Meet the chicks at Hen&ink
A writer and an agent, Erzsi Deak of Hen&ink literary represents authors & illustrators working in the children's market
The blog of author Angela Morrison
Hen&ink's Angela Morrison shares "footage" from the conference.
PW Reports: SCBWI Celebrates 40 years -- with humor, grace and style!
A fox in the hen house?
Hen&ink represents Red Fox Literary outside of the US. Pictured here with author and historian Leonard Marcus and Red Fox Literary illustrator-author Stephanie Roth Sisson are Erzsi Deak (Hen&ink), Abigail Samoun and Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary
Staying on top! Hen&ink's very own Sarah Towle launches StoryApp Time Traveler Tours and goes live on the radio (too!)
New Blog Post: The StoryApp Tour: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know... http://ow.ly/1e3kOM
Kidsgardening.org goes to France http://www.kidsgardening.org/article/cross-cultural-gardening-students-local-horticulture-school-paris-create-us-embassy-organic-kitchen
THANKS FOR YOUR INTEREST AND SUPPORT! We look forward to reading your work!
Lish's latest... the gnome!
THE DARK DIVINE is the first in a trilogy by Bree Despain. Book 2, THE LOST SAINT: A DARK DIVINE NOVEL, is due to hit bookstores in December 2010 in the US and next year in France.
Bree Despain, author of THE DARK DIVINE & THE LOST SAINT, rediscovered her childhood love for creating stories when she took a semester off college to write and direct plays for at-risk, inner-city teens from Philadelphia and New York. She currently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her husband and two young sons.
THE DARK DIVINE is the first in a trilogy about Grace Divine, the daughter of the local pastor who knows that something terrible happened the night her friend Daniel Kalbi disappeared and she found her brother Jude collapsed on the porch, covered in blood. She has no idea what monstrous secrets lurk in this mystery. And then Daniel is back, leather-jacket-and-all-things-tempting. The closer she gets to Daniel, the more she jeopardizes her life. But she must discover the truth behind the boys’ dark secret and the cure that can save the ones she loves. But to do it, she may have to make the ultimate sacrifice, her soul. The Lost Saint, book 2 in the Dark Divine trilogy comes out this December in the US and next year in France.
Q: Do you own a wolf suit; or, what will you be wearing for Halloween?
BREE DESPAIN: My husband and I recently went to a 1980’s Prom themed party for my friend’s birthday. We are planning on reusing our outfits for Halloween. My costume is kind of an homage to Madonna in the 80s. I’m going to wear a black and pink petticoat skirt, black leggings, a lacy shirt, lace fingerless gloves, and lots of 1980’s jewelry. Oh, and crimp my hair. And yes, we do own a wolf suit—but it only fits our four-year-old son. He wore it last year for Halloween.
Q: If Grace Divine had a favorite band, who would it be? Which song and why (if she’s shared this with you)?
BREE: Grace would love bands like The Postal Service or The Notwist. I think her favorite song would be “Such Great Heights” by The Postal Service because it is one of the songs that inspired me to write THE DARK DIVINE.
Q: Who is Daniel’s favorite artist (painter, etc.) and, again, why, if he’s shared this with you?
BREE: Daniel loves modern artists like Roy Lichtenstein, Jackson Pollock, and Degas, but he also appreciates more classical artists such as Tinteretto and Bernini. He’s also a big fan of modern design and studies the works of Frank Lloyd Wright and Dieter Rams.
Q: Did you outline or draft all three books before you started writing (i.e., did you know where you were going from get-go)?
BREE: I don’t like to write with an outline. I usually have a vague idea of what the beginning and the ending of a story are going to be—and then I like to find my way between the two. I’ve always had an idea of where I wanted the story to end in the third book, but I won’t know if that is the right ending until I find my way there.
Q: THE LOST SAINT leaves readers seriously howling for more. What’s the title of book 3 in the trilogy?
BREE: I wish I knew! I’ve submitted a title to my USA publishers, but I haven’t heard back yet on whether or not they approve. I really want it to have the word “Grace” in it, but we’ll see.
Q: Have you started working on your fourth novel? Does it fall into a certain genre?
Bree: I don’t know for sure what my fourth novel will be—but I know which one I want it to be. I started a novel several years ago that I am dying to finish when I am done with the Dark Divine novels. It’s a paranormal romance, but rather than being about folklore monsters like vampires, ghosts, or werewolves, it’s a modern exploration of a Greek myth.
