Wednesday, October 28, 2020

A WWW to Celebrate Lady Liberty’s Birthday!

What better way to celebrate today’s 134th Birthday of the Statute of 

Liberty than to learn first-hand from Claudia Friddell her proven recipe 

for crafting kid-friendly true stories, especially since she authored the 

recently published SAVING LADY LIBERTY (Calkins Creek, March, 


Gorgeously-illustrated by Stacy Innerst in watercolor and acrylic paint 

and ink drawings, the picture book shares how the immigrant Joseph 

Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World who rose from rags to riches, 

used his newspaper in the first crowd-sourcing effort ever, to raise the 

monies to build the pedestal on which the Statue of Liberty stands.  

Imagine that!

You might remember Claudia from my June, 2010 Student Success 

Story celebrating and honoring the debut of her first children’s book –


Bear Press). She’s been using her many talents ever since, crafting and 

publishing a bounty of children’s narrative nonfiction.

“A soaring account!” Booklist boasted in a starred review of 


Both School Library Journal and the Bulletin for the Center of 

Children’s Books lauded the biography’s backmatter –“fun facts 

about the Statue of Liberty and Pulitzer, a bibliography, an afterword, 

a time line, and photos of the statue during its construction and 


Kirkus wrote that “Pulitzer's permanent legacy now beams a 

beckoning welcome to all American newcomers—a timely 


SAVING LADY LIBERTY offers delicious primary material, too: 

quotes, excerpts from editorials, replicas of but a few of the hundreds of 

handwritten letters children sent along with their donated pennies.

How generous of Claudia to share her Writing Recipe in today’s 

Wednesday Writing Workout.

It’s a most proven recipe, by the way.

Calkins Creek publishes Claudia’s GRACE BANKER AND THE 

HELLO GIRLS (The Heroic Story of WWI Telephone Operators) 

in February of 2021, ROAD TRIP! (Camping with the Four Vagabonds: 

Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone and John Burroughs) 

in September the same year and THE FRONT (Clara Barton and the 

Battle of Antietam) in Spring of 2022. 

Thank you, Claudia, for sharing your recipe with our TeachingAuthors 

readers, and for feeding all of us with your one-of-a-kind stories about 

one-of-a-kind inspiring, real and true people.

Happy Story Crafting! Happy Pizza-making!

And Happy Birthday, Lady Liberty!

Esther Hershenhorn

 . . . . .

How to Craft True Stories Into Kid-Friendly Books: 

Eat the Crust First!

It’s a mouthful to share that I’m a narrative nonfiction children’s author when asked what I do, but it’s a title I share with pride. After twenty inspiring years of teaching elementary students, I now spend my days pursuing my lifelong passion—finding, writing, and sharing true stories from long ago. During this new reality of living in partial isolation, I have indulged another passion—pizza making. Inspired by treasured memories of cooking with my father in our quest to create the perfect sauce and crust, I now take writing breaks to continue that pizza perfecting quest with my brother. Separated by half a country and an epidemic, our cooking adventures are virtual, but they never feel remote.

It may be a cheesy stretch, but during one of our pizza zooms, it occurred to me that crafting a truly delicious homemade pizza has similarities with crafting true stories into kid-friendly books.

                                 Making the Dough

 As I wrestle with making a dough that is airy but not too light—chewy, but not too dense—I’m reminded of my challenges as a researcher. Without thorough and precise research, there is no foundation for a nonfiction book, just as dough that doesn’t rise or isn’t kneaded correctly can end up in the trash. This first step in both ventures can be the most tedious and frustrating, but it can also be the most rewarding. This is where you find the foundation for your story and all its treasures. 

In my most recent book with Calkins Creek, Saving Lady Liberty, (an early quarantine release, March 2020), my research of Joseph Pulitzer’s innovative idea of the world’s first crowdfunding campaign to fund the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal was the foundation, the crust, for just the type of book I like to write—a little known, kid-friendly story within an historically important event.

                                Cooking Up the Sauce

Once the foundation of research is set, it’s time to combine the ingredients that give a narrative nonfiction story its flavor—the sauce. True stories about people and events don’t always translate into a good book, just as a pot full of tomatoes and herbs don’t necessarily make a great pizza sauce. Crafting the right combination and balance of the ingredients—the plot, characters, setting, conflict, and resolution—is the challenge and the joy of turning interesting facts, people, and events into kid friendly and curriculum enhancing books. As a narrative nonfiction writer, I can never stray too far from the main ingredients. I can’t make up my own details, and I can’t create my own events. But I can add flavor and spice.

