Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas in New Mexico!

When we moved to New Mexico two decades ago as newlyweds we arrived on the *five year plan*. Neither of us had ever stepped foot in the state before, we had no idea what to expect, and MOST people who move here from other places around the country end up trying to survive major culture shock and want to leave as soon as possible. 

But not everybody . . . I guess we were young enough that we adapted like natives and the job worked out so well for my husband that our *five year plan* morphed into the *twenty year plan*. 

We loved the wild terrain, the gorgeous brilliant blue skies and the friendly people. We've raised our boys on a dirt road near the Rio Grande where they ran around like wild things, built tree houses, rode dirt bikes all over the cottonwood forests and I taught piano and wrote and wrote and wrote inspired by this wild and enchanting - and very different state. My mother thought we were crazy and had moved to the end of the earth. 

We quickly embraced the many Native American tribal cultures as well as the Spanish culture and adopted the cultural traditions of Christmas - a far cry from my boring suburban childhood when my parents moved us away from the very interesting center of San Francisco so we could have better weather and a pool - which was GREAT, of course, since we were swimming maniacs and bicycle loving kids and we did have a meadow on the end of the street where we built forts and played hide and seek and kick the can on hot summer evenings and school was within walking distance and all that good stuff, but I'd never lived in such a culturally diverse spot until twenty years ago.

So let me share a few New Mexico highlights of Christmas Eve . . . We eat dinner by candlelight:
We create and eat homemade steamed tamales: And 7 Layer Bean Dip with tortilla chips: And Drink Martinelli's Sparkling Cider: Our whole neighborhood spends the day folding paper bags and adding sand and 12 hour candles to create thousands of luminarias:  We go walking in the cold night air to see the lights and go caroling with the neighbors: And then we go home and build a roaring fire in the wood stove: And Read the Christmas Story from the Bible: Frantically wrap the last of the presents! And fall into bed exhausted for a long winter's nap . . .  


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wednesday Wanderings



Darling Cynthia Leitich Smith posted my interview with her here! She's been running a series called CRAFT, CAREER & CHEER. So go find out my favorite writing book - and the story of three crazy writer girls, jumbo muffins, and upcoming goodies!

Ten days ago I wrote THE END on the first draft of my current WIP - working title: THE TRAITEUR'S DAUGHTER - which my gorgeous editor has now suggested we change due to the fact that most people will not know what a "Traiteur" is.

I agree so I wasn't surprised by her email.

Titles are SO hard, but I'll find the perfect one. I will. I must! I'll ask my title whiz kid Jared. He named my last book, THE LAST SNAKE RUNNER, and it was a keeper. He has to earn his college fund somehow!

The PROBLEM: I haven't touched said WIP in the last 10 days. Thus, panic is running rampant and time is running out FAST for revisions. But today I got actually got a few moments in the sunroom (which unfortunately looks absolutely *not* as good as this pic).

And drank this and got warm.

Friday, December 11, 2009

December Issue SPELLBINDERS - check out the cool Gift Ideas!

Spellbinders - An Educational Newsletter
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December, 2009
KirstenClassroomFeature Article
"How do you fit time into your school day to read trade books when you teach in a test-preparation environment?"
by Kirsten Werk and Kimberley Griffiths Little

Let's face it; teachers are feeling pressure to bring up test scores more than ever before. In some districts, the curriculum you have to teach is scripted every moment of your day. How do you possibly fit in trade books? Here are some very easy ideas:
  • SSR/DEAR Time: Students should have time to choose what they want to read-even if it's only for 10 minutes a day. Here are some ideas to help teach reading strategies while they're reading.
    • Have your students fill out a chart for every book they read giving the title, genre, problem, solution, and theme. For non-fiction books, they can write down the main idea and a few of their favorite details. This is an easy way to practice the very same concepts students need to identify on standardized tests.
    • Students are always more excited about a trade book when the teacher recommends it. Highlight a Book of the Week and take 10 minutes to introduce a new book.
    • Can't find 10 minutes? Use the last 10 minutes of class while you pass out homework. Students can be quietly reading during this time. Or tighten up your transition times using a timer to gain an extra 10 minutes a day.
  • Read aloud every day to your students. Here are some ways to make it more productive:
    • Never read aloud without asking something from your students in return. Children should always be listening for a purpose and responding in a "Reading Response" journal. Have the students write about the main idea, three things they learned about a character or the setting or problem, make an inference, compare and contrast, or the author's purpose. Mix it up! Have them draw pictures in their Journals instead of writing.
    • Read from a variety of genres. Track the books you read aloud (and the books they read on their own) on a classroom chart that shows the title of each book, the genre, the characters, problem, solution, and setting, theme, author's purpose and/or point of view. Each of these is a skill needed on standardized tests.
    • Look at your grade level standards for the reading strategies that students will be tested on. Then pick books that have one of those reading strategies strongly identified in the book. Make their response be one where they practice your pre-determined reading strategy. Here are some examples:

