Visiting Crestline Elementary School

Crestline Elementary School visitI wrote a book—AN AUTHOR’S 30 YEARS OF SCHOOL VISITS.
The subtitle:  You don’t have to come back…you just have to go out.
Well, now I guess I’ll have to update the book!

A few weeks ago I had an awesome visit at Crestline Elementary School in Birmingham, Alabama.  This is a National Blue Ribbon of Excellence School with 800 students and some fine teachers and administration.

The school is settled in an elbow of streets in a charming brick village of shops and outdoor cafes.  My daughter, Michele, drove me over and we enjoyed that time together. The night before the visit we were hosted in a lovely home to a fine dinner by those who had organized this annual Literary Heritage Festival for the kids.  I autographed a load of books as I munched on kale salad, luscious chicken, stone ground cheese grits, and lemon bars. Back at my hotel, I found flowers, endless sweet gifts, and a precious book of letters from the students.

But the big deal was the next day.  We kicked things off by having an unexpected evacuation of the school! Seems the school guinea pig munched on a wire…and set off an alarm, so we enjoyed a moment of sunshine on the playground before the real event began.

If you’ve never spoked to 800 kids in 4 big batches in a day, you might think it sounds like an exhausting chore. But it’s more like an invigorating joy!  Each group flooded the gym or auditorium and sat criss-cross-applesauce on the floor, as close to me as they could, eager faces staring at me like I was a rock star, hands already raised, fingers wagging, hoping to ask a question of a “real live author.”

What I love to see is how they bring my books to life.  The fourth grade classes, for example, had lined their hallway with beautiful creative masks, hand punched in a gold or sliver material, some adorned with colorful feathers.  They had read THE MISSING MASK MYSTERY.
I spoke, read, laughed, teased, and answered all the questions I could.  We had lunch with the staff, ate cookies at every break, and I wondered how teachers lived and worked at this pace each day!  It was ever so much fun.  I like to think I inspire, change some lives, give some meaning to what it means to be a writer—but it’s the kids, our future, who change my life each school visit, inspire, and give meaning to why I write.

Chapter III Book Club… Tulip Fever

Chapter III Book Club meeting

Tulip Fever

I belong to a WOW! book club.
I came to Palmetto Bluff in my own personal “witness protection program” as Carole Longmeyer
(married name) versus Carole Marsh.  Still, right away a neighbor reading specialist her entire career said (with a wink and a smile)…
“I know who you are!”
That was ok; it got me invited as a charter member to the Chapter III Book Club. We read serious fiction and non-fiction, as well as funky books, often before others have discovered them.
My first book (I do the February meeting) was Juicy and Delicious; you may know it as the movie Beasts of the Southern Wild.
So book/movie became the expected modus operandi for my meeting.
Thus, this time I picked the book Tulip Fever.  Bob bought it for me in Amsterdam (because it had a pretty cover), as well as My Dutch Cookbook, I guess in hopes I’d cook him something good.  (Don’t I always?)  Go on Amazon and read the write up for Tulip Fever, and I know you will want to read it!  Most of us know little about Holland/the Netherlands in the 1600s, when it was the richest country in the world (?!) and in the midst of, yes, tulip fever—when tulips were new, caught a virus and literally went viral with wild mosaic colors!  Tulips were traded for more than gold or diamonds.  And, later, tulips that had not even been planted, perhaps did not even exist?, were traded with wild abandon.  Yep, there was a bubble and a bust.  But what a setting and backdrop for a romance with twists, turns, and surprises!
Also Google Tulip Fever movie trailer!  Swoon!
 
And so for book club, I have adorned my home with tulips, made Dutch split pea soup with sour cream and baby carrot garnish, and, Dutch cherry pancakes. A friend is bringing Dutch cheese and crackers.  Another has promised a gorgeous Dutch chocolate cake.  Add some wine and all the trivia I garnered from also reading Tulipomania, about this era, and we are in for a fun night.
There are friends, and there are book friends.  Book friends are worth more than gold, diamonds, tulips, or  a gaggle of guilders.  Swoon!

DUCK & COVER

carole-sibaWhat if you got an invitation to a private showing of all the wonderful books that will be coming soon to a bookstore near you.

