June 24, 2011

Blogcation

Speaking of sniglets... which we were... in the last post here... I will be taking a brief blogcation.

Now, now.  Stay calm.  It's only for a week.  I know the idea of a whole week without any new posts from the land of Hill is downright unbearable to contemplate, but you'll just have to be brave little soldiers and keep a stiff upper lip.  Or something like that.

When you were a kid, did you ever play car games?  You know, like the license plate game, or 20 questions?  My dad had one he called Botticelli (no idea if that's real) that involved guessing famous people.  And another one called Hig Pig where you gave a clue about meaning and then said it was a hig-pig or a higgy-piggy or a higglety-pigglety etc. depending on how many syllables (for example, a colorless flying device hig-pig might be a White Kite.)

But one of my favorites was I Packed My Grandmother's Trunk.

So I'm going to pack a trunk for my blogcation, and you guys can try to guess what the blogcation is... and where!  Ready?

I packed my Blogcation Trunk, and in it I put:

Adventure
Bicycles  and Books
A Car
Downyflake Donuts
Enthusiasm and Excitement
A Ferry
Games
A Highway
Interesting scenery
A
A Kite and a Kayak
Lacrosse sticks
A Map
Naps (for my husband :))
A
Postcards and Puzzles
A
A
Sunglasses and Sunblock
Towels
An Umbrella (which we hopefully won't use!)
A
Whaling Museum
A
A Yacht
A

You may notice I've skipped a few letters.  That's because I am out of time and haven't thought of anything good for those ones yet.  I'll add them when I think of them.  Meanwhile, see if you can guess the nature of the blogcation :)  And please share all favorite car games - we're going to need them!!!
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June 21, 2011

New Vocabulary

For those of you who think today is Tuesday and I am late posting my Monday post let me just say....

well...

technically...

you may be right.

Seriously, what happened to Monday?
... sucked into the void...
But never mind.  Here we are.

This may shock you, but I am not the most technologically advanced person.  In fact, (this is so embarrassing I have to whisper) I don't even really know how to text!  Of course, this is partly because I have a cell phone from the Roosevelt administration (Teddy), a situation which is hopefully being remedied this week so I can join the rest of civiliaztion as we know it...  But I digress...

Anyway, along with all the technology I find confusing, there is a new vocabulary.  Can you imagine what people would have thought 20 years ago if you'd told them you were googling them?  Or if you had answered a query of "What have you been up to?" with "I'm blogging"?  When did we start having beta readers as opposed to just readers?  And who the heck is Mr. Linky?

Really, although these words now make sense, a lot of them sound made-up, along the lines of caaberry (which was my daughter's personal word for strawberry.)

But made-up words can be fun.

At the risk of dating myself (again) I'm wondering if anyone remembers Sniglets, brain child of comedian Rich Hall?

If you don't, a sniglet is "any word that doesn't appear in the dictionary but should."  For example, "sark - the marks left on one's ankle after wearing tube socks all day," "lactomangulation - manhandling the 'open here' spout on a milk carton so badly that one has to resort to using the 'illegal' side," and "doork - a person who tries to enter through a door clearly marked 'exit'."  There were books and calendars of sniglets, and even a game.

Two of my favorites for which I can't remember the sniglet were the dance you do when attempting to put on stockings (possibly chub?) and the act of trying to vacuum up fluff that won't come off the carpet, so you pick it up, look at it, then put it back on the carpet to try again.  If anyone remembers that word, please tell me!

As writers, there is a place for inventive language, and as writers of books for young children, a place for nonsense words as well.  Language was meant to be fun as well as useful.  What better way for children to learn and appreciate language then to play with it?

What words have you made up in your writing?  What words have your children invented?  Do you have family words you use for certain situations?  Do you have favorite kids books that play with language?  Do you remember any sniglets?  Please share!!!
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June 16, 2011

Stage Fright

Today, I'd like to thank Brooke Rousseau (please visit her awesome blog!) for bestowing the Irresistibly Sweet Award upon me!
Thank you, Brooke!  I'm honored.

I don't know if I'm sweet, but the fact that Brooke gave me the award certainly proves that she is :)

I'm not very good at these blog awards.  They all have rules you're supposed to follow, and then you're supposed to pass them on, and I can never choose who to pass them to because I don't want to leave anyone important out or make anyone feel unchosen... and honestly, I'm not sure what the rules are for this one.  Usually they include a "something you didn't know about me" or "random facts" requirement, so hmm... what can I tell you?

How about this:  (as always, I have a point... eventually :))

I started taking piano lessons when I was 4.  My music teacher didn't usually take kids younger than 5, but my hands were strong and my ear for music attuned so she made an exception.

I loved playing the piano.  I loved that you could sit before it and coax forth beautiful melodies to suit any mood you were in.  I loved the way music made me feel... (and that, if I was practicing, I got first dibs on the living room and my siblings had to wait to watch TV - ah, the power :))

My music teacher had high standards to which I did not always measure up.  Her emphasis was on performance, and when I reached high school she lobbied strongly for me to go to Julliard.

But therein lay the rub.  I loved to play the piano, but by myself.  I HATED performing.  I didn't even like practicing when family members were in the same room.

But because I attended a serious piano school, I had to perform, twice a year, and I absolutely dreaded those concerts.

I had to walk to the front of the auditorium.  Alone.  In front of all those people.

Raise or lower the piano stool to the appropriate height.  Check.  Adjust.

Then stand before the expectant audience and say the name of my piece and its composer in a clear voice, loud enough to be heard.

Then sit at the piano, place my fingers lightly on the keys, take a deep breath, and begin.

Sounds simple, right?

But my legs wobbled, threatening to drop me on my royal highness.  My voice stuck in my throat.  My hands trembled and my fingers turned to ice, and if you've ever tried to play Beethoven or Chopin with frozen fingers, you know they lose all dexterity and it's VERY difficult.  But the worst problem was that, at the moment I was supposed to begin, my mind went completely blank.  I couldn't remember where or how to start.  My heart slammed.  My mind careened crazily.  I was horribly conscious of all those people looking at me, waiting, and with every rapid breath that passed through my dry lips, the notes I needed spun farther away.

I'm having a panic attack just thinking about it!

More than once, humiliation of humiliations, my music teacher had to step forward and place my fingers over the opening keys.

By the time I was 10, I had learned to write the first chord on the back of my left hand.  Then, when my mind deserted me and I couldn't think where to begin, I could glance down and see C dominant 7th or whatever, and it was enough to get me going.

Once I got started, muscle memory usually carried the day.

But there you have it.

(Are you ready for the point I promised?)

Any wonder that I have the same problem speaking in public? :)

I know some writers are very outgoing and love to get up in front of an audience.  I am not one of them.  (Bear in mind, I am not referring to school visits here.  Although I did have to get over my initial fear, I now love visiting with kids.  It's running workshops and giving speeches that I haven't conquered... yet!)

Have any of you ever had stage fright or been paralyzingly afraid to do something?  If you're a writer, do you like speaking in public?  What scares the bejeesus out of you (writing-related or otherwise)?  Please share :)

P.S.  As for passing on the award, I really can't choose.  I am so grateful to all my fellow bloggers who take the time to visit and comment and show their support.  All of you are truly awesome... and sweet :)  So don't try to make me choose! :)
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June 13, 2011

Three Tidbits of Interest

Today's post is a bit of a smorgasbord - a few rather unrelated items but all (to my mind :)) worth mentioning.

First, for any of you who read last week's post The Wonderful World of Kid Lit, here is a very articulate, thoughtful rebuttal of the Wall Street Journal article mentioned therein which you might find interesting: Deeper Understanding: The Dark Is Rising, from Shelf Awareness, Enlightenment for the Book Trade.  Let me know what you think of Jennifer Brown's article!

Second, I had a great visit at Merritt Bookstore in Millbrook, NY to celebrate Not Yet, Rose winning the Mom's Choice Award.  Two large groups from three local preschools came to hear the story (about 100 children all together!)  They were a terrific audience.
Phyllis is trying to convince
the kids that Not Yet, Rose
is about her - because she
looks EXACTLY like Rose!
Unbeknownst to me, one of the adults in the back was videoing with her phone.  Quel horreur!!!  Although watching and listening to myself give a presentation was quite horrifying and made me want to go hide in the closet with a burlap sack over my head, I have been told I should edit the video and put it on my website so that interested teachers/schools can see a sample of a presentation.  What do you think?  Should I do it?

Finally, when I went to shut my computer down Friday night, I discovered a google alert in my inbox for Can't Sleep Without Sheep.  Following the link, I was amazed and honored to see that Can't Sleep has been nominated for the Alabama Camellia Children's Choice Award (the state children's choice for Alabama!!! click on the 2011-2012 NEW list to see.)  It's up against some much better known books, so I don't know if it has a chance of winning, but it was SO nice to be nominated!  Thank you to every child in Alabama who voted for Can't Sleep!!!  Ava and Woolliam and I appreciate it :)
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June 9, 2011

A Little Teacher Appreciation

As a writer of children's books who does a lot of school visits, (and as a parent), it has been my privilege to meet many truly amazing teachers.

Teaching has got to be one of the hardest and most important jobs there is.

Anyone who has children knows that, wonderful as they are, they can be trying at times even when they're your own, and even when you don't have a group of 25 or 30 to manage... (unless you're the Duggars :))  Teaching requires intelligence, understanding, kindness, a sense of humor, and patience in spades.

To teachers we entrust the job of guiding our young ones, helping us help them become good people who will be ready and able to take on the responsibilities required of them when they become the adults of tomorrow.

What could be more important?

And yet teachers are so often underpaid and under-appreciated.

So please forgive me if I now wax a little prideful :)

I know a little about this first hand.  My husband (in addition to being the best of husbands and fathers, a talented singer/songwriter/musician, an avid runner, a gifted stand-up comic, and so much more) is a career teacher.  He's an amazing guy - one of those people who could teach anything to anyone.  Not only is he incredibly articulate, he also has great instincts and an innate understanding of how best to reach people (kids and adults alike) and how to make the subject or material most accessible to them.

He has taught dyslexic children the joy of doing something they thought they couldn't.  He has taught medieval history, extra english (language skills for those who need extra help in reading and writing), and geography, and led an 8th grade homeroom for years.  He has taught phys ed to grades K-9, and he started and continues to run his schools' cross-country, winter running, and track teams, in the process bestowing upon his students self-confidence, an appreciation for physical exercise and the outdoors, and a lifetime skill.

In spite of how many children he's taught and helped over the last 20 plus years, he often feels like he has little to show for himself, that he hasn't really done anything important.  I can remind him time and again of the lives he's touched and changed for the better, the children who wouldn't be where they are today without him, but sometimes those kinds of sentiments carry more weight when they come directly from the people involved.

So it is with great pleasure that I tell you what happened yesterday.

He came home from work, and with wonder (and gratitude) in his voice, told me that his school yearbook had, this year, been dedicated to him.

Really and truly.

What an honor!

(And he's not even retiring, so it's not like the kids felt like they had to dedicate to him.  It was purely based on their love and appreciation :))

It may seem a small thing, but it means so much to him.  And I feel so proud of him, and so pleased for him, because he richly deserves that recognition.

(he's the one on the far right)
With the school year drawing to a close, I hope we can all take a moment to consider our children's teachers and perhaps tell them through a quick word or a little thank you note how much we appreciate all they do for our children.

After all, where would we be without them?

If you have any wonderful teacher stories, please share!
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June 6, 2011

The Wonderful World of Kid Lit

I don't know about you, but it seems to me that the world of children's literature is being unfairly tackled lately.

First, the New York Times published an article in October, entitled "Picture Books No Longer A Staple for Children," (apologies - this link sometimes opens with an ad you have to skip) in which they suggested that picture books would soon be dead due to the high cost per unit and the fact that they're too easy and parents are pushing their children to read chapter books sooner.
Those of us who write picture books (and lots of other sensible people) understand that their value is inestimable, both in terms of what children can learn from them on so many levels, and in terms of quality of time spent reading them for parent and child.  But it took letters to the editor and a retaliatory article in Publisher's Weekly in December to refute the claims of the NYTimes article, and the general public's perception of the worth of picture books was affected in the meantime.

This weekend, it was YA literature which took a hit.  The Wall Street Journal published an article called "Darkness Too Visible" which stated that "contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence, and depravity" and wonders "why this is considered a good idea?"

Really?

That's all they see in YA literature?

Sure, there are books that have vampire, werewolf and zombie characters (some might call this story-telling and entertainment), and sure, there are books that deal with difficult topics.  But isn't that the point of literature?  Isn't it important to have books that speak to all kinds of readers?  Don't we want our teenagers reading?

I think we're lucky to live in an age when there is such a broad range of writing.  Some of the best writing there is has been done for YA.  How can people look at the scope of YA literature and conclude that it's all too dark?

What about Sarah Dessen?  Joan Bauer?  The many other authors who write with humor and understanding about coming of age and the experience of being a teenager in today's world?
And why is literature taking the hit?  What about computer/video games, TV shows, movies, and the internet?

One can always find examples of something if one is looking.  But to claim that all YA lit is dark and depraved seems to me a gross oversimplification.

I would argue that for many teens who are struggling with the darker issues, YA literature is a place they can find solace and understanding, feel that they are not alone in their struggles, see how characters overcome their problems and how these issues may be resolved.  If YA writers reach and help teens, how can that be a bad thing?

Forgive me if I sound a little steamed, but I think both picture books and YA lit are being unfairly presented.

What do you think?  Are picture books useless/dead?  Is YA literature an abyss of darkness?  What do you think of these articles?  Are they presenting an objective view?  Is this really how people perceive picture books and YA?  Should we, as writers, change what we write and how we write it?
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June 3, 2011

Hole In One

I have two important announcements.

Number 1:  The talented E.J. Wesley, whose blog (The Open Vein) is both entertaining and inspirational and you should visit it, has given me this awesome award!!!

What an honor!  Wasn't that nice of him?

Number 2:  Today Is National Donut Day!

Can you believe it?  A (w)hole day devoted to that (w)holesome (NOT) confectionary delight, the donut.

Let us admire:

The traditional plain donut...

...the jelly donut...

...the glazed donut...

...the frosted donut...
... and the cider donut...
my personal favorite!

Not to be confused with the cruller...

...the turnover...

or the cinnamon bun!
I hope you are all drooling, and planning an immediate trip to your local donut shop in honor of the day.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with writing?

Well, I'll tell you.

1.  Donuts make an excellent writing snack, especially with coffee.
2.  As writers, we often find our stories have a hole in the middle.
3.  Given the amount of butt in chair time, our butts may begin to resemble the round shape of a donut if we do not get off them from time to time and take the dogs for a run :)

And you thought donuts had nothing to do with writing!

Please feel free to tell us all which is your favorite kind of donut (mine is the cider donut!) so we can see which is most popular!  (And by "favorite" of course I mean which type of donut helps your writing most, and by "popular" of course I'm referring to how much it helps your writing so we can all benefit by trying it :))

Have a wonderful, donut-filled weekend everyone!
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June 2, 2011

Blogfests

Don't worry.

I have not been eaten by a bear.

Yet.

It's just that we are in the middle of high-school-graduation-8th-grade-play-rehearsals-and-performances-baby-shower-shopping-8th-grade-graduation-ceremony-and-party-planning-and-shopping-wedding-related-hysteria-vacation-planning-along-with-the-general-busy-ness-of-daily-life so I'm finding it a little hard to keep to my schedule... :)

I hope you all had the opportunity to read at least some of the entries in Cally Jackson and Rachel Morgan's tension blogfest.  I thought it was really fun to enter, and to read all the other entries (although this morning, it was practically impossible to vote on a winner!)

It was such fun that I'd like to do a blogfest, too!

But not tension, because that's been done :)

So here's my question:  what do you think would be a fun blogfest?

300 words about character? Or setting?

One-paragraph plot synopses?

A one-sentence pitch contest?  (Ooh - that sounds like a good one!)

A limerick contest (maybe on a certain topic)?

A segment of dialogue?

Other brilliant suggestions?  (But remember, this is a children's writer blog, so all ideas should be appropriate for kids, MG, or YA.)

Please let me know what you think would be fun, and what you might consider entering.  (It's more fun with lots of entries!)

I'll look forward to your responses!

P.S.  If you'd like to join me in hosting the blogfest (as Cally and Rachel did it together) please let me know that, too :)
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