What’s the Big Deal about Electricity?

Sometimes, we don’t recognize a gift when we receive it.

My husband has been ill.  It’s canning season.  I’m managing to get the essential things done, but there’s no down time and little writing time. I’m not getting enough sleep.

Today, I received a gift. The electricity went out about 6:00 this morning.  I couldn’t make hot coffee.  But I did scrabble together a pretty good breakfast of cottage cheese and my freshly-canned peaches.  It’s cooler than it has been, so I didn’t miss the air conditioning too much.

Then, the gift! The skylight near my rocking chair lets in enough light for me to sit and read.  No television.  No background music.  Just me and a book.

Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham is a brilliantly-simple graphic novel about young Shannon’s elementary school days and her struggle to fit in and find friends.  Shannon’s story is honest, and the art and color strike just the right tone.

I finished the book about 11:00 with a sense of accomplishment and a satisfied sigh. Still, no electricity.  By this time, my husband had moved a chair beneath the skylight to read.  I interrupted his reading to say, “This book belongs in every school library.”

“Get it there,” he said.

“We all struggle to fit in, to find friends.”

He looks up from his book and nods.  We’re both artists.  We know the struggle.

“I’m taking it to the school library,” I said, “as soon as I write a review.”

Read this book, please. Think about that kid who struggles most to fit in.  Chances are he or she is witty, perceptive, creative, and unsure.  Give them this book.  They deserve real friends.  They are not alone.

The Importance of Author Visits

My blog post at ReadLocalOK:

Read Local OK

I got my real teacher education in an Alt Ed classroom.  The Oklahoma program, before it was watered down by politics, mandated arts education and life skills as part of the core curriculum.

A good grant writer and matching funds helped me bring workshops to my school, including a poet, a cartoonist, and a found-objects sculptor.  Volunteers and friends made other experiences possible.  Dan, who’d served three tours of duty as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, taught my kids to cook.  Mila, who owned a quilt shop, taught them to sew.

How valuable was this hands-on education?  One of my students is a professional chef with his own restaurant.  Another became a math teacher. What I learned was that all students have gifts if we make the effort to uncover them, and that outside experts are invaluable in helping your students develop their gifts.

When a new superintendent farmed the…

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A Visit to see THE Artist in Residence

Enjoy a road trip with some friends of mine.

valerie r lawson

A few weeks ago some writer friends and I took a road trip from Tulsa to Oklahoma City for the express purpose of visiting the Artist in Residence at the Skirvin Hotel, our fellow SCBWI OK pal and supremely talented THE Jerry Bennett! He kindly set aside his day just for us.

Found him! It’s THE Jerry!

Always happy to see you!

Jerry gave us a tour of his artist’s space, talked to us about comic design – explaining the difference between a penciler, inker, and colorist among other things. And what each job brings to the story.

And white space. He said that was very important. Who knew?

Gathered around Jerry’s workspace as he shows us some of the projects he’s been working on.

All of the artwork that you see in the background is Jerry’s work. Besides giving him this wonderful space to create in and a…

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Finding Baba Yaga by Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen, like Eve Bunting, does not need my recommendations.  I give them, anyway.  I have never read anything by either of these authors that didn’t set my mind to spinning.

Finding Baba Yaga is pure poetry.  That’s not a metaphor.  It is a novella in verse with lines that soar: “The hallelujah chorus of birds,” and “Living well lasts longer than love.”  As lovely as the writing is, read it for the story. Storytelling is what makes Yolen exceptional.

Finding Baba Yaga  follows a runaway into the woods.  It’s about  questioned beliefs and finding ones own way.  You’ll probably want to read it in one sitting.  I did.  This update of an old Russian fairy tale might also make you want to go back and revisit the original tales.

Read Like a Writer, Picture Books

Read Local OK

Here are a few things I’ve learned about picture books by reading picture books:

Picture books don’t have to rhyme.

Picture books can rhyme.  The rhymes don’t have to be formal, but they do have to sing. Read Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s What Can a Crane Pick Up? and Tammi Sauer’s Mary Had a Little Glam.

Picture books don’t need a whole lot of words, but as in a poem, every word must count.  Here’s an example of what a writer can accomplish with less than 100 words: Extraordinary Jane, Hannah E. Harrison

When you are finally ready to submit a picture book manuscript, don’t include illustrator notes unless some small tidbit is essential to your story. You have to leave things open for the illustrator. See how Tammi says just enough and leaves the rest up to the artist:  Making a Friend, Tammi Sauer

Sometimes, the illustrations tell a completely…

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Interview with Brenda Maier

Read Local OK

fortcoverHey, everyone. Make room on your bookshelf for The Little Red Fort written by author Brenda Maier and illustrated by Sonia Sánchez.

Brenda is a teacher, a writer, and a member of my Oklahoma SCBWI tribe. She was kind enough to visit with me and share some details about her debut picture book.

The Little Red Fort is wonderful in about 432 different ways.

See for yourself. 

This, by the way, is what Booklist, Kirkus, and SLJ had to say about the book:

“Maier judiciously adapts one of the best nursery stories, keeps it simple, and makes it her own. The upbeat mixed-media illustrations are nicely varied in composition and perspective. A lively picture book that’s fun to read aloud.” — Booklist

“[Sánchez’s] textured illustrations and sense of humor add depth to each dynamic scene. Throughout the story, Maier’s little Latina go-getter breaks gender and cultural stereotypes….empowering….”…

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Yolen and Penfold: Two Welcome Songs

I signed up for Jane Yolen’s Poem a Day.

Not only does her craft seem effortless…and true craft never is…she always has something important to say. In exchange for her daily dose of good medicine, I promise to buy or check out of the library one of her books each month.  I already have a sizeable Jane Yolen collection, but this month I added two more books—the Kindle version of Mapping the Bones, set in Poland in 1942, and a picture book, A Bear Sat on My Porch Today (illustrated by Rilla Alexander).

I like three-dimensional books, the feel of the paper, the heft, but I carry the Kindle when I’m traveling, read from it when I’m on the treadmill, and just know there is always a library at my fingertips.  I prefer my picture books solid so I can share them.  I like the illustrations big and in my face.

I picked up A Bear Sat on My Porch Today along with another picture book I’ve been wanting, All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold (illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman).  What a revelation when I read the two books back to back!

Yolen and Penfold don’t preach their message of welcome, they sing it.  Children will love the cadence and the rhyme, and you will enjoy reading them aloud, even if you have to read them many times.