Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Oh, the Returns of the Day!

In case you haven't heard,                                    
or read Jeanne Marie's post,                       
this week,
all week,
all across America,
celebrating Dr. Seuss’ Birthday!

I know, I know: if I was really being true to this most beloved and prolific author, I’d have written my opening in rhymed prose (maybe anapestic tetrameter?) and included at least 13 invented words.

NEA’S Read Across America is the largest reading event in the United States. Children participate in read-alouds, read-alongs and all sorts of reading marathon activities to honor, remember and celebrate Theodor Seuss Geisel who was born March 2, 1904. (Yes! You subtracted correctly! Were Dr. Seuss alive today he’d be 108!)

As NEA wrote in its tribute, Dr. Seuss “changed the landscape of children’s books with his controlled-vocabulary tales of antic cats, colorful meals and dozens of other zany tales.”

Really what he did was grow READERS, at a time in our history, 1954, when children were turning away from uninteresting primers, not to mention Dick, Jane and Sally.
Proud readers.
Happy readers.
Smarter and affirmed readers.
And because, as Richard Peck says, we write in the light of every book we read,
writers are readers!
So Dr. Seuss grew WRITERS too.

Those are the exact words I shared Monday when I had the good fortune to visit
Glenview, Illinois’ Henry Winkelman Elementary School to jumpstart the school’s Read Across America Week!

We talked about pen names,
and how Theodor chose his,
and created ours (the possibilities were endless),
and his invented words (too many to list)
and his identifiable rhymes,
and the word Seussian, his eponymous adjective,
and created  ours (the possibilities were endless),
and the 236 words he used to write The Cat in the Hat,
and how different the story might have been,
had only queen and zebra and bird and wings been on the 300-word list from which he was writing,
and of course,
finally, where Dr. Seuss got his story ideas.
(Every August 4, he visited the town of UberGletch, in Switzerland and while his cuckoo clock was being repaired, he walked about the town talking with the zany residents.)

The day was aWinklemazing! (think Zwinkle! Zwinkle!)from beginning to end, with a Young Writers Lunch and Meet-up smack dab in the middle.

As I often do when visiting a school that bears the name of an individual, I asked the Kindergarteners and First Graders,
“Just who was Henry Winkelman?”
It turns out Mrs. Rudnik knew: Henry Winkelman was a long-ago beloved janitor.

Later that morning she took her Kindergarteners on a Treasure Hunt, visiting various spaces throughout the school.
I’m happy to report that by the end of the day, Mr. Winkelman celebrated Dr. Seuss’ Birthday too.

Sonia’s Thank You letter punctuated my day at Winkelman with an exclamation point!

What better way to celebrate Dr. Seuss’ Birthday than to celebrate with his fans.

They remind me non-stop why I choose to write for children.

Esther Hershenhorn

Thanks to Mrs. Christine Kolbuk, Winkelman's Learning Resource Center Director, and the Winkelman Kiddos and their teachers for being especially terrific reminders.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Brought to You By... Mazda

After nearly ten years with my bachelorette car (an adorable two-door Cabrio convertible), we regrettably parted company when kid #1 began throwing up with every ride and kid #2 needed to be turned upside down to be hoisted over his sister and dropped into his rear-facing seat.  So I have my 'Mommy' vehicle.

I am a very bad driver, and I always had a notion that in a smaller car, I was less likely to hit anything (even if more likely to be crushed on impact). Now I have a minivan -- but please humor me and call it a micro-minivan. It is a Mazda5. It is really not all that big, but it does handle the carpooling duties.  (Though I must admit, it was always handy to be able to say, 'No, honey, you may not have Olivia over for a play date because, gosh, she won't fit in the car...')  I have also hit two mailboxes this year and replaced my passenger mirror, yes, twice. In short, if you see a blue Mazda5 in the environs of  Frederick, Maryland... you might want to change lanes.

As a consequence of this major life change, I find myself on the Mazda email list... and, strangely -- given that I am teaching author and parent of two little ones -- this is the only reason I know that Read Across America week is fast approaching.  Brought to you by The Lorax... and Mazda.

I do have a deep appreciation for my Mazda, don't get me wrong. And I write for a soap opera. Clearly, I have nothing against commercialism. In fact, I think we writers and publishers would do well to embrace it whenever we can.  Go, Mazda!

And Go, Scholastic, which is having a book fair at my daughter's school this week.  I have been secretly shopping for myself from my kids' fliers all year long.  (My daughter, who is afraid of everything -- most especially books with scary covers -- was quite traumatized by my recent purchase of a book called Deadly.) While I love supporting local booksellers and of course I patronize the library regularly, who can resist all those shiny new books?  I can't. 

My daughter brought just home a list of the books she wants, to which I have quietly added the books I think she will love if only she will open them.  (How many Rainbow Magic books are there?  Does anyone know? Now that my son is daily proclaiming that he is a fairy, I think we're ready to move on.)

The marketing people at Scholastic are geniuses!  Yes, we have bought our fair share of cupcake recipe books and cute little erasers, but they are also getting great books into kids' homes -- and very affordably, I might add.  Like Mazda, Scholastic also gives back to the schools, which earn many classroom books in return for purchases made.  This is an awesome thing. And any author who's been fortunate enough to have a Scholastic Book Club book knows that the royalties can be prodigious.

