Author Archives: carolegerber

About carolegerber

I am not a debut author , but in 2016 will debut my first book represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette. She sold Ten Busy Brooms, a Halloween PB in verse, to Doubleday. Before writing for children, I worked as an English teacher, an adjunct professor of journalism, a marketing director, editor of a company magazine, contributing editor to a computer magazine, and as writer on creative teams at an ad agency and a hospital. All this "real world" experience made it possible for me to handle lots of rejections! Learn about my books at www.carolegerber.com

So Long, Farewell from Carole

Dear EMUs,

Thank you all for your friendship and support, especially those of you who participated in the  launch of my new Halloween book, Ten Busy Brooms, out last month from Doubleday.  I am adding an extra special thank-you to  Jason Gallaher, for all he does to organize these launches. I know I am not the only EMU who appreciates his kindness, patience, and enthusiasm.

omtb_9780316341219_final_Before I go, I want to share three bits of good news. First, two of my poems were selected by Kenn Nesbitt, editor of One Minute Till Bedtime: 60 Second Poems to Send You Off to Sleep  (Little, Brown). Launch date is November 1, 2016.  Kenn served as the Children’s Poet Laureate from 2013-2015. He contacted me two years ago, asked me to submit a couple of poems, and accepted both my submissions: “Time to Sleep” and “Snow Angels.” Here’s the flap copy for this book of short poems: ” It’s time for tuck-in, and your little one wants just one more moment with you–so fill it with something that will feed the imagination, fuel a love of reading, and send them off to sleep in a snap. Reach for a one-minute poem!” Here is the Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/One-Minute-till-Bedtime-60-Second/dp/0316341215/

Second, my book Leaf Jumpers, first published by in hardcover by Charlesbridge in 2006, will next year be released as a board book. It “survived” multiple printings in hardcover, then Charlesbridge printed it in softcover, and two years ago Scholastic bought the paperback rights and continues to sell it at their school book fairs all over the country. This is my only title to have such a long and multi-format lifespan. Needless to say, it is one of my favorites!

Third,  my picture book titled  A Band of Babies will finally be published in 2017, seven years after it was accepted by Maria Modugno, who then headed HarperCollins (she now heads Random House.) Much of the delay is based on the schedule of New York Times best-selling illustrator Jane Dyer, who gets booked years in advance. I have seen Jane’s cover art of my mischievous babies, and they are adorable! I will post it on my website as soon as the editors give me the go-ahead.

And now it’s time to say goodbye!  “Happy trails to you, until we meet again/Happy trails to you -keep smiling on till then/ Happy trails to you, till we meet again . . .” Here is the link to the entire song:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hgw_yprN_-w

 

 

 

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10 Busy Brooms

I  have never enjoyed going to haunted houses because I am easily frightened by costumed actors paid to scare people. That’s one of many reason I love Michael Fleming’s illustrations for my Halloween counting book, 10 Busy Brooms, out this month from Doubleday.  The “bad” critters he depicted look nearly as adorable as the altruistic little witches who rescue one another, making it clear to children that this book is sweet rather than scary.

Thanks also to another talented Michael, Doubleday Assistant Editor Michael Joosten, who worked closely with me to make sure my text and Mr. Fleming’s art fit together seamlessly. An enormous thank-you also goes to Frances Gilbert—Associate Publishing Director of Random House, Golden Books, Doubleday Books for Young Readers—for accepting my manuscript. And major thanks to my agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette for selling it.

I got the idea for this manuscript while thinking about my wholesome trick-or-treating adventures in the small Ohio town where I grew up. No one’s parents ever accompanied them—that would have been humiliating! Preschoolers stayed home and helped to hand out treats. Elementary school kids joined up with older siblings or friends and made the rounds. It was exciting to be out and about at night, unsupervised by adults, and feeling the occasional thrill of fear at seeing a seriously scary goblin I didn’t recognize in costume.

