Monthly Archives: February 2019

Ski Accidents and Read-Alouds

I was off in the wilds of Park City, Utah, making epic turns in piles of powder, when the unexpected happened. I was halfway down a groomed, intermediate run, when I realized the slope had turned icy. I immediately made a snap decision to move over to what I thought was softer powder on the side. But this snow had melted in the previous day’s sun and had turned crusty overnight. Unfortunately, I was in the thick of it, turning at a high speed. My right ski got caught in the crud, while the rest of me kept going. Down I went, landing hard on my right shoulder. This was no routine spill. When I tried to get up, I was hit with an unusually sharp pain. I lay there in disbelief, gazing up at the pale blue sky.

Suddenly, a friendly skier appeared at my side. “Are you okay?” he quipped.

“Hmm,” I said. “I don’t think so.”

“Need help getting up?” He reached out his hand.

“Maybe I’ll just lie here for a while,” I answered, still peering at the sky.

“I think we should call Ski Patrol,” he said, more seriously.

“Ski Patrol?” I said, suddenly looking his way. “I’ve never had to call Ski Patrol. And I’ve been skiing for over fifty years!”

This kind angel in goggles smiled, but proceeded to take out his phone. I said okay, and before I knew it, the first Ski Patroller had arrived. After a routine exam, he calmly announced that he was pretty sure my collarbone was broken. Then, he called for a sled, and after a surprisingly smooth and enjoyable ride down to the medical clinic, it was confirmed. I had a distal fracture to my right clavicle and would be wearing a sling for the next 6-8 weeks.

Back at our condo, my concerned cousins gathered around me. One suggested I put on lavender oil. Another said I should sit by the fire and prop myself up with pillows. But a third offered something completely different. “You should listen to an audio book,” she said. “It’s the best way to relax.” Hmm, I thought. I hadn’t listened to a book in years. Not since my own children were young and we were on a family car trip. I prefer holding a book, rereading pages as I go, and marking interesting passages with post-it notes. But with limited movement in my right arm, and an impending flight home the next day, I decided to try it. I downloaded the Audible app and began listening to Michelle Obama read her best-selling memoir, BECOMING.

Once home, a friend called to see how I was doing. I said I was on the couch, listening to a book. She told me she loved audio books. She found them comforting and they reminded her of being read to as a child. I thought about my own childhood experiences with books. My earliest recollection was of my mother reading to us from a thick volume of poetry and fairy tales. I still have that book on my shelf and each time I open it, memories of listening to her read LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD or Over in the Meadow, come flooding back. My mother also took us to the library each week for Story Time, and read us books from the Dr. Seuss Book-of-the-Month club. Additionally, my brother and I watched and listened to Captain Kangaroo read picture book classics like MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS, CURIOUS GEORGE, and MADELEINE on our black and white Zenith.

But my strongest memories of being read to were from elementary school. Our teachers read to us after lunch or at the end of the day. I can vividly remember being whisked off to Wilbur’s farm in CHARLOTTE’S WEB or out to the ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS where Karana foraged for crabs and hid from wild dogs. I traveled back to the Revolutionary War with JOHNNY TREMAIN and onto the high seas in CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS. And nothing compared to the magic of Middle Earth in THE HOBBIT or the fantastical world of A WRINKLE IN TIME. These books pushed my imagination to places it had never been before. And the cadence of my teachers’ voices, appropriately calm and dramatic, allowed me the luxury of conjuring up these adventures in a strikingly visual way. It was different than reading the books myself. It was soothing and transporting.

As writers of books for children, we must always consider how our books sound when read aloud. Stories that allow our voices to be compelling, humorous, or lyrical draw the listener in. And when children are read to, it motivates them to improve their reading skills, so they can someday read these books on their own.

When I’m working on a challenging passage in my own work, I often record myself, then listen back to check on the authenticity of a character’s voice or the pacing of a scene. I’ve even recorded chapters of mentor texts so I can hear why the writing works so well. It’s also beneficial to have critique partners read your work aloud so you will know how others might interpret your words.

And although I still prefer reading a hard copy of a book – holding it in my hands and going through it at my own pace –I now have headphones nearby. Michelle is waiting to read to me. And I can’t wait to snuggle under a blanket and listen to her.

Do you prefer hard copies of books, reading on an e-reader, or listening to audio books?

 

 

 

 

 

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A Blizzard of Ideas: Storystorm, 2019

I was in the doldrums. It was the end of December and I had just completed my most recent writing project. My writing life stretched out in front of me. What, I wondered, would I write next? I had half-formed ideas for the picture books I wanted to write. The ideas were best when I roused in the middle of the night. “Brilliant! That’s it!” I would think, before drifting back to sleep. In the morning, I could only revive that feeling and not the idea itself—lost forever in the ether of dreamland.

Fortunately, like a blast of fresh air, I learned about the Storystorm Challenge. It’s a month-long brainstorming event held each January. Picture book writers are challenged to generate thirty story ideas in thirty days. For me, Storystorm was exactly what I needed to jump start the new year. It gave structure and purpose to my musings and a solid goal to work toward. By the end of January, come rain or shine, the 11,235 participants and I would have a list of at least thirty ideas to flesh out into concepts and premises in the coming year.

Started and coordinated by the esteemed picture book author Tara Lazar, the object is to heighten the idea-generating senses. Her January blog provides inspiration in the form of daily posts from published picture book authors and illustrators. They offer advice and insight into where they find their ideas and how they spark their creative process. Plus there are potential prizes! A “Winner” certificate! And it’s free!

My own list started off slowly, one idea per day. Then, one of the daily blogs would inspire me to imagine something new, and then that would morph into another idea altogether. I remembered books I had thought of writing years ago. I started to see picture book ideas everywhere and they would come to me when I was not expecting them. The act of writing down my ideas was transforming, and numbering them was surprisingly motivational. By mid-month, I had at least 30 ideas and their related iterations.

A blog by author Jess Keating described of the way an author for children must view the world. “Find everything inspiring,” she wrote. “When the whole world is interesting, you don’t need to hunt for ideas. They grow around you and wait for you to pick them.”

Another blog, by Andria Rosenbaum addressed how to tell difficult stories that I have sometimes considered writing. She wrote, “Hard stories … can’t change history but they have the ability to heal … and build empathy and understanding.” She continued, “If you have a tough story to tell, I hope you find a way to share it. You never know who may be waiting for your words.” That day, a variety of long-standing ideas that I had thought were too hard to write about for children found their way onto my list.

Other bloggers encouraged picture book writers to remember things they misunderstood as children, to imagine the world as a child might, to explore their own childhood memories, to listen to their own children, to play with words and puns, to explore historic events and their anniversaries, to celebrate the “weird stuff” and a flurry of other advice.

Author Shutta Crim wrote that Storystorm is about beginnings: first ideas, first notes and first drafts. That is exactly what Storystorm is for me—the perfect storm.

Ready with my ever-growing list of ideas, I’ll embark on another challenge to inspire me for the rest of the year. I’ve joined other picture book writers in the online group, “12 x 12.” This is a year-long writing challenge in which members write twelve complete picture books drafts, one per month.

After Storystorm, my only issue will be deciding on the lucky few (only twelve?) stories to take to completion and which ones I’ll have to save for a rainy day.

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