Monday, June 30, 2014

You Have a Great Idea for a Middle Grade or Young Adult Book? Now What Do You Do?

So you have a wonderful idea for a book.  How can you turn that fabulous idea into a great book?  And how do other authors do it?  

Certainly middle grade novels require a bit of amping down, but with young adult, all bets are off.  You can create the creepiest, meanest, or most selfless and heroic characters you want without fear of doing so.  In fact, young adult novels have become known as “crossovers,” appropriate for teens and adults alike!

Let’s start with characters—protagonists and antagonists.  Immediately move them out of the ordinary but not too slant.  By that I mean, keep them a little bit “everyman” while making them non-ordinary.  Most of us write characters with whom we can identify—those within our comfort zone.  Get rid of that notion.  Try writing about the hapless, the flawed, those who are different than you but, of course, are still human with many of the same desires and wishes.  Hard to do?  Yes, but so worthwhile in creating a complex and memorable character.  (Think Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Margaret Atwood.) In The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood gives the Cinderella protagonist no quarter—and no handsome prince to save the day.  She’s on her own, and the readers love it!

Have your characters do—not describe, or talk the reader to death, or kill them with boredom.  In other words (and I hate to say it again but will) show, don’t tell.  Let the people you’ve brought to life on the page live, betray, love, and hate—all the time showing what they do instead of describing how they do it.

Think of gestures you or others do.  Things we’re not really aware of many times on a conscious level. A look, a non-look when one should occur, a gesture, a speech hesitation, too much speech, a realization that one knows s/he has said too much, and s/he knows you (and perhaps the whole table) knows…I could go on forever.  These human markers drive fiction, they drive the story, heck—they drive life!  Use them to your advantage.  But remember, don’t describe them, make your characters live them.

If we (and I place myself first here) can infuse our writing with such techniques, our stories will improve. They will stand out.  They will shine. They will be art imitating life.  And who knows?  They may be as true to life as life itself.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

American Teens Spend 4.2 Minutes Reading on Weekends

My blog today gives another glimpse into American youths' reading habits. In a study by the U.S. Labor Department, Americans between the ages of 15 and 19 spend an average of 4.2 minutes of their weekends and holidays reading.

The research revealed that 20 to 24 year old young people spent an average of 10.2 minutes reading during the weekend and 55 to 64 year olds spend 26.2 minutes on weekend days reading. 

bookstack304For the most part, the average time spent reading goes up with age, except for the 25 to 34 year olds who only spend an average 7.8 minutes reading on weekends.  

The oldest Americans read for more than an hour a day.  These data include reading for fun, which may be why the student age population is low.  

Monday, June 23, 2014

Seventeen Percent of Parents Surveyed Believe Summer Reading Reading is Fundamental

Despite research that indicates the importance of summer reading in preventing children from losing literacy skills, only 17 percent of parents say reading is a top summer priority, according to a new survey from Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) and Macy’s

The survey, conducted by Harris Poll, also finds that children spend nearly three times as many hours weekly watching TV or playing video games as they do reading in the summer. More than 1,000 parents with children ages 5-11 completed the survey online in April. 

More than 60 percent of parents in the survey said they do not believe their child loses reading skills over the summer. However, existing research shows that summer learning loss is a major problem, particularly for low-income children who can lose up to three months of reading skills because of limited access to books and learning opportunities while out of school. The key to helping children maintain and even improve their literacy skills over the summer is providing access to quality books that they can choose based on personal interests. 

Full survey results are highlighted in an executive summary by Harris Poll. Key findings include: 

• On average, parents say their child spends 17.4 hours/week watching TV or playing video games, 16.7 hours/week playing outside and only 5.9 hours/week reading.
• Parents who consider reading to be extremely or very important are twice as likely to have a child who reads every day.
• Children who were involved in a reading program last summer were up to two times more likely to read every day. Yet, over half of parents said their child did not participate in a reading program at all last summer.
• Last summer, children who read because they wanted to were twice as likely to read than children who read because they had to. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Summer Learning Day Across the U.S. on June 20

Summer Learning Day is a national advocacy day recognized to spread awareness about the importance of summer learning for our nation’s youth in helping close the achievement gap and support healthy development in communities all across the country.
Summer learning programs:
  • Maintain and advance participants' academic and developmental growth
  • Support working families
  • Keep children safe and healthy
  • Send young people back to school ready to learn
Summer Learning Day is supported by elected officials and policymakers, public agencies, nonprofit organizations, schools, universities, museums, libraries, and summer camps across the country. 

Whether you’re a community, summer program, school, or parent, there are many ways to celebrate Summer Learning Day!
Visit their Ways to Celebrate web page to learn how you can help spread awareness. 

Don't forget to visit the map to add your event, or find a Summer Learning Day event near you! 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

What Makes a Hero a Hero?

With the release of my biography of KatrinaSimpkins, Katrina and Winter:  Partners in Courage (Guardian Angel Publishing.)  I  began thinking about just what makes a person heroic. It’s a complicated question-or is it?

We all have notions of what makes a hero.  And there are historic standards by which to measure and answer the question as well.  We see a feature or footnote on the TV news and say, “Now that’s a hero!” But, why?

When I hear the word hero, I immediately think of Katrina.  She is a hero to me.  She was handed a hard lot in life through no fault of her own.  She was born with Proximal Femoral Focal Deficiency, a condition that causes one limb to be shorter than the other.  In Katrina’s case, her right leg is the one affected, so she must wear a prosthetic leg.

 She not only copes.  She flourishes.  She not only never feels sorry for herself. She’s the first to help others.  She not only tries to do well in everything she attempts.  She excels.  Katrina is a hero of the first water.

An excerpt from the book sums it up:

I just want to be a normal somebody, Katrina once said.
She was that and so much more. She was courageous in ways most people
never have to be. Every hour. Every day.
A hero’s courage.
A hero’s heart.
A normal girl called Katrina.

If I may, I might add, A normal hero called Katrina…

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Writing: One Way into a Child’s Heart

An author of children’s books needs to be in tune with kids’ needs and emotions. How does one do that?

The most important answer to the question lies within one’s own heart.  We must know right from wrong, basic values children need and positive role modeling to name but a few.  Only when we are quite convinced all this is well and truly in place within us, can we dare to instruct, gently and judiciously, through our stories.

We need to know children.  Their hopes. Their dreams.  Their fears.  Their frustrations.  If we are going to address their inner most psyches with our words, we must be careful to honor those feelings and to never belittle or minimize them.  We have to be true to the children we are trying to reach.

Now, this does not have to be carried out as a sad, slow-moving dirge; indeed, quite the opposite. Embedded in our sweet, scary, interesting, adventurous or belly-laugh books should be nuggets of human truth. The same notion that good teachers call implicit curriculum. Live it. Model it. Be it. 

But can we as authors really achieve finding the absolute truth, and courage to write about it?  Carefully, thoughtfully, sensitively, humanely, we can guide our young readers.  If we are successful, we leave the child better for having read our book. We hope s/he has grown and, in a way, has matured because of us.  What else can we ask for as an author?