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Life on the Deckle Edge

Poetry Friday - Poetry Month Continued with Eileen Spinelli

Eileen and Robyn at Highlights Founders Workshop in May 2012; Office Kitty May enjoying NORA'S ARK.


Greetings from Mississippi, where I’m heading home today after the wonderful Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival at The University of Southern Mississippi. April and Irene and I had a blast sharing the Poetry Friday Anthology and the Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School (Sylia Vardell and Janet Wong, eds.) with workshop attendees! [Details in my post last week, which was to my utter shock gobbled up somehow in cyberspace, with all the dozens of links folks had left and I’d rounded up - 60-plus comments. Sigh. I reposted my text part here, with our PFA poems.]

I love connecting with other children’s poets, writers and readers. Almost a year ago I had the good fortune to attend my second poetry workshop up at Highlights (post about that here).

Guess whose small group I was in? Eileen Spinelli’s. Yes, that Eileen Spinelli, whose work I’ve admired for many years.

Eileen has poems in these Poetry Friday Anthologies as well. I asked her if I could share her PFA poem from Fourth Grade, Week 29 – “Poetry Poems” – because to me it’s just perfect for National Poetry Month. She kindly agreed.

Today

Today I’m going to pay attention.
To the broken blueness of sky.
To the high weeds in the vacant lot.
To the rusted pot in the alleyway.
Today I’m going to leap across puddles
and steep in green
and all the wild colors in between.
I’m going to listen to
what the birds are singing about,
and to the happy shouts of toddlers on swings.
Today I’m going to gather all my heart can hold
of lemony light and yawning cats
and the bright blur of traffic on the bridge.
Today I’m going to pay attention.
Today I’m going to find myself a poem.


©Eileen Spinelli. All rights reserved.

This poem is particularly delicious when read aloud!

Speaking of Eileen, who is an amazingly generous and prolific writer (of more than 40 books and counting), I’d like to offer a shout-out here for her brand-new picture book, NORA’S ARK (illustrated by Nora Hilb, Zonderkids, 2013).

The ark is just what you’d think, except in Nora’s case the “passenger list includes two backyard spiders, a pair of battery-operated monkeys, and a couple of unimpressed cats.” And Nora does everything just like Noah… well, not just like Noah.

Publisher’s Weekly praised “the respectful exploration of the power of a child’s imagination.”

I absolutely love this book and its ending – perfect for sharing with a child on a rainy day, or any day!

Now, are you ready for some more Eileen Spinelli poetry? Check out “April Foolery,” the poem of the month at her website.

For links to more great poetry all over the Kidlitosphere, please visit the terrifically talented, kitty-loving Diane at Random Noodling for today’s Round Up. Unless you are a cyberspace gremlin.
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Poetry Friday - Julie Hedlund and A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS

As you're enjoying the frenzy of March Madness Poetry 2013
(and do head over and vote for your favorite poems!) I offer you a different and very special treat today. I met Julie Hedlund last year at the “Poetry for All” Highlights Founders workshop , and I’m happy to share a peek into her brand new rhyming storybook app, A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS. It’s illustrated by Pamela Baron and offered by Little Bahalia Publishing for the iPad. (I don’t have an iPad, but my in-laws were happy to purchase it on theirs for me – and for the grandchildren!)

A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS is a romp through the collective nouns of animals, written in rhyme. It offers a fun way to explore the habits and habitats of a variety of animals (as well as subject-verb agreement!).

A pride of lions licks monster-size paws

A float of crocodiles snaps mighty jaws.


My favorite line is:

A quiver of cobras hisses and shakes.

And my favorite illustration accompanies

a leap of leopards lounges in trees,

in which one of the leopards napping on a tree limb opens one eye and twitches an ear.

The animals on each page exhibit the behavior described in the verse, and kids will have fun touching the screen to make the colorful subjects spring to life.

Now, you almost have to sneak up on Julie, safari-like, to grab her for just a few minutes – what with her popular 12 X 12 Picture Book Challenge and her sold-out Writers Renaissance Retreat in Italy coming up in April. Let’s find out more about Julie and her work before she’s off on her next adventure.

Welcome, Julie!

