Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘review of books for young people

Audrey Penn takes her one-woman educational program, the Writing Penn, into schools, libraries, and children’s hospitals where she shapes and refines her story ideas in partnership with kids. She is also highly sought after as a conference keynote speaker by groups of teachers and other professionals who work with children.Audrey is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Kissing Hand (and other books in the Kissing Hand series). She lives in Durham, North Carolina.

ALLISON: Share a favorite (or not so favorite) childhood moment with siblings.

AUDREY: One day my older brother said that he intended to stay at the fraternity house overnight. I was then allowed to use the double beds in his room for a sleepover with my girlfriend. About midnight when my friend and I were asleep, my brother came home. He tiptoed upstairs not to disturb anyone in the family and literally dove into bed. He was midair when my girlfriend opened her eyes and let out a scream. My brother landed next to my friend who was now curled up in bed shrieking. I reached over and turned on the light and burst out laughing. In my book Chester the Brave, Chester jumps onto his brother while sleeping. The idea and illustration came from that night with my girlfriend and brother.

ALLISON: You’ve had quite the career! What was it like to dance professionally? What was it like to serve as a choreographer for the US Figure Skating Team? How did you land those careers?

AUDREY: I was very lucky and attended extremely good ballet schools that flowed over into companies. The feeling of being on my toes and responding to music and story line was absolutely joyous. Jazz dancing was a totally freeing experience. The hard work it took to dance was ninety percent of the job. While dancing, I had a teacher from Russia who taught alignment. I began seeing things in athletes that could be improved by alignment study. Somehow the experiences snowballed into a brilliant second career.

ALLISON: What inspired you to write your first book?

AUDREY: My first book, Happy Apple Told Me, came out of a fairytale I wrote as a Christmas gift for friends I had in theater. I took things from my childhood journals, and my experiences in the theater, and developed a story with a serious theme told in a fanciful way. A year later I received a call from a publisher telling me that they wanted to publish my book. I asked them “What book?” They said, “Happy Apple Told Me.” I have never found out who submitted it for publication.

ALLISON: Your favorite thing about writing is getting to work with kids. What is a discouraging part and how do you handle it?

AUDREY: Getting stuck. It’s not as much writer’s block as it is resolving some problem in the storyline. My most effective means of dealing with it to date has been to go take a shower. I am amazed at the clarity I get standing under hot water.

ALLISON: You’ve always enjoyed writing and have learned lessons along the way about what it takes to be an author. What advice would you give to teachers of writing?

AUDREY: Every teacher comes with his or her own experiences in writing and story telling. The hard part for most people is getting started. Some students can’t wait for that blank piece of paper to fill with their imagination or special interest. Other children are terrified of that blank sheet of paper. If they are having a really hard time, I have them draw a picture and then describe the picture.

It took many years to develop my writing program, The Writers Curve, for the younger children. One of the first lessons I teach is to know your ending. They wouldn’t leave their house before knowing where they were going; they wouldn’t call a friend without knowing what friend was at the opposite end of the phone. An arrow needs a target. A story needs an ending.

I want teachers to teach awareness. Tell the student to see, hear, smell, taste, touch life in order to tell about it in a story.

Teach the students to keep a journal recording the things they learn each day.

It is important to first just get the story down, then come back to it and add the details during the rewriting process. Do not interrupt the creative time for corrections in grammar, etc – it stops the process in its tracks. These corrections come LAST.

And no ‘wenting.’ He went, they went, I went. I can’t see anyone went. I can’t draw anyone wenting. Make writing visual and tactile.

And have fun.

ALLISON: Why do you like to write about raccoons?

AUDREY: I was in a park with my four-year-old son and we took a ride on a small train that took us through the forest. We were midway through the ride when the train stopped and the engineer left to get a park ranger. We all thought there was a deer lying across the tracks. I told my son to stay in the train while I got out for a better look. I was completely surprised to see it was a mother raccoon and her tiny cub. While I watched, the mother took the cub’s hand and nuzzled his tiny palm. The cub then put his palm on his cheek. The Kissing Hand is that story.

ALLISON: You have two dogs. What has been your greatest adventure with them?

AUDREY: Sadly, we lost our boxer, Charlie, last year. And our lab-mix, Koko, just had the dog equivalent of a double “knee replacement” last year. She is doing very well for an old dog. Koko never leaves my side. She is my constant shadow. She sleeps in our bed and wakes us when she’s having a dream that she’s protecting the house from those pesky deer. She runs in her sleep kicking me in the shins usually then falls blissfully back to sleep while I’m wide awake. Koko is my rock and helps me type by walking on my computer keys.

ALLISON: What book is next?