Q: Are you a Starbuck’s or home office writer? Or?
BREE: I mostly write at home, in bed, or on the couch. However, every Thursday I meet a group of author friends at a café in a local bookstore. We write for a few hours together and then go to lunch.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
BREE: Thanks so much for reading The Dark Divine novels. My hope is always that readers will enjoy reading my books as much as I enjoy writing them.
THE LOST SAINT, book two in the Dark Divine trilogy coming to US audiences in December 2010 and to French readers in 2011.
Watch this space for an upcoming Q&A with author John C. Ford, who's THE MORGUE & ME (Viking) has just been published in France as UN ETE A LA MORGUE.
On October 9th, librarian and teacher Elin Kordahl from Portland, Oregon, will receive the Oregon 2010 Elementary School Librarian of Year Award from the Oregon Association of School Libraries (http://oasl.info). Key to Elin's vision is that she doesn’t separate technology from learning and makes sure that she supports all curricula as well as making sure that students learn information literacy skills and appropriate use of technology. I interviewed Elin shortly after she heard she’d received this award from her colleagues this summer. And authors, listen up: Not surprising to those in-the-know, a web presence only helps you and the school when preparing for an author visit. Stay live!
Q: Congratulations on winning the Oregon 2010 Elementary School Librarian of the Year Award, Elin! Would you please describe the award?
A: My principal, colleagues and community surprised me with the nomination initially, then the presentation of the award one year later. They wrote many letters. OASL (Oregon Association of School Librarians) has a committee that reviewed the nominations and selected me!
Q: Describe your job at Maplewood Elementary School.
A: Maplewood is a K-5 elementary school. I am a teacher-librarian halftime and the "computer teacher" halftime. There are approximately 345 children. I see students twice each week, once for library and once for computer. This has many advantages. The classroom teachers and I plan computer activities that tie directly into the curriculum. The teachers stay with their students in the computer lab. I support the curriculum with library instruction when the students come to "library." I am delighted to see students twice, integrating library/information literacy/love of reading with technology/presentation/production.
Judy Moody is a favorite series in Kordahl's library.
Q: High tech in the classroom and library, e-readers. Do elementary students just think this is how learning is supposed to be? As a technology teacher, what’s your impression of how technology aids (and abets) learning at the elementary school level?
A: Our elementary students "think this is how learning is supposed to be." However, our program is fairly unique. Many library and computer programs stand alone from the classroom instruction. I see it as my job to make sure I support all curricula as well as make sure students are learning information literacy skills and appropriate use of technology (research, publishing and so on.)
Q: What books are kids reading and are very many turning to e-readers?
A: There is such a range and it depends on the grade level and reading level of the children. Currently, we do not provide e-readers, nor do I know of any students that use them. While we do a lot with technology, books-in-hand still seem to be the reading choice for 5-10 year olds! I make sure students have access to CD versions of popular titles.
Q: Do you have favorite books that you find yourself returning with to work in the classroom, year after year?
A: I return to authors more than books. Dahl, Willems, Riordan, Lewis, Wiesner, MacDonald, and so on. Younger children love series and reading a series or books by the same author is so important for developing their reading skills. Once they are familiar with an author's style or a series' characters they can work on their fluency and build vocabulary without struggling anew each time to identify characters.
A fan of Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down, Elin Kordahl is also an avid reader of YA literature. For a little light reading (as in for fun), she turns to biographies and non-fiction.
Q: What do you see as the “book of the moment” for each grade, or overall?
A: Again a focus on series that are always checked out, continually on "hold" and in high demand.
K - Elephant and Piggie Series
1 - Magic Treehouse
2 - Rainbow Magic Fairies, Magic Treehouse, Geronimo Stilton, Captain Underpants
3 - Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Judy Moody/Stink, Pokeman
4 - Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief Series, Battle of the Book titles (BOB, please see below for more information)
5 - Percy Jackson, but there are many series and titles at this point. Students become sophisticated with their reading choices and they read A LOT.
Nonfiction - generally: Animals/Insects, Aliens, Monsters, Dragons, Guinness Records, Ripley's Believe it or Not
Q: Does the combination of technology and libraries get reluctant readers reading? If so, what do you think works to get reluctant readers reading in this age of high stimulation from other sources?
