Friday, December 20, 2019

2 Poems of Hope for the New Year

Howdy, Campers ~ and happy Poetry Friday (Two poems and the PF link are below)

CONGRATULATIONS to the TeachingAuthors reader who won Kimberly Hutmacher's book, Your Nose Never Stops Growing and Other Cool Human Body Facts in our last giveaway of the year.... drum roll, please...

 ---> John S! <---
(This is not a picture of John, but I'll bet he's this excited)

I'm honored to be writing the last TeachingAuthors post of our 10th year. We'll return refreshed and ready to entertain, educate and inspire you on January 10, 2020.

I wanted to end this year with a note of hope.

Or two.

I scrolled through old poems tagged with the word hope--there are lots!

Then I cold-bloodedly killed off all but two...and can't decide which to post. So here are two to send you into the new year with hearts full of hope. Which do you prefer?

by April Halprin Wayland
July 27, 2018

I'm fourteen
the sand is neon hot
I run into the sea
letting its waves drink me

I swim as if I'm in our school's pool
burying my face in its warm water
savoring that strange grey light the concrete walls cast
reveling in its chlorine smell

but I'm in Kauai, Hawaii, salt in my eyes, salt in the air
there are fish below, but I don't have a snorkel or mask
so I swim and swim and swim
there are no concrete walls here

and oof! I bump into a snorkeling man and his daughter
we laugh and he takes off his gear, "Here—you've got to see this"
as if it were the most natural thing
as if we were long-time friends

so I do—I put my mouth on the bite tab
even though we've never met
and slip on the mask to see
what I knew was there

what I didn't know
was how much kindness
was swimming
so near

by April Halprin Wayland
August 19, 2010

My brain is sinking into the first chapter of a really great book.
I’m on top of the bed leaning against four fat pillows
wearing my seriously soft socks
as always.

Gary's reading The Economist on the little couch
head back against the square cushion he’s positioned just right  
feet on the opposite arm of the couch
as always.

Eli is upside down, back legs against the couch
front legs straight up in the air, paws flopped
eyes closed, breathing deeply
as always.

The balcony door nearest the couch
is open
letting in a loose tangle of African daisies
and this just-right August night.

I turn a page.
Something makes me look up.
pokes her head in the bedroom door.

Her green eyes narrow.
She studies the dog for a minute.
Then she slinks blackly along the edge of the room
towards our bed.

I wave my arm frantically over my head,
finally catch Gary's eye,
mouth, “ELSIE!”
and point.

Elsie is evading a predator.
She relaxes as she slips past the bed
which will block Eli's view if he wakes,
then takes a cat-light leap, landing next to my thigh.

By the time I turn on the ten’ clock news
(which wakes Eli)
Elsie is warm on my stomach.
Eli trots over.

She offers her head to him for a lick.
For several licks.
She leans further forward,

His tail wags furiously.
He puts his paw on her
and cocks his head.
Her ears flatten.

Elsie's purr goes guttural, dark, deep.
Eli sits down.
Then he yawns (I am so bored).
Chews an itch by his tail. Lies down.

Maybe there is hope
for peace
in the Middle East
after all.

 Elsie & Eli the first day they met, 2010

Eli romancing Elsie when they were young

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

From all of us at TeachingAuthors ~
may you have moments of peace
this holiday season
and may we all find
in the new year.

posted with a little help from Eli by April Halprin Wayland

Friday, December 13, 2019

Three Poetry-Writing Titles for Your Bookshelf (and a Poem Inspired by Them)

Happy Poetry Friday! I share an original poem at the end of this post, along with a link to this week's terrific poetry-related Wednesday Writing Workout from Kimberly Hutmacher, in case you missed it. (The post includes a giveaway of Kimberly's nonfiction book Your Nose Never Stops Growing and Other Cool Human Body Facts (Capstone Press).

Today I'd like to share three poetry-writing titles for your reference. I was inspired by Esther's post last Friday, in which she shared five new titles of interest to aspiring writers of all ages, but especially young writers. While the books I'll discuss today are not new releases, two of them are new to me.

I mentioned last August that I've been reading and writing poetry as I work on my own poetry project. I've also been reading books on poetry writing. I started out by rereading Ralph Fletcher's Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out (HarperCollins). Even though the book is intended for grades 5-9, I find it helpful for my own writing, and I find the examples from young poets quite inspiring.

I read a second book that approaches poetry "from the inside out:" Sandford Lyne's Writing Poetry from the Inside Out: Finding Your Voice through the Craft of Poetry (Sourcebooks). While the book's focus is poetry-writing, I think it would benefit all sorts of writers. This is not a book that addresses rhyme, meter, or form. Instead, it's about how to open our awareness to the world around us. As Lyne says:
"Writing poetry is about seeing patterns, seeing resemblances, seeing symbols and metaphors; it is about seeing connections. Writing poetry is about a deeper appreciation and deeper discernment, about respecting our own individuality and the individuality of others. Writing poetry is about economy, about bringing order out of chaos, about fine-tuning the aesthetic sense; it is about nurturing our sensitivity to beauty and preserving the beauty of the world."
After reading the book, I researched Lyne to see what else he'd written and was very sad to learn that he died in 2007, the same year this book was published. I found a lovely tribute to him online that talks of how he shared his delight in poetry with thousands of children and teachers. He compiled two anthologies of poems by some of the children he taught: Soft Hay Will Catch You: Poems by Young People (Simon & Schuster, 2004) and Ten- Second Rainshowers: Poems by Young People (Simon & Schuster, 1996). He used some of those poems as examples in Writing Poetry from the Inside Out, too.
Lyne's book includes a writing exercise called poem-sketching that's been helping me develop my poetry muscles. The poem I share below came out of that process.

