Friday, March 30, 2012

Poetry Friday: Only the Wind Says Spring

The grass still is pale, and spring is yet only a wind stirring
      Over the open field.
There is no green even under the forest leaves.
     No buds are blurring
     The pencil sketch of trees. No meadows yield
The song of the larks, nor the buzz of bees conferring.
Only the wind says spring. Everything else shouts winter:
     The whitened beards of grass,
The shriveled legs of corn with their trousers flapping,
     The year-old cuts in the root of the sassafras;
A spruce-cone empty of seeds, the scales unwrapping
     Open to dryness, last year's withered peach,
A stiff tomato-vine begun to splinter,
     The crones of milkweed talking each to each.

The earth stands mute, without a voice to sing.
But the wind says spring.

                                   -- Helen Janet Miller

Heidi is hosting Poetry Friday at her juicy little universe over at My Juicy Little Universe. Blow on over and check out the offerings!

The photo is from the Library of Congress.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Women of Wednesday - Bette Davis

Bette Davis was born in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1908, an interesting time for women in America. When she was seven, her parents separated and her mother went to work to support Bette and her sister. She saw her mother making her own way, as hard as it was, and she would have seen suffragettes marching in the streets, and flappers driving around them. It was a time when women were taking charge of their own lives, and Bette would do the same with hers.

Her childhood couldn’t have been easy. After her parents separated, they moved constantly from one small apartment to another, and often slipped quietly out of town during the middle of the night because there was no money to pay the rent. But Mrs. Davis must have seen something in her daughter because, when Bette announced she wanted to become an actress, her mother whisked her off to the best acting school in New York. There was no money for acting lessons, but her mother begged and pleaded and got Bette in with the promise to pay for the lessons in the future.

Bette was 19 when she entered acting school, and she took her lessons seriously. Aside from acting, she learned to memorize lines, how to walk, and talk, and even fall without hurting herself. When she managed to get a small part in a play in Rochester, NY, her mother saw her off at the train station with four words of advice--learn the lead part. Bette didn’t understand why, but her mother always gave her good advice, so she did as she was told. Two days after the play opened, the lead actress fell down a flight of stairs. She was supposed to. It was part of the play. But she wasn’t supposed to sprain her ankle. When she couldn’t go on, a new lead had to be found. Bette knew the lines and got the part.

At 22, a talent scout noticed her. He asked her to come to Hollywood and take a screen test for Universal Studios. Bette signed the contract and went but, in the end, they decided she didn’t look right for the part. To recoup their money, Universal loaned her out to other studios, but when her contract expired a year later, she still had not landed a major role.

As she packed to go home, the telephone rang. It was George Arliss of Warner Brothers. He had seen her work and thought she’d be perfect for a part in a movie he was making. Did she want the role? Bette said ‘of course’ and her long association with Warner Brothers began.

In those days, actors were owned by the studios, much like sports players today. They were given weekly pay, just like any factory worker, and had to do what they were told. They would work, or not work, at the studio’s discretion, and take any roles the studio decided to give them. The studio even interfered in their private lives, telling them who they should and shouldn’t date.

Warner Brothers gave Bette a lot of parts to play, but they weren’t the kind of roles she wanted. The parts Warner Brothers gave her just weren’t meaty enough and she believed she could do more. Bette fought with executives constantly for better roles and after three years, she finally received a part she could sink her teeth into. She played Joyce Heath, a drunk and penniless former stage star in Dangerous and won the Academy Award for Best Actress.

The movie and the award made Bette famous, but she still wasn’t allowed to choose her own roles. She refused to make any more movies for Warner Brothers. They suspended her without pay, and Bette turned around and sued them. It was almost unheard of at the time. Complaining actors were something studios dealt with all the time, but to be sued? By a woman?

Bette went to England to make two movies there with another studio, but Warner Brothers served her with an injuction that said she couldn’t make any movies until her situation with them was resolved. Eventually, the case came to trial and Bette lost. While her contract with Warner Brothers was unfair, it was a legally binding contract and she had signed it willingly.

But the outcome was not a total failure. Warner Brothers gained a new respect for her. She was not someone to be taken lightly. They paid her court costs, gave her a raise, and began giving her better parts. Bette’s law suit also paved the way for another actress, Olivia DeHavilland (Melanie in Gone With the Wind) who sued Warner Brothers a few years later and won.

Two years after the law suit, Bette won another Best Actress Academy Award for her role in Jezebel. She continued to make movies and in 1941, was elected President of the Motion Picture Academy, the first woman to ever hold the title. During the war years, she sold War Bonds and opened the Hollywood Canteen with actor John Garfield. It was a place for servicemen to come and relax while on leave, and be served and entertained by Hollywood actors.

By the time the war ended, she was marrying her third husband and having her first child. Her private life wasn’t as successful as her public life, and she would go on to marry a fourth time, while her relationship with her daughter would always remain strained.

In 1948, she demanded Warner Brothers release her from her contract, and they finally let her go. She was 40, after all. Way past her prime. Her star power was fading, and there were lots of pretty young actresses coming up. They didn’t think they could make much more money off Bette.

But Betty wasn’t one to be kept down. Whether people liked her or not, they respected her acting skills and knew she could be counted on. She continued making movies until 1957 when she fell down a flight of stairs and broke her back. After several years of recuperation, she made
her comeback in 1962 with Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.

She was 54 at the time, ancient for an actress in those days, and roles became scarce. At 69, she was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute, but Bette wasn’t ready to stop living or achieving. If Hollywood wouldn’t give her a role, TV would. In 1980, she did Strangers for television and won an Emmy. She battled breast cancer at 75 and won, then brought herself back from a stroke and a broken hip. At 79, she did The Whales of August, and played her last role. She died two years later in France.

Bette believed in being prepared for opportunities and doing the work. She said, “Even the opportunity to fail is worth something, especially if you get another opportunity to succeed. . . . One thing I’m proud of, I can tell you, is that I always gave my best.”

Monday, March 26, 2012

What's Your Flesch-Kincaid?

When writing for adults, a writer can basically write whatever she wants, the way she wants. She can use big words or little words, simple sentences, compound sentences, or complex sentences. She can even write sentences three pages long. The expectation is that most adults will be able to read and understand it.

But writing for children isn’t that easy. While adults are all lumped into one category, children aren’t. There are the board book and picture book crowds, beginning readers, kids starting chapter books, middle-grade readers, tweens and teens, and hi-lo’s. There are even sub-groups of upper and lower middle-grade and teen readers. All these kids read at different levels and have different levels of understanding.

One way to determine if you’re writing at the correct reading level is to use the Flesch-Kincaid Readability program. If you use Word, it will usually pop up after you do a spelling and grammar check. If it doesn’t, check the spelling of a word, and when the box opens, click options. When the options page comes up,go down the list and check off ‘show readability statistics.’ Aside from giving you word counts, it will give you the reading level you’ve written for, as well as a percentage that indicates how easy the piece is to read, and the percentage of passive writing it contains. (This paragraph has a 9.2 reading level, which means a ninth grader should be able to read and understand it. It has a 66.5% ease of readability level, which means I could probably write it much better. You want to shoot for the 90's. Let’s see.)

The Flesch-Kincaid Readability Program helps you determine what reading level you are writing at. If you use Word, it should pop up after you run the spelling and grammar check. If it doesn’t, check the spelling of a word, click options, then go down the list and check ‘show readability statistics.’ It will give you word counts, reading level, and the percentage of passive writing your piece contains. (I’ve lowered the reading level to 7.8 –middle school instead of high school, and I’ve increased the readability level to 69.1% - better, although not much better.)

