Friday, August 8, 2014

Guest Teaching Author Post and Book Giveaway with Sandy Brehl!

I first met Sandy Brehl as the super-efficient contact person for one of the best-planned school visits I've ever experienced. Later, I had opportunities to meet Sandy again through a number of SCBWI-Wisconsin events, also efficiently organized. When I was Regional Advisor, I knew that anything I left in her capable hands could be crossed off my list.

I'm happy to welcome Sandy today as a Guest Teaching Author. Look below for details about the giveaway of her new middle grade novel, Odin’s Promise.

Sandy Brehl retired after forty years of public school teaching in Milwaukee-area schools. Since then, she’s been an active member of SCBWI, devoting most of her time to writing and reading. Sandy enjoys gardening, art, and travel (to Norway, of course). Visit her website to learn more about Odin’s Promise and follow her blog. She also posts reviews and commentary about picture books at Unpacking the POWER of Picture Books. You can follow her on Twitter: @SandyBrehl and @PBWorkshop.

How did you become a Teaching Author?

Teaching came first. I began teaching right out of college and never stopped. For four decades I worked in elementary schools at many grade levels, leading writers throughout those years. The use of mentor text (before it was called that) and the “links to life” approach I used in leading kids to write more successfully, effectively, and with greater engagement meant I was always writing with and for students. This included writing across content areas.

I was always a competent writer, and I wrote often, but I only shared my writing with students and family. It wasn’t until an odd holiday circumstance and my own ignorance of the publishing industry that I gave any thought to submitting my work. I wrote a blog post about this uninformed and inauspicious start to becoming an author.

I had some encouraging successes, with poetry appearing in Spider Magazine and articles published in professional journals.  I eventually joined SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). With the help of workshops, conferences, and critiques, my writing efforts more consistently approached publishable quality.

Since retiring from full time teaching, I conduct workshops for educators, sharing ways to use the highest quality children’s literature to improve reading and writing instruction.

Odin’s Promise is compelling historical fiction for middle-grade readers. How did you balance the fiction and nonfiction aspects of your story?

I love reading historical fiction, and now writing it, too. Fact and fiction are like the opposite sides of a strip of paper, but they can be skillfully connected, like a mobius strip, making it hard to distinguish where each begins and ends. The story should be so compelling that readers aren’t distracted by the fact/fiction question – until the story ends. That’s when they start asking questions (and pursuing answers) about how much of the story is real.

A secondary plot in this book was inspired by actual events I heard about while visiting in Norway many years ago, told to me by the people who lived them. From the moment I heard their story, I was certain it should be in a book. I knew even then that it would be fictionalized, but wanted to tell it as authentically as possible. It turns out there was a very stubborn part of my brain that was unwilling to move more than a smidgeon away from the actual events and characters.

This story has a history nearly as long as my writing life does. It’s the cumulative result of years and years of continuing research and revisions guided by increasingly knowledgeable sources on a story that wouldn’t let me go. The more research I did, the more fictionalized but credible my story became.

Eventually a particular piece of research opened my mind to an entirely new approach. By then the factual content was as real to me as the characters who emerged.

How can teachers use your book in the classroom?

In a guest post for Alyson Beecher’s blog, Kid Lit Frenzy, I used the mobius strip comparison and suggested the benefits of historical fiction as a tool for launching research to answer personal questions. Typically research is used in a linear approach: start with a topic or other prompt, do research, organize results, then produce expository writing or answer factual questions.

Historical fiction often provides an author’s note addressing the fact/fiction elements. Many books, including mine, provide a list of resources for further investigation and related titles. Websites and digital resources allow students to examine maps, read and create timelines, and access guided questions.

I recommend that teachers introduce historical fiction as a genre and suggest using picture books for a model lesson. The interweaving of fact and fiction, which is the nature of this genre, can be examined in these shorter examples. Encourage readers to use sticky notes or notebooks to actively raise their questions while reading. After the book is complete, readers can pursue and compare their questions. They might offer and justify personal opinions as to the fact/fiction status of the content marked. Back matter and other resources can then be used to seek and share reliable answers to those questions.

