Author Archives: laurakvasnosky

QUALITY WORDS

Like Mark Twain, I am a sucker for the right word. Twain’s the one who famously noted the difference between the right word and the almost-right word is akin to the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

For instance, I was immediately won over by my sister Susan Britton’s novel-in-progress which begins:

Jara, the lightest of sleepers, heard the noise first—the snick of a key in the lock, the creak of the door, the scuff of boots on the concrete floor of the main room below her. No light leaked up the ladder opening into the attic where she lay in bed. The Takers had a rule about no light. Immediately, Jara’s whole self went crazy with fear except for a small important part of her that knew exactly what to do. She had been practicing for this moment since she was twelve years old. Now she was fifteen.

She had me at “snick.”

Our very youngest readers deserve a rich vocabulary in their books even more. They are acquiring language, and the picture book has a big role in introducing a wide vocabulary. It can present ”the right word” in a context that reveals specific, nuanced meaning.

PZonka-Interior-WorkingA spectacular use of “spectacular” in Julie Paschkis’ new book, P. Zonka Lays an Egg, just out from Peachtree. “Spectacular” describes the title chicken’s first creative output.

Last month in the New Yorker, I read about a program in Providence, RI called Providence Talks that encourages low-income parents to talk more frequently with their kids. This effort is based on the word-counting studies done in the 1980s that determined the number of words children hear in their early years correlates with academic success, better health, and higher income later in life. (These studies also inspired Geoffrey Canada’s amazing Harlem Children’s Zone project).

The word-counting scientists found that wealthy parents talked more with their kids. As recounted in The New Yorker, “Among the professional families, the average number of words that children heard in an hour was twenty-one hundred and fifty; among the working-class families, it was twelve hundred and fifty; among the welfare families, it was six hundred and twenty. Over time, these daily differences had major consequences. Researchers concluded that with few exceptions, the more parents talked to their children, the faster the children’s vocabularies were growing and the higher the children’s I.Q. test scores at age 3 and later.”

SWOOPMore perfect words: from Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson (Candlewick). The “swoop” makes me swoon.

The White House took on this issue, too, in a conference last October on “bridging the word gap.” Their conclusion had a different emphasis: “Among 2-year olds from low-income families, quality interactions involving words — the use of shared symbols (“Look, a dog!); rituals (Want a bottle after your bath?”; and conversational fluency (Yes, that is a bus!”) were even a better predictor of language skills at age 3 than any other factor, including the quantity of words a child heard.”

Certainly being read to provides quality interactions involving words, as a letter the New Yorker’s Mail section noted a few weeks after the article about Providence Talks. The letter writer extolled the importance of the quality of words young children hear, and noted researchers at UC Santa Cruz found: “Picture books were three times as likely as child-directed speech to use a word that isn’t among the most common English words; a result found regardless of parents’ social class.”

That’s our job as picture book writers: to serve up quality words that exactly serve the story. The right word in context broadens vocabulary and fits like the snick of a key in a lock.

luluOne last example, from Harry and Lulu by Arthur Yorinks, illustrated by Martin Matje (Hyperion). The text reads:

Harry jumped up on the bed and licked Lulu’s face from top to bottom. Lulu was delirious. Then she remembered.

“Wait a minute,” she said to Harry. “You’re not a dog. You’re just a stupid stuffed animal and maybe I should throw you out the window or kick you down the sewer or something!!” Lulu went to grab him.

Harry thought of yelping for help, but instead he decided to speak English.

“Delirious.” A quality word.

Could Boredom Become a Guilty Pleasure?

We once went to a Guilty Pleasures holiday party. My husband wrapped up a pack of Q-Tips for the gift exchange. Another guy brought one of those Safeway roasted chickens in the tinfoil pack. My favorite was a pair of giant underpants that had four leg openings. The guy who unwrapped it said, “Guess I’ll be carpooling home tonight.”

My guilty pleasures are simple: relaxing in a hot bath while watching an episode of Friday Night Lights on my iPad, or listening to an audio book on my iPhone while gardening away a Saturday, or even just playing WordsWithFriends and checking email on my phone while waiting at a traffic signal.

I know it’s wasting time, but I didn’t realize there was a bigger cost to my technology-filled approach to downtime. That’s because I didn’t know about the correlation between boredom and creativity.

