Saturday, July 31, 2010

Stanley’s Stage Premiere



Stanley, the canine star of Linda Bailey’s picture book series, made his way to the stage during a monthlong run of Stanley’s Party at Manhattan Children’s Theatre in New York City. The musical is based on the first two books in the series from Kids Can Press, Stanley’s Party (2003) and Stanley’s Wild Ride (2006), both illustrated by Bill Slavin.
 

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Newbery Author's New Book



For those of you who read the Newbery Award winning book last year, The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, then you might like to see his new book. It is a collection of poems that are quite creative. One of the poem examples can be found at this site:

http://www.endicott-studio.com/cofhs/cofinstr.html

As I looked back over his body of work, he has a dark streak. In his own words,

"Despite all that, Gaiman, 49, said he's "not a horror aficionado."
"I'm probably more like a cook who uses horror as a herb or as a condiment. I love tossing in something that will send a little frisson of something or other up someone's spine. But I don't want to live there a year writing a book."
While "The Graveyard Book" is set in a cemetery, where an orphaned boy is raised by ghosts after his family is murdered, Gaiman said it's really a book about life and leaving home. His latest book "Instructions," is a poem about how to survive a fairy tale.



Monday, July 26, 2010

Author Update on MPFlory

I asked my husband for feedback and this blog and while he had many positives, he thought I should be saying more about my writing. So, here's an update on my latest dream in the works: to be an author.

Any day now I should be receiving in the mail the Arizona Reading Journal which has an article by me about the founder of Sesame Street, Joan Ganz Cooney. The article will be archived in ERIC, the college search engine and also submitted to the archives of the International Reading Association. If you were my student, you may have already read this with me in class (you were my guinea pigs :) ). I also have submitted a picture book and am awaiting rejection or acceptance and working on two other stories right now. A historical short story and also another picture book. I have an idea for a series and an idea for another picture book but no words on the page yet.

Like something I heard David Shannon say, "I'm writing something but I don't know what it is and I don't know what it's about!"

Books for Young Readers Conference-Part VI

The final author I'll be highlighting from my conference was Patricia MacLachlan. Hopefully you haven't been too bored with my copious notes. I wasn't sure what to expect from Patricia since she has been published since 1985. She wrote many notable books and is quite well known by name, although I didn't know many details about her. She can be described with one simple word: funny.

Some background on her: she wrote 5 books in the Sarah Plain and Tall series. The first won the newberry, as you might know. She also wrote 3 screenplays for the Hallmark movies about her books which was nominated for an Emmy. She is good friends with Glenn Close, who played Sarah in the movie and also was very excited to work with Christopher Walkin who she felt really made the character real. She said he stayed in character on the set, and that both actors were very talented.

She began her speech by following after Kadir Nelson and said that just last week at a conference, she had to follow after David Weisner (another awesome illustrator). "I always seem to follow illustrator...those show off's!" Kadir had felt that writers were better and Patricia argued that illustrators are much more interesting to watch speak because they have pictures. "We only have 26 letters of the alphabet. That's all we have!"

The theme of her speech was "Truth or Untruth" because many of her fiction books have an element of truth to them. She is very good friends with Natalie Babbitt, who wrote Tuck Everlasting and The Search for Delicious.

Natalie told her that she's working on her final book.

Patricia told her she's been saying that "for 30 years!"

Natalie replied, "I wrote all my good things in the 70's."

She called her just the other day and always says on the phone, "Hi Nat, it's Pat." She asked what she was doing. Natalie answered, "I'm throwing a story up against the wall to see if it sticks." Don't you just love that phrase!

Patricia Maclachlan is known for not always saying the most honest things. It is definitely part of her sense of humor. She likes to follow the advice of Emily Dickinson, "Tell the truth, but tell it slant."

She joked that her family is as silly as she is. Her husband, who is her "First loving and loyal reader," is a psychologist and her children are grown now. When her daughter was younger and she would tell her things, she would reply, "Wait, Wait, Go get Dad. I want to hear the truth." That same daughter is now much older and an author herself. They collaborate on many books. "It's very interesting to write with a child." Her daughter has told her that "often when I'm writing I hear your voice whispering in my ear."

Here are some of her "truths":

"Sometimes I love writing and sometimes I hate writing." and that she's a "grump when I'm beginning."

She as a general rule of life loves to "embrace imperfection." She even put in her book Journey
a sentence that says, "A thing doesn't have to be perfect to be right. It can be good enough." She went on to tell many stories from her home that help add fuel to her story ideas, mostly revolving around the silly things that they do. "Thank goodness my kids aren't perfect because then in a fight, I'd always be wrong."

She tells a story of when she was going to pick up her son from a school event and he wasn't where he was supposed to be on time so he had to walk home. Upon arriving, he said, "But I'm only a little boy!" Later in her book Journey, a grandfather and grandson are having an argument in the car and the grandfather tells him,

"Why don't you drive! "

"But I'm only a a little boy!"

"Then drive like a little boy!"

Patricia commented that her "writing life and personal life often slip sideways into each other." What an awesome line!

She has a friend in her writing group that told her "I can see the threads of your life in your book." Patricia adds her own perspective: "See what a terrible spy and user I am?" Her kids are aware of what it's like to have a writer for a mom. They would warn their friends when they came over to play, "Watch what you say in this house!"

Other truths:

Baby is currently her favorite book that she's written.

Sometimes she'll hear her books quoted on the news or in the paper and be impressed with the quote and then realize she wrote it and had forgotten.

She plays "hours of solitaire when I'm supposed to be writing." Describing her work space... "I work at the top of my house in a room all alone. The news is on all the time. "

She keeps a letter from a child reader on her fridge that says, "Sarah Plain and Tall is the second of my favorite books. Love Darryl." She thinks every day of what the first one might be.

She also loves the letter that said, "I've read and seen the movie, Sarah Plain and Tall. I've seen better."

She shared some background on her book Sarah Plain and Tall which was based on her own step great grandmother. The setting was her fathers farm and the main male character, Caleb was her father. "When he did speak, it was fairly forceful." That character always reminds me of many males I know and love. She also included a "horse that was no horsely good" in the story based off her horse as a child, Jack.

The book was at first a picture book, but her editor suggested that they turn it into an easy reader type chapter book. It worked wonderfully.

"I write about pieces of my life I want to say."

Her latest book Word after Word after Word was a nonfiction book about her teaching kids how to write but it "wasn't working" so she changed it to fiction about a teacher with "a chest pushing out like a shopping cart" teaching her class how to write. She figured if she was switching to fiction, she might as well embellish herself.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Books for Young Readers Conference-Part V

I enjoyed the next speaker's presentation. It was very well constructed. In person, he was a little more reserved and didn't answer questions as well as I'd like, but no one can deny Kadir Nelson is a talent that really stands out and I was excited to learn more about him.

"I'm in the wrong place to say this, but I hated reading as little kid. It made me cry." He understood the importance of education, however. He kept in mind his 12th grade trig teacher, Mr. Baker's class poster which said, "Wish upon a star, but do your HW too."

