Thursday, February 28, 2008

Writers' Wrist Bands

Is that a great photo, or what? These are the wrists of 5th graders from Sedgefield Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia. Yesterday I spoke to them about writing, touching on skills they can incorporate into their SOLs (Standards of Learning tests) which are coming up next week. Susan Quenville, Sedgefield's reading specialist, was a gracious hostess. I also enjoyed meeting other staff members as well as Principal Patricia Tilghman, who was warm and welcoming.

While I love the sweetness of younger students, I also like working with older students like this because we can really get into details. So we did my "Verbal-loons" activity, (lots of laughs there while -- I HOPE -- learning the importance of choosing exciting verbs). They also enjoyed a peek at my Evil Inner Editor, and then they created wrist bands with the initials "WCTW," which stands for "Writers Choose Their Words."

I first put together this lesson plan for John B. Cary Elementary in Hampton, Virginia, a couple of weeks ago. Blogged about that HERE. Librarian Mel Black says the slogan ("Writers Choose Their Words") seems to have really stuck with her students -- although it probably doesn't hurt that she has reinforced it since my visit, using her cool SmartBoard. Sedgefield has one, too. What a marvelous teaching device!

All I can say is, I love my new part-time job!


Monday, February 25, 2008

Author School Visits to large crowds

Recently, I've been discussing with writer friends about doing an author school visit with a large crowd. (Say, an auditorium full of 100-plus, even 200 kids.) So what's a children's book author to DO when faced with a large audience of eager students? Although I really enjoy the intimacy of a smaller group, most of my experience has been with larger groups, so I thought I'd toss out some advice about that:

First, you'll want to tell the school you won't do more than 30 minutes for the little guys. 45 minutes absolute MAX, but I've found that most hiring librarians agree with me that 30 minutes is enough for the little guys. We just plan longer, 45 to 60 min for the older kids. I've never had anyone insist, "Oh no. You MUST do the same amount of time for the K-Ones!"

Now, for the little kids, I have found that props and call-and-response work well... simple ones they can learn on the spot. And since Jack of All Tails is a book about pets, I make the talk more about pets than about writing. It's true that presenting to this sized group is a bit more like a performance, so for younger groups I close with "The Storytime Boogie." (That's a link to a music video of the song on YouTube.)

For props, I have a big bag from which I pull -- suspensefully, one-by-one -- stuffed animals. ("pets") Kids call out and guess what the next pet will be. We talk a bit as each animal emerges. Some of the toys are inappropriate "pets" such as crocodiles and bears. But that's just funny and we talk about what makes a good pet or not. There are always a few boys who raise their hands when I ask if anyone has a crocodile for a pet. Then we share a joke about that.

A couple of weeks ago, I presented to small groups at the Virginia Living Museum, so I handed out the pets for kids to hold as I pulled them from the bag. This seemed to really delight them. But that would probably only work with a smaller group. I've never tried it with large groups.

After the pet-bag, the stuffed animals do double duty for one of my call-and-response verses. At this point, we've read the book (on digital or overhead projector), so they know the plot. So I pick 4 kids from the audience to represent my main characters: Mom, Dad, Kristi & Eddie. I give each of them a stuffed animal to go with this rhyme:

Mom is a cat.
Dad is a dog.
Eddie's a lizard...
I'll be a frog!

And I have the "actors" hold up the animals at the appointed time, laying my hands on their heads to remind them. The audience recites it several times until they've got it down. (Of course, in the book, Kristi is never a frog, but I tell the kids, what the heck, it rhymes better than hamster!)

Once, I happened to coincidentally choose a learning disabled little girl to play Kristi, and it turned out she was visually impaired, too. The teachers were delighted I'd chosen her, since it was so good that she got a chance to touch the stuffed animal.

So mainly I'd say try to come up with things that will allow for feedback from your audience, (short of becoming chaos, of course!)

Oh, and speaking of chaos, two things:

Sometimes they DO get a little wound up as I'm pulling out the stuffed animals. To calm them down, I tell them that this or that animal gets scared by noise and they have to be verrrrry quiet when I pull out this next one.

