Identifying Core Underlying Themes
By Sharon Giltrow
Core underlying themes help readers to connect to a story, they are the threads that weave a story together. The threads that pull your main character, and the reader through the story. A thread that the reader can relate to.
In Aussie author Kitty Black’s story MR BAT WANTS A HAT, the core underlying theme is empathy. When the main character Mr Bat wants a hat, he takes it from a baby, and the baby cries. Mr Bat realises that his actions have made the baby sad, so he gives the hat back.
The reader can see Mr Bat developing empathy. They can relate to this and make a link to their own world. This social and emotional learning, is cleverly done through the use of humour. Allowing the reader to ‘learn’ in a fun, non-didactic way.
Mr Bat Wants a Hat
Written by: Kitty Black
Illustrated by: Laura Wood
Published by: New Frontier Publishing, May 2021
Mr Bat is missing something. Something important. A HAT! He WANTS A HAT! Soon he finds the perfect pink hat with pretty roses and covered in GLITTER. But this hat belongs to someone else... Which doesn't bother him AT ALL. Or does it?
Let’s see how Kitty uses humour in MR BAT WANTS A HAT to develop children’s social and emotional literacy. Here are two of Kitty’s favourite spreads and her reasons for choosing them.
K- “As if putting a Bat in a hat wasn’t funny enough, here we have Mr Bat trying on a range of headgear and ultimately exploding with delight.”
Here the reader can clearly see what Mr Bat wants – a hat, and how badly he wants it. Even though the hat he wants does not belong to him. Young children often want something that someone else has.
K- “This sequence is so much fun! The sneakiness of Mr Bat’s narrowed eyes makes me laugh, and kids always crack up at the hint of batty bottom included in the illustration.”
Here the children can see how Mr Bat gets what he wants, and how happy he is about it.
The story continues...
until, Mr Bat develops empathy.
Great job, Kitty!
Here are some other common underlying themes that weave through many stories…family, facing fears, friendships, loss, moving, emotions, starting school, overcoming difficulties, fitting in, loving and caring for pets, creativity.
What is the underlying theme of your story? I would love to know.
Well, that’s it from me this month, see you in November, with another great Aussie book.
Share a laugh, and connect with someone today.
For a chance to win a copy of MR BAT WANTS A HAT,
Sharon Giltrow grew up in South Australia, the youngest of eight children, surrounded by pet sheep and fields of barley. She now lives in Perth, Western Australia with her husband, two children and a tiny dog. Sharon has taught for all of her career. Previously a teacher of children who are hearing impaired and Deaf-Blind, she now teaches young children with Developmental Language Disorder. Her humorous debut PB, BEDTIME DADDY! released May 2020 through EK books. Sharon’s humorous follow up PB, GET READY, MAMA! Is due to be released through EK books in April, 2022. Her third PB, LET’S GO SHOPPING, GRANDMA! is due to be released through Dixi Books in 2022. SAMARA RUBIN AND THE UTILITY BELT, book one in Sharon’s early MG series – THE UTILITY BELT, will be released in 2022 through Clear Fork Publishing’s new imprint &MG. Sharon is currently working on book two, TOBY KING AND THE UTILITY BELT.
by Bryan Patrick Avery
A good friend and colleague of mine used to tell anyone who would listen, “perfection is the enemy of completion.” He statement is, of course, a paraphrasing of Voltaire’s quote, “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” But is it true?
It just might be. I’ve watched magicians practice routines for months, or even longer, refusing to perform something that brought them joy because they weren’t sure it was perfect. Likewise, I’ve watching my fellow writers hold tight to a piece they loved because they weren’t positive it couldn’t be improved. This month, I’d like to, briefly, tell you about a chance I took with a piece I wasn’t sure was perfect and what happened when I took that chance.
Like many of you, I found myself with a little extra time when the pandemic began in 2020. I decided to put that time to good use and signed up for a chapter book writing course taught by Marcie Colleen.
Author's Note: If you ever have the chance to spend time learning from Marcie, take it.
