Teachers Write 7.11.18 Q&A Wednesday with Grace Lin & Emma Otheguy

Got questions about writing?  Wednesday is Q and A Day at Teachers Write Virtual Summer Writing Camp, and we’ll have some great guest authors answering. Today’s author guests are Grace Lin and Emma Otheguy!

Before Grace Lin was an award-winning and NY Times bestselling author/illustrator of picturebooks, early readers and middle grade novels, she was the only Asian girl (except for her sisters) going to her elementary school in Upstate NY. That experience, good and bad, has influenced her books—including her Newbery Honor WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON, her Geisel Honor LING & TING, and her National Book Finalist WHEN THE SEA TURNED TO SILVER. But, it also causes Grace to persevere for diversity as a New England Public Radio commentator and when she gave her TEDx talk “The Windows and Mirrors of Your Child’s Bookshelf,” as well as her PBSNewHour video essay “What to do when you realize classic books from your childhood are racist?.” In 2016, Grace’s art was displayed at the White House and Grace, herself, was recognized by President Obama’s office as a Champion of Change for Asian American and Pacific Islander Art and Storytelling.  These days, Grace is most excited about her new picture book, “A Big Mooncake for Little Star,” out at the end of August. Grace is offering exclusive, limited edition moon calendars to readers who pre-orders her book. See  (link below) for more info!  http://www.gracelinblog.com/2018/05/pre-order-big-mooncake-for-little-star.html

Emma Otheguy is a children’s book author and a historian of Spain and colonial Latin America. Her picture book debut, a biography of famed Cuban poet and independence leader José Martí, titled Martí’s Song for Freedom (Lee & Low Books), received five starred reviews and was named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal and the New York Public Library. Otheguy lives in New York City with her husband.

Teachers & librarians – Feel free to ask your questions in the comments.  It’s fine to ask a general question or to direct one directly to a specific guest author. Our author guests have volunteered to drop in and respond when they can.

Note from Kate: I’ll try to be here for Q and A most Wednesdays, too. Please be patient with me if you’re a first-time commenter – it may take a little while for me to approve your comment so it appears.

Got questions? Fire away!

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89 Comments

  1. Christina Carter
    Posted July 11, 2018 at 1:28 am | Permalink

    Hi Emma, I am also interested in writing a picture book biography. How did you narrow down what aspect of Marti’s life you wanted to focus on? How did you make sure it wasn’t too much content (text and page count) for a picture book? Is your book a snapshot of one significant moment or achievement in Marti’s life or did it include a glimpse into other ages and stages of his life? I’m having a hard time focusing because while my book idea is for a biography, it is also about the significance of an organization that my main character was a part of. I’m not sure how to balance my focus between the book being about a person while at the same time shedding light on this historical organization?

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 8:58 am | Permalink

      Hi Christina, this is a really great question, and one that was certainly a challenge for me. José Martí did and wrote so many important things over the course of his life, how could I narrow it down? What helped me the most was to decide on a few big themes that I wanted the reader to take away from the book. For me, those were José Martí’s connections to the United States, the power of poetry to bring social change, and the ways in which oppressive institutions like slavery and colonialism were co-dependent. That’s already *a lot* for one picture book, but I felt like if I focused on those themes, it helped me get rid of some of the “noise”–things about José Martí’s life that are interesting but not necessarily relevant for this book. There’s a lot I would have wanted to talk about that is not in the book, but I get a chance to work those into school visits as a result. My book starts when Martí is a little boy and goes through the end of his life, but I skip over large parts of his life, including all of his travels to places that were *not* New York! I would suggest deciding on the key themes, and then asking yourself what about the history of the organization is inseparable from the history of the person. That might give you a sense of how much background you need to include.

  2. David Marsh
    Posted July 11, 2018 at 1:45 am | Permalink

    First, I want to thank Grace and Emma for taking time out of their own lives to be part of this amazing writing event.
    I have questions for each author.
    Grace, when you get an idea for a picture book does the written story come to you first or do you start with an image/illustration and then build the story?
    Emma, what was the process like to find an illustrator that does your story justice?
    Grace & Emma, which authors or illustrators have influenced your work the most?
    Thank you again!

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 4:41 am | Permalink

      Hi David! Thanks for your question. For me, the story always comes first–even in art school, in illustration class we were given a written story first and then drew. I find it’s better that way, as well–it’s easier to strengthen a story if you aren’t already attached to certain images. Once in a while I might have an image in my head that starts me off with the writing but, more times than not, that image doesn’t even end up in the book.

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      So many authors and illustrators! I read a lot growing up, and today I still go to the library and check out a tote-bag full of children’s books every week. My librarian also helps me by giving me recommendations. Lately I’m inspired by Latina middle-grade authors like Angela Cervantes (Gaby, Lost and Found) and Celia Perez (The First Rule of Punk). I’ve also been working my way through all of Erin Entrada Kelly’s books. The Land of Forgotten Girls made me cry and want to call my sister, which is a pretty good recommendation if you ask me.

