Friday, July 31, 2015

3 things I've learned About Conferences & Me

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Howdy, Campers--and happy Poetry Friday!
(See below for a poem about being a writer by Richard Wilbur and for today's PF host.)

We're in the middle of TeachingAuthors' series on Summer Learning Opportunities.

So far we've heard from JoAnn--who, through her own fascinating Summer Science Experiments, is learning more about hatching monarchs in her backyard; Esther--who's learning about authors from her own fair city (Chicago), discovered four "eye-openingly insightful" blogs, learned about the "3-paragraph query," and how to "attend" the National SCBWI conference if you can't be there in person. Carla shares what she's learned about the unexpected benefits from attending an SCBWI conference, and Mary Ann inspires us with her summer Young Writer's Camp.

As for me, I'm looking forward to being on the faculty of the National SCBWI Conference from July 31 through August 2nd (with intensive workshops available for an additional fee on Monday, August 3rd). Once again I'll be critiquing manuscripts submitted by conference attendees who've paid extra for written and face-to-face critiques.

My very smart friend, author and poet Greg Pincus (who blogs at GottaBook) posted the link to this fabulous blog post on attending an SCBWI conference by art director Giuseppe Castellano...and our own Esther has written what is by now a classic essay on attending an SCBWI conference.

Esther and I come at conferences from two very different perspectives. Basically, She jumps into the fray carrying a bunch of balloons; I get overwhelmed by more than 10 people at a party.

So, here are three things I've learned about conferences (how they affect me and how I cope) in the 24 years I've attended SCBWI in Los Angeles:

1) Be kind to yourself.  This conference can be overwhelming. No--I take that back: this conference is overwhelming. This summer 1000 people are attending from around the world.

A few of the attendees at this year's SCBWI Conference
(from morguefile.com)

We crowd into a posh hotel over a long summer weekend. The excited, anxious, ecstatic, frightened, enthusiastic, vibrating energy of 1000 friendly/shy/talkative/mute children's book professionals and pre-professionals (thanks for that term, Carla!) can be paralyzing.  The air in any hotel over that many days with that many people gets used up. And so do I.

2) Take breaks. I usually stand in the back because there's simply TOO MUCH SITTING!  That's one way I've learned to give my body a break. I've also learned (to my astonishment) that it's okay not to attend every single session. I can actually go outside and gulp fresh air...sit on the grass with my eyes closed for a few minutes. It's amazing how so simple an action as breathing can change my body chemistry.  Ahhhhhh....

No--not me.
(from morguefile.com)

3) And I've learned that some years I just need to be VELCRO®.

from morguefile.com

Although there have been many years I couldn't wait to sign up for the conference, couldn't wait to bond with new peeps, couldn't wait to find out what everyone was doing and share what I was up to, there have been other years, too.

Years when I couldn't figure out how to write that book--the one that was going to put me on the map, years when no one had invited me to submit a poem since the Ice Age, years when I was raw, raw, raw from rejection, Those are the years when I did NOT want to attend that stupid conference.  Nope.  Not gonna do it. And you can't make me.

It's about the shame, of course. I'm judging my insides against everyone else's outsides. It's like that false fog which hovers over FaceBook where I see those sparkling photos and know that every one of my FB friends are completely fulfilled, are always at goal weight, and have (just yesterday) signed a three-book deal.  (It's true--they have, you know.)

That's when I've learned I need to VELCRO® myself to real-life friends at the conference.  Hang with them. Go into the hall with them. Choose whatever breakout session they choose--it doesn't matter. They're my peeps. My buds. The ones who believe in me...and I believe in them. They save me from the darkness every time.

So, if you're coming to the SCBWI conference, please come up and say hello!We can VELCRO® together for awhile.

And Campers--if you are going to any gathering this summer that makes you a teensy bit uneasy, a little bit insecure, maybe the following quote will help. It's helped me.

