Childish Nonsense

Exploring Children's Literature

Back At It

This is unabashedly personal, so read if you want to know about ME.

I knew I hadn’t posted anything on here in a while, so I looked back to see how long it had been. Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. Four months is quite a moratorium.

I did complete Picture Book Idea Month, and I even got a few workable ideas from that. And I’m working on a couple.

National Novel Writing Month saw a good first week, so I got a good start on one of my middle grade ideas – a hybrid of two ideas I had worked on before. Nothing is ever wasted.

After that, came holidays, a personal writing retreat, a new critique group, the opening of registration for our regional SCBWI next month, and a trip to New York for the SCBWI conference there. Whew!


Two different manuscripts found their way to the writers roundtable in NY. I got a lot of great feedback on both, so, naturally, I have even more work to do than before. Many words of wisdom flew around during the main conference. Queries should remain relevant to the work you’re trying to sell. Diversity is good, but not just for the sake of diversity. Common denominators for good middle grade writing include: know your market, know your reader, use an authentic voice, be original, write about things that matter, characters should stand out, include surprises, and leave the reader with something of substance. Endings are also important.

Next, I’m planning to participate in the great Reading for Research Month challenge conducted by colleague Carrie Charley Brown, which involves a lot of note taking and trips to the library for picture books. Yes, I AM a glutton for punishment.

Oh, and the last book I finished was NOT a children’s book. For a book club, my husband and I read Deep, Down, Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine and the Miracle That Set Them Free by Hectór Tobar. It’s a very engaging account of the mine disaster from 2010. All the men survived. I remember being gripped daily by the news stories for the two months they were buried. The author did a great job of putting a face on the men, their families, and the rescue team. Highly recommended.Deep Down Dark

On to the next project.

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Writing, Ho!

PiBoIdMo15participantI’m sure I’ve said it before, but writing really is a lonely business, which is fine with me most of the time. A lot of writers, like me, are also introverts. But, once in a while, we need to come up for air.

I love going to writer conferences because there are so many like-minded people at them. They are my tribe, after all. That does not mean I spend every waking moment communing with the other attendees, though.

But it’s also great keeping in touch with all the other creators on the internet.

While I toil away at various tasks, including some actual writing, I can check to see what everyone else is up to and be inspired.

To that end, I’m planning to participate in two of the national challenges this November – PiBoIdMo and NaNoWriMo.

PiBoIdMo, which is the brain child of writer Tara Lazar (, challenges writers to come up with thirty new picture book ideas in thirty days. I have done this challenges a few times before. Granted, the ideas are not all winners, but I like that it gets me thinking in the right direction. Also, Tara has wonderful guest bloggers every day of the month and for the few days surrounding it. So I get even more inspiration and reminders that we’re all in this together. It’s great! Come join us.NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo ( – the National Novel Writing Month – encourages writers in all genres to just sit down and write. The idea is to write a 50,000-word novel, all during the month of November. Sometimes, you have to be reminded to put the butt in chair. I did this challenge in 2009. I think I’ve finally recovered.

I may be crazy, but at least I’m not alone.




Or maybe I’ll do the Mini WriMo. Hmm …


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Final Food Fight Story

Here’s our (very spiffy ) story.

Duncan Feeds the Animals

Duncan never knew that animal shelter meant all animals were welcome. He thought that, as a monkey, he had to live with his original owner or in a zoo. But, as a well-behaved, young, and healthy monkey, he ended up in a cage at the shelter.

His very first night at the shelter, he figured out how to leave his cage. Of course, it was a trick he wanted to keep secret, so he went back to his cage and locked it up neatly. None of the other animals did anything to share his secret. Gradually, he made friends and invited them to leave their cages at night.

When it became clear that Duncan would be going to a new home the next day, he wanted to share his good fortune with all the animals. So, he broke into the most delicious food he could find. Being a monkey, he knew that the most efficient delivery system involved flinging.

THWAP. The first to get served was Madame FiFi. “Fabulous. I’m sure they don’t have a beautician here,” said Fifi as she lap-lap-lapped the food from her ears as daintily as she could. She took a pawful of the gruel and flung it back at Duncan in thanks.

But Duncan had turned tossing apple chunks to the pot-bellied pigs and didn’t see the gruel coming. SQUIPFT! Landed smack dab on his behind throwing him arms flailing into the corn feed – ACHOO!

Ping, Ping Ping corn feed bounced off the metal cages, all the critters Skittered across the floor to gobble it up. PING PING PING corn rained down on all the cages. The hamster, running on his wheel, accidentally shot some carrots out of his dish. SQUAWK! shouted the parrot, trying to dodge the increasing confusion. He grabbed as many grapes as possible out of the tray and dropped them into the fish tank. The sea horse thought it funny, then, using the air hose,  he shot those grapes at the sleeping dogs.

