Dance Your Cares Away


It’s raining!

After months (nay, years) of drought conditions, the lads at the weather bureau tell us that El Niño has packed its bags for fairer climes and left us at last. It’s actually been raining pretty solidly here since last weekend when we went with friends to see the rather appropriately named, “Riverdance.”

Have you seen any of these Irish dancers? Aren’t they wonderful?

All those Beautiful Young People, tapping away in perfect unison. They’re so fabulous, so fast so fit! And what they do with their bodhrans we mere mortals can only dream about!

Knowing we’d been to see the show, Lavinia popped around mid-week for a double decaff, skim-milk-in-a-jug-on-the-side and a chat. She brought her Dance Album with her and we spent a happy hour or so, flicking through the pages, admiring the photos and marvelling at her versatility.

Here she is in a frothy white tutu as one of the cygnets in Swan Lake, gazing pensively at her reflection in a cellophane lake. And here, with a rose betwixt her teeth at the height of her Spanish Period, or as Lavinia terms it, “Ma période d’espagnol. Olé!” Oh, she’s a wag, that girl. 

She saved the best till last. A full-page snap taken when her life was dominated by Irish dancing. There she is, decked out in the figure-hugging dress with the short skirt, black tights and those tap-shoes. I can remember that performance as if it were only yesterday. Her long hair streaming out behind her as she whirled, dervish-like across the stage, her little legs a blur, her arms held tightly by her side.

It was a breath-taking performance, everyone said so. Until that unfortunate moment towards the end of the number, when the whole troupe danced into a line across the full length of the stage and Lavinia, smiling rapturously at the cameraman who was accompanying the reporter from the local paper turned left instead of right during that machine-gun-like rapid movement that always brings the house down.

As the last one standing, it was only fitting that she received the bouquets and had her photo on the front page of every newspaper within coo-ee.

But since she’ll never dance again Lavinia has expressed a desire to enter the fabulous world of children’s writing, so I thought I’d offer a few tips for her (and for anyone else who may be interested). A good place to start is the Writing page where you’ll find a series of articles on all aspects of writing.

One of the first things to decide is what age group you want to write for, and this is important. You can’t write the same way in a baby’s book as you would in a book for teens. Sorry. Well, not if you want to sell anything, you can’t.

Children’s writer, Laura Backes, says that if you’re writing for infants and young toddlers, you usually write “lullabies, nursery rhymes, fingerplays, or wordless books.”

“Ages 4-8: Picture books (also called “picture story books”) are 32-page books. Manuscripts are up to 1500 words, with 1000 words being the average length. Plots are simple (no sub-plots or complicated twists) with one main character who embodies the child’s emotions, concerns and viewpoint.

“Easy readers — Also called “easy-to-read” books are for children just starting to read on their own (age 6-8). They have coloured illustrations on every page like a picture book, but the format is more “grown-up” — smaller trim size, sometimes broken into short chapters. The length varies greatly by publisher; the books can be 32-64 pages long, with 200-1500 words of text, occasionally going up to 2000 words. The stories are told mainly through action and dialogue, in grammatically simple sentences (one idea per sentence).

“Transition books — Sometimes called “early chapter books” for ages 6-9, they bridge the gap between easy readers and chapter books. Written like easy readers in style, transition books are longer (manuscripts are about 30 pages long, broken into 2-3 page chapters), books have a smaller trim size with black-and-white illustrations every few pages. 

“Chapter books — For ages 7-10, these books are 45-60 manuscript pages long, broken into 3-4 page chapters. Stories are meatier than transition books, though still contain a lot of action. The sentences can be a bit more complex, but paragraphs are still short (2-4 sentences is average). Chapters often end in the middle of a scene to keep the reader turning the pages.

“Middle grade — For ages 8-12. Manuscripts suddenly get longer (100-150 pages), stories more complex (sub-plots involving secondary characters are woven through the story) and themes more sophisticated. Kids get hooked on characters at this age, which explains the popularity of series with 20 or more books involving the same cast. Fiction genres range from contemporary to historical to science fiction/fantasy; nonfiction includes biographies, science, history and multicultural topics.

“Young adult — For ages 12 and up, these manuscripts are 130 to about 200 pages long. Plots can be complex with several major characters, though one character should emerge as the focus of the book. Themes should be relevant to the problems and struggles of today’s teenagers, regardless of the genre.”

Can’t wait to get started?

No sooner had I passed on these tips to Lavinia, than she dashed off to buy a pretty, floral covered note-book, one of those ducky little pen holders and membership to a children’s writers’ group. She spent just one morning with the group and then announced that children’s writing was not for her. When pressed to explain the cause of her disaffection, she hedged a bit, hinted at some rather unkind comments made about her concept for the Adventures of Cheryl the Box Jellyfish, and then blurted out that it was a bunny-eat-bunny world out there! 

I received this little note last week from Caroline, “Gee, and I thought Lavinia was someone real, odd but real. *laughs* Wouldn’t you know it; she’s a figment of your imagination! Lavinia alone is well worth the 17 dollars I paid! I love your humor, and the way you teach. I get a good laugh, as well as learn grammar and writing in a fun way.”

This week’s quiz:

Match each word with its antonym:

1. malinger

2. noxious

3. perjury

4. precedent

5. prodigy

6. proliferate

7. reclusive

8. renounce

9. sacrilege






telling the truth







Last week’s quiz:

Match each word in the first column with its synonym in the second:

1. anachronism

2. apotheosis

3. catalyst

4. colloquial

5. deduce

6. deprecate

7. epitome

8. facetious

9. frenetic












Word of the week: 

esprit d’escalier  

Literally, “the spirit or wit of the stairs” … These are remarks that occur to you later – you know, those witty retorts that pop into your head the nano-second after the moment to use them has passed. Esprit d’escalier is what leads you stop half-way up the stairs, hit your hand to your forehead and say, “Bugger!” in a very loud voice, “If only I’d thought of that before …”

Oxymoron of the week:  

Here’s another rather apt one: nuclear defence … Yeah, right.

Now I bet you know someone who could use this Latin phrase:

Abiit, excessit, evasit, erupit. (He has left, absconded, escaped and disappeared.)
[ab-EE-it ecks-SAY-sit ee-WAY-sit ee-ROO-pit]