The poetry-writing book I'm currently reading, The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets (University of Nebraska Press) by Ted Kooser, was included in the list of "Suggested Reading" in Lyne's book. Although it was published in 2005, Kooser's book is new to me. I'm finding it both inspiring and, as the subtitle says, filled with lots of practical advice.

Kooser says:
"What is most difficult for a poet is to find the time to read and write when there are so many distractions, like making a living and caring for others. But the time set aside for being a poet, even if only for a few moments each day, can be wonderfully happy, full of joyous, solitary discovery."
I've been experiencing some truly "joyous" moments playing with poetry the last few months. As I mentioned above, the poem I'm sharing today was inspired by Lyne's poem-sketching process. (You can read more about the process here and here.) The word group that prompted my poem consisted of "poems, flock, wings, fly."

Inspired by April's willingness to share her poetry-writing process, I give you first an early draft of the poem:

        Flocking Poems 

     Poems flock to me
     like migrating birds.
     Their wings rustle
     in the distance.
     I wait, smiling,
     as they fly nearer and nearer.
     they alight on this table
     waiting to be heard
     and fed.
  Copyright 2019 Carmela A. Martino 

Image by Gerhard Gellinger from Pixabay

You can see I used all the words in the initial draft, but some were edited out in the revision process. Here's the current, much shorter, version.

       Flocking Poems 

     Poems flock to me
     like migrating birds.
     They alight on the page
     waiting to be heard.
  Copyright 2019 Carmela A. Martino 

Not sure I'm satisfied with this one yet. I'd love to know your thoughts on both poems. I plan to include this post in this week's Poetry Friday round-up over at Elizabeth Steinglass's blog. When you're done there, don't forget to read Kimberly Hutmacher's poetry-related Wednesday Writing Workout and enter our giveaway of her nonfiction book Your Nose Never Stops Growing and Other Cool Human Body Facts (Capstone Press).

Remember to always Write with Joy!

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Wednesday Writing Workout: Combining Poetry and Nonfiction, and a Book Giveaway!

Today I'm happy to bring you a Wednesday Writing Workout from nonfiction author and poet extraordinaire, Kimberly Hutmacher.

Kimberly is the author of 32 nonfiction books for children and 150+ articles, stories, and poems for magazines! Her latest is a series of three books on musical instruments, French Horn, Harp, and Djembe, to be released by Weigl AV2 Publishing in  2020. When Kimberly isn't working on a book project, she blogs for Poetry Friday at Kimberly Hutmacher Writes. She also contributes activities, crafts, and book recommendations to S.T.E.A.M. Powered Poetry, a site featuring inspiring STEAM-themed poetry videos for grades K-8.

To celebrate her appearance here on TeachingAuthors, Kimberly is giving away a copy of her book Your Nose Never Stops Growing and Other Cool Human Body Facts (Capstone Press) to one lucky TeachingAuthors reader.

Did you know the smallest muscle in the human body is located inside the ear? Did you know the average American shoe size has increased 2 sizes since 1970? Did you know tooth enamel is the hardest part of the body? Your Nose Never Stops Growing and Other Cool Human Body Facts is brimming with interesting and unusual human body trivia. The book is part of Capstone's Mind Blowing Facts Series. See the end of this post for instructions on how to enter to win your own copy! But first, here's Kim's Wednesday Writing Workout.

Wednesday Writing Workout:
Combining Poetry and Nonfiction

My two favorite writing genres are poetry and nonfiction. In my work, the two forms often collide. My nonfiction picture book, Paws, Claws, Hands, and Feet (Arbordale 2009) and my nonfiction series of books on time for Capstone Press are written in rhyme. Sometimes, I’m asked to write STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) poems for a curriculum or a testing company. Once in a while, I’ll write a STEAM-themed poem for a magazine. I contribute accompanying activities, crafts, and book recommendations to Heidi Bee Roemer’s S.T.E.A.M. Powered Poetry Vlog. Today’s Wednesday Writing Workout lets us stretch both our nonfiction and our poetry writing muscles. 

Step 1: Find and read a STEAM-themed article that interests you. Here are a few online publications you might find helpful:
Step 2: Read the article again, and jot down some notes: key points, interesting words, descriptions of images that come to mind, questions you have about the topic and/or anything you might want to research further, etc.

Step 3: Write a poem based on what you’ve read. Your poem can be a feast for readers covering an entire process (Example: water cycle) or introduce readers to just a small taste of your topic (Example: evaporation). Your poem can be as long or as short as you like and it can be written in any form.

The following poem is an example of how I used this process for a Today’s Little Ditty Challenge at Michelle Heidenrich’s blog. Linda Mitchell challenged us to write a found haiku from any article on any subject that fascinated us. For this particular challenge, our haiku had to be made up of all words/phrases from the article. The article about spiders that inspired my poem can be found here on the News&Observer site.
And here's my haiku:

               Half as strong as steel
          Silk produced from spinnerets
               All done by instinct

       Copyright 2019 Kimberly M. Hutmacher

Remember, for this exercise,  there are no word, phrase, or form requirements. Just try to keep it on a STEAM topic.

Magazine publishers are looking more and more for STEAM-related content. Once you’ve written your poem and revised it to the best of your ability, you might consider submitting it to a children’s magazine for consideration. Click here for a list of possible markets.

