Conference Challenge #2: Why do you love it?

[NOTE: This post was pre-recorded because all three of your friendly bloggers are knee-deep in May Mid-Grade Madness. Please send them coffee. And chocolate. And perhaps some Red Bull, mixed with coffee and chocolate. Now back to your previously recorded post.]

My favorite picture book as a child was Little Black, A Pony, by Walter Farley.

I loved the kinship between the boy and Little Black and every time my mom read it to me, my eyes would tear over the boy wanting to ride sleek Big Red instead of loyal Little Black. Then I’d clap happy when Little Black saved the day and the boy decided to ride only him from then on.

When I grew older, I had tons of favorite books. I read The Horsemasters by Don Stanford so many times I had to make a new cover!

And the Sweet Valley High Series? Oh please, I must have read them a hundred times each. But my favorite book was A Horse like Mr. Ragman, by Rachel Rivers-Coffey.

I loved the quirky minor characters, and the hustling horse farm, but I mostly loved this book because I had so much in common with the main character. I was chunky. My rival was tall, pretty, and wealthy. My family was financially challenged. (I refuse to say poor because we were rich in other ways.) And like the underdog Mr. Ragman, the only horse I had to ride after mine went lame was my brother’s fat Appaloosa barrel racer that ended up being a great Dressage horse.

Fast forward about twenty years and we come to my favorite children’s book as an adult, Hope was Here by Joan Bauer, one of two books that inspired me to write young adult novels. (The other was A Long Way to Chicago, by *swoon* Richard Peck.)

I loved the setting, Welcome Stairways Diner. (Actually, I love all books set in a diner.) I loved the “create your own family” vibe, and the vivid, unforgettable cast. But mostly, I loved the dynamic between Hope and her aunt, and Hope’s incredible skill and passion for waitressing.

Now. If I were to make a list of all the different elements from the above books that made me love them, they’d be: Dynamic main characters with a unique skill. Vivid minor characters. Strong settings. Identifying with the main character and the coming together of unlikely folks who create their own family.

By now you’re probably wondering why I’m talking about all this.

See, with some of us doing May Madness, I thought I’d take it easy on everyone and offer a simple, fun challenge. And with that, here’s this week . . .

Conference Writing Challenge #2: Why do you love it?

I want you to make a list of all your favorite children’s books throughout the years: When you were a kid, when you were in middle school, as a teenager, and as an adult.

Then ask yourself. Why do I love this book?

What elements captured your heart, was it the characters? The setting? The action-filled plot or the slow, easy ride? The endearing, everything-tied-neatly-in-a-bow ending or a wild cliffhanger that left you begging for more? Once you have written down all the elements that attracted you to your favorites, I want you to then ask yourself:

How can I use these elements to improve my current work-in-progress?

Set your timer for thirty minutes, dig deep with this one, and have fun! And if anyone would like to share their favorite books and why you loved them, that would be awesome!

And for our artistic friends, our lovely regional illustration coordinator, Susan Detwiler, is providing your . . .

Conference Illustrating Challenge #2:

Think back to the books you loved as a child because of the illustrations, and draw a character from another story, fable, or fairy tale in the style of that illustrator.

Happy writing and drawing, everyone! And if you missed our first challenge, use the link below. 🙂

Conference Challenge #1: Voice or Point of View?

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About Laura Bowers

Laura is a writer, runner, reader, runDisney addict, and blogger at As The Eraser Burns, Joyful Miles, and Write, Run, Rejoice. In the past, she's been a waitress, telemarketer, cook, real estate agent, and during her college days, a costumed character at holiday parades. (Memories of being terrorized as a candy cane still haunt her at night.) At the age of thirty, she pursued her dream of being a writer. Her first novel, Beauty Shop for Rent, a “Steel Magnolias for teens,” was inspired by a rusted sign by a charming old house, and now, she can honestly say that writing is a thousand times more rewarding than being a candy cane!
This entry was posted in Writing & Drawing Exercises. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Conference Challenge #2: Why do you love it?

