Category: writing

20+ Gifts for Young Writers

20+ gifts for young writers

Juliann Caveny headshotA 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.

You can read Juli’s full bio on her agent’s webpage here and check out Juli’s blog here. Or connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

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

@julicaveny

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

Idea board - framed, fabric board with crisscrossed ribbons to hold pictures, etc. in place.Lightbox with the words "Everything Lightbox Mini"Pillow with lines to look like writing paper

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

Noise canceling headphone with a black and purple galaxy pattern on ear pieces

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.

 

Gifts for What a Writer Wears

 

Mary jane-type shoes - one decorated to look like white notebook paper, the other decorated like the cover of a black and white composition notebookCustom printed socksPeter pan infinity scarf

8. Fun Shoes – There’s the DIY– and then there’s these fancy treats from Hot Chocolate. (They come in small girls’ sizes and adult sizes too!)

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/GlovesMore for the teen writer and lover of classics, but you can also check out their selection of headbands and totes!

Brightly colored stocking capJuli Caveny in her thinking cap

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 for What a Writer Needs (Old-School)

black typewriterPersonalized notebook: teal background, image of a unicorn in a jar with the text "The fantastical imaginings of Lila Rook"Diary with a lock: cover design shows chains and the words "Do Not Enter"

12. TypewriterBring 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.

13. Personalized Notebooks and Pens/Pencils—Again, you can’t go wrong with personalized gifts for a writer.

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)

Doodle boardRocket reusable notebookScuba Notes

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 NotebooksA “new” tech way of writing. These reusable notebooks, combined with a free app, create a digital space for all your notes and writing.

17. Scuba Notes (Glow in the Dark) For the writer who needs to write in the bathtub… and at night.

 

Story Starters and Inspiration

Clear jarBook Cover for "The Word Collector" by Peter ReynoldsRory Story Cubes

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.

20. Story Starter Books and Blank Books—Everyone loves a good story starter. These are a few great ideas to get your writer started!

Book Cover: 642 Things to Write About: Young Writer Edition Book cover: Blank Comic Book for kids Book cover: And Then: Story Starters: 20 Imaginative Beginnings

 

20+ gifts for young writers

 

Prairie Writers and Illustrator’s Day 2018

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.

 

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.

Announcement: Free Webinar this Wednesday!

Free Webinar with Angela Isaacs on Wed. Oct. 17 at 7pm

This Wednesday, I’m doing a free webinar with Kidlit Nation. I’ll be sharing my experience of working with a small publishing house.

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.

Registering is easy: just head to the website and click the big blue button to register.

If you’re not familiar with KidlitNation, 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.

 

Announcement: Visiting Scholar and October Author Visits

I don’t know about you, but September was a whirlwind!

October is looking to be just as chaotically and beautifully busy. I’ve got a full load of travel and speaking engagements this month.

This week I’ll be at Purdue University as a visiting scholar! I’m leading workshops for a picture book writing class and giving a public talk:

Screenshot of Purdue talk description. Title: A Peek Inside the Children's Book Industry

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.

 

12 Books for Babies and Toddlers and Why They Work

12 Books for Babies and Toddlers and Why They Work

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.

 

Simple Art

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.

Book cover: RhymOceros

Rhymoceros by Janik Coat

 

Even for toddlers, simple graphics are easier for them to understand.

Book Cover: Wee Beasties: Huggy the Python Hugs Too Hard

Wee Beasties: Huggy the Python Hugs Too Hard by Ame Dyckman and Alex Griffiths

 

Faces Are a Fave

Babies love faces for pretty much the same reasons we adults do: they give us a lot of important information. We look at a person’s face to identify them and to tell what that person is feeling. Watching someone’s face while they talk also helps us figure out what they are saying. For babies who are still learning speech, it’s doubly helpful. That’s probably why babies are hardwired to stare at faces.

So books with lots of faces are a winner, especially with the younger babies and toddlers.

Book Cover: Making Faces: A First Book of Emotion

Making Faces: A First Book of Emotions

 

Babytalk and Rhyming Books

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.)

Book Cover: Moo Baa La La La

Moo, Baa, La La La! by Sandra Boynton

 

Repetition

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!”

Book Cover: Ciao, Baby! In the Park

Ciao, Baby! In the Park by Carole Lexa Shaefer and Lauren Tobia

Or a repeated action like “besos.” (Kisses.)

Book Cover: Besos for Baby a Little Book of Kisses

Besos for Baby: A Little Book of Kisses by Jen Arena and Blanca Gomez

 

Toddlers Need to Move

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.

Book cover: Do Cows Meow?

Do Cows Meow? by Salina Yoon

Or it could be an invitation to action: mentioning movement is a natural invitation to move.

Book cover: Barnyard Dance!

Barnyard Dance! by Sandra Boynton

 

Sturdy Pages and Rounded Corners

Babies will put pretty much everything into their mouth. It’s a way for them to explore the world by adding the sense of taste and touch (lips and tongues are very sensitive).

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.

Photo of book: Goodnight Jesus with corner chewed off by toddler
Photo courtesy of Summer Kinard at https://summerkinard.com/2016/11/02/goodnight-jesus-board-book-review/

 

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.

Book Cover: Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering

Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering by Ruth Spiro

Book Cover: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: A Babylit Colors Primer

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: A Babylit Colors Primer by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver

Putting It All Together

Most books will have a few of these features. Take my two books, Goodnight Jesus and I Pray Today.

Book Cover: Goodnight Jesus

Goodnight Jesus has:

  • beautiful, but simple art
  • faces on nearly every page (yay, icons!)
  • sing-songy rhymes
  • a repeated action (kissing) that little readers can do
  • sturdy pages

Book Cover: I Pray Today

I Pray Today has:

  • beautiful, simple art
  • faces on every page
  • sing-songy rhymes
  • a repeated phrase (Lord have mercy.)
  • which can be an invitation to a repeated action (saying the prayer and making a cross)
  • sturdy pages

And like a baby book on astrophysics, both of mine have bigger ideas at their core. That gives them a long lifespan for little readers and makes it interesting for the adult readers.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s book tour! I’ve had fun writing on a lot of different topics on a lot of different blogs. If you missed them, you can still find them here:

Blog tour for "I PRAY TODAY"

 

Blog Tour for I Pray Today

Blog tour for "I PRAY TODAY"

Big news! A couple of weeks ago my second book, I Pray Today, was published by Ancient Faith Press. And next week I’m celebrating with a blog tour. I’ll be visiting blogs of fellow Orthodox writers and bloggers and covering a wide variety of topics:

  • Parenting
  • Teaching with children’s books
  • Prayer
  • Family life
  • Writing

Sign up now for daily emails linking to the day’s post.

You can also follow along on Twitter by following me at @aisaacswrites or look for the hashtag #ipraytoday

So where will I be?

I’m super excited, so I hope you’ll join us!

 

5 Surprising Things About Publishing A Children’s Book

5 Surprising things about publishing a children's book

In two months, my second book for children, I PRAY TODAY, will be published by Ancient Faith Press. When I did this the first time with GOODNIGHT JESUS, there were things that surprised me about the process.

How many of these did you know?

 

1. BOOK PUBLISHING TAKES A LONG TIME

FLORIS BOOKS - Inforgraphic flowchart of the publishing process

 

I wrote the first draft of GOODNIGHT JESUS when my oldest daughter was a year old. By the time it was published, she was six. That’s not uncommon.

I wasn’t totally unprepared for this. Before I started writing for children, I was an PhD student. Academic publishing is notoriously slow. When I submitted research papers for review, I had to wait 6 to 9 months for a response.

Then I was a freelance writer working with textbook publishers. Even though I wasn’t writing the textbook, I got an idea of how involved the process is. I dealt with editors, copyeditors, the person who checks copyrights, the contractors drawing the diagrams, the fact checkers, the authors, … The lists goes on.

Floris books put together an infographic flowchart above to show just how involved the publishing process is. And this isn’t even for an illustrated children’s book. My editor Jane Meyer who also authors her own children’s books shared a blog post showing the process for a children’s book. Because the artwork is so important to illustrated children’s books, the process is more involved and more expensive than for an adult book.

In the children’s book market, two years from acceptance to published book is a good turn around. GOODNIGHT JESUS was around 2.5 years from acceptance to publication. I PRAY TODAY will be 1.5 years. Understand that it takes time for everyone to do their jobs at every step of the process. No, that doesn’t make it any easier to be patient.

Also, if you ask me how the book is going, don’t be surprised if I have no idea.

 

2. YOU DON’T GET TO PICK THE ILLUSTRATOR – AND THAT’S OK

Goodnight Jesus interior pages

One thing that consistently surprises people is that children’s book author’s don’t pick their illustrator. Not every publishing house or every editor does things the same, but this is consistent. Someone at the publishing house – an editor or art director usually – picks the illustrator.

