Friday, December 30, 2011

First Book Holiday Donation--One More Day!

Our comment count is up to 146--hooray! We'll donate at least $146 to First Book. If you haven't added your comment yet, you still have time--but hurry! See the details below.
Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

First Book Holiday Donation Update: 11 Days Left!

Since the start of our First Book Holiday Donation series on December 5, all six Teaching Authors have posted about our own first books. (You can read all six posts below.) Many generous readers have commented on their first books, too. We've enjoyed hearing from so many enthusiastic book lovers!

For every comment we receive on our blog before the end of the year (one per person, please, and spam doesn’t count), we’ll donate $1 to First Book, which  provides new books to children in need. If you haven't added your comment yet, you can help increase our donation. You can tell us about your first book, your child’s or grandchild’s first book, why you believe children should have their own books, or your own First Book donation.

We’ll keep track of comments from now until the end of the year, we'll post periodic updates, and we’ll donate up to $225. Every $2.50 donated provides a brand-new book to a child in need. And through Dec. 31, Disney Publishing Worldwide will match every $1 donated with another new book.

So far, we've received 137 comments, so we'll donate $137 to First Book. That amount equals 54.8 books plus 137 more from Disney Publishing Worldwide for a total of 191.8 books. Thank you!

We still have 11 days to go, so please help us spread the word!

JoAnn Early Macken

Friday, December 16, 2011

What Was Your First Book? Post a Comment So Kids Can Have One Without Spending A Penny ~

Howdy Campers!  YES!  TeachingAuthors are singing and dancing the praises of, which gives books to kids.  In fact, for every comment on our blog until December 31st, we'll donate $1 to FirstBook (up to $225).  Tell us about your memories of your own first book and read the wonderful responses we've gotten so far on JoAnn's first post, Esther's post, Jeanne Marie's post, Mary Ann's post, JoAnn's update, and Carmela's post.
Some of you have asked about how to make your own donation to FirstBook. Simply head over to the First Book "Get Involved" page and click on "donate now".

I laughed when I read that Ellen Reagan read Little Red Riding Hood, crossing out the word "hood" on each page and writing in her own name.
Little Red Riding Hood and a friend discussing their favorite books...

The comments you've posted have brought back memories of Harold and The Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson (which I count among my favorite books to this day), the fairy tales my father read in the dim light of our bedroom each night, The Birthday and Pitschi, both by Hans Fischer, poetry Mom read aloud, and Dorothy Parker stories, too--which kept all of us laughing, laughing, laughing.  Ahh...memories.  They're truly locked in our DNA...
by April Halprin Wayland

First, book.
Then, lap.
Then skin-to-skin.x

The story settles deep within,

the horse and both enchanted twins
stay in you as you age.

Then one day velvet wings on stage
will part and you'll perform the page.
And in that hall will be a child 
and she'll be hooked.x

But first? 

Of course.
But first a book.x
poem and drawing (c) 2011 April Halprin Wayland, all rights reserved

And speaking of books and giving--consider giving one or all in the Poetry Tag Time series.  Just released: Gift Tag, the third eBook anthology of children's poetry by fabulous author, poet, and anthologist Janet Wong and equally fabulous author, professor, and anthologist Dr. Sylvia Vardell.  Gift Tag is the first eBook of new holiday poems by top poets for children and teens...including, ahem, yours well as Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Lee Bennett Hopkins, J. Patrick Lewis, and more...all for the bargain price of $2.99 each.  And you don't even need an can download these to your computer!

Happy Poetry Friday! And check out how
New York is incorporating haiku into street safety signs ~
(Ya gotta love Book Aunt's tag line: "Because other people give you clothes and video games for your birthday!")

This is the last TeachingAuthors post until the new year (as Carmela says, we're taking a blogging break).  Come back on January 2, 2012 (!) when we'll tell you how much you helped raise for FirstBooks!
drawing (c) 2011 April Halprin Wayland

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Remembering First Books, and How You Can Donate a Book without Paying a Penny

Wow, it's been marvelous to read my co-bloggers' posts and all our wonderful readers' comments about their first books. Before I share my thoughts on the topic, I want to remind you that you can help donate books to children in need via First Book without paying a penny! See details at the end of this post.

Like Jeanne Marie, I grew up in a book-less home. I've blogged before about how the first books I can recall in our house were a set of World Book Encyclopedia, which my parents purchased from a door-to-door salesman. So I smiled at the comment Patrica Nesbitt shared on JoAnn's kick-off post. Patricia's first books, a set of Childcraft books, also arrived in her home thanks to a door-to-door salesman! And I have to say that I'm especially grateful to Sherry York for her comment on Monday confessing that she read the encyclopedia "from A to Z." Now I don't feel so geeky for doing the same thing. :-)

But I think my favorite comment came from our friend Professor Roxanne Owens of DePaul University who wrote in response to Esther's post: "I couldn't get enough Pat the Bunny, Put Me in the Zoo, Go Dogs Go, and a Fish Out of Water . . . ." Roxanne's comment reminded me how much my son loved Pat the Bunny, one of his first books. She motivated me to dig out his well-worn (or I should say, well-loved) copy:

But I'd forgotten all about the companion book he had, which I discovered while looking for Pat the Bunny:
Judging from the condition of Pat the Cat, my son must have loved it even more than Pat the Bunny!
Can you see the tape holding the edges of the right-hand page together?

He lost the "pencil" that was attached to the string, and the last page is completely separated.
But Teddy still squeaks!

We were fortunate to be able to provide our son with books from his infancy on. Along with Pat the Bunny and Pat the Cat, he had bathtub books, board books, little Golden Books (I still have his Runaway Bunny and Color Kittens) and a children's Bible that he received from his godfather. It makes me sad to think there are many children who have never had a book of their own. That's why I was thrilled when JoAnn suggested that the TeachingAuthors not only make a donation to First Book, but that we use our blog to get the word out about this terrific organization. With your help, we can provide over 300 new books to children in need. And it won't cost you a penny, as you can see below. However, some of you have asked about how to make your own donation to First Book. You can do that easily by heading over to the First Book "Get Involved" page and clicking on the "donate now" button.

