Friday, September 13, 2019

Student Success Story + BOOK GIVEAWAY!

I love when my students and writers prove me right.
And Deanie Yasner, today’s Student Success Story star and author of the just-released middle grade novel Essie Rose’s Revelation Summer (Golden Alley Press), has done just that!

It was the fall of 2010 and Deanie, recently retired from teaching special education and working as a behavior consultant, was going for her Dream! She longed to write for children, so she’d sent on her picture book manuscript “Sammy’s Choice.” I recognized her talent instantly.  “You,” I told her, “are a Writer, with a deserved capital ‘W,’and a Writer for children.” She was sitting in the right church and in the right pew.

Soon she became the subject of my May 25, 2011 TeachingAuthors Shout-Out:
“A newly-declared and mighty talented children’s book writer, Deanie bravely applied for and won a full scholarship to Highlights’ upcoming Chautauqua. Her first-ever picture book submission brought a response in less than 24 hours!”

Boyds Mills Press’ High Five Magazine published “Finding Room for Teddy” in October, 2012.
Several magazine stories followed, in High Five and Ladybug, but it was her story she wanted and needed to tell to children. As she tells her Reader in her novel’s introduction, "I was an Old Soul child growing up in the deep South in the 1950’s, a member of the only Jewish family in a town where there were so many things I did not understand; for instance, the Jim Crow laws that kept people  separated by their skin tone.”

Deanie began writing Essie Rose Ginsberg’s story in 2013.  She’d never written a novel, period, let alone a novel for middle grade readers.  She’d never written historical fiction.
She knew the time. She knew the place.  She knew what the story was about:  loneliness, loyalty, bullying, friendship, loss and best of all, courage.
With such courage, Deanie kept on keepin’ on – learning her craft, honing her craft, revising like there was no tomorrow.  Rejections and admiring declines almost won out until she and Essie Rose wound up just where they belonged, with Golden Alley Press.

Golden Alley Press’ catalogue copy sums up Essie Rose’s Revelation Summer perfectly.

“There are so many things I DO NOT UNDERSTAND.”
     What happens when the lone Jewish girl in a small Mississippi town challenges the rules of segregation in the hot summer of 1953?
     Essie Rose Ginsberg, writer, loner, and all-time worrier, is hoping for a carefree summer vacation. But when the family’s beloved housekeeper is suddenly called away, Essie Rose must figure out how to "get on with her business" and make her Pearlie May proud. 
     When Daddy’s store is vandalized, when mean girls bully her, when her entry in the town’s essay contest is jeopardized because Pearlie May is not a Caucasian, Essie Rose’s worries become a reality. 
     The Fourth of July comes and goes without Pearlie May's return. Will she make it home in time for Essie Rose's 11th birthday? Will the Ginsbergs remain in Tipton, or will increasing discrimination and danger finally force them to return up North? 
     Read over her shoulder as Essie Rose captures it all in her Writer’s Notebook, chronicling a summer of friendship, love, loyalty, and “getting on with her business.

Thank you, Deanie, for so generously and bravely sharing yourself, your writing and Essie Rose with our TeachingAuthors Readers.  You give us heart and hope.
May your pluck and courage, as well as Essie Rose’s, help all of us keep keepin’ on to tell our stories!
Oh, and don’t forget, Readers, to enter our Book Giveaway to win a copy of Essie Rose’s Revelation Summer!  See the details below.  Deanie and her publisher Nancy Sayre are offering TWO copies, which means TWO winners!

Happy Successing!

Esther Hershenhorn

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

It’s been nine years since I first welcomed you to the Children’s Book World, Deanie.  And now here you are, after several published stories in Ladybug and High Five, a Highlights Chautauqua scholarship, a contest win and attendance at numerous Writers Conferences, the author of your very first middle grade novel, Essie Rose's Revelation Summer. What might be just a few of the revelations you’ve experienced on this most singular Writer’s Journey – about the writing process, about writing for children, about yourself?
The most significant revelations I have experienced about the writing process itself were the demands it made on me to let go of my own preconceived notions, ideas, and expectations of what and who my characters were. I learned to muster my patience and trust to them to talk to me instead of me talking to them. I discovered that the writing process is simultaneously laborious and glorious, even mysterious.
When it came to writing for children, I discovered how difficult it was at times to take my adult self out of the picture and become a child so that I could experience the world through Essie Rose Ginsberg’s eyes and not Deanie Yasner’s. When those moments actually occurred, the experience was truly magical.
About myself, I discovered that I possessed the kind of courage, perseverance, determination and faith in this project that sustained me during all phases of this journey.  I also learned I could withstand the emotional roller coaster of having to dig deep within my soul to make my story authentic and my characters real and pure.

