Does Watching the Movie First Make Kids Better Readers?

Lots of parents don’t let their kids watch the movie versions of popular books before their children read the books. I’ve heard this about Lord of the Rings, Divergent, Harry Potter, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and more.

I totally see the logic of this. Parents are worried their children won’t read the books if they’ve already seen the movie.

I want readers in my family, too. But we probably sound a little crazy and lazy to other families, because I let our kids watch the movies before they read the books. In fact, I often encourage it. I think it’s a great way to for my children to find stories that interest them and that it actually encourages them to read more instead of reading less.

Recently, I let my kids watch entire collection of Harry Potter movies. And you know what? Watching the movie first might have made my kids better readers, because after the movie they only wanted to read the books more.

harry potter spell

Imperious doesn’t work when it comes to making kids better readers

My oldest son, who is 11, had already read the first four a few months ago but after the movies he was even more motivated to read the final three. He was so interested, he actually went back to the beginning and plowed all the way through the entire series of books. My middle son, who is only eight years old picked up the first book and is now almost finished the fourth book. My middle son was actually more excited about reading the books after seeing the movies because he wanted to know more of what happened. Instead of going from the rich, detailed book world to the skim-and-dip experience of a two-hour movie experience, he went the other direction. He went from the brief, delightful movie experience and dove into the fully fleshed out magical book world of Harry Potter with extra scenes and extended dialogue and an imaginative setting. He loves pointing out things he didn’t understand in the movies that are now clear to him because of the detailed book.

Movies Before Books

I did try it the reverse once, with the classic book The Last Unicorn. I read that book out loud to my sons over the course of many weeks. They were transfixed and captivated by the unicorn’s search for her lost people. When we finished, I announced that we could now watch the movie. At the end of the ninety minutes, all they did was talk about the parts of the book left out of the movie.

“If I watched the movie first,” my middle son declared, “I would want to read the book right away to learn what I had missed.”

I totally think the books are always better than the movies. Truly. And I want to reiterate that I get that parents are looking for ways to make their kids better readers. But parents might not realize their well-intentioned plan can backfire.

Look at this way: Did you ever play a sport as a kid? Did you ever have to run laps as punishment for something you or your team did wrong? Did it make you love running? Sure, it made you stronger as an athlete but it became a punishment, not a reward. Many adults still think about laps with loathing and dread running. Reading shouldn’t be the same thing.

It’s possible that when parents say kids must read the books before getting to enjoy the “more desirable” result of viewing the movie, parents are turning reading into a chore. If they make it task or duty to be suffered before getting to the fun movie, parents should think about whether they are really encouraging a love of reading or sabotaging their own goals.

Were you allowed to see movies before books as a kid? Did it make you more or less of a reader?

What other ways do you find helps make kids better readers?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Where to Find Ideas for Stories

ideas for stories, organizing ideas for writing

Tools of the Trade

Ever wonder where to find ideas for stories? Here are fifteen places I find ideas for stories.

1. On a run.

“What would happen if I crawled through that drainage culvert?”

2. Reading other books.

“What if I combined Polar Express with The Martian?”

3. Cooking.

“What if there was a story about spices?”

4. Showering.

“Why doesn’t Santa have a pet?”

5. Listening to kids talk.

“Do teeth ever lose their kids?”

6. Listening to adults talk.

“I wish I could just rent a kid, for holidays and stuff.”

7. Listening to music.

“But with the beast inside/There’s nowhere we can hide.”

8. Gardening.

“How do worms keep our garden safe, Mom?”

9. At the museum.

“What if the dinosaurs had dance parties at night when the museum was closed?”

10. At the grocery store.

“Do seeds ever try to grow into a different kind of plant?”

11. At the park.

“Are there zombie bees?”

12. At a sporting event.

“Can kids do triathlons, too?”

13. Lying in bed, trying to sleep.

“Where did my grandfather get that old pocket watch?”

14. As soon as you wake up and remember your dream.

“All I remember is the church became a riverboat, and then the Devil walked in.”

15. Driving somewhere.

“Johnny sped out of town, the white lines on the highway blurred into a streak. He couldn’t understand how, but suddenly he remembered every moment of his life from birth until now. Including the face of the woman leaning over him, injecting him with something. Who was she? And what had she done to him?”

