Late Bloomer: Beth Anderson

Late Bloomers are guest blog posts at A is for Aging—sharing thoughts and insights from individuals who have launched notable creative efforts in the arts in their Third Age.

Today’s post is by children’s author Beth Anderson:

Late Blooming author Beth Anderson

The itch to write has always been with me. In elementary school, I wrote poems, plays, and puppet shows. Teachers encouraged me.

In junior high, I discovered joy in point of view, personification, and figurative language. Teachers encouraged me.

In high school, I wrote a “Canterbury Tale”—in couplets, for 24 pages. Once I got started, I couldn’t stop. A teacher encouraged me, but also drilled into me the habits of good writing. Thank you, Mrs. McCullough! In college, her lessons paid off. And I had developed a love of language.

Several times during adult life, I thought about writing for children. Pre-internet—with working and kids. (I don’t know how you young writers do it!), I really didn’t know where to start.

But my life experiences were accumulating.

And as I taught ESL in elementary and middle school, I used children’s literature as a springboard for language, grammar, history, and science. I witnessed the power of story and true tales to open students’ worlds and inspire questions, thinking, and learning.

Beth in first grade

Teaching writing, I shared some of my own stories from my childhood. I was stunned by the students’ reaction. Suddenly, I was a writer. It was like a magic door—for me and for them as they began to write from the heart. When they asked what I was going to do in retirement, I admitted I’d love to write for children. They encouraged me, and I knew I had to give it my best shot.

“I think we often underestimate the value of life experience.”

In the fall of 2013 at age 59, I researched the industry, joined writing groups, and began to write. I started with fiction, tried to find my voice. And when I tackled an historical story, I immediately knew this was my path. With SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators), critique partners, online groups and classes, and lots of encouragers, I found my way.

Beneath the surface, I was drawing on much more than these “writing” resources. I think we often underestimate the value of life experience. Equipped with life lessons involving rejection and criticism, success and failure, patience and perseverance, I’ve been better able to navigate the ups and downs of this endeavor than I would have at a younger age.

Knowing what kinds of children’s literature I enjoyed and valued as an educator, I’ve quickly found my passion within the field. I’m drawn to quirky bits of history, thought-provoking untold tales, and love the “accidental” learning that comes in the midst of a great story.

The teacher in me still guides my choices and telling, and the language nerd in me rejoices in well-crafted literary elements. Through the years, I’ve learned how to self-evaluate and seek out what I need.

The continual learning about the world and craft of writing feeds my brain, and I’m very fortunate to have the time to research and write, as well as the support of those around me. Age has brought a refreshing freedom.

I signed with agent Stephanie Fretwell-Hill with Red Fox Literary in early 2016 and sold my first manuscript in the fall. AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET: BEN FRANKLIN AND NOAH WEBSTER’S SPELLING REVOLUTION came out from Simon & Schuster in 2018. Find it here.

My second book, LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT: ELIZABETH JENNINGS FIGHTS FOR STREETCAR RIGHTS releases Jan. 7, 2020 from Calkins Creek Books. And Kirkus Reviews gave it a star! It still seems a bit surreal.

Here I sit at age 65, officially a senior citizen, my sixth book awaiting revisions, a new submission being sent out into the world, and a pile of research on my desk. I credit my life experience and all the encouragers—family, friends, teachers, and generous kid lit community.

Lizzie Demands a Seat. Illustrated by E.B. Lewis

I read once that one of the best things to do in retirement is to be a rookie at something. I have to agree!

And I encourage you to go after your itch!

Lizzie Demands a Seat illustrated by E.B. Lewis

Beth Anderson

When she’s not writing, Beth might be weaving, gardening, exploring nature, or playing with her grandkids.  Beth’s website

Illustrators: E.B. Lewis

Elizabeth Baddeley 

Copyrighted images courtesy of Beth Anderson.

   Thank you Beth!

Late Bloomers defy age stereotypes and help show us the way to tap into our creativity using life experience, energy and positive attitudes.

Creativity keeps us fresh, keeps us alive, keeps us moving forward.”

(Rollo May, psychotherapist and author of Courage to Create.)

Find more late bloomers guest bloggers here.

(For further resources, see books Secrets to Becoming a Late Bloomer: Extraordinary ordinary people on the art of staying creative, alive and aware in mid-life and beyond by Connie Goldman & Richard Mahler; The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life by Gene D. Cohen M.D.; What Should I Do with the Rest of My Life by Bruce Frankel.)

 

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Intergenerational History Lessons–Guest Post

Guest blogger Joanne Corrigan tells how olders are sharing rich history lessons in an intergenerational setting. Many thanks to Joanne for this inspirational way to use Positive Aging picture books!

When I discovered Lindsey McDivitt’s website, I was so excited! I knew it would be a perfect resource for my job. Lindsey was grateful to learn that it was helpful and asked that I share my work with her readers.

My name is Joanne Corrigan and I am an Intergenerational Coordinator. I work at a nursing home just outside New York City, called Andrus on Hudson.

