A Beige Childhood + Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match for Perfect Picture Book Friday

Go ahead and settle back while I first tell my story. Then, I’ll share my picture book review of Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match for today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday review.

I would describe my mother as an old-world, German woman. Mom preferred sensible over sensational, blending in over inviting attention to, and beige and brown over all the happy colors in the world. I sometimes felt I looked more like a miniature version of her instead of a typical kid. My friends got to wear jeans, (Lucky!!!) they owned colorful shirts, blouses, and sweaters, their shoes were equally colorful, and they wore fun headbands or bright ribbons tied in their hair.

Then, there was me… boarding the school bus in my sensible, brown, walking shoes with beige socks, brown pants, and beige sweater. I might have been a child, but I looked like someone’s granny with a decent face lift.

Mom wouldn’t always take me with her when she shopped. Sometimes, I came home from school to some unfashionable surprises.

“Didn’t this dress come in blue or green?”

“Beige is better. You don’t want to bring attention to yourself.”

“If I have to wear a beige dress, can I pleeeease get red sandals?”

“What are you thinking? Did someone hit you in the head? As long as I’m paying for your clothes, you’ll dress sensibly. Honestly, if I didn’t put my foot down, you’d leave this house naked!”

“At least I’d still be wearing beige.”

“Go to your room.”

My childhood was filled with envy for the colorful clothes my friends wore. Many years later, when I married and had a daughter, I swore she would dress in every color that filled a box of crayons which brings me to today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday review.

Title – Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match

Written by  – Monica Brown

Illustrated by – Sara Palacios

Published by – Children’s Book Press – 2011

Suitable for ages – 3-8

Theme – To feel happiest, be yourself no matter the opinions of others.

Opening – My name is Marisol McDonald, and I don’t match. At least, that’s what everyone tells me.

Amazon Review –  View it HERE. Marisol McDonald has flaming red hair and nut-brown skin. Polka dots and stripes are her favorite combination. She prefers peanut butter and jelly burritos in her lunch box. And don’t even think of asking her to choose one or the other activity at recess—she ll just be a soccer playing pirate princess. To Marisol McDonald, these seemingly mismatched things make perfect sense together.

Unfortunately, they don t always make sense to everyone else. Other people wrinkle their nose in confusion at Marisol—can’t she just be one or the other? Try as she might, in a world where everyone tries to put this biracial, Peruvian-Scottish-American girl into a box, Marisol McDonald doesn’t match. And that s just fine with her.

Why do I like this book? What’s not to love about a strong main character who knows what she likes, and despite the comments of others, stays true to herself. Although, for one day, Marisol decides, against her better judgement, to match and behave as others do, but that day, as you might imagine, is her worst day. Marisol is a bilingual, Peruvian-Scottish – American girl in a multiracial family with her father’s red hair, her mother’s brown skin, and a whole lot of spunk and creativity that, when brought together, equal one terrific main character. The illustrations by Sara Palacios add loads of rich, playful colors and patterns, creating one super, happy book.

Learn more about Monica Brown HERE.

Learn more about Sara Palacios HERE.

Play idea – It’s fashion show time! Have fun with your children, creating the most outlandish outfits you can put together. The only rule…no beige. Then, take funny pictures. For a snack, put together some totally mismatched foods like Marisol does. Maybe you’ll discover a combination of items that’s utterly scrumptious!

Find more “Perfect Picture Book Friday” reviews at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog HERE.

When you were a kid, do you remember a student or friend in your class who marched to his/her own beat like Marisol? Please feel free to share in the comments. I’d love to hear about it.

Which Children’s Book Character Are You Most Like? Take The Quiz.

Where The Wild Things Are

Yesterday was the first Wednesday I wasn’t able to get my prompts and Inspirations post up.

As Greg Brady from the Brady Bunch TV show said…

Gregg Brady

I know… I’m showing my age.

To make up for missing yesterday, I am posting a fun activity from BuzzFeed. Being a picture book enthusiast, writer of children’s stories, and dreamer, I couldn’t resist taking the quiz to discover which picture book character I am most like. Drum roll, please…

Which Children’s Book Character Are You?

