Category Archives: Inspiration

The BLUE SKY WHITE STARS All-American Author Interview! Plus a Recipe!

Cue the marching band! Light the fireworks! It’s time for an All-American Author Interview! 

I asked Blue Sky White Stars author Sarvinder Naberhaus  about her favorite American foods, pastimes, and traditions. Here’s the scoop:

The 4th of July is coming, and you’re invited to my backyard barbecue bash. What tasty treat should I grill up for you? A hot dog? A hamburger? Something else entirely?

A grilled hamburger is good, but so is a grilled hot dog. It’s probably a toss-up, but I’d top either of them with barbecue sauce. 

Barbecue sauce on a dog or burger?! That’s some American ingenuity, right there. I’ll forgo my usual ketchup-mustard-relish-onions combo next time and try it. 

Batter up! We’re headed off to enjoy America’s favorite pastime — a baseball game. When the snack vendor comes our way, do you want peanuts or Cracker Jack?

When I was young I’d walk to Pammel Grocery and buy Cracker Jack. I only bought them for the prize. I would eat them, but never really liked them. I lived for the prize. 

Here you go, Sarvinder. All the prizes just for you.

Happy Thanksgiving! Do you choose a slice of apple pie or pumpkin pie? And what’s your favorite side dish?

Definitely pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Favorite side dish? French Silk Pie! 

Pie on the side? That takes the cake!

My kids love my pumpkin bars too, so I’ll share the recipe at the end of this post. 

Have you ever visited Washington D.C. and the Smithsonian museums? Which was your favorite? 

The Air and Space Museum. I’m fascinated with the stars and wanted to be an astronaut, hence the ending of Blue Sky White Stars. 

Readers will have to rocket to their nearest library or bookstore to see BLUE SKY WHITE STAR’s spectacular ending. Kadir Nelson’s illustrations are stratospherically stunning. 

It’s a perfect summer night with exactly zero mosquitoes. I’ve packed the station wagon with snacks and pillows. Let’s go to the drive-in! Which classic American film should we see? *crosses her fingers for JAWS*

My favorite movie is THE SOUND OF MUSIC, but for the drive-in, I say GREASE. 

Speaking of summer blockbusters, I’ve revved up the DeLorean’s flux capacitor. Let’s time travel! Which famous American would you most like to meet? 

There are lots of people in BLUE SKY WHITE STARS that I’d like to meet, but I’d have to say Laura Ingalls Wilder. 

Great choice! I’d love to hear Half Pint’s stories first-hand. Can you imagine getting writing advice from her? Amazing. 

Nothing is more American than a… In that spirit, it’s time for the speed round. Hold on to your 10-gallon hat, Sarvinder!

 

Fireworks or fireflies?

Definitely fireflies on a warm July night, millions blinking over the fields of Iowa. A sight to behold. 

Jazz or Country? Country. My favorite singer is Amy Grant. 

Nascar or rodeo? Nascar.

Coke or Pepsi? Neither. Dr. Pepper!

On that appropriately independent note, I’d like to thank you, Sarvinder Naberhaus, for participating in this All-American Author Interview. And now, for the grand finale:

Sarvinder’s Famous Pumpkin Bars With Cream Cheese Frosting

Grease a 10 x 13 ” pan. Preheat oven to 350.
Mix together:

4 eggs, slightly beaten
2 c. sugar
2 c. pumpkin (1 15 oz. can)

Then add:

1 c. vegetable oil

Next add:

2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Spread batter into pan. Bake 20 minutes. 

Frosting:

Soften 4 oz. cream cheese and 3/4 c. butter (1 1/2 sticks)
Blend cream cheese and butter with 1 tsp. milk, 1 tsp. vanilla extract, 1 3/4 c. powdered sugar until smooth. (Frosting recipe can be doubled. Freeze half for another day.)

Frost cooled pumpkin sheet cake and cut into bars. 

Enjoy while reading BLUE SKY WHITE STARS. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming in spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka.
I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

 

(Vendor photo: Apr 5, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Ballpark vendor Chico Sakulsky sells peanuts and Cracker Jack before the Pittsburgh Pirates play the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

 

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Filed under Celebrations, Inspiration, Interviews, Uncategorized

Revision—To Quit or To Quilt?

I’m going to give it to you straight.

Writing is challenging enough, but to revise a manuscript—to critically reconsider each element and rework it—takes next-level commitment. Everything matters, from the tiniest detail to a panoramic vision of the whole.

