Monday, August 31, 2015

You,Too, Can Haiku--A Guest Post by Robyn Hood Black

     Greetings, writers! Many thanks to Sherri for inviting me to bring some haiku to the proverbial coffee table this morning. There's much to learn about this deceptively simple genre. I am very much still a student.


     Why haiku? First, its intrinsic value--I think reading and writing haiku make a person of any age more alive. Second, immersing yourself in these short form poems can sharpen your writing skills across other genres.

     What about the 5-7 5 format? Let's get this question out of the way first.  Strong haiku can be written in this format, but it's not an accurate reflection of Japanese haiku because Japanese words contain more syllable sounds than English words do. So, 17 syllables in English are usually too many for one haiku, and make a clunky, forced-sounded poem.

     So, what does constitute haiku? It's more than words that are counted on your fingers and written in a three line format. There is just so much packed into those small poems.


    Dr. David G. Lanoue, current Haiku Society of America president, and Issa scholar, has said a haiku is "a one-breath poem that discovers connection," Connection between juxtaposed images or ideas is often lacking in what passes for "haiku" in popular culture. 

     In a recent book, Lanoue describes a haiku as "an elliptical, succinct, imagistic poem that invites the reader to complete what is only suggested or hinted at on the page."

     How would you describe a good haiku poem?  A strong haiku is concise and offers two precise images, suggesting a connection between them. A successful haiku presents the reader or listener with a moment, an experience, but doesn't override the reader's response by naming the emotions involved. The unfolding of the second image seals the connection and opens the emotional potential of the poem.

     Can you give us an example?  Consider this poem by David G. Lanoue, which he kindly shared on my blog: 

a "lost Dog" sign
nailed deep
into the oak.

Copyright David G. Lanoue. All rights reserved. 
Frogpond, 27.2 (2004)

     First, note the word choices. Are any of them sentimental or sappy? Nope. Too highfalutin to understand? No. Are precise image/sensory details presented? Yes. If you have a dog, or have ever lost one, this haiku likely strikes a chord. Each reader will bring his or her own experiences and sensibilities to the reading.

     When I read this poem, that nail might as well be pounded into my heart, because that's where I would feel the loss of one of my beloved dogs. Also, notice how much stronger it is with the specific word "oak." It has a heavy, hearty sound, and when you say it, it slows you down. It's much better than the generic word "tree."

     What if the poem were constructed like this:

a "Lost dog sign
taped up
to the sign post.

     Hmm. Not much happening there.    

     Or, what if it said:

a "Lost Dog" sign
I sorely miss
my golden retriever.

Um, that one misses the haiku mark. As David has written it, though, I'm grabbed by the visual image of the "lost" sign--Oh, No! That's terrible!, I think to myself...and then pounded with the second image--a nail, or nails, driven with force into the hard oak tree. I hear a hammer, feel the rough bark, even sense the impact of that nail. 

     How about we want to write our own haiku? Great! First I'd suggest reading. A lot. When I first fell under the spell of haiku, I read hundreds and hundreds of poems to get a sense of what they are really about. Let them seep into your bones. The good news is there are many sources out there for you to dive into. You can start with the Haiku Society of America: and their journal Frogpond. Another resource  is The Haiku Foundation

     What haiku books are on your bookshelf:


    And, finally, some hints for getting haiku subjects, please. 

     Next time you go for a walk, take a notebook. Or, sit on your front stoop or in your back yard with paper and pen handy. Gather your senses. What catches your eye? What are you feeling? What smells surround you? Note the time of day, the season.

     For a traditional English-language haiku, you'll be gathering two parts--one will be two lines, and the other will be a single line. (It doesn't matter which comes first.) One of your two elements can be a seasonal reference--it might be as straightforward as "autumn afternoon" or more subtle, like "burning leaves."

