Sunday, July 25, 2021

Children's Author Panel on Promoting Storytelling


Watch the video HERE. 

Thanks to everyone who joined me on June 1 along with Lauren Casey from Second Star to the Right Bookstore and Colorado authors Andrea Wang, Beth Anderson, and Dow Phumiruk for our author panel on Promoting Storytelling with Your Kids. It was a wonderful event. If you missed it the recording is now available above. 

In the first half of the video, we talk about tips for writing personal narratives including using picture books as a conversation starter between caregivers and children. You may download a FREE PDF of my handout - Picture Books For Reminiscing. It includes questions for each of the picture books we discuss. These questions may be used at home or in the classroom to stimulate a discussion about personal experiences. 

I've included an excerpt below of our Q&A at the end of the video which Lauren moderated. It starts about 25 minutes into the recording.

Lauren: How do you find the courage to share what you have created.

Carolee: This is a very good question, especially for kids. I remember being a kid and not wanting to stand out, not even in a good way. We don't want to be too dull, but we don't want to be too bright either. We don't want to be too tall and we don't want to be too short. One of the things that helps us to share our work is finding people we can take that risk with - sharing a little bit of ourselves and our story with people we can trust. When we are back in school it would be wonderful if we were writing more personal stories and sharing them in the classroom Validating our experiences and celebrating how different we all are helps us create connections. Today we've been talking about very different stories about people who lived before us or lived in very different places, but we each relate to each of these stories because of that connection. We need to get to the place where that connection is more important to us than our fear of rejection. Our part is that when we hear someone else's story, we let them know that is safe. We give them that acceptance. Hopefully, when it comes back around to us, someone will give us that courtesy as well.

Beth: Can I add something to that? The most significant experience I had as a teacher in writing with my students was when we were writing personal memoirs and I wrote with the kids. This applies across the board whether it's with family or in the classroom, whether it's written or whether it's oral. We all just wrote. And when I shared my memoir piece and my voice cracked at the end, and they saw me vulnerable, sharing a piece of my life and how it had an emotional impact on me, it opened up that safe place and they all shared miraculous stories of their lives. These were all immigrants and refugees. People who had very different kinds of experiences that they were not willing to share usually. I think that as adults, if we open up that space, we not only share family stories that are personal to our families that can be passed along, we create that safe space to connect at a deeper level and let kids share those emotional experiences. 

Andrea: I think it is also important to remember that being brave does not mean that you aren't scared. I was always an incredibly shy kid and wouldn't show my writing to anybody except the teacher because you have to do that. Then the teacher in my third-grade class decided that she was sending all of our poems to the town newspaper, and they were all printed. That was a defining moment in my life because I thought, "Wow, my name is in the paper. I've made it." From then on it wasn't so bad because people were complimenting all of us. It was a safe place. It was a very lovely town. With Watercress and it being such a personal story, I've been afraid since the moment that I sent it to my agent. I was essentially revealing my heart to everyone. But you really do have to embrace that vulnerability that we've been talking about. That allows other people a turn to be brave and share their own stories. That's what I really hope that Watercress does, is to encourage everybody: parents, caregivers, and kids, to share their stories. 

Dow: I love everything that everyone has said. I was going to add that you can be scared, and maybe the time isn't right to share your story, and that's okay, but when you meet that favorite teacher or that good friend, or a family member that you really connect with, that's a time to test it out. Go ahead and share things. You might be surprised. You might think that it's awful or it's embarrassing but when you share it with someone you trust and who is supportive of you, you might get a response that encourages you to keep going and keep writing. They may share their stories back with you. So give it a try. For me, I didn't feel like I wrote any stories that I wanted to share except maybe in fourth grade. Then there was a big gap until I was well into my forties before I really shared it as an adult because I didn't feel like I had anybody who really connected with me and who I was until I joined a bunch of creative people in the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. But it doesn't have to take that long. Take your chances. Find people you trust who will support you and show them what you are up to. You will be surprised. I'll bet they're going to encourage you.

Lauren: Those are such great answers. I love this so much especially because I know that we reach so many educators and so many parents who had to educate unexpectedly this school year. These are all such important messages. Something else that we get asked a lot that I would like everyone to share briefly is who inspires you? If you get stuck writing, what book do you grab or what author do you reach for to help those creative juices.

