Friday, August 30, 2013

Guest Teaching Author! Book Giveaway!

Happy Friday! As I promised on Wednesday, today I'm bringing you an author who turned a close encounter with nature into a joyful and educational picture book. That author is Lisa Morlock.

Lisa works as a writer and educator in Urbandale, Iowa. She has taught middle school through college language arts classes, worked as a secondary administrator, and written and edited for Perfection Learning Corporation and Meredith Corporation. She has led writing workshops with TAG students and teacher workshops on the nature-literacy connection, as well as guesting for whole-school visiting author programs. In addition, Lisa currently serves as the Assistant Regional Advisor for SCBWI-Iowa.

Lisa's picture book, her first, is Track that Scat! (Sleeping Bear Press, 2012). From the publisher:

When Finn and her dog Skeeter set out on a hike to cure their restless feet, they literally take a step into nature. A big gooey step...right into scat (also known as poop). And just like the animal it comes from, scat comes in all shapes and sizes. Scat, along with foot or paw tracks, can tell a lot about the creature who produced it.

As Finn's hike takes her further into the woods, she happens along some scat and tracks from a variety of woodland creatures.

Pairing punchy rhyme with science writing, Lisa Morlock has created the perfect nature guide, providing detailed descriptions of the prints, diets, and behaviors of the animals that Finn and Skeeter encounter along their hike. Watch your step!

School Library Journal said about the book:  "If the need arises to teach children how to identify wild animal scat, start with this picture book . . . The large spreads are inviting, and the dog, a basset hound, is cute, cute, cute, and the gross factor is likely to draw kids in." included the book on their Spring 2012 Kids' Indie Next List.

Track that Scat! is like two books in one. Younger readers/listeners will giggle through the bouncy rhyming story, and older ones will enjoy the nonfiction info in Lisa's conversational sidebars. A winning combination! Speaking of winning, YOU can win a signed copy of the book! Details at the end of this post.

Lisa was kind enough to answer a few questions for us. (Added bonus:  art by the book's illustrator, Carrie Anne Bradshaw)

What made you want to write a nature story, and Track that Scat! in particular?

As a family we spend a lot of time outdoors. Children love exploring and getting dirty and being free – all the things that happen outside.

I wrote Track that Scat! after my son and his friend managed to find a big flock of geese sitting on a pond. Once the geese saw two boys running their way, they took flight. Geese poop up to a third of their body weight per day, so guess what was left behind....

The boys' shoes were covered in green goose scat. That's when I realized it:  kids love poop talk and aninals. There's so much to learn from tracks and scat.

Also, more and more research supports a nature-literacy-mental health connection, so I do like to see kids get outdoors. 

From the book:

          Finn lands upon a hollow log
          And yells, "Come on!" to that old dog.
          Five-toed tracks, like handprints–see?
          A messy pile beneath the tree.

          A den! Her hound plays show-and-smell–
          dry leaves, fish bones, a walnut shell.

          With one tromp-stomp
          Finn's foot goes splat.
          Oh no!
          Right into ... 

          ... raccoon scat!

What made you decide to write the story in rhyme?

I love rhyming stories. And good rhyming stories make great read-alouds! They're fun, kids anticipate words, and the repetition allows for participation.
As a past teacher, I look for stories that combine factual tidbits in a fun, fictional storyline. The characters pull kids in, but there's an added educational benefit that stays with them.

Where there any challenges between acceptance and publication?
After the story was accepted and edited, the publisher wanted to hear it in 3rd person rather than 1st person. At first, I didn't see how it could work, but changing the point of view made it much stronger. I'm so glad for the suggestion.
Another surprise was a character change. My son, Will, and his buddy, Jaden, were muses for the story. When the artwork came back, the main character was a girl. They were nine at the time and quite disappointed with the pigtails.

What are you working on now?

I am working on another Finn and Skeeter story, a biography, a middle grade novel, and scads of other tales.


Something to look forward to! Thanks for the interview, Lisa, and THANKS, too, for donating a signed copy of Track that Scat!

Jill Esbaum

To win Track that Scat!, enter our contest below through Rafflecopter. If you aren't sure how it works, read this. And click here to learn the difference between signing in with Facebook vs. signing in with your e-mail address.

Choose one option for entering, or more (if you want to increase your odds of winning). The giveaway will run through Friday, September 6th. Good luck!

(After you've entered, head on over to Tara's A Teaching Life blog for today's Poetry Friday round-up.)

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Wednesday Writing Workout

Today's Wednesday Writing Workout is one adapted (with permission) from a blog post by Pulitzer Prize Finalist author Lee Martin. Martin writes both fiction and nonfiction and teaches in the MFA program at Ohio State. The following exercise is a simplified version of one he has used with his advanced undergraduate creative nonfiction students. You can find his version here if you wish.

