Tag: philosophical ramblings

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.

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"

 

I PRAY TODAY Blog Tour Day 4

Blog tour for "I PRAY TODAY"

It’s day 4 of my blog tour! If you haven’t already, check out the Day 1 post at Raising Saints, the Day 2 post on Orthodox Motherhood, and the Day 3 post on the Time Eternal blog.

Today I’m over on Charlotte Riggle’s blog talking about using children’s books for teaching kids. Check it out:

 

READ THE POST

 

3 Children’s Books With Disabled Main Characters: Kidlit Karma August 2018

3 Children's Books with Disabled Main Characters with Guest blogger Charlotte Riggle

Charlotte Riggle HeadshotAt 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.

This summer I’ve welcomed several writing friends to share books that they love. Today I’m happy to welcome Charlotte Riggle, my friend and fellow children’s book writer. Charlotte and I have never met in person, but we’ve traveled in the same small online writing circles for many years.

Charlotte is a voice for disability representation in children’s books. Both her most recent picture book, THE SAINT NICHOLAS DAY SNOW, and her the previous book, CATHERINE’S PASCHA, feature the main character’s disabled best friend. Neither story is about disability, they’re about children being children. They just happen to be different.

Cover art for THE SAINT NICHOLAS DAY SNOW by Charlotte Riggle          Cover art for CATHERINE'S PASCHA

Take it away Charlotte!


Books are magical. When you read a book, you can travel into the future or into the past. You can visit cities and worlds you’ve never been to. You can see animals that you never knew existed. And you can meet people that aren’t like the people in your neighborhood.

And all of this magic has a wonderful influence on the minds and hearts of children. Children who meet all sorts of people – different ages, different races, different abilities – are less likely to accept stereotypes. They are more likely to respond with empathy to all sorts of people. And, wonderfully, magically, meeting those people in books does the same thing.

So it’s important that our children read books about all sorts of people. Including people with disabilities. But there are genuinely not many children’s books with disabled characters. So here are three to get you started: a picture book and two middle grade novels. 

 

Picture Book: A SPLASH OF RED: THE LIFE AND ART OF HORACE PIPPIN by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet

Book cover for A SPLASH OF RED: THE ART AND LIFE OF HORACE PIPPIN

If you’re not a student of American art, you probably haven’t heard of Horace Pippin. I hadn’t until I discovered this wonderful book. Pippin is considered a folk artist, or an American primitive artist, like Grandma Moses.

A Splash of Red is a richly detailed biography of Pippin. He was born in 1888 and had what might be considered a privileged life for the grandson of slaves. He attended school through eighth grade. He loved art and drew and painted with whatever materials he could find.

When World War I started, he volunteered to serve. He was injured in combat – his right shoulder was badly damaged. He couldn’t draw anymore. He couldn’t paint. And he couldn’t find anyone willing to hire him.

He married. He helped his wife with her business. And he longed to draw and paint.

Eventually, that passion drove him to do what everyone thought was impossible. He supported his injured right arm with his left hand, and with time and determination, he began painting again.

A Splash of Red is gorgeous, as any book about an artist should be. There’s a wealth of detailed information in the back of the book. The book isn’t intended for very young children. But a child interested in history or art will read this one over and over again.

A SPLASH OF RED: THE LIFE AND ART OF HORACE on Amazon

 

Middle Grade: INSIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS by Dusti Bowling

Cover art for INSIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS

Aven, the main character of Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, was born without arms. But she hasn’t let that stop her. She has learned to do almost anything any other kid can do, using what she does have: her mouth, her feet, and her wit. Her friends at school have known her since forever, and they’re used to the way she does things. It’s just not a big deal.

But then her dad gets a job running an run-down theme park in Arizona. The family moves across the country. And at age 13, Aven finds herself in a new school, with kids who don’t know her, and who think she’s a bit of a freak.

Aven doesn’t like being stared at. She doesn’t like being treated as if she can’t do things for herself. She just wants to go home to Kansas. But that’s not an option. So she finds a mystery that needs to be solved. Disappearing tarantulas. Missing photographs. A locked room and a locked desk.

Somehow, the mystery seems to have something to do with her.

Along the way, she makes friends with a couple of boys who are also outsiders: Zion, who is seriously overweight, and Connor, who has Tourette’s. Together, they could do what none of them could do alone.

