April 12, 2016

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Poetry Pajama Friday: Kill Your Darlings 4

Hello, Writerly Friends.

It's Poetry Friday! Irene at Live Your Poem has invited us to sit on her virtual coach, hang out, and talk poetry today.

There's room for everyone at the Poetry Friday Party.
This couch at
Remember Jack Strong, from yesterday's book review, JACK STRONG TAKES A STAND? The kid was so over-scheduled, he staged a sit-in on his living room couch.

I know many educators and their students don't just suffer from over-scheduled "free time" after school. With requirements such as the Common Core, state mandated testing, and adequate yearly progress, the school day itself can feel like racing on a treadmill.

That's why everyone loves special school days so much.

One year, I was poet in residence at an elementary school where everyone, EVERYone could talk of nothing but the upcoming Holiday Meal. You know, that mouth-watering day in November when the cafeteria serves turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy. Just thinking about Holiday Meal was bliss-inducing. Why? It was barely better than a Swanson's TV dinner. But Holiday Meal only came once a year. It was a delicious break from the usual pizza, bagel and yogurt, or beef tacos.

My most beloved Swanson meal had
a tiny chocolate cake. Mmmm.
When my children were in elementary school, one of their favorite annual events was Pajama Day. This day of coziness usually  happened on Read Across America Day. There were books, there were slippers. Lovies and stuffed tigers and tiny satin pillows were packed into backpacks for school. Children spent much of the day snuggled up on bean bag chairs reading. For FUN.

My son loved it so much that one time, when I was room mom at my daughter's pre-school, I staged a toddler version Pajama Day. That was pretty freaking cute and awesome.

Writerly Friends, I have a Kill Your Darlings problem that is not awesome at all.

I wrote a Pajama Day poem for my MG novel-in-verse, THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY. It is cute as all get-out. And I think it have to cut it.

I wrote "Pajama Day" for the manuscript's second iteration. I was trying a different concept -- a poetry *yearbook*-- by adding occasional poems to the Spoon River inspired manuscript. These covered the first day of school, Halloween, the Talent Show, Pajama Day, Valentine's Day.  

Except THE LAST FIFTH GRADE eventually developed beyond the yearbook concept to an actual novel, complete with narrative arc. (Miss Hill's wacky fifth grade class must unite to stop the evil Board of Ed from demolishing their beloved school.)

Is "Pajama Day" still earning its place in the novel? Does it move the story forward or help develop the characters? Before I kill this darling, I'd love to get your feedback.
Product Details
Candy hearts pajama pants from Amazon.
Pajama Day
By Jason Chen and Katie McCain

Oh, how we long for
the most relaxing
school day of the year.
On Pajama Day
our backpacks don’t feel
like they have extra gravity
from two tons of books.
They are jammed
with pillows and stuffed animals.
We skid down the hall
like penguins slipping on ice
because giant fuzzy slippers
and floor wax
are a dangerous combo.
Sparkling snowflakes,
roller skating elephants
and candy hearts cover the legs
of our fuzzy fleece pants.
For indoor recess
we get out our pillows
and write poems on the floor
(everyone laughs
when Mark starts to snore).
We love Pajama Day
because we


Read about Tarra, the roller skating elephant.
  • It's about Pajama Day, one of the best days of the school year!
  • The poem provides a breather after a series of serious, winter is dull, and "I'm feeling down" poems.
  • The details are so yummy, I can feel my fuzzy fleece PJs calling to me.
  • The poem marks a subtle transition in the love-hate friendship between Jason and Katie.
  • Beta readers say the poem has elements of both character's voices.

  • "Pajama Day" is the only poem in the novel written in two voices, so it doesn't quite fit.
  • The poem doesn't move the main narrative forward.
  • It may be a little TOO yummy.
  • Pretty sure it's a darling.

What do you think, fellow writers? Please leave a comment with your advice.

There are more posts in the Kill Your Darlings craft series here:

Next up in the Kill Your Darlings series, we have a guest blogger!

MG author Elisabeth Dahl (Genie Wishes) is stopping by next week. She cut a major storyline from her novel before it was published. Elisabeth will give us all the crafty dirt about killing her darling.



Matt Forrest Esenwine said...

If it doesn't move the main narrative forward, that's a big issue. I do like it, although my kids never had pajama days in school - so the emotional connection you may be trying to create could be lost on kids who never experienced it. Good luck! Any reason why none of the other poems can be in two voices?

Linda B said...

Is there a way to add a few words referring to the 'need' for relaxation since they are working/fighting so hard in their battle? It could be the 'low point' & the need to FILL UP before the big battle? Also, our pajama days always have food, I miss the reference, sorry. Maybe Matt is right, if there's no experience, or a different one, maybe it's not going to work. I love that you're sharing these parts, Laura-brave!

Author Amok said...

Hi, Matt. That is a good point about Pajama Day not being a national holiday (it should be). I'll add it to the cons list. In answer to your second question, with so many voices, that would get confusing.

Author Amok said...

Hi, Linda. Great suggestions! What kind of food do your kiddos have on Pajama Day? (I'm taking your comment as a "cut" vote.)

Irene Latham said...

One thing to try: take it out. Read the book, and see if you miss it. If you do, put it back in! It's an adorable poem!

Tabatha said...

Hi Laura, I don't feel like I can vote without reading the manuscript. But if I *had* to, I might vote to keep it. I like your list of "pros."

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

I also feel like I can't offer any real advice without seeing it in the context of the whole manuscript. It's a darling poem to be sure, but whether it's a "darling" poem, I don't know.

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

Here's another thought: Maybe you could keep some of these special "yearbook" poems as an appendix in the book. You could even call the appendix YEARBOOK. How often have we, as readers, finished a book but still want to read more because we're not yet ready to put aside the characters we've grown to love?

Violet N. said...

I like the advice to take it out, wait a day or two, and then read the ms. or at least the part around it and see if it is missed.

Even if you don't get to use it here, there will be another place for it, perhaps in another collection or book. It's meant to show up somewhere I'm sure.

Mary Lee said...

Maybe because I haven't read the rest of the manuscript, I can't hear two voices in this poem. If the function of the poem is to show a shift in the relationship between these two characters and you want to make it a bigger shift than the byline, you might really show how two different characters feel about Pajama Day. By 5th grade, the boys in my class don't really buy into it.

Heidi Mordhorst said...

Hi, Laura--

I have a similar problem as ML--I don't know the characters well enough to hear their voices, and without that, the poetry in the piece (though the sentiments are true and dear and I really enjoyed your ruminations on special days) feels weak to me. HOWEVER, like Linda, I'm thinking that you could revise to link it better to the big storyline. One thing that happens on these special days is that classes are bonded in ways that can't occur on ordinary days. You know how strangers talk to each other in all kinds of odd places when something like 9/11 happens or a black president is elected? You hint at this in your comment about the characters' relationship shifting. Perhaps you can use Pajama Day at the right time to make it the day when relaxation and connection lead to the class's galvanization for action.
I do hope you're saving all these posts for your book for young writers about the birth of a verse novel!
Daisy is planning to do NaNoWriMo in November. I thought I'd join her in trying to write a miniversenovel in one poem a day. : )

GatheringBooks said...

Snowflakes and sleeping. :) Winter always brings that imagery - quilts, pajamas, snuggles. Thanks for sharing this lovely poem.