Friday, December 18, 2020

Looking forward to 2021

I'm looking forward to 2021 for all sorts of reasons, including one I'll discuss below. First though, I want to share a bit of news regarding our team. Hard to believe, but our newest TeachingAuthor, Gwendolyn Hooks, has already been blogging with us for a year and a half. You may have noticed that she hasn't posted recently. She's currently taking a six-month break to handle other responsibilities. We expect her to return in June.

Meanwhile, we're pleased to announce that Zeena Pliska will be posting in Gwen's spot. Her first post is scheduled in February. Till then, you can learn more about Zeena on our About Us page and also on her website.

So, one of the things I'm looking forward to in 2021 is becoming even more steeped in poetry, both reading and writing it. I hope to also participate more in Poetry Friday. In that spirit, today I'd like to share an excerpt from a poem in Amy Ludwig VanDerwater's wonderful picture book Write! Write! Write! (Wordsong) illustrated by Ryan O'Rourke. Although the collection is meant for young writers, I found plenty of inspiration for my own writing in it, especially in this poem:   

Excerpt from "Timeline"
by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
(from Write! Write! Write!) 

. . .
Writing a sentence
is building a tower           
block after block   
hour after hour.

I am a writer.
And writing is power.

©2020 Amy Ludwig VanDerwater. All rights reserved.

I hope you'll check out more wonderful poetry in this week's Poetry Friday round up hosted by Michelle Kogan

Please note: the TeachingAuthors will be on our winter break until January 8. We wish all our readers a safe and happy holiday season.

I'm looking forward to learning and growing with you all in 2021!

Carmela Martino

Friday, December 11, 2020

A Quote, a Tree, and Good-bye, 2020!

First of all--thank you, Carmela Martino for switching posting dates with me. In a year where everything that could go wrong, went wrong, my laptop expired the week I was originally supposed to post. Thank you for coming to the rescue...and for that wonderful video of Rebecca Howard singing "You'll Never Walk Alone." (Howard's sabbatical from the Alabama Shakes is one of the good things about this year.)

After all the posts in this topic of "Inspirational Quotes" by my fellow TA's, it's hard to find anything to say, that they haven't said already, and better than I could. So that leaves my "inspiring quote." Being the Eternal Librarian, I double-checked my sources before I wrote this. It appears my "quote" has a dubious history. Sigh. Leave it to me to find inspiration in a historical mystery.

You can tell when I'm stressed or troubled by looking at my Kindle reading queue. Tales of the Resistance movements during WWII. Heroic quests of people leaving a violent homeland, finding a new one. Stories of Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times. 

My reading included more than one book about the Holocaust. In one of them, (I can't remember which one...there were so many) I thought I read this, by Anne Frank's father, Otto: "Even if I knew I would die tomorrow, I would still plant a tree today."

That really had an impact on me. Everyone has had the Year from Hell. My personal "mental hell" was being officially declared "elderly" by the CDC. I never think about age at all. I'm a life-long late bloomer--late to marry, give birth, publish--which means that my peers in those events were generally much younger than me. So I've spend most of my adult life with people ten to twenty years younger than me, while my actual "peer group" had moved on to being retired grandparents. But in one fell swoop, medicine declared people my age "elderly" and "at risk." Although I'm in better shape than ever, and my parents and grandparents lived impossibly long and healthy lives, I felt as if The End Was Near. That everything good and useful was being done by the young. I was elderly and "fragile" and should stay out of everyone's way.

I know this feeling doesn't make sense. Feelings rarely do. So Otto Frank's "quote" inspired me to re-engage with the world, crazy as it is right now.

Alas, Otto Frank did not say this. He didn't even say something sort of like this.

The actual quote is "Even if I knew the world would go to pieces tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree." 

The quote is attributed to Martin Luther. Ironic, because I was raised in the Lutheran Church, and outside of Luther's Small Catechism which I had to memorize, I don't recall anything memorable that Luther ever said. (Not memorable to me, at least.)

But wait...what is this asterisk next to the quote?  What? No! What does that mean,"allegedly attributed?" A little more digging and, I find this: No one knows who really said this. It seems to have first surface in Nazi-era Germany. It is believed to have been something the German Lutheran Church manufactured and attributed to Luther to "give people hope in a dark time."

Well-done, German Lutherans! Even if the quote was not authentic to Luther and his time, it certainly spoke to me in our current "dark time." So in honor of Martin Luther, fake quotes and the year 2020, I light my candle. But most of all, to my fellow Teaching Authors. You shine your light in all years and circumstances. I'm honored to be one of you. Here's to planting our apple trees in 2021.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Friday, December 4, 2020


 Howdy, Campers, and Happy Poetry Friday! (my poem and a link to PF is at the end)

Our topic this round? A Favorite Book, Poem, or Quote.  Gwendolyn started us by recommending the book, I SEE YOU-I SEE MYSELF; Carmela followed with 3 Favorite Books + an Inspiring Song; Bobbi came next with a wonderful quote from Emma Dryden and more; Esther cheers us on with Three 2020 Favorite Books to Keep Us Keepin' On; now it's my turn.

I love quotations. Like so many of us, I collect them. And when I teach onsite, every week I paste quotes on walls and windows of my classroom which reflect that week's topic. I have lots of favorite political quotes, too. But one in particular has kept me afloat all year. It's been in my files and by my side in the past, but this year I wrote it on our bathroom wall (which is a whiteboard). 

Today I wrote to a dear friend: You sent 160 Vote Forwards?!?!! Wowee, Rooti, way to go!

I just taught class #9 of 10. It's been like a long walk through the Valley of Death, this business of  learning how to teach on Zoom, but now I feel I'm on the other side of the valley...

There was a day in early summer that I broke down from the craziness of technology, screwed-up passwords, fears of Covid, isolation, mising my son, our "toddler-in-chief" etc. I wailed like a banshee. Gary said in the 40 years we've been together he's never seen me that dark. 

But now my class is almost over and it's been rewarding in so many surprising ways. And there's hope on the political horizon thanks in part to you, Rooti.