1.  Locate yourself in the natural world.

2.  Sketch in the sensory details of the place. Take in your surroundings. What do you see and feel? Now close your eyes. What sounds stand out? Can you distinguish specific scents?

3.  Let those details lead you to a statement that expresses a mood. This is simplest if you go ahead and use the word "feel" in your statement. The way the leaves whisper high above my head makes me feel wistful, wishing to be up there among them, sharing secrets. Or Far away a dog howls for attention, making me feel lonely.

4.  Carry that mood inward. Make statements about what being in that place is like for you. Martin suggests:  Being in this place makes me feel/wonder/think/question. . . .

5.  Come back to one of the details of the place, perhaps a detail that you featured in the first step of this activity. This time find something new in that detail. Martin suggests, for instance:  I keep coming back to the sight/sound/smell of. . . .    Why does that detail stand out for you?

Putting yourself into the natural world, allowing yourself to see and experience it more deeply, can open you – and your writing - in ways that may surprise you. Or even trigger an idea for a brand new project.

Come back Friday to meet an author who turned a close encounter with nature into a joyful and educational picture book.

Happy writing!

Jill Esbaum
P.S.  You can still enter our contest to win a copy of Sonya Sones' new novel in verse, To Be Perfectly Honest. Click here!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Listen Up and Share a (Real Life) Story!

I love how good ol’ Serendipity works.

There I was,                                                                                         
roaming my terrific City of Chicago on a gorgeous August Saturday,
wondering what I could write today to meaningfully follow my colleagues’ posts about Real Life sparking fiction,
when what do I come upon,
in the northeast corner of the Chicago Cultural Center,
but the StoryCorps Chicago StoryBooth!

StoryCorps is THE perfect vehicle to help us turn Real Life stories into well-told,
worth-listening-to-and-sharing NON-fiction,
and thus the PERFECT subject to punctuate our past weeks' discussion.
FYI: StoryCorps is the independent national nonprofit oral history organization whose mission is “to provide people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of our lives.”
I love its tag line: “Every voice matters.”

Since it began in 2003, StoryCorps has collected and archived more than 45,000 interviews with nearly 90,000 participants.  Each conversation is recorded on a free CD to share; the CD is preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

Millions listen to weekly broadcasts of these conversations on NPR’s Morning Edition, on Listening pages, in podcasts and via books and animation.

The StoryBooth is here to stay in Chicago for the next three years, if not longer.  The box-like structure is actually a compact recording studio hooked up with a soundboard, a small table with two chairs, two microphones and the requisite box of tissues.

Thanks to StoryCorps’ partnership with the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, the Chicago Public Media and Chicago Public Radio station WBEZ, anyone has the opportunity to record a 40-minute conversation with a loved one. 

For years, I’ve shared this little-known national storytelling organization with teachers, librarians, young writers and especially their families.

 StoryCorps’ National Day of Listening is celebrated the day after Thanksgiving.  This year, come November 29, everyone is invited to use a smart phone, tablet, computer or tape recorder to record an interview with a loved one.
Do-It-Yourself Instruction Guidelines are free and easy to follow.
As for what questions to ask – on the day after Thanksgiving or on any day you’re wanting to learn another person’s story, check out this printer-friendly version of Great Questions to Ask.

It’s StoryCorps’ Story Questions – and Question Generator - that first grabbed my writing teacher’s eye.
The Story Questions gift Family Literacy Night participants - or -   First-Day-of-School Classmate Interviewers - or - even New Student/New Teacher/New Principle Biographers - with easy-to-understand opportunities to enrich their storytelling.

Even better, they also gift any writer of fiction wanting and needing to know his characters more fully.
Back Story is everything when it comes to knowing our characters – fictive or real.
IMHO: the StoryCorps questions also make for rich additions to Jeanne Marie’s WWW – “Where I’m From…” exercise.

do visit WBEZ’s StoryCorps Chicago StoryBooth  if you get the chance - or - simply stop by the StoryCorps website and spend time listening, learning, reading and questioning.

And, stay tuned!
Maybe one of these days I’ll invite my fellow Chicago Teaching Author Carmela Martino to meet me at the Chicago Cultural Center so we can record our story?  :)

Esther Hershenhorn

Don’t forget to enter our Book Giveaway to win a copy of Sonya Sones’ newest novel in verse To Be Perfectly Honest.

Click HERE for the Details.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Unreliable Narrator: Verse Novelist Sonya Sones is Lying! Autographed Book Giveaway AND Poetry Friday!

Howdy, Campers! Betsy H. is hosting Poetry Friday today at I Think in Poems. Thank you, Betsy!

