Friday, December 17, 2010

Poetry Friday: Song

I envision heaven in a selfish manner. I don't care which cloud you stick me on as long as I'm in possession of an honest-to-God, otherworldly singing voice. I've always felt broken because I can't keep a tune. What's in my head and my heart never matches up (not even a little) with what croaks out of my mouth. So being able to hang in there with the archangels is this tone-deaf girl's idea of being healed and whole.

In this season of using light to defend against darkness, music is one of our strongest weapons. I give you two examples: this poem, Song, which illuminates a lone singer, and the following video, which captures a flash mob of singers in a food court as they help the weary world rejoice.

by Eamon Grennan

At her Junior High School graduation,
she sings alone
in front of the lot of us--

her voice soprano, surprising,
almost a woman's. It is
the Our Father in French,

the new language
making her strange, out there,
fully fledged and

read the rest here

Poetry Friday is hosted today at The Poem Farm.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Poetry Friday: Hyper

I don't know how much time you have today. Enough for both a math doodle video and an exquisite poem about ADHD?

The video captures the quicksilver leaps of the human mind when it's chased by boredom into a world of knots and snakes and other satisfyingly twisty and mysterious doodle patterns. The poem, in a similar vein, ponders stillness and speed and perception. Each asks us: what's the rush? And I don't mean that in the standard "stop and smell the roses" way. I mean it as: what's the joy? What's the reason? Why do we bother to look?

Doodling in Math Class: Snakes and Graphs (with thanks to James Gurney, for posting this.) A commenter on his site says "The creator of this amazing clip is Vi Hart. Her website has many more such treats. She is the daughter of a creative math teacher and sculptor, George Hart, who also has good things to see at his website."

an excerpt from the middle of

by David Baker

Let me put it another way. After
twenty-four math problems, the twenty-fifth
still baffles her, pencil gnawed, eraser-
scuff-shadows like black veins on her homework.

It's not just the theory of division
she no longer gets, it's her hot clothes, her
itchy ear, the ruby-throated hummingbird's
picture on the fridge, what's in the fridge, whose

socks these are, why, until I'm exhausted
and yell again. Until she's gone away
to her room, lights off, to sulk, read, cry, draw.
No longer trusting to memory, she

writes everything in her journal now, then
ties it with a broken strand of necklace.
Of her friends: I am the funny one. Mom:
She has red hair and freckles to. Under Dad:

I have his bad temper. I know. I looked.

In one sketch she finished, just before we
learned what was wrong—I mean, before we knew
what to call what was wrong, how to treat it,

how to treat her—she captured her favorite
cat with a skill that skips across my chest.

read the entire poem here

Poetry Friday is hosted today by the fabulous Jama at alphabet soup.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Some Resources – Connecting with Students from Military Families

Rosanne Parry, Suzanne Morgan Williams and I all contributed to the list, but it was Suzanne who did the heavy lifting of putting all the links in one cohesive document.  Note: Revised by Sara Lewis Holmes and Valerie O. Patterson April 2013

Some Resources – Connecting with Students from Military Families

The Military Child – School Support: A guide for educators on reactions of students to deployment with many suggestions and additional resources. From the Military Impacted Schools Association. General website is Military Impacted Schools Association Part of the MilitaryKidsConnect website, this page has videos and info for educators who want to understand military culture and what it feels like for a military child when their parent deploys.  Lesson plans, guides to "tough topics," and more. which provides funding for extra support during wartime, including tutoring and extracurricular activities for military kids whose parents are in the Guard or Reserves.

Student 2 Student and Junior Student 2 Student: a student-led program at the high school and middle school levels to support students who are transitioning to and from their school.  For more information regarding Student 2 Student, contact S2S@MilitaryChild.org

Operation Military Kids: -- great booklet for helping military kids in school at this website.

