Sunday, March 31, 2013

Here's to Book Joy All Around the World!

The clock is ticking down to tomorrow Tuesday, April 2, which happens to be International Children’s Book Day.
The April date traditionally commemorates the birth date of the first author to claim my heart, Hans Christian Andersen.

This year’s ICBD official sponsorship was awarded to USBBY (the United States Board on Books for Young People) which serves as the U.S. national section of IBBY (the International Board on Books for Young People) which promotes international understanding  and good will through books for children and adolescents.

Spreading the joy of books around the world is easy and doable.
Just check out USBBY’s blog for easy-to-replicate programs for readers, writers, teachers and parents.

The website also offers links to USBBY’S 2013 Outstanding International Books List which recognizes books originally published outside the U.S. and now available from U.S. publishers.
Many of the list’s books focus on international themes, reflecting shared commonalities of youth and a diversity of experiences all around the world.

And FYI: the 10th IBBY Regional Conference “BookJoy Around the World” comes to St. Louis October 18th through 20th.
Australian author Mem Fox offers the Briley Lecture.  US and International children’s book creators, including Ashley Bryan and Pat Mora, extend the celebration.

International children’s books were again front and center at last week’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair.
Publishers Weekly offered full coverage plus photos of this 50th anniversary event, including the emphasis on middle grade and realistic fiction, “firsts,” insights from agents, editors, publishers and children’s book creators and the awarding of the international Astrid Lindgren Prize to Argentinian author, illustrator and musician Isol for writing picture books "from the eye level of a child.” 

Writing under the pen name of Marisol Misenta, Isol created more than a dozen books for children, including La bella GriseldaIt’s Useful to Have a Duck, Petit, the Monster and Nocturne: Dream Recipes.  She was chosen from a field of 207 nominated candidates from 67 countries.

International children’s book creators also took front and center this past weekend in Paris at the first-ever internatonal SCBWI Europolitan Conference, “Vive la Creativite.”
Check out the SCBWIEUROCON blog for updates from participants and their tweets too. The Conference hashtag is #SCBWIEuroCon.

Of course, don’t forget: TeachingAuthors offers a Children’s Book of the Day from the International Children’s Digital Library every day!
Just work your way down our blog page’s right-hand border.

And, be sure to return Wednesday to try your hand at our Wednesday Writing Workout, created by Dutch TeachingAuthor Mina Witteman, SCBWI-Netherlands Regional Advisor
and a co-organizer of Eurocon.

Hint, hint: Mina recently attended the Grimm Symposium in the Efteling Fairytale Forest in the Netherlands which celebrated 200 years of Grimm fairytales.

Book Joy to all!

And, Happy Birthday, Mr. Andersen!

Esther Hershenhorn

Friday, March 29, 2013

Great Minds Think Alike (and book giveaway winner!)

Whenever I have an idea for a picture book story, I open a fresh page on my computer and start typing. I write a one-sentence synopsis or a page of possible plot points or even three pages of pretty detailed notes on character-motivation-setting.

Then I add it to a folder on my desktop labeled "pb ideas" and return to my work in progress. No matter how sparkly and enticing those new ideas may seem, I know I can't allow them to steal momentum from my current project. Eventually, I'll get back to them, right?

Except when I don't.

How many times has that come back to bite me in the you-know-what? Wayyyy too many, unfortunately.

I love reading through the fat issues of Publisher's Weekly that announce children's publishers' spring and fall lists. I hug it to me as I settle into a cozy chair, then casually begin paging through – la, la, la – thinking, "oh, cute," or "ooh, that sounds fascinating/interesting/intriguing," or "wow, great idea."

The past few years, though, I find myself turning each page with mixed emotions. Anticipation, certainly, but also an inward cringe, because I can't help wondering when I'm going to come upon a little gem that makes my heart sink, when I'm going to read a synopsis/title that makes me go, "Hey, that's MY idea!" and sends me running to my office to open my "pb ideas" folder (part of this process, apparently, is seeing confirmation in black and white), and heaving a big, regretful sigh of promise, unfulfilled. (Yeah, okay . . . I do like to allow myself one moment of drama.)

This spring, there were two. The first:

Lucky Ducklings by Eva Moore, illus. by Nancy Carpenter. Ducklings are rescued from a storm drain. Agest 5 to 7. (Feb) (This one's garnered starred reviews, by the the way, from PW & SLJ)

This story has been in my file since I read about an identical incident in my hometown 7 or 8 years ago. Did I do anything with it? Nope.