He has a very supportive family. "My mother gave me paper which is really all I needed." He knew from a very young age exactly what he wanted to do. He loved to draw Mickey Mouse and many of his sketches include the famous mouse. He also claims to be "a big Michael Jordan nut when I was a teenager." In fact, when he illustrated Salt in My Shoes about Michael Jordan, he showed Michael's mother (the author of the book) a picture he drew of Michael as Mickey doing a slam dunk. "She didn't like it too much."
His artwork has progressed and he loves to try new styles. He "started with watercolors and graduated to acrylics" as a teenager.

He has a personal motto that "Beauty defies negativity" and chooses work that follows this mantra. He described his work on Ellington was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange, which I really love.

The author drove by a street named Ellington which was run down and not kept. She happened to know Duke Ellington from her childhood and "was good mad" and went home and wrote this poem, which is the text of the book. If you like jazz, you'll love the history behind this book.

His first job out of college was working with Steven Spielberg on the movie Amistad. He would do "treatments" where you have illustrators draw what a scene could look like including lighting, character placement and mood. He said it taught him a lot. You have to think about the foreground, the middleground and the background in any scene. Plus, you only are hired 2 weeks at a time so you have to do a good job to keep the job. He tells that "95% is not used" by the director, but he was very happy that most of his shots were used by Spielberg. He showed many examples of his treatment and then how the scene ended up looking which I thought was very amazing.

His next professional endeavor was with a new production company at the time called Dreamworks. He helped illustrate an animated full length feature film called, Spirit.




He was proud to say that the final climactic scene where the horse jumps the ravine was entirely his scene.


At this point in his career, he was using watercolor, pencil and oil paint on paper. He also was beginning to do oils on canvas. He wanted to find a subject matter that "would allow me to use this style." He did a few paintings which were showcased in Sports Illustrated about baseball players that he had painted in an art college class. From those paintings, emerged the idea for his new book, We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball.

A great side story is when Billy Crystal called him up one day and asked to buy one of his baseball paintings. Since they were already purchased, he offered to paint him an original. They met for lunch and Billy saw that Kadir had painted the Yankee's fans sitting on the wrong side of the stadium. "You would have thought I'd slapped his mother!" Kadir said.

From then on, he really did his homework. In one painting in his book, he spend long hours researching what the scoreboard looked like on that day. He found a similar one in a photo but told himself it "probably doesn't do it, when there are Billy Crystal's out there."

In fact, for every painting he had a research list that he completed:

Year and Date
Ballpark
Uniforms
Batter/Pitcher
Catcher
Umpire
Field
Forecast that day

One challenge he encountered was that the photos he used as a reference were in black and white and the paintings he was doing were full color. Also, he was able to borrow an old uniform and showed many pictures of his model, which he described was available at all hours. He used to dress up, get his camera ready on his tripod, used the timer and then and uses himself to model and pose how the body looks when pitching, catching, running, etc. "It's kind of lame, but I saved a lot of time and money!"

At first he was going to do the illustrations only but when they couldn't find the right author, he asked his editor,

"Can I write it?"

"Sure."

"Huh?"

He said, "I was very happy but very scared. That little boy from Atlantic City found that he was reading a lot!"

Here is an exerpt from one reviewer: E.R. Bird
I seriously doubt that Hank Aaron writes a Foreword for every book proposal he receives. Seems to me that he'd do relatively few. Yet with this book Aaron writes at the beginning, "When I read these stories and look at the artwork, I am flooded by memories of years past and grateful for Kadir's fresh approach to the subject." Children now have a chance to pay homage to heroes with cool names like Cumberland Posey and "Cool Papa" Bell. It's a one-of-a-kind book, the like of which you have not seen, nor ever will see again. A triumph.

He offers some new facts he learned in the book:

* Owners of Negro League teams, at the beginning, "couldn't afford to pay a man to just sit in the dugout," so team managers almost always played in games.

* Baseball players in the majors had more expensive balls than those in the Negro Leagues. Take into account the handmade bats the Major Leaguers got and you can see how many records these Negro League players could have beaten if only they'd had the right equipment.

* This should have occurred to me before, but when lights were made to provide for night baseball, suddenly "All those folks who had to work during the day were now able to see a baseball game in the evening." Hence, more money for everyone.

* When barnstorming in California and Cuba, the Negro League players would often play against "everybody from Ty Cobb to Babe Ruth." And they won about sixty percent of the time too.

* Those players who were drafted into the army could play baseball for the military in the Special Services rather than fighting.

* The East-West Game was, in a sense, the outdoor equivalent of Harlem's fancy nightclubs. "People who didn't know anything about baseball came to the ballpark in their Sunday best just to be seen at the East-West Game, you hear?"


Kadir Nelson gave lots of insight into how he researched the book and met many primary sources that contributed their stories. Buck ONeal was a legend to him. "It just made my day for him to say, 'Hello, Kadir!' "

His mom used to have his family complete a puzzle every christmas morning before they were allowed to open presents, and he compares that memory to how it feels to take a lot of research and piece it together into a great story.

Some details about the painting from We are the Ship: The actual paintings are very large: 16 x 15 feet. "I wanted these paintings to be an experience and size really helps." The paintings are currently on a national tour and on exhibit at the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory till September. He also reluctantly shared a few of the mistakes in the book. One was an American flag that had 50 stars and should have had 48 at the time and also a pitcher who was left handed, but he painted him right handed. A big mistake which he regrets deeply. He did say that he "tried to be as accurate as possible."


He shared that he likes to change his style to fit the subject matter. One medium I thought was interesting was how he illustrated, Mama Miti. He felt that he really wanted to focus on the cultural use of bright colors and vibrant fabrics so he did a fabric collage. He went to the craft store, bought lots of fabric and then used fabric and a little bit of paint for faces and hands. He did most of the book with the first pair of scissors he bought, till he discovered that there was such a thing as fabric scissors. Once he bought those and they cut "like a sharp knife through warm bread" he exclaimed, "Where have you been all my life!"

One thing I noticed about his presentation and later when I asked him about it, is that he is very humble and hardly mentioned his Caldecott Honor winner books. His illustrations in the book, Moses about Harriet Tubman won the Caldecott Honor. He said about that, "I thought of my grandmother as Harriet Tubman."


I also asked him about the book that I thought was most familiar to kids, Henry Freedom Box, about any background information he had about working on that book. He had nothing to say about it, to my disappointment. Like I said, he didn't love answering questions too much, in my opinion.
During A and A, he answered that his baseball paintings began in the year 2000 and finished in January of 2007. Most of his pieces take between 3 days and 2 weeks to complete. He shared that the most difficult thing about his work is getting the hands and feet right. In art school, he had a great teacher who made him practice those since those features are the key to a great artist. Someone asked if he likes to be a writer or an illustrator and he answered that "you get more respect when you're a writer" plus you get "more control and full royalty."

