Monday, November 30, 2009

Math Stories

For Non-Fiction Monday, one last nod to William Steig (on the last day of his honorary month) in the form of a math lesson:

Read Amos and Boris. (Enjoy!)

Make a list of what Amos loaded on the ship: cheese, biscuits, acorns, honey, wheat germ, two barrels of fresh water, a compass, a sextant, a telescope, a saw, a hammer, nails, a needle and thread, bandages, iodine, a yoyo and playing cards.

How many items were food/drink? How many were tools (both for navigation and repair)? How many were for first aid? For play? How many total?

(One could do this lesson, for example, in conjunction with the Open Court Literacy Program’s Grade 1 story on Captain Bill Pinkney’s Journey. Fiction, math and social studies, in one coup.)

A fantasy story with math potential…makes me think of :

DIY Fantasy Word Problems

1.    Pick a fantasy character (princess, superhero, alien. I’ll pick the princess)

2.    Brainstorm people or things that would be in their setting.
(fancy ball, prince, knight, dragon, castle. I’ll pick the ball)

3.    Brainstorm activities that character might be involved in. What would be fun? What would be dangerous?
(Getting rescued, getting dressed up, picking a prince. I’ll pick “getting dressed up”)

4.    Brainstorm how math could be involved in that activity.
(Counting jewels. Going shopping. Measuring cloth for a gown. I’ll pick “going shopping”)

Here’s a simple word problem:

A king gave the princess $500 for her outfit to wear to the ball. She picked out a gown that cost $80, a ruby necklace that cost $100, a diamond ring that cost $300, and a pair of satin slippers that were $70. Will she have enough money to buy her outfit?

Draw a picture.  Customized high interest subject + word problems = fun!

Here we are having fun at the CSLA conference last weekend in Ontario. You can't see any copies of Tyrannosaurus Math because they were sold out! Librarians rock.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Your Book - On the Analyst's Couch

Have you ever put your manuscript or book under psychoanalysis?

I asked myself why I wrote Tyrannosaurus Math – which is a very different question than how I got the idea.  As I told Rex Green during our interview, I’ve always been a huge fan of Tyrannosaurus Rex. But why did he pop up as the main character in my book? He was a symbolic way of “attacking” math (my least favorite subject in school). He was a joyous way of channeling years of pent up frustration with boring word problems. For me, it was perfect casting.

What is the personal connection between you and your book(s) ? Are you reflected somehow in the main character? I posed these questions to my fellow authors in the Children’s Authors Network 

Alexis O' Neill on The Recess Queen

I have to tell you – bullies infuriate me!  I hate (yes, hate!) people who push others around either physically or verbally.  As an adult I worked for a doozy of a bully once (who knew that adults could be bullied by other adults?  I thought this was just playground stuff!)  So, I had the right emotion for a bully book – but how was I going to get the bully in my story to stop being a bully?  In life, things are messy and don’t tie up neatly in pretty bows.  (At least not always.)  So I thought I’d create a perfect world in my story.  In a perfect world, a bully can change.  And even in a messy world, there's always the hope that just the right gesture (like inviting someone to play) can make a difference.

April Halprin Wayland on New Year At The Pier

Every Jewish New Year I join 200 singing  friends from my synagogue as we walk to the end of the pier in Manhattan Beach, CA.

There we take pieces of bread and toss them into the ocean to symbolically let go of any thing we wish we hadn't done in the past year.  To clean our slate for the new year.

The wind, the songs, the sea, the feels so wonderful.  If I couldn't bring readers to the pier myself, I wanted them to feel the poetry of this joyous ritual called tashlich.  What better way than a picture book?

Janet Wong on Homegrown House

The girl in HOMEGROWN HOUSE is me in two ways: I am both the girl in the book, who is tired of moving, and also the mom who wants to move to a “better” house. I lived in eight different homes by the age of fifteen. I realized only about ten years ago how much moving from house to house had formed me. I was living in a perfectly good house in Seattle, but rather than settle in and make it “homegrown,” I found myself itching to move to a “better” house—something with a water view. We ended up moving just ten blocks away! In hindsight the little girl in me was right, and we should not have moved to the house with the lake view. We have since moved once again, for my husband’s work, and will move again next year, to a house we are building.