Most children wore simple costumes:  old sheet with eye holes cut out for ghosts, and black wigs worn under witch hats. Many kids wore cheap masks from the dime store.  A few painted their faces. Many wore fake wax lips or wax teeth that had to be taken out when you said, “trick or treat.” Both the lips and teeth had a sweet taste and could be chewed like gum later in the evening. Older kids carried soap in their pockets to leave their marks on homes of people who were too clueless or cheap to give out treats. Some carried bags of dry corn. Soaping windows and/or throwing corn on porches were the “tricks” if a treat wasn’t given.

None of us liked the sheriff’s prissy daughter, Beverly, and we all hated knocking on the door of their home. However, her family gave out full-size candy bars, so we put away our wax teeth and lips so we could smile politely when her mother opened the door. Getting our candy bars wasn’t a quick transaction, though, because Mrs. B. (full name withheld to protect Beverly’s privacy) always attempted to first guess the identity of each beggar, then demanded that we take off our disguises if she guessed wrong. (Hand over the Hershey already!)

Okay, so how am I going to wind up this trip down memory lane? Hmmmm. How about with this:  Trick or treat/smell my feet/give me something good to eat. And, if you get a chance in October,  read 10 Busy Brooms to a child who loves Halloween.

 

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All You Need, You Already Have

I was intrigued by this title of a weekly column by Leo Babauta who writes on the topic of  “Zen Habits.”  Translated from the Japanese words ware tada shira taru, the  phrase “all you need, you already have” are words we should aspire to live by.  As Mr. Babauta says, “It’s a lovely way of looking at life.”

He urges people to expand our appreciation of what we have instead of always wanting more. “Chances are, you have enough food, clothing, shelter, and other basic necessities in your life. You might also have loved ones who care about you. You are without any desperate needs.”

I believe his words apply especially to writers. As EMUs, you already have one of the basic necessities of  being – or becoming – a published writer. You have an imagination. You have a computer.  You have manuscripts. You have an agent. In Mr. Babauta words, “All you need, you already have.”

But many of us don’t recognize this. If we haven’t yet been published, we worry that it won’t happen.  If we have been published, we briefly celebrate and then begin stewing about whether we’ll ever get another manuscript accepted. If we’ve had multiple books published, we worry that the streak is about to end.

I thought of the need to appreciate what we had after reading a lengthy and heartfelt obituary last spring in my local paper. (Yes, I’m a writer who is intrigued by how families and friends sum up the lives of their loved ones.)  Here’s an abridged excerpt:

William H. Lewis, “Popcorn,” age 91, passed peacefully in the warm spring sunshine of Monday, April 25 after planting his final garden. . . Reared on the family farm, he grew and sold vegetables. Following high school graduation, Popcorn served in the Pacific from 1943-1946. He returned to farming when he retired from B.F. Goodrich in 1986.  Popcorn lived a full life of adventure, bewilderment, achievement, misfortune, and joy. He was a farmer, WWII vet, marathon runner, humanitarian, dancer, freshwater angler, musician, hunter, and artist. Friend to many delightful (and peculiar) characters. . . Popcorn showed us that life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.   

What a great tribute! What loving and insightful writing! I wish I had known this man. Popcorn clearly savored and appreciated his imperfect life. He lived as Leo Babauta urges us to live: By remembering that we already have enough, “we can appreciate the beauty, the preciousness of every moment of being alive.” Whether we publish a hundred books, one book, or none at all, we already have what we need.

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A Week of Kids, Kids, Kids

Last week was action-packed for me – a writer whose usual day consists of trips to Starbucks, the library, the grocery and periodic lunches or dinners out with my husband and/or friends. On Tuesday, I drove 180 miles round-trip to and from a school author visit. I have no clue about how this principal stumbled across my web site, but I am glad she did. It was a long but fulfilling day spent with lively students. They were great listeners, excellent questioners, and good readers who laughed in all the right places at my PowerPoint presentation about my books, Seeds, Bees, Butterflies, and More! Poems for Two Voices (for grades 3-5) and Little Red Bat (for grades K and 1).

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The older kids were excited to step up to the microphone in pairs to read my poems aloud. The younger ones were fascinated by my slide show about the amazing characteristics of red bats, and the devotion of the man featured in my presentation who feeds and rehabilitates injured bats before releasing them.  The little kids also loved petting my life-size little red bat puppet. Later, using my lesson extension activities, all the students worked with their teachers on brainstorming and writing their own (non-rhyming) butterfly and bat poems.

