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)

WEBSITES, BLOGS & PODCASTS 

1. www.thebrownbookshelf.com 

2. https://www.aclib.us/kids/blog/childrens-books-arab-american-heritage-month 

3. https://citygirlblogs.com/centering-whiteness/ 

4. https://www.ibramxkendi.com/ 

5. https://www.leeandlow.com/educators/grade-level-resources 

6. http://ourstory.diversebooks.org/ 

7. https://www.youtube.com/c/AsianAuthorAlliance 

8. https://www.readingrockets.org/blogs/book-life/ride-remember 

9. https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/nov2019/understanding-anti-bias

(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: 

POST-Pandemic!

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, 

blessing.

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 

Friday.


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

Esther Hershenhon


Friday, June 25, 2021

Jill Esbaum Interview and Book Giveaway!

Happy summer! I'm glad to be back for one more visit to share an interview with our dear friend Jill Esbaum, who is a brilliant writer, a former Teaching Author, and a genuinely nice person. Jill lives on a family farm in eastern Iowa and is the author of nearly 50 fiction and nonfiction books for kids. Please visit her website for more information or follow her group blog, Picture Book Builders.

Jill Esbaum

We're giving away a copy of the first book in Jill's delightful new graphic early reader series, Thunder and Cluck. You can enter below, but first, find out more about Jill and her books.

***

Who or what inspired the characters Thunder and Cluck?

The opening scene sort of fell into my head one morning in that fuzzy period just before you wake. When these two kooky prehistoric characters started talking, I thought the best thing to do was take notes and hope they kept it up.
Friends Do Not Eat Friends is the first book
in Jill Esbaum's new graphic early reader series.

How is planning and writing a series different from writing a stand-alone book? Can you give us any hints about other books in the series?

This is the first time I've done any kind of fiction series, and it wasn't planned, so an expert, I am not. I first wrote Thunder & Cluck as a picture book, a funny story of how they became unlikely friends. That was rejected a few times. My agent suggested I use these characters to write a 3,000 word young chapter book. That manuscript had a nibble, but was ultimately rejected, as well. My agent then suggested I try the duo in an early reader--a pair of manuscripts she could submit together. 

Too invested in these characters to throw in the towel, I cut and cut and cut until nothing was left but a 500-word, all-dialogue story. My stubbornness paid off when we got the call that Simon & Schuster wanted Thunder & Cluck - Friends Do Not Eat Friends as one of the lead titles in their new graphic early readers line. A happy dance moment, for sure!

They wanted to release three books quickly, so then came the frantic planning of book #3. Fortunately, I had that chapter book to pull scenes from. Guess it's true that nothing you write ever goes to waste. Book #2, Thunder & Cluck - The Brave Friend Leads the Way, will release in late August. In that story, the duo clashes over which of them is braver. Next spring comes Book #3, Thunder & Cluck - Smart vs Strong.

Did you have to learn any new techniques to write in the graphic format? Did you have to modify your usual writing process? If so, how? 

No, I wasn't even aware it would be a graphic format until the manuscripts sold. After the first book's art was in, I learned my series would be a Level One, which meant I had to eliminate all contractions. That, I learned, was easier said than done -- tough to keep characters sounding natural when every can't becomes cannot, etc. But I'm a word nerd, so revision is my idea of fun.

Inside the first book: Thunder meets Cluck.

You’ve written a number of funny books. Does humor come naturally to you, or do you have to work at it?

Both. Lines that make me laugh out loud the first three or four times I read a manuscript quickly lose that element of surprise. By the 50th read, those funny bits are stale, stale, stale--or maybe I've tweaked the story structure so they no longer even work. But the revision process, when I'm honing the voice and really knowing, finally, what I want the story to sound like, often leads to serendipitous moments, when lines pop up I never would have thought of the first 50 times through. 

Many early readers have strict requirements, such as using specific vocabulary, avoiding contractions, and defining new words in the text, all of which could add more words. It seems to me that the graphic format would require a writer to be very brief. How do you balance those requirements?

Parameters are imperative, of course, but I don't have any in mind while creating. I've perused K-2 word lists, so those are likely stuck in my head. Or it could be that my writing spills out at a 1st-grade level because of the many books I've written for National Geographic over the years. 

