A Pirate's Writing Code


Every pirate needs:

1. A Hook: Hooks grab the reader in the first few sentences or can be found at the end of a chapter to keep the pages turning. EXAMPLE: Captain Hook stood on the edge of the plank. Below swam a wide-mouthed crocodile, chomp, chomp, chomping at the air between Captain Hook and the sloshing sea.

2. An Anchor: A ship is afloat without an anchor. Your anchor is the story question. The story question keeps your writing focused.  Will Hook make it out alive?

3. Navigation Tools:  A pirate needs to know how to navigate the genre. Know your story structure.  A play structure is going to be entirely different from a picture book structure. But each will have:
  •  A well developed main character
  •  A setting full of sensorial language (Why use lily-livered language when you can write like a salty pirate?)
  •  A story question that includes several attempts at a solution,
  •  A story answer that involves a physical and an emotional ending.

4. A Hearty Fight:  A pirate cannot collect his bounty without first having to fight every step of the way. Conflict makes for a good story.

5. A Plank: Every story must reach the point where the main character’s toes are hanging over the edge of the plank with nowhere left to go. This climax should have your reader feeling that sorry bloke’s anxiety. Tick, Tick, Tick!   

6. A Cutlass: A pirate has to be willing to use his cutlass. Once your story is written cut, cut, cut, down to the briny bones of a swashbuckling seafaring story.

7. A Treasure: When your reader closes the book make sure he leaves with a treasure he will want to come back to again and again.

Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton grew up on Lake Erie as a Rocky River Pirate. Her latest book, PIRATES DON’T SAY PLEASE, was recently released through Pelican Publishing. You can find Laurie at www.laurieknowlton.com

Don't Slip and Slide This Summer

Summer invites relaxation, time for parks, beaches, playground slides, and slip n’ slides.  However,  one slide is not fun, or safe, for kids and that’s the academic slide – also known as backsliding. As kids, teachers and parents gear up for summer vacation, backsliding looms in the shadow. Over the summer months, children lose academic ground. Even the brightest students, away from their routine learning environment, may lower their retention of key materials.  Imagine what it must be like for the student who struggles to stay on grade level in reading. Research tells us that, “All children experience learning loss when they do not engage in educational learning during the summer.” National Summer Reading Association
Why not make your summer a classroom, no matter where you are? Whether you are at the pool, on the back porch or in the grocery store, create opportunities for your children to answer and ask questions, solve problems and think critically. Virtually everything we do has educational value.
If you are not planning summer travel, or your children are going to day care, you still can change up the routine to keep the brain juices flowing.

For a few dollars, you can pick up some age appropriate workbooks with math facts. Cut small sections of problems (I cut strips of computation problems of 5 or 10 problems)  and  make breakfast a breakfast of math champions. Give your child a timer. Let him keep track of how long it takes to complete the math strip, and let him compete against the timer to beat a previous time. Have your child make up his own spelling list related to something that interests him. Even a young student who loves basketball can learn to spell words like dribble, foul shot, quarter etc. For added fun, have him bounce his basketball and spell the words at the same time!
Always, always read during the summer. We hear that so often, but studies prove that young children decelerate reading acquisition over the summer unless they practice. Make sure you and your child have a book whether at the beach, on the bus, or in the backpack. Technology often trumps books, but for your children’s sakes, keep books in their hands!
Local libraries have summer reading clubs with incentives, and lots of activities for kids. But, why not host your own reading marathon in your neighborhood or apartment building? For a few hours, transform your space into a perfect summer reading spot. Back yard tents, umbrellas and beach towels or blankets offer a cozy spot to enjoy reading. Invite friends to join in this special day of reading. Have your children pile all their books in baskets or bags to share. Visit the local library and grab books that will suit your readers’ ages and reading levels. Theme your marathon and supply books that suit your theme. For instance, you might host a Reading Marathon at the Zoo. Friends can bring their favorite animal books and a stuffed animal to snuggle up and “read” with at your special reading event. Allow the marathoners to read at their own paces, but also provide a story corner where an older child or adult can read a favorite story aloud. The joy of reading and being together in such a unique setting is motivation enough, but providing stickers or some incentive to indicate participation is also possible. Encourage an actual running lap at the beginning to foster the true spirit of a marathon. Kids will love this unique approach to summer reading! Supply some refreshments and your environment is ready for a great summer reading bash. One year, we turned our reading marathon into a book fair, and families on our street held a giant book exchange. 