Now, to add to our TeachingAuthors' First Book donation (for free!), you need only post a comment on our blog. For every comment we receive (one per person, please, and spam doesn’t count), we’ll donate $1 to First Book. We’ll keep track of comments posted from December 1-31 and we'll post periodic updates, like this one JoAnn shared Monday. We’ll donate up to $225. Every $2.50 donated provides a brand-new book to a child in need. And through Dec. 31, Disney Publishing Worldwide will match every $1 donated with another new book. We're hoping to send 315 books to children in need!

So help our donation add up! Post one comment on any of our posts from now through December 31. Tell us about your first book, your child’s or grandchild’s first book, why you believe children should have their own books, or how you made your own First Book donation. Then help us spread the word by inviting all your friends to comment, too. Our special thanks to Lee Wind for doing just that on the official SCBWI blog, and also for his kind words about our blog. If you don't know about the SCBWI blog, be sure to check it out!

Wishing all of you a blessed holiday season.
Happy writing!

Monday, December 12, 2011

First Books Donation Update

Help the Teaching Authors make a Holiday Donation to First Book by posting a comment on our blog. For every comment we receive from now through December 31, 2011 (one per person, please, and spam doesn’t count), we’ll donate $1 to First Book. We’ll count comments from now through the end of the year, we'll post periodic updates, and we’ll donate up to $225. Every $2.50 donated provides a brand-new book to a child in need. And through Dec. 31, Disney Publishing Worldwide will match every $1 donated with another new book.

As of this moment (8:30 a.m. Monday), counting one comment each from two Teaching Authors and one from my cousin who tried to post but couldn't (thanks, Maureen!), we're up to 33 comments so far. At $1/comment, that means a $33 donation to First Book--a good start but still a good distance from our maximum donation of $225.

At $2.50/book, our donation so far equals 13.2 books plus 33 more from Disney Publishing Worldwide for a total of 46.2 books. A $225 donation would mean 90 books for children who need them plus 225 more from Disney Publishing Worldwide. Let's try to send 315 books to children in need! Please add your own comment if you haven't yet, help us spread the word, and encourage your friends to comment, too!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Desperately Seeking Books!

  I taught myself to read (from televison commercials) when I was three.  No big deal. I thought everyone taught themself how to read, like learning to ride a bike or brush your teeth.  What was a big deal was finding something to read.  I read street signs, TV commercials, medicine bottles, cereal boxes, but what I wanted was books.

  Books were not so easy to come by in the late 50's early 60's if you were a middle class kid living a middle class suburb. Hard to believe...but if unless you lived in a big city, or were just really lucky, there were no book stores. No Amazon.  No chain stores. Not even libraries.

   OK, I had some Golden Books (the grocery cash register impulse buy before there were People, US and The National Enquirer.) Just to weigh in, my favorite Golden Book was Richard Scarry's Bunny Book. My aunt gave us her set of Childcraft.  I didn't stop with the poems, fairytales and novel excerpts. I was so book hungry, I read all the child psychology and child rearing volumes as well.  I was probably the only kid in first grade who could use the term "sibling rivalry" in a sentence. My eldest cousin gave me a beautiful anthology of children's literature that I still have (along with the Childcraft, 1948 edition). By first grade I had discovered the "book department" at E.J. Korvette's and Zayre's, which consisted entirely of the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries.

  That was it. That was all there was. I got desperate enough to buy "antique" editions of the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew and Honey Bunch when my mom took fou antiquing with her.

   So where were the books?  A very good question. The only bookstore I knew was the Scribner bookstore in the Chicago Loop, where I saw my allergist four times a year. (My mother told me it was a museum of could look but you couldn't buy.  She said the same thing about Marshall Field's toy department.) Our 'burbs did not have libraries. The elementary schools did not have libraries. They had a shelf in the back of the room with maybe twenty books, that was designated "the classroom library."  When my teeny tiny town finally opened a library, it was a closet-sized space, wedged between a pizza parlor and a dry-cleaners. (The smell of mozzarella and dry-cleaning fluid can still make me misty-eyed.) Because the children's section consisted of one book case, I was only allowed to check out two books at a time. I often finished the first book on the ride home in the car. Then we moved to another town that literally had no library. However, for some reason, in the summer, you could check books out of the junior high school library. Which I did.

    The only things that kept me sane were the book clubs. The Scholastic Book Club flyers that were passed out in class were the high point of any school week.  I spent hours selecting and reselecting the two dollars worth of books I was allowed each time. (Considering the top price for a book was 45 cents, I made the most of those two bucks!) I still have those brittle paperback copies of the Lee Wyndham Susie ballet books (beginning a life-long love of dance), and assorted Newbery titles (my favorite was Blue Willow by Doris Gates.)  The Weekly Reader also had a book club that sent hard covers, one a month (no choice allowed; they just sent "appropriate grade level reading.") I saved those as well--Ruth Gannett's My Father's Dragon, C.W. Anderson's Whitey and Josie books, Miska Miles' Dusty and the Fiddlers and Parsifal Rides the Time Wave by Nell Chenault. Some of these were not books I would have chosen myself, but they were books and I read and re-read and cherished them.

    Every now and then I stumbled across a sympathetic soul. My father was tracking down the complete set of Will Durant's History of Civilization in Chicago's used bookstores. He would sneak me in whatever he found in the children's section...mostly biographies. (And what do I read today, besides children's books?  Biographies and memoirs.) One of my aunt's had fallen heir to a large collection of children's books from the 1920's that she passed along to me.  My grandmother had an odd copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn floating around her house that she gave me. (My first real adult book...and one of my all time favorites.) And as I have mentioned in other blogs, for Chirstmas my dad gave me hardcovers of Charlotte's Web and Mary Calhoun's Depend on Katie John.

   We moved to Jackson, Mississippi when I was ten. Since all the adults in my life acted as if we were moving to The End of the Earth, I figured there would be no libraries. Wrong!

