Friday, April 27, 2012

Focus Friday: Backstory and Perfect Picture Books

I have to admit–these days I'm all editor.  Revising and editing other's work, as well as studying some published titles have been taking precedence over NEW writing.  I've also taken on a couple of  editing projects, and while taking a peek at submissions was very quickly reminded of how difficult it can be for authors to weave in backstory.

As part of my SCBWI mentorship with Lisa Moser, we did a picture book study of On Sand Island by Jacqueline Briggs-Martin.  Lisa had mentioned the book was groundbreaking–and it is in many, many ways.  Martin's ability to seamlessly weave in backstory is amazing.  She thickens the plot (Carl building his very own boat start to finish) with the backstory of his Norwegian heritage and the longing for his late mother, and connects us to Carl, his sister without the reader even realizing they've slipped for a moment out of the present action of the story.

Too many times I read drafts of picture books or MG/YA novels and the backstory is literally "plopped" into the manuscript.  This pulls the reader out of the story, reminding them that they're reading something made up, and can break that emotional connection or building tension that is so important in gripping a young reader.  I encourage writers to weave the backstory into the scenes of the present story when appropriate.  How?

There's no one recipe, but some of the ways Briggs-Martin does it are:

1.  Through an object from the past; a physical thing that serves as a reminder
2.  A comparison of something current to something in the character's past experience
3.  A saying, phrase, custom, or tradition that lingers from past to present (or has changed now)
4.  A character who is older, sharing their story (or journal/timeline) with the main character
5.  Clever dialogue that allows the reader to discover something that has happened
6.  A place - (in Martin's book there is a cave with drawings from the First People)
7.  An author's note at the end (if you've got non-fiction/historical context to add as backstory)

When you're weaving in backstory, I think the key is to feed it a little at a time.  Think of unfolding a character's past rather than unloading it.

And check out this Perfect Picture Book if you'd like inspiration on how to weave in backstory!  If you're not familiar with Perfect Picture Book Fridays, hop on over to Susanna Leonard Hill's blog.

Title:  On Sand Island (A Golden Kite Honor Book)

Author:  Jacqueline Briggs Martin

Illustrator: David A Johnson

Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003

Genre:  Picture Book

Ages: 6-10

Subjects:  Fishing, Historical Fiction, Wisconsin, Death/Grief/Loss (Mother), Community

Description (from Amazon):  In the deep blue waters of Lake Superior lies a small island of hummingbirds, rabbits, and hardy Norwegian fishing folk. On that island lives a boy named Carl who wants nothing more than to be out on the water in a boat of his own making. So this is a story of sawing, nailing, and sanding. But because Sand Island neighbors are closer than cousins, this is also a story of picking strawberries, moving rocks, and mending fishing nets fine as lace.

Why I chose this book:  See above.  But also because I am from Wisconsin and enjoy learning about the history of our fishing communities and immigrant experiences.  And also because it's Friday of EARTH WEEK!  I love sharing great stories for kids about our natural world.

Additional Resources:  
Jacqueline Briggs-Martin's website has many shots of the inside of the book and a curriculum connections page.  For more about the Apostle Islands, of which Sand Island is a part, visit this National Lakeshore website.  You could also plan your own canoe/kayak trip there with the kids!

 Comments are open!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Worldly Wednesday: My PB Subject Goes Viral!

Those of you who know me know my long-standing relationship with the country of The Gambia, and how I consider it 'home away from home.'  And one of my recently finished PBs (though in the works for five years), is based on the true story of Isatou Ceesay and the recycling women of Njau, Gambia.

Just before and right after Earth Day, I got an unusual amount of YouTube comments and subscribers.  I logged in to see what was up and learned that a 10-minute video I filmed and edited about Isatou and how she recycles plastic bags into purses had more than 7,600 views!  I have no idea which celebrity, organization, or blogger who promoted it (it had less than 1,000 views for the longest time), but thank you!

As for my picture book manuscript, it's still sitting with an editor...and it received one of those "near-miss" personal note passes from an agent.  Here's hoping this stroke of luck helps the women gain more exposure for their amazing environmental efforts, and possibly the marketing oomph needed to get their story published!

Happy Earth Week!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Kidlitosphere Progressive Poem - Day 23

The 2012 Kidlitosphere Progressive Poem is here today, gone to Linda at TeacherDance tomorrow! 

Thanks, Irene Latham, for sparking this – it has become quite unique and beautiful.

Yesterday, Earth Day, Pat posted the first line in a new stanza...and gave me a lot to think about.  After thinking, and thinking, and worrying, and worrying, and considering all kinds of angles, I decided I was over-thinking it.  But Laurel Snyder's post over at Katie Davis's blog reminded me that great poetry is and should be accessible, and this is a kidlit poem, after all.  So I told myself to stop fretting and go with the simple flow of the poem on its "path of truth."  And I hope Linda and the others who follow will find this line a good segue into what is the "last leg" or the "beginning of the end" as April comes to a close in one week.  Yes, yes, my line has a dash...what does that mean?  Oh, punctuation can mean all the difference...can't wait to see what you come up with next.

