Thursday, September 30, 2010

Stylized by Mark Garvey

Alice Pope, former editor of Children’s Writers & Illustrators Market, has a children’s market blog for the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI).

Today she highlighted an interesting book by Mark Garvey, Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style. Garvey’s book celebrates Strunk & White’s classic tome The Elements of Style—now 50 years old—and gives insight into the lives of these authors.

As a former technical writer, I have a copy of Elements on my bookshelf that has been referenced innumerable times over the years. I look forward to checking out Garvey’s Stylized. I hope you’ll consider making some time for it too.

In the meantime, check out Alice Pope’s blog for more details on Garvey’s book.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wednesday Word: Cantankerous

Part of Speech:

disagreeable, contentious, peevish, cranky

The cantankerous man scolded the children when they walked on his lawn to retrieve the ball.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Flying Fish

How would a fish fly,
if a fish could fly?

With his fins spread wide,
and a smile in the sky?

Would birds mock him,
laugh, and deny
that a fish
has the right to fly?

Exactly how would a fish fly,
if he dared to try?

He’d probably just sigh,
and fly quite high!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Does Your Boy Read?

On Friday, I wrote about letting your children choose the books they want to read as a way to get them excited about reading. I said this with the caveat that parents retain the right to censor what their children read if they feel the material is age inappropriate or offensive.

Then, my husband handed me a timely and interesting article from The Wall Street Journal (Friday, September 24, 2010). The author is Thomas Spence who is president of Spence Publishing Company in Dallas. In his article titled “How to Raise Boys Who Read” he cites a decline in the number of boys who test at a proficient level on the annual National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test. Apparently, on average, boys are scoring significantly lower on the test than girls and have been doing so for nearly two decades. Spence says scholars agree “if boys don’t read well, it’s because they don’t read enough.” The question then becomes how to get boys to read more.

Many teachers and librarians postulate that boys are not engaged by traditional literature. Therefore, they suggest appealing to boys at their level. In response, publishers are offering newer literature that relies on maximizing the inherent funniness of gross bodily functions—farts, boogers, etc.—that appeals to young boys.

Here is where Spence diverges from these experts. He suggests that this type of content is questionable at best and does nothing to contribute to the raising of well-read, well-educated, well-rounded boys.

Spence goes on to say that another common tactic used by parents to get boys to read involves the reward of new video games. If you can agree, however, that time spent playing video games is not time spent reading, then doesn’t this approach seem contradictory or self-defeating? Offering a distraction does not seem like the best way to get your son to unplug for a while and read.

Spence’s strategy for getting boys to read and consequently raise their reading scores appears to be simple and straightforward. Guide your son toward a good book, provide him with a quiet space to enjoy it, and watch him grow. “Most importantly, a boy raised on great literature is more likely to grow up to think, to speak, and to write like a civilized man.” Thank you, Mr. Spence, for reminding us how to be better parents.

Thank you also for helping me to clarify my position. I still think that children should choose what they read. However, if you’ll remember, I recommended that you stand back and watch what they pull from the bookshelf. I did not say ignore what they choose. If, for example, your son came home from school each day and ate junk food as his after-school snack, I would hope that you would at least occasionally place a shiny apple in his hand.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Let Kids Choose What They Read

Children learn to read—and hopefully develop a love of reading—at their own pace. As parents we feel a responsibility to help with and sometimes speed this process.

As a young child, my oldest daughter was not a big reader. Perhaps that’s because when she was in kindergarten, I would sometimes fall asleep while she read her nightly reading homework to me. She’d jab me with her elbow occasionally to keep me from falling into a deep REM sleep and, looking at me with those big blue eyes, ask if I was listening. Yes, honey, I was just resting my eyes. (Who gets the “Bad Mom Award”? Um . . . that would be me.)

Despite my parenting flaws, her reluctance to read throughout elementary school was difficult for me to understand. I have been a reader for as long as I can remember, and I devoured books in grade school. In an attempt to get her more interested in reading, I suggested books to her that I enjoyed as a kid. As much as I may have wanted her to read the chronicles of Laura Ingalls Wilder—or The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald (see previous post)— because I loved them as a child, she was not interested.

What I failed to grasp then is that kids have to find what is interesting to them. As new readers, children need to find books that spark their interests. They need to find books with topics and writing styles that speak to them. They need to choose their own books.

So, the next time you feel compelled to recommend a book, just take a step back and let them browse the bookshelf. As a parent you have a right to censor material that you find age inappropriate or offensive. (You really want to read about a farting dog? Well, okay.) It may be difficult at first, but letting them make their own choices will help them develop their relationship with reading.