     What does that smell evoke for you? Loss? Change? The trick is to employ another image which suggests that emotion. Perhaps you notice geese overhead. Maybe they are changing flight positions and that reminds you of a shift in a family situation. You might end up with a haiku like this:

burning leaves
a V of geese

     Do you have an assignment for us?  Take a deep breath and a walk, and see if you are inspired to write a haiku or two! You can post them in the comments section. 

     Robyn Hood Black writes poetry, fiction and nonfiction under Spanish moss in the South Carolina Low country. She's active in SCWBI Southern Breeze and in the Southeast Region of the Haiku Society of America. Her haiku have appeared in many contemporary journals including Frogpond, Modern Haiku, The Heron's Nest, Acorn, Chrysanthemum and One Hundred Gourds.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Storybook Cooks ~By Suzy Leopold

From the Desk of Rebecca Colby:

Thank you for having me on the GROG Blog today! I appreciate the opportunity to write about two things that are near and dear to my heart:  


For me, there’s nothing like the thrill and enjoyment of sharing a good story.

. . . Except perhaps the thrill and enjoyment of sharing a tasty treat! 

Let’s face it. We all love to eat. And we all have to eat. So what better way could there be to extend the pleasure of storybooks than through cooking—and eating?!
One of my eldest daughter’s favorite school clubs when she was younger was the Storybook Cooks’ Club. Each week the teacher read a new story to the children. After the reading, she assisted the children in preparing a relevant food. 

Mr. Wolf's Pancakes
By Jan Fearnley

One week my daughter came home with a jam sandwich (The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord and Janet Burroway). Another week she brought home a pancake (Mr. Wolf’s Pancakes by Jan Fearnley). 

A third week it was pizza (Pete’s a Pizza by William Steig). And every week she came home with a huge smile and couldn’t wait to tell the rest of the family about her day. (This may not sound unusual to you, but trust me, any other time I’d ask her what she’d done in school and she would merely reply, “Nothing!” So it was fantastic to have her come home wanting to talk about something she’d done at school.)

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
Written by Laura Numeroff
Illustrated by Felicia Bond

When I became a teacher, I borrowed this same idea. My students made healthy milkshakes after reading Oliver’s Milkshake by Vivian French. They also decorated cookies after reading If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff. They loved combining reading time with food preparation, and the story stayed with them longer. 

There are many other books with obvious cooking connections like The Gingerbread Man, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and even Green Eggs and Ham. But what about those books that have less obvious connections and don’t feature food? This is when you can actually have more fun with children in the kitchen. This is when you have the opportunity to stretch your creative muscles and use your imagination to cook up something new. 

For example, my debut book, There was a Wee Lassie who Swallowed a Midgie, is a Scottish version of the classic rhyme about the old lady who swallows a fly. While the Wee Lassie eats something on every page, she doesn’t eat anything appropriate for children. 

There was a Wee Lassie who Swalled a Midgie
Written by Rebecca Colby
Illustrated by Kate McLelland
So this got me thinking—what food would be appropriate for a Wee Lassie? Haggis? Porridge? Cock-a-leekie soup? She’d probably eat all of these things. But what would be fun for children to make? 
Why Midgie Shortbread, of course! 

I immediately set to work on a shortbread recipe. My children then helped me make the shortbread, stirring in chocolate sprinkles to represent the midgies. There is no shortbread in the book, but I was still able to find an appropriate cooking activity by getting creative. 

My recently released book is about a witch parade and it’s called It’s Raining Bats and Frogs. While frog legs are a perfectly acceptable food (especially for witches), I don’t know many children who want to eat them. But that doesn’t mean they can’t cook up some other inspired witchy treats. Perhaps they’d like spaghetti worms or grape eyeballs? Or how about some bread stick witch fingers? Or some cheese dip bat bites? Children won’t forget this book anytime soon if they make a witchy menu to accompany it. And speaking of witches, here is a clue for the scavenger hunt: Tabitha. 
It's Raining Bats & Frogs
Written by Rebecca Colby
Illustrated by Steven Henry
There are other benefits to cooking extension activities, as well. They allow children to learn about nutrition and food safety. As a teacher, I especially liked that cooking activities provided opportunities for cross-curricular learning. My students were able to practice their English and Math skills without even realizing it--by following recipe instructions and carefully measuring ingredients.  

