Please join us to discuss everything literary (especially kid literary): good books, the writing life, the people and businesses who create books, controversies in book world, what's good to snack on while reading and writing, and anything else bookish. We welcome your thoughts.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

2012 Memorial Day Puzzle for Kidlit Lovers

I love anagrams (words or phrases that can be rearranged to form other words or phrases). The anagrams below all relate to a single, memorable kidlit personage.

Can you rearrange the letters in each entry to reveal the original list? (If  you can, you may brag in a comment, but please don't post any spoilers--I'll publish the solution next week.)

Rave, Fay Wray!

Dishearten wheelwright

Giggly, gloppy epithet

Thickening the thin

Slow, supple me

Outhit, Rose veered

My blue bard

(Need a hint? The subject of this puzzle used nice karma.)

[Solution: I don't want to post an outright spoiler, but you'll find all the answers here.]

Friday, May 25, 2012

Exercise Daily and Keep Physically Fit; to Improve Your Writing?


Dave Amaditz
You don't have to look far to see reports about the latest health craze sweeping the nation. Whether it's broadcast on late-night infomercials or seen on the nightly news, the message remains the same. Doing a physical routine will help you live longer, help your heart stay stronger, keep away those unwanted pounds, prevent or delay the onset of diabetes and on and on and on.

Honestly, I don't think it's a bunch of flub. It's hard to ignore the advice and recommendations of trained physicians as well as research-based data. More than that, it's my own personal experience, the powerful positive feelings I get, and always achieved, from physical activity.

I believe in having a daily workout routine. That's not to say, however, there haven't been periods in my life where I have gotten a little lax. Reflecting on those times is more proof to me of the power of being fit. I didn't have energy. I didn't like the way I felt. I didn't feel like doing much. My mood was negatively affected.

Before I broke my neck in a diving accident (July 3, 1983) I ran somewhere between three to five miles a day. One of the first things I remember when waking from surgery was being asked a question from the on-duty nurse.

 "Are you a runner?"

 I nodded, a bit confused, because I didn't consider myself a runner, just someone who enjoyed running. The point here however is that had I not been in such good shape, I was told I wouldn't have made it. In fact, the on-duty nurse told me they were ready to write me off. She told me they couldn't find a pulse, but eventually found a faint trace and became very hopeful when that sound became a consistent 38 beats per minute. My heart had been trained to withstand stress because of the running. My running, my physical conditioning saved my life.

Fast forward nearly 30 years... Well... Maybe 28 years. I was in one of those stages of my life where exercise wasn't a priority. Thinking back on it now, I was suffering through the same negative effects I'd mentioned above... Loss of energy. Feeling weaker. Blah. Blah. Blah.

I began again to exercise, not the same activities done before to keep in shape, but others tailored more specifically to me as I sit in a wheelchair. One year later, I'm again feeling the positive effects from maintaining a regular exercise routine.

And how, you may ask, does all this apply to writing?

Having more energy has translated into more time that I sit in front of the computer. More time in front of the computer means I write more. I feel more alert, which means I'm writing more effectively. When I write more effectively the results are; writing more on a daily basis, coming up with more creative ideas (often times when I'm away from the computer exercising), meeting goals more consistently... And on and on and on.

No. I don't think the benefits of exercise have been exaggerated.

If you're not already on an exercise program I hope you soon begin. See if you experience similar results as I did. Then, let me know.

If you're already exercising regularly and find that you are experiencing, or have experienced some of the same positive results as I have, keep it up, and of course, let me know.

I'm willing to bet that by giving a regular exercise routine to try you will not only feel better, but have better writing results.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Show, Don't Tell

by Jenny Ramaley

Show, Don't Tell

How many times have you heard that piece of advice? Easy to say, harder to remember and apply.

My husband bought the first book of George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones series a few weeks ago and before I knew it I was on book four, A Feast of Crows. Although the storyline involves numerous characters that are children, it isn't a children's book. But the following snippet is such fun that I'm slipping it into our blog.

The novel's Queen Cersei is amazingly beautiful – even if she's not quite as young as she used to be -- and totally self-centered.  She lacks nothing in the self-esteem department and can justify any cruelty she dishes out to people who displease her. Readers also know that Cersei, who always criticized her husband, the king, for heavy drinking, has become a big fan of the grape since his death.  Now the author slips in this gem:

"Dorcas helped the queen into her new gown. It had stripes of shiny green satin alternating with stripes of plush black velvet, and intricate black Myrish lace above the bodice. Myrish lace was costly, but it was necessary for a queen to look her best at all times, and her wretched washerwomen had shrunk several of her old gowns so they no longer fit. She would have whipped them for their carelessness, but Taena had urged her to be merciful. 'The smallfolk will love you more if you are kind,' she had said, so Cersei had ordered the value of the gowns deducted from the women's wages, a much more elegant solution."