The word revise is of French origin and means, “to see again.” At some point in the creative process, your writing must be seen afresh, and no one can do that like you. You, after all, envisioned your idea and with the barest of materials—imagination, emotion, words—undertook to create something both beautiful and useful. Because of you, a unique manuscript came into the world, and at some point, you will strive to revise it. Your instincts about this prospect are correct, at least in part.

Correct:

-It will be demanding and will require a fresh outpouring of determination.

Incorrect:

-You can’t do it.

You can and moreover, you will. Why? Because you love and believe in your manuscript. Trust me, you wouldn’t have gotten this far if you didn’t. If you didn’t believe in your story and in your ability to tell it, then all the notebooks, colorful thumb drives, or even that pesky laptop would be mouldering in a drawer.

Like my single, sorry attempt at a quilt.

Sure, I bought the supplies. I had coordinating fabrics, the roll-y cutting blade thing, and the self-healing mat. I had templates, thread, and batting. I read the directions. I even had middling good intentions.

I barely got started. Turns out, my heart isn’t drawn to fabric and batting, and I can’t cut a triangle to save my life. I wasn’t committed and before long, I knew it. I put my quilt stuff in a drawer and moved on.

I deeply admire quilters. I’m dazzled by the skill and artistry required to make even a basic quilt. I appreciate quilting’s history, its regional and cultural variations, and its stitch-by stitch manifestation of mathematical understanding and applied color theory. Behold this gorgeous example:

Now that I’ve tried my hand at quilting, I esteem these creators and their profoundly beautiful, profoundly useful, something-from-nearly-nothing coverlets much more. Their commitment to each one is self-evident.

I admire writers too. Their next-level commitment to creating the profoundly beautiful and profoundly useful is self-evident. Which brings me back to revision.

I don’t care if your manuscript is a 15-word board book or a Game Of Thrones-esque monster, you’ve come this far and will persist. With the courage of your convictions, you’ll disassemble your writing as laboriously as you pieced it together. You’ll pull it apart at the seams, tease out the stitches, and cut where you must to shred what was whole into back bright scraps. You’ll re-see it. And then—here comes the magic—you’ll bring it back together. The final result will be soft and strong, colorful, useful, and durable. It will offer comfort and cheer, warmth and inspiration. Born of tireless work and loving patience, of an open mind and a more open heart, it will be a wonder.

And that’s the truth.

—————————————————————————————————————————

A few picture books about quilting:

Patricia McKissack and Cozbi A. Cabrera’s STITCHIN’ and PULLIN’Stitchin and PullinGeorgia Guback’s LUKA’S QUILT.

Luka's Quilt

Ann Whitford Paul and Jeanette Winter’s EIGHT HANDS ROUND.

Quilt image credit: Soldier’s Quilt, Artist unidentified, Probably United States, Canada, or Great Britain, 1854–1890, Wool melton, 67 x 66 1/2 in. American Folk Art Museum


I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. It will be illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka.
I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Filed under Advice, craft~writing, Editing and Revising, Inspiration, Uncategorized, Writing

Answering the Question: “Why Did You Write This Story?”

Recently, I sat with my marketing team at HarperCollins and discussed different ideas for promoting my novel, The Poet X. People often ask me what my novel is about (which is a question I hate! I don’t have my elevator pitch down and I often hem and haw my way through every plot point only to wrap up with, “anditisaboutslampoetryandloveandfaithanddaughterhood.”) but at this particular  meeting my publicist asked a question I wasn’t expecting, “Why did you write this particular story?”

I’ve been sitting with that question. I think I wrote The Poet X because as a teen Afro-Dominicana, spoken word was a place that I found I could express myself and question all of the roles that had been impressed upon me by my culture, and neighborhood, and school; roles that sometimes felt like too tight clothing I couldn’t breathe in.

I’ve taught everything from 8th grade English to creative writing in adjudicated youth centers to the award-winning cohort of youth poets, the DC Youth Slam Team, and time and again I was moved by the realization that many of the young people in my classes and workshops found poetry as an outlet to be their full selves. So many of these young people were also trying to stretch into the person they wanted to be. At some point in their life they’d been told they were too big, or loud, or black, or brown, or accented, or poor, or incarcerated, or dumb; and so The Poet X is for them. A place where young people who are “too much” can see themselves reflected back; a reminder they exist and are worthy of every piece of literature.

Between when I began The Poet X and when it sold, I wrote two other manuscripts. One was an urban fantasy novel set in the Dominican Republic and the second one was magical realism centering a teen mom who aspired to be a chef. I loved both those stories and each one of them taught me how to become a better fiction writer. In my heart I knew that I wanted my debut book to be a story that set a strong foundation for my career and if it was the only thing I ever wrote, I wanted it to be something that reflected the values and experiences I hold dear. So for writers working on their first project, here’s what I’ve learned while trying to answer the “why” that I think led to my telling the story closest to my heart.

