Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Today marks the anniversary of Hymen Lipman’s patent for the pencil eraser, granted in 1858.

The Philadelphian’s design was unique . The installed eraser sat at the opposite end of the pencil. The pencil could thus be sharpened at both ends, refreshing either the graphite or the eraser.

Interestingly enough, the patent was contested and eventually the case reached the Supreme Court.
Also interesting: numerous blog posts in 2008 marking the 150th anniversary of Lipman’s patent filing mistakenly listed the March 30th date as the anniversary of the pencil’s invention!
(“Is there an eraser in the house?”)
Numerous folks now unofficially consider today National Pencil Day and celebrate any and all pencil innovations and forms of self-expression.

Where would we writers be without our trusty, handy pink rubber friends?
Or their numerous relatives treasured over the years: Correct-O-Type, liquid paper (Wite Out) and our computer’s Delete key.
I personally consider the need for an eraser (or a Delete key) an unexpected Opportunity.
It’s a chance to choose a better word, a better detail, or to order my words so the meaning’s clearer or the flow’s more lyrical or the sentence structure reflects what the story’s truly about.
We writers don’t simply erase.
We refresh or revise, revisit, reconsider, amend, alter; choose your synonym.

And even if the need for an eraser does imply a mistake has been made, so what?
What’s so wrong with making a mistake?
How many of us get it right the first time?
We can simply say, “Oops!” and consider the result.

That's what author-illustrator Barney Saltzberg shows us in his newest and most clever picture book, coincidentally titled Beautiful Oops! (Workman Publishing, 2010).  To Saltzberg a mistake is both an opportunity and an adventure.
Using pop-ups, lift-the-flaps, tears, holes, overlays, bends, smudges, and even an accordion “telescope,” the reader sees how blunders can magically become wonders. A smudge becomes the face of a bunny, a crumpled ball of paper turns into a lamb’s fleecy coat.

David Shannon and Arthur Geisert also wrote and illustrated picture books celebrating Life’s Oops!

So, Hurrah for Hymen Lipman!

Erase away!

Esther Hershenhorn

Writing Workout

Might the wonder of a story hinge on the writer's implement?

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett shares this Set Your Timer Exercise in her book PEN ON FIRE (A Busy Woman’s Guide to Igniting the Writer Within), Harvest/Harcourt, 2004.

“Experiment with different writing instruments. Choose a word or two from your notebook or file, sit down with a legal pad and pen, set the timer for five minutes, and write until you hear the buzzer.

Next, go to your computer, choose a few words, set the timer, and begin freewriting. Don’t stop until the timer goes off.

(Here’s the fun part!) Now pick another set of writing utensils: a crayon or eyebrow pencil and a brown paper bag, a manual typewriter, or anything else you can think of. Set the timer for five minutes and write nonstop until the buzzer sounds.

Which feels the best? Which instrument allows you to let go and even forget about what you were using to write? Consider using this mode of writing for the next project you tackle, whether it’s a story, essay, poem, or a novel.

Use paper of different sizes. You can even try freewriting with your nondominant hand.

Don’t fall into a rut. Every so often, experiment with other modes. Write in a circle, sideways, or diagonally across the page. By keeping your writing methods fresh, you help keep your writing original.”

Of course, if the results prove unsatisfying, thanks to Hymen Lipman you can always erase!

Monday, March 28, 2011


Perhaps it is the tantalizing hint of spring weather followed by snowflakes; or maybe it's that spring-break-is-over-but-the-semester-is-never-ending feeling.  Perhaps it is the fact that one of my English 101 classes this semester seems to be semi-comatose (which state seems to be wildly contagious); that soap operas are dying, and that the only job I know is to write them; perhaps it is the fact that my agent, after years of ignoring my pestering, has finally produced a gargantuan list of rejections I have received (without the single name of an editor or any reasons for the rejections) that is either completely made-up or completely not made up  -- either possibility being completely depressing; perhaps it is the fact that my grumpiness about my career has made me a grumpier-than-usual mother, daughter, and wife in these past few weeks.  I said to my husband the other day, "I feel as though I'm not good at anything!" 

So...  not to be a downer, but I decided to have my students (who are at that depressingly overburdened point in the semester) to do the following exercise tomorrow morning:

Writing Workout
Students are often very good at making generalizations but reluctant to provide examples and illustrations to bring their essays to life.  In the name of encouraging both positive thoughts AND the practice of providing the evidence to back them up, I will ask them to:

1. Make a list of personal strengths.  Be unstinting in your own praise.  Do not write less than five items.

2. Provide a concrete example from your life of each of these strengths in action.

Do not turn in your list but, rather, tuck it in your pocket, hold it close to your heart, and think of it often.

Happy spring, all!  --Jeanne Marie

Friday, March 25, 2011

Thank You Shirley Ritter--a thank you poem for Poetry Friday

Hello and happy Poetry Friday!  And thanks to Frankie and Mary Lee of A Year of Reading for hosting today's Poetry Friday!  And look for today's Writing Workout at the end of this post.

I have to interrupt our regularly scheduled program to tell you about the most astonishing gift I've ever received for a school visit.

I taught writing workhops and did assemblies at Aurelia Pennekamp Elementary School in Manhattan Beach, CA for two days in February. It's a warm, wonderful school that cares deeply about the arts and about literature in particular.

Pennekamp's amazingness begins with the fact that it was named for its first school nurse.  How sensational is that? Pennekamp (affectionately called PK) is topped with an excellent principal, Mr. Dale Keldrauk, a caring and superb faculty and staff, and a fabulous library media specialist, Barbara Siegemund-Broka (also a highly regarded book editor).

Pennekamp has much to be proud of, including their library media center and their signature annual Authors' Week, which has gotten national attention (note where the apostrophe is to denote that every student can also be an author...note also that it holds an Authors' WEEK, not just a day.)

Authors' Week, usually held near Valentine's Day, is organized and funded by PK's hugely supportive PTA.  The week includes a children's book author, 5th grade screen writing workshops taught by a real live Hollywood screen writer Karol Ann Hoeffner
and Mystery Readers.  (Mystery Readers are parents and family members who come to classes and read stories in costume.  Sometimes even their own kids don't recognize them!)

I presented two assemblies for the whole school and six writing workshops for the 4th and 5th graders. The teachers and students were enthusiastic, responsive and alive with original questions and creative poetry.

The Chair of this year's Authors' Week organized all the assemblies and workshops and rallied a student crew to design and put up signs advertising Authors' Week all over school..and so much more.  This Wonder Woman is Shirley Ritter (her professional name) aka Shirley Hatton (her mom name).
Superwoman Shirley Hatton (aka Shirley Ritter) and me
photo by Tammy Hughes
Shirley's a redheaded actor and multi-talented artist who freely admits that she's had to learn to restrain herself...creativity SPILLS out of her pores. Years ago, when she painted the library walls, people thought a professional artist had painted them--Shirley's a pro in everything she does.

