I spent Sunday morning and afternoon spring-cleaning with my daughter. It was her prompting that began the session. On a whim she declared, "Mom, I'm going to clean my room.” At 9 years old, she's maturing faster than I can bear. When she told me that she was going to go donate her old toys and babyish books, I was touched by her generosity, but fearful of what her process of elimination would be. At the moment she's more interested in keeping her series of American Girl books about young girls changing bodies than Counting Kisses.
She emptied the books from the six shelves of her bookshelf onto her bed and I gasped quietly wanting to step in, but respectful of her need to make decisions. She pulled a Barbie book out of the pile like she was making the first move in Jinga. No objections there, I consoled myself. Then she reached for Good Night Moon and I hastily offered my assistance, but she insisted on doing it on her own. I left her to make the hard choices and busied myself in the kitchen.
I wasn’t exactly sure what she meant by babyish books, but I was certain she was going to toss a few picture books - which have always held such meaning for me. They’ve always transported me back to my childhood, my children’s infancies and their earlier years.
After an hour of sorting she came to me looking a little overwhelmed and said, "Mommy, I need help". When I saw her bed it still had a pile of books and old toys on it and I wondered if she'd eliminated anything. She needed me…still needed my guidance. She told me that all of the books to keep were on the bed, but she'd put a large bag of books for donation by the front door.
We worked together as I helped her separate pre-school activity sheets from kindergarten photos. We culled the stuffed animals and jewelry boxes and we decided to put some things away in a large memory box.
We were finally ready to put the books she’d decided to keep back on her bookshelf. She tippy toed and started stacking them on the highest shelf. I was relieved when I saw some of my favorites in her hands. She’d saved almost all of my treasures. I bent down to organize her art supplies on the bottom level. She glanced down at me and said, "Look Mom, I kept your Mr. books, and the book grandma gave me, and the one you liked the pictures in because I knew you'd want them."
At 9 years old, she's maturing faster than I can bear.
Carol Higgins-Lawrence wrote her first story at the age of five. Her father paid her a quarter for it and she's been writing ever since. She's taken a variety of courses in writing for children. Multicultural perspectives are of particular interest to her. Carol is of Jamaican descent and was born and raised in Canada. She has a BA in Communications and Sociology and she has completed coursework towards a MA in TESOL. She has worked as a literacy educator for the past 15 years. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and two young children. You can visit her website at carolhl.weebly.com
We love picture books at our house. I read them to myself, my kids, and even my adult clients. (I'm a firm believer in bibliotherapy). So it's not hard for my kids to talk about picture books that resonate with them. Here are three reviews of three picture books from my three oldest children. Enjoy.
Sydney reviews a classic.
I like the book Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems because it’s funny and has a good message. Monsters are scary and good at doing what they do. However, in this book, Leonardo is terrible at being a monster and scaring people. He tries multiple times to scare the “tuna salad” out of someone, but he can’t. He gets an idea and he researches until he finds the most “scaredy cat kid in the world” and he gives him "all he's got" until the boy cries. But scaring people isn't as fun as he thought so he decides to be a wonderful friend instead of a terrible monster. This book makes me smile because in the end, Leonardo chooses friendship and is true to himself.
Naomi reviews the 2015 Caldecott winner.
The Adventures of Beekle, by Dan Santat is an amazing book. Beekle is an imaginary friend who is tired of waiting for a child to dream of him, so he goes on a daring adventure to the real world. He looks everywhere, but cannot find his friend. So Beekle sits in a tree and waits for his friend to come. After a long time, Beekle still hasn't found his friend. He starts feeling sad just as a little girl named Alice calls up to him from the ground. They become best friends.
I love this book. First, I like how Beekle imagines that his friend will be a boy, but in the end his friend is actually a girl. Second, I love the illustrations, and how the imaginary world is colorful, and so is the playground, but the rest of the real world is drab and gray. Third, I love the word choice and how the words are handwritten. I think that this book is brilliantly written.
My four-year-old brother also loves this book and wants to read it every day. The words flow very well, and the illustrations are detailed and original.
