Monday, August 15, 2016


While Mary Ann Rodman was seeding and feeding her Young Writers down South, making magic of one kind and another, I once again was doing the same, only this time in the green and cloud-puffed blue skies of the Midwest and this time, with 9 Doctor of Education in Literacy candidates from Judson University.

You got that right: 9 EdD candidates, each an exceptional Illinois educator, focusing on belletristic writing, “taking a foray,” award-winning author and the program’s founder and director Dr. Steven L. Layne explained, “into playing with the writing side of literacy.” The program launched June 17, 2013.

Titled “LIT 790, Seminar in Writing for Publication,” the course is the only one of its kind in EdD in Literacy programs in the country. 
Here’s the official description:

“The process of exploring and developing belletristic manuscripts for review in the trade market will be the focus of this course. A variety of writing formats will be introduced including manuscripts for children’s picture books, lengthier works of fiction, and poetry. Doctoral candidates will discuss the process of identifying a market-based need and have opportunity to receive critique from published writers while progressing one or more manuscripts in a positive direction along the publication continuum.  (5 credit hours)”

Not to worry if you too were unfamiliar with the term “belletristic writing.” Think “aesthetic writing” vs. academic. J

The course began with two weeks of intense writing instruction at the Elgin, IL campus. Poet extraordinaire Sara Holbrook focused on the how-to of poetry writing; I focused on picture book stories and their tellings; Newbery Honor Medalist Joan Bauer zeroed in on writing longer works of fiction.  Writers explored the various forms and formats, mined their stories, unearthed their talents and learned their craft. 
Sara, Joan and I delighted in our students and their stories.  We whole-heartily agreed: their knowledge of children’s literature was unparalleled; their commitment to the course of study and willingness to abandon any and all fears noteworthy.

And then it was on to Northern Michigan and an honest-to-goodness Writers Retreat at Shanty Creek Resort in Bellaire. 
Award-winning Michigan picture book author Denise Brennan-Nelson welcomed us by by serving up her Writer’s Back Story.

For three days, each instructor worked one-to-one with three assigned writers, helping them ready their stories for the evening share time.
Morning Publishers Circle SKYPE and Q and A sessions brought agent Tina Schwartz of the Purcell Agency, Christine French Cully, Editor in Chief for Highlights for Children, Inc. and Editorial Director of Highlights Magazine and founder and director Nick Glass of
National Book Award Winner Neal Shusterman surprised us at our Farewell Dinner with a SKYPE visit, letting us in on the story behind CHALLENGER DEEP (Harper Teen, 2015). 

Throughout the week, writers enlightened each other in small Readers Groups sharing selected readings on the writing process, craft, revision, creativity, the writer’s life, publishing and the Children’s Book World.
Yes, there was chocolate!
As delicious, this already-tight and connected community took on another role – that of Writers Group.

[Bottom row, L to R: Val Cawley, Joy Towner, Maria DiBella-Schlup, Lindsay Allen, Vicki Billimack; Top row, L to R: Beth Gottlieb, Ben Zulauf, Mary Martin, Megan Truax]

“So, what does this stellar group of classroom teachers, principals, trainers of teachers, university professors and consultants who love, honor and revere the written word think of this experience?” I asked.  “How might this course enhance  your students’ learning, lives and writing experiences as well as your own?”

Joy Towner, Chair, Division of Education, Judson University,  admitted she’d thought of  herself as a poetry drop-out.  She now describes herself as a “recovering poetry drop-out.” She plans to incorporate poetry in her fall course for teacher methods.

Reading Consultant Ben Zulauf feels he has a better understanding of the work authors put into their writing.  He sees himself now “better equipped to convey the struggle that authors face in finding the perfect word/phrase/sentence.”

High School English teacher Vicki Billimack “delights in the unexpected rush of inspiration, the fuzzy-eyed realization that hours have passed in the act of creating.” She likes the surprise at what she sees on the page at the end of those hours.  “This experience,” she wrote, “was a much-needed, surprisingly-pleasurable kick-in-the-pants to GET WRITING!”

“My soul is delighted,” Moody Bible Institute Director of Christian School Educator Mary Martin confessed,” because a new window I have never looked through before has been opened, and now I just want to fly through it.”

 Fourth Grade TeacherBeth Gottlieb deemed the course “challenging yet inspiring.  This has been a real stretching for me and I think the one experience I will take back to my students is my experience in the revision process."

Judson University Literacy Faculty member Val Cawley returns to her students having reaffirmed an important belief – “formative feedback for writers (whether they be children or adults) should help writers build the piece – not destroy their self-esteem."
(Val even wrote a poem on scaffolding feedback!)

Reading Consultant Maria DiBella-Schlup took away a gem: “Trust the process.”

So did Second Grade Teacher Megan Truax: “I now consider myself a writer.”

K-5 Principal Lindsay Allen spoke of the confidence she gained - from being stretched in her thinking as well as from her writing of difficult and private pieces.

                     From L to R: Joan Bauer, Dr. Steven Layne, me, Sara Holbrook

“Write on!” Sara Holbrook sang out as we bid farewell to one another.

In the car ride home, Joan Bauer confided how invigorated she felt having had this singular experience, how grateful she felt in how the students helped her unearth her story ideas. “I admire and cheer them on!”

I second that sentiment and offer one dozen THANK YOU’s! – two to the amazing TeachingAuthors Sara Holbrook and Joan Bauer for gifting us all, myself included, with their smarts and talents, nine to the soon-to-be Doctors of Education in Literacy for offering up their stories and Spirit and lastly, one to Dr. Steven Layne, a true TeachingAuthor, for inviting me to help his beloved students make all sorts of magic, belletristic and otherwise, these past three weeks.

Oh, how I wish our readers had been there!

Esther Hershenhorn


JoAnn Early Macken said...

Oh, how I love "a new window I have never looked through before has been opened, and now I just want to fly through it.” Sounds like a wonderful opportunity for everyone involved. Thanks for the update!

Cerrito SCBWI said...

What an amazing experience! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and excitement --- the enthusiasm oozed off the webpage!!!