And she's does everything.  
 She has a beautiful voice and regularly sings in musicals.  She performs, produces and directs in regional theater throughout Southern California. One of her hobbies is to make glorious fabric dolls...the kind you see in art museums.

In the last hour of my last writing workshop at PK, Shirley handed me a large bag.  In it was PK's author thank you gift. Shirley made me a doll.

I've been to over 400 schools.  I've gotten some incredible thank you gifts--including a handmade quilt which included student-made squares of scenes from my books.  But this? This is hands-down the most magnificent gift a school has ever given me.

Shirley painted my book covers on the doll's gown.  Her wings are paint brushes. Her hair is made of strips of paper printed with the words of my poems. A line from my book, "My heart is coming is for a landing." is painted on her chest.  One of her arms has a tattoo that says "Poet."

I was absolutely floored.  I still am.
Here is my poem of thanks.  And below are photos of this doll.

by April Halprin Wayland

Surely, my dear you had lines to learn,
books on color to return,
and when do you ever have time to burn?

So when did you shape this beautiful soul
a graceful sentry on poem patrol?

When, Shirley, when?

With library murals to plan and paint
a play to produce (without restraint),
a garden book to buy online,
rallying kids to put up signs,
a sweater to sew a button on
a song to sing if called upon?

Surely, dear Shirley with dishes to dry
you didn't have time to fluorescent dye?

Between driving Emma to honor band
and browsing stores for second-hand
props to use in future shows
and a college girl to help with prose...
when Shirely when was this magic doll born?
In the still of the night to a chorus of horns?

With rehearsals to make,
littered leaves to rake,
with actors to hire,
your red hair on fire,
with  masks to design for each Greek myth,
and husband...just to spend time with...

when, Shirley, when?

But you made her,
this girl of light waves and words
so we could see the song of birds

and surely you knew that this work of art
completely infused with the color chart
would build a bridge to my deepest heart.

Didn't you know that this handmade thing
with her luscious skirt fully billowing
would be all of the gift I would ever need?

Surely, dear Shirley.
My book covers on her gown...
Her wings...

Her tattoo...
poem (c) April Halprin Wayland.  Doll by Shirley Ritter 2011.

Writing Workout:
write your own thank you poem

And yes, your poem can be shorter!  
At workshop at the Illinois Reading Council's Annual Conference last week, we encouraged those who attended our workshops to write a thank you to:
  • someone who changed their life (perhaps the person who inspired you to become a teacher or a writer?), 
  • or to someone who is no longer alive, 
  • or write the thank you note you wish you would have gotten 
  • or write it to your classroom or your substitute teacher
  • Or none of the above!  
Take a half hour and sink down deep--think about why you have chosen to write a thank you poem to this person.  Go with your feelings. Don't edit this draft.

When you're ready, put on your editor hat and find a simple structure. You might repeat one line as I have, or start and end with the same line (this is called an envelope poem).  

When it's ready, pop it in the mail!

Where is Poetry Friday today?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Drum Roll, Please! The Winner of Holly Thompson's novel ORCHARDS is...

Drum roll, please!

The winner of our TeachingAuthors Book Give-away Raffle of Holly Thompson's young adult novel Orchards is: Mikako Sakae of Scarsdale, New York!

In learning she'd won a signed copy of Orchards, Mikako wrote that her teacher, Kathy Gray, who is a college friend of Holly's, recommended she visit our blog to read the interview.
She considers the prize "splendid" and plans to share the book with her friends.

Esther Hershenhorn

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

IRC Follow-up, Giveaway Reminder, Kidlit4Japan, and Blogosphere Buzz

2011 IRC Conference Logo
On Monday, Mary Ann posted about the TeachingAuthors' presentation at last week's Illinois Reading Council (IRC) Convention in Springfield, Illinois. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the conference this year. However, as a follow-up to the presentation, I have created a new page here on our TeachingAuthors blog: Resources for Teachers. This page includes links to the resources mentioned at IRC. If you attended the session and don't see a referenced link, please post a comment below and I'll update the page. And if you didn't attend the session, you can still use the page to access some of the great information you missed. 

Speaking of things you may have missed, don't forget to enter our latest book giveaway: you can win an autographed copy of Orchards (Delacorte), the acclaimed YA novel-in-verse by Holly Thompson, Regional Advisor for SCBWI-Tokyo. For details, read Esther's interview with Holly. But don't delay. Entry deadline is 11 pm (CST) today, March 23!

I'm also pleased to announce that three of the TeachingAuthors are participating in Kidlit4Japan, a children’s and YA literature auction to benefit the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan:
  • JoAnn Early Macken is offering an autographed copy of her brand new picture book, Baby Says "Moo!", illustrated by David Walker.
  • April Halprin Wayland is offering three signed, first edition hardcover copies of her award-winning novel-in-poems, Girl Coming in for a Landing.  
  • Esther Hershenhorn, writing coach extraordinaire, is offering a critique of a novel synopsis. 
You can also bid on other authors' signed books, advance reader copies, artwork, critiquing services, book-related swag, author visits, and even the chance to name a character in an upcoming book. Items are listed on the Kidlit4Japan website as they come up for bid. There’s also a form in the sidebar where you can subscribe to the website to receive updates by email or to subscribe to the RSS feed for “posts & items” or “comments & bids.” See the website for more details on following via Twitter and Facebook.

And here's some other Buzz in the Blogosphere this week:

Blogosphere Buzz
Happy writing!

    Monday, March 21, 2011

    If It's St. Paddy's Day, It Must Be the Illinois Reading Council

         For the second year, the TA's have been invited to present at the Illinois Reading Council.  There were three of us this time; April, Esther and myself, excited about getting the return gig. ("They liked us. THey really liked us!")

         Then we got our schedules and realized we were vying with some pretty big names to get an audience.  Just off the top of my head; M.T. Anderson (Ironically, the Award Winning Writer from my previous blog!), last year's Newbery winner Rebecca Stead, Jane Yolen, T.A. Barron, Marc Brown, Sara Pennypacker, Robert Burleigh, Mordecai Gerstein and Vaunda Nelson. Yikes! What a line up!  I had a flashback to my very first book conference (at a location I will not disclose) where I discovered I was on at the same time as Garrison Keillor!

         Given all the literary superstars, the TA's were delighted to have a full house (in a small room!) for our talk on modeling creative writing with your students in a school day that is jam packed with everything but creative writing. Or as one of my daughter's teachers told me,"Creative writing is not on the state tests."

        For those of you who were not there, I will be brief in saying that our writing exercise was to write  a thank you letter to someone who had influenced your life in some way. (When I heard the phrase "thank you note" I immediately thought of the ones I wrote as a child ---Dear MeemawThanks for the pajamas. They fit. XXXOOO Mary Ann.)  And that little gem was an actual example in my third grade grammar book!

