Monday, January 30, 2012


After the flurry of exciting awards-related activity this week, I know many of us are looking forward to (variously) the Superbowl, the Academy Awards, Valentine's Day... I, in my third week of classes, am already looking forward to Spring Break.  January/February/March is a long stretch for teachers and students alike, yes?

I've had a particularly rocky start to the semester with campus construction and new computer systems, locked doors and snow and, oh, getting stranded on the wrong coast one Monday morning.  I had to give extra credit to the student who could magically make my projector light up.  (What will I ever do if he is absent?)

In Week 1, I gave my typical spiel -- "Now that you have mastered the five-paragraph essay format, you are going to have a little more freedom to try new things, to build on the structure you've learned but to break the rules a bit."  Typically, I have many students who balk at the idea that an essay does NOT (gasp) have to be five paragraphs long.  Many also have incredible difficulty with the notion that the introductory paragraph, the body paragraphs, and the concluding paragraph of an essay should NOT actually repeat the same thought three times.

One of my rule-loving students (of whom I am already quite fond) raised her hand this week and said, "Since we're doing everything differently from everything I've been taught... what about contractions?" 

We are, mind you, writing a narrative essay based on personal experience.  We have already talked about audience and tone.  I said, 'This is an informal essay.  Of course you may use contractions.'  Students were shocked.  'We were taught never, ever to use contractions.'  'We were SCORNED for using contractions.'  I asked them to raise their hands if they were told never, under any circumstance, to use a contraction.  Fully 90% of students did so.

Goodness gracious.  Contractions are the least of the problems I typically see in student writing.  I understand that we are trying to prepare students for a wide variety of writing tasks in life: literary analyses, drug trial reviews, briefs, summaries, business memos, nursing intake notes, police reports, textbooks, articles, novels.  Encouraging students to assess the genre and the necessary conventions is the FIRST thing we should be teaching. 

And so I wonder about the "rules" that are being drummed into students in high school and developmental writing courses.  I remember wondering the same as a student.  If I am supposed to be writing in clear and complete sentences, why does Faulker get to write a five-and-a-half-page run-on?  And why can I understand only every third sentence of the jargon-stuffed journal article that I must read for my psychology class?

While most of us can agree on the general precepts of 'good writing,' the first and best rule is... there are no rules!
find your voice
find your truth
be true to your voice
-- Jeanne Marie

Friday, January 27, 2012

Announcing Our Book Giveaway Winner, a Writing Exercise, and Poetry Friday!

Howdy, Campers!  Author and illustrator Barney Saltzberg is a generous soul, and in his Friday the 13th interview, he offered an autographed copy of his fun and amazing book, BEAUTIFUL OOPS to one of our readers.

And the lucky, randomly chosen winner is...
Sarah Albee--yay, Sarah (who's an amazing author--check out her website)!
Here's Sarah's Beautiful Oops:
My oops moment happened when I was a very junior editor at Sesame Street. I was editing my first big book, a SS songbook (because I was the only editor in my dept who could read music and play piano). I went over to Jeff Moss's house (composer of Rubber Duckie) to show him some song arrangements, and when we got to People In Your Neighborhood (his song) we both stared at the composer credit, which read Joe Raposo (his long-time rival and writer of Bein' Green, among many others). Jeff was notoriously curmudgeonly, and I knew there was a good chance he would flip, even though of course it was just galleys and there would be plenty of opportunity to change it. So I quickly made a joke about it (along the lines of how interchangeable he and Joe were, whatevs). After five tense seconds, he grinned broadly. And we became fast friends.

So...drawing the winning name, watching the exciting announcements of the ALA awards (I felt as if I were in the audience!) and reading Carmela's, Mary Ann's, JoAnn's, Esther's, and Jeanne Marie's fabulous and thought-provoking posts about awards, got me to thinking about winning...
photo courtesy

...which inspired this poem for Poetry Friday, graciously hosted today by Jim at HeyJimHill!

by April Halprin Wayland

I sit under this tree
to sit under this tree.

Not to win anything.
Just me and tree.

If the wind happens to drop
a sweet plum in my lap, though,

I would never say no
to a plum.
Today's Writing Workout: WINNING AND LOSING
1) Take a few minutes to think about how do you feel about winning and losing. About tests and competitions. About gold stars, trophies and medals.

2) On paper, brainstorm your childhood winning and losing memories. Think back to the night before a competition...or the day of. Or the day after.

3) Circle the memory that calls to you.

4) Write a poem or story using this memory as the seed.

5) And remember to write with joy!  Write as if you're finger painting!
(ALL Teaching Authors' Readers are winners.
This tiara's for you.)

poem and drawing (c) 2012 April Halprin Wayland

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Interview Wednesday, and a Bit More on the ALA Awards

I'm hosting the Kidlit Interview Wednesday round-up here on our TeachingAuthors blog this week. Actually, I'm writing this post on Tuesday afternoon, but I'll schedule it to go live just after midnight (with my fingers crossed) so that early risers and bloggers around the world can share their links whenever it's convenient. If you have an interview you'd like to share, just post a comment below containing the url. The interview should meet the criteria listed at the end of this post. I'll check back during the day to add your links to this post. If you have a blog related to reading, writing, or publishing books for children and you'd like to host Interview Wednesday, visit the official Kidlit Interview Wednesday sign-up page.