  • Write with blinders on. That doesn’t mean to be tone deaf to current events, but it’s easy to want to write in response to a trend. I think about all the writers who wanted to write vampires or BDSM after those subjects became trendy, and it was clear what stories had been mulled over for years and explored and writtend irrespective to what was “hot” and the stories that were quickly slapped together to fit the times. If the story doesn’t nag at you, or tug on your heart, or make your palms sweaty that lack of rootedness will show. Write the story that feels urgent to you. Don’t chase a trend because what the market wants will change in a second, but what moves you will move others. If you return to an idea, it’s because you truly love it.
  • Give yourself permission to meander. I had to write a lot of different things before I could finish to The Poet X. Like a first time dater, I had a lot to learn before I could fully commit. I needed to play with other storylines, and try different styles and genres, so that by the time I returned to X, I was smarter, a better writer, and had a clear sense of why this was the story I wanted to be working on and putting out into the world.
  • Allow your book to be a mirror and a window. In The Poet X, I was intentional about how I deployed slang, and non-standard English, and Spanish, and Latinidad, and slam poetry, and urban imagery; I was mindful that not all of my readers would be familiar with ways to navigate those different experiences, but I trust readers will still be intrigued enough to peek in and stay awhile. For other readers, I imagine this world will feel really familiar and I’m so happy they will find a comfortable place to rest their head. Negotiating what needed context clues and what might require the reader to do additional work, was a tough balance to find, but I stayed true to telling my most authentic story.

My “why” will probably change as the release date gets closer and I keep mining the myriad of answers that spring up every time I think about my book. The heart of my answer will probably always be: Growing up, I wanted to find a blueprint for myself in stories but struggled to find a girl like me in books. So, I decided to write her. And so my last piece of advice: write into existence the story you most needed growing up; your younger self will thank you.

20131031-dsc_7508-copyELIZABETH ACEVEDO is the youngest child and only daughter of Dominican immigrants. She holds a BA in Performing Arts from the George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. With over fourteen years of performance experience, Acevedo has toured her poetry nationally and internationally. She is a National Poetry Slam Champion, and has two collections of poetry, Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths (YesYes Books, 2016) and winner of the 2016 Berkshire Prize, Medusa Reads La Negra’s Palm (Tupelo Press, forthcoming). The Poet X (HarperCollins, 2018) is her debut novel. She lives with her partner in Washington, DC.

 

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Filed under Characters, Creativity, Diversity, Editing and Revising, Inspiration, process, Uncategorized, Voice

Let Nature Nurture You, and Wash Your Spirit Clean

Readers of Terry Pierce’s cozy MAMA LOVES YOU SO will encounter many poetic images of nature nurturing the young, reminding us that nature has room to nurture us at any age.  mama-loves-you-so-coverTerry will be giving away a signed copy of MAMA LOVES YOU SO as part of her book launch week. Enter by leaving a comment below, and she will enter your name into the giveaway (up to one comment per day.) Read on to see how nature nurtures Terry and some of her fellow kidlit writers.

Terry has always found solace in nature, going back to her childhood. “For hours, I could sit cradled in the branches of a tree, or perched on a rock watching the woods. Anytime I’m feeling restless, worried, or at a breaking point, if I can get out in nature I’m instantly calmed and can put things in perspective. And I love writing in the woods! I carry a waterproof journal and pencil in my backpack because my muse often appears in nature. In fact, I wrote MAMA LOVES YOU SO outside, inspired by the grandeur of the mountains.

 

TerryLyingonRock

The place in nature that nurtures me the most are the Sierra Nevada mountains. Whether I’m sunning on a boulder, climbing, hiking, listening to a stream, or watching wildlife (hopefully with a camera in hand), I’m at peace in the mountains. I once spent five weeks hiking from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney, one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

John Muir, one of my favorite writers, once wrote, ‘Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. So true! My hope is that MAMA LOVES YOU SO will inspire parents to take their little ones outdoors so they can learn to love nature and feel its benefits, too.”

 

Author Debbi Michiko Florence finds, “Whenever my mind gets too busy or I feel overwhelmed by my Things To Do list, all I need to do is step outside. I have two ducks (Darcy and Lizzy) and at least twice a day I have ‘duck time.’