Just for today, be open to the possibility
that there is nothing wrong with you.

Finally, here is a poem to inspire you:

THE WRITER
by Richard Wilbur

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.
click here for the rest of this poem

The poetry gods and goddesses bring Poetry Friday to Keri Recommends today. Thanks for hosting, Keri!

posted live from the floor of SCBWI's National Conference in living color and with love by April Halprin Wayland


Monday, July 27, 2015

How I Spent My Summer Vacation and Loved Every Minute of It

     On July 3, I saw my first "back-to-school" ad.  Outside it was 97 degrees.  On TV, children dressed in sweaters and boots did handsprings over the notion of new notebooks and backpacks.

     Even though school in Georgia starts ridiculously early (sometime in the first two weeks of August), I can't get serious about "back-to-school" while I am in the heart of my summer. The week of the 4th I was halfway through what I call my Young Writer's Camps. (The sponsoring organization...two different ones this year...call them something else, that I promptly forget.)

   
 Young Writer's Camps have been the best part of my summer (or year, for that matter) for nine years. While my Facebook friends are posting from Maui and Montana and Myrtle Beach, I take a twice-a-day selfie at camp,perhaps to compare the damage done after seven hours with twelve young authors. Young Writer's Camps are my idea of vacation. Seriously. Yes, the first camp week reminds me of my public school teaching days when I felt as if I had been worked over with a Louisville Slugger, standing on cement floors in hard soled shoes, after a summer of sneakers and sand. But now, as then, no matter how wasted I feel, emotionally and physically, it's a good feeling. Every day is a good day at writing camp.

    Starting out with one camp per summer in downtown Atlanta (the commute alone would kill you), I moved on to two camps with my local parks department (zero commute!) This year we not only added an Advanced Writers Camp for returnees and serious writers, but I also conducted a camp for the Historical Society of a neighboring county (hello, long commute!) Both my sponsoring groups are hoping to add additional weeks next summer.  This summer there were four sessions. Next year we are aiming for a minimum of six, maximum enrollment of twelve.

    These are creative days, where my writers can continue the dystopian novel they started last summer, write stories based on family history (some are pretty hair raising), personal essays, poetry. If it is not part of the Georgia writing curriculum, it's part of mine.

    Like most American public schools, the emphasis is on essay and report writing. I understand. Being able to write well as an adult is an important skill. But in a world where recess has vanished in favor of more "instruction time," and music and the visual arts are considered so much expensive foofaraw, the child whose talent is creating fantasy worlds or sonnets...well, do it on your own time, kid. After you finish that enormous amount of homework.

   When I first began the camps, deep in the darkest days of No Child Left Behind, I had kids who were afraid to write anything, for fear that it was wrong. Wrong spelling, punctuation, grammar, subject...they were terrified of writing. My first rule that year and forever after is this: There is no right or wrong way to write in my camps. I make sure they understand that creative writing and whatever it is they do in a classroom are two different things. The kids seem to get the difference. You can just see those tight little shoulders and pencil-gripping fingers relax as soon as they know they are free to mess up. It's my own version of Anne Lamott's giving yourself permission to write terrible first drafts.

    Once they know there are no writing rules, I tell them that they are all writers right now. This is not strictly the truth since there are always those kids who are there because their parents need childcare and we are a bargain compared to horseback riding camp or Young Gourmet camp. With one exception, in nine years of camps, I have never had a parent or student tell me they didn't enjoy the week, even if they were massively unenthusiastic about being there on day one.

   I begin by telling them they are good writers, but by the end of the week they'll be better writers. I tell them how even after my books are published, I always want to go back and fiddle with them. I am never finished with them in my head. This is a less threatening way of easing kids into being critiqued. I call it "conferencing" where we meet one-on-one to praise their strengths, and sneak in a few subtle grammar points. ("Does this story all take place in the past or in the right-now? You can fix that by making all the verbs "match.") I try to use as little "teacher talk" as possible. After all, it's summer, this is a camp. Camps are supposed to be fun.

