Curriculum Tie-in

Inaugural nErD Camp Ohio

It was supposed to happen in 2020 after several educators from the Wadsworth, Ohio school district attended nErd Camp Michigan. The group, including Vicki Fugate, Lisa Owens, Stephine Schmeltzer, Lisa Smith, and Tricia Claypool, were sad that the Michigan camp organizers decided to take a break. The group joked about staging a similar event in Ohio. The conversations took a serious turn after approaching the Wadsworth Schools’ curriculum director, Dr. Michelle Evans, who was totally on board with the project.

The planning began, and the team had 300 educators and media specialists signed up for what was to be the first nErd Camp Ohio that summer of 2020.

Covid reared its ugly head then, so the team postponed until the following year. 2021 wasn’t looking much better, so once again, the team made the difficult decision to postpone for yet another year.

Finally, on July 25-26, 2022, the very first celebration of books, reading, literacy, and educational opportunities in the classroom was held at the beautiful Wadsworth High School campus.

The first-ever nErD camp Ohio attracted 162 registrants and 24 authors and illustrators of books for children. But Covid still was a factor. According to planning committee member Steph Schmeltzer, “I do think that Covid played a part in the author and attendee attendance rate. We did have some authors that declined our invite because of Covid concerns and we had a few that had to cancel last minute due to Covid. We also had a significant amount of attendees that emailed last minute to say that Covid was somehow playing a part in their inability to attend.”

But, for those of us who were able to attend, what a day it was!

Melia Wolf and Bryan Loar were there from Cover to Cover Books, based in Columbus, with titles from every participating author. It was fun perusing (and buying, I mean, come on!) the titles by the amazing variety of talented authors and illustrators of children’s books, from picture books to YA.

The first day began with an awesome keynote by Margaret Peterson Haddix, who spoke about finding and being with Kindred Spirits. Her reflections were perfectly in tune with the camp, as we, as book lovers, producers, readers, and educators are all kindred spirits. Her latest release, The School for Whatnots, focuses on friendship and being with like-minded individuals.

Following the inspiring opening, we all split into our divided sessions throughout the school. The organizing team did a fabulous job in organizing the sessions so that subjects didn’t conflict, as well as scheduling the workshops in easy-to-find locations.

Session titles included:

Where I’m From: Helping students discover the stories in their own backyards-

Jenn Bishop and Tricia Springstubb

Teaching STEAM Through Fiction and Exploring Diverse Perspectives- Jo Hackl

The Importance of an Inclusive BookshelfValerie Thompkins

So many sessions and only so much time!!!

I had the pleasure of moderating a panel that included Leigh Lewis and Nancy Roe Pimm. Titled “Shining a Light on Little Known Women in History,” Leigh and Nancy shared their biographies of fascinating women whose stories have not been told previously. You must check out Pirate Queens by Leigh, and The Jerrie Mock Story by Nancy.

Author Louise Borden offered a beautiful session on finding the truth in fiction and nonfiction, and shared the term BOOK JOY with us all.

Louise spoke about her various amazing titles and her journey involving finding the truth in the stories, including traveling to Colorado and Italy for Ski Soldier. Louise’s latest work is Full Speed Ahead! America’s First Admiral: David Glasgow Farragut.

It was exciting to see new voices in Middle Grade too, with a panel featuring these debut middle-grade authors; Leigh Lewis, Stacky Nockowitz, Erik Jon Slangerup, and Misty Wilson. Check out their new works!
There were so many amazing sessions, it made me wish I was there as simply an attendee vs presenting author.
Lunch was a “Beach Party” with food trucks in the courtyard, and attendees gathered on blankets and lawn chairs, enjoying a beautiful summer day.
The afternoon featured nErd Camp Jr. with workshops staged by many of the participating authors and illustrators including my session on The Tale of Three (or more!) Writers, sharing the importance of writing and journaling with middle-grade students.
The fun and educational sessions continued on Day 2, with author sessions in the morning, followed by an “unconference” in the afternoon. Attendees volunteered to offer presentations in the afternoon on topics impacting educators.

Planning committee member Steph Schmeltzer summed the whole experience up best, “My favorite part of camp was spending time with other educators, librarians, authors, and illustrators that share the same love of books that I do. Seeing everyone enjoying their time made it all worthwhile. “

A picture speaks a thousand words, and this beautiful video created by Cover to Cover bookstore sums up the BOOK JOY we all experienced.

Click Here to see the video!

Here’s to the 2nd annual nErD Camp Ohio in 2023!

Writing Middle-Grade Spooky Stories: Interview with Diane Telgen, Jay Whistler, Jenn Bailey, and Jules Heller

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

Today, I’m pleased to welcome Diane Telgen, Jay Whistler, Jenn Bailey, and Jules Heller to Mixed-Up Files. These authors share their experience of writing work-for-hire spooky stories for the middle grade audience.

Welcome to Mixed-Up Files, Diane, Jay, Jenn, and Jules!

  

 

Suma:  Could you tell us what your Haunted series book/books are about?

Diane: The “Spooky America” series explores local legends about haunted places and famous ghosts. It takes volumes originally published for Arcadia’s adult “Haunted America” series and reworks them for a middle-grade audience. In The Ghostly Tales of West Michigan and The Ghostly Tales of Pittsburgh, I focused on one particular location, so the stories could involve houses, ships, or places of business. In The Ghostly Tales of Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses, all the stories involve lighthouses, but the ghosts themselves vary between keepers, their families, and sailors.

Jay: I was fortunate enough to work on THE GHOSTLY TALES OF SAN ANTONIO shortly after I moved to the area in late 2020. While the title suggests ghost stories, the book is really about the history of San Antonio, beginning with the first Spanish settlers in the 1500s, moving to the fights over control of the territory, the civil war, and ending with the middle of the twentieth century. I knew Texas had been its own country before it became a state, and I think we all know the legend of the Alamo. But there is so much more to Texas and to San Antonio. I have a new appreciation for my adopted hometown as a result of this book.

Jenn: I wrote the Haunted Newport book, which tells spooky tales and ghost stories from in and around Newport, Rhode Island.

Jules: My book is THE GHOSTLY TALES OF THE FINGER LAKES, a collection of eighteen spooky stories from Western Central New York State. From an early draft of the introduction: Whatever your style, I promise there’s a story here for you. You like music? Listen close and you’ll hear the piano music of Miss Eunice Frame, resident ghost of the Sampson Theatre. You’re more interested in math? Help me count the strange deaths (and funerals) at the Erie Mansion.You prefer art? Read on for colorful stories of ghostly stains on basement walls that can’t be covered up. Science is more your thing? Try to explain what causes apparitions to be seen in an old doctor’s office. You enjoy a good mystery? Maybe you’ll be the one to figure out what scared the restaurant owners of the Dove Building so much they left town without bothering to pack their bags. No matter the subject, the tales you’re about to read will thrill and amaze you. Some are funny, some are sad, and some may or may not be one hundred percent true . . . who’s to say what’s a local legend, and what’s an honest haunting? You might have to decide for yourself. But I guarantee that in these pages you’ll find many surprises: secret societies organize kidnappings, ghosts lock people in bathrooms, heads go missing, skulls are found, and there might even be a sea monster at the end. You’ll have to read on to find out.

Suma: What was the one thing you paid attention to, while writing a haunted book for the middle-grade audience?

Diane: Of course I wanted to choose stories that were appropriate for kids–I stayed away from really lurid legends, or those that didn’t have a lot of detail. And I also had to make my language and style more appealing for a young audience. But most important, I had to provide the historical context for kids to understand the stories. If they understand the importance of lighthouses on the Great Lakes in the nineteenth century, or how colonial settlers would have seen Pittsburgh as the western frontier, they’ll more easily connect with why these historical figures became ghosts. As I like to say, “ghosts are just history trying to get your attention.”

Jay: The source material on some of the chapters challenged me to make it age-appropriate for middle-grade readers. Writing about the tragedy of the Alamo requires a deft hand to make the horrors of war less brutal. In another chapter, I needed to find a more delicate way to describe the red-light district in San Antonio, especially when referring to nocturnal activities. I think many kids will understand the euphemisms, or at least guess at their meaning, but there’s no need to be as frank as one might be with adults. Nor do kids need to know the gruesome details of some of the murders that gave rise to some of the legends.

