Sunday, December 8, 2013

Holiday Haiku by Carolee Dean

I try to avoid the teacher's lounge during the holidays. The supply of sugary, buttery sweets is endless.

Several years ago I gave up baking cookies for the holidays and started giving away bookmarks with poems I'd created. Not only are these treats non-fattening, they are totally gluten free and last all year long! 

I love haiku poems. They have a simple form of three lines with a syllable structure of 5-7-5. It takes minutes to learn the rules of haiku, but a lifetime to master the art.

 I find it a great mental exercise for students of all ages to brainstorm a subject (winter holidays for instance) and categorize words and phrases into syllables. Even high school students continue to struggle with understanding syllable structure, a fundamental skill for decoding increasingly longer and more difficult words.

I like to start with a brainstorming session where we create a "word wall" on the white board. I then type the list and pass it out the next time I meet with students. Reluctant writers have the words spelled out for them and then may simply put interesting combinations together to create a haiku poem. Students who want a greater challenge are free to ditch the list and create their own. I always leave extra space at the bottom of the list for any last minute inspirations. The haiku poems may then be written on cards or custom made bookmarks. 

One Syllable
Two Syllable
Three Syllable
Four Syllable
Five Syllable

Snow Day
The Grinch
Ski Lodge

Jingle Bells
Pumpkin Pie
Black Friday
Ice Skating
Mrs. Claus
Hot Cocoa
Candy Cane
Winter Break
New Year’s Eve
Button Nose
Merry Christmas
Happy New Year
Silver and Gold
Apple Cider
Two Hour Delay
Saint Nicholas

Frosty the Snowman
Watching the Ball Drop
One Horse Open Sleigh
Gingerbread Houses
Winter  Wonderland
Nutcracker Ballet
A Red-Nosed Reindeer

Here are a few examples: 

Green elves who live in
haunted gingerbread houses
shouldn't throw snow balls

Frosty the Snowman
ice skating in Central Park
watching the ball drop

Warm, woolen mittens,
snowflakes on reindeer noses,
A cold winter's night

Drink some hot cocoa, 
and write yourself some poems. 
We'll see you next year!!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Eight Authors. Five New Titles. Two Weeks. One Fierce Tour.

...and one great giveaway.
Young Adult authors Gennifer AlbinLeigh BardugoAnn Aguirre, and Jessica Brody came through Albuquerque, NM at the end of October for stop two on their eight-city Fierce Reads tour. The Spellbinders had the opportunity to talk with the authors beforehand and moderated their discussion.

What's your weirdest writing habit? 
Gennifer Albin: I often but not always burn incense.
Jessica Brody: I never drink coffee unless I’m writing. It’s “productive juice.” I try to eat the same thing, tricking my brain into knowing it’s writing time. I listen to the same white noise track with a brain entrainment work track underneath. And I put on Mac Freedom. 
Leigh Bardugo: I use Mac Freedom, too. I eat the same thing every morning. Pot roast. When I’m on deadline, it’s 15 minutes for each meal, the rest of the time at my desk. If writing with friends, we take each others’ phones so we stay offline.
Ann Aguirre: I start at the same time every day and treat writing like a day job. I make sure my words are done before turning on the Internet and turn it off when I feel distractible. I’m generally done with my writing by lunch. Then I’ll do social media stuff.

What is cool about writing a series?
Jessica Brody: I like writing trilogies because you have more opportunity to create a bigger character arc. By the time a stand alone comes out and you are marketing it, you have moved on to other books.
Leigh Bardugo: The most intense book for me was book two because I was working on deadline. The biggest challenge was book three because it was about closing doors [rather than opening them]. 
Gennifer Albin: I wrote the first book of the Crewel series on a library computer during NaNoWriMo and now sit on the advisory board. The Crewel world trilogy starts with a secret. Book two has more secrets, more violence, and more kissing. 
Ann Aguirre: I prefer writing series to writing stand alone books. Even though I’ve written series of 5-6 books, I prefer trilogies. I have a trilogy brain. I admire writers who write 20 books on the  same character. I would have killed all the characters by now.

I noticed three of the four of you use prologues in your book.
Gennifer Albin: A good prologue is awesome, but it should serve a purpose. I write mine first. They always take place right before the story starts. They’re a bridge from the previous story to the new one. I firmly believe it’s the best page in my first novel. Hopefully it encapsulates what I’m trying to do in the whole book.
Leigh Bardugo: I knew when querying some agents were very anti-prologue, so I sent things from chapter one. All three of my books are framed with a before and after, and they are both written last. I wanted to write in first person, but wanted the sure and steady third-person guiding hand that is typical of fantasy. So the prologue has the traditional fantasy feel.
Jessica Brody: I've never heard till recently that prologues weren’t popular. A good prologue hooks you in fast. Each of my prologues will challenge my character with a different element (science vs. nature is a major part of the series). I’m inspired by Leigh’s pattern to her prologues. My second book’s prologue is a flash forward. I think prologues are great if you can find a purpose. They can’t be info dumps. Mine are called chapter zero.

How do you juggle writing and touring?
Ann Aguirre: I killed myself prior to tour to get everything turned in early. Everyday for two months was a 14 hour day. I wanted to focus on the tour and a little social media. And that’s it.
Jessica Brody: I enjoy the tour bubble. I don’t hear news. There’s not a lot of connection with family. You can set things aside for a while and choose not to think about it right now. You have to be present on tour. Give it your all. You can’t be in your head thinking about what you’re supposed to be doing [in the rest of your life]. I love being on tour. It’s easy to forget readers exist when you’re in your office, but on tour you remember why you write.
Leigh Bardugo: I’m trying to learn to be more balanced. There are phases when I’m intensely in the book, then I have a few weeks off, and then tour. Very compartmentalized. Yes, it’s challenging, but this is what I’ve wanted my whole life. I’m very happy.
Gennifer Albin: This is my third tour, and it’s the first time I’ve never had something to turn in. I have my own deadlines, things I’ve promised to readers but it’s not an editor, marketing, or PR deadline. It’s been awesome. I always think, I’ll get writing done on tour, but then I don’t.

Finally, what makes something a Fierce Read?
Jessica Brody: Something that makes you think and challenge the world around you. It brings reality to a new level, takes normal circumstances and takes them to the extreme.
Ann Aguirre: A Fierce Read has an empowered heroine. I’m tired of books with passive girls who wait for others to solve their problems, wait for the boy, wait for their families to treat them better. I want to see a character standing proudly at the helm of her own life and want readers to see what’s possible if you try. In the last 2-3 years there has been a shift in the prevailing winds. There are a lot more empowered heroines. 
Leigh Bardugo: There are lots of different ways to be empowered. For a time there was codified language used for a strong heroine. Now we can have heroines strong because they are clever or physically adept. There is so much range to build unique variety of characters.

Four lucky readers will be able to win books from the Fierce Reads Tour. Simply email Caroline directly with the heading Fierce Reads or leave a comment at the Spellbinders blog. Winners will be announced in next month's feature article.

Caroline's Classroom Connections: Jen Robinson on THE READ-ALOUD HANDBOOK

Jen Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page has graciously allowed me to share this article which originally ran at her blog. Jen knows all things kidlit, and her newsletter is a must read. Please consider clicking through to sign up