     I disguise writing skills as "contests." Vocabulary building is "re-branded" into "Can you name an animal (or color or action verb or adjective) for every letter of the alphabet?" This particularly good when I have kids who are ESOL, or whose parents insist they speak their native language at home. We play "charades" by acting out action verbs. We make lists of words to substitute for more pedestrian ones. (This year's favorite word...undulate!)

   We talk about books we love and why, as well as books we disliked and why. I don't force anyone to "share" their work with the group, although 99% of them do. I do insist on two things on two share items every morning. One, they have to tell something unusual they have observed, This is considered "homework" and must be read from their notebooks. This is to get them in the habit of keeping a writer's notebook of story ideas.  The other is that they have to contribute to "Ms Rodman's reading list" by giving me a suggestion for my own reading. This not only lets me know what kids like (as opposed to what librarians, teachers and book reviewers like), but has broadened my reading tastes considerably. Thanks to their suggestions, I have come to enjoy dystopian worlds (!!!) any number of new-to-me series, and my newest love, graphic novels. I learned about the world of Fan Fiction through my students. At the end of the week, I feel that I have learned more from them than they have from me.

     Last Friday was the end of camp season for this year. I packed up my gigantic sticky note pad, markers, thesauri and odds and ends of writing books. I said a mental good-by to the four girls who have attended camp every year in it's current location.  The boys who wrote historical fiction about WWII and the Iraqi War. This year's edition of the Fan Fiction writer (a girl this time who was into Dr. Who). The kids whose powers of observation are almost superhuman. I load up my car, turn off the lights, and lock the door.  I'll be back next year.

    It's my vacation.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

 

Friday, July 24, 2015

What Writing Conferences Can Do For You


The topic of a few TA blog posts this summer will deal with conferences and other types of summer learning experiences.  JoAnn Early Macken has a fascinating post about tending monarch butterflies in her garden, Summer Science Experiments.  Since I live in an area through which monarchs migrate, I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe JoAnn’s butterflies will flutter by my house and land on the blooms in my flower bed.   
 

Esther Hershenhorn detailed some of the great blog posts she is working on this summer in One Writer’s Nuggets from Her Summer… So Far.  Not only does she give lots of wonderful details about Chicago, Esther also talks about SCBWI conferences.   

I attended several national conferences while I was a SCBWI Regional Advisor.  They are an exciting adventure.  It’s great to meet the authors whose books you admire, hear them speak, and buy an autographed copy.   Conferences give writers the opportunity to meet others who share their passion of writing for young readers.   The world of children’s book authors is a friendly place and conferences give you the chance to get to know people from all over the county and the world.  Writers find themselves in the midst of a crowd of people who understand the joy and the rejection of writing to publish. 

Nearly every pre published writer at an SCBWI conference hopes they will make a connection with an editor who will publish their book.  And that is always possible.  But when I look back to my early years as a writer, I see now that the most important lessons I learned at SCBWI conferences did not result in a published book.   One clear benefit is the wonderful friends I made, including Esther Hershenhorn.  For me, another benefit was that I began to see how the creative side of writing must coexists with the business of publishing.   

Conferences teach writers about the craft and the business of writing.  What can be learned at SCBWI conferences can speed up the process of both sides.   Like Joann’s butterflies, change happens and pre published writers change into published authors.   

Monday, July 20, 2015

One Writer's Nuggets from Her Summer...So Far


Chicago’s June through July rains and cold temps marked Summer as it’s supposed to be a Very Late Arrival.
Still, I found sunshine aplenty to keep me on task in the golden opportunities that kept me writing, reading and connecting.


