Tag Archives: writing

Bridging the Generations

14 Nov

When writing for children, especially picture books, we need to remember the adult as well. We’ve often heard, it’s the adults who are the gatekeepers to children’s literature. Will they read this book repeatedly? Will they purchase this book? Today I want to add one more, Will they find themselves in this book? Today I did just that.

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Little Tree is a book about holding on and letting go. It’s a book about facing an unknown future. It’s a book about growing up.

It’s written for children. It’s written for adults. I’ll bet, it’s written for you.

For a summary of the story and suggested activities for Little Tree look HERE.

I met Loren Long, author and illustrator of Little Tree this morning. He was kind and giving with his audience. He shared his story of a little tree with us. It’s a story of watching his firstborn embark on his school career. Not once, but twice. He retold how frightening those experiences were for him as a parent watching his son go off to kindergarten… and then to college. And, we got to meet his son the college student and inspiration for the story, and see what a wonderful relationship they have and watch them work together on a piece of art for the bookstore.

 

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Here’s a picture of Loren sharing my favorite page:

“As his last leaf floated to the ground, for the first time Little Tree felt the harsh cold of winter.”

The artwork is stunning. And the text reminds me that when you finally let go of something that’s been holding you back, it can be cold and scary. But in the end, you know you that in order to grow… you must first let go.

Think back to the times it was hard for your little ones to let go… let go of their binky, let go of diapers, let go of their afternoon naps, let go of your hand in the school parking lot. It was a cold and scary time for them. You were there to dry their tears, give them comfort, help them through it.

And think of the times it was hard for you to let go and watch them grow. I think about the times when they fell and scraped their knees, when they boarded their first school bus, when they wanted to be dropped off at the mall without me, when they got their hearts broken for the first time, when they moved out of town. It really did feel like a harsh cold winter. I thought my heart was dying. But each time they came back to me taller and stronger… more of who they were and less of who I was. And it felt good.

See, what I mean about writing across generations? Loren Long has done that beautifully. I hope you pick up a copy for yourselves and feel the splendor of letting go as a wonderful thing.

 

 

 

The 7 Levels of Children’s Literature

12 Oct

I was having dinner with my husband’s cousins this weekend and the topic turned to my writing. “So, what are you working on?” I went on to describe a couple of my stories which are ‘out there’ waiting for representation and the new work I’m doing on the CYBILS Easy Reader and Early Chapter Book panel. The latter was met with cocked heads and furrowed brows. It wasn’t the Award that was confusing, it was the difference between Easy Readers and Early Chapter Books.

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It’s actually a look I’m quite familiar with; many of the parents of my second graders had the same look when I introduced them to the genres past picture books. Most of these parents, and I believe the general public, think there is one giant step their children make from picture books (which them deem as ‘too easy’ for their kiddos) to chapter books (which they erroneously believe their budding geniuses should be reading). I can’t tell you how many parents want their kids graduating from Dr. Seuss to Harry Potter in one fell swoop. And, as the gate-keeper to the class library, I should be the one to put these books in their hands. But I digress…

So, back to the confusion between the levels of children’s literature. Although someone else may have more or fewer, depending on how they organize their thinking, I’d like to discuss seven stages of children’s literature which correspond to children’s levels of reading development. These are categories which can be identified in most libraries and bookstores and are agreed upon terms by the kid lit community. Now, the tricky thing to remember about readers is that no one is totally in one category or another. Children often flow between two or three categories at a time, and should be encouraged to do so.

What I’ve done here to help ‘outsiders’ understand the differences, is to give an example of how the writing changes for each category. Beginning with a story told completely with illustrations and ending with a story told with no illustrations, topics of increasing maturity are presented to the reader.

1. Wordless: No text. (full illustrations)

2. Near Wordless: Duck. Worm. (full illustration)

3. Picture Book: Duck and Worm are friends. (full illustration)

4. Easy Reader: This is Duck. This is Worm. Duck and Worm are best friends. Duck likes to fish. Worm likes to draw. Worm drew a picture of Duck. “You are a great artist, Worm,” said Duck.   (some illustration)

5. Early Chapter Book: “Hey, Worm,” Mallard called to his little brother, Wesley. Mallard picked up his rod and reel. “Shake a leg.  We need to leave now if we want fish for dinner tonight.” Wesley yawned and threw his covers back. “I’m coming,” he said. (fewer illustrations)

6. Middle Grade: Mallard and Wesley marched into Coach Goliath’s office after football practice. Middle School is hard enough without having to deal with the social hierarchy forced upon them by the likes of the knuckleheads on the gridiron. It’s about time someone stood up for the rights of the little guy. And, with Mallard at his side, Wesley felt taller than his 4 foot 9 inches. (illustrated sporadically)

7. Young Adult: It’s unnatural. At least that’s what the demonstrators outside Oak Park City Hall claimed. Wesley shrank away from the chanting crowd. If anyone saw him, there would surely be a lynching tonight. Oak Park’s old guard wasn’t ready for high school prom queen like Wesley. And he wasn’t ready to provide them with one either. He clutched his carry-on bag in one hand and his ticket in the other. He darted toward Mallard’s waiting car at the edge of the parking lot. (text carries the story)

As you can see, the main differences in the levels are in the subject matter, vocabulary, sentence structure, and dependence on illustrations. Each one has a unique function and fills a need in children’s literature. Do not be tempted to rush a child you know through the levels. Take time. Savor the stories. Allow children to become confident, fluent readers who read for enjoyment… not to reach the next landmark… and you will have a happy, life-long reader.

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The Dark Cloud of Rejections

29 Jun

This has been a whirlwind month of joyous events. I have celebrated graduations, retirements, weddings, Father’s Days, birthdays, and anniversaries. I am surrounded by family and friends. I feel loved every single day. Even little activities like critique meetings, lunches, shopping, movie dates, and coffee with friends, fill me with delight.

Then I received back to back rejections on submissions.

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Gloom. Melancholy. Dejection.

Choices.

1. Grouse. (Not my style.)

2. Wallow in misery. (That sounds more like me.)

3. Reappraise the situation. (After a brief period of mourning.)

So I did a little shopping around and found a new umbrella. I kind of like this one. Bright. Cheery. Metaphorically speaking, just what I need. th

Now, under the protection of my bright, cheerful, metaphorical umbrella I can analyze the facts. Both of the rejections were polite, friendly even. Both were addressed to me by name. Both thanked me for sharing my work with them. Both reminded me that other people in the industry might be interested in representing me. Both wished me luck on my publishing journey. Neither suggested I quit writing. Neither recommended I reevaluate of my goals. Neither advised me to tear up my manuscript and never contact them again.

Look… the clouds are passing. I have renewed energy and a positive attitude. I will wait to hear from others on the submissions that are pending and I will spend the day working on my new project. But before I do, I might just take a minute to splash in the puddles!

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Journal

19 Apr

FullSizeRenderThis is a very special journal. I got it several years ago while I was still teaching. The cover intrigued me with its melting clock, random numbers and elastic side fastener. I knew exactly how I would use the minute I picked it up. It was my retirement planning journal. I jotted notes, phone numbers, workshops, passwords, etc on its pages. I took it to every retirement meeting I attended whether it was in-district or at the state offices. I took it with me to my finical planner twice a year. Sometimes I would just take it out, turn the pages, and stare at it. I wondered if it was really possible. Was it realistic? Was this attainable? This melting clock was my reminder that there was a day and time somewhere in the future when I would meet my retirement goals. And guess what? I did. Almost two years ago.

For the first year of retirement, this trusty journal remained with my official paperwork. I never opened it again, but I kept it just in case… just in case the IRS called me, just in case the school district called me, just in case the state retirement board called me, just in case.

Last year, I took it out. It was time to put it to good use again. After all, it served its purpose so well I thought I could get one more ‘miracle’ out of it. I tore out the pages pertaining to retirement and filed those in a manilla folder. Now, with a clean slate, I use the melting clock to remind me that in time (no one knows how long) I would be a published author.

This is my Submissions Journal. On each page, I write the title of a manuscript I have sent out into the world. Under the manuscript title, I write where, when, and to whom I sent it out. I count the months since the last submissions. I decide to either resubmit to new names and places or revise yet one more time. I take it out now and then just to stare at all the titles. I envision my published books in libraries and bookstores everywhere. But like my retirement plans, these things take time.

I added a new page yesterday… a new manuscript, a new name, date, and address.

On Ideas

30 Apr

I’ve been working on a character sketch for about a week now. I know her name, age, home, likes, dislikes, pretty much everything about her. I’ve also been working on a story to put her in, but nothing seemed to be just right. Then just before midnight as I was drifting off to sleep, this happened…

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I turned on the light, grabbed my laptop and started writing furiously. Luckily for me, my husband can sleep through my late night frenzies so I didn’t even have to leave my bed. As I read my first draft this morning, I realize that it’s not too bad. There’s a lot of work to do to get it right, but I’m on the right track. And now that I know where I’m going, the journey is going to be so much easier. Maybe I should just lie down for a little while.