SPLOOOT! One of the grapes went INTO a nostril. aaaAAAAchoooooOOOO the grape shot from the dogs nose ricocheted from the ceiling fat and SHOT straight into the lion’s mouth. The lion grabbed his throat with its paw. It gagged and gagged. Then it ROARED and ROARED.

The lion said, “Who threw that grape?” He clawed up his steak, aimed, and FLUNG it, hitting a donkey in the back. “Hey,” said the lioness,” that was dinner!” The donkey looked around trying to find the monkey. Realizing the only way to get Duncan to trust him was to join in the food flinging, the donkey tossed the steak KADOONK and it landed square at the feet of Pit Masterson, the meanest, snarliest, scariest dude in the shelter. But Pit was a vegetarian, and gagged. So he whizzed the steak towards Tippy the wildcat, who was very grateful for the meat.

At that moment, the shelter truck pulled into the driveway, tires squealing. Duncan raced for his cage and locked the door. The seahorse, who hadn’t heard the truck, launched four more grapes. They hit the keeper squarely in the forehead as she opened the door.

“Hey!” she shouted. “Who threw that grape?”

Then she saw the carnage. Carrots on the ceiling. Hamster pellets in the sink. Lettuce on the floor.

By that time, Duncan was snoring in the corner of his cage with no sign he’d ever left. He was ready for his new home.


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Food Fight Challenge

Food Fight 2014In honor of National Read Aloud Day, I’m participating in Marcie Colleen’s Food Fight Challenge. I start the story, then you continue it by leaving a comment. You MUST throw food and you MUST use onomatopoeia (splat, squish, bonk). Here is the link to other stories: Food Fight.

Duncan Feeds the Animals

Duncan never knew that animal shelter meant all animals were welcome. He thought that, as a monkey, he had to live with his original owner or in a zoo. But, as a well-behaved, young, and healthy monkey, he ended up in a cage at the shelter.

His very first night at the shelter, he figured out how to leave his cage. Of course, it was a trick he wanted to keep secret, so he went back to his cage and locked it up neatly. None of the other animals did anything to share his secret. Gradually, he made friends and invited them to leave their cages at night.

When it became clear that Duncan would be going to a new home the next day, he wanted to share his good fortune with all the animals. So, he broke into the most delicious food he could find. Being a monkey, he knew that the most efficient delivery system involved flinging.



Gearing up for two big events here.

The NYC SCBWI conference starts in two weeks. Two weeks! Yikes!SCBWI conf

First, I would like this winter weather to come to a screeching halt. I won’t be responsible for my actions otherwise. When I was in my 20s I took the attitude of “no one is going to tell me I can’t go somewhere.” In other words, if the weather was bad, I was more likely to try to go out. This was not total recklessness, just a sort of claustrophobia and definitely self-determination. Now, I see a flake and I go into hibernation. Not sure which me will emerge if the weather is bad when I want to go to NYC. I have a feeling I will revert to my 20s self.

Second, I am SO excited for some of the sessions. I like to get myself revved up for these events by reading something by all the keynoters. I’m happy to report I’m having a ball. What a great group of authors. My favorites so far are the wonderful characters created by Sharon M. Draper, but I also love Elizabeth Wein, Kate Messner, and Jack Gantos. Who wouldn’t?

Third, I’m going to NYC! There are two great children’s literature related exhibits within walking distance of the Grand Hyatt, where the conference is being held. The New York Public Library (yes, the one with the lions out front) is showing The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter: Meanwhile, the Morgan Library has The Little Prince: A New York Story: Just hope I get to see one of them. So much fun, so little time. Then there’s some of the best shopping and eating in the world. Oh, my!

A month later, my region, Maryland/Delaware/West Virginia, is holding our annual spring conference. Sue Peters and I are doing a great job dividing the duties but we can’t divide the worry. Registration has been a little rocky with our new website:, but we think we have it under control now. BTW, the SCBWI team in Los Angeles has worked many long and frustrated hours on making the website work for everyone. It hasn’t been easy. A great big thank you to Sally Crock, Josh Smith, and Chelsea Confalone. Travel arrangements and AV needs are in process, and we’re still tweaking the program for the regional conference.

So, I’ve been a little busy with prep. And I love it.

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Voice – What Is It?

VoiceThe challenges went well, though I did let some of my weekly goals lapse a bit. I never did get back to my novel or my nonfiction book. I would like to share how the challenges fit together and furthered my quest for perfect stories.

Jan. 12 to 18 was Meg Miller’s ReviMo ( and the first full week of the forum for 12×12 in 2014 ( Combining these two was such a natural fit, it was a little scary.