On Friday, I spent the morning with a group of kindergarteners celebrating Earth Day at Stratford Nature Preserve, a 200-acre working farm where I volunteer one morning a week. It was a dreary, muddy, sloppy day. But that didn’t stop us from pulling on our boots and planting a tree before moving onto other adventures:  visiting the new piglets, tossing bread to the fish in the pond, playing on a makeshift teeter-totter, and petting the baby goats. IMG_0912

Saturday was the Ohioana Book Fair downtown, where 120 Ohio writers and illustrators who’ve had books published in the current year gather to sign and sell their wares, serve on panels, and meet our readers. I sold a fair number of books, met the Cincinnati illustrator of my book, The Twelve Days of Christmas in Ohio, and shared a table with a woman who illustrated my Little Red Bat and Annie Jump Cannon, Astronomer books. Despite editors attempts to keep us from directly communicating while the books were in progress, we became friends and have kept in touch via email. We hadn’t spent time together in two years, though, so it was fun to spend eight full hours catching up.

We even found time to befriend a large mouse. Not sure whose book he was attached to, but he was certainly photogenic!IMG_0913 It was also fun to meet in person the parents and teachers who buy my books and the children who read them. After thumbing through the five titles on my table, a grandmother bought Tuck-in-Time for her toddler grandchild who has night terrors. She felt the loving words spoken by the mother in my book, that ends with a goodnight kiss, would help make bedtime less of a struggle.   

Please understand that the purpose of this post is not to talk about myself. (Since I’m the writer I know best, it is – by necessity – all about moi.) The point is that all of us need to be reminded that our work matters. Whether our books are funny or heartfelt, true or figments of our imaginations, adults are reading them to young children and older children are reading them for themselves.  Now and again, it’s nice for introverted writers to meet and greet our “peeps.” It makes all those hours of sitting alone and thinking, writing, and revising (and revising some more) worthwhile.

 

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Meeting and Greeting Your Readers

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Practice Patience

Being a children’s author, I’ve concluded, is a lot like being an actor. Like actors who attend multiple auditions hoping to land a role, we authors write multiple manuscripts, hoping that – after auditioning with various editors – our work will eventually find an editor who wants to publish it.

I am skipping a discussion of the lengthy time from idea to writing, rewriting, rewriting and more rewriting. We have all mastered, to varying degrees, the necessity of persevering in this solitary discipline. The amount of time and effort we spend is within our control.

The rest – alas! – is not. You send it to your agent, who will read it when she has time and choose to represent it – or not. If she does send it off to editors, there’s usually a long lag between sending it out and getting it published, if you are talented and lucky enough for this to happen. Rarely does the first editor accept it, and it may take weeks or months for her to even look at it. If she rejects it, the process begins again with another editor. In the meantime, how do you feel? Mad? Sad? Powerless?

giphy-5I know I do, because I have felt all these emotions multiple times.  As a journalist, I was respected for my quick turnarounds on assignments, for always meeting deadlines, and for following up  and being thorough. It is a field that rewards type A behavior. Getting a book published appears to require exactly the opposite. After it’s published and the excitement dies down, the long wait begins again on another manuscript.

In a yoga class right after the New Year, we students were asked to choose a word to guide us during 2016, and to write it on the card we were given. Some looked meditative and thoughtfully gnawed their pencils. Not me! I instantly printed PATIENCE in all capital letters. I know I need to find a different way of dealing with the publishing  process, and I am working on it.

While browsing through back issues of Yoga Journal (seeking poses that promote patience!), I came across an article about the “yoga of work.” The most useful, profound and difficult teaching states: “You have the right to the work alone, not to its fruits. Therefore, do not set your heart on the results of your actions.” The author, Sally Kempton, acknowledges that this is a difficult teaching. However, she wisely adds: “When you do the work for the sake of the work itself, rather than for a desired result, you’re much less likely to be anxious about the outcome. You’re also less likely to feel crippling disappointment if things don’t go the way you had hoped or planned.”

