Why I Write For Children.

Yesterday, while I browsed through posts on my blog from 2015, I reread one I titled, Why I Write For Children. Three years have passed, and my reasons are still true today. Here is that post.

Earlier today, I visited a blog that invited writers to answer why they write for children. To answer the question, I only had to look at my daughter.

illustration by Leslie Leibhardt Goodman

From the time my little girl turned two, she rarely wanted me to read to her at bedtime. Instead, she asked me to tell a story I made up. She’d scrunch up the blankets in her hands, roll back her eyes, think of a character, a situation, and say, “Tell me a story about a princess with the sniffles. Ready? Set? Go! 

I had zero seconds to brainstorm a possible plot. No, not every story was good, and frankly, some lousy, but still, my daughter liked bedtime because of this game. I loved her widening eyes, her impish smile, and her wild applause when I finished.

I write for children because their world inspires me. My world, the world adults live in, is a serious, rule-filled world stuffed with responsibilities. Children openly love silliness. They accept the improbable and impossible. They thrive on magical and believe in happily ever after.

I write for children because the three-headed monster hanging out under their bed is as real to them as the bills on my desk are to me.

When I write for children, I think back to my childhood when my sister and I explored the forest around our house. A fallen tree became a ship we co-captained. Squirrels scurrying under leaves were distant pirates. A bird perched high in the branches was our lookout. Through the eyes of our parents, we were playing on a dead tree, risking infection from a splinter or a bite from a spider. Strange how they could never see the tree for more than it was.

I write for children because it’s what I love.

What’s With The Hole In My Doughnut? Find out here for Perfect Picture Book Friday.

When I saw this picture book, The Hole Story of the Doughnut, I zipped back in time to the days when I wore a dress with knee socks and my hair in braids. I could almost feel my father’s hand, holding mine as we strolled through the cobblestone streets of our little town on Saturday morning to visit the bakery. My mouth watered as I looked at all the frosted pastries, chocolate chip-studded cookies, gooey brownies, and cakes, tempting me from behind the shiny glass case. Dad and I walked from one end of the pastry case WAY down to the other end, carefully looking at each sweet treat. The long line of moms, dads, and kids disappeared and it was our turn.

“What can I get for you?” the lady behind the counter asked.

Dad looked at me. I looked up at him. We smiled and ordered the same thing we each chose every Saturday over the years.

“I’ll have an applesauce doughnut,” Dad said.

“And I’d like a jelly bismark,” I said.

It’s not that we lacked imagination or the desire to work our way through the case, treat by treat, week by week, trying to see how long it would take us to sample every delectable dessert, it’s that we knew exactly which doughnut gave us the biggest smile and the most satisfaction to eat. At least when Dad wiped the sugar off of my cheeks, he didn’t lick the napkin first like my mom did. (I know…I know… Yuck!)

I don’t think we ever wondered why the baker cut a hole in the middle of Dad’s applesauce doughnut. I’m pretty sure we figured the hole made it easier to hold onto and offered a funny place to peer through and make faces. But enough strolling down memory lane. It’s time to take a look at The Hole Story of the Doughnut.

Title – The Hole Story of the Doughnut

Written by – Pat Miller

Illustrated by – Vincent X. Kirsch

Published by – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.

Topics – Determination, invention of the doughnut

Opening – Few remember the master mariner Hanson Crockett Gregory, though he was bold and brave and bright. But the pastry he invented more than 166 years ago is eaten daily by doughnut lovers everywhere. This is his story.

Amazon’s Review –  View it HERE.  In 1843, thirteen-year-old Hanson Gregory left his family home in Rockport, Maine, and set sail as a cabin boy on the schooner Achorn, looking for high-stakes adventure on the high seas. Little did he know that a boatload of hungry sailors, coupled with his knack for creative problem-solving, would yield one of the world’s most prized and beloved pastries.

      Lively and inventive cut-paper illustrations add a taste of whimsy to this sweet, fact-filled story that includes an extensive bibliography, author’s note, and timeline.

Why do I like this book? Besides finding the story fascinating, I loved Pat Miller’s lively way of telling this tale. She has a gift for getting those pages flying! And sure, non-fiction books can be dry, but this story about the invention of the doughnut is as moist as the finest doughnut you’ve ever sunk your teeth into! I promise. And while you’re devouring this book, you’ll be glad to know it is 100% calorie free. Another reason to check out this gem.

