Friday, February 5, 2010

Book Giveaway and Guest Teaching Author Interview with Bobbi Miller!

The Teaching Authors are tickled to present a book giveaway and interview with our dear friend, Guest Teaching Author Bobbi Miller! Bobbi is the author of the picture books One Fine Trade and Davy Crockett Gets Hitched. She lives in a log cabin, loves the outdoors, and spins tall tales. Of course, she also teaches.

To celebrate Bobbi’s appearance on our blog, we're giving away an autographed copy of Davy Crockett Gets Hitched. To enter the drawing, see the instructions at the end of this post.

How did you become a Teaching Author?

I am one of those nerds who knew how to read and write by kindergarten. I have always read and written stories. I studied hard to hone my craft, too. As an undergraduate, I studied writing and anthropology. I went to Simmons College, the Masters of Children’s Literature Program, where I studied the folklore process in children’s literature. I investigated voice and perspective, and most of all, the language of the storytelling process! I also went to the Vermont College (now the Vermont College of Fine Arts) MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Program. To tell you the truth, I think everything I learned up to that moment was preparing me for this experience at VCFA.

But the real surprise in this journey is that after graduation, I became a writer who teaches writing. While I was a student, I worked as an editor, a bookseller, and just about anything to pay the bills. Once I became a teacher, however, I discovered that I really enjoyed the connection to the students, to my colleagues, to the process of teaching. This teaching of writing keeps me connected to language itself. I find that in the teaching of writing, I engage more in understanding and expanding my knowledge of writing.

What's a common problem or question that your students have, and how do you address it?

I teach composition and advanced composition as well as all levels of writing for children. In all of my classes, the primary question becomes the use of language. It’s more involved than simply using a thesaurus. Language is more than mere words; it’s not only the rhythms and patterns, the musicality and the poetry of language, it’s a character in its own right. Writers talk of voice, but it’s a metaphorical application, because writing has no voice! Voice is grounded in the organic nature of language.

In my tall tale retellings, for example, the tall-talk of the tall tale is as wild and unabashed as the frontier. The language, like the characters that inhabit these tales, is rambunctious and bodacious. The language of the tall tale defies the tidy and restrictive, even uptight structure of formal grammar. It mocks it, in fact, using pseudo-Latinate prefixes and suffixes to expand on the root. The result is a teetotaciously, splendiferous reflection of a frontier too expansive for mere words to capture. By creating such a grand language, the frontier storyteller found a means to make an unknown frontier less scary. More than this, the grander language captured the bigger ideas.

In this day of truncated text-talk and quick fixes, we take reading and writing for granted. The crux of this is that we take language for granted. So, in my classes, even as we discuss character, plot and setting, we explore how language reflects character and plot; how language reflects the bigger idea.

How does your love of folktales and storytelling inspire your writing?

It’s a natural fit, folktales and storytelling and writing. Traditional tales are a genre defined by its oral nature, and language becomes as integral to the package as the story and the illustration. In fact, language becomes as much a character as the protagonist. Think Eric Kimmel, Virginia Hamilton and Ashley Bryan, Verna Aardema, Julius Lester, Jane Yolen and Gail E. Haley, to name a few whose use of language creates storymagic.

This language is crucial in all genres of writing, and is reflected in the best readings. Science fiction and fantasy tend to use the formal language as found in Grimm’s fairy tales. Historical stories worth their while tend to reflect -- without falling back on cliché -- the language of their times. Two books I recently read that exemplify this marriage of language and story: Kathi Appelt’s book, The Underneath, and Grace Lin’s book, Where The Mountain Meets the Moon.

How can teachers use your books in the classroom?

Obviously, the first connection is with language. My website includes links to lesson plans created by teachers who have used my books in their classroom. Studies suggest that language acquisition is keyed to youth, and we can infer that language appreciation is similarly keyed.

Another concept: Yana Rodgers, of Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children, suggests using my book, ONE FINE TRADE, for teaching the importance of self-reliance, bartering and trade to young readers.

Then, at its core, ONE FINE TRADE is a process analysis, reflecting how one man achieved his goal. And DAVY CROCKETT GETS HITCHED is a cause and effect, reflecting what happens when a burr gets stuck in the bum. These two organizational strategies, process analysis and cause and effect, are at the core of most academic writing and analysis. Learning these strategies is key to successful writing in school and higher learning.

Would you share a favorite writing exercise for our readers?

In my writing for children courses, we use poetry -- continuing our study of language -- to recreate a character from one of the stories we read. They cannot name the character, of course, and then the class has to guess which character is reflected in the poem. We repeat this exercise, using a secondary character from our own stories. Because poetry by definition reflects the emotive element of language, students often discover some emotional element of their character that they could not see before the exercise. The exercise clarifies their process in unseen ways. Sometimes, they discover -- to their utter surprise -- that the secondary character often make a stronger protagonist.