You'll find the interview roundup below. First, I want to say a bit more about the ALA awards, the topic of our current series of posts. Yesterday was the first time I've watched the announcements live (thanks to the ALA webcast). I joined the program in progress, just as they announced that the winner of the Coretta Scott King Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement was Ashley Bryan. A shiver of delight went through me--I'd heard Ashley Bryan read years ago at one of our Vermont College residencies. His reading was electrifying! His love of story and poetry and literature shone through in his voice, gestures, and facial expression. I'll never forget that day. So yesterday when they announced the winner of the Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement, I was thrilled to hear not only his name, but also the cheers and applause of all the attendees expressing their approval. Congratulations to author-illustrator Ashley Bryan on his well-deserved award!

Yesterday, Mary Ann shared the titles of the winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, and Printz winners. You can read the entire list of ALA award winners in their official press release. You can also watch the webcast of the ALA award announcements.

If you're looking for more great titles to read after you finish the ALA award winners, head over to the official SCBWI blog for links to other award lists. Or consider signing up for the Newbery reading challenge being hosted by a K-5 teacher-librarian at the Watch. Connect. Read. blog or the Caldecott reading challenge organized by a K-8 library media specialist at LibLaura5.

And now, for the Interview Wednesday roundup so far:
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!)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Envelope please...and the winners are...

      In case you haven't been parked in front of a computer since the crack of dawn, hoping for leaking news from the Newbery-Caldecott committees, here they are--the 2012 American Library Association award winners:
     Newbery--Jack Gantos for Dead End in Norvelt

     Honors--Eugene Yelchin--Breaking Stalin's Nose
                   Thanhha Lai--Inside Out and Back Again

     Caldecott--Chris Raschka for A Ball for Daisy

     Honors--Patrick McDonnell--Me...Jane
                   Lane Smith--Grandpa Green
                   John Rocco--Blackout

     Coretta Scott King Award Author:  Kadir Nelson for Heart and Soul
     Honors--Patricia McKissack--Never Forgotten
                   Eloise Greenfield--The Great Migration

     Illustrator--Shane W. Evans for Underground:  Finding the Light to Freedom

     Honors--Kadir Nelson--Heart and Soul

     Printz--John Corey Whaley for Where Things Come Back

     Honors--Maggie Stievater--Scorpio Races
                    Craig Silvey--Jasper Jones
                    Christine Hinwood--The Returning
                    Daniel Handler (aka "Lemony Snicket")--Why We Broke Up

     Congratulations, one and all. And now let the speculations fly! All over the country book lovers are cheering or gnashing their teeth or wondering why it will take "one to three weeks" for Amazon to get the book in stock. (Answer...the publisher was caught without sufficient inventory for a huge sudden sale rush.)

     I shall keep my own observations to myself, except for the fact that I have never been right about the big awards. The closest I have gotten to predicting correctly is for the honors books (this year I had Inside Out and Back Again on my list). Mysterious are the ways of The Committees.

     Other observations--this is the first time in a long time that there was not one single dystopian novel on the list! Can life be getting better??  There were a lot of historical novels (yippee, since I write historical novels). Only one truly contemporary book (Why We Broke Up).  All the award winning illustrators were also the authors of their books.  What does this mean? I have not the slightest idea.
    All I know is that I have a lot of good reading ahead of me (I did read all the Newbery honors and winner in advance, but none of the Printz books).

Mary Ann Rodman
P.S. You can still enter our drawing for an autographed copy of Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg. Read April's interview. Then post a brief comment sharing an "oops" in your life and how you (or someone else) turned it into something beautiful. Be sure to include an email address (format: teachingauthors at gmail dot com) or a link to an e-mail address. Or you can e-mail your comment to teachingauthors at gmail dot com with "Contest" in the subject line. Entry Deadline is Wednesday, January 25th, 11 p.m. (CST). You must have a U.S. mailing address to win. The winner will be announced on January 27th. Good Luck!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Working My Way through the Year's Best Books

Esther's heart quickens in January with thoughts of authors and illustrators about to be surprised with happy news. Mine jumps for joy at the end of each year with the buzz about praiseworthy new books to read. I scour the award lists for intriguing titles and authors whose names I recognize. Here are some sources to browse for your next exciting read:

Cybils awards are given each year by bloggers for books and book apps in eleven children's and young adult categories: Book Apps, Easy Readers & Early Chapter Books, Fantasy & Science Fiction (Middle Grade), Fantasy & Science Fiction (Young Adult), Fiction Picture Books, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade Fiction, Nonfiction for Middle Grade & Young Adult, Nonfiction Picture Books, Poetry, and Young Adult Fiction.

The CCBC-Net listserv holds monthly discussions about literature for children and young adults. Every December, members discuss their favorite books of the year.

The Mock Newbery 2012 group on Goodreads has 537 members; the group chose Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt as its winner. Honors included Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu, Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, and A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.

USA Today called Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai and Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt favorites in several polls.

Mock Newbery awards are held by many schools and libraries. Some results are posted online:

Heavy Medal, a Mock Newbery Blog from School Library Journal, posted results and a description of the deliberations from the Rockridge branch of the Oakland Public Library for the annual Mock Newbery. Their winner? Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming. Honor books were A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and I Broke My Trunk! by Mo Willems.

Other results were reported from Queens Library, including the winner, Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt and one Honor, Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick. The Maryland Library Association's winner was also Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt.

After discussing thirty titles, the ACPL Mock Newbery from the Children's Services department of the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, selected one winner, Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, and one honor book, Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt.