Let Me first Embarrass Myself. Plus Perfect Picture Book Friday Review of The Purple Coat

As you’ve come to expect, and hopefully look forward to, I have a little memory to go along with today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday review of The Purple Coat by Amy Hest. And yes, it’s embarrassing.

Back when I was in Jr. High, I saw a fashion magazine at the dentist with page after page of svelte women wearing culottes. Culottes, for those of you unfamiliar with this fashion statement, are split skirts or wide-legged, knee-length shorts. Back in the 80’s, the only place I looked svelte was deep in my imagination. To the outside world, I was a five-foot, scrawny girl, weighing in at 90 pounds who owned three pairs of shoes, none of which looked trendy under any circumstances. One pair were my fuzzy house slippers, the second were my scuffed sneakers, and the third pair were clunky, brown, lace-up, walking shoes my mother bought in a women’s shoe shop. (Please, no comments, I feel bad enough.)

I bought a copy of the magazine and raced home, hopeful my aunt, who sewed all my clothes, could duplicate those super cool culottes for me. I showed her the magazine.

“Are you sure about this?” She looked me up and down, wrinkled her nose at the picture, and shook her head.

“Oh, yes!” I said. “I LOVE these! Can you make me a pair?”

My aunt reluctantly took me to the fabric store where I found the perfect pattern and a bolt of electric, mint-green polyester that screamed, “Make your culottes out of me!!!” (Please, no comments, I feel bad enough.)

kulottes

My aunt gaped at the bolt of fabric clutched in my arms. “Are you sure about this?” She looked me up and down, wrinkled her nose at the fabric, and shook her head.

“Oh, yes!” I said. “I LOVE it! Can you please make my culottes out of this?”

When those fabulous, mint-green culottes were sewn, I teamed them with a frilly blouse, a pair of white knee socks and my brown, lace-up, clunky, walking shoes my mother bought in a women’s shoe shop. (Please, no comments, I feel bad enough.)

My friends couldn’t bottle their laughter. Kids at school I didn’t know slapped hands over their mouths and swiped at their tears. Cute boys rolled up their pant legs and mocked me. And those culottes? Strangely and most mysteriously disappeared after I came home.

So…what does my memory have to do with my picture book review? The Purple Coat is the story of a girl who, despite her mother’s opinion, wants a coat that looks different than the one she gets year after year.Except in her case, everything turned out better. Lucky…

Title – The Purple Coat

Written by  – Amy Hest

and illustrated by – Amy Schwartz

Published by – Aladdin – 1992

Suitable for ages – 3-8

Theme – Knowing what you want and compromise.

Opening –  Every fall, when the leaves start melting into pretty purples and reds and those bright golden shades of pumpkin, Mama says, “Coat time, Gabrielle!”

Amazon Review –  View it HERE.  Every year, in the fall, Gabrielle gets a new coat. And every year her coat looks the same — navy blue with two rows of buttons and a half belt in the back. But this year Gabrielle wants something different — a purple coat.
“Purple?” Mama laughs. But Gabrielle is quite serious.

Alone with Grampa in his cozy tailor shop, Gabrielle does some fast talking. Still, even Grampa is dubious. His solution makes The Purple Coat a very special book, just right for every child who has ever wanted to try something different.

Why do I like this book? Because I was a child much like Gabrielle who wanted something different. Except in my case, the culottes flopped. But back to the book. Gabrielle is a little girl with gumption. She has a vision of what she wants, and she’s not about to back down. And, because I like books with strong main characters, I loved this one. The illustrations by Amy Schwartz brought back sweet memories of the days when my aunt measured me for the clothes she made. The colorful, well-researched pictures capture the time this story takes place in. All around, this book won me over.
Learn more about Amy Hest HERE.
Learn more about Amy Schwartz HERE.

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

PPBF Looks at The Keeping Quilt

PPBF (Perfect Picture Book Friday) looks at The Keeping Quilt.

After my Tante Helen passed away, my sister and I each inherited a quilt she made with the help of her mother. I never draped the quilt over a bed or chair for fear something might spill on it. I feared that through daily use, the quilt might tear or fade. So, I wrapped it with great care and stored it in the linen closet. Some years later, when my daughter was eight, I came into her room to find she had spread the treasured quilt over her floor.

My Tante Helen’s handmade, heirloom quilt was not only touching the floor, it was covered with toys, books, one immensely happy child, and a shedding, slobbering dog.

