I woke up to snow falling again this morning. I like snow, but not this slushy stuff. I also like the tried and true strategy, if you can't beat it, join it. So--off to the arctic with Polar Explorer Matthew Henson.
Two men made history in 1909, the first men ever to stand on the North Pole. Admiral Robert Peary is the one you’ve probably heard about. Matthew Henson? Maybe not. Twice on the polar ice cap, Henson saved Peary’s life. The two men faced “sudden storms, frozen peaks and ridges and shifting iceberg castles,” on their perilous journey. Patches of open water and faulty instruments made more trouble before they reached the Pole. The achievement had been both men’s life ambition. But when they returned home some dismissed their accomplishment because Henson was a black man, and Peary downplayed Henson’s contribution to the expedition.
Adults and kids will enjoy this biography of Henson by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez. I love everything about the illustrations in this biography. The colors, the shapes, the varied scenes. The emotional resonance and the beauty of the art makes this a powerful and stunning book. The text is unique. You will have to read it for yourself to see how this author shows Henson’s determination and strength of purpose through the sentence structure she chose. Fabulous book!
Quote of the Week in the New York Times...Martin Amis says if he had a serious brain injury he might write books for kids. "I would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than what I can write," Amis added. See a follow-up story in the Guardian.
Nice come-back by Lucy Coats and Charles London.
Books by the Brain-injured?
One of the few perks of being a struggling writer, unpaid and unrecognized, is the freedom to choose where you work. When my husband and I moved our young family to Spokane years ago, the dream of writing books for children stood far back on a dusty shelf in my mind.
While looking for a house, we visited one with a second story sun porch. The moment I saw it, I thought—what a perfect place for writing. My husband liked the big back yard with room for kids and a dog to run around. So we bought it. The house needed fixing-up, and the sun porch was first on the list because, for a few years, it would be a nursery.
It wasn’t until that baby was five years old that I started writing on the sun porch.
The baby is seventeen, now. Getting published has required much more learning, practice, perseverance, and time than I anticipated. If I counted up the hours I’ve spent in the sun porch and divided them by the dollars and cents I’ve earned, my income would be far in the negative.
So why do I keep writing? Because I have a dream that someday I’ll write the next Harry Potter? No. I write because most days when I go out on my sun porch and close the door, I’m happy. Some days, I’m miserable, discouraged and tormented, but most days, I’m happy. In the winter the sun streams in. In the summer, I look out at a huge one-hundred-year-old leafy-green sycamore tree. In all seasons, I write.
I love words and the challenge of choosing the right ones and putting them together in the right way to say exactly what I want to say. I love stories, I love exploring character. Through writing I discover who I am.
When I saw Doraine Bennett's new book, Readers Theater for Global Explorers, the first thing I wanted to know--what possessed those people? While most of us sit at home in front of the fire, explorers go off to the jungle, the wilderness, the desert, the moon!
Doraine was sweet enough to let me be part of her blog tour to introduce this wonderful resource for teachers, so I asked her, did you discover common traits among these explorers? Did she ever!
"Many were ruthless, many were arrogant, most wanted fame, despite any stated noble reasons for their activities. All had the ability to endure hardship beyond anything most of us could imagine. The determination to press through almost any difficulty, no matter how distressing the extremes of climate and circumstance."
Do you have a favorite person in the book?
"I really liked Sir Ernest Shackleton because he was a decent, kind man. He gave his mittens to one of his crewmen who had lost his in the ocean. Shackleton suffered frostbite as a result. He was capable, daring, and a good leader, as well."
I guess it's no surprise most of these explorers were men. But Doraine did a great job of finding a range of women to include, like Mary Kinglsey, a writer!
Oh. A writer that left her home in England to explore Africa.
"After living a very sheltered life, she set off alone for Africa. She went to the villages of the Fang (fong) people who were known to be cannibals. Most European explorers considered the Africans to be unintelligent beings who needed civilizing. Mary respected the Africans and did much to change European thinking about them."
Social studies will never be boring with this book. Inside everybody is sure to find at least one explorer that will catch his or her imagination.
Thanks for visiting Doraine!
If you haven’t seen it—go. The King’s Speech is about courage, the kind of courage it takes to be a writer. Not many of us are as good-looking as Colin Firth or Helena Bonham Carter, neither are we in line for the throne. But like Prince Albert, we’re trying to find our voice. And all too often we’re scared and we doubt our own potential.
Rolling Stone calls the movie “a crowning achievement powered by a dream cast [that] digs vibrant human drama out of the dry dust of history….The emotion this film produces is staggering."
Check out these photos from my friend Bob Harkins who is on his way to Antarctica
to sail aboard the bark Europa. Bob says, "Yesterday I rode a catamaran through the channel between Argentina and Chile on the way to the sea."
"We made a couple of stops and two fly-bys of small islands so we could greet the locals. We didn't get off the boat on Penguin Island. The captain just put the bow on the beach."
" This whole area is surrounded by snow capped mountains. It's cloudy most days of the year. It gets to almost 60 on the warm days. Ushuaia is the southern most city in the world and is full of lots of very friendly people. Clearly my Spanish needs work. I'm not sure what I ordered for dinner last night, but the waiter returned with a shoe and a banana."
The Age of the Great Sail when empires were won and lost at sea--
That’s where I’ll be today folks, researching my work-in-progress.
Open the covers of one of these books for young people and join me at the prow. Feel the wind in your face, hear the slapping canvas and taste the salt spray.
Meet Sophie as her mysterious past is revealed on a perilous cross-Atlantic journey. Or travel back in time to the famous Battle of Trafalgar as seen through the eyes of a boy on Lord Nelson's ship.
Take a sail with Patrick O'Brien on Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge, or Sir Francis Drake's Golden Hind.
I plan to vicariously follow a friend as he sails to Antarctica aboard the Dutch tall ship Europa. Curious about life aboard a tall sailing ship? Check out the video below.
One of the things I love/hate about writing: my critique group fails to understand a scene which I have polished to perfection.
How frustrating to discover the words I have chosen do not convey the feeling and facts which I want to share! I reject the temptation to think my writing group is a bunch of blockheads. And the fun begins.
The difficulty in communicating precisely fascinates me. That has not always been the case, particularly in my early years of marriage. It was painful learning to say to my husband, “I’m sorry my words were not clear” instead of “I can’t believe you didn’t understand me!” (You blockhead.)
Communicating is difficult because of the amazing and mysterious complexity of being human. It seems like a miracle when people’s unique experiences, personality and intellect meet in understanding. And yet the more personal a story, the more universal its apprehension.
On one level I enjoy finding the right words in the way a child enjoys playing a game. It’s fun, in and of itself. On another level, I enjoy touching that profound universality of experience that makes us human.
That’s what I love about writing.
A recent study in Britain found that people had reduced chocolate cravings after taking a brisk fifteen minute walk.
I find it easier just to eat some chocolate.
Did you know cocoa has 550 flavor compounds after fermentation, drying, roasting and conching?
A carrot has 96 flavor compounds.
I think my position is perfectly clear.
Is it good enough? If that's the question you find yourself asking about your writing, you may be sabotaging yourself. After all, who's the judge of good writing?
Sure, there are rules, and we all know them, but do they help you write the fresh, singular, yet universal story that only you can write?
A better question according to William Kenower, Editor-in-Chief of Author, would be, is it accurate? Have you tuned your focus so precisely as to communicate exactly the one thing you most want to say?
I chose this one nugget from the pages of notes I took at Bill's talk this past weekend in Spokane,Tuning Your Inner Ear: The Key to Literary and Artistic Life co-sponsored by the Inland Northwest SCBWI* and the Gonzaga University English Department.
For more of Bill's inspiring words check out his blog.
* Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators
I like this quote.
"We saw a white, Catholic, Republican federal judge murdered on his way to greet a Democratic woman, member of Congress, who was his friend and was Jewish. Her life was saved initially by a 20-year-old Mexican-American college student, who saved her, and eventually by a Korean-American combat surgeon…And then it was all eulogized and explained by our African-American president" — Mark Shields quotes historian Allen Ginsberg on PBS NewsHour.
And that heroic college student, Daniel Hernandez, is gay.
When I started to write fiction an already-published-writer gave me this piece of advice: Don’t talk about your story. Talking about it will diminish your energy to write it.
Over the years I have experienced the truth of this, though I’ve found it to be less true with non-fiction. And not at all true in the late stages of a manuscript when speaking about the story with my critique group.
My most recent discovery--scientific evidence backs up this idea that talking about something you plan to do, actually lessens that chance you will do it.
Nine hours after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese forces bombed the Philippines. Ninety-nine American military nurses served at hospitals there. These woman, unique to their time, had chosen the un-ladylike job of nursing and further sought a life of adventure in the Army and Navy. But they never expected what happened at lunchtime December 8, 1941.
Dozens of US fighters and bombers sat wingtip to wingtip on the tarmac at Clark Air Field when diving, screaming Japanese fighters attacked, destroying all but seven aircraft in less than an hour. The strafing flattened barracks, hangars, and machine shops. Fire engulfed the oil dump and blazed around the perimeter.
Off-duty nurses ran through the smoke and flying shrapnel to treat the wounded and dying. Pieces of crumpled, blazing aircraft scattered Fort Stotsenburg and Clark Air Field.
The eighty-seven army and twelve navy nurses had no military training. Nothing had prepared them for the sights, sounds and smells of war. They learned by fire—the medicine of trauma and triage.
As the Japanese marched on Manila, Lieutenant Frances Nash destroyed paperwork to keep it from enemy hands. As US troops retreated into the jungle of the Bataan Peninsula, Frances was ordered to prepare to be taken prisoner by the enemy. She and a handful of other nurses stayed in Manila to treat the wounded left behind. When Frances and her staff finally got orders to flee, she stuffed her pockets with medical supplies and took enough morphine for a lethal dose for each of her nurses. They hid it in their hair, a last resort against an enemy known to rape and murder prisoners.
Frances and her sister nurses would endure hardship almost beyond belief in the combat, surrender and imprisonment to come.
Some people find it exciting to start a new writing project. Not me. I would much rather tackle revision.
In the beginning—anything can happen. Anything. Just the thought of sitting down and beginning causes a little flutter in my stomach, a breathlessness in my throat.
I know it’s fear. Fear that has the power to stop me cold. Fear whispering in a thousand voices, all in my own mind.
Once upon a time I tried to reason with this fear. I tried to argue with it, to threaten it, wrestle it, ignore it, outlast it.
I tried with all my mind and heart to overcome it. I could not make fear go away.
Then I learned fear is a cat. When it purrs in my ear and rubs it’s back against my leg, I smile.
“Hello, Kitty,” I say, and reach down and pet the cat.
“I see you. I know who you are and where you come from.”
The cat lays back its ears. I give its head a little scratch.
“Don’t mind me,” I say. “I’m starting a new story.”
The cat curls at my feet and goes to sleep.
Everything outside my window wears a pure, white cloak. I love looking out at the fresh fallen snow, the way it balances on bare branches, dresses up dirty winter streets and softens everything.
I remember the afternoon of my fifth birthday when the first snowflakes of the winter started to fall. I believed, in that sure way only a small child can, that the snow was falling just for me. I wore my favorite dress with pink polka-dots. It was the Mad Men era when little girls wore dresses, even on days it snowed.
Nature didn’t guarantee snow would stick where I lived. Usually it was a sloppy mess, soon turning to rain. Only once every few years, did enough pile up that we could go sledding on the hill behind our house. Nothing but the coming of Christmas caused more joy.
Now I live where it snows every winter and we measure it in feet, not inches. Oh, it can be a pain, the cold, the shoveling, the dangerous driving. But I have a five-year-old in me that still gazes in wonder. Because it’s beautiful and I know it’s just for me.
I'm an award-winning author of Children's/YA books and former journalist with a passion for stories about people facing adversity with courage.
My books have been named Notable Social Studies Book for Young People, SPUR Award for Best Juvenile Fiction about the American West, Bank Street College List of Best Children's Books, and NY Public Library Best Books for Teens. My journalistic work has received numerous awards for excellence from the Society of Professional Journalists and two Emmy nominations.