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1. How to Use Family Diversity and Family Structures to Teach Empathy

Guest BloggerIn this interview with The Open Book, guest blogger Dr. Becki Cohn-Vargas, Director of Not in Our School, shares the organization’s latest video release about families and family structures. Not in Our School is part of the larger organization of Not in Our Town and focuses on empowering students to create safe, inclusive, and empathetic communities. 

We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” from “Human Family” by Maya Angelou (listen to Maya Angelou read the poem here)NIOT 2

At Not In Our Town, we are extremely pleased to be sharing our film, “Our Family,” with the Lee & Low Open Book Blog community. Our hope is for our film to become part of the growing collection of resources that educators are using to create identity safe classrooms where children of all backgrounds feel a sense of belonging. These classrooms should not be colorblind spaces, where differences are ignored or where students must leave their identities, stories, and experiences at the door. It is our belief that belonging is created through drawing on the diversity in every classroom as a resource for learning. And quickly, we learn that, as Maya Angelou so aptly pointed out, we are more alike than different.

LEE & LOW: What inspired you and your team to create this video focusing on family configuration and family diversity? Put another way: Why create a film about family configuration and diversity from an organization that fights prejudice, bullying, and discrimination?

Part of fostering a sense of belonging for children is creating an environment where they feel fully accepted for who they are. Even from a young age, children are aware of and have many aspects that make up their social identities. That includes: how they look, the language(s) they speak and the way they express themselves, as well as their culture, religion, race, and gender identity. Their families, a huge part of their lives, form a crucial part of their identities.

Children need to see themselves reflected in the curriculum, on the walls, and throughout their school life. They need to see others like them and they need to learn to appreciate those who are not like them. That does not always happen. My daughter announced at age four that she wanted a sex change operation to become a boy. At that time, we had no idea where she heard about this (she is now 33) because nobody was talking about transgender issues and back then. She did get strange reactions at preschool when she told people she was a boy. I remember she loved doing Mexican dancing, but when they insisted she wear the girl’s outfit, that was the end of her preschool dancing career. As she grew up we did not counter her feelings or ideas. However, now, married and openly a lesbian, she says she does not feel that way anymore, but that she always knew she was different in some way.

Some children grow up and never see a family like theirs celebrated in any way. They may be teased for being adopted, for having two moms or two dads, or for having a mixed-race family. A child whose mother has different color skin than he or she does may experience rude comments or stares. I raised my oldest daughter, who was from my husband’s first marriage. She had dark skin and we got many stares and she heard some rude remarks as people looked from her dark skin to my light skin and asked, “Is that your mother?”

We are approaching Mother’s Day. I wonder about all the children who don’t have mothers. How do they feel when their classrooms are making gifts for their mothers? (At Not In Our Town, we suggest that you celebrate Caregiver’s Day and children can honor those who care for them.)

We made this film for elementary students to see themselves reflected and hear the voices of children like themselves, and to see validation of those who might be different. They also can see how all these families can join together and be friends, and have fun. We kept the film short so teachers can show the film and then open a discussion with the students. We also have our Lesson Guide with activities for students at different grade levels to celebrate their families.

Our organization features communities of all backgrounds who come together to stand up to bullying, hate, prejudice and intolerance. We have always been proactive in seeking to create safety, acceptance, and inclusion. For this film, we partnered with a wonderful organization, Our Family Coalition, which focuses on supporting schools and communities to create acceptance for LGBTQ families. Our shared goal with the film is to support children from all kinds of families.

The best way to address hate and prejudice is by creating identity safety, and preventing hate and prejudice before they rear their ugly heads. Researchers have known for a long time that getting to know people who are different from you will reduce prejudice. New research has shown that it also will reduce implicit biases—the unconscious attitudes we all pick up from living in a society that has much underlying racial bias. According to the article, “Long-term Reduction in Implicit Race Bias,” fostering empathy is another way to reduce prejudice and implicit bias. Children can learn to be empathetic, but it will only stick if they also see empathy and acceptance expressed and modeled by all the adults in their world on a regular basis.

LEE & LOW: How can schools encourage children to appreciate their own family’s configuration and diversity?

The best way to celebrate families is to open the doors of the school and invite all the families in. Other activities include times where students invite their caregivers to volunteer or share expertise in one area or another. Also, students can write about their families, read books (like the excellent collection from Lee & Low), and use family diversity lesson plans and materials from the organizations Welcoming Schools and Teaching Tolerance. In our Lesson Guide we suggest having a Family Diversity Extravaganza where students organize an event and everyone gets involved and has fun together. When students experience acceptance of all kinds of families, they feel pride in their own families and their awareness is built for others.

Not in Our Town blog postLEE & LOW: What is at stake if parents, educators, and administrators do not purposely model tolerance and inclusion for children?

We are at a frightening moment in our nation’s history. While many gains have been made to promote equity in our country, our current climate and electoral process is rife with hate rhetoric. In a recent online survey by Teaching Tolerance, educators shared that many of their students—especially immigrants and Muslims—have expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election. Educators also reported they have witnessed an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment in their schools.

Additionally, according to the National Crime Prevention Council, youth ages 15-24 commit half of all hate crimes in the United States. In The New York Times op-ed, “White, Bigoted and Young: The Data of Hate,” economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz explored the demographics of Stormfront, the most popular U.S. white supremacist website. His findings revealed that the most common age of Stormfront members is 19. He also found that the most venomous hate was displayed against African Americans and Jews, often with tremendous ignorance about those targeted groups.

Much is at stake for all of us if we do not make it a priority to teach empathy, and model positive attitudes towards those who are different from ourselves. We need to openly discuss and work together to find ways to address all forms of intolerance. We made our film freely accessible on Youtube in hopes that it goes viral and the voices of children are shared. PLEASE SHARE WIDELY! I close with the wise words of young Nathan, a student in our film:

“It is important to have diverse children, to have diverse families in a school so you know how to include everyone… you don’t just go to the people who are like you, you reach out and embrace everyone.” —Nathan, student, Peralta Elementary School, Oakland, CA in “Our Family


DSC_0427Dr. Becki Cohn-Vargas is the co-author, with Dorothy Steele of Identity Safe Classrooms: Places to Belong and Learn published by Corwin Press. Currently as director of Not In Our School, she designs curriculum, coaches schools and produces films on models for creating safe and inclusive schools, free of bullying and intolerance at the national non-profit, the Working Group. She presents internationally at conferences and provides professional development in schools and districts. Dr. Cohn-Vargas began her 35-year career in early childhood education at the Multicultural Center in Sonoma County, California. She did community service in the Guatemalan Highlands and produced educational films for the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education. She returned to California and worked as a teacher and principal in Oakland, a Curriculum Director in Palo Alto, and as Superintendent in San Jose. In each setting, she focuses on educational equity and effective strategies for diverse populations. Dr. Cohn-Vargas and her husband live in El Sobrante, California and have three adult children. With her husband, she is developing an environmental research center on their private reserve in the Nicaraguan rain forest.  

Family Diversity Book Collection from LEE & LOW BOOKS

Further reading and learning from Not in Our School:

Additional resources on family diversity and family structures:

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2. Emotional Wound Entry: Growing Up In Foster Care

When you’re writing a character, it’s important to know why she is the way she is. Knowing her backstory is important to achieving this end, and one of the most impactful pieces of a character’s backstory is her emotional wound. This negative experience from the past is so intense that a character will go to great lengths to avoid experiencing that kind of pain and negative emotion again. As a result, certain behaviors, beliefs, and character traits will emerge.

homelessCharacters, like real people, are unique, and will respond to wounding events differently. The vast array of possible emotional wounds combined with each character’s personality gives you many options in terms of how your character will turn out. With the right amount of exploration, you should be able to come up with a character whose past appropriately affects her present, resulting in a realistic character that will ring true with readers. Understanding what wounds a protagonist bears will also help you plot out her arc, creating a compelling journey of change that will satisfy readers.

NOTE: We realize that sometimes a wound we profile may have personal meaning, stirring up the past for some of our readers. It is not our intent to create emotional turmoil. Please know that we research each wounding topic carefully to treat it with the utmost respect. 



  • Parents who passed away (and having no relatives in the picture)
  • Parents who were incapable of care because they were drug addicts
  • Parents who were incarcerated for a crime and their child became a ward of the state
  • Being surrendered to the state by one’s parents because they wanted their freedom
  • Parents who left the character at a young age and never returned
  • Losing one’s parents and having relatives but them being unwilling to take one in
  • Being found abandoned at a young age with no ID
  • Being taken away from one’s parents because of abuse or neglect
  • Being given up for adoption but never being adopted
  • Parents who give up their rights because their child is difficult or requires round-the-clock care

Basic Needs Often Compromised By This Wound: physiological needs, safety and security, love and belonging, esteem and recognition, self-actualization

False Beliefs That May Be Embraced As a Result of This Wound:

  • I am defective
  • People are inherently cruel
  • I am unworthy of love
  • This world only cares about people who are whole (if one has a disability, condition, or physical defect/challenge)
  • Blood is always thicker than water
  • I don’t know who I am
  • I don’t belong anywhere in this world
  • I will never have a family or home

Positive Attributes That May Result: adaptable, alert, analytical, cautious, courageous, disciplined, idealistic, imaginative, independent, introverted, just, loyal, mature, nurturing, observant, perceptive, persuasive, private, proactive, protective, resourceful, sentimental, thrifty, wise

Negative Traits That May Result: abrasive, addictive, antisocial, apathetic, confrontational, cruel, cynical, devious, dishonest, evasive, hostile, inhibited, insecure, jealous, judgemental, manipulative, needy, paranoid, pessimistic, rebellious, reckless, resentful, self-destructive, stubborn, temperamental, uncommunicative, violent, withdrawn

Resulting Fears:

  • fear of loving and losing
  • fear of rejection
  • fear of poverty
  • fear of pain
  • fear of the dark or enclosed spaces
  • fear of a specific trigger (if abused, tortured, punished, etc.)
  • fear of trusting and being betrayed
  • fear of hope
  • fear of getting attached to a person or place

Possible Habits That May Emerge:

  • keeping secrets
  • lying or making up untruths even when it isn’t important
  • telling people what they want to hear
  • being highly private
  • being highly protective of one’s possessions or close relationships
  • avoiding locations, activities and groups that have a strong family-focus
  • keeping a bug-out bag or secret stash of items in case one has to pick up and leave
  • steering conversations so they never get too personal
  • pushing people away as a defense mechanism
  • difficulty sharing certain things (which may act as triggers)
  • becoming fiercely loyal to the few one allows to get close
  • strong empathy; wanting to save others who are at risk (people or animals) and going to great lengths to do so
  • craving routine yet being unable to adapt to it easily
  • looking for exits, being watchful for danger or threats in a way others aren’t
  • a tendency to hoard certain things (money, food or items that act as symbols for what one was denied growing up, etc.)

TIP: If you need help understanding the impact of these factors, please read our introductory post on the Emotional Wound Thesaurus. For our current list of Emotional Wound Entries, go here.

For other Descriptive Thesaurus Collections, go here.

Image: TaniaVbD @ Pixabay

The post Emotional Wound Entry: Growing Up In Foster Care appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS™.

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3. Our 2016 Fall Books catalog has arrived!


Our 2016 Fall Books catalog has arrived—at 427+ pages, it’s our biggest yet. Click here to download a PDF and read up on its 759 titles, or visit Edelweiss for up-to-the minute, detailed bibliographic information for each book. Phew!

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4. Journal pages of a foodie-artist

Food illustrations are great! I enjoy awing over the huge collection of illustrated recipes on ‘They Draw And Cook‘, and love it if one of my recipes gets published there, or even featured! But even without a recipe or an end result in mind, food just never gets boring as a subject to draw!





The post Journal pages of a foodie-artist appeared first on Make Awesome Art.

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5. Mary Cappello on mood for NPR

The above video was recorded at the American Academy in Berlin, where Mary Cappello presented a selection of lyric essays and experimental writings on mood, the subject of her forthcoming book Life Breaks In: A Mood Almanack, which we’re psyched to publish later this fall. You can hear more about the project in an interview Cappello did with NPR/Berlin.

From our catalog copy for the book:

This is not one of those books. This book is about mood, and how it works in and with us as complicated, imperfectly self-knowing beings existing in a world that impinges and infringes on us, but also regularly suffuses us with beauty and joy and wonder. You don’t write that book as a linear progression—you write it as a living, breathing, richly associative, and, crucially, active, investigation. Or at least you do if you’re as smart and inventive as Mary Cappello.

And, to whet your appetite, an excerpt from “Gong Bath”:

Swimming won’t ever yield the same pleasure for me as being small enough to take a bath in the same place where the breakfast dishes are washed. No memory will be as flush with pattering—this is life!—as the sensation that is the sound of the garden hose, first nozzle-tested as a fine spray into air, then plunged into one foot of water to re-fill a plastic backyard pool. The muffled gurgle sounds below, but I hear it from above. My blue bathing suit turns a deeper blue when water hits it, and I’m absorbed by the shape, now elongated, now fat, of my own foot underwater. The nape of my neck is dry; my eyelids are dotted with droplets, and the basal sound of water moving inside of water draws me like the signal of a gong: “get in, get out, get in.” The water is cool above and warm below, or warm above and cool below: if I bend to touch its stripes, one of my straps releases and goes lank. Voices are reflections that do not pierce me here; they mottle. I am a fish in the day’s aquarium.

The Gong Bath turns out to be a middle-class group affair at a local yoga studio, not a private baptism in a subterranean tub. The group of bourgeoisie of which I am a member pretends for a day to be hermits in a desert. It’s summertime, and we arrive with small parcels: loosely dressed, jewelry-free, to each person her mat and a pillow to prop our knees. We’re to lie flat on our backs, we’re told, and to try not to fidget. We’re to shut our eyes and merely listen while two soft-spoken men create sounds from an array of differently sized Tibetan gongs that hang from wooden poles, positioned in a row in front of us. Some of the gongs appear to have copper-colored irises at their center. In their muted state, they hang like unprepossessing harbingers of calm.

To read more about Life Breaths In, click here.

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6. How To Share Your Protagonist’s Deepest Feelings With Readers

As writers know, the goal of any book is to make the reader FEEL. We want them to empathize with our characters, feel pulled in by the events and become immersed in the story. When a reader’s experience is emotional, it becomes meaningful, transcending mere entertainment.

Characters are the emotional heart of a story. Why? Because through them, writers can remind readers of their own emotional past.  It becomes an intimate, shared experience that bonds them together.

violenceSure, readers have probably never been terrorized by a serial killer, vampire or demon in their own lives, but they know what it is to feel terror. Likewise, a roguish yet handsome highwayman has likely not pursued them in a roar of love and lust, yet they know what love and lust feel like.

As people, we have an unending spectrum of emotional experiences. We know sorrow and confusion, humiliation, fear and pride. We have experienced satisfaction, confidence, worry and dread. As writers, it is up to us to convey these feelings through our characters so that our description awakens deep and meaningful memories within readers.

Showing what a character is feeling can be difficult for writers. Here are 3 tips to help ensure readers share the character’s emotional ride:

1) Prime your readers

depression1Spend a bit of time early on showing what has led to your character’s emotional sensitivity. Let’s say themes of betrayal are key to your book & the character’s ‘dark moment.’ If you alluded to a past betrayal by the main character’s mother in a scene before this point, then your heroine seeing an old toy from her childhood will become an instant trigger for those past feelings.

2) Focus on what causes the emotional reaction

Sometimes the best way to bring about an emotional moment is to describe what is causing the feeling. For example, let’s say Alexa likes Ethan, the boy next door. She is trying to work up the courage to show him she wants to be more than friends when she spots her rival Jessica at his locker. If you describe how Jessica touches his arm when she laughs, steps closer as he speaks, fiddles with her low necklace to draw his attention to her cleavage, etc. then your reader will feel that jealousy build even without showing Alexa’s thoughts or physical cues.

3) Think about how you might feel

If you are drawing a blank on how to show what your character is feeling, think about how the emotion you’re trying to describe makes you feel. Dig into your past to a time you felt embarrassed, or angry, frustrated, excited…whichever emotion is the one your character is currently facing. What sort of thoughts went through your head? What did your body do? Did you openly show how you felt through gestures and body language, or did you try to hide it?  Then, decide if some of your experience can be adapted to your character. Emotion is strongest when it comes from a place of truth.

For more tips on emotional showing, have a peek through your Emotion Thesaurus, or browse the tutorials and expanded Emotion Thesaurus (15 new entries) at One Stop for Writers.


Image 1: Republica @ Pixabay
Image 2: PDPpics @ Pixabay

The post How To Share Your Protagonist’s Deepest Feelings With Readers appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS™.

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7. Surprising Jolts of Children’s Literature in Unexpected Places

It’s back!  I’ve been doing my thing, buying lovely adult titles for my library system, and time and again I’ve run across ideas or names that fall squarely in the children’s book realm.  Here then are some real beauties. Things you just might not know about otherwise.


I know and like Elisha Cooper but I’m ashamed to say that before this book was announced I was unaware of his previous memoir A Father’s First Year which was released in 2006.  Since that time, Cooper’s daughter was diagnosed at the age of four with pediatric kidney cancer.  This book examines her treatment, recovery, and what this all did to Elisha himself.  On my To Be Read Shelf.


Thus continuing my series of books about people I know or have met, and yet never had any idea about when it comes to their personal lives.  In this upcoming August memoir, Nadja (who penned Lost in NYC amongst other things) opens up about herself, her mother, and even her grandmother.  It’s a deeply personal work about someone I’m desperately fond of (Francoise Mouly, Nadja’s mother, is the founder of TOON Books, as well as serving as the Art Director of The New Yorker, and she is delight incarnate).  Also on the To Be Read Shelf.


This inclusion is a bit of a stretch.  I really only put it here because in the Library Journal review of the book it said, “Soviet-style medical ethics or lack thereof frame an intimate story that the publicist calls One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest crossed with The Fault Is in Our Stars.”  So there’s that.

Another Brooklyn

Jackie writes something for adults and people get very excited.  Book Expo America hasn’t even happened yet, but I’ve already been seeing this title showing up on lists of Best Books of the Summer and what have you.  I foresee some libraries have problems cataloging this title (the cover looks awfully similar to her YA novels and will be easily confused) but for all that, I suspect it’s going to be a book club hit and a New York Times bestseller.  Just you wait, just you wait . . .

Warlock Holmes

No further comments, your honor.

Noise of Time

For those of us floored by M.T. Anderson’s Symphony for the City of the Dead last year, here is a new biography of its star, Dmitri Shostakovich.  And it’s a novel.  It’s out May 10th.  Look for it.

Garth Williams

A Garth Williams biography!  Whodathunkit? Seems pretty specialized and for a veeeery small market, but there you are.  I know the estate of Williams doesn’t exactly bend over backwards to allow folks to use his art (even his obscure art) in any context. They must have approved of this book from the start.  Heck, I’ll read it.


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8. 2016 American Academy of Arts and Sciences new members


Congratulations to the new members elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, including an impressive array of current, former, and future University of Chicago Press authors:

  • Horst Bredekamp
  • Andrea Campbell
  • Candice Canes-Wrone
  • Thomas Conley
  • Theaster Gates
  • Sander Gilman
  • David Nirenberg
  • Jahan Ramazani
  • Kim Lane Scheppele
  • Michael Sells
  • David Simpson
  • Christopher Wood

The Academy “convenes leaders from the academic, business, and government sectors to address critical challenges facing our global society.” This year’s cohort marks the 235th class of inductees, stemming from an inaugural selection of members in 1781, including Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Beyoncé, who is a spectre as ageless as Melisandre from Game of Thrones.

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9. Prince, Putumayo, and Streaming Music

News broke of Prince’s unexpected departure from this world during our monthly book order meeting last Thursday. It was impossible to avoid the flood of quotes, photos, and music performances on social media, but many fans found it challenging to listen online to  “Little Red Corvette,” or “Diamonds and Pearls,” in memoriam. Prince was a huge proponent for artist’s rights and this is why listeners cannot find his work on streaming services like Pandora and YouTube. Prince did not totally abandon placing his music online, and the artist utilized Tidal, the subscription service owned by Jay Z, and SoundCloud to share new music. Lucky for me I somehow kept a copy of Purple Rain in my office – something every children’s librarian should have tucked away!

The search for Prince’s music was the perfect opportunity for libraries to market their own digital services, and USA Today even gave public libraries a shout out in an article providing listeners with alternative options. In response, libraries such as Highland Park Public Library and Green Tree Public Library shared Hoopla’s Prince offerings with their users.

About six years ago my library eliminated CDs for mass circulation and the children’s library has been the only place where CDs continue to exist. Parents and caregivers still request music, especially storytime cult classics like Hap Palmer’s Getting to Know Myself. As playing this type of media becomes increasingly difficult, we have been guiding families to Hoopla, the streaming service which we introduced two years ago. Luckily Hoopla has a comprehensive Raffi collection, as well as They Might Be Giants and Putumayo World Music.

Many libraries opt to provide another streaming offering, Freegal, if not having the ability to offer both services. Freegal offers users the ability to stream unlimited content which includes exclusive Sony Music Entertainment options. Despite having different pricing structures for libraries, both services are valuable for being free to library users, and also claim to give artists a percentage of their earnings.

If you provide digital music services for your library how is it received? Are parents, caregivers, and kids using these resources?

Claire Moore is a member of the Digital Content Task Force. She is also Head of Children and Teen Services at Darien Library in Connecticut. You can reach Claire at cmoore@darienlibrary.org.

Visit the Digital Media Resources page to find out more about navigating your way through the evolving digital landscape.

The post Prince, Putumayo, and Streaming Music appeared first on ALSC Blog.

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10. Emotional Wounds Entry: the Death of a Child on One’s Watch

When you’re writing a character, it’s important to know why she is the way she is. Knowing her backstory is important to achieving this end, and one of the most impactful pieces of a character’s backstory is her emotional wound. This negative experience from the past is so intense that a character will go to great lengths to avoid experiencing that kind of pain and negative emotion again. As a result, certain behaviors, beliefs, and character traits will emerge.

Characters, like real people, are unique, and will respond to wounding events differently. The vast array of possible emotional wounds combined with each character’s personality gives you many options in terms of how your character will turn out. With the right amount of exploration, you should be able to come up with a character whose past appropriately affects her present, resulting in a realistic character that will ring true with readers. Understanding what wounds a protagonist bears will also help you plot out her arc, creating a compelling journey of change that will satisfy readers.

NOTE: We realize that sometimes a wound we profile may have personal meaning, stirring up the past for some of our readers. It is not our intent to create emotional turmoil. Please know that we research each wounding topic carefully to treat it with the utmost respect. 


Courtesy: Alan Levine @ CreativeCommons

Examples: Being in charge of one’s child when he/she dies due to 

  • drowning
  • choking on food
  • a food allergy
  • ingesting poison or pills
  • being strangled by a cord or paper bag
  • falling from a height (down a flight of stairs, out a window, from a jungle gym or tree)
  • shooting himself with a parent’s gun
  • being backed over with a car
  • being left in a hot car
  • being killed in a fire due to playing with matches
  • running into traffic and being hit by a car

Basic Needs Often Compromised By This Wound: love and belonging, esteem and recognition, self-actualization

False Beliefs That May Be Embraced As a Result of This Wound:

  • I can’t be responsible for the life of another.
  • I’m untrustworthy/irresponsible.
  • I’m a terrible parent.
  • This wouldn’t have happened on someone else’s watch.
  • I don’t deserve forgiveness.
  • Loving another only leads to heartache.

Positive Attributes That May Result: alert, cautious, meticulous, observant, private, proactive, protective, responsible

Negative Traits That May Result: addictive, callous, cynical, evasive, fussy, humorless, inhibited, insecure, irrational, irresponsible, morbid, needy, nervous, obsessive, possessive, resentful, self-destructive, temperamental, uncommunicative, withdrawn

Resulting Fears:

  • If I’m left in charge of a child again, the same thing will happen.
  • I can’t be responsible for anyone.
  • My spouse will never forgive me.
  • I will never recover from this.
  • I’ll always be known as the parent who let their child die.
  • If I love another child, he/she will be taken from me.