When asked if he sent a copy of We are the Ship to Billy Crystal, he replied, "Yes, but I haven't heard back."

http://www.kadirnelson.com/

Friday, July 23, 2010

Books for Young Readers Conference-Part IV

How many parts are there, you ask? Six. Hang in there. I appreciate your visits, but let's see some comments too!

I didn't get a photo with this author because she was our speaker at dinner and got whisked away for book signings afterwards. Laurie Halse Anderson is a YA author known for tackling some tough issues in her books. She seemed like the type of person who is so happy with her life now, and especially blessed to have risen above the trauma's of her childhood.

As a young girl, she loved Laura Ingalls Wilder and was very happy when she learned when she was 30 that she was a distant relative of Elmonzo.

Her father had problems with alcholism which affected the entire family. She decided to share some of those stories with teenagers though the issues in her books. "They think they're alone when they are caught in dark places." Books helped her to escape. She said that she read the cover off of I never promised you a rose garden. In her teenage years, she left the country for 13 months and worked on a pig farm in Denmark. Though it sounds crazy, she felt that the family she stayed with there, who was sober with a strong marraige, helped "soothe my aching places."

She came back to the U.S. and graduated from community college and still is an advocate for that setting of higher education. She continued to love to read but "hated the way books were analyzed to death. I just wanted a good story!" When Laurie hears about teachers doing packets with her books, she cringes. She believes that teachers and kids "should unite over a love of story."

As she began her writing career, "every single story I wrote got rejected for 3 years." She wanted a "good idea-well told." She credits her english teachers for her being published. "What they said about revision turns out not to be a lie."

Laurie does have some series in her body of work. She has an animal series that are a "mix of ER and babysitting club." She feels that "Speak is about 10% of my experience in high school." "Catalyst is about the pressure we put on gifted children" and "Prom was written when I was engaged and is so happy."

Her genre is considered historical fiction but hates that term. "Too many kids have been scarred by the term historical fiction. NOOO, Not Johnny Tremain. Let Brother Sam is Dead Die!" She calls her latest books about colonial times, "historical thrillers."

I found her pictures of her writing space the most interesting. Her husband built her a writing cottage on their property with a gorgeous window and a wood stove. He didn't put in a phone, internet or a bathroom so she'd have to come home sometimes.

During Q and A, she gave advice to hopeful writers...(hey, that's me!) "If you have that creative urge, don't wait for the perfect moment." She also shared that "Speak was rejected by my first publisher I sent it to. I've laminated it and if I'm having a bad day, I take it out and laugh."


Books for Young Readers Conference-Part III



If you've read Fablehaven, then you'll love today's report from my conference last week. Brandon Mull got mixed reactions. The lady next to me who was there to learn more about books for her young children did not like his presentation style or genre and left, but I also heard from others later that night at dinner that they thought he was "delightful."

I thought Brandon Mull was the perfect combination of rock star and big brother and I told him so. He was hilarious! In fact, he reminded me so much of my older brother (who attended the same college, graduated at the same time and has exactly the same sense of humor) that I told my brother to email him and be friends. He's just bold (or wacky) enough to do it. The next day, he facebooked him and said, "My sister was at your conference and wants us to be friends." We agreed it was lame in a funny sort of way. Brandon Mull actually lives near us, so maybe we could get him and my brother together to be buds. I'd sit nearby and laugh at all their jokes. Brandon actually was a writer for a college comedy group I used to go see, which he said was great training for his professional career now.

Brandon began his speech by sharing how he loves to write, but wasn't expecting all the other roles that came with being an author including speaker, literacy advocate (which he described as a "happy consequence"), teacher at workshops, marketer...

He had a funny comment about that. He described how it is very strange to market your own work, almost like "planning my own birthday party." He thinks it's "sort of awkward" to tell people, "I made up this stuff in my basement and you should totally buy it!"

...entrepreneur and risk-taker

He always liked the saying that "writers write by the light of the bridges burning behind them."

...small business owner, professional liar...

"I write stories that could never happen to people who could never exist."

...illusionist...

"I'm like a crazy person. I hear voices." He also went on to describe how it is hard for him to write female characters sometimes because he is missing, as his wife describes, "some of his emotional software." When his editor asks him to delve into the reasoning behind some of his characters actions to really get at their emotions, he replies that perhaps he could add more blood." He later said, "I don't even understand girls, even a little bit!"

...hobo... since sometimes there is time between conferences, hotels and flights where he ends up wandering around some mall in Peoria.

...murderer... You'd understand this one if you've read his books. Right about now, I was feeling bad that I hadn't gotten to reading his books though they've been on my list forever and I'd heard such great reviews. I was determined to get a copy and get it signed before the day was over.

He posed to the group, "How do you become an honest observer?" to help one write. One of his personal favorite quotes is by Stephen King, "Fiction is the truth inside a lie."

His genre offers him a lot of freedom, not only in fiction, but in his fantasy. "I've always had a rich inner life." He told of his imaginary friend in kindergarten that would teach him to bad things. "I've always been good at finding structural weaknesses-getting in or out of things." One day in kindergarten his imaginary friend told him to find the hole in the fence, crawl through and walk home. When he got there, his mom was working in the garden and was very surprised to see him. She returned him back to school. Once his friend told him to jump headfirst into a big mudpuddle, and when the school office called home for a change of clothes and no one was home, he was told to wait outside and ended up walking around a tree for hours trailing one hand along the bark walking in a continuous circle.

He said that he "was a sociological experiment for his family" who would peek in on him as he jumped around the living room touching each pillow, couch, chair...leaping around the room, mumbling. He would say very often, "I'm playing my games! I'm playing my games!"

To him, "school was the enemy." He would "escape the boredom of reality with stories" and would often storytell to his cousins, friends and family. He moved from Utah to California for grades four though seven and describes those years as "nerd wasteland." He was not himself and was very shy and quiet while living there.

Then he was told to read the Chronicles of Narnia books and then "BAM!--My brain exploded in awesomeness...I was lured in by 'the precious.' "

He credits why he writes fantasy stories for young readers to Harry Potter. He read them in college and loved the plot and world she created and wanted to do the same. He also loved the many stereotypes that JK Rowling broke that opened doors for him. I could relate since I, too, adore the Harry Potter books and the author behind them.

He had many other books since then, some sequels and some new ones. I loved the idea behind The Candy Shop Wars. There are various kinds of candy that can make the eater do things and these special candy powers become very important in a war. My husband wants to be Willy Wonka, so now that book is on my list too!



He admits that he mostly write young adult books but one day his daughter said, "Daddy writes books...but not for me." and so was born Pingo. He patterned it after Puff the Magic Dragon, which was funny to me because I had just sung that song to my kids the night before at bedtime. Brandon shared that he thought Little Jackie Paper was an idiot. "Dude! You had it all! You had Honah Lee!" If you have no idea what I'm talking about...take this opportunity to look up the lyrics. It's a classic. That was my favorite quote from the whole conference. I loved it!

Anyway, his point was, "You don't have to break away from your imagination just because you're grown up." He is the first to admit that his imagination is his best asset. "I'm proud to share it. I'm happy to share it!"

