Friday, May 24, 2019

Bringing Up the Rear--Happy 10th Blogiversary, Teaching Authors!

Hello, readers! It's been nearly 5 years since I blogged here on TA. What a gift it is coming back and touching base with all of you again!

First of all, CONGRATULATIONS, TeachingAuthors, on 10 years of sharing your writing wit, wisdom, and camaraderie with lucky people all over the world. If any of you are just catching up, Carmela's kickoff post is here. As part of the celebration, TeachingAuthors have given away a copy of Cheryl Klein's fabulous The Magic Words. You can see who won, here.

It's been fun reading favorite posts from fellow TAs, present and past, and learning what they're currently up to. I think my own favorite post was one about finding ways to write during busy summers with kids underfoot, Summer Writing--with Kids.

That one caught my eye because, even though my own kids are in their 30s (gak!), we've added 5 grandkiddos to our family in the past 4 years. *cartwheels of happiness* When asked to babysit, I always say "Yes, I'd love to!" even if I'm under a stressful deadline (especially if I'm under a stressful deadline!). I can't resist the little stinkers. I anticipate plenty of happy times with them this summer. I'll be keeping my eyes and ears and heart open--and sticky notes handy. Brilliant ideas can spring from the simplest things....

My list of published books has grown in the past 5 years, too. You can see those on my website, here.  Next spring's picture books include Frog Boots, Where'd My Jo Go?, and We Love Babies!, as well as another title in Nat Geo's Little Kids Big Book series. I've done Who, How, and Why 2, and this next one answers Where.

Meanwhile, I'm still blogging at Picture Book Builders. Hard to believe we've been at it for nearly 5 years. Check us out!

Wishing my TA pals many more years of blogging!

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Update from across the years

I'm delighted to be back to help celebrate the 10th Blogiversary of Teaching Authors.

My writing life has changed a good deal since I last blogged. After several years of teaching research writing and English Composition, I realized that I felt drawn to writing nonfiction. I sent out queries (thank you, Laura Purdie Salas for your invaluable information and tools) and began doing a variety of work-for-hire projects. I've greatly enjoyed the work and have published more than 20 titles in the last few years. I've come to realize how my teaching has informed my writing and vice versa, especially as exemplified by these two titles:

Some things have not changed.  I am busy juggling many jobs and kids' activities and, just like old times, forgot to upload my post yesterday.  Sorry for the lapse.

Wishing everyone a wonderful summer, a break from teaching, and lots of time for writing and living!  -- Jeanne Marie

Friday, May 10, 2019

Happy #10 to the 10th Power!

We’re celebrating our TENTH Blogiversary?
We’re celebrating our TENTH BLOGIVERSARY!

Honestly? When we first began blogging, the challenge of a once-every-three-week Monday morning post caused numerous angst-filled Sunday nights.
(1) I’m the Slowest Writer East of the Mississippi.
(2) I was a tad intimidated by my fellow MFA-holding TA’S.
(3) Uploading my post to the Blogger software, inserting pictures and links and praying the post would appear the next day had me hating Sundays.
But once I got the hang of it, say after 4 years? I was there! And it gladdens my heart that I’m still here. 😊
I’ve so loved sharing my teaching and authoring smarts, experiences and wonderings with our TeachingAuthors readers. I remain truly grateful for the honor and opportunity to help seed and feed our Readers.

Gratitude lies at the heart of my very favorite post – “Celebrate October 20th the Write Way: Write a Thanku!
I love the surprise this post created whilst I was writing it – i.e. The Thanku, an original poetic form, part thank you note/part Haiku. I also love the surprise of our readers’ warm response.  The poetic form eventually led to our blog’s annual Two Weeks of Thanks celebration. 

In my very first Thanku I thanked the writers I’ve come to know through teaching and coaching.  “Such storied treasures!” I wrote.
Since 2011, I’ve thanked, in chronological order: my Children’s Book World, my students, my Carioca grandson, my fellow TeachingAuthors, my Chicago Cubs and my mentors Bernice Raab and Sue Alexander.
This year? I’m thanking YOU, our Readers who keep all of us - veteran and former bloggers alike, keepin’ on!

                      THANKU TO YOU!
Here’s to our Readers!
Fans, Feeders, Fuelers all.
True storied treasures.

With immeasurable gratitude to both my fellow TeachingAuthors and our loyal Readers,
Esther Hershenhorn

And now, drum roll, please, as we announce the winner of Cheryl Klein’s THE MAGIC WORDS, our 10th Blogiversary’s Giveaway, personally autographed by the author at last weekend’s Marvelous Midwest SCBWI Conference: Michele H.!
Congrats, Michele!
And thanks to all who entered and shared Good Wishes, favorite posts and Kind Words!

                               Back row, left to right: Jill Esbaum, me, Carmela,                
                               JoAnn; Front row, Cheryl Klein

Sunday, May 5, 2019

10 Years and the Long Road

Happy 10th Blogiversary to Teaching Authors. Ten years? Already? Blogs come and go, but we're still here, because you ... our faithful followers...are still here. Thank you for reading and commenting and supporting us through this...oh wow...decade!

Before proceeding, a reminder that our current giveaway deadline has been extended to Tuesday, May 7.  We are giving away a copy of The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults by author and editor, Cheryl B. Klein. Check Carmela's March 29th post for details and how to enter.

For the Blogiversary, each Teaching Authors is choosing a favorite past post to share. Mine is a letter to my younger writer self.  I've kept journals my whole life, as a reminder of who I was and the long, long road to becoming a published author. I won my first writing contest when I was a sophomore in high school. I knew then that whatever else I would do to support myself, writing would always be my true love. Sometimes I need a little reminder of why I write. Or even that I can write.
15...the journey begins

This post from four years ago reminds me how far I've come...and that the journey is not yet over. I'm in a place where a lot of you are...first, taking care of elderly parents and a high maintenance adolescent; now struggling through the labyrinth of a complicated estate while keeping my college student focused from 200 miles away. What gets shifted to the bottom of the to-do list is my well-being as a human. Rereading the original post has me itching to return to WIP's I left when I "took a break"several years ago.  I hope this trip back to Sept. 2015 will stir memories of your own writer's journey, evaluate where you are, and to find the courage to keep on writing.

If you'll forgive me the indulgence, two of my books have had milestone "birthdays" since my last post. A Tree For Emmy celebrated 10 years in print in March, while Yankee Girl hit 15 years in print in April. (A double digit anniversary!) I am blessed and humbled to have had two books still in print after all these years. Thank you, readers and friends, who keep us children's writers in business.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

A Celebratory Wednesday Writing AND Reading Workout!

It’s not only Children’s Book Week, our country’s longest-running literacy initiative which celebrates every child a reader.
It’s this singular event’s 100th Anniversary!

Of course, all of us were once children, likely children who read,
and Readers are Writers,
and today is Wednesday, as in Wednesday Writing Workout.
So, what better way to celebrate this all-important week than with a writer’s AND reader’s invigorating “walk” through distinguished children’s literature historian Leonard S. MarcusTHE ABC OF IT (Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota, 2019)!

THE ABC OF IT double-duties as the catalogue that accompanies the University of Minnesota’s Kerlan Collection’s current exhibit in the Elmer L. Andersen Library - THE ABC OF IT: WHY CHILDREN’S BOOKS MATTER.  The exhibit was adapted from Marcus’ earlier curated exhibit THE ABC OF IT: WHY CHILDREN’S BOOKS MATTER at The New York Public Library, an exhibit that proved to be the NYPL’s most highly attended exhibit, running from June, 2013 to September, 2014.

The current University of Minnesota exhibit combines Marcus’ original curatorial plan and the NYPL gallery text with items from the university’s distinguished and fabled Kerlan Collection. Think: more than 200 books, pieces of original artwork and correspondence, plus other materials from the University’s Archives and Special Collections. 2019 also marks the 70th anniversary of Kerlan Collection founder Dr. Irvin Kerlan’s first gift to the University of Minnesota.

As the exhibit’s Curator Lisa Von Drasek notes in the book’s FOREWARD, THE ABC OF IT isn’t a history of four centuries of children’s literature. Rather, it’s Leonard Marcus’ “thesis on ‘how books for young people have stories to tell us about ourselves’ and that ‘behind every children’s book is a vision of childhood: a shared understanding of what growing up is all about.’”
That thesis offers a veritable paradise for children’s book creators as well as former children.  It overflows with beloved illustrations and delicious insights into children’s book favorites, game-changers and award-winners.
“These books have so much to say,” Marcus shares in his introduction.  As either an exhibit visitor or reader of the catalogue, “…you may well catch yourself being unaccountably drawn back to pictures and words you thought you had outgrown long ago.” The resulting take-away shines.  Children’s literature is for both children and grown-ups.

One more FYI:  The exhibit has undergone a few changes since its February opening that address the issue of racist content in the representative books, art and correspondence initially included.

Before you begin your vicarious journey through the university’s exhibit via this eye-opening catalogue, pace yourself over lots of days and nights.  Each page, or at least each chapter, demands savoring.

And be sure to figuratively stretch, envisioning the books you think might be included in four centuries of American children’s literature.
Think about your favorite books. Those read to you by parents and/or teachers.  Those you read to children and/or students.  Those you studied.  Those you treasure. Those you hold high as a measure of storytelling excellence.  In other words, those children’s books that matter, especially to you.

To warm up, try identifying, if possible, the images on the book’s cover.  Ogle the book’s gorgeous end papers, courtesy of Gustaf Tenngren’s RED FAIRY BOOK.

Finally, let your fingers do the walking, your eyes the beholding, your mind - and heart - the remembering, as you turn the pages and see why children’s books do indeed matter.

You’ll be in terrific company.  The Pokey Little Puppy.  Alice. Max.  Millions of cats.  That very hungry caterpillar.  Not to mention Beatrix Potter and Kate Greenaway, Kate DiCamillo, Judy Blume and a hole host of luminaries.

