Friday, July 30, 2021

Connections Deja Vu!

Connections Photo by Cynthia Cotten 

As you know, I’ve been away for a bit, taking care of life. And now I’m back, grateful for this connection. Now we know, connections reinforce and celebrate the continuity of life.  

If this theme feels like déjà vu, it’s because it is! But it bears repeating: As summarized perfectly in some tourist commercial, this past year has felt like one very long, long winter. Defined by loss and grief, fear and sadness, the year carried with it an overwhelming since of hopelessness, underscored by a sense of disconnect.  As the old adage goes, “Everyone has a tragedy.”

The pandemic highlighted how we took the connections in our lives for the granted. Indeed, as another old adage says, we realize the true value of anything only after it’s taken away.

The internet, and social media, redefined – or revolutionized – the power to connect.  These connections kept us … well … connected. Not only to our favorite companions but to our stories. I’ve discovered some pretty nifty  writing connections, included below. I hope you find these helpful in your writing journeys! 

Classes and Webinars

Writing conferences and classes have moved online, making them cheaper and more available. Some of the best that I’ve taken are the usual suspects,  including master editors and teachers Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson’s Revision Workshops.  Not only were their revision workshops extremely helpful, so was their line-editing workshop. In fact, Harold consulted on my second novel, Girls of Gettysburg (2014, Holiday House). If you need an editorial consult, check out his blog (listed below).

Free Expressions, founded  by Lorin  Oberweger, offers a slew of interesting, informative webinars by masters of the trade, including Chris Vogler, Donald Maass, James Scott Bell and Emma D. Dryden. I can't pick out a favorite. They are all that good. Topics have included The Art of Villainy, with David Corbett;  Death to the Snoozer, with Henry Neff; Backstory is Fore-Story, with Donald Maass (his webinar on Three Primary Scenes was particularly informative); and Shaping Your Best Characters, Worlds and Stories, with Emma Dryden.

The Craft of Writing

An absolute must-read is Emma D. Dryden’s blog, our stories, ourselves, in which she shares her “… thoughts on the stories we tell & the stories we live.”  Emma’s career has spanned 33 years in the publishing business, has edited over 1000 books, many of which have been award-winners, including  the Newbery Medal, National Book Award nomination, Coretta Scott King Author Award, Indies Choice Book Award, New York Times Best Illustrated Award, Edgar Allan Poe Award, Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award, Christopher Award, Jane Addams Book Award, Boston Globe/Horn Book Award (and many more). If you get a chance to take one of her classes, either through Free Expressions (see above) or elsewhere, do so! She’s has owned her own consulting business – drydenbks --  since 2009. And she is excellent!

Writer Unboxed   is dedicated to publishing empowering, positive, and provocative ideas about the craft and business of fiction.  Founded in 2006,  the current editorial director is Therese Walsh, and hosts more than 50 contributors.  Recent posts include Knowing Your Invisible Narrator, by Milo Todd; Close Encounters of the Initial Kind: Tips for When Characters Meet, by John Kelly; and The Dangers of Editing, by Dave King.

Another favorite, underscored by his ethereal writing, is Bruce Black’s blog, wordswimmer, in which he invites his readers to “come dive into a sea of words and swim toward a new understanding of the writing process.” 

An excellent podcast that further explores various literary concepts is Alexa Donne’s Podcast  . Alexa offers  insight into craft , the publishing industry, interviews with authors, book reviews & more. I share it with my classes regularly. Her podcast on dramatizing (show) versus narrating (tell) is particularly helpful.

And, by the way, KidLit411 keeps an excellent listing of courses, agent resources, author interviews, blogs to follow, discussions on craft, platform building, and ways for authors to connect to each other.  The targeted genre is young readers to young adult, but many of the strategies are applicable to every genre. 

The Business of Writing

Harold Underdown’s website and blog, The Purple Crayon, follows important trends on the business of writing. While his targeted audience writes children’s books to YA, the information is applicable across all genres. His Who’s Moving Where  notes important agent and editorial staff changes. His blog explores topics relevant to non-published and published writers alike!  Be sure to check out his discussion on how to evaluate agents

Speaking of agents, two invaluable resources include Natalie Aquirre’s blog, Literary Rambles. . Each month she highlights  agents currently looking for submissions in her series through Agent Spotlight Interviews, and often includes query critique giveaway. 

The second is Erica Verrillo’s Blog (and newsletter), How to Get Published , offering extensive agent listings, contests, conferences and paying markets that cover all the genres. As she states, she “… doesn't know why anyone with an ounce of self-preservation would ever want to publish. But, if you insist on selling your soul to the devil, learn how to do it right: marketing, literary agents, book promotion, editing, pitching your book, how to get reviews, and ... most important of all ... everything she did wrong.”

