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26. Bunny Rabbit Paper Bag Puppet


I'm in the process of creating some new activity pages to coincide with my latest book that is coming out in a few weeks.  But I felt like this weekend was a perfect time for this super simple rabbit puppet.  Just download the free PDF and cut out the face and hands and glue them to a paper lunch sack.  Ta da! a bunny rabbit for Easter.

Download the PDF here...

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27. Body Language: Eye Contact

The eyes are the windows to the soul. They are one of the most expressive features of the face.

Humans are not the only animal that finds eye contact important.  Staring at a cat conveys aggression. A slow blink conveys love. All the posturing male animals perform is a waste of time unless they have an audience watching their moves.

Especially on first meeting, good eye contact conveys that you are confident, trustworthy, and in control. It can express admiration if accompanied with a smile. Good eye contact is a general indicator of self-esteem. Though, lowering one's eyes can be a sign of respect in some parts of the world.

Eye contact during conversation conveys interest and connection. Engaging in eye contact shows that you are truly interested. Breaking eye contact can signal it is someone else's turn to talk.

A gaze can tantalize, mesmerize, and hypnotize.

Refusing eye contact can mean yourr character is angry, sad, guilty, or embarrassed. Keeping one's head down or averting a gaze can be a signal of insecurity, deceit, or low self-esteem. Widened eyes or narrowed eys convey shock, disbelief, and anger. People blink more when they are uncomfortable.

A person covers his eyes when he does not want to see something or is afraid that someone will see an emotion he does not want to reveal.

Eye blinks, winks, fluttered lashes, etc.can be a flirting game. He looks at her. She looks at him. They both look away. He chances a longer look. Does she look back and hold contact? Should he approach? The answer often lies in this exchange of glances.

Fast blinking can indicate agitation. Slow blinks can indicate shock or exhaustion.

The first part of the body a character looks at can reveal a lot about them. Do a male character's eyes always focus on a woman's chest? Does a female character always look at a man's ring finger?

Staring is generally considered rude or stalker creepy, but could signal surprise, startle,  disbelief, trying to remember where you saw someone, or noting something out of place.

If someone's gaze flits around the room, they are either looking for someone specific, or could be a spy, or cop on the job. Sherlock Holmes is the master of noticing small details others miss. A trained observer can tell a lot about another person with a single glance.

Gazes can convey entire conversations and serve as signals.

Public speakers and performers are taught to look out into the audience, picking specific people or cues, moving from one side of the room to another to make everyone feel included.

Eye contact can become a battle of aggression. He who looks away first, loses.

Normal eye contact for one culture could be considered rude to another. In Muslim countries, eye contact with women is discouraged. Intense eye contact between people of the same sex can mean the person is sincere and telling the truth.

In the hierarchy of Asian cultures, subordinates should not make eye contact with superiors. Lowered eyes can be a sign of respect.

In some African cultures, prolonged eye contact is considered aggressive.

Utilize gestures appropriately, particularly when writing about specific geographic locations. Do your research. If you are making up a completely new word, decide what the normal parameters are and keep it consistent.

The eye roll, while it is physically impossible, is a term that is generally accepted in American culture. Technically the orbit rotates within the eye socket. However, that is akward. Most people don't care if it is technically correct. They know what it means. Just don't use eye rolls in every chapter.

Eyes close, fill with tears, open wide, blink, wink, and scrunch. Eyes cannot travel, roll, graze, skewer, etc. It is one's gaze that moves. Make sure you do a search and kill for the word eye and replace it with gaze when appropriate. Make sure the eye movement is essential to the scene and is not overused.

Next time, we discuss lying.

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28. Sharing Some Exciting News

I'm proud to announce my second professional book with Stenhouse Publishers will be coming to you in the winter of 2016.

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29. Mixed Pattern Tank Top

Mixed Pattern Tank Top

This was another little experiment playing around with pattern mashups. I traced a favorite T-shirt to make a pattern, then played around with the shoulder width (the original shirt had sleeves) until it felt right. I finished the arm and neck holes with a banded treatment. I especially like the floral edging with the stripey part.

I’m pretty happy with the results, though there are plenty of imperfections. I’d like to try another using a walking foot on my machine. I think I can get a smoother finish that way.

Unfortunately the color didn’t come out so great on these photos, so I don’t think they quite do it justice, but what can I say? There are only so many hours in a day a girl can spend on modeling, am I right?

My nine-year-old wants to steal this shirt, so that makes me feel pretty successful. The fabrics are once again from Girl Charlee, and I love their softness and fun prints, but I’d also love to see more fabrics that are over 90% natural fibers and am willing to pay. It gets too hot so quickly around here to be wearing fabrics with a fair amount of poly. My two cents.

Okay, back to work. I have to prepare a presentation I’m doing with some fifth graders next week about writing an early reader.

Hope you have a great weekend. I finally have plans to see The Grand Budapest Hotel. Yippeee!

If you want to see more of my sewing adventures/ experiments, click here.

Colorblock Tank Top


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30. Body Language: Gestures

Gestures are not random. They have purpose. They illustrate. They convey the words we do not speak. They confirm, deny, or emphasize what we say. People "talk with their hands."


Gestures vary from person to person and culture to culture. People can have nervous ticks. They can have "tells" that indicate they are lying, anxious, or unhappy. Use gestures wisely.

If a gesture begins before the words, it is a sign of honesty.

If a gesture lags after the words, it's considered a sign of dishonesty.

A gesture can be involuntary but squelched by the character. This is especially true if he is angry with someone he cares about or fears.

Gestures include: 

air kisses 

averted gaze 

bared teeth 

biting cuticles, hair, lips, or nails 

blowing raspberries 

bowing 

chewing inside of lips or cheek 

crossing ankles 

crossing/uncrossing arms 

crossing/uncrossing legs 

curtsey 

cuticle picking 

elbow bump 

eye rolling (or eye-ball rotating) 

eyebrows lift 

eyebrows wrinkle 

finger curling 

finger pointing 

fist shaking 

fist swinging 

flapping hands 

flicking fingernails 

fingernail tapping 

genuflecting 

grasping elbows 

gripping hands 

hands behind back 

hands over face 

hands over heart 

hands together 

hands wide 

hat tip 

index finger raised 

kowtow 

lip curls or purses 

looking down 

looking up 

looking to the side 

lowering arms 

lowering hands 

middle finger raised 

mooning 

mouth purses 

mouth tightens 

nodding 

nose thumbing 

nose wrinkles 

pointing 

pouting 

raising arms in the air 

rubbing earlobe 

rubbing fingers 

rubbing hands 

scratching 

scratching chin, ear, nose, or throat 

shaking head 

shrugging 

sneering 

sticking out tongue 

swinging legs 

slash throat with hand 

smoothing hair 

tapping fingers or toes 

tucking legs under 

thumbs up 

thumbs down 

thumb to the side 

tightening fist 

tugging clothes 

tugging an ear 

tugging hair 

saluting 

sweeping hands 

waving 

Keep this list handy and add to it. 

