Hey Writing Students! What’s Wrong With This Sentence?

I’m working on a little story about a dog and a girl named Ani, and I just wrote this sentence. It needs fixing. Something’s weird with it.

Ready? Here it is:

“In a drainage ditch, on the outskirts of a small town that is far, far away across the ocean from Ani, a warm, brown puppy is born.”

Technically, it is a correct sentence.
The words are all spelled right.
The commas are in the right place, pretty much (although there are an awful lot of them).
The images are each clear enough.

So, what the heck is wrong with it?
I think I know why. Here’s a hint.

Imagine yourself as a film director. Imagine how you would film this sentence.

How do opening images of films start? Typically, the camera begins with a big, wide, distance shot. And then it will zoom a little closer, and then a little closer…

But that’s not how I wrote the sentence. I jumped around too much.

First I ask you to picture a close-up of the ditch (“In a drainage ditch…”)

Then I ask you to jump way back, and visualize a town: (“on the outskirts of a town”)

Then I ask you to jump WAY WAY BACK — across an ocean! (“that is far, far away across the ocean from Ani”)

And then I ask you to jump WAY FORWARD! — and zoom in again on a pup in the ditch. (“a warm, brown puppy is born.”)

My visuals are out of logical order. Doh!

Let’s rewrite, starting from far away and zooming closer in on our story.

“Far, far away across the ocean from Ani, on the outskirts of a small town, a warm, brown puppy lies newly born in a drainage ditch.”

How’s that? It’s not perfect, but do you think that’s better?

I like to think of what my writing would look like if it were filmed. Maybe you’ll want to try that too, sometime, with your own writing!

STANLEY gets a star.

There is a starred review for STANLEY in Kirkus Reviews today. The reviewer wrote: “Add to the growing list of intelligent books about kids whose brains operate outside the norm.”

A starred review gives a wonderful feeling of affirmation to a writer. But I know that’s not what matters in the long run. The real thing to celebrate is that there’s “a growing list of books about kids whose brains operate outside the norm.”

Still Anxious After All These Years.

Last week’s NYT Mag had a cover article about kids and anxiety that really hit home. Here’s the LINK in case you missed it:

I was such an anxious kid. And now, I’m an anxious adult! The only thing that’s improved are my coping skills. I’m more aware, and can manage physical manifestations better (jitters, panic, sense of doom, stomach turmoil). But the knee-jerk anxiety-response to all life’s stimuli is still my brain’s default mode.

That’s why I wrote STANLEY WILL PROBABLY BE FINE. The plot (essentially, it follows a comic con-related treasure-hunt) was lots of fun to write–but the real reason Stanley exists is to put worrying and catastrophizing into focus. Just put it out there for kids. Deep breath.

The reason for Stanley is the hope that at least one kid will say: “I can relate.”

Then maybe I’ll stop worrying — a little.

Anxiety makes you feel so not fine.

Stanley, the main character of my next middle-grade novel (due out Feb 6, 2018), has anxiety. He talks about worry escalating in a cascade of potentially catastrophic scenarios that appear in his head like the rapidly-growing branches of Groot, the instantly-growing tree-creature in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Stanley’s character was super easy for me to write. I’m an expert at concocting a cascade of potentially catastrophic scenarios for myself. I’m a worry-warrior, and always have been. As a child, I was pretty much afraid and worried about everything.

I came across an excellent article from the Child Mind Institute today, about what to do to help, when a child is anxious. You can find the linkHERE.

Guest Post: Tips for Designing Calming Spaces for Children

(A Note from Sally:
I’ve always been very sensitive to the vibes from the rooms I’m in. I prefer the colors muted, the arrangement simple and logical… Maybe after raising three boys, I’ve developed ultimate sensory burnout and an allergy to primary-colored plastic! 🙂 But truly, I’ve always been this way.

For these reasons and more, Jane Sandwood’s thoughtful article, below, caught my eye. She makes some great points, and I’m pleased to introduce her guest post today…)

by Jane Sandwood

Sometimes, the most important thing to finding inner peace and settling our anxieties is having the proper space to go to that inspires a sense of calm. For children with ADHD, autism, or other neurodiverse conditions, having a relaxing space can also help them to manage emotions and regroup after an active day spent socializing or playing with friends.

Parents can create calming spaces at home where children can find refuge from the busyness of daily life, allowing them unwind and be free from any distractions. These spaces can ultimately make life a little easier, and can be used by anyone in the family who needs a little extra peace and quiet time by themselves. Whether you decide to create a small nook or cubby near a window, or you designate an entire room for relaxation, having any amount of space that is dedicated to peace and tranquility will be useful.

When designing a space that is friendly to children with neurodiverse conditions, parents should consider adding elements such as:

Soothing colors: Painting the walls or coordinating colors that are comforting, like warm earth tones (light browns and greens) or blues is a wise choice for the space
Space organizers: By including organizers, like fun storage cubes or closed shelves, the space will be free from clutter, which will discourage disruptive behavior.
Chalkboard calendar: Having a calendar or schedule that is visible and interactive can help children feel like their days are more structured, and that they are aware of their lineup of activities.

