Saturday, November 20, 2010

Let's Read!

I hear all the time that kids these days don't read--that they're far more interested in TV and video games, so pretty soon kid's books will be a thing of the past. Well, I'm happy to say that all the kids I'm meeting while promoting my books are proving that theory wrong, wrong, wrong.

This past Sunday, I was invited to participate in Columbia University's Let's Read event, which was focused on kids ages 4-12. There was musical entertainment, resources for parents, and several authors (including yours truly) in attendance to read from their books. (Thank you to Troy CLE--the author of the Marvelous World saga--for recommending me, and to Lamar Lovelace for organizing.) It was the first time I'd ever stepped foot inside one of Columbia University's buildings. If you've never been, Columbia has a beautiful campus, especially in the fall when all the leaves are turning orange and yellow.

There I am outside of the Low Library. 

Anyway, I was pretty nervous. I had been asked to read from one of my Maya & Miguel books, which were published in  2005 and 2006. Back then I never got to do any author appearances or anything. I did the writing, and that was pretty much it. (Believe me, I was plenty excited just to get to do the writing.) This was the first time I'd be reading one of my Scholastic books for an actual audience of kids. Scary. Would they think it was funny? Would they find it boring and throw rotten tomatoes at me? I had no idea. But I had my moral support with me: my parents; my friends Camille, Shona, Maria, Brian, and Dereeka; Dereeka's kids, Arielle and Kevin; and Maria's niece, Katalyna. So even if all the kids did start throwing tomatoes, I'd have at least a dozen people standing by ready to tell me that getting pelted by rotten fruit is a sign of affection.

Thankfully, I didn't have to go first. That honor went to Quiara Hudes, the author of Welcome to My Neighborhood. After she went out onto the stage and sat in the big green chair to read, I peeked out to see how the kids reacted. Within seconds, Quiara was swarmed. The kids edged closer and closer to the stage, until they finally hung off the sides off the chair, listening to her with rapt attention. It was adorable. When Troy went out, he got the same treatment. The kids were all over him, listening to each and every word. This was my kind of crowd! Meanwhile, I stayed backstage, talking to Chris Grabenstein, author of The Smoky Corridor and The Hanging Hill. Chris was once an improv comedian, so for him, entertaining a group of kids is easy as pie. He told me about some of his school visits, where he and the students write a ghost story together. The kids end up not only entertained, but really excited about writing. Genius!

It was no surprise at all that when Chris walked out onto the stage and began to read one of his stories in a deep booming voice, the kids were entranced. I couldn't hear the whole thing from backstage, but every once in a while, I'd hear all the kids scream or laugh or clap. I was clearly following a rockstar.

At last, my turn came. After my introduction, I went out and sat in the big green chair, looking out into an audience of mostly very little kids and their parents, all sitting cross-legged on the floor. I said hi, told them I'd be reading one of the stories in Maya & Miguel: My Twin Brother/My Twin Sister, then asked if any of them had brothers and sisters. Hands shot up all over the place as kids shouted out "I have a brother!" or "I have a sister!" Some of them even had twins. "You have a twin?" I asked one boy. "Well, then this story is especially for you." I started reading, and just as they had done with all the authors before me, the children stormed the stage. Some leaned over the sides of the chairs, some stood behind me and read over my shoulder, some stood right in front of my chair and stared right at me as I read.

They laughed in all the right places. They interrupted to comment on things in the story. And they loved Maya and Miguel's pet parrot Paco (try saying that five times fast), who squawks and talks. See the little blond girl to my left? She's informing me here that parrots repeat everything you say. :)

Finally I finished my story and everyone clapped. I couldn't even leave the chair at first because I was still surrounded by kids. I loved it.

After I took off the mike, I walked back out to greet my friends and family but was immediately approached by some parents, asking me to sign books for their children. I spent the next half hour or so signing books and taking pictures with my friends and my new fans.

Sibling love!

My best friend Dereeka; her kids Arielle and Kevin;
my friend Maria and her niece, Katalyna; and me. 

Me and my friends Shona and Camille. 
And I'm so glad I stayed until the very end. The event opened with a jazz quartet and ended with an amazing a cappella group that sang "Sunday Morning" and a really cool Michael Jackson medley. 

A cappella group singing "Sunday Morning."
Post-reading celebration at Havana Central
with my friends and fam. Mm mm good.

Long story short, I had so much fun on Sunday. Plus, I sold some books while I was at it, and I was offered the opportunity to do a couple more book signings! Stay tuned for info about an appearance at the Columbia University Bookstore this January (Thanks, Amanda!), and I may be working with a nonprofit group that focuses on helping teens make good decisions. (More details on that once I have something nailed down.) I am really loving how one thing leads to another and another.  

As for my last proofreading class, well...I wish I could say it went as well as the Let's Read event. Since I've been on vacation all week, I was coming from Queens into Manhattan. I had to stop by my day job first because my friend from work was helping me with my lesson plan about book covers. (I owe you one, Derek.) I decided to drive. MISTAKE! I got caught in unbelievable traffic and it ended up taking me two hours to get to the city. Unreal. Then I got a surprise email that I'd have someone observing my class to make sure everything was going well. Great. Then when I caught the train to the school, the 6 train held me hostage just long enough to make me ten minutes late. Exactly what you want to happen when someone will be there making sure you're doing your job correctly. (sigh...) As I ran up the escalator stairs to the classroom (which wasn't easy, considering I had a bag full of heavy books and handouts for the students), I thought NYU will never want to work with me again! I finally reached my class to find my students (and the visitor) patiently waiting for me in silence. All eyes were on me as I huffed and puffed my way to the head of the class. Which is when I noticed the computer that had been set up for me--and that I completely wasn't expecting to be there. (I had requested it way back before the class started but had since decided to just use the overhead projector.) It took several minutes to figure out how to turn it off. And when I went to write some things on the board, I found there was not one piece of chalk to use. Jeez. Worst start of class ever. 

