Teaching Kids Bad Manners Through Literature

When trying to write the kind of story you want to tell, and the kind of story kids want to hear, all sorts of pesky things can get in the way; rules of society, parents’ ideas of a “proper” story, censorship nazis, the list goes on and on.

JonScieszkaDuring the SCBWI Summer conference, John Scieszka (pronounced chess-kah), talked about this problem in his keynote address entitled The Importance of Being Subversive in Writing for Kids: Not Every Book Should Put You to Sleep. He said there are a lot of people between you and your audience; You have to get creative to sneak your ideas past them.

He told about how in his book, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, he told the tale from the wolf’s point of view. Nothing could be more subversive. He got to mess with everything – that’s what was so fun. little_pigsMy kids loved this book when they were little. Maybe that’s where they got the idea for the stories they told me whenever they got into trouble. It wasn’t me, Mom. Aliens used mind control and took over my body to make me spread peanut butter all over the television. I wouldn’t do something like that!

Just in case you haven’t read this book, here’s a quick summary:

“You may think you know the story of the Three Little Pigs. But you don’t know the whole story until you’ve heard A. Wolf’s side of the story. Mr. Wolf huffs, and he puffs, and he has a very bad sneezing cold. He also needs a cup of sugar to make a birthday cake for his dear, sweet granny’s birthday. Read and learn. Then decide for yourself–Big Bad Wolf . . . or media frame-up?” (Plot summary from author’s website.)

It may seem like just a funny story, (which it is) but I also think it plants the seeds of critical thinking and realizing there are two sides to every situation. Also, just because someone tells us we should believe them, doesn’t mean they are telling the truth. Scieszka manages to pull all of this off without beating kids over the head with a sickly sweet moral story. Fascinating.

stinky_cheeseDuring his talk, he also told about how The Stinky Cheese Man (a collection of subversive stories) received a monumental amount of rejections. One of the harsher rejections asked him to “please don’t send us anything ever again”. Ouch. Another suggested that “this isn’t really a great story to put kids to sleep.” He said he didn’t want to put kids to sleep.

The first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature (who won a Caldecott medal for that monumentally rejected book) told us this:

“You’re born being subversive. It gets beat out of you.”

Our duty is to stir kids up.

He says that you can get kids excited about reading by giving them the kinds of stories they want to read. One way he did this, besides writing a few subversive books himself, was to establish GUYS READ, a web-based literacy program for boys meant to address the declining interest in reading by boys. His GUYS READ website has a list of many books approved by boys themselves.

So the next time you find yourself censoring a crazy idea or trashing a storyline because no parent will buy it, think of Jon Scieszka and be subversive. Our kids need you to stir them up and get them excited about reading.

Advertisements

First Impressions from the LA Conference

scbwi2013I love being a part of the SCBWI tribe.

And not just because I get to run away every summer and play with my fellow writers in a celebration of children’s books. I don’t think I could make it through this grueling struggle towards publication without such a crazy-supportive community.

As Lin Oliver stated in her opening address of the SCBWI Summer conference, “Let’s admit that we’re all kind of weirdos”. That’s probably why I feel so at home when I’m there; the place is chock full of kindred spirits.

I always enjoy the parade of the faculty that follows her opening speech. This is when each speaker marches across the stage, introduces themselves and sums up life, the universe, and everything in one word. (Strangely, I have never heard someone use the word forty-two.) As usual, not all writers follow the rules.

Here are some of my favorites from this year:

David Weisner  “Plastics”

Richard Peck  “Surveillance”

Jay Asher  “Subtlety”

Then Jay spoke for his writing partner who couldn’t attend the faculty parade: (in high-pitched voice)”Hi, I’m Carolyn Mackler and my word is Asparagus”.

Matt de la Peña “Honesty” and “Tequila” (I think the tequila helps with the honesty.)

Kristin Clark Venuti “Brain fart”

Ari Lewin “Bacon”

Laurie Halse Anderson made up a word, “Frenergy” which she described as frenzy and energy.

After wracking her brain all night trying to think of a word, Alyn Johnston was inspired by the talking elevator in the hotel : “L-lobby!” (Did I mention that the elevator has a very laid back Californian accent?)

LiveImage.ashxAfter several other inspiring words, the conference got rolling with a great keynote from Laurie Halse Anderson that just made me love her forever. (Okay, I was already a fan of her work, but now it’s permanently carved into my heart: me + LHA = reader love forever and ever.)

I’ve felt an emotional disconnect with my writing lately. It’s all tied up in agent-submission fatigue and self-doubt. Anderson shot straight to the heart of that when she discussed her early writing struggles. At one point she said:

“Your fear is that you are a fraud with no talent.”

I wondered how she could see into my soul from eight rows back. I almost cried. She told us that there was a reason that we could hear dialogue and see in pictures. We have the gift of magic, of ‘Once upon a Time’.

