Books Journey

I went to a very good, highly regarded all girls private school (back in ancient times) but two things they never did were bring in authors or teach us much about the creative writing process.  (My father also feels they neglected geography, but that’s another story…)

I thought authors were akin to gods – certainly not real people – and to me, a life of writing didn’t seem like an option.  Journalism, OK – but not creative writing.  People from my school became doctors, lawyers, and senators.  Those that became stay-at-home moms tried not to attract too much attention because with an education like ours you were supposed to be out there doing something with it (as if using it to raise happy, well-adjusted, good kids isn’t important… but that’s also another story!)

Anyway, the point is, I visit a lot of public schools whose reputations probably can’t hold a candle to my alma mater, but they do invite authors and illustrators and put a lot more effort into showing kids first hand that the creative life is an option.

One local school in particular has been running a terrific program for 4 or 5 years now.  They call it Books Journey, and it’s a program for fourth graders.  It is kicked off by local authors and illustrators (and we are lucky – there are a lot of us in the Hudson Valley!) coming in to talk about their creative process and the creative spark – how they generate ideas.

The kids are then each given a journal, and during dedicated class time, they begin writing their own books.  After a couple of weeks, I come in – and that’s what I’m doing today and tomorrow!  My job is to help them keep going after the initial spark has worn off and they are stuck.  We talk about characters, setting, obstacles, raising the stakes, crafting a satisfying ending etc., and how to keep going when you’re not sure what to do.

The kids then go back and finish their stories.  Then the school has a couple of professional editors come in and talk about editing, followed by a book cover designer who teaches the kids about the importance of cover design.  Finally, they have a marketing specialist come in and teach them about how professional authors market their books.

At the very end, they have a book fair, where all 100 or so of the books are on display for students, teachers and parents to look at.

It’s an amazing program, one I wish more schools could do.  It does take a lot of organization, but it is so worthwhile for the kids.  You should see how proud they are of their finished books!

So today and tomorrow, I’m off to teach fourth graders.  Wish me luck and good communications skills so I can be really helpful to them – who knows?  A future great novelist may be among them 🙂

Do you know of schools who do a particularly good job of teaching writing?  What do they do?

How Younique – Challenge #1!

First things first… there are only a couple hours left to bid on my books at Write Hope if any of you happen to be interested…

Now, onto today’s topic: uniqueness (which doesn’t quite sound like a real word…)

When I go on school visits, I’m always telling kids about the importance of their voices – because everyone is different, everyone’s experiences and how they experience them are different, and no two people will tell a story the same way.  But I think it would be fun to see how true that really is….

So.  I’m hoping at least some of you are like me and can’t resist a challenge 🙂

I will give you a sentence to complete.  (Actually, in the interest of encouraging more people to try it, I’ll give you a couple to choose from – please feel free to do more than one!)  I hope lots of people will give it a try.  I won’t post your responses until tomorrow and then we can see how different they all are!  (Really, we’re like scientists here!)

1.  I never expected that one day I’d open my closet and find…
2.  It was obviously going to be an unusual day when my mom came into the bedroom and said…
3.  He was afraid, but he called upon all the courage he had as…

Tomorrow I will give you three words and see how different the sentences you come up with are (Challenge #2.)  And Wednesday we will take cliche’s and try to make them new (Challenge #3.)

Please join in if you can.  We are conducting important research for the benefit of kids’ education 🙂  I can’t wait to see what everyone comes up with!  And what better way to take a little break from Monday’s work?  Who knows, by finishing the sentence, you may come up with a story starter for yourself!  (Or when I post the responses tomorrow, you might find a story starter in someone else’s sentence!)

P.S.  Due to an underwhelming response on Monday (*cough*) I’m going to leave this post up for another day in the hopes that I might get a few more participants, and do the 2nd and 3rd Challenges later in the week.  Please join the fun, the excitement, the ground-breaking scientific discovery!

Write Hope

I wasn’t going to post this morning because I’m rushing off to a big school visit.  But the devastation in Japan has been on my mind, as I’m sure it’s on everyone else’s.  When I saw that Rachael Harrie and some friends had gotten together to do something to help, I wanted to join the effort and spread the word to anyone else who might be interested.

Rach, along with Marieke, Luna, Tessa Quin, and Amanda Milner have formed Write Hope.  Here is the plan:

Right now we’re working hard to set up a charity auction, auctioning off all things kidlit. ARCs, books, critiques, swag. Donations are stacking up and we’ve only just started!

Over the next couple of days we’ll post details of the auction on the blog: the when, the how, the what.

Write Hope is a very proud sponsor of the Save the Children emergency relief fund for Japan.

Please, please help. Spread the word. Follow along at Write Hope. Take part in the auction. Spread the word.

As we said on Write Hope: Together we can move mountains.

Thank you!

 If you are a writer (or anyone else) with something to offer the auction, please let them know.  If you have nothing to auction but would still like to help, please consider spreading the word and bidding when the time comes.