So now where do you find ideas for stories?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Stop Summer Slide

We love lists!

We love lists!

Download your own printable Summer TechList pdf!!

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

How to Run a Critique Group

What do you need to run a good critique group?

First you need people. But once you have enough people, running a good critique group needs something more than just kind words and cheerleading.

critique group

Keep it real – but Include some positive

They need structure.

We’re working on tightening up our critique group structure in our SCBWI group and I feel like we’ve hit on a good formula.

  1. We use a Doodle poll to find a morning date and an evening date that works for the majority, but not everyone.
  2. We keep our day meetings at the coffee shop and our evening meetings at a local restaurant.
  3. We have a Facebook group and are encouraging members to share their work at least a week in advance.
  4. We ask a different member of the group to run each meeting.
  5. The meeting runner decides the total time we spend on each person and informs the group.
  6. The person running the meeting picks the writer we are starting with at that meeting.
  7. Critiques begin with the person to the left of the writer being critiqued. The meeting runner keeps track of time.
  8. Each person gives their critique and tries to include positive details and places that could be improved.
  9. We try to avoid chitchat during critique time and save it for when the meeting is done.
  10. We rotate jobs!

How do you run your critique group?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Six Storytelling Tips for Kids (and Adults, too)

Our brains are made for stories. Our brains LOVE stories. More areas of our brain are activated when we hear stories, our memory works better, and our emotions kick in. If you want to sell more products or if you are a parent and want your kids to listen!!!) Tell them a story.
Some people are born storytellers and know just how to hold the audience under their spell. Other people need little bit of work and practice to tell a good story. This is true for kids and adults.
Remember the old game where one person says a sentence and the others in the group continue it? A classic. I love doing that one with my kids and setting up interesting problems for the characters to solve. That’s a great way to spark some creativity. But if you want a little coaching or helping getting ideas, try playing with Storycubes. We love these in our family. They event worked great at my workshops for the Summer Food Program.

I offer storytelling tips in my workshop “Want to Be a Writer.” I share my journal and my creative process. Running is of course a big part of my idea machine. But there are other ways I come up with story ideas. I share them all with the kids and I encourage them to experiment with some of my favorite techniques for thinking of and telling good stories.

Six Storytelling Tips

  1. Doodle. I love to doodle and this often inspires a fun story starter. Doodle off of paper, too. Think outside the box. Maybe the act of doodling makes it into your story.
  2. Lists. I generate lists of words and events that might happen to a made character. This helps with word variety, too.
  3. Listen. Jot down what people around you are saying. Combine the sentences of two different conversations. WHOA, did that just lead you to an amazing new story?
  4. Ask questions. I let my kids ask as many questions as they want. That includes my own children in my family and the kids in my workshops.
  5. Senses! Make sure your story includes things people see, feel, hear, smell, and taste. Get that brain activated!
  6. Humor. My favorite six sense is the sense of humor. Even a scary ghost story is better with a little joke here and there.
 These tips aren’t about the mechanics of writing. These are about the magic of storytelling. And that’s the really fun part, in my opinion.
Looking for more info on how the brain lives for stories?

What are you favorite storytelling tips? Share them here!

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

How to Write a Story A Month

If you want to be a writer, you need to write and you need to write a lot. In fact, there’s a lot of advice out there that suggests writers should write a story a month.

I’ve been writing regularly for many years. I have a tidy stack of rejections that serve as a time capsule of my development as a writer. I juggle several projects at one time, but aside from that, I do try to write a story a month to keep producing new work and letting those creative juices flow. So far this year I’ve revised several stories that I started in late 2015, but I have at least four brand new stories I created in 2016:

  • Schadenfreude (essay)
  • The Hunter Case (adult short story)
  • Weirdest Creature in the World (picture book)
  • Digit (picture book)
  • Good Friend, Bad Choices (essay)

That’s five new stories or essays in four months. This doesn’t count the pitches, blog posts, or articles I have sent in to magazines and doesn’t count the progress I made on my new middle grade novel.

You don’t need to write each story perfectly and you don’t need to try to publish all of the stories you write. But you need to write a story a month. The big question many people face is how to write a story a month. 