“Books are proof humans can do magic.”

Amen! and Hell, yeah! I almost screamed out. She said that we are NOT like the other grownups; that we defend, protect, and celebrate childhood. We write books with integrity and honesty. In short, she said all of the things that recharged my writer’s heart and reminded me why I loved writing. She reminded me to forget about trends and to write what I love. It was the best way for me to start the conference – letting go of the negative crap and embracing the creative. Throughout the conference, this was the focus for me. I didn’t care this time about how to best market myself or which agents to pursue or what editors were wanting; I looked for things that inspired me.

I spent some quality time with my writing friends and sampled the local cuisine.

Me and most of the Oklahoma gang
Me and most of the Oklahoma gang
Eating at Toscanova with the whole gang.
Eating at Toscanova with the whole gang.
Bavette Alle Capesante (OMG! so good!)
Bavette Alle Capesante (OMG! so good!)

I checked out the art of a billion illustrators – not an original idea.

I think I see Jerry's bald head somewhere in the back.
I think I see Jerry’s bald head somewhere in the back.

I may have even donned a costume and danced a bit.

The Great Catsby and the girls.
The Great Catsby and the girls.
The Movie Mogul and Who is that fabulously feathered masked woman?
Jerry, The Movie Mogul and Who is that fabulously feathered masked woman?

I met some authors and took some awkward photos – they were all so generous with their time and kind words.

Laurie Halse Anderson at least knows how to keep her eyes open...
Laurie Halse Anderson at least knows how to keep her eyes open…
Joking around with Mac Barnett
Joking around with Mac Barnett
Me and Matt de la Pena. The flash went off and I froze like a deer waiting to be shot.
Me and Matt de la Peña. The flash went off and I froze like a deer waiting to be shot.

I may have gone overboard with the books.

too many books

(My bag weighed in at 49.5 lbs at the airport – score!)

I’ll be sharing posts in the weeks ahead about some great talks that helped me find the inspiration that made me excited about writing again. I hope you enjoy them.

As for my writing goals this month, I’ve toned them down a bit. Last month was a little crazy (which may have contributed to my negative state of mind).

Here are my #writemotivation goals for August:

1. Enjoy the SCBWI Summer Conference. DONE!!!
2. Revise, revise, revise. I have tons of critique notes from crit camp to review – not to mention my critique from the conference. I will be very busy with this.
3. Write, write, write. DITTO.
4. Read, read, read. I’ve indulged in this goal for the past few weeks and have read over six books already. More on that to come!
5. Keep that exercise routine going. Blech. Yes, I’m working on it. Stop nagging me. I’m just back from vacation, er, a business trip, whatever.

I hope you’ve all had an enjoyable summer and are rejuvenated from your various adventures. I know I am. Here’s to a productive and inspired fall!

My First Publishing Credit – And Other News

  • Exciting news here on the blog. One of my recent posts was accepted by a regional paper! Yes, my first publishing credit, woohoo! It’s all thanks to my folks passing along my story, How a Few Days in the Country Almost Killed Me to a local editor at the Ozark County Times. She liked it so much, she asked me to edit it down by a third so it could fit into their e-news format. I did what she asked and it appeared in this past Wednesday’s edition, along with a link back to my blog. Not bad, eh?

Here’s the article as it appears online:

Country Boy to London, City Girl to Country

  • A brief update on our upcoming spectacular SCBWI OK Fall event, AGENT DAY:  There are just a handful of spaces left! So if you’re thinking about attending this outstanding event, sign up now or you’ll wish you had. I’m so excited that some of my online friends have already signed up and I’ll get to meet them in person. To learn more details and about the participating agents and guest speakers, see my previous post here.
  • On that exciting note, I take a short leave of absence to the land of mild weather and eternal sunshine to attend the SCBWI LA Summer Conference. After a brief hiatus, in which I absorb all the literary goodness, I will be ready to return and share my newly acquired knowledge. In the mean time, I thought I’d share with you the series of posts inspired by last year’s conference. This may give you a hint as to what kind of delights I will be sharing with you in the month ahead.

sunny-palm-banner2

What Makes a Story Timeless? Emotional Truth  A post that explores how to connect through emotions.

Are You a Premature Querier?  A post that explores when to know if you’re really ready to send out that manuscript.

Markets and Trends; Don’t let them run your writing life, but don’t run away from them either. A post that explains why it’s important to be aware of trends while at the same time writing what you love.

A Brief Discussion About V-O-I-C-E Editors and Agents sound off on what this elusive quality is and how/if it can be attained.

Read, Read, READ!!! Various conference speakers discuss why it’s so important to read if you want to be a good writer.

Pay Attention! How being aware of our surroundings can benefit us as writers.

Things Beginning Writers Don’t Know Well, that one is pretty self-explanatory.

Enjoy!