Sadly, one of my daughter's schoolmates died this week after a long illness.  When her teacher talked to the children about what they wanted to do in his memory, the verdict was unaminous -- at the book fair, they will buy books in Peter's memory.  And every child who opens those books through all the years will be touched by Peter's life.   God Bless them all.  --Jeanne Marie

Friday, February 24, 2012

Happy Poetry Friday! Write your own Lingo Poem--and then sing it to your cat!

Howdy, Campers!

Today's poem and writing prompt/Writing Workout is below.

My fellow bloggers have covered the topic of Digital Learning fabulously (scroll below).

Today, I want to list some of the ways I use these new tools...

~ Every day I use an online thesaurus and rhyming dictionary to write my poetry.

~ I decided which version of Ashoken Farewell I wanted to play at a recent tribute to the journalist Daniel Pearl by watching different versions on YouTube; then Freda Sideroff posted a snippet she'd filmed of me and hammer dulcimer player, Phee Sherline at the tribute concert (what goes around comes around!...)

I learned how to pronounce author Jon Scieszka's name (and lots of other authors and illustrators names) by listening here.(hint: it rhymes with the soda, Fresca)

Raise your hand if you get overwhelmed.  Do you?  Whew!  And I thought I was the only one.  Well, JoAnn is right. I just need to try one new thing. And I'm going to change the adjective: try one small thing.'s my poem, based on an old song. But just one verse, not all of them. That's my one small thing!

(listen to the song on this video first, so you know the tune, then read the new words...)

by April Halprin Wayland
with apologies to Jimmy Kennedy and John W. Bratton 

If you go onto the internet
You're sure of a big surprise.
If you go onto the internet
You'd better go in disguise.

For every bear who hopes to express
Will gather there to write on Wordpress
Today's Fri-day, when every bear posts a poem!

Poem time for blogging bears
The Kidlit blogging bears are having a lovely time today.
Watch them, catch them unawares,
And hear them rhyming on their holiday.

See them tweet their permalink
They love to click in sync
And never have any cares.
At night they share on Mister Linky
now they can go to bed
Because they're tired little blogging bears.

If you go onto the internet
You're sure of a big surprise.
If you go onto the internet
You'd better go in disguise.

For every bear chewing sunflower seeds
Will gather there to read RSS feeds
Today's Fri-day--when every bear posts a poem!
poem (c) 2012 April Halprin Wayland

Writing Workout: Sing a Lingo Poem!
What's a Lingo?  A Lingo is a poem based on the lexicon of a particular field of interest. Period.

1) Pick a song you love to sing (I used my favorite song book for ideas, Rise Up Singing--in folk music circles it's known as The Song Book)

2) Daydream about a profession or hobby that fascinates you.Weaving? Blackjack? Riding horses? Gymnastics?  Plumbing?  I chose blogging.

3) Search for a glossary of words for that profession or hobby.

4) Pick out the most interesting words and put them at the top of your page.  In the poem above, I picked these words:
feeds, link, pingback, internet, blogging, podcast, post, rss, search engine, URL, spam, subscribe, entry, sidebar, tags, ping,permalink, Mister Linky, Poetry Friday, Kidlitosphere, dashboard, Blogger, Wordpress, LiveJournal, blogiversary, reciprocal link, link love, navbar, bookmark, tweet, facebook, draft, schedule

5) Find ways to fit some of these words to the beat of your song. You probably won't use more than a few words, but it's nice to have a big selection.  You can see that I only used a handful of my words.

6) Make liberal use of a rhyming dictionary.

7) Make sure you've installed AdBlock Plus (which is free) or the ads on this site (and most sites!) will drive you crazy (at least they drove me crazy!)

5) Sing your song to your cat.

6) Sing it to a friend.

7) Sing it with your friend!

The end.

Poetry Friday is hosted at Check It Out today.  Thanks, Jone!

...and for heaven's sake, write with joy!
poem and drawing (c) 2012 April Halprin Wayland

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Digital Learning Every Day

In response to the celebration of the first Digital Learning Day on February 1, we've been doing a series of posts on how the digital age is affecting us as writers, readers, and teachers. Mary Ann wrote about "learning to love the e-book," not only as an author, but as the mother of a child with dyslexia. Jeanne Marie shared how she's trying to incorporate technology into her lesson plans to appeal to today's "digital natives" (aka our students). Esther blogged about her courage and determination (my words, not hers) in learning new classroom technologies despite her own learning disabilities. And JoAnn shared her approach to facing the deluge of digital-age opportunities: focusing on trying "one new thing" at a time.

I'm intrigued by the unique relationship each of the TeachingAuthors has with computer technology, especially because my own undergraduate degree is in Mathematics and Computer Science. Unfortunately, that education predates personal computers and the widespread use of the Internet. (I know, I'm dating myself here.) However, although the programming languages I studied in school are virtually obsolete (Ever hear of COBOL?), the basic principles I learned back then still come in handy. Plus, I'm not intimidated by having to tweak HTML code once in a while to get around some of Blogger's quirks. :-)

In an interesting bit of Synchronicity, I'm preparing to teach a brand new class this Saturday that is very technology oriented: "Get Started Blogging." Not only is this a new subject for me, but it's also the first time I'll be teaching a class in a computer lab. (And I keep imagining all the things that could go wrong with the computers!) Of course, as always happens when I teach, I'm learning, too. For example, I learned that the word "blog" has it's origin in the word "weblog," which itself was coined back in 1997 by combining the terms web + log. I'm also learning new software. I decided to use as the blogging platform for the sample blogs my students will be creating, instead of Google Blogger, which is the platform for our TeachingAuthors blog. That way, I can better share what I see as the pros and cons of the two platforms. If any of you have used both, I'd love to know which you prefer and why.