His final thoughts were regarding some of the things he's learned since being a professional writer. "There's no way to write a book without revealing yourself to the world." He gave an example of having to write a character who might be an awful person (he mentioned a bigot specifically) and what they might do or say, and how it really shows how you envision that type of person. "All those assumptions come through the writing." Also for positive thoughts such as an excerpt from his fifth book of Fablehaven, which says, "Luck tends to disappear when you lean on it." When it comes to writing morals, he thinks "it's fun when you stumble across a little bit of truth."

He shared some of the cool places he's gotten to go in the last few years. He's taught a whole audience of nuns, traveled the world, and even shared his books in a juvenile prison. One detainee told him, "When I get out, I'm gonna get your book." Brandon replied, "Don't steal it, okay?"

During Q and A, he shared that he really felt he "lucked out" with his illustrator and how the drawings, "exceeds my vision." He also said that each of the characters have a piece of himself such as Seth having his sense of humor.

So, I agree with the ladies at dinner that night. I found Brandon Mull to be delightful, funny and the perfect speaker for a middle school crowd. I'm seriously going to get him to come to dinner to meet my brother. They'll be best friends, I just know it!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Books for Young Readers Conference-Part II

I had a first impression of Elizabeth Partridge that she was serious, and a little bit of a free spirit. Well I was right. Her parents are photographers from Berkeley who moved often. There was the cutest picture of her as a child with a rope belt. She said it truly represented how she was raised.


Her blog is pretty interesting to read on her website. She describes her travels and thoughts. She's got some amazing photos of herself on there. I love the one of her as a child reading at the library.
http://www.elizabethpartridge.com/

Now, if you are like me, her name doesn't ring a bell, but you may have seen her latest book cover which is gaining a lot of accolades.


If you can name 10 nonfiction authors, then you are amazing. I think in general, people just don't remember nonfiction authors like they do fiction ones. Well, Elizabeth had a great presentation on nonfiction and how she researched her book. She taught me a lot.

I was unfamiliar with her background, so found it fascinating how influenced she was by her godmother, Dorothea Lange-the famous photographer who did many renowned photos including the most famous one from the great depression with the mother and her children. She compiled a history of her godmother as a tribute called Restless Spirit. The photos in it are amazing.


Her father was an apprentice for Ansel Adams until he got fired. Ansel had come home drunk one night and told him to take off his shoes and her father, who was known for his strong mind, tied them together instead. The next morning when Ansel rose and fell flat on his face, he fired her father.

Elizabeth is the first woman to graduate from Berkeley in women studies and seems involved in many organizations that focus on social injustices.

She began talking about how she writes narrative nonfiction and how if you are going to do that, then "make sure we're telling a story" which should include a plot, character development voice and theme. Elizabeth believes that "Humans are hard wired for stories."

She describes herself as a primary source junkie."

"When I get an idea, it's like the world stops for a minute and it's in perfect balance and it's in perfect balance and I know it's an idea for a book that I want to do."

When researching, she also wants to "sniff around secondary sources" which she calls "reading around" similar to sleeping around because she says " I will read anything!" This includes photo credits, footnotes and biographies. She often feels like the Cat in the Hat when he is balancing everything on his head, when she is researching because she has all the information jammed in her head and just waiting to be organized. Later in the Q and A, someone asked about her writing procedure and she shared that she is not confident in her organization and is known to spread out everywhere, use post it notes, color code things, cut things up and scotch tape them together to help with sequencing choices. "With nonfiction, we are choosing every word as carefully as a poet." She gets binders for every book to keep all her research and takes a lot of time to find out where her photos are credited and get permissions for them.

She says that fair use is misused and that it only covers "a little bit," so she encourages writers to paraphrase, use titles and hope the reader knows what you mean and just purchase permission to use others work. She is given a permissions budget for photo's. For Marching for Freedom she was allowed to spend 12-14 thousand for permissions of photos but also found many originals from the primary sources.


She did a nonfiction book on Lennon which is very interesting and was given 30,000 for permissions but went "way over budget...fairly substantially, which came out of my advance." This sort of information to me is soooo interesting. Not that I want to write nonfiction but it gives you a glimpse into the business side of childrens' literature. I can't get enough of it!





She continued that writing nonfiction has some challenges, but also some tricks you can use. "Urgency is a good tool to add" and "humor, though it's tricky if the content matter is to serious."

She has quite a personal history with photography and has some great stories about how she discovered original, unpublished photos for her books. She described how most kids don't even know how to look and really see a photo. She called it a "visual narrative." which needs 2 differences or a conflict to be good. She hopes that all people become "more visually literate" which reminded me of all the art classes I had growing up where we learned of artists and really how to analyze their works. I agreed that schools could be doing more in this area. Art Masterpiece only goes so far. Elizabeth is also very happy that nonfiction as a genre is being recognized more consistently these days but hopes that in the schools we improve our use of nonfiction, "Somewhere in there we somehow scare them off or turn them off."

She shared how she has heard of teachers using the google earth program to take "google lit trips" where you can map out places from literature on an actual satellite photograph. She also mentioned the "picturing america" website that has great art work integrated with geography. She loves "service learning" where kids get involved in their communities and even suggested to assign them to create a visual presentation of their service time to share with others later.

Her next book is Dogtag Summer about an adopted vietnamese child who finds the dogtag of her adopted father. Surprisingly, it's fiction. She does write for adults and children, both fiction and nonfiction. She shared that she likes to follow the advice of Bruce Coville,..."The way to begin writing is to barf on the page."

She used music, powerpoint, stories and tons of photography in her presentation. I felt like I wanted to become a little more visually literate myself. Would it kill me to go to a museum once in a while? I at least could check out some of her nonfiction books, rich with photo's, at the library and I plan to.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Books for Young Readers Conference Report- Part I

Ready for some stories?

It's taken me a few days but I'm ready to share all the fabulous things I heard and learned at last weeks conference on children's literature. I met some great people! The audience was a mix of well read parents, teachers, librarians, children, and authors. There were books for sale for signings also. If you know me, then you know of my classification of purchasing childrens' books and I have to LOVE it to buy it hardcover. Also, if I know it will be destroyed by kids at home or in the classroom, then I usually buy it softcover. So...I felt a little silly having the authors sign their paperbacked, well worn books-but there you have it. I didn't want to spend a ton of money on hard covers of books I already had, plus I liked the idea that mine were worn out by kids. I wrote down tons of quotes, so I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

Here is the Provo City Library, which is a very old building that has been fully restored and has great character. When my husband brought the kids the first day to meet me for lunch at a nearby favorite restaurant, he said, "Kids...here is the library that mommy is at for her important meeting!" My daughter, Haleigh replied, "This isn't a library! This is Hogwarts!"


I was impressed that at the beginning of the conference, they said a prayer. Since BYU, the private religious college, sponsored the conference, they were able to do that. Actually each class session at that college begins with a prayer. I hadn't heard a prayer in any of my colleges for years so it was refreshing to hear the mixture of spiritual with cognitive learning.