It was June of 2013 when we first worked together on this story.  Back then it was a novel in verse. Each meet-up, each iteration brought you a new challenge, something new to learn.  What were some of those challenges and new things you learned – and – most important, what enabled you to keep on keepin’ on?
With each meet-up and all the iterations it took to get this story to its completion, I learned the power of letting go of what didn’t work, the power of patience in letting the story unfold in its own way, and to embrace the uncertainty and surprises along the way.

Marion Dane Bauer advises writers: put your story in the story you’re telling if you want it to re-sound in your readers’ hearts.  Where does your story intersect with Essie Rose Ginsberg’s?
This story was truly mine to tell.  I was, and in many ways still am, Essie Rose Ginsberg. Like my character, I grew up a Jewish child in a small southern town in Mississippi where I felt different, with many things happening around me that I truly did not understand. Like my character, I am still a worrier, an observer, and a writer.

What do you hope Essie Rose's Revelation Summer means to your Readers?
It is my hope that my readers will be inspired and determined to do as Essie Rose did: muster their courage to be their best selves and find their own way to make their voices heard.

The writing process is a whole different animal from the publishing process, with its very own set of challenges.  Please share a little of bit of how you worked with your Golden Alley Press publisher/editor and how she’s readied you for this new chapter in your writer’s life?
From the very beginning, working with Nancy Sayre, my publisher and editor, proved to be an exercise in flawless communication as we progressed through our weekly real-time editing sessions. We worked page-by-page and had extra conversations when we needed to resolve specific issues. While challenging at times, the process was both exciting and educational as I quickly learned to trust Nancy’s insightful and creative editing skills.  Nancy expertly guided me through all phases from editing to launching. Now we’re working on marketing the book together.

You’re a Picture Book writer as well as a Middle Grade novelist.  What do you love about each of these singular formats?
I love the separate challenges each genre demands – the tightness and word constriction of “less” when writing a picture book, and the freedom of “more” when writing a novel.

When you cradle your book, as I know you’ve done often, and pinch both arms to make sure this is happening, what are you thinking now, what words do you exclaim?
That I am privileged to have experienced the exquisite joy of having created something …a book…from nothing…that my soul is alive and well as I exclaim in the words of Pearlie May Gibbs: AMEN AND HALLELUJAH.

Finally, what Words of Advice do you have for fellow writers traveling their Writers’ Plotlines?
I might advise my fellow writers:  Trust the process and never give up!

Oh, and since today is Poetry Friday and we connect with Writing the World for Kids, which just happens to be the blog of former TeachingAuthor Laura Salas, who is your favorite poet?
My favorite poet is Emily Dickenson.

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

Book Giveaway Instructions:

To enter our drawing for a chance to win Essie Rose’s Revelation Summer, 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. If you haven’t already “liked” our Facebook page, please
do so today!
(If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.)

Note: if you submit your comments via email or Facebook, YOU MUST STILL ENTER THE DRAWING VIA THE WIDGET BELOW.  The giveaway ends September 25 and is open to U.S. residents only.

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, September 6, 2019

Early Mornings From My Window

Spring and summer are my favorites.
Sunshiny  days.
Early mornings on my patio.
A cup of coffee,
my journal,
and a smooth writing pen
completes my morning ritual.

By Gwendolyn Hooks

Friday, August 30, 2019

My End of Summer Workspace and a Related Poem

We TeachingAuthors been sharing pictures of the view from, or of, our workspace, so let me start with this one:

This photo isn't exactly the view from my workspace. I took it while on my afternoon walk through the neighborhood. The tree caught my attention because its leaves are already starting to change colors. Can you tell? As beautiful as it is, for me, the tree is a sad reminder that summer is winding down, at least here in North America.

I'd been hoping to get away for a writing retreat this month, to spend several days focused on my current work-in-progress. And I'd planned to have pictures to share from that retreat. Sadly, I didn't manage to get away. Instead, I've been setting aside days at home devoted to the project. The following photo was taken in my office, and it will give you some clues about my project.

As you've probably guessed, I've been spending time reading and writing poetry. Of course, if you subscribe to my Creativity Newsletter, you already knew that. I shared a draft of a just-for-fun poem in my last newsletter and you can read it online here. (If you'd like to subscribe to the newsletter, which I send out every other month, you can do so here.)

In addition to reading and writing poetry, I've been listening to it, too, thanks to the Daily Poem podcast. That's where I recently heard Jane Kenyon's Three Songs at the End of Summer.   
Here's an excerpt from the poem:

Three Songs at the End of Summer (excerpt)
            by Jane Kenyon

A second crop of hay lies cut  
and turned. Five gleaming crows  
search and peck between the rows.
They make a low, companionable squawk,  
and like midwives and undertakers  
possess a weird authority.

Crickets leap from the stubble,  
parting before me like the Red Sea.  
The garden sprawls and spoils.

Across the lake the campers have learned  
to water ski. They have, or they haven’t.  
Sounds of the instructor’s megaphone  
suffuse the hazy air. “Relax! Relax!”