As I pore over each article, I'm adding new titles to my must-read list and deliberating about my own favorites. Happy reading!
JoAnn Early Macken

P.S. You can still enter our drawing for an autographed copy of Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg. Read April's interview. Then post a brief comment sharing an "oops" in your life and how you (or someone else) turned it into something beautiful. Be sure to include an email address (format: teachingauthors at gmail dot com) or a link to an e-mail address. Or you can e-mail your comment to teachingauthors at gmail dot com with "Contest" in the subject line. Entry Deadline is Wednesday, January 25th, 11 p.m. (CST). You must have a U.S. mailing address to win. The winner will be announced on January 27th. Good Luck! 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Those Medals and Medallions!

I confess: my heart quickens this time every January when I think about the children’s book creators whose lives are about to be fortuitously changed, thanks to the awarding of a literary medal.

The night before the American Library Association announces the recipients of its awards for distinguished children's books, I fall asleep contented, knowing someone somewhere is about to be surprised!

[Note: ALA announces the awards Monday, January 23, at 7:45 am CST from the Dallas Mid-Winter Meeting.]

Two of last year’s winners, first-time author and Newbery medalist Clare Vanderpool (Moon Over Manifest, Delacorte Press) and first-time illustrator and Caldecott medalist Erin Stead (A Sick Day for Amos McGee, Roaring Brook Press) gave all book creators hope.

To me, giving hope to the reader is what our Children’s Book World is all about.
Jeanne Marie said it best in her Monday post when she reminded us we are writing for children.
To my way of thinking, a children’s book must always leave the reader hopeful. Not with the proverbial happily ever after ending; simply with the possibility that we could live happily ever after.

The brilliant editor Jean Karl, who headed Atheneum and discovered award-winning authors Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Judy Viorst and E.K. Konigsburg, wrote, “A good children’s book respects a child’s intelligence, his pride, his dignity, and most of all his individuality and his capacity to become.”

I have but one Very High Bar when it comes to choosing award-winners: Is this a book I’d want to passionately read aloud to my fifth graders, were I teaching? Is this a character who could and would change the way my students view themselves, each other, the world?

For those reasons, I so wanted Jack Gantos’ Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000) to win the Newbery. There’s an ADD Joey in every classroom, waiting to be understood.

For that reason, I so wanted Ruth White’s Little Audrey (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008) to win too. These are Hard Times in which we live; wouldn’t it be nice to know that if Audrey could make it in her depressed Virginia coal-mining town in 1948, so could we today. Booklist editor and reviewer Ilene Cooper starred this book, describing it as “tough and tender.”

Jennifer Richard Jacobson’s as small as an elephant (Candlewick Press, 2011) is tough and tender too and my hopeful Newbery pick.

Here’s the press release:
“Ever since Jack can remember, his mom has been unpredictable, sometimes loving and fun, other times caught in a whirlwind of energy and "spinning" wildly until it's over. But Jack never thought his mom would take off during the night and leave him at a campground in Acadia National Park, with no way to reach her and barely enough money for food. Any other kid would report his mom gone, but Jack knows by now that he needs to figure things out for himself — starting with how to get from the backwoods of Maine to his home in Boston before DSS catches on. With nothing but a small toy elephant to keep him company, Jack begins the long journey south, a journey that will test his wits and his loyalties — and his trust that he may be part of a larger herd after all.

Here are but two of the many starred reviews:

This simply written but emotionally rich tale of an 11-year-old boy abandoned by his bipolar single mother will kindle profound responses in young readers." — Booklist Starred Review

“…Jacobson has great success putting readers inside Jack’s not-always-thinking-things-through mind, and by the end of the story, nicely tied together by the elephant theme, Jack comes to realize that he hadn’t been alone, that family and people he didn’t even know were there for him in a 'makeshift herd.' The happy yet realistic ending leaves Jack (and readers) 'light-headed with hope.'” – Horn Book

And here’s what Jennifer wrote:

"I believe in Jack and his ability to understand his mother in shades of gray. I believe in his ability to be fiercely independent: to try and try and try . . . and at the same time to recognize that he needs others. That others are right there, waiting to catch him."

I want young readers everywhere to know Jack, to take heart and hope from his quietly-powerful story.

Ironically, I’m cheering on between shades of gray (Philomel, 2011), Ruta Sepetys’ first novel, for Prinz attention.
The novel is based on Sepetys’ family. It tells the story of 15-year-old Lina who in 1941 is pulled from her Lithuanian home by Soviet guards and sent to Siberia, where her father is sentenced to death in a prison camp.
The concluding Author’s note begins with the words of Albert Camus: “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”

I am obviously, unabashedly all about Hope. 
(Were this post about the Cubs, I'd tell you this year is The Year!)

Yesterday, the Association of Jewish Libraries announced the 2012 Sydney Taylor Book Award winners.
Hurrah! and Mazel tov! to Michael Rosen and Robert Sabuda for their Younger Readers winner Chanukah Lights (Candlewick), Susan Goldman Rubin for her Older Readers winner Music Was It: Young Leonard Bernstein (Charlesbridge) and Robert Sharenow for his Teen Readers winner The Berlin Boxing Club (Harper Teen/HarperCollins).

My fellow TeachingAuthor April Halprin Wayland and her picture book New Year at the Pier (Dial, 2009) won this honor in 2010.

As luck would have it, one very cold January afternoon in 2003, I was one of those “someone’s, somewhere,” when AJL’s Dr. Libby White phoned to tell me my picture book Chicken Soup By Heart (Simon and Shuster, 2002), gorgeously illustrated by Rosanne Litzinger, would be wearing a Sydney Taylor gold medallion.