I remember thinking 'wait a minute' – you can't wash velvet and satin gowns so there's no way the old dresses shrunk. That's when it hit me.

 What a clever way to 'show' us that Cersei has packed on a few pounds!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The bones of us, the heart of us
by Kitty Griffin

I’ve just had the delight of returning from nine days in Ireland (Errland, NOT I-err-land). One of the places I went to was Newgrange, an ancient place dating back three thousand years, B.C. Yes, B.C. It’s a place where our ancestors took pause from roaming and stopped. They found a rich valley, a sweet river, and plenty of stones with which to build. And build they did. They created what is regarded as a tomb that dates back before Stonehenge. A rounded building with a domed ceiling over a chamber, with three smaller chambers attached. The top photo shows the swirls found on a number of tablets. The second is a view from just outside the door of the tomb.
From the distance the eye sees only a slightly raised mound. Just a bump on a hill in this beautiful place. Yet what the archeologists found was the bones of us, not just human remains, but something that remains human today. That is the need to communicate. The need to tell others something we know.
For these five thousand years their story stays with us. Sadly, we don’t know what it is they had to say. We can guess our best, but that is what we have. These humans, these astronomers and farmers of so long ago, carved their story into rock, just as today we carve our stories onto our computers.
We still want others to know what it is we have to say.
That is the bones of us.
That is the heart of us.
We are storytellers.
It’s in our genes. It swirls through us, by us, in us, above us, below us. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Paranormal Lite: Teddy Jacobs, Elle Strauss, Shaunda Kennedy Wenger


Poe was in the mood for light, funny contemporary YA paranormals. Good indie versions are hard to find. Here are three worth sampling.

By Teddy Jacobs
Wicked Evil Press, 2012
Poe agrees that this is a YA paranormal romp

First sentence: She said she'd always be there for me, but she's gone, and it's all my fault.

The author's own description says it—this is a paranormal romp, a tongue-in-cheek riff on all the tortured themes and memes common in contemporary YA paranormals. (Why is Stanley, a lifelong vegetarian, suddenly salivating over red meat? Is Stan's best friend's girl actually hitting on Stan? And can things ever work out between a girl who's allergic to the sun and a guy whose teeth ache when the moon is full?)

The hook is reminiscent (in good ways) of M.T. Anderson's Thirsty.

(SC Poe will sample a more straightforward fantasy by Teddy Jacobs, Return of the Dragons, in an upcoming post.)

you like slick, fast, funny, and a guy MC for a change, then this may be your red meat.

By Elle Strauss
Self-published, 2011
Poe thinks this is younger YA time-travel romance lite.

First sentences: Everyone has to live with something. For instance, my hair is the unmanageable kind of curly, the color of burnt toast. Imagine waking up every morning looking like the Lion King. . . .

The other unmanageable element in Casey's life is time. She keeps slipping back to the 19th century. She does it so often she keeps suitable clothes buried in the forest outside the Wayback version of her hometown.

The sample is too short to get into the plot, but it introduces the time-travel hook and the romance, and assures us that the story will be full of fun. There's a sequel, too—Clockwiser.

(Elle Strauss is a member of the Indie Elite blog team.)

If you like a light read with a historical twist, then slip backwards in time with this MC.

By Shaunda Kennedy Wenger
Essemkay Company, 2011
Poe thinks this is younger YA paranormal romance lite

First sentence: A cockroach can live for eight days without its head.

The ghost in the title is named Wren, and she came with the house Myri Monaco lives in. Myri's just starting to age past her eternally-12-year-old ghost-friend; her newest preoccupation is Duey (who recently broke up with Myri's best flesh-and-blood-friend Roz).

This is another ebook whose sample is too short to get past the set-up and into the real story. But the blurb hints that Myri and Roz aren't the only girls Duey might be interested in. . . Wren might enter the romantic competition. So

If you like paranormal romance with a humorous twist, then this may be your next read.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

My Mother's Day Picture Book Picks

by Marcy Collier

As I read my Mother's Day cards and get ready to make brunch for our family, I contemplate what I'll write for my post tomorrow. In my older son's card, he listed reading as one of his favorite activities that we do together. I can remember years ago, Andrea (in our Route 19 group) told me "keep reading to your kids," especially after they have learned to read well on their own. Studies show that kids who continue to have a parent read to them regularly will become even stronger readers. I really believe this, and from reading to the boys from a very early age, they both love to read.

