The Quotable Nerdy Chick: Loretta Lynch

If you’ve been keeping up with American news, you know there have been some troubling and scary things happening in the USA. As a nation, we are dealing with serious questions about safety, about privacy, about violence, about justice, about rights and responsibilities. This is not a political blog, and I will not use it as such. But I wanted to spend today’s post quoting a woman who I’d admired before and is now impressing me with her wisdom and good sense.

Loretta Lynch is Loretta_Lynch,_official_portraitthe current Attorney General, only the second woman overall and the first African-American woman in our history to serve as such. She’s a Harvard graduate and a former US Attorney, and as I see her on the news, I’m of the opinion that she’s fairly smart (and that might be an understatement). Here are some quotes that spoke to me.

Loretta Lynch Quotes:

  • Others will always seek to define you based on what they think you represent or who they think you are. But you have to be the one to control what you do and what you say and how you present yourself.
  • The power to arrest – to deprive a citizen of liberty – must be used fairly, responsibly, and without bias.
  • When suspicion and hostility is allowed to fester it can erupt into unrest.
  • Let us not act out of fear and misunderstanding, but out of the values of inclusion and diversity and regard for all that make our country great.
  • It’s the choices that you make and the things that you’re willing to accept and not accept that define who you are.

You can find a more complete biography of Loretta Lynch here

Where’s the Heart?

badge final for blogIn honor of Kidlit Summer School 2016 and it’s theme of Heart & Humor, I wanted to share some old thoughts I had about heart and writing picture books…

Where’s the Heart?

There are many different things that are necessary to craft a good picture book – theme, action, tension, to name a few. Arguably, the most important component in a successful picture book is heart. A manuscript without heart is like a slice of cheese pizza – fairly common to come across, but utterly uninspiring when you do. Sure, it serves some basic purpose, but it’s never anyone’s first choice. And when your picture book manuscript is not the first choice, editors have a huge pile of other potential pizzas to choose from.

What is heart? It is a bit hard to define, in that heart combines several other ingredients. A good theme contributes to the heart of a picture book, as does a strong main character. Humor or emotional depth also play a part. But overall, if I had to give you the 30-second elevator pitch of what heart means, I’d say that heart gives the reader a reason to care about the character and the story.

snor beauty coverAt the very beginning of the picture book, when the main character begins his or her journey toward the eventual goal, you have to make sure that there is something more than a whim that is driving the journey. Furthermore, there has to be a reason that the character is beginning that particular journey at that particular time – there has to be something real and big at stake. Your character can’t just be sleepy, he must require sleep on that particular night because tomorrow is his big day (perhaps his wedding day). He can’t just be hungry, he must be super-hungry because he has just woken up from hibernation and hasn’t eaten in months. He can’t just be lonely, he must be devastated by the knowledge that everyone around him is finding romance while he is left all alone.

moose1Throughout the story, the heart shines through in various ways – the main character’s resolve and pluckiness when faced with adversity, the way each attempt to solve the problem makes the reader root for the character even more (oh, he was so close that time! Maybe he’ll get it this time.). And when the main character finally reaches his goal, it is the heart of the story that touches the heart of the reader.

Earlier I said that the 30-second elevator pitch of the meaning of heart is the reader a reason should care about the character and the story. But creating heart is hardly a 30-second process. Even each of the general points I’ve made above are actually very nuanced and can be handled in many different ways, depending on the writer. One of the reasons I’m looking forward to Kidlit Summer School 2016 is that our bloggers are going to be teaching concrete ways for writers to add heart (and humor!) to their work. This is something I struggle with whenever I start a new manuscript, and I know that I’m going to be a better writer for going to Summer School this year! We hope to see you in class, too!

Do you want to learn a whole lot more about adding Heart to your work?

Register for Kidlit Summer School! Click here to register.