The Read-Aloud Handbook: Seventh Edition: Jim Trelease

Book: The Read-Aloud Handbook: Seventh Edition
Author: Jim Trelease
Pages: 384
Age Range: Adult nonfiction (for parents and teachers)
The 7th Edition of Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook was published in June. I pre-ordered my copy, and it arrived that day, but various things kept me from reading it until this week. I reviewed the previous edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook in 2010, having also read an earlier version before starting my blog. I was fortunate enough to hear Jim speak to parents at the Santa Clara City Library in January of 2007. My notes from that session are here. I have referenced Jim's work on encouraging reading aloud to children many times over the course of my blogging. So you may consider this more a recommendation and discussion than a formal review. 
Let me first state for the record that I believe that all parents of young children should read The Read-Aloud Handbook, as should all elementary and middle school teachers. The Read-Aloud Handbook started out as a little booklet that the author self-published in 1979 to encourage other parents to read aloud, and talk about books, with their kids. It became a phenomenon, was picked up by Penguin, and was named by Penguin in 2010 as one of the seventy-five most important books published in the company's 75 year history. It certainly had an impact on me, though I first read it long before I had a child of my own.
GBMantraThe Read-Aloud Handbook posits that instead of focusing on test-prep, flashcards, and the like, what parents and schools need to do to improve life-long levels of literacy and critical thinking, is simply read aloud to kids. I obviously agree (and posted the Read-Aloud Mantra to the left several weeks ago on my blog). 
More than 30 years after initial publication, The 7th Edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook retains Trelease's passion for reading to kids, but has a lot more references and research. The 7th Edition is about 40% changed from the 6th Edition, with new research findings, book recommendations, and discussions of the impact of eBooks and tablets. Even as someone who had read earlier editions (and follows published research studied pretty closely), once I started reading this book, I couldn't put it down. I finished it in about a day (it helps that nearly half of the book consists of a treasury of recommended read-aloud titles, which I only skimmed). 
My reading of this edition was certainly colored by the fact that I have a three-year-old daughter who I very much hope grows up to be an avid reader. I flagged a mix of items throughout the book - interesting things that I might want to share on the blog, as well as action items for myself (like getting around to putting a basket of picture books in the bathroom). I'll share some of the former here, and put the latter into a separate post. 
Here are some of the many quotes that I flagged:
"Why are students failing and dropping out of school? Because they cannot read well enough to do the assigned work--which affects the entire report card. Change the reading scores and you change the graduation rate and then the prison population--which changes the social climate of America." (Page xxvi, Introduction) 
"If we're waiting for government to save our reading souls, we've got a long wait. Ultimately it will come down to the individual student, parent, teacher, and librarian." (Page xxix, Introduction)
"One factor hidden in the decline of students' recreational reading (as they get older) is that it coincides with a decline in the amount of time adults read to them. By middle school, almost no one is reading aloud to students. If each read-aloud is a commercial for the pleasures of reading, then a decline in advertising would naturally be reflected in a decline in students' recreational reading." (Page 6, Chapter 1)
"Students who read the most also read the best, achieve the most, and stay in school the longest. Conversely, those who don't read much cannot get better at it." (Page 7)
"What motivates children and adults to read more is that (1) they like the experience, (2) they like the subject matter, and (3) they like and follow the lead of people who read a lot." (Page 10)
"The message in this kind of research (especially the Hart and Risley study on Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children) is unambiguous: It's not the toys in the home that make the difference in children's lives; it's the words in their heads. The least expensive thing we can give a child outside of a hug turns out to be the most valuable: words. You don't need a job, a checking account, or even a high school diploma to talk with a child." (Page 16)
 "Here is a crucial fact to consider in the reading and writing connection. Visual receptors in the brain outnumber auditory receptors 30:1. In other words, the chances of a word (or sentence) being retained in our memory bank are thirty times greater if we see it instead of just hear it." (Page 43, Chapter Two). 
"So how do we educate the heart? There are really only two ways: life experience and stories about life experience, which is called literature. Great preachers and teachers--Aesop, Socrates, Confucius, Moses, and Jesus--have traditionally used stories to get their lesson plans across, educating both the mind and the heart." (Page 45)
 "(Expectation of Reward / Effort Required) = Frequency of Activity... When you maintain strong reward factors and lower the number of difficulties, you will see a higher frequency of reading... If you really want to get more reading done, then take control of the distractions: needless trips to the mall, phone calls, multiple televisions, DVD players, e-mails, computer games--each calling for immediate attention or multi-tasking." (Page 84-86, Chapter 5)
"Make sure you, the adult role model, are seen reading daily. It works even better if you read at the same time as the child." (Page 92, Chapter 5)
(On applying Oprah's example of generating enthusiasm for books) "What can we apply from this to our work with children? Well, let's eliminate not all but much of the writing they're required to do whenever they read. ("The more we read, the more we gotta write, so let's read less and we can work less.") We adults don't labor when we read, so why are we forcing children to? It hasn't created a nation of writers or readers." (Page 103, Chapter 5)
"It's difficult to get good at reading if you're short of print. Government programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top ensure that children who are behind in reading are entitled to after-school tutoring and extra help with phonics. Nice. But giving phonics lessons to kids who don't have any print in their lives is like giving oars to people who don't have a boat -- you don't get very far." (Page 107, Chapter 6)
"By the reckoning of its own Department of Education, California's ratio of school librarian to student ranks fifty-first in the nation, with 1 librarian for every 5,124 students, more than five times the national average of 1 to 916. Even the state's adult prison system does better, with 1 librarian to 4,283 inmates." (Page 109). Sigh!
(On reading blogs, tablets, social networks instead of books) "Reading, when it's done today, doesn't go very deep, and it's so private it's invisible. The trouble is, how do you pass invisible torches? How do you pose as an invisible role model?"
"...the e-book is here to stay, for very legitimate reasons. It's a win-win situation: a moneymaker for the publisher and a money saver for the buyer. It also saves time, space, student spines, and trees, to say nothing of what it does for the visually impaired." (Page 131, Chapter 7)
"The research clearly shows that we read more slowly (6 to 11 percent) from a screen than from paper. As with automobile driving, humans may get better and faster at e-reading over the years--but that could take generations." (Page 133) I did not know this, and found it fascinating.
"So what happens to the creative process when there is no disconnect time, when we and our children are constantly downloading, uploading, texting, YouTubing, Googling, or tweeting our 742 "friends"? Less "deep thinking" takes place, less creativity." (Page 139)
"It is not so much what children are doing while they watch multiple hours of TV; it is the experiences they are not having that make the viewing so dangerous." (Page 142, Chapter 8)
"A California professor, Jo Stanchfield, once told me that girls tend to be extrinsically motivated in their reading (favoring the choices of their peers, mom, and teacher), while boys are intrinsically motivated (favoring what they themselves are interested in). I agree. Call it selfish or pragmatic, but guys are drawn more to what interests them, not what interests the crowd." (Page 169, Chapter 10)
There's lots more to the book, obviously, but those quotes should be more than sufficient to give you a feel, and hopefully inspire you to want to read the rest. I feel that if you have kids, or you work with kids, you should read The Read-Aloud Handbook. If you feel like you don't have time, at least read the introduction, which sums up many of the findings discussed throughout the book. The Kindle edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook is $7.99, and you can read it on your phone. (I prefer the print edition for things like this, that I'm going to refer back to, but if cost or time is an object, e-books have advantages.) 
I'm pulling out a few other ideas from this edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook, and will be sharing them as separate posts in the coming days. I welcome your feedback. 
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: June 25, 2013
Source of Book: Purchased