Be open to wonderment.  Smile.  Sigh.  Shake your head.  Giggle.  Even blink away a tear.
I promise you one amazing Wednesday Workout!  Or rather, LOTS of amazing Wednesday Workouts.

And, if you’re still rarin’ to go once you reach the end of THE ABC OF IT, or even if you’re not, I highly recommend you take a visual tour of the notable illustrations that marked the importance of Children’s Book Week, courtesy of Leonard Marcus’ 100 YEARS OF CHILDREN’S BOOK WEEK POSTERS (Knopf, 2019).

Check here to learn lots of fun ways to celebrate Children’s Book Week.

And don’t forget! We’re celebrating our TeachingAuthors 10th Blogiversary this month!  Be sure to enter our give-away of a signed copy of Cheryl Klein’s THE MAGIC WORDS.  You can read all about it here.

Happy Wednesday Workout(s)! Happy Children’s Book Week!

Esther Hershenhorn
While waiting for your copy of THE ABC OF IT to arrive, click here to experience the Feb. 27 opening of the exhibit.

Friday, April 26, 2019

5 Years Later, Still Writing the Same Way!

Hello, writers and teachers! It’s lovely to visit with you, and happy 10th anniversary to this wonderful blog!

For my blast from the past, I’ve decided to link to my Wednesday Writing Workout post on writing rhyming nonfiction. I chose this rhyming nonfiction poem exercise because, 5 years later, it still accurately reflects how I go about writing. This trial-and-error, exploratory way of writing nonfiction verse still feels like home to me. The content is king in a nonfiction book, but playing with rhyme can help shape the way and order in which I'm going to share information, and it can suggest various examples and metaphors that I might not have thought of without rhyme.

It’s basically the same way I’ve been writing my nonfiction verse books (though none have been about fences--ha!). After WATER CAN BE..., which I shared also in that post, came A ROCK CAN BE... (Millbrook, 2016), MEET MY FAMILY: ANIMAL BABIES AND THEIR FAMILIES (Millbrook, 2018), and, soon, SNACK, SNOOZE, SKEDADDLE: HOW ANIMALS GET READY FOR WINTER (Millbrook, 2019). I also have two rhyming nonfiction picture books coming out from Bloomsbury in the next few years!

This spring, though, is a Poetry-Palooza celebration, as I have three poetry picture books that have all come out in the past few months. One is nonfiction but not rhyming. One is rhyming poems, but they are pure imagination. And one is haiku riddles, nonrhyming. I have Padlets on each book’s page on my website, so if you feel like trying your hand at some different types of poetry, I hope you’ll jump in and contribute!

SNOWMAN-COLD=PUDDLE: SPRING EQUATIONS (Charlesbridge, ill. by Micha Archer)


LION OF THE SKY: HAIKU FOR ALL SEASONS (Millbrook, ill. by Mercè López)

One other project I've been working on recently is getting some of my resources for children's writers gathered into one spot on my website.I hope you'll stop by to see if you find something useful, like my free Facebook Group or my in-depth articles on how I write a nonfiction picture book or how I research publishers and submit my manuscripts. And I've even joined Patreon, where I'm providing additional resources, like behind-the-scenes videos documenting how I'm writing my current picture book.

Besides all this good stuff, TeachingAuthors is running a giveaway of Cheryl Klein’s MAGIC WORDS. Just go back to Marti’s kickoff post to enter.

And, as it's Poetry Friday, be sure to check out the Roundup at Beyond LiteracyLink with the awesome Carol Varsalona!

Okay, that's it. Thanks for inviting me back! The depth of information shared here is really meaningful. I had fun reading a few of my old posts as well as other posts that caught my eye as I was browsing. You aren’t kidding when you call yourselves Teaching Authors!

Laura Purdie Salas

Friday, April 19, 2019

Letting Go of Fear (in Our 10th Year!)

Howdy, Campers! Happy Poetry Friday(poem and the link to PF is below)

Before we begin, there's good news for those of you who want to win a terrific book: We’ve extended the deadline to enter our latest book giveaway of a signed copy of The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults by editor and author Cheryl B. Klein. You’ll find giveaway instructions in Carmela’sMarch 29 post. The new deadline is now Tuesday, May 7, in part to honor the 100th anniversary of Children’s Book Week. Click here to find out how to enter.

And now...happy 10th blogiversary, fellow Teaching Authors! In particular, happy blogiversary to our founder and fearless leader, Carmela Martino, who has steered the TA ship across the years. I cannot begin to thank you for hauling me on deck just before we set sail. My world is so much richer for it!

pretty amazing

In honor of this memorable milestone, all current and several former Teaching Authors are sharing our favorite posts.  I've decided to go all the way back to 2009. Here's my post on our first topic, "How I Became a Teaching Author."  At the end of that post I conclude that teaching is generosity.

I've become more and more comfortable being honest with our readers. Today I know that being honest is a form of generosity.  (And to be honest, I was scared straight out of my jimmy-jammies writing that post.)