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Dear Diary

Cassie-Parker_final-cover-677x1024I recently revisited my old diaries when fellow author Terra Elan McVoy approached me about participating in a diary share campaign she is organizing to launch her new book, This Is  All Your Fault, Cassie Parker, which is out TODAY. To promote the campaign, Terra gathered diary pages from several authors, including me. If you follow the hashtags #diarydare and #yourfaultCassie on Twitter and Instagram, you can check out some of our old diary entries!

You can also join in the fun for a chance to win a prize by sharing pages from your own diary! A link to details appears at the end of this post.

Most of you know that my own books, The Boy Project and The Boy Problem were influenced by my old school diaries. Reading through my diaries reconnected me with the feelings I had as a tween and teen. To me, this is the most important thing about diaries. They are perhaps the only place where we can be completely free with our feelings.  And this connection to feelings is what makes books written in diary formats so appealing to young readers.

I wrote an article about this very thing a while ago for The 4:00 Book Hook, a wonderful newsletter for book lovers that is no longer in print, so I thought I’d share that article here today in celebration of It’s All Your Fault Cassie Parker and diary keepers everywhere!

DEAR DIARY

diary-of-a-worm-cover-imageA diary is a safe place where we can share our most secret feelings. True? Of course! It is what makes diary format books so appealing to young readers. These books employ first person narrators who share feelings with their diaries, and thus their readers, that they don’t share with anyone else. This creates a sense of kinship between reader and narrator that is almost immediate. Adults searching for a way to talk about feelings with the children they care about might find a diary format book a doorway into conversation. Talking about feelings presented through the eyes of a narrator can launch discussion about a child’s own feelings.
One of my favorite books for very young readers is Diary of a Worm, a picture book by Doreen Cronin. Cronin’s simple text consists mostly of one sentence entries, but Worm communicates his feelings about friends and family very effectively. He touches on familiar subjects like nightmares, being laughed at by peers, and getting in trouble with parents: all things that evoke strong feelings for kindergarten aged children and younger. What a great book to use to start a discussion about the feelings these children experience almost daily!

amelias-notebookElementary school readers might enjoy Amelia’s Notebook by Marissa Moss. Amelia expresses some very strong feelings about having to move to a new state– she hates it – on the very first page. Through colorful drawings as well as her words, Amelia addresses the pain of leaving a home and a best friend behind and the struggles of finding a new friend. Children will be able to relate to and talk about Amelia’s feelings of being out of place and on the outside of things even if they haven’t experienced moving.

diary of a wimpy KidA common theme in diary format books geared for the middle grade audience is social awkwardness. This is true of the wildly popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney. Through narrator Greg Heffley, Kinney captures some of middle school’s most awkward moments. Spring boarding a discussion with this comical book would be a non-threatening way to discuss fitting in and decision making with middle school aged children.

Cathy's BookThe hardest feelings to discuss with our children are those they experience when they enter young adulthood. YA books written in the diary format often deal with angst regarding social pressures, sexual curiosity, and drug usage. In Cathy’s Book by Sean Stewart, Jordan Weisman, and Cathy Briggs, Cathy wakes up to find a needle track in her arm. She can’t remember much about the previous night, and is forced to wonder if she’s been drugged and taken advantage of by her ex-boyfriend. Because her parents are virtually absent, Cathy must struggle with her feelings alone.

The children in our lives don’t have to struggle with feelings alone. There are many wonderful diary format books on the market today. Share one with your favorite reader and discuss.

And writers out there… as a writing exercise, try letting your characters write in their diaries, whether you use it in your book or not, it is a great way to get in touch with your characters’ feelings.

Don’t forget to check out and participate in Terra’s #diarydare campaign. Click HERE for details!

Emus and Intellectual Curiosity

There are many different things we write about on this blog. Parenting, writing, books, relationships – there are many topics we turn our nerdy eyes on. Today’s post, however, is about something we don’t always mention: the unexpected value of intellectual curiosity.

