Whose story is it?

“Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking it’s your story. You’re just the one who gets to tell it.” -George B. Sanchez

Journalists sometimes talk about “the story,” but we often talk about “my story.” We can’t do our job without the people who share their experiences with us, but ultimately we hold the power of how their story is conveyed.

What would it look like if we shared that power?

A big part of what I love about teaching media is exactly that: re-distributing the power. Earlier this year I led a series of digital storytelling workshops with a small group of exchange students from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. One of those students was Emmanuel, whose story is below. In it, Emmanuel describes the fears and doubts he felt as he embarked on his U.S. exchange year. Would he be able to keep up? Would he meet all the program requirements? In an English exam on the first day of class, Emmanuel found his answer.

The story does what the best stories do: captures moving, universal feeling through a vivid, specific moment or journey. And it does so because it’s told in only the way Emmanuel could tell it.

This is not “my” story. This is Emmanuel’s story.

Advertisements

Dear Anthropology Undergrad

AU graduation

Me (center) with my sisters after my 2009 graduation from American University

Last week I participated in an alumni panel at a career night for anthropology undergrads of my alma mater. Preparing for the event gave me a chance to reflect not just on the jobs I’ve had since graduating but the ways that anthropological values shaped me and continue to show up in my work. I’m sharing my remarks here.

*****

Hi everyone. Before talking about myself, I want to talk about you. Specifically, I want to commend you for having the courage to follow your passion. Anthropology is not something you study because you want certainty about salaries or career paths. You study it because you are curious. Because you have questions about the world and our place in it.

You probably all know that Clifford Geertz defined culture as “the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.”

As anthropology students we spend a lot of time critiquing those stories in their various forms, whether that’s Balinese cockfights or presidential addresses or gender-segregated toy aisles. Many times, we identify all the ways these stories are “problematic.” (Kind of a downer at parties.)

But I have always tried to look for possibilities. When I graduated, I wanted to be active in re-shaping the stories we tell. For the last 10 years, my career has been diverse but it has always somehow come back to storytelling.

Primarily I have worked in education and journalism.

On the education side, in my first couple years after AU I landed some internships and fellowships that gave me the chance to teach digital media in Palestine, India, Mexico and the U.S. Currently I’m managing professional development programs for alumni of an exchange program that gives scholarships to young people from “underserved” communities to study here for one year.

I see my work with young people and even adults as an opportunity to share and co-create different stories about our world than the ones I learned growing up. I also see it as a way to foster the critical thinking that will allow children and teenagers to question social norms and structures themselves. These are also my goals in writing children’s books.

Although I minored in SOC, my journalism career started because of connections I made through Adrienne Pine.* After the Honduran military coup in 2009, I stayed with a filmmaker friend of hers in Tegucigalpa and I reported on resistance to the coup for alternative news site. I alternated between online journalism and teaching gigs for a few years until I wound up in rural Pennsylvania working for weekly newspapers. Eventually I moved on from that to a larger, daily newspaper, where I covered public schools for several years.

In the Venn diagram of journalism and anthropology, the basic skills of interviewing and writing are in that middle, shared space, and I love that journalism allows me to hear people’s stories and write about them. The main differences between the two fields are the limited time you can devote to a subject as a journalist and the training that anthropology gives you in looking at a topic from the perspective of a worldview that is different from your own. Studying journalism doesn’t always provide that training, and it’s an asset I’ve tried to bring to my work.

I know you’ve all gotten the question from someone — maybe your mom, maybe your uncle, maybe your roommate. You tell them your major and, after you define it for them, they furrow their brow and say, “What will you do with THAT degree?”

When I was an undergrad, my response to this question was a puckish “Whatever I want!”

I couldn’t have guessed that I would end up doing any of the things I just described.

But I did know what drew me to anthropology. It was the immersion in stories and the questioning of our larger social story. That still drives me in my career today.

I encourage you to identify what is that draws you to anthropology, because whatever that is, you can apply it to any job you want to do. And that, more than a job title, is going to be what drives you 10 years from now.

