Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Alby and the Cat

Alby and the Cat
by Leanne Davidson

Leanne Davidson is an Australian author, which is always fun for American readers because of the differences in words and spellings - like tyre instead of tire! Too fun.

I enjoyed this book because of the relationship between Alby and the cat next door, who is not at all impressed with Alby at first. The extra twist is that Alby is not just a normal dog - he's a guide dog.

I read this book with my 6-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son. They loved it. My son's favorite part in the book was when Alby and the cat have a near-miss with a car. Alby wonders where the cat disappeared to:
Soon he found himself thinking about the cat. There had been no sign of it on the road after that lunatic driver had sped past them. No blood. No guts. Nothing remotely resembling a flat cat...But if that was the case, surely there would be some of the cat left on the road. A bit of fur, part of a tail, maybe even a squished eyeball...but there was nothing.
You can see why that would be appealing to an 8 y.o boy!

My daughter loved Pussums the cat and the way he finally saves Alby. They both loved the way the friendship builds between the two animals as they learn to appreciate each other.

I loved the way she incorporates the guide dog information into the story.
Here's what Leanne has to say about that part of the storyline (taken from her blog):
I'd always hoped to write a series of stories about Alby the guide dog, because I felt there wasn't much information around about guide dogs - what they do, and what's expected of people when they're around them - especially for kids. My aim has never been to preach to kids, more to intersperse educational tidbits throughout my stories so that if a child comes away from reading one of my books and has learned something they may not have previously known, then I am happy.
I recommend Alby and the Cat, as well as her second Alby book Alby and the Cat: Showbusiness. Despite a few difficult words, both of my kids really enjoyed the story and characters.

Visit Leanne's website for more info about her books.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Blaze Brilliantly

"I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark burn out in a brilliant blaze than it be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet."
~Jack London

Is that an awesome quote or what? Oh, how I love it!

Most of don't live our lives as one or the other - a blaze OR dry rot. We tend to live somewhere in the middle, like plain old wood. But there are times - those wonderful moments - when we take on a magnificent glow. Athletes speak of being "in the zone", of times when the hoop feels 5 feet wide and they can't miss. As writers, there are times in front of the computer when our fingers can't keep up with the words, flowing like lava from our minds.

We can't all be Jack London, but can we be meteors? Does being a superb meteor require spectacular feats, like climbing Mount Everest or sailing around the world? I believe we take great chances and spectacular risks, even in the context of a mundane life. We face blank pages and create brave new worlds. We climb from drafts to critique groups to query wars to agent bliss (please, please, please) to sub hopes...our journey is long and wearying and requires great courage.

Like London, I want to blaze brilliantly, every atom of me in magnificent glow. My personality tends more toward the sleepy planet, though, so I must make a conscious effort to brave the wilds. But it will be worth it, regardless of the result.

When in your life have you felt like a superb meteor?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Cast the Bones

"People on the outside think there's something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn't like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that's all there is to it."
~Harlan Ellison

Hmmm...casting the bones could be fun, but my house doesn't have an attic. I wonder if doing it from the basement at midnight would work - what do you think? Worth a try?

I love this quote. I think it's true that people have some sort of romanticized vision of what "being a writer" means. At a school district conference recently, I overheard a woman telling her friend she was planning to write a picture book this year. "After all," she said, "I've taught elementary school for years, so it should be pretty easy." Um...yeah... Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Don't we all WISH it was that easy?! We work. Hard. And that's all there is to it. Well, that and a lot of effort and frustration and hope and patience and perseverance and encouragement - and that's just to finish a book, let alone get it published.

Do you know people who romanticize the hard work of writing?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Skip a Starbucks Day

One of the things I love most about blogging is the powerful connections and friendships that are made. My life is so much richer with all of you in it. This group of writers and aspiring artists is one of the most generous collection of people I have ever seen. And it's time to be generous once again.

C.J. Redwine needs our help in order to make her long-time dream of adoption a reality. She and her husband have been waiting five years for a darling girl from China. They have saved and planned and decorated and filled their hearts with love to share. Costs have increased in the last five years. Economic times are hard. But we can't let her lose this priceless opportunity.