Be sure to stop by the S.T.E.A.M. Powered Poetry Vlog to view inspiring STEAM-themed poetry videos. New videos and content are added every month. Be sure to follow and subscribe!


A big THANK YOU to Kimberly for today's Wednesday Writing Workout and for providing a book for today's giveaway.

Readers, before you leave, be sure to enter our giveaway for a chance to win her book Your Nose Never Stops Growing and Other Cool Human Body Facts (Capstone Press).

To enter our drawing, use the Rafflecopter widget below. You may enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options. (Note: if the widget doesn't appear, click on the link at the end of this post that says "a Rafflecopter giveaway" to enter.)

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

In your comment, we'd love if you would share a STEAM-related topic you enjoy reading.

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

Note: if you submit your comments via email or Facebook, YOU MUST STILL ENTER THE DRAWING VIA RAFFLECOPTER BELOW. The giveaway ends December 18, 2019 and is open to U.S. residents only.

Posted by Carmela 

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.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, December 6, 2019

Five New Titles for Santa’s Young Writers List – and Your List, Too!

Here we are, less than 3 weeks away from Santa’s deliveries to talented Young Writers - and maybe Once-Young Writers, too.
Given how busy I know Mr. Claus, his elves and gift-givers everywhere must be, it’s the least I can do to suggest five new books that would surely bring joy to any Young Writer. Together these titles offer a variety of formats, focuses and tellings.

Sally Lloyd-Jones’ LOOK! I WROTE A BOOK! (AND YOU CAN TOO!), illustrated by Neal Layton and published by Schwartz & Wade, is the perfect picture book introduction to the writing process for the youngest of Young Writers. In easy-to-understand language that makes for easy-to-laugh-at illustrations, the spirited first-person narrator answers the question just “how the heck do you write a book?” It’s all there, 100% kid-friendly, from brain-storming good ideas to structuring a story through creating an author bio, collecting back cover blurbs and marketing, even contemplating a sequel.  The Wall Street Journal aptly described this step-by-step guide as “a story-telling anatomy lesson masquerading as giddy fun….”

Fans of GOODNIGHT, MOON and THE RUNAWAY BUNNY will delight in Mac Barnett’s THE IMPORTANT THING ABOUT MARGARET WISE BROWN (Balzer & Bray), gorgeously illustrated by Sarah Jacoby,.  They will also likely be surprised by all they learn about this important writer who believed children deserve important books. Margaret Wise Brown’s simplicity, clarity, directness and love of concrete details appear on the very first page, establishing the book’s oh, so appropriate tone and unorthodox telling.

“Margaret Wise Brown lived 42 years.
  This book is 42 pages long.
  You can’t fit somebody’s life into 42 pages,
                                           so I am just going to tell you some important things.”

School Library Journal’s starred-review verdict: “An important, groundbreaking biography inspired by Brown's legacy.”

Young Writers especially take heart and hope upon learning their favorite writers experience just about everything they do when working hard to tell their stories well.  That’s why Vicki Conrad’s picture book biography of Beverly Cleary for older readers JUST LIKE BEVERLY (Little Bigfoot/Sasquatch Books), illustrated by David Hohn, is both eye-opening and heart-opening. Beverly Cleary’s spirit, early reading struggles, hard work and encouragement from her parents and a special teacher will inspire all who write, Ramona Fans or not.
Kirkus noted in a starred review, “A loving and informative tribute worthy of celebrating Cleary’s 103rd year of life.”

Writers and readers ages 10 and up will spend hours pouring through the text and illustrations of Elizabeth Haidle’s collective graphic biography BEFORE THEY WERE AUTHORS – FAMOUS WRITERS AS KIDS (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).  This lively anthology offers all sorts of delicious facts and insights about 10 beloved literary legends, both alive and long-gone: Mark Twain, Maya Angelou, Dr. Seuss, Sandra Cisneros, Roald Dahl, J.K. Rowling, Gene Luen Yang, Beatrix Potter, C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle. A most illuminating introduction – “What Makes A Writer?” – underscores how each writer follows his own path.  “It’s good to remember – all famous authors were once ordinary kids who felt that the writing of tales was something they couldn’t live without.”
Booklist described the book as a “reverential and playful volume.”

Paul Fleischman wrote LOTS of books to look at when he was young and in NO MAP, Great Trip (Greenwillow), he reflects on his writer’s travels from early childhood on to his twenties.  Indeed, the book’s subtitle is “A Young Writer’s Road to Page One.” What’s particularly notable is how those early travels and experiences wound up impacting the much-loved children’s books he came to write, including JOYFUL NOISE and SEEDFOLKS. Childhood photos, including those of his Newbery Medalist father Sid Fleischman, and interspersed “Writing Know-How” tips offer lots of personal and solid writing advice for middle grade students and up.
Booklist’s review referenced the book as part memoir, part guide-book and lauded its lively telling.

Here’s hoping writers everywhere find the above titles just “write."

Happy Gift-Giving! Happy Holidays! Happy Writing!

Esther Hershenhorn


Thanks to Tanita S. Davis for hosting today’s Poetry Friday at [Fiction, instead of lies].

Friday, November 22, 2019

Is Your Middle Weighing You Down? Pump It UP

I find beginnings and endings fun to write. Usually, I know how I want to begin and how I’d like my manuscript to end. Middles however can be bothersome. A real pain. And I don’t think I’m alone with that problem.