The Adventures of Beekle teaches us to never give up, even if something is hard. Beekle traveled long and far to the real world. After a long day of waiting, it seemed that he would never find his friend. However, Beekle persisted, and found a friend in the end.
James reviews my current favorite.
The Right Word: Roget And His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant, is an fascinating and incredible book. It tells the story of a man named Roget and how he devoted his life to making lists of words. The illustrations in this book are prodigious. They include words and objects from Roget's lists.
I like this book because it is nonfiction, yet still fun to read. It taught me a lot about how the thesaurus was written and about the person who wrote it. I think that younger children could learn more than most adults know about Roget and the thesaurus. As you can see I used an onomasticon* to write this review.
The next time you go the library, or bookstore, pick up one of these three books. We highly recommend them!
Kirsti Call is a homeschooling mom of five. Her debut picture book, The Raindrop Who Couldn't Fall, came out December 2013. Her family band, Calling Out, plays songs written by her children. She contributes to Writer's Rumpus, and Kids are Writers. If you visit her house, you’ll likely find her reading a picture book. You can find out more about her at www.kirsticall.com.
Think back. It's the first day of kindergarten. Your mom or dad has dropped you off at the door of the classroom with a few pieces of advice. Can you remember them? I bet if you list a few of them you'll find that they are pretty similar to the things you will want to know on your journey to becoming a writer. Huh? I know. It sounds weird, but just go with me on this.
These are probably a few pieces of great information they told you:
1. Make sure you know how to tie your shoes
Translation: Put your best foot forward
When starting any new job (or class), you want to learn everything you can about the task ahead. Whether that means learing how to tie your shoes, where the bathroom is, or how to write a book for kids. Granted, that last one is a little more difficult than the first two, but no less important.
As a new writer, learning about your craft is the most important thing you can do. Taking online classes is a great way to start! Or you can go to conferences, or take a writing class at a local high school or college. Just do something to help you LEARN about the process of writing. How to capture and amaze your audience with your words, and how to conduct yourself professionally as a working author. Spending the time to do this will
set you up for success and keep you from tripping over your own shoelace (so to speak).
2. Make Friends
Making friends as a kindergartener is just as important for a writer. Writers spend a lot of time in their own homes in front of their computers. It’s an isolating job. But getting out and meeting with people who love to write and are focused on improving their craft just like you are is imperative. After all, you will eventually want others to read your work. And you will need people to offer constructive comments on your work.
So venture out. Join a critique group! Get on a Facebook page and meet people. Join a #Twitterchat. Do whatever you have to do to meet people and get out there. You will feel better and more like you belong if you are a member of the tribe -- or just a group that scribbles once a week.
3. Treat others well
Translation: Don't judge others for their journey
Just like in kindergarten everyone has their own history they bring to the table. Some may be story tellers and the words flow out of their minds and onto the page quite easily. They send out their first manuscript. They get an agent and then a book sale. Snap! They are published.
Others have a longer, more convoluted route. They start writing small pieces for magazines, then go on to writing longer pieces. Maybe they decide to write for testing companies, do freelance pieces for educational journals, write technical books. Then they decide to do work-for-hire pieces for educational publishers and some small e-book presses. Finally, they get to trade publishing and get a few projects there. Every path to publication is individual to the person. And whatever way you choose to do it, should make you as proud as that first piece of crayon art that you present to your parent.
4. Keep a Happy Attitude
Translation: Don't let the rejections get you down
Being a writer can be brutal. You need a few layers of thick, tough, skin to handle the rejections and criticisms that you will experience. But don't let the rejections get you down. Everyone gets them. Even Jane Yolen, the award-winning author of over 300 books, has also experienced rejections. As she says, “Writers never get used to rejections...” And after a certain amount of frustration and introspection, Jane does the only thing possible, “turned right around and sent the little picture books off again.”
So take the time to LEARN from your rejections. Dissect them. Look at what the person is saying about your piece. What is missing? How can you improve it. If there is nothing helpful, move on. But don't give up!
