Monday, March 19, 2018

A Note From Bobbi Miller

As you may remember, I have a cat named Comma. This week, Comma fell seriously ill. He is on the mend, but taking care of him is quite labor-intensive at the moment.  As a result, I have not had the chance to write my entry for our current exploration into Women's History. Please accept my apologies.

This is one of my favorite topics, and I love this series. I encourage you to visit our Women's History Month extravaganza.

Thank you for your patience.

Bobbi Miller

Friday, March 16, 2018


Howdy, Campers and happy Poetry Friday!

The link to PF and my rough draft poems are below, along with a Poetry Challenge to you. I really want to read what you've written!

We TeachingAuthors are doing a round robin, of course, but first: Bobbi Miller has written a timely post about the power of students which you should not miss (it goes without saying, of course, that you shouldn't miss any of our delicious posts!)

Now it's time to leap into our Women's History Month extravaganza. First is Carmela's Women's History Month Sonnet (the first she's ever written!), then Esther offers an explosion of resources on women's history as well as a top ten books list about powerful, creative women.

What woman in history could I write a poem about? My subject was hiding in plain sight.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas was an environmentalist, author, journalist, feminist, civil rights defender for whom the now-famous Parkland, Florida high school was named.

(Note: all quotes are from this Wikipedia article, which is particularly well written.)

Born in 1890, Marjory changed the state of Florida. Her book "The Everglades: River of Grass was published in 1947 and sold out of its first printing in a month. The book's first line, 'There are no other Everglades in the world', has been called the 'most famous passage ever written about the Everglades'...It "galvanized people...[and] has been compared to Rachel Carson's 1962 exposé of the harmful effects of DDTSilent Spring; both books are 'groundbreaking calls to action that made citizens and politicians take notice' [and]'remains the definitive reference on the plight of the Florida Everglades.'"

"Mrs. Douglas was half the size of her fellow speakers [5'2”, 100 lbs] and she wore huge dark glasses, which along with the huge floppy hat made her look like Scarlett O'Hara as played by Igor Stravinsky"

"At the age of 79...Douglas founded Friends of the Everglades to protest the construction of a jetport in the Big Cypress portion of the Everglades. She justified her involvement saying, 'It is a woman's business to be interested in the environment. It's an extended form of housekeeping.'"

What a tireless, funny, cunning, strong-willed woman!  Of course there should be a high school named after her! 

Here are rough drafts of two poems about her. The first I wrote before I had read very much about her. The second was written after I had read more and was zinging with excitement. But I was also overwhelmed; there was too much wrap my arms around!

I have new respect for those of you who unwrap layers of  history to make it concise, exciting, lyrical and accessible. How do you non-fiction writers DO it?!?! 

I don't have much distance from either poem...which works best for you?

by April Halprin Wayland
This building
this hallway
we crouched there
in darkness
we fled it
in terror
this woman
before us
was gutsy
our candles
are lit by
her insight,
her fire.

MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS ~ In Defense Of The Everglades
a found poem
by April Halprin Wayland

5 feet 2
huge dark glasses
huge floppy hat

with a tongue like a switchblade 

she was not impressed
Can't you boo any louder?
everybody stopped slapping mosquitoes...

nobody can stop me

nobody did.
poems © 2018 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved

Marjory Stoneman Douglas
Don't you just know Marjory would be proud of the students who are stepping up and speaking out?

Here's my challenge to you, dear Readers: read the Wikipedia article (and/or other sources) and write your own poem about her...then share it in our comments. I really want to read what you come up with!

PS: Consider joining KidLit Marches for Kids on March 24th. Here's the Publishers Weekly article about this organization.

And thank you for hosting PF on TeacherDance, Linda!

Monday, March 12, 2018

It’s Women’s History Month! Book It!

It’s Women’s History Month!
There are a gazillion different ways to celebrate the vital role women have played in America’s history.
Participating institutions sponsoring events, programs and exhibits include The Library of Congress, the National Archives and Records Administration, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Gallery of Art, the National Park Service, the Smithsonian Institute and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Given our readership, however, I say: just book it, especially with an Amelia Bloomer List award-winning children’s book!
The annual List is a project of the Feminist Task Force of the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association.  Titles include both fiction and  nonfiction for early, middle grade and young adult readers.
Click here to read the entire list.
Here are the Top Ten Amelia Bloom List winners for 2018.

Books are selected each January and must have been published in the U.S. in the previous 18 months. 
The only criteria?  They must “provide role models of strong, capable, creative women.”
According to this year’s Committee, “...these books show girls and women exploring exciting ways to solve practical dilemmas through the courage of their convictions. All of them spur the imagination and expand the limits of dreams while confronting traditional female stereotypes. And best of all, these books are fun reading!”

