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!


D.E. Malone said...

What a great post! I love both Roosevelt and Muir (just hiked in Muir Woods in December!). If I won the book, I would most likely keep it for myself to use when I talk with students about writing. I like to use certain books of which I know a bit about its personal history and how the author went about writing it. I try to promote Illinois authors when I can!
dawnemalone at gmail dot com

LadyD Piano said...

I especially like the part about speaking through PVC. I'm a Kindergarten Music Teacher and my kids love kazoos. I'm also a grandma to 3 delightful grandsons and charming grandaughter. Love the cover art. Sounds like a great book, so I'd keep it and share with others. Thanks!

ladydpiano-lessons at yahoo dot com

Allan Woodrow said...

Great post, Barb! I'm going to have to pick up the book - it sounds great.

Peggy Archer said...

After reading your blog post I can't wait to read the book! If I'm the lucky winner, I'd keep the book for myself but share it with my grandchildren, and students and other children's writers in my groups or when I talk about writing for children.

Carmela Martino said...

Good luck, Dawn, LadyD, and Peggy! Hi there, Allan. And thanks to all of you for stopping by.

Linda B said...

Amazing to see a book like this for younger children. It's an interesting interview that shares some of the process. I have read much of Muir's writing & several biographies of President Teddy Roosevelt's life's adventures. He truly was an amazing adventurer. If I won the book I would keep it, but only to share with the many teachers with whom I work. I am the school's literacy coach. Thanks for the chance to win!

Kirsten Larson said...

Oh, what a cool book! I would definitely keep it if I won it and share it with my five and three-year-old boys. They just made their first trip to Muir Woods in December and were amazed. it's truly a special place that would make a naturalist out of anyone.
creatingcuriouskids at gmail dot com.

Pam said...

I just read a post about Eleanor Roosevelt on another blog in its Dare to Dream Big Post ( So, I'm taking that as a sign that I'll win this book to keep for my literacy program for early learners. This was a great interview. Thank you.

Gina said...

The book looks great and the interview was fabulous! If I won the book I would keep it as a special gift to share. I love reading books with kids and I am a fan of the author!
Gdavis35 at gmail dot com

Carmela Martino said...

Linda, Kirsten, Pam, and Gina, thanks for taking time to share your comments. And good luck to all of you!

michelle kogan said...

This looks and sounds like a dynamite book! Both the writer and illustrator have piqued my interest! My own art, illustrations and writing are about nature and conservation. The art definitely caught my eye, I have images from Mordicai Gerstein's "The Absolutely Awful Alphabet" book on my art blog. He was in the "Artful Alphabet" exhibit of Children's Book Illustrators at the Art Institute of Chicago this past year. His work is delightful! Thanks for your great review and blog entry on this intriguing book! I would keep the book, although I would definitely share it with my daughter and also some of my art students.

Sandy Brehl said...

Much as I'd love to keep it for myself (to feature in my workshops for teachers) I would plan to pass it on to my niece's children- they camp often, love the National Parks, and often share their books with friends.

(I already have it on my "feature" list for the workshops, though, so we'll view the library copy instead.)

Geo Librarian said...

This book sounds like a great way to teach my students about Teddy Roosevelt and the impact he had on our lives. I would keep the book to use with my students from year to year.

hg195 at yahoo dot com

Pam said...

Yosemite is practically in our backyard and we often take field trips there. If I win this wonderful book, my students and I will share it to learn more about the influential men who helped save this park for our enjoyment and education.

Kathy said...

What a great book! If I won this book I would give it to our school library. I teach in an impoverished area where many of the students don't get to travel outside their own community so this would be a great learning experience for them.