And one quote has helped me walk through it all:

The following is what I call a Golden Quote poem. Modeled after Golden Shovel poems, the last word of each line forms a quote.

by April Halprin Wayland

Once there was one

bird. Such a lonely little bird. No person,

no fellow sparrow, no tin can

to roll around rocks. Only

a wee plant, its round leaves shining, as leaves do.

That bitter winter, those round leaves wilted. So

Little Bird wrapped her wings around the plant. Did it help? It helped so much.

poem and drawings © 2020 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved

One person can only do so much.

One person (or bird) can only do so much.

What's your favorite quote?

Thank you, Mary Lee for hosting PF at A Year of Reading!

posted with a deep breath of gratitude for you,dear readers, and for my students this quarter who are very forgiving by April Halprin Wayland, with help from her trusty hiking partner, Eli-the-old-but-hanging-in-there-dog.

Today's hike tired Eli out.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Three 2020 Favorites To Keep us Keepin’ On!

I titled my very first 2020 TeachingAuthors post “One Writer’s Rx for 

Achieving 20/20 Vision in 2020!”

Look backward, I prescribed. Probe inward.  Press forward. Reach 

outward. Gaze upward.  And finally, continue onward

Eleven months later, I admit: despite those Unexpected Kodak 

Moments and Silver Linings COVID-19 revealed, my endeavors 

and I experienced somewhat of an ophthalmological jolt. 

Indeed my eyes seek refraction on a weekly basis.

Nevertheless, I still see Endless Possibilities.

So, I, for one, continue onward, ever-encouraged by this year’s 

hope-filled children’s books.

Here are three favorites that both inspired and enheartened me.

Consider them my gift to keep you, too, keepin’ on.

This Charlesbridge collection offers poetic verses in a variety of 

forms by award-winning poets, including Nikki Grimes, Carole 

Boston Weatherford, Janet Wong and G. Neri.  All together, the 

poems pay tribute to 14 young activists who “stepped up to make a 

real difference in the world, who opened hearts, challenged minds, 

and changed our world.” As the collection’s editor Lindsay H. Metcalf 

writes in the introductory poem “Amplify,” 

“No voice is too small

to solve a problem

that’s big.”

Jeanette Bradley’s beautiful illustrations bring each activist’s 

efforts to the pages. Accompanying biographies and inspirational 

quotes strengthen the book’s take-away for young readers - namely, 

the impact young people – and indeed, people of all ages, can have 

when they use their voice, small or not, to speak up and out.

2020 gifted me with young Heroes and Heroines aplenty, including 

Lauren Wolk’s Ellie from Echo Mountain and Jacqueline Woodson’s ZJ 

from Before the Ever After.  Ten-year old Delicious Nevaeh Roberts,

known as Della, however, and her older sister Suki, now hold a 

permanent place in my heart.

The flap copy for Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s Fighting Words (Dial) 

describes the two as, “.. sisters, linked by love and trauma, who must 

find their own voices before they can find their way back to each other.” 

Sexual abuse has finally found its way into middle grade fiction. The 

book’s dedication underscores its importance.

          “For any child who needs this story: You are never alone.”

In speaking their fighting words, their truth, their stories, Della and 

Suki not only model for young readers how they can do the same when 

push comes to shove. They give them the courage to do so.

The subtitle of author-illustrator Hannah Salyer’s debut picture book 

Packs (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) says it all: STRENGTH IN 


Yes, there are collective nouns galore gathering gorgeously-illustrated 

groups of animals, familiar and not so familiar to young readers. A 

flamboyance of flamingoes. An implausibility of wildebeest.

But it’s the underlying sentiment that’s truly gorgeous, especially since 

the “we” represents human beings, too.




                and pods.

Together, we are better.

The host of verbs available to humans and non-humans alike when they 

do all come together leaves me hopeful. Harvest. Speak.  Nurture.  

Work.  Sing.  Build. Dance.  Bask in the sun.  

     Pack’s ending words end my year-ending post perfectly.

All together…we are better!

Thanks to Carol’s Corner for hosting today’s Poetry Friday.

Here’s to Endless Possibilities whilst continuing onward in 2021!

Esther Hershenhorn


I’m currently seeking the perfect collective noun to describe the talented 

writers who appear within small ZOOM squares on my laptop’s screen 

when I remotely teach my Writing for Children workshops.

Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Alas, the collective nouns glory, marvel and blessing – which are so 

appropriate, are already taken by unicorns.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Do or Do Not: It's All Okay


Emma D. Dryden

Lordy I am so weary of 2020.  I am fatigued with the chaos, distressed about the pandemic, which has hit too close to home of late. 

As we at Teaching Authors continue to explore our favorite inspirations, I’ve written about all the ways I try to keep my head in the game. I continue to take classes, read craft books, and just read in general. Take walks. And garden. I also teach. But it can be dispiriting. I confess, there are moments  of late that I have no feel for my writing. Then I find myself feeling all sorts of convoluted messiness that I, as a working writer, should write some pages every day. And when I can’t, I feel like perhaps I never will again. 

Everyone knows Emma D. Dryden, whom I value as my own Dumbledore. Emma is a long-time indomitable presence in publishing. Working thirty years in the field, she was Vice President, Publisher of Atheneum Books for Young Readers and Margaret K. McElderry Books, imprints of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, a position she held until 2009 when she launched drydenbks

No one knows more than Emma the ups and downs that each writer faces in pursuit of their craft.

Recently, Emma sent this wisdom. This is my favorite quote of the entire year!  It seems so apropos for the struggles we as writers and teachers are facing during these trying times. I thought you may need to hear these encouraging words.

And, should you need more feelings good, here’s a video that comforts and inspires. From Brittany Howard, You Never Walk Alone.

By the way, how are you doing?

--Bobbi Miller

Friday, November 6, 2020

3 Favorite Books I Read this Year, Plus an Inspiring Song

Happy Poetry Friday! Today, instead of a poem, at the end of this post I'm sharing some song lyrics I've found especially inspiring during this challenging year. But first, I want to continue our end-of-the year series about a favorite book, poem, or quote we read in 2020.

