Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Betcha Didn't Know...

Call me a nerd, but I find word origins pretty fascinating. At the Atkins Library UNC Charlotte while researching my juvenile novel that will take place in Charlotte, NC in 1951, I experienced two word origins “hands on.”
We all take the term “cut and paste” pretty much for granted. You double click on the correct icon with your mouse and you move text in less time than it took to write this sentence. Well, in the “olden days” that wasn’t quite so easy. Today I ran my hand over the surface of a Sanborn map that was first printed in 1929 and continually updated until 1952. These GIGANTIC maps (we’re talking the size of a small end table) were used by fire insurance companies to determine the degree of fire hazard associated with a particular property. They include such details as the construction of the buildings, type of roofs, and the size, shapes and types of the building. These are handy to get a picture of a town or city during a particular time period but also demonstrated this whole “cut and paste” principal. As buildings were added or changed, the map makers literally re-typed the information, cut it out, and pasted it onto the old map. At first glance, the surface of these maps looked smooth, but on closer inspection (and feeling) you could see where new information had been placed over the old. Pretty cool.

How about a horn book? Besides being the name of the magazine that every children’s author strives to get a positive review in, do you know what it is? ( I didn’t!) At Atkins, I saw one. The original hornbooks were smaller than a sheet of notebook paper and were made from metal with a wooden paddle for a child to hold. Often the “lesson sheet” was covered by cow's horn and held in place with a metal frame. The lesson sheet had the alphabet (both upper- and lowercase), at times included numerals 1-10, and the Lord's Prayer. The one at the Atkins Library is from the 18th century, appears to have little nails holding the horn on the wood, and displays the alphabet and then a few words or letter combinations at the bottom.

So, now you know!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Here, Bullet

Poet and soldier. Those two nouns usually don't march down the road hand in hand. But in the case of Brian Turner, author of Here, Bullet, (Alice James Books, 2005) both are apt descriptions. If you want a book that vividly paints a word picture of the Iraq war, then I highly recommend this collection of poems. In the classroom I would use it as a read- aloud so that I could pick the poems appropriate to my group of students. The poems are intense and require maturity in the reading audience. Here is a sample from the poem, "Iraqi Policemen":

The explosion left a hole in the roadbed

Large enough to fit a mid-sized car.

It shattered concrete, twisted metal,

busted storefront windows in sheets

and lifted a BMW chassis up onto a rooftop.

The shocking blood of the men

forms an obscene art: a moustache, alone

on a sidewalk, a blistered hand's gold ring

still shining, while a medic, Doc Lopez,

pauses to catch his breath, to blow it out

hard, so he might cup the left side of a girl's face

in one hand, gently, before bandaging

the half gone missing.

This book would be a great supplement for a high school language arts class on the importance of word choice, or for those of you who teach history, social studies, or government and need to supplement your curriculum with reading activities.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Looking Glass Wars

If you're looking for an entertaining, incredibly clever, and thought provoking book for boys and girls from age 11 and up, then check out The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor (Dial Books, 2006). Falling into the category of "Why couldn't I have thought of that?" Beddor's book is built on the premise that Alice Liddell "fell" into this world from her world of Wonderland. Alyss's world (her "real" name) is full of castle intrigue, power politics, cards that are soldiers with amazingly effective weapons (I was partial to the AD52 that carried quite a punch), battles between good and evil, and even a hint of romance (but not so much that boys will gag!). Adult and young adult readers will enjoy the wordplay which Beddor threads throughout the book: both card and chess metaphors are seamlessly interwoven into the plot. The author does such a good job of creating this fantasy world, that by the end you will wonder which world is truly real. And in fact, the chronology at the end of the book comes as a surprise. There are so many more layers built into this book then I first realized, that readers may have to start all over again. Fortunately, this is the first book in a trilogy and I am hooked. I can't wait to get my hands unto Seeing Redd which is due out in August, 2007.

