Monday, June 27, 2016

Happy 10th Birthday, First Grade Stinks! (Join Our Giveaway Celebration)

I've celebrated the 10th anniversary of one of my books (blessedly, still in print) each spring/summer for the past two years.  In 2014, it was Yankee Girl (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). 2015 marked ten years for My Best Friend (Viking). This Wednesday, June 29th, First Grade Stinks! (Peachtree) hits the Big Ten milestone.

How I write and sell my books baffles me. Mysterious forces seem to gather when the time is "right." Here is the story behind the story of First Grade Stinks!

Lily, off to her first day of First Grade
My daughter Lily loved, loved, loved kindergarten. She adored art (her favorite subject), recess (tied with art), and "student chores" (watering plants, handing out paper.) Her classroom was a carnival of color;  bean bag chairs for "share time," multicolored "learning" rug, plus bird and hornet's nests, seed pods, African violets, rocks, shells and other please-touch-me items. Soaring over it all, a Chinese dragon kite dangled from the ceiling.

Lily was a happy kindergartner.  She had no reason to believe that first grade would be any different. If I had used my head, I might have warned her.  

I didn't.

Off Lily went that first day, toting her new red-blue-and-yellow backpack. She sang along with Destiny's Child on the radio. At school, she swaggered through the doors. She had this.

At 2:30, a different little girl dragged herself to the car. She shrugged off her backpack as if it contained the weight of the world, and hauled herself up into her safety seat.  Destiny's Child still sang on the radio, but they sang alone.  Dead silence from the backseat. If Lily wasn't in a talking mood, I'd have to wait until she was.

At home, she slouched out of the car and up the walk.  I opened the door and went in, Lily behind me.  Slam!  We don't slam doors in our house.  Ever.  I turned to see my daughter, back to the door, sliding to the floor.

"That's it," she shouted. "I'm never going back. Ever, ever, ever. I hate First Grade.  First Grade stinks!"

Even as my Mom Brain lined up the words to tell Lily that she had to go back tomorrow and every day for the next twelve years, my Writer Brain thought, "First Grade stinks! What a great title for a picture book!"

As I listened to Lily's recital of grievances, I realized that at that the heart of it was First Grade is different.

There's a story there I thought.

Every day that year, Lily came home with yet another complaint.  There was only one recess, not enough art, the kindergarteners had first lunch and took all the chocolate ice cream.

I wrote it all down.

Lily survived First Grade, but just barely. I learned that her teacher was about to retire, due to ill health.  All Lily knew was this:  first grade is different.

With Lily's on-the-spot reportage, my book slowly took shape.

Now for those mysterious forces . . .

Mysterious occurrence number one. I submitted FGS to be critiqued at a writer's conference in Wisconsin.  The editor who read it, loved it, and wanted a copy when we got home.  Turned out she was from Peachtree Publishers and lived fifteen miles away from me.  I doubt we would've found each other had we not gone to that Wisconsin conference.

Serendipitous occurrence--My fairy godmother/art director at Peachtree paired my words with Beth Spiegel's art. Beth found humor and detail with her illustrations that I hadn't noticed when writing. She is still one of my favorite illustrators.

Personal note--The original manuscript had only four named characters; Hayley and her best friend, Ryan, and the two teachers, Ms Lacey and Ms Grey.  The rest of the characters had "names" like "Boy in Red Sweater" and "Girl with Cornrows."  The day the book was to be typeset, my editor called, minutes before I was to meet Lily at the bus stop.

"I need names for these characters," said my editor. "Real ones. Not Boy-in-A- Sweater.  Call me back in half an hour.

Those characters had descriptions instead of names; I stink at choosing names.  Back then, I used baby name books for that purpose. (Now I use websites.) I didn't have time to thumb through a couple of books. I had a half an hour. My creativity's wheels spun in the mud as I trudged up to the bus stop.

