Friday, February 27, 2009

Perking Up a Picture Book

While digging through old versions of Hop! Plop! for an upcoming school visit, I came across my very first draft. Gosh, is it pathetic!

I am calling this to your attention, not to disparage myself (I do plenty of that in other posts), but to remind you that the goal of a first draft is just to GET SOMETHING DOWN. It doesn't matter how crappy it is. You just need something to work with.

Once you have a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, you can work on style, or as my friend Kristy says, "funning up" the language.

There are lots of ways to do this. Here are just a few.

1) Rhyme
2) Alliteration
3) Onomatopoeia
4) Made up words
5) Repetition

In Hop! Plop! I decided to mainly go with #1 and #3. In the opening scene Mouse and Elephant find a playground and decide to go on the seesaw.

Here were the original words I put down: So, Mouse hopped onto one end of the seesaw, and Elephant plopped onto the other. But Elephant hit the ground with a thud, and Mouse was flung far into the air.

You can clearly see what I was envisioning, but this did not achieve the effect I was going for. After a few other unsuccessful attempts, I hit on a solution:

Mouse landed with a whop! (this last line later changed)

A lot punchier, huh? In a picture book, less is often more. And now, I had a pattern that I could repeat throughout the book.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Present Tense Picture Books

Becky and I have a Cat and Dog story that we have been struggling with for years. We have a refrain that we love, but we have never been able to perfect the rest of it. We've tried changing the rhyme scheme. We've tried switching genres (from PB to easy reader). We've tried writing it in prose. (Or maybe we haven't? But I'm sure Becky's suggested it :)

And still... we're never completely satisfied. Becky's newest idea is to switch tenses Go from past to present. "Isn't present tense a little awkward for a picture book?" I ask. "Not at all," she says. "Look at your favorite: Bear Snores On." Oh my! Is that really present tense? Yes, it is. I hadn't even noticed. Hmm. I guess it's worth a try.

We try it. I can't tell what I think. I am so used to it the old way. Guess I'll have to see what my critique group has to say.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Are Pancakes in Season?

When my daughter was two and she found out she couldn't marry her brother, she was devastated.

JORDAN: But I love Joshy. Why can't I marry him when I grow up?

ME: Well, you just can't marry someone who is in your family.

JORDAN: But why not?

ME: Um, uh... (Think fast. Can't start talking about six-fingered kids here). Sweetie, it's just against the law. I'll explain when you are older.

Joshy didn't come to this realization till he was three. (Boys are slower with everything) He was equally crushed. I can't marry Jordan? He bawled his little eyes out.

That was six months ago. This morning we had this conversation in bed.

JOSH: Mommy, who is your boyfriend?

ME: My boyfriend? Um, I guess that would be ... your daddy.

JOSH: Daddy can't be your boyfriend.

ME: Why not?

JOSH: He's in the same family.

Oh boy. Thank goodness pancakes are always in season.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Trying New Words on for Size

They say it takes 35 exposures to a word before it is "learned." You need to see it in various contexts in order to be able to incorporate it into your own lexicon.

Well, I saw two great new words today and even though I am 34 encounters short, I am going take a huge leap and use them right now.

The other night in bed, Joshy was chuntering as usual. The topic this time wasn't gender or death. It was "cuteness."

"Jordan is a little cute. But I am so cute," he said.

I had just ordered a book on Amazon about raising kids with good self-esteem. Guess I'll just bung that one right in the garbage when it comes.

Laura, how did I do?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Get a Friend to Blog Day

I had so much to do today. Prepare a slide presentation for an upcoming school visit. Plan my daughter's birthday party. Polish up manuscripts to submit to a conference. Critique two YA submissions for my Friday writing group. I felt totally overwhelmed. So what did I do? I ignored my own New Year's advice and took a nap! D'oh!

I am so annoyed at myself right now! It's time to go pick up the kids and I have accomplished nothing. One day closer to all my deadlines and I have nothing so show for my five hours of freedom. (Hope my husband is not reading this!). Of course I didn't nap for the whole five hours. I read blogs and left comments. I went to Starbucks because my stock of Frappuccinos was getting low. I even folded one load of laundry while talking on the phone to a friend. (That's about the extent of my multi-tasking ability).

