Archive for March, 2009

Support California Arts Education!

March 30, 2009

Oppose Assembly Bill 554

The California Alliance for Arts Education monitors all proposed state legislation related to arts education in the public schools. Each year several bills merit either a letter of support or opposition based on the implications for arts education.

On special occasions we ask you to weigh in when we feel legislators need to hear your voice directly. Today we ask you to express your opposition to Assembly Bill 554 (Furatani).

AB 554 would allow students to waive the existing graduation requirements and substitute career technical education classes for visual and performing arts. foreign language, and physical education classes.

While we support creating pathways to the 21st century workforce, we believe this legislation unfairly target arts education and prevents students from gaining equitable access to the unique skills and qualities encouraged by learning in the arts.

Please contact the members of the State Assembly Education Committee, where the bill is scheduled to be heard on April 1 to send a strong message of support for arts education and opposition to AB 554.

Out of the Closet: Children’s Book Junkie

March 30, 2009

E.B. White, A.A. Milne, Laura Ingalls Wilder. They did it.

Growing up, I remember tree houses, mud pies, baseball games and reading. When I thought my parents were asleep I’d switch on my light for that ‘one last chapter.’

“Eliz-a-beth!” My mother would call out syllable by syllable.

“Oh p-lease,” I’d beg. “Just five more minutes.”

My mother, deep into an Agatha Christie mystery, would be sympathetic. We’d negotiate a time deadline.

In my teenage years, I ‘graduated’ to adult novels and dutifully read Hemingway and Faulkner, but I’d sneak in a Cleary and Estes for fun.

One day, while in my high school library, I forgot to cover Harriet the Spy with a Donald Westlake book jacket.

“You’re reading a children’s book?” accused a high school jock with disdain.

“I have to read it to my little cousin,” I lied, trying to cover my embarrassment.

In college, I double majored in elementary education and children’s theater.
A fellow drama student asked me, “When are you going to get out of kiddie theater and do a real play?”

Would this scorn never end?

After college graduation, I taught elementary school. Suddenly it was okay to read and collect children’s books, for my students’ sake. Whenever caught engrossed in a stack of picture books I’d defend myself, “I’m a teacher.” Never mind that I taught sixth grade.

When I had my son, Tofer, I never realized, he, too, would become another excuse for my addiction. We indulged our habits together as he grew: from picture books to easy readers, chapter books to young adult. Books gave us a bond that bridged our relationship from the terrible twos – and later – through the terrible teens. We became co-dependants.

Once, while caught in a doctor’s waiting room without reading material, I resorted to telling my toddler a story. One that I made up. Homegrown, so to speak. He liked the story and clamored for more, which gave me a high like I never experienced before.

Next, I started writing the stories down. It gave me an adrenaline rush which lasted for days. Then I found people like me.

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Nearly everyone I meet either wants to write for children or knows someone who does. It’s a world where Mary Jane is a character, not something to smoke; a magic mushroom is a plot device, not a hallucinogen, and a muggle is merely a character in J.K. Rowling’s series.

When I took classes and went to conferences, I’d feel a buzz for days.
My addiction turned into a career, when I started selling my stories.
If my tales entice you to try this trip, be forewarned. Writing children’s books isn’t as easy as it looks. And I’m not feeding you a line. It’s a tough business to crack.

There’s a well-known story among children’s addicts – I mean authors, about Dr. Seuss, a.k.a. Theodor Geisel. He met a neurosurgeon at a party. The neurosurgeon said to him, “I write children’s books as a hobby.”

“I too have a hobby,” Geisel replied. “Brain surgery.”

Besides a loving kids’ books, wanna be children’s writers must have some talent and a whole lot of persistence. The slush pile rejection rate is high, competition is stiff, and the monetary rewards are slim.

With the exception of J.K. Rowling and a few celebrity children’s authors (that’s another article), writing for children won’t make you rich. Many of us supplement our meager royalties with speaking engagements, author visits to schools, and other part-time employment.

I love my career, not for the money (or lack of it), but because I love children’s literature and the process of writing for children. . .