Oh, where to start?! Let’s begin with writing, and we’ll explore other endeavors in a minute. When did you discover a love of writing, and how have you developed your craft?


I've ALWAYS loved writing. It's how I understand myself and the world. The first word I ever wrote was "HOT," and for a year or so it was how I signed all of my cards to grandparents, etc. I think it's gone uphill from there. :-)

With respect to craft, I've cultivated it by doing a lot of writing and a lot of listening. By listening, I mean attending conferences, workshops and retreats where I could learn from experts and then work on incorporating those lessons into my own work. What amazes me is how the more you learn, the more you realize you still have yet to learn. There's never a dull day in the writing life!


How did you come up with the idea for A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS?

I came across a list of collective nouns for animals and was surprised to find how few of them I knew. I was delighted by the fact that the names for the animal groups reflected something about the animal's behavior, habitat, appearance, etc. I figured if I had that much fun learning the names, surely others would too - especially kids, who almost always love animals.

Did any verses come straight from the Muses, and were there others you had to hunt down?

"A kaleidoscope of butterflies flutters through daisies" was one of the only lines that survived intact from my first draft. Otherwise, the verses required a lot of work. I did a great deal of research on each animal so I had several options for the line pertaining to that animal. Then I had to match animals up with each other in such a way to create compelling rhyming couplets.

Let’s talk about apps. First, what’s your definition of a storybook app?

A storybook app is an illustrated book for children that contains interactions on each screen, some of which may be required in order for the story to proceed. The interactivity can be sound-based, touch-based or device-based (such as tilting or shaking the device). Ideally, the interactivity is designed to enhance rather than detract from the story and to increase comprehension.

How is composing text for an interactive app similar to writing for print? How is it different?

What's similar is that the story (or in this case poem) must be excellent. No amount of technical bells and whistles can elevate a sub-par story. What is different is that in addition to thinking about text and illustration, now you need to consider sound, movement, animation. You have to think about your story on a screen instead of a page, which changes the function of "page turns." Although you still move from screen to screen, tension and drama can come from sound and animation as well as text and illustration. There's also no set number of pages for apps, so the onus is on the author to determine how many screens are required to tell the best story.

How much input do you as the writer have in terms of the interactive elements – choosing what might be animated, layout/design, that sort of thing? Or are all visual decisions left to the illustrator and designers?

The answer to this question depends on how you are publishing the app. If you hire a developer to create your app or use an app creation tool, all of those decisions are your own. In my case, I sold my manuscript to an e-publisher, so the publisher made most of the decisions about the animation and design. However, I did submit a storyboard containing my "vision" for the animation, and many of those ideas were incorporated into the app. I'm fortunate because Stacey Williams-Ng, the founder of Little Bahalia, has a huge amount of experience both illustrating, designing and producing apps. Because of her expertise and passion, the finished product is far better than I could have imagined had I done it on my own.

You’ve got terrific resources on your blog about the publishing industry as well as tips for creating apps. What’s the first thing you tell someone who asks you about creating digital content?

Go for it! It's the future. BUT, don't do it as a shortcut to traditional publishing. Make sure your story is the best it can be. Don't skimp on editing, illustration, design, etc. Also, evaluate whether your story makes sense in digital form. The story should drive the format, and not the other way around.

What do you think about the co-existence of traditionally published books, apps, and e-books in the marketplace – is there room for all, or do you think digital content will take over for the youngest readers?

I certainly hope there is room for all, as I still want to traditionally publish a print book! In fact, I want to publish any way I can that both makes sense for my stories and gets my work into the hands of more children. I see no reason why different types of books can't co-exist. As for the farther-off future, I do think digital content will become predominant in all forms of publishing, but I can't envision print going away entirely, especially for board books and picture books.

As a world-traveling, horse-riding, nature-loving gal from Colorado, you strike me as someone always up for an adventure. Were there any challenges during the process of creating this app that surprised you?

The challenge all came BEFORE the actual creation of the app. The biggest hardship I faced was learning about all the options available to publish the app, which direction I wanted to take, and then how to submit my idea, especially since I am an author-only and came without illustrations. What surprised me was how few answers I found to my questions. I guess that's why, after I developed my own proposal, I decided to turn it into a template for other authors and illustrators to use - to avoid the pain and suffering I endured - LOL.

