Friday, September 27, 2019

For Empathy's Sake, Read History

I’ve noted before, Monica excels at taking a moment in history, oftentimes a forgotten moment, and fashioning a story that is both compelling and informative. Her books showcase inventors, artists,  and revolutionaries of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A master at writing about history, Monica’s books demonstrate that history is more than dates. History is people, too. In the best of historical fiction, as with any story, a child becomes a hero who gains power over her situation, a theme that contemporary readers appreciate.

This time, I celebrate Monica’s newest books.

Ruby’s Hope tells the story behind Dorothea Lange’s famous “Migrant Mother” photograph, with illustrations by Sarah Dvojack. In this a compassionate story set during the Great Depression, Ruby’s family faces desperate times when the drought forces the family to pack up their car and move to California. Ruby struggles to hold onto her hope.  They join others in migrant camps, working fields in exchange for food. Then Dorothea Lange arrives to document the extreme poverty of the migrant workers, and the world learns of their plight.  The book reflects important themes of keeping hope in the face of hardship.

“Historical fiction helps young readers develop a feeling for a living past, illustrating the continuity of life,” says Karen Cushman, another master writer of historical fiction. Historical fiction, “like all good history, demonstrates how history is made up of the decisions and actions of individuals and that the future will be made up of our decisions and actions.”

History teaches young readers what it’s like to walk in another’s shoes.  Stories are the closest thing we have to “walking around in someone else’s skin.” They make us more human. Stories allow a child to navigate complex emotions, looking at diverse perspectives, and learning to leverage relationships for collaboration and progress.

Reading teaches young readers empathy.

Exploring similar themes, Monica's exquisite book, Aunt Pearl is a powerful and poignant story that brings a welcomed sensitivity to themes of homelessness and family, beautifully illustrated by the incomparable Irene Luxbacher. As with life itself, the book doesn’t offer answers to a challenging question. As the narrative implies, sometimes some things can’t be fixed. But everyone deserves second chances, understanding and acceptance, and everyone deserves love. And hope.

Building an understanding of what others are feeling, how our own actions impact others is a valuable life skill. Learning to empathize helps to build a sense of security and stronger relationships with others. It encourages tolerance and acceptance of others. And in so doing, it reduces the likelihood of bullying.

And while studies suggest there are different strategies in teaching empathy, such as talking about feelings, one of the best ways of all to help children develop a sense of empathy is by reading books. Children (and adults) learn to associate feelings and actions with their favorite characters. Remember when Atticus Finch, said to Scout , “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

-- Bobbi Miller

Friday, September 20, 2019

Thank you, Lee Bennett Hopkins

Howdy, Campers, and Happy Poetry Friday! My poem, the link to our current book giveaway, and the PF link are all below.

Our current Book Giveaway, which ends September 25th, is for a copy of Deanie Yasner's debut middle grade novel, Essie Rose's RevelationTo enter, go to Esther's latest Student Success Story.

We lost a great one in August—"passionate educator and prolific children's poet and anthologist,* Lee Bennett Hopkins.  

Towards the end of August, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater offered her blog, The Poetry Farm, as a space to honor Lee, who died on August 8th. We at TeachingAuthors are celebrating Lee today.

I first met Lee about 35 years ago through my teacher, poet Myra Cohn Livingston, who was one of Lee's good friends. Over the years, Lee's praise, his honest--and at times, blunt--editorial notes, and the hand he held out to me to write my own books and to write poems for his anthologies, changed my life. Thank you, Lee.

Lee Bennett Hopkins ~ photo by Charles J Egita 

One of Lee's suggestions that I hear every time I write a poem or teach poetry, is: consider each time you use "the" and "a;" can you delete them It's amazing how intimate a poem can become without them.

Here is the cover of his anthology, SURPRISES (Harper and Row, 1984), which was the first I CAN READ poetry book.

