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The ABC's of Poetry Webinar



Earlier this year I discovered some interesting Webinars for children’s writers. In February I signed on to The ABCs of Poetry: Writing in Poetic Form for Children & Young Adults, hosted by Texas SCBWI, featuring Leslea Newman. Leslea is an award-winning children’s author, and teaches Writing for Children and Young Adults at Spalding University’s brief-residency MFA in Writing program.

Leslea’s focus was on formal poetry, and poetic forms.
“Formal poetry is poetry that sticks to a traditional pattern or structure that often uses rhyme, rhythm, and repetition as well as other poetic techniques.”

Poems that don’t stick to a rigid form still make use of attributes of formal poetry such as rhyme, rhythm, repetition, meter, and uniformity of stanza length. Rhyming couplets, which contains four-line stanzas with the second and fourth lines rhyming, is a simple form of formal poetry.

Many of her own poems are written in rigid forms with prescribed structures. These include the pantoum, villanelle, terza rima, sonnet, sestina, cinquain, haiku, rondeau and triolet.

Just hearing those words intimidates me! But Leslea’s webinar explained the types of poetry in a way that even I could understand, giving examples of each. Here are just a few.

The ghazal, a Persian form of poetry, contains internal rhyme before a repeated refrain at the ends of the lines. Read Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s poem “NAAMAH AND THE ARK AT NIGHT.”

The ballad is a French form of poetry consisting of four-line stanzas. Using simple, direct language, the emphasis is on plot and story-telling (a heroic act). An example is THE PIRATE QUEENS by Jane Yolen.

Haiku is a Japanese form of poetry consisting of three lines. The entire poem should be as long as one breath, and should contain some description of nature, and have an aha! moment and an element of compassion. Read GUY KU by Bob Raczka, or WONTON by Lee Wardlaw

The pantoum, from 15th century Malayan literature, consists of 4-line stanzas of indefinite length and optional rhyming. Every line in a pantoum is used twice.

Leslea gave a few reasons for writing formal poetry. A few of them are:
•It develops your ear.
•Formal poetry soothes the reader.
•It provides a built-in tension of expectation and surprise.

Leslea said “I find writing formal poetry especially helpful when writing about emotionally wrenching situations.” See her book, I CARRY MY MOTHER.

Books on poetic form
A KICK IN THE HEAD: AN EVERYDAY GUIDE TO POETIC FORMS by Paul Janeczko and Chris Raschka.
THE BOOK OF FORMS: A HANDBOOK OF POETICS by Lewis Turco.

Leslea Newman is a poet, a teacher, and a mentor. Find out more on her website at: http://lesleanewman.com/

Check out these upcoming or ongoing webinars and podcasts for children’s writers:

Picture Book Craft Intensive: Telling Children's Stories in Today's Market
An On-Demand Webinar
Guest Speaker: Mary Kole

Chapter Book Craft 101 with Simon & Schuster editor, Amy Cloud
October 20, 2015 from 7:00-8:30 pm
hosted by North Texas SCBWI
very reasonable price with reduced rate for SCBWI members

Keep your eye on this Writers’ Digest link to up-coming webinars

SCBWI Podcasts, which are free to members!
SCBWI brings our members engaging podcasts with leaders in the children’s book field. Sit in on these conversations to get informed and inspired!

For information on how to become a member of SCBWI, click here or go to http://www.scbwi.org/about/.  Read More 
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What Makes a Good Picture Book

Earlier this year I discovered some great webinars on writing for children. A webinar is a seminar conducted over the internet. The cost of attending varies. Some are free. Some, sponsored by the Society of Children’s Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) regional chapters, are offered at a reduced rate for members. Others cost more. All are easily accessed if you have internet access.

Last month I logged on to the 12 X 12 Webinar--What Makes a Good Picture Book with Emma Dryden and Julie Hedlund. The talk was about what makes a good picture book and how to write one.

Emma Dryden talked about qualities that make an outstanding picture book. They are—
1—Read-aloud-ability—Read your own text over and over, ten times in a row!
2—Rhythm
3—Musicality
4—Illustration possibilities

As a freelance editor and consultant, Dryden looks for distinctive main characters, and a main point of view. The reader, who is a child, must be able to relate to the main character.

Voice

One way to develop your picture book character is by giving them a distinctive, memorable voice. Ways to do that:
Use rhythm
Use a refrain or a tag
Change some of your narrative into dialogue

One example of a book whose main character has a great voice is THAT BOOK WOMAN. The author Heather Hensen’s main character has a narrative, Appalachian voice which gives his voice a ‘tone.’

“Why, even critters of the wild will keep a-hid come snow like this. But sakes alive—we hear a tap tap tap upon the window-glass. And there she be—wrapped tip to toe!”

Regarding whether to write your story in 1st person or 3rd person, Dryden said that most picture books are told in 3rd person, and there is more than preference to consider here. Young readers (ages 3-6) are not emotionally developed enough to understand (or make the connection to) ‘I’ in a story. Making the leap from ‘me’ to ‘I’ is more difficult because the young child can’t put themselves into someone else’s shoes. They ‘get’ the narrator better. She said that it’s often the same with middle grade books and for the same reason.