  3. Posted July 11, 2018 at 1:57 am | Permalink

    A question I’ve always wondered about picture books: if you don’t illustrate your own book, what does the process of finding an illustrator to work with look like? Or does the search go the other way? It’s readily apparent in the best picture books that both jobs are incredibly vital to the final product. I’d love to know more about that partnership.

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 4:45 am | Permalink

      Hi Vi!
      Usually after you write the story and it’s been accepted for publication, the editor and art director of the publishing house find the illustrator. Sometimes the author is consulted, but usually the publishing house tries to keep the author and illustrator away from each other so that the illustrator can work on her own vision. Not always, though! And, especially now, with the internet, it’s pretty hard to keep the two from connecting (if they want to).

      • Martha Willey
        Posted July 11, 2018 at 6:29 am | Permalink

        I always found this process fascinating and so do my students when I explain that the author could be in one part of the world and The illustrator in another. Does it make you nervous?

      • Posted July 11, 2018 at 9:37 am | Permalink

        That’s so interesting! I’ve seen books where the illustrations really give new meanings to the words, like, if you didn’t have the pictures while listening you might end up with a completely different story. What about when you have a series of books and the author and illustrator team is constant? Do picture books ever go to publishers with a team already put together? Is there any sense of expectation that you maintain the same author/illustrator pairing when you create a series?

        I’m with Martha, what would make me so nervous!

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 9:06 am | Permalink

      In traditional publishing it’s the job of the editor to choose an illustrator. For some of my books, the editor has sent me a few art samples and asked me to weigh in, but ultimately there are so many factors contributing to the decision–illustrator schedules, etc. that the publishing house has to make the best decision for the book as a whole. Generally, the illustrator works independently, with the editor’s guidance. That being said, for my nonfiction books I had put together A LOT of research notes in the process of writing, which my editors have been able to share with the illustrators so they could use that information in illustration.

      • Posted July 11, 2018 at 9:40 am | Permalink

        That’s so interesting to me! It’s like how we send our children out into the world to find their wings.

        If you were planning to self-illustrate, would you need to have that part done with your draft before you went to publishers?

        • Posted July 11, 2018 at 10:07 am | Permalink

          if you are going to self-illustrate, send a dummy (a paginated, b/w sketch layout of the entire book) and an example of one finished piece.

  4. Posted July 11, 2018 at 2:23 am | Permalink

    My life has been extremely busy and chaotic for the past few years. I’m hoping things settle into a healthy rhythm come fall. I’m a bit on the ADD side and sticking to a schedule has always been a challenge. What advice would you give to help instill the habit of writing on a daily basis.

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 4:52 am | Permalink

      Hi Tiffany! I completely hear you! Ever since my daughter was born, I’ve had an extremely hard time trying to find balance as well as a schedule. Only recently, in the last few months (and my daughter is 6 years old) have I finally figured out a schedule that is working. What I do–I go to bed early, around 9:30 pm and wake up at around 3:30 in the morning. That gives me about 3-4 completely still and dedicated hours to work before the rest of the house wakes up. Those hours have been extremely vital. While that might not work for you, my advice is to carve out some dedicated quiet time without any distractions everyday and use that to write. You might have to sacrifice something– a TV show, sleep (!)–but it’ll be worth it. Hope that helps!

      • Posted July 11, 2018 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

        Thank you Grace. Wow, 3:30 am!!! I definitely need to reevaluate my schedule. I definitely can eliminate some of the dead time. Confession, I’m on social media too much, watch too much news, and play spider solitaire endlessly. It’s a vicious circle. I know that I do these things to avoid other things, but they don’t make me feel better. For the first time in years, I do have a study, a place to work that is distraction free. Time to clean up my schedule and be good to myself.

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 9:11 am | Permalink

      This is definitely the challenge! Also, Grace, I can’t believe you wake up at 3:30 in the morning. Basically, I work whenever I can, but that changes every day. Between author visits and my “other” life (I’m defending my dissertation in History next month, so I’ve been TAing and doing grad assistantships along with actually writing the dissertation) it’s very difficult to have a set schedule. So every week I sit down and I look at what’s on deck. I settle on some writing goals (I use a BuJo system similar to the one Kate has posted about on this blog). I also use the Chrome plugin Todoist to manage my email, which helps me figure out what kind of business-side of publishing stuff is absolutely essential in a given week. Then I make sure I have a few times carved out–some days I know I won’t get a lot done but I try and find an hour, and other days I know I can count on a few hours and try to advance more. It’s a little bit like juggling, but eventually the work gets done.

      • Kelly
        Posted July 11, 2018 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

        I like the idea of sitting down every week and looking at what’s coming up. Sometimes I do that in one part of my life and forget that I can apply it to other parts of my life (like writing), too!

      • Posted July 11, 2018 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

        Thank you Emma. Your schedule sounds as busy as mine has been. Hopefully, my will settle into a new calm normal (knock on wood). I like the idea of looking at each week on it’s own. That works with my ADD. And I really like the idea of using an app to organize my time & send me alerts. Now why didn’t I think of that? I have time this summer to experiment with a few. Good luck with completing your dissertation! It was such a relief to finish my library services credential and renew my national boards this past year. I don’t know how I juggled everything. Keep up your stamina & enjoy the journey.

        • Posted July 12, 2018 at 9:31 am | Permalink

          Thanks Tiffiny! Wow, that is a lot to get done in a year! I definitely recommend Todoist, particularly if email is part of what’s making you busy!

  5. Carolyn Clark
    Posted July 11, 2018 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    I’ve wanted to write a children’s story for a while. Either I haven’t put enough time into it or the originality factor keeps me from trying. How do you keep your stories original? Sometimes I have an idea but then I feel it may be too similar to another story…

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 9:14 am | Permalink

      I think that character is what makes stories original. When I find a book that has characters that feel like whole people, I could read about those people cooking dinner and would still find it interesting. I don’t think it’s something that I have mastered, but I’m trying really hard to work on in both my fiction and nonfiction. Another part of this is reading A LOT of children’s books in the genres I write, so that I know what else is out there fairly well. My library allows me to check out twenty books at a time and I try and take advantage of that! What I’ve noticed is that often there are multiple books that have something similar about them–for example, in nonfiction, there are countless books about the Founding Fathers–but they can still feel unique if the author has a really fresh take.

      • Carolyn Clark
        Posted July 11, 2018 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

        Thank you for your thoughts – I appreciate what I heard from both you. Your words give me courage to give it a try.

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      I don’t worry too much if the story is original, because, honestly, it probably isn’t! I think there aren’t really any original stories anymore (only 2 plots in the world, right?) but there are original ways of telling them. I think as long as you keep the story as true to your own personal voice as possible, it will be a story told in a way no one else in the world can do–and that’s what matters.

  6. Posted July 11, 2018 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    Hi, Grace and Emma. My question is for Grace because it’s about the process for longer books.

    I’ve recently learned that authors, once published, can send a proposal for their next project rather than writing the manuscript first. This seems foreign to me because I write to find my way into a story. Do you submit proposals first? If so, how has it changed your writing process? Thank you.

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 7:21 am | Permalink

      Hi Theresa!
      I submit a proposal and maybe one or two chapters. It sounds like I work really differently than you, though. I like to have most of the plot and storyline figured out before I start writing, so a proposal works well for me. For me, it’s a beneficial process because then I don’t have to devote years (I am a slow writer!) to a project that will be rejected. I also like working with an outline because it gives me a road map to start following (I usually end up throwing it out the window, but at least it’s something to start with). If you feel yourself dissatisfied with your writing process at any point, you might want to consider trying it. If anything, it’s a practical skill to have for the publishing side of the process.

      • Posted July 11, 2018 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

        I guess we’re not all that different. Usually a few chapters in, I get a sense of the rest of the story and begin to jot down notes. But it may not be as well thought out as a proposal. I’ll try it next time. Thanks, Grace! I

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      Hi Theresa! I’ll just chime in because as a newer writer my experience might be of interest. My first middle-grade novel, Silver Meadows Summer, is coming out in April ’19, and it was sold based on a complete and fairly polished draft. I think that is almost always the case for first-time novelists unless you are a celebrity–the publisher wants to know that you can really write a full novel. As writers get more advanced and build stronger relationships with publishers, they move on to a proposal system, which as Grace says is advantageous because the publisher and the writer can agree on the project before the writer invests years in writing it.

  7. Martha Willey
    Posted July 11, 2018 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    Good morning. Thank you both for giving of your time. Two questions. The first, how did you get through the querying process and keep your sanity? And second, if you have two ideas at the same time, how do you know which one to pursue? Thanks again.

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      Querying: I got my agent based on the third manuscript I queried, so it took *a lot* of stamina and perseverance. I think I survived because I was growing as a writer with each manuscript, so I was interested in what I was doing. But more importantly, and this is the part that’s a little hard to articulate, but I’ve always wanted to be a children’s author, and I’ve always had that feeling in my gut like writing for children is what I’m *supposed* to be doing. So I figured it would be hard, and of course it’s still hard after you find an agent (in some ways I think even harder), but I know that what I’m doing is important, and the work is interesting and fulfilling. Querying is a numbers game in my opinion, and if you keep at it and keep working on your manuscript and pitch you will eventually find an agent.

      • Martha Willey
        Posted July 11, 2018 at 9:36 am | Permalink

        Thank you so much. What a great perspective. Very encouraging.

      • Heather
        Posted July 11, 2018 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

        Thank you for this response – I had the same question!

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      Hi Martha! In terms of which idea to pursue and if you don’t know which one you want to do more, I completely relate. I’ve been juggling a couple of ideas myself. What I’m doing is asking myself what my goal is. Am I looking to stretch or challenge myself? Or are am I looking for a project that will help me escape? Other questions could be: Are you looking to for a project that has more potential to be published? Who do I want to read my work? Maybe if you narrow your goal and it can make choosing the project easier. Also remember, choosing one doesn’t mean the other never ever gets written. Think more in terms of, “Which one do I want to write first?”

  8. Kristin E Kochheiser
    Posted July 11, 2018 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    As a teacher of 6th grade writers who are in that stage of self-absorption and trying to find/establish their place within their community, what are the top two pieces of advice you would share with them if you were sitting in my classroom that might inspire them/encourage them to find their own voices through their writing?

    I am eager to share your picture books in the classroom as I launch the #classroombookaday this year. Thank you for sharing your time and talent with us today!

    • David Marsh
      Posted July 11, 2018 at 7:26 am | Permalink

      Great question Kristin! I teach 5th grade reading/writing so I’m interested in this answer as well. I also did #classroombookaday this past year and it was a HUGE success. At first the kids were confused because they were “big bad” 5th graders that haven’t seen a picture book in years, but about a week into it they were looking forward to it every day. I hope your experience goes well. Let me know if you have any questions or need some book recommendations.

      • Kristin E Kochheiser
        Posted July 11, 2018 at 7:34 am | Permalink

        Thanks David! I had always used picture books as mentor texts but it wasn’t an “everyday” thing. I’m really looking forward to building my classroom culture and conversation through the use of high-quality, diverse picture books! I’d love for you to share your top 5 book titles that–no matter what–you would definitely read during the year. Thank you!

        • Susan MacKay-Logue
          Posted July 11, 2018 at 8:14 am | Permalink

          Kristin and David, thanks for this string. I use mentor text in my classroom of 5th graders once or twice a week, along with a read aloud, but #classroombookaday sounds fantastic. At year end I looked at my bins and bins of picture books that I didn’t get to and I was so disappointed. I can’t wait to establish the routine of #classroombookaday this year. I would also love to hear both of your recommendations for must read titles. Thanks!

        • David Marsh
          Posted July 11, 2018 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

          I didn’t think it would be so hard to pick just five, but I thought about it and finally came up with a list. I cheated a bit because one of my five is a series of 3 books.
          1. The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson. Not only is this book beautiful to look at, it also has a great message and will spark a lot of good conversations.
          2. The Adventures of Beekle the Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat. A great story about imagination, friendship, and acceptance.
          3. Bad Day at Riverbend by Chris Van Allsburg. I absolutely love this book. I usually read it the first week of school. It’s a story about a little town that never changes until one day a bright light comes over the horizon and everything freezes. When the light goes away they can move again, but the whole area is covered in a waxy sticky color. I have the kids just listen and think about what is happening and jot down their ideas while I read. Some great discussions come out of this.
          4. Ada’s Violin by Susan Hood. I stumbled onto this last year because it was a Texas Bluebonnet book. It’s a wonderful nonfiction story about Ada and her orchestra made out of recycled landfill junk. I get chills thinking about the story. There are a few online videos of their orchestra playing all over the world. They even played with Metallica. The students loved the story and all the extra stuff we found to go with it.
          5. This is my cheat slot. – Journey by Aaron Becker. You really need to get all three books (Journey, Quest, and Return). They are wordless picture books with some of the most amazing illustrations I’ve ever seen. These books always resulted in an eruption of conversation. Students pointed out little details that they noticed, some would politely argue what an item might mean to the story or what a character’s motivation might be for their actions. All I had to do was slowly turn the pages and wait for the OOOHHH and AHHHHH to begin. After we read Journey, my students and I ordered Quest and Return on amazon as a class. They couldn’t wait for the new books to come in. It was a celebration and they constantly checked on the tracking number to see where the books were.

          I hope this list helps. I’m interested in your top 5 since you are a grade level above me. I’d love to hear what Susan MacKay-Logue has as her top five too.
          Happy reading!

          • Kristin E Kochheiser
            Posted July 11, 2018 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

            These are all great David! I am copying your post onto a google doc so that I don’t lose all your great ideas!! 🙂

            Here are 5 that I enjoy reading:
            1) The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi. It is an intro mentor text I use with my students for them to research their first names and writing about their names (including their feelings about their first name, nicknames, what sounds/symbols/colors, etc., they associate with their names, etc).
            2) What if Everybody Did That? by Ellen Javernick and Colleen M. Madden We brainstorm things that people do and discuss what other ideas could be added to this book. I have also had students use this to launch some argumentative writing about why people should/should not behave in certain ways (throw litter, etc).
            3) The Quiltmaker’s Gift and The Quiltmaker’s Journey by Jeff Brumbeau (my cheat). We talk about the importance of giving back to our community and how we can do that using themes from these books. Students do make colorful paper quilt pieces with symbols that represent them (hobbies, favorite foods, sports, etc)
            4) The Dot by Peter Reynolds. We participate in International Dot Day on Sept. 15. Students each get a quarter of a large dot to decorate and we put all the dots together…each student celebrating having made his/her “mark” on the classroom (and their first step in making a mark on the world!)
            5) Nothing Every Happens on 90th Street by Roni Schotter and Kyrsten Brooker. I love to have students map their own neighborhood and begin to see the “stories” that live around them.

