LAURA SHOVAN: TAKEDOWN

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Laura Shovan is a poet, a teacher, and a novelist. She says, “I spend about a month ‘in residence’ at each school I visit, doing poetry workshops with an entire grade. It’s the perfect job for me.” I was fascinated to learn about how she intermingles poetry in her book-length works—her first book, THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY, is a novel in verse, and in her newest one, TAKEDOWN, one of the main characters uses writing poetry to cope with anxiety. Welcome to the blog, Laura!

Congrats on the release of your new novel, TAKEDOWN. What’s it all about, and what was your inspiration for writing it?

Thanks for inviting me. I’m excited that readers finally get to meet Lev and Mikayla, the two sixth graders who narrate TAKEDOWN. TAKEDOWN is a friendship story, set in the world of youth wrestling. My son wrestled from age 7 to age 14, so the sport was a big part of our family’s life — practice three nights a week and all-day tournaments on the weekends. I started writing little poems, sketches of the people and things I observed. When I began planning the book, I was inspired by how much the sport of wrestling is opening up to girls and women. I wondered how a girl would handle being on an all-boy team, and how her wrestling partner would feel about training with a girl.

In your bio, you say that reading JANE EYRE made you want to be a writer. Why that book, in particular? Have you re-read it as an adult—and if so, did it still move you the same way?

That’s a long story! I first read JANE EYRE in middle school because it’s my mom’s favorite novel. She’s British. A large part of my childhood was spent traveling back and forth from New Jersey to Nottingham, England where we’d spend summers with my grandparents. When I first read JANE EYRE, I was so swept up in Bronte’s description of the English countryside. It felt as if I was physically there with Jane, trudging through the desolate moors. This was such a powerful moment for me, to be transported with words to a place that I loved and missed. I came across a quote from James Michener (in a cookbook!) about this, and he says it so well: “I aim to bring the reader into an imaginary world that will stay so real that toward the end there will be an enormous sense of loss.” That’s what made me want to be a writer. I’m happy to say that JANE EYRE stands the test of time for me. I’m due to reread it again.

Your debut, THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY, was a novel in verse. Not just any novel in verse, either—it was a NCTE 2017 Notable Verse Novel, was a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book of the Year, and won a Cybils Award for poetry. What made you decide to write the book in verse—and what were some of the challenges you faced, as a poet transitioning into writing a book-length work?

I have been a visiting poet-in-the-schools for my state arts council (yay, Maryland!) for many years, running poetry workshops with children and teens. I couldn’t have written THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY without the experience of listening to and writing alongside kids. Their creative ideas and ability with language amazes me, year after year. The biggest challenge was taking the book from its original concept — a small collection of persona poems, one for each student in a fictional fifth grade class – and developing that into a full-length novel. I loved creating distinct characters and voices for each of the students in Ms. Hill’s class, but it took time to find a plot that brought them all together. I’d already been working on the book for four years when I settled on its storyline: Emerson Elementary is under threat of closure and the fifth grade class takes action to save their school.

Conversely, TAKEDOWN is not written in verse. What made you decide to write a novel in prose the second time around? Also, how does your work as a poet inform the way you write prose?

Lev’s character does write a few poems in TAKEDOWN. Writing is how he copes with anxiety. But this is definitely a prose novel. Although I made a few attempts to write TAKEDOWN in verse, it never stuck. Lev and Mikayla were both chatterboxes. Their voices were too expansive for poetry, and I just went with that, letting them fill up the page. As a poet, one of my favorite forms is the persona poem, where the author inhabits the voice of an invented or historical character. That’s something I’ve carried with me into prose. Reading out loud as I revise helps me hear the rhythm and diction of a character as they narrate.

Tell us about your work as a poet-in-the-schools for the Maryland State Arts Council. How did you get started? And any great suggestions for kidlit writers out there about making school visits as successful as possible?

My first job out of grad school was teaching high school English in my native New Jersey. I got involved with the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival and their outreach to teachers. Not only was I able to take writing workshops, but poets also came to my high school to guest teach. I loved that, and so did my students. By the time our family moved to Maryland, I had published a few poems in literary journals. Rather than continue teaching full time, I applied to be part of the Maryland State Arts Council’s wonderful Artist-in-Education grant program. Now I spend about a month “in residence” at each school I visit, doing poetry workshops with an entire grade. It’s the perfect job for me. When I do an author visit at a school, I like to include a writing exercise, even a short one. That way, the students leave with a story or poem starter, a reminder that they are writers, too!

Favorite poets please! 3-2-1 . . . go!

Just three!?!

  1. Calef Brown’s playful, inventive poetry for kids. (Try POLKA BATS AND OCTOPUS SLACKS.)
  2. Joy McCullough’s stunning YA verse novel BLOOD, WATER PAINT.
  3. Ted Kooser’s book of persona poems THE BLIZZARD VOICES.

Bonus: Young People’s Poet Laureate Margarita Engle – my favorite of her verse novels is THE LIGHTNING DREAMER.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Mikayla is a wrestler; when you grow up in a house full of brothers who wrestle, it’s inevitable. It’s also a way to stay connected to her oldest brother, Evan, who moved in with their dad. Some people are objecting to having to having a girl on the team. But that’s not stopping Mikayla. She’s determined to work harder than ever, and win.

Lev is determined to make it to the state championships this year. He’s used to training with his two buddies as the Fearsome Threesome; they know how to work together. At the beginning of sixth grade, he’s paired with a new partner–a girl. This better not get in the way of his goal.

Mikayla and Lev work hard together and become friends. But when they face each other, only one of them can win.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura Shovan’s debut middle grade novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, was an NCTE 2017 Notable Verse Novel, a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book of the year, and won a Cybils Award for poetry. It was named the Arnold Adoff Poetry Award for New Voices honor book in 2018. Laura’s second children’s novel, Takedown, launches in June. She lives with her family in Maryland, where she is a longtime poet-in-the-schools for the Maryland State Arts Council.

Social media:

Twitter: @laurashovan

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/laura.shovan.poet/

Website: http://laurashovan.com/

Arts Education Blog: http://laurashovan.com/blog/

Laura Shovan is a poet, a teacher, and a novelist. She says, “I spend about a month ‘in residence’ at each school I visit, doing poetry workshops with an entire grade. It’s the perfect job for me.” I was fascinated to learn about how she intermingles poetry in her book-length works—her first book, THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY, is a novel in verse, and in her newest one, TAKEDOWN, one of the main characters uses writing poetry to cope with anxiety. Welcome to the blog, Laura!

Congrats on the release of your new novel, TAKEDOWN. What’s it all about, and what was your inspiration for writing it?

Thanks for inviting me. I’m excited that readers finally get to meet Lev and Mikayla, the two sixth graders who narrate TAKEDOWN. TAKEDOWN is a friendship story, set in the world of youth wrestling. My son wrestled from age 7 to age 14, so the sport was a big part of our family’s life — practice three nights a week and all-day tournaments on the weekends. I started writing little poems, sketches of the people and things I observed. When I began planning the book, I was inspired by how much the sport of wrestling is opening up to girls and women. I wondered how a girl would handle being on an all-boy team, and how her wrestling partner would feel about training with a girl.

In your bio, you say that reading JANE EYRE made you want to be a writer. Why that book, in particular? Have you re-read it as an adult—and if so, did it still move you the same way?

That’s a long story! I first read JANE EYRE in middle school because it’s my mom’s favorite novel. She’s British. A large part of my childhood was spent traveling back and forth from New Jersey to Nottingham, England where we’d spend summers with my grandparents. When I first read JANE EYRE, I was so swept up in Bronte’s description of the English countryside. It felt as if I was physically there with Jane, trudging through the desolate moors. This was such a powerful moment for me, to be transported with words to a place that I loved and missed. I came across a quote from James Michener (in a cookbook!) about this, and he says it so well: “I aim to bring the reader into an imaginary world that will stay so real that toward the end there will be an enormous sense of loss.” That’s what made me want to be a writer. I’m happy to say that JANE EYRE stands the test of time for me. I’m due to reread it again.

Your debut, THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY, was a novel in verse. Not just any novel in verse, either—it was a NCTE 2017 Notable Verse Novel, was a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book of the Year, and won a Cybils Award for poetry. What made you decide to write the book in verse—and what were some of the challenges you faced, as a poet transitioning into writing a book-length work?

I have been a visiting poet-in-the-schools for my state arts council (yay, Maryland!) for many years, running poetry workshops with children and teens. I couldn’t have written THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY without the experience of listening to and writing alongside kids. Their creative ideas and ability with language amazes me, year after year. The biggest challenge was taking the book from its original concept — a small collection of persona poems, one for each student in a fictional fifth grade class – and developing that into a full-length novel. I loved creating distinct characters and voices for each of the students in Ms. Hill’s class, but it took time to find a plot that brought them all together. I’d already been working on the book for four years when I settled on its storyline: Emerson Elementary is under threat of closure and the fifth grade class takes action to save their school.

Conversely, TAKEDOWN is not written in verse. What made you decide to write a novel in prose the second time around? Also, how does your work as a poet inform the way you write prose?

Lev’s character does write a few poems in TAKEDOWN. Writing is how he copes with anxiety. But this is definitely a prose novel. Although I made a few attempts to write TAKEDOWN in verse, it never stuck. Lev and Mikayla were both chatterboxes. Their voices were too expansive for poetry, and I just went with that, letting them fill up the page. As a poet, one of my favorite forms is the persona poem, where the author inhabits the voice of an invented or historical character. That’s something I’ve carried with me into prose. Reading out loud as I revise helps me hear the rhythm and diction of a character as they narrate.

Tell us about your work as a poet-in-the-schools for the Maryland State Arts Council. How did you get started? And any great suggestions for kidlit writers out there about making school visits as successful as possible?

My first job out of grad school was teaching high school English in my native New Jersey. I got involved with the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival and their outreach to teachers. Not only was I able to take writing workshops, but poets also came to my high school to guest teach. I loved that, and so did my students. By the time our family moved to Maryland, I had published a few poems in literary journals. Rather than continue teaching full time, I applied to be part of the Maryland State Arts Council’s wonderful Artist-in-Education grant program. Now I spend about a month “in residence” at each school I visit, doing poetry workshops with an entire grade. It’s the perfect job for me. When I do an author visit at a school, I like to include a writing exercise, even a short one. That way, the students leave with a story or poem starter, a reminder that they are writers, too!

Favorite poets please! 3-2-1 . . . go!

Just three!?!

  1. Calef Brown’s playful, inventive poetry for kids. (Try POLKA BATS AND OCTOPUS SLACKS.)
  2. Joy McCullough’s stunning YA verse novel BLOOD, WATER PAINT.
  3. Ted Kooser’s book of persona poems THE BLIZZARD VOICES.

Bonus: Young People’s Poet Laureate Margarita Engle – my favorite of her verse novels is THE LIGHTNING DREAMER.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Mikayla is a wrestler; when you grow up in a house full of brothers who wrestle, it’s inevitable. It’s also a way to stay connected to her oldest brother, Evan, who moved in with their dad. Some people are objecting to having to having a girl on the team. But that’s not stopping Mikayla. She’s determined to work harder than ever, and win.

Lev is determined to make it to the state championships this year. He’s used to training with his two buddies as the Fearsome Threesome; they know how to work together. At the beginning of sixth grade, he’s paired with a new partner–a girl. This better not get in the way of his goal.

Mikayla and Lev work hard together and become friends. But when they face each other, only one of them can win.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura Shovan’s debut middle grade novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, was an NCTE 2017 Notable Verse Novel, a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book of the year, and won a Cybils Award for poetry. It was named the Arnold Adoff Poetry Award for New Voices honor book in 2018. Laura’s second children’s novel, Takedown, launches in June. She lives with her family in Maryland, where she is a longtime poet-in-the-schools for the Maryland State Arts Council.

Social media:

Twitter: @laurashovan

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/laura.shovan.poet/

Website: http://laurashovan.com/

Arts Education Blog: http://laurashovan.com/blog/

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