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    Five Questions With…Andrew Smith (100 Sideways Miles)

    by April Hall
     | Jul 17, 2015

    Andrew SmithWith nine published works in six years, there’s no doubt Andrew Smith is prolific. What may be hard to believe is that he almost gave up writing for good. But Smith was encouraged to keep writing and has seen success in the form of accolades in the publishing world and attention from Hollywood. He stays grounded in journalism, where he found an authentic voice, and teaching, regularly talking to teachers and librarians about the role of young adult literature in the world.

    How did your journalism background inform your fiction writing?

    I think my background in journalism helped me quite a bit—not just in learning the nuts and bolts of clear expression, but in a more fundamentally important way: When I started off as a stringer reporter for my local newspaper, I was paid by the inch of copy that I produced. This encouraged me to write excessively long sentences and paragraphs—elements that I think are characteristics of my prose in fiction. Also, probably the most influential course I ever took as a graduate student was a class in writing narrative nonfiction. The professor was incredible, and it was probably the most enjoyable writing course I've ever taken.

    I noticed your pinned Twitter post about the Printz Award for Grasshopper Jungle and now a movie adaptation. Was it how the book came to be (you’ve said it poured out of you in just a couple of months) or the way it was received that convinced you to keep writing?

    Neither. I think what convinced me to keep writing were my friendship with my agent, Michael Bourret; the encouragement and support I received from my very dear friend, A.S. King; and the tremendous opportunity I had in working with my editor, Julie Strauss-Gabel. What could possibly be more inspiring than that?
    Will there be another installment of The Marbury Lens?

    marbury lensI really, really want to write a third (and final) piece to The Marbury Lens. I've known for years what it will be about, and I'd always intended to do it. So I'll have to say yes to the question, but I can't say specifically when I'll get around to letting it out onto the pages.
    What did adding the short story “King of Marbury,” bring to the series?

    There have always been two major interpretations about Jack's experiences in Marbury. About half my readers see Marbury as a posttraumatic experience along the lines of hallucination or mental illness; while the other half sees Marbury as someplace real. I like both interpretations, but I wanted to offer some kind of backstory about where Marbury came from, and how it bridges to Jack and Conner's here-and-now. So, when Tor asked me to write the story (which is told entirely from Conner's point of view), I thought it would be fun. And I also got to give readers an idea of where the super-bad kid Quinn Cahill came from.
    Why should YA lit stay weird?

    I'm going to admit that as much as people use words like "weird," "geek," and "nerd," that I don't like those terms because they seem too name-cally to me, and I was called those things when I was a kid in school, and they never made me feel good about myself. I understand that the intent behind those words has kind of evolved over time, but I still don't like them—ESPECIALLY when we're talking about others, particularly kids. Now that I've gotten that out of the way, when I explained to my team at Penguin the reservations I had about the word "weird," they explained that they intended it to mean extremely imaginative literary experimentalism—which is something that's wayyy too long to print on a button or a tote bag. So I said, OK, let's go ahead and keep it weird, in that case.

    Smith will sit on a panel Saturday, July 18 at the ILA 2015 Conference in St. Louis entitled “Diversity in YA Literature: Where Have We Been, Where Are We Now, and Where Do We Go From Here?” Visit the ILA 2015 Conference website for more information or to register.

    April Hall is editor of Literacy Daily. A journalist for about 20 years, she has specialized in education, writing and editing for newspapers, websites, and magazines.

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  • Eugene Yelchin pulls from personal history for his tales.
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    Five Questions With…Eugene Yelchin (Breaking Stalin’s Nose)

    by April Hall
     | Jun 26, 2015

    Eugene Yelchin does his research before he goes into a school. What are the students learning about? What do they need? Where will he make his presentation? Then he tailors his school visit to each appearance. He may embrace individuality and personalization as a former citizen of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. He escaped the oppressive regime to come to the United States in 1983 at age 27 and began his publishing career in 2007. He is both a writer and an illustrator and eagerly takes his work directly to classrooms around the country.

    You’re an award-winning author AND illustrator. You know you can do it all. What do you enjoy about collaborating with other authors?

