Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Farther Than I Could Have Imagined

Back in June, I received a Google alert.  I figured it was a review of my latest book, but when I checked, I had a pleasant surprise.  Somebody had made a video of a poem I had written a few years ago.

The poem is titled "Missing," and it appeared in Lee Bennett Hopkins' gorgeous book, America at War (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2008).  It's in the voice of a young person whose older brother is a soldier, away fighting during the Persian Gulf war in 1991.

I was curious about this video, so I went to Youtube and watched it.  It was very well done, narrated by a young person, with vivid and emotional images.  I wanted to know who had made this video, but the only attribution was "ICT@SSIS,"  with the names Celine, Adrian, and Tsing Lin.

I mentioned this on Facebook, and soon had an email from Lee, saying he'd found another video for the same poem, with the same attribution.  I looked at it, and it seemed like one that had been made before the one I'd been alerted to.  The names given for this one were An, Andy, Victoria, and Chaz.  It appeared there was some sort of contest involved.

So now the search began.

I started with Google.  SSIS.  All I got was more videos.  Like the one for "Missing", they all seemed to be done by school students.  As luck would have it, one of those videos included a teacher's name.  Back to Google I went, and typed in SSIS+ the teacher's name.  Voila!  To my amazement, the students who had made this touching video were 8th graders at the Saigon South International School, in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

I went to the school's website, and saw there was a contact email address, and the name of the "head of school,"  which I assume is the principal, was given.  So I sent her an email, congratulating the kids and asking about the beginning, where the young voices are justifying why this poem should be going "to the next round."  The next day, I had two emails--one from the head of school, Ellen Stern, and one from Danielle Richert, the kids' Humanities and Social Studies teacher.  There had been an 8th grade Poetry Madness tournament, set up like the Poetry Madness tourney over on ThinkKidThink.  In her email, Danielle said, "We started out with 32 poems in 16 different poetry matches.  Students would read the poems, analyze them,  and then vote for which poem in each match should advance to the next round.  Once we reached the quarter-finals, students adopted one of the remaining eight poems.  In groups, they created a digital presentation with their visual and auditory interpretation, as well as their justification for why the poem should advance to the finals.  "Missing" made it to the final round!"

And for once, my timing was absolutely perfect.  It turns out that my email had arrived on the day of the "Moving On" graduating ceremony for the 8th grade students.  In her reply to me, Ms. Stern said "You won't believe how excited they were when I read your email to them!  They couldn't believe they were hearing from a real poet and that their work had made an impact on someone outside of school and family!"

Little did these kids know that I was as excited as they were.  I never imagined that a poem I wrote would be read more than halfway around the world.  I don't know how Ms. Richert found the poem in the first place--perhaps (I hope) she has a copy of Lee's book.   However she found it, I'm delighted that she did.  And it's so good to see that her kids are getting so involved with poetry.  They are an inspiration to kids all over the world. 

Incidentally, this is also a good example of how a poem can be interpreted in different ways by different readers.  These young video makers saw the ending of the poem quite differently than I did.  But that's okay.  That's poetry.

 Here are the two videos:

First, from An, Andy, Victoria, and Chaz: 

And from Celine, Adrian, and Tsing Lin:

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Showing Some National Library Week Love

"You're on this earth to provide a service of some kind.  That's what the good Lord made you for..."

Those words are from Paddy Moloney, founder and leader of the Irish musical group The Chieftains.  If that's the case, then I guess my service is to share my stories and somehow touch people through them.

Some people find their service early on.  Others take longer.  For me, it was years, and I didn't find it on my own.  I had a lot of help along the way, and much of that help came from public libraries.


The first library I ever knew was in my hometown of Lockport, NY.  I come from a long line of voracious readers, and the love of the written word was passed along to me when I was very young.  I don't remember the first time I went to the library with my mother--a weekly trip there was just part of life, as important as the weekly trip to the grocery store.  The children's department was a single large room.  It's been renovated since then, and that room is now a program and story-time room, just part of the much larger children's department.  But even though it was just one room, to a girl with an active imagination, it held the world.  I read everything--fiction, biographies, non-fiction, poetry.  Every summer, I read far more than the number of books required to complete the summer reading program.  The librarian got used to seeing me there, and often recommended books to me.  I'll never forget the day I was allowed for the first time to go into the wood-paneled room that housed the books for junior and senior high school kids.  And there has to be a special place in heaven for the librarian who realized that, even though I was only thirteen, the borders of my literary world were becoming too confining, and let me go upstairs to the adult department, where I quickly discovered books like T.H.White's The Once and Future King, and the wonderful Gothic novels of Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, and Phyllis Whitney.

In 1975, I married and moved away from Lockport.  In the ten years that followed, there were six moves.  Within days upon arrival in each new place, I found the public library and got a card.  In 1980, we landed in Clinton, NY.  We had a daughter by then and, following the example my mother had set for me, I began taking her to the library when she was just a few months old.  Even though it had been years since I'd abandoned children's books for adults', I quickly rediscovered and fell in love with them all over again.

The more children's books I read, the more strongly i began to feel that I'd like to give writing them a try, and I began a correspondence course in writing for young people.  Before i finished it, we moved to Ponca City, OK, where my daughter and I quickly became regular customers at the library.  The children's librarian became a friend; we had wonderful conversations about children's books, ones we remembered from our childhood and more recent ones.  I finished the correspondence course in Ponca, knowing I'd found my calling, but not knowing where to go from there.

 In 1985, we moved to the south suburbs of PIttsburgh.  A year later, author Patricia Harrison Easton began a children's writers' workshop at the Peters Township Library.  I went to the first meeting, and was a member until I moved away 18 years later.  In this group, I dared to share my very first attempts at writing.j  I honed critical and writing skills.  And I read--the "good stuff", books by the best children's writers, and the schlock, too.  And I learned from all of it.  I haunted the library, talking with the library staff in the children's department about books, asking questions, studying publishers' catalogs each season, and discovering The Horn Book, with its reviews and articles.

In 1997, I began a two-year graduate program which earned me an MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College (now Vermont College of Fine Arts), in Montpelier, VT.  During those two years, I spent even more time at the library, taking out stacks of children's books and taking refuge when I needed quiet time to work--quiet time I couldn't always get at home.

My eighth book has just been published.  Its been a long journey, and one I hope still has miles to go.  I have spent more hours in libraries than I could ever hope to count, and inside of me I carry a piece of every one I've ever known.  They have helped me--in Paddy Moloney's words--to provide the service for which the good Lord made me.  To all of them--thank you.  I couldn't have done it without you.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing is a global blog tour, started in Australia, to showcase authors and illustrators and their current work.  I was tagged by the talented author/illustrator Jennifer O'Connell.  I'll answer some questions about my newest book, then pass the Q&A along to two authors who'll pick up the tour next week.

What is your Next Big Thing?   My Next Big Thing is my newest big thing:  

The Book Boat's In

(cover art by Frane Lessac)
Where did the idea for the book come from?  From a newspaper article written by Doug Farley, director of the Erie Canal Discovery Center, in Lockport, NY, about a floating library/bookstore that traveled the Erie Canal from the mid-1830s to the mid-1850s.

What genre does your book fall under?  Picture book.

What actors would you choose to play the parts of your characters in a movie rendition?
 Hmm.  That takes a bit of thought.  Okay, here goes:
      Jesse:  Jared Gilmore (Henry on Once Upon A Time)
      Mr. Edwards:  Richard Thomas
      Pa:  David Tennant  (Yes, I know he's Scottish, but he could have immigrated.  Besides, this is my fantasy casting.)
      Ma:  Drew Barrymore
      Mrs. Blake (at the general store):  Patricia Heaton

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?  A boy finds a book he loves on a floating library/bookstore that travels the Erie Canal, and has just one week to earn the money to buy the book before the boat comes back on its last trip for the season.

Who published your book?  Holiday House.

How long did it take to write the first draft of the manuscript?  Probably about a month.

What other books within the genre would you compare your book to?  From the angle of a boy wanting something and how he gets it, perhaps Charlie Needs A Cloak (Tomie dePaola); from the historical angle, maybe Ox-Cart Man (Donald Hall).

Who or what inspired you to write this book?   I was fascinated by this early version of a bookmobile, and I remembered the first time I saved my money to buy a book I wanted.  

What else about the book might pique the reader's interest? The Erie Canal itself, and how it opened the way for westward expansion.

Thanks for stopping by!  You can learn more about me and my books at:

Now it's my turn to tag a couple of authors to pick the tour up next week, 18 April.  Be sure to check them out! 
       Lizann Flatt

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

One More Time

I think a two-year hiatus is long enough, don't you?  

Let's try this again.

Just as a bit of a catch-up--since my last entry here, I've had poems included in several books, including: 

Switching on the Moon: A Very First Book of Bedtime Poems, collected by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (2010)

Cynthia Cotten, Virginia childrens author, Switching on the Moon: A Very First Book of Bedtime Poems, collected by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters

Nasty Bugs: Poems Selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Will Terry (2012)

Cynthia Cotten, Virginia childrens author, Nasty Bugs:  Poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins

The Poetry Friday Anthology: Poems for the School Year with Connections to the Common Core, selected by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong (2012)


The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School: Poems for the School Year with Connections to the Common Core, selected by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong (2013)

And--ta-da!--two days ago was the official birthday of my new picture book, The Book Boat's In, illustrated by Frane Lessac, published by Holiday House. 

It was inspired by a floating library/bookstore that traveled the Erie Canal from the mid-1830s until the mid-1850s.  It was so much fun to write, and the folks at Holiday House have been wonderful to work with.  I'm hoping this will be just the first of many books with them.

So--that brings us up to speed.  Onward from here.