  1. You got: Max from “Where the Wild Things Are”

    You’re a dreamer. Your escape is in your creative imagination, where you run wild with all your fantastic friends. Keep dreaming, just like Max, and the payoff will come before you know it!

  2. Maurice Sendak

After reading why I am most like Max, I smiled. So true. I spend hours each day rooting through my memories, creating characters for my stories, listening and looking for inspirations everywhere I go, over-the-top thrilled to listen when people have stories to share, and dreaming–an activity that appears as if I am staring at the walls (or napping) but is so much more involved.

I’d love for you to share which children’s book character you are most like. Here is the link. Have fun!

http://www.buzzfeed.com/hannahcgregg/which-childrens-book-character-are-you?utm_term=.geYg01aOy&fb_ref=click_share#.yh8ewmg8d

75 Character Development Questions: Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AYou get an idea for a story you can’t let go of. You know who the main character has to be. You remember a woman of about 30, tall, blonde, a bit of a neat freak. She is someone you met on a flight last year. You remember how everyone took notice of her. And just after the in-flight movie ended, she shared her deepest secret with you, a stranger she’ll probably never see again.

You flip open your laptop, and for the next five months, your story takes shape. Finally, your first draft is finished. You’re proud of what you’ve accomplished. You send it to your critique group, anxious for their praise. The e-mails roll in, and everyone says the same thing. Your MC is flat.

What? But I can picture her, I can still smell her perfume, I recall lots of people turning their heads as she passed. That tall, beautiful woman whose secret I’m keeping. All of this is not enough. You barely know her.

So how do you flesh out a character?

Before I write the first words of any story, I take each of my characters through a lengthy interview process. This goes beyond deciding upon their name, hair and eye color, birthday, country and town they live in.

I gained this good habit in a writing course a number of years ago. The instructor asked us to answer twenty questions about our main character as well as other prominent players in our story. I skimmed down the questions. “This could take hours, even days!” I moaned. “All I want to do is write my story.”

The instructor knew what she was doing. “Take your time,” she said. “Don’t answer the questions quickly. Think about your character. Put yourself in his/her shoes as you address each question.”

A few days later, I had mapped out my main characters. I was stunned at my intimate knowledge of these people. Yes, people. They had shifted from imaginary characters I dreamed up to flesh and blood, real people. I felt I knew them like I knew my friends…like I know myself. I e-mailed my instructor two words. Thank you.

You are going to spend a great deal of time with the characters in your novel. In order for your reader to cheer them on, to disagree with them, to understand them, and to cry with them, you need to get to know them–intimately.

Could you list ten things you know about your best friend? About your spouse or significant other? About your child? Think about your closest friend. How much do you know about the person you trust with your thoughts and feelings? What is it about them that you like? What is the glue that bonds your friendship?

As serious writers, we spend more time with the characters in our novels than we do with our friends. To write characters into reality, we have to get to know them. We must befriend them. Below is my 75 point questionnaire to ground you in the souls of your characters.

 

75 POINT CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT QUESTIONNAIRE

Name: (Are they named after someone in their family?)

Age and birthday:

Does MC share their birth date with anyone they know?

General physical description:

a. height

b. weight

c. eye color

d. hair color

e. any distinguishing features

Describe the place your MC calls home:

If MC is a child, describe their bedroom:

Type of neighborhood:

What is his/her occupation if an adult:

What are his/her chores if a child:

If child, grade in school:

Mother and/or wife’s name, background, and occupation:

Father and or husband’s name, background, and occupation:

Where does MC live (city, state, country, on a farm, in an apartment, in a research station on Mars)?

What landmarks are near them (park, shopping, friend’s house, beach, school, etc…)?

List all siblings, their names, ages, and one or more sentences to describe them and their relationship to your MC.

How does your MC view each of his family members and friends?

What is his/her position in the family? (parent, oldest, middle, youngest sibling, the pet?)

Pet(s) — What kind and how long have they had them?

How did they come to get this pet and/or what do they like best about their pet(s)?

