Monday, September 30, 2013

I Wonder What Happened to Todd: A Bullies Tale

     October is Anti-Bullying Month, a campaign I did not know existed until I was asked to blog about it.  These days bullying has so many more outlets (thinking here of the many, many ways to cyberbully) that it appears to have reached epidemic proportions.

     When I was growing up, each school year brought a new teacher and a new set of classroom scourges, the Bully Boy and his female counterpart, Mean Girl. Although they were equal opportunity bad guys, picking on whoever struck their fancy, their favorite target was always the Class Goat (usually male.)  As a ten-year-old I wondered how those things were decided. Was there a committee who decided who was going to be the bully and who the bullied?

     If you have read my book Yankee Girl, you know my history of being the Class Goat, although at the time I didn't think of myself that way. As an adult I can see that Mean Girls are bullies the same as the boy in my second grade class who had a nasty habit of throwing bricks at recess. However, I wasn't the only Class Goat in fifth and sixth grades.  There was Todd (not his real name).

    On the days when people weren't putting chewed gum on my bus seat, calling me names (none of which can I mention here) or "accidentally" dropping their lunch trays on me, there was Todd to abuse.  What happened to me was subtle enough to be done in front of a teacher and passed off as an "oopsy" if caught. Todd was just plain tortured.  We waited for the teacher to leave the room to work over Todd.

   I say "we" because while I didn't actively participate, I did nothing to stop it either. Part of me knew that standing up for Todd wouldn't do any good.  If anyone had less status than Todd, it was me. The other part of me was secretly releived that I had the day off as The Goat.

    Even though Todd lived in my neighborhood, I never saw him outside. He was too terrified to show himself except for his morning sprint to the bus stop, where the name calling and book throwing began the minute he got on.  At the time there was a weird little pull toy that was advertised incessantly on TV, called Odd Ogg. The jungle went "Odd Ogg, Odd Ogg, half turtle and half frog." It wasn't too hard to turn that into "Odd Todd, Odd Todd, Half turtle and half frog."

   Todd was one of the smaller boys in the class.  When the teacher stepped out of the room for a "minute," leaving one of us in charge, (big mistake) that was the signal for our favorite game, "Hide the Todd." Our classrooms had an abundance of cabinets and closets and cubbyholes, just the right size to stash an undersized ten year old. Todd was curled, crumpled and crushed into the supply closet, the teacher's coat closet or under the sink in the back of the room.  In a classroom of forty students, Todd was rarely missed when the teacher came back. On the rare occasions that she noticed that his desk (last one, last row) was empty, she would call "Todd, stop wasting our time with your silly hiding games."  Sometimes Todd didn't reappear until it was time for him to get on the bus ...for more abuse.

     Some time during the summer between sixth and seventh grades, Todd disappeared. I never discovered what happened to him. I don't remember a "For Sale" sign in his yard. Maybe he changed to private school. Maybe he just stopped going to s tool. (Mississippi did not have a mandatory school attendance law at the time, so legally, no one could make you go to school.) I am sorry to say that no one missed Todd or wondered where he went, except for me. I wasn't a junior high humanitarian. My concern was real, but selfish.  With Todd gone, I was the new Fulltime Class Goat for seventh and eighth grades.  All I can say about that was I was too big to shove in a locker and junior high storage space was all under lock-and-key. Still, junior high bullies, particularly Mean Girls, are quite skilled at psychological warfare.

    I got rid of most of my Mean Girl demons by writing Yankee Girl. However, enough fear remained that I did not go ito any of my class reunions until this past year, for fear of running into the real life counterpart of my fictional character, Saranne.  She had continued to make me her favorite target until the day we graduated from high school.  I was relieved when I didn't see her at the reunion.  I later found out that she did come, pulled a few of her old Mean Girl tricks and within an hour learned that the MG act doesn't fly when you are old enough to be a grandmother.  I think I really am, at long last, rid of her ghost.

     I wonder if Todd ever rid himself of us?

   And now for the details of our current book giveaway to win Alexis O'Neill's new book, The Kite That Bridged Two Nations, check April's Friday post for details on entering through Rafflecopter.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Book Giveaway, A Waterfall, an Author wearing a Crown and Poetry Friday!

Howdy Campers and happy Poetry Friday!

See the end of this post for a link to the Poetry Friday round-up at Amy LV's and for info on our Book Giveaway.

