Category Archives: School Author Visits

Practical Matters: School Visits

With my new book coming out in early spring, I’m beginning to book school visits again after a three-year lapse. In that interim I’ve learned a few practical things – beyond the fun of preparing the presentation – that I thought I’d share, and I’d like to open a “suggestion box” for everyone in this talented group to pitch in with their own ideas.

Before the visit:

  • It helps to establish a fee structure that is both realistic and fair to you and the school. I’d suggest that before you book your first visit, talk to colleagues and find out how much they charge. Remember to include expenses, especially if your visit is at a distance. Most authors do Skype visits for free or a nominal fee; a lot of authors offer free or low-cost visits to local schools.
  • I try not to book more than one visit a month unless they are back-to-back in the same region. Writing comes first!

When the visit is booked:

  • If the visit includes fees, expense reimbursements, and an understanding of technology requirements, I find it helps to send the school a contract. SCBWI has a model contract in their resource database for members that I modified for my use.

    IMG_1218

    My packet (center) with cover letter and poster – made using Word.

  • I send that contract, together with a packet I’ve created, to the school contact person. In the packet is the following:
    • A brief cover letter that directs the contact person to my website and my free downloadable study guides and cover jpegs, and expresses my excitement about the visit.
    • A complete brochure that details each of my books, with synopsis, awards, and reviews.
    • A ready-made poster with the date left blank that the contact person can fill in and post.
    • A swag packet of bookmarks, etc.
  • I’m now following the suggestion of some colleagues to supply one copy of each of my in-print books to the school. I order the books to be drop-shipped to the school as soon as the visit is booked. This accomplishes several things: I’ve found that the school doesn’t always have copies of my books on hand; students who are interested can read ahead of the visit; I get credit for the book sales; I create good will with my contact person. I’ve found that the expense is small, and I fold the cost into my fee.

    IMG_1217

    Swag and interior packet materials.

During the visit:

  • I try to bring bookmarks or other swag to hand out.
  • I try to have someone take a few photos (quality video is even better if possible) that I can post to my website or use for publicity.
  • If a bookseller is not involved with my visit, I’ve arranged with my local indie to bring a one-page order form for my books with me. Many kids won’t buy books before the visit but will be excited afterwards, and that’s when they’ll want to order. I ask the contact person at the school to collect the order forms and checks made out to my indie (I add something for shipping) and send the forms to me. My indie orders the books, I sign them, and then I send them in bulk back to the school.

After the visit:

  • I send a brief thank-you to the contact person, following up with any reimbursements and orders.

That’s what I’ve got – if you have suggestions please add!


 

IMG_8226bJanet Fox is the author of a number of books for young readers. Her debut middle grade novel, The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, launches on March 15, 2016 from Viking.

Advertisements

10 Comments

Filed under Advice, School Author Visits, Uncategorized

How I Became a Real Writer

Hello, internet friends. Newly hatched Emu Adi Rule here, optimistically flapping my vestigial wings. Bear with me, as I’m still learning which forms to fill out, where the cafeteria is, and that a “Wordpress” is NOT a type of helmet that squishes brilliant drafts out through your eyeballs.

Image

Line edits HURT SO GOOD.

Last year around this time, I was asked to be on a panel at a high school. Answer questions about Being a Writer. Judge student work. Free sweatshirt.

So I went. And I talked the talk. Query letters this and protagonists that and blah blah critique groups, whatever. But little did the students know that, unlike the poet laureate on my left and the successful author on my right, I was an IMPOSTOR.

Shocking, I know.

I grew up in a writing household. My friends and I were more likely to be found at a reading than a roller rink, not necessarily by our choice. My mom taught fiction at a nearby university. Sometimes I would go with her and draw dinosaurs on the blackboard.

Image

An ancient beast that struck fear into the hearts of small creatures everywhere. With a tyrannosaurus rex drawn on it.

As a kid, I wrote and wrote and wrote. Poems, short stories, my own NASHNUL NOOSPAPR (“TODAY AT THE RULES HOWSE, BABY DUCKS GROWD BIGR”). My first play was produced at my elementary school when I was 13, and garnered rave reviews from everyone’s parents, who were probably just relieved it was only 17 minutes long. (After all, you never know what sort of Hell an elementary school gymnasium will hold.)

Image

Dante and Virgil just wanted to support the arts. Two cacophonous hours later, GO FOR THE THROAT.