Thank goodness it got better. First we went over the design homework, then we did a review of proper querying; the difference between en-dashes, em-dashes, and hyphens; ellipsis points; and all the things involved in proofreading a nonfiction book. (Why, yes, it is as exciting as it sounds.) I also brought in for show and tell the new edition of the Chicago Manual of Style, which I bought over the weekend, to many oohs and aahs. Finally, we learned about proofreading book covers. 

You may not know this, but the cover of every book you read has been edited by a ton of people before it winds up in your hands. The copy writing department writes the text, the art department designs the images and layout, the editorial and publicity departments work on getting reviews so that we can put quotes on the cover, and people like me in the production department read it over and over again to make sure there are no mistakes. It's a lot of work for what seems like a small thing. Anyway, I gave the class a paperback book cover to proofread together. They actually seemed to have fun with it. I'm sure it was a nice break from the big chunks of text I've been giving them. At last, I handed out their homework and we called it a night. When I got home, I emailed the visitor to see what she thought--and to apologize for the technical difficulties. To my surprise, she wrote back that she'd loved the class and my enthusiasm. She said she even learned a couple of things that she hadn't known before! Phew... What a relief. Only two more classes to go... 

In other news... My friend and former coworker, Signe Pike, just had her book, Faery Tale, come out this month. Signe traveled to Ireland, Scotland, and England, among other places, to find out if faeries are real. Very cool. Check it out if you get a chance. It may be too mature for my fans, but it would make a lovely holiday present for any adult. :) 

And while you're doing that, read up on all the authors who participated in the Let's Read event. Not only are they awesome people, but their books are sure to be some of your favorites. 

Quiara Hudes:

Troy CLE:

Chris Grabenstein:

Henry Neff:

Deborah Gregory:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Roses are Red, Violets are Blue...

I just finished watching Brave New Voices on HBO, and like every time I watch this series, it inspired me to write!

If you've never seen a poetry slam, I highly recommend that you get on that right away. It's so powerful to see writers pouring out their souls on the stage, and getting feedback from the crowd. It especially makes me happy to see really young kids expressing themselves through poetry. You may think you're not into poems, but have you ever read a Dr. Seuss book? How about Shel Silverstein? Do you listen to any rap music? Ever look up the lyrics to your favorite song and fall in love with the words? Then you, my friend, might be into poetry. Don't fight it. Embrace it! I'd love for you all to write a poem about something you care about--anything--and send it to me. I'll try to write a poem for every one I receive.

In the meantime, I guess I should fill you in on my last few proofreading classes. In the class before last, I taught them how to mark corrections in the text and assign responsibility. Did you know that every correction that is made to the text of a book has to be paid for by someone? If the printer makes a mistake, we call that a PE (printer's error). If the author makes a mistake and the proofreader doesn't catch it, that's an EA (editorial alteration). It gets more complicated, but I don't want to put you to sleep or anything. Moving right along...

In the next class, we entered the wonderful world of grammar. I can practically hear some of you groaning right now. But hey, learning some basic grammar rules will make your writing that much better and easier to understand. I don't happen to be the greatest at this subject. I'm one of those people who knows what sounds right, but I wouldn't necessarily be able to give you the technical term for it. So I called in a pro: Ellen Scordato. She has been in the business for 25 years and knows her way around a sentence. (I may have mentioned before that she interviewed me for one of her posts on the Barnes & Noble community blog, Unabashedly Bookish.) Anyway, after I introduced her to the class, she took over, walking them through the various parts of speech (there are 8, by the way) and some common mistakes that people make all the time. I'm so glad she gave this class. I learned a lot! I had completely forgotten the term "gerund." (For the record, it's a verb that can be used as a noun. For example: Running is fun.) Toward the end of the class, the students had to break up into groups, and each group took a sentence from a bag and had to explain what was wrong with the sentence and how they would fix it.

And in our last class, we tackled spelling. So many people think they can spell...until they have to take a spelling test! I gave the class some words that have stumped me in the past, or that I see author's spell incorrectly all the time--like "cemetery," "archaeologist," and "psychic." I'm happy to say they did pretty well. When I took this class years ago, I took a spelling test myself and was surprised to find out that I didn't know how to spell "accommodate." Two m's? Huh. Who knew? 

I did promise you a language tip for every class I taught, so now I owe you three! Here they are:

1. Titles like "mom" and "dad" are only capitalized when used in direct address or when used as a name.

    Example: Can you pick me up from school, Mom?  or  My dad said no, but Mom said yes.
    But:         My mom is my Facebook friend.

2. "Each other" is used for two people, "one another" is for three or more people.

    Example: Lisa and Tonya looked at each other and laughed.
    But:         Everyone on the volleyball team supported one another.

3. Use what is called an em-dash (a long dash) for interrupted speech and ellipsis points for trailing speech.

    Example: "I was going to call you, but--"
                    "Oh, no you weren't," Maria interrupted.

    But:         I wonder if . . . No, it's too scary to say out loud.

Phew! Okay, now that we have the school recap out of the way, time to fill you in on my next author appearance! I'll be participating in the Let's Read event at Columbia University in Manhattan on November 14 from 12 PM to 3 PM. My reading will be at 1:37 PM. If you happen to be in the area, come on down! It's free, there will be a bunch of other authors there, including Henry Neff and Troy CLE, there will be workshops for parents, and there will be music and other fun surprises. All the authors will be signing books afterward.

Well, that's all for now. I'm beat. But you all get cracking on those poems!