Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why Picture Books Matter

     You know that feeling of excitement when you open a fresh container of play-doh?  I like to take a whiff of its salty smell first.  Then I plop it out carefully without injury to its perfect cylinder shape.  Finally, when the dough is least expecting it, I smush it with abandon.   Oh so soft and supple, ready to transform into anything I can imagine.   Sloppy spaghetti on a plate. A penguin prince sailing an iceberg to NYC.  Axl Rose.

Some serious smashing is
about to go down. 
     Tara Lazar posted this week on the importance of picture books to children: "Picture books let them know there’s a place without limits. (Psst, it’s called “the imagination”!)"

      Some activities - like playing in the back yard because mommy is digging in the garbage disposal to see if she lost her mind in there- force kids to use their imaginations.  These activities are like rolling pins, dough presses, and cookie cutters shaping and stretching little minds.

     Other activities - like watching the Gangnam style video on youtube repeatedly or playing Angry Birds - harden those kid brains like a misshapen dough meatball lost behind a table leg. 

      I want my kids to have mushy brains!  (Um, well, you know what I mean.)  I want them to see infinite possibilities.  So how do I keep their imaginations fresh and moldable? 

Read. Read. Read. 

      I was reminded of this last night at a Kindergarten Readiness meeting at pre-K.  "The most important thing you can do for your children is to read.  Read them anything.  Read their favorite books over and over again if they ask."  Even if it's SpongeBob Squarepants Slurps Stinky Spaghetti for the seventeeth time.  It doesn't matter what, just keep reading. 

So, I want to know:  what is your record for most picture books read in a day?  I commit to attempting to beat the highest number posted in the comments!  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Quiet Mind is the Perfect Place for an Idea Attack

     Long drives usually make my eyes glaze over with boredom, but on the way home from the holidays I jumped at the opportunity because it meant a break from being the wet nurse for the back seat drivers.   
     "Mommy I can't find my nugget!" they screamed.
     "Sorry, Mommy's driving," I beamed.   
     Happily, I let my mind go blank.  White.  Empty.
 My New Happy Place!
Eye by Vjeran Lisjak & 
Wheel by Melinda Bylow via
     But the stillness was short-lived, because lots of happy little picture book ideas came to visit.  The unruly fellows yelled out their stories at the same time.  
      My husband was busy combating a barrage of flying crayons, so I fired up my Dragon Dictation app.  I was too excited to recite calmly, and ended up with a garbled mess of story bits.  My husband feeling heroic after winning the crayon battle, took pity on me and wrote down the ideas as they attacked. 

      "Start another page, please!"  I howled.
      "How many of these are there going to be?" he scowled.

     Thankfully the ideas finally formed a line, except for one mischievous dude throwing spit balls at me.  Sorry, I just don't think a book about a kid who's a truck driver makes any sense!  I thought.  Blam-o!  A really wet wad whacked me on the ear.   Fine, fine, I'll write it down.

      "Another page, honey - this whole story is coming out!" I hoped.
      "I'm done after this," he moped.

      Thirty miles later, 13 ideas and a story skeleton were recorded, my quota for PiBoIdMo was complete, and I learned a valuable lesson about the importance of a quiet mind. 

But how do I recreate the experience?  Where do you go to find a quiet place?  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


    I woke up on the wrong side of the bed today.  Quite literally.  Just like in a fairy tale, the moment my foot stepped out on the right (not left) side of the bed, the Wrong-Side-of-the-Bed-Gnomes conspired to penalize me for insubordination.  

    The first fellow quietly padded in his red felted slippers over to the bathroom and put the toothpaste in the wrong drawer, causing me five minutes of delay and leaving a wake of products strewn across the bathroom. 

    The second green -hatted lad kept hiding my coffee in different rooms.  It was cold when I finally found it, and the morning seemed worse without proper caffeination. 

Lauri's Stories,
"Has anyone seen any
hot babe Munchkins
around here?"
by Tracy Scott-Murray via
    Finally, a particularly spiteful troll wearing lederhosen had the audacity to make me put my shirt on backwards.  I only discovered as I ran out the door, but I didn't have time to switch it because we needed to acquire a box of donuts for a school party.  

    But we didn't get far before I yelled, "AGH!  Where are my keys?  We are going to be late with the munchkins!"  Hasselhoff Troff must have thought I was talking about the munchkins from the Wizard of Oz, because my keys suddenly appeared in my hand.  Apparently, munchkins and trolls are good friends. 

    Well, we got the munchkin donuts and my munchkin kids to school on time.  And I finally took the time to laugh at myself- the biggest grumpiest gnome of them all.

But I'm still wearing my shirt backwards just to show those gnomes who's boss around here.

Have the gnomes been bothering you lately?  I've heard tell that laughing at yourself scares them away every time. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mash Up Match Up Game! (A New Story Idea Guaranteed)

Day 10 of PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) brought a great idea from Diana Murray to try a mash up of ideas to create fresh new picture books.  To add structure to this inspiration, I decided to create the Birthday Mash Up Match Up Game!  

How to Play: 
By Miguel Saavedra
There are two lists below.  Find your birth month in the first listing and grab the corresponding classic golden book.   Find your birth day from the second listing and grab the corresponding movie.  Then select any elements of the stories - characters, plot, key word in title, etc. -  and mash 'em together.  The idea could be for a picture book or for whatever genre you prefer.  

For example, my birthday is December 5.  So I mashed up The Saggy Baggy Elephant and Titanic.  (Oh crapplesauce, how in the world am I going to do that?)   Okay, goes.

S.B. Elephant is the biggest elephant in the plains.  In fact he is the biggest elephant of all time!  No one and nothing can stop S.B. - until he steps on a teeny tiny needle and has the biggest pain in the plain.  How could something so small stop something so big?

Your turn!  Please share the pitch of your story in the comments so we can all be inspired!

Classic Golden Books (The Month)
1  The Monster at the End of the Book
2  The Little Engine Who Could
3 The Poky Little Puppy
4 The Little Red Hen
5 Scuffy the Tugboat
6 The Little Red Caboose
7 Lasso the Moon
8  Tawny Scrawny Lion
9 The Shy Little Kitten
10 The Sailor Dog
11 The Fire Engine Book
12 The Saggy Baggy Elephant

The Top 25 All Time Grossing Films Adjusted for Inflation (The Day)
1    Gone with the Wind      
2    Star Wars
3    The Sound of Music
4    E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
5    Titanic  
6    The Ten Commandments
7    Jaws     
8    Doctor Zhivago 
9    The Exorcist
10  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs         
11  101 Dalmatians 
12  The Empire Strikes Back
13  Ben-Hur
14  Avatar  
15  Return of the Jedi
16  Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace      
17  The Sting
18  The Lion King
19  Raiders of the Lost Ark 
20  Jurassic Park      
21  The Graduate   
22  Fantasia              
23  The Godfather 
24  Forrest Gump   
25  Mary Poppins   
26  Grease
27  Marvel's The Avengers 
28  Thunderball       
29  The Dark Knight               
30  The Jungle Book
31  Sleeping Beauty

Please let someone with a June 9th birthday join the fun so we can see what the Little Red Caboose needs to exorcise.  Or a March 29th Dark Knight meets Little Poky Puppy - Mwahahaha!

***Thanks Laura Sassi for sharing this post - it made the front cover of Opening a Can of Bookworms Daily**

Friday, November 9, 2012

Stop Shunning Your Manuscripts - Edit with Love

I have been shunning one of my manuscripts.

It was my favorite.  I still remember the night I jumped out of bed and began feverishly scrawling the idea for the character.  I had a hard time getting to sleep that night thinking, this is the one!  My first love. 

"And then she said I couldn't edit with her
anymore and now we aren't friends!"
via by Ned Horton
But after it received its second rejection, I tucked it away and stopped even cordially waving when I passed it in my notebook.   Some days I would put "edit Willie" on my to-do list, but I never got to the task.

Why was I being so harsh to my love?  I thought about the happy spring picnics where we would discuss our dreams for the future and the summer days by the beach where it would make me laugh so hard I snorted. 

I forced myself to give it a look the other day, after quietly saying sorry.  The manuscript got some much needed TLC, and I fell back in love again.  After that episode, I realized I had been displaying bad manuscript parenting.  

I needed to be nicer when it came to my editing notes too.  One poor manuscript had "Rework" written across the top, which was as enticing as "hey you, go down in the coal mine with a pick axe for 12 hours, okay?"  I crossed that off and wrote "Tighten up, Buttercup!"  Okay, I want to do that!

I have another story which is cute-ish but a tad blah.  Poor thing was only getting hand-me-down editing and had nothing nice to wear.  Enough was enough.   That one now says "Sis boom bah pow, Give me some Wow!"  I'm pretty sure I caught it standing a little taller with its new notes.

I am heading to the NJ SCBWI Writing Craft Day on Saturday, and I hope to come home with a gift for each manuscript.  Each one is unique, so the gifts will be different, but I’m going to try to be as fair as possible. 

Do you play favorites with your manuscripts? 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Fear and Joy as Inspiration

     While the power was out last week, I suffered a recurring zombie dream.   Being cut off from television and internet lets your imagination loose in the dark streets of your light-deprived mind.  
     One particularly cold night we stayed at a friend's house.  I was lulled to sleep with the sense of security the loud hum of a generator provides.  At 1:30 in the morning the generator cut.  And my body froze in place:        
Oh no, the zombie attack is happening. Saltwater from the hurricane must have made subway rats sick, spreading a virus to humans.  The sound of generators will decrease each day until only silence and zombies remain. 

Lauri Meyers Childrens Writer
copyright H. O'dowd
      Luckily, we got the generator back on without major incident.  And then my friend did something amazing.  Since she couldn't run in the NYC Marathon (cancelled), she organized a local marathon to support a police officer seriously injured during Hurricane Sandy.  In the flash of a day I went from pure fear of the world ending flesh-eating style to lump-in-the-back-of-your-throat joy at seeing her cross the finish line. 
       With my emotions bubbling right at the surface, all sorts of story ideas popped up.  They floated freely because my inner critic was too tired to control the situation.  I could have caught the ideas like fish in a barrel!  Instead I put down my fishing pole and just kept the ideas warm under the blankets rather than risk the cold for a pen and paper.
        And so Picture Book Idea Month started introspectively for me.  I had originally planned a Halloween post last week about using fear as inspiration.  But I think maybe extreme joy may just be better inspiration.

Which is better inspiration - fear or joy? 

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