If you are reading this
you must be hungry
Kick off your silver slippers
Come sit with us a spell
A hanky, here, now dry your tears
And fill your glass with wine
Now, pour. The parchment has secrets
Smells of a Moroccan market spill out.
You have come to the right place, just breathe in.
Honey, mint, cinnamon, sorrow. Now, breathe out
last week’s dreams. Take a wish from the jar.
Inside, deep inside, is the answer…
Unfold it, and let us riddle it together,
…Strains of a waltz. How do frozen fingers play?
How do fennel, ginger, saffron blend in the tagine?
Like broken strangers bound by time, they sisterdance…
their veils of sorrow encircle, embrace.
Feed your heart with waltzes and spices.
Feed your soul with wine and dreams.
Humble dust of coriander scents your feet, coaxing
seascapes, crystal sighs and moonshine from your melody

Beware of dangers along the path of truth
And beware, my friend, of too much bewaring–

(Except for being wary of leaving a comment, of course.  If you're reading this, thoughts welcomed.  Thanks for stopping by the 2012 KidLitosphere progressive poem.)

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Kidlitosphere Progressive Poem is coming!

Sunday is Earth Day!  Hooray!  And then comes Monday...

When IT will be here on my blog.

What is "IT?"

The 2012 Kidlitosphere Progressive Poem!  

Watch for Miranda Paul's line on April 23.
Thank you to Irene Latham at Live Your Poem for coordinating this project during National Poetry Month. If you don't know what this is all about, click the link above for tons of info or view the posting schedule here.

Because of the big event, there will be no posts in between now and then.  I'll resume Perfect Picture Books next week Friday and Worldly Wednesday the week after.  Hope you'll stop back on April 23rd to read my contribution to the 2012 Kidlitosphere Progressive Poem!

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Day Tiger Rose Said Goodbye - Perfect Picture Book Fridays

This Friday is no ordinary Friday.  It's a solemn day, yet part of a deep and radiant story rich with meaning.  The painted blue sky and beaming sunshine happen to be in full force here, a reminder to me that life goes on brilliantly after death.  And without suffering, our great moments wouldn't seem so great.  

It is with these thoughts that I share a picture book with you my daughter has read every night this week–one that has challenged her and gripped her emotionally.  It's a soft book, a "quiet" picture book, yet captured my daughter's attention easily.  Last night, she finally realized what it was all about: saying goodbye at the end of life.  And I realized again how powerful picture books can be.

In conjunction with Good Friday, our household is celebrating our kittens' first birthdays–an event that recently sparked my daughter to ask, "How many years do cats live, exactly?"  

Today's Perfect Picture Book doesn't answer that question, but has taken my daughter and I through an emotional journey of one cat's last moments in the most beautiful way possible.

Today's Perfect Picture Book is...

The Day Tiger Rose Said Goodbye

By Jane Yolen

Illustrator: Jim LaMarche

Publisher: Random House, 2011

Age: 5-12

Category: Death, Loss, Pet, Nature

From Amazon:  "Not since The 10th Good Thing About Barney or I'll Always Love You has there been such a peaceful and inspiring book to help children and adults cope with the loss of a pet...Tiger Rose's kitten days are long gone and she's grown too tired to stay, so she says her goodbyes to all the creatures and the joys of her natural world—from the scolding blue her favorite shady patch under a piney bush.

Opening Page:
The day Tiger Rose said goodbye
was a soft spring day, the sun only half risen.
Little brilliant butterflies,
like bits of colored paper,
floated among the flowers.

Why I chose it:  See above.  But I also chose it because it's written boldly.  Every word used is used on purpose.  Jim LaMarche's colored sketches are beautiful as well.

Resources:  Please see Patricia Tilton's website for more resources.  She also chose this as a Perfect Picture Book in 2011.  You can learn more about Perfect Picture Book Fridays at Susanna Leonard Hill's blog.

Comments are open.
Happy Easter, everyone! 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

It's Poetry Month - No April Fool!

For Poetry Month 2012, I'm participating with some awesome well-known poets around the world in a progressive poem!  I hope you'll all check it out.
Miranda Paul will add her line on April 23rd!

My line will be APRIL 23rd, so be sure to check back!  Here's the lineup:

2012 KidLit Progressive Poem:  watch a poem grow day-by-day as it travels across the Kidlitosphere! April 1-30
1  Irene at Live Your Poem 
2  Doraine at Dori Reads
3  Jeannine at View from a Window Seat
4  Robyn at Read, Write, Howl
5  Susan at Susan Taylor Brown
6  Mary Lee at A Year of Reading
7  Penny at A Penny and her Jots
8  Jone at Deo Writer
9  Gina at Swagger Writer's
10  Julie at The Drift Record
11  Kate at Book Aunt
12  Anastasia Suen at Booktalking
14  Diane at Random Noodling
16  Natalie at Wading Through Words 
17  Tara at A Teaching Life
18  Amy  at The Poem Farm
19  Lori at Habitual Rhymer
21  Myra at Gathering Books
22  Pat at Writer on a Horse
23  Miranda at Miranda Paul Books 
24  Linda at TeacherDance
25  Greg at Gotta Book
26  Renee at No Water River
27  Linda at Write Time
28  Caroline at Caroline by Line
29  Sheri at Sheri Doyle
30  Irene at Live Your Poem

For more info on the Progressive Poem, please visit:
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