The Boy with a Drum is marching still

Hi everyone,

Yesterday was the last day of school for kids in a Colorado school where my friend SU HUTCHENS teaches. As a fun activity and to burn a little energy, Su had her 4th grade students make some props and costumes and perform the first book I ever had published, THE BOY WITH A DRUM (1969).

When the actors were rehearsed and in their places, Su called at the appointed time. SANDY and I sat on a sofa in the living room and the show began. We laughed and applauded and marveled at the ingenuity of teacher and flock as the familiar story came to life on the tiny screen on my phone.

Su and Dan Hutchens, great friends

The story ends with these words: “And if they haven’t stopped marching, they’ll be marching still.” I think those kids, lucky enough to have a wonderful teacher, are going to be marching still, all the way to a bright future.

I have a delightful picture of Su’s beautiful class, but I won’t post it. I don’t have permission to show the kids, plus with today’s great sadness across the nation, protecting our children and their teachers is much on our minds.

Progress report

Hi everyone,

On my May 11 post I said I was exploring possibilities for a new science book. Ten days later, exploration remains the key word. The subject for the project is a big one and happened long ago. It will be a challenge to keep the narrative from becoming too tedious.

I’ve been thinking about this book since January 2021. Last week I put the first words on paper. I worked on a draft of the first 900 words for four days. It was slow going and didn’t fall into place until the last day. It’s only the introduction, but it has to connect with young readers, make them want to read about what’s coming next. I decided it was good, but I needed the reaction of something seeing it for the first time.

I wasn’t ready yet to share it with NEAL LOPINOT, my archeologist friend/co-author of the book, but it’s never too early to share with SANDY. I offered the three pages to her with a hopeful look. She accepted them and sat down to read them at once. Pretty soon she looked up. I could see it coming.

“Boring,” said.

“Is not,” I whined with dignity.

“Is too,” she repeated and explained.

This is why I trust Sandy with my early drafts. She’s not only a straight shooter, she is right SO often. My first fear about this book is that it will bore readers. I prevailed on my good friend and master teacher, SU HUTCHENS. She, being the consummate teacher, both praised and offered a helpful thought or two. I began the revision.

Today I finished the rewrite, a rather complete one, I like it better. A lot better. If Sandy likes it better, a lot better, too, then off it goes to Neal. Once I know I’m on the right trajectory, I’m going to write this book!

Hooray for Su Hutchens and her kids!

Hi everyone,

Our friend SU HUTCHENS has made my day! For the first time in ages, we have some children’s poems posted. Thanks to Su, four of her 4th grade poets have their work posted this morning using this month’s word as their inspiration. Please go see them, enjoy them, and encourage these young poets. You never know when you are making a positive difference that can change a life.

Our pals, Su and Dan Hutchens

Su, I know you believe in and practice the power of poetry with your students. Bless you for that. As you know, when I started Word of the Month Poetry Challenge in 2009, teachers across the country started posting poems by their students. Later, the poems stopped coming. Teachers said they were too busy because of changes in their schedules that made it impossible to spare the time to post their kids’ work. It has been sad to see the children’s section of Word of the Month go empty every month since then. In the last few years I think KEN SLESARIK has been the only teacher to post any student work.

Ken and me, 2011, Highlights Foundation Poetry Workshop near Honesdale, PA

If you are a teacher or know one, now is a good time to consider this wonderful opportunity for student writers.

A good week of thinking

Hi everyone,

Last week my seven days of thinking turned out well. I worked on a revision with Sandy Asher of Jesse and Grace, the verse novel we wrote some time ago and which Sandy turned into an award-winning play. We’re polishing it a bit to prepare to enter it for a dramatic reading. If we make it, I’ll tell you more about that.

Cheryl Harness and I pulled a story from the file that she and I hatched a few years back over wine and chatter at a dinner somewhere; maybe at a Warrensburg Children’s Literature Festival? Correct me, Cheryl. Anyway, we couldn’t sell it because it’s about a princess and some editors who saw it informed us the world wasn’t much in need of another princess story. So to heck with ’em, we’ve embarked on a completely different story springing from the ashes of the dearly departed princess.

Also during the week, I got to thinking about an extremely unlikely subject for a science picture book, outlined it, shared it with my agent, he likes it, so as soon as I can I’ll start work on it.

What else? Got my new webcam installed (thanks Jeff) and a tripod ordered (thanks, Jeff). Posted a new picture on OZARKS FAMILY VOICES (with another plea for more pictures I can post there: https://www.facebook.com/ozarksfamilyvoices. Gave a ZOOM presentation to Springfield Writers’ Guild. Received two rejections. Wrote the first draft of my Word of the Month Poetry Challenge poem, which I’ll post soon. Agreed to meet virtually tomorrow with our moderator and eight other poets to rehearse for a program to be aired on October 15. Jane Yolen and I wrote our poems for the upcoming series of bloggers who will help us introduce our new picture book, RUM PUM PUM. Su Hutchens and I agree to give my agent another week or two to read our new collaboration before I start nudging.

I recommend a good thinking week now and then. It relieves pressures and allows the imagination to get out for a good romp.

Adding a new voice to the tool box

Hi everyone,

In my thirties I published picture books of fiction. To wided my range I added picture books and full length works of nonfiction. In my fifties I added poetry to reenergize me and hone my writing skills. In my sixties I began co-writing books for teachers.

In my seventies I told you in one of my posts that I wanted to see if I could successfully write middle grade novels. My first story, placed in Peru’s Amazon rain forest, was rejected by editors who said they liked the story but didn’t relate to the voice. I revised the manuscript and tried again. The editors liked the story but didn’t relate to the voice. I revised again. One editor liked the story but wouldn’t accept it because of the Our Own Voices movement: I wasn’t a Peruvian. Other editors said they liked the story but didn’t relate to the voice.

I wrote a second middle grade novel. It takes place in the Arizona desert. Editors so far have said they like the story but don’t relate to the voice. I’m midway into a third middle grade novel but have put it on hold until I figure out how to “fix” my voice. To me both stories are told well, but that’s the danger of being your own critic. Su Hutchens has read both manuscripts and provided wonderful input, a true gift from a true friend. I’ve read a handful of middle grade novels by friends who write them well and thought I’d learned from their examples. I think my next step is to read a LOT more of them.

One thing I won’t do is quit. I’m frustrated but challenged, and that, after all, is one of the main reasons why we all keep trying.