UGHHHH! In an effort to salvage the day, I am declaring it National "Get a Friend to Blog" Day. Convince one friend that blogging is a fun and rewarding endeavor and completely worth the time and it will be a day well-spent. MelissaPEA, I am talking to you!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Guess What I Found in Dragon Wood?

I have new favorite picture book! And guess what? It's British. Shocker, huh? (For those of you who don't know, I am a total Brit-wannabe. I even sent out a manuscript to Little Tiger Press last week.)

A dragon finds a little boy in the woods and brings him home. This book had me at "It's called a Benjamin." (p. 2) The dragon's mom cooks the Benjamin a delicious meal of worms, but "it turned out, it wasn't hungry." The dragon then takes the Benjamin to school where his friends find it endlessly fascinating. "Instead of breathing fire from his nostrils, it leaked water from its eyes!" I read this book to my four-year-old daughter, and it cracked us both up!

Timothy Knapman's execution is brilliant. I have tried to capture this exact tone in some of my stories, but I have never been successful. I guess that's because I wasn't born on the right side of the ocean.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Bride and the Broom

My kids are always pretending. And I am constantly coerced into participating. Yesterday, they had a wedding, and my role was mother of the bride and groom.

JORDAN: Mommy, aren't I a beautiful bride?

ME: Yes, Jordan you look gorgeous.

JORDAN: I'm not Jordan. I'm Carissa.

ME: Oh, sorry. You look stunning, Carissa.

JOSHY: Mommy, aren't I a handsome broom?

ME: Oh, yes, so handsome. Um, what's your name?

JOSH: Jethry.

ME: Jethry? You're the most handsome groom I have ever seen!

PA: I am the Rabbi and I will marry you.

JOSH: You can't marry her. I'm marrying her!

PA: Ma nishtanah halailah hazeh mikol haleilot? Sheb'khol haleilot anu okhlin

(Pa doesn't know a lot of Hebrew)

Oy vey. Too bad we didn't get the whole thing on video.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Many Thanks

First of all, thanks to Katie at Katie's Literature Lounge for including Hop! Plop! in her new feature, Mailbox Monday.

Second, thanks to Tara Lazar for interviewing me as part of her "Love a Kidlit Author Month." Check out Tara's most recent interview: Aaron Zenz, Inside the Creative Mind of a Rising Author/Illustrator. You can also enter to win a signed four-book set of the Howie I Can Read series.

Last, thanks to my darling husband for being so tolerant as I abandon ALL household chores in order to focus obsessively on my new rhyming PB manuscript. David and I realized long ago that the only way to motivate me to do any cooking or cleaning was to give me grades (Ha! My friends from high school will get it :) And I know I deserve D's and F's this week. Sorry, honey. I love you! But don't worry... I should have the meter ironed out soon. And then I can return to my normal level of house management (Thank God, I set the bar very low)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Don't Limit Your Vocabulary

My three-year-old called his sister a miscreant today. I almost fell out of my chair.

ME: Did he just say miscreant?

HUSBAND: Oh, yeah. You've never heard him say that before? They call each other miscreants all the time.

Where did they get it from? Ice Age 2.

So, if you are writing a picture book and you are thinking of limiting your vocabulary, DON'T!

If kids aren't exposed to big words, how are they going to learn them?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme?

I've been so engrossed in my new picture book manuscript, 3 Karate Pigs, that I haven't had time to blog, or comment so much on other blogs. (Sorry to all my blogging friends!)

I got a full draft done myself and then turned to Becky Sat. morning for help with the meter and rhyme. "I have to say this..." she typed into AOL messenger. Uh-oh. I knew what was coming. "Perhaps the story shouldn't be in rhyme?"

This is a common debate for us. I always want to write in rhyme, or partial rhyme. She often prefers drafting a story in prose.

It's not that I have anything against prose. I love lots of non-rhyming picture book such as Knuffle Bunny, That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown and Scaredy Squirrel.

But my inclination is to write in rhyme. Rhyme can make a thin plot sparkle and shine. Could Bear Snores On have worked in prose? My guess is "no." The story is too slight. It's the fabulous language and perfect rhythm that makes this book such a winner!

An itty-bitty mouse
pitter-pat, tip-toe
creep-crawls through the cave
from the fluff cold snow.