Would you think you’d died and gone to book heaven?  Me, too!  And so here I am, as both an author and publisher, at the 2017 SIBA book show in Savannah, a bazaar of publishers, authors, and independent bookstores from around the South.  It’s pretty festive!  I just signed copies of my new LOWCOUNTRY VOODOO A-Z, appeared on a panel “Out of This World” books, saw old friends like Duck Books, and met new friends, such as Nicole Sarroocco, author of  ILL-MANNERED GHOSTS, had dinner with my Gallopade sales rep, Candy Person (love that name!), and her daughter Chrissy Dale.  And that’s just for starters!  But the exciting news is that independent bookstores are not only alive and well, but thriving and growing by leaps and bounds!  They are pretty jazzed!  Just imagine—all the lovely, local bookstores we all once treasured, returning to the scene on a street corner near you!  Some have been around a long time—E. Shaver Books and The Book Lady, in Savannah.  Others are brand-spankin’ new; that’s a good sign.  And best of all, some are in my neck o’ the woods:  Macintosh Books in Beaufort and The Storybook Shoppe in Old Town Bluffton; lucky us! Support your local independent bookstore; they need you and we need them.  When I leave this show, I’ll probably head right out to the bookstores mentioned and see what cover attracts my eye.  For what is life without a good book to read, and what is a town without a great bookstore?  

The Angst of Editorial Meetings

img_75901-copyA lot of people ask about the “insider story” of publishing.

Well, sit in on a real, live Editorial Meeting.  Sound boring?  Sometimes!  In this picture, we are having a real, live Gallopade editorial meeting…for 2017, meaning SEPTEMBER back-to-school…sooooo…

What will kids, teachers, parents, readers, librarians, bookstores, etc. want and need by September “a year from now”?  Well, that’s where the angst comes in!  Part of my job is to anticipate such wants/needs/desires/essentialities—way ahead.  Far enough ahead to assign, research, write, design, illustrate, and paste up and print books in time for back to school, or even summer tourist season, or early year needs.

As you can imagine, this is not easy.  How do we do it?  We listen.  We monitor the local, states, world and international news of all kinds—educational, economic, political, cultural, and more.  As you know, that is not always pretty.  What does it mean?  How does it affect children?  What will teachers want and need?  What will state standards add, change, eliminate?

While it’s sort of a coin, toss, we have one Secret Ingredient to help us stay on the right path: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE KIDS!  We seek to be relevant to them.  We aim to be true to their young minds and questioning brains.  Our goal is to be moral, add value, not to be politically correct.  We want to tell them the facts, the truth as we know it, and let them draw their own conclusions.  And, as if that were not challenge enough, we also are determined to be enlightening, entertaining, and just plain fun.

Difficult?  Yes.  Impossible?  Must not be—we’ve been doing it for 37 years.  We may have a little more gray hair, may even argue, may suffer (I always say, “If you are not suffering, you are not writing anything worth reading.”)  And so, here we go again.  We do good things for kids.  We change kids’ lives.  We save kids’ lives.  But, more importantly, I like to think we help make the world go around just a little bit better each year.  If we help one child, that’s wonderful.

And some people think publishers are just trying to make a living.  Yes, but that is secondary.

See you in 2017 with some great Gallopade/Carole Marsh books, coming sooner or later to a calendar near you!

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Coconut

Author Carole Marsh's Blog
There’s a new dog in town.  OMG…it’s at my house. How did that happen?!

Meet Coconut, a pomegranate…what we are calling a Pomeranian mix.  She was found on a road near Charleston; so sad. We got her from Noah’s Ark Rescue; there’s a sucker born every minute, but really, it’s a wonder we didn’t leave with two or three dogs?

We went for an older, sedate dog as a companion for husband, Bob.

Instead we got a four-month-old, very happy, very unhousebroken, energetic wad of fur that weighs four pounds. How could we resist.

Daughter Michele found her for us; she is our dog whisperer. I hope she soon whispers to Coconut the secrets to going to the bathroom in the great outdoors instead of in my, well, in my bathroom. And bedroom. And living room. And, well, you get the picture.

I’m thinking of answering my phone like this: “Pee and Poop Central…Chief Scooperintendent Carole speaking.” (But I’m afraid it might be the preacher calling and not my grandkids.)

She is bonding with the wrong person. I now have Bob bribing her with the SDW, Secret Dog Weapon—bacon. She has chewed through my computer cord and the sequins off my new sandals.

We love her.

PS:  She’s a real character. Does that sound like a book’s coming? How could I resist! But first I have to buy her a bandana with pink flamingos on it.

PSS: Bob can’t remember her name, so he calls her Porcupine, Cucumber, and a few other names; of course she’s confused!

 

 

 

My Summer of Silo

Summer of SILO copyFor a couple of years I’ve been working on a cookbook called My Summer of SILO.  The reason is that a new farm-to-cook kind of concern opened in nearby Beaufort.  While they have a physical location, they also have a lovely website.  Each Sunday night I wait eagerly for their download of the new products for sale that week.

There’s everything from organic eggs to honey to stone-ground grits to things like these gorgeous red spring onions.  Best of all, you place your order and on Friday morning they deliver it at the end of my street at the community garden shed!

I love riding my golf cart with a hot cup of coffee down to the shed.  I bring my cute, insulated, black and silver SILO bag, which they take and replace with an identical one full of all the things I ordered, but have forgotten what was!  So I hurry home and unpack fresh strawberries just picked from the field, creamy sweet potatoes the size of a football, chocolate chess mini-pies, fresh baked bread, and kale so curly and green I don’t know whether to eat it or wear it as a hat.

I record the recipes I make from my SILO stash of wonders.  One day I will have a completed cookbook…but I hope not too soon.  This is just too much fun!

Hoodoo You Do?

Voodoo ASCI copy

Hoodoo You Do?

I have just finished a book called LOWCOUNTRY VOODOOO A-Z.

You’ll see it on this website.

Now, “Why?” you might be asking, would a perfectly respectable, Christian writer for children do a voodoo book for adults?

Easy answer:  It’s history, fascinating, relevant, and…right out my back door!

I live in the Lowcountry of South Carolina; that means way down east in the land and water between the sea and the end of the wetlands and marshes and forests.  I believe my home is at sea level 20 feet, and that is only because we are on a bluff!  This area, as you know, is where so many of our ancestors first came ashore to the New World.  Some came as brave explorers…others as often fearful colonists (including women and children)…and others as unwilling slaves.  One thing they all had in common:  What they brought with them—their culture, spirituality, superstitions, knowledge, hopes, dreams, and beliefs.

The Gullah (Geechee in Georgia) came here with little but the shreds of clothes left on their backs and keen remembrances of what they had learned and left behind—their culture and beliefs.  From Africa, this was a life close to the earth, a dependency on natural roots and herbs for sustenance and medicine, and a belief system that spanned from God to boo hags.

Now, what’s a boo hag?  Well, you’ll have to read the book; this is only a brief blog!

But voodoo is more than a word.  Here in the Lowcountry, it is also called hoodoo.  It is not all about bad; some believe in spells and charms, and such to do good.  You don’t?  Well, did you ever pluck a four leaf clover for good luck?  Hang your keys on a rabbit’s foot keychain?  Avoid a black cat crossing your path?  Walk around a ladder?  In other words, the history of such things harks back to the Medieval Ages, and continues to the present.

Voodoo here, now?  Yep.  Trust me on this.  You know, we adults are just like the fourth graders I write to:  ignorant of subjects until we learn something about them.  Fascinated by the curious, weird, unknown to us.  And flabbergasted by face—especially when it’s wilder than fiction!

I had fun writing this book.  I met a lot of nice people.  And in the process of doing my research, I also came up with new book ideas:  Death by Grits, for example.  Hey, this is the South!  So don’t pooh-pooh hoodoo.  Keep and open mind and an open heart.  And if you want to see some cute voodoo dolls, go on Pinterest.  More soon on this subject!

Fitbit: Fad or Fantastic Way to Make You Reconsider Food?

Walking running hiking or exercising sports shoe and legs on rocky hiking trail in mountains motivation inspiration concept outdoors achievement fitness adventure and exercising in wild nature seaside

Only time will tell, but I got both a red and a black Fitbit last Christmas.  As soon as I figure out how to use it, I am raring to hit the pavement and do my 10,000 (or will that be 20,000?) steps each day!  In the meantime, I decided to create a Fitbit healthy snack.

“Fitbits” Recipe

A bit like trail mix, in a large bowl combine ½ cup of each of the following; baggie it up in daily doses and let it help give you energy and encouragement as you embark on your new fitness program.  You do have one, right?

  • Unsalted almonds
  • Dried pineapple pieces
  • Peanut butter chips
  • Dark chocolate chips
  • Salted pretzel bits
  • Coconut flakes

That’s six good things; obviously, you can vary them with what you have, like, or the season.  Just stick to healthy, variety, and more “bits” than bites.  A serving that fits in the little bowl palm of your hand is enough for one Fitbit session.  It’s your healthy reward for getting out there and getting a bit more fit!

Critical Thinking Skills

I write career books for kids.  I hire kids.  I see what kids don’t know.  We often preach the wrong things, I think, by default, often…because we don’t even bother to mention them, but they are important important.

I liked this list from eSchool News because it lists one critical skill that I have read that employers consider the most important.  I will save it for last.  Here the 5 are with mini-comment from me:

  • Self-direction: Kids need to drive their own learning…at work a direct order is not a suggestion, and it’s up to you to figure out how to do the thing requested. This is a much needed much needed lifeskill!
  • Evidence-based thinking: Kids need to learn not to believe everything they see, hear, read. They need to do their own research and draw conclusions for themselves.  In my books, I often add “the Carole Marsh question.”  What it is?  It is:  WHAT DO YOU THINK?  Not what does your mom think, your teacher, your BFF…WHAT DO YOU THINK?
  • Persistence: You can’t give up so soon or so easily or…well, at all!

How wimpy!  One of my mottos is:  Success Does Not Come to the Wimpy!  Hang in there, try again, go around, go over, dig under…do what you gotta do, but don’t give up don’t give up.

  • Take Risks: Not stupid risks, calculated risks. Failure is an option; give yourself a chance to fail.  Fail because you thought it was a good idea and you tried.  Failure just means something didn’t work out right that way at this time.  Try again.  Succeed.  Succeed!
  • Ambiguity: Kids need to learn to move on without all the answers. With two contradictory whatevers.  With many options, but no true clear answer as to which is best.  So what?!  This is real life.  Real life is full of ambiguity.  May the best ambiguity handler win!  Win!

If you think the doubled words were an error, no, no.

It was my way to emphasize that these things are important.  Very important.  Print this out; give it to a kid.  Hint:  That kid may be 30!

You Gotta Have Faith

Author Carole Marsh talks about faith in her writing. After all these years, someone just asked me, “Are your books ‘faith-based?’”

Hmm…

I once met a girl named Faith. I had no idea what “faith” she was.

That’s sort of been my approach to writing for children. After all, I write to the entire classroom—each and every child as personal as I possibly can. The classroom has changed a lot over the years. I realized this one day when I made my AME Baptist church pastor artist take a graphic of the Cross out of a book. We both looked surprised, even guilty.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because,” I said. “Picture your child’s classroom; what do you see?” He thought about it. “Black kids, white kids, lots of new Hispanic kids, some Asians, others.”

“Think harder,” I urged, and then the light bulb over his head went off.

“Baptists, like me, but also, yes, Muslims, Catholics, Lutherans, Seventh Day Adventists, and actually, lots of other faiths. I know because they studied religions recently and the kids took a poll of the variety of faiths represented in their class. I was astounded.”

From the time I started writing for kids, started Gallopade, I had a mental checklist that included words like: wholesome…unbiased…honest…Yes ma’m/No sir…respect…values…ethics—you know that kind of list. I knew I had a big choice to make: I could try to please all the parents, all the teachers, librarians, booksellers and others, or, I could write to the child.

I write to the child. I do not want them to know what I think or believe. I want them to learn what they think, what they believe. In fact, we teasingly call it “the Carole Marsh question,” since it so often appears in my books: WHAT DO YOU THINK?

When I ask this, I am asking, “Think hard about what you have heard, studied, learned, experienced, and decide what you believe is right or wrong.” After all, not every child comes from an unbiased background or the same faith community and such. And yet, they have to get along in this world, don’t they?

This is important. We adults think we have all the answers, but what our children choose to believe is the answer for their future. We don’t necessarily want them to agree with us; we want them to seek truth.

Is that faith? Well, I have faith that my books are indeed “faith-based.”

 

 

 

 

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