The other:

Simon & Schuster
Chick-o-Saurus Rex by Lenore Jennewein, illus. by Daniel Jennewein. A bullied chick discovers inner strength – and his dinosaur ancestry. Ages 2 to 4 (July) (From the publisher:  A bullied little chicken discovers his inner strength along with some surprising dinosaur ancestry in this farmyard tale with huge heart.)

This idea has only been in my file for 3-4 years. My bird began as a parakeet harassed by the other family pets. Then, last year, I added:  What if he were a barnyard chick?

Aarrrrggghhhh! Of course I was too late, anyway, as Ms. Jennewein's book would have already been in production. And wouldn't it have been awful if I had written and sold the thing to a different publisher, and then hers had been released just before mine (or vice versa)? *shudder*

Now, I don't know either Ms. Moore or Ms Jennewein, but I can't help feeling a kinship. And I hope their books sell a bajillion copies. You can bet I'll be ordering them, because they sound ADORABLE, each in their own way.

You can also bet that I've revisited my "pb ideas" folder and pulled a couple of stories out onto my desktop for immediate attention.

Because that's the key. You can have the best story idea the world has ever known, but if you don't DO something with it, somebody else will. More and more, as Out There as this sounds, I believe that once a story idea vibe is floating around in the universe, more than one of us is going to receive it.

So don't put it off. Write. The. Book.

That's what I'll be doing.

Jill Esbaum

Book giveaway:  We have a winner! Kristen Larson, you've won an autographed copy of Michelle Markel's and Melissa Sweet's Brave Girl:  Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909 (Balzer and Bray). Congrats!!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wednesday Writing Workout: Your Character's Internal and External Quest

Last Friday, I blogged about the revision retreat I recently attended led by award-winning authors Julia Durango and Linda Sue Park. Today's Wednesday Writing Workout is a follow-up to that post. So if you haven't read it yet, please do so now. I also recommend you read this blog post by teacher Keely Hutton at Writer's Dojo, in which she has her students identify the main character's internal and external quests in a recent Disney movie.
Welcome back! Now you're ready for Step 1 of today's Wednesday Writing Workout:
---Take one of your own works-in-progress and document your main character's: 
  • External Quest: what he wants to accomplish (the plot objective) and
  • Internal Quest: what he needs emotionally (this drives the character's emotional growth/change) 
Is this harder than you expected? Here's one more example, shared by Linda Sue Park at the Revision Retreat and in The Craft & Business of Writing: Essential Tools for Writing Success (Writer's Digest Books). Speaking of Tree-Ear, the main character of her Newbery-winning novel, A Single Shard, Linda Sue says: "Tree-ear's external quest is to find a way to make celadon pottery. His internal quest is to find a place where he truly belongs."

Okay, now for Step 2:
---Look at the first ten pages of your work-in-progress (or the entire manuscript if you're working on a picture book). Divide the pages into scenes. For each scene, ask yourself:
Does my main character make progress toward and/or face impediments to one or both of the quests?

If the answer is "no," you need to either revise the scene or re-examine your character's quests.

Repeat this step for the next ten pages and continue working your way through until you've analyzed the entire manuscript.

Optional Step 3:
---Remember the one-sentence synopsis Jill blogged about 2 weeks ago? Well, one way to come up with yours is to look at your main character's internal and external quests. Here, for example, is the summary of A Single Shard that appears on the book's copyright page: 
"Tree-ear, a thirteen-year-old orphan in medieval Korea, lives under a bridge in a potters' village, and longs to learn how to throw the delicate celadon ceramics himself."
This synopsis explicitly states Tree-ear's external quest while hinting at his internal quest by mentioning he's a homeless orphan. See if you can do the same for your WIP: craft a one-sentence summary that incorporates your character's external quest and, if possible, hints at his internal quest.

By the way, a book's one-sentence synopsis is very much like a "logline" used to describe a movie. For some helpful tips on writing loglines (including examples from well-known films), see How to Write a Logline at Cracking Yarns, and the follow-up post, How to Write Better Loglines.  

In case you're wondering, I found the following logline at Write2Reel for the movie Keely Hutton discussed with her students:
A video game villain wants to be a hero and sets out to fulfill his dream, but his quest brings havoc to the whole arcade where he lives. 
This incorporates the very external quest Kelly's students identified! 

Don't forget--today is the last day to enter our Book Giveaway! You could win an autographed copy of Michelle Markel’s and Melissa Sweet’s Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 (Balzer and Bray).