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook.
Reprinted with permission

Read Jen's next article, Actions I'm Taking After Reading the New Read-Aloud Handbook
Visit author Jim Trelease's webpage here.
Teaching resources for reading aloud
Reading is Fundamental

Sunday, November 17, 2013

KIMBERLEY'S BOOK BUZZ with Uma Krishnaswami

The Multi-Construction of Story  OR Are Multi-Cultural Books Dead? Maybe . . . Maybe Not!   

by  Uma Krishnaswami

Multicultural literature is by definition the literature of the other, reflecting, as Roderick McGillis puts it, “a desire for recognition on the part of people who have been either invisible or unfairly constructed or both.”

Recently, I received a letter from a young Indian American reader who had read a couple of my books. She wrote about the main character: “I cannot tell you how much I loved Dini because she sounds and thinks like me and her family looks and sounds like mine. I read a lot, so I don’t mean that I only like books where the characters are similar to me. But once in a while it is very nice.”

One can interpret such a letter as calling for culturally grounded books to serve as mirrors, reflecting readers’ images back to themselves, but that is not what I think my young reader is saying. I think she’s echoing the very same call for many stories that made Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk so wildly popular. She’s talking about multiple constructions of identity. By 2020, when one in two students in the United States is projected to be a child of color, such diverse constructions should also be commonplace in books.

Perhaps, too, my reader’s call is for many kinds of stories. Typically, stories of immigrants in the United States have tended to focus on the journey to America. There are many wonderful stories in this category—Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, for instance, or Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan. But other narratives are now beginning to be told, stories in which identity choices do not constitute the storyline, where cultural multiplicity is taken for granted. Books like Kathi Appelt’s middle grade novel, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp. Or consider the YA novel Outside Beauty by Cynthia Kadohata, where the bonds of sisterhood get forged in a wildly atypical family context.

Perhaps it’s time to think of constructing stories that will function, not as mirrors reflecting who we are now or who we were yesterday, but prisms projecting who we can be in decades yet to come. 
From Kimberley Griffiths Little, one of your SPELLBINDERS:

Uma blogs on this subject frequently as well as teaching at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in their MFA program for children’s literature. She calls them *Books With Cultural Contexts*! (Click here to read Uma’s intriguing bio).Visit her website at

Below is a book list with books in all children’s lit categories with specific cultural contexts—they are only a small selection of the many, many fine books out there.
How many have you read? (And scroll down for the **giveaway** of Uma’s new MG book!)

Picture Books

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying Hwa-Hu
The Kamishibai Man by Allen Say
From the Bellybutton of the Moon by Francisco Alarcon illustrated by Maya Cristina Gonzales
The Princess of Borscht by Leda Schubert, illustrated by Bonnie Christensen
Tiger on a Tree by Anushka Ravishankar, illustrated by Pulak Biswas

Chapter Books

Anna Hibiscus (and sequels) by Atinuke
The Year of the Dog (and sequels) by Grace Lin
The No-Dogs-Allowed Rule by Kashmira Sheth
Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Middle Grade

A Suitcase of Seaweed and Other Poems by Janet Wong
Chronal Engine by Greg Leitich Smith
A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
Looking for Bapu by Anjali Banerjee
Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today edited by Lori Marie Carlson
Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins
The Wild Book by Margarita Engle
The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami
The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic by Uma Krishnaswami
Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy
Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri
The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy ShangThe Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Breakaway, Enchanted Runner, and The Last Snake Runner by Kimberley Griffiths Little (soon to be re-released in print and Kindle/Nook versions in a week or two so keep an eye out!)
Young Adult

Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher
Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye
A Step From Heaven by An Na
Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac
Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Tantalize series
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos
Tyrell (and sequels) by Coe Booth
A Girl Called Problem by Katie Quirk
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Adichie
Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

And now for your chance to win Uma’s MG novel – set in India about Bollywood! Funny and poignant family story about friendship and magic and dreams and movie stars! Just leave a comment on our SPELLBINDER blog to win OR email Kimberley at Our random generator (or a hat!) will pick the winner in our final SPELLBINDER issue Monday, December 9th before we break for the holidays.

Kimberley Griffiths Little is the author of three magical realism novels with Scholastic, THE HEALING SPELL, CIRCLE OF SECRETS, and WHEN THE BUTTERFLIES CAME (2013). Forthcoming: THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES (Scholastic, 2014) and her Young Adult debut, FORBIDDEN with Harpercollins (Fall 2014). When she’s not writing you can find her reading/daydreaming in her Victorian cottage and eating chocolate chip cookies with a hit of Dr. Pepper.


Sunday, November 10, 2013


When I discuss plotting with students, I provide numerous examples from movies and novels for each of the twelve steps. (For a full discussion of my plotting system see The Secret Language of Stories at Carolee Dean Books).

 I like to follow up with a discussion of plot as it relates to an entire story. Picture books work quite well for this purpose since they may be shared with students at one sitting. Many of them contain content that is appropriate for teens as well as younger students.

One fabulous example is Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy Marshal by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. Vaunda is a New Mexico author and librarian and her book is a Coretta Scott King Award recipient.

This true story follows the life of a slave who became one of the most feared lawmen of the Wild West. The bibliography and website information at the back of the book make it easy to connect to other articles and support the common core standards with non-fiction resources. 

Here's the plot...

THE OLD WORLD: The story begins with a dramatic showdown between Bass Reeves and outlaw, Jim Webb. It then goes back in time to explore Bass’s slave days in Texas. His owner was so impressed with his shooting skills that he not only took Bass hunting and entered him in shooting competitions; he also took Bass with him to fight in the Civil War. But one night something happened that changed Bass’s life forever.

