Sunday, November 2, 2014

Native American Heritage Month

In honor of Native American Heritage Month, I'm passing along a great post from First Nations Development Institute. This is their post for Native American Heritage Month 2014 that includes quotes from Native authors, historical leaders and contemporary leaders in Indian Country.
In their own words:
November is National Native American Heritage Month 2014, and Nov. 15 in particular is “Rock Your Mocs Day” in which Native people stand together by wearing their moccasins (there's also "Moc Mondays" every week during the month). In recognition, the 20-member staff of First Nations Development Institute has created a list of their favorite Native American quotations and films.
“Many of us here are prolific readers and movie-goers, especially when it comes to things by Native authors and filmmakers or about Native history and experiences,” noted First Nations President Michael E. Roberts.  “In doing so, we often bookmark certain quotes or passages that speak to us, both from historical figures or contemporary authors, or we recommend films that, for one reason or another, we think are worth seeing. We think Native American Heritage Month is a great time to share these quotes and movies with both the Native and non-Native worlds.”
First Nations is a 34-year-old, Native-created and led organization that works to build stronger Native American economies and communities.  It is based in Longmont, Colorado, but serves American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian communities across the U.S.

Dance Fan by Kara Stewart, Art in Photography

See the rest of their post here. Great stuff.

And don't forget about Moc Monday. Not just to show solidarity and support, but hey, comfy shoes to work every Monday in November works for me!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Moc Mondays in November!

Have you heard of Moc Monday?  As a literacy coach in the school every day, I'll be wearing moccasins every Monday in November in support of American Indian Heritage Month. If you'd like to join me in solidarity to raise awareness in our schools of contemporary American Indians, that would be great! 

The official Rock Your Mocs day this year is Saturday, November 15, 2014. But I'll be wearing my mocs every Monday to school, welcoming and taking advantage of students noticing and asking questions. 

My mocs are not nearly as fancy as the ones photographed in the 2013 articles, and yours needn't be either. But if you want a peek at some authentic mocs and mukluks (those count too, and you can wear those also if you have a pair) to die for made by a Native owned company, check out the Storyboots from Manitoba Mukluks They are works of art! (They also have regular mukluks and moccasins).

Don't have any mocs or mukluks? Run out and get some! Mocs are for men and women. You've got until Monday, November 3rd. My main thrust is to let students know that American Indians are alive and thriving all around them, and to dispel stereotypes.  I'd love for you to join me.


*Teacher's Note - If you plan to wear mocs or encourage students to do so,  you may want to be prepared with a few sentences about stereotypes and Indians today since we may hear some "war whoops" and that sort of thing. For example, upon hearing a war whoop or seeing a child with a feather sticking up from head or similar: "Student dear, I hear you making some sort of war whoop noise. You know, Indians don't really do that. I'm not sure how that stereotype got started, but I want you to know that there are lots of American Indians today and they don't do that. It's one of those things that's offensive to Indians because it's not true." (or hurts their feelings or whatever you feel their age would let them understand).   
Upon seeing feathers sticking up from a headband or similar: "Student dear, I see you have feathers and a headband. You know, Indians are not all the same. There are a LOT of different Indian tribes, even in North Carolina. All Indian tribes are very different from each other. And mostly, the Indians in our area never wore feathers or headbands in that way. There are lots of American Indians all around us today, and that wouldn't be something they'd wear, especially for daily wear. It's kind of a stereotype." 

If it were me, depending on the age of the child, I'd then go on to explain a little about the 'Hollywood Indian'.

If you feel you need some brushing up on how to talk intelligently about contemporary Native Americans, please see the blog series Indian 101 for Writers (and Teachers and General Human Beings). Lots of tips and resources in there.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Recipe That's Not A Recipe - Avocado Dip

My favorite kind of recipe are ones that aren't really recipes. The ones that are so simple that you wonder why you didn't think of doing them years ago.