Most of the time, slow middles are easy to spot-at least in the work of others. Have you ever read the flap copy of a library book, scanned the first chapter, and knew you had a winner in your hands? You rushed home planning to read it stretch out on the sofa with a glass of iced tea. This book was so hot, you would spend the night on the sofa until you read the last page.

Then, somewhere in the middle, the momentum slowed. The tension stretched into limp elastic. If it wasn’t for your caffeinated tea, you would go to bed. What happened? Are there times when your writing suffers from this dilemma? How do you know?

Author Barbara Lowell turns to her critique group for answers. “You have
completed your first draft and done some revision. But you hear from your critique partners or beta readers that the middle of your manuscript is sagging. You know that you need to keep your story moving forward. And now it’s stuck in the middle. What can you do?

Try cutting.  Cut anything that stops your story – unnecessary details, description, backstory, narrative, internal dialogue that will make the reader want to skip ahead. Every word in your manuscript needs to serve the story. It’s difficult to cut what you love, but if it has to be done to make your story work, then do it. To test this, put brackets around words, sentences, paragraphs, sections you think need cutting, and reread the manuscript out loud without them. A tighter story often solves the problem of a sagging middle.”

If not, what can you do to fix it? I’m a firm believer in the power of mentor texts. I love picture book biographies and I admire those who write them. As I read, I try to identify their “keep them reading” technique. Sometimes, it’s a question the author asks throughout the book. Keep reading to learn the answer.


Another book that used a similar technique is

by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich. She uses the refrain, Someday Is Now when Clara Luper’s
group of students start to plan sit-ins. The author switches to Someday Was Now
when they actually sit-in. What happened during  the sit-ins? Where the students hurt?
Readers will want to know the answers.

I asked author, Kim Ventrella how she handles middles in her novels.

“Oh the horror of the saggy middle. It’s almost as bad as the dreaded ’soggy bottom’ in British baking. So how do you avoid it? Of course, every story is different, but in general, it's around this time in the story when your character moves from simply reacting to external events to driving the action. If you get to the middle and your character is still being ping-ponged around by external forces, see how you can change that. Challenge your main character to make her own plans and take control of the action.”

Alice Faye Duncan uses another technique to keep readers engaged. “Before I begin a writing project, I often identify some symbol as my reoccurring motif. When the middle slumps, I brood over the many facets of my symbol and in due season, I find overlooked elements to support the middle. While writing A SONG FOR GWENDOLYN BROOKS, my reoccurring image was a flower. As the middle slogged along, it came to me that a bloom is a bud before maturation. This metaphor was just what I needed to precisely express the poet's development between childhood and her Pulitzer Prize writing career.”

As I read Alice’s comments, I immediately connected with them. I had a symbol at the beginning of a story, then I let it disappear and I was stuck. Now, I can see a way to pump up my middle. I challenge you to think about the above ideas. Try them with your writing projects.

Posted by Gwendolyn Hooks

Friday, November 15, 2019

Connecting Lily Pads: The Messy Middle

To follow three outstanding posts by April, Bobbie, and Carmela on "messy middles"is a major challenge.  They've already covered so much but we all have our ways of slogging through those messy middles.

I am a meandering writer. First chapters are easy. You're setting the story up, introducing characters and conflict. Chapter two you do more of the same. In fact, you're cruising along until you hit that bog/swamp/deep dark forest (choose a metaphor) aka: the messy middle. You know the "heart of the story" (see April's post) but do you know the end of your story?

I don't mean you have the last chapter, dialog and all in your head (although you might...I write last chapters first...but that's a post for another time.) More importantly, do you know how your character has changed since chapter one? If you don't, you can't really pick your way through the bog/swamp/forest because you don't know where you're going. You are wandering through that messy, messy middle, that muddle of characters and incidents that you think will get you to the end.

 I used to write my way out of the middle. That's a good way to have a 600 page first draft of a 225 page novel. Even then, you might still feel that you haven't arrived where you wanted to go. Especially if you didn't know where you were going to begin with.

Organization has always been a big problem for me. Organization is so big, so overwhelming. Outlines have never worked for me. I was the student who wrote a term paper first, then went back and wrote the required outline. That doesn't work so well with fiction.

One of my mentors in the Vermont College MFA program, a writer known for extremely spare writing...not a wasted word anywhere...told me this. (Paraphrasing) Don't worry about the last scene or chapter. Think about how your character changes throughout the story. How is she different at the end? Build a bridge between the two things you the story begins...and how the character is at the end. Build a bridge, inch by inch through the unknown.

This is a variation on the answer to the question, "How do you eat an elephant?" Answer: "One bite at a time." This is not working from an outline. It's working from the question: "And then what happens?" What starts your character's journey to change? Then what happens? What happens because of that? Cause and effect, cause and effect. Getting your character into as much peril as possible without killing them. (Although in frustration, I've often thought of loading my characters into a car, and driving them off a cliff, Thelma-and-Louise-style. "And then they all died. The end!")

I don't write in sequence. I mentioned earlier that I write final chapters first. That gives me a "ballpark destination." Of course that chapter will be re-written, or even discarded over many drafts, but it gives me someplace to head. I am standing in the first couple of chapters, and I see where I want to wind up. But how do I get there?

A scene, and incident, a bit of conversation will come to mind...and I write that. I don't know exactly where it is in the bog/swamp/forest...but it's in there. I don't worry where. I write as much as I can around that incite...and then wait. Another bit will come to mind. I write that...and again, don't know where it comes in the character's journey. I keep doing this until I finish what I think of as a first draft. (No one else would think of it that way!)