But back to the topic of how the digital age is affecting me, personally:

As a teacher:
As a reader:
  • I recently bought my first e-reader, a NookColor. It allows me to borrow e-books from both my public library and other Nook owners, as well as own books I have no room to store in my home.
  • One of the features I especially love about my NookColor is the ability to highlight sections of text and email them to myself, making it easy to accurately quote material in my class lectures.
  • I've also downloaded apps that allow me to access and update my Word documents anywhere I have wi-fi connection.
As a writer:
  • The Internet is an incredible research tool, and it's getting better all the time. While researching my young adult historical novel set in 18th-century Milan, I was able to find and read original source documents online with only a few clicks--in some cases these documents physically exist in fewer than five libraries in the whole world!
  • A dynamic online presence via blogging and/or social media (as opposed to a static website), is now considered essential to a writer's career, for better or worse. The Internet is a great marketing tool, but a time-consuming one. I sometimes struggle with finding a balance between writing and keeping up with social media. There's currently a great discussion of this topic going on over at Greg Pincus's The Happy Accident blog.  
When we first launched this blog nearly three years ago, I wrote:
While part of our goal is to discuss what we've learned about writing and the teaching of writing, we also hope to accomplish something here that we can't do on our websites: facilitate conversations between writers, teachers, and librarians about the subjects we love best--writing, teaching writing, and reading.
I had no idea when I wrote those words what a welcoming and far-reaching community we were joining. The digital age has allowed me to form personal relationships with people I may never meet in person, including young readers, writers, teachers, librarians, editors, agents, and booksellers. And I'm happy to consider many of those people my friends. :-)

I'd love to know how the digital age is affecting you, our readers. I hope you'll share some of those ways in the comments.
And happy writing!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Announcing our Presidents' Day Giveaway Winner

The winner of our special Presidents' Day giveaway is Kirsten Larson, an aspiring author and mother of two who blogs at CreatingCuriousKids.   Congratulations, Kirsten!

Kirsten will be receiving an autographed copy of The Camping Trip that Changed America, written by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by Caldecott medalist Mordicai Gerstein. The book is a perfect President's Day read, since it's the story of a little-known event in U.S. history:

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt and conservationist John Muir camp together in the Yosemite wilderness and discover a shared passion for nature that saves America's wilderness. 
Thanks again to Barb for her terrific guest TeachingAuthor interview.

A big THANK YOU, also, to all who participated in the contest.
And, as always, happy writing!


Friday, February 17, 2012

Try One New Thing

I can't remember the last time I wrote a check. What used to be an everyday occurrence at the grocery store or doctor's office is practically a thing of the past. Now I whip out a debit card for nearly all my financial transactions. I pay bills online. I order walking shoes and reserve hotel rooms and book airplane flights online. And I welcome the change: the transactions are faster, less paper is wasted, I can see right away that something is taken care of and cross it off my list.

Technology surrounds us, helps us, and sometimes overwhelms us. In planning this post on the impact of the digital age on us as writers, readers, teachers, and/or parents, I struggled to find a place to begin. I visited the site for Digital Learning Day, February 1, "a nationwide celebration of innovative teaching and learning through digital media and technology that engages students and provides them with a rich, personalized educational experience." I followed link after link to sites bursting with ideas and plans for enriching students' learning experiences by using new technology in classrooms. (I also read comments from teachers about the availability of that technology in these days of severe budget restrictions, but that's a whole 'nother topic.)

Somewhere I found a link to The National Writing Project's February 2 post, "Digital Learning Day: Celebrating Innovative Teaching Strategies." There I found the advice I needed: try one new thing.

Try one new thing. The age of writing checks to pay for purchases is over; so is the time for using transparency film and overhead projectors for author visits and conference presentations. I made that transition nervously and gladly accepted the convenience, portability, and vividness of PowerPoint presentations. At first, I hauled the transparencies along as backup; eventually, I relaxed and considered the new system reliable enough to let them go.

Now, in addition, I visit with students across the country using Skype, which cuts out travel time and transportation costs. I can even share those PowerPoint presentations without leaving home.

I used to rely more on paper for teaching, too. Now classrooms are equipped with projectors that enable me to share examples from books, handouts, or the World Wide Web. Students can post their assignments online, and we can discuss their work in class without having to print copies for everyone.

Facebook and Twitter were nerve-wracking at first, too, but I came to embrace them both as rich resources for contacts and information I never would have accumulated otherwise. I learned how to send text messages because that's what our kids do, and I wanted to be able to communicate with them. I take pictures with my cell phone camera and send photos to my e-mail account, to friends, and to Facebook. On one particularly brave day, I posted a video of chimney swifts (the subject of a picture book manuscript) on YouTube.

