5 ways to head back to school

Our authors take us on a stroll through memory lane as they give us a glimpse into their lives as students.

Sherry Shahan back to school graduation 2From Vietnam

Being in high school during the tumultuous 1960s was insane. That was the time of the first Watts Riots and seemingly endless Vietnam War. We didn’t have cell phones, let alone text. My family only had one landline. No call-waiting or answering machine. I exchanged lengthy hand-written letters with my friends at school. (Usually composed during math.) When a guy in our crowd was drafted it seemed logical that I send juicy tidbits of our crowd’s shenanigans. (His letters have been in a tattered shoebox for nearly 50 years.) I believe those years of intense correspondence shaped me into the writer I am today. –Author Sherry Shahan

LauraHurwitzandbrother1950s or so back to school

Pictured: Author Laura Hurwitz with her brother in the 1950s

The summer between 5th and 6th grade my family moved to a different part of town, which meant going to a new school. While my reputation for being a shy nerd had been etched in stone at my old school, I had a shot at a clean slate. When I showed up at the bus stop wearing the back-to-school outfit my mother picked out, which included white socks and saddle shoes like Blanche DuBois, I found myself dependent upon the kindness of a stranger, Diana, who was a year older than me and exponentially cooler. She told me it would be a mistake to wear this outfit to school, as I would get made fun of. She suggested I take the socks off and hide them in a nearby hedge. Then, the second I got home from school, I should make my mother buy a pair of penny loafers for me. I followed her instructions, thereby surviving sixth grade. To this day I don’t know why she went out of her way to be kind to me, but I do know this: I was not an outcast because pretty, popular Diana was not a stereotype. –Laura Hurwitz

JolenePerry

Pictured: Author Jolene Perry in high school

When I was in high school, we had open campus for lunch. But the ability to leave during lunch didn’t do us much good because my high school was a small school out in the sticks. We’d attempted to make a Taco Bell run during lunch, but always missed the first ten minutes of fifth period because it was about fifteen miles away. The consolation? Near the end of the long road that our school sat on the end of was a fireworks stand with a gigantic gorilla out front. Lunch consisted of speeding down Hawk Lane, driving under the large gorilla while honking obnoxiously and then off-roading down the four-wheeler trailer, and into the middle of the creek at the bottom of the hill. We’d crawl out the windows of my truck into the bed and eat lunch with the creek water running around us. One of those very unique experiences that doesn’t feel unique until much later. And every time I drive by that fireworks stand, I remember high school lunch. –Jolene Perry

Felicia Chernesky first day of school 1969 smaller

Pictured: Author Felicia Sanzari Chernesky on the first day of school in 1969

Like most parents, this time each August I’m eager for the school year to arrive (cue that popular Staples commercial). Even as a young child I’d get butterflies anticipating those first September school days. I soon associated school bus rides with falling leaves and apple picking, and the harvest season came to signify bounty and new adventures in learning and independence. I remember the thrill of poring over a Scholastic book flyer and getting to choose one book myself! My first treasured selections: Happiness Is a Warm Puppy, by Charles Schulz, and the wonderfully silly Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing, by Judi and Ron Barrett. The well-worn copies still populate our family bookshelves. Something resonated within my school and autumn-loving spirit when From Apple Trees to Cider, Please! came to fruition. I’m delighted to discover that the kinds of storytelling and artwork that nourished my love of reading and learning is growing within my own books! To all things there is a season—and I’m grateful to be finding my purpose and place. –Felicia Sanzari Chernesky

JJulesJuly2012

Pictured: Author Jacqueline Jules

In fourth grade, our teacher—a slim brunette in her early twenties—read aloud Robert Lawson’s Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin by His Good Mouse Amos. I remember the delight on my teacher’s face as she read Amos’s account of Benjamin Franklin’s illustrious career. Amos, the mouse, has such a strong personality in the book. I almost felt like I was in that fur hat whispering in Franklin’s ear and watching him attend political gatherings in France. Of course I knew that a mouse didn’t really provide the creative ideas for Franklin’s amazing success, but the mouse-size view of history was highly amusing. I loved sitting in my desk listening to the story come alive in my teacher’s lilting voice. She was always smiling when she read aloud. Enjoying Ben and Me as a group experience has stayed with me through the years. I can still see the image of my teacher, chuckling while she read in front of the class. In today’s world, there isn’t always time to read books aloud in the classroom. I am grateful that I grew up in a more relaxed educational era and could enjoy many classroom read alouds. It helped make me the reader (and writer) I am today. –Jacqueline Jules

What’s your favorite back-to-school memory?

5 ways to head back to school

Father’s Day: Authors Tell All Part 1

Summer is officially here, and it’s Father’s Day weekend! Some of our authors sent us a photo of themselves and their dad, telling us how each of our authors’ dads have influenced their lives.

Jacqueline Jules and DaddyZapato Power

(Pictured: Author Jacqueline Jules with her father) My father was an immigrant from Switzerland who came to the United States after World War II. He was unmarried, in his early thirties, and jobless when he arrived. Within ten years, he had learned English and was living a comfortable middle-class life with an American wife and two daughters. Whenever I asked my father why he came to America, he would laugh and say that he’d heard the streets were paved with gold. Daddy loved to travel and to garden. He was keenly interested in world affairs and read several newspapers from cover to cover. In his later years, he took great pride in writing letters to the editor of the publications he read. He spent hours typing on an old gray Underwood typewriter. I learned the power and joy of self-expression from watching him. Daddy also taught me perseverance. He passionately believed that goals could be achieved if you kept working toward them. Whenever I get discouraged, I can hear my father’s voice in my head, saying, “Don’t give up.” While he has been gone since 1999, his presence is always felt.


 

Ian Hoffman Fathers Dayjacobs new dress(Pictured: Author Ian Hoffman with his son and his father) My dad’s a science guy (he’s a radiation oncologist & researcher). I’m an arts guy (I’m an architect & author). Although we like to think about very different things, somehow we think alike. That’s the beauty of genetics. My dad taught me the values of method, care, persistence, and curiosity. He didn’t lay it out like that. I just watched him, and learned from his example. I also learned from my dad to get down on the floor and wrestle with my kids. When we were little, he used to do that everyday when he got home from the hospital. Although eventually I would be impressed by my dad the physician and scientist, it’s still the wrestling I cherish most.


 

Robin and Dad in 1958Mystery of the Stolen Dinosaur Bones

(Pictured: Author Robin Koontz with her dad circa 1958) Warren S. Koontz was head of a U.S. Naval Ordinance division, working as a civilian after World War II. We knew little about that, but we did know that my dad had also been a musician. He led a jazz band before the war and traveled around the world. By the time I came along, the youngest of three, my dad didn’t play music anymore other than on his huge hi-fi system. But on my 4th Christmas, Dad gave me a little electric piano. This is the only photo I have of the two of us – he demonstrating me how it’s played and me in a very untypical pose of patiently learning. My dad died when I was 13. But his creative spark lives on in me as both a writer and illustrator. And I also play the guitar!


 

Linda and Dad 7th gradeCurious Cat Spy Club

(Pictured: Author Linda Joy Singleton [7th grade] and her father) Both of my parents have always been extremely supportive of my writing, but Dad went a step further when I was a teen. I wanted to submit my writing but this was before the internet & it wasn’t easy for a teen to learn about the publishing world. My high school didn’t even have a writing class. Only popular kids wrote for the newspaper—and I was shy. Dad was also interested in writing and wanted to learn how to help me, so he took a college writing class. He taught me how to submit my work, use correct query format and research publishers. So I submitted short stories to a teen magazine, and received very encouraging rejection letters. While it would be over a decade before I sold any writing, when I joined a local writing group I recognized the name of one of my other writers—Dad’s college writing teacher. And she congratulated me when I sold my first book.


The Potato Headshappy dad

(Pictured: Author Felicia Sanzari Chernesky with her father, Stephanie, Francesca, & Jennifer circa 1998) My dad was tough on us growing up. I was the oldest child, quiet, studious, serious—big glasses, straight As, extra English classes by choice—you know the type. As he energetically charged my sisters and me to do our academic and personal best, we learned the meaning, value, and reward of hard work, taking personal responsibility, and standing up for your beliefs. I was always hardest on myself, and Dad frequently reminded me, “You’ve got to learn to laugh if you want to survive the hardships of this life.” He meant it. Plus, the man was funny. I think of Dad presiding at the table during Mom’s wonderful Italian meals, us kids listening to stories and eventually participating in passionate family discussions. Everyone was loud and laughing. Always laughing! Dad passed away last November after being seriously ill for many years. His quick wit never dulled. He loved the winter season, and I dedicated Sugar White Snow and Evergreens to him. He’s there in everything I write. I learned the art of storytelling from my father.


Suzanne Slade with dadWith Books and Bricks

(Pictured: Author Suzanne Slade with her father) My dad is a hard worker, and through the years he’s demonstrated that by sticking with something and giving it your best, you can accomplish almost anything (which came in handy during my many “rejection letter” years.) My dad also loves nature and being outside — sailing, biking, kayaking, fishing, and more. I’ve gone with him on many of his adventures, which have inspired several books. So Happy Father’s Day, Daddy! 

 

Father’s Day: Authors Tell All Part 1

AWC Podcast Series: Zapato Power Freddie Ramos Springs into Action

Today we are talking with author and librarian Jacqueline Jules about the sequel to her chapter book series Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Springs into Action.  Listen as we talk about Freddie, Superman, and the many challenges ordinary heroes have to overcome to become superheroes. (RT: 7:34)

Jacqueline Jules wishes she could run like Freddie in his magic purple sneakers, but she is happy taking long walks near her Northern Virginia home. She is the author of twenty other books for young readers including Duck for Turkey Day, No English and Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation. She has received the Sydney Taylor Honor Award for Younger Readers, the SCBWI Magazine Merit Plaque for Poetry, and has been selected twice as an Arlington Arts Moving Words Poetry winner. Her books have been selected for state reading awards, the NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Book List, the New York Public Library Recommended Reading list, and the Reading Rockets summer reading list.

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AWC Podcast Series: Zapato Power Freddie Ramos Springs into Action