Friday, December 28, 2018

Giveaway Winner and our Winter Break

Hi all,
Just a quick update to announce that the winner of Carla's new book Buried Lives: The Enslaved People of George Washington's Mount Vernon is Vanessa R!

Congratulations, Vanessa! And a BIG thank you to all who entered. We're planning more great giveaways in 2019, so stay tuned. I'll be posting about the next one in February.

Hope you're all enjoying the holiday season. Our regular posts will resume Friday, January 11.

Till then, remember to Write with Joy!

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Unseen Foundation of Buried Lives AND Last Day to Enter Book Giveaway

This week’s post is a follow up from last week.  In that post, I was looking forward to the release of Buried Lives: The Enslaved People of George Washington’s Mount Vernon on December 18.  At last the book is officially available for purchase.  Yipppeee!  


But behind every page are countless backstories that no one will ever know.  Sometimes those stories—not meant for the pages of the book—make what is written on the page even deeper and more meaningful.  

Here in this space I’m going to share a few pics and stories that are not in the book.  And some of the stories I don’t have photos for.  But every photo and every story are sub text in the book, even though not in the words I’ve carefully crafted there.  

Many different people at Mount Vernon have helped me in countless ways.  I don’t have photos of most of them.  Mary V. Thompson, the historian at Mount Vernon has always shared her vast knowledge with me with unbelievable generosity that goes beyond her “job” at Mount Vernon.  She has answered hundreds of questions for me along the way.  Another hero of mine at Mount Vernon is Dawn Bonner, Manager of Visual Resources who shared countless images with me as I chose just the right ones. In the end she helped me find many of the stunning images you see in the book.  She too answered hundreds of questions for me about images.  Thank you both from the bottom of my heart.

Here are just of few photos that make up the unseen foundation of Buried Lives.  

In the laboratory with Joe Downer, Archeologist and Crew Chief for Mount Vernon's dig in the cemetery of the enslaved.  Thousands of pieces of history have been found at Mount Vernon especially in the areas where the enslaved lived.  Lives of people become real when you touch pieces of dishes, pipes, and pottery they used day to day.  Joe has helped me in a million ways throughout this project.  

I had the opportunity to work with the archeologist to dig in the cemetery.  Me working the soil shaker where a 5000 year old Native American arrowhead was found.  Wow.  I was the second person to touch this in 5000 years!   

Me working a trowel to finish uncovering one of the graves of the enslaved in the cemetery.  I wrote about it on pages 126-127 of the book.  It was a deeply moving experience to uncover grave #67.  No one will ever know who lies buried in this unmarked grave.

Brenda Parker, who portrays Caroline (one of the people highlighted in my book) and Don Francisco (plays the fife at Mount Vernon) came to the cemetery memorial on the days I was working on the dig.  Brenda -who sings like an angel-sang Amazing Grace, and Don accompanied her on the fife.  I cried and cried.  A day I'll never forget.  Thank you dear ones for all you!

One of the wonderful things about this book is adding these two wonderful people in my life as friends.  Thank you Brenda Parker and Don Francisco for your sweetness.  

Having dinner with the amazing Mary V. Thompson, the historian at MV.  And my new friend Zunny Matema (a descendant of Caroline in my book).  Zunny wrote the forward for the book.  What a wonderful circle to complete as a writer.  To write about Caroline, then meet her present day descendant.  What an honor!  

I’ve done all I can to make Buried Lives the best book it can be. I’ve researched it, written it, revised it countless times, wept over it, and prayed over it.   

At last the book is available for readers. 


Carla Killough McClafferty

Here's the link to the post where you can enter the giveaway.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Book Giveaway and Release of my book, Buried Lives: The Enslaved People of George Washington's Mount Vernon

At last it is time to do the dance of joy and celebrate.  Yippeeeeee, Hallelujah!  My new book Buried Lives: The Enslaved People of George Washington’s Mount Vernon(Holiday House Books) will be released in a few days-on December 18, 2018. 