You participate in “Gratitude Sunday” by posting things you are grateful for each week. How does an attitude of thankfulness inform your creative life? (And life in general?)

My gratitude practice, over time, has helped me understand that there is good in all situations, even if that doesn't seem to be the case on the surface. Spending time each week reflecting on what I am grateful for grounds me, and sometimes requires me to "dig deep" into my feelings and experiences. Rather than serving to oversimplify situations, my gratitude practice makes me realize the complexity that's inherent in people, our actions, our emotions. This serves me by enriching my writing, but it's also made me a great deal less judgmental and far less inclined toward knee-jerk reactions.

How do you balance your own creative work with the demands of nurturing not only your family, but the online network of inspiration and support you’ve created for other writers?

I'm not sure I do, but I keep trying!! Lately I've been taking things one day at a time, focusing on the most pressing things that need to get done work-wise. I'm also getting far better about "letting it all go" when I'm with my kids. Our work is of the kind that is never "finished." There is always something more that could be done. But there's no point in worrying about all of that when I'm with the kids. It's taken me a while to come to this realization, but I'm far better off spending quality time with them and coming back to my work refreshed from the break. Next on the list of "creating more balance" in my life is figuring out how to take time for me, as I've been slack on my exercising and pursuit of other hobbies lately.

Finally, any sneak peeks into projects on the horizon that you’re at liberty to share?

I'm not sure I'm at liberty to share the title yet, but my next app in the "animal groups" trilogy will be released in May, and it features animals leaving in or near the ocean. I am excited about this one because many of these collective nouns will be brand new to most people and they are SO fun.

A third app featuring insects, reptiles and amphibians will be coming in October, and before that, a print book that combines the "best" of all three apps. So it's a very exciting year!


Exciting indeed! Congratulations all around, and thank you for visiting with us today.

Thank you so much for hosting me today Robyn. I think digital publishing is going to be a very exciting avenue for poets of all stripes, and I hope my experience gets the creative gears turning for your Poetry Friday compatriots.

Told you she was fascinating! And if you visit her list of 100 random things, you'll learn Julie used to drink pickle juice straight from the jar, and that she has an MA in International Political Economy from the University of Warwick in England.

No telling what you'll learn making the Poetry Friday rounds today, but please go see the wonderful and talented Jone at Check it Out and enjoy!

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Poetry Friday: Unlocking PFAMS!

When the Poetry Friday Anthology debuted last fall, I heard a couple of teachers say they’d love to see something like that for older students. Well, today’s the day!

It’s the official launch of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School (PFAMS), brilliantly brought to life by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong.

Here’s the official scoop:

The Poetry Friday Anthology is a series for K-5 and Middle School (6-8) designed to help teachers meet the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in the English Language Arts (ELA). “Take 5” teaching tips for each poem provide step-by-step poetry lessons that address curriculum requirements.

PFAMS offers many of the same features as the original PFA. In fact, the same theme is used for each week in grades 6 through 8 as is used for K-5. Each grade section opens with a “Poem for Everyone” and then a suite of weedkly poems for each grade level for the whole year, tied in with the “Take 5” activities to grade-level standards. Pretty nifty, eh?

In fact, the first poem in the collection, a poem for everyone, is “First Day at a New School,” penned by none other than our Poetry Friday host today, Julie Larios .

One difference in this volume from the K-5 version is that each poem here claims a whole spread, rather than a poem and its activities presented one per page as laid out in the K-5 edition. As you can imagine, the “Take 5” lesson ideas are a bit more sophisticated, but still very user-friendly.

I’ll share one of my two in the collection to demonstrate how it works. (The other will show up here sometime soon, too!)

My poem “Locker Ness Monster” appears in the Sixth Grade section for Week Two, for the theme, “More School.”


Locker Ness Monster


Twenty-four
Eighteen
Six.


Arrrgh. That’s not it.

Twenty-six
Fourteen
Eight.


Nothing. Nada. Nyet.

Twenty-six
Eighteen
Four.


CLICK. That’s it!

Unlock your head,
then your fingers,
then the door.


©Robyn Hood Black. All rights reserved.