Dow: I illustrate more than I write so I look at art. I look at work from past Caldecott winners. The beautiful pieces that get me motivated are just so beautiful to look at. I imagine how I could create something similar. It never matches, but I imagine how I can attempt to portray that feeling for people who are viewing my work. That's what I try to do.

Carolee: On the heels of what Dow said, I like to read poetry. Just like a picture is a snapshot, a poem is a snapshot. Sometimes it's hard to get inspiration from an entire book. It takes so long to read it. I'm a speech-language pathologist and with my own students, I may only see them once a week. I look for something short to share with them. I'm going to pick something short like one of these picture books we've discussed today from my book, Story Frames for Teaching Literacy. A picture book is short, it's crisp, it's to the point, and yet it's so beautifully written and touches on something meaningful in a very short bit of time. Poetry is the same way. There is so much metaphor and symbolism in poetry. You can read one poem and have the main idea. I like to read something short and then just meditate on it or read something and take a walk, be out in nature where the world is full of metaphors that symbolize so much of our experience. 

Andrea: Right now I'm most interested in writing more about culture and identity, so what I've been doing is I've been reading non-fiction books about the history of Asian America and Asian American Experiences so I turn to those books that discuss the making of Asian America. I will even watch documentaries. PBS has an excellent documentary about Asian Americans. I also listen to podcasts. There is one called Asian Enough that I really love. They interview Asian Americans from all walks of life. I will try to listen and take notes at the same time. It could be something completely unrelated, but it jogs something in my brain and I get an idea. Lots of different kinds of media. Not just books. 

Lauren: I love that, bringing it in from all over. So you just keep a notebook with you then?

Andrea: Or my phone.

Lauren: Right. It's not 1992. 

Beth: Sometimes I get stuck because I don't know enough. I'm too limited in my thinking. So I try to look at the wider picture, to get into the setting. I write a lot of history so I do a lot of research to try and understand the time and the place and the traditions and the beliefs, all of the things that are at work in that person and understanding their life. If it's an idea that is theme-related, I read other articles about that topic and it exposes me to different viewpoints and makes me jog my thinking a little bit. So that's usually what I do. Or take a walk.

Lauren: I love the walks, yes! To end, I know that you all gave really great advice when you were speaking about different tips that you have for parents, but I wonder if we could speak to educators specifically. We love our educators. We work with so many schools and we love them all. What advice do you have for educators, especially after this hard year? Virtual school was rough. People may not be feeling like they want to share their stories. I think a lot of people are shut down. Do you have any advice for the classrooms or for home learners? How can they open that back up? How can we break out of the pandemic blues?

Andrea: I have a writing exercise that I give out when I do school visits and educators can use this too. Taking a cue from Watercress, write about a memory, but choose one where your feelings change from before the activity to afterward and that's really where your story lies. For example, in Watercress, the girl in the story feels very embarrassed and confused about why her parents are making her pick watercress. By the end, when her mother shares her own story from her past about her relationship to watercress growing up during the Great Famine in China, the girl then gains a new understanding and awareness and her feelings have really changed by the end. She's much more connected to and proud of her heritage. Remind kids that they can be proud of who they are and where they are from.

Beth: I think that the best writing comes from writing you really care about that really fires you up whether it's anger or passion or love. If it is hooked in emotionally it goes much deeper and it's not just for the teacher. It's more for you. Teachers know that the best way to get kids to learn is to connect with them and to reach them on an emotional level. If you can make assignments touch on the emotional level like - Why does this matter? Why do you care about this? Whether it's science or social studies or whatever it is. One of the things I've talked with kids about during my visits with Lizzie Demands a Seat is about how your time and place affect who you are. Interpreting a fact, like she's a teacher, became very different. When you look at the times and the place, she actually was an activist as a teacher. It totally changes motivation and everything about the story. I say that if you don't think that your time and place affect you, think about your life now with the pandemic. You will never think the same. You will always see things differently. This will forever affect your view of the world and this will be something you tell your kids about. That's how you become you. Get it on the page or in your speech or in whatever you're doing. Let that emotion connect you.

Carolee: I love the books that we've talked about today. These are what I use when I work with students and I tend to work with students who have pretty significant learning challenges. As a speech-language pathologist, I specialize in working with students with dyslexia, so when I read a book it's not just to find the main idea or answer detail questions, I tell my students, "I have something so special to share with you today. It's a book about a woman who saves the Apollo 13 mission." I only share books I love and it just to happens that they are usually narrative non-fiction picture books that are absolutely full of vocabulary, main idea, with all of those things we want kids to learn without it being drill and kill and now let's have a test over the book. You can't help but learn from the story because it's so exciting. Sometimes we'll just analyze an illustration. We will talk about who is the subject of the picture. What are they doing? Where is it happening? When? Why? That is basically the construct of a complex sentence. We use that conversation to build how complex sentences are made from either looking at the pictures or reading the book. I would challenge teachers to find books you love that you cannot wait to share with your students. That enthusiasm is contagious. If our students learn nothing more from us than a love for stories, then we will have done a great thing because the stories do the work. Kids learn so many life lessons from those stories, and if we can encourage that love of stories by loving stories ourselves, and sharing that love and sharing that enthusiasm, then we will have done a great thing. 

(Side Note: Obviously, there is much more work that we need to do besides simply fostering a love of books, especially for kids who struggle with learning to read, but sharing our enthusiasm will help remind our students of why all of that hard work is important.)  

Lauren: I'm so glad we are recording this my friends. This is amazing advice.

Dow: I love that you can encourage yourself to bring your own enthusiasm for books to the classroom. I think that is great advice. Just in case you hadn't heard anybody else on this soapbox yet - let children choose their own books to read. Let them pick what they are interested in be it a picture book or a graphic novel or YA books that are banned in a few states. These are safe ways for children to learn as they make that discovery on their own with a book of their choice. It's going to stick with them and they're going to become lifelong readers and learn about the world that way. Picture books are my favorite and I think that adults and children alike need picture books. I think the world would be a kinder, gentler place if we all embraced picture books. Let children pick as well what they prefer. 

Lauren: I love that, and I think I know a store where these children can go to pick their own books. We might just have a place on South Pearl Street. Thank you all so much for being here today and for sharing such amazing advice. Carolee, thanks for orchestrating this and putting us all together and getting us out in front of our audience. Thank you!

Carolee: I could not have done it without the great material and the great authors that are here with us today sharing their amazing talent.

Lauren: Once again friends, my name is Lauren from Second Star to the Right. Thank you so much for joining us here today. Happy reading and we'll see you next time. You can find these books on our website:

Check out books from our Story Frames Panel at Second Star to the Right Books:

Story Frames for Teaching Literacy: Enhancing Student Learning Through the Power of Storytelling by Carolee Dean 

Watercress by Andrea Wang

Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuko Ando by Andrea Wang

An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin and Noah Websters Spelling Revolution by Beth Anderson 

Lizzie Demands a Seat: Elizabeth Jennings Fights for Streetcar Rights by Beth Anderson

Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 written by Helaine Becker and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

Titan and the Wild Boars: The True Cave Rescue of the Thai Soccer Team written by Susan Hood and Pathana Sornhiran and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk.

To receive a free Fill-In-The-Blank Story Template sign up for my newsletter HERE.

To watch the video on Tips for Leisure Reading by New Mexico authors, go HERE.

Friday, May 21, 2021


Join me on Monday, May 24 at 4pm EDT for a Book Chat on the Facebook Channel for the International Dyslexia Association. I will be discussing some of my favorite narrative non-fiction picture books and how they can motivate kids of all ages by teaching them about grit and determination. I will also discuss considerations for choosing books for struggling readers including student factors, purposes, supports, and text types.

To receive a free fill-in-the-blank story template, sign up for my mailing list.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021


Using books to stimulate a discussion about past experiences is an engaging way to help kids of all ages connect with caregivers and family members and build autobiographical memories. Sometimes these conversations result in new stories you may want to write down and keep.

Join us and Second Star to the Right Book Store on June 1st at 7 PM Mountain Time to ring in summer reading with an author panel on promoting storytelling with your kids featuring bestselling authors Andrea Wang, Beth Anderson, and Dow Phumiruk, (moderated by me, Carolee Dean), as they talk about their books, their personal experiences with writing, and why they believe personal narratives are important. The event is free but you will need to register at Event Brite 

Download the FREE PDF entitled "Picture Books for Reminiscing." It is based on activities from my new book, Story Frames for Teaching Literacy, and includes a short summary of picture books by the authors on the panel along with questions to stimulate conversations between children and caregivers.

Hope to see you on June 1!

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Amy Miller and Superhero Stories

Earlier this month, Amy Miller interviewed me about my new book, Story Frames for Teaching Literacy. She is the director of the May Center for Learning and also the author of the chapter in my book entitled "Fostering a Growth Mindset: Strengths-Based Superhero Stories." She asked me several questions about Story Frames and at the end of our chat, I had the opportunity to ask her about her chapter. If you've already heard one of my previous talks about Story Frames and would like to skip ahead to the section where she discusses what got her interested in using superhero stories with diverse learners, it starts about 53 minutes into the video. You may access the video HERE. I have transcribed that section below:

Carolee: I recently did an interview with a very interesting author. Her name is Lyn Miller-Lachmann. She wrote a middle-grade novel entitled, Rogue. The main character has Asperger Syndrome and the author has Asperger's as well. That post appeared in April on my blog. Rogue is the X-Men character who can't be touched and can't touch other people. The main character of the story uses this superhero component to explain her experience with Asperger's, so it made me think about your chapter and how you use superhero stories with your students.

Amy: It was the kids who really initiated that because, as I say at the beginning of the chapter, I was not a big superhero fan when I was a kid. I really liked Spider-Man, but mostly I liked Spider-Man because of the visuals associated with him. I didn't really internalize the stories, which is so interesting because I internalized every other story. When we started the Dyslexia Justice League, which is an advocacy group for students with learning differences all across the state of New Mexico, the first thing we did was had a gathering and asked the kids to define the organization. They were the ones who came up with the name of the organization. They came up with the visuals and with the logo which was a superhero. They had heard the phrase that "Dyslexia is My Superpower," and they really loved that notion. So, they really brought the superheroes to the table, and then the more that I started thinking about and had the opportunity to talk to someone here who is a big fanatic who runs a comic shop here in Santa Fe, I recognized that superheroes face adversity and overcome that adversity. Often, that adversity is the source of their superpower. That just resonated so nicely to me and so deeply with my experience of working with kids with learning differences. When you work with kids who have learning differences there is a whole journey of acceptance that not just the child but the whole family goes through. It starts oftentimes with denial and the family not really wanting to know what's going on, thinking that maybe the child will grow out of it - all of those things that we go through as parents when we are concerned that something is going on with our kid. Then, of course, what we really come to learn, what I came to learn as an educator and as a mom of a dyslexic child myself was that the only way to persevere was to go through it and to embrace ultimately that this is who I am and that is not a bad thing. It is not something to be ashamed of. It's something that gives me strength and it is powerful. That was what really launched the whole experience for me was that idea that was so important for the students I work with particularly.

The Dyslexia Justice League has inspired many struggling learners. Thank you to Amy Miller and the May Center for the important work you do.

Watch my interview with another Story Frames contributing author and parent advocate, Mary Jo O'Neill, as she talks about her chapter, "Advocating for Students: The Family Story."

Watch the author panel where three New Mexico children's authors and I discuss Tips for Getting the Most out of Summer Reading and download the free PDF.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021


You may find the video above on YouTube.

It's summer and everyone is exhausted from months of pandemic isolation, hunkering down at home, and neverending Netflix. We want to get outside. We want to play. We want to travel. But many of us are concerned that our kids have missed valuable instruction time over the past several months. We know that summer reading is important, but how do we balance that with having fun in the sun and being with friends? Is there anything more that we can do for our kids to enhance the reading experience besides taking them to the library and the bookstore? Does leisure reading end when summer is over?

Today's discussion is about simple ways to make books come alive. Join me and my lively panel of New Mexico children's authors (Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, Lois Ruby, and Caroline Starr Rose) to explore tips for getting the most out of leisure/summer reading. These authors and their books are featured in my new resource Story Frames for Teaching Literacy: Enhancing Student Learning Through the Power of Storytelling. The authors begin the video with exciting previews of their books which would all make great summer reads. 

My book is primarily for educators, but the focus of today's panel is on families. If you are a teacher, feel free to send this blog link and the PDF downloads home to families to encourage summer reading.

The authors featured today are also retired educators and librarians. They helped me come up with a list of tips for enhancing leisure reading. The list of our FIVE TIPS is below. To access the expanded and printable version discussed in the video, see the PDF download. 

Five Tips for Getting the Most Out of Summer Reading

1. Be a Book Lover
2. Provide Access to Books and Other Reading Materials
3. Encourage Exploration
4. Read Books Together
5. Make Reading Connections

Amy Miller, Director of the May Center for Learning, was not able to be part of our video as was originally planned, but she and I did hold a separate interview that may be accessed HERE. Find out what inspired her to use superhero stories with struggling learners. 

For further exploration, see my previous blog posts where authors Lois Ruby and Caroline Starr Rose talk about their writing styles and the differences between being a Panster vs. a Plotter.

See author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson's post on her blog - Poetry Break! Enjoy the Moment. During our panel, she also mentions one of her favorite books for encouraging reading aloud Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox, as well as The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma who shares her experience of being in fourth grade and making a promise with her father to read 100 books aloud with him in 100 days. The experience was so meaningful that they continued reading books together until she graduated from high school. 

Reading aloud is not just for little kids!

To find out more about the books written by the authors in this video, visit the links below.

Story Frames for Teaching Literacy: Enhancing Student Learning Through the Power of Storytelling by Carolee Dean.

Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

A Race Around the World: The True Story of Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland (She Made History) by Caroline Starr Rose.

May B. by Caroline Starr Rose.

Steal Away Home by Lois Ruby

You may download a complete list of the 32 children's books explored in Story Frames for more great ideas for summer reading.

For suggestions from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Associatin (ASHA) on how to improve language, literacy, and learning over the summer, visit ASHA SUMMER TIPS.


Thanks to the following bookstores for supporting the recent release of

Story Frames for Teaching Literacy

Collected Works Bookstore and Coffeehouse, 202 Galisteo St., Santa Fe, NM 87501 (505-988-4226). Thanks to the bookstore for their generous support of my book and of Amy Miller, contributing author to Story Frames and director of the May Center for Learning. During the entire month of May 2021, CW will donate 15% of all book sales when the purchaser mentions the May Center (unless the publisher's discount to CW is less than the industry standard).

Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Coronado Mall, 6600 Menaul Blvd. NE, Albuquerque, NM 87110 (505-855-7799). B&N will donate a percentage of sales in the store on May 26 (and online on May 26-30) to the May Center for Learning for scholarships to the Summer LEAP Program which will be held at the Albuquerque Academy. Use the code when 12609863 ordering books. This code may be used at any B&N nationwide, so spread the word. 

Second Star to the Right, 1545 S. Pearl Street, Denver, CO (303-733-3773). On Tuesday, June 1, the bookstore will host a live, online event at 7pm Mountain Time when I travel north to talk with Colorado children's authors/illustrators Andrea Wang, Dow Phumiruk, and Beth Anderson. We will explore writing personal narratives and memoir. Find out more about the event and find the Event Brite Signup HERE.

Watch for more bookstore collaborations coming late summer and early fall.

To receive a FREE writing template PDF for kids, sign up for my newsletter HERE and have fun with summer writing!

Monday, April 26, 2021



Freaks, Geeks, and Asperger Syndrome: A User Guide to Adolescence was written by Luke Jackson when he was 13 years old. He has Asperger Syndrome and also has a brother on the autism spectrum and another with AD/HD. His book provides tips on bullying, friendship, dating, and relationships. He also talks about how and when to talk to others about being on the autism spectrum. The insights this book provides are useful to parents and teachers as well as to people with AS. The book is 216 pages long and for ages 11-18.

In Rogue by Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Kiara, an eighth-grade girl with Asperger’s is shunned at school and expelled after a violent outburst. She finds friendship with a neighbor boy until dark family secrets (his parents run a meth lab) threaten to destroy more than the budding kinship. Kiara finds inspiration with the X-Men character, Rogue (a mutant who unintentionally hurts anyone she touches until she learns to control her superpower). Kiara eventually discovers that she might just have special gifts of her own- The author, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, has Asperger’s Syndrome which lends authenticity and perspective to the story. Read my interview with Lyn HERE. 241 pages for grades 5-10. 

Out just this month (April 6) is a new book by Temple Grandin- The Outdoor Scientist: The Wonder of Observing the Natural World. This book is 208 pages long for grades 3-7 and contains 40 outdoor projects as well as information about Temple and other scientists who explore the natural world. 

Calling All Minds: How to Think and Create Like an Inventor, also by Temple Grandin, looks at the science and methodology behind various inventions and shows kids how to think like an inventor. Temple talks about the inventions she created as a child. It is 240 pages long and is for kids in grades 3-7. Read more about Temple Grandin and her other books in last week's post.

See books for kids written about the life of Temple Grandin in my April 11 Blog Post.

This last book is not specifically written for kids. It has received both criticism and accolades. I will share both sides of the conversation. The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy With Autism was written by Naoki Higashida, a thirteen-year-old boy on the spectrum. He is described as being nonverbal, though to clarify, he is able to read out loud as is described by the translator, David Mitchell in the notes at the end of the book. It is unscripted conversations with which Naoki struggles. Even answering simple questions verbally is a challenge. He reportedly wrote his book (a Q&A interspersed with short, fictional stories) by pointing to letters on an alphabet grid that someone else transcribed into words and sentences. The book has received praise for providing unique insights into autism. It has also received criticism by those who question the validity of the methods used to elicit the answers to the Q&A saying it feels a bit too much like Facilitated Communication (FC) which has been debunked as pseudoscience. In FC an assistant guides and supports the hand of a non-verbal person as they point to letters. That was not the case with Naoki, but he did point to letters on a board in response to questions as opposed to typing them on a computer keyboard or communication device.

ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association) discourages the use FC and Spelling to Communicate. Read the ASHA  perspective to learn why. They do support independent typing as well as other forms of augmentative and alternative communication that are more independent in nature.

David Mitchell, the best-selling author of Cloud Atlas, translated Why I Jump into English with his wife, K.A. Yoshida. Mitchell appears in a video interview talking about his experience with the translation. He first became acquainted with Naoki's story when trying to better understand his own son with autism. He then set out to translate the book from Japanese into English so that he could share the story and its insights with his son's teachers. Watch his interview on YouTube and read his Q&A HERE

At the end of the English translation of the book, Mitchell talks about conversations he has had with Naoki using his communication board. He also says that Naoki is a motivational speaker who reads aloud from a prepared script. He does not answer questions from the audience verbally, though. He types those responses. I looked on YouTube but could not find any examples of these motivational talks. If anyone is aware of any, I would like to know.

A 2020 documentary film of the same title inspired by the book features 5 other young people with autism. Watch the TRAILER to learn more. 

Read this blog post by the National Council on Severe Autism which raises concerns about the movie. 

Saturday, April 17, 2021

INTERVIEW WITH LYN MILLER-LACHMANN (Talking About Asperger Syndrome)

Lyn Miller-Lachmann is the author of the middle grade and young adult novels Gringolandia, Surviving Santiago, and Rogue, with two new novels, Moonwalking and Torch, forthcoming in 2022. She also edited Once Upon a Cuento which is a collection of short stories for young readers written by emerging Latino authors. She lives in New York City. She is joining me today to talk about her young adult novel, Rogue

Carolee: How did your experiences with having Asperger’s impact writing Rogue, a story about a girl with Asperger Syndrome? 

Lyn: I was diagnosed with Asperger’s 15 years ago, a diagnosis that has since 2013 been folded into the autism spectrum. At that time, I’d published one novel, with another recently accepted by the same publisher. Neither of them had autobiographical elements; in fact, I’d avoided writing a protagonist like myself because I didn’t want to remember the bullying and exclusion I experienced as a child. My diagnosis changed that. Finally, I had an answer for why I was different, why I had trouble understanding and following rules, why so many of my peers took advantage of me or bullied me for sport. I wanted to write a novel to show kids like me that they are not alone. Rogue is based on a choice I had to make when I wasn’t much older than Kiara—to keep doing something I knew was dangerous and wrong in order to be part of a group, or to stop letting these kids use me even if it meant being on my own and bullied again. 