Second, third, and who-knows-how-many-drafts--I sort out theses hopscotching scenes, written in no particular order. I arrange and rearrange them. Reading through them sometimes causes me to throw a few out, or consolidate, or to have a Big Revelation.

Once these scenes are in an order that makes sense, I begin bridging those scenes. What characters, information, emotional change needs to occur next? I think of this process as building connectors between a bunch of lily pads. They're all floating in the same pond, but I need to connect them to get to shore (the last chapter). Frogs can hop from pad to pad...but readers need connections to get from episode to episode.

This works for me because my mind doesn't work in a linear fashion. I have ADHD and problems with executive function (the part of your brain that plans and orders tasks.) My mind hops around, and I can't help it. So instead of fighting against it, I've harnessed it. I've written and published 10 books and two short stories working this way.

Does it work? Judge for yourself. This is how I wrote this post.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

WWW: How to Write a Superlative Mask Poem Even Lincoln Would Be Proud Of

     Feast your eyes on today’s WWW creator Eileen Meyer (left) celebrating the launch of her newest book with fellow TeachingAuthor Carmela Martino (right) at Anderson’s Bookshop in Downers Grove, Illinois last week.

     There’s no hiding the fact or masking the truth.  Eileen’s THE SUPERLATIVE A. LINCOLN – POEMS ABOUT OUR 16TH PRESIDENT (Charlesbridge) is garnering superlative reviews.

     School Library Journal writes: “An excellent use of language and recognizable rhyme schemes make this title a wonderful teaching tool for the classroom. These well-researched poems hold readers’ attention and could encourage them to explore additional questions. ¬VERDICT A good example of how poetry can also inform. Highly recommended for elementary schools and public libraries.”

     Kirkus Review offers: “Telling Abraham Lincoln's story in poetry is a tall order, but Meyer pulls it off. 'Come read about a legend— / the greatest of the greats; / from a poor boy in the backwoods / to a president, first-rate.' The title of each celebratory poem offers a yearbook-style superlative about our 16th president: 'Best Wrestler,'  'Best Lumberjack,' 'Who's Tallest?' Each poem is accompanied by a brief paragraph providing context for the poem. The collection will make excellent reading aloud in the classroom, a few a day. A tip of the stovepipe hat for making a poetry biography so much fun.”

   Lucky us!  That above-mentioned stovepipe hat of Mr. Lincoln’s and the mask poem Eileen wrote about it happen to be the stuff of today’s Wednesday Writing Workout.

   And truly, lucky me.  I’ve watched Eileen grow as a picture book writer. publishing first WHO’S FASTER? ANIMALS ON THE MOVE (Mountain Press), then BALLPARK (Two Lions) and SWEET DREAMS, WILD ANIMALS: A STORY OF SLEEP (Mountain Press).  Her poetry has appeared in numerous children’s magazines.

      FYI: THE SUPERLATIVE A. LINCOLN is beautifully illustrated by David Szalay.  Each and every perfectly-crafted kid friendly poem offers a surprising glimpse into an American Hero most of us are mistakenly certain we know fully and is accompanied by an historical footnote.  Think: Distracted Farmer, Best Lumberjack, Least Favorite Nickname, Best Wrestler.  The book’s back matter offers a personal Author’s Note, a timeline of Abraham Lincoln’s life, resources for young Lincoln fans and an opportunity for readers to determine their superlative qualities and/or behaviors.

     Scroll down to Eileen’s WWW to learn how to write a superlative mask poem even Lincoln would be proud of, making sure you read to the end.
     Thank you, Eileen, for teaching us this poetic form.  And here's to your most successful book yet!
     Happiest Poet-ing Ever!

     Esther Hershenhorn

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Have you ever wanted to let an object have its say? Or perhaps share the perspective and unique voice of a creature by writing from its point of view? If you’ve harbored any of these thoughts, writing a MASK POEM might be right up your alley. (Note: this exercise is addressed to writers, but teachers may utilize the same exercise in the classroom.)

Mask poems are defined as “a first-person observation, description, or opinion as told by an object or creature” according to the handbook from my first poetry teacher and fellow children’s author, Heidi Bee Roemer.  We just celebrated Halloween a few weeks ago—think of yourself wearing a mask: you are pretending to be something or someone else. Keep that idea in mind as you try your hand at drafting a mask poem.

In my just-released picture book, THE SUPERLATIVE A. LINCOLN: POEMS ABOUT OUR 16TH PRESIDENT, I had a lot of fun writing a mask poem from the point of view Lincoln’s iconic stovepipe hat. Why don’t you choose an object or creature for your mask poem?

Once I chose my subject, I began to think about what the stovepipe hat had to say . . . what was on its mind? I first thought about the hat’s functionality. Many people are not aware that Lincoln’s stovepipe hat served many purposes:

Lincoln used the interior of his hat to carry important letters, notes, and correspondence tucked into the band. (This habit harkens back to his New Salem days as postmaster when Lincoln took it upon himself to deliver mail to residents who hadn’t picked up mail at the post office.)
At times, Lincoln used the hat’s flat top as a writing surface.
And of course, our 16th president’s hat also protected him from inclement weather.

All in all, Lincoln’s stovepipe hat was a pretty handy accessory. But had it ever been recognized as such? What is distinctive about your object or creature? Make a list.