And two:
"The Storytime Boogie." starts with a quiet lullabye. I was once hired to present at some sort of evening Reading-Pajama-rama to kids who were tired and hyped up on cocoa & marshmallows. (!!!) It was an INCREDIBLY noisy hall with an TERRIBLE sound system. I almost gave up trying to get the noise level to manageable proportions. But when I started singing that lullabye, the place just fell into an incredible hush. Holy cow! So THAT'S why mothers have been singing lullabies for so many generations!!


Friday, February 22, 2008

Five Random Things About Me

My buddy Ruth Barshaw tagged me in this fun game. I SHOULD be working, (transmitting TWO Kidsville issues today, 48 pages total) and another one tomorrow. But it's perfect because I need a distraction!

1. In high school, I won 2nd place in a statewide poster contest. Got to go to a luncheon with the governor and everything!

2. I have pet issues (as all my books and manuscripts can attest) for a good reason. Over the years, besides the usual dogs, cats, birds, guinea pigs, fish and turtles, my family also had, at various times:
-- an iguana
--a squirrel
--and a raccoon who lived in a closet on the 2nd floor. My father altered the ceiling below with a conveniently placed hole so the raccoon could hang down and wave at you.


3. Because of the various ages of the many foster children raised by my parents over the years, I can count myself as fitting into every birth order category.

4. I am a navy brat.

5. In the first play I ever did in my life, (Arsenic and Old Lace), I was cast opposite a man named Tim, who played my fiance'. About 6 or 7 years later, I married his brother. But the guy who reviewed the play continues to believe, despite being corrected every time I've seen in the past 20 years, that I married Tim.

Okay, my turn to tag someone else! I tag:

1. Mel Black of Melsplace
2. Marcie Atkins of World of Words
3. Sara Lewis Holmes of Read Write Believe
4. Sandy Alonzo on her cool MySpace page
and last but DEFINITELY not least...
5. Becky Hall at Outside of a Dog

Your turn, guys!!


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Children's author school visits with... (gasp!)... 5th Graders! How to warm them up...

So you've interacted with warm, fuzzy uncritical kindergarteners and 1st graders, had a lots of laughs with 2nd thru 4th graders, but now your fretting about interacting with 5th graders? Well sometimes it is a little like warming up a tough bar crowd, huh? LOL! Yeah, that's the cut-off point when they start worrying about being cool -- although sometimes the 5th graders aren't too bad while the 6th graders are hard. Seems like it's whoever are the upper classmen who are tough.

The way I handle that is, I don't generally have a Q & A time for the older ones, knowing they're all too bashful to come up with their own questions. What I DO do ("Tell me Dr. Frahnkensteen, what is it exactly that you DOOO do?" ) is... I ask THEM questions. And I have goodies (like foam stickers) as rewards for answers. So far, that has worked.


It's a GOOD thing.

And funny. Funny is good. It loosens them up. But it takes a while, I know.

But wait! You ask: What do I do to get them to interact with me in the FIRST PLACE, so they have a chance to WIN a sticker?!

Well, one thing that often gets their hands in the air is asking them to guess how long it took me to sell something. (Like the poem in the Meadowbrook anthology, which they bought after keeping it on file for 7 years. Everyone is always floored by that.)

I try to formulate questions that have them guessing things; dates, number of times rejected, number of revisions, number of revisions the artist did, number of years/months from acceptance to publication.

If I use a half-way big word, (like "protagonist" or "metaphor") I stop and ask if anyone can tell me what that word means.

If you DO get a question from a fairly quiet crowd, you can always turn it around and have them guess the answer. Like, if a kid asks you how much money you were paid, you can ask the crowd if they'd like to guess. (I wouldn't recommend that for the age question. LOL!)

I have a prop I often bring; my key jar, which is filled with a bunch of antique keys I found at my grandmother's house. I tell them I use it for inspiration. When I ask, usually someone in the crowd is clever enough to figure out how keys represent stories to me. Then I have them guess how many keys are in the jar. (231)

All these questions are just a way to break the ice. If you can get them actively participating in answering the questions YOU ask, they'll often start to open up and ask their own... if there's time.

Kim Norman

Monday, February 18, 2008

Elizabeth Dulemba serves up a hot chili of a new book!

Today, I'm pleased to host the incredibly smart & talented Elizabeth O. Dulemba on the first day of her blog book tour for her gorgeous new book Paco and the Giant Chili Plant, which will be released on April. The book is a clever, bilingual retelling of "Jack and the Beanstalk."

I love to hear how illustrators come up with their creations, so "e," (as we like to call her) has agreed to respond to my nosy questions!

So e, tell me: Did you do any special research to capture the Mexican flair of this book?

(Maybe munched a hot chili or two? LOL!) I've never been to the American Southwest except for layovers in the airport so I did have to do considerable research. I did a lot of looking around online (especially in the National Archives), joined some message boards for specifics, and looked at maps. I pulled images into a folder so I could look at them later (never to copy directly, only to get the feel of something). The main thing that struck me during my research was I needed the light to feel warm and spicy. The sun is much stronger in the Chihuahuan Desert, which is where Paco takes place. And as far as eating chiles - por supuesto (of course)!

How did you do those luscious end papers? Do you just create one illustration, then reproduce it in Photoshop?

I used to work for a children's clothing manufacturer so am somewhat comfortable creating patterns for repeat, which is what I did for the endpapers. I also just plain have a thing for endpapers. They can introduce a mood and relay story information in a completely different way. To me, blank endpapers are a missed opportunity to play!

What is your process for capturing the essence of a character? Lots of sketches, or do you get a feel for the look of a character as soon as you read the manuscript?

My research gave me an idea of the kind of clothes Paco might wear, but for his face, I did a lot of sketches. Once I nail it (usually some scribbled image in the corner of my drawing pad) my challenge is to see if I can do it again and again. I have to be able to carry the character in all sorts of poses through the entire book. It can be challenging!

Are all of your illustrations created from your head, or do you use models? How about other objects like houses and plants? Do you work from life at all?

I mostly work from my head, and only use visual reference if I'm not sure what something looks like (like a yucca plant for example). I've found that when I use models or set-ups, my work may be more accurate, but it tends to feel a bit flat. I like the slight wonkiness I get from dreaming up images on my own.

I'm always fascinated at the way illustrators add details which are not in my text. Did you incorporate any little "inside jokes" or subtle details in your illustrations that are not mentioned the text? Something we can look for besides the obvious showing of the action in the text?

Of course! My dog, Bernie, once again makes an appearance. He's been in all my books so far. When I read to kids, I love them to shout, "Hi, Bernie!" whenever they see him...which would actually scare him to death. He's quite shy!

Thanks for those interesting answers, e! Here are the particulars of the book:

Available in April 2008
written by Keith Polette
illustrated by Elizabeth O. Dulemba
Raven Tree Press
Trade Picture Book

Tuesday "e" visits Barbara Johansen Newman's Cat n' Jammers Studio. Barb wrote and illustrated "Tex & Sugar."

Wednesday, catch up with "e" at Janee Trasler's Art & Soul. Janee's latest book is "Ghost EAts It All!"

And now, in honor of e's delightful new book, (and since it's still winter) I'm including a recipe for Tasty Tortilla Snowflakes, which as you can see are fun and pretty as well as yummy. A great kid recipe!


8-inch tortillas
Powdered sugar
Cinnamon sugar (optional)
Butter (optional)
Ham or bologna (optional)

Wrap the tortillas in a paper towel and microwave a couple of seconds until they are just warm. Using the same technique as cutting out paper snowflakes, fold the tortillas in sixths and cut out snowflake designs. Put a touch of oil in a pan and fry each tortilla until crisp. Top with one or more of these yummy toppings:
• Sprinkle it with powdered sugar or top it with fruit or jam.
• Spread butter on one side of the tortilla, then sprinkle lightly with cinnamon and sugar.
• Use bologna, turkey, ham, cheese, etc. and make a snowflake sandwich.
If you prefer to bake the tortilla snowflakes, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush the tortillas with milk and then bake for five to 10 minutes until golden brown.