Released December 18.  New from Holiday House.  STARRED review in Booklist.
Enter the book giveaway at the end of this post for a chance to win a copy of
Buried Lives: The Enslaved People of George Washington's Mount Vernon.

It has been five years in the making.  Now that I think about it, it has been closer to five and a half years since the first idea for this book planted itself firmly in my mind--and more importantly in my heart.  At the risk of sounding melodramatic, when I take on a topic for a book, I live with the people I write about for the rest of my life.  

The people from Buried Lives I’ll carry with me along life’s bumpy road are William Lee (Washington’s valet), Christopher Sheels (the young man who took over as valet), Caroline Branham (housemaid), Peter Hardiman (Caroline’s husband who ran Washington’s mule breeding operation), Oney Judge (Martha Washington’s lady’s maid), and Hercules (chief cook at President’s House in Philadelphia).  Along with these six people, their families join me too. For some of them, I know their mothers, their grandmothers, their aunts, their uncles, their spouse, their sons, and their daughters.

While I’m researching and writing the book, the subjects of my book are never far from my mind.  I think about them as I figure out how to bring their true-life stories to readers in a way that is accurate and entertaining.  I think through the details of their experiences.  I ponder over them.  I put myself in their shoes so to speak-at least as much as possible.  The people I write about must be real to me.  If they aren’t real to me, they will never feel real to my readers--even though they were real people.  

I want my readers to find out what happens to the six people I highlight in my book.  But that’s not all—I want them to feel the hoe in Christopher’s hand when he was a child. I want them to feel the cold as Caroline lights the fires in the house during the winter.  I want them to smell the delicious meals Hercules cooked on the hearth.  I want my readers to see them as real flesh and blood people who had every emotion we have today.  And I want my readers to remember that someone else owned these six people.  In this case, their master was the President of the United States.

Along the way of telling about the lives of these six individuals who were enslaved at Mount Vernon, I weave in Washington’s changing views of slavery through the years.  By 1799, 317 enslaved people lived at Mount Vernon. Washington owned 123 of them, he rented 41, and 153 individuals were owned by Martha’s dower estate.   Near the end of his life, Washington wrote a will that would freed the 123 people he owned.  But neither he nor Martha could free the 153 people that were part of her estate.  This sets up a devastating separation of some families after the deaths of George and Martha Washington.  Readers will find out which of the six were freed and which remained enslaved.

Also part of Buried Lives is the ongoing archaeological dig in the cemetery for the enslaved people of Mount Vernon.  The graves, which are unmarked, are slowly being located and counted—while none of the remains are disturbed. 

In a few days, Buried Lives: The Enslaved People of George Washington’s Mount Vernon will leave my protection.  It will be released into the world to stand on its own.  It is my hope that the book I’ve written will allow six, specific enslaved people from Mount Vernon to step out of the fog of history and stand in the bright light of recognition.  I want my readers to like them as much as I do.   

Carla Killough McClafferty


Readers, to enter our drawing for a chance to win an autographed copy of Buried Lives: The Enslaved People of George Washington's Mount Vernon, written by Carla Killough use the Rafflecopter widget below. 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 page. If you haven't already "liked" our Facebook page, please do so today! 
In your comment, tell us what you'd do with the book if you win our giveaway--keep it for yourself or give it to a young reader?

(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.

Note: if you submit your comments via email or Facebook, YOU MUST STILL ENTER THE DRAWING VIA THE WIDGET BELOW. The giveaway ends December 21, 2018 and is open to U.S. residents only.

P.S. If you've never entered a Rafflecopter giveaway, here's info on how to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway and the difference between signing in with Facebook vs. with an email address.

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Friday, December 7, 2018



In but twenty-four days, 2018 will have come and gone.
I’m amazed to report: I made it!
My Can-Do/Anything-is-Possible Spirit appears surprisingly intact, only a smidgen worse for the wear this past year.