   Not only was there a library, but there were branch libraries, although I always preferred the spacious children's room of the main library downtown.  Not only that, but you could check out as many books as you could carry.  I learned to stagger out the door with enormous stacks of books (thus preparing me for my future career as a librarian).  Just for a bonus, all my schools had excellent libraries as well.

   Still, the only bookstores around where used paperback trade-in places, which I visited on my way home from the library.  They were heavy on Harlequin and Grace Livingston Hill romances, but I managed to find some classics and the books that were made into movies. The first real bookstore I encountered was Lemuria Books, which opened while I was in high school.  True heaven!  Lemuria has changed locations three times since that first visit, but it is still alive and thriving, and I visit (and pillage) every time I visit my dad. (I also had my first book signing there, too.)  Sometimes I go there to think...kind of like church.  Sometimes I sit in the same chair that my hometown idol, Eudora Welty, also sat in.

   Given my book "deprived" childhood, it is no surprise that I now own more books than some branch libraries. I took them with me when we moved to Bangkok in 1997, because I knew there was no English language library, and only one Japanese-owned, English language bookstore. Movers pale whenever we relocate. ("Books are heavy," someone always comments in a glum sort of way.) I can't help it. I am a compulsive reader, and life doesn't seem worth living if I don't have a book (or two or three) that I am currently reading.

   So let's hear it for First Book!!! There are still children out there with no ready access to books, let alone the opportunity to own one. I like to think that your responses to our blog, will ease the pain of another frustrated bookworm out there.  So get on board with our Holiday Donation!  For every blog comment we receive (one per person, please and span doesn't count), we will donate $1 to First Book, which provides books to low-income children.  We all love books here, right?  Remember the thrill of the very first book you owned?  Share that thrill with the rest of us on the blog, and help make another reading child's wish come true.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Friday, December 9, 2011

First Books, First Pets, First Memories

As JoAnn and Esther have posted this week, we are celebrating the holidays with memories of first books and a tribute to FirstBook.
My mom grew up in a bookless home.  She told me that one day her father did some janitorial work at a school and splurged on a steeply discounted set of Dick and Jane.  These were then the only books in her house.  No wonder she did not grow up a reader!  My dad, on the other hand, was raised in a family of voracious readers.  My grandmother always had a thick book in hand -- Maeve Binchy, Rosamunde Pilcher, Danielle Steele.  For my grandfather, it was Max Brand and Louis L'Amour.  [When he got Alzheimer's, he could reread the complete set and be surprised every time.] My dad reads widely -- right now he is on a Stephen Hunter and Lee Child kick, but he can do a book a day, so he's pretty much read it all. 

Pop fiction is our thing (clearly), and I was initially going to blog about the first book I remember reading -- it was a Bobbsey Twins book and it was a Christmas gift from my grandparents (dad's side, of course) the year I was six.  My mom discovered the joy of reading when she read me that book aloud, so I think it was a momentous experience for us both.

I honestly don't think I was read to as a toddler. I don't remember being exposed to picture books at all until I got to school.  But as I think about it, there was one in our house.  The year I was five, my mom and I read it over, and over, and over.  It was called Peppermint, about a kitten that lived in a candy store.  All of Peppermint's candy-named siblings were quickly adopted, but nobody wanted poor, skinny, dusty Peppermint.  Of course Peppermint found a home in the end.  I just had to google the author of the book and discovered many threads of grown-ups looking for a copy of the book that they read so many times and loved so fondly.  Copies are retailing in the area of $50/apiece. 

My first pet was thus a black molly fish named (you guessed it) Peppermint.  However, after reading Peppermint, I desperately wanted a pet that I could actually pet.  When I was in sixth grade, we finally put the fish behind us and became a dog family.  This weekend, we Fords will do the same as we welcome a pup named Molly to our family.  This Christmas my daughter is the same age that I was when I unwrapped that fateful Bobbsey Twins book.  Together we have just begun discovering the joys of Ramona.   

Our house is overrun by books.    However, millions of children live in homes without books.

But FirstBook is trying to change that by providing books to children in need.

How can you help us help these millions of children eager to own their very own books?


Simply post one comment on our blog from now through December 31. Tell us about your first book, your child’s or grandchild’s first book, why books are important, why children should own their own books.

You can help us spread the word.

You can even make your own FirstBook Donation.

For every comment we receive (one per person, please, and spam doesn’t count), we’ll donate $1 to First Book.

We’ll keep track of comments from now until the end of the year; we’ll post periodic updates; and we’ll donate up to $225. Every $2.50 donated provides a brand-new book to a child in need. And through Dec. 31, Disney Publishing Worldwide will match every $1 donated with another new book.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for all of the wonderful memories you have already shared this week!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Reading, First Book(s) and our Holiday Donation

As JoAnn posted Monday, we TeachingAuthors chose to celebrate the holidays by sharing something important to all of us: first books/First Book!

Like JoAnn, who shared her remembrances of The Color Kittens by Margaret Wise Brown, one of my very first owned-by-only-me books was a Little Golden Book too: Little Red Riding Hood, beautifully, indeed memorably, told and illustrated by Elizabeth Orton Jones.

     “Once upon a time there was a little girl
who was dearly loved by all – most of all by
her grandmother.
     Wherever she went she always wore a little
red cape with a hood which her grandmother made 
 for her. So people called her Little Red Riding Hood.”

I treasure my well-worn copy, a 50th Birthday gift from my sister. The Adopted Chicagoan in me can’t help but smile each time I read the introduction noting Miss Jones’ Highland Park, IL and University of Chicago and Chicago Art Institute connections.

I selected the book myself at our local West Philadelphia A and P, turning the Little Golden Books rack round and round ‘til I was satisfied with that week’s choice.
I knew it would be at home with my Three Little Bears, Hansel and Gretel, Puss and Boots and Saggy Baggy Elephant, just to name a few.
It turns out I was one of millions who, thanks to these twenty-five-cent books, grew up reading (!), keeping company with such ground-breaking and talented artists and writers as Margaret Wise Brown, Alice and Marin Provensen, Richard Scarry and Feodor Rojankovsky.