Today we're celebrating author Alexis O'Neill's newest book with Book Giveaway! Hark!  Here comes Alexis now:

Yes, that's Alexis wearing the crown--and she deserves it as the author of THE RECESS QUEEN (Scholastic), THE WORST BEST FRIEND (Scholastic), LOUD EMILY (Simon and Schuster), ESTELA'S SWAP (Lee & Low) and her newest offspring, THE KITE THAT BRIDGED TWO NATIONS: Homan Walsh And The First Niagara Suspension Bridge (Calkins Creek). She's also written fiction and nonfiction for Cricket, Spider, Cobblestone, Calliope, Faces, and Odyssey

I've known Alexis since Janet Wong founded the Children's Authors Network (CAN!) during the classical era of the children's literature movement.
 This is where the Children's Authors Network
meetings were held in the early days

Alexis is an absolutely amazing teacher.  In one memorable workshop, she taught CAN! authors how to create and present teacher inservices.  It was an extraordinary presentation and it formed how I respond and present to teachers to this day.

Alexis has golden credentials in the field of education: she's a former elementary teacher with a Ph.D. in teacher education, she's an instructor for the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program, a museum education consultant, a Regional Advisor for SCBWI in California, and a contributor to the SCBWI Bulletin, writing her column, “The Truth About School Visits.” Her blog,, offers practical advice to published authors and illustrators who are trying to navigate the world of public appearances.

This August, she was named SCBWI Member of the Year --and though it was a complete surprise to her (though to no one else), she sang a sea shanty as she accepted the award.

Because that's who Alexis is--generous, original and dramatic.  It's as if her goal is always to bring the classroom, the auditorium, fellow authors--whoever is around--together.  As if she is a shepherd and we are the community she's teaching and keeping safe.
 This is Alexis, keeping us safe.

Her new book, THE KITE THAT BRIDGED TWO NATIONS: HOMAN WALSH AND THE FIRST NIAGARA SUSPENSION BRIDGE (Calkins Creek, September 2013) tells the true, dramatic story of how an ordinary boy earned an extraordinary place in history, using his kite to lay the first line for the first suspension bridge at Niagara Falls in the winter of 1848.  Watch this 1:42 minute book trailer for a taste of the book:

So, Alexis, how did you become a TeachingAuthor?

I’ve been a TeachingAuthor all my life! As a kid, I convinced my dad to hang a blackboard in the garage and persuaded the neighborhood kids to sit in my “class.” After school, I wrote (and sold) a neighborhood newspaper which I composed on my mom’s portable typewriter. As a grown up, I’ve taught elementary school students, teacher education candidates, and, as a published author, writers.

What's a common problem/question that teachers or students have and how do you address it?

Students of all ages are so afraid of being “wrong.” My advice to them is to just play with words! Don’t worry about what other people think of your work. Can’t find a word? Make it up! Or make a mark to come back to that spot later. Just mess around, and in that mess, you might find the seed of an idea that can sprout into a full-blown piece of writing that you will want to share later on. To address this problem when we do writing exercises, I tell students up front that no one will collect their writing – and that they can decide when and what they will share with the group.

 Author Alexis O'Neill picking one lucky student ~

Was there a moment in your life when you knew you were a writer?

The moment I knew I was a writer was when my sixth grade teacher read my report on Ireland out loud to the class. Instead of a dry, factual presentation, I had “pretended,” in my narrative, to be a tour guide who was taking the whole class with her on a trip. First, I was surprised that he read it out loud, then I was really surprised when, at recess, my classmates came up to me and said how much they liked what I had written. That’s when a big light bulb went on over my head. “Wow! I can write for an audience, and not just for my teacher!” I thought.

From that moment on, I made all of my reports as creative as possible. For example, my report on the Alamo was told from the point of view of the only survivor (there were none in reality, but that didn’t stop me.) Now I know I was writing historical fiction. But I kept doing this, and teachers kept reading my work out loud in my classes. The birth of a writer – writing for an audience and not just for a grade from my teachers!

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

by Alexis O'Neill

I am thunder and roar
I am rain and river
Green and white magnificence.
You try to tame me
and you fail.
In barrel and boat
I spin you,
plunge you
crush you,
drown you.
A filmy fairy curtain?
Not I!
A lacy veil?
Not I!
I gnaw at rock
bite through cliffs
claw the very bed
across which I race
Out of my way!
I am the great Niagara

poem © 2013 Alexis O’Neill.  All rights reserved

Wow--what a powerful waterfall of words! Thank you for stopping by and thank you for offering our readers a chance to win a copy of your new book (details below), Alexis!

