Tag Archives: Read Alouds

SOWING STORY SEEDS FOR KIDS

Her smile is as wide and natural as the 103-acre farm in the background. Clad in a flannel shirt, the woman tells viewers, “Alright, well, we’re inside the tractor now.” After she introduces the two cats watching from outside, she holds up her book cover, THE WISH AND THE PEACOCK; she opens it and announces, “Chapter one, hide-and-seek…” pauses, then reads, Finding lost things on the farm is the world’s hardest game of hide-and-seek. I’ve been searching for Dad’s favorite shovel for weeks.

Meet farmer and children’s book author, Wendy Swore. For the next 15 minutes, Swore reads the chapter, acting out sentences with gestures and animated faces, and changing her voice for each character. Viewers get acquainted with 12-year-old Paige, who lost her father and wants to save her family farm, located on an Idaho reservation. Swore knows her setting. For the past 20 years, she has lived and farmed on the Sho-Ban Reservation, where her husband and five children were born and raised.

Sponsored by her publisher, Shadow Mountain Publishing, Swore’s online read-aloud isn’t just for kids. “They’re for everyone stuck in quarantine!” says Swore. I recently interviewed her about her books and how she juggles farming and writing.

Was farming part of your childhood?

My dad was a crop duster and we moved all around. I got to sit on his lap while he flew his crop duster plane. That was my introduction to agriculture.

What is your first memory of writing?

In elementary school, I had a teacher who was extraordinary. She used to tell us things like, start writing about the color brown without using the color brown. As a fourth grader, that was really mind-blowing! She told me, ‘you’re really good, you should really write more’. I wrote about a Hunter Cheetah. My teacher made me feel like it was as amazing as I thought it was.

When did you start writing professionally?

About 15 years ago, my husband said, ‘you should write a story about the farm’. I sat down and wrote a 90,000 word young adult (YA) novel about this farm thing. He said, ‘no, I meant a little flier-coloring book thing to hand to kids.’ I said, ‘too late’, and I’ve been writing ever since! No one will ever see the 90,000. It was just for fun.

You kept writing. What motivated you?

I went to a writer’s conference and suddenly, my world opened. On a farm, I’m totally by myself, especially during off-season. And…when I started writing A MONSTER LIKE ME, my youngest was 10 years old. He would come home from school and ask, ‘do you have the next chapter ready’? He liked finding typos and wanted to see the screen.

Describe your writing rituals or habits.

I write while sitting on a ball and plug in earbuds, because I have narcolepsy. I don’t struggle with it while farming, but as soon as I stop moving. The ball lets me move around and helps me stay awake while writing; and, I listen to movie soundtracks without words.

Did the Covid pandemic affect your writing in any way?

My son who has Asperger’s wasn’t able to do his schoolwork, unless I was with him all the time. My writing time went out the window and pushed the writing of my new novel into farming seasion, so I was trying to write and farm at the same time. We do 12-hour farming days. When I only had one hour, I needed to get into the zone fast. I used music to pull me into that (mental) place that I need to be to write.

Five kids, plus farming, organizing a popular pumpkin patch and farmers markets… Egads, how do you make time to write?

I call winter my writing season. I average a minimum of half-hour a day and a couple weekends a month. If I only write in winter, then I’m having to re-learn it. So, I do a little in summer. But, my days are very full, so it is difficult to write for long periods. Early in the season is easier, because I can go out and water, then go home and write for several hours. If there is a day when I am not wiped out from farming, I go next door to my best friend’s house on Friday afternoon and we might write till one in the morning. Next door for us means half-a-mile away! We sit next to each other, so we’re totally absorbed in our imaginary world; we stop and brainstorm. It’s fun.

Do you think about your characters and plot while farming?

It’s a creative outlet that can go with me into the field. If I am farming with my children, I’ll say, ‘what do you think about a character who is like this. Then I ask, what do you think is the worst thing that could happen to this character. If I am thinking of a certain part of my story, I’ll say, so this is the situation, this is the character, how do you think this character can get from point A to B’.

You have published two middle grade (MG) novels. Do you have a favorite?

Each one satisfies a different need. A MONSTER LIKE ME was me as a child, a kid with hemangioma (a golf ball-sized protrusion on my face) who was bullied by kids and adults. I like to ask what-if questions when I write. A MONSTER LIKE ME was born because I wondered, what if I believed the people who called me a monster? THE WITCH AND THE PEACOCK was meaningful, because it captures what our life is  like now. Most farms around us have gone to houses. I needed a happy ending.

Congratulations on your new MG coming out in May. How is it different from your others?

STRONG LIKE THE SEA is my first contemporary MG; it’s not directly based on my world. The main character likes codes and figuring things out. That’s the furthest from me right now.

Any advice for writers?

Writing is hard! You have to love the things you’re writing about. I’m interested in people you might think are broken, but you get to know them and there’s more to them. I want kids to learn to love themselves. Even when you don’t have time to write, you can write stories in your head for when you do have the time.

Note: Original prose and photos were printed with the permission of Wendy Swore.

 

 

 

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Filed under Karen McChesney, RMC-SCBWI

Reading Goals for the year

Although January started weeks ago, it’s always a good time to reflect on the past and to make plans for the future.

As I first sat down to think about all that I did 2019, I thought about my major writing accomplishments. But as I spent more time considering the full spectrum of writing work I did, it included reading, listening to podcasts, taking classes, and even writing posts for this blog!