IMG_5135

I let them out of their coop to wander the yard and I sit there, watching them, listening to bird song (and duck quacks), breathe the fresh air and watch the clouds roll by. My mind settles and I get present with what is. Duck time is meditative for me and nurtures me like nothing else.”

 

 

Author Hayely Barrett appreciates animals too. “As much as I love people, I’m deeply thankful that humans aren’t the only creatures on this planet. Life on Earth is spectacularly varied, and whether I watch a video of a jaguar slinking through the rainforest or spot a fisher slinking through my yard, I am cheered.

Me and Munchkin

Hayley and Munchkin, fully themselves

I enjoy the company of non-humans, horses and dogs especially. They are fully themselves—unchanging and at peace—and spending time with them helps me to remember who I am too.”

 

 

 

 

Author Katie Slivensky shares,

bluejoyNature calms me by giving me something to focus on that is external. I was stuck on some summary work during a snow day in February, and then a paused and spent an hour taking pictures of blue jays outside. That took my mind away from my book troubles, and when I came back around to work on those summaries later, I had a much easier time.”

 

Author Megan Lloyd’s debut picture book celebrates kids in nature, and she finds support there herself. “When I find myself getting anxious, with my heart racing and my thoughts swirling, going outside for a walk, or just taking a minute to sit in the sunshine, centers me. It helps me let go of my problems and instead feel absorbed in the beauty around me. And then I’m ready to take a deep breath…and return to my challenges (writing and otherwise), with a renewed sense of perspective and focus.”

Author and agent Ammi-Joan Paquette knows where writers can find an ever-present boost beyond their writing chair, saying, “Nature is nurturing because it is always accepting, always peaceful, always there. It’s like a personal magic kingdom that lies in wait for whenever you need it.”

And wherever any of us are in the writing and publishing process, there’s not one of us who couldn’t use plenty of that.

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Filed under Book Launch, Inspiration, Nature, Thankfulness, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

Border Collies and Babies—It’s Never Too Soon To Start (plus a giveaway!)

The story I’m about to tell is relevant to Terry Pierce’s MAMA LOVES YOU SO. I promise.

mama-loves-you-so-coverYears ago, my brother got a beautiful border collie puppy. I remember how excited Warren was, and I remember the solemn advice the breeder gave him. It was this: Show the dog everything he’s ever going to see within the first six months of his life. In short, it was Warren and his family’s responsibility to quickly give intelligent, impressionable Comet the information he’d need to thrive.

*presses pause on dog story*

My first professional, if unrequited, love is midwifery. Permit me to geek out for a bit.

The importance of verbally communicating with babies—and I mean from about 6 months gestation onward—cannot be overstated. Auditory function in the human fetus is complete at 7 months. Not only do they hear and respond to outside noises, research suggests babies learn intonation and can develop a basic recognition of words before birth. After birth, newborns rapidly form brain synapses that correspond with their birth language. In fact, studies have shown that young children who leave their birth language behind through immigration or adoption retain an enhanced ability to relearn it. Cool, huh?

Now let’s talk about MAMA LOVES YOU SO. This book, meant for the tiny ears of the tiniest of people, employs exquisitely rich and melodic language. It describes a world that is sparkling, stony, and ablaze. These are words an adult would be happy to use on a given day. MAMA LOVES YOU SO is crammed full of such delicious and nutritious words. It’s a brain-building buffet for babies and a boon to the brave souls who care for them. Baby and Book

Babies are exhausting. I know. I’ve had two babies, and two aren’t many at all. My in-laws had ten. My parents had five. Have I wondered if  I’m a slacker in the baby department? Yes. But that’s not my point.

Babies require mountains of back-breaking, laundry-making, sleep-taking care, and that’s just to keep them alive. We’re also supposed to educate, encourage, and entertain them. While all forms of communication nourish babies’ language readiness, including singing and everyday conversation, it’s challenging to know what to sing or say to a baby all day, every day.

I ask you, how are sleep-deprived people, wracked as they are with desperate love and stabs of anxiety, supposed to dredge up words like ablaze? They need books. They need books to give them words when they are too tired or overwhelmed to think up their own. Their children are primed to quickly learn millions of discrete, dynamic words, and optimally, they’d possess this treasure trove before starting school.  Where language acquisition is concerned, variety isn’t the spice of life, it is life. Books like MAMA LOVES YOU SO are a sure and happy route to that variety.

We must encourage caregivers, all the caregivers, to talk to babies early and often. Encourage them to talk to the belly, to sing to it, explain stuff to it, and for the love of literacy, to read to it. Encourage them to talk to the newborn. To sing. To explain. To read. We can smile at them benevolently when they do all of this in public. If we get the chance, we can give the caregiver a minute to shower and eat something while we talk, sing, explain, and read.