In addition, I tried to respect that kids of this age may not be ready for truly scary stuff. There will always be the kid, like me, who loves watching old scary movies, reading classic horror, or telling ghost stories during sleepovers. But plenty of kids are just beginning to test the boundaries of what they can handle. I wanted to respect the readers enough to give them a bit of a shiver while reading while still allowing them to go to sleep with no worries about things that go bump in the night.

Jenn: I wanted to make sure to create the right atmosphere – that involved including bits of history, perhaps giving some backstory to explain why this event might have happened at this time, and why there might be a ghost story attached to the area. Just saying a hotel or beach is haunted isn’t enough. The middle grade audience is savvy and curious, and they want to know Why this happened. They want to know what, how, and when. You have to put some context – or dare I say meat – on those old, withered, spooky bones.

Jules: There’s a distinction between “beguiling” and “offputting” that can be a wobbly tightrope to tread. The things that kids find “too scary” are often not what adults assume.* The Arcadia editors had a specific list of scary topics that were no-gos for their audience (assault, etc.) but I tried to keep as much of the fun, interesting, just-plain-weird kind of scary as possible, because I remember being that odd reader who devoured bizarre assassination attempts and torrid conspiracies. Ghost stories shouldn’t lead to actual nightmares, they should provide conversation starters that make people avoid you (or seek you out specially) at parties!
*I remember a brilliant essay about how parents tried to tone down Red Riding Hood by having the woodcutter chase the wolf away at the end, rather than killing him. They thought less gore meant more kid-friendly; the kids said “no, that means the wolf is STILL OUT THERE.”

Suma: How did you go about making place a character in your stories?

Diane: I opened each book with a short historical introduction, to introduce readers to what made each place unique. So for West Michigan, the forests, beaches, and Lake Michigan all became recurring characters. For Pittsburgh, its journey from frontier fort to Steel City, USA became an important theme. And for Michigan’s Lighthouses, the storms of the Great Lakes became a furious antagonist!

Jay: Each chapter in my book focused on a particular place, so I made sure to include details about buildings, what they looked like, when they were built, what purpose they served and how that changed over the years. I shared landscape details and included tidbits to make it come alive. For example, in one story, I talked about why the owner of the property built a stage-coach stop. Then I explained how long the trip from point A to point B would take with a horse and carriage, how often they would need to stop, and what it would feel like being jostled about in the carriage with only a wooden seat under your backside. I want kids to not only see these places in their minds but also feel what it would be like to experience life as the characters in the story would. How would it be to see an elevator operator in a blue suit and gloves float out of a defunct elevator and beckon you inside?

Jenn: By talking about the people that inhabited it. What kind of people would live there? Why would they live there? Connect a certain type of person to the place – Newport was founded in 1639 on a promise of religious freedom and equality. These people were escaping the intolerance of Massachusetts. So you connect a certain type of person to the place, and then connect the reader to that type of person and you’ve got a reader who can envision characteristics and qualities about the location. Newport is a beautiful seaside city but there are a lot of those. You have to sprinkle the history of an area into these stories so they become individualized and relatable.

Jules: This is the big secret about these stories (certainly in my book, likely in many others): we don’t actually have any “true” or “real” characters to start from EXCEPT for the places. So much of this history is handed down from unreliable or unreportable sources, that in order to turn it into something readable and honest you have to take hefty liberties with the facts. Details about specific people can sometimes be brought in from old photographs, but personalities, motivations, even whole sections of The Plot have to be spun out of thin air. Thus, the grounding realness of the story comes from the physical place itself, which you as the storyteller can point to and say “You can visit the place where this happened! You can see the stains on the floor, hear the wind whistling through the broken window shutters!” Building on a foundation of the tangible remnants of the story, turning the locations themselves into historians and storytellers, lends credence to the rest of your cast and gives them some weight of their own.

Suma: What did you enjoy most about the process of working on this project?

Diane: I love history, so digging into the local details behind a particular ghost provided so much fun!

