January 2019 Archives

Unique Character Names

"Hi, my name is..."

rural-boy-2756313_1280.pngI just went through a student assignment where most character names ended in the E sound. Some were spelled with a Y; others with IE. Not only does it get confusing with the same endings, but Gracie, Vicky, Lorie, Murphy, Bobby are also the same number of syllables. At least they started with different letters.

Varying your character names will help your reader keep track of who's who.

But don't just think about beginnings and endings, or number of syllables.

Think about different cultures and ethnicities.

Look at this fact: "The proportion of non-Hispanic white children in the U.S. has declined from 61 percent of all children in 2000 to 51 percent in 2016." More from the same source here.

What about where you live? Or where you are setting your story? Who are the people there? When my daughter's family moved to southern Georgia, my white grandchildren were the minority among a sea of black children. Where we raised our girls there was a significant Asian population. We spent a year in a town in New Jersey that had a large Jewish population. Where we live now there many people from the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe.

I'm not suggesting you appropriate anyone's culture, but surely in your main character's classroom or among his/her friends, not everyone will look/be just like your character.

Don't forget religious influences.

Names may be inspired by parents' faith or customs. Biblical names are often popular in our country. Although the US has often been called a Christian nation, that has changed too. Read some of the statistics here from 2016. And again it varies state by state. As the above link states: "No state is less religiously diverse than Mississippi."

Popular culture can contribute to unusual names.

This site has 100 unusual or surprising baby names of 2018. Some come from TV; while others are from history; and others are names of fruit. Those children may be off to school in four or five years.

Here's a fun resource: popular baby names by birth year.

Place names are popular.

I've met both boy and girl Londons. There's Paris and Brooklyn. Austin and Hudson. Here's a list of over 100 place names.

Consider the meaning of names.

This can be helpful in creating character traits or the ironic opposite. My name means graceful lily. I've never felt particularly graceful or flowerlike, but I learned the meaning when I was a kid. Your child/teen main character probably knows the meaning of his/her name, too.

Scifi and fantasy often have made-up names.

And some authors seem to go overboard into making them hard to pronounce. Sometimes names just have unique spellings. Here's an article about fantasy name generators. Science fiction writers don't have to feel left out--here's one for scifi character names.

Names that almost weren't.

Some names become household words. For fun and inspiration look at these twelve who almost were something less.

Literature adds to reality It

Literature adds to reality. It does not simply describe it.
C.S Lewis


Inkling.jpgInkling (Alfred A. Knopf, 2018) by Kenneth Oppel is a book I'm not quite sure how to describe. We've got a nonhuman, but likable main character, who is an inkblot. Seriously! He's discovered by a boy named Ethan, who names him Inkling. Ethan's sister Sarah who has Down's Syndrome meets Inkling too although she calls him Lucy. We've got lots of drawing, both good and bad. We've got problems, kid-sized and adult. It's funny. It's sad. It's touching.There's a bad guy. But with some help Ethan and Inkling win in the end. And so do some other people.

This is a fun and satisfying story. Looking at it several weeks after I finished it, I find it hard not to pick the book up and read it again.

Kenneth Oppel is an award winning author. You can read about him here. See his awards here and check out his books here.

The illustrations (inside and out) are done by Sydney Smith. You can see a bunch of the illustrator's covers here.

Mouseling's Words

Perfect Picture Book Friday

Mouseling.pngMouseling's Words (Clarion Books, 2017) by Shutta Crum and illustrated by Ryan O'Rourke is a darling picture book. It's a fresh look at an oft told story of mouse versus cat, but it's much more than that. It's also about leaving home, and the love of words.

Mouseling's family has a collection of words in their nests. Aunt Tillie brings them home from the Swashbuckler Restaurant. Mouseling's siblings have left home and his parents tell him it's time for him to leave, but he doesn't want to. He thinks he's too little. He can't leave his words. But when Aunt Tillie tells him there are more words out in the world, Mouseling determines to go.

I loved where Mouseling ends up.

See all of author Shutta Crum's books here and read about her here.

Illustrator Ryan O'Rourke's (no, not the baseball player) shows his books here and his bio is here.

Wordy Birdy

Perfect Picture Book Friday

WordyBirdy.jpgWordy Birdy (​Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2018) by Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Dave Mottram is a funny picture book. And it reminds me so much of one of my daughters when she was three because she didn't stop talking!

Wordy Birdy doesn't know she has a problem. Her problem is not listening because she's too busy talking. But an almost disaster makes her aware of how she needs to listen, and in the end she finds she likes to listen. Don't miss reading the end flaps and see who else is excited to be in the book...

This book has been put on many "Best Book" lists that you can see on the author's site. Tammi is a well-published picture book author (as well as a very nice lady). You can see all her books here.

I love Dave Motram's illustrations and sense of humor. I liked his about page, too! You can see other samples of his work here.

WordyBirdy_Cougarpants_Cover.jpgAnd there's a sequel coming out in February!

I love the expression on the cougar's face and can't wait to see what is in store for us in Wordy Birdy Meets Mr. CougarPants. The title alone makes me smile.

Genius is immediate but talent

Genius is immediate, but talent takes time.
Janet Flanner

The Rudolph Effect

christmas-928328_1280.pngI know the holiday season is over, but I'm sure you remember this story. Santa's reindeer won't let poor Rudolph play any reindeer games. "Then one foggy Christmas eve..." those hypocrite reindeer suddenly liked Rudolph because he was useful. (Summary my own.)

I often see this theme in bully short stories in my student lessons. The picked upon main character saves the bullies, saves the day, or does something so great that now the bullies like him. Have you had that happen in real life? Me? Not so much. Neither have children. What's that phrase? Haters will hate.