My daughter is a teenager now and she loves to read. Her choices (books with vampires, witches, zombies, or monsters) may be different from what I would choose for her, but at least she’s reading and enjoying it. The more they enjoy it, the more they will do it!

Now, I have some reading to finish. I won’t post over the weekends—that’s family time! Enjoy yours, and don’t forget to visit next week!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Read Aloud Time

When I was in the fifth grade, my teacher—let’s give a shout out to Mrs. Alexander!—read to our class. After recess, she turned off the lights, and we rested our sweaty little heads on our desks. One of the things I remember most about this time in our daily schedule was her enthusiasm while reading. Her short brown bob would swing as she paced in the front of the room. She used different voices for each character so we knew who was speaking. She read at the proper pace so we could follow the story, and she paused at the right moments to allow us to absorb what we were hearing. Then just about the time we cooled down and stopped fidgeting, she stopped reading. Of course, it always seemed to be at some critical point in the story, and we wailed and begged for her to read more, which she rarely did. Instead, she usually left us hanging until the next day. Mrs. Alexander, like so many wonderful teachers across the nation, knew that her read aloud time served two purposes. It gave us time to settle so she could teach, and it fostered a love of books through storytelling. After all, who doesn’t love to hear a good story?

I just started reading The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald. It’s the book that Mrs. Alexander brought so vividly to life for me in the fifth grade. I’ll get back to you once I’ve finished . . .

Happy reading!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wednesday Word: Flagrant

Part of Speech:

shockingly evident, obvious, or glaring; scandalous

The teacher said that Maureen’s mini-skirt was a flagrant violation of the school’s dress code policy.

Wednesday Words

It’s impossible to satisfactorily cite an exact number of words in the English language or to determine an average number of words in a person’s vocabulary. However, we can probably agree that there are hundreds of thousands of words and that most of us use only a fraction of them.

I love words, but I often encounter words that I cannot accurately define or that I have never seen or heard. I’m hoping I’m not alone, and I’m guessing most of us can benefit from some vocabulary development.

Therefore, each Wednesday the blog will be devoted to examining a word. I will define the word and part of speech, as well as offer an example of how the word may be used in a sentence.

I hope you have fun with Wednesday Words! Challenge yourself to use the word during the week. Quiz your friends and co-workers to see who can define it. Write the word and definition on a small note card and slip it into your child’s lunch bag. Use the word to start dinner conversation and challenge each family member to use the word properly in a sentence.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I have heard it said that fear is the basic emotion that underlies our actions. When faced with danger, we have a choice—flee or fight. In everyday circumstances, we can think of these options as inaction (flee) or motivation (fight). Since hearing this theory, I’ve often asked myself why I’m thinking, saying, or doing something. Is my action or inaction based on fear?

A few years ago, I held a very good job as an Instructional Developer. While I enjoyed my job, my salary, and the people that I worked with, I felt unfocused. I could not find the balance between work and family that so many others around me were seeking and seemed to have accomplished. Too many things were falling between the cracks as I tried to juggle more, juggle faster, juggle better. The more I tried to focus on the details, the more I missed the big picture. I was not happy and my family was not happy, so I considered leaving my job. Hello, fear.

I was afraid to leave a good job. I was afraid that we wouldn’t be able to make it on one income. I was afraid that I would miss working. I was afraid of change.

However, I was more afraid of the impact that our harried life was having on our kids. Something had to give, so I became a stay-at-home mom.

It’s been hard and we’ve made a lot of adjustments, but it has been worth it. Today, our family spends more time together and we are happier. The kids have more time for homework and activities, they are getting better grades than ever, and they are less stressed. To supplement my husband’s income, we started a small business. I am also a substitute teacher who secretly dreams of becoming a children’s author. I say secretly because few people know about my desire to write. Hello, fear.

I am afraid that people might think it silly, unrealistic, or fanciful that I would want to start writing children’s books. I am afraid because writing is difficult. I am afraid that people might not like my writing or think it’s no good. I am afraid that I won’t find an agent or a publisher. I am afraid of failure.

So, I am starting this blog. My short-term objective is to write and to get into the habit of writing regularly. My long-term objective is to see my writing on the bookstore shelf someday. I hope you’ll join me in my journey and that we’ll learn some new things. Here, I will share my experiences with writing, reading, living. Why? Because I want to grow. And because I want to show myself and my family that I can stand in the face of fear and do what is in my heart.

Today, I stand on a new precipice unsure of what’s to come, and I propose another option for facing fear . . . fly . . . with me.

Flee . . . fight . . . fly . . . what will you choose?