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactusis notable for its realistic and unsentimental portrayal of uncommon disabilities. The characters aren’t written as collections of stereotypes. They are well rounded, interesting, utterly charming human beings. And while they grow and develop through their experiences, they do not encounter miraculous cures.

The book is a delight on every level. The publisher recommends it for kids in grades 3 to 7. But if you have an older child who has a significant disability, or who knows someone with a disability, I’m sure this book will resonate with them.

To learn how Dusti Bowling made sure the characters were realistic, read the interview on the Nerdy Book Club.

INSIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS on Amazon

 

Middle Grade: HANDBOOK FOR DRAGON SLAYERS by Merrie Haskell

Covert art for HANDBOOK FOR DRAGON SLAYERS

Tilda is the Princess of Alder Brook. But she isn’t particularly interested in being a princess. She would much rather be a nun, working alone in a scriptorium, copying books – or, even better, writing her own books. 

Of course, she’s got a lot of reasons for preferring books to the life of a princess. For one thing, her principality is in dire financial straits. For another, many of her subjects think she’s cursed. She’s got a club foot, after all.

The club foot affects who Tilda is and what she does. It’s not just the people who think she’s cursed. Her own mother won’t let her ride horses or do anything else where she might get hurt.

And there’s the pain. Her foot hurts. A lot. Her maidservant, Judith, knows how to help. But the pain and disability make it hard for her to do some things that are easy for others.

There are days that running away from her life at Alder Brook seems like a good idea.

And when her cousin Ivo kidnaps her mother, and then Tilda, to take Alder Brook away from them, she has to run away to survive. Judith and a would-be squire named Parzifal join her. They decide that, while avoiding Ivo, they should go on a quest to kill dragons.

Because it gives them something to do. And dragons are evil, right?

Well, that’s what Tilda and her companions think at the beginning of their quest. But through their encounters with the Wild Hunt, the Horses of Elysium, an evil magician, and (of course) a dragon, they learn a great deal about dragons – and about themselves.

I don’t just read YA – I read middle grade novels and picture books, too. And Handbook for Dragon Slayers is perhaps my favorite middle grade novel of all time. Tilda’s encounters with the dragon are especially wonderful.

You can read an interview with author Merrie Haskell on Disability in Kidlit, along with a fabulous review by a reader who also has a clubfoot.

HANDBOOK FOR DRAGON SLAYERS on Amazon

 

Thank you, Charlotte!

3 Children's Books with Disabled Main Characters with Guest blogger Charlotte Riggle

Kidlit Karma Reviews: July 2018

 KidlitKarma: July 2018 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.

This month’s collection of books are all inspired by my eldest daughter, who is a struggling reader. Yes, children of writers can be struggling readers. So can bookworms. Though I was never diagnosed, I strongly suspect I’m mildly dyslexic.

Yes, writers can be dyslexic, too.

If all of this is throwing you for a loop, I recommend the book The Dyslexic Advantage. Not every struggling student is dyslexic, but for the 1 in 5 students who are dyslexic and the adults that love them, this book is revolutionary.

Cover art for THE DYSLEXIC ADVANTAGE

What if I told you there were books that are easy to read and enjoyable enough that even struggling readers will willingly devour them? 

It’s not magic, it’s graphic novels. 

So here’s the part where you start telling me that these aren’t real books, etc. Is a child reading a comic getting practice at decoding words? Are they having fun and learning to like reading so they will want to read more in the future? Yes and yes. And that will make them a better and more willing reader later.

I’m not the only one that thinks graphic novels are a boon to struggling and reluctant readers. 

Here’s why: Graphic novels tend to have more complex plots (befitting an older child) while having simpler language and smaller wordcounts appropriate to a struggling reader.

It’s about buy-in. My eldest listens to audiobook novels for kids twice her age. So she detests having to read easy readers. Something with a real plot that’s within her ability is very welcome.

Graphic novels have been the gateway for many readers. When you see a child who has struggled for years, picks up a book an inch thick and read it in 5 hours straight – there’s nothing to match their excitement at reading a “BIG” book or your pride at seeing the many hours of hard work come to fruition. And because of that success and excitement, she has read voraciously every since.

Maybe it is magic after all.