And, of course, there are these two  principal websites that details updated information on agents and their current needs, covering every genre: Manuscript Wish List and QueryTracker

Speaking of agents (again), agent Kristin Nelson, of Nelson Literary Agency, uses her blog, Pub Rants, to discuss her observations about the business. Her recent article, Three Agent Types to Avoid…and the One You Won’t See Coming   is particularly helpful in researching agents.

Another excellent resource is Anne R. Allen’s Blog . She and her blog partner Ruth Harris regularly explore topics pertaining to the business as well as the craft of writing. Her recent posts focus on making the most of your social media. Anne is a contributor to Writer’s Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market. Ruth Harris is a New York Times bestselling author, Romantic Times award winner, former Big 5 editor, publisher, and news junkie.

And, don’t forget to keep a regular watch on Victoria Strauss’ and A.C. Crispin’s website and blog, Writer Beware.   Sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, with additional support from the Mystery Writers of America, the Horror Writers Association, and the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the mission of Writer Beware® has been -- for more than twenty years  -- to track, expose, and raise awareness of questionable, illicit, and/or nonstandard practices in and around the publishing industry.

And that’s just the beginning! What resources – websites, classes, books – have you found particularly helpful  that keeps you connected to your writing and writerly companions?

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

WWW: Around the Block Travel Writing

Today’s Writing Workout comes courtesy of Rochelle Melander whose 

debut children’s book Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, 

and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing 

(Beaming Books, 2021) released just yesterday!

Congratulations, Rochelle, and thank you for sharing your book and 

Writing Smarts with our TeachingAuthors readers!

An artist educator, author and writing coach, Rochelle founded 

Dream Keepers, a writing workshop for young people.  

Mightier Than the Sword, though, is bound to help middle grade 

writers – as well as writers of all ages - keep their writing dreams 

alive. Rochelle shares stories of people throughout history – 

historical and contemporary writers, activists, scientists, and 

leaders - who used their writing to change lives and their 

communities. Think: Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, Murasaki 

Shikibu, William Shakespeare, Gene Luen Yang and Jan Morris, just to 

name a few. Each and every story inspires and encourages young 

readers – and writers – “to pay attention to their world, to honor 

their own ideas and dreams, to use their words, art, and action to 

transform their lives communities, and beyond.”  Writing and creative 

exercises accompany each story; sidebars explore types of writing, 

fun facts, and further resources. Rochelle reminds readers: “Your 

words have the power to transform you and your world.”

Mexican artist Melina Ontiveros’ beautiful illustrations bring the 

story subjects to life on the page.

Thanks, Rochelle, for sharing ways to explore the world around us – 

and without even leaving our neighborhood – especially now that 

we’re in a POST-Pandemic World.

Happy Traveling!

Esther Hershenhorn

. . . . . . .

Thankfully, being a writer has 

equipped me with some tools for 

finding novelty in everyday 

life. Here are three ways you can 

use writing to explore the world 

around you (without leaving 

your neighborhood).

(1) Capture a personality!

When she was a young journalist, Jan Morris (1926-2020) covered 

Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay as they summited Mount 

Everest, the world’s highest mountain. She went on to become an 

accomplished travel writer, composing literary portraits of Venice, 

Trieste, Wales, Manhattan, Hong Kong, and more. Morris was 

known for writing about places as if they were people, capturing 

their personality. When age and the pandemic limited her travel, 

Morris walked a thousand steps a day—down her lane and back 

again—often writing about her journey. 

Try this: Write a profile of a place you know well—your backyard, 

your neighborhood, or your town. Capture your impression of your 

favorite place. As Morris said, “I resist the idea that travel writing 

has got to be factual.”

(2) Capture danger!

Have you ever wanted to explore a volcano? Rosaly Lopes is a 

Brazilian geologist and volcanologist who studies the surface of 

planets and specializes in examining volcanoes. Her book, The 

Volcano Adventure Guide, introduces readers to volcanoes across 

the planet and offers them tips and tools on how to safely explore 

and photograph active volcanoes. 

Try this: If you had the change to visit an active volcano, what would 

you write on a postcard to your friends and family? Imagine visiting an 

erupting volcano or consider some of the dangerous things you see 

every day (reckless drivers, violent thunderstorms, people texting while 

walking). Write a postcard poem that captures a dangerous event. 

(3) Capture a journey!

When the United States made the Louisiana Purchase, much of the

 newly acquired territory had never been explored. President Thomas 

Jefferson asked Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to find a route 

west. Beginning near St. Louis, Missouri, the two men and their team 

traveled to the West Coast and home again. They chronicled their trip 

in journals. As a result of their travels, they identified and documented 

new plants, animals, and Western geography and created some of the 

first maps of the area. Their journey, maps, and journals opened a new 

frontier for agriculture, trade, and settlements. But their journals also 

captured the spirit of their journey across America and the culture of 

the West of that time.

Try this: Create a travel journal for yourself—but instead of 

documenting a trip, write about your daily life. Journal about your 

morning walk, your trip to a neighborhood park, a local museum, or a 

zoo. Or go internal: and write about a journey through your heart, 

your conscience, or your digestive track! You might even make a map 

of your journey!

Your turn!

How will you capture your world in a new way?

# # #

Friday, July 23, 2021

New School Year, New Mindset

The school year begins the second week of August this year. The last time I  started a school year in person with 4- and 5-year-olds was August of 2019.  The world was a much different place.

Events have changed the way we think about race in both the children’s publishing world and the education world. The conversations are difficult and strained.  It’s hard to hold a mirror up and see your collective misgivings.  Especially, when you don’t want to.

I am returning to the classroom this year with a commitment to examine my own internal biases so that I may make more balanced choices regarding the picture books I read to my young students.

I know many of you are familiar with this statement by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, Professor Emerita of Education at Ohio State University

“Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books. (1990, p. ix)”

Centering diversity and decentering white culture is extremely important for children of color. The kidlit community as well as many in education are beginning to acknowledge this.  But what about children who identify as white? Is it important to be mindful of the books we read to these children?  Do they need exposure to books with non-white protagonists? Books written and/or illustrated by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) creators?

As an author, I just sent my editor my author’s note for my upcoming picture book, Egyptian Lullaby, about daily life in Cairo.  As I was writing the author’s note I realized that, although I hope that Arab children see themselves in the Egyptian American protagonist, my deepest hope is to normalize the Arab culture for the dominant/white culture to break through destructive stereotypes.

I have taught all over Los Angeles over the past 30+ years, in predominantly black communities and Latinx and Mexican American communities.  Currently, I teach on the west side of the city where many of my students are white. 

I can see that it is equally important for my white students to see themselves in a different way.  To understand that they live in a diverse world... To see themselves as a part of a whole... To see that they are not more valuable than BIPOC  children... 

If I don’t address this… If I don’t normalize diversity… If I don’t de-center the stories white children experience that reinforce their privileged position in the world…If I don’t bring the stories into balance, nothing will change. And as an educator, I feel responsible for helping bring about change, otherwise I am part of the problem.

How can I expect people who identify with the white culture to see themselves as anything but entitled and at the top of the hierarchy if I keep reading books to young white children that reinforce that they are?  How can I expect the paradigm to shift if I don’t shift it as a kindergarten teacher and a kidlit author?

I can help change perceptions with the simple act of paying attention to the picture books I use in my classroom.  I can create a balanced view of the world and better serve both  BIPOC and  white students by examining my own internal biases and widening the lens in which I portray the world to them.

I imagine picking up a camera with a telephoto lens.  That lens draws the eye to one small part of the picture and exaggerates its value. A wide-angle lens extends beyond the telephoto’s margins, bringing the marginalized out of the margins and including them in the whole picture in its totality.  No one should feel marginalized.  It’s up to me to change the lens both as an educator and a children’s book author.

As a kindergarten teacher, I am constantly evaluating my reading choices.  I have discovered that I don’t include enough books with BIPOC protagonists.  I have an awful lot of books that feature animals in stories that are told through a white lens.  Many of my stories with BIPOC protagonists are stories of struggle, resistance, and resilience.  I think it’s the activist in me that draws me to these stories.  It’s totally out of balance and helps create a single narrative which is ultimately destructive.

So, my own discoveries about myself and my internal biases have lead to changes I will implement this August…

If you’re reading this post via email and you’re unable to see the video, you can watch it on our TeachingAuthors’ website HERE or you can watch it on YouTube here. (If you're on a mobile device, you'll need to use the YouTube link.)

Here is a list of some of the books I recommend to center diversity in your reading list:

1. The Day You Begin written by Jacqueline Woodson illustrated by Rafael Lopez 

2. Dreamers written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales 

3. Sonadores written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales 

4. Carmela Full of Wishes written by matt De La Pena illustrated by Christian Robinson 

5. The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story written by Aya Khalil illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan 

6. Eyes That Kiss In The Corners written by Joanna Ho Illustrated by Dung Ho 

7. Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story written by Kevin Noble Maillard illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal 

8. The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family written by Ibtihaj Muhammad illustrated by Hatem Aly 

9. Mi Papi Has a Motorcycle written by Isabel Quintero illustrated by Zeke Pena 

10. Water Protectors written by Carole Lindstrom illustrated by Michaela Goade 

11. (Chapter book series) Farah Rocks New Beginnings written by Susan Muaddi Darraj Illustrated by Ruaida Mannaa 

12. Cora Cooks Pancit written by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore illustrated by Kristi Valiant 

13. Antiracist Baby by Ibram X Kendi illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky 

14. (Early Reader series) Ty's Travels written by Kelly Starling Lyons illustrated by Nina Mata  

15. Alex’s Good Fortune by Benson Shum 

16. Alma by Juana Martinez-Neal 

17. I Dream of PoPo by Livia Blackburne illustrated by Julia Kuo 

18. Watercress by Andrea Wang illustrated by Jason Chin 

19. Amy Wu & the perfect bao by Kat Zhang illustrated by Charlene Chua 

20. Be A Friend by Salina Yoon 

21. A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara 

22. A Ride to Remember by Sharon Langley and Amy Nathan, illustrated by Floyd Cooper 

23. The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson 

24. Unspeakable by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper 

25. Red Shoes by Karen English illustrated by Ebony Glenn 

26. Double Bass Blues by Andrea J Loney illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez 

27. Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee! by Andrea J Loney illustrated by Keith Mallett 

28. Little Seeds of Promise by Sana Rafi illustrated by Renia Metallinou

29. Finding Om by Rashmi Bismark illustrated by Morgan Huff

30. Dalia's Wondrous Hair by Laura Lacamara

31. Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela by Alexandra Alessandri illustrated by Addy Rivera Sonda

32. Egyptian Lullaby, by Zeena M. Pliska, illustrated by Hatem Aly; published by Roaring Brook Press (Coming June 2022)











(Lists compiled by Zeena M. Pliska, Andrea J. Loney, Benson Shum, and Sharon Langley

Friday, July 16, 2021

A POST-Pandemic Post: Finally, Up-close-and-Personal Again!

I most happily begin our TeachingAuthors series on just how the six 

of us are teaching and authoring POST-Pandemic.

The modifier “POST-Pandemic” so lifts my heart, I need to type the 

words again, only this time followed by an exclamation point: 


The adjectives “remote” and “distanced” are just that! They no 

longer apply.

Finally, I’ve returned to my Writer and TeachingAuthor M.O., 

doing things – as in, write, read, connect, teach and coach

the old-fashioned way, i.e. up-close-and- personal.

In mostly-show and a-little-tell fashion…

here I am with my Lucky-me (!) critique partner, the award-winning 

author and former Booklist editor Ilene Cooper, taking in her every 

critical insight and suggestion of my picture book biography so I 

could return home to meaningfully revise.

And here I am at Volumes, 900 N. Michigan Ave. in Chicago, 

now able to hold, read, study and delight in the books this independent 

bookseller has chosen.

[Note: read here how the owners, sisters Kimberly and Rebecca, now 

oversee a GoFundMe effort to help purchase a new building for their 

original Wicker Park bookstore.] 

Yes, my Chicago Public Library still requires patrons to wear masks. 

But no matter.  Visiting again the Thomas Hughes Children’s Room of 

the Harold Washington Library branch, interacting with librarians, 

watching the book-loving children, discovering new books to read and 

study, weekly feeds my writer’s and teacher’s and Writing Coach’s soul. 

As for connecting, in two weeks time, this frame will hold a photo of 

three lunching TeachingAuthors when April visits Carmela and me in 

Chicago! YAY!

Lucky me again! ZOOM did indeed allow me to keep teaching and 

coaching during the Pandemic. I’d shared in an earlier post how I 

borrowed the collective nouns for Unicorns to name the writers and 

students who – “squarely” – graced my computer screen: glory, marvel, 


But oh, to once again hug a writer, especially when celebrating that 

writer’s first published picture book!  Gwen Neiman Levy and I couldn’t 

stop smiling while holding the cover art of her soon-to-be-released 

What the Cluck? (SimonSaywerPub). And yes, that’s the John Hancock 

Building in the background, which pales in comparison to just how high 

Gwen and I are flying.) 

And here is the Landgrove Inn, in Landgrove, Vermont where July 10 

through 17, 2022, I will once again facilitate The Manuscript Workshop, 

up-close-and-personal with children’s book creators to help them ready 

their stories for young readers. Check my website to soon learn more. 

Picture me, as always, hopeful and grateful.

Congrats to Jessica G., our Book GiveAway winner of Jill Esbaum’s 

graphic early reader THUNDER AND CLUCK!

And, thanks to Molly at Nix the Comfort Zone for hosting today’s Poetry 


Happy face-to-face embracing, Post-Pandemic!

Esther Hershenhon