When revising, cut repetition and make sure the gesture is used for a good reason at the right time.

Next week, we'll discuss eye contact.

All of the information on body language can be found in Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers.

http://www.amazon.com/Story-Building-Blocks-III-Revision/dp/1475011369

http://www.amazon.com/Story-Building-Blocks-III-Revision-ebook/dp/B007SPPL68

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31. Body Language: Facial Expressions


There are myriad muscles that control the brow, chin, eyes, jaw, nose, and mouth. Some people can wiggle their ears. Different cultures utilize different expressions. Looking away may be deceptive in America, but indicative of respect in Japan. The important part when revising for body language is to note when and how you relate facial expressions and to avoid repetition and purple prose. One should not wriggle one's eyebrows while leering.


A character cannot control fleeting micro-expressions, the initial emotional response, but he quickly recovers from them. Facial expressions reflect our feelings about what is done and said, sometimes more eloquently or more obviously than we intend. Someone told me that there were only two true emotions: fear and love (or pleasure and pain). All other expressions stem from those two. The micro-expression field of study acknowledges seven. Love isn't one of them.

Unless the character is a professional interrogator, he is not going to hook Dick up to a lie detector, register his body heat and pulse, or measure the dilation of his pupils. There are, however, emotional triggers and signs that humans register in the space of a second. Most of your characters aren’t trained to recognize them. There are several personality types that pick up on nonverbal cues exceptionally well. If you want your detective to be a natural lie detector, pick one of them.

If you pay attention to what is happening in the body when a heightened emotion is experienced, you can make your characters believable. Highlight the places in your manuscript where you discuss emotions. Take a careful look at the choreography and word choices.

Anger: The jaw clenches. The lips thin and lift in a snarl. The nostrils flare. The eyebrows draw together. Aggression is a response to fear or a response to boundary violations. When Dick is angry, he may puff himself up to appear larger and stare his opponent into submission. His brow furrows. His blood pressure rises. The stress triggers a neurochemical cocktail in response to the fight or flight instinct. He flushes and clenches his fists. His sweat glands kick in. His muscles are primed to strike. He may shake his fist or point his finger. He may drift forward slightly, or step forward deliberately, depending on how much of a threat the opponent represents. His tone either lowers in warning or rises, depending on the circumstances. His anger may continue to simmer after the altercation. He usually vents to other people or indulges in a physical action to release it.

Anger can be expressed passively. After the initial response of jaw, nose, and lips, Jane may turn silent and look away. She may mutter under her breath or fake smile. She has the same physiological response, but her conscious instinct is to hide it. Passive people who are angry often cry when furious. As her throat closes and her blood boils, she becomes incoherent. She goes into wait and watch mode. Her anger simmers but she holds onto it. She is more likely to gossip and indirectly sabotage the person she is angry with. Temperament plays a role in how anger is expressed.

Contempt: A corner of the lip tightens and lifts. Contempt is in response to an intellectual boundary violation. Dick may make scornful or sarcastic comments. He may consciously override his initial response in an attempt to hide his disdain. He could state his true feelings in the matter. Contempt is in response to something or someone he does not believe, agree with, or like. He may deny his contempt, but his face betrays him.

Disgust: The nostrils clench and upper lip lifts. Dick may frown and pull back. He may flinch or purse his lips. He may utter exclamations of disgust in response. His heart rate slows. Disgust is in response to something he fears or abhors at gut level. His body retracts. He may put out his hand or wave someone away.

Fear: The upper lids and eyebrows lift. The lips stretch wide and pupils dilate. Fear is in response to a physical or emotional violation. Dick can react with mild fear or outright terror, depending on the stimulus. His response is instantaneous and involuntary. Dick's senses go on high alert. His fight or flight response is triggered. He either freezes or retracts. He may gasp. His muscles prepare to escape or avoid. He sweats. He shivers. The hair shafts stiffen. His pulse rate increases. He may go into shock, depending on the stimulus. His flesh may feel cold as the blood rushes to prime the muscles in his hands and legs and fuels the brain. He may step back or turn to run. He may cover his face and head with his arms. The rush of neurochemicals leaves him feeling shaky after the stimulus is dealt with.

Happiness: The corners of the lips lift, the teeth may show. The cheeks plump. The muscles around the eyes are engaged and wrinkles appear. The eyes may widen, or narrow if the nose wrinkles. Jane's posture relaxes and expands. She moves toward someone or something. Her body language is expansive. Neurochemicals induce a high. She may laugh. She is verbal and inclined to touch. She may be mildly delighted or completely overjoyed. Her focus may broaden to take in others. She wants to share her feeling.


Sadness: Pupils narrow. Upper eyelids droop. Corners of lips turn down. Sadness is a response to loss or hurt feelings. Jane's body language closes in protectively. She may cross her arms, lower her head, or turn away. She may grow quiet and have trouble speaking. Her throat feels constricted. Her eyes and nose prickle and water. Her chest feels heavy. She may become more aware of her pulse and breathing. A strong stimulus can feel like a blow to the viscera. She may gasp, cover her abdomen, or bend over. She may transition to shock. Sadness may be followed quickly by anger. With extreme grief, she may scream or yell. Her body may crumple to the floor. She holds herself and rocks back and forth. Crying can be soft and silent or guttural and loud. It can pass quickly or go on for minutes. The initial blast may be followed by softer gushes as Jane calms down.

Surprise: The eyebrows lift and eyes open wide. The forehead furrows. Surprise can be a response to something positive, negative, or neutral. Jane can have a quick startle or a longer shock wave. The reaction can be followed immediately by fear, joy, or confusion. Depending on the stimulus, the jaw drops. Surprise is usually quick and over, but the stimulus sometimes makes Jane ruminate on it for some time. She may share her surprise with others in an attempt to understand it.