Last week, Gwendolyn discussed as her favorite book, I See You, I See Myself: The Young Life of Jacob Lawrence, written by Deba Foxley Leach. (I've already added the title to my to-read list.) Unlike Gwen, I couldn't limit my favorites to just one title. I'm sharing three! The first two books are titles picked by the Not for Kids Only Book Club I'm a member of.

1. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books). 

This book has won numerous awards, including a Newbery Honor, a Printz Honor, a Coretta Scott King Honor, and the Edgar Award Prize for Best Young Adult Fiction. Not only is Long Way Down a beautifully written novel in verse, this powerful book also deals with important issues that are especially relevant today.

2. Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk (Dutton Books for Young Readers).

This novel, set in Depression-era Maine, is a 2020 title featured on Anderson's Bookshops Mock Newbery list. Despite the historical setting, this story about coping with unemployment and hardship is also relevant these days. The writing is quite lyrical, so I wasn't surprised to learn Lauren Wolk is a poet as well as a novelist. 

3. What Is Poetry? The Essential Guide to Reading and Writing Poems by Michael Rosen (Candlewick Books). 

This engaging nonfiction book was first published in the U.K. in 2016, but wasn't released here in the U.S. until 2019 and I just discovered it recently. I'm still working my way through this one because I'm savoring and learning from each section. Michael Rosen includes many great tidbits in this book, such as the following:

"Poems are a midway point between poets and readers. The poet pours in one set of meanings. The reader picks up a poem and puts in another set of meanings, and the two meet somewhere in the middle. That's what reading a poem is all about. It's a conversation between two sets of thoughts: the poet's and the reader's."

In researching Rosen's book, I was surprised to learn the author contracted COVID-19 earlier this year and was hospitalized for three months. He talks a bit about his experience and ongoing health issues at the beginning of this video. I hope he eventually makes a complete recovery.   

Finally, as promised, I'd like to share some song lyrics that have inspired and encouraged me during these difficult times. They're written by Carrie Newcomer, a performer I discovered when someone shared this song with me earlier this year:

Excerpt from lyrics of "You Can Do This Hard Thing"
by Carrie Newcomer
Here we stand breathless  
And pressed in hard times.
Hearts hung like laundry
On backyard clothes lines.
Impossible just takes
A little more time.
From the muddy ground
Comes a green volunteer.
In a place we thought barren
New life appears.
Morning will come whistling
Some comforting tune,
For you.
You can do this hard thing. 
You can do this hard thing.
Its not easy I know, 
But I believe that its so.
You can do this hard thing. 
©2016 Carrie Newcomer  

It's hard to believe Newcomer released this song in 2016. "You Can Do This Hard Thing" feels like it could be an anthem for 2020. 
You can read the song's complete lyrics on this page of her website by clicking the cover of the album, The Beautiful Not Yet. And you can hear her perform the song below or on YouTube here.

Don't forget to check out this week's Poetry Friday round up at Susan Bruck's Soul Blossom Living.
Posted by Carmela Martino

Friday, October 30, 2020


Posted by Gwendolyn Hooks 

I’ve always admired Jacob Lawrence’s art, but I never knew his story. That’s what motivated me to buy I SEE YOU- I SEE MYSELF by Deba Foxley Leach. I purchased it several years ago and it sat on my bookshelf in a place of honor ever since it arrived. Even Toni Morrison’s forward wasn’t incentive for me to pluck it off the shelf and read it. 

Deba Foxley Leach
Times are different. Books and a cushy sofa seem to call my name more often. One day I declared it Jacob Lawrence Day! I was ready to share the pain and artistry of his young life that he showed through his art. Show is the perfect word because every page is full of his art along with his sometimes painful life story. 

By the time he was a young teen, Jacob had lived in three different states. Sometimes those moves landed him in foster homes. Sometimes his parents were together, sometimes they separated. Jacob remembered the details of each move, the neighborhoods, the houses, the stores, and especially the people. 

The author takes the reader through Jacob’s ups and downs and his introduction to painting at the newly opened Harlem Art Workshop. Once Lawrence held a paint brush, he never let it rest. Some say that throug his art, he painted his life story. 

I See You – I See Myself is a fascinating biography about a man who found his passion and never strayed.

I SEE YOU - I SEE MYSELF  The Young Life of Jacob Lawrence

written by  Deba Foxley Leach 

with a foreword by  Toni Morrison. 

Lawrence’s art provides the illustrations of this amazing picture book biography.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

A WWW to Celebrate Lady Liberty’s Birthday!

What better way to celebrate today’s 134th Birthday of the Statute of 

Liberty than to learn first-hand from Claudia Friddell her proven recipe 

for crafting kid-friendly true stories, especially since she authored the 

recently published SAVING LADY LIBERTY (Calkins Creek, March, 


Gorgeously-illustrated by Stacy Innerst in watercolor and acrylic paint 

and ink drawings, the picture book shares how the immigrant Joseph 

Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World who rose from rags to riches, 

used his newspaper in the first crowd-sourcing effort ever, to raise the 

monies to build the pedestal on which the Statue of Liberty stands.  

Imagine that!

You might remember Claudia from my June, 2010 Student Success 

Story celebrating and honoring the debut of her first children’s book –


Bear Press). She’s been using her many talents ever since, crafting and 

publishing a bounty of children’s narrative nonfiction.

“A soaring account!” Booklist boasted in a starred review of 


Both School Library Journal and the Bulletin for the Center of 

Children’s Books lauded the biography’s backmatter –“fun facts 

about the Statue of Liberty and Pulitzer, a bibliography, an afterword, 

a time line, and photos of the statue during its construction and 


Kirkus wrote that “Pulitzer's permanent legacy now beams a 

beckoning welcome to all American newcomers—a timely 


SAVING LADY LIBERTY offers delicious primary material, too: 

quotes, excerpts from editorials, replicas of but a few of the hundreds of 

handwritten letters children sent along with their donated pennies.

How generous of Claudia to share her Writing Recipe in today’s 

Wednesday Writing Workout.

It’s a most proven recipe, by the way.

