Monday, November 30, 2015

The 2015 Children's Book That Carried My Heart in Its Heart

Oh, the possibilities when forced to choose my favorite children’s book of 2015!

There’s Mo Willems' I REALLY LIKE SLOP! - which my grandson and I really really REALLY like.
And my writer Dr. Tererai Trent’s picture book autobiography THE GIRL WHO BURIED HER DREAMS IN A CAN.  (There’s a reason why Tererai was "Oprah’s Favorite Guest!")
and Laura Amy Schlitz’s THE HIRED GIRL gifted me respectively with 9-year-old Anna Bauman, 11-year-old Nell Warne and 14-year-old Joan Skraggs, characters whose stories kept me turning the pages as I lived and breathed alongside them – in WWII Warsaw, 1860’s Chicago and 1911 Baltimore.

The above titles did what children’s books must do: amuse, inform, inspire, encourage and always, always, leave the reader hopeful.

The one book, though, that carried my heart in its heart? 
Author-illustrator Emily HughesTHE LITTLE GARDENER.

I first learned of this singular picture book in Maria Popova’s August 10 Brain Pickings.
She’d called it “a tender illustrated parable of purpose and the power of working with love.”
Publishers Weekly called it, in its starred review, “a tender metaphor for the miracle of gardening.”
School Library Journal praised its spirit that applauded tenacity.

For me, a TeachingAuthor, it was surely and purely a Two-fer.

The writer in me sighed as I read of the little gardener toiling away in his garden that meant everything to him.  “It was his home. It was his supper. It was his joy.” Alas, “he wasn’t much good at gardening,” even though “he worked very, very hard.  He was just too little.”  But there was that one  “alive and wonderful” flower that gave the little gardener hope and made him work even harder, that one bloom that made him wish he had a little help.

The teacher in me smiled.
Seeding and feeding writers, helping them grow their stories, is how I spend my days.

I ordered up THE LITTLE GARDENER pronto and read it aloud to welcome my Newberry Library Workshop picture book writers this Fall.
Help was on the way, I assured them. 
And soon they would learn they meant everything to their stories.

Writing? Gardening? To me they’re the same.

It’s all about growing, yes?
Hurrah for children’s books and how they help us grow, no matter their pub dates!

I wish our TeachingAuthors readers Happy Holidays and Happy Bloomin’ in 2016.

Esther Hershenhorn

Friday, November 27, 2015

Thankful For Teachers and More

I have the honor of wrapping up the TA Three Weeks of Thanks-Giving.  To read the eloquent posts of my fellow TAs, follow these links: 

Like all of you, I’m thankful for many things like family, friends, church, health, a place to live and thousands of other things that I sometimes take for granted.  But since this is a TeachingAuthors blog, I’ll confine my thankful thoughts –online anyway – to blessings in that part of my life. 

I’m thankful for great teachers.  I recently spoke at the Arkansas Reading Association where I did a session titled “Writing Nonfiction Using Fiction Techniques” which was attended by some amazing teachers.   Teachers today are given the task of teaching students how to write.  It is a tall order and not an easy thing to pull off even for a professional author of books.   I’m thankful for teachers who do their best even though their classes are filled with a wide range of students that include both gifted and talented and struggling readers.

I’m thankful that people, organizations and museums through the years have preserved our history by preserving documents and artifacts.  As a nonfiction author who does lots of primary source research, I can do research like I do because those before me had the forethought of preservation.   

I’m thankful to enter this holiday season with an exciting new project spinning through my mind.  In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had the real treat of having my newest project go to auction.  It is a dream of authors for more than one editor would want to publish their next book.  I know the new publishing house and editor is just as excited about the project as I am. 

What are you thankful for?  

Carla Killough McClafferty 

P.S. from Carmela: We thank all the wonderful readers who shared their gratitude for so many things in comments to our posts during the Three Weeks of Thanks-Giving. I promised a round-up post with links to other bloggers who participated, but since I received only one link, I'll just share it here. Carol Varsalona posted a lovely fall image and Thanku on her Beyond LiteracyLink blog. You can read it here. Thanks for joining us, Carol!