At the end of this post are:
1) the details of today's Book Giveaway of an autographed book by verse novelist Sonya Sones;
2) one of Sonya's deliciously enigmatic poems.

However, if you came here to meet Sonya and learn all about her newest YA novel, I'm sorry to say you'll be disappointed.  Sonya just called--she had a dental appointment and couldn't be here today.

 Exclusive photo of Sonya Sones and her dentist.

I lied.  Sonya doesn't need to see the dentist--her teeth are gleaming!  Say hello to my long-time friend, critique buddy, fab author and poet, Sonya Sones:
 photo by Ava Tramer
Her novels-in-verse include: Stop Pretending, One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies, (great title!), What My Mother Doesn’t Know (one of the top 100 most challenged books of the decade) and its companion, What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know.

Sonya has graciously agreed to reveal the very first poem in her book that isn't even out yet and YOU, Campers, will be among the very first readers of this poem!  Her newest book, To Be Perfectly Honest (A Novel Based on an Untrue Story) (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers), comes out on August 27 and is full of lies. 

Sonya is an original in the best sense of the word. She and I met in poet Myra Cohn Livingston's Master Class.  When Myra died, her students hosted classes at our homes, teaching each other the fine points of poetry.

When it was Sonya's turn to host, she surprised us by hiring a drummer who gave each of us a drum and taught us different rhythms for an hour!  An unforgettable way to instruct and inspire.

She continues to inspire me, always thinking of new ways of telling a story.  I'll never forget the day Sonya said she'd decided to write a novel in verse with an unreliable narrator.  I was lucky to witness the unfolding of what became To Be Perfectly Honest (A Novel Based on an Untrue Story).

Here's a bit of what School Library Journal says about this book:
"Sones captures the ache of first love. Readers may find themselves laughing, crying, and wanting to believe the unreliable, well-developed narrator. Excerpts may make for a stepping stone to William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Like Shakespeare’s play, this title lends itself to discussion about healthy relationships, setting limits, defining oneself, and evaluating what is real. Fast paced and great for reluctant readers.”

Sonya!  Welcome to TeachingAuthors' humble abode!  How did you officially become a TeachingAuthor?

I officially became a teaching author the day I volunteered to teach a poetry writing workshop to my son’s fourth grade class. I gave each student a donut and told them they couldn’t eat it until they gave me a simile to describe it. The rest is history.

Besides bringing donuts, what's one piece of advice you have for teachers?

Make poetry fun! Don’t only expose your students to classic poetry. I teach workshops to middle-schoolers and high-schoolers, and I find that they respond with more enthusiasm to current poetry. There’s a very funny poem by Billy Collins called “Introduction to Poetry,” about tying a poem to a chair and trying to beat a confession out of it, that might be a good place to start. There’s another one called “Pearl” by Dorianne Laux, which is a fabulous portrait of Janice Joplin. Try reading that poem to them and challenging them to write a poem about their own favorite musician. And there’s a great very short love poem by Eve Merriam called “New Love.”

Don’t force students to memorize and analyze. If you choose the right poems, your students will feel the words washing over them like a cool ocean breeze on a broiling hot day. Your goal should be to teach them how to love poetry, not how to “understand” it.

Whoops. Was that more than one piece of advice?

Sonya crossing her eyes with the Book Café Club
at La Salle Academy in Providence, RI

Who's counting?  Please tell us the Cinderella story of how you sold your first book.

I didn’t sell my first book. Or my second book. Or my third. That was when I decided to enroll in a poetry class at UCLA extension taught by the brilliant Myra Cohn Livingston. She set me on the path to writing Stop Pretending. I finished it just before the annual SCBWI conference in Century City and brought my manuscript with me. There, I attended a presentation by a very young  agent  (he was only 24 years old!) named Steven Malk who gave a speech about why you should have an agent if you wrote or illustrated for kids. Then halfway through the speech, he switched over to talking about why that agent should be him. He was so persuasive that after his talk 75 authors ran up to him to ask for his business card. But I hung back, not wanting to crowd him.

Later that day, however, I found myself in the lobby, and there he was, standing all by himself.  Even so, a friend had to convince me to go up and talk to him. But I finally did and I said, “I wrote a book about what happened when my big sister was sent to a mental hospital, it’s written in verse, it’s sort of edgy, and I was wondering if I could send it to you.” He said, “Okay.” And that was it. A twenty second conversation. I mailed it to him on Wednesday. He called me on Friday to tell me how much he liked it. And by the following Wednesday he had a bidding war going. That week remains one of the most astonishing and exhilarating times of my entire life.

