Friday, December 19, 2014

Friend Friday

This is the last Friend Friday post of 2014 -- we'll start the feature up again on January 9, 2015. Today, however, we are going to the dogs. . .Stacy Nyikos' dogs, that is. Well, dog singular. But Desi lives large in every way and his zest for life (and trouble) has inspired Stacy's newest picture book. 
Stacy Nyikos

My latest book, Waggers (2 December 2014, Sky Pony Press), is about a newly adopted puppy who tries REALLY hard to be good, but his tail get in the way. 

The story was inspired by unexpected, definitely unintended, but sometimes unbelievably disastrous mishaps by our most recently adopted puppy, Desi, who has the heart of a Great Dane and the tail of a Great White Whale. 

It was a fun write, cathartic even, but every story challenges me in some way. With Waggers, it was originality.

Story itself isn’t exactly original. In fact, if you want a blueprint for it, take a look at Joseph Campbell A Hero’s Journey. He takes an Emperor’s New Clothes approach to story, revealing all its unseemly parts. No page is unturned, no trick unmasked.

Neither is telling story. A lot of our communication takes on story format. How was your day? What happened at school? How is the project coming along?

Of course, the answer can be a single sentence (with my teen daughters, a grunt), but more often than not, we listeners ask for more, until we’ve got beginning, middle, and end. For better or worse, we like our information in a certain form.

Here’s the trick. A storyteller can’t just reuse an already used form without adding her own flair. If she does, things become predictable and the reader goes off to make a cheese sandwich, never to return. Readers want to be surprised. They want unusual. But how do you take the everyday and make it new and out-of-the-ordinary? That’s what I faced with Waggers. A dog with a problem isn’t novel. I was going to have to get creative.

Pause for dramatic effect.

Not affected? Dare I say, this is what you expect of writers, that they are creative, imaginative, avant-garde even? Demanding readers. Okay, okay, me too. I expect the seemingly impossible of writers, and my writing.

Yet with Waggers, I seesawed between something so new it couldn’t even be called story, to something so trite I was falling asleep. So I tried the demented writer approach – i.e. ditch everything, kill my darlings – until I didn’t even have enough left to call a haiku. Which brought me to the sobering realization that this was about balance. It was about sifting through and discovering what elements I could use and how to reshape, relay, reimagine and add until my story emerged with its own form and flair.

I wish I could say I understood all of that when I was going through it, but I am a messy writer. I never know exactly where I am until I finish and step back to get my bearings. If I don’t recognize my surroundings, woohoo! I’ve taken story somewhere new.

Now if I can just sell it…

About the Author: Stacy Nyikos is the author of many mischievous books for kids. She's not sure how that happened. She never got into trouble as a child. Well, if you don't count borrowing sandwiches from her dad. He wasn't eating them anyway. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College, which she didn't borrow. They gave it to her. Really. Ask her kids. Or her dog. Just don't ask her husband. He's missing a few sandwiches. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Wednesday Wisdom

I have nothing against work, 
particularly when performed quietly and unobtrusively
 by someone else.

Barbara Ehrenreich

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Teacher Tuesday

Thanks to Alex Valencic for being my guest today. Alex is a self-described professional educator and literature enthusiast who shares his passion for books with 4th graders in Urbana, Illinois.

Alex, please fill in the blank:
You should never read and (blank) at the same time.

You should never read and sleep at the same time. You end up waking up trying to figure out why you have turned 20 pages in your book but don't remember anything from them!

If you were invited to be on Oprah, what book would you bring for her to read?

If I were invited to be on Oprah, I would bring her Kathryn Otoshi's series of books with numbers as the titles. (Currently Zero, One, and Two. They are simple picture books but they teach important life lessons about standing up for what's right, including others, and making sure everyone knows they are important!

What is the funniest book you’ve read?

I have read far too many books to pick one as the funniest, but one of the funniest books I have read recently is definitely Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems. I read it to my five-year-old cousin over the summer and she and I were giggling uncontrollably the whole time!

What is the saddest?

I somehow manage to read a lot of sad books, or, at least, books with sad parts. (I don't think I've ever read a book that was just straight-up sad.) However, I have to admit that I felt like a horrible monster when I read the saddest part of Hattie Big Sky to my fourth graders (nope, not gonna give any spoilers) right before a long weekend! I had several of my students in tears and several more who yelled at me for leaving at that point!  

Favorite reading snack/beverage?

I admit: in addition to being a bibliophile, I am an chocoholic. Give me a bag of chocolate and a book and I'll be happy as a clam! Oh, and I won't complain if you hand me a bottle of Dr. Pepper, Cherry Coke, or any type of ginger ale.

What’s next on your TBR list?

I have several lists, actually. Um, I guess I'll keep my responses limited to my children's book list. Next up is The Walls of Cartagena by Illinois author Julia Durango, who I met at a children's writing conference last May. I'm planning on using it during my unit on European exploration and colonization of the Americas. (Don't worry, Kirby; Duke and Dash are both in the pile!)

Thanks, Alex! I won't worry. 

Teachers, librarians, reading coaches, principals, custodians, lunch ladies, anyone with school connections: Please play along! Email me here and I'll get you the questions so you, too, can be featured on Teacher Tuesday. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Friend Friday

Sometimes, I just plain don't recall how I met people and that's the case with Lee McKenzie but I am so very glad to host her today for Friend Friday. Take it away, Lee!

A Writers Journey

Writing is an interesting and unpredictable journey. When I started, I had no idea Id be writing young and middle grade books. My only thought was, Id like to write something I would read.

Mostly I enjoy writing realistic, contemporary young adult novels. However, a steady diet of tough issues teens face today leaves my writers well a little dry at times, so I like mixing it up when it comes to what I write.

Non-fiction articles are perfect for balance, and Ive tackled everything from Vermiculture for kids to an article about a Tuatara. If youre curious about either topic, click on its title below.

A couple of years ago, I took a leap into a middle grade fantasy adventure, Alligators Overhead. I loved writing the story about Pete Riley, the town rascal, and his sidekick, Weasel, while they saved an endangered wetlands. I loved it so much, Ive just finished a sequel. This ones The Great Time Lock Disaster. Once again the rascal and his bookish friend get into all kinds of trouble that I hope will delight young readers.

However, there is one story I want to write, but cant seem to.

Why? I can write stories for beginning readers and teens; Ive written and published fiction and non-fiction, so whats stopping me from writing one story I really want to see come to the page?

You see the story is really my dads. Its about his life as a boy who grew up in hardship. It tells about his struggle to leave behind a terrible boyhood and make a good life for himself. It tells about his years at the university on a scholarship, his marriage, his war years.

Maybe the reason I cant finish it is he should have written it; then it would be right.

When he was alive, I worried what hed say if he read how I set down the events hed told me. What if I didnt have them the way he wanted?

Since hes gone, I hesitate because I think, well, hes not here to correct me. Im writing his life through my filter, and it could be all wrong.

Ive obviously gone around on this issue. Finally, Ive decided Ill write it as a biography. I have no plans for publishing it, but I’d like it to be his “dash" fleshed out with the stories he told me during the years we shared.

Now Ill have to learn a bit about writing biographies because, while I enjoy reading them, I know nothing about how to make them interesting enough to read.

Everyday I wonder where my writing journey will take me. Everyday Im excited to wake up and see what will happen next.

Thanks for letting me stop by, Kirby. Its such a pleasure to connect with you after so many years.

Lee is a native Californian who grew up in a lot of different places, then landed in the Santa Cruz Mountains where she lives with her family and miscellaneous pets. She writes most of the time, gardens, hikes and does yoga a lot. She also travels whenever she can. 

In her writing, she takes on modern issues that today's teens face in their daily lives. Her first young adult novel, Sliding on the Edge, which dealt with cutting and suicide, was published in 2009. Her second, titled The Princess of Las Pulgas, dealing with a family who loses everything and must rebuild their lives, came out in 2010. Double Negative (2014) is her third young adult novel, and her fourth, Sudden Secrets, will be out soon.

In 2012, her first middle grade novel, Alligators Overhead, was published and she's just finished the sequel which she's calling The Great Time Lock Disaster.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wednesday Wisdom

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Teacher Tuesday

Teacher Tuesday goes international for the first time with Tanja Galetti’s answers to my little quiz. Tanja is the Primary School Teacher Librarian at Hong Kong Academy, an IB World School in Hong Kong. You can find her on Twitter, on Facebook, on Goodreads and at her library blog

Tanja, please fill in the blank:

You should never read and (blank) at the same time.

This is a tricky one because I can and enjoy reading in so many different ways (traditional paper books, e-books, audiobooks…) and situations: I love reading while eating, drinking, bathing (never with library books though ;), listening to music, sitting in the park, cooking, working out, going for a walk, commuting to work, shelving books in my library… So is there really a situation when not to read? Hmmm… Maybe, You should never read and swim – because I can really not imagine how that would work without destroying the book, no matter its format. But anything else goes.

If you were invited to be on Oprah, what book would you bring for her to read?

An easy question to answer: I would bring William Joyce’s The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

I love many books but treasure this story in a very special way. It is so much about what I believe in as a librarian, a reader, and a writer: “Morris Lessmore loved words. He loved stories. He loved book.” 

Just like for Morris, I find that every library is a “mysterious and inviting room” and when I enter I can hear “the faint chatter of a thousand different stories, as if each book was whispering an invitation to adventure”. The Fantastic Flying Books is about who I am and why I treasure books and stories so much. It touches me deeply each time I read it – and I read it often either in its traditional picture book format or the interactive version on my iPad. I know it will move Oprah to tears too because she, just like Morris and all of us librarians believe, that “everyone’s story matters” – and we work towards making sure that everyone’s story is heard – or read.

What is the funniest book you’ve read?

There are so many funny picture books I adore as for example Jon Scieszka’s The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, Leah Wilcox’s Waking Beauty, and of course, each of the wonderful Piggie and Elephant books by Mo Willems. But I would most probably mention an adult book here, a book that I have read and re-read many times, but never read in public! It is the one book that makes me laugh out loud and uncontrollably even though now I already know what comes next: Bill Bryson’s Down Under. I received this book from a very dear Australian friend (thanks, Sharon!) many years ago and turn to it whenever I need some cheering up.

What is the saddest?
I cry easily – when listening to someone share a story, when watching a movie and when reading. I don’t think I have ever read a book by Michael Morpurgo book that has not made me cry at some point or another. So I knew right away that for thinking about the saddest book, I had to go through the books I had read by him. Now don’t misunderstand me here, I love and treasure his books since he is such a master storyteller. His stories are just so touching and thought provoking. The saddest I have ever read, and just thinking about it now makes me sad, is The Dancing Bear. A short little volume but a story that once you have read it will never let you go again.

Favorite reading snack/beverage?

Chocolate! Especially when I am reading a sad, emotionally challenging book, I need the comforting feel and taste of chocolate as it melts on my tongue.

What’s next on your TBR list?

I have an ever-growing list of books I want to read as I keep suggestions and recommendations from family, friends and students in my reader’s notebook and on Evernote. This list includes children’s, young adult, adult and professional literature. So let me just pick one from each category that I think I might read next:
Children’s literature: Duke (Kirby Larson) – I loved Kirby’s Hattie books and wanted to read this book, which seems very different, for a very long time and now finally have a copy of the book.
Young Adult: The Geography of You and Me (Jennifer E. Smith) – After seeing the reviews on School Library Journal and Booklist, I knew I needed to read this books soon. I appreciate a classic love story and relationships over a distance seems to be the story of my life: “(…) it’s a classic dish served up with style, heart, and a long-distance yearning immediately recognizable to anyone who has had to love from afar.”
Adult: Edge of Eternity (Ken Follett) – the third and final book in the Century Trilogy, which I have been waiting for since last year. Reading the other two books made me feel I had never really understood much of what happened before, during and after the World Wars while learning about it in my history classes in school. The books made me read additional information on real historic figures and events mentioned in the book. An amazing journey into the past which I can’t wait to continue with the last book which will take me into the cold war era (okay, I have to confess, it’s no more on my TBR list as I just started to read the book…).

Professional: Guy Write: What Every Guy Writer Needs to Know (Ralph Fletcher). Ralph Fletcher is often mentioned in the context of teaching writing through mentor texts, something the school I work at is more and more incorporating. So I have started to look at some of the books the author has written (I loved his childhood memoir Marshfield Dreams!) and this title is next on my list.