Monthly Archives: June 2016

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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?’”


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.”





The Dust Bowl

IMG_1041What does this luscious cake photo have to do with the devastating period in American history know as the Dust Bowl?  Nothing, and that’s the point.

If you want to get a kid interested in history, introduce them to a subject they can really chow down on…like the Dust Bowl.  What child can’t wrap their imagination around:

  • Adults who did dumb things and ruined millions of acres of the most fertile lane on earth.
  • The idea of living in a one-room “soddie” with all your family, stuck half in the earth and topped by the very grass that could have saved your life, dust seeping in at every crack and crevice.
  • Ma going out to the barn in a dust storm so bad that Pa can’t see her after she closes the kitchen door. Pa not finding Ma till spring…where she blew away and finally came to rest up against a barbed wire fence a mile away, now nestled among the tumbleweeds.

 And kids think history is boring?  My beloved Chapter III book club just read The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan.  Winner of a National Book Award, this story of those who trekked West in good faith, only to become embroiled in a Titanic-sized effort to survive, is riveting.  If I wrote a book for kids on this subject, I would call it Death by Dust.  Some families left; others stayed.  Imagine kids going to school in a cloud of dust, wet handkerchiefs tied over their faces to try to avoid “dust pneumonia,” which many children did die of eventually.

And the cake?  Well, of all the cookbook and recipe research that I have done over the years, when I Googled “What did they eat during the Dust Bowl?” I pretty much came up with…nothing.  I know they had to eat something?  Maybe a stray potato, some beans?  Dust soup?  I think this cake would have lived in my imagination as what I sacrificed for the errors of my ways.  Or, perhaps, what I hoped to chow down on in my future, should I liveto tell the tale.

Also worthy:  Ken Burn’s outstanding PBS series on the Dust Bowl; watch it with a kid.  Have some cake.

The Desk

Desk Blog ImageI’ve been a writer since before I was born.  A writer is all about her desk.  My first desk was a small, kneehole, four-drawer black desk.  If I still owned it, I’d hang it on the wall and just look at it.  It had been painted red, green and black over the years, as nicks and gouges clearly showed.  It was the kind of desk a school kid from the 1950s might have done their homework on.  It’s hard for me to imagine that I once corralled a typewriter, reams of yellow paper, a dictionary and all the other accoutrements of a writer on that measly pad of real estate.  Mostly I remember writing on it, including my first book—at night, many nights; many, many nights.

The kitchen table has often served as my desk.  I have fond memories of my small children banging away on pots and pans while I banged away on my first manual typewriter.

Over the years I graduated to swankier desks:  a thick glass slab atop chrome sawhorse legs…a slick candy-apple red desk with oak legs…and a lovely tobacco-leaf carved quarter-moon desk perched beneath an iron gazebo dangling lavender wisteria in a room overlooking downtown Savannah.

I’ve had other “desks” over the years:  the hoods of cars and trucks, my lap in bed, the floor of many a motel room when on the road doing research, and now, with my ultra-light Mac Book Air, the crook of my arm serves as a desk just fine.

When I travel, and visit literary historic sites, I always pay attention to the desks:  Carl Sandburg’s orange crate desk at Connemara in Morganton, North Carolina.  (Located in the boiler room, he often bottle- fed his wife’s prize-winning baby goats while he wrote.)  Thomas Wolfe was so tall he preferred to slap his typewriter on top of the refrigerator to write.  He often wrote “nekkid,” much to the consternation (or amusement) of his neighbors, since he cared not for curtains.

Since moving to Palmetto Bluff, the island in my light-filled laundry room has served as my desk.  I think I bought this house because of this thick slab of dark beech wood reclaimed from an Ohio barn.  It is glazed slick as glass and gleams with the clean slate look of possibilities.  Somehow, I could just imagine myself really cranking out the words there amidst the canned goods and cameras…the swish-swash of the washer and kalumph-kalumph of the dryer…the flicker of cell phones and iPads charging.  I enjoy being able to see what’s going on outside while I’m trapped inside writing, to wave to a neighbor, keep an eye out for Bob to fetch our red “Ladybug” golf cart so we can go to lunch.

I can always tell when I am “about to write.”  I do a desk check.  Today, I moved my yellow Parson’s table so I could sit facing the fireplace to write.  It just felt right.  The right desk at the right time in the right place makes all the difference to a writer.  All the difference in the world.