In Saving Lady Liberty, I loved blending together the precarious journey of Lady Liberty, our personified beloved national monument to freedom, with the story of an iconic rags-to-riches Jewish immigrant whose big idea rallied thousands of Americans to feel their patriotism and raise the funds to build the foundation on which Lady Liberty stands.

                          Toppings, Anyone?

 Which takes me back to the pizza. What about all those fabulous toppings—the ones that help make your pizza interesting and unique? For me, this is the best part, and I’m not just referring to the sausage, mushrooms, and black olives. In Saving Lady Liberty, I loved sprinkling bits of kid-friendly historical details throughout the book. Did you know that Lady Liberty first stood in Paris, where she was built, before she lifted her torch in America? Did you know that after Lady Liberty crossed the Atlantic like millions of other immigrants, her disassembled parts sat in crates for nearly a year, waiting for a place to stand? Did you know that young children contributed their own pennies to join immigrants, Civil War veterans, and everyday Americans to raise over $100,000 to fund Lady Liberty’s pedestal? What a special treat to find and share some of the children’s donation letters hidden in century old newspapers.

                            And Finally, the Crust!

 And now we get to the end—or is it the bottom? I’m referring to the crust, the baked dough that was once raw research. The crust of the book is the fully baked back matter. This is where the reader finds the research nuggets, the relatable back stories, the resources. True confession—while I do think a great crust is crucial for a great pizza, I’m not here to seriously advocate for eating the pizza crust first. I am, however, here to strongly urge teachers and parents to read the back matter of a narrative nonfiction picture book first before reading the story with young readers. Here’s why… Well-developed back matter offers information that enriches and expands the reader’s knowledge of the book’s main ingredients that can be used for pre-reading activities and guided reading instruction. 

Young children often need historical points of reference before reading a story to give them firm footing in understanding the time and place in which these real people lived. This allows young readers to better connect and relate to historical events and people who, without context, may seem unrelatable. A well kneaded back matter offers finger-tip treasures for all. 

Here are a few of my favorite back matter tidbits that were too small to make it into Saving Lady Liberty’s main story, but too good to leave out—over a million people who walked through New York City’s streets to celebrate Lady Liberty’s unveiling on October 28, 1886, were showered by the very first ticker tape parade; and, baseball’s World Series is named for Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper, THE WORLD—the original sponsor of the baseball tournament. There’s more trivia treats where these came from—just check out the back matter!

                                    Buon Appetito!

So, here’s to following your own passions and creating your own recipes. I hope you enjoy a new slice of life every time you read a narrative nonfiction book, with or without the pizza. And don’t forget to eat the crust first!

Friday, October 23, 2020

EXERCISING MY VOICE--from HOP TO IT - poems to get you moving

Howdy, Campers and Happy Poetry Friday! 

I'm closing out our topic of SURPRISES! Gwendolyn started us off, showing the surprising twists and turns in her career as a children's book writer; Bobbie posted, "The best of heroes give us hope" in Heroic Surprises of the Week; Mary Ann stated: "Writing itself is a surprising act," in her post, Hidden Surprises; And Esther visualized Desired Outcomes in her post, Surprise, Surprise!

Just recently I was surprised as snowpeas (or maybe thrilled as thin mints?) to learn that two new anthologies had accepted my poems: Sylvia Vardell's A WORLD OF POEMS

and Sylvia Vardell's and Janet Wong's HOP TO IT POEMS ~ Poems to Get You Moving, both of which were named as one of the Children's Book Council's  most"anticipated bestsellers, either recently released or forthcoming, published by CBC members."

Here's how my submission for HOP TO IT evolved as I worked with both Janet and Sylvia to find the right poem:

This spring I decided to write them a poem with a marching band instruments kids could "air play."

It was interesting to re-read our correspondence from way back then and see what we were thinking about. We thought this strange new world would end--and soon!  We were expecting to travel any minute now! (If you haven't yet seen it, stop reading right now and watch Julie Nolke's 3-minute sketch, "Explaining the Pandemic to My Past Self")

I picked up steam, writing lots of marching band poems, plain old marching poems, political chant poems and just plain odd poems. 

Here are some of the titles, one odd poem and the poem they accepted:

TAKE A CHANTS; TEACH ME THE WORDS; POLITICAL CHANT FOR CHILDREN ( I wrote this with my friend Bruce Balan); WE SAY SPEAK OUT; ASPARAGUS CAN'T; TAKING ONE STEP (audience shouts STEP when leader points at them)

Here's one of the odd poems:

by April Halprin Wayland

Asparagus can't speak their mind

or march or vote to help mankind.