So first, the writing.
I was honored to be invited to contribute 3 blog posts to the Newsletter of the American Writers Museum – a national museum celebrating American writers, opening in Chicago in 2016.
Early word about this museum quickly captured my attention.  You can read all about it here.
Be sure to scroll down to the bottom of the home page so you can subscribe to the Newsletter and learn about its soon-to-be-announced location.
I chose to focus my blogs on Chicago children’s book authors.
My first, titled “Somewhere, Over Lake Michigan,” shares L. Frank Baum’s Chicago connection to THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ.
Few know the author wrote the book while living on the northwest side of Chicago – and – that his visits in 1893 to the Columbian Exposition’s White City led to his imagining the Emerald City.
Next on deck:  a blog about Chicago-born Shel Silverstein’s sidewalks and attics.


As for my reading, this summer, thanks to my Newberry Library’s “Write Place” workshop students, I’ve been checking out all sorts of early chapter books and all sorts of relevant Kidlitosphere blogs, especially those that present diverse cultures.
Here are 4 blogs I found eye-openingly insightful:

As always, my best connecting opportunities arrived courtesy of SCBWI, THE Connection Vehicle for children’s book creators.  

In June I was lucky enough to hear Andrea Brown Literary Agent Kelly Sonnack present to the Illinois SCBWI Chapter’s City Network on How to Write a Query Letter.
Kelly recommends a 3-paragraph query: the first paragraph is personal, sharing why the writer seeks representation from the particular agent and the second paragraph offers an overview of the story, comparisons to similar titles and never gives away the ending. It was Kelly’s suggestion for the third paragraph that struck me as brilliant: the inspiration for the writer’s work!  Just how and why did this book come to be?
What a clever way to get a true sense of the writer.
Kelly represents illustrators and writers for all age groups within children’s literature, though she is currently not accepting queries.
Alas, I’m unable to attend the July 31-August 3 44th Annual SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles, at least in Real Time.
I do plan to attend vicariously via SCBWI's Team Blog.
Click here so you can attend too.  Be sure to read the pre-conference interviews and learn  about the 25 editors and agents, the Golden Kite Winners and a host of authors who’ll be presenting workshops. 

Of course, besides writing, reading and connecting, writers dream.
This summer, I began each workshop session with the inspirational words of ALA-award-winning authors.
My students took heart and hope from Sid Fleishman, Christopher Paul Curtis, Greg Pizzoli and John Green via their past acceptance speeches. 
They were also able to do the same via the June, 2015 acceptance speeches of Newbery medalist Kwame Alexander, Coretta Scott King medalist Jaclyn Woodson and Pura Belpre medalist Marjorie Algosin. (Click on each name to read his or her speech.)
FYI: The Horn Book Magazine publishes a special July/August 2015 Special Awards issue that includes the above speeches in print.

Confidentially, I love getting lost in these speechifying moments. 
Whenever despair descended upon my very first Writer’s Group, we’d take turns sharing what we planned to wear when we accepted our particular awards, be they Newbery, Dr. Gesell, Prinz or Sibert.
I’m not so sure now about that navy blue gab pencil skirt with the front slit, or even the white silk blouse, long-sleeved, Georgette neckline.  My ankle-strapped heels are still in the running, though. J

Here’s hoping the golden nuggets I shared from my Summer so far will keep you writing, reading, connecting and dreaming.

Esther Hershenhorn

Friday, July 17, 2015

Summer Science Experiments

So far this summer, we’ve stuck close to home. We’re working on projects around the house and the yard, and some days, everything feels like a science experiment. Lucky for us, we’re still learning!


I’m tending monarchs in the backyard—this is my sixth year—and finding them fascinating as usual. I learn something new every year. This year, I’m taking a more hands-off approach. I trust that they know what they’re doing. (You can see more photos, monarch info, and the tent where I keep them on my web site.)

I started milkweed plants from seed again this spring. A couple of last year’s butterfly milkweed plants are blooming, but this year’s are still tiny. I was surprised to see when I repotted a few that the roots were filling the pots. Lesson learned: Larger pots to come.