Kim Norman

Forgotten Piggy Poem

A recent discussion about under-appreciated works brought an old poem to mind.

For several years, an art gallery cooperative in our town has sponsored an Artists & Writers night. Artists submit a piece of work, and then the works are disseminated among the writers who write something about the art they've been stuck with... er... assigned. I haven't participated in the past year or two because I think they need to change the format to give the writers a break. Let the ARTISTS create something based on our writing for a change, I say. It ain't as easy as it looks.

One year, I was assigned this cartoony, amateurish painting of a pig (which took up most of the picture) with big garrish hearts painted all over him, standing beside the James River. It was obviously the James because you could see two little ferry boats behind him. This was not a primitive. Didn't have the innate charm of a primitive. I thought it was the dumbest painting I'd ever seen, and found little to inspire me, except for the fact my town of Smithfield is famous for its pork products. So I ended up writing a 5 stanza poem, entitled "Piggy on the Bank," into which I worked as many pork words as possible, including:
shanks; U.S.D.A. Choice (made that rhyme beautifully); "ferries in the CHOP," (har har); boorish; and a reference to Bacon's Castle, a historic home near the south ferry dock.

The river had recently flooded, so I made reference to that with a little piggy bank double entendre (can that apply to non-sexual humor?), in my favorite stanza:

Late, the River's banks
spilled their spangled coins,
doused your flaming flanks,
chilled your tender loins.

I thought it was brilliant, if I may be so boorish. But it was only used that one night, plus the month or so of the exhibition. And since the poem was based on a dumb painting, it's a pretty dumb, useless poem... except for its wit, which I lay before you now. I will now tuck it back into its folder, forgotten once more.

Kim Norman

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Dead Mothers and Academy Awards

I brought a hastily-selected stack of books with me on vacation last summer, (technically adult books, although most were about kids and teens, sold in the adult market), and was annoyed to discovered that all the ones about young people featured a dead mother. It was dead-mother overload so -- even though they were all well-written books -- before the week was out, I found myself digging thru my dead GRANDMOTHER's books, settling on a dusty old Michener, just to get away from dead moms.

A few people have mentioned the success of Dickens' titles as proof that dead-(parent) books are a perennial favorite, but Dickens' books don't really fall into the dead-mother, angst-ridden category as today's books. Number one: children were much more likely to be orphaned in Dickens' day, so a preponderance of dead parents was a more realistic ratio, and, two: Dickens and other adventure books of that time used the dead parent more as a device to get the child alone, solving problems in his own, than as a heavy plot-point which would permeate the child's every thought. Those books quickly got the parent out of the way, then proceeded with an adventurous plot rather than making the dead PARENT the plot, if you see what I mean.

Somehow, serious books are considered more literary, winning more awards, in the same way that fabulous comedic actors often do not win the big awards until they make a "serious" movie. Let's take the career of Jack Lemon as a small example of this. (This list is from Wikipedia)...

1955- WON - Best Actor/Supporting Role - Mister Roberts
1959- Nominated - Best Actor/Leading Role - Some Like It Hot
1960- Nominated - Best Actor/Leading Role - The Apartment
1962- Nominated - Best Actor/Leading Role - Days of Wine and Roses
1973- WON - Best Actor/Leading Role - Save the Tiger
1979- Nominated - Best Actor/Leading Role - The China Syndrome
1980- Nominated - Best Actor/Leading Role - Tribute
1982- Nominated - Best Actor/Leading Role - Missing

With the exception of "Some Like It Hot," and "The Apartment" (for which, you will note, he was only nominated and did NOT win), every other nomination--and certainly every WIN--was for serious roles. Many of them deeply DEPRESSING roles, in fact. If there is a more depressing movie than "Days of Wine and Roses," I have yet to see it. If you look up any of those other nominated or winning movies, you'll encounter words like "bleak," "bloody," "terminally ill..." the list goes on and on.

