Picture Perfect Friday: A HUNGRY LION OR A DWINDLING ASSORTMENT OF ANIMALS

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HUNGRY

This week for Picture Perfect Fridays I chose Lucy Ruth Cummins’ dark and funny A HUNGRY LION OR A DWINDLING ASSORTMENT OF ANIMALS. Writer-illustrator Cummins is a writer’s writer. By that I mean she shows us how to play and break rules in the best possible way. Read on to see what I mean.

(For a super long list of links to picture book reviews, see Susanna Leonard Hill’s site: http://susannahill.com/for-teachers-and-parents/perfect-picture-books/.)

Title: A HUNGRY LION OR A DWINDLING ASSORTMENT OF ANIMALS

Written and illustrated by: Lucy Ruth Cummins

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016, Fiction

Fun for Ages: 4 and UP

Themes/Topics: Animals, Predators, Surprise

First line: “Once upon a time there was a hungry lion, a penguin, a turtle, a little calico kitten, a brown mouse, a bunny with floppy ears and a bunny with un-floppy ears, a frog, a bat, a pig, a slightly bigger pig, a woolly sheep, a koala, and also a hen.”

Brief Synopsis (“Summary” from title page): “Members of a large group of animals, including a penguin, two rabbits, and a koala, disappear at an alarming rate but the hungry lion remains.”

Why I Love This Book:  Cute animals! Surprises! Reversals of fortune! You’re reading along and you think you have a handle on what’s going to happen. After all, the title tells you the lion is hungry and the animals are dwindling. But wait! You’re in for some surprises. And just when you say, “aha, now I’ve totally got it,” you find that you really don’t.

And back to what I said about Ms. Cummins being a “writer’s writer.” Look at that first line: so, so long! Isn’t that against the picture book writer’s rules? Well, yes, but it works beautifully to set the scene and the tone.

And what about her use of words and phrases like “um,” “well,” “I guess,” and “it seems”? Aren’t those no-nos? Yes, but they help deliver a clear and distinctive and funny voice for our narrator. I sense that Ms. Cummins had fun writing this story. She played, she broke rules, and she let the story be both adorable and oh, so, dark. Perfection!

Ideas for Teachers:  On a first read, teachers can use this book to talk about predictions. For each spread, we can ask, “What do you think will happen next?” Students will enjoy being able to predict what’s next at the start of the story. And, even more, later in the story they’ll enjoy the surprise of thinking they know what’s coming and discovering that they never could’ve predicted the outcome. Teachers could also use this book to introduce a unit on predators.

Picture Perfect Friday: So You Want to be a Rock Star

 

rock star

It’s a beautiful spring FRIDAY, and time again for Susanna Leonard Hill’s Picture Perfect Fridays. You can find a GINORMOUS list of links to picture book reviews on her site: http://susannahill.com/for-teachers-and-parents/perfect-picture-books/

This week, in honor of one of my all-time favorite rock stars, Prince, I chose SO YOU WANT TO BE A ROCK STAR.

Title: SO YOU WANT TO BE A ROCK STAR

Written by: Audrey Vernick

Illustrated by: Kirstie Edmunds

Walker & Company, 2012, Fiction

Fun for Ages: 4 and UP

Themes/Topics: Music, performance, dramatic arts, song

First page: “You want to be a rock star? Let’s see if you have what it takes.”

Brief Synopsis (from publisher): Want to learn to play air guitar? Wear the coolest rock-star clothes? Sign your autograph for tons of fans? Then this is the book for you! Perfect for young fans of Rock Band or the Disney pop stars, So You Want to Be a Rock Star is the essential primer on everything rock ‘n’ roll. With a hilarious interactive text that encourages young readers to get up and move and perfectly retro illustrations that balance fantasies of stardom with real-world rocking out, this book has something for everyone―budding singers, musicians, and their parents, too!

Why I Love This Book: This story’s tongue-in-cheek humor (“Your voice doesn’t need to be perfect. Just really loud.”) will appeal to both kids and adults. And it has a fun interactive element. Kids (and adults) are invited to air guitar, sneer, dance, sing, and more. It may not be the best for bedtime because it gets kids movin’ and groovin’!

Ideas for Teachers:  Classroom teachers can use this book when they want to get kids moving in a fun and silly way. Music teachers can use this book to get kids pumped up about performing and to help them think through the important elements of performance. After this story, they’ll be excited to strut their stuff!