The first speaker was author, David Shannon. He was a very entertaining speaker who was using a powerpoint for the first time and was very proud of himself. He mentioned that "it was the blessing at the start though it wasn't mentioned specifically," referring to his powerpoint working.




He began by talking about Rosemary Wells (who writes and illustrates many books-especially Max and Ruby), who likes to leave her audiences with more than a few anecdotes, and he added, "but that's all I have!"
He showed the page in David Gets In Trouble with something broken and spilled that read, "But it was an accident!" and compared that to his career and how he has become an author for kids.

He said, "Children's books are more than duckies and bunnies, although there's room for duckies and bunnies-especially naughty ones!" I hadn't realized that I didn't have a copy of Duck on a Bike, but it's on my list now!

He went on to share that "Your imagination is informed by everything you've ever experienced." and told the story of one of his early books about baseball with a character named Boss Swaggert who he thought he had made up but later learned that he had unknowingly drawn his sixth grade math teacher, Mr. McDougal who contacted him about it. He asked the audience,

"Accident or Destiny?"

He also told a very cute story of his neighbor, Ray, across the street who loves to decorate for every holiday to the delight of the neighborhood. David used Ray as inspiration for Mr. Merryweather in his Christmas book, Amazing Christmas Extravaganza about going a bit too far. He didn't want to offend his neighbor and kept in mind as he drew/wrote it that he wanted to hand it to Ray in the end and that helped keep him main character sympathetic. As he would work on a painting, he'd glance up to see Ray add more to his outdoor decorations and then say, "You're not gonna beat me!" and add more to his illustration and more and more after he'd thought he was done.

Ray ended up loving his book and even bragged to David later that he'd planted flowers out of the front of his house that were from David's book about him.

He told us about his ongoing habit of adding his beloved dog, Fergus in all his books. He said that in a book he illustrated about ancient Hawaii, it was hard but Fergus is in there too. He is in the foam of a wave. "If I don't put him in my book, he gets mad at me. He's very interested in fairness!"

His early work was illustration for the editorial cartoons in the New York Times and as he transitioned to childrens' books, you can see his dark tone slowly fade as his childrens' work progressed.

When showing us the cover of No David, he said, "Oh there he is...the little rascal!" He told the story that is in the cover of the book about his 5 year old book that is similar to this one and how he wanted to try to imitate his first edition. When he pitched to his editor that he wanted to write a book all about No's and illustrated with stick-like figures, he was told, "No, David!"

He had tried to illustrate it similar to other styles like his Bad Case of Stripes but it wasn't working and then he mimicked his original with the pointy teeth and all, and all of a sudden, "he came to life, picked his nose and left the room."

The page with that he describes as "the most popular piece of my life. I've gotten 1000's of letter!" was the naked page of David's bottom. He shared that many librarians place post it notes over it and call it the "David flap."

"The thing about David is he doesn't do anything that every kid hasn't thought about doing."

Many people have asked him if he writes too many boy books but he has decided that girls like to read books about boys getting into trouble too.

He shared some of the silly things that have happened because of that book. Everything from mom crying to him over the last page to a mom calling him from Israel asking parental advice since her kids won't stop climbing on things. He said that people have asked if he has A.D.D and he always replies that he has D.A.D.

After No David's success, he asked himself where David should go next. "The teacher's are the next person to tell you 'No!' " and so became David Goes to School. In that story, he begins to see that all his actions affect other people. I loved hearing his little comments, almost under his breath, about the characters he has created. When showing a page with David playing a loud air-drum next to a girl, David Shannon mentioned, "I think her name is Cindy. I think David likes her. You can tell because he's doing a good drum solo for her" On another page of his doodles in class on the blue lined paper, little David draws her as a pig.

David Shannon says that often when he was growing up, people would tell him, "You weren't thinking, were you David!"

There were a few of his topics that his editors weren't sure about. One of them was his book about kids hating lima beans in Bad Case of Stripes. Apparently his editor loved lima beans and had never heard how awful people think they are, so they took a poll at Scholastic and found his presumption to be true. Also, they did a poll about kids getting soap in their mouth for saying bad words to see if Scholastic felt that kids today would understand the page about David having "something else" slip.

He shared that on his preschool evaluation, which was 2 pages long, it said "David should be spanked particularly in public by his father if he thinks he's getting away with something."

In his book, Duck on a Bike, he liked how the animals all reacted uniquely to something new happening at the farm. He imagines the voices of all the animals and can do some great impressions of them. He shared that one big error in his illustration, which has been pointed out by many, many children (the first a three year old) was that on the cover there is a bell on the handlebars and later in the book with the bike front and center, he forgot to draw the bell. He said he wanted to send a sticker of a bell to anyone who writes to him complaining so they can put it on that page. He'd call it the "No Bell Prize." He also likes that the last page has the duck looking at a tractor and he's heard of many teachers making that a writing prompt, which he thinks is very creative. If you do that with kids, send him copies of the stories care of Scholastic because he is collecting them.

He then showed the cover of Alice the Fairy and said, "This is my daughter!"

He followed her around one whole day to get some direct quotes like the page about changing a plate of cookies into her own. That was a quote from his daughter. He thought the book really started to work when he changed the voice to 1st person. The page with Alice reading a book made him comment, "She still looks like that. She's 12 now."


"If it wasn't for my family, I'd have writers block for the last 10 years." He mentioned throughout his talk of his mom sueing him for royalties from No David, and his dog sueing him for royalties from Good Boy Fergus and now his daughter is sueing him for Alice the Fairy. He had us all laughing!

The book Good Boy Fergus is based on the true story of his dog and the love/hate relationship of the next door neighbor cat, Trinity who teases and taunts him through the window each day. He describes his dog in such a cute way. Later at the book signing, as he signed my copy of this book, he opened the cover and said, "Oh...there's my boy!" He drew a little Fergus face and signed my copy. I love it! Also at the signing he told me that he needs to come to Utah more often because as he signed all my books for the kids, he said that everyone has 8 kids and he could really sell some books!

He next shared some thoughts on How I Became a Pirate written by Melinda Long that he illustrated. He loves that book and said that he sometimes forgets that he didn't write it. "The pirates were just a blast!" He showed a page of the pirates sitting squished in a boat and told us that he decided to name all the pirates and quickly spouted off their names. I couldn't write them down fast enough! I just knew that I had to know all the pirate name or I'd just die, so later when I went up to introduce myself, I asked him to please tell me all the names. He grabbed my writer's notebook and wrote them in there. I almost fainted. So, here's the pirate names for anyone who cares beginning on the left...

Braidbeard, Laffee', Crooke, Jean (named after a guy he knew in college), Badir, Gilley, Bloort, and one final pirate that he tried and tried to remember but couldn't.

He felt that in that book, the pirates represented big kids. Like your big brothers friends that let you play with them for a while, but eventually you start to wonder what you got yourself into. Especially at night. He showed the page with the kid trying to sleep with a pirate breathing on him on the left and a cat butt on the right. David said that at school visits, he always makes the kids vote, "What smells worse...pirate breath or cat butt?" My son, Carter thought that was a hilarious story when I told him.

In Too Many Toys, he based it on his household and the main character is his daughters best friend next door. "It all begins with stepping on a lego." He got a little upset that parents are fast to get rid of toys when he feels that a toy might be used "a year and a half later for a whole other purpose." He continues, "My G.I. Joe's went through all sorts of phases." He described putting clay on their heads and making them into a rock band. "You get a toy for everything these days...going to a birthday party...etc." He also used to collect those toys that come in plastic bubbles at grocery stores for a quarter when he was in college.

The next book he showed was his collaboration with Jon Sciezka about robots called Robot Zot. He named the little sidekick in the story Rusty. I asked him later if he plans to continue his books with Jon and he replied that he was meeting him for dinner on Friday with Lane Smith (who illustrated Stinky Cheese Man). As long as they get a very big expense account at these occasional dinners, they usually end up with quite a few book ideas to do together.

The next book coming out very soon is the next David book about Christmas. He thought that "everything just comes together in a perfect storm of No's" at that time of year. ...All of those No's make that big Yes on Christmas so worth it. Yes, you can open it. Yes, I can play with you, I'm home all day. Yes, you can have another." It looks really great!

During the Q and A, someone asked his medium and he replied, "spiritual" followed up by "acryllics but might try oils."

He also is working on a fishing story next.

Pheww....Can you tell I had a great time? I just love to write quotes from authors. I think it really helps to add depth to the art of children's literature. And if you're like me, once you hear the backstory, you never forget it. Let me know your thoughts. Tomorrow...part II with Elizabeth Partridge.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Update on new book

Teens, tweens, and adults alike are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Mockingjay, the third and final book in Suzanne Collins's dystopian Hunger Games trilogy. And come August 24, they shouldn't have trouble getting their hands on a copy: Scholastic has increased the book's initial print run to 1.2 million copies, up from 750,000 copies.




http://www.publishersweekly.com/
Scholastic Announces 'Mockingjay' Print Run, Tour Details
By John A. Sellers 07/01/2010

Sunday, July 18, 2010

New Children's Book

Best-selling author John Grisham has written another legal thriller — and this one is for kids.



Grisham has 24 books under his belt, many of which were turned into movies, including The Pelican Brief and A Time To Kill. But he says writing for a young audience created a special challenge, mostly because he didn't want to underestimate their abilities.
"It's not necessarily any easier than adult fiction," Grisham tells NPR's Michele Norris. "It's easier in that it's shorter; the plot is not nearly as complicated.
"But the biggest challenge I found was the ability to try to tell the story without talking down to kids. Because I think that's what a lot of writers do, and they don't like it. Kids don't like it. They want you to treat them as your equal and tell them the story."
The book, Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer, focuses on a 13-year-old only child who loves everything about the legal system. His parents are lawyers who have a small firm, Boone & Boone, where Theo also has an office. There, Theo gives legal advice to his friends — and he gets into all kinds of trouble, Grisham says.

At first, Grisham says, he was reluctant to put Theo in actual physical danger, so he toned down his suspense. But an editor at Penguin who read his first draft told him it's OK to put kids in danger.
"I remember thinking back to my favorite book as a kid, which was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer [by Mark Twain]. And I loved that book, and I loved it when I was 12 years old. Tom and Huck were always in trouble, often in danger, and it made the story that much more entertaining," he says.
So Grisham says he added "a little more suspense, a little more fear, a little more danger" in subsequent drafts.
The suspense in Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer builds after someone in town is murdered. Theodore's classmate Julio, who is from El Salvador, lives in a homeless shelter where Theo and his parents serve food. And Julio's cousin, an illegal immigrant, may have seen something "that he was not expecting to see" at the time the murder occurred, Grisham says.
Grisham says in writing such plots — and he hints that there may be another kids' book in the works — he has to remind himself of the world he is portraying.
"Who am I writing for? I've never had to think about that before," he says. "With 24 books now, I've never thought about who the audience is. It's always been, you know, the audience, adult fiction. This is a lot different. I think this is a tougher crowd."

-taken from PW
June 4, 2010



Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer 
By John Grisham
Hardcover, 263 pages
Dutton Children's Books
List price: $16.99

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Q & A Contests

Q: How do I know when sending in a story for a contest, and just sending in a cover letter with my name, will it stay in my name even if my name isn't on the mss? How can I judge if a contest is even legit?

A: For contests, there are a couple of issues...First, are they legit? Second, will winning or placing in the contest be something you can put on your writing resume? You may not really care about the second--you may just want to challenge yourself or try for the prize money, and that's fine. But if you do want to enter a contest in order to gain writing credits, you should be aware that not that many contests have much prestige. I often get questions from writers who want to enter contests as a way of impressing editors, but in my opinion, you're better off if you just submit your work for publication. Now, as to legitimacy, You want to be sure that the organization conducting the contest is an established organization, such as a publisher that has been in business for a year or more, or a magazine that has put out several issues -- in other words, you want to be sure it's not just a fly by night outfit. You also want to make sure that the entry fee is not exorbitant, anything over $25 should prompt caution. Contrary to popular belief, many legitimate contests charge some kind of entry fee, but it should not be a high entry fee. Another thing to check is who's judging the contest. If they are industry people or people you've heard of, the contest will probably be more prestigious. And last but not least READ THE FINE PRINT!! Many contests have unpleasant surprises in their guidelines, such as all entries becoming the property of whoever's conducting the contest. Be sure you read the guidelines.

taken from “Choosing Reputable Publishing Professionals”
with Victoria Strauss
Thursday, March 9, 2006

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Have you heard of this summer literacy program?

Earlier this month, the United We Serve team launched its Let’s Read. Let’s Move. initiative. Let’s Read.

Let’s Move. has three simple goals: increase opportunities for Americans to use service to promote physical activity; expand access to healthy and affordable food; and prevent summer learning loss in Ameria’s kids.

We aren't going to successfully achieve these goals alone. It is our hope that through strategic partnerships with organizations who focus on getting kids moving, reading and eating healthy foods, we will be able to make a significant impact.

We are thrilled to announce our new partnership with 4H -- the community of six million young people across America. With clubs in each county, 4H will be a vital partner by encouraging its members to:

With a long history of learning-based projects, 4H will be involved in community gardens in 38 states this summer.
Through clubs and camps, 4H will be promote the President’s Active Lifestyle Challenge as a way to encourage and engage youth in physical activity.

By providing resources and toolkits to 3000 county 4-H programs, members will collect produce from farmers markets, county fairs, and other locations and deliver to emergency food systems.


Our nation’s youth need guidance to help build fit bodies and strong minds. Your involvement will foster a generation that is less prone to disease, are higher academic achievers, and more educated about food and its effects on health. These factors can have lasting effects on a child’s overall development and future.

It's going to take all of us working together to help our youth build fit bodies and strong minds.  There are plenty of ways to make an impact.  Do your part by participating in one of the service projects below.