USING INFERENCES: Read The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Palocco. On a "Character Study Chart" have the headings: Character's Name, What he/she says, What he/she does, What I can Tell. Identify a character, such as the grandmother. From a page in the story, write down in the boxes on the chart what the grandmother says and does, and then ask the students how they think the grandmother feels or what she thinks.
AUTHOR'S VIEWPOINT: In the book Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, the author has a clear viewpoint about whether living forever is a good thing or not. Similar to the "Character Study Chart", have the students identify the author's point of view and back it up with examples from the book. Then have them share/write their own opinion and back it up with evidence/examples.
COMPARE/CONTRAST: In My Teacher for President, by Kay Winters, have the students make a Venn diagram of the similarities and differences between teachers' and presidents' jobs. Depending on the age, you could even go beyond the book and ask the students to compare and contrast students and citizens in the same way.
MAIN IDEA and SUPPORTING DETAILS: Any non-fiction book will have a clear main idea and supporting details. Pick books that go with your Social Studies or Science curriculum. Have students draw a simple four-legged table with the Main Idea written on top of the table. Then on each of the four legs underneath, the students list a supporting detail from the book with either words or pictures or both.
Using trade books is easy when you know what you need to teach. Start with a read aloud of your favorite book tomorrow!

KirstenBio: Kirsten Werk has taught kindergarten through eighth grade for more than twenty years in both Washington and California. She has taught second-language learners, students in poverty, as well as students in affluent, private schools.
For the last eleven years, she has been teaching third grade in a Title I school in Pittsburg, California. Her class includes 60% ELD students, 95% free and reduced lunch, and over 90% minority students. Since Kirsten has been there, her school has raised their API score nearly 300 points. In 2005, the Touchmath Company awarded her a $1,000 grant for helping low-achieving students raise their math proficiency. In 2007, she was awarded Teacher of the Year.

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L. RubyWho's Right/Whose Right?
Lois Ruby
Speaking of Carolee's ruby slippers in our current issue, this Ruby would like to slip her two cents' worth in on a few tidbits.
  • There's a great article in the October 2009 issue of VOYA - Voice of Youth Advocates. Written by YA librarian, Kristin Pekoll, it details the harrowing experience when community members brought a huge number of book challenges to the YA collection of the West Bend Community Memorial Library. (West Bend is about an hour out of Milwaukee.) Called "smut," these titles - some 80+ - were on sexuality in its variety, were all favorably reviewed in professional journals, and all passed muster according to the library's collection development policy. But here's the catch: the West Bend YA collection serves people from 6th through 12th grade. That's quite a range in terms of appropriateness. I recommend your hunting down this VOYA article because it describes the process of the staff and library board, as well as the city, to reconcile a monumental dilemma. Even better, it tells what the community learned from the experience. Especially note three points: (1) In terms of reconsideration policy, what should we be doing about Web-related/social networking materials available in, or even hosted by, schools and libraries? (2) Are our PR programs fostering sterling relationships with the media, which can, as we've all observed, create quite a three-ring circus? (3) How and when might staff members' personal lives impact community challenges? In other words, how safe are we as private employees of public institutions?
  • Did you know that the American Library Association (ALA) has an award for innovative programs on intellectual freedom? It's not just for libraries. According to the website: "State libraries or library associations, educational media associations or programs, legal defense funds, intellectual freedom committees or coalitions and related parties are eligible for nomination by themselves or others."
  • Finally, remember last month we talked about Stitches, the graphic book by David Small? It was on the short list for the National Book Award, Young People's Literature category. The controversial issue was, is it a young adult book, or is it not? Well, rest assured that the debate goes on, but ... it did not win the award. A much safer, though admirable and unusual, choice was Phillip Hoose's Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009). Why was it unusual? Because the book is a biography, whereas this award generally tilts the table toward novels.

CColvinHoose portrays the life of a fifteen year-old girl whose name was virtually lost to history. Claudette Colvin was arrested for doing what Rosa Parks did during the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, but before Ms. Parks' heroic and historically-acclaimed action.Go to for more info on the NBA winners, And yes, we're talking books, here, not hoops.