There are so many great books on our shelves, but I'll share three of my top picture book picks.


I remember when Carol used to bring little Mimi in a hat box to show our group various poses of her. When Mimi came out a few years ago, I fell in love with her all over again and so did my younger son. Mimi is by far one of his favorite books. The repetition and the search for Frank is delightful. We also have the tradition that when Mimi gets belly zerberts before bed, we also have to exchange belly zerberts (at least 20). Mimi is one of those books that you can read over and over again and never grow tired of it. Thanks Carol, for such an awesome book and for also answering questions like, "Can you please ask Carol how she made..." (the banana, the yogurt cup, bubbles, etc.).

First Day


I bought First Day by Joan Rankin years ago at a conference, and it has also been a regular bedtime story. Haybillybun is not sure he wants to go to Yappy Puppy Play school. Haybillybun tries to get his mom to go to school for him. From the silly names of the students to mom sneaking around the school to rescue her darling boy, it is a charming read for preschoolers.

Boy and Bot


Our newest favorite story is Boy + Bot written by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino. I had the pleasure of meeting Ame last year at the NJ SCBWI conference. When I heard that her book was out, I had to buy it for my robot-obsessed five-year old. When a boy and a robot meet in the woods, they immediately hit it off. But when Bot gets turned off, the boy is afraid his new friend might be sick. The usual remedies don't work. But when the boy falls asleep and Bot powers up, he is afraid the boy is ill. This is a book that you can read over and over again. I'm sure you'll also fall in love with it!

Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, May 11, 2012

There Must Be More To Life

A figure as towering as Maurice Sendak in the field of children’s literature deserves not one but a multitude of tributes, so I add my my own to Carol’s wonderful sentiments in Wednesday’s post.

I didn’t discover Maurice Sendak’s book Higglety Pigglety Pop! or There Must Be More to Life till my late 30s, but count it among my favorites.  Published in 1967 and dedicated to Sendak’s sealyham terrier, Jennie, Higglety Pigglety Pop! chronicles the adventures of Jennie the dog, who leaves home because “there must be more to life.”

            I re-read the book last night and was surprised to remember how terrifying it is.  Jennie becomes nurse to Baby, who refuses to eat.  A nurse gets just one chance to feed Baby, and if she fails, the nurse is eaten up by the downstairs lion.  Jennie calls Baby’s parents, who left Baby behind when they moved to Castle Yonder.  Baby’s mother explains, “[W]ith all the hustling and bustling we forgot our old address and phone number and just didn’t know how to get in touch.”  Jennie asks how she should send Baby back to her parents:

“By lion,” said the lady.  “There is one in the cellar and he knows the way.”
Jennie shivered.  “Did you know that lion has eaten up six nurses and I don’t know how many babies?”
“Tell him Baby’s name and he won’t dare eat her.”
“What is Baby’s name?  And what about me?”
There was no answer.
“Hello?  Hello?”
It was no use.  The lady had hung up.

What a horrifying rendition of childhood.  Not only have Baby’s parents abandoned her, but they hardly seemed to notice she was gone.  Baby’s Nurse is a hungry terrier who ate all the breakfast.  And the only way for Baby to get back to her parents is by lion.  Her mom and dad can’t even be bothered to give the nurse proper instructions to make sure Baby isn’t eaten on the way home.  And this is not the cordial, pretty lion of Pierre, Who Didn’t Care – who is scary enough in his own right – but a fanged, ferocious beast.

When I nibble my two-year-old daughter’s foot, she giggles and scolds, “No, don’t eat me.”  Re-reading Higglety, it dawns on me that she understands this game in a very different way than I do.  I just like to hold her in my arms and make her squeal.  But she is seeking daily confirmation that I am not, in fact, going to eat her.  If I nibble her foot with my teeth, she admonishes, “No, pretend!”  When I nibble with my lips, she relaxes, “That’s better.”  So for her there are levels of pretending.  Teeth are “real” pretending, and too scary.  Lips are pretend pretending, and safer.  “My God,” I think.  “I gnashed my terrible teeth.”  Sure enough, my daughter said, “Be still!”

