A Halloweensie Contest and WIX Twist

Susanna’s Rules for the Halloweensie contest: write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children, using the words witchbat, and “trick-or-treat. Check out other Halloweensie Contest entries at http://susannahill.blogspot.com/

I’ve been going door-to-door dressed in costume with an open bag for treats most of my life – okay I have enjoyed the custom most of my life! I even got married on Halloween (Happy 21st, hon!). And I’ve only just read that this practice has a name other than ‘trick-or-treating’: guising. Ha! Learn something new every day! New words should be applied freely so as to cement them into one’s vocabulary, so I thought I’d have a little trick-twisting fun with idioms and sayings:

A half truth is a whole guise. (off a Yiddish proverb)

A truth that’s told with bad intent beats all the guise you can invent. (Sorry Bill! ~William Blake, “Auguries of Innocence,” Poems from the Pickering Manuscript)

A guise may take care of the present, but it has no future.  (Author Unknown; if you know, tell the author to drop a line!)

Fit to be guised.

Early to bed, early to guise

Guise to the challenge!

One guise fits all.


That’s about the guise of it!

Also have to mention a Halloween PB – too delightful to pass up!

Author: Harriet Ziefert
Illustrator: Simms Tabak
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2007
Age level: 2 and up
Opening: If one little witch meets one little witch, that makes…two little witches going trick or treating.
Why I like it: As you can see on the cover, one little witch is a bit suspicious of the other little witch as they meet their dressed-up friends. A little spooky and a lot of fun, with delightful illustrations from the late Simms Taback, who created over 35 picture books, winning the Caldecott Medal for Joseph Had A Little Overcoat and a Caldecott Honor for There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. Do try an all time favorite of mine Kibitzers and Fools: tales my zayda told me.

Happy Halloween!

PPBF: Jitterbug Jam – A Monster Tale

Author: Barbara Jean Hicks
Illustrator: Alexis Deacon
Publisher: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2004
Age Level: 4-8
Themes: monsters, fear, family life
Opening: Nobody believes me, and my brother Buster says I’m a fraidy-cat, but I’m not fooling you: there’s a boy who hides in  my big old monster closet all night long and then sneaks under my bed in the morning on purpose to scare me.
Summary: (from the publisher) Bobo is a young monster who’s afraid to sleep in his own bed. He is sure there is a boy hiding beneath it – a boy with “pink skin and orange fur on his head where his horns should be.” Bobo’s older brother thinks he’s a fraidy-cat, but his grandpa, Boo-Dad, knows all about these fearful creatures. And Boo-Dad knows exactly what to do to scare them away. But after being afraid for so long, Bobo might just want to take matters into his own paws and find out if the creature under his bed really is as bad as he thinks.
Why I like this book: The illustrations are unique, which is why I checked this out from my library, but the rhythms and sounds throughout the text had me reading it over and over again.Good old-fashioned storytelling with a delightful twist.
Resources/Activities: Draw your own monster; make paper-bag monster puppets; make your own jam – try frog jam (fig, raspberry, orange and ginger); be Bobo for Halloween: make a monstermask, dress in ‘jammies, and carry a reptile stuffed animal.

Visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog for more Perfect Picture Books, listed alphabetically, by title, theme and age level, including resources and activity ideas for teachers.

Newbie Notes From My First Conference

It was nerve wracking but fantastic to have gotten feedback* on a manuscript from a real-time editor at the Picture Book Intensive.  But in listening to feedback on other writer’s work (we were 14 participants), I could compare my first impression with that of a professional, and I found that even more valuable. Don’t get me wrong, I am not out to grab another person’s ideas! I know what I like to read, and what I don’t, but, yeah, mine is also one person’s opinion. I benefitted by testing my ear for a good story, and possible areas of weakness. I also appreciated the encouragement to comment on the other manuscripts – with just a few minutes per ms it was a good challenge for me to pinpoint what I thought would help their story most (and I hope I didn’t hang out my New York-style frankness too boldly!). And yes, I have far to go!

It was a great opportunity, listening to whole manuscripts, but I really learned a lot from the breakout session First Pages, for picture book mss. A professional reader and picture book author, Kathleen Pelley, read aloud each participant’s first page of their PB ms, max. 200 words. An agent and an editor were given 2 minutes total to respond. If you should ever have the opportunity, take notes on EVERY ms! In less than an hour I believe almost 40 ‘pages’ were read. Having the PBIntensive experience behind me I was more focused and began to hear patterns. After a while I could predict what the reviewers might say! Yes, I was learning something! I highly recommend signing up for this session format!

Here are a few of those First Page comments:
• really hard to sell an MC that is not a child
• too much telling, not enough showing
• narrative too simple, needs more tension
• repetition is not effective
• need more emotional connection with MC
• that story is already out there – check the market
• sentences are too long; careful – joke will be taken away by the illustrations
• keep your narrative child-centered
• don’t know where the story is going till it’s half-way in
• illustrations should complete the text – less description.

*more in another post

WIX: Bats in the Belfry

Halloween approaches, slowly creeping, ever slowly…

GOTCHA! Actually, the supermarket got you first!

This time of year brings out the crazies, and I look forward to getting older for just that reason – madness that can be dismissed with age! “She’s got bats in the belfry!” they’ll cry out as I skip by in my rain boots and bathing suit! In Germany one could say “Sie hat nicht alle Tassen im Schrank.” She doesn’t have all her cups in the cupboard. In England or Australia you might hear “off her chump“. I get the meaning, but on its own ‘chump’ means an ‘idiot’ or ‘fool’. So, to follow my sidetracked mind, I swooped around the internet and found and extracted this from The Word Detective:

The initial meaning of “chump” when it first appeared in print in 1680 was “a lump of wood chopped or sawed off a bigger piece,” i.e., an end-piece or trimming. The source of “chump” is, alas, uncertain, but one possible source is an Old Norse word “kumba,” meaning “block of wood,” perhaps influenced in English by the form of such words as “lump” and “stump.” In the 19th century, “chump” was used to mean the blunt end of anything (“As if they had been unskilfully cut off the chump-end of something,” Great Expectations, Dickens, 1861), as well as being slang for the human head.

Hope that doesn’t set me up for the follow-up cry at my passing: “Off with ‘er ‘ead!



IF: Sky

This is a piece I made for a competition that, I believe, no one ‘voted’ for – but in spite of it all, I still feel good about it, its message and creative possibilities! I wanted to create an image with an upward view of the sky, then the traffic light came to me. I ‘saw’ a hat, then a face, and felt like I did when I was a kid staring out of a car window on a boring errand. So, if you don’t like it, don’t bother letting me know, because I still do!

PPBF: Ed Emberley’s Halloween Drawing Book

With Halloween creeping up this PPB is ripe for the carving!
Author/Illustrator: Ed Emberley
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 1980
Genre: non-fiction
Themes: Halloween, drawing
Age Level: For anyone who says they can’t draw!
Opening: If you can draw these simple shapes (triangle, circle, square, etc.) there’s a good chance that you will be able to draw at least most of the things in this book. Step-by-step instructions show you how.
Synopsis: (From Amazon) Using simple shapes, Ed Emberley shows would-be artists how to draw a variety of creepy and scary Halloween creatures, such as witches, bats, monsters, and more! This book is packed with cool things that kids-and not a few adults-really want to draw. Easy and fun, the book provides hours of art-full entertainment.
Why I like this book: I have not seen the revised edition, but I hope it is as simple and fun as the original; Emberley really broke the process down to the basics, and made it easy to figure out how to draw just about anything! And as a former art teacher I truly appreciate giving kids simple yet perfect tools to succeed.
Resource/Activity: Get out your pencils, markers and paper and DRAW! Emberley has written many other drawing books: Make A World, Animals, Fingerprints, Weirdos, Faces, Trucks and Trains – the list goes on!

For more posts on Perfect Picture Books and resources visit Susanna Hill’s blog every Friday

WIX: Bring to the Table

Food for thought: Recently a friend mentioned that her Alma Mater had once renamed a celebratory picnic because of the word’s origin. The reason? It’s alleged ties to the slave trade. I was dumbfounded! Never had I heard this before! I asked if she had checked it’s etymology and she hadn’t – she believed that if an institution of higher learning were to go that far it must be true. I have been astonished by the truth behind word origins before, but this one ate at me. So I dug in!

Wikipedia does not mention such a connotation at all, but traces the word back to the 1692 edition of Tony Willis, Origines de la Langue Française. Marking the first appearance of the word in print, it mentions pique-nique as a term “used to describe a group of people dining in a restaurant who brought their own wine. The concept of a picnic long retained the connotation of a meal to which everyone contributed something.”

So what frightened university officials? A claim had spread on the internet that picnic was a shortening of ‘pick a nigger’ and referred to an outdoor gathering where families enjoyed boxed lunches while a randomly chosen black man was hanged.

A research fellow in African-American Studies at the Smithsonian, Dr. Alonzo Smith, has debunked this in detail, including the following comments:

To attempt to tie lynchings to family outings, where food was served, is to misunderstand the real nature of these events. Rather, they were outbreaks of mass white hysteria, and attempts by groups of Whites to terrorize and brutalize the entire Black communities where they occurred. Often, they were motivated by alleged acts of violence by Blacks against Whites, alleged disrespect and other breaches of Southern racial “etiquette,” and on many occasions, victims were chosen at random. Although women and children were frequently present, it is more accurate to view these events as collective psychotic behavior, rather than family outings.

I take great pleasure in words and their connotations, as well as a good potluck. What do you bring to the table?

IF: Water

Strongly it bears us along in swelling and limitless billows;
Nothing before and nothing behind but the sky and the ocean.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The Homeric Hexameter. (Translated from Schiller.)

Inspiration for this week’s Illustration Friday prompt: Back in the eighties, while I was landlocked in Northern Germany, I kept a calendar on my wall with beautiful photos of the ocean, to remind me of home. This was one of the accompanying quotes that moves me now as much as it did then.

PPBF: Louella Mae, She’s Run Away!

Author: Karen Beaumont Alarcón
Illustrator: Rosanne Litzinger
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company, 1997
Genre: fiction
Themes: lost and found possessions, pigs, stories in rhyme
Age Level: 2-6
Opening: Louella Mae, she’s run away!
Look in the cornfields! Look in the hay! Where, oh, where, is Louella Mae?
Synopsis: A growing crowd searches all around the farm for the missing Loella Mae. A playful story with a surprise ending!
Why I like this book: No surprise here: I was attracted to the beautiful artwork of this skilled watercolorist. Litzinger possesses an ability to create action, emotion, chaos and tranquility with few lines and detail, and fabulous color sensitivity. But this is a book I borrow from the library often to remind myself of the perfection in sound, repetition, rhythm and pacing with just 255 words (you bet, I typed this one out!). If I haven’t convinced you to look for this book yet read the following text from one of the spreads: Run tell the neighbors and y’all give a yell ‘fore she wanders off yonder and falls in the… (Gotcha!)
Resource/Activity: Animal Lost and Found: online educational game from PBS; treasure/scavenger hunt ideas for classroom or home.
For more posts on Perfect Picture Books and resources visit Susanna Hill’s blog every day!