the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

Erin E. Moulton and THINGS WE HAVEN'T SAID

Posted by Adi Rule on Thu, Mar 22, 2018 @ 09:03 AM

Today, we're talking about Things We Haven't Said, a new collection of pieces by survivors of childhood and adolescent sexual violence, edited by Erin E. Moulton, out now from Zest Books.

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Things We Haven't Said is a powerful collection of poems, essays, letters, vignettes and interviews written by a diverse group of impressive adults who survived sexual violence as children and adolescents. Structured to incorporate creative writing to engage the reader and informative interviews to dig for context, this anthology is a valuable resource of hope, grit and honest conversation that will help teens tackle the topic of sexual violence, upend stigma and maintain hope for a better future.

Welcome, Erin. This new collection is a departure from the middle grade and YA fiction you've published. What was the spark that ignited this book?

This is the only book that has come directly out of my experience in public libraries. I was working with a group of teens on a project and had split them up into groups. Then, as usual, I started circulating to see who needed help. From the other side of the room, I heard one of the boys say a rape joke. Or, rather, I heard RAPE and then I heard laughing. I didn’t catch much more than that. I started to navigate my way over to them. In the same group, there was a new girl. She’d come from a few towns over and had never attended any of my programs before. As I go there, she was addressing the boy who had spoken. She said “Hey, some of us have bad memories.” I’m going to be honest when I say I fumbled. I didn’t know how to handle the situation or address it, so I redirected them to task and we all moved on. But it stuck with me. And as I often do, I started to look to the books. Later that year, I was tasked with weeding the teen nonfiction section and I came upon the 300s. There were some great resources on rape and sexual assault for adult readers, but far less for teen survivors. I started to wonder, what would a good teen resource look like? I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And that’s how Things We Haven’t Said was born.

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What was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?

This book was a little bit different in that I was the editor. And I was the editor of a book on a very sensitive subject. It’s incredibly hard to ask people to write and change and cut things from a piece that is so close to the heart. A piece that takes a lot of bravery to put out there, anyway. And I was always worried about hurting the anthologists who had shown up for the job. Because of this, most of my editorial notes focused on things we could do to enhance narrative style, create cohesion and clarity. It was also important to me that people had power over their piece, especially in the question and answer component of the book, where we talk freely.

Tell us about how you sold this book.

A nonfiction book about sexual violence for teen readers? It was a hard sell when it was on submission in 2015. I do have an agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, and she championed the project. We had a lot of very nice, very heartfelt, rejections. No one rejected us outright, everyone wished us the best. We had exhausted our list when Zest picked up the project.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

During my time at VCFA, I was encouraged to write creatively and critically, and to experiment with genre. I’m so glad I did. I’m not afraid to explore with my writing. I have a few middle grades, a YA, a PB on submission and a nonfiction anthology out. I love the versatility that was encouraged and I’ve carried that with me.

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

Drink up the time you have at VCFA and try to explore all possible avenues of the creative process without worrying about publication process. There will be plenty of time to vex over the publication process later. Let it go for a while.

Agreed! Thanks so much for stopping by, Erin. And thank you for bringing this important project to life!

Erin-Moulton-325x325.jpgErin E. Moulton is the author of Flutter, Tracing Stars, Chasing the Milky Way and Keepers of the Labyrinth. Her latest book is Things We Haven’t Said: Sexual Violence Survivors Speak Out.

You can find her online at www.erinemoulton.com

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Topics: nonfiction, young adult, Erin E. Moulton, Anthology, 2018 release, Zest Books

Leda Schubert and TRAILBLAZER: THE STORY OF BALLERINA RAVEN WILKINSON

Posted by Tami Brown on Mon, Feb 19, 2018 @ 11:02 AM

Welcome Leda Schubert, an alum, emeritus faculty member... and fabulous writer. Leda is the author of ten picture books. She lives in Plainfield, Vermont, with her husband and two much-too-large dogs (one of whom is very annoying).

Leda has an important new picture book, TRAILBLAZER: THE STORY OF BALLERINA RAVEN WILKINSON and she's here at the LaunchPad to tell us all about it.

 

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"All Raven Wilkinson wanted to do was dance. On Raven's ninth birthday, her uncle gifted her with ballet lessons, and she completely fell in love with the craft. While she was a student at Columbia University, Raven auditioned for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and was finally accepted on her third try, even after being told she couldn't dance with the troupe because of her skin color. She encountered racism in her travels while on tour, but the applause, along with the opportunity to dance, made all the hardship worth it. She would later dance for royalty with the Dutch National Ballet, and she regularly performed with the New York City Opera until she was fifty.

