The words have arrived from our pen pals in Malawi! (I say “our” because I have a pen pal, too.) Thousands of Austin area students in 160 classrooms have read Laugh with the Moon, and now they are corresponding with kids in Malawi about how their lives are similar and different. BookPeople, Random House, World Altering Medicine and yours truly are all collaborating to run this program. Here I am sorting hundreds of letters, so they can get sent to the right schools in Texas.
Of course, with all that sorting to do, I couldn’t help but peek at a bunch of the letters. In his letter, a Malawian student named Dominic tells a fabulous folktale about an elephant and a hippo. Another student named Paul describes the history of his country and why Malawi is known as “the warm heart of Africa.” And Shallon talks about how her chores include feeding the chickens, washing clothes and cleaning plates. Click here to read some of these wonderful pen pal letters for yourself!
I can’t wait meet some of our Austin participants at the Wrap-Up Party on Saturday, May 3rd at BookPeople. Each of our 40 participating schools will be sending two ambassadors. We will call our Malawi pen pals, and Skype with a doctor from World Altering Medicine!
Next Thursday, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library will host a Civil Rights Summit to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Four of our presidents, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and current president, Barack Obama will all be present to reflect back on the civil rights movement and current civil rights issues.
The title for my book A Thousand Never Evers pays homage to the important civil rights activist Medgar Evers. As the first state field secretary in Mississippi for the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) in Mississippi, Medgar worked to register voters, lead demonstrations, and facilitate economic boycotts against businesses that discriminated. He was assassinated in front of his home for his activism.
Watch this video as I tour Medgar Evers House and Museum in Jackson and speak with the curator, Minnie White Watson.
Also, check out my interview with Minnie White Watson, who discusses what it was like working with Medgar Evers: http://shanaburg.com/educators/a-thousand-never-evers/the-making-of/on-medgar-evers/
Posted on 04/03/2014 02:28 am | Comments Off
When I visited Mathews Elementary School in Austin last week, I was bowled over by what the students in Lauren Fox’s third grade class had created.
“After studying symbolism, students created illustrations inspired by a section of text from Laugh With The Moon. The visuals demonstrate students’ understanding and interpretation through colors and symbols. Each piece fit together to tell Clare’s story.”
Click on the thumbnails of each picture for a complete explanation of the symbol. Cool! (This is the kind of assignment that makes me remember how much classroom teachers rock!)
As we acknowledge the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, we also must spend some time discussing those who tried to prevent equal rights for all. In my book, A Thousand Never Evers, the Ku Klux Klan in Kuckachoo, Mississippi harasses Addie Ann’s family. Extremely violent and threatening, the Ku Klux Klan and other groups like the White Citizens Council intimidated many minorities including African Americans and Jewish people in order to maintain racial segregation and white supremacy.
I met Mrs. F as I was traveling through the Mississippi Delta. She shared a story with me about the Ku Klux Klan in her hometown that provided lots of food for thought:
When you discuss the civil rights movement, how do you talk to your students/children about the Ku Klux Klan?
Posted on 02/11/2014 04:29 am | Comments Off
Today I got the treat of visiting students at JJ Pickle Elementary School here in Austin. This was no ordinary author visit. This was THE BLUEBONNET BREAKFAST! Only those students who had read at least five books nominated for the 2013-14 Bluebonnet List were invited for blueberry muffins and fresh orange juice. Librarian extraordinary Kim Clarke and a host of volunteers had collected T-shirts, book lights, book bags, and books for each student.
Fifth grader Rhianna made this gorgeous sign to welcome me. Boy, did I feel welcomed!
Check out these gorgeous cut outs made from the images on my book cover!
Of course the best part for me was meeting so many smart, cool, and awesome readers from the fourth and fifth grades!
Posted on 01/27/2014 09:09 pm | Comments Off
This August, I’ll be a faculty member at the Full Novel Revision Week: Mastering the Middle Grade. This week of work and wonder will happen at the most magical spot on earth–The Writing Barn, which is right here in Austin!
If that’s not exciting enough, I’ll be coaching you along with Kathi Appelt, Bethany Hegedus, and Rita Williams-Garcia. One of us will the draft (or near-complete draft) of your middle grade novel before you arrive. Then during the week we will meet with you to discuss a strategy for revision and provide mentoring once you begin.
You can do your work surrounded by flowers in bloom, though you may take time to socialize with writing colleagues and attend lectures designed to help you improve your craft. These lectures include:
“Putting the Rabbit in the Hat: Animals and Magic in Middle Grade Books” by Kathi Appelt, Newbery honor author of The Underneath, and National Book Award Finalsit for The Underneath and The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp
“If You Build It, They Will Read: A Nuts & Bolts Approach to Scene and Structure” by Bethany Hegedus, Bank Street Best Books author of Between Us Baxters and Truth with a Capital T and the forthcoming, Grandfather Gandhi, co-written with Arun Gandhi
“Big Game Treasure Hunting: Populating Your Novel with the Perfect Objects” by Rita Williams Garcia, Coretta Scott King winner, Scott O’Dell Prize for Historical Fiction, National Book Award finalist and Newbery Honor author of One Crazy Summer and 2013’s PS: Be Eleven
And I’ll be talking about one of my all-time favorite topics: “Lights, Camera, Action: Settings That Spring to Life!”
We’d love to have you join us! For more information, please click on this link.
Posted on 12/08/2013 05:36 pm | Comments Off
Wow! Those kids at Clear Spring Elementary sure know how to show an author a good time. The fourth and fifth-grade students had all read Laugh with the Moon, and they asked the most thought-provoking questions. They showed me the amazing essays that they had written about Clare’s journey to Malawi.
Can you believe that just like Clare in the story, Diego has a pet chicken? Well, Diego’s isn’t an actual real live pet chicken–his is on Minecraft. But both Clare and Diego’s chickens are named Fred!
Penelope wrote that she liked the play that Clare and Memory helped the younger students perform at Mzanga Full Primary school. Zikomo, Penelope!
David wrote about the little bongololo incident that happened in Clare’s new classroom. Bongololo means centipede in the Chichewa language, so let’s just say the whole scene wasn’t very pretty.
Much thanks to the students, teachers, principal, and especially librarian Barbara Ott-Slaven for a great day!
Posted on 12/08/2013 12:24 am | Comments Off
In my Civil Rights Then and Now series, we explore Jim Crow Laws. On this day, November 25, 1955, segregation on interstate buses and trains is banned by the Interstate Commerce Commission; six days prior to Rosa Parks arrest in Montgomery, Alabama. The Jim Crow laws enacted in 1890 gave “separate but equal” statuses for African Americans, and one of those places where you saw segregation was on the bus system. This meant that blacks and other people of color had to take seats apart from whites on buses.
I visited Dixie Greyhound Bus station in Greenwood, Mississippi. Originally built in 1939, this Greyhound bus station had a separate black waiting room and a separate white waiting room. As you watch this video, think about what life might be like today if we still had the Jim Crow Laws..
Posted on 11/27/2013 01:12 am | Comments Off
BookPeople, the Austin Independent School District, and Penguin Random House are joining forces to launch Words Across the World. This program encourages cross-cultural exploration through reading and writing. As we speak, thousands of students in Malawi and Austin are exchanging pen pal letters, as they read Laugh with the Moon.
These letters have traveled more than 9,000 miles–from Malawi to Kenya to London to New York to Ohio to Texas!
“Although known as the Warm Heart of Africa, Malawi has a UN Human Development Index (a composite index encompassing health, education, and income) that is 170th out of the world’s 187 countries, well below the average in Africa. The per capita GDP is $258 per year,” says Dr. Kevin Bergman of World Altering Medicine. “While very significant health improvements have been made over the past decade, Malawi’s health challenges are staggering.”
As part of Words Across the World, students in Austin are pooling their pennies to buy life-saving malaria medicine for children in Malawi. “We are grateful to the students and teachers who enable us to do our work,” Dr. Bergman says.
Additionally, customers at BookPeople will have a chance to support the program at the store. And Penguin Random House will donate copies of Laugh with the Moon to students in rural Malawi, so they can read a story set in their own world.
Posted on 11/25/2013 03:36 am | Comments Off
2013 marks important milestones of the Civil Rights Movement. In honor of the courageous people and events who participated in this chapter of history, I’ll feature video interviews, discussion questions and web links from the Reader Guide I wrote to accompany my first book, A Thousand Never Evers (Random House, 2008). Let’s get started…
On this day, November 13, 1956, The Supreme Court ruled that segregation on buses in Alabama was unconstitutional. Watch my interview called Bystanders and Upstanders as Mrs. Dennis describes how when she was growing up, black children walked to school, while white children rode a school bus. She also talks about the public buses, in which white people rode up front while blacks had to sit in the seats in the back or stand:
Posted on 11/13/2013 01:05 am | Comments Off