10 Ways to Get Involved

Organize a book drive
Encourage a child to meet the President’s Active Lifestyle Challenge
Conduct summer feeding program outreach
Build or rehab a playground
Clear a walking trail
Read to kids - reading five books over the summer prevents summer learning loss
Sponsor a sports tournament or camp for kids
Create a community garden
Collect and donate fresh produce from a local farm
Organize a back to school supplies drive
You can help by becoming a United We Serve: Let's Read. Let's Move. Ambassador or you can organize service projects in your community that help combat childhood obesity and summer reading loss.


Let's Read. Let's Move + 4H = Lots of reading, moving, and healthy eating
By Merici Vinton
http://www.serve.gov/strongminds.asp

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Scottsdale Exhibit


Where the Wild Things Are: Maurice Sendak in His Own Words and Pictures opens at Scottsdale Civic Center Library!

Free to the public – interactive exhibit promotes literacy and creativity.
For all ages.
June 17, 2010 – August 30, 2010, during library hours

This free exhibit provides hands-on interaction with Sendak’s stories and characters and will give kids of all ages a cool place this summer to have some fun and learn more about beloved and celebrated artist and writer Maurice Sendak.

Interactive Exhibit includes:

Rosie’s Stoop – Visitors can relax and read Sendak’s books on the front steps of Rosie’s Brooklyn Brownstone based on Sendak’s book, Really Rosie.

Chicken Soup Bowl – Chicken soup is nice any time, especially when young children can slide into a bowl full of it! Foam “soup” and “rice,” stuffed carrots and rubber chickens

Night Kitchen – Visitors can “bake” delicious dishes in the kitchen from Sendak’s, The Night Kitchen. Pots, pans, play food, baking utensils and baker’s rack and oven

Music Component – Sendak created his books listening to Mozart and Beethoven. Visitors can design unique masterpieces using magnetic wooden pieces while listening to music created by Sendak’s favorite composers

Wild Thing Fun Mirror – Wild things have a blast while they dress up in costumes from Sendak’s book, Where The Wild Things Are
The “voice” of the exhibition is Sendak himself and focuses on his lifework through the lens of his Jewish heritage. Facsimiles of original illustrations, manuscripts, handwritten notes, together with an in-depth interview, give visitors insight into the vision, inspirations, and creative process of one of today’s premier authors, and illustrators.

Free activities including storytime, crafts, games, movies, drawing and coloring contests, and drawing workshops with local illustrators will educate and entertain children while promoting literacy and creativity.

I-M-A Gleek!




Calling all gleeks: this fall Little, Brown Books for Young Readers will launch a publishing program based on the hit Fox TV show about a high school glee club, starting with The Beginning, a paperback original prequel that delves into the backstories of various characters on the show. The Beginning will be published by Little, Brown’s Poppy imprint in August with a 150,000-copy first printing.


-taken from PW
Little, Brown Launching 'Glee' Publishing Program
By John A. Sellers
Jun 10, 2010

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Writing Contest with Cheerios

Check out this website for a search for new authors. But hurry! The deadline is this week!

http://www.spoonfulsofstoriescontest.com/

Q & A Copyrighting

Q: What are some ways to protect your work once it is mailed off to be viewed by publishing companies? My fear is that it could be read, then officially refused by the publishing company, then USED by the same company or sold to another company.

Q: Before submitting a manuscript, either by e-mail or regular mail, should an author be concerned about getting it copyrighted to protect it from being stolen or used by another writer?

A: You're protected by copyright law from the moment you write down the words. Registering your copyright with the US copyright office is a separate step. It doesn't afford you any extra protection. it simply makes it possible to sue in court if your work is infringed. But theft of unpublished work is so rare as to be functionally nonexistent, so theft is about the last thing that new writers need to worry about. A good agent or publisher won't risk his or her reputation by stealing. A bad agent or publisher isn't interested in your manuscript, just in your money. So send out your work and don't worry about it being stolen.

taken from “Choosing Reputable Publishing Professionals”
with Victoria Strauss
Thursday, March 9, 2006

Monday, July 12, 2010

David Copperfield

You may not know this about me, but I love to watch any show from BBC. Perhaps it is stems from my days living in Belgium when that was the only channel we got on TV in english. Whether it is a mystery (Poirot, Agatha Christie, etc) or a Jane Austen type movie. You won't believe me if I told you how many times I've watch the 6 hour version of Pride and Prejudice.

Well, one day I was watching David Copperfield from BBC. David is played by Daniel Radcliffe (yes, Harry Potter when he was younger. The first few minutes of the movie, David describes his earliest memories of his mother before all the sadness in his life began. I wish I could quote it, but it was something about all his memories of her having such LIGHT. It showed her picking flowers surrounded by light and doing chores with a glow of light on her. I really loved the eloquent way the screenplay described his memories of his mother.

And so began my search for the actual words in David Copperfield about mothers so I could memorize them. I know. I know. I'm a weird person who likes to quote movies and books. I just really loved the idea of a young child thinking of their mother in such a pure, glowing, and admiring way. What woman doesn't want to be remembered with a halo surrounding her?

The frustrating thing about this word hunt is that I have not been able to find it. I've checked unabridged versions of Charles Dickens book, various abridged versions of his book and still haven't heard quite the same thing that I saw on that BBC show. I haven't found the screenplay yet...perhaps I can locate that somewhere on the web.

Here is the closest thing I could find from chapter two of the book, David Copperfield by Charles Dickens but it's just not the same:


And now I see the outside of our house, with the latticed
bedroom-windows standing open to let in the sweet-smelling air, and
the ragged old rooks'-nests still dangling in the elm-trees at the
bottom of the front garden. Now I am in the garden at the back,
beyond the yard where the empty pigeon-house and dog-kennel are -
a very preserve of butterflies, as I remember it, with a high
fence, and a gate and padlock; where the fruit clusters on the
trees, riper and richer than fruit has ever been since, in any
other garden, and where my mother gathers some in a basket, while
I stand by, bolting furtive gooseberries, and trying to look
unmoved. A great wind rises, and the summer is gone in a moment.
We are playing in the winter twilight, dancing about the parlour.
When my mother is out of breath and rests herself in an
elbow-chair, I watch her winding her bright curls round her
fingers, and straitening her waist, and nobody knows better than I
do that she likes to look so well, and is proud of being so pretty.

That is among my very earliest impressions. That, and a sense that
we were both a little afraid of Peggotty, and submitted ourselves
in most things to her direction, were among the first opinions - if
they may be so called - that I ever derived from what I saw.


David Copperfield
Chapter 2 I Observe
Charles Dickens

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Cup of Dirt

I'm excited this week to meet Patricia Maclachlan. I found this interview excerpt that I found interesting. I especially like the part about dirt. She has a new book, Word After Word After Word, out that she tells some background about.