Jay: My favorite aspect of this project, aside from learning more about San Antonio, was challenging myself to take material kids typically find deadly boring—history—combine it with material usually reserved for adults—the “horror” genre—and make it appealing to middle-grade readers. I grew up watching the black-and-white horror movies of the 1930s and 1940s. I read my first Poe story when I was eight. I began reading Stephen King when I was in seventh grade (way before the Goosebumps books became popular). Working on this book brought back those memories and inspired me to create a similar experience for my readers. Perhaps one day, there will be an author who becomes the next Clive Barker because they read the entire Spooky America series and discovered not only a love of history and horror but of storytelling, too.

Jenn: Learning more about my hometown. Rhode Island is the smallest state in the U.S. and often overlooked, but it played a huge role – sometimes positive, sometimes negative – in the founding of this country. It was rather crucial during WWII as well. It was delightful to be reminded of some of the attributes of Newport that make it such a special place. I have my own personal reasons to love it, I was married in Newport, but it was a joy see this place through fresh eyes.

Jules: Quite honestly, it was just nice to have a project, any project, to work on at that point in the pandemic. I had some scheduling hiccups with the editors and ended up with a tight timeline for the manuscript, so I had to dive in head-first and stay under for a couple weeks straight, getting words on paper. It was energizing, a little hectic, but at the time just what I needed to rejuvenate my creative process. It also gave me an excuse to reorganize my physical work area, which is always a bonus!

Suma: What is your advice for writers doing work-for-hire projects like this one?

Diane: As with any project, knowing what your editor expects is important. But it’s crucial when writing within a series, because your individual book needs to fit within the volumes that have gone before you. So always make sure you have a style guide to follow, and communicate clearly about the schedule. Work-for-hire projects, especially in series, often have little wiggle room!

Jay: Work for hire can be a great way to make connections in the literary community. You learn to work on deadline and under stringent expectations. But it can also take away time from the personal projects you want to work on. So it’s crucial to know exactly what you sign up for.

With that in mind, make sure you know specific deadlines for every phase of the project. It’s okay to insist the entity you are working with details everything. The same goes for the expected end product. What exactly do they want you to deliver? This includes content and format. What is the revision process? Do you get a final review to make sure they haven’t substantially changed anything that would make it factually inaccurate? Who holds the copyright? For how long? If they hold the copyright, will it ever revert to you? What is the pay? Do you get free or discounted author copies? Are there royalties? If not, do you have a chance to hand-sell copies on your own to boost your bottom line? If so, what help do they provide you with marketing? Most importantly, get it all in writing. And don’t let someone tell you a contract isn’t necessary. It is.

Jenn: I’ll be blunt. You aren’t going to make a lot of money so you better enjoy yourself. This was a topic and a location I already had an interest in. It became a bonus that someone was going to pay me to explore and do research. Also, keep your creative brain firing for any other kinds of stories or characters or settings you can take away from the project and use in other writings. During my research I stumbled upon a fascinating person I want to focus on for a picture book. Work-for-hire projects can feed your other work so keep an open mind and stay curious!

Jules: You’ve probably already been told to be flexible, be ready to have things go sideways from the original plan. That was certainly true for me with this project! But I think I would refine that advice to say, be clear with yourself and your editors about where your flexibility extends, and where it doesn’t. If you have scheduling constraints, state them and then stick to them. If you have communication needs, make them and advocate for them. Timelines can shift, scope can expand or contract, but you are the one who gets to decide what changes are acceptable and what is a bridge too far. And if you make those decisions ahead of time, you can write them into your agreements and contracts, so you can “Per my previous email…” whenever the need arises!

Diane Telgen enjoyed reading so much as a child that she would read anything and everything, even the encyclopedia! That’s probably why she grew up and started writing reference books about history and literature. Now she writes both fiction and nonfiction for young readers. She earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Jay Whistler was born on Halloween and grew up in a haunted house. She loves listening to ghost stories, whether real or imagined, and willingly explores haunted places on her travels across the country and around the globe. Even so, she will always be afraid of the dark. The boring part is that Jay has her MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Jenn Bailey’s debut picture book, A FRIEND FOR HENRY, won ALA’s 2020 Schneider Family Honor Book award, was named a Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year, was chosen as a 2021-2022 Virginia Reads selection, and received other honors. Jenn welcomes the following books onto the shelves soon: MEOWSTERPIECES (Magic Cat/Abrams, 2022); THE 12 HOURS OF CHRISTMAS (Little Brown, 2023); HENRY, LIKE ALWAYS (Chronicle, 2023); and HENRY TBD (Chronicle, 2024).