Cloud shadows rush over drying hay,  
fences, dusty lane, and railroad ravine.  
The first yellowing fronds of goldenrod  
brighten the margins of the woods.

Schoolbooks, carpools, pleated skirts;  
water, silver-still, and a vee of geese. . . .

       Copyright © 2005 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon. 

Read all of “Three Songs at the End of Summer” at the Poetry Foundation website.

I'm looking forward to reading lots more great poetry today via the Poetry Friday roundup, which is hosted this week by Australian author and poet Kathryn Apel.

Remember to always Write with Joy! 

Friday, August 23, 2019

3 Dogs in My Writing Room!

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

For a short and sunny summer read, we TeachingAuthors are posting the view from my / of my work space.  So far, Bobbi's shared summer windows and her animal editors , Mary Ann shared two rooms with a view...and coffee, Esther offered us picture book author Zakieh Mohammed's Wednesday Writing Workoutand then she shared a photo of the "one wonderous addition" from her summer windows.

If I turned around from my desk, I'd see Eli chewing on whatever toy he's chosen from his toy drawer...

...but usually I'm poeming, politicking and bouncing on the BOSU ball I stole from my husband years ago:

working at my desk, August 2013.
Photo by Jone MacCulloch
This is Our Summer of Dogs. My son and his fiancee are overseas, so Eli's two "nieces," Penny (the smart, shy, territorial butterscotch and white 8-year-old) and Gin (the bouncy, licky black 9-month-old puppy whose sibling's name was Tonic), are staying with us. For six weeks.

Everyone has chosen a toy from Eli's toy drawer.

Since Jone took the photo of me on the Bosu ball above, I've turned my desk to face the wall. (I rescued the letters from a business that was changing its name.)

Three dogs has been an adjustment.

That's the understatement of the year. I know it's not the same as moving to another state, changing my name, or becoming an electrician. Still, it feels as if I'm working on a master's degree in walking three dogs and picking up more than one poop at a time.

by April Halprin Wayland

One dog is just one.
Him and me.
Hear me hum.

Two dogs are just fine.
Two dogs.
In two straight lines.

Three dogs?  My gosh—unstoppable!
Friends say they will strengthen me.                                                   (I say they are all adoptable!)

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

Have a wonderful last whiff of summer or beginning of a new school year, Campers!

And thank you, Amy, for hosting Poetry Friday at The Poem Farm
This week, Amy's hosting a celebration of the life of Lee Bennett Hopkins; she invites everyone who wishes to share a poem inspired by or including a line from a LBH poem. Tag with #DearOneLBH.  

Stay tuned! TeachingAuthors will continue the appreciation
of Lee's poetry on September 20th.

posted by April Halprin Wayland, with the help of Eli, Penny and Gin, with love

Friday, August 16, 2019

The Views From MY Windows This Summer…

I’m happy to report: this summer’s views from my Chicago hi-rise’s windows remain the same as shared in my July post two years ago… with but one wondrous addition when looking south:


I’m also happy to report: like Christine at today’s Poetry Friday link, I too have been wondering and wandering.
Feast your eyes on but a few of the people, places and “animals” my iPhone camera captured the past three months.

Enjoy the view wherever you are wandering and wondering!

Esther Hershenhorn

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Wednesday Writing Workout: The Reader’s Role

Meet my fellow Chicago writer, debut author Zakieh Mohammed, an award-winning teacher and Chicago public school administrator who kindly created today’s Wednesday Writing Workout.
Ripple Grove Press released Zakieh’s picture book A Girl Named October, gorgeously illustrated by Andrea Tripke, this past spring.

October’s story is especially timely, given the current demand for children’s books that address the importance of kindness and empathy.  She navigates her days, unaware how even the smallest memory, interaction and expression can impact the larger world.

It was Zakieh’s hope that by reaching the Reader and meaningfully interacting, October’s questions become the Reader’s.
She notes on her book’s dedication page that October was inspired by her youngest sister who spoke the central line - “I’m touching the world.”  The spirit and depth of those words stayed with Zakieh, even after her sister lost her battle with leukemia at the age of nine.

The flap copy notes, “Touching the world is no longer an abstract idea, but a concrete action that reveals how everything we do affects everyone around us.”

Reviewers lauded the text’s poetry, the lighthearted approach, yet the powerful message that everything around us holds value and offers connectivity.

Thank you, Zakieh, for reminding us of our role as authors.  We pose the questions, not answer them for our Readers. Answering them is our challenged Reader’s Role.

Enjoy today’s Wednesday Writing Workout!

Esther Hershenhorn

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

The Reader’s Role

     A Girl Named October asks a great deal of the reader. The pictures the illustrator drew capture the tone and spirit of the story, but the text itself is ultimately a series of unanswered questions about our place in the world and the power of our presence in everything.