For the “Take Five” element on the opposite page, there are five different activities a teacher could choose to use with this poem. I won’t give them all away, but the first is particularly intriguing:

1. Add a bit of fun to sharing this poem with a “poetry prop” – hold up a locker lock before reading the poem aloud. Spin the wheel and stop at the numbers in the poem (24/18/6; 26/14/8; 26/18/4). See if you can do that WHILE reading the poem aloud!

(I love a challenge - but I'd probably have to pass this one on to someone more coordinated!)

A teacher might pick one activity or all five. You really can introduce a poem and lead a related activity in five minutes, if that’s all you have to work with. The number 5 in each “Take 5” is one always one of my favorite elements of these anthologies: a connection to another poem in the book (and sometimes to a published collection if it particularly relates). In the case of my poem here, readers are encouraged to check out another poem “involving confusion over numbers” – it’s “Fourths of Me” by Betsy Franco, in the 7th grade section, a terrific poem about identity. Another poem that connects back to mine emerges for the “In the Water” theme a few weeks later in sixth grade – “Dear Monster of Loch Ness” by Jack Prelutsky. (Great poem; amazing poet!) You get the idea.

One of my favorite things about these anthologies is the first “key to remember” in the opening pages:

A poem should first be enjoyed for its own sake.

This is vitally important. These anthologies enable teachers to present what can be an intimidating subject in accessible, fun, age-appropriate ways, while at the same time touching on the new Common Core standards. I wish this had been around back in the day when I taught middle school English!

Reminder: Sylvia and Janet have done an amazing job making this material accessible in a variety of ways. The anthology is available in a print version with all of the 6th through 8th grade entries; as an e-book; and by grade-level as e-books for a nominal price. Teachers who want to share a poem with students can do so quite easily with a Smartboard. But wait - there's more.... While the book cover pictured above is the CCSS version, educators in Texas can purchase the anthology with activities tailored to the TEKS standards. Ordering info for any of these can be found here.

I have really enjoyed reading the poems included in this collection and exploring the connections and activities they inspire. For more great poetry today, drift on over to see Julie at The Drift Record.
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Poetry Friday - Dare to Dream with Jill Corcoran's Collection

Can’t believe it’s already Springmingle time again in our SCBWI Southern Breeze region . I’ve coordinated that conference off and on for several years, but this time I’m attending as a civilian. I look forward to meeting many great speakers, including multi-talented Jill Corcoran – agent, author, poet, anthologist, and busy mom of three for starters! (She’s also just launched A Path to Publishing, offering unique online workshop opportunities with agents, editors, art directors and other industry professionals.) A recent interview with Jill
was posted by my fellow Southern Breezer and friend Donny Bailey Seagraves.

Do you know Jill’s poetry collection released in the fall from Kane Miller, Dare to Dream… Change the World? With poems from thirty contributors, including some of the most revered names in the field, the book “pairs biographical and inspirational poems focusing on people who invented something, stood for something, said something, who defied the naysayers and not only changed their own lives, but the lives of people all over the world.”

Subjects include Jonas Salk, Temple Grandin, Christa McAuliffe, Steven Spielberg, Ashley Bryan, and many other past and contemporary voices and talents who chose to make a difference in the world.

J. Beth Jepson’s colorful illustrations are finely tuned to each poem’s theme, and they deftly unify pairs of poems across each spread.

Too many of my favorite poets are included to single them out, so let me whet your appetite with the whole list: Jill Corcoran, J. Patrick Lewis, Alice Schertle, David L. Harrison, Jane Yolen, Joan Bransfield Graham, Ellen Hopkins, Georgia Heard, Hope Anita Smith, Elaine Magliaro, Curtis L. Crisler, Janet S. Wong, Denise Lewis Patrick, Joyce Lee Wong, Jacqui Robbins, Julia Durango, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, Lisa Wheeler, Hope Vestergaard, Carol M. Tanzman, Stephanie Hemphill, Alan Katz, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Marilyn Singer, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Joyce Sidman, Rose Horowitz, Bruce Coville, Kelly Ramsdell Fineman, Laura Purdie Salas.

One of my favorite spreads, big on blue sky and desert colors, celebrates Georgia O’Keeffe. It features some brief biographical information and a couple of O’Keeffe quotes, plus two poems. The first is “Painter” by Lee Bennett Hopkins, opening with these evocative lines:

Sky will always be.
So shall I.


The facing page features Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s “Cloudscape,” which includes:

In the center of a day,
each day, are lines upon a canvas,
an abstract image that floats
like a spirit somewhere…


*Please see this amazing post by Jama Rattigan at Alphabet Soup to read these two poems in their entirety, and for background information on this spread!*

The collection provides several opportunities for use in the classroom. While targeting 6th through 8th grade Common Core standards, it is easily adaptable for 3rd through 5th as well. Click here for the book’s website with teaching resources and a free30-page Common Core State Standards Curriculum guide. You’ll also find information about the Annual Dare to Dream Poetry Contest for Kids with prizes of donation of $1,500 worth of Kane Miller and Usborne books to the winner’s school library or a library of their choice plus an ebook to be published by Kane Miller of the top 30 poems.

I appreciate the potential of this anthology to connect with kids on so many levels. As someone who has written for a national character education curriculum the past few years, I like the cross-over avenues all these poems provide for character ed as well as for language arts, science, social studies, and more.

One of the poems with very strong kid appeal is Laura Purdie Salas’s

Just Like That

Clickin on this clip –
I wanna click like that,
      Be quick like that.
My footworks’ gonna be
sick like that.

I never saw a kid
Who could move like that,
      Groove like that,
I’ll show you what I got
I’m gonna prove like that.


You can find the rest of Laura’s poem here, along with links to other blogs and resources. Oh, and while you’re over there, make sure you click on Laura’spost for today – and add your hearty congratulations that she just won the CYBILS award for poetry for her collection, Bookspeak. (I featured it here.) Woo-hoo!

Then please enjoy the rest of today’s Poetry Friday offerings rounded up by the lovely and talented Linda at TeacherDance.

Note – Next Poetry Friday, I’ll be in a verse novels workshop with Nikki Grimes for our Springmingle conference. (I know, lucky me!) The conference runs til Sunday, so I’ll skip posting for Poetry Friday next weekend and will see you on March 1st. I’ll try to send out a tweet or two!

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Poetry Friday: Joyce Sidman and some verse novelists, too!

Happy New Year!

So maybe I haven’t put away the Christmas decorations yet, but I’ve started off the New Year with a couple of poetry posts on other blogs.

First, I was thrilled to be able to interview our most recent recipient of the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, Joyce Sidman, for the PACYA (Poetry Advocates for Children and Young Adults) blog.

I’ve admired Joyce’s work for a long time, and she kindly agreed to let me share a poem here today, too.

From one of my favorite books, the Newbery Honor-winning DARK EMPEROR & OTHER POEMS OF THE NIGHT, illustrated by printmaker Rick Allen (Houghton Mifflin, 2010), here is the opening poem:

Welcome to the Night

To all of you who crawl and creep,
who buzz and chirp and hoot and peep,
who wake at dusk and throw off sleep:
Welcome to the night.

To you who make the forest sing,
who dip and dodge on silent wing,
who flutter, hover, clasp, and cling:
Welcome to the night!

Come feel the cool and shadowed breeze,
come smell your way among the trees,
come touch rough bark and leathered leaves:
Welcome to the night.

The night’s a sea of dappled dark,
the night’s a feast of sound and spark,
the night’s a wild, enchanted park.
Welcome to the night!


©Joyce Sidman. All rights reserved.

To read the PACYA interview, click here, and to peruse Joyce’s wonderful website brimming with resources for readers, writers, and teachers, click here.

Second, my monthly poetry column on Janice Hardy’s terrific blog for fiction writers, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY, has moved to the first Wednesday of the month this year. (Though it won’t appear in Feb.) This week we’re exploring verse novels, and I have some amazing book excerpts and insights from three wonderful, award-winning authors: Eileen Spinelli, April Halprin Wayland, and
Susan Taylor Brown.

I’m so thankful to each of these poets – Joyce, Eileen, April, and Susan – for sharing their gifts and their thoughts in this bright New Year.

For more great poetry, go visit the multipl-y gifted Matt at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme for today’s Poetry Friday Roundup.
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Poetry Friday: Jump-Start your Morning with Janet Wong…

This image, like most of the fun ones I find online, from the company YAY Images.

What’s that – a yawn? Oh, I see – you’re just perusing a few Poetry Friday blog posts while the coffee pot is sputtering and clicking. Well, then, today’s poem is for you!

If you’re a Janet Wong fan (I know - that’s everyone!), perhaps you’ve taken BEHIND THE WHEEL – Poems About Driving for a spin around the block already. Originally published by Margaret K. McElderry in 1999, Janet made these wonderful poems available as an e-book last year and a paperback this year for a new set of young drivers and poetry lovers.

Of course, the collection is about so much more than driving: family relationships, love, authority, choices, beliefs. As expected, the poems unfold in simple language, sometimes with more than a dash of humor, and leave the reader nodding, “Yes – I’ve felt that way, too.”

Today we’ll enjoy a lighter one, and this will get us back to coffee.

Not these lines from “One Hand On the Wheel,” but I have to share them because I love them so:


My mother was one of them
when –
who knows what happened.

Now she’s driving 65,
one hand holding a cup of coffee,
one hand on the wheel


No, here is the poem I want to leave you with as you smell that aroma from your kitchen. It’s shared with gracious permission of the author.

Jump-Start

by Janet Wong

can’t turn over
battery’s dead

need
jumper cables
in
my
head

clamp them on
start me up

pour some coffee
in my cup
dark strong coffee

start me up



To learn more about Janet and her robust, full-flavored, high-octane body of work, visit her website. Check out terrific resources for educators at her Poetry Suitcase! For Janet’s amazing collaborations with Sylvia Vardell, including the Poetry Tag Time books and the hot-off-the-press Poetry Friday Anthology, visit Pomelo Books.

And for cup after cup of delicious poetry, sit a spell this morning with the lovely Katya, who is rounding up Poetry Friday at Write, Sketch, Repeat.

Cream and sugar, anyone?
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Thanks to Poet Joy Acey for the Shout-Out

Joy Acey had some fun with the new Poetry Friday Anthology, and with my poem, "Snack Rules." Click here to see what resulted when she mis-read the title, then followed that wondering and pondering into a new poem of her own. (And you might check out her follow-up post exploring rhythm.)

Joy has two fun poems in the anthology as well. I've had the privilege of meeting Joy at the two Higlights Founders Worskhops in poetry I've attended. She's an enthusiastic voice for children's poetry!
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VOICE LESSONS with Irene Latham


Poetry buffs who frequent this blog know about Poetry Friday regular Irene Latham – her COLOR OF LOST ROOMS (2010) was a National Indie Excellence finalist and winner of the 19th Annual Writer's Digest Self-Published Book Award. She just sold her first collection of children's poems, DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST, set at an African watering hole, to Millbrook Press/Lerner. Look for it in the fall of 2014! Irene has been poetry editor of the Alabama Arts Journal since 2003.

She’s also an accomplished novelist. LEAVING GEE’S BEND (Putnam, 2010) won the Alabama Library Association 2011 Children's Book Award and was a SIBA Book Award finalist. Her new novel, DON’T FEED THE BOY (Roaring Brook, Oct. 2012), is soon to be let loose!

At the SCBWI Southern Breeze fall conference in Birmingham in October, Irene is presenting a workshop on that elusive, crucial, desired-by-any-editor element of a story: voice. She was kind enough to drop by today and give us a sneak peek.

Take it away, Irene!

Confession: when I sold LEAVING GEE’S BEND, I thought “editing” meant someone somewhere sending my words through some fancydancy spell-check program. I really had no idea how to revise.

Guess what I learned?

The best and quickest way to educate oneself about editing and revision is to actually DO it. And what I’ve found in the years since is that for me, revising is most successful if taken in stages. By which I mean, I read over the manuscript multiple times, addressing one specific issue during each pass.

I generally start with plot, because that’s easiest (for me). Then I move to character arc – one pass for each major player, then another pass for supporting characters. Then, eventually, I move to voice. It’s during this pass that the magic happens: ordinary words take on flavor and personality. Dialogue quirks emerge. Similes and metaphors become consistent with the character. Gone are the modern words in a historical piece, while invented words manifest themselves in a fantasy piece.

One of the best ways I have found to teach about voice is to show examples of writing without voice. Take, for instance, the first line from a household favorite book FEED by M. T. Anderson.

line STRIPPED of voice, by me:

“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon was boring.”

actual line, written by M.T. Anderson:

“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.”

That, fellow readers and writers, is VOICE.

Want to learn more? Come to the SCBWI Southern Breeze region annual Writing and Illustrating for Kids conference in Birmingham, Oct. 20. (There’s an optional novel intensive Oct. 19.) Here’s the official description for my workshop:

Voice Lessons: Revising for Voice

Got a book with great plot, characters, but no distinctive voice? This workshop provides revision techniques and advice on how to create a voice that’s authentic and memorable. *Attendees should bring at least one page up to an entire chapter of a work-in-progress to revise.

Handout includes a list of strategies, a voice-revision checklist and three before/after excerpts to illustrate effectiveness of the suggested techniques.


Sounds terrific, Irene! Thanks for the preview.

To learn more about Irene and her books, check out her website and blog.

And to register for the Writing and Illustrating for Kids (wik) fall conference in Birmingham , click here.

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Poetry Friday: The Poetry Friday Anthology!!!

It's here!

Well, the official, official launch date is Sept. 1 - but THE POETRY FRIDAY ANTHOLOGY is here! Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong (of the Poetry Tag Time books) have outdone themselves with this jam-packed resource featuring more than 200 poems by 75 poets. Each poem is presented in a specific grade level, K-5, and connected to curriculum standards with FUN activities for students. (Sylvia has done an amazing job connecting each poem to Common Core, and there's a Texas version of the book with TEKS standards, too!)

I was beyond excited to get my copies because I have a couple of poems included. But almost immediately, I was just plain excited - this book is so very well laid out and thought out, it couldn't be easier for a busy teacher to use. Just a few minutes once a week (hopefully more if time allows), and elementary students of all ages will get to hear, read, explore or act out a short, child-friendly poem. They'll leave the school year with a few dozen poems under their belts and no doubt several favorites. I've already let teachers and the media specialist at our school know about it.

Can't wait to get your copy? The paperback is available on Amazon, with the e-book soon to follow. (Just enter THE POETRY FRIDAY ANTHOLOGY in the search.) To learn more about this creative dynamic duo and Pomelo Books, click here.

I'll leave you with one of my poems, this one in the First Grade section:

Snack Rules

Don't talk with your mouth full --
full of peanut butter:
Anything you try to say
wll cmmm out as a mmmttrr.

©Robyn Hood Black, all rights reserved

For lots more lip-smacking poetry, visit Rounder-Upper Mary Lee at A Year of Reading.
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Poetry Friday - Lee Bennett Hopkins and MARY'S SONG

MARY'S SONG by Lee Bennett Hopkins, Eerdman's, 2012Illustrations ©Stephen AlcornThis page reads:"I even thought I heard a whisperfrom spider above the manger,spinning her web - though I know what silent spinners spiders are.

Merry Christmas! Christmas in July, I mean, and we’re unwrapping a very special gift today. Instead of a poem, we have a renowned poet and a magical, lyrical picture book.

Lee Bennett Hopkins is here! THE most prolific children’s poetry anthologist, Lee has received the University of Southern Mississippi Medallion for “outstanding contributions to the field of children’s literature,” the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Excellence in Poetry for Children Award and the Florida Libraries’ Lifetime Achievement Award, just to name a few.

In addition to his award-winning anthologies, Lee’s own poetry collections, picture books and professional texts have won countless awards, and he established two coveted awards “to encourage the recognition of poetry.” He’s also a popular keynote speaker at literature conferences.

Busy as he is, he agreed to stop by and tell us about his newest book. MARY’S SONG, hot off the press from Eerdman’s and illustrated by Stephen Alcorn, is sure to become part of family traditions and treasures this Christmas and for years and years to come.
I’ve been anticipating this book for a long time. When my copy arrived last week, my first reaction was not so much that the writing is brilliant (it is) or that the art is amazing (it is) but that I wished I’d had this book to share with my own children when they were small.

