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Friday, June 29, 2012

Read-4-Luck: Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt

If you missed the most recent Story Elements post, which focuses on the top ten elements of picture book writing, you can still read Wednesday's post about Story Element #6: Pacing

READ-4-LUCK acts as a book recommendation, book review, teaching tip, and writing lesson for children, parents, teachers, and writers. This fun weekly feature began back in October 2010 and is still going strong 

 = Not bad. Might read twice.
 = Fun read first few times. Would get from library again.
 = Very enjoyable. Wouldn't mind owning a copy.
 = Awesome! Multiple readings are never tiresome. May just have to buy it.



This week's Read-4-Luck pick is Melanie Watt's Scaredy Squirrel.
Scaredy Squirrel never leaves his nut tree--it's way too dangerous out there. Find out what happens when he is forced out of his tree by a vicious intruder!
 x

Publisher: Kids Can Press Ltd
Year: 2006
Word Count: 516
Book Level: 3.6
Age: 4-8
Topic: danger, adventure, squirrels,  
Theme: fear



RATINGS

CHILDREN: 
Children identify with the squirrel's fears. They like finding the feared items in the pictures. My 5-y-o daughter said, "He sure looks at the view a lot. And he eats nuts a lot." I asked her how many times and she counted the pictures. See? It's interactive too!

PARENTS: 
Very fun to read. Not your average story because of the way the pictures and words go. The 3rd spread is kind of scrapbook-esque style by listing a few things Scaredy is afraid of. The 5th spread lists the advantages and disadvantages of never leaving the nut tree. The 6th spread shows the nut tree every day during the week and lists the days of the week. The 7th spread lists Scaredy's daily routine from 6:45 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. complete with the clock faces too. This is just a sampling of how this book is not a "normal" story and makes it more fun to read.

TEACHERS: 
This book can easily be integrated into any lesson or even an entire week-long unit from preschool through 3rd grade. You have days of the week, writing techniques (list making), time, compare and contrast (the advantages and disadvantages), animals, fear, first aid kits, list making for steps to take to complete an action (have your students write the steps for something else, like how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich). You can do A LOT with this! Compare and contrast his old daily routine with his "new-and-improved daily routine." For 2nd and 3rd grades, teach elapsed time from the daily routines. If I had my own classroom, I would TOTALLY HAVE to find a way to incorporate this into a week-long unit!!!

WRITERS: 
Different. Clever. Unique. Popular. It turned into a SERIES! A lot of fun. You read this book, you might just get an idea of your own. You never know...


Have any of you read Melanie Watt's other Scaredy Squirrel books? If so, which one is your favorite? (I haven't. I just now discovered this one. But when I did a search for a cover image, I discovered he is quite the popular little squirrel!)


Keep on keepin' on...

Eat That Frog: Why We Wait for What We Want

Say WHAT?! Eat that frog? What's up with that? Well, I'll tell you. But first, today's post is about a celebration (or lamentation) of Julie Hedlund's 12x12 Challenge. If you've never heard of it, it's a picture book writing challenge. Write 12 picture book manuscripts in 12 months. Rough drafts, not polished. Totally doable. A lofty goal? Yes, but totally doable. So we're having a halfway party to celebrate our progress so far. 

My progress? I did not make the cut of getting 6 mss; I wrote 2. TWO! That's it. I am happy with them as a ms. I am happy that I got them written. It is still progress, though it doesn't feel like much.

12x12 in 2012: Halfway Celebration
Watch a video.
So back to the frog. The best way to quit procrastinating is to label your most difficult and/or most rewarding task as your frog. The saying goes that if you must eat a frog every day that you should eat it first thing in the morning.

Why do we tend to put things off that we really want to do? The book doesn't specifically go into answers for this question I am posing, so I am kind of speculating as to the answer. (If anyone else has any answers for the question, I'd love to hear them below.) I believe the main reason is FEAR. And not necessarily fear of failure either. Or fear of success. I think we put things off that we want to do because we fear it will take too long or be too difficult. Or fear of your own passion because once you get started, you may not be able to tear yourself away to tend to the daily necessities of life.

If you didn't get your 6 mss in the past 6 months, which fear reason do you think is yours to own? Or is it some other reason?