Author Alexis O'Neill making magic
Here's a peek at Alexis's touring schedule for A Kite that Bridged Two NationsBe sure to visit her at, follow her on Twitter, and friend her on FaceBook.                                                   
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
The Kite That Bridged Two Nations 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 October 9, 2013.

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


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thank you, happy Amy LV of the Poetry Farm, for hosting PF today.
Posted by April Halprin Wayland with help from the Link Fairy.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Writing Picture Books (& one last goodbye to Jeanne Marie)

I'm the last one who'll be linking back to a favorite column of Jeanne Marie's as we bid her farewell. I'm choosing her entry from January 30, 2012, Unschooling, in which she talks about the "rules" of writing we're taught – and often need to unlearn.

This is especially true in picture book writing. Authors of published picture books frequently use:

          incomplete sentences
          sentences that begin with A
          one word sentences
          complicated words kids probably won't know
          improper grammar

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Some of my former English teachers would definitely not approve.

                                                           Wikimedia Commons

Think of picture books as performance art. How a story sounds, how page turns move it forward, are huge factors in its success. A certain elementary school librarian I know is the most masterful picture book reader I've ever heard/seen. She's also an actress in local stage productions, so that may be why timid is not in her vocabulary. She'll use multiple voices and volumes, dialects and intonations. Crazy faces. Dramatic pauses. Body language. She'll sing, crow, growl, or bring props from home, when necessary.

That's the kind of reader I'm writing for. One who brings a story to life for the kids who are hearing it, makes them feel a part of the action and empathize with the characters so deeply that they forget they're hearing a story somebody made up. We can only write stories to the best of our abilities and hope there are adults out there who will throw themselves in to the reading of them half as completely as my librarian friend.

When I was starting out, most of the manuscripts I submitted were "safe," meaning that I was careful not to break any rules. It wasn't until I loosened up that editors began to show interest.

Still, I remember dropping certain submissions into the mailbox and immediately wishing I could pull them out again. I worried that the down-home jargon in Stink Soup wouldn't be allowed. That I'd be asked to simplify some of the complicated (but era-appropriate) words in Ste-e-e-e-eamboat A-Comin'! and correct the improper grammar used by the characters in To the Big Top.

More recently, I wondered if a scene would be cut from I Hatched (Jan. '14). This book follows a newly-hatched killdeer chick as he delights in discovering his neighborhood and himself. At one point, he is surprised by ... well, the first time he poops. His story would have felt less authentic, to me, if he didn't poop. Still, I couldn't help wondering if the publisher would put the kibosh on that particular scene.

None of those things happened. Not one. Which freed me to stop worrying about rules and just tell stories the way they need to be told.

Jeanne Marie's final words regarding unschooling were these:

"While most of us can agree on the general precepts of 'good writing,' the first and best rule is ... there are no rules!
find your voice
find your truth
be true to your voice

Amen, sistah.

Jill Esbaum

Friday, September 20, 2013

Children's Poetry Blog Hopping!

Happy Poetry Friday, all! The poem I'm sharing today isn't my best, but it's near and dear to my heart. See the end of this post for a link to today's Poetry Friday round-up.

In case you missed it, in her last post, April tagged me in the brand new Children's Poetry Blog Hop (CPBH). She also tagged Janet Wong, who posted a slightly revised version of April's initial CPBH today. After you're done here, I hope you'll hop on over to read it at .

In April's Sept. 6 post, she introduced Mortimer as the CPBH meme:
Mortimer, from
And then Janet created a new badge, based on it:

isn't he cute!

Janet has slightly modified the CPBH procedure, but I didn't have that info when I wrote this post, so I'm following April's original guidelines:

1) Make up three questions you've always wanted to be asked in an interview about children's poetry and then answer them on your own blog;
2) Invite one, two or three other bloggers who write poetry (preferably children's poetry, but we're broad-minded) to answer any three questions that they make up on their own blogs (they can copy someone else's questions if they'd like)
3) In your post, let us know who your invitees are and when they're are going to be posting their own Poetry Blog Hop questions and answers...if you know the dates.
4) You do not have to use Mortimer, the CPBH meme.

Pretty simple.

I've tagged two fellow children's poets to participate in the Children's Poetry Blog HopLaura Shovan, a children's author and poet-in-the-schools who blogs at Author Amokand Tabatha Yeats, author of nonfiction children's books as well as poetry, who blogs at The Opposite of Indifference. (As you'll see below, Tabatha is hosting today's Poetry Friday round-up.) Be sure to hop on over to read their CBHP posts next week. Laura will share hers at Author Amok on Tuesday, Sept. 24, and you'll be able to read Tabatha's at The Opposite of Indifference on Friday, Sept. 27.