Leonard S. Marcus shares the history of Little Golden Books in his 2007 Random House book, Golden Legacy – How Golden Books Won Children’s Hearts, Changed Publishing Forever, and Became an American Icon Along the Way.
Baby Boomers especially will delight in the stories behind these shiny gold-foil-spined books, ooh-ing and ah-ing with each remembered cover.

The book’s front flap copy says it all:

“The year 1942 was marked by a bold experiment that, even in the thick of World War II, would galvanize consumer culture: the launch of the twenty-five-cent Little Golden Books. At a time when the literacy rate was not as high as it is now – and privation was felt by nearly all – high-quality books for children would be available at a price that nearly everyone could afford, and sold where ordinary people shopped every day.”

Today not every child is so lucky. The truth is: millions of children live in book-less homes.
But First Book is trying to change that by providing books to children in need.
How can you help us help these millions of children eager to own their very own books?
Simply post one comment on our blog from now through December 31. Tell us about your first book, your child’s or grandchild’s first book, why books are important, why children should own their own books.
You can help us spread the word.
You can even make your own First Book Donation.

For every comment we receive (one per person, please, and spam doesn’t count), we’ll donate $1 to First Book.
We’ll keep track of comments from now until the end of the year; we’ll post periodic updates; and we’ll donate up to $225. Every $2.50 donated provides a brand-new book to a child in need. And through Dec. 31, Disney Publishing Worldwide will match every $1 donated with another new book.

Happy commenting!

And, thanks for your Support!

Esther Hershenhorn

Monday, December 5, 2011

Reading, First Book, and Our Holiday Donation

We Teaching Authors are celebrating the holidays by sharing something important to all of us: books! And you can help!

My sisters and I all learned to read before we started school. We grew up with books. One of the earliest I can remember is a gem called The Color Kittens by Margaret Wise Brown, best known for the classic Goodnight, Moon.

Two kittens named Brush and Hush “liked to mix and make colors by splashing one color into another.” Timeless illustrations by Alice and Martin Provensen show the kittens, dressed in striped overalls and matching hats, with their “buckets and buckets of color.” They mix red with white, yellow with red, red with blue, and finally blue with yellow.

“O wonderful kittens! O Brush! O Hush!” This line stuck with me through the years, and when I found a scribbled-up copy of the book at a rummage sale several years ago, I was delighted to read it again.

Overjoyed with the colors they make, the kittens paint everything around them. At night, they dream
“A wonderful dream
Of a rose red tree
That turned all white
When you counted three. . . .
Of a purple land
In a pale pink sea
Where apples fell
From a golden tree”

Yes, my sisters and I grew up with The Color Kittens and The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, Madeline and Pippi Longstocking, Angelo the Naughty One and Caps for Sale.

But not every child is so lucky.

Millions of kids have no books in their homes. First Book is trying to change that by providing books to children in need. We believe, as Bookmark, the First Book Blog says, that “a solid, comprehensive education is the best chance many of those kids have at succeeding in life.” Reading is the vital first step.

How can you help? By posting a comment on our blog. For every comment we receive (one per person, please, and spam doesn’t count), we’ll donate $1 to First Book. We’ll keep track of comments from now until the end of the year, we'll post periodic updates, and we’ll donate up to $225. Every $2.50 donated provides a brand-new book to a child in need. And through Dec. 31, Disney Publishing Worldwide will match every $1 donated with another new book.

So help our donation add up! Post one comment on any of our posts from now through December 31. Tell us about your first book, your child’s or grandchild’s first book, why you believe children should have their own books, or your own First Book donation. Then help us spread the word!

Happy holidays!

JoAnn Early Macken

Friday, December 2, 2011

Ten Days of Thanks-Giving Wrap-Up...and Poetry Friday!

Howdy Campers!

Carmela did a fine job of wrapping up our First Annual Ten Days of Thanks-Giving this week.  Yay, Carmela!

Today was my monthly hike with the women I've fallen in love with as we leaped from rock to rock to cross creeks, dripped sweat up impossible hills, walked quietly under arched tree ceilings, and been photographed with in front of waterfalls, oceans and boulders.  So today I write a thanku to the universe for giving me my hiking buds:
...for hard trails up to
egg-blue skies, for red leaves, for
six sweaty friends.
~ April Halprin Wayland

Here the last few thankus or simple thank yous:
From Joyce Ray:
I'm pretty late, but want to share my Thanku to my granddaughter Lindsay for terrific help in revising a poem recently.~
you oiled mired wheels
pushed my poem from its rut
your words, my words - WOW  


And Jan Godown Annino is the last in with this fitting contribution to our First Annual Ten Days of Thanks-Giving:
Grateful to the 10 Days (catching it at the tail end. was in a cave of 

Grateful to be able to try to learn to say Thank You in many languages.
This includes some of the 560 ways of Thank You in First 
Languages of Peoples here before arrival of the Spanish, French & other beautiful languages that came from over the big water. Often, thanks were so extensively prayed that it was a challenge to isolate one or two words to represent the concept.

And so I thank all 
of you, but especially the brave young creative writing students mentioned. 
photo credit: Chris Gregory
Fellow TeachingAuthor blogger Esther Hershenhorn (not the inventor of thankus, but the one who brought them so lovingly to our attention) writes:
I'm thinking our Ten Days of Thanks-Giving offering proved the Kent State University social scientists I referenced in my original October 20 Thanku post right: people who compose short letters of gratitude do indeed experience a significant increase in their overall happiness! followed every link, I read each and every Thanku, I can't wait to share with my Young Writers the 465 ways to say Thanks that Jan shared this morning. ThankU, TeachingAuthors readers. for taking and making the time to put some Good back in our World.  
Amen, Esther ~

Some pretty amazing Poetry Friday poems are at Carol's Corner today!
And speaking of amazing poetry,  Poet Janet Wong and Professor Sylvia Vardell have teamed up to create a whole new way to read and write poetry: ~featuring three amazing poetry anthologies. The third book in the series, Gift Tag, is out just in time for the holidays, and is already one of the best-selling children’s poetry eBooks on
Check it out!

