Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Gifts We Give our Children (and Main Characters)

This Christmas I gave the children lots of stuff.  Sparkly stuff, shiny stuff, shrill sounding stuff, swirling stuff and stuffed stuff.   They are pretty good wonderful kids, and I am lucky to be able to give them these gifts.

Lauri Meyers
by foxumon via sxc.hu
But it got me thinking about the other gifts I can give my children - self esteem, compassion, responsibility to name a few.

I'm a pretty good fantastic Mom.  And sometimes I am spectacular, evoking my days as a 4-H camp counselor.  But when I'm tired, overwhelmed, it's Monday, or any other number of situations, I can be a real lousy lady.  

I'm reading the 10 Greatest Gifts I Give my Children by Steven W. Vannoy and hoping to store some of the tips in my parenting purse for those too-frequently-occurring lousy occasions.

I was struck by how consistent the advice for raising kids is with advice on writing for kids, such as:

Let kids develop their own solutions when problems strike.  Quoting the book: "No more rushing to rescue the younger ones, no more moralizing [to older ones], no imposition of adult solutions to the kids' problems." 

Kids watch what we do, so "modeling" the right behaviors is an important parenting tool.  How effective is "eat your vegetables" if you don't have a mouthful of green beans?   May I have another spoonful of "show don't tell," please?

Valuing kids' feelings is critical - even though they aren't 'adult' problems and even though they don't have as many words to express them.  We need to respect the concerns of our little main characters even if they seem like insignificant issues.  

I shouldn't be surprised by the similarities, really.  Writing rules weren't developed to serve some sort of Literary Emperor.  They exist because understanding how children work is necessary to write great books for children to enjoy.  (Well, and to sell those books...what's Christmas without a little bit of capitalism?)

Happy Holidays everyone!

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Mom to Share Holiday Story

Susanna Leonard Hill is hosting her second annual Holiday Contest where you write a children's holiday story beginning with any version of "Dashing through the snow in a one horse open sleigh" and under 350 words.   In case you were wondering 350 words is not very many, but forces editing practice!  

Happy Holidays everyone!

A Mom to Share
By Lauri Meyers

Photo by N.J. Lee via Flickr
Hopping through the squares in brown leather shoes, Maggie picked up her rock. 
"How come you wear those shoes every day, even with your purple dress?"  Eva asked. 
"They're the only pair I have," Maggie replied and skipped back to 1. 

At home Eva spread her shoes across the floor.  She slid the flowered ones in her backpack. 
"The flowers will match your purple dress," Eva said and handed Maggie the shoes.
"Thank you!"  Maggie gave Eva a high five.

For sharing day, Maggie brought the same pirate book she did every week.  
"Maggie, is that your favorite book?" Eva asked.
"Well, it's the only one I have," Maggie said. 

Eva had hundreds of books.  She even had two Crazy Caterpillar books from her fifth birthday.  She shoved both books in her backpack.
"Maggie, I have a book to share with you," Eva said.
"Awesome!" Maggie said.  They opened their books and giggled at the goofy bug.     

The girls colored pictures of Christmas trees with presents underneath. 
"Who are you making your card for?" Maggie asked. 
"My Mom, of course!" Eva smiled.  "Are you giving yours to your Mom?"
"Oh, I don't have one of those," Maggie said quietly and kept coloring.

Eva knew Mom would be too big to shove into her backpack.  Plus, she still needed her quite a bit.
"Mom, I shared shoes and a book with my friend, but I don't think I could share you," Eva said.
"Hmm, that is a problem," Mom said and pulled a pan of chocolate chip cookies out of the oven.  "She is very lucky to have a friend like you."  Mom broke a gooey cookie in half. 
"Your cookies are so delicious," Eva said as chocolate dripped down her lip. 
"Must be the extra love I add," Mom said.

Eva couldn't wait to see Maggie the next day at lunch. 
"Maggie, I'm sorry I can't give you my Mom, but I brought some of her love," Eva said and handed Maggie a cookie.   Maggie gave Eva a long hug.   Eva thought the cookies tasted even better shared. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Memory Mining: One Pony or Two?

To be fair he had to use those ties
with the little balls on the ends.
       When I was five I would sit on the bottom step in front of a mirror.  My dad would ask "one pony or two?" and fix my hair in the requested fashion.   Too bad he didn't ask about straight or not, because I always ended up with lopsided ponytails.
      After years of giving him a hard time about his salon skills, I admit defeat at the challenge of chasing a child and inserting decent looking ponytails.  On the rare occasion I find success, those stinkers yank 'em out within minutes.

      What a sweet, if asymmetrical, memory.  Ahh, my memory!  That wonderful place where snow isn't cold and Ramen Noodles taste expensive.  

      Have you been shopping lately in your memory for picture book ideas?   Maybe the memory itself isn't worthy of a book, but the feeling that accompanies the memory is

      Rob Sanders (author of Cowboy Christmas,  which I was lucky enough to win from his blog) had a series of posts in the summer encouraging writers to document those early memories as inspiration.  Check out his charts to help you mine your mind.

Lauri Stories
I didn't really care, as long as
the tree was loaded!
    The holidays are a time of memories, aren't they?  One Christmas morning I remember creeping down that same set of stairs where crooked ponytails were created and spying the presents in front of the tree.  Though many were wrapped in crisp, colorful paper, my breath halted when I saw the Strawberry Shortcake dolls lined up in front of the presents.  There were a million of them! (or maybe eight - but still!)  Though the image is bright and vivid in my mind, I still like to open the box of Strawberry Shortcakes at home to get the fruitastic smell which accompanies the memory.

