Friday, February 16, 2024

My Word for the Year—Hope by Mary Ann Rodman


 My word for this year is right next to my front door. Hope. 

I am a pessimist by nature. I think I inherited this “attribute” from my mom who had two favorite sayings. 1.  Don’t get your hopes up. 2. Don’t expect the best and you’ll never be disappointed. (So that’s how The Greatest Generation got through the Depression, WWII and raising us Boomers. Chronic skepticism.)

So when my college roommate sent me this during the Pandemic, I had to chuckle. The world was going to hell in a hand basket, and she literally sent me Hope, courtesy of UPS. I hung it where I would see it multiple times a day. Who knew? Maybe it would inspire hope. Right, I thought. As if!

This has been a particularly grim winter for me. Battleship grey skies…not even clouds, just solid grey overhead. Every time I turned on my computer I learned another cousin, friend, former student or had died. I was writing myself into literary cul-de-sacs. And let’s not talk about the general state of the world. In fact, the only hopeful thing in life was that little word, hanging by the front door.

But you know what? The sun started making cameo appearances throughout the day. People didn’t stop dying but now there was good news as well. Friends who had searched decades for an agent, acquired one. First time authors of a certain age (which is now how I refer to myself) were being published. My long dormant brain became aware of story ideas.

In other words, I felt hopeful. I also had faith, that elusive concept that makes hope possible. As the Bible says  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” --Hebrew 11:1

I will write my way out of those cul-de-sacs. Those ideas will blossom into stories.

I can feel that fluttering of hope that Emily Dickinson wrote of.  If there comes a time when hope seems to be taking another sabbatical, I can always recall my favorite Woody Allen quote: 

 “How wrong Emily Dickinson was! Hope is not the thing with feathers. The thing with feathers has turned out to be my nephew. I must take him to a specialist in Zurich.”

Hope also has a sense of humor.

When all else fails, there are the wise words of Cormac McCarthy—“Keep a little fire burning; however small, however hidden.” 

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Friday, February 2, 2024

My Word for 2024

 

Great minds think alike. Or rather similar Spirits recognize 

a similar need.

My word for 2024 – LIGHT, both the Noun and the Verb, and 

Carmela’s LIGHTER, both the Adjective and the Adverb, share 

the same root:         

            The word “light” comes from Old English leht 

            (Anglian), Leoht (West Saxon), meaning 

            “brightness, radiant energy, that which makes 

             things visible.”

I admit (painfully):

My expertise at finding silver linings?

My ability to focus on the positive?

To date, neither has totally reduced the sometimes-crushing 

weight of our oft-dark World that surprisingly leaves me – 

a Cubs Fan! – wobbly, unable to navigate.


Fortunately, the two inspirational quotes I keep in view on my 

real-life desk top broadcast a qualifying NEVERTHELESS.

Dr. Martin Luther King’s words help me steady my footing, 

look up and find my way.

He’d been asked if given the choice, what era would he live in?  

He acknowledged his land’s troubles and confusion, messes 

and sicknesses.

     “But I know, somehow,” he said, “that only when it’s dark 

       enough can you see the stars.”

        
(Curly Girl Designs)     

The Dark, I’ve learned, can indeed be a Good Thing.

So, thirty-three days into this New Year, I continue to focus all of 

me on the Anyones and Anythings who and that gift me with joy, 

wonder, cause for celebration and/or prompt me to count my 

blessings on a quarter-hour basis.

All those lights, all those nouns, especially the Proper ones, keep 

me keepin’ on.

Ah, the Possibilities!

 

But even more important, I learned all those lights empower me so 

can do the same for others.

They recharge my batteries so I can burn bright, so I can light the 

way enabling others to keep keepin’ on.

                                                       (Mary Lou Falstreau)


 
L.R. Knost’s words remind me. “The broken world waits in 

darkness for the light that is you.” 

Ah, the opportunities!


 Thanks to Mary Lee at A(nother) Year of Reading for hosting 

today’s Poetry Friday. 


 In signing off, I can’t help but recall the motto of my family’s 

electrician Moish Dove who happened to be my father’s lodge 

brother.  “Let there be light!”


Esther Hershenhorn

p.s.

My go-to sources for inspirational cards that help to keep me, 

and thus everyone I know and love, keepin’ on?

Curly Girl Designs and Marylou Falstreau’s Cards and Prints!