Amelia Bloomer, in case you didn’t know, was a singular feminist pioneer, a nonconformist and modern rebel who lent her name to a daring 19th century garment when she popularized in her newspaper The Lily the baggy gathered pants worn beneath a woman’s knee-length skirt - i.e. bloomers! Amelia believed writing was the best way for women to work for reform.  The Lily was the first newspaper for women, issued from 1849 until 1853 and published in Seneca Falls, NY. It began as a home distribution journal for members of the Seneca Falls Ladies Temperance Society.

FYI: The Lily has undergone a 2017 revival
Its mission is two-fold: "to empower with news and information and promote
inclusivity by exposing diverse voices.”
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and are all viable connection options.
Shana Corey’s picture book biography YOU FORGOT YOUR SKIRT, AMELIA BLOOMER (Scholastic Press) does one swell job telling Amelia’s important story to young readers.

Speaking of telling important stories of important women to young readers, meet three Chicago-area children’s book authors who did just that. 

From left to right:
Suzanne Slade, author of DANGEROUS JANE (Peachtree), Barb Rosenstock, author of DOROTHEA'S EYES (Calkins Creek), and Kate Hannigan, author of A LADY HAS THE FLOOR (Calkins Creek).

This trio of award-winning picture book biographers celebrated Women’s History Month this past Wednesday, March 7 at 57th Street Books in Hyde Park.  It was SRO and deservedly so. 

Happy Reading! Happy Celebrating!

Esther Hershenhorn

Friday, March 9, 2018

A Women's History Month Sonnet

In honor of Women's History Month and Poetry Friday, today I'm sharing an original sonnet about a little-known woman of history. You'll find my poem at the end of this post.

Today happens to also be the official release date of the movie adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle's classic novel, A Wrinkle in Time. Yesterday, for International Women's Day, a number of people Tweeted about their favorite female authors as part of #IWD2018. Well, Madeleine L'Engle is one of my favorite authors period, male or female.

Our Not for Kids Only Book Club reread A Wrinkle in Time for our March book and we'll be going to see the movie this weekend. While I'm disappointed that the early reviews aren't very positive, I'm still looking forward to the outing. I hadn't read the book in years, yet some of the scenes were still quite vivid in my memory. I'd completely forgotten other parts, though, and I'm curious to see how the story has been interpreted for the film.

Instead of tweeting about authors, yesterday I shared an image honoring the two amazing sisters who inspired my YA novel, Playing by Heart.

As I've shared here before, Playing by Heart grew out of my research for a nonfiction biography of Italian linguist and mathematician Maria Gaetana Agnesi. Even though I have an undergraduate degree in Mathematics and Computer Science, I never heard of Agnesi until I came across her name in an article about little-known women of history. I wrote the biography, in part, because I found her life fascinating, but also because there are so many myths about her, both in print and online. I still hope to find a publisher for that biography. Meanwhile, I have created a website to dispel some of the myths. Yesterday, for International Women's Day, I posted the above image there, along with some credible references for those who'd like to know the truth of Maria Gaetana's story. I also shared that I'm currently offering a special Playing by Heart "Book Bag and Swag" giveaway for Women's History Month. I invite all our TeachingAuthors readers to enter the giveaway. You'll find all the details on this page of my website, along with a link to where you can download a free PDF excerpt of Playing by Heart.

Later this month, Carla will announce a special Women's History Month book giveaway here on our TeachingAuthors blog. Be sure to watch for that!

I mentioned above that I'd be sharing an original sonnet today--the first I ever wrote. I was inspired by a sonnet published as a tribute to Maria Gaetana Agnesi when she was only five years old. That sonnet, written in Italian, praised how “marvelously” she spoke her first foreign language, French. (Maria Gaetana mastered seven languages by the time she was a teen.) Since I couldn't translate the original sonnet without losing its form, I wrote my own, which you can read below. My sonnet, like the one published in 1723, follows the pattern found in “Italian" sonnets. They have a “turn” or change in thought that is signaled by a change in the rhyme pattern. I hope you can spot the “turn” in my poem. 

By the way, when re-reading A Wrinkle in Time I was struck by something Mrs. Whatsit says that I didn't recall. It, too reads like a poem:

Be sure to check out this month's Poetry Friday roundup hosted by Michelle at Today's Little Ditty.

And remember to always Write with Joy!

Monday, March 5, 2018

When Lightning Strikes

I provide interactive videoconferences for schools all over the country.  My programs are listed and available to request on the web site for the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC).  I do a variety of programs; one of my favorites is teaching a class of students how to brainstorm.   

First I explain that in my session-and in brainstorming-there are no wrong answers.  I assure them that when they brainstorm for their own ideas it is quick, painless and best of all, no one will see their ideas or grade their brainstorming session.  It is only for them and will help THEM.  And I really mean it.  

Brainstorming is a prewriting skill that with minimal effort produces maximum results.