Monday, July 23, 2007

National Writing Project Report

In a recent article in the June/July issue of Reading Today, Matt Freeman provides a brief history of the National Writing Project (NWP) as well input from Richard Sterling, the current executive director.
Here are some points which emphasize some of the same principles I have applied in Teaching the Story:

  • College professors and employers continually ask that young people get better training in writing.
  • Nothing, according to Sterling, helps you organize your thinking as well as writing. Done well, it forces you to state things in a way that is coherent, cogent, and clear.
  • Three important principles underlie reform in teaching writing:
  1. Teachers of writing should write themselves.
  2. Use a broad range of techniques.
  3. Encourage students to write a lot.
  • The NWP approach emphasizes sharing one's work, keeping in mind its purpose and audience…This requires careful management—teens can be less than tactful about each other's work—but handled well they can create powerful critique groups.

Taken from: "National Writing Project's time-tested approach evolves and adapts to a new millennium," Reading Today, p. 41, International Reading Association, June/July 2007.

Monday, July 16, 2007

An Encouraging Word from Paul Stankard for Educators

If you have been reading this blog, then you have seen several entries about Paul Stankard, a brilliant glass paperweight artist who I profiled in the June issue of Highlights Magazine. In May he spoke at the Masters of Art in Education Commencement Address at Muskingum College. He gave me permission to share the following excerpts with you:
“Tonight I want to share with you the struggles and successes of one student, one child with special needs and how that person, who is now talking to you, became successful in spite of, or maybe because of, a learning disability.
I was educated at a time when little was known about learning problems, and my fourteen years in school were distorted by undiagnosed dyslexia. I learned to trust those teachers who encouraged me to persevere, and now as a senior looking back I recognize that I've been driven by an inner need to be educated. I've acted on that need, and over the years learned how to dilute the effects of my learning challenges….
During the research for my autobiography, I retrieved my grammar school records, and was both surprised and saddened to learn that my first IQ score was very low. My grammar school years were not that difficult, because I was nearly invisible in the large classes that averaged forty-three to forty-five students. In the 1950’s, the good sisters of Saint Mary’s Parochial School managed their classrooms with loving kindness and a wooden pointer, and if you were identified as a poor student but were well behaved, you were left alone. This contributed to my failing the third grade and being put on probation in the fifth grade, which resulted in being tutored on school nights by my mother. My poor performance in school was responsible for my having low self esteem, and as sad as it sounds, I was jealous of the smart kids.
Reading was like torture; I was constantly being corrected for repeating the same mistakes. Simple words like “was” I read as “saw “and I couldn't distinguish N from M among other challenges. In math I transposed numbers, and the most embarrassing deficiency was not being able to distinguish right from left. In the seventh grade, I made my right index finger raw by repeatedly scratching it in order to feel my right hand. My parents thought I had a nervous tick and constantly told me to quite picking at my finger.
My Mother had me read poetry aloud, which I learned to love. My Mom would first recite the poem and then I would read it. With my good memorization skills, I could sound out the words and connect them to the rhythmic flow of the poem. Often I could identify the poem’s idea, and took great satisfaction in my small successes in reading…
High School was comfortable in a strange way because no one had any academic expectations for me. The courses that I loved most were the industrial arts, and I would earn B‘s in wood and metal shop.
You all know how some times, one little event, one small experience, can make a profound difference in the course of a life. You educators will have a multitude of opportunities to provide meaningful experiences to your students. One such experience happened to me during high school.
Mrs. Reid, my English teacher for three years running would often read books out loud to the class for fifteen to twenty minutes at a time. Mrs. Reid’s reading out loud allowed me to experience the classics in a way that I couldn't have done otherwise.
Years later, in the mid seventies, the Franklin Mint, a direct market retailer, was offering The Greatest Books Ever Written on audio cassettes. I ordered the series and became enthralled listening to the quarterly installments. I credit Mrs. Reid with introducing me to a great joy that actually changed my life. She cultivated a love of literature in me that celebrates the power of the spoken and written word. The classics have challenged me to take creative risks and seek out the same depth of human emotion in my work that I feel in great books.
In 1972, I left the factory environment to be on the creative side. By good fortune I turned on the radio and heard an interview with Olympic-gold medalist Bruce Jenner. Jenner was discussing how, as a poor student and reader in middle school, he was diagnosed with dyslexia. Fascinated in what I was listening to, I stopped working and focused on every word that was being said. It was a Eureka moment, because I thought Jenner was talking about me, and now, after all these years, I discovered the reason I was a poor student, and this meant I wasn't stupid! After learning that there was a neurological basis for my inability to process information like most people, I knew my passion could outwit my brain, to be successful with what God gave me…
Fast forward to the late eighties when a major intellectual breakthrough occurred for me. I became a member of the nonprofit organization “Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic“, and my world expanded with access to the organization’s library of over 90,000 unabridged books on tape. Two special books, “How to Read and Why” and “The Western Canon” both by Harold Bloom, gave me a seemly endless reading list. These two thought provoking books introduced me to great literature that celebrate the mysteries surrounding: sex, death and God, which have become primary themes woven into my artistic vision.
For a person who once couldn't read, I now can say I’ve read from Homer to Walt Whitman to James Joyce, and I enjoy discussing my favorite books from the nearly two hundred mostly classics I've read.
With each book listened to, I ceremoniously place a copy on my living room library shelf to symbolize a victory over past challenges…
It’s not uncommon to meet talented studio artists who have experienced poor academic performance caused by disinterest in school or by learning disabilities. I love how creativity allows people to reach their full potential in life, and how this fascinating ingredient, distinguishes humans from other living creatures. You're the gifted and talented teachers that will inspire young students, especially those having difficulties, to never give up, because, in the end, they have to know that perseverance will help them reach their full potential….
Let me reiterate what you already know. Do what you love by listening to your heart, and understand why it feels right. I think it’s ironic, that my learning challenges gave me the emotional strength to over-compensate my shortcomings and to grow with artistic authority. It’s interesting to know how my low self-esteem has motivated me to get it right in a way that most knowledgeable people would consider obsessive.”
To read some of Paul’s poems, go to his poetry page on his website.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Things that make a Writer Ecstatic

