Posted in MG Novels, So Many Good Books

The Elephant’s Girl

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Celesta Rimington‘s novel, The Elephant’s Girl (Crown Books for Young Readers, 2020), is such an amazing book. I love the first line: “The wind and I have a complicated relationship.” But it’s not only the wind that talks to Lex.

Twelve-year-old Lexington literally lives at the zoo. She was brought there by a tornado; sheltered by an elephant, Nyah; found by a ghost, and taken in and named by the zoo’s train engineer, Roger Marsh. She doesn’t know her actual birthday, who her parents were, or where she came from. And now after seven years, Lex is finally old enough to help with the elephant training sessions. What she doesn’t expect is that Nyah will communicate with her through images. How is she supposed to figure out what they mean?

Celesta has another novel out called Tips for Magicians. I’ll have to check it out. If you want to know more about the author, go to her website where you can read some fun facts.

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

Showing the Passage of Time

Writer Jami Gold said, “Time—just like location—establishes our story’s setting, which anchors readers in our story.”

There’s a movie that does a marvelous job of showing passing of time. In it the character is literally walking through different seasons. It takes a very short time on screen but we know without a doubt that a year has passed.

We want readers to have a sense of time passing in written stories as well. How do we do that?

Use simple transitions to show time has been skipped. This is where we get to tell. “That evening…” “The next morning…” “Two days later…” “After school…” “He showered and dressed…” We are summarizing nonimportant happenings to get on with the story.

State the time in the text. Or day of week. Or date. Or season. “Leslie checked the time on her phone. 7:32 a.m. If he didn’t show up soon, they’d be late to school. 7:35.” “On the first day of spring break…”

Show the time with what is in the sky. “The rising sun peeking through the window…” “The moon glow…” Mention the stars and the reader will assume night.

Use events to show time. It can be a countdown: “Only one more week until my birthday.” Or can be days counted since an event: “It’s been three hours/days since…” Or it can be a wait and payoff. “In six and a half days Stella would finally see her best friend.” The next scene might be at the airport as the friend exits the gate.

Use physical cues. “Oh, great, it’s that time of the month again.” “Dad’s chin was scratchy on my cheek” could indicate evening. “The dew on the grass was cold on my bare feet” probably means morning.

Scene breaks can indicate time has passed. If the end of one scene shows a character studying for a final then heading to bed, and the next scene shows him in the classroom taking the test, the reader will assume the night has passed.

In addition, remember time is relative. Waiting 15 minutes to be called in the doctor’s office can feel like a long time. We might be aware of things we normally ignore such as a pattern in the couch across from us. Or the finger smudges on the window. Or the buzz of the lights. On the other hand, when a crisis is happening, we might only focus on the main thing—the charging bear.

Also, think how kids the age of your character in your manuscript view time. Author Elizabeth Varadan said, “In a child’s life, a week, a month, a few months, can feel like forever.” My great-niece who is seven recently said, “…it takes a thousand years before I get a year older!” A child character will not be talking about how quickly the years or even months pass—that’s an adult reaction. Though a kid might think summer vacation goes by too fast.

Robert Wood said in his article on time, “a compelling sense of time passing can bring a story to life in ways you’d never expect.” By contrast, if too many things happen in a specified time period to be possible, we can lose readers’ suspension of disbelief.

Do you know what time it is in your story?

If you need help keeping track of that time, perhaps this post on timelines will be helpful.

Posted in PB, So Many Good Books

Escape Goat

Often celebrity books irritate me. Many are published because of WHO the author is–not the quality of the writing. Some break basic rules that would normally get a picture book rejected. But celebrity names sell, so editors often don’t get much editorial control. That said, I recently enjoyed a book published by a celebrity. Probably helps she’s a writer. *smiles*

Escape Goat (Harper, 2020) by Ann Patchett and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser is definitely more than a book with a punny title.

A little goat decide to escape to the see the great world. He samples a cabbage from the garden, and then starts getting blamed for all kinds of mishaps on the farm. Mr. Farmer raises the fence on the goat pen. Goat still escapes and is blamed again. Mr. Farmer raises the fence more so goat can’t jump over. But he can scoot under. Again, he’s blamed. Until the farmer’s daughter speaks up.

At first, I was taken aback by all the lying in this book, but then I realized how it could create such great discussions between adults and children reading the book. Probably most of us have at one point tried to blame our actions on someone else–this story takes it to the ridiculous. That makes it easy to talk about the subject.

Ann Patchett is a well-published author of many adult books. This is her second children’s book. Read more about her here.

Robin Glasser may be a familiar name as she illustrated the Fancy Nancy books. Before she was an illustrator she was a ballet dancer and you can see influence from dance in some of the illustrations in this story. Read more about her here.