Next time, we will take a look at gestures.

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32. Can We Save the Tiger? (Part 1)

tiger

Can We Save the Tiger?

By Martin Jenkins

Illustrated by Vicky White

Candlewick Press, 2011

Category: Picture book nonfiction

As I mentioned in a recent post, I’ve committed myself to a self-directed study of structure in children’s nonfiction. So, for several weeks now I’ve been re-reading some of my favorite titles and exploring their structures more deeply. What structure did the author choose to shape his or her story? In what ways does this structure work well for the piece? Are there ways that it doesn’t? And so on. Here are my not-so-short thoughts on structure in the brilliant picture book CAN WE SAVE THE TIGER?

First of all, after seeing that cover, how could one not pick up this book? Between the breathtaking drawing of a tiger and the irresistible challenge of saving it, I can’t imagine walking away. Can we save the tiger? Good gosh, I hope so. I truly, truly hope so. And before I dive into the structure, I have to dedicate at least one more word to the art. That word: magnificent. I’d read this book even if it had no text. I’d pore over Vicky White’s animal studies and I would weep for their suffering. I truly would. If you haven’t seen these drawings for yourself, you are missing out on something both beautiful and moving.

Of course, I’m a word girl, and so you won’t be surprised to hear that I think White’s art is, in fact, better for having been paired with the words of Martin Jenkins. Exploring the human-driven extinction of some of the world’s most beloved animals in a book for the elementary ages is not an easy task, but Jenkins is up to it. He tells the hard truth, but balances it with hope and invitation: we humans have made life on Earth hard for some animals, we can do better, you can help.

And guess what? Having studied the book more closely this week, I think it’s safe to say that Jenkins’ structural choices play a big role in how successfully these messages reach his readers.

Are you up for a romp through this special book? Great. Go on and give it a read. Tomorrow I’ll post my thoughts on its structure, and you can, if you wish, add your take on the matter. Be forewarned: my ruminations on the structure are longer than the book itself!. That’s why I’ve decided to break the post up. I hope you’ll stay tuned anyway …


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33. Can We Save the Tiger? (Part 1)

tiger

Can We Save the Tiger?

By Martin Jenkins

Illustrated by Vicky White

Candlewick Press, 2011

Category: Picture book nonfiction

As I mentioned in a recent post, I’ve committed myself to a self-directed study of structure in children’s nonfiction. So, for several weeks now I’ve been re-reading some of my favorite titles and exploring their structures more deeply. What structure did the author choose to shape his or her story? In what ways does this structure work well for the piece? Are there ways that it doesn’t? And so on. Here are my not-so-short thoughts on structure in the brilliant picture book CAN WE SAVE THE TIGER?

First of all, after seeing that cover, how could one not pick up this book? Between the breathtaking drawing of a tiger and the irresistible challenge of saving it, I can’t imagine walking away. Can we save the tiger? Good gosh, I hope so. I truly, truly hope so. And before I dive into the structure, I have to dedicate at least one more word to the art. That word: magnificent. I’d read this book even if it had no text. I’d pore over Vicky White’s animal studies and I would weep for their suffering. I truly would. If you haven’t seen these drawings for yourself, you are missing out on something both beautiful and moving.

Of course, I’m a word girl, and so you won’t be surprised to hear that I think White’s art is, in fact, better for having been paired with the words of Martin Jenkins. Exploring the human-driven extinction of some of the world’s most beloved animals in a book for the elementary ages is not an easy task, but Jenkins is up to it. He tells the hard truth, but balances it with hope and invitation: we humans have made life on Earth hard for some animals, we can do better, you can help.

And guess what? Having studied the book more closely this week, I think it’s safe to say that Jenkins’ structural choices play a big role in how successfully these messages reach his readers.

Are you up for a romp through this special book? Great. Go on and give it a read. Tomorrow I’ll post my thoughts on its structure, and you can, if you wish, add your take on the matter. Be forewarned: my ruminations on the structure are longer than the book itself!. That’s why I’ve decided to break the post up. I hope you’ll stay tuned anyway …


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34. Can We Save The Tiger? (Part 2)

tiger

Can We Save the Tiger?

By Martin Jenkins

Illustrated by Vicky White

Candlewick Press, 2011

Category: Picture book nonfiction

Today I’m sharing some thoughts on the structure used by author Martin Jenkins in his picture book, CAN WE SAVE THE TIGER? (For a more detailed introduction to this plan, read yesterday’s post.)

The story Jenkins shares in CAN WE SAVE THE TIGER is a broad one: we humans are changing the planet and the animals that live here are paying the price. The menagerie of species considered endangered by human activities is overwhelming, so Jenkins separates them into five loose groups. Using a single high-impact example from each group, he then shares the extinction story in small doses, one endangered animal at a time. The resulting structure—a collage of sorts—brings readers to an unforgettable conclusion: losing species is unbearable and we must act.

Let’s look at this collage structure more closely, shall we? Here’s how I see it …

Snapshot 1: Animals that are running out of room. In other words, big animals, like the titular tiger. Jenkins’ voice throughout the book is lovely, and here, early on, we see how his choice to speak directly to the reader is effective:

“… if you were a poor farmer trying to make a living with a couple of cows and a few goats, you might not be too happy if you found there was a hungry tiger living nearby. And if you knew that someone might pay you more for a tiger skin and some bones than you could earn in three whole months of working in the fields, then you might find it very tempting to set a trap or two, even if you knew it was against the law.”

Of course the reader wants to save tigers. But the reader can also understand a poor farmer’s motives. With this carefully chosen first snapshot, the reader is hooked.

Snapshot 2: Animals that are endangered as a result of human-introduced predators. Here Jenkins shows us a tiny snail, a satisfying juxtaposition to the tiger and, I think, a subtle nod to the idea that endangered species run the gamut from BIG to SMALL (and, of course, everything in between; see the UGLY addition below). In his image of the partula snail, we see how the movement of species by humans can have unforeseen and unintended consequences for other species.

Snapshot 3: Animals that are impacted not by movement but by other human actions. Here we add to the idea of running the gamut: even UGLY animals, like vultures, are vulnerable. By now the reader is wondering if there are animals that aren’t endangered.

Snapshot 4: Animals that were nearly extinct but came back. The reader is ready for this bit of good news. Bison were forced to the edge of the extinction abyss by human actions, but we managed to pull them back from that edge in time. This snapshot is a much needed and well-timed picture of hope.

