I WRITE, BECAUSE…

I write because it’s my

rock,

church,

wrinkles,

pain,

loudest laugh,

amid deep doubt

on mornings when I’m convinced the birds are singing,

“scrap it, stick with vacuuming.”

Second chance,

even when revision and I aren’t getting along.

Need for risks,

such fun to throw terrible twists at my characters.

Addiction to curiousity

and what, where, when, why,

by the way, how the heck did my research lead to the story of the chef who made the world’s largest dumpling,

and then on to 10 synonyms for said

that I’ll delight in using way too many times.

Decisions,

as complex as Colorado weather

and a one word sentence.

Seeing through lotsa lenses,

each a chance to make metaphors,

as like

and like as.

One what if after what if,

navigating the creative mess I’ve made.

Commitment to writing The End.

Reminder to trust

and hope,

oh, please, may my 10 years of revising

90,000 words make some sense!

I admit, it’s often my desperate attempt to whittle, whittle away at a chunk of wood

seeking the perfect knot

that I want to sand, buff, stain,

repeat;

and often, it’s a return to my rebellious teen,

sneaking up the stairs after curfew

with secrets of my doings deep in my Levi’s pocket;

and often, it’s my science lab,

experimenting with wit,

but, ending up with the same result,

me laughing at my same corny ideas.

Raw truth,

much, much better than any mirror.

Every wee fear,

including those I haven’t met.

Pillow and blanket,

especially when I want to hide from characters that I can’t bear to inform:

“I don’t know if you would laugh or cry over this matter.”

Giddy childhood,

when my four brothers and I wrapped towels around our necks

and raced our bikes two miles to the public pool,

competing all day for the biggest cannon ball splash

and finding enough coins on the concrete to buy Baby Ruth’s and lemon drops.

Freedom,

flying down a mountain on my bicycle at 40 mph,

hearing only air,

only!

Tuner,

honing in on how-to’s,

like my character’s nervous habit,

or, whether she should whine, sigh or snicker.

Adrenaline rush,

when rarely, oh so rarely,

six sentences in a row,

flow,

flow,

as if my character is in charge.

Admission

to the humbling fact,

yes, my characters will lead,

if you would listen,

they’d love to whisper:

“Get your ego out of the way, god damnit!”

Shower,

making sure I scrub deep, bid farewell to the filth and start all over.

Challenge

that wakes, sparks and jests me,

like when I hide dark chocolate in the freezer,

yet, keep avoiding, avoiding

till I must have a bite,

and then, you know what happens next,

I eat the whole bar!

Shovel,

reminding me: dig up, dig up, dig up the muck,

more,

more,

because, beneath is the real stuff, THE story,

arriving at an unexpected reality sign:

“welcome to the story you never knew you were telling!”

My rescue crew,

always ready with a

hug,

wisdom,

feedback,

nudge,

prayer,

a plethora of ideas,

edits,

commas,

periods.

Fresh baked paper

just out of the oven,

ready for my pen to

dabble,

let go,

forgive,

say hello,

how are ya,

goodbye

to mom, dad, brothers, best buds.

Stories

I write,

because,

I always have.

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Starting the Conversation: Using Picture Books to Talk to Children About Racism and Protest

We live in a time when we are confronted by the complexities of race and racial identity.

The deaths of Black men at the hands of police officers has challenged our collective consciousness. Recent events have left me simultaneously heartbroken for the tragedies the Black community has endured for so long, yet optimistic that we can change systems of injustice.

As teachers and parents, this moment presents an opportunity to have difficult conversations with our children about racism, discrimination, white privilege, and protest. To move to a more just society, our children must be part of the solution.  We must make sure they grow up equipped with the mindset and knowledge to create a better world.

Fortunately, we are not alone in this effort, because there are many notable children’s books that introduce readers (young and old) to these complicated and emotional topics. These books can be used as a springboard for discussion.

The following picture books about racism and protest—many of them by people of color— will help start the conversations in classrooms, in homes, and among individuals. Although many libraries are closed due to COVID-19, these resources are available at book stores or through your local library’s e-reader programs. Most are also available as videos on YouTube, read aloud by teachers and librarians. Consider buying a book or two to support the important work of these authors and illustrators.

Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story about Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazard; illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin; Magination Press, 2018. (ages 4-10)

When a Black man is shot by the police in their community, two families discuss the incident. The story helps children to identify and counter racial injustice in their own lives and includes extensive notes to adults, child-friendly definitions, and sample dialogues.

 

Mama, Did You Hear the News? by Sanya Wittaker Gragg; illustrated by Kim Holt; CreateSpace, 2017. (ages 8-12)

Written to talk to children about police violence, this book addresses how Black children, especially boys, can stay safe. Anyone who cares about an African-American boy should share this book with him. That such a book exists is testament to the need for radical change in our society.

 

Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester; illustrated by Karen Barbour; Harper Collins, 2008. (ages 4-8)

This beautifully illustrated book highlights that people are more than the color of their skin. It suggests ways to push past biases and stereotypes by focusing on individual stories and the gifts that each person brings to the world.

 

Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness by Anastasia Higginbotham; Dorris Press, 2018. (ages 8-12)

This book discusses how power and privilege factor into the lives of white children and how all children can help to seek justice for everyone. The book invites all children to be curious about racism, accept that it’s real, and to work toward justice.

 

Enough! 20 Protesters Who Changed America by Emily Easton; illustrated by Ziyue Chen; Crown Books, 2018. (ages 5-8)

This alphabet book highlights influential protesters, including contemporary ground breakers, like Colin Kaepernick and the Parkland students, who march in the footsteps of historical protesters like Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King.

 

Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi; illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky; Kokila Press, 2020. (ages 3-8)

Featuring a really darling baby. this board book for toddlers and preschoolers outlines nine ways to build a more equitable world. It contains advanced concepts, so it is also appropriate as a conversation starter with older children.

 

Sometimes People March by Tessa Allen; Balzer and Bray, 2020. (ages 4-8)

People participating in recent and historical social movements are the subject of this  book, with poetic text and lovely water-color illustrations. It explains why people march and how people can act and show concern for the causes they care about.

 

All the Colors We Are: The Story of How We get Our Skin Color by Katie Kissinger; photos by Chris Bohnhoff; Red Leaf Press, 2014. (ages 3 and up)

This book describes the scientific reasons people have different skin colors and introduces the idea that skin color is just one part of any person. It is filled with colorful photographs that capture the variety of skin tones and encourages children to value our diverse world.

 

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices, edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson; Crown Books, 2018. (ages 8-12)

Fifty luminaries of the children’s book writing community, including Kwame Alexander, Jacqueline Woodson, and Rita Williams-Garcia, share their experiences and give advice to young people in this anthology of poems, letters, personal essays, and art. The beautiful art and prose work together to empower children to listen, learn, and to work toward a better tomorrow.

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Leaving a Paper Trail

By Rondi Sokoloff Frieder

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the United States in mid-March, our lives changed dramatically. For me, it meant hunkering down with my husband and visiting son, Noah, who had come to Colorado to ski and attend his cousin’s wedding. But after only three days, the ski resorts closed and our niece’s wedding was postponed. Noah, who normally lives in Montreal, was now here for the duration. Canada had closed its borders.

One night, during our second week of family dinners, I suggested digging out the old family videos. Noah was particularly interested in viewing the recording of his 2005 Bar Mitzvah. We all headed into the family room and began hauling out boxes of DVDs, CDs, and VHS tapes from an overstuffed cabinet. What a treasure trove of memories! Our boys’ first steps and birthday parties, family camping trips, even our wedding. Only for some reason, Noah’s DVD, and the outdated VHS tape from his older brother’s Bar Mitzvah in 2002, were nowhere to be found. Were they were behind the photo albums on the  bookshelf in the living room? I went to check. Nope. As a last resort, I went downstairs to my office/writing studio to look in my drawers, bookshelves, and cabinets. Nothing. But the reality of an even bigger problem was suddenly apparent to me. I knew it was there, lurking behind-the-scenes, but I  had ignored it for years. My work space – the creative sanctuary where I write, read, and tutor elementary school students, was a paper disaster!

