Instant Images

Ideas for The Boy ProblemI write humor for middle graders. It’s a fun job, made doubly so because I have a wealth of information living under the same roof with me – my daughter. Before she arrived at middle school, my son was there. So for six of the past seven years I’ve been living with some of the inspiration for my novels. A parenting perk for sure!

Middle graders are awesome! They haven’t yet lost that joie de vivre, so they still embrace the cute, fun, and funky! Especially girls. I paid attention to this when writing The Boy Problem: Notes and Predictions of Tabitha Reddy, forthcoming April 29 from Scholastic. My daughter was in seventh grade at the time, and I decided to deliberately populate my novel with things she found appealing. What better way to connect with readers of the same age?

 

cupcakes!

Some of my daughters cupcakes.

At the time she loved cupcakes. (That hasn’t changed.) She has cupcake socks, t-shirts, wall art, etc. So into the book I poured the ingredients for a cupcake theme – along with lots of cute cupcake images, via words and sketches! She also loved the inexplicably popular mustache trend. For that reason, I found a funny way to create a mustache motif in the book as well. Finally, since Tabbi, the main character, uses predictions to try to figure out who the right guy for her is, I was able to insert some time-tested predicting tools – ever popular with middle graders. 8 balls, fortune cookies, and cootie catchers (also called fortune tellers).

 

The Boy Problem

Using instant images has made it fun and easy to find and create book bling for The Boy Problem’s launch!

Note that all of the above: mustaches, cupcakes, 8 balls, fortune cookies, and cootie catchers have popular and very concrete visual images. As an author, you want to think about the visual images you put into your readers’ heads. Sometimes you do this with subtlety, using carefully crafted similes and metaphors. But it is also okay to stick instant images into your books. Ones you know your reader will easily visualize and identify with! If you’re writing for middle graders, I recommend considering this.

 

My daughter starts high school next year. To be honest, I am a little worried about this. Where will I get my instant-images? Will she have the same enthusiasm for cute, fun, and funky? Probably not! I will need access to that kind of The Boy Problemthing when I write my next novel. What will I do? Well… I do have a niece starting middle school in the fall. Hopefully she won’t notice her aunt eavesdropping and checking out her accessories at every family get-together for the next three years!

To read more about the creation of THE BOY PROBLEM and to see the trailer, click HERE.

 

And you can watch this adorable trailer created by students in Mr. Etkin’s class to find out more about the book! I saw this for the first time today!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Modern Miss Muffet: Stand Your Ground

spiderReally? It’s only Wednesday? Because it has been one of those weeks where it feels like I’ve already lived ten days of it. I’m talking about a loooonnnggggg stressful week. Given that, I didn’t get to write the post I had planned, so today I am going to share something I decided might be too silly. But now I need a little silly. This came about when I was playing around with modernizing nursery rhymes and giving the female characters more backbone! So here’s my version of Miss Muffet, which I’ve given a sparkling new title. 

 

Stand Your Ground

Little Miss Muffet

Sat on a tuffet

Eating her curds and whey.

Along came a spider

And sat down beside her

What did Miss Muffet say?

Did she call for a man?

No! That wasn’t her plan.

Instead, she took off her shoe.

And said to the spider

“Be frightened away!

Or else you’ll be smashed into goo.”

 See, it’s all about choices. So stand your ground!  (I might have to apologize to arachnophiles for this one, but note that the spider has a choice here too!) Here’s hoping  all of your weeks are going better than mine. But as Judith Viorst’s Alexander might say, “Some weeks are like that. Even in Australia.”  🙂 

13 Things I’ve Learned From My Teen

My oldest daughter recently turned 13. (I’m sure that’s a recordkeeping error, as I am in no way old enough to be the mother of a 13 year old.) She has been a joy, a pain, a source of contentment and of frustration. Meaning, she’s a regular teenager.

Oldest children are typically described as conscientious, reliable, organized and even dominant. Unlike many oldest children, mine tends to be the opposite of most of these things. She’s emotional and emotionally needy. She’s flaky and more interested in fun than victory. She’s disorganized to the point of messy. She asks ridiculous questions and feels no disgrace if she doesn’t know the answers. And despite being firmly entrenched in middle school, she wears whatever she wants (including an array of My Little Pony hoodies, complete with manes), ignores “cool” or “trendy” to pursue her own interests (my kid skips study hall to play more violin!), and she laughs loudly and often, even when people stop and stare.

