Friday, May 31, 2013

100 Words Every High School Graduate Should Know


By Kelley Lindberg
 
Ten years ago, the editors of the American Heritage dictionaries created a book called 100 Words Every High School Graduate Should Know.
 
It’s a humbling list.
 
I only knew 75 for sure. As a writer, I hang my head. I decided to go through the whole list in the dictionary, whether or not I knew the definition, to see how I accurate I really was. That was an interesting experience. It turns out that some of the words I thought I knew were slightly off – some, like facetious and vehement, I was mostly right, but I’d assigned them a more negative connotation in my head than their real definition indicates. Several words I thought I knew, but it turns out I was wrong and have apparently been happily reading them incorrectly all these years. And with a few, I knew half the definition, but was unaware of the other half (tectonic, for example – I knew it in relation to segments of the earth’s crust, but it also means architectural or building-related, which I didn’t realize).
 
I thought some of the words were awfully self-serving to the American Heritage writers, heavily weighted towards wordsmithing and spelling (orthography—give me a break!, circumlocution, loquacious, nomenclature, lexicon, taxonomy). Some of the words I thought were also kind of overly scientific – I wonder how many of the dictionary writers involved actually could recite the definitions of polymer and parabola correctly, because they involve some rather specific scientific explanations to define accurately. I wonder if they just selected 100 words at random, feeling that the average American should just know them. It would be interesting to randomly pick 100 words ourselves from the American Heritage and see how we would do with those.
 
Anyway, it was a fun exercise, and I feel like I got to boost my writerly education today. So I thought I’d share! If you’re interested, here is the original press release and the list of 100 words those editors think we should all know.
 
100 Words That All High School Graduates — And Their Parents — Should Know
 
BOSTON, MA — The editors of the American Heritage® dictionaries have compiled a list of 100 words they recommend every high school graduate should know.

"The words we suggest," says senior editor Steven Kleinedler, "are not meant to be exhaustive but are a benchmark against which graduates and their parents can measure themselves. If you are able to use these words correctly, you are likely to have a superior command of the language."

The following is the entire list of 100 words:

abjure
abrogate
abstemious
acumen
antebellum
auspicious
belie
bellicose
bowdlerize
chicanery
chromosome
churlish
circumlocution
circumnavigate
deciduous
deleterious
diffident
enervate
enfranchise
epiphany
equinox
euro
evanescent
expurgate
facetious
fatuous
feckless
fiduciary
filibuster
gamete
gauche
gerrymander
hegemony
hemoglobin
homogeneous
hubris
hypotenuse
impeach
incognito
incontrovertible
inculcate
infrastructure
interpolate
irony
jejune
kinetic
kowtow
laissez faire
lexicon
loquacious
lugubrious
metamorphosis
mitosis
moiety
nanotechnology
nihilism
nomenclature
nonsectarian
notarize
obsequious
oligarchy
omnipotent
orthography
oxidize
parabola
paradigm
parameter
pecuniary
photosynthesis
plagiarize
plasma
polymer
precipitous
quasar
quotidian
recapitulate
reciprocal
reparation
respiration
sanguine
soliloquy
subjugate
suffragist
supercilious
tautology
taxonomy
tectonic
tempestuous
thermodynamics
totalitarian
unctuous
usurp
vacuous
vehement
vortex
winnow
wrought
xenophobe
yeoman
ziggurat

 

 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What Teachers Want from Authors (and Vice Versa)

By Kelley Lindberg

April found me in Boise, Idaho, at an SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) regional conference that was held in conjunction with a conference for teachers. One of the best results of the combination, for me, was a panel discussion at the end of the conference that included teachers, writers, an editor, and an agent. The topic was “What do teachers want authors to know, and vice versa?”

It was clear that there is a strong relationship of mutual admiration between teachers and writers, who thanked each other profusely during the discussion for connecting kids with reading. But there were also a few specific suggestions that I thought were definitely worth passing on to authors who write for young people. Here are three of my favorites:
  • “Maybe authors could include a note at the end of the book describing particular writing techniques they used in their books.”
  • “We’d like to see videos on your writing process, how you work, etc.”
  • “Kids still love to get paper mail, because the kid knows the author actually touched that paper! Always reply back when a kid writes to you.”
My son with author John Flanagan in 2011
(My son wore the Ranger costume he created for a
school book report/presentation on one of
Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice books.
Mr. Flanagan was delighted.)
Some middle grade and young adult books are starting to include supplementary information at the end, such as book club discussion points, or the author’s comments on historical information they mined for the story, or an interview with the author. But that’s not common enough yet. It appeared from the panel discussion that teachers would welcome more book-specific information like that to help them make their curriculum more accessible. And if it can’t be contained within the book, teachers and students seem willing to go to an author’s website to find that sort of educational tie-in.

My son with author Heather Brewer, at a school visit in 2011
 As more and more classrooms become technology-capable, there is a growing opportunity for authors to reach students with videos, photos, blog posts, or podcasts that explain different aspects of the story or the writing process. (Obviously, that goes for authors who write for adults, too.) If you’ve ever gone to an author’s book signing or reading and watched kids approach them with something like awe, and then watch them leave with big grins on their faces, you know how amazing it can be for a child to meet an author. They suddenly see the author as a real human being – someone who maybe struggled in school, or who wrote 37 revisions of the book before finally selling it to a publisher, or who, like the kid, just happens to have a deep love of dogs or pizza or Dr. Who.

My niece with favorite author Sydney Salter
That human connection brings the dazzling heights of authordom down to a more personal, “hey, maybe I can do that, too!” realm. And that is a magical moment. With technology, those magical moments can happen anywhere, anytime. While nothing will replace an actual author visit to a school where kids can shake an author’s hand and watch them sign a book for them specifically (or a paper letter that the author actually touched!), technology can still show unequivocally that the author is human, real, and not that much different from the rest of us. And a quick lesson on an aspect of writing might make more of an impression coming from a favorite author than it would coming from a teacher. Every step helps.

Connecting with readers is essential for an author. Sometimes we forget how important it can be for the readers, too -- especially when those readers are young and still capable of believing in dreams.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Keys to a Good Mystery

By Kelley Lindberg

So there’s this set of keys. Four of them, to be exact. They’re on a simple ring, along with a shopper’s discount card and a membership card to a gym. Yesterday evening, I pulled them out of the outside pocket of my purse.

The thing is, they’re not mine.
 
I texted all the friends I’ve seen in the last few days. None of them is missing a set of keys. I asked my husband. He suspects the pool-boy. However, we have no pool, i.e., no pool-boy.

This morning, I stopped by the gym (which I’ve never belonged to) and asked them to scan the card. They did. It’s an invalid account, so there’s no name in their system.

I called the shopper’s discount store, and got transferred into black holes several times. I finally hung up, took a photo of the keys, and posted it on Facebook.

So far, nothing.

I’m quite worried.

According to all the best-selling thrillers, within the next 24 hours, this innocuous little set of keys is going to lead me headlong into a mega-conspiracy involving corrupt politicians, international assassins, a wise-cracking computer hacker, an earnestly flawed and extremely good-looking detective, a femme fatale, a hard-bitten FBI agent or two, and possibly a werewolf who may or may not have a day job as a pool-boy (I’m thinking Matthew McConnaughey).

But that’s not the worst part. The worst part is that as the plot unfolds messily around me, I’ll find myself trapped in a windowless room without a cell phone at least once, thrown into a car trunk, shot in a non-essential and mostly bloodless body part, and threatened by a leering bad guy with a dramatic sense of confessional storytelling. And all that’s after I’ve tripped over a tree trunk and twisted my ankle, of course, as all females must do when we’re being chased. It’s chromosomal. We can’t help it.

Of course, the good news is that I’ll find an important computer, guess the password in three tries, access a remarkably user-friendly and large-print software program that automatically displays crucial crime-related files, and download it all to my one trusted ally (the wise-cracking computer hacker). But when the wise-cracking computer hacker turns out to be the international assassin’s long-lost son, I’ll be torn between doing the right thing (reuniting father and son) and the other right thing (saving millions of innocent lives, thwarting the international security meltdown, and turning the assassin over to the FBI/CIA for justice).

I do NOT have time for this. I have work to do. I have deadlines. And my husband will not appreciate a flirtatious, good-looking detective (or pool-boy) hanging around the back door.

So whoever belongs to these keys… could you please just call me so I can give them back to you?

Thanks.