Back to School with “E-mergency”

Spoilers ahead…

School is back in session! And the books I like to take out for my kids (okay, for me, too) usually involve letters, numbers, and anything having to do with a school setting… in a fun context, of course. One of our favorite picks these days is E-mergency by Tom Lichtenheld and Ezra Fields-Meyer.

This witty and entertaining book is full of laughs and puns. Though most of the jokes go right over my kindergartener’s head, he still enjoys the reading. And my 10-year-old understands almost of all it, making it entertaining for all ages, including adults. The younger one chuckles at the comedic illustrations and reading “EMT, IV, ER, CPR, A-OK” letters that have their own meaning. The older one is drawn to the twist of phrases, words, and letters (the letter “Z” is always sleepy, the letter “P” goes pee).

So when “E” has an accident, “No one can use E, including US… Y US?” The “O” then replaces “E,” but it just won’t do – for instance, “Ice Cream” becomes “Ico Croam.” Even more than the chaos on signs and in speech, the disuse of  “E” proves to be sad for all.

Amidst the silliness, the underlying story that should not be ignored is that each member of a group is valuable. Each part is important and necessary for their unique role in the world. And without it, something is simply missing, even downright wrong.

Every letter and Everyone is Extraordinary! Unfortunately, we do not always recognize this until it’s gone.

Published by Chronicle Books 2011

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Angel at School: Part 1

Kids brushed by Fred to the left and to the right, carelessly bumping against his shoulders. “Why is everyone in such a hurry? Fine, it’s the first day of school; but still – people, chill!” With his hand-me-down backpack and shoes from the year before, “because they still fit” according to his mother, Fred was not particularly ready for the new year, but that wasn’t going to stop him from having the best year yet.

His new shirt boldly declared, “I love bacon,” written in strips of bacon and eggs. It even smelled of bacon.

Omar Brown was clearly eager to be back; he had new shoes. ”Sup Freddy boy? You had a good summer?”

“It’s Fred,” Fred said with a serious, don’t-mess-with-me kind of look. But then he added a mischievous smile to assure Omar that they were still cool.

“Okay, okay. Why’d you change your name over the summer anyway?” Fred was in no mood to explain the nuances of growing up. Omar walked away, “Okay dude, whatever you want… Fred.“

Fred pulled out the school’s activity sheet. “Student Body Elections – next week.” Check. “Tryouts for ‘Aladdin Returns’ – in two weeks.” Check.

He was going to rule the school. He was a year older as of two weeks ago, finally 10. He was no longer “Freddy,” the kiddie old self. He was now “Fred,” the fantastic fifth grader, the top of the food chain, and the master of kickball.

His goals:

1. Be the school President.

2. Be the lead in the school play.

3. Collect the most bubble gum comics.

The later would give him the coveted and respected title of “Guru of Gum.” The school record was 784 comics from two years ago. Billy Park had chewed a lot of gum that year.

“Hey Freddy, nice shoes,” came an unmistakable shrill voice from behind. Telly Dell could turn a deliciously fun pizza party into a funeral with one sour comment.

“Thank you!” Fred was quick on his feet. “I decided to keep the shoes that made me ‘King Kickball’ last year.” Telly folded her arms in front of her chest and walked away in a huff. “… And it’s ‘Fred’ from now on. Thank you.”

Just then, a kindergartener whizzed by, whispering a scratchy, “F-R-E-D. Fred, Fred, Fred. This is your year so don’t you fear!” Or did an alien creature scamper across his path, he couldn’t tell? One moment he was there and the next, gone.

To be continued…

Picture Book Review: Wave

As summer comes to a rapid end, may I suggest a final hurrah… Wave, by Suzy Lee. It’s a story with no words, but full of warmth as a girl and a wave befriend each other and produce, as friendships often do, a surprise.

Being a person of words, I imagine it’s challenging to tell a story without them. But Wave does it beautifully, the best I’ve seen since Tuesday and far more simplistic, yet not more juvenile. The use of one bright color, besides charcoal and white, is used masterfully to show the wave’s emotion and effect. I also like the supporting role of seagulls and cameo by mom.

Through the playful illustrations and telling facial expressions, one can truly feel the subtleness of a blooming friendship.

Wave touches, in me, a nerve that cannot be touched with words. It’s a primal sense that relationships cannot always be explained, but rather and simply – experienced. So like many great stories, this one speaks to different ages in different ways, with a thread: the ebb and flow of getting to know someone (or something) new.

This is a book I’ll come to again and again with each new summer, full of fun, sun, and new discoveries.

Published by Chronicle Books

Conferences and BIC

I’m a writer. To be exact, I’m a journalist. But for the past 9 months, and even more so this last weekend for 4 days, I’ve been learning that fiction writing for children is a whole ‘nother world!

Since Friday, I’ve had the pleasure of attending SCBWI’s (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) International Conference in LA. Like many conferences, it was full of information, education, and inspiration (I cried at almost every keynote.)

But for me, this conference stood out! Not only was it the first one I’ve been to, providing an opportunity to have my material critiqued by a professional in the field (a publishing house editor, agent, or published writer), but it also allowed for camaraderie between like-minded masochists. Actually, this is probably true for just about any writer: we don’t do it for the money, for fame or for our egos, lest we go insane!

But truly, this was a learned and enriching experience. One of the standout teachings, among other things, was “Show, don’t tell.” (What in the world does that really mean?) Each time this was explained in its various forms, it sunk in a little deeper.

During the critique time, my journalism background could be sniffed from a mile away! Yes, I know English grammar and diction. That’s a good start. But I’m also a little too good  at “telling,” a big “no-no” in fiction. My critiquer even indicated that I was “reporting,” even though she didn’t know my background. This old dog must learn some new tricks, happily so.

Well, at least for the beginning of my novel, where I thought I had to build the scene and “tell” the reader what it’s like, I’ll have to rewrite and “show” the environment through my protagonist’s actions. To learn this and other useful tips, I purposely filled my weekend with breakout sessions that revolved around the craft of writing for this particular market; so I can honestly say, I have been enlightened!

Equally educational and exceedingly entertaining, were the people… a wonderfully loving community of people! New friends encouraged me and gave me hope. Those who were published were once like me, searching, wide-eyed, and serious about the task at hand. I came away feeling like I can do this thing; I can write, I can share a little beauty with this world, and be content… but to show up and do it well will be a lot of work!

Award winners and others shared their journeys, their rejections, the years of honing their craft, and the victories along the way. It takes a pouring out of their guts, but it’s all worth it for them, even fun. Remember, we’re masochist – but we don’t have to endure the agony part if: we write because we’re inspired, we’re made to do it, and we create for the sheer love of doing it, then leave the fruit of our labor to God.

And we don’t create in a bubble; we write in community, cheering each other on. I have my nurturing Redbud sisters, enthusiastic blogging friends, and now I add to my community, children’s book writers. So to give a shout out to my new peeps: Victoria, Cindy, Sophia, Rita, Elizabeth, Lilliam, and Pasadena area writers… thank you for the wisdom, rides, lunches, laughter, and encouragements. Now, go forth and write. Put BIC (butt in chair) and be mad with creation, but don’t go too mad!

For a unique and inspirational perspective for the artist (in 19 minutes!), download the TED app and listen to “Elizabeth Gilbert: your elusive creative genius” (Thank you for the tip, Stella! at stellarstops.com)