In this safe space, we've often shared fears about writing or teaching (find some of those posts here); I felt like an imposter as a writer and as a teacher for so long, fear was a second skin.

But this year something's changed. 

I must be like the Cowardly Lion at the end of the movie, The Wizard of Oz. As he is awarded a medal for courage, he becomes brave. After I was given an outstanding instructor award by the UCLA Extension Writers' Program, I believed that I actually was a good instructor, rather than pretending to be one.

Here is a not-yet-good-enough draft of a poem about how I so often felt:

by April Halprin Wayland

I cannot do this today.
I sit on the stool in this empty classroom.

How dare I believe I can teach.
Am I a teacher?

Do other teachers feel this way--
slightly flu-ish, wanting to puke, even?

They should bring in someone else,
someone with a sword, maybe.

I wonder if my second grade teacher felt this way.
I wonder if all my teachers felt this way.

I almost fall off my stool 
imagining that.

But as I began teaching the first quarter of this year, here's what I wrote:
by April Halprin Wayland

Again she drives in early
unloads books
hooks up her laptop to the screen
puts one sheet of lavender paper
on each desk
puts the perfectly blooming hyacinth
just so on the edge of her desk
tapes her favorite quote on the front door
and two more inside her classroom.
Again she takes off running shoes
puts on high heels
brushes her hair
fills her water bottle
settles in.

She breathes for a moment,
closing her eyes.

Then she looks at the clock,
opens the door

poems (c) 2019 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved. (Even on that crummy draft.)

One sign on my classroom door

As we celebrate 10 years of this blog, I celebrated 20 years as an instructor in the UCLA Extension Writers' Program.

I am no longer afraid to walk through that door. (And, though the fear has diminished, I still sweat writing this blog!  Perhaps that fear will disappear by our 20th blogiversary.)

my wonderful first class of 2019 holding some of their favorite picture books
both photos taken by our guest speaker, author Alexis O'Neill

Thank you for teaching me so much, readers. 

Happy Ramadan, Passover and/or Easter to all!

 And thank you, Amy at The Poem Farm for hosting!

Posted by April Halprin Wayland with help from Eli, the licky, lanky dog with the operatic bark.

Eli consulting Bear

Monday, April 15, 2019

A Very Sad P.S. to my March 15 Post…

P.S. is short for the term “Postscript” which comes from the Latin “Post Scriptum,” an expression meaning "written after.”

on March 16, the very next day after posting my very sincere thanks and tribute to my very first children’s book writing mentor Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, the NY Times reported her March 12 death in Munster, Indiana.
Here’s the link.

My sighs were audible. I could feel my heart heave.
For one whole week, while working at my desk in Chicago, reading everything I could find about this award-winning author’s long-time career – interviews, reviews, write-ups galore, so I could tell my Love Story about I’M TERRIFIC’s creator to our Readers, Marjorie Weinman Sharmat was right around Lake Michigan’s bend making Other Plans.

I also lamented my decision to not include this photo.  I think it screams ‘TEACHINGAUTHOR!”

Publishers Weekly paid tribute to this prolific author on March 19.

Fortunately, a Munster newspaper obituary shared contact information so I could express to the Sharmat Family my condolences as well as my deep appreciation of this very terrific life-changing author.

Here’s to Nate the Great, but best of all, to Marjorie the Terrific!

Esther Hershenhorn

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Tenth Blogiversary! Poetry Friday! Book Giveaway!

Hip-hip-hooray for ten years of Teaching Authors blog posts! In honor of this momentous milestone, all ten current and former Teaching Authors are sharing some of our favorite posts.

We’re also giving away a signed copy of The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults by editor and author Cheryl B. Klein. You’ll find giveaway instructions in Carmela’s March 29 post. The giveaway ends on April 26. Good luck!

Because April is National Poetry Month and I’m posting on a Friday, I chose a post about poetry so I can participate in Poetry Friday and celebrate some more. I pored over all my old posts and picked one about the process of Revising a Poem because it still speaks to me. I hope you’ll also find a helpful tip or two!

Here in Wisconsin, this week’s April showers are snowflakes. Surprise!

We just returned from a vacation in gorgeous Hawaii, where sunshine felt like a soothing balm. We visited Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, watched the sun set from the southernmost point of the big island, hung out with hungry geckos, and ate our fill of tropical fruit. Here’s a glimpse of me with a massive bloom on a rainy day in the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, a paradise of flowers and stunning ocean views. And here’s a Hawaii Haiku:
yellow butterflies,
green sea turtles, black sand beach—
everything ebbs and flows
I’m happy to report that since I last posted here in August 2017, I signed a contract for a new picture book to be published in spring 2021, and two of my poems have been accepted by magazines. My recent writing has focused mostly on poems, some of which I’ve posted on my blog.

I’ve been spending more time at the sewing machine than at my writing desk lately, making Boomerang Bags reusable shopping bags. A post I wrote for the Authors for Earth Day blog explains more. But I’m missing the joy of writing, so I hope to snuggle back into a daily routine soon. I’m considering this post a start. Thank you, Teaching Authors, for inviting me to contribute!