            That was hard!! 🙂 Mine are not in any order of favorites. Enjoy!

            • Susan MacKay-Logue
              Posted July 12, 2018 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

              Kristen and David, thanks so much!
              1. I start the year with Big Plans by Bob Shea and Lane Smith. The kids love the story and are eager to try to figure out where the Big Plans came from through the illustrations. It helps to get them excited about picture books.
              2. I, too, use the Journey series to reinforce what we know about stories, and how they follow patterns that allow us to predict and better understand them.
              3. I love Malala’s Magic Pencil to kick off biographies. I also use Manfish and A Splash of Red here.
              4. ish and the dot are must reads to kick off Writers Workshop and to celebrate Dot Day.
              5.The Other Side is magical, and a must read each year. There are so many books that I just grab and go with, it is really hard to pick just 5. I’m sure that I am missing some wonderful ones, but I’m away from my class library and it’s hard to visualize them without being there. Tea Cakes and Saturdays by Lester Laminack is just LOADED with writer’s craft moves. The kids love to listen to it a few times as the identify the multitude of strategies he uses to create such a lovely piece. Thanks so much for sharing your favorites.

          • Martha Willey
            Posted July 11, 2018 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

            The Journey books are incredible. My students went nuts over those. The author has a new one out that I just picked up from the library.

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 9:29 am | Permalink

      I love #classroombookaday! What a great way to promote book culture in your classrooms. That’s really one thing I would say about writing too–we think of the book world as this quiet, solitary thing, and of course it is, but I think that all voracious readers read in part for community. The relationship with your local librarian or bookseller. The relationships with other readers who loved the same books as you. The debates with readers who *didn’t* like the same books as you. We read and write to connect with others, and I think it’s important for kids to feel like they are a part of book culture.

      • Kristin E Kochheiser
        Posted July 11, 2018 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

        Fantastic Emma! I love your connections between reading and writing. The concept of talking about books with others who perhaps disagree with us is very much needed in today’s classrooms (and society). The beauty of our world is not in just how we are all the same, but also in how we are different. It’s okay to be different, and our students do need to see this, discuss it and become comfortable with it. Thank you for responding!

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      I love the idea that you are sharing books in your classroom. I think this is a great idea to challenge preconceived notions–on what is “babyish,” “girly,” etc– and getting kids thinking about why we have them. Picture books are also an awesome way to talk about race, other cultures, and social issues in a way that is accessible.
      Not to promote my own work, but you asked what I would do… I would show them my TEDx talk about windows and mirrors (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_wQ8wiV3FVo) and after each book shared talk about how it is a window and or mirror to their lives. Another idea is to introduce Gene Yang’s Reading without Walls challenge.

      • Peter von Euler
        Posted July 11, 2018 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

        Hi Grace,
        I just watched your Ted Talk for the first time – It’s brilliant. Thank you. I’ll share it with my fifth graders at the beginning of the year. The best characters, of course, are both a window to others and a mirror reminding us how we are alike. I share with you a childhood spent ignoring my father’s immigrant story. I’ve recently been helping him write a memoir of the years when he first came to the US from Sweden. As a person of European descent, of course, I didn’t face some of the challenges you encountered.

      • David Marsh
        Posted July 11, 2018 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

        Grace, I just finished your TED talk. I really enjoyed it. It got my gears turning. My memory says I have a good mix of windows and mirrors in my classroom, but I will be checking as soon as I can get back into the building. I’ll be sharing this with my 5th graders too. Thank you for the link and thank you for your time today.

      • Kristin E Kochheiser
        Posted July 11, 2018 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

        Oh yes, I will share your talk! I absolutely LOVE your Ted talk! I had not heard it before, and I will most definitely share with my students, other teachers and have already posted it on Facebook. It will soon go out via Twitter, too. I am the moderator of #6thchat and am now planning a focused discussion on the very topic you present. We must talk more, share more, and explore our bookshelves! I will be looking at my bookshelves with the lenses of mirrors and windows! 🙂

      • Barb Jaindl
        Posted July 11, 2018 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

        Your TED talk provides such a memorable way to share with students, teachers, and parents when selecting books. I have used Yang’s Reading Without Walls in both elementary and middle school libraries. It’s a great framework to book talk a variety of titles. My hope is that young readers begin to internalize their own reading definition of that as they grow as readers.

  9. Diane S.
    Posted July 11, 2018 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    Thank you both so much for your work that helps giveavoiceand identity to my international group. So many of my students come from different circumstances to a brand new world and end up at my little circle table in reading and language interventions. What advice would you give to a newly arrived child and their parents? What can a teacher do to help them.

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      To celebrate where they came from. As the child of immigrants, I feel very strongly about this–we spend so much time asking newly arrived families to assimilate, or even if we don’t it’s so easy to ignore the home culture, and that can really do damage to a young person. So my advice would be to encourage them to continue to speak languages other than English, reminding them that we are a multilingual society–I find it really helpful to *tell* newly arrived Latinx students just how many Spanish speakers there are in the United States, for example, so that they know that they are part of a big community.

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      Yes, I completely agree with Emma! In terms of books and helping with English transitions, I recommend seeking out stories that they already know (or familiar to what they know) for them to read. I’ve heard from many teachers how a new student from an Asian country would light up just seeing my book–it’s something familiar in their new, strange world and the more you can give them that, the more they can start feeling at home.

  10. Barb Jaindl
    Posted July 11, 2018 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Thanks for taking the time to spend with us, as your stories do provide a window for so many of my students who visit the school libraries I work in, and just as importantly, a mirror for some. I’ve been thinking about how I meant to dig deeper to find some fiction titles reflective of Thai culture (because I have a family whose heritage is from there) but it took this recent near tragic global following of the young boys stuck in a cave to prompt me to do it. That may be another important value of awards and Best Books list so that we don’t inadvertently ignore voices.

    Question: Does consideration of audience impact your writing from the beginning or do you tend to write a first draft and then figure out your audience and fine tune from there?

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 8:54 am | Permalink

      Hi Barb! Thanks for your comment. For me, consideration of my audience affects my pre-writing: the idea, how I want to approach the idea, etc. However, once I start writing, I try not to think of the audience at all. I just concentrate on the story, thinking too much about the audience just freezes me up. But when I revise, I return to audience considerations as I want it to make sense and be enjoyable to a reader. It’s always a fine balance of personal expression and audience consideration. writing is personal but publishing is not! Hope that helps!

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      Hi Barb! Thank you for being so thoughtful about your student’s reading choices. Like Grace, I mostly think about audience in the revision stages. For me the hardest part is that I want my writing to feel natural to Spanish-speaking Latinx families, but also to be accessible to families from other backgrounds. Finding a way to weave in different linguistic and cultural information gracefully is always a challenge, but very important to me.

    • chalida
      Posted July 11, 2018 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

      Check out the new picture book, Drawn Together by Minh Le and illustrated by Dan Santat (who is Thai American!).

  11. Diana Murrell
    Posted July 11, 2018 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    Thank you for answering questions today! I am wondering how you write speech bubbles in a manuscript when you don’t illustrate it? It would not be for a graphic novel but for a picture book that just has a few in the story.

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 9:39 am | Permalink

      You can put in an art note that says “Speech bubble: ….” in a different font. I generally don’t use art notes in my picture book writing, but if it’s something that is really needed for the story to make sense you can always include them.

  12. Katy
    Posted July 11, 2018 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    Good morning,
    This question is for Grace Lin. I am a Haitian American elementary school teacher (2nd grade) and have been teaching for over 15 years. I know that diversity and inclusion has come a long way in our education system. However, I still come across kids who do not want to embrace their parents culture as well as American culture and ignore the fact that they are the product of two great worlds. They want to strictly be American, speak English, eat American food etc. In watching your TED Talk I began to wonder if you could go back and talk to your younger self, what advice would you give your younger self yourself? What advice would you give to teachers? Thank you.

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      Hi Katy! This is a great question, and one of the topics I focus on a lot in my school visits and public talks. I felt a lot of shame about my Latina identity growing up. It’s tricky, because of course it’s the fault of the society at large, not any one individual. What really breaks my heart is knowing how much more shame Latinx children are experiencing now–I can’t imagine what life would have been like on the playground if the President had called Latino immigrants “animals” while I was a kid. There’s a limitation to how much we can do about the society at large, but we can influence our local communities for the better. I think if you talk about your Haitian-American identity with pride, that will help empower your students to be proud of their own backgrounds. If you read your students diverse books, that will help them also. Asking your administration about celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month and other similar moments that lift up marginalized voices could also be really powerful. I don’t know if kids always react right away, but as a grown-up I look back on my school years and I can’t tell you how much I value the teachers who tried to make me feel like it was cool to be a Latina, who tried to bring me books by Latin American authors and talk to me about my home life. I probably reacted very coldly at the time, but I’ve never forgotten those extensions of compassion.

      • Diane s
        Posted July 11, 2018 at 10:53 am | Permalink

        Thanks so much for this question it was my second one! My students are very young and have expressed fear that they will be sent away and that their parents are afraid. Heartbreaking. I will look into school visits. I think they need to know you.

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      Also, I wrote a post for Nerdy Book Club during Hispanic Heritage Month last year on this topic, and I go into a little more depth: https://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2017/09/21/celebrating-not-hiding-by-emma-otheguy/

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      I agree with Emma! The only thing I will add, is that I think each person comes to their own culture in their own time. If a child is not ready to embrace their culture, there’s not much you can do. But, what you can do is make sure that they know and see, by your actions and words, that their culture is valued and not something to be ashamed of. In my experience, the worst thing is when people tried to pretend that it wasn’t there (the colorblind method I talk about here: http://nepr.net/post/its-schools-job-acknowledge-race#stream/0). I believe if you talk about their culture as an obvious fact and with true interest and enthusiasm, they will internalize that and it will make them embrace it even sooner.

  13. Kathy Halsey
    Posted July 11, 2018 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Happy Wednesday, Grace and Emma. Grace, I’ve shared your TED talk with teachers and school librarians – so inspiring. Emma, I also am writing a PB bio. My question: What type of material goes into source notes versus bibliographic info? I am unclear as to how/why to use source notes. Or, maybe a PB bio is too short for sources notes? (You can see I am clueless here!) TY.

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      Hi Kathy! For MARTÍ I just had a selected bibliography with the works that were the most relevant. For my next nonfiction picture book, I have a section for Quotation Sources, and another for bibliography. The general rule of thumb is just to make it possible for other people to find the resources you used, however you need to do that.

      • Kathy Halsey
        Posted July 11, 2018 at 11:48 am | Permalink

        Thank you so much, Emma. Quote Sources might work for this book as my biographee has lots of juicy quotes. That in tandem w/a regular bib.

  14. Karla B Santoro
    Posted July 11, 2018 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    No specific questions from me–that haven’t already been asked. Just wanted to thank you both for your willingness to share your insights. 🙂

  15. Heather Jensen
    Posted July 11, 2018 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Hi Grace and Emma! Thank you for your time on this beautiful summer day! I am so excited to read these two books. As soon as I finish, I will be ordering them. John Schu talked about A Big Mooncake for Little Star at Nerd Camp on Monday!
    One of our nonfiction writing pieces is on biographies for our 5th graders. They choose a person to research, then write a report on that person’s life. I have been playing around with what I would like them to do for that final piece rather than write a report on a person’s whole life. I was thinking a picture book format would be a great way for them share out what they learned with the other students in our building. I am hoping this would be more authentic writing, as they would have an audience in mind as they wrote. My first question is: how can I help them narrow down the topic to one specific event in that person’s life rather than the entire life? How do you decide what events to include in a picture book biography? Do you have any advice I can relay to young writers as they begin to research that may help them narrow that focus?
    Thank you again for taking the time to answer my questions!

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      One way to approach sharing out what they have learned could be through acting. The third graders at my school participate in a big project every year called the Living Museum. They research a person, write a little about them, then dress up like the character for the event. A timeline is posted throughout the hallways and a card with a “button” is on the floor in front of each student. People walk up and press the button, bringing the character to life. Each student talks a little about the life of their subject in first person. The students really get excited about this project.

      • Heather Jensen
        Posted July 11, 2018 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

        Thank you! We have done a wax museum as well. It is always amazing!

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

      Hi Heather! Thanks for your comment–I am so thrilled that Mr. Schu showed my new book at Nerdcamp!

      It’s a great idea to have students write picture book biographies! It’s a great way to read and have them read a bunch as examples. One thing to help them is to tell them (after they do their research) to think about what would other students find most interesting about the person’s life, is there an event or anecdote that they would tell their friends about if they wanted them to get interested in this person? That might help them narrow it down. Emma has more experience with picture book biographies so hopefully she’ll be able to say more!

      • Heather Jensen
        Posted July 11, 2018 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

        Great ideas. Thank you!

  16. Annie Buhowski
    Posted July 11, 2018 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    A little behind today, a few questions I had have already been addressed. I wantes to pop in amd say thank you to you both for taking the time Q and A with us all.

  17. Michelle Hubbard
    Posted July 11, 2018 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Hello! I am a high school ELL teacher. This question is for both authors: do you feel it is acceptable or appropriate to use children’s books with high school ELLS? I am interested in using graphic novels with my ELLs, but wonder for my newcomers if children’s books may sometimes be used as well? I would appreciate any thoughts! Thank you!

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      Yes, totally! You can tell them that college classes read children’s books all the time. A great children’s book will appeal to readers of all ages. Especially in nonfiction, children’s books often have sophisticated themes that high school readers will appreciate, and it’s great for discussion. Plus, then your students can share the books with their siblings, nieces/nephews, kids, etc.!

      • Michelle Hubbard
        Posted July 12, 2018 at 11:23 am | Permalink

        Thank you so much! I never thought of using nonfiction. I think this is something I will try in the upcoming school year! Thanks again! I appreciate you taking the time to answer.

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

      I think it’s great to use children’s books with high schoolers! A lot of picture books are quite sophisticated–it’s also a good way to open up discussion about our preconceived notions (why do we disdain books because they are for a younger audience) that can lead to even more meatier discussions (what is a girl book? why? What makes it so “unappealing”? How does marketing affect us?).

      • Michelle Hubbard
        Posted July 12, 2018 at 11:24 am | Permalink

        Having the larger discussions about preconceived notions is another thing I have not thought of. This would be a great way to introduce topics of identity, gender, norms etc. Thank you for the suggestion!

