Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tenth Day of Thanks-Giving: Roundup of Thankus and Thank-You Notes

Today is the last day of our Ten Days of Thanks-Giving. The event was inspired by Esther's post about a poetry form called the THANKU, a thank-you note in haiku form. We TeachingAuthors decided to sponsor the Ten Days of Thanks-Giving as an opportunity for our readers, students, and everyone in the Kidlitosphere to share their own thank-yous.  We hope to make this an annual event taking place every November 20-30.

Today, I'll share some of the thank you notes we received, and a roundup of links to sites where fellow bloggers posted their thank-yous. But first, I want to share my own THANKU.

On Monday, Mary Ann wrote about being thankful for the Hive, a group of Vermont College alumni that we're both blessed to be part of. My thank you today is an appropriate follow-up to that post because it's to the woman responsible for my attending Vermont College: my teacher, mentor, and friend, Sharon Darrow. I've known Sharon for so long now that I can't even recall how we first met. However, I do remember the fateful day when we had lunch together and I mentioned my desire to take some advanced writing classes. Sharon encouraged me to apply to the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults instead. The idea terrified me. Who was I to try to get an MFA in writing? My undergraduate degree was in Math and Computer Science! But Sharon had such faith in me that I decided to take the plunge and apply. Little did I know then all the wonderful things my acceptance to VC would lead to.

I don't think I can top the marvelous tribute Esther wrote last week in honor of her mentor and teacher, Barbara Lucas. So instead, I dedicate this simply Thanku Haiku to Sharon Darrow:

Your encouragement
yielded a harvest beyond
my expectations.

Thank you, Sharon. And thank you to all the wonderful writing teachers I worked with at Vermont College as a result of following Sharon's advice.

Now, to share some of the thank you notes and comments we received during our Ten Days of Thanks-Giving. As it happens, just this morning Bobby Miller, a terrific writer I met when we were both students at Vermont College, posted a Vermont College-related thank-you comment on Mary Ann's post of yesterday:
I share my big Thank You to the MFA/Writing for Children program. It changed my life, personally and professionally. It brought my life's goal into focus, gave it purpose. And I walked away with treasured friendships.
Yesterday, Linda at Teacherdance posted a beautiful 25-word thank-you note to her writing community as a comment on that same blog post:
Thank you my writing colleagues;
your words bless me, put my life
into a higher plane, entice me to
write more, think more, be more.
I had invited the students of a creative writing class I'm teaching for homeschoolers ages 10-14 to participate in our Ten Days of Thanks-Giving. Only one girl, Julia, was brave enough to share her 25-word thank-you note here:
Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful, so let's eat and drink and be merry. It is a time to be with family and friends.
Hooray for Julia! (See below for another student submission!)

And here are links to posts by other bloggers who participated in our celebration (roughly in the order of their posting):
Together we find
spirit greater than ourselves.
Our words, golden light. 
  • Finally, on Thanksgiving day, Margo Dill posted her Thanku Haiku to her parents on her blog.
This just in (at 2:05 pm): a fun thank-you poem from Tyler, another of my homeschool students. (He submitted it via the comments, but I want all our subscribers to be able to see it too.)

I am thankful for:
family and friends,
cats, dogs,
fish, frogs,
people and places,
dungeons and maces,
Wait not thankful for that... just rhymes.

Love the humor, Tyler! Thanks so much for participating!

And from author Leone Castell Anderson comes this lovely Thanku Haiku:
 "Thanks." A little word
but of infinite meaning.
For loving thoughts shared.
Marvelous, Leone!

Thanks again to everyone who took part in our Ten Days of Thanks-Giving. For those of you who'd still like to join in: it's not too late to send us your links and thank-you notes. I'll either add them to this roundup, or ask April to include them in her post on Friday.
Happy writing!

Monday, November 28, 2011

ThankU for. . .Buzzing Bees

     Conventional wisdom says that the friends you make in college are the ones you make for life, whether you are twenty, or firmly in middle-age.  I never expected to make twelve new BFF's in my forties, but I did.  My ThankU goes out to my Vermont College  MFA in Writing for Children classmates, Summer '00, aka "The Hive." These incredible writers have become a part of my life, both personally and professionally.  Who would have thought when we met in the luggage claim at the Burlington Airport, July 1998, that we still be the close-knit group we are today?
       I belong to a terrific critique group here in Georgia, all.  I am a member of  the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and through that organization I have writing friends all over the country. (If there is one thing we need in this solitary life we've chosen, it's friends who also write!) Yet none of these wonderful people have become part of my family, and I, theirs. Within the Hive, we know the status of each other's manuscripts.  We share our collective knowledge of editors, agents, publishers, and other writers. We have seen each other through the death of spouses and parents, pregnancy and illness.  Together we have shepherded our children from "the terrible twos" to the troublesome teens to college and marriage and another generation.

