Monday, November 30, 2009
Our "stereo system" is a single CD player. We haven't mastered the whole ipod thing yet. The CD he puts in in the morning generally plays all day. Christmas CDs tend to be short, so by evening I've heard the same songs over and over all day. My patience for Frosty the Snowman wears thin and silence feels comfortable.
Picture books can be like that, too. My kids wanted the same ones over and over again. I can still quote the first few pages of Daisy Dog, a Little Golden book that my firstborn loved. That doesn't mean I loved reading it, though. For a picture book to stand constant re-reading, it needs to delight the reader, as well as the listener. It needs a theme that touches the heart. It needs rhythm, even if it's prose. It needs characters you love to come back to, again and again. Not an easy task.
One of my favorite Christmas picture books is Patricia Polacco's The Christmas Tapestry. I've read it many times and it never grows old. Of course, I'm a sap for a happy ending, and this one certainly delivers. A lovely blending of two families who celebrate both the Jewish and Christian heritage in the holiday season.
I highly recommend this one for reading aloud during the Christmas season.
For pure fun, you just can't beat Dori Chaconas' When the Cows Come Home for Christmas. Chaconas is a master of rhythm and rhyme. A delightful twist at the ends makes this one a keeper for Christmas story time.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
- My sweet husband who has loved me for 34 years.
- My precious children scattered across the four corners of the U.S.
- My five delightful grandchildren, and the one on the way.
- Good friends, though I wish some of them were closer by.
- A small house with a creek in the backyard.
- A job I enjoy that lets me meet some really wonderful people.
- Books, home, hot tea and scones.
- Freedom, to be completely me, to live where I want and worship as I choose.
This is the Feast by Diane Z. Shore
Diane's exquisite rhyme brings the story of Thanksgiving to life.
Squanto's Journey by Joseph Bruchac
A lovely retelling from Squanto's perspective.
I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie
by Alison Jackson
Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy the holiday.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
The research required for one of these things is prodigious. I end up with facts in my head, notebook, computer, on paper scraps and napkins, the back of envelopes, sticky notes, etc. Then do I organize all those notes? Not really. Usually I am much more organized, but because there are so many of these little scripts to write, I have approached this project a little differently. I accumulate all these facts and then let my brain sort for story, conflict, and humor.
My first draft is almost always too fact heavy, so I look again for the heart of the script. What is the teaching point? How can these characters I've pulled together interact, react to each other, with enough conflict and humor to make a middle grade reader willing to recreate this tiny piece of history? There's the challenge that keeps a writer plugging away on a project.
If you haven't used readers theatre in your classroom or library before, check out the variety of topics and grade levels published by Libraries Unlimited. There's something here for everyone. And next year, mine will be on the list.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
The starter came to me in a quart-size freezer bag. It's a living breathing blob of dough that must be kneaded daily and fed on day five and day ten. The kneading is pretty easy. Just massage the plastic bag. Not hard, just make sure you crack the zip lock to let the gases escape.
Day five rolled around. I knew it was day five, but I had other things going on day five. When I lay down in bed that night, I remembered what I had forgotten. Tough, the stuff will just have to wait until tomorrow. So day six officially became day five.
On the new day five, I added milk , sugar, and flour. Whole wheat flour, even though that's not what mom used. But didn't people who used to make bread with sour dough starters use mainly whole wheat, not the enriched, bleached, white stuff? Mom had prepared me for the fact that the starter grows after you feed it. She recommended that I put the whole shabang in a plastic grocery bag, just in case it explodes.
On day seven, I got up planning to go knead the bag, only to find it had exploded. I transferred what was left of the gooey mess in the quart bag to a gallon-size freezer bag, scooped up the blobs of dough sticking to the inside of the grocery bag, zipped it shut and dutifully kneaded it.
Lying in bed on the night of day ten, I remembered I had forgotten again. So on day eleven, I fed the living, breathing mass another dose of milk, sugar, and flour. The next step called for scooping out one-cup portions into four new quart-sized freezer bags. Then with what's left, you're supposed to make the bread.
Add three eggs, done. Add a box of instant pudding. Rats. I can't even remember the last time I bought instant pudding. After some research on the internet, I concluded that there is no reliable substitute for instant pudding. I turned off the over and the kettle (I needed a cup of tea by this time) and went to the grocery store. I came home and added the pudding. Went to the cupboard to get the oil and didn't have a full cup to add. Should have checked before I went to the grocery. Jeepers. Mom wasn't home to borrow any from, so I headed up the street to my mother's kitchen. She only had olive oil. I'm not sure that's the best vegetable oil for baking cakes, but at this point, I wasn't too picky.
Home again, I added the oil. More flour, more sugar (less than called for), more milk, nuts, raisins, etc. I plopped the dense dough into two loaf pans and stuck them in the oven. An hour later, voila. Amish Friendship Bread.
It is now time for lunch. I used up the entire morning on two loaves of bread that have way too much sugar and a pudding box full of chemicals, all in the name of friendship.
And like my mother-in-law, I couldn't just dump all those little bags of living breathing dough in the trash. So I stopped by my beauty shop and left them all there for some poor sucker who's looking for friends.
Monday, October 26, 2009
I've been reading two books on writing written for kids. Neither of them is new, but they found their way into my reading stack for different reasons. The first is What's Your Story: A Young Person's Guide to Writing Fiction by Marion Dane Bauer. I attended a conference this summer where Marion was one of the featured speakers. I thoroughly enjoyed her approach to the workshop and wanted to see how she passed on her wonderful body of writing knowledge to young writers.
