Let’s Close the Word Gap

Ready to learn about the Word Gap?

I love to sneak learning into all parts of life. I’m a curious person, I can’t help it! My son asked if we could go on one vacation without learning things, and I answered with a maniacal laugh and a deep, sonorous NO. In this family, we love to learn!! And we talk about what we learn!!

Seriously, learning does not have to be boring. Learning can be fun if you do it the right way. And the right way is to make it into a game.

On car trips, when our kids were very little, we played rhyming games. They are all now school age so we will often play ‘Spelling Bee’ and give our kids funny words to spell at their grade level. We also keep a small but mighty trivia book tucked in a seat pocket and take turns passing it around and answering questions.

But let’s say you’re not on vacation and want some fun learning games for young kids. My first recommendation is BINGO. Yes, the classic game of Bingo is perfect to start playing with young kids (and older kids).

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Learning Numbers

When my oldest started kindergarten, I couldn’t wait to volunteer and help out. So as we neared Halloween, his wonderfully patient and experienced teacher invited me in to play a game with the class. I brought in our Bingo game set, complete with rolling ball and playing cards and red plastic markers. I started calling out letters and numbers and my son (and maybe a few other students) marked their cards. But most of the kids didn’t know what I meant when I called out double-digit numbers.

I felt embarrassed, but I also knew these kids could learn these numbers and that a game like Bingo was the perfect way to help them. We had been playing Bingo with our kids for a long time. If I hadn’t been so flustered, I could have written the numbers on the board and helping the kids look at their cards and match them up. I also could have done peer teaching and paired kids up.

Learning Words

It’s really important that kids learn their numbers, but it’s also important that they master our language and learn the parts of speech. Having a strong and varied vocabulary increases our ability to explain ourselves and understand others, to express complex thoughts and build connections between concepts and create new ideas. And that’s where Mad Libs comes in.

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Yes, Mad Libs. That old school paper book (not an e-device) that asks players to write in verbs, adjectives and nouns. The one where you couldn’t resist writing “butt” and “poop” at least a few times. It works.

My friend took a Mad Libs story into her son’s fourth grade class as a part of a holiday party and she was surprised how few kids could provide suggestions for the parts of speech. Standards in third grade already covered adjectives, adverbs and proper nouns! By fourth grade, students should be able to provide appropriate suggestions for those parts of speech. But even if they struggle, Mad Libs is a fun, non-academic way to encourage them to think about what kind of word is both grammatically logical but also hilariously out of place.

The Word Gap

Thinking about Mad Libs brings me back to the Word Gap. Simply put, kids from low income families are hearing and learning fewer words than kids from high income families. By age 3, kids from low income families are hearing 30 million fewer words. 30 million. And the discrepancy only increases as the kids age. It impacts these kids in terms of school success, which in turn impacts their chances of continuing education, job readiness, and the cycle of poverty.

A lack of words? It’s totally unfair.

It seems so bitterly unjust to me, someone who loves to talk and learn, that these children are already behind due to a lack of words. I try never to talk ‘down’ to children (or adults). But lots of people aren’t aware of this and say they aren’t sure what to say to kids. And sometimes when I take my children’s writing to more general critique groups, I get comments that my vocabulary is too high and I need to ‘dumb it down’ or ‘make it more kid friendly.’

But now you and I know being kid friendly means offering them more words, not less.

There are some amazing ideas out there. People are working to increase the number of words kids see, hear, read, learn and say. I’d love to contribute in some way to reduce the Word Gap. I’m going to keep thinking about it and I’m going to ask my kids what they think would work.

How would you reduce the Word Gap?

 

A Little Free Library – Finally!!

We finally have a Little Free Library in Tyler Park! About a year ago, I was in Minneapolis, MN, for a volunteer conference. While I was there, roaming around the very flat city, I walked by my very first Little Free Library. I had heard of these delightful book boxes, but never seen one.

As you can guess, I was incredibly inspired by the idea of sharing books with the community. I promised myself then and there I’d get one in our park. And it happened. Sure, it took over a year, but I never said I’d do it fast.

The Dream

First, I mentioned the idea to my neighbor on the board of our neighborhood association. Then I emailed the info to the board. After they approved the idea, they got approval from the township to install it in the park. Then I selected the design and ordered the LFL. It arrived in early June…and sat on my back deck for several months. I was sad about that, but there wasn’t much I could do. I’m not skilled with digging holes and pouring cement and I did not want this to be installed poorly.

