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 2

Summer is officially here, and it’s Father’s Day weekend! Our authors’ fathers continue to influence their lives to this day.

Leslie Kimmelman dadSam & Charlie

(Pictured: Author Leslie Kimmelman with her dad, mom, and son) My father is the person who instilled in me a love of words. He delights in them. When I was little, he used to have a huge stack of file cards on which he wrote the meaning of (and a sentence for) every new word he came across.  He also gave me my appreciation for good writing. He never gets tired of declaiming Shakespeare soliloquies, Winston Churchill speeches, and excerpts from Sir Thomas Malory’s “The Death of Arthur.” When he finishes, he inevitably is teary-eyed, saying something along the lines of, “Man, now he could write!”


Sherry Shahan Father's DaySkin and Bones

(Pictured: Author Sherry Shahan with family) This 60-year-old family photo is the only one that remains of my dad. That’s me the lacy collar and cuffs, looking deceptively innocent. My dad was a voracious playwright, submitted his work when the mood struck, and remained frustrated that his stories were never produced. I began my writing career with edgy short stories for the adult market. He offered terrific feedback, usually telling me to amp up the tension. He and Mom tied for “Proud Parent” when my first novel came out in 1996. Miss you Daddy-O!


Eric Futran and fatherShow Me Happy

(Pictured: Photographer Eric Futran and father) Take a look at his YouTube video on ruminations on Love and Walls between fathers and sons.


Sarah Scheerger Fathers DayOpposite of Love(Pictured: Author Sarah Lynn Scheerger with her father) My dad was one of those hard working fathers who missed out on the day to day routines of dinner, homework, activities, and chores. But I remember him being there for the big things. Family vacations, a trip to San Francisco when I was ten, visiting me out of state when I attended summer dance intensives, meeting my dates at the door, and waiting up for me until I arrived home, sometimes with his arms crossed. But my favorite memories of my dad are the most recent ones— seeing him morph into a grandfather. I see the joy he takes with my own children, and how they adore him. When my baby reaches her arms out to him the moment she sees him, I see how good it makes him feel.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad! Thank you for always being there for me, no matter what! I love you!


 

Laura Hurwitz Fathers DayDisappear Home

(Pictured: Author Laura Hurwitz with her father on her wedding day) My dad was your typical ‘50s dad—ambitious, conservative, and a heavy drinker. He belonged to the right social clubs and spent every clement weekend on the golf course. I was a rebel. The one thing I didn’t stonewall him on was attending college, despite my insistence that college would be an irrelevant joke. About that, Dad, I was wrong. When I was 18 and a college sophomore my father suffered a massive stroke. Doctors put his chances of survival at 10%. But survive he did, and after months of rehabilitation he resumed his life and his career. The stroke made him a kinder, gentler person. When I was home from school we’d go on long walks and talk. We laughed. We made room for each other’s different ways of seeing the world. And when I got married in a homemade dress with a wreath of wildflowers in my hair, well, Dad was cool with that.

In the aftermath of his stroke he demonstrated attributes I’ve come to rely on as a writer, including optimism and patience. Through him, I learned wisdom is like a good story; not something you find, but something that finds you.


 

Barb Reid fathers DayThe Night Before Christmas

(Pictured: Author and Illustrator Barbara Reid with her father, Bob Reid, circa 1962) When I was a little kid, I made some fake Liquorice allsorts candies out of plasticine. I’m sure they were not very convincing, but my dad played along and bit into one, much to my delight. That’s how my dad encouraged my artistic development, imagination and good sportsmanship – thanks Dad!


Margaret Read MacDonald with fatherParty Croc

(Pictured: Author Margaret Read MacDonald‘s father) My father,  Murray Read, loved to fish. In this picture he has a really big ling cod. He always caught a lot of fish for me. But unlike Zuva in Party Croc! I never promised my father a party in return. Daddy had a little wooden boat and a small motor for it. He would take me out in the evenings after work and we would go way down along the island to a place where huge black cliffs dropped straight down into the water. An oldtimer had told Daddy exactly how to line the boat up…sighting three points…and then he would drop his line. And right away a cod would grab it and he would haul it up. He knew just how to jerk the line up and down really quick and catch the cod. When I tried it didn’t work as well. We would motor back home,  climb the steep sand bluff to our little cabin,  and Momma would fry up the cod for dinner!   

Father’s Day: Authors Tell All Part 2

Skin and Bones: Eating Disorder Awareness

Albert Whitman’s author Sherry Shahan, author of Skin and Bones, tells us why she chose to write this young adult novel about anorexia. 

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People often ask why I chose to write about eating disorders. Skin and Bones grew from a short story I wrote several years ago. It immediately sold to a major literary journal. Later, a London publisher included it in their YA anthology, and subsequently in their Best of collection. My agent encouraged me to expand the story into a teen novel.

I get lots of questions about my decision to tell the story from the perspective of a 16-year-old male. Anorexia and bulimia are usually thought of as a ‘girl’s disease.’ I really wanted to delve into the psychological mindset from a different point of view. According to The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, this disease affects approximately 25 million Americans, in which 25% are male. Interestingly enough, when visiting schools, teachers often tell me about male students with anorexia.

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Lucky for me, I’m a writer who enjoys research. For Skin and Bones I read memoirs by males and females with all types of addictions. I noticed certain commonalities. Self-centeredness, for instance. Guilt can spiral into self-loathing and feed the vicious circle. I spent countless hours online scouring medical sites about the long-term effects of starving your body.

People with eating disorders learn to manipulate family, friends, and their environment. More than one character in my story figures out how to beat the health care system. I worried about Skin and Bones becoming a how-to manual for those still in the throes of the disorder.

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I wanted to include information about the potentially grave consequences associated with the illness. But I feared sounding didactic. Sometimes I sprinkled facts into quirky scenes. Other times statistics emerged in dialogue during arguments. Either way, disseminating information felt more natural when slipped in sideways.

My heart goes out to the million who suffer with body image issues and eating disorders. Thankfully, treatment is available throughout the country. The Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) lists eating disorder support groups by state. Want to help a friend? Here’s a free brochure to download.

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Sherry Shahan

Sherry Shahan has 40 children’s books to her credit, fiction and nonfiction. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. As a travel journalist, she’s ridden horseback in Kenya, snorkeled with penguins in the Galapagos, and hiked a leech-infested rain forest in Australia. When not writing or traveling, she spends time at dance studios near her California home.

 

 

Skin and Bones: Eating Disorder Awareness