Or maybe I just think/talk like a 6 year old. 

All I know when I begin is that I have about 500 words and 64 pages to play with. One of the most enjoyable things about writing these is that I get to add very detailed art notes that include body language, attitude, facial expressions...that's a blast and an ENTIRELY different mindset from writing picture books. Once I saw the kind of magic brilliant illustrator Miles Thompson was capable of, the writing/cutting process became a lot more fun. 

Here's another sneak peek.

Do you have a favorite piece of advice for writers? 

Learn to critique your own work as an editor would. You can develop your critical eye by 1) endless reading and writing, and 2) critiquing other people's manuscripts in a crit group or some kind of manuscript exchange. There's nothing like critiquing other people's writing to help you zero in on your own problem areas. 

***

Thank you so much, Jill! We're all looking forward to reading more of your work, and we wish you the best of luck with this series!

And now for the giveaway! To enter our drawing, use the Rafflecopter widget below. You may enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options. (Note: if the widget doesn't appear, click on the link at the end of this post that says "a Rafflecopter giveaway" to enter.)

If you choose option 2, you MUST leave a comment on TODAY'S blog post or on our TeachingAuthors Facebook page. If you haven't already "liked" our Facebook page, please do so today!

If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.

Note: if you submit your comments via email or Facebook, YOU MUST STILL ENTER THE DRAWING VIA RAFFLECOPTER BELOW. The giveaway ends July 9, 2021 and is open to U.S. residents only.

If you've never entered a Rafflecopter giveaway, here's info on how to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway and the difference between signing in with Facebook vs. with an email address.

Good luck!

Posted by JoAnn Early Macken



a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Important Info for Email Subscribers

Here are two bits of important information for our email subscribers:

1) We're migrating to a new email subscription service

Google will soon be discontinuing Feedburner, which is the software we've always used for the TeachingAuthors email list. So we'll be migrating our email list to follow.it software. If you're an email subscriber, there are several things we want you to know:

  • We're hoping the transition will be seamless. However, if you stop getting our emails, please visit the TeachingAuthors site and enter your email address in the sidebar box labeled SUBSCRIBE VIA FOLLOW.IT. Then be sure to verify your subscription when you receive the confirmation email.
  • The "from" field of our future emails will now read "follow.it." That means you'll no longer be able to reply directly to our emails. If you have questions or comments that you don't want to post using the comments option on the TeachingAuthors site itself, you may email us via teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.
  • In the first email you receive from us via follow.it, you'll need to confirm that you want to continue receiving our TeachingAuthors posts. If you don't, follow.it will remove you from our subscription list. 
You don't want to miss our next scheduled post, which will include a book giveaway!  If it doesn't arrive in your inbox by Sunday, June 27, 2021, be sure to read it on the TeachingAuthors site.

2) What you may have missed from Zeena's latest post

Unfortunately, due to issues with our blogging software, video clips no longer appear in our post emails. That means that if you didn't read Zeena's last post online, you missed seeing some wonderful videos that really bring her post to life. (The large gaps in the email message are where the videos should have appeared!) When you're done reading this email, I encourage you to go to the TeachingAuthors site to watch the video clips. They feature the locations that inspired Zeena's book and the setting where the play based on her story was staged. You'll find them here.

That's all for now. 
Carmela

Friday, June 18, 2021

The Story of my Story - Hello, Little One: A Monarch Butterfly Story

 When I close my eyes, I am right back in that moment when the story of Hello, Little One: A Monarch Butterfly Story jumped into my heart.  I don’t find stories.  Stories find me.  Once they find me, they haunt me until I tell them.  It’s a funny relationship we have.

      


     I am a public-school kindergarten teacher in Los Angeles.  My school is located in the Mar Vista/Venice Beach area.  We are a waystation for monarchs so it’s not unusual to see these beautiful creatures grace our playground.  In fact, they are our official mascot. They flit, flutter, and swoop as children's laughter and sounds of play can be heard in the background. 