By having a space where they can go when they’re feeling restless or anxious, neurodiverse children can find support and comfort. Designing a space that is organized, free from distractions, and inspiring of peace and quiet is a great way for us all be more at ease and settled down at home.

(A slightly longer version of Jane’s article can be found here.

Little ripples, small seeds.

This is Ms. Joy Shaw. Back in the late 60s/early 70s, she was a mom with an idea: to take schoolkids out onto the trails by the Mill River, let us get muddy, show us tadpoles, and teach us about the watershed. And I was one of the schoolkids.

She told us stories about the land. She taught me how to be silent and listen to birdsong.

I lived for the “Mrs. Shaw Field Trip Days” at school.

Tiberius Shaw, in The Someday Birds, is named after Joy Shaw. I was an anxious, bewildered kid, back in those days, but I loved those hikes on the nature trails. They kind of rescued me.

I got to see Joy Shaw again for the first time in 40+ years. She is in her 80s and still extremely active in what is now a huge volunteer organization – the Mill River Wetlands Committee. It started with just her idea of taking a few kids out — one little ripple — and it grew. Thousands of Connecticut schoolkids now go through the MRWC program each year. (http://river-lab.org/) The corps of volunteers I met at our reception/booktalk were amazing.

That’s the thing about little ripples. Little seeds. You just never know.

Anyhow. It was such an honor to see Ms. Shaw again. She is an extremely special person.

The Someday Birds is now available in Spanish!

Libros de Seda, the Barcelona-based publisher, is to be congratulated. Isn’t it beautiful?

Mail from a special reader / aspiring writer

I was lucky enough to get a note the other day from a special twelve-year-old I taught in a writing workshop locally.

She wrote:

“I have lots of story ideas that I think I would enjoy to write as an adult and more for that crowd, but sometimes I worry I will forget them. How long have you had the plot of The Someday Birds in your head? Do you think I will still remember my story ideas when I’m ready to write them?”

It was such an interesting question. How do any of us know when we are “ready to write” something that’s clearly important to us? I wrote her back:

“I think that if certain stories are meant to be written, you will not forget them. Stories that come from what really matters to your heart — that have an importance to you as a person — will stay with you until it’s the right time for you write them down…and somehow you will know when that time is. You’ll just know. Each of us has different themes and issues in our lives that fascinate us and affect us. Our writing inevitably reflects this. In a way, we can’t *not* write our stories — our true heart-stories!

I thought about The Someday Birds for years before writing it. I didn’t know the exact form, or plot it would finally take, but I knew I wanted to write about an autistic boy and help him learn how to grow into himself and be more at ease in the world. The details of the story changed and morphed. But the seed of the purpose of the story was there for years, waiting, while I raised my family and worked other jobs… Finally I just couldn’t ignore it anymore — I knew it was time and I had to write it!

That said, it is a nice idea to keep a “story-idea journal,” or a story-idea folder on your computer, in which you jot down all your ideas — You had a wonderful idea about a man in search of a home — maybe you came up with it because lately, you’ve been turning the notion of ‘home’ around in your mind lately for some reason…and if so, maybe it would help to ask yourself why, and write about that a little, and see where it brings you…

Something tells me you WILL write that story, and it’s going to be great!

Thank you for reading The Someday Birds! I am so glad you enjoyed it. Someday I hope I will read a book written by YOU!

All my best,


Houston, we have a problem. (Hurricane Harvey.)

Thinking and praying on the folks down in the Houston area these days. What can I do to help? I’ll donate to Red Cross and the Salvation Army, etc., but what else?

I started to wonder what books for kids are out there that talk about floods/surviving natural disasters. There are several good ones that explain the science, or spell out the history of Sandy or Katrina. But the most poignant story I happened on was written by an amazing 8 year old named De’ante Webster who was so moved to empathy and compassion by the events of Hurrican Katrina, he wrote a story called “The Flood of Kindness.” An artist-family-friend illustrated it. (Here’s the link)

Bravo, De’ante.

Let’s envelop the people of Houston in a flood of kindness after these waters recede.

Actually, let’s envelop everyone, everywhere in a flood of kindness. Let’s keep trying to make kindness be the one type of flood that never recedes.


I’m a big fan of Erin Human’s blog about living a neurodiverse life. I’ve gotten a lot out of reading her thoughtful entries. (you can find her blog HERE) Below is a graphic she has created and shared, as an illustrative ‘way in’ to talking to children about their autism. I think it’s a lovely visual depiction of diversity – in the natural world; in people; in brains.

In a sense, her drawing is an extension of one of my favorite vintage children’s books, PEOPLE, by Peter Spier. He drew a giant catalog of noses, mouths, ears, eyes, skin tones, dress styles, hands, fingers – you name it – all to visually represent that we’re all, all of us, just millions of variations on the human theme. There is no one particular “right” way to be.

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