     When I taught, stories expanded my students’ exposure to literature, demonstrated elements of writing, and allowed my students to become more reflective and ask themselves questions through the lens of their value system, bias, expectation, and hope.

● Why are we afraid to try things that are new or different? Green Eggs and Ham
● Why can telling the truth be difficult? The Emperor’s New Clothes
● Is the loss of one’s ideal equal to the loss of one’s life? Things Fall Apart

     The authors do not answer the questions for us, but pose them, and challenge us to consider the questions through ourselves and our own sensibilities. Whether the author is asking an overarching question, or a series of questions, creating an interplay between the printed story and the Reader is important, and an exercise all writers should undertake.

     Asking your Readers to reflect on their beliefs does not mean you are challenging their beliefs; rather you are allowing the reader space to unpack and better understand their truth. When developing a character or storyline, do you want the story to read in a monologic way or do you want to create opportunities for internal and external dialogue?

     A story allows us to do something so many mediums do not; we get to explore and discover even after the words have been formally printed onto a page. It is important to become the Reader to determine if what you as the author intended, does ask the Reader to reflect and struggle. In A Girl Named October, the Reader is part of the quest for answers, and is asked to respond for the silent protagonist:

● “I’m touching the world,” she said, her world seeming pleasant, calm, and full of purpose.
“There are so many ways, aren’t there?
● “I’m standing on the world,” she responded with certainty. Then, pointing at my feet, she asked, “Aren’t you?”
● “October smiled, handing me one [a book]. “When I read them, I can see farther. Can’t you?”
● “I speak loudly when I say nothing at all. You heard me, didn’t you?”

     Whether a picture book, chapter book, young adult novel, or adult novel-- whether a simple idea, humorous narrative, dramatic tale, or epic thriller, a writer needs to establish whether their story asks anything of the Reader,  whether what they are asking will resonate, and whether their story can ask more of the Reader.

     Using your manuscript(s) draft, write down your answer to the question: “What question(s) am I asking the Reader to explore?”

Consider what question(s) you want your Readers to ask themselves that go beyond the character and story, and towards reflection. You are asked to write down your response because, as writers, we know our stories backwards and forwards, in our head and in our heart, and assume our story’s message is clear; but, oftentimes, feedback suggests the motivation behind a character’s actions needs strengthening.

     If the story is about sharing, are you trying to teach a child about fairness? Equity? Kindness? There is no wrong answer, but it has to be the right question. Whether it is for a picture book or novel, the question you are posing to the Reader is critical to the engagement and investment of the Reader. This technique is different than being asked to write down the theme of your story. The theme can be a word or phrase, but it is static. Establishing the question you want to explore with your Readers makes your manuscript dynamic.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Two Rooms with a View

We Teaching Authors are looking out our windows this month (what else would you do in August?)
Coffee and a laptop on the deck.

To be honest, my home office has zero view. It was originally a tiny living room with plantation shutters. If you open the shutters the view is...a bunch of shrubbery, grown to where there is no view.  It's so claustrophobic, I only use it when I don't need to be inspired...just focused. Revisions and research and such. Nothing like a no-view room to keep you on task.

Here is where my laptop and I spend the majority of time in good weather...the back deck. Our lot is so heavily wooded that in summer I can imagine I'm on a Vermont mountain top (if I ignore the ancient swing set we've never gotten around to taking down.) We are surrounded by neighbors, but unless someone is mowing the lawn or using a chain saw, I feel alone in the woods.

We also have a rental house on Ocean Isle Beach, NC. We spend a lot of time there during the off-season (Oct-May) because it stays rented the rest of the time. When my husband and I designed it, I made sure to put in a writing porch off the master bedroom. Now that is some view.
Need coffee!

The ocean calms me, even on the days when it's so gloomy, you can't tell where the sky ends and the sea begins. For me a calm mind is a working mind. All the negative you-don't-know-what-you're-doing gremlins disappear. Words materialize on the page. Magic! When weather forces me inside, the view is the same from the dining room table. Even when fog rolls in, rain falls, and the waves explode on the shore, my creative mind stays in a Zen-like state.
And coffee appears, along with creativity.

No matter what the view, this is what writers aspire to achieve, this condition of creative mindfulness, aka, The Zone.  Go forth, and find your Creative Zone.
Find the horizon...I dare you!

Sunrise the morning before Hurricane Michael last fall.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Summer Windows and Winners!

Congratulations to Irene L, the winner of our giveaway of HOW I LEARNED TO FALL OUT OF TREES by Vincent X. Kirsch!

We are on the last days of a busy summer. We at Teaching Authors thought you might enjoy seeing what our working space looks like!

This is my workdesk. I'm working on revisions as I take Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson's Kid Book Revisions Summer School 2019. It's a lot of reading and writing and more reading and writing!

But, I have help! This is Apollo.

We are best companions.

But sometimes, all this reading and writing can be exhausting! Apollo knows what to do.

