Rebecca Koehn Celebrates with a Gift!

Rebecca Koehn Celebrates with a Gift!

Rebecca Koehn Celebrates with a Gift!

 I’m doing the “Happy Dance” and tossing confetti for Rebecca Koehn’s debut picture book After the Rain! Rebecca is a talented writer, plus my dear friend and critique partner. She knows the patient hard work behind good storytelling and is fearless—a role model for us all! 

Amazon writes: “… After the Rain puts a new twist on the rainy-day picture book about sharing and learning to work together.”

Website: www.rebeccakoehn.com

Cover for After the Rain
Cover of After the Rain

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/After-Rain-Rebecca-Koehn/dp/1506454518/

ME: Thank you, Rebecca, for squeezing in time to talk! Your days must be SUPER busy parenting two young boys while writing stories. I’d like to start by asking you about yourself.

ME: Who are some of your favorite children’s authors?

REBECCA: Thank goodness you asked for only “some.” There are sooo many! I’m a big fan of Tammie Sauer and Ame Dykman. Newer authors I love are Alastair Heim, and co-authors Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie. We’ve been eating up Stacy McAnulty’s nonfiction books on celestial orbs at my house. As for classics, my boys still love a good Curious George or Ezra Jack Keats when we sit down to read. I could keep going. Do you have a word limit?

ME: What sparked your interest in writing for children?

REBECCA: My story is pretty typical. I rediscovered children’s books after I had my first baby. I loved the mixture of colorful artwork and vivid words. I remembered books I’d forgotten and discovered new ones. I was a middle school teacher before having children, so I’d already been into the middle grade and YA lit scenes. Once my boys came, I was addicted! I ran into an artist friend of mine, and yours, Mary Ann Hendrix (a beautiful water colorist), and we got to talking about how we both wanted to work on a children’s books. As with a lot of things, once you have a friend who shares your interest, you start moving quickly. That’s what happened with us. We started moving: me writing; her painting. And we learned about the business and the craft as we went. It’s been a ton of fun!

ME: What was your inspiration for writing After the Rain?

REBECCA: I actually have the photo that inspired this story sitting on my piano. We live in southwest Kansas, and at the time were suffering from a severe drought. Then, one day the rain came. Because of how the street drains are situated around our house, the gutter can fill up fast and become one massive puddle with little rivers leading away and feeding into it. The photo captures my boys and nephew running barefoot through the gutters after the rain. Such a fun day. Such wonderful inspiration.

ME: As a published author, what do you know now that you wish you did when you wrote your first story?

REBECCA: Excuse me a moment. I have to laugh until I cry because there’s SO MUCH! Then again, I’m pretty sure it was important for me to be completely clueless when I started out. My ignorance gave me the stamina and ability to learn, grow, and stick with it. So my answer is probably “nothing.” Except, it might have been good, and it still is good, to realize that this journey requires patience…and the ability to complete something, and then to walk away from it. You can’t sit and obsess indefinitely, or you’ll remain unpublished. You also have to reach a point where you’re willing to take risks. Most importantly, you need to know (and having been an English major I already knew) how to take criticism. While this is vital for writers, I think it’s an important skill to have in life—no matter what career or art path you choose.

ME: Is there a helpful tidbit that you can offer Kidlit writers who are starting out?

REBECCA: Well, there is the all-important READ. Read what you want to write. Read the classics, yes. Read the new stuff. Use our technology-based world to your advantage. Research, learn, take classes. Be open-minded and listen. Not everything will work for you, but if you ignore the experience and wisdom of those who have gone before, you’re failing yourself. And as I said earlier, embrace and learn patience, and how to accept criticism. You don’t always have to agree with and utilize others’ comments. But accept them with grace. 

ME: Since you’re a parent of two young children, how do you find time to write?

REBECCA: Whew. Well, I have many answers since my writing time has changed with the age and stage of my children. When I first started, I thought only the time I spent writing stories counted as “Writing Time.” I was constantly disappointed in myself. When my kids were babies and toddlers, I’d snatch writing time during naps or when family was around to help. Nap times were my writing times.  I learned quickly how to write with distractions or in quick bursts. As my boys got older, I structured our days so I would have time to write. Now, that they’re older, my boys are used to having a “quiet time” in the early afternoons. They spend that hour in their rooms playing quietly with Legos, reading, doing activities, etc. They know when Mommy sits at her desk typing, she’s NOT to be disturbed unless there’s a fire or blood! When you’re a new writer, you also need to count the time you spend reading about writing, reading books in your genre, following author/publisher blogs, and interacting and learning about writing on social media as “Writing Time.” It’s essential for your growth in knowledge and craft. You don’t need a dedicated hour each day. Though having dedicated writing time would be ideal, it isn’t necessary to progress as a writer. You just need to make the time to write some time. The writing does need to happen. 

ME: As a parent and author, do you have advice for adults when they read aloud picture books to children?

REBECCA: Here are my four favorite tips:

  • Use different voices when you read! You don’t have to be good. Just distinguish between characters. You may feel silly, and your kids may giggle, but what you’re doing is teaching kids HOW to read and how to think of the words on the page as characters, people, and story. My husband, bless him, does the most horrendous accents. But his voices are great! And it’s so fun to hear the boys mimic Dad. It’s wonderful to hear them attempt different voices because they realize what the words represent. As a teacher, I can tell you, not all kids realize this. Many children don’t visualize or connect the words with the characters. 
  • Make sound effects, even if they aren’t written into the text. With Eric Carle’s Brown Bear book, we always growled, tweeted, etc. Kids love this! Kids can participate by doing sounds with you. Sound effects add to the learning and makes reading fun! 
  • Let kids read to you even if they’re “reading” the pictures or reciting from memory. It’s part of the process of learning to read, an important step in their journey. 
  • Read every day. Picture books are so short now. Some can be read in less than a minute! All parents can spare a minute. Read aloud each day and don’t stop when kids can read on their own. Our oldest is 9 and still looks forward to us reading to him before bed. The books we read have changed but not the habit. 

ME: As you know, I’m “over-the-moon” in joy for your debut picture book! We’ve traveled many miles together to meet with our critique group and to attend writing conferences. In celebration of your book’s birthday, I’m offering a copy of After the Rain to one of our bloggers. To enter, leave a comment below. A winner will be randomly selected during March 2020 when Rebecca’s book is released. So please, have patience! 

CONGRATULATIONS TO REBECCA THILL, THE WINNER OF A “HOT-OFF-THE-PRESS” COPY OF AFTER THE RAIN! Thank you to all of the readers who wrote celebratory words to Rebecca Koehn and her debut picture book.

Ingall’s PENCIL–A STORY WITH A POINT

Ingall’s PENCIL–A STORY WITH A POINT

Your favorite little ones will find humor and heart within Ann Ingalls’ new release PENCIL—A STORY WITH A POINT. Ingalls is a master storyteller, creating characters that Dean Griffith sketches life into so they live beyond the page. Readers will see the old-fashion pencil in a whole new way! The story, the puns, the adventure all add up to a brilliant picture book that won’t stay on the shelf very long. Children will want to read it again and again and again.

https://anningallswrites.com/ann-ingalls

A TEACHER’S PRAYER

A TEACHER’S PRAYER

Help me be grateful

For the students who like to learn,

And feel challenged by those who don’t.

Help me be thankful

For the students I love,

And understand those I’m learning to love.

Help me be motivated

By the students who learn to think,

And be committed to those afraid to try.

Help me be inspired

By the students who choose right from wrong,

And be patient with those who lack the courage.

Help me be gentle

With the students who make mistakes,

And learn to forgive a difficult child.

Help me be wise

With the students building character,

And be unwavering with those without conscience.

Help me be committed

To the students who are responsible,

And be persistent with those who value nothing.

Help me be calm

In the midst of violence,

And model self-control in the midst of anger.

Help me be faithful

In the days of discouragement,

And be dedicated to make one child smile.

CHOOSE TO BE FEARLESS

CHOOSE TO BE FEARLESS

My mother was fearless. She fed a cub in Yellowstone before “Do NOT Feed the Bears” became park policy. She eluded a cobra attack in her garden in India, thanks to her mali lopping off its head. In the dark before dawn, she and my father escaped Hitler-occupied Germany on a last ship sailing to America. And she raised three kids, taking her career seriously as a “stay-at-home-mom,” without pay or applause.

Margaret Elise Grum grew up with 11 siblings who left school way too soon to gain employment and help pay the bills. Grandpa was a cold miner, often living away from home. Grandma housed borders to augment the combined incomes.

A tough schoolyard taught my mother early on to face her fears. Kids taunted and teased her. They threw rocks at the girl whose mom and dad “didn’t speak like Americans.” But my mother understood her parents’ courage in emigrating from Slovenia, so she endured the abuse and refused to be shamed by their broken English.

Her courage continued as a young woman. After months of working long hours in a secretarial pool, she approached her supervisor and asked for a promotion. Her knees quaked and her heart accelerated, but she stood tall and looked him in the eyes.

Dad and Horse

She met my dashing dad when she was only 18. Although in love, she turned down his marriage proposals three times. She was way too young to settle down. She wanted more living and laughing. Finally, after becoming husband and wife, she linked arms with my father and shipped out across the Atlantic to live overseas.

It wasn’t until my adult life when I learned how my mother’s fears simmered below the surface. She was shy, terribly so. Her shyness taunted her at every gathering, event, and vacation. She had a limited education. Her self-taught knowledge came from books, travel, and crossword puzzles. Her lack of a formal college education intimidated her when meeting new people. Then rheumatoid arthritis invaded her body. When it confined her to a limited life, a new fear was born that of “being a burden.” Yet, living with fears, she chose to be fearless.

Fears propel us into the corners of life, and if we’re honest, sitting on the sidelines gets comfortable, especially as we age and are more hesitant to take risks. So what does fearless look like? Most of us don’t have to fight off cobras. But we could join a conversation. Sit in silence, quieting random thoughts. Step on the scale and laugh at the number. Sign up to learn something new and actually GO. Try something new in a favorite restaurant. Say “no” when we know we should. Say “yes” when we want to! Throughout the world, women and men are being fearless in big, life-changing ways. But, small acts of courage count, too. They prepare us for those serious choices up ahead.

POETRY PERCOLATES MORE THAN COFFEE

POETRY PERCOLATES MORE THAN COFFEE

When our prose is clunky or cloudy, writing poetry can keep the mind and imagination percolating. After all, our mantra is Write, Write, Write. We jostle words and arc stories daily to crack open that gem of a story. When our brains are fuzzed, I suggest penciling poems.

Living in Colorado in 1981, I often sat in nature when wrestling writers’ block. One day, while sitting on a boulder with my journal, a lizard scrutinized me. We started a conversation. I tried to capture it verse:

Hello, Mr. Lizard, or Are You Ms.?

How clever of you to camouflage your existence

by blending with bark and bushes!

You must teach me the art of concealment,

if you would be so kind.

Plainly, my red flannel would not be

your choice of attire in these woods.

May I peer closer to get better acquainted

as you cock your head my way?

Oh, how your golden eyes mirror the sunlight,

reflecting rays of unease at my presence.

Would you please forgive my intrusion

into your Utopian solitude?

Oh, the jokes we would swap if we could but move

beyond the language of body and eyes!

What wisdom you could share given your age

and my youth!

Thank you, dear lizard, for our silent conversation,

an exchange of emotions between species.

After all, we are family under this galaxy of stars;

vital allies in our quest to carry on.

GROWING UP UNDER A ROCK

A family photo from Marsha's childhood
I must have grown up under a rock in Detroit. Diversity didn’t mean much to me until college. In the 60s, I interned in a 2nd grade classroom in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Every day we held story time writing. As I read a book aloud, students drew and wrote about something that captured their imaginations in the story: the reading-writing bridge. After the first week of story time, some students got restless. I didn’t understand why.

I set out to learn about my students’ lives and dreams. Through parent-teacher conferences and home visits, I witnessed a culture and economic life very different from mine. The more I connected, the more I sought and celebrated diversity in literature.

Two special memories wrap around Kevin and Charles. Kevin lived with his mom, grandma, and older brother. Dad had taken a one-way “vacation.” Mom worked day and night. Grandma was too old to hear well. The older brother took out his teenage angst on Kevin.

Charles lived with both parents, five siblings, and a cousin. Most days he greeted me with a smile that stretched across his face while his stomach growled for more breakfast. Charles wore his favorite T-shirt every day until the odor grew too strong even for him.

That first week, I didn’t know my students. I thought Kevin needed me to be his “friend,” listening, laughing, affirming. Kevin’s behavior and academics steadily improved. Then came the day Kevin taught me a lesson: these kids didn’t need more friends. They needed more adults to set rules and boundaries. Kevin threw a tantrum over a book that both he and a classmate wanted. I pulled the boys apart and began my lecture. Kevin’s eyes sized me up. He flung his anger and pain at me. “You be my frien. You cain’t tell me.” Kevin didn’t respect me since I didn’t act like the adults in his life.

Then there was Charles. He opened my eyes to diversity in language. When a teacher Miss Kelly got the flu, we made cards. Charles asked me, “How you spell whale, Miz Jurca?”

“Do you mean like a big whale in the ocean?” I asked.

Charles nodded and smiled big time. “W-H-A-L-E,” I said.

I collected the cards and read Charles’ note first: “I sure how you get whale.”

Diversity lived in my classroom! How could a white woman from Detroit be so blind? I’ll be ever thankful to these students. They gave me new lenses to see the world. I embraced diversity. I’d come a long way from Dick, Jane, and their dog Flip. I cared about finding stories that reflected these kids. I wanted these kids to see themselves in the books they read and loved. I grabbed every Erza Jack Keats’ book I could, but found few authors who took on the challenge.

Praise to authors and illustrators who rise to this challenge today. A powerful article in NCTE’s September 2017 issue of Council Chronicle interviews Jacqueline Woodson, a best-selling author who wants to empower kids of color. She believes in the “power of the pen and how it has been used to change the world….”

Then there’s the talented, passionate illustrator and author Vanessa Brantley Newton. On September 26, I attended a webinar hosted byNorthTexas SCBWI. Newton presented. She inspired us by her art, writing, and singing! Diversity for Newton isn’t just a buzz word. Diversity is her “heart’s cry.” She knows “children are not colorblind.”

Words and art let every child know he is valuable. If stories are mirrors and reflections to help us see ourselves and others in the world, then literature needs diversity.