There but for the grace of God…

Goldilocks and the Three Hairs

Rapunzel and I have something in common.  Neither one of us spends a lot of time getting her hair cut.

Rapunzel and I also have something in common with Goldilocks.  We all have blond hair.  Or at least, we used to.  I’ll get to that in a second.

Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I take fashion ignorance to unprecedented levels.

I wear blue jeans if at all possible.

I am not really sure what a pump is.  (The kind for your feet, not the thing that gets water out of the basement when it floods.)

I have never, in my entire life (which according to some began during the stone age) had a manicure or a pedicure.  (No, I am not making this up.  Get your jaw off the floor.)

I have never worn make-up, unless you count the time in 9th grade when, for a bit part in Wild Oats, I had to wear mascara.  It made my eyes itch, so henceforth I have avoided the stage.  And make-up.

Hairstyles?  Handbags?  Haute coutour?  Forget it.

Fashion.  Ignorance.

So when I tell you that yesterday I had my annual haircut you will understand that it was a Big Deal.  My concession to fashion, such as it is.

Really, once a year is enough.  I can’t be bothered to go any more often.  I have too many other things to do.  And anyone can trim their own bangs.  (Although I read somewhere that trimming your own bangs was a sign of self-loathing….  hmmm….)

I used to get my hair cut every 18 months or so, but that all changed when the three hairs showed up.  (This is the part I was getting to.  You can stop holding your breath in anticipation.)  Allow me to explain…

Locks of Love is an organization that accepts donations of hair to make hairpieces for financially disadvantaged children who suffer long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis.  The minimum length requirement is 10 inches, and I found that if I grew my hair for about 18 months I could donate that without shaving my head completely.  Then, one fine day, the three hairs showed up.  Unmistakeable.  Impossible to hide.  Three gray hairs, front and center.

The ladies at the place where I used to get my hair cut (which has since gone out of business… coincidence?) informed me that Locks of Love would not accept hair with gray in it because it didn’t hold dye evenly.  Foolish me.  I believed them.

Here’s how I discovered my mistake yesterday:

I seated myself before the lovely Veronica, whose unenviable job it was to hack off my golden tresses.

“What would you like?” she chirped.

Before I could respond, she began flinging around terms like, “layers,” “highlights,” and “side bangs” with reckless abandon.  I was forced to throw cold water on her blaze of enthusiasm.

“Hold it,” I said.  “Let me explain.  I wash my hair.  And comb it.  That’s it.  There will be no styling.  No blow drying.  No mousse, no gel, no spray.  Nada.”

Her face fell.  “So, just a simple cut?” she clarified, no doubt hoping against hope that she had misunderstood and there was still time to talk me into a devilock, a pixie cut, or anything with a name.  Even a mullet.

“Just a simple cut,” I confirmed.  “The simplest.”

With a sigh she set to work.  Snip, snip, snip.  I could almost hear her thinking, “Bor-ing!”

“You know,” she said conversationally, “another three inches and you could donate to Locks of Love.”

“No,” I responded, secure in my superior knowledge.  “I have three gray hairs.  Locks of Love won’t take it.”

“Yes they will,” she chirped, once again enthusiastic.

What???  Could this be true???  Had I really been so completely hoodwinked???

I refrained from raining on her parade by saying a better time to have mentioned this would have been two minutes ago before she started snipping.

7 inches of prime hair – unbleached, uncolored, un-permed, undamaged by hair products or blow dryers of any kind and blond except for three hairs – was currently hitting the salon floor.  Wasted!

If I was going to make any donations, I would have to start from scratch.

“Well,” I said, “maybe next time.”

I then made good use of the rest of my time in the chair by asking her questions about beauty school.  You never know, I might want to write a character someday who has talents and/or aspirations in that direction.  So the ordeal wasn’t a total waste of time.  I like to keep a weather eye for useful material.

The moral of the story?  Don’t let a few gray hairs stop you from donating.  In fact, I believe Locks of Love will accept your hair even if it is mostly gray, or even all gray.  As for Rapunzel, she could help a lot of kids if she’d get out of that tower and share her hair!

And me?  Now that my head is lighter, maybe some great ideas will float out of it.  You never know!

Holiday Book Drive!

Yes, I realize it’s the crack of dawn.

I also realize it’s Saturday, which is not a usual posting day for me.

But I have something important to share that couldn’t wait, so here it is:

Lit World, in partnership with the International Book Bank, is having a children’s book drive for the holidays.  Please visit KidLit for full information.

I know you’ll visit KidLit and get all the details there, so I won’t bore you with repetition here.  I just want to say, this is a very worthy cause, and I encourage everyone to donate used picture books they no longer want to the poverty-stricken children in Liberia and Sierra Leone, children who will get such joy out of them.  Added bonus: your house will have less clutter in time for the influx of new holiday gifts!

Thanks for reading and considering a donation.

Now, go have a great weekend!