True, Jack Lemon was a fabulous actor, and some of the comedies he made in the 50s really were pure fluff. But to imply that his best work was ONLY in drama is to diminish his contribution to cinema. Probably his most iconic role is as Felix Unger in "The Odd Couple." But is it anywhere on that Academy Awards list? Of course not. Because it wasn't a depressing movie.

I believe writers who produce humor suffer the same stigma. Sure, an occasional "Holes" will win. But there are still more dead moms than laughing moms on any awards list. (It's not surprising to note that Neil Simon, who wrote more than 30 screen plays including "The Odd Couple" mentioned above,
who won the Mark Twain prize and numerous other comedy and lifetime achievement awards, has no Oscar statues on his mantel, either.)

I don't think it's the kids (readers) making those decisions, any more than it was the movie goers making the awards decisions, since Lemon's comedies probably made more money than the dramas, and CERTAINLY Simon's comedies did. (Which brings a whole 'nother prejudice into the voting mix: a reluctance to award prizes to financially successful projects embraced by the "illiterate masses.") It's the prejudice of the grownups on the awards committees. In the minds of many of those judges, "serious" is considered more literary than "funny."

Kim Norman

Friday, February 15, 2008

GREAT school visit: Verballoons and Wrist Bands!

Tuesday morning I had a great time visiting the 5th graders of John B. Cary Elementary School, in Hampton, Virginia. What wonderful group of students! They were all so bright and enthusiastic. Same for faculty and staff. They made me feel very welcome. Mel Black, the librarian who had hired me, asked me to concentrate on writing skills, so I came up with a phrase, "Writers Choose Their Words," to show that writers are very careful about what words they choose -- after the 1st draft, of course!

We did a fun activity about verbs where I borrowed a passage from Dawdle Duckling that Toni Buzzeo had sent me. They know Toni and love her; after she visited there last year, she recommended me.

I printed the passage on an overhead transparency, replacing Toni's verbs with more bland ones. Then, for each word, (there were about 6 or 8 of them) I put 4 or 5 alternate verbs into a balloon which I allowed the kids to stomp, releasing the words. They'd read the newly-spilled verbs, and the crowd would pick its favorite. I tried to include at least one silly one in each batch, ("put on deoderant" instead of Toni's much more succinct "preen.") The kids were actually pretty good at picking the same word Toni had. I called the activity "Verballoons."

Even I got something out of that verballoons activity. It really shows how picking the right verb conveys lots of information very quickly. One sentence in Toni's text began:
"Past the marsh with the cattails waving,"

I replaced "waving" with boring old "growing," then, from the balloon they burst, I gave them a selection of:
waving, blowing, nodding, meowing, or whipping.

They chose "whipping," which wasn't too bad, since they couldn't tell from this beginning sentence what the setting would be. Then we talked about how "whipping" is not only a more active and visual verb, it also gives us more information about the setting, that it must be windy in our story. Same with Mama Duck, whom they chose to be "thrashing." So now we had a verb which was not only ulta-visual, but also gave us some idea of Mama Duck's state of mind. It was really a very interesting activity.

[[[UPDATE about this activity, 2010: I've since created a PowerPoint version of this activity which seems to work just as well and is a little easier to transport. All those balloons take a lot of prep ... and a lot of space in my car!]]]

I only wish I'd had time to share the two passages sent to me by Marianne Mitchell (Finding Zola) , and Fred Bortz, ("Dr. Fred," Collision Course!). I have a similar gig in a couple of weeks, so I'll try to streamline the visit to fit in those extra passages, even if we only talk about them, without the balloons.

Of course, I shared my Evil Inner Editor photos, which they laughed at, as well as reading Jack of All Tails on transparencies from David Clark's first set of sketches, before the book was published.

As a closing activity, I had them create wrist bands (I'd cut strips of wallpaper old sample books) onto which they affixed stickers which they had labeled with the letters WCTW ("Writers Choose Their Words.") They wrote out the whole phrase on the inside of the band. Mel told me the kids were really pleased with these and wore them the rest of the day.

