Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tips for Writing Rhyme that Shines

One of the biggest challenges of writing in rhyme is finding rhymes that are not predictable and overused. But that is also what makes the best rhyming stories and poems!

Some examples of predictable rhymes:

Sun, fun, run
Sight, night, fright
Can, man, plan
Up, cup, pup
Hear, fear, near
See, me, tree, 
No, go, blow, so
Blue, true, new, do, you
Day, play
Out, about
High, sky

Avoiding the Predictable Rhyme Trap is essential for writers who want their rhyme to stand out. Anyone can think to rhyme sun with fun, or high with sky. No reader, upon seeing the word high paired with sky, would exclaim, "What originality!"

Your goal should be to impress your readers by choosing rhymes that will surprise them. Give them something unexpected!

One way to do that is by changing up the way you describe ordinary things. If you are writing about the sun, why not use a metaphor or other descriptor in place of "sun" in your writing? Or consider rearranging the words so that "sun" doesn't fall at the end of a line. 

Another option is to use the common word, like sun, but find a less predictable word with which to make your rhyme. Like in the example below:

I sizzled in the summer sun
'till hot and crispy--overdone!
My balding unprotected head
was now a perfect pepper-red.

A few other tips for writing rhyme that shines:

- Make up words! An example of a rhyming book with fun made up words that really work is Aaron Zenz's HICCUPOTAMUS. And Dr. Suess, of course, was a genius at making up words.

- Use multi-syllabic words. These rhymes are often more challenging to write, but they are more fun to read. Corey and I used a lot of multi-syllabic rhyming words in WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? 

- Don't force it. Even the most interesting, unique, perfectly rhyming words will harm rather than help your story if they don't truly fit the context. 

Of course, it isn't possible to avoid using predictable rhymes entirely. There are many times when the predictable rhyme is simply the best choice. This is why writing great rhyme is about more than the rhymes. Using clever, creative wording and literary devices such as alliteration and onomatopoeia throughout a rhyming piece will help it to stand out even on those occasions when the rhymes themselves may be ordinary. 

But ordinary, predictable rhymes should not be the norm. Strive for the unexpected!

Friday, August 19, 2016

10 Reasons Adults Should Read Picture Books

Sometimes grown-ups get weird ideas in their heads. They may think it's silly to jump on the swings at the playground, or that they're too mature to see the latest Disney animated feature without a small child in tow. They may even come to believe that they are too old to be reading picture books!

There are plenty of reasons for adults to enjoy things that are geared toward kids, whether those things are Legos, finger paints, sidewalk chalk, or even picture books. And these reasons don't necessarily have anything to do with spending quality time with kids. 

The truth is, you could never be too old to benefit from reading picture books. And here are some reasons why:

1. They are short, so you can read a lot of them in a short amount of time. Imagine bragging to your friends that you read 365 books this year!

2. A picture book could teach you something new. They are often full of little facts that surprise even the most educated and enlightened adults.

3. They are often funny. You never outgrow the benefits of a good clean laugh!

4. They could help you remember things that you learned in school, like how to use apostrophes and how to deal with a meanie at recess.

5. Picture books may remind you of what it's like to be a kid.

6. They may inspire you to do something cool, like build a tree house, have a tea party, or adopt a pet.

7. Some picture books have yummy recipes on the end pages!

8. They might endear you to a child in your life. A niece or nephew, a student, your own son or daughter?

9. They will remind you what it means to use your imagination and be creative.

10. Because the children who see you reading them may want to read them too!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

What Does "High Concept" Mean, Anyway?

When I first set out to write and publish children's books, I saw over and over again that publishers and agents were looking for "high concept picture books."

Great, I thought, but what does high concept mean, anyway?

I've read a lot of articles over the years in an attempt to understand exactly what it means, but my favorite is this article that explains high concept in part as anything that can be summed up in one line, or even better, in the title. That article uses the movie Snakes on a Plane as an example. Perfect. Does that movie really need more of an explanation?

That explanation, while helpful, doesn't say it all about what high concept actually means. But after years of reading and writing and research, I think I've finally nailed down the definition for myself, and hopefully this will help you too!

High concept is this: When the EVERYDAY meets the EXTREME.

Here are a few picture books that support my definition.

MARS NEEDS MOMS by Berkley Breathed

Boy who is tired of his mom making him eat veggies and take out the trash (everyday) 

mom-napping aliens from Mars (extreme).

THE THREE NINJA PIGS by Corey Rosen Schwartz

The three little pigs (everyday) 

pig with black belt in karate defeats the wolf (extreme).

CREEPY CARROTS by Aaron Reynolds

A bunny with a taste for carrots (everyday) 

carrots conspiring against furry carrot-muncher (extreme).

I NEED MY MONSTER by Amanda Noll

Boy can't sleep at night (everyday) 

missing underbed monster (extreme).

These books all have titles that establish their stories' premises with attention-grabbing snazziness. They can all be summed up with one line. But most importantly, their stories blend ordinary, everyday stuff with the extraordinary or outrageous.