I did indeed try my hand at undertaking many of the verbs I’d recommended in my January post. (Think: begin, write, revise, finish, push, stretch, seek and find.)
I of course remain immeasurably grateful to those who kept me keeping on: my family and friendsmy fellow bloggers, my Chicago Cubs – in particular David Bote who pinch-hit a walk-off grand slam at the bottom of the ninth to beat the Nats 4 to 3 this August, but especially my students and writers – my storied treasures who kept me focused on doing what I love and loving what I do.
I’m still in the Hope Business, writing children’s books as well as teaching and coaching children’s book creators who do the same.

To be truly honest, a September trip to the Amalfi Coast did wonders. 😊
As did binge-watching The Gilmore Girls, a much-touted series that allowed me to live daily in Stars Hollow. 😊
So did so many beautifully-written inspiring children’s books, from Khaled Hosseini’s SEA PRAYER, Lesa Cline-Ransome’s FINDING LANGSTON and Mandy Davis’ SUPERSTAR to Minh LĂŞ’s DRAWN TOGETHER, Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s HEY, KIDDO and Deborah Mills’ LA FRONTERA.

Best of all, though, when I needed it most?
Along came Juan Felipe Herrera’s IMAGINE in October, gorgeously illustrated
by Lauren Castillo (Candlewick Press), gifting me with my course of action for 2019.
Poet, performance artist and activist Herrera moved with his migrant family from Mexico to the U.S. when he was a small boy, saying goodbye to his amiguitos. In time he learned how to read and write in English, grabbing words he’d never heard and sprinkling them over a paragraph to write a magnificent story.  He served as the 21st U.S. Poet Laureate from 2015 through 2017, reading the book’s poem on the steps of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
“Imagine,” he writes at the end of each verse.  “Imagine what you could do.”

Candlewick’s front flap copy says it all: “Herrera’s breathtaking poem ‘Imagine’ and Lauren Castillo’s evocative illustrations will speak to every reader and dreamer searching for their place in life.  Who might you be? Imagine...”

If you don’t believe me or the flap copy, look and listen for yourself.

I plan to steal away and do just that beneath tonight’s New Moon, once I upload this post.
What I can do. What I can be. What I can become. 
My world.  Our world.
What matters.  Just name it.
IMAGINE is my 2019 verb. I hope you’ll consider making it your verb too.

As always, thanks to our Poetry Friday connection, Elizabeth Steinglass.

Happy Imagining!

Esther Hershenhorn

Friday, November 30, 2018

The Poetry of US ~ Grateful for Poetry Anthologies and Anthologists!

Howdy, Campers and Happy Poetry Friday(The link to PF and my poem are below)

This month, TeachingAuthors posts have been about the things we're most grateful for in the world of words. (Except for Wednesday's post, which includes a hot picture book writing prompt called "Dialogue is Sriracha Sauce."Bobbi is grateful that each of us has a voiceMary Ann is grateful to her family of storytellers,  Carla gives thanks for primary source documents which bring her research to life, and Carmela gives thanks to readers who make a huge difference in the life of a book.

Today I am grateful for poetry anthologies and the anthologists who create them. These works are a gift both to the poets in each collection and to their readers.

I've been honored to work with many of our finest anthologists. Today I'd like to bow deeply to a "well-loved, deeply-respected, and internationally-renown author and poetry anthologist," (and, may I add, a really fun guy),  Paul B. Janeczko who just this month won NCTE's Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children.

This award, established in 1977, honors a living American poet for their aggregate work for children ages 3–13. Take a deep dive into his website and see what a remarkable writer and person Paul is.

photo of Paul B. Janezko courtesy of Candlewick Press

Thank you for all you have given us, Paul--you are deeply loved and you soooo deserve this award!
And speaking of anthologies: National Geographic just published an anthology by another well-loved, deeply-respected, and internationally-renown author and poetry anthologist, former Children's Poet Laureate, J. Patrick Lewis, THE POETRY OF US: More than 200 poems that celebrate the people, places and passion of the United States (National Geographic)

In 2015, I was thrilled when Pat asked me to write a poem about San Diego Zoo for this book "(perhaps include some of its exotic species)?" So after correspondence with and phone calls to the zoo hoping to get a free behind-the-scenes tour or interview with an animal keeper (wouldn't you think?), I convinced my husband that for our wedding anniversary we needed to go on a two-hour $89/per person behind-the-scenes tour of the zoo. And so we went. (Yes, he's a keeper.)