I dreamed of the day the LFL would be ready. My husband and I visited the park often and debated where the best place would be to put it. We settled on a spot near the playground and the driveway. I often looked across the park and pictured it. But every time I tried to line up installation, scheduling or weather got in the way.

So at the bus stop one morning, I mentioned my dilemma to some other families, and a dad volunteered to help me out. And that Friday, we met at the park and dug in!

Installation

We had a little helper who loved to measure.

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While the LFL shipped with basic installation instructions, the steps were a lot more involved than I could implement at the park. We didn’t have electricity for sawing wood. So I purchased the installation materials based on a useful blog post I discovered at Hugs and Kisses and Snot. Their idea was genius in my opinion. All we needed was two mail box posts, cement and screws. I did a very good job holding the mailbox posts in place.

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It was so great learning tips and tricks from my very skilled neighbor. After we leveled the posts, I assumed we’d have to mix the cement in the bucket, but he pointed out it was just as easy to mix it right in the ground. That smoke is like magic!!

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We let the cement set for a day. Bright and early Saturday morning my neighbor secured the LFL onto to the posts with a kind of construction glue and screws. Then the kids, my husband and I hustled over there with our big box of books and loaded it up.

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Little Free Library Opening Day

We didn’t have a huge Opening Day celebration. But the Little Free Library worked like a charm. My kids saw books that looked interested, grabbed them out of the LFL, and cracked them open. Perfect!lfl3It was very hard and very easy to make this dream come true. The Little Free Library is open in Tyler Park. I’ve checked on it every day since it opened. (Yes, I’m over eager) It’s exciting to see that people have taken books and left new ones! We even got a thank you note! It’s pretty thrilling.

Little Free Library

It’s funny, when I saw that Little Free Library in Minneapolis, I didn’t even open it. I remember I gazed at it longingly, but didn’t open the door or take out a book. I could have, of course, because the books in Little Free Libraries are available for anyone. But I realize now I thought those books were only for Minnesotans. So I declare now, if you visit  Tyler Park from you are allowed to take books from our Little Free Library!

Read All the Newbery Medal Books, March 2016 Update

We’re into March of 2016 and I feel like I’m finally starting to tackle my “read all the Newbery Medal Books” project. I was stalled at the beginning of the year because I wanted to finish Ulysses. While that book is an excellent but very long read. Then in the process of researching the biology of the Sargasso Sea, as well as the migration of eels and monarchs, I stumbled across an amazing book of Rachel Caron’s writing called Lost Woods.

If you’re interested at all in nature, science writing, or the power of the written word to influence public policy, I highly recommend this book. There are passages in there that are still relevant today, even though they were written half a century ago.

But then I finally started those Newbery Medal books I’ve been collecting! So far this month I read King of the Wind, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and I’m almost finished with Julie of the Wolves.

I enjoyed King of the Wind for its sensory details and historical and cultural information. I started with this book because I am working on an animal story myself and because I’ve read Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague and have fond memories of that book.

I knew I’d love Julie of the Wolves because I loved Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain. I recently re-read that book last year and still love the idea of leaving civilization for the wilderness and living off the land and in tune with the natural world. I don’t think it’s quite the lifestyle for me, but I love the escapism offered by these books. Julie of the Wolves offers even more as she lives in the tundra. It’s a world so foreign made so real by Craighead George.

Picking up The Witch of Blackbird Pond was an emotional moment for me. This book represents some tough coming of age experiences for me. Like a lot of kids, I struggled in my sixth grade year. I went to a small school and unfortunately my sixth grade teacher was the mom of a girl in my class with whom I didn’t quite get along with at the time. We had been friends in second grade, but by sixth we weren’t. Anyway, for some reason or another I was put in the lowest reading group that year. Me! I wasn’t good at a lot of things in middle school, but I was really, really good at reading. I have no memory of what book my group read, but I know the highest reading group read The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I was very bitter about this unfair grouping. I held a grudge against this teacher and this book. Now that I’m 40, I decided it was time to read this book and move on with my life!! I did enjoy it and now I want to visit the town of Wethersfield in Connecticut.

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I miss the Book It program! (But books are their own reward.)

More Newbery Award books to come!

Is the Problem Bad Reading or Bad Writing?

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Is this innocent reader to blame?