I’m the proud mother of three very, very nerdy chicks. The piece you’re about to read was co-written by one of my little nerds and me. It’s topic I would never have thought to research, and yet I’m eternally grateful that she did. This post is entirely accurate – all the historical events described are real and documented. It may not change your life – but I’ll bet my bottom dollar it will brighten your day.

So without further ado, I give you…

The Great Emu War

In Which Some Emus Beat the Whole Australian Army

(Alternatively Titled:

The Great Emu War

Where A Bunch of Large, Flightless Birds Outsmarted the Entire Australian Population)

By William Warby (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By William Warby (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Can you imagine a real life situation in which an actual army waged a war against a bunch of flightless birds and lost? It happened. It was glorious. It was the Great Emu War.

The Great Emu War of 1932 began in Western Australia. Farmers who were struggling to harvest their wheat were suddenly beset upon by as many as 20,000 emus. These merciless creatures ate or spoiled the crops and the farmers’ very way of life was threatened. The government needed to do something.

Instead of engaging the emus diplomatically and pleading for a cessation in dining, Australia’s then Minister of Defense, Sir George Pearce, deployed the Royal Australian Artillery to deal with the emus. With this act, the Great Emu War had officially started.

The first of many unsuccessful attempts by the Australians to dispatch the emus came on November 2, 1932. Approximately 50 of these winged yet flightless villains were sighted. Armed with machine guns, the Australians began to shoot. However, only about a dozen birds were killed because the Australians began their military strike while the emus were completely out of range. The rest of the emus were able to escape to attack another day. Thus, the first battle was, at best, a draw.

On November 4, Major G.P.W. Meredith established an ambush near a dam. When around 1,000 emus got into range, the gunners opened fire. Only twelve birds were killed, as the gun jammed. The emus got their revenge for November 2 that day. They all but delivered themselves on a silver platter to the army, and they still evaded capture or death.

Over the next four days, the armed Australians continued to engage the emus. One such attempt occurred when Major Meredith mounted guns on a truck to chase the emus. The truck, however, couldn’t move fast enough. Yet again, the emus outsmarted the army.

All the disastrous attempts by the armed Australians to counter the emu offensive between November 2 and November 8 resulted in 2,500 rounds of ammunition being fired and yet only about 50 birds eliminated.  The one saving grace was that no Australians died in any of these military actions.

On November 8, the guns were withdrawn. The emus appeared to have won due to their guerilla tactics: splitting into small units so that the machine gun usage would be uneconomic.

The Australians, however, were pure at heart and strong in spirit, and resolved to meet the foe again on the battlefield. Since the emus continued to “attack” crops, the Premier of Western Australia, James Mitchell, supported renewed military assistance to deal with them. By November 12, Sir Pearce approved even more military efforts. The soldiers were necessary to combat the incredibly serious agricultural threat of the large emu population.

On November 13, the military attacked once more. The tide seemed to have turned in the humans’ favor – 40 emus were killed that day. Yet the very next day, the soldiers were less successful, if you can imagine that. By December 2, the Army was eliminating 100 emus per week – and yet fewer than one thousand of the emus had been killed for the 9,860 rounds that had been expended. It took approximately 10 bullets to bring down each emu, which was pretty pathetic for a professional army. The soldiers were recalled on December 10 – the day the Great Emu War had come to an end.

The farmers called for more war on the poor, flightless emus. There was a pervading fear that the emus might mutate or evolve to have opposable thumbs – and then the dastardly birds would be unstoppable. (SBQ: Ok, this last sentence is totally untrue, but given everything else, it doesn’t sound too far-fetched, does it?)

To show the great respect the emus had earned, the Australian government honored the species on a stamp.

To show the great respect the emus had earned, the Australian government honored the species on a stamp.

The government, however, had had enough of being embarrassed by the mighty emus.

The emu victory was clear. They had managed to outwit the Australian army over the course of only 45 days. Using their extraordinarily inferior intellect, they evaded the Australians’ attempt to stop their pillaging of crops. The lesson to be learned from the shortest war against a flightless non-mammal in world history is to NEVER underestimate the emu. They always win.