A: Reluctant readers are often those who are still learning to decode and need one-on-one practice with an adult. I find in grades K-5 kids naturally love to read. I can usually find something someone will want to read! If not lengthy chapter books, then shorter ones; scary short stories or great magazines do the trick sometimes. I persevere and put books aside for readers or have them take a stack of 5-6 home and see if one peaks their curiosity. I had an overwhelmed student who confided that her brother was autistic. I brought her Rules and Al Capone Does My Shirts. She was so delighted. I found other titles for her and she trusted my choices and read consistently after that.
Kids love to read and be read to.
I don't think there are reluctant readers (outside of those struggling readers who need lots of extra support because reading is just plain hard work.)
I will get books from the Multnomah County Library ASAP for readers; say, the next in the series they just got hooked on, or more books by the same author -- really for any reason! My budget is limited. I will have up to 100 books from the country library checked out on my card to support individual readers or classroom teachers.
Does the combination of technology and libraries get reluctant readers reading? I'd have to think about that connection more. Of course, using an electronic card catalog sure helps. My students love seeing and hearing authors from files found online. We vote on books and graph results. Students make booktalk videos. There are great online tools for helping point students to books they will love.
Q: Do you use games to get the message across?
A: We have a school-wide Read Across America activity and a Read-A-Thon fundraiser but those are run by the PTA and one of our 4th grade teachers.
In a sense our Battle of the Books is a "game". Students form teams, read 16 books and then answer questions in a game show format. The winning team battles schools regionally and statewide. Whether students participate or not, everyone gets caught up in the books, discussion about them and how teams progress. It's a wonderful program that I've run for 4 years now.
Have you had to deal with many issues of censorship?
A handful of questions and some good input but no book challenges.
When I took over my library there was a subscription to a skater magazine. A parent brought it to me. In interviews skaters talked a lot about their drinking and drug use. I appreciated the input! We didn't need a magazine like that in a K-5 library.
I had one parent mildly object to religious references in the myths section. But this only took a discussion between the two of us.
Another was worried about books we have on alcohol, marijuana and so on. Kids were reading them and talking about it at home. But after reading them she was OK. It's just information.
I appreciate input. I can't know all of the books! However, after 4 years I have laid my hands on 50% of them. There is a process for book challenges in our district and I would follow that, if needed.
The Ugly Truth, the latest in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, comes out in November in the US and will likely join the "most requested" list of series fiction at Kordahl's library.
Q: What’s your take on the idea of using cell phones in and outside the classroom (for homework, for writing 140-character “pieces,” etc.)?
A: Sounds like a fun activity but not necessary? They might be useful for older children to record their homework and as reminders for what they have to do?
Q: Do you see social media in the classroom at the elementary level? If so, how and is it distracting kids from their lessons?
There are terrific uses of social media, but as with any instruction if you have good teaching, you have a teacher who is using a tool appropriately and it would not distract from a lesson but enrich it. If a class is blogging about their science activity, chatting live with pen pals, posting a class website, publishing poetry online -- that's good.
Q: How do you incorporate reading promotion, research skills, instruction while integrating technology and collaborating with classroom teachers?
A: Funny! It's busy. But if you tie to the curriculum and the work that needs to be done, it's a natural fit. It can take 1-2 years to develop that trust with colleagues. But once it’s there, I’ve found they plan more and more with me and ask more questions (can we... do you have any books on...) and contribute more (library material recommendations, visiting author suggestions). We improve on past projects. When we don't have something pressing I might ask them "What are you studying now?" "What topics do you not have enough time to cover?" "What topics do you not like teaching?" We can focus the library and computer skills around those topics.
It's a give and take, for sure.
Q: I understand one of your “winning” activities is that you hold “library lunches.” How do the “library lunches” work and about how many kids attend?
A: This is a simple thing. Every day from 11:30 to 12:00 students can come to the library, check out more books, renew titles, read, draw (when using books from the how to draw section), see me for book recommendations. It also gives some children a break from the daily madness! They only spend part of their lunch recess indoors, half is spent outdoors.
Q: How do you prepare for author visits to Maplewood Elementary?
A: I do author studies in advance. We read the books or I booktalk them. I find an author interview online so students can see and hear the person before they arrive. Sometimes we'll do a related writing activity (poetry, write why they would want to have lunch with the author) or make a banner with say, alliterative messages that tie into an author's poetry style. I want the children to be prepared and appreciate the visit but also keep the visit preparation simple. Many of my colleagues also talk about the author in their classes.