So, yes. We learn. We keep trying one new thing. And then another. Each step forward brings us to a new challenge. What's next? I'm comparing the options for self-publishing a manuscript based on the poetry writing workshops I present in schools, Write A Poem Step by Step. I'm as excited about this new possibility as I am curious about the best way to approach it. But I'm determined to learn. Wish me luck!

Don't forget to enter our contest to win an autographed copy of Barb Rosenstock's new book, The Camping Trip that Changed America. The interview and entry details are here, and the deadline is tomorrow (Saturday, February 18). Good luck!

JoAnn Early Macken

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Give me a D! Give me an I! Give me a G! Give me a hand, PLEASE! I can't retrieve my files!

In September, 2000, I presented a workshop at Fort Wayne, Indiana’s Science Central – “Let Lowell Piggot Help You Think Like a Scientist!” – based on my meteorologically-themed picture book There Goes Lowell’s Party! (Holiday House).

I promise you: every single Science Teacher who ever taught me, who ever awarded me the “D” I’d – barely - earned, elementary school through college, was rolling over in his or her grave.

(That did not include Ms. Lowenstein, my college Biology lab instructor, who listened to me highlight my fetal pig’s fallopian tubes during my final exam, then announced I’d failed because my fetal pig was male.)

That’s how I feel now writing about The Digital Age and how it impacts my teaching and authoring.

If not a card-carrying Luddite, I am definitely a sympathizer. 

Ned Ludd, of course, was the imagined leader of the English textile workers whose protests and machine breaking shook England in the early 19th century and who lent his name to opponents of technology.

As noted in Monday's post, Jean Marie’s Dad insisted she learn the Word Processor manual; mine insisted I learn how to type on a portable Royal typewriter. (“Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party.”)

When it comes to any kind of technological change, be it early 19th century textile machinery, my Kindle or my digital camera, I enter the room kicking and screaming.

But do notice: I used the active voice!

For better (mostly), I have indeed entered this Brave New World of ours, one digit at a time, so to speak - first delicately dipping my Big Toe to test the waters, then gingerly tapping my right index finger in search of whatever the machine’s correct key.

And, I’m happy to say (on most days anyway): I’m here.

My learning disabilities erase any chance I have of ever becoming a technological Quick Study.

But in a funny sort of way, my learning disabilities enable me to promptly identify those who are (!), then grab their coattails before they fly away.

Had I bought Apple stock when it was first issued, I couldn’t be any richer, thanks to my two Computer Tutors – first Kathy Rudy of Evanston, now Chris Vasilakis of Forest Park. (They’d be on my Speed Dial if I knew how to set it.)

I live mid-way between an Apple store and a Best Buy; turn left, and the Apple associates reconfigure my iPod nano; turn right, and the Geek Squad unfreezes my laptop.

The teacher inside me reminds me often: there is no such thing as a dumb question.

Two weeks ago, Brigid Zachar (left), Illinois School District 59’s Instructional Technology Support, and Eileen Justus (right), the LRC Director of Elk Grove Village’s Ridge Family Center for Learning,
answered every single dumb question I asked while working with faculty and classes First through Fifth to help them write their abecedarian telling of their singular school’s story, R is for the Ridge Way.
(Singular is an understatement. Ridge is an all-year, 8 am to 4 pm, combined-classroom community that models non-stop respect and responsibility.)

The school’s founder and retiring Principal supported this writing project from the get-go, working with me months ahead to nail the details. We used my S is for Story: A Writer’s Alphabet as our model. The faculty and students enthusiastically embraced the effort. The Best News of all? The Principal’s name (Mrs. Barbara Zabroske) gave the students the perfect Z word!

You name the technological wonder and Brigid and Eileen taught me how to use it, so we could save our daily work over two weeks’ worth of multiple sessions, be it brainstorming, list-making, highlighting, revisiting, revising, re-evaluating or poetically shaping our text.
The Eno Board, with its RM EAsiTeach software.
The Aver Media document camera.
The fancy stylus.
The scrolls.
The focused lens.
How did a blackboard ever suffice?

give me a D!
Give me an I!
Give me a G!
Hey! Give me a hand!
I’m still kicking and screaming,
but I’m here
I'm staying.

Esther Hershenhorn

Don’t forget our contest and your chance to win a copy of Barb Rosenstock’s newest picture book, The Camping Trip That Changed America (Dial), illustrated by Caldecott medalist Mordecai Gerstein. The entry deadline is Saturday.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Digital Natives, Digital Texts, Digital World

I was in seventh grade when we got our first personal computer.  It was a behemoth IBM, in its first year of production.  My crafty dad made me read the word processor manual and write a cheat sheet for family use.  (I still remember -- ^KD = save in WordStar circa 1984.) 

By the time I started high school, I composed all of my papers on the computer.  The ability to type quickly and edit instantly has greatly affected my writing process.

I don't think I had an email account until I was grown and out of college.  I am still a very reluctant texter.  I waste too much time on facebook, but I never tweet.
My kids learned how to use a mouse at two.  They are now four and six.  They play Angry Birds on my cell phone and DS in restaurants with slow service.

The college students I teach were mostly born in the 1990s.  One thing I quickly realized was that, thanks to texting and email and facebook and twitter, most of them actually spend a significant portion of their day WRITING -- willingly, for pleasure.  Perhaps texting is going to make punctuation obsolete, but on the other hand... surely there's some good to be harnessed from this situation.