It might be possible to show a puppy everything it’s ever going to see in six months, but it’s impossible for a human newborn. Luckily, we have opposable thumbs, and opposable thumbs are great for making bookstores and libraries. That’s where Terry Pierce’s beautiful and important MAMA LOVES YOU SO can be found, ready and waiting to offer intelligent, impressionable young people information they need to thrive.

*presses play on dog story* 

Comet lived a long and happy life. He understood his world and how to conduct himself in it, thanks to purposeful attention to his formative experiences. May we do the same for each new child. We have longer than six months to accomplish it, but we don’t have forever. It’s never too soon to start.

 

Terry is giving away a signed copy of MAMA LOVES YOU SO as part of her book launch week. How to enter? Leave a comment below! For every comment you make this week—and please comment only once per day—she’ll enter your name into the giveaway.

Additional resources:

http://www.tipsonlifeandlove.com/book-mom

Valerie Garfield, Simon & Schuster editor of MAMA LOVES YOU SO, blogs about reading to and with children.

1000 Books Before Kindergarten

https://1000booksbeforekindergarten.org/about-us/mission-statement/


Enjoy the day,

Hayley
Hayley's Author PhotoI write for young people and live to make kids laugh. BABYMOON, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press, spring 2019. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, narrative nonfiction illustrated by Diana Sudyka, is also coming spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

 

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Book Giveaway, Book Launch, Celebrations, Inspiration, Picture books, reading, Uncategorized

A Conversation with Vanessa Brantley-Newton, illustrator of THE YOUNGEST MARCHER

I’d like to start this post by noting that the subject of THE YOUNGEST MARCHER, the late Audrey Faye Hendricks, was nine years old when she was imprisoned for her civil rights activism. She remained in prison—real prison—for a week. She was locked in a cell. Interrogated by adult strangers. She was in danger, both inside the prison and after her release. She is an American hero. As of this post, she does not have a Wikipedia page.

audrey-faye

“I’d never heard of Audrey Faye Hendricks,” says Vanessa Brantley-Newton, author and illustrator of over 75 books. vanessa-brantley-newton“When I read Cynthia Levinson’s manuscript, it broke me. It made me cry. I became fascinated by Audrey. I read the manuscript to myself and then had someone read it to me. Right away, I could see the pictures—that’s very important.”

Vanessa goes on to detail aspects of her research, “I read Cynthia’s previous book on the Children’s March, WE’VE GOT A JOB TO DO, and weve-got-a-jobwatched the PBS program on the event. I wanted my work to be emotional—to make it clear that Audrey was a child. As I worked, I listened to music from that time, songs like “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.” With one exception early in the process, Vanessa and the author did not actively collaborate on the project. “Cynthia wanted to see how I portrayed Martin Luther King Jr.—a friend of Audrey’s family—and once I showed her the sketch, we didn’t need to consult again.”

Like all of Vanessa’s work, THE YOUNGEST MARCHER glows with color and shimmers with texture. the-youngest-marcher“I’m a retro girl, heart and soul,” Vanessa says. “I love the colors of the sixties and seventies, the reds and oranges together.” She scanned vintage fabrics and included photographs in her collage work. Her use of marbleized paper adds swirling atmosphere to the image of a small, beloved child curled up on a prison cot.

Despite her age, Audrey’s bright-eyed conviction is made plain in Vanessa’s illustrations. As she heeds Dr. King’s call to fill the prisons, as she boards the police van in her starched skirt, bobby socks, and pink hair ribbons, she is full of hope and might as easily be headed to school or church. Although younger than the other marchers, she remains stalwart until the prisons are full to bursting and all are released. Hope intact, Audrey Faye Hendricks emerges to her parents’ arms and a changed world, one she helped to create.

“I hope that people can be inspired by my work,” Vanessa says. “As a child, I never saw children of color in books. We have this wonderful ability as authors and illustrators to tell stories that encompass what children go through so that kids feel included, like someone has captured their real world.”

I’d like to thank Vanessa for her time and for all of her efforts to bring Audrey Faye Hendricks and her story to vibrant, visual life. I’d like to thank author Cynthia Levinson for writing the story of THE YOUNGEST MARCHER. I’m glad and grateful to know about this remarkable story of courage.