In the introduction, Marion tells readers that "our stories put us in charge. They allow us to explore our feelings without having to face the consequences of acting them out." It's a good observation and a great way to start the storytelling journey. Marion's writing on writing is vivid. She is a master at capturing the intensity of the present moment, in her own stories and helping young writers tell theirs. A great resource.
The other book is Live Writing: Breathing Life into Your Words by Ralph Fletcher. Doreen Sears introduced me to Fletcher. "He's the guru of writing these days," she told me."You need to know him." So I went in search of his work and found I liked it a great deal. He has several lovely volumes of poetry and many novels, too. His clear thinking and practical examples bring life to his book for young writers.
Doreen Sears was a dearly-loved, K-12 reading specialist for Muscogee County. She died on Friday after a long battle with cancer. Her kindness and her smile will be sorely missed. So my book suggestions today are in memory of this gentle lady who loved reading and writing and helping students discover the power of words.
Monday, October 19, 2009
It's not unusual for us to flip back and forth between two channels. You don't have to watch the commercials that way. But Saturday when he added a third channel--an old movie, not another game--I gave up and went to find a book. Two channels I can deal with, but three messes with my brain!
Basesball: The Great American Game
Titles for every team in the major leagues. Features player profiles, side panes, and great photos.
AR level comes in at 7.1
Titles for every team in the league. History of the team, player profiles, and again, fabulous photos.
AR levels 7.1
Two other well-done sets at a slightly lower reading level by Norwood House provides the same titles for both baseball and football. AR levels come in at 5.4 to 5.8.
For any of you writers out there who are reading. If you have sports knowledge, I have media specialists begging for these books at a low reading level. AR 2.5-4.0. If you can write them, they would sell.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
I've never worked a regular job, at least not after I got married. I worked at home or from home, so no drastically early hours. Of course, then there were babies. I got up for them. As they grew up, we homeschooled to the beat of mom's biorhythms. And they weren't early ones.
The kids are all off on their own now, and I'm working from home again, setting my own hours and managing my time well enough to get everything done. Until recently, that is. In the last three months I've had deadlines on three manuscripts, one for an agent who requested a full manuscript, one for an editor who wants to see a full manuscript and one work-for-hire contract. In the middle of all this, I landed another contract for a book that's going to require a lot of research and a lot of words. Suddenly, there isn't enough time in the day. There aren't enough days in the week, or the month, for that matter!
So I'm back to getting up with the babies. Only now the babies are books. Sometimes they wake me up in the middle of the night and need tending or changing. They aren't screaming for food at six o'clock in the morning, but I'm setting the clock like they were. I finished a whole chapter this week. I felt like a proud parent. And I'm ready for sleep when the sun goes down.
Monday, October 12, 2009
Last week, I spent several days at the COMO conference. The Council of Media Organizations represents the Georgia Association for Instructional Technology, the Georgia Library Association, and the Georgia Library Media Organization. Librarians and media specialists from across the state gathered in Columbus to exchange ideas, listen to speakers, and wander the trade show floor.
I manned the Delaney booth, along with my mentor and friend, Veronica, who has taught me so much about taking care of my customers and their book needs.
For two days, I greeted friends and customers that I know and have worked with for the last two years. I said hello to many new friends, as well. I know my customers' names and schools, but put them all together in one place, out of the halls of their customary surroundings, and I have to admit, the names start to run together. Fortunately, most of us had name tags!
Southern Breeze writer friends, Hester Bass and Diane Z. Shore, were presenters at the conference. Many of my media specialists mentioned their sessions, so I know they did a great job.
Hester's book, The Secret World of Walter Anderson, received a starred review from Kirkus and was named an Okra pick for 2009 by SIBA. It's a beautiful book with artwork by E.B. Lewis faithful to the style of this fascinating American artist.If you haven't seen it, you should give me a call and I'll put it on your list!
Diane Z. Shore is a bundle of poetic energy, zipping from place to place with the speed of energetic six-year-old. And of course, children and librarians alike love her. Diane's I Can Read Book, How to Drive Your Sister Crazy, is a must read for boys. Their sister's should read it, too, for protection! Check out her lovely poetry, too, in This is the Feast and This is the Dream.
Monday, October 5, 2009
Speaking of fires. I was talking with a media specialist last week, when the pre-K teacher walked into the library. "Aren't you looking for fire safety books?" the media specialist asked. "Take a look at this one. What do you think?"
The teacher flipped through the pages of Fire Safety in Action from Capstone Publishers. "Yes, this is perfect," she said and commenced to sell the book for me. "Even the photos show kids the right age."
You have to be really specific with pre-K students. You have to tell them exactly what to do if they smell smoke or if a fire alarm goes off. This set of fire safety books does just that. Simple, but clear directions explain how to get out safely if there's a fire.
Titles in the set by author Mari Schuh:
Fire Safety in Action
Fire Stations in Action
Fire Trucks in Action
Fire Boats in Action
AR levels aren't assigned yet, but the books are written for emergent readers.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Our topic for today was the hats a writer wears. You don't start out wearing the author hat. You start with the investigator hat, the one that leads to an idea and the information relating to it. Then you move on to the writer hat and work, work, work! After that comes the editor's hat. Read it out loud. Revise. Get it right.
It would be nice if writing proceeded in a nice straight line like that, but it generally doesn't. So we talked about moving back and forth between the hats, finding the right amount of information, the best way of presenting it, and filling in the holes.
Tricks of the trade: I had asked the students to bring a piece of their writing with them. I gave everyone a piece of tracing paper to place over their writing. Then we placed a pencil on the beginning capital word and drew a straight line to the period, continuing until each sentence was lined through. When you lift the tracing paper, you can see the length of your sentences. The trick is to realize how long your sentences are and make sure that you vary their length. A long one, a short one, a couple of medium length, another short one. Variety is the spice of life, and it goes a long way towards improving a composition.