Further, she urges us to learn to release our attachment to outcomes without becoming jaded or pessimistic. Finally, she concludes:  “Remember that your contract with life doesn’t specify that you will always get what you want.”  To that, I must add, if and when we do get rewarded for the fruits of our work (as most of us have or will), let’s  cultivate the grace to be humbly and sincerely grateful. (Instead of thinking “It’s about time!”which was my reaction upon learning that a manuscript I sold in 2010 would finally be published in 2017.)  Clearly, I am still not as patient as I should be. But I am working on it. Really!

 

 

 

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Congrats to a Former Emu . . .

named Penny Parker Klostermann, my wonderful friend and discerning critique partner. Her debut picture book, There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight (Random House), illustrated by Ben Mantle, was chosen Best in Rhyme 2015 by the Rhyming Picture Book Revolution conference committee. This is a brand new award, developed by writer and blogger Angie Karcher,  founder of Rhyming Picture Book Month.  In April, Angie will dedicate her blog, RhyPiBoMo, to the celebration of rhyming picture books through  posts by authors, agents, and other lovers of rhyming PBs.Penny receiving award

The 450 members of the RhyPiBoMo Facebook group nominated about 50 books for the award.  Book criteria included:  written in rhyme; be a story, not a concept book; and traditionally published between October 1, 2014 and September 30, 2015.  Twelve committee members took nominations and individually scored each book with a comprehensive rubric that included elements found in an outstanding rhyming picture book:  character, rhyming pattern, meter, language fluency and several others. When the scores were tallied,  Penny’s book was ranked #1!

Two honor books were also named:  What About Moose?, written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, illustrated by Keika Yamaguchi; and Interstellar Cinderella, written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Meg Hunt.

Penny flew to New York City on Friday, December 4th to receive the award in person, where – first thing –  she met up for a tour of the publishing company with editorial director of picture books at Random House, Maria Mondugno.  “She kept saying, ‘I want to show you something exciting,’ Penny says, “and I kept replying, “You don’t understand. . . everything about this is exciting!”

That evening, Penny attended the award ceremony, which was streamed live from Julie Gribble’s KidLitTV Studio. “Julie was an amazing host and the award ceremony was spectacular!” Penny exclaims.  “It was followed by a reception with yummy food and drink—all named for my book: ‘BuRRRP Juice, Guaca-Moat-le, Salsa de Squire,’ and more. They also got artwork from Ben Mantle to make a big dragon tri-fold.”

On Saturday, December 5th, Penny presented at a PB teaching conference focused on the elements of writing in rhyme. Other faculty included editors Rebecca Davis and Justin Chandra, agent Kendra Marcus, and authors Karma Wilson, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Lori Degman, and Cory Rosen Schwartz.​ The last part of the conference was a “poetry card schmooze,” in which attendees designed their own postcard with a short poem and exchanged them. On Sunday, following brunch with Maria Mondugno, Penny participated in a panel with authors Corey Rosen Schwartz, Lori Degman, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, and Karma Wilson.  Signing at Books of Wonder  “This great event was titled ‘Rollicking Rhymes’,” Penny explains. “We had a nice little crowd. Many were attendees from the Rhyming Picture Book Revolution conference. The store had quite a few customers and some of them came over to see what all of the excitement was about.”

 It was an action-packed and stupendously exciting weekend for Penny, who described it as “A nice Christmas present.” Congratulations, Penny! We are so proud of you.

 

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Letting Go of the Need to Control

I am a long-time reader of a free weekly newsletter titled “Zen Habits” by Leo Babauta, which offers advice on becoming – well – more “zen-like” and calm in the face of adversity and disappointment. On my October 5th birthday, Leo’s post was “Letting Go of the Need for Control.”  My reaction was, “What a great birthday gift that would be! Come on, Leo. Tell me how to do that!”

First, Leo admits relinquishing control is a problem for him. “One of the things I struggle with in life is wanting to feel in control of how things will turn out – control of a trip I’m on, of a project I’m working on, of how my kids will turn out.” Yep, sounds like a universal issue. It’s certainly one of mine.