Other programs may also make this available, but I’m not familiar with them. But if you can’t find the program on your computer, you can always google it and use the on-line version. Run it through something you’ve written and see where the piece stands. As you use it more and more, you’ll figure out how to easily knock a grade level or two off a piece, usually by just substituting one word for another, or by making a sentence less complex. This is easier in fiction than it is in

If you’re writing nonfiction about porcupines, you have to say porcupine. 10.1 Reading Level

If you’re writing fiction about a strange pet, you can turn your porcupine into a skunk. 7.6

If you’re writing fiction, you could just write about a duck. 4.7

But what if you are writing nonfiction about porcupines? How do you get the reading level down? Substitute the offensive word with something simple like duck, and if the piece suddenly drops to a 5th grade reading level, put the word porcupine back in and don’t worry about it. It’s just that one word, which a kid will remember after reading it the first time. But if you still have a high reading level, then you probably have issues in other places as well.

Sentence structure will also change your reading level.

John raced around the track, running as fast as his legs would carry him. 4.1
As fast as his legs would carry him, John raced around the track. 3.0
John raced as fast as his legs would carry him around the track. 3.0
John ran around the track. He raced as fast as his legs would carry him. 0.7

There are lots of ways to say the same thing. Your goal as a children’s writer should be to say it as clearly as you can, and at the appropriate reading level for your audience. Flesch-Kincaid will help you do that.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Poetry Friday--"Shadow Dance"

I have a copy of Piper, Pipe that Song Again: Poems for Boys and Girls selected by Nancy Larrick (Random House, 1965). For years it was looked upon as one of the best anthologies for kids. I believe it could be reissued because it has a exceptional selection of poems perfect for introducing a child to poetry! Until then, you can pick up a good used copy for cheap through, which is how I got mine.

Piper, Pipe that Song Again has many oft-anthologized children's poems such as Carl Sandburg's "Fog," and Vachel Lindsay's "The Moon's the North Wind's Cooky," as well as others that are not so familiar, like the one I'm sharing today.
Shadow Dance
by Ivy O. Eastwick

Oh Shadow,
Dear Shadow,
Come, Shadow,
And dance!
On the wall
In the firelight
Let both of
Us prance!
I raise my
Arms, thus!
And you raise
Your arms, so!
And dancing
And leaping
And laughing
We go!
From the wall
To the ceiling,
From ceiling
To wall,
Just you and
I, Shadow,
And no one else
At all.
This would be a great poem for the classroom. Use a spotlight (flashlight) and you've got a science lesson, too! But, the best part is sharing the joyfulness--the dancing, the leaping, and the laughing.

Lastly, I want to share this bit from the introduction by Nancy Larrick, "By itself the printed page is a silent thing. But as you read the words of a poem, it becomes a musical thing." Yes, it does!

A Year of Reading is hosting this week's Round-Up, so dance yourself right over there.


Photo by dvs.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Women of Wednesday: Abigail Disney

The name Disney conjures up visions of warm-weather vacations, cartoon characters, and family-friendly movies. For those of us of a certain age, “Disney” also meant visual learning. We marveled at the sights we saw in such documentaries as, The Vanishing Prairie and The Living Desert.

Another member of this media family has returned to the documentary format. She not only teaches us, but urges us to get involved.

Abigail Disney was born in 1960, the granddaughter of Walt Disney’s brother, Roy. She grew up in California and has degrees from Yale, Stanford, and Columbia.

In 2006, Abigail met peace activist Leymah Gbowee of Liberia. Gbowee’s story of how the women of her country helped end years of civil war through non-violent means intrigued Disney. She produced the story of their struggle in Pray the Devil Back to Hell. The documentary, directed by Emmy-winning Gini Reticker, became the third section of a five-part series called Women, War & Peace.

You can watch the PBS presentation here:

Abigail Disney was also the executive producer of the five-part series.