    I can’t do it all. Nobody can. In truth, most of the authors and the illustrators arrive at their unique personal style by turning their weaknesses into strengths. Virtuosity, being extremely good at something, could be dangerous for creativity. So is too much confidence. For the most part, art is born out of doubt. As a result, illustrating other authors’ work is a relief from that nagging, all-consuming presence of doubt I feel when I work on my own material. Additionally, there’s a certain distance from someone else’s manuscript, an emotional detachment. It allows me to see clearly whether the idea for the story was fully delivered through its execution by the author. If I had written the manuscript myself, my vision would not be as clear.

    Breaking Stalin’s Nose was a personal story. How does your experience inform all of your work?

    I would argue that every artist’s work mirrors his or her biography. We write what we know. Not factually, of course, but emotionally. If you were a theater director you would never ask an actor to express an emotion that you had never experienced. The same is with writing. You can’t ask a reader to have a feeling that you have never felt. Lev Tolstoy wrote a whole book about it called What Is Art? By his definition, art is truly art only when a feeling that the author once felt is expressed in the writing in such a way that when a reader reads that writing, he or she feels the same feeling.

    Who or what encouraged you to take chances, to move to the United States, to pursue a life in literature?

    Necessity. Living in the USSR was not only dangerous, but also morally corrupt. I left Russia because it was safer to embrace the unknown than to stay in a totalitarian country. While living in the USSR, I had to construct an intricate mechanism of emotional and psychological defenses in order to survive. In the U.S., I realized (eventually realized) that that mechanism of defenses was preventing me from embracing my newfound freedom. As a result, I had to work through my past emotional experiences to rid myself of the hold they still had on me. Breaking Stalin’s Nose was the result of that work.

    How do you collaborate with teachers in the classroom?

    Before I visit a school, I usually speak with the teacher or the principal. I want to know what grades I will be working with. Will we be in a classroom, a library, or at a general school assembly? What are their students studying now? What are they reading? And most important, what do the kids of this particular school need to learn from my visit? Most of the time, I am asked to visit because the students are reading (or being read to) my middle grade books Breaking Stalin’s Nose and Arcady’s Goal. They are curious about the USSR, Communism, and an idea of a dictatorship in general. Because I’ve lived through that period in history, I’m able to make abstract concepts tangible and personal for them. Often, we end up talking about writing—how the students could use their own life experiences as a material for constructing a narrative. Obviously, when I visit with the little kids, we don’t talk much. We draw pictures together. And that’s always a lot of fun.

    What are you reading now?

    I always read several books at once. The titles depend on what I am writing at the moment or what I’m planning to write in the near future. For the last year and a half, while I was writing The Haunting of Falcon House (will be released next year by Macmillan), I read Russian classics, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Gogol, and Chekov, as well as collections of classic ghost stories. Today, the following books are open around my house and my studio: Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America by Haynes, Klehr, and Vassiliev; Encyclopedia of Cold War Espionage, Spies, and Secret Operations by Trahair and Miller; The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB by Andrew and Mitrokhin; Red Scare, Memories of the American Inquisition by Fariello; Witness by Chambers; Thwarting Enemies at Home and Abroad: How to Be a Counterintelligence Officer by Johnson; and last, the most amazing little brochure I recently found: A Program For Anti-Communist Action by Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. 1948.

    Yelchin will sit on a panel entitled “A Collaboration of Authors and Teachers: Diverse Perspectives Through Literature” on Saturday, July 18, at the ILA 2015 Conference in St. Louis, MO, July 18–20. This session will address the resounding need for culturally inclusive literature from two angles: writing and publishing diverse books and helping young readers access and engage with those books. Visit the ILA 2015 Conference website for more information or to register.

    April Hall is editor of Literacy Daily. A journalist for about 20 years, she has written and edited for newspapers, websites, and magazines. She covered a great deal of educational issues including the roll-out of both Race to the Top and Common Core State Standards.

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  • Anna Myers advocates for both chapter books and picture books in the classroom.
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    Five Questions With...Anna Myers (Tumbleweed Baby)

    by April Hall
     | Jun 18, 2015

    Anna Myers was a longtime teacher before entering the literary world as an author. She continues to influence classrooms with her books, and most recently released Tumbleweed Baby, one of her most personal to date, based on a story her brother used to tell her.

    You seem to have been a storyteller and author since you were a little girl. Who encouraged you in your passion?

    My mother and father were both storytellers. They grew up as neighbors in the hills of eastern Oklahoma and told stories always about what happened in those hills. My five older siblings read to me constantly because that was the only way I would give them peace to read. They read aloud whatever they were reading to themselves. I fell early under the Power of Story.

    How do you think teaching and writing books is connected for you?

    I always wanted to write, but it was teaching that convinced me that kids are the most important audience in the world. I had gone back to teaching after my own children went to school before I got serious about writing. When that time for being serious came, it was obvious to me that I must write for kids.

    It sounds like Tumbleweed Baby was a long time in the making. Why did you write it now?

    I believe a writer tells the story that begs to be told. I was teaching at a writers’ conference when I told a group of attendees about my birth in west Texas and my older brother’s claim that he had found me in a tumbleweed. One of the women put up her hand and said, “Tumbleweed Baby, that’s a picture book.” Suddenly, the story began to beg to be told. 

    What is the role of picture books versus chapter books in the classroom; is it solely about reading level?

    No, I frequently used picture books in my secondary classroom. There is no easier way to show plot, characterization, conflict, etc., than through picture books. Also, the older kids enjoyed the funny and often poignant stories. Good stories are ageless.

    Your session at the ILA 2015 Conference refers to “textual lineage.” Can you describe what that means?

    No, I am not as smart as my fellow panelist. My part will be to talk about the Power of Story. Story, I believe, has a power second only to love, and we would know so much less about love without story. However, I have heard my friends talk about “textual lineage,” and I find the subject fascinating. I look forward to learning with the audience and after the session will feel confident enough to talk about it.

    Myers will copresent Saturday, July 18, at the ILA 2015 Conference in St. Louis. Entitled “Transforming Lives Through the Power of Story: Helping Students Build a Textual Lineage,” the session will share the power of story from the multiple perspectives of reader, teacher, and author. Teacher educators will provide information about research and best practices for engaging students in and out of the classroom. Visit the ILA 2015 Conference website for more information or to register.

    April Hall is editor of Literacy Daily. A journalist for about 20 years, she has specialized in education, writing and editing for newspapers, websites, and magazines.

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  • Tommy Greenwald goes to the classroom to meet his readers, whether they are reluctant or eager.
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    Five Questions With… Tommy Greenwald (Katie Friedman Gives Up Texting! (And Lives To Tell About It.))

    By ILA Staff
     | Jun 12, 2015

    Tommy Greenwald is an author. And a dad. And the creative director at a company that makes advertisements for Broadway shows. He has a passion for education and encouraging reluctant readers to be not so reluctant. But not in a pushy kind of way.

    You often mention in interviews that your sons, who did not like reading, influenced you to create a reluctant reader as a character to interest them. Are you serious when you say they haven’t read a book since the first installment of the Charlie Joe Jackson series?

    No, they have definitely read some books! They’re all in college now, and they get to pick and choose (somewhat) what books they want to read, so that helps. Kids often ask me, “Do your sons like to read now?” And I tell them that they like to read a lot more than they used to, but they still don’t voluntarily curl up with a good book all that often. It’s a gradual process—but it’s headed in the right direction!

    Do you have any advice for parents, especially those of boys, to get their reluctant readers excited about books?

    I’m gonna go with the old horse-to-water adage here. I don’t think you can put a book in a child’s hands and expect them to read it. But expose them to all sorts of different kinds of books, and hopefully something will stick—then show them a bunch more of that kind of book. And if that doesn’t work, go with bribery. I find chocolate milkshakes work great.

    I read your bio, and I didn’t notice any direct link to the classroom. What made you, as an author, so interested in education and getting into the classroom?

    I didn’t set out specifically to become part of the classroom, or a curriculum. My goal when I started was simple: to get kids involved in a book. It could be in or out of the classroom, didn't matter. But what I realized when I became a published author is that without the classroom, or the school library, or the public library, or the people in charge of those places, there is no book. Kids need help finding the book that might make them give reading a chance. My deep gratitude goes out to all those who provide that help!!

