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.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Secret Language of Stories - My Twelve Step Plot Analysis Method by Carolee Dean

            I’m starting this school year with a review of the method I use to both plot my books and teach story analysis to my students. For the rest of the year, my column will focus on demonstrating how I use this system to analyze plots in picture books, novels, and films. Next month will spotlight the Coretta Scott King winner Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson.

The Secret Language of Stories (SLOS) is a twelve-step story analysis I created based upon The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell as well as The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler.  Though I love both of these texts, I was looking for symbols a little more concrete for the students I work with, and terms that brought images easily to mind for them (and myself).
As a speech-language pathologist in the public schools, I serve students elementary through high school of all ability levels. Understanding the structure of narratives gives kids a framework not just for understanding the stories they hear and read, but also for telling the stories of their lives.
SLOS is broken down into twelve basic parts. Stories don’t necessarily contain all of the components, and they don’t always occur in the order given here. The purpose of this analysis is not to micro analyze every element of a story, but rather to help students recognize what is going on in stories and to begin to think like authors.

1)      Old World – Setting and characters are introduced. I often start out comparing and contrasting the Old World with the New World (item 5).
2)      Call and Response – This may occur during or after the inciting incident. The Hero receives a call to adventure. Sometimes he eagerly undertakes this challenge, but more often there is a period of reluctance or even refusal as the dangers of the adventure are weighed against possible benefits.
3)      Mentors, Guides, and Gifts – A mentor appears to encourage the hero to accept the challenge of the call and gifts are often given to help him on his way.
4)      Crossing – The hero decides to act and crosses over into the New World.
5)      New World – The hero faces small challenges as she learns to function in the New World.
6)      Problems, Prizes, and Plans – A clear story goal is established and plans are made for how it will be attained.
7)      Midpoint Challenge: Going for the Prize – An attempt is made to attain the Prize. A shift in the story occurs.
8)      Downtime – This section shows the hero’s response to what happened during the attempt. It may be a time of celebration, recovery, healing, regrouping or sulking, depending on what happened during the attempt to attain the Prize.
(Note: In longer stories, endless cycles of the plan, attempt, response sequence continue to build momentum.)
9)      Chase – A twist sends the story off in a new direction. Something is being pursued. The hero may be pursuing the prize or the villain, or the villain may be pursuing the hero.
10)   Death and Transformation – This is the point in the story where it appears that whatever is of highest value will be lost. Often someone dies at this point in the narrative.
11)   Showdown: The Final Test – The hero must face one final challenge to demonstrate whether the changes that have occurred are lasting or only temporary; internal or merely external.
12)   Reward -  The hero gets what she has earned. If she has passed the final test, it may be a reward. If not, there may be other consequences. Often there is a celebration and the return of the hero to the group.

This is a very brief overview.  For more information visit Carolee Dean Books and check out the tab entitled The Secret Language of Stories. If you have questions or if you are interested in writing workshops for your staff or students, please feel free to contact me at my email.

For an example of how I use SLOS to analyze stories, refer to my post in last April’s issue of Spellbinders where I discuss in detail  Cassandra Clare’s City of  Bones

Dori Fonda - Winner of MAY B, please send your snail mail address to Caroline by email so she may send your book!

On a personal note, I’m very please to announce that my verse novel, Forget Me Not, has just been released in paperback!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A New School Year

A New School Year for Spellbinders

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Spellbinders Survey last May. We have taken your feedback into consideration in our planning for this year. What people requested most was articles about writing both for sharing with students and for personal use. Another request was for librarian and teacher interviews. With that in mind, we have created a great line up of authors, some of whom are librarians and teachers. They will all be sharing writing tips that will get adults and students alike revved up for writing.

Several people asked for more links to articles and sites of interest to teachers and librarians. Caroline will be including those at the end of her monthly articles on Classroom Connections.

You also indicated that you wanted us to keep our weekly format. The schedule will be as follows: 

First Monday - Writing Tips from an Author/Librarian/Teacher
Second Monday - The Secret Language of Stories by Carolee
Third Monday - Kimberley's Book  Buzz
Fourth Monday - Caroline's Classroom Connections

We announced the winners of last May's survey at the end of the school year, but a couple of you have not responded. Please contact Carolee at so we can send you your books. Stay tuned, there will be lots of contests and prizes this year!

Chris Victor - Won CIRCLE OF SECRETS by Kimberley Griffiths Little

Dori Fonda - Won MAY B. by Caroline Starr Rose

We will see you next Monday when Carolee presents an overview of The Secret Language of Stories, the twelve step plot system she uses to create her books and to teach story analysis to struggling students.

Until then...