We’re experimenting with food, too. My husband discovered a mulberry tree, so we’ve been picking, baking, and eating them fresh by the handful. And in our granola, of course, the latest batch of which includes the maple syrup we bottled last winter. So satisfying!


This year’s garden includes way too much kale, which we’ve added to salads, given to neighbors, and last night baked in a quiche with oven-roasted tomatoes and cheddar cheese. Possibly the best quiche ever—so glad I made two!

My summer reading includes a large pile of botany books for a new nonfiction picture book I’m excited to work on. My writing group gave me positive reviews, encouragement, and a number of helpful suggestions I can’t wait to try. Must get back to it! But first, here’s a mulberry poem:

Squirrel stares at me—
mulberry stained, pail half full.
We can share, can’t we?

Kimberley Moran is hosting today’s Poetry Friday Roundup. Enjoy! And happy summer!

JoAnn Early Macken

Monday, July 13, 2015

Hot Summer History Reads

morguefile.com

It's summer time! Yahoo! And what better way to celebrate summer than to indulge in some summer time reading.  It’s my favorite genre to write and read. Historical fiction is the coming together of two opposing elements: fact and fiction. But as the great Katherine Patterson once said, “…historical fiction [is] a bastard child of letters, respectable neither as history nor as fiction.”  I’ve written before, how defining historical fiction shares similar idiosyncrasies as Doctor Who.

When Patterson wrote historical fiction, she was often taken to task for writing stories that were considered not true to contemporary readers. But, said Patterson, “…In many instances, historical fiction is much more realistic than a lot of today’s realism…Nothing becomes dated more quickly than contemporary fiction.” In the best of historical fiction, as with any story, a child becomes a hero who gains power over her situation, a theme that contemporary readers appreciate.



And summer time is the best time for savoring my favorite historical reads.

 
I read this book in one sitting. An exciting read from Avi is City of Orphans (2011). The book follows young Maks Geless, a newsie scraping a living on the mean streets of New York City in 1893. Maks’ sister Emma has been arrested and he has only four days to prove her innocence.


Paul Fleischman’s award-winning Bull Run (1993) brings together sixteen distinct viewpoints in the
gripping retelling of the first great battle of the Civil War. This can be either an easy afternoon read or a fun summer performance for readers’ theater. An amazing study in perspective!


I revisited these books this summer, following the discussions on diversity in literature. Laurie Halse Anderson’s Seeds of America Trilogy begins with Chains (2010). As the Revolutionary War starts, young Isabel wages her own fight for freedom. The story continues in its sequel, Forge (2012) with Curzon as an escaped slave serving with the Continental Army. A particularly moving and heart-stomping depiction of the struggles that the enslaved and the freemen endured during the country’s fight for its own freedom.

Westerns are my absolute favorite. Laurie J. Edwards, under the pen name Erin Johnson, introduced Grace Milton in her Western for young adults, Grace and the Guiltless (2014), Book One of the Wanted Series. When her family is murdered by the Guiltless Gang, Grace struggles to survive the wilderness and her grief. Her story continues in the sequel, Her Cold Revenge (August, 2015), as Grace becomes a bounty hunter and hunts the gang that killed her family.

 As one reviewer offered, this may just be the story that hooks a new generation of readers on the Western genre. For a summer treat, you can read the first chapters of Her Cold Revenge here!





Another series that I have particularly enjoyed this summer is Iain Lawrence’ High Seas Trilogy. The Wreckers (1998) and its companion The Smugglers (1999) follows young John Spencer in a high-sea adventure complete with swashbuckling characters, salty dialogue and a spine-tingling cliffhangers. The story continues with The Buccaneers (2001). This series reminds me of another favorite, Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Kidnapped.



Let the adventure begin! 

Bobbi Miller




Friday, June 26, 2015

3 things About Commas To Make You Smile

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Howdy, Campers--and Happy Poetry Friday (original poem and PF link below)!