Once students develop understanding of the interplay of fact and fiction in this genre, teachers might read aloud the timeless Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry, to develop background knowledge. Then Odin’s Promise can be offered to literature study groups along with other titles about Norway’s occupation: Shadow on the Mountain, by Margi Preuss, Snow Treasure, by Marie McSwigan, and The Klipfish Code, by Mary Casanova.

Could you describe your research process?

My research started pre-internet. That meant pursuing hard-to-find sources through the library, then noting the references used to create them. Those served as launching points for further searches. Of course, my notes were all hand-written, the books were often out-of-print (making them expensive or unavailable), and my dedicated research and writing times were limited to summers.

Once I began using online sources to expand my searches, technology made it possible to store and revisit my notes and writing attempts across all those years.

Each time I made a new run at the story or received another critique, I’d dive into further research. Along the way it became clear (to everyone but me) that my ideal audience would be middle-grade readers. I just couldn’t loosen my mental grip on the original inspirational story, which centered on older characters. Only when research led me to a scholarly work that incorporated journal entries, some written by younger people, was I able to see a middle-grade story.

As I read those passages, the fictional voice of Mari, my main character, helped me release my older approach. She shared her thoughts and views of the occupation. As she led me through her own concerns, fears, courage, love, and loyalty, she introduced me to her family and community. She was even generous enough to make space for portions of my original story in her life.

Could you share a story about a funny, moving, or interesting writing or speaking experience?
The most surprising thing to me is that this story includes a dog. I am an animal lover, and I even worked for some years in wildlife rehabilitation. I avoid reading realistic stories about animals, particularly dogs, because I may find myself deeply invested in a story but unwilling to finish reading for fear of injury to the animal. I might not even pick up and read this book if someone else had written it.

Earlier versions didn’t have a dog. I realized some potential readers might feel the same as I do about stories with animals. Mari gave me no choice. She needed Odin in her life, and the events that unfold were essential to her own growth and change.

Another surprising aspect to this book is that it was a “work-in-progress” for more than three decades. Once Mari’s voice came to me the story went from draft and revision to contract, further revision, and release in only two years.

Thank you, Sandy!
Readers, you can hear Sandy talk about Odin's Promise in a Milwaukee Public Radio interview.

Book Giveaway
Enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of Odin's Promise! The book giveaway ends on August 23.

Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options specified. If you choose the "comment" option, share a comment to today's blog post about your experience with writing or teaching historical fiction. And please include your name in your comment, if it's not obvious from your comment "identity." (If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.)

If you've never entered a Rafflecopter giveaway, here's info on how to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway and the difference between signing in with Facebook vs. with an email address. Email subscribers: if you received this post via email, you can click on the Rafflecopter link at the end of this message to access the entry form.

Good luck!

JoAnn Early Macken a Rafflecopter giveaway


Kathy said...

I love to teach historical fiction. Since I am the only teacher in the building trained to teach about the Holocaust, I always do a huge unit with historical fiction when I teach this unit. I have never had a class that did not love reading about WWII and the Holocaust. This book would be a great addition to my collection. Thanks for sharing.

Sahasrakotijapa said...

This is such a fascinating book and evolution of the book and the plot structure is very intriguing. It is on my reading list! Thanks for sharing and the encouragement.

LInda Baie said...

I'm amazed at your persistence. It must be a wonderful story to have held it close so long. It's great that you've now written it so that children will enjoy it, too. I've taught historical fiction lots of ways, but most loved when we did primary research, where students researched some background in recent history and then searched the community for someone that would help in furthering their knowledge. They interviewed the person, wrote the story that was true, then wrote a 2nd story that they fictionalized. It was a special experience for all of us. Each interviewee received a copy of everyone's story. Best wishes for your new book. Whether I win a copy or not, will look for it!

Rosi said...

I do love historical fiction. Thanks for such an interesting post and the chance to win a copy. It looks like a terrific book.

Sandy Brehl said...

Your comments are all heartwarming and welcoming- much like the friends I've met and made from Norway! My experiences as a teacher (patience, coming at a problem from new angles, diving deeper) all shape the way I write. Thank you for your interest in the book, and I welcome contact from your students if they have questions during/after reading. Good luck!

kt giorgio said...