In the class, each author created a new chapter series from scratch, including character sketches, story summaries and the like. I put together plans for a series featuring a robot detective, programmed with every mystery story ever told. As the class progressed, I started writing the manuscript for the first, called THE ROBOT IN THE LIBRARY. I was excited and before the class was over, had completed a first draft of the story.
I was able to get some feedback on the early chapters of the story which was mostly enthusiastic and positive. I was pumped. I knew there were some improvements to make, and I committed to making them over the course of the summer of 2020. Then, Twitter intervened.
I came across a Tweet from an editor at Capstone Publishing. She was looking for someone to write a new early chapter book series and issued an open call to writers. You just needed to send a three-page writing sample. So, I did the unthinkable. I read through the first few pages of THE ROBOT IN THE LIBRARY, made a few changes and sent them off to Capstone.
I knew the story wasn’t perfect, but I thought it was good enough and was representative of my style and skill. Soon after, I got a response from Capstone. I was brought on to write four books of a new series called Mr. Grizley’s Class. The four books came out in August 2021. Writing those four books led to me writing two Jake Maddox JV Mysteries, SOCCER SUSPICIONS and OFF BASE, both of which come out in January 2022. None of this would have happened if I, instead, decided to keep working the story until I was absolutely sure it was perfect.
This means, of course, that I spent from Summer 2020 through Spring 2021 writing these books. What happened, you ask, to THE ROBOT IN THE LIBRARY? Well, I cleaned it up a bit more and submitted this past Spring for consideration for the SCBWI Work in Progress Award. Just a few days ago, SCBWI announced the ROBOT won the award in the chapter books category. I’m still celebrating as I write this blog!
All of this is to say, simply, you may not ever feel your work is perfect. It might never be. Make it as good as you can and get it out there. There’s a world ready to read what you have to say. Don’t keep us waiting.
Well, that’s all for this month. Happy writing and have a magical month!
At the age of 7, Bryan Patrick Avery discovered a love of reading and mysteries after receiving his first Bobbsey Twins Mystery Book. Today, he is an award-winning poet and author of books for children. His middle-grade story, “The Magic Day Mystery”, appears in SUPER PUZZLETASTIC MYSTERIES, an anthology from HarperCollins and the Mystery Writers of America. His debut picture book, THE FREEMAN FIELD PHOTOGRAPH, illustrated by Jerome White, was published by Clearfork Publishing/Spork. His early reader series, MR. GRIZLEY’S CLASS, illustrated by Arief Putra, is available now from Picture Window Press. 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 a 2021 Amplify Black Stories Fellow, a joint program presented by the Brown Bookshelf and the Highlights Foundation. Bryan lives in Northern California with his family.
by Melissa Stoller
October exhibits so many signs of autumn, at least in New York where I live! Take the opportunity to use the bounty of this season and include some fall details in your stories. Here are some writing prompts to inspire ideas:
1) Halloween decorations are sprouting in my neighborhood. Whether or not you celebrate the holiday, perhaps you can glean inspiration from witches, ghosts, goblins, and more. Do any memories from Halloweens past bubble to the surface? Choose one memory and expand into the first line of a story or a plot point.
2) Take a walk in your neighborhood and pay close attention to nature. Will inspiration strike from leaves changing colors? Perhaps a local farm stand with pumpkins and gourds will lead to an idea. Note any colors and patterns particular to autumn that can inform your writing.
3) Taste some fall treats such as pumpkin pie or latte, cinnamon buns, or apple cobbler. Or perhaps enjoy pumpkin or apple picking and bake your own treats. As you savor these fall favorites, jot down images that relate to your five senses. Maybe some of those details will find their way into your next manuscript.
I hope these fall writing prompts help spark your imagination and lead to story ideas. Let me know in the comments.
Melissa Stoller 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!; and Sadie’s Shabbat Stories. Planting Friendship: Peace, Salaam, Shalom (co-written with Callie Metler and Shirin Rahman, illustrated by Kate Talbot), releases from Clear Fork Publishing on October 19, 2021. Melissa is a Blogger and Course Assistant for the Children’s Book Academy, a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, a volunteer with SCBWI/MetroNY, and a founding member of The Book Meshuggenahs. In other chapters of her life, Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer and editor, and early childhood educator. She lives in New York City with her family, and enjoys theatre, museums, and long beach walks.
By Candice Marley Conner
When I took the Craft and Business of Writing Children’s Picture Books course with Children’s Book Academy in 2019, Mira asked us to introduce ourselves so we could get to know our fellow classmates and build our writing community. Being in a silly mood, I included “gator slinger” as a past job (I grew up on a fish farm in rural Alabama and we occasionally had to remove alligators from the seine nets so they wouldn’t harm the fish, themselves, or us). Mira immediately latched on to this and through her encouragement and enthusiasm, it really sunk in that the old writing adage “write what you know” isn’t as limiting as one might think. It’s a way of giving our stories flavor and voice that only we can give. And it’s why making space for writers whose story it is to tell is so incredibly important and powerful.
I had two debuts release this June. A picture book, SASSAFRAS AND HER TEENY TINY TAIL, and a young adult novel, THE EXISTENCE OF BEA PEARL, both of which I started writing around nine years ago. And I discovered the inspiration to write these two very different books by “writing what I know.”
In the case of SASSAFRAS, it was a stroller-ride through our neighborhood. My daughter was around a year old at the time, so that’s about 365 strolls through our neighborhood streets. I had gotten to know them pretty well—which oaks cast the best shade on hot Southern summer days, which streets needed to be repaved (or avoided) due to the noise and vibration, and which gardens grew the best-smelling flowers.
Then one day in a neighbor’s lawn, a squirrel scurried down, looked at us, grabbed an acorn with its tiny paws, and scampered back up the nearest tree.
It had the tiniest, bristliest tail I had ever seen.
What did I already know about squirrels? That they communicate through their tail movement, and that they use their tail as counterbalance. So what could that mean for this squirrel? What if she was bullied by other squirrels because she was seen as clumsy and had a tough time communicating? And the more I thought about it…how could she use her difference as an advantage? By the time we made it back home, SASSAFRAS, my brave little bristle-tailed squirrel was born.
With BEA PEARL, one of my favorite pastimes growing up was reading Nancy Drew books creekside in the middle of the woods. The fish farm I mentioned earlier had been a recreational hotspot from the ’30s to the ’70s thanks to an artesian-fed pool, so I grew up listening to stories from teachers and old men in front of the hardware store of how they met their love out there as teens.
My family and I would find fossils in the limestone banks from when the whole area was under a primordial sea. We had ‘possums in the cat’s food, crawfish in the swimming pool, and had to check our boots for tadpoles or snakes before putting them on. It was a wonder-filled swamp-wild childhood with such history that I wanted to claim it somehow. Let the past and present exist together somewhere. Thus BEA PEARL was born. Her story is my love letter to the swamp and river that shaped me. As one of the most bio-diverse river systems in the U.S., I wanted readers to see past the mud and decay to the natural beauty and know it’s something valuable to treasure, so much that I had artwork commissioned and set up a merch shop where my proceeds go to the Alabama Rivers Alliance. (For more about the Alliance and a link to the shop: Bea Pearl Merch | candice marley conner)
I urge writers to ask themselves: what do YOU know? How can you turn your familiar surroundings and everyday observations into a tale of ability and bravery in the case of SASSFRAS, or a story of hope and believing in yourself as in BEA PEARL?
Happy writing! And thanks so much, Mira, for having me on the CBA blog!
Growing up between swamps, a river, and the Gulf Coast, Candice Marley Conner’s stories emerge from gnarled cypress knees, muddy water, and salty air. She’s the kidlit haint at a haunted indie bookstore (but not haunted how you’re thinking), a Local Liaison for SCBWI, and an officer for her local writers’ guild. Her picture book, Sassafras and her Teeny Tiny Tail, and her YA, The Existence of Bea Pearl, both debuted this June. She has short stories and poems in various anthologies and magazines including Smarty Pants Magazine for Kids, Highlights Hello, Cabinet of Curiosities, Babybug, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and more. She lives in Alabama with her husband, two children (one of whom is possibly feral), two cats, and a guinea pig.
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