My students know what authors, illustrators and publishers do. We talk about it and sing songs related to this. So I don't have to cover everything at once when an author is coming.
Q: You’ve written two books about integrating computers into the classroom. What are the titles and what are they about? Do you have plans to write another book?
A: Hit Enter: 50+ Computer Projects for K-5 and Computer Fun for Everyone: Great Things to Do and Make with Any Computer
No plans but I think about it all of the time! Both books focused on simple but effective, educational projects. I'd love to write another sharing the successes between my colleagues and me (library and tech combined.)
Elephant & Piggie by Mo Willems join the most-checked out list at Kordahl's school library
Q: What do you focus on in technology?
A: Our focus is on research, graphing/spreadsheets, word processing/editing/writing, publishing (PowerPoint, poetry, page layout) - EVERYTHING has a curriculum tie-in. We don't do PowerPoint for the sake of learning PowerPoint, ever. We jump in with both feet. Third graders, for example, study Portland bridges. They select images they like of bridges, write about those bridges using new vocabulary, and then use presentation skills to share their findings. We do things like this.
I show my young students how to do electronic catalog searches right away. "That this is how I do it - it's not in my head." When they want another book "like Harry Potter" I show them how to use Amazon, the public library website, recommended and other tools to find similar titles.
Q: Now that you’ve been honored by the Oregon Association of School Libraries with this reward, is your new roll as “mentor” to other librarians? Or, are you “simply” the elementary school poster child for the organization? I guess the question is: What does this award mean? For you? For the school? For the association?
A: It's humbling to receive this award. There are so many good librarians.
Having received it, I'm delighted. It rewards my community and school for steadfastly supporting the library and having a certified librarian staffing the library. I am the first elementary school librarian in the Portland Public School system awarded. I think it's great for the district!
It is an honor to be nominated by my talented colleagues and I'll need to start advocating more for libraries and teacher-librarians instead of just keeping my head down and working really hard each day in my building.
Q: How did you get where you are (ie, teaching technology and running a library)? Was technology always a growth area for you personally?
A: Some people claim they mapped out their career since high school. I feel like things just came up or opportunities presented that I couldn't resist.
I was a math major in college and touched a computer for the first time in 1982. I've always appreciated the uses of computers. When I began teaching middle school math in Boston there was a room full of computers that few people used. I started using it and eventually networked the building in 1988. After I moved back to California, a district saw "computer" at the bottom of my resume and offered me a teaching position in an elementary school using terrible old equipment. I returned to school (while working) and received a master's degree in educational technology. It was an exciting time in the early 1990s. Computer use with students was still new and everyone was trying to figure out good uses for students, especially the younger ones. It's been one thing after another. Maybe having the math background made me fearless about computers. Computers seem to still make some people uncomfortable.
Q: Do you consider yourself a typical librarian?
A: I'm not a typical librarian who lived and breathed books and libraries as children. I have always loved to read and am from a family of huge readers. My brother carries an ongoing list in his wallet of books he wants to read. My mother says her only real decadence is purchasing books, new hardcovers, even, whenever she wants.
I loved to read, but I was outside digging holes in the sand or swinging on dangerous monkey bars -- not in the library at recess time.
I read much more growing up overseas without TV. There was little else to do and it was something to do on very long plane flights to faraway countries. But when living in the US I always watched too much TV. I know its allure and don't pretend that I'm someone who never watches.
Q: As a literacy specialist, your own learning-to-read experience was at home in Libya…
A: My mother taught me to read instead of my teachers in first grade because school in Libya was closed suddenly and unexpectedly for a spell when Gaddafi took over in 1969. I had had my school clothes laid out, a stylish Bavarian dress, ready to go. I was not happy to have to stay at home. Apparently the teachers sent home "how to teach reading" information for the time school was to be closed (2 months?). My mother, an excellent teacher herself, taught me - although she'd been hoping I'd learn that at school!
Q: What’s your favorite reading memory?
A: Living in Saudi Arabia in the late 70s and driving with my parents to a newspaper store. We'd purchase all current periodicals we could get: Reader's Digest, Newsweek/Time, Herald Tribune. Then we'd pick up schwarma sandwiches nearby. I loved reading every word of those periodicals with tahini sauce dripping down my hands. I always looked forward to that trip. We'd time it to know when the new materials should arrive.
The magazines were most entertaining with the occasional blacked-out censored image. The censors did a good job. You couldn't hold the paper to a light and see what was hidden, either.