Let me explain. If you walked into this lovely room (my favorite room in the entire world), you would find shelves of alphabetized books on one wall and an expansive desk on another, complete with an array of pencils, pens, and notebooks alongside my computer. Framed photographs line the windowsill and colorful artwork (many of my own pieces) dot the walls. There are some boxes filled with papers and folders on the floor, but they’re mostly in the corners and out of the way. The  problem, the one that hit me like a brick on this particular night, was hidden inside the drawers and cabinets. Crammed into these closed-up storage areas were notebooks from college and graduate school, years of lesson-plan books, thank-you letters from my former students and their parents, and an overflowing file of homemade cards from my husband and sons. I also had plastic tubs of teaching materials and lots of art supplies.

But the main source of my over-accumulation of paper had nothing to do with my collection of memorabilia, or my life as a teacher. It was my writing!  I had multiple drafts of ALL MY manuscripts, including picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, plays, songs, poems, blogs, and articles. Many had notes attached to them from editors, agents, authors, and critique partners. I had stacks of notebooks filled with revision ideas. There were conference and class handouts, bins of research, hard copies of rejection letters from agents and editors dating back to 2005, and piles of handouts from the SCBWI workshops I’ve organized.

I know what you’re thinking. “How did this get so out-of-control? And haven’t you gone digital?” All I can say is that for me, “out of sight is out of mind.” After I put something in a drawer, it turns into “storage.” I’ve gone digital, but I also print out hard copies of my work when I revise.

I knew my “paper-saving” was out of control. I just never seemed to have the time or energy to deal with it. But life had changed. I was in the middle of a pandemic. What if I died of the corona-virus in the not-so-distant future? Would my loved-ones be willing to sort through the piles in my office or the files on my computer? No way! In fact, they’d probably throw it all out. If I wanted them to keep any of it (so future generations would know how I spent my working life), I needed to leave  a more organized paper trail. And, since I had just given my writing group four weeks to read the latest version of my MG novel, I had a month to do it.

I continued with my established writing schedule – Get up, walk the dog, eat breakfast, and head to the studio. But instead of writing, I gathered my supplies: 3-ring binders in various widths and colors, plastic bins, new file folders, post-it notes, sticky white labels, and a pile of large garbage bags for the mountains of paper I was about to recycle.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. Man, oh man, did I like to write! I had a huge body of work. While some of it was really, really bad, much of it was good. And doing all this writing had made me a better writer. But I did not need multiple copies of every draft of every manuscript.
  2. Many editors, agents, and published authors had responded positively to my work and had encouraged me to revise and keep going. I needed to put these tidbits of light and hope in a binder and read through them now and again.
  3. I had attended A LOT of writing conferences and taken A TON of classes. I needed to look through my notes, save the worthwhile strategies, and get rid of the rest.
  4. I did not need to keep all those conference folders. I put the lists of agents and editors in a binder for future submissions and tossed everything else.
  5. Many of my early picture books had potential. And since I am now a better writer, I could rework them.
  6. My plays, songs, and poems needed to be in 3-ring binders for easier access. Especially my fifteen years of original Passover haggadahs and my fifty-plus songs!
  7. It was time to get rid of the lesson-plan books. One per grade level was enough to represent what I had done in my thirty years of being a teacher and tutor. And the student writing and scholarship contests I’ve judged, along with multiple copies of handouts from the teaching workshops I’ve led – gone. Same with the college and grad school notebooks. I saved two, from classes I loved the most.
  8. Although this started out as a paper trail to showcase my life, having my work organized in an accessible way has made me feel way more professional and extremely productive. Yay, me!

And if you’re wondering about those Bar Mitzvah videos, my husband found them three weeks later. They were in a box in a cabinet in our basement on top of some old sheets and blankets. Go figure.

 

 

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A Literacy Program that Works

By Susan Wroble

Imagine a school where students love books… a school where every single student had a reading partner — a trusted, caring adult who showed up each week, often staying with that student year after year after year. And imagine a literacy program at that school where the students were able to select from books that were chosen specifically for them, books that matched their interests and their reading level. It seems impossible, but it is exactly what reading specialist Julie Neitz Wielga has created — a reading intervention program that works.

The Partners in Literacy Difference

The program began almost twenty years ago as a typical remedial literacy program. At Denver’s Odyssey School (a combined elementary and middle expeditionary learning school within the public school system), struggling second and third graders were assisted by a few adult volunteers. But then the teachers asked for volunteers for other students. Students asked if they could get a reading buddy. Parents asked if their child could be in the program. It grew to the point where it made more sense to include everyone than to just leave a few students out.