I hadn’t even known the book was being considered!

I sat on my living room couch for 30 minutes, waiting for Dr. White to phone me back, to tell me she’d made a terrible mistake.
When she didn’t call, I finally pinched myself, teared a bit, then out-and-out wept.

2011 saw more than 10,000 children’s books traditionally published.
I smile thinking about all those stories,
medaled or not,
making their way to readers,
there for the taking,
and the handful of deserving creators about to be surprised.

I offer my Hurrahs! early, often, sincerely.

Esther Hershenhorn

You can win too this January!
Don't forget to enter our latest TA Book Giveaway (from April's most recent post):
To enter our drawing for an autographed copy of Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg, post a brief comment sharing an "oops" in your life and how you (or someone else) turned it into something beautiful. Be sure to include an email address (formatted like: teachingauthors at gmail dot com) or a link to an email address. can email your comment to teachingauthors at gmail dot com with "Contest" in the subject line. Entry Deadline is Wednesday, January 25th, 11 pm (CST). You must have a U.S. mailing address to win. The winner will be announced on January 27th. Good Luck!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Awards and Accolades

Awards season is officially upon us.  I know this because I sort-of watched three hours of Golden Globes last night, even though I had seen very few of the nominated shows or movies.  Pretty dresses.  (But what was Meryl Streep wearing?)  Some great speeches -- I'm thinking in particular of The Help's Octavia Spencer, quoting Dr. King: "All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance."

Likewise, it is now Awards Season (with capital letters) in the kids' book world.  Each year, it seems that the ALA is inventing a new award to bestow.  (Is it just me?)  I remember being at Vermont College when the Newberys were announced and the flurry of excitement of being in the presence of big-time award-winning authors.  The excitement, the adrenaline.  Heady times.

To be honest, I am THE WORST TA to be kicking off this new topic.  As I have proudly admitted on numerous occasions, I have populist taste.  Many of the "brilliant, dazzling" books that wow awards committees are not the books that excite me.  Of course I have adored (ADORED) many of the Newbery winners through the years.   I was looking at the book discussion lists for this year's awards -- for some reason I have not read many this year, though several are on my dying-to-read list.  Usually the ones I most admire are the ones that make the list but never win.  Quiet books (not too quiet), relatable books, books that I would have read ten times when I was ten years old.  

My daughter is old enough now to vote for our state books awards (the Black-Eyed Susans), and I admit that those are the awards that guide MY reading choices.  We are not writing for Newbery committee librarians, after all.  We are writing for children -- which should always be a labor of infinite dignity and importance. 

Don't forget to enter our latest TA Book Giveaway (from April's most recent post):
To enter our drawing for an autographed copy of Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg, post a brief comment sharing an "oops" in your life and how you (or someone else) turned it into something beautiful. Be sure to include an email address (formatted like: teachingauthors at gmail dot com) or a link to an email address. can email your comment to teachingauthors at gmail dot com with "Contest" in the subject line. Entry Deadline is Wednesday, January 25th, 11 pm (CST). You must have a U.S. mailing address to win. The winner will be announced on January 27th. Good Luck!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Book Giveaway and Guest Teaching Author Interview with Barney Saltzberg (who shares his favorite exercise for picture book writers~)

Howdy Campers--and happy Poetry Friday!  Today's Guest Teaching Author shares a poem about bullies with us at the end of this post.

YAY!   We Teaching Authors are thrilled to have our dear friend and Guest Teaching Author Barney Saltzberg drop by for tea. To celebrate Barney’s appearance on our blog, we're giving away an autographed copy of his mind-blowing book, Beautiful Oops.
To enter the 
drawing, see the instructions at the end of this post.  
Author/illustrator extraordinaire, Barney Saltzberg,
Junebug (black and white) and shoulder-leaner, Arlo
Doesn't Barney look like someone you'd want to have a hot dog with? I met Barney,who was born in Los Angeles and has published nearly forty picture books, a gazillion years ago through our teacher Barbara Bottner (Her own Teaching Author interview is here). Barney's two kids live in Boston and New York, so he and his wife fill their home with art, toys, blazing colors and dogs.

Barney, who is smart and funny and...well, funny and smart, is also a musician. His songs have been on the PBS show Arthur, and he has recorded four children's music CDs. He teaches writing and illustrating picture books in UCLA Extension's Writers Program, and travels a ton, speaking about writing and illustrating and wowing the crowds with his toe-tapping and tender songs.

And here's where you have to sit up straight and be impressed: he was recently in China, as part of the US State Department's cultural exchange program, performing at schools, libraries and universities.
His latest book, BEAUTIFUL OOPSfrom Workman Publishing, is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. Pop-ups, lift-the-flaps, tears, holes, and smudges show readers--young and old--how every mistake is an opportunity to make something beautiful. It demonstrates "the magical transformation from blunder to wonder."

Howdy, Barney--welcome!  How did you become a Teaching Author?
I was encouraged to teach by two friends who are both, teaching authors. They assured me that it would be a rewarding experience.  I was a bit reluctant, but I am so happy I jumped in.  I am now in my eighth year at UCLA, where I teach Writing and Illustrating Picture books.

Here's 1:41 minutes of Barney in a somewhat younger classroom.
(For a longer version, click here)

What's a common problem/question that your students have and how do you address it?
So many of us were raised reading Dr. Seuss.  His rhymes are brilliant. I have so many students who assume that rhyming is easy.  I have to say that I fell into that category as well.  I've been a song writer since I was eight years old.  I know how to rhyme.  Writing poetry, on the other hand, is a different animal.  I can fudge meter and rhythm when I sing.  Out of close to forty children's books published, I've only made four books with poems.  Many first time students are very frustrated that I encourage them to write their stories first, without thinking of the rhymes.  My suggestion has always been to write the story so you have a road map, and if at some point you want to make a poem, you at least know where you're going.   Most new writers begin to rhyme and get backed into a corner without any regard as to where they want the story to go.  One of my jobs as a teacher is to help steer students away from rhyming 'for a while'. I'm more concerned with students finding their own voice in their writing.

Would you share a favorite writing exercise for our readers?
I borrowed a suggestion from Anne Lamott's wonderful book Bird by Bird. She reminds her readers that school lunch is something we all remember.  Given that I want to help my students find their voice for writing a picture book, one of the very first assignments I give is to write anything you want about your elementary school lunch.  Did you bring it in a bag or a lunchbox?  If so, did you draw on your bag?  Did someone else?  What kind of lunchbox?  What was in it?  Who made your lunch?  Did you even get to have lunch?  Did you eat in the cafeteria?  Maybe you went home for lunch? Maybe your parent packed a type of food that embarrassed you?  Maybe you participated in a food trading frenzy! Any memories of your school lunch are encouraged.  We just want to have you go back to that time in your life.  I'm always amazed at how many people have so much to say about their lunch!  It's a wonderful exercise to dig into a rich batch of memories.

What one piece of advice do you have for teachers?
Find and say at least one thing positive in every assignment before you give any feedback.
Character studies by Barney Saltzberg for his book Andrew Drew and Drew, Abrams 2012
Tell us how you sold your first book.   
I'd drawn a batch of cartoons with captions and went to New York.  I had no idea how the business worked, but if I saw a sign on a building with a publishing company, I would knock on doors.  Ultimately I came to McGraw Hill, who was publishing educational books.  I asked a security guard, "Where do I go to get a book published?"  He said, "You don't".  I said, "If you did, where would you go?"  He told me what floor the editorial department was on.  I rode the elevator to the 36th floor (I believe) and showed the receptionist my artwork.  She told me to sit down and she left through a door behind her desk.  Ten minutes later she asked me to call back the following morning, and that they liked my book idea.  The next morning I called in and found they wanted to publish a book of my cartoons.  A year later, my first book came out called, Utter Nonsense!

I am wild about your new book, Beautiful Oops--it's fabulous.  How did you get the idea for it?
In my school visits I talk about a dog of ours who was accidentally locked in my studio.  She attempted to climb out the window and stepped all over an illustration I had finished.  I thought the artwork was ruined.  After careful reflection, I found I could turn each paw print into a cloud. I also show a picture of a sketch book where I spilled coffee and turned the stain, into a monster.  Teachers asked me for years to write a book showing how I fixed my mistakes.  One day while sitting in my studio, I tore a piece of paper about half way across the page.  I realized it looked like an alligator mouth. I knew then I had a book and a year later, Workman published Beautiful Oops!

Finished drawing by Barney Saltzberg for his book Andrew Drew and Drew, Abrams 2012
What's on the horizon for you?
Lots!  I just sold a book called Chengdu Could Not, Would Not, Fall Asleep to Hyyperion based on photos my wife took when we were in China. (A panda in a tree, having a really squirmy time trying to sleep!)

I have an app called Nibbly's Nose, based on a lift the flap book. It also just became available as an iBook.

Would You Rather Be a Princess or a Dragon?, my first picture book app, will be available soon

And I have two books coming out in 2012: Andrew Drew and Drew (Abrams) and Arlo Needs Glasses (Workman)
Wow, Barney—we can't wait!  And finally, since today is Poetry Friday, do you have a poem you'd like to share with our readers?
Sure!  I was asked to write a poem about bullying.  I didn't want to write something neat and tidy. This is a sticky issue. Ultimately my poem was rejected because there was concern that kids would see the name Roy the bully boy and that would encourage them to make a sing-songy rhyme and tease someone. My thinking is, here's a chance to broach an uncomfortable subject and begin a dialogue.  See what you think.

That Big Bully Boy
by Barney Saltzberg

You know that big bully boy
In my class named Roy?
Well, he thinks I’m his personal toy
He twists both my wrists
And he calls me a goose
With his garlicy breath 
Roy smells like a moose
He’s making me nervous
He’s drinking my drink 
He’s eating my snack
He says that I stink
When the clock hits three
I am safe, I am free
I hope and I pray 
Aliens take Roy away
You know, that big bully boy
In my class named Roy
poem and drawings © Barney Saltzberg 2012

Thanks so much for stopping by, Barney!  

To enter our drawing for an autographed copy of Beautiful Oops, post a brief comment sharing an "oops" in your life and how you (or someone else) turned it into something beautiful. Be sure to include an email address (formatted like: teachingauthors at gmail dot com) or a link to an email address. can email your comment to teachingauthors at gmail dot com with "Contest" in the subject line. Entry Deadline is Wednesday, January 25th, 11 pm (CST). You must have a U.S. mailing address to win. The winner will be announced on January 27th.   Good Luck!
And thanks to Tara at A Teaching Life for hosting Poetry Friday!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Beginning, Again, and Shrinking the Gap

To kick off 2012, we've been blogging about "beginnings" here on the TeachingAuthors blog. I'd originally planned to post some thoughts on how to create a story beginning that hooks readers, since that's a topic I'll be presenting at an SCBWI-Illinois network meeting on January 28. But this week, I've been focused on preparing to teach a private class for a group of five very talented seventh-grade girls. We haven't met since November, when the girls shared the beginnings of their current work-in-progress. They were all off to a terrific start and I was looking forward to hearing the rest of their stories. When I checked in with their parents, though, I was surprised to learn that not one of the girls had actually finished her draft. They'd all gotten stuck somewhere in the middle, with one girl going back to rewrite her beginning in the hope it would lead down a new (and perhaps easier?) path.