The author also doesn’t get a lot of say over what the images will look like. So if the editor thinks your story is best told with space aliens instead of the bunnies you envisioned, then you get aliens. Maybe you had pictured your story taking place in a big house in the country, but the illustrator draws it as a big city apartment.

Editors also get cranky if you include too many art notes (notes specify what the illustration should look like on a page). So unless you need a specific image for the text to make sense, leave out the art notes. In GOODNIGHT JESUS there was just one art note. The line “A kiss for George – reach higher!” doesn’t make much sense without the art note: “Child is too short to reach the icon.” That’s it. The only art note in the whole thing. Yes really.

Most writers cringe at the thought of losing control of their story like this. And most readers are flabbergasted as to how you get a coherent story that way. But believe me when I say that 999 times out of 1000, it works out.

Here’s the thing: editors, art directors, and illustrators are really good at their jobs. They can envision artwork that will not just compliment your story but actually make it better. When I envisioned GOODNIGHT JESUS, I imagined a child interacting with static icons. One of the other brilliant people came up with the idea to put the baby right there in Jesus’s arms. It makes these people alive and engaging. It’s also a powerful statement of faith and child-like perception. And it’s something I never would have thought of.

As hard as it is for authors to give up the control, it frees the illustrator and art director to come up with their own vision. Would they have thought of this if I had laid out my vision in explicit detail? Probably not.

So I’ve learned to sit back and watch in awe as these people work their magic. And I feel super appreciative that they are making my work look so good.

 

3. HOW MUCH WORK I HAD AFTER THE MANUSCRIPT WAS ACCEPTED

My manuscript was accepted! Time to sip wine and wait for the checks to roll in, right?

No.

Not at all.

No matter how perfectly polished you think your story is, something will need to change. 

Look back at the inforgraphic in #1. See how many times it says that the author is doing something. Yeah.

For awhile your manuscript will disappear into the publishing black hole as it works it’s way through the invisible stages of publishing. But soon enough, they’ll be putting you to work. First comes the editor’s take: a marked-up version of your manuscript with notes about unclear passages, weak words, and bumpy meter, for instance. Even in my super sort manuscripts, there were changes to be made. Once I finished the edits, it went back into the black hole for a bit longer.

Because GOODNIGHT JESUS and I PRAY TODAY are both board books, they’re very short and had few edits to make. (I still find it weird to submit a “book” that’s shorter than some of my grocery lists. But I digress.)

Eventually, it lands on the desk of the copyeditor who inevitably finds a whole pile of missed commas, punctuation errors, and other silly mistakes. They send me a corrected version and ask me to look over it. I cringe at my mistakes and thank all of creation that someone caught them before I got to look like a fool in print. And I work as an editor – it happens to the best of us.

And then the early illustrations are done and they ask for feedback. And then the proofs need to be looked over (digital copies of the pages as they will appear in print). And then… you get the idea.

The exact amount of back and forth depends on the publishing house, but there are always edits to be made and things to do. Instead of feeling defensive when other’s find errors, I think about how awesome it is to have so many people working so hard to make my work the best it can be.

 

4. HOW HARD IT IS TO NOT SHARE THE EARLY ARTWORK

 

This may just be me, but every sneak peek at the artwork makes me super excited. I just want to shout out to the rooftops “I WROTE A THING AND SOMEONE MADE REALLY PRETTY PICTURES FOR IT!” And then I would hold them hostage while I make them look at all the pretty pictures. It’s a little like having a new baby – you have to show everyone just how darn cute it is.

But there’s also this thing called copyright. And marketing plans. And other adult things I’m forgetting that also mean it’s a bad idea for me to post everything on the internet.

So instead I post when I can and save my intense enthusiasm and forced photo appreciation for my immediate family. You’re welcome.

 

5. HOW MUCH WORK THERE IS AFTER THE BOOK IS PUBLISHED

Ok, so my two-ish years are nearly up! The illustrator and all the people at the publishing house have done their magic to make my book as wonderful as possible. It’s being printed out and will soon be a real book!

So now can I sip wine and wait for the checks to roll in?

Uhm, no.

Once upon a few decades ago, a publisher could put out a book and people would just buy it. There are a lot more books being published these days (yay!) which means that there is a lot more competition (boo!). So unless you’re already a household name, expect to spend some time on marketing your new book – a website so your readers can find you, social media so you can keep in touch, connecting with readers through school visits and speaking engagements, … None of these things are strictly required, but they do help potential readers connect with your work. I happen to enjoy such work, so expect to see website changes and social media posts about I PRAY TODAY in the near future.

But hey, soon I can go full fan-girl over this fabulous thing I made. (Or is that just me?)

With two months left before I PRAY TODAY is fully birthed into the world, I’m still having to keep my enthusiasm to myself. But expect to hear a lot more soon.

Kidlit Karma Reviews: April 2018

April 2018: Kidlit Karma book reviews

At the end of 2017, I made a pledge. I challenged myself to review good books every month in 2018, particularly books that haven’t gotten as much love as I feel they deserve. I call it Kidlit Karma because I’m aiming to spread the love for books that I love.

April is poetry month, so today’s post features all picture books with outstanding use of poetic devices. I have divided them into rhyming and free verse poetry.

 

RHYMING PICTURE BOOKS

People often assume that picture books MUST be written in rhyme – not true!

People also often assume that writing rhyming picture books is easy – definitely not true!

I’ve published one board book in rhyme and have another one coming later this year. So I can tell you from experience that nailing down perfect rhyme and meter is no easy feat.

So when I see someone who has done an excellent job, I take notice.

Picture Book: SOME PETS by Angela Diterlizzi and Brendan Wenzel

Cover art for SOME PETS

This book is written in a snappy beat and short lines that will keep even young kids engaged. The language is rich despite only having three words per line. (And two of them repeat in almost every line!) The illustrations are funny and help to carry the story. Overall, this is a fun and bouncy rhyming picture book that will suit a wide range of ages.

SOME PETS on Amazon

 

Picture Book: TWINDERELLA: A FRACTIONED FAIRY TALE by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Deborah Marcero

Cover art for TWINDERELLA: A FRACTIONED FAIRY TALE

Cinderella has a twin sister. Who knew? This clever take on the fractured fairy tale combines perfect rhyme and meter with a STEM focus on fractions. Poetry, humor, and STEM – bestill my nerdy, kidlit-loving heart. The most impressive part is that none of these parts were sacrificed for the sake of the others: the poetry is perfect, the story is lovely, and the math is accurate and amusing.

TWINDERELLA on Amazon

 

FREE VERSE PICTURE BOOKS

My last two poetic picture books are a little different. Just as people mistakenly assume that picture books must rhyme, they also assume that poetry must rhyme. If you don’t already love free verse poetry, I recommend reading these out loud. You’ll be a changed person.

Picture Book: SIT-IN: HOW FOUR FRIENDS STOOD UP BY SITTING DOWN by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney

Cover art for SIT-IN

I can’t help but gush about this book. First, the language is sumptuous and superb. So much so, that I would argue with the book description. This isn’t prose; it’s free verse poetry. But it’s also a true story well, told well. And it’s has a message that is important in any age. The two parts (poetry and true story) complement each other: the poetry brings in a sense of vibrancy and emotion that lets readers connect to the people in the story, their plight, and the power of their actions.

 

Picture Book: CROWN: AN ODE TO THE FRESH CUT by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James

Cover art for CROWN: AN ODE TO THE FRESH CUT

Normally, I save my reviews for books that haven’t gotten much reviewing love. This book has gotten plenty of love, including enough awards that they have to arrange them carefully on the cover. But this is one of those books that’s deserves every drop it has gotten and then some.

You could also argue that this book is truly poetic prose instead of free verse poetry. This is one of those cases where the lyrical language is so strong, you’re not quite sure what you’re reading, but you love it in any case.

So go get this book. See why it won all the award and decide for yourself if it’s prose or poetry.

CROWN: AN ODE TO THE FRESH CUT on Amazon

A Manual for Moving Forward: What Science Says about #kidlitwomen and #metoo

A Manual for Moving forward: what science says about #kidlitwomen and #metoo

The #metoo movement has swept the world. Last month, that tidal wave crashed into the kidlit community. It started with an article by author Anne Ursu on sexual harassment within the children’s book industry. She conducted an anonymous survey and shared her eye-opening results. Then things really took off with a post by the School Library Journal. I don’t often say this, but the comments are enlightening.

 

MOVING FORWARD

The kidlit community is still struggling with how to handle this situation. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) revamped their sexual harassment policy. Abusers have been formally barred from the organizations and conferences. Agents and publishing houses have been slower to drop abusers who they represent and have published, but it is happening. One publisher has even made the decision to delay publication of a book so it could be re-illustrated after the first illustrator was outed as a serial abuser. And women are banding together under the #kidlitwomen movement to take back our industry.

It’s a start. But if we’re going to reshape the kidlit community, we need more people acting to make that happen.