    At first meeting, we were as diverse a group as you could find, aged twenty-something to seventy-something, with most of us somewhere smack in the middle.  We came from all over the country, and just for something completely different, Thailand (that was me). In fact, had I not had my fellow "Bees" as close as my computer screen, I never would have survived my year and a half on the other side of the world.  I remember the Thanksgiving my husband was on assignment in China, and the Bees kept emailing me to keep me from being too homesick, alone in my Bangkok high rise with a four-year-old.

    When we came to Vermont College, differences in age, geography and previous publishing experience were forgotten.  What mattered is that we had the same desire…to become the best possible writer we could. So intense were we, hanging on our instructors' every word, that our class loomed large on the faculty radar.  We believe it was one of those instructors, Brock Cole, who inadvertently dubbed as "bees" because we fairly buzzed with questions and enthusiasm.  So, if individually we were Bees, together we were "The Hive."

     Not everyone in our class wished to maintain contact after graduation. Some members of the considerably smaller Winter '00 class wanted to be part of the Hive. We were honored that someone wanted to cast their lot with our busy bunch. It is hard to remember now when those two members were one of our number.

     When I tell other writers about The Hive, they always ask how often we hear from each other. They are amazed that the answer is "couple of times a day."  On the rare occasions that The Hive falls silent, someone (usually JoAnn) will send out an email on the order of "Where is everybody?" If one of us doesn't log in for a period of time, someone is sure to email (or even call) to make sure all is well.

    Because we are scattered across the country, we have never physically all been together in the same place, not even at graduation. (The two "Bee adoptees" graduated before us.) We have managed to get a good number of them together in one place for various reunions, but never all of us.  Still, we see each other more than most families do.  If one of us is speaking in a Bee's hometown, you can be sure that any Bee within a fifty mile radius will be there too.

    So...for all the manuscripts you've critiqued, rejection letters you've suffered through, rants about editors endured and professional connections made, my heartfelt ThankU goes out to the two Gretchens, the two Carolyns, Maribeth, Laura, Phyllis, April and Lindan. A special ThankU to Carmela, Jeanne Marie and JoAnn, my fellow TA's and Hive members. And through the TA connection, I have become friends with Esther and April.

   The Hive is the source that keeps on giving!

   Don't forget to send your ThankU's to us.  See Esther's last Wednesday post for details.
 Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Of Thanks and Thankus!

Say the word Thanksgiving and right away, I’m gathering my favorite newspaper recipes – Mom’s Foolproof Turkey from a 1989 Chicago Tribune, Do-ahead Mashed Potatoes that are the stuff of any cardiologist’s dream, Cooked Cranberry Orange Relish that always surprises.

But now I have a new favorite holiday recipe, non-fat and non-caloric, yet nevertheless delicious: a Thanksgiving Thanku, a thank you note in the form of a haiku.
Expressing gratitude has never been easier.

Between now and November 30, come join our TeachingAuthors Ten Days of Thanks-Giving Celebration by writing a Thanku or any kind of thank you note, 25 words or less, to express your gratitude – to a friend, relative, neighbor, teacher, stranger, Little-known Hero, character, pet, author, artist, you-name-him/her/it – the choice is yours. Then share your thank-you with us in one of three ways:
  1. Post it as a comment to any of our blog posts through Nov. 30.
  2. Send it to us via email to teachingauthors at gmail dot com, with "Thanks-Giving" as the subject. Depending on the number of emails we receive, we'll share some of your notes in our posts.
  3. Post it on your own blog and then share the link either via a comment or email. On November 30, Carmela will post a round-up of all the links we receive.
The recipient of my Thank You Note today?
One Barbara Lucas, Writer, Teacher, Editor, Publisher and Mentor Extraordinaire, Founder in 1983 of the one-week summer Vassar College Institute of Children’s Book Publishing and Writing that changed my Life.

I (bravely) attended the Institute in 1989, 1990, 1991, then again in 1993 (as a presenter) and finally in 1995, as a celebrant of the Institute’s 15th Anniversary. I’d be neither an Author nor a Writing Teacher had Barbara’s path and mine not crossed.

                                                  (Barbara Lucas, front row, far right)
Barbara got her start in publishing at Harper and Row, as assistant to the legendary Ursula Nordstrom. She was Editor-in-Chief at Putnam and then at Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich, when the publisher had all 3 names. She and Artist’s Representative Dilys Evans began and oversee Lucas-Evans Books, a book packager.