Snapshot 5: Animals that were nearly extinct, that we are trying to help, but which are still in trouble. Here Jenkins makes it clear there is still much to worry about. If we are lucky, as with the bison, we can reverse the damage of our bad habits. But sometimes we will act too late. It’s still not clear if we will be able to save the kakapo.

Each of these snapshots is actually a distinct story, a small narrative starring the animal in question and its plight. Arranged side-by-side, however, and with Vicky White’s art, the snapshots give readers a deeper and broader view of animal extinction on planet Earth. They build a perfect collage.

The effectiveness of such the collage structure, of course, is tied to the logic of its presentation. The order in which the individual images are presented to the reader must make sense, even if the reader only experiences that logic subconsciously. Jenkins shows us something big, moves on to something small, then adds something ugly, something hopeful, and something sobering. Another order of these images could, perhaps, build an effective collage. The point, however, is that there are certain orders that would not work at all … and Jenkins knew enough not to use them.

For example, starting with the kakapo, a squat and relatively unknown critter, is technically possible … but such an opening would have been much less compelling than the tiger opening. And Jenkins would have lost the lovely juxtaposition that so nicely relayed the breadth of the extinction problem. (That is, the big-small-and-everything-in-between gamut I mentioned earlier.) Starting with the tiger, an animal all readers will recognize and most will admire, gave the author a much stronger opening …  and plenty of room to transition into a second image.

Here’s something else that struck me about the collage structure: the importance of the order in which the snapshots were presented is very important, but it is not something I recognized on first reading the book. In fact, I didn’t give it a thought! On some subconscious level, the order worked for me, so, I sank into the book and enjoyed the read. The writer is the only one who needs to think the snapshot order logic through. If he does his job well, the structure will be invisible. Readers will read. Choose the wrong order, however, and readers are likely to stumble. I think Jenkins nailed it.

That’s a lot to digest in one post, so I’m going to stop here. Tomorrow I’ll share my final thoughts on this book and the collage structure. In the meanwhile, feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments; I’d love to hear them.


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35. Can We Save The Tiger? (Part 2)

tiger

Can We Save the Tiger?

By Martin Jenkins

Illustrated by Vicky White

Candlewick Press, 2011

Category: Picture book nonfiction

Today I’m sharing some thoughts on the structure used by author Martin Jenkins in his picture book, CAN WE SAVE THE TIGER? (For a more detailed introduction to this plan, read yesterday’s post.)

The story Jenkins shares in CAN WE SAVE THE TIGER is a broad one: we humans are changing the planet and the animals that live here are paying the price. The menagerie of species considered endangered by human activities is overwhelming, so Jenkins separates them into five loose groups. Using a single high-impact example from each group, he then shares the extinction story in small doses, one endangered animal at a time. The resulting structure—a collage of sorts—brings readers to an unforgettable conclusion: losing species is unbearable and we must act.

Let’s look at this collage structure more closely, shall we? Here’s how I see it …

Snapshot 1: Animals that are running out of room. In other words, big animals, like the titular tiger. Jenkins’ voice throughout the book is lovely, and here, early on, we see how his choice to speak directly to the reader is effective:

“… if you were a poor farmer trying to make a living with a couple of cows and a few goats, you might not be too happy if you found there was a hungry tiger living nearby. And if you knew that someone might pay you more for a tiger skin and some bones than you could earn in three whole months of working in the fields, then you might find it very tempting to set a trap or two, even if you knew it was against the law.”

Of course the reader wants to save tigers. But the reader can also understand a poor farmer’s motives. With this carefully chosen first snapshot, the reader is hooked.

Snapshot 2: Animals that are endangered as a result of human-introduced predators. Here Jenkins shows us a tiny snail, a satisfying juxtaposition to the tiger and, I think, a subtle nod to the idea that endangered species run the gamut from BIG to SMALL (and, of course, everything in between; see the UGLY addition below). In his image of the partula snail, we see how the movement of species by humans can have unforeseen and unintended consequences for other species.

Snapshot 3: Animals that are impacted not by movement but by other human actions. Here we add to the idea of running the gamut: even UGLY animals, like vultures, are vulnerable. By now the reader is wondering if there are animals that aren’t endangered.

Snapshot 4: Animals that were nearly extinct but came back. The reader is ready for this bit of good news. Bison were forced to the edge of the extinction abyss by human actions, but we managed to pull them back from that edge in time. This snapshot is a much needed and well-timed picture of hope.

Snapshot 5: Animals that were nearly extinct, that we are trying to help, but which are still in trouble. Here Jenkins makes it clear there is still much to worry about. If we are lucky, as with the bison, we can reverse the damage of our bad habits. But sometimes we will act too late. It’s still not clear if we will be able to save the kakapo.

Each of these snapshots is actually a distinct story, a small narrative starring the animal in question and its plight. Arranged side-by-side, however, and with Vicky White’s art, the snapshots give readers a deeper and broader view of animal extinction on planet Earth. They build a perfect collage.

The effectiveness of the collage structure, of course, is tied to the logic of its presentation. The order in which the individual images are presented to the reader must make sense, even if the reader only experiences that logic subconsciously. Jenkins shows us something big, moves on to something small, then adds something ugly, something hopeful, and something sobering. Another order of these images could, perhaps, build an effective collage. The point, however, is that there are certain orders that would not work at all … and Jenkins knew enough not to use them.

For example, starting with the kakapo, a squat and relatively unknown critter, is technically possible … but such an opening would have been much less compelling than the tiger opening. And Jenkins would have lost the lovely juxtaposition that so nicely relayed the breadth of the extinction problem. (That is, the big-small-and-everything-in-between gamut I mentioned earlier.) Starting with the tiger, an animal all readers will recognize and most will admire, gave the author a much stronger opening …  and plenty of room to transition into a second image.

Here’s something else that struck me about the collage structure: the importance of the order in which the snapshots were presented is very important, but it is not something I recognized on first reading the book. In fact, I didn’t give it a thought! On some subconscious level, the order worked for me, so, I sank into the book and enjoyed the read. The writer is the only one who needs to think the snapshot order logic through. If he does his job well, the structure will be invisible. Readers will read. Choose the wrong order, however, and readers are likely to stumble. I think Jenkins nailed it.

That’s a lot to digest in one post, so I’m going to stop here. Tomorrow I’ll share my final thoughts on this book and the collage structure. In the meanwhile, feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments; I’d love to hear them.


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36. Can We Save the Tiger? (Part 3)

tiger

Can We Save the Tiger?

By Martin Jenkins

Illustrated by Vicky White

Candlewick Press, 2011

Category: Picture book nonfiction

If you’ve been around this week, you know I’m in the midst of a self-directed study of structure in children’s nonfiction books. If you missed them, you might want to check out my previous two posts (here and here) on CAN WE SAVE THE TIGER?

The book is structured like a collage, a collection of several short narratives that are impressive alone but which together tell a deeper story. (I got into the nitty gritty yesterday.) There are other more subtle structures at work in this book, though, and I want to be sure to mention them before I finish my study.

Jenkins starts by exploring the ways humans have visibly changed the world, and then he leads us, animal-by-animal (snapshot-by-snapshot) to the less obvious but equally dangerous invisible change we humans are engineering: climate change. This progression from visible to invisible is logical and probably unnoticed by most casual readers. But it’s effective in that it adds another layer of movement—logical movement—to the piece.

There is also a subtle but palpable emotional arc from the opening question (Can we save the tiger?) to the author’s feeling that a world with “no tigers or elephants, or sawfishes or whooping cranes, or albatrosses or ground iguanas” would be a shame. Jenkins’ final address to the reader (“don’t you?”) takes this arc even one step further. Could any reader resist this gentle pull toward the only imaginable ending? Do I think such a world would be a shame? Why, yes. Yes, I do.

Finally, the design of a children’s book lends a physical dimension to its structure and can, therefore, support textual and thematic structures. There are elements of the design of this book that demonstrate this, I think. For example, font changes are used to great effect: a bold font is used to name animals, gently emphasizing each; a chalky font is used to alert readers to pauses between snapshots (or mini narrative); and a traditional font is used for all the rest. What’s more, transition pages gently underscore the collage structure by offering artistic interludes between each section of the book (or, to use the language I’ve been using in these posts, between each snapshot in Jenkins’ collage)… and they give the artist room to share her glorious studies of animals that, like tigers, partula snails, vultures, bison and kakapos, are in trouble.

I could do several more posts on the ways, beyond structure, that this book works for me. Jenkins’ voice, for example, is superb. (By addressing readers directly, he allows them in to the story and keeps them there.) His descriptions? Lovely. (Partula snails “so small that one of them could happily spend its whole life in a medium-sized bush.”) But it’s time for me to move on to the next book, I think. This study is all about structure.

Bottom line from me? CAN WE SAVE THE TIGER is an engaging exploration of a difficult topic, and I think the structure Jenkins chose to build it with is a big part of its success with readers.


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37. Gift Cloths

Gift Wrap Cloths

Sorry for being away so long! I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving. Ours was nice and low-key, and featured some gluten-free apple pie. There was a big to-do about who got the last pieces, and not just among the GF folks. It’s that good.

The hubs and I also took a trip just before Thanksgiving, which I’ll have to tell you more about in another post.

Here I wanted to show you a little holiday craft we did. Last year I made gift cloths with Christmas fabric and existing Christmas linens, but this year I decided to add to the collection by decorating and sewing up scraps of fabric I already had in my stash.

The red and green stripe in the back left corner was made with watercolor-type fabric paints by Deka. I’ve had that paint forEVER. I tried to find a link to a place you can buy it, but it’s looking like it’s not sold in the US anymore. Bummer. It’s good stuff.

We decorated the fabric for the center red-ribboned present with Target brand “slick” fabric paints (you squeeze the bottles to draw with them). My least favorite fabric paint ever. Really poor quality, but we made the best of it.

The blue-ribboned gift cloth is pale pink, and we drew on it with Tee Juice markers, which are great for quick and easy projects, especially with kids. They are totally permanent, though, so, as with all of these supplies, dress accordingly.

Lastly, on the red-spotted cloth with the dark green ribbon, we used stamps with cheap acrylic paints from Michaels mixed with textile medium. This is one of my favorite ways to paint on fabric, because mixing it yourself gives you a wide range of choices. And in the end you aren’t left with a bunch of fabric paint you may never use again.

Below are some pre-decorated and hemmed gift cloths: a thrifted plaid tablecloth and two tea towels from Target marked down to 88¢!

The kids loved trying to guess what all these fake presents were, the favorite by far being the pink one below that’s wrapped like candy. It’s a sack of corn meal.

Loving this free printable nativity the kids can color themselves at Made by Joel.

Hope to be back soon with some details of our trip.

Gift Wrap Cloths


3 Comments on Gift Cloths, last added: 12/4/2013
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38. Quick Wreath from Back Yard Greenery

DIY greenery wreath

I got inspired to make a quick wreath after reading this blog post over on decor8 the other day.

I’d been planning to do something for our front door since our old wreath was so decrepit, but I hadn’t gotten around to it. I’d never considered using live greenery since the only ones I’d ever seen looked like they’d take a master’s degree in wreath artistry and a few months to create. Hello, Martha Stewart!

But the blog post made me see how pretty a quick, natural wreath could be, and I realized we had plenty of greenery in the back yard. I bought a form at Michael’s (about $4) and clipped various bushes: magnolia, Yaupon holly, rosemary, and wax myrtle.

Sadly, the regular floral wire was out at Michael’s, so I bought this stuff that’s kind of like a never-ending green twist tie. It’s not so bad. And I basically twist-tied the greenery on in a haphazard, overlapping circle. It took me about half an hour. The best part was not having to follow any directions.

Personally, I’m kind of smitten with its exuberant cowlicks. I would totally do this again. What about you? Have you made a wreath of your own?

In other news, with this being the last day of school for the year, I’m winding down my latest draft of my young adult novel and am readying it to send to a reader/ writer/ friend. Scary and exciting at the same time.

Hopefully I’ll be around a little bit over the break, but if not, Happy Holidays to you!

and p.s. We’ve been watching this hilarious show called Lilyhammer. It’s about an American mafioso-turned-informant who chooses Norway as his relocation destination. All kinds of funny cross-cultural issues come up. It stars Steven Van Zandt, of Sopranos and E-Street Band fame. You can find it on Netflix.