I learned about it Monday on NPR. In a segment called Bored and Brilliant – the Lost Art of Spacing Out, New Tech City’s Manoush Zomorodi reported on “studies that suggest we get our most original ideas when we stop the constant stimulation and let ourselves get bored.” In fact, one study showed that subjects who were assigned the most boring task – reading the phone book – came up with the most novel ideas.

Manoush spoke with cognitive neuro-scientist Dr. Jonathan Smallwood who studies the relationship between mind wandering and creativity. “There is a close link between originality, creativity and novelty on the one hand and the spontaneous thoughts we generate when our minds are resting,” he said. In short, he said creativity is dependent on daydreams which are dependent on boredom, the default resting state of the brain.

When you turn to your phone to avoid boredom, you also miss out on the creativity that bubbles up from your resting brain. Further, Smallwood said, when we use cell phones to fill every moment of spare time, we don’t have a chance to “see and learn where we are in terms of our goals,” what scientists term “autobigraphical planning,” a form of positive, constructive daydreaming. Without sufficient autobiographical planning, people get stuck in a rut.

The New Tech City podcast is aimed at cell phones, perhaps the most harmful interrupter of boredom. Who is not familiar with what Smallwood calls the “easy, lazy junk food diet of the phone?” I’d include its hussy big sister, the iPad, so seductive with NetFlix and audio books and games. I realize I often scroll and swipe to fill the silence in the nooks and crannies of time that used to be prime for daydreaming. There was a time when it was pleasure enough to take a hot bath, or weed and spread compost, or drive along the coast without connecting to the internet. Was I more creative then?

Luckily, the folks at New Tech City are leading a program to help people decrease cellphone use and thus rediscover the art of spacing out. I am curious to see how it might impact my creative life, so I signed up.

And I made a resolution for 2015: Get bored more. I think I’ll start with a hot bath…

• • • • •

You might like to listen yourself: Bored and Brilliant – the Lost Art of Spacing Out. http://www.wnyc.org/story/bored-brilliant-project-part-1/

THESE THINGS MATTER

Ever come across a passage in a novel that you can’t wait to share with one friend or another? When I first read the following passage from Mink River by Brian Doyle, I immediately thought of Julie Larios. I was sure she would like it. She lives the flanneur life and has a poet’s attention to detail. I reached for the phone.

Then I remembered my turn at this blog was fast approaching. I put down the phone and started typing. I expect not just Julie, but most of our BooksAroundTheTable readers will eat it up. It’s the entire chapter 30 of Mink River, all in one paragraph and worth reading aloud:

30.

These things matter to me, Daniel, says the man with six days to live. They are sitting on the porch in the last light. These things matter to me, son. The way hawks huddle their shoulders angrily against hissing snow. Wrens whirring in the bare bones of bushes in winter. The way swallows and swifts veer and whirl and swim and slice and carve and curve and swerve. The way that frozen dew outlines every blade of grass. Salmonberries thimbleberries cloudberries snowberries elderberries gooseberries. My children learning to read. My wife’s voice velvet in my ear at night in the dark under the covers. Her hair in my nose as we slept curled like spoons. The sinuous pace of rivers and minks and cats. Rubber bands. Fresh bread with too much butter. My children’s hands when they cup my face in their hands. Toys. Exuberance. Mowing the lawn. Tiny wrenches and screwdrivers. Tears of sorrow, which are the salt sea of the heart. Sleep in every form from doze to bone-weary. Pay stubs. Trains. The shivering ache of a saxophone and the yearning of a soprano. Folding laundry hot from the dryer. A spotless kitchen floor. The sound of bagpipes. The way horses smell in spring. Red wines. Furnaces. Stone walls. Sweat. Postcards on which the sender has written so much that he or she can barely squeeze in a signature. Opera on the radio. Bathrobes, backrubs. Potatoes. Mink oil on boots. The bands at wedding receptions. Box-elder bugs. The postman’s grin. Linen table napkins. Tent flaps. The green sifting powdery snow of cedar pollen on my porch every year. Raccoons. The way a heron labors through the sky with such vast elderly dignity. The cheerful ears of dogs. Smoked fish and the smokehouses where fish are smoked. The way barbers sweep up circles of hair after a haircut. Handkerchiefs. Poems read aloud by poets. Cigar-scissors. Book marginalia written with the lightest possible pencil as if the reader is whispering to the writer. People who keep dead languages alive. Fresh-mown lawns. First-baseman’s mitts. Dishracks. My wife’s breasts. Lumber. Newspapers folded under arms. Hats. The way my children smelled after their baths when they were little. Sneakers. The way my father’s face shone right after he shaved. Pants that fit. Soap half gone. Weeds forcing their way through sidewalks. Worms. The sound of ice shaken in drinks. Nutcrackers. Boxing matches. Diapers. Rain in every form from mist to sluice. The sound of my daughters typing their papers for school. My wife’s eyes, as blue and green and grey as the sea. The sea, as blue and green and grey as her eyes. Her eyes. Her.

