It’s that time of year again: where I try to convince you to buy books for every child you know this holiday season.
This is my fourth year putting together this list (!!!). It’s always a lot of fun to look back at what I read over the year – like revisiting old friends. I hope you will find some new friends on this list.
I’ve added some codes to help identify particular types of books:
NF = Nonfiction
H = Humor
S = Series
And if you somehow don’t find a book on this list, check out the extra lists at the bottom of the post.
A month ago, a friend asked for suggestions of gifts for her young writer. I immediately knew that fellow Illinois flatlander Juliann Caveny was the perfect person to write this post.
I first met Juli at the 2017 SCBWI Illinois Words in the Woods retreat. Juli has a warm and vivacious personality that oozes out onto her manuscript pages. Juli writes for children of all ages, from preschoolers to young adults, and has a soft spot for quiet, yet powerful stories about friendship and family.
She’s also a passionate teacher with a knack for nurturing budding writers. (True fact: while talking with her, I mentally catalog ideas to use with my own kids.) She also makes an impressive Du Iz Tak costume.
Lucky for all of us, Julie agreed to write this post. (I didn’t even have to twist her arm!) Take it away Juli!
20 Gifts for Young Writers
I have been writing since I was six. That year, for Christmas, I was given my first diary. It wasn’t much later that I “published” my first book. (I typed the entire draft using a Brother portable and recycled dot-matrix printer paper, illustrated each page by hand and used leftover scraps of yarn to bind the book. It was beautiful.)
While some of the tools of the trade have changed since I was young, many have not.
Writers of all ages still get excited with a new package of pens, a clean, ready-to-be-written-in notebook, and the perfect, quiet corner. As a teacher and a mom of three, I’ve supplied many budding authors with practical, fun and inspiring presents. Luck for us, the rest of the world has caught on to our obsession and now there are tons of great gift options for writers, young to old.
These are a few of my favorites. I hope these ideas inspire you to find the perfect gift for the young author (or adult author) on your list this season!
Gifts for Where a Writer Writes
1. Inspiration/Idea Boards – When I was growing up, my parents installed a full-wall of cork-board. I was able to put anything I wanted on that wall and rearrange it without causing damage. Idea boards are important to writers and illustrators. No matter how big or small, give your young author a space to create.
2. Do Not Disturb Sign/Light Box – If you want to avoid having your child write in pen on their door, get them a sign!
3. Pillows/Comforter – Sweet Dreams! This is a gift that we’ve actually DIYed. (Don’t forget to check out the comforter as a set!)
Gifts for the Writer on the Go
4. Noise Canceling Headphones—All my NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) student writers have great headphones. It’s a must-have for working in busy spaces or in the car. These are some cute ones, but if you want to look around, make sure the noise canceling rating is on the high end… 20-30dB.
5. Small Backpack—I really like personalized gifts for writers. Make sure any bag or backpack you get for a writer fits their needs—i.e. Do you need room for a laptop? Or notebooks?
6. A Reusable Water Bottle – Authors “in the zone” tend to forget about food and drink. Don’t let your young writer go thirsty!
7. A sturdy and fun Pen/Pencil Pouch – A MUST HAVE! When I’m traveling, I don’t want to have to rely on the pen that was left in the council. My favorites are always kept in a special pouch.
9. Personalized Socks – A friend bought me some personalized socks. Add your kiddo’s favorite book quote, or simply have WRITER AT WORK emblazed on the backs!
10. Scarf/Gloves – More for the teen writer and lover of classics, but you can also check out their selection of headbands and totes!
11. “Thinking” Cap – Caps and hats are always popular with kid writers. (Often I catch my students with their hoodies over their heads as they are tucked in a corner, writing.) I call mine my “thinking cap” and add buttons and details along the way. Look for unique words, phrases or pins to add. Find this one at Kohl’s.
Gifts forWhat a Writer Needs (Old-School)
12. Typewriter – Bring back the thrill of the click-click on a no-tech “qwerty” keyboard. Another way to have the same feel, for a much cheaper price is to try a used AlphaSmart. These were used in schools (before the iPad) and are great for on-the-go. They are battery operated, store up to twelve drafts and convert easily to a word-processing document with the adaptor.
14. A Diary (with LOCK!) – This is the place where all the ideas are born. (Ask Jack Gantos!) It’s from the little notes that an author builds those big stories. Give your kiddos a private place to start writing.
What a Writer Needs (New-School/Low-Tech)
15. Doodle Boards – The perfect spot for the young writer or illustrator that needs to write on everything! There’s no ink, so no mess!
16. Rocket Reusable Notebooks – A “new” tech way of writing. These reusable notebooks, combined with a free app, create a digital space for all your notes and writing.
18. Word Collection Jars. Peter Reynold’s book, The Word Collector, embodies everything a writer loves. Why not give your young author a jar to collect those words in? Just add the words on little slips of paper and let the writing begin!
19. Rory’s Story Cubes—My students and I love these! The cubes can be used on your own, or as a game. Either way, the sets and creating stories with them can be addictive.
There are a lot of reasons to go to writers conferences. The obvious one is that you learn a ton and it always reinvigorates me. After the day is over I’m itching to get back to writing.
As someone who struggles with building out character motivations, I loved this “Dungeons and Dragons” themed talk on character building from @WeslieTurner. Excellent talk, excellent advice. “Keep asking What If questions. That’s how you create great characters.”#PWID2018@scbwipic.twitter.com/GdaQSttHqK
It’s also great for networking. When I went to my first Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrator’s (SCBWI) conference in 2015, I knew almost no one. This year, it felt like I couldn’t go anywhere without running into someone I have a connection with: people from my local SCBWI region, new friends I’ve made at other conferences, writers I know from online forums, and fellow volunteers for KidlitNation.
And this brings me to another major benefit. Yes, it’s useful to know people in the industry. These are people who can help spread word of mouth about my books or help connect me with work contacts. But even more importantly, these are my friends and community.
Writing can seem like a really lonely endeavor – sitting alone at a computer typing away. That’s definitely some of it, but in the digital age, we also connect over the internet. We find support, camaraderie, and friendships with like-minded writers around the country and around the world. I’m so thankful that the internet is able to bring us together, but there’s an extra joy in getting to see people face to face.
This introverts cup was full to overflowing this weekend. Now I’m ready to hide back in my office and get some writing done.
If you’re a writer trying to break into the kidlit market, small publishers are a great place to start. I’m also currently writing my third set of work for hire picture books – another great starting place. Tune in to find out about my journey and how you can get started.
Not a writer, but curious how a book gets made? Or what it’s like being a writer? Come and find out!
There will be time for me to answer questions, so now’s the time to get your burning questions answered.
If you’re not familiar withKidlitNation, they’re a nonprofit that works to make the children’s book industry more accessible to people of color. Right now the focus is on education – free webinars and scholarships to professional conferences – but they have big plans for the future.
I’ve been working with them for over a year and they are dedicated, passionate, and all-around awesome. Consider donating a few bucks (any amount helps!) or volunteering a bit of your time.
I’m looking forward to being back in the classroom. Better yet, I get to talk about kidlit for nearly a whole week!
The only thing better than talking about kidlit, is sharing my books with real kids. I’m also working on scheduling author visits to parishes in Louisville, Kentucky, and Chicago, Illinois. Check back for details!
If you’re interested in having me visit your parish or class, contact me to find out details.
Earlier this month, I Pray Today, my second book for babies and toddler was published. Today is the last day of the blog tour to celebrate.
I’ve been working on book reviews all year, though. Each month I gather up a few books I love and share them with my readers. I call it Kidlit Karma. This month I’m sharing some of my favorite books for babies and toddlers. I’m also going to dive into child development to explain why these books work.
Babies can’t see that well. Newborns’ vision is hazy – they like high contrast because it’s easy to see. You’ll often find the youngest babies staring at, say, a black object against a white background. Or a dark ceiling fan moving against a white ceiling.
By a few months old, babies vision has improved a lot but they often have a hard time understanding 2-D representations of objects.
So, books for babies and toddler often have high-contrast, easy-to-interpret pictures. For the youngest, single images on white backgrounds can be a good choice.
Babies love “baby talk” and it’s good for them. Forget what Great Aunt Bertha told you about only talking to your baby like a grown-up. Baby talk exaggerates the sounds of speech which makes it easier for babies to figure out the sounds they’re hearing and put those together into words. So go ahead and talk to babies in whatever way feels natural to you.
The sing-songy cadence of many rhyming books, help capitalize on this tendency. (Writers: be aware that babies are not less discerning than adults. If you write in rhyme, it needs to have PERFECT rhyme and meter.)
Babies love repetition. They drop the same toy over and over to see if dad will still pick it up, they never tire of peekaboo, and they will gladly have you read the same book over and over and over. While at times it’s infuriating (like the 5th time the bowl of oatmeal gets dropped to the floor), it has an important purpose: babies and toddlers learn best through repetition. Like little scientists, they’re testing if the oatmeal really drops every time. They’re also learning social information: “Will dad pick it up every time?” “Why is his mood changing as I keep dropping this?”
So many books use some kind of repetition: like the repeated phrase “Ciao!”
Speaking of actions, getting a toddler to sit still is a lost cause. They’re busy little beings. It’s easy to read with an immobile baby – harder to keep a toddler still and focused. So many books for toddlers include some kind invitation to action to help keep them engaged with the book.
That could be an action built right into the page, such as lifting a flap or holes designed for little fingers to poke into.
Babies and toddlers are also still working on fine motor skills – such as the ability to grasp and flip a book page without tearing. They need to explore the world and practice these fine motor skills – but it can be murder on a book.
So most baby and toddler books are board books – those chunky cardboard-style book pages that can withstand chewing, banging, other forms of baby love. They even have rounded corners to prevent an eye or mouth from being poked.
Adults Have to Like Them Too
Since your baby will be asking to reread the same book 10,000 times (and they will), books also have to please the adult doing the reading. A newer trend is to write book series’ that focus on topics of interest to a parent (like science, great literature, etc.), but at a level simplistic enough for a baby. No, your toddler won’t be doing astrophysics calculations in their crib. They’re in it for the baby faces and birdies, but the parent can appreciate the science.