Now for my three (actually four) CPBH questions:
1) When was your first poem published? Would you share it with us?
2) Who was your first poetry teacher?
3) What poetry forms do you like best?

And here are the answers:
1) When was your first poem published? Would you share it with us?
I began writing poetry when I was in sixth or seventh grade, and my first poem was published when I was in high school (I won't tell you what year!), in Crystals in the Dark: An Anthology of Creative Writing from the Chicago Public Schools. I was immensely proud to have my writing in this collection (which you might guess, since I still have my copy of the book. J)

However, I had to resist the urge to edit the poem as I typed it up. Here it is, in original form:

My Sanctuary
If I could find a place far away from the world and its sounds,
Distant from the din and clatter of civilization;

Far away from pollution, politics, and people,
Away from worry, death, sorrow, and pain;
The only place that I could think of where I would be
       undisturbed, tranquil, and at peace,
                                                             is within myself.

© Carmela A Martino. All Rights Reserved.

image courtesy of morguefile

I went on to have several of my poems published in our high school yearbook,. After that, though, I pretty much gave up on writing poetry until many years later, when I began writing for children. Which leads into my second question:

2) Who was your first poetry teacher?
In high school and college, I studied poetry only as a reader, not a writer. While I did participate in some workshops on using poetry techniques in fiction at Vermont College, I didn't take my first poetry-writing class until 2002. That's when I attended a four-week workshop by poet and author Heidi Bee Roemer, "The ABC's of Children's Poetry." I learned so much from Heidi in that short time. The weekly assignments challenged us to write poetry in a variety of forms. And that leads into my third question:

3) What poetry forms do you like best?
The poems I wrote in junior high and high school were usually either free verse or rhyming couplets. It wasn't until I was in Heidi's class that I dared experiment with other forms, including triplets, quatrains, limericks, terse verse, and shape poems. Thanks to the confidence I gained in Heidi's class, I went on to have a terse verse poem published in Pocket's magazine, and a poem in two voices published in Chicken Soup for the Soup: Teens Talk High School. Since then, I've tried my hand at list poems, found poems, diamante poems, sonnets, and just about any form that strikes my fancy. Heidi's class, along with poetry-related posts by my fellow TeachingAuthors, and inspiring posts by members of the Poetry Friday community, have opened me to new poetry worlds.

That's it for today. Now hop on over to Tabatha's Poetry Friday round-up at The Opposite of Indifference --she's also featuring several giveaways that may be of special interest to teachers.

Happy Writing!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wednesday Writing Workout: Encouragement

The Dot is a story about encouragement: A generous teacher refuses to give up on a student she believes in. It’s also about determination: The student realizes she can do better, goes back, and tries again. And persistence: Over and over, she faces the blank page, experimenting with colors and sizes.

Today’s Wednesday Writing Workout, inspired by The Dot, focuses on encouragement.

As writers, we have to be our own cheerleaders, coaches, and fans.

Here are some suggestions for remaining positive about your work:

  • Print your title page. Frame it. Hang it above your desk or computer.
  • Write yourself an encouraging note. Remember to be kind to yourself. Writing is hard!
  • Get enough sleep. As my mom used to say, everything looks better in the morning.
  • As Julia Cameron says in The Artist’s Way, fill the well! Visit a museum. Hike through the wilderness. Paddle around with a pal.
  • Celebrate every victory, no matter how tiny. Invite writer friends who understand to join the party, and be sure to celebrate their victories, too!
Happy writing!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Mushing Through the Days (and Middles) of our Lives

I am unabashedly a Big Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford Fan.
Like our readers and my fellow TA’s, I shall sorely miss her Monday posts.

Who else but Jeanne Marie could spend her days telling the sentimental soap opera saga of the rootable Hortons – “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives!” - while grounding our TeachingAuthors readers in the Truthful Realities of her Every-Day’s-a-Balancing-Act Writer’s Life?

No wonder my Favorite Jeanne Marie post is “The Middle,” with her March 15, 2010 “Job Description” a close second.

