Friday, February 26, 2021

A Song of the Week: Here's to You!

Life has gotten a bit too demanding of late. Just wanted to let you know that I'll be taking a hiatus from Teaching Authors for a bit while I take care of a few things. Meanwhile, sent to me by my dear friend, code name Clara, I'll leave you with this shivery tear-worthy song. It will certainly make your week. It did mine!

Hope all is going well with you, and I'll see you soon!

--Bobbi Miller

Friday, February 19, 2021

Of, By and For Our Reader’s, Writer’s and Teacher’s Hearts…

This time around, and this being February, we TeachingAuthors 
celebrate All Things Of, By and For the Heart that keep our own 
hearts creatively beat-beat-beating.

As the first to post, I choose to celebrate by offering thanks. 


Thank you, Silas Wade, for grabbing my Reader’s heart and refusing to let go while telling your story of acceptance in Phil Bildner’s middle grade novel A High Five for Glenn Burke (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2020). True, I adore baseball – both professional and Little League. True, I adore learning about a player I’d never known – namely, your Hero Glenn Burke, the first MLB player to come out as gay to teammates and team owners during his career – and – the inventor of the High-Five. But even truer, I love characters whose struggles lead to Bigger Truths we need to honor. “You be you!” your Mom told you non-stop. And by season’s end you bravely were, letting those in your world, those on your team, know you were gay. High Fives all around!  You opened our eyes.  We all can play. We all belong.

And thank you, LeUyen Pham, for pumping my Writer’s heart with an endless supply of oxygen and nutrients. In Outside, Inside (Roaring Brook Press, 2021), your poetic words and beautiful illustrations perfectly and oh, so simply capture the essence of the story we’ve all been living, all around the world, since late February of 2020. 

   “Something strange happened 
         on an unremarkable day                                               
     just before the season changed.
 Everybody who was OUTSIDE
         …went INSIDE.”

Without any mention of COVID-19, masks, ZOOM or social distancing, the story’s take-away both sounded and resonated: on the INSIDE we are all the same.                    
Mem Fox once advised that writing a picture book is like writing War and Peace in haiku. You showed this Writer how to do just that.

Finally, thank you, visual storyteller Deborah Marcero, for once again causing my Teacher’s heart to swell.  I recall my words when paging through your eye-stopping portfolio at the end of my introductory Newberry Library workshop nine years ago: “You, Deborah Marcero,” I said, “are the Real Thing!” Your first written story in classes that followed, about a bear who longs to fly, was a Winner. Indeed, Peter Pauper Press published Ursa’s Light in 2016. Like Rose in My Heart is a Compass (Little Brown, 2018), you were and remain an explorer, a pioneer, a trailblazer. Your latest illustrated book, The Boy Whose Head Was Filled with Stars (Enchanted Lion Press, Jan., 2021) has already garnered starred reviews. And how wonderful that now you teach, in VCFA’s  MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, seeding and feeding future children’s book creators.

Clearly, as a Reader/Writer/Teacher, my heart overflows.  

May the above expressions of thanks keep your creative hearts 

Esther Hershenhorn
for hosting today’s Poetry Friday. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

How I Became a Teaching Author

 Children tell stories. It’s what they do. It’s how they make sense of their world. If you lean in closely and really listen to a young child and drop your adult expectations, you will hear it. Between the um, um, um and the repeating phrases, even toddlers are fantastic storytellers. 

This is where I live when I am teaching kindergarten six hours a day. Inside children’s stories, I am allowed to travel deep down into their interior lives. This is where the fountain of youth lies, untouched by adults left cynical, distrusting, and judgmental. When a child lets you in, it is truly magical. I am given that privilege every day. I have a hard time imagining losing that privilege.

Every once in a while, I fantasize about retiring from teaching kindergarten in a public school in Los Angeles. The fantasy doesn’t last long.  The fuzzy image of a future filled with days doing something other than immersing myself in a 5-year-old’s world leaves me depleted and devoid of happiness. 

I teach because I can’t imagine doing anything that lacks the joy of play.  The kind of play which is a means without an end. A process without an expected outcome. Creativity in its rawest form, untouched by adult expectations. Even the thought of spending my days writing, photographing, painting, or filmmaking doesn’t hold the magic of hanging out with a group of young people who keep me grounded and tethered to my own childlike wonder of the world. Maybe, it’s the fear of losing touch with that unfettered way of moving through life. Maybe, it’s the fear of losing that point of reference and losing that ever-intoxicating sense of curiosity. Maybe, it’s the fear of growing old.

I didn’t seek out a career in education as a young adult. Teaching found me. 

Oh, serendipity. 

I had set out to become a broadcast journalist in the early 80’s. I landed an entry level job at CBS in New York City. It was the number one station in the number one market. I was beyond thrilled. Just before leaving my college town for New York, I came to Los Angeles on a whim. Only for the weekend with a fellow recent graduate. Just to say goodbye to the west coast in style.  A last farewell. But my fate was sealed. The sun enticed me and there was no turning back. Hollywood and its promise of filmmaking intrigued me and eclipsed my former goals. Broadcast journalism was in my rearview mirror. 

I transitioned by getting a job as a cocktail waitress. My father was disappointed. Adrift for the moment, I felt like I needed to meet my father’s need to use my newly acquired degree that he had paid for. And so, I crossed the street to the local elementary school to ask how I might become a substitute teacher in the meantime, while I figured things out. Eventually, substitute teaching gave way to full time teaching. The gravitational pull too strong to escape. I emerged as a progressive educator committed to a philosophy of listening to children.