Possible Habits That May Emerge: 

  • Withdrawing one’s love from other children
  • Withdrawing from one’s spouse
  • Avoiding being left in charge of one’s other children
  • Avoiding children and places where children gather
  • Becoming obsessive or compulsive in an effort to not miss anything again
  • Being overprotective and overly strict with one’s remaining children
  • Withdrawing from others out of shame
  • Not opening up to others
  • Becoming a hermit
  • Being reluctant to make new friends
  • Becoming depressed
  • Self-medicating
  • Becoming obsessed with the deceased child; being unable to let go
  • Self-loathing; engaging in self-destructive behaviors
  • Becoming defensive; blaming others out of a need to prove one isn’t to blame
  • Moving to a new house, city, or state in an effort to distance oneself from what happened

TIP: If you need help understanding the impact of these factors, please read our introductory post on the Emotional Wound Thesaurus. For our current list of Emotional Wound Entries, go here.

For other Descriptive Thesaurus Collections, go here.

The post Emotional Wounds Entry: the Death of a Child on One’s Watch appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS™.

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11. Passive Programs for School Age Kids

Passive programs are a great way to engage kids, whether they’re hanging out after school, coming in on a school-free day, or are just looking for something to do! They often require minimal effort to prepare and get off the ground, but are then good for hours of fun and engagement. If you’re looking to add school age passive programs to your library’s offerings, want to freshen things up, or just try something new, take a look at some of these great options!

Book cover puzzle

Book cover puzzle

Make copies of a book cover, laminate, cut into puzzle pieces, and set them out (above)!

Put “postcards” out on a table and encourage kids to write a postcard to their favorite author or book character, like in The Show Me Librarian’s blog post. Bonus fun if you can find a place to display them in the library!

Take a look at this collection of passive program ideas from Jbrary.

We all know Pinterest is a great resource for ideas. There are lots of passive programming boards out there, so find your favorites or start with this one from Central Mississippi Regional Library System.

See what you can do with cardboard squares and plastic cups over at Library Learners.

Magnetic poetry wall

Magnetic poetry at La Crosse Public Library

Have some fun with magnetic poetry (left)! If you have a magnet wall like the one pictured here it’s extra easy, but you don’t need something as elaborate as this! Try painting some cardboard with magnetic paint and lean it against a wall or set it on a table, and you’re good to go.




If you have a magnetic surface, there are lots of cool options to consider. Those book puzzle pieces pictured above? There’s magnetic tape on the back of each piece, so they double as magnet puzzles (below).

Book cover puzzles on a magnetic wall board

Magnetic book puzzles at La Crosse Public Library

Mad Libs provides some fun, free downloads, and you can find lots of other Mad Libs-style downloadables elsewhere online. Print them out, set them on a table with pencils or pens, and let kids get extra silly! Or, find a paper Mad Libs booklet and set that out instead!

Build your own Tinker Toys and let kids create like at Never Shushed.

When it comes to passive programming, this is just the tip of the iceberg. What awesome passive programs are you doing with your school age kids?


Kelsey Johnson-Kaiser is a youth services librarian at the La Crosse Public Library in La Crosse, WI and a member of the ALSC School-Age Programs and Services Committee. 

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12. Preschool Tinker Labs


A year or so ago I stumbled across the book called “Tinkerlab:  A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors” by Rachelle Doorly.  The book contains hands-on activities that encourage children to explore art, science, and more.  This book was so inspiring and was really the driving force behind a series of programs we now do at the library for children ages 3-5. These programs, by far, have been and remain to be, some of our most well attended programs.  The feedback we get from parents is fantastic.

What do these programs consist of?  We schedule one program each month of our programming sessions.  They are meant to be a time where children come to play, explore, tinker, and create.  The programs run for one hour and children ages 3-5 and their parent/caregiver are invited to explore stations that all revolve around the same theme.   We encourage children to investigate, explore, and participate in whatever way they want.  Sometimes a child will stay at one station for the whole hour, and we are fine with that.  While we do set out some directions/suggestions at each station, every activity is designed to be explored independently as well.

Some of our most popular themes have been:  It’s Dark in Here:  We played in the dark with homemade light tables, flashlights, and things that glowed.  ​We included translucent blocks and shapes, water beads, glow-in-the-dark letters and critters, and more.  Sensory Bin play:  We had fun with sand, popcorn kernels, beans, rice, water beads, and pipe cleaners.  We shared with parents the importance of play and using our senses to investigate the world around us.  Play Dough Picassos:  Children rotated through four different playdough stations:  Mr Play Dough Head, Play Dough Mats, Play Dough Bakery, and Play Dough Mud.  There was lots of creative play and discovery happening.  Marvelous Music:  We made beautiful music with carpet drumming and water xylophones.  We crafted egg shakers, balloon drums, and kazoos.  We ended with a marching band around the library!  
Crazy Painting:  
Children participated in marble painting, mesh dabber painting, painting with cardboard tubes, bubble wrap painting, popsicle painting, blow art, color mixing bag, stamps and ink and painting with different objects.  Building with DUPLOs: Children explored with LEGO Duplos by painting, stamping in play dough, counting, measuring, creating patterns, sorting, making tanagrams and building.



Click to view slideshow.

Kara Fennell Walker works as the Head of Youth Services with the Geauga County Public Library in Middlefield, Ohio. She is writing for the ALSC Early Childhood Programs and Services Committee. If you would like to learn more about her early reader backpacks, you can email her at kara.walker@geaugalibrary.info.

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13. A Case for Face-to-Face Fridays

The Simple Sound of a Single Human Voice


We humans are a social lot. Witness the rise of social media.

Oh, of course there is more than a bit of shared vitriol apparent as people post, but right alongside it, there are moments in lives lived on social media that interact in subtle and substantive ways.

We are, after all, natural born communicators and storytellers, and we look for opportunities to be a part of the whole. We want to share our stories, give and receive advice, and even comfort, when necessary, in this increasingly complicated and isolating world.

Example: I recently received information from a good friend on a British garden artist’s work. Her name was Beatrice Parsons and her garden art paintings are quite breathtaking. Who knew? I loved that, as an artist himself, Bill wanted to widen other people’s knowledge of what is out there in art…and perhaps overlooked, or forgotten.

I’ve included a link at the bottom that will provide a window into Ms. Parson’s work that royals such as Queens Alexandra and Mary admired, and even owned.

But, here’s a thought. Just what did  our parents’ generation do in place of social media as we know it today, and maybe, perhaps, even partially, that of the Baby Boomer generation?

I can tell you!

They communed….not with a device, but with a voice.

They hung over backyard fences and talked to one another.They shared the moments in their lives; the good, and even, the not so good. And they gained a communal wisdom from opening their voices and vision of their family, their street, and the world.

They popped in and out of one another’s lives, not exactly living in one another’s pockets, but there was a generalized looking out for the whole of the neighborhood. It still exists, but not to the degree that it once did. And with it went something wonderful.

With the rise of social media that “neighborhood” has grown in a huge way, but, sometimes, I wonder what we have lost in the intimate conversation of a voice lost in quiet, or not so quiet conversation with another human being.

I am not anti technology since it has afforded increased communication. But, my  question is what kind?

There is something about the face-to-face meeting where you are open to the whole of what makes that person that person on that day; as in the rise or slump of their shoulders, the brightness in their eye, versus a distant look.

Facial expression and body language is lost in a text or e-mail. There is no view of an arched eyebrow, wink of the eye, or vocal intonation signifying humor, sarcasm or irony. Are what they are IMing being said with a smile or a frown?

The face-to-face subtly invites conversation in a very meaningful way.

And, it’s in its very intimate quality, not in its quantity, that there increases the likelihood of wanting more of that personal conversation, rather than through a host of “devices” that can, at times, if not put in their proper place…slowly separate, and even isolate, without meaning to.

So, here’s my pitch for the Family Face-to-Face Friday. I know there are families out there that have initiated them, and their children eagerly await this grand tradition each week.

Kids love to look forward to things. Don’t we all? Seems I read somewhere that there are three ingredients to happiness, and they are: someone to love, something we do that we are passionate about, and something to look forward to.

Sometimes, parents slogging through a long work week, or kids having an especially difficult one at school, can have things literally put in perspective by the prospect that, at the end of the week, is  “Family Face-to-Face Friday!”

And, by the way, “family” today has many definitions, and iterations, so it doesn’t just have to be mom, dad and the kids.

It can include grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and soon-to-be-friends.

Let them all in on the benefits of a face-to- face “deviceless” get together, either planned or spur of the moment.

Then, sit back and enjoy the conversations that arise from the sound of the blending of those human voices, chatting, arguing, advocating, enlightening, and just plain, being in the same room with one another, for a face-to-face.

Food thrown into the mix is always a great addition, too!

There’s nothing that can really replace human contact….yet!

And, it’s the perfect pitch for… “How about sharing a read aloud?”

One great read aloud to use is called “How Chipmunk Got His Stripes” by Joseph and James Bruchac, featuring a squirrel who “earns his stripes” by learning that teasing a temperamental bear is a no no, and a bear who learns that boasting what Mother Nature can not deliver is equally foolish. It was recently reviewed on the Snuggery on April 18th!





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14. Moving? New library job? Some helpful hints

moving-truck-300pxWhether you’re a new librarian moving to take your first job, or an experienced librarian moving to greener pastures, here are some suggestions that might help.

I’m not saying I followed them all, but I should have! :)

Before you move:

  • Make sure you leave your previous job in good stead.  Give adequate notice, file paperwork, clean your desk, get your checkups in before your insurance runs out, return all your library books. :)
  • If you can, give yourself some time open roadbetween jobs – especially if you’re moving out-of-state.  Acquiring a new, license, registration, cell service, cable, electricity, etc., can be daunting if you’re working full-time.

At your new location:

  • Be a team player. It’s easy to think of yourself as the “outsider,” but work is more fun when you work together.  Be interested, be helpful, be approachable.
  • Know what’s going on. It’s your  home now. Who’s your mayor, your congressman, your baseball team? Subscribe to the local news in print, feed, or online.
  • Join your union – or at least hear them out.  They’re the folks working to earn better wages and benefits for you and they’re a good source of job-related information that you might not receive elsewhere.
  • Figure out who doesn’t mind answering questions, who doesn’t like to be pestered, who likes to joke around.  Work with that.
  • When you get that mountain of papers about insurance options – read it! And don’t miss the deadlines.
  • If you’re offered the chance to sign up for deferred compensation of some kind, do it right away before you ever have a chance to  miss the money.  Later, you’ll be glad you did.

A few don’ts:

  • Don’t get discouraged. If your new library is like every other library – there’s too much to do and not enough people to do it.  Relax; do the best you can do.
  • If you’re in a position of authority, don’t make  drastic changes right away.  First, find out what works and what doesn’t, and why things are done the way they are.  Be respectful.library icon
  • Don’t eat the boiled peanuts.  I hear they’re terrible! 😉



Image credit: Openclipart.org

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15. Friends as Enemies

As many of you know, Angela and I have been whipping The Setting Thesaurus manuscripts into shape so they can be released into the world in just a few months. (*squeal*) Each entry has a lot of good information, but one of the fields kept drawing my attention:

Screen Shot

(PSSST! The books aren’t out yet, but I pulled this tidbit from One Stop For Writers, where all the settings can currently be found. Subscribers can access the entries in their entirety while registered users can see a sampling.)

As a writer, I’m constantly looking for sources of conflict for my stories. This is one of the reasons we included this field, because people are our greatest resource when it comes to conflict. So looking at the kinds of people typically found in a given setting can give you an idea for who might cause trouble for your hero.

But as I was brainstorming for this field, one thought kept coming back to me: But what about the friends?


Courtesy: Antoine K @ CreativeCommons

I’m not talking about the friends that your character thinks are friends but end up stabbing her in the back. I’m talking about real friends who cause real trouble, often unintentionally.

As we know, friends, family, and allies can cause conflict, too. And because of their close connection with the main character, trouble from a friend inherently equates to elevated emotions for the hero. Plus, friends are so accessible; you won’t typically have to orchestrate a meeting in order to make the sparks fly because the friends are already there.

So it makes sense to use those closest to the hero to add conflict. But what kind of trouble can a true friend cause? Here are a few possibilities:

Opposing Goals: Throughout your story, your hero should have something he’s trying to achieve. But at the scene level, he should also have goals—smaller micro-goals that move him toward getting what he wants overall. Conflict comes in the form of people, forces, things, etc. that block the character from getting what he wants. Oftentimes this comes in the form of the antagonist, who is actively working against the character. But what if the character with the opposing goal is his friend? Fireworks, that’s what happens, between the hero and the person he thought was on his side.

Shared Goals: Another form of conflict comes when two characters want the same thing. Again, the typical scenario is the character and the antagonist or a rival going after the same objective—getting the boy/girl, winning the game/court case/contest, getting a spot on the team, etc. But it gets a lot more complicated when the person competing with the character is a trusted ally.

Clashing Traits: Every person is different, and though our friends are often somewhat similar to us, they’re not carbon copies. The same is true with characters and their cronies. Each member of the cast has traits, both positive and negative, that don’t go well together. Imagine a responsible and rule-following hero combined with a reckless friend. A controlling hero and a rebellious friend. Hard-working vs. lazy. Sensitive vs. tactless. Friends with opposing traits are going to get on each others nerves. Remember this in the planning stages of your story and you’ll end up with built-in conflict that’s easy to access.

Moral Arguments: Though friends aren’t going to agree on everything, every person has certain moral lines they’re not willing to cross. And though they know that other people don’t necessarily share their values, they don’t like them to cross those lines, either. While friends are willing to compromise on certain things, it’s much harder for them to give ground when it comes to questions of right and wrong. Knowing what values your character holds dear can help you use those values against him when conflict is necessary.

Envy: No matter how gifted, successful, good-looking, or popular a person is, there’s always someone who’s MORE gifted, BETTER looking, etc. Envy is an ugly emotion, beginning with negative thoughts that often turn to negative behaviors. When envy manifests between friends, it becomes much more complex, with higher stakes.

Insecurities: Every character has insecurities that make them doubt themselves and skew their view of the world and others. These insecurities can lead to poor decisions that impact the people around them. For instance, someone who’s insecure about his popularity may crack jokes at a friend’s expense if it will get him a few laughs. A girl who is insecure about her looks might latch on to anyone who pays her attention—even if that person is her best friend’s ex. If you’re looking for conflict between friends, figure out what insecurities exist and see what you can do to manipulate them.

Weak Moments: Let’s face it: no one is perfect. No matter how strong a friendship is, every person has selfish moments where they just want to do what they want to do no matter how it might affect others. What might that look like? Canceling plans with a friend when a better opportunity comes along. Not standing up for someone. Kissing a friend’s sister. Poor decisions are easy to justify, and our characters might convince themselves that these choices are no big deal. But weak moments often lead to huge fallout, making for great conflict.

Growing apart: It’s an unfortunate truth of friendship, but sometimes people just grow apart. Interests change, new groups are joined, people move on from a relationship that is holding them back in other areas or is unhealthy in some way.  This is natural, but it doesn’t happen all at once. Before people have fully moved on, there’s often a long process full of awkward moments and uncomfortable emotions like confusion, self-doubt, anger, hurt, and bitterness. This leads to lots of potential conflict as friends try to figure out what’s happening and come to grips with the new dynamic.

The list of conflict between friends could probably go on and on, but these are a few of the ways that true friends can cause problems for your main character. Do you have any to add? Please share them in the comments!

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16. Summer Reading, No! But Reading in the Summer, Yes!

I’m back with more anti-summer reading ranting!  Interested in reading (or re-reading) the whole diatribe?  Here are the previous entries: Part I, Part II, Part III where I’ve noted issues around how/if the traditional summer reading model supports non-readers; SRP tracking and registration; and learning vs. reading as the program’s focus.  This month, I’m thinking hard about assessment and evaluation again.

Here we are, a little less than 2 months before the summer season starts.  And I’m feeling it!  My stress level is a bit high these days (but calmed weekly with Netflix, the local Y and chocolate banana bread!) But I’m excited too.  This will be a very different summer for my library and I’m eager to see how it all goes.  Since there will be no registration for the reading portion, the only thing from which we’ll gather information is our big LEGO 3D infographic that will definitely give us an idea of how many books each age group read. I’ve talked to more than a few parents who say they’ve never actually participated in an SRP because of the hassle of tracking books for more than 1 child.  I myself don’t want to track my reading (outside of GoodReads, that is) to participate in an adult SRP and I never have. Not even a chance to win an iPad motivates me to either write down the books I read or login to a website I don’t regularly use to track my reading there.  I’d rather be reading – HA!

I do want, however, to spend some time thinking about:

  • what that registration information has meant to us
  • how our library has used it in the past
  • and if we have truly needed it, how could we make do without it

As far as I can see, we’ve only really needed (and I use that term loosely) the total number of books and/or the total number of hours-read.  And even that number merely gets sent out into the void of state reports and is never heard from again.  I know it’s one way libraries have measured success, but I’m not convinced it actually helps us measure our impact.  Again, I would argue that those numbers mostly represent kids who love reading, regardless of what libraries do to support them, other than provide access to amazing books, of course!  And frankly, I’m still trying to find a good way to measure our deep impact.  We applied for a small grant this spring (not sure if we got it yet) but a big portion of the application (as you ALL know!) is about assessment and evaluation.  We included some creative ideas (some we devised, some we got from other grant projects from other organizations) and here are a few:

  • We’re going to ask parents and children/teens to complete brief ladder evaluations. These are 2 mirror evaluations – one giving at the beginning of an event and one given at the end.  These will address interest level and track any change in understanding of a subject or concept.
  • Our staff will create charts that will be available during events and programs alongside stacks of post-it notes and pens/pencils.  The charts will display questions children can answer any time during the program/event such as Did you learn something new about_____ today?  Did you collaborate with someone today?  Would you attend another program like this one?  Our thinking is that this setup, which makes the questions part of the program will yield more responses.
  • Staff will be on alert during programs and workshops to catch stories, ideas and responses to the activities.  We’re also going to be vigilant about snapping photos (for Instagram and beyond) and we’ll be asking follow-up questions to gather transformational stories to share with the community and the library board.
  • And of course, we’ll be keeping detailed track of attendance.  In a more holistic way than in the past.  We’re going to keep an eye on repeat participants and new faces and work on making lasting connections.

This is a far cry from SRP reports that I’m accustomed to filling out and submitting.  And I imagine there will be some work in convincing our library board about this approach as well.  But it’s part of a larger mission I’m on to rework our program offerings and approach to youth services.  Pushing closer to standards more in-line with informal learning projects and organizations.  My hope is that our department can become a seriously official supplemental service to the school.  I mean, truly part of their curriculum.  I really believe this is, at least in part, the future of public library services to children.

Is anyone else going rogue?  I’d love to hear the creative stuff happening out there!

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17. Life Lessons from the Bruchacs

How Chipmunk Got His Stripes

By Joseph Bruchac and James Bruchac; illustrated by Jose Aruego and Ariane Dewey


I’m sure I’ve seen a chipmunk or two scurrying across the farm fields this spring, so when I saw this picture book, his look started to make perfect sense to me – in its literary back story.

Most cultures have explanations in story form of how things got the way they are in nature.

And, this particular tale finds its roots in a widely told one among Native American Indians, as the Author Notes point out.

Young readers will love the toe-to-toe or paw-to-paw boasting contest, between a bear that boasts he is the strongest of all the animals and can do anything and a small, Brown Squirrel that says, Not!

The Brown Squirrel even has the temerity to ask the question that ups the ante of the word, “anything.”


            “Can you tell the sun not to rise

            tomorrow morning?” Brown Squirrel



And the gauntlet is thrown down as Bear says Yea! and squirrel says Nay!

Bear’s chanting fills the night air with:


     The sun will not come up, hummph!

     The sun will not come up, hummph!


And Brown Squirrel counters this boast with his own:


        The sun is going to rise, oooh!

The sun is going to rise, oooh!


The entire forest family is awake all night to see who will win!

Young readers will love seeing the Fox, Wolf, Deer, Moose, Rabbit and Porcupine, keeping watch till “dawn’s early light,” finally, and inevitably, reveals the winner.

And, it’s that cheeky Brown Squirrel, of course!

But, can he be gracious in victory, as his wise grandmother has previously advised, with the shared wisdom of age?


He has to begin teasing the Bear:


        Bear is foolish, the sun came up.

        Bear is silly, the sun came up

        Bear is stupid, the sun –


And, as the chant increases in tease-worthy words, so the Bear’s anger increases to the point of….

Well, now that would be telling the entire tale, wouldn’t it?

Suffice to say, that both animals learn a lasting lesson, though it seems the Brown Squirrel wears his for the rest of his life for all to see.

Both boasting and teasing don’t pay in the short or long term, is the moral for Bear and Squirrel aka Chipmunk, in James and Joseph Bruchac’s tale of a striped tail.

It was named an NCSS-CBC Notable Trade book in the field of Social Studies, as well as “Parenting Magazine” deeming it a “Reading-Magic Award Winner.

And Kirkus Reviews had this to say:


         The Bruchacs translate the orality

         of the tale to written text beautifully.

         Aruego and Dewey’s signature cart-

         toon-like illustrations extend the

         humor of the text perfectly.


This terrific tale called “How a Chipmunk Got His Stripes,” has a gentle and humorous way of imparting a “life lesson” that may calm both boasting and teasing in your household for a bit.

It’s a great read aloud for young readers, too!

Hey, I can make…

No, let me rethink that one!

So, don’t be a sore winner, kids!

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18. Never Gonna Sequel

It’s happened to us all.  You hear that one of your favorite books for kids or teens is being adapted to the silver screen and you are struck with a simultaneous feeling of hope and fear.  You go to see it and it’s even worse than you imagined.  Then you leave the theater and realize that this was based on the first book in a series. Are they honestly going to keep going, even if this is a flop?

Thankfully, the answer is usually no. But what happens is that you’re left with a lot of series just ah-blowing in the wind.  Here then is a tribute to those book series that are just not going to see any more sequels.  Unless, of course, they get a reboot.  Which, in at least one case, may happen.

The Seeker a.k.a. The Dark Is Rising



Remember this?  Or has your brain done you a favor and allowed you to forget?  One of the more egregious adaptations out there.  In the midst of the Harry Potter films, studios were looking to recreate that same magic for themselves.  And lo and behold, here is a fantasy series starring a special boy who learns he has the power to defeat a dark and ancient evil! Perfect! So what did the studios do?  First, they made it American (one can only imagine the conversations that took place to make this happen – “I bet Harry Potter would have been MUCH more successful if he’d been from Jersey!”). Then they mucked with the plot so much as to render the film unrecognizable from the book.  No Under Sea, Under Stone for you, kids! Which, technically, should have been first anyway . . .

The Black Cauldron

Black Cauldron

Not that when Disney animated it they were really prepared to make any sequels.  Many consider this film the moment Disney animation hit rock bottom.  They also combined two of Lloyd Alexander’s books together to make it in the first place.  I heard a rumor the other day that a new version of The Book of Three is in the works somewhere, but was unable to find any proof of it online.

The Seventh Son

Seventh Son

Apparently this was years and years in the works, much good it did it in the end. A real pity since the book was so great.  What could have been a really good creepy film was instead yet another big budget war against an evil blahfest.  Ah well.

A Wrinkle in Time


Oh yeah.  It was straight to television, so hopes couldn’t have been all that high anyway.  In a 2004 interview with Newsweek Madeleine L’Engle was asked if the film met her expectations.  She said it had.  She was pretty cheery about it.  “I expected it to be bad, and it was.”  Rumor has it that another is currently in the works.  I dunno, folks.  Mixing religion and science and fantasy into a single book is hard enough.  Short of animating it, I don’t know how a film could even come close to doing it right.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Dawn Treader

This one is unlike the others mentioned here for a number of reasons.  First off, these movies aren’t all that bad.  They seem fairly aware of the books that they’re based upon, for one thing.  And admittedly they managed to get through three books in the Narnia series, and even then only by the skin of their teeth.  Amazing that they got that far!  It’s too late to keep ’em coming at this point, so the series is pretty officially dead (sorry, Silver Chair, fans).

The Last Airbender


I’m cheating by including this since it’s not based on a book originally but a television series (Avatar: The Last Airbender). That said, the graphic novel sequels (penned in part by our current National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature, Gene Luen Yang) are fantastic and deserve mention.  The movie adaptation of the first season was problematic not the least because all the villains were people of color and all the people of color who were heroes were played by white actors. [My husband points out that if you look at the voice actors for the original TV show it’s not much different, but that’s only if you think Iroh and Zuko are villains, and anyway the true baddies were Mark Hammil and Jason Isaacs who are the whitest white guys to ever white a white].

By the way, notice how all these series star white kids, usually of a male persuasion, and are fantasies or science fiction. So while I’d love to see the One Crazy Summer books adapted, my hopes are not currently very high.


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19. Meet Viðar

Meet our newest family member, Viðar, who is Dagbjört and Erlingur’s baby. He was born February 2. In line with Icelandic custom, his name was not used until he was christened this past Sunday, Easter. Isn’t he beautiful? The photo was taken by Eric, who is now a grandfather! Viðar and his parents live in […]

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20. Where are you?

The Mystery Machine, 4 people and 1…well sometimes 2 dogs.  My inner child has always wanted to be a detective.  I’m almost positive it has a lot to do with watching Scooby-Doo, Shaggy and the gang solve mysteries as I was growing up.


So involved with this silly cartoon as kids that one of my best friends growing up was a cool kid named Brian.  Who also grew up into one of the best roofers I know.  If you’d like to see his skills, click here for the company he works with.

The reason I bring up Brian is because he is now a grown adult in his 30’s.  He is also a grown adult with a absolutely awful tattoo of one of my least favourite cartoon characters of all time.  Scooby-Doo’s annoying little cousin Scrappy.


I’m not sure what it was about him that irritated me as a child.  Most likely it was just that I always enjoy status quo and every time that little bugger was on an episode it disrupted my Mystery Machine Gang mojo.

He just didn’t bring anything to the show in my opinion.  It’s great how much Scooby cares about his little cousin but we don’t need reminders about how awesome Scooby is.  The show carries his namesake for crying out loud, he’s beloved without having a whiny twirp to take care of!

No matter what, I always knew that an episode with Scrappy would always turn up crappy! (see what I did there!?)

Brian on the other hand, looked forward to those few episodes with Scrappy-Doo with such fanfare you would think he was the one who invented the character.  I’m not kidding I remember him jumping up and down, fist pumping like the his favourite team just won the Super Bowl.

When Brian turned 18 he asked me to head to the tattoo place with him and he sure enough brought out a photo of scrappy doo holding a hockey stick.  Writing this now reminds me how funny I thought it was at the time.  How persistent he was that it was a great idea and he will love it FOREVER!!!!

15 years later.  Scrappy is officially about to be covered up with a dragon.  RIP to a shitty tattoo my friend.

Now if only I could erase this shitty character from my mind so easily!

Til next time guys, once again if you have any comments or questions please  contact me here.



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21. Basic Errors

There’s a subtle error that I’ve been seeing in a lot of manuscripts lately. It really is quite simple to notice, once you know what to look for. I don’t know if it’s something in the air, with this beautiful spring in full blossom outside, but I have noticed it in almost every MG and YA I’ve been working on so far in 2016.

See if you can spot it:

He ran as quickly as he could, his lean body like a jaguar.

Want another one?

Her arms jerked like a robot as she scrambled to hide the candy into her backpack before the store owner saw her.

What’s the common thread? Both sentences make comparisons. However, both compare a part of the protagonist to a whole, rather than the same part. The fix is very easy to implement. Look:

He ran as quickly as he could, his lean body like a jaguar’s.

Her arms jerked like a robot’s as she scrambled to hide the candy.

So easy! So elegant! The more correct choice is to compare the protagonist’s part to the corresponding part by making the subject possessive. This way, the girl’s arms are like the robot’s arms instead of the whole robot itself, which muddies the image.

As long as we’re talking about subtle grammatical errors in writing, I would love for everyone to read up on what a dangling modifier is, and try to avoid them. These guys are tricky. In my exuberance to get my point across, I still find myself using them all the time. I’m sure there are a few in this blog, or even in my book, and I’ll be the first to admit that I have my own grammar and spelling blind spots, as everyone does. (Fun fact: The word “mustache” is misspelled in my book as “moustache” in one instance. It’s nobody’s fault but mine. What a terrible failed hipster I am!)

Now, to put your minds at ease, you are not going to get immediately disqualified for an error like this. Everyone has their off days. If you keep doing it throughout a manuscript, then maybe. If you keep doing it and then some with other errors, then you’re calling your credibility into question. The bottom line is, you are a writer and you’re submitting a piece of writing to agents and editors who deal in the trade of writing. So, your writing needs to be of very high quality in order to compete with every other writer who is trying to break through. Words and grammar are your stock in trade. If I was hiring a seamstress (because I suddenly live in the 19th century), I’d look at her stitching. And if it’s shoddy, I wouldn’t hire her. Because I’m not hiring her to trim a mustache, I’m hiring her to sew. Right? That’s just how it works.

Sure, an agent will overlook some typos, but why submit a manuscript with typos, misspellings, incorrect formatting, and grammatical errors? I have actually heard some writers say, “Well, that’s what an editor is for. It’ll get fixed once someone buys it.” Are you kidding? Why would a publishing house take a (potentially expensive) gamble on a writer who can’t submit a manuscript that demonstrates a basic grasp of grammar and writing? If you’re making sloppy errors or you just haven’t managed to nail dialogue formatting (the capitalization and punctuation surrounding your dialogue), which is another problem that I’ve been seeing in almost every single manuscript, then what confidence is an agent or editor going to have in your skills?

Basically, leaving simple spelling, grammar, and formatting errors in your manuscripts is setting yourself up for a completely preventable tragedy. And what am I always talking about? Giving yourself a stronger shot at success. The two don’t go hand-in-hand.

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22. Baby Beaver

Instagram Photo

I am just learning how to connect images from my Instagram account into my blog.

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23. Emotional Wound: Financial Ruin Due To A Spouse’s Irresponsibility

When you’re writing a character, it’s important to know why she is the way she is. Knowing her backstory is important to achieving this end, and one of the most impactful pieces of a character’s backstory is her emotional wound. This negative experience from the past is so intense that a character will go to great lengths to avoid experiencing that kind of pain and negative emotion again. As a result, certain behaviors, beliefs, and character traits will emerge.

debtCharacters, like real people, are unique, and will respond to wounding events differently. The vast array of possible emotional wounds combined with each character’s personality gives you many options in terms of how your character will turn out. With the right amount of exploration, you should be able to come up with a character whose past appropriately affects her present, resulting in a realistic character that will ring true with readers. Understanding what wounds a protagonist bears will also help you plot out her arc, creating a compelling journey of change that will satisfy readers.

NOTE: We realize that sometimes a wound we profile may have personal meaning, stirring up the past for some of our readers. It is not our intent to create emotional turmoil. Please know that we research each wounding topic carefully to treat it with the utmost respect. 