Monday, November 23, 2015

My Broken Haiku

For the last three weeks, Teaching Authors has celebrated the season of gratitude by writing Thanks-Giving Thank U Haiku. And with each offering, CarmelaEstherApril,  Mary Ann,  and JoAnn offer hauntingly beautiful poetry that, as JoAnn stated so eloquently, asks us to add our light to the sum of light.

Now it’s my turn. 

Alas, I am not a poet. After hours of trying to compose a Thank U Haiku, I concede that I cannot do it.  It’s worrisome.

There are many things that I cannot do, of course. 

I cannot drive a truck. I’m not talking about the little SUVs, complete with manual five-speed stick shift. I’m talking about those eighteen-wheeler, semi-trailer big rigs. Complete with forward engine, steering axle, two drive axles. Ten forward drive gears and two reverse gears. And a bed. Vroom, vroom! Wouldn’t it be fun to drive across country, to see this vast and changing landscape? To see those very steps where Martin Luther King said he had a dream? Where on Christmas Day George Washington crossed the river for his own country’s honor? Where Abraham Lincoln spoke about a new birth of freedom? What about to walk the ruins of the Alamo or march across the fields of Gettysburg? Or the hills of San Francisco, where Harvey Milk imagined a righteous world?

Well, true enough I have seen many places. And you don’t really need a truck. As a working writer, I visit the landscape where my characters once walked. I do that to make them more alive. But it’s more than that, too. It’s why I write historical fiction. History is important. As Penelope J. Corfield said,  “All people and peoples are living histories,” and studying those stories that link “past and present is absolutely basic for a good understanding of the condition of being human.” That’s true now more than ever, given recent events. Still, wouldn’t it be fun to be a truck driver? Vroom, vroom! 

There are many things I cannot be, of course.

I cannot be a worm. How important are worms! Big worms! Small worms! Rain worms! Dew worms! And everyone’s favorite, angleworms! They burrow beneath our feet, sight unseen, churning the inorganic into the organic. Even their poop – I mean, worm casts – are invaluable in enriching soils. Which grows gardens. Which feeds the world.

I am not near as important as a worm. Still, I am a writer, and if I do my job as well as a worm does his, perhaps I might enrich at least one mind.

Speaking of important, I suppose I cannot be a rose either. Even the most imperfect rose is perfect compared to other flowers. Or, so a rose thinks. They are an old, old flower. Maybe that’s why they feel so entitled. Sacred to their Goddess Venus, Romans covered their sofas with roses. Cleopatra covered her floor with roses whenever Marc Antony was about to visit. Roses even have their own language: red rose for love, yellow rose for joy, purple rose for royalty, and white rose for innocence and peace. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” wrote William Shakespeare. In a story that has lasted hundreds of years.

I have wild roses growing like brambles in my back yard. They certainly share the same hoity toity attitude as their hybrid cousins, despite having the nastiest thorns around. Still, bees love them. And in their thorny tangle hide rabbits and wild turkeys with their fledglings. And skunks. There’s nothing sweet smelling about them.

All the same, I prefer the dandelions that blanket my acres every spring. When they bloom, they look like a thousand bright yellow suns, shooing away the last memory of winter. When the blooms turn into puff balls, they look like a thousand moons. And when the puff balls explode, dispersing their seeds, they look like a thousand shooting stars. My galaxy is growing!

Of course, the result of all those shooting stars is a yard full of weeds. But I like weeds. “And, constant stars, in them I read such art as truth and beauty shall together thrive,” as Shakespeare also wrote.

But the question remains, how can I write a haiku? I'll try once more...

My Broken Haiku

Discover your world

Honor what lies beneath

Expand your galaxy

Thank U for being a part of my universe.

Bobbi Miller
(PS: All photos courtesy of

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Task That Stands Before Us

Continuing our “Three Weeks of Thanks-giving” series, I add my Thanku:

Like so many people I know, I’m struggling to respond to acts of terror around the world. I search for wisdom, look to other thinkers, try to make sense of the senseless.

In his book What Then Must We Do? (first published in 1886), Leo Tolstoy asks that question over and over. Jane Addams said in an Introduction, “Tolstoy’s presentation of the contrast between the overworked and the underfed poor on the one hand, and the idle and wasteful rich on the other, was felt as raising unanswerable questions in every country where the book was read.”