Sendak had a direct access to the deepest fears of childhood and a gift for translating them to stories in a way that makes profound emotional sense to children.  In many ways, these fears transcend childhood to echo through our adult lives, for they are not merely children’s fears, but human fears.  In one way or another, don’t we all fear being devoured?  In her New York Times obituary for Sendak, Margalit Fox captured Sendak’s knack for trusting children’s perspectives, noting his respect for “the essential rightness of children’s perceptions of the world around them.”  How I love and admire that trust and aspire to let it guide my own work.

Reflecting on Sendak’s gift for channeling children’s fears helps remind me why we do this, why we devote ourselves to writing for children, why Saturday night at the Metz house looks like this:

Bruno Bettelheim wrote that for a story to enrich a child’s life, it must “stimulate his imagination; help him to develop his intellect and clarify his emotions; be attuned to his anxieties and aspirations; give full recognition to his difficulties, while at the same time suggesting solutions to the problems which perturb him…giving full credence to the seriousness of the child’s predicament.”

What could be more a more serious predicament than being abandoned by your parents and left in the cellar, staring into a lion’s gaping jaws?  Maurice Sendak was deftly attuned to children’s anxieties and treated them with the respect and seriousness and imagination they deserve.

In Higglety Pigglety Pop!, Sendak’s dog Jennie mused that there must be more to life than having everything or having nothing.  There is.  There is the possibility, however fleeting, of enriching one another’s lives, through writing or drawing or cooking or laughing or talking or, like Pierre, simply caring.

Thank you, Mr. Sendak, for enriching all of our lives.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Tribute to Maurice Sendak from an Unknown Protege

The cover of my well-thumbed copy of The Art of Maurice Sendak by Selma G. Lanes
Today the world is a sadder, wilder place because yesterday Maurice Sendak died.

I cannot remember a time when his books were not a part of my life. As a young child I doodleedoodleedoo-ooed in the virtual mud with his expressive children in Ruth Krauss's A Hole Is To Dig, sipped-once, sipped-twice, sipped Chicken Soup with Rice, visited Grandmother and Grandfather and dreamed of mermaids with Else Homelund Minarik's Little Bear stories, shuddered as I witnessed the scary power of magic in Robert Graves's Big Green Book -- and of course, I sailed off through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year as I journeyed to where the Wild Things are with Max.

His art and stories remained a part of my life as I grew older. I learned manners -with a touch of irreverence - from his giggle-inducing illustrations for Sesyle Joslin's What Do You Say, Dear? and discovered more obscure fairy tales and nursery rhymes, as well as the grimmer side of Grimm from some of his less known works.

As an adult, I cried for children left homeless by AIDS in We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy and explored a particularly creepy chapter of the Holocaust with Brundibar.

When I became a parent, I got to revisit old favorites from a new vantage point and relish how they touched my kids in the same ways they'd touched me. My firstborn, the sort who liked to put on his own homemade wolf suit and make mischief of one kind and another, could always tame his inner Wild Things with a snuggle and another reading (or recital, since we all had it memorized) of that favorite book. My silly middle child dissolved in giggles every single time a "butt-naked" Mickey crowed "Cock-a-Doodle-Doo" In the Night Kitchen, and my miniature-loving youngest read her Nutshell Library literally to tatters. (The replacement set still occupies a place of honor on her bookshelves.)

Phrases from his stories have become part of our family lexicon - distilled to their pith, they had the power to transform even strong emotions or heels-dug-in behavior. Needed to entice a reluctant child to come along and quickly? All I had to do was wheedle, "I'll let you fold the folding chair!" and my I-Don't Care Pierre smiled and joined me. Wanted to halt a brimming tantrum? "They rolled their terrible eyes!" turned growls and glares to giggles. And what better way to express the complexity of love and and anxiety and frustration than "I'll eat you up, I love you so!"
All that is enough to make my eyes brim with gratitude and tears at Sendak's passing. But I also weep because Maurice Sendak was my lifelong teacher and mentor, though he never knew it. So much of what I know about drawing, color, painting, word choice - and especially the design and gestalt of children's books -- I learned from studying (and often copying) his work. As a second grader, and long before I'd even heard the terms, I discovered how hatching and crosshatching could create form and depth, as well as the shiver-inducing beauty of chiaroscuro. I copied pictures from his books so many times, the images have become a part of my unconscious repertoire, as is evident in this doodle in one of my high school notebooks and in a school calendar cover I made during high school too:

Recognize the lion who ate Pierre?

I absorbed a love of the energetic activity and detailed line from works like A Hole Is to Dig
To me, there is no better picture book than Where the Wild Things Are. At once innovative and quintessential, it captivates with both its beauty and emotional resonance. I'll never stop studying it as I make my own books - I know I will never stop learning from it.