  1. not enough time (too busy)
  2. choosing to spend time on another passion
  3. lack of commitment
  4. fear of failure
  5. fear of success
  6. fear of the challenge (too difficult)
  7. fear of time constraints (not being able to complete the task at hand within your daily time parameters)
  8. fear of your own passion
Mine is 2, 6, 7, and 8. What about you? CONGRATS TO ALL OF YOU WHO MADE THE 6 IN 6!

Keep on keepin' on...


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

STORY ELEMENT #6: PACING

Woo-hoo! We have now passed the halfway point for the Top Ten Story Elements. Today's topic focuses on the pacing of picture books. Pacing is tricky to master, especially in picture books. Just as in running, you have to pace yourself. First, you have the story that needs to be paced just right. Then, you have the page turns that you have to at least think about. 

How to pace a picture book || story elements | writing craft | how to write for children | what is pacing

The easiest way to learn pacing is to read lots of picture books (or novels) and practice writing in your chosen genre. The best way I have found to study pacing is to summarize the entire book section by section.

For picture books, write a phrase or sentence for each two-page spread. For novels, summarize the book chapter by chapter by writing a couple sentences for each. I often use my Template for Studying (and Writing) Picture Books to jot down the main idea for each two-page spread. You can do it in list format too, but it's not the same as seeing the spreads laid out before you. Doing this will help with both the story's overall pacing of the plot arc, as well as the page turns.

Remember, editors, art designers and illustrators will make the final call for the book's pagination, but you have to make it work in at least one way so you know it's possible.

Writer's Digest has a great 6-minute video tutorial titled "Pacing Picture Books: Verbal Editing Tools - Part 1" that discusses the first 5 of 20 tools that help achieve a well-paced picture book. They are:

Monday, June 25, 2012

Welcome to the All-new Poetry Monday!

Over here at my little neck of the woods, I have a Poetry Monday once a month. I love poetry. I love children's poetry. I love reading and writing poetry. I love rhyme and word play and every element that can be found in poetry. So why the focus to share with the world?

As with all my reasons for blogging, the biggest one is to motivate me to do the things I know I need to do to reach all my writing goals. I have a huge idea brewing in my mind regarding writing, poetry, children, teaching, and FUN! When I find the manpower, the business savvy, and the wherewithal to bring my idea into fruition, I'll definitely share it with all you you. Until then, I'll use my once-a-month Poetry Monday sessions to help prepare me for the future. Hopefully, we can all learn a bit and have a lot of fun.

According to my new schedule, my Mondays are supposed to look like this:
1st Monday: High Five Interview
2nd Monday: Pot-O-Gold Blogger Award
3rd Monday: Poetry Monday
4th Monday: Contest Winners and Announcements
But June has looked like this:
1st:  High Five Interview (featuring Kate Slater)
2nd: skipped
3rd: Pot-O-Gold (a week late - award goes to Corey Rosen Schwartz)
4th: Poetry Monday (pushed out another week)
(There are no contest winners to announce this month - that'll be July for SURE! The only announcement is that Summer Entries will soon be accepted as of July 1st.)

So let's jump right in!

If you're anything like me, you love poetry too! I collect children's poetry books! I scour the sale racks, the used book stores, the library sales, yard sales, and newly released titles. Today, I'm just kind of introducing the feature. In the following months, we'll explore lots of different formats, look at an example or two, and try our own hand at the form. We'll play, comment, and have a grand ol' time.

So, what are some of your favorite poetry books? Who are some of your favorite poets? Dr. Suess and Shel Silverstein are the two that first come to my mind

Have any of you had an experience where either you or one of your children or students learned a poem and it changed their life? I believe that children learn other subjects better when integrated with poetry. I think poetry makes a great introduction to all kinds of teaching topics. Are you about to teach subtraction? Use a poem to make it fun!

Keep on keepin' on...

Friday, June 22, 2012

Story Element #5: Theme

Exploring theme in picture books is what we do in our sleep. It's the underlying message we share with the world, but it shouldn't be a message you set out to deliver. Focus on the story! However all good stories have a universal take-away theme that gives us hope or lets us feel connected to one another. Even though theme should be subtle, especially in picture books, and we shouldn't set out to conquer it, it is a very important component of the story-telling process and should definitely be considered.

