Today, I kick off a new series of posts in which we TeachingAuthors share some of our favorite things about teaching. I love teaching! As a girl, I dreamed of growing up to be either a teacher or a writer, so I'm thrilled to be doing both. I could share a long list of the aspects of teaching that I enjoy, but in the interest of time, I'll limit it to two:
1) Learning alongside my studentsI love learning, too. Teaching allows me to and expand my own learning. Even when I teach the same course I've taught before, I still manage to learn something new. In part, it's because I'm always looking for ways to make my classes better and more interesting. But it's also because I learn from my students, about the writing process as well as the craft of writing. Last fall, I blogged about Two Things My Students Have Taught Me, but there are many more.
2) Watching my students grow and succeed as writersI love nurturing other writers. I believe we each have our own stories to tell and I enjoy helping writers find the voice to tell those stories. I have the privilege of teaching all sorts of writers, from nine-year-olds in my summer writing camps to retired adults in my Adult Continuing Education classes. Unfortunately, I don't have any photos to share from my writing camps, but here's one from a writing workshop I taught as part of a school visit:
Students come to me with a variety of goals, whether it's simply to have fun, to get better at the writing craft, or to see their work published. I'm thrilled to facilitate the process of meeting those goals and celebrate with them when they do. One of the great things about having this blog, is that I can share some of those Student Success Stories with you, our blog readers. So far, we TeachingAuthors have shared twenty of our Student Success Stories here. I look forward to reading and sharing many more.
Speaking of teaching, I'm offering my Adult Continuing Education class in Writing for Children and Teens again this Spring at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, IL, Wednesdays, 7—9 p.m., April 18-May 23, 2018. See my website for details.
I'm looking forward to reading my fellow TeachingAuthors' posts about what they love about teaching writing. I hope some of you, our readers, will share what you enjoy, too, whether you teach writing in a traditional classroom, on school visits, or elsewhere.
Don't forget to visit this week's Poetry Friday roundup at Check It Out. And remember to always Write with Joy! Carmela
I don’t get the chance to read aloud to students very often. But for a few years running I participated in a program that was part of the Arkansas Literary Festival where students from rural areas were bused into Little Rock for a read aloud the event at the Governor’s Mansion.
Readers had a set amount of time to read to their groups, then the group moved on to another reader. It didn’t matter much which book I read to them. Since my own books are too long to read in their entirety, sometimes I’d show them photos from the book and read the captions. Then I’d move on to read nonfiction picture books to them.
Like in any group of students, some were engrossed in each book and hung on every word and others were squirming around. But I hope in those few moments each of them captured a sweet memory of reading books on a beautiful spring day.
(Ignore the above byline. This post is by Mary Ann Rodman.)
No one ever read to me until was in the Third Grade. Since I taught myself to read well before kindergarten, my parents thought reading to me was a waste of their time. I’m sure they thought they were strengthening my skills.
Apparently that was a popular philosophy in early childhood education at the time. I do not remember a single teacher in grades K-2 having a “story time.” However the students were encouraged to read their favorite books to the class, which could be pretty excruciating. I dislike Winnie the Pooh to this day because of Margaret in second grade who read ALL the Winnie books to us. Badly.
How wonderful it was when my third-grade teacher, Mrs. O’Neill, announced that first day, “I like to read a little every day after lunch. Settles the stomach, you know?” Mrs. O’Neill read us ALL the Mary Poppins books. She made Mary P come to life exactly the way I imagined P.L. Travers saw her. (Two years later, when I saw Julie Andrews dripping sweetness and light on the screen, all I could think was “This isn’t the way Mrs. O’Neill made her sound.”
I know there were other books that year, to “settle our stomachs after lunch,” but the one I remember best was A Dog on Barkham Street by Mary Stolz. There were an awful lot of nine-year-old boys who suddenly had “something in my eye” during the last pages. I was thrilled to learn on my next library trip there was a companion novel, The Bully of Barkham Street; the same story told from the POV of the first book’s antagonist. That was the first time that the saying “there are two sides to every story” made sense to me.
Fifth grade we moved to Mississippi. Miss Parnell seemed to be at least a hundred years old, and taught in the same school her entire career. She most definitely believed in LONG reading breaks after lunch. I had to listen closely to decipher her thicker-than-sorghum accent. I’d check out whatever book she was currently reading at the public library so I could follow along. (A true Mississippi accent has a way of turning one-syllable words into three or four syllables.) I wasn’t terribly enamored with her book choices, which I suspect had never changed the whole time she taught.