Jenn also works as a freelance editor at Angelella Editorial. When she isn’t writing or editing, she is baking pies and tending to her assortment of cats and dogs.

Jules Heller landed in New York State sometime in the last century and has been exploring the nooks and crannies of its landscapes—and legends—ever since. A graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts, Jules has co-edited a collection of Halloween tales for young adults, and runs dozens of library programs for kids of all ages on every topic from mythology to memes. They have just moved into a hundred-year-old house in the greater Syracuse area, and are happily cohabitating with their new roommate, resident ghost Giuseppe.

An interview with New York Times Editor Veronica Chambers on Call and Response: The Story of Black Lives Matters

Today, on the Mixed Up Files, we welcome Veronica Chambers, who is the lead author of Call and Response: The Story of Black Lives Matters.

Chambers is the editor for Narrative Projects at the New York Times. As an author, she is best known for the New York Times-bestseller Finish the Fight!, which was named a best book of the year by the Washington Post and the New York Public Library. Her other works include the critically acclaimed memoir Mama’s Girl, Shirley Chisholm Is a Verb, and the anthologies The Meaning of Michelle—a collection of writers celebrating former first lady Michelle Obama—and Queen Bey: A Celebration of the Power and Creativity of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. Born in Panama and raised in Brooklyn, she writes often about her Afro-Latino heritage. You can find her online at veronicachambers.com or on Twitter and Instagram @vvchambers

Congratulations to you and your team at the New York Times on the release of Call and Response: The Story of Black Lives Matters.

I can’t wait to virtually sit down with you and ask you some questions about this essential history of the Black Lives Matter movement for young people. I’m especially excited since I share certain New York City experiences with you, having been a journalist there (features writer for New York Newsday) and living for awhile in Brooklyn. I love that you’re bridging a career as an editor/journalist with being an author.

In the book, readers are introduced to the concept that “the power of the people is greater than the people in power.” Can you elaborate a little bit about that?

 Sure. Experts believe that up to 26 million Americans participated in some sort of Black Lives Matters protest, which would make it one of the largest protests in the nation’s history.

Peaceful protest is the most effective form of protest in the world. A study conducted by researchers Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan compared the outcomes of hundreds of violent insurgencies with those of major nonviolent resistance campaigns from 1900 to 2006; they found that over 50 percent of the nonviolent movements succeeded, compared with about 25 percent of the violent insurgencies.

The text addresses some universal questions, such as how does a movement become a movement? You spend time looking at contemporary events and leaders as well as historical antecedents and galvanizing moments. Was it hard for you and your team to figure out how you wanted to balance all of these elements?

 There’s a famous phrase that “journalism is the first draft of history.” The Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 were still ongoing when we started working on the book. There was a real challenge in trying to figure out what to immortalize in a book when the story was changing and growing every day.

That’s why the decision to lean in on the incredible photography of the New York Times was so meaningful to us. This is what the great photojournalists who contribute to the daily report saw and while we wrote text that put the movement in a broad historical context, each of the photos tells a deep and powerful story of its own, without any need for us to editorialize or comment on the images.

You make a point that the protest is larger than the people gathering in the street (although is certainly part of it). Protest can mean “making art with a message” or “calling elected officials.” How would you define protest for children?

Protest is anything we do to say we want things to be different. I think a lot about the kid I was when I’m working on these books. When I was growing up, and reading about the modern civil rights movement, I thought those are stories about heroes whose bravery and wisdom I could never match. I’ll never make a difference in those ways.

I understood as I got older that we all have a role to play in shaping the world we live in. Coretta Scott King once said, “Struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation.” I think that’s some of the truest words ever uttered.

The book makes a point to say that children are never too young to lead. In the text, you offer many examples of young leaders from teen environmentalist Greta Thunberg to eight-year-old Mari Copeny, who protested the water conditions in Flint Michigan. How might younger children participate in standing up for what they believe in?