I asked them how they planned to assist us

they said it took years to grow—

they are, after all, champions of persistence.

 *note: this is not a movement's a Movement poem (and asparagus really do take years to grow. I know, because I planted mine more than 20 years ago)

In the end, my poem titled EXERCISING MY VOICE was the poem that fit their collection best. 
(This was not a speaking out was a getting ready to speak out poem. The post 9 Best Vocal Warm-ups for Singers was my inspiration)

But, Janet wrote, "just one thing: the part about curling your tongue. Not everyone can do that. Maybe 'wiggle' your tongue??"

 Oops--good catch, JW!

Here's how it looks in the book, with their fabulous format in which they suggest five things kids can do with each poem:

Yes, yes, I said. I like that allignment! And very recently their beautiful books arrived. 

And just this week Sylvia sent me this:

I have officially died and gone to heaven!

I rarely know what an anthologist is looking for. And over and over, the surprising thing I've learned working with dozens of anthologists is this: they don't necessarily choose a poem because of its singular amazingness. 

They choose your poem because 

it plays well with others.

Thank you, Jama, for hosting Poetry Friday!

Posted with love and a good dose of exhaustion by April Halprin Wayland with help from Gary's hotspot because our internet went down and I was on the phone with our carrier all day. 

But what are you going to's 2020!


Friday, October 16, 2020

Surprise, surprise!

I’ve spent a lifetime creatively visualizing Desired Outcomes.

I’d read early on that doing so not only aided a Positive Mental 


It led to Success.

Even Oprah highly recommended the practice.


Just imagine…,” I’d tell my former fifth-grade teacher self, closing my 


authoring children’s books someday,

…receiving starred reviews,

…winning awards,

…and finally, finally, teaching Young Writers as a school’s 



I’m happy to report: after years on task, learning my craft whilst 

reading-writing-and-connecting, after keepin’ keepin’ on DESPITE the 

non-stop challenges, the above Desired Outcomes came to be.

I became a TeachingAuthor.


But…surprise, surprise!

Just like the Heroes and Heroines of the books that fed me, I, too, 

returned home with something even better than what I’d first sought.

I now teach and coach once-young writers how to write for children!

And, oh, how I love doing so.

Alas, and of course, many of my challenges refused to disappear.

Indeed, one in particular grew monster-like before my very eyes: 


Yes, I’d learned to co-exist with first the Word Processor, next my 

desk-top computer, 

then finally my laptop.

And to everyone’s amazement, I joined this blog and have posted 

non-stop since the Fall of 2009.

Still, technological advances continued to dog me.

Me, learning disabled. (I’m a multi-sensory learner.)

Me, a true Luddite.

Me, downright fearful of all I didn’t but needed to know in order 

to join the Virtual World, especially and most recently when COVID-19 

reared its virulent spikes.

But, surprise, surprise!

Creative visualization once again proved worthy. 

Just RE-imagine…” I told my TeachingAuthor self, closing my eyes,

mastering ZOOM,

…learning new Best Teaching practices,

…refiguring and reshaping my presentations,

…and finally, finally, teaching students in Cyberspace.


I’m happy to report: I am not only teaching remotely; I am LOVING it!

(YAY! Who knew?)

Meet my first online students (minus one) from my Summer Newberry 

Library Advanced Picture Book Workshop.  I dubbed them My 

Newberry Squares. The Thanku I wrote in 2013 still applies.

                              My delicious class -    

                              a bounty of new berries, 

                              each ripe with story.

This Fall I meet weekly on Wednesday evenings with My 

Newberry Squares II, teaching them the Picture Book’s magic.

Last week I introduced the Children’s Book World to 15 eager 

writers during my University of Chicago Graham School Writer’s 

Studio offering.

I’ve used my spiffy-new OBS software to create live faculty 

introductions and course descriptions.

And for the first time ever, I recorded and filmed an 

orientation session for my SCBWI Illinois Chapter’s November 13-15 

interactive 3-day conference Full Zoom Ahead.

It’s a Brave New World, alright.

But with the help of friends, family, colleagues, fellow bloggers, 

supportive teaching communities, ZOOM workshops and both a 

VERY patient blog administrator whose initials are C.M. and a gifted 

technology tutor, Logan Kulinski - extraordinarily sensitive to the fears 

of a once-young writer, like my Heroine William Steig’s Irene I’m 

becoming more brave.