However, Miss Parnell had a writer friend name Miss Welty who had lived on her street for years and years. Miss Welty gave Miss Parnell a copy of her new (and only children’s book) The Shoe Bird. I often nodded off in those warm afternoons in my un-air-conditioned classroom. As for Miss Welty’s book, I couldn’t make head nor tail of it. It was about a parrot who lived in a shoe store, and somehow birds from all over showed up for a free pair of shoes. Even then I wasn’t a fan of “talking critter” books.
Fast forward a few years and I realized that “Miss Welty” was Eudora Welty who eventually won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book award. The Shoe Bird had only one printing. I believe Miss Parnell donated the book to the school library. Those first (and only) original editions must be worth a fortune. In fact-checking this post, I discovered that Welty wrote the book to fulfill a contractual obligation and because she “needed a new roof on house.” Such are the inspirations of a writer. (It also got pretty bad reviews, proving that a master of the American short story can sometimes hit a clunker.)
What are my own favorite read-alouds? For the picture book crowd, my go-to is Bootsie Barker Bites by Barbara Bottner (say THAT fast three times!) The old drama major in me tends to act stories, rather than simply read them. This is a two character story, the bratty bully Bootsie who terrorizes the nameless main character. The two girls are forever having “forced play dates” because their mothers are friends. I have a different voice for each girl. I love doing Bootsie, who sometimes pretends she has brought her pet dinosaur, Charlene with her. Of course, Charlene threatens to eat our main character. Love doing Charlene’s roar!
For the elementary ages, the age at which I most appreciated being read to, I like One Good Thing About America by Ruth Freeman. It’s an immigrant tale, told through the letters a little girl, Anais, writes to her grandmother who still lives in her village in an unnamed French-speaking African country. I can just hear Anais’ voice trying to explain the strange and sometimes troubling aspects of her new home in Boston.
And for the middle-schoolers, for whom a book can never be too gross or disgusting, I would share Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them by Jennifer Wright. The title of this non-fiction pretty well sums up the book except for one thing; it’s funny! Wright knows she’s treading in some dangerous territory. She takes the “Euww Factor” way down with her tongue-in-cheek descriptions of ancient remedies and “scientific” thought. I’ve had the flu for two weeks, and this was the only thing that made me laugh.
Well, there you have it folks . . . my personal history of reading aloud. Bon appétit!
I thought you might be interesting in a few treasures I found this week.
One of my favorite sites, A Mighty Girl “… embraces the value of reading aloud for all of its practical merits, but just as importantly for introducing high-quality Mighty Girl literature into the lives of children everywhere. With that in mind, we've expanded our Read Aloud Collection to include 212 high-quality books all starring smart, confident, and courageous Mighty Girl characters. The featured stories are perfect for reading aloud with older elementary-aged children or as independent reading for kids." To browse their special feature on “212 Read Aloud Books Starring Mighty Girls,” visit here. No doubt you will see a few familiar titles, including my own Big River’s Daughter!
For younger children, you’ll discover hundreds of girl-empowering picture books in their "Picture Book Collection" here.
More helpful read aloud lists include these treasures:
Read Aloud Revival is “… a community of parents just like you who know that when our kids are grown and gone, they won’t likely mind that their childhood included dishes piled in the sink, that we never ever reached the bottom of the laundry basket.”
Nourishing My Scholar offers another intriguing list. The site is managed by homeschooling manager Erica, and “…is filled with information to help you explore a child led education while making meaningful connections with your children.”
Sarah Anderson is a high school English teacher, offering a special list for the older reader at YA Love. Says Mrs. Anderson, “My students loved it and often asked me to read “just one more chapter.” Since then I’m much more comfortable reading books where characters swear, but I make sure to choose books that aren’t over the top in that category. It sometimes shocks my students to hear me read those parts, but we have a conversation about why that language is in the book and how we won’t be using that language in class.”
A.J. O’Connell at Book Riot offers ten reasons why reading aloud can be a fun a winter tradition, stating, “Children’s books are important, of course, but we’ve found that reading a book the whole family likes meets needs we didn’t realize we had.”
Reading aloud is a transforming power. Says Pam Allyn,
“Literacy is an act of power and freedom. It is why slaves in our wrenching and painful U.S. history were forbidden to learn to read and write, and why young girls living in repressive societies today are kept out of the classroom. When children realize the power of narrative, they begin to dismantle patriarchy, racism, and oppression. In a true democratic society, every child has these tools of literacy to both absorb the stories of the world and to tell his or her own.”