Within the nursing home are two schools — Little Leaf, a forest preschool that celebrates nature and time outdoors, and Hudson Lab School a private elementary school using Project Based Learning and Design Thinking to guide their curriculum.

Because this triad is dedicated to the intergenerational experience, they employed me as the liaison to the children and Grands (that’s how we refer to our residents) during the school year.

Miss Rumphius

Miss Rumphius made the world more beautiful

I already loved books like Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney, that feature older adults as strong lead characters, but I was thrilled to have so many new options for our Intergenerational Library time.

On our first IG Library day, I featured stories about Identity and Nature. That’s when the most wonderful thing happened! A book about brothers led to a discussion with the children and Grands about their own families.

As the groups paired up to read together, I continued listening to one of the Grands talk about his family. He shared many stories, but the one that really resonated was about his grandparents being on the Titanic.

His grandmother was put into a lifeboat and saved, while his grandfather went down with the ship. It’s a tragic story we all know well from movies and such, but this was an incredible personal link to history for the students.

It was on that day that I realized—we go to school in a Historical Society!

The next week the same Grand returned to the group with a book about the Titanic, and shared a picture of his grandfather standing on the deck of the famous ship before they embarked. The students were enthralled.

The teachers and I immediately decided to help the students begin work on a century long timeline from the sinking of the Titanic to present day. They will fill it with significant events, inventions, culture, etc. from history then infuse it with significant events from our own Grand population.

In November, I tapped into the fact that we also go to school with Veterans. I invited one of our Grands that served in the military to visit the upper elementary classroom and share what it means to be a Vet. He brought pictures of himself in the Army and he taught us how to salute and march. Now when the students see him in the building they stand tall and salute him. He smiles ear to ear.

 

We go to school among a corps of engineers, and men and women who kept NYC running. We interviewed one Grand engineer who oversaw maintenance of many highways and the George Washington Bridge. Another who was a toll taker on that bridge.

 

We go to school in an artist colony, a community of world travelers, and one of educators and musicians. We go to school with a choir of nuns. We are surrounded by seniors who are strong lead characters in their own stories!

How better to fight the stereotypes of old age than to get to know a Grand?

 

 

The children will tell you that they love the stories the Grands share from their long and interesting lives. The teachers and I are excited to find opportunities for making history lessons richer with stories from a Grand’s personal experience.

 

 

I will read books from Lindsey’s list, including her own.

In fact, I recently shared Bottle Houses, The Creative World of Grandma Prisbey by Melissa Etheridge Slaymaker (LOVE!), but nothing can come close to a Grandfriend sharing their own story.

If you aren’t lucky enough to go to school in a nursing home, find one near you and listen to people’s stories. They’ve all got them. And they love to have an audience and to be reminded of their value in life.

Get to know a Grand. It’s not charity. It’s symbiotic. It’s mutually beneficial and I guarantee, you won’t regret it.

Photos used with permission.

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Paul Erdos, Mary Garber and Jean-Henri Fabre thrived over a lifetime

There’s huge value in showing children that unusual people “who didn’t fit into the world in a ‘regular’ way” still forged satisfying lives for themselves. Paul Erdos, Mary Garber and  Jean-Henri Fabre truly “flew their freak flags,” so to speak, and yet thrived over a lifetime.

I’ve long appreciated how picture book biographies can show children long lives well-lived, along with accomplishments they might aspire to. (After all kids are kids for such a short time.) But today I’m excited to showcase three picture book bios that take that a step further.

            The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos

(By Deborah Heiligman. Pictures by LeUyen Pham. Roaring Brook Press)

As a boy famed mathematician Paul Erdos “spent his days calculating, counting, and thinking about numbers. He couldn’t tie his own shoes or butter his own toast” and that changed little as he grew up.

However, Paul made dear friends all over the world who kindly cared for him. In return this math genius generously shared his brain, helping other mathematicians with math problems and research, and connecting others across countries. He was a “math matchmaker.”

The Boy Who Loved Math

 

“Even when Paul got very old, he still did math…He did math while he played chess. He did math while he drank coffee. Lots and lots of coffee…”

Read more about The Boy Who Loved Math here.

 

 

 

 

 

Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber

        (By Sue Macy. Pictures by C.F. Payne. Simon & Schuster Books)

Mary Garber was a pioneering female sportswriter in the 1940’s when it was definitely not a woman’s job. As a child Mary “was tiny bit of a girl, but that didn’t stop her from playing football with the boys. Tackle football.”

Illustration in Miss Mary

Inspired by Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player in the major leagues since the 1880’s, Mary persevered despite struggles to be accepted in a man’s world. She was a sportswriter for 56 years, retiring when 70, but she continued to write for the Winston Salem Journal until she was 86 years old.

Mary Garber championed black children in sports in black schools—writing about them when no one else paid attention. And writing about any child, she was always as positive as possible. Mary believed, “If you can give a child a pat on the back…or you can make him believe in himself, you can make a difference in his life.”