Friday, January 19, 2024

My Word of the Year for 2024

Happy Poetry Friday! I share a poem by James Stephens at the end of this post along with a link to this week's roundup. 

Today, I kick off our first TeachingAuthors' topic for 2024: our one word (or short phrase) theme for the year. Three weeks into January, I'm still getting used to my word: LIGHTER

I've been feeling a bit burdened lately and wanted a word that would help me feel lighter physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I hope that, in turn, I'll bring more light to those I encounter. 

To help remember my word, I write it at the top of my to-do list every morning. Since I'm a visual learner, I like to also draw an image that helps me keep my word in mind throughout the day. Unfortunately, my drawing skills are quite limited, so the image needs to be something simple. I ended up choosing a kite.

Image of a vertically striped kite flying against a blue sky with puffy white clouds
Photo by Charlotte Harrison on Unsplash

It's amazing how one little word can shift your perspective. Thanks to my newfound focus on LIGHTER, I recently noticed that it's no longer dark at 5:00 pm. Given the frigid temperatures and the piles of snow all around, if not for my word, I don't think I would have realized that the days here in the Northern Hemisphere are already lengthening. 

One way I'm lightening my mood and outlook is by reading humorous poetry, such as Animals in Pants written by Suzy Levinson and illustrated by Kristin & Kevin Howdeshell (Abrams) and My Head Has a Bellyache and More Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups written by Chris Harris and illustrated by Andrea Tsurmi (Little Brown).

And this month I'm especially excited about a new Think Poetry class I'll be taking with the amazing team of Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell--I'll be learning ways to add humor to my own poetry! My heart is flying at the mere thought. 🪁

I'm also reading poetry that isn't necessarily humorous, but still uplifting. For the last few months, I've been savoring the poems in the beautiful anthology Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters and illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Candlewick).

When I read the poem for yesterday, January 18, "White Fields," the imagery really hit home—here in northern Illinois the fields are indeed covered in snow. And since the poem is in the public domain, I decided to share it today:

          White Fields
          by James Stephens

     In the winter time we go
     Walking in the fields of snow;

     Where there is no grass at all;
     Where the top of every wall,

     Every fence, and every tree,
     Is as white as white can be.

     Pointing out the way we came—
     Every one of them the same—

     All across the fields there be
     Prints in silver filigree;

     And our mothers always know,
     By the footprints in the snow,

     Where it is the children go. 

There's one more thing helping me feel LIGHTER these days: Two of my math-based poems appear in the STEM edition of Tyger Tyger Magazine. I feel especially honored because the editor created a terrific Teaching Resource to go with my poems. You can see all the poems and Teaching Resources in the issue by following the links on the Tyger Tyger website here. I'd love to know what you think of my poems!

Poetry Friday logo by Linda Mitchell
I hope this post has left you feeling a bit LIGHTER. Don't forget to check out this week's Poetry Friday roundup hosted by Robin Hood Black at Life on the Deckle Edge.


Carmela 🪁

Friday, January 5, 2024

Intro to Writing Children's Poetry for the Brave, Big-Hearted, and Curious on Jan 17th


Howdy, Campers! Happy New Year and Happy Poetry Friday! (The link to this week's PF is below.)

This is a quickie to tell you that once again I'm teaching a one day, three-hour virtual class called Intro to Writing Children's Poetry for the Brave, Big-Hearted, and Curious! (my title, not necessarily UCLA's). 

We'll be inspired by wonderful poems, play with some of the basic poetic tools, and have time for writing and sharing...all in just three hours! 

Class is on Wednesday, January 17th from noon-3pm PST. 

Enrollment, which opened January 3rd, is limited. 
There is always a waiting list
Here's a rough draft of today's poem...can anyone relate?

THE TEACHER’S BRAIN SPEAKS
by April Halprin Wayland

I double, double dare you

to coax them out.

Set aside their cell phones?

I highly doubt.

 

I don’t think you’ll inspire them

or set their hair on fire when

you face them all

and class begins...

 

But wait a sec—they're *galvanized*—

their eyes are bright—they’re energized!

There’s silence (save the sound of pens)

How did you do that? Very Zen.

 

I guess I’m wrong again.

