Two First Amendment Books by Yours Truly

At a time when our national attention sits securely, sometimes obsessively, on the goingson of Washington, D.C. and our national leaders — be they elected, electoral, or judicial — young viewers and readers deserve thoughtful texts exploring the roots of our rights.

For parents, teachers, and librarians seeking such books for the voracious omnivorous reader, might I suggest…

The Freedom of Speech and The Right to Petition by Jenny Mason

The texts introduce middle grade readers to the Bill of Rights, its historical origins, and its ongoing influences on our daily lives. From there, each book in the series zooms in on a particular clause in the First or Second Amendments. For instance, I looked at the right to petition and the freedom of speech. Whenever possible, the narrative pays close attention to landmark Supreme Court decisions that directly impact the freedoms of young individuals. (And all the books are loaded with strange or funny factoids. Mine are doubly loaded with bad puns and an overall humorous tone.)

When the editors invited me to author two books in the Our Basic Freedoms series, they challenged me to write about the First Amendment without the armor of my own political, personal, or professional biases. I was to approach the topic with an open and accepting mind. This was, in no way, an easy assignment. As I writer, I feel duty- and honor-bound to the philosophy of free speech. As if me and Free Speech pricked our fingers, mashed our blood beads together, then swore an oath and spat to make eternal. Same goes for the right to petition, which really boils down to the pen’s might over the sword in disputes.

However, the guideline proved invaluable to my research. Unarmored (and consequently unafraid of rust), I dove deep into the murky waters of Constitutional interpretation. I found credible, logical support for all sides. I discovered the tension, the constant tug-of-war for power, that makes our government function. Sure, it often resembles dysfunction, but the Framers and Founding Fathers knew that if they could keep power from ever coagulating in one corner, then all sides would have to bend (stretch their vulnerable, thirsty throats) in order to get even a taste of what they wanted.

What’s in store for the nation now that so many of the protocols intended to keep power bouncing and swinging, and swirling have been rescinded or altered or diluted? Well that is a future story being written as we speak; a narrative that young readers are due to inherit.

Where can you find these books?

Visit GarethStevens online, or shop on Amazon:

Freedom of Speech

Right to Petition

(PS–not sure why Amazon lists me as “Dr Jennifer,” unless they mean it musically. You know, like Jim Henson’s Dr. Teeth…or Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show.)

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The Pinball Plot

Let’s play a game! A what-if guessing game. What if all your dreams came true in the New Year? What if, instead, your worst nightmares actually happened? What is something you’d never imagine befalling you and what if that very thing occurred?

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“Meditation” by Kah Wai Sin.

I know. I know. The zen-ists find it terribly unfashionable to play such games. Disconnects you from the lush and fertile present moment — that exhilarating continuum of now-right-now. Fine. I exempt the zen-ists, but not the writers, from playing.

Writers must often play at these guessing games in order to construct the authentic arc of a character’s life through story. They must molecularlize the tissues that bridge plot to person, event to emotion. They must knit time with insight, experience with catharsis.

The methods a writer might enlist to accomplish this feat are as limitless as they are unique to the user. Some writers employ complex character maps which catalog the myriad details and events of a character’s life before or “outside” the story. Favorite colors, worst fears, most memorables, etc. From these webs, the writers hope to spider out the juiciest themes which will feed the growing story events. Other writers immerse themselves in a character’s hobbies, jobs, and distractions. Ideally, the various sounds, textures, and flavors of these activities will season the metaphors that, in turn, build the broth of story. After all, as George Eliot notes, “we all of us […] get our thoughts entangled in metaphors, and act […] on the strength of them.”*

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“Tadpoles” by Mark Robinson.

And still other writers play at simple what-if guessing games. What if this or that happens? What if the character chooses this, but not that? Engage with the what-ifs and the possibilities begin to tadpole in the pond of your imagination. A potentially overwhelming situation for the writer eager to nail down a sturdy plot, but an invigorating fertilizer for the imagination hoping to find the unexpected yet inevitable mysteries!

If we were to back into the past and ask me to guess what if my life unfolded exactly as I envisioned it just then, I would have said (with rambunctious certainty) that I would wind up the wife and devoted partner of my most treasured and beloved best friend. I could see nothing else. I could not imagine any other outcomes. Or maybe, I was too afraid to play with what-ifs.

What if that was not the outcome? What if, instead, tragedy pounced on me and spent the next year and half gnashing the bones of my broken heart between its sharp teeth? What if the most unthinkable thing I could not imagine actually happened?

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“Extra Ball” by Shawn Clover.

Only in looking back can I trace the ricochet rebound boomerang skip wiggle weave jounce journey of my life. Not just recently, but going all the way back. Only while looking back can I see the restrictions fear placed on my imagination.

Conjuring pinball scenarios lends much to a person’s resilience, if not to a writer’s ability to plot surprising and fulfilling stories. Remember that your characters’ lives are not javelins. Dare to be erratic in your outlining. Dare to imagine the unimaginable.

In the midst of my bounce and bang off the rubber band bumpers — reams of unpublished writing, unanswered queries, blanket rejections, and that unexpected heartache as deep as the Grand Canyon — the most unimaginable thing gradually happened: I got published…in my chosen field of children’s writing, no less! And then, I got published again. Aaaand again. By the close of 2016, I will have produced a children’s magazine article, a short story, two science picture books, two middle grade civics/history books, and three mixed discipline books for young readers!

So, you tell me, 2017: what if? What if.

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“Striking a Balance,” in Cobblestone. Ed. Meg Chorlian. May/June 2016.

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“Body of Knowledge” in Muse. Ed. Johanna Arnone. February 2016.

Freedom of Speech. Our Basic Freedoms Series. New York: Gareth Stevens, 2017 (forthcoming).

Freedom to Petition. Our Basic Freedoms Series. New York: Gareth Stevens, 2017 (forthcoming).

 The Space Race. Greatest Races Series. New York: Rosen Publishing, 2017 (forthcoming).

The Nuclear Arms Race. Greatest Races Series. New York: Rosen Publishing, 2017 (forthcoming).

Crazy Road Races. Greatest Races Series. New York: Rosen Publishing, 2017 (forthcoming).

 

 

*p 85. Eliot, George. Middlemarch. 1872. London: Penguin, 2003. Print.

Striking a Balance by Yours Truly

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I’m going Old Faithful and spewin’ some really exciting news here:

In honor of the National Parks Service Centennial, my latest article, “Striking a Balance,” appears in the May/June issue of Cobblestone magazine! For a century, the Parks have teetered on a tightrope slung between the demands of sharing their natural splendors with millions of visitors and protecting those treasures from the daily wear and tear.

To root out potential solutions and a path to the NPS’s bicentennial celebration, readers get to know Valerie Gohlke, a long-time Park Ranger, who has faced the geyser towers of Yellowstone and the cyclone of bats Carlsbad Caverns!

Check with your local library for the latest issue of Cobblestone, or go online to order: http://shop.cricketmedia.com/Cobblestone-Magazine-May-June-2016.html.

“Sand” Serif

Hip-hip-hooray! Hip-hip-hooray! I am so tickled to share this good news with the world: a writer I helped with a story not only landed the piece in a major publication, but also recently garnered a lot of press coverage!

Check it out: http://krqe.com/2015/08/02/new-mexico-womans-story-picked-up-by-chicken-soup-for-the-soul/

Full disclosure, this writer is my mom. When Chicken Soup posted its call for stories to inspire nurses, I knew I had to encourage (read: force) my mom to share one of her thousands of tales. She was nervous at first; gracious throughout the many revisions; and in the end, intensely proud to sign her first contract! (It goes without saying that I was/am super proud, too.)

Blood relations aside, in the 2+ years I’ve spent working as a for-hire critiquer, I have helped many other artists reach beyond their expectations — like the wind that helps the sand dunes write in perfect cursive. I love when a fellow writer asks me to breathe a bit of fresh life into their project.

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I helped one writer go through a grueling round of revisions on her children’s biography on Ravi Shankar. She submitted the work and landed a 5-book deal!

Another writer hired me to help him make sense of an odd little short story. He e-pubbed the reworked tale on Amazon and quickly soared to the #5 spot in his category!

Just two out of many success stories. I truly believe I have stumbled upon the most rewarding way to share my expertise and passion for storytelling. (And that’s saying something, because I also teach graduate workshops online, which is also hugely rewarding work!) I have met so many outstanding artists with the talent and tenacity needed to make it. All they lacked was that extra puff of air in their sails to get them going or get them over the finish line!

If your project needs some fresh air, let me know! I am more than happy to help and always delighted to catapult the confetti your way when fate taps your shoulder.

Guest Blogging: The Sweet Nectar of Success

(Migrated post. Content originally appeared 10/2013 on jennifermichellemason.blogspot.com.)

For writers, success is like nectar. It’s oh-so-sweet, but comes in small servings and only after lots and lots of diligent toil.

Recently, I got to be the guest-blogger on Zach Hively long-running blog of books, thoughts, and other interesting ephemera. In that post, I announced to the world my latest little drops of nectar-success! Check out all the juicy details here: http://znhively.blogspot.com/2013/10/guest-blogger-jennifer-mason-ink.html

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Click to view or purchase on Amazon.com.

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Click to view or purchase on Amazon.com.

I am so pleased to announce that my writing is now available for the world to enjoy in two different volumes of Chicken Soup for the Soul! To read more about what I contributed, please visit Zach’s blog!