In that vein, here is a most yummy Avocado Dip:

1 avocado, cubed
1/4 to 1/3 cup chunk or crushed pineapple (no sugar, drained)
Fresh cilantro - has to be fresh, dried doesn't work
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Lime juice
Green pepper Tabasco Sauce

Cube up your avocado and put it in a bowl. If you use chunk pineapple, cut up each chunk into 2 or 3 pieces. Use the amount of pineapple you think you will like. Chop up a fresh bunch of cilantro leaves. Maybe a handful. Maybe more. Put the pineapple and cilantro in the bowl with the avocado. Add some sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Add some lime juice. I'm guessing a scant tablespoon. Add a few shakes of green pepper Tabasco Sauce. If you like it very mild, less shakes. You like a pleasant spice, more shakes. If you really want more spice, chop up some jalapenos and add them to the bowl. Mix it all up, mush the avocado as much as you like or don't like. I don't like. Inhale with tortilla chips.

I wish I had a picture to show you, but I ate it all. Every last bit.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Summer of Learning

This summer, I spent a lot of time improving my writing knowledge, meaning the craft of writing. I am a Literacy Coach and Reading Specialist and have written creatively for years. While I am definitely capable of communicating effectively, that doesn't mean I have a lot of knowledge about the craft, the art, of writing. I need to learn more. I think most writers realize they need to learn more to hone their skills. Since I am interested in writing for children, I sought resources specific to that niche.

One of the best sources of information for writing for children is the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. In addition to a slew of resources, they also have amazing discussion boards where you can ask almost anything and get very helpful answers from the authors who also belong to SCBWI. I got great tips and suggestions (and more resources!) for writing picture books from the fab folks on the discussion boards.

I also participated in Kami Kinard and Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen's Kid Lit Summer School (part of the Nerdy Chicks Write blog) focusing on character. It was fabulous! There were great webinars, #30mdares and daily blog posts by guest authors designed to deepen our character knowledge.  And it was free! Yep. F.R.E.E. I found the exercises and daily focus on character really helpful. You missed it? Don't worry - they are going to do it again next year! And you can also sign up for their blog Nerdy Chicks Rule.

I've also found a few great books (they were recommended to me and are spot on):

The Kick-Ass Writer by Chuck Wendig - for writers of any genre
Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul - specifically for picture book writers, but useful by any children's book writer
The Plot Whisperer, Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master (also has a workbook) by Martha Alderson - for writers of any genre

And of huge import - I reached out to my friend Alison DeLuca, author of The Crown Phoenix Series, for help revising and editing my picture book manuscript. No matter what other resources you seek out, it's vital to take that scary leap and have others read your manuscript. The key is they must be people who will give you honest feedback. Wherever the manuscript sucks, I want to know it so I can make it better. Thank you for that, Alison. And now it is ready (Well, you know. You can only tinker so much. After you've tinkered for months.) to submit to Lee & Low's New Voices Award. Scaaaarrryyy!

Happy writing, photographing and end-of-summer, everyone!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Lee & Low Books' New Voices Award Writing Contest

Ooo! So exciting! Lee & Low's blog post today announces their 14th annual New Voices Award. It is "specifically designed to help authors of color break into publishing, an industry in which they are still dramatically underrepresented."

The contest is open to residents of the United States who are people of color who have not previously had a children's book published. Deadline is September 30, 2014.

Check out their blog post, submit your manuscript, and/or spread the good word!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

New Learning

It has been a crazy long time since my last post. For part of that time, I've been working on a new project that I am (as of now) envisioning as a picture book.

I started writing my heart out, but had to put on the brakes (*skids to a stop, red high-tops smoking*) to learn more about writing this particular genre. Which was an eye-opener for me, since as a Literacy Coach and Reading Specialist, I have read hundreds of picture books. I read them all the time. I read them to myself. I read them to teachers. I read them to students. I can quote them. I like to quote them. I'm a huge fan of picture books for all ages. I know many ways they can be used instructionally. I like the way they feel. I like the way they smell. I love picture books.

But I don't know how to write them. Huge difference. So I have been learning. Big, BIG shout out to my fellow Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) members for giving me their thoughts, suggestions, tips and resources for learning more about picture books and more importantly, the publishing of picture books, which is a learning curve unto itself.

There has been a great deal of chocolate involved in this process since I no longer drink coffee, but today, I did finally compile the steps, resources and suggestions in the way I think will work best for me: a 3 ring binder. Also in this binder, I have made a dummy storyboard (a mock up of a 32 page picture book) for my project so that I can more easily map out the flow of the story.

I am excited! What fun learning!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Do You Hear Brill?

I am slowly (key word) working my way through a delicious book, Wonderbook, the Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff Vandermeer. I love it partly because it combines amazing, inspiring art with really useful writing tips, and partly because it has lots of exercises you can do as well as an accompanying website chock full of resources.

One of the first exercises (see? 'slowly' really was the key word) is to write a story about the illustration below. I was shooting for about 1,000 words. After an embarrassingly long time writing, I fell short by about 200 words. I definitely need more practice. I read the example story on the Wonderbooks website, but I have to say, it was a little above me. And I wished I hadn't read it before attempting my own story! 

So try your hand at it! 

Here's mine:

“No, no, no! That is not right a’tawl!” complained Master Hickersnick, as Crumpy raised his fin wings, and belted out the most glorious off-key note to have been sung in the musicarium in quite some time. Master Hickersnick crossed his arms over his portliness and dug his chin into his chest, white beard trembling with indignation.
Crumpy, oblivious, gasped out the last of the unfortunate note, his green and yellow scales glowing, his eyes shining with joy. He stood proudly on the dais, still puffed with pleasure, his strident chords echoing happily in his mind. Only after several very long seconds did Hickersnick’s obvious stance register with the Ichthyoid.  His glittering body slowly deflated, his delicate fin wings drooped.
“Pah!” Hickersnick declared. “What am I to do with that? I have spent the better part of this quarter trying to instill a sense of tone in you. We have studied Edgernaw to Travalent, Brahlins to Hydengott, and this is the best you can do? Pah!”
Crumpy’s form shrank further, his round eyes now balefully studying the ceiling.
Master Hickersnick drew a black feathered quill from the ink pot at his feet and opened a musty journal from a stack that reached from the floor to his waist. “I don’t know. I simply don’t know,” he muttered, “how she expects me to teach one fish to sing, let alone an entire school.”
Crumpy shuffled off the dais, too despondent to air swim.
“That’ll be a 0 for tone I’m afraid, young Halburtson.” Hickersnick wrote in the grade journal, feather quill punctuating the angry strokes. Morpheus and Cambrelle, Hickersnick’s ever present giant parrots, ruffled their feathers and softly squawked their disapproval from their vantage point on their master’s shoulders.
“Oh, Crumpy! I’m sorry!” Deveina blurted as he shuffled out the musicarium doors to the hallway.
“You heard?”
“Yes, but . . . but I thought you were just great! Really!” Deveina’s fin wings fluttered slightly.
“Thanks, but I’m just no good at that” he paused. “I tried! I really tried! I thought I had it this time. I think I failed music” Crumpy groaned.
“That’s why I’m here. That is, I know. I mean, I think I did too. I think we all did!” Deveina sputtered. A loud squawk echoed behind them. “Come on, let’s get out of here. I’ll explain on the way.” She floated gracefully into the air, hovering just above Crumpy, scales flashing with her movement, fin wings raised to air swim.
Crumpy followed, drifting his body next to hers. They swam down the hall, away from the squawking, away from the sour faced Hickersnick. “Well? Fill me in. What do you mean, ‘We all did’?”
“I know we’re not supposed to listen to each other’s music exams. But after Dorsa and Hake came back upset from theirs, I just had to listen in on yours. And I think the same thing is happening with all of us!” Deveina said.
“Which is what?” Crumpy, still upset, was half listening.
“We don’t have tone!” Deveina cried.
Crumpy rolled her an irritated glance. “And this is supposed to make me feel better how?”
“No, no! It’s just that I don’t think any of us have tone. I heard Dorsa and Hake talking and they got marked down for tone, too. So did I!”
“Deveina, what does that have to do with anything? Just leave me alone. I need to go back to the hatchery and check on Ray” said Crumpy, his mind already on what to feed his little brother for lunch.
Deveina spun around in front of Crumpy, stopping him short. His yellow polka dots seemed to freeze on their green background, all hovering now, facing Deveina. “But don’t you see? What if we can’t sing his way? What if Ichthyoids just . . . have our limits with tone?” she said.
“Have our limits?” Crumpy answered. “Come on now. You didn’t get hooked into that nonsense, did you?”
Deveina fluttered her fin wings in frustration. “No! What I’m saying is what if we sing our way? Why do we have exams in Sapien? What if we could have our exams in Ichthyoid? What if we could brill our songs for him? For exams?”