In 2011, the program incorporated as a non-profit named Partners in Literacy. Partners in Literacy works via a two-pronged approach. They assemble a large team of volunteers to provide each class with an adult for every student, either one-on-one or in small groups, and they create a library at the school of books that are curated to match those students’ interests.

The reading sessions are spread throughout the week. Kindergarteners and first graders, for example, might be on Mondays, while 2nd and 3rd graders might have reading on Tuesdays. All of the teachers, the principal and vice-principal are reading buddies. Others are parents and community members. Many of these volunteers come more than one day a week, working with multiple students.

The reading sessions are scheduled as the first activity of the school day, allowing volunteers to give 50 minutes of volunteering time and still get to work. Getting volunteers can be challenging, because, as Julie notes, “we need people who like kid’s books and kids.” To find new volunteers, Julie explained that Partners in Literacy places notices in the local papers and in nearby Little Free Libraries, but “word of mouth is the best way we recruit.”

Partners in Literacy differs from other literacy programs, like Mile High United Way’s Read with Me or the nationwide Reading Partners, in the development of a curated library. “We don’t look like these programs,” Julie explained. “We bring in our books. Having a library curated to the students’ interests makes such a difference.” In an era where many schools and school systems have eliminated their libraries, Partners in Literacy believes that children need to know that reading takes practice, focus, and time, but it is really worth it. Their goal is to steer each class, and each school, towards a strong reading culture.

Early Interventions

The life-long implications of failing to read are staggering. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that 85% of juvenile offenders have reading problems, and more than 60% of prison inmates are functionally illiterate. In terms of brain development, the size of the Broca’s area of the brain, which is linked to literacy skills, correlates with socio-economic status — the lower this status, the smaller this area of the brain.

Neuroscientist Joanna Christodoulou of the MGH Institute of Health Professions studies reading and the brain, and whether early intervention programs can help. Her research showed working with a child who is struggling to read literally changes the size of the Broca’s area and its connections within the brain.

In the early grades, Partners in Literacy is exactly the type of program that makes a difference in brain development. Kids struggling to read learn best when they can be given a buffer against the effects of chronic stress. The Partners in Literacy model, where adults and students take turns reading the book aloud then discussing it together, provides this buffer in the form of a safe, caring adult. Best of all, the kids have not been singled out for a remedial program. Instead, this safety net is offered to every single student in the school.

Middle School Magic

As vital as early interventions in reading can be, for middle school students, Partners in Literacy can work magic. “It is important for these kids to see themselves as intellectually alive at an age when they are working out their identities,” Julie said. “At this age, kids begin to recognize and make their own choices about their educational lives.” During middle school, the reading partnerships often morph into book groups, where the students decide together what book to read, and the pace of reading. Often, they choose to read at home between the weekly sessions and discuss their responses when they are together.

Partners in Literacy is unique in that it combines the inclusion of every student and the development of a curated library. And in combining those two elements, they have shown that it is completely possible to create a school culture that makes every child a reader. 

 

 

 

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ACCOUNTABILITY: A WRITER’S BEST FRIEND

“I have to get back to work. Goodbye.”

That’s what I say if I’m talking to someone, and it’s time to show up in my studio and write. The time is blocked out on my calendar, like any meeting or appointment. I got the idea from a writer friend while sharing our routines – and how we show up to our writer job.

Oh, the tricks I play on myself! But, they work. Well, okay, not always – especially during this pandemic, when my teaching and personal schedule are topsy-turvy, and my self-motivation is wavering. But, I keep trying. While sipping morning coffee, I turn on my studio light and open the curtains, so my office shouts, “I’m ready and waiting”. I set my alarm for writing sessions. I put my cell phone in another room, so I can’t hear the buzz of incoming texts or calls (which are perfect distractions when I’m stuck on a scene that I’ve re-written a dozen times!).

Unfortunately, the demons of distraction and procrastination still like to hang out in my office. Ugh! Good news is, I know my own worst enemies really well. Gradually, I’m learning to negotiate with them, so, my favorite co-worker, accountability, can kick them out and pull up a chair!

Here’s what accountability and I have been up to – and what’s really working:

Setting a timer. I try to follow a rigid routine during my scheduled writing time: For writing, I set a timer for one hour, take a 10-15 minute break, repeat. For research, I set a timer for a maximum of 30 minutes.

Monday accountability group. Every Monday, I do an email check-in with a group of kid-lit writers. We submit our goals for the week and report briefly on progress made the previous week. Wow! Keeps me honest and realistic! In our brief format, we manage to celebrate, challenge, and remind each other to keep plugging away, and that it’s okay to take a break.

Text-writing. Once a week, I have a writing “date” with another children’s writer. We text a few minutes before our start time to share what we’re working on or what we want to accomplish. Usually, we do two 45-minute rounds. Then, we briefly check in. We’re always amazed at how much we get accomplished in such a short time.

SCBWI Rocky Mountain Chapter critique group. Once a month, my SCBWI critique group meets in person. We’re the Story Spinners and we’ve been meeting monthly for 20 years. We email our work in advance, then, when we meet, each writer has 20 minutes for their work to be critiqued. When members don’t submit work, they can use their time to update the group on projects, invite brainstorming or advice on a project, share notes from workshops/classes, or etc. They’ve helped me think through SO many critical bits and pieces, such as how to end a pb or write a hook for a YA synopsis, a book title, an angle for a nonfiction article, and the list goes on. We hold separate meetings, as needed, to critique a member’s full manuscript.

Story Spinners are my rocks! Without their passion, drive, support, professionalism, desire to learn, confidence, nudges, wisdom and wit, I would have given up on my projects a long time ago.

SCBWI British Isles North East critique group. While living short term in England (twice), I met weekly with the same critique group. Through email, we continue to: exchange same genre manuscripts for overall feedback, check in bimonthly on current projects. We’re considering holding FaceTime meetings, as needed. They, too, are my rocks, my support group!

Oops! My alarm is going off. I have to get back to work on revising my YA. Goodbye!

 

Writing is hard, hard, messy work. Going out and doing talks and signing books is all wonderful, but a writer has to return home and go back to work.   

Julia Alvarez, author of AFTERLIFE, BEFORE WE WERE FREE, ALREADY A BUTTERFLY

 

 

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Book Review: The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

“This is for the unforgettable…and the ones who survived…and the ones who didn’t.” …“This is for the undefeated. This is for you. And you. And you. This is for us.” (from The Undefeated)

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander with illustrations by Kadir Nelson, is a powerful reading experience that highlights for children the history of African-Americans and the promise of our hope for the future.

This outstanding picture book won the 2020 Caldecott Medal, awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished picture book published for children in the United States. It was also given a Newbery Honor Medal for its distinguished contribution to American literature for children and the Coretta Scott King Award, given to an African-American author and illustrator for outstanding inspirational and educational contributions. On all three levels, the illustrations, the text and the message, the book is an inspiring read that belongs in classrooms, homes and libraries homes across America.

A successful picture book for children balances words and illustrations, which work together to tell a story. The text is Kwame Alexander’s free-verse poem, spare and minimal, which was written in 2008 to celebrate the birth of his second daughter and the election of Barak Obama as president. He strove to highlight African-American history that had been forgotten and to embrace the “woes and wonders” of this American story.

The illustrations, photo-realistic oil paintings by Kadir Nelson, are the highlight of the book. He infuses the faces of people from history, both the famous and the nameless, with emotion and beauty. Their portraits speak to the viewer of the joy and suffering of the African-American people. The illustrations have a luminous, glowing quality that spread across the oversized pages, and illuminate the determination and grit of the subjects.

Alexander’s poem makes brilliant use of “un –words”: unforgettable, undeniable, unflappable, unafraid, unspeakable, unlimited, undiscovered, unbelievable, unbending, underdogs, uncertain, unspoken, and finally undefeated. The repetition of “un-words” builds to a climax, and Nelson’s final illustration of “undefeated” is a crowd of children of today, with bright smiles and sparkling eyes, inspired by the past and dreaming of the future.