Institute mornings from 9 am to noon, I learned my craft, sitting at Barbara’s feet, and those of her fellow teachers – authors M.J. Auch, Marge Facklam, Stephanie Tolan, Patricia Hermes and Jean Marzollo. They taught me the elements of writing and the tenets of writing for children from my fellow attendees’ submitted manuscripts.

Afternoons and evenings, we met invited guests, key members of the Children’s Book World who traveled up the Hudson from New York City to Poughkeepsie: editors, publishers, art directors, marketing specialists, academicians, librarians, agents, book reviewers, authors, illustrators.
In between sessions and long into the night, we writers connected, forging a community.

It was Barbara who shared: I was writing above my plotline, not plugged into my characters; how could my readers connect with the story? 

It was Barbara who believed in me, gifting me with a classroom poster of Troy Howell’s Original Art, a poster that now adorns the wall above my desk.

It was Barbara who introduced me to my Children’s Book World’s residents and showed me my story was but the Very First Step in a book's creations.  So many hands touch that book before the story can touch the reader.

The wonder of Barbara is: I am but one of so many children’s book writers and illustrators lucky enough to have reason to write the above Thank You Note.

Barbara empowered us so we could go forth and empower our readers.
I pay her Kindness forward each and every time I help a writer.
I model her instruction, each and every class I teach.

I’d write an original Thanku but fellow Vassar Institute attendee and author Kay Winters’ thank you haiku says it all:
                            How lucky we were

                            to meet those who stretched a hand.
                            They showed us the way.

For the record, I have indeed expressed my gratitude to Barbara on numerous occasions over the years.
But one can’t say “Thank you!” enough.

I join my fellow TeachingAuthors in wishing our readers Happy Thanksgiving!

Esther Hershenhorn

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanku, World

I have spent the last few weeks in a major funk -- the kind that makes me feel sorry for everyone who has to live with me, deal with me, talk to me.  After a weekend in which I learned of the deaths of my friend's dad, Carmela's mother-in-law, and my parents' dear dog, Riley, writing a thanku would seem like a really timely exercise.  However, this morning... I'm coming up dry.

I tried to get my kids to do the work for me.  Kate pouted.  Patrick said, "I'll do it.  I'm thankful for... everything.  And rainbows."

Kate, her arms folded, scowling, finally acknowledged, "I'm grateful for Grandma and Pap.  Family.  Food.  Can I be done now?"

Perhaps my cheerful attitude is contagious.

I remember reading a tweet from the late children's writer Bridget Zinn a few days before she died.  She was desperately ill when she wrote, "Sunshine and a good book.  Perfect." 

Hugs; wonderful friends; dog kisses; the knees in my back when my kid is snuggling with me at night; a husband who loves me no matter how difficult I am; sadness, because it makes us appreciate happiness all the more; good health; God; love; life.

Thanks to all of you reading this who are blessings in my life. --Jeanne Marie

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ten Days of Thanks-Giving: Time to Share Your Thank-Yous (and THANKUs)

Today is the official start of our Ten Days of Thanks-Giving! As JoAnn explained on Friday, this is the first of what we hope will be an annual event, taking place November 20-30.

It all started with Esther's post about a new poetry form she invented: the THANKU, a thank-you note in haiku form. After her post, we talked about how there's so much negativitiy and bad news in the world, and how it might be uplifting to do a series of thank-you posts about people and things for which we're grateful. We'll start that series tomorrow. Meanwhile, we came up with the idea for sponsoring the Ten Days of Thanks-Giving: an opportunity for our readers and everyone in the Kidlitosphere to share their own thank-yous.  We encourage you (and your students!) to write a thank-you note of 25 words or less, as a poem or prose. Then share your thank-you with us in one of three ways:
  1. Post it as a comment to any of our blog posts from today through Nov. 30.
  2. Send it to us via email to teachingauthors at gmail dot com, with "Thanks-Giving" as the subject. Depending on the number of emails we receive, we'll share some of your notes in our posts.
  3. Post it on your own blog and then share the link either via a comment or email. On November 30, I'll post a round-up of all the links we receive.
If you're feeling creative, try your hand at writing a THANKU.  Esther first wrote about the form here. And Lori Degman used the form to write a lovely reply in the comments:

Thank you Esther H.
for sharing yourself with us.
You've touched countless lives!!

Or you can try one of the poetry forms JoAnn shared on Friday.
Or just write a simple thank-you note.

I'll be sharing my thank-you when I post next week. Meanwhile, know that I'm especially thankful for my five amazingly talented co-bloggers, for all our wonderful readers, and for all the fantastic Kidlit bloggers I've come to know since we started this blog.