So with that in mind, here are some of our favorite graphic novels to get you started.

 

Graphic Novel: GHOSTS by Raina Telgemeier

Cover art for GHOSTS by Raina Telgemeier

Cat is not happy about having to move to a new town, but her little sister Maya is sick and they have to make the move to keep her healthy. Once they move, they discover that the town is haunted. But are the ghosts evil or friendly?

This story weaves together the kind of complex social struggles of a middle grade novel with the Mexican custom of the Day of the Dead. I present this book as a refute to the claim that graphic novels don’t involve brilliant bring-you-to-tears storytelling.

Raina Telgemeier has many more award-winning graphic novels, so make sure to check them all out.

Get GHOSTS on Amazon

 

Graphic Novel: ZITA THE SPACEGIRL series by Ben Hatke

Cover art for ZITA THE SPACEGIRL by Ben Hatke

Zita is a normal girl until her best friend is kidnapped by an intergalactic group. Now she’s on a rescue mission on a doomed planet with some unlikely companions.

My daughter got the first Zita book as a gift from her best friend. Since then, the whole family has read and reread all the books. These beloved books have earned a permanent place in our library.

Get ZITA THE SPACEGIRL on Amazon

 

Graphic Novel: PHOEBE AND HER UNICORN by Dana Simpson

Cover art for PHOEBE AND HER UNICORN by Dana Simpson

Phoebe is out skipping rocks one day and smacks a unicorn, breaking her from the spell of her own reflection. As thanks for freeing her, the unicorn grants her one wish. Phoebe’s wish: to be best friends with a unicorn. But she gets a bit more than she bargained for.

My husband was the one to discover this series. It was originally posted as a webcomic and we both fell in love with the humor and wit. We introduced it to our daughter, and that was that.

Get PHOEBE AND HER UNICORN on Amazon

 

Graphic Memoir: REAL FRIENDS by Shannon Hale

Cover art for REAL FRIENDS by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

Making friends is not easy. It certainly wasn’t for shy little Shannon. And even when she had The Group to play with, she wasn’t sure they were friends worth having. Finding real friends is hard, but ultimately worth it.

This award-winning book is full of humor and heart. And though it’s set in the 70’s, the story is timeless

Get REAL FRIENDS on Amazon

 

Graphic Memoir: EL DEAFO by Cece Bell

Cover art for EL DEAFO by Cece Bell

A miraculous new invention gives young Cece the ability to hear for the first time. But school is hard enough without a bulky hearing aid. She enlists the help of her superhero persona El Deafo to take on the school and make friends.

Get EL DEAFO on Amazon

 

Graphic Novel: CATSTRONAUTS: MISSION TO THE MOON by Drew Brockington

Cover art for CATSTRONAUTS: MISSION TO THE MOON by Drew Brockington

The world has run out of electricity and it will be a permanent lights-out unless the brave Catstronauts can fix the problem.

What’s cuter than cats? How about cats in space! These books are a delight with a fun narrative, purrfect puns, and gorgeous illustrations. My kids giggled all the way through and eagerly asked for more.

Get CATSTRONAUTS on Amazon

 

6 Great Graphic Novels for Struggling Readers

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

Why Some Resolutions are Doomed to Fail and How to Set Goals That Work

Why Some Resolutions are Doomed to Fail and how to Set Goals that Work

Many people set New Years Resolutions. When you set resolutions the right way, you can push yourself to achieve big things. But there’s one trap we all fall into when setting resolutions and goals.

Let me give you an example.

My biggest 2017 goal was to get a literary agent. An agent will help me achieve my larger career goals by giving me more guidance, helping me produce the best possible work, and opening more doors.

So throughout 2017, I did all the things you’re supposed to do to get a golden ticket to the land of agented writers. I wrote a lot; I improved my writing through classes, webinars, and conferences; I read copious numbers of books; and I submitted widely but wisely.

I did all the right things. No agent.

Why? Because it’s true what agents say: sometimes the time isn’t right or the fit isn’t right or the stars just do not align in my favor. I came close, but it just wasn’t right.

I “failed” my goal despite having the most productive writing year of my life, despite getting a new book under contract, despite reading a bunch of wonderful books, and improving my writing craft.

Someone rightly pointed out that my goal was doomed from the beginning because it was a goal that was out of my control.