AUDREY: I am finishing up the fourth book in my YA mystery series, which began with Mystery at Blackbeard’s Cove. I should have this one, Blackbeard’s Legacy: Shared/Time, out by the 300-year anniversary of Blackbeard’s death, November 22, 2018. I am always developing several other stories at the same time, but it’s too soon to talk about anything else as yet.



calendar2017With almost 80 million households in the United States owning a pet as of 2015, it should come as no surprise that our calendar year is filled with holidays celebrating our animal companions. These holidays might be a little too obscure to grant anyone a day off from work, but they still might give ideas about how to have fun with or honor pets. Last year to help Lincoln Animal Ambassadors visitors keep track of those very special dates, I began posting information about them. Here are links to all of the events you might have missed in March.

Adopt A Guinea Pig Month: March is a time for spring, flowers, and guinea pigs! It’s also designated as “Adopt A Rescued Guinea Pig Celebration Month.” If you’ve done your research, bring your luck of the Irish to your local animal shelter and adopt a cute guinea pig. Remember, adopt don’t shop!

National Pig Day: Whether we grew up with piggy banks, eat bacon and ham, or have a pet pot-bellied pig for a pet, pigs are a part of our lives. On March 1, these snout-nosed creatures have their own day of honor.

National Pig Day started in 1972 by two sisters. Ellen Stanley was an art teacher in Texas and Mary Rave was from North Carolina. Rave said that the purpose of National Pig Day is to give “the pig it’s rightful, but generally unrecognized place as one of man’s most intellectual and domesticated animals.”

K9 Vets Day: The idea of a K9 Veterans Day originated with a retired military working dog trainer named Joseph Wright who wanted recognition for dogs who serve in military, law enforcement, and other capacities. Why the date of March 13? Because this is the official birthday of the US Army K9 Corps.

During World War I, the United States began to take notice of the how Europe employed dogs to carry messages, provide comfort to soldiers, etc. Well over a million dogs were being used for these purposes. Then on March 13, 1942, the Quartermaster Corps (QMC) of the United States Army began training its own dogs for a War Dog Program, which became known as “K-9 Corps.”

National Puppy Day: Just in time for National Puppy Day, I have a story to share with you from Big Dogs Huge Paws. Marshall is a five-month-old male black Great Dane whose family surrendered him to the Nebraska Humane Society after a car hit him. Naturally, his injuries were a priority, but the bigger concern was his lack of social skills. Marshall is representative of the thousands of orphaned puppies across the United States, which is the focus of National Puppy Day.

Cuddly Kitten Day: Just in time for Cuddly Kitten Day, I have a story to share with you about a cat rescue. Gravy is a long-haired tortoiseshell feral cat of unknown age with a missing paw, who found a home this past November thanks to the united efforts of caring pet owners. The concern was that with Gravy not having all her limbs, and cold weather having settled in, she wouldn’t survive winter.  Gravy is representative of the millions of homeless cats in communities across the United States which is the focus of Cuddly Kitten Day.

Respect Your Cat Day: Rounding out the pet holidays in March is Respect Your Cat Day. Its origins are unknown, although Legacy 9News from Colorado points out that March 28 is a historic day for our feline friends because allegedly, on that day in 1384, Richard II of England forbid the consumption of cats. While I couldn’t find anything to substantiate the claim, I did find records suggesting that cats used to be eaten in various European countries during hard times. Regardless of whether the date has any relevant historical significance, Respect Your Cat Day is a great way for cat owners to end the month.

To read more, check out Pet Calendar Dates. There you’ll find details not only about the above, but about pet-related dates that fall throughout the rest of the year.



Overwhelmed right now; husband support appreciated

I live a full life. Commitments to family, teaching, writing, and volunteer activities keep me busy.

Right now though, I feel more stretched than normal. This weekend, our feral cat will have her first vet appointment since we started fostering her. Every week for the past month, I’ve been applying for interviews, and today I’ll go to the first of them. At the end of last week, my husband and I attended the graduation for the most recent rotation of a local program called Second Chance PUPS, which matches inmates with dogs selected from humane societies. Now the daunting and exciting task of writing a series of posts about it for LAA Pet Talk lays ahead. And finally, earlier year, I agreed to coordinate the volunteers for the side of campus where I help feed colony cats. So far, that just meant updating the schedule each month. Now with vacations on the horizon for some folks, I’m trying to find some extra volunteers. Ah me.

MadnessAt the start of the week, I had a rough day. My sweet husband sent me this graphic posted at Pinterest. The image alone made me smile. He also added the subject: “The question is, which one of us does this describe?” That made me laugh. And, on top of everything, he brought me roses. God sent me the perfect man! With his help, and that of other family members and friends, I’m getting through this hectic stretch.

Crafts and writing go together like peanut butter and jelly. Learn how to make fancy letters (calligraphy) to decorate greeting cards, bookmarks, and stationary. Design a treasure map for an adventure story. Go on a nature walk and keep a journal of your discoveries. Create a pop-up fairy tale. On the last day, assemble and take home your very own hand-bound book. And more!

