Poetry Friday: Interview with Laura Shovan

IMG_1077

Thanks to Catherine at Reading to the Core for hosting today.

Laura Shovan was interviewed at the CYBILS website earlier this week.  Here are follow-up questions for her.  These questions were generated from the CYBILS Poetry panel and judges.,

School closings like this don’t happen very often. Did you know of a school that was closing or where this idea come from?

School closings are quite common in Maryland. Schools here are part of large, county-wide systems. Boards of education will sometimes shift entire neighborhoods from one school to another to relieve overcrowding, or even close a school that’s below capacity. For example, in 2016, the year THE LAST FIFTH GRADE came out, a high school was closed in Carroll County, Maryland. There was a lot of push-back from the community and from families who wanted the school to stay open. Despite all the research that shows how important community involvement is in making a school feel welcoming and successful, community members are rarely consulted about such closings. They tend to be a financial decision.

How did you choose the character names and did you map out the characters and classroom dynamic in a visual way?

Some of the characters’ name have clues about their situation or personalities. One is Brianna Holmes (homophone for “homes”), whose family is temporarily living in motel. Another is Newt Mathews (the word “math” is embedded in his name), who prefers form poems where he can count out syllables. And the twins, Sloane and Sydney Costley, have the small word “cost” in their last name – a nod to the fact that they are somewhat wealthy.

I’m a visual person. I had my daughter’s fifth grade school photo taped inside my revision binder. Since I come from an education background, I had to make a seating chart. That helped me to see which characters might develop friendships … or tension. I also had a list of who lived in which neighborhoods, who rode the bus together, who lived close enough to the school to walk.
What choices did she have to make to keep each voice unique?

Giving each of the eighteen characters a unique voice was something I focused on during revisions. Instead of working on the book from the beginning to the end, I pulled out each character – one at a time – and only worked on that person’s poems. In that way, I could look at things like vocabulary, cadence, and formal elements. A free verse poem in Sloane’s voice, for example, will incorporate slang and have a lot of rhythms, to capture her attitude. A free verse poem in Norah’s voice will have longer lines and more descriptive language because Norah is more observant than Sloane.

Have you as a child or your children involved in a grassroots campaign?  

No. My family wasn’t very political when I was growing up. I don’t remember my parents talking about the Viet Nam war at all. I didn’t become politically active until I was an adult. My friends at All the Wonders recently did a post on this topic, featuring picture books.

What other books for children would you suggest if students want to learn more about becoming activists in their community?

There are many types of activism that are appropriate for children. I tend to like books about the Civil Rights movement of the 20th century and picture book biographies of civil rights activists. Three of my favorites are:

Andrea David Pinkney’s picture book SIT IN: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down

Debbie Levy’s WE SHALL OVERCOME: The Story of a Song.

Tony Medina’s LOVE TO LANGSTON, about Langston Hughes’ childhood.

Another great resource is this Nerdy Book Club list from 2014: Top 10 Picture Books for Activists 

What advice do you have for writers who are working on a novel in verse?

I hear from a lot of authors who love reading novels in verse. But because they don’t see themselves as poets, they’re afraid to give the form a try. My advice is to think about the poems as short monologues. In a novel in verse, the main character or characters take the stage and describe their thoughts, feelings, and a moment of change or realization. Poetic line breaks add rhythm to the character’s speaking voice. I think this is what makes the novel-in-verse form so well-suited for voice-driven books. The combination of monologue and rhythm helps the reader hear what the character sounds like.

Thank you, Laura, for your insight!

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Time for Student Poetry Postcards!  Sign-up HERE

 Happy Poetry.

Happy Friday.

Advertisements

Interview Wednesday: Meet Anastasia Suen

Anastasia Suen visiting today. She is currently on the CYBILS Round One Poetry Panel and is quite busy so I’m glad she took time from her schedule to be interviewed.

Your Reading Life
MsMac: What books are on your night stand?
AS: The Renaissance Soul by Margaret Lobenstine and you are here by Thich Nhat Hanh. I also have a stack of books for my Booktalking blog, (including this year’s CYBILS poetry nominations).
MsMac: What is your favorite reading spot?
AS: An old couch in my studio. (From there I can see all of the great books waiting for me!)