Irene Latham has today’s Poetry Friday Roundup at Live Your Poem. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

Friday, April 5, 2019

My Favorite 99th Revision!

Happy Tenth Anniversary!

Carmella began the celebration of our   TENTH blogiversary at  TeachingAuthors! In honor of this momentous milestone, we'll be giving away a signed copy of The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults (W.W. Norton) written by book editor and author Cheryl B. Klein. You'll find the giveaway instructions here!

We are looking at our favorite posts of these last ten years, and I have to admit, I love them all, written by every one of the TAs. I found them all inspiring, informative and relevant to the ongoing adventures of writers who teach writing to children, teens and adults. But perhaps the most relevant discussion, from my post of Feb 2017,  centers on revision. I'm currently taking the Revising and Re-Imagining Your Novel or Chapter Book online workshop, offered by Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson. This is my second time around, and I continue to learn new strategies on how to dig deep into your story, looking at what ails it, and how to -- as Cheryl Klein states in her book on what makes for a good story -- "take readers on wonderful outward adventures and stirring inward journeys."

"I want to be sucked into this imaginary world and believe these characters and their actions are real, and I want the flow of language to be like water to a fish -- transparent, so I see right through it to the action, and so immersive that I take it for granted." -- Cheryl B. Klein, The Magic Words

Remember that old marching song:
99 bottles of beer on the wall
99 bottles of beer
Take one down, and pass it around,
98 bottles of beer on the wall.
Its repetitive melody helps you find your rhythm when hiking trails or jumping ropes. It’s an ear worm that keeps you steady when the task at hand seems monumentally tedious. It diverts your attention from the monotony to the goal. That’s what I feel when I revise. When I finish a first draft, breathing a sigh of relief and accomplishment, I move on to the first revision. Only to discover another plot hole. A character acts out of character. First person slips into third person. Or worse, the history is wrong.

I write a blend of historical fiction and American fantasy, blending the folklore that captures the American identity with a unique form of fantasy that – I hope – captures forgotten times and personalities in American history. My first book, Big River’s Daughter (2013), begins in December 1811, when a series of earthquakes shook the Mississippi River basin. It shook so hard, the river ran backwards. It changed the landscape. Language is as important as the history during this time. In true rough and tumble fashion, the heroes of tall tales mocked and defied convention. Annie Christmas and Mike Fink – two important characters in the book – used language as wild and unabashed as the circumstance and landscape that created them and the protagonist, River. If the language isn’t correct, not only to the time and place and character, it’s time for a second revision.

98 bottles of beer on the wall, 98 bottles of beer…
The historical details are particularly important, whether it is the day the river ran backwards or a day during the Civil War. Historians work within a broad spectrum of data-gathering, dairies, journals and other volumes of primary sources. Planning and plotting resemble postnotes arranged in rainbows, Venn diagrams and flowcharts, all in the quest for accuracy. The process of writing historical fiction, like researching history, is neither straightforward nor risk-free. My second novel, Girls of Gettysburg (2014),  focused on Pickett’s Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg. No other time in American history has been so researched, even down to the number of bullets fired during the charge. Historical fiction makes the facts matter to the reader. If you get those details wrong…

97 bottles of beer on the wall, 97 bottles of beer… 
Even after a manuscript is done, it's not truly done. My dear Reader (what some might call a beta-reader, but I call her Clara) and I have a process. After so many rejections, we review the story, and look for possible revisions. For all the blood, sweat and tears – no tall tale here! – spilled during the writing of the manuscript, a manuscript is more likely to get rejected than not. Recently, I revised one rejected manuscript, taking it from 150 pages to 175 pages, refining character,  language and plot while expanding on the historical context. During this process,  I have to keep reminding myself, revising is when the real writing begins. This is when the real story emerges, the one that needs to be told. 

Now I’m revising another historical fantasy manuscript. The original was an experiment into the contemporary. After several rejections, it became apparent that the experiment didn’t work. With this book, I venture into the wild, wild west, taking on its fantastical landscapes and lore. Think The Reluctant Dragon meets American Gods.

96 bottles of beer on the wall, 96 bottles of beer…
Historical fiction is one of the hardest sells today. As one agent warned me, western themes are harder still. The original manuscript was 150 pages, and I have to get it to 225 (for many reasons, one of which is the conventions our hoped-for editor prefers)...

95 bottles of beer on the wall, 95 bottles of beer…
You know what? I hate beer. And this morning, I hate revision even more. It’s hard, hard, bloody hard work.  It makes me dizzy-eyed. And there’s no guarantee that after all that blood spilled, sweat poured, and tears cried, and there’s been plenty of each, I’ll even be offered that coveted contract. So why do it anyway?

Indeed. Instead of spending all those hours writing, typing, outlining, researching, deleting, cutting, pasting, I could bake a pie. I could eat a pie. I could give my cat a bath. I could learn a new hobby, plant another garden, or two, or three…

Wait. Pause. Take a breath.
True enough, I have enough gardens. And I have enough hobbies, which mostly centers on books and more books. And my cat would not let me live to see another day if I dared give him a bath. And I haven’t had a baking oven for close to a decade.