I may be a fan of teaching about challenged books having lived through that.
Q: And your favorite book? Genre?
A: My favorite book is Black Hawk Down, but I read non-fiction/biographies for fun. I'm not a fan of adult fiction; too much sex and violence. I read a lot of YA literature for my work and really enjoy it. There are such serious thought-provoking ideas in young adult fiction but without the seemingly gratuitous sex and violence in adult fiction.
Q: Will you speak at the awards banquet on October 9 at the OASL Fall Conference in Bend, OR? Topic (outside of accepting your award)?
A: Yes. I hear I have 2 minutes.
Topic: information power. I'm not the old school librarian who knows where all of the books are (and no one else really knows) and who holds the key to knowing what information is available on a topic in the library. I'm about making sure every child (and patron) knows it's about knowing how to find the information themselves. There are no secrets. No one can "know it all.” It's about knowing how to ask questions (of people or on computers), how to find the information, and continually learning.
Q: What makes you laugh?
A: I laugh the most when I’m talking with friends and family—especially my brothers and sisters. (And yep, it’s plural. I have three brothers and two sisters.) My family doesn’t get together often because we’re spread around the world, but when we do, I laugh myself silly. No one can tell funny stories like my brothers.
Q: Do you see yourself as funny?
A: I see myself as a person who enjoys life and tries to look on the bright side. For example, a couple of days ago I went horseback riding with my kids. The horses were supposed to be gentle and good with kids, but about an hour onto the trail, Blue Eyes bit Linus, so Linus bucked and kicked Blue Eyes, (These are the names of the horses, not my daughters. My daughters do occasionally kick each other, although not while horseback riding.) And then the situation turned into an all out cat fight . . . well, if horses in a cat fight isn’t mixing metaphors.
As a mother, you don’t want to turn around and see your daughters—one of whom is too young to have a full quotient of common sense—hanging onto the backs of horses who are brawling. We were all scared to death for a few moments. (Especially the stable tour guide who probably sensed her tip was diminishing quickly. Despite that talk about the kids’ horses being gentle, the guide had clearly put my daughters on two of the Four Horsemen’s Steeds of Doom.) I, in my typically useful fashion, yelled out to my daughters: “Hang on!”
Neither of my daughters said, “Oh really, Mom? Because I was just thinking of sliding off the saddle so I could have a better view of the underside of stampeding horse hooves.” But I’m sure they were thinking it.
Luckily my daughters didn’t fall off their saddles during this mini apocalypse, and the guide was able to separate and calm down the horses. We took a couple of deep breaths and I said, “Well, think of the great facebook status updates you can write about this when we get home.”
Humor helps people deal with problems. That’s why it’s so important.
A: Everybody has hard things that happen to them. My life is no different. My mother died from cancer when I was six years old and I had a lot of rough years in my childhood. But I also have an incredible amount of blessings in my life. I have a great husband, wonderful kids, friends who care about me and a job I like. Remembering how many good things I have helps me put my problems into perspective.
Q: Can you tell a joke off-paper (live)?
A: I know writers who could double as comedians. I’m not that way, but I do manage to tell a few jokes during my school visits. If you can make kids laugh, they pay attention much better.
Q: Do you have a favorite joke?
A: Anything that's not a knock-knock joke. When you have five kids, you end up hearing all of them, endlessly.
Q: Did you ever do stand-up? Do you (still) do stand-up? If so, where and for whom?
A: The only stand-up I do is for my school visits, and trust me, junior high kids are a rough crowd. I have a lot of respect for comedians and wish I knew more of their secrets.
Q: You appear to be delightfully self-deprecating; which comes through in Savannah's character and her awareness of it comes through in the growth of her character. Were you always able to laugh at yourself?
A: I wasn’t always good at laughing at myself when I was in high school. I was trying too hard to be perfect. I thought if I dressed in the right clothes, and had the right hairstyle and always said the right thing then everybody would like me. Including those cool popular guys. Really, now that I think about it, my attempts at perfection were all about those cool popular guys.
It’s ironic because those guys probably would have liked me better if I’d just made them laugh. But how was I to know? I’d grown up watching early Disney movies. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White never made Prince Charming laugh. Ditto for Barbie and Ken. You just know Barbie wasn’t cracking jokes while she drove around in her plastic Corvette. (Although I was just in a tackle shop that sold pink Barbie fishing reels, so apparently Barbie can gut a fish.)
