Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Joy of Being an Educational Author

Yesterday I presented a workshop, Wikis, Word Choice and Red Font:
Ride the Revision Wave of the Future at the South Carolina Council of Teachers of English conference. This is my third year to have the opportunity to work with teachers in the tranquil setting of palm-packed Kiawah Island. Driving home yesterday I reflected on how much fun it is to share my book, Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8. Several teachers told me, "I can't wait to use this back in my classroom on Monday." Other teachers were impressed with the amount of reproducibles on the resource CD that comes packaged with the book. One middle school teacher had just completed a unit on writing the memoir and decided that having her students write a short story would be a logical extension of their work. We talked about how my mini-lesson, "Getting to Know You - The Author" would help students write fiction based on their own experiences—rather than writing a story about a character (such as a "cool" college student) that they couldn't write authentically.

Every writer dreams of autographing her own book. My pleasure is multiplied knowing that my labor will result in teachers inspiring their students to become better writers. A Charlotte novelist, Robert Whitlow, reviewed my book when it first came out and said: "Someday, a successful author will thank Carol Baldwin for writing this book. Teaching the Story… equips teachers to debunk the prejudices against story writing and release the creative gifts within every student. I highly recommend it."

What more could an educational author ask for?

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Monday, January 26, 2009


I'm a little late on posting this, but on January 17th I had the opportunity to hear "Bridging Musical Worlds: A Musical Community Dialgoue Honoring the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.." Hosted at the Little Rock AME Zion Church in partnership with the Afro-American Cultural Center, I particularly enjoyed hearing the AMEN choir. The African-American Male Enrichment Network is composed of men representing different churches in Charlotte. They are men who stand for Christ with a mission "to provide inspirational music and service to churches, nursing homes, community agencies, and civic projects." To which I heartily say, "Amen!"
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Friday, January 23, 2009

Smiles to Go

A cynical reader might say that Jerry Spinelli's latest book is simply another coming of age book or a "you-don't-appreciate-your-loved-ones-until-they're-almost-gone" book—but it's a lot more than that. It is a skillful portrayal of how an adolescent can become so obsessed with his own thoughts, dreams, and plans that he can miss what is going on in his own family. As Will Tuppence, the main character discovers, he doesn't have to live life the same way in which he plays chess - seeing every move laid out on the black and white squares in front of him. Unexpected events happen, providing a way to help you see your life, your family, and even your best friends in a totally different way.

I am a fan of Jerry Spinelli's books. I loved Stargirl, blogged about Eggs, enjoyed Maniac McGee, and refer to Milkweed when I discuss creating an historic setting or character at teachers conferences. I even had the opportunity to meet him and his author wife, Eileen, at the Keystone Reading Association conference last fall. I appreciate how Spinelli's characters are believable and how he delicately and precisely weaves figurative language into a book for middle school boys and girls. But I have to admit, I was bothered about two things in Smiles to Go: the science fiction inclusion of dying protons and little flashes of light which mysteriously appear and disappear. As I mentioned in my blog about 47, an author has the responsibility to ensure that his book makes sense. I kept waiting for the flashes of light to be explained which they weren't. And although protons dying make an interesting backdrop to this story, the novel is not science fiction and my concrete mind desired an explanation for these alleged "facts."

But in the end, Spinelli is a masterful storyteller and I would recommend this book for middle school readers. Since Will is a freshman in high school, some high school readers will also enjoy it. Spinelli obviously wants to make a point about time—appreciating the past and cherishing the present. Smiles to Go will hopefully help young readers appreciate the gifts that have been given: family and friends who stand by you and accept you for who you are, and finding your place in a universe that is out there to be admired, enjoyed, and respected.

As a mother, one of my favorite lines from the book came from Will's mother. "Sometimes you get so wrapped up in your own little world that you don't see what's right in front of you." That's advice that all of us can benefit from. (Harper Collins, 2008)

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Polishing Your Prose

A fellow Charlotte, NC writer Jean Hall posted this on her blog Jean's Encouraging Words for Writers. I thought it was worth passing along to fellow writers and she graciously allowed me to quote her.

"If you're even vaguely interested in writing non-fiction (in any form) you need to get your FREE copy of Marilyn C. Hilton's ebook Polishing Your Prose. I'm one of those nutty detail-oriented people who wants every comma to be in exactly the right place. Polishing Your Prose is a goldmine for me.

"Don't let the subtitle scare you off [Tech-Writing for NonFiction That Shines]. The info contained in this 35 page book will give every author a secret weapon for making manuscripts stand out as professional and near perfect-regardless of the genre.