. . . Going back into my childhood memories, mining them for stories. Remembering my father’s rusty old Chevy, liberally sprinkled with holes. When it rained, my mother and I opened umbrellas to keep us dry. Dad yelled, “Get ‘em up!” as we’d approach a mud puddle. Our legs raised high, water plinking and plunking into a bucket on the seat, later became the origin of Help! My Life is Going to the Dogs. . . . Using what I see and hear around me. My son, Tofer, and his kindergarten classmates inspired Louise the One and Only. . . . bonding with kids in schools and talking about books and creative inspiration. I hope to give them the idea that reading children’s books is cool. And writing them is even better.

Now when I read the children’s classics – Charlotte’s Web, Winnie-the Pooh, Little House in the Big Woods, I enjoy them not only because, as any true book-lover realizes, a good book gets better with each and every re-reading, but for the appreciation of the children’s authors’ craft.

Recently, while searching a bookstore for reading material, I ran into an acquaintance.

“Buying gifts?” she asked me, eyeing the stack of children’s books in my arms.

“No,” I said. “They’re for me. I love them.”
She raised one eyebrow. “Reading that stuff actually entertains you?”

I glanced down at the Danielle Steele novel in her hand.

I was tempted to ask her the same thing.

Writing Exercises: 1. What children’s book is your favorite? Why? Pick up a children’s book today and read it. 2. Use a childhood memory to inspire your own writing. 3. Use part of your daily life to create a humorous story!

Is there a BABE in you?

March 27, 2009

Happy Birthday Dick King-Smith!
If you enjoyed the character of Wilbur the pig from Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, you may also enjoy Babe The Gallant Pig by Dick King-Smith. If you haven’t read either, you’re in for a treat.

Both books have been made into movies.

Exercise: Let an animal inspire your writing. 1. Write AS the animal, like Dick King-Smith and E.B. White did. Using their point of view, write about your animal or one you’ve read about in the news. Or create one completely from fantasy. 2. Ever have a pet or meet an animal that made an impression on you? Describe this pet using active verbs and sensory description. 3. Change that paragraph or two into a vivid poem.

Poetry Out Loud

March 26, 2009

Congratulations to Poetry Out Loud Finalists and Winners!

County’s Poetry Out Loud Champion is Named

On Sunday, February 8 twelve finalists competed to represent Contra Costa County in Poetry Out Loud’s State Championship next month. They recited two poems each, from memory, to an audience of nearly 200 at the Dougherty Valley Performing Arts Center in San Ramon.

First place winner Diane Rodriguez. She is a junior at Monte Vista High in Danville. Her interpretations of “the mother” by Gwendolyn Brooks, and “To Althea from Prison”, written in the seventeenth century by Richard Lovelace, wowed the audience and won her the $300 first prize. Annelyse Gelman, a senior at Miramonte High in Orinda as the runner-up received $200. Third place and $100 went to Savannah Ridgley, is a freshman at Mt. Diablo High in Concord.

After seeing this on last night, I dreamed I was in the center of a room of high school students. They were teaching me how to perform their poetry. I just wasn’t “getting it.” But I was enthralled with their rhythms, their creativity, and their energy!

Exercise: Read poetry today to inspire the poet in you. Choose your favorite poem and read it aloud until you feel the rhythm of the poem. Let the rhythm work its way into your own writing today.

Temptation within your reach . . .

March 25, 2009

“Number three,” bellows out the bingo caller.

Dad’s hand reaches across the bingo board, shaking slightly. I help him hold onto his card so his right hand can slide the plastic window closed.
“Way to go,” I say.
He smiles but his eyes don’t leave his cards.
“Hey! Only one more number and you’ll win,” I point out to him.
“Number 70,” yells the caller.
“Bingo,” says Dad.
I clap.
“Another one!” says his friend.
I congratulate him. It’s his lucky day. And my father’s favorite activity at his nursing home.
He’s only recently had to move here, since Parkinson’s Disease has robbed him of his ability to swallow food properly. Repeated aspiration pneumonias have required permanent tube feeding.

Can YOU imagine never, ever tasting another piece of your favorite meal again? When you’re thirsty, not being able to take a cool drink? Not even a sip?

Dad chooses his bingo prize. “We’re running out of prizes,” says the bingo caller. He mentions that potato chips was a prize.
“He couldn’t have that anyway,” I say.
“What do you mean?” asks Dad’s friend, Phyllis. “He chose that prize first. He ate some and loves them!”
I look at Dad. He stares at his hands in his lap.
At least he didn’t choke to death. But will pneumonia follow in a few days? I’m stunned he ate them. Did he forget?
He looks up. But he doesn’t meet my eyes.
“I must have forgotten,” he says.
I stare at him which forces him to look at me.
His eyes water.
“It’s okay, Dad. “It would have looked good to me too.”
I rub his shoulder. And hope.
Later, I have a talk with the staff.

I know if it were me, and food were my choice, I’d have licked my fingers clean. How good those salty, crisp chips must have tasted after the past three months of not eating anything at all?

I’m glad he cheated. After all, if he hadn’t cheated, the other option would have been worse. It would have meant he had forgotten. To forget something that important is something I don’t want to think about.

In December, my father chose this tube. If placed in this same situation, I’m not so sure I would have made the same choice. But who knows? I’ve discovered the decisions we make at 50, change at age 90.

Writing Exercise: 1. When has temptation lured you into a choice, decision, or action? 2. Write a short story about a character who is tempted by an object or another character and this propels the plot forward.

Newspapers from all over the world

March 24, 2009

Newspapers from all over the world

Get Ready for Poetry Month!

March 24, 2009

On Anastasia Suen’s Blog Site, she is posting poems by K-12 students.
Are you ready for Poetry Month?
March 18, 2009
I’m the author of Pencil Talk and Other School Poems.

For Poetry Month 2009 I invite K-12 students to write their own school poems and send them to me so I can post them on this blog.

They always tell writers to write what you know!

(All poems posted in the comments will be emailed to me for review. I will post one poem a day during Poetry Month.)
Poetry Month blog:

Social Networking for Writers Class

March 23, 2009

How to Blog, Tweet, and Friend (and Still Have Time to Write)
Need help navigating all the online promotion possibilities on the web?
Want to increase your web presence but unsure what to do next?
Reluctant to add one more item to your to-do list?
Do you have the Twitter Jitters?
Then this 4-day ONLINE introductory class to Social Media is for you.

This class is conducted entirely online.

We’ll cover an overview of many of the current online social media platforms such as Blogs, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Amazon Connect, JacketFlap, Linkedin (and more) and how authors are using them. You’ll learn why “friend” has become a verb, how to “tweet” for research experts, and what you can do about managing your time with all this new online activity. You will set up new social media platforms and learn how to enrich the ones you do have.

More details and how to register can be found here:

Historical Fiction 1900 . . . Book Recommendations Anyone?

March 23, 2009

I’m compiling a list of books for teachers that take place at the turn of the century. If you have a book that fits this category and it’s a PAL book (see the SCBWI website for guidelines . . . ), let me know. Or, if you’d just like to suggest a fabulous one you’ve read, that’s fine too.

And for non-writers who are book lovers, just sent me a great historical fiction title for kids, set around the time of 1900. Thanks! Liz

Is there science fiction in your life?

March 23, 2009

Happy Birthday Eleanor Cameron! (1912-1996) A native of Canada, she spent most of her life in California. This children’s author is best known for The Mushroom Planet novels. Since 1992, has presented the Eleanor Cameron Award for Excellence in Children’s Science Fiction.

Checking out their awards, I find Whales on Stilts by M.T. Anderson won in 2005. If you haven’t read it, it’s a hoot! If you are an adult, don’t be intimidated by a young adult book. It’s hysterical, and really, you can handle it . . .

Writing Exercise 1: Ever have a science fiction-type experience in your own life? See a strange being/light or have a bizarre happening? Write a paragraph or two explaining that event.
2. After reading some good science fiction to inspire you, try your own story or poem in this genre.