Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Marriage of Two Minds, Admitting Impediment

I feel a dolt when I've "corrected" Son's 2d grade homework (and usually I think I've gone over it rather well) and it comes back from school the next day with one of his answers wrong, and circled by the teacher. I guess a few get by me. Which gives extra pleasure when one comes home from school unnoticed by either teacher. It doesn't happen often, but today's is great fun.
Q: What is the meaning of "gal"?
A: Wife.
Which is lovely, but when the question is posed by a Math Facts sheet, I suspect Son meant "gallon," instead?

Friday, September 25, 2009

You Can't See Me

Me, to artistic daughter: What a great drawing! What animal is it?
Daughter, gleefully: I'm not telling you until it's all done. How do you spell sheep?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I Like It, Sam-I-Am

The pleasures of writing the sonnet are many, I'm sure, but not least among them is the ties that bind: the rules themselves. There are so many! And the poem so short! How can you possibly write a new one? (Here's how! Ta-da...)

Enter: new discovery. Writing for emerging readers is just like that! And now (I guess) I know how Dr. Seuss felt. Take a list of grade-leveled words, and restrict yourself to it. Now, write a child-friendly, innovative story. The rigor of it is wonderful and bracing. I like an unfettered imagination as much as anybody but, Houdini-like, sonnet-like, (dare I say it:) Dr. Seuss-like, the trick is in taking the ties that bind and making them work for you. I'm hooked.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Didn't See That One Coming

Daughter has instituted Friday Fries-day, but prefers home baked fries so I'm fine with it. Still, did not expect this line at dinner last night (and what if it was true?):
Daughter: "Wow. No, for real. I put the fry in my mouth and then BAM. My destiny changed."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Not the Hans Christian Andersen Kind

Daughter, pointing to my stockinged feet, screams (literally), and then shrieks:
"You're a mermaid!"
Less concerned with having terrified her, I feel magical.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Just Do It (Apologies to Bruce Coville, Who Reminded Us to Avoid Cliche)

If you write kidlit, or are thinking about writing kidlit (just do it), you must join SCBWI. And then find out when your regional chapter is having its annual conference (because lovely as LA and NY are, we can't all get there every year...sigh). And then sign up, and GO. The end.

Because (it's never the end) it was fabulous. Friday night we were all put into genre areas to forge new starter critique groups (or, presumably for those who were already in several, to extol the virtues of same). As I'm already in a picture book crit group, I met with three wonderful people who are all interested in chapter book writing, and we plan to try critiquing via Skype (or other conference software). We met Bruce Coville, writer and incredible public speaker (and I like to think I'm a tough audience...probably untrue), who spent an hour or so talking about "voice." And then we met the two editors who had made it in from NY: Eve Adler and Ruta Rimas. Both were great sports for the duration, and very generous with their energy.

Saturday was an all-day affair: longer presentations from each editor on their houses and on their lists, likes and dislikes. A presentation from agent Ted Malawer, of Upstart Crow (formerly of Firebrand Literary). Door prizes. The conference was well-themed the Wild, Wild, West, and guess what playing card I drew for door prizes? The ACE OF SPADES. I got to answer (guess) the second question, and won a gift card from the conference bookstore... how wonderful is that? After lunch there were breakout sessions, and I spent an hour with Dian Curtis Regan on picture books (and am scoping out her seminar at Texas A&M for next summer), then another hour with the incomparable Bruce Coville on plot and character (really, his performance energy is astonishingly generous), and then an hour in a group critique with Eve Adler. And then, ANOTHER presentation by Bruce, on writing in general (just do it). And networking, networking, networking. Handing out business cards, and making new contacts. A lot of people I recognized from the July workshop, so it's a small-ish community you can meet quite easily.

Oh, and my crit partner told me on Saturday that "she liked my piece." As I wasn't packing, despite the conference theme, she filled me in: a piece I wrote called "The Inside Joke" (advice for picture book writers) was published in In the Wind, the regional SCBWI newsletter. I only just subscribed (oops), so had missed it... much mutual hilarity with Jenn Bailey for same. Kudos to Sue Ford and the fleet of volunteers!

I can't wait for the next one. Oh, and if you volunteer, which I didn't yet, you usually get a reduced conference fee. Come on! What are you waiting for?!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Some Days are Long

I take a deep breath, turn to daughter at the dinner table, and ask: "So, tell me some more about your day" in a perky voice. Son, 7 but going on... older, says with cheerful composure: "Well. You seem to be regaining some patience!" I respond: "good use of 'regain.'" And add, only in my head: "now go to bed."

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

How Fast is Fast?

I recollect once when my father, uncomfortable with inactivity, suggested I sit up while reading. I pointed out (sorry, dad) that I read the same number of words per minute lying down as sitting up. It comes back to me today because I read (thank you, Sunflower Scoop, for sending me a manageable weekly set of links that enable me to sound well read) a New York Times article discussing (negatively) AR.

AR, Accelerated Reading, is endemic to the K-12 experience, in many schools. It is an online "reading management" software that enables kids to log in and take comprehension quizzes on many thousands of books in the system. They can accumulate points, see percentage of comprehension scores over a number of quizzes, and learn how many words were in their book, and keep a running total.

Our elementary school buys in. Son participated in his second semester of first grade and loved it. But we certainly all got caught up in counting. Number of minutes per week (sign the form, return on Fridays; not AR, but all-school reading program). Number of words read in the semester: 300,000. Our school participates across the board for all second graders and up. Your name goes on the wall at 100K words. You get a special party at 200K. There's a special prize for a million word readers. It is pretty exciting stuff.

The article points out that: alas, the system is flawed. Many of the "classics" have low point values while other "popular" books have much higher point values. Even in the space of his first semester doing AR tests, and without his name on the wall, son got canny. He did the reading, alright, but he was driven by word counts rather than by stories. I'm wondering if we should downplay or opt out of AR altogether, since he isn't a reluctant reader.

Perhaps I've become a reluctant counter. I religiously counted the minutes son read all last year, and dutifully recorded them and sent them in on Fridays. The class minutes were posted inside the classroom and son was locked in competition with Jeremiah. I enabled. It was even fun. This year, knowing that son will read in great excess of the minimum number of minutes required for whatever prizes are going, we are simply attesting to that minimum number of minutes per week. It actually feels like cheating, even though we are reporting far fewer than actual minutes read... Hey, I'm competitive too. But I think reading and 'rithmetic should perhaps be kept apart more?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Daughter, Interrupted

So, in my defence, she did not do it all at once, or I'm sure I would have noticed sooner.
Step 1: daughter brings innocent looking dust bunny hair tangle, and says she has no idea how it got in her room, but can she stick it to something? I dutifully got paper and tape. She made a nice illustration, and then taped hair tangle to it.
Step 2: Only realized in hindsight. Daughter sidles up to me in kitchen, and smiles. I give her a hug. She grins and I think: she looks like she's getting away with something...
Step 3-6: Daughter pops in and out as I'm reading in bed (hey, it's a holiday weekend). I guess I don't look up much.
Step 7: I make eye contact and something is... radically different. I sit bolt upright and ask if she has cut her hair. She makes eye contact and says absolutely not.
Step 8: I examine her head. She is missing most of the hair on both sides of her face, round to the ears, and her bangs are non-existent. There is a tuft or two on top of her head, as well. The rest remains long which, by the way, is how she says she wanted it. Despite all evidence to the contrary, and several opportunities to come clean, daughter remains adamant: she did not cut her hair.
Step 9: I grab the phone and force the woman who answers to let us come straight in, even though the salon has already closed. (I know I was just reading in bed. It is a holiday weekend. By the way: No Talking, by Andrew Clements, is a neat book.)
Step 10: Daughter, now sullen and non-communicative, is dragged to the salon. Woman who answers the phone actually cannot cut hair, as we discovered in hindsight. She is the receptionist. She does try, but now we have to go somewhere else today to finish the job.
Step 11-13: Punishments. Daughter loses pocket money to pay for hair cut. The lying is highlighted as the part we disagree with the most. She is upset at loss of playdate with best friend. She is suitably devastated, in fact. I feel many pangs. She slowly recovers.
Step 14: Daughter lies about something unrelated, an hour later. I realize we have a repeat offender.
Step 15: We swing by different hair salon yesterday, since they are open and ours is not. They make her an appointment for today. Daughter is defiant, until son points out the tufts on top of her head. She slumps in a chair, smooths her dress with her bicycle gloves, and says: "I look crazy." I think we're making some progress. I struggle mightily with trying to communicate less about the hair, more about the lying. (And how did she think a trash bin full of her own hair would back her up?!)
Step 16: Daughter claims: I wanted to look like you. Which is either heart breaking or the best lie yet. Or maybe I look like a crazy person too?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

T-Minus Six Days

Very excited about the upcoming annual Kansas chapter conference of the SCBWI. And my new business cards, which are terrific. Thanks are due to my critique group, who have moved the meeting up to the afternoon before the conference begins, to save on driving time. We will have a conference panel discussion on Friday night, and then all day sessions on Saturday. I'm also signed up to do a small group critique with an editor. There's a night in a hotel in between, of course, and it's always something I look forward to as well: not having to wait until the kiddos are down before going to sleep (or watching a movie)!

So this week, in between teaching (cue image: from the film Twister, veering jeep left and right while semi trucks and cows come flying out of the tornado and threaten to take jeep out) I'll be getting ready. It's only Kansas City, but I still must consult Map Quest. There are two conference locations and a hotel to find! I need to make copies of two picture book texts for the two critique sessions and find a nice binder for them! And I simply must polish my business cards (and find a cunning little case for them)! (No, I don't need to count them, but thanks for that.)

And when all that is done, I can ponder where Daughter learned air quotes from.