Happy Thanks-Giving!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Ten Days of Thanks-Giving & New Forms to Try

Inspired by Esther’s invention of the thanku (a thank you note in haiku form), we Teaching Authors are celebrating our first annual Ten Days of Thanks-Giving with poems in that form and others.

When I thought about writing a Thanksgiving thanku, I started by brainstorming a list of possible topics—people, places, and things I'm grateful for. My gratitude list was impossibly long, so I decided to focus on that moment.

stillness before dawn—
recliner, cozy blanket,
coffee, notebook, pen

Although it fits the syllable count and describes something I'm grateful for, this one doesn't feel like a thank you note. I went back to my list. In my poetry class this week, two students introduced me to new forms, so I decided to try them.

The etheree has ten lines of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 syllables—or in reverse, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1. An etheree with more than one stanza can include both.

This form seemed to suit my long list of things I’m grateful for, so I chose some that fit the pattern.

purple pens
soft yellow yarn
dogs with wagging tails
chances to start over
sunlight streaking through dense woods
crossing chores off my to-do list
kicking up crunchy leaves on my walk
old family photo albums, labeled

Notice how coffee appears in both poems? I like to write first thing in the morning. But not only did this feel more like a list poem than a thank you note, using the etheree form forced me to leave out some of the most obvious things I’m grateful for. I could certainly add more stanzas with the number of syllables counting back down and up again. And again and again. (As I said, I have a long list!)

The lanturne is shaped like a Japanese lantern: it has five lines with 1, 2, 3, 4, and 1 syllables. Mine, like the thanku above, focuses on a moment.

drive home
from night class
open the door

what’s in the pot?

windows steamed
homemade chili

(two kinds)
from your garden

(comfort food)
how you show your

This one hits the spot for me because it feels more like a thank you note. The end came as a surprise, which is one of my favorite things about writing. Sometimes I don't know what I'm writing about until it comes out of my pen.

Writing Workout: Write a Thanks-Giving poem. Teachers, invite your classes to join in! Try a thanku, an etheree, a lanturne, or another new form. See if you can express your thanks in 25 words or less. Then post your poems here or on any of our posts during our Ten Days of Thanks-Giving, November 20-30. Or send them to us by e-mail: teachingauthors at  gmail dot com.

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is at The Opposite of Indifference. Take a peek!

JoAnn Early Macken

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Catching up on a Classic: The Phantom Tollbooth

Here on the TeachingAuthors blog, we've been discussing the classic children's books we never read till adulthood. The series was inspired, in part, by Esther's interview with Leonard Marcus in honor of the release of The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth last month. When Esther first told me about the new book, I felt a twinge of guilt--I'd never read the original Phantom Tollbooth. So I suggested this topic to motivate me to finally read Norton Juster's masterpiece. If you're wondering what classics and must-reads you may have missed, be sure to check out the links in the Writing Workout below.

I wasn't reading yet in 1961 when The Phantom Tollbooth was first published, but that was no excuse for my not reading this classic. When, as an adult, I became interested in writing for children, I began reading voraciously in the field. Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, which Mary Ann blogged about on Monday, was one of the many children's books I came to as an adult that I fell in love with. (Unlike Mary Ann, I'm somewhat of a Math geek, which made me love L'Engle's book all the more!) Yet, despite a number of fellow children's literature enthusiasts telling me that Tollbooth was one of their all-time favorites, I never made time to read the book, until Esther's interview with Leonard Marcus inspired me to do so a few weeks ago.

I'm happy to report that I thoroughly enjoyed the book. The wordplay and puns are great fun, but the Math geek in me was especially happy to see the book's celebration of numbers. I was also impressed at how Juster wove important themes about the value of education and action into such an entertaining read. One of my favorite paragraphs (among many) was:
"You must never feel badly about making mistakes," explained Reason quietly, "as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons."
I believe the combination of entertainment and enduring themes contributed to making The Phantom Tollbooth such a classic. I'm grateful to Leonard Marcus for bringing this book back into the spotlight. In case you missed the short video in which Norton Juster, Jules Feiffer, and Leonard Marcus discuss the book's creation, I've embedded it below, or you can watch it at YouTube here.

Are there any classic children's/young adult books you missed reading as a child or teen? If so, please share their titles in the comments below. And if you need suggestions of children's/YA books now considered "must reads," see the Writing Workout below. 

