Brain Food: SCBWI and SWPFSP

summer reading with kids

Food for Thought

 

I hate being hungry. I can’t concentrate and I’m really grouchy. Imagine if you were a kid who was hungry all summer.  But here in Pittsburgh, that’s not an imaginary thing. It’s real. In fact, there are more than 45,000 children in Allegheny County that are considered to be food insecure, and 73,500 children are eligible for free or reduced-rate school lunches or breakfasts.

So when Chris from the Southwest PA Food Security Partnership approached me and my friend Kathy about helping more kids take advantage of the summer food programs in our area, both of us said YES.

Kathy and I had tables next to each other at the 2015 Farm to Table conference, but we’re also both members of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Chris loved the activities we were offering for children that centered around healthy eating but also had a literary and storytelling component. We met in early summer 2015 and he asked us if we could come to summer food sites and provide fun activities for the kids. He hoped that by advertising visits from local authors kids would be more interested in attending. Kathy and I loved the idea and both realized this was a chance to interact with children (something kids’ authors love) and a chance to feed their minds and their bodies.

But we like to think big. So Kathy and I invited all the members of SCWBI Western PA to join us. We had 14 volunteers sign up and they conducted over 10 visits in Allegheny, Somerset and Cambria counties. SCBWI volunteers read books, played games, and told stories while children enjoyed healthy, free meals.

I took my youngest son with me to two of my visits to my old home library, Carnegie Library Woods Run. I used to walk to that library with my young children and we spent many happy afternoons in the children’s section. When my son and I visited in August we found a welcoming staff and adorable kids with incredible imaginations.

For my visit, I brought copies of my book The Bumpy, Grumpy Road to share with the kids. I wanted give them something, a small gift to spark their imaginations. They gave me gifts, too, because in addition to reading stories we played StoryCubes and made up our own stories. And these kids were AMAZING! The little girl in the photo above and another little boy came up with an incredible tale about a boy who had the shadow of a beetle and a beetle who had the shadow of a boy. They traveled together to a castle where they discovered human king…but a beetle queen. You’ll have to use your imagination to find out what happens next.

We definitely plan to continue this partnership next summer so if you’re a local Pittsburgh author or illustrator get in touch and help us feed imaginations while kids get fed.

Celebrate and Self-Publish a Book

I’m so excited to announce my new kids ebook will be released Oct 2, 2015! It’s called Dinosaur Boogie and it is a fun picture book designed to get young readers moving like mosasaurs and grooving like gigantosaurs. This project to self-publish a book was truly a collaborative effort so read on to find out about my talented illustrator, my mind-reading designer, and the cool features I utilized when creating my ebook.

self-publish a book

All the cool dinos dance!

This is my third children’s book. If you’ve ever wanted to try and self-publish a book, children’s or otherwise, get in touch and let’s talk about your idea. I can offer great suggestions on how to formulate a vision of your finished product and guide you through the steps to make your idea a reality.

Sketching the Idea

Even though the book has around 100 words of main text and some brief back matter, I’ve been working on the text for Dinosaur Boogie for quite a long time. I wrote the first draft in 2013. If you read that first draft now it wouldn’t sound anything like the finished product. For one thing, the song I had in mind is completely different now and the word count is a lot lower.

With that first draft in hand I went illustrator hunting. I know from experience that to self-publish a book doesn’t mean subjecting people to my awful artistic attempts. Early in 2014, I found an amazing illustrator thanks to writer’s group networking. If you haven’t visited Felix Eddy‘s website, you must! At this point in the project, my vision was to create a simple print book. Then it morphed into an app that would include a song and active dancing dinosaurs. I explored partnerships with local musicians and app developers, but I couldn’t get a license to use my original song idea. The cost and time required to turn this into an app was more than I could invest.

I shelved the project for a bit, but it gnawed at me. It felt lodged in my creative gullet and when Amazon launched it’s Kindle Kids Book Creator software in 2015, I felt like this was a way to bring my dancing dino story to life and free my brain up to move on with other projects.

While I had gorgeous full color illustrations and a sparkly new revised text, I knew I would only do an OK job with final layout and design. So I called up my friends at Word Association Publishers, where I edit manuscripts, and was paired with a creative and talented graphic designer named Gina. She whipped my collection of words and Felix’s art into a cohesive and colorful layout that I love.