I hope I’ve given you plenty of ideas to get started cooking up your own storybook recipes. But if you’re still stuck for ideas, check out this gem of a book I found when I was teaching:

The Little Book of Cooking from Stories: Ideas for Cooking with Early Years Foundation Stage Children, Using Stories as Starting Points by Sally Featherstone, London: A & C Black, 2009. 
The Little Book of Cooking from Stories
By Sally Featherstone
It has ideas and recipes to accompany 27 different storybooks, making recipes as diverse as vegetable soup to chapattis to jam tarts.  It’s sure to inspire you! 

So what are you waiting for? Grab a book and a child and get cooking!

Rebecca Colby
Rebecca Colby is a picture book author and poet. Her books include: It's Raining Bats and Frogs (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillain, 2015) and There was a Wee Laslie Who Swalloed a Midgie (Floris Picture Kelpies, 2014).

Before writing for children, Rebecca inspected pantyhose, and taught English in Taiwan, worked for a Russian comedian and traveled the world as a tour director. 

Learn more about Rebecca and It’s Raining Bats & Frogs Blog Tour and On-line Scavenger Hunt with a total of eight bloggers. 

Visit Rebecca on her website.

Follow Rebecca on Twitter.

Enter the Giveaway 
below to win a copy of 
It's Raining Bats and Frogs.

Thank you Rebecca for your delightful and informative ideas and the opportunity to participate in the On-line Scavenger Hunt. The combination of books and food are a favorite of mine, also. I picked this flower for you.
Woo Hoo! The winner is: 
Damon Dean!
Thank you for your blog comment 
and tweeting about the post.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Making Science Sing: Writing creative nonfiction about science, for kids. By Christy Mihaly

If you're interested in writing about science for children, you've probably heard that editors are looking for creative nonfiction. If you find that confusing, you're not alone.

What is creative nonfiction? Writers, readers (and a few editors) sometimes trip over the definition. My librarian friends could talk all day about how best to categorize science-related books. But the basic rule is simple:


If you want to write nonfiction—to submit to a nonfiction magazine, or for educational publishing, or because you want teachers to teach your book as nonfiction—you can’t make anything up.

Take this quick quiz.

Is it Fiction or Nonfiction if . . .

1. a fictional character tells a friend (or a student, or a grandchild) important factual information you want to convey to readers?
A: FICTION. You may call it “informational fiction” or some other name, but it’s basically fiction, with factual information embedded in it.

2.  in describing a scientific discovery, you invent a dialog between the scientist and her husband?
A: FICTION. Use a single word that you can’t substantiate with a reliable source, and you’ve turned your story into fiction.

3.  you describe the planet Mars from the perspective of a resident there?
A: Again, FICTION. If you’re writing from a Martian’s perspective, you’re making something up. It may be science fiction – but that’s fiction.

Nonfiction requires thorough  research, and checking your facts. If you say anything that you can’t verify as factual, then it’s fiction. Which is fine—I like fiction! Just don’t call it nonfiction. 

Which brings us back to our question of the day:

Q: How do I make an article about ants, or a book about physics, compelling to young readers? How do I use creative nonfiction for science?

The answer: use the fiction writer's tools . . . tools like poetic language, a story arc, setting the scene with detailed descriptions and an engaging voice . . . to liven up your nonfiction. 

Here are some ideas and examples.

Make it poetic

As long as you keep your text factual and accurate, you can use poetry to breathe life into simple concepts such as the water cycle.

Wait . . . the water cycle?

Yes, even that. In Water is Water, Miranda Paul uses simple rhymes to show us the cycle from water to steam, to clouds, and on and on.