                                                           


                  

     One day at recess time, I was walking on my way back to the classroom from the main office.  In between the classrooms, a majestic monarch butterfly fluttered about, landing on the flowers in the garden boxes.  I was mesmerized by the moment.  I wondered, “ What must that butterfly see and experience?”  As I wondered, I was struck by the sad, bittersweet thought that the life cycle of this monarch was almost done.  It had only about two weeks to live.  I was fascinated by both the strength of this creature and the fragility of life.  In that moment, the  character of Orange was born and the story of the little caterpillar who wanted to grow up and fly with it, found me.

                                                                          




     I am a great lover of irony.   The story developed around the  friendship between a young caterpillar at the beginning of its life cycle and an elder butterfly at the end of its life cycle. The story was  anchored in the two points of view from the different stages of the life cycle and the  perspectives each can offer the other.  A caterpillar who sees everything in life for the first time  and can’t wait to grow up and fly with its friend and a butterfly who fondly remembers its youth while sharing the beauty and wonder that comes with experience and age.  It was important that the story not just focus on the perspective of the adult,  but  respect the voice of the child, giving equal value to both viewpoints.  

     It was an ironic story of longing. Youth wanting to catch up with age, and age savoring its memories of youth. The two at different stages of their lives, meeting in that wondrous two-week window when both were able to connect, love, appreciate, and admire each other. 

       

     I am always surrounded by the joy of 5-year-olds. The story came to life in my kindergarten world of youthful energy.   Originally titled Orange, it was a story of friendship, love, loss, grief, and renewal. 

      One of the first times I shared my story with a large, public critique group of children’s book authors, I read the manuscript not knowing what to expect.  The story was rough and unrefined. I didn’t understand rhythm, lyrical language, or  word choice.  It was both exhilarating and terrifying to reach the end and experience the response.  A woman sobbed.  She had connected with the grief in the story.  It had triggered her own loss and touched her. The room was moved. The story had taken listeners to a place where they had felt big emotions.  I thought I had done my job as a writer.  But the manuscript had miles to go and so did I in my development of craft.  

        The word count was way too long and suddenly, the manuscript was a play.  I was delighted to work with my young students to build the story and present it at a dedication ceremony to unveil a section of our campus, known as, The Wildlands.   The characters became more fully developed as I co-created with the 5-year-olds in my class.  The play was performed 7 years ago by students who  culminated from our school last year, the same year the book debuted.   Bittersweet.   I can still hear their youthful and poignant delivery of the lines as they flit, fluttered, and flew around the outdoor native garden.   It was the beginning of a journey.  

                                                                           




                                                                                   


                                                                                  


     My story of the little caterpillar and Orange had come to life, but it was still not ready for submission.  The manuscript  stretched beyond what was reasonable for a picture book, well over 1200 words!  Like many novice picture book writers, I did not yet understand the concept of word count and the process of precise word choice.  It went through many revisions. Then, it went through many rejections.   Rejections inform revisions.  Revisions made me a stronger writer.  They helped me develop my craft.  

      In the beginning, like most writers, my craft was not developed enough to tell the story in a way that was industry worthy.  I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) in the early spring of 2014.  I thought I was ready.  I had a story that made grownups cry and children flit, flutter and fly.  I only needed one yes.  I was confident and naïve. I entered the contests, but never won.  I queried agents and editors, but always got a no.

     Like so many authors who had gone before me, I queried way too early. It takes time to hone your craft.  I joined critique groups and listened to my critique partners.  I worked the text over and over again. And when I thought I was ready, I queried again.  But, it also takes time to learn to query.

     As a kindergarten teacher, I read picture books every day.  I’m lucky.  It’s part of my job.  In addition to reading constantly, I wrote more stories.  Different stories.  I moved on and didn’t put all my eggs in that one basket.  I attended a class at Otis College of Art and Design and was mentored by an amazing children’s book author, Deborah Norse Lattimore.  Who knew that so many stories would find me and expect to be written?  And with each story, my craft improved.  Orange, was in the distant past.  A bit forgotten.

     A different story poured out of me in January 2018.  This manuscript caught the eye of that one yes I needed.  An agent, a friend of my fabulous teacher, agreed to represent the manuscript, Egyptian Lullaby.