What a fun day!

It's both exhilarating and terrifying to write for an editor. Many of my attempts are stiff, lifeless. Nonetheless, I sent Pat nine poems. One was about two pandas getting married (we saw part of a wedding at the zoo), one was from the POV of a child lost in the zoo (I was six years old), two were about an elephant getting a manicure (we saw this on the tour--it's an actual thing!), a poem titled GOD DISCOVERS THE SAN DIEGO ZOO (about the S.D. Zoo Corps program for teens), one about a surprise date at the zoo (art reflecting life), a take-off of Robert Frost's The Pasture set in the zoo ("you come, too"), a quick and quirky poem about the first female zoo director, and a more serious poem about the same director.

Pat picked the last poem. Anthologists are editors, parent figures, therapists, task masters, mentors and more. Pat is one of the most patient editors I've worked with, watering and weeding poems I didn't even know were growing inside me...and then showing me how to clean up their meter and meaning.

Over a period of months, we changed phlangers into wombats, we took zebras out of their stalls (they've never lived in stalls in the San Diego Zoo, according to the zoo's historians) and more. Here is my poem as it now appears in this marvelous (and visually delicious) collection:

Belle Benchley
by April Halprin Wayland

I was the bookkeeper, that's all.
At noon I'd watch the zebras loll
I'd study wombats eating lunch
I really did not know that much
about the zoo.

I saw the llama wasn't well—
how did I know? It's hard to tell.
I pointed out a listless gnu
(for I read volumes about zoos.)

Some people swore our chief was rude—
depends upon your point of view.
(Recall he built this cageless place
which opened 1922).

It may be Dr. Wegeforth’s rage
that drove three zoo leaders away.
He marched to my desk, bent down and said:
"You try and run it—go ahead."

And so I did. 
poem (c) 2018 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

Thank you for hosting PF at Carol's Corner today, Carol!

posted with gratitude by April Halprin Wayland with help from Eli, Monkey and Snot.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Picturebook Prompt ~ Dialogue is Sriracha Sauce

Howdy, Campers, and welcome to another of our occasional Wednesday Writing Workouts!


Next Monday is the last class of this quarter for my Picture Book course...and on Saturday, January 26th, I begin my 20th year of teaching in UCLA Extension's Writers' Program. (HOW CAN THAT BE when I'm only 26 years old?)

We're trying something new next quarter: 10 Saturday classes beginning January 26th from 10am-1pm. (I'm already dreaming of less traffic on Saturdays! Please spread the word to your friends in the LA area: here's the link)

In last Monday's class, we talked about the use of dialogue in picture books and how much fun it is to read these books aloud. I learned early on that including dialogue is like pouring Sriracha sauce on oatmeal

image from Pixabay

My first book, To Rabbittown, written in free verse, contains no dialogue. But my second (The Night Horse), third (It's Not My Turn to Look for Grandma!), fourth, (Girl Coming in for a Landing ~ a novel in poems), and fifth books (New Year at the Pier) do.  

I needed a writing exercise to reinforce my lecture. Creating it was like putting together a two-piece puzzle.
image from Pixabay

Here's what inspired this exercise:
1) I heard an excellent presentation at SCBWI's conference in L.A. this August by the always wonderful Candace Fleming about how she wrote the multi-award winning book, The Giant Squid.  One of the things that struck me was that she chooses a word or phrase as her guiding light before she begins researching or writing any book. She calls it the Vital Idea. This isn't a new concept, but the way she presented it helped me understand how crucial this is. The Vital Idea she chose for The Giant Squid was Mystery. Every page, every verb reflects this idea.