Calkins Creek publishes Claudia’s GRACE BANKER AND THE 

HELLO GIRLS (The Heroic Story of WWI Telephone Operators) 

in February of 2021, ROAD TRIP! (Camping with the Four Vagabonds: 

Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone and John Burroughs) 

in September the same year and THE FRONT (Clara Barton and the 

Battle of Antietam) in Spring of 2022. 

Thank you, Claudia, for sharing your recipe with our TeachingAuthors 

readers, and for feeding all of us with your one-of-a-kind stories about 

one-of-a-kind inspiring, real and true people.

Happy Story Crafting! Happy Pizza-making!

And Happy Birthday, Lady Liberty!

Esther Hershenhorn

 . . . . .

How to Craft True Stories Into Kid-Friendly Books: 

Eat the Crust First!

It’s a mouthful to share that I’m a narrative nonfiction children’s author when asked what I do, but it’s a title I share with pride. After twenty inspiring years of teaching elementary students, I now spend my days pursuing my lifelong passion—finding, writing, and sharing true stories from long ago. During this new reality of living in partial isolation, I have indulged another passion—pizza making. Inspired by treasured memories of cooking with my father in our quest to create the perfect sauce and crust, I now take writing breaks to continue that pizza perfecting quest with my brother. Separated by half a country and an epidemic, our cooking adventures are virtual, but they never feel remote.

It may be a cheesy stretch, but during one of our pizza zooms, it occurred to me that crafting a truly delicious homemade pizza has similarities with crafting true stories into kid-friendly books.

                                 Making the Dough

 As I wrestle with making a dough that is airy but not too light—chewy, but not too dense—I’m reminded of my challenges as a researcher. Without thorough and precise research, there is no foundation for a nonfiction book, just as dough that doesn’t rise or isn’t kneaded correctly can end up in the trash. This first step in both ventures can be the most tedious and frustrating, but it can also be the most rewarding. This is where you find the foundation for your story and all its treasures. 

In my most recent book with Calkins Creek, Saving Lady Liberty, (an early quarantine release, March 2020), my research of Joseph Pulitzer’s innovative idea of the world’s first crowdfunding campaign to fund the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal was the foundation, the crust, for just the type of book I like to write—a little known, kid-friendly story within an historically important event.

                                Cooking Up the Sauce

Once the foundation of research is set, it’s time to combine the ingredients that give a narrative nonfiction story its flavor—the sauce. True stories about people and events don’t always translate into a good book, just as a pot full of tomatoes and herbs don’t necessarily make a great pizza sauce. Crafting the right combination and balance of the ingredients—the plot, characters, setting, conflict, and resolution—is the challenge and the joy of turning interesting facts, people, and events into kid friendly and curriculum enhancing books. As a narrative nonfiction writer, I can never stray too far from the main ingredients. I can’t make up my own details, and I can’t create my own events. But I can add flavor and spice.

In Saving Lady Liberty, I loved blending together the precarious journey of Lady Liberty, our personified beloved national monument to freedom, with the story of an iconic rags-to-riches Jewish immigrant whose big idea rallied thousands of Americans to feel their patriotism and raise the funds to build the foundation on which Lady Liberty stands.

                          Toppings, Anyone?

 Which takes me back to the pizza. What about all those fabulous toppings—the ones that help make your pizza interesting and unique? For me, this is the best part, and I’m not just referring to the sausage, mushrooms, and black olives. In Saving Lady Liberty, I loved sprinkling bits of kid-friendly historical details throughout the book. Did you know that Lady Liberty first stood in Paris, where she was built, before she lifted her torch in America? Did you know that after Lady Liberty crossed the Atlantic like millions of other immigrants, her disassembled parts sat in crates for nearly a year, waiting for a place to stand? Did you know that young children contributed their own pennies to join immigrants, Civil War veterans, and everyday Americans to raise over $100,000 to fund Lady Liberty’s pedestal? What a special treat to find and share some of the children’s donation letters hidden in century old newspapers.

                            And Finally, the Crust!

 And now we get to the end—or is it the bottom? I’m referring to the crust, the baked dough that was once raw research. The crust of the book is the fully baked back matter. This is where the reader finds the research nuggets, the relatable back stories, the resources. True confession—while I do think a great crust is crucial for a great pizza, I’m not here to seriously advocate for eating the pizza crust first. I am, however, here to strongly urge teachers and parents to read the back matter of a narrative nonfiction picture book first before reading the story with young readers. Here’s why… Well-developed back matter offers information that enriches and expands the reader’s knowledge of the book’s main ingredients that can be used for pre-reading activities and guided reading instruction. 

Young children often need historical points of reference before reading a story to give them firm footing in understanding the time and place in which these real people lived. This allows young readers to better connect and relate to historical events and people who, without context, may seem unrelatable. A well kneaded back matter offers finger-tip treasures for all. 

Here are a few of my favorite back matter tidbits that were too small to make it into Saving Lady Liberty’s main story, but too good to leave out—over a million people who walked through New York City’s streets to celebrate Lady Liberty’s unveiling on October 28, 1886, were showered by the very first ticker tape parade; and, baseball’s World Series is named for Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper, THE WORLD—the original sponsor of the baseball tournament. There’s more trivia treats where these came from—just check out the back matter!

                                    Buon Appetito!

So, here’s to following your own passions and creating your own recipes. I hope you enjoy a new slice of life every time you read a narrative nonfiction book, with or without the pizza. And don’t forget to eat the crust first!

Friday, October 23, 2020

EXERCISING MY VOICE--from HOP TO IT - poems to get you moving

Howdy, Campers and Happy Poetry Friday! 

I'm closing out our topic of SURPRISES! Gwendolyn started us off, showing the surprising twists and turns in her career as a children's book writer; Bobbie posted, "The best of heroes give us hope" in Heroic Surprises of the Week; Mary Ann stated: "Writing itself is a surprising act," in her post, Hidden Surprises; And Esther visualized Desired Outcomes in her post, Surprise, Surprise!