The July issue of Children's Book Insider has a one-page feature article about yours-truly and some of my experiences writing Teaching the Story. If you want to find out more about writing for children and young adults, this is a wonderful resource which you should consider subscribing to.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Blood Red Horse

I haven't been deliberately picking out books with colors in the title, but I'm always excited when my local library adds new YA books on CD's to their collection. I picked up Blood Red Horse by K.M. Grant and was not disappointed to listen to a book that would appeal to both boys and girls. (The SCBWI-Carolinas listserve has been having a lively discussion on what types of books appeal to boys and whether we as writers write to their interests, or write what we feel passionately about. Interesting dilemma for writers!)

This first book in the de Granville Trilogy recounts (in vivid, gory detail- thus the boy interest!) is written from the perspective of two young men during the 12th century Crusade. One, a Christian knight, the other a Muslim emir. Through the events which are shown in remarkable, historic detail, they both end up loving the same "blood red horse." The valued animal ends up being a catalyst for partial reconciliation between the two enemies. The author not only portrays the conflicts and experiences of both young men, but it is also an eye-opening account of the Crusades. I highly recommend it for readers in middle school and high school. Younger mature readers might also appreciate it, although given the nature of the subject, there is quite a bit of violence.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Things that make writers jubilant!

Several blogs ago I mentioned that my article about internationally acclaimed paperweight artist, Paul Stankard, came out in the June issue of Highlights Magazine. Yesterday I was surprised to open a plain, white box from Honesdale, Pa (and who else lives in Honesdale but Highlights???) to find that I had received a plaque inscribed with the following:

Highlights for Children

Author of the Month

Carol Baldwin

"Paperweight Magic"

June, 2007

That pretty much made my day!

Sunday, July 1, 2007


In addition to meeting educators at the Mid-South conference, I also met Joyce Hostetter, the author of Blue (Calkins Creek Books, 2006). This award-winning novel is set in Hickory, NC in 1944 and the story is well-shown through the eyes and heart of 13-year-old Ann Fay Honeycutt. Whether she likes it or not, the end of World War II and the polio epidemic impact Ann's life and leaves her a young woman who has faced heartache and pain—in her family and in her own body. These changes, along with how she overcomes entrenched family prejudices against African Americans, make this novel an excellent read for students in grades 5-8. I also recommend this book to my fellow writers. I am writing historical fiction that takes place in Charlotte during the 50's and it is inspiring (and educational!) to read other books in the same genre. (Boyds Mill Press, 2006)

GIRL ON FIRE: A Graphic Novel Review by Guest Blogger, Elliott Kurta

Written by a Grammy-winning musician,  Girl on Fire  is Alicia Keys ’ latest project. Aimed at mature middle-schoolers, this graphic novel i...