“In life,” Jeanne Marie wrote in her January 2 New Year’s post in 2012, “it occurs to me that we tend to focus a tremendous amount of our energy and attention on beginnings and endings -- the weddings and the funerals, as it were.  But it's the vast middle that comprises the bulk of our existence.  Likewise, in writing, we start with an idea -- a character, a situation, a premise.  Usually we know where we want to start and where we want to go.  But it's the getting there that makes the story, breaks the story, or too often stops us from finishing the story.  After the sexy thrill of the beginning fades, we must still live there, in the treacherous middle, for a very long time before we can ever type THE END.
“Ain’t that the truth!” I sighed.

It just so happens, speaking of soap operas, I am the Susan Lucci of Children’s Books.
I know all about Middles.
My Children’s Book Writing Quest had a Middle so vast, four American Presidents came and went, and two were re-elections.

My Beginning was terrific.  It got me going.
My Ending was even better than I’d – continually and creatively - imagined.
Making it through my Middle, though, proved my mettle.

Because that’s what Middles do, be they the sagging centers of the stories we write or the seemingly never-ending mid-sections of the writer’s story we’re living.
They prove our mettle, as in strength of character and spirited determination.
Think courage, bravery, guts, grit, nerve, pluck, resolve, valor, vigor and cojones.
Everything our Heroes and Heroines must do we must do too.
We keep on keepin' on.

At the end of Jeanne Marie’s post, she shared her writing mantra – “Slow and steady,” giving me another opportunity to shout “Ain’t that the truth!”

As luck would have it, while thinking about Middles and today’s post, I received my daily email from marketing guru Seth Godin.  It was titled “The Red Lantern.”  Thank you to my writer, Dr. Carol Swartz of UNC Charlotte, for connecting me to this brilliant blog and thank you, Seth Godin, for gifting me with the perfect ending to my Jeanne Marie tribute.

The Red Lantern Award is presented to the Iditarod musher who makes it through that grueling event's middle and finishes... last.  Godin put forth that this type of award should be offered more often, for all sorts of endeavors - school projects, performances, competitions. 

This year, the Red Lantern Award was presented to rookie musher Christine Roalofs on March 17.  She and her team made it to Nome from Willow in 13 days, 22 hours, 36 minutes and 8 seconds.
That’s a whole lot of sand (and snow and mud) through the hourglass!

Thank you, Jeanne Marie, for grounding me in the Real World these past four years.  You kept me keeping on.

Onward and mush!

Your Fan Esther Hershenhorn

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Favorite Jeanne Marie Post, Monarchs, and International Dot Day!

I’m so happy to be back in the Teaching Authors fold—I’ve missed you guys! As other TAs have been doing, I’m sharing one of my favorite Jeanne Marie posts, from January of this year. What I most enjoy about this post is the sense of optimism despite an accumulation of obstacles. What I can identify with (like so many writers I know) are the hurdles of family and work obligations. No one has all the time in the world to write, but we just keep trying, don’t we? (Go, JM!)

Yes, I can identify. As I write this, I’m baking homemade granola (and oh, does it smell good! I substituted almond extract for the vanilla called for in the recipe), keeping one ear tuned to the dog in the backyard, and periodically looking for migrating hummingbirds on the feeder outside the window in front of me—all positive endeavors, a refreshing change from winter and spring!

After spending much of my summer observing, photographing, and writing about monarch eggs, caterpillars, and butterflies, today I released the last butterfly, which popped out of its chrysalis inside the protective mosquito net tent in our backyard. In its honor, I’ve written a new monarch poem.

Fragile wings unfold—
orange petals opening.
Blooming butterfly!

The old monarch tent, tattered and holey from some unknown attacker, has probably reached the end of its usefulness. Although I hate to toss it, I think it’s time.

And so we move on.

Today feels like autumn: cool weather has finally returned to Wisconsin (look at those clouds!), fall classes are in full swing, and I’m working on several promising manuscripts while outlining a new nonfiction educational series. I detect a sense of determination in the air. Wish me luck!

September 15 is International Dot Day! The celebration began four years ago when a teacher read The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds to his students. In this gentle picture book, a teacher who cares helps a student find her own way to be creative. More than a million people are registered to celebrate International Dot Day this year. Read all about it:
Then go make your mark!

This week’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at Teach Mentor Texts.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wednesday Writing Workout: Creating a "Rootable" Character

As Mary Ann mentioned on Monday, we're saying "farewell" to Jeanne Marie by linking back to one of our favorites of her 101 TeachingAuthor posts. And since today is Wednesday, I had the added task of choosing a favorite post that also lends itself to a Writing Workout. Turns out, that wasn't very hard. Last July, Jeanne Marie blogged about a picture book writing course she was taking. One of her assignments was to discuss the contents of her Writer's Toolbox. She shared an excerpt from her response to the assignment (which I encourage you to go back and read) and talked of the value of reflecting on one's own Writer's Toolbox.

