Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘Plum Creek Literacy Festival

Wishlist Wednesday

Wishlist Wednesday is a book blog hop from Pen to Paper that invites ones to post about one book per week that has been on their wishlist for some time, or just added, and that you can’t wait to get off the wishlist and onto your wonderful shelves.

Seven years ago, I discovered Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival and fell in literary heaven. At that time, I didn’t even have a blog. Since then, my reportage of the festival here at Allison’s Book Bag has increased from simple highlights to the inclusion of author interviews and guest posts. This year, for the first time, I’ve even put books on my Wish List.

Who am I most looking forward to seeing at the festival? Richard Peck! An American novelist known for his prolific contributions to modern young adult literature, I first discovered him through a poetry collection I read in high school. For his cumulative contribution to young-adult literature he received the Margaret A. Edwards Award from the American Library Association in 1990. To the book signing, I’ll bring the below books, which I’m also eager to read:

  • A Long Way from Chicago (novel)
  • Past Perfect, Present Tense: New and Collected Stories
  • Anonymously Yours (autobiography)

Another author whom I’m also excited to see is Andrew Clements. An American writer of children’s books, his debut novel Frindle won annual book awards determined by the vote of U.S. schoolchildren in about twenty different U.S. states. In June 2015 it was named the Phoenix Award winner. Fittingly, I discovered him as a teacher, and have long wanted to take the time to read his books. To the book signing, I’ll bring the below books, all of which feature main character with creative interests:

  • Frindle
  • The Landry News
  • The School Story
  • Lunch Money
  • Extra Credit
  • Trouble Maker

There are other authors I hope to see too! In addition, I’m eager to attend a session about regional books and a session on the publishing industry. Check back next week for full coverage. 🙂

It’s 6:00 a.m. on Saturday, September 28, and I had already gotten out of bed. Why such an early start? At 7:30, the doors to the annual Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival would open for its eighteenth year. The festival extended its hours for the first time since I’ve started attending. Instead of ending at 1:30 p.m. after an author luncheon, the last session ran until 4:30 p.m., meaning patrons were able to hear two extra speakers. My choices of authors to hear this year were: Neal Shusterman, Judith Schachner, Kevin Henkes, and Anna Dewdney. I also attended a sessional by fluency expert, Timothy Rabinski, who promoted poetry and songs as a way to build fluency. At the end of the day, I walked away with eleven signed books and ten typed pages of notes.


Neal Shusterman reads from one of his books

Neal Shusterman reads from Ship Out of Luck

When I walked into the crowded room, tabloid-size posters of Shusterman’s books were on display. He’s the author of such trilogies as Skinjacker and Unwind. After formal introductions, Shusterman talked about the history behind his first story, his most influential teacher, and his decision to write for teenagers. After the first thirty minutes, he accepted questions from the audience. Even though I’d already researched into Shusterman’s life, as part of my teasers at Allison’s Book Bag, I loved hearing Shusterman tell them in-person to a captive audience. The last five minutes, Shusterman read an excerpt from his newest publication: Ship Out of Luck.

The first story Shusterman ever wrote was in third grade. The teacher dressed old-school with a tight gray bun and seemed to hate children. One had to raise hands at a right angle to ask questions, but Shusterman wasn’t a right-angle kid. Instead he was bouncy, squirrely, and today would likely get labeled as ADHD. Shusterman knew it would be a tough year. In the fall, his teacher gave the class an assignment to write a Halloween story. He decided to impress her. The assignment was to write two pages. He wrote five, cut it up, illustrated it, and made it ten pages. He even hole-punched it and bound it. She gave him a D-, which he viewed as the worst grade. “It means she wanted to stick it to you.” In all fairness to her, in Shusterman’s story the ground opened up and swallowed his teacher and squirted blood everywhere.

In contrast, Shusterman had a fantastic ninth-grade teacher. Shusterman loved the story of JAWS and wanted to write one like that which would keep people on the edge of the seat. He didn’t do sharks because it had been done, but instead used sandworms and lobsters. He gave the story to his teacher who loved it and gave it to the principal who asked to see him. Shusterman thought the principal would lecture him for an inappropriate story, but the principal wanted permission to enter it into a contest. Shusterman’s entry was the only one from the school. When the list of winners was announced, and Shusterman didn’t received first-second-third or any of the thirty honorable mentions, he was crushed. He didn’t want to ever write again and feel humiliated. His teacher told him to get over it and that this was his first lesson as a writer: Rejection. Shusterman had been handing assignments in late to her class and so she challenged him to write a story per month to make up the grade. However, the stories had to submitted by the first day of month to count. “By the end of the year, I felt like a writer.” A few years ago a student asked Shusterman if he had ever thanked the teacher. Shusterman hadn’t. It had been her first year. Now she was a vice-principal. Shusterman took her out and showed her a stack of books. All due to her!