Start the Year Off Write 2014 (www.shannonabercrombie/my-blog/) has been a blast. And I love how the prompts provided by the guest bloggers have made for some fresh ideas. I highly recommend any writing prompts you can find.

This week, I’ve had a dastardly chest cold and have not been as productive as I’d like.

The one thing I seem to need to work on the most is my picture voice. “What is voice,” you ask. Ah, that is the $64,000 Question. Voice is what I lost with my cold. Haha.

Ask even a veteran writer, editor, or agent what voice is and you will get, first, a blank stare. Then you get a statement like “I don’t know, but I know a good voice when I hear one.” Then you’ll get attempts at explaining it through examples. Seriously.

The closest the dictionary comes to an explanation is “a range of sounds distinctive to one person.” That’s a start, I guess. But it’s so much more than that. And I’ll let you know when I find mine.

The general public seems to have the idea that writing picture books is easy. Get an idea. Write it down. Fine, but good luck getting children to listen to it or read it. I’m full of ideas. Heck, I’m even full of imagination and humor, but putting that on a page is one of the most difficult undertakings ever. My humor tends to come out cynical and more than a little off the wall. Okay, off the wall might work, but kids won’t get the cynicism.

So, how do we solve this myriad of problems. Mostly by word choice. I’m not, in any way, suggesting that we need to talk down to kids. In fact, I never once talked down to my children. What I am suggesting is that you have to engage your audience. (I’m not convinced that children have shorter attention spans. They’re just interested in different things than adults. Some adults have NO attention spans.) If you can engage children with six-syllable words (discombobulated comes to mind), all the more power to you.

The most important thing: show don’t tell. One of my current sentences reads:

Made no sense the sandwich delivery guy never came inside with the bags.

Okay, that’s a little telling. How about:

When the delivery guy arrived, Robbie woofed his best play bark. Why did the guy drop the sandwiches and run? Silly guy.

Better, but I almost doubled the number of words, so there must be a better way. But that’s what I’m talking about. It’s a constant search for the right combination of words to get the point across while your audience is still awake. And if you think that’s easy, …

Here’s to finding your voice!

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Running Start on 2014



So, after reflecting on 2013, my next step was to start making a plan for 2014. As with a lot of ideas that goal-oriented, it’s often advisable to break down the tasks into smaller increments and concentrate on one action at a time. Goals should be identifiable, quantifiable, and attainable.

Let me outline the goals I set for this past week and where they led me.

  1. Read and critique works of others. Check.
    • Read and reviewed a manuscript for a member of my online critique group.
    • Finished and reviewed Sarah Sullivan’s All That’s Missing. Highly recommended.
  2. Sign up for 12×12 in 2014 ( Check.
    • Signed up for gold level and participated a lot on Facebook group.
  3. Begin other challenges. Check.
  4. Revise a chapter a day for novel. No.
    • Well, that was overly ambitious, but I did get through three chapters.
  5. Advance on all current picture books and start thinking about new ones. Check.
    • Two canine-related and the rhymey one
  6. Progress on nonfiction book. No.
    • Note to self: Only 24 hours in a day.
  7. Work on getting registration ready for regional conference in March. Check.
  8. ADDED: Pay attention to new opportunities.       Check.

I’m sure I’m forgetting a lot of details, but, again, there are only 24 hours in a day. Keeping track of all of this is helping me modify the goals for next week and make more plans. Hopefully, there’s some information in here that can be of help to other writers.

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Getting Down to Business

HappyNewYearWhere to start? Where to start?

As “they” say, it’s always best to start at the beginning.  And so, what the heck IS the beginning, considering I’m in the middle of a hundred different things?

I think “It was a dark and stormy night” is out.

So is “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”

Even “Where’s Papa going with that axe?” is taken. Drat!

So, following the advice of several experts, including the incomparable Katie Davis(, I decided first to take stock of my writer-related accomplishments of 2013. Hey, even I am impressed after writing it all down. No wonder I’m tired. (And this doesn’t even take into account that I had a bout of shingles in August.

  • In January, I began a major revision to my middle grade novel, my baby that I’ve been working on for years. I’m happy to say the first pass through is completely finished and now I’m adding scenes and polishing.
  • In March, Sue Peters and I took over as co-regional advisors for Maryland/Delaware/West Virginia SCBWI. I feel like I’ll find my sea legs by the time our term is up. It’s a big job. I did get the privilege of conducting a meet and greet in West Virginia. What a wonderful, talented group of people. Part of that was a sneak peek at Sarah Sullivan’s amazing debut novel, All That’s Missing.
  • In August, Sue Peters and I attended and worked at the LA conference of the SCBWI. If you ever get the chance to attend, do it! This community will blow you socks off. Support up the wazoo. So much information I can’t possibly absorb it all.
  • Also in August (Can you tell August was a big month?), I purchased a suite of book review websites, Also still finding my sea legs on this.
  • In November, I participated in Picture Book Idea Month and came away with well more than 30 good ideas. And they’re still generating. Four of them are now rough manuscripts.
  • I read and reviewed 87 books, according to Goodreads.
  • I also continue work on a middle grade nonfiction book. I find having more than one project often keeps me from getting bored and lets some projects simmer when I get stuck.

So, what does all this mean?

  1. I can accomplish a lot if I keep myself organized.
  2. I’m learning a lot and always improving my skills.
  3. Goals, plans, and keeping organized are very, very important.
  4. 2014 is gonna be great!

Resolved …

In my observation, the vast majority of people claim not to make New Year’s resolutions. And yet, we keep talking about it. So there must be something to the sense of renewal and reassessment inherent in a new year. (Or it could be media hype.) Maybe we’re just making plans. Maybe we are hoping for something better. Maybe we really are making solid goals. One thing’s for sure, we should steer clear of things we have little to no control over. I’d like to resolve to win the lottery, but the universe probably won’t listen to me.

Part of the problem with such things is that they set us up for failure. It’s all in how you approach your plans, I guess. I love traveling, but at least half the fun for me is making the plans. Airlines, hotels, how we will get around, and what there is to see. But then I relax and roll with the punches. Because it’s usually the unexpected that makes a trip memorable. Like the tram passenger in Prague who fought with the driver to help an elderly woman. That was not on my list of events to witness.

So, here are some things in my plans. Can’t wait to see how the plans turn out. In January, I plan to participate in three different writing challenges. I will sign up again for Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 challenge ( I fizzled on this one in 2013, but I’m feeling much more organized this year. And I did learn a lot from the forums. Julie provides so much to participants that she charges for this opportunity, but I’ve decided it’s well worth the cost for me. I’m also planning to Start the Year Off Write with Shannon Abercrombie (, twenty-one days of writing challenges and sharing. Meg Miller helps picture book writers revise drafts during ReviMo (, a week of blogs.

All of these challenges have wonderful blogs with guest bloggers and great advice for writers. There are many other challenges out there. Sub Six, Alayne Kay Christian’s challenge, which encourages submitting picture book manuscripts to editors and agents, comes to mind.

Let me say these are not the end all and be all of my writing for January, but these are some of my plans. In fact, I’m hoping they will inspire me to keep working on the projects I already have going. I know the camaraderie, support, and tips are invaluable in such communities.  Sitting back and waiting for the unexpected.

In February, I will be in New York at the winter conference of SCBWI. I’ve been to this conference before but never as a regional advisor. We do work for our supper, but seeing such events from a different angle is always fascinating. I’m planning to be lucid enough to discuss my current projects with other attendees. What a challenge!

Of course, that’s just a few of the plans for 2014. Hope yours are shaping up too.

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My Favorite? At the moment?

I cringe whenever anyone asks me for a favorite anything. Seriously, if I ever figure out what my favorite color is, I’ll be more surprised than anyone. When someone asks for my favorite book or favorite song, I anxiously try to make a decision.

I remember Mom reading me a lot of ABC books, fairy tales, and nursery rhymes when I was really little. I also remember telling Grandma that she’d skipped a page in her one ABC book. The only clue I have for which was my favorite, though, is that I can still recite some of the more obscure nursery rhymes. (Of course, as my husband will tell you, this is not much of a clue since I remember details forever.) “This is the house that Jack built” seems to be forming itself into a newer and more exciting picture book in my head as a direct result of Picture Book Idea Month. It’s become a bit of an earworm, actually.

BrightyI also remember an especially wonderful teacher, Mrs. Foster, reading us novels. She was my teacher in both third and fourth grades, so she holds a special place in my heart. And I know I was at her home at least once. I don’t remember all the books, but the two I do remember are Brighty of the Grand Canyon by Marguerite Henry and Charlotte’s Web.  I loved Brighty so much that it surprised me when I found out that Marguerite Henry wrote all those Chincoteague books. Now, one of my best friends, Lois Szymanski, follows in her giant footsteps.

So, what was my favorite read-aloud book? Darned if I know. All I know for sure is that books have always been there. Books are important. Books are to be treasured because they stay with you your entire life.

In other news, challenges are good for the writer’s soul. January brings two new challenges for me. I’m going to hit the re-start button on Julie Hedlund’s year-long 12 x 12 challenge – writing 12 picture book manuscripts in 12 months. Julie provides many brilliant items as part of the challenge, so she does need to charge for participation, but it’s well worth it.

I’m also planning to check out a challenge by Shannon Abercrombie, Start the Year off Write. It’s three weeks of daily challenges and looks very exciting.Banner_StartTheYearOffWrite

Two of my favorite challenges.

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