What is your favorite holiday memory?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Write Like a Celebrity

PiBoIdMo is over!   I have over 30 lovely picture book ideas just waiting for me to write them. I immensely enjoyed my first Picture Book Idea Month hosted by Tara Lazar at Writing for Kids While Raising Them.    Each day in November a writer or illustrator posted advice, experiences, and inspiration to light a spark for participants gathering story ideas. 

It got me thinking, daydreaming really, about being famous one day (as I sometimes do to gain inspiration).  What would I write in my PiBoIdMo post?   How would I inspire others to develop ideas for children's stories? 

I loved the idea generator posts the most including the idea mash up by Diana Murray and brainstorming in themes by Corey Rosen Schwartz

So, here's my suggestion.  Write a picture book "like (fill in celebrity) would write." 
Some of my friends are anti-celebrity book, so I'm not suggesting celebrities literally writing.  I'm merely saying don a persona of someone interesting and write from his or her perspective.

How would it impact one of your ideas if Oscar the Grouch was writing it?  I bet it would be far more stinky and delightfully trashy.

"I'm Steven Tyler and I'm going to yell/sing this book to youuuuuuu!"  Just how loud and screechy could your book become?

"This here's Aretha Franklin, and you need to get to reading this book now or I'm going to give you something to think about."   You better give your manuscript some respect!

"Mr. T pities the fool who doesn't turn the page.  Bop! I made you turn the page and then I headbutted you.  Alright now turn the next page real slowly.  Bop! I headbutted you again.  Fool!"

Or Lady Gaga.  Ooh.  Wouldn't she push the story a little further into a dark wilderness than you have?  She would search for the perfect word to make you hold your breath; and then do it over and over again.  And the colors.  You can see the pictures can't you?  Bold and vibrant in crisp shapes on black backgrounds.

So which celebrity's voice would you like to try on for a day?  

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Mischievous Elf on the Shelf

    As a new blogger, I completed the "April Platform a Day" Challenge at Robert Lee Brewer's site.   He sprayed firehouse information at me, and I asked questions liked "What's Pinterest?"  Thankfully much of the social media and blogging concepts I learned then seem like second nature now.  A community sprung out of the challenge which now goes by the name "Wordsmith Studio." 
     During December Wordsmith Studio is hosting a weekly writing prompt.  Please stop by to check out the prompts and participate.  I couldn't resist trying my hand at a 700 word story when I saw this photo prompt: 
Photo by Gerry Wilson

The Elf Spy

By Lauri Meyers

     I dropped my backpack where Mom says it’s a major trip hazard.  Whatever, she'd leave it there too, if she had to carry 8 text books every day.  As I walked to the kitchen to snag a snack, I felt the chill of someone staring at me.  My parents weren't home yet, and Addie's bus didn't arrive for another hour.   I couldn't resist the urge to turn around, and I scanned the empty room.  
     Then I saw it.  An elf sat with little green legs crossed on the mantle.  I froze wondering if it had noticed me.  Of course it sat there innocently with a wide smile, but his stare gave his secret away - more than wood hid behind those eyes.  I grabbed my backpack and bounded two steps at a time to my room.  I needed to study anyhow, and my room had a lock. 
     "Hi Honey, I'm home!"  Mom knocked on my door awhile later. 
     "Shhh," I whispered.  "Get in here."  I locked the door behind her.
     "What's with all the secrecy, Evan?  Am I part of a spy mission?"  She smiled.
     "Mom, I haven't played spies since fourth grade," I huffed.  "Did you see it?"
     "See what?" she asked.  I took a deep breath.  My mom could be so clueless.  
     "The elf."
     "Oh, yes!  You saw the elf I got?  Addie is just going to love it.  All of her friends have one."
     "They what?" I asked.  "You can be so naive," I whispered under my breath.
     "What was that mister?"
     "For ... Christmas Eve?" I covered.  "Mom, don't you know how dangerous elves are?  They wake up at night to cause mischief.  You don't want one in the house."
     Mom smiled coyly, probably thinking I still believed in Santa, which of course I don't.  "Well, I'll need someone to keep an eye on that elf then."  She leaned in close, "Do you think you could be in charge of elf surveillance?"
     Clearly Mom was trying to be funny, but she was on to something.  I was the best person for the job.  I nodded and opened the door.
     "Thanks for picking up your backpack today.  I think I stumbled through the door just out of habit!" 
     I started to create a plan to monitor the elf over night, but only got as far as adding "night vision goggles" to my Christmas list.  Rummaging through the closet, I found the old nanny cam Mom used to put out when we had babysitters.   I stuffed the bear in my backpack and headed downstairs.   I set the bag down with the zipper open so the bear's camera eyes could see the fireplace.
      Surveillance planning is exhausting work, so I slept pretty well even with the intruder in the home.   I woke up early to make sure I had time to check the video before school.  Instead I found Dad already up cleaning a spill. 
      "Good morning champ.  Looks like the dishwasher has a leak," he said.   I glanced sideways at the elf of the mantle and grabbed the bear.   I ran into Addie on her way down to breakfast.
      "Mister Bear!  Oh where did you find him?" she squealed.
      "Oh, he was just in my closet," I replied and tried to escape to my room.  
      "Are we having a babysitter tonight?"
      "I'm kinda busy Addie," I said.  She looked so disappointed I added, "You can play with him after school.  Ok?"   She smiled and skipped to the kitchen.   As I headed up the stairs, I heard her yell in certain agony "Daddy, my princess plate melted!"  I needed to watch this video and fast.  
      After locking the door, I rewound the tape and pressed play.  The elf and his perky red hat weren't moving, so I hit fast forward.  Right at 3:03AM I saw his booty move just for a second, then static started.  I fumbled for the fast forward again with sweaty hands.  The footage of the elf on his shelf returned at 4:03AM.
      "Mom, I need to show you something."  I tried to sound casual.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw movement.  The elf wagged his finger at me "no, no, no."

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