I pulled out Gail Carson Levine's Writing Magic, which I've been using with the girls, to see what help she had to offer them. In a chapter called "Stuck!" Levine says that young writers quit because they don't know "There is no such thing as a perfect book." She goes on to say:
"When you're just starting to write, you may be miles away from perfection, and you may be well aware of it. It's maddening. It's disappointing."
Levine's words reminded me of a video clip my friend and former student Cathy Cronin recently shared on her blog. The clip features the voice of Ira Glass explaining that it's "normal" for there to be a gap between our vision for our creative work and the actual results of that work. Glass's comments confirm my own observations, and this "gap" is something that affects not only my young students but many adult writers, too, including me. So often, what ends up on the page doesn't match the ideal I have in my mind. I found Glass's words heartening--I've embedded the clip here in the hope you'll find them encouraging, too. (If you're an email subscriber and the clip doesn't show up in the email, you can watch it online at .)

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

So how do we shrink the gap between our vision and our results? According to Glass, the answer is to "fight your way through" the disappointment and feelings of inadequacy to create a large volume of work. Or, as I tell my students, "Write. Write. Write." The more we write, the better our writing becomes, and the closer we get to matching our output to our vision.

If you're looking for ways to motivate yourself to write more regularly to produce that "large volume of work" Glass talks about, I've included two challenges in the Blogosphere Buzz below that you may find helpful. And if you need help to "fight your way through" feelings of inadequacy, try the following Writing Workout.

Writing Workout
Ways to Get "Unstuck" 

Here are three suggestions for getting "unstuck" that I'll be sharing with my students on Saturday:
  1. Give yourself permission to write the story out of sequence. Mary Ann described this approach in her last post. If you know how the story will end, for example, go ahead and write the ending even if you haven't finished the middle. That's exactly what I did when I was working on Rosa, Sola. After I had a draft of my final chapter, I was able to go back and figure out what needed to happen to get my characters to that scene.
  2. Doodle. Doodling is a great activity to stimulate the creative side of the brain. Set aside 10-20 minutes. With your story in the back of your mind, put your pen to the page. You can draw images or just dots, lines, and shapes. Have fun and enjoy the process. If any story ideas come to mind, make a quick note about them, and then go back to doodling until your time is up. (For more about using doodling to stimulate creativity, see this website.) 
  3. Engage in a repetitive physical activity. This is another way to stimulate the creative side of your brain. Go for a long walk, jog, or bike ride. Again, keep the story in the back of your mind, but don't think about it too much. Instead, focus on the sound of your steps on the pavement, or your breathing, or the feel of the wind on your face. And be sure to have some pen and paper handy if you do get an idea. 

Blogosphere Buzz

  • Need ways to motivate yourself to write consistently enough to create that "large volume of work" Glass discussed? First, check out the site 750words. The site challenges members to write 750 words per day, or about 3 pages. You can type those words directly into the website and it will track your word count and statistics over time. You can also participate in the site's monthly challenges--participants who write 750 words per day for the whole month earn a place on the "Wall of Amazingness." Those who fail, end up on the "Wall of Shame." And many participants also set their own personal rewards and consequences.
  • Second, If you're a picture book writer, here's a challenge specifically for you: the 12 x 12 in 2012 Picture Book Challenge. The goal of the challenge is to "write one picture book per month for each of the twelve months of 2012.  This means a first draft: beginning, middle, end. NOT a submission-ready piece." Sign-up deadline is January 29. (In addition to the support and camaraderie, there are prizes!)
  • A totally different kind of challenge is also taking place this month: the annual Blog Comment Challenge, which runs through Wednesday, January 25. This is a chance to share our appreciation for all the terrific blogs out there, and also to make some new blogosphere friends. Sign up over at the MotherReader blog and check-in weekly at Lee Wind's blog. (And a welcome and thanks to all the bloggers who've already commented here on our TeachingAuthors blog this month as part of the challenge!)
  • Speaking of comments, another HUGE thank you to all of you who participated in our December charity drive for First Book by commenting here on our blog. As Jeanne Marie reported last week, we received around 160 comments and we donated $175 to First Book. With Disney's matching donations, that means we helped provide 245 books to children in need! If you'd like to participate in another FREE way to help book charities, visit the Playing By the Book blog. Zoe, the "British mum" who blogs there, has compiled a list of 125 charities around the world whose focus is literacy, reading and /or books. Post a comment on her blog about how she should best organize her list, and she'll make a donation to one of these worthwhile organizations.
  • As a great supporter of independent booksellers like my local wonderful Anderson's Bookshop, I encourage you to also participate in the 50/50 Challenge: Support Indie Booksellers, especially if you're a teacher or librarian. Join librarian Travis Jonker in committing to using at least half of your yearly budget to purchase books at your local independent bookstore.
  • And, finally, the finalists have been announced for the 2011 Cybils, the Children's and Young Adults Bloggers Literary Awards. You can find the lists here

