All posts by bgowan54

Lake Titicaca Literacy Project

“Barbara, some nights I can’t sleep because I have this dream – the dream to bring literacy to the people of the islands.”  “Victor,” I replied, “I know people in Arizona that will help you.” And so the Lake Titicaca Literacy Project was born.

island scenes-3-1

Situated in the snow-capped Andes at over 12,500 feet and bordering Bolivia and Peru, Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world and site of the famous Uros floating islands. These islands composed of thick mat-like layers of tortora reed, a cattail-like rush, are home to members of the Uros tribe or “people of the lake.” The tortora is the source for their food, shelter, transportation, and livelihood. About fifty islands float in the shallows with only a few families inhabiting the smaller ones. Children row their boats to the school on the largest island. Victor Pauca, my guide, distributed books to a young mother on Toranipata Island as he checked on her progress of reading to her son. Victor realizes the importance of literacy and how it can offer opportunities to the island people.uros floating islands-39

Our journey continued as we traveled for three hours under the intense sun to Taquile Island, a fixed island, fifteen miles away. Here I would visit a school to share the pencils, notebooks and picture books that I brought from home. The terraced hillsides of the island were visible from a distance. Corn, potatoes, fava beans and quinoa are the main crops for this self-sufficient community of about 1200 people.

Silvano and several schoolchildren met us at the dock. Silvano wore the traditional dress of a married man – black pants and a white flannel shirt, a wide, colorful, woven belt called a chumpis and a chullo, a knit cap ending in a red tassle. Boys wear chullos with white tassles. Women and girls dress in multi-layered skirts, colorful blouses and dark shawls for protection from the sun. As we slowly hiked the steep stone path to the missionary school, I was handed an aromatic herb to smell to help alleviate the shortness of breath caused by the thin air of the altiplano.

The young professora and her students greeted us with wide grins and laughter and enthusiastically showed me their one-room school.

The people of Taquile Island are recognized for creating the finest textiles in Peru. Girls and boys are proficient knitters by the age of seven but can they read? School supplies are minimal and books are hard to find on the remote island. Yet, Victor is determined to help the indigenous people of Lake Titicaca. It is his dream to build community libraries, offer parent education programs and encourage families to acquire the habit of reading. He believes that literacy will lead to people with leadership skills, a necessity for the future of these communities.

Since that boat ride on the lake, Victor has seen his dream become a reality.  The Greater Paradise Valley Reading Council (part of the Arizona Reading Association) adopted the Lake Titicaca Literacy Project as their international community service.  We held raffles and book fairs to raise money.  School kids had used book sales.  It only takes $2000 to build and furnish an island library.  Victor’s plans are for libraries in seven communities.  I completed the Developing Countries grant from the International Reading Association that resulted in a $1500 donation.  Visitors to Peru have joined Allways Travel and Victor in donating their time and money to help community members build their libraries…brick by brick and book by book.  In 2014, this grass roots project that began on a boat ride eight years ago was nominated by USBBY, the United States Board on Books for Young People, for the IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People)-Asahi Reading Promotion Award.  Although we did not win the $10,000 prize, more people have become aware of the Lake Titicaca Literacy Project.

If you would like to help Victor in his dream to bring literacy to the people of the lake, contact him at All Ways Travel (his daughter started the travel agency to promote socially responsible tourism.)

http://www.titicacaperu.com

school-15

Writing for the Children’s Magazine Market

Four years ago, I attended the Chautauqua Institute sponsored by the Highlights Foundation with the intent on learning about the children’s magazine market.  Lucky for me at the first dinner, Kent Brown of Highlights seated me next to the editor of Cobblestone’s nonfiction magazines – Appleseeds, Faces, Cobblestone, Calliope, Odyssey, Dig and Muse.  Each magazine has a different focus from American history to science to geography and culture.  Each magazine also has a specific theme.  I’ve had articles published about the dog’s unique sense of smell, monster snakes, big trees, unsolved mysteries, places in peril, the Library of Congress – to name a few.