She’s taught me more about life than I’d ever expected. Here are 13 things I needed my child to teach me:

1. Battles should be chosen wisely.

I’ve seen her do this with her brother and sister – if she thinks she’s going to win, she bares her claws. If not, she lives to fight another day. That taught me a valuable lesson. If the standard was, “you break a rule, we have a fight,” my teen and I would be fighting all the time. And nobody wants to live like that. Instead, I cut her slack on the messy room and the unfolded laundry, and save my fight for the really important things.
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2. Housekeeping is overrated.

In the theme of choosing one’s battles, my teen has taught me to view housekeeping appropriately – meaning, there is almost always something more valuable to do with your time. At the end of the day, does it matter more to make sure beds are made or to make sure you’ve had a 10 minute conversation you’re your child (even if the only answers you get are monosyllabic)?

3. Ask questions.

I’ll be honest, sometimes her questions are a little over the top. Sometimes, a little irritating. Sometimes, my response is to scream, “your phone has Google! Go look it up yourself!” But the fact that she constantly asks questions means she is constantly curious – and constantly willing to be educated. Many of us would benefit from those qualities.

4. Be unafraid of failure.

Oh, does my kid fail. Sometimes several times in a row. And yet, she keeps putting herself out there. Would that we all had that kind of courage.
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5. If people are staring at you, assume it’s because you’re doing something right.

Like I said, my teen laughs loudly and often. (She actually has this witch laugh that she loves to show off.) She fails at things and she asks aggravating questions. And when people stare at her for doing all those things, she acts like she is the star of the show, instead of shrinking away in embarrassment. It takes a lot of self-confidence to pull that off, and she does. Consistently.

6. Keep hugging.

My oldest may be 13, but she cuddles like a toddler. I’ll be honest – sometimes, that’s annoying, and I often find myself wanting to talk to her about respecting personal space. But then I realize that (1) she already knows that, because she doesn’t go around hugging strangers, and (2) that I should be as comfortable showing my love for the people in my life as she is. So I hug her back, and thank the universe for sending me someone to teach me this.

7. There’s always room for ice cream.

My teen is never one to forego a pleasure. Already, she understands that life is too short for that!

8. Having fun is more important than looking like you’re having fun.

I know I’m biased, but my teen is gorgeous. I wish I’d looked like her when I was her age. And yet, she is completely oblivious to her beauty. At an age where other girls are worrying about their hair and makeup and just looking good, my kid is out there having fun. If anyone cares that her hair isn’t perfect while she’s doing that, it certainly isn’t her.

DSCN00069. That I never understood love before I had kids.

I think kids sometimes think of their hearts as being finite like a house – the more people you love and have in your heart, there less room there is for each person. After you have children, you realize what it means for love to be infinite, and how unconditionally you can actually love.

10. That I never understood fear, either.

Before I had my daughter, I worried about things that could happen to me. Now, those don’t even make my top ten list of things I worry about. I can’t watch a crime procedural on TV without thinking, “That’s something I wasn’t scared of…until now.”
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11. They’re my dreams, but it’s your life.

This one was a tough one. The day she was born, I decided that my daughter would have the “perfect” life. At least, perfect by my definition. So I enrolled her in ballet and karate, I took her to art museums and to fancy restaurants, I bought her everything trendy and “cool” I could think of (or read about). I did my best to Disney-princessify her, and yet, over time – well, ballet has been replaced by cheer, karate with soccer. Art museums are out, orchestra is in. And trendy and cool? No interest whatsoever. But she is awesome exactly the way she is, and while I would’ve loved to have a frilly, fancy sidekick wanting to explore fashion, art, and culture, I couldn’t be happier that she is following exactly the path she wants to be on.

P103047612. Feeling like you’re part of the group gives you the strength to forge your own path.

I truly believe that giving my kid a childhood filled with lemming-like activities helped make her unique. Adulthood is about individuality – but you can’t teach a child to be an individual by forcing them to be different than their peers. That’s because childhood is about assimilation, feeling like you belong. And it’s only when you feel like you fit in that you can build the confidence to stand out.

13. Democracy is fine for government, but families are corporations.

The more social studies my teen learns, the more outspoken and confident she gets, the more she believes in democracy and wants everything to be a vote. Well, I wasn’t born yesterday. In our house, we are no democracy. We vote on equity share of the mortgage. Which means I have controlling interest of everything.

Books + Children = Happy Librarians

kami kinard Last week I attended the South Carolina Association of School Librarians Conference in Columbia SC. I’m thinking there’s no better place to be than with a bunch of people who love children and books. What a happy event!

My participation in the event started with an Author’s Round Table. During this, librarians moved around the room and spoke with different authors about their books. The different groups were interested in different aspects of a book’s life. One question I got more than once was whether or not I designed the cover. I did not. Almost all book covers are designed by in-house designers with input from Sales and Marketing teams. These are the people who usually know consumers best. If my book is going to be judged by its cover, I definitely want them to be behind it.

The next even for me was the book signing. Here I am at the Scholastic booth with a stack of The Boy Problem, which is only available through Scholastic clubs and fairs until April 29. We sold out by the end of the event. I love the girls who work for Scholastic book fairs! They are fabulous. 

It was also great to meet the Barnes and Nobles representatives who were super nice and took a picture of me and nerdy chick Amy Carol Reeves that I couldn’t get to upload. Grrrr. (Amy and I will both be at the SC Book Festival this year on May 17).

On Friday I led a poetry writing workshop for librarians, which introduced a way to use poetry for nonfiction research assignments and book reports. This scasl poetrymight have been the best group of students I’ve ever taught. Now they’re all poets! One attendee blogged about it HERE.

The event ended with an Author’s luncheon, for which I was the keynote speaker. Can I tell you how thrilling that was for me? And intimidating.

kinard keynote

The Flash of Blue is Wonder. “An author might want the world to be a kinder, gentler, less judgmental place.”

I promise the world would be a happier place if we could hang out with librarians every day! But since there’s no way  to make that happen,  I will give you this little bit of happiness that I discovered this morning on Facebook. I watched it a couple of times to get my day off to the right start!

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Hooray for School Librarians!

Confessions of a Chronic Doodler

It’s HERE! The trailer for THE BOY PROBLEM, created almost entirely from my doodles. My confessions follow, but first, watch the trailer! And stick around for the GIVEAWAY at the end of the post! 

Now for true confessions:  

I’ve never been good at taking notes. I probably shouldn’t admit this while I still have children in school, but often when I’m listening to someone talk, my mind starts wandering. And when this happens, my pen starts wandering too.  I confess.

Ever been on the phone with me? You know those times when you were talking and there were long periods of silence on my end? I was probably doodling. I confess.  doodles

Add to my list of confessions that I doodle on paper menus when dining at restaurants, church bulletins during church, programs when at performances, and in notebooks I take to conferences. I even doodle when I’m listening to my own internal voice. Doodles are crammed in between the words of all of my revision notebooks. If you could stretch out the pen marks from all of my doodles into one continuous line it would probably wrap around the world a few times. Times ten.

2harley2-watermark-copyHere’s another confession for you. I often curse the fact that my artistic skills are limited to doodling. My mother is a real artist, capable of rendering realistic landscapes and still-life paintings. My fourteen year old daughter is becoming an excellent media artist and has even started a little business creating drawings from photos of pets.

But me? I seemed destined only to doodle. And yet….

My doodling skills help me communicate visually. So when I turned in my manuscript for my first novel, THE BOY PROJECT, I included some doodles along with a note explaining that these were just to illustrate my ideas, and a publisher could hire a real artist to do the actual art.  The manuscript sold! And some of my actual doodles were used in it, along with others that they altered a little.

For my second book, THE BOY PROBLEM, forthcoming from Scholastic in April, everyone understood that I’d include some doodles, but that another artist would probably do the work for the book. But my own doodles ended up being the ones that grace the pages. And then, when I hired someone to make the trailer for THE BOY PROBLEM, she built the whole thing out of my doodles.

bookmarksI have to admit, I’m a little shocked by this. I’ve never thought of my artistic skills as good enough for publication. But the book turned out really well! And the trailer is so cute! Empowered by this, I used my doodling skills to create the 8 ball and mustache for these new promotional bookmarks.