    It almost seems that you have an inner teacher. What is your favorite part about school visits?

    I have to admit, I enjoy school visits way more than the writing process. The kids make it all worthwhile. I love making them laugh and then slipping in a little teaching when they’re not looking. 

    You mention that your favorite part of writing a book is finishing it and that you often find any distractions for not writing. How do you counteract distractions?

    Truth be told, I don’t counteract the distractions. I embrace them as part of my writing process. I’m not one of these people who can hole up and crank out a bunch of pages. I write a sentence, check e-mail, write a sentence, check Facebook, write a sentence, check ESPN, write a sentence, pet the dog—you get the idea. I’ve come to accept that’s my writing process. As long as I get my thousand words a day done, I’m good. 

    Greenwald will copresent with educators and fellow children’s book authors Sunday, July 19, at the ILA 2015 Conference in St. Louis, MO. Entitled “Authors Whose Books Transform and Engage Readers: Connecting Readers With Characters and Book Series,” award-winning authors and illustrators will discuss the ways they use language and visuals to inform, inspire, and engage readers. Visit the ILA 2015 Conference website for more information or to register.

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  • Jessica Day George takes new twists on classic fairy tales.
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    Five Questions With…Jessica Day George (Silver in the Blood)

    by ILA Staff
     | Jun 05, 2015

    Jessica Day George is a woman of many talents and skills. She speaks three languages—including Old Norse—and traveled to Romania to research her latest book, Silver in the Blood.

    The author of three series, Castle Glower, Dragon Slippers, and Princesses of Westfalin, she embraces the point where fantasy, science fiction, and fairy tales meet and encourages teachers to use fantasy fiction in the classroom.

    You are planning on ending the Castle Glower series in the next two years.  How is it going to end? Just kidding. Seriously, do you know how it's going to end?


    (I kid!)

    I do, in fact, know how I want it to end. I’ve actually known since Thursdays With the Crown where I wanted them to end up. It will wrap up at the end of Saturdays, which I need to start writing sometime, um, this week.

    Did your travels in Romania inspire Silver in the Blood or did the thought of Silver in the Blood inspire your trip?

    I started writing Silver in the Blood, using some travel guides as “research,” and realized that I knew absolutely nothing about Romania. My husband and I had actually been toying with the idea of going to Iceland for vacation, but I felt that if I didn’t go to Romania and really get a feel for it, I wouldn’t be able to do justice to the story. 

    When writing series, are some books easier to write than others? If so, why?

    Oh, goodness, YES. Some books I just have an amazing idea for an adventure that these characters need to have, and the book just comes pouring out. Other books are the story that gets them from Adventure A to Adventure B, and that can be very hard to write indeed! 

    Your books feature strong heroines. What do you think of representation of female characters in fantasy books?

    It depends on the book and the author. There’s always going to be good and bad books, good and bad representation of women in books. Unfortunately. What I would love to see more of is what I myself like to think I’m doing in my books: heroines who play to their strengths. Not all of us are strong enough, or have the training, to wield a sword. But we might be able to save the world by using our wits, or a skill that we do have a talent for: knitting, music, running. In the real world, we all have different talents, and I want to see more books that reflect that!

    How do you think educators can incorporate the fantasy genre into classrooms?

    Fantasy is an excellent way to talk about Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” with students, or to introduce mythology or fairy tales. There are a wealth of fantasy and sci-fi books based on fairy tales and Greek or Nordic myths, and it’s interesting to compare them. Fantasy is also important for teen and younger readers because it creates a comfortable distance from everyday life, but still deals with very heavy subjects like death, or difficult moral decisions, which are often easier to read about and discuss when the setting doesn’t hit too close to home.

    George will co-present with educators and fellow children’s book authors Sunday, July 19 at the ILA 2015 Conference in St. Louis, MO. Entitled “Transforming Readers by Connecting Them With Modern Fantasy and the Teachers' Choices Project,” about how a book goes from its germinal idea to the finished product to inspire teachers to use the authors' insights to motivate readers and writers. Visit the ILA 2015 Conference website for more information or to register.

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