He continues: “I don’t think we ever really control how things will turn out. . . . What’s more, I’ve found that when I want to control the outcome of things, I become more anxious, more tense. I’m less happy with how other people do things, less happy with myself, less relaxed in the moment.”

Mrs. PuffI am not a control freak. I don’t always have to get my way. I play nice with others and do my best to be thoughtful and kind. I’ve received enough rejections to be humble and enough acceptances to know that some big publishing houses believe I have talent. However, like most writers, I struggle with feelings of powerlessness about my work. When will my agent send out the manuscripts she likes? When will editors respond? Why do things in this business move so slowly? (I had a manuscript accepted seven years ago by HarperCollins that still hasn’t been published!) Why? Why? Why?

Here’s Leo Babauta says:  “I can’t stop myself from wanting to control things,” he writes (thus proving that he’s human!) But  he has learned to handle it:  “I have to just notice the desire to control things, and let the urge happen. Just sit there and see the urge, feel it, be with it.

“Next,” Leo continues, “I turn to the moment and see the beauty of what’s in front of me. Of the ever-changing situation I find myself in. There’s joy in this situation, even if it’s uncontrolled. I don’t need to control things to enjoy them. I can just let things happen.”  I warned you about the zen, right? However, I’ve found Leo’s advice to be practical. I continue to find joy in the process of writing. Some of what I write does eventually sell.

In the meantime, I find joy in being with my audience – children – one morning a week as a volunteer nature guide at a 200-acre farm and nature preserve. Last Thursday, while gathering eggs, a kindergarten student got scared by a chicken and threw his egg on the ground instead of putting it gently back in the nest (for another child to discover later.) The egg cracked, the chickens began gobbling it, and the little boy – whose name is Alex – looked stricken.

He was cheered by my zen-like response. “Don’t worry Alex. It’s just an egg. Plus, their behavior proves that you are SO much smarter than those hens! If they were smart, chickens would peck their eggs open and eat them for breakfast, instead of letting humans eat them!” Alex laughed, let go of his worries, and we all went off to visit the pigs. Zen in action! I do wonder what his mother said when he told he learned on his field trip that he is smarter than a chicken!

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A Looney Interview with Author Luke Reynolds

I bought, read and loved Luke Reynolds’ debut book, THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT. Robert Looney reminded me of my high school government teacher, Arnold Brix – brilliant but weird. Or is that “weirdly brilliant”? Whatever! It’s a personality type guaranteed to capture the minds and hearts of adolescents. Naturally, I had some questions for the author. (Writers always do.)

You dedicate your book to Robert Looney (for faith), to John Robinson (for hope) and to your wife Jennifer Reynolds, for love. I understand that Mr. Looney and Mr. Robinson were your teachers. Could you give some more details about Mr. Looney— i.e. when he was your teacher? Did he, too, use offbeat teaching methods? How did he influence you?

These two teachers—Mr. Looney and Mr. Robinson—are two of the most remarkable people I was fortunate to know and learn from. I had Mr. Robert Looney when I was a fifth grade student at John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Windsor, Connecticut. The real Mr. Looney had wild hair and endless energy, and the thing I remember most about him was when he stood on a chair during our first class session, held up the dreaded spelling textbook in his hand, and then proceeded to toss it into the trash. My friends and I were enthralled. That year, Mr. Looney led us through his self-titled FLAIR writing program, in which we crafted all kinds of stories, poems, and essays.

During college, when I was learning to be a teacher myself, Mr. John Robinson was my mentor teacher. John spoke about literature and writing with so much energy and love that I thought he would burst. His passion translated to his students and I found the two great passions of my own life: teaching and writing. I still correspond with both my inspiring teachers. The Looney Experiment exists because of their model, their passion, and their core beliefs.

I admire your use of similes! A few examples: Atticus’s teacher’s face “stretches out like she’s about to blow painful bubbles.” When she’s angry at Atticus, who’s afraid to speak in class, for not presenting his report, she looks at him “with eyes like the points of nails.” Shy, self-conscious Atticus pretends “My voice is like thunder.” His discomfort amuses the class bully: “a smirk grows like bacteria across Danny’s face, threatening to take over all the skin that remains.” Do you feel similes are particularly useful in writing for this age group? Why?