I decided to take the approach that the stovepipe hat was a bit put-off by other carrying devices, such as briefcases or knapsacks (devices that did exist in the mid 1800’s so I was historically accurate), because the hat could handle the function of transporting key documents by itself. That realization also gave me my tone for the poem. It was my “Aha!” moment … the hat was going to be a bit sassy. Frankly, Lincoln’s stovepipe hat had been feeling underestimated and underappreciated for well over a century— and the hat was finally going to have its due!
Now that you’ve made a list about your object or creature’s distinctive qualities or attributes, are there any clues to the message of your poem? And the tone?

The poem I wrote became one of my favorites in the collection. . . but before I share the poem, let me tell you a bit more about the book to provide better context. This will also shed light on the poem’s title.

This picture book celebrates superlatives, which most kids find fascinating. Young readers enjoy learning about who is the tallest, the first at something, or the best at accomplishing a particular milestone. Each story is told through poetry—there are nineteen poems in this 48-page picture book. For example, readers learn why Lincoln was the “Most Distracted Farmer” when he was a young man, that he was known as the “Best Wrestler” in the county, and had the “Most Surprising Friendship” with another famous icon.

Since this poem was about the stovepipe hat, but needed to be titled as a superlative – I came up with this: “Best Use of an Accessory” with a subtitle “Lincoln’s Stovepipe Hat Speaks Out.” With that poem title I was able to achieve a number of things—utilize a superlative form (“best use”) and identify the speaker (Lincoln’s stovepipe hat.) Additionally, the title says that the hat “speaks out”; phrasing that grabs the reader’s attention by stating that this usually silent hat has something important to say. Is there a title that comes to mind for your Mask Poem? (If you can’t think of one, don’t worry. Sometimes it’s easier to come up with a good title once the poem has been written.)

I created a word bank on my yellow pad and brainstormed words related to stovepipe hats, briefcases, and descriptors for how Lincoln used the hat. I used a simple rhyme scheme (ABCB) and wrote a first draft. Create a word bank list. Choose a rhyme scheme for your poem. Try your hand at a first draft.

After many revisions and input from the talented writers in my critique groups, VOILA, here is the finished poem:

Friday, November 8, 2019

Pixar To the Rescue!

We at Teaching Authors are looking at messy middles. I so enjoyed April's Messy, Perplexing Journey  There is no way I can follow the genius of that blog post (You should really read it!). So, instead, I offer one of my favorite checklists that I use when I am revising a story, especially shoring up the middle. You’ve no doubt seen these Pixar’s Rules of Storytelling. The article dates from 2013, and was originally tweeted by Emma Coats, Pixar’s Story Artist. There's twenty rules in all. And all of them are pretty handy at helping me get to the emotive core of the story, blending action and adventure with character-driven plots. Fiction is primarily an emotional exchange. The reader stays connected to the hero because she feels the story. The reader wants to see the character succeed, or at least wants to see what happens next. And, true enough, no one does that better than Pixar! I admit it, I cried when Nemo was found, when Wall-E fell in love, and when Coco hugged his grandfather. And I certainly believe toys come alive when no one is watching.

Here’s a sampling of Emma Coats' rules:

1. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

2. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

3. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

4. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

5. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

6. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

And here's a Pixar exercise for the road:

Take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How would you rearrange them into what you DO like?

Remember, "Adventure is out there!" (Russell, from UP)

Wishing you the spirit of adventure, too!

-- Bobbi Miller

Friday, November 1, 2019


Howdy, Campers ~ and Happy Poetry Friday! (PF link at the end)

The topic of this round is MESSY MIDDLES,  talking about what happens if the middle of a novel is sagging or the middle of another project just isn't working, etc. 

I can't offer much advice or examples of this except to say that I'm always in the middle of quiet terror. Can anyone relate?

So...let's talk about the messiness of writing a poem.

Here's how this poem four steps (I've left out many of the middle attempts):

1. Looking for an idea. 

I started with a first line: I am musing about music.

by April Halprin Wayland

I am musing about music.
I am lost.
I cannot find my feet.
They are sinking in sand.
There is no topic.
There is not bottompic.
There is just sinking
no thinking
no help
no hope
no nothing
until a little bird.
Just a word.
Just a chirpy word.
One chirpy word.
I look up
from this hole
from sand in my hair
sand on my cheeks
sand on my hands
sand from the beach
sand into next week
at a sandpiper
at her slender needle beak
I wait for her to speak.
another chirpy word
which I find thrilling
I'm twirling in this hole
a sort of reverse drilling
I'm spinning out this hole
scattering the sand
spraying it
playing it
this poem sucks
2. Research. 

I looked up the word music:

From Greek mousikē, any art presided over by the Muses

Read more:'music'#ixzz1G3YuxcOS

The word music comes from the Greek mousikê (tekhnê) by way of the Latin musica. It is ultimately derived from mousa, the Greek word for muse. In ancient Greece, the word mousike was used to mean any of the arts or sciences governed by the Muses. Later, in Rome, ars musica embraced poetry as well as instrument-oriented music. Read more:

...and wrote this:

This is a mushroom
This is my brain.
This fat white bumpershoot


I am the piano
I am the violin
I am a stupid poem
3. What's at the heart of this idea? 
drawing by April Halprin Wayland

I broke away from everything above and thought about what I was feeling inside:

by April Halprin Wayland 
Today I know
how that boy at the back desk feels
when his teacher tells him to write a poem.
He blinks blankly.
He isn't writing while all around him pencils fly.
He scratches his left eye
A storm cloud brews about his head.
His brows grow knotty.
When all around him ideas sprout
this boy at the back
is locked out.
I rewrote it and sent it off to my friend Bruce, who has been sailing around the world with his wife for over 13 years. Regular readers know that he and I send each other a poem a day. We've been doing it since April 2010.