I learned about the book in a scene from The Year of Living Dangerously that has stuck with me for years. Linda Hunt’s character Billy Kwan, a photojournalist, says, “I support the view that you just don’t think about the major issues. You do whatever you can about the misery that’s in front of you. Add your light to the sum of light.”

James Taylor sings about light in his “Shed a Little Light.”
“Let us turn our thoughts today to Martin Luther King
and recognize that there are ties between us,
all men and women living on the Earth.
Ties of hope and love, sister and brotherhood,
that we are bound together
in our desire to see the world become
a place in which our children can grow free and strong.
We are bound together by the task that stands before us
and the road that lies ahead.”
What then must we do? One person alone can never make up for lives lost, homes destroyed, families torn apart. But I believe that we are bound together. Together we can begin to lift a burden for someone.

We have so many burdens to lift.

What matters to you? Poverty? Hunger? Refugees? Racism? Health care? Education? Women’s rights? Voter rights? The environment? Climate change? Animal welfare? The list goes on and on.

The only response I know is to try to do some good in the world.

Do whatever you can about the misery that’s in front of you.

Add your light to the sum of light.

Be sure to see the other posts in our “Three Weeks of Thanks-giving” series:
We invite you, our readers (and your students), to join in by sharing your own "gratitudes" with us in one of four ways:
  1. Share them in a comment to any of our blog posts through Friday, November 27.
  2. Send them to us via email to teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com, with "Thanks-Giving" as the subject. Depending on the number of emails we receive, we may share some of your gratitiudes in our posts.
  3. Post them on online on your own blog, Facebook page, etc., and then share the link with us via a comment or email. (Feel free to include the image above in your post.) On Saturday, November 28, we'll provide a round-up of all the links we receive.
  4. NEW THIS YEAR: Share them as a comment on our TeachingAuthors Facebook page. While you're there, we hope you'll also Like our page.  
    Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at The Miss Rumphius Effect. Enjoy!

    JoAnn Early Macken

    Monday, November 16, 2015

    Three Weeks of Thanksgiving: A Teacher's Thanku

    We are deep into our season of gratitude here on Teaching Authors. The series started off with Carmela giving thanks for insights gained through the loss of her kitchen.  Esther thanked the Chicago Cubs for a season of hope, with April appreciating good health. And now it's my turn.

    Five years of Thanksgiving posts. here on Teaching Authors. Each year I struggle to write our traditional thanku, our many blessings, in haiku form. Each year I've had to be thankful outside of the five syllables-seven syllables-five syllables structure. So this year (among many other thing)...I'm grateful for mastering the thanku! (You can tell me if I really have when you send your own thanku.)

    If you have read this blog for awhile, you know that my year is divided into three seasons--"the holidays" (which now kicks off on Labor Day, chugging relentlessly through to January 6th, the last of the Twelve Days of Christmas, in my religion), post-holiday (January and February are the dreariest months, no matter how many "national holidays" there are.) And then there is Camp Season, which for me, begins in April, when the redbud blooms, and I start planning this year's activities for my Young Author's Camps in June and July.
    Writer up a tree!

    "Camp Season" is checking rosters for returnees, as well as sibs of former campers, and new writers.  It's studying the composition of each week's camp. How many girls? How many boys?  The campers are (supposedly) ages 9 to 14 (with some birthdate slight-of-hand by some parents on the registration). Is this group mostly rising fourth graders? All sixth graders? Or a lovely balance of ages. (That's happened twice in ten years!)  I tailor the weeks to suit the age and gender makeup. In my advanced classes of returnees, I am careful not to repeat activities and exercises (except for the Traditonal Writer's Walk.)

    Our writing HQ (in winter), a converted carriage house.
    Just thinking about those steamy June and July days, full of creative young minds, instant friendships and...juice boxes...excites me on a blue-and-gold-autumn morning, crispy enough to require my cuddly chenille lap robe as I compose this post. I am ever thankful for my students, who inspire me to improve my craft so I can inspire them in return. The days are long and hot, but always fun for us all.

    So with that in mind, here is my Thanku 2015.

        For Authors Everywhere--
    Inspiration glows
    Imagination surrounds
    A writer matures.

    Now it's your turn to share your gratitudes with us, both here on your comments or on your new Teaching Authors Facebook Page. For more details, see April's Poetry Friday post.

    Does anyone suddenly have the urge to draw and color a handprint turkey? Have good one, writers!

    Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

    Friday, November 13, 2015

    What's a Thanku? A Writing Prompt for Poetry Friday!

    Howdy, Campers--and Happy Poetry Friday!  My poem is below, as is the link to PF.

    What are you thankful for? Since 2011, we TeachingAuthors have each written a thanku (a haiku expressing gratitude) every November. Join us--use it as today's writing prompt!

    Carmela started this round expressing her thanks in a graphically beautiful thanku about being in the middle of a house remodel. Esther's post followed--she's jumping up and down with gratitude for a particular sports team. Now it's my turn.

    I was noodling around last week, thinking about which of my many blessings I wanted to write about here: I'm grateful for monthly hikes with five amazing women; for my best friend who taught me that if I ever think about doing something nice, don't question the thought--just do it; for my husband, who taught me that a fork in the sink does not mean he doesn't love me. It's just a fork in the sink.

    That's just the tip of the iceberg, the edge of the forest, a lick of the frosting, the preface in my gratitude book, of course.

    Just this weekend I was strutting around like a proud you-know-what,

    congratulating myself that I hadn't gotten a flu shot and grateful that I was just fine, thank you very much, while several of my friends and family who HAD gotten flu shots were sick as dogs. Ha, ha, HA, said the evil green woman inside me!

    And then...well, you know what happened.
    BUT...I'm sure you'll be glad to know that the raging headache has abated and my eyes don't hate bright sunlight this morning.  Yay, health, yay, sunlight (especially the glorious slant of morning sun)!'s my...

    by April Halprin Wayland

    Bees stopped stinging my
    eyes...raise our curtains! The light
    now tastes like honey.

    poem (c) 2015 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.
    (And if you ever want to know anything about REAL haiku, click on over to the wonderful Robyn Hood Black's bounty of haiku resources.)

    So, You, reading this...what are YOU thankful for?  Join us in one of FOUR ways:

    1. Share a thanku--or simply tell us what you're grateful for--in a comment to any of our blog posts from November 6th through Friday, November 27th.
    2. Send them via email to teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com, with "Thanks-Giving" as the subject. (Depending on the number of emails we receive, we may share some of your gratitiudes in our posts.)
    3. Post them on your own blog, on your Facebook page, etc., and then share the link with us via a comment or email. Feel free to include our Three Weeks of Thanks-Giving image (above) in your post. On Saturday, November 28, Carmela will provide a round-up of all the links we receive.
    4. And NEW THIS YEAR: share them as a comment on our TeachingAuthors Facebook page. While you're there, we hope you'll also "Like" our page.

    And thank you, Bridget, for hosting Poetry Friday
    on your Wee Words for Wee Ones blog!

    posted by April Halprin Wayland, who is grateful she is no longer in bed, but bouncing on her bosu:

    photo (c) Jone MacCulloch

    Monday, November 9, 2015

    Three Weeks of Thanksgiving: Chicago-style

    How terrific that our blog’s traditional Weeks of Thanksgiving celebration now enters its 5th year.

    Even more terrific is that each of us poetically celebrates by penning a Thanku.

    As I shared last year, I often borrow the words of former Ambassador Walter Annenberg to describe my never-changing state of mind:  i.e. grateful and hopeful.
    Gratitude begins my day – gratitude for my family and friends, especially my carioca grandson, for my writers, students and Children’s Book World, for my fellow TeachingAuthors and of course, you, our readers.
    Hopefulness propels me forward.

    This year, 2015?
    This year I express my heartfelt thanks to the 2015 National League Central Division Champions, the 40-man roster of the 2015 Chicago Cubs, inspiringly led by their Manager Joe Maddon.

    In a crazy-crazy oft-dark April through mid-October when making sense of the world sometimes proved head-shakingly challenging, my Cubbies, with their Can-Do boundless Spirit, proved to be the cure-all, the vaccination against succumbing.
    They pierced through the gloom and doom, to those blue skies above Wrigley Field dotted with flying WIN pennants, enabling and ennobling me to keep keepin’ on.
    They perched in my soul like that feather of Emily Dickinson’s.

    Thanku to My Home Team

    2015’s Cubs!
    Just what the Doctor ordered
    to validate Hope.

    All together now, even though I can sing the tune without the words: Go, Cubs, Go!

    May you always have reason to give thanks and be hopeful.

    Don’t forget to share your Thanku!

    Esther Hershenhorn

    Friday, November 6, 2015

    Three Weeks of Thanks-Giving, 2015 edition

    If you've followed our TeachingAuthors blog for a year or more, you know about our tradition of setting aside time in November to give thanks. It started in 2011, with our Ten Days of Thanks-Giving, inspired, in part, by Esther's post about thank-you haikus, also known as Thankus. In 2012 we expanded to Two Weeks of Thanks-Giving, which we repeated in 2013. And last year we stretched our Thanks-Giving posts to a full Three Weeks of Thanks-Giving!

    Over the next three weeks, each of the TeachingAuthors will blog about 3 (or more!) things we're grateful for in each of our posts. I'm kicking the series off with a Thanks-Giving Thanku poem below. As in the past, we're also inviting you, our readers (and your students!), to join in by sharing your own "gratitudes" with us. And this year you can participate in one of FOUR ways:
    1. Share your "gratitudes" in a comment to any of our blog posts from today through Friday, November 27.
    2. Send them to us via email to teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com, with "Thanks-Giving" as the subject. Depending on the number of emails we receive, we may share some of your gratitiudes in our posts.
    3. Post them on online on your own blog, Facebook page, etc., and then share the link with us via a comment or email. (Feel free to include the image below in your post.) On Saturday, November 28, I'll provide a round-up of all the links we receive.
    4. AND NEW THIS YEAR: share them as a comment on our TeachingAuthors Facebook page. While you're there, we hope you'll also "Like" our page.  

    In an interesting bit of Synchronicity, a friend of mine recently posted a link on her Facebook page to an article on the science of the benefits of gratitude. The article quoted Dr. Emiliana Simon-Thomas, science director of the Greater Good Science, as saying:
    "Speaking of stress, writing thank you notes has been shown to ease stress, reduce depressive symptoms, and encourage people to be more mindful of what makes them happy (just ask Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon), as well as foster better relationships."
    I'm definitely in need of some stress relief right now. The past month has been rather nerve-wracking. We're in the midst of a major home remodel project encompassing our family room and kitchen. I'm currently without a working kitchen, and the furniture that used to be in our family room is scattered about the rest of our small house.

    In my thank you note for last year's Three Weeks of Thanks-Giving, I expressed gratitude to my family, my writing friends, and to all our TeachingAuthors' readers. Of course, I'm still grateful for all three groups of people, but I'd like to add three more groups this year. The "Thanks-Giving Thanku" poem below is dedicated to:
    1. The students of my COD class, Beginnings, Middles, and Ends, for their patience with me if I was a bit distracted/frazzled during the last two weeks of class.   
    2. My family members and friends for all their help and support during this time. In particular, for my husband's siblings and their families for providing temporary homes for my father-in-law. (He normally lives with us, but his bedroom is currently storing some of our family room furniture.) And also to the dear friends who allowed my husband and me to stay with them for two nights while our new hardwood floors were stained and finished.
    3. The wonderful craftspeople carrying out our remodeling project. They've been careful, courteous, and punctual throughout the whole project AND they're doing marvelous work!
    The target completion date for the kitchen/family room remodel is Saturday, November 14--the same day I'll be attending the SCBWI-Illinois Prairie Writer's and Illustrator's Day. We'll still have lots to do afterward, but if all goes well, I should have my kitchen back then. I'm definitely looking forward to that!

    The other day, my husband and I were eating dinner in our makeshift kitchen (in our dining room) when the Passenger song "Let Her Go" came on the radio. In case you're not familiar with the lyrics, the song begins:
    Well you only need the light when its burning low
    Only miss the sun when it starts to snow
    Only know you love her when you let her go . . .
    I began singing a revised version that went something like:
    Well you only need the kitchen when it's been torn out
    Only want to cook when there's no stove about
    Only miss the cupboards when you must do without . . .
    I thought of turning this into a poem for Poetry Friday, but decided to go with a Thanku instead:

    I invite all of you to also participate in our Three Weeks of Thanks-Giving by sharing your "gratitudes" with us in one of the four ways I listed above. And don't forget to also check out this week's Poetry Friday round-up over at Write. Sketch. Repeat.