Hayley's Author PhotoI write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming in spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka.
I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

 

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Filed under Activism, Book Launch, Celebrations, Character Development, Characters, cover art, Creativity, Illustrators, Inspiration, Interviews, Launch, Picture books, process, Research, Uncategorized

Encouraging Early Activists

the-youngest-marcherIt is Martin Luther King’s birthday. It seems particularly important to pay attention this year to Dr. King’s life and the dreams he fought and died for. I have traditions for this day – reading the I Have a Dream Speech – listening to Shed a Little Light at least once and this year I will start a new tradition. It will include a yearly reading of Cynthia Levinson’s THE YOUNGEST MARCHER – The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist. It’s so fitting that Cynthia’s story, beautifully illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton would be launched this week as Audrey Faye Hendricks was the youngest known child to be arrested for a civil rights protest. This book seems a wonderful follow-up to Cynthia’s book WE’VE GOT A JOB which tells the story of the 4,000 black elementary-, middle-, and high school students who voluntarily went to jail in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.

Thinking about Audrey got me thinking about other young activists. Many of us know the story of young Malala Yousafzai who was living under Taliban rule in Pakistan, where young girls were at times forbidden to attend school. She started writing a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC at the age of 11, detailing what life was like and sharing her views on education for girls. Her passion and activism earned her several television and print interviews. Unfortunately, in 2012, a gunman boarded her school bus, asked for Malala by name and shot her in the head. Although in critical condition after the attack, Malala eventually stabilized enough to be sent to a hospital in England to recover in safety. She speaks about the rights of women and girls often and won Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize. She has been nominated twice for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize – the youngest person and only girl to ever be nominated.

Fewer have heard the story of Ryan Hreljac who in 1998, at six years old, learned that kids in Africa often had to walk several kilometers for clean water. This seemed wrong to Ryan. Using money he earned from household chores and funds he raised from speaking publicly at different events about Africa’s clean water issues, Ryan managed to fund the construction of his first well in a Northern Ugandan village in 1999. From there he established Ryan’s Well Foundation, an organization that has helped build thousands of water projects and latrines, bringing safe water and improved sanitation to close to a million people.

As 2017 dawns many of us are feeling the need to do more. As children’s writers we can make sure all children see themselves in the books they read and show them that they’re never too young to make a difference. Cynthia Levinson has raised this bar with THE YOUNGEST MARCHER. Join me in making this book part of your Marin Luther King Day celebration.

darceyhighres About Darcey Rosenblatt
Darcey Rosenblatt’s debut novel will be published by Henry Holt/MacMillan in August 2017. LOST BOYS, an historic fiction, tells the story of a 12-year old Iranian boy sent to fight in the Iran Iraq war in 1982. With her critique group she runs the Better Books Workshop – an annual small deep craft conference held in Northern California. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her fabulous husband and perfect daughter, some fish, and the best dog in the world. By day she is an environmental planner and when time permits she paints and costumes for a 5-8 year old theater.

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Filed under Activism, civil rights, Diversity, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Illustrators, Inspiration, Uncategorized

Okay…What’s Next?

This is the big question that comes after the initial book deal. We’re eager to sign our contract, be introduced to our new editor, work on revisions and see our “baby” come to life. Bring it on, world! But the fact is, these things take time. Brace yourself: I’m still waiting to sign a contract for a deal that was made in September of 2015! So, what’s a writer to do while he or she is waiting for all the “book deal” magic to happen?

Start another story!

Many writers, myself included, work on multiple projects but occasionally I find myself in a moment where I’m between projects. It’s like that “moment between breaths” I experience doing yoga, where it feels like time stands still for just a moment. It’s then, in my writing, that I have to find some inspiration for a new story idea.

Where do you get your ideas? Every author is asked this question. Honestly, for me, some ideas strike as quick as lightning while others are as slow in coming as molasses on a December day. I’ve always believed that the best ideas for me to pursue are those that come from the heart; stories about things I connect with. But sometimes my brain needs a “little” prompting. I thought it might be helpful to share some of the ways I get my imagination moving and finding potential story ideas that spark my mind.

recycle

Recycle an existing story or song: You’ve heard of “fractured fairy tales” haven’t you? This is where someone takes a fairy tale and puts a new twist on it. A contemporary example would be Tara Lazar’s Little Red Gliding Hood. Or another favorite is Mo Willems’s Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs. Perhaps you could impose a clever twist on a favorite childhood fairy tale or song?

 

goldfish

Seek visual inspiration: Google “Interesting Photographs” and see what comes up. Does anything grab your attention and shake your writing brain to a heightened state of curiosity?

 

 readingstacksRead for inspiration: Pour over as many picture books as you can and see if you can find a “mentor text” that inspires you, so that you can use that story for inspiration and run with your own imagination.

