Friday, June 7, 2024

Congratulations on 15 Years!!! Here's to 15 More!!!

Congratulations to Danielle H.  You are the winner of the blogiversary giveaway!

The best thing about this 15th blogiversary is getting to know my fellow bloggers. I am the new kid on the block, so I actually don’t know everybody’s stories.  Because stories bring us closer together and build relationships, this has been the perfect opportunity to peer into the lives of the 5 other authors/teachers and feel genuinely a little closer to them.  Seems so strange in this digital world in which we live, I have blogged with Carmela, Bobbi, Esther, Mary Ann, and April for over 3 years and barely know them except for April. 

I was invited to temporarily blog as a substitute by April.  I was honored that such a renowned children’s book author would even consider including me.  April has quite an amazing reputation amongst up-and-coming picture book authors who have taken her UCLA extension classes.  She is a legend. I am humbly grateful. 

Carmela, I did not know that you got your MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College and I didn’t know that your published middle grade novel was your creative thesis.

Esther, I didn’t know that you wrote S is For Story.  So sorry it’s out of print.  It sounds wonderful!

Mary Ann, I didn’t know that you have a 30-year-old daughter who teachers pre-k in a public school.

I am looking forward to the other stories to be revealed through the blog posts that follow mine.

As for me, 15 years ago…

In 2009, I was almost 8 years into my adventure as a single parent by choice.  

Prior to my decision to have a child, I had told stories as a filmmaker (ish), journalist, theater director, visual artist, and photographer.  I was a world traveler and a social justice activist. My story making days were put on pause as I concentrated on making my own life stories with my young daughter. My craft as a teacher got stronger as I found myself interested and immersed as a parent in my own daughter’s education.  I was happy to let go of the other directions that my life had taken, to concentrate on this new phase.  

However, I did hold on to one aspect of my activism, electoral politics. Gone for the moment were the days of making change through direct action, legal observing, and organizing.  My good friend was elected to the school board (of the second largest school district in the nation) and I found myself in a close relationship with the policymaking of my district.  Education justice became my focus.

I am happy that my life veered off in these new directions.  They have added to my understanding of the world and have strengthened the storytelling I would eventually return to as a children’s book author. Although I had dabbled in picture book writing in my early adulthood, I entered the kidlit world with commitment when my daughter became less dependent on me. I began writing when she was 13.  Signed with my agent when she was 17.  Published my first picture book when she was nearly 19.

As for my two loves: Education and Publishing, 15 years ago…

We started to see the negative effects of the policies of No Child Left Behind, enacted 9 years prior.  High stakes testing began to permeate the elementary school experience, shifting the focus of teaching. In 2010 the Common Core Standards were adopted in California. As I wrote about in my last post, the Common Core Standards have moved the expectation of young readers away from fiction and toward non-fiction. Imagination is less valued as a result of these standards. I feel that the shifts in education have moved the publishing industry, as well.  I read far fewer current picture books with fictional stories to my kindergarteners because books without complex, narrative stories seem to be the norm.  I see many Social Emotional Learning themed books that encourage readers to “be themselves,” “be strong,” “be brave.”  There are plenty of non-fiction picture books. I can’t say that I don’t long for the stories of the 90’s. Don’t get me wrong, I love the books that I see my fellow authors write.  I also find myself writing books that fit in this current market. I do hope that the pendulum swings a bit to include strong fictional picture books with narrative stories. 

I also have observed and am reading articles that are noting that children are reading less for enjoyment.  As a teacher, I am noticing this trend as well and believe that there is not one factor but maybe many.  Of course, I believe that social media and electronics in the hands of young children must have some effect.  How can it not?  At the same time, the focus on “the science of reading” has created a culture of reading for utility not joy.  Add to these ingredients, the over-testing of very young children which leads to the false assumptions that 4 and 5-year-olds should be reading or they are failing.  Also add an over scheduled world and we just might have the perfect storm. We’ve created an environment that doesn’t value the joy of reading. We don’t value imagination.

In the last 15 years, the corporate narrative that public schools are failing has become stronger.  Blaming teachers and public education for gaps between the “haves” and the “have nots.” Book banning has proliferated.  And AI is creeping into the education of our very young  (I am currently in development on a short narrative film exploring this topic.)

But all is not lost nor shall it ever be as long as we continue to use our voices and teach others to use theirs as well.  This is why I am a teaching-author.

Finally, the theme of coming full circle came up in the other blog posts.  For me, I also find myself full circle.  Having begun my storytelling journey wanting to tell stories utilizing the medium of film, I have returned to my post-college roots to explore short filmmaking while I continue to write more children’s books and teach more children.

What will the next 15 years bring?

By Zeena M. Pliska

Check out my developing film project

Check out my developing film project


Tina Cho said...

I agree with all this, Zeena, as a fellow kinder teacher. And how exciting you're making/writing a film! Congrats!

Carmela Martino said...

Zeena, thanks for this peek into your past, present and perhaps future! I appreciate learning more about you too!