I love that story.  And now I've learned that To Be Perfectly Honest (A Novel Based on an Untrue Story) is also available as an audiobook in CDs and MP3, narrated by Kate Rudd, who also narrated John Greene's The Fault in Our Stars.   

I want your life!

What's on the horizon for you?

A lot of traveling! Simon and Schuster is sending me on a book tour: Chicago, D.C., Miami, San Francisco, Menlo Park, Pasadena, Ontario, Raleigh and Phoenix. Then, in October, I’ll be going to Hong Kong where I’ve been invited by Hong Kong Baptist University to participate in an International Writer’s Workshop for a month. I’ve never been to that part of the world, and I’m very much looking forward to this grand adventure. And wherever I go, I will be scanning the horizon for stories…
Oh my gosh!  I'm exhausted just reading your itinerary!  I know you'll meet interesting folks on the way!
Sonya, meeting a fan.
photo by Ava Tramer

And finally, since it's Poetry Friday in the Kidlitosphere, please share a poem!

This is the first poem from To Be Perfectly Honest (A Novel Based on an Untrue Story):

They Tell Me There Was an Accident
by Sonya Sones

Though I can’t
remember it happening.
Here’s what I do remember:

I remember climbing into a limo
with my little brother Will to visit our mom
on the set of her latest film.

It smelled
like someone had been
smoking pot in there.

Or maybe drinking champagne.
Or throwing up.
Or all three.

Sort of like
our living room
after one of Mom’s all-night parties.

I remember
rolling down the window
for some breathable air

while Will bounced around,
like he always does
when we’re in a limo,

telling me
one goofy knock-knock joke
after another.

I remember turning onto Sunset Boulevard,
and seeing a massive billboard
of a guy wearing nothing but jeans—

his fly unzipped
just low enough
to make me look twice.

Will saw it too.
He grinned at me and lisped through the gap
where his baby teeth used to be, “Thex thells!”

Sex sells?
How does a seven-year-old even know that?
I was just about to ask him—

but I never got the chance. 
poem © 2013 Sonya Sones. All rights reserved

Newsflash: Sonya's own three-book box set of trade paperbacks, The Sonya Sones Collection, will be released the same day To Be Perfectly Honest (A Novel Based on an Untrue Story) comes out. Sonya's comment: "Wow...a new boxed Calvin Klein and I both have collections."

Visit her at, follow her on Twitter, and for goodness sake friend her on FaceBook!                                                           

Thank you for offering our readers a chance to win a copy of your new book (details below) and thanks for stopping by, Sonya!

And now, for the Book Giveaway details:

We use Rafflecopter. If you've never entered a Rafflecopter giveaway, you may want to read their info on how to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway and/or the difference between signing in with Facebook vs. with an email address.

To enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of
To Be Perfectly Honest (A Novel Based on an Untrue Story) log into Rafflecopter below (via either Facebook or an email address). You'll see that we've provided three different options for entering the giveaway--you can pick one or up to all three. The more options you choose, the greater your chances of winning. While we haven't made it a requirement for entering, we hope that everyone will WANT to subscribe to the TeachingAuthors blog. We give you several ways of doing so in the sidebar, for example, via email, Facebook Networked Blogs, Jacketflap, Bloglovin', etc.

If you're already a TeachingAuthors subscriber, you need only click on the first option below and tell us how you follow our blog, which will give you THREE entries in the giveaway! (If you received this post via email, you can click on the Rafflecopter giveaway link below to enter.)

As it says in the "Terms and Conditions," this giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. You must be 18 or older to enter. And please note: email addresses will only be used to contact winners. The giveaway will run from now through August 29, 2013.

If you have any questions about the giveaway, feel free to email us at teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com. 

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merrily posted by April Halprin Wayland and her dog, Eli...who wish you a Happy New Year and shyly remind you about April's award-winning book, New Year at the Pier--a Rosh Hashanah Story

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Wednesday Writing Workout: Untitled

As Carmela pointed out, it's only fitting that my final post should be a Wednesday Writing Workout, given my usual agony over finding appropriate material to share in this space.

My college semester begins on Monday, and I've been trolling the Internet for ideas to borrow and steal.  My chief goal this year is to get students more invested in what they're writing.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've been reading Debbie Macomber's Once Upon a Time: Discovering Your Forever Story.  I was struck by her observation that the prevalent themes in her writing were set in her life from early childhood.  As a children's book writer, I can certainly say this is true for me.  In fact, I often worry that I have only a few stories to tell, and it is a relief to hear from such a prolific writer that there is hope for me. 

At a recent writers' conference, I heard bestselling author Sylvia Day tell the audience that the prevailing theme of everything that she writes is "survival."  When she put it this way, I immediately know that mine is identity.  Who am I?  Where is my place in this world?

