Sunday, October 12, 2008

Words of Wisdom for the Children's Book Writer from-- Aaron Copland?

Okay, so maybe Aaron Copland isn't the first name that comes to mind when you think of great masters from the past imparting knowledge on the current generation of children's book writers. But he has to be at least fourth or fifth, right?

I've been hopping around in Aaron Copland's enlightening book, What to Listen for in Music, and I'd like to draw some parallels between musical composition and kidlit composition.

Here's an important note about finding your own voice, even when the voices of the masters hold you under their spell:

"My love of the music of Chopin and Mozart is as strong as that of the next fellow, but it does me little good when I sit down to write my own, because their world is not mine and their musical language [is] not mine."

On the question of whether one needs to be inspired in order to write:

"The composer, therefore, confronted with the question of inspiration, does not say to himself: 'Do I feel inspired?' He says to himself: 'Do I feel like composing today?' And if he feels like composing, he does."

On the concept of innovative writing:

"...musical speech-- if it is truly vital-- is certain to include an experimental and controversial side. And why not? Why is it that the typical music lover of our day is seemingly so reluctant to consider a musical composition as, possibly, a challenging experience?"

And finally, just for fun, this thought (yes, Musicland has its version of James Joyce):

"The dodecaphonic school of Schoenberg is the hardest nut to crack, even for musicians."

So there you have it, from a kindred kidlit spirit, the words of Aaron Copland. He's really not so far from us if you think about it. He did write that wonderfully rhythmic ballet, Billy the Kid; and that was all about a kid, right?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Please Don't Touch the Butterflies: Writing Rules You Can't Resist Breaking

This photo comes from an excursion my son and I made to the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History during their butterfly pavilion exhibit this past summer. I'm not one to pass up ironic photo-ops.

The image got me thinking about those all too-tempting rules like "stay off the grass", "no swimming," and "no skateboarding" (well, for you skaters, anyway).

As writers, these types of rules can make some of us want to swim in the grass on our skateboards. There's no way we can resist what seems to us like a pleading invitation. Break the rules, break new ground, chart new territory!

What are some of these rules for you?

Here's some that come to mind (from a picture book perspective):

1. Don't write in first-person.
2. Whatever you do, don't write in first-person, present tense.
3. Don't write a wordless picture book.
4. Don't write a story that occurs over multiple days.
5. Don't write in rhyme.
6. Don't write a story with talking animals.
7. Don't write a concept book, even if it has a beginning, middle, and end.
8. Don't write a story in 25 words or less.
9. Don't write a story in which every word begins with the letter "Q."
10. Don't, don't, don't!!!!

Here's a final word to those ruled by rules: I'd rather do, do than be a dodo.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Dangerous Picture Books: Touch These Titles at Your Own Risk


Banned Books Week may have ended, but we are still vulnerable to the threats of spiny beasts with leaves. Moments after the above photo was taken, this page of Dr. Seuss's Hop on Pop ran red with the innocent blood of a small child, otherwise known as my son.
At least Pat had received ample warning not to sit on the cactus, but my poor son moved finger-first into a tactile attack perpetrated by the likes of a so-called "Good Doctor."
Three stitches from a real doctor healed his finger, but one carelessly-placed cactus needle has forever torn apart the faith my son and I held in books as a safe haven for the imagination.
It may come as no surprise to you, then, that my son and I now feel called upon to crusade against such dangerous books in an attempt to protect and preserve a child's right to read without risk.
Please note the lists we have begun below. We need your help in adding to them. If there are categories lacking, please post descriptions and any other input in the comments section. Please help ensure a safe future for the world's youth.
Picture Books Containing Prickly Plants
Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss (paddle cactus, long sharp needles)
Yellowbelly and Plum Go to School by Nathan Hale (pipe organ type, I believe, but we're doing further research; short, but thick and rigid needles; what's worse, these babies are mobile, don't say we didn't warn you.)
Picture Books Containing Fire (I know. How do these books pass inspection?)
Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd. (Thanks to blog reader Jacqui for drawing our attention to this bedtime multiple offender-- look out for the possibly rabid mouse hidden on every double-page spread.)
Picture Books Containing Nail Scissors (extra-high hazard category)
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff and Felicia Bond (We thank blog reader Deb for this addition. As she states in the comments section, "mouse hyped up on milk and cookies running loose with NAIL SCISSORS." We hope Grandson and Gamma are recovering nicely.)

Friday, October 3, 2008

Books Are Hot in West Hollywood



The 7th Annual West Hollywood Book Fair had me with this poster. I love it! At first, I thought the blue fellow was a walrus, goo goo g'joob. I know, I know. But, Candy, where are the tusks? Okay, so maybe I wanted to see a walrus. But I'll settle for the super-cute blue pug, too.

Unfortunately, I lost all of the wonderful pictures I took while there last Sunday. Please don't ask how, it will depress me all over again. Anyway, my son lit up with the spirited reading of Green Eggs and Ham by actors Randy Oglesby and M.C. Gainey.

In an interesting display of the ripple effect, my son has been requesting to read his CD-ROM version of the book throughout the week; and tonight he started reciting lines from the book while helping me cook, as he sampled the sharp cheddar cheese we were grating.

We also enjoyed the creative puppetry of the Rogue Artists Ensemble in their performance of The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone, based on the picture book by Timothy Basil Ering. I love the concept of the puppet as extension of the puppeteer. Where does one end and the other begin?

Lisa Yee was funny as usual on her panel, "Tough Issues, Light Touches: Writing for Teens Without Turning Them Off." This was the only children's literature panel of the day (hint to the organizers: How about at least one more for next year?) And we enjoyed listening to Erica Silverman read her newest book, There Was a Wee Woman...

Finally, my Southern California helio-biblio index theory proved correct once more. Books are hot and so is the weather when L.A. hosts a book fair. Can I hear you say, "90's?"