New Tech Helps Prehistoric Text

With my brand-new pdf file in my virtual hands, I headed over to learn about Kindle Kids Book Creator. There was a small learning curve, but nothing a few googled questions didn’t answer. Soon I had my file uploaded and I learned how to add the very interesting pop-up text feature. I always hoped readers would dance as they read my story, but this feature made it possible for me to add prompts into the pop-ups that encourage kids to feel the fossil beat.

After a few more software downloads and updates, I previewed my book and sent it off to Amazon’s digital library. You can pre-order a copy of Dinosaur Boogie now!

After I Self-Publish a Book, Things Happen

So many times the successful completion and implementation of one project or idea helps me pour full energy into other projects and this was no exception. After Dinosaur Boogie hatched, I found myself highly motivated to complete some other outstanding creative projects. Early in September I made the final revisions on my middle grade contemporary novel manuscript and send it out to a handful of select agents. Later on that same week, I completed four non-fiction queries that had been languishing on my computer. Now they are winging their way off to editors.

Don’t hesitate to get in touch and talk about your children’s book idea! It’s not as difficult to self-publish a book as it may seem.

So now my new ebook is ready and waiting to be devoured by readers. I’m so excited I could ROAR!

Books for 11 year olds

books for 11 year olds

Maybe on a list like this someday!

It can be tough to find the right books for 11 year olds. I am not an 11 year old, but I remember what books I loved reading when I was 11.  My oldest son just turned 10 and I exchange emails with an 11 year old boy about books. I am writing books and stories that I hope 11 year old boys and girls would want to read. That’s why I love this list from several well-known authors about books for 11 year olds. The list originally appeared in The Guardian, but I’m sharing it here and keeping track of what books I’ve read. What better way to write books for 11 year olds than to read great books for 11 year olds?

I’ve still got quite a lot to read, but I’m making my way through the list. Have you read any on this list? Which are your favorites?

Philip Pullman

READ * Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. Indispensable. The great classic beginning of English children’s literature.

READ 2014 * Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi. What effortless invention looks like.

READ 2014* Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner. A great political story: democracy in action.

READ 2014 * Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. As clear and pure as Mozart.

READ 2014* Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken. If Ransome was Mozart, Aiken was Rossini. Unforced effervescence.

READ 2014* The Owl Service by Alan Garner. Showed how children’s literature could sound dark and troubling chords.

READ 2013 * The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. Superb wit and vigorous invention.

READ 2014* Moominsummer Madness by Tove Jansson. Any of the Moomin books would supply the same strange light Nordic magic.

READ 2014 * A Hundred Million Francs by Paul Berna. A particular favourite of mine, as much for Richard Kennedy’s delicate illustrations (in the English edition) as for the story.

* The Castafiore Emerald by Hergé. Three generations of this family have loved Tintin. Perfect timing, perfect narrative tact and command, blissfully funny.

Michael Morpurgo

READ 2014* The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson. The heroine is blessed with such wonderful friends who help her through the twists and turns of this incredible journey.

READ 2014 * A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The first few pages were so engaging, Marley’s ghostly face on the knocker of Scrooge’s door still gives me the shivers.

READ 2015 * Just William books by Richmal Crompton. These are a must for every child.

READ 2014 * The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde. This was the first story, I think, that ever made me cry and it still has the power to make me cry.

READ 2013 * The Elephant’s Child From The Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. The story my mother used to read me most often, because I asked for it again and again. I loved the sheer fun of it, the music and the rhythm of the words. It was subversive too. Still my favourite story.

READ 2013* Treasure Island by R.L. Stevenson This was the first real book I read for myself. I lived this book as I read it.

* The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. A classic tale of man versus nature. I wish I’d written this.

* The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono. A book for children from 8 to 80. I love the humanity of this story and how one man’s efforts can change the future for so many.

* The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy The story of two children who go to find their father who has been listed missing in the trenches of the First World War.

READ * The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson-Burnett. I love this story of a girl’s life being changed by nature.

Katy Guest, literary editor for The Independent on Sunday

* Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah. Story of a young Ethiopian boy, whose parents abandon him in London to save his life.