I was kicking myself that I hadn't brought a camera to get a photo of the wrist bands for my blog. There would have been issues with showing the kids' faces, but a nice shot of all those pretty little brown wrists wearing the bracelets would have been nice.

Mel told me she's putting together a presentation right now and wants to use a similar shot, so she's going to recreate the activity and send me the photo. She's really cool. We totally hit it off and have a lot in common. (She was even a typesetter in a "previous life," incredibly enough! I didn't know there were any more of us still alive. LOL!) Here's her blog about the visit:


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"Make My Day" Award Day on Stone Stoop!

Well, how sweet! Liz Dubois just honored me with a "Make My Day Award!" Thanks, Liz! She made MY day, which needed it -- a drizzly day in February when I spent 2 hours in the dentist chair. What a day!

Now I'll pass the honor to these next five folks who always make my day:

First, to Mel Black of Melsplace
She was the gracious hostess of a GREAT author visit I enjoyed yesterday at her school, John B. Cary Elementary School, in Hampton, Virginia.

Elizabeth Dulemba, illustrator extraordinaire, and my favorite go-too gal for all things tech.

Kerry Madden, whose newest book, Jessie's Mountain, was released this week. Jessie is the third installment in Kerry's Maggie Valley trilogy which began with the beautiful, can't-put-down "Gentle's Holler." (At least, I couldn't put it down. Sure wish she didn't too goll-durned far away to sign my copy!) Happy release week, Kerry! She's holding the cutest School Photo contest right now on her blog. I'll dig up an old pigtail photo and send it in. What a cute idea, Kerry! Oh, and I almost forgot to say, you can read my interview with Kerry, when the 2nd book, Louisiana's Song, came out last May. Read it HERE.

I also award my friend Sara Lewis Holmes a "Make My Day" award... just because whenever we get together (all too seldom!), she always does. She has the world's most gorgeous smile. She ain't too shabby a writer, either. Sara is the author of Letters from Rapunzel, a book that I remember in its infancy, which went on to win the the HarperCollins Ursula Nordstrom Fiction Prize!

And last but not least, Joe Kulka always makes my day when he pulls his hunky self away from his workspace and lends his acerbic, and totally-guy wit and wisdom to our critique group. Joe's Wolf's Coming is on FIRE, winning awards and making favorites lists everywhere!

So there is my Make My Day Award list for February 13, 2007. Visit my friends and let them make your day, too!

Kim Norman

Saturday, February 09, 2008

School author visit feedback form

Today I thought I would share the feedback form I (USUALLY!!) send to schools after I have visited. (When I remember.) It serves as a good reminder to me of how the visit went, who I met, ect., as well as giving me feedback about what worked, what didn't, etc.

Plus, it serves as one more little reminder to the folks who hired me so maybe they'll remember my name and recommend me to their colleagues.

I hashed around with this form among my author friends, one of whom has been a statistician in a former life. She suggested I only supply 4 choices (good to bad) since a selection of 1 to 5 allows the reviewer to lazily make a non-committal selection of "3." If there are only 4 choices, they've got to make a firm decision of whether you were better or worse than average. Much more useful information than a 3 out of 5 would supply.

Also in the discussion with authors & librarians, the consensus was that I should only ask about 5 questions, so as not to make too much work for these busy people. Sound advice. And in keeping with the "don't-make-them-work" theme, I also include an SASE with the feedback form. So far, I've received them back every time and most with lots of "4s," I'm happy to say!

Anyway, here's what the form says. Feel free to borrow this and tweak for your own needs...


Name & Title ________________

School Name _________________

Please circle your answers on a scale of 1 (not much) to 4 (yes, very much)

1. Did she hold her audience's interest?
1 2 3 4

2. Was there enough audience participation?
1 2 3 4

3. Was there enough humor in the presentation?
1 2 3 4

4. Did the "props" and/or audio-visuals add to the presentation?
1 2 3 4

5. Would you recommend this speaker to your peers?
1 2 3 4

Please add any further comments, below.

(Here I include 4 long lines for them to write on)

May I use your quote and name on promotional materials? ___________

Thank you so much for your feedback!