Where do they keep their pet(s)? (horse boarded or in barn on property, fish tank in kitchen or bedroom, indoor or outdoor dog, etc…)

Favorite piece of jewelry or accessory they always or frequently wear: (earrings, watch, purse, shoes, etc…)

If female, what items does she always carry in her purse? (if child – list items in their backpack.)

If male, what photographs or information does he keep in his wallet?

Is he/she prompt or late for most things:

Organized, sloppy, etc…

Mode of transportation:

What options are available if their car broke down, if they missed their bus or train?)

Favorite sports:

Interests or hobbies:

Dress style:

Relationship to men and/or boys he/she knows:

Relationship to women and/or girls he/she knows:

Leader or follower: (he/she must be like others in dress, mannerisms, and taste? Marches to own beat?)

Their favorite expression: (Way cool!, No way! Whatever, Don’t get me started, etc…)

Habit: (bites fingernails when nervous or fingers necklace pendant, rubs hand over beard when thinking, etc…)

Their personality type: Glamour queen, no frills, down-to-earth, wishes he/she could disappear, jock, rugged, outgoing, know-it-all, etc…)

What are they good at (skills)?

What is their greatest ambition?

What is their best quality?

What is their worst quality?

Sense of humor?

Temper? What sets your MC off?

What things do they like?

What do they dislike?

Quirks:

Favorite foods and beverages:

Who is their closest friend and why?

Describe their perfect day.

How do they speak? (with an accent, stutters, lisps, in a monotone, etc…)

How do they walk? (with purpose, drags feet, limps, etc…)

What is their greatest fear?

What is their greatest regret?

What are their flaws? (lacks confidence, shy, speech impediment, fear of something.)

Based on their fears, dislikes, and, worst qualities, what problem would they least likely want to face?

Who does he/she love and care about? (parent, child, friend, pet)

To hear your character’s voice you need to take this one step further.

Instead of you filling in the blanks about your character, take what you learned from above and imagine you are having a conversation with your character or a letter exchange: Ask them to tell you in their own words…

Who are you?

What do you most want?

What freaks you out?

What is your first thought when you wake up?

What is the thought you fall asleep with?

Considering the challenges you have planned for your MC, ask – How would you feel if…?

What would you think if you heard your friend, sibling, parent, spouse say…?

What is the worst day you can imagine having? What could make it even worse?

What is the best day you can imagine having? What could top that?

If you inherited or won a sizable sum of money what would you do with it?

If you got a promotion at work, or if you aced your finals, who would you want to share this news with?

Now that you and your MC are best friends, go deeper.

What do you think is your best feature or personality trait?

If you could, what would you change about yourself?

Who do you wish you were more like?

What is the biggest secret you keep?

If a tornado or other disaster threatened to destroy your home in the next twenty minutes, what would you save?

 

You’re ready to write.

The Wednesday Writer’s Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AMy subject today is one you’ve seen in countless blog posts. But because it’s such a good one, (oldie but goodie) it will be the inspiration for my Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations.

Drum roll, please….

Show don’t Tell  (With a twist)

I’m going to introduce this topic via the television.

When we’re watching a movie, clues are given to let us know what sort of scene we’re entering into. One of these clues is the music. (Wouldn’t it be great if our novels could come with a built-in sound track?) No dramatic scene was ever accompanied by a soothing, dreamy melody. The music swells as the pounding beat mimics approaching, heavy footsteps. An ominous sensation falls around us. Our pulse quickens as we try to prepare ourselves for a sudden scare.

The way a scene is lit also adds to the feeling being established. (Another movie technique we have limited access to in our writing.) Harsh, contrasty lighting adds drama, while soft, diffused lighting is perceived as feminine and romantic.

But here is something we, as writers, have complete access to…  Grab your remote control and turn off the volume on your imaginary television set–completely.

Dead silence.

Let’s watch the characters interact as we study their facial expressions and analyze their body language to discern which emotions are portrayed.

We watch a man and a woman discuss something. Their faces appear calm. The woman holds a bouquet of roses. She gazes at the red blooms and offers a gentle, thankful smile. Then the man shoves his hands deep in his coat pockets and shifts his feet. While he speaks, his eyes dart everywhere except to the woman he just gave the bouquet to. The woman listens as she studies the man’s face. Her joyous expression is traded for one of contempt. Her eyes narrow, her fingers tighten on the bouquet, and BAM! She strikes the man’s chest with the flowers not once, but twice. A flurry of rose petals shower the air, her tears stream, she drops the flowers, turns, and runs.

And not once did I say she was angry,  nor did I say the man was nervous.

Stepping away from the television, let us suppose we are putting on a play, and the director tells us to be angry when the curtain goes up.

Each and every one of us will bring something unique to that scene. I might stomp my feet and scowl. Someone else might hurl a vase of flowers against the cardboard backdrop, a child might kick and scream. In order for every reader to see the scene the way we envision it, we must show them what we want them to see.

For today’s Prompt’s and Inspiration, watch your favorite DVD with the volume turned off.

Write out a scene without using the words: happy, sad, exhausted, curious, angry, elated, etc…

And, if you feel like “showing” part of what you wrote, scroll to the top of this post and click ‘comment’ to share.

 

The Power Of A Mask

Minesota leaves-bannerAutumn is my favorite season. Fat pumpkins sit on the front steps of the neighborhood houses. Farms in my rural community open their gates to the public, welcoming them with horse or tractor-drawn hay rides, pumpkin patches, corn mazes, face painting, and stands with tummy-tempting, hot, spiced, apple cider and applesauce doughnuts.  This outing is the highlight of October for my family.  (That, and the chocolate chip pumpkin bread we bake together.)

And what has this got to do with writing?

This year at the farm we visit, I decided to conduct an experiment in altering one’s personality.

As writers, this is exactly what we do when we create a character.

My unsuspecting volunteer… none other than my daughter.

maze-4034The three of us wandered around the farm, petting goats, jumping in piles of corn, climbing enormous, rubber spider webs, and then, as the wind pulled up, and the sky darkened… we entered the seven acre corn maze. (Actually, it was a warm and sunny day, but didn’t that make it more seasonally dramatic?)

Families were charging around the rows, walking into dead ends, retracing their steps, laughing and asking everyone they passed if they knew their way out. (We got there early enough to make sure we’d have plenty of daylight to get ourselves ‘un lost.’) As a large group was following us, I stopped and asked my daughter, who is nine, to pretend she was a cat.

“Go ahead, honey,” I said, “meow, paw at the air, pounce on something.”

She looked at me with that  you-have-got-to-be-from-another-planet  look and started walking away from me a little faster.

“Oh, come on,” I coaxed.

She hid in the cornfield.cat-4038

This is where the experiment began… “Well!” I said, “Would you look at the strange thing I found in my purse?”

That got her attention. She peered from behind the dried corn leaves, eyes widening as she saw the paper, cat mask I pulled from my purse.

“Wow! You brought that for me?”

cat-2-4034She put the mask on and instantly lost her shyness. She couldn’t care less what the families around her thought or said. Behind that mask she could be anyone. And at that moment, she transformed into an amazing cat. She hissed, she pawed the air, she pounced, and she couldn’t stop posing for the camera.cat-4041

Isn’t this, to some degree, what we do when creating characters? Aren’t we giving them masks to try on as we write and rewrite their personalities?

 

 

Here’s a character making example:

We give our character a name.

We give them an appearance.

We add some quirks or habits.

We sometimes  add a phrase or comment the character says.

We give them history/background info.

We give them a family.

Eventually, we have created a character we can move through the pages of our novel.

But what happens when a personality trait doesn’t mesh with a twist in our plot?

I’ve created a fairly confident character. He’s accustomed to winning. A big annual competition is coming up at work, and he’s already won five years in a row. When the scene comes up, will my reader perch on the edge of their recliner with streams of sweat streaming from their brow, wondering, hoping (knowing) he’ll win. Nope.

We switch gears and change our gallant hero to the underdog. He’s quiet, a tad on the shy side. This poor guy has been teased by his older brothers since he could talk. He’s never had enough money to buy any stylish clothes. Girls don’t notice him. He always gives his best, but always falls short of winning. This likable guy needs this win if only to give him a taste of success.

So, we find that changing the personality of one of our characters is similar to trying on different masks. Except as writers we exchange paper masks for words.