At 13, my road to writerdom seemed reasonably assured. Then more plays, more prose, a novel, an MFA, a blog, and two more novels. And four cats, who are lousy editors.

Image

Seriously. Look at them. Dipsticks.

So what was my terrible secret, a year ago, at that high school writing panel?

I wasn’t published.

It’s true. I’d had several plays produced, but not published. And I’d just gotten a short story accepted, but the anthology wasn’t out yet. I had no agent, no other contracts, no shiny books to sign and sniff and make piles of in the yard to roll around in (that’s what authors do, right?).

So every time a student asked, “What’s the matter with adverbs, really?” a small part of my brain squeaked, “Don’t answer that. You know nothing about adverbs.”

Fast-forward a year — or, um, skip ahead? Do we say “fast-forward” anymore? — to this past October, and I’m at the same panel. Sitting in the same chair. Eating the same doughnuts. Only now I’m represented by a fabulous agent and I’ve got a two-book deal at a bighuge press. I’ve gotten The Call.

Sparkles and rainbows and ponies and sunbeams and puffy stickers!

Image

My life after The Call.

My induction into the Writers’ Guild was glorious. One humid July day, Joan met me at the airport, and we flew first class to a secret location. I was, of course, blindfolded, which did ruin the in-flight movie (Thor), but I sensed we were going north.

Two flights and a helicopter ride later, we began our trek into the heart of a dense forest. Imagine my surprise when, after several hours, Joan stopped before an unremarkable tree and fitted her signet ring into a knothole to reveal a secret door. We had arrived!

All the real writers were there, each one wearing a glittering tiara sized to represent their commercial success (J. K. Rowling and Stephen King couldn’t even stand up under the weight of theirs, and had to lie in a corner conversing softly). The evening was a blur of toasts and speeches and ritual sacrifice. Particularly touching was the moment when William Faulkner impaled himself on his National Book Award as a tribute to the bleeding souls of writers everywhere.

And then it was my turn. I received my tiara (very small), drank from the Cup of Ink (minty), and groveled at the feet of the Writer Queen (identity protected), who smiled with refined condescension. And when she touched her gilded scepter to my nose, I became a real writer!

Image

Ah, the majesty of tradition.

Actually, I’m lying.

What can I say, it’s the only thing I’m good at.

What I wish my 2012 panelist self could have told my 2011 panelist self is that publication does not make you a writer. The hours you spend with a keyboard under your fingers or a book in your hand do that. Believe it or not, you will know exactly as much about adverbs the day you sign your contract as you did the day before.

And you were a real writer then, too.

26 Comments

Filed under Anxiety, Happiness, Introduction, School Author Visits, The Call, Writing and Life

AMAZING KIDS, BOOKS, GRANDMAS, AND GOLDFISH. OH, AND ME!

On Monday, Pat Zeitlow Miller introduced herself as our newest EMU hatchling, and, as she put it, a “Book Geek.” As I read her comments, I saw many traits that seemed familiar, but I am not sure I like the term “Book Geek.” Sounds a bit, um, maladjusted to me.

When I was a kid, the term “Book Worm” was more often applied, but I can’t say I care for that one either. Especially since they were always drawn in cartoons like slimy earthworms, or those nasty worms you get in apples, wearing glasses. And since I started wearing glasses at the age of five, I wasn’t all that keen on the “book lovers with glasses are worms” implications.

So the question is, what is the right term to use? What conveys the correct sense of what the young-lover-of-books is really all about?

As it so happens, I am in a position to address this question, because just this past weekend, I met with a young book group for the first time.

The group consisted of one dedicated grandmother, three young lovers-of-books, and a little white carp named Goldie. They had chosen Katerina’s Wish as their book for this month (although in truth, I’m not convinced Goldie read it–she was pretty quiet in the discussion.)

I knew they were gathering at 12:30 to discuss the book before I arrived at 1:30. This was a good plan, I thought, because it gave them the freedom to be perfectly honest about the book, just in case. As it turns out, meeting ahead of time gave them time to do more than that.

What do you need for a great book group? Start with three great kids and an enthusiastic grandmother…

When I rang the doorbell, they all greeted me at once, wearing blue hair ribbons! (For those of you who don’t know, early in the book, two wishes are granted: one for blue hair ribbons and one for plum dumplings.)

