Meet Author Nancy Churnin!

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Nancy Churnin writes the most wonderful biographies. They are stories that show the heart and soul of the individual, stories that inspire readers to be their best self and stretch for their dreams. Books like Manjhi Moves a Mountain – about a man who literally moved a mountain one bucket at a time, to help the people of his village. Or the lovely story of William Hoy and how a deaf baseball player changed America’s favorite game.

With six biographies on the shelves and more to come, Nancy Churnin is the perfect subject for a classroom Author Study. And with Nancy’s help I have put together a complete Author Study Unit that is free for you to use with your classroom. Please enjoy the interview with Nancy and download my five lesson Author Study Unit and Free Worksheets

MEET AUTHOR NANCY CHURNIN

How do you choose the subjects for your books?nancy

The William Hoy Story, my first book, came about because I wanted to make the dream of my friend, Steve Sandy come true. Steve is deaf and his dream is that William Hoy, a great 19th century deaf baseball player, will be well-known and one day be honored in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. I promised to write the book before I knew how to write a children’s book! I thought I’d knock it out in an afternoon, only to very slowly comprehend that I needed to take classes, join critique groups, write, write, write and revise, revise, revise. It took me 12 years to sell that first book, but I not only learned about how to write a picture book, but how much I loved writing picture books. I was determined to find more people who inspired me and would inspire kids, people who deserved a spotlight, but didn’t have one yet. After spending so many years making Hoy happen, I found myself particularly drawn to people who aren’t the biggest or strongest, but who have the heart to persevere against the odds. I found my next subject Manjhi in a newspaper article. The minute I learned about this man who spent 22 years chiseling a path through a 300-foot mountain so that the kids in his poor village could get to school and the sick could get to a doctor on the other side, I knew I had to write his story.

Why do you like to write biographies?

We all have moments of struggle and self-doubt when the path before us seems dark, Manjhforbidding — more than we can handle. But biographies of people who have forged past doubt to focus on and ultimately achieve a dream can be a light to us on our journey. Everyone’s journey is unique. But other people’s journeys can provide an example of what can be accomplished if you have a dream and you persevere. I’m not going to be a champion ballplayer like William Hoy or chisel a path through a 300-foot mountain like Manjhi, but if I believe in a story, I’m going to keep working on it until it gets where it needs to go. And, after all, you never fail until you give up. I think of the 12 years I spent on my first book with pride, because I didn’t give up even when there were some people in my life wondering and, no doubt, having fun at my expense, thinking is she really still working on that? Kids get that all the time, too — they’re told they’re too young, too little, too this, too that, too unrealistic to accomplish something that’s never been done. I hope these people I write about remind them that they can accomplish anything if they don’t give up, that they have the power to set goals that will make the world a better place. And I hope my 12-year journey to my first book reminds them that anything worth doing is worth doing until you get where you want to go.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the Bronx in New York City.

What was special about your childhood?

I grew up in a world of books. When my parents married, they were very poor. The first thing they bought was a book called Tomorrow Will Be Better. They kept adding to that library so that by the time I was born we had a whole room of floor to ceiling books that we called the library. My mother read to me every night, Mondays through Saturdays — my first favorite book was The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. She read me an extra chapter on Saturdays so she could take off Sundays. I also loved going to the Kingsbridge Heights Library where the librarians would recommend amazing books. I still remember one title I asked the librarian to repeat a couple of times because it sounded so bizarre. I am glad I trusted that librarian because that book was The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and it became one of my favorites! Another thing special about my childhood was that my grandparents, Sam and Mary Farber, had a bungalow colony in the Catskills called Mountain View Cottages. For a city girl growing up in a concrete Bronx grayer than Frank L. Baum described Dorothy’s Kansas, spending summers walking through woods, staring up at stars, running and rolling down hills, swimming, roasting marshmallows at campfires, riding horses — it was heaven. When I need to go to my happy place in my head, that’s where I often go.

What are some of the jobs you have had?