     Egyptian Lullaby, wound its way through many editors who expressed interest and then passed.  Finally, an editor was interested but there were developmental edits to make before an offer would be considered.  So close, but no book deal, yet. And then, suddenly a curveball. Someone else was also interested.  I had to make a choice and ultimately placed that manuscript with a home I felt was the most appropriate for the subject matter.  In making that difficult choice, disappointment was expressed. I wondered if the manuscript, Orange, had some of the same elements that the manuscript I had just sold elsewhere had.  I wondered if the editor would be interested in it.  I felt like it was a much better fit.  And it was!  After more developmental edits on the manuscript of Orange, I now had two book deals. Two years later, it was not the first manuscript, Egyptian Lullaby, but rather a renamed Orange (Hello, Little One: A Monarch Butterfly Story) that I debuted with.  





     As I prepared to do my part to release this book, I thought with my head, with my logic, and  I leaned into my experiences as a teacher.  I expected that teachers would be most interested in the scientific principles embedded in the story. This book was a useful tool for educators to facilitate the learning of concrete and tangible science concepts like the life cycle of the monarch. What got lost along the way as I focused on marketing and sales, was the essence of the story.  

     When my mother read the story recently for the first time, she finished by saying, “Wow, that’s kind of a sad story.”  I’d forgotten the impact that the initial story had as a whole. 



     And then the Corona Virus hit and life as we knew it was turned upside down.  The global pandemic stopped everything in its tracks.  My debut book release in May of 2020 and all the events that were planned, my daughter’s senior year in high school and all the activities expected, my student’s kindergarten year and all our unfinished time together. And then the unthinkable.  

     I unexpectedly lost my own beloved aunt to Covid-19.  Numb and paralyzed,  sometimes it takes great disturbances in the universe to shake you to your core, to bring your sense of purpose and meaning back into focus.  

     


     It all came bubbling up and I was back full circle.  I had written a book about the monarch butterfly life cycle with my head, but with my heart I had written a story about friendship, love, loss, and renewal.  This was a grief book. A story to help children make sense of their world during a senseless pandemic that we were all struggling to understand.    

     I am heartbroken to think of the children who have lost their beloved grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles.  So many elders lost.  

     I hope I have done my job as an author and given children who have suffered a loss, a path to their healing.  I hope I have done justice to this story that found me so many years ago, a story of connection, cycles, transformation, and last goodbyes.







By Zeena M. Pliska

Hello, Little One:  A Monarch Butterfly Story
Written by Zeena M. Pliska Illustrated by Fiona Halliday
Published by Page Street Kids
Published on May 12, 2020


Egyptian Lullaby
Written by Zeena M. Pliska Illustrated by Hatem Aly
Published by Roaring Brook Press
Coming Spring 2022

To learn more about me click here

Friday, June 11, 2021

Poem That Changes Everything

Howdy Campers, and Happy Poetry Friday! (The link to PF is below).

Today I'm sharing a recent post from author/poet Alison McGhee's glorious blog...a poem that will change everything for you. 

I promise.

I subscribe to Alison's blog; each poem she chooses floats into my inbox as Poem of the Week. The gift is not only Alison's choice of poems, but her short intros to each poem, which are as gorgeous as the poems she chooses:

Here's the link to the poem she sent May 29, 2021--do click on it...her brief intros are definitely worth reading. But here's the poem if you can't click:

IF THE MOON CAME OUT ONLY ONCE A MONTH
by Cathy Ross

If the moon came out only once a month
people would appreciate it more. They’d mark it
in their datebooks, take a walk by moonlight, notice
how their bedroom window framed its silver smile.
And if the moon came out just once a year,
it would be a holiday, with tinsel streamers
tied to lampposts, stores closing early
so no one has to work on lunar eve,
travelers rushing to get home by moon-night,
celebrations with champagne and cheese.
Folks would stay awake ’til dawn
to watch it turn transparent and slowly fade away.
And if the moon came out randomly,
the world would be on wide alert, never knowing
when it might appear, spotters scanning empty skies,
weathermen on TV giving odds—“a 10% chance
of moon tonight”—and when it suddenly began to rise,
everyone would cry “the moon is out,” crowds
would fill the streets, jostling and pointing,
night events would be canceled,
moon-closure signs posted on the doors.
And if the moon rose but once a century,
ascending luminous and lush on a long-awaited night,
all humans on the planet would gather
in huddled, whispering groups
to stare in awe, dazzled by its brilliance,
enchanted by its spell. Years later,
they would tell their children, “Yes, I saw it once.
Maybe you will live to see it too.”
But the moon is always with us,
an old familiar face, like the mantel clock,
so no one pays it much attention.
Tonight
why not go outside and gaze up in wonder,
as if you’d never seen it before,
as if it were a miracle,
as if you had been waiting
all your life.


For more information on Cathy Ross, check out her website.

I imitated this poem, choosing my own subject, playing it out, as Cathy Ross did. Amazing. Try it!

from pixabay

Carol's hosting today at Carol's Corner


Posted with love by April Halprin Wayland

Friday, June 4, 2021

Getting Out of the Mud with an Ekphrastic Poem

Happy Poetry Friday! You'll find my first ever ekphrastic poem below.

I have to admit: I wasn't excited at the prospect of blogging on the topic of "patience, persistence, and perseverance" today. I haven't been doing a very good job practicing any of these traits lately. Part of the reason has to do with distractions related to personal issues. But it's also because of the stage of my current writing project--I recently started submitting it to agents. My strategy is to submit to a select few agents who seem like the best match for my manuscript. Researching those agents is a slow, time-consuming process. Some days, it feels like a full-time job. And it requires a lot of that first "P:" Patience, as I wait to hear back. 

Normally, I'd use this waiting time to occupy myself with other writing projects. But the ones I've tried working on don't seem to be going anywhere. So I'm feeling a lot like this tortoise--stuck in the mud!

Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

Re-reading JoAnn's post for this series helped pinpoint my problem. JoAnn wrote: "I've found over the years that I feel better when I write at least a little something every day. I miss it when I don't."

I've definitely been missing writing. So I'm trying to again write "a little something" most days, if not every day. Poems are the perfect medium for this, since they can be quite short yet still satisfying.

Just this week, I learned about the Poetry Sisters' May ekphrastic poetry challenge. I don't recall having ever written an ekphrastic poem before. So, even though I'm too late to be part of the challenge, I thought I'd try my hand at writing one for today. My first step was looking up the definition. According to this website: "An ekphrastic poem is based on a work of art. Usually, ekphrastic poems are written about a painting, but they can also be based on a sculpture, an object, or even architecture." 

The Poetry Sisters' challenge was to write about a photograph of a work of art. I decided to write my ekphrastic poem about a photograph, too--one I came across while looking for the above turtle-in-the-mud photo:

Photo by Jozsef Hocza on Unsplash

I came up with this ekphrastic haiku for the photo (and my own plight):

slow going ahead
but it feels good to be free
and moving forward

©2021 Carmela A. Martino. All rights reserved.

 

Be sure to check out this week's Poetry Friday roundup by Margaret at Reflections on the Teche.

Happy writing!
Carmela

Friday, May 28, 2021

The Other Side of the Rainbow--Patience, etc in the Publishing World

In our recent series about the three P's--Patience, Persistence and Perseverance--my fellow TA's have talked about them in the writing process. I'm going to a different area of the writer's world--publication--where the Three P's are every bit as essential to survival.

 By nature, I am not patient, persistent or persevering. However, I told myself that if I just kept practicing those virtues, I would some day be a published author. It took twenty years of consistent effort (and an MFA from Vermont College) but I finally sold my first book. Yay! 

May 2000, talking to my editor

Now I had an editor and a publisher. Smooth sailing from here on out, right? Wrong!

When I sold my first book in 2000, I had certain romantic notions of publishing, mainly about editors.  I had read the biography of Max Perkins, the legendary editor of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Wolfe and every other major American writer of the 1920's-40's. In general,I thought editors were Herculean beings like Mr. Perkins. Perkins was not just an editor, he was a "writer wrangler." He carved books from the massive manuscripts Wolfe presented him. He served as a surrogate father to Hemingway, whose gigantic ego masked deep insecurity. He never lost faith in Fitzgerald, no matter how chaotic that writer's life became. Unsurprisingly, I decided that editors were equal parts loving parents and literary magicians.

My editors have all been lovely, creative, intelligent people, who managed to find in my manuscripts insights I never suspected. But gone are the days of signing on with an editor for life (or at least until one of you becomes disenchanted.) With one exception, not one of my acquiring editors was around for the actual publication of the book. Some of my books have had as many as four editors shepherding it through the various stages of publication.

How did this happen? I might've taken it personally, but I realized that editor is a young person's job. There are still a few old school editors who spend their careers with one company they, but VERY few. A "newbie" editor (like mine) work punishing hours, and if they aren't asleep, they are reading. They job hop, from publisher to publisher. Some of them flame out and go into another line of work. One went to rehab. Some become agents. And some of them do things that don't allow for reading twenty hours a day. Like get married, have kids. Things like that.

Why am I going on about editors? Because the constant turnover in editors requires great amounts of the 3 "P's". Patience when your book is "orphaned" by the acquiring editor, and you wait to hear from the new editor, who has been "assigned" your book. Persistence in asking for updates on publication, as your book is pushed back from one year to the next. Perseverance as you ask...and ask...and ask again if an illustrator has been found for your picture book. And patience again as you learn where your book has landed on the illustrator's calendar. 

For example, I was beyond thrilled when the fabulous illustrator E.B. Lewis agreed to do my first picture book. SO thrilled...that I never thought to ask WHEN it would be published. My editor left for another house right after the final copy edits, so I not only didn't know when...I didn't know WHO to ask. A year later, I learned through a conversation with an agent, that Mr. Lewis had projects lined up for years...and that it would be at least five years before my book rose to the top of this schedule. Actually, it was four years... and well worth the wait!


Currently, I am dealing with THE longest wait of my writing life. I banged out a book in 2010. Sold it within 3 weeks. A new record for me! Yay! Did the edits, go paid my partial royalty (the rest to come at publication) all within six months. "I'm getting the hang of this writing thing," I thought. 

And then...nothing. 2011. I write my editor and learn she has gotten married and quit the biz. 2012. 2013. I am reassigned to an editor. 2014. New editor says they have a hot prospect for an illustrator. 2015. Illustrator thinks about the book...and decides it's not for her. 2016. I ask the publisher if they still plan to publish my book. The same in 2017, 2018 and 2019. At the end of 2019, I am on the verge of mailing back my royalty and asking to reclaim the manuscript...when...my interim editor writes me that I've been assigned to a NEW editor. Literally....one right out of school who turns out to be younger than my daughter. We get together and talk. All goes well. New editor has some good new ideas. I incorporate them into the manuscript. New Editor has a hot prospect for an illustrator. (Hmm...where have I heard that before?) I turn in the final edits, March 6, 2020. It was a Friday.  The following Friday, the President announced a national emergency due to COVID-19. We all know what happened after that.

A year passes. In February, I hear from my editor again. Like everyone else, editor has been working from home. Good news...the illustrator is starting work on my book. Um...OK. I thought she had ALREADY started. So that means....yep...the publication date, which was supposed to be Fall 2021, is now Fall 2022. In other words, everything that could possibly happen to this book...has happened. I'm just happy that in the past 10 years this manuscript has stayed alive through multiple editors, illustrators...and national emergency. 

Even Max Perkins could not have done more  in a time of  pandemic.

Have a great summer everybody! Go out and chew some clover!


Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Friday, May 21, 2021

Write! Write! Write!

This time around, my fellow TeachingAuthors and I share the myriad 

of ways we keep keepin’ on.

Zeena and Joann underscored the importance of Patience, Persistence 

and Perseverance.

Each of these abilities could be my middle name. 😊

Indeed, upon the sale of my first picture book, I proudly declared 

myself The Susan Lucci of Children’s Books.

My “Rx for Moving Forward (Upright and Satisfied)" is but one 

of my many posts meant to keep writers writing.

Except for the reference to The Oprah Show, all references and 

resources remains true today.

I’m all about Writer Resources – for my students, my writers, myself 

and our Readers. Today I share three, to keep you – and/or your 

students -  keepin’ on.  