Janette Rallison at age 16, a few years after her incredible math triumph.
Q: In your humblest of opinions, how distant are humor and pain? How are they treated in your books?
A: I wish there was some formula for humor writing. My publishers want comedy in my books. I’ve written 16 books (with 17& 18 coming out next year) and every time I start a new book, I worry that it won’t be funny and my fans will be disappointed.
I’ve heard that the definition between tragedy and comedy is: Tragedy is when something bad happens to you; comedy is when something bad happens to your neighbor. But just as many jokes are aimed at ourselves. While I’m sitting in our van writing this, my kids are watching the movie Two Weeks Notice. Here’s a bit of dialogue that made me laugh out loud:
After George has called his legal advisor, Lucy, out of a friend’s wedding to help him pick out what clothes he should wear, she tells him, “You are the most selfish person on the entire planet.”
He says, “Now you’re just being silly. You haven’t met every person on the planet.”
It’s funny because he doesn’t deny being selfish, he just calls her out on her hyperbole.
Q: What is your most painful teen memory that makes you laugh now?
A: When I was a junior in high school, I took honors algebra. I did this not because I had any interest or skill when it came to algebra, but because I had a scheduling problem. The counselor looked at my grades and told me that although a teacher had to recommend an especially talented student to get them into honors algebra, since I was a straight A student, and already in honors English, he thought I would do fine in the class.
And thus I was in honors algebra. I was with the smart math kids. And I could handle this class just like I could handle everything else because I was smart. I sat down on the first day and it was like the teacher was speaking a completely different language. I tried to understand the gibberish that came out of his mouth but it didn’t work. I asked questions. The teacher answered my questions, but since he was still speaking gibberish, all that became clear was that I was in serious trouble.
I probably should have gone in for some tutoring, but my after school hours were jam packed with drama rehearsal, tennis, dating—you know, all of the really important things. So basically I sat in the back of the class with a deer in the headlights look on my face, wondering why I didn’t get what the rest of the students seemed to know intuitively. (I think they wondered about this too.)
I limped along with Bs and an occasional wandering A on my homework and tests. For a straight A student, it stung.
Okay, fast forward to those standardized test they give to the whole state every year. We took them, and afterwards the teacher decided to go over problem spots. There was this one question involving a circle and angles and very imposing intersecting lines.
The teacher told the class—using that amazed sort of voice that teachers sometimes use—that everyone in the class had got the problem wrong except for one student. And we were all going to be surprised at who that one student was.
Well absolutely no one was more surprised than me when the teacher called my name and told me to come to the board and explain how to do the problem for the rest of the class.
I couldn’t believe it. I, I had got the question right while the rest of my brainiac classmates, who effortlessly understood math gibberish, had got the question wrong!
It was validation of my intelligence. I could hold my own with the math whizzes!
I walked to the board and did the problem.
Unfortunately I did the problem all wrong.
I ended by adding two numbers together (at this point I’ve forgotten why). “So you have 8 and 5,” I told the class, “and when you add them together you get 12.”
Which, by the way, was the right answer to the problem. Unfortunately 8+5 does not equal 12. It equals 13, which was not the right answer. I had gotten the problem right because I had added wrong.
And more embarrassingly, I’d done it twice, and in front of the whole class.
There is really no way to live that down in a class full of math whizzes. I’m sure when they get together every year at their brainiac math conferences they still laugh about it.
Q: Does your own adolescence serve as good fodder for your books?
A: Oh yes. A lot of things that happened to me as a teen make their way into my books. The scene where Savannah loses her swimsuit top was inspired by one of my own wardrobe malfunctions. One day at the pool, the strap of my swimming suit broke. While I held onto it with one hand and tried to swim one handed to the ladder, a guy from my school swam up and struck up a conversation. I tried to act as casual and poised as a girl can act while holding her swimming suit together. (Remember, back then I was trying for an air of perfection.) I remember it was a bit awkward and I worried that they guy would think I was strange for trying to swim around one handed.
Q: You seem to divide your books (or your agent and publishers do it for you) between the 'reality based' and the fantasy based. Was this a conscious decision on your part? Or, how did this come about?