Alexander and Nelson honor the achievements, courage and perseverance of prominent Black artists, athletes, and activists. The pictures are an assembly of famous Americans, from Jesse Owens to Ella Fitzgerald to Langston Hughes to Serena Williams. On one large spread, historical and contemporary musicians are pictured together, making past and present interrelated. Also highlighted are important moments in American history, which include the Civil War, highlighting Black soldiers who fought “to save an imperfect union” and the freedom marches of the Civil Rights Movement, with a diverse group of people singing “we shall not be moved.” Several pages are dedicated to ordinary people “who survived America by any means necessary,” followed by a haunting, blank, two page spread with the words “…and the ones who didn’t.” Joy and sadness intertwine together in this book, like the experiences of the people whose story is being told.

The book  addresses the horror of slavery, the violence of the civil rights movement and the police brutality of today. The most moving portion of the book involves three pages illustrating: “This is for the unspeakable.” The first of these three spreads, subtle and powerful, duplicates a drawing from the 1780s of the hold of a slave ship, and shows men’s bodies laying side-by-side, margin to margin, looking like patterned African cloth, until one looks closer. The second includes framed portraits of the four little girls murdered in the Birmingham Church bombing, with shattered glass covering their sweet faces. The last shows a spontaneous memorial to youth killed in recent police violence: teddy bears, burning candles, bouquets of flowers, and school pictures of the victims, superimposed over an American flag. The reality of these events cannot be denied and adds honesty and depth to the story, but ultimately does not detract from the overall positive message of the book.

One of the great assets of this book it that it can be accessed by children at different levels of understanding. It can be shared with children as young as preschoolers, as an introduction to both American and Black-American history. For older students it can serve as a springboard to understanding history through individuals or groups. The book’s back matter includes an annotated list of historical figures and events featured in the book. I can see the book being a treasured by parents and children, as well as being a powerful teaching tool for the elementary classroom.

Sometimes, I think the American Library Association, which awards the Caldecott Medal, does not always choose the best book. This year, however, they got it right. The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson is an extraordinary book that richly deserves the praise and honors that it has been given.

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Be A Word Nerd!

By Rondi Sokoloff Frieder

You’ve heard it all before. Show don’t tell. Limit your use of adverbs. Create gorgeous metaphors. And the most important writing rule of all – Use strong verbs!!! But this is often difficult to do when you are working on an early draft. When you are further along in the revision process and ready to edit your work for “word choice,” try using some of the following strategies:

Mentor texts

Study outstanding books in your genre. Then, along with paying attention to the development of the main character’s arc and the twists and turns of plot, take note of the author’s exceptional use of language. This might mean underlining or highlighting words as you read. I keep a list of “words I love” on the Notes App on my phone, especially when I am listening to an audio book. I later transfer this list to my manuscript file in Scrivener and keep a second list in Word. Some of these words seep into my subconscious and suddenly appear in my writing. Others do not. That’s when I go back and read through the list again until I find a word that perfectly captures my character’s mood and motive.

Here are verbs from my latest list, taken from Gillian McDunn’s CATERPILLAR SUMMER and Melanie Crowder’s LIGHTHOUSE BETWEEN WORLDS: bristled, buzzed, carved, coasted, hooted, jabbed, jostled, looped, lumbered, lurched, quirked, rasped, rummaged, scowled, scuffled, shuddered, skittered, sloshed, snarled, stumbled, thrashed, threaded, throbbed, thrumbed, trudged, twinkled, whooshed, and withered.

Thesaurus and Websites

A thesaurus can give you a wide variety of words to use in place of your usual fare. But there’s also a website that puts your run-of-the-mill thesaurus to shame. It’s an extraordinary tool recommended by Jessica Brody, author of SAVE THE CAT WRITES A NOVEL, called OneLook.com. When I first discovered this site, and put the verb “jumped” into the search box and checked related words, 338 synonyms came up! My favorites were: plunged, soared, bounded, leapfrogged, lunged, rocketed, and zoomed. Another website to check out is https://7esl.com/verbs/#Types_of_Verbs_Verb_Examples. It’s slightly more difficult to navigate, but is a valuable resource for writers in any genre.

If you would like some craft books on this topic, try the seven book thesaurus collection by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (including The Emotional Thesaurus and The Urban Setting Thesaurus) and Strong Verbs Strong Voice: A quick reference to improve your writing and impress readers by Ann Everett.

Be Creative!

I am a sucker for exquisite descriptions. In the MG novel, CATERPILLAR SUMMER, the main character, Cat, spends the summer at her grandparents’ beach house on Gingerbread Island off the coast of North Carolina. Take a look at these gems that connect us with Cat’s personality as well as the setting of the book: A rainbow of candy, an ocean of worries, freckles polka-dotting his skin, a sky puffed with clouds, a breath of strings, a blizzard of birds, a whisper of voices, fingers of fog, a look that was all sunbeams, a wave of people crushed onto the sidewalk, the world swirled green and gray as tears popped in her eyes. Now come up with your own descriptions, relating them to the characters, themes, and settings in your story.

 

Don’t Rush!

Revising a book is hard work. After you’ve made your unique characters flounder and grow in an interesting setting with an action-packed plot that keeps your reader turning the page, it’s time to polish your writing until it sparkles and shines. The first thing to do is a search for words you overuse. For me, those are often: that, just, really, I think, and very. The technique here is simple: slash or replace. Another strategy is to edit the pages of your manuscript out of order. Create a number grid and randomly choose a page to edit for word choice only. Then color in that number in and move on to another, jumping around on the grid.

If you are a writer, you MUST BE a word nerd. There’s just no avoiding it! Are there techniques and resources you’ve found helpful in your writing practice?

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under craft advice, Revision process, Rondi Frieder, WORD NERD

Characters Who Need Some Love

When you think of February and Valentine’s Day, you may think of love and friendship. While I was visiting my local bookstore, I ran across a few characters who may need an extra dose.

One of my favorite characters of all time is Bruce from Mother Bruce. He is the unsuspecting bear that becomes the mother to some “geese” when they hatch. He doesn’t quite seem up for the challenge because he’s lacking the necessary nurturing skills. Bruce is the same old sour puss of a bear in Bruce’s Big Storm, but this time he reluctantly opens his home to the forest animals during a big storm. This helps him in the end when his house needs some fixing up after the storm.

Pig the Pug is another character that is notorious for his bad attitude and crazy shenanigans. Good thing, he has a good dog friend to help him out of trouble. But in the end, nothing calms Pig down more than a full body cast. Poor Pig doesn’t learn his lesson though. He’d back at his antics in Pug the Tourist. Will Pig ever learn to behave? He gets some time to think things over again when he winds up back in a full body cast.

I can relate to Grumpy Monkey’s protagonist, Jim. Sometimes, you just wake up grumpy. And who REALY wants to admit that is how you feel? It took Jim up until the end to come to terms with his feelings. But lucky for him he has a best friend that loves him regardless. Grumpy Monkey Party Time! Is a fun sequel that focuses on Jim’s fear of dancing at a party. When dance lessons from his friends don’t make him feel comfortable dancing at the party, everyone slowly admits dancing isn’t their favorite thing to do either. No fear, porcupine has the perfect crowd pleaser for the party, food!

What other characters have you run across that could use some extra love?

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Marketing Long Before Your Book is Published (And maybe before it is written!)

By Susan Wroble

I used to believe that writing came first, and marketing later. Big Mistake! It is easiest if you learn both simultaneously — they build on each other. Here are a few tips on starting your marketing journey long before your book is published…

Establish writing credentials.

An easy place to start is to write for newsletters. Many groups have regular on-line updates and are delighted to have a member feature or presentation review. For example, when I joined the Denver Rose Society, I knew nothing about growing roses, so I took notes at the meetings. It was easy to turn those presentation notes into short articles for their newsletter. Bonus — I didn’t know the national organization gave writing awards until I got three of them!

Why?

  • Simple — Agents and editors want to see that you write.

Create a blog.

When my writing group, the Story Spinners, created this blog, our goal was simply to push ourselves to learn a new skill. By sharing, we each posted about once a quarter, and we split the costs.

Why?

  • Blogging counts as writing credentials — even if your readership is close to zero!
  • You have a platform that agents and editors can get a feel for your writing and commitment to the industry.
  • A few of the posts have been expanded and been published in paying markets.

Read with purpose.