2) My friend Ellen recently took an improv class. She reminded me that every idea in improv is answered with "Yes, and..." (For example, if someone is pantomiming and says, "I'm carrying my mother's alligator." the response must be, "Yes, and..."  It's never "No, but...").

So here's my DIALOGUE IS SRIRACHA SAUCE exercise:
1) come up with a Vital Idea (the guiding principle of the story).  
2) write a story completely in dialogue
A further suggestion, which you can take or leave, is to have one character always start by saying "Yes, and" or "No, but."

As my students settled down to write, I wrote, too. The Vital Idea I chose was: This world is not safe. (That was the first thought that came to my mind...which is just sad). Here's my very raw draft:

by April Halprin Wayland
A: Never go to Z Street: there are tigers.
B: Yes, there are tigers and lobsters with ginormous claws on Z Street.
A: Lobsters with ginormous claws?
B: Yes and poisonous carrots!
A: Poisonous carrots?
B: Yes and they kill you after six bites!
A: Couldn't you just not eat the poisonous carrots?
B: No—poisonous carrots sing to you and you can't help but sit down and lean against them and then they encircle you and all is lost.
A: All is lost because they make you eat them?
B: Yes.
A: They want you to eat them?
B: Yes.
A: Okay. Never go to Z Street: there are tigers and lobsters and poisonous carrots.
B: Yes and also there is a little kid with dangerous and sticky fingers who takes your hand and is forever glued to you.
A: Forever?
B: Yes, except when you're eating a poisonous carrot.
A: Okay, so: never go to Z Street, for there are
B: tigers
A: and lobsters
B: and poisonous carrots
B and a little kid with sticky fingers
B: like mine
A: forever glued to mine.

poem (or whatever this is) © 2018 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved

if you
just use a
teeny bit

or if you use
too much
of it
poem © 2018 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved

Try this exercise, and if you have any suggestions on how to make it better, please let me know! 
April Halprin Wayland

Friday, November 23, 2018

Giving Thanks for Readers!

Even though Thanksgiving Day was yesterday (here in the United States), we TeachingAuthors like to share our gratitude all month long.

This year, we're discussing some of the writing-related things we're grateful for. Today, I'd like to send out a HUGE THANK YOU to those who buy and read our books! And I want to express my special thanks for readers who make time to post reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble, etc. Thanks to all of you, Playing by Heart recently passed the 50-review milestone on Amazon! I shared an image celebrating that event on Instagram earlier this week:

I've read that having 50 Amazon reviews is an important milestone because it's a trigger for Amazon's algorithm to suggest a book to other readers. It's also a requirement for certain types of advertising. Of course, the reviews are also helpful for readers considering whether to purchase a book.

I have to confess that I haven't been the best about posting reviews myself. But now that I know they can really make a difference to a book's "discoverability," I'm trying to be more conscientious about reviewing books I enjoy. I encourage all of you to do the same: a review needn't be long to be effective. A sentence or two is enough.

Thanks again to all of you who read our books and blog. May you all have plenty to be grateful for in this Time of Thanks-Giving!

Don't forget to check out something else I'm grateful for: the weekly Poetry Friday roundup hosted today by Irene Latham at Live Your Poem. While you're there, be sure to enter to win a wonderful new book of haiku from former TeachingAuthor Laura Purdie Salas!

And remember to always Write with Joy!

Friday, November 16, 2018

It’s All in the Details

We at TeachingAuthors have been writing about giving thanks, especially as it relates to writing.  

Actually, I’m thankful for writing itself through the ages.  As the author of nonfiction books, I base all of my research on primary source documents.   I’m grateful that for hundreds of years, people have recorded details of their lives. Wealthy and poor people, famous and non famous people, generals and soldiers, mothers and fathers wrote books, letters and diaries that are gold mines of information.    

Not only have people written about their lives through the years, they and their families kept their letters and diaries.  When you write about history today, the details eyewitnesses record can make a nonfiction book come to life.  