Happy Braving! The surprises are worth it!

Esther Hershenhorn


Thanks to Janice Scully for her first-time hosting of Poetry Friday today 

at Salt City Verse.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Hidden Surprises

Each Teaching Author has had a wildly different take on the subject of "writing surprises." Writing is itself a surprising art. You start off with a voice or character or image...and you think you know where you are going. (I've stopped saying I know where I'm going.) Surprise! You wind up somewhere else entirely. 

Self-help books tell you must know where you are going. You must have a goal. I know some writers who make outlines and story boards and know what's going to happen before they start writing. That seems to work well for them, but it doesn't for me. One of my favorite "writerly" quotes is by E. L. Doctorow.  "Writing is like driving a car at night.  You never see further than the headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." That is me. I know what I'm writing this very minute, but not what's coming next. (I don't even know how I'm ending this post!) Writing may be a journey, but your destination can change. In fact, I've never once started writing, and ended up with the book I thought I was writing. 

Yankee Girl began life as an autobiography. That didn't last long. Who would read about a person they'd never heard of, who had done nothing remarkable...and who was a child on top of  all that? The original version started with me as a fifth grader and ended with high school graduation. An impossible time frame, with long stretches where nothing happened. Surprise! Writing about yourself is hard. I was boring myself, writing about my own life!  However, once I gave myself permission to fictionalize characters and conversations, and shrink the time line from seven years to nine months, the story arc appeared. Even then, the final chapter, which I had in mind from the very first, vanished. When I read the last chapter, it was as if someone else had written it. Wow, I thought. Where did that come from? That wasn't what I planned to say. This is kind of...better!

That's how it goes with my writing. Jimmy's Stars' original title was The Year We Didn't Take Down the Christmas Tree (catchy, huh?) and it was, of all things, a picture about a Christmas tree. Not one of my picture books had a "destination" when I began them. I wrote as much as I knew...until I hit a wall. Time to put that one away for a month...a season...a year. 99% of the time when I came back, and started writing, the end appeared without slamming my head against the wall trying to "think" of an ending. First Grade Stinks' ending took three years to appear. (Three weeks of actual writing...the rest of the time not thinking about it).

In the end, the most surprising thing about writing, is that I can do it at all. I've written my whole life so it's something I've never really thought about very much.  In fact, the one thing I tell my writing students is "Don't think too much." Just grab that voice...that image...that character...and turn on your headlights. The rest will come.


Mary Ann Rodman

Friday, October 2, 2020

Heroic Surprises of the Week!

For many posts now, I've been exploring several favorite inspirational blogs that keep my head in the game, that inspire me to keep going. 

This week I discovered a very interesting series of articles by K.M. Weiland.  Weiland has gleaned all kinds of interesting writing insights, Marvel movie by Marvel movie, in this series of blog posts that explore The Do’s and Don’ts of Storytelling According to Marvel. These posts are fun and information, and useful in writing your first draft or revising for the 99th time.
For example:
  1. Iron Man teaches writers to grab readers with multi-faceted characters.
  2. Iron Man 2 is a study in how to use secondary characters to flesh out your protagonists. 
  3. The Incredible Hulk is a study in how not to write action scenes.
  4. Thor is a study in how to attack the sagging Midpoint, in which you need to create the all important scene -- arguably the most important scene in the book -- depicting the Moment of Truth.
  5. Captain America is a study in how to integrate subtext into your dialogue!
  6. Guardians of the Galaxy is a study in how to use backstory effectively.

And so much more! Be sure to check them out. Her website seems to be a treasure trove of interesting resources.

Just a FYI: I did a similar review of Emma Coats’ rules in her post using Pixar as the mentor text.   I also explored how one might use The Doctor – yes, that Doctor – as a mentor text in how to write historical fiction .

Another inspirational post comes from Bruce Black, and his new blog post at wordswimmer. Bruce asks, “How can I keep writing, keep exploring the world with my pen? How can I keep the process going with joy, with excitement, with hope for the discoveries to come, even when the unknown--the not knowing what comes next--feels overwhelming?”

As his poem  begins, I am reminded of our current circumstance:

How can I keep writing,
keep exploring the world
with my pen?

How can I keep the process going
with joy, with excitement, with
hope for the discoveries to come,
even when the unknown--

He ends on a note of hope:

I write just to see
what wisdom,
if any,
I will find
inside myself
to inspire my pen
to keep writing.