A: I started out writing reality based romantic comedies so my publishers were reluctant to let me write fantasies. Thankfully, Walker took a chance on MY FAIR GODMOTHER and they liked it enough to let me write more. The sequel, MY UNFAIR GODMOTHER, will come out in January or February of 2011 and I have a book about kids who fight dragons coming out in the fall of 2011
Q: MY FAIR GODMOTHER is laugh-out-loud-funny. Regarding CRAFT, your humor seems integral to your writing (no one-liners that steal the show), when you are writing do you think "This is good!" or "This will make'em laugh!" (and move the story forward)? Or?
A: For MY FAIR GODMOTHER I knew I needed two wishes that didn’t work out so I thought about how I could make Savannah’s princess wishes funny. The Snow White scene is one of the most hilarious scenes I’ve ever written. I laughed when I wrote it, and that doesn’t usually happen. But I don’t really have a set way to make things funny. I just try to mine whatever situation my character is in for humor. Sometimes things turn out really funny and sometimes they just turn out a little amusing.
Q: Have you had requests to see Savannah in print again? Tempted, or are you finished with her? Does she show up in MY UNFAIR GODMOTHER?
A: I get requests for sequels on MY FAIR GODMOTHER. It’s a compliment because it means readers like the story so much they don’t want it to end. I’ve thought about a sequel to Savannah’s story, but I’m not sure I’ll ever write it because the storyline I came up with is much more of a romance-adventure. I think readers would want something with the same tone as the first one.
Savannah doesn’t show up in MY UNFAIR GODMOTHER, (although Clover does mention her in a roundabout way.) MY UNFAIR GODMOTHER is Chrysanthemum Everstar’s next assignment. As you can imagine, things don’t go all that well for the girl who gets three wishes.
Q: Which leads me to ask, what does MY UNFAIR GODMOTHER hold in store?
A: Well, I don’t want to give away too much, but I will say Robin Hood and Rumpelstiltskin make appearances and there is another ill-fated trip to the Middle Ages. It’s a little bit darker than MY FAIR GODMOTHER because Rumpelstiltskin is a darker story. You can’t have a creepy spoon-riding, man who wants to buy babies in your story and not have it be a little dark.
Q: With the wealth of fairy tales out there and Chrissy (Chrysanthemum) Everstar's ineptitude, will there be a MY FAIR GODMOTHER 3?
A: I love skewering fairy tales, so there might be a third book in the series. I mean, I have to get Chrissy into Fairy Godmother University at some point. The poor girl has been trying for an admittance letter for so long. If I do write a MY FAIR GODMOTHER 3, I plan to make Chrissy more of an integral part of the story and not just a character who pops in every once in awhile to see how things are going.
Q: As a teen, which book made you laugh so hard, you, uh, lost control?
A: Growing up, I loved Ellen Conford’s books because they always made me laugh. It was a delight to read her novels. Another great humor author is Patrick McManus. My husband and I still quote some of his lines to each other.
Q: Any favorite authors or people who make you laugh?
A: I love the comedians Brian Reagan and Don McMillan. Both are funny and clean, which means my kids can listen to them too. My sons can both do great impersonations of Brian Reagan and they always make me laugh.
Q: Anything funny or even not funny that I didn't touch on that you think is important or just want to add?
A: I wish the literary community appreciated humor writing more. There is a sense among reviewers and book award committee members that if a book is funny, it isn’t meaningful. This attitude discourages writers from putting humor in their books, and that’s a shame. We have enough darkness and angst in the world. We need more laughter.
Janette's next Godmother book, 'MY UNFAIR GODMOTHER' comes out Winter 2011.
I recently encouraged the French children's publishing house, Editions de La Martiniere Jeunesse, to buy and publish the French version of Lauren Myracle's censor-challenging book, ttyl (talk to you later). ttyl joins an elite group of titles as one of the top 10 most banned books in the US.
And Myracle was in the news again with her new “multi-format” title, Luv Ya Bunches (that La Martiniere will also publish in March, translated by Sabine Boulogne) when Scholastic bookclubs banned and then reversed its decision to ban Luv Ya Bunches at its book fairs.
Outside of its “bad girl” publishing history, ttyl is one of the first YA books to tackle a narrative written entirely in instant-messenger-speak. The irony that I would actually cotton to such an idea is not lost on me, someone who laboriously writes her own phone text messeges in "long hand" (I refuse to use "4" for "for," for example). But Myracle has accomplished more than getting on the Top 10 Banned Books list with ttyl (the 500,000+ copies sold in the US alone are witness to something working).
Below, I explore how her book fits into today's New Literature & New Technology (granted, by the time you read this, there’s the chance that “New” will be “Has-been,”).
With her Internet Girl series (ttyl is the first of three titles), Lauren Myracle proves that no matter the format, a good story will capture the readers’ attention. ttyl could have been written in a traditional paragraph-by-paragraph narrative rather than in chat, but by writing the entire novel in instant messaging, Myracle spoke to teens in their own “secret” language. Adults who pre-date the Internet may question the value of this, but then, most of these adults don’t hear the high-pitched tone that signals that an SMS has arrived and are missing the message altogether.
ttyl documents a short time in the lives of three longtime best friends, from love to homework to wardrobe woes, and the entire novel is told in three voices through chats on-line. Lest anyone criticize this as non-literature, think again: Myracle serves up three thought-provoking and page-turning narratives dealing with real-life issues woven into one satisfying tale where each character is fully realized and believable.
That she accomplishes this in instant messaging format just points to how innovations in computer technology in the last 20 years have changed the way we live, work, shop and communicate. Because of these advances in technology, education and language have been forced to change as well. Authors like Myracle and others who choose to work with the new technology and thus “new literature” are discovering that you can still tell a good story – even in a “new language.” Call it a gimmick if you want, but the kids are listening. And reading.
So are educators. Today, students can upload assignments to a class website, email questions to their teachers, and work on assignments with distant peers using instant messaging, online discussion forums, social networks and wikis. While texting is popular, if not mandatory in the adolescent community, educators and parents often view texting as a distraction. Are there any educational benefits to all the texting going on? How can teachers manage, while at the same time exploiting, the multi-tasking that kids do to enhance learning? Why is a text message sent out to 30 students better than a handout in class? And won’t kids go into media-overload with information shooting at them from all arenas?
Educators who embrace the technology are looking at ways to harness student interest in texting for educational purposes. Some teachers use texting to launch discussions on formal vs. informal language, comparing the language and syntax of text messaging with that of formal, written language. Others have students use texting to create short summaries of more formal pieces of literature, such as Shakespeare. Overall, studies have shown that students who initially show disinterest in a learning module, participate enthusiastically when projects incorporate cell phones. And in a recent study it was found that for students who are reluctant to put pen to paper, cell phones appear to be opening the door to literacy because they are being used for discussion and to write stories. These examples highlight how new media can interface with literature and education. Unlike a handout, a text message signals a conversation and keeps students dialoguing with other students and the teacher.
Like technology and education, language is ever-changing. As language changes, so does its uses in communication and in the creation of literature. No longer is literature defined by the covers of a book. Today, new technology has sparked new literature in the form of the new technology: text messaging and social networking sites.
In response to the new technology, forward-thinking authors have accepted the challenge to create novels and short stories with new symbols and limited character lengths, in short, in a new language. Some might think this reflects western society’s constantly shortening attention span, but innovative authors like Myracle bring this new literature of texting and chat to paper in the form of innovative full-length novels with beginnings, middles and ends.
Technology-savvy teachers use instant messaging and social networking sites to engage students and encourage student participation in discussions, whereas those educators who fight this wave show the same kind of snobbism that comics faced years ago. In the fight to save literacy (and thus, literature), educators today who use comics and the new media to encourage reading and writing are on the forefront of a generational shift as to how literature is taught, absorbed and shared. Professional writers who use new media like Twitter to tell their stories note that it has sharpened their writing styles, made it more concise. Add in the chance for students to feel closer to these writers (or even to collaborate with them) and you have a winning opportunity in new media to get teens writing and interested in literature, whether that be in text or formal written language.
Since students are generally even more technological-friendly than their older educators, they are comfortable with new media and with multi-tasking. Thus, educators are gradually coming to realize that the best way to tackle the “enemy” is to incorporate it into their lesson plans: Using texting in dispersal of homework, encouraging class discussion and even original writing in the form of text messages.
In a world where novels are written on cell phones and Twitter, ttyl rings the bell of change, getting teens reading and inspiring young writers to create their own new literature. Or maybe that was a cell phone ringing the arrival of a new chapter?
 Bernard S. (2008). Zero-Thumb Game: How to Tame Texting. May 28, 2008. Retrieved September 15, 2008: http://www.edutopia.org/text-messaging-teaching-tool and http://www.netc.org/focus/strategies/summ.php
 Anderson J. New Study Recasts Cell Phones as Effective Teaching Tool. August 22, 2005. http://www.ergoweb.com/news/detail.cfm?id=1180