In college, Shusterman became a teen counselor. Now he was taking care of kids as obnoxious as he used to be. At night, the kids were allowed to have drinks and vending machine food. Naturally, all that junk food resulted in The kids bouncing off the wall. The counselors would yell at them, which didn’t work, and so Shusterman decided to become a storyteller.

Neal Shusterman signs my book

Neal Shusterman signs my book

Not knowing where to start, he decided to make up a story about his cool sunglasses. He loved wish-fulfillment stories and wondered what would happen if whoever wore the glasses could have anything they wanted. In most wish-fulfillment stories, there was always a finite time to the wishes. In his story, Shusterman explored what would happen if the wishes never ended but characters have to deal with the real-life consequences of it.

Shusterman had about forty kids to watch, but now he also had a story and his sunglasses prop. In the first cabin, kids were having a pillow fight. He started telling the story: Eyes of Kid Midas. The first cabin was rowdy and so Shusterman told them he was leaving and would share with the next group. Because the kids wanted to hear, they snuck after him. He did this for the next two cabins. At the fourth cabin, he walked slowly and then waited, until all the kids went into the fourth, snuck in, made everyone quiet. The next night, he informed the kids he would tell the story only to the QUIETEST cabin. A director walking by asked, “Where are the kids?” Shusterman loved the power!

One night, outdoor movies were planned but it rained. The kids got rowdy and the camp director asked Shusterman to tell a story. He had ninety minutes to fill. Shusterman started telling Eyes of Kid Midas again. The kids started giving suggestions, asking questions, and helping him stretch the story. And so Shusterman developed an audience of teens.

When asked about what’s next, Shusterman shared that he’s co-writing the first book called Telsa’s Attic, that is part of a middle-grade series. Some local kids discover objects with extraordinary powers in an attic that’s part of a magnetic vortex. He’s also working on a novel called Challenger Deep, which is about teen mental illness. His editor told Shusterman it was his best work to date. Shusterman hopes it’ll make a positive difference.


Judith Schachner talks about her writing career

Judith Schachner talks about her picture books

Picture book authors are still more of an unknown quality to me and so I struggled to pick among all the ones at the festival. Author of the Skippyjon Jones series, Schachner intrigued me because of her proposed topic: How to Write about Your Pets. While she didn’t really end up covering that topic, audiences loved her. She was funny, gregarious, and shared many interesting aspects of her life.

First off, Schachner told us that she had been diagnosed at age fifty-five by a little boy as having ADHD. Because was already seeing a psychiatrist about her difficulties with talking in front of people, Schachner asked her psychiatrist about this comment. The psychiatrist tested her and off the charts. Schachner compared herself to an Etch-N-sketch, saying that if she bumps into one thing it might give her an another idea and she’ll talk about it. To help her organize her thoughts for this presentation, she brought samples of letters from kids which she receives on a daily basis.

Are you still alive?
Were you ever a child?
Were you a good student?

Yes, she’s still alive! Of course, she was a child! As a student, she was shy! A third-grade teacher knew that Schachner needed to draw and allowed. She called her “a little artist”. On report cards, she wrote, “A good little grader”. Other teachers were less accepting of her. In fourth grade, she received a D. This changed her life. She never wanted to volunteer again. On report cards, her teacher wrote, “Judith needs to improve.” In fifth-grade, the story repeats herself. Report cards read, “Judith needs to work faster.” Everyone criticized her lack of math skills. No one recognized her art talent.

Yet, Schachner feels drawing and imagination saved her. Life for her was full of suffering, with her mom being diagnosed with breast cancer, her grandfather being an alcoholic and often living with them, and Schachner herself developing astigmatism, which made her sick when she read. Schachner drew herself into stories, ones with positive endings, because she needed them. At schools, she tell students that they can make their way out of a dark place. She did it herself through art.

Are you married?
Do you have kids?

Schachner has been happily married for thirty-two years. Her husband was the first person in her life to let her put together an art portfolio.

Judith Schachner poses with me after signing a copy of her book

Judith Schachner poses with me after signing a copy of her book, Yo, Vikings!

Her oldest Emma took an interest in Vikings, to the point she wanted a Viking ship. An ad appeared in the Philadelphia paper of a Viking ship for sale: “BUY OR BURN. Longship of 29 long feet. $7000 or best offer.” Emma broke open her piggy bank, counted her money, and wrote a letter. Two weeks later, her parents received a letter agreeing for the family to take the Viking ship. Emma was interviewed about the purchase. At the time, Schachner wrote “Yo Vikings” in her notebook, because she knew that she’d write this story. It’s actually her favorite of all her published books. It teaches that dreams can happen. Today, Emma is a paleontologist.

As for her other daughter, Sarah, she’s not a verbal kid but expresses herself through art. She makes board games, thinking caps, and little books. Teachers often couldn’t decide if Sarah was intelligent or if she headed for academic difficulties. Sarah’s experiences inspired Schachner’s book about a girl who creates thinking caps and asks people to pay for her thoughts. One of Sarah’s dream was to become a ballerina. She even tried out for the School of American Ballet. She Knew she probably wouldn’t make it, and she didn’t, but she wanted to try. Schachner encouraged Sarah to become a performance major, to learn to conduct and to compose. Sarah served as a ghost writer for music in movies such as Iron Man.

Where do you get your ideas?
Do you live in a house or a pet store?
Hey, what’s with all the cats?

Schachner lives in a house. She writes about cats, because she loves them. By the way, the inspiration for Skippyjon Jones died young, but has been replaced with a new cat. As for where she gets ideas, well, from all sorts of places! For example, after watching a video about a raccoon who loved a cat, she wrote a book about it. While in Nebraska, she read a story about a man who bought a truck, sucked up prairie dogs, and saved his marriage. Guess what? She wrote a book about it! All of her tangible ideas for stories, she collects in hat boxes and in briefcases, which she shows off to students at schools.


Kevin Henkes speaks

Kevin Henkes speaks at the festival luncheon

A quiet and somewhat private author, Henkes spoke twice at the festival–once at a sessional and once at the luncheon. At the latter, I gulped down my croissant sandwich and miniature desserts, anxious to be prepared to type notes the moment he began to speak. Henkes first shared from his life, one absent of much of the modern technology we take for granted, and one which requires a juggle between two passions. Henkes is both an artist and an author. To end his presentation, Henkes read from one of his newer novels, The Year of Billy Miller. With it, he wanted for a change to write about a boy, as well as to return to his Wisconsin roots, and to write about finding the ordinary in the extraordinary.

Born in 1960 in Racine, Wisconsin, Henkes was a happy child. He was the youngest for six years, but then was dethroned. Because of being both the youngest and an older sibling, Henkes understands the different types of sibling relationships.

When did he first aspire to become an artist? He doesn’t believe he ever really decided, but has always thought of himself as one. As a child, he often drew people’s faces, from one side and the other. He probably didn’t realize it at the time, but he was practicing for his future job.

Henkes has a studio, but before he can work he has to come up with an idea. Creativity he thinks is difficult to explain. Wemberly Worried came from his being a worrier. Sheila Rae The Brave came from an actual child in our neighborhood. Lily is a conglomeration of people. was not. His nieces liked to dress up and so does Lily. One particular story, Lily’s Purse, came to him while in an airport. Hankes was working on Lily in Love, saw a girl with a plastic purse that made music when opened, found it amusing, and so pulled out his notebook. Julius came from out of his experience of getting a younger sibling. A photo of his niece with him serves as inspiration. As for Crystantheum, it comes from his love of writing about school and about teachers. With an idea in mind, he can work.

Kevin Henkes signs his book

Kevin Henkes signs his book

After thinking for a long time, Henkes starts to take notes. His stories usually grow from characters. He likes to know everything about them before he writes. Once Henkes has finished this prewriting, he types up his stories on a typewriter. Surprisingly, Henkes doesn’t know how to use a computer, doesn’t have email, or even use a cell phone. Henkes doesn’t know if it’s because he’s an artist first. Or maybe it’s simply that if something works, he keep doing it. His kids laugh at him all time.

After Henkes has written the story, he turns to drawing it. He does rough pencil sketches, then refines them, and then refines further. He likes to use ink and to test the colors. When he finishes the sketches, he transfers them using a Walt Disney light box that Henkes got when he was twelve. He also has a cup from his childhood. Obviously, he likes to keep using whatever he’s comfortable with.

In the beginning, he thought that sending the book to a publisher meant it was done. He discovered that it’s really just the start, because there are teachers, students, and others readers around the world who embrace the book. One of his favorite pieces of mail is a drawing of Lily by a young student, where her arms became one with the drum sticks. “That sums up Lily, who becomes whatever she’s doing.”


