by Bryan Patrick Avery
I became a lifelong reader, and lover of mysteries, thanks to the Bobbsey Twins. I read every one of Laura Lee Hope’s books featuring the crime-solving kids until I ran out of books to read. I turned my attention to other series and authors, but the Bobbsey Twins is where it all started for me.
It should be no surprise, then, that I eventually turned my attention to writing for kids and that I spend a good deal of time writing mysteries. Each May, I read the five middle grade mysteries nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery and every year, in addition to reading some fantastic books, I learn something that I can apply to my own writing. This month, I’ll share what I learned with you.
THE AREA 51 FILES
written by Julie Buxbaum
illustrated by Lavanya Naidu
What I learned: Humor
Readers love humor and there’s no shortage of it in this book. On a secret military base filled with aliens there are plenty of opportunities to create funny characters (i.e. the Zdstrammars, little bubbles who talk way too loud) and situations (i.e. car chases in golf carts that can only go 25 miles per hour). If you’re looking for ways to inject a fee laughs into your book, check out THE AREA 51 FILES.
MURDER ON THE SAFARI STAR
written by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman
What I learned: Pacing
Most of us struggle with pacing at some point. The Safari Star is a moving train, traveling through Southern Africa. The story is literally on the move. How do the authors keep the story well-paced? They take actual breaks in the train trip. This is done by injecting safari excursions into the trip which provide a change of pace to the story and gives the reader a break from what could otherwise be a monotonous ride down the tracks.
THE SWALLOWTAIL LEGACY – WRECK AT ADA’S REEF
written by Michael D. Beil
What I learned: Setting
Of the five nominees this year, SWALLOWTAIL is to me, the most atmospheric. This is due, in no small part, to how Beil establishes the setting. Set on Swallowtail Island, the reader is giving an engrossed tour of the island which pulls them into the story. This isn’t done through lots of exposition, though. It’s done as the characters interact with one another and the island. The setting truly becomes another character in the story, influencing choices and introducing obstacles. If you need help with establishing setting (who doesn’t?) check out this book.
CHESTER KEENE CRACKS THE CODE
written by Kekla Magoon
What I learned: Emotion
I personally struggle at times with character emotions so I loved this book. In addition to being a terrific book, it’s a masterclass in allowing emotion to reveal character. Too often, characters react in ways that make logical sense outside of the story but don’t make much sense in the context of the book. Magoon does a terrific job of helping us understand Chester’s emotional state as the book moves along so that we anticipate his emotions. In fact, readers will wait in suspense for one particular meltdown we know is coming even before Chester does. I can’t recommend this book enough.
AGGIE MORTON MYSTERY QUEEN – THE SEASIDE CORPSE
written by Marthe Jocelyn
illustrated by Isabelle Follath
What I learned: Character
This year’s Edgar Award winner is an outstanding example of developing a cast of characters for a book. Not only are no too characters alike, their differences drive the conflict we see in the story, further revealing things about themselves, and others, along the way. The disrespectful husband antagonizes his talented and motivated wife. The entitled American businessman fights with the circus owner who’s a man of the people. All of the characters have a story which get revealed, page by page, as we read along. If you’re looking for examples of well developed characters, look no further than THE SEASIDE CORPSE.
Well, that’s all for this month. I recommend you check out these books, or other award nominees and winners, to see what you can learn. Happy writing and have a magical month.
Bryan Patrick Avery is an award-winning poet and author of more than a dozen books for children including the middle grade collective biography, BLACK MEN IN SCIENCE, illustrated by Nikita Leanne and THE FREEMAN FIELD PHOTOGRAPH, illustrated by Jerome White. Bryan is also the author of the middle-grade story, “The Magic Day Mystery”, which appears in SUPER PUZZLETASTIC MYSTERIES, the Jake Maddox JV Mysteries OFF BASE and SOCCER SUSPICIONS, the early chapter book series, MR. GRIZLEY’S CLASS, illustrated by Arief Putra, and the picture books EARL LEARNS A LESSON and MAX’S MAGIC CHANGE, both illustrated by Roman Diaz. He is the 2021 recipient of the SCBWI Work in Progress Award for his chapter book mystery THE ROBOT IN THE LIBRARY.
Bryan serves on the Board of Directors of the Northern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and is an Amplify Black Stories Fellow, a joint program presented by the Brown Bookshelf and the Highlights Foundation. Bryan lives in Northern California with his family.
Your Inner Child as Inspiration
By Kourtney LaFavre
Children experience the world differently than adults. They have a natural curiosity and desire to learn about the world around them. When writing for children and young adults, it's important to know and understand the audience you are serving. A wonderful way to gain a deeper awareness of who you're writing for (and find inspiration for stories) is to go back to your own childhood. It may seem a little strange for some people but you can talk to your inner child too.
Here are some questions to ponder from your childhood or to ask your inner child:
My inner child is where I found the inspiration for IF SUN COULD SPEAK, illustrated by Saki Tanaka. I was enrolled in a course with Children’s Book Academy, and Mira (director of CBA and picture book whisperer) prompted us to think of a problem or question we had as a child. That piqued my interest, so I set the intention to recall a childhood memory that would make a great story. It was the next day that a memory from my childhood popped up.
I was about five or six when I first discovered that the sun doesn’t actually rise and set. I had assumed that the sun was moving up and down in the sky, because the word RISE means to move upward. That was the definition that my five year old self understood, and five year old brains are very literal. It totally blew my mind that it was the earth’s movement that created sunrises and sunsets. And I felt mad that I was mislead to believe inaccurate information. I was frustrated whenever I heard people say anything about the sun RISING. That’s where the concept of a book told from the sun’s perspective began, to clear up any misunderstandings about the sun.
