Friday, April 20th, 2012

Writing Prompt – Lions and Tigers and Bears (Oh, My!)

Cover of Dr. Seuss's If I Ran the ZooI’m heading out today for some research at the Baltimore Zoo.

I LOVE the zoo. It’s been a long time since I’ve been, and I’m really looking forward to it.

My favorite: the snakes. But I also like the primates, too. And the giraffes, and the hippos. The lions, the tigers…

Oh, who am I kidding? I love it all, but especially, the snakes.

I’m sure you can imagine where today’s prompt is going? You guessed it: it’s about zoos and animals.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Imagine visiting a far off planet. [Class M, if you will.] and you find the most unusual animals. Write about which one is your favorite and why. How do you have to care for this animal? How does it live? What does it eat? Could you bring it back to earth? How would you manage that?
  • Me, Tarzan. You, Jane. (I really mean that the other way around. But if I’d written it that way, it wouldn’t have been half as effective!)
    Imagine you — or a character in one of your stories — has been raised by animals. Describe life with these animals from early infancy on. Caveat: you can’t choose apes. Bonus points if you don’t choose wolves.] 
  • If you’re journaling, write about the best (or worst) time you ever had at a zoo.
  • Another journaling prompt: write about an encounter with an animal that really sticks in your memory: have you ever been bitten by a dog? How about peed on by a toad? Tell us what happened.
  • If you’ve never had an encounter with an animal…pretend. What would it be like to be a veterinarian? A lion tamer in a circus? A scuba diver who investigates invertebrates?
  • Write about your encounter with an imaginary animal, such as a unicorn, a dragon, a werewolf or the phoenix.
  • Imagine you are the one locked up in a zoo. Someone cares for all your needs. People stare at you all day. How do you feel? What’s the best part? The worst? In an animal zoo, the animals are given toys and their special habitat to make it more palitable to them. What does the zoo provide for you?
  • What if you could understand the language of the animals? What would they say to you from behind their bars at the zoo? Do they like being there? Do they want to return to their natural habitats? What do they like or dislike about being in the zoo?
  • What if all the animals in the world were locked up in zoos? Keeping pets is forbidden. Only farm animals are “free.”
  • What if only all the “frightening” animals are collected and locked up? Which animals would those be? Why?
  • Pretend you are Dr. Seuss’ character Gerald McGrew. Like him, what would you do, if you ran the zoo?

Good Luck!

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Writing Prompt – Anapestic Tetrameter: A Tribute to Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss' NerdHappy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

Theodor Seuss Geisel, writer and illustrator of many of my favorite stories, was born March 2, 1904. Even as an adult, I enjoy reading Seuss books (and can quote verbatim from several)!

Most of Seuss’ books are composed of rhyming couplets of simple words, making them easy for children to read, and learn to read. But they’re fun, too, which makes them all the better. Many times, Seuss made up his own words to make the rhymes fit.

(In fact, Dr. Suess created the word nerd, though with a different meaning than we think of it today. The word’s first known existence is in his book, “If I Ran the Zoo,” in 1950.)

The couplets Seuss wrote are the type “anapestic tetrameter,” which is often used in comic verse.

A few definitions:

meter: the rhythm of a line of poetry, composed of feet

foot: a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables

anapestic foot: a pattern of three syllables, of the form: unstressed / unstressed / stressed

Since “tetra” means four, each line of anapestic tetrameter verse contains four instances of an anapestic foot (or twelve syllables total).

A good example of anapestic tetrameter is from Dr. Seuss’ Yertle the Turtle:


On the far-away Island of Sala-ma-Sond,
Yertle the Turtle was king of the pond.
A nice little pond. It was clean. It was neat.
The water was warm. There was plenty to eat.
The turtles had everything turtles might need.
And they were all happy. Quite happy indeed.

You know what your prompt’s going to be, right? Below I’m going to tell you to go write some anapestic tetrameter.

I know some folks might feel intimidated by the challenge. So, I offer the following advice:

If you don’t think you can write anapestic tetrameter on your own, take a line from Seuss and change all the nouns and verbs.

For instance, instead of the first couplets above, you could write:


In a kitchen fantastic, in the dead of night
An egg-frying ghost, gave me a terrible fright.
Transparent, and shimmery, and nearly not there
He flipped the eggs with one hand while munching a pear.
He read from, “On Writing,” by the great Stephen King
And had just turned the page when I heard the toast ding.


Dr. Seuss' Green Pants With No One Inside Them

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write a poem in anapestic tetrameter. Don’t feel constrained to make it silly. Try a horror poem, or romance, or science fiction.
  • I you’re feeling ambitious, write an epic poem — or short story — in anapestic tetrameter.
  • If the words don’t flow, draw a whimsical picture like Seuss might have done. Remember: it doesn’t have to be silly! Seuss drew ‘scary’ pictures, too, like those “pale green pants, with no one inside them!”
Monday, February 27th, 2012

Do You Ever DEAR? Drop Everything and Read?

The National Education Association celebrates Read Across America annually on Dr. Seuss’s birthday, March 2, but the local elementary schools are celebrating all this week.

Today, the kids started the program with a reading of The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss, and at random intervals throughout the day, they had to DEAR: Drop Everything and Read.

Part of the fun was loudly dropping one’s pencil on the desk to clatter, and scootching out your chair to go find a book.

(Personally, I would love it if the boss called out intervals of “DEAR” at work on occasion. I think it would make the work day much more relaxed.)

I’ve been invited to read to a class of first graders tomorrow. I’m so excited!

I was asked to read my favorite children’s book, which, unfortunately is probably too long and too scary, for first graders. I speak of Patricia Coffin’s The Gruesome Green Witch. It’s a treasure unto itself: written and illustrated in green ink.

Instead I’ve chosen to read Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, written and illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton.

Had I thought about it longer, I might have read, Ferdinand, by Munroe Leaf. I adore this story.

I love them both, so I’m equally pleased to read one or the other.

Do you have a favorite book? Do you ever DEAR? Do tell!

(And just for completeness’ sake, here’s the cover of Patricia Coffin’s The Gruesome Green Witch.)

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Who’s Your Favorite Childhood Author?

NPR is reporting that a new Dr. Seuss book will be available in the fall.

I’m so excited! I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Dr. Seuss.

I have every book he’s ever written (venerated on the top shelf of one of my many, many, bookcases) but apparently not every story.

But you can bet I will by this fall!

These seven collected tales were printed in magazines in the 50s, and never collected into any volume. According to the article, some of them have not been in circulation in over 60 years.

How cool is that?

I have other favorites from childhood, including Milne and Nesbit (and Heinlein and Asimov, but they hardly qualify – even if I was reading them all together).

So: if you could have a “collected works” of any one childhood author on your top shelf, who would it be?