Read more about Miss Mary Reporting here.

 

            Small Wonders: Jean-Henri Fabre & His World of Insects

            (By Matthew Clark Smith. Pictures by Giuliano Ferri. Two Lions Press)

“In the sunny, south of France…on the very edge of town…” lived Jean-Henry Fabre, “an old man with beetle-black eyes and a black felt hat who talked to animals. Whether he was a sorcerer, or simply a madman, no one could agree.”

In spite of ridicule over his long life during the 1800’s, Jean-Henri persisted in carefully observing insects’ behavior in their habitats. For decades he studied them and documented their lives as the small wonders they are.

As Jean-Henri Fabre neared his ninetieth year he was still working. Then the King of France visited his village to the astonishment of the villagers, and he was informed that he’d been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature for his poetic writing about the lives of insects.

Read more about Small Wonders here.

I’m hoping parents, grandparents, teachers and librarians will read picture book biographies like these with kids and point out that our individual passions and personality quirks are also our strengths. As we age we often find just the path to using our personal  strengths if we persevere.

The three profiled above maximized their enjoyment as they grew older over many, many decades.

Recently I had fun reading Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story to a group of 6-9 year olds. It really grabbed their attention when I emphasized how Gwen Frostic worked at her art for over eighty years by using my fingers for each decade of Gwen’s life. Her 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. A great way to get the point across–we have years of potential in front of us.

 

Find more picture book biographies at A is for Aging.

I reviewed all three books from the library.

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Late Bloomer: Guest Post by Author Yvonne Pearson

Late Bloomers defy age stereotypes and help show us the way to tap into our creativity using life experience, energy and positive attitudes.

“Creativity keeps us fresh, keeps us alive, keeps us moving forward.”

(Rollo May, psychotherapist and author of Courage to Create.)

Guest post by author Yvonne Pearson:

I began writing books for children seriously when I was sixty years old. It’s become one of my life’s great delights.

 

I’d been writing in bits and pieces for many years, the occasional newspaper or magazine article, freelance writing for non-profits and companies, but rarely my own creative writing.

I had dreamed of being a writer for as long as I can remember. Sometime in my thirties I got up the confidence to take a community education poetry class, which launched my obsession with writing in the spaces between changing diapers and giving baths and cooking grilled cheese sandwiches.

I was thrilled when my poetry was published. I loved doing readings. But the endless rejections overwhelmed me. Before I really got started on a writing career, I gave it up.

My confidence deserted me. Instead, I went back to college for a graduate degree in social work. I loved it, I felt like I’d come home, but that writing bug still clung to me.

I had loved reading picture books to my children. My favorites were the ones that read like poetry. So I thought, “I can write poetry. What could be so hard about writing a picture book?” I dashed off a poem and was certain I’d written a beautiful picture book.

Oh my, I had no idea how much I didn’t know. Writing children’s literature opened up a whole new world of learning along with a rich community of supportive friends.

The year I turned sixty I saw a contest for picture book manuscripts through the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. I was feeling a lot of time pressure: if I was ever going to do this, I had to do it now. So I submitted. I was one of eight winners in the Shabo Award contest that year and in the subsequent year’s contest.

My children’s writers’ group formed out of the second Shabo workshop with author Marion Dane Bauer. Two years later a Minnesota State Arts Board Grant allowed me to go to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator’s (SCBWI) annual conference.

Then I learned something from Alison McGhee that helped tamp down my worry that I’d come too late to this effort. She taught the workshop that was my reward for winning the first Shabo Award, She told us that New Yorker cartoonist William Steig didn’t start his enormously successful children’s writing career until he was sixty.

At the monthly Twin Cities Picture Book Salon I met Minnesota Historical Society Press editor Shannon Pennefeather. She acquired my debut trade book, Sadie Braves the Wilderness.

Yvonne sharing “Sadie” at the Minnesota State Fair.

During the wait for publication I went after non-fiction books for the educational market, publishing with Red Line Press and Capstone. Some of those projects didn’t allow a lot of creativity, but they were all great learning opportunities. And some of them let me play happily with words, including five books on writing poetry and another on the 33 miners who survived being buried alive in Chile.

I also wrote a middle grade novel that’s gotten no traction and has gone back into the proverbial drawer. My newest project is a young adult verse novel, in which I’m very lucky to get guidance from Marion Dane Bauer with the help of a second Arts Board Grant.

And then there was the surprise of my life—receiving the 2018 Loft-McKnight Fellowship in Children’s Literature.

At 71, I still am visited periodically by the panic that I don’t have enough time left to make a substantial career. But I know others have proven that’s it can be done after 60 and after 70. I also find that at 71, I worry less.

Moose masks at the Minnesota State Fair!

I remind myself that this isn’t about making a big career. It’s about the lovely community I am privileged to participate in; about the pleasure it brings me to put together good sentences; about finding inside myself a book that can make a difference to another person; and about learning, always learning.