Here is an exercise I found based on a George Ella Lyon poem titled "Where I'm From."  I think everything I might ever have to write about is touched upon somewhere in my responses.  Try it and, if you're so inclined, share what you come up with.  Happy writing!  --Jeanne Marie

Monday, August 19, 2013

Hasta La Vista

I've enjoyed reading my fellow Teaching Authors' current series of posts about turning "life into art."  Of course, as Mary Ann indicates, nearly all of us get our ideas from some event we've experienced in life, even though some of us (not I) might be more inclined to use them in the context of a dystopian novel set on Mars in the year 3013.   

I recently attended a writing conference where author Erica Bauermeister was the inspiring keynote speaker.  She told us that her first manuscript was a memoir.  It received positive feedback from editors but was not, ultimately, published because (to paraphrase) no one wants to read the non-dysfunctional real-life story of someone who's not famous.  However, an editor asked her to pitch something else, and she ultimately embarked on a project that became two books: 500 Great Books for Women and Let's Hear It for the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14.  Reading hundreds of novels for those projects was a terrific education, Bauermeister says.  However, by the time she had completed this gargantuan task, she was nearly 50 when she wrote her first novel -- which was promptly published and became a bestseller.  She said that she is convinced that she was not ready to write fiction until she had done a certain amount of living -- in her case, raising children, moving to Italy -- and that bits of those stories were scattered throughout her fictional characters' lives.

I have done a ton of "living" in this last decade since marrying and having children.  It has also, not coincidentally been the least productive writing decade of my life.  Juggling three jobs and two kids is getting easier as they are now entering first and third grade (and I just sent them off a few mintues ago for day #1).  I remember when we were at Vermont College and JoAnn Early Macken's children were young.  The constant theme of her writing then was time (or the lack thereof).  Ah, how I can relate! 

And so I have determined that it's time to take back a little time for myself so that I can write about the experiences I've now had the privilege of seeing through my children's eyes.  Instead of writing ABOUT writing, I'm going to just write. 

This isn't exactly a "goodbye post" (for one thing, I have one more blog post to write), but more like a "see you soon."  It has been great getting to know all of you through Teaching Authors over these past four years. 

I wish everyone a wonderful school year and a happy, productive writing year, too!  --Jeanne Marie 

Also, don't forget--time is running out to enter our giveaway for a chance to win one of two copies of Esther's terrific new board book, Txtng Mama Txtng BabySee her blog post for details. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Finding Inspiration from Life

Last week, when Esther introduced her brand new baby board book, Txtng Mama Txtng Baby (which you can still enter our drawing to win!), she explained how the book was inspired by her yet-to-be born grandson. As a follow-up, the other TeachingAuthors are sharing our own examples of how real life has inspired our stories. On Monday, Mary Ann talked about how the ideas for several of her books came from things that happened to her, her daughter, or family friends.

I've blogged before about how my novel, Rosa, Sola, was based on personal experiences, experiences I'd never considered writing about until I was working on my MFA at Vermont College. I don't want to bore our long-time readers by repeating that story. (If don't know it, you can read this blog post from 2010.) Instead, I'd like to share a bit about the inspiration for the first children's short story I ever had published, which appeared in the August 1999 issue of Pockets magazine.

I've talked before about why I think Pockets is a great market. One of the reasons is that their theme list is posted online, along with submission deadlines. That theme list inspired me to write a story specifically for them.

The theme I chose to address was discrimination. On reading that word, the first ideas that came to mind had to do with discrimination based on race or some other physical trait. But the magazine's theme description encouraged writers to think beyond the obvious forms of discrimination. That's when I turned to real life for inspiration.

At that time, my husband helped out with a ministry at our church that picked up surplus items from a local Hostess Foods thrift store to share with the needy. My husband's assignment was to bring the extra bread, fruit pies, and Twinkies to a nearby youth home/correctional facility. One day, the box of surplus food he picked up consisted almost entirely of Twinkies. When he carried the Twinkies into the youth home, one of the kids said, "Hey, look. It's the Twinkie Man!" That soon became my husband's nickname at the facility.

The children there began to look forward to my husband's visits. One day, as he dropped off another box of goodies, one of the boys in the home asked my husband to pray for him. When my husband came home and told me that, my heart went out to the boy. Before that request, I hadn't thought much about what it was like for the children in the facility. Part of me assumed that the kids sent there had to be "bad kids." For the first time, I realized that they were simply kids that had made bad choices. They were no different from my own son, who was around 10 years old at the time.

My son occasionally went with my husband to the Hostess thrift store to help him load up the food. Because of the correctional facility's rules, my son wasn't allowed to go into the facility with my husband. But I began to wonder: What if he was allowed inside? What if he looked down on (in other words, discriminated against) the kids there and thought he was "better than they were." And what if a boy incarcerated there had surprised my son by asking him for prayers?