The best of heroes give us hope. May your writing be hopeful and heroic.
--Bobbi Miller

Friday, September 25, 2020

My Latest Writing Career Surprise and a Poem from Louisa May Alcott

Happy Poetry Friday! You'll find a link to this week's roundup by Jone Rush MacCulloch at the end of this post. Today, I'm sharing an excerpt from a poem that appeared in a classic novel. The roundabout way I found the poem is tied to my topic: "Surprises Along the Way." Last week, Gwen kicked off this series by discussing several surprises in her writing journey. While I, too, have had many career surprises, I'm going to share just one—my latest. Also, at the bottom of this post, I include a link to an anniversary giveaway for Playing by Heart

Before I begin, let me announce the winner of our giveaway of Carol Grannick’s debut novel in verse, Reeni's Turn. Congratulations to:

Merysa C!

Now, for today's topic.

After years of writing everything from nonfiction articles for newspapers and magazines to novels for tweens and teens, my latest surprise is that I'm back to my first love: poetry. I mentioned my return to poetry back in this August 2019 post. Of course, I've dabbled in poetry off and on over the years. I've even had a few poems published in magazines and anthologies for kids. But I haven't been focused on poetry the way I am right now.   

In my very first TeachingAuthors post, I talked about how I began writing in sixth or seventh grade, when I started keeping a journal and writing poetry. I was published for the first time around age 16: my seven-line poem, "My Sanctuary," appeared in Crystals in the Dark: An Anthology of Creative Writing from the Chicago Public Schools. Several more of my poems were published while I was still in high school. But I eventually put poetry aside for more "serious" endeavors.

It's been probably two years now since I made the decision to rework a picture book manuscript into poetry. In that time, I've been having great fun reading, studying, and writing poetry in a variety of forms. Although the draft is nearing completion, I want to make poetry an ongoing part of my life. 😄

I mentioned above that I discovered the poem I'm excerpting from today in a roundabout way. I'd been looking for kid-friendly poetry anthologies when I saw this one on a shelf in the juvenile section of my local library: The Waldorf Book of Poetry edited by David Kennedy. 

The book includes a poem by Louisa May Alcott that appears in Chapter 16 of Little Women. I haven't read Little Women in years and didn't recall the poem at all, or even that the book contained poetry. When I read Alcott's cheerful "A Song from the Suds" in The Waldorf Book of Poetry I was especially struck by the second stanza:

Excerpt from "A Song from the Suds"
by Louisa May Alcott 
(from Little Women) 

I wish we could wash from our hearts and souls   
      The stains of the week away,   
And let water and air by their magic make   
      Ourselves as pure as they;           
Then on the earth there would be indeed   
      A glorious washing-day!

(You can read the whole poem here.) 

There's so much I'd like to wash from my heart and soul these days. The closest alternative I've found is spending time outdoors. Nature has been my greatest balm lately, and I'm grateful for the lovely fall weather we're having.

For more poetry, be sure to check out this week's Poetry Friday roundup hosted by Jone Rush MacCulloch at her new blog.  

Finally, as promised, here's a link to the book giveaway I'm hosting to celebrate the third anniversary of the release of my young-adult historical romance, Playing by Heart

Posted by Carmela

Friday, September 18, 2020

Career Surprises Along My Road to Fortune and Fame as a Children’s Book Writer

My road was more of a circular path on No Thank You Boulevard. 
But I learned a lot from my travels. (And I’m still learning.) It has been therapeutic thinking about those highways and byways that led to dead-ins for so many years. My first career surprise was the time it took to become a published author. I can be a time waster and that was part of my problem. But the main reason was learning to write well enough that a publisher wanted to take a chance on me. Thankfully, I found one after years of studying the craft and writing. I was close to the point of “I need to try another career path. I think I was truly surprised to find an editor who saw worth in my writing.
Early in my career, I met several people who warned me about sharing my ideas. Someone might steal your idea. I was always skeptical. To this day, I’ve never met anyone who was as equally fascinated with our Oklahoma prairie dogs. But I did learn that the more I talked about an idea, the less interesting it became.
There is one exception to the above comments. I have found the most supportive authors in my critique group. Over the years, we have learned each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I always feel comfortable sharing my writing with them. I know I will have a stronger manuscript by the time I leave.

  All of the above have molded me into a much better writer than I ever thought I could me. But I was still super surprised when my Tiny Stitches – The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas won two awards: SCBWI CRYSTAL KITE and the NAACP IMAGE AWARD. They are my career surprises and my cheerleaders.