Keep your writing tools handy

If you want to write a story a month, you can’t run around searching for paper and pen every time an idea strikes you. You also can’t rely on your memory. I carry a notebook and pen with me wherever I go. That way whenever creativity strikes I can jot down my ideas. But I also have a smartphone and a mini-keyboard in case a get a story idea and I’m in a spot where I can type out more details. Smartphones are also useful for recording ideas when you’re sitting in a dark bedroom waiting for your child to sleep.

write a story

It’s like an idea net

Go on autopilot

It’s not always easy to come up with ideas when you want to write a story, but sometimes inspiration does strike. It just doesn’t strike when you want it to. So you have to let yourself be open at times when you’re busy. Driving, showering, cooking – those are all times when we’re on autopilot and often ideas will float into our brains.

Force It

It’s ok to force yourself to be creative, too, by generating lists of things you like and don’t like. Just write down all your thoughts. One of them could lead to an idea that becomes your story of the month. One of my favorite tips from a writing conference was to think of twenty possible outcomes or solutions to a problem. After you write all of those down, even the dumb ones, you start on twenty-one and that’s when things get exciting.


Blood flow helps the brain and you need your brain to write a story. So go for a walk. Go for a run. Ride the stationery bike. Move. Aerobic exercise tends to lead to more creativity, but strength training is good for balance.

write a story

Ideas come on the go


You don’t have to come up with all of the ideas for your stories on your own. Listen to other people! Yes, we all hate it when people tell us “you should write a story about…” but sometimes, every once in awhile those ideas aren’t that bad. My first fiction story ever sold to Highlights came from me listening to my eight year old.

write a story

Doodling also inspires ideas

Get accountable

Joining critique groups are a great way to motivate you to write a story a month just so you have something to bring and share. SCBWI has info on critique groups for children’s writing and Pennwriters has groups for all kinds of writing.

If you want to go virtual, write your story and share it on Scribophile.

There are also monthly activities out there to help you reach your goal o writing a story a month. There’s PiBoIdMo or “Picture Book Idea Month” that encourages participants to come up with one idea for a picture book a day for a month. Out of those 30 ideas you’re bound to find 12 that could become stories in the next year. And you could then join in with Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 or start your own Facebook accountability group.




About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Should Kids Read Books Before Watching the Movie?

harry potter spell

What Would Snape Do?

Recently, I let my kids watch ALL of the Harry Potter movies before reading ALL of the books. I know some parents don’t allow this.

Do you?

Looking for comments on both sides of the debate!

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Cool Ways Facebook Helps (not Hurts) Writers



What’s not to like?

There’s some debate if Facebook helps anyone at all.

A good friend of mine who is also a great writer recently turned off her Facebook in order to complete a major project. It was a good decision for her because she knows that like many of us, social media can be distracting. It is so easy to sit on Facebook (or other social media) and scroll through my feed laughing at funny posts, rolling my eyes at overly dramatic posts, burning with rage at posts about injustice, and trying not to cry at moving, uplifting posts. And for some people, Facebook is more than distracting, it’s detracting. It makes them feel downright bad.

It is a lot easier to scroll than tackle tough writing tasks. So why don’t I eliminate Facebook from my life all together?

Because like any good optimist, I think there is some good in everything. Even Facebook.

I spent a great day yesterday working with a creative friend yesterday who wondered if Facebook really was useful for her. Also this month, one of my favorite clients has reached out to me to ask for two presentations on social media, one for beginners and one for advanced users. So I’ve been thinking a lot about how social media like Facebook can be useful.

Story Source

People share stories on Facebook, and writers need stories. Facebook helps with inspiration! No, I don’t suggest you steal people’s life stories for your next novel, but I do suggest thinking about motivations and background and choices. Use what you read about how people to act to make your characters seem as real as possible.

Network It

Hello, critique group! Yes, you can connect with other writers and conduct a pretty decent critique group via Facebook. And if you get into a great professional writers’ group you can also learn valuable info on how to pitch your work. Just make sure you give as much as you get. Remember, online networking can be a lot more effective if you also incorporate some IRL (in real life) experiences.

What You Don’t Know

Facebook helps you gain knowledge, if you use it right. Go beyond just liking friends and find some pages that feature information on different cultures, or foods, or skills. Like them. Learn form them!! Maybe push yourself to go to new events that you discover online and learn about yourself, too.

