Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Thank Goodness for Spell Check!

      Today's post is supposed to honor The National Spelling Bee, which began preliminary rounds yesterday in Washington D.C.  300 of this country's best spellers are participating, including the youngest contestant ever, an intrepid six-year-old from Virginia.  Go you mighty spellers, go!

     I envy their skill.  I am a wretched speller. You know how adults spell out whatever it is they don't want their children to know about?  You know how that doesn't work any more after, say, first grade?  My parents were still spelling in front of me in high school!  There is some little glitchy thing in my brain that can't put separate letters together to form a word. At book signings, I have learned to ask people to print the dedication name on a sticky note. For me, their is nothing worse than a trying to write "Best wishes to Rebecca (or Rebekah or Rebeca or "Becki-with-an-I")with an excited nine-year-old rattling off her name.  No wait. There is something worse.  A book returned by a furious mother because I spelled her child's unique name wrong. ("It's Courtney with a K!)

     Aside from these national/regional events, do schools still have spelling bees? It seems to me that we had one nearly every week in elementary school, as a "warm-up" for the weekly spelling test. I always prayed not to be the first one "spelled down".  One kid in my third grade class was so undone by the whole process, he barfed when he missed his word and to sit down. (We always made him stand at the end of the line, so we would be out of his "line-of-fire."

   I usually staggered through the first couple of rounds, until we hit words with "ie" combinations like "chief" or double consonants like "acceptable." Words ending in "ence" or "ance" were my special torture.  Independence?  Endurance?  I knew all the little "rules." ( "I before E except after C.")  I just couldn't remember  them when I needed them.

     I entered school just as the United States was coming unglued over Sputnik. How dare those Russians send a satellite into space ahead of us!  Everyone knew Americans were better educated than anyone else, right? (Were we ever so naive?) Hence, my classmates and I were soon bombarded with what I thought of as "The Theory of the Year."  There was New Math (as if Old Math weren't confusing enough) and second graders memorizing the Periodic Chart (although we had no idea why). Phonics got the old heave-ho.  How did I learn to read? I memorized how words looked.

     What happened if I came across a new word?  If I was without my trusty dictionary or a teacher, I would ask the nearest adult, usually a parent.  I was completely confused by their instructions to "sound out the letters." What did that mean, sound out the letters?  I would store the word in my word notebook until I had a chance to look it up.   As a result, I still mispronounce words, because I have never heard them in conversation. By the time I moved to a new school district in fifth grade, and was introduced to phonics, it was too late. Phonics made as much sense to me as New Math (none).

     This didn't seem to slow me down as a reader. Look up the word and keep on reading (I aced all those College Board tests that were heavy on vocabulary.) As a writer...well....My first stories were written in much erased pencil, after my teachers (my first editors) would circle in red pencil everything I misspelled.
I remember telling my Third Grade teacher "I hear President Kennedy isn't a very good speller either."  To which my teacher responded, "President Kennedy has a secretary."

     In high school, I discovered that not was I a poor speller, but an even worse typist. I stumbled onward, typing over blobs of correction fluid so often, the page looked like a relief map of the Rockies.

     Which brings me to my first PC.  Correcting typos was much easier and faster, but I still couldn't tell if something was spelled correctly.  Back to the dictionary for every third word.

     My second PC contained some magical program called Spell Checker.  It thoughtfully underlined every misspelled word. Along with this Wonder of Modern Times came the Grammar Checker that frequently reminded me of absent commas and colons. (It also reminded me that I often write incomplete sentences and use incorrect grammar, but I do that for effect sometimes.)

   What I really wanted to say was "Thank you Person Who Invented Spell Check." But a whole lot of Googling gave me the names of whole faculties and research groups who over many many years developed the program that has saved the bacon of writers like me, who never learned phonics.  In fact, maybe one of those names belongs to one of my fellow phonics-less spelling bee wipe-outs.

   So thank you, Nameless Thousands who now allow me to spell and write.  And as for the Mighty 300 competing today, good luck and keep spelling.

P.S.  In case you have been wondering, the highlighted words were the ones that Spell Check corrected for me.
Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

P.S. from Carmela: There's still time to enter our giveaway for a chance to win an autographed copy of Natalie Ziarnik's debut picture book, Madeline's Light (Boyd's Mills Press). See Esther's Student Success Story Interview with Natalie for details. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Time to Remember and to Say, "Thanks"

Today is Memorial Day here in the United States--a day to remember and pay tribute to those who gave up their lives in service of our country. My heart goes out to all families who have lost loved ones in military service. This loss recently hit close to home with the death of twenty-year-old Army Spc. Samuel Watts of Wheaton, Illinois who died on May 19 after sustaining injuries from a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. I didn't know this young man, but he is a former student of the College of DuPage, where I teach, and his mother works for the College. The College Veterans Services office sent an email to the staff reminding us to keep this family in our thoughts and prayers. The email also stated something I didn't know:
In December 2000, the U.S. Congress passed, and President Clinton signed into law, the National Moment of Remembrance Act, in which Americans are asked to pause for a moment at 3 p.m. [on Memorial Day] to honor those who died in service to the United States.
So, today at 3 p.m., I'll be thinking of Samuel Watts and all the other men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice. As Mary Ann wrote on Memorial Day last year:
However you feel about a particular war or "conflict" . . .  the important thing for a writer is to not allow the world to forget the men and women who believed in sacrificing their own dreams and lives in service to their country.
Last year, Mary Ann wrote of the roles her parents and other family members played during World War II. Today, I'd like to honor and say thank you to my father-in-law, Emil Martino, who served as a sergeant in the army signal corps in World War II. I've known my father-in-law for over 30 years, yet it never occurred to me to say "thanks" until he was scheduled to participate in an Honor Flight. The Honor Flight organization transports veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit memorials dedicated to honor their service and sacrifices. The veterans are deeply affected by the experience, as can be seen in this videoclip produced by AARP: (Email subscribers can watch the clip on YouTube here.)