"Chapters include the following:

"Audience, Scope, and Chunks (foundational work before you start typing)

"Organization With Lists, Steps, and Tables (how to make them reader-friendly)

"Using Art Effectively (charts, diagrams, graphs)

"Creating a Leak-Proof Index (I didn't know that Word and other processors will make an index for me! Shows how computer illiterate I am.)

"Editing Down to the Bones (A check-list for fool-proof editing. If I follow these steps I'll never again turn in a manuscript with an error in it.)

"Careers in Writing (You know, the kind you actually get paid for.)

"So, how in the world do you get your hands on a FREE copy of Marliyn's book? Click on the link to visit her website, then send her an email requesting your copy of Polishing Your Prose."

Jean said it was simple and she was right. Marilyn is quick to respond and will be happy to send you your own copy of this small, helpful e-book.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009


I was initially attracted to 47
since I thought that it might inform the historical fiction which I am working on. Unfortunately, I was seriously disappointed. I found Walter Mosley's strange mixture of historical fiction and speculative fiction confusing and an obstacle in depicting the serious theme of slavery in the antebellum South.

Originally I was drawn into the narrator's story of how he, Forty-seven, (the number with which he is branded with which becomes his name) meets Tall John, a young man who develops into his best friend. Although portrayed as an escaped slave from a nearby plantation, the reader and Forty-seven slowly discover that Tall John is no ordinary human being. His extraordinary powers include being able to fly between galaxies, heal people with vials of medicine which he has hidden away, inexplicably transport people over miles of land, and read dreams. None of these extraordinary talents are fully explained in the text and in fact, some "facts" such as Tall John arriving in a "sonship" are revealed late into the story. Mosley does not provide enough textual clues to make this alien super-hero, his former world, or his mission, make sense to the reader. Although Tall John has a wonderful message to 47: "No nigger or master be," this message is diluted as the reader tries to figure out the convulsions of a science fantasy world that never makes sense juxtaposed against a Southern plantation.

When I teach the science fiction or fantasy genre I always emphasize that the world which the author creates must make sense to the reader. If a reader has to stop reading to try and figure out what is going on in the story, then the author has not adequately done his job. Unfortunately, I feel as if Mr. Mosley's book for young adults falls into this category. In addition, I listened to the book on AudioBooks and found Ossie Davie's (the narrator) voice difficult to understand; I think middle grade students probably would not persevere and return the book to the library without listening to it. (Little, Brown and Company, 2005)


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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Haiti Relief Update

On December 16 I blogged about a Haiti Relief project that Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, NC sponsored. Yesterday, I received the following e-mail from Diane Dworek, of the co-coordinators:

"So what all did God send to Haiti through your generosity and giving spirits? Well would you believe…..?

"1469 full size bars of soap, 16 boxes girls clothing, 10 boxes boys clothing, 137 underwear/training pants, 16 boxes women clothing, 14 boxes men’s clothing, 5 boxes misc kids shoes, 4 boxes adult shoes, 3,000 pairs of Crocs, 850 back packs, 1916 washcloths, 1737 toothbrushes, 737 toothpaste tubes, 449 full size shampoo + conditioner and hair products, 5 boxes other toiletry items, 60 enamelware mugs, 1182 rolls of toilet paper, 163 gallons Clorox, 100 first aid kits for each orphanage room, 1,200 pounds + medical supplies, 5 boxes misc. hygiene items, 117 Igloo coolers, 100 pre-cut cooler stands w/nails, 2 dry erase boards, 9 boxes towels & sheets, 3 boxes school supplies, extra lumber, 1 TV, ! new sewing machine, cloth, 2 stainless steel industrial tables, a 6 ft. folding table." Diane Dworek

It's wonderful to be a part of a community who has reached across cultures to help people recovering from hurricanes and floods. Image courtesy of Endeavor to Develop Education. Technorati Tags:
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Monday, January 5, 2009

Newbery Point and Counterpoint

For those of you who have taken exception to past choices of Newbery winners, you might enjoy reading "Has the Newbery Lost Its Way?" an article in the October issue of The School Library Journal by Anita Silvey on recent Newbery choices.

If you're interested in reading a different opinion on the topic, read Erica Perl's thoughtful article, "Captain Underpants Doesn't Need a Newbery Medal".

Which side of the fence do you sit on?

If you ask me, I'm not sure. I've read some terrific Newbery winners such as Bridge to Terabithia (Crowell, 1977) or A Single Shard (Clarion, 2001); and others that I have wondered why they were selected, such as Kira-Kira (Simon and Schuster, 2004) and The Higher Power of Lucky (Simon and Schuster, 2006).

If you're a teacher or librarian with an opinion on Newbery choices, e-mail me and I'll share your thoughts and experiences with others.

As for me, I just put several other Newbery winners on hold at my library; it never hurts to learn from those who have been chosen to exemplify quality childrens literature.
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