I’m always anxious to see the theme list for the upcoming year and what topics excite me.  Then I try to think about what a child would want to know and look for a unique angle.  I suggested the ABCs of the LOC (Library of Congress) and it was accepted.ABC of LOCWhen I submit a query to the editor for that issue’s theme, I send an outline, bibliography and suggested article length.  Because I enjoy photography, I always try to include pictures that I’ve taken for a  photo essay.  Honestly, magazines pay more for photos than for words and neither pays well so it’s really an exercise in writing and impacting kids with great information.

rainforest issueYou can imagine how thrilled I was when Appleseeds announced an issue dedicated to the rain forest theme.  After all, whose family had taken a vacation to the Amazon rain forest?  Mine!  So it was time to dig out those old slides (way before digital images), journal entries and nature books and reaquaint myself with the 3-toed sloth, 110% humidity, adventures like piranha fishing and canoeing in a dugout.  The result was a four-page spread including 18 images in the January 2012 issue.  I had to convert my slides into jpegs and convince my now adult daughters that it was OK for the world to see them as pre-teens “roughing it” in the Amazon.  A year later, I received a big surprise.  McGraw Hill sent me a contract  requesting the use of my images for their PARCC testing.  I hold the copyright on the photos (magazine owns the words) so now thousands of kids will be reading about my family’s adventure.   My check was more than I’ve made on all my published articles  – a nice perk of magazine writing.

The JulyAugust 2014 issue of Appleseeds has a desert theme and I took on a new role as contributing editor for the issue.  It was a great learning experience to work with the editor and help choose the articles, check them for accuracy and involve a class at Laveen Elementary as the AppleCorps kids.  In the issue, you’ll find three of my articles including a photo essay on the Prickly Pear Harvest.

Other children’s magazines including Highlights for Kids do not have themed issues so writers can submit articles that fit their guidelines and philosophy.  If the editor shows an interest in my article (as in not a flat rejection), I will rewrite and revise to suit them.  Highlights  recently purchased an article on George Washington’s Christmas camel (George’s Christmas Surprise) and a photo essay on mushroom hunting in Slovakia (from a trip I took several years ago) for their world culture feature.  Just remember that writing for children is not simple.  It’s often more difficult to write for kids than adults!

Check out the website for Highlights  guidelines.  https://www.highlights.com/contributor-guidelines

For the Cobblestone magazines (fiction & nonfiction magazines)  http://www.cricketmag.com/6-Submission-Guidelines

Here’s my TOP TEN OF WHAT I LEARNED ABOUT WRITING FOR CHILDREN’S MAGAZINES.  I hope it helps you get published!

  1. Write in the present tense.  Fiction for younger audiences works best in present tense so the reader can fit into the story.  Switching tenses may confuse the reader.
  2. Look for the UNUSUAL slant on a usual topic.  Take a different approach.  Be fresh and original.
  3. There is a story line in non-fiction with drama, action and conflict. Facts will appear naturally and everything that does not support the story line is left out.  Those facts can become sidebars or back matter.  Setting is true to research.
  4. Get to know your audience.  Kids today are different than when we grew up.  Be an observer.  Listen to their language.  Read the “Dear Editor” and reader submissions in children’s magazines.
  5. Choose a story that you are passionate about so that you can find your voice.  Give yourself permission to let go of the story that is within you.
  6. Tell me something that I don’t know.  Seek out elusive details when doing your research.  Get personal when researching for a biography.  Look for uniqueness and anecdotes.  Research is key.
  7. There are limits of space.  Everything in a good piece of writing must be CHOSEN into it.
  8. Put kids into the mix with either real or historical characters.
  9. Study magazines, at least a year’s worth, and editorial needs.  Analyze the content.  Obtain write’s guidelines online.  Create a drawer of magazines so you are ready to send your story to the proper magazine.
  10. Most magazine editors welcome new writers because of their new ideas, voices and passion.

 

In search of story – Scotland

When Ed and I visited Scotland, we took a side trip from the incredible golf courses and journeyed to Wigtown in the far southwest corner of the country.  Wigtown is Scotland’s National Book Town. scotland 2009-187 Our adventures in Wigtown involved hours rummaging through used book stores in search of golf books for Ed, material for Katie’s English lit thesis and folktales for me.  I did find a surprise – a Happy Hollisters book just like the ones I received  when I was a member of the Book of the Month club as a child.

I always do my homework before I travel and look for any story ideas as I peruse through travel books.  Just a mile down the road from Wigtown is the village where a Scottish folktale, the Brownie of Bladnoch, takes place.  The Brownie of Bladnoch originated as a poem written by William Nicholdson in 1825 and is considered to be “the greatest piece of vernacular literature that Galloway has ever produced.”  Too bad no one that I spoke to remembered the story unless they recently visited the Bladnoch distillery where a diorama featuring the grotesque brownie enlightens scotch drinkers.  Too much scotch and they wouldn’t remember it for long!

So I hit the trail in search of material to help me in retelling this folktale.  I scoured books in the St. Andrews library and learned that the hump-backed, toe-less brownie of Bladnoch may actually have suffered from leprosy which explains his unsightly looks.  Not suitable information for kids but I found it interesting.   I toured the Fife Folk Museum in Ceres.  There I discovered that bannock or oat pancake is cooked on a girdle – not a griddle and that belted cows sleep in a byre.  Scottish culture is filled with fairy folk including helpful little brownies and the Brownie Girl Scouts are named after them.

I think this is a great story for kids and that’s where the problem lies. I’m a writer of nonfiction and the concept of story arcs, character development and dialogue are foreign to me.  But I’m not giving up.  I’ve written and rewritten, had it critiqued and rewrote it again.  So now it’s just the hunt of finding the right publisher.  And my visit to the American Library Association conference may have uncovered the one.  I’ll keep you posted.

A trip into Edinburgh meant a visit to museums including the Writer’s Museum.  I also stumbled upon an interesting exhibit on children at work.  Imagine being hired as a bird scarer!  All the images, sounds, information, smells, and tastes  (yes, I did drink scotch and tasted a morsel of haggis but couldn’t wrap my mind around eating something containing sheep’s pluck!) are tucked away for that future story, magazine article or book.  That’s the fun of being a writer – I’m always looking for story!scotland 2009-202

National Book Festival 2013

What could be better than a weekend at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC?  Huge tents covered the National Mall in front of the Smithsonian Castle and thousands of bibliophiles (including my grandsons!) gathered to listen to their favorite authors.  The Library of Congress sponsors this wonderful event.festival sponsors I parked myself in the front row in the children’s tent and enjoyed inspiring words from award-winning authors about where they get their ideas for their stories. Katherine Applegate wrote The One and Only Ivan in 1st person gorilla!  She read an article in the NY Times over 20 years ago about a gorilla in a Tacoma, WA shopping mall.  That story is the basis for this Newbery Award winning book.  And Katherine recently paired with illustrator G. Brian Karas  so watch for the picture book, Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla in October 2014.  In the Caldecott winning book Locomotive, author/illustrator Brian Floca tells the story of a steam locomotive similar to the one in a park in his hometown. Lesa Cline-Ransome and her husband, James, write picture book biographies giving them the opportunity to eavesdrop on conversations of famous people.  They gave the advice to write about what you know and love and that’s evident in their book Light in the Darkness.  Where do they look for ideas?  the obituary pages! Richard Peck’s The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail grew out of a trip to London.  He saw a mouse darting around an old castle.  Why not tell a story from the point of view of the mouse?  And so he did.  Even Queen Victoria is in the book.

Christopher Myers, the son of award-winning author Walter Dean Myers, speaks at youth prisons.  Questions from prisoners about “power” led him to the idea of the power of the pen, a new release coming from Hyperion books.  Growing up with five brothers and being a really funny guy has benefitted Jon Scieszka (his name rhymes with fresca) with ideas for books like Smash! Crash! and Battle Bunny.  How about a book with a chapter written in “hamster?”  Just download the free hamster language app and you’re all set to enjoy Spaceheadz. Creative people like Suzy Lee can turn a day chasing waves at Galveston Beach into a book called Wave.  Her design was used on the Festival posters and promotions.  Katherine Paterson was at a women’s conference when she heard about letters written by Vermont farm girls.  Anyone know which book that became? “It seems like I always have a pencil in my hand, ” remarked illustrator Mark Teague.  His pencil is not for writing words but for sketching illustrations.  Teaming up with award-winning author Jane Yolen, How do Dinosaurs Say I’m Mad? is just the latest book in that series for preschoolers.  Did you know that each book features different dinosaurs?

In addition to the author and illustrator presentations and panel discussions, there are huge tents filled with books and book sellers.  In the Let’s Read America tent, each state is represented by “their books” and kids travel from table to table getting their reading passport stamped. And of course, there are free books, posters and more plus fun photo opportunities with our favorite storybook characters.

You don’t have to travel to our Nation’s Capital to enjoy a book festival.  The Tucson Festival of Books on the University of Arizona campus is a great event.  Spend the weekend soaking up all the wit and wisdom from your favorite authors.  Mark your calendar for the 7th annual TFOB March 14 and 15, 2015.

Advice from a saguaro cactus

Stand tall.  Reach for the sky.  Be patient through the dry spells.  Stay sharp.  Conserve your resources.  Think long term.  Wait for your time to bloom.

www.YourTrueNature.com