After signing a few books (and a few arms!), I said goodbye. Abby, my sweet guide, walked me back to the office and sent me on my way. It was a good day.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Technologically, this is a terrible photo, and yet there is something about it that I like. It gives you a feel for the constant motion on the trade show floor.
Then on Thursday, my dad went with about 100 other World War II veterans on the Honor Flight to Washington, DC. They visited the World War II memorial and saw plenty of other sites while they were there. On their return home, about 1400 people cheered their arrival at the airport. Sons and daughters cheered, grandchildren held homemade banners, and great grandchildren waved flags. I've never seen a more surprised and delighted crowd of veterans. My dad said it took two hours for him to get from the plane to his car. He shook hands, hugged necks, and was saluted by ROTC students and Army band members. It was quite a day.
Since many of the schools I work with in the Delaney sales job are in the vicinity of Fort Benning, one or both parents of many students serve in the military. My recommended titles for the week salute the sacrifices of our fallen soldiers. War Memorials is a new set from Rourke Publishing recommended for grades four through eight. Authors Jennifer Burrows and Maureen Robins do a great job presenting basic history about each war, along with detailed information on the memorial.
Titles in the set include:
Arlington National Cemetary
Korean War Memorial
USS Arizona Memorial
Vietnam War Memorial
World War I Memorial
World War II Memorial
These are brand new, so AR levels are not in yet.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
I became intimately familiar with every hill and valley between Big Town and Little Town. I read that book so many times, I could name the road-making machines in order, as each one claimed it would build the highway.
The intricate sepia-type drawings of bulldozer and earthmover, power shovel and tampers, grader, truck, roller, subgrader, roadlayer, and finishers made up in detail for what they lacked in color.
My son still loves trucks. And I still look for truck books whenever I'm in a bookstore. Only now, I'm checking them out for my grandsons, who are all long distances away. I've found a great way to stay connected to them. I choose a couple of my favorite books for them at each birthday and read them onto a CD, complete with a bell for page turns. It gives them good books to read and keeps my voice in their heads until the next real visit.
I recently read this one for my grandson in Texas. I loved it, and I know he will, too.
And of course, for my library clients, who can never seem to find enough truck books for their young readers, this is a wonderful set.
Construction Zone, from Capstone Publishers, is a fine addition to any library. Titles are all written by Joanne Early Macken. The photos are stunning. Text is simple and clear. Young truck lovers will enjoy reading these for themselves.
Titles included in the set are:
- Building a Road
- Building a House
- Building a Skyscraper
- Building a Bridge
- Construction Tools
- Construction Crews
- Digging Tunnels
Monday, September 14, 2009
Greece and Our American Heritage helps young readers understand how people thousands of years ago and thousands of miles away influenced their country, their government, and they way they live.
It was fun to write. I hope kids find it fun to read.
Guided reading and AR levels are pending, but they should come in right at third grade.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
The main character, Janey, traveled with her migrant father and step-mother, living in poverty and longing for a real home. Her most prized possession was a Blue Willow plate. The book has a wonderfully sappy, happy ending that little girls love.
Sometime after reading the book, we were in an antique store and I showed her the Blue Willow plates stacked in an old hutch. We picked around until we found an uncracked dessert plate and made our purchase. The plate with the tiny blue bridge and the blue doves hung on her bedroom wall for years.
Gradually, we began to collect other pieces. A plate here and there. A cup and saucer. Some from England. Some from Japan. When she was about 12, we were in an antique store in North Carolina and stumbled upon a canister set. She wanted it so badly, she agreed that it would be her Christmas present that year. So we bought it and hid it away until December. It was a difficult Christmas for a twelve year old who had so many wants, but got her desired Blue Willow. And what does a twelve year old do with a canister set anyway?
She wrapped it carefully in newspaper, packed it in a box and stored it away.
For ten years.
That daughter has now graduated from college and has her first real job. Last weekend, we moved her to Mississippi and her first real apartment. She unpacked her box and set out her Blue Willow canister set on her kitchen counter.
I'm not sure what she remembers of Janey and her journey, but as my daughter begins her trek into independent adult life, she carries a bit of Blue Willow with her.
That's the power of story that every writer hopes to achieve.
Monday, August 31, 2009
Margaret Hillert has been writing fiction for young children longer than some of us remember reading it. As a first grade teacher, she realized her students needed good stories written at a reading level they could comprehend.
The Dear Dragon books, her best known series, is beloved around the world. It's still in print (revised editions by Norwood house) and she's adding four new titles this fall and four more in the spring.
Ms. Hillert's beginning-t0-read books use the sight words that appear most frequently in written text. Pictures add details to the delightful stories of a boy and his pet dragon.
Additional features of the updated editions and the new releases include:
- notes to caregivers
- word lists
- activities to promote reading success
- AR levels 0.5-1.0
New titles for 2009:
It's Fall, Dear Dragon
It's Winter, Dear Dragon
It's Spring, Dear Dragon
It's Summer, Dear Dragon
It's a Good Game, Dear Dragon
Play, Play, Play, Dear Dragon
I Did It, Dear Dragon
Touchdown! Dear Dragon
I hope when I'm 89, I'll still be writing books!
Sunday, August 30, 2009
My husband and I moved our youngest daughter moved to Hattiesburg, Mississippi this weekend. She is officially independent, out of college, with her own appartment and a job. My nest is officially empty.
What does Hattiesburg have?