2024 April Halprin Wayland, all rights reserved

image by stockking on freepik
Thank you, Marcie, for hosting Poetry Friday at Marcie Flinchum Atkins

posted with hope and a big smile by April Halprin Wayland, with help from Kitty and our tiniest pond turtle, Ted Lasso.

Friday, December 15, 2023

The Making of History

As Teaching Authors end our year exploring our favorite books, I am focusing on historical fiction, and on the making of history. History often carries the stigma of being dry and irrelevant, says Y.S. Lee (The Agency 1: Spy in the House, 2010), but “the freedom of fiction is one way of exploring a subject that may seem intimating or remote. After all, it’s a kind of fantasy, a parallel world in which people act with recognizable human impulses and ideals but abide by very different rules.”

The genre of historical fiction is very broad, one that Mary Burns (1995) labels a “hybrid and a shape-shifter,” combining history with fiction.  Or, as Trevor Cairney (2009) suggests, historical fiction is where “literature meets history.” Avi, an award-winning master of the genre, offers that some historical fiction stays close to the known facts, while others are little more than costume drama. “Ultimately, what is most important is the story, and the characters.” Facts, according to Avi, do not make a story. “Believable people do…Truth may be stranger than fiction, but fiction makes truth less a stranger.”

Remember that historical fiction is the coming together of two opposing elements: fact and fiction. History tends to be written by those who survived it. The meaning of history, just as it is for the novel, lays “not in the chain of events themselves, but on the historian’s [and writer’s] interpretation of it,” as Jill Paton Walsh once noted.

I’m often asked how I go about researching my own historical fiction. Because I tend to write stories of forgotten heroes, even as I reveal familiar events, in new, unexpected ways my initial research focuses on titles that explore this other side of history, allowing me to experience those perspectives that were not allowed their own stories. History is more than dates. History is people, too. In the best of historical fiction, as with any story, a child becomes a hero who gains power over their situation, a theme that contemporary readers appreciate. 


Harriet Jacobs: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, written by herself (first published in 1861 by Thayer & Eldridge; L. Barsky, ed., The Townsend Library, 2004.) is a heart wrenching autobiography. Jacobs is addressing White Northern women who cannot comprehend the evils of slavery. Her story reveals in excruciating detail her journey from slave girl to free woman, how she navigates the horrors of her life in her fight to preserve her human dignity. Writing her story is Jacobs’ ultimate act of self-assertion.

The Autobiography of Solomon Northup: Twelve Years a Slave (first published in 1853 by Derby & Miller; S. Eakin, Eakin Films & Publishing, 2013.) is another gut punch of a read. Northup is a free man, a skilled carpenter and violinist. Offered a high-paying job as a musician, he traveled to Washington, D.C. Too late he discovered he had been tricked. Drugged and bound, he was sold as a slave, and sent to New Orleans. In her article, The Cultural Significance of Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave , Mollie Lieblich explains:

Created as propaganda for abolitionism, slave narratives often conformed to reoccurring narrative structures and literary conventions. Authenticity was considered essential. Most pre-emancipation slave narratives include phrases such as “written by himself” or “herself” on title pages, as well as numerous testimonials, prefaces, and letters of endorsement by white abolitionists and supporters. The narratives usually began, “I was born,” identifying a specific birthplace but no date of birth, since slaves often did not have that knowledge. … Slave narratives proved that, despite the odds, many slaves managed to escape their degradation and learned how to read and write. After escaping their bondage and making contacts with abolitionists, they were able to tell their tale to others.”



Ashes: The Seeds of America Trilogy, by Laurie Halse Anderson (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016) is a modern classic (in my opinion), a thumping good read as noted by the New York Times, that illustrates this process of blending fact and fiction. She weaves these experiences of Jacobs and Northup into a new life in this story of enslaved Isabel as she continues her search for her sister, Ruth (began in Anderson’s award-winning, Chains, another of my favorite reads), and their flight to freedom.


“Historical fiction helps young readers develop a feeling for a living past, illustrating the continuity of life,” says Karen Cushman, another master writer of historical fiction. Reading a blend of history and historical fiction helps me envision how I might bring my own characters to life.

Just a note, Teaching Authors is taking a winter break and our posts will resume on January 19.

Until then, I wish you a historical happy holiday!