Emotions

A great picture book ‘shows’ emotions well. One example of a picture book that ‘shows’ emotions is LIBRARY LION by Michelle Knudsen (illustrated by Kevin Hawkes; Candlewick Press 2000). I checked this book out from the library and it’s become one of my favorites. Here’s one example of ‘showing’ emotion from the book—

“Story hour is over,” a little girl told him…. The lion looked at the children. He looked at the story lady. He looked at the closed books. Then he roared very loud. RAAAHHRRRR!"

I think the reader can easily figure out that the lion is not happy that there are no more stories.

Show, Don’t Tell

Dryden looks at whether the author can ‘show’ not ‘tell’ the information in the manuscript.

Ways to do that:
Do something with body language
Use dialogue

Dialogue can get dull, and feel flat. What to do?
Have some activity along with your dialogue.
Change it up—think ‘page turns.’ Dummy your picture book to see what page turns can do.
Alternate dialogue and narrative.
And if no one else is around, your characters can talk to themselves.

Regarding non-fiction picture books, the advice was very similar.
Develop your main character.
Create a voice in narrative non-fiction.

A wonderful example of a non-fiction picture book was MOON SHOT by Brian Floca (Atheneum 2009). This book is also one of my favorites. Floca uses a poetic (but not rhyming), rhythmic, narrative style:

Here below
there are three men…
who—click—lock hands
in heavy gloves,
who—click—lock heads
in large, round helmets.


One quality of a good picture book is ‘musicality.’ Like music, a picture book text has a beat and has pauses. Is writing lyrically or rhythmically a learnable skill? “Absolutely!” both Dryden and Hedlund agreed. But it takes discipline.
Read a lot of picture books out loud!
Use sound effects to help create a rhythm.
Use the help of a critique group.

Keep in mind the top two qualities of an outstanding picture book
Read-aloud-ability and
Rhythm—even in narrative.

Now it’s your turn to sit down and create an outstanding picture book!

Emma Dryden is a past editor of board books through YA and has edited over 500 books. She currently does freelance editing and consulting. You can find her at:
www.drydenbks.com
@drydenbooks (Twitter)
Dryden books (on facebook)
Emma's blog

Check out these upcoming or ongoing webinars and podcasts for children’s writers:

Picture Book Craft Intensive: Telling Children's Stories in Today's Market
An On-Demand Webinar
Guest Speaker: Mary Kole

Chapter Book Craft 101 with Simon & Schuster editor, Amy Cloud
October 20, 2015 from 7:00-8:30 pm
hosted by North Texas SCBWI
very reasonable price with reduced rate for SCBWI members

Keep your eye on this Writers’ Digest link to up-coming webinars

And take a look at the SCBWI Podcasts, which are free to members!
SCBWI brings our members engaging podcasts with leaders in the children’s book field. Sit in on these conversations to get informed and inspired!

For information on how to become a member of SCBWI, click here or go to http://www.scbwi.org/about/.  Read More 
Be the first to comment

Finding ‘Voice’ in Children’s Picture Books

We went to our grandson’s Kindergarten celebration the other day. When it was over he gave me a big hug and said, “You smell like you guys’es place.” I wasn’t sure what that meant, but the smell of an older relative’s house when I was a young child came to mind. Then I thought of the building where our granddaughters’ gymnastics classes were held and how it smelled like sweaty socks. I hoped I didn’t smell like either of those! But I think I was ok, since he gave me a loong hug.

Later that night I started thinking about voice, and how in the same way that you sometimes identify certain places with smells, you identify certain authors and their characters by ‘voice.’

When I think of Robert Munsch, I always think of his humor and use of onomatapoeia— ‘Varoooooooooommmm,’ and ‘blam, blam, blam, blam, blam!’

When I think of the Frances books by Russell Hoban I can’t help but think how the voice of Frances comes through in the short rhymes that she makes up when she’s thinking or talking.

No one can write about farm animals quite the way that Doreen Cronin does. And the voice of Steven Kellogg is unique, whether he’s writing about a snake eating the wash or bringing characters to life as in Johnny Appleseed or Pecos Bill.

Voice is the way that only you can write.

Laura Backes says in Writing-World.com— “Voice is like a fingerprint; it makes the story uniquely yours.” Click on the link to read Laura’s post on voice.

Voice is probably the least ‘teachable’ part of writing a picture book. Because it’s not really taught, it’s a part of you already. You just have to ‘find’ it.

The way to do that is to write. Write spontaneously, without thinking about a polished manuscript. Write your first drafts, and don’t go back until you’ve finished. Don’t stop to correct grammar, or to fix story or develop your characters. All of that comes later, with revision. The more you write, the more your ‘voice’ will come through.

Here are a few more books to look at—

THAT BOOK WOMAN by Heather Hensen is told in a narrative, Appalachian voice.
ONE THOUSAND TRACINGS by Lita Judge
HOW DO DINOSAURS SAY GOODIGHT? and other ‘Dinosaur’ books by Jane Yolen
LILLY’S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE by Kevin Henkes

Read more about Finding Your Voice at —

Highlights Foundation blog for children’s writers.

Lee and Low Books

Live Guru  Read More 
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