Monday, April 30, 2012

The Readers are Bigger in Texas

      I don't mean literally in Paul Bunyan sized humans. However, The Readers are Omnivorous in Texas just didn't seem as catchy.

      As you can probably tell, I've been out and about. Yay!  Writing is a lonely business, so it's always a good week when I can get off the laptop and remember why I do this crazy writing thing...people read books.  School visits are my favorite form of recreation.  I was thrilled when one of my publishers invited me to be part of a panel discussion at the Texas Library Association Convention in Houston last week.  The double fudge icing on this cupcake of literary delight was a second invitation to participate in the Beth Yeshurun Day School's Annual Young Authors Celebration.

    Never have I been in a school where reading is as revered by the students as it as at.  In no small part is this due to their Wonderlibrarian Monica Woolf and her hardworking band of parent volunteers.  Monica not only a master at instilling a love of reading in her students, she is also the driving force and program planner for the Celebration.  Beth Yeshurun is blessed to be able to invite a group writers to talk to their students for this annual event.  This is underwritten by the Deborah Komorn Baruch Foundation, established in her memory by her family. Deborah was a teacher and writer herself.  Her spirit lives on in the literary lives of today's students, thanks to her devoted family.

This year there were eight of us invited to the Celebration: Kelly Bennett, Chris D'Lacey, Adam Gidwitz, Mehrnas S. Gill, Natascha Gotesky, Lincoln Peirce, Coert Voorhees and your truly.

When I say reading is revered at Beth Yeshurun, I am not exaggerating. My fellow authors and I had audiences spellbound. I managed to sit in on most of the other presentations, and those kids listened with an intensity I have never seen in all my years of school visiting. Yes, we were all writers experienced in speaking to kids, but I am willing to bet that all four of us have done similar presentations in schools only to be met with squirmy, indifferent audiences.

I don't know about the other authors, but I knew that most of my audience hadn't read my books or had the faintest idea who I was. I know, because I always ask.  (If the students haven't read Yankee Girl or Jimmy's Stars my presentations contain all kinds of spoilers...which I quickly skip over.) My experience has been that the hardest groups to talk to are those who haven't read my books.  They have no prior connection to this person talking.  Yet the students of  were just polite and orderly (most schools can guarantee me that much). No matter who was speaking, or what age group was listening, I could literally feel the kids leaning closer and closer to the speaker, eyes wide, intent on soaking up every syllable we uttered. I can't speak for my fellow writers, but every now and then I get that sort of response from a student of two (usually one who tells you that they are writing a book, too). Never have I felt such an aura of respect and interest from each and every student.  I can only imagine that this sort of reverence was instilled not only by Ms Woolf, but from their teachers and parents as well.

As I said goodbye to Ms Woolf that day, her mind was already spinning with ideas for next year's Celebration.  If any of you are ever invited to participate, consider yourself honored, and prepare yourself for a school visit of a lifetime.

My next stop was the Texas Library Association panel on female fictional characters.  I am used to presenting at conferences where the audience consists of a dozen or so people who couldn't get into the "big name author presentation" going on across the hall at the same time.  I was shocked to see the size of our panel space...until I realized that one of my fellow presenters was Sara Pennypacker, author of the Clementine series. We were the Big Name Attraction (at least for that hour)

The day we presented was also Young Adult Day at the Conference. Busloads of high school students roamed the exhibition floor, scouting out the publishers who were giving away Advanced Readers Copies.  Outside the exhibition area you could see groups of teens, flopped on the cement floor, surrounded by piles of ARCS, reading, swapping, totally engrossed in their books (and totally oblivious to people like me who kept tripping over them).  But what the hey...they were reading!

Don't forget our Third Blogiversary contest. This time the prize is three (count 'em three) 30$ gift certificates from  Now go consume your favorite form of chocolate in honor of three years of
Teaching Authors!

Friday, April 27, 2012

My Out-and-About School Visit Follow-Up

First, don’t forget!
TeachingAuthors is celebrating its THIRD Blogiversary by offering readers the chance to win one of three $30 gift certificates from Biblio!

And second,
as promised,
I present pictures and poetry from my Wednesday, April 25 visit to Gombert Elementary School in Aurora, IL.

Thanks to the focused efforts of the K-5’s Library Media Center Director Gayl Dasher Smith, the participation of engaged, prepared and oh, so smart 3rd, 4th and 5th graders and the support and curriculum-connected contributions of the teachers and administrators, I had One Swell Day – the kind of day that forced me to re-consider, while training home on the 4:33 pm Metra, my long-ago decision to leave classroom teaching.

Literacy reigns at Gombert.

I loved the Library display of Author Birthdays and the school’s Birthday Book Club.

 The fourth grade political posters, promoting favorite book characters for President, were beyond clever, not to mention a breath of fresh air.

An added plus? 
I worked with each of the three fourth grade classes, helping them create their Illinois ABC books.
Even though I’d written a book or two about Illinois, Gombert’s Young Writers and learned researchers of the Prairie State gave me a whole new way of looking at the Land of Lincoln.

Since it is Poetry Friday, and of course, National Poetry Month, I’m honored to share  three ABC’s of Illinois poetic entries (for letters D, G and O), written respectively by Gombert Elementary School fourth graders Charlie, Priya and Riley.

Enjoy! Enjoy!

Esther Hershenhorn

          White-Tailed Deer (by Charlie)
In 1980, Illinois children chose the

        White-tailed deer as

            Our state animal

           Red, brown or gray

       With a white bushy tail
       A familiar sight on the

               Illinois prairie.

            The Great Chicago Fire  (by Priya)

                (October 8, 1871)
            Fire, hot, blazing, red
Spreading like a cheetah in search of prey.

Burning down houses with a big commotion.
                  Trees rumbled…

                  Houses shook…

    In the end, everything was soot!

                             (by Riley)
                O’Hare, Edward

          I fought in World War II
              A war as dangerous as

     The depths of a deadly cavern.

Smoke spread, guns fired, thousands died.

             I piloted Navy planes
   As bombs turned the world to ash.

Humbly, I accepted the Congressional
                 Medal of Honor.

   I’ll always think of those who died.
             Thank you, Chicago!

   Forevermore I will be remembered
       As planes soar into the air.

         O’Hare International Airport

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Out-and-About: It's Off to (Gombert) School I Go!

I’m out-and-about today, visiting the Gombert Elementary School in Aurora, IL, sharing
my love of writing, reading and All Things Children’s Book with this Indian Prairie School District’s third, fourth and fifth graders.

BUT…before I tell you one thing more, be sure to check out our Blogiversaryx 3 to learn how YOU could be one of 3 (count ‘em, 3!) $30 Biblio Gift Certificates.

Today’s school visit has been in the works since early Fall, when Gayl Dasher Smith, Gombert’s Library Media Center’s Director, first contacted me.
She had the opportunity to apply for one of the district’s Artist-in-Residence grants and wanted to make sure I could meet her expectations.

I share the experience with our readers, (many of whom I know are teachers, librarians, booksellers and community directors but also children’s book creators and/or involved parents), because Gayl did everything absolutely right in initiating, organizing and orchestrating my Author Visit.

Our initial emails became phone conversations:

Would I consider talking with some grades while overseeing hands-on project-specific classroom writing workshops with others?
Was I open to teacher in-put?
Could I meet with students perhaps over lunch?
What were my fees?
What was my availability?
What bookseller (if any) would provide books for purchase?
Would I sign purchased books?
Could I make my out-of-print books available and forward them pronto?

Once Gayl received word of the grant’s approval, she and I both worked out a doable day’s schedule.
Teachers met and shared their preferred focuses.
Students read my books and visited my website!
They brainstormed questions they wanted me to answer.
We verified the train schedule, okayed the audio-visual equipment, discussed the space in which I’d be presenting.
Finally last week Gayl answered my few remaining questions.

In other words, readers: Gayl MAXIMIZED her district’s Artist-in-Residence grant – and me! - to the hilt.

I’ll report back Friday, sharing photos – and - a few fourth graders’ original poems.

Perhaps you’re looking for a children’s book creator to visit your school?
Check out SCBWI’s Speakers Directory.

Your local SCBWI Chapter might also offer a Speakers Directory. Here’s Illinois’.

SCBWI offers the AmberBrown Grant, in memory of the beloved Paula Danziger, that funds a complete school visit by the author of the school’s choice – if possible! The grant is a gem. Often the students themselves complete the grant application, utilizing their persuasive writing skills.

Given Gayl Smith’s expertise in arranging my Author Visit, I’m thinkingshe read Toni Buzzeo’s and Jane Kurtz’s School Visit Bible, Terrific Connections with Authors, Illustrators and Storytellers.

Alexis O’Neill offers all sorts of Golden School Visit Nuggets too at

Now, here’s hoping my 7:20 AM Metra train leaves Union Station on time today!

Esther Hershenhorn

Monday, April 23, 2012

Interview with Author Debbie Gonzalez

We have a few special treats for our readers this week:
1) Our ongoing Blogiversary celebration and giveaway (times 3)!


2) a terrific interview with Guest Teaching Author Debbie Gonzalez. Enjoy!  -- Jeanne Marie

Debbie Gonzales is the author of eight “transitional” readers for New Zealand publisher, Giltedge.  A Montessori teacher, former school administrator, and curriculum consultant specializing in academic standards annotation, Debbie now devotes her time to various freelance projects, crafting her own works in progress, as well as serving the Austin SCBWI community as RA. Deb has earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from The Vermont College of Fine Arts and is a regular contributor for ReaderKidZ, a website dedicated to enhancing literacy for the K-5 crowd. To discover more about Deb and her various projects access and join in the fun!
First of all, thank you for inviting to me as a guest contributor. I’ve long been a fan of The work you all are doing is remarkable. I consider it an honor to know that what I have to say is of interest to this illustrious group. (A humbling honor, I might add.) I suppose, other than pecking away at my own works in progress, I bring two unique contributions to the kid-lit industry – book guides and the ones I’ve published – both of which I’m more than happy to discuss in this blog post.

When I’m crafting away at a guide, I’m often reminded of a caption on a poster I once read as a teen in the guidance counselors’ office. It said, “When you find your true vocation life is like a paid vacation.” And it’s true! I love creating crafts that compliment a story, or devising tools to illuminate aspects of literary theory with entertaining twist. I find using a book as fodder for deeper expression to be fascinating work. Isn’t it grand to be earning a wage by doing what you love to do? Aren’t we lucky people?

As a classroom teacher, I scoured countless guides and activity games in search of lessons that would enhance the reading experience for my students. I looked for clever games, interesting new ways to practice vocabulary, dramatic interpretation, and introspective discussion questions. And, when I connected with the content of a companion guide, I kept that particular book in a prominent place on my classroom bookshelf to be used time and time again. Like the good resources I used back then, I now work to create guides that will keep the book in the heart of the child reader and the hands of those who care for them – my mantra.

Every book presents its own angle for creative expression. Finding that angle is the fun of this vacation vocation. First, I search for quotes that best illustrate the author’s thematic intent and then build the guide’s content from there. I work to provide fun, cross-curricular, academically sound, self-explanatory activities that are quick and easy to implement at home or in a class room setting. I like to imagine kids, with books in hand, flipping through the pages in search of answers to discussion questions. As authors and illustrators, this is the ultimate goal, yes?

I invite you to look through the guides I’ve made thus far. They’re posted on my website at under the “Discussion Guides” tab. There you’ll find supplemental lessons for a number of picture and chapter books, middle grade and YA novels, non-fiction and academic references, and even an app! And I’m excited about the ones that I am currently working on, two of which have a wonderfully sinister Halloween theme. Can’t wait!

Regarding my own books, I’ve published a number of Word Detective Readers with an extraordinary press from New Zealand. (No surprise that my entry into publication would be with an educational press, right?) These early readers are a part of an elaborate diagnostic curriculum incorporating phonetics, word study, reading, and writing. The product’s content astounding. (I know this for a fact, as I have annotated each and every item in conjunction with the Texas, California, and the New York academic standards.) And, as an appealing plus, the program includes a fascinating pen with highly specialized camera lens that reads the text aloud in multiple languages. That’s right. Hindi, Mandarin, Spanish, Italian, whatever you fancy. The language is downloaded from the computer into the pen. The reader taps the text with the tip of the pen and the written words become multi-lingual!

I’m proud to play a role in bringing The Word Detective series and other GiltEdge products to the states. Joy Allock, the program’s creator, has been invited to speak at IRA this year. She’s absolutely brilliant, charming, and possesses an unfathomable passion for literacy. In short, she’s a ‘joy’ to be with. We’ll have booth at the convention, too. If you’re attending IRA, come by and see us.

Thanks, once again, for the opportunity to serve as a guest blogger with TeacherAuthors. Together, let’s make a difference in the lives of young readers by supporting those who teach. Sound good?

Friday, April 20, 2012

3 New Giveaways for our 3rd Blogiversary! Hooray for Poetry Friday! And Who Won Janet's Books?

Howdy, Campers!

Unbelievable! April 22nd is our

3rd--3rd--3rd Blogiversary!!!
...and we have a special giveaway
cooked up to honor our faithful readers!

But first, announcing the three winners of Janet Wong's book, DECLARATION OF INTERDEPENDENCE--poems for an election year (see our interview with this marvelous poet here)...the winners are...
drum roll, please...
Laura Shovan (aka Author Amok), Laura Erzen, and Nemo (via email)
Hooray for Laura, Laura and Nemo--and congratulations, ALL!
*   *   *   *
Today, in honor of our blogiversary and for Poetry Friday, I'm rerunning the poem I wrote for our 2nd blogiversary:

     by April Halprin Wayland

     We six who ride our blog horse here
     are rather like that Paul Revere

     “One if by land, two if by sea,”
     was revolution's poetry

     We TeachingAuthors gallop, too,
     to share our lantern light with you

     we aim to help, support and cheer
     so you can write with joy, not fear

     in this New Land: Kidlitosphere

(c) 2011 April Halprin Wayland, all rights reserved
Isn't this a beautiful cover illustrated by Ted Rand?
Now, from TeachingAuthors, in honor of our wonderful readers on this amazing blogging adventure in the sky, here's your chance to win one of three $30 gift certificates from!  
If you're one of the lucky winners of the three BlioBucks certificates,
you can use them from anywhere in the world,
since they are issued online and have no expiration date.

How do I win one of these cool
happy-blogiversary-TeachingAuthors gift certificates?

I'm glad you asked.
Contest rules: 
Be sure to read these rules carefully before entering  Note that you could potentially receive two bonus entries (gasp!) read on:
  1. This giveaway is for our Fabulous Followers. Therefore, to qualify, you must follow us via Google Friend connect, Facebook/Networked Blogs, or as an email subscriber. If you are not already a follower, subscribe via one of the links in the sidebar before you enter. (We will verify that you're a follower!)
  2. We want to get to know you better! So, in your entry, tell us whether you're a teacher, librarian, parent, student, aspiring writer/illustrator...or another kind of follower. Also tell us how you follow us. If you are an email subscriber, you must provide your email address (so we can contact you when you win!)
  3. You may enter one of two ways: either post your comment on today's post, or send us an email: teachingauthors (at) gmail (dot) com.  If you enter via a commentmake sure to include your email address--or how will you know you've won?
  4. You can receive a bonus entry by telling us what kind of posts you like best (Interviews? How-tos? Writing exercises? Reviews of books on writing? Poetry? Reviews of plain old good books?, etc.) -- OR you can suggest topics or types of posts you're dying to see here.
  5. You can receive an additional bonus entry by helping to spread the word about this giveaway via a blog post, Tweet, or Facebook link. As proof, you must post a second comment containing a link to your blog post, Twitter address, or Facebook wall. 
  6. No more than three entries per person (one entry and two bonus entries). 
  7. Entry deadline is 11 pm (CST) Monday, May 21, 2012.
  8. The winner will be determined using the random number generator at, and will be announced Wednesday, May 23.  Good luck, Campers! 
is at Random Noodling today ~ Thanks, Diane!
And speaking of random, here's a random selection of Poetry Month happenings:
~ Check out my original poem-a-day (all of 'em are dog poems!) with an accompanying poetry prompt for Poetry Month.
~ Learn how Teaching Author Carmela celebrates the pleasures of poetry in the classroom on her recent post, and check out her listing of National Poetry Month resources in a different post.
~ Hang out with Sylvia Vardell as she interviews poets throughout the month on her Poetry for Children blog.
~ Try guest Teaching Author Helen Frost's marvelous writing exercise/game which she calls "Poetry Sticks" in her recent guest post.
~ Be inspired to write your own Found Poem by Teaching Author Mary Ann Rodman, who offers us two fabulous found poems of her own in this week's post.
~ Come on Teaching Author Esther Hershenhorn's tour of the Poetry Foundation and the galaxy of free resources it offers.
~ Whew!  I'm exhausted!  But if that's not enough for you, Jama Rattigan lists a veritable feast of events for National Poetry Month in the kidlitosphere.
So go ahead...dive in and play with some poems today!
poem and drawing (c) 2012 April Halprin Wayland.  All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Home for Poets!

Take a look at the long-standing Poetry Foundation’s gorgeous new one-year-old home at 61 W. Superior Street in Chicago.

But, not to worry if you’re miles away, or even halfway around the world: you can visit this singular organization’s home in Cyberspace any time, day or night,  or follow the Poetry Foundation and Poetry on Facebook or even on Twitter.

FYI:  in its own words, "The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, is an independent literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. It exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience.

Opened to the public in June 2011, the Poetry Foundation building in Chicago provides new space for the Foundation’s extensive roster of public programs and events. It also houses a public garden, a library, and an exhibition gallery, as well as the offices of the Poetry Foundation and Poetry magazine."

The Poetry Foundation gratefully and often acknowledges its greatest friend, Ruth Lilly, whose magnificent bequest in 2002 enabled the Poetry Foundation to become all it could be.

Harriet Monroe founded Poetry magazine in 1912.  She viewed the publication “a modest effort to give poetry her own place.”

I invite writers and readers, as well as teachers of writers and readers, to make time to take a spin around the website. You’ll be surprised at all it offers.

For instance, click here to learn Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis’ monthly Book Pick, or here to read featured articles about children’s poetry.

Listen to The Poem of the Day!

Watch a poet recite his or her own words.

Studying up on poetry?  You can subscribe to the Poetry Foundation's Glossary Term of the Day.

I bet Mary Ann’s Monday Found Poetry post piqued your interest as much as it did mine. Looky here!

Celebrating poets and poetry has never been easier, even if you're on the Go.
The Poetry Foundation's very own free mobile app nourishes you anytime, anywhere.

Stop by the Poetry Foundation in Chicago. 
And/or visit the Foundation online. 
Even follow. Even tweet.
Enjoy! Enjoy!

Esther Hershenhorn

Monday, April 16, 2012

Finding the found (poem, that is)

      I am not a poet.  At least not yet. I am trying. Thanks to a series of elementary school teachers who insisted that all poetry was written in iambic pentameter and rhymed, I knew I was a poetic dunce. Not until high school did I discover that there were other kinds of poetry, but it was too late for me. I could not get those darned rhyme schemes (that never behaved the way I wanted.)

    Oh yeah. I also stink at haiku. I suppose what I really stink at is writing with too many rules.

    But I have been found by the found poem.  I had read about them in various writing books, but none of the books really went into a lot of detail as to what made them "found poetry." I was left with the impression that all these writers had just gotten lucky and found a bunch of words that made poetic sense with addition or subtraction of a little punctuation.

    At last, I have found a book that explains what makes a found poem, The Arrow Finds Its Mark, a short anthology of found poems, edited by Georgia Heard. Disclaimer: I do not know Georgia Heard, nor do I have any sort of relationship with the publisher, Roaring Brook Press.  The contributors are a Who's Who of Children's Literature--Jane Yolen, George Ella Lyon, Naomi Shihab Nye, Lee Bennett Hopkins,
Kristine O'Connell George to name but a few. What the poems (and the wonderful introduction by the editor) showed me was how a poem becomes found.

    Heard likens the process of writing the found poem to a sculptor, chipping away at a block of stone, until the artist's vision appears.  Found poems are fashioned from all kinds of text--picture captions, notes, graffiti, road signs, Twitter messages, recipes, and anything else you can think of. Found poems, contrary to my previous notion, were not serendipitous little messages left for you by the Poetry Fairy.  You, the writer, have to chisel away until the words say what you want, whether or not they have anything to do with the original intent of the writing.  Poems in The Arrow Finds Its Mark come from the Oxford Dictionary, a note left in a laundry room, road signs, a teacher's memo to parents, an airline magazine, various lists (my favorite is a list of nicknames used by players in the National Football League). The possibilities are endless. In just the week of so since I read this book, I my writer's mind, which is quite aware of the visual and auditory world, has now included the possibility of what can be found in words that have already been written.

     Since "writing rules" is a phrase that makes me want to spend the day watching re-runs of Law & Order (my not-so-secret addiction), instead of writing, I was thrilled to discover that the "rules" of found poetry are minimal, according to Heard.  Here they are:

    1.  You can subtract, but not add words. You cannot rearrange word order.

    2.  You can change tenses, plurals, punctuation and capitalization.

    That's it!  The biggest challenge is in training your mind to see the "bones" of a poem within another form of text.

    Over the years, I feel as if you guys have become friends...and friends are patient and encouraging, right?  So, I am trusting you with my very first found poem. I have no idea if this poem works or not, but it feels pretty good to me...and it doesn't rhyme!

    This was "found" in a letter written by a young lady to her serviceman fiancee on VJ Day.

World History (VJ Day)

I guess the war is over.
Wish you could've been with me downtown.
doing the conga in the middle of the street.
Sailors standing on a taxicab,
waving flags 
singing "Anchors Away."
Perfect strangers 
smooching and necking
Autos honking
A trumpet playing
"God Bless America"
A blizzard of ticker tape.
I went home and washed my hair.

      OK, since I hope you are still reading, here is one that I "found" on a Facebook page: (To protect the name of the actual school, I changed it...even though you aren't supposed to.)

Faculty vs Reality

You know you go to Central High when
the Announcement Lady says
"Remember kids, Central High is a
safe and drug-free zone"
and everyone starts laughing
after the word "safe."

    You know, I'm beginning to feel that old metrophobia (fear of poetry) starting to fade a bit.

    Let us know what you find.  The possibilities are endless...dictionary definitions, lists from the thesaurus, phone books, well, you know what endless means!

     Don't forget our latest book giveaway, three autographed books by Janet Wong. Click on over to April's interview with Janet Wong.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Friday, April 13, 2012

Guest Post by Award-Winning Poet and Novelist Helen Frost

Before I introduce today's special guest post by Helen Frost, my apologies to our subscribers. I discovered yesterday that, due to a problem with our blog feed, you never received April's post from last Friday. That means you missed her terrific interview with poet Janet Wong. After you read today's post, I hope you'll go back to read the interview and enter for a chance to win one of THREE autographed copies of Janet Wong's book, Declaration of Interdependence: Poems for an Election Year.  I also encourage you to visit Sylvia Vardell's blog, Poetry for Children, to read an interview with the editors of And the Crowd Goes Wild! A Global Gathering of Sports Poems, the forthcoming anthology that will include one of my poems.

Now, for today's post: In honor of National Poetry Month and Poetry Friday, we've invited Helen Frost as a guest TeachingAuthor blogger today. I am a HUGE fan of Helen's work, especially Diamond Willow (Frances Foster Books, FSG), and I had the pleasure of meeting her for the first time at the 2012 Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Chicago in March. When I asked Helen for a short bio to introduce her post, here's what she sent:
"Helen Frost worked for about twenty years as a poet before publishing her first poetry collection, supporting herself with work she also loves, that of a teacher--in elementary schools, as a poet-in-the-schools, and at the college level. Her books include six novels-in-poems for children and young adults, two collections of poetry for adults, two plays, a book about teaching young people to write about difficult issues, two picture books for younger readers, and two anthologies. Though she continues her work with children and at-risk teens through school author visits, she is now a full-time writer, living in Fort Wayne, Indiana."  
Helen's credentials are impressive, but she neglects to mention the numerous awards her books have won, including a Michael Printz Honor Award for Keesha's House (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Her most recent novel, Hidden (Frances Foster Books/FSG, for ages 12-16), has already received much acclaim, including being named a 2012 ALA Notable Book and 2012 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Honor book.

And here's a brief description of her wonderful new picture book Step Gently Out (Candlewick Press), which features photographs by Rick Lieder:
  "Stunning close-up photography and a lyrical text implore children to look more closely at the world around them."
The book is a terrific tribute to both Earth Day and Poetry Month. No wonder it has received multiple starred reviews!

Now, finally, for Helen Frost's post. I asked Helen to begin by telling us how she became a TeachingAuthor, and then to share a poetry-writing exercise, poem, teaching tips/ideas, and an interesting anecdote about her life as a writer.

Teaching and writing are both important to me, and each informs the other. I’ve taught children and adults of all ages; I’ve written for pre-schoolers, beginning readers, elementary and middle school children; teens; and adults--and I’ve taught teachers about teaching writing.

Teaching poetry is especially joyful for me. I love seeing students approach poetry with fascination and enthusiasm, and perhaps a touch of caution because they know it can open people up to one another in ways that can be a little scary. I take time to create an atmosphere of safety and respect, simply by asking each student to raise their hand in agreement to my two rules: You can’t write anything that will hurt someone’s feelings. You can’t tease anyone about a poem they share, either here in the classroom or later on, outside of class. (No one is ever required to share, but always, at least half of the students want to.) I make eye contact with each student as I confirm that they agree to these two rules, and after that the respect is self-enforcing. 

* * *

Here’s a classroom activity I call “Poetry Sticks.”

1.    Make a collection of interesting titles of poetry collections.
      I’ve cut titles out of catalogs
that arrive in the mail, but you could as easily use Internet websites of poetry presses. Here are a few: Pecan Grove Press, Ahsahta Press, Truman State University Press, Copper Canyon Press, Red Hen Press, and Tupelo Press.

2.    Using heavy-duty, clear tape, tape the poetry titles onto Popsicle (craft) sticks. Or you could write the titles on the sticks with a sharpie. Make 100 or so to begin with, and then add more as you have time.

3.    Spread all the poetry sticks on a desk (or on the floor) and invite students to choose one. The process of choosing is important; it can be chaotic, but there’s something in the activity of choosing that makes this work.