Laura Purdie Salas, in her poetic series of books (A Leaf Can Be; A Rock Can Be; Water Can Be . . . ) explores different aspects of the natural world.

In these books, the art, while scientifically accurate, can also introduce kid-friendly whimsy and even show characters and story lines that draw readers in. 

Jason Chin’s illustrations in Water is Water show a sweet family story to illuminate the text, and the cover of A Rock Can Be features a smiling crab.

Nonfiction writing need not be altogether serious. Jane Yolen has published several poetry collections conveying information about animals. A recent example is Bug Off!, which contains 13 funny poems about insects paired with fabulous photographs and facts about the featured bugs.

Non-poets, take heart! You don’t have to write actual poetry to use lyrical language for science topics, like horseshoe crabs . . . .  

Lisa Kahn Schnell’s beautiful book about horseshoe crabs provides factual information while drawing young readers into a story about the life cycle of these fascinating creatures. See more in this prior GROG post.
. . . or eggs.

In An Egg is Quiet, Dianna Aston’s lyrical language and Sylvia Long’s beautiful illustrations illuminate eggs in all their colorful and mysterious glory.

Make it tell a story

A great way to write lively science is to make it “narrative nonfiction” with a story arc.

Obvious examples are biographies of scientists or inventors, or stories of their inventions. In BOMB: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, Steve Sheinkin recounts for middle grade and YA readers a riveting tale of history and scientific discovery, along with politics and philosophy along the way. 

Nonfiction? Yes. Great narrative writing? Absolutely.

Sometimes it's challenging to uncover a story arc. Here’s where creativity comes in! In writing about an animal, for example, you could follow it through its life cycle, or a single day, or a migration.

Melissa Stewart found a fascinating story arc in a rain forest ecosystem. Her book, No Monkeys, No Chocolate, uses the delicious hook of “Chocolate!” to explain how cocoa pods, monkeys, and brain-eating coffin fly maggots are all part of the interdependent process that makes chocolate possible. This book is written on several different levels, from the simple narrative for the younger reader, to more detailed information for older kids (or adults).

Make it interactive
How could you make medical history interesting to kids? Carlyn Beccia did it with a humorous (and sometimes revolting) multiple-choice quiz, in her 2010 book, I Feel Better with a Frog in My Throat: History’s Strangest Cures. 

Do you know, for example, whether any of these old-fashioned treatments cured a sore throat?
A: A frog down the throat;
B: A necklace made from earthworms;
C: A dirty sock tied around the neck.

For each choice, the book explains the origin of the “cure,” and provides the answer (Yes, No, or Maybe) with a discussion of why the particular procedure may or may not have worked. This book packs a surprising amount of information into 48 illustrated pages. 

Cheddar finds it fascinating.

Magazines often incorporate crafts, quizzes, experiments and other projects into science articles. 

Increasingly, book publishers are getting into the act with how-to manuals, project books, and the like. Check out titles such as those illustrated here for inspiration to increase your interactivity.

Make it fun
Just because you can’t make anything up in your story doesn’t mean that you can’t make it fun. Think of an imaginative format. If you were a kid, how would you view a topic?

Susan Goodman’s middle grade book for kids about space travel uses a title sure to intrigue her readers: How do you BURP in Space?

This 2013 book is set up as a travel guide, with chapters such as “Planning your trip” and “Dining.” It presents technical information on gravity and other important topics in a fun format. Interested readers can refer to a glossary, index, and timeline of space exploration and travel in the back. The futuristic fonts and jazzy illustrations (a mix of cartoons and space photography) add to the kid appeal.

Bottom line: 
If you love science, why not write about a topic you care about, in a way that will make kids love it too? That's creative nonfiction!


For further reading, check out these selections from the GROG archives:

See some nature books that GROGGer Leslie Colin Tribble loves here

Read about science books for kids in Sherri Rivers' two-part post with interviews from writers Miranda Paul and Heather Montgomery

And for a fun chat about nonfiction rhyming picture books, look to Sherri's interview of Nancy Day.