• • • • • •

That’s it. A list of what matters to this man who has six days to live. I love it for its specificity – Book marginalia written with the lightest possible pencil as if the reader is whispering to the writer. – and for its cadences – Red wines. Furnaces, Stone walls, Sweat. I love it because it is both universal – The way a heron labors through the sky with such a vast elderly dignity. – and personal – My children’s hands when they cup my face in their hands. It spans the natural world and the manmade world, the pedestrian and extraordinary, quotidian and eternal. I love the accumulation of it. How all the images and items add up to yearning. And the voice. It is a look over life, sifting through seasons for what matters. It is necessarily nostalgic but not schmaltzy.

What a wondrous list!

Though I hope I have more than six days to live, I thought I should get started on a list of things that matter to me: My husband singing in the kitchen. The way garlic sprouts poke through leaf mulch. The smell of oak duff on a California hillside. Moonlight. Ukulele. Good pruners. Pears…

Hey Julie Larios – what would be on your list of what matters? Anyone else want to play?

ANOTHER LINE OR TWO ABOUT LINES

Last week Julie Paschkis wrote here about lines – the lines that make up illustrations.

I’d like to add to the lines conversation – only I want to talk about lines that relate to text. It was a subject of discussion when I talked to Jolie Stekly’s UW-extension class in Writing for Children this week. We talked about lines that describe the plot of a story. Graphic plotlines.

SELFIE

PICTURE BOOK  — To start, here’s a simple graph that uses a line to indicate the rising dramatic tension in a picture book.sharkfinThink of it as a sharkfin. Tension rises continuously to a climax followed by a quick denouement/resolution.

carrot seedA classic example of this is Ruth Krauss’ The Carrot Seed, illustrated by Crockett Johnson. A little boy plants a seed. Tension mounts as his various family members tell him it won’t grow. He persists. He weeds and waters. Family members again say it won’t grow. He weeds, waters, waits. Then the climax: “a carrot came up,” and the resolution “just as the little boy had known it would.”

NOVEL — For a basic novel graph, you can’t beat the Cascades profile.

PGcascades

Here are the three acts, beginning/middle/end, each with its own rising tension and climax, all building together to the biggest climax and the resolution. I first learned about this profile from Barthe deClements who is a fellow Northwesterner, thus the Cascades Mountains get naming rights.

MORE ABOUT STORY STRUCTURE — Norma Fox Mazer gave a memorable lecture at Vermont College of Fine Arts about how “a novel’s structure is the glass that holds the wine.” (Now there’s a good line.) Like Barthe, she talked about the structure of the novel as a three act play, explaining each act has its own beginning, middle and end. Each act has its role to play. The opening act must introduce character, setting and conflict; the middle is the place for rising struggle and confrontation, and the end turns on the climax and resolution.

Norma recommended creating a story ladder as you begin revising a novel. This is a scene-by-scene list of essential actions, emotions and characters as the story progresses.

Working on my present middle grade novel project, I decided to combine Norma’s story ladder with Barthe’s Cascade graph. I wrote a short description for each scene on a strip of paper. Then I rated each scene for dramatic tension. (The note beside my computer reads: It is not a scene if it does not have conflict.)

Next, I laid them out on our dining room table, letting each strip poke up in a little mountain range at heights that related to how much dramatic juice each scene held.tablemtn

It was helpful-ish. I began to see where the three acts of this project were located. And that long flat place in the middle – a sort of valley in the jagged mountain range of chapter strips – clearly needs attention.

A FEW OTHER LINES — One of the best known graphic depictions of plot is the circle that describes the Hero’s Journey. Joseph Campbell wrote about this plot sequence that is often found in myths and fairy tales. It’s a circle with many proscribed story elements along the way.

HEROJOURNEY

There are other, more simple, depictions of plot as well.

