Monday, April 30, 2012

A Haiku for You

Since there is still a little bit of April (aka Poetry Month) left, I’m posting a poem from my newest book Hope and Tears: Ellis Island Voices.

It’s short and simple. The photo that goes with it shows women and girls waiting on Ellis Island, poised for the next step in their immigration journey.

When the door opens
to this new land, watch me race
right in, barefooted.

Photo credit: Library of Congress LC-DIG-ggbain-01561

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Guest Post: Jane St. Anthony on...Copyediting

Today's post is a new addition to the series Why the World Still Needs Editors. Written by Jane St. Anthony, author of The Summer Sherman Loved Me and Grace above All, this is the very first Guest Blog Post in Story-Slinger history. THANK YOU, Jane!


Where the Little Looms Large

by Jane St. Anthony

          I’ve sunk into the couch cushions, my worries vanquished. I’m reading a mystery, closing in on the suspect. I turn the page and see the name Mark. Mark? Who’s Mark? I’m hot on the trail of Marcus. I flip backward, page after page.
There is no Mark.
Mark is a copyediting mistake. 
         Perhaps the author had a momentary lapse: Marcus, Mark. Granted, she had about 50,000 words to keep track of. But the copyeditor missed it, too.
         I am instantly pulled out of the narrative.
When we read, we expect to immerse ourselves in the story. For that to happen, there must be a willing suspension of disbelief. I trusted this narrative, with Marcus at the center. The book cast its spell over me, but suddenly I was disgruntled. What else might be wrong? Who’s in charge of the elements of fiction that must be grounded?
         In one of my drafts of The Summer Sherman Loved Me, the main character, Margaret, alludes to the Aqua Follies. The troupe’s “swimusicals” were a kind of synchronized water ballet with comedic touches. I wanted to paint a picture, with words, of crazed dogs as Aqua Follies performers.
         My copyeditor wondered how, years ago, a girl in Minneapolis would have known of the Aqua Follies, based at Green Lake in Seattle. I couldn’t answer that question.
         So I left the Aqua Follies alone and simply wrote of an imagined “canine club of synchronized swimmers, fanning out in formations.”
         Yes, a small detail. But why give the reader pause? Or a chance to distrust the author? The reader, we hope, swallows the story whole.
         A great copyeditor works to create the clearest, cleanest narrative possible through attention to the facts, continuity, grammar and a mass of minutiae.
         In expert hands, all these things contribute to time on the couch, sinking into a book, luxuriating in the miracle of a seamless story. 

Story-slinger Note: If you enjoy Jane's writing, then you really must read her online journal. It's full of wonderful stories and insights and always leaves me feeling refreshed...

Friday, April 20, 2012

Can you tell a story in 90 seconds?

Better yet, can you re-tell a classic story, cutting to the chase and hitting only the most essential elements, then add costumes and sets and dramatize the stories in less than five minutes?

That’s just what a troupe of Twin Cities Academy Middle Schoolers did tonight—and will do again on Saturday, April 21st. They presented “90 Second Newberys,” extremely short and streamlined versions of Newbery Award winning books.

Here’s a sample line of dialogue from the shorter than short Wrinkle in Time, based on the book by Madeleine L’Engle, to give you some idea of these mini-plays:

“I’m Charles Wallace and I’m a five-year-old genius and that’s kind of creepy.”

You got it right there!

I also enjoyed the narration of Tale of Despereaux, based on the novel by Kate DiCamillo:

“At this point, the story gets kind of complicated…”

These simple words were followed by lots of jumping, soup-ladle banging, and chasing of mice onstage.

Sounds a little chaotic, but so are plots sometimes. In any case, it worked.

Tonight’s show was wonderfully entertaining—and I’m not just saying that in my capacity as Library Lady at TCA. The production gave me new insights into some favorite books and new appreciation of the many talents of middle school students. These folks are not just good at reading books, they’re equally good at re-telling the essential plots of books.

That’s story-slinging, in a nutshell.

If you’re free tomorrow night, the show goes on at seven o’clock and covers eleven great books in about one hour. The address: 835 East Fifth Street, St. Paul, MN 55106. Cost: $5 for adults, and $2 for students. Donations welcomed.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Story-slinging Starts Young

One more post in honor of School Library Month

Recently at the middle school where I work, next year’s prospective students visited in order to “shadow” a current sixth grader and basically get the lay of the land. It’s a cool custom that gives kids a chance to try out middle school—and set aside some fears ahead of that first day of school in the fall.

This time the “shadow-ee” (current sixth grader) was an exuberant character—and frequent library visitor. The “shadower” (current fifth grader from another school) was a small, very quiet girl. I wasn’t sure when they left the library, where all shadow-ees and shadowers met, how this particular match-up would work out.

But midway through the morning in the three short minutes between classes, both girls rushed into the library. The sixth grader led the way to the shelf. “It’s not there!”

No, all of my copies of Ally Carter’s I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You were checked out.

Both girls were disappointed. “It’s so good,” said the sixth grader, still shaking her head over the empty spot on the shelf.

I was sorry not to have the book available. Even though technically the visiting fifth grader won’t be able to check it out until next fall, it was clear she wanted to read that book that instant—all because her shadower had been talking up the Gallagher Girls.

So, along with regret, I was really, really proud of the sixth grader for slinging stories and talking up books at such an early age.

Just goes to show you’re never too young to be a story-slinger. Here’s hoping I’m never too old…

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Streets of St. Paul

A poem in St. Paul's Saint Anthony Park Neighborhood.
Here's the text:

There's no place I'd rather be
than here
in this quiet common place
where late morning sun
meets the scent of concrete and cut grass

Each spring here in St. Paul, we can finally see the sidewalk again after the annual snowmelt. This year--the year of "the winter that wasn't"--we've been able to see the sidewalks for ages. And those of us who've been paying attention have noticed more and more poetry pressed into the pavement.
Don't know what I'm talking about? Well, April is not only poetry month in the library calendar, it's also poetry month in the sidewalk replacement calendar, at least in St. Paul, Minnesota.
It's time for the annual St. Paul Sidewalk Poetry Contest, an initiative of Marcus Young and Friends, Saint Paul Public Works, and Public Art Saint Paul (the same folks who brought us fantastic large-scale photography by Wing Young Huie along University Avenue in St. Paul).
St. Paul's sidewalk poetry is what it sounds like: short poems penned by local writers and then pressed into the still-wet pavement by public works employees. This year, the contest runs until midnight on Friday the 13th (tomorrow), so if you're a St. Paul resident, capable of writing very short poetry, possessing both internet access and three bucks, this could be your chance to be pressed into a sidewalk, to make your mark in the world of poetry and public works all at the same time.
Want to learn more? There's loads of information here.  And one of the greatest links is a page that lets you locate poems on a city map
So even if you're not in St. Paul, take a virutal stroll down the streets and celebrate the early snowmelt, the sunshine, and the poetry...right under your feet.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Why I Love My School Library


Today’s post is short but sweet. 

I’ve been celebrating School Library Month. My previous post was a kind of ode to the Neutral Zone…aka my middle school library.

I’m pretty sure the students at my school don’t know that it’s School Library Month (since I forgot to mention it), but one of my sixth graders brought me a (sort of) cake to celebrate.

Really, she just thought I needed to have it. Maybe I've been looking a little too thin…Who knows.

Anyway, it’s from Jerabek’s New Bohemian bakery in St. Paul, it smells heavenly, and it only got a little smushed in transit via backpack.

THANK YOU all you middle school library regulars for making my day!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

It’s School Library Month, and I’ve Got a Library to Celebrate!

No, this is not a shelf at my middle school library!
It's a large portion of a one-room school library. Sometimes change is good...

Over the years, I’ve come to see the middle school library where I work as the Neutral Zone.

It’s the one place in school where no one expects you to know the answers to questions on a quiz or work well in groups. You just need to like being around books, keep pretty quiet, and not be destructive.

If you want to ask me to recommend a book, that’s great. I’ll try—although I get better at this as the day goes on and I drink more coffee.

I know who you are based solely on how you behave in the Neutral Zone. Since I’m a part-timer and no one remembers to cc me on all the reports, I have no idea if you’re ADHD, OCD, or EBD. I don’t know if your parents are divorced, separated, or unemployed.

Sometimes, though, I notice which books give you a sense of comfort. I notice which ones you check out over and over again. I’m also aware of the ones you steal.

And, as clueless as I probably seem, I tend to notice when you’re feeling alone or adrift. You might spend a few extra minutes in the stacks, leafing through a book that doesn’t judge you or ask anything of you. World records, graphic novels, wimpy kids. They’re free and you get to chose them for yourselves. Plus, you know I don’t give tests: the only question I’ll ever ask is, “Did you like the book?”

For more on School Library Month, check out the ALA website.