Besides, this character, for all her flaws, is getting really interesting. If I could just…

Fine. Back to work.

94 bottles of beer on the wall, 94 bottles of beer…
Don't forget to enter our giveaway!

Bobbi Miller

Friday, March 29, 2019

Book Giveaway To Celebrate Our TENTH Blogiversary: The Magic Words by Cheryl Klein!

Yes, you read the title of this post correctly--we're getting ready to celebrate the TENTH blogiversary of TeachingAuthors! In honor of this momentous milestone, we'll be giving away a signed copy of The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults (W.W. Norton) written by book editor and author Cheryl B. Klein. You'll find the giveaway instructions at the end of this post.

Our Tenth Blogiversary is actually on April 22, 2019. We're starting the celebration early because we've invited our former TeachingAuthors to participate in a special series looking back at our favorite posts over our blog's history. As it turns out, that series will feature TEN posts, starting with this one. You'll hear from the six current TeachingAuthors: April Halprin Wayland, Bobbi Miller, Carla Killough McClafferty, Esther Hershenhorn, Mary Ann Rodman, and me, Carmela Martino, as well as our "retired" TAs: Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford, Jill Esbaum, JoAnn Early Macken, and Laura Purdie Salas. TEN TeachingAuthors in all! (If you're new to our blog, you can read bios of the current and former TAs on our About Us page.)

I have to say, I was having a terrible time choosing just one from the over 200 posts I've written as my "favorite." Should I pick a post I especially enjoyed writing? Or should it be one that seemed to resonate most with readers? Finally, I "cheated" and looked at the blog statistics to find which of my posts has had the most page reads. Turns out, it was one from our very first year of blogging! On August 12, 2009 I shared a post called "Getting to Know Me--Six-Word Memoirs" that is still among the top 5 most-viewed TeachingAuthors posts of all time.

That post was not only fun to write, it also led me to incorporate a new activity into the summer writing camps I teach. The post includes a Writing Workout intended "To engage students in thinking about their lives and to show them how to write concisely." This exercise has proven to be a great hit with my young students. Even reluctant writers can manage to find six words to describe themselves, and often quite eloquently.

When I introduce the topic in my camps, I share the example of one of my own six-word memoirs:
Published author who enjoys teaching writing.

I also share examples from other students their age, like these:
I love soccer, so so much.
I am growing. I am learning.
I wish I had a panda.

The young writers catch on very quickly!

We've written about 6-word memoirs here on TeachingAuthors several times over the years. You can read more about them in posts grouped under the tag Six-Word Memoir.

I loved that one of our TeachingAuthor readers shared my August 12, 2009 post with her 7-year-old daughter who came up with this as her 6-word memoir:
"I like to draw...a lot!" 

Seeing the ripple effect of our posts has been part of the joy of writing this blog and has helped keep me at it all these years. Thank you, readers, for your continued support and response!

Image courtesy of Pixabay's qimono
And, speaking of your support, I have a special request:

We'd LOVE to know some of YOUR favorite TeachingAuthor topics. You don't have to look up the actual post, but we'd appreciate if you would share a comment about a favorite or helpful topic we've addressed. Or, if there's a topic we HAVEN'T addressed that you'd like us to, please share that.

And now, here are the Book Giveaway Instructions:

To enter our drawing for a chance to win The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl Klein 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 or on our TeachingAuthors Facebook page. In your comment, please mention a favorite or helpful topic we've addressed here on our blog, or a topic you'd like us to address in the future.

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Don't forget to visit today's Poetry Friday round-up hosted at Carol's Corner.

Finally, remember to always Write with Joy!

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Friday, March 22, 2019

Mentor Text from Master Storytellers

I’m finishing up our TeachingAuthors series on mentor texts.  It has been insightful to read the entries from my fellow TAs.  

Naturally, the books that I’ve considered mentor texts are all nonfiction books.  Writing nonfiction is not about stringing together a bunch of facts.  It is about curating an endless number of facts, distilling them in a meaningful way that tells a powerful true story like it has never been told before.  

In a way every nonfiction book I’ve ever read has been a mentor text.  If I read a paragraph that is particularly striking, I reread it and consider how the author got the information across.  But here I will point out a couple of authors and give examples from the books.  

One of the authors that I have long admired is Russell Freedman (who passed away about a year ago).  His books are serious but never boring.  For example in the Newberry medal winning book Lincoln: A Photobiography, the first paragraph of the book says, 

“Abraham Lincoln wasn’t the sort of man who could lose himself in a crowd.  After all, he stood six feet four inches tall, and to top it off, he wore a high silk hat.”   

These first two sentences give us a vivid picture of the man along with great facts.  

In one of Freedman’s picture books, The Adventures of Marco Polo, he begins the book this way: 

“As Marco Polo lay dying, friends and relatives gathered anxiously by his bedside and begged him to confess.”  

In all of Freedman’s books, he carries the reader along with the serious-but-never-boring story.  

