Saturday, October 16, 2021

What Makes Librarians Smile?

 There are all kinds of librarians in this world. Research librarians, digital librarians, music, science, archival. For any kind of information out there, there's a librarian for that. There are probably all different kinds of things that make those librarians smile; a perfectly organized shelf, a beautifully crafted MARC record, weeding egregiously outdated tomes. Myself, I am a children's librarian, and what makes me smile the most is when kids love books. 

I want to tell you all about one of my favorite students. I'll call her Joy (not her real name) for the happiness she brings to this librarian's heart every Monday. Joy is in sixth grade this year. She started at my school in second grade, and I had her again for third and much of fourth grade. Then . . . . Covid happened, and her family opted to homeschool her and her twin sister (who is also a peach!) for all of fifth grade. She is back this year, and I am so glad I get to have one more year with these girls before they move on to middle school. 

The specific reason that Joy is such a delight, is that every week, after the lesson, she comes up to me and asks me for recommendations. And, with only a very rare exception, she reads every single book I push into her hands. I can't tell you how thrilling it is to a librarian to have a child consistently take your suggestions. By now, I know just the type of book she likes, although I do try to push her into other genres just a bit. I find myself pondering before her class comes in, 'which books will I recommend to Joy this week?' The only difficulty for me now, is that she has read so many books that it's hard to find things she hasn't read. More and more, I can only recommend my newest titles. After we wander around the library and I hand her books, we walk over to check them out, and she has a nice pile of about five or six. Usually, she is done with all of them by the next week.

I work with 400+ children every week. For the most part, it's fun, but it can be complicated, busy and stressful, and not every child is completely lovable, well-behaved or fun to be around. It's kids like Joy and her sister that make every bit of difficulty worth it.

For this elementary school librarian, smiles abound whenever those girls come into the library, and whenever a child truly loves a book.

Friday, October 15, 2021

My Kind of Smile!


 

Another MFA class begins, and once again I’m deep diving into story structures. I have to admit, this is my kind of smile. And, it so happens, I came across a new book that is my perfect cup of tea.

Considered “a master class in novel writing,” Story Engineering,  by Larry Brooks (Writer’s Digest Books, 2011), takes a deep dive into story architecture. As Brooks offers, “…in their execution, stories are every bit as engineering driven as they are artistic in nature.” In other words, the technicality (or criticality) of the story is as fundamental as the creative.

Exploring the ongoing debate of pantsing (otherwise called organic writing) vs. plotting, Brooks offers that both strategies serve the same function: to find the heart of the story, the one that begs to be told. Pantsing tends to take the scenic route, going through revision after revision (after revision) to eventually and hopefully find that essence of story. As such, pantsing tends to be inefficient, as the writer stumbles  through various drafts that too often miss the mark.  What if there was a way to identify the core elements before  you dive into the deep end?

 Brooks calls these elements the six core competencies. Concept. Character. Theme. Story Structure. Scene Execution. Voice.  These are the essential ingredients to a successful story.

Every creative cook understands that the “most delicious of ingredients require blending and cooking – stirring, whipping, baking, boiling, frying, and sometimes, marinating – before they qualify as edible…” It is the delicious sum of these ingredients that turns your story into a “literary feast.”

Story engineering is that recipe that brings these ingredients together in a cohesive , satisfying dish. It differs from formulaic writing in that the process of story engineering serves to bring clarity to your story, but you bring the art. A pinch of this, a dash of that, stirred not shaken, and you make the story your own.

Brooks’ detailed explorations into each of these competencies decode the abstract. He provides a practical model that gives writers a profound new understanding of story structure that is accessible, and doable. One of my favorite passages in his definition of story:

“A story has many moods. It has good days and bad days. It must be nurtured and cared for lest it deteriorate. And it has a personality and an essence that defines how it is perceived. Just like human brings.”

As Books explains, a body cannot function without a heart. So it is with stories. These certain competencies support  the heart of the story. To continue with the analogy of cooking, if an essential ingredient is missing, or soured, the resulting dish leaves behind a bad taste.

Brooks is quick to admit that a writer can have all the right ingredients, perfectly stirred, and it turns out bland. Or, to put it another way, it’s possible to assemble in perfect order that perfect body. But without that creative spark, there is no life. Think Frankenstein’s monster.

Now that we’re all hungry, I highly recommend this book. 

May you create the perfect feast!