The families and friends of Honor Flight participants are asked to write letters expressing their thanks to these veterans for their service. The veterans then receive the letters during "mail call" on the flight home. I was surprised by how difficult it was for me to write that simple letter to my father-in-law, perhaps because I'm such a pacifist. But I was also ashamed to realize that in all the years I've known him, I'd never thought to say "Thanks" on my own.

Photo by Rick Latoff,
American Battle Monuments Commission

Do you know someone who deserves thanks today? If so, I encourage you to put your thoughts into words, either verbally or in writing, especially if that person is a veteran of World War II. According to the Honor Flight website, we are losing World War II veterans at the rate of approximately 900 per day. Time is running out to show them our gratitude.
* * *

If you haven't read Esther's Student Success Story Interview with Natalie Ziarnik about the publication of her debut picture book, Madeline's Light (Boyd's Mills Press), I hope you'll do so now and enter for a chance to win your own autographed copy.

Happy Writing!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Natalie Ziarnik and MADELEINE’S LIGHT: An Illuminating Success Story + Book Giveaway

Meet Natalie Ziarnik of Barrington, Illinois – a former Newberry Library Writing Workshop student I later had the privilege of coaching – and – drum roll, please: the debut author of Boyds Mills Press’ May-released picture book Madeleine’s Light.
She’s a true Success Story if ever there was one. 

Natalie grew up in LaSalle, Illinois and majored in English at Grinnell College in Iowa.  She received her master’s degree in comparative literature and a master’s in library and information science from the University of Illinois.  She currently heads the children’s department of the Ela Area Public Library District in Lake Zurich, IL.   

Natalie first learned of her picture book’s famous character, French sculptress Camille Claudel, when she visited a Paris exhibit. She was so moved by Claudel’s work, she wanted to learn more about the artist.  Research introduced her to Madeleine Boyer, the girl who served as the model for a number of Claudel’s sculptures, including La Petite Chatelaine. Their resulting friendship captured Natalie’s heart and soon she was off and running. 

Or rather, imagining and writing, about a little girl named Madeleine who eagerly awaits a special summer guest, Mademoiselle Claudel, at her Grand-mere’s chateau. Despite the visiting artist’s gruffness, Madeleine is fascinated.  Their meeting leads to an unforgettable experience for the two of them as Madeleine overcomes her fears and tries her hand at sculpting too.

Natalie has graciously offered to gift one TeachingAuthors reader with a signed copy of Madeleine’s Light, beautifully illustrated, by the way, by Robert Dunn.  Be sure to enter by 11 pm Wednesday, June 6.  Instructions appear beneath our last question-and-answer.

Here’s hoping Natalie’s answers to the questions below further illuminate both Natalie’s and Madeleine’s stories, sharing insights on their art and craft.

What inspired you to sign up for my 2006 Summer Workshop, The Write Place, at the Newberry Library?

At this point, I had written a nonfiction book for adults, School and Public Libraries:  Developing the Natural Alliance, and several articles for the Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature edited by Jack Zipes. I wanted to take my writing in a new, more creative direction.  Children’s books have always been my first love, so that seemed to be a natural path.  When I saw the class on writing for children advertised at the Newberry Library, I decided to give it a try, and I’m so glad I did.

Do you recall any specific ways the class helped you?

Reading children’s books is one thing, but writing them is quite another.  During the class, I began to look at how stories were constructed, and that was hard to do because if a book is well-written, you become immediately caught up in the action, characters, and language; the structure seems almost invisible. Esther showed us how stories in a variety of genres (and for different age groups) tended to work.  Even though it was much easier to analyze someone else’s story than to apply the principles to my own, it was an excellent start. I began looking at books not only as a reader and librarian but also as a writer.

The other important topic covered in class was considering the “personality” of publishing houses.  Again, this was information that was right in front of me, but I had never consciously thought about what types of books the different companies were publishing. 

You eventually went on to publish the manuscript you began and worked on in class. How did the manuscript change by the time it was published? 

This manuscript underwent many transformations.  I began by writing the text for a picture book biography of the French sculptor, Camille Claudel.  However, when it came to writing about the difficult times in her life (of which there were many), I found myself writing those sections in verse.  I think this happened because verse seemed like a more appropriate form for times of mental anguish and breakdown.  These poems eventually became a YA verse novel which was so depressing that I stuck it in a drawer for a year or so because I didn’t want to think about it.  But then during a workshop, I showed some of the poems to a critique group, and one of the members, Laura Crawford, really liked a poem about Madeleine and said, “…that could be a picture book!”  In re-working the story, my focus switched from Claudel to the girl who had inspired her, Madeleine Boyer.  Very little is known about Madeleine, so I imagined what might have happened during the summers she spent with Camille Claudel—and this leap became the final story, which had also changed from nonfiction to fiction and from having a sad and anxiety-ridden tone to a joyful one.  Although Claudel’s overall life contained much tragedy, she still had moments of happiness, connection with others, and success in her work; this episode helps us remember that.

Looking at the story now, I can’t help but think the inspiration came from my own childhood, when we had many (sometimes unusual) visitors arriving for dinner or an extended stay. As a child, these visitors appeared mysterious, even magical, and I liked to peek around corners to watch what they were up to.

How does being a librarian influence or inspire your writing?

At the recent SCBWI-Illinois Spring Thaw, SCBWI Executive Director Lin Oliver talked about how writers create their own “canons”—or sets of books that are essential to their development as writers. While putting together my canon, I feel lucky, as a librarian, to be familiar with both the well-known and lesser-known titles.  And, whenever I see that a favorite author or illustrator has a new book out, I can order it immediately and dive right in to spend time with it.