Writing Workout:
Reading the Best Children's Books

How well-read are you in the field of children's and young adult literature? Last year, Elizabeth Bird at School Library Journal's Fuse#8 blog took a survey of her readers to come up with a list of the top 100 Children's Novels. The Phantom Tollbooth is #10 on that list. Now that I've read it, I can say I've read all the top 10! However, I see that there are two in the top 20 I haven't read yet: #16 Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh and #18 Matilda by Roald Dahl. Time to check those out.

If you are a picture book fan, you can see the results of her poll for the top 100 Picture Books, put together in 2009.

The Persnickety Snark blog conducted a similar poll in 2010 to determine the top 100 Young Adult Novels. (I've read the top 9 there. Hmm. More books to add to my reading list!)

If reader polls aren't your thing, this page links to lists of the best children's books as determined by a variety of organizations, including the New York Public Library, Publisher's Weekly, and the UK newspaper, The Guardian

Your assignment for this Writing Workout is actually a Reading Workout: Pick a genre and determine which of the books on these "best books" lists you haven't read yet, then read at least THREE of them! When you're done, come back and post a comment to any of our blog posts sharing your experience.

Happy Writing, and Reading!

Monday, November 14, 2011

At Long Last--Tessering!

     What book do you wish you had read as a child?  Are you kidding?  I read everything as a child!!
      A trip to the public library was as much a part of my week as piano lessons and allergy shots.  Plus, there were the biweekly class visits to the school library…and then I remembered.  Until graduate school, I had never read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.
    Why not?
    Simple.  The one copy in the school library was always checked out.  For two years I watched someone else check out the book with the cool “space age” jacket graphics.  Wrinkle was the must read, IT book, for fifth and sixth graders. Madeleine L’Engle was our J.K. Rowling.
     The public library?   It owned multiple copies….all apparently on “permanent” check out.
     Then I went to junior high.  The librarian informed me that “Newbery books are for younger children” with a look that made me feel like a dolt for even asking.   
   Years passed and I went to the University of Tennessee, where an MLIS in children’s services meant reading hundreds of children’s books.  Their library had multiple copies of everything, including AWrinkle in Time.
     I’m glad that I read this as an adult.  In elementary school, I would have seen a quest/adventure novel.  The first line of the book is “It was a dark and stormy night.”   I wouldn’t have understood the irony, but would immediately have been drawn into  Meg Murry’s world.
     Meg sounded oddly like me (probably every girl who has read this book thinks the same thing); she has braces and glasses and no social graces. Her father has simply disappeared, apparently abandoning his family.  Again, I could identify.  My father, the FBI agent was gone on out-of-town assignments for months at a time. Some of the neighbors asked if I really had a father.
     That Meg is something of a math whiz and all the math references would have stopped me momentarily. I hated math and didn’t understand people who did.  But by the time we learn this about Meg, we are already invested in her as a character, so I would’ve overlooked this character “flaw”.
    I know I wouldn’t have understood most of L’Engle’s literary references, and would have skipped over them. They are not essential to the basic story.
   What I would’ve understood was the theme of Conformity is Evil and we should all Do Our Own thing.  I would’ve been reading this in 1966, at the dawn of the "Age of Aquarius," when life was all about Sticking it to the Establishment.  The conformity on the planet Camzotz, would have reminded me of a favorite folk song, Malvina Reynolds’ “Little Boxes.”
  Little boxes on the hillside,
  Little boxes made of ticky tacky, 
  Little boxes on the hillside,
  Little boxes all the same.
  There's a green one and a pink one
  And a blue one and a yellow one
  And they're all made out of ticky tacky
  And they all look just the same.   
      Down with conformity! Up with the individual!
      As an adult reader, I viewed the struggle between the villain, IT and Meg, for the soul of her little brother, Charles Wallace, in more spiritual terms. Reading it then (and now) I focused more on the themes of Good and Evil.  I read this the same year I saw Star Wars, and was struck by the similarity in theme. (“Go toward the light, Luke!”)
      As a writer, I know something about Madeleine L’Engle’s struggle to publish this book, her second.  After 30 some rejections, L’Engle had thrown in the towel. Had her agent not sent it to just one more editor, Robert Farrar, at what is now Farrar Straus Giroux, it would never have seen the light of day.  (This is a story I tell myself every time I get a rejection.) When your rejections include words like “weird” “strange” and the ever popular “unmarketable” you sort of lose hope.
      I am sure that those childrens’ editors found the Cold War themes of totalitarianism, brainwashing and a numb existence, unsuitable for children.  When it was finally published in 1962, the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis, these themes resonated even more. I don’t believe it was an accident that it became the 1963 Newbery winner. (Newbery committees are notable for thinking outside the box—boxes made of ticky tacky.)
     As a writer, I did have trouble with my suspension of disbelief from time to time.  I accepted that Meg and Charles Wallace spoke like adults (because they were “different”).  I was willing to believe “tessering”, even if the explanation involved math and physics (which I still don’t understand.)  I couldn’t decide what Calvin’s role was in all this (Friend? lLove interest? Set up for future sequels?)  I also couldn’t figure out just why Meg’s father was being held captive on Camzotz.  But these are minor points in a book that has stood the test of time.
     2012 marks the 50th anniversary of Wrinkle’s publication.  I have not read any of the Harry Potter books (either). I wonder if kids will be as wild about Harry, fifty years hence. I think Meg Murry will be around in 2062.
 Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Friday, November 11, 2011