Happy writing!

Monday, March 25, 2013

With a Little Help from My Friends

         I'm writing again!

         Big deal, you are thinking.  Isn't that what writers do? Well, yes, but if you've been following this blog for awhile, you  know that for the last year and a half, posting here is the only writing I have done.

      There are writers who can write from the death bed of a loved one. There are writers who wrote from their own deathbeds. I am not that strong. I am a wuss who gets creatively torpedoed by a lot of turmoil.

    So has my life smoothed out?  Has all the bad stuff gone away?

    I wish. Or, since you can't hear sarcasm in

    So what happened? 

      For some reason, my mind meandered back to when I was pondering potential motherhood. Would this be a good idea for me right now? (Eighteen years and one wild and crazy kid later, I still don't have the answer to that one.) I eventually realized that there was never going to be the perfect time. All I had was now. 

     The same goes for writing. All I have is now, even if it is a messy and stressful and depressing now. If my work comes out messy and depressing...well, that's what revision is for. Just getting it out of my head and into the physical world is the Big First Step.

    About the time I decided I had to write again, I learned that my local SCBWI spring conference featured a writer I really, really wanted to hear. In addition to not writing, I had also not been attending writing conferences.  I had signed up for a conference last fall, paid my fees, reserved my room.  Told friends I'd be there. Then on the day I was to leave, yet another one of those emotional emergencies smacked me down, leaving me without the energy to back out of my driveway, let alone drive four hundred miles in three days. But this conference, no matter what happened, was fifteen miles from my house. I could do this.

    I did it. I made it to the conference. I not only heard The Amazing Speaker I Had to Hear, but I reconnected with my critique group buddies.  They reminded me I always had a place at their table, no pressure, no judgment, no where have you been?  They were meeting in two weeks. Could I make it?

    I could...and did. I remembered why for ten years,  I had made that monthly 100 mile round trip to critique group.  Writing is a solitary pursuit. There is no break room or lunch hour to commiserate with your co-workers. (Well, there is Facebook, but it's not the same thing.) We have to find out ways to stay connected to each other. Blogging is one way. Conferences are another. Critique group however, is where you connect on the most intimate level. This is where your fellow writers are not afraid to tell you the ruth. As I said in a previous post on critique groups, you are not there to tear each other apart, or pat each other on the back. You are there for constructive criticism...and constructive praise. You learn that you aren't the only one with a funky life. You learn that you just grab on to and hang on. To keep writing messy stuff, that you will revise and revise until it is better.

     And some day, life will get better, too.

    Don't forget to enter our latest book giveaway.  You could win an autographed copy of Michelle Markel's and Melissa Sweet's Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers Strike of 1909 (Balzer and Bray).  I have my own copy on the desk next to me right now. Terrific book.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman


Friday, March 22, 2013

A Revision "Aha!" Moment

Happy Poetry Friday! I'm not sharing a poem today, but I have included links to where you can get your Friday poetry fix at the end of this post.

Instead of poetry, I'm discussing revision today. I'm currently in the throes of revising not one, but two, manuscripts, so Jeanne Marie's recent post on revision was timely. However, unlike Jeanne Marie's students, I am not a "reluctant reviser." I know all to well the value of revision from my experience working on my novel Rosa, Sola (Candlewick Press). (For more about that experience, read my blog post on "The 'R' Word".)  That's not to say revision is easy for me. So I jumped at the chance to attend a Revision Retreat led by award-winning authors Julia Durango and Linda Sue Park here in Illinois last month. (Hint: If you don't know their books, especially Linda Sue's Newbery winner, then you're not reading enough. The importance of reading was one of the topics Linda Sue touched on at the Retreat. For more on what she said, read the blog post "Do You Read Enough" by Jennifer Kay, a fellow retreat attendee.)

At the retreat, I was especially inspired by Linda Sue's description of how she writes and revises her work. Before even beginning a novel, Linda Sue defines two crucial story aspects:
  • External Quest: what the protagonist wants to accomplish (the plot objective) and
  • Internal Quest: what the protagonist needs (this drives the character's emotional growth/change) 
Linda Sue shares examples of defining these for her first novel, Seasaw Girl (Clarion), on her website. There, you can also read a bit more about her pre-writing work.

At the retreat, Linda Sue explained that the quests are not cast in concrete--they can change and evolve as she works on a manuscript, and she talked a bit about how that happened with A Single Shard (Clarion). However, after she's defined the two quests, one step in her revision process includes analyzing every scene to make sure the protagonist makes progress toward and/or faces impediments to one or both of the quests.