4.    Ask students to :

  • Place the stick in the middle of a blank sheet of paper and read it a few times until it suggests something--some language. Then write as many words and phrases as you can in 2 or 3 minutes.
  • Circle your favorite words--up to ten of them.
  • On a clean sheet of paper, write a poem that uses at least three of your circled words.
I think of this exercise as being something like those compressed sponges that expand when placed in water. A title of a poetry book is “compressed language,” and this process allows it to expand in surprising and interesting ways.

* * *

For Poetry Friday today, I'll share a poem from
Spinning Through the Universe: A Novel in Poems from Room 214 (Frances Foster Books/FSG). Each poem in this book is written in a different form, in the voice of one of the students in Mrs. Williams’ 5th grade class. The form of “Friend” is a “Rondelet.” (Definitions of all forms can be found in an appendix to Spinning Through the Universe.)


           What should I do? Maria told me not to tell.
           What should I do?
           Her arms are bruised. She has these two
           red hand prints on her back. I fell,
           she says, but then she asks, Sharrell,
           what should I do?

Teachers in the audience may find it interesting to know that teachers have used Spinning Through the Universe  in many ways, in classrooms from 3rd through 11th grade. (I taught for three years in a one-teacher school in Alaska, so I’ve always appreciated resources that can be used at different grade levels.) Third graders might learn that the acrostic form can be more sophisticated than writing one word for each letter of your name; 5th graders might do a readers’ theater, with each student reading one of the voices, and then creating a “section 3” of the book, imagining what happens next; high school students might try some of the more complex forms and create new characters of their own.  [Carmela here. Teachers take note: Helen has a whole page of "Teaching Ideas" on her website.]

* * *

To close, I’ll share a story about the first school visit after the publication of
Diamond Willow (Frances Foster Books, FSG, 2008). In Diamond Willow, part of the story is told by animals who have ancestral relationships to Willow and the other characters. There’s a little mouse who listens from under a table and then warns Willow of something the mouse (and the reader) wants her to know. When I was spending a day with a very excited group of 5th graders who had just read Diamond Willow, a mouse came into the classroom! According to the teacher and the custodian, this had never happened before in this school. We were all convinced that the mouse wanted to share in the fun and remind us of the important part that a mouse had played in the story.

Thanks for inviting me to TeachingAuthors. Happy Poetry Month, everyone!

Thank YOU, Helen! I especially love the mouse story. And I know our readers who are teachers will appreciate the activities you suggest. I'm going to try the "Poetry Sticks" idea the first chance I get.

Readers, now you can head on over to read April's interview with Janet Wong and enter for a chance to win one of THREE autographed copies of Janet book, Declaration of Interdependence: Poems for an Election Year.  Then, check out the great Poetry Friday roundup at the Booktalking blog .

Happy writing, and happy Poetry Friday!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Interview Wednesday is Here! and a Giveaway Reminder

I'm hosting the Kidlit Interview Wednesday round-up here on our TeachingAuthors blog today. Hopefully, this post will go live while I'm asleep 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.

Whether or not you have a link to share, be sure to read April's AMAZING interview with poet Janet Wong here on our TeachingAuthors blog. Janet generously shares an exercise in simile-writing that both teachers and aspiring writers will appreciate. And you can enter to win one of THREE autographed copies of Janet's latest book, Declaration of Interdependence: Poems for an Election Year.

Here's today's Interview Wednesday round-up so far:
Do you know of a recent 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!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Social Networking

I was finally "out and about" this week!  Actually, I was just 20 minutes from home to see our own Esther Hershenhorn speak at our spring MD/DE/WV SCBWI event.  While I have "known" Esther for years, in fact I actually only met her face to face once, for about five seconds, over a decade ago.

This past weekend she spoke for three (!) hours and, while I am sure she was utterly exhausted, she provided the spark and inspiration I needed to come home energized.  She is, as she says, a 'silver lining person,' and I asked her to rub my head in the hopes that some of that optimism would rub off on me. 

While the blogosphere provides a wonderfully supportive writing community, I really needed and appreciated the opportunity to connect in person with editors, agents, and especially fellow writers.  "Filling the well," as they say.

I bought a book from Amie Rose Rotruck about vampires and monsters for my formerly scaredy-cat just-turned-7-year-old who came home from school last week reporting that she'd spent recess 'practicing her vampire skills.'  [I can only hope that this did not involve biting people.]  Kate was so mesmerized by this book that she slept with it and had to be talked out of taking it to church.   

I met a fellow TV writer -- in Maryland!

I met about sixteen people who knew people whom I knew.  And I hardly know anybody! 

It was an excellent day.  Thank you presenters, thank you participants, and most especially, thank you, Esther! Come back soon!
And speaking of inspiring writer/teachers, make sure to check out this terrific interview with Janet Wong and enter our latest book giveaway contest!  --Jeanne Marie

Friday, April 6, 2012

Interview with Poet Janet Wong & a Book Giveaway--Happy Poetry Friday!

Howdy Campers!

Today, Class, to celebrate both Poetry Friday and National Poetry Month, we've invited a very special visitor: my dear friend, amazing human, poet and teaching author, Janet S. Wong (Yay--applause!) 