In addition to her film-making career, with her husband, Pierre Hauser, she is the creator of the DAPHNE Foundation. This philanthropic organization works with low income communities in New York City’s five boroughs. The group’s philanthropy extends primarily to women who have experienced abuse, are community organizers, and by seeking to discover the root causes of poverty. Read more about her work here:

Monday, March 19, 2012

Mentor Monday: Goal Setting

Greetings! I’m writing this just a few days before I leave the wintry world of New Hampshire and head for a week in the Caribbean. By the time you read this post, I will just be getting back to the real world.

Anyhow, even though this is a vacation, I have set some goals for myself. I’m going to catch up on my sleep. I’m going to read at least one whole book. I’m going to swim in the ocean. And, I hope to go snorkeling at least once.

Sounds weird, I know, setting goals for a vacation. But the truth is, we all set goals every day. We might call it something else, such as “our plans,” or “our to-do list.” No matter how you label it, most of us live a life of daily goal-setting.

We do the same as writers. When we start out, our goal is probably to make a living as a writer. In order to do that, we must first accomplish smaller and smaller goals:

12. Sell a manuscript.

11. Get published (sometimes #11 and #12 are reversed. Many times, however, we see our names in print without seeing an accompanying paycheck. One of my early by-lines appeared in a church newsletter. I was still thrilled).

10. Submit the finished work to an appropriate editor.

9. Study the current market.

8. Finish the manuscript.

7. Revise the manuscript.

6. Write the story.

5. Commit to writing time.

4. Decide to write the story down.

3. Come up with an idea for a story or a book.

2. Plan to become a writer.

1. Read a lot.

And, like a never-ending grocery list, once you’ve accomplished all 12 goals, get ready to do start over and do it again. I guess that’s number 13.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Poetry Friday: Said the Toad

I was really in a muddle
looking over a mud puddle
'cause I didn't have a paddle
or a twig to ride the reef.
But I said, Oh, fiddle-faddle,
this is just a little piddle
of a second fiddle puddle
so I saddled up a leaf.
I set sail on the puddle,
but I reached the muddy middle
and I rocked the leaf a little,
then I gave it all I had.
And I solved the mighty riddle
of the whole caboodle puddle
when I hopped up on the middle
of a beetle launching pad.

                         -- J. Patrick Lewis
                             2011 Children's Poet Laureate

Gregory is hosting Poetry Friday over at GottaBook. Gottagetoverthere to see what's going on!

It's March Madness, so we know all you're thinking about are your brackets. What? You're not? Not even for Madness! 2012?

Well, okay. Other folks are clearly thinking brackets, and you might want to get in on the action over at Ed DeCaria's Think, Kid. Think. You can check out Greg's poem, Wake Up Call as it goes up against David Cawley's Changing His Tune. You can even vote for your favorite and those of the other Poet-Athletes found here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Women of Wednesday: Abby Hutchinson Patton (and her brothers)

The merging of flashmobs  and protest songs that has blossomed with the Occupy movement and related efforts to re-empower people has had me thinking a lot about the Hutchinson Family Singers. Originally from Milford, New Hampshire, this talented musical family is widely recognized as the progenitors of the 20th century protest-song phenomenon. They were avowed abolitionists who embraced and proclaimed temperance and other reform movements in the years before the Civil War. The popularity of the group and their music spread their message across the deepening political divisions in the United States. Over a span of four decades, various combinations of family members (including, eventually, children and grandchildren) performed at protests and in prisons as well as on stages across the US and Great Britain.

The original traveling version of the family was a quartet of Judson, John, Asa and Abby. Abby’s voice and musical talents had attracted attention from her childhood, reportedly people traveled to the family farm to hear her sing when she was barely more than a toddler; she gave her first public performance when she was ten. When the brothers went on the road, Abby was not only the lead singer but the big attraction. Just sixteen when the family toured England and Scotland, she was highly praised by the British press.

All the Hutchinsons played instruments and sang, several, including Abby, also composed music. There are a  number of their songs available on Youtube, however I don’t know if there are any audio recordings of the Hutchinsons themselves performing. (The family performed into the 1880s,  so they could have just overlapped with Edison’s recording technology.) 