    And if you're looking for more resources about gratitude and its benefits, see the links on the resource page of

    Happy Thanks-Giving to all!

    Monday, November 2, 2015

    A Luddite Celebrates Internet Day!

    Remember the Egyptian Revolution of 2011? For two weeks and three days, the whole world watched as millions of protestors across Tunisia and Egypt demanded reform, ultimately toppling two powerful regimes. While other regional issues certainly followed, it doesn't minimize the enormous change that the internet helped bring about. The people had connected, and used the internet to show the world a new wave of revolution, ending a 31-year state of emergency.

    On a much, much, much smaller scale, though just as fervent, the internet has certainly changed my world. I’m a Luddite by nature. I write manuscripts in longhand, use postnotes to organize everything, and write grocery lists on the back of envelopes. I prefer real books to ebooks. And yea, I still use snail mail. Only recently have I let go of my beloved stickshift, a relationship that lasted 200,000 miles. In its place is an automatic complete with all the computerized bells and whistles of modern convenience. This is me, rolling my eyes as I turn on the radio to listen to tried-and-true NPR. Not even the Tardis is this decked out. And this new car isn’t even high end!

    Still, once upon a time I had spent hours in the university’s basement archives. Now, all of history is just a click away because of the internet. Remember my discussion on the Library of Congress?

    Of course, the most powerful connections have been about people. It's always about the people. And these connections I’ve made by way of the internet have been at the very least life affirming, and at its best, life-saving.

    In the two and some decades since I entered the business of writing for children, I’ve met some phenomenal people. Some had been my heroes and have now become close friends. (I’m talking about youuu, Eric Guru!) Some had begun as friends and have now become my heroes. (Thinking of you, Monica!)

    And through all the good and the bad, and sometimes the very bad, that comes with the writing business, these connections have made the journey more than just bearable. They’ve made the journey worthwhile. (Always ever grateful, dear Karen!)

    I’ve included below some of my favorite connections and favorite people I’ve gathered along the way. This is by no means a complete list. But, in celebrating Internet Day, it's always nice to remember the people on the other end of the wire.

    The amazing Emma Dryden, otherwise known as Dumbledore, is a legend in the business, sharing her wisdom on life and writing in her blog, Our Stories, Ourselves.

    Award-winning writer and teacher, Marion Dane Bauer is a national treasure. She shares her insights on life and writing on her blog, which includes a special section for educator’s at Educator’s Endnotes.

    A mainstay in the business is editor Harold Underdown and his website, Purple Crayon.

    Yvonne Ventresca, author of the amazing young adult novel Pandemic, always offers some interesting research and tidbits about a variety of topics.

    Joanna Marple, long known for her wonderful explorations of children’s literature at Miss Marple’s Musings, recently went on an inspirational life-affirming cross-country journey, and shared her adventures on her blog.

    Brainpickings is a wondrous exploration into all things art and human!

    Bruce Black’s blog Wordswimmer meditates on the art of life and writing, using the metaphor of swimming. Calming, serene, wise and inspirational.

    Recently I chanced upon Elaine Kiely Kearns and Sylvia Liu at KidLit411, and discovered a treasure trove of all of my favorite writing sources.

    A group of ten writers after my own heart share their love of historical fiction, their insights and experiences about the genre on their group blog, Mad about MG History.

    Another favorite group blog is From the Mixed Up Files, in which thirty authors write about all things middle-grade. A great resource for teachers, librarians, parents and everyone with a passion for children’s literature.

    I could go on, but I don't want to hog the conversation. Who or what are some of your favorite  connections that you've made because of the internet? Feel free to share them in the comments!

    Of course, the worse thing about the internet is the ever-so-easy access to online bookstores.  New books just a click away!

    O no!! 

    ~ Bobbi Miller
    (p.s. All photos courtesy of morguefile!)