Monday, August 31, 2015

Dear DEAR Teen Me

As JoAnn shared in her Friday post, in this current series my fellow Teaching Authors and I are writing to our younger selves, inspired by the authors’ letters of the Dear Teen Me project.

At first, this letter-writing idea grabbed me.  For years I’ve tasked my writers to pen all sorts of letters – to their future selves to envision their journeys, to their characters to learn their stories more fully, to the author of the book that made them a Reader, to the author whose writing changed their lives.  I also believe in writing Thank You notes, in haiku or not. 

But then Second Thoughts took center stage, overwhelming me and holding me back.
Let’s see….
I could say….
No way!

So I considered sharing Jake Wizner’s new Stenhouse book WORTH WRITING ABOUT – EXPLORING MEMOIR WITH ADOLESCENTS.
Or Carolyn Mackler’s September-released Harper Teen YA novel INFINITE IN BETWEEN, in which “five ninth graders write letters to their future selves, promising to reunite on graduation day and read them together.”
Or even reviewing DEAR TEEN ME which gathered over 70 letters noted YA authors wrote their teenaged selves.

And then I saw my badge from my 50th High School Reunion (!) and I knew just what I wanted to tell that Earnest, Smiling, Tenacious, Hopeful, Enthusiastic and Resourceful about-to-enter-college voted “Likely to Succeed” Teacher-Writer Wannabe – the one (I've since surprisingly learned) her fellow classmates viewed as confident, even though she knew “Self-UNassured” was the more appropriate and telling S and that her metaphorical non-stop paddling feet beneath the water’s surface belied the appearance of smooth and happy sailing.

I wanted to riff on borrowed words from Dennis Palumbo’s WRITING FROM THE INSIDE OUT to tell her what I've spent a lifetime learning.  Palumbo wants the writer to know, “…you  - everything you are, all your feelings, hopes and dreads, fears and fantasies – you are enough.

Here’s my variation and Dear Teen Me letter.

Dear Teen Me:

As your Life unfolds, no matter the circumstance and the verb 
you choose/need/desire to undertake - to love, befriend, embrace
or honor, achieve, create, realize or become, confront, rebound,
overcome, triumph, I absolutely assure you:
you are MORE than enough!”

Really and truly. 


Esther Chairnoff Hershenhorn

Friday, August 28, 2015

Dear Younger Me

I only recently discovered the Dear Teen Me site, where young adult authors post encouraging, honest, heartfelt letters to their teenage selves. For this series of posts, we Teaching Authors are writing to our younger selves, inspired by those letters.

When our kids were still small, I started writing for children—poetry and picture books, fiction and nonfiction. I carried a pocket notebook around to keep track of ideas. The notebooks piled up in my desk drawer until I dumped them all into a box that I’ve been slowly weeding out.

Here’s what I’d say to that young mother:

Remember the notebooks! Yes, you carry one around most of the time. You’re always jotting down a favorite word or a quick observation or something funny one of the kids said. From time to time—especially when you’re stuck—stop and see what treasures you’ve gathered. Ideas and stories and poems are in there! Go back and find them!

The same thing with pictures. Look through them once in awhile. Remember the silly, wonderful, brave things you did. In another unsorted box, I just found this one of me and our (little!) boys on a camping trip. Priceless, right?

More weeding ahead!

Charlotte S. is the winner of our latest Book Giveaway, the autographed copy of Write a Poem Step by Step. Congratulations, Charlotte! Your book is on its way!

This week’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at Poetry for Children

JoAnn Early Macken

Monday, August 24, 2015

It's Raining Bats and Frogs!!

We continue our discussion with word wizard Rebecca Colby as she travels around the world, celebrating her book, It’s Raining Bats & Frogs! Enter to win the overall giveaway for a $50 USD Amazon voucher (or £30 GBP Amazon voucher) at the end of the tour. You’ll find details about the tour here!