In the world of early readers, you sometimes encounter the umbrella profile – each chapter has it’s own rising conflict, climax and resolution. Sometimes there’s an overarching plotline that rises across the whole work to the biggest climax in the last story/chapter.

umbrella

Of course, all plots don’t run chronologically. One fairly common one works sort of like a fly fishermans’ cast. The story opens with a compelling scene that is in fact close to the chronological end of the story, then the author suspends that plot line and circles back in time to fill in back story, bringing the reader back to that compelling scene, picking up that suspended plot line and following through to the climax and resolution. Kathi Appelt’s Keeper follows this profile, as does Bruce Colville’s Jeremy Thatcher Dragon Catcher.

flyfisher

Then there are plots with two characters whose storylines each have rising tension as they find their way to be together, a fir tree profile. My favorite example of this is Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, an adult book.

firtree

In the wings profile, the story begins with the characters together, then each circles out on his/her own adventures and they meet again, each changed, at the end, like in The Prince and the Pauper.

wings

Shark fin, Cascades, Hero’s Circle, Umbrella, Flyfisherman, Fir Tree, Wings — all of these graphic depictions of plot supply helpful visuals when you are considering how to shape your story.  That’s my finish line.

AUTUMN DUET: 1979 SONORA / 2014 SEATTLE

In 1991, the singer Natalie Cole created the album Unforgettable: With Love. You have probably heard of it, since eventually it sold over five million copies. The title track featured her singing a duet via electronic elaboration with her father, Nat King Cole, who died in 1965.

In a similar spirit of collaboration, I wrote today’s blog with my dad, Harvey McGee. It’s based on Dad’s account of autumn in the California foothill town of Sonora, where he was editor and publisher of the Union Democrat from 1959 until his death in 1998. His part appeared October 2, 1979, as his Sierra Lookout column. My part – an account of early autumn 2014 in Seattle – is in italics.

logo guy2.fhTHE SWEET, mossy smell of summer no longer drifts up from the creek in the late afternoon.

Twice now, the ravines have been flooded briefly with the sharp scents turned loose by moisture on brown grass. But it was only light rain, and the fields still crunch underfoot.

We’ll have to wait longer for the deep, heavy aroma that rises when the year’s buildup of twigs, pods, eaves and seeds is brewed by a soaking downpour.

Meanwhile, the light scents will do, especially when mixed with crisp mornings, soft yellow afternoons and blazing sunsets.

foxlogoTHE SWEET, piney smell of sunsoaked Douglas fir no longer flavors my late afternoon walks.

Twice now, rain has pounded our metal roof with downpours worthy of Hawaiian monsoons, releasing the heavy scent that rises when the summer’s buildup of twigs, pods, dry grasses and seeds is brewed by a drenching shower.

 (I love that there’s a word for this aroma: “petrichor,” the scent of rain on dry earth, a word constructed from the Greek, petros, meaning ‘stone,’ and ichor, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology. Even in Seattle, a rain elicits this lovely fragrance at summer’s end.)

The sun slants low at the end of day, flooding the garden with golden light.

(I just learned today that the Japanese have a word for sunlight shining through leaves of a tree: komorebi. This time of year the angle of light in the Northwest is prime for komorebi.)

autumn light

logo guy2.fhTHE MOSQUITO that whined in the bedroom all summer as soon as the lights went out has now gone. He’s been replaced by a buzzing, hopping creature that disappears when the lights go on.

And the weekend traffic lined up at the stoplight has changed again. Summer’s stream of family-loaded station wagons has trickled away, and now the lineup is dominated by pickup-campers, their cabs filled mostly with men and rifle racks.

foxlogoTHE DISTANT whine of power washers and weed-whackers yields to the hum of leaf blowers.

Streets fill with yellow school buses again. We hope the traffic snarls caused by summer road repairs will soon be over.

logo guy2.fhTHE SWIMSUITS draped on the back porch railing have been dry for weeks, and I can drop onto the nearby lounge chair without first removing a soggy mound of towels.

The ivy bed is reviving, now that the dog has stopped sleeping away his afternoons there. All that lush poison oak has retreated down its long stems in preparation to burst forth with even greater viciousness next spring.

foxlogoTHE GARDEN has its last hurrah. We harvest beans and tomatoes and plant kale, lettuce, spinach and garlic for winter crops while the dog snoozes under the camellia.

logo guy2.fhTHE GLOW of football field lights floods the early darkness. Listen and you’ll hear that whistles and chanting voices have now joined the background din of barking dogs, spinning tires and straining log trucks.

All that remains of the grandchildren’s vacation visits is an occasional plastic block, left for painful discovery by a barefoot grandparent.

And in the mailbox there’s a Christmas catalog.

It’s autumn.

foxlogoTHE GLOW of football field lights floods the early darkness. Listen and you’ll hear that whistles and chanting voices have now joined the background din of barking dogs, spinning tires and planes flying overhead.

The grandnephews are back in school. All that remains of our Camp Runamok campfire is the charred spot on the driveway gravel.

And in the mailbox there’s a Christmas catalog.

It’s autumn.

 (I think I’ll give Natalie and Nat King Cole the last word: It’s Unforgettable.)

AUDIENCE RESEARCH by Wise Owl

When it comes to knowing your audience, nothing beats spending some time with kids.

Recently I had just such a chance. Our triplet grandnephews came over for a night at “Camp Runamok.” They enter fifth grade this week. That’s the age of the protagonist in my middle grade novel-in-progress, so I have more than a great aunt’s interest in kids of their age. My writer self was not disappointed. They are fascinating: their expressions, their songs, games, ideas, interactions. But what hit me most of all is their relationship to story.

dusty

We made up camp names, had a treasure hunt, got started building rockets, set up a four-man tent on our scrap of lawn, ate pizza, played “Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater” many times on the piano, watched the movie Frozen, lit a campfire on the gravel driveway, sang, ate s’mores. I noted that ten-year old boys laugh a lot about bodily functions — as expected — but are also quite entertained by word play. These three are sportsy guys, so between planned activities there was lots of broom ball and jump rope and general messing around. We considered looking up how to throw a lasso on You Tube. We discussed the possibilities of the Mariners getting a Wild Card berth.

But what struck me most was how important stories are to them. They had seen Frozen once before, but wanted us to see it, so that’s the vid they chose. They knew it in detail, even down to reciting some of the lines. We sang along wholeheartedly, “Do you want to build a snowman?” and “Let it go, let it go.” They seemed quite satisfied with the conclusion, with how true love changes the world.

Bedding down in the tent – three boys, one dog and me – we got out the iPad to listen to their favorite scary story. This, too, they knew in detail from one previous hearing. The Axe Murderer. They loved being scared by it. They talked about some of their favorite books: Avi’s The Orphan City, Gary Paulson’s Harris and Me, James Patterson’s The Treasure Hunters, Cal Ripkin Junior’s series.

The boys’ deep response to stories points to a big responsibility. When we write for children, we hope to create stories that matter to them, that become part of how they see the world, that connect.

As the boys slept soundly, I savored the peace that was in our tent. And I wondered how to reckon such sweetness with news of beheadings, ebola virus, police violence, Russian invasions, sea star wasting syndrome, etc. etc.

I didn’t have an answer. But I do know stories can be a refuge. So I started telling myself a story about three boys and a dog camping in a tent under Seattle skies…

A NEW CHAPTER

For the past 37 years, my husband John left our house every Monday through Friday and headed south to Boeing for his job in public relations. I worked at home.

It was a good fit for both of us. I like lots of quiet time to write and draw and follow my thoughts. He likes the interaction of communication around issues like airplane production and financing and the intricacies of the Export-Import bank.

But now John has retired. We took a celebratory hiking trip to Lake O’Hara, British Columbia, but beginning today we will both be at home.

photo

Hiking near Opabin Lake above Lake O’Hara.

Luckily, Julie Larios’ husband Fernando retired a few years ago. He offered John a surefire strategy for sharing space with a wife who gets lost in her creative ether: wear a cowbell. That way, he explained, your creative cohabitant hears you coming and does not jump out of her skin when you clear your throat and she is suddenly aware of your presence.

Perhaps some of our BATT blog readers have more suggestions for John and me as we begin this new chapter? I am all ears.

Maybe that’s the problem. Ironically, as I write this, I am distracted by the radio playing in the kitchen. Argh! To calm down, I remind myself it is John I have to thank for the idea of this blog — and for cleaning up the kitchen…

P.S. If you are in the Seattle area – a wonderful event takes place this Sunday noon to 4 at Dunn Gardens: Mallets in Wonderland, http://dunngardens.org/upcoming-events.  John and I are running the White Rabbit’s Zucchini Racetrack. The gardens are transformed into a magical Alice’s Wonderland with croquet courts, beer & brats lunch, lots of children’s events and sunshine. All for a good cause: the preservation of this historic Olmsted-designed estate.

 

 

 

 

Maplewood Elementary Fourth Grade Writing Club

In April, I wrote here about my plans to lead a writing club for fourth graders at Maplewood Elementary in Edmonds. For a month, 16 or so kids gave up their Monday and Tuesday lunch recesses to participate.

The results were impressive. I was astounded at what these kids could create in a half hour session. I loved their open willingness to dive in and write.

One of the exercises we tried was sent by Terry Pierce, UCLA-ext. writing teacher: author Jill Corcoran’s Art-Music-Poetry Jam Workshop. We turned it into a three-parter. I will use the work of Maplewood student Damaris I. — with her permission and her parents’ permission — to illustrate our experience.

We began by painting to music. My friend, pianist Julan Chu, suggested Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Perfect! Mussorgsky wrote this composition in 1874, after viewing the retrospective art show of a deceased friend. It offers yet another layer of cross-arts jam.

We set up all my paint palettes and laid out brushes on the library tables. The kids listened carefully to the music and responded with paintings.

DI.painting

Damaris’ painting, created to Mussorgsky’s music.

At our next meeting, we spread out the paintings and the kids walked around the tables, post-its in hand. They gave each other words suggested by the paintings.

DI.words

Damaris was given these words: splatter (to which she rhymed matter), colorful, explosion, mixed, whispy, wocky, very green, grassy, wonderland, big and new, magic, magic spell, wet, mystical, mystery, misty, green mist

The third part was to turn those words into a poem or prose piece of writing.

DI.poem

Damaris wrote: “A green mist rose from a magic spell. The land would be mixed the forest could tell. Then a explosion arose, and everything was misty. The sky turned gray, and the trees became whispy. Everything was a mystery, with tons of spatter, and nothing knew what could be the matter. When the mist cleared, the woods were wet. Everything changed, a whole new set. The forest was grassy, mystical too, a great wonderland, big and new.

The writing was amazing, as you can see: pieces of writing that began as a painting exhibition that inspired Mussorgsky’s music that inspired our student paintings that inspired words, then poems. Round and round the arts we go.

Next time I feel like there is not enough time to sit down and dig into writing, I will think back to those lunch recess meetings of the Maplewood Fourth Grade Writing club and get started.

I want to add a shout out to Mr. B., aka librarian Paul Borchert, who also gave up his lunch recesses and helped in every way to make our writing club so wonderful. More thanks to Terry and Jill and Julan and Damaris — and to Betsy Britton and Grabrielle Catton who carried on for Paul and me the day we were both unable to teach.

Here’s a link to Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXy50exHjes&feature=kp

And here are the writing exercise instructions:

Jill Corcoran’s Art-Music-Poetry-Jam Workshop:
Suggested grades: 2 – 5
Time required: 1 hour
Supplies needed: Boom box with selected music, 11” x 17” white paper, crayons, pencils, Post-it notes, scotch tape
1. Briefly discuss the power of art, music and poetry to evoke emotion.
2. Pass out 11” x 17” piece of white paper and crayons to each student.
3. Have students listen to music for several minutes and then draw whatever the music makes them feel. (I play about 4-5 minutes of music)
4. Pass out a pad of Post-it notes and a pencil to each student and have them form a line to walk around the room and look at each picture.
5. At each picture, the students write the first word that comes to their minds on the sticky paper. They leave that word with the picture. Instruct the students not to write words like “cool” or “fun,” but to write nouns, verbs or strong adjectives.
6. The students then return to their pictures to find 20+ words written by their fellow students.
7. With their words and pictures in front of them, and the music playing once again, students create a poem from the words they have been given. (Once their poems are finished, have each student tape their Post-it-notes poem to the back of their picture. Otherwise the notes tend fall off.)
8. Ask the students to read their poems aloud. At the end of the hour, each student has created a poem that reflects the music they encountered, the art this music evoked from them and the words their art evoked in others.

Generosity

I suppose it is well known that our children’s book community is generous. But last week topped it all.

This story begins April Fool’s Day, 1992, on my first trip to meet the editors in New York. I had an appointment with Lucia Monfried, editor of Dutton Children’s books. She met me at the elevator, holding the dummy I’d mailed to her for What Shall I Dream?

wsidcover785

“We’d love to publish your text,” she said.

A generous offer, for sure, but I’d hoped she’d be interested in my illustrations as well. We walked to her office and she leafed through my portfolio. She stopped at a piece for a board book idea. She liked that, too, and eventually bought two board books and the aforementioned text. What a day.

prbcover788

But like Julie P. wrote in last week’s BATT post, many hands go into making the cookies. I should back up here to note the generosity that got me to that editor’s desk: primarily the generosity of Keith Baker, Seattle author and illustrator, who taught a most wonderful class in Children’s Book Illustration at the School of Visual Concepts in Seattle. That’s where I learned to make dummy books and put together a portfolio.

whosthebeastcover787

I wouldn’t have been ready for New York without the unending encouragement and discernment of our critique group, as well. I had met Julie Paschkis and Margaret Chodos-Irvine in Keith’s class. In those first years I attended all the SCBWI presentations I could find — and the generosity of the authors and illustrators who offered ideas and shared their skills also played a role.

Editor Monfried selected illustrator Judith Byron Schachner of Swarthmore, PA for What Shall I Dream?  This was before Judy made her big hit with the hilarious Skippy Jon Jones picture book series.

What Shall I Dream? came out in 1996. The illustrations were beautiful and full of humor and wonder.

wsidcover.795

Fast forward to present times. Judy Schachner and I are facebook friends. Lately she has been posting images from her many books. One day that included art from What Shall I Dream?  I commented how much I loved it.

This week a fat yellow envelope arrived, full of original art from What Shall I Dream?  Way more than I could have dreamed. How amazing to see in person the heart and thought and skill that went into these vivid watercolors.

jbsoriginal3.791 kvasnosky 2

jbsoriginal1.789 jbsoriginal2.790   kvasnosky 1jbsoriginal5.793

I love the pencil sketch on tissue paper that she sent along, too, of the cover in its planning stages.

jbsoriginal4.792

Mostly I am struck by her wonderful generosity. Thank you, Judy. I will treasure this gift.

WRITING RECESS

Next week I get to start a series of Writing Workshops with a group of fourth graders at Maplewood Elementary in Edmonds. The kids are giving up their lunch recesses to take part. I hope they end up writing like they play out on the playground – with fun and abandon.writex2677

This week, I am gathering ideas for writing games, exercises and prompts. Here are some possibilities:

1. ROUND ROBIN WRITING. This emphasizes the basic form of any story: beginning, middle, end. Using a prompt, (I think I’ll go with “I used to live in a palace…”), kids have six minutes to write a beginning to a story. Then we trade papers and take six more minutes to write middles that fit the beginnings received. Then shift again and on to endings. We finish up by reading our creations, an important part of all writing shenanigans.

2. PICTURE THIS. I have a pile of photos that evoke story. Each kid can choose one as a starting place and see where the story goes. writex4679

3 and 4. COULD WE LIVE HERE? Two sessions. First session, as a group we will create a setting, voting as necessary to narrow things down. Then we’ll brainstorm a list of characters who might live in this place.

In the second session, each kid chooses one of these characters to write into a story in that place.  This is a suggestion from Cassie Cross who teaches at Bellevue College. I wonder if it will work as well with fourth graders as college students?

writex16765. MAPMAKING. Each student maps a place that is special to him or her – neighborhood, house, room, school playground, backyard, grandma’s house – and labels it with stories that happened there, or could happen there.

6. YEAR BY YEAR.  I will ask the kids to think of their childhoods year by year and write a memorable event for each year, noting that memories juicy with emotion hold the most story. Then we’ll choose memories as story jumping-off places. I am curious to see what these ten-year olds remember about their childhoods.

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7. BEGIN WITH MUSIC. Five-minute timed writings to music. For instance, I’ll play a Bach cello concerto for five minutes and the kids can write the story that is suggested. Then I’ll play a penny whistle jig and they’ll start a new story. I remember using this exercise with the wonderful Lillie Rainwater’s fourth/fifth graders at Hawthorne Elementary in Seattle. Ms. Rainwater advised the kids to think of leaping into a story like jumping into double Dutch twirling ropes. Catch the rhythm of the music, she told them, and jump in with words.

That takes us back to the playground. And recess!

Thanks to Paul Borchert, librarian at Maplewood, for helping this Writing Workshop idea come to fruition. And thanks to any of our BATT Blog readers who add to this list of writing prompts, games and exercises in the comments.

Note: photos to illustrate this post are from those I will use for exercise two.