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Just the Facts! Close Reading and Comprehension of Informational Text
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    Five Questions With... Carol Swartout Klein (Painting for Peace in Ferguson)

    By April Hall
     | Aug 25, 2016

    carol swartout kleinCarol Swartout Klein, a native of Ferguson, MO, always dreamed of writing a children’s book. When she saw her community come together to heal after unrest in the city, she was inspired. Her debut book, Painting for Peace in Ferguson, was named one of ILA Teachers’ Choices for 2016.

    Your bio says you always wanted to write a children’s book. Why haven’t you before now?

    While I have had several ideas in mind for a children’s book in the past I think sometimes a story finds you. And that was the case for Painting for Peace in Ferguson. I grew up in Ferguson, and like many in the community, I was in shock and was so saddened and disheartened by the unrest and by the understandable anger that caused it. It became a story that was personal for me—of witnessing an incredibly hopeful moment that moved me to tears…when after months of tension, I saw people coming together, caring…in this case through painting. When I witnessed the community coming together to create these amazing larger-than-life murals just days after fires had left Ferguson devastated I knew that this was an inspirational story that I wanted to somehow share.

    When the painting was happening, did you know then you would write this book?

    I don’t consider myself very artistic, but I have always written and worked with artists…so I thought if I wrote a book and donated all the profits to Ferguson that could be my way of giving back. What really gave me the idea of just how to tell this story was remembering the Mr. Rogers quote, “When you see scary things on the news, look for the helpers…you will always find helpers.” With that I said to my husband, “What I’d really like for Christmas this year is to focus on nothing but writing and producing a children’s book about what just happened.” In addition to all the profits going back to the community, I also wanted to work with only local suppliers, from the publisher to the printer, so that the money stayed within the community. Within 60 days after hiring professional photographers, finding a publisher, appealing through social media for snapshots, getting photo releases, and many late nights, Painting for Peace in Ferguson was born. 

    What role do you think art has in the healing process?

    Art has played a key role throughout history from being cathartic to challenging, allowing people to work through emotions and grapple with changes in creative ways. It was interesting to me that many of the organizers of this event were actually art therapists. The painting gave people the ability to express emotions and make new connections with others they had never before met while painting side by side. It truly became an exercise in art therapy on a community-wide level. As the Ferguson community and St. Louis region continue to change and work toward a better future for all of its residents, artists will continue to reflect on where we’ve been and cast a light on where we might be headed.

    Are the paintings still up, or are they in storage or collected somewhere?

    Actually we have some really exciting news. All but a couple of the paintings have been taken down at this point. For the past six months, we have been preparing for an exhibition sponsored by COCA—the Center of Creative Arts—a diverse arts education center and the largest multidisciplinary arts institution in St. Louis. They are the backbone arts organization sponsoring an exhibit of several dozen of the original murals, some of which are massive in scale, in six locations in the St. Louis area. To my knowledge, this is the first-ever multi-location collaborative exhibit in the city. Art will be exhibited at the Missouri History Museum, the Sheldon Performing Arts Center, the University of Missouri-St. Louis, the Vaughn Cultural Center, the Ferguson Youth Initiative and, of course, COCA. The exhibit opens August 27 with the final location finishing its exhibit November 19.

    Do you have a favorite piece and, if so, which one?

    Black and White Arch082516Perhaps the most iconic image of this whole movement was the black and white Unity Hands, which shows black and white hands coming together in the shape of the St. Louis Gateway Arch shown on page 13 of the children’s book, painted by Ana Bonfilla. As she says, “We are split apart as a community. But, my hope is that eventually we can come together.” According to Ana, the roots at the bottom signify “We are going to have to uproot ourselves in order to come together and make a better future. We can’t just stay where we are.”

    But the story that really touches me the most was the huge painting that covered almost two dozen pieces of plywood on Ferguson City Hall. Painted by a half dozen artists, the art evolved as it was being painted. In the center is a large tree designed by Sheri Goldsmith showing leaves painted with words that are important for a healthy community—respect, hope, opportunity, and education. Stylistically the leaves are then spread by the wind in swirls on two huge side panels reminiscent of a Van Gogh painting to bring these positive wishes out into the community. As Sheri describes it, “The Missouri National Guard, who still had members stationed protecting City Hall at the times, asked if one of their emblems could be included in the painting, signifying their inclusion in the wishes for healing.” If you look closely you can see that a shoulder patch from one of the guardsmen is attached on one of the letters of City Hall. This one image captures the desires of so many for unity. Just one of many remarkable stories that happened during “Paint for Peace” and a story that I felt privileged to tell. 