And who doesn’t love a scavenger hunt! Follow Rebecca’s tour to find out which blogs contain the clues and then collect all the answers. There are eight answers to find and submit in total.

So what should you be looking for? Witch names, of course! Each post will mention a fictitious witch somewhere in the discussion. To be in with a chance of winning, leave a comment on the blog where you found the name (but please DON’T reveal the name) , including Teacher Authors! At the end of the tour, send Rebecca (at website address here) a list of all eight names via her website contact page, and enter the Rafflecopter entry form on her page. You have until 11.59pm EST on 5 September to enter the scavenger hunt giveaway!

Today, Rebecca talks about her process how a writer (and a teacher) can create a teacher’s guide that teachers can use! Thank you, Rebecca!

When I began teaching, I was gobsmacked to learn how much the profession had changed from when I attended school. Gone were the handy, school-supplied textbooks that provided teachers with lesson plans and worksheets. Instead, I found myself spending all of my free time creating my own lesson plans and worksheets, or researching teacher websites for appropriate resources. My full-time teaching job quickly became two full-time jobs.

After publishing my first book, I was determined to make my book as accessible and as desirable as possible to teachers. Teachers are the busiest people I know! If I wanted teachers to use my book in the classroom, I knew I needed to both create the resources AND bring them to the teachers. By the way, here’s a scavenger hunt answer for you--today’s witch name is Ethel.

Pinpoint your book’s USP

One of the first things you need to do is pinpoint what your book’s unique selling point (USP) is in respect of teachers using it in the classroom. How does it fit in with what is taught?

My first book was about a wee lassie who swallows all manner of Scottish birds and animals. The USP was obvious: I placed my primary focus for the activity guide on Scottish wildlife and their habitats. However, with my second book, which is about a witch parade, the USP wasn’t as clear. I focused on several aspects of the book—after all, witches aren’t a typical classroom topic. So while the main English activity asked children to create their own rhyming spells, math found them comparing and ordering the size of frogs, science had them playing a game of bat and moth to learn about echolocation, and art saw them creating musical rainsticks.

Research relevant curriculums

Find out what is being taught at what grade level. The best way to do that is to research both The Common Core Standards and state curriculums. While researching your own state’s curriculum is a good place to start, keep in mind that unless your book releases with a regional publisher, then you also need to look at other states’ curriculums—particularly curriculums for the larger (and often bellweather) states. Two good examples are California and Texas.

Make teachers happy

Just producing an activity guide is sure to make a teacher happy, but if you want to go that extra mile, think about two things: 1) How can I make the activities cross-curricular? and 2) How can I extend children’s learning?

While my guide is cross-curricular and covers most subjects taught in school, some of the individual activities are also cross-curricular. For example, the art activity involves making a witch puppet, which can later be used in English to act out and retell the book. In this way, one activity allows for learning in two areas of the curriculum.

Teachers are also always looking for ways to extend children’s learning. In one of my science activities, children are asked to measure rainfall over the course of a week. This can be done simply by marking water levels on the side of the rain collection container with colored felt-tip pens and comparing levels. But if a teacher wishes to extend children’s learning and introduce standard units of measure (or the teacher wants a differentiated activity for more able students), he or she could ask the children to measure the rainfall in inches or centimeters with a ruler.

Where to share

Now that you have your guide, what do you do with it? I always make mine available as a download from my website. But teachers are incredibly busy, remember? Bring the guide to them. Post it on websites like Teachers Pay Teachers and Share My Lesson. Forward it to your publisher. They often hold a database full of educational contacts. Bring hard copies of the guide to library, festival, and bookstore event. And if you have some spare time, you could email teachers and let them know about your guide. After all, you’re probably going to email a few teachers anyway to see if they’d like to set up author visits with you. Mention the guide and where to find the download in the email.

Speaking of which, if you’re interested in downloading the free teacher’s activity guide to It’s Raining Bats & Frogs, you can find it here.