So, guess what was waiting around the corner for me in the kitchen? That’s right–the table all set, with place cards for everyone, paper dandelions for a centerpiece (also a reference to my book):

Dandelions out of season? No problem, if you are as creative as these kids!

and a big plate of fresh, warm plum dumplings! We also had goldfish crackers and apples. And let me assure you, it was all quite delicious!

Add one author and a plate of plum dumplings, and you have everything you need for a GREAT book discussion. (There were a lot more of the dumplings when I first arrived. This was post-feast!)

Then the hard work began–I had to answer their questions. Of course, it wasn’t really hard work; they asked GREAT questions: who was my favorite character, did I think of Mark as a good guy or a bad guy, how do I take criticism from my editor, and even did I see the lessons that my characters learned as important lessons or struggles in my own life. Boy, do I ever!

I asked them plenty of questions too, and adored their answers. Here are a few highlights:

  • They each had a different favorite character, but among them, they picked all my favorites too (Holena, Martina, Old Jan, and Trina)
  • They liked that it ended without everything being perfect for the main character, because that’s how life is.
  • They thought Mark was his own worst enemy, because he was always being negative and putting himself down.
  • They were glad Trina chose the path she did and not the other one.
  • One of the girls was even gracious enough to compare Trina’s youngest sister Holena to Beth in Little Women.

After we ate our fill, we moved to the floor, where the conversation really got going. And Goldie admired our fish necklaces.

Then I shared with them everything that went into the book, from the first, handwritten draft, through the copies that came back from the editor, the bound galley, to the finished book. They were complimentary of my handwriting and maybe a little horrified by how many trees died in the process of producing all that paper.

I was supposed to leave after an hour, but I couldn’t tear myself away quite that soon. And when I left, I felt so lucky to be writing for such a bright, exuberant audience.

So, back to my question: what do we call these young-lovers-of-books? These kids like the young Pat Zeitlow, or the young Jeannie Mobley? Like the members of that wonderful book group (with the possible exception of Goldie)?

Book Geeks? No way. When I looked at those girls I was impressed to see such a solid, well-adjusted, socially responsible foundation for the future!

Book Worms? You’ve got to be kidding! Nothing slimy there. I saw so much clever, creative intelligence. Those young women are not going to crawl through the dark underground–they are going to shine, shine, shine!

Advanced Readers? That sounds kind of dull and academic, doesn’t it? I mean, these kids knew how to joke and laugh and have fun, too!

How about

GREAT KIDS?

Hmmm. That feels right, but maybe not quite enough. How about

AMAZING KIDS!

Or

AMAZING KIDS WITH BOOKS!

Or

AMAZING KIDS WITH BOOKS, A COOL GRANDMA, AND A GOLDFISH!

I think that sums it up well, except it’s going to be abbreviated AKBCGG, which, frankly, is the worst acronym ever.

I’ll keep working on it. And in the mean time, I will just rejoice in knowing such great kids are out there. And I’ll be writing more books for them. After all, I have to. They told me what I needed to put in the sequel! 🙂

5 Comments

Filed under Celebrations, School Author Visits

Writing “The End” is only the Beginning

It has been suggested that I write about my first few weeks of being a published author–what I’ve been doing and how it feels. How much time do you have to sit and read? I could write a 10,000 word essay if I were to detail everything (Or I could write “Wow” over and over?) Not to say it’s all been easy. It hasn’t.

Let me begin with a confession. I have read countless times that authors never open and/or read their books once they are published. Well, I sometimes do—take a peek and read a few pages. It isn’t that I’m admiring the writing or patting myself on the back. Honestly…I just miss the Murphys. I miss Toni. I miss Carley. I miss Michael Eric. They are as real to me as any person that I have ever met. When I remember that Michael Eric and the others don’t actually live and breathe somewhere. .. You know what? It makes me sad.

As a debut author, I am busy. Really busy. Here is a bit about what’s been going on:

I was so honored to be a faculty member at the New England SCBWI conference in Springfield—this was like coming full circle. It was a fantastic weekend of debut author milestones—including seeing my book for the first time. Of opening the cover and seeing what my publisher, Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, had done to the inside. Not easy to make me tear up—but this moment did. I was so shocked and so, so touched.

That weekend, I also served on some panels with incredibly talented authors (including EMLA clients, Joan Paquette, Erin Moulton, and Audrey Vernick) and signed for the first time ever—elbow-to-elbow with amazing, generous people/friends like Jo Knowles, Mitali Perkins, and AC Gaughen. I also made new friends like Sarah Darer Littman who is awesome—so generous and funny and sweet.

And then there was planning the Book Launch. I had two “official launches” actually. One was for my mom’s side of the family in Newton, MA. That was very special. The room was filled with faces that I’ve loved since I’ve had a memory. An amazing day. A memorable, cherished one.

The second launch was at the local B&N in Glastonbury. This was like a, “This is your Life, Lynda Mullaly” episode. Best friend since I was fourteen came. College roommate and teaching colleagues from 15 years ago came. Various friends and fellow moms and writers from both down the road and out-of-state. It was a big crowd—only thing was, I wish I had had more time to talk to people.

I taught myself to make a book trailer by jumping in. It’s embarrassing how many hours this took, between looking for the right images and trying to distill the strengths of the book into a minute and twenty three second’s worth of text. I have also designed t-shirts, postcards, bookmarks, etc. and researched places to get this stuff printed economically. (http://postcardsrus.com has been great!)

I lined up a fairly extensive blog tour in the months before release. Beforehand, I did hours of research and then sent out notes to bloggers, asking them to join my tour. During the tour, I visited sites, updated links, and left messages of gratitude. Throughout, I’ve spent lots of time writing guest posts and answering interview questions. Some have gotten personal. And, wow. I answer a lot of e-mails these days.

I have done several school visits—my favorite part, as I love getting into schools to speak with kids about writing and Murphys and being someone’s hero—including being one to yourself. These visits have been in RI, CT, MA, and New York City! I am now lining up events for summer and fall. Time seems to be speeding up.

Lastly, I attended BEA in New York last week. With some of my Class of 2k12 peeps, I signed at the famous book shops, Bank Street Books and Books of Wonder. Amazing. Amazing. Amazing. I attending author breakfasts where I laughed at Chris Colfer and John Green’s humor and wisdom and wiped away tears at Lois Lowry’s both heart-breaking and inspiring words. I sat in awe of Kamir Nelson’s talent with a paint brush. I hugged Patricia Reilly Giff who blurbed One for the Murphys and then staged some silly pictures with Lemony Snicket.

There is much more but I’m afraid that it will all sound list-like. Lists are great if you want lists—but not if you want engaging blog posts.

The hardest part of all of this? Trying to slow down enough to savor it all. Enjoy it. I know I will always take my career seriously, but I do hope a day never comes when it feels too much like work. I do spend many hours in my office, though, and that’s not always easy.

I started out this post by fessing up to taking peeks at my own book. The people that breathe for me in this book seem to have stepped right out of the pages now that I am receiving feedback that there are others out there that also feel like these characters are real. Teachers and social workers and school counselors are thanking me? Really?

When told that Murphys has had a “profound impact” on a child, I want to thank them—for being there in the flesh for that child and caring enough to give him/her the book and then follow-up.

So, how do I feel as a debut author?

Blessed. I am blessed, indeed.

21 Comments

Filed under Book Promotion, Book signing, Celebrations, Colleagues, Happiness, Promotion, School Author Visits

An A+ for One for the Murphys (and a Skype author visit give-away)!

When I read Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s debut middle grade novel One for the Murphy’s, I immediately wanted to share it. I wanted to hand it to kids as they came into the library where I teach. I wanted to introduce them to Carley, a foster child who, after a terrible incident with her mom,  is placed with the Murphy family. At first, Carley can’t believe that families like the Murphys even exist–families who are loving and flawed and who stick together, because that’s what families do. Just as Carley begins to open herself up to the love that the Murphys have to offer, she learns that her mom wants her back. Will Carley go back to her mom or stay with the Murphys? You’ll have to wait and read the book to find out!

But you don’t have to wait to enter the contest we’re holding to round out our celebration of One for the Murphys…

Calling all teachers, librarians, and school guidance counselors (and anyone who knows a teacher, librarian or school guidance counselor)! We have a special give-away for educators and their students–a signed copy of ONE FOR THE MURPHYS, a class set of MURPHY bookmarks, a class set of rubber “Be Someon’e hero” bracelets, a free 30-45-minute SKYPE Q&A with Lynda Mullaly Hunt, and a “Hero” T-shirt for the teacher. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post anytime from now until midnight (PST) on Sunday, May 20. The winner will be announced on Monday, May 21. Even if you aren’t an educator, you can still enter for your child’s class or your neighborhood school!

If you’re wondering how One for the Murphys might fit into your curriculum, wonder no more! Here’s our interview with Lynda on how her debut novel connects with kids.

Emu’s Debuts: A student walks into my library and I think, “That kid needs a copy of ONE FOR THE MURPHYS.” Who is this kid?

Lynda: This is a kid who is concerned about fitting in or standing out.

This kid has been worried about who he is or, possibly, worried about who he’ll become.

This kid may be in foster care—or not—but needs to know that whatever life has dealt him as a child, he still has the power to create any life he wishes when he grows up. Any life at all.

Or this child has been dealt a lucky hand. He has a loving family and is not familiar with other kinds of experiences. Reading about others’ varied experiences helps to build empathy, I think.

Or this child may want to read about friendships. Likes sarcastic humor or stories about underdogs. Because  this book has many moments of levity and includes deep topics such as wearing towels as capes, chicken casseroles and apples pies, basketball, baseball, Broadway shows, playing pranks, putting up with (and appreciating) siblings, and cowardly pigeon eggs.

The circumstances that put Carley in foster care are quite sad (shown in flashbacks) but, as a whole, the book isn’t too heavy. It’s a story of a bustling, happy family and how they change Carley. It’s a story of friendship, of incorrect assumptions that we all make sometimes, of learning that happy families aren’t perfect and that “family” is more about love and camaraderie and having each other’s backs than sharing blood. It’s about heroes–no capes required. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Emu’s Debuts: Lynda, that answer makes me want to read your book all over again! And I’ve just thought of a dozen more kids to hand this book to…

If we were to peek into a classroom where a teacher is using your book with the whole class or a small group, what might we see?

Lynda: Actually, I have been fortunate to see some of this already. And it absolutely floored me.

I have visited a few classrooms—one of which has heard the ARC (advanced reader copy) version of MURPHYS. The other was a class I was asked to visit because it has a lot of kids in the class who struggle with various things—some very similar to Carley’s circumstances.

Upon visiting one Massachusetts class in particular, I opened up a bit to the kids about the MURPHY seeds that were planted when I was even younger than them—that I had spent about three months with another family when I was about seven that gave me a view of a world that I had not known—but, upon leaving, a world I decided I would have for myself one day.

Teachers have told me that after I leave, children often make signs that say “Be someone’s hero” and hang them up in the room. I am so moved by this thought. This image. I have also been told that in discussing MURPHYS (prior to my arrival), that kids have opened up to their teacher and to each other about some of their own struggles. That Carley’s struggles have helped these kids forge bonds with each other and to understand themselves a bit better. To feel less alone.

To say this makes me happy is a thin way to describe it. I pursued publication hoping for this very thing. To think that it has already begun? Now, that’s a dream come true.

Emu’s Debuts: Carley and the Murphys have already connected with kids–and adults–and I’m looking forward to recommending One for the Murphys to all kinds of kids for years to come, Lynda.

Where can teachers and students learn more about you and your book?

Lynda:

  • LINK TO BOOK TRAILER:

http://lyndamullalyhunt.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/one-for-the-murphys-book-trailer-middle-grade-novel/

  • YouTube  code  for BOOK TRAILER:

http://youtu.be/pBFUPBw7KLI

  • Find me online:

Website:   http://lyndamullalyhunt.com/

Blog:  http://lyndamullalyhunt.wordpress.com/

Facebook:  Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Twitter:  @Lynmullalyhunt

A One for the Murphy’s Teacher’s Guide will be up on my website soon. I will offer it for free to any teacher who’d like one. Why? Because I love teachers–most unsung heroes on the planet. (I taught for almost ten years—I know it isn’t nearly an 8:00-3:00 job!)

I am very much looking forward to getting back into classrooms as a visiting author to talk about Murphys, and heroes. About creating fiction from real life and three dimensional characters that step off of the page and into the reader. I look forward to helping students raise their own writing to the next level!

Emu’s Debuts: Thanks so much for joining us, Lynda! And a heartfelt welcome to Carley and the Murphys, who will continue to make a difference in the lives of readers for many years to come.

21 Comments

Filed under Celebrations, Education, Interviews, School Author Visits

Unexpected Gifts

Lynda’s post this week about her visit to the girls’ shelter was lovely. She planted seeds and saw potential, and it had a profound effect on her.

The girls reminded me of my own students—past and present—some of whom board the school bus each morning in front of the neighborhood homeless shelter.

The girls reminded me of my students who are able to write things in their dialogue journals that they would never be able to talk about face-to-face.

They reminded me of Blanca, a 4th grader whose mother was left behind in El Salvador. I gave Blanca a journal of her own one day and told her to write whatever she wanted to—in Spanish or in English—and that it was not for a grade, but only for her. She never showed me what she wrote, but she would let me know when one journal was filled and I would give her another.

But most of all, Lynda’s post reminded me that giving can be unexpectedly contagious. 

There is a 2nd grade boy at my school who pops into the library at least twice per day—once before school, once right after school, and sometimes on his way to and from recess. He is, hands-down, our most loyal customer. Although he is a struggling reader, he is undaunted by words—spoken or written. His voice has only one volume setting: Really Loud. When he talks, he scarcely takes time to breathe. Despite his disheveled appearance and rocky home life, he takes excellent care of his library books.

When I found out that one of his all-time favorite books is a picture book called Wink, The Ninja Who Wanted To Be Noticed, by J.C. Phillipps (Viking, 2009), I suggested that he write to Ms. Phillipps (who happens to be one of my long-time critique partners).  So he did. And so did she.

Not only did she answer his letter and send him a signed bookmark, but she also sent a copy of her second book, Wink, the Ninja Who Wanted to Nap. She wrote a note for him inside the book and drew him a little ninja Wink on the page. He was speechless. It is the first brand-new hardback book that he has ever owned.

A few days later, he brought in a tattered copy of a Sponge Bob paperback. When we saw that it wasn’t a library book, we tried to give it back to him. But he wouldn’t take it. He said that it used to be his favorite book, and now he wants to keep it in the library in case other kids might like to read it.

The world of children’s literature is an amazingly giving place. I tend to get caught up in the idea that giving stops with the receiver. I forget sometimes that giving is wonderfully contagious. It can transform recipient into giver in ways we might never imagine.

Yes, Lynda inspired those girls to find their voices and put pen to paper. And yes, they gave something back to her–an appreciation for the things in life that we often take for granted. But the girl with the spark in her eyes, with the idea for a story–to whom will she pass on the gift of inspiration? To a classmate this week? To her own child years from now? Or maybe it will be to an auditorium filled with hopeful writers that remind her of herself on the day that Lynda came to speak.

Wishing all of you wondrous, contagious gifts this season!

8 Comments

Filed under Colleagues, Happiness, Satisfaction, School Author Visits, Thankfulness, Writing, Writing and Life

A Christmas Surprise

Well, this blog entry is going to be a weird one, because I can’t really tell you that much. I can, however, tell you this:

I had planned to go Christmas shopping.

I had planned to order our cards and pick up more wrapping paper.

And I had planned to end the night with treating myself with a trip to the book store.

But, instead, I drove around. For a long time, actually. Eventually, I ended up at the book store but had no enthusiasm for going in and so I sat in the parking lot until deciding to just go home to be with my family.

Why?

Well, I’d had the opportunity and pleasure of meeting some really wonderful girls earlier that evening. I had visited a teen shelter to speak with the kids on writing, my journey re: becoming an author, and some of the themes in my book, ONE FOR THE MURPHYS. Then, I let each of them choose a couple of journals from a box I’d brought and spoke with them on journaling and how writing can help when you are struggling with emotional things. I talked about writing even if you don’t know what to say at first. How writing, “I’m not sure what to say” is totally valid as long as the pen keeps moving.

I also told them that, if a person is dealing with intense and difficult material, writing in first person is sometimes overwhelming. If they want to explore feelings that they have, writing in third person—writing a fictional character and “giving away” some of their own worries—can be helpful. Sometimes the distance gives the writer some clarity. Sometimes the best way to figure things about your own heart is to take that step away.

Lastly, journals don’t have to be about deep or sad things. They can write lists, addresses of friends, jokes or pictures. Journaling shouldn’t feel like a chore. It should be whatever each writer would like it to be. Sometimes that may mean a break from sad thoughts rather than the opportunity to delve into them.

Prior to this meeting with the girls, I had plans of Christmas errands but upon leaving, I couldn’t bring myself to do them. It wasn’t that the experience was bad in any sense whatsoever. It wasn’t that the girls weren’t wonderful to talk with. Actually, it was because the girls were so wonderful. The best.

Two girls, in particular. Their brains were firing. I could see it. One proclaimed that she wants to write a book someday and I told her I thought that she should, but I wonder if I conveyed how strongly I really would like her to. That girl, despite her bumpy beginnings, could really go places. She is uncommonly alert and bright. Keenly observant. And resilient. I could tell.

So, I left thinking about how those girls deserve the best that life has to offer.

I left so, so grateful for the staff members in that home. Obviously caring, thoughtful people and blessings to these girls.

I left wishing that all kids could have loving families. That we could all live in a world with no need for shelters or foster homes;

I left wondering what the world would be like if, as a global people, we could achieve that.

And, I left realizing that getting my Christmas errands done was not as important as I thought.

I’ve added these girls to my Christmas prayers; I hope you will as well.

26 Comments

Filed under Happiness, Satisfaction, School Author Visits, Thankfulness, Writing and Life

Is Your Book Ready for School?

There are exactly 320 days left until my debut book, FLYING THE DRAGON, releases on July 1, 2012. (Not that I’m counting, mind you.) Before I wrote the first words of this book, I knew it would be about a kid who moves to the U.S. and doesn’t speak English. I wanted to hand my ESL students a book about a character who struggles with the same issues they do—culture shock, missing home, learning a new language, feeling out of place, and ultimately finding where they fit in with new friends, a new school and a new country. Once July 1, 2012 rolls around,  how will I connect my book with kids outside of my school?

A few weeks, ago, I wrote a guest post on Cynsations–the fabulous blog of super author and super nice person Cynthia Leitich Smith–about teacher’s guides and how to get your book noticed by teachers and librarians.

If you’re planning on reaching out to schools (with or without a curriculum guide),  I’ve got some questions for you.

1. What’s your book’s “kid” hook?

We hear so much about hooks, those one-liners that answer the question: What’s your story about? If you’ve got a good hook, you’re sure to catch an agent’s or editor’s attention.  But as a teacher and librarian, I want to know more than just what your book is about; I want to know what’s in it for the reader. Will it help a kid understand the Civil War? Shakespeare? Patterns? Will it help the kid who’s just moved to a new school? The kid who’s being bullied? The kid who’s struggling with losing a best friend?

2. Once you’ve identified your book’s kid hook, how does it tie in to your state’s curriculum?

I guarantee that your book has ties to the curriculum, even if you don’t write historical fiction or books about kid scientists. Really. Does your book have a setting? Conflict? Character development? Have you used simile and metaphor? Sensory description? Then your book ties into the curriculum of all 50 states, and even the U.S. Territories. I promise. Most people think of the school subjects as math, social studies, science and language arts (reading, writing, and oral communication)—but there’s also a health curriculum in every state that covers things like bullying, eating disorders, friendship, family issues, and the list goes on.

3. What kind of information will you send to schools about your book and school author visits?

Teachers and librarians will want to know specifically how your book and/or presentation ties into their curriculum.

Know the name of your state’s learning standards, and find out if your state aligns their Language Arts and Math standards to the national standards, called the Common Core Standards. If they have, find out if they still teach their state standards, as well. While most states have agreed to implement the national standards, many No Child Left Behind standardized tests still cover state standards.

For example, let’s say you plan on talking about revision in your school author visit program. Fine. Down in Texas, they expect their kindergarteners to “revise drafts by adding details or sentences” (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills). Over in Maryland, kindergarteners “use descriptive words and other details to expand and improve student’s own writing” (Maryland Common Core Curriculum Frameworks).

Want to talk about sensory writing? Great! Kids in Virginia “identify sensory words” (Virginia Standards of Learning), while up in New Jersey, they “use concrete words and phrases and sensory details to convey experiences and events precisely” (New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards).

Will you be talking about the writing process to high schoolers? In Montana, teens “strengthen focus through various pre-writing activities, organizational structures and revision strategies” (Montana Essential Learning Expectations), while their peers out in Massachusetts “develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience” (Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks).

You get the idea.

Now picture a teacher walking up to the school librarian and saying, “I’m looking for a book about___________________________,” or: “I need a book for a kid who ________________________.”

If that teacher were looking for your book, how would this conversation go?

Once you fill in the blanks, you’re on your way to connecting with teachers, librarians, and kids.

10 Comments

Filed under Book Promotion, School Author Visits