Friday, September 11, 2020


 As I wrote in my very first TeachingAuthors Thanku, I consider my students and writers “my storied treasures.”

Lucky me!

And now lucky you, because today I’m sharing one of those treasures - the author/poet/chronicler Carol Coven Grannickand – gifting you with the chance to win a copy of her novel in verse REENI’S TURN (Fitzroy Books) which officially debuts this Sunday! In fact, you can attend her Sunday, 1 pm CST Book Launch at the Book Stall in Winnetka, Illinois simply by clicking here.

Full disclosure: Carol and I are a Mutual Admiration Society. We share a bevy of descriptive labels: Chicagoans, SCBWI-Illinois kin, children’s book creators, VERY long-time Writer’s Journey travelers, learning partners, and best of all, friends.
So you can imagine just how far my Teacher/Writing Coach buttons are poppin’ ….now that young readers will have the chance to hold REENI’S TURN in their hands and hearts.
Finally, it’s Carol’s turn! Some of you may already know Carol from her well-read chronicles of the writer’s life – published in SCBWI-Illinois’ newsletter The Prairie Wind and posted on popular blogs such as Cynsations and the Nerdy Book Club.

By underscoring the importance of resilience and learned optimism, Carol has kept scores of children’s book writers keepin’ on.

Carol’s eleven-year-old Reeni will do the same.

She’s a young dancer.  But she’s struggling with lifelong shyness, anxiety and a newly-developing and expanding body that doesn’t match the ballerina posters on her bedroom wall.  Ultimately Reeni must choose between coming to terms with her natural limitations or taking a chance on becoming the girl of her dreams. The story addresses universal themes of emotional resilience, body acceptance, and the search for courage.

Early readers lauded the “deeply-moving verse” and the connection readers will make with Reeni’s struggle.

Carol’s poetry and fiction for young readers has appeared and/or is forthcoming in Hello, Babybug, Highlights, Ladybug, Cricket, and Hunger Mountain. Her work for adults has appeared in Otherwise Engaged, A Moment of Your Time, Red Coyote, The Write City Magazine, West Texas Literary Review, 2018 Mizmor Anthology, The Lake, Broad! and other venues.

Thank you, Carol, for sharing REENI’S TURN, your Journey, your Spirit and this long-awaited singular Moment with our TeachingAuthors readers.

            My teacher’s heart kvells*
            like any Jewish mother’s
            Such storied treasures.


 As always, I’m cheering you on!

Oh, and thanks to Kiesha Shepard at Whispers From the Ridge for hosting today’s Poetry Friday.

Happy Reading!

Esther Hershenhorn


Remember, Readers: you can win a copy of Carol’s REENI’S TURN just by entering our Book Giveaway at the end of Carol’s interview.

. . . . . . .

Here you are, finally, after years on task, readying for your official launch this Sunday of your first published children’s book, the middle grade novel in verse REENI’S TURN. Just how gratifying is this long-awaited moment? How much better is it than those you likely creatively visualized to keep you moving forward on your Writer’s Journey?

First, thank you, Esther, for this opportunity to visit Teaching Authors. I am a regular follower who constantly learns from the TA posts, and I’m honored to be here. To your question: I’m pretty certain I never visualized this moment, or these days leading up to the launch!

What lit my way was the process of discovery of Reeni’s character and of how the story would unfold. For me, that happened through writing, rewriting, revising, and re-visioning, then putting the manuscript away for a while before trying again. I didn’t know whether REENI’S TURN would ever find a publisher, and after a while, didn’t think about it unless it seemed a draft was ready for submission. My passion for this story fueled my work over the years, even when “forward” felt “backward”.

But now, and in the context of all the important issues we face in our current world, it feels like a virtual celebration will be the perfect thing for welcoming REENI’S TURN into the world. My biggest dream was always to have the story enable conversations with children and their adults, and now that’s possible. I feel a huge amount of gratitude to family, friends, and colleagues who cheered me on over the years with kind words, critique, crucial pieces of middle grade information, and above-and-beyond multiple draft readings and feedback. 

REENI’S TURN takes on the issue of body image and the underrepresented frequency in middle grade literature of dieting among young tweens. What are your hopes for this novel in the dialogues it will create – for both the reader and our world?

 Most of us want to live in a world in which we are valued and for our character rather than our shape or size, skin color, religion, ethnicity, and more. I believe size and weight stigma, non-stereotyped chubby and fat characters, and the diet culture’s impact on young children, beg for inclusion in diverse middle grade literature. 

