Dori Jones Yang, Author of the Month: The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball

September is a great time for me to be “Author of the Month” because I have a new book out and I’m planning lots of classroom visits – both in-person and online via skype. I love talking to kids about my books.

My new book, The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball, is about a boy who arrives in the United States and has to learn to speak English and make friends with American kids. At first he doesn’t understand very much and everything feels strange to him. Most immigrant kids can relate to that! Many American-born kids have at least one classmate who was born in another country and struggles to learn English. A book like this can help them to empathize with what these classmates might be going through.

The boy in this book is Woo Ka-Leong. He didn’t pick an English name, but people started calling him Leon, and that was okay with him.

Leon keeps getting into trouble. When he is told to stay put, he runs off because he is curious to see a train engine. When a kid teases him, he swings his fists. Once he gets mad and pushes a boy so he falls through the ice. How is Leon supposed to know about ice? Where he grew up, in southern China, it never snows.

Baseball saves him. He never played it before, but once he starts fooling around with a baseball and bat, he really likes the game. Some boys in town practice in a field, and one invites him to join in. At first, baseball is really hard, too, but Leon learns quickly. He wishes he could play it all the time, but he has to study for hours every day.

Maybe you guessed from the pictures, but Leon lived a long time ago—in the 1870s. In those days, all Chinese boys and men had to wear their hair in one long braid. Some Americans teased him about that and pulled his braid. But he didn’t have a choice. If he cut it off, he would be considered a traitor to China and would be sent home in shame. Not a good option.

Maybe you noticed from my author picture, but I am not a Chinese boy. I’m not even Chinese! And I wasn’t even alive in the 1870s. So why did I decide to write about a Chinese boy in the 1870s?

Actually, I’ve written a lot of books about people from China. My husband was born there, and our daughter grew up Chinese-American in Washington State. I spend many years learning to speak Mandarin and speak it with friends and relatives. But I also spent many years living abroad—two years in Singapore and eight years in Hong Kong.

Above is a picture of me with my daughter when she was little. Below is one of me in my twenties, speaking Mandarin at a contest shortly after I started studying it in Singapore.

I know what it feels like to struggle to express myself in a foreign language. When I first studied Chinese, in my early twenties, I often had a complicated thought in my head, but the only sentences that came out of my mouth were simple. One day it hit me: back home in America, I used to think that if people spoke poor English, they weren’t smart. Now I knew better. They were just as smart as I was, but it was hard for them to find the right English words to express the complicated thoughts in their heads.

At that moment, I made a decision. Once I returned home to the United States, I would do everything I could to help people who were trying to adapt to my country and language. Now, years later, I do that a lot. Recently, I helped an 11-year-old boy and his mom sign up for sixth grade at an American middle school, a month after they arrived from China.

But more important, I write books about kids trying to adapt to America. My first children’s book, The Secret Voice of Gina Zhang, tells of a girl from China who starts fifth grade in Seattle and discovers she can’t speak in class. The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball tells of Leon, the boy who arrives in the U.S. in 1875 and makes friends playing baseball. Both are middle grade novels for readers age ten and up.

I’m planning a book tour of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York October 14-31 and am arranging many school visits there. I’m also scheduling school visits in the Seattle area before and afterwards. I welcome teachers and librarians to contact me about skype visits.

If you live in the Seattle area, please come to my book launch at Island Books in Mercer Island on Sunday, September 10th, at 4 p.m. I plan to show some pictures of the real Chinese boy scholars who came in the 1870s.

In the meantime, enjoy this one-minute book trailer video. It was created and produced by a talented college student I know, David Graham. To see the video, click on this link.

Happy viewing – and happy reading!

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Dori Hillestad Butler, Author of the Month: The Underground Ghosts

August is a pretty good month. I celebrate a birthday in August. So does my son Ben. This year I’m also celebrating publication of The Underground Ghosts, which concludes my Haunted Library series.

It’s a “Super Special,” which is the technical term for a book that’s half again as long as all the other books in the series. But The Underground Ghosts is also a “super special” book to me because it’s a sort of “love letter” to the city of Seattle.

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I just moved to the Seattle area three years ago, and the day we pulled in I felt at home in a way I’d never felt before. There’s something about the Pacific Northwest, and the Seattle area in particular, that speaks to me.

When I started The Haunted Library, I knew how the series would end. I knew what would happen in the final scene, but that element was just a moment. I still needed a story to carry me to that final moment. And because this was the series finale, I felt like this story needed to be bigger than the other stories in some way. But how?

My editor said she wanted this book to be a “Halloween Super Special.” A super special is automatically bigger, and Halloween centered seems appropriate for a ghost series. That helped…but I still felt like I needed something more for a series finale.

otter award logo color_180Then, right before it was time to start outlining this book, I found out my first Haunted Library book was on Washington State’s first Otter Award list. The Otter Award is sponsored by the Washington Library Association’s School Library Division and celebrates transitional chapter books. Students in Washington state vote on the winner from this short list of contenders. I was thrilled that Washington librarians created an award for transitional readers, and even more thrilled when they put one of my books on that first list. It’s what prompted me to bring my characters to Seattle for their final story.

Somewhere along the way I realized that maybe this search for a bigger, more special end to my series wasn’t about my characters so much as it was about me. I started this series when I lived in Iowa. So it’s set in Iowa. But now I live here…and maybe instead of saying good bye to my characters (and, in a sense, to Iowa, too) what I was really looking for was a way to say, “Hello, Seattle!” in one of my books. This book is my Hello, Seattle!

It comes out August 15, which is Ben’s birthday, and I couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate pub date because Ben is the one who led us all here. He was an intern for Microsoft in 2008 and then got a permanent job offer for the following summer.

Our younger son Andy came out here in 2012 to go to the University of Washington.

Every time my husband and I came out to visit, we fell a little more in love with Seattle. Finally, in 2014 we decided to follow our kids.

As I began plotting my “Seattle Haunted Library” book in early 2016, I thought back to a family vacation we took in 2007. It was our first trip to Seattle. One year before Ben’s internship. Back when we thought, “Gee, this is a nice city,” but none of us had any idea we would all be living here one day. Back when our kids looked like this:

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And this:

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And my husband and I looked like this:

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What were the highlights of that trip? Where did we have the most fun?

Pike Place Market:

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The science fiction museum. Well…that’s what it was called then. You had the science fiction museum on one side of the building and the experience music project on the other. Today it’s all one big museum, the Museum of Pop Culture:

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And the Seattle Underground:

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Until we took the tour, we had no idea what lay beneath those purple squares in the sidewalk. It’s a fun tour! I’ve been on it several times because I’ve taken most of our out-of-town visitors on it.

I started thinking about some of the things I’ve seen down there…and a plot began to form.

So the book is called The Underground Ghosts, but the series is The Haunted Library. I couldn’t possibly set a Haunted Library book in Seattle and NOT have any scenes that take place in the Seattle Public Library. Especially when the Central Library looks like this:

 

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It’s even more interesting on the inside. Take a tour if you’re in the area! Or take the virtual tour right now.

My friend Linda Johns is a librarian there. She’s also the author of the Hannah West mysteries, which are also set in Seattle. Check them out! Linda was kind enough to give me a behind-the-scenes tour of the library when I was still plotting out my story, which brought everything together for me.

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I wrote most of the book right there in the library. They have a writers room, so I had a quiet place to work every day. Whenever I was stuck on a particular scene, I could just walk around my setting for a while until I got unstuck.

The parking attendant got a little suspicious when he caught me wandering back and forth in the parking garage one day. We had a conversation (parts of which ended up in the book).

Seattle friends…Seattle kids…I hope you have as much fun reading this book as I had writing it!

And if you’re not going to Oregon for the eclipse on August 21, please come to my book launch at Secret Garden Bookshop (2214 NW Market St. in Ballard) on Sunday, August 20 at 2:00pm. Hear more behind-the-scenes stories of this book…brush up on your Seattle trivia…and purchase a signed copy of the Underground Ghosts! Sunday afternoons are a great time to visit Ballard because you can also visit the farmer’s market and you can park for free!

If you can’t make the book launch, leave a comment on this post to enter a drawing to win a FREE signed copy of the Underground Ghosts. I’ll draw the winner on August 15, pub day!

*UPDATED AUGUST 16, 2017

Okay, yesterday was August 15. Pub day for the Underground Ghosts as well as Ben’s birthday. So I thought it was appropriate to have him draw my winner.

Yes, we gave him dragon meat for his birthday. After we ate the dragon meat, I put all the names in the can, shook it up, and told Ben to pick a good one.

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The dog wanted in on the action, too! (Actually, he wanted the dragon meat!) You probably can’t read the winner, so here’s a close up to prove we’re on the up and up here at OAV:

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Congratulations, Denise!

And here they are together in one photo. My August 15 “babies”:

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Patrick Jennings, Author of the Month: Correspondence is Bliss!

I get letters.

Handwritten letters, mostly, written by readers, teachers, and parents. I get emails now, too, of course, which come to me through my website. I’ve always answered all of the mail I’ve gotten regarding my books. I read once that Maurice Sendak answered all his and figured if he could do it, so could I. The letters I get are blissful to read. I currently have a few bulging pouches and some loose letters on my desk, waiting for replies.

Some of the letters come after online visits. They really help anchor those virtual experiences for me. I’ve been doing school visits for over twenty years, online visits for a few. During the latter, I don’t get the pleasure of meeting readers in person, wandering their halls, dropping into their classrooms or cafeterias, or popping outside to the playground, nor can I sign books for them. The letters help make up for all this. (I do offer to sign and send books, though, through my local bookshop—the glorious Imprint Books, in Port Townsend.)

I “visited” a school in Seattle in April,  and later received a manila envelope bursting with letters from second graders. As I read through them, I found exquisite bon mots in each, and thought a post consisting of them might delight others as much as they do me. I’ve added remarks from letters from a reading group composed of fourth and fifth graders in El Cerrito, California, to boot.

Note: These are all as-is. I did spruce up some spelling and punctuation. Otherwise they’re completely sic.

“I really liked reading and meeting you, especially asking you questions.”

“Can you please send me a picture of Guinea Dog 2 and 3?”

“My favorite part was everything. It was very cool.”

“I was one of the people who talked.”

“I love your whole book.”

“How old are you?”

“My author question is do you have a dog or a guinea pig?”

“Have you ever cleaned up guinea pig pee and poo?”

“Why did you want your book to be funny?”

“I loved your book. It inspired me to make a book, too.”

“I have a lot of favorite books, and this is my third place favorite book.”

“I really like Guinea Dog because that book is the first book I have ever read that made me laugh out loud.”

“I would like to ask you if you would like to do stuff in Guinea Dog.”

I would also like to ask, ‘Is one of your brothers an author, too, and did he make Actual Size’?”

“How much have you read this book yourself?”

“I liked you book since it was so funny! Oh and did I tell you that I’m the funniest person in my family?”

“I want an author when I grow up. I want a guinea pig now.”

“I love to write and read. What’s your favorite thing to do?”

“P.S. We had you as a spelling word.”

“I think you did a really good job on basically all your books even though I haven’t read all of them.”

“Can you make There’s a GIRL in the BOY’s Bathroom?”

“Did your parents inspire you or did the sounds or looks of nature?”

“My teacher is so funny, silly, and cool. Do you remember how your teacher was?”

“My little cousin likes your book. She laughed so hard I had to stop for her to stop laughing.”

“I’m Mexican, but I don’t speak Spanish that much. My mom says I have to learn Spanish but I don’t want to because I want to learn Japanese.”

“Do you want to be an only child?”

“What college did you go to and which colleges do you recommend?”

“Do you like art? What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream? Are most artists neat? Do you get a lot of time for vacation?”

“Can I call you Mr. J? I hope so because I like that name.”

“P. S. My oldest friend moved to Conneticut. It’s very sad. P. S. How do you spell Conneticut?”

“You are the best writer that I know.”

Okay. Time to get to answering the letters.
Bliss.

Clare Hodgson Meeker, Author of the Month: Born to Love Animals

A few months ago, I wrote a guest post for Newbery Honor-winning author Kirby Larson’s Friend Friday blog about my latest book, Rhino Rescue!, and the amazing and risky work that animal-care specialists do to help endangered animals survive.

Shortly after the article was published, Dereck and Beverly Joubert, two National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence I interviewed for the book, had a close brush with death when a buffalo attacked Beverly near their camp one evening in the Okavango Delta. Beverly was speared by the animal’s horns, causing her serious injuries. Dereck was injured, too, but not as badly, and was able to rescue her. They then spent a long, perilous night waiting to be airlifted to a hospital.

Four surgeries later, Beverly has made a miraculous recovery and the couple was able to leave the hospital together earlier this month. Dereck’s comment on their Facebook page this week shows the true grit these Rhino rescuers possess as they look forward to getting back to work with Rhinos Without Borders airlifting these endangered animals to a safer home:

“You can anticipate more fire in our veins for this cause we appear to have been born to.”

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A Creativity Tsunami

 

It’s easy to think there’s nothing we can do that will make a difference in the tsunami of suffering and hatred that bombards us, whether the cause of that tsunami is external or internal.

But there are creative ways we can all make a difference.

As children’s book creators, teachers, parents, and as all people (because we’re all creative)…

 

Your acts of creativity, your willingness and passion for sharing your gifts, and your concern for young people is a good place to begin.

 

 

 

 

 

I can hear you now. “But I don’t have any talent!” or maybe you’re the one thinking, “Yes, I create, but it’s just for me.” Or this—

“I’m just a teacher, not an artist.”

 

Creativity is not talent. Creativity is a problem-solving practice.

Everyone is creative.

From dinner plans to business plans, we create on a daily basis. Being creative is an action, not an inborn trait. It’s about keeping your mind open, seeing possibilities, mashing together unlike objects to form something new.

Creativity rarely happens all at once. It’s a process, but it’s one that doesn’t always look or act the same.

Sometimes we get an idea and then either knowingly or unknowingly identify it with previous experiences. At this point, we might not have a clue where the idea will lead us. Often, we don’t quite get to the next step—discovering which qualities from those past experiences will transform the idea into something new.

And when we don’t make that connection, we call it failure.

That’s wrong. Creativity requires risk, perseverance, and a willingness to fail.

That’s where you need to change your story. Not a story you may be writing, but the story you may be telling yourself.

I’ve had lots of those stories. I attribute them to Miss Midge, my inner critic.

 

I was 25 when I first submitted a manuscript. It was rejected. I didn’t send anything in again for 15 years, using the near-universal belief “I don’t have time to write.” But then, as a pregnant 40-year-old, I knew I’d never have time, so I began. My husband would laugh at how I celebrated rejection letters. I gave myself a new belief, which was that each rejection meant I was a step closer to finding a home for the manuscript.

It’s like checking off a list. We just don’t know how many items are on that list until the end arrives. You need to hold out until you reach that unknown quota.

So how does creativity make a difference?

Creativity promotes wellbeing. We gain satisfaction from seeing what we’ve created, which helps to foster and maintain a positive outlook.

Just think what we could do with more of that!

But it’s not just about us. And that’s not all creativity can do.

 

Creativity opens minds and hearts. It increases understanding, confidence, collaboration, and empathy. It creates communities and lays the groundwork for making a difference in the world. And it’s contagious.

Creativity breeds more creativity.

We model art through our creative actions, which can inspire others to do the same. The problems we deal with need creative solutions. Practicing and promoting creativity inspires out-of-the-box problem solvers.

So, where do we start? At the beginning! We need to ensure that creativity is a valued part of our education system. But just how do we help students claim their creative birthright and be the problem solvers we so desperately need?

First of all, we give them basic skills, knowledge, materials, and activities that strengthen creativity. Then we encourage risk-taking and confidence. Oh, and along with that, they’ll need safe places to develop their own ideas and harness their own passions. In other words, we need to actually teach them techniques, tools, and applications of creative expression, and then get out of their way so they can take leaps and reach heights we can’t imagine.

Because it’s their imagination, their creativity, their ideas and expression that will solve our problems.

Along with that, of course, we need to give teachers the tools they’ll need to facilitate teaching creativity. They need workshops, strategies, models, and mentors. They’ve weathered enough and need a little creativity to solve the current educational issues. Let’s get out of their way, too.

The tsunami is real, but we who commit time and energy to nurturing creativity will help change the tide. Ripples can make waves. With enough of us, we could start our own creativity tsunami.

Who’s with me?

Where and when will you start?

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GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment to enter a raffle for your chance to win one of two FREE picture books from Deb Lund! One lucky commenter will receive Dinosailors, and another will receive All Aboard the Dinotrain. The contest will close May 31, 2017.

Joan Holub, Author of the Month: How a Night Owl Gets Day Things Done

Do you get up early, feeling immediately creative?

If so, I’ve always wanted to be like you. Alas, I’m a night owl. To me, the evening hours feel all cozy and less interruptible by outside forces. My energy peaks and my brain sparks with creativity. I get a lot done…


Coming in 2017:
Tool School  Scholastic picture book
Vampoodle  Random House early reader

But I can’t live out of step with most of the world. I have to get started earlier than comes naturally. So I begin my day working on something that doesn’t require me to be at peak creativity. Research. Emails. Designing a book postcard.

Then I ease into writing–the kind that doesn’t require me to dig deep. Morning is not the time to start a new story or make critical creative decisions on one I’ve begun. Instead, I might do revisions on a first draft Goddess Girls series manuscript—not the final-stage fine-tuning kind. No, the easy kind, like perusing Google images to get a consensus on a new mythology character’s hair color, or moving hunks of story around for better logic. Organizing facts is easy and fun for me in the mornings–probably one reason I write nonfiction in addition to fiction.

I’ve been thinking about what it is to be a night owl a lot lately because Nyx is a night owl. She’s the star of Nyx the Mysterious, the newest book (#22) in the Goddess Girls middle grade series I co-author with the amazing Suzanne Williams. Nyx is the bringer of night in Greek mythology. An important job. Yet no one at Mount Olympus Academy seems to get that. (I do, Nyx! Honestly, would they really want it to be day all the time?) Evening and night have beneficial qualities. Darkness serves us as a time to dream, both creatively and in a rejuvenative sense.

For us naturally-night-owl authors, the point is to find things we can do in the early part of our day that will act as bridges to what we hope to accomplish every afternoon or evening—create something new and surprising on the page.

Whether you’re a morning person or a night owl like Nyx and me, it’s really all about getting started. About finding a way to accomplish your goals, whatever they may be!

* * * GIVEAWAY * * *
Nyx the Mysterious
Book birthday: April 4, 2017
Goddess Girls series
Middle grade, ages 8-12
Simon & Schuster / Aladdin
Giving away two copies signed by Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams.
Please post a comment to enter (with contact so winners can be notified win).

Joan Holub is the New York Times bestselling author of Mighty Dads, illustrated by James Dean. She is the author and/or illustrator of about 150 books for children. To read more about Joan and her books, visit:
http://www.joanholub.com
http://www.facebook.com/goddessgirlsbooks
http://pinterest.com/joanholub/
https://www.goodreads.com/Joan_Holub

 

Lisa L. Owens, Author of the Month: That Flow (and How to Get It)

Spend time talking craft with a fellow writer or a hundred, and sooner or later the topic of creative flow will come up. It’s that sense of being completely immersed in what you’re writing. Deep in the throes of flow, I’m rendered spellbound by the process. (Charmed, I’m sure.) I feel one with the story — and maybe even the universe. Everything else falls away.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ll posit that the gist of most writers’ feelings about that zone is . . .

FLOW: GOOD!

NO FLOW: BAD! GET ME MORE FLOW!

It’s a heady drug. We want it. We gotta have it. And once we’ve blown our minds on it, we’re willing to chase after more of the same, even if that means we end up chasing our own tails.

