Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What Do Kids Read?

If you're writing for kids it's important to know what they are reading.  When you run out of kids to interview, here are three great resources.

Every year librarians in Texas put together a list of 20 recommended books for kids between two years old and second grade.  The 2 x 2 Reading List is distributed to libraries, book stores, day cares, and other locations throughout the state.  It is also available here.  Check your own state's library association for additional recommendations.

The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) also publishes an annual list of "Notable Children's Books."  It is edited by librarians also and is available here.

The International Reading Association (IRA) compiles a list of favorite children's books every year by surveying about 10,000 children.  This is unique because it is chosen by kids.  It is available here.

The Children's Book Council also has a short list of children's favorite reads that they publish in association with Children's Book Week.  The 2010 list is available here.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Lessons/Morals in Picture Books

Each author needs to decide whether or not to include a lesson or a moral theme in their books for children.  The expert opinions on this are divided.  I have studied instructional material for authors that insist that a picture book's purpose is to entertain and hook kids on reading.  One cited Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak as a book about fun and adventure.  Other experts argue that kids need moral education and picture books are a great place to get it.  One university even went so far as to publish that picture books "have been and remain, in part, about moral education." 

I do not think that picture books need to focus on a lesson or moral theme, but I do think that the most successful picture books will have subtle meanings that teach important lessons.  They can be ignored or emphasized by adults reading the story, but they do exist.

My favorite picture books have such lessons.  Where the Wild Things Are can teach about obedience, consequences, and family life.  Pigsty by Mark Teague is hilarious and it includes great lessons about family life and cleanliness.  The book we looked at last week, The Donkey's Christmas Song by Nancy Tafuri, can teach about confidence and individual uniqueness.  Even books like Life Size Dinosaurs by David Bergen can have inferred lessons such as making judgments based on appearances. 

It is, of course, important to research any publisher to which you intend to submit a picture book manuscript.  Find out if the books they publish include moral lessons or not.  Only submit to publishers that match your writing style.  My submissions will include morals.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Lessons in Learning How to Write Picture Books With The Donkey's Christmas Song

Today's case study book is The Donkey's Christmas Song by Nancy Tafuri.  It is a beautiful look at the first Christmas through the shy little donkey's perspective.  The young donkey wants to welcome the little baby, but is afraid his loud song might scare him.  After all the other animals welcomed the baby, the shy little donkey dares to sing his loud "hee-haw."  The baby's laughter consistently elicits giggles from my young readers.  It is a delightful book that children want to hear over and over, and even parents enjoy the many re-reads.

Here are the writing tips I've gleaned from its pages:
  1. Make every word count!  The whole story is shared in a scant 174 words (yes, I counted!).  I could not find even one word that I could remove from the book.
  2. Be illustrate-able.  Most page spreads had only one sentence, or less, on them.  Each sentence matched the picture. 
  3. Be predictable.  The text followed a repetitive pattern that makes sense to young children.  It can easily be memorized and "read" by two- and three-year-old children. 
  4. Be educational.  The story introduces seven animals and sounds they make. 
  5. Be meaningful.  This is not just a story.  It speaks to any child who has ever worried about how he will perform, how he (or a gift he made) will be received, or if he is good enough.  It speaks to older children and parents.  It is a story with meaning. 
  6. Use a context to which children can relate.  This is a story about the first Christmas.  On the first page, I had a three-year old ask, "That's Mary and Joseph!  Is this story about Jesus?"  She related.  The story also has animals, which are a high-interest item for children.
Whenever I look at books for children now, I look for writing lessons I can find.  I found six easy-to-check tips in The Donkey's Christmas Song.  Are they always required.  Probably not.  What do you think?  They did integrate beautifully to make one captivating story.

Learning how to write picture books is a challenge that I enjoy daily.  In an effort to learn what is successful, I am studying picture books that my children and I love.  Lessons in Learning How to Write is a blog series I am beginning to keep track of brilliant strategies great authors have used to write for children. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Dreaming Big

Roger and Hammerstein's Cinderella has a delightful scene where Cinderella dreams of going to the ball.  When her fairy godmother arrives and makes the dream come true they sing the duet Impossible.  I love this part of the refrain: 

And because these daft and dewy-eyed dopes keep building up impossible hopes,
Impossible things are happening every day!

I'm starting a writing blog because I have some impossible dreams of my own, and I am just "daft and dewy-eyed" enough to expect them to come true!  I want to write books for children.

I am not very far on this particular road of dreams.  I have written articles for a variety of magazines, ranging from Odyssey to The Dollar Stretcher and I have done a lot of freelance work through the internet.  While I have written for many years, this journey really began in 2007 when I decided that I should write articles and magazines should publish them.  My first submission was so far from perfect that I was not even sent a rejection letter.  It was, however, the beginning of my foray into the world of magazine adventure that I am loving!

A few months ago I had another thought:  I should write books for children and someone should publish them.  I have since sent out a couple manuscripts, but I have yet to see the magic.  Still, I am undaunted.  It took me a while to learn to write for magazines and I expect it will take a while to figure out books.  I would love to have you join me in this new adventure!  Leave a comment and let me know who you are and where to find your blog!

I still continue to write articles.  In fact, on this blog I will sometimes post writing tips I've learned.  You might also find writing announcements, book reviews, publisher spotlights, agent tips, book giveaways and introductions to other authors.  Have you recently been published?  I would love to highlight new authors too.  You'll also hear about my writing experiences.  Anything that fits the writing theme fits this blog.

Welcome to my world.