 Building Resilient Kids: a free online course with continuing education credit from the Military Impacted Schools Association.  Two continuing education credits/all fourteen modules OR one continuing education credit/ seven modules. Info at:

For the Military Family:
Military One Source: Education, relocation, parenting, stress - Military OneSource helps with just about any need. Available by phone or online, this free service is provided by the Department of Defense for active-duty, Guard, and Reserve service members and their families.

Military Families Speak Out -supporting families who openly oppose the war.

Operation Purple serves military families through Operation Purple Camp, Operation Purple Family Retreats or Operation Purple Healing adventures:

Operation We Are Here provides resources for the military community and military supporters, including resources specifically for military children and teens, humanitarian aid, and teachers/homeschoolers:

Programs that use the Arts – art, literature, theater to support the military child:
The annual Military Child and the Arts Contest Each year children are asked to submit work that can be utilized in the MCEC's publications, conferences, and other activities. Included in the request for work from military-connected children, kindergarten through high school, are artwork, film, and writing (essays, poetry, and short stories).

Art from the Heart: Expressions from America’s Military Children:
Tell Me a Story: an initiative that was created to empower our military children by    using literature and their own stories in a way that fosters skills for resilience, strong peer and parent connections, a sense of pride and accomplishment, and a caring community.

A Story Before Bed: Parents who are members of one of the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces who are deploying or already deployed away from their children for any amount of time are eligible to sign up for free recordings from A Story Before Bed.

United Through Reading: helps ease the stress of separation for military families by having deployed parents read children’s books aloud via DVD for their child to watch at home.

Operation Homecoming Writing Program: The NEA’s program "Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience," now an online project, encourages the soldiers to discuss their experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2004.

Also, the NEA's "Great American Voices" and "Shakespeare in American Communities" visited military bases in 2005-2007.

The Philoctetes Project: Theater of War presents readings of Sophocles' Ajax and Philoctetes to military communities across the United States. These ancient plays timelessly and universally depict the psychological and physical wounds inflicted upon warriors by war. By presenting these plays to military audiences, the hope is to de-stigmatize psychological injury and open a safe space for dialogue about the challenges faced by service members, veterans, and their caregivers and families.

Musiccorps: Aids injured vets by adapting musical instruments for prosthetics, and by using musical instruction to enhance recovery from brain injury.

Connecting with and Supporting Troops and Veterans – Possible Class Projects:
USO Go to  for a list of programs the USO provides that may be useful to your students or that your students may want to support.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) For America’s newest generation of veterans and the people who support them. This includes a Troops Charities page. Or visit  and , 

America Supports You  A nationwide program launched by the Department of Defense recognizes citizens’ support of our of our military men and women and communicates that support to them. It includes an online e-mail form for messages.

Letters to Soldiers   provides an online e-mail form to send messages to soldiers.

Holiday Mail for Heroes sponsored by the American Red Cross and Pitney Bowes. From here, you can learn how to send your holiday mail to our American service members. for Community groups, churches, etc. that may want a more ongoing relationship with someone in our armed forces. You can choose a group of deployed military to receive care packages and/or letters.

Fisher Houses provide lodging for families of injured troops and veterans close to veteran and military hospitals.  Fisher House also sponsors scholarships for military children.

Information about Traumatic Brain Injury
Brainline.Org  a site devoted to preventing, treating and living with traumatic brain injury.

 Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center  Their mission is to serve active duty military, their beneficiaries, and veterans with traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) through state-of-the-art clinical care.

The Real Warriors  This campaign promotes the processes of building resilience, facilitating recovery and supporting reintegration of returning service members, veterans and their families.) - The Bob Woodruff Foundation  educates the public about needs of injured service members, veterans and their families as they reintegrate into their communities. Empowers all people to take action.

Find authors Online

Sara Lewis Holmes (Operation Yes, Letters From Rapunzel)
Sara has a free downloadable teacher’s guide with military lingo and theater games
Blog: Read*Write*Believe 

Rosanne Parry (Heart of a Shepherd)
 Goodreads page:
Blog: From the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors

Suzanne Morgan Williams (Bull Rider) 
Suzanne also has a teacher’s guide of lesson suggestions for Bull Rider. Go to Fiction/Teachers.
Blog: Too Much Information

Valerie O. Patterson (Operation Oleander, Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013)

Monday, November 22, 2010

NCTE Stands Behind Military Kids

Isn't this awesome? I asked teachers and authors attending the NCTE Conference if they would participate in the National Military Family Association's "Wall of Thanks" to show support for military families. And look how many said yes!

(If you want to join us, go to this site and download the PDF of the sign. Fill in your name, hold it up and snap a photo of yourself. Upload the photo, and you'll be part of the slideshow.)

David Macinnis Gill

Wendy Mass

Margaret Peterson Haddix

Elaine Magliaro

Kurtis Scaletta

Kirby Larson

Kate Messner

Jack Gantos

Anna J. Small Roseboro

Tricia Stohr-Hunt

Holly Black

Carrie Ryan

My NCTE panel on "Military Families in Fiction":
Rosanne Parry, Suzanne Morgan Williams, and me

Jessica Anderson, Jo Whittemore, P.J. Hoover

Gennifer Choldenko

Teachers and others who attended our panel on military families

Oh, and yes, I brought home a lot of books.

The haul

And my signing at the Scholastic booth was wonderful. They always make me feel like a rock star.

At the Scholastic booth
(note my Scholastic red dress)
To everyone who came by to say hi, to buy books, to hug me, to tell me your class is using Operation Yes in literature circles, to share that you are reading my book to your three boys, to say that you're buying my book for your grown brother :), or just to give a wave of encouragement: Thank you!

And to the young boy who walked by, snapped his head around and pointed at my cover, and said "I loved that book!", you are in charge of the world from now on, you hear?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Poetry Friday and What I'm Reading Now: Borrowed Names

Finding a book to read while I'm revising is tricky. If I pick a compulsive page-turner, I'm tempted to not write but read in great gulps. If I pick a novel too close to my own attempt, I worry about confusion and undue influence. If I only read the Washington Post and my email, though, I get fiction-thirsty. I long for something that helps me remember why I'm doing this writing gig in the first place.

So it's with great happiness I report that Jeannine Atkins' verse biography, Borrowed Names, has come to my rescue.

The poems in Borrowed Names dive into the historically rich lives of three mother-daughter pairs (Laura Ingalls and Rose Wilder; Madame C.J. Walker and A'Lelia; Marie and Irène Curie) but they linger on the personal undercurrents, illuminating the ongoing push-pull of relationships where women both love and doubt each other's choices.

Borrowed Names is also an exquisitely honest account of how any creative endeavor, be it raising a daughter or writing or starting a business or exploring the scientific frontier, can be both richly rewarding and emotionally turbulent. While reading it, I'm reminded of how the right word can make me shiver, and how beginnings always affect endings, and how, when you read, you are hoping--- no--- NEEDING--- to have "the top of your head taken off" as Emily would say. It's exactly what my writing soul was thirsty for. Thanks, Jeannine!

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Terry at Scrub-a-Dub-Tub.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


In honor of Veterans Day, I salute my husband, Mike Holmes, who has given almost 30 years of service to the United States Air Force.

I'm also happy to say that I will be speaking on a panel about military families at the National Council of Teachers of English next week.

National Council of Teachers of English
Fiction and the Military Family
(with Rosanne Parry and Suzanne Williams)
"Giving Military Kids Roots
Through Literature and the Arts"
Friday, November 19, 2010 12:30 PM to 1:45 PM

As part of our talk, we'll be handing out a list of resources for teachers and others interested in connecting with military families. As soon as it's ready, I'll post a permanent link here on the blog. Thank you to all who serve our country, both veterans and their families.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Poetry Friday: Poppies by Sandra McPherson

Yes, that's me, the orange crayon in the box.
 (I wish I could find the rest of the pictures
 of my colorful cohorts that Halloween.)

I love orange. Not so much traffic cone orange, but golden orange, the color of autumn trees after a heavy rain, when the leaves radiate like inextinguishable flames. I didn't know quite why I loved this color so much until I read the opening line of Poppies, by Sandra McPherson. The progression of imagery in the poem trails into sadness, which is difficult. I wanted more blazing. Sigh.

by Sandra McPherson

Orange is the single-hearted color. I remember
How I found them in a vein beside the railroad,
A bumble-bee fumbling for a foothold
While the poppies' petals flagged beneath his boot.

I brought three poppies home and two buds still sheathed.
I amputated them above the root. They lived on artlessly
Beside the window for a while, blazing orange, bearing me
No malice. Each four-fanned surface opened

To the light. They were bright as any orange grove.
I watched them day and night stretch open and tuck shut

Read the rest here.

P.S. Don't miss's take on Halloween, including their Poetry Haunted House.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Toby at The Writer's Armchair

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Writing Mantras

I like to write while listening to yoga music. It puts me in the zone. Since I don't understand Sanskrit, the words aren't distracting. The beat, based on breath, is energizing and relaxing at the same time, like a strong cup of tea. And best of all, I've developed a Pavlovian response to it. When I hear the music, I write. 

I'm also addicted to taping mantras to my laptop.  For Letters From Rapunzel, it was this fortune cookie fortune:

For Operation Yes, it was:


Lately, in my continuing struggle to revise a YA manuscript, I've gone through a slew of them, and I'm toying with putting up Auden's quote about poetry, which I think perfectly describes the complexity of a YA novel:

"Clear thinking about mixed feelings" 

Or perhaps this one, which reminds me not to bother being someone I'm not:

"Cool and I have never met upon the high road of life." -- M.T. Anderson

Do you have a writing mantra?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Poetry Friday: Dandelion

This is me, once again reminding you to sign up for the Poetry 180 series, "a poem a day for American high schools," but really, it's a stream for all of us. Here's poem #156:


Julie Lechevsky

My science teacher said
there are no monographs
on the dandelion.

Unlike the Venus fly-trap
or Calopogon pulchellus,
it is not a plant worthy of scrutiny.

It goes on television
between the poison squirt bottles,
during commercial breakaways from Ricki Lake.

But that's how life
to my home.

where they make you do

Poetry Friday is hosted today by my poetry sister and fellow Cybils judge, Liz Garton Scanlon. (Remember to nominate a poetry book for the Cybils by midnight tonight!)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Limitations and Words in the Dust

"Limitations, honestly faced, are the greatest assets in producing a work of art."---caricaturist Al Hirschfeld.
This quote (pulled from at the always interesting blog, Letters of Note,) is taken from Hirschfeld's personal correspondence with artist Peter Emslie, but truly, I love the whole letter. It's the kind of utterly impractical, yet life-changing advice that feeds you, day after day, and pushes you out in the right direction instead of hobbling you with self-doubt.

Of course, we're limited. But the desire to be more than we are, the need to strive for what we can't have---that's where story happens. A novel is a failed attempt to tell the truth any other way. A poem is a wrong-headed impulse to cage what can't be contained. Every piece of art is a confession that our legs are broken, our hearts tired, our souls, starving.

I just finished reading Words in the Dust, Trent Reedy's debut novel about a young girl in Afghanistan. Zulaikha's life, by any measure, is limited. She is taunted by boys who call her "Donkeyface." She is bound by culture, laws, time, and war. Barely any stories of girls in Afghanistan survive the scouring forces that turn their lives into wind-blown dust. And yet, here, despite the odds, is a life painstakingly held to the light.

The author was a soldier in the Iowa National Guard and is a Facebook friend. The editor is Cheryl Klein, my editor for Operation Yes. The book is graced with the poetry of Afghanistan-born poet, Jami; peopled with characters as fully realized as your own family, and infused with a quiet, watchful intensity. I don't know how to stop wanting to be more than I am; perhaps that's why I ached so much for Zulaikha to have more than she does.

Read in ARC form. Available for sale in January.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, TN

Look who greeted me upon my arrival
to War Memorial Plaza
for the Southern Festival of Books
in Nashville, TN
They must have known Operation Yes was coming. 

At LEAD Academy,
talking about military families, writing books, and saying YES

Great kids
I wrote a jody call just for them
and boy, did they belt it out

I don’t know, but I’ve heard it’s true,
LEAD Academy has the tightest crew. 

We can’t be quiet; we’ll say it loud,
We are LEADERS and we are proud.

I don’t know, but I’ve been told
Books are better than piles of gold.

We can’t be quiet; we’ll say it loud,
We are LEADERS and we are proud.

We have a secret; we confess, 
Battles are won by saying YES.

We can’t be quiet; we’ll say it loud,
We are LEADERS and we are proud.

We can’t be quiet; we’ll say it loud,
We are LEADERS and we are proud.

Books sales, my kryptonite

They had both my books in stock.
And my panel on Contemporary Military Families in Fiction
went really well. I was happy.

Books by my co-presenter, Dana Reinhardt
including her novel, The Things a Brother Knows.
My husband absconded with my copy,
 and just texted me his review:
Wicked good. 
Me with authors Dana Reinhardt and Louis Sachar

Jon Sciescka was in the house,
talking up
Spaceheadz and Guys Read.
I didn't get to meet him again, but I did sit in his
chair! He had been eating breakfast
Tom Angleberger, author of Origami Yoda . . . 

and then I sat down with Tom,
 so you know the magic in the chair totally rubbed off on me, right?

Tom also asked if he could snap a quick picture of me reading for this project for a librarian friend. (Click one of those map pins in Tennessee, and you'll see a pic of me, a book, and a biscuit.) 

See that name? Lauren Kate
In a former life, she was my editor at HarperCollins.
She was the reason Letters From Rapunzel was pulled from the slush and became a real book.

 What a total pleasure to see her again, meet her husband, 
and have her meet mine, and to rejoice in her great success

Me and Lauren

I also got to catch the end of Deborah Wiles reading from Countdown.
 I cannot wait to read this!

I had time to duck into the gorgeous
 downtown Nashville Public Library

Maps of Nashville 

Check out the macarons at Provence,
the cafe adjacent to the library.
I had one lemon and one chocolate. Mmmmm.

Provence was also where I met Jules (from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast) for a morning chat which was going splendidly until I thought to check the time. Holy crap. I thought we'd talked for an hour. NO. It was THREE.
I had to run to my hotel to check out, and Jules had to run to a Festival session, so it was quick hugs and sadly, no pictures of us together. Waaaaah. We need an official timekeeper when we get together.

You know it was a Southern Festival
 because the author hospitality bags contained
mini MoonPies and Jack Daniels.

"Atticus Finch for Chief Justice" t-shirts

Monuments to Music

Guitars everywhere

All in all, a spectacular weekend. Thank you, Nashville, and the Southern Festival of Books. Truly a class act.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Brought to You By the Letter "N"

The other day in the car we were listening to my husband's iPod. He has a LOT of music, and for kicks, we've been listening to the songs in alphabetical order.

L, of course, was much ado about Love and Lovely.
M had some variety, from Mothers to Money
But N?

Talk about a downer.

There was
NORTHERN WINDS (brrrrrrrr)
NOT PRETTY ENOUGH (one of my favorite songs of all time, btw)

So I tried to think of less gloomy N words. My brain, though, was stuck on NOPE. NADA. NUMB. NOISE. NASTY. NATTERING. NOSEY. NINNY. NONPLUSSED. NIT-PICKY. NEGATIVE.

The only good N words I could come up with were Natural and New. Except those sound like a commercial.

I guess there's Nutmeg. That's good Nice.

Oh, wait!!!!!


I'm going to Nashville! For the Southern Festival of Books. I'm so honored and pleased to be part of this great lineup of children's and YA authors:

Will I see you there?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Knowing Nothing, Feeling Everything

"I like knowing nothing, but feeling everything." ---Sharon Creech, speaking about rough drafts in "Leaping Off the Porch," from Barbara Harrison and Gregory Maguire's collection of essays, Origins of Story.

"An acting teacher used to tell us, 'The best protection is stark naked,' meaning that if you commit yourself to a role and to your character’s objectives, and open yourself completely to the moment onstage, there is no room for self-consciousness or second-guessing. It’s when you indulge in half-measures that you screw up." ---Susan O'Doherty, Ph.D., from her column, The Doctor is In

I love both these quotes, but of course, they intimidate me, too. How to be so brave? How to be so balanced that leaping and committing are both possible?

What doesn't work is looking at my own feet.  Look out and up. Breathe. 

Friday, October 1, 2010

Poetry Friday: Banned Books Week Edition

short article about the history of banned poetry is posted at I found it amusing that Shel Silverstein's How Not to Have to Dry the Dishes was considered subversive. Really, dish-drying tikes are devious in their avoidery all on their own. (Avoidery = the intricate task of avoiding an onerous task without seeming to do so; related to embroidery, the verbal embellishment of facts used to cover for the same.)

Surely there is more banned poetry. After all, a poem can be committed to memory, unlike most books. And when banned words enter your brain, well...


Blessed, blessed
are you, for

will make you weep
when the light hits the grass
in the morning.
I will make you crave
conversation like red
meat, lay you
weak, at the feet
of strangers. I will open
lives like vistas
before you
that you will never

beautiful thing
will come to you and press
against your flesh.
There is nothing
that will not call
your name, nothing
that you will not long
to possess, nothing
that will not offer up red
kisses, coupling,
seeping into the roots
of the world.

will deceive you,
tell you all you need is a
mouthful, but in truth,
I know the desire
I infect you with is
See, how the red shoes
I bind to you prick
your feet,
hungry for the beat
and sway
of word upon word.

Blessed, oh! blessed
are you.

---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Jennie at Biblio File.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

What I'm Reading Now: Blackout

Oh, Connie Willis. Only you could make me laugh by referring to a much-maligned dance dress as "The Yellow Peril."  (The dress is passed from wearer to wearer by WWII female ambulance drivers who still scramble to look fetching despite no new frocks for the duration. They also have an ambulance dubbed Bela Lugosi.)

Blackout is stuffed---and I do mean that---with fascinating details of England during WWII. The book is huge, following the exploits of multiple historians as they time-travel back into the past, witnessing and ultimately getting sucked inside the chaos of The Blitz and the stolid British response to it; the desperately improvised civilian small boat rescue of stranded soldiers from Dunkirk to Dover; the air raid shelters peopled by both knitting biddies and Shakespearean actors; the rampages of measles-infected, parentless, prank-playing young evacuees; the frantic deployment of fake rubber tank units which must be blown up by hand in the middle of foggy fields with snorting bulls in them; and the endless terror of whistling V-1 rocket attacks, incendiary bombs, and the looming pall of threatened German invasion.

Does that sound confusing? It is. Does it sound fascinating? It is. Connie Willis is a master at making you realize that life is made up of unpredictable moments, all of which add up, person by person, to the sweep of history as we know it. Time travel seems ordinary by comparison.

P.S. Just to let you know, I normally avoid novels that are really the first half of a VLB (Very Long Book.) Nothing makes me madder than realizing 4/5 of the way into a terrific story that it can't possibly end in time and sure enough.... %^&*! ...on the last page are the dreaded words "to be continued." Especially if the "continued" is for longer than, say, two weeks. People, I don't care how great your story is, my brain cannot hold details that long. Publishers Weekly refers to readers such as myself as "allergic to cliffhangers."

Thankfully, Connie Willis and her publishers admitted at the outset that this was indeed a single VLB split in two. And they set the release dates of the two halves close together. Thus, I deliberately held off reading Blackout until this month because the second half, All Clear, is due out next month. (Essentially, I compressed time and travelled right through the intervening days of hanging off the cliff. Clever, right?)

For more, here's the review of Blackout in the Washington Post from March.