For today's Wednesday Writing Workout, I'd like to focus on the first tool/challenge Jeanne Marie mentioned:
"I think that one of the most challenging aspects of creating a rootable character is finding a way to make him/her likeable and flawed at the same time." 
When I first read this, the term "rootable character" was new to me. I know now that it's simply a character the reader will want to root for. But creating one is not a simple task. In fact, it's something I'm struggling with in my current work-in-progress. Part of my challenge is that my story is set in 18th-century Milan, Italy, a time and place quite removed from my readers. How can I depict my character in a way that modern readers will understand her world well enough to empathize with and understand her feelings and choices?

One way is to find connections between me and my character that I can draw from. In a presentation to the Federation of Children's Book Groups last March, Elizabeth Wein talked about how she found such connections while writing her award-winning historical novel Code Name Verity (Disney-Hyperion) by looking for "modern parallels." But even if you're writing a contemporary story, whether fiction or nonfiction, it's not always easy to make your protagonist "rootable." Before trying the following workout, you may want to read these two articles on the topic: a post by Emilia Plater called "Radical Empathy: Creating a Compelling Flawed Character" on the YA Highway blog, and one by Alex Epstein for the 2012 Script Frenzy site called "We Like Characters Because of Their Flaws, Not Their Virtues."

Writing Workout: Creating a Rootable Character

If you have a work-in-progress, consider your main character. Is he or she too perfect? If so, can you give the character a flaw that readers could relate to and understand? Or, on the flip side, have you created a character readers will dislike? If so, can you show why this character is this way?

If you're starting a new project, spend some time thinking about your main character's flaws. Create a scene in which those flaws are apparent. Need some inspiration? Check out yesterday's Fiction Prompt for Laurie Halse Anderson's Write Fifteen Minutes a Day challenge.

Happy Writing!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Gold Stars Revisited

    As we bid a fond sabbatical to TA Jeanne Marie, we are taking another look at our favorite JM posts. Mine is from June  2011, "Gold Stars."  In this one, JM discusses the pros and cons of rewards for summer reading programs. Shouldn't the act of reading be reward in itself?  This made m think of the larger issue, "Who gives gold stars to writers?"

    There are plenty of rewards out there for published authors.   Not just gold stars, but fancy embossed stickers on book jackets proclaiming this book was the among the best of whatever genre that particular year.  Some are more prestigious than others but still those stickers, and medals and plexiglass trophies are nice to have . They are a tangible "atta-girl" in a field that doesn't provide a lot of them.  

    But there are a lot of books, and comparatively few awards. Even fewer awards mean anything in the way of prestige or, let's face it, book sales. That is if you have first been rewarded by being  published. Some of us, (most of us?) toil year after year, page after page, with nothing more than a bunch of rejection letter/emails to show for our efforts. In the ultimate downer, many publishers, in the interest of saving time and paper, don't even send out rejections any more. If you don't hear anything after a certain amount of time,"we (the publisher) aren't interested." Ouch. We, (the writer) no longer have the satisfaction of weeping and wailing and torching a rejection letter in the fireplace. (I can't be the only one who has done this.)

    Sometimes writing becomes just another thankless task, like housework or driving carpool.  Ralph Waldo Emerson said  "A thing done well is it's own reward." Mr. Emerson never vacuumed or was trapped in a minivan of eye rolling seventh graders, to whom your mere presence was a necessary embarrassment , since thirteen-year-olds don't have drivers' licenses.  There are days when I am either staring at a blank computer screen or playing Candy Crunch Saga. Either way, I am accomplishing the same thing. Nothing. And wondering why I chose to be a writer.

   Even being a published writer doesn't necessarily provide satisfaction. Soon you learn that royalty statements often arrive without royalty checks....because your books hasn't earned enough.   Money isn't everything, but it's hard to tell yourself that you spent years of your life writing something that is earning you only the advance money and not a nickel more. For most of this, that advance can be counted in five figures. I could make more moolah at my local fast food establishment.

   So why do we keep doing this? Where are the gold stars? For me,  they aren't movie options, or Newbery awards or a book going into a 55th printing because it is on the required reading list in all fifty states.

