WORDS…With a Dash of SABOR

RSVP, Please.

Recently, I hosted a breakfast at my house to kick off the Tucson Festival of Books. The breakfast is an annual event, assuming I’m not engaged in a school visit or conference somewhere else. Far be it from me to turn into a Ms., or in this case, Mr. Manners, but it occurred to me that people are shockingly unaware of just what RSVP means. It is an initialism derived from the French phrase Répondez s’il vous plaît, literally “Reply if you please” or “Reply please”. This does not mean to reply if you take a notion to do so, but rather to let the host know one way or the other so plans may be made. When I groused on Facebook that several people–people in their 30s to 50s and who should know better–had not bothered to respond, several commented that it was “generational” or that “today’s youth think they only have to respond if they plan to attend” or that “a lot of people only respond if they don’t plan to attend.” One, I realize that many today are sadly lacking in social manners. Two, if it means one thing to some and another to others, the host has no idea just how RSVP is being interpreted. When I called one young illustrator on his lack of acknowledgement (Okay, I was being snarky. I admit it.), he commented, “Oh, I guess RSVP means one is supposed to reply even if one does not plan to attend.” Duh!

Why RSVP? A reply simply makes it easier for a host to plan. How much food should be purchased? Beverages? How many settings should be placed? Should he invite others to make up for the No-Replies? Or should he prepare for the No-Replies to show up dragging four guests with them? A response one way or the other doesn’t require a lot of energy or time. To accept an invitation, just reply with the following: “I’m honored to attend. Thank you for thinking of me.” To decline: “Regretfully, I’m unable to attend, but thank you for inviting me.” No elaborate excuses are required. The host probably doesn’t have time for them anyway. If you wanted to attend, as one guest who was expecting out-of-town visitors did, then perhaps something like this: “I would love to participate, but I will have two out-of-town visitors and will have to decline this year. Perhaps you will include me in the future.” This lets the host know you have interest, but also other obligations. If he has room for your out-of-town visitors, he can amend the invitation to include them. If not, he will know to include you in future festivities.

RSVP. Please respond. It is common courtesy (and a huge help to those planning an event).

Research from the Children’s Book Academy

Marsha Diane Arnold, a dear and long-time friend, asked Connie Goldsmith and me to participate in the Children’s Book Academy’s post on research. You can find it here:



When you write dialogue, are you making these common mistakes?

Early on in my career, I worked with beginning novelists and picture book writers. A couple of common errors occurred in many of the manuscripts. These new writers (and some experienced ones, as well) would create dialogue and then follow it with a tag line that would be impossible for the speaker’s words to do. For example:

“Oh, I wish he’d ask me to dance,” she jitterbugged.

“Here he comes,” Cam smiled.

Words don’t jitterbug. Words don’t smile.

These lines might have been written as follows to eliminate these errors.

“Oh, I wish he’d ask me to dance,” she said. Admiring the young man out on the dance floor, Juliet never stopped jitterbugging to the music.

“Here he comes,” Cam said to Juliet.

He smiled as he approached the girls, and then he hesitated. Nodding at Juliet, he turned toward Cam and asked her to dance.

The other problem that cropped up frequently was the tendency to have tag lines that screamed out at the reader, “NOTICE ME.” For example:

“Carlos, come here,” he announced.

“Why?” Carlos requested.

“Because I asked you to!” he exclaimed.

“But I’m busy,” Carlos declared.

Said and asked are fine words. They’re simple words that don’t draw attention to themselves. The only time a writer needs to use a synonym for said or asked is if the author intentionally wants to draw attention to the way in which something was said. For example:

“Carlos, come here!” he demanded.

“Why?” asked Carlos, his voice curious.

“Because,” he said.

“But I’m busy,” Carlos complained.

“You’ll want to see this,” he said.

In one example there’s so much attention on announcing, requesting, and exclaiming, that the characters’ words get lost, and it should be their words which drive your story forward. In the other, the actual dialogue stands out.

Don’t worry about showing your readers that you know how to use a thesaurus. As I mentioned above, said and asked are fine words that disappear. They’re less intrusive into the intimate act of storytelling and reading. This leaves the reader more capable of suspending disbelief and stepping into your characters’ shoes.

A Few Words from Lee Bennett Hopkins

LIFE ON THE DECKLE EDGE interviews my good friend, Lee Bennett Hopkins, about his newest book. Read. Enjoy.


Congratulations, Lee. I look forward to reading this one.


The Rain Wizard: The Amazing, Mysterious, True Life of Charles Mallory Hatfield by Larry Dane Brimner, offering a look at the man who in the early 1900s believed he had discovered a secret solution to drought.

The Daily Habit

Saturday morning chores were routine for me. First thing, the lawn needed to be mowed and garden beds weeded and dead-headed. Then the house needed to be cleaned. When I started my writing career, while teaching high school, Saturdays became my day for writing. Sundays were reserved for the yard work and house cleaning. And when I quit teaching to write fulltime, this routine was replaced with another: exercise, then writing, with yard work and house cleaning reserved for later in the day. It served me well through more than 150 books. Recently, however, I’ve lost my routine. Writing more research-intense books and a change in publishing that shifts the mind-deadening details of indexing, flap and catalog copy, and source notes to writers has reduced my output to one title per year–if I’m lucky. Thank you, Lesa Cline-Ransome for reminding me of the value of routines and sticking to them.


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I owe much of my writing career to Saturday mornings that began with frosted flakes cereal and cartoons. My father was a stickler for Saturday morning chores. Chores done promptly after breakfast and thoroughly each and every week. Friends would ring the doorbell or, in my teenage years, call to ask if I was ready to go shopping in downtown Boston. “Not done with my chores yet,” meant they had to wait just a little bit longer.

When the rest of my family grumbled about chores and cleaning, I said very little, preferring the look and feel of swept floors and the smell of Old English furniture polish. This weekly routine continued long after my brother and sister had each left for college and I was the last child left.  I believe it was the simple act of Saturday morning chores that lent itself to an appreciation of routine.


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DUTCH BABY with Lemon Sugar

This is the “Sabor” part of “Words . . . with a Dash of SABOR.” In English, sabor means “taste, flavor” and those who know me best know that my primary hobby is cooking. Herewith is a recipe I modified from epicurious. It’s quick, easy, and–most important of all–tasty.

It makes 4 to 6 servings, although we managed to split it between the two of us. And the picky-eater loved it.


1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

2 large eggs at room temperature

2/3 cup milk at room temperature

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon quality vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 stick (or a little less) butter, cut into pieces

What you do.

Heat a 10-inch skillet in a 450-degree oven. While the skillet is heating, stir together sugar and zest in a small bowl. Set aside. Next, beat eggs with an electric mixer at high speed until they’re light and frothy. Then beat in the next six ingredients (through salt) until well blended. The batter will be thin. Retrieve the skillet from the oven. It will be HOT, so take care reaching for the handle. Swirl butter around in the skillet to melt and to coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Immediately add the batter and return the skillet to the oven. Bake about 20 to 25 minutes, until the egg mixture is puffed and golden brown. Top with the lemon sugar and serve immediately for breakfast, brunch, or dessert.

Small Talk–Dialogue in Juvenile Fiction

“An individual’s speech is as unique as his handwriting, his manner of dress, his voice, walk, gestures, his smile and his eyes.” So wrote Anne Chamberlain.

Indeed, nothing reveals so much about a character as what he says, and when and how he says it. Consider what we learn about Bradley in the opening chapter of Louis Sachar’s novel. There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom:

“Hey, Bradley, wait up!” somebody called after him.

Startled, he turned around.

Jeff, the new kid, hurried alongside him. “Hi,” said Jeff.

Bradley stared at him in amazement.

Jeff smiled. “I don’t mind sitting next to you,” he said. “Really.”

Bradley didn’t know what to say.

“I have been to the White House,” Jeff admitted. “If you want, I’ll tell you about it.”

Bradley thought a moment, then said, “Give me a dollar or I’ll spit on you.”

The author could have told us that Bradley was a disturbed child with a major chip on his shoulder. He didn’t. Instead, he let Bradley himself show us.

In The Bad Dreams of a Good Girl, by Susan Shreve, no one has to tell us that there’s a bit of sibling rivalry in the McDaniel household:

“I plan to eat in my bedroom if we have one more conversation at dinner about exceptional Lotty,” Nicholas said.

“Exceptionally boring Lotty,” Philip said.

“Go to your room,” my father said.

“That will be a pleasure,” Philip said.

The characters tell us themselves. And they do it more effectively and with more spirit–or sizzle, if you will–than if the author had told us that Nicholas and Philip were sick of hearing about Lotty.

Dialogue gives the reader a direct link with the characters in a book. It helps the characters come to life on the page, and the reader is right there to listen in on the conversation.

Condensed from an article written and copyrighted by Larry Dane Brimner.




Something New

Below you’ll find a link to a recording I did for TeachingBooks.net about STRIKE!: THE FARM WORKERS’ FIGHT FOR THEIR RIGHTS. And since so many people mispronounce my name, there’s a pronunciation guide at the site as well.




Connected? Or Have You Lost Touch?

Social media is a great tool, but often it gets in the way of true communication and connectedness. Consider what this video says: