You know that scene where the kid makes the ice cream man go through all 59 flavors of ice cream and then chooses vanilla? Yeah, that's pretty much my kids.
Every birthday, the birthday child gets to pick one or two flavors of ice cream. I always try to find a store that has a lot of flavors to choose from. Some of them make my mouth water: Peaches Delight, Cookies and Cream, Wild Berry, Rocky Road, Double Brownie Fudge, and so on. But almost every kid chooses the same flavor every time: Vanilla.
I could never understand it, until my oldest explained. He said they choose Vanilla because it's the flavor all the kids like. As altruistic as this is, I sometimes wonder: why do they always choose plain ol' chocolate for the second flavor?
What's your favorite ice cream flavor?
I remember one expertly guided discussion on the importance of teacher helping the children learn morality and ethics. From my previous post, you know my opinion on this matter, and even then I was gagging inside as I listened.
After expounding on the woes of society and how children today (back then) sometimes don't have parents in the home, the teacher asked rhetorically, "So why is it so important for teachers to help children learn morality?"
To the delight of the teacher, one student (not me) answered, "Well, if we don't, who will?"
At the time I lacked the maturity to debate the class, so I stayed silent. But it just felt wrong.
The fact is, the wrong questions were being asked. It's not a matter of who will, but a matter of who SHOULD teach the child morality and ethics. Lessons on morality and ethics should be taught in the home where family values cannot only be taught, but practiced.
The farther society drifts from upholding traditional family values, the more it will cripple itself. It's like breaking the foundation of your house and then trying to patch it up with duct tape.
It's not going to work.
That's my opinion, anyway. What's yours?
Can I Hook an Agent with a Question? (A rhetorical blog of questions)
Why should you read this blog of questions?
Is it possible to make a point by not only answering every question with a question, but also taking this argument to the point to absurdity in this very blog post?
Do you want to see if I can do it?
For example, isn't the top complaint of most agents that there are too many questions in pitches and queries? If not the top, isn't it at least in their Top Ten list of pet peeves?
Would you start your novel with a rhetorical question? Why then would you start your query with one? Did I just give some of you a writers a challenge? Do you think it was unintentional? Why do you think I'm writing this blog in all questions?
Wouldn’t you like to hear about some of the kinds of questions agents especially hate? Aren’t you going to keep reading to find out? Don’t you hate it when people insert the opinion they think you should have into a question? Wouldn’t you like to yell at the author and say, “That’s not how I feel at all”? Didn’t you probably yell out the computer just now? Wouldn’t you rather I had just showed you an example and let you decide how to feel about it? Shouldn’t you do the same thing in your query?
Who likes to be told what to do? Do you? Do you think that any reader, agent, or editor likes to be told what to do? Isn’t even worse when you tell them how to feel? Isn’t it even more worse when you tell them how to feel and hide it in a question? Wouldn’t it be better if you just told them about your book and let them decide whether to be interested in it?
When are questions weak hooks? When do questions distract from the story? When do they become about the reader instead about the story? Does it unnecessarily repeat information you’ve already given? Is it an unanswerable question? Is the answer too obvious?
What if your question doesn’t have anything to do with your book? Wouldn’t it be a good idea to delete it? And what about jokes? Is it a good idea to break the ice in your query with a joke? If you were trying to get someone to go to a thriller, why would you waste your time telling them a silly joke? Even if you were trying to convince them to go to a comedy, wouldn’t you want them to know what was in the movie instead of what was in your head at the time?
What if you’ve written a satire? Would sarcastic questions be a classy way to introduce it? Can pigs watch an airplane fly over their heads? How many sarcastic remarks have you seen translate well into print? Can you write sarcastically without cuing the reader that you’re doing it? In any case, wouldn’t that be a pretty big risk?
Don’t you know you only have the reader's attention for 3 seconds? Do you really want to send them on a mind-wandering tangent during those precious seconds?
So, should you delete all your questions and never include them in my query? Doesn’t the presence of the word “never” answer this question? Is anything really “never” done well? Can’t you put a question in that is a strong hook, helps clarify the story, and keeps the reader wanting more? Wouldn’t that then be question you’d want to include in your query? If you do put in a question, though, shouldn’t you ask a critique partner (or several) before submitting?
What are strong questions in queries? Aren’t queries supposed to be about your manuscript for the reader? Can you craft a good rhetorical question that fits the bill? Can a pelican hold more in its beak than its belly can?
Should I tie this all together? Do you want me to stop with all these questions? How about a question that is disguised as a statement. That would be refreshing, right?
Is it just me or have gummy worms gotten shorter?
I used to tie those sweet little ropes into two - almost three - knots, but now it seems you can hardly get one knot in!
The other day I picked up a package of gummy worm minis. I know they said, "mini" but they could hardly be called worms. They were more like gummy maggots.
I mean at least when York mini-fied their peppermint patties, they call them "drops." And while we're on the subject, I am really glad I've never seen chocolate flavored Tic Tacs because they are the same size and shape as deer scat. My two-year-old would seriously get confused.
What candy is smaller than you remember?
Ideas like this have caused many school districts to trend away from traditional grading systems and instead give all children good grades as long as they demonstrate effort.
I think it's absurd.
First, building my child's self-esteem is MY JOB as a mother. A teacher's job, in my opinion, is to instruct my child in academics (i.e. math, reading, writing, physical education, and science) and expose my child to subjects she may elect to specialize in (e. g. art, music, sports, etc.). Report cards are one way teachers can communicate with me how well my child is demonstrating a knowledge of the concepts being taught.
