Stacked in Our Favor

Thoughts about libraries, education, children's literature, writing, art and being connected

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Bolduc House Earthquake Exhibit

The Bolduc House Museum's exhibit to commemorate the New Madrid Earthquake of 1811 begins on December 16th. The thoughtful, varied ways they have chosen to commemorate the earthquake are intriguing and make me wish I lived closer so I could visit during the exhibit. 

The aspect of their commemoration that is close to my heart is the exhibit of Debbie Davidson's etegami. Etegami is an art form I have always admired and wanted to try. I had seen plenty of beautiful artwork in Japan, but I remember first identifying Etegami as an art form when I went to mail a postcard. The post office was a large one and had a etegami exhibit. Etegami art is striking. It is common to fill the page and spill over the sides. I feel a certain kinship to it as I feel like I spill over the sides quite a bit of the time. 

Debbie's work is remarkable. After the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster I found myself visiting her blog daily. She was a voice in those terrible days that followed that spoke of strength and unity and love. Her series Humanizing the Quake brought hope during a very fearful time. The images from Humanizing the Quake are on display at the Bolduc House Museum. The proceeds will assist those who have had to relocate after the disaster.

If the story ended there it would be enough. For me, there is more. My own response at the time seemed inadequate. Too far away. Too little. The poem I offered up was all I had to give. Debbie was inspired by it and (with my blessings) created an etegami. In fact she created two. This piece is part of the collection. So in my small way, I too, have a connection to the exhibit. 

We are all connected. We all make a difference. You never know how far your actions may ripple. 

Visit Debbie's blog Dosanko Debbie's Etegami Notebook and follow her on twitter @dosankodebbie

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Our words take on a life of their own

am reflecting on the fact that our words, once let free, take on a life of their own. Last year I wrote a poem during the Month of Poetry. When Japan suffered the great tragedy of having earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster I offered my poem up right here

Enter Deborah Davidson, Etegami artist based in northern Japan. Her artwork is beautiful, delicate and meaningful. I became a fan. Through some twist of fate, she read my blog and asked if she could make artwork of my  poem. I was delighted. Not only was the result beautiful, I had never seen my words through someone else's eyes. 

Months have passed and I received a comment from Deborah. Turns out she's part of a earthquake-related exhibit at The Bolduc House Museum in St. Genevieve, Mo. I'd never heard of the place. Her artwork will be for sale to raise money to relocate victims of the earthquake. She wanted to know if I would give permission for the image with a fragment of my poem to be used. My eyes misted over. Yes, a thousand times, Yes! What a beautiful thing to watch my words go out in support of this project. If you would like to see the announcement you can view it at:

All this got me thinking of how one action leads to another. I wrote the poem during Month of Poetry so I really need to thank Kat Apel for the inspiration. I met Kat Apel through National Picture Book Writing Week and strengthened my correspondence with her through Picture Book Idea Month, so I guess I really should thank Paula Yoo and Tara Lazar. I found out about those events through NaNoWriMo from reading Paula Yoo's blog so it comes down to Paula again. And Paula, I have no idea how I started reading your blog, but it might have been from a link from Mitali Perkin's blog. 

These words of ours. We write them down. We cherish them. We raise them until they can go out into the world alone. We hope they will not be led astray by hucksters. We pray that they will reach their blissful without despair. From the cradle of an idea to the moment of graduation we love them. But at some point we set them free. 

And what a beautiful thing it is to see them bloom. To blossom. And to bring joy back to us in unexpected ways. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Participate in Picture Book Month

This last six weeks have been all about picture books for me. Learning about them, reading them, evaluating them and trying my hand at writing them. So when I learned about Picture Book Month I wondered if I really had time to check this out as well. I thought I'd wait until December 1st, but my curiosity got the better of me. So glad it did. If you love picture books you'll want to take a visit to read all the great things these giants of the industry have to say about them. If you don't love picture books already, get over there and see what you are missing!

Guess I'll have to wait until January before I dig into those novels I've had my eye on.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Want to Write a Picture Book? Sign up for PiBoIdMo!

If you write picture books or have been thinking about giving it a try, check out PiBoIdMo. Brain Child of Tara Lazar, PiBoIdMo stands for Picture Book Idea Month. That's just what it is. Tara got tired of hearing novelists having all the fun in the month of November as they attacked their novels during NaNoWriMo. So she took matters into her own hands. The challenge of PiBoIdMo is to come up with an idea for a picture book for every day of November. You finish the month with 30 ideas to work on through the year .

Now that might sound like an easy thing to do if you haven't done it. Sure, some days the idea hits you over the head. Some days you are looking at the clock approaching midnight and your muse has left town and you have to turn to some other inspiration, like a dictionary.

This is an event that I look forward to each year. Great people have signed up for the event, Tara gives away prizes and inspiration abounds. Not only that, but you get this fabulous, funny badge for your blog created by the talented Bonnie Adamson.  It feels like homecoming weekend for picture bookies. Hope to see you there.

(Post also shared at my picture book blog, Picture Book Inspirations )

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Why Do You Deserve to Win?

Over the past summer I enjoyed things I never had time for during the school year – sleeping in to 6:00 a.m., sitting in the park for hours and enjoying the breeze and reality t.v.

One show in particular has sparked my interest – Project Runway. I have a passion for fiber arts and this show expands my vision. While I watch the show with the purpose of exploring a passion, my librarian brain will kick in and one thing keeps nagging at me.

Imagine the scene: Three designers exhausted, yet exhilarated after their emotional runway shows during Olympus Fashion Week stand in the spotlight of The Runway. They stand before the judges who will tell them who will win an incredible, life changing career package. The judges deliver their impressions of the collections – both the good and the bad. Here is the moment that grabs me every time. One of the jusdges asks:

“Why do you deserve to win?”

A simple question. The question should be easy to answer for someone who believes in their passion. It should be easy for someone who has spent months putting together the collections. They have certainly had time to ponder the question as they sew. They have seen the work of the other competitors. They have worked with them closely and had opportunity to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the other two on the runway. It should be a piece of cake to say a few sentences that sum up their strengths and merits.

But they can’t.

For the most part they fumble. I’ve heard their responses. They run along these lines:

“Because I’ve wanted it since I was five years old.”
“Because I’ve come this far.”
“Because I’ll crumple up and die if I don’t.”
“Because I need the money.”
“Because this is my only chance to put out my own line.”
“Because I want it so badly I can taste it.”

These answers do not address the question. One wonders whether it is the pressure, the lack of sleep, the intense emotional punch of the experience that throws them off course. I know I couldn’t survive their schedule. Still, could it be that they are not prepared to explain themselves?

As librarians and educators preparing our students for the 21st century these answers make me feel a recommitment to teaching children skills to help them present themselves so that when they are asked “Why should you win?” the answer has more to do with assessing their achievements and little to do with desires and feelings. While feelings and desires drive us to learn, grow and develop ourselves, they are not a great persuasive argument for landing a job, an award or a prize.

Those designers who substituted their feelings for a carefully polished artist’s statement, lost the opportunity to sell themselves and make the judges see their vision.

Need ideas and resources for writing your artist statement? There are two resources I recommend. I’d rather be in the Studio!: The Artist’s No-Excuse Guide to Self Promotion by Alyson B. Stanfield is chock full of insightful, practical information about artist promotion that can be put into motion. Stanfield is active on twitter at @abstanfield and runs workshops through her blog.

Another great resource is Writing the Artist Statement by Ariane Goodwin. This is a very different book. More introspective, almost meditative, the book is a set of writing exercises designed to help the artist to understand their work before writing the statement.

Both of these books have inspired my thinking. I hope you will find them helpful as well.

So you have done a great job doing whatever you do. Why do you deserve to win?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Mock Caldecott Election Thoughts on Picture Book Inspirations

Summer always seems to be a time I think I'll do non-stop blogging and get my posts straightened out for the fall. The reality is that I seem to think of new directions and find new distractions to keep me from posting. September is a blur with the beginning of school. October is when it settles down and I start up again. I'll try to remember that next year.

Meanwhile, I will be posting my process, progress and thoughts about running a Mock Caldecott Election on the new picture book only blog I started earlier this year. If you care to jump over there, my thoughts about running the same program, but giving it a twist are here at Picture Book Inspirations:

Hope I'll see you there.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Online Safety and Euphemisms

Sometimes the way we talk to children amuses me. For example, people have no trouble seeing a child in a grocery store/park/church/zoo and asking “How old are you?” will become angry when the child asks the same question. “Children today have no manners!” humph.

It is no laughing matter, however, that children today have many different configurations of living arrangements. As the custodian of a great percentage of a child’s waking hours, those of us who work with them struggle to always find words that will embrace and affirm all of the children in our care. Instead of saying “Have your Mom read this to you” as teachers may have years ago, we now go through all kinds of verbal gymnastics to be inclusive. I, for one, think this is a good thing, even if it can get silly at times.

One of the terms that makes me giggle is “trusted adult.” We say things like “Get your trusted adult’s permission before using the Internet” or “Your trusted adult must sign this permission form.” I can imagine the people children identify as “trusted adult” might shift from day to day depending on who lets them watch TV or stay up late or have cake and ice cream. Still, the phrase is valuable because it describes not only a relationship of power, but also one of trust. You can’t always trust the people in charge of you. This term may empower children to seek out and engage in conversation with those who are trustworthy. Sometimes children understand the issues more than we would imagine.

The term also made me think of all the adults who are posting about children in their online interactions. They may or may not be blood relations. They may or may not be a family. They may be entrusted with the safety and well being of the child for part of the day. What information are the adults divulging that is detrimental to the safety of the children in their care? Many of us think long and hard before doing anything to compromise the identities of the children in our care.

One day I decided that if we are asking children to have trusted adults, we should step up to the plate and trust the children as well. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating letting them cross the street alone or make unguided decisions about meal choices. Yet children are worthy of trust and need to have opportunities to rise to the expectations. That is why you will see me post about my trusted teen (TT), my trusted middle-schooler (TMS), my trusted kindergartener (TK), my trusted preschooler (TPSK) and my trusted toddler (TTOD). I’m thinking about posting about my trusted retiree (TR) as well.

It sounds silly when you put them all together this way, but I feel we should be consistent with the terms we expect children to use and the terms we use to post about them. I want children to hear that they are worthy of trust, to feel empowered and to learn that they are not just helpless, dependent beings. They are also capable of being trusted, being dependable and being active members of their community. I also want them to know that I care about their privacy and safety. The best way I can let them know it is to demonstrate it in the way I share information related to them.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Font Choice in a Digital World

This week a member of my writing group got me thinking about typeface and professional behavior. For a long time New Times Roman has been a default of style and professionalism. It is the default typeface in most word processing programs. It is the font considered to be the professional choice to use when submitting work that matters.

I have to question whether this is really in our best interests in a digital world. Years ago a favorite professor of mine stated that she would appreciate it if work submitted to her digitally used a non-serifed font. Her choice was Verdana. The reason – non-serif font is easier to read from a computer screen. For someone who does a great deal of work reading online submissions this is a critical issue. From that moment forward, I have used a non-serif font on my digital submissions when I deemed it appropriate. Over the years, I have found that it does, indeed, make a difference to me. That is why I have chosen to use Verdana as the typeface on my blogs.

Dear Reader, know it or not, I care about your eyes.

I also wonder about how the default affects children who are growing up online. Adults who are not aware, default to a serifed font. This is not as easy a transition as one might think for the emerging reader.  The letter “a” in particular, causes children distress.

After thinking about these things I have changed my way of selecting font:

1.    For my own digital creations I use a non-serifed font. You will find this on my blogs, in my course materials, and in many of the more personal submissions I make.