Prior to the weekend, attendees had been instructed to bring the first and last ten pages of a work-in-progress. Then, during the retreat, we were given time to practice the techniques the speakers shared. For example, after Linda Sue discussed internal and external quests, we had to define them for our own WIP. In my case, that was a very enlightening exercise. But my greatest "Aha!" moment came when I had to break my manuscript into scenes and then determine whether my protagonist made progress toward and/or faced impediments to at least one of his quests. IN EVERY SCENE! It became obvious to me that, as interesting as some of my scenes were (at least to me), they really had nothing to do with either quest. I saw for myself how much better the manuscript was when I cut those scenes. I left the retreat excited to go home and apply this new tool to the rest of the novel! (Fortunately, I have no qualms cutting when needed. But if you do, you may appreciate the following comic.)
Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at
Speaking of tools, I've been reading up on using Scrivener for my writing. It does appear to have lots of neat features. I've downloaded the free trial and worked through the text tutorial. I'll let you know if I decide to try it out on a manuscript. Meanwhile, if any of you use it, I'd love to know what aspects you especially like.

Also, I want to add that much of what Linda Sue shared at the Revision Retreat ties in nicely with the concepts presented in Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence (Ten Speed Press), which Esther reviewed here last fall. I finally picked up Wired for Story last month, and I have to say it definitely hooked me. The combination of the Revision Retreat and Cron's book is inspiring me to take a fresh look at two manuscripts I thought were "done."

On a different topic: don't forget to enter our latest Book Giveaway! You could win an autographed copy of Michelle Markel’s and Melissa Sweet’s Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 (Balzer and Bray).

Also, I'm sorry to report that wonderful TeachingAuthor April Halprin Wayland did not advance to the third round of the March Madness Poetry Tournament. :-(  However, the competition continues, so do visit the live scoreboard to cast your votes before the tournament ends.

And for more poetry, check out the Poetry Friday round up over at Gottabook.

Happy writing (and revising)!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wednesday Writing Workout: RIP and LIVELY Writing!

I confess: I read obituary notices.
And I’ve been doing so since I was ten.
Somewhat morbid, right?
And me, a happy-go-lucky Sagittarius.

But I so love learning any person’s story, who they are and what makes them tick, and that’s what a beautifully-crafted death notice offers: a mini-biography that tells the world a certain someone was indeed here.

I first read obituaries in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Next in the Chicago Daily News.
Now in the Chicago Tribune.
And I learned to write them – which is no easy task, I might add, while earning my Journalism Degree in the Annenberg School of Communication.

A successful obit shares the necessary and expected details: the deceased’s name, hometown, birth date, place of birth, family members (including pets), education, professional affiliations; often the cause of death is included.  The named recipients of any donations speak loudly. I treasure the occasional closing phrase that asks the world to remember and honor the deceased’s spirit by paying kindness forward, or wearing a smile, or never giving up.

One of my long-ago favorite obits bore the headline “Walter Thomas: Worked Hard All His Life.”
Another referred to the deceased as a true Woman of Valor.
I love when adjectives such as cherished, devoted, adored, special modify nouns such as wife, father, grandmother, sister, cousin, friend.

Kiddos laugh when I tell them I found my character Howie Fingerhut’s name in the obits.
Or that I discovered the hero of the picture book biography I’m revising while reading the description of a certain woman’s great-great-great grandfather and the town he built in Illinois.
I’ve been known to share an obit photo and the deceased’s name with workshop students as a brainstorming exercise:  “Who might this person have been?” I ask them.  “Why was his death noted in the newspaper?”

I was already working up this Wednesday Writing Workout when I read how last week’s colorful Sun Herald obit of 80-year-old Harry Weathersby Stamps of Long Beach, Mississippi went viral and captured the world.
Readers agreed: it was his daughters’ lively writing.

“He had a life-long love affair with deviled eggs, Lane cakes, boiled peanuts, Vienna (Vi-e-na) sausages on saltines, his homemade canned fig preserves, pork chops, turnip greens, and buttermilk served in martini glasses garnished with cornbread.”

“He excelled at growing camellias, rebuilding houses after hurricanes, rocking, eradicating mole crickets from his front yard, composting pine needles, living within his means, outsmarting squirrels, never losing a game of competitive sickness, and reading any history book he could get his hands on.”