And here is "Last Laugh," from that collection, one of my favorite LBH poems. (Keep in mind that in an I CAN READ book, there could only be 36 characters per line, including punctuation and spaces.)

by Lee Bennett Hopkins

They all laughed when I told them
I wanted to be

A woman in space
Floating so free.

But they won't laugh at me
When they finally see
My feet up on Mars
And my face on TV.

Thank you, Lee.

Fellow TeachingAuthor Esther Herschenhorn writes: "Lee's Pass the Poetry, Please! remains my go-to book on poetry for children - re the poems, the reading, the writing."

"He shared what he called his signature poem, "Good Books, Good Times!" in the Afterword of the 1998 Third Edition of this book. He created this poem in 1985 when he was chosen the Children's Book Council's National Book Week Poet. I love the poem. I also love the book's dedication - "To my Poet-friends who make it all possible.'" Click here for the full poem.

In 2009, when Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong asked me to write a poem to be included in their anthology honoring Lee for winning the 2009 NCTE Excellence in Children's Poetry award, I was scared. 
What could I contribute that others wouldn't?  I thought about Lee--what did I really know about him?  I knew that he loved Sondheim. I knew that his mailing address included the word "cove" in it. I pictured a cabin next to a quiet lake. Then I thought about the art of being an anthologist. What must it entail? Gathering, collecting, arranging.  

Although an early draft was from a poem's point of view, I'm glad that this is the version that was published:
for LBH 
by April Halprin Wayland

Walking along the shore at sunset in sandals,
you bend to collect the right rock, the best twig,
the perfect poem.

Washing them in a blue enamel bowl,
you turn on Mozart low,
barefoot in your kitchen by the cove.

Sitting on your heels on the wooden porch,
you position, then reposition each piece.
Here?  Here?

Stomping inside, slamming the door,
you turn on Sondheim

At sunrise in your slippers,
you come out on the porch
to shuffle them again.

Suddenly seeing it:
sequence, order, symmetry—

poem © 2019 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved

How I imagine an anthologist works...
collecting, rearranging, creating unity.
photo by April Halprin Wayland

Hark! One more of Lee's anthologies is coming soon!  According to *Publishers Weekly obituary, "His most recently completed work, I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage, features poems from award-winning, diverse authors paired with artwork from illustrators of similar backgrounds, providing portraits of growing up in America. It will be published by Lee & Low in October."

Lee Bennett Hopkins expanded the world of poetry for children. 

Thank you, Lee.

To find out more about him, start with Renee Latulippe's 2013 interview of him at No Water River.

And don’t forget to enter our latest Book Giveaway: win a copy of Deanie Yasner's Essie Rose’s Revelation Summer!  Details here.

Thank you, wonderful Linda B, for hosting at TeacherDance today!

posted with love by April Halprin Wayland with help from Eli, Penny and Gin (Penny and Gin are short-term rentals)

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Wednesday Writing Workout: The Villain’s Journey

Today's Wednesday Writing Workout is courtesy of Leanne Pankuch, my "Writing Buddy" and former critique group member. Long-time TeachingAuthors readers may recall this post where I mentioned Leanne. Well, I'm happy to share that Leanne's first novel, Dragon's Truth, was published earlier this year by Vinspire Publishing. In honor of the book's six-month birthday, Leanne is offering a special giveaway of the novel, which you can read about below.
Here's Leanne's official bio:

Born in Canada, Leanne Pankuch now lives in New York’s mid-Hudson Valley. She walks in the woods, plays with her dog, amuses her husband, reads way too many books, and sometimes moonlights as a substitute teacher. She also writes stories about dragons, dogs, and strong female characters who rush headlong into following their dreams with plenty of passion and not much planning. You can follow Leanne through her website and on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Leanne's debut young-adult novel, Dragon's Truth, is a marvelous blend of mystery and fantasy.  Here's a summary:

Fourteen-year-old Rhyannon Kember dreams of dragons, wizards, and magic. She feels constrained by her ordinary life and overshadowed by her beautiful sister Elspeth. When Elspeth is kidnapped, Rhyan embarks on a journey to save her sister and face the evil threatening their world. She finds friendship, adventure, love, and the magic and power she's been craving—but she also discovers a growing darkness within herself. Will she be able to control her abilities and save Elspeth? Will she choose the path of light? Or will she slip into the dragon's darkness?