Carolee: It was very brave of you to share so much of your personal experience in the story. One of the benefits of writing about our personal experiences through fiction is that the reader connects with the truth and honesty behind what we write, but at the same time never knows how much of the story is truth and how much is fiction. Why did you decide to write about your experiences as fiction rather than as a traditional autobiography? 

Lyn: I’ve fictionalized in service to the story, in order to create a book that readers will want to read. In Rogue, I began with a “What if?” Like Kiara, I tried to sit at the popular girls’ table in seventh grade thinking that’s how I could become popular, and one of the girls pushed my lunch tray to the floor. I did nothing in response, just stood there crying, but for decades I asked myself what would have happened if I’d picked up the tray and smacked her in the face with it. I would have salvaged my dignity, but I would have also gotten into a lot of trouble. So at the beginning of Rogue, Kiara does pick up the tray and hit the bully with it. And it creates a big problem for her, because she’s suspended for the rest of the school year. She wants to have friends and to belong to a group, but now she’s even more isolated, and the New Kid who moves in around the corner really is her last chance to make a friend for a long time. 

Carolee: Amy Miller, director of the May Center in Santa Fe, NM, wrote a chapter for my new book, Story Frames for Teaching Literacy. Her chapter is “Fostering a Growth Mindset: Strengths-Based Super Hero Stories.” The May School is for students with learning differences. Amy heads a project called The Dyslexia Justice League and one of the ways she helps students to discover their “superpower” is to teach them to write superhero stories. In Rogue, the main character, Kiara, finds that she has special talents and unique gifts. She does this partly by identifying with the mutant X-Men character named Rogue. Do you have any suggestions for young writers about writing their own superhero stories or about writing stories in general? 

Lyn: No matter what you write, the most important thing to do is to read. It will give you ideas and help you figure out what kinds of stories and characters you like and don’t like. A lot of times, the characters that feel closest to you—whether or not they’re superheroes—are the ones most like you. For instance, the X-Men character Rogue is most like Kiara because she can’t touch or be touched and she learns about emotions and what to say or do from watching others. Sometimes, the characters you respond to are the ones who do the things you wish you could do, like be good at sports if you are not. Writing your own story is your chance to be someone different, or be yourself but rewrite the past or possess a special power you don’t have in real life and see what you can accomplish with it. 

Carolee: Speaking of heroes, early in Rogue, a friend of Kiara’s family gives her a book by Temple Grandin entitled Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior. She tells Kiara that Temple has a “special talent” for understanding animals. Temple Grandin, an animal scientist on the autism spectrum, becomes a role model and a hero of sorts to Kiara. Tell us a little bit about the people who have been your real-life heroes. 

Lyn: Temple Grandin is one of my heroes as well, ever since I read Dr. Oliver Sacks’s profile of her in The New Yorker in the 1990s and recognized so much of myself in her. Although I wasn’t diagnosed until almost ten years later, it meant a lot to me to see someone who had become as successful as she had and whose different ways of seeing the world has had such an impact on the way we treat the animals we raise for food. In general, my heroes are people who have defied convention and authority to make a positive impact on the world. Many of them are human rights activists, people who have resisted brutal dictatorships to bring democracy to their countries (like my protagonist’s father in another one of my novels, Gringolandia) or who have fought for the rights of people with disabilities and others who have been excluded or faced discrimination. 

Carolee: Is there anything else you would like to say to young people struggling to find their place in the world? 

Lyn: Do what you love, pursue your dreams, and find the people who understand you. And when you do find those people, try to be a good friend as well. Being a good friend is one of the things I still strive (and sometimes struggle) to do. It’s at the heart of Kiara’s journey in Rogue and of JJ’s journey in my forthcoming middle-grade verse novel Moonwalking, which I’ve written with my friend Zetta Elliott. 

Carolee: Thank you for joining us and for sharing your experiences as a person with Asperger’s. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Rogue and look forward to Moonwalking and Torch. You are a hero who is making a positive impact on the world with your stories! 

Lyn: Thank you for inviting me!

Read about books for kids written by Temple Grandin in last week's post as well as books written about her life - Books for Kids by (and about) Temple Grandin - Celebrating World Autism Month.