Abby married in 1849 and after that only sang in public for special occasions, but music remained an important part of her life. She sang at the funeral of John Greenleaf Whittier in September of 1892, just a month after an impromptu public performance, with her brother John and Frederick Douglass for 10,000 people gathered at the New Hampshire State House.

Scott Gac’s Singing For Freedom is a well-researched and eminently readable book about the Hutchinsons. 

This webpage has a lot of detail about the family.

A nice piece about Abby (genealogy sites are great sources for biographers). 

Aramanth Publishing has an interesting page about the Hutchinsons and offers a sheet music package for sale. 


Monday, March 12, 2012

Writer's Retreat

I have been looking forward to this week for months. I’m going to England, to spend a whole week immersed in the 20th anniversary Kindling Words retreat.

Note that a writing retreat* is very different from a writers’ conference. A conference provides lots of presentations and workshops. You take tons of notes and soak up as much information as you can. You also make connections with other writers and illustrators, and maybe even meet an editor or agent, and possibly even come away with permission to submit to a particular person with the “I met you at SCBWI-NE” as a ticket out of the slush pile.

 At a writing retreat, you write. Depending on the format (and there are several quite different approaches) you may have some kind of instruction at some point in the day – maybe an inspiring talk, but just as possibly an unusual activity intended to open up your creativity: drumming, tai chi, dancing, drawing, role-playing, dream mapping – you get the idea. Retreats often also offer an opportunity to gather with other retreatants and share the day’s work. But for the most part, a retreat offers space and silence and solitude, a place and a time to just work.^ This is both exhilarating and intimidating.
Lodore Falls Hotel webcam shot 11 March 2012

I’m taking “the novel” – the historical fiction piece I began in 2003. It’s had one good rejection and a positive proposal critique. It was supposed to be last summer’s project, before my world fell apart. I’m hoping by the end of the week it will be ready to send out again. I have high hopes.

I also have nagging doubts. This is not the first time I’ve put this novel through this process! I took it to Ghost Ranch for the first KW West week, with equally high hopes, and wound up – foundering. I wrote a couple of new scenes, dithered around the edges of the story, went home and put it back in the filing cabinet. How to avoid doing this again?

Well first of all, I recognize that I need to lower those expectations. The point of a retreat is the process, not the result. The retreat gives the artist and the work time to just BE. To grow and change and evolve and all those scary, amorphous things. To tell your brain at the beginning that you intend such-and-such an outcome at the end could well suffocate that process. So I need to relax, put aside all thoughts of HOW MUCH MONEY THIS IS COSTING, and just “BE” with my characters, setting and story.

 Secondly, and perhaps conflictingly, I think I need to impose a structure on my retreat. This will be my third week-long KW retreat: at the first one, I wrote more than a third of Sports and Games of Medieval Cultures. Now that was non-fiction, which I find much more comfortable than fiction. But as I try to recall why I was able to be so focused during that week, I think it was not only because I had “measurable goals” but because I had a routine, a discipline as it were, that made me “get to work.” I think I need to develop a discipline for this week in Borrowdale, something that
fits the revision process (a words-per-day map is not appropriate) that will keep me from dithering away my time the way I did at Ghost Ranch. I’ve got Darcy Pattison’s and Cheryl Klein’s books on revision in my suitcase – maybe I’ll move them into the carryon.

Third, and hardest of all, I know I need to let go of the book. I have been writing long enough to know that you cannot fall in love with your own words. That the phrase or scene you are most enamored of is almost certainly the one you most need to cut. That clinging to anything you’ve created, insisting that it is somehow untouchable, is to condemn it to static death. (Those of us who write for religious markets are familiar with the person who believes that God gave them their words, so they can’t be changed. Those who don’t necessarily believe in a God-who-dictates can also fall into this trap.) If I want the book to grow and blossom, I need to stop coddling it. I need to be prepared to prune. When the trimming guys leave our orchard, it always looks like there are more branches on the ground there than on the trees. Cutting away perfectly good wood lets the remaining branches flourish. This is what I fear – a very good indication that it is precisely what I need to do.

I’m off to pack . . .
*Side note – Kindling Words is also for illustrators and editors. But I have no idea what they do.

^Not to mention the “someone else cooks and cleans and the phone doesn’t ring.”

ps - sorry about the weird formatting, Blogger is being weird and I really do need to go pack . . .

Friday, March 9, 2012

Poetry Friday--"March Evening"

Amy Lowell is a poet whom I discovered not all that long ago. If you visit your local public library and look through its collection of poetry titles, I doubt if you'll find much, if anything, by Lowell. If she once had a following, it's all but faded away. Still, I like what I've read and I'm on the lookout for more.

The Gutenberg Project is a good place to find her work since much of it was published prior to 1923 and is now in the public domain. I have mentioned the Gutenberg Project on several occasions, most recently in December.

This poem, so perfect for this time of year in New Hampshire, is from A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass, originally published in 1912.
March Evening

Blue through the window burns the twilight;
  Heavy, through trees, blows the warm south wind.
Glistening, against the chill, gray sky light,
  Wet, black branches are barred and entwined.

Sodden and spongy, the scarce-green grass plot
  Dents into pools where a foot has been.
Puddles lie spilt in the road a mass, not
  Of water, but steel, with its cold, hard sheen.

Faint fades the fire on the hearth, its embers
  Scattering wide at a stronger gust.
Above, the old weathercock groans, but remembers
  Creaking, to turn, in its centuried rust.

Dying, forlorn, in dreary sorrow,
  Wrapping the mists round her withering form,
Day sinks down; and in darkness to-morrow
  Travails to birth in the womb of the storm.

Visit Myra at Gathering Books for this week's Poetry Friday Round-Up.


Photo by Malte Ahrens.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Women of Wednesday: Sock Monkeys Rock

We know them. We love them (well, mostly). Is there anyone out there who hasn't known at least one sock monkey personally? They are just about the perfect stuffed animal with their soft, squishy bodies, heather-colored skin, staring button eyes, and big red lips (and their kind of creepy red butt)

My monkey was not mine. It was my granny's, and it was saved for special occasions when my brothers and I made our weekend trips to her brownstone bungalow in Chicago. I loved that little guy . . .

Sock monkeys were made from the work socks with the red heel, manufactured by the Nelson Knitting Company in Rockford Illinois. The socks were known simply as Rockfords. It was around the time the company added that distinctive red heel that sock monkeys started appearing in the arms of children everywhere. No one is quite sure who gave birth to the first Sock Monkey.

After a patent dispute, the Nelson Knitting Company was awarded a patent for the design in 1955, and in a brilliant marketing move included a pattern with every package of socks.

The rest of the sock monkey story can be found here on wiki or you can check out this story called Origins of the Sock Monkey Shrouded in Mystery right here.

Or, better yet, listen to the story of Rockford's 8th annual Sock Monkey Madness Festival held just this past weekend at the Midway Village Museum in Rockford. You can hear it at this NPR link.

So, what are well-heeled sock monkeys doing on a Woman of Wednesday post? Sock monkeys were made mostly by moms and grandmas all over this country, and now around the world. It's their enduring popularity (both monkey, moms, and grandmas) that make them the perfect post for today.

We salute you all!

You can learn how to make a sock monkey here or here, at Sock (a dedicated site)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mentor Monday: Developing Characters

“As you go about bringing your people to the page, remember this: Human beings are extremely complicated. Characters are enormously simple.” Bill Roorbach, Writing Life Stories.

A strong main character is the cornerstone of any novel. By strong, we don’t necessarily mean the hero-type. We mean a character that is so well-developed that the reader feels they have entered the body and soul of the protagonist. These feelings keep us up at night, turning one more page, when we should be turning off the reading lamp. They make us “miss” the character when the book is over almost like missing a friend that we will not see again.

We are often told, as writers, to first write a good story. It will find its audience. That audience finds our books because they become invested in our characters. Keep these ideas on character development in mind as you write your story:

1) Your characters should be distinguishable. The reader doesn’t need to know every mole and scratch on the character’s body. But, age, hair color or skin tone, tics or stutters, an odd choice in clothing, a constant sniffle, etc. can help the reader determine who’s saying (or doing) what. Authors writing in the first person often use the mirror technique whereby the character describes what s/he sees in the mirror:

“There is one mirror in my house. It is behind a sliding panel in the hallway upstairs. Our faction allows me to stand in front of it on the second day of every third month, the day my mother cuts my hair…

The strands fall on the floor in a dull, blond ring…

I sneak a look at my reflection when she isn’t paying attention—not for the sake of vanity, but out of curiosity. A lot can happen to a person’s appearance in three months…I see a narrow face, wide, round eyes, and a long, thin nose—I still look like a little girl, though sometime in the last few months I turned sixteen…”
(Divergent, Veronica Roth)

Other writers use the method of showing us how other characters view the protagonist:

“Daddy named me Billie Jo.
He wanted a boy.
he got a long-legged girl
with a wide mouth
and cheekbones like bicycle handles.
He got a redheaded, freckle-faced, narrow-hipped girl
with a fondness for apples
and a hunger for playing fierce piano.”
(Out of the Dust, Karen Hesse)

2) Your characters should be human—meaning flawed. Even anthropomorphized characters need human frailties. They might be self-centered; have a weakness for chocolate or sports cars or be easily distractible.

The title of Barbara Seuling’s The Great Big Elephant and the Very Small Elephant gives us the most obvious difference between the main characters. The story wouldn’t resonate, however, if we didn’t know more about these two-similar shaped characters. We soon learn their personalities are quite different. When the GBE must go away for a while to help a family member, the VSE is not pleased:

“…the Very Small Elephant arrived at the Great Big Elephant’s house with a huge bandage on his head.
“What happened?” cried the Great Big Elephant.
“I’m sick,” said the Very Small Elephant. “I need you. I have a headache.”

In three sentences Sueling has let us know that the GBE is kind, and the VSE is dependent on his friend and scared to be alone. Throughout the book, we learn more about the VSE’s lack of self-confidence. In a later story, VSE’s actions will show that he is also a very good friend.

3) Your characters should create an emotional connection with the reader. Here’s the crux. Once we know a character is, say, a lighter-skinned African American teenager with dyed blue hair who chews her fingernails we have a mental picture but we don’t necessarily care about her. Now it’s the writer’s job to place that character in situations that show who she is: lonely even when surrounded by friends? quick with a joke even though she’s insecure? quiet until she sees that someone weaker is being threatened?

Situations are the third part of the character/reader connection. By placing your character in various situations, you not only show the reader the truth about the person you’ve created, you’ve allowed the reader to become part of the character’s world.

“Gilly,” said Miss Ellis with a shake of her long blonde hair toward the passenger in the back seat. “I need to feel that you are willing to make some effort.”
Galadriel Hopkins shifted her bubble gum to the front of her mouth and began to blow gently. She blew until she could barely see the shape of the social worker’s head through the pink bubble.
“This will be your third home in less than three years.”
(The Great Gilly Hopkins, Katherine Patterson).

On the very first page of this novel Patterson has managed to make the reader feel conflicted. After all, who wouldn’t feel sympathy for any foster child? On the other hand, Gilly seems like a handful. We read on, wondering whether we’re going to like this kid or not. The situation (another move) and Gilly’s reaction (hiding the social worker’s head behind a gum bubble) tells us a lot about this character. We already know she’s tough.

As you revise your novel or short story check to see if you’ve given your reader enough knowledge about your characters. Get the reader involved in your character’s life.