Happy trails, Campers...and remember to write with joy ~
photo credit: Chris Gregory
hiking thanku (c)2011 April Halprin Wayland, all rights reserved

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tenth Day of Thanks-Giving: Roundup of Thankus and Thank-You Notes

Today is the last day of our Ten Days of Thanks-Giving. The event was inspired by Esther's post about a poetry form called the THANKU, a thank-you note in haiku form. We TeachingAuthors decided to sponsor the Ten Days of Thanks-Giving as an opportunity for our readers, students, and everyone in the Kidlitosphere to share their own thank-yous.  We hope to make this an annual event taking place every November 20-30.

Today, I'll share some of the thank you notes we received, and a roundup of links to sites where fellow bloggers posted their thank-yous. But first, I want to share my own THANKU.

On Monday, Mary Ann wrote about being thankful for the Hive, a group of Vermont College alumni that we're both blessed to be part of. My thank you today is an appropriate follow-up to that post because it's to the woman responsible for my attending Vermont College: my teacher, mentor, and friend, Sharon Darrow. I've known Sharon for so long now that I can't even recall how we first met. However, I do remember the fateful day when we had lunch together and I mentioned my desire to take some advanced writing classes. Sharon encouraged me to apply to the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults instead. The idea terrified me. Who was I to try to get an MFA in writing? My undergraduate degree was in Math and Computer Science! But Sharon had such faith in me that I decided to take the plunge and apply. Little did I know then all the wonderful things my acceptance to VC would lead to.

I don't think I can top the marvelous tribute Esther wrote last week in honor of her mentor and teacher, Barbara Lucas. So instead, I dedicate this simply Thanku Haiku to Sharon Darrow:

Your encouragement
yielded a harvest beyond
my expectations.

Thank you, Sharon. And thank you to all the wonderful writing teachers I worked with at Vermont College as a result of following Sharon's advice.

Now, to share some of the thank you notes and comments we received during our Ten Days of Thanks-Giving. As it happens, just this morning Bobby Miller, a terrific writer I met when we were both students at Vermont College, posted a Vermont College-related thank-you comment on Mary Ann's post of yesterday:
I share my big Thank You to the MFA/Writing for Children program. It changed my life, personally and professionally. It brought my life's goal into focus, gave it purpose. And I walked away with treasured friendships.
Yesterday, Linda at Teacherdance posted a beautiful 25-word thank-you note to her writing community as a comment on that same blog post:
Thank you my writing colleagues;
your words bless me, put my life
into a higher plane, entice me to
write more, think more, be more.
I had invited the students of a creative writing class I'm teaching for homeschoolers ages 10-14 to participate in our Ten Days of Thanks-Giving. Only one girl, Julia, was brave enough to share her 25-word thank-you note here:
Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful, so let's eat and drink and be merry. It is a time to be with family and friends.
Hooray for Julia! (See below for another student submission!)

And here are links to posts by other bloggers who participated in our celebration (roughly in the order of their posting):
Together we find
spirit greater than ourselves.
Our words, golden light. 
  • Finally, on Thanksgiving day, Margo Dill posted her Thanku Haiku to her parents on her blog.
This just in (at 2:05 pm): a fun thank-you poem from Tyler, another of my homeschool students. (He submitted it via the comments, but I want all our subscribers to be able to see it too.)

I am thankful for:
family and friends,
cats, dogs,
fish, frogs,
people and places,
dungeons and maces,
Wait not thankful for that... just rhymes.

Love the humor, Tyler! Thanks so much for participating!

And from author Leone Castell Anderson comes this lovely Thanku Haiku:
 "Thanks." A little word
but of infinite meaning.
For loving thoughts shared.
Marvelous, Leone!

Thanks again to everyone who took part in our Ten Days of Thanks-Giving. For those of you who'd still like to join in: it's not too late to send us your links and thank-you notes. I'll either add them to this roundup, or ask April to include them in her post on Friday.
Happy writing!

Monday, November 28, 2011

ThankU for. . .Buzzing Bees

     Conventional wisdom says that the friends you make in college are the ones you make for life, whether you are twenty, or firmly in middle-age.  I never expected to make twelve new BFF's in my forties, but I did.  My ThankU goes out to my Vermont College  MFA in Writing for Children classmates, Summer '00, aka "The Hive." These incredible writers have become a part of my life, both personally and professionally.  Who would have thought when we met in the luggage claim at the Burlington Airport, July 1998, that we still be the close-knit group we are today?
       I belong to a terrific critique group here in Georgia, all.  I am a member of  the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and through that organization I have writing friends all over the country. (If there is one thing we need in this solitary life we've chosen, it's friends who also write!) Yet none of these wonderful people have become part of my family, and I, theirs. Within the Hive, we know the status of each other's manuscripts.  We share our collective knowledge of editors, agents, publishers, and other writers. We have seen each other through the death of spouses and parents, pregnancy and illness.  Together we have shepherded our children from "the terrible twos" to the troublesome teens to college and marriage and another generation.

    At first meeting, we were as diverse a group as you could find, aged twenty-something to seventy-something, with most of us somewhere smack in the middle.  We came from all over the country, and just for something completely different, Thailand (that was me). In fact, had I not had my fellow "Bees" as close as my computer screen, I never would have survived my year and a half on the other side of the world.  I remember the Thanksgiving my husband was on assignment in China, and the Bees kept emailing me to keep me from being too homesick, alone in my Bangkok high rise with a four-year-old.

    When we came to Vermont College, differences in age, geography and previous publishing experience were forgotten.  What mattered is that we had the same desire…to become the best possible writer we could. So intense were we, hanging on our instructors' every word, that our class loomed large on the faculty radar.  We believe it was one of those instructors, Brock Cole, who inadvertently dubbed as "bees" because we fairly buzzed with questions and enthusiasm.  So, if individually we were Bees, together we were "The Hive."

