Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Pieces of Why

Pieces of Why by K.L. Going is an enjoyable read, but it's also a deep one.

Tia, the main character, loves to sing, but must deal with a lot of gossip and hostility because of her father, who has been in jail for a long time.

When a little kid is killed in a car accident the community brings back gossip about her father and a lot of hostility. Tia is so upset she can't even sing anymore.

She decides to find out the truth about what her father did, and takes risks to do so.

The book is very well written and we care a lot about Tia and hope she can find the truth she seeks.

I like that this emotionally deep story is a story of redemption, and I think it may help some kids who read it deal with some of their own emotional baggage.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Good Critique Groups

In my last blog post I talked about some bad writers' critique groups I've been in. However I've been in a lot more that were good.

Today I'm meeting with some people from a group I belonged to years ago, and I'm delighted to reunite with them. Besides helping each other's writing improve, we became good friends.

I'm in three - yes, THREE - critique groups where I currently live, and I love all of them.
One group only critiques material for children, another is for Christian writing, and the third is a little of everything as long as it's not offensive.

In two of the groups we send each other manuscripts by e-mail and members share their suggestions at the meetings. At another group we print out and bring hard copies of our work to give out at the meetings and members make suggestions there.

Writers are communicators, but writing is a solitary job, so I greatly enjoy spending time with other writers. We share something important to all of us.

Hopefully I'm helping them improve their work and they're helping me to become a better writer, too.

I guess there are other professions where people gather to share and help each other. Are you involved in any like that?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Bad Critique Groups

As a professional writer I've been involved in various critique groups over the years.

For my non-writer friends, critique groups are groups of writers who share what they're working on and make suggestions to help each other to improve their work.

Unfortunately, not all critique groups are helpful

Early in my writing career I joined a group that was a waste of time. I was writing fiction for kids and other members were writing novels, often including soft porn, for adults. When I shared my work they'd just say something like, "Very nice dear," and go on to critiquing what they considered 'real' writing.

Obviously I didn't stay in that group very long.

I was also in a couple of online critique groups that were not helpful.

One had a member who argued with every suggestion anyone made to improve his work. Since he thought it was already perfect (which it wasn't) I don't know why he even joined the group.

The other online group was started by a writer who constantly sent her newest work for critiques but never offered suggestions for anyone else. She had apparently started the group just for her own benefit.

But I have also been in some excellent critique groups and I'll share about them in my next post.

I guess there can be problem people in any group. Have you been in any groups of whatever kind  with similar problems?

Saturday, August 20, 2016

J Names

I've blogged before about the frequency of names similar to mine and their meaning, but someone recently asked me to say more about that.

It can be a problem to have a common name.

Once I sent Facebook Friend requests to all the people named Janet Collins I saw listed there and got blocked for spam.

And people have confused me with others in the same community who have the same name as mine. Once I even went to pick up new glasses and discovered they'd given me the prescription for another Janet Ann Collins.

According to one baby name book I read, Colin means "dark one,"  but that doesn't mean dark in the sense of evil.  Long ago the Celtic people who lived in Ireland usually had fair skin, red hair, and freckles. When England destroyed the Spanish Armada some surviving Spanish sailors made it to the Irish shore. They intermarried and the resulting offspring tended to have dark hair and tan skin like their fathers because of dominant genes. But brunettes were uncommon so it was logical to call the baby boys a name that meant, dark one.

But other baby name books say that name, Colin, means "strong," or "young." Whichever books are correct, the "s" at the end of Collins means "son."

And Janet means "Gracious gift of God"  or "God is gracious."It's easy to see why so many cultures used versions of that name for their babies and modified it according to their own language.

Here's a list of variations of my first name:

For girls:
Jan, Jane, J'Ane, Jana, Janeen, Jayne, Janie, Jean, Jeanie, Jeanne, JoAnne, Johanna, Joan, Joanna, Joanne, Joni, Jonie, Juanita, Vanya, Giovanna, Hanne, Ivanna, Janetta, Janette,  Janine, Janis, Janna, Janica, Jenetta, Jovanna, Juana, Nita, Vania, and Zaneta.

For boys:
John, Johnny, Johnnie, Jonny, Jack, Jonathan, Jon, Jay, Jock, Jan, Jean, Ian, Ivan, Evan, Ewan, Gian, Giovanni, Hans, Jackie, Jens, Jevon, Johan, Johann, Juan, Sean, Shaun, Shawn, Shane, and Zane.

I think that's all, but I could have missed some.

Do you know what your name means?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

First Day of School

For thousands of kids the first day of school starts soon.

I remember wearing new clothes and wondering what my new teacher - or, when I got older, teachers - would be like and hoping to have friends in my class.

I entered Kindergarten classes twice and first grade once after the school year had already begun because of moving, and that was scary.

One kid I knew who was starting preschool had been prepared by having lots of books about the first day of school read to him. He did fine the first day, but fell apart on the second day because nobody had told him there would be a second day of school.

