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