I started teaching at a new school last semester, and my classroom now has a dedicated computer lab.  I've always had students write frequently in class, of course, but incorporating the computers has presented both an opportunity and a challenge.

The ability to do library research from the classroom is the most obvious advantage to having classroom computers.  Grammar quizzes can be given online, of course; but I am looking for ways to excite students, not bore them to death.

I have thus been experimenting with a variety of technologies and new assignments.  Last semester I used a status update exercise to get students thinking about topic selection and audience.  I am just starting to learn how to get students working on collaborative written projects -- wikis and blogs through Blackboard, as well as group responses through google docs.   Using youtube to find examples of commercials exhibiting logical fallacies has also been entertaining.

Today's digital natives grow up in a world completely different from ours.  As ebooks change the experience of reading (but not as drastically as one might think), so the new technologies present many more options for effectively engaging students.

If any teachers have advice or expertise in this area to share, we are all ears.

In the meantime, don't forget to enter our latest Teaching Authors Book Giveaway

Have a great week! --Jeanne Marie

Friday, February 10, 2012

Oops--you missed Children's Authors and Illustrators Week...but you didn't miss my DECLUTTERING poem for Poetry Friday!

Howdy, Campers!

My poem about clutter and the link to Poetry Friday is below.

But first...have you scampered to Carmela's post and entered to win Barb Rosenstock's The Camping Trip That Changed America in our latest book giveaway contest?  No?!?!  Then for heaven's sake, click here or scroll down now.  I'll wait right.

As Carmela noted in her post, I'm a card-carrying member of the Children's Authors Network (CAN!)
 photo credit: jessamyn via photopin cc
This isn't April. 

I lied.  I AM a member, but there are no cards.

In 2000, eleven members of CAN! created Children's Authors and Illustrators Week (CAIW).  CAIW was invented to encourage communities to discover and to connect with local authors and illustrators. It's celebrated the first week of February, but never fear! The CAIW webpage (which includes a wonderful poem about books by CAN! member and poet Joan Bransfield Graham --scroll to the bottom) includes Tips for Children's Authors and Illustrators Week which teachers, parents, librarians and even Martians can use all year long.

Plan on connecting with local authors and illustrators 
to celebrate CAIW next year!
(In fact, I'll bet one is lurking next door to you right now.)
photo credit: Fr Antunes via photopin cc

Okay, on to Poetry Friday!  I'm deep into the topic of clutter this week.  Which got me thinking about my three Clutterbusting Heroes:

1) My husband's client who moves his office and all his staff every two years.  "It keeps them from cluttering," he says.  

2) My friend, author Bruce Balan, who, you may remember, lives on a trimaran with his wife and sails around the world.   When Bruce goes to a conference and someone hands him a business card or a brochure or, well, anything, Bruce gives it his full attention, then gently hands it back. Even the business card.  "I don't have room for this on the boat," he explains.  

3) My friend, Brooks Palmer, professional declutter guy, who I interviewed last year about his first book. His quiet question, when working with clients, is "Do you need that?" or sometimes, "Can you let that go?"

All three of these guys (do you think there's a reason they're all guys?) are my heroes.
photo credit:
Heroes deserve a medal.

I have a new declutter plan for the New Year and I know you're dying to hear it.  Every month I'm going to hire my down-the-street neighborly handyman, Greg, to paint one of our closets or cupboards.  You know what that means I'll be doing the night before, right?  

This week he painted my home office closet.  Oh. My. Gosh.  I'd saved so many file folders, art paper, and recycled mailing envelopes, I could open an office supply store.  It was very embarrassing to look at all that stuff out of the closet, spread across our college kid's bedroom.

Greg prepped and painted my closet while I went off to a coffee house to procrastinate and finally to write.  When I returned, VOILA!  An clean closet! A blank page!  

Eli inspects the freshly painted shelves.

My rule is that I can only put back the things I actually need. Wish me luck.

by April Halprin Wayland

It started with one manila folder
holding just nine words:
ethereal, mellifluous, clink, crisp, apple, baby, shoulder, drool, listen.

Then five colored folders 
in a beautifully braided basket.  

Before long, 
my file cabinet was jammed so tightly 
with recycled file folders filled with words,
it was hard to pull out puddle, excellent, toasted, 
or even a single shard.

I hired a handyman to build special shelves in my closet
for oversized ones like warmheartedness,
tall ones (tate, titter, colossal), 
words without spines like pithless,
that need to be stacked
or stood up against dividers.

One day the words came tumbling down.
My room was filled with overconfident, noodle,
kleptomaniac, global.

The carpets were ruined.
I cried as I threw out onomatopoeia.
The walls were scratched by 
aquamarine and nincompoop.

Today, my shelves breathe.
One shelf has only the word, now.
Another, air.
The top shelf had bird
but this morning it flew out
past open and window.
poem (c) 2012 April Halprin Wayland, all rights reserved

Eli approves of the shelves (and waits for the OK to retrieve his red toy)

~ Magical Realism--the Game!

In the poem above, I substituted the idea of individual words for file folders, papers and notebooks.  