I’d love for REENI’S TURN to open meaningful conversations about the story and the issues it raises—specific to the story as well as unique to each tween’s life. How does the pressure to be “thin” and “trim” cause us to question our value? What about Reeni’s great strength for self-reflection? Is introspection helpful, or harmful? Is an introspective journey just as powerful as an external one when we search for self-acceptance, the ability to speak up, the leaps we take to discover courage? How do we become the person we want to be if that involves facing down fears that have always stopped us in the past? How does it feel to need the safety of your family and other loving adults, and still need to be independent, finding solutions to your own problems even if you make mistakes along the way?

I love that my shy and fearful Reeni, propelled by her own strengths, knowing she has a safety net of support, decides to take a big leap into the unknown and try, at least once, to make a significant change in her life, and maybe in the world as well.

I hope that we see that we all have that capacity.

 I happen to know: (1) you explored both prose and poetry as story-telling choices when writing REENI’S TURN and (2) while growing and crafting REENI’S TURN, you were privy to a whole host of voices, each recommending a different way to go.  How did you come to choose the novel in verse as the best format for Reeni to share her story of self-discovery? How were you able to find your way?

 My first draft was prose, probably because it felt like a natural extension of the seed story, “The Inside Ballerina”, my first children’s story published in Cricket in 2001. But when I began the post-critique revision, rhythms and words danced around in my brain. I wrote them down, and this changed and intensified the voice of the story. I felt the difference, even though the verse and the story itself were nowhere near finished.

After a few drafts, a professional critique with a respected editor guided me in creating a middle grade story and challenged the authenticity of the verse, suggesting I revise in poetic prose. I tried. It was difficult and unpleasant, and felt like it came from a different part of my brain. I didn’t mind difficult, not at all. But the prose seemed to be fighting with the rhythms, the line breaks, the white space in my head. But I also respected that I didn’t quite know what I was doing, and I don’t regret the attempt to return it to prose.

The next summer I attended a workshop with another respected mentor. Before my ten-page critique began, she asked, “Is there some reason you didn’t write this in verse?” That workshop was a turning point in my commitment to verse, and the hard work to make each verse—which are 95% of the book—authentic. I did have a couple of more prose requests from agents who felt that “verse novels are a hard sell”, but prose no longer matched my vision for the book.

As the years and revisions went on, there were many voices, as you put it, wanting not prose instead of verse, but content in and then the same content out. During that time of adding, subtracting, reorganizing, and streamlining, REENI’S TURN won a Finalist placement from the Katherine Paterson Award and Honorable Mention in the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Competition. By early 2019, I had revised the book to where I wanted it to be, and had several full manuscript requests with agents when Publisher Jaynie Royal of Regal House said she loved REENI’S TURN, and offered me a contract with her PAL-listed middle grade imprint, Fitzroy Books. I accepted, revised in a way that felt good to both of us, and found out what life was like without revising REENI’S TURN.

I believe verse works best for Reeni’s story because small doses of big, intense issues in lyrical language create greater accessibility to the story itself and to the specifics of  Reeni’s journey. The rhythms change with dance, her voices, her interactions with friends and family, and more. White space allows breathing and respite time to think, feel, and heal between “scenes”.

But ultimately, I stayed with verse and worked to make it shine because I had come to trust myself as a writer and a woman with a story to tell. I didn’t want to ignore the rhythms and sounds and beats that accompanied the language in my brain.

And just as my character learns to trust and listen to her “still, small voice”, I listened to mine.

Your website showcases your writer’s diversity: you are an Author, a Poet and a Chronicler. How do you balance your writing day/life, and as important, how has each separate focus helped you grow as a writer?

 I do love different formats and genres. REENI’S TURN (MG) is so close to my heart, and was a long-lived passion and mission. My poetry for very young children is a joy-generator—I love their voices! My lyrical picture books, vastly different in their subjects and tone, are now with agent Joyce Sweeney at The Seymour Agency. I’ve written occasional short middle grade fiction—maybe I’ll write more. And as a “chronicler”, I’ve long written regular columns, blog posts, and lots of guest posts and articles exploring the inner, emotional life of the writer (mine, and others’), and I continue to enjoy that.

With all that, I must submerge myself in one writing project at a time. I often write a poem first thing in the morning (especially since COVID), but then I’ll focus on a new work, or a revision, or my column, or it might be a “business” day, especially in these last months spent focusing on the pre-launch, during which I’ll do a lot of emails, send out ARCs, order postcards, business cards, posters. I am best in the mornings, beginning at 5, but I won’t ignore empty paper and pen if something pops into my brain later in the day!