Thank you, Bobbi! The Teaching Authors appreciate your stopping by!

Contest requirements:
For a chance to win an autographed copy of Bobbi Miller's Davy Crockett Gets Hitched, post a comment to today's blog post telling us the title of your favorite folktale. Be sure to include an e-mail or blog address so we can contact you if you win! To qualify, your entry must be posted by 11 p.m. on Wednesday, February 10, 2010 (Central Standard Time). The winner will be announced by 11 p.m. on Thursday, February 12, 2010.

Before entering our contest, please read our Giveaway Guidelines here.

We look forward to reading your entries. Good luck!

JoAnn Early Macken


Carmela Martino said...

Welcome, Bobbi! Great to "see" you again. I didn't know you lived in a log cabin. :-)
Your books sound terrific. I look forward to reading them. (Too bad I'm not eligible to enter the drawing.)

Rebekah E. said...

I think folktales are really interesting. And am amazed at the amount that are out there. Some of the scarely stories that we hear as children are actually folktales, like The hook and Bloody Mary. so many have been made into or added to movies. But one of my favorites has to be Three Billy Goats Gruff.

Unknown said...

Hi Bobbi, nice to meet you. My favorite tale is The Emporer's New Clothes.

I, too, am a new teaching author. I have a teaching tips blog and two books coming out this year. Thanks for this great post.

Unknown said...

My email is dancekam1 (at) yahoo (dot) com

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

No need to enter me, ladies. I'm dropping in to say thanks for the e-mail. I've got this posted at Win a Book for you.

Wehaf said...

I love the Norwegian folktale of Buttercup.

urchiken at gmail dot com

Caroline McAlister said...

I really enjoyed your discussion of tall tale language. I have published one folktale, holy Mole! and have a second coming out this fall, Brave Donatella and the Jasmine Thief. I also teach composition. Lately editors have been telling me that folktales are a hard sell in this economy. Is there a particular kind of folktale that you think sells better than others or that is very current? What do you think is the future of the folktale?
Caroline McAlister

Margo Dill said...

I never really thought about my favorite folktale before (by the way this book looks super cute--I would LOVE to win it). But I guess I'm a pretty big fan of Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe.

Margo Dill
margodll (at)

Anonymous said...

Cool giveaway and interview! My favorite folktale is Brer Rabbit--he gets into so much trouble!

june_spirit2628 at hotmail dot com

Winning Readings said...

My daughter LOVES The Ugly Duckling...

janemaritz at yahoo dot com

We posted about this giveaway at Winning Readings:

Sarah Campbell said...

My sons and I really enjoyed A Coney Tale by Paul Ratz de Tagyos.
I loved what you said about language. Lots to think about when writing and teaching.

Bobbi Miller said...

O thank you for dropping by, everyone! And for your kind words. Caroline, regarding your question on the fate of the folktale, I addressed this very thing in a forthcoming SCBWI Bulletin article, and in a discussion on my website. Drop by! Bobbi

cleemckenzie said...

I always loved the Paul Bunyan tales. I especially enjoyed the one about the huge skillet with the giant pancakes sizzling. Yum.

apple blossom said...

Pual Bunyan is a good one. Nice giveaway.

ABreading4fun [at] gmail [dot] com

Caroline McAlister said...

Dear Bobbi,

I read the comments about folktales on your site. Very sobering, but also affirming to find out I'm not alone in my struggle to write and publish traditional tales. Thank you for your work on this topic. I will keep my eyes open for your piece in the SCBWI bulletin, and I will check out your blog and your books. I think I will also get started on writing a middle grade novel.
In Peace,
Caroline McAlister
Author of Holy Mole! and Brave Donatella and the Jasmine Thief

Janet said...

Hi, I loved your article and tips. I like Paul Bunyan and Stone Soup. Would love to win the book.
wvsmarties(at)yahoo (.)com

Julie said...

I like Goldilocks and the 3 bears

Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford said...

Bobbi, thanks so much for visiting us here. I think I learned more about you from reading this than I ever knew in our time together at VC.

I really enjoyed your comments about teaching composition. I have found myself distinguishing (for my students' sake) between "editing" and "revising" -- not that there is a true distinction, but so that they understand when I say "revise" that I mean more than running Spellcheck and inserting two commas. We have also been working very hard on vocabulary building. I asked my students a few weeks ago whether they were inclined to use the thesaurus feature in Word without actually knowing what the words meant, and almost all acknowledged that they did. One step at a time...

Thanks again for sharing with us. And along with many others, I think I love Paul Bunyan best.

JoAnn Early Macken said...

Wow! So many Paul Bunyan fans! Thanks for all the input, everyone!

Carol Grannick said...

Love this interview and the discussion of language...

One of my favorite folktales is a Yiddish folktale that appears in many forms, generally called "The Prince Who Thought He Was a Rooster".