THE CALL TO ADVENTURE: Bass and his owner had a fight over a card game and Bass hit the man. Fearing for his life, he decided to run away to Indian Territory where he lived among the various tribes and learned their languages.

MENTORS, GUIDES, AND GIFTS: Judge Isaac C. Parker served as in inspiration by giving Bass a job as deputy marshal, to help bring order and justice to the Indian Territory.

THE CROSSING: Bass traveled to each of his missions with a set of fine horses, a chuck wagon, a cook, a guard, at least one posse man, and a tumbleweed wagon used to bring in the criminals.

THE NEW WORLD: One of the first challenges Bass had to face in his new position was the fact that he was illiterate. He asked someone to read the warrants to him while he memorized each name and all the charges. Sometimes he had thirty warrants at a time, and he had to keep all of that information in his memory.

I love sharing this part of the story with my students, since most of them have severe reading disabilities. It demonstrates how we can all develop strategies to overcome our deficits and short-comings.

THE PROBLEM, THE PRIZE, AND THE PLAN: One of Bass Reeves favorite methods for capturing outlaws was to use disguises. One time when he was tracking two brothers, he dressed like an outlaw, going so far as to shoot three holes in an old hat. Then he walked twenty-eight miles to their hideout so no one would see his fine horses or his wagons.

MIDPOINT CHALLENGE: When Bass arrived at the house, he showed the mother of the outlaws his hat full of bullet holes and told her a posse was after him. She invited him in and when her sons arrived, the three men agreed to become partners.

DOWNTIME: Everyone but Bass went to sleep. He stayed up and put the criminals in handcuffs. They woke up to a very rude surprise.

CHASE AND ESCAPE: Bass made the two men walk the twenty-eight miles back to the tumbleweed wagon. Their mother followed for three of those miles, yelling and screaming at Bass.

Note: Many stories, even picture books, contain repetitions of the plan, attempt response cycle. What comes next in the Bass Reeves story are several shorter vignettes of his adventures capturing various outlaws.

DEATH EXPERIENCE: Although Bass faced many ruthless outlaws, his most dangerous experience was facing a mob of ordinary citizens.  They were about to lynch a black man. Bass rode right into their midst without a word, cut the man down, and rode away with him on the back of his horse.

CLIMACTIC SHOWDOWN: The climax of a story is the test of a hero’s true character. In a story of the Wild West you might expect a shootout or a duel, but Bass’s defining moment was much more internal. He received an arrest warrant for his own son who had killed his wife in a moment of jealous rage. Bass had to decide if he was going to follow through with his duty or not. True to his character, he arrested his own son.

REWARD: When Oklahoma became a state and the Indian Territory was a thing of the past, local lawmen replaced federal marshals. Bass joined the police force in Muskogee, Oklahoma. When he died, hundreds of people attended his funeral. One man commented that Bass was, “one of the bravest men this country has ever known.”

Understanding the basic plot structure of stories can be an invaluable way to get story ideas of your own. When writers, whether amateurs or experts, see the different ways plots can unfold, they may tuck away ideas for their own adventures.

When students understand these patterns that are repeated across genres, they start to recognize them in movies and books. The secret language of the story becomes a language they may learn to speak.

Remember, for a more detailed discussion of each of these twelve steps, go to Carolee Dean Books.
For classroom resources for Bad News for Outlaws see the publisher's site at Lerner Books.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Haunted Hearts and the Making of Books by Author Kersten Hamilton

Go to View in iTunes when you get to the preview or go directly to iTunes via your eReader and search for Tyger Tyger.