* Finn Family Moomintroll (and the other Moomin books) by Tove Jansson. A fantasy series for small children that introduces bigger ones to ideas of adventure, dealing with fear, understanding character and tolerating difference.

READ 2013 * Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney. It’s rude, it’s funny and it will chime with every 11-year-old who’s ever started a new school.

* I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. Written for a teenage audience but fun at any age.

READ * The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein. Be warned, these tales of hobbits, elves and Middle Earth are dangerously addictive.

* The Tygrine Cat (and The Tygrine Cat on the Run) by Inbali Iserles. If your parents keep going on at you to read Tarka the Otter, The Sheep-Pig and other animal fantasies, do – they’re great books – also try Iserles’ stories about a cat seeking his destiny.

* Carry On, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse. A grown-up book – but not that grown-up.

READ 2015 * When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr. Judith Kerr’s semi-autobiographical story of a family fleeing the Nazis in 1933.

* Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett. Elaborate mythological imagery and a background based in real science. If you like this, the Discworld series offers plenty more.

* The Story of Tracy Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson. The pinnacle of the wonderful Jacqueline Wilson’s brilliant and enormous output.

John Walsh, author and Independent columnist

* The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Irresistible puzzle-solving tales of the chilly Victorian master-sleuth and his dim medical sidekick.

* The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Age-transcending tale, both funny and sad.

* Mistress Masham’s Repose by TH White. Magical story of 10-year-old Maria, living in a derelict stately home, shy, lonely and under threat from both her governess and her rascally guardian.

READ * Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Inexplicably evergreen, trend and taste-defying 1868 classic.

* How to be Topp by Geoffrey Willams and Ronald Searle. Side-splitting satire on skool, oiks, teechers, fules, bulies, swots.

READ 2015 * Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz. First of the action-packed adventures with 14-year-old Alex Rider.

* Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo. “Dulce et Decorum Est” for pre-teens.

READ 2013 * Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer. Lively, amoral, wildly imaginative debut (six more followed) about the money-grabbing master-criminal Artemis, 12. The author called it “Die Hard with fairies”.

* The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier. Inspiring wartime story of the Balicki family in Warsaw.

READ * Animal Farm by George Orwell. Smart 11-year-olds won’t need any pre-knowledge of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and 1917 to appreciate this brilliantly-told fable.

Michael Rosen

READ 2013 * Skellig by David Almond. Brings magical realism to working-class North-east England.

* Red Cherry Red by Jackie Kay. A book of poems that reaches deep into our hidden thoughts but also talks in a joyous voice exploring the everyday.

* Talkin Turkeys by Benjamin Zephaniah. A book of poems that demands to be read aloud, performed and thought about.

* Greek myths by Geraldine McCaughrean. Superheroes battle with demons, gods intervene in our pleasures and fears – a bit like the spectres in our minds going through daily life, really – beautifully retold here.

* People Might Hear You by Robin Klein. A profound, suspenseful story about sects, freedom and the rights of all young people – especially girls.

* Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman. A book that dared to go where no one thought you could with young audiences because it raises tough stuff to do with race.

* Einstein’s Underpants and How They Saved the World by Anthony McGowan. A crazy adventure set amongst the kids you don’t want to know but who this book makes you really, really care about.

* After the First Death by Robert Cormier. Cormier is never afraid of handling how the personal meets the political all within the framework of a thriller.

* The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd. A book that allows difference to be part of the plot and not a point in itself.

* Beano Annual. A cornucopia of nutty, bad, silly ideas, tricks, situations and plots.

 

This list originally appeared on my personal blog, Try It and You May. 

Creative Writing Ideas

Some people have difficulty accepting input on their creative works, especially creative writing. I think they worry that if they incorporate someone else’s idea, the work isn’t their own. But I really love getting creative writing ideas from people, especially children, mine or anyone else’s kids.

People new to writing often say, “I shared this story with my kids and they loved it!” Unfortunately that phrase smacks of amateurism. It’s great that your kids love it, but your kids also love you and kids can’t often separate their feelings for a person from something the person creates. Most adults can’t even do that! So while it’s great to ask kids for their opinions and creative writing ideas, it takes time to learn when their advice is valuable.

Brainstorming and Creative Writing Ideas

So while I refrain from mentioning if my kids like something I’ve written, I’m pretty shameless about working with my kids for brainstorming and inspiration. They have some great creative writing ideas. But I don’t stop there. I use other people’s kids, too. Just yesterday I called a friend’s third grade son and he really solved an obstacle I had in my app idea.

Recently my middle son had a friend over and they kept shouting “Ho, Ho, Ho, oh no!” That phrase sparked a story in my brain about either a clumsy Santa Claus, or a not-so-helpful assistant to Santa. Over dinner I shared my ideas with the boys and we decided to write a story about Santa’s new puppy who gets into all sorts of trouble.

I like Snowball and Blizzard. creative writing ideas

I like Snowball and Blizzard.

 

 

My kids really got into the story development process. My fourth grader brainstormed character names for the puppy. He did this on his own, without me asking. I love that he knows I will listen to his ideas and that he cares enough about my writing to contribute and make it stronger. I also love how he knows not all of these ideas will work. That’s a big concept for a young kid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good titles are hard for me. creative writing ideas

Good titles are hard for me.

 

Not only did my middle son and his off hand comment turn into a creative writing prompt, he suggested alternative titles. I was calling the story “Santa’s Best Friend” but I really like “One More Helper.” Titles are so hard for me but titles and cover images sell books and stories. I love how he suggested more than one alternative title.

 

 

The boys also suggested topics for other stories. They are little generators of creative writing ideas. The middle one wanted to read about an apple seed, so that became “Root Camp.” And again, the middle one wanted something about salt and pepper, so I am in the process of writing a kid’s mystery about which seasoning pushed pepper out of the spice cabinet.

The older son gives me great critique on my middle grade work. He tells me if he understands the dialogue and if it sounds real or not. He also tells me what doesn’t make sense to him when I describe action. He’s doing a lot of text analysis in class right now and his critique skills have definitely improved.

I don’t ever mention to editors or agents how my children feel about my work, but that doesn’t mean I’m not asking them. I value their input and their ideas. But I also involve them in the creative process and share my struggles and confusion with them. I let them know when I’m stumped and if they help me figure out a missing piece of the story, or fix that line that doesn’t rhyme in my story about dinosaurs rocking out I give them full credit.

It can take awhile for a child to learn that not all of their ideas will be used. And it can also take awhile for people to accept input on their creative works. But it can be so effective to get outside input. In this Publishers Weekly podcast, author Holly Black described how she develops some of her works by sharing rough drafts and general ideas with her critique group. Her process sounded really familiar to me and really validated my ideas that getting input can make a better final product.

Are there certain people you trust when it comes to contributing creative writing ideas?

Are there certain people that you never listen to?

 

Kids Ebooks Project

kids ebooks dinosaurs

Kids roar for dinosaurs

I’m working on a new kids ebook project and it’s part bucket-list, part platform builder. I’ve created kids ebooks before, but for this project I felt it was important that the ebook exist as a standalone app and not get buried in an e-reader. I’ve also always wanted to create an app and I’ve had several simple ideas but I don’t have the skills needed to program an app. To be honest, I also didn’t want to spend the time to learn how to program an app using even the simple toolkits available online – and there are some good ones! I’d much rather learn the steps overall process but have people really skilled in certain areas complete the tasks and pay attention to details I would overlook.

So, here are the steps I’ve taken in creating my new kids ebook project.

 1. Identified the topic. I’m working with dinosaurs because my oldest has loved them since he was a baby and because lots and lots of boys and girls throughout the world love dinosaurs. I like kids ebooks that utilize take a familiar children’s song or tune, so I started there and added a dinosaur element. I brainstormed three ideas and then started doing some research on artists, copyright law, musicians, and app developers.

2. Commissioned the artwork. Finding the artist came quickly. I’m working with artist Felix Eddy and her unique creations are both reasonably priced and beautifully done. She created the initial seven images I asked for to start the book. Right now she is on hold while we decide file formats and how many additional images I need to complete the project.