- Lots of swan statues. I haven't figured out why yet.
- The University of Southern Mississippi, where the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection is housed. Unfortuantely, there wasn't time to check it out this trip.
- Some pretty cool antique stores. One right across from a redneck biker bar. The antique owner advised against trying it.
- A restaurant that serves deep fried southern pecan pie for desert. Sounds dangerous, but we didn't try it.
- My baby girl.
Monday, August 24, 2009
One of the benefits of a small conference like this one is the intimacy we achieve in such a short span of time. People who were total strangers only hours before become peer mentors, critique partners, friends.
The other benefit of such a small setting is the chance to connect with the faculty. Author Marion Dane Bauer (Newberry Honor Book, On My Honor), editor Erin Clarke (Alfred Knopf) and agent Stephen Frasier (Jennifer Di Chiara Literary Agency) mingled, encouraged, shared their wisdom and conducted master class critiques of ten novel manuscripts. It was worth the trip to the west coast.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Princess books abound in the fiction market these days, from Fancy Nancy picture books to YA Princess Diaries. Girls of all ages are reading about the glamour of royalty.
Capstone Press has found a way to channel the princess interest into the realm of nonfiction with their series "Queens and Princesses." These well-written 32-page biographies of real life royalty are sure to satisfy readers who want to know what it's like to be a queen. Each book includes full-page, high quality photos and personal quotes that reveal the lives of these remarkable women.
The original set included:
Diana, Princess of Wales
Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov
Marie Antoinette, Queen of France
Princess Grace of Monaco
Princess Kiko of Japan Queen Rania of Jordan
New additions to the set include:
Queen Elizabeth of England
Queen Christina of Sweeden
Helen of Troy
Nefertiti of Egypt
Interest level: Grades 3-9
AR levels range from 4.9 - 5.1
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Unfortunately, President Carter is not free to autograph the book himself due to his contracts, but I'm thrilled to have the photo.
Thanks, Cody and mom!
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
School started this week, too, so I'm back to thinking about book room lists and media center lists and classroom libraries, and all my sweet friends who work so hard in their schools.
I have plans to begin posting with them in mind on Mondays. Starting soon!
Back to my girl, for now!
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Friday, July 24, 2009
It's been a long week checking off the completed or half-completed items on my monster to-do list. Washing clothes, finishing a proposal (sent it off this morning), scheduling appointments for the new school year, plowing my way through homework for an upcoming writer's workshop. So mid afternoon, I lay/laid (always have to look that up) down on the couch. I had just slipped into a peaceful doze when my cell phone rang. It wasn't by the sofa. It was out in the office. Did I really want to get up and race out there? I hesitated and then pulled myself out of the comfy spot I'd made between all the pillows and ran after it.
Good thing! It was an editor at a house I sent a proposal to less than a month ago. I wasn't thinking about hearing anything from her for at least 3-6 months. She wanted the files in a Word format so that she could present it to her team in a couple of weeks!
I have a drawer full of rejection notices. I steel myself not to be surprised when I open the self-addressed stamped envelope and find some version of thanks, but no thanks. I did get one last week that said, "Cute, but not what we seek. Good luck elsewhere." If you're a writer, you know that's worth a small celebration!
But a phone call is BIG! And her comment was "It's a good proposal." Yippee!!
Now I just cross my fingers and wait.
And if they say yes, then I have to actually write the rest of the book!
Thursday, July 23, 2009
They are such sweeties! Joshua is almost 7. We went to the library and I taught him to use the online catalog and find books on the shelves. What fun! David is almost 2 and swims like a fish. Anna is 4 and loves a good story and green popsicles! Joseph is 4 months and just starting to laugh at the antics of his sister and brothers.
On the way home from the NC mountains (after and conference and grandbabies, I needed another vacation), we stopped at the Atlanta airport where the Wisconsin grandbaby and mom had a layover on their way home from a reunion. Aaron is almost 2 and loved running through the airport.
So we managed to see them all in the space of about a week! Good trip.
Now I'm working my way through a giant to do list and trying to get back to normal.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
It is a lovely setting. We're on the narrow peninsula that runs between the Pacific Ocean and the San Diego Bay. Flowering succulents line the walks on the hotel grounds, eighteen-inch goldfish stick their gaping mouths out of the water when you approach the stream that separates the multiple hotel structures, baby ducks follow their mamas around the sidewalks, and five parrots flirt with the ladies who leave the lobby. "Hey, baby!" is at the top of the chatter, along with "Here, Kitty Kitty!" and "You're a dweeb, dweeb, dweeb!"
I did get to ride a very bright orange bike along the bay today. It was a nice break from meetings.
Monday, June 29, 2009
Friday, June 26, 2009
Friday, June 19, 2009
Today however, I joined the press corps, turned on my recorder and snapped photos of Colin Powell from a distance of about six feet. It was a treat.
It was hot. As Gen. Powell said of his first army home, "It's not officially Columbus unless it's 95 degrees in the shade."
I don't know who made the cake shaped like the museum, but Gen. Powell and Gen. White cut it with a saber.
Friday, June 12, 2009
They let me attend the sessions which focused on the literacy model. I was impressed with the program, which all the elementary schools in our district will embrace over the next few years.
The focus is to teach kids how to comprehend, to give them tools they can recognize for decoding meaning, to teach them how to think about what they're thinking. Metacognition is the big word for it, and they teach the kids in kindergarten that big word!