If your goal is to write high concept picture books, that's what your stories have to do.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


MR. AND MRS. BUNNY--DETECTIVES EXTRAORDINAIRE! by Polly Horvath is a charming, clever, hilarious book. When Madeline's parents are kidnapped by conniving foxes, she accepts the help of Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, two recently self-appointed detectives, to help her solve the case and rescue her parents. And, of course, while they're at it, they will foil the foxes' plot to can rabbit products and by-products! 

This book is full of action and clever wit. It's a sweet and funny story about family, friendship, and learning to trust someone when life gets a little overwhelming.

A delightful middle-grade read. I look forward to reading the next book of Madeline and the Bunnys' adventures.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Our Latest Family Adventure

Summertime brings road trips. This year we headed south to Branson, Missouri for a few days of fun. I had never been to Branson before, but many people over the years had said how fun and family friendly it is. So it seemed like the perfect spot for us since we wanted to take a quick trip to someplace new that didn't take us more than a few hours from home.

Branson is situated in the heart of the Ozarks. The area is green and gorgeous...and humid! The city is small, but swarming with tourists. The best way for me to describe the most tourist-trappy part of the city is as a big amusement park in which almost everything costs at least $25.00 per person.

That's not to say that you can't have fun there on a budget. There are hotels for every price range, a variety of restaurants, plenty of nature to enjoy, and a few attractions that even my miserly husband was willing to spring for.

It was a bit of a whirlwind of a trip, but we had a fun time.

A sampling of what we saw and did in Branson (minus some excellent food).
We went on a super high ferris wheel, rode the ducks, swam in Table Rock Lake
and enjoyed some gorgeous nature. If you go, don't miss the fountain light
show at Branson Landing (it's free!).
We veered slightly off-course on the way home to visit the capitol in Topeka.
If you ever have the chance to visit, don't miss the dome tour (296 steps to the top!),
the cage elevator (93 years old and still functioning) and the library (full of mostly
historical books and documents, but also some Kansas Notable Books).

Have you gone on any adventures recently?

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Review: The Girl in the Tower by Lisa Schroeder

Lisa Schroeder is one of my favorite authors. I've read several of her young adult books, many of which are written in verse form. I have known of her middle grade works, but haven't read any of them until I read THE GIRL IN THE TOWER, which released this past March.

This book is very different than the other books by Lisa Schroeder that I have read, not only because of the intended age group, but because of the genre. It's her very first fantasy novel!

You may think, as I did at first, that this story is a retelling of the story of Rapunzel. But it isn't! THE GIRL IN THE TOWER is completely original.

Violet has been trapped in the tower, along with her mother, since she was born. She is kept there by the evil Queen Bogdana, who is also a witch who has the kingdom under a spell. When Violet is given the chance to become a real princess, in exchange for her mother's freedom, she agrees to live in the castle with the evil queen. But her true desire is to see her family reunited and the spell over the kingdom broken.

I enjoyed this book, which has the feel of a classic fairy tale. Though the main character Violet might seem a little too perfect, the story is original and fresh. It's sweet without being too cutesy. Magical without being too hokey. THE GIRL IN THE TOWER is a lovely, engaging read that is sure to please fairy tale fans young and old. 

I recommend this book for anyone who likes fairy tale stories, fans of Disney princesses (especially those who save themselves), and anyone who simply wants a light, feel-good read for a lazy afternoon.

To learn more about Lisa Schroeder and her books, check out LisaSchroederBooks.com

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Book-Inspired Projects: Moose-approved treehouse alternatives!

Reading WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? or some other tree house themed book may inspire your kids to build a tree house of their own. But what if building a tree house is not a possibility for you? No worries! There are plenty of alternatives that are almost as much fun!

Build a fort out of blankets and pillows.

The temporary nature of a blanket fort makes it ideal for a rainy summer day, or a day in which the temperature makes it impossible to play outside. Plus, building an indoor fort is not only fun, but it's an exercise in creativity and engineering. Just imagine the creative thinking involved in getting that blanket to stay in just the right spot!

Pitch a tent in the back yard or family room.

Blanket forts not your thing? Or maybe you're a little worried that the kids will pull that heavy lamp onto their heads? Pitch a tent instead! A small tent can be a perfect fort for indoors or out.

Grow a sunflower fort.

This takes some time and commitment, but if you have the space, the time will be well worth it! Imagine escaping into a hideout made entirely of sunflower stalks! That would be magical.

Savvy Housekeeping: Grow a Sunflower House

Construct a mini tree house for a bird or fairy.

You may not have the perfect tree house tree, but you can still build one for a bird or a tiny magical creature. Here is a good place to start for inspiration and instruction.

Make a fort out of a large cardboard box. 

Empty cardboard boxes are full of potential, and if a box is large enough for a child to crawl into, then it will make a perfect fort for indoors or out. Decorate it to look like a house or a castle--like this one that I found at Cornerstone Confessions. The only limit is your (or your child's) imagination!

Build a tree house out of Legos.

My kids and I have often stayed up late on summer nights constructing some ambitious structures out of these colorful blocks. Building a tree house out of the best toy ever invented can be a great way to spend a hot summer day!

Design a tree house in Minecraft. 

A few years ago my son got me into the video game Minecraft. Not only is it a fun video game, but it's a great way to get creative without making a mess. A quick internet search for "minecraft treehouse" will give you an idea of just how creative these houses can be!