Find Sadie Braves the Wilderness by Yvonne Pearson; illustrated by Karen Ritz via all the usual sources. (Fiction; ages 3-7)

Read more about Yvonne’s experience publishing with a Historical Society Press at Cynsations, the blog of author Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Late Bloomers are guest blog posts at A is for Aging–sharing thoughts and insights from individuals who have launched notable creative efforts in the arts in their Third Age.

Bear masks activity at the MN State Fair

 

(For further resources, see books Secrets to Becoming a Late Bloomer: Extraordinary ordinary people on the art of staying creative, alive and aware in mid-life and beyond by Connie Goldman & Richard Mahler; The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life by Gene D. Cohen M.D.; What Should I Do with the Rest of My Life by Bruce Frankel.)

Posted in Book Reviews, Book Reviews for Ages 3-6, guest posts, Inspiration and Profiles, Late Bloomers | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

A is for Aging news article

Hello A is for Aging readers,

just a quick post to share the good news.

The Minneapolis/St.Paul Star Tribune newspaper published an article last week about this blog! It’s very well written by Kevyn Burger and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Here is the link to the article. If ads and solicitations to subscribe pop up, you can close them to return to the brief article.

 

Also, exciting news! “Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story” was recognized last week as a Michigan Notable Book. What a thrill to see it amongst amazing company and sporting a shiny gold medallion.

With gratitude for your support,

Lindsey

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Miss Rumphius: A Classic for Earth Day

In honor of Earth Day, I’m sharing Miss Rumphius, a picture book beloved by many—both adults and children. Often called “the lupine lady,” it was written and illustrated by Barbara Cooney who illustrated many books for children.

 

The long life of Miss Alice Rumphius is shared by her fictional grand-niece and it included work, travel to exotic places, a beautiful home by the sea, and making a difference in the world…sigh, not too shabby.

The book Miss Rumphius has also enjoyed a long life. It was first published in 1985 and it’s still in print from Penguin Random House. I believe this book has endured, in part, because it shows us a fulfilling life from childhood into old age—something we all aspire to.

With the fairly recent advent of picture book biographies we do see interesting lives highlighted more frequently. But there is something very special and satisfying about Miss Rumphius.

Young Alice loves and respects her own grandfather, who tells her to “do something to make the world more beautiful.” I love that Miss Rumphius leaves a legacy to younger generations—sowing the countryside with the seeds of colorful lupine flowers. It is endearing also, that she is passing on the legacy of her grandfather’s wisdom.

This book realistically shares the uncertainty, even fear, of children who initially see Miss Rumphius only as a very old woman at the end of the book, but then later sit at her feet to hear her stories.

And yes, old age can include illness. (Although all too often disease is equated with aging,) It’s good to see that while Miss R.’s back problems keep her in bed for a time, she recovers to hike the hills once more to spread more lupine seeds.

 

 

Sharing this lovely picture book with children we are given the opportunity to discuss how we as humans can harm Mother Earth or help it.

It also allows us to talk with them about both positive and negative aspects of growing older, and the strength and resilience of our elders.

The author received The American Book Award for Miss Rumphius and won two Caldecott Medals for other books. This book is part of what Cooney “retrospectively called a trilogy — ”Miss Rumphius” (1982), ”Island Boy” (1988) and ”Hattie and the Wild Waves” (1990)’” in The New York Times. “They made up what she said was ”as close to any autobiography as I will ever get.’”

Lupines near Lake Superior in Minnesota

Like her character, Barbara Cooney lived a long life filled with travel. She enjoyed a career of 60 years as an illustrator who most definitely made the world more beautiful. Barbara Cooney also lived in a home by the sea—one built by her son on the coast of Maine.

Next Steps:

We can discuss with children both the goals and challenges that older adults might have, and also the fact that despite changing bodies people of all ages are really the same in so many ways.

Seize the chance to take note of just what you value in the older people you love, and share that legacy with your children. But also consider sharing it with them.

Years ago I gifted my own mother with this beautiful and lyrical book, and thanked her for teaching me to notice nature’s gifts.

***Do you know this picture book? What is it that captivates you?

More picture books to share with children on Earth Day (or any day).

 

Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story by Lindsey McDivitt.

Gwen Frostic was a nature artist and early environmentalist from Michigan who sold her beautiful greeting cards worldwide hoping to open people’s eyes to the wonder and beauty of our natural world.

Recognized as a Sigurd F. Olsen Nature Writing award 2019 recommended title. A 2018 Michigan Notable Book.

 

 

 

Stretch to the Sun by Carrie Pearson.

Brand new! A lovely story about “the tallest tree on earth. For over 1200 years, this giant coast redwood has survived enormous natural challenges but its biggest adversaries—and saviors—were people.”

 

 

 

 

Mr. McGinty’s Monarchs by Linda Vander Heyden.

Mr. McGinty and his dog Sophie love checking in on the monarch caterpillars and butterflies on their walks. But one day Mr. McGinty they find all the milkweed in town has been mowed down! And monarch caterpillars can’t survive without milkweed. Can Mr. McGinty come up with a plan to save the monarchs?

A 2016 Sigurd F. Olsen Nature Writing Award Honorable Mention title.

 

Four Otters Toboggan by Vivian Kirkfield.

Lyrical text introduces children to ten endangered animals: river otters, Peregrine falcons, yellow mud turtles and more. Read more at Good Reads with Ronna.

 

 

 

Info on the “real Miss Rumphius” Hilda Edwards.

I reviewed my own copy of Miss Rumphius.

 

 

Posted in Book Reviews for Ages 3-6, Book Reviews for Ages 6-9 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Late Bloomer: Guest post by author Vivian Kirkfield

A Leap of Faith:

How jumping from a plane jump-started my writing career

As a teenager, I was a huge Beatles fan. One of my favorite songs was When I’m 64. And for me, when I was 64, the course of my life changed.

I’d always been timid about meeting new people, going to new places, and doing new things. But with our children married and my retirement approaching, my husband encouraged me to write a book—a book filled with picture book recommendations, craft projects, and cooking activities to help parents reconnect with their kids.

The process of writing Show Me How! Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem Through Reading, Crafting and Cooking was fun. But the process of self-publishing was not so easy. I had to figure out how to get the book out into the world. Being timid, it was hard for me to walk into local bookstores and libraries to see if they would carry it.

A few months after the book was published, I went to Chicago to visit my son. “Guess what we’re doing tomorrow?” he said. “SKYDIVING!” And although I am not a fan of heights, I somehow went along with it. And I’m so glad I did. Because that leap of faith gave my self-confidence a huge boost. If I could jump out of a plane, I probably could do just about anything!

Returning home, I continued to search for ways to promote my book. I began blogging about picture books. I discovered that Susanna Leonard Hill reviewed picture books every Friday. Linking up with Perfect Picture Book Friday opened the door to the kidlit community—many of them were pursuing the dream of becoming published picture book authors. And I soon realized that was my dream as well.

Jumping in with both feet and my whole heart, I participated in every writing challenge that came along over the next few years: PiBoIdMo, 12×12, RhyPiBoMo. I joined critique groups. I took several online picture book writing classes. And I wrote and revised and wrote and revised.

By 2015, I was getting positive feedback from agents who had received my manuscripts. Where did I find those agents? As a Gold member of 12×12, I had been submitting on a monthly basis. I also perused the #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List on Twitter) where agents and editors tweet about what they are looking for. In addition, I participated in #Pitmad, one of the many Twitter pitch challenges where editors and agents lurk about, reading pitches and favoriting the ones they would like to see.

And lastly, I sent a random submission to an agent who had just signed an acquaintance of mine because I fell in love with the about page of her agency website. By the fall of 2015, the year I turned 68, I signed with Essie White from Storm Literary Agency. And within a few months, I had a book deal for SWEET DREAMS, SARAH.

The next year was a quiet one with editors passing on all of my manuscripts. I began to doubt myself. I reached out to a critique buddy who was already published. She assured me that this often happens. She’d gotten her first book deal and a year went by with nothing new. And then…boom…boom…boom. So, I kept on writing and revising and my agent kept on submitting and at the end of 2017…boom…boom…boom. I sold three more books. And another in 2018.

And as the calendar page flips to 2019, my writing journey will be taking me around the world. In February, I’ll be flying to Sydney to speak at the Australia SCBWI conference, to Auckland to visit with a dear critique buddy and share my thoughts with SCBWI members there, to Switzerland to spend time with another kidlit friend, and then to the Bologna Book Fair.

I am jumping in again with both feet and my whole heart—but NOT jumping out of the plane, I hope!

My last thoughts to all of you are that perhaps there is a reason why the word ‘picture book’ starts with the letter P. For me, there are several key factors that contribute to turning your dream of becoming a published picture book author into a reality. 

Illustration by Vivian’s granddaughter

  1. Be PASSIONATE about what you are writing.
  2. Be PRODUCTIVE. Research one manuscript. Write another. Revise a third.
  3. Be PATIENT. This is a process that takes time. I wrote FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN: AN ANIMAL COUNTING BOOK in 2013—it launches on March 15, 2019. I penned PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE in 2014—its pub date is February 5, 2019. And my first book deal was signed in 2015, but SWEET DREAMS, SARAH won’t hit bookstore shelves until May 1, 2019.
  4. Be PERSISTENT. You will encounter lots of rejection. Embrace feedback. Be willing to revise, but stand firm on retaining your vision for the story. And never ever give up.

 

Vivian’s Bio:

Vivian Kirkfield’s career path is paved with picture books. She shelved them at the library during her college years. She read them to her students when she taught kindergarten. And she writes them. She is the author of Pippa’s Passover Plate (Holiday House, February 2019); Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book (PomegranateKids, March 2019); Sweet Dreams, Sarah (Creston Books, May 2019); Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books, Spring 2020); and From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fall 2020).

Vivian lives in the quaint New England village of Amherst, New Hampshire where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her young grandson is her favorite Monopoly partner. You can visit her website at Picture Books Help Kids Soar where she hosts the #50PreciousWords Writing Challenge or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Linkedin.

Late Bloomers are guest blog posts sharing thoughts and insights from individuals who have launched notable creative efforts in the arts in their Third Age. Late Bloomers defy age stereotypes and help show us the way to tap into our creativity using life experience, energy and positive attitudes. Thank you Vivian!

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Late Bloomer: Amy Losak on “H is For Haiku” & preserving her mother’s legacy

Late Bloomers defy age stereotypes and help show us the way to tap into our creativity using life experience, energy and positive attitudes.

“Creativity keeps us fresh, keeps us alive, keeps us moving forward.”

Rollo May, psychotherapist and author of Courage to Create.

Guest post by Amy Losak

Back in my careless and sometimes self-absorbed childhood and young womanhood, it never occurred to me that one day I would be writing short poetry—haiku and senryu – like my mother, Sydell Rosenberg. If anyone had told me at the time that I would follow in Syd’s footsteps, I probably would have laughed.

As a youngster, I didn’t have the capacity to focus with a sense of wonder on my daily surroundings or try to make something special out of my observations and impressions. I did dabble a little, but eventually indifference won out and I stopped. I loved words, reading and the arts, but I lacked an ability to mine those small moments. Syd had this gift, and she avidly cultivated it.

But I’m much older now. I’m within a few years of my mom’s sudden death in her mid-60s, and for the past several years I’ve been writing haiku. No one is more surprised than I. And Syd, wherever she is, must be wide-eyed with surprise. I hope she is pleased with my efforts to honor her and preserve her literary legacy. My life has been enriched in unexpected ways.

illustration in “H is for Haiku”

Syd was a New York City teacher and published writer and poet. Mom studied and wrote haiku for decades. In 1968, she became a charter member of the Haiku Society of America in NY. She also wrote and published other poetry, short stories, word puzzles and literary. Even in my disinterest years ago, I and others who loved mom knew how much her writing meant to her.

Syd’s death, on the morning of October 11, 1996, was a horrifying shock, a wake-up call to life’s unexpected, often cruel turns. And in retrospect, it turned out to be a call for action. As we were leaving her funeral, I remember my sister-in-law Debbie saying that somehow we would publish the children’s poetry book Syd had long wanted. We would find a way to realize her dream.

Over time, it dawned on me that I would have to do this. I was terrified to the point of paralysis. The grief that gripped me over our loss compounded my fear and lack of self-confidence. It became my enemy.

The ups and downs of daily life inevitably got in the way – finding care for our dad Sam, who suffered from dementia; closing up their apartment, starting a new job as a healthcare public relations executive, moving, etc., all kept me from getting started. As the years flowed by, the knowledge that time might be running out weighed on me. It became its own burden, to be honest.

Around 2011, I finally began to organize, in my own haphazard way. As a PR executive with years of experience, I’m used to generating program ideas and creative collaborations. So I brainstormed ways to revive mom’s work for today’s audiences, especially children.

Illustration in “H is for Haiku”

I established a rewarding partnership with a fabulous New York City nonprofit, Arts For All , to develop programs using some of mom’s haiku to teach the basics of art, music, and theater. I’ve also worked with the Poets House, the Queens Botanical Garden, the Children’s Museum of the Arts — all in NYC.

But a children’s book was always the ultimate goal, and the ticking of the clock has been relentless. I debated self-publishing versus a traditional publisher and decided to shoot for the latter. At last, in April of 2015, I began mailing out a version of mom’s old picture book manuscripts I had titled, H Is For Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from to A to Z.

Of course, I received no feedback at all or rejections. Some of the rejections were kind, even complimentary. In 2016, thanks to a haiku editor and poet, Aubrie Cox Warner, I learned about Penny Candy Books, a wonderful new independent press founded by two poets, Chad Reynolds and Alexis Orgera.

Penny Candy Books loved mom’s simple but striking style her way of celebrating small moments in daily life. H Is For Haikugorgeously illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi, was released April 2018– almost 22 years after mom’s death.

Along this long and daunting journey to revive my mom’s legacy, something kind of marvelous happened — I started to slow down and pay attention to small moments. I began to write my own short poetry. I’m learning from the work of other fine poets, and I’m growing.

I am an eternal beginner, which is just fine. It’s the process that matters most (though I’m proud to say that some of my micro-poetry has been published). Writing haiku has bolstered my confidence and helped me to believe that I’m “doing right” by my mother – and by young audiences. I’m grateful for the support of a legion of people: my husband Cliff and family, friends and colleagues; poets, children’s authors, teachers, librarians – many people.

Amy Losak

I’ve learned that it’s never too late to pursue a dream – but you can’t always wait for the perfect moment to start. This rarely happens. At some point, you have to take the first steps, come what may. Now that H Is For Haiku is out in the world – where I hope it brings joy to young readers and the adults in their lives — I’m thinking about a second poetry picture book, one that combines Syd’s haiku and my own. We will see what blooms next!

