Sunday, January 23, 2011


Here's a riddle I wrote a long time ago.  It is wanting, but still kind of fun:

Only one man I know
Has no skeleton at all
And he can’t really stand on his own

He is six and a half
Maybe seven feet tall
And he’s always been truly full-grown

He’s got no room for skin
Wears a hat on his head
And he’s not known for changing his clothes

He’s not bronze, he’s not brass
He’s not living or dead...
So then who is this man?  Who knows?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Why Aren’t You a Rocket Scientist?

Remember your dream of becoming an astronaut, entertainer, pro basketball player, archaeologist…(fill in the blank)?  What became of the time when those things were within our reach?  Did we get old, fat, lazy, kicked to the curb too many times?  Did “reality” finally set in and we realized we weren’t tall enough, talented enough, smart enough…?  Did too many people say, “Really?  You?”  When did we lose our passion for pursuing our dreams?  Were we unable to do the work or take the needed risks to attain them?  Couldn’t they at least have changed a little bit?  Maybe you’re not tall enough for basketball, but what about baseball?  I used to ponder the sea of faces in my classroom and wonder what percentage would actually accomplish what they believed they could.  If I spend 40 of my waking hours working, I have to face the question at some point about whether I am really doing what I want to do.  For some reason, I can’t grasp the concept that’s becoming more evident; spending the majority of my life doing something that doesn’t seem like the right fit for me.  If I’m one of the minority who is actually still chasing my dream, does that make me naive?  Am I immature, unrealistic, and too optimistic for my own good?  My stats show that some of you are actually reading this blog (surprise and thanks!), but I’d really like to hear comments, especially on this one.  What, if anything, are you doing to pursue your dreams?  Do you still have them?  What are your obstacles?   If you’re in a career that’s making you miserable, have you lost hope?  Is there something you can do to turn it around or are you happy working the mundane 8-5, punching in and out, waiting for your shift to be over until you are retired or older?  Are you leaving a legacy for your children that says, “Mom/dad worked hard, but is now doing exactly what she/he wants to do”?  While my dreams have remained the same for some time, I’m finally putting in the work and taking the risks that I’m hoping will lead to the accomplishments I’m striving for.  This isn’t to say that I’m unhappy, but I believe that, if I try, I could be doing exactly what I want to do.  How about you?

Thursday, January 20, 2011


I have a great idea!
Now to find the stuff I’ll need;
A purple feather boa,
A shiny golden bead,

A whisker from a kitten,
An orange cut in half,
Some black and white confetti,
A hair from a giraffe,

A little bamboo basket,
A half a cup of flour,
Some dandelion seedlings,
A maid paid by the hour,

An ounce of molten lava,
A stack of sturdy bricks,
A dozen chocolate donuts,
A poodle doing tricks

I’ve got it all together,
All gathered, hired, and caught.
It’s too bad my idea
Is the one thing I forgot!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Writing, Commercialism, and the Genius of Dirty Chips

When the toilet paper was at the end of the roll, I had no choice but to go to the store for two or three items I couldn’t do without.  If you’ve been in my kitchen, you know I’m not the type to fill it with sugary, salty, or otherwise unhealthy foods.  Even on hour-long trips to the store, I don’t impulse shop and I’m almost never swayed by commercialism.  Today, I admit, was an exception.  A bag, strategically placed at the end of the bread aisle, read “Dirty Potato Chips.”  My first thought was, “Ew…who wants to eat dirty chips?”  It conjured up memories of eating at a restaurant called Chuck-a-Rama where, no matter how good the food was, I couldn’t help but think of that scene in Stand By Me (the one with the castor oil) and it made me gag.  The second time I passed them, I giggled at the thought of a couple of potato farmers sitting around in their boxers scratching their heads and justifying the name “Dirty” because, after all, potatoes come from the ground, right?  Believe it or not, standing in the grocery line, I couldn’t get the dirty, rotten, salt magnets out of my head.  The mere brand name gave me enough reason to feel that I had to try them.  In their defense, they were really quite tasty and I ate more than I should have.  If you are what you eat, I guess that makes me a couch potato. My point being (since it all comes back to writing), that it is sometimes the simplest and most ridiculous title that will compel a reader to pick up a book.  I’m hoping that rings true for “Never Poke a Porcupine,” my next attempt at a children’s picture book.  On that note, I’d better get back to writing it and to the bag of Jalapeno Heat Dirty Potato Chips screaming my name.

One Too Many by Gianna Marino

One Too Many is a seek-and-find almost wordless counting book that follows one flea and adds different types of farm animals in sequence to twelve.  Each page presents a new number and new creatures with the flea subtly depicting which animal has been added by hopping to that species last on that page.  The creatures are almost entirely black, white, and gray, and the story culminates with a skunk who sneaks up to the trough where the animals are drinking, sprays its scent, and stinks the others out.

If I could nominate a Caldecott winner for 2011, it would, without a doubt, be this book.  The animals are extremely lifelike, not only in illustration, but in character as well.  Marino includes an activity page in the back that tells how many of each animal and gives the reader additional things to look for, like the pig whose ear is always being chewed.  The animals are convincing, playful, and unpredictable, which gives young children a chance to use their narrative skills to tell what’s happening in each picture.  My son was just as excited about counting where the flea was bouncing as he was to count the animals.  He was enraptured by the bats and made up a game that the mice were probably playing.  We really enjoyed this book.

The Thingamabob - Il Sung Na

This is another fantastic story time read-aloud by Il Sung Na. An elephant finds an umbrella and tries to discover its use. He explores some creative and humorous ideas until it rains and he’s finally successful.

The elephant in the story is loveable and childlike and the humor is perfectly appropriate for very young children. The preschoolers in my story time group laughed out loud when he tried, unsuccessfully to hide behind the umbrella. The foreshadowing gives them a chance to guess what’s coming on the last page. The story is cute, concise, and shows how much fun imagination can be. What really brings it to life, though, are the illustrations with their soft, subtle colors and beautiful patterns that are unique to Na. As with his debut picture book, A Book of Sleep, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the beautiful animal characters, which are well-tailored to the story. I’m already anticipating Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit, which comes out this spring.


Last weekend, I had the opportunity to go to an amazing writers' conference.  Attendees had the option of getting a manuscript critique, so I jumped all over that.  An editor and agent read a poem of mine aloud, leaving it anonymous, and then gave very blunt and descriptive evaluations of it in front of about thirty other people.  Years ago, I was a member of a critique group, so I know how the process works.  It's a sandwich.  If you can find anything nice to say about the piece, say it first.  Then add all of the constructive criticism you can.  Lastly, say something else to encourage the writer, lest they commit literary suicide and stop writing. 

Both editor and agent were extremely flattering about my work in the first layer.  Then, somewhere during the "meat" of my critique, the editor said, "It doesn't have a plot.  It just goes from one d*&# thing to the next."  Somehow, between the nervous anxiety I was experiencing and the good old-fashioned flippant honesty she gave, I started to see the whole thing in cartoons and I laughed.  It wasn't a big, belly laugh, but it was loud enough that the ladies sitting beside me and in front of me couldn't help but take notice.

I'm sure that wouldn't have been a problem if the other writers knew it was my work she was critiquing.  Instead, it made me look pretty ridiculous and insensitive.  It got me thinking about how often I make snap judgements about things and don't get the full picture first.

I don't know if there's really a point to this blog, but it's not a manuscript, so I guess it doesn't really need a plot.roll

Blobfish - Not a Shel Silverstein drawing

A blobfish is a real creature that lives on the ocean floor.  He doesn't have very many muscles, so he just waits for his food to come to him.  Of course, I couldn't resist the temptation to write about that:

The blobfish has a funny way
Of catching food to eat.
He doesn’t have to chase his prey
Or even leave his seat.

He waits, instead, with confidence
A meal will catch his eye,
And thanks, in part, to Providence,
Eats matter passing by.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fewer teachers, larger classes - are lobotomies still legal?

My first year teaching, I remember assessing the funnel-shaped classroom I'd have to squeeze 36 kids into, wondering how we would still be able to walk through the room.  I had eight kids on IEPs and no experience other than student teaching.  I remember taking a deep breath and telling myself that with a lot of prayer and determination, I could be certain that my students would rise to my level of expectation for them as I'd always been taught in school.  I wondered what it would be like to have a "normal" class size and whether the kids would get the education they deserved if I did.  Even as a rookie, I knew that while I'd do the best I could, it was an injustice to our children to corral them like cattle.  If we really consider the time and attention each student needs to get even a fair education, we wouldn't flippantly refer to the addition of "one or two more students" as an insignificant byproduct of a changing economy. 

Speaking of the changing economy, don't even get me started on the loss of jobs...

What Are You So Grumpy About - Tom Lichtenheld

Tom Lichtenheld delights readers of all ages in this humorous and colorful book. Children will love and relate to the grumpiness that peas touching gravy and getting underwear for your birthday create. The makers of What Are You So Grumpy About? turn everyday irritating situations into amusing scenes, like Dad taking his underwhelmed son to “the most boring museum in the universe,” (the history of dirt) or a child stubbing her toe on a curb that appears to have a smiley face. The hilarious drawings compound the humor, like a newspaper clipping that reads “Boy Lost in Grandma’s Hug” with a picture of a puzzled, oversized woman and a sign that reads “Last Seen Here” pointing toward her chest. Every scene from the chore list to the cereal boxes contains enough playful details to make even the smallest grump smile.

My children and I have the book memorized, which comes in handy when we’re away from home. At the slightest glimpse of a pouty lip, all I have to do is quote a page from the book and the grump is history.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The X-Men and Prejudice

In the spirit of excellent hero movies, X-Men: The Last Stand reveals three sides to a war based on prejudice and misinformation.  Some scenes develop the “bad guy” characters well enough to understand who to root for, but I found myself sympathizing with Magneto’s mutant soldiers.  While the humans claim to have discovered the anecdote in order to help the mutants, many are militant about enforcing its use and have a secret agenda that involves putting mutants in their place.  

Magneto’s army is made up of folks who never saw their gift as a disability in the first place.  There’s a really short blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene where a mutant is holding onto the underside of the bridge when he gets shot with the “cure” and falls to his death.  I couldn’t help but think he was just trying to defend himself.  Then, of course, *spoiler alert* the scene where the X-Men have a brief, moral dilemma about whether to use some of the syringes against their own kind.  The movie brilliantly provokes ethical questions about prejudice including comparing one type of prejudice to another (i.e. “Easy for you to say; you don’t shed on the furniture.”)  It begs the question, “What lengths would you go to in order to fit in, be accepted, and be loved?”  Rogue justifies getting the cure because she wants to be able to touch people and, after all, who wouldn’t want that?  I couldn’t help but consider Hollywood stars who have had so many facelifts they barely look human.  I thought of a documentary on eating disorders that horrified me as a kid.  Most of the subjects were pre-teens and many died before the documentary was finished being filmed because they truly believed that a size 2 was fat.  It’s tragic how often societal prejudice can cause us to do the unthinkable.  How often do we stand up for what we believe in and protect “our kind” from prejudice?  Worse yet, how often does that inevitably make us the bad guy?  

On baldness and other things out of our control...

While staring at the back of a bald man’s head in line at Albertson’s, I couldn’t help but contemplate how we handle things that are entirely out of our own control. My grandmother swore that her late husband had gone completely bald until she started massaging his head every night, which ultimately led to the return of a full head of hair. I have no way of confirming or denying her story, but always questioned its validity, especially after discovering two years later that she had early stages of dementia. Some men embrace their baldness or hardly notice. Others shave their head, which is a look I particularly prefer to the bald spot and, if I were a balding man, would also opt for. Bald men everywhere should thank their lucky stars, in my opinion, that it’s in style. When I was a kid, my mom had a friend who suffered from a combination of baldness and vanity and could talk about nothing else for months. He finally asked her for advice on the subject and she suggested “painting” himself some hair using liquid eyeliner. It seemed to solve the problem for a few days. Did I mention that I grew up in Seattle where it rains A LOT? Needless to say, there are reasons why that trend never caught on. Personally, my favorite look is the “sweepover.” It’s as if nobody will ever guess that a man is balding if he parts his hair just above his ear and brushes it all the way over to the other side.

All this to say we all experience things out of our control and the different ways we handle them is a psychology all its own. When I decided to dissect mine, it led to how I deal with the business of getting published. Surely anyone else would have given up by now if they had spent all of their free time writing and still had nothing they could call their own to place in the hands of the readers who would love their stories. In all honesty, my first inclination is to gripe about it to anyone who will listen. I do have to give myself some credit for hanging on this long, though. Fortunately, in my case, my determination outweighs my discouragement and I will continue to see this publication thing through. I guess now would be a good time to sign off, write something of significance, and perhaps also find someone to massage my head just in case.

The Pout-Pout Fish in the Big, Big Dark

The Pout-Pout Fish takes a journey to the dark ocean floor in search of the pearl that Ms. Clam dropped when she sneezed. He promises to bring it back and is determined to keep that promise. As he ventures further into the deep, though, he finds that he must face his fear of the dark in order to do so.
This sweet, honest tale of a fish with a fear is written in rhyme with a bouncy, fun rhythm that kids will enjoy. The pictures are bright and beautiful, with a hint of whimsical humor, like the worms that are sitting and talking in the sand. Adult humor is hidden in some of the pictures, like the angler fish holding a lit-up sucker sign that says, ?Suckers here.? The fish is loveable and relatable and teaches children that it is possible to overcome their fears with the help of a good friend. Fear of the dark is a huge stumbling block for children and the story is geared toward the age group where finding friends can be difficult. It's very empowering and has already become one of my son's favorites.

Kids' Opinions

I can understand why editors don't want a query that says, "I read it to my kids and they loved it."  Their reasoning, however, is a little misled.  I get that they don't want to hear the same thing from every Tom, Dick, and Harry who feels the need to send in a manuscript.  I acknowledge that there's no way of confirming that the writer has really gotten the thumbs up from their kids.  Also, just because their kids like it doesn't mean that children everywhere will go for it.  The reasoning I don't understand is this:  "Of course your kids will tell you they like it.  What else are they going to do?  Tell you it stinks?"  Obviously this person doesn't have children.  My kids are my greatest critics.  I'm not saying I don't appreciate the people who encourage me and say that they like my writing.  There are certainly times I feel like giving up writing altogether and it helps to know that people actually like it.  When I'm ready to hear someone tell me they hate it, though, I ask my kids.  I wrote a pirate story a little while back and gave it to my nine-year-old.  He couldn't read or understand all the piratey language.  He was stumbling on the words so badly that he dropped it on the table and said, "Whatever," then ran off to play with his Legos.  A few weeks later, I revised and printed off "The Paper Airplane King," which has been sitting in my computer for about three years.  I read it out loud at the table and both of my kids asked me to read it again.  My oldest actually wanted to read it himself.  Guess which manuscript I sent in?  I've never found a shortage of honesty, truth, and downright harshness in children.  I get a lot of opinions and value all of them, but when I'm floundering, trying to get a strong, even insensitive critique, kids are a great way to go.


Failure can define you or refine you. I met someone fascinating this weekend. It’s unusual for me to tear up in the first two hours of knowing someone, but I had a lot of firsts on epiphany Saturday. At the conference for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, which I will probably never quit talking about, we had a breakout session where three authors shared their publishing experiences. One author, well-meaning, I’m sure, shared about how she did almost nothing to get swept up in the magical world of publishing. She wrote a book, didn’t bother to tell friends or family for fear of it never going anywhere, and sent it away. It immediately got picked up and there she was, happily telling the rest of us all about it. It was inspirational at best, but I can’t say that I learned anything from her story. The next author, however, will always hold a hero status for me. I’d been sitting by her during the whole group session and loved chatting with her, which made her story that much more endearing. Her husband, whom she described as a computer geek, had helped her make a chart of her experience submitting manuscripts. The chart indicated each novel she had written with x marks for rejection letters she’d received back. In the end, she received a grand total of 103 rejections. I want to say that the ultimate result was the one that mattered, since she’ll soon have a published copy of her book, but I can’t. Each rejection was important, too. To use an old cliché, each “no” was one “no” closer to a “yes.” I can tell you firsthand how frustrating it is to tell people that I write “what would be picture or chapter books.” It’s not a book if it’s not printed in book form. It’s just my own musing, which might not mean anything to anyone but me (much like this blog). My goal has been to be the 2% (the amount of submitted material which is actually published). I think it’s time to change that goal and get one step closer to 103 rejection letters. Fall down seven times, stand up eight.