NOTE: As a special promotion for the six-month publication anniversary of Dragon’s Truth, Leanne is giving away a signed copy of the novel along with a decorative map of the world of Dragon’s Truth. See her website for complete details.

And now, here's Leanne's great WWW, a twist on The Hero's Journey:

Wednesday Writing Workout:
The Villain’s Journey

In addition to fulfilling my dream of writing an epic fantasy with a female main character, my debut YA novel Dragon’s Truth reflects my long-time fascination with the concept of the monomyth, better known as The Hero’s Journey (THJ) – the term coined by academic Joseph Campbell. THJ is a classic story structure shared by many tales from different cultures. As many of you may already know, books (The Hunger Games, the Harry Potter series, The Hobbit), movies (Finding Nemo, Star Wars, Black Panther), and even TV, cable, and online series (Dora the Explorer, Game of Thrones, Stranger Things) have main characters who follow plot-paths that can be mapped to THJ.

But great storytelling doesn’t just involve heroes—you’ve got to have villains/antagonists, too. My main character, Rhyan, would never have set out on her adventure if her sister hadn’t been kidnapped by my villain. And who would Harry Potter have been without Voldemort?

When I sat down to begin the sequel to Dragon’s Truth, I not only plotted my MC’s journey, but my villain’s journey as well—I called this process shadow plotting. I used color-coded notecards and recorded the stages of each character’s movement through THJ—then I laid the cards out in parallel rows, lining them up according to the chapters where they occurred. The process was a revelation! It truly fleshed out my villain in my mind’s eye. For the first time, I recognized him as the hero of his own story—a story that began long before Rhyan ever set out on her adventure. As I began to write, that clearer image in my creative mind translated on to the page. My villain became a fuller and richer character—not just a vague phantom that does evil or is “bad” for some unknown reason. And my fantasy world and Rhyan’s story became more vivid and meaningful as a result.

Ready to try out shadow plotting with your own WIP? Using notecards or a document with labeled columns, answer the following questions about your main character and your antagonist/villain:
  1. Describe the Ordinary World/Setting for the character: What is their life like before their adventure begins? Where do they live? Do they have a family? Are they happy? Bored? 
  2. What is the Catalyst/Call to Adventure that begins the character’s story? Does a secret door open? Do they receive a mysterious letter? Find/need a magical object? Lose their dog? Find out their class is putting on a play? Consider running away? Going to college? Are they kidnapped? Do they meet a stranger? Does an annoying new kid move into town?
  3. When does the Catalyst/Call to Adventure occur for the character? At the beginning/In the first chapter of the book? Before the story in your book begins? Many years before?
Review the cards. Have you learned anything new about your villain/antagonist? Are they content in their life until the hero shows up? Or are they already near the end of their adventure when the hero throws a wrench in their plans? Do they even know/care about the hero and her quest/goal?

No matter your genre or format and regardless of your chosen plotting or structure device or plot/writing bible—The Writer’s Journey, Save the Cat, Wired for Story, Wonderbook, The Plot Whisperer, The Snowflake Method, etc.—I truly believe that shadow plotting can be a valuable, insightful tool for adding depth and authenticity to your characters and their story.
Our thanks to Leanne for today's WWW. Do let us know if you try this exercise, and how it works for you. And don't forget to enter to win a signed copy of the Dragon's Truth and a cool map! See Leanne's website for details. And if you haven't yet entered our TeachingsAuthors giveaway of Deanie Yasner's debut middle-grade novel, Essie Rose’s Revelation Summer, you can do so on this page.


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
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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.

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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