When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name. 
(The Naming of Cats, by TS Eliot) 

I hope you are enjoying your summer days!

--Bobbi Miller

Friday, July 26, 2019

How I Became A Teaching Author

I was a shy kid who grew up in an Air Force family. My shyness made it hard to make new friends. When you move during the middle of the school year, friendships are already established. Breaking in was torture for me. Thank goodness, I have a sister who is one year older than me. We spent hours in libraries. We loved books and still do along with a younger sister and brother.

A year ago, we decided to form a reading club. As quickly as that idea popped up, it fizzled. We have such divergent taste, we couldn’t decide on a book to start our first meeting. Luckily, I have my kid lit friends and critique buddies.

Before I began writing books for young readers, I taught middle school mathematics. I thought I’d always teach math. Two of my mother’s sisters were teachers. It was tradition.

But . . . I happened to see a flyer in my local library about a class for those who wanted to write magazine articles. It sounded intriguing, so I signed up and began a new career. I sold a few articles. Then I saw a newspaper article inviting people to a Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) meeting. I found my true calling and longtime friendships—writing books for young readers.

I’ve published over 20 books. It was a long and winding path, but I’m where I belong. I write both fiction and nonfiction. BLOCK PARTY is a Junior Library Guild Selection.

One of my passions is picture book biographies. I love reading them and writing them. I especially love learning about people with an “I didn’t know that” factor. That definitely was the case with TINY STITCHES – THE LIFE OF MEDICAL PIONEER VIVIEN THOMAS (Lee & Low Books). A friend saw the movie Something the Lord Made (the story of Vivian Thomas) and told me to watch it. She encouraged me to write about him. It took a few years, but I did it. It won a NAACP Award. Accepting my award was one of the proudest moments of my writing career.

This fall, Capstone will publish my second picture book biography, ONA JUDGE OUTWITS THE WASHINGTONS – AN ENSLAVED WOMAN FIGHTS FOR FREEDOM. I don’t have a release date for my third one, PLANTING PEACE – THE STORY OF WANGARI MAATHAI (Wayland-Hachette Children’s Group).

I love visiting schools and sharing my writing life and writing tips with students. Recently, I presented workshops at Oklahoma State University and Rochester University in Rochester, Michigan. On behalf of the Arts Council of Oklahoma City, I teach an ongoing writing class at the YMCA Lincoln Park Senior Center in my hometown of Oklahoma City. The ladies are so prolific with so many life stories to tell that we published a book, TREASURES (Doodle and Peck).

During visits to upper elementary and middle school students, I often share my nonfiction science book MAKERS AND TAKERS—FOOD WEBS IN THE OCEANS (Rourke). I lead them in understanding, my book is not all that different from their essays.

I will continue to read all sorts of books and write as I begin working with the amazing TeachingAuthors and I hope to hear from readers too.

Posted by Gwendolyn Hooks

Friday, July 19, 2019

Middles, Ends, and Beginnings

Here in the Midwest, we're muddling through the middle of summer, complete with "Excessive Heat Warnings" for today and tomorrow. I'm so grateful for air conditioning, not only in my home but in our car, too! Many people call these the "Dog Days of Summer." I learned only recently that the phrase isn't because of the heat, but because of a star. From July 3 to Aug. 11 (in the Northern Hemisphere), Sirius, also known as the Dog Star, is in alignment with the sun. Thus, these are called the Dog Days. (You can read more about the term's origin at the Farmers' Almanac site.)

Sirius, Dog Star courtesy of dom1706 on pixabay
And here on TeachingAuthors, we're in the Middle of our giveaway of the wonderful picture book How I Learned to Fall Out of Trees by Vincent X. Kirsch (Abrams Books).  If you haven't read April's marvelous interview with Vincent yet, be sure to do so today! (You can enter the giveaway on that page.)

At TeachingAuthors, this is also a time for an End. As Carla mentioned in her last post, she's leaving our blogging team. Hard to believe she's been with us for over four years! It seemed we were welcoming her only a year or two ago. She was a terrific addition to the team and we will definitely miss her.

But this sad End will be followed by a happy Beginning. Next week, we'll welcome a new TeachingAuthor. I'm going to keep you in suspense and let her introduce herself in her inaugural post a week from today. I'll say only that she's an author of both fiction and nonfiction. I expect all our wonderful TeachingAuthors readers will make her feel right at home here.

I'd actually planned to write a post about poetry today. I recently started reading a poem a day in preparation for a poetry-focused writing project. However, I was distracted by an unexpected opportunity I couldn't pass up that I'll share about later. Meanwhile, I look forward to reading the posts in this week's Poetry Friday roundup, hosted over at Carol's Corner today.

Keep cool and remember to always Write with Joy!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Mini Post: Book Giveaway & Writing Workout!

Howdy, Campers!

This post will be short and sweet--'cause it's summer!

Last week I posted an interview with illustrator-author-poet-puppeteer-amazingness, Vincent X. Kirsch, who will personally autograph a copy of his newest picture book, HOW I LEARNED TO FALL OUT OF TREES for our Book Giveaway winner! To enter to win this wonderful book, go to the interview and scroll down.

And now, before the sun melts my flip flops, I'd like to present Vincent X. Kirsch's

Take an existing story you've worked on
and reverse the action,
telling it backwards,
starting with the ending first.

Some stories
work better backwards.

image from
See? I told you this was going to be short and sweet! If you try this exercise, let us know how it went. And don't forget to enter to win Vincent's newest book!

posted backwards by April Halprin Wayland, who loves this quote:
"Spend the afternoon. You can't take it with you." -Annie Dillard

image from

Friday, July 12, 2019

Student Success Story and Book Giveaway: Vincent X. Kirsch: Illustrator-Poet-Author-Puppeteer-Amazingness

Howdy, Campers, and Happy Poetry Friday! (an original poem, the link to PF, and instructions on how to enter our drawing for an autographed picture book are below)

Look! Someone's climbed our ladder and is knocking at the door of the TeachingAuthors tree house right now!

Campers, I'm proud to introduce you to a dear friend.

But first, a confession: I feel a bit sheepish posting this interview as part of our continuing series, Student Success Stories, since he tiptoed into my Picture Book class undercover, without revealing he'd written and illustrated many wonderful picture books before landing in my class. But...he was my student...and man, oh, man, is he a success! So...he qualifies, right?

Welcome, Vincent X. Kirsch and Ogbert! (I'm sorry that the utterly adorable Scout Pippins, Vincent's other pup, couldn't join us today)

Author-Illustrator Vincent X. Kirsch and Ogbert
photo courtesy of the author
Have a glass of fresh lemonade and take a load off, Vincent, then please tell us how you found your way into writing and illustrating children's books.

One of my favorite behind the scenes story is how my first book came to be. I had been pursuing work in picture books for over fifteen years without any success. I had given up at a point in my life when a lot of my friends were getting book assignments without any effort at all. Over the same fifteen years, I had been doing a monthly illustration for The New York Times Book Review. I was told in August that the art director was leaving and the new art director wanted to start with his own team of illustrators. It was rather sad because I had been doing it so long and I hated to see that door shut. For my very last illustration, I drew two young Italian brothers on a scooter going in opposite directions. The illustration was published one Sunday in October, 2006 and the following Thursday, an editor at Bloomsbury USA called to say that she loved the illustration in The Times and wondered if I was interested in doing picture books? A new door was suddenly thrown wide open! She was thinking of me as an illustrator but was delighted to discover that I was also a writer. The result was my first book NATALIE &NAUGHTILY. So, all of that work over all those years paid off somehow. 

So, based on your experience, how would you encourage someone banging her head against writer’s block...or someone who's depressed about ever getting anything published?

Things never happen when we think they will happen. The greatest reward for working in any creative area is the work itself. To sit down and create is a treasure that nothing else in life can match. 

I often say: The greatest reward in life is to put a part of yourself down on paper. Enjoy the work. Be in the present moment.  Don’t compare and don’t compete. No one has the same life story or superpower. It’s what makes you who you are. Also, don’t forget to love as much as you can, it is all really take with you when you leave this world.

For Writer’s Block: Take a break. Take a vacation. Stand on your head. Look at the world from a new perspective. Read BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott. Then, go back to work and look at your own work with new eyes.

Vincent's inspiration cork board
photo courtesy of the author
The cork board in your studio is filled with images that encourage you to dream. If you could be anything in the world except an author/illustrator, what would you dream of becoming?

An urban planner. A film director. A playwright. A scenic designer. A puppeteer. Or a job that I actually had and loved, a visual merchandiser for a line of luxury food shoppes.

(Campers...the thing about Vincent is that he will probably actually DO all these things--stay tuned!)

I know the story of how you wrote your newest book ~ could you share it with our readers, please?
I was enrolled in your class at UCLA Extension. One week you asked us to rethink an existing project that we had worked on in the past. One of my favorite books titled FORSYTHIA & ME had recently gone out of print. I loved the book but thought I could do a better job if I gave it a bit more of an emotional tug at the heart.

I went back to a list I had made of remembered things from my childhood that stood out. Two that jumped out at me were: my fear of climbing trees and the memory of how heartbroken I was when my childhood friends would move away. So, I blended the two, addressing both of these feelings that had bedeviled me and somehow comforted myself in dealing with those memories. Since the class was a poetry driven class, I first wrote the book as a poem. I surprised myself at the end, since I really didn’t know how I would end it until inspiration wrote the final sentence for me.

The book came out exactly two years after my first draft in class. It is called
 HOW I LEARNED TO FALL OUT OF TREES by Abrams Books for Young Readers.

