Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
There were many other numbers but that’s enough for now.
So here’s what happened. I thought to myself, “Hey, how about a book about saguaros and their numbers?” Saguro Numbers or Saguaros by the Numbers or Number the Saguaros or something like that. Or maybe not like that. But let’s not get hung up on the title. The thought did not evade me that if I could pull it off, sequel possibilities would be countless: Elephants by the Numbers, Great White Sharks, Dinosaurs ... even Oceans, Earth, The Solar System, etc.
But wait a minute, suppose I created a bunch of number lines, on different scales, and I showed not only the saguaro-relevant numbers (example: 1,500 gallons of water stored) but other values that could put it into perspective, such as how much water is found in a large watermelon, in the body of a human, in an Olympic-size swimming pool.
How about a book of math problems related to saguaros? "It has rained for 30 hours in the Sonoran Desert. A 40-foot saguaro's roots spread 40 feet in all directions, and in the area above the roots, 100 gallons of water fall each hour. The saguaro can absorb half of that water. How much water can this giant cactus absorbed?” (Do you need the Teachers Edition? The answer is 1,500 gallons.) Then some narrative can explain that these plants really do this, how amazing they are, etc., etc. Nah, too much like a math textbook.
Friday, May 25, 2012
During my Introduction while described my childhood, I explained that I liked to read, make stuffed toys for my brother, and secretly write and illustrate stories in my closet. And, I liked cotton candy. These elements were woven throughout my presentation.
Of course, cotton candy got a huge reaction.
During my Writing portion, I showed them how I feel some days, while I am writing.
I think all the students could relate.
(Also, I shared, "The fact that I'm talking to you instead of writing is yet another way that I'm procrastinating.")
The only problem I had was my throat became dry while talking for all that time. I brought my trusty water bottle with me. But, like I shared to a friend, “When I stopped to take a drink, I had 60 pairs of eyes glued on me.” There’s got to be a secret to being able to speak and not get a dry throat.
Though I’ve done classes and presentations, this was my first go at a Powerpoint presentation. The previous week during a sold out show at a large, local theater, the speaker’s Powerpoint presentation continually got the “spinning ball of death”. I was so scared that was going to happen to me. The teacher and I tried to match our schedules so I could to go in a day or two early and check to see if the presentation ran okay. But, in the end, I had to cross my fingers and arrive at the school 45 minutes early to get everything working. Let’s just say that the presentation finally got on the screen five minutes before the students came in. Lesson learned: buy a projector!
The teacher told me later that the students were talking about my presentation and writing the entire rest of the day. She said, “The students were so excited about your visit and now inspired to write their own stories!”
Here’s a few nuggets from the cards and letters:
“You inspired me to draw and write.”
“I will probably buy your book it sounds really good.”
“I want your book so badly.”
“You rock, Mrs. Lewis.”
“I think your presentation was awesome.”
“You have inspired me to become an author! I’m sure The House that Jill Built will be awesome.”
“I will read the book right when it comes out.”
Would love to share all 60 wonderful comments. But, I’ll stop at those. Gotta love 'em.
The one thing that strikes me while I’m rereading all these cards is they are all extremely creative and unique. Our schools are truly filled with some amazing talented and creative students. They are the creators of our future.
Thursday, May 24, 2012
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Monday, May 21, 2012
Historical fiction and non-fiction illustrated books are great resource for immersing students into the past. With strong writing, vivid language, and striking images, they allow students to better imagine a different place and time. Because these books are usually short, students can review several sources and engage in critical thinking about different points of view."
CH: I can't help but think that as a kid puts names, faces, time & place intersections with of his or her ancestors - puts them at the scenes, in the smack-middle with historical events and movements, that history will come alive and bust out of its irrelevant, boring drudge-reputation, that the dead will come alive and not in some creepy zombie way.
NKW: There was a study done by Emory University in Atlanta, GA; it found that children who know their family stories have higher self-esteem, suffer less from depression, and are better able to handle peer pressure. We believe this curriculum will not only benefit individual students but will also enhance the partnership between schools and communities, and will nurture the relationship between schools and local and state historical societies and museums, as students, in striving to find their family stories, also discover their community’s stories.