On Creativity and Art

25 Apr

10153238_10203890570323989_6113696178644298692_nMy critique group met this morning. I shared something brand new and totally different from what I normally write. It kinda went over like a baloney sandwich at a banquet. It started out okay. It had a funny ending. But the middle was missing something. It just didn’t work. That’s not to say that the whole thing needed to be pitched, there were just some problems to address. So we focused on what worked. We talked about how to move from the initial concept to a desirable product.

So I went home with some sound advice and a plan. I knew where the strengths were and I knew what I wanted. The first thing I did was reread the original story with new eyes and the words of my critique partners ringing in my ears. Then I put it down, did some laundry, fed the dogs, read a new picture book, and worked on my blog. All the while, this was stewing in my head. I hadn’t planned on working on it today, I was going to let it simmer for a few days. That was the plan until … wham! It rushed at me full force.  I opened my computer and started revising. I finished it in less than an hour. And now I want to gather my group back together and scream, “Look at this! I’ve got it!” but I have to wait two more weeks to see them.  Oh well, maybe in that time, I’ll find something else to change.  If not I’ll start on my next project.

On Critiques – Bitter or Better?

3 Apr

You’ve got a story you really love.  Someone else thinks it needs more work.  What do you do?

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On the Turning of a Phrase

27 Mar

images-3Sometimes the turn of a phrase makes all the difference in a story.

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Passion

3 Jan

Passion

Writing is my Passion.
I will embrace it,
nurture it,
and grow with it.

Walk a Mile in His Shoes

17 Nov

In looking for writing inspiration, I was browsing my pinterest boards and found this gem I had forgotten about.  It is definitely worth sharing. Barbara Gruener writes a blog called Corner on Character.  She has loads of great teaching ideas to help kids learn character education values.  This one is called Empathy in a Shoe.  Basically, you have several different types of shoes in shoe boxes for children to look at.  Inside each one, she has written a situation that the person wearing those shoes might be in.  Then she asks students to answer the questions posed as that person.

(Note to self:  Change the wording in the box from ‘the person that’ to ‘the person who’.)

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http://wwww.corneroncharacter.blogspot.com

 I can still get to the blog posting from my pinterest account, but when I added it here, it would not open.  Hopefully you have better luck with it than I did.  

It’s a great technique for teaching empathy, but as I was browsing I realized it’s also a great technique for writing as well.  Once you know a little bit about your character, take a few minutes to walk in his shoes.  There’s so much more to learn.  I decided to try it out with one of my new story ideas and I was amazed at how much better my character sounded on the page!

Have fun working with this technique.  Leave me a comment, I’d love to know what you’re up to!

My Corner

15 Nov

A. A. Milne had a House at Pooh Corner.  Loggins and Messina sang about it.

I have my corner.  I think I prefer Pooh’s Corner.  I know I prefer Pooh’s Corner.  But for now, I’m satisfied with my own little corner of the world.  My own corner is for reading, writing, and thinking.  (And like Pooh, there are many times I think I’m a bear of very little brain.)

Leaving 30 years of teaching and accumulated paraphernalia behind was no small task, ask my husband!  I left much of what I had amassed in the hands of other young teachers, some just starting out.  My fiction and non-fiction collections of children’s books (minus some of my absolute favorites and duplicates which I kept for myself) went to two very special teachers and a host of young people they will work with over the next several years.  Assorted rugs, lamps, shelves, chairs, and bookcases were donated as needed to different classrooms.  Boxes and baskets of markers, crayons, highlighters, tape, staples, paint, post-it notes, memo books, spiral notebooks, bulletin board trim, paper bags, paper plates, baggies, stickers, stamp pads, Mailbox magazines, cleaning wipes, and glitter disappeared faster than free cookies!

But, that’s not to say that I cleansed myself of everything.  In the trunk of my car I carried mementos, reference books, stuffed animals/book characters, science and math tools I thought I could use with my grandchildren, and some things I knew I couldn’t live without!  Over the summer, I set up some bookshelves in my husband’s basement office and organized my treasures.  And I use the term ‘organized’ loosely!

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This month in my PiBoIdMo group, we’ve been talking a lot about our writing spaces.  Are you organized/disorganized, quiet/noisy, pen&paper/computer?  Below is a photo of my current work space.  It’s not a fancy office, but I like it.  It’s always quiet.  I keep the TV off and I don’t listen to music, I find noise too distracting for me.  I like to read books, newsletters, online articles… and I like to research there also.  I usually have a drink and my reading glasses within reach.  I use my laptop for everything.  If I lost or broke that I would be lost!  I keep all my files, story ideas, drafts, and finished pieces on my desktop.  The chair is large and comfy and I can put my feet up on the ottoman while I work!