20131210-203024.jpg

Your Writing Life
MsMac: What does a day of work look like for you?
AS: I write in the morning and I teach in the afternoon. (I’ll be teaching the Naturally Creative Workshop again in January as well as the three kidlit writing workshops I offer year round: picture books, young nonfiction and children’s novels.) I always have a dozen or so projects in the works at one time, so no two days are alike.
MsMac: What is your favorite time of day to write?
AS: First thing in the morning is the best time to write. I write in longhand before I work on the computer, so my thoughts are free to go in any direction.
MsMac: Writing the first draft or revising? Which is your favorite?
AS: I like first drafts because that is what the big decisions are made. I need to take all of the research and thinking I’ve done and make it into something new. (Synthesis!) I find that very satisfying.
I also like to revise because I keep coming up with new ideas as I write. I love it when that happens.
MsMac: What does your writing space look like?
AS: I have my old couch, a wall of bookshelves and four tables of varying sizes with stacks and piles of files from different projects. There are two filing cabinets in the room (and stacks of file boxes in the closet). I also have several whiteboards that I use to plan my books.
Here is the character board for The New Girl (2013)

20131210-203630.jpg
MsMac: What are your current projects?
AS: In addition to writing my own books, I also work as a freelance book editor and write two magazine columns. Focus on STEM is my Booklist column and Grow with STEM is the LibrarySparks column I write with science writer Shirley Duke.
So I am writing (and editing) a dozen different projects right now: fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. I also have my own poetry blog, Poet! Poet! (I post a new haiku each Friday.)
MsMac: What might readers find you doing when you’re not writing?
AS: Most of my work day involves sitting, so I like to take breaks and stretch, do yoga, or lift weights. I also read, listen to music or watch TV while I train on the elliptical, walk, or jog. (I watch mysteries and singing contests on TV. La, la, la!)
MsMac: How has writing poetry informed you as a person?
AS: I have been writing poetry since I was in elementary school. My mother played the radio all day when I was child, so we always had music in the background. A song expresses emotions and tells stories with concise vivid language. In my view, poetry is spoken music. It is a song with the human voice as its only instrument.
MsMac: Why is poetry important?
AS: Poetry is important because it focuses on one story or one emotion at a time. It doesn’t rattle on and on going here and there and everywhere. Instead, it concentrates on one thing and looks at it deeply.
Poetry slows us down and asks us to think, to see the world in a new way. It gives us the gift of being present in this moment. This is especially true with haiku, and that is why I like it so much. It is a challenge to say something with so few words. You have to make every word, every syllable, count.

Just for Fun
MsMac: Dark chocolate or milk chocolate?
AS: Dark.
MsMac: Coffee or tea?
AS: Tea.
MsMac: Dance: funky chicken or the tango?
AS: Funky chicken.
Favorite Quote:
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

Please return Friday for an original haiku by Anastasia.

Happy Reading.
MsMac

Interview with Kelly Fineman

Today, I am Interviewing Kelly Fineman, poet  and CYBILS’ panelist for round one in poetry.  Last year her poem ‘Sea Jelly’ was published in National Geographic’s Book of Animal Poetry, a CYBIL’s poetry finalist.

National Geographic book of animal poetry

Your Reading Life

MsMac: What books are on your night stand?
KF: Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir by Beth Kephart

See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles

The Seduction of the Crimson Rose by Lauren Willig (re-read)

Feng Shui Your Life by Jayme Barrett

MsMac: Wheres your favorite reading spot?
KF: On the cheetah print chaise lounge in my living room, or on the leather sofa in my sweetheart’s living room, or on the deck at my house or the patio at his. But I love to read, and can read anywhere.

Your Writing Life

MsMac: What does a day of work look like for you? What is your favorite time of day to write?
KF: I am working hard to create habits so that I have a “typical” day of work, but it varies by day. Most days of the week, I start by reviewing emails and social media, then move into a before-lunch work session. At least three days a week, I have afternoon work sessions as well. On Tuesdays, I meet my friend and writing partner, Angela De Groot, at a local Panera’s for shared writing time, which is always inspirational and fun. My favorite time of day to write is probably the morning, although I am not an early starter.        

MsMac: Writing the first draft or revising? Which is your favorite?
KF: Ooh – tough question. Writing the first draft is so satisfying, because it’s creating something out of nothing, but revising is also satisfying because it polishes what’s there, pares off the extraneous stuff, and adds in what’s missing. Both can be frustrating and triumphant, but I think the pleasure in getting something “right” means that revision wins out for me by a whisker.

MsMac: What does your writing space look like?
KF: I am in the midst of straddling two living spaces just now. At my house, I write sitting at my dining room table, because the area gets lots of natural light and has lovely views out the back sliding doors and front picture window.

