Tuesday, January 24, 2017


The magnitude of the recent Women’s marches across our country and around our globe have lit up the media and inspired conversations in families all across the country and world.

Stories of people who have risen in dissent and stood up for their rights are inspiring to middle-graders, who are keenly aware of issues of justice and fairness.

These books provide can also inspiration for us as writers. Can we imagine a character caught up in one of these pivotal moments in history? On what side of the ideological divide is our character, and her/his family? Does the action cause a rift among family or peers? Is our character thrust into the spotlight as a leader, or does she become emboldened as she learns more about the matters at hand? Sharing history with kids is a great way to fill our own wells as writers.

Here are some recommended titles:

 Hoose, Phillip. M. Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice. New York: Melanie Kroupa Books, 2009. Claudette is an impassioned and brave teenager who stands up to fight against Jim Crow laws in Montgomery Alabama, nine months before Rosa Parks’ action burst into national consciousness. A good story to explore the reasons why some voices become celebrated and other lost to history.

Levinson, Cynthia. We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March. Atlanta: Peachtree, 2012. A dense and richly detailed photo-history of the Children’s March, following the points of view of participants and witnesses to history.

Lewis, John. The March Trilogy. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions, 2013-16.
An amazing graphic novel in three parts that tells the first-hand account of U.S. Rep. John Lewis's fight for civil rights and racial justice. Just this week, March Book Three won four awards at the ALA Awards: the Coretta Scott King medal, the Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in young-adult literature; the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award; and the YALSA Award for excellence in young-adult nonfiction. In addition, it won the National Book Award in November!

Partridge, Elizabeth. Marching for Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don't you Grow Weary. New York: Viking/Penguin, 2009. A beautiful non-fiction photo history of the civil rights march in Selma in 1965. Contains outstanding photographs and a day-by-day chronological organization.

Pohlen, Jerome. Gay and Lesbian History for Kids. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2016. A photo-history tracing lesbian and gay lives and rights through the 1900s into the present day, with a brief chapter on ancient history. Lively and current.

Scandiffio, Laura. Fight to Learn: The Struggle to Go to School. Toronto: Annick Press, 2016. A non-fiction look at the many reasons young people are unable or find it difficult to get to school and get their education, including poverty, discrimination, and violence. In a global approach, details stories of kids dodging gang violence in Chicago to Roma children in Italy to children in Somalia and First Nations kids in Canada. Filled with photographs and details in a readable format.

Weatherford, Carole Boston. Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement. Illus. Ekua Holmes. Somerville: Candlewick Press, 2015. A book of poems showing the childhood and development of Fannie Lou Hamer as a civil rights leader and icon.

A family at the Women's March in Washington DC
The wide participation of families in the marches around the country and across the globe show us that children are attuned to issues of justice and fairness. I hope these books inspire the young readers in your life as well as light a few sparks for you as a writer for children and teens!

Thursday, January 19, 2017


First, I want to thank Kell for her awesome advice in her 5 January post. She is a pro and it shows! I thought I'd chime in on a few things I've learned the hard way. 

The idea of New Years is daunting. It's fresh, unsullied, massive, and anything is possible. Unlike simply saying we will start tomorrow, the New Year is a big empty space. The first thing we want to do is make big promises to fill it. It’s the New Year, ready for us to tackle whole. Um…let’s take a step back. I know, for me, when I start making the mental stack of things that I want to do, the stack turns into a giant mountain that seems to represent the impossible. And a mountain of things IS impossible. But it is made up of individual things that are not. There are lessons to be learned from mountains. Here are three things to remember as you head into your new year promises:

Ah, deadlines. The bane of existence for many. For me, I take them as a welcome gift. I can appreciate them as a guide towards accomplishment. Instead of seeing deadlines as looming, consider them as something to beat. As a once-editor, I have a deep-seated fear of tardiness. Having to edit and place late articles is a miserable task. There is always the question- will the writer/photographer/reviewer/artist come through? As an author, I find that I tend to beat the deadlines given to me by my publishers. This year was tricky. I have had two manuscripts due to two different publishers, both books coming out this year. Straddling deadlines is a challenge, but I quickly realized that one of the demands, a book with a co-author, was simply unrealistic. Normally, there is about 18 months from manuscript to release. This book was a quick query and contract thing and is slated for release in December, 2017. This means very little time to write. The timing was terrible. I was grading and finishing final edits on the third Young Inventors Guild book. My co-author, Salima Ikram, Egyptologist extraordinaire, needed to spend most of the fall semester on digs and at Yale and traveling to amazing places. No way were we getting the text, let alone the artwork in by October. In addition, we are working with Steve Parke (the artist who did the covers of all three YIG books) who had his book on Prince (he was Prince’s art director for many years) released over this Christmas holiday. I took a deep breath and told my publisher that we could not do it. We’d need more time. Salima, from the caves of somewhere, concurred. Holding my breath, a let out a sigh of relief when they said they’d give us until March. Hurray! There was no reprieve for the YIG3 manuscript so I enlisted my daughter as reader/editor/moral support and we read through the manuscript together and turned it in. This was intense and emotional (both because it is the third in a trilogy and I had to cut out 250 pages I originally thought were important but now see that the team at Bancroft was right and the book will be better for it) but we got it done. The ARC is out. The book shall come.

In addition to books being prepped for publishing, I have a book series I really, really want to write. I know a publisher interested, but I am trying to be smart and not make promises that will kill me. That said, keeping in mind that a deadline can be my friend, I have built into my schedule a deadline. I will not even look at the manuscript (I am chomping at the bit to write) until after March. Then, I will give myself a deadline. I know I will work better, and more often, if I have a goal.

So lesson here:

-       Be realistic. Deadlines can sometimes be adjusted. Don’t be afraid to ask for more time. Be prepared to be denied or for a possible change in release date, but there is no harm in asking your editor if it is possible.
-       Be ready. If a deadline cannot be adjusted, do not feel the looming, but feel the goal.
-       Be committed. If you do not yet have a publisher and you have a book you want to write, give yourself a realistic deadline and honor it. This will get that collection of ideas into a manuscript.

If you have made a list of the seventeen books you want to write and now feel paralyzed, take a step back from that mountain. I know this feeling. It is miserable. If you feel there are so many things you want to do but cannot ever finish them all, don’t. Once again, take things into smaller bits you can swallow.

So, the lesson here is:

-       Make a list. Look at all of your project ideas and make a list. Once you have these down, by title/working title or idea, each one is a separate thing.
-       Make an order. This is a way to prioritize you work. Do not feel bound by what is already partially written or in order of when you started, make the order of what you are most excited to write and start there.
-       Make time. Once you know where you want to start, give yourself some time to work. Maybe consider a deadline. It works for me.

Once you begin writing, decide who you are writing for. I do not believe we can create books in a vacuum. Books are for readers and you will need readers either to read a draft or to read as you work. For me, I read my work aloud to my sleeping husband, beg my children to look at chapters, ask friends to read ARCs, and I feel this gives life to what I write. Do not be afraid to have people make comments counter to what you think is what you want. Sometimes, it makes you all the more determined to stick with the plan. Sometimes it gives you ideas for a better plan.

So the lesson here is:
-       Draft it. As you write, mistakes happen. Changes will happen. Edits and alterations and your direction may shift. Do not be concerned with making the first draft perfect. Just get it down on paper or onto the virtual page.
-       Don’t be afraid. Now that you can look at the one idea, play with it. Enjoy writing bits of it as it slowly (or quickly) turns into your manuscript.
-       Do it! You will be surprised how much pleasure you will get out of writing if it doesn’t feel like part of an insurmountable task. It is not a task. It is writing.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!