 

Some of Amy Losak’s own haiku poetry

(The first one is written in the old “traditional” syllabic format of 5/7/5. The others are not. Today’s English-language haiku are no longer regularly written using a total of 17 syllables.)

 

Awake in deep night

a black cat’s body tenses …

somewhere, a cricket.

 

sun-clock …

my day unwinds

with low-flying sparrows

 

breeze on my face …

I let go the weight

of the world

     Late Bloomers are guest blog posts sharing thoughts and insights from individuals who have launched notable creative efforts in the arts in their Third Age.

Thank you so much Amy!

(For further resources, see books Secrets to Becoming a Late Bloomer: Extraordinary ordinary people on the art of staying creative, alive and aware in mid-life and beyond by Connie Goldman & Richard Mahler; The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life by Gene D. Cohen M.D.; What Should I Do with the Rest of My Life by Bruce Frankel.)

Posted in Inspiration and Profiles, Late Bloomers, Resources for Writers | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Nature’s Friend: The story behind the story

At the age of 60, after seven years of writing, and at least 20 drafts of the story, my first picture book was published this summer—Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story. (Sleeping Bear Press; Ages 5-9.) I find it fitting that Gwen, the nature artist, enjoyed a long career—working into her 90’s in her shop in the woods.

I’ve saved ideas for books for years, like a squirrel hoarding acorns for winter, and I have two additional publishing contracts. But I thought I’d share a little back story here, as this one surprised me.

While growing up in Minnesota in the 1970’s, my friends and I embraced the new environmental movement as teens by energetically smashing glass at the recycling truck and gifting each other with Gwen Frostic’s gorgeous nature themed greeting cards. Awareness of air and water pollution was rising and we dreamed of finding our own pristine corner of the woods one day.

Fast forward 45 years–I was living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when like a hawk spying a tiny mouse, I spotted a brochure up north about Gwen’s shop and studio. It’s a fairy-like spot in the forest near the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake Shore on Lake Michigan. (Are you noting my nature similes yet?)

Gwen died in 2001, but happily Gwen’s shop remains open under new owners. They sell Gwen’s beautiful nature inspired cards made from linoleum blocks carved by her hardworking hands. Her nephew Bill Frostic continues to operate her Heidelberg printing presses as he has for more than fifty years.

My initial research revealed what a pioneering woman Gwen was in her era–a strong role model for young girls. Gwen Frostic lived with physical challenges caused by an unknown childhood illness, perhaps polio, but it was never diagnosed.

Yet Gwen never believed she was handicapped. It frustrated her that others did—that they noticed mainly how she was different and made judgments about her.

 

 

Gwen was no scared chipmunk hiding under the woodpile. She built a successful business around her art and consistently challenged stereotypes of disability and also of women. In the later years of her amazing life she tackled the low expectations of old age. “Just because a person is older doesn’t mean they don’t have new ideas,” she said.

Fairly late in her life Gwen became both rich and famous—all due to her own efforts. She wrote and illustrated 22 stunning books and sold her greeting cards via mail order around the world.

An astute business woman, Gwen donated 13 million dollars to Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. The college’s art school is now named the “Gwen Frostic School of Art.” Her generous bequest funds scholarships, awards and facilities benefiting students in art, creative writing and environmental studies.

pic courtesy of Paul W. Hankins

My research also revealed the depth of the environmental challenges America faced in the 1960’s and ‘70’s. The Cuyahoga River that flows into Lake Erie famously burned in 1969 and it regularly emptied its oily sludge into the Great Lake. But it was not the only polluted waterway in America. River fires and massive fish kills were common occurrences then.

Gwen never called herself an environmentalist, but she was one of many who raised the profile of the environmental movement so new back then. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring was widely credited with igniting the movement in 1962. Like Rachel, Gwen believed people would protect only what they noticed and appreciated.

People who valued nature pushed Congress for change. The Clean Water Act passed in 1972 and made a vast difference to water quality, and the plants and wildlife dependent upon it. Something for us all to recall with today’s environmental challenges. People have accomplished great things before.

I revised my story of Gwen’s life at least 20 times—I carefully carved away words like Gwen chipped away at her linoleum printing blocks. I finessed all 32 pages with feedback from fellow writers and the help of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators).

As a picture book biography for ages 6-9, it is all true, but written in a lyrical read-a-loud format. I recall having a hard time letting go of my initial beginning, but finally had to “kill my darling” as they say.

An early draft of my beginning that you won’t see in the book—

In 1906, a small child with a fierce fever often did not survive. On Christmas Eve in Croswell, Michigan the worries loomed large. But this tiny girl, Sara Gwendolen Frostic, would never do just what folks expected. This girl had toughness and spirit, and a talent to share. Live she did—for a very long time.