To show you how details from life hundreds of years ago gives life to a book, let me give you an example from my new book Buried Lives: The Enslaved People of George Washington’s Mount Vernon.   

My newest book-released December 18, 2018.

Many years after George Washington was President and lived in the capital city of Philadelphia, his step-grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, wrote about those days.  In his memoir titled Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington, Custis remembered Hercules, the main cook at the President’s House-and a man who was owned and enslaved by George Washington.  Custis was a child at the time and knew Hercules well.  Custis later wrote about how Hercules worked to prepare the weekly state dinner.   I write about Hercules in my book.  I quote from Custis who described Hercules as he worked in the kitchen in Philadelphia. He wrote that while preparing state dinners Hercules: 

“shone in all his splendor . . . . It was surprising the order and discipline that was observed in so bustling a scene.  His underlings flew is all directions to execute his orders, while he . . . seemed to be everywhere at the same moment.”  

George and Martha Washington raised her grandson, George Washington Parke Custis-who later wrote a book about his recollections of his life with Washington.

This detail about Hercules was priceless to me.  I was able to write about Hercules as a gifted chef at the top of his game.  With details like these and others, I hope a reader hears the clang of pots and feel the heat of the fire in the hearth as Hercules cooks.  My book is filled with details from eyewitnesses who wrote about events and I could not have known them any other way.  Using primary sources, I could write about Hercules and put a reader in the room with him more than 200 years later.  

In this scene in Buried Lives, I want contemporary readers to catch a glimpse into the life of Hercules, an enslaved man-who happened to be owned by the President of the United States.  

The written word is powerful.  If used effectively, the details of kitchen long ago can be a meaningful as the sweetest verse of poetry.   

Carla Killough McClafferty


Next Month Our Book Giveaway Will Be:

(Starred Review In Booklist!)  

Monday, November 12, 2018

Looking for our Giveaway Winner: Lynne L

The good news first: we had a record-breaking number of entries in response to our giveaway of Ann Whitford Paul's revision edition of Writing Picture Books! And the Rafflecopter widget has picked our two lucky winners.

The not-so-good news: we haven't heard back from one of those winners: Lynne L.

We've sent Lynne multiple emails without a response. If we don't hear from her by 11:59 p.m., (Central time) Tuesday, November  13, we'll have to chose another winner to take her place.

So, Lynne L, if you're out there, please check your inbox and Spam folders and reply to the email we sent you. If you can't find the email, or you're not sure you're the right Lynne L, email us at TeachingAuthors [at] gmail [dot] com for more information.

Happy Monday, all.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Families--the Gift That Keeps on Giving.

     November is the Month of Giving Thanks. Everybody else saves it for Turkey-and-Football-Thursday, but we Teaching Authors take the whole month to be thankful. Cutting to the chase, I am thankful for my family. Not just my husband and daughter and extremely needy dog. I am thankful for my extended family...not only both sides of my family, but both sides of my husband's as well.
Me, my daughter and husband. Benihana wouldn't let us bring the dog.

     Whether it's luck or karma or whatever, my entire family are terrific storytellers. Not that any of them thought that of themselves. They didn't  think there was anything particularly fascinating about their lives. I beg to differ.

   It began with Mom. I loved stories. Not just the ones in books, but the ones Mom told about her childhood. To an only child like me, living on a farm with seven siblings who lived to prank the neighbors sounded exotic. Mom, who was so self conscious about writing, she wrote rough drafts of letters to her family, was a hilariously uninhibited storyteller. The first stories I ever wrote were based on Mom's childhood.  She hooked me on writing and family stories.
From left-Mom, a visitor, Aunt Georgia, Uncle Jim. My grandfather
is behind Jim, the other adults are the parents of the boy in front.