I want to say thank Teaching Authors for hosting me again today, and to all of you for reading this post! If you have any tips of your own, or if you decide to produce a guide for your book, I’d love to hear about it!

Illustration by Steven Henry

Thank you for stopping by, Rebecca!

Bobbi Miller

Friday, August 21, 2015

Dear Tomato & New Year at the Pier: Food and Forgiveness for Poetry Friday

Howdy, Campers--happy Poetry Friday (link at the bottom) and happy home grown veggies to all! (Did you know that August 2-8th was National Farmers Market Week? Or that August 22nd is National Honey Bee Day and September 7th is National Acorn Squash Day?)

We're blogging about going back to school this round. Esther starts us off with a review of Kate Messner's book on revision, a useful and inspiring book; JoAnn writes about using repetition and how to Write a Poem Step by Step, and you can win her book of that very title by entering the latest TeachingAuthors' book giveaway (which ends tonight at midnight) Then Carla shows how to approach the familiar How I Spent My Summer Vacation essay as a non-fiction writer, and Mary Ann tells us the story behind her wonderful book, First Grade Stinks!

Now it's my turn. I'm here to suggest two very different books for this time of year. One about food, one about forgiveness...and the new year.

As the daughter of a farmer and the sister of a sustainable agriculture journalist, I was proud to be included in Carol-Ann Hoyte's latest anthology, DEAR TOMATO ~ an International Crop of Food and Agricultural Poems.  (Great title!)

This collection,with photographs by Norie Wasserman (wonderful cover!) includes poems about small gardens, free range chickens, bees, farmers' markets, fair trade, food banks, a poem that mentions Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez, and more.

Any of these would be a wonderful topic for student poems, stories or a class discussion about food and farming.  And the remarkable Renee LaTulippe, at No Water River, has created what she calls "poet-a-palooza" about Dear Tomato. which includes videos of some of the poets reading their poems from this book. Many of the poems are by friends from the Kidlitosphere, including B.J.Lee, Mary Lee Hahn, Charles Waters, Michelle Heidenrich Barnes, Matt Forrest Esenwine, Bridget Magee, Buffy Silverman, Stephen Withrow, J. Patrick Lewis, Elizabeth Steinglass, and I'm sure I've missed some others. This is the book I've been giving my neighborhood gardeners with whom I trade homegrown veggies.  

Here's one of my poems from the book:

           by April Halprin Wayland
            He knows a hoe.
            Never letting go.
            Holds me steady in his grip,
            lifts me up to rip against the weight of air.
            Then he pulls me back, bearing down,
            yielding to the power of the ground.
            Holds me steady in his grip,
            never letting go.
            He knows
            a hoe.
poem (c)2015 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

my father and mother on the farm

The second book, relevant this time of year is:

The Jewish New Year--Rosh Hashanah--is on September 13-15th this year, so now is a good time to read my picture book, New Year at the Pier--a Rosh Hashanah Story  illustrated by Stephane Jorisch. Here's Dial Books for Young Readers' summary:
Izzy's favorite part of Rosh Hashanah is Tashlich, a joyous ceremony in which people apologize for the mistakes they made in the previous year and thus clean the slate as the new year begins. But there is one mistake on Izzy's I m sorry list that he's finding especially hard to say out loud.
Humor, touching moments between family and friends, and lots of information about the Jewish New Year are all combined in this lovely picture book for holiday sharing.
Winner of the Sydney Taylor Gold Medal for best Jewish picture book of the year

Here are four ways to use New Year at the Pier with kids--and adults:
1) Use it to explain to students where absent schoolmates may be during the Jewish New Year.
2) Use it to open discussions about how to apologize and forgive.
3) Use it to show how other cultures celebrate New Year.
4) Give it to someone you’ve wanted to apologize to for a long time

Click here for more activities,and for New Year rituals around the world.

 And remember to enter our latest book giveaway (which ends tonight at midnight!)