    April Hall is editor of Literacy Daily. A journalist for 20 years, she has specialized in education, writing and editing for newspapers, websites, and magazines.

     

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    Five Questions With… E.G. Foley (The Gryphon Chronicles Series)

    By April Hall
     | Mar 17, 2016

    eg foleyE.G. Foley is actually two authors. The husband/wife team Eric and Gaelen Foley write middle-grade literature and have found success in the world of indie digital publishing. Together they write the fantasy series The Gryphon Chronicles. Gaelen Foley knows the busy world of publishing houses and made a conscious decision with her husband to launch their books for younger readers independently.

    Here’s the obvious one you’ve probably answered a billion times, why write together and use a single name?

    We’re a unit! Actually, this was my doing, and a strategic decision. I wanted to signal my large audience of loyal romance readers—who also happen to be moms, grandmas, and aunts, i.e., the main book buyers for kids in their families—that it was me, the same “G” (Gaelen) Foley they know and trust and have been reading since 1998. But at the same time, I wanted to draw a clear enough distinction between the two names that we wouldn’t have our kid readers coming over to the romance novels, thinking those are for them, too, because they’re not. Those are for grownups.

    How did you make the transition from romance to young adult writing?

    When I saw famous male writers like James Patterson and John Grisham making the transition from writing their mega-bestseller suspense novels to young adult books, that got my sassy side riled up, and I thought, “Hey, if those guys aren’t afraid to try something completely different and nobody blinks an eye about it, then I’m not going to be intimidated out of trying it just because I’m a female author.” Plus, writing middle grade is just so much fun that I would’ve continued working on it with Eric even if we never ended up publishing it. It was always a labor of love, not commerce.

    What I have learned by just forging ahead with it is that there really is no reason for a writer to pigeon-hole him or herself artistically just because the industry is set up to do it that way. It’s dangerous to allow others to define who we are. Also, the basic skill set involved in novel writing transfers from one type of book to another. Once you understand how to do characterization, conflict, pacing, story structure, etc. then it just becomes a matter of exercising your imagination to apply those tools in a new way.

    Put it this way, if you’re a good cook, it doesn’t matter so much whether you’re making casserole or cupcakes—it’s going to be yummy, simply because you know what you’re doing in the kitchen. Whatever you do a lot, you get good at. Well, I’ve been writing full-time for 17 years, so even though there is always more to learn, I came into writing kidlit with a very solid foundation of over 2.5 million words in print and many appearances on national bestseller lists under my belt. You never know what you can do until you try!

    Are your books applicable for the classroom and how?

    the lost heirIndeed. First, I’d mention that The Gryphon Chronicles are now accepted in the Accelerated Reader Program in schools. The Lost Heir (Book 1) was pegged at 5.5 grade level, but we’ve heard from parents and kids as young as 8 who have enjoyed them. It just depends on the kid. The areas where I think teachers would find it useful would be for language arts, since we do not dumb down our writing style—kids are smart! Also, for any history modules dealing with the Victorian era, for example: How kids in the 1800s were educated, from governesses and home tutors to prep schools and finishing schools for the rich and mandatory education for the poor. (Did you know that in Victorian times, kids were only required to go to school to age 9?! Sorry, kid, you’re 10 now, go get a job! LOL. Hard to imagine!)

    Other topics include things like child labor, the apprenticeship system, orphans and orphanages, and crime and punishment for children in Victorian England—quite appropriate, since our hero, Jake, starts out as a pickpocket! The series would also be of use in a study of mythical creatures from British folklore. The Victorian era saw a wonderful resurgence in the old fairy lore. Another area that we touch upon (especially in Book 2, Jake & the Giant) is the many inventions of the era. Jake’s sidekick, Cousin Archie, is a boy genius who loves inventing things, so that lets us touch upon the scientific news of the day, such as whatever Mr. Edison and Mr. Tesla were up to that year. Obviously, these books take a lot of research! 

    Since you’re self-published, do you find getting books in hands more difficult?