CH: So what happens from here? How's your revolution progressing?
NKW: There's going to be a graduate course offered here in my part of the world, at Lyndon State College. The idea is that these grad students will wrap their heads around the power of family stories in teaching history. Learn the ways of tracking them down and implementing these within the course content.
CH: It sounds to me as if this curriculum, this way of going about teaching social studies would have to enhance the students' reading and writing skills. Really, it's not as if we're trying to bring up a generation of authors - golly, what an idea! - it's that we want citizens who can knowledgeably participate in the republic –
NKW; Take part in our civilization's conversation. And shoot, without some sense of who we are and what we humans have been about, what are we going to read and write about?
CH: Couldn't have said it better myself!
at 8:00 AM
Friday, May 18, 2012
Thursday, May 17, 2012
There is a time to begin finishing every book. Sometimes it feels as though that phase may never come. But it does. And there is work to be done. Careful, meticulous, try-not-to-miss-any-detail kind of work. That is what I am doing now for my forthcoming COURAGE HAS NO COLOR. The process for a nonfiction book includes a lot of details that may surprise some people. Here are some of the things I do as the author to tie up any loose ends as we head into this final phase:
Make sure I have ordered every photo at a high-enough resolution to reproduce well in the book (tricky with archival WWII photos, and I do this with the help of the brill designer on the book).
Write the photo credits, making sure to check them against the most final layouts so all page references are credit, and cross-reference them against my photo source charts that I create.
Tally up my photo costs and make sure I haven’t gone over budget. And if I have, come up with a solution as to how to deal with this issue.
Compile all the source notes for any quote in the book. (This is a biggie—I think the source notes in Courage are ten manuscript pages, single spaced!)
Make sure that the Bibliography I created while writing the book is complete and up-to-date (i.e. I haven’t forgotten to include any books or articles or documentaries I may have used in the last few months).
Check all the captions I have written against the information in the text to make sure I haven’t inadvertently contradicted myself with any facts; in other words, check and re-check my research. Do this process again, checking any official information I may or may not have received with each photo. Note: sometimes my research turns up errors in official information and I get to correct it--very satisfying!
Re-read the acknowledgments and make sure I haven’t left any out. These omissions generally fall into two categories—people who have contributed something in the last stretch of the process so it’s new information and people who deserve such a big thank-you I assumed they were already in there!
Go over the layout issues with my editor and designer for tweaking of things like half and full title page, dedication, headers or footers, and any back matter issues that arise.
And last but not least—read through the text again in hopes of catching a glaring typo that has been hiding in plain sight this whole time! (Note: I just found one of those, so this is a really important step.)
All of these things actually come before I will have a chance to carefully read the final layouts—these steps are to ensure that everything MAKES it into the final layouts! There is a certain satisfaction that comes from tying up all the loose ends and seeing a manuscript transform into a BOOK.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
|Artist rendering of Milky Way Galaxy, credit NASA/JPL-Caltech|
|Google Image search, click image for results page|
Will there be puppies!?!
|Click image to view more puppies. Note non-puppy stowaway above.|
Does it have anything to do with you?
|Tag Galaxy search on People, click image to visit site|
Oops, looks like our time is up. I'll have to finish this up in a future post.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
I was on a short writing retreat last week--a time and place away from news and social networking and daily obligations. Yes, heaven. But two news items snuck into the idyll: the death of Maurice Sendak and President Obama's announcement coming out in favor of gay marriage. I cried and sighed and smiled; both of these events revolve around children and telling truths.
Maurice Sendak, though he wrote fiction, was a master truth-teller. I would like to take out that "though" because of course we tell truth when we write fiction as well as non-fiction, but sometimes the "outside" world forgets that. But when I say he was a master Truth-Teller, I mean Truth with a capital T. And Teller with a capital T. He was not afraid to hit the tough subjects when he was writing and drawing for kids--death, AIDS, fear, anger, homosexuality, the Holocaust, love. Because he knew that kids want and crave and need the truth. About everything.
On this little retreat one night as we cooked dinner, the talk turned to sex (education), as it often does when five mothers are together, especially mothers whose kids span the ages--twenties to teens to twos. When did you tell, how did you tell, what should I say? And the overwhelming answer was: tell the truth. And also, get Robie Harris to help you.
People who write for children are devotees of telling the truth, and we learned from people like Robie and Maurice Sendak. I was so sad that Sendak died, but so happy that he lived. And wrote and drew. And told the truth. His books made a huge impression on our sons and lines from all of them are part of our family lexicon. "I don't care." "Let the wild rumpus begin!" And for some reason, especially, "Milk for the morning cake." (Why don't we have cake for breakfast, though?!) If you haven't read the obituary in the New York Times, treat yourself to it. Margalit Fox wrote one of the most wonderful obituaries I've ever read. I think Sendak would be pleased. I understand his NPR interview is great, too. I haven't listened to it yet. I hear one needs a lot of tissues.
When I read that President Obama finally came out in favor of gay marriage, I sighed, "Oh good." My friend in the room below me said, "I know." (Thin walls.) That was all we said at that moment (we were writing) but she knew what I was talking about and I knew what her reaction was.
President Obama finally came out in favor of gay marriage, it is said, not because of his Veep's declaration or because of the North Carolina embarrassment, but because of his daughters. Apparently they told him that love between two people is love between two people. They should be able to get married. Who knows? Maybe they had been telling him that for a long time. Maybe he had been telling them that. (We can only hope.) But it's the truth and it seems they told him it was time to Tell the Truth. It so often takes children to lead the way to the truth. Because they just seem to be unafraid of it. Up to a certain age they don't have the defenses and the filters and the biases that adults have. We who write for and teach children know this.
In 1969, E.B. White told George Plimpton and Frank H. Crowther in a Paris Review interview, "Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth. They accept, almost without question, anything you present them with, as long as it is presented honestly, fearlessly, and clearly."
He goes on to say that "Some writers for children deliberately avoid using words they think a child doesn't know. This emasculates the prose and, I suspect, bores the reader. Children are game for anything. I throw them hard words, and they backhand them over the net. They love words that give them a hard time, provided they are in a context that absorbs their attention."
Master Truth Tellers deserve all the respect, adulation and thanks we can give them. Most of the great ones, like White and Sendak, were actually humble. Maurice Sendak knew that children often ate his work. He loved that. They read it, they loved it, they ate it. Fine with him. But those who write for children are also proud of it. Sendak did not love when people disrespected him or the genre. And yet he didn't think he was changing the world (I disagree). He told Vanity Fair in an interview last August, “A woman came up to me the other day and said, ‘You’re the kiddie-book man!’ I wanted to kill her.”
E.B. White said in that same Paris Review interview, back in 1969, "A writer must reflect and interpret his society, his world. He must also provide inspiration and guidance and challenge."
I would say that goes double and triple for those of us who write for kids. Because kids demand and deserve the truth. Give it to them and they will lead the way.
Monday, May 14, 2012
Friday, May 11, 2012
"True stuff doesn't have to
be all solemn and serious and sedate," wrote Roz in her post
last week about humor in nonfiction picture books. If ever there was a biographical subject who
was NOT solemn and sedate, it was Julia Child, who would have turned 100 this
year. Serious is another matter, however.
|Fun in the kitchen|
|Flowers for Julia Child's |
80th birthday party,
complete with kitchen whisk.
|"And so Julia and Paul adopted Minette, a mischievous, energetic poussiequette with a lovely, speckled coat.|
Or, shall we say, Minette adopted Julia and Paul." Illustration © Amy Bates 2012.
After the kitchen shortcuts of the 1950's (casserole with canned cream of mushroom soup, anyone?), Julia Child was a breath of fresh air. As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of her birth in this era of fast food, it's important to share with kids the serious things Julia taught us about food, as well as the humor she brought to all her endeavors.
|Julia and Paul Child in the tub.|
Valentine's Day card, 1956.