The answers to those questions became the inspiration for my short story, which I called "The Twinkie Man." It's about a boy who helps his father make deliveries to a youth home and learns that the kids there are really no different than he is. I was happy and honored to have Pockets magazine accept the story for publication. However, I was a bit disappointed when they changed the title to "The Cupcake Man." That just doesn't have the same ring to it. J

The first paragraph of the published story reads:
They call my dad the Cupcake Man. It's not because he likes cupcakes. I've never even seen him eat one. He got the name because of his volunteer work.
(See what I mean about the title change--the third sentence would be more believable--and entertaining--if it was referring to Twinkies and not cupcakes!)

I want to emphasize that, even though I based this story on real-life events, I never would have written it at all if not for the theme idea and deadline set by Pockets magazine. So I'm as grateful to the magazine editors as I am to my husband, the original "Twinkie Man," for inspiring my story. And, like Mary Ann, I continue to take note of interesting and unusual dialogue, characters, and settings I encounter that may help shape and inspire my fiction.

Don't forget--time is running out to enter our giveaway for a chance to win one of two copies of Esther's terrific new board book, Txtng Mama Txtng BabySee her blog post for details.

And when you're finished entering the giveaway, head over to check out the terrific Poetry Friday round-up at Steps and Staircases.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

V is for Viper: The Word Game

     Remember school vocabulary tests?  Lists of words that you probably would never use again once you took your college boards?  (I don't remember the last time I used the word pusillanimous, do you?)

     Those old words lists did have their uses. Occasionally a decent word popped up, one that you could use in every day life without sounding pompous or pretentious (like those two words, for instance.)

     My writing camps this summer had some outstanding writers. I did not realize at first, that roughly half of my campers were ESOL students (English Speakers of Another Language.)  The only giveaway was a somewhat limited vocabulary.  They tended to use the same words five and six times within a couple of paragraphs.

     My Young Author camps are about fostering a love of writing...not to teach grammar, spelling or punctuation.  That's the job of the school.  However, without a good working vocabulary, your writing will never improve.  In other years, I have had kids keep vocabulary lists...words they have come across in reading, or have heard, to look up on their own. This year's group was much much younger than usual, and were not reading particularly challenging books.  So how to build vocabulary and still have fun?

    The Word Game.

     This is actually a rip off of one of my favorite games, Scategories. Scategories is played with 4-8 people.  Categories are called out (colors, dog breeds, sports) and then a letter. The player has to come up with a color or dog or sport that begins with that letter. Anyone whose answer is duplicated does not get a point. Anyone who find a unique word for that category and letter, scores a point.

     I had the campers write the alphabet down the side of a sheet of notebook paper, as if they were numbering for a spelling test.  I then would announce a category ('actions kids do",  "another word for sad" "an animal") and gave the group five minutes to come up with one word for each letter with double points for "hard" letters (X, Q, V,Y).  When the time was up, the kids shared their lists.

    This worked on several levels.  1) These kids were competitive.  2) They couldn't cheat because duplicate answers didn't count. 3) They learned from each other when they shared their answers with the group. 4) Because it was a  game, no one ever realized we were building vocabulary.

    Best of all, we had fun. So much fun, some days the kids wanted to cut their breaks short and play "The Word Game."  You can't ask for a better result than that!

P.S.  I sometimes use a version of this when I am trying to think of character names rapidly...although as of yet, none of my characters have been named Xavier or Yarnell.

     Don't forget their is still time to enter our latest book giveaway for TA Esther's baby board book TXTING MAMA.  Click here.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Monday, August 12, 2013

Real Life Fiction

     I am a thoroughly unimaginative writer. I had this pointed out to me by a second grader (!!), during the Q & A part of a school visit.

     "Where do you get your ideas?" is always a favorite question.  This particular day I was explaining the origins of My Best Friend and First Grade Stinks (my daughter, Lily), Yankee Girl (my own childhood) and Jimmy's Stars, (my mother's family).  When I finished another little hand waved from the back of the pack,

    "So you just write about your own family?" said the student.

     I had to take a beat before I answered "yes."

     It had never occurred to me before,  All of my stories up to that point did have their origins in family stories.  I come from a family of storytellers, and I grew up always looking for stories of my own to add to the family collection.