  18. Posted July 11, 2018 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    Hello Grace and Emma,

    I am curious about your initial writing process. When you have an idea, do you create an outline of your thoughts to begin to scaffold your story? When it comes to characters, do you reoutline working out point of view once you start to develop your characters?I find myself with ideas and inspiration but need to find a way to jump start my process.
    On a side note, I did not realize there was a companion book to When The Mountain Meets The Moon. My students loved this book. I can’t wait to read and share When The Sea Turned To Silver.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      Hi Kathleen! I hope you and your students enjoy “When the Sea Turned to Silver!” There is also a prequel, “Starry River of the Sky.”

      For my initial writing process, I do a rough outline that gets more an more detailed. This takes me a long time! The events and characters kind of grow at the same time in my head. However, once I start writing, many times the story takes a life of its own and the outline goes out the window! But I don’t regret the time it took to make the outline–it’s what I personally need to go through to get to know my characters. Unfortunately, I’m not as driven by character as I am by story, so for me to create more fully flesh-out characters I almost have to write the whole thing in my head first. Other authors work completely differently, I know.

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

      Hi Kathleen, my process is a little bit of everything. I usually try and write a first draft without too much planning, just keeping a few scenes ahead of the story. Then as I revise I’ll try and flesh out characters in more depth, and usually at that point I’ll make a proper book map/outline, which is helpful to have as I start moving scenes around!

  19. Posted July 11, 2018 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    I often feel as though I bounce from project to project since I usually have a couple of different things that I’m working on. However, sometimes I worry that pieces of writing end up getting lost in that shuffle. How do you balance multiple projects?

    Thank you for all of your time and wonderful insights!

  20. Tricia
    Posted July 11, 2018 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Hello Grace and Emma! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer questions. I have already learned a lot from your answers. My question is about maintaining your momentum when you write. My creativity seems to come in bursts. I write for a little bit and then I feel like I’m done. Do you write for long periods of time or do you break up your writing with other tasks? I’m trying to figure out how to keep going when my creative juices quit flowing. Thanks!

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

      Hi Tricia! It depends on the project, but usually I do my writing in hour-long increments (no phone/internet for an hour at a time), give myself a short break, and then work for another hour. On days when I can devote the full day to writing, which isn’t that often, I might do that a few times, and then the rest of the day I have to work on other tasks (emails, etc.). On busier days, I try and just get that one uninterrupted hour in. Hope that helps!

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

      Hi Tricia! This is a tough question–because like I said somewhere above, I’ve been struggling to find work-life balance ever since my daughter was born. I try not to break up my time with other tasks, but it’s hard to make life stop! I am definitely more of a henpecker–I’m not really one that writes with “flow”–so it really helps me to have scheduled solid time for me just to sit and try to work and not worry about momentum. If you can, instead of writing when your have a creative burst, schedule some time–it only half an hour a day and devote it to writing and nothing else. Even if you only write one sentence, it’ll all add up. Hope that was helpful!

  21. Laura Tucker
    Posted July 11, 2018 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    Grace Lin – how do you know when your story idea is best suited to a picture book or a chapter book?

    P. S. I used Dim Sum for Everyone in Storytime today, and it was a big hit!

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

      Hi Laura! Sometimes you just kind of know and sometimes it takes a while! I think if you have an idea that you love but keep struggling to make it work, it could be a sign that you have the wrong format. My first novel, “The Year of the Dog” was supposed to be a picture book companion to “The Ugly Vegetables” but I just couldn’t make the story fit in the 32 page book format. My early reader “Ling and Ting” lost all the nuance when I tried it as a picture book but not meaty enough for a novel. I think the story will tell you, but it might take you a couple of misfires before you hear it correctly! Good Luck!

      So glad Dim Sum for Everyone was enjoyed! Thanks for sharing it!

  22. Jane Weiland
    Posted July 11, 2018 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

    ¡Hola Emma! Amo tu libro Marti y sus versos por la libertad.
    Thanks for writing this story and for introducing me to Martí-such a brave and extraordinary man. It’s beautiful the way you wove excerpts from Versos sencillos in telling this story. What inspired you to tell the story in this way? Is this how you initially intended to write it? It is just such a magnificent story and one that I find myself reading again and again. I am learning Spanish so I enjoy reading the verses in Spanish, too.

    Hi Grace! I look forward to reading your new picture book Big Mooncake for Little Star. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is on my coffee table and the next book in queue. I am teaching 4th grade next year and your books will be on my classroom shelves!

    Thank you both for taking the time to answer questions today.

    Jane 🙂

    • Posted July 12, 2018 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      Hi Jane! I’m so glad you enjoyed MARTÍ’S SONG FOR FREEDOM! I always knew that I wanted to write this story in loose verse. The connection between poetry and politics was one that was very important to José Martí, and so I felt that connecting poetry to nonfiction in this work would be a way of honoring Martí’s worldview–one where it’s possible to find elegance and beauty even in very challenging topics. I’m glad you’re able to read some of the Spanish as well!

  23. Karyn Lewis
    Posted July 12, 2018 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Emma, how much research did you do before you started writing Marti’s Song? Did you have to keep researching as you wrote? Did you try to add narrative to the book or keep it a factual telling?

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