  1. Love this Challenge, Laura. When I take a break from the Middle Grade challenge, I’m off to find my well worn copies of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, A Horse Named Peaceable, The Tell Tale Heart, and the Easter Egg Artists… The list goes on, but I think I’ll start with those titles:) Good Luck, everyone.

  2. Sue Poduska says:

    This is funny because I was already working on an entry for my blog on this subject. Is that cheating?

  3. I smiled when I saw the cover of William Farley’s book. One of my favorites, too, I have my childhood copy of “Little Black, A Pony” on the bookshelf by my desk.

  4. Julie Dietzel-Glair says:

    When I was a kid, I loved Charlotte’s Web, Island of the Blue Dolphins, everything Ramona Quimby, and Julie of the Wolves (okay, maybe that last one was because she had my name). I guess I loved the female characters (human and arachnid).

    These days, I love dystopian societies – The Giver, The Hunger Games, Divergent, Among the Hidden. I think I see these as “realistic horror” – just imagine if any of them really happened. I’m always enchanted by the imagination of the authors.

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  6. As I read these comments, I recognize so many stories that I loved as well. “Island of the Blue Dolphins.” Of course! I don’t think I could even make a complete list of the books that mattered deeply to me up through high school. I took a post-graduate year in England on an English-Speaking Union Scholarship; I kept a list of every book I read (outside of classwork) and I think the tally was 73 books. Then there were the readings of Kipling’s “Just So Stories” and Beatrix Potter’s “Peter Rabbit” by my grandfather. Ack! Must stop. Here is my list:

    Why Do I Love This Book?

    The books I really loved I read over and over. So many of them—I was a typical girl child—had to do with horses and especially that connection between a youngster and a horse. Animal-centered stories in general were important to me.

    When I was very young, there was a volume on the bedroom bookshelf that was an anthology. I think the work “Treasury” was in the title. I would have been six to ten years old when I fixated on this book. I didn’t understand that the stories were often chapters in longer books. That came later as a delightful surprise.

    1. “The Velveteen Rabbit”: It was the pain, the pain of wanting something desperately and sacrificing everything in order to receive that gift. I felt the casual cruelty among the toys and from the children keenly. When the velveteen bunny was immolated and transformed into a “real” bunny, having first achieved reality in the child’s heart, I was transfixed.

    2. “The Milky” by Kate Seredy. Cousin Kate from Budapest receives the gift of a white horse, having earned her way into a sort of trust cautiously given by her Uncle Marton Nagy and cousin Jansci. Could there be anything more wonderful than getting up and finding a horse tethered outside that you discover is your own? I was in seventh heaven when I discovered the book “The Good Master” and even more taken with Kate, the impulsive, the athletic, the accomplished girl who seemed so different from me.

    Other books.

    3. “The Stories of Hans Christian Anderson.” I had a particularly wonderful illustrated copy given to me by my godmother, my great-aunt Helen on the advice of her librarian-sister-in-law, Ruth. I thrived on the darkness of these stories. My favorites were “The Snow Queen” and “The Marsh King’s Daughter.” Especially the latter. I think it was the epic scope of the stories, the sense of a world—call it God, call it Nature—that was so extraordinarily indifferent to individual suffering but in which all actions still seemed to move toward the light that was so important to me.

    4. “Black Beauty” be Anna Sewell. I can practically recite it and when I first heard of “War Horse” by Michael Morpurgo, I bought a copy and devoured it. It was definitely “Black Beauty goes to World War One.” Anyway, The trajectory of Black Beauty’s life, the hopefulness tinged with anxiety from that early scene where his brother is euthanized after breaking his leg during a hunt haunted me throughout. I developed such affection for Beauty’s friends, Ginger (who meets so horrible an end) and all the others. I did not know the expression “There but for the Grace of God go I,” but I felt the sense of a life that was lucky in its blessings and through it saw so many of the tragedies that befell me as merely bad moments from which I was lovingly shielded.

    Middle Grades and Teenage Years

    All of this seems to flow together in my mind. I was a precocious reader and if I like a book I read it over and over and over into my adult years. Books I found at our summer house in New Hampshire seem to figure prominently here.

    “The Swiss Family Robinson” by Johann David Wyss, “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte, “The Good Earth” (and the sequels that form “House of Earth”) by Pearl Buck. Again, the word “epic” comes to mind. The idea that people in bad circumstances still have choices seems to be a common theme.

    Eeek! I am running out of time!

    In high school I developed a passion for historical novels: works by Mary Renault and series by a woman writer whose name I cannot remember but whose stories were set in medieval England and moved through generation after generation. It was the exoticness of the setting combined with the vivid characterizations, individuals with whom I deeply identified that mattered.

    The buzzer just buzzed.

  7. Yay! I’m catching up on the challenges! I just completed challenge #2. I’m going to do #3 tomorrow 🙂

    http://i-am-so-grateful.blogspot.com/2012/06/my-favorite-books-why-do-i-love-them.html

    • By the way, I think I’m noticing that I was perhaps the only girl on the planet who didn’t love horse stories. I never got into the animal stories of any kind and (don’t hate me), I couldn’t bring myself to read past page 1 of Black Beauty. I had a pony when I was a little girl, and I loved her, but I didn’t have any interest in reading about them…

      • Oh, Veronica, I am sure there were two or three other girls somewhere on the planet who weren’t much into horse stories. My sister was one of them. 🙂 (She did, however, have a copy of “Gaudenzia, Pride of the Palio” by Marguerite Henry, which I stole.) I wonder if horse stories are beloved by most girls or whether that is a cultural taste typical of white, middle-class girls. It would be interesting to know the extent to which economics and ethnicity have shaped the canon of children’s literature.

  8. Miranda McClain says:

    I just completed challenge #2. My list is very long and I’m sure I missed several but the overall thing I liked about my favorite books was that they transport you to another time or place. I loved the Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables books for that reason and even as a little kid one of my favorite picture books was A House is a House For Me because I liked to imagine myself in the different houses. Now I love books for their read aloud qualities. I love Sandra Boynton’s books and Kate Dicamillo’s stories seem almost lyrical when read aloud.

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  12. teresamis says:

    Okay, so this will be my 1st conference and my 1st pre-conference challenge. I’m taking you up on the opportunity to do them late (and out of order) as I have been involved with an online class which just finished. I will try to attempt the POV exercise–I’m thinking of the Pea; but, what I love was easy–What I learned about what I love was intriguing and can definitely be put to use in improving my writing.

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  16. Arlene Finocchiaro says:

    I am more a fan of children’s picture books now than I was when I was a kid. The one I remember most was a Walt Disney book of Cinderella with a stage and puppets so I could reenact the story over and over playing all the voices.
    As an occupational therapist adapting literacy materials for children with special needs, I loved books that appealed to the senses with actions and descriptions and offer hands on opportunities to really get into a story.

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  18. Joy Heyer says:

    I completed both the writing and illustration challenge. From the writing challenge, it would appear I need to write a mystery. Most of my favorite books, including picture books, are mysteries.

  19. As a child and a young girl, I always LOVED animal books and stories. Funny, now that I look back on it, most of what I read was non-fiction–which is what I enjoy writing. I had tons of books on mammals, weird animals, horses, birds, etc. I also received “Ranger Rick” for YEARS. Hmmm…maybe I should have known this all along?
    As a very young girl, my daddy read to me the “classics”. Mother Goose, Brer Rabbit (which he read in voice), Hans Christian Anderson, Grimm stories, etc. He read most of them from books that were HIS as a child.
    I also read the Bobbsey Twins, Dana Girls, and then, of course, Nancy Drew.
    The book I read more times than any was one called My Wolf, My Friend. It was a story about a girl, living on a Montana Christmas Tree Farm, who raised a wolf pup. I can still remember how it ended…”Outside the trailer, not far away, an owl hooted its questioning cry. And, in the distance, so far she thought she might have imagined it, a wolf howled.”
    For YEARS, I was determined to live on a Christmas Tree Farm in Montana:)
    I love these books because:
    *I love nature and animals and learning (I was an elementary school teacher for 15 years)
    *I love mysteries….I like to try and figure out what is going on before the end.
    *I love books with amazing characters that you fall in love with and settings you want to be in!
    Time’s up! See you at conference tomorrow:)

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