Anna Dewdney talks

Anna Dewdney talks about her popular series Llama Llama

The final author on my list was Anna Dewdney. My reason for picking her? She’s the author of the popular Lhama Lhama books and my mother-in-law likes lhamas. Dewdney’s reason for writing about lhamas? When her kids were little, they would sit in the back of her car, and she’d drive around Vermont with them. She’d point out the cows to them and make the MOO sound. She would do that for each different animal. One day, they saw a different animal. She called, “Hey, look girls, there’s a lhama.” Not knowing that sound they made, she just said, “Lhama, lhama.” This became a story. At first, Dewdney felt weird when she realized that she’s probably going to be called the Lhama Lhama lady for her life. Seeing children clutching their lhamas made her okay with it.

Long before Dewdney became an author, she was the shy kid who sat in the back of the classroom. But she was also rebellious, always drawing on her paper.

Growing up in New York, Dewdney would spend time in her yard imagining she was a lady of 1800s. She wanted to be Tasha Tutor. Who is this? A famous children’s book artist who wore old-fashioned clothes. When Dewdney was a young adult, she actually got to meet her.

After graduating from an art school in Connecticut, Dewdney spent twenty years trying to get published. Every evening after she returned home from her job and took care of her children, she worked at being a picture book author. She worked late hours and every couple of weeks submitted manuscripts. Throughout her years at college and her jobs in furniture sales and teaching, she received rejections.

Anna Dewdney signs her book

Anna Dewdney signs her book

One job was at a boarding school for eight-year-old kids. She taught them reading and writing, but also served as their mom. During that time, she pulled out a manuscript she’d written when her kids were little. It was a lhama story. She sent it to an agent AND to an editor. This miraculous thing happened. She got a call at her job from her agent telling her that her book had been sold. She screamed. Later, she received a second message. Her editor also wanted to buy the lama book. She screamed again. Her co-workers thought she was being attacked. It was a weird experience.

Dewdney works until two or three o’clock in the morning and then retires. In the morning, she rises about ten o’clock for a walk. These walks make a huge difference to how she functions. She talks to herself and figures out stuff. She also loves looking at colors and studying objects. She enjoys time outside, because it’s close to nature and quiet.

When asked about how she makes her books, she talks about making sketches upon sketches. To everyone else, they probably just look like wiry lines. She refines and refines. When she bought a Wacom, which is like a really fancy IPad, it changed her life. She can draw pictures, scan it into the computer, and make quick revisions. Then she’s ready to paint.

At various interludes, Dewdney shares slides from her personal life. For example, she lives in a small town, where everyone knows one another. During Hurricane Irene, the water rose in Vermont, because the area is hilly. Water rose sixteen feet in one hour and the bridge to her house washed out. For several weeks, it was just a small group of people in town with no access. Dewdney describes it as being kind of cool, because everyone all got to know one another. There are three sections to her house, built at different times. She has a woodchuck living in her house! Oh, and bats! She owns wire-haired pointing Griffons. In trying to decide on the right dogs for her, she wanted quiet and intelligent dog who would get along with people, as well as like to run and to swim. However, when she called breeders, they would hang up on her because Griffons are hunting dogs. Finally, she got two duds. Radish and Brussels are too fluffy to be hunting dogs. Also, Brussels failed his training classes.

Dewdney tries to answer every note she receives. When artist Tasha Tudor wrote her, it changed her life. Pictures and letters from kids inspire book ideas. Expressions can also add to a book. When her daughters and her took a trip to Paris, they weren’t happy. Their faces became pictures in her books. And of course Dewdney’s own personal interests can impact a book. For example, she enjoy pangolins, animals that curl up when scared. In China, people really like their scales and so these critters are going extinct. In Vietnam, they are being preserved, and she observed them for a book.

At the start of her presentation, Dewdney said that she feels sad for the festival to end. It served as a chance to hang out with other authors. I understand her sentiment, because being around so many others who loves children’s books always psyches me. Only one year to go and the festival will start-up all over again!

One of my favorite lessons to teach during our writing launch at school is based on a mentor text called What Do Authors Do? by Eileen Christelow. Told through a combination of short sentences and comic-illustrations, What Do Authors Do? is surprisingly thorough in its coverage of the writing process for primary grades. The bright and bold artwork also makes it a fun read. When I heard Eileen Christelow was one of the guest authors at our local Plum Creek Literacy Festival this year, I decided it was time to buy my own hardcover copy. Hopefully, this Saturday, I’ll hear her speak and get my book autographed.