Creating Categories

So as I look to 2020, I wanted to focus in on one aspect – reading. The first thing I realized is that I didn’t want a straight reading goal of something like: fifty books. I wanted to be strategic as I thought about what I would read. I came up with the following categories and assigned some numbers:

  • Reading aloud with my kids: Picture books and Harry Potter 6 & 7 (24 + 2)
  • Reading in genre (36)
  • Fiction reading outside of genre (6)
  • Books on writing craft (4)
  • Non-fiction/how-to outside of craft (4)

 

Reading aloud with my kids

At the time of writing, I have eight-year-old-twins. I firmly believe there are picture books suitable for all ages, but there are books that will be less interesting to them – the time when we will sit on the couch reading picture books together might start to fade. While we’re in the zone, I want to capitalize on it.

I’m also currently reading Harry Potter aloud to the boys – I’d like to get through the last two books of the series with them before the summer. It’s something we love to do, and given that their friends talk about it more and more (spoilers abound) it would be good to finish it so there’s a chance for a few more surprises.

 

Reading in genre

This is a huge part of what it means to be a writer, and is recommended across the board. Plus, I love the genre I write in!

 

Books on craft

I love continuing my education and I think reading craft books are great ways to learn something new, but even when it isn’t new information, craft books are right there to remind you of things that you want to make sure to incorporate.

 

Reading outside of genre

I’m a writer and a reader – and while fantasy is completely my jam, that’s not the only type of fiction I enjoy. With the intention of being well-rounded, I want to make sure to dip into a variety of genres. I also learning across the board, and a few non-fiction non-craft books will make it into my reading list this year.

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Whatever you decide for your own reading, think about how variety might help you meet your goals. Once you get your categories, assign numbers to each group, and then happy reading!

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Filed under Coral Jenrette

Ski Accidents and Read-Alouds

I was off in the wilds of Park City, Utah, making epic turns in piles of powder, when the unexpected happened. I was halfway down a groomed, intermediate run, when I realized the slope had turned icy. I immediately made a snap decision to move over to what I thought was softer powder on the side. But this snow had melted in the previous day’s sun and had turned crusty overnight. Unfortunately, I was in the thick of it, turning at a high speed. My right ski got caught in the crud, while the rest of me kept going. Down I went, landing hard on my right shoulder. This was no routine spill. When I tried to get up, I was hit with an unusually sharp pain. I lay there in disbelief, gazing up at the pale blue sky.

Suddenly, a friendly skier appeared at my side. “Are you okay?” he quipped.

“Hmm,” I said. “I don’t think so.”

“Need help getting up?” He reached out his hand.

“Maybe I’ll just lie here for a while,” I answered, still peering at the sky.

“I think we should call Ski Patrol,” he said, more seriously.

“Ski Patrol?” I said, suddenly looking his way. “I’ve never had to call Ski Patrol. And I’ve been skiing for over fifty years!”

This kind angel in goggles smiled, but proceeded to take out his phone. I said okay, and before I knew it, the first Ski Patroller had arrived. After a routine exam, he calmly announced that he was pretty sure my collarbone was broken. Then, he called for a sled, and after a surprisingly smooth and enjoyable ride down to the medical clinic, it was confirmed. I had a distal fracture to my right clavicle and would be wearing a sling for the next 6-8 weeks.

Back at our condo, my concerned cousins gathered around me. One suggested I put on lavender oil. Another said I should sit by the fire and prop myself up with pillows. But a third offered something completely different. “You should listen to an audio book,” she said. “It’s the best way to relax.” Hmm, I thought. I hadn’t listened to a book in years. Not since my own children were young and we were on a family car trip. I prefer holding a book, rereading pages as I go, and marking interesting passages with post-it notes. But with limited movement in my right arm, and an impending flight home the next day, I decided to try it. I downloaded the Audible app and began listening to Michelle Obama read her best-selling memoir, BECOMING.

Once home, a friend called to see how I was doing. I said I was on the couch, listening to a book. She told me she loved audio books. She found them comforting and they reminded her of being read to as a child. I thought about my own childhood experiences with books. My earliest recollection was of my mother reading to us from a thick volume of poetry and fairy tales. I still have that book on my shelf and each time I open it, memories of listening to her read LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD or Over in the Meadow, come flooding back. My mother also took us to the library each week for Story Time, and read us books from the Dr. Seuss Book-of-the-Month club. Additionally, my brother and I watched and listened to Captain Kangaroo read picture book classics like MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS, CURIOUS GEORGE, and MADELEINE on our black and white Zenith.

But my strongest memories of being read to were from elementary school. Our teachers read to us after lunch or at the end of the day. I can vividly remember being whisked off to Wilbur’s farm in CHARLOTTE’S WEB or out to the ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS where Karana foraged for crabs and hid from wild dogs. I traveled back to the Revolutionary War with JOHNNY TREMAIN and onto the high seas in CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS. And nothing compared to the magic of Middle Earth in THE HOBBIT or the fantastical world of A WRINKLE IN TIME. These books pushed my imagination to places it had never been before. And the cadence of my teachers’ voices, appropriately calm and dramatic, allowed me the luxury of conjuring up these adventures in a strikingly visual way. It was different than reading the books myself. It was soothing and transporting.

As writers of books for children, we must always consider how our books sound when read aloud. Stories that allow our voices to be compelling, humorous, or lyrical draw the listener in. And when children are read to, it motivates them to improve their reading skills, so they can someday read these books on their own.

When I’m working on a challenging passage in my own work, I often record myself, then listen back to check on the authenticity of a character’s voice or the pacing of a scene. I’ve even recorded chapters of mentor texts so I can hear why the writing works so well. It’s also beneficial to have critique partners read your work aloud so you will know how others might interpret your words.

And although I still prefer reading a hard copy of a book – holding it in my hands and going through it at my own pace –I now have headphones nearby. Michelle is waiting to read to me. And I can’t wait to snuggle under a blanket and listen to her.

Do you prefer hard copies of books, reading on an e-reader, or listening to audio books?

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Rondi Frieder