This is going to be a quick post, as my To Do list is sky high (raise your hand if you can relate), so here's me with the book I'm currently reading aloud to my dog Eli, in my favorite flannels:
photo by Gary Wayland
If you can't read the title, it's our very own Carmela Martino's marvelous historical novel, Playing By Heart. Her sumptuous descriptions of life in 18th century Milan have me right there, in teen composer Emilia Salvini's music room.
Eli and I agree: her book's delicious!
I searched and searched my poem files for poems about reading aloud. I tried to write one, too, about a mama mountain lion reading aloud to her cubs. But it was too syrupy sweet and I don't think I want it wandering around as internet corn...I know you understand. So here's one I wrote for an anthology in 2009 that hasn't come out yet (if it ever does):
BOOKTIME by April Halprin Wayland
I stand on our couch closing windows, pulling down shades, shutting out shouting streets.
Wheels, squeals and dust driven past disappear. Those constant distant drums outside are gone.
Inside I sit close to Mom. I lay my head against her. Listen to her heart Listen to the words.
Listen to the whisper of each turned page.
poem (c) 2018 April Halprin Wayland all rights reserved.
(If you'd like another poem on listening, here's one I wrote for World Read Aloud Day in 2016--this one is about not listening to your inner critic as you write--click here).
Lots of love to Friday Poets, all!
Thank you, Donna, at MainelyWrite for hosting Poetry Friday!
posted by April Halprin Wayland, Eli, the eight or nine 10-cent goldfish (all grown-up), and the five red-eared slider turtles in her pond, all very fine listeners.
I'm kicking off a new series in honor of World Read Aloud Day (WRAD), which will be celebrated next Thursday, February 1. (Can you believe it's almost February?) If you'd like to see ideas for how to celebrate at home or in the classroom, check out the official World Read Aloud Day website.
Before I go on, I want to thank all of you who participated in our giveaway of the 2018 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market (CWIM). We appreciate your sharing your writing challenges and goals with us and we wish you the best in accomplishing them! Congratulations to our giveaway winner, Danielle H.
For today's post, I'm sharing a photo of me reading aloud. The following was taken at my first book signing for Rosa, Sola, atAnderson's Bookshop, back in 2005.
I always enjoy hearing authors read from their own work, and I had plenty of opportunity to do so at the Vermont College residencies. In addition to readings by our excellent faculty, I was privileged to hear readings by such renowned authors as Richard Peck, Katherine Paterson, Karen Hesse, and Ashley Bryan.
But long before I had a published book, I read aloud regularly to my son. One of my favorite memories is of him, as a two-year-old, sitting on the couch "reading aloud" an alphabet book. I'd read the book to him so many times that he'd memorized it, right down to the page-turns. As it says in this list of 7 Important Benefits of Reading Aloud, it's not only children who benefit when adults read aloud--adults do, too!
I hope you'll take time to celebrate #WorldReadAloudDay on Thursday. If you don't have anyone to read aloud to, you might consider celebrating as a listener at Poetry Out Loud.
In the meantime, don't forget to check out this week's Poetry Friday round up at Beyond LiteracyLink.
I owe buckets of thanks to award-winning children’s book author and my friend Ruth Vander Zee for contributing today’s hands-on WWW: "Connecting with Your Character Emotionally." Ruth’s hands-on exercise will help you probe your heart so your character’s story resounds in readers’ hearts.
Ruth’s newest book, NEXT YEAR (Creative Editions, 2017) is the story of one young boy who finds a way to endure the next four years of dust storms and drought following the April 14, 1935 dust storm known as “Black Sunday.” Like the characters whose stories Ruth tells in her other works - ERIKA’S STORY, ELI REMEMBERS, ALWAYS WITH YOU and MISSISSIPPI MORNING, Calvin and his family face their tragedy while clinging to hope and acting courageously. Throughout the book, Ruth’s lyrical text is paired with the gorgeous artwork of Gary Kelley, giving readers a moving and memorable reading experience.
A resident now of Coconut Grove, Florida, Ruth believes her love of stories was kindled at the kitchen table of her childhood home on the south side of Chicago. Her father told stories and had the ability to make each day’s activities sound like an ongoing novella. She considers herself a Late Bloomer, deciding to earn a college degree in education at the age of 40, then later to write stories for children. Those two decisions proved life-changing, not only for Ruth, but for legions of young readers, the fellow children’s book writers with whom she generously shares her expertise and experience and all who come to know her.