If my child is attaching self-esteem to his grades, regardless of whether he's getting As or Fs, then I have failed, not the teacher.
But if the report card is full of the equivalents of Es (as in my child is demonstrating effort), that tells me NOTHING about what she has actually learned! How can I help my child work on her timetables, for example, if the note on the report card says: "Demonstrates a lot of effort and is approaching grade level." This sends the message that my child's doing fine, when really what should probably happen is some extra math practice at home.
When my child enters the workforce, he will find that the most skilled applicants get the jobs. And if they are not competent enough to do the job, then they are let go. This should not be a blow to his self-esteem, but an encouragement to find the job best suited to his skills. Or at least gain the skills necessary to get and keep the job.
That's why I think we should throw out the Es and go back to a more traditional grading system. Those who can demonstrate that they know all the concepts get the A, and those who can't demonstrate at least a 50% understanding get the F.
I know one of the arguments against this post is that for many children, the teacher is the only trusted parent figure in their lives. Well, that's for tomorrow's post.
"Do or Donut, there is no try."
OK, so that's not exactly what Yoda said, but I like Donuts, so why not?
Now, spelling purists will choose a more proper doughnut over a casual donut, but I'm lazy today, OK?
As a American as the Hot Dog, Donuts has a fun past full of stories. I did a little research for this post and found some facts and myths on the Smithsonian Website that are begging to be in picture books.
So you never know where inspiration will strike. Have you ever found inspiration in an unexpected place? and more importantly
would you like a donut?
I love this quote. I quote Henry Ford every time I hear that C-word. It rings so true for me.
As long as you are saying that you Can't, you will be right because you haven't allowed for the possibility of Can. And as long as you are saying you Can, that possibility is always there.
Another quote from Henry Ford that I love is "Failure is just an opportunity to try again."
The other day I was trying to figure something out on MS Word. After hours of failing, I had my 12yro shaking his head. "Mom, you could have typed that entire document longhand by this time. Why are you still trying to get it to duplicate?"
I ignored my son's advice and eventually did figure out what I wanted to. Now, I not only have the document the way I want it, but I also have a new skill I can use in other documents.
So, next time your brain is spouting CAN'T, take that T off and start TRYING. (See what I did there?)
How do you combat negative thoughts when you feel discouraged?
One of the endearing things about kids is how they butcher words.
The other day my 4yro asked if he could wash his hands.
"Why do you want to wash your hands?" I asked.
"Because they're Moy-ist." He showed me his dirty, "moist" hands and I let him go wash them.
As a children's writer, I pay a lot of attention to how kids express their ideas. Their darling word choice, and sometimes word-butchering, becomes fodder for books that other children would enjoy.
On the other hand, because children are learning from what they read it's also important that most books follow grammar rules and word meanings. Junie B. Jones is an excellent example of keeping the little girl voice, while also adhering to somewhat correct grammar.
"My name is Junie B. Jones. The B stands for Beatrice. Except I don't like Beatrice. I just like B and that's all."
-- Junie B. Jones and The Stupid, Smelly Bus
"I don't think I'm allowed to have the kind of drink named a beverage. 'cause I'm only allowed to have milk and juice and that's all."
"Mrs. looked up at the ceiling with her eyes. Then I looked up there, too. but I didn't see anything."
-- Junie B. Jones and The Sneaky Peeky Spying
What mistakes or "butchering" inspires you to create?
After being a notoriously infrequent blogger, you are going to get not one, but two blog posts in the same day. That's because I'm also doing a PB Pitch Workshop on this blog. (I'm too lazy to make a new blog.)
By the way, if you wanted to join the PB Pitch Workshop and stumbled here by mistake, here's the Guidelines Post to get you where you want to be.
I'm Taking the A-Z Blog Challenge
The idea is to blog every day (except Sunday) using the next letter of the alphabet. I just found out about it, and thought it would be a fun way to blog more. This challenge is HUGE. I'm #1539 and there's more below me. Maybe they'll get to #2015!
You can find out all about it right here. So here's my first blog post for the challenge...
A is for April Fools
I love April Fools Day, as long as it's friendly. I'm not a fan of putting a whoopee cushion under my great-aunt's derriere, but putting it under my 12 year old son (who will laugh and say, "good one, Mom") is fair game.
One thing my kids look forward to is April Fools lunches. I do silly things like put goldfish in fruit snack packages or add food coloring to chips.
One time, my 9yro was so disappointed because I was putting a Pop-tart package in his lunch. "I don't like that kind, Mom, " He complained.
"Trust me," I said, knowing his fruit snacks were sealed inside.
After school, the 9yro came home smiling at the pleasant surprise. "How'd you do that?" he asked.
But I never revealed.
When two kids like the same kind of sandwich, I cut one diagonally and one down the center, then put a triangle and a rectangle in each. The love their mismatched halves.
My oldest son likes cold chili with chips. His lunch is in containers, So I wrap the containers in duct tape (so they aren't see through) and add a little color to the food.
In my opinion, the best April Fools Day is one where everyone enjoys the tricks.
Now, you can scold me for such unhealthy lunches, but please don't bother. I scold myself enough for both of us.
How do you feel about April Fools Day?
I write about, with, for, and around kids all day. (Well, maybe I do the dishes too. Sometimes.)