C.J. asks that we "Skip Starbucks for a Day" and donate $5 or more to her dream. I chose more. By allowing us to donate through Paypal, she has made it easy. I love Paypal! Please visit C.J.'s blog and give what you can.

To encourage us to visit and donate, C.J. is hosting a spectacular contest. The prizes are O.M.G. awesome. Seriously. So what are you waiting for? Go. Now. Give and enter.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Back to School

"The object of teaching a child is to enable him to get along without his teacher."
~Elbert Hubbard

This is one of my favorite education quotes - one I love to remind myself of before the start of each new school year. Teachers here went back to school yesterday, and the students return tomorrow. It begins!

I both dread and welcome the new school year. I dread the loss of summer and time with my kids. I welcome the return to routine and a more stable blogging regimen. I have hated being unable (for a multitude of reasons) to post Monday - Friday. I feel lost without all of you. Seriously. I miss you!

I plan to spend the next several days making my way around the blogosphere to visit and say hi to all my bestest bloggy buddies (and lesson planning and learning names and convincing students that writing is actually FUN!)

What changes are going on in your lives lately?
Catch me up, guys. I really have missed you!

Friday, August 20, 2010

And the Top Guesses Were...

Guess that Character Blogfest Day 2


The personality of Scott is based almost entirely on my 8-year-old son Scott, who was 6 when I began writing. He is a third grader in the story. When choosing the winning comments, I went with the ones that fit my son perfectly - 'cause ultimately, he's my MC.

Without posting a photo of the real Scott, here's the best match I could find for how I envision his character in the story:

#1 Favorite Answer

Tricia J. O'Brien said...
Scott is wiry with knobby knees that always seem to have patches of ground-in dirt and scrapes from climbing trees. He dresses in shorts and hastily pulled-on t-shirts. He usually has bed hair that sticks out in odd directions unless his mother caught him and combed it down. His nose peels from being outdoors every chance he can get.

Runners Up

Meika said...
I think Scott's looks and personality would be conflicting. He probably looks all sweet and innocent, but inside lies a troublemaker. I'm gonna guess blonde hair, messy, of course, and big ole blue eyes.

Terry Stonecrop said...
Wears whatever he pulls out of his pile of clothes on the floor. His appearance means nothing to him. Loves to play jokes on people and have fun but he gets into trouble with his high spirits.

Candyland said...
OMG this sounds like my bratty little brother (well, when he was little). He had golden locks, bright blue eyes and there was always a bit of dirt on his face and hands.

Brenda Drake said...
I'd say he's a Dennis the Menace type -- blond, blue-eyed, mischievous kid with freckles and dirt smudged on his cheeks.

Diane J. said...
I'm picturing a boy of 9 or 10. Jeans and striped t-shirts. Doesn't always wear shoes and can be found exploring any nook and cranny along any path, whether it's a good climbing tree in the woods or a cave off the beach. His hair is sandy blond and mussy. And he has a super sweet smile.

Thanks for all the fun guesses and congrats to the "winners".

Have a great weekend!!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Guess that Character Blogfest

Jen at Unedited is hosting the Guess that Character Blogfest today. Your job is to guess what you think my MC Scott looks like.

The rules are:

August 19th
Post a snippet of the character you'd like to be identified. Try and make sure there are no descriptions of what they might look like. This blog fest is based purely on voice, action and personality.

August 20th
The Big Reveal!!!! You will post a picture of your character (or representing how you see your character) with a short description of his/her personality and who you thought was the closest person to being correct (if anyone was close!).

My Snippet:

Scott’s mouth hung open. His rapid fire dart gun still hung loose in his hand, forgotten. He didn’t move. He didn’t speak.

“Scott, did you hear me?” Dad asked, snapping his fingers to get his attention. “Well, they’ll fix your ears, too, before they send you home.”

Slowly, Scott looked around at the many piles of toys and dirty clothes, appreciating the way they made his room look more comfortable. Maybe his parents had reminded him to clean it once or twice or twenty times (he couldn’t really remember), but why make his bed if he’s just going to sleep in it again? And maybe he did pour his cup full of garden dirt and wriggly-worms on Molly’s head, but that was the best part of the whole party. He never thought his parents would actually send him to the factory. His big brother, Wyatt, never got sent to the factory. But then, Mom thought he was Mr. Perfect.