Perserverance is key to making it in this business, and to getting through an entire day of kindergarten without a nap!
5. Share your Toys
Translation: Pay it forward
When you do finally make it big, share what you have learned. My journey to get published was a long one and like most of you, it was filled with ups and downs. But there was one person who helped me to break into the publishing world. A very widely published author who took the time to show me how I could use my talents as a science teacher to write books for kids-- about science!
I was so thrilled that she took the time to show me her path. So when Mira asked me to help create the course, Writing for Love and Money, I said a resounding YES! This would be the way for me to share with others all of the information that I'd learned on my journey and hopefully help them to begin their own publishing journey.
We hope that you will consider joining us on this path to publishing. The journey we will take together in this four week course will be well worth the effort.
Check out the link to the course here:
Let me leave you with one final piece of information: Whether you are starting your first day in kindergarten or as an adult on the path to becoming a published author
Remember this: The journey you set forth on is your own. And OWN it you should!
That’s what we will show you in the class, that however you choose to begin your publishing path, no way is the wrong way. As long as you hang in there and persevere, you WILL get there!
Jennifer Swanson is the award-winning author of over 20 books for children. You can read more about her at www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com
occasionally, someone asks me if i meditate. i usually say i write. choosing between writing and meditation is like choosing between black coffee and black coffee--variations exist, but the end result is much the same.
however, i do think there are similarities that deserve exploration from a writer's perspective. meditation begins with an upward gaze, meant to trigger the alpha state. there is a monitoring phase, taking stock of our inner state, an inquiry, if you will. and then a look outward, a kind of benevolent reconnaissance that asks how the outer world is receiving us, as we settle in to "sit" with our attention on observing, rather than engaging.
that's how i see writing, the pen is moving as a result of observations that become the story, not because i'm actually living or acting out these observations in the present. i'm simply actively observing.
and finally, there is whatever we do to essentially signal that we've closed our meditation period for the day. it may be enough to straighten the legs and get up, but then, how would that distinguish this pause from a having a meal or watching a TV show? there must be something specific to meditation.
i used to do housekeeping for a number of people at an ashram, and i remember one woman who chanted throughout and there were certain phrases that "finished" the session. but she also ran a business and on one morning when she was running late, she left her meditation space without saying those final words, and hurried out of the house. then she came back to sit in the same space, sit and say those words, then left again, looking calmer, less harried and yet, moving with intention.
she wasn't a particularly compulsive type, so this left me feeling that completing the ritual, whatever that might be or mean, was as important as the rest of the process.
in writing, i often finished a session by checking the word count, looking over the finished pages with an eye to having begun an idea, but not having carried through with that thought before another occurred to me and i ran with that one. without this kind of clearing the deck, i found it difficult to go on to a next project mindfully, whether it was grooming the dog or weeding the garden. so it seemed to me there were four steps, steps followed with a kind of lighthearted persistence, if such a thing exists.
for purposes of creating specific meditations, i've labeled these four steps and they might be used like this:
upward gazing: this story's main character is quiet, so quiet she's not even talking to me. but when she does speak, she's down to the essentials.
inner inquiry: what does her inner dialogue (or monologue) sound like? this often inspires a stream of consciousness written page: a lot of stuff i didn't know i knew about this character.
outer perceptions: when she does speak, what kind of thoughts occur to the person she's talking to? i can go right back into the page i've written and write replies. nothing of this needs to go into the story as is, but as in acting, it can inform behaviors.
calming diligence: i like to go back to that quiet character and "see" how her facial expression has changed, how her body language reads now that i've got a handle on her inner being.
on another day:
upward gazing: i'm reluctantly facing the fact that this story needs something. not another character, i have enough players in the game. but what if one of them had qualities, and perhaps even a name, that suggested an animal. something i love for a character i love, or something indicative of an antagonistic character, if that's the character i work on. i have a beetle in something i'm working on now.
inner inquiry: if i give this rather ordinary character canine-like qualities, and a change of name to Gopher, how will that affect the story?