If the idea of inviting the neighborhood over is daunting, or would not work, why not have your own family reading marathon? By initiating an electronic blackout, and hauling out the blankets and books, you accomplish the same goal of making reading a priority.  Make reading important and help your child become a lifelong reader. 
Check out these great blogs and websites for useful information.  They provide activities and ideas to help your child stay sharp and prepared during the summer months.

A Reason for Rhyme

We all know that reading to children out loud is important. But reading rhyming picture books to preschoolers can have a lifelong impact on their reading skills and love of books.

One area that reading books in rhyme can improve is memorization skills. Think how easily we remember rhyming songs and commercials. Did you learn the alphabet by singing “The Alphabet Song?” One company, Twin Sisters Productions, has built their business on the premise that children remember what they learn better when they can sing about subjects in rhyme. They have produced musical rhyming songs about such things as letters, numbers, colors, transportation, and more.

Phonological awareness is defined as the ability to distinguish sounds. This is the very beginning of learning how to read. According to Lindsay Knobelauch, M.Ed, CCC-SLP, “Phonological awareness is important because it is a basis for reading. Children begin to read by listening to others read aloud, then recognizing sounds in words, sounding words out for themselves, recognizing familiar words, and so on. By engaging in word play, children learn to recognize patterns among words and use this knowledge to read and build words.”

There are many ways to reinforce this word play to help children recognize rhythms and patterns that lead to word recognition.  One way is to clap out individual words or individual syllables within words. Other ways are to ask what sounds a child hears at the end or beginning of a word or having them blend two sounds together, such as “Pan-da.”
Try singing the rhymes in a book by using familiar tunes. For example, the picture book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? can be sung to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

As a parent or grandparent or a teacher or librarian, make sure you include a lot of rhyming books as you read to your particular kids. Besides Brown Bear, some great titles include the following: Bear SnoresOn by Karma Wilson, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Good Night, Good Night, Construction Site, by Tom Lichtenheld, Llama, Llama, Red Pajamaby Anna Dewdney, and any or all of the books by Dr. Seuss. Traditional nursery rhymes are also a good source.

For musical rhyming based on books, one of the best collections on CD is from The Learning Station.

If you are a writer who wants to write rhyming picture books, read all of the published ones you can find, as well as books on how to write a good book in rhyme. Make sure you know all the different formats of rhyme and stick to them strictly. Rhymes should be exact, especially if you are not a well-published author. And, as always, practice makes perfect and getting your work critiqued is invaluable.

Whether you read to children or write for them, sharing rhyming picture books with preschoolers is one sure way to help them along the pathway to becoming successful readers and lifelong learners.

DMC: "Blanket" - Today's Little Ditty

by Lana Wayne Koehler


As the snow blankets the earth in winter,
As the rain blankets the grass in spring 

           and makes the flowers grow,
As the sunshine blankets the sidewalk in summer 

           making it hard to walk barefoot,
As each leaf blankets my yard in fall 

           with the promise of bonfires and cider,
So am I blanketed in love.

© 2015 Lana Wayne Koehler. All rights reserved

Nikki Grimes has challenged us to try a wordplay exercise this month and create our own free verse poems. Click HERE for all the details.

Send your poem to TodaysLittleDitty (at) gmail (dot) com, or use the contact form in the sidebar to the right. All contributions will be included in a wrap-up celebration on Friday, May 29th, and one lucky participant will win a personalized copy of Nikki's brand new picture book:

How Has Reading Impacted Your Life?

My earliest memory of books is sitting on my mother’s lap as she read to me when I was a very young child.  The book I remember most was about a puppy that got lost.  Every time my mother got to the part where the puppy became lost, I would cry.  I felt so bad for it.  What would the puppy do?  What would happen to it? Would someone find it?  I had heard the story many times.  I knew it would have a happy ending.  I still cried.  My mother would comfort me, but I always felt the puppy’s loneliness and fear.  I was overjoyed when it was found.  Literature can have a powerful impact on children and their lives.

When teaching reading, I would often have my students write their personal responses to the piece of literature we had just read.  I marveled at the uniqueness of their responses.  Students made connections to their own lives, to other stories, or to the world at large.  Their responses led to wonderful, thought-provoking conversations and questions.  Our discussions were thorough.  They delved into aspects of the story not covered in the Teacher’s Guide.  They elevated thinking to higher levels.  The impact of the stories became evident.

Literature can help children understand the world around them.  It can educate, inspire, and  comfort.  It can broaden perspectives and bring humor and joy.  It can help students believe in themselves and understand their feelings.  The list could go on and on.

What are some of the books you read as a child that had an impact on your life?  What was the impact?  I’d love to hear how a story or poem or informational text made a difference in your life.