Friday, August 31, 2012

Holey Moley!

Ruby has been working on her hole for a long, long time.

She had a little help from Matty.

But mostly, she did it all by herself.

Ruby's Bark-o-Lounger

Have you ever seen a more magnificent hole?

Perfect for napping.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Things I Love Thursday

This little silver bowl with lion feet.

I think it was used for mints or candies, but I use it for paperclips.

I love to put ordinary things into special containers. Then they aren't so ordinary anymore.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Writing Tip Tuesday

The Four Deadly Sins of Children's Novel-Writing

(Deadly, but, like all sins, oh-so-easy to commit)

  • Unnecessary scenes
  • Too much backstory
  • Unclear central question
  • Undeveloped characters

To elaborate slightly:

Unnecessary scenes

Ask yourself the following questions:
  1. What is the purpose of the scene?
  2. Are there any other scenes that serve the same purpose?
  3. If I take this scene out, will it affect the story a little or a lot (or worse yet, not at all)?

Too much backstory

Ask yourself the following questions:
  1. Does the backstory affect the present story?
  2. Why does the reader need to know this information?
  3. If I take this backstory out, will it affect the story a little or a lot (or worse yet, not at all)?

Unclear central question

Ask yourself the following questions:
  1. What the heck is my story about?
  2. Does the reader know early on what the story is about?
  3. Does all of the action revolve around this central question?
Undeveloped characters

Ask yourself the following questions:
  1. Are my characters unique, definable, and likeable?
  2. Are my characters active in moving the story forward?
  3. Are all of my characters necessary to the story? (i.e., If I take a character out, will it affect the story a little, a lot or (worse yet) not at all?)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dear Barbara O'Connor

Sometimes in writing workshops, kids ask me what I do about writer's block.

I tell them I eat Oreos.

They love that.

I recently received the following letter:

We had so much fun with you! My teacher bought some Oreos and it really works. We love eating Oreos during writing time.We had so much fun with you.

I love kids.

P.S. That teacher, by the way, is Mr. White, whom I paid tribute to as the teacher in How to Steal a Dog.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Things I Love Thursday

This silver ring given to me by my best friend in third grade.

It was called a friendship ring. I wear it on my middle finger now, so as a third-grader, it was huge. I couldn't wear it for a long time. (And btw, I was in the third grade FIFTY-THREE years ago!)

The friend who gave it to me was named Sara. Wherever you are now, Sara, here are the memories I have:

Her mother had a long, bushy gray ponytail that was awesome. 

Her family raised rabbits, who were always having more rabbits. As a third grader, what is more fun than playing with baby rabbits? 

But then one time something was wrong with a rabbit, so her pony-tailed mother whacked it upside the head with a shovel. We had a solemn, hand-holding, Jesus-loving funeral that was wonderfully dramatic. We sang a hymn, but I don't remember which one.

One time her father was taking an air-conditioner out of the window and it fell on him and an AMBULANCE came. Oh, the drama! 

Sara and I played in some woods that had a path that ran alongside a steep gulley. You had to use a rope swing to get to the other side. If you didn't get enough speed on the swing, Lord help you, cause then you got stuck hanging over the gulley/ravine/bottomless pit and you were doomed. Sara used to recite, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For thou art with me, etc." I used to always say, "Sara, say that valley of death thing." 

We dug up plants in the woods and put them in Dixie cups and tried to sell them at a booth on the side of the road. Business wasn't very good. 

We lived on an oyster shell road in Kenner, Louisiana (the equivalent of a gravel road other places). A block from the levee. There were drainage ditches filled with water in front of our houses. Once a week, folks put their garbage cans out by the road. Sara rode her bike with me on the back as I kicked the garbage cans into the ditches. Yes, I was that kind of child. 

We did that bike thing on the day of my dancing recital. My hair was in pin curls. Sara took a corner too sharp and the bike flipped over and I fell in the water-filled ditch. Karma.  

We used to go door to door asking neighbors if they wanted to see our Betty Boop impression, which consisted of us singing, "I'm Betty Boop. Boop boop be doop." No one was very impressed. (I think we tried to charge money for it, but I'm thinking maybe nobody paid.) 

My favorite book was a book of fairy tales called Shirley Temple's Storybook.  

The book was in the back seat of my father's car when a mechanic drove the car to the shop and had an accident. (No one was hurt.) The book was filled with shards of glass. Sara and I showed that glass-filled book to EVERYONE. Oh, the drama! (No one was very impressed.)

Sara's family had a huge, oilcloth-covered table in their kitchen. Her mother introduced me to the best breakfast known to mankind: POWDERED SUGAR TOAST. But I stubbornly refused to put butter on my toast, as recommended by her mother. So, um, all the powdered sugar fell off.

So now, when I look at that ring, I have lots of great memories.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

And the winner is......

Okay, so I just did the highly scientific drawing for the audio version of How to Steal a Dog.

I used this cool photo app to take pictures of the highly scientific process.

Two problems:

1. They came out in reverse order and I don't know how to fix it.
2. You can't read the name of the winner.

So here it is again...

KRISTEN!! (A teacher, yay!)

Congratulations to Kristen (I'll be contacting you.)

And thanks so much to everyone who entered. Don't give up. I have other things to give away.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

How to Steal a Dog Audio Book Giveway

The drawing for the audio version of How to Steal a Dog will be held tomorrow at noon.

What have you got to lose?

You might even win!

Writing Tip Tuesday

Writing for kids is different than writing for adults.

Sure, much of it is the same - those "rules" of writing, like show, don't tell, resist the urge to explain, etc.

But writing for children has its own unique challenges.

I've often compared writing for children to writing scripts.

But it's also much like writing short stories.

I recently found a quote that puts into that into words perfectly:

From Off the Page, quoted by author Walter Mosley:

And so, when writing a short story [or children's book], you have to know everything behind it - everything that led up to there, everything about those characters. But you don't have the leisure to talk about it at length. You only see that very upper tip, as with an island compared to the mountain that lies underneath it.

My point?

It's imperative that you know the background of your story and your characters.

But you don't need to - in fact, you probably shouldn't - write about it.

It should be "invisibly present" - like a rippling undercurrent beneath the still waters.

How you accomplish that is a matter of personal taste. Some writers do exercises like interviewing their characters or making lists of the characters' favorite foods and hobbies and what's in their backpacks.

But me?

I just think a lot.

So by the time I sit down to write, I know my characters inside and out.

I know what happened the day before the story started.

But I don't write about it.

Monday, August 20, 2012

How come?

Why is it that I have to read a manuscript 89 times before I notice this:

Three little dogs yipped and yapped and raced in circles and threw themselves against the door, snapping at the air and scratching at the screen.

"Stop it, y'all!" Tiny's mother snapped from somewhere inside the house.

Two words: FRESH EYES

Love these bookmarks

Macmillan made these adorable bookmarks to go along with the copies of The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis that schools will be reading as part of the Share Our Books program.

(pssst. There's one more opening for this school year.)


Friday, August 17, 2012

How to Steal a Dog audio book give-away

Don't forget to throw your name in for the drawing of the audio book of How to Steal a Dog

Drawing on August 22

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Things I Love Thursday

The imprints and drawings made by my son in the concrete beside our swimming pool 19 years ago.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Audio Book Give-Away

Look what I just got in the mail!

How to Steal a Dog on Recorded Books, y'all.

But what am I going to do with so many of them?

Donate some to libraries.

Offer some for silent auctions for charities.

And give one away to YOU! 

Since I don't know how to make one of those cool entry forms like Mr. Schu, you'll just have to leave your name and email address in the comments here or email to me @ barbaraoconnor at mac dot com.

Drawing to be held August 22.

Good luck!


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Writing Tip Tuesday

White space.

You need it.

You want it.

You love it.

What is white space, you ask?

White space is white space.


White space is areas of a manuscipt with no words.

Books for young readers need white space.

Areas with no white space often indicate the following problems:
  • Long sections of narrative
  • Long sections of interior monologue
  • Paragraphs that are too long
  • Scenes that go on for too long
All of the above can be problems because they are likely to slow pace (and bore young readers).

Here's a nifty exercise:
Hold your whole manuscript and use your thumb to literally flip through it.
Pay attention to the white space.
But more importantly, pay attention to the areas without white space.
Take a look at those areas.

Maybe you need to add more white space.


Cut some narrative or interior monologue.
Revise to shorten paragraphs.
Delete unneeded or repetitious scenes.
Add dialogue.

(Recycled from 2/19/08)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Dear Barbara O'Connor

Dear Barbara O'Connor:

If I could change any part of How to Steal a Dog, it would be that Georgina had correct grammar. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Writing Tip Tuesday

I love recurring story devices - something that is used repeatedly throughout the story.

These can serve some or all of the following purposes:
  • Help tie the story together
  • Help develop character
  • Show the inner thoughts of the character
  • Add to the overall style or theme
  • Give cohesiveness to the story
  • Help move the story along
  • Give the reader something to anticipate

I've written ten books and I've used a recurring story device in five of them!

Moonpie and Ivy:
The main character writes postcards to her mother (who has abandoned her). I ended every other chapter with the postcard. I've had teachers tell me that when they read that book to their students, the kids loved the postcards. They looked forward to them.

The postcards helped the main character express her feelings, which changed and evolved as the story unfolded. Some examples:
Dear Mama: I hate you. Love, Pearl Dear Mama: Ivy asked me to stay here and be her daughter and I said yes. Goodbye. Love, Pearl

Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia
The characters were studying for a spelling bee by using the dictionary. I used letters of the alphabet throughout the book. For example, "By the time we got to 'L'..."

This was a great device to help move the story along and helped the reader keep track of where we are in the story as they studied for the spelling bee.

Taking Care of Moses
The main character draws pictures at the end of every other chapter.

These helped show the character's feelings.

How to Steal a Dog
The main character keeps a journal that starts out as a "how-to" manual but turns into an expression of her feelings about what she has done. This served to show the evolution of her guilt over her actions and her need to do the right thing.

The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis
The main character's grandmother teaches him a new word each week. He recalls the vocabulary words throughout the story and uses them as they apply to a particular scene. This serves as a thread throughout and helps develop the character.

(Recycled from 2/12/08)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Two teachers who read. A lot

Well, how can I not share these wonderful, insightful critiques of On the Road to Mr. Mineo's presented in such a creative way


Two Teachers Who Read. A Lot.

Thanks, y'all! 

(And thanks to Teach Mentor Texts)


Can you dig it?

Uh oh

Look what happened

First there was Ruby, who just loves to dig and has dug a fine, fine hole for herself.

Now Martha has decided to join the fun.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Things I Love Thursday

Today is a special Things I Love Thursday.

Today I love sharing with you
the new trailer for
 On the Road to Mr. Mineo's!

But, um, where is it?

Oh, there it is....

over on Mr. Schu's blog.

He and Colby Sharp of Nerdy Book Club fame teamed up

to present the world premiere

of the trailer


On the Road to Mr. Mineo's

Drum roll, please....

Click here

Wait, we're not done yet......

I'm a guest blogger over at The Nerdy Book Club.

Wait, we're still not done.

Colby Sharp has an interview with me on his blog.

Okay, now we're done.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Tomorrow! Tomorrow!

Tomorrow's the day!

The trailer for On the Road to Mr. Mineo's 

will be revealed


Mr. Schu is giving away The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester and The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis


There will be some other cool stuff