Childish Nonsense

Exploring Children's Literature

Private Retreat, March 2015

At Merroir

Braving the chill for a fantastic dinner at Merroir

Morning on Carter’s Creek, and another day begins in Virginia’s Northern Neck. Twenty-seven years ago, when we moved to this region, I’d never heard of the Northern Neck. (I’d never heard of the Delmarva either, but that’s another story.) Weathermen would mention it, and I’m turning my head sideways, looking at the map. “Wonder which part they’re talking about.” Still not sure how the name originated. Now I’m familiar with a spot in the Northern Neck, if not the entire peninsula.

The Northern Neck is the finger of land formed by the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers as they both seek to empty into the Chesapeake. Carter’s Creek is a Rappahannock tributary.

A year or so ago, my writer friend, Edie Hemingway, and her husband found and bought a home on Carter’s Creek. Edie likes to invite small groups of close friends to write and share.

For a few days this week, I was privileged to share inspiration with Edie, Mary Bowman-Kruhm, and Lois Szymanski. Sarah Sullivan, who lives relatively close by, joined us one afternoon. We wrote. We discussed. We critiqued.

Group shot

Out on the screened porch

I got so much done. It fantastic just for clearing my head and gaining focus. I know for a fact two of my manuscripts are so much better because of their comments. And it was a joy to hear my friends’ works in progress.

I highly recommend spending time with writers.

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Pi, Anyone?

piSorry if you’re sick and tired of hearing about Pi Day, but it’s a big deal to me. Once a century, the 14th of March also includes the other base ten digits that represent the transcendental number pi. 3.14159265…

Mathematicians have been chasing the value of pi for at least 4,500 years. In the 1700s, a guy named Euler suggested they give up and just use the symbol π. Not a group to give up, mathematicians Wrench and Smith reportedly calculated π to 1,120 digits using a desk calculator in 1949. Now, it’s a tradition to devote thousands of hours on super computers to set the record for the number of digits.

People who learn calculus quickly learn to use the symbol, since pi is a central feature of calculus. It’s a very important number. Other transcendental numbers are also important but don’t get the publicity pi does. Plus, there is no 71st day of February on which we can celebrate the number e. So, why not pay homage to π?

Another aspect that escapes the notice of most people is that Albert Einstein was born on Pi Day. (Don’t get too excited. He was born in 1879.) Happy birthday, Albert! I’ll be toasting you at 9:26.

 

As I mentioned last week, I’ve been reading an awful lot of picture books. As part of the quest for specific titles, I’ve been looking up titles on my local library’s website. When they don’t have it, I look it up on a network of public libraries. This is very nostalgic for me because I used to something similar back in the early 1980s. Libraries began digitizing their card catalogs long before anyone devised what is now known as the internet. Part of what I was doing was helping my mother-in-law find references for her genealogical search. Velma was an amazing and determined lady. Anyway, don’t forget this extremely useful tool. I spent a couple of hours yesterday in another county just reading picture books.

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Picture Books Everywhere!

Library booksFor the past year or so, I have concentrated a lot of my writerly energy on picture books. I knew when I immersed myself in this that writing picture books was not easy. You must have exactly the right words in exactly the right order to get and hold the attention of creatures who are fascinated by everything, if only momentarily. (“Squirrel!”)

I also knew that picture books are quite different from any other genre. Parsimony becomes not only a passion, but an obsession. Adverbs are more than discouraged. They’re practically verboten. Everything is possible in a picture book.

So, you struggle and revise and try to get it right. Ideas hit you in the shower. (Maybe we need a note pad in the shower.) Fixes hit you while you’re driving. (No, scribbling on a manuscript in heavy traffic is NOT a good idea.)

You participate in Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) and in Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 (twelve picture book drafts in twelve months) and in Meg Miller’s ReViMo (Revision Month). Should you stop there? Absolutely not.

Read. Read. Read. Educate yourself on what’s out there and the various ways those few hundred words can be put together. Not to mention the ways the illustrations help and enhance the story. (Picture books require a strong partnership.) Read aloud. Read to small children. Just read.

So this month, I’m participating in Carrie Charley Brown’s ReFoReMo (Read for Research Month). And it’s been a delight. The guest blogger’s are full of helpful advice and are a wealth of recommendations of good books to read. (Ever gone to the library and said, ”I’ll pick out a few books to look at”? A list is an excellent idea.)

As my list grows, I’ve been spending a lot of time at the library. (I love the library. In true nerdy fashion, that was one of my favorite places to hang out in high school. And I can tell you where the rare books and Chinese language texts are (or were) at the University of Iowa.) I’ve been taking notes and getting some great ideas on how to change the approach in some of my manuscripts.

Plus, I now know how to train a train and why a wooly mammoth makes a great pet.  Very useful information.

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