The Boy Problem

Book designer Whitney Lyle created the doodles for this cover.

The bottom line here is that I’ve been selling myself short. And I think that as women, a lot of us do this. It’s important for us not to think in terms of what we CAN’T do, but in terms of what we CAN. I will never be able to sell an watercolor painting masterpiece. I’m not likely to create a digital rendering of your pet iguana either. But I can create one heck of a doodle! Go Me!

Oh yeah. There’s another bottom line here. I wanted to introduce my new book trailer to our readers! Did you watch it? See that guy’s head at 0.18. I had to doodle it about sixteen times to get it right. That’s how good I am.  Hey, it’s not about the first fifteen times I couldn’t draw a decent circle. It’s about the one time I did. 🙂

GIVEAWAY INFO:

To celebrate the release of THE BOY PROBLEM trailer, and the arrival of the new bookmarks, I am giving away class sets of bookmarks to teachers, librarians, and bookstores. If you are an individual who wants just one or two you can get some too. I’ll mail these to the first fifteen people to fill out the form below. If you leave a comment too, I’ll throw in a BOY PROBLEM bracelet when they arrive. This Giveaway ends on St.  Patrick’s Day, 2014.

Boy Problem Bookmark Final Front

Eight Things to Teach by Eighteen that They Can’t Learn from Google

My son on his 18th birthday.

My son on his 18th birthday.

Once, before I had children, I ran into a friend who’d just had her first child. 

“How’s motherhood?” I asked.

She didn’t answer with the usual “Great!” or “Exhausting!” responses I expected.

Instead, she said, “I can already tell I’m going to be worried for the rest of my life.”

I’m not sure truer words have ever been spoken.  My son was born about two years after this conversation. And while there have been SO many joys over the years, there have also been worries. Lots of worries. Endless worries.

This month he turned eighteen. Eighteen! Eighteen years of worrying about things I can control.  And with every year that passes, more and more time spent worrying about the things I can’t. What’s a mother to do?

While the goal of every good mother is to teach her child to be independent, as that bittersweet eighteenth birthday passes, I can’t help asking myself: Have I taught him everything he needs to know to make it in the world?

I think most mothers wrestle with this question.  I’ve seen other posts listing things we might forget to teach our children because we do these things without thinking, like how to mend ripped fabric or cook a meal. And yet – with the power of Google at every teen’s fingertips — I know my son can find out how to do things like sew on a button with the touch of a screen. But what things does he absolutely need to know that he can’t find on Google?

Here’s my list of 8 things to teach them before 18.

1.Empathy: Teach them to consider how others feel.

feelings facesThis will make them better people. They will add to their own value when they show that they value the feelings of others.  There’s truth in the saying, “People don’t care what you know, until they know you care.”

2. Self-Worth: Teach them to value themselves.

Show them that what they have to offer matters to you and to the world.  The best way to teach your child self-worth is for you to value you.  I’m serious. Show your child that you are worthy of respect and love. You will be modeling the most important characteristic for them to develop.

3. Life is Unfair: Teach them not to expect fairness.

scales of justiceIt would be impossible for me to calculate how many times I heard my own father tell me life’s not fair.  He is a judge, so somehow, I always expected him to be on the side of fairness. Instead, he was on the side of “Deal With It.”  And dealing with it, is something we have to learn to do. See number four, below.

4. Bravery: Teach them to be brave in the face of failure, because they will fail.

This, they must accept.

5. Don’t judge: Teach your children not to judge others.

They will be happier if they are not constantly measuring the value of other people. They must learn that humans come from all situations and circumstances, and that sometimes it is almost impossible for a person to make good choices. (I included this because you should try to teach it, but you will fail. Judging is part of the human condition. Still, we must try. See number four, above.)

6. Self-Advocacy: Teach your children to advocate for themselves.

When they are growing up, you are their biggest advocate, but this will change when they leave the nest. So equip them with the skills needed for self-advocacy. Teach them not to be afraid to speak out logically and reasonably to defend their rights or to ask for what they need. Self-advocacy will not always bring desired results, but that’s okay, you’ve already taught them numbers two, three and four!

7. Humor: Teach them to embrace laughter.  

laughterIf your child learns to laugh, not only in happy times, but also in the face of failure, you will have taught them to find joy in unhappiness. And you will give your child a quality valued by all others. Everyone loves to laugh.

8. Faith: If you want your child to have a sense of faith, model this for him or her.  

It does not matter what your religion is, if faith is something you want for your child, you must ground them in it.The world will not do this for you. Google will not do this for you.

My son is now eighteen. Do I still worry? You bet! Have I taught him all of the above? I’ve tried, but I doubt it. I’m learning, though, not to beat myself up over this. I’m going to trust that with the foundation of love and guidance we’ve given him, he’ll be okay. 

For everything else, there’s Google!

How the Vegetable Co-op Changed My Life

Bins awaiting pick-up by co-op members.

Bins awaiting pick-up by co-op members.

I’m not what you’d call a Tree-hugger, a Granola, or even a Free Spirit. Those titles require a lot more time and energy to earn than I have to give. Sadly. (Because I particularly admire tree-huggers.) Anyway,  in the spirit of adventure, this wanna-be tree-hugger tried something new and joined a vegetable co-op. My goal was to force myself to eat healthier, and I guessed that if the vegetables were already selected and provided for me weekly, instead of sitting in stores waiting for me to go pick them out, I would.

Did I meet this goal? Yes! Did our compost pile grow substantially due to an abundance of uneaten vegetables? Yes!

Okay, so my experiment could have been more successful had we eaten more and composted less. BUT here are some things I discovered about myself during the process.

  1. I definitely eat healthier when my refrigerator is stocked with vegetables.
  2. I lost weight without dieting because an abundance of vegetables was on hand.
  3. I was forced to try foods I hadn’t tried before.
  4. I became an adventurous cook, googling recipes, and altering those I found to keep them low fat.

Every Friday, I went to the Omni Gym to pick up my box of locally grown vegetables delivered by Pinckney’s Produce. The combination of vegetables in my box IMG_20131213_124052_681was never the same, but it usually contained some vegetables you could eat without cooking, like lettuce, and some I already knew how to cook, like broccoli, and a few others I had never tried. It was fun to experiment with these and try some new dishes. I even attempted new recipes for familiar vegetables.

Curious about some of the recipes I tried?

Stir-fried bok-choy. Kolrabi chips. Fried cabbage. Tomato pie.  Stir-fried eggplant. Collard greens. (Don’t let the word fried, fool you here. None of these were fried in the usual sense.)

My favorite source of vegetable recipes became Martha Stewart’s website. There, you click on the vegetable and scroll through all available recipes for it. Most are straight forward (and low fat), so I loved this.

My doctor tells me that all women need to eat a lot of vegetables in the cabbage family, like broccoli, ….. but I wasn’t sure what to do when I ended up with three heads of cabbage in my vegetable drawer. The only way I knew how to cook it was boiled, and I didn’t particularly like it that way. I was surprised to find a recipe for “fried” cabbage. Apparently, it is a common southern dish that this southerner had never heard of. I made a low fat version of it, and my husband and daughter were asking for more.

Here is how I made it:

Chop one onion and sauté in two tablespoons olive oil. Chop cabbage in to small pieces, add to onion. Add a touch more olive oil, if needed. continue to sauté. Sprinkle with one teaspoon sugar. Yes, sugar. Sprinkle mixture with garlic salt, salt, and pepper. Stir until cabbage is fairly soft.

1.Chop 1 onion. Sauté in 2 tablespoons olive oil.
2. Chop 1 head of cabbage into small pieces, add to onion. Add a touch more olive oil, if needed. Continue to sauté.
3. Sprinkle with one teaspoon sugar. Yes, sugar.
4. Sprinkle with garlic salt, salt, and pepper.
5.Stir until cabbage is fairly soft.

You’ll be surprised by how good this is!

The lifestyle changes I made as a result of  joining the vegetable co-op are subtle, but I am happy to discover an easy way to eat healthier and try new recipes. This past Friday marked the end of the fall co-op season. We’ll be signing up for the co-op again this spring with the goal of cooking more and composting less! The new year is right around the corner… does anyone’s resolution involve trying something new?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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