This beautiful picture book tells the uplifting story of the first African American ballerina to ever dance with a major American touring troupe and how she became a huge inspiration for the pioneering ballet dancer Misty Copeland."

Welcome, Leda!

 

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What was the spark that ignited this book?  I learned about Raven when Montpelier's Green Mountain Film Festival screened "Ballets Russes," a terrific documentary about the company Raven danced with in the 1950s. The clip about her was quite short, but it grabbed me just as the story behind Ballet of the Elephants did a decade ago. So I wrote her a letter  (actual snail mail, and she still doesn't use a computer), she responded, and I left Vermont (the horror!) to meet her in New York. That first conversation led to many phone calls and this book, which I revised too many times to count.

 

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The best part was getting to know Raven Wilkinson. She is extraordinary person: compassionate, graceful, gracious, funny, smart, thoughtful, and more. There's an advantage to writing a picture book biography about a living person! Because of the book, she's been interviewed here and there, and that makes me very happy. She deserves all the attention.

Tell us about your writing community. Are you in a critique group? Does your son or mom read your early drafts? Is Twitter your bastion of support?

For years I was a member of a very small critique group; then another one. Now I am not, and I really miss it. The VCFA workshop model--as both student and faculty--was a huge part of my life.  I'm not as interested in the potential of an online critique group, because it's the face-to-face give-and-take that worked best for me. So I have no first readers other than my very useful husband, who is incredibly patient. I don't do twitter. Life is too short, and I'm already overdosing on political news these days.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?When I entered the program, I had published two early readers with Candlewick. When I left, I had a picture book contract for a manuscript I worked on during the program. Within a few months, I had the next contract for something I wrote after graduation. I'm convinced neither would have happened without the depth of learning the program offers. In my journal from when I was 17, I wrote that all I wanted was to live in Vermont and write children's books. The first I achieved all by myself in my early 20s. The second I achieved through the help of faculty and students in the program. Too bad there was such a long gap in between, ha.

TRAILBLAZER is published by little bee books. You can buy a copy at any bookstore and learn more about all of Leda's books--and the amazing class she'll be teaching at the Highlights Foundation-- at www.ledaschubert.com.

 

Topics: nonfiction, picture book biography, Leda Schubert, 2018 release, little bee books

Sharon Darrow & Worlds within Words: Writing and the Writing Life

Posted by Tami Brown on Wed, Feb 07, 2018 @ 09:02 AM

Welcome our own Sharon Darrow to the Launchpad! Out January 1st from Pudding Hill Press, Worlds within Words: Writing and the Writing Life.

Sharon Darrow brings her experience in writing for children, young adults, and adults to these lessons taken from lectures she presented during twenty years of teaching in the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program of Vermont College of Fine Arts. Sharon graduated from VCFA’s MFA in Writing in July 1996.

What was the most difficult element to change during the revision process?sharon darrow book.jpg

Most of these chapters began as lectures for VCFA residencies. I had written them to present in my natural voice and to an audience of students working in a rigorous academic program toward the MFA degree. The revision process was meant to change spoken lectures into written essays that would be easier to read and yet still retain something of my spoken voice. That meant cutting parts, reworking sentences for clarity and concision, and making sure that the book could appeal to a wider audience of writers than just those listeners sitting in Chapel Hall already familiar with me, with VCFA, and with some of our unique VCFA-WCYA jargon.

 What was the spark that ignited this book?

I suppose it was partly my love for thinking and talking about writing, especially writing for young readers. As I was coming to the end of my teaching career at VCFA, I felt the need to do a kind of review of where I had been, what I had been thinking about, and what I had discovered during those twenty years. It is so hard to leave this job I’ve loved so very much, and this book seemed to be a way to end with a flourish, I guess. I also wanted to find a way to give back, at least in my own small way, not just with the lectures, but also in a monetary way. I intend to donate a portion of my profits from this book to VCFA-WCYA scholarship funds. When I entered Vermont College, I had no idea how much my life would change. Now, looking back over those two years of intense study in writing, then coming to help start the new program and seeing it grow, seeing us become a strong self-sufficient Fine Arts college, and watching countless students’ lives grow and change, I am so proud. Now, I have a very strong and satisfying sense of accomplishment in finishing that long and exciting chapter of my life.

What’s your writing superpower?

Superpower, huh? I’m not sure how super it is, but ever since I began writing I have told myself that I have an “idiotic faith” in my life in writing. At first, “idiotic faith” meant I believed that if I worked hard enough, built a strong writing process, learned as much as I could, and never stopped learning, I would eventually see my work published. That took many years, but it did turn out to happen. I suppose I thought of that kind of faith as idiotic because there was no evidence that I’d achieve the hoped for outcome. I simply decided that if it were idiotic, then that’s what I’d be. I’d believe and work and surrender to the outcome, wherever it took me.

 Later, as a teacher, I found that “idiotic faith” I’d applied to myself transferred to my students. I believed in them, in their stories, and in their dedication to what was deep inside them, driving them to aim for excellence. I knew they could become stronger and stronger writers, and, eventually, authors of wonderful and important books, stories, essays, and poems.

 Now, that faith seems far less idiotic as I’ve seen it fulfilled in my life and in my students’ lives and work. Now, my superpower is hope for my writing future and a not-so-idiotic faith that I will keep learning and growing through story for the rest of my life.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

It changed my life completely, gave me new purpose and a new career, new friends, new characters, and new stories—a whole new world. I also started writing poetry, probably the biggest effect of the program on my life and writing. Not to mention, a whole new place to live! I moved from Chicago to Vermont in 2005 and never looked back.

How does teaching at VCFA affect your writing life?

Teaching has opened new ways of thinking and being in the world for me. It has made me more empathetic and made me more decisive about my opinions on aspects of life and writing. A drawback has been that I’ve spent a lot of my writing energy on other people’s stories and have ignored my own at times, but that may be due more to my own distractibility and tendency to procrastination than anything. I have awakened many nights thinking about my students’ stories instead of my own, but looking back, I have no regrets about that. To have been a part of life-changing experiences in my students’ lives, similar to those my teachers fostered in me, is one of the most satisfying achievements of my life.sharon darrow.jpg

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student? What do you wish you had known before you first set foot on the VCFA campus?

The answer to both of these questions is the same: Do not be afraid! Be excited, be thrilled, but put away any fear. If you have been accepted, then you can believe you belong here. Come with open mind and heart, and meet a whole multitude of new best friends, companions on your writing journey.

Work hard and have faith!

 

Topics: nonfiction, 2018 release, Worlds within Words: Writing and the Writing Life, sharon darrow, Pudding Hill Press

April Pulley Sayre and FULL OF FALL!

Posted by Adi Rule on Wed, Oct 25, 2017 @ 07:10 AM

Pour yourself a mug of cocoa and slip on your woolly socks. We're celebrating the release of April Pulley Sayre's latest picture book, Full of Fall (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster)!

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So long summer, Fall is here . . .

Welcome, April Pulley Sayre!
 
What was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?
Fall is such a beautiful season that it was very hard to choose which photos to use. As always with these books, there were many photos I loved as a photographer but which did not serve the trajectory of the book and design. As with writing, in photo illustration you have to set aside your ego and do what is best for the book.
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What's your writing superpower?
My writing superpower is flexible thinking in terms of wordplay.  For some reason I’m unusually good at coming up with titles and poetic and alliterative language. I think it’s like a muscle, though, and improves with use. Despite my early signs of talent in this area, it also helps that I just goof around and have done this work for over twenty years.
 
What was it like watching the illustrations/cover come together?
I’ve now photo illustrated nine of my books with photos so I’m deeply involved in the illustrations from the start. It’s an exciting process and yet has an intense amount of struggle and stress at points, handling the competing demands of text and illustration. The advantage is that because I am responsible for both sides of the book, I can decide  to chuck words or illustrations at any point when the book is not flowing well. All this occurs without bothering another person. Only my writing ego or professional photographer ego is bruised. Still ouchy, though, to discard words and photos I love! But then, when you feel it all come together with better pacing, it is worth it.
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How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?
Attending VCFA took me from being a very isolated full time writer to being more a member of the writing community. It connected me with colleagues who are still my friends to this day. They have supported me through many decisions and pathways both in the career and in life itself. VCFA is so valuable in support of career and quality of life as an artist/writer. VCFA stretches you in the best way possible.
 
What’s next in your career? 
Well, it’s been a wildly busy year in terms of book production for my 2019 photo books, Warbler Wave and Thank You, Earth. My husband and I traveled 5,500 miles to CA and back to photograph landmarks and wildflower bloom for these and other upcoming books.  And I’ve been stepping outside the usual with some books that mix nonfiction text with fiction illustration, such as my 2019 book Did You Burp: How to Ask Questions (Or Not). Between this work, and conference talk travel, this career keeps me on my toes.
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Thanks so much for stopping by the Launchpad, April. Welcome to the world, Full of Fall!
Visit April Pulley Sayre online at www.aprilsayre.com and at her Simon & Schuster page.

Topics: nonfiction, picture book, Simon & Schuster, Beach Lane Books, 2017 release, April Pulley Sayre

Laurie Wallmark and GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE!

Posted by Adi Rule on Fri, May 05, 2017 @ 06:05 AM

Today, we're powered up for Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code, a new nonfiction picture book written by Laurie Wallmark and illustrated by Katy Wu (Sterling Children's Books)! Laurie's here to give us the scoop.

Grace cover 96dpi small.jpgMeet Grace Hopper: the women who revolutionized computer coding.

An ace inventor, groundbreaker, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, she coined the term “computer bug” and developed the program that taught computers to recognize words and not just endless 0’s and 1’s. Grace Hopper tells the inspirational story of this brilliant woman who had a passion for science and math and the firm belief that new solutions to problems were not found by those who said, “We’ve always done it this way.”

Rule breaker. Chance taker. Troublemaker. Amazing Grace.

Welcome, Laurie! Tell us about how you sold this book. What was it like when you found out? Do you have an agent? Were there a lot of revisions along the way?

The road to publication with this book started with a critique at the NJ SCBWI Conference. Meredith Mundy read the book and wanted to take it to acquisitions. There was no time before the meeting to make changes, but luckily, the manuscript passed this next hurdle. Now it was time to do revisions to get it past Sterling’s publication board. They had never done a picture book biography before, so it was going to be a hard sell. My agents, Liza Fleissig and Ginger Harris of Liza Royce Agency, were thrilled to tell me the news that Sterling was going to publish Grace, and I was over the moon to hear it. After that, there were several more big revisions plus a few tweaks here and there before the manuscript was ready to go.

clocks.jpgWhat's your writing superpower?

My writing superpower is not a very useful one—I’m the Grammar Queen. Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly helpful, but I’d rather my superpower be queen of the elusive voice that editors say they’re always looking for.

What unusual swag do you wish you could make for this book?

Grace Hopper kept a clock in her office with the numbers running counter-clockwise to remind herself to think outside the box. I created this backwards clock on buttons. These have been very popular at book festivals. My publisher gave out a swag I’ve never seen before. They had lens wipes made up with a picture of the book cover on them.

lens wipe and clock.jpgSuper cool swag!

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

My studies at VCFA had a major impact on my writing, but there’s one way in particular that I’ve never heard others mention. I write faster now. I think this is because I can more quickly eliminate ideas and approaches that won’t work. I’m still a slow writer, but I’ve advanced from a snail’s pace to a turtle’s.

Yes! Go Team Turtle!

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

My advisors were the great Mark Karlin (picture book semester), Bonnie Christensen, Sharon Darrow, and Louise Hawes.

Thanks for visiting, Laurie. Here's to thinking outside the box with Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code!

Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark’s debut picture book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books, 2015), received four starred trade reviews (Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and School Library Journal). When not writing, Laurie teaches computer science at Raritan Valley Community College.

Laurie is a member of the class of January 2016, The Inkredibles. Visit her online at her website, lauriewallmark.com, and her blog, lauriewallmark.blogspot.com.

Topics: nonfiction, picture book, picture book biography, Laurie Wallmark, 2017 release, Sterling Children's Books, Katy Wu

Erin Hagar and AWESOME MINDS THE INVENTORS OF LEGO TOYS

Posted by Tami Brown on Tue, May 03, 2016 @ 07:05 AM

Today we welcome Erin Hagar, a member of the class of January '12--Keepers of the Dancing Stars- a sparkling writer and friend to celebrate the publication of her new non-fiction AWESOME MINDS THE INVENTORS OF LEGO TOYS . Erin Hagar lives in Baltimore, helps college faculty design their online courses, shuffles kids around to activities, and occasionally strings words together in a semi-coherent sequence.  Welcome, Erin!

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Everyone has played with LEGO® toys, but not many people know who's behind this awesome invention. This fun and engaging book tells the story of how a Danish carpenter and his family turned a desperate situation into the most popular toy in history. With full-color illustrations and lively text, and chock-full of interesting facts, Awesome Minds: The Inventors of LEGO® Toys is the perfect read for those with creative spirits and curious minds.

What was the spark that ignited this book?

The idea behind the "Awesome Minds" series is explore the history of objects that are so ingrained into our everyday lives that we take them for granted. It's hard to imagine a childhood without LEGO--but where did it all start?
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What was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?

We knew early on that it would be impossible to include information about everything LEGO has done in a book this size. It's a massive operation, and we really wanted to focus on how the brick came to be.  But in my school visits and book talks I see that kids really love the Robotics and Mindstorms product lines, and we only briefly mentioned those.
 
What was it like watching the illustrations/cover come together?
 
Thrilling! Paige Garrison did such a great job bringing this story to life and making it so kid-friendly. She did some amazing technical work, but one of my favorite illustrations is the one that goes with the factoid about plastics. For environmental reasons, LEGO is trying to move away from using plastics in their products, and Paige created this illustration of a humanized LEGO brick with its arm around a smiling planet earth. It seems so simple, but it's really powerful--and cute! 
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Here's another factoid: If you took all the bricks produced in ONE YEAR, they'd wrap around the earth 18 times. Crazy!
 
What unusual swag do you wish you could make for this book? 
 
Apparently, you can 3-D print a picture of your face in the shape of a minifig head. An Erin Hagar minifig to give to kids at book events--that wouldn't be weird, right? 
 
Who were your advisors at VCFA?
 
I was so lucky to work with Laura Kvasnosky, Uma Krishnaswami, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Alan Cumyn. (Say those names five times fast, I dare ya!)
 
How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?
 
I edit myself in a more layered way now--focusing on different things in each layer. I think of VCFA as a pressure cooker. I might have learned the same skills on my own, but it would have taken me much, much longer.  
 
What is your favorite VCFA memory?
 
Watching Rita get a standing ovation when ONE CRAZY SUMMER won the Newbery Honor and the CSK award during the January '11 residency. 
 
What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student? 
 
Don't think of this as a "two-year" program. It's a lifelong experience if you want it to be (and you'll want it to be!) 
 
Erin's new book AWESOME MINDS THE INVENTORS OF LEGO TOYS is in bookstores now. It was published by Duopress. You can learn more about Erin and her books at www.erinhagarbooks.com.

 

Topics: nonfiction, middle grade, Erin Hagar, Duopress, 2016 release

Vicki Wittenstein AND REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS: WHO DECIDES?

Posted by Tami Brown on Mon, Feb 22, 2016 @ 10:02 AM

Today we're welcoming Vicki Wittenstein, a January 2006 VCFA grad and the author of REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS: WHO DECIDES? 

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Throughout history, men and women have always found ways to control reproduction. In some ancient societies, people turned to herbs or traditional rituals. Others turned to methods that are still used in the twenty-first century, such as abstinence, condoms, and abortions.

Legislating access to birth control, sex education, and abortion is also not new. In 1873 the US Congress made it illegal to mail “obscene, lewd, or lascivious materials”—including any object designed for contraception or to induce abortion. In some states in the 1900s, it was illegal for Americans to possess, sell, advertise, or even speak about methods of controlling pregnancy.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Margaret Sanger, Mary Ware Dennett, and others began to defy these laws and advocate for the legalization of birth control and for better women's reproductive healthcare. By 1960 doctors had developed the Pill, but it wasn't until 1972 that all US citizens had legal access to birth control. And in the landmark decision Roe v Wade (1973), the US Supreme Court ruled that women had a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.

Disputes over contraception, sex education, and abortion continue to roil the nation, leading to controversial legal and political rulings and occasionally violence. As society changes—and as new reproductive technologies expand the possibilities for controlling and initiating pregnancy—Americans will continue to debate reproductive rights for all.

Before becoming an author, VICKI ORANKSY WITTENSTEIN prosecuted criminal cases as an assistant district attorney with the Manhattan District Attorney's office. She earned an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in January 2006. Vicki’s first book, Planet Hunter: Geoff Marcy and the Search for Other Earths, won the 2011 Science Communication Award from the American Institute of Physics. Her book For the Good of Mankind? The Shameful History of Human Medical Experimentation was a Junior Library Guild selection.

 

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What was the spark that ignited this book?

The spark that fired me up to write this book was the topic. I was passionate about getting the word out to teens about the importance of reproductive rights. Many people, including adults, rely on the quick sound bites and video clips that the media projects over the Internet, such as rallies by pro-choice and pro-life advocates and the latest legal challenges to abortion. For many young adults, though, this news is heard without an historical context. For thousands of years—from ancient civilizations, through Colonial America, the development of the Pill, the legalization of contraception and abortion, and the Brave New World of reproductive technologies—men and women have always found ways to control reproduction. And although we constantly hear about the issues surrounding abortion, reproductive rights involve a whole panoply of rights, including the rights to contraception, prenatal, delivery and maternal health care, cancer screenings, and the like. Today’s teens are the next generation of parents. They are the ones who will have to live by the laws our legislators, courts, and president enact today. We can’t expect them to navigate through these controversial issues, understand what’s at stake with the hundreds of new laws that limit access to contraception and abortion, and form their own opinions unless we provide a roadmap of the history. Given the political campaigns for president and the opportunity to appoint a new Supreme Court justice, I hope the book ignites lots of classroom discussions and debates.

What was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?

To avoid the hot-button reaction so many people have to these issues, I decided to stick to the facts as much as possible—and to let readers form their own opinions. So wherever possible, I cut out or revised the manuscript to present a calm, impartial view. This is hard when you are passionate about a topic! The other difficulty I faced during revision was sorting through the constant flow of media coverage, keeping up to date on new state laws and court cases, and reading the volumes of opinions expressed by lawmakers, nonprofits, and policy-making groups. No sooner was I finished with a draft than I learned about a new state law or issue that I thought should be included. I was continually shaving down sections of the book to allow for new information.

 What’s the weirdest thing you ever Googled as research for your writing?

 The weirdest (and funniest!) things I Googled were the birth control methods used thousands of years ago. Let’s just say, when it comes to contraception, women are a whole lot better off now than they were back then. For example, through the ages, women have stuffed their vaginas with crocodile dung and dangled the testicles of a weasel between their thighs.

Wow, Vicki. You may have won the all time weirdest on the LaunchPad award with that fun fact! Who were your advisors at VCFA?

 I was so fortunate! My advisors were Ellen Howard, Margaret Bechard, Norma Fox Mazer and Louise Hawes, 

, a group of outstanding and brilliant teachers and people. I remain so grateful for their guidance and friendship.

 How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

The immersion into craft and the constant feedback from advisors and fellow writers jump-started my own creativity and voice. What I learned in two years at VCFA would have taken me ten years on my own.

 What was special about your VCFA graduating class?

 We were a very tight-knit, loyal group, who not only critiqued each other’s work and offered encouragement, but also became close, caring friends. Many of us are still in touch and share our writing. There will always be a special place in my heart for my class of VCFA-ers and the bonds we share together.

I couldn't agree more. Our class (The Class With No Name) was the best! And you're the best of the best, Vicki! Thanks for coming by the VCFA LaunchPad. REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS: WHO DECIDES? will be in bookstores and libraries everywhere on March 1. Booklist has already awarded it a starred review, saying "Though slim, this volume packs a wallop."  and School Library Journal adds "Well written and impeccably researched, this volume will appeal to budding activists and feminists and to those concerned about human rights." Like Vicki's previous book, For the Good of Mankind? The Shameful History of Human Medical Experimentation REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS is a Junior Library Guild Selection. You can read more about Vicki and her books at her website at vickiwittenstein.com. Or catch Vicki last week and for the rest of this week all over the Net-- 

Mon, Feb 15

Proseandkahn

 

Tues, Feb 16

The Book Monsters

 

Wed, Feb 17

Library Fanatic

 

Thurs, Feb 18

Kid Lit Frenzy

 

Fri, Feb 19

The Nonfiction Detectives

 

Sat, Feb 20

Ms. Yingling Reads

 

Mon, Feb 22

The Launch Pad (right here!) 

 

Tues, Feb 23

Through the Tollbooth

 

Wed, Feb 24

Unleashing Readers

 

Thurs, Feb 25

The Pirate Tree

 

Fri, Feb 26

Teach Mentor Texts

 

 

REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS: WHO DECIDES? is a work of NonFiction for Young Adults, published by Twenty-First Century Books. 

Topics: nonfiction, young adult, 2016 release, Vicki Wittenstein, Twenty-First Century Books

Winifred Conkling and RADIOACTIVE!

Posted by Adi Rule on Thu, Jan 07, 2016 @ 08:01 AM

We are glowing with excitement about Winifred Conkling's new nonfiction YA book, Radioactive! How Irène Curie & Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World (Algonquin Young Readers).

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In 1934, Irène Curie, working with her husband and fellow physicist, Frèdèric Joliot, made a discovery that forever altered the world: artificial radioactivity. This breakthrough allowed scientists to begin to alter elements and create new ones by changing the structure of atoms. Curie, a Frenchwoman, shared a Nobel Prize with her husband for their work. But when she was nominated to the French Academy of Sciences, the Academy not only denied her admission but also voted to disqualify all women from membership. Her exclusion from the Academy marked Curie’s gradual erasure from the history of atomic science.

Four years later, Curie’s breakthrough led physicist Lise Meitner to the scientific epiphany that unlocked the secret of nuclear fission. The Nobel committee ignored Meitner’s achievement in favor of her male research partner’s, but Meitner’s unique insight was critical to the revolution in science that led to nuclear energy and the race to build the atomic bomb.

With more than fifty period photographs and sidebars that help explain the related science, Radioactive! presents the story of two women still largely unknown despite their crucial contributions to world-changing discoveries.

Welcome, Winifred! So, tell us . . .

What was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?

640px-FrzDuellImBoisDeBoulogneDurand1874.jpgWhen working on nonfiction, it’s easy to get sidetracked by fascinating factoids that are not-quite-on-point. I loved learning that Marie Curie slept with a dish of radium by her bedside as a nightlight and that her married lover was challenged to a duel by a newspaper editor to defend her honor. (After a spectacularly foolish showdown, they both surrendered without firing.) Ultimately, these and other bits of trivia had to be cut because I was telling Irène’s story, not Marie’s.

What was the spark that ignited this book?

I tend to do a lot of background reading on a topic as I’m trying to refine an idea for a book project. In this case, I had been reading about various women in science, initially thinking I was going to write something about the mother-daughter team of Marie and Irène Curie. (Marie discovered radioactivity and Irène discovered artificial radioactivity.) As part of the process, I read about Lise Meither, a physicist who was exploring some of the same questions that Irène was working on. That’s when it hit me: The more interesting story would be the tension between Irène and Lise, two women who were life-long pacifists who both made discoveries that were essential to the development of the nuclear bomb.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve Googled as research for your writing?

radioactive_sign_02.jpgFor this project, I researched some of crazy uses of radium. In the first part of the 20th century, radium was added to a number of consumer products, including paints, water, chocolates – even condoms. “Radium Girls” painted radium-infused paint onto watch dials and other instrument panels so that they would glow in the dark. These women licked the tips of their horsehair brushes to keep the points sharp. In my hunt for details I encountered some ghastly images of women deformed by facial cancers. (Avoid the nightmares; trust me on this.)

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

I think attending VCFA legitimized me as a writer. Lawyer and author Louis Nizer said: “He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.” I aspire to be an artist; my work always falls short, but my experiences at VCFA have helped me identify the kinds of books I strive to write.

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

Just do it. You won’t regret it.

What do you wish you had known before you first set foot on the VCFA campus?

This is just the beginning. Even after graduation, the VCFA community provides opportunities for enrichment and support.  I’m lucky enough to be part of a critique group made of VCFA grads in the DC area. It’s an absolute joy to have the support and advice of a group of women who share my passion for writing books for children and young adults. It sounds so simple, but it’s a blessing to have found my peeps.

I couldn't agree more. Here's to our peeps! And congratulations on the release of Radioactive! Thank you for shining a light on these remarkable women.

WinifredConkling-25Edit.jpegWinifred Conkling is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction for young readers whose works include Passenger on the Pearl: The True Story of Emily Edmonson’s Flight from Slavery (Algonquin, 2015) and the middle-grade novel Sylvia and Aki (Tricycle/Random House, 2011), winner of the Jane Addams Children’s Literature Award and the Tomás Rivera Award. She studied Journalism at Northwestern University and received an MFA in writing for children and young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She graduated in January 2011 as a member of the “Bat Poets.”

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Topics: nonfiction, young adult, Algonquin Young Readers, Winifred Conkling, 2016 release

Nancy Bo Flood and Water Runs Through This Book!

Posted by Tami Brown on Thu, Oct 08, 2015 @ 08:10 AM

Let's welcome Nancy Bo Flood to the LaunchPad this morning! Nancy graduated from VCFA in 2007. She is the author of a variety of award-winning books, most recently, Warriors in the Crossfire and Cowboy Up! Ride the Navajo Rodeo (NCTE Notable Poetry Book, IRA Notable Book for a Global Society, 2011 & 2014). Plus she's the greatest-- just like her books!

unnamed-1 Through photographs, verse, and narration, this book celebrates the most essential ingredient to life: water. Author and educator Nancy Bo Flood and award-winning photographer Jan Sonnenmair combine imagination and information to explore this ever-changing yet essential element. WATER RUNS THROUGH THIS BOOK is much more than an exploration of how water impacts life on Earth.  It is a guide for how readers of all ages can become conservationists and protectors of this endangered resource.

WATER RUNS THROUGH THIS BOOK has already received rave reviews like this one: 

"Conflicts are increasing over the ownership and use of something we often take for granted: water. In her newly released book, Water Runs Through This Book (Fulcrum, 2015), Nancy Bo Flood takes an inventive approach to exploring different perspectives on this essential resource. Through verse, narration, and eye-catching photographs by Jan Sonnenmair, the book is both a celebration and a guide for how readers of all ages can help conserve this endangered resource."

 Welcome, Nancy! 

Which character was your favorite to write? What was your approach?

In this information book the main character is water.  “We are water.”

My challenge was to create a character as complex and interesting as any character in a novel with problems, obstacles, and a heart – a character the reader would soon come to care about. I wanted my reader to not only learn about water, but also to feel a sense of wonder and a sense of concern.

I began with developing identity. A character in a book becomes real when the reader identifies with the character.  So I began: “You are water. Even your bones. Your brain is mostly water – eight out of every ten molecules in your head are water.  But I did not find my beginning until after many revisions.

Next I wanted to develop surprise. When we cry, our tears contain hormones that are part of healing. Flamingoes cry. Their tears contain salt.  “Flamingos are one of the few land creatures that can drink salt water and live.”

Imagine, the water we drink is as old as the dinosaurs and meanwhile astronomers are searching the universe for signs of water because where there is water, there can be life. But we are polluting and destroying this precious resource.  Can clean, drinkable water become extinct?

Drinkable water – the wonder of it and fragility of it – that realization was the initial spark that ignited two years of research and writing about water.

Breathing clean air should be the right of every child.  Drinking clean water also.

unnamed-1-1What were your goals for the book?

My last goal was my initial goal, wanting the reader to care enough about water to want to conserve and protect water. If we understand the importance of water and feel the beauty of water, how can we not care about water?

“The Navajo people share this story:  Earth fell in love with Sky, and Sky with Earth.  There was such joy!  Their happiness filled the clouds with laughing, splashing rain.

And in the end, perhaps beauty is water’s deepest mystery.

And so, thank you, for listening, reading, and thinking about water….  “Water talking with water.”

What nugget of craft advice do you carry with you from VCFA? 

The nugget of craft advice came from Ellen Howard – find the through line; keep your focus. Then ask, what will keep the reader turning pages?

What would be your dream swag for this book?

The swag that I would give away would be an empty one gallon plastic container and this question printed on the side:  how many containers are you willing to carry every day for your water?

 What was your time like at VCFA?

Vermont College is an amazing community of writers mentoring writers.  The best memory was my final week of listening to classmates read selections from their best works.  Tears and laughter, happy congratulations, hugs, celebratory toasts of wine-filled glasses, and just plain awe.  What accomplishments, what improvements, thinking back at those first workshops and the manuscript messes!

 Do you have any advice for incoming students?

My advice to prospective of beginning students – keep writing.  The reading and writing-revising-rethinking is unrelenting but nothing else will shape and polish your writing skills.  The combination of continuously reading, analyzing, critiquing, work-shopping, listening to talks and readings, and then in the evenings, taking long walks to re-think character development, story line, or how to create both surprise and satisfaction. The Vermont program is deep-core amazing and changed my writing career. My first published work from the program, Warriors in the Crossfire, received a variety of awards. Cowboy Up! Ride the Navajo resulted from a graduate semester of poetry work with Julie Larios.  This hybrid book of nonfiction, poetry, and photographs, garnered even more awards.

Thanks so much for dropping by, Nancy! Nancy's next book will be SOLDIER SISTER, FLY HOME, which will be published by  Charlesbridge in 2016. WATER RUNS THROUGH THIS BOOK is published by Fulcrum Publishers and is available in bookstores and libraries now. You can learn more about Nancy and her books at www.nancyboflood.com

 

 

 

Topics: nonfiction, 2015 release, Nancy Bo Flood, poetry, Fulcrum Publishing

WATER RUNS THROUGH THIS BOOK Splashes Onto the Scene!

Posted by Adi Rule on Thu, Aug 20, 2015 @ 12:08 PM

Summer is the perfect time to cool off with Nancy Bo Flood and Jan Sonnenmair's refreshing new book, Water Runs Through This Book

We can't wait to dive in!

 

Topics: nonfiction, 2015 release, Jan Sonnenmair, Nancy Bo Flood, Fulcrum Publishing

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