Kim Norman

PS -- No, that's not my house and mailbox in the photo. Just an old farmhouse I enjoy photographing occasionally during my morning walks.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Google says I'm a poet!

I was shocked (and a little chagrined) to discover recently that I'm the 3rd listing if you Google "Virginia poet." Since I consider myself far FAR below the status of... say... any Virginia poet laureate, all of whom are barely visible on that first results page. Obviously, they're spending their time actually WRITING POEMS rather than improving their search rankings. LOL!

I've also risen recently to 4th, directly below Virginia Hamilton, if you Google "Virginia children's book author." Further refine that search to the Hampton Roads area, (which includes 10 cities with a population nearing two million), I'm the first listing.

I think the recent rise is because I've been doing a little more blogging lately. My rankings weren't too shabby before but they have risen some since getting back to blogging.

One more tip: When you name the homepage of your site, (or heck, you could do it for all the pages) put in a lot of info you'd like the search engines to find. You'll notice at the top of my site, the title of the homepage is ridiculously long: "Kim Norman--Hampton Roads Virginia poet, children's book author and illustrator--Jack of All Tails, Dutton."

The person who helped me design my site is a smart cookie who knew that, around the time my site went up, 3 or 4 years ago, search engines were changing the way they listed rankings to get around the sneaky folks who were artificially inflating their rankings with unrelated links, (like posting a sort of "drive-by" message to very popular blogs, for instance.)

She said engines were also paying less attention to meta tags, since people were putting "hot topic" unrelated tags in their code -- like "Britney Spears," -- but they WERE paying attention to page titles. So my smart cookie web lady said, "Nothing ventured... let's see how much relevant description we can cram onto the title of the page."

So that's probably why I beat out most of the REAL poets in Virginia. (Poetry judges have always grudgingly given me 2nd & 3rd place wins, NEVER first place, since they consider my stuff light verse rather than "REAL" poetry. I guess this is my one form of revenge. Google considers me a poet, at least. )

Kim Norman

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Journal of a school author visit

Since I'm kind of busy right now and it's hard for me to find the time to constantly put new material on the blog, I decided to pull up my journal entry of a past Young Author's presentation...

Went VERY well. Great audience, in the hundreds. Appreciative and generous. Thank goodness I don't get nerves speaking in front of large crowds, because I was NOT expecting such a large audience.

Turned out it was a city-wide event, which means I was performing for teachers from a whole bunch of schools instead of just one. Yeah! A potential source of future author school visits.

FORGOT MY BOOKMARKS!! Really wished I had them since there was a freebie table for all these hundreds of people to peruse while they munched cookies after the presentation.

Learned I'd better have a few extra lapel buttons for my Silly Sign War performers, since I somehow ended up with 6 readers instead of 5. I only had 5 buttons left in my entire inventory. (Note to self: contact Meadowbrook for some more buttons. 2nd note to self: buy some more books from Meadowbrook. I realized mid-afternoon that I didn't have a single copy of the book in my house. The library couldn't find the copy I'd donated, either. Sheesh.)

FORGOT TO READ THE POEM IN ROLLING IN THE AISLES. And that's after going to the trouble to borrow the darned thing from Doris Rea, since I'd sold all my copies.

Thoughts about reader's theater:
Come up with a few places where the whole audience can chime in together. I did this tonight by asking the audience to shout "Do not slap worms" to get my (2) boys reading for "Grumpy Sign #1" in the mood to be grumpy.

After my presentation, I was touched by the writings of an amazing young man, Collin's age, who is an exchange student from Iraq. What a brave, impressive young man. He got a standing ovation... and deserved it.

Was flattered that they had filled the entire left side of the program with my bio, opposite the agenda. Looked like I was somebody! Listed my credits as poet and illustrator as well as my books.

Walked up to a man with a camera whom I assumed was a parent. I'd heard his name mentioned so I told him I had a nephew by that name. Seemed like an amiable young man. He asked me some questions and started scribbling, at which point I realized he was a reporter. So maybe I'll be quoted in the Suffolk News Herald. We'll see. I'm not as interesting as the young Iraqi. (Note after the fact: I was quoted, although I never got to see a copy of the paper, since we don't subscribe to the Herald.)

