Friday, June 22, 2012

Muscovy Duck Dance

I finally discovered the identity of the ducks I saw dancing and throat singing last week. They are Muscovy.  You can't really hear the male's thoat hissing well in these two videos below, but you can see their fascinating habit of head bobbing.

I'm including a couple of duck poems, one funny, one serious. Enjoy Poetry Friday. Amy hosts the roundup is at the Poem Farm.

The Duck
Ogden Nash

Behold the duck.
It does not cluck.
A cluck it lacks.
It quacks.
It is specially fond
Of a puddle or pond.
When it dines or sups,
It bottoms ups.

John Masefield

Twilight. Red in the West.
Dimness. A glow on the wood.
The teams plod home to rest.
The wild duck come to glean.
O souls not understood,
What a wild cry in the pool;
What things have the farm ducks seen
That they cry so--huddle and cry?
Only the soul that goes.
Eager. Eager. Flying.
Over the globe of the moon,
Over the wood that glows.
Wings linked. Necks a-strain,
A rush and a wild crying.

A cry of the long pain
In the reeds of a steel lagoon,
In a land that no man knows.


Friday, June 15, 2012


I'm working on a manuscript about the Inuit at the moment. I have loved finding laughter in some of the wonderful traditions these people share. There's a laughing game, called Iglagunerk, where two people hold hands and laugh. The one who laughed the longest and hardest was declared the winner. Often everyone in the room ended up rolling on the floor with the contestants. There's a fun video here of a classroom of kids recreating the game.

Another tradition is Inuit throat singing, practiced by women who syncronized their breathing. Whoever ran out of breath or laughed first lost the game. I probably wouldn't have lasted long.

I have never stood on the shore of a frigid sea, but I love the beach and the wind from the Gulf blowing in my hair. There is a rhythm to the ocean pounding against the shore that reminds me of the heart beat of God. This Inuit poem captures that joy so beautifully.


The great sea stirs me,
the great sea sets me adrift,
it sways me like the weed,
on a river stone.

The sky's height stirs me,
the strong wind blows through my mind,
it carries me with it,
so I shake with joy.

(c) Translation by Tom Lowenstein

Have a joyful Poetry Friday. There are more poems at the roundup hosted by Mary Lee at A Year of Reading. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Links for Writers: Info on State Standards

Standards drive the educational market.Spend a little time understanding those needs. Links to performance standards for all states. another site summarizing standards for all states Official site for Common Core. Excellent interview. Vicky Cobb talks with Dr. Myra Zarnowski, Professor of Children's Literature at Queens College School of Education, about how authors can help with Common Core. Note that books referenced are from the trade market. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Links: General Info on the Educational Market

I don't have a lot of energy or time to spare this week, so I'm going to give you my list of links for working in the educational market. 

General Information listing of job opportunities, also a discussion board Nancy Sanders’ website is full of helpful info. Evelyn Christenson’s tips and resources. A wealth of information.

Nancy Sanders did a series of blog posts on landing a contract in a month back in 2009. The posts are still there. They start HERE: Writers Retreat discussion with Chris Eboch and Nancy Sanders

Information on Markets Evelyn Christenson keeps an updated list of markets and submission guidelines. Children’s Writer Newsletter

Monday, June 11, 2012

Whose Line is it Anyway?

I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard. I participated in a workshop sponsored by Southern Breeze, SCBWI. Hester Bass, author of The Secret World of Walter Anderson, and our illustrious leader, taught a workshop titled, "Show Don’t Tell: How Acting Techniques Improve Writing." Have you ever tried to walk like your character? Or imagine your character as an animal? Well, we did it all, including a closing session where we played the game "Whose Line is it Anyway?" I was an 11-year old boy who couldn't stop scratching. Steve, the lone male among 13 women, was a shy 10-year-old boy. Location: a hiking trail. And he forgot the bug spray. Yes, laughter is good medicine.

I'm unpacked and re-organized for the week, but I keep bursting into laughter when I think of this wonderful weekend.