Another author who was well-known for his fiction, but wrote nonfiction with equal success:  Sid Fleischman (he passed away in 2010). Years ago Mr. Fleischman was a speaker at our SCBWI conference and I had the honor of driving him to the airport. I’ve never met a more polished and kind gentleman, nor one that was as humble as this very successful author of many books.  I will never forget his graciousness to one and all.  His books were like the man himself, brilliant and funny without even trying to be.  At every turn, the texts of his books are witty and engaging.  For example, the first paragraph of The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West:  

“Mark Twain was born fully grown, with a cheap cigar clamped between his teeth.”  

Another example of a creative beginning is Fleischman’s book Sir Charlie Chaplin, The Funniest Man in the World which begins:  

“In the pesky rain on a March Night in 1978, nitwit thieves huddled at the grave of Sir Charlie Chaplin and dug up the body of the world-famous comedian.  They held it for ransom.”   

His text is always accurate, yet entertaining.  

As I write my nonfiction books, I keep in mind the great authors who have gone before me.  I’ve learned from their mentor texts to start each book in a way that hooks the reader.   Then even as I am telling a true story, I’ve got to hold their attention until the very last word on the very last page.   

Carla Killough McClafferty

Friday, March 15, 2019


I began my Writer’s Journey writing picture books pre-Internet, pre-J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter $ucce$$, pre SCBWI when it was minus the I.
Barbara Seuling had yet to write her first edition of How To Write A Children’s Book and Get It Published!
But Richard Peck was right. “We write by the light of every story every read.”
Had Marjorie Weinman Sharmat’s picture book I’m Terrific not shone so brightly for me at the start of my career, I’d likely have remained a Children’s Book Writer Wannabe

I discovered the book, illustrated by Kay Chorao, with my almost-three year old son on the New Books shelf during a Library Moms-and-Tots visit. The cover grabbed our attention: an obviously self-contented smallish bear, admiring his image in a paw-held mirror.  A robin sat nearby, a soon-to-be-awarded gold star in his beak.

Once checked out and read aloud, that small bear’s story struck a chord in my toddler’s heart. Yet the tale and the telling struck a chord in my heart, too: the first-ever picture book I was writing looked and felt the same. So I read and re-read I’m Terrific, only minus the toddler and wearing my Writer’s Cap.

Admittedly, I was first looking to learn the how-to of the picture book format. I began by typing out Sharmat’s text as it appeared on the pages, leaving triple-spaces for each successive page turn.  I indented where the author indented, placing characters’ words within quotation marks.  Dialogue, I sensed, contributed immediacy and energy, and that fine balance between narrative and dialogue moved along the story. I noticed repetition of both phrases and sentence structure. The sentences themselves offered noun-verb clarity, yet my fingers felt the rhythm of Sharmat’s playful words.

Jason’s three friends - Raymond Squirrel, Marvin Raccoon and Henrietta Emily Bear, appeared within the building scenes, always in the same order, creating the expectation necessary for young listeners. Jason’s Mama claimed the transitional scenes. Each scene called for a new and different setting. A star-studded Jason spoke the story’s final words.  “Thank you,” he said, once his friends dubbed him “terrific.”

Next, I revisited Kay Chorao’s soft, penciled illustrations.  I covered the text and let the pictures tell me the story, as my toddler son did each time he re-read the book.  The pictures said it all, amplifying characters’ actions, re-actions and emotions.

Finally, I cut apart one of my carbon-ed (!) text copies, paragraph by paragraph, then re-pasted the words to the pages of the blank 32-page book I’d created.  I left space for the front matter, then room for the accompanying illustrations.

Ah, I thought: the picture book story’s told across fourteen double-page spreads, creating, sort of, a play’s three acts. And, Oh! Within each newly-set changing scene, the characters speak their thoughts and feelings as the action worsens. And, Yes! Everything comes together at the end, tied up with a bow. There wasn’t one part of Jason’s story hanging out, un-tethered.

                                        (My well-worn copy of I'M TERRIFIC)

But to my surprise, it wasn’t just the text that showed me the way forward on my Writer’s Journey.  It was THE BOOK in its totality that taught me what I needed to know!  The front flap copy showed me the importance of hooking a reader – child, editor, agent.  The title page introduced a publisher (Holiday House).  The Library of Congress listing showed me both the book’s plot summary (“Jason Bear thinks he’s terrific and even awards himself gold stars for superior performance in his chores.  His friends don’t like to be around him.”) and its themes and curriculum connections (Pride and vanity, forest animals).  The dedication encouraged me to consider my book’s dedication, a someone in my life likely to keep me keepin’ on (namely, that almost-three-year-old son of mine). The book’s back flap author and illustrator copy connected me to other books Marjorie Weinman Sharmat wrote as well as the work of Kay Chorao. Soon I was discovering other illustrators of Sharmat’s books and other authors illustrated by Chorao, which meant other publishers, whose catalogues I studied, other formats, other structures, other genres. I deconstructed and rebuilt Sharmat’s Nate the Great to learn how to write easy-to-reads; I did the same and learned novel writing, thanks to Sharmat’s Maggie Marmelstein.