In addition, working with young readers at the library has shown me that books are related to each other in unusual ways.  A child may like two totally different books because they are both, for example, set in swamps or have some other characteristic.  The challenge is then to find other books with a swamp setting, or which contain shy alligators, or in which a hat is eaten, etc. So the special aspects of books one might not ordinarily think about come to the forefront.

How do you balance your full-time library job with your writing and marketing?

I have a strong mission as a children’s librarian, and I can’t help but write, so I sense that both occupations will be important throughout my life. I tend to write in the “cracks of time”—early in the morning, on the weekends, while waiting in the school parking lot to pick up my son, or while a casserole bakes in the oven. I always carry a story or poems with me so I can work at a moment’s notice.  I also think about my writing projects throughout the day and while going for walks, so forgive me if I appear distracted!  Unfortunately, I do not get as much writing in as I would like, but I’m guessing that’s the case with all writers or anyone working on a creative project.

As for marketing, the public relations manager at the library where I work has been a tremendous help in challenging me to take small steps to promote my work.  She suggested putting an article in our library’s newsletter and having a launch party at the library.

How have you continued your writing education since the Newberry Library first connected us?

I have participated in workshops through the Highlights Foundation—the Chautauqua Children’s Writing Institute and a couple of Founder’s Workshops, which now take the place of the Chautauqua program.  I highly recommend these as well as SCBWI-Illinois events, which I attend as often as I can.  I’m currently taking a poetry correspondence course with Heidi Bee Roemer.  The course has helped me become a more precise writer and has increased my awareness of poetic elements.

Finally, can you describe your elation and sense of satisfaction when you first opened the Boyds Mills Press carton that held your Author’s copies of MADELEINE’S LIGHT?

My editor had e-mailed to say that an advance copy was on its way, so I had been watching the mailbox obsessively.  I came home from work one day and saw a white puffy envelope and knew that this had to be it.  So I put my work bags on the front steps, sat down, ripped open the envelope, and read the book right there, outside.  I still couldn’t believe that this unusual topic I had pursued for quite some time had led to a beautiful book for others to read and enjoy.

 May Natalie’s - and Madeleine’s – Success Stories gladden your heart as both have gladdened mine.

And, now, as promised above, the opportunity to win a signed copy of Madeleine’s Light!

Be sure to read our Book Giveaway Guidelines.  Then answer the following question: What Famous Person – French sculptress or otherwise, would you have loved to have met when you were a child?                                     

You may either post your answer as a comment below or email your answer to teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com with "Book Giveaway" 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. Wednesday, June 6, 2012 (Central Standard Time). The winner will be chosen in a random drawing and announced on June 9, 2012.

Bonne chance, everyone!

Esther Hershenhorn

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Announcing our Blogiversary Winners, and a Request for our Readers

Today I'm happy to announce the winners of our TeachingAuthors Giveaway in honor of our Third Blogiversary. Drum roll please!
The winners are:
  • Pamela Courtney, an educator who created a literacy and music program for early learners. She blogs about the building blocks of literacy at MyLMNOP;
  • Carl Scott, an independent bookseller and huge fan of;
  • Joanna Cooke, a mom and writer who blogs at A Life Spent Reading.
Congratulations to our three winners! They'll each receive a $30 gift certificate to, where they can purchase new and used books from independent booksellers around the world, often with free shipping.  

A HUGE thank-you to all the readers who entered our contest! We enjoyed learning a bit more about you and the types of posts that interest you most. We found out that our audience includes parents, booksellers, current and retired teachers, aspiring writers and published authors who write everything from poems to magazine articles to novels. Our most popular posts seem to be those that include writing tips, Writing Workouts, and guest interviews. You can be sure we'll continue to feature those!

Now, for my request: We'd love to hear from even more of our readers to get to know you better! If you didn't enter the giveaway, please take a moment to tell us what type of posts YOU like best and whether you're a teacher, librarian, parent, student, aspiring writer/illustrator...or another kind of follower. You may provide the info one of two ways: either by sharing a comment to today's post, or by sending us an email: teachingauthors (at) gmail (dot) com. (We won't share your email address with anyone else, or add you to any mailing list. Promise!)

As we enter our Fourth Year of blogging (gasp!), we want to provide the type of information our readers really want. Please help us do so!

Happy writing!

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Problem

It's "spring fever" time around here.  My college students are finished.  (Congrats to your son, April!)  High school seniors are graduating.  (Congrats to your daughter, Mary Ann!)  With visions of summer vacation dancing in all of our heads, my husband regretfully refers to his last few weeks of instructional time as 'controlled chaos.'
My daughter's wonderful teacher has tried to engage the kids in kick-it-up-a-notch manner by allowing them to write plays based on familiar stories.  Kate's, a spin on "The Three Billy Goats Gruff" is titled "Three Ghosts and the Big Werewolf."  And, she told me eagerly, "It takes place in the night!"  Kate mentioned that she had initially started working on an entirely different project entitled "Three Unicorns and the Big Rainbow."  However, this was abandoned when she realized that "it would be really hard to find a problem for them."

I love that my first grader can analyze story mechanics at least as well as I can.  She had been reading The Baby-Sitters' Club on my kindle with great interest but yesterday declined to continue.  "It's boring now," she said.  "They already came up with the idea for the club, so now there's no problem."  I explained that another problem was likely about to ensue, and she reacted with surprise.  She said, "In short books, there's usually only one problem."  I mean, really -- she just defined the difference between chapter books and middle grade more elegantly than I could ever begin to do.

I am taking a picture book writing class this summer, and I will be keeping two questions ever-present in my mind:
What does my character want?
What obstacle stands in the way?

