Monday, October 20, 2014

Subversive & Scary Picture Books - Scary Creatures

My last post on scary books covered my biggest fear: The Dark. But the thing that makes the dark so scary is the fear of the Scary Creatures which lurk in it. With the exception of some overlap in the Halloween books, each of these books features a completely different chill making critter.

I think I'll take this in order of scariest illustrations.

"The roof space is creeping and crawling with things, things that have horns and raggedy wings."

(In the Haunted House, by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Susan Meddaugh)

The first read of this is scary with two sets of feet walking through a house full of scary creatures. Knowing the twist at the end - a little girl drags daddy through this pretend Halloween house again - helps kids appreciate following reads.

""Oh," said Dave. "Why is it...trying to eat my burger?""

(Are the Dinosaurs Dead, Dad?, by Julie Middleton and illustrated by Russell Ayto)
These dinosaurs are pretty cute. Well until the end. Their teeth are a bit sharp. And their proximity a little close. And their sneakiness is a bit scary.

"His eyes are orange. His tongue is black. Sharp purple prickles cover his back."

(The Gruffalo, by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Alex Scheffler)
I dunno, the Gruffalo is kinda cute. But I have to admit I fell into a false sense of security that the Gruffalo wasn't real. Well, the little mouse pulled one over on me... BAM! Oh, no! A Gruffalo!

"Those spooky, empty pants and I were standing face to face!"

(What Was I Scared of, by Dr. Seuss)
Now, I don't know if green pants with nobody inside them are creatures, per se, but they certainly are something creepy. Super creepy. Because an apparition who can put on pants could do any number of scary things. And why green? To hide behind Brickel bushes and scare us? Yes! The ending is supposed to give us closure - aww, look they're friendly! - but all I keep thinking is why are those green pants talking out of their butts?! Scary. 

"A ghoul! A ghastly drooling graveyard ghoul..."

(By the Light of the Halloween Moon, by Caroline Stutson and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes)

Combination of scary creatures and a scary setting and a little girl about to lose a toe, collude to make this near-horrifying. The witch sports uber pointy nose, matching chin, gnarly teeth, and pop out of her ead wide eyeballs.  A pirate ghost looks real. (if you've ever seen a pirate ghost, you'll know what I mean.) A sprite has no cover of cuteness, he's just creepy.  Luckily this little girl is tough as nails and gives all these ghastly creatures a swift whack to save her toe.

" the goblins pulled baby out, leaving another all made of ice."

(Outside Over There, by Maurice Sendak)
Classic dystopian picture book by the master. The goblins hidden in their robes are scary, but they turn out to really just look like babies. Thank goodness for that relief, but it doesn't fix the problem of what my imagination had come up with. The scariest creature in the book is actually the baby made out of ice the goblins leave when they steal Ida's baby sister.

"If a big, quick, strong, scary, hairy, dirty wants it, then cheese belongs to her."

(Cheese Belongs to You! By Alexis Deacon, illustrated by Viviane Schwarz)
I learned a lot about rat law in this book, which unfortunately is kinda close to human rules. The rats in this book get progressively scarier, culminating in a giant scary rat brawl. I always find one critter may be not too scary or even kind of cute, but a whole mess of critters always creeps me out.

"His horns were bright red and his cape midnight black, and his pencilly fingers tapped "clickety-clack.""

(The Monster Who Did My Math, by Danny Schnitzlein, illustrated by Bill Mayer)
Totally cute idea of a monster who does your math, but makes you look like a fool when everyone finds out you haven't learned anything. Cute except the illustrations are incredibly horrifying. Like scary clown jumping out of a barrel of diseased monkeys in a haunted house horrifying.

I'm sure you've read some picture books with SCARY creatures, so please share them in the comments.  I have to say it's surprising just how scary some of these creatures can get!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Subversive and Mysterious

I told you a few posts ago about the subversive story I had been noodling, but I left out an important detail:


For some unknown reason I hadn't typed it up yet. Still I carried its paper-clipped pages and post it notes in my purse. And hence, I lost it.

"Argh!!! I can't eat this.
This story isn't even
(Angry Bear by Malowanki via
I'm confident I'll find it though.

Unless a bear took it. (which might have happened, because the last place I recall having it was at the campsite.)

Most of it is more or less in my head anyway.

It's just hanging out with random song lyrics from the 80s and nursery rhyme warnings of epidemics. It's in good hands. Sort of.

And besides it adds a bit of intrigue that this manuscript is going to put up a fight!

Unless of course it is so grim and disturbing it is just not meant to be found. Mwa-ha-ha!

Do let this cautionary tale serve as today's reminder to safeguard your manuscripts.
Type them up.
Back them up.
Save them to a thumb drive.
Print them in triplicate.
I don't think tattooing them in your armpits is going too far.

Or just keep them on post-it notes in your pocket. I'm sure it will be super safe.

Now, just how did that story start...

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Scared of the Dark

I started studying subversive books way back in September with the plan to cover lack of parental supervision, nudity, and scariness. I thought scary would be easy. But then over the course of the last few weeks, my living room turned into a Booknado!

I considered Lion vs. Rabbit (Alex Latimer) because bullying is scary and Extra Yarn (Mac Barnett, Jon Klassen) because an archduke breaking into your house is scary. Vampire Baby (Kelly Bennett, Paul Meisel) seemed like a sure thing, but it's just too darn cute.

I interviewed my 4yo over juice boxes.
"Is Tiger in My Soup* scary?" 
"I give it one dot of scary."
Geesh. Even my kid has her own rating scale for scariness and tigers roaring apparently rate low.
(*Kashmira Sheth, Jeffrey Ebbeler)

I entered a state of I-don't-know-what's-scary paralysis!!

So I decided to focus on what scares me the most:
1. The Dark
2. Scary Creatures
3. Mortal Danger
4. Real Life

Making it dark is an immediate way to add a sense of fear to a picture book, so lets face that fear first!

"As soon as the room was dark, I heard him creeping toward me."

Nighttime rooms are dark, closets in nighttime rooms are even darker, and worries of what might lurk in the closet are the darkest. When a brave little boy confronts the nightmare in his closet, he has to think fast when he makes the monster cry.  Tucking the nightmare in his own bed seems to be a good way to keep other nightmares away. 

"Runaway piglets are lost in the gloom."

(Ten Moonstruck Piglets, by Lindsay Lee Johnson, illustrated by Carll Cneut)
As a parent, imagining my piglets sneaking out to explore the moonl
ight really freaks me out. But the piglets don't seem to realize the danger they are in until clouds cover the moonlight and darkness surrounds them. Once owls hoot and foxes prowl the little piglets howl for mama.

""It's dark," he said. "I think I might be lost," he said.""

(Too Noisy, by Malachy Doyle and Ed Vere)
Sam Bungle heads into the woods to escape his too noisy family and enjoy some quiet, serene nature. Which is lovely until it gets dark. Then creep crawly things and glowing eyes and slithery things are all he can find in the deep dark woods. Luckily his too noisy family is out looking for him.

"Lazslo was afraid of the dark."
(The Dark, by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen)

Lazslo hopes the dark won't come into his room. But he has to face the dark to get a critical weapon in dark-prevention: a lightbulb. In this book the dark is threatening and real and capable of speech. Good for kids with a fear of the dark, though it mostly just scared me and reminded me to always have a healthy stock of lightbulbs.  

"That tiger looks ferocious, Felix thought."
(Dark Night, by Dorothee De Monfried)

Felix's walk through the dark goes from bad to worse to oh crap when he sees a wolf...who is scared off by a tiger...who is scared off by a crocodile! A helpful bunny shows Felix how to become scary to safely make it home. 

I have to admit, these books always fill with relief - the dark isn't that scary! But once I close the books and kiss little foreheads and quietly close the door except for a crack, I still run up the dark steps as fast as I can and jump into bed to avoid the outstretched arms of the monsters under my bed. 

Do you have other recommendations for books about the oh so scary DARK? Please let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Subversive Picture Books - Nakeyness!

We are talking subversive books this month, and today I want to cover the oh-so-shameful topic of nudity in picture books. GASP!  Since nudity has caused books to be banned, it's appropriate to consider in a subversive light. 

I'm going to start with the blatant books which use NAKED right in the title.
"They brought Wilbur to a giant portrait of Grand-pah, the oldest, greatest, and most naked naked mole rat ever."
(Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, by Mo Willems)

Please use your best movie commercial voice for the following: "In a world where everyone is naked, one naked mole rat dares to wear clothes." Mo turns the tables on us. He makes us feel uncomfortable not by the nudity, but by the un-nudity. And in doing so he weaves a lovely tale of being yourself.