In today’s WWW below, Ruth shares how she delved into the characters in her stories in ways she would have never dared.
Thank you, Ruth, for gifting us with an exercise to get both us and our readers feeling.
P.S. Hours are running out to enter our Giveaway for the 2018 Children’s Writers and Illustrator’s Market! Click here to enter if you haven't already.
. . . . . .
CONNECTING WITH YOUR CHARACTER EMOTIONALLY
When I was writing my first book, I received this critique: “You are writing an amazing story, but I don’t feel anything.” That was the worst and best critique EVER. It got me delving into the characters in my stories in ways I would never have dared.
I had a habit of holding my characters off a bit. It’s safer that way. Because, truth be told, finding the hearts of my characters meant finding myself in those characters. And that brought me to places I had legitimately forgotten, chose to forget, avoided, and dismissed as unimportant. However, when I dug up that stuff, my characters became alive. I probably saved myself a lot of counselling fees.
For instance, when I was writing Erika’s Story, the protagonist told me that “a woman picked me up and cared for me.” If you know the story, this child was thrown from a train. The woman she mentioned took her home, cared for her and raised her to adulthood. But for her to dismiss her by calling her “a woman” gave me pause.
To write that one paragraph, I began the exercise I am sharing today. I have done this same process with every character I have written. Picture book writers have very few words to convey a lot. Every word has to count, drive the story forward, and deliver the emotional connection which makes a story great.
I give myself at least a half hour.
Go to a quiet place with a pen and piece of paper.
Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and sit quietly for a moment.
Then begin using your five senses.
Go the place you are trying to discover. In the case of my “woman,” I went to my grandmother. She was my mother’s stepmother. She always did the right thing for my mother but my mother had a deep longing to know the love of her real mother. There were many reasons for that.
So I went to my grandmother’s living room where we often sat when visiting.
I started with what I could see.
With eyes closed, I looked around the room, stood in the middle of the room and turned around several times taking everything in, from the horsehair sofa to the peppermint dish, to the people in the room, wallpaper on the walls…everything. I took a long time doing this. Turned this way and that and made sure I didn’t miss anything.
Then I went to the smells…dirty diaper on one baby, latent cigar on my grandfather.
The tastes in the room…the peppermints, the cookies my grandmother always baked.
The touch…the hot tea pot, the feel of the covering on the sofa if I ran my hand one way or the other, the silky hair of my cousin.
The sounds…chattering children, the conversations of a lot of people all happening at one time, my grandfather’s teeth clattering in his mouth.
This can take at least a half hour.
When you feel you have taken everything in, open your eyes and immediately write down, with no restrictions, what you have just experienced through your senses.
Write fast and fill your paper. When you have put all those memories on paper, go through what you have written and cross out any words which are unimportant. Leave all important verbs, nouns and adjectives.
Then take those words and write them in a list.
What you are left with is a distillation of a memory you may have never thought of or one that lingers in your heart every day.
You have essentially written a poem of that event.
What I discovered that day…my grandmother was not in my memory. I’m sure she was there but I could not place her anywhere in my memory. Her peppermints were there. Her cookies were there. I’m sure she brewed the tea. But she was not there.
That experience informed how I wrote the one paragraph about the woman who picked up Erika. I sensed her doing right by a girl she did not necessarily love but to whom she gave a lot of care. Her resoluteness in continuing the care. How that care could be misinterpreted as nice but not filling an emotional void. There are many layers in that one paragraph and all need to be said with the greatest economy of words while still delivering an emotional connection to anyone who has experienced something similar.
You are not writing what you lived through but what you lived through is informing your writing. It gives authenticity and honesty to your writing.
This also works particularly well if you are needing to write authentically about a feeling. For instance, if you remember a time you felt sad and go to the place you felt sad and walk through your five senses, you will have layers of information with which to write.
Challenges. I believe being a writer is a huge challenge in every way.
Most writers believe in the beginning that if only they could get published, everything would be different. There would be no more rejection letters and it would be easier to get published after the first one. As if a (small) paycheck for their words would magically open every door.
But that isn’t true. It doesn’t get easier once you are a published writer. Rejection is still part of life for an author. Books are still hard to write, and it is still hard to get the next book published. Editors and publishing houses like to say “we publish authors” but that doesn’t hold true. They publish their author’s next book if the sales numbers of the first one are decent and they want the next one. But if they don’t like the author’s next manuscript or for some reason don’t want it-they will reject the manuscript.