And of course I will take my seven-year-old inner critic along with me.  I can't wait.  Happy summer to all! --Jeanne Marie

Reading recommendation of the week from Kate: Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt
and from Patrick: Henry and Mudge and the Big Sleepover by Cynthia Rylant

P.S. from Carmela: Don't forget that you must enter by 11 pm (CST) today, Monday, May 21, 2012, for a chance to win one of THREE $30 gift cards from in honor of our Third Blogiversary. See April's post for all the details.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Poetry Friday! EBook celebration! Rabbits! A Poetry Exercise! And just a few more days to enter our Blogiversary Giveaway!

Howdy Campers!  Happy Poetry Friday!  Happy just-a-few-more-days-'til-our 3rd blogiversary giveaway ends! At the end is today's poem and a Writing Workout (aka Poetry Exercise).

My fellow Teaching Authors have kindly allowed me to post some good news today.

*Gasp!* My one and only child just graduated from college.  And at the exact same time, my books have begun graduating into eBooks.  Coincidence?  I think not.
Wait...wrong photo.
This guy.  He's my kid.
Go, kid, go!
For a bonus point: on what campus is he?
For double bonus points: what is the image on his gold stole?

Actually, that's not the good news they were hoping I'd post.  My fellow TeachingAuthors thought I was going to talk about my new eBook.  So...

Once upon a time...I was nine months pregnant with the guy above when we held the launch of my first picture book, To Rabbittown, at Dutton's Bookstore in Brentwood, CA.
Dutton's was our award-winning neighborhood
independent bookstore extraordinaire, whose doors closed in 2008--sniff, sniff.
To Rabbittown began as a illustrated poem, in 1984, when I was working in the marketing department of A.T. & T. in downtown Los Angeles. Looking back, writing it was my escape.  And it really is an escape story--the child in the book runs away to live with rabbits...and slowly turns into one. How much farther can you run away to hide from the nasty corporate world?

It was one of the few books that has floated down from the clouds directly to my fingers, bypassing my brain, nearly fully formed. 
How does that happen?  And why can't it happen all the time?

1984 manuscript of To Rabbittown, now archived
at the Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children's Literature
I sent it to Scholastic, it was gloriously illustrated by Robin Spowart and published in the spring of 1989, and you can bet your sweet bippy it felt like the birth of my child (the good parts of giving birth, you understand), who was born a few days later.

It became a blue ribbon best seller for Scholastic (I don't know what that means either), sold over 64,000 copies, and got a starred review in the School Library Journal (I was a newbie author; I thought everybody got a starred review in SLJ...); it was in print for eight years...

...until it wasn't in print.  This being my first Out of Print (OP) book, I was devastated.  It really did feel like a death.  I was mortified. And ashamed.  I thought it was my fault.  I tiptoed around, eyes on the ground without telling anyone. If I had been better, had done more, if I had written the next one faster, if I had picked up more trash off the sidewalk, my book would have been immortal.  I thought books were immortal, and if they weren't, well, then there was something deeply wrong with the author.  

Fast forward to 2012.  I am older.  I understand life a little more.  Not everything is my fault.  And some fabulous things are my fault.  My beamish boy is launched into this woolie, wild and wonderful world... first born book is reborn as an eBook (for 99 cents) (and just £0.77 in the UK)!
First, here's the text of TO RABBITTOWN as my offering for Poetry Friday--but I really hope you have a chance to see the luscious watercolor illustrations by the amazing Robin Spowart on every page.

by April Halprin Wayland, illustrated by Robin Spowart

I opened her rabbit-y cage
and while she nibbled celery
I asked her:
Where do the rolling hills go?
She said:
Beyond the wheat
to a pine forest
to the edge of it all
to Rabbittown

I snuggled her close
She told me:
Hop there
Ride the green waves
Find the cliffs
past the smell of the sea
There you’ll find
those brown rabbit eyes
And so I went

They sniffed me and I asked:
How long have you been here?
And what do you eat
in Rabbittown?

The woolly one spoke
She said:
Here before the moon
we drink milk from the milk grass
eat pine needle salad
and save water lilies for dessert

They told me:
I sat with them
burrowed with them
played games with their babies
and sliced pine branches
at dusk

I grew ears
I heard butterflies fly
I heard the movement of worms in the soil
I heard clouds coming

I wrinkled my rabbit the rest here 

text and cartoony drawing © 2012 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved

Writing Workout: Abracadabra--You're an Animal!

To Gazelletown.  To Wormtown. 
To Owltown.  To Sharktown. 
To Horsetown...

What animal would you like to become? Using To Rabbittown as a structure, become that gazelle, spider, eel, elephant or flamingo.  What do you hear, feel, sense, eat?  How do you move through your world?  Who do you long to be with?

Be in that world.  Pull your readers in, too.  Remember to breathe...and to write with joy.

You have only a few days left to enter our TeachingAuthors Third Blogiversary Giveaway for a chance to win one of THREE 30$ gift certificates to, where you can purchase new and used books from independent booksellers around the world, often with free shipping! See ...all the bloody details are here.

Katya is hosting Poetry Friday--thanks Katya!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Hurray for Our Latest Giveaway Winner!

Congratulations to the winner of our latest book giveaway: Linda Baie, a teacher who blogs at Teacherdance. If you're not familiar with her blog, I encourage you to hop on over. On Monday, Linda celebrated her 300th blog post by listing some of the blogs that have touched her life. Many of the blogs are new to me and I'm looking forward to visiting them soon. (And I'm not saying that just because our own TeachingAuthors blog made the list!)

Linda will be receiving an autographed copy of Karen Schreck's latest young-adult novel, While He Was Away (Sourcebooks Fire). Thanks again to Karen for her terrific guest TeachingAuthor interview. If you haven't read the interview yet, I encourage you to do so today--she shares two great exercises for writers. For additional writing inspiration, read her blog post about "Keeping the Faith as a YA Writer."

And don't forget: you have only a few days left to enter our TeachingAuthors Third Blogiversary Giveaway for a chance to win one of THREE 30$ gift certificates to, where you can purchase new and used books from independent booksellers around the world, often with free shipping! See April's post for more information.

As always, happy writing!


Monday, May 14, 2012

Quilts (and the artists who need them)

   I secretly call myself "The Constant Reader," which was the name of the late, great Dorothy Parker's New Yorker book review column. I read constantly...most of the time. However, this Constant Reader is currently trying to keep her head above the morass of activities and paperwork involved in my daughter's high school graduation Friday. She's stressed, I'm stressed, and when I'm stressed, I'm not a Constant Reader. My mind sails off to South American, and I crochet while watching endless episodes of Law & Order in all its incarnations. (There. Now you know my guilty secret.)
   My brain wasn't entirely on autopilot. The one children's book I read this month (one?!) was a lovely little morsel, Mooshka, written and illustrated by Julie Paschkis. This picture book spoke to several of my  loves--quilts, family stories and "blankies" in general.
    Mooshka is a quilt who belongs to Karla.  Like Karla, I had a grandmother who quilted. When I say "quilt," I don't mean the carefully designed and color-co-ordinated modern quilt. My grandmother made "scrap" quilts. using the leftover material she used to sew her family's clothes. "Meemaw" wasn't intere making art.  She was keeping her family warm during the Depression. What she didn't know was that she was also preserving family stories and instilling in me a passion for storytelling.
    I am the only person I know who has two baby quilts.  The first was made from a cache of pinwale corduroy samples. I dragged that quilt (which was made for a single bed) everywhere. Wrapped around my shoulders and trailing at my heels, "Meemaw's quilt" allowed me to be a queen ( usually the wicked kind) or Miss American (minus the ermine collar and tiara).  I was a sickly kid who found comfort in the quilt's soft folds, which grew softer and more velvet-like with every washing. In the instant before I threw up, I would heave the blanket out of the way, to spare it another washing. By the time I went to college, large portions of Meemaw's quilt were all but transparent.  So, as her very last quilt, every stitch hand sewn, she made me a new quilt, decorated with bunnies (my favorite animal), all embroidered free-hand. I had a new baby blanket to take to college. (I have no idea what my roommates thought of this.)
     I still have both of these quilts (hermetically preserved, like a wedding dress).  When Meemaw died, I inherited two of her Double Wedding Ring Depression-era quilts. Fragile as they are, I save them for days when I need some grandmotherly comfort (usually days when I wonder what in the world made me think I could ever be a writer).  Then I look at the varied patch prints, and remember Meemaw telling me the origin of every piece.  "Now this here was a shirt I made your daddy for his first day of kindergarden."  She would then go on to tell me how my father, deciding immediately that school was not his thing, escaped and was dragged back to school three times that first day.
     "This flowery piece here was a dress I made for Easter one year. I was wearing it the first time I met your mother." Meemaw was a great storyteller.  Recalling those stories as I touch each quilt patch, I remember why I wanted to be a writer in the first place.
    In Mooschka Karla's quilt actually talks to her, telling her the stories sewn into its seams.  Mooschka not only touched my heart with it's story of passing on family history, but it's beautiful folkloric illustrations.
Not surprisingly, Paschkis is also a textile designer. (Warning: This is not a story to share as an e-book. The pictures are half the story, and they need to be seen full-sized.)
    My daughter is graduating (I hope) on Friday. Next month she will be leaving for a month-long pre-college arts program. (She inherited Meemaw's artistic talent.) Packed in her bag will be her own Mooshka, one of Meemaw's quilts.  She knows it's only for those special days when she wonders why she thought she could be an artist.
    Don't forget, faithful friends, you have until 11 pm CST today to enter the drawing for a copy of Guest TeachingAuthor Karen Schreck's new YA novel While He Was Away.
    Also, for our TeachingAuthors Third Blogiversary Giveaway Contest prize of THREE 30$ gift certificates to  You must enter by 11 pm CST Monday, May 21, 2012. See April's post for more information.
Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Friday, May 11, 2012

Celebrating Children's Book Week with a Reading Recommendation

Before I share what's on my to-read stack and a bit about my latest read, I want to remind you that time is running out to enter our current giveaway contests:
And now, for our current TeachingAuthors' topic: Children's Book Week and what we're currently reading: I'm lucky to live in the same town as the wonderful independent bookstore, Anderson's Bookshop, which hosts the monthly Not for Kids Only Book Club "for adults who like to read books for children and teens." At our next meeting, on Sunday, May 20, we'll be discussing Dead End in Norvelt (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) by Jack Gantos, this year's Newbery Award Winner. I just picked up the book, so I can't comment on it yet. However, I can comment on, and heartily recommend, last month's book, Between Shades of Gray (Philomel) by Ruta Sepetys. The book was a finalist for the American Library Association's 2012 William C. Morris Award, which "honors a book written for young adults by a previously unpublished author."

Here's a description of the book from the official Between Shades of Gray website:
In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school, first dates, and all that summer has to offer. But one night, the Soviet secret police barge violently into her home, deporting her along with her mother and younger brother. They are being sent to Siberia. Lina's father has been separated from the family and sentenced to death in a prison camp. All is lost.

Lina fights for her life, fearless, vowing that if she survives she will honor her family, and the thousands like hers, by documenting their experience in her art and writing. She risks everything to use her art as messages, hoping they will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive.

It is a long and harrowing journey, and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive? 
I found Between Shades of Gray to be a powerful and moving story. Before reading this book, I knew nothing of Stalin's atrocities during World War II, which it so vividly depicts. I recommend the novel not only as a terrific read for ages 12 and up, but also as a wonderful contribution to World War II-related literature.