I love that story (of course I do!) and also way you so beautifully intertwine two different ideas, both in words and illustrations...and so do critics!  "A primer on both getting up into the leaves and coping with the loss of someone you're attached to. Kirsch elegantly makes the connection with affirmations that work both ways: 'Hang on tight with both hands'; 'take it one branch at a time'; and, inevitably, 'letting go will be the hardest part!' . . . A well-cultivated story that plants a seed about the value of friends and what they leave with us, even when they're gone" ~ Kirkus Reviews

How can teachers and parents use HOW I LEARNED TO FALL OUT OF TREES?
I imagine it will be a very useful book to share with listeners and readers if they have lately experienced a loss of some sort, (such as when a friend/fellow student/relative moves away, dies or in no longer near). This book shows that even though someone might not be there anymore, they have left you with something of value that can be held on to. What might that be?

Yes. I can see myself giving it to an adult friend who's going through loss. You recently spoke to my class right after your beloved mother died...and choked up as you began reading it aloud. A student continued reading the book for you. It was a very touching moment.

Tell us about your mother.

I come from a rather large family of five children. I was second and am very much a second child. I was very close to my Mom. She was my greatest fan. Everything I did amazed and delighted her. I used to love to call her with good or bad news. She was always a voice of confidence. I have a terrific family by birth and another marvelous family of close friends. They now take turns being my Mom’s voice when I need to hear encouraging words.

Dapper, young Vincent X. Kirsch. photo courtesy of the author

Did your family celebrate holidays? What's your favorite?
I adore everything about Christmas. I always have. I was Santa Claus’s greatest fan. At a very early age, my parents discovered that I was very good at wrapping packages. So, one holiday season when I was still very young, they sat me down and explained that Santa was not a real person but a very good idea. There were no elves. I needed to help. Then, they put me to work wrapping presents for my siblings and relatives. I remember crying my eyes out, that first day.

Years later, when I started as the window designer at Bergdorf Goodman, the store did very little for the holidays. No special windows. No fancy interior elements. Just a few cursory holiday touches. I was aghast and offered to take on the assignment and direction of holiday decorations. It meant much more work and planning for an already busy me. But I believed in festive holidays. I started the traditions of holiday windows, ornate interior decorations and wreaths hung on all of the windows outside the store. I did it for Santa Claus, not the person, but the idea.

You are always willing do extra work, and you're endlessly curious and multi-talented, Vincent. So, where will your abundant energy and enthusiasm take you next?

I have just begun artwork on my next picture book as author and illustrator. Hopefully it will be called FROM A. TO Z. It is about two little boys who can’t find the perfect words to express how they feel about each other. It is a very upbeat celebration of love and friendship. It will be out in Fall of 2020 from Abrams.

Then, I have started work on my second early reader/search-and-find book with Holiday House to be titled CAN PUP FIND THE PUPS? It is a sequel of sorts to the first book in the series, a Junior Library Guild selection for very young readers, 
CAN YOU FIND PUP?  about a little artist and his fun-loving, dare-devil pup. 

Wow~ I can't wait to read FROM A. TO Z. It sounds like a life-changing picture book. 

And finally, do you have a poem to share for Poetry Friday? 

Years ago, I wrote a fairy tale about a little girl on an island who is given the gift of a dragon as her teacher. At the start of the story, I wrote this poem. It expresses something that I truly believe.

Each person changes the world.
Some for the better.
Some for the worse.
Someone might build a wall
to keep others out.
Someone else might build a house
for others to come home to.
Someone may step upon a flower.
Someone may plant a garden.
A cruel word might be spoken.
A poem might be written.
Someone might start a war.
Someone else might start to sing
a song that passes
from person
to person
to person.

by Vincent X. Kirsch

poem (c) 1998 Vincent X. Kirsch. All rights reserved.

illustrations and photos (c)2019 Vincent X. Kirsch. All rights reserved.

Vincent, thank you--I needed to be reminded that each person does change the world. And thank you for passing your inspiring song on to all of us. I hope you'll come back when FROM A. TO Z. comes out. (Campers! I urge you to read more about Vincent--or at least feast your eyes on oodles of his illustrations--in this 2016 interview)
And thank you for offering to sign and send a personally autographed copy of HOW I LEARNED TO FALL OUT OF TREES to one of our lucky Readers!
(to enter the drawing, see directions below)

Campers ~ checkout Vincent's short and sweet Wednesday Writers' Workout!

And don't forget Poetry Friday
This week's roundup is hosted by Jone at DeoWriter  Thanks, Jone! 
PS: Campers ~ there's still a seat for you in the one-day class, WRITING A PICTURE BOOK AND GETTING IT PUBLISHED I'm again teaching on Saturday, July 13, 2019 with illustrator and author Barney Saltzberg, from 9:30am-4:30pm, through the UCLA Extension Writers Program
TO ENTER THE DRAWING for a chance to win an autographed copy of  HOW I LEARNED TO FALL OUT OF TREES written and illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsh, use the Rafflecopter widget below. You may enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options.