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39. New Year, New (ish) Projects

Dress Shirt Quilt

Happy New Year! Did you survive the holidays? Ours started out low key and then sped up after Christmas with the Colorado wedding of a dear friend, a couple of days of skiing, and 3 stitches in my lower lip after a minor fall.

Don’t worry, I’m fine! Luckily, nothing was broken, so I could go right back to skiing. Actually I can only find 2 stitches now. They are not the dissolvable kind, so I don’t know if I misplaced a stitch or if I just miscounted. Hmmm…

I’m finding, unexpectedly, that I kind of love January. Not for the weather. Who could love January weather, even in the South? But I love getting back into the routine and not having a bajillion outside actitivities to distract and exhaust me. And the days are getting just a tiny bit longer. So I’m told.

Currently I’m back to work on my nonfiction book for elementary-aged students. I’d taken several weeks away from it while focusing on my novel, and the break has really helped clarify things. It still needs a lot of work, but I’m excited to see how far it’s come since my initial brainstorm. I’ve been getting some feedback on both projects from writer friends, which is so invigorating!

The above picture is a sneak peek of a quilt I’m working on. It finally seems to be coming together, though it’s looking like spaghetti to me right now. For more sewing and quilting projects, click here.

What about you? What’s inspiring you this month? Reading anything fantastic? Stay warm, folks!


2 Comments on New Year, New (ish) Projects, last added: 1/13/2014
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40. Embroidered Wedding Portrait

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This is the story of a wedding gift (my contribution to it, anyway) for a dear friend. I thought you might like to see the process. The picture is of my friend Jamie and her husband, who got married last June. As a surprise to the couple, her mother asked friends and family each to complete a design on a muslin square. She collected the squares and then had them made into a patchwork quilt as a gift to Jamie and her husband.

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Jamie and I go way back, and a big part of our friendship has been about shared words. Books, movies, music, poetry, television. We have a lot of inside jokes about obscure quotes. So I sifted through our collective “library” of shared references, looking for the perfect quote to decorate the wedding square. Nothing seemed quite right.

When I saw the bride and groom, though, I knew nothing could be more Jamie and Jon than their fabulous wedding outfits.

I decided to make an embroidered picture and started with the best photo I had of the event. It’s blurry but gave me a good pose to work with. I used Picasa to play with the colors and then used the “posterize” effect to get the lines of the image to show up more clearly.

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I printed the picture, traced over the lines with a Sharpie, and then transferred these to the fabric with a temporary fabric marking pen.

Embroidery

I like the back almost as well as the front:

Embroidery backside

Here’s the final:

Embroidered Wedding Portrait

If you’re interested in seeing more of Jamie and Jon’s wedding, click here.

Meanwhile, I’m hard at work on my nonfiction project and just got some excellent notes on my novel from an old friend. A little sewing going on, which hopefully I can show you soon. Back to writing now!


8 Comments on Embroidered Wedding Portrait, last added: 1/23/2014
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41. Girl’s Waffle Knit Tunic

Thermal Knit Tunic

My girl loves knits. She’s nine now, but ever since I can remember, comfort has been her style priority. More often than not, this means knit fabrics. I really hesitate to buy her anything that’s made of wovens.

Occasionally, though, I have trouble finding as much variety as we want. (okay, there’s Mini Boden, which I love, but I’m not in love with their prices). This tunic was an experiment that started out as a dress in my mind. Until I ran out of fabric. Actually, I think if the pattern sizing was anywhere near the mark it probably would’ve made a dress, no problem.

I thought I’d try making a raglan T-shirt into a dress by lengthening the bottom, since raglan sleeves can be easier to deal with than the standard set-in kind. I used See & Sew B4322, which is really a pajama pattern, but that was the closest thing to what I wanted that I could find in the fabric store.

The directions are nice and straightforward, but like I said, the pattern sizing is off by a mile. I know my daughter is slim, but she’s not far off normal store-bought sizing. We ended up with, like, six inches of ease on the sides and a Flashdance neck.

But anyway, I made it work. I hacked off the sides, took in the shoulders, and gathered the neck (this was pre-finishing). I added a wide waistband what I had leftover, and I’m actually pretty happy with how it turned out. It’s long enough that she can wear it with leggings, which was the goal in the first place.

I realize I could’ve done a better job with the bow pattern (I’m pretty unexperienced with patterned fabric) but Little Miss doesn’t seem to care, so I don’t, either. Next time, I think I’ll just trace clothes she already has, rather than use that pattern (though the directions are still helpful).

The fabric came from Girl Charlee. I’ve been enjoying sewing with their fabrics. They are good quality and very reasonably priced, cute selection. If you’re a beginner with knits, I’d recommend going with medium weights. They are easier to work with. I do love these bows!

For more of my sewing adventure, click here. Hope you have a great weekend!


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42. Post-Snow Days Catch Up

Yaupon Holly in Snow

Hello there! It’s been awhile. What with the snow storm and my determination to focus most of my energies on my (book) writing, I haven’t had much time to be here, and I’ve missed it.

How about you? How did you survive the weather, those of you who had it? It was the biggest snowstorm I’ve ever seen in the South, and I’ve lived here most of my life. We were without power for a few hours, not too bad, and got in a good bit of sledding. I have to admit I’m glad to be back to a normal schedule, though. Except for the fact that my nine-year-old is being buried with homework and projects in an attempt to make up for lost time. Bless her dear little heart.

In other news, the local chapter of the Women’s National Book Association, along with the Charlotte Writer’s Club, had a great panel Tuesday night on writers and authors using social media. Very informative, with very knowledgeable guests. If you live in the area, you should check out these two groups.

Meanwhile, I finished Malcolm Gladwell’s latest (David and Goliath). Very Gladwell, very thought-provoking and entertaining. And now I’m diving into My Berlin Kitchen, given to me by a friend (thanks, Christina!). I looooove it! It’s written by a cooking blogger who grew up bouncing between Berlin and the U.S. I haven’t gotten too far, so I don’t know the story yet, but her style is so warm, so genuine and earthy. You throw that in with cooking and international living, and I’m so there. I’d recommend it to anyone but especially to my German-connection friends. It’s almost like sitting down to kaffe und kuchen with you. Almost.

Also, because I had to do something when I couldn’t use my sewing machine, I’ve unraveled a sweater to re-use its very worthy yarn. Don’t cry for it, Argentina. It was a very heavy, stiff sweater, out of style, that my husband hardly wore (and never since I’ve known him). I’m thinking of reincarnating it into some throw pillow covers. What do you think? The yarn is actually pretty soft, just soooo heavy for a sweater. It’s almost like soft rug yarn.