     The fever that raged through Gwen’s body had changed it forever. Mama and Papa knew coddling their curly-haired girl wouldn’t help. They had a hunch about hard work, along with a little luck. And Mama possessed a talent for finding lucky four-leafed clovers by the bunch.

My manuscript caught the eye of an editor at Sleeping Bear Press when I paid for her critique through the online Kidlit College. SBP makes beautiful books and they’re located in Michigan so I’d hoped they’d be aware of Gwen’s work. But I had no way of knowing the editor had a tiny tattoo of Gwen’s art! (Talk about luck!)

A few more tweaks and a book contract followed the talented editor’s suggestions. What a thrill when Sleeping Bear Press selected the amazing Eileen Ryan Ewen as illustrator. Her pictures evoke the magic of nature and skillfully show Gwen Frostic aging over her long life.

Our book debuted in July 2018, along with a billboard celebrating the book and the 20th anniversary of Sleeping Bear Press. My story, Gwen’s story, is now in beautiful book form.

If you are interested in purchasing* Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story, you can find it in all the usual places. Or perhaps you’d consider asking a local bookstore or library to order it.

*In appreciation for spreading the word about the need for positive images of aging in books for kids I’m offering to send you a signed bookplate via regular mail if you’ve purchased my book. (Just message me through my contact page here at the website.) Thank you and Happy Holidays!

Purchase via Sleeping Bear Press, IndieBound, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble.

View a brief book trailer on YouTube.

Illustrations by Eileen Ryan Ewen. Photographs by Lindsey McDivitt. 

Posted in Book Reviews, Book Reviews for Ages 6-9, Interviews, Late Bloomers, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Late Bloomer: Author Cynthia Surrisi

 

I’m pleased to present the first in a series of guest posts at “A is for Aging, B is for Books.”

     Late Bloomers defy age stereotypes and help show us the way to tap into our creativity using life experience, energy and positive attitudes.

“Creativity keeps us fresh, keeps us alive, keeps us moving forward.”   

Rollo May, psychotherapist and author of Courage to Create

 

Late Bloomers: Cynthia Surrisi on launching her writing career:

I was fortunately born with an indomitable creative spirit. I believe we all are. Mine has survived every attempt to douse it. By that I mean long days, months, and years of attention to what can be the dry details of legal contract negotiations at work; house management, billing paying, and other domestic matters at home; personal losses, and far too many air miles of business travel.

But these years were also enriched by flourishing children, wonderful relationships, successes of many kinds, and warm sun on my face.

What I didn’t have all those years were hours to dedicate to creative writing, which I longed to do. I have a BFA, a law degree, and finally now, an MFA.  While technically I can say I retired from law, I really just stopped doing it in favor of returning to a more creative life.

Because I learn best in a structured environment, and I felt I had a relatively short horizon to really learn to write, I entered an MFA program. I chose the low-residency, Vermont College of Fine Arts and it worked splendidly for me.

 

I’m a hard worker and an over achiever. I gave it all the attention it demanded and more. I thoroughly enjoyed being back in graduate school. Within weeks of getting my MFA I got a book deal that led to a three book, middle grade mystery series and a picture book.

Perhaps because I knew I wasn’t seeking a thirty-year, fifty-book writing career, and I never fancied myself chasing the Newbery Award, I have not felt pressured by my late start. Don’t get me wrong, I’m acutely aware that a late-blooming career naturally has limitations. It takes a good long while to write the books, and they are two years from contract to publication on average. But I have a greater ease about it, I think. 

When I get feedback from my editor or agent that something needs to change, I’m all about the change. Not because I’m not invested in principle, but because I trust their judgment. If they don’t like one book, I’ll come up with another and another.

There are some obstacles to navigating this business as an older adult. I’m sixty-nine. I was fifty-seven when I first joined the Society for Children’s Writers and Illustrators, sixty-four when I started the MFA program; and sixty-six when my first middle grade mystery was published.

Four books and three years later, I’ve done book launches, library conferences, book festivals, writer’s conferences, blog tours, maintained two critique groups, and taught at the university level. I’ve passed on many opportunities to promote the books because I am wearied by the promotional aspects of the business. I would rather spend the time writing new things. I have to make hard choices about where to put my energy these days.

Frankly, I don’t know how long this will last. I’m not worried about it either. Because I’ve written three mysteries it has earned me membership in the Mystery Writer of America and the Sisters in Crime. I’m now enticed by writing adult cozies. You see, there goes that indomitable creative spirit with a mind of its own.

Cynthia Surrisi’s website

 

Late Bloomers are guest blog posts sharing thoughts and insights from individuals who have launched notable creative efforts in the arts in their Third Age.

(For further resources, see books Secrets to Becoming a Late Bloomer: Extraordinary ordinary people on the art of staying creative, alive and aware in mid-life and beyond by Connie Goldman & Richard Mahler; The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life by Gene D. Cohen M.D.; What Should I Do with the Rest of My Life by Bruce Frankel.)

Posted in Late Bloomers | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments