Word Choice: Picking Just the Right Word

Witch word is write?

Ha!  Did you see what I did there?  Of course you did.

Whatever you write, word choice matters.  I dropped a novel back into the library bag today when I read that a local dish was “crappy but satisfying.”  I am so not accepting that both of those words are accurate.  The cup of coffee I am drinking is satisfying. A crappy cup of coffee?  Not satisfying even if it wakes me up.

Word choice matters.

I just finished drating a rebus.  Written for new readers, I wanted the majority of words I used to be at the first grade reading level or below.  That was a real challenge.  I spent a great deal of time looking up words, discoving they were too high, and then selecting a new one.  Surprisingly enough “apple” and “banana” are the same reading level.

A friend who is working on a poem just told me about RhymeZone.  Look a word up, like violet, and first you get the definition.  Then you get the words that rhyme with it.  My favorite part?  You also get examples of the rhyming words in use in either poetry or song.

“Now by some tinkling rivulet,
In mosses mixt with violet.   (“Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere” by Tennyson)

Tennyson may have been praised for his word choice, but I can’t see you or I getting by with that one.

Verbs and nouns are also words that need to be carefully chosen.  They paint pictures and you want to use just the right word.  Would an elephant prance, lumber or trudge?  Would a wealthy woman on the Titanic unpack her steamer trunk, her suitcase, or her bag?

Through our words we bring our readers into the worlds that we create.  Selecting the correct word is vital lest they end up in a sea of violets or a sea of violence.


Library Use

In the last day or so, I saw a really interesting piece on library usage.  Of course, now that I want to quote it, I can’t find it.  But the point was that usage is up again because libraries serve their communities in so many ways.  Not only can people check out books, magazines and movies, they can check out recorded music, musical instruments, telescopes, games and puzzles.

Last night, I got together with my book club.  We talked about the dangers of misplacing library books.

This is a huge problem here in Casa Edwards.  We own a ridiculous number of books, movies and games.  Set a library book down on an end table or shelf and it will soon be in the midst of our own materials.  Some sort of herd instinct kicks in and our media encircles the library media in an attempt to keep it safe.

We also check out a ridiculous number of library materials.  At this particular moment, we have 45 items checked out.  I have a huge number of picture books.  There are the books for my latest Abdo project.  A movie.  Several audio books.  Some how-tos.  Graphic novels.  And several adult novels.

How do I keep track of all of this?  Here in my office, I have a library shelf.  It is the bottom shelf in the photo above.  The over flow (audiobooks) are on the box on the upper shelf.  And, yes that fluffy white thing above Baby Groot and the okapi is a duster. At any given point, I am generally reading a print book and an audio book.  Sometimes during the work day I grab a stack of picture books and sit down to read.

What are you currently reading?  I am reading The Invited by Jennifer McMahon and listening to Triple Jeopardy by Anne Perry.


Reading the Map: Six Months In

Back in January, I posted about a challenge that involves reading a book set in each state of the US.  At that point, I had read books set in six states.  Now we are half way through the year and I am half way through the map.  At this point, my map includes:

  • Arizona: Long Road to Mercy by David Baldacci
  • California: The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee
  • Connecticut:  A House among the Trees by Julia Glass
  • Dinetah (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado): Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
  • Florida: Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina
  • Georgia: Lost Soul, Be At Peace by Maggie Thrash
  • Illinois:  Blood Rites by Jim Butcher
  • Indiana: To Be Honest by Maggie Ann Martin
  • Kansas: Doc: A Novel by Mary Doria Russell
  • Louisiana:  Lights All Night Long by Lydia Fitzpatrick
  • Maine: The Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen
  • Massachusetts: Hey Kiddo by Jared Krosoczka
  • New Hampshire: Absolutely Truly by Heather Vogel Frederick
  • New Jersey:  Ms. Marvel: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson
  • New York: Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead
  • Oregon:  Fake Blood  by Whitney Gardner
  • South Carolina: Dave, the Potter by Laban Carrick Hill
  • Tennessee: Plagued by Quilt by Molly MacRae
  • Texas: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy
  • Vermont: Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus
  • Virginia: Murder Most Howl by Krista Davis
  • Washington: Deception Cove by Owen Laukannen
  • Wyoming: The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson

This books includes picture books, middle grade and young adult.  Adult novels.  Graphic novels.  Would I have read all of these books without this challenge.  No, but I’m glad that I read the vast majority.