I have spent most of my life as a journalist, working as a theater critic for the Los Angeles Times San Diego Edition and most recently for The Dallas Morning News. Reviewing and writing about theater has been my favorite thing to do outside of writing books. I left The Dallas Morning News in January 2019 and am now a full-time children’s book author.

What are your hobbies?

My hobby when I was writing for newspapers was writing children’s books. And now that I do that full-time, I am happy to do that all the time! I still enjoy theater and singing. I love to walk my dog named Dog and hang out with my family.

What advice would you give to student writers?

Don’t waste time thinking about what other people would like you to write. Reach deep and think about what stories you want to tell. Read and re-read stories that you like to see how they’re put together. But remember, each new story is its own challenge and journey. There are some structural things you can learn that will help you on your way. But ultimately everything you write will be as unique as you are. Don’t try to be like anyone else. Be the best version of yourself. And don’t get discouraged if your first draft doesn’t resemble the vision you have in your head. There is an expression called the crummy first draft. No matter how many books authors write, no matter how experienced they seem, we all have to write that crummy first draft that we revise and revise and revise until it starts to move and breathe and feel like the original idea we had when we started. Find a support group of fellow writers that truly want you to succeed and that you truly want to help succeed. Don’t beat yourself up. Be kind to yourself. Be patient. Things take as long as they take and the length of time they take is different for each of us. The people who succeed are the ones who don’t give up.

What would you like students to know about you?

I am happy that I have been given the opportunity and support to write these books, to share them with you, to bring you a little light in the form of these stories and in the time we spend together here on this wonderful blog. I believe, with all my heart, that we are here to do what we can to heal the world, to do our best to make it better and to pass on whatever tools we can to the next generation to move our progress even further along the field. What I want you to know about me is how much I believe in you. You are why I do what I do. I am thankful for the opportunity to try to be helpful to you in your journeys.

 

Great Books Great Lessons!

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Two fantastic books have been recently released that teach children about deep sea exploration and teachers should be jumping with joy. These books are fun to read, full of great scientific facts, and the perfect pair to use for a compare and contrast lesson. 

image-1OTIS AND WILL DISCOVER THE DEEP by Barb Rosenstock is a wonderful book that tells about the two men crazy enough to think they could explore the deep ocean in a machine of their own design. Amazingly they were successful and in 1930 became the first deep sea explorers in their ship the Bathysphere.

imageFLYING DEEP by Michelle Cusolito tells about the modern version of the bathysphere – Alvin the deep-sea submersible. This high-tech machine can dive two miles  to collect samples from the seafloor and allow scientists to conduct research on the deepest parts of the ocean. The author uses lovely lyrical language to describe the mysteries of the deep plus she gives lots of information about her research for the book.

I love both of these books and I think they are ideal for doing a compare and contrast lesson. Deep Sea exploration from its beginning to present day. The perfect opportunity to mix science and language arts. I have designed a Compare and Contrast lesson plan –

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And worksheet CompareContrastSubWorksheet

And I’ve given you a bonus extension lesson on writing opinions. WouldYouRatherWorksheet

Hope you like the lesson. I KNOW you’ll love the books!!

 

 

Diversity in Kidlit

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Own voices.  We Need Diverse Books. – the conversation about diversity in kidlit is growing and hopefully gaining momentum. I had the amazing opportunity to hear Cynthia Leitich Smith speak on this topic at the Kansas/Missouri SCBWI conference and she had great ideas and advice.

As a former teacher and school counselor, I have been a proponent of diversity in children’s literature for a long time. But as a cisgender middle class white woman, I didn’t know how I could help promote own voices. Cynthia gave me some ideas.

First READ own voices books yourself. Immerse yourself in the cultures of others and try to learn all you can. Become familiar with own voices authors and their works. Not only will you gain understanding of cultures, you will be able to have an educated conversation about great books.