 

*Adrienne is an anthropology professor at AU.

 

 

 

I’m teaching digital storytelling again

Overcome.

Speak up.

Self-confidence.

Honesty.

At the end of a digital storytelling workshop I led last night, I asked the students in the class to share one word that captures what they were thinking or feeling. The words above were some of the ones they chose.

My word?

Excited.

The students in this workshop series are from five different countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. They are studying in the U.S. for one year through an exchange program that gives scholarships to young people from economically or politically marginalized countries and groups. Each of them could probably choose a dozen powerful stories to tell from their lives. During our three-part workshop, they are developing a story about one transformation they have gone through during their time in the U.S.

No matter what country or background you are from, this is for sure: living in a completely different culture for a year will change you. The students I’m working with are crafting stories about the struggle to be understood in a new language, finding confidence in a different education system, learning to explore a city alone, and more.

And me, I’m excited to help them tell those stories.

Thin Mint Smoothie Recipe (Vegan)

Vegan Thin Mint Smoothie

When I’m not at work or writing, there’s a good chance I’m in the kitchen chopping, blending, roasting or dehydrating some kind of vegan meal or dessert. Back when I worked at LNP, I occasionally wrote for “The Press Table,” a weekly column featuring a recipe and the story behind it from rotating staff members. I loved both reading and writing the column, so even though this isn’t a food blog I’ve decided to share some recipes here from time to time.

A few years ago I reported on a lawsuit for which the preliminary hearing was held in Easton, PA. While there, I frequented Greenmouth Juice Bar for multiple meals. So many vegetarian juice bars have a predictable menu of smoothies: the strawberry banana combo, the chocolate PB banana with “monkey” in the name, something with blueberry, and so on.

Not at Greenmouth. With smoothie names like “apple streudel,” “strawberry cheesecake” and “bee’s knees,” I knew these would be worth a try. Afterward, I took the to-go menu with me to recreate some of the smoothies at home. This is one of the results — my take on their Thin Mint smoothie. It’s chocolatey, minty and so delightful amid the holidays, when most other treats with these flavors are full of sugar and corn syrup.

As with any smoothie, the ingredients and amounts are flexible. Feel free to play around!

Vegan Thin Mint Smoothie

Serves one.

Ingredients

1 cup coconut water

1.5 frozen bananas

2 Tbsp hemp hearts

1.5 Tbsp cocoa powder

1 tsp spirulina

1 tsp maca

4-10 mint leaves (depending on size) … or 1/8 tsp mint extract

Instructions

Simply add all ingredients to the blender and mix until smooth.

Writing Milestones: I Signed With Agent Jordan Hamessley of New Leaf Literary

2018 is coming to a close. Soon I’ll begin my year-end reflections on the year’s events in general and particularly my progress as an aspiring children’s author. This year, identifying my biggest milestone will be a no-brainer: in October, I signed with children’s literary agent Jordan Hamessley at New Leaf Literary! 

JordanHamessleyheadshot-200x200

Jordan Hamessley of New Leaf Literary

Below is a Q&A I shared with friends and family members to help explain why having an agent matters and what’s next for my writing career.

Woohoo! What does this mean?

Signing with an agent greatly increases my chances of getting published. Most publishing houses (including “the big 5”) will not read manuscript submissions from unagented authors.

Was it hard to find an agent?

Definitely. It took years of learning, practice, and revision — not to mention 42 rejections — before my manuscripts were strong enough to land me the right agent. I took inspiration from one of my story subjects — a women’s sports icon and paragon of determination — in summoning the commitment to keep pushing toward my goal.

When can I buy your books?

It will still be several years or more! Getting an agent is not a guarantee that a publishing house will buy any of my manuscripts. If/once they do, it still takes a long time from acquisition to publication, with steps like revisions and illustrations along the way.

Speaking of illustrations, do you have an illustrator yet?