I met Ruta Sepetys a few weeks ago when she visited the Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville to celebrate the paperback release of Between Shades of Gray. She spoke then about the connections between her own family history and her novel. Her words reminded me of stories my mother told of her childhood in Italy, when German troops occupied her small mountain village. And that leads me to today's Writing Workout.

Writing Workout:
Researching Our Family Stories

Are there stories your relatives have told that could make interesting seeds for a story? Did any of them live through unusual or difficult circumstances, such as war, economic hardship, or natural disaster? Don't know? Then ask! Schedule time to sit down with a family member and really listen to his or her stories. Take notes. Then write a short story that captures part of his or her experience. If you need some inspiration for how powerful this process can be, go to the official Between Shades of Gray website and watch the video about how Ruta Sepetys researched her novel. And for another Writing Workout about writing family stories, see this post by April

Happy writing!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Children's Book Week: WONDERful!

Wait! And whoa there!
Before you read another line, be sure to enter, if you haven’t already, (1) our TeachingAuthors Blogiversary 3 Contest to win one of three $30.00 gift certificates to and (2) our separate autographed book giveaway of Guest TeachingAuthor Karen Schreck’s newest YA novel, While He Was Away.

Now, on to celebrating Children’s Book Week, May 7 – 13.  

Sponsored by the Children’s Book Council and administered by Every Child is a Reader, Children’s Book Week celebrates the transformative power of reading. It is the longest-running literacy initiative in the country, formally established in 1919.

Be sure to visit the website to learn more about official and local events, including author and illustrator appearances, accompanying activities for teachers, parents, booksellers and librarians and the listing of the 2012 Children’s Choice Book Award Winners.

I’m biting at the chomp, beyond eager to share the latest children’s book I read, re-read and took into my heart, R. J. Palacio’s multiply-starred middle grade novel Wonder.

Here’s the flap copy:        

     “August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facila deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school – until now.  He’s about to enter fifth grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid, then you know how hard that can be.  The thing is, Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face.  But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?"

Auggie introduces himself to the reader:

“I know I’m not an ordinary ten-year-old kid.  I mean, sure, I do ordinary things.  I eat ice cream. I ride my bike.  I play ball.  I have an Xbox.  Stuff like that makes me ordinary, I guess.  And I feel ordinary.  Inside.  But I know ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds.  I know ordinary kids don’t get stared at wherever they go…..
     My name is August, by the way. I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”

     The flap copy is right:
     R.J. Palacio has crafted an uplifting novel full of wonderfully realistic family interactions, lively school scenes, and writing that shines with spare emotional power.”

   The Former Fifth Grade Teacher inside me wondered non-stop: how could Palacio present this grade and age so perfectly, portray the truths of the school experience so honestly?  Oh, to have a class with which to share this book today!  (I’ve emailed three teachers already recommending this title.)

     The Mother in me ached, kissing the top of Auggie’s head each and every time his Mom or Dad did the same.  So often we writers are told: kill those parents in Chapter One! The child needs to navigate the world on his own!  But the depth and glory of Auggie’s parents’ love for him, and his sister’s love too, portrayed honestly, warts and all, prove pure Show, Don’t Tell so Auggie can be brave.

     The writer in me simply sighed at Palacio’s craft, how she brilliantly chose multiple viewpoints to tell Auggie’s story so we the readers could see how others saw Auggie - for who he is, what he is and not how he looks, how she nailed each and every voice, and best of all, how she still moved Auggie’s story forward, in compelling scenes, September through June.

      It’s the little ol' me I am, though, who, along with Auggie and his changed-forever classmates, was different for the journey.  Auggie became everyone’s Hero, standing out and above the crowd because of who he was - an ordinary kid doing extraordinary things.

     The Library of Congress classified the novel [1. Abnormalities, Human – Fiction. 2. Self-importance – Fiction.  3.  Middle schools – Fiction.  4. Schools – Fiction.]  I wish they would have asked me.  I would have listed Kindness as the one-and-only classification.

      Auggie’s English teacher Mr. Browne shares a precept for each month of the school year; students copy the precept into their English notebooks.  Precepts, they decide, are “rules about really important things.”   September’s precept had me on my way, turning the pages late into the night, and it turns out, so was Auggie,  after heartbreaking hurts and the inevitable taunts.  “WHEN GIVEN THE CHOICE BETWEEN BEING RIGHT OR BEING KIND, CHOOSE KIND.”

    IMHO, WONDER is an important book.  Auggie Pullman is an unforgettable character.

     Thank you, R.J. Palacio, for showcasing the transformative power of literacy.

     Oh, and Happy Children’s Book Week!

     Esther Hershenhorn

Writing Workout               

Up for Auggie’s October Homework Assignment?

     Mr. Browne’s October precept read,  OUR DEEDS ARE OUR MONUMENTS.
     It was written on the tombstone of an Egyptian who died thousands of years ago and Auggie’s class was beginning its study of ancient Egypt.
     The homework assignment: write a paragraph about what the precept means or how you feel about the precept.
     Here’s what Auggie wrote:

     “This precept means that we should be remembered for the things we do.  The things we do are the most important things of all.  They are more important than what we say or what we look like.  The things we do outlast our mortality.  The things we do are like monuments that people build to honor heroes after they’ve died.  They’re like the pyramids that the Egyptians built to honor the pharaohs.  Only instead of being made out of stone, they’re made out of the memories people have of us.  That’s why your deeds are like your monuments.  Built with memories instead of with stone.”

     What about YOU? What would YOU write?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Happy Children's Book Week!

In honor of Children's Book Week (, Teaching Authors will be celebrating what we're reading this week.

Also, don't forget to enter one or both of our book giveaways:

Followers know that we are celebrating our THIRD blogiversary. Enter our Blogiversary giveaway contest to win one of THREE $30 gift cards from

In addition, you can enter our SEPARATE autographed book giveaway: win Guest Teaching Author's Karen Schreck's brand new book, While He Was Away.