Once I explain how easy brainstorming is to do, I tell them why brainstorming helps.  It is simple:  the point of brainstorming is to come up with a unique angle for your research paper (or book or article in the case of writers.) 

In these sessions I model brainstorming and lead them along with me.  The way I teach brainstorming is to tell them to jot down things you know about the topic AND things you don’t know—in the form of questions.  You don’t have to know the answers to the questions.  Sometimes it is the questions from a brainstorming session that gives you the angle of your research paper.

The key is to just let thoughts about the topic develop naturally and let one thought go to the next.  The first few thoughts on any topics are usually about the basic things that everyone knows.   The “good stuff” and by that I mean unique ideas- are never those first few ideas.  The best ideas are the fifth or sixth or later ideas that you consider once you think a little longer about the topic. 

As my session continues, I get them to participate in on the spot brainstorming.  Soon they start giving suggestions.  I remind them there are no wrong answers or silly answers-it is all just loose thoughts.  No pressure. 

Once they get the hang of that, we move on.  We brainstorm again and this time I ask them to give me some ideas on possible angles for a research paper.  They can do it.

In less than an hour, many of these students seem to really grasp the benefits of brainstorming.   The feedback I get from teachers for the session make me think that for some of these students, they have a good grasp on a brainstorming as a useful tool in their prewriting toolbox. 

Carla Killough McClafferty

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Scribble Scribble Joy Joy! (apologies to Ren and Stimpy)

   Being last to blog on a topic is tough stuff.  Everyone has said what I was going to say, and all my reasons sound incredibly selfish.

   Hang in there with me.

    Writing is where I find my joy. I am never so happy as when I am in the "zone," writing away, forgetting where I am. (Conversely, I am never so miserable as when I am stuck in a world of my own creation, trying to write my way out without a map.)

    Many of my students come in the door loving writing.

    And a lot of them don't. Parents no longer mistake my writing camps for an ESOL class or remedial grammar.  What I do get are kids who are afraid to put a complete sentence together. Thanks to the "testing" system of "teaching" writing, students are terrified to take chances. Maybe they'll make a mistake. Maybe they'll spell something wrong. Maybe they don't know the right word in English for what they want to say. Their regular year teachers are focused on the five paragraph essay, because that is what is tested.

     There is no test for creativity.

     What I try to give my students is the joy of writing. The rules for writing a five paragraph essay are not the "rules" of creative writing. There are no "rules." (There really are a few, but I sneak them in as creative "suggestions" during revision.)

      I give them "permission' to write whatever they want (barring the obscene or racist). Someone always tries to test me.

     "So I can write about zombies?"

     "Sure, just so long as you aren't re-writing an episode of The Living Dead. I will know." (And I will, too. I don't watch TLD, but my daughter does.)

     "I can write about soccer?  Hockey?"

     "Why not?"

     Once they are "permitted" to use their imaginations, I try to give them the Joy of Discovering Just the Right Word."  English is a difficult language to learn, but the many words, so little time. (By the way, we never use the word "vocabulary."  We talk about finding "better words.") Why use a worn-to-the-ground word that doesn't really say what you mean, when you can find a ripe, plump, juicy one that is EXACTLY what you are trying to say.  The thesaurus (which I can never say without stuttering, lisping or both) becomes their best friend. I discourage them from using the thesaurus from whatever writing program they on their home computers. They offer a paltry selection, usually of the overused variety. Think the McDonald's Dollar Menu vs the one at The Cheesecake Factory. (If you aren't familiar with CF's menu, the last time I was there it was 32 pages of small print. Plus inserts. And specials. And of course....cheesecake.)

Desperately seeking the right word in thesaurus. 
Scribble, scribble, joy, joy!
 Kids who were stuck in a six word/noun/verb sentence pattern, branch out into other ways of writing. Sentence fragments. Run-ons. Single words. Made-up words (as long as you know what they mean, and so will the reader). It's all creative. Creative writing and a five paragraph essay have one thing in common: they use  words.

    So what do I like best about teaching--sharing the joy.  Watching their faces take on that other-worldly look as they scribble in their notebooks....putting the "right" words together, building their own special world.

    Because their joy rekindles mine. Teaching refreshes my own writing soul. Their enthusiasm and love reminds me of why I choose to write for and work with children.

    See, I told you. Purely selfish reasons.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman


Monday, February 26, 2018

Be Brave, Be Loud, Be Better

Photo by Cynthia Cotten

It is light, the world is awake
And the great night flees the dawn
That came
A wild light
Casting a somber radiance on the world.
The red is the anger, blood and shame
In the eyes of awakened nations.

--Sandor Petofi, 1848.

Carmela started our discussion with Two Things I Love About Teaching Writing. Esther continued with the many ways she connects with her students and the resources she connects her students to, and April followed with how she likes to perform for her students. stating, “And that's what I like about teaching: the intangible, gloriously wonderful, unpredictableness of it all.”