Poetry Friday, Thankus, and Ten Days of Thanks-Giving ~

Howdy Campers—welcome!  Come in, come's 
So pull up a chair, grab a steaming cuppa tea,
and read the words of happy (or appropriately despondent)
poets contributing to today's celebration, below!

Today I'm delighted to offer you a sneak peek preview of TeachingAuthors' First Annual...
This year, Ten Days of Thanks-Giving will run November 20-30. It all began with our own Esther Hershenhorn's post about Thankus, which are thank you notes in the form of a haiku.

It's lovely to sit for a moment (or drive my car without the radio, as I did) and think of the one person to whom you'd like to write a thank you note or poem.

Here's the Thanku I wrote today:

by April Halprin Wayland
When rain pours, when my
nose drips—you wrap around me
like my softest quilt.

Write a Thank You Note or a Thanku poem!

For November 20-30, we'd like to encourage you to take some "thank you time" try your hand at writing a thanku, or any kind of thank you note, 25 words or less.

So: to whom are you grateful?  A relative, that wonderful next-door neighbor, your hair dresser, a stranger, a teacher?

If you're a teacher, why not ask your students the same question?  And if you and/or your students are overflowing with gratitude and cannot wait one more minute, by all means leave your thankus or 25-word thank you notes in the comments below or email us at teachingauthors at  gmail dot com!

...and remember to write with joy!

P.S: Did you know that November is Picture Book Month?
Our old dog Rosie, reading her favorite poetry picture book
Thanku poem and photo of Rosie (c) 2011 April Halprin Wayland, all rights reserved

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Book I FINALLY Read: The Velveteen Rabbit

I confess: until last Wednesday, November 2, 2011, I’d never read, from start to finish,
Margery Williams’ 1922 classic storybook The Velveteen Rabbit, Or How Toys Become Real.
Nor had anyone, while I was growing up, read it to me.

The above two facts got me wondering “Why?”
I certainly loved listening to stories. And once I learned to read to and for myself, I was pretty much always in the company of a book – a Golden Book, a Honey Bunch title, a fairy tale or a biography of a famous person’s childhood.
Was it because stuffed animals weren’t my thing? (Baby dolls and my very own Suzy Walker claimed much of my day’s play.)

To maximize my first-time reading experience, I made sure to purchase and read the Original Edition, illustrated (beautifully) by William Nicholson and published in 1922 by Doubleday Books for Young Readers to instant success.

Of course, I knew of this beloved classic.                                                    
I recall my University of Pennsylvania Children’s Literature Professor Dr. Huus introducing the book, assuming all of us had read it.
There wasn’t a fifth grade class I taught in which at least one student didn’t name the book as his or her All-Time Favorite.
My writers, both young and once-young, wrote, write and will continue to write, anthropomorphic stories about inanimate toys, lovingly referencing the velveteen rabbit.
I knew the story’s oft-recited line: “When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
If quizzed, I could match William Nicholson’s cover, with its heart-grabbing bunny begging to be hugged, to Margery Williams’ title.
I nodded approvingly when reviewers compared the velveteen bunny to Kate DiCamillo’s china Edward Tulane.
The Velveteen Rabbit was the perfect name for baby stores, toy stores, children's dishware and clothing lines.

I simply hadn’t read the book from beginning to end.


There was once a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid. He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were lined with pink sateen. On Christmas morning, when he sat wedged in the top of the Boy’s stocking, with a sprig of holly between his paws, the effect was charming.”


“But he never knew that it really was his own Bunny, come back to look at the child who had first helped him to be Real.”

So, what do I think, now that I’ve read it?

Well, the Adult Reader in me teared up at the story’s Truths. Yes, indeedy, it does take a long time to become Real. And by the time you do, “most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby….but these things don’t matter.”
The illustrations so captured the rabbit’s innocence, ingenuousness, his sense of wonder, his sense of delight. I worried, I cheered, I gasped then sighed. The velveteen rabbit had become a Real Rabbit at last.
One story element that didn’t sit well with me, though?  The appearance of the nursery magic Fairy. The wonders she worked left me shaking my head, and not in a good way.