Read current books in your genre — the key word being “current.” There are blogs for every genre, but one of my favorite ways to find new kids’ books in general (after making friends with librarians!) is through IndieBound, a community of independent local bookstores. IndieBound puts out a quarterly newsletter called “Kids’ Next.” You can pick up a print copy at an independent bookseller, or find it on-line. As an added benefit, it is a fabulous resource for gifts for the kids in your life.

Why?

  • By reading with purpose, you can start analyzing, and learn how other authors have created an arc, or added layers, or built tension…
  • You learn what’s current and what is selling.
  • You learn what is already out there for subjects you want to write about.

Keep a reading log.

Record the author, illustrator (if applicable), publisher, and whatever else is important to you. I find it helpful to snap a picture of the cover. Here’s an example:

Why?

  • You learn the style of various publishing houses.
  • You can track books that are mentor texts.
  • You can track books that are comps for works in progress.

Study and track agents and publishers.

One easy way to research agents and editors is to subscribe to the free twice-weekly Publisher’s Weekly newsletter, Children’s Bookshelf. Other ways to study agents are through the sites Manuscript Wish List or QueryTracker. Here’s a Publisher’s Weekly rights announcement for my friend, author Jocelyn Rish:

Next, track the notices with agents or editors that seem like a good fit for your work. Like my reading log, I created a table in Word. For this table, I record the publishing house, editor, author and title, and the agent who represented the author.

Why?

  • You end up with a perfectly tailored list of agents and editors who represent and publish the type of work that you do.

Use Facebook.

Author Beth Anderson (LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT) recently spoke at the Rocky Mountain Chapter of SCBWI’s Denver South Connect & Critique. “I didn’t want to get on Facebook,” she said, “and now I can’t imagine not using it.”

Why?

  • The Groups feature. Instead of scrolling endlessly through a jumble of posts from assorted friends and distant relatives interspersed with ads, you can go directly to a group — think RMC-SCBWI, KidLit411, StoryStorm, 12×12, ReFoReMo, NF Fest…
  • These groups are the easiest places to learn about upcoming events, celebrate successes, and build community. You’ll need that community when your book is ready to debut.

I hope there’s a nugget in this post you find useful. And for you — what are the marketing tips you wish you had known early in your writing journey?

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Reading Goals for the year

Although January started weeks ago, it’s always a good time to reflect on the past and to make plans for the future.

As I first sat down to think about all that I did 2019, I thought about my major writing accomplishments. But as I spent more time considering the full spectrum of writing work I did, it included reading, listening to podcasts, taking classes, and even writing posts for this blog!

Creating Categories

So as I look to 2020, I wanted to focus in on one aspect – reading. The first thing I realized is that I didn’t want a straight reading goal of something like: fifty books. I wanted to be strategic as I thought about what I would read. I came up with the following categories and assigned some numbers:

  • Reading aloud with my kids: Picture books and Harry Potter 6 & 7 (24 + 2)
  • Reading in genre (36)
  • Fiction reading outside of genre (6)
  • Books on writing craft (4)
  • Non-fiction/how-to outside of craft (4)

 

Reading aloud with my kids

At the time of writing, I have eight-year-old-twins. I firmly believe there are picture books suitable for all ages, but there are books that will be less interesting to them – the time when we will sit on the couch reading picture books together might start to fade. While we’re in the zone, I want to capitalize on it.

I’m also currently reading Harry Potter aloud to the boys – I’d like to get through the last two books of the series with them before the summer. It’s something we love to do, and given that their friends talk about it more and more (spoilers abound) it would be good to finish it so there’s a chance for a few more surprises.

 

Reading in genre

This is a huge part of what it means to be a writer, and is recommended across the board. Plus, I love the genre I write in!

 

Books on craft

I love continuing my education and I think reading craft books are great ways to learn something new, but even when it isn’t new information, craft books are right there to remind you of things that you want to make sure to incorporate.

 

Reading outside of genre

I’m a writer and a reader – and while fantasy is completely my jam, that’s not the only type of fiction I enjoy. With the intention of being well-rounded, I want to make sure to dip into a variety of genres. I also learning across the board, and a few non-fiction non-craft books will make it into my reading list this year.

 ***

Whatever you decide for your own reading, think about how variety might help you meet your goals. Once you get your categories, assign numbers to each group, and then happy reading!

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Filed under Coral Jenrette