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Reading To The Core--thank you!

It's been nice chatting with you today--thanks for allowing me to share ~ April Halprin Wayland

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Wednesday Writing Workout Summer Fun!

Summer isn't done quite yet, and what a great way to celebrate these last days of summer magic! The wonderful word wizard Rebecca Colby, author of It's Raining Bats & Frogs,  shares a magical writing exercise for your students. While it’s geared towards Grade 1 students, it could be adapted for older children.

Magic Rhyming Spells

Delia’s spells in It’s Raining Bats & Frogs are written in rhyme. Share some of the following spells with your students. Ask them to identify the words that rhyme.

· Hubble, bubble, toil and trouble.

· Hocus pocus, magic crocus.

Students will create rhyming spells of their own by filling in the blanks below.

· Zero, one, two, I’ll wave my wand at ______________.

· One, two, three, turn into a ____________.

· Eight nine, ten, turn into a _____________.

Working in pairs, students will create rhyming spells using the following starting lines. Ask students to create rhymes that are not used in the book. Extension activity: Students can create spells on their own without benefit of starting lines.

· Stir the brew in the vat, . . .

· Eye of newt, tongue of snake, . . .

· Wave your wand over the box, . . .

· One more wave, here I go, . . .

Now it’s your turn!

I challenge each one of you visiting the blog today to create your own magic spell. If you do, feel free to post it in the comments below. I’d love to read your results!

More Summer Fun! Join Rebecca as she celebrates  It’s Raining Bats and Frogs! Who doesn’t love a scavenger hunt! Follow Rebecca’s tour to collect the clues. There will be eight answers to find and submit in total to the link below.

 You can enter the overall giveaway for a $50 USD Amazon voucher (or £30 GBP Amazon voucher) at the end of the tour. Submit your answers here!

So what should you be looking for? Witch names, of course! Each post will mention a fictitious witch somewhere in the discussion. To be in with a chance of winning, leave a comment on the blog where you found the name (but please DON’T reveal the name) , including here at Teacher Authors! At the end of the tour, send Rebecca (at website address above) a list of all eight names via her website contact page, and enter the Rafflecopter entry form on her page. You have until 11.59pm EST on 5 September to enter the scavenger hunt giveaway!

Join me on August 24 as I talk with Rebecca about her book, the scavenger hunt and about creating teacher guides that teachers can use!

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.”   ~ Roald Dahl

Bobbi Miller

Monday, August 17, 2015

Why I Wrote First Grade Stinks

    I don't remember a lot about kindergarten. I was in the "morning class" when three hours was all that educators thought five-year-olds could handle.
My teacher, Mrs. Palmer, looked exactly like "Dear Abby" in the newspaper. I was fire drill captain, or as I proudly told my parents, "If the school burns down, I'm the first one out." I tackled Jimmy R., my kindergarten crush, in the classroom playhouse and kissed him. (It was a decade or two before that happened again.)

     I nearly flunked kindergarten. In addition to such skills as using scissors "responsibly," counting to ten, and reciting the alphabet without singing it, you had to be able to tie your shoes. I tried and tried all year until it occurred to a neighbor that Mom being left-handed and me being right handed made a difference. She had a left handed son who couldn't tie his shoes either.  Moms swapped kids, and both of us skinned out of kindergarten with a day to spare.  Talk about academic pressure.

    Because kindergarten was so unmemorable for me, I looked forward to going through it with my own daughter, Lily. Boy had things changed! Kids wore Velcro strapped sneakers. They were supposed to count to 20 and know the alphabet BEFORE kindergarten. Lily had been in a Bangkok pre-school that was about learning through exploring rather than memorizing. Lily's kindergarten teacher was a Sweet Young Thing whose worst admonition was "someone is not being considerate." Her classroom was a mass of pinatas and Chinese dragon kites and African violets. Lily was proud to be named "Class Gardener" and "Permanent Paper Passer Outer." Sweet Young Thing figured out that Lily was ADHD and at her best when she was "helping"  It must have been a long day for both of them because by then, kindergarten was a full school day. However, Lily and her teacher had a mutual admiration society, even if Lily couldn't quite manage numbers and least not in their correct order.