I really enjoyed hearing about this story! Looking forward to reading it! Historical fiction is the best!

Pat Kahn's Childsplay said...

I very much liked your description of fact and fiction as the opposite sides of a paper strip, which can be connected like a mobius strip.

Thanks for the interview!

Clari Ferz said...

I love historical fiction, and I want it for my godson, to transmite the love for reading. Thank you for the giveaway!Greatings from Argentina!

JoAnn Early Macken said...

Thanks for your input, everyone! Be sure to read Sandy's Wednesday Writing Workout, a helpful exercise in writing with an awareness of subtext.

Beverley Baird said...

Being of Norwegian descent, I am intrigued by your book. i will definitely read it. Thanks for the wonderful advice about writing historical fiction.

Wehaf said...

In grade school, I read a lot of historical fiction, and I especially loved the WWII books. (Freidrich, Number the Stars, Summer of my German Soldier, etc.). This sounds like another excellent book to add to that list.

jan godown annino said...

Sandy, This post is helpful on many fronts. I'm pleased to know about ODIN'S PROMISE, although I too must gird myself if there is injury to children or animals & yes, adults, in a story in which I become immersed.
Also I send appreciations for your sharing about the length of time this story held you in research. To answer your question. I've been thinking, reading about & working on a story for 10+ years, regarding an abolition worker. His story was widely reported back in the day, but the brave individual who risked his life has fallen from public knowledge. Recently I applied for a grant to help with this & that process alone, has bouyed me up. This post does, also.

Thank you Sandy & thank you always TA's & JoAnn Early Macken, superb poet. (OT, but JoAnn, I luv "Early" in your name. I'm sure you hear that all the time.)

Happy nearly back to school all!

Sandy Brehl said...

The comments here are not only heartwarming but a reminder of why this TEACHING AUTHORS blog remains one of my most favorites. Even when time requires me to press "delete" for posts from other blogs, I always find the time to read these, and the comments, too. The readers, writers, and teachers here, offer reflective, useful, and enlightening thoughts. It also offers me such a sense of community. Jan, best of luck with your progress on the research and the writing of your story. It sounds like such a worthy subject, and you'd be producing a gift to the victim and to your readers. Fingers crossed for your grant!
And thanks again to JoAnn and company for welcoming me to participate.

Carmela Martino said...

Sandy, thanks for this great interview. Interestingly, I've written a historical young adult novel that I think would be more marketable if I could make it for middle-grade, but I haven't found a way to do that. Your story has inspired me not to give up!
And I'm honored to know you find our blog so helpful. Thanks for being one of our regular readers!

Annina said...

I enjoyed reading this interview, and I'm also a big fan of historical fiction and anything that Margi Preuss writes. I can't wait to read your book.

Karen Edmisten said...

I am doing a WWII unit with my 12 year old this year in our homeschool, and Odin's Promise sounds like another great addition to the line-up of books we'll be reading. If I don't win, I'll be buying it!

Mrs. Kaplan's Class said...

It's so hard to find a Holocause/WWII novel that is truly appropriate for middle grade readers. I am looking forward to reading this one very much.

Sandra Stiles said...

I love Historical Fiction. I try to instill that love in my students. This sounds like a wonderful book for my shelves. One of the reasons I love historical fiction, not only for myself, it creates researchers. I've seen kids do what I have done. They read a book and then the research begins to find out more information about the event or time period. Historical Fiction is a way for me as a Language Arts teacher to bring history alive in my classroom.

JoAnn Early Macken said...

Thanks again to Sandy for the fascinating interview and Wednesday Writing Workout. Thanks also to everyone who shared their experiences with historical fiction. And thanks, Jan, for the poetry compliment! (By the way, Early is my maiden name. I put up with teasing for many years before I decided I liked it.) Watch for an announcement of the book giveaway winner, coming soon!

JoAnn Early Macken said...

Pat K. has won the autographed copy of Odin's Promise. Congratulations, Pat! Please check your email for instructions about autographing & mailing your book. Thanks to everyone who entered!

jan godown annino said...

Congratulations, Pat K. !

We will all look for Odin's Promise.