The Writer in me so admired the old-fashioned telling, the lovely language and how Williams built the story across first Christmas, then Spring, then Summer, then the Anxious Times. There was a recognizable sentiment – for the youngest of listeners, for the oldest of readers, and a loveable character who kept me turning the pages. Much of Williams’ language suited the young, accommodating their sensibilities and concrete intelligence. No wonder the book remains a best-seller today and like a true classic, sold well for the past 89 years. Researching Williams’ life, I learned of her father’s death when she was only 7 and how many of her books explored this life-long issue.
Again, though?  The nursery magic Fairy left me cold. I like Happy Ever After endings just as much as the next writer/reader, but the Fairy-driven resolution was too easy.  Or maybe it was how she appeared, from within a flower that bloomed from the rabbit's tear.  Did the Writer in me see a need for fore-shadowing?

As for that Long-ago Child who lives inside me, she shared she was hooked from the get-go, whether she'd played with stuffed animals or not. She seconded everything the Adult Reader liked and best of all, loved Nicholson’s illustrations.
The nursery magic Fairy apparently wasn’t a problem.  In fact, she whispered, “Everything about her was perfect."

If you’d like to read Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit, again or for the first time, click here.

Esther Hershenhorn

Monday, November 7, 2011

Cultural Illiterate

I am supposed to be kicking off the next series of posts on "the book everyone read before me."  Well... I'm sure you don't have time to read a novel on this topic, and I don't have time to write one, so suffice it to say that my list is very long.

I have written many times about how I was a voracious reader as a kid and was cured of my habit by being forced in middle and high school to plow through the "classics."  I am a slow reader, a picky reader, and now that I am a grown-up, I choose to use my limited time to read only what I enjoy.  Sue me.

My grandmother shared a room with me from the time I was six to the time I was twelve.  She was functionally illiterate and highly disapproved of the time I spent with my nose buried in a book when I could be sweeping, dusting, or learning to cook.  (To this day, I relish the fact that I don't sweep, dust, or cook.)  My mom also did not read for leisure, though she enjoyed reading aloud to me.  I had a few of the old-time classics on my shelf, and I very much wanted to like them.  Hans Brinker (boring -- but pretty pictures); The Wind in the Willows (talking animals?  only E.B. White could make me believe);  I never even got through Winnie the Pooh.  After several unsuccessful attempts to read my way through the 19th century, and I made my peace and happily cast aside the (not-)dusty old tomes for Mitch and Amy and the Bobbsey Twins.  I must say, I never looked back.

My mom tells the story of changing schools in sixth grade and being enthralled by Moby-Dick as read aloud to the class by her new teacher.  We read Billy Budd in high school, and I promptly crossed Moby-Dick off my to-read list.  My dad (who is a reader's reader) raved about The Last of the Mohicans, and I did make it through that one -- only to wonder why I'd bothered. To Kill a Mockingbird was the only book I forced myself through during this period that was memorable to me for its magnificence.

I actually believe that the male-centricness of the "canon" is a big part of my problem.  While I can appreciate his brilliance, I can't say I'm a fan of macho Hemingway.  Whaling and warring are frankly not relatable or interesting to me.  At some point, I looked at War and Peace and Anna Karenina on the shelf in their thousand-page splendor and realized that, as a writer, I would need to know these stories; but I couldn't hack getting through them.  Thank God for movies!

Of course I could write a whole new post about the movies/TV shows I've never seen (inexcusable in a TV writer)...   The older I get, the shorter my attention span.  Since having kids, I can only consume information in small bites -- while working, while on the elliptical, while someone is talking in my ear.  I listen to a book on tape in the car, and my attention wanders.  Kids' books are the perfect reads for me right now -- maybe forever.

My 1st-grade daughter has just begun to read without prompting, totally for pleasure.  I noticed that she would still prefer to choose a long and potentially tricky picture book (i.e., Eloise) than a chapter book that requires more steady effort.  Like me, she appears to be a serial starter (poor thing).  However, as of this weekend, I think Beezus and Ramona has got her. :)

Happy week, and happy reading to all! -- Jeanne Marie

Saturday, November 5, 2011


Congratulations, Carol Grannick, winner of our TeachingAuthors Book Giveaway of Leonard Marcus' THE ANNOTATED PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH!