Second promote the READING of own voices books by everyone. Do what you can to recommend, gift, share, diverse books with all culture groups. If you have the financial means, make a gift of Own Voices books to your local school or public library. If you can’t donate – REQUEST own voices books for purchase. Also request own voices speakers to visit your library. Public requests can increase diverse book purchases and awareness.

Cynthia challenged writers to read at least 100 books by own voices before ever writing about a person outside your culture.  Reading 200 would be better! It’s a challenge I am going to take. Not because I plan to write outside my culture, but because I want to learn about others.

I hope you will join me on my quest! And Please let me know about your favorite #ownvoices books.

Need a place to start? Here are some great lists.

Diversity in Kidlit Presented as everyday

Diversity books for young children

Diversity books for YA

 

Make Some Friends

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Everybody wants to know how to get ahead in the writing world.  Should I have a blog? Get a million twitter followers? Send presents to the editors? The truth is there are only two things that will help you as a writer. The first is to learn to be the very best writer you can be. Go to classes, conferences, and retreats. Learn all you can, revise, rewrite, and create amazing manuscripts. If you have done that, then there is only one more thing to do.

Make some friends!

We need friends who are in our profession and understand why it takes longer than six weeks to get a book published. We need friends who will rejoice when we get a “good” rejection letter. And we definitely need friends who will break open the champagne when we make that sale.

Our writing buddies are also our peer network. Connections you make at conferences can actually lead to jobs in the future.Writing is a business just like accounting, engineering, or real estate. Yes, it is a creative business and we writers are known for hiding in our garrets bleeding onto the paper, but in reality, we need to make connections. We need to network, just like any other business person.

Writers and editors share names of their contacts and refer business to people they know and trust. That writer sitting next to you at the conference may know an editor who is looking for free-lancers. That friend in your critique group may introduce you to the agent of your dreams.  If you aren’t a part of the writing community, you are missing out on support, fun, and quite possibly jobs! Make some writing friends. It will help you in ways you never imagined

 

We Need Diverse Books AND MORE!!

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This is an important week for appreciating and sharing the diversity of the United States of America. On Monday we celebrate a true hero of diversity – Martin Luther King Jr. and on Friday we inaugurate our 45th president. What an excellent time for all of us to pause and reflect on the progress we have made, and the work we still need to do.

America is certainly not a perfect country and we have a long way to go before we truly meet standards of equality. BUT I am encouraged by the number of people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and do the hard work. If you – as a writer or educator are looking for places to plug-in, I’m listing just a few of the fine programs and organizations that are worth your time.

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Celebrate the wonderful books and lessons that can be learned through Multicultural Children’s Book Day . Children’s reading and play advocates Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom have teamed up to create an ambitious (and much-needed) national event. On January 27th, Jump into a Book and Pragmatic Mom will be presenting the first ever Multicultural Children’s Book Day as a way of celebrating diversity in children’s books.

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WNDB – We Need Diverse Books – If you are a writer this is a fantastic program to encourage the development of books from diverse view points. Click on the icon to go to the newsletter and find out all about the program.

 

 

name The Founders of NAME envisioned an organization that would bring together individuals and groups with an interest in multicultural education from all levels of education, different academic disciplines and from diverse educational institutions and occupations.

 

Research and learn how you can make our world a better place for all citizens!

Girl Power!

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It’s Girl Power Month!! Otherwise known as Women’s History month. And it’s time to bring out all those fantastic books about GIRL POWER! I’ve got some great lists of books to use in the classroom plus some really fun facts about women in history. Come on teachers – let’s celebrate women’s history!

Fun Facts
One of the greatest spies in World War II was a woman. Nancy Wake was known as The White Mouse and was one of the Gestapo’s most wanted spies with a 5 million-franc price on her head.

A woman was the ruler of one of the largest empress in the history of the world.  At one Queen Victoria’s empire included land on nearly every continent.  She ruled from Britain to India, Australia to Canada, South Africa to Egypt, and even controlled Hong Kong.  It was said that the sun never set on the British Empire.

The world’s first Novel was written by a woman. The Tale of Genji was published in Japan around 1000CE.  It was written by Murasaki Shikibu and was a story about life in royal Japanese court.

