Day 6: Beauty Over Brains, Caldecott First Lines

Years ago, I took a class at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis about writing picture books. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I don’t remember my teacher’s name! I know it if I saw it, though. Hopefully. Maybe.

One night she gave us a writing prompt. Something like, “It was breakfast time, and the only thing to eat was _____________.” Oh, I had fun with it. My story made me laugh. My story made me think of my childhood. My story had role reversal and everything I thought important. Oh, and my story RHYMED.

After hearing me read my story, my teacher gave me some great advice. “Great premise, but, um, leave the rhyming to the experts…”

THAT’S why I titled this “Beauty over Brains”–let your story be beautiful WITHOUT thinking it has to rhyme.

Susan Marie Swanson, author of The House in the Night, (which won the 2009 Caldecott award for illustrations by Beth Krommes,) is definitely one of those brainy and beautiful talented experts that my teacher must have meant. I actually experienced “joy” at reading Susan Marie Swanson’s lyrical and well-balanced story. She’s a poet, and she’s known for it; the jacket flap says she works with Minnesota students and their poetry.

So, my writing prompt is not about blanks and “making them rhyme”, but that old adage of writing what you know. Write about your personal expertise, whether that be food, books, bikes, or _________.

If you’d like, fill in these blanks and let your imagination roam: “Here is the ______ to the _________”.

The House in the Night by Susan Marie Johnson and Beth Kommes

“Here is the key to the house” is one of the first lines to The House in the Night , illustrated by Beth Krommes, written by Susan Marie Swanson (Houghton Mifflin Company) 2008.

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