Friday, March 13, 2020

1, 2, 3...LEAP!

                                             ( Leap Jump Leaping)
In honor of 2020’s Leap Year status, we at TeachingAuthors have set our 20/20 vision this month on leap-taking.

Fortunately, I’m no stranger to undertaking leaps that do not necessarily guarantee success, personally, but especially professionally.
I write the stories that claim my heart, sometimes published, sometimes not.  As E.B. White said, “Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar.”
In 1997, my “You-can-do-it-Esther!” Writers Group sprinkled me with their holy water and I became a teacher of adults who write for children, first at Ragdale, then Chicago’s Newberry Library, adding the University of Chicago’s Graham School’s Writer’s Studio soon after.
In 2000, I stood before that very same Writers Group, clicked the heels of my Sporto snow boots twice, and they declared me a Writing Coach.
It was in 2009 that Carmela Martino repeated my Writers Group refrain and christened me a TeachingAuthor.
My fellow writers believed in me! They helped me leap. Indeed, they helped me succeed.  I remain forever grateful. They gave me Hope.

It takes a whole lot of constructive Hope, Hope that bolsters, Hope that helps one envision possibilities, to ready one’s muscles to leap.
Hope, that according to Maria Popova, the creator of the brilliant Brain Pickings, is a “stretching of the soul’s ligaments, a limber reach for something greater.” (Her May 15, 2016 Commencement Address to the graduating class of my alma mater, the Annenberg School of Communications of the University of Pennsylvania, should be required listening before anyone leaps.)

Today, in honor of Women’s History Month, I wish to single out and shout my sincere thanks to five of my writers and students whose leaps of faith not only helped them tell their stories – think: HERstory.  Their successful-despite-the-odds efforts continue to help me flex my muscles in preparation for my next leap of faith.

Each of these women gifted me with Hope. They represent yet another subset of children’s book creators for whom I remain forever grateful.  May they prove to be just the Rx you’re looking for as you stretch your ligaments while readying to leap.

Meet Maureen Valvassori, author of A IS FOR AMBROSE: THE A TO Z OF AN AMAZING SAINT (Watering Can Productions, 2019), pictured here on the left with her book’s illustrator Sue Cahill at their book’s launch last August at Maureen’s alma mater, St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. Maureen serves as the Director of Pastoral Care, Outreach and Special Events for Sacred Heart of Winnetka in Winnetka, Illinois, but she was bent on telling Saint Ambrose’s story to children. She’d published several Barney books for Scholastic in the past but this time she chose to publish independently. Thanks to good ol’ serendipity, she met Sue, who’d always wanted to illustrate a children’s book, while both were counseling at The Well of Mercy. The Catholic Writers Guild awarded this biography its coveted Seal of Approval and two weeks ago Maureen introduced Hampshire, Illinois catholic school students to this Patron Saint of Milan, Italy, Bees and Education while celebrating Dr. Seuss’ Birthday.

This September Fitzroy Books publishes Carol Coven Grannick’s debut novel - the middle grade novel in verse REENI'S TURN. You can read all about it in Carol's recent Nerdy Book Club post. Now it’s Carol’s turn finally, after all sorts of leaps involving all sorts of Writer-Group-and-Agent-driven revisions, to do an honest-to-goodness celebratory grande jeté. This past July Carol and I spent lots of time at my Manuscript Workshop in Landgrove, Vermont creating her website, determining her audience, considering outreach opportunities and nailing her description – Author, Poet, Chronicler. Her numerous posts for writers underscoring the value of optimism and a Positive Mental Attitude continue to keep a whole lot of children’s book creators, myself included, taking leaps and following their hearts.

I meet the Best People doing what I do – i.e. teaching and coaching, and Dorothy Wiese is living proof! I honestly think we were playmates in another lifetime. Dorothy's pre-writing years involved earning undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate degrees while raising her children and farming (!), then teaching business courses to women as a full professor at Elgin Community College and all around the world! A mighty fine writer of especially nonfiction, she continues to hone her picture book writing craft, as evidenced by her travels to NYC in February to attend SCBWI’s NY Conference and Golden Kite Gala. We are both always on the look-out for a likely publisher for her beautiful picture book WORDS BY HEART about a little boy who, when he finds himself alone with his Swedish grandpa on a first visit, and neither knows the other’s language, somehow finds a way for the two of them to connect.

Gwen Levy knew: she was writing that story she’d spent years seeing with her own two eyes and wanting to tell, then readying it for submission by the time her July Big Birthday arrived – or else! There were those few dabbles in an earlier class, but this year, Gwen meant business. Indeed, she not only wrote and readied the story with no time to spare; she mailed it off to the perfect trade publisher at the local U.S. Post Office she and I share at the John Hancock Building in Chicago. (That’s Postmistress Jean on the other side of the counter.) And, because there’s no time like the present, Gwen is currently seeking the perfect illustrator so she can publish independently. WHAT THE CLUCK? is beyond timely. It’s the story of two unlikely individuals – a Duck and a Turkey – who despite their differences become 2 BFFF’s  – Best Feathered Friends Forever. There is no stoppin’ Gwen Levy! 😊

Bindy Bitterman has been blooming 4 score and then some, in a variety of gardens – collector, paper aficionado, antique dealer and all-around bon vivant, but she’s been downright blossoming since discovering writing for children in my Spring Newberry Library class last year. Bindy writes a flawless limerick, a talent she recently re-discovered. And like Gwen, she is driven.  Her mouse-and-cat story is told totally via limericks and she, too, remains unthwarted in working hard to get this story to children.  You can find her at Chicago’s Green Mill’s Sunday Open Mic and/or Evanston’s Celtic Knot where she’s been warmly welcomed and acclaimed, even. She was also named the Poet Laureate of The Admiral at the Lake, the senior retirement high-rise community in which she resides. She wrote an original limerick - “Those Who Help Me Leap” – to close this post in pure Show, Don’t Tell fashion.

       In the first flush of feeling inspired,
       Though 88, I was just wired!
       What got me excited? 
       'Twas being invited
       To an Open Mic – who could be tired?”

Thanks to Matt Forrest Esenwine at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme for hosting today’s Poetry Friday!

And again, thanks to the above amazing women who help me keep my soul's ligaments limber.

Happy leapin’!

Esther Hershenhorn


Carmela Martino said...

What a marvelous post, Esther. Just the lift we all need on this Friday the 13th. Hooray for you and all these wonderful women. And I especially LOVE the limerick!

Linda Mitchell said...

There is so much to celebrate here. The limerick is fantastic!

Karen Eastlund said...

Thanks for this post... I related to it in a number of ways, not the least of which was Bindy's story and limerick. The sky is the limit, what are we waiting for? Thanks again...

Esther Hershenhorn said...

I'm so glad these Success Stories touched you, Karen and Linda!
These women are downright inspiring.