       Our group did not disappoint. There were letters to parents, former teachers, President Carter, and even one to the Teaching Authors for our program!  We asked only for volunteer readers, and it was a rare reader who did not let their emotions overcome them at some point. Now that is good writing, if you can make yourself cry. However, I would not stress having students share with the class. Fourth grade teachers sharing is a lot different from fourth graders sharing (giggling) with the class.

       I had to leave before all the Superstars spoke, although I was delighted to be seated next to my former
    mentor, M. T. Anderson, during the book signing session. Perhaps one of the other TA's will fill you in on the Big Dinner Speeches.

          Here we are, the TA's hard at work!  We were having a planning session...and supper at Augie's.
    Esther, Mary Ann and Marie (our mentor/advisor) with April in back.
    Same old gang, plus one of our intrepid volunteers in our workshop.

    Notice that even though it was St. Patrick's Day, none of us are wearing green!

    Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

    Friday, March 18, 2011

    Music and Memory

    I’m Out and About, presenting poetry workshops at West Middleton Elementary School in Middleton, Wisconsin, but I can’t resist posting a quick comment on the important topic of Music in Our Schools Month.

    When I was in grade school, we sat at our desks and sang along with the radio program “Let’s Sing!” (Anyone else remember that? “Let’s sing! Let’s make the rafters ring!”) I thought long and hard to remember one song we sang, and now I can’t get it out of my head. “Toreador, be on your guard . . . .”

    One of the nuns at school gave voice lessons. She taught my sisters and me to sing “Welcome, Sweet Springtime” and “Ave Maria.” I remember climbing up a narrow stairway to the top floor of the school and practicing in a tiny room with a piano. I remember the music to both of those songs but not all the words, especially the Latin ones.

    My older sister Peggy was in the high school choir. She used to learn all three parts of the songs the choir sang in three-part harmony and teach them to the rest of us. (Yes, we still sing them.) When she was a senior and Judy and I were juniors, the three of us performed as the Andrews Sisters in the high school musical, a version of “South Pacific” that someone adapted to include a USO tour with a trio of musical guests.

    Does music reinforce my memory of these events, or do I remember them because music is important to me?

    Our kids enjoyed musical opportunities throughout elementary, middle, and high school. One son played saxophone in the elementary and middle school bands; the other one sang in the middle school and high school choirs. The one who played saxophone gave it up when he started high school. The one who sang (and still sings) hung out in the choir room before, during, and after school. I have no doubt that music helped him survive high school.

    My husband and I saw in our own kids how reading music reinforces math skills and promotes self-confidence. According to MENC: The National Association for Music Education, an education in music can also improve communication, cooperation, problem solving, memory, discipline, language, and perseverance.

    With the current threat of drastic school budget cuts, I hope that decision makers remember their own musical experiences and those of their families. I hope they come up with some creative problem-solving strategies that enable kids to go on creating their own musical memories in schools.

    Otherwise, what will happen to the choir kids? The band kids? The orchestra kids? How will they survive?

    JoAnn Early Macken

    P.S. from Carmela: Don't forget to enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of the acclaimed YA novel-in-verse, Orchards, by Holly Thompson. See Esther's interview with Holly for all the details.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011

    Book Giveaway and Guest Teaching Author Interview with Holly Thompson

    I knew in my bones when I chose to mentor author Holly Thompson in the 2009 Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program that one day I’d be interviewing her as a Guest Teaching Author.
    Today, of course, is that day!

    Note: An autographed copy of Holly Thompson's YA novel Orchards awaits one lucky TeachingAuthors Book Giveaway Winner, courtesy of Random House. Details appear at the end of this interview.

    I consider myself both lucky and privileged to have worked with Holly on the revision of her poignant and important novel in verse.
    Delacorte Press/Random House released Orchards February 22.

    The story belongs to Kana Goldberg, a Japanese and Jewish/American girl sent from her home in New York to spend the summer with relatives in Japan after the suicide of a classmate. She’s to reflect on her behavior, regain her sense of self and somehow turn darkness into light. Kana immerses herself in the tiny village of Kohama and the nearby mikan orchards, finding an unlikely haven amidst the village culture. She even forms a close bond with her tradition-bound grandmother. Gradually, Kana is able to come to terms with the pain and guilt she is harboring about the tragedy back home, until another tragedy strikes. Orchards handles the fraught topics of bullying and teen suicide with sensitivity and insight.

    Publishers Weekly wrote: “Thompson eloquently captures a teenager’s anger, guilt and sorrow after a classmate takes her own life.”

    Booklist commented: “Readers will want to talk about the big issue, especially the guilt of doing nothing.”

    A long-time resident of Japan, Holly teaches creative writing at Yokohama City University. Her other titles include the adult novel Ash and the picture book The Wakame Gatherers. Holly continues to serve as the Regional Advisor of SCBWI-Tokyo.

    I fell in love with Holly’s Japan as we worked on her novel. The novel is set in the southeast part of central Japan, in an area halfway between Tokyo and Osaka. In light of last Thursday afternoon’s indescribably-horrific earthquake and tsunami, I am happy to report: Holly and her family are safe.

    How did you become a Teaching Author?

    I have always been teaching and I have always been writing. My earliest teaching author opportunity was the summer after college graduation; one of my writing professors recommended me to work as an assistant to author Patricia MacLachlan in a creative writing workshop for children in western Massachusetts (rather incredibly, in a small world way, one of the guest author/illustrators that Patty brought in was my now fellow SCBWI Tokyo member Naomi Kojima). After that summer I taught English and biology at a private school, then English at a high school in Japan. All the while I was writing short stories. During graduate school at NYU, I taught creative writing to freshmen, as well as expository writing, plus I had the opportunity to work with poet Sharon Olds in the Goldwater Hospital Golden Writers program helping long-term care patients write and workshop poems. For a while, I was an adjunct instructor at Brooklyn College, but when my children were young and I needed to work at home, I shifted to freelance copyediting and editing work. I returned to the classroom soon after we moved back to Japan in 1998, and I have been teaching academic and creative writing at Yokohama City University ever since. I also do school visits at international schools and lead writing workshops for adult writers.

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

    My university students are all non-native speakers and writers of English. Most are Japanese, some are from Korea, China or Southeast Asian countries, a few come from Europe, some have mixed heritage, and only several have lived in English-speaking countries or have an English-speaking parent. Most students who take my classes have never written much more than a paragraph in English, and most have never written poems or stories in their native language. Yet in my creative writing courses we dive in and from day one, we go to work writing poems and short stories in English. I think the big question my students all have is, “How can I write stories and poems if I’m not fluent in English?” And my answer is always to read well-crafted poems and stories in English, look at how they are made, look at what makes us react, note where we laugh and when we are surprised and when we are moved. After reading examples of poems that don’t present too many vocabulary challenges (I don’t want students to spend their reading time stuck in dictionaries), I have students brainstorm ideas and begin writing simply, using vocabulary and sentence structures they already know. Once they start sharing their stories and poems with each other, they begin to worry less about writing in a foreign language and more about plot and characters and poetic devices. It’s an exciting process to watch, and always a thrill to see the pride and amazement of the students when they hand in their final portfolios.

