Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Want to learn how to write picture books?

Want to learn how to write picture books? I'll be teaching a week-long workshop at the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers (WIFYR) conference in June. It's hands-down, the best writer's conference in Utah, and one of the best in the U.S.  In addition  to my morning PB workshop, as well as other writing workshops, there will be afternoon presentations from editors, literary agents, and bestselling authors.

Check out the website for more info http://www.wifyr.com/.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Why Don't Boys Read

A children’s author friend of mine is writing an article for a local newspaper about getting boys to read. In her research for the article, she posed a few questions on a forum of local published children’s authors that I participate in. Below are my responses to her questions.

1. A lot of people who work with kids will tell you that it's harder to get young boys to read than it is to get young girls to.  If you agree, why is this the case?

I agree, and I believe one of the main reasons is that so often at school (even at home) books are pushed onto boys that just are not interesting to them. Every boy is different, and every boy will have different tastes, but most boys want books that are fast-paced, exciting, adventurous or humorous, which typically does not fall into the same category as the more literary types of books that they are assigned at school. If all the books they are made aware of are books that bore them to tears, they will have the sentiment that all books are boring.

In some cases boys will find books that do appeal to them, only to have teachers or parents turn their nose up at those books or tell the boy that those books are trash, a waste of time or aren’t real books. At times, those who can play a role in inspiring a boy to read, unknowingly turn the boy off of reading by their attitude towards the books a boy wants to read, whether it be fantasy, comic books/graphic novels, or whatever.

2. How do you get boys to read?

The best way to get a boy to read is to read to them when they are very young. After that, it’s to let them choose the books they want to read – give them options and help them find books that might be of interest to them. An indirect way to get boys to read is for them to see male role models reading and enjoying reading. Sometimes boys might get the feeling that reading is not cool, but seeing a positive role model reading helps dispel that notion.

3. What titles would you recommend?
It’s a little over a year old, but on my blog I have a list 70 books to help get boys reading. You can take a look at it at New Books to Get Boys Reading.

I have also written few posts in the past on getting children to read. Check them out below;

# 1 Way to Get Children to Read
# 2 Way to Get Children to Read
# 3 Way to Get Children to Read
# 4 Way to Get Children to Read
# 5 Way to Get Children to Read

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What I’ve Learned About Writing a Picture Book

Guest post from Cindy Stagg
When I left teaching to raise a family, I decided that I would write a picture book. Easy, right? Tell a cute little story, get someone else to illustrate it, and voilá! You’re a beloved children’s author! It’s such a seemingly simple plan.

I wrote a few stories that I thought were pure gold. I bought The Writer’s Market Guide and sent my manuscripts off to publishers and agents whom I was sure would race to their phones to call me personally. I also started attending writing conferences and workshops, where I quickly learned why my phone wasn’t ringing off the hook.

Here’s the thing: writing a picture book is like painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It takes a great deal of hard work and plenty of finesse. You have to make the pictures and the words work together to tell a complete story, and you have to do it within a confined space. Sometimes, you’ll even find yourself doing it on your back! Whenever someone says to me, “Yeah, I think I’ll write a picture book one day,” I sort of laugh to myself, knowing they have no idea what they’re in for.

When I first started attending workshops and conferences (including WIFYR) it was like taking a drink from a fire hose. There was so much information -- some of it even conflicting: It should be no more than a thousand words. It should be at least a thousand words. Make sure it has a good hook. It shouldn’t have a moral message. The character should solve her own problems. Make sure it speaks to children, but winks at adults. Make your main character appealing. Write a gripping beginning. The end of your story is crucial.


Since then, I’ve learned to contain the information and knowledge I’ve gleaned into a manageable fountain. I’ve worked hard over the years to find out what it takes to write a good picture book. I’ve taken notes from Ken Baker, Rick Walton, and Candace Fleming. I’ve written, rewritten, and storyboarded. Most importantly, I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of picture books. The ones I’ve liked, I’ve tried to emulate. The ones I didn’t, I tried to figure out why.

What it comes down to is this: if you want to write a picture book, and I mean a good picture book, you’re going to have to work for it. Read lots of books and know your market. Attend conferences like Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers, where Ken will be teaching this summer. Then, take everything you’re learning, and write. Write every day, because it’s the only way to improve.

Cindy will be assisting at this year's Writing & Illustrating for Young Readers conference, including assisting Ken as he teaches the picture book workshop. Cindy has always loved writing stories. Growing up in Arizona, she won essay contests and published stories in the school newspaper. She became a teacher because that was the more “practical” thing to do. Then one day, she was offered a job as an automotive writer (she’s also always been a car nut), and Cindy fell in love with writing all over again! “WIFYR has given me confidence in my ability and helped me create a network of friends and colleagues who have given me invaluable feedback,” says Cindy. She is excited to be assisting at WIFYR this year.

Also, watch for the upcoming interview with Ken Baker on the WIFYR blog.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

What About Early Readers?

Librarian extraordinaire Travis Jonker always has insightful posts at SLJ's 100 Scope Notes. I especially like his post today where he talks about the constant demand he gets from grade school students asking for more early reader books like Tedd Arnold's Fly Guy. Travis talks about how insanely popular Fly Guy is among his young patrons and wonders why there aren't more new books like it.

I often have that same question. The truth is that early readers are a hard sell to most children's book publishers. Not many pursue them. Of the handful of publishers that do, most don't seem to have the desire to expand their line beyond what they call their "current properties". Translation: movie tie-ins or proven best sellers. You can't expect many new early reader lines from publishers with that kind of strategy.

But a few publishers get it. In fact, I recently had a publisher ask me to submit a series proposal on an early reader I submitted to them. It went a couple of rounds through their acquisition committee, with some editors very excited about it, but ultimately they decided to pass on it. However, they invited me to submit some other early reader book manuscripts and proposals. We'll see what happens. But I applaud publishers like that who aggressively seek to publish early readers, not only their current line of books, but new and exciting fresh ones too.

As Travis Jonker states in his post, "The world needs more early readers with very basic vocab and an attention-grabbing main character. I know it ain’t an easy order, but there are some eager young readers out there."

I agree with Travis and I hope there end up being a few more publishers that do too.

Monday, September 23, 2013

How eReaders Combat Dyslexia

Technology is a wonderful thing. I'm still not an eReader user, but I definitely see many of the benefits; convenience, library all in one place, easier access to books, lighter weight, cost, great on a commute or traveling, and so on. With all those benefits I'm very certain, one day I'll take the eReader plunge - or at least tip my toe in the water deeper.

I'm certain the benefits of eReaders will continue to grow, especially as technology improves. To this point, researchers at the Smithsonian have discovered that the use of eReaders can in some cases improve the reading capability of some individuals with dyslexia. Particularly, it can helps those individuals with visual attention deficit and visual crowding.

Visual attention deficit is when the reader has a difficult time concentrating on letters within words or words within lines of text. Visual crowding is when the reader struggles to recognize letters when they are cluttered within a word. eReaders can address both of these issues when they are set up to display shorter lines. The shorter lines reduce the visual distractions, which ultimately led to significantly improved reading speed and comprehension with students who exhibit these forms of dyslexia.

The researchers' findings are covered in an article published by Science Daily, appropriately entitled E-Readers Can Make Reading Easier for Those With Dyslexia. As I said before, technology is a wonderful thing.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Why Reading for Pleasure Makes Kids Smarter

A great article in The Guardian talks about how children who read for pleasure do better not only in vocabulary and spelling, but also mathematics. The article cites a study of 17,000 people, who The Guardian has interviewed over the years to gain insights into the different issues that affected participants' individual development. The article suggests two main reasons why pleasure readers excel over their peers.The first is that reading "introduces young people to new words", explaining their vocabulary success. The second is "that reading also introduces young people to new ideas."

I agree with both of these, but I think there is an even more compelling reason. Simply put, children master the skill of reading the more they read. Children who read when they don't have to, develop reading skills far greater than those who only read when they have to read. The greater the reading skills, the better the child will be able to understand and comprehend concepts in their text books. As a result, master readers have a greater ability to master other subjects.

Any other thoughts on why reading for fun makes kids smarter?

Image courtesy of jannoon028 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Favorite Children's Books - A Harm or Help?

When I was little - even before I could read - one of my favorite books was Curious George. There were other books that I liked, but there was something about that curious monkey and the book’s illustrations that really appealed to me. When my mom took me to our public library, I’d head straight to the children’s section and grab some Curious George books. I might have checked out other books too, but I don’t remember them. I remember wanting Curious George. That’s what made me want to go to the library. That’s what helped fuel my love of books.

That memory raises certain questions in my mind.

  • How important is it for young children to discover their own favorite book or books?
  • Is it harmful or helpful for parents, teachers, and librarians to discourage children to fixate on a specific book?
  • Does focusing on a favorite book limit a child’s reading world in the long-run or just short term, or does it help create an early love for reading that will ultimately open the child to a much broader world of books?

Personally, I think having a favorite book can be a good thing for a child. Is it essential? No, but I think when a child finds a favorite book or favorite books, it definitely fuels their love for reading. I think the same can be said when a child discovers a favorite genre. When they find books they love, they’ll love to read.

While I think it’s fine for parents, teachers and librarians to encourage children to read a wide variety of books and genres, it can be harmful if too much pressure is put on a child not to stick with a favorite book or genre. Children need to be empowered with choice in reading. Over time their tastes will vary and change, and they will naturally branch out into other books. The important thing is to get them reading and to help them find books that will inspire them to read and learn more.