I took my childhood feelings and transferred them to the main character, Sun. Sun would be a feisty character, wanting to teach people the truth. I pictured Sun saying things like, “How dare they think I rise. I do not rise.” The title to my first draft was I DO NOT RISE. The main character, evolving through many revisions, kept a slightly egotistical trait. It happens when the world revolves around you. Sun had two goals when talking to readers: One is to share information about who Sun is and what Sun does. And the second: to inspire readers to wonder and search for discoveries.
Traveling back in time to your childhood is a wonderful exercise to gain a deeper understanding of children, and you can use it to fuel your writing for children. You may even find the inspiration for your next story while you are there!
By Melissa Stoller
This month, focus on picking ideas that MAY blossom and turn into manuscripts.
Here are a few prompts to help you get started.
1) Use the word “MAY” as a prompt. Write the word on a sheet of paper or on your computer screen and see what springs to mind. Also write the word “MAYBE” and see if you conjure up a different list of story possibilities.
Image from Canva
2) Do an internet image search using the words “MAY” and “IMAGES.” Maybe some of the images will spark inspiration for a story title, line, or plot point.
3) Check out this calendar of May holidays – perhaps a holiday such as “Bird Day,” “No Socks Day,” or “Frog Jumping Day” will set the tone as a jumping off point for a new manuscript.
4) Enjoy springtime in your neighborhood. Take a nature walk and sketch flowers, animals, people, and more. Perhaps write a poem about one of your sketches. And then use the words and images for a story idea.
5) Reminisce about your favorite activities in May . . . family trips, holidays and celebrations, outings, foods, games, movies, and books. Maybe some memories from childhood will filter to the top of your consciousness and bloom into an idea.
Happy MAY, and may your ideas turn into exquisite bouquets this month! Let me know in the comments how you are finding ideas this season.
Melissa Stoller writes to bring connection, joy, and a bit of magic to her readers. She is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection - Return to Coney Island, and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush; Ready, Set, GOrilla!; Sadie’s Shabbat Stories; Planting Friendship: Peace, Salaam, Shalom; and Building Bridges: Peace, Salaam, Shalom (co-written with Callie Lovvorn and Shirin Rahman). Melissa is a Blogger and Course Assistant for the Children’s Book Academy, a Rate Your Story Judge, a volunteer with SCBWI/MetroNY, a Book Meshuggenahs member, a Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center Advisory Council member, and a past school and synagogue Trustee. She also interviews authors and offers resources on her blog. In other chapters of her life, Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer/editor, and early childhood educator. She lives in New York City with her family, and enjoys theatre, museums, and Central Park walks. Melissa is represented by Jonathan Rosen at The Seymour Agency.
CONNECT WITH MELISSA:
By Shirin Shamsi
Writing is a journey with many twists and turns. We can all agree on the fact that every writer has their own unique path to publication. One of the most frustrating “stops” in the journey is the one of waiting.
When you know you have a manuscript which you have polished to a shine; when you feel satisfied you have given it your all, after many rounds of critiques, much editing, multiple revisions. You hold your breath when it goes out on submission- and wait.
It can feel like an eternity.
You begin second guessing your abilities as a writer.
Maybe I’m not good enough? (It happens to the best of us!!)
It’s all part and parcel of this path we have chosen as writers.
Patience is what we need.
Helpings of it, and then some.
The best advice I can give is, once you send your said baby out into the world, then move on to your next project. Throw yourself into it, so that one day, weeks or months from now, when you hear back - an offer for acquisition, perhaps a contract - then it will be a wonderful well deserved surprise you can celebrate.
Until then, keep creating.
Onward and upward.
By Kourtney LaFavre
Hello Again! I wanted to use this month's opportunity to share about social-emotional learning (SEL) and what to consider when writing/illustrating for children and young adults that supports development of social-emotional learning. SEL, according to the Committee for Children is “the process of developing the self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills that are vital for school, work, and life success.” Social-emotional skills help all people successfully manage everyday life, make good decisions, and be good friends, family, and community members. It also helps to develop healthy identities, manage emotions, achieve goals, and develop empathy. SEL is important to thriving relationships, communities, and global success.
So what does this have to do with children's literature? Literature is an opportunity for readers to experience and feel things through text and images. Stories allow us to explore human social and emotional life as we identify with characters’ desires, challenges, motives and feelings. As a mom and educator I have always turned to books to help my children, students, families, and myself whenever faced a struggle. Have a kid that's afraid of the dark or having trouble making friends? There's books for that! Is your family moving or struggling with the loss of a family member? There's books for that! Teens struggling to figure out where they fit in? There's books for that! I think you get my point.
Writing and illustrating for children is an opportunity to reach readers and help them not only learn or connect with something new, but also help support their social-emotional development. Some things to consider when writing and/or illustrating to support SEL in children and young adults:
We are so excited to be mixing things up at CBA, beginning with some delicious additions to the Blogfish. Meet our awesome bloggers!!
Here's our lineup:
1st Mondays begin with awesome multi-published former student Shirin Shamsi who will be focusing on Muslim and cultural kidlit.
2nd Mondays will feature super smart Melissa Stoller whose career is taking off with several new books.
3rd Mondays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer, man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
4th Mondays will feature STEM, STEAM & SEL obsessed author Kourtney LaFavre sharing delightfully dorky, quirky, and fun info.
And 5th Mondays we'll be taking a break