Today's consideration? Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae. This is one of the first picture books I bought as an adult. I was in college and not yet married. I was in the creative writing program and loved going to bookstores (and still do). When I picked up this book and read it right there in the bookstore, the last page gave me happy cold chills and I knew I had to have it for my future children. Not only is it a great story with fun word play, rhyme, animal characters, and an interesting setting, but the theme was the icing on the cake. It's why I bought the book. Let's take a look.

Title: Giraffes Can't Dance
Author: Giles Andreae
Illustrator: Guy Parker-Rees
Publisher: Orchard Books (1st ed. Purple Enterprises)
Year: 2001 (1st ed. 1999)
Word Count: 482



As the title implies, this book is about a giraffe, Gerald. Here's my synopsis. Gerald is good at eating leaves, but when he tried to run around, he tripped. The Jungle Dance was approaching and all the animals danced their cool dances. When it was Gerald's turn, the animals sneered at him and called him "weird." Gerald lost all confidence. He believed everyone about his not being able to dance. Some key phrases hint at the theme
"...he started walking home.He'd never felt so sad before--so sad and so alone."
On his walk home, he discovers the beautiful moon and meets a little cricket who encourages him:
"...sometimes when you're differentyou just need a different song."
Gerald listens for music in the breeze, the trees, the grass. The cricket plays some music too. Gerald starts moving his body and before long he felt so great he opens his eyes and realizes he is dancing! As the animals leave the dance, they see Gerald dancing and stop to stare. They compliment him:
"Gerald's the best dancer that we've ever, ever seen!"
They ask his secret, and he says that anyone can dance when they find music that they love. Oh, what a wonderful theme to explore! Yes, this book pretty much spells out the theme for you right there on the very last page, but it comes from straight from Gerald's mouth, which I decided not to quote to keep at least a little suspense for you when you run out to find a copy of this book for yourself. (Was that a run-on sentence?)


I wonder if Andreae set out to explore this theme and "teach" children that everyone can dance once you find the music you like. I guess it is possible, but I doubt it happened that way. I bet he had a great character, Gerald the giraffe, and said, "Hmmm... What is Gerald good at? What is he bad at? What does he want? He was bad at dancing. He wanted to fit it and feel accepted. He wanted to be able to dance, but more importantly I think he wanted to be happy and not feel alone. I bet Andreae explored how to resolve this. By telling the story that had to be told, I think the theme found it's way to the surface. 


Your Turn
You can start with the theme or you can end with the theme. Either way, you need to have a great story FIRST! Perhaps you want to explore the theme of a new girl moving into another girl's classroom and how they are rivals and try to become friends. The overall theme would be friendship. The takeaway theme, the underlying connection to all humans, will come out through the characters' actions and speech. When the story problem is resolved, you'll be able to say, "Yes! The theme was about such and such about friendship. Don't give up! Theme can be very hard to pinpoint, but when you do, you'll know it. Remember, it can be a great starting point, but don't set out to say, "I'm going to teach kids that when you move, everything will be okay once you make some friends." Everyone will SEE right through it and it likely won't come across as being subtle. Good luck!


Story Element #1: Character
Story Element #2: Conflict
Story Element #3: Plot
Story Element #4: Dialogue
Next time: Story Element #6: Pacing


What are some of your favorite themes to explore in your writing? 
OR 
What are some of the themes of some of your favorite picture books?


Keep on keepin' on...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

2nd Monday: Pot-O-Gold Blogger Award #17

I know, I know... I've been non-existent for the past week and a half. I got sidetracked on a side business venture and I've been full force in that venue during the last week and a half. When the website is fully functional and presentable, I'll share the news with all of you.


So for now, enjoy this news instead...it's time to award the latest lucky blogger with the Pot-O-Gold Blogger AwardI created this award for excellent blogs based on... 
  • interesting and helpful content AND
  • visually appealing and easy-to-navigate design
It's an award that says, "Look at this awesome blog! There's a wealth of information here! If you visit once, you'll want to return again and again." In other words, it's like discovering a pot of gold.