Tomorrow I will reveal who had the closest guess and show you how I envision Scott.

To enjoy more blogfest entries,
click here for the full link-list of participants!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Stew, Brew, and Chew

Claudia said, “But, Mrs. Frankweiler, you should want to learn one new thing every day. We did even at the Museum.”

“No,” I answered, “I don’t agree with that. I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. And you can feel it inside of you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you just accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them. It’s hollow.”
~ E.L. Konigsburg (From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler)

Today, take some time to absorb all that you've learned recently - stew and brew and chew on it until it's been fully digested and stored away.

Share one important thing you've learned in the past few weeks.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Almost there!

Today is the funeral. Please keep the family in your prayers throughout the day. I hope to be back to a regular blogging schedule tomorrow. I am horribly behind on my comments at all of your wonderful blogs, and I appreciate the patience and support you've shown me. You guys all rock!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Language Play

To all my bloggy buddies: please forgive my absence this week. The 24-year-old daughter (an identical twin) of my best friend died suddenly in her sleep on Saturday. It has been incredibly difficult for everyone. Writing this post is a bit of fairy dust to brighten my day.
"Stay alive, refreshed in language! Listen to little toddlers bopping metaphors around the room like balloons. Let language zip and lean, sound can lead you, be surprised as you are writing. I play with words every day and I am going to play right now. It takes me where I need to go, into the real content, and into the serious hard places, too. Experimenting means anything goes. We need to keep doing that on our pages if they are to keep glittering and waking us up."
~ Naomi Shihab Nye

My favorite writing guru, Ralph Fletcher (you should remember him from past posts), has written a new book for writers and teachers of young writers. Pyrotechnics on the Page: Playful Craft that Sparks Writing is a wonderful new book - I love it. I'm currently devouring it. It is doubly beneficial to me because I not only write, but also teach high school composition and poetry.

This most recent book is all about "playing" with our writing. According to Ralph, "Skilled writers do not always follow the shortest route between themselves and their meaning. Rather, they often deliberately play with language along the way."

Some examples of language play include:

  • puns and double meanings
  • invented words
  • allusions
  • expressions and idioms
  • metaphors and similes
  • hyperbole
  • onomatopoeia
  • alliteration
as well as:
  • sentences that break the rules
  • "reversible raincoat" sentences
  • very short sentences
  • sentences that use a 3-2-1 (or 1-2-3) cadence
Here is an example (provided by Ralph at the beginning of chapter 2) of unexpected language use:

Three-year-old girl on a tricycle, talking to her father on a park bench:

"You stay with your sun, Daddy. I'll ride with my wind."

Do you have a favorite strategy or way you like to "play" with language?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Today is the day!

It's here! It's here!

WriteOnCon is here!!

Click on the widget to the right and soak up the writing brilliance going on over there!!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

High Drama Blogfest

D.L. Hammons from Cruising Altitude is hosting today's High Drama Blogfest. As a chapter book and picture book writer, I've discovered that not all blogfests are early and pre-reader friendly. I chose to jump on board with this one, but be aware: chapter book drama is not the same as YA/adult high drama!

For a link list to all of today's participants, click here.

Excerpt from Scott and the Naughty Boy Factory - a complete chapter book.

Scott knew what he had to do. His instincts screamed at him to run away as fast as he could, but he couldn’t leave the others behind and he was too afraid of the robots. Instead, he turned toward the boys closest to him and said, “Guys, this just doesn’t feel right. If we go in there, we’ll never be the same again. I am not giving up my fun. I don’t care how bad we are, no boy deserves that. We can’t just stand here like zombies. We have to do something!”

His hands fisted at his sides, he faced Mr. Little. “Excuse me, Mister Little.” Everyone turned to look at him. He stood a little straighter and coughed to hide his nervousness. “I don’t get it. I know I’m not a very good listener, because everybody’s always telling me to open my listening ears. And I know I’m not a good cleaner, because I’m really good at making messes, but I hate to clean them up all by myself. My manners are okay, but I do like to stick my tongue out at bratty girls, and my mom says I talk too loud.