Tonight I'll sit in front of the shrine I'm assembling to mark a great man's passing. My coffee table already growls beneath the weight of my Sendakian library, waiting to be read again. I'll cue up Mozart's Magic Flute, which Sendak said inspired him. I'll light a candle, pore over The Art of Maurice Sendak, and hope I'm inspired to take up pen and brush.

And I'll say thanks - for bringing me pleasure, for making me think and feel, and for teaching me to create books for children.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Got Info Dump? Get a Paring Knife. AKA: How to Do Backstory

By Cynthia Light Brown

I submitted the first “act” of my upper middle grade urban fantasy to my critique group, looking for high-level feedback (i.e., not line edits, more story arc crit). One of my questions was whether there was any info dumping. I had some sections with some necessary backstory, and had worked to try to rid them of simply dumping information in long sections, and I wanted to know if I had achieved my aims.

I hadn’t. Or at least, not enough. My readers had issues with two of my sections. I’ve done some more trimming and tweaking, but I’m taking a hard look at how I’m doing backtory, and I’m developing a working hierarchy. My suggestions from least preferred to most preferred are below. (One caveat: Except for the first level, which is always a bad idea, all of the levels might work, depending on the story you’re writing. 
1.  Don’t Do This!  Have two people have a conversation where one character tells the another character information that is OBVIOUSLY just for the sake of the reader, because the other character either knows it already, or should know it. (Just in case you’re wondering, I at least wasn’t guilty of this.) This is NEVER a good way to impart needed information.
2.   Use a paragraph or more of exposition to explain things. This is usually not a good idea, although there are certain stories where it works.
3.  Two or more characters have a conversation where one tells the other information. If the dialogue is good, this can work, but it’s best in small doses. I used this one a lot – too much.
4.  Same as #3, but the characters are also doing some thing at the same time that is interesting. This is a method recommended in SAVE THE CAT. But that book is for screenwriting, and it’s easier to distract with fun action in a movie. In a novel, the action can just get in the way unless it’s connected to the actual conversation.
5.   Show the backstory as much as possible. So if you have a world with two species – one green humanoid and another purple insectoid, don’t tell us. Simply reveal those species. This is almost always a good method to use.
6.   Sprinkle information throughout if possible.
7.   Leave out the backstory. I thought I had pared out all of the unnecessary info (and believe me, I had pared out a lot), but in my rewrite I’m taking even more out. Take out so much that the reader is maybe just a tad confused, then back in just enough so they’re not confused anymore. EVERY story – not just fantasies – should have backstory that you never reveal to the reader. If that’s not the case, then either you have dumped too much info on your reader, or you don’t know enough about your plot and characters. The reader may not need to know what town your character was born in or what their middle name is, but you need to know.

So I’ve pared down my two info dump scenes, but I’m off to do some major surgery too. At least one scene has to be completely re-done – different setting, different set of people involved, different (more) action.

Other suggestions? Please comment if you have more thoughts – I know I’m not the only one with info dump issues.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Kids Say the Darndest Things

Just like writing in general,  sometimes poetry comes easy and sometimes not so easy.  But when a great idea comes along, how quickly we forget all that writer's block!  In classrooms when I conduct poetry workshops, there are children that struggle and harrumph.  Some have an "Aha!" moment later on.  Some do not.  But there are also children that giggle to themselves and create something instantly and gleefully.  Recently in a local classroom while a fifth grade boy was coupletting, he came up with this gem:

My name is Mr. Dracula
My cape is red and blackula

And why his delightful couplet reminded me of Dickie Birkenbush, I guess, is maybe not so obvious... Dickie was the twelve year old young man who provided the ending to Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel to Virginia Hamilton while she was dining with his family on their farm.*  Hamilton had shared the fact with her dinner hosts that she had literally written Mike and Mary Anne into a corner. Dickie suggested that the steam shovel could become the building's heating source.  "My father had a garage in town that had a steam heating system, so I was familiar with it."  Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel is, to my knowledge, the only children's picture book with an actual credit (only in the book's original edition) to a pint-sized problem solver, carefully acknowledged on page 39.  Though Dickie Birkenbush was really Dick Berkenbush, the spelling was never corrected.   But no matter.  A little boy's creativity helped to save the day.  And you just never know where those little boys are going to turn up.

*www.boston.com/ae/books/articles/2006/03/30/as_a_child_his_steam_fueled_hot_1939_childrens_classic/. Retrieved 2007-07-04.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


SC Poe is taking time off this week, and will return on the 3rd Wednesday of May.