Now I have to get back to writing so I can work on shrinking my own gap.
Happy Beginnings,
P.S. I've had all kinds of problems with spacing in this blog post. Sorry, I did my best. If it doesn't look right on your screen, I guess it's another example of my vision for a project not matching my results. :-)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Beginning in the Middle

     Beginnings are easy... and hard.
     Chapter One goes so smoothly.  I should know.  I have at least a a hundred "Chapter One"s crammed lurking in my document file. Yes, sir, I can rip off a chapter one without breaking a sweat.
     Then comes Chapter Two.
     Uh-oh.  There is no Chapter Two. There is no Chapter Two because I can't think of what happens right Chapter One.
     For years, this inability to come up with a Chapter Two (let alone a middle and an end), convinced me that I really wasn't a writer. Real writers know what happens in Chapter Two.  If I could only have written a book of collected first chapters...
     Despite this discouraging notion, I kept on writing and saving first chapters. Not being able to finish something didn't prevent me from writing. Writing is a compulsion. I can't not write.
     Eventually I figured out what I was doing wrong.
     I was writing without really knowing my characters or story.  Writing a Chapter Two was like trying to introduce people you've just met.  I didn't know anything about them, so there was that awkward pause after names have been exchanged where you are expected to add a little tag, such as "Bob is a big curling fan" or "Jane is just back from kayaking the Amazon."  The blank space beneath the words "Chapter Two" is the writing equivalent of that awkward pause.
      "But," you might say, "aren't you supposed to write down an idea as soon as you get it, so you won't forget it?"
      You would be absolutely correct.  You write down the idea. Then you put in your files and leave it there for awhile.  Get to know your characters. I mean really get to know them. When you meet someone new, don't you ask a few questions before you decide whether you want to spend time with them or not?
     The same is true with a new project.  Make sure this is an idea, characters, story you want to live with for a year or longer. Yankee Girl took five solid years of writing, revision and editing. By the time I was done, I was ready to send the entire cast of characters over a cliff in a car, Thelma and Louise style. ("And then they all died.  The End.")
     I have learned that what I used to think of as "inspiration"(the kind that ran out after ten pages), is really just discovering a story "seed." Seeds need to germinate to be useful (unless, of course, they are salted sunflower or pumpkin seeds). So I quickly write down whatever brilliant notion is burning in my brain cells at the moment,. . .and then leave it for awhile.  Sometimes, characters and story grow in the back of my brain over a year. I call it "crockpot writing";  throw in some ingredients, put it on low heat, and come back at the end of the day.  Sometimes I have dinner; sometimes I have a big mess. (I am not a good cook.)
     Once I decide I have something worth working on, I make it a point to not write chapter two.  I review what I know about my characters and story. Usually, a scene, an image, a conversation, something materializes.  I don't worry about where in the story trajectory this scene comes.  I just write it down.
    This is how I learned to avoid the "Chapter Two Plot Fizzle." I write out of sequence. . .at the least in the beginning of a project.  I write whatever is on the front burners of my brain.  If there isn't anything immediately, I will revise the last page (and only the last page) I wrote. This puts me back in the groove and a new scene or something will emerge.  At some point, I begin to see where all these pieces of writing fit together, and where there are holes. Now my writing has a starting point and a destination.
    I know that writing out of sequence doesn't work for everyone, but it works for me. I wrote Yankee Girl in sequence and wound up with a 400 page first draft.  Most of what I cut was stuff I wrote fumbling around for the next plot point.
    Over the holidays I had a creative flash. Out of nowhere, a teenage boy appeared in the backseat of a car.  His parents' car.  The parents are in the front seat. I knew where he was going, why he was there and what he was thinking.  I wrote all that down.
    I won't see my teenage boy again for a year or so.  Right now, I don't even know his name. (I do, however, know his girlfriend's name.) I don't know how or even if  he will work out his problem. I'm not worried about that.  I am finishing up my current Novel Out of Sequence.
    The Boy in the Back Seat will wait for me.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Thursday, January 5, 2012

New Year Poems and the Poetry Friday Roundup

With the start of the new year, I decided to try something I've thought about for awhile. I walk to Lake Michigan almost every day, and I marvel at how the landscape changes from one day to the next. So I've been carrying my camera with me, taking a picture each day, and writing a quick, short poem in my head on the way home. Sometimes I have to stop, take off my gloves, dig the notebook and pen out of my pocket, and write down what I'm thinking so I don't lose it. In the cold, I have to write fast. Here are a few of my 2012 lake poems.

January 1
wet, stinging wind
slick path downhill
view from the pier:
lake between flakes

January 2

Landscape with Dog Nose

I wanted to capture the crisp horizon,
gradations of shades,
mountainous clouds,
but she insisted on
stepping into the shot.
Well, why not?
She’s always part of the picture.

January 3

                                                   hill      fall
                                            swell             spill                 swell
                                      well                           lull      well

I hope the last one keeps its wavy format!

And now for the Poetry Roundup:

Diane Mayr is our first Earlybird with four poetry posts:

Random Noodling explores the OEDILF (the OED in Limerick Form).

Kids of the Homefront Army has a poem about a girl who explores career choices for women during the war.

Kurious Kitty has found a poem called "My Bomb."

Kurious K's Kwotes' has a great quote by Truman Capote.

Charles Ghigna (Father Goose) has "Nothing More Than a Door" at The Bald Ego blog.

Tara posted about a collection of poems and essays about dogs.