Here's Norton Juster's synopsis of the last chapter of THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, as typed by his mother Minnie for his editor Jason Epstein at Random House and shared by Leonard Marcus in his recently published annotated volume:

“Milo then says goodbye to his friends, heads for home and after one more detour in the land if illusions he reaches the tollbooth and his room. The next day when he eagerly rushes home from school to take another trip he finds that the booth has disappeared as mysteriously as it came. In its place is a letter which tells him there are many other little boys and girls who have to use it also and that now he must find the lands beyond by himself. At first he is very unhappy but then he realizes that he doesn’t have time to be because there is so much to do.”

Carol Grannick is now sufficiently equipped to discover The Lands Beyond.

Thanks to all those TeachingAuthor readers who entered. I know they are busily engaged in all that there is to do!

Esther Hershenhorn

P.S. from Carmela: If you missed April's fun Poetry Friday post featuring several Dog Poems, be sure to scroll down or check it out directly here.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Dog Poems for Poetry Friday!

Howdy, Campers!
Every day in October, I played around with poems about two things:
a dog and a gift.  I wrote the obvious, I wrote cliches.  Then I tried to write the not-so-obvious.  I tried standing on my head and looking at the topic in a different light.
Here are some of the poems:

by April Halprin Wayland

I am hiding, hiding in a
big box with little holes
trying not to wiggle
my butt or wag my tail!
Open me, open me, please--
I am drooling to meet you!
by April Halprin Wayland

Mom—I don't mean to whine,
whimper, howl or growl...
it's just that
the holidays
are coming up
and I'm
really good
at picking up dog poop.

by April Halprin Wayland

when you yell HOORAY
when you are
Mexican jumping beans
and your eyes are
fourth of July sparklers
that is a gift
from the universe
saying good job, good job
or maybe saying
good dog, good dog
by April Halprin Wayland~
Look what I got for
Hanukah! Just what I itched
for—my very own boy!

by April Halprin Wayland

My favorite aunt? Cissie!
My favorite uncle? Stu!
The best dessert?
Cheese cake!
My favorite number? Two!
My favorite holiday?
The best weather? Foggy!
My favorite color? Purple!
The best present? Doggy!
And those are my Poetry Friday contributions centered around a dog and a gift!

Thanks to Laura Salas at Writing the World for Kids for hosting today!
So--how about writing your own dog/gift poems...
and sharing them here with us?
Remember to write with joy!

Poems, photos (of Eli, the photogenic dog) and drawings
c) 2011 April Halprin Wayland, all rights reserved

P.S. from Carmela Don't forget! Today is the last day to enter for a chance to win your own autographed copy of Leonard Marcus' just released The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth. Enter here by 11 pm (CST) TODAY!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Kidlitosphere Interview Wednesday is Here Today!

Hi Everyone,
As promised, we're hosting Kidlitosphere Interview Wednesday here today! Below are links to recent interviews related to children's/young adult literature. If you have an interview you'd like to share with us, please post a comment containing the url. The interview should meet the criteria listed at the end of this post.

To start out, I'm excited to remind everyone about Esther Hershenhorn's terrific interview with teacher, author, and children's literature expert Leonard Marcus here on our TeachingAuthors blog last Wednesday. Leonard has just released The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth, which includes not only background information about the writing of the novel but also Leonard's own comments on the text. Read Esther's interview here for some fun (and funny!) behind-the-scenes stories, and be sure to enter for a chance to win your own autographed copy of  The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth. Entry deadline is this Friday, November 4, at 11 pm (CST).

Here's the round-up so far. I'll check back later to add more links as they're submitted.
Now it's your turn! Do you know of an interview that meets the following criteria? If so, please post the url in the comments below. I'll check back later to add the new links you provide.

1.The interviews must be with someone in the field of children’s/young adult literature, including authors, illustrators, editors, agents, and librarians.

2. Interviews may feature writing tips, illustration tips, cyber tips, etc., as long as the information pertains to children's/young adult literature.

3. Interviews may be written, audio, or video.

Happy writing (and reading!)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Interview Wednesday Here Tomorrow!

I'll be hosting the Kidlitosphere Interview Wednesday roundup here on our TeachingAuthors blog tomorrow. I'll be sharing links to interviews that meet the following criteria:

1.The interviews must be with someone in the field of children’s/young adult literature, including authors, illustrators, editors, agents, and librarians.

2. Interviews may feature writing tips, illustration tips, cyber tips, etc., as long as the information pertains to children's/young adult literature.

3. Interviews may be written, audio, or video.

If you have or know of an online interview that meets the above criteria and would like to share the link early, please post it in the comments below. I'll include qualifying links in tomorrow's roundup. Meanwhile, don't forget to check out Esther Hershenhorn's recent interview with Leonard Marcus here on our TeachingAuthors blog, and enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth.

Happy writing!