4. Let let it cook. 

That was in March 2011. Today I searched my poems tagged WRITERS' BLOCK, found this poem (which has been cooking for quite awhile), and took another stab at it:

by April Halprin Wayland

While all around him ideas begin,
he picks the scab on his freckled chin.

While all around him pencils fly,
his brows grow knotty, mystified.

While all around him windows open,
He closes his eyes hoping, hoping.

Ideas take root and poems sprout,
but the boy in the back?

That boy's locked out.

Rewrites count as a day's poem in our rule book, so I'm sending this one off.
Thanks to Tabatha for hosting this week's Poetry Friday at The Opposite of Indifference!

posted by April Halprin Wayland with lots of love and the help of (in order of appearance) Gin, Eli, and Penny...who are sacked out after helping to edit this:

Friday, October 25, 2019

2 Tips for Bridging the Middle Plus 2 Book Suggestions

Today I have the honor of kicking off our next TeachingAuthors topic: "Messy Middles." But before I get to my post, I want to congratulate the winner of our latest TeachingAuthors giveaway:


Carl will soon be receiving an autographed copy of Ona Judge Outwits the Washingtons: An Enslaved Woman Fights For Freedom by my fellow TeachingAuthor, Gwendolyn Hooks. Our thanks to all who entered. Be sure to stay tuned--we'll have one more giveaway before the year ends. 

Now, for today's topic: It recently occurred to me that, while we've discussed story beginnings and the inspiration for them, we've never devoted a series to discussing middles. The reason? It's not an easy topic to address.

I'm currently teaching a writing class at College of DuPage called "Beginnings, Middles, and Ends," which is named for the book by Nancy Kress that we use as our class text. In the text, Kress herself has difficulty providing a precise definition for what we mean by the middle of a story.  She describes it in part as follows (italicized in the text):
"The middle of a story develops the story’s implicit promise by dramatizing incidents that increase conflict, reveal character, and put in place all the various forces that will collide at the story’s climax."
She goes on to say:
"In other words, the middle is a bridge—sometimes a long, winding bridge, sometimes a short, direct one. At one end of the bridge, the story's beginning introduces characters, conflict and (sometimes) symbols. Then in the middle, these same characters, conflicts, and (sometimes) symbols move across the bridge . . . . Some people change during their journey across the bridge; some don’t. Conflicts deepen. People become more emotional. The stakes may rise. By the time the characters reach the other end of the bridge, the forces determining their behavior are clear. At the far end of the bridge, these same forces will collide (the story’s climax)."
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Building that bridge can be a tricky process, especially if you're a pantser like me. (As I explained in this post, pantsers are writers who don't plot a novel in advance, but instead write by the "seat of their pants." The opposite of a pantser is a plotter--a writer who creates an outline or some sort of road map before actually writing the story.) 

While middles can cause problems for picture book and short story writers, too, the two tips I'm sharing today are probably most useful for novelists.

1. Feel free to write your story out of sequence.

When I was working on the middle of my first novel, Rosa, Sola, I got stuck. I didn't know what should happen next. After banging my head against a wall for a few days, I realized that I DID know what needed to happen a few chapters ahead, near the end of the novel. So I wrote that future scene next. I then created a patchwork of scenes to fill the gap--working on each scene as it occurred to me rather than in the story's chronological order. This seems such an obvious solution now, but when I share it with my writing students it often has the same AHA! effect it had on me at the time.

Image by sewingdirectory from Pixabay
 2. If your story takes a wrong turn, becomes boring to you, or you lose energy for it, reread it from the beginning and stop at the last scene where you're still interested/engaged in the story. 

I ran into this problem while writing Playing by Heart. I got to a point in the middle of the novel where I couldn't move forward. I realized it was because I didn't like the story anymore. When I reread the draft, I discovered that my protagonist, Emilia, had made a choice that was out of character, and that had sent her on a detour that made no sense. After I cut that out-of-character scene and all that followed, I was able to get the story got back on course.

My two book suggestions if you're having middle troubles: 

As you might guess, I recommend Kress's Beginnings, Middles, and Ends to writers struggling with middles. In addition to helpful tips and concrete examples, the book includes practical exercises to use on your own projects. The book is from Writer's Digest Books' Elements of Fiction Writing series and was initially published in 1993. Even though the publisher re-released it in paperback in 2011,  some of the content is a bit dated, but overall I think it's still a valuable tool for addressing issues not only with middles, but beginnings and ends, too.

By the way, if Kress's book sounds familiar, it may be because I included it on a list of twelve writing craft books I recommended in a post several years ago.

James Scott Bell was the author of not one, but two books on that list. My second suggestion for those dealing with middle issues is another of his craft books: Write Your Novel From The Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between. I heard Bell speak at a writing conference about the approach he takes in this book, and it sounds like an intriguing one. I have to confess, I haven't tried it yet myself, but several authors I know have found the book helpful. If you've read Bell's book, please share your response to it in the comments. And if you have any suggestions for coping with messy middles, do let us know!

Don't forget to check out this week's Poetry Friday roundup hosted by Karen Edmisten.

Remember to always Write with Joy!

Friday, October 18, 2019

BRAVE THE PAGE: Any Writer’s Fuel – Young or Not - for NaNoWriMo and/or Simply Writing a Novel!

I know, I know. I can read the small print.  NaNoWriMo’s BRAVE THE PAGE’s subtitle clearly reads: “A Young Writer’s Guide to Telling Epic Stories.”