    Would you share a favorite writing exercise for our readers?

    First, in general, do the writing assignments with your students. Know what you are asking of them. Share your own efforts at brainstorming and plotting, and your own attempts at completing poems and stories. You may not be able to keep up with every assignment each term if you teach many courses, but over the years, you should be able to try each assignment and share with students your efforts, the challenges you encountered, and the results. I have actually created some of my strongest poems and stories by doing my own assignments.

    Second, an exercise that my students love: Cut out lots of magazine photographs of people—all types and in all sorts of situations. Set all the cut-out photographs on a table in the classroom. Assign each student a partner and have each pair select two photographs. Then have the student pairs create a story about those people in the photographs; the people in the photographs must be the story’s main characters. Give students about 15 minutes to come up with a plot outline, then meet in a circle to share stories. This is a good exercise to get students thinking about the range of possibility in stories…some of their plots are outlandish, some fantastic, some serious and dark. Some of their plots have sudden twists while others build tension more gradually; some have satisfying endings and others may be incomplete. This exercise is also a great way early in a course to get a sense of the types of stories that interest the students.

    How did you come to write Orchards, your young adult verse novel?

    Orchards is a novel that in many ways began writing itself. It’s a story that, sadly, would not go away, as it developed from the shock and grief after three suicides that touched my life—one the teenage daughter of a childhood friend, another my brother-in-law, and another a close friend’s wife. In the midst of all that, in between teaching, I was working in mikan orange groves doing research for an adult novel about a woman who marries into mikan growing family. I had done 18 months of research on mikan cultivation and agricultural village life, and though I was writing an adult novel set in that tiny mikan village setting, I began hearing the voice of a girl full of resentment because she has been sent to spend the summer with relatives in just such a village. I knew that she would be a survivor and that the hillside mikan orchards she worked in would result in much contemplation of what had happened to her classmate who’d climbed up into another orchard for a very different reason. Orchards raises important questions about bullying and teen suicide, and I hope that the novel will generate plenty of discussion among teens and adults.

    What is your writing process?

    Basically I write when I can. But I also teach, serve as the Regional Advisor of SCBWI Tokyo, and have a family. Finding focused time to write is my biggest challenge. So far I have tried to keep my teaching hours under control and arrange my weekly schedule such that I have two free non-weekend days when I can write. When the university term is in full swing, those two “free” days are often dedicated to reading and commenting on student work, but at least a portion of those days is always dedicated to writing. I try to have a number of different projects ongoing so that when I have writing time, I am energized and inspired to tackle at least one of my projects. I also do a fair amount of writing in my head when I am not actually at my keyboard, and I try to balance desk writing with just experiencing life and taking things in; I’m always listening and observing whenever I’m running or cycling or out exploring, wherever that may be. Of course, when I have an impending deadline for a story or book or article, I try to focus all my writing time on that particular work, and I have less outside time then. Being in Japan is an advantage in many ways—I am immersed in the culture that I am so often writing about, I can occasionally visit other Asian countries for a change in perspective, and I can see the U.S. from both an insider and outsider perspective.

    Win an autographed copy of Holly Thompson’s Orchards!

    To enter our drawing:

    1. You must post a comment to today's blog post telling us why you'd like to win a copy of the book. (Will you keep it for yourself or give it as a gift to a young reader?)

    2. You must include contact information in your comment. If you are not a blogger, or your email address is not accessible from your online profile, you must provide a valid email address in your comment. Entries without contact information will be disqualified. Note: the TeachingAuthors cannot prevent spammers from accessing email addresses posted within comments, so feel free to disguise your address by spelling out portions, such as the [at] and [dot].

    3. You must post your comment by 11 pm (CST) Wednesday, March 23, 2011. (The winner will be announced on Thursday,March 24.) Note: Winners automatically grant us permission to post their names here on our TeachingAuthors website.

    4. You must have a mailing address in the United States.

    5. You must respond to the notification e-mail and provide a mailing address within 72 hours, or the prize will be forfeited and an alternate winner will be chose.

    Enjoy! Enjoy!

    And, thank you, Holly, from this admiring fan's heart, for sharing your Writer's Life, process and newest work with our TeachingAuthors readers!

    Esther Hershenhorn

    Monday, March 14, 2011

    Songwriting 101

    In honor of National Music in Schools Week, I'm supposed to be rhapsodizing about the power of music in our lives.  Given that I met my husband in my church choir, given that my husband's fondest dream would be to produce first-chair trumpet-playing heirs, I was feeling quite enthusiastic about this topic until I sat down to write and my three-year-old began singing "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" in full voice.   

    Give my kids (most kids) a song, and they will sing it -- over and over and over again.  My daughter came home from school the other day, excited about a coin-sorting ditty set to the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."  Sadly, I have to say I that we all found this to be an improvement over full score of "Annie," which we've enjoyed in an endless feedback loop since I took her to see her first musical two months ago.  In desperation, my husband tried introducting her to "Guys and Dolls," which has resulted in many questions such as, "Mommy, is it illegal to play craps in the United States?"  Ah, teachable moments.   

    Kate is also fond of making up her own lyrics.  Here's a gem from last week:
    "I am cleaning up, cleaning up...  Why do Patrick and I have to do all the work around here?" 

    She told me the other day, "I wish I could write down the notes to "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" on a piece of paper."  Unfortunately, she has yet to learn to read music, let alone write it.  And I realized, as I was explaining to her why we had to wait for her daddy to get home and help her, that precious few of us -- even those who do read music -- know how to scribble out a few bars. 

    I was reminded of those bumper stickers that say, "If you can read this [musical score], thank a music teacher."  While most of us have great appreciation for music, our literacy is often sadly lacking.  My daughter baked brownies yesterday and then sat down to draw a picture and write a story about the experience.  Unfortunately, she couldn't (physically) write a song if she wanted to.  It is my determination (and hers) that someday she will have the skills she needs to write anything she wants!

    When I ask my college students whether anyone writes in his/her spare time, typically I hear disgruntled murmurs.  But when I ask whether anyone writes music, I always have at least two or three enthusiastic respondents. Lyrics = poetry, and one of the most refined and difficult forms, at that.  Someday soon, I will try a songwriting exercise, which I think will be a great hit.

    Check out this post and terrific exercises from the National Writing Project.  (And please support the NWP, which is facing a dire financial crisis.)

    The tune of the moment is now, "If You're Happy and You Know It."  Wishing everyone a happy Monday and a terrific week! -- Jeanne Marrie


    Friday, March 11, 2011

    March is Music In Schools Month! And Happy Poetry Friday!

    Howdy Campers--Happy Poetry Friday!  And thank you, Liz Garton Scanlon, for hosting Poetry Friday this week!   
    Did you know that March is Music in the Schools Month? Well, it is!  In fact, today's TeachingAuthors poem is actually a song written by our guest singer/songwriter who brings music to schools all over the country.  x in the schools...I remember Mrs. Priday, an older, potato-shaped woman with orange-ish hair, who played piano and joyfully taught us to sing at Franklin Elementary School in Santa Monica, CA.  And Richard Wagner, the Leonard Bernstein of Santa Monica schools, who lit a fire inside us when he turned on the William Tell Overture and let us put our heads down on our desks to listen.

    And Sherman Plepler gave me private violin lessons once a week (during the school day!) in the musty basement of Franklin School.

    Ahhh...the golden age of music in the schools.  But, hark! You can still find fabulous teachers using music in these days of school budget guillotines.

    If you're lucky enough to be a fifth grader in my friend Allison Ho's classroom in Gardena, CA, you'll learn about heritage and different cultures through Broadway musicals. Allison opens her students' eyes to the world of arranged marriages ("Tradition" from Fiddler On The Roof and "You Are Beautiful" from Flower Drum Song), two cultures ("Farmer and the Cowman" from Oklahoma and "America" from Westside Story) and much, much  more--teaching them the songs and the dances, too.  Wouldn't you love to be in Allison's class?

    And my buddy, folksinger/songwriter Bob Reid, teaches kids how to write their own songs.  So I've invited Bob in to talk about how he writes and teaches.
    This is Bob Reid

    There's a Light In You (click to must hear these kids singing it...)
    words & music © Bob Reid 1995

    There's a light in me, there's a light in you
    Whatever language you speak
    Whatever your point of view
    Whatever people may say
    Whatever people may do
    There's a light in you
    You must let your light shine through.

    I am short, he is tall
    It doesn't matter if I'm small
    Whatever size I happen to be
    There's a light in me
    Please take the time to see.


    My eyes are brown, hers are blue
    We may not share the same point of view
    Whatever our hopes, our wishes, and dreams
    There's a light that beams
    We're closer than it seems.


    My friend Sam says she doesn't fit
    When she wants to play the others want to sit
    Times are hard, I must admit
    I hope she doesn't quit
    She's got to keep it lit.


    When the world is looking grim
    It can happen to her, it can happen to him
    That's when you need that light to glow
    Come on and let it show
    It's brighter than you know.


    When the sun has left the sky
    Bringing darkness to the eye
    Night reveals what can't be seen in the day
    A glorious display
    Behold, the Milky Way.

    Chorus (2x)
    AHW: What inspired you to write this song?

    BR:  "There's A Light In You" was written in response to the flurry of songs I was hearing about people identifying by the color of their skin, giving attributes to people due to the color of their skin, black, yellow, red, or even songs that challenged that practice. They seemed to be framing the issue in a way that I felt was unhelpful and didn't seem to offer an alternative. I wanted to find a commonality, something that we all had, to bring us together.

    The song is reminiscent for me of a song I sang as a child at Unitarian gatherings, "This Little Liberal Light of Mine" a variation of "This Little Light of Mine". There was a verse that said, "Don''t you try to poof it out!" "I'm gonna let it shine". The idea that there was this thing in us that we have to actively defend and tend and an awareness that the world may sometimes be inhospitable to our light, but it is our work to let it shine despite that.

    AHW: What's your writing process?

    BR: I wrote the song over several years. The chorus came first and then I worried that I would never find verses that could live up to the chorus. I sang it with fill in verses and added more and more, until my friend, Bill Harley, told me, "Bob, it's done!"

    Bill, and my friend David Grover, both made recordings of it before I did. David sang it on the "Today Show" and at the White House Easter Event. We performed it at United Nations Headquarters with the United Nations International School Choir and Pete Seeger in a half hour concert we did for the kick-off of the International Year of Freshwater in 2003.
    WATER   ...    photo by April Halprin Wayland (c) 2011
    AHW:  Wow--pretty cool!  Do you have a favorite music-in-the-schools story?

    BR: My favorite story is the group some 25 years ago with which I wrote the song, "Water." They were quite proud of that song. It was made into a clay animated film by Kristine Albrecht, an artist in Santa Cruz, CA, which won awards at film festivals around the country. In 2003, it was this song that was of interest to the United Nations, when Pete Seeger recommended it as the theme of their "International Year of Freshwater". I traveled to New York several times to perform it a several UN functions, such as "World Environment Day".
    You can listen to it here.

    Writing Workout: picking a topic ~ asking the right questions

    AHW: How do you begin writing songs with students? I'm sure it's complex, so this really isn't a fair question... but can you point the way to help a teacher or parent help students write a song?

    BR: I usually write in two sessions, one to come up with a topic in response to the question, "If a song can focus your attention on something for 3 or 4 minutes, what do you think is important enough to focus attention upon?"  I've usually sung them songs written with other groups to give them some idea of what can be done. Then I'll ask, "What will I play for someone when they ask what this class thought was important?"

    Thanks for your time and inspiration
    and thanks for stopping by, Bob!

    Okay,'s time for you to write your own song.  So ask yourself Bob's questions, take a good deep breath, and write with joy ~ 

    Out & About!  
    Three TeachingAuthors: (Esther Hershenhorn, Mary Ann Rodman and I) will join two fabulous professors (Roxanne Owens and Marie Donovan from DePaul University) at the Illinois Reading Council's Annual Conference in Springfield, IL on Thursday, March 17th.  We'll be teaching a workshop (two times!) titled: Helping You (and Your Students!) Connect to the Writer Within.  In addition, I'll be participating in IRC's Poetry Coffeehouse on Friday, March 18th.  Woo-woo!  We think it's going to be a hot time in the old town and hope you can join us!

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011

    Music and Writing: Does Your Story Have a Soundtrack?

    Music in Our Schools Month logo
    In honor of this being Music in our Schools Month here in the U.S., we TeachingAuthors are doing a series on the connections between music and writing/reading. If you're a teacher, check out the Writing Workout below for links to lesson plans on creating playlists for classroom literature. And for more information about Music in our Schools Month 2011, see the official website.

    Reading Mary Ann's post kicking off the series on Monday, I could definitely relate to what she said about writing with music playing in the background. At this moment, Pachelbel's Canon in D Major is playing on my computer. I first started writing with music years ago to drown out the television and other sounds coming from my family. When I'm actively writing, the music has to be instrumental--lyrics distract me from the words forming in my head. I used to load my CD player with a collection of classical albums that included Music for the Mozart Effect and Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Nowadays, I play the music directly on my computer via the "radio stations" I've set up at (Pandora is a convenient way to create a quick playlist that "matches" a specific song or type of music.) Like Mary Ann, when working on historical fiction, I listen to music from the era in which my story is set. That means that lately I've been hearing lots of 17th and 18th century pieces featuring the harpsichord and violins. Such music is especially appropriate as the main character of my young adult novel-in-progress plays the harpsichord and her love interest is a violinist.

    I've noticed that some authors are now sharing their personal playlists with their readers. For example, on Kathryn Erskine's website, you can click on the titles of the songs she listened to while writing Mockingbird, winner of the 2010 National Book Award for Young People's Literature. Young adult author Rachel Cohn has even created iMixes of her playlists on the iTunes Music Store. These playlists can be a great way to connect with young readers, especially teens. Teen (and adult) readers can also find playlists on sites like Novel Novice, which often includes playlists for the young adult novels highlighted there, such as Elizabeth Eulberg's Prom and Prejudice.

    I know that listening to music while writing isn't for everyone. Years ago, the topic came up on a discussion board for children's writers, agents, and editors. I still remember a comment by a famous children's author who scoffed at the idea of background music, saying it interferes with hearing the rhythm of our writing. For me, that's only an issue when I'm working on a late draft of a project. That's when I turn the music off and read the work out loud. Most of the time, at least for me, the music doesn't interfere with my work. In fact, I think it has the opposite effect by helping me concentrate. Turning on my music has become part of my preparatory ritual, signaling my creative mind that "it's time to write."

    How about you? Do you listen to music while writing? If so, what kind? Have you ever created a playlist for a writing project? If not, see the Writing Workout below.

    Blog update: In case you haven't noticed, or you receive our posts via email, we've added a new page to our blog: "Markets for Young Writers." The link is at the top of our home page, just below the logo. The new page features links to information and markets for young writers. As far as we know, this is the largest roundup of sites open to submissions from young writers. (If you know of a larger list, please tell us!) We encourage you to share the page with any young writers (or teachers of young writers) who may be interested. Also, if you know of sites we missed, please post that information in a comment. We plan to update the page regularly, so do check back.  

    Writing Workout:
    Creating a Story Soundtrack

    If you're a writer: create a soundtrack for your current writing project. Consider the following:
    • What songs might reflect or reinforce the mood you're trying to create in a specific scene or chapter?
    • Are there songs that mirror some aspects of your main character's situation or personality? 
    • Are any songs mentioned by the characters in the story, or that are specifically suited to the story's setting?  
    • If your project were turned into a movie, what would be on the soundtrack?
    If you're a teacher, have your students create a soundtrack for a book they've read. For a detailed lesson plan, see "On a Musical Note: Exploring Reading Strategies by Creating a Soundtrack." Or take a look at this lesson plan: Creating a Playlist for a Novel.

    Happy Writing (and Listening)!

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

    Announcing Our Book Giveaway Winner!

    Wow! What a wonderful, creative variety of learning games our readers have played with children!

    Several games, such as Toni's "What's in the Box?" and Moonduster's anonymous stories and poems, involve guessing. Playful quizzes and card games are part of the learning fun for LadyD's piano students.

    RambleSAHM's game teaches colors. Carla's Wizard of Oz game teaches both colors and counting. Having fun with the alphabet is the goal for Margo's clay letter creation, Cindy's word creation game, and Looking for the Write Words's "A: My Name is Amanda" game. (I remember that one!)

    Thank you to all who entered! And now for our winner: Dara will receive an autographed copy of Baby Says "Moo!" Dara's game helped a grandson with his pronunciation. Congratulations, Dara! I hope you enjoy the book!

    JoAnn Early Macken

    Monday, March 7, 2011

    How Pink Floyd and My Dad Made Me a Writer

        I am a music freak who is a terrible musician. I took piano for six years.  Every year's recital was the same story.  I'd play the first four measures. Then I'd play them again.  And again, my musical memory as stubbornly stalled as a balky mule. With a sigh, my piano teacher would hand me my music, and the show would go on. I took classical guitar with similar results. I have sung in choirs for years, but give me  a two note solo, and I sound like a thirteen-year-old boy going through "that changing voice thing."  I love music; I'm just not a musician. A music lover who writes.

       I never realized how much music influenced my writing until I was critiqued by an Award Wining Writer who I knew was also a music freak. I sweated bullets, waiting to hear I'd written yet another piece of junk.  AWW looked up and asked...."Were you a music major in school?"  Oh no. This was going to be he worst kind of critique;  the snarky kind. Somehow AWW knew my musical history and say I was as talentless at writing as I was at piano.

        "Um, no," I stammered. "Drama major."Such a weird question since the story had nothing whatsoever to do with music, musicians or freaking out at recitals.

         "Odd," said AWW.  "Do you play an instrument?"

        AWW had a kind voice and mild manner that snookered me into admitting my Miserable Musical Past.  But he wasn't giving up on his theory, whatever it was.  "Are your parents musicians?"

        Trying to keep a straight face, i told him my father was an FBI agent who had played high school trombone, my mother a Russian translator for the National Security Agency, and both of them were absolutely tone deaf.

        My critique time I was running out, and I still didn't know what AWW thought of my story, so I cut to the  chase.

        "Not to be rude, or anything," I began in the humble-sort of voice one uses talking to Award Winning Authors, "but what does this have to do with my story?"

        AWW tapped his glasses on the desk. "I don't understand," he said.  "You write like a musician."

        "Well, I am kind of a music freak," I offered.  "I usually write to music."

        "Aha!" AWW exclaimed. "What kind of music?"

        I figured "everything" was too general a response, although true. On the the other hand listing the musical genres I had heard in childhood would be too specific, to say nothing of bring. So I told him about my dad.

       My dad, former first chair high school trombonist whose tiny rural high school won a national high school band competition his senior year, is a music nut job, a phrase not often used to describe FBI Agents. After work,when other Mad Men era fathers might go straight from work to Martiniville, my dad made a beeline to his "hi-fi" system. He'd pile the spindle (remember spindles?  remember LP's?) with anything from Harry Belafonte and Mahalia Jackson to Mahler and Mozart. Our house was wall to wall music until bedtime. As an adult, I realize he wasn't your average music lover.  Music was his release from had to be the most stressful job in America.

        I did my homework to Carmen and Copeland and Beethoven's Ninth (which I still think of as The CBS News theme.)  Mahler's First Symphony still brings back memories of my war with Algebra I. According to my mother, the only thing that shut me up when I was teething was the "Circus Band" section of Walter Piston's The Incredible Flautist.  I fell asleep to whatever was on the local classical radio station. Whenever my mother couldn't take the pressure of living in Mississippi in the 60's, she would break out her secret stash of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. I still play Tijuana Taxi and Spanish Flea as a cure for Them Old Book Rejection Blues.

       Dad's tastes ran to classical organ, marching bands and anything Beethoven, but he was no musical snob. He introduced me to Creedence Clearwater Revival, Pink Floyd and the eighteen minute version of the Chambers Brothers Time Has Come Today. I often wondered what J. Edgar Hoover, a man with an incredibly rigid set of standards for his agents, would say about Dad's "inner musical freak." When 8-tracks got hot, Dad was first in line for his player. (A fortunately short-lived trend, since Dad was going through a George Jones/Willie Nelson stage, and the only 8 track was in his bathroom. At 87, my dad has not only moved on to CD's (but not Ipod) and is planning to transfer his 12,000 LP 's (no, there is not an extra 0) in there to CD with some new gizmo he's found.

        "Well, there you are," said AWW. (Remember him and my critique?)  "You wrote as a child and absorbed all this music into your creative mind." He finally began the critique, pointing out the rhythm of my prose. Staccato here, legato descriptions.  Similes involving squeaky clarinets, out-of-tune guitars, the pure tone of a Bechstein piano.  And the music references---the Beatles, Benny Goodman, Vladimir Horowitz. Well, duh, Mary Ann.   How could you have missed all that?

       I missed it because music is so much a part of who I am, that I didn't think anything of it when it turned up in my writing.  I can't imagine writing in utter silence. The few times I have been forced to, I wind up playing Boggle on my laptop.  There is a musical "prescription" for everything. When I am working on a picture book, I haul out the Tijuana Brass.  Dramatic or sad scenes call for Mahler or Erich Korngold who composed a lot of movie scores in the 30's and 40's.

      When I am writing historical fiction, I research the music of the period more than all the other details put together. The music is my private time-machine, sending me instantly to my setting, with my characters dancing in its wake. Thanks to the five years I spent writing Yankee Girl, my 16-year-old not only knows the lyrics to every Beatles, Beach Boys, Supremes or Temptations song, she can tell you who sang lead, who was on keyboard, etc. Living with Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman during the Jimmy's Stars years were fun for me, but not so much for the rest of the family (although Lily fell in love with the song Pistol Packin' Mama, of all things.)  The music envelopes me and my fictional world so completely, it takes me about an hour to re-orient myself to 2011 when I finish for the day.

       Right now, I am "living" in 1925. Thanks to Dad, who is also on every catalog list known to man, I found an obscure company that transfers pre-World War II recordings to CD.  When they hear "Ma, He's Making Eyes at Me" or "The Tiger Rag" coming from my office, the family flees to their Ipods or the neighbors.  I hardly notice; my characters and I are off somewhere doing the Charleston.

        But maybe Lily, my daughter, has absorbed more of her mom's "weird" musical soul than she knows.
    When she competed in her first figure skating competition in second grade, her coach allowed her to choose her own music. After watching at least ten girls skate to music from The Little Mermaid or Pocahontas (Disney is big in that age group) Lily's music cues up. I look at the judges, all my age or older.  They grin from ear-to-ear as Lily bunny hops to Whipped Cream by the Tijuana Brass (aka
    The Theme from the Dating Game.)  Yes, she won.

    As for me,I win every time I turn on the CD player and laptop.

    Thanks, Dad.

    Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

    Friday, March 4, 2011

    Picture Book Lesson #5, Book Giveaway, & My Favorite Date of the Year!

    I celebrate March 4th every year. To me, it feels like the true beginning of spring. March forth! Read all about it in this post I wrote last year.

    Besides being my favorite date, today is the final day of Baby Says, “Moo!” Week at Teaching—but the Book Giveaway continues! To celebrate the publication of my new rhyming picture book, we’re giving away an autographed copy. Entry details below!

    As my contribution to the picture book topic the other Teaching Authors have already addressed, I’m sharing some lessons I learned by looking back at the writing and publishing process for each of my five picture books. I’ve posted one each day this week.

    Baby Says “Moo!” (Disney-Hyperion Books, illustrated by David Walker) is a cumulative story with the most complex structure I’ve ever attempted. Baby's parents, in an effort to teach animal sounds, ask, "Baby, what do birds say?", "Baby, what do cats say?", and so on, and Baby answers, "Moo!" Each time Baby's parents provide the correct answer, all the previously encountered animals are repeated. In reverse order. In rhyming stanzas.

    Before she offered a contract, my editor asked me to make the story flow in a more logical way by reconsidering the order in which the animals appeared. I agonized. I tried to get away with a moderate revision because I was afraid to attempt what I knew would be a really difficult process. I finally had to give in, tear the whole thing apart, and start over.

    What surprised me was that the process—like solving an elaborate puzzle—was not only challenging but also tons of fun! The final version was much more satisfying and well worth the effort.

    Lesson #5: Don’t be afraid to work hard.

    I’ve been inspired by all the different approaches to writing picture books described in this series of Teaching Author posts. I hope some of our comments are helpful to you, too. Maybe the most important things to remember are that we each have our own way of working and that each book might require a unique approach. Discovering the method that works is a necessary and exciting part of the process.

    Baby Says “Moo!” Giveaway

    To enter the drawing for an autographed copy of Baby Says “Moo!”, follow these steps:

    1. Post a comment on any post this week and tell us about a learning game you’ve played with children. Enter only once, please!

    2. Include your contact information in your comment. If you are not a blogger or your e-mail address is not accessible from your online profile, provide a valid e-mail address in your comment. Feel free to disguise your address by spelling out portions, such as [at] and [dot].

    3. Post your comment by 11 p.m. (CST) Monday, March 7, 2011.

    The winner:
    • must have a mailing address in the United States.
    • will be determined using the random number generator at
    • will be announced on Tuesday, March 8.
    • automatically grants us permission to post his or her name on our Teaching Authors web site.
    • will also be notified by e-mail.
    • must respond to the notification e-mail and provide a mailing address within 72 hours, or the prize will be forfeited and an alternate winner will be chosen.

    Good luck!
    JoAnn Early Macken

    Thursday, March 3, 2011

    Picture Book Lesson #4, Baby Says “Moo!” Week, & Book Giveaway!

    It's Baby Says, “Moo!” Week at Teaching! To celebrate the publication of my new rhyming picture book, we’re giving away an autographed copy. Entry details below!

    As my contribution to the picture book topic the other Teaching Authors have already addressed, I’m sharing some lessons I learned by looking back at the writing and publishing process for each of my five picture books. I’ll post one each day this week.

    Waiting Out the Storm (Candlewick, 2010) began with my desire to say something comforting to kids after the terrible events of September 11, 2001. Like many other writers at the time, I struggled to figure out what I could say to children that might help them cope during difficult times. I couldn’t write about terrorism in a book for young children, but when I thought about fear from a child's perspective, I realized that I could address the common childhood fear of a thunderstorm.

