Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Subversive Picture Books (Part 6): Real Life Scary

I'm finally ready with my last post on subversive books: Real Life Scary.

The other topics I covered so far are:
Part 2: Nakeyness
Part 3: The Dark
Part 5: Mortal Danger

I didn't plan to write about real life scariness. It took brainstorming what made books scary to identify this area. I've also been procrastinating this one, because perhaps it scares me the most.

There's something refreshing about being able to close a book on gooey green monsters, which you know probably aren't real. And even though I'm scared of the dark, I know there's probably really not anything lurking in it. But real life. Now, that's scary.

It's probably not fair to call these subversive, but here's a selection of books that make me pause before reading to my kids. And my breath hitches when I consider there are little children who are living in similar situations to these today.

"Bullies might try to look big...but don't let them make you feel small."

(Bully: A Lift the Flap Book, illustrated by Naomi Tipping)

I really dislike having to talk about bullies and to think about my kids being bullied. Or my kids being bullies. This book gives children the tools they need to confront bullying and seek help. It also shines a light on behaviors they need to avoid. 



"Someday we'll be able to choose our own candidates...Someday we may even be able to choose a woman as a candidate."

(Mama Went to Jail for the Vote, by Kathleen Karr, illustrated by Malene Laugesen)

I enjoy a good woman's suffrage story. What makes this one feel risqué is how it gets real on the fight. The years of daily parades and pickets, the personal danger, and the risk of being hauled off in handcuffs. While this mama went to jail for six months, her daughter carried on the fight to gain the right to vote.

"We are quiet. The fear. We run. We crawl."

(Underground, by Shane Evans)

Short sentences and dark pictures show the journey of slaves toward the light of a free day. The background page succinctly sums up the setting: "until the abolition of slavery in 1865, people could lawfully own a fellow human being." But in our real world, young girls were stolen from school and sold off as soldier wives.



"Brundibar is big...and you are small...What to do when you are few? Ask for help, get more of you!"

(Brundibar, by Tony Kushner, illustrated by Maurice Sendak.)

Scary things: A dead daddy they don't remember at all. A very sick mother. A life or death mission to get milk. No money? No milk! Threats of being stuffed in a burlap sack. Children alone in an alley.

Beautiful things: 302 children singing a lullaby to defeat the bully Brundibar, earning milk money, and saving mommy.  

The story is based on an opera performed by the children of the Nazi concentration camp Terezin. The final pages offer a threat from the tyrant Brundibar which says: "Bullies don't give up completely. One departs, the next appears, and we shall meet again my dears!" And I think thank goodness my children don't have to face this. Then I remember children in the world are facing this right now.

"...but there are some things doctors cannot fix either. Ben was too sick for his body to live any longer."

(Ben's Flying Flowers, by Inger Maier, Illustrated by Maria Bogade)

In real-life sometimes little brothers get cancer and die. And big sisters need to mourn and learn how to smile again. This is a difficult topic to share with kids. But for the child going through this situation, it's critical that resources like this book exist.


"People called Ruby names; some wanted to hurt her."

(The Story of Ruby Bridges, by Robert Coles, illustrated by George Ford.)

In 1960 New Orleans a judge ordered a 6-year-old black girl Ruby Bridges to go to a white school. For months she faced pickets and insults and walking to school surrounded by federal marshals. The other children stopped coming to school, so she learned to read and write in a classroom alone. Each day she prayed for the people those people. Wouldn't it be neat to say, "Oh thank goodness this doesn't happen today"?



Did I just write a post with no humor and no farting? Yep. Real life is the scariest thing of all. I am very thankful to have humor to soften the edges of what can be a very frightening world. And I'm grateful writing allows me the time to fully investigate the beauty and wonder of this world, too. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Subversive Picture Books (Part 5) - Mortal Danger

My posts on scary books have covered my biggest fear: The Dark and the Scary Creatures which lurk in it. But why do these scare me so? Danger. Maybe even Mortal Peril. Clearly, this is too scary for picture books, right? Wrong. Let's enter the world of extreme danger in picture books. 

"I would not eat a rabbit."

(I Want My Hat Back, by Jon Klassen) 

Do you ever wonder, "What would my critique group say if my picture book protagonist...um... murdered the antagonist in cold blood?"

"Murder in picture books is off limits."
"I think kids should learn to work it out."
"Maybe they could just hug instead?"

It didn't seem to concern Jon Klassen when he wrote his books This is Not My Hat and I Want My Hat Back.

"Nobody will ever find me."
(This is Not My Hat, by Jon Klassen) 

In both of these books we get a pretty good idea on Klassen's feelings on theft and the repercussions of one's naughty actions. Though we are left with great concern when we ask ourselves, "Why is my child giggling at this ghastly event?" Then, "Why am I giggling too?"


""What is the monster like? Is it the most terrible thing anyone has ever seen?""
(The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Ivan Bates)

Brave little mice think they are ready to see the dark at the top of the stairs even though they've heard the stories about the monster who lives up there. But when they come face to face with the ferocious cat, they quickly go bumpety-bump back down the steps to their safe home. The fear of a monster builds with each page turn, but the young reader gets some relief when they see it's just a cat. Of course, for the mice it's not just a cat- it's a deadly enemy.





"They buried Niki. (...) Then they sang sad songs."
(Maggie and the Pirate, by Ezra Jack Keats)

I confiscated this book from my parents house last time I visited because I adored it so. Maggie lives a dangerous life by my suburban standards - living in an old bus and rafting the river to the grocery store alone. Then she must face a mysterious pirate which results in the tragic drowning death of her pet cricket. The pirate redeems himself by explaining his motivations and giving her a new cricket.



 
"I want something to eat and I want it NOW!"
(One Dark Night, by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Ivan Bates)

This one started in my dark list, but the true worry here is the juxtaposition of  friends mouse and mole venturing out in the dark while a bear is growling and stomping in his cave. You know the two will meet, and it will probably turn oh-no! 





""I think we should all sit on my branch," said Sarah."

(Owl Babies, by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson)

Three owl babies venture out of their home after realizing mommy is gone, facing nighttime, moving creatures, and the fear a fox got mommy. Of course she comes home, but the tension of danger is woven through every page.


"Pardon me, but you're sitting on a..."

(Pardon Me, by Daniel Miyares)

A little bird is getting frustrated with all the animals landing on his island. The last one tries to warn him, but he just wants everyone to leave. Then he gets eaten by the alligator he is sitting on. I guess this is a "sharing is caring" message book? Great illustrations, btw.


What picture books scare you with the fear of mortal danger, or gulp, murder?!



Monday, October 27, 2014

Sulky Spider's Spooky Webs

Susanna Hill is hosting her annual Halloweensie Contest. The rules are to write a Halloween story in 100 words or less including the words pumpkin, creak, and broomstick.

After having a good poem at 111 words, I cut it down to 109. Then I thesaurused (that's a word right?) a few more changes to get to 105. Then I stomped around and pulled my hair out and threw myself on the bed and cried, "Why? Why only 100 words?" I rubbed some fake spiderweb for inspiration and finally got to 100 exactly.

Sulky Spider's Spooky Webs
By Lauri Meyers

Sulky Spider planned a scheme
For making trick or treaters scream.

Spider silk began to spin
A Jack 'o Web with wicked grin.
"Pretty pumpkin," cowgirls said.
"Pretty?" Sulky hung her head.

"A webby ghost will do the trick!"
She spun a spooky ghoul up quick.
Pirates shouted, "Ghosts are neat!"
She gobbled up her web. "Defeat."
   
Spinnerets began to twitch.
"A warty-broomstick-riding-witch!"
A princess cooed, "That witch is sweet."
She stomped all eight offended feet.

"I need a buggy snack," she frowned. 
Sticky thread went round and round.
She didn't hear the stairway creak.

"A spiderweb!" they hollered, "Eek!"


I'd like to thank the Orb Spider (I think that's the right identification) who has been living in my shed for weeks for the inspiration. This spider moved her gigantic web every other day so we had to approach cautiously not knowing where it could be now. My husband suggested (gasp!) killing the spider. But this spider was working hard to deal with the bugs in our shed, and I classified her as "too big to squish" anyhow. Yeah, bigger than a quarter = too much spider guts. 

Make sure to check out all the other great entries for the Halloweensie contest too!

Update: Sulky Spider's Spooky Webs won THIRD PLACE, and I won a critique from Alayne Christian!


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How to Summon Your Muse

The leaves are turning red, zombies are roaming my neighbor's yard, and I'm wearing my gray writing sweater every day, it must be...PiBoIdMo time!


Logo by Vin Vogel
This is my third Picture Book Idea Month, and I am primed and ready to fill another notebook with ideas inspired by fabulous daily guest posts. But I'm not sure my muse is ready. She's having a really hard time adjusting to back to school. Just because I have a tiny bit of free time, doesn't mean she's no longer needed.

Tara Lazar (whose sixth picture book just sold, btw!) posed a question about how a writer can summon their muse. I always revert back to my corporate training in flowcharting when it comes to questions like this.


Easy Peasy!
Enjoy spending the month of November with your muse, and the fresh smell of unicorn rainbow gas. 

UPDATE: I won a guest posting spot on PrePiBoIdMo from Tara. SQUEE! Read the final post here along with Summoning Your Muse with amazing illustration by Julie Rowan Zoch. 



Monday, October 20, 2014

Subversive Picture Books (Part 4)- 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.


" ...so 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:

I LOST THE MANUSCRIPT.

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
finished."
(Angry Bear by Malowanki via
freeimages.com)
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

Subversive Picture Books (Part 3): 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!
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