Childish Nonsense

Exploring Children's Literature

What Do Kids Need?

With summer reading programs upon us, many people are discussing the pros and cons of such programs. But most people agree that reading is a good habit to have. So, what do kids need? Mostly, kids need to be presented with books they will read.

  • Books they’re interested in. What are they interested in? Well, pretty much everything, but here’s a short list: babies, backpacks, bacon, badminton, baggy clothes, balloon animals, balloons, Band-Aids, basketball, bathroom humor. And that’s just the ones that start with “ba.” Okay, I totally stole this from Tara Lazar’s blog, Writing for Kids (While Raising Them) (http://taralazar.com/2007/11/04/199-things-that-kids-like/). Books don’t need to have explosions. They just need to use an interesting approach. Easier said than done, eh?
  • Books with characters they can identify with. This does not mean that all books need to be about minorities or disabled or disenfranchised in some other way. What it does mean is that SOME books need to be about girls or African-Americans or children struggling with gender identity. After all, isn’t that the world the kids live in? A good story does more to show how we’re all alike than how we’re all different.
  • Books that challenge but don’t leave kids frustrated. Many of the books I’ve reviewed contained wonderful stories and information for children of a certain age, but I felt there were way too many new words and concepts for that age. In those cases, I suggest that parents and teachers read the book with the kids, at least on the first go-through. Nothing wrong with that. Try it. You’ll like it.
  • Subtle books that don’t hit them over the head with the theme or subject matter. Nobody wants to be preached at. And kids are more in tune to this than adults. Partly because they’re told what to do all day long. It gets tiring. They need something where they can find the clues and come to their own conclusions. Something that stimulates learning.
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Just What Are the Rules?

obey-the-rules-badge-md

Random thoughts.

Cardinal rules for writing almost always start with “Write what you know.” My biggest problem with this is that most, if not all, of us lead pretty boring lives. Was it John Lennon who said, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans”? This past week has been a whirlwind. May usually is. I look at my calendar daily and still don’t do anything I think would be of much interest in a book. Who wants to read about taking my dog to the groomer? I guess there are moments in everyone’s life that spark something interesting, but you have to think a certain way to see them. And I guess that’s where the mind of a writer comes in handy. We all look at things a little differently than most people. Costumes on the street – no problem. Enjoying standing in the rain – even better. Accidents become an opportunity to meet people.

And this boring life also makes it difficult to come up with the conflict necessary to a story. I kid with my mother that she made my writing life difficult when she gave me a happy childhood. How am I supposed to resolve problems when I can’t even imagine problems? Seriously, though, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Another rule I find really funny is “Just because it’s true doesn’t make it believable.” I think this follows directly from “Truth is stranger than fiction.” This applies to conversation as well as plot points. Can you imagine trying to read dialogue that sounds like a real person talking? “Umm, well, I think maybe yeah” and “Nice weather we’re having” would appear a lot.

So, spout your rules if you must, but mostly just write.

 

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Five, Six, Seven, Nate

Circa 1983

Me — Many Years Ago

In a way, this is a spoiler. But you have to read the book to find out HOW Nate does it.

As you may know, I have a suite of blogs called gradereading.net on which I post book reviews. I try to gear the reviews toward teachers, librarians, and parents — by grade level. We try say why kids would love these books and how the books will fit into what they’re teaching. Recently, I finally got around to reading Five, Six, Seven, Nate by Tim Federle. I adored the other book about Nate (Better Nate than Ever) but just couldn’t seem to fit the second excellent book into the reading pile. My biggest problem with reviewing these is that I love Nate too much. I so strongly identify with Nate that I don’t feel I can do an objective review. You would think that would happen more often, given my love of books, but it doesn’t.  And, being a writer, I have to write what I identify with. Again, Nate is special to me.

Nate is awkward and woefully unschooled in the ways of a Broadway production. But he loves what he’s doing and sticks with it – with the support of those who see his talent. The aspect that I love so much is that Nate ends up saving the day.

I’ve been playing the understudy for most of my life. Those who’ve known me throughout my adult life may have heard about or witnessed the community chorus incident where the cute little soloist got fall-down drunk at the dress rehearsal, leaving the director to beg me to sing the duet for “Tonight” from West Side Story for opening night. But what they may not know is that this is a recurring theme in my life and seems to have slopped over into my children’s lives. When I was in sixth grade, I was put in charge of the music for a skit the entire class did based on our American flag unit. This was mostly due to the fact that I was the only one who knew all the words to all the songs. “You’re a grand old flag…” Imagine a twelve-year-old flopping her arms to keep everyone together. In junior high school, I ended up with solos twice – once because the designated “They Call the Wind Mariah” soloist lost her voice and once because no one wanted to do a song at the graduation. (Anybody even remember “Graduation Day” by the Beach Boys?) At various times, I’ve ended up with various jobs – many at the last minute – because, well, those in charge knew I could do an adequate job. And I usually shine, like Nate did. I considered trying to become a back up singer – my secret dream job. Wish I knew how many times I’ve uttered the phrase “Story of my life.”

So, the long and short of it is. Read this book. Especially if you’re not the star.

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Of Website Crashes and Such

Computer warningYesterday, while the gadget geeks were busy crashing the Apple website because some new doodad was on the market, a mighty group of writers and illustrators crashed a site because the tribe is on its way to Los Angeles. (I wonder if the word “crash” makes Sally Crock cringe since Harrison Ford landed his plane across the street from her house. She was one of the first on the scene and was no doubt grateful he didn’t land it IN their house.) Those gadget geeks have nothing on children’s book creators.

Why? Why did we all have to get on the site right away? Basically, the reasons that we didn’t want to miss the camaraderie, learning, sharing, and inspiration.

Camaraderie: I once told Steve Mooser I’ve never met anyone through SCBWI who I don’t consider to be a friend. It’s true. This is a great group of people. And the regional advisors, who were mostly if not entirely responsible for crashing the site, are a special breed. Physically spending time with them keeps my cockles warm.

Learning: The SCBWI Summer Conference always has some amazing workshops. There is something for writers and illustrators, newbies and veterans, fiction and nonfiction aficionados, self and traditional publishers, and those interested in other issues. SCBWI is known throughout the industry for attention to craft. We all want to give children quality literature.

Sharing: I’ve said it before. This is the most generous group of people on earth. They’ve all been there. There is nothing they won’t share about their journeys. Networking is essential to success. Of course, a good share of them are also introverts, which makes it difficult to initiate the networking. But, once attendees get the hang of it, business cards are out, books are shared, etc.

Inspiration: The keynotes are always fantastic. I go home ready to work and get those manuscripts polished and out the door. Gotta love it.

So, you can have your iWatches or whatever the heck those things are called. I’ll read (and write) my books.

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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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Why Should We Read?

Where else can the reader get the benefits provided by a book?reading

  • You can learn a lot from reading. Of course, even reading is not perfect. I shamelessly laugh when contestants on Jeopardy! mispronounce words, making it obvious they’ve only read about the subject. But combined with discussion, etc., you can’t beat the level of knowledge.
  • On the other hand, reading brings to light vocabulary the reader might not learn from everyday use. And the readers learn the words in context.
  • Reading helps develop memory. To follow a book, you have to remember details about the characters and plot. Each new detail forms new synapses in the brain.
  • Trying to figure out what the characters do next develops analytical tools.
  • The need to concentrate helps concentration and focus.
  • Better reading leads to better writing.
  • Reading is generally good for the brain. Many studies have shown that the type of stimulation reading provides helps prevent or delay diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
  • Reading can relieve stress.
  • Reading free entertainment. Unless you want to wait and pay $15 for the movie. I guarantee the book is better. And, by the way, not every story has been made into a movie.

And these don’t even take pure enjoyment into account.

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What’s Happening Now

As JL would say, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”Calendar

So, when the orthopedist said, “When do you want to do this?” I immediately jumped to all my plans and counted two months into the future before I got to a stopping place. Of course, friends and family asked if I could wait that long. Why not? We probably should have done this at least a year ago as it is.

What the heck am I talking about? A hip replacement. See, I already have two artificial knees and the other hip twinges from time to time. By the time I’m officially old, osteoarthritis will have destroyed all the joints in my body. And I’ll be bionic.

First, I had to meet my new grandson. Stevie Ray Poduska Adams is now eight weeks old, but he surprised us all by making a three-week early entry into the world. He and Mama are fine now. Daddy and cat are still a little in shock.

Then, I HAD to go to LA again for the annual SCBWI conference. It was fantastic!

The facts about LA that always amaze me:

  • Just how giving and warm all the participants are. We “veterans” are not always able to discern the real newbies. Sometimes, the bewildered look can be on someone who has been there many times and just forgot what they want to do next. But writers – and even a lot of illustrators – are, by and large, very much introverted and have to force themselves to put it out there. The pre-conference newbie meeting is a well-attended event. One funny confession I heard was from someone who claims to be an extrovert.
  • Just how much a person can learn in three or four short days. My head is still spinning. It’s a good thing I took some notes.

 

The next week, my oldest brother visited with us. Interesting times, adjusting to the habits of other people for seven days. Also interesting to see how getting older affects that situation. My brother has Parkinson’s disease, so he has more problems moving around than I do and takes some pretty heavy-duty meds.

We saw The Giver movie one day. It followed the book fairly well, but I wasn’t entirely thrilled with the changes made. Naturally. Are book lovers ever entirely happy with the movie?

Lastly, my region is getting ready for our two-day conference on September 20-21. I’m mostly in charge of the venue, part of the registration duties, the speakers dinner, and transportation for the speakers. A big, time-consuming, and thought-consuming job.

So, these are the main reasons I didn’t have the surgery right away. After September 21, I can concentrate on recovery. Of course, I may have to watch a baseball game or two too. And I keep reminding myself that these experiences can easily show up in a book someday.

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Family Expansion

SRVWith the birth of my latest grandson last week, I’m naturally wondering what kind of person he will be.  I know his parents have their own set of hopes for him, but I’m allowed to hope also. I’m pretty sure our hopes intersect at several points.

Certainly, he will be musical. Both his parents are wonderful musicians. Poor kid doesn’t have a chance. They even named him after a great guitarist. Just hope he doesn’t drive his parents too crazy with the direction he takes, though.

Another thing his mother has already mentioned to me is that he will be a reader. Now, everyone has to develop his own style, and that’s as true with reading as it is with any other activity. But, for my part, I just want to make sure he’s surrounded by people who read and by quality reading materials. It’s up to him to absorb what he needs to be a good person. In our family, that’s easy. Family gatherings inevitably lead to book discussions or movies and how terrible they are compared to the books. Our nine-year-old grandson struggles a bit with reading, but I have faith that he also will eventually learn to appreciate his own efforts.

I do regret that SR will not be among those who discovered some of the great writers of literature for the first time, but I also regret that I won’t be around to discover some of the newer talent with him. I was four when The Cat in the Hat was published. Unbelievably perfect timing – for me. But, to SR, Dr. Seuss will always be that dead guy. But I also know many, many up-and-coming writers who will see to it that quality literature will be there for my grandsons. And it feels great to be able to see that happening.

Welcome, little guy!

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