Hone Your Funny Bone

As a writer, use Facebook and other social media to write as funny as you can as succinctly as you can. Humor works well on social media and helps you practice your craft. As a reader, find some joy in the world. Think about what it is that people love to read about and include these elements in your stories.

Keep It Real

Sometimes all we need to do is post our goals in public to help us reach them. Once you have a good core group of friends, you can ask them to help you stay accountable. Just don’t forget to lend the same support to other writers who also need that nudge.

Facebook for the Checkbook

Facebook helps writers get writing work – sometimes. It works for some people, but it’s not the best way to land great gigs and it should never be your only way.

There are lots of ways to use social media for your benefit. But I think a big part of using social media the right way is to think about your goals and identify drawbacks. I have turned off notifications and only go on social media during designated times during the day when I don’t have other obligations. I also monitor my usage on RescueTime so I can find out if I’m cheating!!

What ways do you find Facebook to be helpful?

You can also check out my article about how Pinterest can be less about procrastination and more for productivity.

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Newbery Award Book Shelf at My Library!

This is a post of mini-updates about writing.

  1. I’m in a really cool work group of fellow writers and illustrators that is working to support each other and promote each other for school visits. Exciting!

2. I was super excited to discover that my local library has an entire shelf full of the Newbery Award winners! The only challenge is that these specific books can’t be checked out.

newbery 1

Newbery 2

Newbery 3

I’m also working on getting a poster that I saw in the library. Super exciting because I feel like I just discovered a tool to help me reach my goal!

3. I also discovered another thing about myself as a writer. I’m in a writing community right now that’s very focused on pitching freelance articles to online outlets and I have found myself increasing my pitching frequency! But I realize that I’m doing that because I’m responding to the vibe of that group. No one is peer pressuring me, I’m peer pressuring myself. But I think it’s good to be working on a variety of writing types and to recognize this aspect of my personality.

4. I set my writing goals (finally) for this year. One of them is to write a really good personal essay and get it published. I have several topics in mind. Stay tuned!

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Protagonist v. Main Character v. Antagonist


A bumble bee, cousin to my characters, hard at work


Protagonist v. Main Character

I’m struggling with characters in my story and their jobs. I think I have one main character and one protagonist. But I was thrilled to find this post from elements of cinema that provides great examples of stories where the main character isn’t always the protagonist, or the protagonist isn’t clear until deep into the story, or even complex stories with an ensemble cast  each going through their own struggle.

I’m working on my bee story and I want my protagonist, the one who chooses, to be my queen been.

I loved finding this post online outlining the differences between MC and Protagonist. The post author says that the main character of The Great Gatsby  is the narrator, Nick (who isn’t even mentioned in the Amazon review!!!!) while the protagonist is of course, Gatsby.

What is the job of the main character? Is just it the narrator? Not exactly. According to another writing blog I found, the main character is the one through which the reader experiences the story. The protagonist is pursuing the story goal.

So with that distinction clarified, I have decided I want my main character to be a worker bee, one who has the job of Forager. She can do tasks that set my protagonist up for the choice that is essential to the story. My main character will also have a choice or two.

Ensemble Cast

I love the idea of an ensemble cast. I’m not looking to create anything as epic as Game of Thrones, but I think I could possibly produce something approaching the Breakfast Club, where the different honeybees come together to save their Hive, which is sort of a character on its own.

Antagonist or Villain

Now I have a problem when it comes to antagonist. I had several problems facing my sweet sister honeybees:

  1. Winter
  2. Food source disappearing
  3. A strange new kind of bee that is out to destroying them

But I didn’t actually develop a character as antagonist. I have nameless foes. I have internal conflict and external conflict, but no villain. I’m thinking I need one.

I found this site gives three good elements: vulnerability, believability and invincibility.

Part of me is thinking a drone might make a good villain. A drone would want the natural order of the hive disrupted. A drone is born only to mate with the queen and then lives off the food produced by the workers and then kicked out to die as winter arrives. A drone who likes the sweet life might not want to be kicked out to die as winter arrives. He might look for a queen who is willing to change the way she lives so that he can live his lazy, luxurious life a little longer. He might feed her desire to make her own decisions. I think he could be a good tempter who tries to entice her to give in to her selfishness…which would lead to the end of the Hive. Ok, I think I have my villain.

For more lists about villains, here are five elements. I like intelligent.

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.