It feels a bit like Magical Realism to me.  According to Wikipedia, 
"Magic realism or magical realism is an aesthetic style or genre of fiction in which magical elements blend with the real world." 

1) Write a simple poem about an ordinary chore...maybe walking the dog or making your bed. 

2) Now, go back and substitute a more general concept for the noun.  Instead of "I made the bed," perhaps, "I made the friendship."  Instead of "I walked the dog," perhaps "I walked the war."  Sort of like a game of Mad Libs (play a version of Mad Libs online for free here).  

3) Roll around in the odd wonderfulness of not having to make sense.

Thanks to
Laura Purdie Salas at Writing The World For Kids
for hosting Poetry Friday today!

Remember to write with joy!  
(And remember to enter our book giveaway!)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Celebrating Children's Authors/Illustrators' Week with a Guest TA Interview and Book Giveaway

Hi Everyone,
Did you know February 6-10, 2012  is Children's Authors and Illustrators Week (CAIW)?
CAIW is sponsored by the Children's Authors Network, of which my co-blogger April Halprin Wayland is a member!
We're celebrating  Children's Authors and Illustrators Week here on our blog by hosting a guest TeachingAuthor Interview with my fellow Illinois author Barb Rosenstock. One lucky reader will have a chance to win a copy of Barb's latest book, The Camping Trip that Changed America (Dial Books for Young Readers)! Illustrated by Caldecott medalist Mordicai Gerstein, The Camping Trip that Changed America is the story of a little-known event in American history:
In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt and conservationist John Muir camp together in the Yosemite wilderness and discover a shared passion for nature that saves America's wilderness. 
The book has received lovely reviews, including a star from School Library Journal. To read the reviews and see lesson plans for related classroom activities, see Barb's website. Then, after reading the following interview, scroll down to the end of this post to enter for a chance to win your own autographed copy!

Before getting into the interview, here's a bit about Barb:

Barb Rosenstock says she loves true stories best. She often lives in the past, though she's thankful for indoor plumbing, instant cocoa and the Internet. She started writing picture books while completing a master's degree in teaching and loves to visit schools to teach writing to elementary students. She resides near Chicago with her husband, sons, and two big poodles who keep her sane (or insane) depending on the day. Her published picture books include the highly acclaimed titles: Fearless: The Story of Racing Legend Louise Smith (Dutton) and The Littlest Mountain (KarBen).

And now for the interview:

Barb, would you tell us how you became a TeachingAuthor
     I came to teaching after a long career in corporate marketing. When I was doing my student teaching in a second-grade classroom, I sometimes couldn’t find the books that I needed to illustrate the right concept. So I noodled around trying to write them. Sharing my writing attempts with my class was one of the more successful ways of getting students to write without expectation that it be perfect the first time around. Now, whether it’s a one-day author visit or workshop or a week-long intensive, I still love teaching writing to elementary students.

Does your experience as a classroom teacher affect your writing, and if so, how? 
     I would not be a writer at all if I hadn’t been a teacher first! Before I sit down to write a book or even do extensive research I always do two things. 1) Search the library site WorldCat to make sure the book in my mind hasn’t already been published; and 2) Think long and hard about how a teacher would use my yet-to-be-written book in a classroom. I’ve had lesson plan ideas for a book long before the book was finished!

I love that you have lesson plan ideas before you even begin writing, Barb. With that in mind, would you share a favorite writing exercise you use with young writers? 
     For early to mid-elementary students, I absolutely love copying the pages of a story and putting the kids in groups to put the story together BEFORE they’ve ever read it. Sequencing is tough for kids and having them work in groups to sequence a real book is the best way I know to get the concept. (Try it using Dav Pilkey’s The Paperboy.) My favorite editing exercise is to make a “phone” out of two small pieces of curved PVC pipe and have the kids read their stories to themselves through the “phone.” They make so many more improvements in their stories if they read aloud and somehow that “phone” adds a layer where they can really HEAR their own voice and what’s missing. 

Thanks, Barb. I'm definitely going to try the "phone" exercise with my young students. Now would you tell us a bit about what inspired you to write The Camping Trip that Changed America and how you went about researching it? Also, what’s it like to have a Caldecott winner illustrate your story?
     I read a review of a Roosevelt biography that mentioned how he had "left the presidency" to go camping. I was amazed that wilderness issues were so important to a President that he went alone into Yosemite with John Muir, the man who loved it the most. Wouldn’t it be nice if our presidents could do that today? For research, I read everything (not much!) I could find about the trip, three or four adult biographies of each man and pored through old newspaper articles. Then I stared at a time line of the trip for about 2 weeks while making several failed attempts at putting a book together. One day while looking at some Yosemite photos, I realized these men were opposites and I pictured them as different kind of trees which was key to having the book’s theme come together. 
     As far as working with a Caldecott medalist, well, after I stopped screaming like a schoolgirl when my editor called to break the news, it was as perfect as you’d expect. He is a genius and even his rough sketches were better than anything I could have dreamed of--a true example of an illustrator’s work improving an author’s writing. 

Do you have any suggestions for teachers on how they might use one of your books in the classroom? 
  All my books have teacher’s guides with lesson plans and activities across the curriculum on my website. This particular book fits into all curriculum subjects but is especially relevant around holidays like Earth Day and President’s Day as well as being useful to teach science topics like land forms, glaciers, erosion, conservation or ecology. I’m always happy to get email from teachers and suggest customized ideas on how to use my books.

Many of our readers are aspiring writers. Would you tell us about when you first felt you were a "real writer"?
     I guess I should’ve felt I was a real writer much earlier than I did, perhaps when I submitted my first manuscript, received my first rejection letter, signed my first (or second!) book contract, or received my first set of editorial notes, but I never did. Then one day a few months ago I was working on a new manuscript and the phone rang. I thought it was my mother and I was in the middle of writing so I ignored it. (I tend to ignore everything when I’m writing--ask my husband, my kids and my dogs.) The phone kept ringing and ringing; I was frustrated and glanced over to see “M Gerstein NYC” on my caller ID. I knocked over a cup of coffee to pick up the phone and talk to the man whose books I had read to my classroom and my own two boys over and over again. He was charming and intelligent; I blathered some nonsense; but when he was kind enough to ask what I was working on next, I knew I was a real writer. Too bad I didn’t know I was a writer sooner, then maybe I would’ve sounded less idiotic on the phone!

Wow, what a dream come true to work with such a marvelous illustrator, Barb. Congratulations! And thanks so much for answering our questions today.

Contest entry:
Now, readers, here's your chance to win an autographed copy of Barb's brand new book, The Camping Trip that Changed America (Dial Books for Young Readers)!
Before entering our contest, please read our Book Giveaway Guidelines. Then answer the following question:  If you're our winner, would you keep the book for yourself or pass it along to a young reader, and if so, to whom? (Don't worry about sounding selfish--who wouldn't want to keep a book illustrated by a Caldecott medalist?)

You may either post your answer as a comment below or email your answer to teachingauthors at gmail dot com with "Contest" in the subject line. If you enter via a comment, you MUST include a valid email address (formatted like: teachingauthors at gmail dot com) or a link to an email address where we can reach you. Your entry must be posted or received by 11 p.m. Saturday, February 18, 2012 (Central Standard Time). The winner will be chosen in a random drawing and announced (fittingly) on President's Day, Monday February 20, 2012. Good luck, everyone!

And teachers, if you're looking for additional ways to celebrate children's authors and illustrators this week, check out this lesson plan posted on ReadWriteThink.

Happy Writing!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Learning to love the E-book

      I may have mentioned this before, but...I love books. I own enough to stock my own branch library. I love everything about them...the smell of fresh print, the promises made by the jacket art (sometimes promises unfilled by the actual book), the weight of a story in my hands, my book marker showing me how much I've read, how much more I have to savor.  As you can probably tell, reading is a whole-body experience for me.
      I initially encountered electronic publishing in my first book contract, circa 1999. As I waded through 15 pages of 4 point print literary legalese I stumbled across the term "electronic rights." I had no idea what that might be, and made a note to ask my literary attorney about it. (Those of us without agents depend on literary attorneys to translate contracts into terms that we can understand.) When my attorney explained the concept of e-publishing, my first reaction was "Euw-w-w?  A book on a computer screen?  Gross!" My second thought was "Well, my books will never be electronic." I figured that such exotic publishing  forays would be limited to blockbuster adult writers, like John Grisham, Nora Roberts, John Patterson. Maybe J.K. Rowling.

     Never say never. As of last month, both of my middle grade novels, Jimmy's Stars and Yankee Girl, are available as e-books.

    I love e-books.

    What changed my mind?  It certainly isn't the huge royalties I will receive from this new format.  E-book royalties (like paperback reprint royalties) are considerably less than those of hardcover sales.  No, I love e-books for several reasons.

1.  Living in my own branch library is becoming physically impossible. For the last fifteen years, I have bought 98% of my reading material because I do not have access to a good library. Out of every ten books I read, only one or two are "keepers", something I will want to read again, or use in teaching. Even though I donate and giveaway books in a steady stream, I always have a box...or two...or the back door, waiting to go somewhere.

2. In the last few years, e-book readers have become smaller, lighter and more affordable (still not cheap, though.)  However. their convenience cannot be equaled. I travel a lot, and half my luggage weight used to be books.  How much better to be able to stuff a couple of hundred books into my carry-on, via my Kindle?

3.  E-books have been a godsend for my dyslexic daughter.  Some readers and books are text-to-speech enabled. For someone whose pleasure reading had been restricted to what was available in an audio format, text-to-speech has allowed my daughter to read as much and as widely as she has always desired.  In fact, I bought our first Kindle for her...and then got hooked on it myself.

       Will e-books replace paper-and-ink?  I sure hope not.  Apart from the sensory pleasures of reading a physical book, some books are less practical in electronic format. I still use physical books for research.  In reformatting for e-publishing, some books have illustrative material eliminated. I've also found it more time consuming to try to relocate a reference in an e-book than to page through an actual book. (And of course, you can't put sticky notes on an e-book!)

     Even though some picture books are available electronically, I will continue to buy them as books. A picture book is an aesthetic whole. Story, illustrations, and page layout all work together to produce a
a single artistic vision.  Books re-formatted for a tiny screen don't have the same resonance as they do in  the original.  There are writers and artists who are producing e-book originals.  Perhaps their number will grow with wider readership.

    However, when it comes to a parent-child bonding experience, nothing beats snuggling down with a book at bedtime.  Then, after you leave the room, your child will sneak his e-reader from under his pillow, plug in the ear-phones, and read long, long into the night.  (And he won't even need a flashlight!)

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Week of Acronyms: SCBWI, FOCUS, and WSRA

SCBWI's (and Esther's) 13th annual Winter Conference was my first of the international variety. I began my New York trip the day before the event so I could meet my sister Judy to walk down drizzly streets seeing the sights--and getting lost. We are not map people! One highlight: the New York Public Library's "Celebrating 100 Years" exhibition, including the original Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, Kanga, and little Roo.

Friday was even wetter than Thursday, so we wandered through the American Museum of Natural History, where we lingered in the butterfly exhibit, and briefly strolled along the edge of Central Park.

Esther's Wednesday post covered many of the conference highlights, so I'll add just a few of my own:
  • Jane Yolen's generous Mid-List Author Grant, to be awarded annually to an author who writes steadily and well but whose books have not received a lot of media attention. Eligible authors have at least two PAL level books but have not sold a manuscript in at least one year. Nominations for next year's awards will be accepted from June 1 to November 1, and winners will be announced at next year's conference. Watch the SCBWI web site for official details. Thank you, Jane!
  • Kathryn Erskine's closing keynote, which used the acronym FOCUS as a guide for keeping our minds on our work. I especially appreciated her advice about blocking out distractions by creating a little waiting room in my mind. She recommended posting a guard at the door. (I wonder where I might find a fire-breathing dragon!)
  • Meeting Steve Mooser, Lin Oliver, and the many enthusiastic, hardworking, dedicated, and brilliant author and illustrator volunteers who keep the SCBWI organization and events running smoothly, efficiently, and cheerfully.
Yesterday, I presented a poetry workshop for teachers and also participated in a panel of Wisconsin authors at the Wisconsin State Reading Association's 2012 Convention. In the morning, I was thrilled to see enthusiastic teachers chewing on pencils, staring into space, and drafting their own poems in preparation for sharing the method with their students. In the afternoon, Lisa Albert, Kathryn Heling, Jacqueline Houtman, Lisa Moser, and I spoke about our books, our writing processes, and our school visit presentations. I enjoyed getting to know my fellow presenters a bit better through their work.

And now I'll shift gears again, to a freelance project, teaching plans, and school visit preparations. Yes, I'm busy--and glad to be! Back to work!
JoAnn Early Macken

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Out and About: The 13th Annual SCBWI Winter Conference!

SCBWI celebrated its Lucky 13th Annual Winter Conference in New York City this past weekend.

Lucky me! I’ve attended all 13 years!

This time around, I was able to share the experience with fellow TeachingAuthor JoAnn Early Macken who serves as the Wisconsin SCBWI Chapter’s Regional Advisor.

Over 1300 children’s book creators attended, representing 49 states and 19 countries.

Keynote speakers included Chris Crutcher, Kathryn Erskine and Cassandre Clare. Participating editors, publishers, art directors and agents generously shared their smarts, advice and insights.

Were one to use the Word Frequency Counter offered below, it’s likely the word “true” would come up in the Top Three.      

• As in,
  when it comes to marketing, promotion and Social Media, use those tools
  and platforms true to who you are and what you want and need. 
 • As in,
   stay true to your story and that’s the one you’ll publish.

Surprise guest speaker Henry Winkler, co-author with SCBWI founder and Executive Director Lin Oliver of the Hank Zipzer and Ghost Buddy series, said it best: “Just put one foot in front of another…”

Friday’s Marketing Intensive for Professional Writers, organized and led by Susan Raab,
brought me up close and personal with today’s cutting-edge marketing and promotional tools, techniques and platforms.

The key words of that Intensive, and of the Day as well, topping true? Discoverability and connectivity.

The funny thing is, though: to my way of thinking, those two words express the essence of both story and the writing process.

And they certainly express the essence of SCBWI and all this professional organization does for its 23,000 members around the world. 

Discoverability and connectivity?

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Good News! You can attend the Conference, too, vicariously, using only your fingers. Check out the information-packed posts of SCBWI’s Conference Bloggers Suzanne Young, Lee Wind, Martha Brockenbrough, Jaime Temairik and Jolie Stekly.

And, afterwards, discover any and all of My Lucky 13th Conference Finds and Treasures and connect away!

  • Odyl, which helps authors and publishers connect with readers on Facebook
  • Darcy Pattison’s The Book Trailer Manual eBook
  •, which helps you maximize (via integrated multimedia) the Author and the Writer in you when visiting schools, libraries and bookstores
  • Pitch Engine (Create your own media empire!)
  • Wordle, which generates "word clouds" from your text
  • Write Words, a word frequency counter
  • Pinterest, an online pin board
  • Brooklyn Arden, the blog of Arthur A. Levine Editor Cheryl Klein (Check out her January 29 post on her Revision Workshop!)
  • The Dropbox app, a free service that lets you bring your photos, docs and videos anywhere and share them easily so you never need to email yourself a file again!
I'm dropping pennies in my Piggy Bank as I type and already looking for a cheap Southwest Airline ticket for the August 3-6 41st SCBWI Annual Summer Conference in Los Angeles.

See you there?

Esther Hershenhorn