    Paperbacks, yes; e-books, no. I think we sell many, many more middle grade e-books than publishers do because our price ($4.99 or so) is half of theirs. … Indie platforms allow us to control our pricing ourselves, and as with all things indie, it’s very empowering having that control. Plus, we can afford to do that for our readers because we don’t have to pay for a skyscraper in Manhattan!

    Do you think you would be ready to sign on with a publisher for your children’s work now that you’ve had some success independently?

    The reason we never sought a publisher in the first place was because I didn’t want the stress of two sets of legally binding contract deadlines. In the ensuing years, though, I’ve become much more efficient at juggling several different projects at one time. So I don’t think that would be an issue anymore.

    We’re open to giving publishers a first look at our next series, as they certainly have a wonderful infrastructure in place for getting kids’ books into schools and libraries and, of course, into all those super-fun children’s indie brick-and-mortar bookstores and the national chains. However, there would need to be some negotiation to ensure the contract would not infringe on our ability to continue self-publishing other projects at the same time, and they’d have to at least match the very good money we can make on our own with the far more generous royalty rates … (from) indie platforms give to authors/content creators. Contracts can be minefields that tie up an author’s rights for the life of the copyright (i.e., until 70 years after you’re dead). So the pros would have to outweigh the cons.

    April Hall is editor of Literacy Daily. A journalist for 20 years, she has specialized in education, writing and editing for newspapers, websites, and magazines.

     
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    Five Questions With… Violetta Lamb (Plants and Animals)

    By April Hall
     | Jan 19, 2016

    It’s not often that a third-grade student becomes a published author, but you can find Violetta Lamb’s book, Plants and Animals (StarWalk Kids Media) on Amazon. The publisher worked with the superintendent of Lamb’s Blue Springs, MO, school district to pair the author with an illustrator, Susan L. Roth, to work together on the final product. Lamb said she was excited about the book and learned a lot from the experience.

    How long have you been writing?

    Since I was in kindergarten, but I hadn’t written an actual story until second grade.

    What was it like working with Susan L. Roth?

    It was fun learning how to work with the art materials that Susan L. Roth provided. She is amazing, and I am so glad to have met her!

    What was the inspiration for the story?

    At my old school, my teacher Mrs. Hilbert had talked about author and illustrators. She talked about Susan L. Roth and Seymour Simon, and I love their work. That’s where I got the idea and had hoped it would be like that: informative, but fun!

    Do you plan to write more books in the future and make it your career?

    I am still really young and don’t know what I will be when I grow up. But yes, I have continued writing!

    Most of our readers are teachers who work with young people. What is the one piece of advice you would give students about writing and publishing?

    Never give up—ever. If it is your dream, do it.

    April Hall is editor of Literacy Daily. A journalist for 20 years, she has specialized in education, writing and editing for newspapers, websites, and magazines.

     
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    Five Questions With… Stacey Donovan (Dive)

    By April Hall
     | Nov 04, 2015

    stacey donovanThe YA novel Dive was originally released in traditional print book form in 1994. In the years since, many new books have come and gone and Stacey Donovan has written, ghost written, or consulted on dozens of books. Dive may have been relegated to history but for the encouragement of her literary agent to look into e-publishing. In September, Open Road Media released Dive as an e-book and now Donovan’s novel is anew.

    Dive was published about 20 years ago. What was your reaction to its rerelease as an e-book?

    Dive got another opportunity to be in the world because someone loved it. My literary agent nudged me to contact Open Road Media because she said the book was in her top 10 forever. I said to myself there's nothing to lose. Most of my life, my writing, fiction, poetry, screenplays, has been rejected—I've been sending out stuff since I was a kid. Rejection is part of being a writer, of being an artist, of living in this world, I think. It was a shock that Friday morning when I received an e-mail that Open Road would like to publish the book. So I will tell you: I sprang up from the desk, and I danced!

    How do you believe Dive is still relevant now?

    My hope is that Dive will always be relevant because human beings will always be searching for meaning in life. We will always experience unexpected occurrences, like who ran your dog over, why your best friend is suddenly not speaking to you, what is happening with your father who is now in the hospital, what to do when someone you immediately love walks into the room, because that's what life is. This is what happens with V (the main character of Dive).

    There is a lot of discussion around the #weneeddiversebooks movement. How do you think LGBT topics are addressed?