Nan’yehi was woman warrior for the Cherokee Nation.  When her husband was killed during battle in 1775, she took his place and led the Cherokee to victory.

Some Great Books!!!
Look Up!: Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer by Robert Burleigh
Henrietta Swan Leavitt was born on July 4, 1868, and she changed the course of astronomyherietta when she was just twenty-five years old. Henrietta spent years measuring star positions and sizes from photographs taken by the telescope at the Harvard College Observatory, where she worked. After Henrietta observed that certain stars had a fixed pattern to their changes, her discovery made it possible for astronomers to measure greater and greater distances—leading to our present understanding of the vast size of the universe.

Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea By Robert Burleigh
Marie Tharp was always fascinated by the ocean. Taught to think big by her father who wassolving-the-puzzle-e1457211817862 a mapmaker, Marie wanted to do something no one had ever done before: map the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Was it even possible? Not sure if she would succeed, Marie decided to give it a try.

Check out these book lists!
Disrupters, Daredevils, and Artists: Women Who Changed the World

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21+ Children’s Books about Women Scientists

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Kirkus list of great books for Women’s History Month

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International Kid Lit Quiz

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  1. Whose nickname as a student was Padfoot?Quiz%20Bowl
  2. What colour was the highly sought after and prized Arkenstone?
  3. Erasers are wolf-like creatures that go after children in what book?
  4. Who was the sparkly fish that gave away his scales?
  5. What bird’s singing, according to Hans Christian Andersen, brought tears to the Chinese Emperor’s heart?
  6. Who is Geronimo Stilton’s sister, the one that loves traveling and having adventures around the world?
  7. Where in space did four children land and leave a ‘Hello Dad!’ message in Frank Cottrell’s Boyce’s book Cosmic?
  8. What day of the week did Thor give his name to?
  9. What country forced its citizens to sign a Treaty of Treason?
  10. Who was the television-obsessed boy that visited Mr Wonka’s factory?
Can you answer these question?  The kids competing in the International Kid Lit Quiz can. hpThese are the easy questions!
Never heard of the International Kid Lit Quiz? You are definitely missing out!  Its like a traditional quiz bowl but it focuses on children’s literature and it’s world wide! It is open to students 10-13 years of age and this year’s national winners are invited to compete in the World Final in Auckland New Zealand.  The new World Wide champions will be crowned in August.
While it’s too late to enter this year’s competition it’s just the right time to start a team in your school. What better way to get students enthused about reading?  Start a school wide competition and maybe your students will be competing in the next International Kids Lit Quiz!
Meanwhile try some more of the practice questions:
  1. Annabeth is the daughter of which Greek goddess?
  2. Who would demand retaliation for any minor crime committed by a passing traveller such as picking a rose?
  3. The book Small Steps introduced the readers to which two characters from Holes: Percy-Jackson-percy-jackson-and-the-olympians-books-8244426-1024-768Zero, X-Ray, Armpit or Stanley?
  4. Which fictional primate was known as ‘The Eighth Wonder of the World’?
  5. Characters from which book literally jump out of the pages?
  6. Who ordered all of the spindles in his kingdom to be burnt?
  7. Who was the American boy that supposedly had the reputation of never telling a lie?
  8. What type of creature was a Psammead?
  9. What is special about this sentence: Never odd or even?
  10. What word in English is the most common spoken word?
  1. Athena sleep
  2. The Beast
  3. Armpit and X-Ray
  4. King Kong
  5. Inkheart
  6. Sleeping Beauty’s father
  7. George Washington
  8. Sand fairy
  9. It’s a palindrome – reads the same both ways
  10. The
Oh and the answers to the first ten questions – right here-ranbow
  1. Sirius Black
  2. White
  3. Maximum Ride (accept The Angel Experiment)
  4. Rainbow Fish
  5. The Nightingale
  6. Thea
  7. The MoonThursday
  8. Panem
  9. Mike Teevee