As a homeschool parent, one of the things I disliked about the public schoolroom, and the private school we were for involved with for a short time, was the amount of time wasted doing worksheets and other busy work that really didn't increase learning. This model looks so much like what we did in homeschooling. Although we didn't have the vocabulary to describe what we were doing, we tried to help our kids learn to think, not just regurgitate facts. That's what this model does. A teacher models what she's teaching, showing the kids how she thinks about this concept. She connects it with her own prior learning, called schema. Then she leads the kids in activities that allow them to do the same thing. They're connecting the text they read to their own experience and prior learning. They're reading with partners and discussing the concepts in face to face conversations. They are exploring the concepts with drawings and writing. They are comprehending as science, social studies and math are woven into the literacy framework.
I'm excited to see this happening here. I look forward to seeing the results. It's a huge change for teachers to embrace., but children in those classrooms are extremely blessed for it. These kids are learning how to learn. And we all know that's invaluable.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
"The middle of a story develops the story's implicit promise by dramatizing incidents that increase conflict, reveal character, and put in place all the various forces that will collide at the story's climax. In other words, the middle is a bridge--sometimes a long, winding bridge, sometimes a short, direct one. At one end of the bridge, the story's beginning introduces characters, conflict and (sometimes) symbols. Then in the middle, these same characters, conflicts, and (sometimes) symbols move across the bridge, grouping themselves as they go into alliances and oppositions. Some people change during their journey across the bridge; some don't. Conflicts deepen. People become more emotional. The stakes may rise. By the time the characters reach the other end of the bridge, the forces determining their behavior are clear. At the far end of the bridge, these same forces will collide (the story's climax).
Unity in fiction depends on keeping everybody on the bridge. The forces developed in the middle must emerge naturally out of the characters and situation introduced at the beginning. In turn, the ending must make use of those same forces and conflicts, with nothing important left out and nothing new suddenly appearing at the last minute."
A great picture, isn't it? With lots of food for thought.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Monday, June 1, 2009
Need a definition suited for a child? Try one of these online dictionaries for kids.
Keeping track of all your research? EasyBib is a great online tool. Type in your ISBN or your web address, click "autocite" and press "create citation." You can create multiple lists for your projects, all stored online.
Need to analyze the reading level of your manuscript. This is important in the educational market. The Lexile analyzer is a wonderful tool. You must register to use it, but there's no fee involve. You'll need to save your manuscript in a plain text document. Use the browse tool to find it on your computer, click analyze. You'll need a comparison chart to understand what the number means, but if you can get your words in the proper range, you'll generally be right on target with AR levels and Fountas and Pinnell Guided Reading Levels, too.
If you're looking for state standards, this website has links to all the state department of education websites. If you're looking for science, you can click on science, and then any state to find their science standards.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Mode 1 - Dialogue
"Are we going to walk with her today?" Rob asked.
"Sure, if your hurry up," Margaret said. "We have to leave exactly when she leaves."
Rob dragged the last bite of bacon through the pile of ketchup on his plate and crammed it into his mouth. "Okay, I'm ready."
"Ready for what?" Margaret's mother appeared in the kitchen carrying a stack of folded towels.
"To walk with Lily," Rob said.
"No, you are not walking with that colored girl, so just sit back down and finish your breakfast."
Margaret plopped down in her chair. "What do you think's going to happen? It's not like her skin will rub off on us."
"Margaret Jean, don't talk back to me. Now go brush your teeth."
"I did already," Margaret said.
"Well, go brush them again. Your mouth needs a little washing out anyway."
Mode 2 - Description
The giant oak stretched high above the roof of Charlotte's house, except it wasn't Charlotte's house any more. It was Lily's house, Margaret reminded herself. The tree stood like a guardian looking down on the postage stamp yards of Brick Street. The old oak was Margaret's favorite thing about the street where she grew up. Once playing Red Rover underneath the tree, Margaret fell so hard on her back she saw stars flickering in the leaves. That tree knew everything that happened on Brick Street. It was tall enough to see Meyers Market three streets over where the neighborhood changed, where the yards became cluttered with old cars and broken tricycles. When her mother called them shameful, Margaret winced. She couldn't believe the tree would see them that way. The oak didn't seem to care that there were lines that couldn't be crossed. It poked leafy fingers across the boundary between Margaret's yard and Lily's, a boundary Margaret's mother no longer let her cross.
Mode 3 - Action
Margaret lifted the edge of the curtain and peeked out the window. Lily was still there, leaning against the trunk of the giant oak. Margaret let the curtain fall. She hurried back to the table and stacked the empty bowls together. She grabbed her plate and scraped the remaining clump of grits into the trash. She popped her little brother Rob in the back of the head. "Hurry up, so we can walk with her."
Mode 4 - Thoughts
How could Lily just sit there in the grass, leaning against that tree, while eyes from every house on Brick Street peered out at her? Maybe she didn't care. May it didn't matter to her what all those people hiding behind their Venetian blinds thought. It must be a good feeling, not to care like that. Well, today Margaret wouldn't care either. She'd ignore her Mother's ridiculous restrictions. She'd slam the door behind her, march right up beside Lily and walk to school with her, whether Lily wanted her there or not. She would. Maybe.
Mode 5 - Exposition
The summer before school started in 1971, the Supreme Court decided that forced busing was the only way to ensure desegregation in public schools. It wasn't a popular decision in Riverton. In early August, a crowd of angry citizens constructced a dummy, pinned the school superintendant's name on it, and burned it in front of his office. It didn't change anything. The schools were rezoned, buses rerouted, and Margaret Jean Crawford's life would never be the same.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Change your point of view. Write in third person instead of first. Try it in second person and see what happens. What if your narrator is omnicient and knows everything everybody is thinking?
Change tense. Try writing your first five paragraphs in present tense, rather than past.