Always.

Share the Love: A Valentine’s Giveaway!

It’s that time a year again when we show the people we care about how much we care! Teens and Tweens are thinking about friends and crushes… two topics central to my books The Boy Project and The Boy Problem. Both books have great teacher’s guides full of activities ranging from friendship to STEM activities that you can download for free, right from the first page if my website. So I’m sharing the love with folks who share the love for these with this giveaway. You can win a package full of some of the good stuff pictured below, plus a free author Skype visit for your favorite school. More details follow.

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Giveaway Details:

TWO winners will be chosen using random number generator. Each winner will receive:

A cute box full of goodies following themes from The Boy Project and The Boy Problem:

Ten signed bookmarks

Ten Fortune telling fish

Ten cupcake rings

Ten cupcake tattoos

Two tops (to make the box top Fortune Teller from The Boy Problem)

Ten cupcake erasers

PLUS a free Skype visit for a school of your choice. 

Note: It the winners would like more for a desired class size, I will accommodate you if I can.

Contest will run through February 18, midnight and winners will be announced on this blog.

To be qualified to win, just share this post and leave a comment below. “I shared the love!”  “Happy Valentine’s Day….” Anything! Sharing is super easy, you can click on the sharing button above…

Have a Happy Valentine’s Day! 

 

 

 

 

George R.R. Martin Helps Me With My Housework

20160129_154819If you’re familiar with this blog, or with me at all, you probably know that doing housework does not make my list of top two million things to do. There are SO many other interesting ways to spend time.  I count among them…

  • Filling out those 15 forms prior to a doctor’s visit because they’ve just “updated their system”
  • Arguing with my husband
  • Having a mammogram

At least all of the above offer something new and different with each experience. Unlike housework, which is the same old same old BORING experience every time.

For this reason, I love the B-52s. They wrote an amazing song called Housework (what else?) that has spoken to me since I first heard it in college.  Check out these lyrics:

Don’t need a man to treat me mean

I need a man to help me clean

Someone who’s heaven sent

Someone to help pay rent

Someone to share dreams and wishes

Someone to help me do the dishes.

(Thankfully, a few years post-college, I married a man who could iron his own shirts. But that still leaves a lot of housework to do though… ugg. )

Anyway, after years of singing this to myself as I dusted and dish washed, I’ve finally discovered something that is helping me get through the tedium of housework!  And it’s something that five years ago I would have never thought I’d enjoy:

listening to audiobooks.

(Yeah, I know a ton of you have probably beat me to this realization, but it was a big deal to me because I always swore I needed to actually READ a book to enjoy it.)

Luckily, I found this wasn’t always true when a friend introduced me to the audio versions of Harry Potter narrated by Jim Dale. So excellent.

This discovery, along with winning an iPod nano, revolutionized my housework experience.   I could walk around my house with the ipod in my pocket, earbuds in my ears,  and be entertained while doing mind-numbing work!

Soon I asked for a yearlong membership to Audible for my birthday. (This is the best deal out there, because you get to download 12 books for $120 no matter what the price tag per individual book is.) After that I started cleaning house while burning through the books. But when I went through six of my twelve books in the first two months I realized something had to change.

I needed to use my credits to purchase books that took a longer time to read. Tomes that would stretch out for days and days of doing laundry.

Hello Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin.

Ten dollars for 33 hours and 50 minutes of listening pleasure for Book One alone. That’s only about 30 cents an hour! I’m totally worth that.

Of course the Game of Thrones books are sometimes so brutal that they’re hard to listen to. If you want to see someone cringing while cleaning a lint filter come on over.

Is my house sparkling clean now? No! But has the time I’ve put into attempting to reach that goal been more entertaining? You bet.

I encourage you to try this! When listening to books instead of reading them, it’s important to pick books with great narrators. One of my favorites so far is Jesse Eisenberg, who reads Holly Black’s Curse Worker series. You can listen to a sample here. I always check out the narrator before downloading a title.