Crumpy considered. Brill is something they had all done since hatchlings. All Ichthyiods did. Mothers and fathers brilled to their young at rest time; Ichthyoids of all stages brilled when they were happy, to make themselves feel better, or just to pass the time. Each Ichthyoid had their own reverberation within the brill, their own particular, nuanced sound. Most Sapiens could barely hear the brill. Some young ones could hear it, but they grew out of it for the most part. It was a shame really, for Sapiens never to hear the brilliant waterfall of brill.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Ninth Life

I wrote this poem, The Ninth Life, (many) years ago in college. Because it's one of my favorite poems that seems to have enduring meaning, I recently entered it in this year's North Carolina United Tribes Unity Conference writing competition in the poetry category, where it won 2nd place.

The Ninth Life
Catwalking into my dreams
at night.
Slinking thoughts of you
to keep me
in limbo  –
never asleep,
never awake.

tiptoe in on black velvet paws,
leaving me dazed
and tumbling
to land on all fours

for the ninth time.
        ---Kara Stewart

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Literacy, The Common Core and Our American Indian Students

I had the honor yesterday of presenting a workshop at the 39th Annual North Carolina Indian Unity Conference. The workshop was geared toward parents, guardians, and family of our American Indian students. I gave a very basic overview of the Common Core State Standards and the English Language Arts portion of the standards.

After the overview of the achievement expectations for our students, we focused on some of the learning tools schools use to get there - in this case, books about Native Americans or that include Native Americans. These are books commonly found in media centers, leveled book rooms and classrooms all over the country. Unfortunately, many of them give an inaccurate view of Native Americans. Using a number of resources, we explored how to analyze these tools students are given to learn, either purposefully or inadvertently, about American Indians, and developed language to approach teachers, media specialists and school administration when we are uncomfortable with the message these tools impart.

Workshop participants had wonderful insights and comments both about the new achievement expectations and about the tools we put in the hands of students everywhere. I hope that I have helped developed advocates for accurate information for all students.

Many thanks to give for this experience:
the Chapel-Hill-Carrboro City Schools district
faculty and staff at Mary Scroggs Elementary School
the Sappony Tribe
United Tribes Board
Indian Housing Authority
my daughter

I am humbled and grateful to be part of such caring, supportive communities both at school, my tribe and family and the community of North Carolina tribes.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Pecan-Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake Needs Finishing Touch

Got power and a snow day? Oven working? Help me perfect this coffee cake recipe! And who doesn't love coffee cake on a snowy morning?

This recipe began as Coffee Cake Supreme on I got this cool app for that I can use on my Kindle Fire. Select which type of meal you want, select the ingredients and voila! Recipes pop up for you. The Coffee Cake Supreme recipe indicated the recipe is flexible - you can add mashed bananas, chocolate chips, vary some of the ingredients and whatnot.

Knowing that calories spent on something like this are useless if chocolate is not involved, I made a Pecan-Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake recipe from their recipe. And I need your help to perfect it. The part I most need your help with is at the end with how best to include the streusel on top. I thought the rest of the cake was yummy good, but adjust as you like (and let us know how you did it!).

Pecan-Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake

1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup white sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
3 cups all purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup water
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup chocolate chips

1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons butter, room temperature, cut up
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour a 9" Bundt pan. Dust with cocoa powder, if desired. Yes, please.

Make streusel: Combine all streusel ingredients except the chocolate chips. Cut with 2 knives or pastry mixer until the butter is pea-sized. Stir in 1/2 cup chocolate chips.

Make cake: In a large bowl, cream together the sugar and butter using a mixer. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. Stir into the creamed mixture by hand. If you over mix, cake will be more dry and tough.

Combine the water, vanilla and yogurt in small bowl. Stir into the cake mixture by hand. Add 1/2 cup chocolate chips. Stir into the batter.


The option I took that turned out okay, but the top of the cake definitely needed something. Like streusel.

This is what I did following the method from the allrecipes one:
Pour half the cake batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle half of the streusel over it, then top with the remaining batter, and sprinkle with remaining streusel. Bake for approximately 50 minutes in preheated oven. Cool
in pan for 10 minutes, then invert on a plate or wire rack to cool completely.

That means the streusel is on the bottom of the cake. The baked product clearly needs it on the top! The cake comes out moist and tender, but it needs the topping. I tried a standard powdered sugar glaze, but I preferred the cake nekkid to that. It needs the streusel on top. If I put the streusel in the pan first, obviously it will stick, so nix on that. Sprinkling it on top after the cake is baked won't work.

Is there no hope for it but to bake it in a 13x9 pan, sprinkling the last half of the streusel on top? If so, how long does it take to bake for that shape pan? 

Up to the challenge? HELP ME PERFECT THE RECIPE! Get baking. Go on. You know you have snow-induced boredom by now anyway. You can only watch so much Judge Judy. In my case, a lot. But that's neither here nor there. Let me know your results. I love it when you bake.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Poetry Break: Rule Number One

Rule Number One

"I can tell"
he had said
(very drunk, very bold, very true),
"when you want to be with me."

I almost denied it,
and then
(very calm, very clear, very true) -

he whispered in the half light,
"you, you, you."
he accused
(very sweet, very tender, very true)
"You made me break the rules."
I denied it.

I want to be with you, share with you.
I want you to hold me, warm me.
I want to know you, touch you.

And no,
I won't break your fragile, empty rules.

  -- Kara Stewart, 1984

Monday, January 20, 2014

Poetry Break!

In the style of the awesome Maya Angelou, whom I have always admired.

My Ground

You can call me names,
You can trash me down,
You can say my world is wrong and wrapped up in my own point.

You can shoot me down,
You can play me off.

You can do all this
But mister,

I know my ground.
I know my ground.

My ground stands still under me,
My ground is open and strong.
I know my ground.

You can beat around the bush,
You can hem and haw,
You can hide yourself away like Fort Knox under quarantine.

You can spout anger,
You can cry “Foul!”

You can do all this
But mister,

I know my ground.
I know my ground.

My ground communicates,
My ground shares and returns in both good and bad.
I know my ground.

You can accuse me with that finger,
You can shove me in that box,
You can close your ears and heart to what I say.

You can wait for any excuse,
You can paint that whole picture if it makes you feel better.

You can do all this,
But mister,

I know my ground.
I know my ground.

 My ground says it like it is.
My ground is flat out with no games.
I know my ground.

Running through the earth,
Running through me,
My ground steadies and holds.
Heals and grows. 
and once again flows.

I know my ground.

Kara Stewart, 2009