 -- Bobbi Miller

The Powers asked for a bio. I'm never good at these things. Writer, middle grade fiction of various genres, featuring real kids with real emotions dealing with real world issues. Armed with an MA in Children's Literature (Simmons) and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults (VCFA), I have worked with childhood heroes, including the indomitable Marion Zimmer Bradley (my first editor) and the genius that defines Gregory MacGuire, Eric Kimmel and Marion Dane Bauer (all advisors); was a contributing writer to Anita Silvey’s The Essential Guide to Children's Books and Their Creators; a contributing writer to American Dissidents: An Encyclopedia of Activists, Subversives ..., Volume 1.( Kathlyn Gay, editor. Books include Big River’s Daughter (Historical Fantasy. Holiday House, April 2013) Recommended by the International Reading Association, the Historical Novel Society, and was nominated for the Amelia Bloomer Project (American Library Association, 2013). The Girls of Gettysburg (Historical Fiction. Holiday House, Fall 2014), a Hot Pick on Children’s Book Council for September 2014, an honor for the 2015 Thomas Jefferson Cup Overfloweth and an honor for the 2015 Paterson Prize for Books for Young People. 'Nuf said.

 

Thursday, October 14, 2021

What makes me smile! by Jennifer Mitchell

 What makes me smile.


I would venture to guess that what makes me smile isn’t typical for most adults my age.  With that being said maybe that is why I ended up being a teacher, or maybe I am just a quirky adult.  Also, the beauty of being my age is that I can admit to the things that make me smile without feeling silly.  


I love anything Sesame Street; reading The Monster at the End of the book to my students always makes me smile.  It doesn’t matter what grade I teach, I always share that book with my students.  If I can read that book while wearing a Sesame Street shirt I know I have had a successful day!  Along those same lines when students make me a present themed to the things they know I like it puts a huge smile on my face.  




Along the same lines as enjoying Sesame Street with my students, I also like to incorporate anything Disney.  Last year, I introduced my students to High School Musical, something that always puts a smile on my face. When my kids were growing up we enjoyed the movies, the songs, and all things related to HSM.  After introducing my students to High School Musical last year we played the songs on Friday, and even started a running joke with one of the songs, “What time is it?”  On a trip to Disney I was able to get a High School Musical shirt and hat to wear to school, it put a smile on my face when the kids realized what I was wearing.


Coffee is another way to make me smile. The biggest smile is when someone brings me a surprise coffee though!  I love surprises and you can’t beat a good cup of coffee!


The funny thing about making someone smile is oftentimes it is a small gesture that makes a big impact.



I am a teacher in the Kansas City area :)

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Things That Inspire and Make Me Smile by Darlene Beck Jacobson

 In keeping with this month's theme of deadlines or things that make us smile, I am focusing on the latter. Since I am retired from full time employment, the deadlines I set are arbitrarily my own, and they are drawn in the sand. But as I look for new ideas for writing projects, I am inspired by so many things, often in unexpected ways. Ways that make me smile.

Here is a photo collection of some of those things:

















There is so much in the world to smile about. Smiling is great exercise for the soul. I hope some of these photos made you smile! 





Darlene Beck Jacobson often walks through the world in awe of the many things she discovers. Smiling, and delighting in all sorts of odd and inspiring things.



Monday, October 11, 2021

Help Me Smile (and earn back $$$ in books) :)

by Jody Feldman

Once upon a time, when I had files and files of book manuscripts and was thisclose to getting a publisher’s YES! – after 350+ NO THANKS including a then-recent bruise from a particularly brutal rejection – I was walking by a school filled with the shouts and shrieks and other sounds that only a schoolyard can bring. And I almost started crying. Please, someone, give me a yes so I can go into these classrooms and talk to these kids. And then ...


It happened!
I celebrated books and reading with children across the country (and in certain parts of the world). And then...

IT happened.


But here’s what I hope will happen next. 

World cooperating, I am now booking in-person school visits for 2022... with this deal. If you’re one of the first 10 schools to sign on at my (non-inflated) rate*,  once I visit, you’ll receive a $200 bookstore credit back to use however you want. Yes, I am hoping to give away every penny of that $2,000.00. And if it happens, once again, it will make me...


*You can make it happen here
  (click *brochure* for the downloadable details)

Award-winning middle grade author of The Gollywhopper Games series and The Seventh Level, Jody Feldman, may be taking a brief dip to the other (older) side with a YA thriller coming out next summer, but she's already at work on another middle grade adventure.


Friday, October 8, 2021

WHAT SCARES ME THE MOST -- by Jane Kelley

This is the season for scaring ourselves. Many people -- including my husband -- love to binge horror movies. They seek the thrills of monster mayhem. Grotesque ghouls. Dastardly demons.


I don't like to watch those things. My demons will whisper to me any time of the year. But the awful things they tell me are not what scare me the most.

I'm terrified of nodding off to sleep in front of the TV. Being spoon fed bland mush. White bread. Weak tea. In other words, the thing that scares me most is BEING BORED.

I distinctly remember facing that fear during a trip many years ago. I had finished whatever book I had brought along to read. I was at a bus station -- preparing for the next leg of my journey. But I would have to travel sans novel! Horrors! That could not be. I had to select something from whatever was being sold by the magazines and papers at the station. There was a copy of Norman Mailer's MARILYN -- probably because of its racy cover. I snatched it up and somehow survived the rest of my trip.

Being bored has other dangerous implications for a writer. Sometimes when I am rereading what I have written the worst of all possible things happens. My mind wanders. Hmm. What's for lunch? Did I remember to make that dental appointment? Is that a squirrel scampering across the backyard? Yes, the worst has happened. My own story fails to interest me. I AM BORED. 

And if I'm bored, then pity the poor reader -- even if he happens to be my husband who vowed to love, honor, and be my beta reader. 

Fortunately whenever I make that discovery, I have learned that something has gone really wrong with my plot or my character -- or probably both. It's time to dig deeper. Raise the stakes. Add a subplot. Delete delete delete.  

I suppose that is the reason that we fear anything––to avert disaster. My fear of boredom has saved me many times in the past. I hope it will continue to do so.

JANE KELLEY is the author of many middle grade novels, including the ghost story THE GIRL BEHIND THE GLASS.  



 



 



Sunday, October 3, 2021

The Benefit of Little Bitty Deadlines by Irene Latham

 


I love deadlines, and I hate them. 

I need them, in the same way that I need to know the rollercoaster ride will end, after our cart goes backward through that last loop-de-loop. A deadline is a promise that life won't always be this full and intense; rest is coming.

Yet they are always always overwhelming. When I first make that red circle in my calendar, I don't know how I'm ever going to get there. I'm filled with self-doubt: what was I thinking, selling this book on proposal?! How can I deliver what I've promised? And what about that trip I've got planned? My son's graduation from college? Etc.

And that's when I start breaking it down. I go through my calendar and mark out the days I'll be out of town and the days I'll need for preparing for and celebrating my son's graduation. I mark out the school visit days, and the days with other commitments. I force myself to be 100% honest about which are "writing days" and which aren't.

I also block off the two weeks prior to the deadline for revising. 

Then I take my word count (or, if poems for a collection, I calculate the number of poems that need to be written) and divide that number by the number of days left. 

Maybe I need to write 1,000 words per writing day. Then I divide that number: 500 words before noon, 500 by bedtime. If I'm still overwhelmed, I break it down further and further, until it feels manageable.

And then I get after it! Some days I over-produce. Other days I may be a little shy. And that's okay.

Sometimes on a non-writing day,  I'm able to squeak in a few words. Bonus!! 

I try not to worry too much and trust things to balance out over the course of a week. I typically use Mondays as a check-in for myself, just to take stock and see how I'm feeling about my progress. If I need to adjust my grand plan, I do. If I need to adjust my micro-plan, I do.

What I've learned is to change my relationship with deadlines. They aren't a brick wall; they're bouncy, flexible. More like a trampoline. Yes, there's an ultimate structure, but when we move, they move, too. 

--

Irene Latham is a grateful creator of many novels, poetry collections, and picture books, including the coauthored Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship, which earned a Charlotte Huck Honor, and The Cat Man of Aleppo, which won a Caldecott Honor. Irene lives on a lake in rural Alabama.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Top Five Things That Make an Author Smile

 

Top Five Things That Make an Author Smile

 

I had never heard of World Smile Day until recently, but now I know that it takes place on October 1, and since it’s now October 2, I thought I’d list my top five things that make the author/writer in me smile.

 

5. That moment when my characters do something I hadn’t expected. My fingers are moving across the keyboard, but I’m not in control of what I’m typing. The characters are, because clearly they want a particular thing to happen. So I let them do what they want. Like when the kid who’s more likely to mock the chess club than join it shows up…at the chess club meeting. And he wants to learn to play. All of a sudden, I had a much better idea of what really was going on in his life.

 

4. Spotting one of my creations “in the wild.” For many years, one of my books, George Washington and the Magic Hat, could be found in the Washington Nationals team store, of all unlikely places. I did a book signing there years ago, because George the Racing President (a Nats mascot) is a minor character in the book, and whenever I’d go back, they’d have copies of it on a rack along with various baseball-related books. Alas, on my most recent visit to Nats Park, there were no books in the store, mine or anyone else’s!

 

3. Starting a new project. A lot of times, I have a hard time getting started. I procrastinate for weeks, or months. And when I actually sit down at the computer and start writing—even if it’s only a few paragraphs—I feel a huge sense of relief. Finishing a project feels good, too, of course!

 

2. Meeting kids on Zoom and talking with them about my books. Their questions are always thought-provoking and make me think about my characters, or about writing, or about time travel, in a whole new way. One of my favorite questions was about how I, as a middle-aged person, could write from the perspective of a kid. It really made me think!

 

1. Of course, the most important and worthwhile thing is meeting with kids (and other readers—teachers, librarians, parents, and more) in person. A whole roomful of people. I have an immunocompromised family member, so am being incredibly careful in these perilous Covid times, but I do hope one day to be able to experience in-person book events again!

 


--Deborah Kalb