    Lesson #4: Consider your audience. What do you want to say, and what’s the best way to say it for your readers?

    Baby Says “Moo!” Giveaway

    School Library Journal says, "The rhyming text reads smoothly, and the acrylic illustrations are childlike and cheerful, making the book exactly right for toddlers. Each time a new animal is seen, the parents reiterate the names of the previous creatures and their sounds, inviting participation. . . . A winner for the youngest listeners." To enter the drawing for an autographed copy of Baby Says “Moo!”, follow these steps:

    1. Post a comment on any post this week and tell us about a learning game you’ve played with children. Enter only once, please!

    2. Include your contact information in your comment. If you are not a blogger or your e-mail address is not accessible from your online profile, provide a valid e-mail address in your comment. Feel free to disguise your address by spelling out portions, such as [at] and [dot].

    3. Post your comment by 11 p.m. (CST) Monday, March 7, 2011.

    The winner:
    • must have a mailing address in the United States.
    • will be determined using the random number generator at
    • will be announced on Tuesday, March 8.
    • automatically grants us permission to post his or her name on our Teaching Authors web site.
    • will also be notified by e-mail.
    • must respond to the notification e-mail and provide a mailing address within 72 hours, or the prize will be forfeited and an alternate winner will be chosen.

    Good luck!
    JoAnn Early Macken

    Wednesday, March 2, 2011

    Picture Book Lesson #3, Dr. Seuss’s Birthday, & Book Giveaway!

    It's Baby Says, “Moo!” Week at Teaching! To celebrate the publication of my new rhyming picture book, we’re giving away an autographed copy. Entry details below!

    Today, we also celebrate the birthday of beloved children's book author Dr. Seuss. I'll always remember my mother reading The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins to my sisters and me. Our kids loved Dr. Seuss's ABC, Fox in Socks, and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. Join the nationwide birthday celebration by taking part in the National Education Association's Read Across America Day.

    As my contribution to the picture book topic the other Teaching Authors have already addressed, I’m sharing some lessons I learned by looking back at the writing and publishing process for each of my five picture books. I’ll post one each day this week.

    I learned how to research nonfiction by writing dozens of nonfiction books for beginning readers. Educational publishers assigned the titles and published them in series. I enjoyed the research process, so I decided to write a nonfiction book on a topic I chose myself. I also wanted to break away from strict rules about reading levels and sentence structures. Flip, Float, Fly: Seeds on the Move, a nonfiction picture book about the many ways seeds travel, was the happy result of both my longtime love of plants, trees, and gardens and my desire to write nonfiction in a creative, poetic way.

    Lesson #3: Write about what you care about.

    Baby Says “Moo!” Giveaway

    Booklist says, “Everything about this picture book—concept, story, appealing art—is pretty much perfect for the two-and-under set. . . . The cumulative text is written in nicely scanning (and delightful!) rhyme that toddlers will enjoy. Fruit-juice colors and people and animals drawn in the rounded shapes of stuffed toys dominate the spreads, except in the sidebars of accumulating tweets and meows.”

    Because picture book authors and illustrators typically have no contact during the illustration process, submitting a picture book manuscript requires an author to let go and trust the editor's knowledge of the field and the illustrator's ability to interpret and expand on the text. I'm happy to say that David Walker’s adorable illustrations not only fit the text perfectly but also include delightful details that help tie the story together and move it forward while entertaining readers of all ages.

    To enter the drawing for an autographed copy of Baby Says “Moo!”, follow these steps:

    1. Post a comment on any post this week and tell us about a learning game you’ve played with children. Enter only once, please!

    2. Include your contact information in your comment. If you are not a blogger or your e-mail address is not accessible from your online profile, provide a valid e-mail address in your comment. Feel free to disguise your address by spelling out portions, such as [at] and [dot].

    3. Post your comment by 11 p.m. (CST) Monday, March 7, 2011.

    The winner:
    • must have a mailing address in the United States.
    • will be determined using the random number generator at
    • will be announced on Tuesday, March 8.
    • automatically grants us permission to post his or her name on our Teaching Authors web site.
    • will also be notified by e-mail.
    • must respond to the notification e-mail and provide a mailing address within 72 hours, or the prize will be forfeited and an alternate winner will be chosen.

    Good luck!
    JoAnn Early Macken

    Tuesday, March 1, 2011

    Baby Says “Moo!” Week, Picture Book Lesson #2, & Book Giveaway!

    It's Baby Says, “Moo!” Week at Teaching! To celebrate the publication of my new rhyming picture book (Today's the day!), we’re giving away an autographed copy. Entry details below!

    As my contribution to the picture book topic the other Teaching Authors have already addressed, I’m sharing some lessons I learned by looking back at the writing and publishing process for each of my five picture books. I’ll post one each day this week.

    Sing-Along Song, my second picture book, was inspired mostly by our son Jimmy’s habit of singing all day long. But lots of other memories and emotions went into my writing, too. After a difficult winter of loss and heartache, I felt renewed by spring. A Quaker hymn called “How Can I Keep from Singing?” expressed something like what I wanted to say. I also remembered scenes from my childhood, favorite sayings from my sisters, and most of all, the importance of family.

    Lesson #2: Use everything. Don’t save an idea, a quote, or even a word to use later. Pour it all in. You will find more.

    Now for the book giveaway!

    Kirkus says, “Macken carefully structures a seemingly simple picture book about a baby learning animal sounds—or in this case stuck on the popular bovine one—using simple rhyming text, a progressive repetition of previously encountered creatures and the harmonious refrain of, ‘Baby says, “Moo!’”

    When I first considered the idea of a baby answering questions about animal sounds, I thought it might be funny if the baby got the answers wrong. One day while I walked the dog, it occurred to me that Baby could give the same answer to every question. I'd wanted to try writing a cumulative story for ages, and the simple concept seemed a good match for that goal. I also knew from the start that Baby had to be right at the end.

    To enter the drawing for an autographed copy of Baby Says “Moo!”, follow these steps:

    1. Post a comment on any post this week and tell us about a learning game you’ve played with children. Enter only once, please!

    2. Include your contact information in your comment. If you are not a blogger or your e-mail address is not accessible from your online profile, provide a valid e-mail address in your comment. Feel free to disguise your address by spelling out portions, such as [at] and [dot].

    3. Post your comment by 11 p.m. (CST) Monday, March 7, 2011.

    The winner:
    • must have a mailing address in the United States.
    • will be chosen using the random number generator at
    • will be announced on Tuesday, March 8.
    • automatically grants us permission to post his or her name on our Teaching Authors web site.
    • will also be notified by e-mail.
    • must respond to the notification e-mail and provide a mailing address within 72 hours, or the prize will be forfeited and an alternate winner will be chosen.

    Good luck!
    JoAnn Early Macken