 

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Pin the Tail on the Story Donkey: This is where you randomly select story elements (character/s, setting) and let your imagination run wild with possible conflicts. For example, close your eyes and randomly choose one thing from each column below to create your story premise:

MAIN CHARACTER SETTING SECONDARY CHARACTER
Dinosaur Classroom Cowboy
Monster Playground Fireman
Child Park Mailman
Unicorn Child’s bedroom Teacher
Cat Bathtub Ballerina
Dragon Mom’s office Race car driver
Puppy Pond Pirate
Gorilla Mountains Shark
Lizard Ocean Principal
Worm Cave Doctor
Parrot Circus Ghost
Squid Zoo Grandpa

 

Once you have a nugget of an idea, read these blog posts from author Tara Lazar’s Blog, where every she annually hosts PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month):

Kelly Bingham on developing an idea.

Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen on developing your character.

Diana Murray on creating a character-driven story with conflict.

Or better yet, sign up for Tara’s 2017 PiBoIdMo (in January!) where you have a fun challenge of thinking of one picture book story IDEA every day (that’s 31 ideas by the end of the month!!!).

Best of luck with creating your new story sparks!

_________________________________

PierceHeadshotUCLA (2)About Terry Pierce…

Terry writes picture books, easy readers and board books and is whittling away at a middle-grade adventure novel. She lives in the California desert but avoids the summer heat by retreating to Mammoth Lakes every summer to hike, bike, write and dip her head in high mountain sky. She’s a Vermont College of Fine Arts graduate and teaches online children’s writing courses for UCLA Extension. She has two books coming out in spring 2017, My Busy Green Garden (Tilbury House) and Mama Loves You So (Little Simon).

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When We Were Twelve—EMUs’ Advice To Their Younger Selves

All this week on the blog we’ve celebrated the launch of Elly Swartz’s debut middle grade novel, FINDING PERFECT.

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FINDING PERFECT’s sweet, sensitive main character, twelve-year-old Molly, wishes her life was perfect, but family and school problems keep her in turmoil. She attempts to counteract these upsets with comforting rituals, only to find that these same rituals, bit by bit, begin to control her. As her anxiety escalates, it becomes clear that Molly needs someone to advise her, to assure her she is capable of positive change, and to help her look forward to stronger, better days.

Perhaps the best person to guide Molly would be her older, wiser self. With the perspective that comes with years, an adult Molly would know how to be supportive while encouraging growth. With this in mind, I asked the EMUs what advice they would give their twelve-year-old selves.

We’ll start with the author.  Elly’s advice to Elly Junior? “Be brave. Be kind. Be curious. And always stay true to who you are.”

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Isn’t Elly Junior adorable? See the light of creativity and compassion in her eyes? Bet this kid will grow up to be a writer or something.

The Debbi Michiko Florence of today advises her younger self, “Don’t worry so much about following trends like Farrah Fawcett feathered hair – really, it doesn’t work on Japanese stick-straight hair.”

farrah

(I admire you, Debbi, for even trying. While my sister expertly wielded her round brush and can of AquaNet every morning, I slept in.)

Debbi goes on to recall a relatable tween dilemma with all its requisite drama. She asks her younger self, “And that gold belt trend you just had to follow? Remember how you begged and pleaded with your mom to get you that gold belt and how you lost it the first day you wore it to school? And remember how you convinced the teacher to let you go look for it and then convinced your friend’s teacher to let her leave her class to help you look for it? And how you looked and looked and couldn’t find it and you were so afraid you were going to get in trouble and you were freaking out? Then upi found it. The belt had slipped under your shirt and you were still wearing it! Don’t sweat the small stuff ! Or even what you think is the “big stuff.”

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I don’t have a picture of Debbi  back then, but I know she was much, much cuter than a sleepy desktop ducking.

PierceHeadshotUCLA (2)little-terry

Like the seasoned picture book writer she is, Terry Pierce is superbly succinct. She advises young Terry to, “believe in yourself, be courageous and strong. Stand up for yourself if someone wrongs you. Don’t let others define you. You’re bright, a hard worker, and have a kind heart, and that will take you far in life.”

IMG_2512 - WEBJason Gallaher gives his former self a real pep talk, exhorting him, “to not stress out so much about how things are going to turn out in life. Everything is going to be just fine, so sit back and enjoy the ride.

Right now, dear 12 year-old, you’re quirky, a bit gangly, and your suspicions about liking boys are correct. But don’t worry about that because everything turns out better than fine.Keep focusing on your dreams because they will come true. And I know you’re going to roll your eyes and say, “Everybody says that.” But I’m not just saying this like your teachers or guidance counselors say it. I’m saying it knowing this for a fact about you, about us.