"and ONE naked baby goes back in the bath!"
 (One Naked Baby, by Maggie Smith)

This book has been a staple in our house for six years, because it made my kids (who are champion streakers) laugh and it made me feel like a normal mom. I understood what it was like to chase a wet streak down the hall only to have that same baby roll around in a muddy puddle within hours. Plus, it has counting to ten and back, exploring the outdoors, and just enjoying life on every page.   

"The sneaky cat pounced on an unsuspecting group of squirrels and gave them all wedgies -- not an easy thing to do, because generally squirrels do not wear underpants"
(Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door, by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri)

This book could get attacked by a critique group for many reasons.
"The MC is named Mr. Fookwire- have you read that out loud?"
"There's a lot of violence."
"There's only adults and animals."
But I want to focus on the most disturbing part. I have been haunted by the image of squirrel wedgies on page 22. I've found myself asking, "Does the squirrel wedgie move the story line along?" I've also found myself asking, "Why can I not stop staring at these squirrel buttcheeks??" But it is relevant to the story, because a wedgie so perfectly establishes the pain of the squirrels and the character of the mean bully cat Muffins.

"It may help to have on pajamas."
(Stars, by Mary Lyn Ray and Marla Frazee)

Oh you didn't see this one coming! But this gorgeous, thought-provoking, heart-warming picture book holds a secret on page 25.  Yes, there is one boy with his jammies not quite on. My kids can find a butt from a mile away, so this is obviously the best part of the book. Do you need a butt? No. Is a butt-giggle a nice bit of comic relief after thinking about days when you don't feel shiny like a star? Yes, it is. And when it comes to including something relatable, why not a tushie? We all have them.


"I forgot!"
(David Gets in Trouble, by David Shannon)

David Shannon doesn’t wait so long - by page 9, poor David is headed for school in his tighty whities. More pictures of David's wrong-doings fill every page. Even I felt a little unsure reading this to my first child. Do I want her to see cat-tail-pulling and funny-face-at-the-wrong-time-making? And what is wrong with my spawn that she is laughing at every page? But if we didn't go on a naughty ride with David, we wouldn't so appreciate the "I'm Sorry" spread at the end.

Yes, all of these books have a little bit of nudity, but they all make it necessary to the story or the experience of the book. If you have other favorite books which fit here, please share them in the comments.

*And you shared!!! I was oh so negligent in skipping these book on the original post.*

"Eating a cookie totally and completely naked!"
(Naked!, by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi)

It's fun to celebrate being naked and having a good run around the house. But Black also warns us of the danger of nakedness - getting cold. Ridpath Ohi does an expert job of "keeping it vague." It's clear the boy is naked, but you never see any naked parts - not even a butt cheek. 

"And fell through the dark, out of his clothes."
(In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak)

I can't lie: a lot of Sendak books scare the doody out of me. The thought of nearly being baked alive definitely scares the doody out of me. Thankfully Mickey is resourceful enough to save the cake and save his hide. Speaking of his hide, we see a lot of it! Many illustrators use a well-turned body of a well-placed prop to hide the goods, but not Sendak who gives a full frontal 4 times. I think it's relevant to read this 1970 book in context of the streaking craze which began in the late 60s. Are we less free now than we were then? 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Subversive Picture Books - While Your Parents Are Out

I have a picture book idea which is a tad subversive - y'know, a little cannibalism, inappropriate toad jokes, poop-eating, etc. I really want to write this book. I'm positive I can decapitate a cute bunny rabbit is a very classy way. (I'm sure I've made this sound worse than it is...or perhaps not wicked enough.)


Approaching the critique group with such a wild beast of a manuscript is a challenge. I'm guilty of critiquing out others subversive attempts too.

"Your protagonist cannot eat the antagonist in a picture book." (It's happened)

"Why was this child alone?" (PBs do it all the time.)

"The deep dark woods seem a little scary for the 4-6 crowd." (Well... that's where the wild things are.)

So I'm becoming a student of the subversive. Today I want to look at the class of books where the parents are missing, but really aren't "missed." A great picture book rule is to get rid of the parents. But as critique partners who are parents, it is really hard to read manuscripts without thinking, where is the mother? 

"A lot of good tricks. I will show them to you. Your mother will not mind at all if I do."
(The Cat in the Hat, by Dr. Seuss)
Critique: As a mother, I would certainly not want my children to think it was okay to let a strange apparently adult Cat and his two Things in the house while I'm out on a very important errand. But if I'm there, they miss this insane experience, and would never learn how well they can handle themselves in a difficult situation.

"It was midnight when the dancing and the howling began."
(The Boy and The Moon, by James Christopher Carroll)

Critique: You can't have a small child running around climbing to the top of an apple tree at midnight! But one can't be scared of nighttime, and every child should get to experience it. And if I was there, he wouldn't have come up with such a wonderful solution to get the moon unstuck from the tree.

"A pancake here, a pancake there. One in the pan, and three in the air."
(Hey, Pancakes!, By Tamson Weston and illustrated by Stephen Gammell.)

Critique: A hot stove? Rickety stool? Syrup everywhere? Danger, danger, danger! But...we've all made pancakes. We don't know how old big sister at the stove is, but we know if mom and dad had been awake, these siblings wouldn't have had the challenge of finding something to eat to overcome and show their parents how responsible they can be (cleaning up) while still being kids (hiding pancakes in the basement for later.)

"Then the sun came out and we swam together. We rode the waves as if they were horses."
(The Sea Serpent and Me, by Dashka Slater and illustrated by Catia Chien)

Critique: So...there's a sea serpent in the bathroom and Mom hasn't noticed? What. Are there any rules in this house? You can just go the beach by yourself carrying a giant sea serpent? That's not how we roll in my house.  But I've read this book 100 times, and I don't recall ever missing the parents. They don't really matter. This isn't their story; it's the story of a brief and extraordinary friendship.

Red marker in hand a lonely girl creates a boat, flies on a carpet, and saves a magical bird.
(Journey, by Aaron Becker)

Critique: A little girls shouldn't be running around in a fantasy world, nearly falling off waterfalls, and battling knights. But, in this beautiful wordless PB, the parents sort of choose not to be in the story. They are cooking dinner and working, and there isn't enough time. I think that's very relatable. Then little children have a lot of responsibility for making their own fun, and that's an awesome responsibility to have.

What are some of your favorite PBs, new or old, which you would classify as "subversive?"  I'm planning a post on "Slightly Scary" and "Nakeyness," but I'm sure there are other subversive genres I haven't considered yet. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Cruel Summer

I do really love summer, but WOW does it get busy and go fast!

I have had some great things happen in these last few weeks of summer:

1. Hugged a Dinger and a Honker at the same time. (see picture if you are unfamiliar with these characters!)

2. Realized my irrational optimism is genetic when my dad lost his prescription glasses in a wave and my mom and I searched the ocean floor like crazy people. We found a grocery bag, a pair of underwear, 4 pairs of sunglasses, a stingray barb, and eventually... his glasses.

3. Had a red postman butterfly lay a tiny orange egg on my head at the butterfly museum. I'm pretty sure this was a message of love from my grandparents.

4. Have a pumpkin growing from last year's jack o'lantern seeds.

5. Received a magazine acceptance from Stinkwaves for the January 2015 issue!

6. Took the bus into the city all by my big girl self to attend the Children's Book Writing Intensive class at Gotham Writers' Workshop.

7. Won Vesper Stamper's Cruel Summer Contest with my poem Allergic to Fun. The poem was inspired by her NJSCBWI conference winning illustration of a goth child at the beach under her black lace umbrella.

Why not celebrate Labor Day Weekend with an ode to the dangers of summer? Hope you have a great rest of summer.

Allergic to Fun

By Lauri Meyers

Annabelle hated the summer.
Maintaining her cool was a chore-
In a velveteen gown,
With a serious frown
Vacationing down at the shore.

Mom nagged her beneath the umbrella:
"Oh, Annabelle, go have some fun!"
"I better lie low,
'Cause wouldn't you know?
I break out in hives from the sun."

Her sister was sculpting a fortress.
She shoveled the sand from a ditch.
"Come help with this pail?" 
"I'm afraid I must bail.
Your sandcastle's making me itch."

"A-Goo-ba-ba-Goo?" Her bro babbled.
He toddled and sprinkled her knees.
"Be careful li'l man
With that watering can-
The saltwater's making me sneeze!"

The heat was becoming excessive,
And sweat saturated her hair.
She looked to the sea.
How cool it must be...
No way was she going out there.

A triangle poked through the water.
"A shark would be brilliantly bleak."
She left her sweet shade,
Not even afraid,
And walked to the shore for a peek.

She watched the gray fin as it glided.
Excitement arose like a flame.
A dolphin then breeched,
And Annabelle screeched.
"Those beautiful things are so lame."

She stuck out her tongue at the dolphin
And wished it was something to dread.
She turned without pause,
Not looking, and was
Surprised by a wave on her head!

Her family came for assistance. 
She shook and was feeling undone.
"She's having an attack!"
"Try rubbing her back!"
"She's deathly allergic to fun!"

Annabelle's skin was so clammy,
Her mother soon started to fret,
But was shocked to see
The girl grinning with glee:
"It feels really good to be wet!"

Annabelle ran to the ocean.
She'd learned about keeping her cool.
But after a dive,
She noticed a hive-
And sneezed out a salty Achoo!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Writing Process Blog Hop

I was tagged to the Writing Process Blog Hop by Telaina Muir who shared her writing process last Monday. Thank you for tagging me, Telaina! 

1. What am I working on right now?
Mainly I'm focused on maintaining my sanity until summer comes to an end and the kids go back to school. Oh, you mean what am I writing?

My three best picture book manuscripts are in the freezer right now after significant revisions in July.
I'm working on a nonfiction biography picture book, but I keep finding new research that is throwing off my story. Ugh, the risks of research!

I have two PBs I want to try as Easy Readers. I have a feeling they may spark in that format, it's just a matter of trying something new.

I'm indulging my dark YA side with a story about a particularly wicked water witch. I was planning to submit this to Spellbound for their Elementals theme, but I just read they are closing. Bummers. 

My back log of critiques-received-not-yet-edited pieces needs to be addressed...but I have a few new ideas which are drawing my attention away. No sense fighting the muse, so I'm starting two new projects this month.

I'm going to a Gotham Writers Workshop Children's Books Intensive in two weeks using a Christmas gift certificate. Christmas in August!

2. How does my work differ from others in the genre?
I'm trying to create a few boy-friendly characters in a pink-saturated market. (Even though my mom keeps saying, "you should write something like Pinkalicious!" Yes, thank you, Mom.)

3. Why do I write what I do?
(a) I'm a concise writer from years of business writing, so the picture book format is comfortable.
(b) My little gremlins tend to inspire age-appropriate stories.
(c) I must be a tad lazy, because once I figured out I could have an amazing intellectual experience and my heart warmed in 500 words, it does seem unnecessary to write more than that.
(d) I suspect my brain is not quite wired correctly giving me a bizarre sense of humor which is best displayed in picture books.

4. How does my writing process work?
I wouldn't mind being stuck
in a creme egg instead of
(image by chidsey via freeimages)
I make a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, both literally and figuratively. Most of my ideas come together like that: My kids do something ridiculous which provides a relatable situation. Someone says a funny thing which gives me a refrain or character. I have a deep adult thought which provides the emotional current. Then I mash them together with a poop joke. Delicious!

My process is 10% writing, 90% revising. It has occurred to me it would be much more efficient to write better first drafts, but ideas just don't come out that way. I spend a lot of time being stuck, which happens when you are dealing with so much jelly and poo
. When I'm stuck I:
(a) Storyboard on the back of a door
(b) Draw plot arcs with a rainbow of colors
(c) Write the action on index cards and move them around
(d) Highlight manuscripts in various ways- dialog of a character, passive verbs, each action to check for build, etc.
(e) Field trip to nature or other appropriate setting.
(f) Stick it in the freezer.
(g) Ship it off to my critique group to help.
(h) Read or reread a writing book until the problem becomes clear.
(h) Play with my kids so my muse can think without all the pressure.

At some point (around revision 14) the story starts to get polished.

I’m tagging Shar Mohr. We are both members of the Yellow Brick Road Critique Group. Check out Shar's Writing Process  on August 18th.  Then hop over to another YBR member Joy Moore's site on August 25th. Thank you both for hopping and for being such helpful critique partners. 
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