Sunday, December 30, 2007

Tools of the Trade: Another I-Never-Quite-Knew-What-That-Word-Meant Edition

It's been too long since I've done a Tools of the Trade post, but today I'll make up for lost time with a Super-Sized Edition featuring not three ... not four ... but five (yes, count 'em, five) word origins!

But, that's not all! This special edition examines not only the origins of the five selected words, but also their definitions. That's right! Two lessons in one!

And so, without further ado, I present this week's words:


Courtesy of the Online Etymology Dictionary, and Merriam-Webster's Online, we discover the following:

Gainsay dates back to the 1300s and means "to contradict," or literally, to "say against," based on the Old English gegn- meaning "against." Apparently "gain" was once a common prefix, used in now-obsolete words such as gain-taking, "taking back again"; gainclap, "a counterstroke"; gainbuy, "redeem"; and gainstand, "to oppose."

Gainsay is the only surviving example of this prefix. As such, I am hereby lauching a campaign to promote its widespread usage to preserve gain's place in the English language. Unfortunately, my campaign stalled two seconds after I typed that last sentence, when my husband challenged me to use "gainsay" in a sentence and I could not think of a single way to use it. Well, except in that last sentence. It's a start. (Anyone? Anyone? Please leave your examples in the comments section so we can all begin using "gainsay" in casual conversation.)

In a hard-fought game of Cranium Wow! over the holidays, my husband and I (who did not win but who did not come in last either, ahem), were asked to define toothsome. This was a multiple-choice question, and we had it narrowed down to two choices ("attractive" or "having many teeth.") We picked the wrong one. [Slaps forehead.] As most of you probably already know, it means "attractive." Or, to be more specific, it means (1) pleasing to the taste; palatable; (2) pleasing or desirable, as fame or power; and (3) voluptuous; sexually alluring.

Dating back to 1551, It is taken from tooth (which evolved from the Middle English toth) and some. The origins are fascinating, no? No. Nor were they helpful to me in explaining why "toothsome" should mean "attractive." That is, until I looked further into the meaning of those two words. Turns out "some" is often used to create adjectives from nouns, as in "burdensome," "meddlesome" and "troublesome." And "tooth" ... if you dig way down to meaning #8 in the dictionary, can mean "taste, relish, or liking." Aha!

On his blog this week, my husband used the word anomie in describing himself. Having never encountered this word before and being eternally curious about my husband's self-image, I wasted no time looking this up. Dating to 1591, it is a French word meaning "absence of accepted social values." Its origins are the Greek a-, "without" and nomos, "law." Um. Yep, that's him.

Of the five words featured in this post, nonplussed is the only one I already knew, however tentatively. But the question of its meaning came up during a family gathering on Christmas Day, and it turned out I was the only one who knew its correct meaning (however tentatively). The noun "nonplus" dates back to 1582 and means "a state where nothing more can be done or said," from the Latin non plus, which means "no more, no further." The verb form dates back to 1591 and means "to bring to a nonplus, to perplex." Nonplussed? Me too.

Last and (IMO) least, is hebdomadally. Least because I can't imagine anyone ever using this word. But it came up in a crossword this week, and it stumped me. So, should you ever encounter hebdomadally in a crossword or perhaps at level 50 on the Free Rice site or while competing in Jeopardy, please be advised that it means "weekly." It hails from the Latin hebdomas, hebdomad-, the number seven, and from the Greek, hebdomos, seventh, related to hepta, seven.

One fun footnote: My research this time around brought me to a very cool discovery: Folk-Etymology: A Dictionary of Verbal Corruptions Or Words Perverted in Form or Meaning, by False Derivation or Mistaken Analogy, edited by the Rev. A. Smythe Palmer and published in 1882. A mixed blessing, as it turns out, because further research revealed that the best price available for it on Amazon is $60. So, I’ll have to live knowing there are at least seven copies of Palmer’s book out there that I can’t afford. Sigh.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Skippy DiDoDa Day!

What has big ears, an oh-so-adorable face and is not a chihuahua?

That's right! Skippyjon Jones!

I had the great good fortune to win a signed Skippyjon book and a Skippyjon doll simply for leaving a comment at Kate Messner's blog when she profiled author, illustrator and Skippyjon creator Judy Schachner last month. To top it off, Judy threw in a signed copy of a second book, Mr. Emerson's Cook, as an added surprise. Sweet!

Here's my quarry:

While I was setting up this shot, the resident puppy, apparently jealous of all the attention being paid to the Skippyjon doll, appeared with her favorite throw toy.

"Hey! Look at me! I am a chihuahua!"

Thank you, Kate and Judy! I love my gifts and will enjoy them for years to come. And I'll be sure to keep the puppy away from the doll!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I Am Writer, Hear Me Roar

Danette over at Summer Friend has given me a Roar for Powerful Words award. Thank you, Danette! I'm honored you feel that way!

As part of the award, I am asked to (a) name three things that make for powerful writing and (b) award the Roar to five deserving bloggers.

So, three things that I feel make for powerful writing (and I'm going to focus on fiction writing here):

1. Strong, believable characters. The best plot in the world won't hold my attention if I don't care about the characters.

2. A distinctive voice. Writing needs to have personality and rhythm. I read everything "out loud in my head" so I pick up a nuanced voice right away. Without it, writing falls flat.

3. Solid mechanics. To write well, we need to write well. This means good grammar and punctuation, yes, but it goes beyond that to include smooth transitions, effective dialog tags, strong verbs, etc. A compelling idea, put to paper in a well constructed sentence, can be a powerful thing indeed.

Now, onto the five awardees. I read lots of great blogs, so this tough. But here goes:

Sara Lewis Holmes
Sam Riddleburger
Adrienne Kress
J (a newbie to blogging, but she packs a punch!)
J.K. Mahal

You can accept your awards over at The Shameless Lions Writing Circle. I'll see you there, assuming we all make it past the paparazzi in one piece!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Ha!

This week I read Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I was hoping to post a review of it, but the only thing I can think to say about it is: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

My usual M.O. when I review a book is to take one aspect, one thing I feel the author handles really well, and analyze it. Well, the one thing Kinney does really well ... and he does it really, really well ... is make you laugh. He's funny. So you can see my dilemma. You try to analyze funny and, well, we all know how that goes.

So suffice to say, if you have not already read this book, get thee to a library or a book store or Santa's lap and secure a copy posthaste!

P.S. Before reading, you may want to check this out.

The Season Just Got a Little More Joyful

Two posts in one day ... 'tis is a season of wonders, to be sure! But, I simply had to share.

Here is our Christmas tree. Lovely, as are all Christmas trees. But ... do you notice anything particularly lovely about this tree?

Here, look a little closer.

Ho, ho, ho! I adore my snowflake. Thank you, Robert's Snow. And thank you, Elizabeth!

Renga Stew: Mmmm

Thanks so much to JK, Wendy, cloudscome and Madelyn for participating in my Renga Experiment this weekend!

Here is the finished product. The traditional renga calls for two verses of seven syllables each at the end of the poem, so I have gone ahead and wrapped it up with the last two verses myself. Compliments to the chefs!

Let's try. What's the harm?
Art is a lonely pursuit;
Perfection, more so.

But friends both new and old bring
their happiness to this road

changing the lonely
journey to one of comfort,
joy, messy thoughts all.

participation. you call,
we come to join joyfully

what can we make here?
how much of ourselves can we
bring to fill the pot?

on a cold and lonely night
hot stew bubbling on the stove

poems bubble, too
add fancy words and carrots
don't forget the salt

Perfect? No, but delicious
and strangely satisfying.

Our words blended together
In an ancient recipe.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Poetry Friday: The Renga Experiment

This week I was doing some research on Haiku and learned that it originated in Japan in the 15th century, when a poetic form named "renga" became popular.

Renga is a poem several poets create cooperatively. Members alternately add verses of 17 syllables (5, 7, and 5 syllables) and 14 syllables (7 and 7 syllables), until they complete a poem (generally composed of 100 verses).

The first verse of renga is called "hokku," and so this has since led to the proliferation of haiku!

What better forum for creating renga than the Internet, where so many can come together and share? I am no poet, and I'm sure some of you who visit this blog do not consider yourselves poets either. But it can't hurt to try, right?

I am going to start off here with a Haiku and invite anyone who wishes to do so to go ahead and contribute the next verses. Mine will start with 5, 7 and 5 syllables, so the next should be 7 and 7, then back to 5, 7, 5 ... and so on alternately.

Please leave your contribution in the comments section and I will eventually add them to the front page of the post. Any and all contributions are welcome, and feel free to take the poem in a different direction at any time!

Let's try. What's the harm?
Art is a lonely pursuit;
Perfection, more so.

For more Poetry Friday, stop by Miss Rumphius Effect.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Conquering Block, With a Sock

I'm back in writing mode again, after a (too long) hiatus!

To mark this happy occasion, I wanted to share a rather goofy but very fun idea that might just help with writer's block.

A few months back, Eve of the Disco Mermaids wrote about the inspirational powers of the Sock Monkey, which she'd learned about from the talented and prolific Lisa Yee. Lisa herself then went on to post not one but two entries of her own on this phenomenon.

Here's my very own Sock Monkey, next to my nicely progressing work in progress.

Now, courtesy of Sam Riddleburger, you can create your own Sock Monkey and watch it do the boogie.

Pretty hilarious, and might even kickstart your creativity.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Poetry Friday: I'm a Nut

Thanks to Madelyn for turning me onto this week's poem, which is actually a song. Apparently her son learned it in school. Comes complete with hand movements:

I'm a Nut
I'm a little acorn round (make circle with thumb and forefinger)
Lying on the cold cold ground (wave arm across front with palm facing down)
Somebody came and stepped on me (stomp foot)
That is why I'm cracked you see (zig zap motion with forefinger)
I'm a nut (clap clap), in a rut (clap clap), I'm crazy (circle finger around ear)

That's the first verse. You can read the rest here.

Thanks to Becky's Book Reviews for hosting this week's Poetry Friday!

Monday, December 3, 2007

It's a Start, Part V

Today's "It's a Start" will highlight books from my high school AP English class ... way, way back in the day.

If you're new to this blog, It's a Start is an occasional feature in which we take a look at the first sentence (or so) of books picked randomly from the Acorn bookshelves (only this time it's not so random, I guess).

Each of the following books is considered a classic piece of literature, so let's see whether they manage to draw readers in with the first sentence, as today's authors are urged to do. Before we start, let me say that I tend not to care much for "classic literature," or any literature, for that matter. I prefer commercial, genre stuff. So if you disagree with these ratings, well, it's all good. Let me have it in the comments section. Note: Maximum # of stars = 5.

I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story. Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton

Intriguing start. We know that whatever tale is about to unfold has been told over and over, so it's gotta be good, right? I love the voice here, too. Not "I heard the story," but "I had the story." An unusual turn of phrase to launch the book. In the interest of full disclosure, I have a soft spot in my heart for Ethan Frome, as I wrote the essay portion of my AP exam on it. However, I am confident this first sentence deserves each and every one of its stars: *****

The towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist; austere towers of steel and cement and limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver rods. Babbit, by Sinclair Lewis

Well, it's literary, I'll give it that. Would today's author get away with a semicolon in the first sentence? Hmm. I do appreciate the word choices, especially "aspired." So much better than "rose." If I knew what silver rods were, maybe the contrasting imagery at the end would have worked better for me. Mixed feelings on this one. Stars: ***

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

Bingo!! Voice. Attitude. Even takes a swipe at a literary classic ... now, that's my kinda book! And, of course, the reader doesn't really want all that background stuff, anyway. We want to start where the action is, and that's precisely what this first sentence tells us our narrator is going to do. A great start to one of my all-time favorite books. (Hey, I said I "tend" not to go for classics ... there are of course some exceptions!) Stars: *****

When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. When it healed, and Jem's fears of never being able to play football were assuaged, he was seldom self-conscious about his injury. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

I love this book. I'm not so crazy about the first two sentences. But, um, it's Harper Lee. She seemed to know what she was doing. The day I can write a book one-tenth as compelling as Mockingbird is the day I'll criticize. Stars: ***

Mr. Sherlock Holmes, who was usually very late in the mornings, save upon those not infrequent occasions when he was up all night, was seated at the breakfast table. Hound of the Baskervilles, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Can't help but read that one with a British accent, can you? Wonderful voice. I also love that it starts us out with a little mystery. Why is Holmes at the breakfast table already? Was he up all night? Or is he up unusually early this morning, and if so, why? Sir Arthur has me hooked. Nicely done, old chap. Stars: ****

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Gift Ideas: Cybil Nominees!

Appearing on the sidebar over there to your right is a promo for the 2007 Cybil nominees. Each time you visit (or refresh your screen), you'll find a different book pictured ... you can click on the cover to find out more about that book or click on the "buy" links to order the book at Amazon or at your local bookstore.

The Cybils is an awards program run by a group of kid lit bloggers and reviewers, recognizing both quality and "kid appeal" among books published in 2007.

Two of my personal favs have been nominated, Sam Riddleburger's Qwikpick Adventure Society and Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why. Good luck to both!

Update: Having had some more time to peruse the nominees, I want to point out a few other deserving books: Sara Lewis Holmes' Letters from Rapunzel, Beckie Weinheimer's Converting Kate and Laura Bowers' Beauty Shop for Rent. Congratulations to these talented authors and to all who were nominated!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Five Random Things

Kimberly Lynn has tagged me to reveal five random things about myself.

Earlier this year, I was tagged by Jay Asher of the Disco Mermaids for something similar (which you can find here), but I figure those of you visiting this blog are probably dying to know more about the person behind these deep thoughts and witty observations, not to mention the engaging prose, so here goes:

1. I am modest to a fault.

2. Little about me is truly random. I am, after all, a quintessential Virgo, i.e., a control freak.

3. I once rubbed shoulders (literally) with Mark Victor Hansen, one of the “Chicken Soup” authors. It was ... weird.

4. I write just about every blog post, including this one, with a 4-pound chihuahua on my lap.

5. I love the Philadelphia Eagles, even this season.

Bonus (since #1 was probably self-evident): I use ketchup when I eat rice. In fact, the entire Acorn clan does ... I thought it was as natural as ketchup on fries until I was about 11 years old and totally grossed some friends out with it.

Feeling confessorial today? Then you, my friend, can consider yourself tagged!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Oh, Happy, Happy Day!

Two fantabulous pieces of news today!

First and foremost ... I am an aunt (again)! As of this morning I now have an adorable baby nephew. (Actually, I haven't seen him yet, but I'm told on good authority he's adorable.)

This is the first boy on the Acorn side of the family, joining my three lovely nieces. And because he is the son of my baby brother and his wife, he can carry on the Acorn family name. This was a cause of some concern, cuz there ain't that many of us out here. So ... hurrah, huzzah and hallelujah!

Second, I just received confirmation that I won the Robert's Snow snowflake I'd bid on in the first round of auctions!

Here is "Give a Little Push," created by children's book illustrator, writer and poet extraordinaire Elizabeth Dulemba.

I love this flake's humor and the fact that it tells a little story ... a picture-book snowflake of sorts! You can read the profile of Elizabeth and her snowflake at sruble's world, and you can check out her process for creating it on Elizabeth's Web site.

Of course, the real winner yesterday was the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which according to my calculations earned more than $9,000 toward cancer research during the first auction. If you missed the auction or were outbid for a favorite snowflake, don't despair! There are two more rounds to go. Visit the Robert's Snow Web site for details.

(BTW, I have been tagged by Kimberly Lynn to reveal five random things about myself. I'd said I'd post on that today, but with all the excitement ... it'll need to wait until tomorrow.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Converting Kate: The Sympathetic ‘Villain’

In Converting Kate, YA author Beckie Weinheimer pits teenaged Kate against her mother in a battle for the soul. Kate rebels against her mother’s fanatical, cult-like church to discover mainstream religion, literature and boys.

The challenge: How to relate this conflict without depicting Kate’s mom as cold and heartless?

The complicating factor: The novel is told in first person, from Kate’s point of view, so the entire story is filtered through her perspective.

The solution: Right off the bat, Weinheimer portrays the concern Kate’s mother has for her.

In the very first chapter, we get a hint of Kate’s conflict, both with the church (I wish I could just wash my mind, scrub it clean, of all the rules, all the scriptures, and start over.) and with her mother (… my personal interrogator, with hands on her hips, eyes zooming into me like telescopic lenses, won’t be leaving me alone until I give her an answer.)

But we also hear directly from her mother, via dialogue that reveals a caring nature beneath the woman’s severe demeanor:
  • When Kate says she plans to ride her bike to school: “It’s seven miles and still dark out. Why aren’t you taking the bus?” Mom whispers.

  • When Kate explains that she wants to get to school early to sign up for cross country: “Cross country? Why, that’s wonderful. But I haven’t made your lunch yet.”

  • When Kate tells her she’s already packed her own lunch: “I hope it’s got something healthy in it. And please tell me you’re changing out of those running shorts and into one of your school skirts when you get there.”

  • And when Kate says she won’t be coming straight home from school because cross country starts that afternoon: “Well, don’t be too late,” her voice pleads, suddenly soft and kind. “Remember the dinner at church? I was thinking you could come with me.”

Hardly the words of a cold-hearted monster. Even the dialogue tags -- “whispers” and “pleads” -- elicit sympathy.

Yes, Kate's mom's comments regarding changing into a skirt and going to the church dinner can be viewed as nagging, and they are in fact perceived and related that way by Kate. But the reader can sense in the dialogue itself a quiet concern that tempers this portrayal.

It’s all too easy to create a one-dimensional villain, and that would seem particularly tempting when the antagonist is a religious fanatic. Weinheimer avoids this trap by introducing Kate’s mother in a maternal light within the first three pages of the novel. We know immediately that her mother cares for her, and thus we know part of Kate’s struggle will be to come to terms with their relationship and begin to heal the rift between them.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Poetry Friday: A Thanksgiving Poem

This piece encapsulates my thoughts and sentiments as we in the United States approach the Thanksgiving holiday.

Not sure who wrote it. Most references credit Ralph Waldo Emerson, including The Art Literature Readers: Book Two, a primer compiled by Frances Elizabeth Chutter and published by Atkinson, Mentzer and Company in 1905.

However, the Ralph Waldo Emerson Society states he is not the author.

Father in Heaven, We Thank Thee
For flowers that bloom about our feet,
For tender grass so fresh, so sweet,
For song of bird and hum of bee,
For all things fair we hear or see,
For blue of stream and blue of sky,
For pleasant shade of branches high,
For fragrant air and cooling breeze,
For beauty of the blooming trees.

For mother-love and father-care,
For brothers strong and sisters fair,
For love at home and here each day,
For guidance lest we go astray,
For this new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends
For ev'ry thing His goodness sends,
Father in heaven, we thank Thee.

Thanks to Big A, little a for hosting this week's edition of Poetry Friday!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Leanne Franson: A Final Taste of Snow

This will be the last “taste” of snowflakes for the Robert's Snow benefit auction for Just Like the Nut, as we welcome illustrator Leanne Franson and her delicious flake, “Gretchen’s Snow.”

By now, you know the drill.

First, the snowflake:

Here’s the front:

And the back:

Next, Leanne’s bio:

Leanne Franson was born in 1963 in Regina, Saskatchewan. She says she started drawing earlier than she can remember: “My father brought home leftover paper from his drafting job, so I had unlimited supplies. We also always had books, with bedtime stories every night, shelves of books to read ourselves and a public library card. I filled my notebook pages with drawings, and read books in class when I was supposed to be reading textbooks. Even though I got great marks in math, science and English, I frustrated my academic teachers by going into fine arts in university.”

She graduated from Concordia University in Montreal with a BFA in 1985. She says her degree was, “weirdly enough, in ceramics and lithography, as my painting teacher told me my drawings were illustrative and narrative, which were very bad words in art school. I stopped drawing for years!”

After graduating and holding a series of odd job, she met a mentor, Francis Back, who was a previous president of the Association of Illustrators of Québec and who introduced her to the world of children's book illustration in 1991. Since then she have illustrated numerous school books, and more than 80 trade books including both picture books and novel covers. In 1997, “L'Ourson qui voulait une Juliette” (written by Jasmine Dubé) was nominated for the Canada Governor General's award in illustration, and in 2005 “The Girl Who Hated Books” (by Manjusha Pawagi) was chosen to be given to all Canadian children in grade 1 for Toronto Dominion Bank's Canada Children's Book Week.

Leanne is am currently on maternity leave as she has recently adopted a son, Benjamin Taotao, from China. She and Benjamin share their home in Montreal with lots of books, art supplies, two cats and their Saint Bernard, Gretchen.

And, the interview:

What inspired you to pursue a career in illustration? And why for kids?

I wanted a better job than selling paint brushes at an art supply store for barely minimum wage. I wanted to settle down and have kids, have a stable job. And with a fine arts bachelor's degree (which I was still paying for), I wasn't qualified to do much else other than draw and couldn't afford to go back to school.

People had been telling me I should illustrate children's books since I was perhaps ten years old, but I am contrary and went into ceramics and unfired clay sculptures, concept art and environmental art. I was young and didn't want to do "over the sofa" art, or anything that was "for sale." After being broke for years I changed my ways and listened to their wisdom. The cool thing about children's books is that they are on-the-sofa art, and don't need to match the sofa at all!! They are functional items that are used daily (like a ceramic mug or bowl) and loved to death rather than a precious decorative object. They're hands on.

I have always loved books, read books, collected books, so illustrating them came to me naturally. And my style lends itself to children's books. I love the stories, the large number of illutrations needed per text, the audience. I also do comics for adults, which I write and illustrate myself, which is a very different thing. Sometimes I think I would love to be like Edward Gorey or Charles Schultz and create something that appeals to children and adults alike, but that is a lofty goal I will likely never achieve.

Why did you decide to participate in the Robert’s Snow fund-raiser?

I heard about it on the group emails and wanted to join in. I jumped at the chance to do something that was again, a three dimensional functional object, and something where what I created was directly in the hands of the user (unlike children's books, where my originals are in drawers in my studio and the public gets printed reproductions). And I especially liked that it was for a fundraiser for a good cause. I was happy and excited to be able to contribute.

Why did you decide to illustrate your snowflake the way you did?

When I think of snow, I think of Saint Bernards. My beloved Muesli, who figured in many books, was a passionate devotee of snow. She died last fall at nearly 11 years old, and I have a new puppy, Gretchen, whom I got at Easter. She also loves snow, so it is her I put on the snowflake. And being as it has two sides, which would normally be equally seen on a tree as it twirls, I painted both sides equally. I wanted something wintery and fun, with a little wink.

What’s your favorite thing about snow?

That we have it. With global warming, it is coming later each year and staying less long, and it is very sad. I grew up in Saskatchewan where we had snowbanks big enough to build forts and tunnels my father could go through, and you could tell how cold it was by how high-pitched a squeak the snow made under your boots. It was so cold the snow was like sand and didn't make you wet, so you could play all day. Then the warmer days you could mold it into balls and snowsculptures. In Montreal where I live now, the snow is often almost rain, or it melts two days later so it doesn't accumulate. I feel very nostalgic about snow, and I feel incredibly sad that my son may never see snow like I have known.

They say there are no two snowflakes alike. Name something that makes you different from anyone else on earth.

My, my. I so seldom have the feeling that I am not different from everyone else on earth, that is a hard question. Even in my own family, we were all different colors, ages, races, genders, with such different personalities. I am a western anglophone prairie Canadian living in a francophone eastern Canada. I am a single mom with a Saint Bernard and a little boy from China and I could go on. I think we are all unique collections of our origins, experiences, thoughts, likes, dislikes, feelings and hopes and that sometimes we need to look hard to find our similarities, what brings us together as people, our common aspirations and interests. But OK, I finally thought of something that may be unique: I have a tattoo of an onion on my head. But even if someone else has a tattoo of an onion on their head, the collection of who they are will be so very different from me.

I guess the short obvious answer would have been "my genes" (cuz I am not a twin).

And finally, the pitch:

Leanne Franson’s "Gretchen's Snow" will go up for bid in an online auction next week ... November 19-23!

To check out the other snowflakes and illustrators featured on kid lit blogs this week, see the sidebar at the right of your screen. For a complete schedule of the snowflake auctions and to learn how you can purchase a unique piece of art while also supporting a good cause, head on over to the Robert's Snow site now!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

These Words Mean a Lot

Test your vocabulary, learn some new words and help feed the world!

Free Rice

My vocab level hovered in the 39-40 range. Frustrating how many words I recognized but then I didn't know what they meant. I need to make better use of my dictionary!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Jane Dippold: A Robert's Snow Angel

Such a thrill to have one of the many "angels" who are creating snowflakes for the Robert's Snow benefit auction featured here today … Jane Dippold and her fun flake, "Snow Angels."

First, the snowflake:

Check out the front:

And the back:

Onto the bio:

Jane Dippold was born in Coldwater, Ohio, and graduated from Miami University in Ohio with a degree in Fine Arts. She started her art career at Gibson Greeting Cards, and after having children, has worked as a freelance artist for the past 14 years. Her first freelance job was a puzzle page for the children’s magazine, Spider. This led to illustrating books for many children’s book publishers, such as Reader’s Digest, Harper Festival, Tyndale House, and Zonderkids, as well as other children’s magazines such as Highlights For Children, Highlights HighFive, Weekly Reader, LadyBug, and Your Big Backyard. Jane also designs greeting cards, gift wrap, and gift products.

Her most recent children’s book is “Papa Jethro,” written by Deborah Bodin Cohen, and published by KarBen Publishing in 2007. Other recent books include “Traveling Babies,” written by Kathryn O. Galbraith, published by Northword Press in 2006, as well as three books in the “My Favorite Verses” series written by Dandi Daley Mackall and published by Standard Publishing in 2005 and 2006.

Next, the interview:

What inspired you to pursue a career in illustration? And why for kids?

I was drawn to read as a child by the artwork on the pages of books. We did not own a lot of books, but my Mom took us to the library often. We also had the "Childcraft" series which had great pictures that I still remember today...especially the "Poems and Rhymes" volume, which was my favorite. I loved to draw and really did not realize until I was much more grown up that there were actual people drawing these pictures and being paid for it! Really?!! What a revelation. I would like to create illustrations that draw kids into reading.

Why did you decide to participate in the Robert’s Snow fund-raiser?
Many people are affected by cancer in their world today. A painted snowflake is a small way that an artist can help the cause to find a cure. I contacted Grace Lin to do a snowflake in 2006 and then was asked to paint another for this year. I consider it an honor to be involved with Robert's Snow.

Here's Jane's 2006 snowflake:

Why did you decide to illustrate your 2007 snowflake the way you did?

Laying in a snowpile creating a snow angel makes everyone an instant kid. If you haven't made a snow angel lately, this winter might be a good time to try it again. Snow creeping up your sleeves and mittens, and getting into the tops of your boots can make you really happy! And, of course, the angels are always watching, protecting and delivering the magical stuff.

What’s your favorite thing about snow?

My favorite thing about snow is how quiet it makes everything, as if the world has been put to bed. And the crunch, crunch of walking in it. I also still secretly love a snowday when my kids have the day off school. Free for all!

They say there are no two snowflakes alike. Name something that makes you different from anyone else on earth.

This is a hard question because I don't know everyone on earth and when I was a kid I thought the odds were that somewhere, someplace there had to be someone exactly like me, but... Do they love rhubarb and all things made with rhubarb? Do they paint pictures with bright, bold colors, and fill their house with lots of colors, and still prefer to wear a white t-shirt and jeans on most days? They may not be exactly like me then.

And last but not least, the pitch:

Jane Dippold's "Snow Angels" will be put up for bid in an online auction November 26-30. To check out the other snowflakes and illustrators featured on kid lit blogs this week, see the sidebar at the right of your screen. For a complete schedule of the snowflake auctions and to learn how you can purchase a unique piece of art while also supporting a good cause, head on over to the Robert's Snow site now!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Tools of the Trade: The I-Never-Quite-Knew-What-That-Word-Meant Edition

Thanks to Sam Riddleburger for his comment re: words he "skips over" when reading because he doesn't quite know what they mean. Sam's comment provided the inspiration for this post, in which I've researched a few words that have befuddled me in the past, and combined it with my Tools of the Trade feature exploring word origins. (Previous editions of TOTT can be found here.)

Today's words:

"Horripilation" is a great word for us mystery writers ... it basically means "goose bumps"! It comes from the Latin word horrere, meaning "stand on end" and pilus, "hair." The word "horrible" also comes from horrere (and I imagine "horror" must be related as well). So those words actually take their names from the physical reaction people have to them. Pretty cool. Bonus word origin ... the medical term for goose bumps is "cutis anserina." In Latin, cutis means "skin" and anser means "goose." Source:

The word "mendacious" first came to my attention two weeks ago, when Australian children's writer Jen McVeity used it during the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Fall Conference. I had no earthly idea what Jen was talking about, so I wrote the word down and looked it up when I got home. According to Merriam-Webster Online, its definition is: "given to or characterized by deception or falsehood or divergence from absolute truth." According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it hails from the Latin mendacium, "a lie," related to menda, "fault, defect, carelessness in writing."

"Feckless" is one of those words I've seen in print many times, and while I had some sense of its meaning, I was never quite sure. My husband asked about its meaning a couple of months ago, which finally prompted me to look it up. Someone or something who is feckless is "lacking purpose or vitality; feeble or ineffective; careless and irresponsible." It originates in the Scottish word feck, which is simply a shortened version of the word "effect."

Friday, November 2, 2007

Poetry Friday: An Acorn Nut Poem

Many of my blog's hits come from people searching for acorn+nut+poem. Yes, a surprising number of people are out there in search of a good poem about the lowly acorn.

I always feel kind of bad, knowing they didn't actually find what they were looking for here. So I decided for this week's Poetry Friday to find an Acorn Nut Poem to make their visit to my site worthwhile.

Step One: Google acorn+nut+poem. (Hey, I'm the first one to come up! No wonder I get those hits!)

Step Two: Find a site that actually has an acorn nut poem.

Step Three: Squeeeeee! for joy over my discovery. OMG, it's the coolest thing ever: First Lessons in English by F.B. Greene, published in 1888. I urge you, after reading this post, to follow that link to check out this delightful 19th century primer.

The poem itself appears on page 56:


The squirrel hastens to and fro
With acorn, nut, and corn.
His hall to fill; he's much to do,
For winter's coming on.
He does not stop for friends or foes
Until his work is done;
He needs no telling: well he knows
Cold winter's coming on.
His storehouse filled with all that's good
His eyes look proudly on;
Then chatters he throughout the wood,
"Now let cold winter come."
Come, children; like the squirrel try,
In life's bright, sunny morn,
To seek a good, a wise supply,
Before old age comes.

Many thanks to Mentor Texts for hosting Poetry Friday this week.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

My Name! On Book Covers!

Well, until I'm published, this will have to do.

I picked this meme up a while ago from the Trinity Prep School blog.

Here’s how it works: Go to the "Advanced Book Search" feature on Amazon, type your name into the "Title" field and select "Children's Books" for the subject field. Click "Search" and see what comes up.

I did this for both my first and last names. Here are the two I liked best of the ones that popped up on the first page:

I adore that Acorn book ... in fact, I bought it a few years ago for my niece. The next generation of Acorns!

Want to see your name on a book cover?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Report from the Registrar, er, Attendee

What a day! My alarm rang at 5:45 a.m. Saturday. As registrar, I needed to get to the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Fall Conference early!


Sorry, I started that story at the wrong place, according to Australian author Jen McVeity, whose talk on "Five Minute Fast Starts" showed how jump-starting your book with an action scene (and not with your main character getting out of bed) can pull the reader into the story right away.

So, let me try again...

"Ha! Waah! Yikes!"

Keynote Speaker Bruce Coville advised attendees at the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Fall Conference to make sure their stories contain one of each of these three key ingredients. The "ha" is a belly laugh. The "waah" is a tear. And the "yikes" is a moment of shock.

Better? Better. I hope Jen would be proud.

Now, since I have no idea how to continue my "story" analogy for this report, I am going to switch instead to a bulleted list of conference highlights. BTW, once again, I left my camera at home. Sigh. Please imagine lots of beautiful, smiling faces as you read this.

  • Editor Bonnie Bader's handouts. She provided the first drafts of some of Grosset & Dunlap's best-known books, along with the resulting editorial letters, revisions and final versions. Can't wait to go through them with a fine-tooth comb and learn everything I can from the mistakes of some writers who are much more talented than I! One thing I took away from that session: The words, "This is a great start" in an editorial letter actually mean, "We've got some work to do!"
  • The aforementioned Jen McVeity's writing exercises. Jen put us to work. Our assignments: (1) Write intriguing first sentences, and (2) Incorporate body language and description into our dialogue tags. My takeaway: In stressful situations, 87 percent of communication is via body language and tone of voice.
  • Author Bruce Coville's presentation. Yes, the entire presentation. The man is an actor and clearly loves to talk about writing for kids. These two facts combine to create a pretty wonderful speech. My favorite part (aside from "Ha! Waah! Yikes!"): Coville posited that Harry Potter had so many fans because of J.K. Rowling's "CTPP Index," the number of Cool Things Per Page. Especially in fantasy, the more you can load up on cool stuff, the more fun your story will be.
  • The honest look at the realities of publishing explored during the first-time authors and editors panel. A few notable insights: (1) Sometimes a story can be well written and compelling but will not be acquired because the editor and/or the house simply do not think it is sufficiently marketable. Depressing, but true. (2) Houses don't pay that much attention to bad reviews, because (with the possible exception of the School Library Journal), they don't tend to have much effect on sales. And (3) Editors are just as nervous about writing and sending revision letters as authors are about receiving them. Who knew?
  • Agent Alyssa Eisner Henken's refreshing honesty regarding how much she enjoys TV. I love people who proudly admit to watching a lot of TV! Anyway, to make this relevant to writing ... Alyssa compared the query letter to the fashionable but conservative business suits often recommended by Stacy and Clinton on "What Not to Wear." Don't try to get fancy or cute. Just write a straight query and let your writing and your story idea speak for themselves.
  • My manuscript critique. The wonderful Laura Arnold of HarperCollins Children's was most encouraging and had some exciting (albeit frightening) suggestions for taking my mystery to the next level.
  • The book sale and signing. At last I got to meet the lovely and talented Sara Lewis Holmes, who signed my copy of Letters from Rapunzel. Sara worked with Laura Arnold on the book, and the two of them created something truly special.
  • Working at the registration desk. I put this last, but it was a real highlight for me as it gave me an opportunity to meet so many wonderful writers and illustrators. A terrific group dedicated to bringing messages of compassion, concern, joy and hope to kids.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Report from the Registrar, Part II

Just three days until the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Conference, and ... we've sold out, folks! We can only take 225 registrants (fire marshal's rules and all), and we have reached that number, plus a waiting list of a dozen or so.

Things are going to get a bit hectic around here the next few days, what with the printing and the proofing of 225 name badges, so the blogging will taper a bit (hah! as if I'm the Queen of Regular Blogging!). Of course, my post-Conference entry will be to die for (or if not to die for, certainly to suffer mightily for, or maybe at least to ache a bit for).

BTW, for the first Report from the Registrar, you can go here.

Looking forward to a terrific event, and hope to see you bright and early Saturday morning!

Monday, October 22, 2007

It's a Start, Part IV

Welcome once again to "It's a Start," in which we take the first sentence (or so) of five kids books plucked randomly off the Acorn bookshelves. To see installment I - III of this feature, go here. Note: Maximum # of stars = 5.

My name is Reed Walton. I'm seventeen years old, I live in New Jersey, and I've never had a girlfriend. The Girlfriend Project, by Robin Friedman.

The sentences are short and sweet (as teen boys' sentences often tend to be) ... and they get right to the point of the book. Between the title and this quick self-introduction, we can surmise that we're going to watch poor Reed try to hook up with Girlfriend No. 1. Gotta keep reading to find out how this turns out. Stars: ****

Once upon a time there was a pair of pants. They were an essential kind of pants - jeans, naturally, blue but not that stiff, new blue that you see so often on the first day of school. They were a soft, changeable blue with a little extra fading at the knees and the seat and white wavelets at the cuffs. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, by Ann Brasheres.

A few notable things about the start of the prologue to this series: (1) "Once upon a time..." tells us right off the bat we need to suspend our disbelief a bit for this book; (2) we know the pants are going to play a large role in it ... so much so, in fact, that Ann goes out of her way here to make sure we like them and feel "comfortable" with them; and (3) the voice comes across as clear as a bell in these few sentences. Stars: ***

If you think it's hard keeping track of all the Steps in my life, try being me. The Steps are the bazillion stepbrothers, stepsisters, and half siblings my parents keep laying on me. The Steps, by Rachel Cohn.

I like the voice here, and we learn right away where the title comes from and what it means. Also, we can guess that at least a few of those Steps are going to be a cause of conflict for our narrator. I did find that first sentence slightly confusing, though. Does she mean it's even harder for her to keep track of all the Steps than it is for us? Or that it's even harder to be her than to keep track of her Steps? (It may very well just be me, so if anyone has a better take on that sentence, please let me know.) Stars: **

Willa lingered around the water spigot as long as she could, wishing she had somewhere else to go but back home. The Miner's Daughter, by Gretchen Moran Laskas.

The name "Willa" and the fact that she is standing at a water spigot (and not one located in her kitchen or bathroom) gives us the immediate sense that this is a period piece. And, it introduces conflict and a question: Why doesn't she want to go back home? Stars: ****

It's a funny thing about names. Some are long, some are short, some mean something, others don't; but everyone and everything has one, or two or three. Little Dumpling Fish had four names. The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel), by Ellen Raskin.

Typical Raskin. We know names are going to play an important role in this mystery. We are introduced to a character named, um, Little Dumpling Fish. And we are told that she (he?) has four names. (And in case you're wondering whether "Little Dumpling Fish" counts as one or two or three of those names, the answer is two. "Little Dumpling" and "Fish" are two of her four names.) Weird, wild, wonderful. Stars: ****

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Matthew Cordell: Fuzzy Ears and All!

What a pleasure to "cap off" the first full week of blog posts for the Robert's Snow snowflake benefit auction with this feature of Matthew Cordell's darling contribution, "Snow Caps."

First, the snowflake:

Check out the front:

And the back:

Next, the bio:

Matthew Cordell
is an illustrator of children's literature, newspapers, magazines, and many things in between. Though he spent most of his life in small town South Carolina, in 1999 he migrated midwest to set up shop in Chicago. It was there that he met his soon-to-be bride, his passion for children's books and deep-dish pizza.

Matthew's children's books include: Toby and the Snowflakes, Righty and Lefty, and The Moon is La Luna. Currently he is working hard on forthcoming picture books with Candlewick and Feiwel and Friends. Matthew now lives in the burbs of Chicago with his exceptional wife, picture book author and YA novelist Julie Halpern, and their squeezably soft Siamese cat, Tobin.

And, the self-portrait:

Julie Halpern and Matthew Cordell (as illustrated by Matthew):

Now, onto the Q&A:

What inspired you to pursue a career in illustration? And why for kids?

Well, I've always been an artist. As I got older and was forced to start thinking about a career, I knew it had to be one in art. For a good chunk of time in my early adult life, I wandered a little trying to decide where, artistically, to put my focus. I'd developed a real passion for graphic design as well as fine art, so I figured I would be in it for life down one (or both) of those roads. But when I began achieving success in art and in design, I started to realize that neither was what I actually wanted.

My wife, Julie Halpern, is a writer and had written a picture book story called Toby and the Snowflakes. And she had me in mind as the illustrator for her story - something we could collaborate on and then try to get published. At first, I put it off (for about a year!).

But as I got more and more bummed about design and art, the idea of Toby started to sound very appealing. Of course, it was exciting to work on something with Julie, but there was also a lot of potential there that I hadn't taken the time to see before. This would be a much-needed new audience for me - children with hopeful and fresh perspectives (not as jaded, anyway, as some of us adults!). And if it worked, I could delve into a new industry, too, in children's publishing. So after all that procrastination, I finally went over to the drawing board and came up with a handful of drawings to accompany Julie's manuscript and a proposal to send out to 20 or so children's book publishers.

After a series of both form and personally encouraging rejection letters, it looked as though Toby might not happen. But finally, Julie received a very encouraging e-mail from an editor expressing an interest in Julie's and my combined efforts. In the fall of 2004, Toby and the Snowflakes was published by Houghton Mifflin and this set forth a very thrilling and rewarding career for me in illustrating books for children. I couldn't be happier with the reception I've gotten from this very warm and encouraging industry (editors and art directors, librarians and teachers, and kids alike).

Why did you decide to participate in the Robert's Snow fund-raiser?

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I hadn't heard about Robert's Snow until this year. Julie, also a librarian and Internet sleuth, had of course heard of the project and saw an online call for illustrators for this year's group. Once I learned more, I really wanted to take part. Many of us have been affected personally by the grief and tragedy of cancer. The Robert's Snow project is such an excellent way to raise money for the cause and a fun and easy way for the children's lit industry and industry lovers to get involved. I'm honored to be given the opportunity to participate.

Why did you decide to illustrate your snowflake the way you did?

I can't survive winter without a good winter hat (my ears are screaming if I leave them at the mercy of a winter wind). And there are a lot of great hat styles to choose from, so I figured I'd try and show as many as possible. That's how the series of kids in their "snow caps" came about.

What's your favorite thing about snow?

My favorite thing about snow is how it completely changes the existing landscape. Winter, to me, can be pretty gloomy at times with the lack of sunlight and the extreme cold. To wake up and see a fresh blanket of snowfall totally changing the way the trees, the ground, the houses and the cars look - it always gives me a boost.

They say there are no two snowflakes alike. Name something that makes you different from anyone else on Earth.

I'd have to say it's my unusually fuzzy ears. I mean, I've seen guys with hair on their ears before, but nothing like what I'm capable of. My ear hair will grow crazy long (if I let it) but it's a soft, light-colored variety of hair so it's not particularly obvious or grotesque (I like to think). Julie likes the soft, downy feel, but I keep it trimmed to maintain appearances. Hey, maybe it's a defense mechanism against these bitter Chicagoland winters.

And finally, the pitch:

Matthew Cordell's "Snow Caps" will be put up for bid in an online auction November 26-30. To check out the other snowflakes and illustrators featured on kid lit blogs this week, see the sidebar at the right of your screen. For a complete schedule of the snowflake auctions and to learn how you can purchase a unique piece of art while also supporting a good cause, head on over to the Robert's Snow site now!

Update: I just received an email from someone (actually, Matthew himself!) and the pictures are not uploading for him. I'm not sure how to fix this as they seem to be uploading for others; however, since the pictures of the snowflakes are kinda the point of this post, I beg you, if you cannot see them, to visit this page and check out the fourth entry in the list (click on the snowflakes to see the larger view). And visit Matthew's Web site to see the self-portrait and much more of his artwork. I will try to figure out the problem and get it fixed; in the meantime, if anyone else is having problems, please leave me a comment so I can see how widespread this is. Sorry for any inconvenience!

Update to the Update: I think (thanks to my husband, Joe) we've fixed the problem. Though the layout isn't quite as pretty as before, at least the graphics should be showing up for everyone. If you still can't see them, go here, where DH has recreated the entire post on his own blog for me.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Versatility of Acorns

Just a quick post today to urge you to visit Plastic Pumpkins and check out how versatile little acorns can be. Note especially the exquisite acorn pin. I have a feeling I know what Mom Acorn is getting for Christmas this year!

Also, don't forget to check out the gorgeous snowflakes being featured for the Robert's Snow benefit auction. This week's schedule of illustrators and their respective blog features can be found on my sidebar.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Snowed In!

Today marks the kick-off of the Kid Lit Blogger World's Mega Promo Campaign on behalf of Robert's Snow: for Cancer's Cure.

Each day, several bloggers will feature snowflakes custom-designed by a group of 150+ fabulous children's book illustrators, to be auctioned off later this year. The schedule for this week's Robert's Snow features can be found on the sidebar to the right. (The astute observer might note that Sunday's slate includes a feature right here on this very blog ... and what a feature it will be! Matthew Cordell is an amazing artist and a funny guy.)

Please go check out each of today's fabulous snowflakes, and take a minute to visit the Robert's Snow site to find out how you can purchase a unique piece of art and contribute to a great cause!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Report from Rutgers One-on-One

The Rutgers One-on-One Conference yesterday brought together about 90 writers and 90 published authors, agents and editors for a full day of educational sessions and mentoring. I was paired up with Meredith Mundy Wasinger, a senior editor at Sterling Publishing and a truly lovely person.

(Side rant here: I forgot my camera! I did get a shot of Meredith with my phone but as yet have not figured out how to get it from my phone onto my computer.)

According to the conference organizers, the competition to get into the event was tough ... about 250 writers applied for mentee spots ... and they regretted having to turn away so many, including some whose writing samples were very high quality, but they simply did not have enough mentors to take more.

Here were some of the highlights for me:

  1. My one-on-one session with Meredith was so encouraging and helpful ... she gave me a real "aha" moment when she suggested describing my story's setting - and my main character's reactions to that setting - as a way to evoke her internal thoughts and personality more. (My story is told in first-person POV.) It can be tough to describe setting and also to examine a character's personality when writing in first person, but exploring her reactions to the setting can effectively do both. I'm looking forward to playing around with that.
  2. I met Laura Arnold from HarperCollins, who will be critiquing a manuscript for me in a couple of weeks for the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Fall Conference. Laura is sweet and smart, and I am even more excited now to get her feedback on my submission.
  3. Tom Yezerski's talk reminded me that, though I have a long way to go with my writing, I need to occasionally take the time to appreciate how far I've come. Though I didn't write down the exact quote, he said something along the lines of "No matter how you define success, whether it be winning the Newbery or writing one really good paragraph ...." Yes, sometimes writing one strong paragraph is a reward in itself!
  4. Both Betsy Bird and Nadia Cornier gave some valuable advice re: blogging. Betsy said you want to reveal enough about your personality, thoughts, etc., on your blog to give visitors the sense that they know you (and therefore want to continue to come visit you), but you also want to maintain some sense of mystery about yourself and your work. Interesting! Nadia and a number of the other editors and agents I spoke with told me they definitely Google people whose work they are considering representing or buying and visit their blogs. So watch what you blog about! Nadia told the story of one prospective client who blogged for days about how she hadn't completed her manuscript yet and needed to hurry up and finish it because she had led Nadia to believe it was ready. Nadia has a great sense of humor, so she was more amused than upset at this ... but still!
  5. Betsy Bird handed out a list of "Blogs to Watch" and on the very short list (six to be exact) of Author/Illustrator Blogs was one of my personal favs: Sam Riddleburger's!
  6. Ann M. Martin gave the keynote. There was some dispute as to whether she has written 400 titles (as was reported in her introduction) or 250 titles (as she had in her own notes). And she's only in her early 50s! Astounding!
  7. Last, but certainly not least, was getting to know my two carpool buddies, Sydney and Laurie, and meeting so many wonderful children's writers from all over the country, especially those of you whom I've met online through the message boards and through your blogs.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Alex and the Ironic Gentleman:
From Warm to Hot to Downright Scalding

They say if your main character is having a good time, your reader isn’t. In other words, no one wants to read about happy people. You have to throw your character into hot water and keep her there.

For someone whose real-life conflict-avoidance meter seems stuck on “High,” this is not always easy. I like my main character. I don’t want her to get in trouble.

Folks like me can learn a lot from Adrienne Kress and her amazing adventure story, Alex and the Ironic Gentleman.

Alex (short for Alexandra) gets into one sticky situation after another in her quest to find a hidden treasure. And those sticky situations tend to turn into major misfortunes, which somehow morph into catastrophic calamities. And this happens over and over and over throughout the book.

Two examples:

(1) After being captured and abused by the sadistic Daughters of the Founding Fathers’ Preservation Society, Alex makes an escape attempt. The reader is so relieved. Enough of those old biddies and their cruelty! Alex has found an opportunity to make her getaway and has seized it!

Sometimes our bodies do things without our instructing them to. So it was that, in this case, Alex found her body running toward the door to the room, flinging it open, and racing down the hall to the grand stairwell.

Wonderful! Except...

Only when her body reached the front entrance did it decide to relinquish control over Alex and wait patiently for her to tell it what to do next. This was an unfortunate turn of events because, in this brief transition of power, Alex found herself rooted to the spot, giving Poppy and Rose ample time to catch up to her.

Poppy sneered at her as she grabbed Alex by the shoulder. Then Rose pinned Alex’s arms roughly behind her, and the two of them dragged Alex back to the staff room.

Turns out the torturous captivity has just begun for our poor heroine. The water is about to go from hot to scalding for her.

(2) Many calamities later in the story, we find Alex trying to reason with an angry and violent Extremely Ginormous Octopus on behalf of a movie director named Steve. (If you’re wondering what the heck octopi and movies have to do with finding hidden treasure, well, you’ll have to read the book.) Anyway, after much flailing of tentacles and breaking of windows, followed by some brilliant negotiations on Alex’s part, we are rewarded with a scene of calm and victory … a welcome respite for the conflict avoiders among us:

Steve nodded and smiled. It was only when he did that that Alex realized she had never seen him do it before. He suddenly seemed like a normal person. And she smiled back. And then the Exremely Ginormous Octopus smiled too.

But by now, we should know better ...

And then the door of the pub exploded off its hinges in the most violent and destructive way possible.

… so we’re off to the next sticky situation, which of course will deteriorate into a major misfortune, only to collapse into a catastrophic calamity.

Yes, when it comes to getting a character into hot water – and keeping her there – few can rise to the challenge as skillfully as Adrienne Kress. Nicely done!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Fun in the Sun ... or Not

Sorry the blog is so quiet this week. I'm hard at work here in paradise ... at Fantasy Springs Resort in Palm Springs. Long, tiring and very hot days, but I must say the free evenings with their desert breezes are to die for! I'll be here a few more days, so please forgive the light postings!

Am reading the funny-yet-suspenseful Alex and the Ironic Gentleman in my spare time, so you can expect a review next week.

In the meantime, a few funny Google hits this week:

  • my friend is like a rainbow
  • lie nuts
  • cow poop soccer game
  • husband pleasing wife with rubbing techniques

Er, the poor guy (gal?) searching for that last topic definitely came to the wrong blog. Or else that R rating should be changed to NC-17.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Feelin' the Kid Lit Love

Two of my favorite kid lit authors and bloggers spread some love my way this weekend. Just wanted to say thanks and encourage my visitors to stop by their sites.

First, Jay Asher, whose amazing book, 13 Reasons Why is coming out in October, awarded me a t-shirt for an "Answer the Frequently Frustrating Questions" contest he ran (I'm good at those ... I get lots of them at my day job):



Brilliant and mezmerizing ... not too shabby. (But, hey, don't take Kirkus' word for it ... check out my review of Jay's book here.)

Next, I came across a Word Search puzzle on Sam Riddleburger's site last night, and lo and behold, Just Like the Nut is one of the phrases in the puzzle! How fun ... immortalized in a Word Search. Check it out ... you might just find your blog on the list, too.

And, there's even a mystery hidden word, which is ... "mat"! No, I'm kidding. It's not "mat," though I did find that in there (also, "haw.") It's ... well, it's a mystery word, so you'll have to find it for yourself. Enjoy!

Update: After a full day of wearing my "Ask Me About 13 Reasons Why" shirt and having three people ask about it, I can report two observations: (1) When people read the shirt, they ask, "So, what are the 13 reasons why?" Each of the three people asked the question in just this way. (2) When I explained it was a book and gave them an overview of the premise, they all seemed highly intrigued. (Hey, Jay, the 20-something grocery store cashier even took the time to get out a piece of paper and pen and write down the title. "I'll have to get that," she said. "I love to read." Woohoo! Of course, I ticked off everyone behind me in line, gushing about your book while their ice cream melted, but that's OK!)

Friday, September 28, 2007

Poetry Friday: Cowboy Poetry

Tickets go on sale next week for what has to be one of the coolest events in the literary world, the 2008 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, to be held January 26 to February 2 in Elko, Nevada.

How I wish I lived near Elko and could attend this amazing shindig!

My choice for Poetry Friday this week is a piece by one of the presenters at the gathering, Paul Zarzyski.

by Paul Zarzyski
A sacrilege against my blue-collar
Catholic manhood, I no longer cut my own
winter supply. I pay 85 a cord
delivered, but I’ll be damned
if I’ll stand idly by and watch Willy stack it

Read the full poem here.

For more on the Cowboy Poetry genre, check out this Wikipedia entry!

Thanks much to AmoXcalli for hosting Poetry Friday this week!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

This Is Nuts!

When I first started blogging, my husband advised me that at some point, my Google hits would shoot way up. Apparently this phenomenon happens to all regularly updated blogs. For the first few months, the blog gets a random hit or two each week, and then all of a sudden for no apparent reason, it starts getting lots of hits each day. Why this happens is a mystery.

Just Like the Nut has reached that point. Google is directing all sorts of searches my way. Here are a few of the fascinating word combinations that have led people to my humble blog:

  • nut looks like brain
  • i'm a nut (title)
  • nut poems
  • monkey joe's nuts in nj

Um, OK. What’s up with that? I guess you could say I attract the nut cases.

A few others I found interesting (not sure these folks found what they were looking for here!):

  • the greek word for poop
  • a squadron of what?
  • musculum warts
  • what kind of girl likes a nerd

Well, OK, if that last person read enough of my blog, he would have learned about at least one type of girl who likes nerds. Hurrah for nerds! And for the girls who like them!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Letters from Rapunzel: A Long, Hard Fall

At first glance, Letters from Rapunzel, by debut novelist Sara Lewis Holmes, seems like just my kind of book. Contemporary fiction. A strong-willed, smart female main character. Lots of humor. Even a discussion of word origins.

But. (You knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?) But … it deals with one of those “serious topics” … depression.

I know depression is an important subject. I know it can have devastating effects on those who struggle with it, as well as on their families and friends. I know it’s something kids need to be able to learn about … something that should be written about and talked about and brought out into the open.

But. I don’t want to read about it.

Along come this Sara Lewis Holmes person, with her first published book ever, and she tricks me into reading a novel about something I do not want to read about.

Its breezy references to fairy tales. Its distinctive voice. Its unusual format (a series of letters). Its offbeat observations on life. Its suspenseful climax. Even its sweet, girly cover (OK, that’s probably not entirely Sara’s fault, but couldn’t she have requested that the artist make it darker, more sinister?)

The point is, in the final analysis, all of these wonderful qualities constitute a massive disguise for what is really a discussion of an important topic that made me think and possibly even reconsider some of my preconceptions about mental illness!

By the time I realized what was happening, it was too late. It was like a charm, a spell. I had gotten too far into the book and could not stop reading. So let this be a warning to you. If you prefer to avoid “serious” topics, do not fall for this book!

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Sea, the Stars and … a Squadron of Cows?

In honor of two major events that occurred this week – Talk Like a Pirate Day and the U.S. release of Adrienne Kress’s middle-grade adventure, Alex and the Ironic Gentleman – I have selected Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Pirate Story” for this week’s Poetry Friday post.

Love this kid-centric piece. Enjoy!

Pirate Story
by Robert Louis Stevenson

Three of us afloat in the meadow by the swing,
Three of us abroad in the basket on the lea.
Winds are in the air, they are blowing in the spring,
And waves are on the meadow like the waves there are at sea.

Where shall we adventure, to-day that we're afloat,
Wary of the weather and steering by a star?
Shall it be to Africa, a-steering of the boat,
To Providence, or Babylon or off to Malabar?

Hi! but here's a squadron a-rowing on the sea--
Cattle on the meadow a-charging with a roar!
Quick, and we'll escape them, they're as mad as they can be,
The wicket is the harbour and the garden is the shore.

Many thanks to Sara Lewis Holmes for hosting this week’s Poetry Friday!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Blogging for the Cure

Some of you may be familiar with Robert's Snow, a wonderful fund-raising effort in which kid lit illustrators are donating their time and talents to help raise money for cancer research.

I am utterly and severely artistically impaired, so I was thrilled when the folks at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast decided to spearhead a promotional campaign that allows us bloggers to play a role in this event.

Long story short: In November and December, 150 kid lit illustrators will auction off snowflakes created especially for this fundraiser. In the meantime, 60 kid lit bloggers will help publicize the auction by featuring the artists and snowflakes on their blogs. I have been assigned to three artists, each of whom are amazing! I am so excited to have the opportunity to showcase their work here and to help in some small way with this campaign.

The bloggers have been asked not to run the artist/snowflake profiles until given a go-ahead by Jules at Seven Impossible Things ... so check back here in late October for those. In the meantime, be sure to visit the Robert's Snow Web site to learn how you can participate in the online auction to acquire a one-of-a-kind snowflake from one of your favorite artists, and support a good cause at the same time!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Can We Use "Ze" in Scrabble?

I love words, and I love word puzzles. My mystery series includes word puzzles, in fact.

Scrabble is a different story. Though rearranging a bunch of random letters into words is right up my alley, the frustration of sometimes not being able to form a word, combined with the often unbearable wait for others to form their words, pretty much sucks the fun right out of the game for me.

Still, this Scrabble video by Ze Frank ranks as one of my all-time favorite things on the Internet. Whether you love Scrabble or loathe it, I have a feeling you'll enjoy. (Warning: Some mildly adult language!)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Poetry Friday: A Mighty Oak Among Poets

When the Eichorn clan emigrated from Germany many years ago, they settled in Prince Edward Island. Some among them changed their name to Acorn (eichorn is the German word for “acorn”). A smallish number moved south to the United States. Many settled in PEI and in the eastern parts of Canada.

Milton James Rhode Acorn was born March 30, 1923, in Charlottetown, PEI. He became known both as Canada’s national poet and “the people’s poet.” He died on August 20, 1986.

I did not know Milton Acorn, and I have no idea what genealogical heritage we may share. But, I love knowing that one of the greatest poets in the history of Canada was an Acorn!

Live With Me On Earth Under the Invisible Daylight Moon
by Milton Acorn

Live with me on Earth among red berries and the bluebirds
And leafy young twigs whispering
Within such little spaces, between such floors of green, such figures in the clouds
That two of us could fill our lives with delicate wanting:
Where stars past the spruce copse mingle with fireflies
Or the dayscape flings a thousand tones of light back at the sun -
Be any one of the colours of an Earth lover;
Walk with me and sometimes cover your shadow with mine.

From Dig Up My Heart: Selected Poems 1952-83, McClelland and Stewart.

Thanks to Hip Writer Mama for hosting this week's Poetry Friday!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Report from the Registrar

I have the pleasure and privilege this year of serving as registrar for the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Fall Conference, October 27 in Arlington, Virginia.

Registrations began coming in on September 4, and as of today ... less than two weeks since the program hit members' mailboxes ... we have 133 registrants! Looks as though we are well on our way to another successful event!

Among the highlights at this year's conference: a keynote address by none other than Bruce Coville and a panel of three first-time authors (Beckie Weinheimer, Sara Holmes and Moira Donohue) and their editors (Catherine Frank, Laura Arnold and Abby Levine, respectively). Also, editor Bonnie Bader will discuss revision, author Jen McVeity will share secrets of the craft, agent Alyssa Eisner Henkin will offer advice on getting published, and Art Director Carol Gilder will share her insights with the illustrators in attendance.

This event will sell out, so if you don't want to be square, please send in your registration soon! Details and the registration form can be downloaded here.

Looking forward to seeing some of you in October! Please stop by and say hi ... I'll be manning the registration desk when you arrive!!

Monday, September 10, 2007

It’s a Start, Part III

Welcome once again to “It’s a Start,” a semi-regular feature in which we examine the first sentence (or so) of five kids books randomly selected from the Acorn bookshelves. You can check out earlier editions here and here. (Note: Maximum number of stars = 5.)

Herculeah Jones was restless. She went to the window and looked up and down the street. Everything seemed normal, but she could not shake the feeling that something was wrong. Tarot Says Beware (A Herculeah Jones Mystery), by Betsy Byars

Hmm, I appreciate the mood, but the verbs are weak: “was” “looked,” “seemed” (though “shake” is a good one). This is the first paragraph. It’s supposed to draw in the reader. These verbs may cut it further into the book, but not here. Stars: ***

It was the last week of the summer, and I felt like I should be getting ready, but there I was on Ethan’s back porch again, playing Monopoly, just like most other days this summer. In fact, we were playing the same exact game we’d started in June. Gracie’s Girl, by Ellen Wittlinger

This one breaks two important rules. First, it starts on a normal day. I once heard an editor say that if your story starts with a kid’s alarm waking her up on a Monday morning, you need to ditch that beginning and start instead at the point where something unusual is happening. Mitigating factor: Wittlinger does hint that the character is expecting change … that she feels she should be getting ready for a new school year.

Second, this starts with backstory! We learn what these kids have been doing all summer. Whatever happened to “no backstory in the first X-number of pages”? Again, though, I have to give Wittlinger her props. She gives us backstory so skillfully, we may not even notice that’s what she’s doing. And the part about the same Monopoly game going on since June is plain funny, and perhaps a bit tragic (at least to this Monopoly hater). Stars: ***

Lucky Trimble crouched in a wedge of shade behind the Dumpster. The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron

With all the attention given to a certain other sentence appearing on the first page of this book, I am glad to be able to give some credit where some serious credit is due: This is an awesome first sentence, from the main character’s name, to the terrific verb “crouched,” to the descriptive visual “wedge of shade,” to the location “behind the Dumpster” (and not just any dumpster, but a dumpster with a capital “D”)! I want to read on as much for the writing and the language as to find out why this kid is crouching behind the Dumpster. Stars: *****

I once believed life was a gift. I thought whatever I wanted I would someday possess. Green Angel, by Alice Hoffman

Full disclosure: I adore Alice Hoffman and devour everything she writes, but I hated this book. Just not my thing. That said, this opening does set the mood for what is a haunting YA novella. Aside from setting a mood and giving a glimpse of the main character, it doesn’t do much to pull me in. Stars: **

To snoop or not to snoop…. That’s no question. Whether it’s smarter to let sleeping dogs lie or to plunge in and follow a clue, I always do the same thing: Follow the clue. Give My Regards to Broadway (A Chet Gecko Mystery), by Bruce Hale

Love it! Anyone who enjoys mysteries has to love a snooper. And the first sentence’s take-off on Shakespeare is perfect for a story set on the stage of a school production of Omlet, Prince of Denver. Stars: *****

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Ethan, Suspended: Keeping ’Em in Suspense

With her debut middle-grade novel, Ethan, Suspended, Pamela Ehrenberg proves you don’t have to write thrillers to master the art of suspense.

Before I explain, let’s take a look at the words “suspend” and “suspense.” Both words have their origin in the Latin suspendere, meaning “to hang, stop.”

In this novel, Ethan Oppenheimer is “suspended” in a couple of ways: (1) he has been suspended from school and (2) he is living with his grandparents in a temporary state of suspension while he awaits the outcome of his parents’ marital problems.

Though this book is not a mystery, nor a thriller nor a horror novel but is in fact closer to a quiet coming-of-age story, it does an excellent job of keeping the reader in suspense. I found myself trying to read faster to find out what happens next and staying up well past my already-too-late bedtime to finish “just one more chapter.”

How does Pamela accomplish this?

Through unanswered questions. From the very beginning of her story, she leaves the reader wondering what exactly has happened to Ethan and those around him.

Two examples:

Why was Ethan suspended from school? We know from the book’s prologue that it had something to do with a classmate who was left lying on a “bloodstained sidewalk,” but we do not know what exactly happened to the boy, nor what Ethan’s role was. Not until page 121 – nearly halfway through the book – do we learn the answer to this question.

What is going on between Daron and Diego? Daron is a boy who lives next door to Ethan’s grandparents, and Diego is one of the only kids at Ethan’s new school who will talk to him. (Being the only white kid at an inner-city D.C. school causes some interesting tensions for our hero.)

In chapter two (page 18), Daron’s little brother, Felix, first hints of the tension: "What you don’t want to do is get too friendly with the Spanish kids. Usually they leave us alone and we leave them alone and everything’s okay. It’s when people get too friendly that problems get started."

The book drops references to these "problems" throughout, but we don’t have a clear idea what they are until partway through Chapter 10 (page 100).

The book includes many other "suspenseful" questions. (What will happen to Ethan’s parents? Why has his mother been estranged from his grandparents for so long, and why did he end up at their house for this crisis? What happened to Ethan’s uncle, who died at a young age? Why does his friend, Sharita, miss so much school?)

As a writer who tends to want to explain everything to my readers up front … to fill them in on every character’s backstory and explain every plot point ad infinitum … I greatly appreciate the skill with which Pamela weaves these subtle elements of suspense into her story. There’s no better way to keep readers turning the page than to tease them with lots of unanswered questions.