--Bobbi Miller

 

 

 

 

Friday, December 1, 2023

My End of the Year Round Up

  I both love and hate doing the "end of the year books" post. I love sharing my favorite books with you, but hate picking just a couple.  In years past, I picked one book per category--picture book, middle grade and YA. This year I'm adding my new obsession--graphic novels...so four best books.

If I had to pick just one, it would be my YA selection, Artifice by Sharon Cameron (Scholastic.) It's been awhile since I've read something so engrossing that I had to ration my reading to an hour a day. Otherwise, I would've read for hours straight, ignoring appointments, phones and my family.


 The action takes place (mostly) over one week in Amsterdam, September 1943. Cameron based her book on the real lives of art forger Han Van Meergen and Johann van Hulse, a professor who is credited with saving 600 Jewish babies from the hands of the Nazis. The protagonist, however is seventeen-year-old Isa DeSmit. The Nazis have confiscated all the "degenerate" art (like Picasso and Chagall)from her father's gallery, essentially closing the business. The taxes are due on the gallery, which is also her home. Isa's mother is dead and her father, lost in grief, lives in another reality. Isa's best friend Truus has disappeared into the shadow world of the Dutch Resistance. With the Nazis snapping up art, left and right (real and fake), Isa decides to sell a forged Rembrandt, painted by her father, to Van Meergen's gallery, who in turn, sells it to Hitler himself. The money will pay the taxes. This sets off a chain of events that zooms from selling forgeries, to hiding Jewish children (and real Rembrandts) master to an encounter with a young Nazi named Michel who says he want to defect...but does he really? Cameron skillfully weaves a half dozen subplots, while asking"What is real?" in a world of forged art, secret identities, and collaborators. Artifice literally left me breathless and kind of exhausted...but in a satisfactory way. 



Middle Grade--Nothing Else but Miracles by Kate Albus (Margaret Ferguson Books)

OK, I'm biased. Having published a Middle Grade WWII era novel,  I fell in love with this story set NYC's Lower East Side. When their pop goes off to war, the motherless Byrne siblings, ages 17,12 and 6 (and their cat), he promises them that they will be safe. "The neighborhood will give you what you need," he assures them. "The neighborhood," a character in itself, proves Pop right. 

The story is told from middle child Dory's point-of-view, with humorous asides where the author directly addresses the reader. Although the Byrne's neighborhood conspires with the kids to avoid social workers and truant officers who could put them in an orphanage, there is still The Landlord. When their kindly landlord dies, his replacement wants the rent on time, no pets, and would turn the Brynes to the dreaded authorities if he discovers that they are living on their own. To complicate matters, oldest son Fish's 18th birthday is fast approaching, when he will be eligible for the draft. His shipyard job and Pop's military pay barely keep the family afloat. Dory can tell no one about the worries...at least not anyone human. Her "secret friend" is the Statue of Liberty. Dory lives close enough to Battery Park, that she often goes there to confide to "The Lady," whose weathered copper presence reassures her.

  This is historical fiction at its best. Not a single off note, or anachronism, or whiff of 21st century attitude or language kept me completely within Bryne's 1940's New York. Albus based her story on her own family's tales of this place and era. She is my new favorite historical fiction writer!



Picture Book--In Between by April Pulley Sayre and Jeff Sayre(Beach Lane)

I would've selected this as my picture book of the year, even if April Pulley Sayre wasn't a good friend and MFA classmate. I would choose it even if I didn't know that this would be one of April's last books before her untimely death in 2021.  

In spare words and lovely, close-up photography, the Sayres explore nature's moments of transition, the place between just hatched (or born) and maturity. Newly hatched birds, but not ready to fly. Frogs, no longer a tadpole, but not ready to leap from water to land. Although it looks like s picture book, it's a book for everybody, because all living things experience the "in between."  



Graphic--First Time for Everything by Dan Santat (First Second)

I am not alone in thinking that author-illustrator Santat's graphic memoir is something special. It won this year's National Book Award for Young People's Literature and has been named School Library Journal's Best Book of the Year...and award season is just getting underway! (Santat won the 2015 Caldecott Award for The Adventures of Beetle: The Unimaginary Friend.)

I readily identified with eighth grader Dan. I too, was the "good kid," who did what adults expected and stayed out of trouble. Dan and I both felt "invisible" to classmates, but that didn't stop us from being bullied. (My personal definition of hell is reliving 7th and 8th grade for all eternity.) So Dan is far from enthused when his parents send him on a class trip to Europe. (I also went on a European "class trip" but I was 16.)

