Posted in PB, So Many Good Books

In a Jar

Perfect Picture Book Friday

In a Jar (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2020) by Deborah Marcero is a delightful book of magical remembrances and friendship. And it’s about collecting, which kids love to do. I love the feel of the illustrations, too.

Llewellyn collects things in jars. These jars remind him of “all the wonderful things” he has seen and done. One evening he collects “cherry light into his jars.” (I so want to be able to do this.) And gives one jar of light to Evelyn. The two become friends and collect together. Then she moves away. “With Evelyn gone, Llewellyn’s heart felt like an empty jar.” See how he solves this.

This book reminds me a lot of Button and Bundle by Gretchen McLellan. See an interview with the author here. The two books make good companion stories.

Author/illustrator Deborah Marcero has written and/or illustrated other books. Read about them here.

Posted in MG Novels, So Many Good Books

A Dash of Dragon

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

A Dash of Dragon, The Mystic Cooking Chronicles, (Aladdin, 2017) by Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski is an interesting mix of fantasy, cooking, and adventure.

Thirteen-year-old chef Lailu has apprenticed to Master Slipshod and they have opened a restaurant together. However, she didn’t know how her master had gotten the money. Not only has he put Mystic Cooking at risk, but he has promised Mr. Boss he and Lailu will work for him forever if they can’t pay. Hunting the dangerous meat for their menus–kracken, basilisk fish, and more–isn’t nearly as scary as some of their customers or the escalating problems that Lailu confronts. Will she lose her freedom or her life?

There are three books in this series. Book two, A Hint of Hydra, came out in 2018, and book three, A Pinch of Hydra in 2019.

Learn more about this team of authors–they’re sisters–here. This fall the pair has another book coming out. Whispering Pines is an “eerie heart-pounding mystery” according to the publisher. Read more here.

Posted in Craft, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

The Breaks of Paragraphing

When my daughter was in seventh grade, the English paper she’d written was a wall of black text. Not a single paragraph break. I made a point of explaining “one topic per paragraph,” etc. I’ve had adult students who didn’t understand the idea any better than she did, with some going the complete opposite direction and having

a

paragraph

break

for

every

single

sentence.

So, what are the rules? Well, they’re “…more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.” (Pirates of the Caribbean – see the movie clip here: https://youtu.be/k9ojK9Q_ARE) Especially for fiction.

Author Fred D. White says, “Remember that paragraphing is more an element of individual style than of grammar. You are in charge of what a paragraph should do or what shape it should take.”

However, paragraphing breaks with dialogue (or action) makes it easier for readers to tell who is speaking/acting.

Start a new paragraph with each speaker (or person acting). Fiction Editor Beth Hill says, “Consider a paragraph as a frame for a specific amount or section of information. In fiction this may be description, dialogue, action, exposition or any combination of these elements. The paragraph acts as a boundary or fence for related items.” (Emphasis mine.)

That frame/fence image is so helpful. When one character speaks, acts with and within his setting, etc., we usually keep it inside one box or paragraph. We get a new paragraph, when a second characters adds to the conversation with her thoughts or asks questions. And again, a new one when the first character answers. This helps create white space which makes for easier reading.

Example:
Joe stepped up to the counter and asked the woman serving coffee, “How’s it going today, Sarai?”
            “Busy.” She brushed her thick black hair back from her face. “The usual?”
            “Please.” Joe scanned the room. “You seen Monty?”
            Sarai paused before reaching for a disposable cup. She opened her mouth, but Joe stopped her.
          “Hold on. When you can’t answer right away, it’s a dead giveaway you’re phrasing how to lie to me.” His eyes narrowed. “I don’t like being lied to.”

We also start new paragraphs…

  • when a character’s speech is lengthy – Say Joe in my example above is sometimes longwinded. Special punctuation would let us know he is continuing to speak in the next paragraph. (No closing quote at the end of the first paragraph of dialogue.)
  • to show a physical change in location or time or both. When paragraphs of description are needed, think one paragraph per topic. For example, if a character is walking in the dark woods, in this fence of paragraphing is the description of the woods. But when she comes across the house, that would be another box opened before the reader’s eyes.
  • when the subject under discussion changes – Remember the movie UP? Dug, the dog is talking along, when something catches his eye. He says, “Squirrel!” which interrupts what he was saying.
  • for emphasis – Dug’s “Squirrel!” is again an example. “Sometimes starting a new paragraph or allowing a single sentence to stand on its own is a great way to emphasize a key point, get a laugh, or otherwise control the pace of the story to your advantage.” – David Cathcart
  • when a new character enters the scene.
  • when something unexpected happens – E.g. a horn honk, the clash of the garbage truck, the lights go out, etc.

That’s a lot for a simple indented new line to do. To sum up, these guidelines aren’t hard rules, but mostly a pattern that when followed provides clarity. If paragraphing breaks are hard for you, take a story you like and type out a few pages for practice.

Here’s an exception to the break guidelines. We don’t start a new paragraph for each person when we are summarizing the action. E.g. The final bell rang. Rachel and Milo stuffed their math books into their backpacks and dashed out the classroom door. They caught up with their friends at the bus. Rachel gave Anaya a high five.

Paragraphs also serve other purposes.

Paragraphs affect pacing. Paragraph and sentence lengths can either slow or speed the action. Long paragraphs slow—short ones speed. So, you use the former for when things are calm, but the latter in the midst of action. Here’s an interesting thought from Leah McClellan: “In a novel, as the action winds down and the scene ends, longer sentences, longer paragraphs, and more description let readers catch their breath.”

Paragraphs can show moods, too. “Shorter staccato paragraphs can convey that a character is tense, worried, short-tempered or taciturn. Longer paragraphs can indicate a character is in a good mood, long-winded, relaxed or prone to deep and rambling thought,” author Jennifer Ellis says.

Back to my seventh-grade daughter. She learned paragraphing techniques and ended up in advanced placement English in high school. Writing in paragraphs is natural for her now. With some practice, it can be so for you too.