Jeri Chase Ferris on Demanding Justice and other titles

I like to be treated fairly, and I’m pretty sure you do too. When people are not treated fairly I like to make it right, and I’m pretty sure you do too. I write books about people who lived dangerous and exciting lives, who worked hard and made our country a better place – Benjamin Banneker, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Biddy Mason, Matthew Henson, Marian Anderson – but because of the color of their skin they were treated most unfairly. In telling their stories, I want to bring them back to life and let you (and everyone) see what they did for America. I want them to be given fairness and justice, recognition and thanks.  My most recent book is the biography of Mary Ann Shadd Cary, a free black woman who lived during the time of slavery and spent her entire life fighting for justice. The title of her story is DEMANDING JUSTICE, and that is what I want to do with each book I write.

Joan Bransfield Graham on Splish Splash and Flicker Flash

 The characters in my books are water (SPLISH SPLASH) and light (FLICKER FLASH).  What better way to explore their varied shapes than with shape itself--

concrete poetry.  Growing up on a barrier island along the southern coast of New Jersey, I was always fascinated with the ocean and water in general.  From the Atlantic to the Pacific (I'm now in California.) with some sailing on the Chesapeake and a five-year stop near Lake Michigan, I am definitely a water person.  Studying photography for many years, developing my own black and white prints, and now having fun with my digital camera and Photoshop, I am always sensitive to the effects of light and shadow.  I think my characters picked me.

Off to the CSLA conference in Ontario,  where Alexis, April, George Pilling and I will be talking about "Serendipity: Happy Accidents in Writing."  More on that later!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ten Things Picture Book Writers Can Learn From Shrek!

Last weekend, teacher extraordinaire Daniele Della Gala and I did a presentation called “Tyrannosaurus Math: Crunching the Numbers with Stories” at the California Math Council Conference in Palm Springs. After the talk, one of the attendees appreciated the sophisticated language in the book, at which point I expressed my debt to William Steig. Who has been on my mind lately because, by felicitous circumstance, November is William Steig Month.

Author/illustrator Barney Saltzberg and I have used Steig’s work in our picture books classes at UCLA Extension’s Writer’s Program. “The reason I write and illustrate picture books is because I fell in love with The Amazing Bone,” Barney said. "As a writer, I marvel at the predicaments that Steig puts his characters in. I never in my wildest dreams figure out what the solution will be.”

In honor of William Steig, TC&TF offers thoughts about one of his most successful books:

10 Things Picture Book Writers Can Learn From Shrek!

1. Stay true to your roots. “Shrek” means “fear” is Yiddish. Steig was raised by Eastern European Jewish immigrants who settled in the Bronx.

2. Create an original, irresistible character. Shrek has a funny name, he’s funny looking, fearless, lovestruck and possesses superpowers! He also furnished material for three movies -and a fourth in production.

3. Write a great first line: “His mother was ugly and his father was ugly, but Shrek was uglier than the two of them put together.” And a killer first paragraph: “By the time he toddled, Shrek could spit flame a full ninety-nine yards and vent smoke from either ear. With just a look he cowed reptiles in the swamp. Any snake dumb enough to bite him instantly got convulsions and died.”

4. Honor the classics. The exaggeration of Shrek’s revolting qualities and his strengths borrow from the tall tale tradition, while the quest frame, the seven-incident plot, the animism, the witch (and her chant), dragon, knight, and princess belong to fairy tales.

5. Honor the classics, but make the story your own. Steig was raised by parents involved in the social justice movement. Sympathetic to the underdog, Steig made the hero of his tale an ugly monster (with a donkey instead of a handsome steed) who finds love in the end, warts and all.

6. Choose your nouns and verbs wisely. Shrek toddles, slogs, stalks, swaggers. His head is his noggin, topped by a knob. Steig deftly uses long or unfamiliar words and stylish language in a way that’s accessible to children.

7. Use humor, both verbal (one day his parents “hissed things over,” “they kicked him goodbye,” etc.) and visual/situational (Shrek has a nightmare of kids hugging and kissing him).

8. Incorporate poetic language. Several characters speak in rhyme, and the warning on the tree is in rhyme. Many of Steig’s sentences are patterned and/or rhythmic.

9. Make it dangerous, but don’t kill anyone. Despite Shrek’s superpowers, characters only faint, become unconscious, or get so hot they dive in the moat.

10. Write with joy. Steig’s musings about art can be applied to literature as well: “(The spectator) experiences again what the artist experienced in making the painting: movement, emotion, a glorying in man’s boundless creative power, and wonder - which is respect for life.” (From Pipers At the Gates of Dawn by Jonathan Cott.)

If you’re a Steig fan, treat yourself to the on-line feature from the Jewish Museum’s 2007 Exhibit “From The New Yorker to Shrek: The Art of William Steig.” It includes an adorable illustration called “Family Reunion” that brings together many of the characters from his books.

November 14 is the 102nd anniversary of Steig's birth. We love you, William!