outer perceptions: write a page or two from this character's fresh point of view, write it with what is already known of the story, and within the role the character has played so far, but now he has a new persona.
calming diligence: if there is something workable on the page, go back through the story to "see" this new persona in place. having made a copy of the file (so the original is still safely unchanged) revise the story to fit the new vision, rewrite where necessary, and save.
and another day:
upward gazing: sometimes the easiest way to get to the heart of a matter is to imagine that all the options have left the building. what if my main's "other," be it ally or antagonist, a mentor or parent or sibling, has died, and now, the things that might have been said can't be heard.
inner inquiry: but if they could speak to someone lost to them, here's what feels most important. . .
outer perceptions: in what way would the story change?how do i feel about that? a scene centers around one main event that changes the world of the story, so it would be helpful to find a significant scene to rewrite from that perspective.
calming diligence: save the changes to consider another day, and go on to declutter a corner or something.
a walking meditation:
upward gazing: what if, in this story, the characters all greet each other by exchanging an object? or, if not an object, an aphorism that holds significance for them personally?
inner inquiry: now there's something more than time-filling behaviors like making tea and folding towels to work with in the spaces between bits of dialogue. how to use those most meaningfully? it's helpful to know the language of fairy tale metaphors, the golden ball being the future stretching out before the princess, the object hidden in a pocket is a deeper meaning, the poisoned apple--well, we all get the poisoned apple. jung did a huge encyclopedia on storytelling symbols, and a lot of them were objects.
outer perceptions: somehow i feel our characters will inform us, i don't think it's necessary to assign these objects or aphorisms. perhaps some worthwhile time would be spent looking through our work for the ones that are already in place, but that we haven't 'worked' to their full potential. often, as we look through our own body of work, we find there are repeated symbols that have special meaning for us.
calming diligence: as i make a list of the kinds of symbols i find in my own work, i can do a little soul searching, and figure out what my writing is trying to tell me.
a resting meditation:
upward gazing: there are certain elements i like to look for as i read my own work and others. secrets, and dreams (although editors were for a long time really sick of finding dream sequences in novels and possibly still are, but good ones still do the job of relaying information to the reader), and wishes, even the fairy tale variety, meaning, the obvious wish. but i think the thing i look for most often and love finding (and love writing, even into children's books) is a love story.
inner inquiry: some of my love stories are romances, being developed over the younger character's head, like the parental voices in the charlie brown cartoons, as i did in jake. some are simply the love stories of every day, found in unexpected kindness and extraordinary effort, offered without any desire for compensation. and some are like elinor's story, once an 'outdoor dog,' she's now rescued and enjoying the comforts of a cushy pillow, loving life. what love story is seeded into the work, that's the inner inquiry.
outer perceptions: find the seeds and grow them with a written exploration.
calming diligence: just feel the love, all day long.
a meditation on shared experience:
upward gazing: if there was one healing thing anyone in the story could say, what would it be?
inner inquiry: how would they convey this message? it's important not to get too sentimental in a story, and we certainly don't want to sound preachy. perhaps there's a way a character could demonstrate that message, rather than say something, their actions making the message acceptable and uplifting.
outer perceptions: once the message is in mind, draw a circle on a page, choose a word (or two) that encapsulates the message and write it in the circle. draw spokes out from the circle and at the end of each put a characters name or initials, and a few words that suggest how they might demonstrate that message. sometimes these few words grow into an accompanying page.
calming diligence: if one of these characters appears to be the more surprising, but still plausible choice, it would be useful to make this the subject of tomorrow's meditation.
this post is probably too long already, so elinor and calliope and i are going to head into the kitchen for the mini meditation called "what's for lunch?" pictured above, they've just finished their rainy day job of tearing out most of the freshly planted pelargoniums. they do know how to build an appetite.
i hope these meditations are useful to you on your writing journey.
audrey couloumbis can be found at audreycouloumbisbooks.com
and of course, here at children's book academy every first wednesday, writing for you. sometimes she uses caps, but not today.
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