Similes feel really natural when I write. It’s the way my brain works. I love similes because I feel like they give layers of character and meaning to my book. I can only hope readers of The Looney Experiment feel similarly!

I rewrote a lot of the metaphors to try and keep them fresh and authentic. I owe MASSIVE gobs of gratitude to my amazing agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette. The Looney Experiment went through many drafts and Joan offered incredible counsel and ideas for revision. She gave me expert advice on how to keep the metaphors fresh and vivid. I also thought the character of Atticus Hobart—with his wildly active imagination—would be a huge fan of writing with metaphor as a lens through which he viewed the world!

When Atticus’s imagination takes over, he has inner dialogs with various people and objects (i.e., Robert Frost, his gray baseball tights, a sports commentator, Audrey Higgins) are funny and insightful. Did you start out using this technique?

The book did start with this technique in the first draft—and through all 11 versions, it kept the dialogue of intangible objects or long-dead (or non-existent but created) people would have conversations with Atticus. This was certainly the most FUN part of writing this novel. I kind of just let Atticus do his thing.

LOVE your description of Mr. Looney, who subs when his teacher goes on maternity leave: “. . . his sagging, crinkled skin looks like it’s going to fall right off his face and go sliding down his body until it hits the floor in a big puddle of soggy, soppy, old-person flesh.” Did you imagine this physical description right away? Or did you tinker with it throughout your writing process?

This was one of the original lines of the first draft. I realized that Mr. Looney had to be old—it had to seem to 8th graders that he should be in a nursing home rather than a classroom. When I read this part aloud to people, they half-laughed and half-gagged, and I thought: that’s just about the reaction I am hoping for.

Mr. Looney doesn’t fit into Atticus’s description of the four types of teachers. (I taught middle school for a year and they rang true for me.) Please summarize those four types for those who haven’t yet read your book. Which type best describes you?

Sure! The four types that Atticus describes are: 1) the Non-nonsense teacher (tough and could pummel your heart with a pinky). 2) The “Everything is Magical Teacher” who begins with a glow of positivity but rapidly descends into chaotic attempts to take back control because everyone is going ABSOLUTELY CRAZY! 3) The nice teacher who also is stern and whose class is pretty interesting. 4) The “I don’t give a darn about you” teacher. I  hope I am in the category of the third teacher with a mix of Mr. Looney’s zaniness thrown in, but my students could answer that question much better than I can!

Atticus is also dealing with his critical and distant father moving out. As he mulls over what he, his mom, and his brother might have done to cause his dad to leave, he wonders: “I can’t figure out what’s worse: having a crappy dad who doesn’t really like you much or not having a dad at all.” This is just pitch perfect! Have you had your own students talk with you when their parents separated or divorced?

 This is a huge issue for many of my students, and many do want to write and talk about it. For whatever reason, middle school seems like a time when parents choose to separate, so these students are grappling with intense and confusing emotions. I am in a public school system, so I can’t give these students a big hug and tell them that everything is going to be okay. We don’t always know how, but it will. And I remind them that it’s always good to talk things through with people they trust, to journal about it, to ask for help. The truly courageous always ask for help.

Mr Looney tells the class the one thing he’s learned in 47 years of teaching is: “We are most afraid of ourselves.” How did you as a writer come up with this?

I think this came right up out of my own heart. When I look at the situations I’ve been in throughout my life.  I think I am most afraid of myself. Deep down, it’s not all the outward stuff and obstacles—it’s the inner stuff. I love what William Faulkner said about this in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech: “The young man or woman writing today has forgotten about the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.”

Mr. Looney defines courage this way: “Courage is the ability to keep going no matter how hard life feels. How did you come up with such a simple, eloquent definition?