I guess having a first day of school every year, and possibly starting new schools during the year because of things like moving helps prepare kids for the rest of their lives.

As adults we've all had to deal with first days. For instance there are first days at new jobs, first days living in new places, first days of marriage and parenthood, first days as empty-nesters, and first days dealing with health problems, to name a few.

I hope we can continue to learn from all our first days.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Subliminal Phonics

Here's another post about helping kids learn to read.

Years ago when I was teaching preschool I only spent a few minutes each day on academic things. We'd have a letter and number of the day, and check the calendar for the date and day of the week. The rest of circle time was spent sharing, and reading stories.

In the afternoon as the children were settling down for their naps I'd play a record or tape (you can tell this was a long time ago) with a story, then I'd play one of several phonics records or tapes that went through the alphabet, pronouncing each letter and the basic sound it makes.

Some of those weren't even accurate. For example, I remember one claiming "M says muh."

After that I'd play some soothing music. Altogether all those records and tapes took about fifteen minutes, and most of the children would fall asleep well before they were finished.

Although I didn't do anything else to try to teach the children academic things, quite a few of the four-year-olds just spontaneously began to read. I think hearing the letter sounds as they fell asleep let them seep into their brains.

I call that method of helping kids learn to read Subliminal Phonics.

And it didn't put any pressure on the kids or push them to try things they weren't ready for.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Learning to Read

In many parts of the USA school starts about now, so I thought this would be a good time to blog about learning to read.

I understand kids' brains must reach a certain level of development before they're ready to learn that skill. For most kids it happens between the ages of four and six, though I've heard some rare geniuses learned to read when they were two years old and I've seen kids in Special Ed classes finally develop that ability when they were teenagers.

Unfortunately some parents and preschools try to force children to learn reading skills when some of the kids may not be ready, and that often convinces the kids that reading is impossible, so they give up and don't try to learn it when they are ready to do so.

I've mentioned before that years ago I read about a study of the highest functioning students at the best universities in the country. The researchers intended to find out what method of teaching reading had been used when the subjects were little kids since it would probably prove to be the best method. To their surprise, the results of the study showed the only thing the students all had in common was that when they were little kids their parents had read to them often, usually at least every day.

If you have kids or know kids one of the best things you can do for them is read to them a lot. And snuggling together while looking at a picture book and sharing the story is a pleasure to both the kids and grown-ups.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Why I Write

I've had five books for kids published, and well over a hundred of my articles have appeared in newspapers, magazines, and anthologies, but I never expect to become a best-selling author and make a fortune with my writing.

So why don't I just give up and stop writing?

Because I can't not write.

I've loved books since I was a toddler and my parents read to me at bedtime. Since I learned to read in First Grade I've devoured books. If I could count all the books I've read in my life the number would probably be between 17 and 18,000.

For most of my life I've averaged five or six books a week, mostly those written for middle grade kids and, since that genre became available, some for young adults. Once in a while I even read books intended for grown-ups. That's not even considering all the picture books I read as a kid and to my own children and students.

And, of course, I've read newspapers nearly every day, magazines every week or two, and countless articles and posts on the internet.

Reading has given me so much I'm compelled to give back some of what I've gained by writing things for others to read.

But that's only one of the reasons why I write.

When I was a kid my mother thought I had too much imagination, and my imagination is still active today. How can I not share some of the ideas that come from asking, "What if...?" and exploring possibilities in my mind?

Even non-fiction articles often originate from wondering about something and searching to find out the answers.

If I ever stop writing I'll have to turn into somebody else. I hope that never happens.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

What's My Name?

 Me, age 8.

 My parents named me Janet because my mother was proud of her Scottish heritage. At that time it wasn't a common name for girls in the USA.

A few years later when Janet Leigh became a famous movie star lots of girls were named Janet.

When I was a kid I wanted a nickname, but after WWII everyone "knew" Jan was a name for boys in Holland (They didn't realize it was pronounced differently,) and Janny sounded too much like Jenny. That was known as a name for donkeys and mules.

I was stuck with just, plain Janet.

But the day I got married, people started calling me Jan Collins because the final T in my first name and the hard C in my new last name were difficult to pronounce together.

Of course my family and old friends continued calling me Janet. For decades I knew certain people would call me Janet while others used Jan, and that was no problem.

But now it is a problem.

I'm in several writers' groups and some of them have other members named Jan, so in those groups I'm called Janet. But other groups have members besides me named Janet, so in those groups I'm Jan.

One person is in several of those groups with me, so I never know what I should call myself when communicating with him. 

When I send e-mail messages to other writers I have to stop and think which of my names to use.

Nobody has ever called me Janet Ann except my mother when she was mad at me, but I use that name for professional things because there's another writer named Janet Collins.

Maybe I should just call myself Janet Ann.  At least I can use that in all my e-mail signatures. I hope nobody is mad at me, but doing that should avoid some confusion.