Monday, November 10, 2014

Writing Up a Tantrum!

I’m probably better known for my rhyming nonfiction picture books (The Butt Book, Poopendous!, and Belches, Burps, and Farts—Oh My!), for better or, ahem, verse, but today I’d like to shine a spotlight on my storybook, Peter Panda Melts Down!, and its protagonist, the most meltdownable panda we know. Peter is only three and he’s filled with frustration. In the story, we spend the day with Peter and his mama—and oh, what a day! We witness Peter blow a gasket in the car, in the supermarket, in the park, in the library, in the . . . everywhere! As Peter’s fits of fury flow forth, indelibly captured by the terrific illustrator John Nez, we observe Mama Panda’s growing exasperation and we wonder: Will Mama Panda melt down, too? I’m afraid you’ll need to read Peter Panda Melts Down! to find out. No spoilers here.
      Now, I love to write in verse, though the challenges can sometimes be great. Because I’m burdened with a perfectionist streak, I agonize over every single syllable. I tweak and revise endlessly until I get things just right. And then I tweak and revise some more. I’m blessed to be writing in English, which has far more words than any other language (well over a million in total!). This gives me a world of possibilities for rhyming. And it really is a world because English has absorbed words from across the globe and adopted them as its own.
     Peter Panda Melts Down! has a fun, catchy refrain running through it:

Uh-oh. Here it comes. Here comes that frown.
Peter Panda melts dowwwnnn!”

And there a few twists on the refrain for added enjoyment and surprise. It also has a large dollop of my trademark wordplay and humor.
     Ask your students to write about a time when they, or someone they know, experienced monumental anger, like a volcano about to blow its top. They can work in small groups or individually. Young writers can address how the situation was calmed down (if, in fact, it was), and what role they themselves may have played. Was there an adult involved—and if so, how did the adult react? Did it take place in a public or private setting?
     People have a variety of strategies for quelling their anger. Some count to ten. Some concentrate on slowing down their breath. Some may meditate. Some listen to their favorite music. How do you calm yourself when you find yourself getting angry? Write a few sentences about this.
     Make a list of the things that make you angry. Are there any items on your list that you think may be unique to you? Write a bit about why these things upset you.
     Tots will regularly toss tantrums. Students can write about what they feel is the most effective approach for dealing with such outbursts.
     To add a fun wrinkle, students can even attempt to write a few lines of the exercise in verse if they wish. And if they enjoy that challenge, who knows: They could be the next . . . Artie Bennett!

BIO: Artie Bennett is the executive copy editor for a children’s book publisher and he writes a little on the side (but not the backside!). He would be hailed as “the Dr. Seuss of your caboose” for his much-acclaimed The Butt Book, his first “mature” work, which published in 2010. His “number two” picture book, fittingly, was entitled Poopendous! followed by Peter Panda Melts Down! and Belches, Burps, and Farts—Oh My! in 2014Artie lives deep in the bowels of Brooklyn, New York, where he spends his spare time moving his car to satisfy the rigorous demands of alternate-side-of-the-street parking and shaking his fist at his neighbors. He loves sharing his books with a wider audience at school visits. Visit . . . before someone else does!

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