What Do Authors Do? covers all the basics. Authors get ideas, write, revise, share, submit, persist, and publish. It even touches on finer details. For example, authors get ideas in strange places such as by watching one’s dog chase the neighbor’s cat. Authors also (believe it or not) struggle to find the right words and get stuck in their plots. Then authors can make lists, take notes, write outlines, or just plain take a break. You see, authors don’t give up when writing gets hard, but instead they persist with their work. When authors are ready to share, family and friends and even writers’ groups can offer feedback. Later on, so might editors. Eventually, authors will submit their book to an editor, who will either accept or reject it. Christelow covers the whole process, even to the point of taking readers full-circle back to starting a story with an idea. Ah-ha! Writing is a cyclic process!

Because I use it as a fun and realistic introduction to the writing process, I have three quibbles to What Do Authors Do? Christelow notes more than once that authors get stuck. I’d like even more suggestions for how writers can move forward without actually taking a full-fledged break. For example, what about reading similar books, creating character sketches, rewriting in poetic form…? Christelow also notes that at some point authors will submit their book. What about recognition of our short story writers? I know: These are minor points! They also probably aren’t needed in a book for primary readers, but this writing teacher thinks that they could enhance an otherwise awesome mentor text. My last quibble is more substantial. This picture book is supposed to be about what authors do, right? Okay, so how come almost half of it is about the publishing process?

Those complaints aside, I really enjoy this picture book. As I said, one of my favorite lessons to teach is based on it. In a light-hearted and fast-paced way, Christelow shows how writers work. She also offers gentle encouragement to every student who has protested: “but writing is hard!” Even famous authors get stuck, but every author perseveres. In the end, authors have written a story that they can share with family and friends. They might even get published. No matter what, the most important things authors can do is look for ideas and write, write, write. It’s a message I try to teach my struggling writers every day.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read it.

How would you rate this book?

Christelow is an author and an artist. For a peek at how she does her artwork, check out How Do You Do The Illustrations? To found out more about these jobs, check out the What Do Authors and Illustrators Do? page on her website. Do you like to write or draw? Do you have a preference?

I haven’t read Christelow’s book yet about illustrators, but tomorrow I’ll post my review of her book about authors. On Sunday, I also hope to post notes and photos about the Plum Creek Literacy Festival, where Eileen Christelow and other authors will present.

One of my favorite lessons to teach during our writing launch at school is based on a mentor text called What Do Authors Do? by Eileen Christelow. As I read parts of this book, I show samples of my own work. I bring in idea notebooks, along with old outlines, drafts, revisions, and even samples of rejection and acceptance letters. It’s fun to talk about the writing process and then to answer questions from writing students.

When I heard that Eileen Christelow was among the featured authors this year at Plum Creek Literacy Festival, I knew that it was time to purchase my own copy of What Do Authors Do? Hopefully, this Saturday, I can hear her speak and get my book autographed.

In the meantime, below is some background info about Eileen Christelow’s start as a writer and illustrator. Check back this weekend for a review of her picture book What Do Authors Do? I also hope to post notes and photos about the festival itself. Save the dates: September 24-25!

Her Start as a Writer: As with many authors, books were a part of life in Eileen Christelow’s family. Her parents read bedtime stories every night to Christelow and her brother. Her parents gave them books on special occasions. And her parents were readers themselves. Her father dipped into books from all topics, along with mysteries, and even comics. He bought the latter as soon as they hit the newsstand, lending them to Christelow and her brother only after he had finished.

Thanks to the the influence of a couple notable English teachers in the upper grades, Christelow wrote stories for her high school magazine and made plans to major in English in college. Unfortunately, freshman English was so tedious that she lost enthusiasm for that idea and instead enrolled in pre-architecture.

Everything changed again in her senior college year when Christelow discovered photography. Come back tomorrow to find out what happened next!

Her Start as an Artist: After college, Christelow began photographing buildings for architects and creating photo essays for small magazines on urban life: skid row, Chinatown, inner city schools, political demonstrations. Despite her interest in photograph, she apparently never lost her interest in writing. She began looking at children’s picture books in bookstores and at the library. She even read picture books to neighborhood children. Eventually, she started experimenting with her own stories, illustrating them with photographs or drawings.

Deciding that she wanted to try writing and illustrating picture books, she visited the library once or twice a week and borrowed piles of books to read. She started with an alphabet book, thinking it’d take a few weeks. Two years later, she reached Z! How did she first become published? Come back tomorrow to find out!

Her First Publication: While Christelow earned a living as a photographer and graphic designer, she continued to experiment with picture books. One job required her to design and illustrate a poster about animal camouflage for a science museum. The poster gave her the idea for her first published book: Henry and the Red Stripes.

As a side note, through her father, Christelow developed an interest in television shows with slapstick humor such as Abbot and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, the Marx brothers, and Jackie Gleason. In her online All About, Christelow notes that these shows probably influenced her picture books.

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