It seems our kids spend most of their May school days taking tests. When they’re not testing, they’re presenting final projects, papers, and performances. Today, I went to Murrah High School for the Sophomore Awards Ceremony. Here’s my favorite photograph from the event. The 10th grade guidance counselor, Mr. Sayles, had just asked the students to guess which of the high achievers in the bunch had the current highest average. Who’s No. 1? This is what they did.
All fingers pointed to Matthew Sarpong. And then, Mr. Sayles refused to say.
I’ve been neglecting the blog lately — mainly because we’ve been working hard on the fractal project.
Here Richard is shooting Queen Anne’s Lace with help from our friend and collaborator, Julie Owen. She brought the Queen Anne’s Lace to us, having found it along the highway between Baton Rouge and here.
This is one of our favorites from the shoot.
Some very exciting things are happening right now with the fractal manuscript! Through hard work, perseverance, and just plain good luck, we are going to be able to include some amazing stuff! I love it when a book comes together!
All children — those who live sheltered, protected lives and those who face hunger, cruelty, and neglect — need to read about terrible things, according to children’s book author Donna Jo Napoli. If you visit her website’s page listing interviews, you can listen to her TEDx talk on the topic.
“It is very consoling to see that other people have problems. It gives you perspective. … When we write about terrible things, we look for the strand of strength in our characters.”
“From reading books, she (an unprotected child) can learn that with hard work and a good spirit, she can see that she can live decently in her own world — even if just inside her own head.”
“In reading, you step inside someone else’s skin. You live their life. You develop empathy. And empathy is the cornerstone of civilization.”
“There’s no better, no safer place to develop that empathy than in a book.”
“When it comes to trying to be the writer you want to be, I urge you not to be afraid of the things that bring high emotion to you. … We need to embrace our misery and learn how to use it.”
Napoli delivered the keynote address at this year’s Writing and Illustrating for Kids conference. Put on by the Southern Breeze region of the SCBWI and held each year just outside Birmingham, WIK offers workshops, critiques, and opportunities to meet and learn from other writers, editors, and agents.
I presented two workshops: Stories + Photos = Winning Nonfiction and You Mean I’m Not Finished? Developing Marketing and Educational Materials. I uploaded two handouts for the Stories + Photos workshop on my website. Click here to see them. I created a Pinterest Board to gather examples for the Not Finished workshop. Click here.
I love sharing my stories in my own workshops, but the downside of being on the faculty is that it limits the number of workshops I can attend. I chose What Educators Can Teach Writers by Jodi Wheeler-Toppen and Trends in Award Winning Nonfiction by Julie Ham, associate editor at Charlesbridge.
Ham led a fascinating workshop. We read excerpts from 10 Sibert Medal winning books and 4 Sibert Honor books. Based on these short snippets of writing (and, our own background knowledge of the books), we rated them on a continuum between traditional, safe writing to expressive, edgy writing. Making these judgments forced us to look carefully at the writing.
Here are Sharon Pegram, the conference coordinator, and Keri Lewis, my angel during the conference.
Jane Yolen was this year’s Medallion recipient and she gave a very nice speech about the importance of story.
This is my fifth Kaigler festival; each one seems better than the last.
This year Julie Owen came along and co-presented with me. Our newest workshop is “Read a Book, Make a Book!” We had more than 50 librarians (and a few writers and illustrators) in the room. We were so busy with the hands-on bookmaking that we didn’t get a single photograph. Errrrgh!
We had good suggestions from Micha Archer, an honor winner in this year’s Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Contest.
Patrick and T, the husband and daughter of Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw, who won the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award for her illustrations of Same, Same But Different. She also was an honor winner of the EJK new writer award for Same Same But Different. One of my favorite bits of the signing time at Barnes and Noble was my tea party with T, while her mom signed books.
I spent some time visiting with Floyd Dickman, learning about the curriculum work he’s done with quilts and children’s books in Ohio.
During my signing time, I met some librarians from Meridian.
I spent time with my SCBWI friends at the Southern Breeze table. Claudia Pearson and Jo Kittinger worked hard to spread the word among librarians about homegrown writers and illustrators and to encourage would-be writers and illustrators among the librarians to join us at SCBWI.
Hester Bass, author of The Secret World of Walter Anderson, hosts the Southern Breeze table.
Valerie Nye and Kathy Barco, who were signing their book, True Stories of Censorship Battles in America’s Libraries.
Thanks, Julie, for coming along, and for taking the pictures that include me.
I spent a few hours at the Mississippi Library Association Annual Conference last week. I went to hear my friend, Hester Bass, talk about her book, The Secret World of Walter Anderson, at lunch. Then, I went back for the Awards Dinner, where Hester won a Special Award for The Secret World of Walter Anderson. I had my little camera so the images don’t have the crisp look I’d like, but there worth sharing anyway.
Read more about Under Surge, Under Siege here.
Read more about Mary Anna Evans and her books here.
I spent the weekend in Birmingham for Writing and Illustrating for Kids, the fall conference of the Southern Breeze region of the Society of Book Writers and Illustrators. We had a fabulous line-up of speakers and I got to see many of my writer and illustrator friends. My volunteer job this year did not involve photography so I have very few photos to share. These are ones I took in the library during the final session of the day: formal critiques.
Elizabeth Dulemba preparing for her critique.
A member being critiqued by Melissa Manlove, editor at Chronicle Books. See more about Chronicle Books here.
A member being critiqued by Linda Pratt, an agent with Wernick & Pratt Agency.
Elizabeth Dulemba showing her portfolio to Deborah Kaplan, art director at Penguin Group USA.
A member discussing her work with Alexandra Cooper, editor at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Lin Oliver, author and executive director of SCBWI, discussing work with a member.
A member discussing work with Author Lisa Yee.
Come see my sister, Dr. Emilye Crosby, at Lemuria this evening at 5:30 p.m. for a discussion of her new book, Civil Rights History From the Ground Up: Local Struggles, a National Movement. Dr. Charles M. Payne, who contributed an essay to the book, will also be there. Payne taught me at Northwestern University 24 years ago, but he is now teaching at the University of Chicago. His essay is titled “Sexism is a Helluva Thing.”
Read a review of the book on Lemuria’s website here. There are lots of nice pictures, too.
Earlier this year, I submitted three applications to the Mississippi Arts Commission. One was for a fellowship in the literary arts. This year’s literary fellowship categories were creative nonfiction, playwriting and screenwriting. My submission was in the creative nonfiction category.
Last week, I sat in the room while an independent review panel discussed this year’s eight fellowship applications. Before the meeting, each panelist had read for each application a 15-20 page work sample and an artist’s statement (with all identifying information removed).
Besides me, two other applicants came to listen to the panel.
The panelists were identified by name cards on the conference table. I knew two of them from their work in the arts community. Two others were new to me.
It was very strange to listen to my writing being talked about in that setting. Because my work-in-progress is a memoir, the panelists did at least have the luxury of using the pronoun “she” when they wanted to speak about the author, namely, me. From the discussion, I learned that other applicants’ work samples ranged from a literary cookbook to a play to newspaper column-style family reminiscences.
I kept imagining that the panelists could tell it was my work they were discussing. I was sure it showed on my face. All three of us observers took notes during the entire discussion, but I wrote more assiduously when they were discussing my work.
It was interesting to hear how the opinions of the panelists were in some cases diametrically opposed. “Unique and interesting” versus “Didn’t see the originality.”
Though it was a strange experience, I think all artists should take any opportunity to listen in on this kind of discussion. Perhaps most importantly, the process allows you to see how effective (or not) you are at conveying your goals and at displaying the expertise to carry out those goals. For example, in at least one case, a writer, in his/her artistic statement, proposed a biography, but the work samples were unrelated to the biography project.