A Holiday Tip: Consider how many of your friends are tired of receiving massive quantities of fudge and cookies. How many are struggling financially and would feel obligated to spend money they don't have giving you a gift because you went out of your way to buy them something. Even the cost of small gifts adds up if you are unemployed. Why not give a gift of the heart and encourage your friends to do the same? Write a story or poem and tie it up with colorful ribbon or an ornament. Write a haiku, copy it and print it on cardstock and give these out as bookmarks. It's the thought that counts so this holiday season THINK about the power of words.
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The Secret Language of Stories
Carolee Framed
Carolee Dean
In October I gave a brief overview of my twelve-step story method called, "The Secret Language of Stories" (SLOS) and discussed the NEW WORLD vs. the OLD WORLD as well as the impact of setting on character development. In November I discussed the CALL and the REFUSAL. If you missed either of these articles you may find them at along with a copy of the December issue of this newsletter. If you are one of the many people from ASHA who came to my session on story grammar during the New Orleans conference, I welcome you as do my fellow SPELLBINDERS, Lois and Kim. If you were not able to attend my session, had difficulty downloading my handouts from the ASHA website, or would simply like to have the pictures and information associated with my twelve step story method, contact me via my website at and I would be happy to email them to you.

This month I will be discussing the CROSSING. This is the point in the story where the main character moves from the OLD WORLD to the NEW WORLD. It is often characterized by an internal response and a decision to act. Often a mentor or guide arrives and gives the main character encouragement to embark on the journey. Special gifts may be given to help the hero on his quest such as ruby slippers, glass shoes, magic wands, or secret information. Sometimes the decision to commit to the journey is made after much soul searching and at other times the hero concedes reluctantly after being forced on the journey against his will. He takes off toward the new world by boat, plane, car, pumpkin coach, time-traveling device, or even on foot. There is usually a specific goal or intention such as rescuing a princess, marrying a prince, winning a tournament, getting the lead in the school play, or stopping an evil wizard from taking over Middle Earth, but if the hero is thrust into the new world against his will, his goals may not be clear at first. This is a time of intense change and the hero may face opposition as he sets off on his new course. As anyone who has ever tried to make a major transition knows, the people around us aren't always supportive. Sometimes friends try to keep us from embarking on a journey, be it physical, emotional, or spiritual because they think it is too dangerous. Sometimes the enemy has evil minions who try to prevent us from entering the special world. These types of characters have been referred to as THRESHOLD GUARDIANS, people who stand at the entrance to the new world and test our commitment to the journey. For a more complete discussion of threshold guardians you may want to read The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler or The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.

Sometimes during this phase of the story the hero stays in the Old World, but something new arrives to change that world. In the movie Transformers, Sam Witwicky stays in his Old World, but that world drastically changes when cars and trucks begin transforming into massive robot killing machines. In romantic comedies a new person may arrive in the new world and though life may seem to continue as normal, soon everything is turned upside down.

For a fun activity exploring the CROSSING see the December Random Writing Activity on the blog on my website at
Please feel free to reprint any of the articles you find in SPELLBINDERS, but do give credit to the author(s) and include a reference to our blog by giving the following information - written by (author) and reprinted with permission from SPELLBINDERS, Helping Librarians and Educators Create Lifelong Readers

K. LittleKimberley's Book Buzz
Kimberley Griffiths Little
In our last two SPELLBINDERS issues, we've covered novels for Middle-Grade readers and Young Adults, specifically the book titles that are catching the eyes of the committee members of the John Newbery and Michael L. Printz Awards.

This month is Caldecott Award Buzz!
CMedalAbout the Randolph Caldecott Medal
The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.

Note those last words: The award does not go to the author of the picture book text, but to the artist of the most distinguished picture book.

But - let it be known that the award committee members do look at the entire package of art and text to see how well they are integrated to create a more beautiful and powerful book. Authors definitely benefit from a Caldecott sticker on their book, but the medal is for the artist.

Mermaid Queen by Shana Corey, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham (Scholastic Press). The spectacular true story of Annette Kellerman, who swam her way to fame, fortune and swimsuit history!


A Curious Collection of Cats by Betsy Franco, illustrated by Michael Wertz (Ten Speed Press). In thirty-four lively visual poems, the author captures the quirky ways of cats.

by Kimiko Kajikawa, illustrated by Ed Young (Philomel). An unforgettable story of one man's simple sacrifice that saved the lives of thousands. The artwork is a collage of marbled papers, fibrous grass cloth, translucent rice paper and tissue, photographic magazine papers, and even corrugated cardboard.

