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