At the end of a brief discussion, panelists were asked to give each application a series of numerical scores, based on certain criteria (originality and vision of the work; technical skill and mastery of the artistic discipline).
Observers were not allowed to see scores. We were asked to leave before the panel had its final discussion. In my past experience with arts commission panels (when I wrote project grants for schools and nonprofit organizations), this final discussion is where the panel’s ultimate preferences are revealed. (Observers used to be able to stay in the room for these discussions. I’m not sure when/why the change was made.)
I will have to wait until July to learn whether I will get a fellowship. The panel’s recommendations go to the Mississsippi Arts Commission‘s governing board, which meets in June.
The Not-Blind Part
The other two applications I submitted to the arts commission this year were for its artist rosters. I have been on the artist roster for the literary arts for three years and it was time for me to re-apply. In addition, I applied for the first time to join the teaching artist roster.
My application to be included on the artist roster for the literary arts went for review to the same panel that reviewed the fellowship applications. In this case, however, the panelists knew my name, saw my resume, my marketing materials, my work samples, and a list of the presentations and signings I’ve done in the last three years. I could tell from the comments by panelists that all of them supported my application to be on the roster.
The story was largely the same for the teaching artist application, though it went before a different panel. During the discussion, several panelists said they wished they had more information on which to base their recommendation. Some suggested the application requirements should be amended to include examples of student work. I would have loved to have shared my students’ work. You can see some of it here and here.
Another interesting aspect of the discussion was something I’ve struggled with over my years of trying to make the most of the resources available from the Mississippi Arts Commission. In order to apply for individual support (fellowship or grant) or to appear on rosters, an applicant must chose a particular art form. So, though I am equal parts writer and photographer in the creation of nonfiction picture books for children, I must choose for the purposes of each application whether to apply as a literary artist (writer) or as a visual artist (photographer). The rules about work samples make it hard to show my picture book work — because I am limited to typed manuscript pages on the literary arts side and photographs on the visual arts side.
I wonder if the panelists are allowed to and/or encouraged to look at the online materials of the applicants for rosters. I have so much information available on my website and on this blog that could have filled in some of the information panelists seemed to be seeking.
Have any of you blog readers experienced a similar “blind” review process? What was it like?
The highlight of the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival is typically the speech given by the winner of The University Southern Mississippi Medallion, an award for distinguished service in the field of children’s literature. This year’s award went to T.A. Barron, the author of 30 plus books. You can read a transcript of his speech here.
In addition to his writing, Barron has created a prize to highlight the heroic work undertaken by teenagers. Read more here.
During his speech, Mr. Barron recognized his longtime editor, Patricia Lee Gauch. Later in the day, she engaged in an interesting back-and-forth with Roger Sutton, editor of the Horn Book. When Gauch prevailed upon the librarians gathered in the room to keep standards up. He replied: “But it’s you people (editors) who need to stop those (poor quality books), not us!” Gauch is retired, but noted such terrible manuscripts never got by her.
Another of my favorite Sutton quotes: “Kids have always fallen in love with terrible books. But they can be led to others.” Led carefully, however. “In my fantasy library, no librarian ever says to me ‘if you like this, let me give you a good book.’ ”
This is David Diaz, a Caldecott-winning illustrator. He gave us a look at his process during one lunch session.
Later the same day, Diaz spoke at Oddfellows Gallery in Downtown Hattiesburg about Golden Kite Golden Dreams, an exhibit of original art from award-winning children’s book illustrations.
The Southern Breeze region of SCBWI partnered with USM, the Hattiesburg Arts Council, and Oddfellows Gallery to bring the exhibit to Hattiesburg. Claudia Pearson and Jo Kittinger (pictured above) are co-regional advisers for Southern Breeze.
I blogged about my school visits in the San Francisco area, but once I moved on to the NSTA conference, I stopped posting updates. There were a few reasons for this: First, I moved into The Palace Hotel and they charged for internet in the rooms (I still don’t understand why budget hotels provide free internet and breakfast and so-called luxury hotels charge through the nose for both). Second, I was working from breakfast to supper and falling asleep after a few clicks of my Kindle.