   I have to have hunt for those gold stars. Sorry Mr. Emerson, but a job done well is not it's own reward for me, because I never feel that I have done a job well. I am a terrible judge of my own work, by which I mean, I think nearly everything I write is terrible. 

   Every now and then, I do find those sparkly rewards. A student saying, "I loved your book."  A critique group member saying "Wow, I never would have thought of writing  this story from that point of view." External rewards.

   My most consistent gold star is this: writing is a compulsion. If I never sold another story, I would still write.  Letters, eulogies (I am the official family eulogy writer), this blog. Although a Newbery award would be great (so would a movie option) my real gold star is the knowledge that somewhere, sometime, my writing has connected with someone. Maybe someone like you.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Friday, September 6, 2013

Happy Children's Poetry Blog Hop, Happy New Year, and Happy Poetry Friday!

Howdy, Campers! You have just a few more hours to enter our latest book giveaway (details below)!  AND today we celebrate not one, not two, but three things! Rosh Hashanah, the new Children's Poetry Blog Hop, and Poetry Friday (hosted today by Laura Shovan at Author Amok)!

My PF poem is below.

Thanks, Laura!
*   *   * 
1) Let's start with Rosh Hashanah.  Happy New Year (both the Jewish New Year and the New School Year) to all!  After I put the finishing touches on this post, I going to walk to the end of our pier and toss bits of bread to seagulls and fish as part of a Jewish New Year ritual called tashlich.

My picture book,
New Year at the Pier--a Rosh Hashanah Story
is beautifully illustrated by multi-award-winning illustrator,
St├ęphane Jorisch.
We're both thrilled that our book won the
Sydney Taylor Gold Medal for Young Readers

(essentially the best Jewish picture book of the year)

2) And now on to the Children's Poetry Blog Hop.  Having heard of other blog hops, poet Janet Wong and other kidlitosphere poets have decided to start a Children's Poetry Blog Hop (CPBH) for...who else? Children's poets.

I nominate Mortimer as CPBH's meme:
Mortimer, from

To participate in the Poetry Blog Hop, simply:
1) Make up three questions you've always wanted to be asked in an interview about children's poetry and then answer them on your own blog;
2) Invite one, two or three other bloggers who write poetry (preferably children's poetry, but we're broad-minded) to answer any three questions that they make up on their own blogs (they can copy someone else's questions if they'd like)
3) In your post, let us know who your invitees are and when they're are going to be posting their own Poetry Blog Hop questions and answers...if you know the dates.
4) You do not have to use Mortimer, the CPBH meme. 

That's it!

I've invited author, poet, and web mistress extraordinaire Carmela Martino to the Children's Poetry Blog Hop (it sounds like a sock hop, doesn't it?) Carmela will be posting right here at on September 20th.

On the same day, the marvelously creative author, poet and poetry supporter Janet Wong promises a surprise twist on the blog hop theme.  Find her guest post at and on September 20th! are my three questions:

1) What children's poem do you wish you had written?  Include the poem or link to it.
2) What's your process?  How do you begin writing a poem?
3) Please share one of your poems with us.

And here are my answers:

1) What children's poem do you wish you had written?  Include the poem or link to it.
There are so many!  The first that pops into my mind is Deborah Chandra's "Cotton Candy" from her book, Rich Lizard and Other Poems (FSG)

I met Deborah years ago in Myra Cohn Livingston's master class in writing poetry for children.  Deborah's a stunning craftswoman and looks at the world in madly original ways.  And, as you're about to read, her metaphors are spectacular.  

by Deborah Chandra

like a sweet
it spins itself
A storm
caught on a paper cone.
I hold it up,
the air grows
thick and
with the smell of it.
A pink wind
made of sugar
and smoke,
earth crust,
delicious dust!
poem © Deborah Chandra. All rights reserved

2) What's your process?  How do you begin writing a poem?
Sometimes my process is to start with a word and I spin out from there.  Sometimes I find a poem I admire and imitate its rhythm, meter and form.  Sometimes it's a feeling.  I ask myself, what are you feeling today?  What is true?  What is authentic? And sometimes it's just, you have ten minutes.  Write the damn poem.  (I don't actually use the word damn because, as I'm sure you know, children's authors and poets don't swear.)

3) Please share one of your poems with us.

Here's a Rosh Hashanah/tashlich poem
first published in Jeanette Larson's book,
El dia de los ninos/El dia de los libros: Building a Culture of Literacy in Your Community

by April Halprin Wayland

Shalom to slowly sinking sun
I sing in salty seagull tongue.

But who're these people on my pier?
I sail, I swoop and then fly near.

They're singing, marching up the pier
I think they did the same last year.

A father gives his girl some bread
she scans the waves then tosses crumbs.

I dive, I catch, I taste

I like this ritual at the pier.
I think I'll meet them every year.

I screech my thanks, and then I hear
"L’shanah Tovah!  Good New Year!"

note: Shalom can mean hello, good-bye and peace.

Copyright © 2013 April Halprin Wayland

 Walking up the pier for tashlich in my hometown.
photo by Rachel Gilman

Thanks for stopping by TeachingAuthors today--but wait! Before you head off,  be sure to enter for a chance to win a copy of Lisa Morlock's terrific rhyming picture book, Track that Scat! (Sleeping Bear Press). 

posted by April Halprin Wayland

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Happy New Year! Guest Teaching Author Barbara Krasner offers a Wednesday Writing Workout (actually THREE workouts)!

Howdy, Campers!

It's not Saint Patrick's Day, but we're lucky, lucky, lucky to open our doors and welcome Guest TeachingAuthor Barbara Krasner, who offers us a dynamite Wednesday Writing Workout for the New Year.

As long as we're feeling lucky, enter our latest book giveaway!
Details at the end...
Here's a bit about Barbara:  In the fall of 2014, her picture book, Goldie Takes a Stand! A Tale of Young Golda Meir, will be published by Kar-Ben, the Jewish imprint of Lerner Publishing Group. In addition, she's written four nonfiction books (including Discovering Your Jewish Ancestors) and more than 200 articles for adults and children that have appeared in Highlights for Children, Cobblestone, Calliope, and Babaganewz.

She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, an MBA in Marketing from Rutgers University, and blogs at The Whole Megillah/The Writer’s Resource for Jewish-themed Children’s Books.  Barbara is currently on the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.

Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Poetica, Jewish Women’s Literary Annual, Mused-BellaOnline Literary Review,, in the Paterson Literary Review; she was a semi-finalist in the 2013 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry in the upcoming Nimrod International Journal (!!)

Barbara is definitely a TeachingAuthor, teaching creative writing in the English department of William Paterson University and a workshop, Writing Jewish-themed Children’s Books at the Highlights Foundation.

You see what I mean when I say we're lucky to have her come by today?  WOWZA!

And now, here's Barbara with the Writing Workout
she's cooked up for us!

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, comes early this year and I’m glad. It gives me the opportunity to reflect on the past year and think about the coming year even before the leaves fall. I’m giving you a Rosh Hashanah challenge in three parts.

Part One: Rosh Hashanah, literally translated as head of the year, is a perfect time to think about the beginning of your manuscript. How many times do we hear that if we can’t grab the agent/editor/reader within just a few seconds, he or she will just move on to something else?

Ask yourself the following questions:

•    Do you have a compelling title?
•    Does your first line grab the reader? (My all-time favorites are from M.T. Anderson, “The woods were silent except for the screaming,” and from Kate DiCamillo, “My name is Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog.”)
•    Have you presented the main character on the first page?
•    Have you presented the problem within the first page, the first chapter?

These questions apply to fiction and nonfiction alike.

What are your first lines?

Part Two: The Rosh Hashanah holiday includes a practice called Tashlich, casting off our sins. The practice is exemplified in April Halprin Wayland’s New Year at the Pier (Dial, 2009) and the mother-daughter team of Susan Schnur and Anna Schnur-Fishman’s Tashlich at Turtle Rock (Kar-Ben, 2010). My question to you: What writing sins will you cast off this year?
When I think about this for myself, I think about:
•    I will cast off my lack of organization – I will organize all those papers into folders with easy-to-read tabs and file the folders
•    I will cast off watching reality TV (TCM movies only) – I need more time to write
•    I will cast off working on a gazillion projects at once – I will focus on one genre at a time, and right now, that’s poetry, and okay, picture books
•    I will cast off reading several books at once – I commit to reading a book fully before moving on to another.

You get the idea. What will you cast off?

Part Three: Here’s a prompt you can write to: Recall a Rosh Hashanah (or New Year) scene from your childhood and write about it. Who was there? Where were you? What action and dialogue took place?

Thank you so much for your three-part Rosh Hashanah writing challenge, Barbara, and shana tovah!

But wait! Before you head off to write about a memorable New Year, be sure to enter for a chance to win a copy of Lisa Morlock's terrific rhyming picture book, Track that Scat! (Sleeping Bear Press). 

posted by April Halprin Wayland