I've known Janet since we were in classes taught by poet Myra Cohn Livingston during the Pleistocene epoch.  Among other accomplishments, Janet and her co-editor, Sylvia Vardell, have revolutionized the way poetry is published in their Poetry Tag Time eAnthologies.  And in honor of our upcoming 3rd (!) Blogiversary (April 22nd), Janet has generously donated THREE copies of her timely book, Declaration of Interdependence: Poems for an Election Year. Read more about the book and details on how to enter to win your own autographed copy below.

Our friendship is not why I've invited her today.  Janet is a force of nature in the world of children's poetry--that's why I wanted you to meet her today.

Janet S. Wong looking calm, peaceful, even--hiding the dynamo within
Janet is the author of a gazillion books for children and teens. She has been honored with the Claremont Stone Center Recognition of Merit, the IRA Celebrate Literacy Award, and by her appointments to the NCTE Commission on Literature and the NCTE Excellence in Children's Poetry Award committees. She currently serves on the IRA Notable Books for a Global Society award committee. A frequent speaker at schools, libraries, and conferences, Wong  has been featured on CNN, Fine Living’s Radical Sabbatical, and The Oprah Winfrey Show and has performed at the White House. (!!)
Janet's house. 
Ha ha. 
1) How did you officially become a TeachingAuthor?
I had my first “teaching author” gig in May 1994, four months before my first book, Good Luck Gold, was published. On a Friday I got a call from a bookseller who had heard me speak and wondered if I would visit a middle school near LAX. An author who was scheduled for Monday had canceled. Could I fill his spot? Three days later, I walked into an auditorium of 700 seventh graders. I introduced myself, read a poem about race discrimination, “Waiting at the Railroad Cafe,” and was greeted with thunderous (truly, thunderous!) applause.

After the assembly, kids said: “I like your poems because I know they’re real.” What an amazing feeling of accomplishment at having connected with those kids! I knew that I wanted school visits to be a big part of my life as an author.

2) What's a common problem/question that your students have and how do you address it?
The most common problem: what to write about. I want to teach kids that their own everyday experiences--even seemingly trivial ones--can be good material. I’ll read a handful of poems and talk about the stories behind the them: why I wrote about my dad’s anger, why I wrote about noodles for breakfast, why I wrote about hiking in the woods. Some of the kids must wonder: “That’s good enough for a book? But then you could write about anything!” Exactly! You don’t have to have an “exciting” dream-filled life in order to write. I also want kids to write just for practice, just for fun, at home. Write an ode to cookies that is so mouth-watering good, it will inspire a mom to say, “Yes, we should bake some cookies today!” I want kids to know that they have the power to make good things happen with their words.

video credit: Bettie Parsons Barger

3) Would you share a favorite writing exercise for our readers?
My most successful writing exercise is a simile exercise that I usually do when I visit schools. Here it is, broken into 10 steps.

Step #1, Introduce Similes: I introduce similes before they even know that an exercise is coming. Showing--not telling--what a simile poem is, I read “Dad” from Good Luck Gold (my dad as a turtle, hiding in his tough shell), and sometimes also “Sisters” from A Suitcase of Seaweed (sisters who are opposites, like fiery ginger and soft tofu) and “The Onion” from The Rainbow Hand (mom as an onion; you cut her and yet you cry).

Step #2, Describe the Prompt: I say: Take someone in your family (mother, father, brother, sister, grandmother, grandfather, uncle, aunt, cousin) and turn that person into a plant, animal, or object--but don’t make the mistake I made with calling my dad a snapping turtle--make it a loving idea, an idea that can become a gift poem.

Step #3, Give Examples: I share examples. From a 6th grade girl in Los Angeles: “My mother is like braces; she can be a pain to deal with, but she straightens me out.” From a 5th grader in Seattle: “My mother is like glasses; she helps me to see things more clearly.” From a 3rd grader in Texas: “My aunt is so sweet, she is like candy.” (Me: “What kind of candy? A cool peppermint? A tough red rope?” Her: “Well, she’s kind of . . . nutty, so I guess she’d be a Hershey’s bar with almonds.”)

Step #4, Think for a Minute: Too often kids are thrown into a quick-write with zero idea of what to write (and of course they panic). I have them sit and think for a minute--no writing. While they’re thinking, I’ll make a few additional suggestions, pointing to things in the room. “Do you know someone who is very bright?” (pointing to a light) “Do you know someone who is full of stories?” (pointing to a book) “Someone who gives you energy?” (pointing to an electrical outlet)

Step #5, Draw for a Minute:
Drawing for the group, I show how you can change a negative idea into a positive one if you imagine that there’s a “video in your mind” and you let it run. What starts out as a rain cloud might turn into a sunny scene with a rainbow, transforming the idea of a stormy mom into one who is just a bit moody, like spring weather.
I also like to show that there’s more than one way to draw something. For instance, if you draw a rose one way, you might think of a perfect rose, a gift of love. Or you could draw the whole bush and it might help you think of a grandmother as an old-fashioned climbing rose with deep roots.
Step #6, Share Ideas: For the next several minutes, I invite kids to share their ideas aloud so that the whole group can hear. I tell kids that if I pick them, I want to be able to use their idea for my own poem, and also want them to allow other kids (who might not like their ideas) to use their idea, too. This is yet another way of making sure that every student has something positive to write about.During this sharing portion I help students fine-tune (or change) their ideas, especially in terms of making them “more loving.” For instance, if a boy says his sister is a pig, I’ll say, “Is she very intelligent? Pigs are very intelligent creatures. They are strong, sturdy, not fussy, they are good in groups and give their lives to us. Is your sister this way?” After seeing that a negative idea fails to get the shocking reaction they’re after, these kids with less-than-loving ideas often surprise with moving poems on a completely different subject.

Step #7, Suggest Music: Rather than just say, “Now write a poem,” I give a one-minute lesson on rhyme, repetition, and rhythm. I ask them to “put a little music in the poem”--and we’re off!

Step #8, Write: I write at the same time as the kids. Using chart paper or the board, I let students see me struggle with their same writing exercise, crossing words out, making a “sloppy copy,” and then a second very different draft. Kids who don’t know where to start can see that I plunged in and started my first draft quite simply--just “my cousin is like a [something].” Not all of them start their poems this way, but I think it takes the pressure off them if they can copy my format. I’ll usually write a second draft during the same five minutes and will deliberately try to make it very different (but still on the same subject).
 Janet Wong with students at Heritage School in Newnan, GA. 
Photo by Marianne Richardson

Step #9, Evaluate:
I don’t ask, “Did anyone write a good poem?” Instead I ask, “Is there anyone who wrote something--start of a poem, part of a poem, whole poem--that is better than you thought it would be?” This is key: having the courage to try, especially when you’re not inspired, and being happy when you can surprise yourself. I also point out that a poem can be short and still be good by reading my poem “Down Dog” from TWIST: Yoga Poems. That poem is only 14 words long, but one of my own favorites.

Step #10, Share the Poems:
It’s important that we make time for children to share their poems by reading them aloud. It takes less than 30 seconds for most children to read a poem aloud. I like to point out favorite parts of poems but also lines where the child could add or change a few words to give a head start on a revision.

4) What one piece of advice do you have for teachers?
Pick exercises that have “real world meaning” for you. The week before the birthday of your mom, your husband, or your child, have all the kids write a birthday poem for someone in their families. If you love gardening, bring in a bunch of gardening catalogs and have kids scour them for found poems. Create an e-book anthology as a fundraiser and earn money for a classroom party, field trip, or your library. If your writing exercises have some sort of real world meaning for you and your students, the enthusiasm will be genuine and infectious.

5) Can you share a funny (or interesting) story with our readers?

I did a drop-in Q & A at a high school where a student once asked, “How much money do you make?” When I told him the sad truth, he stood up and left the room. I guess it wasn’t worth his time to sit and listen to someone who makes as little as 10 cents per book! This made me realize how important it is to make writing seem profitable to kids.

The reality is that very few authors make a “good” income. But writing, as a skill, can help people make millions and “live rich.” Kids perk up when I explain that a good sportswriter can go to the Super Bowl or World Series for free. You can drive a Ferrari one week and a Lamborghini the next if you are a car reviewer. The suggestion they love the most: developing video games. In Minn and Jake’s Almost Terrible Summer, Jake carries a notebook in his pocket because he wants to capture ideas that pop into his head--ideas for video games. I tell kids about a video game developer who once told me that “the writer is the most important person on a video game team.” Before illustrators go wild, before programmers get practical, first you need a story: a setting, characters, and a basic plot (Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 in a game).
6) What's on the horizon for you?
More e-books! I love the freedom: you think of an idea, you write it, and a week later the e-book is out, on Kindles and iPads all over the world. It’s exciting to look at the royalties and to see that an e-book has sold in Australia or Ireland.

7) And finally, since it's Poetry Friday in the Kidlitosphere, do you have a poem you'd like to share with our readers?

I’d like to share the poem “Liberty” from my new book Declaration of Interdependence: Poems for an Election Year, available both as an e-book and in paperback. If you like this poem, please look at its blog,

by Janet Wong

I pledge acceptance
of the views,
so different,
that make us America

To listen, to look,
to think, and to learn

One people
sharing the earth
for liberty
and justice
for all.
poem and drawings (c) 2012 Janet Wong all rights reserved

That is one of my favorite poems, Janet. And I love the different ways you engage elementary through high schoolers (and adults, too) about elections in the book, including a Voters Journal and Discussion Guide ("If you were a dog, what kinds of promises would you want to hear from your mayor?") 

I'm thrilled you stopped by!  We'll be following your blogs and gobbling up your new hold-in-your-hand books, eBooks and eAnthologies!

This is April speaking now: before we get to Janet's Book Giveaway, I'm asking you with big puppy dog eyes to stop by and read an original dog poem a day on my Poetry Month blog

Eli has just performed surgery on his friend, Squirrel.

AND, in honor of Poetry Month, Easter, and all things rabbity, we’ve just e-published TO RABBITOWN
the first picture book I ever had published (by Scholastic). It’s a free-verse fantasy (gorgeously illustrated by Robin Spowart) about a child who runs away to live with rabbits and slowly turns into one. To Rabbittown is available on Kindle and Nook (both just 99 cents)…and I’ll upload it to iTunes for iPads soon (wish me luck) ~

And now, without further delay, here's your chance to win one of three autographed copies of Janet's marvelous and timely, Declaration of Interdependence: Poems for an Election Year

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 own a book of election poems during this exciting year?)

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. April 19, 2012 (Central Standard Time). The winner will be chosen in a random drawing and announced on Friday, April 20, 2012. G'luck!

Poetry Friday is hosted by
Robyn Hood Black at Read, Write, Howl
 ~ thanks, Robyn! ~
~ and remember to write with joy ~