Unraveled sweater

If you’re insane like me and are interested in unraveling sweaters, there are tons of tutorials out there about it. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have a sweater with very chunky yarn. This one worked like a charm, I think because it must’ve been hand-knit, but sometimes unraveling can be more work than it’s worth. The tutorials can point you down the right path.

Lastly, I made this little piece with one of my photographs:

Sea bathing

Recognize the quote, anyone? This is where I go when I need the Calgon to take me away.

Okay, back to work. Cheers!


2 Comments on Post-Snow Days Catch Up, last added: 2/20/2014
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43. Mixed Pattern Playdress

Mixed Pattern Playdress

This is one of my favorite sewing projects ever. It’s simple, was really fun to sew, and my daughter’s face just glowed when she put it on the first time. It’s just so her, but I love it, too.

As I’ve mentioned before, she pretty much refuses to wear anything but knits. I’m always trying to find knit play dresses, and I fell in love with some from a certain British catalog that rhymes with Odin. I’m sure they would rather me write “catalogue,” am I right? Their prices are pretty steep for such simple dresses, though, and I thought, hey, I could make that! I’m kind of famous for saying that, but in this case, I actually did it.

From the catalog, we borrowed the idea of mixing patterns (which is also a big part of my daughter’s style) and went to the half-yard clearance section on Girl Charlee. Little Miss picked out the fabrics. I tried to get her to go with a contrasting color mix, but that was a non-starter. She specified no sleeves and a higher waistline with a full skirt.

For the bodice I traced another dress’s bodice. The skirt part is just a gathered rectangle. I used to be so scared of sewing with knits, but really, it’s not so bad once you get the hang of it. I definitely do better with slightly weightier knits. I used a regular machine (not a serger) and used zig zag, serger-ish-like, and triple stitches, depending on the seam/ application.

For some great tutorials on knit finishes, check this and this out.

This time, there are no booty issues (like here).

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For more of my sewing adventures, click here.


4 Comments on Mixed Pattern Playdress, last added: 3/19/2014
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44. Pre-labor before a plot is born

When women are getting ready to birth a child, there are often many signs that their body is ramping up for the big event. They might become restless, or have the urge to clean and organize, or experience a myriad of physical symptoms. 

I seem to have the same signs when a novel's plot is nearly done cooking in my brain.

I get incredibly restless. Nothing keeps my attention for more than a few minutes at a time. It feels like my brain is running at a really high rev--for no good reason. Lots of spinning, lots of smoke, no output. 

And I get the nesting urge too. All the laundry is done and put away. I put together bags of donations. I bake. 

It's not a comfortable time, mentally or physically. I don't sleep well. I binge on strange foods (sesame sticks mixed with chocolate chips!) and find myself pacing. 

Every single time this happens, a plot is born. Suddenly, the plot pieces that have been ping-ponging in my brain for months or years shift, as if I've twisted a kaleidoscope. 

Then it is time to run to the whiteboard and start sketching out the bones of my new novel. The plot has decided it is going to be born, and it will be born right now.

It is during this time that I best understand the obsessive nature of artists. I only want to work on this plot. Work, fun, food, none of it seems that important. Must. Birth. The. Plot.

When it's over, everything ramps down. I'm energized, because I want to write this thing. But my body and brain are on a steady pace now. They know that a marathon of writing, revising, and more revising is ahead--probably for the better part of a year. It's easier to sit down to work, and to focus. I have a goal in front of me.

I fear for the day that a series idea hits me full force. Triplets!

Can I handle it? 

Only if Trader Joe's keeps the sesame sticks in stock. Maybe some pickles, too. And dark chocolate... and those little pepperoni pizzas...

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45. Dissecting Christie Part 1


For the next few weeks, we are going to dissect The Crooked House by Agatha Christie.


The first layer we're going to examine is her use of theme. In The Crooked House, Christie used a children's rhyme to illustrate the bent and twisted nature of the family involved in the murder.

The following excerpts illustrate her use of the theme throughout the story.

Chapter 1

She added softly in a musing voice: “In a little crooked house …”

I must have looked slightly startled, for she seemed amused and explained by elaborating the quotation. “'And they all lived together in a crooked little house.' That’s us. Not really such a little house either. But definitely crooked – running to gables and half timbering!”


Chapter 3

I suddenly remembered the whole verse of the nursery rhyme:

There was a crooked man and he went a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence beside a crooked stile.
He had a crooked cat which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.


I wondered why it had been called Three Gables. Eleven gables would have been more apposite! The curious thing was that it had a strange air of being distorted – and I thought I knew why. It was the type, really, of a cottage, it was a cottage swollen out of all proportion. It was like looking at a country cottage through a gigantic magnifying-glass. The slant-wise beams, the half-timbering, the gables – it was a little crooked house that had grown like a mushroom in the night.

Chapter 8

This was the Original Crooked Little Man who had built the Crooked Little House – and without him the Crooked Little House had lost its meaning.

Chapter 13

I went down to the Crooked House (as I called it in my own mind) with a slightly guilty feeling.

Chapter 15

“I think that’s what I mean when I said we all lived together in a crooked little house. I didn’t mean that it was crooked in the dishonest sense. I think what I meant was that we hadn’t been able to grow up independent, standing by ourselves, upright. We’re all a bit twisted and twining (…) like bindweed."

Chapter 17

“He was a natural twister. He liked, if I may put it so, doing things the crooked way.”

Chapter 26

“We will go there together and you will forget the little Crooked House.”

Throughout the solving of the murder, the evidence twists and turns and reveals the way the family members are intertwined in an unhealthy way. The young widow is often described as resembling a cat.

Christie sprinkled the theme in with a delicate hand. The analogy is referred to in only seven of the twenty-six chapters. The idea of crookedness inspires the whole.

To address theme, I suggest considering at the beginning or end of the first draft what you want the story to say. Then, as you go through the revision layers, develop your theme through description and dialogue.

You might find a nursery rhyme to fit your purpose.

Next week, we will take a look at how Christie uses description to introduce characters.


3 Comments on Dissecting Christie Part 1, last added: 9/16/2013
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46. Semi-Homemade Halloween Costumes

Homemade Halloween Costumes

It’s that time of year again. Time to slap together a costume or two! I thought I’d list some of our past hits as inspiration for you.