Picture Perfect Friday: YOUR ALIEN

your alien

It’s FRIDAY, and that means it’s time for Susanna Leonard Hill’s Picture Perfect Fridays. You can find a COLOSSAL list of links to picture book reviews on her site: http://susannahill.com/for-teachers-and-parents/perfect-picture-books/

My pick this week is one of my kids’ favorites – YOUR ALIEN. When you imagine an alien, do you picture something scary and green? The alien in YOUR ALIEN is green, but he’s anything but scary. In fact, he might be the cutest alien ever.

Title: YOUR ALIEN

Written by: Tammi Sauer

Illustrated by: Goro Fujita

Sterling Children’s Books, 2015, Fiction

Suitable for Ages: 3 and UP

Themes/Topics: friendship, family, empathy, home/homesickness, space/aliens

First two lines: “You will be looking out your window when something wonderful comes your way. You will want to keep him.”

Brief Synopsis (from publisher): When a little boy meets a stranded alien child, the two instantly strike up a fabulous friendship. But at bedtime, the alien suddenly grows very sad. Can the boy figure out what his new buddy needs most of all? This funny, heartwarming story proves that friends and family are the most important things in the universe . . . no matter who you are.

Why I Love This Book: The conversational second-person narration invites the reader to imagine him or herself as the child who sees a lovable alien crash-land right outside his window. The friendship that develops between the two is heartwarming. I love how the alien helps you “see ordinary things in a brand-new way” and you empathize with the little green guy who grows sad at bedtime. The illustrations, with vivid colors and light in the daytime and a warm glow at night, match the heartfelt tone of the text. It’s also fitting that light – and hugs – play a key role in the ending.

Ideas for Teachers: Teachers could use this story as a springboard for discussions about astronomy and the possibility of life beyond Earth. Or the story could be used in a discussion about empathy and what it means to be a friend. Kids might also enjoy creating their own aliens. The Sticky Buffalo site has some great ideas or kids could make their aliens out of brown paper lunch bags or even large marshmallows.

50 Precious Words Contest: Crow Girl

The talented and generous Vivian Kirkfield is hosting the 50 Precious Words Writing Contest. The challenge (and it is a challenge!) is to write a story for children (the 12 and under crowd) totaling no more than 50 words. You can read all the details and post your own story or link until Friday, March 18th on Vivian’s blog: https://viviankirkfield.com/2016/03/04/ppbf-brave-girl-plus-50-precious-words-contest/

Here’s my entry:

Crow Girl

By Gabi Snyder

Rain soaks socks.

Rain chills cheeks.

Rain drenches.

Crow, rain slips off your slick feathers.

Rain slips off my coat and boots.

Wind blows hats off.

Wind whips hair.

Wind pushes sideways.

Wings spread, Crow soars with the wind.

Arms spreads, I soar with the wind.

             I am Crow Girl.

Valentiny writing contest

The talented and generous Susanna Leonard Hill is hosting yet another contest! For the First Annual Valentiny Contest, entries should be 214 words or less and feature someone who is grumpy. You can see all the details on Susanna’s blog.

 

The Bookstore Cat’s Valentine (214 words)

Living in a bookstore might not be every feline’s dream, but for me, it’s the cat’s meow…

until business goes south.

Ms. Darling grumps, grumbles, and grouses.

To help, I perch on the windowsill and stare at passersby with sad kitty eyes.

No one stops.

I create captivating window displays.

No luck.

I sing.

“YOOOWWRRRL.”

“Theadora Snugbottom, stop that infernal racket!” says Ms. Darling. She closes shop early.

I take a nap – and dream a scheme.

That night, I transform the bookstore.

Ms. Darling arrives at 9:00 AM. She beams. “A Valentine’s wonderland!”

I leap in excitement.

Ms. Darling posts a sign: “Valentine’s Day Lonely Hearts Party. Get matched with the book – and the cat – of your dreams.”

Is Ms. Darling giving me away?!

I scowl, scratch, and skulk.

The day of the party, crates arrive.

Cats!

Cats cannot resist crepe paper.

When the caterwauling stops, Ms. Darling laments, “Oh, Theadora, your decorations!”

But people are finding books and cats to love.

Ms. Darling tells me, “They’ll be very lucky to find cats half as delightful as you.”

Be still my beating heart. She does love me.

When the party ends, I sigh.

“Mew.”

“Mew.”

“Mew.”

“What do you think, Theadora?” Ms. Darling asks. “Can you tend three kittens?”

Anything for you, Ms. Darling.

Picture Perfect Friday: Review of Sidewalk Flowers

 

sidewalk flowers

Every Friday, Susanna Leonard Hill hosts Picture Perfect Fridays on her blog. You can find a GIGANTIC list of links to picture book reviews on her site.