Mouse squeaks, "Too damp,
too dank, too dark."
So he lights wee twigs
with a small, hot spark

The coals pip-pop and the wind doesn't stop.

But the bear snores on.

On the con side, people say it is harder to sell a rhyming manuscript.

But I see many more arguments for the pro-rhyme position:

1) Rhyme could differentiate us. There must be hundreds of fractured Pigs manuscripts in the slush. Why should an editor pick ours?

2) Rhyme is way more fun to write. It is like a complex puzzle and I find it very challenging to make the pieces fit just right.

3) Rhyming stories are great for developing literacy skills. Rhyme helps kids predict what is coming to they can chime in, and it helps emerging reader decipher words.

To rhyme or not to rhyme, that is the question?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Can I Write Alone?

All right, so I was interviewed about writing with a partner, and now I am wondering, "Could I write alone, if I wanted to?" I really want to give the Karate Pigs story a try, and Becky isn't as available as she used to be. When we started writing together, she was a stay-at-home mom, but last year, she took a job working in an elementary school. So, now when I'm free (mornings while my kids attend preschool) she is not.

My parents believe I can do it on my own. They had absolutely no confidence in my ability to find a husband, but they seem to think that when it comes to writing for kids, I have what it takes.

I have a great opening. (and I usually suck at beginnings)

I have the entire plot. (That's the nice thing about fractured fairy tales; the story is already outlined for you.)

And I have the rhythm and rhyme skills (I don't think anyone has done a Pigs story in rhyme, but correct me if I am wrong)

So, why am I completely stuck after only three stanzas? Am I just lazy (like the first little pig?) Or insecure? Or do I really need a partner to fill in the holes in my thinking?

I am a big believer that the whole is equal to more than the sum of its parts.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Little Red Hen - Starring Thing 1

Okay, I got photo tagged by my friend, Laura, from the fabulously funny Are We Nearly There Yet Mummy? I'm bending the rules a little bit. I'm supposed to pick the fourth photo from my fourth folder, but I needed a way to tie this in to picture books somehow. So, I fudged a little.

This picture is from a Little Red Hen photo book I am making for my daughter's class.

"Who will help me pick apples for a pie?" asked the Little Red Hen.
"Not I," said Zachary.
"Not I," said Ella.
"Not I," said Stefani.
"Then I will pick the apples myself," said the Little Red Hen.
And she did.

Last year, we made a Brown Bear Book.

Jordan, Jordan, who do you see?
I see Alex looking at me.

It was a huge hit! I couldn't wait to get it back at the end of the year, but then I got a note from Jordan's teacher, "Thanks so much for the lovely book. What a special gift." Ooops!

I'll have to be more careful this year!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

On Writing with a Partner

I've just done my first interview. I feel a bit like Steve Martin in The Jerk when he sees himself in the phone book. I'm somebody. I'm somebody.

So, head over to Tara Lazar, if you want to read about what it's like to collaborate on a PB or if you just want to enter to win a signed copy of Hop! Plop!

Don't Worry: I'll Find a Way to Make You Laugh!

Why can't I be as funny as Nicola Morgan? I've decided if I am going to keep all of my 17 Followers, I need to up the entertainment value of my blog. And since my kids have not said anything amusing today, I will have to lead my loyal fans to a post high on the hilarity meter. So, here you go: Boots and Bats: Method Writing, Level 1

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Verdict

The verdict on my last post seems to be that it is acceptable to "drop' blogs if they no longer interest you. Guess I am just way too sensitive. But I knew that, already. It's a slight clue when you cry during Disney movies. If you want to see me really bawl, watch me viewing the Christian the Lion video on YouTube. Gets me every time. The first time I saw it, I had to explain to my kids that I was crying because I was "happy". Try explaining that to a three year old boy. My four year old daughter tried to help.

JORDAN: Joshy, sometimes it is good to cry. It shows you are sensitive. Mommy and I are sensitive butterflies.

JOSH: Daddy and I are sensitive motorcycles.

Anyway, the post did get me a new follower. (Thanks, Mom!) Now I am off to answer my first interview question. I am being interviewed by Tara Lazar on the collaborative process of writing, something I have not blogged about yet. Should be fun.

You may want to hop over to Tara's blog and comment so you can be eligible to win a $25-$35 gift certificate to the bookstore of your choice!