What I like about teaching are the students. Their hope and courage to face the future. Because students change the world. And this week reflects that certainty of that more than ever. Once again, students march to change the world.

Sandor Petofi was a Hungarian poet and student, whose poem “Nemzeti dal (National Song) inspired the Hungarian war for independence from the Hapsburg Empire in 1848. Over a hundred years later, in 1956,  at the height of the Cold War, his poetry inspired the students of Budapest to demonstrate Soviet-led policies. The students led the way to the collapse of the Soviet-indoctrinated Hungarian People’s Republic .

 Set against the backdrop of economic and social changes sweeping post-Mao China, students led a march in 1989 against Chinese political corruption in a fight for democratic reforms, the freedom of the press and freedom of speech. A million people gathered in Tiananmen Square, facing down military tanks. This iconic David and Goliath-esque photograph reflects the pivotal moment as one student's extraordinary courage ultimately stopped the onslought.

In our own history, more than 4000 school children marched in 1963 through Birmingham, Alabama,  known as the most segregated city in America at the time. The Children’s Crusade became a defiant and defining moment in the Civil Rights Movement. Even as soldiers and police pounced upon the students, jailing as many as 1000 the first day, the students still came out in droves, chanting “Freedom.” The world was watching, and judging, as images of young children march up to snarling police dogs, police club women and use high pressure hoses to sweep the children aside. For more information, see Teaching a People’s History/ Zinn Education Project

Once again, students are changing the world. Poets and students inspire their teachers. They teach us to be brave, and be loud, and be better than we thought we could be. To be better than what we are.

Never Again
(for Emma Gonzalez)

Be brave, be loud,
stand tall, stand proud,
and make your voices heard.
Enough’s enough—
stay strong, stay tough,
and keep on, undeterred.

Ignore those who
discredit you,
who doubt you’ll see success.
To them we say,
“You’ve had your day,
and now we call ‘BS!’”

So, carry on
until you’ve won.
Reform is overdue.
Shrug off those hacks—
we’ve got your backs.

We stand, we march with you.

--©Cynthia Cotten  2018. All rights reserved. 

Bobbi Miller

Friday, February 23, 2018

The #1 Best Thing About Teaching

Howdy Campers and Happy Poetry Friday! (links to PF, to my poem, and to my autographed Passover book are below)

Shhh!  Come sneak into the TeachingAuthors' Teacher's Lounge and eavesdrop as we consider what we like most about being teachers.

Carmela started us out with Two Things I Love About Teaching Writing, Esther continues our theme with the many ways she connects with her students and the resources she connects her students to, and today I'm up to bat.
First, may I say that this is a somber (and an important) time to think about teachers. And students. And about how much we as a people value them. I had originally planned to post a funny poem about revision and how scary it can be, but the images were inappropriate at this time in our country.
Okay. Here's what I like about teaching:.

I like to perform.

But I particularly like when I am most authentic, when I forget myself, when my light reaches theirs.

drawing © 2018 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved

by April Halprin Wayland

At the end of class she says,

"Write something you want,

something about yourself you want to change,

or something you worry about."

Heads down, pens flying, we write.

I use my purple ink pen.

Then we all look up at her,


"Now," she says,

standing by the windows in shiny black heels,

"rip it into a thousand pieces and throw it away."

Someone gasps.

"Don't share

what you wrote

with anyone."

Our eyes widen.

"That's right: this idea is yours.

To think about. To live.

Not to post on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat.

Not to tell a soul."

We ceremonially


our revelations

to bits.

We file

out of class

in silence;

in shock.

I can't tell you what I wrote. I won't.

But I can say that it's

written in purple ink

inside me.

poem © 2018 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved

Here's what I wrote to fellow TeachingAuthor Esther Hershenhorn one night:

Just home from teaching. I was really dreading tonight's class... Revision is a hard topic to get through--how much work it takes to revise and rewrite. But it turned out to be a gloriously wonderful class... So I guess I'm a teacher after all.
It may have been the best class I've taught in years.  Funny how that happens.

And that's what I like about teaching: the intangible, gloriously wonderful, unpredictableness of it all.

Thank you for hosting PF today, Liz at

And one more thing...Passover is March 30-April 7th this year, so...

...if you're looking for AUTOGRAPHED copies of my picture book, More Than Enough ~ A Passover Story (Reviewed in the New York Times!) call the fabulous folks at my local independent bookstore, {pages} a bookstore, 310-318-0900 to pre-pay (+tax & shipping) and specify who it’s for. Gift wrapping available on request.

Or buy at it your local independent book store!

(If there are no indies near you, that’s another story. Then by all means buy it here.)

posted with hope for teachers and students everywhere by April Halprin Wayland with help from Dropsy, a particularly contemplative goldfish in our pond.