Mom's youngest sibling was my favorite aunt, who had a unique perspective on the family.  Born when my grandmother was 45, (unimaginable in the 1920's), she was the only child at home during WWII. My mother and her brothers were in the service, one sister married, the other two working and rarely home. The stories she told me were ones my mother never knew.  Her sweet, gentle remembrances of the Pittsburgh homefront formed the core of Jimmy's Stars.
Aunts Agnes,left and Sarah, hanging laundry, 1944

Aunt Agnes as a young woman

From Mom's family, I learned the concepts of point of view and unreliable narrator.  My aunts and uncles could tell me a story I had heard from Mom, but each had a totally different take it on it. The same family tale from eight different people, and each remembered a detail the others didn't. Each felt differently about the same event. I learned that people could experience the same event, yet perceive it in a different way. In my nuclear family, there were only two sides of a story, mine and my parents. What a revelation to learn that all adults didn't see things the same way!  I learned truth could be a personal perception.
The only picture of all Mom's siblings, minus one. In front, from
left, Sarah, Mary Anne, Mom. Back, Georgia, Andy, Jim, Agnes

 My Grandmother Rodman dropped out of fourth grade. She was needed at home to raise her five half siblings as her mother slowly died of "consumption." Her stories were distinctly Dickensian. Her older brothers left home at 12 and 14 to get away from their "evil stepfather", who abused all of the children. When her mother died, and "evil stepfather" tried to marry my 14-year-old grandmother, she too ran away and became a "hired girl," always with the idea of returning for the "little'uns." As a young mother, she, my grandfather, my dad and his older brother lived through the deadliest tornado in American history. I heard these stories over and over. My grandmother had a keen eye for detail, and knew how to sequence a story, building to the climax. Again, she didn't think her life was anything but ordinary....but in addition to the violence of her childhood, and the gore and horror of "The Storm," her stories contained descriptions of making peanut brittle, being given her dead mother's clothes ("Somebody ought to get some wear out of them.") memorizing poetry for contests at her one room school house. I soaked it all in.
Grandmother Rodman, my Meemaw. She told her stories while  crocheting,
or as she is doing here, embroidering.

My father-in-law John, age 2
My father-in-law John could tie with my grandmother for The Childhood Most Like a Dickens Novel prize. Losing his train engineer father in a wreck at age four, dying slowly at home from burns from the exploding locomotive boiler. His mother leaving him and his three-year-old sister with maiden aunts, while she went to chiropractic college in St. Louis. She was a take-charge-lady who wasn't counting on remarriage to save her little family. Although she did remarry, the family bounced from state to state during the Depression, barely getting by.

While his childhood was grim, his adult life was nothing but sheer luck. He joined the Navy in the 1930's to pay for college. He did his time, then went to Purdue, only to be recalled in 1940. His base? Pearl Harbor. His ship left for maneuvers Dec 4, 1941, missing the attack on the US fleet. Over the next four years, he survived two ships sunk in torpedo attacks, met and married my mother-in-law, an Australian debutante, and fought in so many naval battles I've lost track. The Battle of Savo Island is the one I remember.

Like my grandmother, my father-in-law John had an incredible memory. He once told me that when he couldn't sleep, he reimagining every night watch on ship--the other sailors, the weather, the enemy vessels. I could  (and did) listen to him for hours. He was the only WWII veteran I knew who would talk about being in combat...while sober.
John, high school graduation and sister Virginia.

"You're a good listener," he'd say. "None of my kids care anything about the war or family history." I couldn't imagine someone not caring about their family's past, but my husband and sister-in-law didn't. I am sad that they cared so little for their father's brave and incredible life.

Babs' engagement picture, 1943
 My mother in law could also spin a yarn, before Alzheimer's took her past.  I mean, who has a father who founded a political party and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth? Who grew up in a mansion on Sydney Harbor, facing what would one day by the Sydney Opera House? Raised by nannies and sent to a convent school, and was a junior Australian tennis champ? Who squabbled with her younger sister (by ten months) as to which was the "pretty one" and which was the "sporty one." Who worked for MGM Australia after the University of Sydney "invited" her to leave? ("I don't believe you are quite focused on your education.  Perhaps later.") My mother-in-law, that's who. And speaking of different POV's, I heard all these stories again, during the one delightful and memorable afternoon I spent with her sister, still living in Sydney. (She assured me that she was the pretty one!)

