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2012

20December

Twenty-Six Books

 

 

 

Eight weeks ago my first novel was published – a book about a troubled gunman opening fire in a first-grade classroom. A book based on a recurring nightmare I’d had during the many years I taught, one every teacher holds at bay during waking hours as she shoulders complete responsibility for the students she loves. And last Friday, I watched in horror as parts of that nightmare, eerily similar to the book I wrote, played out on national television. Many authors will tell you their characters “come to life” as they write. It’s true; I grew to love the 18 first graders I invented, with their distinct personalities, almost as much as the hundreds of kids I’ve taught over the years. Friday I relived the scenes “my children” saw and heard in their classroom, sobbing with the rest of the country as we watched, devastated at the staggering number of victims – far worse than any scenario I’d imagined. I could protect my fictional children; but no one, not even the heroic teachers who willingly sacrificed themselves, could save these beautiful babies from the brutal rain of bullets that ended their lives.

I’ve struggled as we all have, searching for a way to comprehend this tragedy. Writing has always been my solace in times of pain, but for days I’ve been unable to finish a sentence. As important as gun control, mental health, and school safety issues are to me, I’ve maintained my silence, for the most part, while following the heated debates on social and mass media. I’ve kept vigil in my living room, unable to turn away from the heartbreaking photos of sweet-faced children who seem so familiar to me. I had hoped my book, about a soldier with PTSD, would draw attention to the plight of those with mental illness, but I find myself  sorely challenged to feel sympathy for the troubled boy who robbed 26 families of happiness in a heinous act of violence.

I wanted to “do” something, and my feeling of connection to these children and teachers I never knew demanded my best effort. After much thought I decided what my small offering will be - to donate a book, a first grade book, to my public library, for each of the victims. Twenty-six books with each name written in one – so that they will live on in my community. I spent several days making a list of current books that teachers listed online as kids’ favorites. I read reviews and descriptions and then studied them at the bookstore to make sure the message of each was happy and hopeful.

And then a strange thing happened. As I listened to the stories about each individual, their unique personalities began to mesh perfectly with the books I’d found. When Noah Pozner’s family said he loved tacos so much that he wanted to work in a taco factory, I knew he’d love Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin. I had ordered Matthew Cordell‘s Hello, Hello just a week earlier as a gift, and when Jessica Rekos’ family described how much she wanted a horse, I got chills picturing one of the most memorable scenes - a joyous young girl riding away on a horse. Emilie Parker’s parents told of the way she had a kind word for everyone; I thought of the beautiful lessons of Jacqueline Woodson’s Each Kindness. Grace McDonnell wanted to live on the beach and be a painter. She loved seagulls and shells and lighthouses, and she painted fish – like Walter Anderson, whose life is chronicled in The Secret World of Walter Anderson by my friend Hester Bass.  

I can’t presume to know these children, but I’ll gather as much information as I can find to help me choose the books that will tenderly preserve their memories in my community. I’ll ask for help from my elementary teacher friends, too. They’ll know which books would be appropriate for a soccer player, a future firefighter, a New York Giants fan, a budding musician, and a lovely principal who dressed as a Book Fairy to encourage her students to read. I’m happy to share the list when it’s finished if others would like to place a book with a Sandy Hook angel’s name in a school or community library.

I will write each of these names in a book: Charlotte Bacon, Daniel Barden, Olivia Engel, Josephine Gay, Ana M Marquez-Greene, Dylan Hockley, Madeline F. Hsu, Catherine V. Hubbard, Chase Kowalski, Jesse Lewis, James Mattioli, Grace McDonnell, Emilie Parker, Jack Pinto, Noah Pozner, Caroline Previdi, Jessica Rekos, Avielle Richman, Benjamin Wheeler, Allison N Wyatt, Rachel Davino, Dawn Hochsprung, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Russeau, Mary Sherlach, Victoria Soto.

And as I take them to my library for Huntsville children to enjoy, I’ll be remembering the Newtown families who are left with only memories of the precious ones they’ve lost. In the days ahead I will continue to pray that our country will have the courage to take definitive action in both increasing mental health provisions and legislating gun control measures to help keep our children safe.

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Posted in December, 2012

28November

Safety Tips for Classrooms and School Libraries

While I was researching THIS IS NOT A DRILL, I found that there were a number of safety tips no one had ever told me while I was in the classroom. Some of them were common sense, things most people would do if an intruder entered the buiding, but some of them were less obvious. I decided to put together a list for teachers and librarians, so I'm posting it here:

Safety in the Classroom or School Library

 1.Pay attention to student comments. Alert the principal and security officers of any rumors of weapons or impending fights.

 2.Leave doors open and windows uncovered so that hall passersby can observe a developing situation inside the room, especially if you teach students who may have anger issues or could be considered volatile.

 3.Close the door if there is gunfire or threat of an intruder. Lock or barricade it with table and chairs.

 4.Instruct students to remain in the restroom or other classroom if danger erupts – or if they’re in the hall to move quickly to the nearest classroom.

 5.Remain calm. Students take their cues from you. Your ability to hide fear can set the tone.

 6.If someone has a gun, inform him in a matter-or-fact tone that you are sending the other students to a nearby teacher’s room (or library, etc.) so that you can talk with him about the problem. If he agrees or doesn’t answer, have them leave their things and move out of the room quickly and silently. If he refuses, instruct students to be seated and quiet.

 7.Sit at your desk to show you’re calm - and to place distance between yourself and the armed person. Don’t move between him and the exit. Don’t try to stop a fleeing student. Alert the principal if he leaves room. 

 8.Tell the person you will not approach or confront him. Ask him politely to point the gun away from you while you talk. Use a quiet, calm voice and non-threatening actions. Don’t take anything he says personally; respond in a professional manner. Clear your mind of any assumptions about the person and treat him as you’d like to be treated if you became unstable

 9.If you or your students become hostages, don’t make promises you can’t keep. Be empathetic. Say that you’ll help in any way you can. Just try to slow things down until professional help arrives. Statistically, most hostage situations are resolved without violence, so time is on your side.

10.If shooting erupts, drop to the floor and tell your students to do so also. When police officers arrive, listen for commands, obey instructions, and stay out of their way

 

(I hope you never need them, but it seemed like a good thing to think about - in the same way we plan for a fire or tornado at school, even though they are unlikely occurrences.) 

 

 

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Posted in November, 2012

26November

A Great Week with My Teacher Tribe

NCTE/ALAN 2012 in Vegas, Baby!

I LOVE being an author, but I’ll ALWAYS have a teacher’s heart, so traveling to Vegas to do a presentation at the National Council of Teachers of English was a long anticipated event.  Any time I’m around teachers, I feel like I’m home, and this group proved to be my “tribe” in so many ways.

 

First, I’d only met my presentation group online, so getting to know them in person was AMAZING! I actually met our fearless leader, Kelle Moye, an amazing “ideas” person, organizer, and dedicated reading teacher of very lucky middle schoolers, in the elevator, then had breakfast next morning with the rest of my articulate and uber-competent group: Gordon Hultberg, Lynne Eichel, Kellee Moye, Jennifer Fountain, and Katherine Sokolowski.

presgroup

 

I'm pretty sure there’s not a person on the planet who cares more about books, kids, and the perfect matching of the two than these folks. If you’re a teacher, parent, or reader, you'll learn something new every single day if you follow http://www.teachmentortexts.com/ and http://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/

 

Our presentation, Igniting the Love of Reading in Your Struggling Readers, was held in a basement room at the end of a maze of stairs and hallways so complicated, we were sure NO ONE would find us. But when the doors opened and teachers started pouring in, we found ourselves with a full house – complete with extra chairs brought in and people sitting on the floor along every wall. 

prgroup         

crowdfloor

It was such a great feeling to see so many eager faces and open minds - educators who wanted to know MORE about the creative ways these master teachers are enticing kids to love reading. 

 

Another highlight of the week was the Nerdy Book Club party, where I got to talk with so many teachers and authors, including Kellee’s blog partner - the effervescent Jen Vincent, the three Nerdy Book Club founders: Donalyn Miller - author of The Book Whisperer (every teacher needs this!), Colby Sharp - star of the so-much-fun video “I Love Books,” and Cindy Minnich - talented computer guru for the group, and with my Twitter buddy, "John360," who made a special trip back to the exhibit hall right before it closed so I could sign his book (sweet). It was a night of great food, company, and fun – made even better with my Alabama author buddy Irene Latham there.  I also loved chatting with authors Jenni Holm and Lindsey Leavitt, and great impromptu entertainment was provided by Jonathan Auxier, author of Peter Nimble, yo-yo master, and engaging storyteller.

auxier

 

NCTE was another reminder that I’m so fortunate to be a part of the wonderful Penguin team. It was also my first chance to meet the amazing staffers who support THIS IS NOT A DRILL with their tireless energy and infectious enthusiasm. The amazing Scottie Bowditch, Penguin School & Library Marketing Director, remembers everyone and knows everything about Penguin books, wonderful Laura Antonacci planned our fabulous Penguin dinner party and arranged my schedule for two booth signings, awesome Kathryn Bhirud helped me at my presentation with publicity material, adorable Bridget Ryan was a powerful Midge-force for book sales in our booth, and the ever-efficient Mary Raymond helped me figure out where I was supposed to be. Our dinner at Fixe at the Bellagio was delicious and memorable – and what amazing company! We also celebrated author Ruta Sepetys' birthday (below with Scottie.)

rutascottie   

 

Kellee and Katherine and I chatted with super-smart Ruta and authors Paul Griffin and Joan Bauer (love her books!) and charming editor Kendra Levin. Paul is quite possibly the nicest guy in the business and most definitely the best listener. Authors seated at the other table were Jon Scieszka, Marie Lu, Kristin Cashore, Beth Revis, Kathleen Krull, and T.A. Barron, so I got to meet a lot of my colleagues for the first time – so exciting! 

 

Joan Kaywell was the very first person I met in Vegas (on the airport shuttle) and she and I kept crossing paths until it almost became funny. What a great conference buddy to have; she's a former president of ALAN and was this year's recipient of the prestigious Ted Hipple award for her many contributions to young adult literature. She is a dynomo, for sure.

      mejoan

 

One of the biggest thrills for me at the conference was sitting in on a Round Table discussion led by the amazing Liz Hester Schults featuring Matt de la Pena and his work. Such a rewarding experience to see my former students become terrific teachers! So proud of Liz! The circle of life!

lizmatt

 

 

I also loved finally meeting the very talented Todd Strasser, author of Give a Boy a Gun, who was kind enough to write a blurb for the cover of This is Not a Drill. Todd has written over 100 children's/YA books! He was so generous in his praise for my book, and I'm very grateful.

Todd

 

I did manage to escape the convention hall and go out on the strip for a bit on a beautiful afternoon.

jellybeans 

 I saw Elvis standing next to  Elmo on the sidewalk, which seemed about right for Vegas - and where else would you find a Jelly Bean Statue of Liberty?

 

vegas

I had a great view of the strip and got to watch Vegas come alive as the sky darkened each night. 

 

My fun roommate Wendy Stephens (fabulous librarian and another former student – I’m so lucky) treated me to my first Cirque de Soliel, which was jaw-dropping. We found a great restaurant, Mon Ami Gabi, where we sat outside and watched the Bellagio fountains – most relaxing meal of the week.

wendyme

 

On my last night, I went down to the casino to play a few hands of blackjack because I knew my brother-in-law Tommy would give me hell if I spent a week in Vegas without gambling at all. I took $100 and left with $150 . . . three hours later. Met really nice people and had fun, even though I’m not much of a gambler. I used my “big” winnings to get a neck and shoulder massage on my airport layover – money well spent.

We’re living in a time in our country’s history when teacher morale is plummeting. Superintendents without education backgrounds are replacing experienced classroom veterans with Teach for America workers, unions are constantly under attack, cost-of-living raises are not even discussed, and the workload grows heavier as classroom sizes increase and staff is cut to save money. But you’d never know it from the teachers I met at NCTE/ALAN. Their enthusiasm for books and their love for kids cannot be dampened by the burdens heaped on them by a tough economy.  Many of them paid their own expenses and all of them left their families right before Thanksgiving to learn, to listen, to share, to grow. My spirits were lifted by their energy and commitment and my heart was warmed by their friendship.

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Posted in November, 2012

23October

THIS IS NOT A DRILL Blog Tour

Thanks so much to these wonderful bloggers for hosting us!

 

Thursday, Oct. 25 – Launch Day           

CYNTHIA LEITICH SMITH    http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2012/10/guest-post-beck-mcdowell-on-blinking.html

Friday, Oct. 26

            A LIFE BOUND BY BOOKS   http://alifeboundbybooks.blogspot.com/2012/10/blog-tour-interview-this-is-not-drill.html

Monday, Oct. 29 

            THE STORY SIREN  http://www.thestorysiren.com/2012/10/this-is-not-a-drill-by-beck-mcdowell.html#

Tuesday, Oct. 30

            YA BLISS  http://www.yabliss.com/2012/10/this-is-not-drill-beck-mcdowell-blog.html

Wednesday, Oct. 31

              BUZZ WORDS     http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.blogspot.com.au/2012/10/blog-tour-and-giveaway-this-is-not-drill.html#

Thursday, Nov. 1

            YA LOVE BLOG  http://yaloveblog.com/2012/11/01/students-wants-to-know-beck-mcdowell/

Friday, Nov. 2

            ICEY BOOKS    http://www.iceybooks.com/search?q=mcdowell

Monday, Nov. 5

            NERDY BOOK CLUB      http://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2012/11/05/teaching-to-writing-by-beck-mcdowell/

Tuesday, Nov. 6

            THE NAUGHTY BOOK KITTIES   http://naughtybookkitties.blogspot.com/2012/11/beck-mcdowell-alternating-povs-in-ya.html

Wednesday, Nov. 7

            THE COMPULSIVE READER   http://www.thecompulsivereader.com/2012/11/guest-blog-beck-mcdowells-writing.html

Thursday, Nov. 8

            TEACH MENTOR TEXTS   http://www.teachmentortexts.com/2012/11/this-is-not-drill-blog-tour-and-giveaway.html#axzz2BlfmH1m2

Friday, Nov. 9

            CONFESSIONS OF A BOOKAHOLIC   http://www.totalbookaholic.com/2012/11/tour-interview-this-is-not-drill-by.html

Monday, Nov. 12

            KATIE’S BOOK BLOG    http://www.katiesbookblog.com/2012/11/blog-tour-interview-with-beck-mcdowell.html

Tuesday, Nov. 13

            ALLURING READS    http://www.alluringreads.com/2012/11/this-is-not-drill-tour-stop-review.html

Wednesday, Nov. 14

            PAGE TURNERS BLOG   http://www.pageturnersblog.com/2012/11/this-is-not-drill-blog-tour-stop.html

Thursday, Nov. 15

             MY BEST FRIENDS ARE BOOKS    http://bestfriendsrbooks.wordpress.com/2012/11/15/this-is-not-a-drill-blog-tour-interview-with-beck-mcdowell/

 

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Posted in October, 2012

14October

Grand Fesitval of Art and Books

Grand Fesitval of Art and Books

I knew about Fairhope’s reputation as a haven for artists and writers before I visited last weekend. And Karin Wilson, owner of Page & Palette is known nationally as a passionate advocate for books and a generous host to thousands of authors through the years. So I felt right at home when I walked into the store and found my book prominently displayed.

I was lucky to have sister Susan Siniard traveling with me on this trip, and after our six hour drive, it didn’t take us long to find a great spot to rest and recuperate.

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Sharing the stage with amazing Penguin sales rep and highly respected dynamo Doni Kay was a treat. It was my first time to talk about THIS IS NOT A DRILL because it won’t actually be published Oct. 25, but was released early to Page & Palette just in time for the festival.

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And signing books is always fun for me – like giving my stories a little stamp of approval before sending them out into the world to do good things. Thanks to lovely niece and Mobile resident Margaret McDowell Miller for this photo (and for coming.)

5

It was great meeting Adam Gidwitz, whose book A TALE DARK AND GRIMM has just been chosen as Al Roker’s next book club pick. Adam’s smart and fun and had lots of terrific advice about writing and book promotion. (I know because I pounded him with questions.) Looking forward to seeing him on the Today show in November.

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And I LOVED talking to Fairhope Middle Schoolers, who were an attentive audience with eager faces and intelligent questions. When I explained that my publisher, Penguin, sent a special box of books to Fairhope ahead of my publication date, one girl heard that without the commas and thought my publisher was actually a penguin – some rare breed known as a publisher penguin, I suppose. The picture in my head of a penguin packing a box of books made it a little hard to continue my presentation without giggling, but she was a good sport about the laughter her comment brought.

It was a great inaugural trip for THIS IS NOT A DRILL. Everyone in Fairhope is ridiculously friendly and there’s great shopping, eating, and relaxing by the bay. Can’t wait for my next chance to visit! If you’re anywhere near Page & Palette, you can snag a copy of THIS IS NOT A DRILL before anyone else in the country, so hurry on down to one of the South’s best indie bookstores.

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Posted in October, 2012

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