For me, flow comes easily at times. It might last an hour or an afternoon. The stars align and my fingers fly over the keyboard. My spewed-forth words take shape and make sense. Or, just as likely, they don’t, but the text shows me enough clues about how to clean up my mess.

On a few occasions, I’ve written whole first manuscript drafts in flow, including the books pictured below (I wrote Pilgrims in America in one marathon sitting and Frenemies: Dealing with Friend Drama in three consecutive daily spurts). This happened again recently, when — up against a publisher’s deadline — I discovered a bit of faulty research that affected the content of the book I’d just completed. The manuscript had to be revised, and I spent one full day trying to spot-fix only certain parts of it. I wanted to preserve as much as I could. The next morning, though, it became obvious I couldn’t properly address the problem without a full rewrite. Ouch. But I soon saw my way forward, and I banged out a new “angry draft” with unusual speed and a serene ease, proving the line between love and hate is awfully thin. (Side note: The rewrite turned out better than the original, so I’ve since forgiven it.)

Now, please don’t misunderstand: I am not cruising through this writer’s life luxuriating in a blissful state of All Flow, All the Time. Au contraire, mes amis! I slog through my fair share of crummy writing days. I can get bogged down in the business and the busyness of writing as thoroughly as anyone. I can inexplicably feel uninspired while writing something I’m genuinely excited about. I can also do all the so-called right things to organize my approach or my day, yet still manage to stare at the screen for who-knows-how-long, struggling to even start or just picking a fight with a single random sentence.

The good news is that warring with and blankly staring at your text is normal. (Is TOO!) Plus, you don’t always need to feel creative flow to produce good writing. Some of my best works have been untouched by the flow phenomenon; and some writings that seemed fun and breezy and smart as they gushed onto the page have turned out to be objectively awful enough to be pronounced DOA.

The even better news? You can help creative flow find YOU. I say “help,” because much like you can’t pencil in finding love or happiness and expect real results, you can’t force flow. You can, however, make yourself emotionally available for it to wash over you while also taking concrete steps to further your chances that it will. The payoff is totally worth it. All you have to do to open yourself up to letting flow organically happen is . . .

(1) WRITE!

Show up for your writing work, early and often. Write what you know, write to learn what you want to know, write what you don’t know but can imagine. Write a story, write a poem. Write a letter, write a journal entry, write a to-do list. Write something every day.

Do you work better with goals in mind? Great! Set a daily word-count or timed writing goal and honor it. Forgive yourself when you don’t hit your mark, and start fresh the next day. If you find that you’re consistently unable to meet your writing goals, experiment to identify more realistic ones.

(2) CULTIVATE THE PARTS OF YOUR WRITING LIFE THAT DON’T INVOLVE THE ACT OF WRITING.

Put yourself out there. Becoming part of the writing community helps you find supportive colleagues with whom to discuss this flow thing, as well as all the other writing things. Your people congregate at conferences, classes, and bookstore and other literary events. They belong to writers’ organizations, critique groups, and numerous online forums. You need them! They need you!

Read books and take classes on the craft of writing. Stay current on industry news and the market you write for.

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A soul-feeding day at this beach in Paia, Maui, helped attract that creative flow.

And don’t forget to feed the rest of your inner artist. Ideas: Read widely, see a play, take in a concert, make your own music, enjoy time in nature, spend time with your friends, pursue your hobbies, play some games, support a cause, try something you’ve never done before, and make time to get away from it all (writing included) once in a while.

Proactive moves like these naturally boost knowledge, confidence, and inspiration — flow magnets, all.

(3) KEEP WRITING.

Rack. Up. Those. Words.

One thing I know for sure about all this: The more I write, the more I write. For me, the act of writing brings more new book and story ideas bubbling up to the surface than any other activity. It fuels my imagination, strengthens my facility with language and structure, and vastly increases my odds of, oh by the way, just slipping into that joyful state of absorption I crave.

Keep writing, and before you know it, you, too, will find yourself basking in the glow of that flow, and then doing everything in your power to get more.