This is the last of our series about punctuation and related topics. Bobbi started us off with For the Love of Comma (her post was mentioned in Quercus), Esther offers A New Mark of Punctuation (sort of)...,Carla illustrates her point with specific examples from her books in How You Tell the Story Makes a Difference, and Mary Ann pleads, Can We Give the Exclamation Point a Rest?

*    *    *   *
When my son was four, he was lying on the floor leisurely looking at a book one morning when I rushed in. "C'mon, honey--we've gotta go!"

"Okay, Mommy," he said marking his page, "lemme put it on pause."

Don't you love that?

my kiddo...who will be entering medical school in January

Put it on pause.  Commas, line breaks and periods give pause; they remind us to breathe. Like Bobbi, I love commas.  My summer present to you: three things about commas to make you smile:

1) A few years ago, I bought my mom (a true Punctuation Queen) this plaque.  

from signals.com
(Mom loved it.)

2) When my son was in elementary school, I read poetry to his class once a week.  I was trying to be like my teacher, Myra Cohn Livingston: I wanted to share poetry with no strings attached.  As I read, they listened, just listened.  Nothing was expected of them.  I read every poem twice.

At the end of each year, I gave them each a collection of the poems they loved; in third grade, this was one of their favs (make sure to take a big breath before attempting to read it aloud!):

Call the Periods
Call the Commas

By Kalli Dakos

Call the doctors Call the nurses Give me a breath of
air I’ve been reading all your stories but the periods
aren’t there Call the policemen Call the traffic guards
Give me a STOP sign quick Your sentences are running
when they need a walking stick Call the commas Call
the question marks Give me a single clue Tell me
where to breathe with a punctuation mark or two


From If You're Not Here, Please Raise Your Hand; Poems about School by Kalli Dakos, illustrated by Brian Karas (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1995) 

3) We're told so much about the health benefits of deep breathing; of taking time to slow down. Remember to Breathe, they say.

And just think: as writers, with our very own fingers, we have magic power. Add a comma, push the pause button.

Applause for the Pause
by April Halprin Wayland

A comma,
a breaking line
a period.

A day off,
a week away
summer.

poem (c)2015 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

*   *   *   *
And finally, congratulations to TeachingAuthors' latest Book Giveaway Winner:
Em M, who won JoAnn Early Macken's Baby Says Moo wonderful board book--lucky Em!

Poetry Friday is at Carol's Corner this week--thanks for hosting, Carol!

As I said, TeachingAuthors is taking our annual Summer Blogging Break after this post (our sixth annual blogging break, for those of you who are paying attention). We'll be back in two shakes of a lamb's tail--which technically is Monday, July 13th. So, grab your towel, dive into the pool, and swim a few laps while we're gone ~ TTFN!

posted on a summer's day by April Halprin Wayland--with help from Eli (dog), Snot (cat), and Monkey.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Can We Give the Exclamation Point a Rest?

     Young Author's Camps are well under way. It's Sunday night, and I am anticipating tomorrow's new group of writers. To (sort of) quote Forrest Gump, "Writing campers are like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you are going to get."

    If this camp is true to form, it will be a Whitman's Sampler of writers. Kids whose parents think I am running a remedial writing boot camp despite the Parks' Department naming the program "Writing is Fun!"  (Remember that exclamation point.)  Learning disabled kids.  Kids who are there because their parents need a place to park them for the week...and mine was the only camp that still had openings. (Always flattering to hear, "You're all that was left.") And of course, there are usually some kids who there because they love to write. Usually. Not always.

   For the last several years, every session has had a core of writers for whom English is a second language. No one can put together a perfect English sentence the way a 10-year-old who learned the language in school can. Their subjects and verbs agree, something that seems "optional" to a number of "English only" kids. Tenses don't leap from past to present to future in the same sentence.  Punctuation is meticulous. Speaking of punctuation, these ESOL kids have learned the Power of the Punctuation Point.