If you ever have the chance to be in a workshop with Hester , take advantage of it. So many mental connections to my writing happened this weekend. And lots of new friends.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Poetry Friday: Afternoon of a Faun

Afternoon of a Faun by  Édouard Manet, Princeton University Library, Graphic Arts Collection
First let me just say that I love dance. Ballet lessons were much more expensive than the $1 my parents paid for the 30-minute piano lesson from Miss Annie Barton. I loved Miss Annie and the jellybeans she gave for accomplishing all her weekly assigned tasks, but I didn't really learn to play well. So, I became a mediocre  musician, as well as a frustrated dancer. Loving both, but unable to do either very well. 

This week a YouTube video of Jacques d'Amboise & Tanaquil LeClercq dancing "Afternoon of a Faun" by Debussey crossed my Facebook page. The tools for embedding the piece are not available, but the excerpt, choreographed by Jerome Robbins, is here. I've always loved this piece of music, but never had seen it danced. I hope you have time to take a minute and go watch it. It is absolutely stunning in its simplicity. 

The piece stayed in my head for days. The music so haunting. The movement so deliberate. I wondered if there was a poem behind it. And of course, there was. French symbolist poet, Stéphane Mallarmé, published it in 1886 with accompanying sketches from his good friend Édouard Manet. 

Apparently Mallarmé was famous for being obscure as a poet. Proust wrote: “How unfortunate that so gifted a man should become insane every time he takes up the pen.” Hmm. I'm not sure I'd want my poetic friends thinking such things, but obviously the man was committed to his perception of the poetic process. Here's a bit of the poem.


From "L'Apres-midi d'un Faune"

These nymphs, I would perpetuate them.

                                                    So bright
Their crimson flesh that hovers there, light
In the air drowsy with dense slumbers.
                                           Did I love a dream?
My doubt, mass of ancient night, ends extreme
In many a subtle branch, that remaining the true
Woods themselves, proves, alas, that I too
Offered myself, alone, as triumph, the false ideal of roses.

You can read more about him his poems here. The Kennedy Center site talks about the connections to the Debussey piece here. I really liked this short excerpt about Mallarmé's writing style.
His works, which abound in complex symbols and images, seek to represent states of mind rather than ideas, express moods rather than tell stories. Mallarmé tried to capture that elusive line between dream and awakening that most of us who are not poets are well aware of but are unable to put into words.
Now back to the YouTube clip. If you didn't go watch it, you really should. It was the simplicity that totally sucked me in. I know enough of art to realize that when something looks effortless, it actually demands tremendous skill. There is so much skill involved in this performance. The composer, the conductor, the musicians, the choreographer, and the dancers.

I've been reading and re-reading some of Patricia MacLachlan's books in the last few weeks. I know that may seem like a sudden shift in thought, but it's really not, because the thing that draws me to her work is that same sense of simplicity. Her prose is lyrical, graceful as a dance. Yet it conveys such deep, honest emotion. Everyone knows Sarah, Plain and Tall, along with its sequels. But there are so many more. I cried at the end of Kindred Souls. I read the last chapters of Edward's Eyes through tears, too. 

In Word after Word after Word, MacLachlan deals with a theme similar to the one Mallarmé explored--the line between truth and reality, between what is real and what is unreal. "They're just about the same," MacLachlan has Ms. Mirabel say. "They are both all about magical words!"

In chapter one, visiting author Ms. Mirabel tells the fourth grade class why she writes. "I, myself, write to change my life, to make it come out the way I want it to," she said. "But other people write for other reasons: to see more closely what it is they are thinking about, what they may be afraid of. Sometimes writers write to solve a problem, to answer their own question. All these reasons are good reasons. And that is the most important thin I'll ever tell you. Maybe it is the most important thing you'll ever hear. Ever." When the students left school that day, they "picked up our notebooks and went off to try and change our lives. Word after word after word."

Don't you love that image? 