Haunted Hearts and the Making of Books

Where do you find ideas for your stories?
At dawn today I saw sheep, their woolly coats thick with first frost, sleeping in the field. They woke as the sun rose, and, still frosted and not bothering to get up, began to make a breakfast of their green bed. I tucked the image away like a greedy dragon snatching up gold. 
I know I will use it in a book. 
I wish my books could be made of such beautiful bits and bobs of reality. But I know that nobody would read them if they were. Robert Frost said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” And it is true.
The real world is not only beautiful, it is also painful and complicated. Writers must walk through things we don’t understand, face things that haunt us, transform them and offer them to our readers as gifts. 
Here is one of the haunted corners of my heart:
When I was about ten, I befriended an abused dog. He was in bad shape, but I nursed him back to health and named him Joe. He was my best buddy. But because I couldn’t afford a license the dogcatcher showed up one day and literally dragged Joe away from me. I would have stopped him if I could, but I was too little.
Joe was a scrap of a dog that had no chance of being adopted by anyone else. The dogcatcher told me I had two weeks to get enough money to buy Joe a license or he would be put down. I worked as hard as I could, earning money any way I could think of. My family didn’t have enough money to keep food on the table. There was no one else to help me. 
I didn’t earn enough. On the day they killed Joe, I was sitting on a rooftop wishing I was strong enough to fight the world and save him. Smart enough to have thought of some way to earn the money. But I wasn’t.
That dogcatcher who exercised power with no mercy became my personal model of human evil. As a child I thought that the fight against that evil was hopeless. But I have lived longer now, and have seen a lot of things. 
I have seen that hearts which are watered with tears grow mercy.
I write stories about difficult things because I think maybe, just maybe, if someone had told that man the right stories before he became a dogcatcher, he would have grown up to have tears in his heart.
My best writing tip is: dig deep. 
Deep, deep into the things that hurt, because those are the things that matter. Those are the things that need to be made right.

Kersten Hamilton is the author of the acclaimed Tyger Tyger series. To find out more about her books visit Kersten's Website.

Monday, October 28, 2013

CHAINED by Lynne Kelly

Caroline's Classroom Connections: CHAINED by Lynne Kelly + Links of Note

Lynne Kelly has written a story that unwraps the heart and asks it to be brave, loyal, and above all, kind.  Readers of all ages will worry for Hastin as he marks the wall that records his bondage to a cruel master, but they will ultimately celebrate his jubilant triumph.  This story unwrapped my own heart. 
–Kathi Appelt, author of the Newbery Honor and New York Times bestseller THE UNDERNEATH

reading level: 10 and up
setting: Northern India
CCSS study guide

Please tell us about your book.
CHAINED is a midgrade novel about 10-year-old Hastin, who lives in a rural village of northern India with his mother and sister. To help pay off the hospital bills from his sister's illness, Hastin takes a job as an elephant keeper at a run-down circus far from home. Life at the circus isn't the adventure he expected, but he and the elephant, Nandita, become best friends. They're both captive workers for the cruel circus owner and elephant trainer, and Hastin wants he and Nandita to escape and return to their homes, even if it means saying goodbye to each other.

What inspired you to write this story?
I've always loved elephants, but I got the idea for CHAINED when I was at a presentation and heard the tale "Don't Be Like The Elephant," about how a small rope or chain can hold a full-grown elephant because once they give up trying to break free, they never try again. It's meant to be an example of learned helplessness or self-limiting behavior, but I got the idea then to write a picture book about a captive elephant. I didn't know at the time it would grow into the novel that it is now.

Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?
I read all I could online and in books about India, and corresponded with or talked to people who'd lived there. For example, when I came across an article about homes in parts of India where poverty is high, I emailed the reporter to find out about what kind of house Hastin would live in.
One of the most interesting things I learned was that India itself is so diverse—if I read about a folk tale I wanted to use in the story, I had to find out first if it was a tale that would be told in the northern part of the country where CHAINED takes place. Same thing with the food and names—I'd choose a character name or a favorite food that I'd later find out isn't found in that region. That's the kind of information that was hard to get just by reading; it took talking to people from India to find out about the regionally appropriate stories, foods, names, etc. With all its languages, traditions, and customs, India seems in some ways like many different countries in one.

I knew more about elephants since I've always been interested in them, but I still had to do more research to make sure the behavior of Nandita and the other elephants in the herd was accurate. Again I did a lot of reading (and recorded every elephant show I could find on Animal Planet), and also talked to experts who've worked with elephants. Once in a while our zoo has an elephant open house event, so I've gone to those a few times so I can see the elephants up close and ask questions of the keepers.