But that isn’t even the biggest obstacle. For me, the monster that challenges me most often is the fact that I cannot make a living writing books. I work full time writing books for an embarrassingly low amount of money. I put time and energy and passion and sweat and tears into writing a book. Yet, I could make more money working at McDonalds. Each year I think, maybe I should just give it up and get a job with an actual paycheck.
So I often face off against this monster. And every time I do, I feel the pull to write about powerful true stories. Every time I think about walking away from it, I come back to the same conclusion. I believe this is what I was meant to do. These are the books I was meant to write. So I keep writing the books I must write.
Carla Killough McClafferty
Click here to learn how to enter to win the CWIM book giveaway.
(Carmela here--I'm posting this for Mary Ann because she's having computer issues. So if you're reading online, ignore the above byline. )
There's a Nightmare in my Closet is a terrific picture book by Mercer Meyer. I first read it in library school and connected with the little boy and the monster who lived in his closet immediately (even though I was 22 at the time.) As a kid, I had to make sure my closet door was shutshutshut, before I could even think of getting into bed, let alone sleep.
Reading Bobbi’s post, “Shadows on the Wall” hit a lot of my own sensitive spots. Unsurprising since we both write historical fiction (a notoriously “tough sell” in the currents market) and don’t have agents. Actually, I’ve never had an agent, something that has always made me feel there is something wrong with me, no matter how many books I’ve sold without one.
But those aren’t the monsters in my closet (at least this week.) There is literally a MONSTER in my closet.
A monster of a book. And I’m afraid of it.
This book has been germinating (festering?) for over 10 years, if you subtract the years I was dealing with so much family drama that writing this blog every couple of weeks was all I could manage. Well, the drama has subsided, and that novel is still there. All 300 plus disjointed pages of it.
Why would a book scare me? Especially since those are my words and my characters?
For one thing, over time (and with a lot of research) this novel has grown (and grown) from a straightforward, single character POV, third person in prose, to a three character, first person POV…in verse. I wasn’t trying to be cool or innovative in choosing to write this way. As I wrote, I realized that there was no way this particular story could be told through a single character’s eyes. I found that the story was too heavy written in prose. It worked much better in short free verse scenes. I’ve never written in verse. I’ve never written in multiple POV. One thing I was doing during “the drama years” when I wasn’t writing, was reading every multiple POV verse novel I could find. (So the time wasn’t entirely wasted.)
Why else does this particular book intimidate me? It was weighted with a lot of emotional baggage. My story “seeds” almost always come from my own family and family history. Yankee Girl was about my own childhood, Jimmy’s Stars from my mother’s family. This WIP is from my father’s family. He knew I was writing it (as does every living member of the Rodman family). I had so hoped to finish it before he passed away this last September, on his 95th birthday. He helped with so much of the research, as did my Rodman cousins.
I am afraid this book will be 300 pages of nothing-in-particular (yes, I DO know what the book is about and could give you the 25 second elevator pitch). Years ago, an agent who read the synopsis and first ten pages said, “You write very well, but I can’t imagine WHO would want to read THIS,” handing me the manuscript, dangling it between two fingers, as if it were contaminated.
In the time I’ve been working (or not) on this novel, I have written and sold four picture books, so it’s not like I have writer’s block. I have This Particular Book Block. I am afraid. I’m afraid I won’t do justice to the story, a story that I fervently believe in. Maybe too fervently? Too emotionally involved?
I don’t have much hope in publishing this book. I have been told I am a “literary” writer to the point that I should have a t-shirt that reads, “Literary Writer, will work for food.” (Literary writer is editorspeak for “Good reviews, no sales.”) Deep down, I hate the thought of self-publishing a story that I’ve wanted to tell my whole life, just so my friends and relatives can read what I’ve been doing for ten years. (Not casting shade on self-publishing, but that takes skills I don’t possess, to say nothing of my own money.)
So there you have it. My scary book-in-the-closet. The book that is keeping me from writing anything else. I can’t go any further as a writer until I fling open the closet door, and drag the monster into daylight. Do what needs to be done to it. Send it out into the world to fend for itself.
And maybe…just maybe, like the monster in Mercer Meyer’s There's a Nightmare in my Closet, it will turn out to be a meek creature, as scared of me as I am of it.
by Mary Ann Rodman
P.S. If you haven't entered our giveaway for a chance to win the 2018 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market(CWIM), there's still time! See this post for details.
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