At my sweetheart’s house, I sometimes write in his current office, which has the benefit of a water fountain located just outside the window, which makes a lovely, soothing noise as I work, and sometimes in the living room, which has a gorgeous view of the back yard.

MsMac: What is your current project?
KF: I have just finished up revisions on a young adult poetry collection, and am working on a new collection of poems for middle graders.

MsMac: Ooh, yound adult poetry, sounds interesting. What might readers find you doing when youre not writing?
KF: They might find me meditating or doing tai chi, or reading (of course!), or baking or cooking.

MsMac: How has writing poetry informed you as a person?
KF: Talk about a tough question! I can’t tell you for sure whether writing poetry makes me more aware of phrases, incidents or images that inspire new work, or vice versa, but I do know that I find inspiration all around me on a pretty regular basis.

MsMac: Why is poetry important?
KF: I could probably write you a dissertation on this one. It’s important for children – and should be used far more widely in schools than it is – because the poetic devices used, whether it be rhyme or metre or alliteration or assonance or just the concrete imagery and excellent, specific word choice that is commonplace in poetry, help kids to process information in different ways. Rhyming, metrical poetry is processed in the same section of the brain as music, which allows some kids to process or memorize the information contained more easily.

Poetry is important in general, though, because it allows people to process information free from the boundaries of precise logic, although precise language is usually involved. It allows a reader to experience an emotion or action vicariously, and through a far different lens than is available in other forms of writing. Startling juxtapositions are not only allowed, but encouraged, and the use of rich metaphor opens up interesting and unexpected associations.

Just for Fun

MsMac: Dark chocolate or milk chocolate?
KF: Yes!

MsMac: Coffee or tea?
KF:
Also yes! (But I drink far more tea than coffee, though I have both most days.)

MsMac: Dance: funky chicken or the tango?
KF: Well, I can DO the funky chicken, so I’ll go with that.

MsMac: Favorite Quote

KF: Asking me for a favorite anything is useless, really, because I stink at picking favorite anythings. Here’s one that I like a lot, from Neil Gaiman’s poem (now a picture book), “Instructions”: “Trust dreams. Trust your heart, and trust your story.” From “Instructions”, by Neil Gaiman: “Trust dreams. Trust your heart, and trust your story.”

Check back tomorrow when I share her poem, ‘Sea Jelly.’

Happy Reading

MsMac

Interview Wednesday: April Halprin Wayland

Today I am excited to share my interview with April Halprin Wayland. I recently had the opportunity to meet April in Southern California. She was so gracious to welcome not only me but my family to her home where we met her dog and tortoise. I’m writing from the road so I will share photos with her poem for Poetry Friday.

Your Reading Life

MsMac: What books are on your night stand?
AHW: I am a very slow reader, but I just read the wonderful non-fiction picture book (an SCBWI 2013 Golden Kite winner) Noah Webster and his Words by Jeri Chase Ferris, illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch, and two wonderful picture books by Michelle Markel: Brave Girl—Clara and the Shirtwaist Maker’s Strike of 1909, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, and The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau, illustrated by Amanda Hall. I’m in the middle of the riveting multi-award-winning non-fiction book, Bomb by Steve Sheinkin, and Desperado’s Wife—a memoir, by Amy Friedman.

MsMac: Where’s your favorite reading spot?
AHW: In bed!

Your Writing Life

MsMac: What does a day of work look like for you? What is your favorite time of day to write?
AHW: I am much sloppier and not as well-organized as this is going to sound. This is my ideal day; sometimes I nail it and sometimes I don’t:

I drive with my friend, her dog and my dog (Eli) to The Coffee Place Which Shall Not Be Named to say hello to my friendly barristas and order a single shot soy latte with extra, extra, extra foam. Then we drive to the dog park. After the dog park, I will meditate for 30 minutes and take an exercise class. Then I run errands, have lunch, and write my daily poem and send it off to my friend Bruce Balan, who sails around the world with his wife in a trimaran. They’re in Thailand right now.

Then I’ll whack away at emails, critique student picture book manuscripts for my UCLA Writer’s Program class, critique manuscripts for the folks in my critique group, work on a blog post. Finally, I write! I’m excited about a couple picture books now.

MsMac: Writing the first draft or revising? Which is your favorite?
AHW: The first draft, until I get to the end, at which point I mutter—I have no idea how to end this! Or—now, that’s a really corny ending.

MsMac: What does your writing space look like?
AHW: I write in our extra bedroom. It looks like a child’s playroom with light pink walls, light blue carpet, and a huge plastic shower curtain printed with a map of the world on it hanging up and dog toys in an open drawer and spilling all over the room.

I write on a stand-up desk which I made by putting a pretty coffee table that I never knew what to do with on top of my desk. I love my desk. I stand on a bosu ball and bounce as I write. It feels very child-like to bounce while I’m downloading something from the internet.

MsMac: You’ll see her writing space on Friday.

MsMac: Please tell us about your new book, New Year at the Pier.
AHW: It’s beautifully illustrated by the most highly awarded illustrator in Canada, Stéphane Jorisch. Stéphane and I have been blown away by the response our book has gotten. It won the Association of Jewish Libraries’ Sydney Taylor Book Award Gold Medal as well as other distinctions.

It’s about a young boy named Izzy whose favorite part of Rosh Hashanah is Tashlich, a joyous waterside ceremony in which people apologize for their mistakes of the previous year, cleaning the slate for the new year. But there’s one mistake on Izzy’s “I’m sorry” list he’s finding especially hard to say out loud.

Tashlich (celebrated in my town on September 5th this year) is one of my favorite traditions. We walk to a body of water, sing psalms, and toss pieces of stale bread into the water. Each piece of bread represents something we regret doing in the past year. Because I live near the sea, I get to toss my “mistakes” into the ocean. It’s a way of letting go, of creating a clean slate for the coming year.

I’ve dragged numerous friends to our pier so they can taste the poetry of this ritual, to feel the wind, hear the gulls, experience moments of relief when they tossed each piece of bread. These moments changed me. How could I not share this in a picture book?

MsMac: What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
AHW: That we are all human.
And perhaps they will learn how to apologize and how to forgive.
For teachers:

Let this book help you explain to students why some of their Jewish classmates are absent for a few days in the fall…and what they may be doing.

Read it in January to talk about the ways people around the world celebrate the new year.

Use it with younger kids to talk about apologizing to and forgiving their friends and family.

Use it to open a discussion with older kids about the Rwanda Reconciliation.

I’d especially love to hear that you gave this book to someone from whom you’ve been estranged, as a way of starting a conversation, apologizing, and possibly beginning a new relationship.

MsMac: What might readers find you doing when you’re not writing?
AHW: Singing folk songs and playing my fiddle with a big circle of musicians, hiking with my hiking friends, walking Eli, being politically active so that our country supports all of us and so that we all support the world, driving my new all-electric car (it’s so exciting and so quiet!), taking care of my elderly relatives and taking long, adventurous bike rides with my best friend who is also my husband. (I know…awwww…sooooo corny!)

MsMac: How has writing poetry informed you as a person?
AHW: I’ve written a poem a day since April 2010, which changed my life; now I believe I really am a writer. Poetry seeps into me and leaks out. This can be very messy.

MsMac: Why is poetry important?
AHW: Because it just is.

Just for Fun

MsMac: Dark chocolate or milk chocolate?
AHW: Dark

MsMac: Coffee or tea?
AHW: Both

MsMac: Dance: funky chicken or the tango?
AHW: Israeli folk dances!

Favorite Quote:
If you think you are too small to be effective,
you have never been in bed with a mosquito.
~ Betty Reese

Thank you so much for sharing your writing and reading life with us, April.
Happy Reading.
MsMac

Interview Wednesday: Robyn Hood Black

Today I am featuring poet, writer, and online haiku friend, Robyn Hood Black.

Your Reading Life

MsMac: What books are on your night stand?

Robyn: Hattie Ever After (Kirby Larson), The Art of Haiku – Its History Through Poems and Paintings by Japanese Masters (Stephen Addis), Make Lemonade (Virginia Euwer Wolff), some art books, and picture books by Jean Craighead George and Susan Pearson.

MsMac: Ooh, I will need to look up the Addis’ book and I just finished Make Lemonade. What was your favorite book as a child? Was poetry something you enjoyed as a child?

Robyn: When very young, probably Are You my Mother? (P. D. Eastman) and The Poky Little Puppy (Janette Sebring Lowrey) and other Little Golden Books (really). I also still have my set of Walt Disney records/storybooks that I acted out repeatedly! My school book fair money went to nonfiction animal books. Later I loved the Joy Adamson Born Free series as well as Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (Judy Blume) and It’s Like This, Cat (Emily Cheney Neville).

I did enjoy poetry; I remember loving “Eletelephony” by Laura Elizabeth Richards.

Ms Mac: Where’s your favorite reading spot?

Robyn: On a pretty day, out in the swinging chair hanging from an old dogwood tree. Most of the time, on the couch with one or more dogs.