    In promoting Lily to first grade, Sweet Young Thing took into account that Lily had spent two years of pre-school and half of kindergarten in a "foreign" environment. She was promoted to the ominously named "transitional" first grade, kids who weren't "reading ready." I didn't give it a lot of thought.  Neither did Lily. She knew she would sail through school, watering violets and passing out papers. What could go wrong?

   I picked Lily up that first day of first grade. She didn't say anything, but I figured she was pooped out, getting used to a new teacher and classmates.

   At home, I unlocked the front door and went in the house, knowing Lily was straggling behind me. Slam! went the front door. We don't slam doors in our house. Ever. I turned to see Lily fling her red backpack across the room, narrowly missing me.  She slumped against the door, crossed her arms, pushed out her lower lip and announced in a voice that I'm sure the neighbors heard. "That's it! I'm never going back! I hate my teacher and there's only one other girl in my class and there's only one recess and the kindergarten kids got lunch first and ate all the chocolate ice cream. I hate vanilla! First grade stinks!"

   Suddenly, I flashbacked to my first day of first grade, telling my mother that if school was going to be this boring, I wasn't going to college. I remembered my teacher, a troll (henceforth known as Mrs. Troll)who was about to retire after forty-something years of first graders. A woman who yelled a lot, slammed her fist on your desk if she thought you weren't paying attention, and when all else failed, used what I later learned was guilt as a motivator.

"You are thankless, spoiled children," she'd shrill.  "I work and work to teach you to(fill in the blank) but you just won't learn! What is wrong with you?" She didn't know? We were terrified of her. She yelled if we got the wrong answer, yelled if we asked a question.

     I made her mad the first day of school when she said "Now when you can read this big book" (a giant sized version of a pre-primer prominently displayed next to the teacher's desk) you can have your very own book. You let me know when you think you're ready."

    I raised my hand. I had taught myself to read from billboards and TV ads before kindergarten. And while I was sure the words "mouthwash" and "rest area next exit, clean restrooms" weren't in that big book, I had filled in my vocabulary with what are now called "Dolch words").

   "I didn't mean, now." Mrs. Troll squinted at her seating chart. "Mary Ann. I meant after you know how to read."

     "But I know how to read now," I insisted. As an adult who has been a teacher, I can sort of understand her exasperation. Five minutes into the school year and she already been challenged by the likes of me.

     "Fine, then," she said in an-I-dare-you-voice. "Come on up and read for us." She stood behind the book, simpering, waiting for me to fail.

     I didn't fail. Dick and Jane were a snore as literature but I read all 32 pages of it without a mistake.  Now Mrs. Troll was really mad, because she didn't have any primers.  She hadn't counted on anyone learning to read in the first month, let alone first day.  She sent me to the office to requisition my first reader, six weeks early. Although I pride myself on remembering the most insignificant details of my childhood, the rest of first grade disappeared in the mists of trauma.

    Now it was happening again with my own child. As the Mom part of my brain registered Lily's outrage, the writer part thought First Grade Stinks.  What a great title for a picture book!  As I explained to Lily that not only would she be going back to school tomorrow and the next day and the next for twelve years (it was a little early to spring college on her) My own first grade disappointments melded with Lily's.  I started listing my possible plot points.