    DiveWe know that some young people take their own lives because they cannot imagine a world where they will be embraced. Sexuality is not simply girl meets boy or boy meets girl. We're in the 21st century now, an awareness and discussion of gender identity is, thankfully, part of it. Still, to be "different" in any way is a challenge. Yes, we need diverse books now, and of course we need to be apprised of or reminded of the many glorious books/plays/songs/operas/paintings/sculptures—so many more arts to mention—that voice to the world that the expectation of being "normal" is for those who think themselves normal, NOT for the rest of us.

    From where did you draw such a deep character and the complexity of the challenges she faced?

    Dive was my first novel. It's in the "write what you know" category. 

    Why would this be a good book to use in the classroom?

    There are many "firsts" in Dive, experiences that many people undergo. I have a hunch that most of us know what it is like to feel alone at times. There's the hit-and-run with V’s little dog, her father becoming ill with a fatal disease, the escalation of her mother's drinking, her changing relationships with her siblings. Then there's V's falling in love and it happens to be with a girl and not a boy. Something a lot of readers and reviewers have not mentioned that is so interesting to me is that V's best friend abandons her without a word as to why. To lose a close friend, for whatever reason, is so challenging, so crushing; to not know what is happening because it has not been said aloud; this might be the hardest thing V faces. We find out why in the story.

    April Hall is editor of Literacy Daily. A journalist for about 20 years, she has specialized in education, writing and editing for newspapers, websites, and magazines.

     
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    Five Questions With… Theodore Taylor III (Little Shaq)

    By April Hall
     | Oct 09, 2015

    Theodore TaylorTheodore Taylor III is an artist, designer, photographer, and new dad. He received the 2014 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award for his first picture book, When the Beat Was Born. Heavily influenced by music and pop culture, he was a natural to take up his tools to illustrate Shaquille O’Neal’s Little Shaq series, in addition his own self-written children’s book.

    Your latest illustration project is Little Shaq. What did you think when you were approached with this project?

    I remember being very excited! After When the Beat Was Born I wasn't sure when my next book project would be. So being signed on to this project meant a lot. It definitely gave me hope for my future as a children's book illustrator. I was also nervous because Shaq was a big part of my childhood. I never followed basketball closely, but I always remembered his jersey number for the Orlando Magic. I vividly remember watching Kazaam. And I still have my old copy of Shaq-Fu for Sega Genesis! Now suddenly I was drawing a book for him! It was surreal.

    You’ve done the cover art for a lot of albums, mostly beats. What was the transition like from album art to a book?

    The transition was fairly smooth, especially considering the hip-hop themes of my first book. The pages were still in a square format, so I sometimes tried to think of each page as an album cover. The book's cover was especially easy as I wanted it to feel like an old record jacket.

    Did music inform Little Shaq’s illustrations at all?

    I'm not sure if music informed my drawings directly, but all of the music I listened to during my late-night drawing sessions must have had some effect!

    What was the inspiration for Raised by Humans and will you write more of your own books?

    little shaqRaised by Humans was actually an assignment for a Web development course I took in college. We had to create something interactive, so I thought a virtual children's book would be perfect. My inspiration probably came from what I expected my son to be like. It turns out I was pretty spot-on. He's wild.

    I am in the process of writing my own book for Roaring Brook Press inspired by murals and graffiti. I'm hoping it will be done next year. I have a few other ideas in my head as well. I'm also thinking of redrawing Raised by Humans for fun!

    You’re a new dad. We hear a lot about how reading is essential, even in infancy. As an illustrator, do you have essential reads for your child and are they motivated by the artwork?

    I have a shelf full of books for my son, from childhood favorites to newer books I've picked out on my own. I've been buying him a lot of books with artwork I personally enjoy. Some recent favorites have been JooHee Yoon's books, several books published by Flying Eye Books, Carson Ellis's Home, Samuel Hiti's Waga's Big Scare and Bridget Heos and Joy Ang's Mustache Baby. As far as classics go, I always keep Where the Wild Things Are handy. My son's a little too young to fully understand any of these books, but he does seem to enjoy the pictures. I can tell because he grabs them and tries to rip the pages.

    April Hall is editor of Literacy Daily. A journalist for about 20 years, she has specialized in education, writing and editing for newspapers, websites, and magazines.

     
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