Bullies usually pick on isolated kids--the new kid, the different kid, the loner. Why is that? Because those isolated kids don't have others to stand up for them. No support group in this situation. It's like a pack of wolves against a lone rabbit. Scary! And because those bullies have issues of their own. Though sometimes mob mentality is in play too.

Good bully stories focus on how the main character deals with being bullied. (Without immediately going to parents or teachers. Even though we tell kids to go for help, we also know that bullies often plan retribution.)

-Some are tough and don't react no matter what.

-Others fight back.

-Some run.

And what else?

New bully stories need to have something fresh about them.

There are lots of bully stories out there. Look at this one library's Pinterest board of titles for young readers. Here's a list aimed at tween and teen girls from a mighty girl. I'm sure we could find tons more.

Resources for writing about bullies:
"Advice & Tips On Creating & Writing Bullies"
"How do I write a believable, violent, and manipulative school bully?"
"Avoiding the avoid the cliched bully"
"Character Type: Bully"

Do you have other thoughts on this issue? Share them in the comments section.

Ill keep at it stubbornly

I'll keep at it stubbornly and gladly until the job is finished.
Joe Fassler

Just Under the Clouds

JustUndertheClouds.jpgI loved Just Under the Clouds (Alfred A. Knopf, 2018) by Melissa Sarno. It's such a good book. And has a gorgeous cover.

Twelve-year-old Cora and her family, consisting of her mother and her sister Adare, have been moving from place to place for six years since Daddy died. Now they're homeless. Cora gets comfort from knowing and climbing trees in Brooklyn, just like her father taught her. But with watching her "different" sister while Mom works, and struggling with algebra in school, Cora worries they'll never belong anywhere.

Just Under the Clouds is the author's debut novel. Read about the birth of the story here. Her next book, A Swirl of Ocean, comes out in late summer and I'm really looking forward to it. Read more about Melissa here.


Squirm.jpgSquirm (Alfred A. Knopf, 2018) by Carl Hiaasen is an intriguing book involving snakes, eagles, grizzlies, panthers, and drones (the man-made kind). I love the cover!

Thirteen-year-old Billy Dicken's is one tough kid. He makes the kids at school leave his locker alone by putting a live rattlesnake inside, stands up to bullies, and is determined to meet the father who left when Billy was four. Billy doesn't know where his dad lives or what he does for a living, but he's determined to find out. His mom and sister won't help, so Billy will do whatever it takes to find his father. His journey takes him from Florida to Montana and back again.

Author Carl Hiaasen has five other books out for young readers. Read about them here. His book Hoot was a Newbery honor book and was made into a movie. You can listen to an interview with Carl on Mike Lupica's podcast.

The Fandom

fandom.jpgThe YA novel The Fandom (Chicken House/Scholastic, 2018) by Anna Day reminds me a bit of The Inn Between for middle grade readers--things are not always what you think. It was a compelling read, too.

Seventeen-year-old Violet, two girlfriends, and her fourteen-year-old brother are at Comic-Con to meet the actors from The Gallows Dance. A strange accident transports them into the universe where the real people from the story live. Was the book (and movie) based on this universe, or birthed out of the book? They don't know, but all their lives are in danger. Especially if they can't get back home.

This is the author's debut book and was first published in the UK. If you don't want to read the whole long version "About Anna," definitely read the last paragraph.

Don't Get Caught

don'tgetcaught.jpgDon't Get Caught (Sourcebooks Fire, 2016) by Kurt Dinan was a compelling read.

When Max gets a note from the prank pulling Chaos Club to show up at the school at 10 pm, he's suspicious why they chose him. But since he's tired of being "Just Max," he shows up. Along with four others who get busted by the campus "cop" and blamed for the graffiti they found. Max and his newfound friends decide to get payback.

I loved Max's voice, the humor, how characters changed, and the heist movie references.

You can get a bit of the author's sense of humor by reading his bio. I hope we see more books from Kurt.

Writing is hard publishing is

Writing is hard; publishing is even harder.
Jennifer March Soloway

Amal Unbound

Amal-Unbound.jpgAmal Unbound (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2018) by Aisha Saeed is SO Good! I'd been hearing a lot about this New York Times bestseller and am really glad I've now read it.

Twelve-year-old Amal loves school, but now she has to stay home and watch her little sisters while her mother recovers from the birth of another baby. Amal wants to be a teacher herself someday, so missing this much school is worrying. Her dreams are shattered one day when she is rude to the wrong man--a member of the ruling family in their Pakistani village. For her effrontery, she is taken away from home to be Jawad Sahib's servant. How can she survive the intrigue among the Khan's servants? Will she ever be allowed to return home?

This book would make a fantastic movie. As my previous recommendation, I wish kids all over America could read it.

Previously, I've recommended Aisha's YA novel, Written in the Stars. You can read about it here.

I love this list of Fourteen Things about the author.

Front Desk

Front Desk.pngFront Desk (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2018) by Kelly Yang is a book I wish everyone could read. (Especially those who take what they have for granted...)

Mia Tang's parents told her that America was this amazing place. But so far, no house, no dog, and very little money. Ten-year-old Mia doesn't want the kids at school to know where she lives--a motel, but better than when they lived in their car. She does like working the front desk. And making new friends Although she wishes she could speak native English. And write it, too.

But Mr. Yao, the motel owner, is making it harder and harder on her parents. Will they all have to move and find jobs yet again?

Front Desk was named a "Best Book" many times over. See them all here.

Read the real story behind this wonderful story.

Besides being a children's author, Kelly is a journalist and educator. Read more here.

A book might not sell

A book might not sell, but that doesn't mean the writer wasted time on it, not as long as the writer is learning and growing.
Laurel Gale