“Harry took fashion cues from no one. His signature every day look was all his: a plain pocketed T-shirt designed by the fashion house Fruit of the Loom, his black-label elastic waist shorts worn above the navel and sold exclusively at the Sam's on Highway 49, and a pair of old school Wallabees (who can even remember where he got those?)..."

Whether you knew him or not, there Harry was, in all his splendor, alive on the page.
The words oozed grace, honor, respect, love.

Read the obituary in its entirety, as it appeared in the Sun Herald.
Note the nouns, the verbs and the well-chosen concrete details and how they define this man, encapsulate his life, capture his essence and celebrate his uniqueness.

Of course, Harry Stamps’ daughters knew and loved him.  They were privy to his story.

Which brings me to today’s Wednesday Writing Workout.


Writing an Obituary Notice

     (1)   Choose your obit’s subject

The Hero/Heroine from your current novel, picture book or biography?
The character who stands in your Hero’s/Heroine's way?

Someone you love, living or dead?

                                                  A pet?
                                                  A favorite toy?
                                                  An imaginary friend?
                                                Even yourself! (See @Legacy)

(2)  Think about your subject, from birth to death (real or imagined).
Who and what defined him/her/it?
What was in his/her/its heart, gut, soul, head?
Who was in your subject's life – daily, long-ago, every now-and-then?
How would you encapsulate his/her/its life?
What nouns, verbs and details convey your subject’s essence?

In other words:
How do you want the world to remember him/her/it?
How would your subject want to be remembered?

Think traits, adventures, hopes and dreams,
accomplishments, victories,
successes and failures,
loves and hates,
the people in their lives.
(3)  Include the requisite details – birth, hometown, career(s), family, etc. (again, real or imagined), even burial plans.

(4)   Order your details however you choose.

(5)  Visit @Legacy for even more ideas and sample obits.

(6)   Remember: you’re telling someone’s story in an abbreviated fashion – someone you know, likely someone you care about.  
What Five to Ten Things must be included so the World comes to know and remember your subject?

Happy lively writing!

Esther Hershenhorn

Don't forget to enter our latest Book Giveaway Contest!
You could win an autographed copy of Michelle Markel’s and Melissa Sweet’s Brace Girl: Clara and the Shirwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 (Balzer and Bray)



Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Vote Tuesday for Round Two of March Madness Poetry Tournament!

Howdy, Campers!

Round Two of the 2nd Annual March Madness Poetry Tournament (#MMPoetry2013) is in full swing!

Please vote in this round by Tuesday!  Here's my flight.  (she says hopefully)
Here's the whole live scoreboard.

And here's how participating in this tournament has affected me:

by April Halprin Wayland

There's a Superwoman 
caffeinated rush 
in my veins!

I'm becoming that crazy woman

at the top of the highest rollercoaster
laughing hysterically for fifty-five minutes!

And then, bleary-eyed in the morning, 

wearing my robe and slippers,
finding a severed head

in the vegetable bin 

of my refrigerator
next to the iceberg lettuce

when I read my poem
posted for all to see
and realize

it doesn't scan
the way it seemed to

last night.

poem © 2013 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved

My opponent this round is the wonderfully original writer and poet, Buffy Silverman.

                                                                   ...wisssssh me luck...

Monday, March 18, 2013

Revision Strategies

Reluctant revisers are my single most intransigent problem as a community college comp teacher.  If I can't teach students how to revise and/or persuade them that it is necessary to do so, then how can I possibly teach them to become better writers? 

The most important principles we discuss throughout the semester:
Butt In Chair
Show, Don't Tell (which approach is just as important in expository writing as it is in fiction)
Reading is writing
Writing is a recursive process

My chief tool for providing motivation is, of course, the grade book.  It seems to me that grades (and particularly the threat of failing) should be a fairly powerful motivator when one is paying for one's own tuition; however, but by the end of the semester I still have at least half of my students consistently failing on all 4 accounts.  [Often students tell me that I give them too much work, and they are taking 'other hard classes.'  Apparently it is their expectation that because they already know how to speak and write in English, they will not have to devote similar effort to my class.  This mindset is a difficult obstacle to overcome!]