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

*In your comment, tell us what you'd do with the book if you win our giveaway--keep it for yourself or give it to a young reader or a teacher (...or?) ?

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

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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

posted with affection by April Halprin Wayland, and Eli (who loves every breathing being he meets.)

Friday, June 28, 2019

A Shining Legacy

My favorite genre is non-fiction. One of the best books I've read in the last year is The

Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore (Sourcebooks, 2017). Beginning just prior to WWI up until just before WWII, these girls worked as dial painters for clock-and-watch factories in Orange, New Jersey, Ottawa, Illinois and Waterbury, Connecticut.

The painters, Orange, New Jersey factory
The luminescent qualities of radium infused paint made it invaluable in painting clock and watch dials, as well as airplane instrument panels.  Working at "the watch studio" (as these companies styled their workshops) was a glamorous job for a working class girl. The painters were all female, mostly teenagers, some as young as thirteen. Watch painting was not only a "prestige" position, it paid three times more than ordinary factory work. Many of these young women made more than their fathers, helping their large families to stay afloat.
Radium infused lipstick-1930's France

It wasn't the generosity of their employers that paid the dial painters for their work.  The "bosses," the chemists who developed their paint and the factory directors knew that radium paint was a health hazard. This was a secret they kept to themselves because at the same time, radium was being touted as a "health" product. Everything that could possibly be infused with radium, was: toothpaste, "health tonics," make-up, milk.

Or so they were advertised.

Katherine Schaub (l) and Grace Fryer(r) the first plaintiffs 

 The chemists who handled the beakers of paint worked in labs, away from the painters.  The chemists wore protective gloves and lead aprons.

The painters? Not only did they not have protective gear, they were expected to fashion the fine point on their minute brushes by putting them in their mouths...ten to twenty times per dial...then dip them into the paint. There was no water for cleaning the brushes between "paintings." An average worker could turn out two hundred to three hundred dials per day. 2,300 to 3,000 licks of a brush coated with radium paint.

Within a few years, the "girls" (now wives and young mothers) contracted strange and mysterious illnesses, that couldn't be diagnosed. It began with arthritis like aches in their joint, which they attributed to "old age" their late twenties! They lost their teeth, at first pulled because of unbearable pain, then falling out of their own accord, Pieces of jaw bone followed, until the entire jaw crumbled to nothing.  Strange tumors invaded their bones. Spines turned to dust. Death soon followed.

Five of the terminally ill women in the Orange, New Jersey plant, led by Katherine Schaub and Grace Freyer, sued their employer, United States Radium Corporation under the New Jersey Occupational Disease Law. Despite the many doctors, "experts" and government officials the company paid to dismiss their claims that their maladies were caused by radium, the bravery and persistence of "The Orange Five" persuaded the courts and the public. In 1928, the company was forced settle out of court, providing health care and an annuity to the five for life...however long it that was.

The fortitude of "The Orange Five" inspired another five women, this time at the Radium Dial Company in Ottawa, Illinois. Another five friends, who had been lied to by their employer as to the dangers of their workplace. Eight years later, after the death of their leader, Catherine Wolfe, "The Ottawa Girls" successfully won their fight against Radium Dial in court.

I find myself re-reading this book every couple of months. I re-read my favorite books all the time, but I don't recall reading the same book (at least not as an adult) as much as I have this one. Why?

First, I admire the strength and tenacity of the "radium girls." Many of them worked until they ages 20, young. They believed their bosses. Their families needed the money. And they trusted their own youth to protect them.

Secondly, the author portrayed these girls real people and not a faceless collection of names in a class action suit.  The "girls" left a trove of material for future biographers.  Oral histories by the few survivors or their families. An 80's documentary (no longer commercially available) Radium City about the Ottawa "studio." Court documents. Newspaper accounts of the court cases. Some of the girls kept diaries, (Katherine Schuab aspired to being a published author, which she achieved before her death.) It's this fine use of detail that brings these young women to life again.

The Radium Girls had no sense of "making history" or "crusading" for workplace safety for the ages. All they wanted was enough money to pay their medical costs, and to leave money for their families. They wanted the companies to admit that they had duped their workers, treated them as an expendable commodity. They wanted safety standards put in place. They helped form occupational labor law. It was too late for them, but perhaps it was not too late for their younger sisters and cousins who still worked at the factories. Uneducated, yet determined factory workers achieved all this.

I am inspired by these women, who while seemingly at the mercy of big business and Big Men, felt empowered enough to take them on in court. The Constitution gave them the right to vote only a few year before. Why not use that new found power for the good?

Would that I as a writer, could pick and employ the right detail, shape an individual story arc, that could make my 1920's characters come alive for my readers. And that I as a person, would have the strength to persevere in doing what is right, as these young factory workers did.