    A lot of kids let the exclamation point do all the heavy lifting in a sentence.  Rather than show the reader fear, joy, surprise (fill in the emotion here), they toss big handfuls of exclamation points instead.  A paragraph of five sentences will include six exclamation points. (More is better, right?) After awhile those little points seem to rise off the page in platoons, stabbing at my eyeballs. A slight exaggeration, but after awhile all you see on the page is !!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Example:  I was so sad when we moved!  I left all my friends behind!  I didn't know anybody at school!  I hated school! I was always in a bad mood!  Even my dog was in a bad mood!!!!

    Why are these kids so dependent on the point?  My first thought is to blame texting and email which has shrunk language down to emoticons and acronyms (OMG, LOL, ��).  But most of my students are not allowed on social media, or have email accounts. Back in the day, teachers blamed comic books for sloppy punctuation (Pow! Biff! Bam!  Take that, Batman!).  I haven't run across any of comic fans among my writers.  Video games like World of Warcraft or Call of Duty, yes.  Comic books, no.

     There are a handful of chapter book writers who go over the top with the punctuation points for comic effect. I'm not laughing, but the kids are.  Still, even those writers do it a couple of times per book at most, not every sentence.

    It comes back to something I've posted about before...vocabulary.  For my young writers, it is easier to use my two pet peeves, the word "very" combined with an adjective and an exclamation point.  In revision of their work, I encourage them to find another way of expressing the emotion without using "very."

   Example:  The test was very hard!

  Alternatives:  The test was: challenging complicated confusing demanding difficult exhausting puzzling tiring unclear. (Pick one.)

  Each of the alternatives offers a clearer picture of how or why the test was "hard."  Was it physically
hard?  Did your head ache?  Did you write so much your hand hurt?  Or was it hard to understand?  Were the directions unclear?  Did you mix-up your facts?  Or were the questions more difficult than you expected?  Or did it just make you think harder?  "Hard" can mean a lot of things in describing a test.  What exactly did you mean?

    At this point I bring out my trusty thesaurus collection: beginners, intermediate and Roget's.  My students are familiar with the thesaurus...the one on their word processing program.  I compare the meager selection offered by the computer program to the many, many options in the thesaurus. They learn they cannot slide by with what I call "wimp words"...words too general to say what they mean. The substitutions for wimp words are in the thesaurus.  By the end of the week, they have almost eliminated phrases such as very beautiful, very hot, very boring. Instead, flowers are exquisite, days swelter and TV shows uninteresting.

    Once the "enabler" word "very" disappears, the punctuation marks often disappear as well.  At least they do in descriptive passages.  They still seem to show up in dialog.  How else do you show some one is excited?  Example:  "It's raining!" she said excitedly.

   In this case, the culprit is "said." Said is a perfectly good word.  It's meant to be unobtrusive in dialog.  Sometimes, however, you want to know how that sentence is...well...said. How could you show the speaker is excited without that pesky exclamation point?  Swap said for one of the following verbs:  screamed, shouted, yelled, exclaimed, moaned, groaned, cried, wailed, howled, wailed, gasped, choked,shrieked, rejoiced, squealed, cheered, announced.

   If after all those choices the writer still can't let go of that exclamation point, I issue an ultimatum. Two exclamation points for the whole piece.  More than two, I tell the student, "Imagine that I control  the world supply of exclamation points.  If you wan to use on, they are now a hundred dollars apiece."  The silliness of the notion usually makes the writer think twice about using them.

    Again, in the words of Forrest Gump..."And that's all I have to say about that."

    No exclamation point.

    BOOK GIVEAWAY

    Today is the last time to register for our give away of JoAnn Early Macken's board book, BABY SAYS MOO.  For details, see JoAnn's June 12 post.

    Posted by Mary Ann Rodman