Typically my students have a 3-page paper due every 2 weeks until the research essay, which they have a month to write. Through several years of trial and error, I have arrived at the following process:

After assigning readings that model the pattern of development that I'm teaching, I introduce the assignment.  I model effective and ineffective student writing.  I discuss and admonish against common errors.  Finally, I give time and room to prewrite and write.  When the rough draft is due, we have a peer review workshop with specific feedback prompts. I do not grade rough drafts, but I deduct points from the final grade for failure to submit one.  Unlike many of my colleagues, I do not allow rewrites of final papers.  However, I give global feedback on each student's draft in order to encourage appropriate attention to the revision part of the process.  I frequently encourage visits to the wonderful campus Writing Center and give extra credit for visiting.  [Very few students take me up on this offer.] 

Commonly, at least 25% of students fail to submit a rough draft at all.  Another 25% make very little effort at revision from draft to final.  While lack of will is an apparent issue (as in the student this week who printed two identical drafts and labeled one 'rough' and one 'final'), I am fairly certain that another impediment is the lack of understanding as to what constitutes real revision.  While I try to discuss and model revision in class, it seems clear to me that I'm failing to give students the tools they need to apply my words to their own work.

Thus I was delighted to see a review in this month's SCBWI Bulletin of Kate Messner's Real Revision: Authors' Strategies to Share with Student Writers.  I immediately downloaded it to my Kindle and am pleased to say that I see many practical applications for my own teaching and writing.  Messner uses examples from a number of working children's book authors to show how her techniques can be applied, very specifically, in a classroom setting.  While I work with older writers who are writing nonfiction, I still find her suggestions applicable.  I highly recommend this book to writing and English teachers, particularly those of students in grades 4-8. --Jeanne Marie
Don't forget to enter our latest Book Giveaway Contest!
You could win an autographed copy of Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 written by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Balzer and Bray).

You must follow our TeachingAuthors blog to enter our drawing
. If you're not already a follower, you can sign up now in the sidebar to subscribe to our posts via email, Google Friend Connect, or Facebook Network blogs.

There are two ways to enter:
1) by a comment posted below
2) by sending an email to teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com with "Book Giveaway" in the subject line.

Either way, to qualify, you must:
a) give us your first and last name AND
b) tell us how you follow us AND
c) tell us if you'll keep the book for yourself or give it to someone special.

If you enter via a comment, you MUST include a valid email address (formatted this way: youremail [at] gmail [dot] com).

Contest open only to residents of the United States. Incomplete entries will be discarded. Entry deadline is 11 pm (CST) Wednesday, March 27, 2013. Winners will be announced Friday, March 29.  Good luck to all!


Friday, March 15, 2013

Magnificent Michelle Markel is today's Guest Teaching Author--and YOU can win her new book!

Howdy, Campers and Happy Poetry Friday!  (Scroll to the end to find out who's hosting today.)

I have the incredibly cool job of announcing the winner of Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse by Tamera Will Wissinger; read the inspiring interview by Carmela here.  The lucky winner is...debut author and blogger Peggy Eddleman--yay, Peggy!

And if that isn't exciting enough, we have ANOTHER book giveaway contest beginning today, you lucky dogs!  Entry deadline is March 27th.  Details below.

Today I'm excited to introduce you to a dear friend and fab author, teacher and blogger, Michelle Markel.

Michelle's an avid fan and author of picture books, with a soft spot for biographies. Her titles include Dreamer From the Village: The Story of Marc Chagall, and The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau, one of Booklist’s ten best children’s art books of 2012, and a New York Public Library Best Book for Reading and Sharing.   Michelle is one of my fellow instructors at UCLA Extension’s Writers Program,  and one of my colleagues in the Children’s Authors Network. She makes her home in California's San Fernando Valley, about forty miles from the ocean, where she claims her thoughts often drift.

All of Michelle's books are original, beautifully written, and impeccably researched.  Her latest book, and one you will surely want to win, is Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909, which received four (!!!!) starred reviews and is a Junior Library Guild selection.  It's the inspiring true story of Clara Lemlich, a young immigrant woman who led the biggest strike of women workers in U.S. history in that time.  All this IN A PICTURE BOOK!  
So, did you become a Teaching Author?

When my kids were in school, for fun and spare change, I taught poetry classes to children and young adults.  As my career progressed, I began teaching adults what I knew about writing children's books and getting them published. I found it to be vastly rewarding. (A little secret is that instructors constantly learn things too). My favorite part of teaching has always been the writing prompts. (You've got lots of terrific ones on this website!)  Nothing beats a front row seat to a burst of creativity, especially when the creator is surprised at what she's made.
Thanks for your complimenting our writing prompts!  What's a common problem your students have and how do you address it?