Every dream you have comes true: You move to a big city, your quirky talents get appreciation from people in a legitimate industry (publishing, in case you’re wondering), you *finally* get past that horrible middle stage when you grow out your hair and find out what it feels like to have long locks (You’re robsessed with it. Also, when Robert Pattinson becomes a thing you’ll understand the term “robsessed”), and you find love.

So keep trucking along. Love yourself, which I know will be a struggle, but in times when you feel down, know that even now, nearly two decades later, I love you and wouldn’t have made it here if not for you.

Sadly, Jason didn’t provide a tweenage picture of himself, so I’ll just leave this here.

robert-pattinson-2

 

Oh, and this:

robert-pattinson

Only one more, I promise.

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Darcey Rosenblatt says, “I would tell myself there will come a time when you truly treasure all the things that make you weird and different than the normal kids – really – trust me.”

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Spoken like a true environmental planner/scuba diver/mother/artist/story farmer/hiker/conference founder/wife/costume-maker/ soon-to-be published author, Darcey. You put the actual in self-actualized!

EMU Elaine Vickers advises her young self to value friendships, saying, “There are great things ahead, 12-year-old Elaine! You will soon outgrow this hairstyle and this shirt. But the friends you make this year will stay with you. You’ll laugh and grow and travel together. One will sing at your wedding, another will help deliver your babies. And one day, they will take you out to dinner the night before your first book launches. Hang on to these friends.”

profile-picelaine-at-12

Stay true to yourself. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Stand up for yourself and be kind. Love yourself. Treasure what makes you different. Hang on to good friends.

Good advice for FINDING PERFECT’S Molly and everyone else. Congratulations and thank you, Elly!!!

Enjoy the day,

Hayley

 

Curriculum Guide for FINDING PERFECT:

http://images.macmillan.com/folio-assets/teachers-guides/9780374303129TG.pdf

A Teacher’s Guide For FINDING PERFECT

images.macmillan.com

A Teacher’s Guide For FINDING PERFECT About the Book To twelve-year-old Molly Nathans, perfect is: • The number four • The tip of a newly sharpened No. 2 pencil

To purchase Finding Perfect:

http://amzn.com/0374303126

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780374303129

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/finding-perfect-elly-swartz/1122889663?ean=9780374303129


hayley-at-12Hayley's Author Photo

I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming in spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Filed under Advice, Anxiety, Book Launch, Character Development, Characters, Inspiration, Launch, Panic, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

Spiral Review, Emu Style

My kids’ school district has adopted a new math program, and the majority of parents seem to loathe it. Meanwhile, I sit at home, harboring my own secret feelings, which I can sum up in three words:

I love it.

I am an educator and something of a math nerd, and I think overall, the new program does a fantastic job. One of my very favorite things about the homework my kids bring home (and in all honesty, I love math homework) is that on the back of every sheet, there is a section called Spiral Review.

The idea is this: We don’t learn best in a linear fashion. In math or writing or life in general, we learn best when we spiral back to the things we’ve learned before, and we approach them with a broader view of the world, a greater amount of experience, and new levels of understanding.

In this spirit, I’ve combed the Emu’s Debuts archives (with a little help from my fellow Emus) and come up with my own Spiral Review of some of the most poignant and meaningful posts from years of reading this blog.

The list could have been much longer, but here are a few favorites worth turning our attention toward again:

THE PIT OF DESPAIR by Terry Pierce

Want to Help an Author Out? It’s Pretty Easy! by Pat Zietlow Miller

Being Brave: A Challenge for Writers in General and Human Beings in Particular by Christine Hayes

Luciferadi Meeps Goodbye by Adi Rule

And So Our Story Begins . . . by Amy Finnegan

And finally, Nerve: Truth or Dare…The Videos, featuring many Emu emeriti. As Andrea Wang says, “Because who doesn’t love silly videos that make us smile? And how cool is it that former nest-mate Jeanne Ryan’s book, NERVE, which inspired all those daring EMU videos, is now a movie?! I may not be brave enough to do interpretive dance or compose an ode to a doorknob, but this post always encourages me to break out of my shell and dare to do something different.” (My personal favorite part is Tara Dairman eating the giant chocolate cake.)

What favorite posts, here or elsewhere, do you turn to for your own spiral reviews? What posts continue to teach and inspire you each time you read them?


profile-picElaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins, October 2016) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She’s a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web,@ElaineBVickers on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption.

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Filed under Advice, Inspiration, Uncategorized