I’m read multiple books set in many of these states.  Other states pose more of a challenge but half way through the year I am half way through the map.

If you have a favorite book set in a state that is not listed above, comment with the title and author and state in which it is set.  I do have a number of states left to go!


Pairing Fiction and Nonfiction

Pairing a fiction book and a nonfiction book is a technique that librarians and teachers are using to engage young readers.  When interested adults do this, they acknowledge that readers have individual tastes.  Just how you choose to pair books can vary.

Book pairings are often based on a topic or theme such as:

The Fourth of July: Americans by Douglas Wood and Looking for Uncle Louie on the Fourth of July by Kathy Whitehead

Grizzly Bears: Grizzly Bear by Joseph Stanley and The Grizzly Bear who Lost His Grrrrr! By Rob Biddulph

Book pairings are a good idea for a number of reasons.  First of all, they tell young readers that you see them as individual s with a variety of tastes. Second, a reader who loves nonfiction and picks that book first may come back to read the fiction title as well.  Third, it gives the reader a choice, which is great, but not so many that they feel overwhelmed.

There are some things you may want to keep in mind when pairing books.  When you choose books, try not to pick two that are too similar.  You want your reader to really have a choice.  Encourage your reader to discuss why this book was the one they found appealing.  You don’t want to assume that a reader is only interested in nonfiction when they simply prefer photos to illustrations.  A reader who wants a light-hearted book may be drawn to a slapstick nonfiction cover vs the more contemplative cover designed for a novel.

Two choices not seem like enough?  Than create a book bundle, four or five choices.  This would enable you to include both serious and humorous nonfiction, a graphic novel, a novel, and a book of poetry.  You might even create a special bookmark to tag your person favorite.

Helping young readers find just the right book can be tricky but by giving them choices you increase the chance that they will open the book’s cover and explore. A book pairing or book bundle helps keep these choices from feeling overwhelming.


Memoir or Autobiography?

The past two months, I’ve been on-again, off-again drafting a memoir.  It started as an essay.  Then I realized that I needed to add onto this part and that part.  Really, quite a bit of backstory was necessary to understand the full impact of the “12 hours in the emergency room with Dad” essay.

So I wrote about my time in the hospital when I was 3.  My roommate only spoke Spanish.  I wrote about helping Dad build a television when I was 7.  There was the time I refused to use the restroom in one filling station after another.  I was 4 and none of them were clean enough.  Dad and Grandad taking me fossil hunting as a preschooler and my predilection for taking things apart.

But this is a hybrid. I’m also writing about my Dad’s childhood.  I wrote about when, as a preschooler, he climbed out on the antennae that hung off the mountain.  Then there was the unique way my grandad punished the boys when they lipped off at the mama.

So how is this memoir and not autobiography?  In an autobiography, you tell about your life.  You write about what happened and how you felt about these various things.

But in memoir you tell about the things that happened and how they shaped you.  A memoir is about what happened but it also about the lesson learned.

I have to admit that at this point, what I am writing is more autobiography than it is memoir.  Apparently I am learning my lesson rather slowly – the continued story of my life.

What a minute?  Could that BE my lesson?  I’m not sure I’ll have to noodle it over.  Not that I’m even close to done.  I have to write about almost going to tech school and Missy, Dad’s husky.  I’m sure there are a dozen other stories that I need to tell but as I’ve already pointed out, I am a slow study.

But that’s okay.  I can only write the memories one at a time.  Speaking of which, I had better go write.


Poet Laureate Named: Joy Harjo

On Wednesday, the US Library of Congress named the next poet laureate of the United States – Joy Harjo.

Joy Harjo is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation. Read her poetry and you will find elements of her culture but Harjo says she doesn’t do this intentionally. “I don’t think about it … And so it doesn’t necessarily become a self-conscious thing — it’s just there … When you grow up as a person in your culture, you have your culture and you’re in it, but you’re also in this American culture, and that’s another layer,” Harjo said when she was interviewed by NPR’s Lynn Neary.