2.    For formal submissions, I follow the guidelines. If there are no guidelines, I usually submit in Times New Roman as that is considered the standard professional font.

3.    For students I use a non-serifed simple font giving particular attention to the lower case “a”. This is for any computer generated materials including the materials children may be accessing digitally as well as the materials which I produce digitally to print and hand out.

4.    Love letters, I write by hand.

I’d love to hear what people have to say about font choice in a digital context. Have you thought about it? How do different fonts make you feel? Do you always go with the default or are you a font manipulator? Do you think that the default font will change as we are increasingly a digital society?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Feeling Stylish

A marvelous thing happened to me. Children’s book author, public and school librarian and all round, wonderful friend, Ann Dixon, emailed to tell me she was bestowing The Stylish Blog Award upon me. Thank you, Ann! This act of your friendship and affirmation have made my month!

I had never heard of the award. So I looked it up only to find that there is no official source telling about the award. However, after looking at many blogs that have received the award I can tell you that the rules seem to be:

1.     After saying thank you, you link back to the person who bestowed the award upon you.
2.     You are to tell the world between 7 – 10 things about yourself. People vary widely on their thoughts on this.
3.     You then pass the award along to anywhere from 1 – 15 bloggers you have recently found.

My Seven Things

Most of you probably don’t know that:  

1 . I am obsessed with reflections. Especially how light reflects in glass and water, how culture is reflected in people and how when two cultures meet one is reflected in the other and visa versa. Last summer I contemplated starting a blog named “The Reflectionist” to showcase my photos and thoughts on reflections, but it gave way to other projects.

2. The first place my mother took me after I was born was the public library.

3. One of my more unusual jobs was being an origami test folder.

4. My first grade teacher thought I might have a problem with speech because I was so quiet in class. My mother thought she might be mistaking me for someone else.

5. My grandfather was in the circus, but I’m just a clown.

6. I took up rock climbing to help me get over my fear of heights. It didn’t work. Can’t explain what made me decide climbing Bruneschelli’s Dome to get a bird’s eye view of Florence was a good idea.

7. I love flowers, but don’t ask me to tell you what my favorite flower is. If you dare to do so, I’ll probably tell you the last flower I saw or what is in season. See what I mean?

I’m delighted to bestow the following bloggers with the Stylish Blog Award:

I couldn’t resist passing it along to long time friend, Cindi Huss at Dancing Threads 

The rest of these marvelous folks I have come in contact with within the past year. I have arranged them in alphabetical order. Those of you who are familiar with my work as a school librarian know that I am crazy about alphabetical order. 

Debbie Davidson - Etegami by Dosanko Debbie
Debbie Ohi - Inky Girl
Holly Thompson Hat Books
Jim Hill - Hey, Jim Hill 
Julie Hedlund - Write Up my Life
Kat Apel - Kat Whiskers
Kathleen Isaac – Grilly Fish 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

NaPiBoWriWee Wrap Up

This is the second year I’ve participated in NaPiBoWriWee. Last year it seemed like a huge challenge and commitment. I voraciously read the resources on Paula Yoo’s blog. As well I should. She provides great inspiration and the comraederie is wonderful.

This year, I had plenty on my plate. By all that is sane, I should have excused myself and lurked jealously, but I had looked forward to the challenge all year long. NaPiBoWriWee 2010 is how I met my cherished writer buddies – buddies who have cheered me on the whole year since. I jumped in this year thinking that each Picture Book I wrote would be more to add to my file – good, bad or in between. I may have worried each one into existence usually crossing the finish line just before bedtime each day, but finish I did. There are a few which are near the front of my editing stack.

I found time to tweet compatriots on the road, but I only managed one blog post. Sorry Paula and to those who I might have reached with information about this great event.

This year I was prepared to write using the ideas I came up with during PiBoIdMo. So I did not need to think of a brand new idea and do the writing each day. This made it simple. Last year the week seemed long and the writing hard. This year I did not experience it that way. It’s like I’ve built up the muscles the task requires over the past year. Time was in short supply this year, but the act of writing itself seemed easier. Perhaps it was easier to accept that these are drafts that can be edited into something better. I had more confidence that I could do it.

What I have learned this time around:

1.    The practice of writing does indeed make the job easier.
2.    Community, online or off, is a precious thing.
3.    Pacing picture book writing throughout the year is helpful to sustaining momentum. PiBoIdMo in November, NaPiBoWriWee in May, and PB Dummy Challenge (which I have failed, but lurked and learned from) between the two. Hope these challenges continue to be offered.
4.    Finding people who write Picture Books is very helpful in writing them. Not all my writer friends have the interest or understanding of the genre. It is important to maintain contacts with people who share the types of writing you enjoy doing.
5.    I need to work on my system for tracking Picture Book ideas, drafts, and almost done manuscripts.
6.    I have many aspects of picture books to explore. I feel like I need to write some that are junk stories in order to explore different aspects of writing picture books.

Thanks, Paula, for running this challenge. I look forward to doing it again next year. I’m sure that NaPiBoWriWee 2012 will yield new observations and skill sets.

If you’ve missed it this year, I’d still suggest you take a look at Paula’s blog. She provides great writing resources, writing advice and author/illustrator interviews. All of this is helpful not only for the yet to be published author, but also for the lovers of picture books everywhere. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

NaPiBoWriWee 2011

Just a quick post to let you know that NaPiBoWriWee 2011 is going on right now! What? You don't know what NaPiBoWriWee is? National Picture Book Writing Week is the brain child of children's book writer, screen writer and musician Paula Yoo who packs more into her schedule than I care to think about. With all of these activities swirling about, she found it was hard to take the time to sit down to write those picture book ideas that were swirling in her head. So she set a goal, gave it a name and invited others to join her. The goal is to write a picture book a day for seven days. If you take the challenge you and finish you will have seven picture book drafts when you are done. Some people have more than that. 

Paula is a great cheerleader. She provides guest bloggers, writing tips, inspirational posts and community through this challenge. Oh, and there are prizes. For those who do finish the challenge, there are a number of books signed by authors or illustrators ready to be distributed. While the real fun is the challenge itself and the community, the prizes are an added bonus. 

I met many of my writing buddies through this challenge last year. We have crossed paths many times during other writing challenges. So this week feels like homecoming week to me. These friends, and you know who you are, have added so much to my life this past year - encouragement, knowledge, information, humor and motivation. We've participated in some of the same challenges, we've visited each other's blogs, we follow each other on twitter. This is one of the many beauties of the internet. So Paula, thanks for starting it all!

This article is also posted at my blog Picture Book Inspirations

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Heart of a Poet

 National Poetry Month has been a delightful surprise. The children have inspired me more than ever. We have talked about the “heart of a poet.” They fall in love with that concept. They also fall in love with the idea that words can be beautiful, can show emotion and that choosing the right word is the work of a “word artist.” These are entirely new thoughts to most of them and they grab onto them tenaciously. I am seeing poetry in the words we speak, write and carelessly bandy about. And they do too.

After rewriting Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Swing” with quite a few classes it became clear that there are many more ways to solve a poetic challenge than I thought possible. While many of the ideas/words/images the children came up with were the same, there were also many unique visions from each class. After brainstorming, each class chose a different focus to finishing their poem. I hadn’t expected this. I mean the view from the swing is simply the view from the swing, isn’t it? Absolutely not. How could I have been so na├»ve?

In most classes, I needed to really shepherd them the process. One class, however, took charge early. They delighted in beating out the rhythm, and finding words to fill the beats. They refused to be limited by our brainstorming. In the end the children grabbed scrap paper from my desk and feverishly jotted down their suggestions for amending our poem. I have a stack of entries and multiple submissions from most of the class. It is important to note that the scrap paper part of the lesson was entirely their creation.