“Fixing that stuff made a little bit of sense to me. I guess.” He looked at Dusty and took a nervous breath. “But fixing us so we can’t wrestle or chase each other or play ninja...that doesn’t make sense. That’s just fun stuff. My grandma says that’s what boys are born to do.”

The other boys enthusiastically agreed with him. Some gave him a thumbs-up and others just smiled and nodded their encouragement.

“Can’t we have any fun? Scott put his hands on his hips, determined to have an answer. “Does being good all the time mean we can’t sword-fight with sticks or throw snowballs or smash bugs or thump on each other…ever?” He took a step closer to Mr. Little and added, “Grown-ups were little once, too. You’re a grown-up. Didn’t you ever play like that when you were our age?”

Mr. Little rubbed his fuzzy hair and gazed at them. “Yes, of course. I wasn’t always a grown-up you know.”

***I skipped a small section here to stay close to the word count ***

“Enough of this nonsense, gentlemen. No one has ever left The Naughty Boy Factory without the full treatment. Ever. No exceptions.”

Scott heard a collective sigh as every single boy let out the breath he’d been holding.

Mr. Little gestured toward the door in the heel. “Everyone, please follow me inside.”

Scott stood his ground and met Mr. Little’s eyes. “No.”

“What…?” Mr. Little spluttered. “What did you say?”

“I said no. I’m not going in there. If I let you do your top-secret stuff, I’ll lose all the best things about being a boy.”

Scott heard a collective gasp as the other boys reacted to his boldness. “I understand why we were sent to this place, but hands and feet aren’t the same as manners and listening and eating yucky, green foods that make us gag. Hands and feet are all about playing and having fun. What you’re doing is wrong, and I think you know it.”

“You tell him, Scott! We’re with you all the way.” Dusty clapped him on the back for support.

“We’re still just kids, Mr. Little. Nobody is perfect - not even grown-ups. My mom complains all the time because my dad leaves his shoes in the middle of the floor and never closes the cupboard doors. And my dad is always mad because Mom has piles of clutter everywhere and never cleans the refrigerator. Who’s going to fix them?” he asked. Without waiting for Mr. Little to answer, he finished, “Nobody! That’s who.”

Mr. Little blinked.

Thanks for reading. Now, go check out more blogfest posts! Thanks D.L., for hosting the fun. Those muffins were delicious!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Tag, You're It!

I was tagged last weekend by Liz at Cleverly Inked, via D.L.Hammons @ Cruising Altitude (who is hosting a High Drama Blogfest on Saturday, so GO SIGN UP).

This particular tag involves revealing our handwriting. My handwriting is not much to look at folks, but a tag is a tag. The instructions are to write the following items:

1. Name/Blog Name.
2. Right handed, left handed or both?
3. Favorite letters to write?
4. Least favorite letters to write?
5. Write: The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.
6. Write in caps:
7. Favorite song lyrics?
8. Tag 7 people.
9. Any special note or drawing?

Here you go:

And now for the tag! Here's a close-up, in case you missed it:

Jennie Englund
Princess Courtney @ Southern Princess
Charmaine Clancy @ Wagging Tales
Sherrie Petersen @ Write About Now
Valerie Geary @ Something to Write ABout
Stephanie Thornton @ Hatshepsut
Jana Warnell @ Milk & Cookies

Come on down, ladies - you're the next contestants!

I don't usually blog on the weekend, but I'll see you all tomorrow for some High Drama Blogfest fun. Don't miss it!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Lesson in Fluency from Alexander Pope (re-post)

D.L. Hammons is recycling blogposts right now. Check it out here. I included a different post at DL's, but it got me thinking. This is another of my favorite posts and one I thought was worthy of a little recycling. I hope you enjoy it!

Sorry: longer than normal post

One of my favorite writing lessons actually comes from a poem. Alexander Pope, in his poem "Sound and Sense", offers insight and instruction for better writing. It is some of the best and toughest writing advice I've ever discovered. In it, he begins by reminding us that writing is a skill, one requiring learning and practice - truly great writing is not accidental. But he takes it even further, which I love.

Pope asserts that the best writing is accomplished when we are able to echo our content's meaning in the sound and quality of our words.

For example, if our MC is struggling with a mighty task, the reading should require more effort as well:

"But when loud surges lash the sounding shore,
The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar."