I don’t put a lot of fuss into making costumes, but I do like them to be comfortable and reusable. My favorite method involves hacking items we find in the thrift store. It’s inexpensive, much of the sewing is already done, and the fabrics are often more comfortable than those used in store-bought costumes.

For details on these costumes:

Center: Turtle Costume

Clockwise, from the top:

Ninja (Ninjago)

Anastasia Romanov (Russian princess)

Knight Tunic and Helmet

Princess

Fireman

One more idea for you. My niece is evidently going to be a mermaid, and I loved the look of this simple costume her mom showed me.

I hope these inspire you. This reminds me, I have to get my kids to commit to their costumes now, too. If they had their way, they’d probably get 10 costumes and choose one at the last minute. Ha!


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47. Linen Lisette Passport Dress

Lisette Portfolio Dress

This dress is fairly Eastery for September, but that didn’t stop me from wearing it when I finished it last weekend.

It’s a whole lotta pink! A little girlier than I’d intended. I just can’t seem to stop picking up pink fabric.

Linen sundress

The pattern is the Lisette Passport Dress (Simplicity 2209) by Liesl Gibson. While it’s not a particularly intricate pattern, it’s the most ambitious one I’ve sewn so far, and I’m really happy with how it turned out. It’s not perfect, but I’m proud of the finishing work and the fitting I did. Special thanks to my friend Amy G., seamster extraordinaire, who helped me figure out how to shorten the straps after I’d already completely finished them. That was the trickiest bit.

I had read that inserting the zipper as instructed was frustrating, so I ended up using an invisible zipper and this tutorial instead.

Besides the zipper part, the directions are very good, better than most commercial patterns I’ve used recently.

Pink Linen Sundress

The linen fabric came from the fabric market in Hannover, Germany from when we lived there. Silver necklace from silversmith Gaines Kiker in Blowing Rock, NC. Silver earrings from a shop in Brookline, MA—-they’re over 10 years old so I don’t remember the name, sorry. Belt from Marshalls.

I’m already cutting out another version of the dress—if I can just figure out how to line it.  For more of my sewing, click here.

In other news, I’ve really been getting into my nonfiction book project. So good to feel it finally starting to gel. A hint: it has to do with fashion.

Coming up on the blog: green beans! Craft books! All kinds of thrills.

Linen Lisette Passport Dress


2 Comments on Linen Lisette Passport Dress, last added: 10/13/2013
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48. Studying Structure

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It is not a stretch to say that I’ve spent most of my waking moments since 1975, the year I learned to read, lost inside written stories of one kind or another. If I know anything about storytelling, it was soaked up from these stories, good ones and bad ones, over the past four decades. This knowing has worked its way into my brain, and I draw on it when I write stories of my own. I’m sure of this. But talking about this mysterious knowledge? Articulating why I make certain choices in certain books. (Why a second person narrative in Citizen Scientists? Why that book-ended structure of The Hive Detectives?) Well, I find it hard.

As a writer who spent her career training days studying yeast cells in a laboratory instead of reading the classics and writing stories, I’m always a bit sheepish about talking shop. What do I know about writing? Only this: there is a beautiful logic to storytelling, and it is possible to feel this logic on an instinctual and mostly subconscious level. Which is a really fine way of saying: uh, not much.

But—and here’s the point of this post–I’ve decided to start talking about them anyway. I’d like to understand my own choices better, actually, and doing so is going to involve studying the logic that guided the choices. Deeply.

(Hey … maybe I’m maturing as a writer? One can hope.)

Anyway, since my years of writing children’s nonfiction has helped me realize that the key moment in my writing process is the discovery of the structure a story should take, I’m going to start my study there.  In this all-important moment—I swear there is an audible click!—all the ideas and facts and interview notes and people and places I’ve been researching settle themselves into a clear pattern. A structure. And this structure dictates how I’ll write the story.  I’m going to spend some time in the coming months thinking harder about this moment, about structure I’ve used in my books, and about the structures that work so well in the books of children’s nonfiction I admire.

You, dear reader, can join me if you’d like.  Stay tuned …


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49. Cardboard Robots

Schuhe London cardboard robots-001

My friend Laurel, who is visiting London, sent me this photo. Aren’t the robots great? I love how the cardboard is rolled for the arms. This is the window of a shoe store called Schuh on Oxford Street.

In case you missed my earlier post about our own cardboard adventures, it’s here.

Meanwhile, I am still deep in research mode on my nonfiction book. It’s keeping me quite engrossed.

I’m looking forward to the Carolinas SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference here in Charlotte this weekend. Say “hi” if you’ll be there!


1 Comments on Cardboard Robots, last added: 10/18/2013
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50. Trailer park Thursdays — What I learned making 13 on Halloween’s book trailer

The trailer for 13 on Halloween was the second trailer I produced. I learned a lot when I produced my first book trailer for Winnemucca, a small-town fairy tale. Winnemucca’s trailer was a bit long. The standard seems to be right around a minute and a half at the most. It’s crazy how long two and a half minutes can seem. The minute difference really matters to readers/viewers. I’ve been doing a lot of presentations lately on my trailers and wanted to share this one with you because, as you know, I’m a bit of a freak when it comes to Halloween. I love it. I always have. And 13 on Halloween is free everywhere, so if you like reading about a girl who gets a birthday gift that’s literally out of this world, on her 13th birthday which just happens to be on Halloween, you might want to check it out.  When I produce trailers, they help me see my stories in new ways. My process so far involves writing the novel, then designing the cover, then producing the book’s trailer. I love this creative process because it reminds me of a crescendo in music. I begin with all the characters in my mind, then I get to “meet them” visually for the first time in the process of designing the book’s cover. And finally I get to experience the world in a bigger way when I add music and live action footage to breathe even more life into the story.

When my girls were little, I liked to serve dessert or breakfast for dinner sometimes. I loved it when their schools had upside-down days, or inside-out days. I’ve been thinking it would be fun to do the same type of thing with my creative process. Take that crescendo and reverse it. Start with a trailer, then a cover, then write the story. It’s fun to think about. Mixing things up. Trying something new creatively. But, whatever I do, I need to keep it under a minute and a half! LOL!


1 Comments on Trailer park Thursdays — What I learned making 13 on Halloween’s book trailer, last added: 10/11/2013
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