Meanwhile, a class that had not yet done their three minute rhyme showed me something which tore at my heart. One child could think of just one word and started to weep. It’s not that this child is not used to challenges or cries when he doesn’t win. It was just that he was so inspired by the poetry. He was afraid that if he could not rhyme he could not be a poet. A wonderful thing happened. His classmates circled him, hugged him and affirmed him. They said things wise beyond their years and said them, dare I say it, poetically. His tears dried and he bravely joined us to find out how others did.

I gave my regular spiel, which starts by asking children to raise their hands if they have one or more rhyming word on their paper. Almost all children do. I congratulate them for being one step on the road to being a poet and compliment them on their poetic hearts. I then tell them that the children who were unable to rhyme may be the next stars in the world of non-rhyming poetry. This class actually cheered, jumped out of their seats and clutched their poetic hearts. They were so happy to be told that they already were something. Guess who smiled the broadest? You could not have stopped them from rhyming the rest of the class period. Nor could you have stopped them for looking for beautiful combinations of words.

What did I learn from this? Children love to be told that they are something. Aside from loving to get good grades or get praise, developing an identity is inspiring to them. Writing a sentence may be looked at as a chore. Being a poet seems like an honor. Writing is what poets do. Writing becomes a way of validating who they are. The assignment may be the same – write two sentences that rhyme. But the result is different. Way different. Even if the sentences are identical. When you inspire a vision, an identity and a passion, you inspire so much more.

I no longer think of myself as merely a teacher but more of a ringleader, mentor, inspirational coach. Yes I am a teacher, but I want to be even more. I hope I can do it poetically. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Writing Poetry with Robert Louis Stevenson

It’s National Poetry Month and I’m all agog at the different ways to share poetry. You all know by now that I went wild in January writing a poem every day for Kat Apel’s Month of Poetry. It was such a good time I didn’t sign up for a poetry challenge this month. Instead I’m challenging myself to think of new ways to share the poetry of other people.

Last week I challenged students to a rhyming contest. I gave each student a piece of scrap paper, gave a word to rhyme with and set my timer for three minutes. They wrote down as many rhyming words as they could in the time given. The person with the most rhyming words was given the accolade “King or Queen (insert name here) of the Land of Rhyme” written on a paper crown. You could not imagine how they set themselves to the task. The winner was often a dark horse candidate. Naturally, we read some rhyming poetry afterward.

This week I am working with classes on rewriting a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson to reflect the realities of the scenery from our playground swing set. I shared the poem with students and asked them about the content. Not a single child knew what “cattle” are.

We talked about the beauty of the scene, but how it doesn’t reflect our experience. We then made a list of what we can see from the swing set of our small city school. Though not an inner city, we certainly cannot see a single farm animal from our environs.

We then carefully cut out the sections which didn’t reflect our reality. I had the children clap out the beat of the original poem so that we could replicate it’s cadence. We then adapted parts and added in the vocabulary we had listed on the board. The finished product is a wonderful mix of Stevenson and Students.

The Original Poem
The Swing
By Robert Louis Stevenson

How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside –

Till I look down on the garden green
Down on the roof so brown –
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!

The Swing
Robert Louis Stevenson & Kindergarten Class

How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so far,
Buildings and toys and sticks and sand
I feel I can jump on the car.

Till I look down on the school building
Down on the roof so brown –
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!

(their  vocab list - cars, trees, sky, a person, grass, a fence, a bird, a building, the school, sand, a leaf, toys, sticks)

The Swing
By Robert Louis Stevenson and First Grade Class

How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the fence,
Till I can see so far,
Children and playhouse and sand and slides
Everything till the cars.

Till I can see the sandy ground
Down on the roof so brown –
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!

(their vocab list – the woods, the road, the fence, the school, trees that are knocked down, sand, slides a factory, the playground, cars, a building, trees, the windows, the wind blowing, children, playhouse, the driveway, the door.)

I’m quite delighted with the results. They liked the poem on first reading, but they owned it when we were through.