Change the point of entry into your story. Try starting later or earlier than your original first scene. What happens?
Change your narrative mode, your way of presenting information. There are five narrative modes: dialogue, description, action, thoughts and exposition. Try one of these:
Begin your scene with a description of an important object.
Begin with your main character egaged in some significant action.
Begin with an outrageous opinion the main character thinks but would never say out loud.
Begin with six lines of dialog between two characters, an argument important to the plot.
Begin with a description of the room where the first scene occurs. Use details that reflect the plot or owner's personality.
Does one of the variations feel right? Did it spark new ideas or possibilities you didn't realize were there?
Saturday, May 23, 2009
The first scene of a book gives us, as readers, an introduction to the main character or characters and the conflict that will propel the book forward.
The second scene will generally be less intense, slow the conflict down, vary the pace so that the story does not become monotonous.
There are three options for the second scene: backfill, flashback, or a continuation of the story line.
In Backfill, the author or the point-of-view character tells the reader who these people are and how they got in this mess in the first place. Backfill will slow the story down, but the Swimming Pool Theory says "that structuring fiction is like kicking off from the side of a swimming pool. The stronger and more forceful your initial kick, the longer you can glide through the water. The stronger and more forceful your opening scene, the less your reader will mind a 'glide' through nondramatized backfill."
In Marion Dane Bauer's Killing Miss Kitty and Other Sins, the first scene is startling to the main character and to the reader. Claire (though we don't know her name until scene two) is meandering along the edge of the woods in the back of her yard making up stories. Suddenly Dorinda, a black skinned girl in a yellow dress, leaps out of the woods right in front of her. When Claire finally manages to ask "Who are you?", Dorinda turns around a races away into the woods without a word.
The second scene is backfill in the voice of Claire. She explains that this is 1950, a mill town, a place where no African Americans live. She notes her family's recognition of the injustice done to blacks, but their reluctance to view it as their problem in any way. The scene works because we're as startled by the girl in the yellow sundress as Claire, and want to know who this is and where we are.
Flashbacks only work if they follow a stong opening scene that clearly shows us a character and his/her current situation. The flashback must be closely related to the first scene. Finally, it must be clear how long ago the flashback occurred. Flashbacks definitely remove the reader from the action of the story, but the Swimming Pool Theory applies here, too.
In A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park, the opening scene is very short. We meet the boy, Tree-ear, and Crane-man, the old man who is his companion. We immediately understand thier friendship and their poverty, and see that Tree-ear has just had an adventure that procured him a bag filled with rice.
The second scene is a flashback that shows how Tree-ear got the rice. It is clearly tied to the first scene and happened just the morning before this conversation between the friends.
The third option for scene two is to continue the action of the story. It is important here to remember to vary the level of the conflict.
In The Illyrian Adventure by Alexander Lloyd, the second scene continues the action. In scene one, we meet a vivid Vesper Holley, who is headed for adventure despite the fact that her father has just died. Vesper is meeting her father's friends and her new guardians; and she insists they move to her house and into her plans without any consideration for their sedate retired way of life.
The second scene continues the action as Vesper introduces her plan to visit Illyria, a dangerous country on the Adriatic sea that her father had wanted to visit before he died. Alexander has woven small bits exposition seamlessly into the two scenes, but scene two is an answer to the question: What happens next?
Look at the book you're reading. Does scene one introduce you to one or two main characters? Are they vivid, real, interesting, odd? Do you have a clear sense of what their present situation is like?
Now look at scene two. Is it backfill, flashback or a continuation of the action? How did the author make that transition? Did it work?
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
She also commissioned me to write another third grade book, just one book, on ancient Greek influences on American democracy. I spent yesterday afternoon in the library collecting research. Manuscript is due by the end of June for publication in November 2009.
I'm meeting with my fabulous critique group this weekend. My submission is a book proposal for Readers Theatre on Global Explorers.
I'm researching publishers for a book I'm working on with a friend. She is a counselor and has spent time during the last three years using art therapy with children of the Rawandan genocide. I'm really excited about working on this project with her. You can read about her work here.
I'm off to do homework in preparation for the PCCWW in August. Check back later for the next installment of what I'm learning.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Every story makes an implicit promise to its reader in the opening scene. Two promises, actually--one is emotional, the other is intellectual. Stories should make us feel and think.
The emotional promise is to entertain, thrill, scare, sadden, uplift the reader.
The intellectual promise is to show the reader the world from a differenct perspective, to confirm what the reader already believes about the world, or show the reader a different more interesting world.
A romance promises to entertain, to confirm our belief that love can conquer all, to carry the reader to another world where the main character (and by identification, the reader) is beautiful and loved.
A mystery promises an intellectual challenge, confirmation that we can make sense of the events around us, and the satisfaction that justice prevails.
Let's pull out some books and see for ourselves.
This is the opening paragraph of The Illyrian Adventure by Lloyd Alexander:
Miss Vesper Holly has the digestive talents of a goat and the mind of a chess master. She is familiar with half a dozen languages and can swear fluently in all of them. She understands the use of a slide rule but prefers doing calculations in her head. She does not hesitate to risk life and limb--mine as well as her own. No doubt she has other qualities as yet undiscovered. I hope not.
The implicit promise: I am in for an adventure. I like Miss Vesper Holly already, and I am certain that she is going to get our narrator into some harrowing situation. The world from Miss Holly Vesper's daring eyes is worth checking out. Already we have two characters and potential conflict. All in one paragraph.
This is the opening of Trembling Earth by Kim L. Siegelson:
The cloud-softened light of early mornglowm lay atop the swamp water like a slick of pure gold. Hamp stood in the stern of his punt boat, letting his pole drag the bottom until he stalled in the gold-tinted channel that led home to Pinder Island.