So, with no further adieu, this week's reading recommendations from the Ford Family bookshelf:

Daddy's 6th grade reading class is reading:
Dragonwings by Laurence Yep

Mommy is reading:
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman by Meg Wolitzer

Kate (age 7):
Meet Rebecca by Jacqueline Greene
(She is into the books but not the dolls -- how long can our luck continue?)

Patrick (age 5):
anything Elephant and Piggie by Mo Willems

What are you reading?  Happy week to all! -- Jeanne Marie

Friday, May 4, 2012

Enter TWO give aways!...and an Author Insecurity Poem for Poetry Friday.

Howdy, Campers!  Happy Poetry Friday!  I’ve been OUT AND ABOUT.  But before I tell you about IRA in Chicago and ask for your advice about my poem, don’t forget to enter both of our contests:
Followers know that we are celebrating our THIRD blogiversary.   Enter our Blogiversary giveaway contest to win one of THREE $30 gift cards from, where you can purchase new and used books from independent booksellers around the world, often with free shipping!!! There are three ways to enter, so get crackin'!

In addition, you can enter our SEPARATE autographed book giveaway: win Guest Teaching Author's Karen Schreck's brand new book, WHILE HE WAS AWAY.

Spring, spring, spring--as I said, I've been out 'n about! The trees were green-leafing, the flowers a-blooming along the slick avenues in rainy Chicago, (our own Esther’s beloved hometown) this past week.  She and I were honored to have taught in a full-day Institute at the International Reading Association there.

Our Institute was birthed, developed, structured and nurtured by Albuquerque author and educator Carolee Dean.  The other authors Carolee pulled on board were: Kersten Hamilton, TeachingAuthor EstherHershenhorn, Kimberley Griffiths Little, Carolyn Meyer,
Uma Krishnaswami, Caroline Starr Rose, Lisa Schroeder, et moi.  (For details and our handouts, click here.) I’d only met most of them online; it was a delicious pleasure to meet each in person. 

Here are a few snippets from IRA:

Someone in our group said, Reading is the inhale, writing is the exhale,” which I’d never heard before, though when I Googled it, it’s all over the web, without an author. I love this quote.

At another session, Jane Yolen said that a child asked her,
“Did you write a Christmas book?” 
“Yes,” said Jane.
“But I thought you were Jewish,” he said.
“I write murder mysteries, too,” Jane replied.

On my final day in Chicago, the skies cleared. One last breakfast with Esther, one last walk past fast pedestrians along Michigan Avenue

Bright orange and magenta tulips, in cement boxes lining the bustling streets, which were just blooming when I arrived, were no longer bright, tight blooms—instead they were faded and splayed open, like unmade beds.

I was thinking about how short their stay is...Bingo!  I found my topic for this day’s poem!
Here are three drafts of the eight or nine I’ve written so far…I need your thoughts!  I’m thinkin’ I went overboard in the last one needs to be more condensed, right?  Just get in, get out—bam!  What do you think?

by April Halprin Wayland

Nice bloom.
Fading fast.
When’s your next?
Books…er, blooms don’t last.

by April Halprin Wayland

I saw you flower in spring.
Good red.
When’s the next one due?
Next June?
Don’t you know
you’re only as good
as your latest, bloom?

by April Halprin Wayland

I saw you flower this spring.                                                 
Great read…er, red (nice bling.)                                            

So…when’s your next one due?                                            
Uh-oh, you say next June?                                                     

If you’re not on some list,                                                      
you simply don’t exist.                                                          

You must create one soon                                                      
so rush to publish…er, bloom.  
poems © 2012 by April Halprin Wayland—all rights reserved

I love Chicago!  I love fellow authors!  I learned so much this week!  I’ll leave you with a writing prompt Uma Krishnaswami taught us, inspired by her wonderful picture book, OUT OF THE WAY! OUT OF THE WAY! 

In her free downloadable activity kit for this book, Uma writes: “The tree in this story became a meeting place for the people of the village, a spot where children could play and grownups could talk…Do you know of a special tree that holds a story for you? A tree that you climbed? A tree that provided shade for picnics? Write your tree story.”

I found this to be an extremely evocative prompt.  Do you?  Try.

 Poetry Friday's at Wild Rose Reader this week--thanks for hosting, Elaine!
P.S: If you've read this far, you deserve a bonus.  Check out Amy Goldman Koss' blog post this week, "Why Write?" (Warning: you will become addicted to her blog posts, so watch out.)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Book Giveaway and Guest Teaching Author Interview with Karen Schreck

Hello, Readers,
Today I'm especially pleased to feature a guest TeachingAuthor interview with my good friend, Karen Halvorsen Schreck, whose second young-adult novel, While He Was Away (Sourcebooks Fire) was just released YESTERDAY! After reading the interview, I hope you'll enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of Karen's book. And don't forget to also enter our Blogiversary giveaway contest to win one of THREE $30 gift cards from, where you can purchase new and used books from independent booksellers around the world, often with free shipping.

Before I share the interview, here's a little about Karen:
The winner of a Pushcart Prize and an Illinois State Arts Council Grant, Karen Halvorsen Schreck has a doctorate in Creative Writing. Her first young-adult novel, Dream Journal (Hyperion), was a 2007 Young Adult BookSense Pick. She is also the author of the acclaimed picture book, Lucy's Family Tree (Tilbury). Karen balances her writing and freelance work with teaching writing and literature at the college level. She also loves to do author visits! For information about her, visit her website or the official While He Was Away website.

