One Writer’s Journey

April 16, 2018

Theme: Telling a story to get your message across

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:52 am
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I love it when I’m sitting reading a stack of books from the library and I come across one that does something especially well.  Recently, I read Liz Wong’s Quackers.  It is all about a cat who loves life down at the pond with the other ducks.  Well, except for maybe the water.  And eating duck weed.  But other than that he loves being a duck.  Then along comes one of the barn cats who can’t believe that Quackers thinks he is a duck.  The other cat takes Quackers up to the barn.  Quackers loves life up at the barn.  He loves being a cat.  Except for having to lick himself clean.  But eventually he misses the ducks.  Soon he figures out that he can be both a duck and a cat.

Clearly this is a story about being different but still belonging.  But the really awesome part? Wong absolutely never says that.  Not one tine.  All Wong does is tell her story about Quackers the feline duck. It is brilliant.  Why?  Because she gets her message across without ever coming out and stating it.

Instead, she’s created a great character.  Quackers loves experiencing different things.  No matter where he is, he throws himself into life, enjoying the experience even when he doesn’t actually love every last thing about it.

She’s also created a great setting.  You have a pond full of ducks who are perfectly happy to accept and love Quackers.  And you have a barn full of cats who are also happy to let him take part in life cat-style.

Not once does she say:

  • Be who you are.
  • You can be different and still belong.
  • Your life can be filled with varied experiences.

All of those messages are in there but they would be preachy if Wong came out and said any of those things.  Instead she does what we all need to do – she tells a really great story.




October 26, 2017

Mind Your Tone: 3 Ways to Teach without Preaching

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:43 am
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Last week, I checked Her Right Foot out from the library.  I wanted to see how another author handled a patriotic theme that could easily become preachy.  Why?  Because I’m getting ready to try my hand at a patriotic book.  I wanted to see how another author handled a similar topic.

Here are three things that I learned reading Dave Eggers book.

Start with the Facts. Eggers started with a history of the Statue of Liberty.  He covered who first conceived of it and why.  He went into when and how it was crafted and what it took to erect it in the United States.  For page after page, he focused on indisputable facts.

Throw in some humor.  Eggers may be writing about a serious topic but he doesn’t pass up the chance to make a cheeky comment.  “You have likely heard of a place called France.”  “If you have heard of France, you have likely heard of the French. They are the people who live in France.”   Silly helps lighten the mood as he moves into serious, even controversial, themes like freedom and immigration.  I have to admit that at first I found it a little irreverent, but that’s okay.  Because my son, in 3rd grade, would have adored the book that much more because of this somewhat sassy tone.

Let your reader take that final step.  Eggers has written about immigration. He has written about the Statue of Liberty going out to meet those who are in need of liberty.  He doesn’t say that certain people sitting in certain oval-shaped offices might do well to do the same thing.  He didn’t write the word Syria.  He writes about Lady Liberty stepping down from her pedestal.  “She is not content to wait. She must meet them…”  But that final step?  The one that would take it from teaching to preaching?  Eggers doesn’t make it.  He leaves it to the reader.

Humor helps.  Trusting the reader to make connection helps.  Sticking with in arguable facts also helps.  Fingers crossed that I can manage to pull off something that works even half as well!


March 7, 2017

Theme: The Opposite of Preaching

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:08 am
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Throughout March, I am taking part in ReFoReMo or Read for Research Month.  In this picture book writing challenge, you read a wide variety of books and then read blog posts by  various authors on how to use the mentor texts to improve your work.

One of the books for last week was Jacob Grant’s Cat Knit.  Personally, as a knitter, I was immediately hooked.  That said, I do suspect that Grant has been the recipient of an unwanted sweater or three.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the book, it tells the story of Cat and his friendship with Girl.  One day, Girl brings home a colorful new friend, Yarn. Cat quickly bonds with Yarn and their friendship grows.  But then the unthinkable happens.  Yarn becomes a snug, itchy sweater.  Cat abandons his friend outside and only then notices just how awfully cold it is.  Fortunately, Cat and Yarn are reunited although one suspects that there might be more knitting to come.

On the surface, it all looks pretty simple.  You have a story about a cat, a girl and yarn.  It is a book about knitting.  And that’s true enough but if you go a bit deeper and you’ll find the theme.

Cat Knit is also a book about friendship  and change.  One friend changes and the other friend is initially resistant and just can’t deal with it.  Fortunately, before it is too late, Cat realizes that “Warming up to something new takes time.”

Except for that last bit in parenthesis, Grant doesn’t say it.  He implies it.  He writes about it.  He hides it in a story about a cat, a girl and yarn.  Because he makes this part of the lesson covert, it is one of the themes of the book and teaches without preaching.

Don’t preach.  We hear that bit of advice all the time.  Fortunately we have Cat Knit and Jacob Grant to show us how to do it right.


June 2, 2014

Don’t Preach, Just Tell a Story: Lessons from my April and May Reading

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:47 am
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How do you give your readers a powerful message without preaching?  You tell them a story with the message at it’s heart and there are authors on my latest reading list that did an astonishing job at this.

In The Sandwich Swap (Disney/Hyperion), Queen Rania al Abdullah and Kelly DiPucchio tell a story about prejudice without ever using that word.  Instead, the present the reader with a story about two girls who are best school friends until preconceptions about food get in the way.

Christine Ieronimo tells about one girl’s adoption and how a lack of fresh water in her home village led to the need.  The title, A Thirst for Home (Walker), made me think that the book would be about wells and fresh water and social justice.  It was all there but it was lurking in the background.

The New Girl and Me  (Richard Jackson Book/Atheneum) by Jacqui Robbins is a story all about bullying but, like The Sandwich Swap, that all important word is never uttered.  Not once.  But the story still shows how one kind word can turn a bad situation around.

There is nothing wrong with telling a story that includes a strong message.  Young readers need these messages.  What they don’t need is to be preached at or talked down to and you can avoid it by simply telling the story.  Give them characters to care about, kids much like themselves who are struggling to make the right choices.  And then let them draw the conclusions for themselves.  You’ll be amazed at how often they get there with just a little subtle help from you.  No neon lights required.

A Thirst for Home : A Story of Water Across the World by Christine Ieronimo (2014, Hardcover) ImageI’m sure there was more to my April and May reading than this but this is all I recorded.  In part, that is because I was reading for my work-for-hire project, lots and lots on the Maya.  Many of these books, I only read in part because they were adult and academic.  If I don’t read the whole book, I don’t add it to the list.  Anyway, here’s what I have.

  1.  Admirand, C.H.  One Day in Apple Grove (Sourcebooks)
  2. al Abdullah, Queen Rania with Kelly DiPucchio, The Sandwich Swap (Disney/Hyperion)
  3. Barnett, Mac. Billy Twitters and his Blue Whale Problem (Disney/Hyperion)
  4. Barr, Nevada.  A Superior Death (An Anna Pigeon Mystery)
  5. Berger, Lee. R. and Marc Aronson. The Skull in the Rock: How a Scientist, A Boy, and Google Earth Opened a New Window on Human Origins (National Geographic Press)
  6. Daly, Cathleen, Prudence Wants a Pet (A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Book Press)
  7. Daywalt, Drew, The Day the Crayons Quit (Philomel Books)
  8. Haber, Tiffany Strelitz.  The Monster Who Lost His Mean (Henry Holt and Company)
  9. Jacqui RobbinsHarrison, Hannah.  Extraordinary Jane (Dial)
  10. Ieronimo, Christine. A Thirst for Home (Walker)
  11. Levchuck, Caroline M. Kids During the Time of the Maya (PowerKids Press)
  12. Newman, Leslea.  October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard (Candlewick Press)
  13. Omololu, C.J. Dirty Little Secrets (Walker)
  14. Polacco, Patricia. Clara and Davie (Scholastic Press)
  15. Robbins, Jacqui.  The New Girl and Me  (Richard Jackson Book/Atheneum)
  16. Rusch, Elizabeth.  A Day with No Crayons (Rising Moon)
  17. Warren, Susan May.  It Had to Be You (Tyndale House)
  18. Webb, Wendy.  The Vanishing (Hyperion)


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