If Audible isn’t for you, see what your library has to offer. Many libraries offer free audiobook downloads. Audible just works best for me, for several reasons.

I love that I can meet great characters and explore new worlds while accomplishing the necessary evils of housework.

Well, I’ve gotta go. A pile of dishes is calling my name.

Come on George, we have work to do.

***

Pssst: Wanna hear the whole song by the B-52s? You can listen to it here:

Kidlit Summer School 2015 – Open for Registration!

Are you looking for a way to keep writing through the dog days of summer?

Do you want to be inspired by some of the best writers in children’s literature?

Do you hope to create compelling plots?

badgeThen YOU should join a fun and fabulous community of people here at Summer School who are as passionate about kidlit as you are!

What is Summer School?

Not long after authors Kami Kinard and Sudipta Bardhan- Quallen started blogging together at kami and snerdychicksrule.com they decided they wanted to create a blog-centric event that focused on craft. They spent a long time brainstorming (a favorite activity of both) and came up with #KidlitSummerSchool. Kami and Sudipta both enjoy writing, and teaching writing, so their idea was to create a program that offers in-depth writing advice on a particular topic each summer, hosted at their sister site, nerdychickswrite.com. The 2014 focus was on character development. The 2015 focus will be on plotting in children’s literature.

Daily blog posts by authors and writing professionals will offer inspiration and help you hone your craft. Our “faculty” includes award-winning PB, MG and YA authors!

Kidlit Summer School is for anyone one who loves to write children’s literature, from accomplished writers, to those just starting out.

Register for Kidlit Summer School 2015: The Plot Thickens

Last year was a very successful kick-off, but it was a lot of work — too much for two people to continue by themselves! So we are very happy to announce we have a whole team working on Summer School this year. This “Board of Education” is going to make this year even better than last year!

The Board of Education:

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Co-Founder of Kidlit Summer School


Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
 is an award-winning children’s book author whose books include Duck Duck Moose (a CBC Children’s Choice Award Finalist), Tyrannosaurus Wrecks (a Junior Library Guild Selection), Orangutangled, and Chicks Run Wild. She in the founder of Kidlit Writing School and frequently speaks about the craft of writing at schools and conferences all around the world. You can learn more about her and her books on her website www.sudipta.com or at her blog www.NerdyChicksRule.com where she blogs with Kami.

Head Shots from Carpe Diem 008

Co-Founder of Kidlit Summer School

Kami Kinard is the author of The Boy Problem (Scholastic, 2014) and The Boy Project (Scholastic, 2012). Her poetry, stories, articles, and essays have appeared in numerous periodicals for children and adults. A former public educator, Kami remains dedicated to teaching and often leads writing workshops at conferences and in schools. You can visit her at  www.kamikinard.com or at www.NerdyChicksRule.com where she blogs with Sudipta.

BOOKS RULE photo (1)Marcie Colleen is a former classroom teacher turned picture book author. Her forthcoming picture books include The Adventure of the Penguinaut (Scholastic) and Love, Triangle (Balzer+Bray / HarperCollins). She is a frequent presenter at conferences for SCBWI, as well as a faculty member of Kidlit Writing School. Visit her on the web at www.thisismarciecolleen.com.

DawnDawn Young has a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and an MBA. After leaving the corporate world to raise her children, Dawn’s creative spirit called her to a career in writing. Dawn also assists Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen with her KidLit Picture Book A-Z courses, and tutors math. You can visit Dawn’s blog at http://pbookcrazy.com/

leeza 2015Leeza Hernandez is a picture book illustrator-author who spends her creative time noodling around with story ideas and printmaking in her studio. She is Regional Advisor for New Jersey SCBWI and her latest illustrated book and third in the Homework series Eat Your U.S. History Homework (Charlesbridge) releases in October. Visit her on the web at leezaworks.com