What are some special challenges associated with introducing a setting your audience might be unfamiliar with?
Writing the story in a way that would be clear to readers not familiar with the setting and culture, but not annoying or over-explained for those who are familiar with India.

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
The setting – the desert and forest regions of northern India
Indian culture, although India itself is very diverse
Child laborers in India
Elephant behavior, communication, and habitat
And math too! Students can figure out how much time Hastin has left in his year-long service at the circus, and how large a circle Nandita wears into the ground given a certain length of chain, for examples.

Please visit Lynne's blog and website for further information.

Links of Note

Library News
S.O.S Librarians -- a blog celebrating and supporting school and public librarians (part of the Children’s Literature Network)
Inside the Industry: Librarian :: The Page Sage
But Do You Love Her? :: Marion Dane Bauer
Developing Characters: Blog Break Series :: Dawn Malone

Monday, October 21, 2013

Kimberley's Book Buzz: An Interview with Kersten Hamilton of THE GOBLIN WARS + Three-Book Giveaway!

What started your interest/research/love affair with Celtic Mythology?

As a child, I needed stories as much as I needed food or water, and the Celtic stories resonated with and partially formed my worldview. Celtic music pounds in my blood; I feel Celtic stories in my bones. It is so powerful it almost makes me a believer in racial memory.

How much research did you need to do? Any fun facts or interesting alleys the research led you to? 

The trilogy needed two detailed physical landscapes: Chicago and Mag Mell. I traveled to the National Zoo in Washington DC and several arboretums to find the inspiration for the plants, trees and strange creatures of Mag Mell. I fell in love with Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago one chill, drizzling day when my husband and I wandered through it. The cemetery and neighborhood around it became the Chicago setting.

It also needed an emotional landscape. I used the Celtic myths and legends I love so well to form the world of GOBLIN WARS. I took that created world and rooted it in actual history to create the worldviews of my characters. 

I ran down lots of research alleys as I was writing, and they sometimes changed characters or action. 

Discovering that that Edgar Allen Poe was Irish, or that Jack the Ripper’s last victim was an Irish girl named Mary, whose father was a blacksmith back in Ireland, sent the plot spinning off in a new direction.

What were the challenges in writing this sprawling, epic trilogy? 

The greatest challenge was dragging myself back into the real world at the end of each day. It didn’t feel sprawling while I was writing it—I suspect that is because I was in the moment with my characters taking one step at a time. It was exciting to wake up each morning and find out what happened next. Looking back at it, however, I think great googly-moogly! How did I keep all of that straight?  

What are some ways teachers and librarians can use these books in the classroom? Projects? 

T.S. Eliot said, “The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an objective correlative, in other words a set of objects, a chain of events, which shall be the formula of that particular emotion.”

THE GOBLIN WARS books evoke powerful emotion. I worked hard to find the chain of events that would leave my readers with exactly the emotional takeaway I wanted them to have in each and every scene.

After I explain this, I have students choose a scene from the books that makes them feel strong emotion—be it angerdisgustfearhappiness,sadness or surprise— and explain why it made them feel that way. In other words, they explore the chain of events that created the emotion.

Surprise, for instance, happens when you have certain expectations—but things take a very different turn.

I ask the students to describe times when they were surprised in real life. What was the chain of events? What did they expect to happen? What really happened? What was something in THE GOBLIN WARS books that surprised them? What did they expect to happen instead? Why?

After we have discussed the ‘formulas’ for creating other emotions, I have students choose an emotion they would like another person to feel, and write a story—a chain of events— that creates that emotion in their reader. 

Why do you think it's important for kids/students to learn about other cultures and lands and people? Can they gain an appreciation and empathy and understanding without traveling there? 

Story is better than travel. You can travel to another land, experience it as alien and exotic, and never connect deeply with someone of that culture. But you cannot be immersed in someone’s story and not connect with them. Story cuts through differences and lays open hearts. It is impossible to hate someone if you know their story.

Quite simply, is the best way for students to not just to learn about but to learn to care deeply about people very different from themselves.

Enter to win an autographed set of Kersten Hamilton's THE GOBLIN WARS by leaving a comment on the Spellbinders Blog or emailing me. The winner will be randomly selected and announced November 18.