Many students have problems writing for the picture book audience. They may use irony, abstractions, introspection, a sense of maturity, complex sentences, and cultural references unfamiliar to a young child. They need more exposure to picture book language, and practice on how to read mindfully- which is part of their homework. In class we look at passages from children's books for all different age levels. I ask the students to find what the texts have in common, and how they differ. I discuss the psychological and emotional stages of childhood development. I write awful passages and ask them to correct it, whole group. During workshops we talk about writing that seems too grown up.

I need to take your class, Michelle!  Would you share a favorite writing exercise for our readers?.Character and conflict often get the most attention in writing classes. But sometimes the most original and heartfelt writing is inspired by exercises on setting. People have strong feelings and a multitude of sensory memories about places where they've grown up, spent a lot of time, or visited. I was drawn to write about Henri Rousseau in large part because of my love of Paris...

...where I lived while pursuing a BA in French, which later led to an MA, and a visit with my husband and daughter.

One of my most successful prompts is: 

Write about two different characters who are placed into a new setting--the desert, the mountains, anywhere.  One passage will be from the POV of a character who loves it, and the other from a character who hates it.

This is an opportunity to practice characterization, use of imagery in creating setting, and mood.

The results are often poignant and/or humorous.

Can you share a story about writing or publishing?

I thought my manuscript for Brave Girl might be my toughest one to sell. It's the story of Clara Lemlich, a fearless labor organizer who led garment workers on a long, difficult strike during the winter of 1909.  The text was undoubtedly dramatic, but on the other hand, it was gritty, and there hadn't been many picture books published about injustice in the workplace, and none about this woman in particular.

Sometimes you just feel the call--and there's no turning back. I felt that Clara’s heroism--her return to the picket lines after multiple arrests and broken ribs--deserved to be recognized. I tried to capture her fiery spirit in the writing. 

Ironically, this manuscript helped me get an agent and not long after, a contract with one of my all-time favorite publishers. I'm fortunate that Melissa Sweet so sensitively brought the story to life, and I'm thrilled that it has been well received by the critics. 

Can you see why I'm a firm believer in taking risks, and writing with passion? 

Absolutely!  Thanks for tackling such an important topic and congratulations on those FOUR starred reviews: School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus and Publishers Weekly--wowza!

Thank you so much for sitting down for a cuppa tea with our readers and for offering an autographed copy of Brave Girl for our book giveaway, Michelle!

"This book has fighting spirit in spades--
 you go, Clara!”--Booklist
(starred review) 
And now Children, as promised, here's your chance to win an autographed copy of Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 written by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Balzer and Bray).

You must follow our TeachingAuthors blog to enter our drawing
. If you're not already a follower, you can sign up now in the sidebar to subscribe to our posts via email, Google Friend Connect, or Facebook Network blogs.

There are two ways to enter:
1) by a comment posted below
2) by sending an email to teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com with "Book Giveaway" in the subject line.

Either way, to qualify, you must:
a) give us your first and last name AND
b) tell us how you follow us AND
c) tell us if you'll keep the book for yourself or give it to someone special.

If you enter via a comment, you MUST include a valid email address (formatted this way: youremail [at] gmail [dot] com).

Contest open only to residents of the United States. Incomplete entries will be discarded. Entry deadline is 11 pm (CST) Wednesday, March 27, 2013. Winners will be announced Friday, March 29.  Good luck to all!

And now...take a few minutes and try Michelle's writing prompt before you go.  You'll be glad you did.

Poetry Friday is hiding today!  It's at Ms Mac's blog, Check it Out, where she gifts us with a BEAUTIFUL poem by J. Patrick Lewis about Martin Luther King.  Wow.  Thanks for hosting, Jone!

...and do hop over to the 2nd Annual March Madness Poetry Tournament to watch your favorite "authletes" flex their poetic muscles and vote for your favorite poems!


Thursday, March 14, 2013

The March Madness Poetry Tournament Has Begun! #MMPoetry2013

Howdy, Campers!

Just a quick post to tell you that the 2nd Annual March Madness Poetry Tournament (aka #MMPoetry2013) has begun!

Devised and run by the demonic Ed DeCaria at ThinkKidThink!, 64 "authletes" write poems in rounds, just like basketball's March Madness.  And madness it is, indeed!  But the best part is this: you get to vote for the best poem in each round! 

Poets include Bruce Balan, who regular readers know sails around the world on his trimaran, moi, and LOTS of friends of this blog from the Kidlitosphere, especially those who frequent Poetry Friday.  Meet all the authletes here
Here's the link to my poem and that of Deborah Holt Williams, my fabulous opponent (my word is "puttering," which I did for 36 hours with that felt as if I were cooking in a Food Network contest--no time, no time!  My honored opponent's word? "sophisticate"--which she handles beautifully.)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Wednesday Writing Workout: One-Sentence Synopsis

Anybody who has been in one of my workshops knows what a fanatic I am for the one-sentence synopsis. If you don't know what I'm talking about, take a look at the title page of (almost) any book for kids. See the sentence that sums up the entire story? Not much to it, is there? Should be easy to write one, then, right? Um...

Sometimes called an elevator pitch – because if you find yourself in an elevator with an editor and s/he asks what you're working on, you don't want to ramble on like a doofus (she said from experience) – the one-sentence synopsis is also an excellent tool for keeping your story on track during the writing process.

Oh, how many times my stories – especially my rhyming stories – go off in a direction I hadn't intended. When a story veers out of control, I know it's time to back up the truck and ask myself one simple question:

What is this story really about?

Crafting a one-sentence synopsis has saved my bacon time and again. It cuts to the heart of the story, clarifies your main character's motivation, and illuminates the path from a story's beginning to its end.

So give it a try. Write a one-sentence synopsis for your work in progress.


1.  Your main character's name.

2.  What it is s/he is struggling with.

3.  What's at stake for your MC (if not readily apparent).

4.  What s/he does to reach her goal or overcome the problem (if needed).

Here's an example from one of my 2014 books, I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo! (Dial):

Nadine, a braggy cow, gets into hilarious trouble when, to save face, she's forced to lead her friends on a nighttime hike through the spooky woods.

That probably isn't what will be on the finished book's title page, but it's my one-sentence synopsis of this story. It pretty much tells you everything you need to know in deciding whether to read it or replace it on the shelf.

If you care to, go ahead and put your synopsis into the comment section, I'd love to see what you're working on.

Good luck! And don't forget to enter our giveaway for a chance to win Tamera Wissinger's Gone Fishin'. Hurry! Today's the last day.

Jill Esbaum

Monday, March 11, 2013


When it comes to celebrating Teen Technology, I feel Mary Ann’s and Jill’s pain.
I don’t exactly qualify as a Teen. 
(Click HERE to see just which high school Reunion I’m attending this May.) 
And, this is the book I’m currently reading.
I also boldly revealed my Inner Luddite in a post last March.  (Click HERE.)


I sure do love to CLICK, then follow the links to CONNECT with all sorts of wondrous People, Places and Things.
Oh, the Possibilities!
Ah, the Opportunities!

For instance, there I was,
letting my fingers stroll the Internet on behalf of a writer with a UK-suited book,
and what did I come upon but

That’s why I’m wishing you a belated Happy World Book Day!
This site is ripe with new books, authors and curriculum connections for readers, writers, teachers and librarians.
(And yes, I found three, count ’em, three publishing possibilities for my writer.)

Booklist Editor Gillian Engberg sent me a lovely Quick Tips email, calling my attention
to Writing Resources for the Common Core Classroom.
Clicking and connecting I came upon a terrific timely opportunity for Kiddos co-sponsored by DC Comics and Capstone – The “Be a Super Hero, Read!” Writing Contest.  Running through April 15, the Contest encourages kids in grades 3 through 6 to write about a real-life superhero in their lives. 
Click HERE for the Rules.

And speaking of writing Kiddos, how could I not click on the Denver Post’s Next Gen, the online newspaper for youth-written stories.
I’d met several middle school reporters during my visit to the Colorado International Reading Association Conference in February.
Click HERE and connect to Collin Colaizzi and his write-up of author and Writing Guru Ralph Fletcher’s talk on the importance of a Writer’s Notebook.

It turns out that, despite my long-gone teenage years and my lack of Tech savvy, my  Inner Luddite and I have had One Swell Time CLICKING and CONNECTING this past week, occasioning numerous opportunities to showcase our gelasins.

(Click HERE if you’re eager to learn last week’s A.Word.A.Day.)

Who knows?
Maybe someday soon I’ll be CLICKING and MANUFACTURING, thanks to the opportunities and possibilities of  Tech’s newest child, 3-D Printing!


Happy Clicking and Connecting!
Esther Hershenhorn

Be sure to click HERE to enter to win Tamera Wissinger’s Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse. You only have until 11 pm, Wednesday, March 13.