I’ve considered how I can contribute to #kidlitwomen and support my fellow female writers. My other great passion (besides writing) is science. In a former life, I was a PhD-track academic studying language and the human brain. So looking for answers naturally led to science and what it can tell us about this moment and this movement.

 

COGNITIVE DISSONANCE: Now what?

The recent revelations of sexual harassment in kidlit were jarring. (I wish I could say that’s it’s equally jarring to see how men have consistently been supported to the detriment of women, but many of us saw that one coming.)

It’s jarring partly because the view from the outside is a very loving and supportive community. And from the inside, that is the predominant experience. It’s one of the best communities I’ve ever been privileged to participate in.

But predominant experiences aren’t the only experience within our community. Some have experienced harassment, assault, and manipulation. Professional organizations have allowed this to continue for years.

Realizing that the mostly warm fuzzy community you love was also hiding predators is unsettling. Cognitive dissonance is the scientific term for this feeling. It’s the jarring sensation you get when you have two contradictory ideas. It’s like realizing your sweet uncle Bob, that always brought you the just-right book to shepherd you through the turbulent teen years, was also a hit man for the mob. It’s upsetting. It makes you question EVERYTHING.

You have two options:

  1. Deny or downplay the new information that caused the cognitive dissonance. (“Uncle Bob would never do that!” or “But he’s a really nice guy.” or “He’s just been having a really hard time in his marriage.”)
  2. Accept the new information and change your worldview. Taking apart your broken set of beliefs and putting them back together is a truer, better way. It’s uncomfortable, but in the end, it’s better. And it’s the only way to move forward.

Cognitive dissonance doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Reassessing is a necessary part of life. You might still care about uncle Bob, but given what you now know it would be plain stupid not to change how you interact with him.

So in this moment, when our view of the kidlit community has been flipped inside out, take a breath. Don’t resist the discomfort with a “no they didn’t” or “nothing is wrong” or “it’s not a big deal.” Resist the urge to defned or rationalize away what you now know.

Pause. Listen. Process.

Then let your worldview shift. Accepting and acting on this newly discovered reality is how we move on.

 

BYSTANDER EFFECT: How do I stop sexual harassment?

Ready to take action? Great! You’re determined to be a part of the solution and put a stop to sexual harassment. How do you do that? Let’s start somewhere a little easier.

Imagine you’re in a crowded grocery store – everyone is rushing to get food for the next big holiday. And in the middle of a crowded aisle, an older woman trips and falls. She’s sitting there, leaning against cans of corn beef.

You’re just as harried as everyone else – you’ve got food to buy, preparations to make, kids whining. Do you stop and ask if she’s ok? If she’s fine, you lose time, look a bit foolish, and maybe embarrass her. Lots of other people are there and none of them seem to be rushing to the woman’s aid.

Research says you’ll most likely keep going. It’s called the bystander effect – the more bystanders that see the little woman in the canned-meat aisle, the less each one feels responsible for her.

If you saw that same older woman trip on a remote mountaintop it would be obvious that you should act – no one else is around, and she has no other way to get help. But when you’re surrounded by other people, you don’t feel quite as responsible.

It’s often unclear if help is needed. The woman may just need a minute to regain her composure. Or she could have had a stroke. She might not be able to call out for help because of her physical condition in the moment. But if everyone is looking and waiting for someone else to act, then no one ever gets around to it.

There’s a really simple cure for the bystander effect.

  1. Know that it exists and realize that people are unlikely to act.
  2. Act on that realization.

It’s the same concept that underlies the phrase “if you see something, say something.”

Smile and say hi to the women. Maybe make a joke or tell an anecdote to put her at ease and relieve her embarrassment. “Sometimes I think they put ice on these floors.”

Then offer her a hand up. She may turn it down. She may gratefully smile back, take the hand up then finish her shopping. Or she may be unable to get up or unable to respond. No more ambiguity, call an ambulance. If you need help, single out a specific person in the crowd. Make it obvious that that person, yes, you in the red shirt are now responsible for calling the ambulance. Now you’ve broken through another person’s bystander effect, too.

Now imagine that instead of a feeble woman at the grocery, you’re in a crowded post-conference get-together. Lots of those lovely kidlit folk are chatting about their favorite topic – books! – while sipping wine. You notice a man putting an arm around a woman. She looks a bit uncomfortable but doesn’t pull away. Everyone else keeps chatting, unconcerned. She hasn’t pulled away or asked for help; does that mean she’s fine? Or is it like the lady in the grocery store where everyone is assuming someone else will act. Is she trapped by the social situation in the same way the grocery lady might be trapped by her physical situation? Anyone who has given in to middle school peer pressure knows that you can be manipulated by a situation or a powerful person, be they the popular girl, a schoolyard bully, or a sexual predator hiding among the kidlit sheep. Anne Ursu’s survey results were full of examples of situations where women did not feel they could speak out on their own behalf.

What to do? Like the lady in the grocery, if you see something, do something. Approach with compassion. Try to ease awkwardness and embarrassment. And if you sense a dangerous situation, get help.

If it were me, I would walk up and say “Excuse me, do you know where the ladies room is? Could you show me?” I’ve now engaged, I can better judge the situation. And I’ve given her a valid excuse to leave the situation on good social terms. She can choose to take the hand I extend or not. But if I sensed she was in real danger – like a man separating her from me, trying to pull her away, or preventing her from grabbing that metaphorical hand, I would be more direct. “You look uncomfortable. Do you need help? Would you like me to call someone?”

Would I be embarrassed? VERY. I would probably be beet red and feel like an intruder, but it’s important. If I misread the situation, they can laugh at me later. But if I didn’t….. I don’t want to be complicit through my lack of action.

So you reading this, yes you with the good intentions feeling uncertain how to proceed, step out of the crowd and act. Act when you see someone in need. Act even if you’re not sure help is needed. Act even though you feel embarrassed. Just ACT.

 

TEND AND BEFRIEND: How do I prevent sexual harassment?

Long ago, researchers found that people have one of two reactions to threat: fight or flight. So when you stumble into a bear in your backyard, you can either fight it or run away.

That research was based on men. New research found a wider variety of responses. They found that women, in particular, are more likely to protect their children and band together for group protection. Since scientists like rhyme as much as writers, they coined the phrase “tend and befriend.”

Tend and befriend is a powerful way of dealing with threats. You can see it in action in many cultures and times. When deforestation threatened the lives of people in Africa, it was women who banded together to replant the trees. In Liberia, women organized after 14 brutal years of civil war and won peace. In the US, women have banded together again and again to create change for women and minorities.

A single person may seem to have little power, but when those small actions are put together for a common purpose, they can effect enormous change.

So how can tend and befriend work for creating change in the kidlit community?

  • TEND: First, we need to protect the most vulnerable. That means protecting those that have already suffered sexual harassment. It also means creating protections for those who are more vulnerable such as women who may be harassed by a more powerful abuser. Or women of color who are doubly vulnerable. Acting in the moment is powerful and necessary. Tend to the woman at cocktail hour with the unwelcome arm around her shoulders.
  • BEFRIEND: If we want to effect large change and create a community where sexual harassment is not tolerated, we need to join together as a band of brave women and their allies. We are stronger together, so let’s use that power.

As a band of women and allies, we can push the gatekeepers of our industry to guard the gates and keep the harassers out. Agents, editors, conference organizers – we as a group should demand that all these people have clear policies and practices that protect us all. SCBWI has begun that process as have some agents. Perhaps others are doing it behind closed doors. But I won’t assume others will act, it’s too important. I will say something.

Throughout the month of March, many women and allies will be sharing their #kidlitwomen stories. Including many ways that we can work together to create a better community for everyone. I will be supporting those people by sharing their ideas and taking action. Be engaged on social media. One voice alone is quiet, many together is a roar that can’t be ignored.

 

YOUR MANUAL FOR MOVING FORWARD:

  • Listen and accept that something is broken within the kidlit community.
  • Shift your view to a healthier, truer one.
  • Decide to act.
  • If you see something, say something. Even if you’re unsure if help is needed. (Especially if you’re unsure.)
  • Support one another but especially tend to the most vulnerable in our community.
  • Band together and put all out small efforts together to create a big change in kidlit. A change that makes our whole community a safer place.

 

CLOSING

The #metoo and #kidlitwomen movements are much larger than I can address in a single post.  I limited myself to only discussing sexual harassment and how to prevent it. But I could easily have talked about the culture that allowed the harassment to occur. Or about how the system promotes male authors at the expense of female authors. Or how the double-whammy of sexism and racism makes it especially difficult for women of color. Or the role that men need to take to help us reshape this industry into something safer and more equitable for all. I’m leaving those topics to others who are better equipped to speak to that experience. We’re a band of brave women, after all. We don’t need to deliver every message, sometimes it’s enough to pass the microphone.

A Manual for Moving forward: what science says about #kidlitwomen and #metoo