Just recently I was surprised as snowpeas (or maybe thrilled as thin mints?) to learn that two new anthologies had accepted my poems: Sylvia Vardell's A WORLD OF POEMS

and Sylvia Vardell's and Janet Wong's HOP TO IT POEMS ~ Poems to Get You Moving, both of which were named as one of the Children's Book Council's  most"anticipated bestsellers, either recently released or forthcoming, published by CBC members."

Here's how my submission for HOP TO IT evolved as I worked with both Janet and Sylvia to find the right poem:

This spring I decided to write them a poem with a marching band instruments kids could "air play."

It was interesting to re-read our correspondence from way back then and see what we were thinking about. We thought this strange new world would end--and soon!  We were expecting to travel any minute now! (If you haven't yet seen it, stop reading right now and watch Julie Nolke's 3-minute sketch, "Explaining the Pandemic to My Past Self")

I picked up steam, writing lots of marching band poems, plain old marching poems, political chant poems and just plain odd poems. 

Here are some of the titles, one odd poem and the poem they accepted:

TAKE A CHANTS; TEACH ME THE WORDS; POLITICAL CHANT FOR CHILDREN ( I wrote this with my friend Bruce Balan); WE SAY SPEAK OUT; ASPARAGUS CAN'T; TAKING ONE STEP (audience shouts STEP when leader points at them)

Here's one of the odd poems:

by April Halprin Wayland

Asparagus can't speak their mind

or march or vote to help mankind.

I asked them how they planned to assist us

they said it took years to grow—

they are, after all, champions of persistence.

 *note: this is not a movement's a Movement poem (and asparagus really do take years to grow. I know, because I planted mine more than 20 years ago)

In the end, my poem titled EXERCISING MY VOICE was the poem that fit their collection best. 
(This was not a speaking out was a getting ready to speak out poem. The post 9 Best Vocal Warm-ups for Singers was my inspiration)

But, Janet wrote, "just one thing: the part about curling your tongue. Not everyone can do that. Maybe 'wiggle' your tongue??"

 Oops--good catch, JW!

Here's how it looks in the book, with their fabulous format in which they suggest five things kids can do with each poem:

Yes, yes, I said. I like that allignment! And very recently their beautiful books arrived. 

And just this week Sylvia sent me this:

I have officially died and gone to heaven!

I rarely know what an anthologist is looking for. And over and over, the surprising thing I've learned working with dozens of anthologists is this: they don't necessarily choose a poem because of its singular amazingness. 

They choose your poem because 

it plays well with others.

Thank you, Jama, for hosting Poetry Friday!

Posted with love and a good dose of exhaustion by April Halprin Wayland with help from Gary's hotspot because our internet went down and I was on the phone with our carrier all day. 

But what are you going to's 2020!


Friday, October 16, 2020

Surprise, surprise!

I’ve spent a lifetime creatively visualizing Desired Outcomes.

I’d read early on that doing so not only aided a Positive Mental 


It led to Success.

Even Oprah highly recommended the practice.


Just imagine…,” I’d tell my former fifth-grade teacher self, closing my 


authoring children’s books someday,

…receiving starred reviews,

…winning awards,

…and finally, finally, teaching Young Writers as a school’s 



I’m happy to report: after years on task, learning my craft whilst 

reading-writing-and-connecting, after keepin’ keepin’ on DESPITE the 

non-stop challenges, the above Desired Outcomes came to be.

I became a TeachingAuthor.


But…surprise, surprise!

Just like the Heroes and Heroines of the books that fed me, I, too, 

returned home with something even better than what I’d first sought.

I now teach and coach once-young writers how to write for children!

And, oh, how I love doing so.

Alas, and of course, many of my challenges refused to disappear.

Indeed, one in particular grew monster-like before my very eyes: 


Yes, I’d learned to co-exist with first the Word Processor, next my 

desk-top computer, 

then finally my laptop.

And to everyone’s amazement, I joined this blog and have posted 

non-stop since the Fall of 2009.

Still, technological advances continued to dog me.

Me, learning disabled. (I’m a multi-sensory learner.)

Me, a true Luddite.

Me, downright fearful of all I didn’t but needed to know in order 

to join the Virtual World, especially and most recently when COVID-19 

reared its virulent spikes.

But, surprise, surprise!

Creative visualization once again proved worthy. 

Just RE-imagine…” I told my TeachingAuthor self, closing my eyes,

mastering ZOOM,

…learning new Best Teaching practices,

…refiguring and reshaping my presentations,

…and finally, finally, teaching students in Cyberspace.


I’m happy to report: I am not only teaching remotely; I am LOVING it!

(YAY! Who knew?)

Meet my first online students (minus one) from my Summer Newberry 

Library Advanced Picture Book Workshop.  I dubbed them My 

Newberry Squares. The Thanku I wrote in 2013 still applies.

                              My delicious class -    

                              a bounty of new berries, 

                              each ripe with story.

This Fall I meet weekly on Wednesday evenings with My 

Newberry Squares II, teaching them the Picture Book’s magic.

Last week I introduced the Children’s Book World to 15 eager 

writers during my University of Chicago Graham School Writer’s 

Studio offering.

I’ve used my spiffy-new OBS software to create live faculty 

introductions and course descriptions.

And for the first time ever, I recorded and filmed an 

orientation session for my SCBWI Illinois Chapter’s November 13-15 

interactive 3-day conference Full Zoom Ahead.

It’s a Brave New World, alright.

But with the help of friends, family, colleagues, fellow bloggers, 

supportive teaching communities, ZOOM workshops and both a 

VERY patient blog administrator whose initials are C.M. and a gifted 

technology tutor, Logan Kulinski - extraordinarily sensitive to the fears 

of a once-young writer, like my Heroine William Steig’s Irene I’m 

becoming more brave.

Happy Braving! The surprises are worth it!

Esther Hershenhorn


Thanks to Janice Scully for her first-time hosting of Poetry Friday today 

at Salt City Verse.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Hidden Surprises

Each Teaching Author has had a wildly different take on the subject of "writing surprises." Writing is itself a surprising art. You start off with a voice or character or image...and you think you know where you are going. (I've stopped saying I know where I'm going.) Surprise! You wind up somewhere else entirely. 