And now, here's the interview:

Karen, how did you become a TeachingAuthor?
       My parents were teachers, and from the time I was a very little girl, and talked C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe with a college English professor who actually chummed around with Lewis and the other Inklings in Oxford, I knew that I wanted nothing more in my life than to read, write, and share books.  I was blessed with a wonderful high school English teacher who fearlessly taught authors like Flannery O’Conner, D. H. Lawrence, and Leo Tolstoy (among so many others). In college I discovered how healing and meaningful the writing process was for me by taking a creative writing class. I taught my first college class when I was a twenty-three-year-old Creative Writing graduate student, and I’ve taught many, many since. I find I learn about writing from teaching about writing—my students and the published authors we’ve studied together have always taught me so much. Like writing, teaching is really so much about finding the right voice to tell the right story to a particular audience—the two go hand-in-hand, as craft and art.  I feel alive and engaged when I teach.  I feel alive and engaged when I write.

What's a common problem/question that your writing students have and how do you address it?
        Many people of all ages (myself included) seem to experience a kind of inner critic—a censoring voice that’s been internalized that expresses itself in various ways: either when faced with a blank page (Oh!  I have no ideas! I am not good enough! I have nothing to say!) or after the first burst of inspired writing (Well, that might have been good, but where do I go from here?), or at the end of a first draft (What c&*p—this’ll never see the light of day. I’m putting it in a drawer/recycling it/using it as kindling).  I’ve seen students find great relief when they externalize that voice as words on paper, perhaps tracing the origins of the voice to an actual person or people in their lives, or creating a character who represents the voice. Sometimes I’ll ask them to draft a character description of the critic. I always ask them to write out the statements, almost in a kind of exorcism (if I may use this term). I encourage them to ritualize this process. Maybe writing it is enough, but some have shredded their critical words, and then proceeded to write from there. If that’s not sufficient, I have them describe or create someone who’s profoundly affirming, and then write down what they might say to encourage the writing process. People honestly have been freed up by doing this exercise, and they’ve come back to it again and again.

I love the idea of "exorcising" our inner critic! I'm going to have to give it a try. Would you also share a writing exercise for our readers?
       I love having students create what I call a Body Map.  Through drawing or collage or sculpture or sewing—you name it, people have done it—they’ll represent visually the stories, memories, images, their bodies carry—the blessings and burdens they’ve born over their histories. It’s a fun and profound exercise to do over a period of time. The results are often quite beautiful and meaningful, and people discover that in their own physical experience, they have no shortage of story material. 

Wow, what a tactile way of coming up with story ideas  Thanks, Karen. Now, can you tell us a bit about your new book, While He Was Away, and how you came to write it?
       My YA novel, While He Was Away (Sourcebooks Fire), is about an eighteen-year old girl, Penna Weaver, whose boyfriend, David O’Dell, is deployed to Iraq. Penna and David are deeply in love, and commit to be true to each other while he’s away, but Penna quickly realizes that the realities of David’s situation will make this more challenging than either of them expected.  Lonely and isolated, it seems Penna’s world is falling apart, until she works to solve a family mystery, hidden for half a century, about love in wartime, and ultimately learns some powerful truths about love and forgiveness.
       The inspiration for this novel lay in my own family history, and in my own response to the news I was hearing about young soldiers deployed to Iraq. My father served in WWII; my mother’s first husband was killed in WWII. I grew up hearing war stories, and when this current generation of young people put their lives on the line, I was struck by a certain disconnect between what they seemed to be experiencing, and how our nation was responding, and the experience of my parents’ generation. When I don’t understand something, I find it helpful to explore the questions through story-telling.  I may never get black and white answers (good fiction rarely give these), but I do experience a sense of resolution. I hope someone else reading While He Was Away does too.
       Readers, if that isn't enough to pique your interest, watch the beautiful book trailer below. (Email subscribers can watch it at the official While He Was Away website.)

Karen, do you have any suggestions for teachers on how they might use one of your books in the classroom?
       I could give suggestions for all three of my books, but I’ll focus on While He Was Away. :-) I think this novel could give teachers the perfect opportunity to encourage their students to consider the ways in which their personal, family histories intersect with their shared, communal history. My process in writing the novel really parallels my character Penna’s process over the course of the novel. We both asked:  what don’t we understand about our pasts, what mysteries are there, and how do these mysteries from the past connect with the pressures all around us, the lives we are living now, the events of this world? Or to put it another way: what family stories do you need explore and tell in your own way?

Finally, would you tell us how you first became interested in writing?
       When I was in third grade, I became obsessed, as many girls do (or at least did, at that time), with the book Harriet the Spy. As you may know, the book’s central character, Harriet, records her observations about the world in an orange notebook. Well, I went out and bought an orange notebook. I proceeded to do the same as Harriet, carrying that notebook everywhere I went, documenting my life to the best of my ability, and even writing a few chapters of my first attempt at a novel (no surprise:  the novel involved a girl and a horse called . . . Starfire; I was also on a big Margeurite Henry kick). I still have that notebook to this day, and I still carry a notebook in my purse, just in case I need to jot something down. There is something really wonderful about having the perfect notebook . . . and pen . . . and pencil . . . just in case.

Thanks so much, Karen, for sharing with us today.

Readers, I'm especially thrilled to celebrate the release of Karen's new book with you because I had the privilege of reading an early draft of the manuscript. I can't wait to get my hands on the final book. And you, too, can soon be holding your own autographed copy of While He Was Away by entering our giveaway contest. Before entering, 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 adult reader, and if so, to whom?

You may either post your answer as a comment below or email your answer to teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com with "Book Giveaway" 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. Monday, May 14, 2012 (Central Standard Time). The winner will be chosen in a random drawing and announced on May 16, 2012. Good luck, everyone!

When you're done here, be sure to hop on over to April's post about our Third Blogiversary giveaway contest and enter to win one of THREE $30 gift cards from, which you can use to purchase new or used books from independent booksellers around the world, often with free shipping
Good luck and Happy Writing!