     Not everyone in our class wished to maintain contact after graduation. Some members of the considerably smaller Winter '00 class wanted to be part of the Hive. We were honored that someone wanted to cast their lot with our busy bunch. It is hard to remember now when those two members were one of our number.

     When I tell other writers about The Hive, they always ask how often we hear from each other. They are amazed that the answer is "couple of times a day."  On the rare occasions that The Hive falls silent, someone (usually JoAnn) will send out an email on the order of "Where is everybody?" If one of us doesn't log in for a period of time, someone is sure to email (or even call) to make sure all is well.

    Because we are scattered across the country, we have never physically all been together in the same place, not even at graduation. (The two "Bee adoptees" graduated before us.) We have managed to get a good number of them together in one place for various reunions, but never all of us.  Still, we see each other more than most families do.  If one of us is speaking in a Bee's hometown, you can be sure that any Bee within a fifty mile radius will be there too.

    So...for all the manuscripts you've critiqued, rejection letters you've suffered through, rants about editors endured and professional connections made, my heartfelt ThankU goes out to the two Gretchens, the two Carolyns, Maribeth, Laura, Phyllis, April and Lindan. A special ThankU to Carmela, Jeanne Marie and JoAnn, my fellow TA's and Hive members. And through the TA connection, I have become friends with Esther and April.

   The Hive is the source that keeps on giving!

   Don't forget to send your ThankU's to us.  See Esther's last Wednesday post for details.
 Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Of Thanks and Thankus!

Say the word Thanksgiving and right away, I’m gathering my favorite newspaper recipes – Mom’s Foolproof Turkey from a 1989 Chicago Tribune, Do-ahead Mashed Potatoes that are the stuff of any cardiologist’s dream, Cooked Cranberry Orange Relish that always surprises.

But now I have a new favorite holiday recipe, non-fat and non-caloric, yet nevertheless delicious: a Thanksgiving Thanku, a thank you note in the form of a haiku.
Expressing gratitude has never been easier.

Between now and November 30, come join our TeachingAuthors Ten Days of Thanks-Giving Celebration by writing a Thanku or any kind of thank you note, 25 words or less, to express your gratitude – to a friend, relative, neighbor, teacher, stranger, Little-known Hero, character, pet, author, artist, you-name-him/her/it – the choice is yours. Then share your thank-you with us in one of three ways:
  1. Post it as a comment to any of our blog posts through Nov. 30.
  2. Send it to us via email to teachingauthors at gmail dot com, with "Thanks-Giving" as the subject. Depending on the number of emails we receive, we'll share some of your notes in our posts.
  3. Post it on your own blog and then share the link either via a comment or email. On November 30, Carmela will post a round-up of all the links we receive.
The recipient of my Thank You Note today?
One Barbara Lucas, Writer, Teacher, Editor, Publisher and Mentor Extraordinaire, Founder in 1983 of the one-week summer Vassar College Institute of Children’s Book Publishing and Writing that changed my Life.

I (bravely) attended the Institute in 1989, 1990, 1991, then again in 1993 (as a presenter) and finally in 1995, as a celebrant of the Institute’s 15th Anniversary. I’d be neither an Author nor a Writing Teacher had Barbara’s path and mine not crossed.

                                                  (Barbara Lucas, front row, far right)
Barbara got her start in publishing at Harper and Row, as assistant to the legendary Ursula Nordstrom. She was Editor-in-Chief at Putnam and then at Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich, when the publisher had all 3 names. She and Artist’s Representative Dilys Evans began and oversee Lucas-Evans Books, a book packager.

Institute mornings from 9 am to noon, I learned my craft, sitting at Barbara’s feet, and those of her fellow teachers – authors M.J. Auch, Marge Facklam, Stephanie Tolan, Patricia Hermes and Jean Marzollo. They taught me the elements of writing and the tenets of writing for children from my fellow attendees’ submitted manuscripts.

Afternoons and evenings, we met invited guests, key members of the Children’s Book World who traveled up the Hudson from New York City to Poughkeepsie: editors, publishers, art directors, marketing specialists, academicians, librarians, agents, book reviewers, authors, illustrators.
In between sessions and long into the night, we writers connected, forging a community.

It was Barbara who shared: I was writing above my plotline, not plugged into my characters; how could my readers connect with the story? 

It was Barbara who believed in me, gifting me with a classroom poster of Troy Howell’s Original Art, a poster that now adorns the wall above my desk.

It was Barbara who introduced me to my Children’s Book World’s residents and showed me my story was but the Very First Step in a book's creations.  So many hands touch that book before the story can touch the reader.

The wonder of Barbara is: I am but one of so many children’s book writers and illustrators lucky enough to have reason to write the above Thank You Note.

Barbara empowered us so we could go forth and empower our readers.
I pay her Kindness forward each and every time I help a writer.
I model her instruction, each and every class I teach.

I’d write an original Thanku but fellow Vassar Institute attendee and author Kay Winters’ thank you haiku says it all:
                            How lucky we were

                            to meet those who stretched a hand.
                            They showed us the way.

For the record, I have indeed expressed my gratitude to Barbara on numerous occasions over the years.
But one can’t say “Thank you!” enough.

I join my fellow TeachingAuthors in wishing our readers Happy Thanksgiving!

Esther Hershenhorn

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanku, World

I have spent the last few weeks in a major funk -- the kind that makes me feel sorry for everyone who has to live with me, deal with me, talk to me.  After a weekend in which I learned of the deaths of my friend's dad, Carmela's mother-in-law, and my parents' dear dog, Riley, writing a thanku would seem like a really timely exercise.  However, this morning... I'm coming up dry.

I tried to get my kids to do the work for me.  Kate pouted.  Patrick said, "I'll do it.  I'm thankful for... everything.  And rainbows."

Kate, her arms folded, scowling, finally acknowledged, "I'm grateful for Grandma and Pap.  Family.  Food.  Can I be done now?"