I love variety, and I love delving deeply into one thing at a time.

YAY! and HURRAY! Now it’s Carol Coven Grannick’s turn! What can your readers – of your books, your poetry, your articles and posts, look forward to enjoying down the road?                                                

I wish I knew! In terms of my columns, I’ll continue to detail my journey and the journeys of other writers I interview. I have a lot of guest posts coming out—including one at Sylvia Vardell’s site last Poetry Friday that goes more into depth about why I wrote REENI’S TURN in verse. I believe it’s important for us to share our true journeys. I hear from readers that it helps, and that makes me happy. In terms of fiction and poetry, my agent is subbing a picture book right now, with a number of others ready to go; I’m finishing an adult poetry chapbook; I’m creating a collection of early childhood poetry; and I continue to draft new picture books, the latest based on something I’m watching unfold on my balcony, even as I write this answer. 

But I love surprises, so I’m ready for anything!



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 September 21, 2020 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.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Take My Picture Book Class From Your Front Porch!

Howdy Campers!  

My fabulous 2019 class with some of their favorite picture books
helps me celebrate my 20th year teaching in UCLA Extension Writers' Program

My 10-week Beginning Picture Book class begins Wednesday, 9/30/20 to 12/9/20 from 3-6pm PST. I'd love to see you in one of those friendly squares. If you're interested, sign up SOON, enrollment's limited. More info at the very bottom of this post.

Welcome to another...

I've been feeling breathless about teaching virtually (see Margaret's wonderful One Word poem on this topic) and yesterday my generous UCLA Extension Writers' Program colleague, Adam McOmber, who also teaches in the Vermont College of Fine Arts, administered virtual oxygen to me. As so many of you know, the amount of stuff to learn can be freaking overwhelming. But with Adam's help (and the help of my wonderful Program Rep, Ashley Griggs) I'm finally getting it.

Deep breath.

Today's WWW comes from an exercise Adam uses in his novel writing class, which is also a great prompt for picture writers and for poets, with a little tweaking.
photo of Adam McOmber by Ryan Bakerink

He gives each student one chapter of a book. After they've read it, he asks: what are three inspirations you got from this book?

For picture writers:

1) Read a picture book.

2) Write down three things in this book that might inspire a new picture book or inspire you to rewrite an existing manuscript in a completely different way.


For poets:

1) Read a poem.

2) Write down three things the poet does that might inspire a new poem or inspire you to rewrite an existing poem.

Try this!  And please let me know how it goes. I really want to know. 

Writing the Children's Picture Book

photo of April Halprin Wayland (and Steve, the guy who took her on her first date) by Sonya Sones

when? 10 Wednesdays, 3pm to 6pm PST, 9/30 to 12/9 (no meeting 11/11)

where? Anywhere!

Designed for beginning picture book writers, this fun, fast-paced course surveys the genre's breathtaking possibilities, exploring its art, craft, and publishing practices (what are editors looking for?). You'll compare a wide variety of picture book structures, characters, and themes, and learn how to use voice, poetic and muscular language, point-of-view, repetition, and more. Through a balance of lecture, writing assignments, feedback, and the 10 books you read each week, you'll gain a clear sense of your own writing strengths, the ability to give and receive valuable critiques, and knowledge of the submission process--all in a nurturing community of writers.
April Halprin Wayland is the author of seven picture books, including More Than Enough: A Passover Story (Dial), It’s Not My Turn to Look for Grandma! (Knopf), and New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story(Dial), named Best Jewish Picture Book and winner of the Sydney Taylor Gold Book Award. Ms. Wayland won the Myra Cohn Livingston Award for Girl Coming In for a Landing: A Novel in Poems and has won seven poetry awards from the SCBWI. She is a recipient of the UCLA Extension Outstanding Instructor Award in Creative Writing.
Our Students Say it Best!
“Not only is April some kind of genius of rhyme and language, but she is a fabulous instructor—clear, endlessly inventive, and no-nonsense. I have learned more than I thought possible and had a great time doing it."

"Every class the three hours flew by.”

"She presented a great combination of whimsy, encouragement and discipline that I thought was the perfect tone for beginners like me."

37609: Picture Book I WRITING-X 441.1; 3 Credits; Writers' Program: (310)
                                   Enrollment limited.

posted by April Halprin Wayland, with the help of Eli and Monkey ~