Let’s say you’re reading a book and the author makes a reference to something and you just don’t get it. It could be a phrase, a symbol, a name. Whatever it is, it doesn’t make sense to you. Some readers might feel confused and give the book a bad review. Some readers might just skip over parts they don’t get, finish the book or story, and go on with their lives. Some intrepid readers might do a little research online to try and understand what they read. I think the worst scenario is the reader who doesn’t even know they didn’t get some understand some reference, finishes the story and says, “huh? didn’t make sense” and then leaves a bad review.

Is the problem bad writing or bad reading? Is it the writer’s fault? When is it the reader’s fault?

Binge Watching

I’ve been watching a lot of The Good Wife lately. Yes, I’ve been binge watching. But this is a darn good show. First, I love the focus on female characters. Second, the story line is strong and compelling. Third, it also explores a lot of psychology and motivation of people. Many episodes also explore the concept of blame and responsibility.

(See, binge watching can be good for writers!)

I think it would be really cool to have a courtroom style drama to explore whether bad writing or bad reading is to blame when certain parts of a story are not understood.

“You Honor, the book didn’t make any sense. No writer can expect a reader to understand the phrase Plumtree’s potted meat.”

“Objection, your honor! Any well-read reader knows that a home without is incomplete!”

[the above is excerpted from my not-yet-written one-act stage play in which James Joyce is charged with obstruction of instruction.]

Yes, I’ve been reading Ulysses and learning a massive amount from his densely symbolic writing. Let me just say it’s been quite an education. But seriously, Ulysses is an excellent example.

I don’t have the grounding in the daily life of early twentieth century Dublin to get all of his references, just as much as I didn’t get all of the references in T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland or those short stories by David Foster Wallace.

Is it really Joyce’s fault if I don’t quite get all of the things he has to say in his really excellent, moving, comical, intellectual, insightful story?

Is it bad writing or bad reading? I think in Joyce’s case, it’s not bad writing.

The condom and the burka

(Here we come to another interesting question. Do symbols really have meaning once they leave the hands of the writer? Once a writer puts a symbol in the story, they are leaving the symbol open to the interpretation of the reader. As a reader, I can imbue those symbols with something that matters to me and that something could be quite different from what the writer intended. I did this recently at my critique group where I applied a much deeper meaning to a condom and a burka than my fellow writer had intended. This is a longer discussion.)

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Fraught with symbolism

Bad Writing or Bad Reading?

But back to the main question. Let’s say it’s important to the story, When is a failure to understand a reference a problem with the reader’s background, or with the writer’s writing?

At a recent critique group, we faced a problem I often hear when reading someone’s work and we have the chance to question the author.

I used the name “Selene” as the name a Moon base, used the phrase “star sailor” to describe a Greek astronaut, and had a character make a claim to another character that “we are all made out of stars.”

More than one person didn’t get my references and suggested I take them out of the story. But my story is about a child celebrating Christmas in his home on the Moon. Is it my fault as a writer that they didn’t get my carefully chosen words and phrases? And if it is writer error, how can I address that?

This story about Christmas on the Moon is intended for kids and it’s meant to be a short story. I have word limits, and I think adding in things like “the moon base was named Selene because that’s the name of the Roman moon goddess and NASA has a history of naming their space projects after mythological deities” is a bit awkward for story flow.

How else do readers figure out symbols and meanings when they aren’t in English Literature classes writing papers? Maybe they won’t get it. But if they don’t get it, then they might not enjoy my story as much. But is that my problem? It could be, if it gets bad reviews or if people feel I’m a terrible writer because of it.

Maybe it’s question of finding the right audience. But wow does that feel like a gamble.

(P.S. – I just asked my husband about this and he said, “it’s your fault.” Then he said, “know your audience!”)

(P.P.S. – Then he just made a huge claim that not every symbol needs to be gotten! Then I countered that it feels so disheartening to think people would read my story and miss out on some of my favorite little symbols. And he said, “Some will, some won’t. Those that do get it will enjoy a happy accident, a little serendipity.” So I said, “it’s not serendipity when I put it there on purpose.” And he said, “touche.”)

Now what do you say?

Reading Newbery Award Books

So I’m going to try and read as many Newbery Award books as possible this year! What is the Newbery? It is an award given to children’s literature by the American Library Association. Here’s the blurb from the website:

“The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”

The website also has a list of books that have won, but it’s a pdf and not very handy for online use and checking things off.

After a bit of searching, I found a Buzzfeed quiz (of course) that allows you to see how many winners you’ve read. I’ve read a paltry 16 out of 93. That makes me feel so unread. On the plus side, though, I’ve read a fair share of Honors books, so that’s a good point in my favor.

17% of Newbery Award Books

Only 17% of Newbery Award Books

It looks like I’ll turn to Goodreads to ‘collect them all.’ There’s a good list there that shares both winners and honor books, dates of publication, and records for me when I’ve read something so I don’t have to worry about duplication.

On a side note, I’ll be working hard to only get these books from only the library and not buying them. If I must, I’ll try and buy them from used book dealers if I can’t get them from the library. If I’m going to read a lot of books then I might as well do it on a budget.

Right now, my favorite Newbery Award Book might be When You Reach Me (Yearling Newbery). It’s based on Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (Time Quintet). Who knows what new favorite I will discover as I read through this huge list?

How many Newbery Award books have you read?

2016 Writing Goals

Ready for some writing goals? I’m gearing up for another year of reading and writing (and running, because that helps more than you might think!) I’m not setting resolutions per se, but I do constantly set goals and work on them. I like to set a mix of short and long term goals, that way I can feel good about meeting short term ones along the way and keep up my momentum on the long term goals.

Reading helps my writing goals

Reading helps my writing goals

Reading Goals

For my reading goals, I’m going to aim for 100 books again in one year. You can find me on Goodreads and see what books I’m reading, but I generally don’t write reviews of books. I just move on to the next book. I do love working off of lists and I think this year I’ll find the list of Newbery Award winners and see which ones I’ve read and seek out the ones I haven’t. I also don’t know the criteria for the Newbery, so that will be something good to learn.

 

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Brainstorming ideas. Go crazy!

Writing Goals

For my writing goals, I plan to continue to submit my existing stories (including Dare Club, The Red Deer of Fal and Mission: Compostable!) But I want to have a new manuscript ready to pitch at conferences. I have two drafts of middle grade novels I can revise, and I think I’m going to work on my magical realism one and get that ready for the spring.

My process for the magical realism novel has been a little unusual. Here’s a brief outline:

Step 1: Write the novel during NaNoWriMo 2014.

Step 2: Let it sit for over a year.

Step 3: Ask myself “what’s funny about gaining the ability to read people’s thoughts?”

Step 4: Ask myself “what kind of character would get himself into trouble from hearing people’s thoughts?”

Step 5: Read books like Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence and think about what people love to read.

Step 6: Attend conferences, like Pennwriters, and learn about brainstorming 20 ideas of things that could happen to your character.

Step 7: Accumulate rejections for other stories.

Step 8: Try not to think about how long it took to revise Dare Club to something I was proud to share.

Step 9: Finally sit down and brainstorm ideas in my super-creativity-enhancing notebook.

Step 10: Read a Reddit post about the pros and cons of mind-reading.

Step 11: Take a nap.

Step 12: Wake up and decide to go to Target. Suddenly get inspiration for a starting point while driving!

In this story, which doesn’t have a great title but I’ve been calling Buyer Beware, a middle school boy finds a piece of magical technology that allows him to read people’s thoughts. I know I want to tell a story that follows the lines of “what starts out seeming like an amazing discovery that will solve all of his problems and make his dreams come true eventually gets him into trouble.”

See, the story can’t be about the mind-reading device. It has to be about the kid. And for it to be something I love, the kid needs to be funny and likable, and the kid needs to mean well but screw up, and the kid needs to win in the end. I’m not the person to write about child refugees and kids dealing with horrible experiences. I’m the person to write about ordinary kids (like myself) who thought they wanted to be extraordinary and made some dumb mistakes as they figured out how to get through life.

I think I’ve got a plan, now. I think I have a problem and a desire for my main character, and a framework for things that my character will do, and how it might culminate into an interesting climax with a satisfying conclusion. If you’re interested let me know and you can critique my next draft – when it’s ready!

 

 

 

Highlights Foundation Workshop

In October, I was made the decision to take the big leap and attend my first Highlights Foundation workshop. The workshop I chose was called “Creating Page-Turning Non-fiction for Middle Grade Readers and Up.” I’ve had a fair number of non-fiction pieces published in really great children’s magazines and I would love to also create non-fiction books for children.

Lucky for me, this workshop was taught by the incredible Deborah Hopkinson, who also has a ton of experience writing page-turning historical fiction, one of my ‘dream genres.’ I love the way a really skilled writer can weave a great story around accurate historical facts.

We also had the chance to hear from and talk with Steve Sheinkin, a two-time National Book Award finalist.

The setting for the workshops is the Barn, a retreat in the woods outside of the small town of Honesdale, PA. It was almost a six hour drive from Pittsburgh, so I chose to fly to Philadelphia, then take a connecting flight to Scranton, then a driver from Highlights drove me the last hour or so to the Barn.

On site there is a lodge and cabins, and I stayed in cabin 10, a short walk from the main building where we had our classes and our meals. The food, by the way, was very healthy and fresh.

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In our classes we discussed so much, from standards to research methods to what librarians want and teachers need, to what readers want – but Deborah reminded us that our job is to tell the story. She gave each of us two thoughtful critiques and plenty more listening time outside of class. We learned a tremendous amount from her about constructing a solid non-fiction book proposal. Deborah comes from a grant-writing background and she really knows how to show the value of a project. She’s also a fine writer. I read her book Titanic: Voices From the Disaster in one day.

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It was a productive three days. During my time there I read (and loved) several books, including Sheinkin’s Two Miserable Presidents: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn’t Tell You About the Civil War. At the end of this workshop, I felt like I was in a great place to put together at least one solid non-fiction book proposal. Deborah also coached me through the elements of my planned historical fiction story and a new novel about running. On the flight home, I revised my butterfly story and came away with a very strong new version. The runs on the woods, the walks around the grounds, and time spent with thoughtful writers was really invigorating.

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We were also able to take a tour of the Highlights offices and Boyds Mill Press in Honesdale. I enjoyed seeing the “where the magic happens” and connect with some editors.

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I have been considering doing one of these since 2012, but they do require a fairly significant financial investment and for some workshops, I’d have to be gone for a full week.

But I knew these workshops also offered significant resources and information. Back in 2012 I thought I might bring my first novel to a “whole novel” workshop, but I’m really glad I did not. I’ve learned a lot in the past three years and I know if I had attended that session it would have been heart-wrenching. Instead, by waiting for the right moment, I think my first Highlights Workshop was a real success.

Make a Picture Book Draft

I’ve been trying to make a picture book draft once a month, every month, this year. I’m a member of Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 and the focus on productivity and creativity – the art of creating – has been really useful. I know I can come up with an idea once a month and it doesn’t take long to make a picture book draft. These drafts are typically less than 1000 words so it doesn’t take more than an hour to sketch out the first version.

The drafts that seem to work, that could possibly morph into a story for a children’s magazine or perhaps something to bring to critique group and then later to a writer’s intensive at a conference get revised.

As part of the revision process and to test the strength of the story I’ll make a dummy. A dummy is a more detailed draft of the picture book story, laid out with illustrations. Dummies help you see if there are page turning moments, if each set of words can be illustrated, if your story is droning on or getting repetitive.

I’ll also bring my drafts to children to read and critique. My kids are used to being honest about what they like and what they don’t. My kids are also used to seeing picture book drafts that don’t have pictures. But other children aren’t. That’s another good reason to make a dummy.

Make a Picture Book Draft

When you make a picture book draft or dummy, you are working on storyboarding. I have experimented with three different ways of making picture book dummies and storyboarding my tales.

The first is very visual, a traditional storyboard approach. I used this format a lot when planning out the text and illustrations for Dinosaur Boogie.

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Just needs a story.

 

The second way is a bit more traditional. The instructions come from Ann Whitford Paul’s book Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication. She advises you take four pieces of paper and cut them into quarters. Staple them together and you have the pages you need to lay the text and illustrations for a traditional 32 page picture book.

Make a picture book draft

Long and short stories.

Following Whitford Paul’s advice I created books of different sizes and orientations to accommodate different amounts of text. But I innovated a little with this method and used scrap paper. Yes, that means I can’t write directly on these pages, but I can write text on post-it notes and move them around inside the book pages easily. I can also scribble something on a post-it regarding illustration and move that around, too, and experiment with a little bit of graphic design. Do I want the text above the art? Below? Around the side?

Which leads me to my third method that I use to make a picture book draft or dummy: InDesign. I’m no expert, but I can get around in InDesign. So I will create a document with lots of pages, put my text in and then search on Google for free images. I’m not going to use these images for a profit so I could probably use images that aren’t free, but I like to keep things honest. Then I print out a simple version of an illustrated dummy. These are the versions I take into my favorite test classrooms and try out on kids that aren’t mine.

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Ready to read.

Not too shabby! And I find bringing illustrated dummies to classrooms helps me get a sense of the kids’ real reaction to story instead of them being confused about where the pictures are. And they love learning the phrase “picture book dummy.”

So how do you go about making a picture book draft or dummy? Do you have a favorite method? Are you hi-tech or old school?

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.

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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.