I can’t make an agent fall in love with my book. I can’t make the industry change to suit my writing style. I can’t demand that an agent with a full client list, make room for little ol’ me. All I can do is make myself the best possible writer and be ready when the stars do finally align in my favor.

So I flipped the perspective.

Instead of goals we can’t control:

  • I will get an agent
  • I will get a promotion at work
  • I will get a book deal

I’m dedicating myself to the type of goals I can control:

  • I will write, read, learn, and submit
  • I will exceed all deliverable goals at work
  • I will write daily

In the end, these things often amount to the same thing. Doing your best on the things you can control often leads to the outcomes you can’t control. I didn’t set a goal to have the most productive writing year of my life, but it happened because I aimed to write daily.

I didn’t get an agent this year. But I did set the groundwork to be the best writer I can be. In time, that will attract an agent. I just have to remember to keep doing the work and have faith.

When my stars align, I will be ready.

 

Check out this post to learn more about setting wise resolutions.

DOs and DON'Ts for New Year's Resolutions You'll Actually Keep

The Kidlit Karma Project

2018 Kidlit Karma Challende

Every year I spend some time thinking about what I want my life to look like in the New Year. I know that my life is better when I spend time on the things that are meaningful to me. That’s why I make it a goal to write five days a week, why I try to read a bit each day, and why I carve out time to volunteer for causes I believe in.

Quote: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit." Will Durant

The little things add up. This year I wrote more than ever before. I’m on target to read 500 books for the 3rd year in a row. And I’m proud of how much the charities I support were able to achieve.

Those little habits can be just as powerful for making positive changes in the world.

My local food cooperative, Common Ground, allows you to round up your purchase to the nearest dollar and donate the change to a monthly charity. The pennies add up. Even in our small community, we routinely raise thousands of dollars each month for community charities.

Quote: "Sometimes," said Pooh, "The smallest things take up the most room in your heart." A. A. Milne

Money is easy to measure. It’s harder to quantify the small acts of kindness. A friendly smile to someone who is lonely, a willing ear for someone who is hurt, a hug for a child who is struggling – we can’t know the exact impact of these things. But these things are no less important.

Small acts of kindness, done thoughtfully and consistently, can have big impacts.

So I have been thinking: how can I harness this power of the small habits to create the kind of world I want to live in? I’ve been thinking about this in all aspects of my life. Here, I will talk about how this relates to writing.

Quote: "Be the change you want to see in the world." Mahatma Gandhi

I love to read. That’s not news, nor is it news that I am passionate about children’s literature.

Books also have powerful effects on growing minds. Children can become more compassionate just by reading books. They slip into a character’s skin and get a view of the world from a different point of view. All while exercising their minds and having a good time.

In the last few years, I have taken time to recommend many books that I truly believe in. In true fangirl fashion, when I find something I love I just can’t help but gush about it. But it’s also one small way that I can help adults and kids connect with some of the amazing stories out there.

It’s also been a way for me to highlight overlooked books. These are excellent books but, for whatever reason, they haven’t gotten as much attention as they deserve.

Quote: "No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted." Aesop

In 2018, I want to take it a step further.

A good review is like a love letter to the author and illustrator. We rarely get direct feedback on our writing. We don’t speak to the people buying our books or see how they affect the lives of our readers, so we don’t get to see their impact. Unprompted, honest support of our work can mean the world to an author.

Reviews also have tangible positive effects for authors and illustrators. Leaving reviews on Amazon and Goodreads is one of the best ways to support authors. Books with more honest, positive feedback will show up higher in search results. They are more likely to be suggested as additional purchases or “books you may like.” That translates into more sales.

I’m already reading lots of books. I’m already evangelizing about great kidlit. But I’m not taking the small next step of posting the reviews. I’m not reviewing in a way that will best help readers reach those books. And I’m not sending my love and appreciation to the authors and illustrators who worked so hard to create those books.

Quote: "A good review is like a love letter to the author."

I’m going to fix that.

The Kidlit Karma challenge: Every month in 2018, I will leave an honest, positive review on Amazon and Goodreads for a book I love.