"Gilded fine as any street in heaven," Pap had said once of such a spectacle--back when pap knew more about heaven than he did about hell.
The implicit promise: This story will take me to an unfamiliar world of the swamp. Hamp knows his way around the swamp, but there's trouble brewing. The trouble centers around his dad. I anticipate sadness. This story is going to confirm to me that father and son relationships are essential, and I hope redeemable.
Now you try it. Pull out the books you're reading and look at the first paragaph or the first page. What implicit promise has the writer made to you?
Friday, May 15, 2009
My youngest graduated from the University of South Alabama last Saturday. It was a whirlwind weekend, full of moving out of the dorm, graduation breakfast, graduation ceremony, and graduation party! Lots of laughter, a few tears, and great joy.
I came home to a full week. I spoke at the Phenix City Schools Young Authors Awards Banquet; managed to get all the files turned in for the Bugler deadline, despite a computer crash at the office and a sudden change of command announcement at Fort Benning; and after a full week home, finally unpacked my suitcase!
Next week I'll be back to normal and back to blogging.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
The end of April also means National Poetry Month is coming to a close. I have enjoyed posting poems and reading them on some of my favorite blogs. So, one last poem to end the month. This is from Amy Carmichael, an Irish missionary who spent 53 years in South India. She founded Dohnavur Fellowship, a refuge for children. From Elisabeth Elliot's biography of her: "In a far more secular and self-preoccupied time, Amy Carmichael's vision of the unseen and her ardent effort to dwell in its light, making any sacrifice for its sake, seems hardly believable..." Yet "Amma," loved by hundreds children, was just such a woman.
Dust and Flame
But I have seen a fiery flame
Take to his pure and burning heart
Mere dust of earth, to it impart
His virtue, till that dust became
Transparent loveliness of flame.
O Fire of God, Thou fervent Flame,
Thy dust of earth in Thee would fall,
And so be lost beyond recall,
Transformed by Thee, its very name
Forgotten in Thine own, O Flame.
Monday, April 27, 2009
The setting is my hometown (never actually named) on the street where I grew up (name changed to Brick Street). The year is 1971 when forced busing finally brought integration to schools in the South. The main characters are two sixth grade girls, one white, one black, and their journey to friendship.
Last week I had lunch with a new friend, a dear African American lady that I want to get to know better. We have had some professional interaction during the last few months, but that was all. So we scheduled lunch.
As we began learning about each other, we realized that we both lived on "Brick Street"! I moved from the street with I was in 7th grade. That was about 1968. She moved into the neighborhood when she was in 7th grade. That was about 1970. We both went to the same junior high school and the same high school, again missing each other by a few years. We were both English majors in college. She became a teacher. I became a homeschool mom. And twenty some years later, we're having lunch talking about familiar people and places.
We could have been my two story-characters. I think I like the way this ends. Or begins.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Inspiration often comes at inconvenient moments--walking my neighborhood and I've forgotten my phone with it's memo-to-self capabilities, planting flowers in my garden with dirty hands and no pen nearby, in the middle of the night when I try to convince myself I'll remember in the morning. And then the phrase, the next scene, the image is gone.
The same is true in life. How often we miss the moment for a word or an act of kindness that will make a difference in someone's day. We let the opportunity pass, and the act that only you or I could do goes undone. And something is lost.
I'm learning to listen to that inner voice that prompts me to respond, whether it's with pen and paper or a kind word. Regret is harder to live with than failure.
I came to a great door,
Its lintel overhung
With burr, bramble, and thorn;
And when it swung, I saw
A meadow, lush and green.
And there a great beast played,
A sportive, aimless one,
A shred of bone its horn,
And colloped round with fern.
It looked at me; it stared.
Swaying, I took its gaze;
Faltered; rose up again;
Rose but to lurch and fall,
Hard, on the gritty sill,
I lay; I languished there.
When I raised myself once more,
The great round eyes had gone.
The long lush grass lay still;
And I wept there, alone.
Monday, April 20, 2009
In a recent conversation, what she had to tell me first was all the excuses she could come up with to keep from going to bed. She needed water, then she needed a song, then she needed to go to the bathroom, then her blanket fell underneath the bed. At four, she has already mastered the tricks of the trade!
Here's a poem in honor of the bedtime ploy.
How to Stay up Late
At night when grown-ups start to yawn
Beneath their reading lamps
Is when I whip my album out
To stick in foreign stamps.
And when pajama time draws near
I start to write the story
Of Lincoln’s life, or set up school
Like Maria Montessori.
So kid, wise up. Unless you like
To go to bed too fast
Just save your most impressive play
Of all day long for last.
-- X. J. Kennedy
Friday, April 17, 2009
This has been a favorite poem for a long time. I heard Richard Wilbur himself read it last year in Atlanta. I happened to be standing in just the right spot when he walked out of the auditorium and was first to have my book signed. He went on to tell me about his daughter's book. Like any proud father, he wanted to talk about his daughter.
I've had some time with both my girls in the last month. It is a wonderful thing to have daughters who are also friends. Though neither of them are writers, at least not at the moment, they are both great readers and wonderful young women. I'm so proud of them.
In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.
I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.
Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.
But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy ﬁgure.
A stillness greatens, in which
The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent.
I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash
And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark
And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard ﬂoor, or the desk-top,
And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,
It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.
It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Where did you come from, baby dear?
Out of the everywhere into the here.
Where did you get those eyes so blue?
Out of the sky as I came through.
What makes the light in them sparkle and spin?
Some of the starry spikes left in.
