A Presidential Book

Last night I stayed up to watch Barack Obama as he claimed his victory in the U. S. presidential race. I wanted to be a part of this important time in history. I was not disappointed. His speech was inspiring– hope-filled. A unifying speech for all of our people.

I had the great opportunity this June, while attending a writing workshop in Arkansas at Harding University, to meet Nikki Grimes and to see the galley version of a picture book biography that she had just completed. It was BARACK OBAMA: Son of Promise, Child of Hope
Ms. Grimes explained how she had been approached to write the book in a bit of a hurry–to be completed and ready for publication by September. She, of course, had many other works-in-progress demanding her time as well. Could she squeeze in one more book? A book that must be completed in three weeks time? 
Three weeks to research, write, edit, revise, and complete–in order to have the book submitted to the illustrator in time. 
Even though her other projects tugged her in the opposite direction, Ms. Grimes felt called to walk down President-elect Obama’s road. She would do the research. She would piece together word snapshots of his life, like a tenderly stitched quilt. She would help share his story with young readers, eager to learn of this remarkable man. I’m very glad she did.
Click on the link if you’d like to read Ms. Grimes’ tips for writing poetry.

Poetry Highlights from Nikki Grimes

On Friday, June 13, at Harding University I had the great privilege to listen to readings and teachings of poet and author, Nikki Grimes.
Ms. Grimes stated that as our world grows more complicated nothing can prepare a child for it like poetry.
She said poetry can be a message or a massage, depending on the words used in the poem. She takes a natural, organic approach to poetry and has been a lifelong student of it. Ms. Grimes said, “I’m a poet down to my soul.” She explained that a poem tells a story or paints a picture with as few words as possible. She directed us to tune into our senses and draw on the environment—to play with the words.
She told us to begin with a simple description of a subject and then play around with a couple of the phrases we had written. We were to use word tools, like a dictionary and thesaurus. And she cautioned us about using rhyme—it should only be included when used well and with intention. But she does like internal rhyme and uses it often.
She shared with us the galley of her picture book biography of Barack Obama, which is to be released in September of this year. Her poetic voice shaped the story of the senator’s life from childhood to his current Presidential election campaign.
Ms. Grimes read excerpts from her latest novel in verse, THE DARK SONS. The story parallels the lives of two boys, one modern (Sam) and one ancient (biblical Ishmael) She also read selections from two of her narrative poetry picture books, WHEN GORILLA GOES WALKING, and MEET DANITRA BROWN. Ms. Grimes explained that every poem in a narrative poetry book must be a complete poem in itself, but it must also add to the development of the story. And a novel in verse is more complicated than narrative poetry because it must have a more detailed plot, setting and time period.
Ms. Grimes wove the words of her poems with the skill of a master. She truly was an inspiration–a revelation, a celebration, pure jubilation! (And I hope she will forgive me for using these rhyming words to describe it all.)

Fizzing Over

I made it to Searcy, Arkansas yesterday and to the beautiful campus of Harding University. Here are a few pictures I took while trying to orient myself, and I am such a map-challenged person that it’s good the campus is small. Hopefully, I will not get lost. We started bright and early today at 8 a.m. It’s toasty warm here and the vegetation is intense green from all the extra moisture the Midwest has been receiving this spring.
I sat outside today on a white swinging bench in the shade while doing one of the writing exercises. Who could ask for more.
But there is TONS more happening in this already wonderful workshop. A. LaFaye opened the workshop this morning with her English accent–I hope that’s not one of the requirements for being a succesful children’s author, being able to do humorous accents.
Then Susan Campbell Bartoletti has been wowing us with all of her incredible information for building stories, delving into characters, and creating a soul in your story. I’ll expand later on some of the details.
Plus, this afternoon Carla Killough McClafferty, author of SOMETHING OUT OF NOTHING: MARIE CURIE AND RADIUM, shared with us her insights of writing nonfiction. She showed us how to take facts and weave them into a story by using action verbs and senses.
This evening we’ll break into groups for our first critiques of each others’ writings. It should be interesting because most of the participants are literature teachers.
Already I’m energized and excited–and it’s only day one. I feel like champagne in a bottle and I’m not sure the cork will be able to hold in all this writing knowledge and enthusiasm without spilling over before the workshop is over. Which hopefully means, I will start writing some amazing things–or certainly plant the seeds for more to come.

Teachers As Writers

I’m very excited to be preparing for the TEACHERS AS WRITERS Moebius Workshop at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. The authors scheduled for the event include: Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Alexandra LaFaye, Nikki Grimes, and Carla McClafferty. (Patricia Hermes and Phyllis Root unfortunately had to cancel their appearances.)
I’ve been a fan of Alexandra LaFaye since I read her novel, WORTH, which won the 2005 Scott O’dell Award for historical fiction. WORTH was one of those books I didn’t want to come to an end. I felt so moved by the story that I immediately sent fan mail to Ms. LaFaye, who graciously answered my email. So I’m hoping to learn from Ms. LaFaye how to polish my stories into such an endearing masterpieces.
I just finished reading THE BOY WHO DARED by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.
This intense look into a German teen’s life during World War II in Nazi Germany was both compelling and insightful. The story framed this dismal time in history through the eyes of a youth who dared to counter the oppressive military might of the day. Based on a true story, Ms. Bartoletti did extensive research to bring the story to light. Both Ms. Bartoletti and fellow author, Carla McClafferty–author of SOMETHING OUT OF NOTHING:MARIE CURIE AND RADIUM, are masters of historical writing. Ms. McClafferty focuses on scientific facts and figures in her nonfiction books. So I’m hoping to learn many tips on researching and writing historical books from these two amazing authors.
And I’m also looking forward to meeting author and poet, Nikki Grimes. I eagerly sampled some of this versatile author’s works in preparation for the workshop. My favorites were THE ROAD TO PARIS ; WHEN GORILLA GOES WALKING ; AT JERUSALEM’S GATE: POEMS OF EASTER ; WHEN DADDY PRAYS ; and SHOE MAGIC. To listen to this versatile author’s lessons on writing will be incredible, I’m sure.
Check back later when I have time to share some of my experiences at the Teachers As Writers Workshop.