The bus squealed to a stop. Thunk-thunk. The doors opened. I was still churning possible names as part of my brain automatically tallied the kids coming down the bus steps.  Kirk. Erica.  Sasha.  

Hey, those are names!  Chanting the chain of names, so I would remember them.  I called my editor as soon as I hit the front door.  Those first kids off the bus were thrilled they were "in a book."  The kids who got off after the first five, complained "how-come-we're-not-in-your-book?" (Answer: You should've gotten off first!") Most of those "kids" have now graduated from college...and they still gripe about not "making the book."

Join me in celebrating First Grade Stinks' 10th anniversary.  Please enter our Book Giveaway--details below.  I will be giving away a signed, hardcover first edition trade hardcover.  This edition is no longer available.

Here's the giveaway info:

Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter to win an autographed First Edition copy of First Grade Stinks! (Peachtree). You may enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options.

If you choose option 2, you MUST leave a comment on TODAY'S blog post below or on our TeachingAuthors Facebook pageIf you haven't already "liked" our Facebook page, please do so today! 

(If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.)

Email subscribers: if you received this post via email, you can click on the Rafflecopter link at the end of this message to access the entry form.

The giveaway ends July 15 and is open to U.S. residents only.

Please note: the TeachingAuthors team will begin our summer blogging break this Friday. Our posts will resume on Monday, July, 18. We plan to be able to announce the winner in that post.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Carmela Martino said...

Congratulations on your anniversary, MA! Thanks so much for sharing the story behind the story. :-)

Unknown said...

What a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sheila Renfro said...

Hey Mary Ann, I love this book! Can't believe it's been ten years already.

Anonymous said...

This is a perfect example of how we need to be open to life around us -- there just might be a story hidden somewhere. Loved reading about the life behind this book. Thank you!

Mary Ann Rodman said...

Thank you all for commenting. As you are reading this post, I am teaching a Young Author's camp where I am trying to get a group of elementary-middle schoolers to soak this thought into their bones...stories are all around just have to look beyond yourself some times.

Buffy Silverman said...

I loved hearing the story of how your author brain jumped in while your mom brain explained the reality of school to your daughter! Congratulations on your book's anniversary!

elsie said...

I had to laugh at the inside thinking you were engaging in as your daughter described her horrific day. That's the way writers are, and I'm so glad.

Cathy Ballou Mealey said...

Such a wonderful backstory! I actually LOVED first grade because we got to read. Kindergarten was "just" for learning the alphabet and I was so bored! Now kids learn letters before they even hit preschool. Times change.

Mary Ann Rodman said...

I am loving all of YOUR first grade stories. I polled my large group of cousins, most of them Boomer Babies like me, and NONE of us had spectacular first grade stories. One of the many perks of being a writer is the ability to give yourself the happy ending you want!

Rosi said...

Thanks for sharing this story of your story. I can't wait to read the book. Thanks for a chance to win a very special copy. Congrats on your anniversary.

Bobbi Miller said...

Happy Happy Happy Book Birthday! And I so loved reading the back story to the book. Thank you!

Susan B James said...

Happy Book Birthday. I love the idea behind the book. Thanks for sharing. Love your prose.

Nancy Fraser said...

Inspiration is a writer's best friend. Happy anniversary!

Unknown said...

Congratulations! I love the story about your meeting in Wisconsin. Writers do have fun and cross paths, sometimes in unusual ways.

Linda said...

I loved hearing the backstory of FGS and the mysterious forces behind it. My granddaughter will start first grade this fall. She enjoyed kindergarten, but I think first grade will be a bigger adjustment for her. Happy book anniversary!

jan godown annino said...

Hi Mary Ann,
I'm so excited for all your 10-year anniversaries.
And I love the backstory, especially the names anecdote, so much about this one,
I'm ordering it to read in First Grade this year at Sealey Elementary School where I volunteer.
Hope to see you at a conference. So neat about connecting with your editor that way.