Nope. Authors do not choose their illustrator. The art director and other members of the publishing house team does this. In most cases the author and illustrator never even meet before a book comes out!

What’s next?

My agent and I have a plan for which manuscript she will submit to publishers first. We’ll see what happens from there. The publishing industry requires patience.

What are your children’s books about?

So far, most of my manuscripts are biographies of women in sports and science. These women were either trailblazers in their fields or figures whose contributions went unrecognized because of sexism. I also write fiction, but I expect the majority of my books to be true stories about people and groups who fought to change society’s rules and expectations.

New Leaf Literary - Kara Newhouse bio

That’s my bio on the New Leaf Literary website!

Love the movie “A League of Their Own”? Check out these 5 children’s books about women in baseball

If the phrase “There’s no crying in baseball” means anything to you, then you’re probably a fan of the 1990s film “A League of their Own,” a movie I grew up watching and loving. I didn’t play baseball, but the theme of female empowerment through sports (especially soccer) was a big one in my family. Even as a child I loved knowing that this inspiring film was based on a true story.

Last week marked the 75th anniversary of the inaugural games of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, the real league created in the 1940s to keep America’s favorite pastime alive while American men fought in WWII. But the white women who played in the AAPGL aren’t the only ones who have stepped up to the plate over the years. Here are 5 picture books about girls and women who loved baseball.

Anybody's Game: Kathryn Johnston, the First Girl to Play Little League BaseballAnybody’s Game: Kathryn Johnston, the First Girl to Play Little League Baseball by Heather Lang

The year is 1950. The girl is Kathryn Johnston, who loves baseball so much that she cuts off her braids, puts on a ball cap and tries out for a local team as “Tubby,” a boy who can block ground balls and hit home runs with the best of them.
This picture book tells the triumphant true story of the first girl to play Little League baseball. Though set against the social context of constricted gender roles, the supporting characters – including Kathryn’s mom, dad, and coach – show that not everyone of the time period thought girls and women less capable. And for those who did, Kathryn proves them wrong.
Back matter includes a timeline about women and girls in baseball and more details on how long it took for girls to be officially allowed in Little League.

She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley StoryShe Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story by Audrey Vernick

Effa Manley was not just a successful sports executive and the first woman inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. She was a person who didn’t accept the status quo. Not when white-owned stores in Harlem didn’t hire black employees. Not when other baseball team owners said women shouldn’t be involved. Not when the Baseball Hall of Fame didn’t include Negro League players among its inductees.
Vernick deftly weaves together a wide range of Effa’s achievements in this well-paced picture book with pleasing illustrations by Don Tate.
One disappointment: there’s no back matter with extra information about Effa or how the book came about.

The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith HoughtonThe Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton by Audrey Vernick

What a cool story. Edith Houghton was just 10 when she joined the teenagers and women on the Philadelphia Bobbies pro baseball team in 1922. I love that this is a story about a female athlete where the focus isn’t on her gender (though I like those stories), too. The focus is on her skills and her adventures with her team, which included a months-long tour in Japan, where the Bobbies played pro and college men’s team. The charcoal, ink and gouache illustrations are just right for making the story real and relatable to kids.

Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl's Baseball DreamCatching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard

This picture book is about Marcenia Lyle, a girl who loves baseball more than anything. We learn in the afterword that Marcenia was signed to the Negro League Indianapolis Clowns in 1953, making her the first female member of an all-male professional baseball team, but this story doesn’t get into Marcenia’s adult life. It focuses on one spring when Marcenia dreams of being accepted to a summer baseball day camp run by the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. That means not only showing off her skills to the man in charge, but also convincing her father to let her attend.

Crystal Hubbard’s choice to highlight one emblematic chapter of Marcenia Lyle’s childhood is a great way of introducing a lesser known athlete through a conflict that builds and that draws in young readers.

Players in PigtailsPlayers in Pigtails by Shana Corey

Did you know that the song “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” is about a girl who loves baseball? Shana Corey takes that fictional girl and puts her in the real setting of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in this fun, upbeat sports story.

