Ashley Franklin

Have a Heart: Using Children’s Literature to Create More Dynamic and Inclusive Classroom Discussions (Part 1)

On April 28, 2019, I had the honor of doing my very first conference presentation. The occasion: AAIM (Arkansas Association of Instructional Media) 2019. My presentation was well-received (THANK YOU!), so I wanted to share it as a series of blog posts for anyone interested, who wanted a recap, or who might have missed it. I hope these posts encourage you to think about your role in helping to shape our youths’ minds as they learn the truly transformative power of books.

My First Conference: AAIM

What’s on your bookshelf?

A Deceptively Simple Question

“What’s in your wallet?” -Capital One

Commercials have to work extra hard today in order to be memorable. Let’s be honest. Most of us skip them whenever we’re able. However, let’s not overlook the beauty of this question. The basic answer is not truly the goal–money, cash, credit/ debit cards, and many a tiny picture of a loved one if you haven’t gone fully digital.

But that’s truly not the goal. The goal is to get you to question if what’s in your wallet is doing its job. Is it meeting your needs? Is it fulfilling its purpose? And if it’s not, what do you plan to do about it?

Today, my librarian friends, I want to ask a question of you that’s essential to your profession: “What’s on your bookshelf?”

By taking a closer look at the children’s literature on your shelves, you’ll be able to assess if your collections are:

  • Meeting your students’ needs
  • More reflective of your personal tastes than the tastes of your students
  • Providing students with the emotional tools to navigate their environments
  • Instrumental in starting and/or continuing difficult conversations

and of course, helping students to have a heart.

The Beginning

Thanks to constant rezoning and the uptick of fairly homogeneous neighborhoods, children’s literature could be a child’s first encounter with someone from another culture. For many children, those first literary experiences are rooted in fairytales.

**Coming in Part 2: Fairytales, the work of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s, and restructuring your bookshelves**

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Butt in Chair (BIC) & Why it Vexes Me So

“STOP TELLING ME TO SIT DOWN!” is what I internally rage scream whenever I see this bit of writerly advice. Don’t get me wrong. I get it. Of course you need to get your butt in gear in order to actually write.

But, follow me with this, what if with the way my life is set up, those butt-in-chair moments are few and far between? Does that mean I’m not a serious writer? Does that make me a writer of a lesser caliber?

The way my anxiety is set up, I find BIC unnerving. If the words aren’t manifesting on the page (or in my brain for that matter), I may freewrite, doodle, wrestle with other works in progress, or let my mind wander for a bit. If nothing of great magnitude is happening, you best believe my butt is getting up.

Actually sitting my butt in a chair to get some writing done is a luxury I have maybe a handful of times a month. For this reason, I value it immensely. However, it’s just not something that I can regularly do. And before you roll your eyes at me, I do know that I’m being SUPER literal. You do have to put the time in. There’s no getting around that. However, I feel like BIC makes making time to write seem a lot easier than what it is.

My writing time is more WIM—writing in the moment. This consists of making voice notes on my phone, drafting in Google Docs on whichever device is closest, scribbling on scraps of paper, and later assembling everything when I have time (usually when my kids have FINALLY fallen asleep).

At the end of the day, no matter how it gets done, all I hope is that whatever time I have put into writing has made me feel one step closer to achieving my writing goals.

That’s all we can do—do what works best for us. What works best for you?

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Waiting out the Wait

So what are we supposed to do while we wait to hear the fate of our beloved manuscript darlings? What do you do?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the publishing business, it’s that publishing is on its own time schedule. Of course we would all like quick responses from agents, editors, and so on, but that’s not how this works. In fact, it seems like the quickest answers are usually the most disappointing. We all have friends of friends or have heard rumors (or experienced) the dreaded “No” that came in less than an hour.

Me? In my free time (HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I almost rolled off my bed laughing at that.) I’ll try again. In my free time (snicker), what I do to pass the time is simple. Right now, I have a picture book on submission, so my brain is picture book jelly. I have other picture book manuscripts on deck, but I need a recharge my brain. Instead, I write articles. They’re usually creative non-fiction. Sometimes they’re not.

While on submission, I like to feel a rush–like something has a sense of urgency. So, I’ve joined a few Facebook groups and occasionally respond to calls for whatever seems interesting. It keeps my mind off of what I’m truly waiting for. I’m still flexing my writing muscles, and I tend to only respond to paying gigs. Here’s my latest from About Islam: How Do We Value Black Muslim Youth?