Your Writing Life

MsMac: What does a day of work look like for you?

Robyn: It varies! A perfect day is reading first thing in the morning, then writing during the latter part of the morning & mid-day, then working on some art (at some point catching up on email and blogging).
Deadlines often involve large amounts of midnight oil. And while I love school visits and conferences, these change up the creative schedule for sure.

MsMac: Which is your favorite first draft or revising?

Robyn: I like the thrill of a first draft, and the relief of revising, so it depends! When revising, it’s nice to have something already there to work from.

MsMac: What does your writing space look like?

Robyn: A little tornado-ish at the moment. I’m lucky to have my own nice-sized office space with a built-in desk for my computer as well as a big old desk for art, plus another spot for writing/drawing in the corner. Cabinets, bookshelves, closets – all full! Cardinals and squirrels at the two windows. My old office cat, May, loves to rearrange things and play with computer buttons. I often write a first draft, though, with paper and pen in another part of the house or outside.

MsMac: What are your current projects?

Robyn: I’m very excited to have just written a poem for a book for the very youngest listeners/readers, by the incredible Lee Bennett Hopkins. A dream come true!
I just finished my fourth year of writing nonfiction animal profiles for a national character education program, Core Essentials.

I always have poetry in the hopper. I’m also illustrating (with relief prints) a collection of original children’s poems that I hope will someday find a home. And I have lots more art I want to make for my art business/Etsy shop, artsyletters.

MsMac: What might readers find you doing when you’re not writing?

Robyn: Making art. Hanging out with my husband and kids (one in college and one about to be) and our animals. Prowling antique shops. Walking and conversing with birds. Not doing enough housework.

About Your Books and Haiku

MsMac: How did Sir Mike and Wolves come about?

Robyn: Both resulted from meeting editors at our SCBWI Southern Breeze (Ga./Ala.) conferences. I’ve volunteered with SCBWI for years and can’t say enough good things about it. Joining is the first thing anyone serious about writing or illustrating for children should do.

MsMac: Besides having haiku published in journals, have you put your haiku in a collection?

Robyn: Not yet – still working on building up a body of work. But I’d love to do that down the road.

MsMac: Where did your interest in haiku begin?

Robyn: There used to be an online magazine of haiku for kids, Berry Blue Haiku, edited by Gisele LeBlanc. As a children’s writer, I got involved with that and quickly fell into reading everything I could about the history of haiku as well as lots of contemporary journals. I was immediately hooked. Now I submit regularly to those journals, and though Berry Blue is no more, Gisele and I remain friends.

MsMac: As you know the haiku in the adult writing community is structurally not as confining as the 5-7-5 that is taught in schools. How do you teach students to write haiku?

Robyn: I explain to students that the 5-7-5 is not an exact way translate the haiku structure for English, because Japanese sound units and English syllables are not interchangeable. Our focus then becomes creating a short poem of typically three lines – ideally with two different images. Haiku’s traditional emphasis on the natural world is a wonderful way to bring kids into listening to and writing these poems. I love taking kids outside when possible! Most respond enthusiastically to such a short form, and to nature.

MsMac: What do you hope readers/viewers take away?

Robyn: A mom told me once that her young son kept wanting to go the doctor’s office. She finally discovered it was because he wanted to read SIR MIKE there, and after she bought him his own copy, he would only answer to “Sir Mike” for a short time. This is just a simple easy reader with no fancy awards or anything, and yet it fueled a child’s imagination and give him a positive attitude toward reading. That’s enough for me. For older kids or adults, if something I write or draw creates a connection that has meaning for them in some way, I’m honored and happy.

Just for Fun

MsMac: Dark chocolate or milk chocolate?
Robyn: Dark.

MsMac: Coffee or tea?
Robyn: Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon.

MsMac:Dance: funky chicken or the tango?
Robyn: The last time I tried some all-out-funky dancing (at a church youth group event three years ago), I tore my Achilles. I’d better stick with the Hokey Pokey.

MsMac: Favorite Quote:

Robyn: This week? ;0)
How about one on haiku and one on art, but they seem related:

“Most haiku of excellence are serenely vibrant. Although they seldom are concerned with grand or marvelous events, or employ highly charged language, or possess startling qualities, they nonetheless are intensely alive in their quiet and deep evocation of aspects of life and the world, aspects that can easily be overlooked.”
Robert Spiess (1921-2002)

“Give up the idea of the perfect flawless picture, and aim for one that is alive instead.”
Uri Shulevitz

Perfect. Robyn, thank you for stopping by. You can read more about Robyn at her website.