At first, just being in a different country makes no difference in Dan's life. He's stuck with the same classmates that made fun of him. He doesn't understand why the adults in his life thought the trip was a good idea. But as he travels through France, Germany, Switzerland and England, a series of events slowly change him. He discovers Fanta and fondue. He sneaks into a semi-final match at Wimbledon and by chance sees Stefan Edberg defeat the great John McEnroe And he falls in love.

Although the book is set in 1989, the dynamics and emotions of the trip are timeless. It could've been the same trip I took in 1971. (Although the absence of cell phones does make a difference in the choices Dan is forced to make.) Not everyone has the opportunity to take such a trip, but reading A First Time for Everything is the next best thing.

I hope some of you will share your favorite books of this year in the comments.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman





Friday, November 17, 2023

Year End Thoughts on a Timeless Picture Book

      I read at least one picture book a day. As a kindergarten teacher, I steer away from picture books that blatantly try and teach my students “lessons.” Adults who impose their morality onto unsuspecting 4 and 5-year-olds usually don’t hold the student’s interest. I am particularly sensitive about books that aren’t respectful of young children, seeing them as blank slates and not the interesting, thinking humans that they are. 






     Children want to hear stories.  They don’t want to be preached to.  But find a good story where universal themes are woven into the characters and their relationships, and you will hold the rapt attention of an entire class.  I’m always on the hunt for these great stories that leave us hankering for a good discussion or leave us with a feel-good moment.  Lately they feel like they’re few and far between. 

     Don’t get me wrong. The books my fellow picture book authors are writing and that publishing companies are buying are beautifully written. But compared to the literature from earlier decades, many feel like they are leaning out of storytelling as we knew it and are more no-nonsense books with sparse wording or non-fiction subjects.  All have their merits and are well produced.  They just lack the storytelling of years gone by when the wordcount hovered well above and over the current 500-word norm and were not influenced by the Common Core Standards.

     In 2010 the Common Core Standards were adopted for education across the country.  It’s my understanding they were not developed by educators but rather came out of the business and political community.  Technically they came from The National Governor’s Association (a political organization founded in 1908) and The Council of Chief State School Officers.  At the time I remember noticing a huge shift away from reading and writing fiction and a move toward non-fiction literature only.

      As a kindergarten teacher, it didn’t make sense.  It was completely out of balance.  Literary learning shifted away from fantasy and toward nuts and bolts, cut and dry, no-nonsense reading and writing.  I worried about how it would affect young children and their desire to read and write. I worried that storytelling would be devalued.  I worried that the publishing industry would shift their product to meet the new demand.  I think I was on to something thirteen years ago.

     Social Emotional Learning has been a big buzz phrase, especially post pandemic lockdown.  I’m finding many of the “message” books aren’t delighting us with story but are beating us over the head with be kind, be brave, be happy, be you, be special…you get the idea.  So just the other day I reached back in time and pulled out what I consider to be an old classic, Stella Luna

    

     Stella Luna was written and illustrated by Janell Cannon and was published in 1993. I had forgotten how much I loved this picture book about the baby bat who gets separated from her mother and lands in a bird’s nest.  So many intricate ideas in this book to ponder like:  How we perceive each other, (The little bat is the loveable protagonist, although many people think of bats negatively. The birds are characterized in a less appealing way.  Plus, they eat bugs, yuck!), Ideas of value, (who has it and who doesn’t?)  Concepts of good and bad, (What constitutes good and what constitutes bad? What is good/acceptable behavior and what is bad/unacceptable behavior?) An exploration of right and wrong, (Who is right and who is wrong?)  Point of reference, (How important is point of reference and context?)  And then there’s judgement.  (Who judges whom and why?  What is normal and what is not? Who deserves love and who does not?)  All this wrapped up in this book about a little bat who’s lost its mother and the family of birds who take her in. This book is timeless.  None of these ideas have faded.  They are more relevant than ever.





     As a children’s book author, I like to think about…if I had written a particular book, what would I have written. Hands down, Stella Luna.  I remember reading it in the 90’s when I was “author-curious” and being drawn to the irony of the story.  This idea with all the above listed implications that turned my perception upside down in a delightful, intellectual way that didn’t insult young children.  I wanted to write stories like that.  I wanted to bring that twist that leaves you thinking about the story a little bit longer…that makes it linger in the edges of your mind.  



And so, when it was my turn to write my own story, Stella Luna was there in the recesses of my imagination cheering me on.  I found that delightful irony in my debut picture book, Hello, Little One: A Monarch Butterfly Story about a caterpillar and a butterfly who only have a two-week window to connect before they proceed through their separate life cycles. Youth longing for age and Age longing for youth.  Without Stella Luna, my story would have been flat, maybe even a lesson-filled tale of morality.  I am grateful that I came upon this book before I set out to write my own years ago and am so happy to have rediscovered it now with my new class of students. It’s storytelling at its best. It’s the book I wish I had written.  What book do you wish you had written?








By Zeena M. Pliska
Kindergarten Teacher by day (public school in Los Angeles)
Children's Book Author by night 
Hello, Little One:  A Monarch Butterfly Story (Page Street Kids)
Egyptian Lullaby (Roaring Brook Press)

Friday, November 3, 2023

HOPE in a world OUT OF ORDER

🌹Howdy, Campers ~ and welcome to Poetry Friday! Today's poem and the link to PF is at the end of this post.

In this, our year-end round of posts, we will each share a favorite something we've read and would reccommend. It could be a book, a poem, a quotation, another blogger's post, anything that moved us, inspired us, thrilled us or taught us something.

So here's my truth: 

I am Jewish. 

I am terrified. 

In these frightening times, I want to give you...hope.

In yesterday's journal I wrote:

What I can’t figure out is how to hold the world in the palm of my hands. I used to be able to do that: listening to NPR each morning was a way of putting the world in order for the day. I don’t listen to it much these days. Can’t. It’s all bad stuff. I listen to My Unsung Hero and reposts of The Writers’ Almanac. I love the intro music of this podcast.

At first I was going to share Alison McGhee's October 21st poem of the week by Joseph Fasano. But that very human poem is too close to truth, too close to home, too dangerous, too deeply frightening. So I won't.

Through a dear friend, I came across  a letter in The Library of Congress by Helen Keller. 

image description (my words appear on torn paper):
As I read it, my heart remembered how to expand. It remembered that even in darkness there is great beauty. It remembered that humans can do miraculous things--like teach a blind and deaf child how to describe to another the sounds and sights of the 1898 World's Fair.

I hope reading her letter helps your heart remember, too.

(Below is a copy of the first page only of her typed letter; here's a link to all nine pages of the letter and a much easier-to-read transcript)

Dear Campers ~ I was planning to post yesterday's poem, titled OUT OF ORDER. When I read it this morning, though, it didn't seem hopeful enough to share with you. 

But the poem that found me today buoyed me. I hope it will lift you up, too.

Here's how today's poem walked in my door:

I took the following sentence from a newsletter and used it as a prompt:
“Ikaria is famously known as the place where people forget to die.”

Isn't that a wonderful quote?  Doesn't it make your fingers itch to DO something with it?

Here's how I started:

1) I typed the word FORGET as a temporary title.

2) I let my laptop keys out of their cages.

3) And off they galloped! 

Kitty, trying to catch the keys, galloping off...

Here's the rough draft:

NEVER FORGET

Forget that you’re in the nose bleed section.
Forget about the hotdog,
and that guy in the row below chomping on it.
Forget that salty, hot-doggy smell
which you’ll never get out of your brain

until...
Martinez hits a GRAND SLAM HOME RUN!
His bat smacks,
four runners score,
the ball soars,

to the kid in the red hat in a row far below
and a little to your right
who nearly catches it
but
drops it between the seats

and a nursing mother,
holding her infant securely against her chest with one hand,
kneels down and scoops it up,
deftly turns
and tosses it to the kid.

Forget the hotdog for god’s sake
it’s Martinez,
the kid,
the mother
that’s embedded in your memory.

Until today, that is,
forty-six years
to the day
when that salty, hot-doggy smell
wafts up

and a bat smacks,
four runners score,
the ball soars—then drops beneath your seat
and you, handing your beer to your buddy,
kneel down (oh, those creaky knees!)

scoop it up,
awkwardly standing and turning
to toss it to a random kid
in a red hat
whose face breaks out in an OHMYGOD! smile.

That, my friend--
that--
you will 

never
forget.

poem (c) 2023 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.
===========

After several rough drafts, I re-titled it NEVER FORGET, because beneath everything these days is that terrible drumbeat. 

And yet...look what I found in hot dog and a ball game: hope. Imagine that.

I'd love to read what you create with this same prompt: “Ikaria is famously known as the place where people forget to die.”

Thanks for reading all the way to The End.

And thank you, Buffy, for hosting Poetry Friday this week!


posted by April Halprin Wayland, 
who misses 14-year-old Eli,
her licky, lanky, incredibly sweet dog 
(Kitty is mourning the empty space her big brother left, too)
Eli as a puppy, 2011

Eli swore he didn't do it...

Thank you, Cindy Derby, for this watercolor of Eli,
which captures his personality perfectly







Friday, October 20, 2023

Meet Ethan Long, A Children's Book Creative Virtuoso! + Book Giveaway

 

Once again I shout, “Lucky me!”

I meet The Best People doing what I love and loving what I do, 

here in our singular Children’s Book World.

But now you can, too.

Meet Ethan Long, a veritable Children’s Book Creative Virtuoso 

whose debut middle grade novel The Death and Life of Benny 

Brooks (Christy Ottaviano Books/Little Brown, October, 2023) 

might luckily be yours simply by entering our Book Giveaway.

(See details at the end of this post.)

Fate first connected me to Ethan oh, so long ago, in 2001, 

when Holiday House editor Mary Cash chose him to illustrate my 

debut middle grade novel, The Confe$$ion$ and $ecret$ of 

Howard J. Fingerhut.  Ethan and I met in person at that year’s NY 

SCBWI Conference, his smile every bit as impish as the one he’s 

sprouting in the above photo. His Professionalism, Commitment, 

Passion, Smarts and Joy bowled me over. He was all in when it 

came to creating children’s books, grateful to be illustrating, but 

eager and determined to someday figure out a way to tell his 

story, his “crazy family’s story,” in words.  He’s done just that, 

adding illustrations, of course, in The Death and Life of Benny 

Brooks (Sort of a memoir)I knew he someday would, which is 

just what I’d told him.

 

Ethan has added all sorts of descriptive nouns in the intervening 

years - author/illustrator, author, graphic novelist, cover artist, 

game designer, animator, just to name a few, creating baby board 

books, picture books, novelty books, chapter books, murals, 

baseball cards, poetry books, joke books, book trailers, 

digital book series, animated shorts, indeed his very own NFT 

collection. His awards include the 2013 Theodor Seuss Geisel 

Award for Up! Tall! And High! and a 2022 Kidscreen Award for 

Scribbles and Ink, an Emmy Award NomineeHis latest noun in 

apposition should be no surprise: AGENT!  He and his wife 

Heather recently joined the Tugeau 2 Art and Literary Agency to 

represent fellow creatives. You can learn more about his artists 

and the story-tellers he seeks here.


Imagine my surprise when Good Ol’ Serendipity arranged a long-

awaited meet-up at ALA this June in Chicago! Ethan’s puckish 

smile was the same, his eyes twinkling behind round horn-rimmed 

glasses just like mine. He was as grateful a human being as ever.  

When he shared his Good News - how he’d finally figured out a way

to tell his “crazy family story,” as an illustrated middle grade novel, 

how The Death and Life of Benny Brooks would release this 

October, I could only thank him for affirming my “I told you so!”

 

The book’s front flap copy captures Benny perfectly.  “Benny's life 

is slowly unraveling. His parents are newly divorced, his mom 

chooses to move away, and Benny and his brother and sister are 

left with their chain-smoking dad, who has just been diagnosed 

with lung cancer. Benny is lonely, anxious, and very angry. He 

can't sleep at night and spends his days trying to survive fifth 

grade.”

 

Numerous starred reviews praised Ethan’s illustrations – 

“dynamic youthful-feeling pencil drawings by the protagonist” - 

but as important, the “bighearted story brimming with hope.”

Janet Tashjian’s testimonial lauded Ethan’s novel as “the perfect

 book for readers trying their best to come to terms with the 

many curve balls life hurls.  It also has the most important 

quality a story can have – honesty.  There’s not a false note in 

it.”

I agree, 100%. Benny’s heart reaches out to the Reader and

never lets go from the very first image on page one: Benny 

lying beneath the clouds, wondering what it would be 

like to be dead. “The part of me that used to be happy and 

funny and smiley is gone,” he shares.

 

After a tortuous school year in which his teacher Mr. Rogers guides 

him to focus, not fight, “YOU,” Mr. Rogers tells Benny, “are going 

places, Sir! Once you realize how much you have to give, which is a 

lot, you’re going to soar.”

 

Read my interview with Ethan that follows. Click on the links to 

read about his books.  

I know you’ll agree: Ethan Long continues to soar!

 

Thank you, Ethan, for being who you are and doing what you do - 

for Young Readers, for our Children’s Book World and for gifting 

one lucky TeachingAuthor reader of this post with an autographed 

copy of The Death and Life of Benny Brooks.

 

Long live Creatives!

 

Esther Hershenhorn

p.s.

Thanks to Bridget at WeeWords for hosting today’s Poetry Friday.

 You’ve had quite the Children’s Book Creator’s Journey, from illustrating my first middle grade novel in 2001 to writing yours, with a bounty of written and illustrated picture and early chapter books in between. You shared on your website you’ve experienced in the publishing industry both “struggles as well as successes.”  What wisdom did you glean from both that kept you keepin’ on?

Thank you, Esther! Great question. And I love that we have 

known each other for over 20 years! The struggles: They 

teach you about yourself and your limits — what you will 

put up with and what you won’t put up with. When I am 

struggling or have struggled, sometimes it is so hard that I 

want to give up, and sometimes do (temporarily), then 

realize I HAVE to keep going because of the commitment 

made to myself as a creator and also the commitments I 

have to my family. It is not fun, but knowing my family, 

friends, and other artists have seen me struggle and succeed 

lets them know they can do it, too. At least, that is my hope.

 


·       Channeling Richard Peck’s Dear Reader letter for The Best Man (Dial, 2016), what does Benny’s story mean to you and what do you hope it means to your Readers?

Benny’s story is about struggle and hope. The goal was just 

to get the book out of my head and down on paper, but now 

that it’s out, it makes sense to me that people are thanking 

me for writing it and how it has inspired them to reach out 

to estranged family members or deal with a lingering issue. 

The book has inspired them to ACT. It has also inspired

 other writers to go emotionally deeper into their stories. 

That is satisfying.

 

·       Congratulations on your newest endeavor, partnering with your wife, Heather – Heather and Ethan Long Art & Literary Agents with the Tugeau Art & Literary Agency! You’ve already signed 13 creators you’ve deemed “amazing.” How would you describe the creatives you seek? How can interested writers and illustrators contact you?

Oh my gosh, our time with Nicole Tugeau and Lillian 

Mazeika at Tugeau 2 has been an amazing experience. Both 

struggle and success have been intertwined since we started 

in November of 2022. The creatives we seek have to be 

technically skilled in what they do, have the content and 

expression to make us go WHOA, but also have the 

inclination to write stories. They need to be prepared for 

that kind of hard work. We will have 17 artists by the end 

of 2023 and although not everyone has gotten work yet or 

sold a story to a publisher, everyone is working and 

growing. It’s amazing to watch and be a part of.

 

·       I once heard an editor share that as writers and illustrators, each of us has a story to tell, a Truth, of sorts, we wish to leave behind. We tell that story again and again, in various formats and genres, for a variety of Readers. What might be your story?

You are a pro at asking great questions, Esther! Hmmm. My story 

is multi-faceted in that I came to this earth with a lot of gifts, but

 also a lot of baggage that I had to sift through over the years to 

let my gifts shine through. It has taught me to continually clean 

myself out by talking through things and letting them go. That 

process keeps me as in-the-moment as possible and allows my 

creativity to flow effortlessly and without boundaries to others.

It gives me the mindset to work on many projects at a time and

not feel weighed down. Is it a perfect process? No. But I work 

at it every day of my life.

·       

Y   You write on your website you “can’t wait to see what comes next.” Either can I and now, I’m sure, the Readers of this interview. Can you give us a clue or a hint? Might something new be in the works (I hope)?

You know me by now…there is ALWAYS something in the 

works. :) Two middle grade novels, some easy readers, two 

“non-fictiony” picture books with a writing partner and friend, 

some animation development, and of course, the artists at the 

agency, which are always a work in progress, like the rest of us.



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