Perhaps my cheerful attitude is contagious.

I remember reading a tweet from the late children's writer Bridget Zinn a few days before she died.  She was desperately ill when she wrote, "Sunshine and a good book.  Perfect." 

Hugs; wonderful friends; dog kisses; the knees in my back when my kid is snuggling with me at night; a husband who loves me no matter how difficult I am; sadness, because it makes us appreciate happiness all the more; good health; God; love; life.

Thanks to all of you reading this who are blessings in my life. --Jeanne Marie

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ten Days of Thanks-Giving: Time to Share Your Thank-Yous (and THANKUs)

Today is the official start of our Ten Days of Thanks-Giving! As JoAnn explained on Friday, this is the first of what we hope will be an annual event, taking place November 20-30.

It all started with Esther's post about a new poetry form she invented: the THANKU, a thank-you note in haiku form. After her post, we talked about how there's so much negativitiy and bad news in the world, and how it might be uplifting to do a series of thank-you posts about people and things for which we're grateful. We'll start that series tomorrow. Meanwhile, we came up with the idea for sponsoring the Ten Days of Thanks-Giving: an opportunity for our readers and everyone in the Kidlitosphere to share their own thank-yous.  We encourage you (and your students!) to write a thank-you note of 25 words or less, as a poem or prose. Then share your thank-you with us in one of three ways:
  1. Post it as a comment to any of our blog posts from today through Nov. 30.
  2. Send it to us via email to teachingauthors at gmail dot com, with "Thanks-Giving" as the subject. Depending on the number of emails we receive, we'll share some of your notes in our posts.
  3. Post it on your own blog and then share the link either via a comment or email. On November 30, I'll post a round-up of all the links we receive.
If you're feeling creative, try your hand at writing a THANKU.  Esther first wrote about the form here. And Lori Degman used the form to write a lovely reply in the comments:

Thank you Esther H.
for sharing yourself with us.
You've touched countless lives!!

Or you can try one of the poetry forms JoAnn shared on Friday.
Or just write a simple thank-you note.

I'll be sharing my thank-you when I post next week. Meanwhile, know that I'm especially thankful for my five amazingly talented co-bloggers, for all our wonderful readers, and for all the fantastic Kidlit bloggers I've come to know since we started this blog.

Happy Thanks-Giving!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Ten Days of Thanks-Giving & New Forms to Try

Inspired by Esther’s invention of the thanku (a thank you note in haiku form), we Teaching Authors are celebrating our first annual Ten Days of Thanks-Giving with poems in that form and others.

When I thought about writing a Thanksgiving thanku, I started by brainstorming a list of possible topics—people, places, and things I'm grateful for. My gratitude list was impossibly long, so I decided to focus on that moment.

stillness before dawn—
recliner, cozy blanket,
coffee, notebook, pen

Although it fits the syllable count and describes something I'm grateful for, this one doesn't feel like a thank you note. I went back to my list. In my poetry class this week, two students introduced me to new forms, so I decided to try them.

The etheree has ten lines of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 syllables—or in reverse, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1. An etheree with more than one stanza can include both.

This form seemed to suit my long list of things I’m grateful for, so I chose some that fit the pattern.

purple pens
soft yellow yarn
dogs with wagging tails
chances to start over
sunlight streaking through dense woods
crossing chores off my to-do list
kicking up crunchy leaves on my walk
old family photo albums, labeled

Notice how coffee appears in both poems? I like to write first thing in the morning. But not only did this feel more like a list poem than a thank you note, using the etheree form forced me to leave out some of the most obvious things I’m grateful for. I could certainly add more stanzas with the number of syllables counting back down and up again. And again and again. (As I said, I have a long list!)

The lanturne is shaped like a Japanese lantern: it has five lines with 1, 2, 3, 4, and 1 syllables. Mine, like the thanku above, focuses on a moment.

drive home
from night class
open the door

what’s in the pot?

windows steamed
homemade chili

(two kinds)
from your garden

(comfort food)
how you show your

This one hits the spot for me because it feels more like a thank you note. The end came as a surprise, which is one of my favorite things about writing. Sometimes I don't know what I'm writing about until it comes out of my pen.

Writing Workout: Write a Thanks-Giving poem. Teachers, invite your classes to join in! Try a thanku, an etheree, a lanturne, or another new form. See if you can express your thanks in 25 words or less. Then post your poems here or on any of our posts during our Ten Days of Thanks-Giving, November 20-30. Or send them to us by e-mail: teachingauthors at  gmail dot com.

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is at The Opposite of Indifference. Take a peek!

JoAnn Early Macken

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Catching up on a Classic: The Phantom Tollbooth

Here on the TeachingAuthors blog, we've been discussing the classic children's books we never read till adulthood. The series was inspired, in part, by Esther's interview with Leonard Marcus in honor of the release of The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth last month. When Esther first told me about the new book, I felt a twinge of guilt--I'd never read the original Phantom Tollbooth. So I suggested this topic to motivate me to finally read Norton Juster's masterpiece. If you're wondering what classics and must-reads you may have missed, be sure to check out the links in the Writing Workout below.

I wasn't reading yet in 1961 when The Phantom Tollbooth was first published, but that was no excuse for my not reading this classic. When, as an adult, I became interested in writing for children, I began reading voraciously in the field. Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, which Mary Ann blogged about on Monday, was one of the many children's books I came to as an adult that I fell in love with. (Unlike Mary Ann, I'm somewhat of a Math geek, which made me love L'Engle's book all the more!) Yet, despite a number of fellow children's literature enthusiasts telling me that Tollbooth was one of their all-time favorites, I never made time to read the book, until Esther's interview with Leonard Marcus inspired me to do so a few weeks ago.

I'm happy to report that I thoroughly enjoyed the book. The wordplay and puns are great fun, but the Math geek in me was especially happy to see the book's celebration of numbers. I was also impressed at how Juster wove important themes about the value of education and action into such an entertaining read. One of my favorite paragraphs (among many) was:
"You must never feel badly about making mistakes," explained Reason quietly, "as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons."
I believe the combination of entertainment and enduring themes contributed to making The Phantom Tollbooth such a classic. I'm grateful to Leonard Marcus for bringing this book back into the spotlight. In case you missed the short video in which Norton Juster, Jules Feiffer, and Leonard Marcus discuss the book's creation, I've embedded it below, or you can watch it at YouTube here.

Are there any classic children's/young adult books you missed reading as a child or teen? If so, please share their titles in the comments below. And if you need suggestions of children's/YA books now considered "must reads," see the Writing Workout below. 

Writing Workout:
Reading the Best Children's Books

How well-read are you in the field of children's and young adult literature? Last year, Elizabeth Bird at School Library Journal's Fuse#8 blog took a survey of her readers to come up with a list of the top 100 Children's Novels. The Phantom Tollbooth is #10 on that list. Now that I've read it, I can say I've read all the top 10! However, I see that there are two in the top 20 I haven't read yet: #16 Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh and #18 Matilda by Roald Dahl. Time to check those out.

If you are a picture book fan, you can see the results of her poll for the top 100 Picture Books, put together in 2009.

The Persnickety Snark blog conducted a similar poll in 2010 to determine the top 100 Young Adult Novels. (I've read the top 9 there. Hmm. More books to add to my reading list!)

If reader polls aren't your thing, this page links to lists of the best children's books as determined by a variety of organizations, including the New York Public Library, Publisher's Weekly, and the UK newspaper, The Guardian

Your assignment for this Writing Workout is actually a Reading Workout: Pick a genre and determine which of the books on these "best books" lists you haven't read yet, then read at least THREE of them! When you're done, come back and post a comment to any of our blog posts sharing your experience.

Happy Writing, and Reading!

Monday, November 14, 2011

At Long Last--Tessering!

     What book do you wish you had read as a child?  Are you kidding?  I read everything as a child!!
      A trip to the public library was as much a part of my week as piano lessons and allergy shots.  Plus, there were the biweekly class visits to the school library…and then I remembered.  Until graduate school, I had never read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.
    Why not?
    Simple.  The one copy in the school library was always checked out.  For two years I watched someone else check out the book with the cool “space age” jacket graphics.  Wrinkle was the must read, IT book, for fifth and sixth graders. Madeleine L’Engle was our J.K. Rowling.
     The public library?   It owned multiple copies….all apparently on “permanent” check out.
     Then I went to junior high.  The librarian informed me that “Newbery books are for younger children” with a look that made me feel like a dolt for even asking.   
   Years passed and I went to the University of Tennessee, where an MLIS in children’s services meant reading hundreds of children’s books.  Their library had multiple copies of everything, including AWrinkle in Time.
     I’m glad that I read this as an adult.  In elementary school, I would have seen a quest/adventure novel.  The first line of the book is “It was a dark and stormy night.”   I wouldn’t have understood the irony, but would immediately have been drawn into  Meg Murry’s world.
     Meg sounded oddly like me (probably every girl who has read this book thinks the same thing); she has braces and glasses and no social graces. Her father has simply disappeared, apparently abandoning his family.  Again, I could identify.  My father, the FBI agent was gone on out-of-town assignments for months at a time. Some of the neighbors asked if I really had a father.
     That Meg is something of a math whiz and all the math references would have stopped me momentarily. I hated math and didn’t understand people who did.  But by the time we learn this about Meg, we are already invested in her as a character, so I would’ve overlooked this character “flaw”.
    I know I wouldn’t have understood most of L’Engle’s literary references, and would have skipped over them. They are not essential to the basic story.
   What I would’ve understood was the theme of Conformity is Evil and we should all Do Our Own thing.  I would’ve been reading this in 1966, at the dawn of the "Age of Aquarius," when life was all about Sticking it to the Establishment.  The conformity on the planet Camzotz, would have reminded me of a favorite folk song, Malvina Reynolds’ “Little Boxes.”
  Little boxes on the hillside,
  Little boxes made of ticky tacky, 
  Little boxes on the hillside,
  Little boxes all the same.
  There's a green one and a pink one
  And a blue one and a yellow one
  And they're all made out of ticky tacky
  And they all look just the same.   
      Down with conformity! Up with the individual!
      As an adult reader, I viewed the struggle between the villain, IT and Meg, for the soul of her little brother, Charles Wallace, in more spiritual terms. Reading it then (and now) I focused more on the themes of Good and Evil.  I read this the same year I saw Star Wars, and was struck by the similarity in theme. (“Go toward the light, Luke!”)
      As a writer, I know something about Madeleine L’Engle’s struggle to publish this book, her second.  After 30 some rejections, L’Engle had thrown in the towel. Had her agent not sent it to just one more editor, Robert Farrar, at what is now Farrar Straus Giroux, it would never have seen the light of day.  (This is a story I tell myself every time I get a rejection.) When your rejections include words like “weird” “strange” and the ever popular “unmarketable” you sort of lose hope.
      I am sure that those childrens’ editors found the Cold War themes of totalitarianism, brainwashing and a numb existence, unsuitable for children.  When it was finally published in 1962, the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis, these themes resonated even more. I don’t believe it was an accident that it became the 1963 Newbery winner. (Newbery committees are notable for thinking outside the box—boxes made of ticky tacky.)
     As a writer, I did have trouble with my suspension of disbelief from time to time.  I accepted that Meg and Charles Wallace spoke like adults (because they were “different”).  I was willing to believe “tessering”, even if the explanation involved math and physics (which I still don’t understand.)  I couldn’t decide what Calvin’s role was in all this (Friend? lLove interest? Set up for future sequels?)  I also couldn’t figure out just why Meg’s father was being held captive on Camzotz.  But these are minor points in a book that has stood the test of time.
     2012 marks the 50th anniversary of Wrinkle’s publication.  I have not read any of the Harry Potter books (either). I wonder if kids will be as wild about Harry, fifty years hence. I think Meg Murry will be around in 2062.
 Posted by Mary Ann Rodman