Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Thank you

I've been meaning to say THANK YOU to Bridget Heos and the Mr. Pig writers at The Little Crooked Cottage for running a giveaway I recently won.  

I received this awesome Mustache Baby prize pack - Signed copy of Mustache Baby by Bridget Heos, mustache playing cards, and mustache binky. I've found sucking on a mustache binky while writing can really drive your creativity, and I'm much less likely to cry during editing.

This week it dawned on me the best way to say thank you is via Jack O'Lantern. So I carved a Bad Mustache pumpkin. He came out quite wicked, wouldn't you say?

If you have not read Mustache Baby, get your hands on it.  For writers, this book will push you to pun-perfection, as in this example when the baby's mustache turns out to be a bad mustache:

Billy's disreputable mustache led him to a life of dreadful crime. 
He became: A cat burglar. A cereal criminal. 
And a train robber so heartless that he even stole the tracks.

Can you guess what illustrator Joy Ang did with those words? It's pun-domonium!

The book is also a great mentor text for how to handle the unusual with everyday ease.  Just because it's highly unlikely for a baby to be born hairy-lipped, doesn't mean you can't write a picture book about it. In fact if your critique group says an idea is "too far-fetched," you better work that idea until no one cares how wacky it is.  

Thank you again to Bridget and Mr. Pig!  Happy Halloween everyone!

Monday, October 28, 2013

White Cat's Halloween - a Halloweensie Poem

It's the time of year to gorge small children with sugar and make them pee their pants! Which also means it's time for Susanna Leaonard Hill's Halloweensie contest. The rules: your Halloween story must be 100 words or less and include the words black cat, cackle, and spooky. 

Last year I wrote about the poor Jack O' Lantern who couldn't go trick or treating. This year I'm tackling the serious issue of feline bullying. This particular entry was inspired by a "Short & Sweet" Susanna also hosts monthly. 

(image by jerca via, with edits)
White Cat's Halloween

By Lauri C. Meyers, 2013

Violet's sad on Halloween.
Teasing black cats treat her mean:

"You can't even cause a fright
(image by orleil via
Wearing fur so milky white!"

Violet narrows bright green eyes,
"I can too cause children's cries!"

Arching back, extended claws
Loudly yowl- expect applause.

Black cats cackle, "What was that?
Sounded like a laughing rat!"
(image by giane via, with edits)

Wilted tail and full of gloom,
Violet mounts her witch's broom.

Fading clouds, one moonlight ray
Makes white fur glow purple gray.

"What was that?" a youngster reels.
"Run! A ghost!" another squeals.
(images by annahe & mzacha via,
with edits)

Violet yowls her kooky mew,
"White cats can be spooky too!"

Thanks for reading and remember, don't forget white cats can be spooky too!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What Slows Down a Read Aloud

Picture books need to be under 500 words (and that's only when you overshoot 350.)  Pacing and word choice are important. Manuscripts must be read out loud.  I know these things, but a lightbulb clicked on recently:

time my read aloud story to ensure it reads like a low word count story.

So, I timed myself reading aloud the same books as my last post. Not because I'm lazy, because I'm efficient. Very efficient. Kind of like how I'm efficiently working my way through a bag of candy corn right now. Anyhow, here they are:

Kitten's First Full Moon (Henkes, 2004) - 264 words  - 3 minutes to read (1.5 seconds/word)
Children Make Terrible Pets (Brown, 2010) - 372 words - 3' 40" to read (1.7 seconds/word)
The Boy Who Cried Ninja (Latimer, 2011) - 517 words - 4 minutes to read (2.2 seconds/word)

You may be saying "Well, there's some variability each time you read a story." And you are right. I didn't note how many times my 3-year-old tried to pick my nose during each read, nor how long it took her to read all the "squeaks" in Children Make Terrible Pets.

You may also be saying "1 second or 2 seconds per word, you're splitting hairs." To which I say, "I have a hair appointment scheduled, and I'd thank you kindly to not point out my split ends."

What slows down a read aloud?

Ready. Set. Read!
(Stopwatch by Daino 16 via
1. Long, Slow Words. Some words are delicious making you slow down and savor them, like applesauce in the 2 minute read Boy + Bot. Other words are long and twisty on the tongue, like cauliflower, and will slow a story down.  Not all long words are bad, like bulldozer, which has a lovely z in it and is nearly an onomatopoeia- fun to say and worth the time. You can't ban all long, slow words, but you must use them sparingly at appropriate times.

2. Long Sentences/ Complex Structure - The longest sentence in the slower read Ninja is 31 words. The longest sentence in Children is 16 words. Some of those long sentences are wonderfully written, but they do slow the pace. Other dangers lie in long/complicated sentences: confusion and long-windedness, which you never want your reader to suffer through.

3. Alliteration - A little alliteration is sweet, but a lot makes for a giant tongue-twister.  They aren't called tongue twisters because they are easy to read quickly (though we love to try!)

4. Repetition is tricky. Brief, cautiously used repeated phrases can speed up read aloud, because your brain is quickly recognizing those repeated words, as it does in Kitten with "poor kitten" or the repetition of "Squeaker" in Children.  But too much repetition can slow it down - like you're stuck in a never ending version of There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly.

I'm guilty of abusing all of these devices, going too far looking for an interesting word choice, creating complexity where it can be avoided, twisting tongues all day long. As penance, I'm going to force myself to finish this bag of candy corn and then start making better choices.

What do you think slows a read aloud down?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Mentor Texts

I read in several "how to write" books to try typing out picture books you love to see what they looked like as a manuscript.  Well, I dutifully ignored this advice for a year.

I finally tried it with the following books a few weeks ago:
            Kitten's First Full Moon - 264 words (By Kevin Henke, 2004)
            Children Make Terrible Pets - 372 words (By Peter Brown, 2010)
            This Moose Belongs to Me - 397 words (By Oliver Jeffers, 2012)
            The Boy Who Cried Ninja - 517 words (By Alex Latimer, 2011)

Here's what I learned:
Typing the text let's you really absorb it. Like drinking it through a straw.  I also tried drinking it through a straw, but it required so much water to make the pages slurpable that I really got a significant tummy ache and a severe case of belching.
"Look Ma, I learned how to use mentor texts!"
image by C├ęcile Graat via

Typing it out (if you're a fast keyer) is much better than counting all the words one by one. I can count to 1,000, really I can, but I'm lazy and easily distracted so I often lose count or accidentally start counting sheep.

Parallel structures and repetition become clearer once typed. Let yourself copy and paste when writing!

Word count reduction methods are easier to see - such as by omitting dialogue tags, letting the illustrations work, and avoiding "and," "or", "but."  If you look at some of the typed text without any art notes or illustrations, you could imagine many things happening on that spread. 

Richness and plot can be obtained in very few words. It's magical when it does.

How do you use mentor texts to learn the craft?  
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