     Since then, I have broadened my scope a little.  A Tree for Emmy is based on Lily's best and oldest friend. The Roller Coaster Kid came from the father of my next-door-neighbor.  I am currently working on a short story based on two of Lily's friends,  But try as I may, my stories always seem to begin with a character or situation that I have encountered in my own life.
However, starting off with something that happened in "real life" does not mean that I am merely narrating an actual occurrence.  Life is not so tidy as fiction. Life does not have opening scenes, exposition, a climax and a denouement.  Sometimes life does have those elements, but it also has a lot of extraneous stuff as well.  Fiction has filters.  Fiction has to be shaped.

    Yankee Girl is the book that hews closest to the events of my life.  The first draft was around 400 pages.  I included every detail and incident that happened when I moved to Mississippi as a fifth grader.  While I wrestled to get this sprawling mess into something that resembled a story, I learned a cardinal rule of fiction writing:  Just because something happened, doesn't mean it is important to the story.  For example, your Irish setter may have been in the room when you had a monumental fight with your best friend.  You may have been wearing a pink sweatshirt and matching high tops.  Unless your dog plays an active part in the scene (she jumps on your friend to break up the fight) or what you wear is essential to the character,  these are details that can be cut. They clutter your story.

     Or, as one of my mentors at Vermont College told me over and over, "Because it 'really happened that way' is not a good enough reason to include it in your story."

     She usually followed this admonition with "How does (this detail, character, plot point) move the story along?"  The answer was usually "It doesn't."  And another page of perfectly good but pointless prose would disappear into the "Delete and Save" file.

   I have yet to write a story beginning with a character totally imaginary. I have edged a bit away from the side of the pool, venturing deeper into the wholly fictional end of writing. My current work-in-progress is based on an event that happened to someone my daughter knows.  She doesn't know him well, or any of the details of what "really" happened.  It doesn't matter.  My mind is creating characters, envisioning scenes and hearing conversations. All of this from the offhand remark "Mom, there's this guy at school who..."

    To celebrate the arrival of Esther's new book, TXTNG MAMA TXTNG BABY, in the warehouse, we are extending our giveaway of the book through August 20, 2013. Click here for details.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Friday, August 9, 2013

Babies and Toddlers and Txtng, O My!

              :)  TXTNG  :(

Did you know
that long ago
the Greeks gave us our vowels –
our A and E and I and O
and Y (that sometimes) howls?
Yay! :)

How :( I M
2 c what txtng’s wrought!
When now I tweet
words short n sweet
I X the vowels Greeks brought!

                   * * * * *
How nice 2 B 2day’s TeachingAuthors contributor  to Poetry Friday.
10 Q April Halprin Wayland and CarmelaMartino and Jill Esbaum, our group blog’s “usual” Poetry Friday posters, for allowing me to take this Friday slot and thus continue the celebration of Sleeping Bear Press’ release of my new baby board book soon to arrive in stores everywhere, TXTNG MAMA TXTNG BABY.

FYI: Our week-long celebration includes a Book Giveaway of TWO signed copies of this perfect baby gift of a book.  Click HERE for the details and be sure to enter by next Tuesday, August 13To celebrate the arrival of the book in the warehouse, we've extended the giveaway through August 20, 2013! 

I wrote in Monday’s post how my grandson inspired TXTNG MAMA TXTNG BABY whilst he was in utero.  My Baby Antennae had been (understandably) working overtime.  All I saw – everywhere I looked – were Mamas thumbing their hand-held devices and nearby, babies finger-swiping the same.
     Texting Mamas…
     Texting Babies…
     What’s up with THAT? I wondered.

To answer the above question, and the millions that followed, I spent a whole lot of time (cer10ly longer than my grandson’s gestation!) researching Texting and Technology as well as their impact on Babies and Toddlers.

I needed to know:  just what is text?”
There were definitions aplenty but linguist David Crystal’s TXTNGThe Gr8 Db8 (Oxford University, 2009) allowed the writer in me to understand this language – and – its features, several of which I shared in my Wednesday Writing Workout.
And is texting really killing writing?
There were opinions aplenty.
Fortunately, I came upon Columbia University linguist Dr. John McWhorter’s TED Talk – “Txtng is killing language. JK!!”
McWhorter considers texting “a whole new way of writing,” fingered speech that allows us to write the way we speak, an expansion of a young person’s linguistic repertoire.
Noting texting’s loose structure, McWhorter remarks, “No one thinks about capital letters or punctuation when one texts, but then again, do you think about those things when you talk?”
Click HERE to listen to Dr. McWhorter's TED Talk. Enjoy and learn!

I needed to explore and experience 2day’s Babies’ and Toddlers’ Techy-Techy World, the Digital World in which these smallest of humans live and breath and laugh and learn, not to mention, swipe and tap and thumb.
Every day brought A New Something with A New Action, A New Opportunity, a New Possibility for digital natives, both parent and child.
Hanna Rosin’s comprehensive article “The Touch-Screen Generation” in the April 2013 issue of THE ATLANTIC magazine grounded, informed and enlightened me. 
Click HERE to check it out for yourself, making sure you leave time for the Readers Comments.