This group of storytellers also includes my horde of cousins, thirty plus including second and third cousins. The Rodman bunch have my grandmother's eye for detail. The Smith crew have the same deadpan humor as Mom. Oh, and then there are their parents, aunts and uncles by marriage. Dad's older brother brought home a British war bride who had hair-raising stories of living through the London Blitz. Aunt Agnes's husband had a Horatio Alger childhood, the kind that only a smart and enterprising boy in Depression Era Pittsburgh could have experienced. (Favorite story--selling a war bond to Art Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, as part of a newsboys' bond drive.)
Just some of the cousins. From left, me, Melissa, Kelly, Fran

This is my family. They all have(had) their quirks and prejudices and ongoing feuds with other family members. They also had guts and drive to live through hard times, wars and personal sorrow. Lucky for me, they didn't believe in forgetting their pasts, good or bad. They told me, always the eager listener.

As a child, I overheard Mom talking about me.

"She's a writer," Mom said, in an exasperated voice. "I don't know where she gets it."

But I do--from Mom and Dad, Meemaw and Pawpaw.  Aunts Agnes, Sarah and Georgia. Uncles Tom, Andy and Jim. Uncle Gee and Aunt Eileen. In-laws John and Babs, and Babs' sister Adele. All my cousins, but especially Sherry, Val, Melissa and Walt. Thank you all. Through you, I've lived other lives and times. You gave me the gift of our families stories. The best gift a writer can have.

Friday, November 2, 2018

A Nation's Strength

Don’t forget, award-winning author, poet, teacher and mentor Ann Whitford Paul has revised and expanded her 2009 go-to hands-on guide on writing picture books, aptly named WRITING PICTURE BOOKS!Writer’s Digest releases this 2018 edition November 13. You can win a free copy in our Book Giveaway! Be sure to check the entry details at the end of Esther’s post!

For these weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, we at Teacher’s Authors continue our tradition of giving thanks. This week, I give thanks to our most fundamental characteristic that defines our American way: we have a voice in our destiny. As Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice (New York University) suggests, the American democracy “remains a living, breathing idea, a work in progress…American democracy is not perfect, but it is perfectible. For all of us… America is not just an actuality but a potentiality, too.” This week, don’t forget to use your voice, your right to have a say in what defines us as a people and a society.

Meanwhile, I found a wonderful resource in teaching civic education to help students build their basic civic knowledge and understand their role as active citizens. Civics in Literature  is a production between the National Constitution Center and the Rendell Center for Citizenship.We the Civics Kids offers a selection of lessons and activities that enable students to find their voice and work as a change agent in their community!

A Nation's Strength
What makes a nation's pillars high
And its foundations strong?
What makes it mighty to defy
The foes that round it throng?

It is not gold. Its kingdoms grand
Go down in battle shock;
Its shafts are laid on sinking sand,
Not on abiding rock.

Is it the sword? Ask the red dust
Of empires passed away;
The blood has turned their stones to rust,
Their glory to decay.

And is it pride? Ah, that bright crown
Has seemed to nations sweet;
But God has struck its luster down
In ashes at his feet.

Not gold but only men can make
A people great and strong;
Men who for truth and honor's sake
Stand fast and suffer long.

Brave men who work while others sleep,
Who dare while others fly...
They build a nation's pillars deep
And lift them to the sky.

-- by William Ralph Emerson. Born in 1833, Emerson was an architect and  the second cousin to Ralph Waldo Emerson. "A Nation's Strength" first appeared in Our Little Kings and Queens at Home and at School (Louis Benham & Co., 1891). This poem is in the public domain.

"I will tell you that we are not powerless... Every single one of us has something that, if done in numbers too big to tamper with, cannot be suppressed and cannot be denied.” -Oprah Winfrey

Bobbi Miller