Linda at teacherdance is relishing the poems in P*Tag.

Myra Garces-Bacsal from GatheringBooks sent a contribution from GatheringBooks.

KKSorrell has a poem on water at The Iris Chronicles.

Gregory up with an original today: Instructions for Helping the World.

Tabatha's post is inspired by one of her kids' homework assignments.

Heidi Mordhorst has the pleasure of passing on an award to five versatile bloggers.

Mary Lee has some Walt Whitman.

Jeff Barger has a review of Over in the Forest, a collection of animal poems for young readers, at NC Teacher Stuff.

Linda is in with thoughts about writing and filling the empty spaces.

At maria horvath's blog, the poem takes a look at silence, as part of the theme of "ars poetica" or the art of poetry.

Carol is in with Joyce Sutphen's "The Bookmobile."

Mandy is sharing a poem - Serenity Prayer with a question, is prayer a form of Poetry?

laurasalas is in with 15 Words or Less poems.

Over at The Poem Farm, Amy LV has a goodbye to Christmas trees.

Irene Latham is in with an original poem - her first published piece in the children's market! It's called "You Cannot Measure Courage."

Karen Edmisten is in this week with Naomi Shihab Nye here.

Robyn Hood Black has Naomi Shihab Nye today as well: "The Words Under the Words."

As Katya was hunting for New Years Resolution ideas, she came across a poem that mirrored her mood.

Ruth is in with some melancholy Japanese poetry here.

Jeannine Atkins wrote about the bravery needed in writing poetry.

Jim Hill has added two originals this week, tied together (sorta, kinda) by a common theme: flight. By the Seat of My Pants on Hey, Jim Hill!

At Wild Rose Reader, Elaine Magliaro has an original poem titled "Rock Candy."

Shelley has poems about our grandmothers' generation: Rain: A Dust Bowl Story.

More, more, more:

maclibrary said, "Here's mine."

I'm Jet . . . offers up a Ted Kooser poem at The Write Sisters.

Beth is participating with a Chesterton poem in honor of Epiphany.

Julie Larios at The Drift Record has lyrics from "Children Will Listen," and links to Steven Sondheim's fairy-tale musical, INTO THE WOODS.

david elzey is in with a cento that begs the question: is it possible to make the lyrics of a steve miller song better then the original?

You can hear Joy's poem My Shoes Sing, illustrated by Violet Lemaysaid, at Click the bottom option BONUS Mini Book, My Shoes Sing, or stop by her blog. Today's poem is an action rhyme.

Carlie has written an original poem about dance.

And finally, Sally is in with a post on a call for submissions of children's poetry on sports at PaperTigers.

Thanks for joining us, everyone! I can't wait to explore all these tempting links! Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Celebrating First Steps (And Those That Follow)

What better way to begin this New Year than by writing a post that celebrates Beginnings, those Very First Steps that - hopefully - lead to others.

For instance,
take a gander at four members of a spanking-new Writers Group that launched last night at fellow writer Michelle O’Looney’s Old Town Suite Lounge.
(From left, Corinne Dean, Kathy Mirkin, Denise Gallagher and Michelle O'Looney)

Could it be that only three months ago they’d met for the first time, members of my Fall Newberry Library Picture Book Workshop?
They 'fessed up that first September night: each was more nervous than the next, doubtful, reluctant, questioning her choice. Each, though, had committed to learning this new format, to acquiring the tools to tell her story to young readers; by November, they’d bonded to form a writing community.
I traditionally vet the first session of any and all Writers Groups that grow from my classes. I brought along chocolate (dark, milk and white) as well as my copy of Becky Levine’s most helpful The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide (Writer’s Digest, ’10).

Here’s a peek at the cover of first-time author Wendy Kupfer’s picture book Let’s Hear It For Almigal, illustrated by Tammie Lyons (Handfinger Press). I smile at the year that’s come and gone as I worked with Wendy to help her write and ready this story of a spirited Life-loving little girl who just happens to wear a cochlear implant. The book creation business and its seemingly-unending series of First Steps could understandably overwhelm even the most jaded; yet not once did Wendy falter. Now she begins the next necessary First Step: launching her book this May to coincide with Better Hearing and Speech Month.

Yes, indeedy: beginning that story you’ve always wanted to write is quite The First Step, one deserving of praise, of back pats and champagne.
But once you complete it, once you write and revise (of course) the story you're telling, all sorts of challenging yet doable satisfying First Steps follow.

I learned from emails the past three weeks:
a former Novel Workshop student began querying agents;
a writer with whom I worked this year began querying editors;
another prepared to enter her manuscript in the National Children’s Book of the Year Award Contest;
a new non-fiction writer now seeks her MFA degree;
a young adult novelist who earned her MFA now seeks a second Writer Residency.

As for me, next week I begin - teaching my University of Chicago Writer’s Studio Novel Workshop.
I’m almost done reading my way through Anderson’s Bookshop’s Mock Newbery List and the recent blog posts of the Apocalypsies, 2012’s debut middle grade and young adult novelists.
I'm ready to email students the link to PW’s Fall 2011 Flying Starts.
(IMHO, it's never too early to take that First Step.)

So, Hurrah! Hurrah!
Once for this Brand New Year.
And once for the chance to bravely begin.
No matter the endeavor, more delicious First Steps follow.

Esther Hershenhorn
Hurrah, too, for our TeachingAuthors readers who helped us reach our First Books 2011 holiday goal.
Talk about First Steps!  Thank you from the bottoms of our six hearts.