Finally, I needed to read and understand the research.

Dr. Marie Donovan and Dr. Roxanne Owen of DePaul University’s College of Education connected me to the Fred Rogers Center for early learning and media at St. Vincent College.
I explored the website, read the studies and findings
and understood instantly the requisite human touch Touch Technology demands when it comes to babies and toddlers and technology.
Click HERE to read their newest posting on imaginary play with technology.

I M still on the hunt for anything and everything that is remotely related to babies, toddlers, texting and technology.
I clip, I cut-and-paste, I purchase, I stockpile.
Wednesday, the Chicago Tribune brought news of smart watches.
Later that afternoon, I discovered the BabyBook Onesie at Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Zen and Now Gift Shop.

Who knows WHAT might juice my Writer’s Muse next week, next month, next year?

4 now, I M Byond :) I was able 2 use this newest of languages 2 cr8 TXTNG MAMA TXTNG BABY and bring my grandson’s Digital World to the ultimate hand-held device: the baby board book.

10 Q for letting me share.

 And Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit the round-up today at NoWaterRiver.

 Esther Hershenhorn

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A-txtng U Shall Go! - 2Day's Wednesday Writing Workout

Welcome 2 2day’s Wednesday Writing Workout, a Txtng Mini-lesson of sorts– and – our continuing TeachingAuthors celebration of my new baby board book soon to arrive in stores  everywhere, TXTNG MAMA TXTNG BABY.

Remember: our celebration includes a Book Giveaway of TWO signed copies of this perfect baby gift of a book, so click HERE for the details and be sure to enter by next Tuesday, August 13, 2013. To celebrate the arrival of the book in the warehouse, we've extended the giveaway through August 20, 2013! 
As I wrote in Monday’s post, it is a Techy-Techy World for 2day’s Babies.
But while researching Texting’s history and the gazillion pros and cons that surround this newest means of expression, I was surprised to learn from linguist David Crystal, author of TXTNG The gr8 db8  (Oxford University, 2009) that

(1) texting’s been around a mighty long time and
(2) most popular beliefs about texting are incorrect, or at least, debatable.
“Its graphic distinctiveness is not a totally new phenomenon,” Crystal writes.  “Nor is its use restricted to the young generation.  There is increasing evidence that it helps rather than hinders literacy.  And only a very tiny part of the language uses its distinctive orthography.”

Crystal identifies several distinctive features of texting, many of which suggest novelty but children’s literature proves otherwise.

For instance, logograms, which use “single letters, numerals and typographic symbols to represent words, parts of words, or even – as in the case of x and z – noises associated with actions.”
Think b, 2, @, x for kiss.
And William Steig’s C D B, first published by Simon & Schuster in 1968!

And Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s WUMBERS (Chronicle Books, 2012).
I especially heart Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s and illustrator Tom Lichtenheld’s dedication:
“We dedic8 this book 2 William Steig, the cr8or of CDB! (cer10ly the inspiration for this book) and so many other cla6.”

In logograms, the pronunciation is what matters, not the visual shape.
Think  : )    (smile)
Think : (     (frown)

An initialism is “the reduction of words to their initial letters."
Think NATO and BBC.  (They are often called acronyms.)
But also think BFF, OMG, GF.
And Lauren Myracle’s ttfn.

Other features include omitted letters (bunsn brnr, txtng, msg), nonstandard spellings (cuz, thanx, ya), shortenings (doc, gov, mob) and genuine novelties (IMHO/in my humble opinion).

What gr8 fn I had imagining Mama’s n Baby’s conversation, using a variety of text features 2 cr8 a book which seems to have some very nice (language) company.  

The teacher in me also liked learning the names of Texting's features. 
I hope you did too!
Esther Hershenhorn

              A-txtng U shall go!

Choose any 2 characters – real, imagined, animal, human, and get them talking, or rather, TXTNG (!) on their smart phones and/or tablets.

What’s the situation?
What’s the problem?

What’s the setting?
                                                  What’s the time?

Are your 2 characters Happy? Sad? Confused? Angry? Hopeful?  Plotting? Nasty? Kind?
In other words, know thy characters.

Think about each character's VOICE.
When considering the messages being thumbed on the keyboard, don't forget word choice, expressions, details, imagery, syntax and tone.

Think about your conversation's beginning – the inciting incident of sorts that gets the messages flowing, the middle, the end. 

Remember what dialogue does for a story: i.e.
(1)   informs the reader
(2)  advances the story
(3)  reveals character

And don’t forget to use a variety of available text features!