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This is where I work, where I find that I love what I do!

So, I’ll leave you, dear reader, with a wish that you find your own special corner of the world where you can be yourself and find happiness.  As for me, like Loggins and Messina wrote, “I’ve got to get back to the house at Pooh Corner by one.”

Picture Book Idea Month – Day 5

5 Nov

Writing can be like navigating a maze.  There are so many choices and so many roadblocks.  It’s easy to fall into the notion that you’ve got a wonderful idea and so therefore the story will just write itself.  Wrong!  Along the path from beginning to end, you have to make good choices.  Characters, Setting, Problems, Solution…

November is PiBoIdMo.  And as writers and authors of picture books, we are being challenged to come up with 30 ideas in 30 days.  This, in and of itself is a lofty goal and to be taken lightly.  But I’d like to talk about what happens afterwards.    Eventually we will work on developing these ideas into one or more manuscripts.  This might be an easier task if we ask ourselves a few questions along the way, maybe start adding more notes to our idea pages.  I don’t mean write the whole first draft, but maybe just let the editor take a peek at the idea.  I think our PiBoIdMo work will be stronger for it.

Character

Character

Should my main character be male or female?  Is my main character a person or an animal?  What makes him/her lovable, or at least likable?  How old is my character?  What unique attributes does my main character have?  And how will these help him/her?

Setting

How will the setting influence the character’s journey?  Is the setting helpful or a hinderance?  Can or should the main character alter the setting?  Where will the character be at the end of the story?  Is the setting an actual place or a state of being?

Problem

Problem

How many problems will the character encounter along the journey?  Will he/she be able to overcome the obstacles?  Can the main character solve his/her own problem, or will they need help?  How is the character changed by facing these problems?

Solution

Solution

Solutions too, can be particularly difficult.  A solution can’t be so easy as to make the reader wonder why this character was so stumped to begin with.  And it can’t very well come out of left field.  So how will I lead the reader toward the solution from the beginning?  Or should it be a surprise ending?

Isn’t it amazing!  (pun intended)  And writing for children makes every one of these choices all the more challenging.  We must keep the story moving forward and wrap everything up in less than a thousand words!

 

For more information go to taralazar.com

For more information go to
taralazar.com

Picture Book Idea Month – Day 1

1 Nov

Let’s see….

Coming up with ideas is easy no sweat a piece of cake…. oh never mind, I’ll just change my profile picture to a giraffe instead!  Hey wait, giraffe… a green giraffe who doesn’t have any friends, oh was that already taken?  OK, I can do this… just let it flow freely… water flows freely.  Coffee!  Maybe I’ll just stop for a minute and make myself a cup.  Anybody else? I’m already up, let me get you something.  Now, focus… I feel a little like Pooh tapping his head, “Think, Think, Think”  Hmmm…nothing.  Check your facebook page,  check your PiBoIdMo post… great idea!  Tammi Sauer suggested coming up with just the titles today and work on the story behind the titles later.  Now I’ve got a goal.  Yeah, not even one.  Let’s try again.  Did you know that I just exhaled exactly nine times in one minute?  Is that too much?  Is that not enough?  Akkkk… I don’t know the appropriate number of times a normal person exhales in one minute!   Quick, someone google that for me, I might be dying!

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Now, google, that’s a funny word.  I bet if I spend the rest of the day on google I could come up with some TOTALLY AWESOME picture book ideas and titles today….

Squirrel!

Picture Book Idea Month

Picture Book Idea Month

For more information about Picture Book Idea Month visit http://taralazar.com/2013

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Following a Dream

24 Sep

New Beginnings

From a tiny acorn, a mighty oak is grown.

I myself sprouted just over a half century ago, give or take a few years… okay give a few.  During that time I have entertained many different dreams.  Many have come true.. I have a wonderful husband, three amazing children, and two perfect grandchildren.  I have also been fortunate enough to have a career I loved and the luxury of an early retirement.  I admit, I have been very blessed.

So now phase two of my life… writing for children.  Crafting stories that are cherished by generations, now that’s a dream!  Role models:  A.A.Milne, Roald Dahl, Theodor Geisel, Kevin Henkes, Arnold Lobel, Beatrix Potter, the Brothers Grimm, Aesop, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Jan Brett,    L Frank Baum, E.B. White,  Lewis Carroll, Shel Silverstein, and so many more.   Dream big or go home, right?   So I’m going to dream big.

Juliana Lee, Sprout

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