Q &A with Patricia MacLachlan
By Ingrid Roper

Patricia MacLachlan is the Newbery Award winning author of Sarah, Plain and Tall and more than 20 other acclaimed books. She spoke to us about her new novel, Word After Word After Word, which is based on her own experience speaking in schools. MacLachlan also collaborates with her daughter Emily MacLachlan on picture books, including this fall’s I Didn’t Do It. MacLachlan was born on the prarie in Wyoming and now lives in Williamsburg, Mass., with her husband.




What inspired Word After Word After Word?

Quite a while ago I signed a contract with Harper to do a nonfiction book on writing, [focusing on] what it was like to be a writer. And my editor at the time said, why don’t you do what you do with kids in schools with your bag of prairie dirt that you carry around? Then when I came to writing it, I thought, UGH, this is so boring, I’ve said this over and over and over again to children, so I decided to write a fictional piece instead. So that’s how that came to be. And it’s also kind of my tribute to wonderful teachers and wonderful kids who are finding their voice in writing.

 

Your novel is so elegantly spare. How do you feel about writing shorter fiction versus longer works? Is it difficult to pack the same meaty wallop into a shorter work?

I think what happens is you write how you grew up. And I was born on the prairie and so everything is kind of spare on the prairie. And so I’m just used to writing in that way. Sarah, Plain and Tall was that way. And most of my fiction is. I like writing small pieces. Somehow it just suits me. My writer’s group laughs that I start to faint when I get to 200 pages—so that’s kind of a standing joke.

Why do you carry dirt from the prairie with you wherever you go?

I think it’s important to remember where I began. I know that when I talk to other writers, say writers from the South or writers from abroad, it’s where they begin as children that is important to them. And so I always carry the bag of prairie dirt around and actually every time someone who is a friend of mine goes to Wyoming or one of the Western places they bring me back another, so I probably have about 12 bags of prairie dirt now.


How did you craft these characters and formulate their writing in the novel? The two work so well in combination, and each of these characters’ writing does so much to resolve their inner struggles. How did that develop?

I have great respect for children. And I have great respect for their ability as writers. And I so enjoy the process of developing characters, But when I started to develop these characters, what was frustrating was that initially their writing, their poems, all sounded the same. So I really had to delve into their characters to create a unique voice for each of them. Interestingly, it was the character of Russell who emerged first as a distinct voice. He is the most disconnected of the kids and he approaches them as an outsider. And he writes about his dog, and gets them to listen. I believe what this novel shows is that we have so many different reasons for writing. And the famous author shares hers, but each of these children, and the teacher, too, express a different reason for writing.

Why do you write?

Each time I write a new piece, whether a novel, a picture book, a speech or anything really, it has so much to do with what I’m going through personally or a problem I’m trying to work out. When I wrote my novel Baby, my three children had all just gone out the door. And I don’t think you need to be a trained psychologist, although I am married to one, to realize I was dealing with how I felt about being a mother. And now sometimes I am working out how I feel about being a grandmother, which I think is such a special and amazing role.

In such a short novel you create such memorable characters. How did you come up with the teacher, the writer, the kids, the friendships, the parents?

I have a great reverence for old people and I like to create inter-generational stories. My father lived to be 102 and he was such an amazing, generous person right up until the end. When I look back on my novel Journey, I think you can see that. And I think children are rather like old people—they are so direct and immediate and they just don’t get as blocked as adults.

I wanted this teacher, Ms. Cash, to be a good teacher. I myself loved my time teaching and I am so impressed with the teachers I come across and work with in schools. And while the author and the teacher contradict each other about writing, this is a good teacher. She’s still learning, though, just like the kids. So I hope that respect for teachers comes through. Also I admire that she [Ms. Cash] takes a risk and starts to write herself alongside her students.

With the character of the author, I drew on my own experience in schools. I go to schools quite a bit because it gets me back in touch with children and the least powerful in our society. And children are so honest. Children always want to know how much money you make. They don’t mean to be rude, but they’re inquisitive and trying to work out what it means to do this for a living. And they want to know where I get my ideas. They are always surprised when I tell them how much editing and revising I do—that I work on the same words over and over and over. And, I always tell them to do something they really care about, and to appreciate that their teachers really care about teaching because they could earn a lot more money and work a lot less hard doing something else.

I am always surprised by what children tell me when I am in schools or giving speeches. I love their letters. I saved one from a child, on my refrigerator, and it says ‘Thank you for writing this book, it was the second greatest book I’ve ever read.’ I love that. And I always wonder what was the first greatest book this child ever read.

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

Oh, I don’t know. I usually just hope they find some piece that speaks to them. I hope that they take away something and I believe that whatever that is will be all their own.

With the characters in Word After Word After Word, I really liked this group of friends, and how kind they are to each other and understanding of the issues each of them face. And in particular I grew quite fond of Henry. He has such a good life and he loves his life.

Can you say a little more about your writer’s group?

We meet once a week and reach each other’s work and complain and talk about our processes. Jane Yolen is one of the many writers whom I admire and trust in my group. Our processes are all so different and we like to complain to each other and cheer each other. I think anyone else would think we lead such great lives so it’s nice to have each other as support and to vent.

Talk about your new collaboration with your daughter coming out this fall, I Didn’t Do It, the companion to Once I Ate a Pie. How did this partnership come about?

My daughter Emily rescues dogs, and our family has always had lots of dogs. At one point she told me these stories about dogs and we decided to write about them together and that became Painting the Wind. Our second book, Once I Ate a Pie, was so much fun and we drew on even more dogs we knew—dogs my son has in Africa, dogs we had lived with when they were children. I have two dogs now, terriers named Charlie and Emmett. My son in Africa inherited a house with seven dogs. My daughter has a hound, a white Pyrennes puppy that already weighs 125 pounds. We just used him in this new book, I Didn’t Do It. This one is a puppy book, and we were playing with the idea that a puppy doesn’t have a conscience. It’s very funny and playful and I think our best yet.

What is your typical writing day like?

I don’t know if I have a really typical writing day. I go to bed early and I get up very, very early, around 4:30 am. I like to get up early when the house is entirely quiet. I make my coffee first thing and the dogs are still asleep, my husband is asleep. I like to get to work before my mind is cluttered with the news. I do write throughout the day, depending on what I’m working or what’s happening, but the morning is my best time.

What are you working on now?

I am working on a novel for Simon & Schuster called Waiting for the Magic, about four shelter dogs, which is somewhat magical. This was a real departure for me; I wrote the voices of the dogs. Emily and I are going to keep doing picture books together but pretty soon I am going to be ready to quit dogs and get back to people.

What do you think when you look back over your career?

I hope I’m getting better. There is so much more I want to write. Sometimes I look back at my books and even read them and I think that I’m getting better. And sometimes I read something I wrote and I don’t even recognize it. I once read a newspaper article that quoted something I thought was rather insightful about the prairie, and when I looked more closely at it, I saw my name and realized that someone had interviewed me and it had been quoted. That was the funniest experience. So really I think about what’s to come more than looking back.

Word After Word After Word by Patricia MacLachlan. HarperCollins/Tegen, $14.99 June ISBN 978-0-06-027971-4


taken from PW June 24, 2010