12.26.2013

Creative Writing in the Classroom: Well Worth the Work, Part II


For a few semesters I have taught a graduate level class called Creative Writing for the Classroom Teacher. For those several weeks, I ask my students (a few of them working teachers; some future educators) to consider that the teaching of expository writing and creative writing call for different methodologies. Though the purpose of both forms is to communicate a message to the reader, that which is communicated is different. One’s aim is to tell it true factually, the other’s is to tell it true. One relies on verifiable evidence, while the other relies on authenticity. So it makes sense that that which the author sets out to tell dictates how it’s told, therefore how it is written.

So, I ask my students to learn to write in at least “two forms of literary writing.” They write a short short story and a collection of poetry for certain, and if time allows, the script for a short graphic story. I inform them at the outset that ours is not a creative writing class in the traditional sense where we’ll write and workshop our pieces, nor will they be graded on the quality of their short fiction and poems. Though I do expect high quality work, the focus is on pedagogy, that is, how educators take the writing of poetry to their own students.

The class objective is multi-faceted: for my students to experience the very writing that they are expected to teach their own students; to provide them with adequate training for them to more competently meet curricular standards; and to afford them the platform to share their concerns about their feelings of inadequacies as they pertain to the teaching of fiction or poetry writing.

I ask them to talk about themselves as writers, to describe their early educational experiences with creative writing, and to discuss how confident they feel about teaching fiction or poetry writing to their own students today. Following is a sampling of their responses: “I think that the lack of experiences has had an impact on how I do not see myself as a poet or author”; “Basically, my experiences with writing have been pretty weak and generally [include] only the academic writing, formula writing and not real exciting. Stories were not really encouraged”; and “When I think back to my school experience, my opportunities to write creative[ly] in an educational setting were limited.” Those who claim to have been exposed to creative writing wrongly identified journal writing as an example of such. And because they themselves were not trained to teach creative writing, they would either avoid teaching it or simply gloss over it. It is easier to teach a lesson on a specific device (personification, for instance) then have students compose a poem (a haiku is short and sweet thus doable) in which they will include personification. If they do so successfully, they score a high grade and we have met that particular standard. Much easier to do that than to teach fiction or poetry as a craft, in and of itself, with its very own tools that require a specific knowledge. In my own travels into classrooms as writer, I’m sad to report that much of the creative writing that is going on reflects my own students’ reactions above.

Over those same several weeks, I try to instill in my students’ minds the great influence they can be in children’s and young people’s writing lives by simply holding open the door leading to Van Gogh’s room, by making available to them the time to walk around in the shoes of working authors, and by sharing with them the tools of the trade.

To that end, following is a list of the suggestions I offer my students:

1. Distinguish creative writing from all the other writing that students have been doing all their educational careers. For students to begin to conceive of themselves as writers, they must first realize the vastly and categorically dissimilar purposes and approaches to writing essays versus writing stories or poems. If “creative writing” is nothing more to them than filler or another task set before them like all the others, they will never get what it means to be a writer, a poet, a playwright and instead consider creative writing nothing more than an instrument belonging solely in an academic setting. Students will have missed out on the opportunity to think that perhaps they, too, might want to contribute their version of the Body Electric that is our great nation and the part that they’ve played in forming it. Instead, they will complete the acrostic, diamante, or haiku, but will never have thought that they might want to give this writing thing an honest go. Related: though the reading of fiction and poetry plays a large role in one becoming a writer and growing one’s craft, reading literature as such doesn’t help a reader conceive of himself as writer, much less to become writer, and much less to improve his craft (as an example, to have students read The Great Gatsby to write an essay about the meaning of the green light at the end of the pier is different than having them read the same book to discuss how Fitzgerald handles telling about a younger James Gatz and Daisy when neither of them is present in the scene to recount this history: major difference, then, between reading a novel as literature and reading it to learn about the craft. More on this below.)

2. Set apart some serious time for students so to more realistically experience a writer’s life. A two- to six-week unit on creative writing would best serve students and give teachers enough time to introduce them to the craft(s) and, more importantly, to the idea that they have the permission to think of themselves as writers-in-the-works. This is not to say that dedicating two to six weeks to writing short fiction, or six entire weeks to composing poetry can replace actually living the life, but an extended unit will do more than a mini-lesson on onomatopoeia that culminates twenty minutes later in a heroic couplet which utilizes words that replicate sounds. Creative writing involves more than mimicking devices—it is a skill in need of developing. The adage holds true: practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. But practice, especially of the perfect variety, takes time. (Please don’t misunderstand: I’m not advocating for perfection in writing; even the best writers of all time (except for Rylant, apparently) work in drafts. I don't’ necessarily count myself among them, but to help clarify with a personal story: even when my books are published and I’ve worked with more than capable editors over the years, I find myself crossing out what’s on the page, and revising. It’s never perfect. It can always be better. What I am stressing, though, is that time, and enough of it, is crucial to the task.)

3. Provide would-be writers with plenty of mentor texts. If you are teaching fiction, then have handy much fiction as is available, examples of what writers have done successfully or not, but that young writers can learn from either way. I don’t mean how-to manuals that outline how a story’s arc should unfold, where and when the conflict should begin and end, that to get to know a character thoroughly a writer should fill out a character questionnaire, a copy of which, as it happens, seems to always be included in one of the many appendices. Reading must take a different form. Teach them to read a story not for theme or use of symbolism (which writers don’t sit and think about before, during, or after working on a project, so why should apprentice-writers read likewise?) but to see how an author has consciously constructed it. Writers think about how to best develop character, selecting just the right word, how a sentence falls on the page. They think about how to slow down a scene (read how Tobias Wolff in his short story “Bullet in the Brain” does exactly this expertly) or speed it up (for wonderful examples of this read Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty for his more than effective use dialogue and action). When I’ve experienced pacing issues in my own writing I’ve revisited either of these two works by these master-craftsmen, to study again what exactly they’ve done in their storytelling to slow it down or speed it up. This will take some doing because for umpteen years these students have been taught formulaic writing, for the most part, and worse, formulaic reading. They’ve learned how to read for the test: even my own sons who are at this point in elementary school know about underlining “key” words and phrases, circling names and dates, etc. This is exactly what we want to avoid: because when my sons grow up they will think that in order for them to write an effective story or a poem they must require a formula. (As a side note, non-fiction or expository writing of any sort, if it’s any good, is not formulaic. Side note two: dedicating this much time and energy to teaching fiction and or poetry will likely not improve a child’s grades on state-mandated exams, though the benefits will most certainly be greater for the child than this school or that being able to decorate the fence surrounding it with Styrofoam cups informing the world of passers-by that this school or that one is recognized by the state for scoring what it deems good enough, never mind how environmentally unfriendly those cups are. Side note three: above I mentioned exposing would-be writers to poorly written mentor texts as well: if they are bored reading it, why on earth would they want to imitate it? If a poem is overly-melodramatic, let’s say, and weak as a result, take the time to teach why they need to try hard as they will to avoid the same and then teach them how to use melodrama well. If another poem uses too many adverbs (and I argue that one is too many), jump on the opportunity to teach them to show don’t tell, or, conversely, where telling does come in handy. We can never throw away an opportunity. Ever.)

To Be Continued...

12.20.2013

Radio Interview with Eric Ladau

Hey, follow this link to hear what silliness I have to talk about; a bit scatterbrained of me, but it's always fun to talk with Eric, who does very close readings of the titles he's interviewing on. And check out his archives: what a list, what a resource for teachers: Interview with Eric Ladau.

12.17.2013

Creative Writing in the Classroom: Well Worth the Work, Part I


A while back, my family took to watching archeology-related shows on PBS, during which our then-five-and-a-half, Lukas, sat spellbound at all of the bones, treasures, and assorted old stuff that was unearthed and put on display for viewers; after which, without any prompting from his teacher-parents, he stated rather matter-of-factly that “When I grow up I want to be an archeologist.” You can imagine my joy at the news because this same thought came to me, though much later in my life (I was in junior high school when I decided this same line of work suited me). Nobody ever asked me then what I wanted to be when I grew up, but if they had that’s what I would’ve answered.

Back then, though, the last thing on my mind that I would want to be was writer. In those days it didn’t occur to me that someone would want to be an author. Why would anybody choose that as their job? We all wrote essays and book reports in class, so we knew first-hand the hassle writing was. But to do it as a job, like my father worked for a paving company for upwards of 12 hours a day? The thought never crossed my mind. Of course I knew there had to have been someone jamming words together into sentences into paragraphs into chapters into books. I wasn’t dense. But the materials we read in class were nothing more than texts we were assigned to plod through. They were by Ray Bradbury, whoever in the universe he was; Guy de Maupussant, whose name I had problems pronouncing and as for his masterpiece, “The Necklace”—quelle horreur for a young middle grader; and O. Henry with his silly trick endings. But to me, a student, they were nothing more than names on book covers. I read them because they were required of me and I wanted the high grades. The authors were long dead, or, if they were still living (which I had no way of knowing, really, and no desire to find out), they were from faraway places like London or New York City, all strange and exotic and inaccessible to a boy from deep South Texas. Nevertheless I read them. They would help me become an archeologist. That is, until I discovered the tedium of the dig lasting between several months to years, with the likely possibility that I may not uncover anything of great significance. I’ve got no memory of it, but I must have changed my tune quick because when I applied for university a few short years later, I checked graphic design for my major, not archeology or anything else connected to science or history. But that didn’t fit me either. Nor did accounting, journalism, or publishing.

Author, then, if it entered my mind (which I’m positive it didn’t) was for others to take up as a vocation. It was for the leisured, the monied, the educated. None of which I was. In high school I was required to write two fictional pieces, for which I received As, but even so I didn’t entertain the notion of myself as would-be writer. (On a side note, I’ve kept both stories, now hidden away in some unmarked box in the deepest, darkest corner of our garage, buried there because I realize now they are horrible and cheesy. As far as stories go, embarrassingly so.)
            
It wasn’t until I was in my second year of college that I granted myself the permission to conceive of myself a writer-in-training. Not a writer, mind you, but one merely in the making. With years of training ahead of me still if I so chose this course. I had no assurances of success, only of hard work and certain rejection. Even so, I chose the path that would require of me much. Ultimately, argues author Nicholas Delblanco, “the definition of a writer is, simply, ‘one who writes’” (135). This is not to say that the simple act of my putting pen to paper automatically earned me the right to call myself “writer.” Like I said before, as early as high school I wrote, but I wasn’t a writer. To be able to call myself a “writer” would take more than scribbling a story down in a notebook, pounding my chest when I’d finished a draft, and pronouncing myself so. “What it comes down to,” writes Delblanco, “both at the end and in the beginning is work….work and work and work” (135). He likens the process of becoming a writer to a medieval cadre: after apprenticing himself to a master-craftsman for some time, the apprentice turns journeyman laborer, and eventually, having learned what he can at this second level, he becomes master-craftsman himself (124).

Such a master is short story writer Raymond Carver who says, “There has to be talent” (87). Cynthia Rylant agrees: “…writers are born with the word in their blood and the plain truth of it is not everybody can be a writer” (18). Nonetheless, a writer writes. Those with talent, she proposes, belong in an altogether different “room entirely,” Van Gogh’s room she calls it, where would-be authors are about the work of writing: they “are talking about art, about thinking art and creating art and being an artist every single day of one’s life” (19). Delblanco’s argument that creative writing takes “work and work and work” and Rylant’s notion that writing consists of “talking about art” and talking “about thinking art and creating art” take time and dedication on the beginning writer’s part, time that we educators in the classroom setting don’t seem to have free chunks of.

In Texas, where I live and teach, our curriculum is governed in education by the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). Throughout children’s academic careers, they are expected to write creatively. As early as kindergarten, students are required to write “to tell a story and put the sentences in chronological sequence” and will accomplish this by “dictate[ing] or writ[ing] sentences” (The State of Texas, “110.11. English Language Arts and Reading, Kindergarten,” 14.A). Not much changes between then and 12th grade. As per the TEKS for English IV, “Students write literary texts to express their ideas and feelings about real or imagined people, events, and ideas. Students are responsible for at least two forms of literary writing. Students are expected to: (A)  write an engaging story with a well-developed conflict and resolution, a clear theme, complex and non-stereotypical characters, a range of literary strategies (e.g., dialogue, suspense), devices to enhance the plot, and sensory details that define the mood or tone; (B)  write a poem that reflects an awareness of poetic conventions and traditions within different forms (e.g., sonnets, ballads, free verse); and (C)  write a script with an explicit or implicit theme, using a variety of literary techniques” (The State of Texas, “Chapter 110.34”). Nowhere in this document does it state that educators must dedicate a specific amount of time to teach literary or creative writing, how to fit it into their lesson plans, or that when they teach “literary writing” that they need to do much more than to touch on genre and devices at a very superficial level. Educators, in general, are not trained in teaching creative writing, and the responsibility of ensuring that their students pass one state-mandated exam or another is foisted on their shoulders, so who has time to meet this writing standard other than to give it a passing nod?

Admirable though it is that students are challenged to write creatively, even minimally, Rylant says in essence that a different kind of writing involves its very own approach (19). It requires a mindset modification, from writing academically to writing creatively. It entails a significant shift in writing gears. But students cannot go it alone, nor can they do it with only a surface knowledge of the craft. The implication in Rylant’s article is that teachers must accompany their students as they step out of one room and into this other.

To Be Continued...

12.13.2013

Writers of Color and Their Characters

Recently I've been reading a few things on the subject of writers of color and their characters (the hip hop teacher blog linked below in another post and a Twitter thread over at Lee & Low with author Tess Gerritsen, who says, interestingly and sadly, that Asian American protagonists don't sell (she'd been told this by an editor a while ago) here's the Tumblr on it: http://leeandlow.tumblr.com/post/69705514018/why-bestselling-author-tess-gerritsen-doesnt-write). So I thought I'd jot down some thoughts:

During my own reading from my formative years--middle and high school, I mean--was like anyone else's pretty much: my fill of the Classics. But I read outside of class, as well. I wouldn't be a reader today, otherwise.

(Give or take a couple, I bet I can put my list up against yours and they will match.)

So I distinguish between reading for myself and class-sanctioned reading assignments. You get the picture.

In middle school, I recall going to the library at Nellie Schunior Junior High and perusing the spines of books on the shelf--this during my own time, not class time, so before the first bell, during lunch, after school.

I'd look at a title and if it struck me as interesting, even remotely, I'd pull it from the shelf and judge the book by its cover next. If it didn't catch me off guard, I'd slide it back in the empty slot, or if it did, I'd open it to page one and read the first sentence or two, and if those suckered me in, I'd hope that by the end of reading the first paragraph or two I'd want to keep reading. If not, I'd shove the book back onto the shelf in its place. Then repeat cycle.

This is how I found a book that was a game-changer, though I didn't know this back then. I didn't even know to remember the book's title, nor its author. Years later (a very convoluted story, one I'd rather tell in person than on paper or blog because the keyboard doesn't have the type necessary for me to tell it right), so years later, remembering that one of the stories in it involved a character called Pedro Pistolas and another about a konk, and thank goodness for the internet and search engines in particular, I typed those clues in and got this: Piri Thomas and Stories from El Barrio. (I've since ordered it online and reread it and enjoyed it all over again.)

Okay, here I'm taking a jump through grades 8, 9, 10 during which time I never went back to that book nor any other with Latino/a characters and Spanish words here and there, didn't know I could...

...and now I'm in 11th grade. In Ms. Ida Garcia's ELA class. She let me read The Count of Monte Cristo instead of Salinger's Catcher. This is another of those major moments in a reading life: this was the first book in a long time, since elementary, as a matter of fact, that I had really gotten into. I loved it, I'm telling you. But this story is not so much about my reading life, though it seems like it is. It's actually about my writing life and my use of characters of color.

One writing assignment Ms. Garcia had for us was a short story. You've got to understand, I was writing for a grade, not because I was a writer, not because I thought of myself as a writer. So when I think back on this assignment, I never think of it as the beginning of my writing career. I wrote a cheesy horror story and got an A on it. The thing of it is that my character was a Mexican American kid much like myself, in a setting much like the rancho where I grew up, who goes to a corner store that was the corner store in my little neighborhood in deep South Texas. I reread it today and think a couple of things: first, if a student handed this story in for a grade in one of my creative writing classes, to be nice, I'd score it a D (no offense to Ms. Garcia and her grading ways, she was just being awfully kind, I think); second, I'd have to say, for an attempt at horror, it's a pretty miserable attempt. Looking back, I don't know what it was that gave me permission to write about a Mexican American kid (because, like I've said, the only Latino kid I'd read in a book was Pedro/Piri, who wasn't Mexican American from deep South Texas but a PR from Spanish Harlem and so where I got the idea to write about what I knew is beyond me).

Next year, my 12th, Ms. Garza challenged us to write another short story as part of her ELA class. Again, without knowing to this day where I got the idea, I wrote generic Hispanic characters: this one a remake of Romeo and Juliet (more like Westside Story, though I've never seen the musical, not on stage, not on the tv). This one set in NYC, where I'd never visited up until a few years ago for a conference, and worse, on a subway train and the stations associated with it. I had watched a movie called The Warriors, and so maybe I was taking from Shakespeare and popular culture (a movie shot back in the late 70s with Michael Beck in the lead role as gang member Swan). Again, somehow I knew to write about what I knew despite not really knowing any of it.

Next, I went off to college in South Carolina, to a place called Bob Jones University where eventually I did begin to think of myself as writer, or writer in the making, anyway. Took creative writing classes, submitted works to journals and magazines, including The New Yorker, if I remember right. And during these years, I wrote almost exclusively white characters in what I guess were white settings: lakesides, high rises, etc. And maybe with one exception (but there is no hard copy proof of it) a story I titled "Highschool Daze," that was set back in La Joya where I went to school K-12. And I used Mexican American characters. But that was it. Otherwise, a very anglo vision of what "writer" did.

It was only after reading folks like James Baldwin late in undergraduate years, and Sandra Cisneros in graduate school (then Denise Chavez, Rudolfo Anaya, and a few others) that I figured that my story was worth telling, and telling it my way, which meant writing about Peñitas and La Joya, about Rudy down the street, and Joe and Andy at school, and Bell and Cindy and Ana, and teachers like Mr. Ojeda, Ms. Garcia, and Ms. Garza, and the other Ms. Garza, the assistant principal who we affectionately nicknamed La Tweety, who was a fantastic educator and advocate for students).

Point being: had I not read, mostly on my own, books in which my story was recounted, I wouldn't have become the writer I am today, a guy who writes what he knows, including characters who are brown-skinned, whose language is brown, whose ways are brown.

Imagine if we introduced would-be writers from the get-go to characters of color in the reading we choose for them in the classroom: imagine them reading themselves in these stories and poems; imagine, without giving it any thought, these same kids tell stories that include themselves as characters, as the heroes of their tales. What a wonderful place it would be...

12.08.2013

Book Review: Pick-Up Game: A Full Day of Full Court, edited by Marc Aronson and Charles R. Smith, Jr.

Somerville MA: Candlewick Press, 2011.

In his "Afterword," Aronson writes that "Charles and I created this book as a way to get some of the feeling of pick-up [basket ball] on the page," and do they ever!

As an intro to every individual story, Smith throws-in with a poem, setting up the piece to come, defining the path the story will take, much like at throw-in, the play's foretold. In his contribution, "Mira Mira," poet Willie Perdomo tells about Caesar, a PR baller whose Tío Charlie teaches the youngster "one thing: the game is lost before the first whistle gets blown." If this is true, and it is, then the game's also been won; and if there's a winner and a loser even before the first throw-in, the game's already been played, it's part of history, part of the collective memory: within time and without. A very Zen way of looking at the game, and at storytelling. Which is a cool way of thinking about writing, and supposed writer's-blocks: if the story's been told even before pencil's set to paper, then simply wait the block out because sure enough the story'll come, or it won't, because it's not a story told that works as a story. Think of how many manuscripts, complete and incomplete writers have filed away never to see the light of day with them; the writer knowing in his heart of hearts, like Tío Charlie says, that all those words organized into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into chapters, chapters into novels boil down to nothing but words strung together into nothing. The writer's task then is to not let the next empty page smell the fear of the nothing-but-words-strung-together of the worthless piece of writing that's come before. The writer plugs away.

The writer plugs away like Waco does throughout the stories in this anthology: In YA giant Walter Dean Myers' "Cage Run," Waco, a white but whiter than white cat steps onto the court and essentially beats Boo down first game, leaving Boo to wonder if the game's worth pursuing: he walks out of the Cage, the famed court on West 4th Street in NYC, dejected, "thinking about Waco's remark that for some guys in Harlem, basketball was their whole life. And about him wanting a piece of that action." This moment serves as Boo's dark night of the soul. He has looked utter defeat in the face, has felt its cold breath on the back of his neck: will he ever play again? That's the same question a writer asks himself upon finishing up a book, success or no: do I have it in me to plow through the next one? Is writing for him his "whole life," will he chase after that "piece of the action"?

This book works as a metaphor: this wonderful collection does the trick that Aronson and Smith set out to do, and then some. The stories herein not only give readers the feel of the "pick-up game on the page," but beyond that, the feel that writing is that dare put out by the as-yet put to paper story or poem. It's that same taunt that cousin Billy throws out at Cochise in Joseph Bruchac "Head Game": "Dare ya. Betcha won't." And wouldn't you know it, Cochise does it, takes up the challenge because "You ever do something that someone else wants you to do, even though you know that they're pushing your buttons?" But if the game's already been played, if it's already been won and lost before anyone's stepped foot on the court, it's already been written, then is it really someone else pushing your buttons? No way, that's just part of the way the story of writing the story unfolds. A particular. A detail, seemingly minor, but not. The problem for the character? Maybe. Maybe not. But something big, something major.

Aranson closes with the following advice to writers who pick up this book: "I hope some of you try your own pick-up games--choose a place, a time, set the rules of the game, and start to tell stories--just the way you do on the court."

Other writers in the anthology are

Bruce Brooks, Sharon G. Flake, Robert Burleigh, Rita Williams-Garcia, Adam Rapp, and Robert Lipsyte.

Well worth the read.

Some Deep Reading on Diversity in Literature: Or Lack Thereof

"What an awesome read. To bolster what Monica Olivera in her NBC Latino piece [linked below] that [librarian] Jeanette Larson linked to a couple days ago on the lack of Latino titles in the NYT's children's books of the year list: what's missing in Monica's response (which is a great one, by the way) is the affect the omission of said titles has on would-be writers of color: our kids in the [Rio Grande Valley of South Texas], in particular (b/c the community make up is what it is [90+% Latino]), and in a place like West Texas where the Latino community does make up around 30% of the population (where we are so isolated (literally and figuratively) from everything). It's dire, brother. Dire. We need to do our part to change this, right."
                                                      --my Facebook response to educator and publisher David Bowles).

Monica Olivera's piece on the blatant omission of Latino/a Children's titles on Year-End Best-of Lists

A UK Urban Take on Child Writers of Colour (who leave out colour in their writing, unless...)

And who's doing something about it? Small presses, mostly: Follow them online to build your lit collections that kids, especially, kids of color will benefit big time from:

VAO Publishing
Arte Público Press/Piñata Books (under reconstruction)
Lee & Low Books
Cinco Puntos Press


12.06.2013

Publishing Update!

Quick update on the past year:

First, I was fortunate to co-edit a YA anthology with poet Erika Garza-Johnson of South Texas. ¡Juventud!: Growing Up on the Border. Erika collected some of the best poetry I've read in a while, poems that will certainly appeal to the older middle school and high school readers. Poets include Guadalupe Garcia-McCall, José Antonio Rodríguez, Amalia Ortiz, Diane Gonzales Bertrand, Edward Vidaurre, among others. The fiction is pretty good, too, if I say so myself. Fiction writers include Jan Seale, David Rice, Myra Infante, David Bowles, and others. The publisher is VAO out of the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. Find out about them here: http://publishing.valartout.org.

I also published a short story in ¡Arriba Baseball! A Collection of Latino/a Baseball Fiction, another of VAO's anthologies edited by Robert Moreira. This one includes work by Daboberto Gilb, Norma E. Cantú, Christine Granados, and a few others. A very strong collection, especially for the baseball enthusiast. My piece is called "One Inning at a Time till Nine."

And, I published the third in my Mickey Rangel mystery series. In The Mystery of the Mischievous Marker, our young detective must prove that his arch-nemesis, Bucho, didn't do it. You read that right: Bucho claims not to have been the one to mark up the school's walls with graffiti. Mickey is torn because what if Bucho is innocent and he had a hand in proving him so? But our hero is a hero indeed. He will do what it takes to prove the truth.



And, would you believe it! I'm soon publishing my first picture book: Dale, dale, dale: una fiesta de numeros/Hit It, Hit It, Hit It: a fiesta of numbers: is due out from Piñata Books in the spring of 2014. The illustrations are done my Carolyn Dee Flores of San Antonio. Mine is her third book. An honor to work with her. More on this book soon.