The nitty gritty:

  • Once each calendar month I will review a book on Amazon and Goodreads.
  • I will only review books that I can honestly rate with 4 or 5 stars.
  • I will leave at least one paragraph explaining why I love this book.
  • To increase visibility, I will also crosspost my kidlit love letter on my blog and social media accounts.
  • I will use the hashtag #kidlitkarma to make postings searchable and to create buzz.
  • To have the biggest impact, I will reserve my reviews for books that have smaller numbers of reviews.

One book a month. One paragraph a month. It’s a small gift of my time that can have a big impact on others.

Here’s the thing: small acts build up more quickly when you join forces. Are you a writer, a reader, a librarian, an educator, or a lover of kidlit? You can spread the love, too.

Take the pledge!

2018 Kidlit Karma Badge

Grab this graphic and proudly post it on your blog, webpage, or social media accounts. Let others know you’re going to make your world a little better, one kid book at a time. Post in the comments with your URL, twitter handle, etc. so we can see what great books you’re reviewing each month.

 

The 5(+1) Stages of Critique Grief for Writers

I’ve just come back from an Illinois SCBWI Spring conference. The whole conference was themed around writing pitches. I got to sit down at a table with other writers and an agent while they gave me feedback on my work. Not only that, I got back an agent critique that was full of hard truths. Getting professional feedback on your work is both vitally important and…. well…. terrifying.

Which has me reflecting on the nature of the critique beast. Getting feedback on your work is a lot like the 5 stages of grief. (BUG IN A VACUUM by Melanie Watt does a wonderful job of illustrating this process.)

5 STAGES OF CRITIQUE GRIEF FOR WRITERS

  1. DENIAL: “No, you’re wrong. There’s nothing wrong with my narrative arc.”
  2. ANGER: “How dare you! What do you know anyway?”
  3. BARGAINING: “But I can leave in just this one part, right?”
  4. DEPRESSION: “I’ll never get published. This manuscript is hopeless.”
  5. ACCEPTANCE: “Ok, you have a point. I guess I’ll have to revise.”

For writers I would add one more step to the process:

6. EXCITEMENT: “Wow, this is so much better!”

This is what people mean when they say you need to have “tough skin” in this business. We pour our hearts and souls into our writing then serve it up on a platter for others to tear apart. It’s hard. Just remember that your work will be better when you accept help.

Some people get to the depression stage and just give up.  Finding flaws in your writing is not a terminal diagnosis. One-dimensional characters can be rewritten. Plot holes can be bridged. Stilted dialogue can be changed.

The only thing that’s terminal, is giving up. If you keep going and get to the other end of this process, your work will be much stronger.

This process works better the more times you do it. Every time you throw yourself into this process, you get a little better. So not only is your first manuscript stronger at the end, your tenth manuscript will start out stronger because of what you learned in the previous nine manuscripts. And by the time you get it to the end of the process, it will be a masterpiece that you couldn’t have dreamt of back there at manuscript number one.

If your thinking that subjecting yourself to this emotional turmoil more than once sounds like a writerly version of hell, let me tell you a little secret:

When you’ve been at it awhile, this process changes a bit.

5 STAGES OF CRITIQUE GRIEF FOR THE EXPERIENCED WRITER

  1. DENIAL: “No, you’re wrong. There’s nothing wrong with my narrative arc.”
  2. ANGER: “How dare you criticize my work! What do you know anyway!”
  3. BARGAINING: “Well, what if I just keep this one part? This character is ok, right?”
  4. DEPRESSION: “I will never get published. This manuscript is hopeless.”
  5. ACCEPTANCE: “Ok, you have a point. I guess I’ll have to revise.”
  6. EXCITEMENT: “Hey, this is going to be so much better. Yay!”

With time and experience, you learn to skip right over all the angst and get to the productive end of the cycle.

Ok, this is a simplification. Of course seasoned professional writers can get emotional when they’re getting feedback. They’re people, not robots, after all. But with experience these emotions aren’t so raw. And they can move to the good stuff at the end more quickly. After all, they’ve been to the other side and seen the fruits of this process.

So, take a breath. Thank the person for their time. Then go have some chocolate. In a day or a week or a month when the sting is a little less, you can sort out what’s valuable and use it to improve your work. The important part is to keep going so you can get to the shiny new manuscript at the end of the tunnel.

After this conference, I have a lot of feedback to sort through but I’m looking forward to the manuscripts that will come out of the other side.

But first, chocolate.