One of the highlights of my year was this piece I did about Paola Velez and Bakers Against Racism. Bake sales associated with that group have raised more than two million dollars in a single year towards social justice causes.

Paola is not just an incredible culinary talent but also one of the most eloquent, thoughtful people I’ve ever interviewed. One of the things she said was this: “When we speak about issues that we care about, we do it with a pie in hand. And so sometimes it’s a little more graceful and a little more palatable because there’s something sweet at the end of this, like, very charged, very truth-forward statement that we have to make.”

The piece is here.

The founders of Black Lives Matters are three women: Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors. They were all in their late twenties or early thirties when they started BLM. However, I was intrigued to learn that Garza began her activism at the age of 12, focusing on reproductive rights. And it was in high school that Tometi became aware of the need to stand up for the rights of immigrants, particularly the undocumented. And Cullors learned first-hand about systemic racism as a kid when her family would go hungry. Veronica, did you have any powerful experiences as a child that also led you to career as an author, journalist and editor?

I think being a chronic outsider really helped me become a reader and then a writer. My family is from Panama, I’m Afro-Latina. I came to the country when I was 5, just becoming a reader and  one of the things I was looking at books to do was teach me how to be an American.  So many of the books published today remind me of the curiosity I felt at that moment – how do things work or don’t work here?

Black Lives Matter is the story of collaboration. It was Garza who wrote on Facebook in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin; it was Cullors who created the hashtag “blacklivesmatter,” and it was Tometti who created the initial Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts for the movement. In your career as an editor and writer, why is the collaborative experience so important?

Collaboration is one of my super powers. But when I was a kid, it was something I really railed against. I hated having to do projects or presentations as a team. I think it was because I was shy and I felt like I never got the credit for all my hard work.

But I’m also a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and in some ways, I think that oeuvre really mimics the creative journey.  Turns out you need more than one superhero to save the world. Similarly, you need lots of great minds to make extraordinary journalism.

You write that the book is “built upon the work of incredible photographers and photo editors.” How did you work with Photo Editor Anika Burgess to select the images? There must have been so many to choose from.

Anika Burgess, the photo editor on the project, as well as Jennifer Harlan, my co-author, had all worked on a history based project at the Times called Past Tense. We had a years long history of sifting through hundreds of photos and really sitting back together and discussing what moves us.  What’s incredible was that 90% of the time, the photos we loved the most, we all had the same reaction to. Viewing a powerful photo is like hearing a truly great pop song, it just grabs you. What was hard was winnowing it down. There are more than 100 photos in the book. I would love to have run 200 photos. Making those cuts was brutal.

In an interview with National Geographic in 2020, Garza said, “In the midst of the all the grief and rage and pain, there’s hopefulness.” Can you speak to that and elaborate on hopefulness?

I’m incredibly hopeful. As a first generation American, what I’ve always gotten from black history is that, despite all of the challenges, African-Americans are in the business of Hope. Every decade, every chapter of the history of black people in this country is infused with countless moments of hope, resilience and creativity. I think that at this particular moment in the nation, black history and its masterclass in hope and possibility, can be useful to Americans of all backgrounds.

 

Hillary Homzie is the author of the Ellie May chapter book series (Charlesbridge, 2018), Apple Pie Promises (Sky Pony/Swirl, 2018), Pumpkin Spice Secrets (Sky Pony/Swirl, 2017), Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster MIX 2016), The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Get Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009) as well as the Alien Clones From Outer Space (Simon & Schuster Aladdin 2002) chapter book series. She’s also a contributor to the Kate the Chemist middle grade series (Philomel Books/Penguin Random House). Her forthcoming nonfiction picture book, If You Were a Princess: True Stories of Brave Leaders From Around the World is a look at historical and current princesses from many diverse lands who have made their mark (Simon & Schuster in August 2022). During the year, Hillary teaches at Sonoma State University and, in the summers, she teaches in the graduate program in children’s literature, writing and illustration at Hollins University. She also is an instructor for the Children’s Book Academy.

She can be found at hillaryhomzie.com and on her Facebook page as well as on Twitter.