3. Learned about copyright law. So, my first ebook idea is had to be taken off the list. I can’t do a work based on the Hokey Pokey because that song is owned by Sony/ATV Music Publishing and the idea I had was a derivative work, not a parody. Big publishing houses have the resources to use copyrighted material in kids ebooks, but not self-publishers like me. So I’m exploring options two and three which I think are also strong.

4. Find a musician. Thanks to a conversation with my friend Shawn, I was connected with Scott Imblum, who owns a music school and also worked with the Pittsburgh Technology Council. He is ready to help me with the audio portion of the ebook as soon as I get to that stage. And he also helped an incredible amount with finding a developer!

5. Developers are tough to find. They are out there, but this is a small project and not likely to earn a lot of money, so I’m looking for the perfect combination of a developer who’s willing to work on kids ebooks for a rather small amount of money but still has the skills I need to create a really great user interface. So far I’ve talked with two sets of people who connect me with developers and I have a phone call with a third person this coming week.

In a future update, I’ll share some of the simple app development toolkits that developers have shared with me and talk about the Kindle Kids Book creator program. I’ll probably use that to release a version of this book and see how easy or hard the process is.

What projects are on your bucket list?

Banned Books – Is it ever worth it?

How do you feel about banned books? I’m pretty opposed to banning books. I don’t think every book should be read, but I don’t think anything good can come of trying to ban books. In fact, I have a lovely coffee mug from Book Riot via Quarterly featuring the titles of banned books.

I’ve heard Ellen Hopkins speak at the 2014 SCBWI Winter Conference and her books have been banned. I read her first one, Crank, and it stirred a lot of uncomfortable feelings in me as a parent. And I’m glad I read it.

My mom sent me an email recently about a book that was taken off the reading list for high schoolers in Delaware. The book is The Miseducation of Cameron Post Emily M. Danforth. The school board voted 6-1 to take the book off the summer reading list for incoming freshmen because of the F-word in the book. The school board also claims it removed the book from the summer reading list but did not ‘ban’ the book or remove it from school libraries. Other groups claim the book was removed because the main character, a young woman, is gay. Opponents to the ban (let’s just call it that) say other books with similar language weren’t taken off the list – just this one about the lesbian.

In response to the removal of this book, free copies are being given away to any high school student in Delaware with proof of identification! A free book – a free award-winning, critically-praised book! Oh to be young and in high school again!

There’s also an essay contest sponsored by local libraries on the theme of “what school board members should know about this book.” I can imagine some heartfelt personal essays.

I’ve read books that were at some point banned. I’ve read great books that were banned, and stupid books that should have been banned because they made me dumber.

I, too, am a little freaked out at the thought of my 13-year old reading the F-word. But I know he’s already heard the word. And he’s going to hear it many, many more times in his life. I want to protect my kid, too. But I don’t think I’m protecting him if I hide books – or real life – from him. I think I’m best protecting him by helping him process the difficult things he’s going to encounter in life.

But in my opinion, banning a book just makes it more exciting to read the book. That kind of reverse psychology works all the time with my kids. And it works with adults, too! Make something illegal (Prohibition,anyone?) and everyone wants it!!

 

Have you ever opposed a book banning?

What’s your favorite banned book? 

Picture Book Workshop and Manuscript Submission

In June, I attended a picture book workshop hosted by my local SCBWI chapter and led by editors Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson. In addition to the picture book workshop, Harold and Eileen provided manuscript critiques and tips on revision.

I submitted my story Mission: Compostable! for critique. Harold gave generally positive critique and suggested I add some factual back matter to the story when I submit it to the several science publishers he recommended.

The workshop was really helpful for picture books but also in telling stories in novel format. And after this workshop, I finally took the plunge and submitted my novel manuscript (Dare Club) to the agents I had met at Pennwriters Conference in May. Wish me luck!

At the workshop, Harold brought up one of my favorite online fun-and-games tools – Wordle – and showed us how it could play a part in manuscript revision. Wordle creates a visual word map from the text you paste into the comment field. For a picture book, you could probably paste in the complete manuscript. I grabbed a few pages from my novel and pasted in the text. Here’s one result:

manuscript revision tool

The larger words are used more often. It would be really bad if your picture book manuscript had the word “said” as the largest word in the Wordle. I hope it’s a good sign that my main characters names’ are super-huge words. It’s funny (maybe in a worrisome way?) that the word “dare” is so small in the bottom-middle-left, in a faint grey color.

Harold and Eileen also suggested some great books for writers, including Writing Picture Books: A Hands-on Guide from Story Creation to Publication by Ann Whitford Paul and Picture Writing by Anastasia Suen, and Writing Picture Books for Children. I have yet to read them, but I do read lots of picture books night after night to my boys.

What fun revision techniques do you use on your manuscript?

What are your favorite books for writers about writing?

 

Creative science writing

creative science writing

Inspiration from nature

Creative science writing, not exactly science fiction but fiction based in fact, is one of my favorite kinds of writing. Recently I finished a fun story about a worm who saves a compost pile. Lots of creative science writing in that tale.

And earlier this year my middle son asked me to write a story about a certain type of bee he invented. I was delighted with his character but struggled to come up with a story. So this week I grabbed a large stack of non-fiction children’s books about bees from the library. I have learned so much amazing detail about the lives of bees. There is fodder there for at least three different kinds of stories and maybe two decent poems. I have big dreams for this creative science tale, like middle grade novel or maybe even graphic novel length. If only I could draw!

Following along science-and-nature inspired creative writing,  I have rediscovered the most amazing book that I bought for my boys but selfishly I am now claiming for my own. The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination (A Poetry Speaks Experience). Seriously. Even if you claim you don’t like poetry, you must get this book.

What’s a book, story or poem that you love that is an example of creative science writing?

Tomboys or Sissies: Which do you want?

boys sculpture tomboys

My boys view Miro’s sculpture “The Caress of a Bird” described as a “totem of female sexuality.”

“I’m pretty sure my daughter will be a tomboy,” my friend, father of a nine-month old girl, proudly announced. I automatically smiled, because I think my friends would describe me as more tomboy than girly-girl. My sons are often surprised when I wear a dress. Because girly-girls wear dresses, right?

But then I started thinking about my three boys – and how the male equivalent of the word “tomboy” is not nearly as kind. If I said to another parent, “I’m pretty sure one of my boys will be a sissy!” I doubt they’d smile and congratulate me.

Books for Tomboys? Or Sporty Kids?

Recently I received an email from Kara Thom, the author of Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom announcing her new book series Go! Go! Sports Girls! The series really interested and excited me, but it also made me wonder what comparable series would be written for boys.

To be fair, Thom does state the series is for children – not just girls. And my boys willingly read books about boys and girls, so they’d probably love the books about soccer, swimming and running, three sports they really love. Here’s what Go! Go! Sports Girls! is about, according to Thom:

The 32-page illustrated books explore social-emotional growth through sport in engaging stories that empower children to “Dream Big and Go For It!” The titles are:

Soccer Girl Cassie’s Story: Teamwork is the Goal
Swimmer Girl Suzi’s Story: Winning Strokes
Runner Girl Ella’s Story: Family Fun Run
Gymnastics Girl Maya’s Story: Becoming Brave
Dancer Girl M.C.’s Story: One Step at a Time
Cheerleader Girl Roxy’s Story: Leading the Way

This project has been a passion for me as I raise three young athletic daughters, but also because I’m part of a movement to give girls better choices. Girls need more than the stereotypical options packaged in pink, as well as options other than over-sexualized toys such as Bratz, Monster High, and their ilk.

Go! Go! Sports Girls are age-appropriate, proportioned to a real girl’s body, project a positive image, and deliver a healthy message. The Go! Go! Sports Girls better reflect our family’s lifestyle and values. Girls play sports and so should their dolls. My daughters McKenna, Kendall, and Jocelyn have grown up playing with Go! Go! Sports Girls, and still do. I might add that my son, Blake, who has no concept that his mom is the author, is a fan of the books as well.

To be clear, I completely agree with Thom’s goal of motivating and inspiring young girls in a different way than lots of popular media representations of girls. But what about my boys? How can I encourage them to follow their interests and passions if those interests aren’t typical “boy” activities? And how come we don’t have a cool word for boys who act like girls? It’s so unfair that girls can be cool tomboys but boys acting like girls is labeled an insult.

I’ve been trying to come up with examples of behaviors that are frequently seen as feminine that I’d want my boys to feel free to adopt in a world without gender stereotypes. Maybe being more empathetic? I wasn’t sure that what I thought was feminine was feminine, by social standards. I found this on Planned Parenthood:

WORDS COMMONLY USED TO DESCRIBE FEMININITY
dependent
emotional
passive
sensitive
quiet
graceful
innocent
weak
flirtatious
nurturing
self-critical
soft
sexually submissive
accepting

I wasn’t really thrilled when I read some of the items on the list. Because I’m certainly not graceful or quiet. But I would totally love it if my boys learned to be quiet sometimes! Maybe that would be one of the books in my series about boys exploring new behaviors: Little Tommy Learns Not to Scream Every Word! I could get behind a book for boys focusing on that. But I’m not really thrilled about a lot of those qualities on the list. And I think that’s why lots of parents are proud of having ‘tomboys.’ But they wouldn’t love it if their boys were described as weak or passive.

To be fair, Planned Parenthood didn’t make that list to say how women should behave. They follow the lists with this:

“Clearly, society’s categories for what is masculine and feminine are unrealistic. They may not capture how we truly feel, how we behave, or how we define ourselves. All men have some so-called feminine traits, and all women have some so-called masculine traits. And we may show different traits at different times. Our cultures teach women and men to be the opposite of each other in many ways. The truth is that we are more alike than different.”

What could we write?

But I’m really serious in my question here! I’m all for tomboys and girly-girls doing what they love most. And I love that these books for girls are about social-emotional growth through sports (traditionally and still a heavily male arena) because sports and physical strength are a key part of my happiness.

What series of books could we write about boys embracing traditionally female activities for social emotional growth?

Favorite Bedtime Books

I recently joined the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators and my first few meetings have me thinking about my favorite bedtime books. I have a quite a few. In fact many of my favorite bedtime books have no words! But instead of making a list of which books I love, I am actually going to discuss a style of book that I don’t really care for from the perspective of a parent at bedtime: the list book.

I don’t mind these books during middle of the day quiet time, car trips, in waiting rooms, etc. But I do mind their lack of plot, story arc, characters, and most importantly the lack of an ending. At bedtime, I need stories to end. That’s one main reason the Can You See What I See and Where’s Waldo books – while fun!- are not approved bedtime reading, at least with me.

Reasonable Bedtime Book

a good bedtime book

An example of a good list book

Some list books are great. For example, Richard Scarry produces the absolute best and manages to incorporate a gentle, funny storyline that guides readers through his adorably illustrated pages.

Here’s an inside spread from The Best Word Book Ever. I love breakfast, so I chose this particular page showing Kenny Bear waking up and enjoying a hearty meal to start the day. Delightful!

Scarry’s other books, especially Cars and Trucks and Things that Go, do a nice job of combining huge lists of recognizable objects and easy words for children to learn with an entertaining and light-hearted storyline. If I were so inclined to write a list book, this would be the style I’d choose.

Ridiculous Bedtime Books

Here are two examples of list books that drive me crazy:

children's bedtime book about cars

Don’t touch the flaps.

not my favorite bedtime book about cars

Sparkle no substance.

In the first book by Fisher-Price, we get to see toys in action in a little town. There’s barely any text but there are lots of flaps to lift, pull and tear. My kids do rip the flaps and then cry and beg me to repair them but later they pick at the tape and tear them again. Also, struggling to open the flaps prolongs the agony of reading this list book at bedtime. (And I absolutely cannot help my child lift the flaps or they freak out because they want to do it themselves!!)

The second book is irritating to me from the perspective of an aspiring writer. Some publishing company out there (more than one, truthfully) churns out these books and sells them to kids and grandparents who can’t resist the sparkle and cashes checks. While many writers I know work hard to get their excellent writing  recognized. And writers like me wonder if there is any hope for a good storybook in today’s market.

My favorite bedtime books don’t just keep kids busy and they don’t push learning shapes, colors and numbers on kids – but there is a place for those kinds of books. Just not at bedtime.

Truly, my favorite bedtime books capture the imagination but also speak to what a child really knows and feels in their world. It’s an art and it’s magic and it sends them off to sleep and dream, while I head off to write and dream!

Are there books you absolutely won’t read to your child at bedtime?