This month's recipient goes out to the former Thing 1 Thing 2 Blog by Corey Rosen Schwartz. Her new blog was launched a few months ago in March, Blog of a Picture Book Ninja. Unfortunately, we all just missed her most recent giveaway of her latest forthcoming book, The Three Ninja Pigs. Corey blogs about her experiences in the writing world and inspires each of us to reach for our own goals. So, congratulations Corey, on winning this "prestigious" award.


Her blog is simple with a light-colored solid background. There is no home tab, but if you click on the title banner image, it takes you back to the home and refreshes it to the most recent blog post. Side bars are minimalist. If you haven't had the chance to meet Corey yet, take a moment to go introduce yourself. And check back regularly so you don't miss her next giveaway, like I did. For a little more info, you can also read an interview I did with Corey back in April 2011.


Ratings (out of 4):  
Content  (From the words of robot, Johnny Five, "Need more input!" Translation: I like it, I love it, I want some more of it!) 
Design  (I'm a sucker for "Home" tabs, sorry...)

The Rules (copy and paste):

  1. Say thank you to the person who gave it to you and link back to their blog.
  2. Post the award on your blog and link back to the WRITE WILD blog.
  3. Award FOUR bloggers this award and tell why each is a Pot-O-Gold!
  4. Share FOUR simple things about yourself regarding FAITH, HOPE, LOVE, and LUCK.
Be sure to check out past recipients of the Pot-O-Gold Blogger Award!

Keep on keepin' on...

Friday, June 8, 2012

Read-4-Luck: Do YOU Have a Hat? (PPBF)

If you missed the most recent Story Elements post, which focuses on the top ten elements of picture book writing, you can still read Wednesday's post about Story Element #4: Dialogue. 

READ-4-LUCK acts as a book recommendation, book review, teaching tip, and writing lesson for children, parents, teachers, and writers. This fun weekly feature began back in October 2010 with four books. It has since evolved into one book each week. In November 2011, I joined up with Susanna Leonard Hill and her Perfect Picture Book Fridays (PPBF).  

 = Not bad. Might read twice.
 = Fun read first few times. Would get from library again.
 = Very enjoyable. Wouldn't mind owning a copy.
 = Awesome! Multiple readings are never tiresome. May just have to buy it.


This week's Read-4-Luck pick is Do You Have a Hat? by Eileen Spinelli and illustrated by Geraldo Valerio. 
This book describes a great variety of hats worn by celebrities throughout history - in rhyme!


Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Year: 2004
Word Count: 426
Book Level: 2.2
Age: 4-8
Topic: hats, history, biography 
Theme: gotta get a hat!

Jacket Flap:
A fancy hat. A hat that's plain. 
A hat for keeping off the rain.

A glowing hat. A hat with fruit.
A hat for that new dress or suit.

All herein have hats, it's true --
Fantastic, magnificent hats! Do you?

RATINGS

CHILDREN: 
Kids that love dress up will love this book. We have read this book numerous times before we noticed a fun pattern in the illustrations. They like to see the different kinds of hats.

PARENTS: 
Eileen Spinelli is awesome! The rhyme is a bit sing-song, but it's fun to teach your kids about the historical figures. The end pages give a couple sentences about each person. And of course the illustrations are fun.

TEACHERS: 
Kindergarten teachers could use to supply their dress up centers and teach kids about the different hats. Could teach rhyme (has a great repeating line for teaching reading early in the year). Could use to talk about seasons and which hats would match which seasons best.

This book is perfect for 2nd or 3rd grades. Read the book aloud to the class. Assign individuals or pairs a section to memorize for a PTO play. Teach more in depth about each person: Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, Sally Ride, Charlie Chaplin and many more.

WRITERS: 
Another rhyming wonderland! A bit sing-song, though. I love the whole concept for the entire book. Too clever. Wish I had thought of it. I don't know how many times I have checked this book out of the library. Maybe it's time to buy it?

What is your favorite kind of hat? I like the floppy hat with flowers. Then again, I did dress up as Charlie Chaplin during Homecoming week in high school.

Be sure to visit other "perfect picture books" at Susanna Leonard Hill's blog.

Keep on keepin' on...

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