Harjo will begin her one year term this fall.  What will be her mission?  To humanize and heal, working to overcome divisions between groups of people perhaps through a poetry summit.  Said Harjo, “I really believe if people sit together and hear their deepest feelings and thoughts beyond political divisiveness, it makes connections. There’s connections made that can’t be made with politicized language.”

As soon as I heard of her appointment, I popped over to my library’s online catalogue and requested Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings. She has eight books and I’m hoping to explore her work through out the next year.  Why not join mean?  Click on the video above to hear her poem, “Grace.”

For more on Harjo and her appointment, check out this NPR story.


Rising Tension: Test Your Story to Be Sure You Have It

Dot TestYour character has to have a goal and it has to be something that is of great importance.  As she works her way toward this goal, obstacles get in the way.  She tries and fails, tries and fails and then, when all seems lost, succeeds!

That’s a super simply take on story structure.  The point being that we all know that tension needs to increase throughout our stories. Sure, there need to be places where it drops off slightly but for the most part it is up, up, up.

The problem is that we have a tendency to assume that our stories have it.  “Oh, yeah.  I toss obstacles in the same way. It is a real thrill ride.”

But have you tested the tension in your story?  One way to do this is the plot dot test which I first saw at Adventures in Agenting.

It is fairly simple.  Draw a line across the page. This is your base line, the level of tension in scene 1.  Make a dot at the beginning of the line and label it 1.

Read scene 1 and then read scene 2.  Is the tension higher in the second scene?  If so, make another dot to the right and slightly above the first.  If the tension is the same, the dot for scene 2 should also be on your base line.

Read through your manuscript scene by scene.  Compare each scene to the one just before it.  Draw the dot to add that scene to your graph.

Ideally, your scenes will plot out something like a traditional story arc.  You need to have a climb toward the climax with tension dropping off several times immediately following an attempt by the hero to solve her story problem. A story that continually climbs in tension but never drops off even slightly, may seem tiring and burn the reader out before they finish.  A story that plots out as a horizontal line isn’t climbing towards a climax.

I’ve got a new story to test.  It is for preschoolers so I may want to plot out a published story or two for the same audience.

If any of you try this technique, let me know how it works for you.


Research: How Much Is Enough

Recently, one of my students asked how much research I do for a book before I start writing it.  When I write a book for Abdo through Red Line, I have to turn in an outline and Chapter 1 for approval.
At this point in the project, I do what I call “broad stroke” reading.  I want to get a feel for the topic and see what other authors have covered.  I want to make sure I cover what is essential and bring in some new material as well.  When I write an outline,  I include a chapter title and two or three points per chapter as well as the topics for the sidebars in each chapter.  My bibliography at this point is usually about 20 items long.
While I wait for a response, I do more of my research, looking for the details that I need to flesh out the next chapter.  When I think I have enough material, I start writing this chapter.  I write myself notes – ADD TO THIS PARAGRAPH or LOOK FOR A GOOD EXAMPLE – and keep on writing.  Sometimes I rough the whole chapter.  Sometimes I rough a section.  Then I do more research and fix that chapter or section.
This keeps both the writing and the research fresh for me.  If I’m tired of writing, I can give myself a research day.  If, while working on chapter 3, I found the info that I need for chapter 6, I just make a note on the outline.  “See X article or URL.”
I don’t have to do it this way. I can research the whole book before I start writing.  But I tend to get lost in the research which isn’t a bad thing because I LOVE doing the research.  I know people who can’t write a word until they have the whole thing researched.  But, like I said, I would never get started that way.  This is what works best for me.

Why Writing Is Like Beading

Those of you who have read my blog for any time know that not only do a write, but I also craft.  Knitting, crochet, and beading help me recharge my creative energy.  Lately, I’ve been beading lariat-style necklaces.  These necklaces are a single four foot strand of beads.  There is no clasp, so you knot or loop the strand.  Or whatever.

The point is that they are really flexible just like the books we write. A picture book can be fact or fiction.  It can be written in rhyme or prose.  It can also come together relatively easily (relatively) or take multiple tries.  Just like beading a necklace.

Sometimes following the pattern works.  When I tell you how to storyboard a picture book, that’s like giving you a pattern.  Follow these steps to create a picture book.  Sometimes you follow the steps and it works.  Your writing style and my writing style are enough alike that you can use my method.  Ta-da!  When I made my first lariat necklace, I used different beads than the pattern called for but it came together easily.