And if indeed, you are an elementary, middle school or high school writer planning to participate in NaNoWriMo in 13 days, or if you teach and/or work with and/or encourage such young writers planning to do the same, this book will not only guide and get you and/or your NaNoWriMo participants to the November 30 Finish Line; it ensures you’ll all keep keeping on in the 12 months that follow - revising, editing, submitting, connecting.
I offer an enthusiastic Thumbs Up to the authors, Rebecca Stern and Grant Faulkner, for delivering on their promise.
BRAVE THE PAGE (Viking, 2019) is a must-have/must-read book for any Young Writer planning to experience NaNoWriMo.

But here’s the thing. 
BRAVE THE PAGE succeeds so well at informing, inspiring and encouraging young novelists, it’s a must-have/must-read resource for writers of any age, of any kind of story, NaNoWriMo-engaged or not.
I’m raising all five hand digits to wildly High-Five each author twice!
BRAVE THE PAGE proves the truth that when an adult needs to learn and understand a particular subject matter, say, how to write a story, he or she should begin by reading a relevant children’s book. 😊

So, a few FYI Facts concerning NoWriMo, pronounced na-noh-rye-mo, the annual, Internet-based “creative writing project” that has taken place every November since 1999.

The goal for each participant: to write a 50,000 word manuscript. Writers, called “Wrimos,” intentionally focus on quantity vs. quality so they’ll have a first draft from which to work in subsequent revisions. 
The NaNoWriMo website offers resources, encouragement, tips and connections to a supportive community of writers.  Twenty-one Wrimos participated in 1999.  Today NaNoWriMo boasts 798,162 active novelists and 367,913 completed novels.

NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program offers a bounty of resources for the under-18 young writers and the K-12 educators who encourage them. For instance, writers can use an on-site writing space, Young Novelist Workbooks and Novel Notes for brainstorming, character sketching, research, etc. There’s also Camp NaNoWriMo. And young writers can indeed alter their word count – 1,000 words a day or even 20,000.

BRAVE THE PAGE is the latest offering from the Young Writers Program.  The NaNoWriMo-experienced authors know first-hand the writing process, the elements of story, a writer’s inner story and journey plus a whole host of tools that concretely instruct and guide. As important, they know their audience of young writers and how best to reach (and teach) them.

The Table of Contents scaffolds the content perfectly:

An introduction in which award-winning author Jason Reynolds likens writing a story to the experience of moving – “Pack, load, journey, unload, unpack. That’s a novel.” - plus a warm and grounding welcome to NaNoWriMo and its participants.
Part 2 GET SET
Part 3: WRITE!
Part 4: NOW WHAT?

The meaty, timely issues and questions presented within each of the four parts are truly those of any writer, young or once-young.

Where do ideas come from?
What kinds of writers are there?
How does one create a writing routine?
How does one plan a story?
How best to recruit characters and plot a plot and build a story’s world?
How best to begin?
What can be done when doubts and fears appear?
Oh, and what about what follows when the end is reached? How to edit and revise? How can writers keep writing?

All of the above, and then some, are answered and addressed by (1) several of today’s beloved children’s book authors (John Green, Marissa Meyer, Jennifer Niven, Daniel Jose Older, Danielle Page, Celia C. Perez, Scott Westerfield), especially in their affirming Pep Talks, (2) by numerous NaNoWriMo-experienced young writers and (3) via referenced children’s books familiar to all.  For instance,

From a Pep Talk by Marissa Meyer as to how to begin, “Write down the things you already love about your story. Or, start a list of what you like in other novels. Brainstorm challenges your  protagonist could encounter. Create a story playlist. Visualize success.”

“Set your word-count goal to something a bit longer than any story you’ve ever written before, but don’t overreach….Remember, you can always change your word-count goal halfway through story. – Simon, age 11

On Third Person Narrators: “The narrator tells us the thoughts, feelings and actions of one or more character, using the pronouns he, she, and they. Number the Stars, by Lois Lory, is an example of a book told in the third person.

Fortunately, the authors included the Dare Machine, “a magical machine” of sorts from the Young Writers Program website that puts forth prompts, tips and exercises.  In Part 1, the Dare Machine helps the writer begin; in Part 2, it helps the writer develop characters, create settings and figure out a plot.  In Part 3, it helps the writer move the story forward.  Part 3 also breaks the month down, and thus the writing – into weeks 1 through 4.  And again, it does so purposefully and concretely.

     For instance, concerning that Inner Editor who resides inside all writers,

     “Close your eyes and picture that person.
       Now draw that person.
       Not take that picture and throw it a going-away part!
      Then put that picture somewhere out of sight until you finish your draft.”

BRAVE THE PAGE provides a Writer’s Lair, a safe place to assess progress, and that all-important Rear View Mirror to assist with reflection.

And finally, I especially love how BRAVE THE PAGE encourages writers to find a mentor – a favorite book – that’s available 24-7, for free.

No matter our age, each of us has a story worth telling…and the right to tell it.  But that blank page can be oh, so scary when we’re gathering the courage to tell our stories to the world, especially if we’re new to the writing process.

Thank goodness all storytellers now have BRAVE THE PAGE to guide their writing.

And, thanks to Jama's Alphabet Soup for hosting today's Poetry Friday.  BRAVE THE PAGE  is certain to serve up a whole lot of  delicious food for thought.

Happy story-telling to writers of all ages!

Esther Hershenhorn
Be sure to enter our Book Giveaway for Gwendolyn Hooks’ ONA JUDGE OUTWITS THE WASHINGTONS