As I began my relatively calm lecture about the importance of this quilt that I stored with the intention of bringing out for special company or for some special day in the distant future, my very wise daughter changed my mind about what it meant to cherish an heirloom.

“Aren’t we special enough to enjoy this quilt?” she said.

And…

“Doesn’t having it out where we can see it make every day special?”

Yup! You guessed it…the quilt stayed out. And the fancy soup terrine my husband and I received as a wedding gift replaced our mundane, pyrex serving bowl. And our special occasion wine glasses replaced our everyday wine glasses.

“Yes, my love,” I said to my daughter, ” we are special enough to enjoy this quilt every day and seeing it makes every day special. Very special. Seeing the quilt brings back a myriad of marvelous memories of my Tante Helen.

The story of my aunt’s quilt brings me to today’s PPBF (Perfect Picture Book Friday) The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco.

Title – The Keeping Quilt – view on Amazon HERE.

Written and illustrated by – Patricia Polacco

Published by – Aladdin Paperbacks  edition 2001  (text and illustration copyright 1988)

Suitable for ages – 3-7

Topics/Theme –  Love, faith, and traditions

Opening –When my Great-Gramma Anna came to America, she wore the same thick overcoat and big boots she had worn for farm work. But her family weren’t dirt farmers anymore. In New York City her father’s work was hauling things on a wagon, and the rest of the family made artificial flowers all day.

Everyone was in a hurry, and it was so crowded, not like in backhome Russia. But all the same, it was their home, and most of their neighbors were just like them.

Amazon Review – “We will make a quilt to help us always remember home,” Anna’s mother said. “It will be like having the family in backhome Russia dance around us at night.”
And so it was. From a basket of old clothes, Anna’s babushka, Uncle Vladimir’s shirt, Aunt Havalah’s nightdress and an apron of Aunt Natasha’s become The Keeping Quilt, passed along from mother to daughter for almost a century. For four generations the quilt is a Sabbath tablecloth, a wedding canopy, and a blanket that welcomes babies warmly into the world.
In strongly moving pictures that are as heartwarming as they are real, Patricia Polacco tells the story of her own family and the quilt that remains a symbol of their enduring love and faith.

Why do I like this book? Traditions and family top my list of what is truly important. That is why I love this story about a quilt made from clothes of family members–fabrics that will hold memories and stories as the quilt is passed down through generations. The quilt is enjoyed as a table cloth on the Sabbath, a blanket Anna sits upon when her fiance’ proposed marriage, it became the wedding huppah, a wrap for Anna’s new born child, and so much more.

Learn about Patricia Polacco HERE.

Discussion with children – What clothes do you or your family members have that you would want to include in a quilt. What special memories do those clothes have for you?

Why Do I Write For Children?

Earlier today I visited a blog that invited writers to answer a question: Why do I write for children? I didn’t have to take the time to consider this question. I only had to picture my daughter’s face and I had my answer.

Why do I write for children?

illustration by Leslie Leibhardt Goodman

illustration by Leslie Leibhardt Goodman

I never imagined I would write picture books until my daughter turned two. Night after night she would tell me NOT to read her a book. Instead, she asked me to tell a story I made up–just for her. She’d lead off with a character and a situation, (a princess with the sniffles or a dragon with a loose tooth) and then say, “Go!” And I’d have zero seconds to brainstorm a possible plot. No, not every story was good, and frankly, some of them were downright lousy, but still, she liked bedtime so much more because of this game we played. I loved seeing her eyes widen, her smile grow, and hear her wild applause when I finished.

 

I write for children because they openly love any amount of silliness in a story, they accept the improbable and impossible, they thrive on magical, and they believe with all their heart in happily ever after.

I write for children because I had a happy childhood filled with memories I never want to forget. Turning those memories into stories keeps them alive.

I write for children because their world keeps inspiring me. Yes, you read that right. their world. My world, the world adults live in, is a serious, rule-filled world with loads of responsibilities. But a child’s world is lived fully. Children live in the moment without thought or care if the dishes are washed and put away.

I write for children because the monster that lives under a child’s bed is as real to them as bills on our desk are to us.

I write for children because when I do, my mind is open to possibilities.  I think back to my childhood when I explored the forest with my sister. A fallen tree became a grand ship we co-captained. Squirrels scurrying under leaves were distant pirates. A bird perched high in the branches was our lookout. To our parents, we were playing on a dead tree, risking infection from a splinter or a bite from a spider. Strange how they could never see the tree for more than it was.

I write for children because it’s what I love.

Would You Silence The World?

Something my daughter said yesterday sparked this blog post. We sat outside, reading on our porch swing when she huffed and puffed.

“I can’t concentrate!” she nearly exploded. “There’s too much noise.”

I set my book on my lap and listened. “Hmmm,” I said. “I see what you mean. Let’s pretend we can silence every noise.”

airplane trail“Quiet, airplane,” I said.

“Quiet, bird!” my daughter ordered.

“Quite, trucks and cars and train, whistling into the station,” I said.

“Quiet, squeaky springs in this swing bench,” my daughter ordered.

“Quiet, gusty wind, and balmy breezes,” I added. “And while we’re at it, let’s quiet the footsteps and chatter of our neighbors, walking their dogs,” I said.

“Quiet, dogs!” my daughter said.

Next, I quieted myself. Even when my daughter asked questions, I said nothing.

“Talk to me!” she said. “I changed my mind. I don’t like all this quiet.”

Of course, we don’t have the power to remove all the sounds in the world.

Thank goodness!

But in pretending we were magical enough to evoke silence, I helped my daughter realize how important sound is and how easily we tune it out. The thud, thud, thud of jeans in the dryer, the soft blub, blub, blub of the fish tank filter, the soft, wheezy, breathing of my dog, sleeping behind me on my chair. Sounds are all around us–constantly.

As a writer, I often feel like I enter into moments like a deaf person given the gift of hearing, or a blind person given the gift of sight. The symphony of sounds surrounding us is a great gift. Tune in today and as you listen, make a mental list of the sounds you hear.

A note to writers: When including sounds in your work, let those sounds bring meaning to your writing. Let the sounds reveal something about your characters. Does the train whistle remind Charlotte of her vacation in Italy when, because she missed her stop, she met the man of her dreams? Does the warm breeze take Robert back to the beach where he proposed to his wife fifteen years ago?

The random mentioning of sound in a book serves as dead filler. Bring sound to life by connecting it to your characters.

 

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

Over 100 Ways To Awaken Your Childhood Memories – Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-A

 

Tapping into childhood memories is an exercise, activity, and skill many writers turn to when generating a fresh story idea. However, after leaving childhood in the dust, the process of digging through the debris for a story-worthy gem is daunting.

How can we wake up our memories?

Sometimes a smell, a place, an event, holiday, or word can bring back a memory. Let’s try it and see what happens. For each word on the list that awakens a memory, write a sentence or two. Include such things as your age at the time of the memory, where you were, who you were with, what you recall seeing, and what you recall feeling emotionally.

Scents: Lavender, cinnamon, lemons or other citrus, pine, wet dog, fresh-cut wood, mowed lawn, chocolate, perfume, new car smell, peppermint, crayons, machine shop, roses, smoke, mildew, incense, popcorn, rain, people have smells, too – Is there someone from your childhood that comes to mind from a particular scent?

Places: Farm, city, train station, airport, grocery store, hardware store, camp, department store, shoe store, movie theater, relative’s house, friend’s house or backyard, garage sale, car ride, farthest place you traveled on vacation.

Holidays and events: Best Christmas because of: present you received, relative that visited, Santa encounter, new outfit, etc…), worst holiday gift you ever received, Valentine that surprised you, the first birthday party you can remember (What made it memorable? Who attended? Where was the party? What gifts did you receive?), sporting event you attended (Who took you? Did your favorite team win? Was the experience better than you expected?), recital, school play, county fair, contest, Halloween, school field trip…

Random words:  Can you think of a memory involving any of these? An alarm clock, dresser, back door, basement, attic, doughnuts, bacon, party, new outfit, new shoes, hand-me-downs, present, pet, insects, gardening, hamburger, rainbow, storm, wish, restaurant, stranger, zoo, peaches, carnival, circus, farm animals, lamp, museum, backpack, picnic, hiccups, sneeze, playground, stuffed animal, broken toy, broken bone, rain, stray animal, dentist, snow, first pet, photograph.

How about jogging your memory with some questions? Remember to make note of the place the memory occurred, who you were with, your emotions at the time, and any other details that crawl back. 

What is your earliest memory of trying a new activity like a game in gym class, a music lesson, flying a kite, swinging…

Who is the first friend you ever had? How did you two meet? Why did you like being friends?

Who was your favorite teacher? Why does this teacher stand out in your memory? What made this teacher the best?

Who sent you your very first letter? Do you remember how you felt receiving mail? Did you write back by yourself or with the help of a parent?

Did you have a pen pal? How did you get this pen pal? Where did he/she live? What kinds of things did you write to each other about?

What is your earliest happy memory? Feel free to list as many happy memories as you can. Were they happy memories because they made you feel good about your accomplishment(s), made you feel grownup, or made you feel listened to? Is the memory happy because you went someplace you always dreamed of? Or is it a happy memory because you received a great surprise or present you always wanted?

What is your earliest sad memory? Feel free to list other sad memories. Was the memory sad because the incident made you feel ashamed of yourself, sad because you lost something or someone, sad because you didn’t do well in school at an event or on a test, sad because a friend didn’t want to be your friend anymore?

Were you ever jealous of another child at school? What made you jealous?

What did you cherish as a child? (a person, a place, your privacy, time spent with a parent, walks, trips to favorite places, a doll or toy…)

What is your strongest childhood memory? What brings this memory back to you?

Did you ever leave something behind on a trip that caused you emotional stress? (a toy, book, a piece of clothing, etc…)

Did anyone ever surprise you with a great kindness?

What did you like to collect?

What was your favorite meal that your mom or relative made?

Describe your childhood bedroom. Did you have a desk? What did you keep in it? What could you see from your window? What toys did you keep on your bed? What books were your favorites and why?

Could you draw a floor plan of the house you grew up in? List as many things as you can remember being in each room. List as many activities or memories you have from each room. Which room(s) were your least favorites? Which rooms were your favorites?

I hope the words and questions unlock good memories for you. And if you are a writer, I hope those memories make their way into your stories.

Happy writing!

Christmas is a time for looking backwards.

me with snowmanIt’s at this time of year that I look back at the Christmases when I was a child and remember how the house I grew up in smelled of toasted hazelnuts, gingerbread, incense, and fresh pine. Many years later, I can still move in my mind from room to room with ease, seeing the countless ways my mother transformed our home into a wonderland of traditions I strive to carry on.

Here is a glimpse at my childhood Christmases.

Each year, two weeks before Christmas, my mother filled a vase with pine branches she clipped in the woods surrounding our home. She decorated these fragrant, bowing branches with straw stars she brought with her from Germany. On our walls my mother hung intricate stars made from accordian-pleated, gold paper she hand-cut with tiny scissors. smokemenA table set with a collection of smoke men. A ring of brass angels circled a flickering candle as they rang tiny bells on a stand placed on our piano. The memory of the outing I went on as a child with my sister and father to a farm to cut our tree returns with greater warmth than the temperature of that bone-chilling day. I can still see the other families seated around us on the tractor-pulled hay ride to the field of trees…all of us singing carols as our breaths froze like puffy clouds before our rosy faces. Returning home to my mother’s warm hugs and tasty lunch she cooked while we were away. The anticipation of decorating our tree, followed closely by the unacceptable length of time we needed to wait for the branches to come down before we could decorate. Opening boxes of carefully wrapped ornaments, choosing which branches could support the heaviest ornaments, and which branches would display the oldest and dearest ornaments. Retrieving wrapped presents from hiding places to set beneath our lit tree. The woodsy smell and sweet crackling of logs my father burned in the fireplace. Christmas music wrapped around us as my mother joyfully played and sang German carols at the piano. SantaThe excitement of wearing a special dress my aunt sewed for me. Admiring the lit tree from my bedroom door while wondering which presents were for me. Wondering if the Barbie Camper I hinted fifteen times for was one of the gifts I could see. The doorbell ringing and my aunt and uncle arriving at our house for our celebration. The shrimp cocktail we ate with the tangy horseradish sauce before our meal of roast lamb and baked potatoes. The well-loved music of The Nutcracker Suite playing. And so much more.

Today, years later, my parents both sadly gone, I try to recreate my fondest memories so one day they will become my daughter’s fondest memories, too. (With the exception of the Barbie camper which I never did receive.)

peace doveTo all of you, I wish you peace and happiness this holiday season, warm memories you will cherish, the best of times spent with the ones you love, a delicious meal cooked to perfection, and much joy in the new year.

Love to you all,

Leslie