Friday, August 19, 2011

Book Giveaway and Guest Teaching Author Interview with Donna Gephart

The Teaching Authors are pleased to present an interview with Guest Teaching Author Donna Gephart.

To celebrate Donna's appearance on our blog, we're giving away an autographed paperback copy of her book How to Survive Middle School. To enter the drawing, see the instructions at the end of this post.

Donna’s newest novel, Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen, about a girl who will do anything to get on the TV quiz show Jeopardy!, comes out in March 2012 from Delacorte Press. How to Survive Middle School, her second novel, garnered starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Her debut novel, As If Being 12-3/4 Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running for President!, won the Sid Fleischman Humor Award. In addition to having homeschooled her son, Donna speaks at schools, libraries, book festivals, and conferences across the country.

How did you become a Teaching Author?

My degree was in secondary education from Penn State University. While I loved working with the students, I knew I wanted to be a writer. Combining writing novels for young people with school visits seems to be the best of both worlds for me. I love speaking to students and giving writing workshops for young people. 

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

One of the hardest things for students seems to be how to revise their writing. Most young people wish their first draft were also their final draft. Thanks to the amazing author/teacher Kate Messner, there's now a solution to that problem: Kate's awesome new book, Real Revision: Authors' Strategies to Share with Student Writers. The inspiration and information in this book helps teachers guide young writers through the revision process. 

Can you share a story about a funny writing or speaking experience?

The funniest thing that ever happened during one of my talks was this: When I was giving a workshop about writing humor at the Erma Bombeck Humor Writer's Workshop in Dayton, OH, a crew from the CBS TV show Sunday Morning was filming a segment about Erma Bombeck. During my workshop, I offer an exercise that involves writing about your most embarrassing experiences. I assure participants that their experiences will not be shared. I tell them to cover their papers and let them know that their responses are for their eyes only. As soon as workshop participants began writing their most embarrassing experiences, a TV crew came into the room and trained their cameras on the writers and what they were writing. Talk about embarrassing! At least it was a humor writing workshop, so we all got a good laugh about it. And that particular segment did not find its way onto TV -- thank goodness!

Your first novel, As If Being 12-3/4 Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running for President!, won the Sid Fleischman Humor Award. What advice would you give to writers who would like to write funny books?

I give a workshop about writing humor and have written about it for the Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market. My two best bits of advice are to mine your embarrassment and to tell the truth -- not in a non-fiction way, but to tell the emotional truth that will resonate with young readers.

How can teachers use your books in the classroom?

My latest book, Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen, contains more than 100 bits of trivia, so teachers could use it to create Jeopardy!-style games for whatever subject they are teaching or share the trivia in the book. 

How to Survive Middle School landed on a lot of school reading lists this summer because it can open a discussion about bullying and about finding oneself and discovering one's passions. The main character survives difficult circumstances through his talent and sense of humor. The book can also be a springboard for students to create their own videos -- book trailers, talkshows, etc. The main character also uses "Top 6-1/2 Lists" during his talk shows. Students can create 6-1/2 lists about a variety of topics. And I include a recipe in the back of the book that can be made by students or teachers. 

The main character in As If Being 12-3/4 Isn't Bad Enough, My Mother is Running for President! is a spelling bee champ, so a mock spelling bee in the classroom can be a fun tie-in activity. In the back of the book, I share a resource guide for learning more about politics.  There are some fun sites for students of all ages. And, of course, a recipe for lemon squares, which is significant in the novel.

Would you share a favorite writing exercise for our readers?

To learn the power of using nouns and strong verbs, I create a Mad Lib style fill-in-the-blanks where students shout out ideas for the missing nouns and verbs. At the end, I read the hilarious story the students have created by providing interesting nouns and strong verbs.

For creating characters, I have students fill out a questionnaire about their characters, including age, family relationships, passions, dislikes, school information, and what the character might be hiding in his or her closet. Then I have students put their characters into hot water by making the characters face the things they most want to avoid.

* * * 

Thank you, Donna!

Readers, you can also view a singing hamster book trailer for How to Survive Middle School.

Before entering our contest, please read our Book Giveaway Guidelines. Then, for a chance to win an autographed paperback copy of How to Survive Middle School, answer this question: Now that you're past those middle school years, what piece of advice would you give to a young person who wants to know the best way to survive middle school? You can either post a comment to today's blog post or email your comment to  teachingauthors at gmail dot com with "Contest" in the subject line. To qualify, your entry must be posted or received by 11 p.m. Friday, August 26, 2011 (Central Standard Time). The winner will be chosen in a random drawing and announced by 11 p.m., Saturday, August 27, 2011.


Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for the great interview, Donna. I love the mad-libs-type exercise.

Lisa Riebe said...

Donna, thanks for the tips. Surviving middle school is never easy, but my advice would be to join a club, any club and latch on to at least one good friend. A confidant you can go to when trouble brews.

Sandra Stiles said...

Obviously I haven't left Middle School behind as I teach it. My one piece of advice is to realize no one, not even the teachers have all the answers so it is okay to ask questions and make mistakes.

Irene Latham said...

I love Donna's books -- thanks for the interview! As for advice, I'd start with a reframe: not just how to survive middle school, but how to make the most of it. And my advice to my own middle schooler is to talk to your parents. Ask for help. Remember, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Sandy Brehl said...

Thanks for a wonderful interview, Donna, and for the book giveaway. Loved the Hammie Hamster trailer, too. Advice to middle schoolers? Cue eye rolls.
Advice, instead, to those who want to help- avoid at all costs the "when I was your age..." language, unless asked.
MSchoolers advice... Find activities/ideas you love, shift the focus outside yourself. The rest will follow.

Margo Dill said...

I love the story of the TV crew and the workshop attendees. You can't write stuff like that! :)

As for advice, I know several kids starting middle school this year, and they were all so nervous about HOW BIG IT IS. I think there has been some wonderful advice already given here to solve this fear: talk to your parents, your friends are still your friends, and join a club or become involved with something that you really like. Once you become a part of the school, it doesn't seem so overwhelming. (Hopefully).

margo (at)

Wild About Words said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wild About Words said...

Thanks so much for allowing me to be part of your wonderful blog and for the great comments. I LOVE these excellent suggestions and will share them when I speak to middle school students this year.

All best,

JoAnn Early Macken said...

Thanks, everyone, for your helpful advice! Best of luck with the book giveaway!

Ramona said...

I teach middle school, and the best advice I can offer is to find good friends. My friend, Jan, from junior high is still my forever friend (and we went to junior hig in the 60's)!