Where did you get that little tear?
I found it waiting when I got here.
What makes your forehead so smooth and high?
A soft hand strok’d it as I went by.
What makes your cheek like a warm white rose?
I saw something better than any one knows.
Whence that three-corner’d smile of bliss?
Three angels gave me at once a kiss.
Where did you get this pearly ear?
God spoke, and it came out to hear.
Where did you get those arms and hands?
Love made itself into bonds and bands.
Feet, whence did you come, you darling things?
From the same box as the cherubs’ wings.
How did they all just come to be you?
God thought about me, and so I grew.
But how did you come to us, you dear?
God thought about you, and so I am here.
Friday, April 10, 2009
Why is it…
While other people
Are thinking about all kinds of
I am thinking about what it would be like
To jump barefoot
Into an open box
Of jelly doughnuts?
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
My yard is at its most beautiful right now. With all the rain and the warm days (not counting today when it's in the 30s again!) everything is blooming happily. Buckeyes don't usually grow this far south, but I have two on the bank on the creek bursting with red blooms.
When I was young, I grew
dull plants returning food
for work. But I, now older,
repent my practicality.
I’ve renounced beans, and turned
to crocus, gladiola,
and coreopsis. I’ve moved
past zinnia, marigold,
I’ve even learned to love
poor salvia, which blooms
on August days, when few flowers
will venture anything
but green. The summer’s short
and ornament is what
I want—all vividness.
Not pasty cauliflower
and not potatoes, whose
gnarled flesh is more and more
like mine. Give me bright blossoms
against the teeming green.
Give me orange flags, blue horns,
white faces, yellow wings.
Give me the purple throat,
breathless, of calla lilies—
and red, red, red, red, red.
Monday, April 6, 2009
I didn’t read A.A. Milne as a child. I was an adult before I discovered Pooh Corner and Milne’s lovely stories sprinkled with verse. Any writer for children who has tried to tell a story in rhyming verse knows just how difficult it can be and why editors tend to say don’t send it to them! Here is the perfect explanation.
From The House at Pooh Corner
“Don’t Bustle me,” said Eeyore, getting up slowly. “Don’t now-then me.” He took a piece of paper from behind his ear, and unfolded it. “Nobody knows anything about this,” he went on. “This is a Surprise.” He coughed in an important way, and began again: “What-nots and Etceteras, before I begin, or perhaps I should say, before I end, I have a piece of Poetry to read to you. Hitherto—hitherto—a long word meaning—well, you’ll see what it means directly—hitherto, as I was saying, all the Poetry in the forest has been written by Pooh, a Bear with a Pleasing manner but a Positively Startling Lack of Brain. The Poem which I am now about to read to you was written by Eeyore, or Myself, in a Quiet Moment. If somebody will take Roo’s bull’s-eye away from him, and wake up Owl, we shall all be able to enjoy it. I call it—POEM.”
This was it.
Christopher Robin is going.
At least I think he is.
But he is going—
I mean he goes
(To rhyme with “knows”)
Do we care?
(To rhyme with “where”)
(I haven’t got a rhyme for that
“is” in the second line yet.
(Now I haven’t got a rhyme for
Those two bothers will have to
rhyme with each other Buther.
The fact is this is more difficult
than I thought,
(Very good indeed)
To begin again,
But it is easier
Christopher Robin, good-bye,
And all your friends
I mean all your friend
(Very awkward this, it keeps
Well, anyhow, we send
Saturday, April 4, 2009
The spirit moves,
Stirs as a blossom stirs,
Still wet from its bud-sheath,
Turning in the light with its tendrils;
Plays as a minnow plays,
Tethered to a limp weed, swinging,
Tail around, nosing in and out of the current,
Its shadows loose, a watery finger;
Moves, like the snail,
Taking and embracing its surroundings,
Never wishing itself away,
Unafraid of what it is,
A music in a hood,
A small thing,
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
I originally began this blog for my children who are scattered across the country. I wanted to keep them up to date on the remodeling project next door that my husband and I took on. The article published in Once Upon a Time resulted from watching the process. Here's my article and some pictures to add a little interest.
Remodel, Revise, Reinvent
by Doraine Bennett
My husband and I recently bought the house next door to us. The shallow-roofed, fifties style house sagged like a worn out volume of Good Old Archibald that no one had picked up for years. It might have been a good idea in the fifties, but today, it looked like a really bad first draft.
We began remodeling with the idea that we would remain within the original footprint of the house. Structural damage forced us to boost the foundation with helical piers. We tore off the roof and added a second story. We rearranged the interior walls to make fewer, but larger, rooms.
One day our Hispanic brick mason pointed to the exterior brick wall. “No good,” he said shaking his head. The bricks were not tied to the house structure. The whole wall could collapse at any moment.
I have a few first drafts, stuck away in drawers or buried in computer folders, with as many structural problems as the house next door.
Sometimes, I get stuck in the footprint of the original draft, not realizing if I just pulled the roof off or moved the bricks, I could expand my story, find room for ideas that I hadn’t considered, or add a new dimension with subplots, stronger characters, and deeper themes.
It doesn’t necessarily mean throwing out the whole thing, just looking at it with new eyes, finding what is of value, and not being afraid to tear down a few walls or words.
We named our revised house next door “The Resting Place.” One day, when the work is done, it will be a place of solace for friends and family who need to be refreshed and reminded that joy can be found in difficult places.
I would like for my stories to do that, too. Refresh a reader. Offer a small reminder of peace. A glimmer of hope.
Revision is challenging. We tend to see what is there instead of what could be there. But when the finished product brings joy, the time and effort is well spent.