I love the magical interplay of text, which describes a new mother’s longing for a quiet moment with her baby, and the gorgeous art with its warm palette and cross hatchings which seem to invite readers to find connections between halos, spider webs, the light of the sun, The Light of the World… I’m getting carried away. Let me turn it over to Lee.

You’ve referred to Mary’s Song as “my nativity lovesong.” Do you remember how the idea came to you? How long did it drift around in your mind before you wrote the text?

I have always wanted to write about Mary. There are so many books about her yet so few about Her! I knew deep inside I needed to write a tribute to Mary being with HER child -- alone. I remember my niece, Jennifer, giving birth to my grand-niece, Erin Elizabeth, after years of trying to bear a child. So many rushed to the hospital bringing balloons, gifts, wanting to see and hold the baby. I remember looking at my niece, her eyes almost shouting how she wanted to be alone with this precious gift. In some ways the idea clicked then. In all nativity stories we hear of the hubbub, the fuss, Wise Men bearing gifts, shepherds, animals crowding the manger. I am certain Mary might have felt the same way. Thus, I wanted MARY'S SONG to BE a tribute to Motherhood. More than a Christmas story, it is about Motherhood.

I was struck, as a reader, not only that the tale is told from Mary’s perspective, but that it’s all about sound. Poetry is all about sound. Was this a natural way for you to explore Mary’s feelings, after your own life’s work immersed in poetry?

Truly, I do not remember writing this piece. Looking back on my notes I began the book on December 3, 2007, finished a fourth and final draft on December 6th. The words simply flowed. I wanted sounds of noise in the text; I also wanted the one word QUIET emphasized. Stephen Alcorn created a work of splendor in the double-page spread with simply the one word.

How did you put yourself in Mary’s place to imagine all these rich, sensory details?

Another oddity. I wrote the text, it went through the near five-year publishing process, I saw proofs, read them through, was thrilled to hold the first bound copy in my hand. One night my brother-in-law, Anthony, came to the house and began poring through the pages. He looked at me and said: "This is all told from the voice of Mary. How could you do this?" I never realized I had done that. I still read through the text and find it fascinating that the whole book IS Mary's point of view. If Anthony hadn't seen this would I have ever? Ah, the mysteries of writing.

I was delighted to see the appearance of a spider in the story, such symbolic little creatures. Was she there from the beginning?

Spider came about in the second draft. I thought the idea of this quiet creature was so allegorical. Or was it because I've always been 'caught in Stephen Alcorn's “web”?

Speaking again of Stephen Alcorn, what glorious illustrations! Another great collaboration between your words and his art. (MY AMERICA, DAYS TO CELEBRATE, and AMERICA AT WAR also spring to mind.) His gentle depictions in MARY’S SONG reflect the story so beautifully and of course add magic of their own. How did you react when you saw the illustrations?

Stephen and I have done many books together. I only wanted him as the artist. Before the manuscript was even submitted I knew he had to do the artwork. It wasn't hard to convince anyone at Eerdmans; the art director, Gayle Brown, knew and loved his work. While attempting the first draft of MARY'S SONG, I saw his work throughout the writing. I saw his spider and her web. I could feel his ever-changing palette - his mood, rhythm, his sense of distinct design. Stephen was taken with the text immediately. How lucky I am to have him in my life. When I first saw Stephen's sketches, and after the goose bumps went away, I cried. I feel as if he and I became one on this book. It is interesting to note that his wife, Sabina, is the model for Mary. And the Dedication to my beloved sister was penned the moment the text was finished.

Thank you for being my special guest today to share Christmas in July! Any other upcoming projects you’d like to whet our appetites for?

Scheduled for Fall, 2013 is ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE to appear from Creative Editions. The book, based on Shakespeare's famed monologue from AS YOU LIKE IT, is a young adult collection following "Seven Ages of Man" from ENTRANCES: 'At first the infant' to ENDS: "Last scene." It is, I hope, a powerful collection illustrated by Guy Billout, another remarkable artist.

Oooh, now I’ll be eagerly anticipating this one! Can’t wait. Thank you again for joining us today and for the generous behind-the-scenes peek at MARY’S SONG.

To learn more about Lee and his incomparable body of work, please visit his website.

And for more Poetry Friday surprises, hop over to Life is Better with Books for this week’s Roundup.
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