Was introduced to some very nice women -- reading specialists and/or teachers, I presume -- who were VERY complimentary after the program. One said she liked it so much she'd like to hire me for a teacher workshop. Told her I'd be delighted, and I would! Another encouraged me to put together a proposal for the Virginia State Reading Association -- which I have, since then. What an impressive, vibrant organization!

Kim Norman

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Why are editors annoyed by rhyme?

On a children's writers list recently, someone questioned editors' frequently saying they object to inconsistent meter. This person wondered something like, ""Isn't a consistent meter always used in rhyming picture books?"

My response:

... well, not in poorly written ones, which is what editors object to. I think the confusion lies in the meaning of "consistent meter." I believe, when editors cite this as a problem, they're talking about the rhythm being "off" within any given stanza, not with a writer switching to another rhythm altogether. Some authors do that brilliantly.

I'll use a snippet of Robert Frost's "Stopping in the woods on a snowy evening" as an example. Here's how Mr. Frost wrote the first 4 lines:

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

Now let's pretend that someone ELSE wrote those lines, only they didn't
quite nail the rhythm...

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the nearby town though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch for Santa's reindeer.

Okay. That's more than getting the meter wrong. That's also getting the rhyme wrong, since "here" and "REINdeer" don't even rhyme. (You should rhyme from the last accented syllable. "Ring" and "PLAY-ing" don't rhyme either, even though the last syllable is constructed from the same letters.)

But I think that's what editors object to when they mention inconsistent meter. They don't mind if you change up the rhythms now and then to avoid monotony. My 2nd and 3rd books coming out are both in rhyme. In "The Crocodaddy," I did switch the rhythm for the refrain. It's still the same number of stressed beats per line, but with a greater number of unaccented syllables
between the beats. ("Crocodaddy" has a heck-of-a-lot of unaccented syllables! LOL!)

In the third book, "Wee Piggy," the rhythm is fairly consistent, (a basic 4 stressed beats per line), but--to lend a feeling of accelerating events towards the end--I switched to shorter lines, two stressed beats per line. (That's stressed beats, not syllables. Obviously the lines have more than 2 syllables in each line.)

So I don't think it's CHANGING rhythms that editors object to, as long as the change is deliberate and deft. I think they have more of a problem with clumsily written stanzas with inconsistently metered lines that just don't scan in the first place.

Kim Norman

Monday, February 04, 2008

Researching publishers

Amazon is always a good resource when researching any publisher. Just do an advance search and plug in the publisher's name. If they're a big publisher, it's better to select a limited number of years back you'd like to view. Five years or so is usually enough to give you an idea of the type of books that house publishes.

It's helpful when, say, you're researching picture books and you want to find out if they do lots of animal books, or books with cumulative structures. I'll often copy a chunk of a book's info page, including the cover art, then save it into a text file. I sometimes do that when I'm researching publishers who might be a fit for one of my manuscripts. You might not want to pitch to publishers who have produced a book which is TOO much like your current book, (say, a rhyming book about dancing kumquats), but if it's a publisher who does rhyming books, or books about anthropomorphic... er... fruits, you've got a better shot.

Sometimes it can be frustrating, finding a publisher which is a good fit without being TOO good a fit. In my crit group, we all laughed (instead of crying) over a rejection one of us received from Viking which said, "It's great, but we already have a book about blueberries."

Uh. Yeah. That would be Blueberries for Sal. Published SIXTY YEARS AGO. Seems like they could take a chance that kids who read it have moved on. Maybe when a book becomes an icon like Sal, publishers steer clear of ever touching such a subject again. Who knows.

But on the whole, it's a good thing to find houses which have previously published books similar to your own, and Amazon is a quick(-ish) way to do it. Once I've copied a few similar books into that text file, I store it in a folder with the manuscript, titled "Target markets for XYZ (title of the book.)"

Kim Norman