And if those aren’t enough girls-and-baseball books for you, here are a few more that I haven’t read myself:

The Flood, a poem for #lovemadevisible

5705222886_260595880a_z

“Más amor”/More love. Graffiti in Mexico City, May 2011. Photo by Kara Newhouse

Happy February! Have you sent your Valentines yet?

There’s a love-themed poetry and art showcase on the blog of the Eastern PA chapter of SCBWI this month. My poem, “The Flood,” was featured on Friday.

I’m loving all the creative contributions to the #lovemadevisible showcase, so make sure to check those out, too.

I’ve also been reading Valentine’s Day picture books recently. Let me know if you have recommendations.

The Best Books I Read in 2017: Middle grade, YA & Adult

I’m back with a continuation of yesterday’s post on my favorite picture books I read in 2017. Today’s list covers my favorites from middle grade through adult.

What were the best books you read last year?

Middle Grade
The Tea Dragon SocietyThe Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill

I love everything about this book! Manga-style illustrations are infused with fairy tale magic resulting in wonderfully diverse characters, adorable dragons, memory-evoking tea, and a gentle friendship story about a capable girl learning both the craft of blacksmithing and the art of tea dragon caretaking.

In addition to the story there are some delightful “Extracts from the Tea Dragon Handbook” at the end. Reading it enriched my second and third looks at the tea dragons’ quiet behavior throughout the illustrations. The handbook includes descriptions of four tea dragons not featured in this book; I sure hope that means we’ll get to see them in a sequel!

Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. WhiteSome Writer!: The Story of E. B. White by Melissa Sweet

This book made me want to buy a farm house in the woods where I can live and write. (Except I wouldn’t want to take care of pigs.) A lovely biography of a beloved writer, illuminated by all kinds of archival document treasures and Melissa Sweet’s wonderful collage and illustration work. Quite long, so more for an older elementary school crowd, especially those who’ve read White’s books!

Roller GirlRoller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Roller Girl evokes all the joys and frustration of pre-teen friendship in the fun, off-beat setting of a roller derby camp.

 

Young Adult
Tiger LilyTiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

This book is enchanting, clever and also heartbreaking. Heartbreaking not because of a single event but the accumulation of small ones gone wrong, mostly due to the folly of youth and inexperience. It’s the truth of that woven into this fantasy world that made me cry — and pick it up to re-read immediately.

FlygirlFlygirl by Sherri L. Smith

I picked this up at the library with only a glance at the synopsis — seeing that it was about a young woman training to be a WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilot, a WWII program) was enough of a hook for me. But within a few pages, and after getting confused by the cover art versus the opening narration, I learned that there’s an extra layer of social complexity at play in Flygirl. The light-skinned black main character, Ida Mae, is not only breaking gender barriers as a pilot; she’s also defying Jim Crow roles by passing as white to enlist. The book’s historical setting is thoroughly researched and the plot is crafted with strong, believable emotional stakes. Sometimes Ida Mae’s internal feelings could be delivered more subtly, but that didn’t prevent me from becoming totally absorbed in this story. Would love to see this as a movie.

Adult

A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia WoolfA Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf by Emily Midorikawa

One of my favorite books I read this year. The subject is inherently interesting to me, but it also very well executed. Each literary friendship the authors selected has a narrative arc and the writing rich with description that make it easy to imagine the time, place and people. So it almost feels like reading one of the subjects’ novels rather than a work of nonfiction.

Additionally, I loved reading about Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney’s own writing friendship and their research process for the book. Unfortunately, gaps in historical records led to a lot of sentences that begin with phrases like “She must have felt …”. I don’t mind their informed conjectures but the repetition of those phrases disrupted an otherwise active and engaging writing style. I also wasn’t overly compelled by their arguments that female literary friendships have been vastly overlooked in contrast to male literary friendships. I was not familiar with any of the latter examples they cited, but that may just be because I don’t dwell in the world of literary biographies. Other readers may be more convinced of the argument that this book is a historical corrective. Either way you see that, it’s a wonderful read for anyone who enjoys British literature, women’s history and shine theory.

The City of Brass (The Daevabad Trilogy, #1)The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

Totally absorbing. A rich world full of enchantment, complicated characters and political twists that will keep you guessing as to whose story you can really believe. And the ending! Gah. If you’re averse to cliffhangers, wait till the next book comes out before you start this one.

What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American TeenWhat Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen by Kate Fagan

A tough read given the subject — a college athlete’s suicide and the broader issues around mental health among American youth — but also a must-read for anyone working with teens. Fagan sensitively crafts a heart-wrenching narrative while acknowledging the things she/we cannot know about what was going on in Maddy’s mind leading up to her death. I do wish some of the data and other research referenced had been footnoted for further reading.

The Reappearing Act: Coming Out on a College Basketball Team Led By Born-Again ChristiansThe Reappearing Act: Coming Out on a College Basketball Team Led By Born-Again Christians by Kate Fagan

I picked up “The Reappearing Act” from the library on a Saturday afternoon and finished it by Sunday morning. Why couldn’t I put it down? Because this slice-of-life memoir has all the page-turner-y goodness of a novel, plus the authenticity of author’s real struggles as a gay college athlete circa 2001. Fagan deftly alternates between the process of coming out over several basketball seasons and flashbacks to earlier memories that play off the main action as it unfolds. The result is a narrative arc propelled by both vivid details and emotional heft.

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Cirque du Soleil. If you love all of these things, you’ll love The Night Circus.
*This was actually one I returned to and re-read because I loved it so much in 2016.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud WomanShrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

Don’t wait. Read this now. Funny, relatable, smart and compassionate essays on being a fat woman in a world that disdains both those characteristics.

The Best Picture Books I Read in 2017

2017 was a wonderful reading year for me. I don’t mean by volume (I haven’t counted), but in terms of the number of excellent books I read. Below are some of the picture books from the top of my list. Tomorrow I will post the middle grade, young adult, and adult books I liked best last year.

(Note: These titles were not necessarily published last year. That is simply when I read them.)

Interstellar CinderellaInterstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood

Loved this playful STEM-oriented version of Cinderella. And the twist in the ending made me laugh in delight.

Specs for RexSpecs for Rex by Yasmeen Ismail
I love everything about Rex — his wild mane, the way he tries to stuff his new specs into the cereal box, and all of his other antics as he copes with this unwanted accessory.

This book marvelously captures the emotions and behaviors of a child in a preschool classroom. As a writer I typically pay more attention to the words in a picture book, but this one had me paging back through multiples times just to delight in the images. Between this and “One Word from Sophia,” Yasmeen Ismail is quickly finding a spot among my favorite illustrators.

Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a NeighborhoodMaybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy

Maybe Something Beautiful shows kids the power they have to shape the world in their vision. It begins with a child, Mira, looking out the window from her colorful bedroom to the view of a gray city. On her way to school, she sprinkles art and color all around her. When she meets a muralist, they join forces to brighten the city. Then the whole neighborhood gets involved.
This vibrant, pulsing celebration of art and community-building is inspired by the true story of how Rafael Lopez (the book’s illustrator), and his wife, Candice, transformed San Diego’s East Village.

Happy DreamerHappy Dreamer by Peter H. Reynolds

Sometimes jubilant, sometimes quiet — across the pages this book will make you smile. I especially love the fold-out pages at the end showing many ways to be a dreamer with different characters and personalities for all readers to identify with.

Lift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop: Slave-ExplorerLift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop: Slave-Explorer by Heather Henson

I heard about Stephen Bishop, slave explorer/guide, during my visit to Mammoth Cave in 2014, and I’m so glad someone has written a children’s book about him. Not just that, I’m glad that Heather Henson in particular wrote a children’s book about him. Picture book biographies often follow a similar narrative pattern, but this one charts its own path. That’s likely in part because of limited historical records about Stephen Bishop, but Henson combined known info and thoughtful imaginings elegantly. In first person narration, Stephen guides the reader through his story just as he guided thousands of visitors through Mammoth Cave. The tour is as much a lesson on historiography as history, starting with the first passage:
“The past is like a cave sometimes. Dim and dusty, and full of twisting ways. Not an easy thing to journey down. ‘Specially when you’re searching out a path that’s hardly been lit, a trail that’s never been smooth or flat or plain to follow.”
It’s also honest about the time Stephen lived in:
“Why? Is that what you want to know? Why is it against the law to teach me my letters?
Because I am a slave. Because am the property of a white man. Because I am bought and sold, same as an ox or a mule; bought and sold, along with the land I work.”
The silhouetted faces cut and pasted like a wave over a water color ox remind me of imagery in Toni Morrison’s Beloved (the cramped, dark place full of bodies that the titular character disjointedly recalls). OK that makes is sound a little intense for a children’s book, but Bryan Collier’s watercolor and collage illustrations are actually perfect, lending both a seriousness and intimacy to Stephen’s tale. This book is not a story of jubilant triumph over the odds, but one of quiet power in unjust circumstances.

Silent Music: A Story of BaghdadSilent Music: A Story of Baghdad by James Rumford

A tribute to the beauty of Arabic calligraphy, wrapped up in the story of a contemporary boy and his hero, a famous calligrapher from 800 years ago. While the book is set against the backdrop of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, readers will connect with Ali’s dedication to his favorite activity and the family scenes that could occur in any home around the world. The tapestry of calligraphy and images in the illustrations evoke the richness and depth of the written language Ali practices.

The Blobfish BookThe Blobfish Book by Jessica Olien

Brilliant. Awe-inducing facts infused with humor from a lovable, vulnerable main character.

Four Feet, Two SandalsFour Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams

When a relief truck delivers clothing to a refugee camp in Pakistan, Lina and Feroza each find one yellow sandal. The two girls share the sandals, along with their daily chores, memories of lost family members, and hopes for a new home. After Lina and her mother get word they will be resettled in America, the girls decide what will happen to the sandals, but the future of their friendship (and lives) remains unknown.
This touching story opens a window onto life in a refugee camp in a heartfelt, non-didactic way, as well as speaking to the meaning of friendship. Timely and timeless.

The simple solution to ditching book envy and finding your writing voice

Have you ever felt book envy? You read a great story, or even just a great opening line, and wish you’d written it?

I wouldn’t really call it envy when I feel this way, because that implies resenting the actual author, when what I feel is more admiration with a touch of kicking myself for not thinking of an idea. That’s how I felt when I read “Charlotte the Scientist Is Squished” by Camille Andros last weekend. (See review below.) It’s a fictional picture book about a young rabbit scientist, and the plot is driven by the steps in the scientific method. To me, this structure is simple and brilliant. That’s where the “Why didn’t I think of that!” comes in.

If you’ve ever felt this way, take heart from this quote from author Ann Whitford Paul:

I used to feel upset that I couldn’t write something that somebody else wrote, and none of us can. We can only write the stories that matter to us.

Paul’s words come from a webinar she gave to Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge last month. As for how to find your voice and the stories that matter to you? Her solution was simple:

Write!

Easy peasy, right? 😉


Charlotte the Scientist Is SquishedCharlotte the Scientist Is Squished by Camille Andros

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a budding scientist, Charlotte needs space to conduct experiments. But when you’re a bunny with dozens of siblings, space is a limited resource. Charlotte uses the scientific method to tackle this problem and finds that her initial solutions may have additional effects that aren’t ideal.
I love Camille Andros’ use of the scientific method as a framing device for a story that any introvert or child from a large family can relate to. Brianne Farley’s illustrations are bright and inviting. Hopefully we’ll see more of Charlotte in the future!
View all my reviews