As a lifelong storyteller, I have facilitated story as a journalist, theater director, writer, photographer and visual/multi-media artist. As I developed as an artist and educator simultaneously, I kept the two trajectories separate. Although, I suspect they bled into one another. Later in life than most,  I had a child by myself.  My parenting was informed by my teaching. As my only child approached her early teen years, full time, child-centered, single parenting gave way to small bits of time that could be redirected to my innate attraction to storytelling. As she got older, it found its way back into my life. My child-directed pedagogy as a kindergarten teacher found an intersection with storytelling. I naturally found my way into the kid lit world. 


Telling stories in the form of picture books is the culmination of years of listening to children, both my students and my own daughter. Writing picture books and teaching kindergarten are two separate careers. One is not dependent on the other, but I cannot deny that one informs the other and vice versa. It is my role in both professions to build the conditions for discourse between children and adults to emerge.  Children tell stories to make sense of their world.  They are natural storytellers. They have so much to say about our world. It is my hope that my work as a kindergarten teacher and as an author, creates an environment in which children expect to be heard. 
And we, as adults,
have the capacity to hear them.

Posted by Zeena M. Pliska

Above illustrations from:

Hello, Little One: A Monarch Butterfly Story   by Zeena M. Pliska

Illustrated by Fiona Halliday

Published by Page Street Kids

Caterpillar crawls from leaf to leaf, eating and waiting, all alone in a big, green world. Then Orange appears--Orange floats, and flits, and flies, graceful and beautiful. In this sweet, moving story of intergenerational friendship, a small caterpillar is befriended by a glorious monarch butterfly, and together they learn to see the world through each other's eyes.

Trailer created by Kyle Ragsdale

"Lyrically told and handsomely illustrated... Share this lovely picture book to launch a science unit, or to introduce evergreen themes including growing up, dealing with loss, and the power of transformation." –School Library Journal, starred review

 "[Hello, Little One] is an accessible and thoroughly engaging introduction to monarchs, told through a parable of friendship."  -- Booklist, starred review  

Friday, February 5, 2021

How My 2020 Word of the Year Changed Me Forever

Howdy, Campers and Happy Poetry Friday! My poem and the link to today's Poetry Friday's host is below.

The question TeachingAuthors have been batting around this round is, What did I learn in 2020 that will help me in 2021?

Esther, as always, rallies us with gusto offering one tiny prefix to see things anew; Bobbi walks beside us talking honestly about this crazy road we're all on; Mary Ann takes inspiration from a book that's part practical advice, part surprising memoir of a holocaust survivor, and Carmela shows how she is training her brain to be indistractable, offering solid tips and a wonderful found poem to go with it.

This morning I was thinking about how the first word I’ve ever chosen for a full year, CAPABLE, changed me in a year that has changed me. 

In 2020 I learned that I am capable of creating a 3-hour online class on writing poetry for children (next class scheduled for July 17, 2021). I am capable of learning how to comb my hair backwards on Zoom, I am capable of learning how White-centered my thinking and teaching are and discovering how to change this, and I am capable of developing a Zoom-friendly wardrobe (red is my best color on Zoom). To my surprise, I am capable of embracing teaching online. (I sometimes feel closer to people online than people in real life...I think of all my Zoom friends, family and students as my Flat Stanleys.)

I am capable of running again (yay!), taking care of two hatchling tortoises and not killing them (we named them Meredith and Derek...can you guess what we watched from March through December?), capable of finding a most excellent dog-friendly cat, and capable of dusting off my picture book manuscript and working on it for 10 minutes a day.

I am capable of ordering stuff online I never thought I'd be ordering online, doing without a lot of stuff I don't need, enjoying online yoga classes to buoy my spirits, exploring weird neighborhoods in Los Angeles with my dog and/or my husband.

I am capable of embracing the chaos, embracing the unknown, allowing myself to collapse into a puddle of tears, redefining who I am, being filled with hope again. I am capable of  learning to understand racism differently.  Basically, I am capable of persisting.

So thank you, 2020. You and my word of the year have changed me. I am more willing to look up a video on how to fix something, read the directions more than once, or simply not be angry at myself if I can’t figure out how to do it the first time around. Rather than try once, give up, and ask someone else, someone smarter and more capable than me to do it, I may set aside more time to figure something out, or pat myself on the back and say, April, you’re Capable. You can do this. 

Thanks to you both, I tried longer and I beat myself up less.

I'll tell you the word I've chosen for 2021. But first, I'd like to bid a formal adieu:

ACCOLADE (draft)
by April Halprin Wayland

Good morrow, Noble Knight.

Please ~ rest your sword by the door;

come hither.

I have called you here at sunrise

to honor your heroic year of service

in a most trying time.

Your work has taught our people

how to be safe, develop grit,

and—as your name suggests—become capable.

Because of your exemplary

to the palace, to the castle town, and to the world at large,

this kingdom hereby confers upon you

the highest order of knighthood in the field of language:

the First Ever Word of the Year

or FEWY.

Please kneel.

Retire now in leisure

and know that your steadfastness and pluck

has changed us forever.

poem(c)2021 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

My word for 2021 is FOCUSED, a concept Carmela's post covered beautifully. I can't wait to see where it takes me.

Do you have a word for this day, this week, month or year?  So many of you do--please share them!

Be sure to check out this week's Poetry Friday deliciousness at Jone's!

posted by April Halprin Wayland with love from a house full of animals

Here's our brand-new very dog-friendly kitty, Gato: