February 18, 2013

Sharing the Love of Reading with Children

Today, a guest blog by Sands Hetherington:

I immersed my son John in stories from the time he could understand speech.  Bedtime stories were an absolute essential to us, like air and food.  We may not have missed five nights in ten years, even on trips.  And on trips we would listen to books on tape for days in the car.  I read him everything from Aesop to Tolkien to Dahl (Harry Potter hadn't come along yet).  By the time John was twelve, we had gone through most of Dickens and Victor Hugo.  So he was always immersed in stories, and man did it ever work!  He got an M.A. at Edinburgh University with Firsts in German and Russian, reads two or three books a week, and still watches Hobbit movies.
If you're determined to get kids hooked, there's something you can do in addition to bedtime stories: Get them involved!  Let me illustrate by telling how my Night Buddies stories got started.  The series features John Degraffenreidt and Crosley.  John is a young kid pretty much like my own and Crosley is a bright-red crocodile.  He sneaks John out of the house for adventures on nights when John isn't ready to go to sleep. 
This is how the idea for stories came about:  My son John had invented Crosley from whole cloth.  One night when I was done reading, I may have suggested that he make up a night companion to go off to sleep with.  Or maybe I didn't suggest it.  He could have taken the initiative himself.  But in any case, in a day or two, there was Crosley, red color, goofy name and all.
So at bedtime we started batting around the Crosley stuff.  I encouraged John to make up episodes.  I mostly listened.  If he did come up with something, I told him how super it was and asked him when could I hear the next installment.  I think he was still six.  He got really facile at it, and I got the larcenous idea of putting the two of them in a book.
In my books I had to explain why Crosley was red, of course.  (He was red because he was allergic to water.)  And the rest fell into place fairly easily.  Crosley first began as a lights-out buddy.  But from there, he became part of Night Buddies Amalgamated, whose members sneak kids out on adventures when the kids aren't ready for bed yet.  That's the story formula, and John was hooked, and I was hooked.
You may need some luck with the "getting involved" part.  But anybody can do bedtime stories, and I haven't met a child yet who didn't take to bedtime stories.  You just have to do it and do it every night.  If you do, the child will enjoy it and look forward to it and quickly know literature as a pleasure.  Then, when he learns to read, he will want to read.  So get him in on the process if you can. It's as simple as that. 

February 10, 2013


What does it take to be kind?  Here’s an example:

Last fall, my husband ordered parts for our broken water heater.  However, a neighbor that lived several blocks away received the packages of parts by mistake.  She tracked us down and called to tell us she had our boxes.  I don’t know of many people who would have gone to the trouble or taken the time to hunt us down.  She told me she’d leave our packages on her front porch.  So when I came to pick up them up, I left her a basket of flowers with a thank you note.

Several months later on Christmas Eve, the door bell rang.  A woman introduced herself as a neighbor and handed me a beautiful basket full of treats.  I couldn’t place this neighbor, so when I asked, she reminded me that she was the lady who had accidently received our packages. (We had only talked on the phone, but had never met personally).  My heart melted.  I invited her in as we chatted and she told me that she thought our house looked so pretty for the holidays.  That too, brightened my evening.   

Just a simple gesture and a sincere compliment made my day.   And so what’s the point?  (And what does this have to do with writing?)

Make it a point to reach out to fellow writers.  Find opportunities to be helpful and to be kind.  For instance, you could encourage writers if they are facing writer’s block or help them in reviewing their work.  You could compliment writers if they have written a story that you like or if they have posted a great blog.  You could congratulate writers when they win a writing assignment or contest.  On the other hand, if others have helped you with your writing, you could send them a thank card or buy them an inexpensive book on writing.    

Kindness is a little about you and a lot about others.  Simple acts of kindness are greatly appreciated.  It costs very little to be kind and people will remember you for it.  I can guarantee that when you show kindness, you will be rewarded in unexpected beautiful ways.

January 31, 2013

Would You Revise?

You’re lucky.  You’ve submitted an article to an editor and instead of rejecting the piece, she offers suggestions for a revision. 

When I had received articles for Stories for Children Magazine and now, when I read submissions for the Kid’s Imagination Train, I try to work with writers so that their work can be improved for publication.   Some writers like this approach, other don’t.  Below are some of the choices that I’ve seen writers make regarding revision: 

1.  They apologize for what they’ve written.
2.  They argue that what they’ve written doesn’t need revision.
3.  They give up on their submission and never get back in touch with the editor.  
4.  They ignore the editor’s suggestions and submit their work elsewhere.
5.  They send the exact piece back, with no revisions (REALLY!)
6.  They take into consideration the editor’s suggestions and try to revise.

While I’m a “hands-on” editor who likes to edit submissions, many editors don’t have the time or the interest to help with revision.  It’s easier for them to send a rejection if a submission isn’t quite right for publication; others may not even respond at all.   

Trust me.  When an editor sends you advice on how to improve your work, take it.  If she has specifically told you what your manuscript needs in order to be published—perhaps more facts, better descriptions, or livelier language are required—then work on those points to improve your submission.  She has made time in her busy day to help you.  Help yourself by taking her advice.

January 25, 2013

The Challenges of Writing and Illustrating Children's Books

Today, a guest blog by J. D. Holiday:

When I first started out, I found many challenges in being both the author and illustrator of children's books.  I self-published after many years of trying to get published the traditional way.  Though doing my own artwork was not something I found easy, I wrote for twenty-five years without doing the illustrations for two reasons. The first was traditional publishers told authors in those days (and still tell them) that if authors did their own illustrations that they, the publishers, might not want the book. Publishers reasoned they might like the stories but not the pictures—which would make them reject the book entirely. Secondly, I didn’t feel confident enough to do my own art work because to that date, I had painted for fun and enjoyment.

It took me some time to get to the point in a painting where I felt that the painting was heading in the right direction. Also, it took me a while to work with digital art programs to do whole paintings that way. Previously, I used my paint programs for touch ups to my drawings and paintings.

Now, my being the author and the illustrator is actually helpful in putting the story together. Doing both allows me to easily move back and forth between the story and the pictures. I can easily revise the story line and the paintings to match. Once I let myself go and commit to doing the art work myself, being both the author and illustrator became an asset.

Since I am the artist, too, I don‘t have to worry who will do the drawings and paintings for my books. Nor will I have to split the money made on the sales of my books with someone else. I alone have the satisfaction that comes from doing it all and having a good product.

January 21, 2013

The Inspiration and Art of Children's Books

Today, illustrator Jessica Love guest blogs about the wonder of children's books:

I believe that children's books occupy a very important, sanctified part of our memory. There is a kind of magic to them. Probably that's partly because of the way they imprint on us—enjoying our Mom or Dad read to us in bed; hearing a favorite story that we only get to listen to at our Grandparent's house. I remember my Dad reading me The Hobbit when my family was in Alcapulco. The floor of our beach hut was sand, and I could hear the ocean outside while Bilbo invisibly approached the sleeping dragon.

I think people have a personal feeling about the children's books that they love, which is deeper than the books discovered in adulthood. These stories are fundamental to who we are. I think Maurice Sendak typified this quality in a profound way. He understood something about the way children exist in the world, which is part of what makes his work so lasting and vital; he didn't ever simplify the experience of being a child. He wan't saccharine or cute. His stories felt true because they contained elements of terror, of extravagant boasting, and of the animal urges we all have. That is why perhaps, his stories always felt like they were speaking to you, rather than down to you.

I remember in an NPR interview with Terry Gross, Sendak spoke about a promise he made to himself: never to forget what it felt like to be a child. I think most kids swear this oath to themselves at one point or another.  I remember making that promise myself. I had a running list of things I would never do to a kid when I crossed over to the other side of the river, into adulthood. Most of the things on the list had to do with never underestimating the depth of a of child's ability to remember. What children don't have is experience to measure new encounters against. What they don't yet have is "wisdom."

On one side of this coin shows itself in the face of a child's hysterical crying over the loss of a toy, or the fear of a horror, or the rage of an injustice. There is nothing to measure those experiences against, therefore, they all register as seismic. The other side of the coin, however, is the perpetual sense of awe, because everything is new, demanding understanding. And this, I think, is the quality of experience all great children's books are able to capture—the sense of immediate, strange, and dazzling wonder.

January 13, 2013

The Fate of Your MS

Have you ever submitted a nonfiction article to a magazine editor, but never received a reply?  You're not alone.  Many writers have experienced the “silent treatment.”  It’s frustrating because you not only wrote a wonderful piece, you have waited on the average of three months or more to hear back.  

What can you do?  Make sure you understand the writer's guidelines for that publication. Some editors only respond if they are interested in your work.  If however, an editor has stated that they will respond in a given amount of time and you haven't received a reply, then send a follow-up letter.  In your letter, include the date that the piece was submitted, the title, and a brief synopsis. Remember to thank the editor for his time.  Be polite and professional.

Hopefully, you’ll hear back with a decision on the fate of your manuscript.  But what if you fail to receive a reply on the follow-up?  Then it's time to move on.  That doesn't mean you should forget about that fabulous manuscript.  If you love what you have written, then you must find other markets that will make a good home for your work. 

You can shop for a market by searching online or by using books like the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market by Writer’s Digest.  Join SCBWI so that you’ll have access to the valuable market surveys.  Make a list of markets that publishes pieces like the one you’ve written.  Read some back issues.  Review the writer’s guidelines.  Edit your piece if necessary to meet this magazine’s needs. Write another query letter tailored to this new market.  And submit again.  Persevere.  The fate of your manuscript lies in your hands.   

January 7, 2013

Creating Believable Characters

Today, Cheryl Carpinello guest blogs about knowing your reader for believable characters:  

Authors can have the most exciting plot loaded with lots of action in the most exotic place, but if their readers do not form a connection with the characters, then they won’t finish the book. How do children’s writers ensure that their characters will appeal to young readers and, hopefully, draw those readers back for more? This is no easy task, but these exercises may help a writer connect their characters to their readers.

  1. Determine the age group that will be reading the story. The most common breakdowns, but not the only ones, are infant (ages 0-3), preschool (4-6), lower elementary (7-9), upper elementary or Middle Grade (9-13), Tweens (12-15), and Young Adult (15 +). Every time I do a writing workshop with elementary students, I ask them to decide who they want to read their story. Inevitably they say, “Everyone.” I use this vivid example to help them understand why they can’t write for everyone. If they want high school students to read their story, then they need to put in kissing. The groans are sufficient to get my point across. Writers cannot write for all ages if they want to create believable characters that readers can relate to. Each age group has its own distinct qualities which must be embedded in the characters.

  1. List qualities associated with the chosen group of readers. Consider their maturity as far as what they are able to do on their own and how developed their thinking skills are. When writing for children, a copy of Bloom’s Taxonomy is a must. It gives a breakout of what children are capable of doing at different stages of their development. Take into account the immediate world(s) of the readers as these can vary greatly based on economic, social, and even political situations. See how the different age groups handle relationships with the same sex and the opposite sex. Don’t forget think about their dependency on parents and their sophistication of language usage.

  1. Observe and interact with the chosen age group. Observation only is not enough. Writers need to interact with them. Find out what makes them laugh, what makes them cry, what angers them, what touches their hearts. Each age group is different. Learn what makes each group of readers unique. Some ways to do this are to volunteer in classrooms, lead Sunday school classes, work with after school activities, and help out at homeless shelters for families and battered women’s shelters. The opportunities are limitless.

At the end of these exercises, writers will find themselves building characters that echo the world and surroundings of their readers. These characters will then find their places in the hearts of readers.

Cheryl Carpinello

The King's Ransom (Young Knights of the Round Table), 2012 CLC Silver Award for YA Fiction, 2012 USA Best Book Awards Finalist for E-Book Children's Fiction

Guinevere: On the Eve of Legend, 2011 Global E-book Finalist

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