Lion & Mouse
The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney (Little, Brown).
A meticulously researched wordless rendition of one of Aesop's most beloved tales done in astounding artwork.

14 Cows

14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez (Peachtree Publishers). Master storyteller Carmen Agra Deedy hits all the right notes in this elegant story of generosity that crosses boundaries, nations, and cultures in a small village in western Kenya.

Moonshot: Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca (Athenaeum/Richard Jackson Books) This line and wash artwork will take kids along for the ride! Seen in a bookstore, the cover alone is stunning. Also includes appended note.

Looking for a humorous picture book? Check these out!

Pigs Make Me Sneeze
Pigs Make Me Sneeze! By Mo Willems (Hyperion).
Gerald believes he is allergic to his best friend! Will he have to stay away from Piggie forever?
Thunder Boomer! By Shutta Crum (Clarion)
A summer storm brings relief from the heat-and a surprise-to a farm family.

Porcupining: A Prickly Love Story
by Lisa Wheeler (Little, Brown)
With pun-filled prose, this tale of love and friendship between two prickly creatures in a petting zoo makes a perfect read aloud.

Author of The Last Snake Runner (Knopf)
AND the upcoming
The Healing Spell - Scholastic, July 2010

PS - If you want a great holiday gift for a friend, loved one, student, child, niece/nephew or other family member, think BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS!!! Books last forever. Books can be enjoyed over and over again. Books stir the imagination, our emotions, and make us think. You can curl up with a book by the fire, or read by flashlight under the covers.

Writers can only keep writing new books if people read their books . . . so go buy or borrow the newest from your favorite author or go discover a brand new writer! Libraries will make purchases of requested books so don't be afraid to ask your public library for a book you've seen in the last three months of our SPELLBINDERS issues.

Happy Holidays to you all!


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Monday, December 07, 2009

Coming Out of the Drafting Cave

My head is spinning, my house is a disaster area and ready to be quarantined, Christmas is 17 days away and my head is still in early November. My mind is full and blank at the same time (how can that be?!? Weirdly, it's true, and I'll bet every mom/writer combo woman knows exactly what I'm talking about.)

Since I'm not sure my brain will spit out coherent words for a while, here is my last six weeks in pictures . . .

Road Trip to Louisiana with darling hubby! We got away from the kids and the house and mess and the babies (missed them dreadfully though!) and ran around like crazy and had SO MUCH FUN and didn't want to come home. It was like running away and yet a 5 year overdue vaca with my hubby and a research trip rolled into one.

I'm very good at multi-tasking.

Did you every doubt?

Highway 10 through 900 miles of Texas!

This is a very good likeness of us by the end of 1500 miles.

Cool gators on Lake Martin, Louisiana

Gorgeous hibiscus at Shadows-on-the Teche Mansion in New Iberia.

Back home and writing my first draft again of THE TRAITEUR'S DAUGHTER (Title to be changed now due to and editorial mini consultation via email. Something I suspected we would do so I am now on the "Great Title Hunt".

I was home for 7 writing days and managed to get from 43,000 words to 67,000 words. And unpack and repack and get ready to go again!

Off to Arizona for a full week of Book Trailer Production with music discussions and timing issues and personally creating more images for a trailer that needs very unusual pictures not found on istock or Getty. We managed to be very sneaky to get some of our shots - and not get caught! Or kicked out of a hospital and Hobby Lobby. . .

Then Turkey Day with both sides of the family and lots of back and forth and visiting and games and eating, eating, eating.

We ate about 17 pies that weekend! Personally, I think I managed two all by myself.

Back home to New Mexico again!

Back to drafting. My goal of Labor Day is long gone. My goal of Halloween, pfft. My goal of Thanksgiving lost in the dust. Why is this book taking SO long to draft? I'm now past my original estimation of 60,000 words. We're in the 70's and nearing 80. I must be really good at blah, blah, blah.


This is where I got to in the dark tunnel of drafting, drafting and wondering if I'll ever be done with this book.

A light! Is it true? Dare I hope? Dare I dream? Am I on the last chapter??? Really???

Official announcement: I wrote THE END at 9:15 p.m. Saturday, December 5, 2009.

Word count clocked in at 77,706 words and 286 manuscript pages. I DID IT!

Today I do laundry, figure out my Christmas List, finish reading somebody ELSE'S novel, and start revisions!

Maybe I'll get in one of these:

La, La, La, La!!!!



Winner of The Southwest Book Award!

Time travel, war, love, rattlesnakes, magic . . .

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