I used to admire protagonists who performed amazing acts of heroism. I thought they had the market cornered when it came to courage. But when I became a teacher, my views began to change (and that notion was positively crushed when I became a dad). I saw the students had courage when they faced really tough obstacles at home, but kept trying.  And when, for a few years, I was a stay-at-home father in England, I saw that there was certainly no glory in that enterprise. There was no fanfare for a diaper well-changed or a tantrum skirted. I thought of those who fight unsung battles everyday (far tougher than mine), and began to see courage as the choice to keep moving forward when everything within and around you just wants to stop.

Mr. Looney’s only formal assignment is that the class read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus loves the book and is thrilled to learn his mother named him after Atticus Finch. What part did Harper Lee’s book play in the development of your debut novel?

Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird epitomized quiet courage. He makes the right choice and he keeps moving forward even though everyone thinks he’s doing something crazy—looney—and pointless. I loved that idea—the notion that courage can be doing anything that others say doesn’t make sense, but you know deep down it does. For Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, the stakes are pretty high. So I wanted to change the stakes and show how the same kind of courage is evidenced when, like my character Atticus Hobart, we keep moving forward—with whatever hope we can muster—in our own small worlds and in our own lives.

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On Reading Aloud to Children

“Certainly in the modern era there is something quaint about a grown-up and a child or two sitting in silence broken only by the sound of a single human voice,” writes Megan Cox Gurdon, children’s book reviewer for the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal. “Yet how cozy, how impossibly lovely it is!”

Indeed! Among my many warm childhood memories is the satisfaction of my parents allowing my sister Barbara and me to each choose a Little Golden Book every week when our family shopped together for groceries. Or rather, our parents shopped while we carefully browsed the rack of inexpensive but sturdy books. Barb and I shared a bedroom and our parents would read from our big stack of Golden Books to us every night before tucking us in. As a parent, I did the same for my own two daughters, and have boxed and saved their favorite books for them to share with their children.

As Ms. Cox Gurdon points out, hearing stories read aloud fosters imagination in a way that movies cannot. She quotes a friend, a film producer who is also a mother:  “Creating that world [of the spoken word] in your head is a muscle that must be exercised. Kids now are being spoon-fed visual storytelling, so there’s no reason for them to close their eyes and imagine a world, imagine what those people would look like, the clothes and smells and landscapes.”

I don’t believe the film producer is knocking children’s books, where illustrations enhance the words to our stories. Hearing books read aloud and studying the dozen or so illustrations in a typical picture book requires active listening.  Watching “moving pictures” – whether on television or an iPad – is a passive experience that requires nothing of the child’s imagination.

Teachers, too, can foster children’s imaginations by reading aloud to them in the classroom. I hope this great pleasure has not been pushed aside by the current educational frenzy that pushes teachers into spending huge segments of time prepping students for standardized tests.  All my elementary teachers regularly read aloud to us. My favorite, Miss Miracle, (who could forget a teacher with such a name!) would have us cross our arms on our desks and put our heads down. She walked around the room giving gentle pats to our backs as she read. (Or maybe she was checking to make sure we were awake. Whatever! I loved hearing her voice and imagining pictures to go with the stories.)

As a picture book author, all those hours of being read to have served me well. I can’t draw a lick – and have tremendous admiration for illustrators of my books – but I can imagine the pictures that will flesh out my stories. Nearly always, the illustrator’s visual interpretation of my words astonishes me and fills me with gratitude. Yes!

Writers, like parents and teachers, have an essential and – in Ms. Cox Gurdon’s words, “impossibly lovely” job. Our words foster children’s imaginations and love of reading, as well as their physical attachment to books.

Years ago, a woman showed up in my old office near the OSU campus, having tracked me down through Charlesbridge Publishing. Her niece’s family, who lived in a small central Ohio town, had lost nearly everything in a house fire.  Among the losses was my picture book, Firefly Night.  The aunt was unable to find it in a bookstore because it was out of print (or as I prefer to think of it – sold out). I keep multiple copies of my books, so I signed one and gave it to her. It made me happy to think I could give this little girl back at least one of the things she had lost.

‘You can access the full article by typing “The Great Gift of Reading Aloud” by Megan Cox Gurdon as a search term. If you are a WSJ subscriber, follow this link to the online edition:  http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-great-gift-of-reading-aloud-1436561248

 

 

 

 

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