If you haven’t yet read “Sidewalk Flowers,” do check it out. I think it speaks as much to adults as it does to children.

Title: Sidewalk Flowers

Written by: JonArno Lawson

Illustrated by: Sydney Smith

Groundwood Books, 2015, Fiction

Suitable for Ages: School Library Journal suggests this book for Kindergarten through grade 3, but I tend to agree with Carmela Ciuraru who wrote, in a New York Times book review, “I’d give this book to anyone with a coffee table, in a household with or without children.”

Themes/Topics: nature (in an urban setting); empathy/kindness; wonder/observation

First line: This is a wordless picture book. Its poetry resides in the story told by an exquisite series of illustrations. The first shows us a girl and her father walking down a city street. The scene is rendered entirely in black and white EXCEPT for one splash of color – the girl’s red hoodie.

Brief Synopsis: (from the publisher) “…a little girl collects wildflowers while her distracted father pays her little attention. Each flower becomes a gift, and whether the gift is noticed or ignored, both giver and recipient are transformed by their encounter.

“Written” by award-winning poet JonArno Lawson and brought to life by illustrator Sydney Smith, “Sidewalk Flowers” is an ode to the importance of small things, small people and small gestures.”

Ideas for Teachers: Because it is wordless, but full of evocative and emotional images, it is a perfect choice for a child of any age to “read” to an adult. Teachers might also read this story in conjunction with “A Dog Day” by Emily Rand and “Ask Me” by Bernard Waber, which also tell the story of a walk. See this New York Times book review for more information about those two picture books: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/12/books/review/a-dog-day-ask-me-and-sidewalk-flowers.html?_r=0

Why I Love This Book: I love this book for its exquisite illustrations, for the sense of wonder it bears witness to, and because it is a kind of love poem – an ode to the powers of observation and generosity. The little girl finds nature even in the city; wildflowers sprout from unlikely places. And on the last page, she lifts her gaze to birds flying overhead. Finally, I love it for its gentle reminder to distracted parents: take the time to observe with the eyes of a child and you may recover your sense of wonder.

 

 

New Year’s Anti-Resolutions

 

Julie Hedlund’s anti-resolution revolution (http://www.juliehedlund.com/2016-anti-resolution-revolution/) resonates with me. In the past, resolution writing has felt very much like a chronicle of failures: last year I failed to do X, Y, and Z. But somehow, magically, this year will be different! This approach always feels kind of icky and in the back of my mind I sense that I’m setting myself up for failure.

That’s why Julie’s approach – celebrating successes from the previous year and using them as a base to build upon – feels more hopeful and productive.

Many of my successes from 2015 are modest. And yet, when I compare them to my writing successes from 2014, I see improvement. And, more importantly, I find myself enjoying the process more and more as I give myself over to it.

So though writing a list of “successes” wasn’t my style in the past, I think that in this new era of going “all in” with my writing, celebrating success, in whatever form, might be just the push I need. For those of us, especially women, who’ve been taught to be humble, not to brag, not to promote ourselves, this can seem foreign. We think people will say something like “Who does she think she is?” or “She calls those ‘successes’?” But owning that writing is vital to me and that this is where I am right now is powerful.

So here’s my list of writing successes from 2015:

  1. I completed 12 x 12 for the second year; this year I drafted 13 new picture book manuscripts and made countless revisions.

 

  1. Through 12 x 12, I joined a new critique group; I am grateful for the insightful feedback and encouragement from my group; I think this one is going to stick!

 

  1. I received two “positive rejections” from agents. As in, this story didn’t quite work for me but I like your writing and I’d be happy to see more of your work. Progress!

 

  1. I participated in my first ever Twitter pitch party and received a favorite from an agent.

 

  1. Deciding to go “all in” with my writing led me to initiate my blog and to number 6 below.

 

  1. I participated in my first-ever online writing contests – Susanna Leonard Hill’s Halloweensie and Annual Holiday Writing contests and received honorable mentions in both.

Holiday Writing Contest

It’s that time of year….

It’s time for Susanna Leonard Hill’s 5th Annual Holiday Contest.

You can read all about it here:

http://susannahill.blogspot.com/2015/12/ho-ho-ho-5th-annual-holiday-contest-is.html

Without further ado, here’s my entry:

Christmas with Kevin the Nanny Bot

(349 words)

Sitting on Santa’s knee at the Super Store Santa Land…

…Kevin the Nanny Bot requested an apron.

“Ho ho hold on, Kevin. Anything else?”

Kevin leaned in toward Santa to share his true wish, but then changed his mind. “Ho ho hopeless.”

“What’s that, Kevin?” asked Santa.

“I mispoke.”

At home, Kevin filled in for the vacationing Cleaning Bot. 

Whirring around the Christmas tree, Kevin vacuumed the floor…

…and the tree.

“Kevin!”

Kevin hung his robot head. “I’m sorry.”

He was sure they’d never keep him now.

At bedtime, Kevin tucked in Cate and Jonah.

“Hush little robots, don’t make a beep. Kevin’s going to buy you a bot named Meep. And if that tiny Meep won’t work, Kevin’s going to paint you a masterwork.”

The next day, Kevin filled in for the Yard Bot.        

Rolling along the sidewalk, Kevin shoveled snow.

He shoveled the driveway…

…and the yard.

“Kevin!”

Kevin hung his robot head.

He was sure they’d never keep him now.

At bedtime, Kevin tucked in Cate and Jonah.

“‘Twas the night before Christmas when all through the shop, not a robot was beeping, not even Bot Mop.”

That night, with the family fast asleep, Kevin prepared for rest mode.

Then he noticed something: cookies and milk left out!

What would the Cleaning Bot say? Kevin gripped the plate.

“Ho ho hold it, Kevin! Where are you going with my cookies?”

“Santa?! I am the worst robot in the world!”

Kevin hung his robot head.

“Kevin,” said Santa, “you’re not the best at cleaning, shoveling, or remembering holidays. But, as a Nanny Bot, you are a rock star!”

“I am not programmed to identify rocks.”

“We need to adjust your ‘literal’ dial,” said Santa. “Good night.”

Kevin powered down.

In the morning, the kids ripped open their presents. Only one remained.

“It’s for you, Kevin.”

“My apron.”

“What’s wrong, Kevin. Isn’t it what you wanted?”

“Yes…”

“Don’t be sad, Kevin. We want you to be happy so you’ll want to stay with us FOREVER.”

“You do?”       

“Yes!”

Kevin’s CPU felt warm and tingly. “This must be love.”

 

 

 

#WhyIWrite

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Last month for the National Day of Writing, writers tweeted their reasons for writing using the hashtag #WhyIWrite. Answers ranged from the deep and philosophical to the practical. We write to maintain sanity, to be heard, to pay bills. We write for our readers.

But in the day-to-day push to create something that might be “marketable” it’s easy to lose sight of why we write. Sometimes reminding ourselves of our deepest, most heartfelt reasons for writing can help us get back on track.

If you’re stuck, you might take a break and for one minute or 10 write the words “I write because….” When you’ve completed your thought, write the words “I write because…” again and keep going. When you’re done, post your favorite reasons above your writing space. Catching sight of those vital words on a rough day might just help you keep going.

Multiple Independent Discoveries: It Happens with PBs!

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Have you ever come up with a brilliant idea only to find out that someone else just thought of it? You thought the idea was uniquely yours. Did aliens read your mind and then implant your best ideas into the mind of others who have wasted no time in touting your brilliant ideas as their own?

Or maybe “the cloud” isn’t limited to the virtual world? Maybe as you sleep your loveliest ideas steal away to dance with other shimmering epiphanies under the disco ball known as the moon. And maybe those lovely ideas, loopy after a wild night, go home to the wrong brain? Maybe.

Or maybe a few years, months, or weeks ago you saw or heard the idea in some way, shape, or form and your brain saved it for later. That happened to me. Last night at bedtime I made up a story for my daughter about a robot who isn’t sure what his purpose is. After trial and error, he discovers he’s a Nannybot.

Nannybot! Brilliant!

Last night as I said the word I was sure I was the first one to come up with it. But this morning I Googled to find that Nannybot is a character in Futurama. And my husband reminded me that real nanny bots are being launched in Japan – a story he’d told me about last year.

Whatever cosmic or prosaic powers control this occurrence, I think we can see it as a good thing for PB writers. That’s right. When you have an idea that has either recently been done or is coming out soon, you know you are tuning in, are in touch with the zeitgeist, the current muse, the – oh, ugly word – marketable ideas for today’s children. And I’m still going to write my Nannybot story. True, I didn’t come up with the concept of the Nannybot, but I don’t know of any PBs featuring Nannybots. Mine might be the first – or maybe yours will. The idea is out there now.

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I am fascinated by the concept of “multiple independent discovery” which describes the phenomenon of researchers independently coming up with the same discovery. Well documented in science (Newton/Leibniz and Darwin/Wallace; see more here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiple_discovery), it can also be argued to occur in the Humanities.

Check back for subsequent stories on multiple independent discoveries as I continue to research and write about this concept. And if you have a multiple discovery story to share, please add it to the comments!

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