Remember: the name of the game is WRITE! WRITE! WRITE!

Young Writers will certainly delight in Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s 

collection of poems - appropriately titled Write! Write! Write! 

(Wordsong/Boyds Mills & Kane, 2020), though truly writers of all 

ages will also find the fare delicious.  The twenty-two poems take 

“the new writer just learning how” through the ins and outs and ups 

and downs of any writer’s life and process.  Think: ideas (growing 

like peaches), patience, revision, edits and more. The writer’s 

first discovered “WOW!’ in time translates to POWER, and isn’t that 

grand? Ryan O’Rourke’s illustrations capture the wonder of it all.


“WRITE. RIGHT. RITE.”– a “GRAB THE MIC: Tell Your Story” video 

series, gifts Young Writers with a whole lot of fun-filled ways 

to engage with Jason Reynolds, the 2020-2021 National Ambassador 

of Young People’s Literature. The series aims to teach 

“authentic” - not “correct” or “exact” – expression.  In each 

video, the award-winning author and singular storyteller first 

tells a story in his own inimitable style, then offers a prompt 

to keep writers writing, always making sure to brainstorm 

“get-you-going” questions.  Imagine a new writing device. Create 

a bobble head. Take an imaginary road trip. Write the first line 

of a story. Thirty in all, ending with Create an award for 

yourself! 

And, every writer needs to sit down with a cup o’ Something, then 

click here to watch and listen to Jason grab the mic himself and 

present the 2021 Zena Sutherland Lecture. Lots of WOW! and lots 

of POWER! as Jason shares an unforgettable story about his father, 

brilliantly linking its greater meaning to how we need to keep all 

children readingreadingreading, and thus writingwritingwriting. 

FYI: Maurice Sendak presented the very first Zena Sutherland 

Lecture in 1981.  In the video, The Horn Book editor Roger Sutton 

shares more about this most distinguished, life-changing professor 

and review editor in whose name these lectures are given. The Fall 

issue of The Horn Book will reprint Jason’s Lecture.


Finally, Christie at Wondering and Wandering hosts a special and 

surprise Poetry Friday today, celebrating Mary Lee Hahn and her 

37 years of teaching – and growing – writers and poets. You can 

participate by contributing a poem to honor Mary Lee at 

#PoemsforMaryLee and #MarvelousMaryLee.

The last lines of Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s “Anything Can Grow” 

from Write! Write! Write! seem more than appropriate for Mary Lee.

     “I can turn day into night,

      I can do this when I write

      with my hand in black on white.

      Anything can grow.”

Mary Lee Hahn.  Yet one more Writer Resource to keep us keepin’ on!


Happy Resourcing!

Esther Hershenhorn

 

Friday, May 14, 2021

Three Ps in Spring and in Writing

Happy Poetry Friday! I'm back with another guest post in our series about patience, persistence, and perseverance. Zeena started the series with a look at how these traits apply to children. Now that spring has finally arrived in Wisconsin, I’m spending as much time as I can outside. Today’s post is an amalgamation of observations from walking and gardening, along with some thoughts about writing.

When I think of persistence, I remember my mother saying, "Try, try again."



chomping and building
beavers establish their world
tree by tree by tree

Writers build worlds and revise manuscripts one page at a time. Those pages add up! I've found over the years that I feel better when I write at least a little something every day. I  miss it when I don't.

I think of perseverance as persistence against an obstacle. Tenacity is required. Success includes a sense of triumph.



stuck in a tough spot
between maybe and no way
maple branches out


Finishing a polished draft requires perseverance. For me, teamwork is often involved. The obstacles to publishing are more easily overcome with trusted writing companions at my side, providing support and feedback.

Patience might be required while waiting for sprouts—or new ideas to appear.


plant a seed and wait
water but don't look too soon
magic is sprouting

Over the years, I've learned that the best way to wait is to keep myself occupied with another project. In my last post, I mentioned that Grow evolved over many years. Each time I put it aside or waited for feedback, I tried to find or start another manuscript to work on. 

The best techniques are the ones that work for you. Good luck!

Irene Latham has today's Poetry Friday Roundup at Live Your Poem. Enjoy!

JoAnn