Sometimes following the pattern doesn’t work.  You write nonfiction.  I write nonfiction.  But when you try to follow my story boarding steps, it doesn’t work.  The balance is just off and, although you notice this early on, you keep working hoping it will sort itself out.  But it doesn’t.  So you study my steps.  Then you study what you have.  You see where you can tweak things to make it work.  That’s what happened when I tried making a necklace for a friend, but with a few adjustments it came together.

Sometimes you think that something isn’t going to work but then it does.  Last week, I got a rewrite request from my editor.  I read one of the things that she wanted and . . . uh, no.  There is no way that will work.  So I made all of the smaller changes and saved this until dead last.  Fine, just fine!  I made the changes she suggested and . . . it worked.  When a friend asked me to make her a necklace in golden and deep red beads, I cringed.  These weren’t my kinds of colors and I just couldn’t see it.  But I started stringing and . . . wow.  It looked great.

Writing is a lot like beading.  Sometimes you follow the steps and it all comes together.  Sometimes you have to make a few adjustments.  Other times, you are certain you’ve been asked to do the impossible and it all falls into place.

Word by word.  Bead by bead.  The creative process is a funny thing.


2019 Children’s and Teen Choice Book Award

Unlike other book awards, the Children’s and Teen Choice Book Awards are selected and voted on exclusively by young readers.  Isn’t that amazing?  The winners in all four categories were announced last week.  So without further ado:

In Kindergarten–2nd Gradethe winner is I Say Ooh You Say Aah by John Kane (Kane Miller).  The honor book is There’s a Dragon in Your Book by Tom Fletcher, illus. by Greg Abbott (Random House).

The three other books that were finalists in this category were Day at the Beach by Tom Booth (S&S/Aladdin), Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love (Candlewick); and Grow Up, David! by David Shannon (Scholastic/Blue Sky).

My son was a huge David fan when he was in kindergarten and beyond.  I have to admit, I hesitated to buy him No, David! in hardcover.  I just didn’t get the appeal.  I finally asked him why he wanted it.  “Because it is so beautiful.”  Hmm. I still didn’t agree but how could a mom say no to something there kiddo loved that much, especially when that something was a book?  Suffice it to say, David won over my husband and I as well.

In 3rd–4th Grade, the winner is Back to the Future: The Classic Illustrated Storybook, based on the movie by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, illus. by Kim Smith (Quirk).  The honor book is Safari Pug by Laura James, illus. by Églantine Ceulemans (Bloomsbury).

The three other finalists included The Mushroom Fan Club by Elise Gravel (Drawn & Quarterly/Enfant), School People by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illus. by Ellen Shih (Boyds Mills/WordSong), and Down by the River by Andrew Weiner, illus. by April Chu (Abrams).

I’m curious about a movie adaptation that entranced so many young readers.  I also really like Lee Bennett Hopkins books so I’m looking forward to reading all five books in this category.

In 5th–6th Grade Book, the winning title is Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little, Brown) with Sewing the Rainbow: A Story About Gilbert Baker by Gayle E. Pitman, illus. by Holly Clifton-Brown (Magination Press) taking the honor.
The additional finalists for this category included Be the Change by Eunice Moyle and Sabrina Moyle (Quarto/Walter Foster Jr.), Pizzasaurus Rex by Justin Wagner and Warren Wucinich (Oni), and Fakers: An Insider’s Guide to Cons, Hoaxes, and Scams by H.P. Wood, illus. by David Clark (Charlesbridge).

Based on titles alone, this may be the most intriguing group of books for me.  I want to know what Ghost Boys is about but have to admit that I’m simultaneoulsy more than a little uncertain.  And Fakers?  That is definitely a book that my son would have wanted.

The Teen Book of the Year is The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (First Second) with the honor going to The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (HarperTeen)

The three other finalists for this age level included The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (Freeform), Furyborn by Claire Legrand (Sourcebooks Fire), and Wildcard by Marie Lu (Putnam).
I’ve read two books in this cateogory but what surprises me overall?  Just how little adult buzz these books have had as a whole.  Maybe we aren’t as good at judging what our young readers love as we should be?  Definitely something to think about and a really good reason to read these books.

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