"When Ajax strives some rock's vast weight to throw,
The line too labors, and the words move slow;"
Pay attention to the effort required by your mouth and tongue to speak those lines. Try to say them quickly, without dropping any letter sounds. They MUST be read slowly. His letter and syllable combinations require more effort, resulting in slower pronunciation.

But if things are moving along smoothly and life is wonderful, Pope says our writing fluency should also flow smoothly and easily:
"Soft is the strain, when Zephyr gently blows,
And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows;"


"Not so, when swift Camilla scours the plain,
Flies o'er the unbending corn and skims along the main.

Now pay attention to the effort required to speak those lines. Try to say them quickly. No problem, right? Genius!

What impresses me most about Pope's message is not the value of his lesson (which I find priceless). I am most impressed by the way he manages to not only teach us what we should do, but also show us what he means, simultaneously. It blows. my. mind.

To actually apply the skills Pope shows us is far easier said than done. Specificity of word choice and a deliberate awareness of rhythmic fluency are required. Both take time and practice. The payoff in our craft, however, could not be measured.

A modern example can be found in the first few pages of What Jamie Saw, by Carolyn Coman. She uses fluency and words to create a powerful feeling of anxiety in the reader, one so strong we can't help but turn the page. William Steig does it in his picture book Shrek, to both advance and slow the reader. I've discovered this technique in many books, and I am awed by it every time.

For your edification and reading pleasure, here is the complete poem:

True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learned to dance.
'Tis not enough no harshness gives offense,
The sound must seem an echo to the sense:
Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows,
And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows;
But when loud surges lash the sounding shore,
The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar;
When Ajax strives some rock's vast weight to throw,
The line too labors, and the words move slow;
Not so, when swift Camilla scours the plain,
Flies o'er the unbending corn, and skims along the main.
Hear how Timotheus' varied lays surprise,
And bid alternate passions fall and rise!

What do you think? Can you think of any examples when you may have seen this technique?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

What Do You Think About?

“It isn't what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about.”
~ Dale Carnegie

Take a moment and think about that. I'll wait.

Got it? Good. There are people in this world enduring truly miserable circumstances, yet they are happy. There are people leading lives of extreme privilege, yet they are truly miserable. Why? Because of what they think about. Positivity is a powerful thing, folks.

The ability to hope and to plan for the future stems from positive thought - a belief in possibility. That is why depression is such a dangerous beast. It robs us of the ability to hope, the desire to plan, the belief in possibilities.

Be positive. Think about good things and hope and plan for the possibilities that await you. For there lies the secret of happiness.

My happy thoughts can always be found by reciting Wordsworth's, "I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud": "...and then my heart with pleasure fills, and dances with the daffodils."

What thoughts bring you happiness?

Monday, August 2, 2010

What is Brown?

The following poem is taken from Hailstones and Halibut Bones - a book about colors - by Mary O'Neill. It looks long, but it reads quickly. I promise it's worth the time.

What is brown?

Brown is the color of a country road

Back of a turtle

Back of a toad.

Brown is cinnamon

And morning toast

And the good smell of

The Sunday roast.

Brown is the color of work

And the sound of a river,
Brown is bronze and a bow

And a quiver.

Brown is the house

On the edge of town

Where wind is tearing
The shingles down.

Brown is a freckle
Brown is a mole

Brown is the earth
When you dig a hole.
Brown is the hair

On many a head

Brown is chocolate

And gingerbread.

Brown is a feeling

You get inside

When wondering makes

Your mind grow wide.

Brown is a leather shoe

And a good glove -----

Brown is as comfortable

As love.
*sigh* I want to write like that. I want to take something as ordinary as brown and make it extraordinary. I want to see everyday things in deeply creative ways - "Brown is a feeling/You get inside/When wondering makes/Your mind grow wide."

If you want to feel your writing brain grow two sizes bigger, read Hailstones and Halibut Bones (the title comes from the color white). My favorite line comes from green: "Green is the fuzz/ That covers up /Where winter was." Wow. She refers to pink as the "little sister of red" and to purple as pink's great grandmother. She assigns every color a sound and a smell and a feeling, and it feels perfect - every. single. time.

I want to write like that.

What makes your writing brain feel like it's grown two sizes?
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