    The year never got any better for Lily. I grew alarmed when Lily announced at the end of the first week that five kids had been "flunked back" to kindergarten.  I immediately showed up for a teacher's conference.  The teacher (aka Mrs. First Grade) was perhaps my age, but looked older. Much, much older. She had surgery three times that school year (the only days Lily arrived home happy) so I tried to cut her some slack. But Mrs. First Grade affirmed that yes indeed she had just demoted five kids back to kindergarten "because I could tell they weren't going to cut it." (After a week?) She left no doubt that Lily would be joining them if she would "stop being lazy." I already knew that Lily was dyslexic so I asked about special ed testing. "Oh we don't do that until the student has flunked first grade and kindergarten."  What? A classroom of eight-year-old first graders?  My sympathy was wearing thin.

   It wore out altogether when Mrs. First Grade informed in February to tell me she was flunking Lily for the year because "she won't do her board work." I snapped. "You do realize she can't read, right?"  Well, no apparently she didn't. Lily had kept her secret by having the teaching assistant read to her when the teacher wasn't looking. Then Lily, having memorized the story in one hearing, would recite it for the teacher, word perfect, right down to the timing of the page turns. I told the teacher to hand her a random book and ask her to read right then and there. Teacher called me back in ten minutes. "She can't read! I guess she's dyslexic!" You think, person with twenty-five years of teaching "transitional" children?  I couldn't finish writing First Grade Stinks fast enough.

    However, fiction and real life rarely turn out the same. In First Grade Stinks, the main character, Haley, realizes that although the two grades and teachers are entirely different, first grade would bring her the ultimate reward of learning to read on her own!  Haley learns to appreciate her new, less flamboyant teacher.

   In real life, Lily hated everything about first grade except for physical education and art.  She never did learn to read that year but was promoted to second grade anyway. We changed school systems. She tested into special education in second grade, where she stayed until she graduated from high school (in the college prep track and with a high B average.) Reading will always be a challenge for her but she has developed a repertoire of coping mechanisms. She is in college now,  Guess what her major is.  Go ahead.  Guess.  Pre-K special ed!

    "After all," she says, "I've had years and years of thinking how I would teach things differently."

     I guess Lily's first grade didn't stink entirely.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Friday, August 14, 2015

How I Spent my Summer Vacation: A New Twist on an Old Essay

When I was in elementary school, we were assigned the classic back to school essay:

How I Spent My Summer Vacation.  

It was a good way to start pulling us away from the carefree days of our break and back to the task at hand.  This old essay is still a good way to start the school year.  It is a creative way for your students to write nonfiction that does not need any research.   And it is a way to get the creative juices flowing again.

Teachers hope to see more than just a laundry list of summer activities.  I like to encourage young writers to think about an original way to approach this essay. 

I connect with students by providing interactive videoconferences with schools all over the country.   One of my favorites is a program I titled

Where Ideas Come From:  
Brainstorming with a Nonfiction Author

Teachers and students like this session because it is helpful and lots of fun.  It is truly audience participation because I believe that to model what I’m teaching them about brainstorming-we need to actually brainstorm together.  Live and on the spot.  Yep, it is risky.  I never know what they will say-or worse if they will clam up and say nothing.   So far, so good.  Every time I’ve done this program the students had lots to say!  

What I want to do with my students is to model how they can take a mundane topic and put their own unique spin on it.   I encourage them to think “out of the box”.  Sometimes in this session students come up with amazing creative ideas.  Yessss!! The goal is accomplished!

My session goes something like this:
When asked to brainstorm for ideas on an essay on How I Spent My Summer Vacation, most students will come up with the usual suspects:

I was out of school
I slept late
I went swimming
I went on a trip
I visited family
I watched TV and movies

All these are great places to start.  Now let’s take these ideas to the next level.  Reality is that in classrooms there are kids with a wide variety of experiences.  Some vacationed on sandy beaches while others stayed home alone all summer.  

Great writing doesn’t depend on having extraordinary life experiences. . .
it depends on putting a unique spin on 
ordinary life experiences.  
Carla Killough McClafferty

Let’s start with the students who stayed home all summer and played basketball in their own neighborhood.   If they wanted to write about this, the  following questions could generate something to focus on in an essay. 

Did you learn a new basketball skill?
How did you learn it? 
Did someone teach you? 
A new friend?  An old friend?  A brother, uncle, father, sister?
Did you win a game against someone for the first time?
Did you have a hot streak and make many baskets in a row?
For a student who played ball all summer, suddenly their essay could include friendship, family relationships, competition, or how they improved their skills.

How about the student who traveled to the beach?  A little brainstorming could bring up some possibilities on how to go a different direction with their essay.    

Did you travel by car, plane, or train?
Did something interesting happen on the way there?
Did you make up your own travel games?
Did you devise a way to keep your brother from bothering you?
Did you get car sick? 
Did you see a dolphin? A shark?  
Did you walk on the beach and find a neat shell, or stone, or glass?
Did you learn to swim?
Or try to surf?
Build a sandcastle?
Find a tidal pool?

Suddenly, the essay can be more than going on a trip to the beach.  It could be about family relationships, building a fort in the sand, watching a sand crab, walking on the beach at night, or learning to do something new.

No matter what, students can bring something unique to their own essay because each one is unique.  

So with a fresh school year upon us, let's brainstorm! 

If you want to learn more about my videoconferences, contact me through
or go to

Thanks to my fellow TAs for beginning our back to school posts with a bang.   Esther Hershenhorn reviewed Kate Messner’s book Real Revision which sounds like a great way to get the creative juices flowing as the back to school season begins. 

JoAnn Early Macken started it off with a post about how to Write a Poem Step by Step.   And don’t forget to enter the book giveaway.  You might be the lucky winner of a copy of this excellent book by JoAnn Early Macken. 

Carla Killough McClafferty

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Using Repetition in Poetry

In Esther’s last post, she pointed out a series of “re-” words related to Kate Messner’s Real Revision. I’ll add another: Repetition. Along with rhythm and rhyme, it’s one of the three important patterns in poetry that I discuss in Write a Poem Step by Step. (By the way, we’re giving away an autographed copy! See below to enter for your chance to win!)

Here’s an excerpt from the book:

What do you do when you want to remember something? Do you say it to yourself again and again until you learn it? That’s using repetition. Repetition is an effective technique in poetry. It helps create a pattern in a poem. It can help us remember. It can add emphasis to a certain word or phrase. It can connect the parts of a poem to each other.

(Rahel Spilka wrote the following poem in one of my workshops many years ago. It's still one of my favorites.) Repetition ties Rahel’s poem together.

Blowing in the Wind
The tree’s branches are
blowing in the wind.
Like a cradle rocking
blowing in the wind.
It sounds like a baby crying
blowing in the wind.
The branches are swiveling
blowing in the wind.
Seems like a Mom saying,
blowing in the wind. 
Rahel Spilka, Grade 2
If your poem includes a word, a phrase, a line, or even a stanza that you want to use more than once, go ahead. Just make sure that what you repeat is important to the poem, or it can feel or sound overdone.

Have fun! Have fun! Have fun!

JoAnn Early Macken

Monday, August 10, 2015

Kate Messner’s Thumbs-Up Revision Tool for Anyone, Any Time

Just in time for our back-to-school TeachingAuthors posts, which JoAnn kicked off Friday with a Book Giveaway of her WRITE A POEM STEP BY STEP, I share my THUMBS UP review of Kate Messner’s REAL REVISION (Stenhouse, 2011) – a must-read for anyone any time of the year  (really!) who wants to get his or her writing right.

Personally, I’m a Big Fan of the prefix “re” – as in, back to, return to, again and again. According to my trusty online dictionary, verbs affixed with re connote restoration and repetition, a backwards motion, a withdrawal.
Think Second Chances.
Think Do-overs.
REAL REVISION makes all of the above possible, breaking down the revision process into doable, fun-even tasks, by sharing the revision strategies of a bounty of award-winning children’s book writers – Mentor Authors who truly show readers that all writing is revising. 

Kirby Larson, Nora Raleigh Baskin, Jane Yolen, Kathi Appelt, Mitali Perkins, Donna Gephart, Tom Angleberger, Tanya Lee Stone, G. Neri, Rebecca Stead, just to name a few – share honest-to-goodness manuscripts and revision experiences of specific titles they’ve published in order to illustrate a key element of narrative – say, voice or characterization, setting or plot, and the writing process – maybe research, seeing the Big Picture, word choice, copyediting or brainstorming. 
I’m talking REAL examples that lead to raised eyebrows and bulging eyes and all sorts of head-shaking responses.
Each Mentor Author’s offering is the stuff of a mini, personalized writer-to-writer one-on-one.

Each Mentor Author also offers a Try Out for the reader that accompanies the teaching point of each chapter– an easily-reproducible hands-on, doable, concrete exercise that underscores what’s – really – important.

The quotes that begin each chapter are delicious, too.
For instance, Lisa Schroeder’s:
Revision is like cleaning your room because it may not be fun while you’re doing it but when you’re finished, you can stand back and see what you’ve done, and think, ‘Wow! That looks great!’”
Or Kirby Larson’s:
“Revision is like a newborn because it’s a 24/7 commitment and worth every sleepless night.”
Or Donna Gephart’s:
“Revision is like a lottery ticket because it’s a golden opportunity to make your work even better!”

Throughout REAL REVISION, Kate herself wears both her author and teacher hat, sharing her writing life, her process and the revision stories of her books.  Kate happens to be a National Board-certified teacher – and – the award-winning author of such books as the E.B. White Read Aloud Award winner THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z., SUGAR AND ICE and the Marty McGuire chapter book series.

I don my two TeachingAuthor hats to sincerely thank Kate for bringing REAL REVISION’s Mentor Authors and their realistically-presented, insightful and informative revision strategies to the page in such a fun and readable instructive way.

Whether it’s back-to-school for you, and/or back-to-writing, don’t leave home without this anytime/anyone tool.

Oh, and don’t forget to enter our Book Giveaway for JoAnn Early Macken’s WRITE A POEM STEP BY STEP.

Here’s to that prefix “re” and Second Chances!

Esther Hershenhorn

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Back-to-School Book Giveaway!

For the first time in nearly twenty years, no one in our house is going back to school! I won’t miss packing lunches or saying goodbye every day. But I am looking forward to visiting schools myself. I love working with students and teachers in poetry presentations and writing workshops. (For program details, see my web site.) 

Many teachers and writers I’ve worked with have asked for a poetry writing plan they could follow on their own. Write a Poem Step by Step is that plan, based on the workshops I present in schools. It describes a simple, logical method of writing a poem. It includes examples written by elementary school students in my workshops. And we’re giving away an autographed copy! You can enter to win below. The giveaway is set to begin on Friday, August 7, and run through Friday, August 21. 

In our neighborhood, we’ve still got time to squeeze in more summer fun before the back-to-school frenzy begins. Here’s a summertime poem from Write a Poem Step by Step.

The Beach

The waves come
and crash on shore.
Shosh, shwash, shosh, shwash
The sand is as smooth as a wooden polished floor.
The sand goes through my toes.
The day was as hot as a heating vent.
I built a sandcastle,
but the waves washed it away.
Shosh, shwash, shosh, shwash.

Sarah Ilbek, Grade 3

The line “Shosh, shwash, shosh, shwash” uses invented words that sound like waves crashing on the beach. Like many creative writers, Sarah made up words to fit her poem. I recommend using this technique sparingly and only when a reader can understand the meaning from the context.

Sarah also repeats the line “Shosh, shwash, shosh, shwash.” Watch for a Wednesday Writing Workout on using repetition in poetry next week.

Don’t forget to enter our Book Giveaway below!

Tabatha Yeatts is hosting this week’s Poetry Friday Roundup at The Opposite of Indifference. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

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