  • Secretly overextending credit and being unable to hide the lie any longer
  • Gambling debts
  • Investments that have soured which one’s spouse has kept quiet about
  • Draining one’s accounts to pay for a habit (drinking, drugs, prostitutes, etc.)
  • A spouse who loses their job and uses savings to cover it up
  • A spouse who was cat-fished during an extra-marital affair
  • Falling prey to scams and not wising up in time
  • A spouse who helps a friend or relative and is left holding the bag
  • A spouse who is a hoarder/collector
  • A spouse who is addicted to online shopping
  • A spouse who maxes credit cards in secret

Basic Needs Often Compromised By This Wound: physiological needs, safety and security, love and belonging, esteem and recognition, self-actualization

False Beliefs That May Be Embraced As a Result of This Wound:

  • I can’t trust anyone to handle money but myself
  • I can’t trust my own instincts
  • I need to control all aspects of my life
  • I need to use my head, not my heart
  • The only way my future is safe is if I am in control

Positive Attributes That May Result: analytical, cautious, decisive, disciplined, efficient, industrious, intelligent, meticulous, organized, persistent, proactive, protective, resourceful, sensible, thrifty, wise

Negative Traits That May Result: compulsive, controlling, greedy, humorless, impatient, inflexible, judgemental, nagging, obsessive, possessive, resentful, stingy, workaholic, worrywart

Resulting Fears:

  • Fear of trusting in the wrong person
  • Fear of poverty
  • Fear of the future
  • Fear of going in debt
  • Fear of making a bad decision with lasting effects
  • Fear of illness or disaster
  • Fear of risks

Possible Habits That May Emerge:

  • Obsessive bank account watching
  • Demanding to know how money is being spent within the family (wanting to see receipts, etc.)
  • Restricting access to one’s accounts and investments
  • Refusing to use credit cards
  • Coupon-clipping
  • Avoiding social situations where one will be expected to spend money
  • Only engaging in free activities
  • Feeling guilty when one spends money on oneself
  • Buying used rather than new
  • Minimizing the importance of holidays to avoid having to buy gifts (Birthdays, Christmas, etc.)
  • Not going out with friends to avoid spending money
  • Reusing and repurposing
  • Going without
  • Becoming anti-risk (to one’s health, with one’s things, etc.)
  • Taking advantage of any money-making opportunity
  • Taking on extra jobs and sacrificing down time to do so

TIP: If you need help understanding the impact of these factors, please read our introductory post on the Emotional Wound Thesaurus. For our current list of Emotional Wound Entries, go here.

For other Descriptive Thesaurus Collections, go here.

Image: StevePB @ Pixabay

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24. The Emotion Roller Coaster: Why Characters Resist Change

I’m reading this fascinating book right now about the human brain (yes, really!) that details how our gray matter works, and how we can evolve ourselves through concentrated intention and awareness. One of the terrific nuggets is the belief that every emotion, good or bad, sends a flood of chemicals through the body, and that repeated “doses” of this cocktail turns our brain into a bit of an addict, making it hard to break an emotional habit should we wish to.

brainWhat does this mean? Well, if you are trying to claw past feelings of low self-worth brought on by past trauma, or you’re determined to think positively and fight the cloud of pessimism that always seems to envelope you, your brain may actually work against you. Why? Because you’re denying it the rush of chemicals it’s gotten used to. So, craving a hit, it hammers your mind with defeatist thoughts (you’ll never be good enough, so why try? or, someone else would have handled that better) which encourage you to “give in,” and feel the very thing (emotion/chemical mix) you’re trying to avoid.

dead flowerAnyway, this is an oversimplification so I recommend reading the book, but it got me thinking about WHY change is so hard for us, and therefore our characters as well.

First off, change is HUGE.

It triggers an emotional response because we need time to process it. In essence, we’re giving up one idea for something else. It’s the death of one thing, and the birth of another.

Because of this, characters facing change may experience the 5 Stages of Grief:


What? I don’t need to change! Everything’s fine, F-I-N-E.


How dare you tell me I must change! I’ll cut you, I swear.


My life is over–nothing will ever be the same. I am losing who I am. #cuewallowing


But…what if I just do X? That’s good enough, right? Come on, help a bro out. 


Well, this is the new normal I guess. Better get on with it.

And, in some circumstances, characters will skip the queue and go right to Acceptance, because the change represents something they have longed for or really need. They may feel RELIEF, GRATITUDE or even EXCITEMENT.


But much more often, characters resist, creating a beautiful tug-of-war between Inner Motivation and Inner Conflict, which adds story tension.

Here are some of the common reasons people (and therefore characters) fight change:

Comfort Zone Issues (FEAR)

One of the biggest reasons to resist is our need to maintain the status quo. The comfort zone is known and safe. We like it here. Sure, it’s not perfect, and sometimes it may feel like we’re in a rut, but we’re used to it and know how things works. But…out there in the badlands? Who knows what kind of clown-crazy goes on. Maybe it’s better, but maybe it’s worse. We just don’t know, and neither do our characters, and flight-or-fight instincts can push us to pick what we know over what we don’t.

Threats To The Status Quo (RESENTMENT)

Remember that epic party you threw when your parents went out of town, but then the cops came and busted it up? Okay, well maybe you don’t, but either way, no one likes it when someone or something messes up a good thing. If there’s a threat to your character’s dominance, authority, or control, it’s rarely well received. Your character may not only oppose the change, they might fight back, hard.

conflictIt Upsets Personal Autonomy (ANGER)

Many of us want to carve our own path, so when someone shows up to tell us we can’t, it causes serious friction. Characters will also naturally resist change if it means giving up freedom or control, unless they are self-aware enough to see it makes sense for the greater good.

It Requires A Leap Of Faith (UNCERTAINTY)

When it comes to our well-being, we want to glimpse the end zone or see data points before making big decisions that affect not only us but possibly others we care about as well. And, like us, if a proposed change has too many unknowns, or could have unmapped side effects, most characters will adopt a “wait and see” mentality and delay decisions, hoping more information will be forthcoming and allow them to make a more informed choice.

A Lack of Confidence (SKEPTICISM)

Sometimes a change isn’t bad, but the plan in place or the person manning the helm is. If a character doesn’t have faith in the leader or feels the plan is somehow fundamentally flawed, they will resist change…especially if they have a better idea on how to move forward.

Painful Past Lessons (RELUCTANCE & DREAD)

Sometimes change is a merry-go-round, and characters who have ridden this particular ride before and it didn’t end well are reluctant to saddle up again. The deeper the pain, the more resistance the character will display. Wounds are powerful and can easily override logic, leaving characters blind to an important truth even if it is staring them in the face.

Change isn’t easy…and often comes at a price

If you’d like help planning your character’s emotional roller coaster as they navigate a change arc, you may find our Story Map tool at One Stop For Writers really helpful. And while you’re there, check out the Emotion Thesaurus and the 15 new entries we’ve added to it.

AFGM_One Stop ExampleHappy writing!

 How does your hero or heroine resist change? Let me know in the comments!


Image 1: Geralt @ Pixabay
Image 2: Wenphotos @ pixabay
Image 3: PublicDomainImages @ pixabay


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25. An Authorial Bookstore

Books and BooksYou may have seen the piece in Publishers Weekly. Judy Blume, Bookseller, it was called.  When I saw the title I just assumed it was just about one of those events when authors go into bookstores and take over for the employees for a day.  Instead, what I found was that Ms. Blume opened up an independent bookstore with her husband as recently as two months ago and she helps run it regularly.*

Ms. Blume is hardly the first author to go into the bookstore business.  Just off the top of my head I can come up with bookstores owned or started by Louise Erdrich, Ann Patchett, and Jeff Kinney.  In fact, I was at an author dinner a little less than a year ago and the booksellers there were talking about Kinney’s store.  Some had applied to work there, but hadn’t gotten the job.  It was apparently the place to be.

It’s interesting to look at the state of the independent bookstore today.  For the first time in years they’re doing well.  In 2015 alone, 61 ABA (American Bookseller Association) stores opened up with 16 sold to new owners.  Used bookstores are making a comeback.  Even evil Amazon is trying to open up physical locations, in the wake of the death of Borders.

That said, there is room for more.  There is ALWAYS room for more.  So it gets me to thinking.  What if every ridiculously successful author opened a bookstore too?  James Patterson, I would argue, already does a great deal of literary good.  Still, shouldn’t he have a bookstore?  Where is Carl Hiaasen’s in Florida?  Sherman Alexie’s in Seattle?  Why doesn’t J.K. Rowling have one in Scotland or Stephanie Meyer in Forks, Washington?

IBD logoThe world needs more independent bookstores.  Obviously these authors (some of them anyway) want to be writing.  Well, who’s to say you can’t delegate?  So come on, ridiculously successful writers!  Take that cash you made and pour it back into the community.  And carry good scones.  I love a good scone.

By the way, don’t forget that Saturday, April 30th is Independent Bookstore Day.  Let’s all go out there and give these folks great gobs of money, hand over fist.

*If you read the piece in PW, please identify the book she is hand-selling for two points.


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