Reading I’m Terrific as a reader, the book amused and delighted me, as it should have. Reading I’m
Terrific as a writer, the book informed and inspired me, as only it could have. Jason Everett Bear and Mesdames Sharmat and Chorao deserve buckets of gold stars for all they taught me.

I still turn to children’s books to learn and hone my craft; I encourage my students and writers to do the same. I consider each published book a Teacher-in-Waiting. Or even better, a TeachingAuthor!

As luck would have it, Holiday House published my very first picture book There Goes Lowell’s Party! one year after re-issuing I’m Terrific to mark its twentieth anniversary. (My now-grown toddler and I knew a good book when we saw one.)  When I found myself seated across from Kay Chorao at the Holiday House ALA Dinner that year, I shared how I’m Terrific illuminated my writer’s journey.  “Thank you,” she said.  Then she graciously signed my copy, drawing stars that lit the page.
Speaking of stars, thanks to My Juicy Little Universe and Heidi Mordhost for hosting today’s Poetry Friday.

Happy learning! May a terrific book light your Writer’s Journey!

Esther Hershenhorn

If you’re seeking a human TeachingAuthor to light your way, one or two spots remain for my MANUSCRIPT WORKSHOP, July 14-19 at The Landgrove Inn, Landgrove, VT.
You can read more about this long-time workshop, created by Barbara Seuling, by scrolling to the bottom of my TEACH page on my website. Fortunately, bags fly free on Southwest so I’ll be bringing lots of relevant mentor texts from Chicago for my writers.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Show Don't Tell Me, Mentor Text

Howdy, Campers ~ happy Poetry Friday!  (my poem and the link to P.F. and are below.)

And the winner of our latest give away--Laurie Wallmark's book, Hedy Lamarr's Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor--is....Katie G!  Katie, a loyal subscriber, also won a TeachingAuthors giveway in 2013. Moral: it pays to hang out in the TeachingAuthors' tree house!

And speaking of the TeachingAuthors' tree house, these days we're up here drinking hot cocoa and sharing how we use Mentor Texts.

Carmela starts us off by defining what mentor text is and more; Bobbi's post talks about what 54 TV years of Doctor Who can teach us; and Mary Ann shows us the ways in which she systematically studied picture books (and found love...sort of).

In all my classes I use mentor texts. Show, Don't Tell is the first thing I teach. Even if a student is a published novelist, a renown screenwriter, or a seasoned journalist, it never hurts to be reminded of what Anton Chekov means when he writes: "Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass."  

image from by Dana Tentis

In one exercise (created by my son when he was in elementary school), volunteers act out something in silence and their classmates guess what they are trying to convey. We discuss: how did they know the dog was happy, the child was having a tantrum, or the woman was old?  They showed us, they didn't tell us, of course.

The first book I read to introduce Show, Don't Tell is Barbara Shook Hazen's masterful and moving picture book illustrated by the brilliant Trina Schart Hyman, TIGHT TIMES (Viking Press, 1979).

I wish I could put this book in your hands, but I can't, so I'll give you an example of how Hazen shows, rather than tells:

When the child narrator asks why he can't have a dog, his father explains,
"Because of tight times" and continues:
"He said tight times are when everything keep going up.
I had a balloon that did that once.
Daddy said tight times are why we all eat Mr. Bulk instead of cereals in little boxes.
I like little boxes better.
Daddy said tight times are why we went to the sprinkler last summer instead of the lake.

I like the lake better."

I just typed the text of this book. It's astonishing what Hazen does in just 694 words. This book was published at a time it was perfectly acceptable to turn in a picture book manuscript of 1200 words or more!

And having typed this text, I can feel in my fingers that one of the picture books I am working on needs more showing, less telling!

* * *

A month before my mother, a classical pianist, died, I couldn't tell you what I was already missing...I had to show it:

by April Halprin Wayland

Quietly she cries,
“Mama, Mama…”

Eyes half-closed,
she lies blanketed in grief.

Where is my mother:
whirling dervish,

spark of light,
moving, always moving,

striking a match,

setting piano keys on fire?

poem (c)2019 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

Okay, you have favorite picture book that demonstrates Show, Don't Tell?  I'd love to know what it is!

Spread the word: on April 13, 2019 from 9:30 am-4:30 pm, author/illustrator Barney Saltzberg, fiction and nonfiction picture book author Alexis O'Neill and I are reprising our one day class at UCLA, Writing a Picture Book and Getting it Published. Join us!

Thank you, Catherine, for hosting Poetry Friday today at Reading to the Core ~

posted with love by April Halprin Wayland, with help from Mateo, our latest monarch butterfly caterpillar, who is currently looking for a place on our kitchen wall to build his chrysalis. 

Mateo, named after a character in this book

Did you know that monarch butterflies are endangered...and that you can help by raising them?  Just ask beloved TeachingAuthor emeritus, JoAnn Early Macken; click here  for the monarch resources on her website.