

mag said...

I have two turtle memories... and I'll begin with the more recent...we were snorkling in Cozumel in this luscious protected national park. It was my first time snorkling and I was fascinated by the colorful fishes. Suddenly I looked down and a huge sea turtle sailed directly under me and into a cave. What a sight!
My earliest turtle memory was my first pet turtle that I let out for some playtime. He/she scuttled away and found an excellent hiding place- never to be found! Turtle!! Where are you?

The Cunninghams said...

My uncle let my husband and I stay at his beachfront condo for our honeymoon. The first night we were there, we went for a walk on the beach and witnessed a mama turtle returning to the ocean after burying her eggs. My uncle commented for all the times he went in search of the turtles in the years he lived there, he had not yet had the proviledge.

MJ said...

We have 2 ponds with many turtles. They come nad lay eggs in our yard. We mark the nests so we can try to see when they hatch. Not many nests make it but it's great fun to watch the tiny turtles makiing their way back to the pond.


Nina Kidd said...

When I was eight, at the end of our lane a brushy hill dropped away. I knew that was my own wilderness when I found a desert tortoise there. He had probably lived there before my house was built. I took him home and he stubbed around in a wire enclosure under a tree and ate lettuce we gave him, for about a week. Then he was gone. I looked and looked. A long time afterward I hiked down my wilderness hill and found him again, hoisting himself out of a burrow. Three house lots and a road away, he had gone home. Finding him again was my 9th birthday present. After that, when I explored on our hill we just visited at his place.

Esther Hershenhorn said...

Thanks for stopping by, Nina.
Your True-Life Adventure is the stuff of a picture book, yes? :)

Gail said...

I live in a suburb of Atlanta, near a wooded area with a stream. While walking along the sidewalk one day, peering into the streamthat ran below me, I saw what looked like a tortoise! How out of place was that??? It looked to be 10-12 inches wide and at least 16-20 inches in length. Do turtles grow that large or just tortoises? Ans how did he get to the stream in the burbs? Hmmm... sounds like a picture book in the making!

JoAnn Early Macken said...

Thanks, everyone, for all the turtle and tortoise tales! Reading them reminded me of the large tortoises we watched on a vacation in Florida.

April Halprin Wayland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
April Halprin Wayland said...

Thank you for coming to our blog, April--so nice to connect with you!

Sheldon is our tortoise who became dehydrated last year and had to go to the turtle vet. We now give him a 20 minute soaking each morning in lukewarm water. He LOVES it! He lowers himself down into the water and puts his head all the way under, staying there until the timer sounds.

Sheldon's a DESERT TORTOISE. Who knew they needed a soaking?!?!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your time and expertise. Non-fiction writing, including poetry, is a favorite pursuit of mine. Your advice and your links will be really helpful.

Many years ago on my commute to school from a rural area, I encountered an enormous snapping turtle attempting to cross an eight-lane highway... clearly a turtle deathtrap. I was lucky to be ride-sharing so that we could stop, c-a-r-e-fully lift him into the back seat, and transport him to a nearby pond on the other side of the road. We hoped that had been his objective and we wouldn't find him in the road on the return commute!
Here's hoping this long-ago memory qualifies me for the book-give-away contest!