Self-help books tell you must know where you are going. You must have a goal. I know some writers who make outlines and story boards and know what's going to happen before they start writing. That seems to work well for them, but it doesn't for me. One of my favorite "writerly" quotes is by E. L. Doctorow.  "Writing is like driving a car at night.  You never see further than the headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." That is me. I know what I'm writing this very minute, but not what's coming next. (I don't even know how I'm ending this post!) Writing may be a journey, but your destination can change. In fact, I've never once started writing, and ended up with the book I thought I was writing. 

Yankee Girl began life as an autobiography. That didn't last long. Who would read about a person they'd never heard of, who had done nothing remarkable...and who was a child on top of  all that? The original version started with me as a fifth grader and ended with high school graduation. An impossible time frame, with long stretches where nothing happened. Surprise! Writing about yourself is hard. I was boring myself, writing about my own life!  However, once I gave myself permission to fictionalize characters and conversations, and shrink the time line from seven years to nine months, the story arc appeared. Even then, the final chapter, which I had in mind from the very first, vanished. When I read the last chapter, it was as if someone else had written it. Wow, I thought. Where did that come from? That wasn't what I planned to say. This is kind of...better!

That's how it goes with my writing. Jimmy's Stars' original title was The Year We Didn't Take Down the Christmas Tree (catchy, huh?) and it was, of all things, a picture about a Christmas tree. Not one of my picture books had a "destination" when I began them. I wrote as much as I knew...until I hit a wall. Time to put that one away for a month...a season...a year. 99% of the time when I came back, and started writing, the end appeared without slamming my head against the wall trying to "think" of an ending. First Grade Stinks' ending took three years to appear. (Three weeks of actual writing...the rest of the time not thinking about it).

In the end, the most surprising thing about writing, is that I can do it at all. I've written my whole life so it's something I've never really thought about very much.  In fact, the one thing I tell my writing students is "Don't think too much." Just grab that voice...that image...that character...and turn on your headlights. The rest will come.


Mary Ann Rodman

Friday, October 2, 2020

Heroic Surprises of the Week!

For many posts now, I've been exploring several favorite inspirational blogs that keep my head in the game, that inspire me to keep going. 

This week I discovered a very interesting series of articles by K.M. Weiland.  Weiland has gleaned all kinds of interesting writing insights, Marvel movie by Marvel movie, in this series of blog posts that explore The Do’s and Don’ts of Storytelling According to Marvel. These posts are fun and information, and useful in writing your first draft or revising for the 99th time.
For example:
  1. Iron Man teaches writers to grab readers with multi-faceted characters.
  2. Iron Man 2 is a study in how to use secondary characters to flesh out your protagonists. 
  3. The Incredible Hulk is a study in how not to write action scenes.
  4. Thor is a study in how to attack the sagging Midpoint, in which you need to create the all important scene -- arguably the most important scene in the book -- depicting the Moment of Truth.
  5. Captain America is a study in how to integrate subtext into your dialogue!
  6. Guardians of the Galaxy is a study in how to use backstory effectively.

And so much more! Be sure to check them out. Her website seems to be a treasure trove of interesting resources.

Just a FYI: I did a similar review of Emma Coats’ rules in her post using Pixar as the mentor text.   I also explored how one might use The Doctor – yes, that Doctor – as a mentor text in how to write historical fiction .

Another inspirational post comes from Bruce Black, and his new blog post at wordswimmer. Bruce asks, “How can I keep writing, keep exploring the world with my pen? How can I keep the process going with joy, with excitement, with hope for the discoveries to come, even when the unknown--the not knowing what comes next--feels overwhelming?”

As his poem  begins, I am reminded of our current circumstance:

How can I keep writing,
keep exploring the world
with my pen?

How can I keep the process going
with joy, with excitement, with
hope for the discoveries to come,
even when the unknown--

He ends on a note of hope:

I write just to see
what wisdom,
if any,
I will find
inside myself
to inspire my pen
to keep writing.

The best of heroes give us hope. May your writing be hopeful and heroic.
--Bobbi Miller

Friday, September 25, 2020

My Latest Writing Career Surprise and a Poem from Louisa May Alcott

Happy Poetry Friday! You'll find a link to this week's roundup by Jone Rush MacCulloch at the end of this post. Today, I'm sharing an excerpt from a poem that appeared in a classic novel. The roundabout way I found the poem is tied to my topic: "Surprises Along the Way." Last week, Gwen kicked off this series by discussing several surprises in her writing journey. While I, too, have had many career surprises, I'm going to share just one—my latest. Also, at the bottom of this post, I include a link to an anniversary giveaway for Playing by Heart

Before I begin, let me announce the winner of our giveaway of Carol Grannick’s debut novel in verse, Reeni's Turn. Congratulations to:

Merysa C!

Now, for today's topic.

After years of writing everything from nonfiction articles for newspapers and magazines to novels for tweens and teens, my latest surprise is that I'm back to my first love: poetry. I mentioned my return to poetry back in this August 2019 post. Of course, I've dabbled in poetry off and on over the years. I've even had a few poems published in magazines and anthologies for kids. But I haven't been focused on poetry the way I am right now.   

In my very first TeachingAuthors post, I talked about how I began writing in sixth or seventh grade, when I started keeping a journal and writing poetry. I was published for the first time around age 16: my seven-line poem, "My Sanctuary," appeared in Crystals in the Dark: An Anthology of Creative Writing from the Chicago Public Schools. Several more of my poems were published while I was still in high school. But I eventually put poetry aside for more "serious" endeavors.

It's been probably two years now since I made the decision to rework a picture book manuscript into poetry. In that time, I've been having great fun reading, studying, and writing poetry in a variety of forms. Although the draft is nearing completion, I want to make poetry an ongoing part of my life. 😄

I mentioned above that I discovered the poem I'm excerpting from today in a roundabout way. I'd been looking for kid-friendly poetry anthologies when I saw this one on a shelf in the juvenile section of my local library: The Waldorf Book of Poetry edited by David Kennedy. 

The book includes a poem by Louisa May Alcott that appears in Chapter 16 of Little Women. I haven't read Little Women in years and didn't recall the poem at all, or even that the book contained poetry. When I read Alcott's cheerful "A Song from the Suds" in The Waldorf Book of Poetry I was especially struck by the second stanza:

Excerpt from "A Song from the Suds"
by Louisa May Alcott 
(from Little Women) 

I wish we could wash from our hearts and souls   
      The stains of the week away,   
And let water and air by their magic make   
      Ourselves as pure as they;           
Then on the earth there would be indeed   
      A glorious washing-day!

(You can read the whole poem here.) 

There's so much I'd like to wash from my heart and soul these days. The closest alternative I've found is spending time outdoors. Nature has been my greatest balm lately, and I'm grateful for the lovely fall weather we're having.

For more poetry, be sure to check out this week's Poetry Friday roundup hosted by Jone Rush MacCulloch at her new blog.  

Finally, as promised, here's a link to the book giveaway I'm hosting to celebrate the third anniversary of the release of my young-adult historical romance, Playing by Heart

Posted by Carmela

Friday, September 18, 2020

Career Surprises Along My Road to Fortune and Fame as a Children’s Book Writer

My road was more of a circular path on No Thank You Boulevard. 
But I learned a lot from my travels. (And I’m still learning.) It has been therapeutic thinking about those highways and byways that led to dead-ins for so many years. My first career surprise was the time it took to become a published author. I can be a time waster and that was part of my problem. But the main reason was learning to write well enough that a publisher wanted to take a chance on me. Thankfully, I found one after years of studying the craft and writing. I was close to the point of “I need to try another career path. I think I was truly surprised to find an editor who saw worth in my writing.
Early in my career, I met several people who warned me about sharing my ideas. Someone might steal your idea. I was always skeptical. To this day, I’ve never met anyone who was as equally fascinated with our Oklahoma prairie dogs. But I did learn that the more I talked about an idea, the less interesting it became.
There is one exception to the above comments. I have found the most supportive authors in my critique group. Over the years, we have learned each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I always feel comfortable sharing my writing with them. I know I will have a stronger manuscript by the time I leave.

  All of the above have molded me into a much better writer than I ever thought I could me. But I was still super surprised when my Tiny Stitches – The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas won two awards: SCBWI CRYSTAL KITE and the NAACP IMAGE AWARD. They are my career surprises and my cheerleaders.

Friday, September 11, 2020


 As I wrote in my very first TeachingAuthors Thanku, I consider my students and writers “my storied treasures.”

Lucky me!

And now lucky you, because today I’m sharing one of those treasures - the author/poet/chronicler Carol Coven Grannickand – gifting you with the chance to win a copy of her novel in verse REENI’S TURN (Fitzroy Books) which officially debuts this Sunday! In fact, you can attend her Sunday, 1 pm CST Book Launch at the Book Stall in Winnetka, Illinois simply by clicking here.

Full disclosure: Carol and I are a Mutual Admiration Society. We share a bevy of descriptive labels: Chicagoans, SCBWI-Illinois kin, children’s book creators, VERY long-time Writer’s Journey travelers, learning partners, and best of all, friends.
So you can imagine just how far my Teacher/Writing Coach buttons are poppin’ ….now that young readers will have the chance to hold REENI’S TURN in their hands and hearts.
Finally, it’s Carol’s turn! Some of you may already know Carol from her well-read chronicles of the writer’s life – published in SCBWI-Illinois’ newsletter The Prairie Wind and posted on popular blogs such as Cynsations and the Nerdy Book Club.

By underscoring the importance of resilience and learned optimism, Carol has kept scores of children’s book writers keepin’ on.

Carol’s eleven-year-old Reeni will do the same.

She’s a young dancer.  But she’s struggling with lifelong shyness, anxiety and a newly-developing and expanding body that doesn’t match the ballerina posters on her bedroom wall.  Ultimately Reeni must choose between coming to terms with her natural limitations or taking a chance on becoming the girl of her dreams. The story addresses universal themes of emotional resilience, body acceptance, and the search for courage.

Early readers lauded the “deeply-moving verse” and the connection readers will make with Reeni’s struggle.

Carol’s poetry and fiction for young readers has appeared and/or is forthcoming in Hello, Babybug, Highlights, Ladybug, Cricket, and Hunger Mountain. Her work for adults has appeared in Otherwise Engaged, A Moment of Your Time, Red Coyote, The Write City Magazine, West Texas Literary Review, 2018 Mizmor Anthology, The Lake, Broad! and other venues.

Thank you, Carol, for sharing REENI’S TURN, your Journey, your Spirit and this long-awaited singular Moment with our TeachingAuthors readers.

            My teacher’s heart kvells*
            like any Jewish mother’s
            Such storied treasures.


 As always, I’m cheering you on!

Oh, and thanks to Kiesha Shepard at Whispers From the Ridge for hosting today’s Poetry Friday.

Happy Reading!

Esther Hershenhorn


Remember, Readers: you can win a copy of Carol’s REENI’S TURN just by entering our Book Giveaway at the end of Carol’s interview.

. . . . . . .

Here you are, finally, after years on task, readying for your official launch this Sunday of your first published children’s book, the middle grade novel in verse REENI’S TURN. Just how gratifying is this long-awaited moment? How much better is it than those you likely creatively visualized to keep you moving forward on your Writer’s Journey?

First, thank you, Esther, for this opportunity to visit Teaching Authors. I am a regular follower who constantly learns from the TA posts, and I’m honored to be here. To your question: I’m pretty certain I never visualized this moment, or these days leading up to the launch!

What lit my way was the process of discovery of Reeni’s character and of how the story would unfold. For me, that happened through writing, rewriting, revising, and re-visioning, then putting the manuscript away for a while before trying again. I didn’t know whether REENI’S TURN would ever find a publisher, and after a while, didn’t think about it unless it seemed a draft was ready for submission. My passion for this story fueled my work over the years, even when “forward” felt “backward”.

But now, and in the context of all the important issues we face in our current world, it feels like a virtual celebration will be the perfect thing for welcoming REENI’S TURN into the world. My biggest dream was always to have the story enable conversations with children and their adults, and now that’s possible. I feel a huge amount of gratitude to family, friends, and colleagues who cheered me on over the years with kind words, critique, crucial pieces of middle grade information, and above-and-beyond multiple draft readings and feedback. 

REENI’S TURN takes on the issue of body image and the underrepresented frequency in middle grade literature of dieting among young tweens. What are your hopes for this novel in the dialogues it will create – for both the reader and our world?

 Most of us want to live in a world in which we are valued and for our character rather than our shape or size, skin color, religion, ethnicity, and more. I believe size and weight stigma, non-stereotyped chubby and fat characters, and the diet culture’s impact on young children, beg for inclusion in diverse middle grade literature. 

I’d love for REENI’S TURN to open meaningful conversations about the story and the issues it raises—specific to the story as well as unique to each tween’s life. How does the pressure to be “thin” and “trim” cause us to question our value? What about Reeni’s great strength for self-reflection? Is introspection helpful, or harmful? Is an introspective journey just as powerful as an external one when we search for self-acceptance, the ability to speak up, the leaps we take to discover courage? How do we become the person we want to be if that involves facing down fears that have always stopped us in the past? How does it feel to need the safety of your family and other loving adults, and still need to be independent, finding solutions to your own problems even if you make mistakes along the way?

I love that my shy and fearful Reeni, propelled by her own strengths, knowing she has a safety net of support, decides to take a big leap into the unknown and try, at least once, to make a significant change in her life, and maybe in the world as well.

I hope that we see that we all have that capacity.

 I happen to know: (1) you explored both prose and poetry as story-telling choices when writing REENI’S TURN and (2) while growing and crafting REENI’S TURN, you were privy to a whole host of voices, each recommending a different way to go.  How did you come to choose the novel in verse as the best format for Reeni to share her story of self-discovery? How were you able to find your way?

 My first draft was prose, probably because it felt like a natural extension of the seed story, “The Inside Ballerina”, my first children’s story published in Cricket in 2001. But when I began the post-critique revision, rhythms and words danced around in my brain. I wrote them down, and this changed and intensified the voice of the story. I felt the difference, even though the verse and the story itself were nowhere near finished.

After a few drafts, a professional critique with a respected editor guided me in creating a middle grade story and challenged the authenticity of the verse, suggesting I revise in poetic prose. I tried. It was difficult and unpleasant, and felt like it came from a different part of my brain. I didn’t mind difficult, not at all. But the prose seemed to be fighting with the rhythms, the line breaks, the white space in my head. But I also respected that I didn’t quite know what I was doing, and I don’t regret the attempt to return it to prose.

The next summer I attended a workshop with another respected mentor. Before my ten-page critique began, she asked, “Is there some reason you didn’t write this in verse?” That workshop was a turning point in my commitment to verse, and the hard work to make each verse—which are 95% of the book—authentic. I did have a couple of more prose requests from agents who felt that “verse novels are a hard sell”, but prose no longer matched my vision for the book.

As the years and revisions went on, there were many voices, as you put it, wanting not prose instead of verse, but content in and then the same content out. During that time of adding, subtracting, reorganizing, and streamlining, REENI’S TURN won a Finalist placement from the Katherine Paterson Award and Honorable Mention in the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Competition. By early 2019, I had revised the book to where I wanted it to be, and had several full manuscript requests with agents when Publisher Jaynie Royal of Regal House said she loved REENI’S TURN, and offered me a contract with her PAL-listed middle grade imprint, Fitzroy Books. I accepted, revised in a way that felt good to both of us, and found out what life was like without revising REENI’S TURN.

I believe verse works best for Reeni’s story because small doses of big, intense issues in lyrical language create greater accessibility to the story itself and to the specifics of  Reeni’s journey. The rhythms change with dance, her voices, her interactions with friends and family, and more. White space allows breathing and respite time to think, feel, and heal between “scenes”.

But ultimately, I stayed with verse and worked to make it shine because I had come to trust myself as a writer and a woman with a story to tell. I didn’t want to ignore the rhythms and sounds and beats that accompanied the language in my brain.

And just as my character learns to trust and listen to her “still, small voice”, I listened to mine.

Your website showcases your writer’s diversity: you are an Author, a Poet and a Chronicler. How do you balance your writing day/life, and as important, how has each separate focus helped you grow as a writer?

 I do love different formats and genres. REENI’S TURN (MG) is so close to my heart, and was a long-lived passion and mission. My poetry for very young children is a joy-generator—I love their voices! My lyrical picture books, vastly different in their subjects and tone, are now with agent Joyce Sweeney at The Seymour Agency. I’ve written occasional short middle grade fiction—maybe I’ll write more. And as a “chronicler”, I’ve long written regular columns, blog posts, and lots of guest posts and articles exploring the inner, emotional life of the writer (mine, and others’), and I continue to enjoy that.

With all that, I must submerge myself in one writing project at a time. I often write a poem first thing in the morning (especially since COVID), but then I’ll focus on a new work, or a revision, or my column, or it might be a “business” day, especially in these last months spent focusing on the pre-launch, during which I’ll do a lot of emails, send out ARCs, order postcards, business cards, posters. I am best in the mornings, beginning at 5, but I won’t ignore empty paper and pen if something pops into my brain later in the day!

I love variety, and I love delving deeply into one thing at a time.

YAY! and HURRAY! Now it’s Carol Coven Grannick’s turn! What can your readers – of your books, your poetry, your articles and posts, look forward to enjoying down the road?                                                

I wish I knew! In terms of my columns, I’ll continue to detail my journey and the journeys of other writers I interview. I have a lot of guest posts coming out—including one at Sylvia Vardell’s site last Poetry Friday that goes more into depth about why I wrote REENI’S TURN in verse. I believe it’s important for us to share our true journeys. I hear from readers that it helps, and that makes me happy. In terms of fiction and poetry, my agent is subbing a picture book right now, with a number of others ready to go; I’m finishing an adult poetry chapbook; I’m creating a collection of early childhood poetry; and I continue to draft new picture books, the latest based on something I’m watching unfold on my balcony, even as I write this answer. 

But I love surprises, so I’m ready for anything!



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