So, what’s your creative alternative while you stop waiting?

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Living with the “What-ifs”

Previously, we discussed acknowledging the what-ifs–acknowledging their existence without letting them ruin your day (or peace of mind for that matter).

But what if, no matter what you do, you can’t shake them? Live with them! As a creative, your work will never please everyone:

  • Different strokes for different folk.
  • Everything ain’t for everybody.
  • You can’t please everyone.

I’m sure that at least of those resonates because they are absolutely true!

If no one has told you this yet today, let me be the first: “You are an amazing creator. I admire your determination to fine-tune your craft and see its success no matter what.” 

Now that that’s out of the way, let me also say this: You’re human, and it’s okay to feel. Your feelings are valid. You’re not being sensitive. You’re not being silly. You are entitled to feel how you feel about your creative process and your journey. I do have this one request: Don’t dwell on feelings that hinder your creative output. 

Jealous? Sad? Overwhelmed? Cautiously excited? Hunny, have ALL the feels. You’re not plastic, and you shouldn’t be expected to behave like you are. Find your trusted friends and companions, and vent away. Just don’t let social media make a fool out of you. (That’s a topic for another day.)

Personally, I’m living my best creative life when I’ve allowed myself to just live–feel all the feelings, have all the experiences, be the me who I need to be at that moment–sad Ashley, happy Ashley, silly Ashley, hopeful Ashley, etc.

Sometimes, it is easier to acknowledge the what-ifs and let them go than others. During those times when those nagging questions of validation and success aren’t easily shaken, live with them. Make small goals that you can check off as you work towards maintaining your creativity.

What if nobody comes to my book signing?

(What can I do to build a buzz? All I can do is my part.)

What if my book doesn’t make it on to any lists?

(My work is #1 to someone. All I can do is keep creating.)

Don’t let the what-ifs keep you from being your best creative self. If you can’t brush them off with a “whatever,” acknowledge the core of what they’re getting at and use that as fuel to continue on your journey. Always forward.

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Acknowledging the “What-ifs”

I love a great line, and I’ll never forget this gem from my mother-in-law. Despite my (at the time) toddler being mid-meltdown, she offered him this advice: “Don’t let the devil ruin your day!”

I cannot explain to you how hard I laughed at the time.

whatifs

The same goes for the what-ifs. The what-ifs? That’s what I call those pesky questions that nag us when we are in a writing slump, the doubts that have us believing that we’re imposters and aren’t good writers, the negative thoughts that tell us our WIP is hot garbage, etc. (And yes, this is what they look like in my head.)

What if my critique partners hate my book?

What if my revisions are making my manuscript worse?

What if I never get an agent?

What if I don’t get any interest while on submission?

What if nobody buys my book?

Don’t let the what-ifs ruin your day. And definitely, don’t let them ruin your dreams.

Do me a favor. The next time you’re being plagued by the what-ifs, go ahead and respond with a “Whatever!” Then, go ahead and keep pushing towards your writing goals.

Keep writing. I know I will.

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Kitchen Conversations (for Char and Michelle)

This was one of the first pieces that I wrote that I was proud of. It’s not something that I’d intended to send to an agent or a magazine. It’s something that I wrote for me. I wrote it to see if I could. I’d been writing academic papers for so long, I wanted to see if I had lost my creativity.
If you followed my other blog back in the day, you’ve seen this before. Why have I chosen to share it here? Though I wrote it just a few years ago, the first people that I shared it with have both passed away within the last couple of months. Both of them had encouraged me to write a follow-up, but you know how it goes. Busy, busy, busy.
Michelle and Char, you both believed in me when I wasn’t sure that I believed in myself. I’ll never forget that. It never crossed my mind that neither of you would be here this time next year with a copy of my book in your hands. Besides, y’all were around my age. It never crossed my mind that we didn’t have plenty of time.
But y’all fussed at me for not having written a follow-up time and time again. I’m sorry. I’m revisiting (and sharing) the story here. I’m mentally getting back into this space so that I can hold up my end of the bargain and write a follow-up, like y’all asked. I don’t know how long it will take me to write Part 2 of “Kitchen Conversations,” but I will start it today. Forgive me for my tardiness.
Make time for what and who matters. Love others. Love yourself. Love your craft. Take nothing for granted.

KITCHEN CONVERSATIONS

If home is where the heart is, that heart beats in the kitchen. Every morning, breakfast came with a side of questions. This one also came with crayons.
“Mama, how come we don’t match?” Mama laughed. He loved her laugh. It reminded him of the sound his trucks made when he revved them up on the kitchen floor.
“What do you mean, baby?”
He took a crayon out of the box and sat it on top of his picture. “There is one brown crayon in my box, and only one of us is that brown”
“Let me see what you’ve got here.” Mama looked down at the white piece of paper with the family drawn on it. He was right. Only one of them was the color of the crayon.
“I’ll have to change my picture, or it won’t be right.” He looked sad.
There was no room for tears at the breakfast table. Mama slowly stirred milk into her coffee.
“What’s your favorite color?” she asked.
“Green!”
“Green is a good color. It’s things that grow, things of life. But now brown, that’s for roots, foundation—solid things. Those are the things that give you a good start.”
“What does coffee help you start?”
“My day!” There was that laugh again.
“Why don’t you measure the milk?”
“I know how I want it to taste. The lighter the color, the sweeter it tastes. Still, no matter how much milk I add doesn’t change the fact that this is a cup of coffee. It’s the same with people. We all have our flavor, but we’re people just the same.”
He thought about his family– how different they looked, how different they acted, and how much fun they had when they were together. He smiled. “I don’t have to change my picture.”
“No—just your box of crayons.”
Breakfast was over, but that’s what happens when you stay up late playing video games. She didn’t see her mom or brother, but she was happy to find her aunt in the kitchen. Her aunt was amazing! With skin the color of sand, eyes that shined like steel drums, and clothes as bright as rare tropical flowers, Auntie Celise wasn’t just from the islands, she was them. Auntie had style!
Picture day was tomorrow, and she had no idea how to ask Auntie to fix her hair. Cornrows, afro, twists, ponytail, braids? She just didn’t know. Most of the girls in her class wore their hair bone-straight. That was going to take some effort. Overwhelmed, she let her head fall onto the table with a thud.
“Girl, what’s wrong with you?” Auntie asked, putting down her magazine.
The girl lifted her head.  “I hate my hair! Can you just make it super straight like everyone else’s?”
Auntie reached over and ran her fingers through the girl’s hair. “Ooh I know what you mean. How I hate having hair with so much personality! Who would want hair that stands up to the Sun with sass, curls and twists to defy the bravest of combs, or threads into designs that would make a spider jealous? Go on and get my flat iron. I’ll hook you up.”
The girl didn’t move. “Let me think about it some more.”
Dinner had come and gone by the time Papa walked through the door. He found the two of them in the kitchen with their evening treats.
“Can we get an allowance like our friends do?” they asked sounding hopeful.
“Why hello to you too! Allowance? I’m allowing you to eat up the rest of the ice cream. How’s that?” said Papa.
The four eyes looking up at him from two bowls quickly looked back down.
“Be about your business!” he said, loosening his tie. “Keep that in mind, and money will always come your way.” It seemed like a new twist on the money doesn’t grow on trees speech was coming. “What do you need money for anyway?” asked Papa.
“We’re saving for a new video game and some new crayons,” she said.
Papa placed a quarter and a dollar on the table. “Which do you want?”
The boy was faster and got the dollar. She cut her eye at him with a look of disgust that comes naturally to big sisters.
“When you’re about your business, you never lose focus of what’s important.” He kissed their foreheads. “I’m about to run to the store to grab a few snacks. Either of you want to come along to pick up something?”
The boy hopped off his chair and ran to the door. Papa smiled at the girl still sitting at the table.
“You are about your business,” he said as he patted her on the shoulder. He walked over to the boy and patted his head. “You, son, have a lot to learn. You two go ahead to bed. The kitchen is closed.”
 
 

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On being a mommy writer

Time is never on my side. Kids always need something. That’s what they do. That’s their job. Students always need something. That’s what they do. That’s my job. House duties never end. It’s not like I can afford a maid, so that’s my job too. Hubby helps out a great deal. Bless his heart, but there are still some days I wish I could shut out the real world and dive into the worlds I’ve created—just live the words, be with my characters as I continue to write life into them.
Times when I can solely spend dedicated to writing (that’s not in the wee hours of the morning) comes few and far between. I can’t express the joy I have when my husband announces that he’s packing up the kids so I can have a writing weekend.
But what do I do in between those writing weekends? Do I just not write? Do I look longingly at my notebooks, wishing that I could run away with them? Nope! Well…not all the time.
I use my cell phone. I’ve downloaded Google docs to my phone and I use it to continue working on manuscripts during time sucks–car line, doctor’s office, waiting for pots to boil, etc.
For bursts of ideas, I use the notes app. Finish a draft while on the go? I email it to my printer so it’s waiting for me when I get home. See something inspirational while I’m out? I snap a pic and email it to myself. Of course, I still carry around a composition book if I know I’ll be sitting somewhere for a while (like my kid’s taekwondo lesson) and I’m in the early stages of drafting. I have a big purse for that.
As writers, many of us have different obligations. We may not always have the time we want to write, but we should always try to best use and manage the time that we have.
 
 

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A girl now has an agent

Yeah, that’s right. I officially have a new agent. The whole process of initial querying to phone calls to stressing out and losing sleep over the decision took less than a month.
I know being in the query trenches can be time consuming, so I was shocked at how quickly this happened. I was honestly just hoping to find an agent within six months.
This time around, I was more prepared. Since this would be my second agent, I knew exactly what I wanted and didn’t want. My list of questions was detailed and reflected my writing and career goals.
I ended up with three offers out of the five agents I queried. Narrowing it down to two was ridiculously hard.
So, who is my new ridiculously fantastic agent? No other than Kathleen Rushall at Andrea Brown Lit.
::Happy Dance::
 
 
 
 

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My only resolution: Try not to stress

I am a high-stress person. I’ve been that way my entire life. My mom has always referred to it as my ability to predictably “get easily worked up.” I accepted it as just how I am and didn’t really pay it any mind until I hit my 30s.
Boy, the 20s can make you feel invincible. The 30s will snap you back to reality like “Nah, my dude.” I stress to the point of having chest pains. Where they do that at? Not cool.
Are there things I want to accomplish in 2018? Of course! I want to be healthier. I want to find an agent. I want to sell another book. I want a better work/life balance. I want to not stress about finances, health insurance, potential car trouble, how many words I can get written in a day/ month/ week, so on and so forth.
But, I can only control so much. As long as I’m trying my best–really putting in work–I need to ease up on myself. I also need to recognize the difference between stressing over something and worrying about something. I think I somersault past worry and perfectly land on stress every single time.
So this year, I’m going to try to stress less. It may be by exercising more, drinking more tea, praying more, doing yoga…I don’t know. All I know is that I’m going to actively work at it, and that’s good enough for me.

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StoryStorm 2018…I'm doing it this time.

StoryStorm will always have a special place in my heart because it was one of the first community writing tasks that I did. Back then it was called PiBoIdMo (still not sure of the correct pronunciation), and it was the jumping-off point that helped me to start networking and discovering some of the many writing tools and communities available.
I was still plowing through the previous year’s ideas last year, so I didn’t participate. This year, I’ll be jotting down ideas in my sparkly, new notebook courtesy of one of my best writing buddies, Caitlin LaRue.
I’m a sucker for a new notebook and gel pens. (Don’t mind the stars all over the table. The kids and I are having a glow-in-the-dark party later.)
I love colors, glitter, and sparkle. Maybe that’s a testament to the days when I was absolutely in love with all things Lisa Frank.
While we’re on the subject of mini obsessions, I don’t know who in my Twitter feed posted a color sequins pencil pouch, but I can’t stop thinking about it and it’s taking all I have not to buy it. Well, there goes that. I didn’t make it to the end of the post without buying the horribly ugly yet adorable pencil pouch. But, I used a gift card. (Thanks, Amber!)
I have a laptop and frequently write on my cellphone, but I cannot get away from writing by hand. There’s something about it that makes me feel extra legit. I’m a writer. I have quirks. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was approaching a mini rage yesterday because I wanted a pink pen to do my edits and could only find turquoise and purple. I’d already used those colors when revising earlier sections and wanted a different color. See, now if I’d had my hand sequins pouch, all of my different colored pens would’ve been in one spot. See! I had an obvious need.
Will my unicorn notebook hold the idea of what could be my next big sale? I have no idea. But, I will be in a good mood while writing my StoryStorm ideas in it. And who can really put a price on a good mood?

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