For two weeks in July, I took on the new venture of teaching summer clubs. This post is about one of my clubs, Crafty Writers, which was for grade-two students. Early in July, I shared scans of an About Me poster, nature entry, and a hand-bound journal. These samples all represented my own creative projects over the years. Students in Crafty Writers replicated these projects, along with many others related to stationary, humor, nature, and pop-up books.

For stationary, students created letterheads, greeting cards, and bookmarks. The letterheads were created with a watercolor background and marker-based text design. So were the bookmarks. As for the greeting cards, these took the most time, due to being the most complicated. On the front is a greeting, inside is a maze on one side and a message on the other side, and finally on the back is a dot-to-dot image. Two samples are below. They’re opened up, so you can see all four sides.

GreetingCard_Lea GreetingCard_Noel

On that day, we also experimented with various art mediums and created what I call a “feeling” story. Basically, colors and sizes are used to convey the emotion of the story. One sample is below.


For nature, our group took an outdoor walk. After an hour of trekking around in the grass and sun, we returned inside to create. I read a book about analogies and then students wrote their own. I read a book about haiku and then students wrote their own. We also talked about synonyms and antonyms. As you can see, I connected nature to literary language! A few samples are below.




All of the above projects I already had experience teaching from previous clubs. Showing students how to create pop-ups was new to me. I drew heavily on examples from pop-up guru, Paul Johnson. We created a pocketbook listing our Likes and Dislikes. We created a pop-up monster story. Finally, we created a pop-up castle and wrote a fairy tale on it. A few samples are below, all of which are in the draft stage.





As I mentioned at the start, my students replicated some favorite projects of mine, including an About Me Poster and a hand-bound book. For the first, students use magazines instead of actual photos. For the latter, students created an autograph book with yarn instead of a hand-bound journal. Photos are below.

My being hired to teach two writing clubs this summer prompted me to focus my posts this month on writing projects. I hope you check out my recommended guides, as well as enjoy the reports about clubs and samples of our work. With another school year just around the corner, I’ll return in a week with my regular schedule. 🙂

At its heart, Written in Stone by Rosanne Parry is about Pearl, a Native American teen who has always dreamed of hunting whales like her father. Too many factors work against that goal, however, which causes Pearl to search for other ways to preserve her the Makah culture. While the story did whet my appetite, I unfortunately found the plot cluttered.

The plot contains so many threads, several of which are never connected, that it strains under their burden. First, there is the loss of Pearl’s parents: she just lost her father, who died on a whale hunt; her mother died during an influenza epidemic five years earlier. Tied into these tragedies is Pearl’s turmoil over having kept a memento from her mom, which goes against Native tradition, and her guilt over feeling maybe she is to blame for her father’s death. Next, because the whaling industry no longer exists, a new way of making money must be found. One way might be to accept an offer from an art dealer, who turns out to be a trickster. Then, there’s the convenience of Pearl getting lost and making an important discovery of unique rock carvings. Last, there’s Pearl conflict over how to best preserve her tribe’s traditions. All these events interested me. Unfortunately, it felt as if Parry skimmed through some of them, instead of taking time to give them depth and to build the  connections needed for a cohesive plot.

Written in Stone was inspired by Parry’s experiences teaching on a Native American reservation. Her respect for the Makah way of life is evident in her writing. Pearl values closeness of family, the whale hunt, and the traditions of her tribe. I learned about a variety of Native American traditions that were new to me such as potlatch, and ones which weren’t completely unfamiliar to me such as petroglyphs. While I eventually figured out that potlatch is a big party that can be thrown for many reasons, there were other terms I never did understand, two of them being Pitch Woman and Timber Giant. Parry says in the Author’s Notes that she did not think it was right for her to share these tales, but the result is that her readers will not know what to make of these things.

During her time of teaching on the Makah reservation, students would often ask Parry, “Why is the story never about us?” Written in Stone is dedicated to those children. But was Parry the right person to write their story? After all, she is not Makah.

Ever since I’ve begun researching diversity in literature, this issue has plagued me. As a special education teacher, I feel the need for more books that realistically depict kids with learning disabilities or with behavior disorders. Am I really required to sit back and wait for one of my students to grow up and write such a book? Or can I draw on experience and research to write their tales?

This is essentially what Parry did. Not only did she draw on her own experience with the Makah tribe, she also spoke to historians, curators, fisherman, and carvers. And yet she has faced criticism for telling the Makah’s story. The American Indians In Children’s Literature site doesn’t recommend Written in Stone, because her novel feels as if carries an outsider’s perspective. And obviously it does. Yet it inspired this outsider to want to know more, which is why I’m giving Written in Stone a semi-positive recommendation.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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