Boyds Mills Press rented a corner booth in the conference exhibit hall and my editor, Andy Boyles (pictured above helping M. make a Fibonacci Folding Book), and I were responsible for greeting conferees. Andy arranged display copies of all of BMP’s science titles around the walls of the booth. We set up a table in the front of the booth with display copies of Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator and Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature. I put out my two mini-quilts (here and here), some private eye loupes, a pinecone, a nautilus shell, a sample Fibonacci Folding Book, and a stack of my postcards. I’ve gone to two other national conferences, the 2009 American Library Association meeting in Chicago and the 2010 International Reading Association convention (also in Chicago). In those cases, I was one of many BMP authors and illustrators who signed books. I was scheduled for an hour on each day. This time, I was signing all day every day. We left the booth only for three presentations (two featured information about 2011 Outstanding Science Trade Books) and a lunch meeting. I met lots of interesting people — some who teach science to kids, others who teach teachers how to teach science to kids, and people who work with organizations that promote science education.
We sold all the copies of Growing Patterns that BMP shipped and could have sold at least a dozen more. It helped that many teachers had seen the feature article about the 2011 Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12 in Science & Children, NSTA’s magazine for elementary school teachers. Andy and I had a great time having lunch with current, former, and future members of the Outstanding Science Trade Book selection committee, including Suzanne Flynn, J. Carrie Launius, Betty Crocker, Steve Rich, Karen Ostlund, Kristin Rearden, and Juliana Texley. We also met Lauren Jonas and Emily Brady, who are on staff at NSTA and help coordinate the NSTA Recommends program and the OSTB list. We learned about the process and met some great people. Most of them seem to be on their second or third career. They started in classrooms teaching kids and then went into either administration or into teaching teachers at the college or post-graduate level.
They had stories about using trade books in classrooms. Juliana told me about the time she took flowers on an airplane so she could use them in a presentation about my book. They didn’t like the dry environment and shriveled beyond use. She had to hit a grocery store for replacements. One plant she bought was a peace lily (featured in the book to illustrate 1). When it was time to go home, she put it in her suitcase. “I threw some clothes away and made room for it,” she said. “It’s still doing fine.”
Right after lunch, I participated in a session featuring the 2011 NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Books led by some of the teachers at the luncheon. Other authors with winning books who participated were: Debbie S. Miller, who wrote Survival at 40 Below, and Seymour Simon, who wrote Global Warming.
The final session Andy and I attended was led by Seymour Simon and centered on the changes in children’s book publishing being driven by electronic devices. Simon and his wife, Liz Nealon, who has worked in many creative capacities over the years including with Sesame Street, talked about the growing numbers of children and families who have access to electronic reading devices such as Kindles, iPads, Nooks, iPhones, etc. Simon demonstrated how he has begun publishing some of his out-of-print titles in electronic format. His talk was very inspiring and I left there thinking about how I could get some e-publishing going.
I mentioned it to Richard when I got home and he’s spent a good amount of time this week building an iPhone app for Wolfsnail. How cool is that?!
The list of finalists for the 2011 Magnolia Children’s Choice Award is available. If you are a school or public librarian, you can get your students and young readers involved in this program. Read more about the voting here. Voting is open now and continues until April 30th.
1. Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School & Other Scary Things by Lenore Look
2. Dragonbreath by Ursula Vernon
3. Extra Credit by Andrew Clements
4. Gooney Bird is So Absurd by Lois Lowry
5. Hush Harbor: Praying in Secret by Freddi Williams Evans
6. Knucklehead: Tall Tales & Almost True Stories of Growing Up Scieszka by Jon Scieszka
7. Masterpiece by Elise Broach
8. Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel by Nikki Grimes
9. Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca
10. Redwoods by Jason Chin
11. The Secret World of Walter Anderson by Hester Bass. Read my post about this book here.
12. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin