Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Finish Line

I really can see the finish line. You know the big ribbon marked "Summer is Here." You see, many people think summer begins with the Memorial Day weekend. Not me. I think summer begins when I officially get out of school. This year, I will burst through the ribbon on June 17. I can see it waving in the distance. By the time I get there, I hope to still be running instead of walking, out of breath.

This week I finished testing with my kids. That last day I sat out on my sweltering deck and ate a gigantic cupcake with my colleagues. I broke my diet, and loved it. That day I felt like I had a big cheering section saying, "You did it! You are almost there! Keep going!"

Even though the teaching finish line is so close I can see it, I can also see the next race I need to run. For many teachers I know the summer is spent relaxing by the pool, soaking up some good rays and devouring chicklit. Most of my last 10 years haven't been that way. I have spent time on and off since 2001 going to grad school and racking up almost 2 Master's Degrees and having two kids. I have my thesis left to go on the second degree.

It's a novel. I have been piddling with it for a year. But I joined a Hollins crit. group online and I have to turn work in every week. So even though I'll be gardening, swimming, camping, and enjoying the time off with my kids, I'll also be writing my butt off. I want that thesis done by the end of the summer!!!

So, just as one race ends, I will have a quick moment to catch my breath and run the thesis race.

I'm ready.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Critiquing Picture Books

I'm in a new online critique group that came out of the Picture Book Marathon in February. We were having an e-mail exchange about what types of things we'd like to see in a picture book critique. I started making a list. I want it to be collaborative. I want my group members to add to it. And if you have any experience writing or critiquing picture books, I'd like you to chime in. What is missing from the list? I hope it will be a helpful list when self-critiquing or critiquing other's picture books. Here's what I came up with so far:

1) Does the story allow for illustration? You don’t want to be so specific that it leaves no room for the illustrator to interpret.

2) Word count: Must be less than 1500. Under 1000? Even better. Under 500? Awesome! However, these word counts will fluctuate with the type of content and age level.

3) Words must earn their place. Point out places the writer can cut unnecessary words. Every word counts in a picture book.

4) Read-aloud-ability. Does this book make a good read-aloud? Read it out loud and try it out. Mark the places that you stumble. Most picture books are meant to be read out loud to kids.

5) Language. Picture books are often very lyrical. Does the language have a rhythm, unique language, voice? Where does the language work? Where does it not work?

6) Unique premise. Does this story make something ordinary fresh? Unique? Funny? Aha moment? Will it stand out in the marketplace?

7) Does this story really work as a picture book? Sometimes it’s really a short story, or a novel, but just told in a few words. If it really isn’t meant to be a picture book, then it’s helpful for someone to point that out. Don’t be offended. If you agree with them, use it as a springboard for another project.

8) Story structure. Map out the story. What happens? A good way to plot your book or find the arc of the story is to do a storyboard. I recommend the one on Kim Norman’s site. There is also one in Anastasia Suen’s book Picture Writing.

Important: It’s ultimately your book. You decide whether the comments are something you want to incorporate. If one person mentions it, it may just be that person’s opinion. But if several people notice the same thing, then it’s probably something worth considering changing.

Disclaimer: I am no picture book expert. I have written a few, had some good comments from editors and agents, but nothing has been purchased to date. So, I’m still learning and obviously I need to work on my picture books a lot. Please don’t take the above ideas as gospel. These are just some things I’ve learned from other groups and workshop classes.

Your turn: What else do you want to add? I will add more to the list. I think it will help me keep my critiques more focused with some ideas to jump on. Obviously, we won’t hit each point with each picture book, but this might help if you aren’t sure what to comment on.

I'll compile a list including suggestions from others and post it.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Spreading the Awesome: 10 Stars for The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

Amulet Books, 2010

I've been blogging about this great new book by local author Tom Angleberger.

I went to one of his book signings and blogged about it here.

He recently was on WDBJ7 for an interview. I linked to that here.

There was a great article about this book in The Roanoke Times.

But, I hadn't blogged about the book itself. Until today. My writing group friend, Angie Smibert, told me about blogging about a book that you think is awesome. It's called "Spread the Awesome" and we are supposed to blog about a book that deserves 10 stars. It's promoted by Elana Johnson. The big day is May 3, so I held out on my lovefest of this book until today.

Gist of the book: Dwight is a nerd and everyone knows it, but Dwight has this Yoda--an origami Yoda. Yoda gives advice and talks in that strange sentence structure that Yoda speaks in. The book is told from different character's points of view each giving their story about their encounter with origami Yoda and whether he really has powers. It's like a case file collection of Yoda and his advice and whether it worked or not. The whole book is filled with hilarious stories of what Yoda has done for each character and the healthy doubt that comes from believing a talking folded piece of paper.

Top Five Reasons I Love this Book:

1. It is hilarious. What is funnier than a nerdy kid carrying around an origami Yoda and giving advice to his friends? It's LOL funny.

2. Boys will love this book. I'm a teacher and I bought a "school copy" of this book from Scholastic Book Clubs. I do book talks about different books. I showed the video of Angleberger talking about this book, and showed them them the Roanoke Times article about it. The book literally flew out of my hands. I am taking my signed copy to school tomorrow (which I normally don't do) because so many kids want to read it. I also will be placing another Scholastic order for some more copies. And by the way, girls will love this book too.

3. The design of this book is kid-enticing. The cover jumps right out at you. The pages inside look crinkly--like some kid wrote his story, then crumpled it up and threw it in the trash can because he was so embarrassed. There are cool drawings and doodles throughout the book that make it fun and kid-like.

4. Angleberger is a master of characters. He makes these characters real and really nails the voice for each one. It would be difficult to write a distinctive voice for each kid that tells his story about Yoda, but he does it and does it well.

5. He's a local author. He writes for our local paper. I love seeing local authors become really successful. Need I say more??