Happy Thanksgiving!

I am finally sitting down after a long day of food, family, and blessings. I am thankful for so much in my life that makes it joyful, loving, and full. And I am thankful for all of you readers of our blog! I hope you each had a few minutes today to reflect on all you are thankful for.

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Review: Joy in Mudville

Joy in Mudville by Bob RaczkaJoy in Mudville

Written by: Bob Raczka

Illustrated by: Glin Dibley

Carolrhoda Books, 2014, Hardcover

Target Audience: Ages 3-8

Genre: Fiction

Theme: Gender, Perseverance, Being Unique

How We Discovered This Book: When my writing partner Joanna was here for a visit, she entered my children in a drawing at our independent bookstore. My daughter Elizabeth won an autographed copy of this book.

Summary:

It begins where the famous poem “Casey at the Bat” ends (it’s in the back for reference if you need to refresh your memory). A girl pitcher is brought in to restore the team’s reputation, and she has some unorthodox methods for saving the day.

What I Liked:

I like this book because a girl is the hero in a traditional boy’s sport. She comes to the rescue, but with her own way of doing things.

What Did My Kids Think?

Both my kids love this book, and it is on frequent rotation for reading before bed. It’s about a girl and baseball, which keeps them both interested.

Resources:

Read “Casey at the Bat” aloud – for the first time, or once again!

Check out the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum in Cooperstown. If you’re nearby, plan a visit.

Read the amazing recent story of Mo’Ne Davis, the female Little League pitcher who was the first girl to throw a shut-out game in Little League World Series history. She is also the first Little Leaguer on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

The First Page

Attend virtually any conference on writing and someone will insist the first page is paramount. You must hook the reader. I’d heard the idea enough, and struggled with nailing a great first page on many a project, but it wasn’t until my MFA that I took the time to analyze what I thought was a good first page. While doing an editing internship with Hunter Liguore, editor at American Athenaeum, I was charged with reading 34 first pages (without knowing the author or title) and deciding which ones I would accept, as an editor, and which I would decline. It was very informative, and I encourage you to try it out. Discovering what magical recipe for first page elements I was most hooked by has helped me figure out what my own first pages lacked. Here’s a sample of questions that I came up with from a few of the samples:

Is there too much emphasis on setting?

If the character isn’t very fleshed out, does the story premise fill in the gaps?

What kind of tension was there?

Were the questions raised unique and so enticing I had to read on?

Does the description feel connected to the character?

Is there dialog? What does it show about the characters?

Ultimately, I learned that I connect most with the people, the characters. Any other element had to serve them. If it didn’t– for example, if there was a lot of description about a ritual but not about the characters–then I wasn’t interested. I writes stories about people (arguably every writer does), so I need to make sure each of my first pages highlights the characters and their struggles, their connect to place, their sense of the world.

Try this exercise with books you’ve already read. Or take ten books from your to read shelf and read only the first pages. If you could only pick one to read further (pretend you’re an editor with a limited list), which one would it be and why? Or read the latest Flogging A Pro, a post on Writer Unboxed that takes first pages from a variety of genres and analyzes them in a similar same way. I imagine most of you read or write picture books, but I think the exercise can be helpful there too. It’s a lot of fun!

If you’re a reader, and not a writer, asking these questions can help you discern what it is you’re looking for in story, in general, and help you find better books to read for ourselves and your children.

Floppy-eared rabbits

For PiBoIdMo, I decided to keep a small journal with me at all times, something I’d often considered, but had never done before. One page per idea. And I’d look to my own life for the seeds. Over the past few days, I’ve found that being attentive to, well, life and all its ridiculousness (or wonder or awkwardness or or or) is the best way to access interesting concepts for picture books. After I got my notebook, the ideas started coming like hot-cakes. Not all of them seem immediate winners.

A recent favorite: I just returned home from dinner with friends, one of whom shared a story about a bush airstrip in remote Alaska covered in floppy-eared rabbits. Now, it might take a more creative person than me to turn that into a viable picture book. But what a fantastic image! I wrote that one down, but if it inspires you, go with it. (Please send me your draft, if you do.) On a more serious note, my son has developed a fear of riding the school bus–there are so many angles to take on this theme. Katie once said that she’s got too many ideas, and I see what she means. The ideas are really every where. We just have to take them and run.

Registration for PiBoIdMo has passed, but I encourage you to check out the daily posts. I’ve gotten something from each of them, and maybe, just maybe, there might be something to help me write my book about the rabbits on the airstrip.