I'm reading another book called To BeTold by Dan Allender. These few lines bounced back at me, echoing the thoughts already stirring in my head this week.
But if we honestly name the passionate desires of our heart, and if we risk seeing those desires come to be, the plot of our life story will begin to move with greater intentionality.
And for each of us there is a script written that is contoured to our deepest passions, that reflects our core character and our truest calling. We are written to be real, and there is something in every heart that knows when we are and when we are not. 
We must nourish the truest desires of our heart and then risk the bold act required to give our dreams the ground to grow.
I'm rambling. I know. But for those of us who love the written word, acknowledging that burning desire to write something beautiful, something simple yet startling, something real whether it's true or not, is a place we come back to again and again. We risk again. We write again, always hoping to change our lives and the lives of others around us with something as simple as words.

Word after Word after Word ends with this poem.
Out of our writer mouths
Will come clouds
Rising to the sky
Dropping rain words below.
And when the clouds leave
The sun will shine down word
After word
After word
Planting our stories in the earth. 

Today, I'm wishing your words that will grow, simply, beautifully.

For more Poetry Friday, stop over at Jama's Alphabet Soup.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

What's Missing?

After you've gone through publisher catalogs, you may find you are interested in writing for one of them. The next step is to go to the library and look at as many of their books as you can find. Ask yourself, Could I write a book like this? If the answer is yes, move on to the next step.

Find their writers’ guidelines and see whether they accept queries, proposals, or manuscripts. Many publishers do not accept unsolicited material. However that doesn't necessarily mean they won't accept a query. A query can be as simple as an email to the editor asking if they would be interested in seeing a proposal on your topic of interest.

Once you know their submission process, go back to the catalog or website and find the area of books you would be interested in writing. Look for the holes.

If you’re a science writer and you like kindergarten to second grade material, find that area of the catalog and ask yourself what they’re missing that would complement what’s already there. Is there a series that you like? What title is missing?

The next step is to query and see if they are interested in a book or set of books on your topic. If so, then follow their guidelines to get your proposal ready. 

TIP: Feel free to query as many publishers as you like about an idea, but never send a formal proposal to more than one editor at a time.

 Present your idea clearly. In an interview with my editor for Readers Theatre for Global Explorers, Sharon Coatney told me this:
I've learned after doing this for many years that if a proposal isn't very clear, there's no point in going forward. There will be so much developmental editing, it isn't worth it.
So do your homework. Be thorough. Write well.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Educational Publishers: What Can a Catalog Tell You?

 It's a good idea to collect catalogs if you want to write for the educational market. A catalog can tell you a lot about a publisher. Ask your local librarian or a school librarian if they have extra catalogs you can have. Publishers send new catalogs out about twice a year. Most media specialists and teachers have a stack of them somewhere waiting for the trash can. Or you can contact the publisher and ask them to send you one. The will be happy to oblige.

Take a look at your catalog and answer these questions:

1. Is it arranged by subject or grade level?

     A. Check to see how high and how low the reading levels are.

     B. If they’re arranged by subject, are they arranged by grade level within the subject?

               *This tells you the range of books they will be interested in.

2. Are there separate imprints? If so, what characterizes each imprint?

               *This may help you hone your interest in writing for their line of books.

3. Are the books published in series of titles or single titles?

              *If they only publish series, they are probably not interested in seeing a manuscript for a stand-alone book.

4. Look at some of the sets. Are all the titles by the same author or a variety?

             *If all books in the set are by the same author, it’s unlikely they would accept a proposal for another book in that set by a different author.

5. What is the last date a title was added to the set?

             *This will tell you whether they are continuing to add to this set.

6. What leveling information is available?

             *If they have included AR, as well as GRL, they are probably targeting the classroom, as well as the library market.  (We'll talk about leveling next week, so don't fret it you don't get it yet.)

7. Have any of the books won awards?

             *Maybe yours will.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Interview with Author Nancy I. Sanders--and a Book Launch Party!

The last few weeks I have been talking about writing for the educational market. Today I am celebrating  with Nancy I. Sanders, a wonderful author who has published many books in this market. 

Nancy has just launched her new book, Frederick Douglass for Kids: His Life and Times with 21 Activities, from Chicago Review Press.  

I am so pleased to be today's stop on Nancy's virtual book tour. These parties are such fun! Drop by Nancy's website to see what all she has planned for the coming weeks. The girl knows how to celebrate. And I'm sure there will be party favors from this generous author. 

A Bit about the Book
Few Americans have had as much impact on this nation as Frederick Douglass. Born on a plantation, he later escaped slavery and helped others to freedom via the Underground Railroad. In time he became a bestselling author, an outspoken newspaper editor, a brilliant orator, a tireless abolitionist, and a brave civil rights leader. He was famous on both sides of the Atlantic in the years leading up to the Civil War, and when war broke out, Abraham Lincoln invited him to the White House for counsel and advice.
Frederick Douglass for Kids follows the footsteps of this American hero, from his birth into slavery to his becoming a friend and confidant of presidents and the leading African American of his day. And to better appreciate Frederick Douglass and his times, readers will form a debating club, cook a meal similar to the one Douglass shared with John Brown, make a civil war haversack, participate in a microlending program, and more. This valuable resource also includes a time line of significant events, a list of historic sites to visit or explore online, and web resources for further study.

And Here's Nancy! 

Nancy I. Sanders is the bestselling and award-winning author of over 80 books including America’s Black Founders, A Kid’s Guide to African American History, and D Is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet. She teaches other writers how to launch their career to the next level based on material found in her groundbreaking book for writers, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career. Nancy and her husband, Jeff, live in southern California. They have two grown sons, Dan and Ben.

And now for the Questions....

Who was Frederick Douglass?
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery on a plantation in Maryland. Yet when he became a young adult, he bravely escaped along the Underground Railroad and fled north. He began speaking out against slavery and became quite famous on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean as a brilliant orator. He became the most famous African American leader of his day, a friend of Presidents, and a respected statesman.

What do you hope young readers will learn about Frederick Douglass?
Frederick Douglass was a civil rights leader in the years surrounding the Civil War, long before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. Everywhere he went and everything he did he tried to change things for the better. Even though he started out in poverty and oppression, he rose up to take a powerful stand for justice. He was a true American hero. I’m hoping that young readers will be inspired by the life and words of Frederick Douglass to make a stand for what is right and be a new hero in their generation today.

What age is this book recommended for?
Typically, children in fourth grade and older study American History and learn about issues such as the Civil War and slavery. Frederick Douglass for Kids is a new resource for teachers, librarians, and homeschooling parents to incorporate into the classroom or educational environment for upper elementary and junior high students. The activities in this book are geared to this age level.

However, because this book also features little-know facts studied mostly at the university level, it’s also a great teaching tool for high school students and even college classes that focus on this era. One of the things that the publisher, Chicago Review Press, has discovered about the “For Kids” series that this book is a part of is that adults like to read these titles too. That’s because the information is very in-depth and academic, but it’s written in a more conversational and reader-friendly style than an academic textbook usually is.

There are already a great number of books on Frederick Douglass. What makes this one different?
There are two main differences in this book about Frederick Douglass that makes it stand out from others.

First, this book is part of a series that features 21 historical-based activities in it. So readers get to cook an authentic meal, just like the one Frederick Douglass shared with famous abolitionist John Brown. They get to make a sailor’s hat and scarf, just like the one Frederick Douglass wore as a disguise when he escaped from slavery. They get to learn about micro-financing, similar to the method the bank used to help newly-freed blacks when Frederick Douglass was president of the bank.

Secondly, this book features numerous photographs never before seen in a book about Frederick Douglass. My husband, Jeff, traveled with me as we followed in the footsteps of this great man from his birth to his death. Numerous people gave us permission to take photographs to include in this book and the result is a fresh, new approach to better appreciate his life and the impact he had on our nation and on the world.

What are you doing to celebrate the release of your book, Frederick Douglass for Kids?
I’m hosting a two-week virtual Book Launch Party! There are prizes to win, fun facts to learn, and lots of inside peeks and helpful tips about how a book is born. Stop by my site today to join in the party.  

Thanks, Nancy, for visiting with me here today. 

For more information on Nancy and Frederick Douglass for Kids visit Nancy's author site and the book's site. You may purchase the book here