Author Archives: Tami Lewis Brown

Where Do I Begin…

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I was at a routine doctor appointment today and it happened again.  I told my new doctor I write books for children and she said “WOW! I’ve written a children’s book, too! What do I do next?”

Lots of children’s authors get annoyed by these very frequent questions. (Right, Doctor Clueless. I removed my neighbor’s appendix this afternoon. So what do I do next?) But well meaning potential authors always excite me. Life may have directed them down a different path, but somewhere in the back of their minds (and in the center of their hearts) they dream of writing for children. Often they’ve already produced a manuscript with their own children.

And I’m living this person’s dream! Lucky me! I’m all too ready to share the joy!!!!

So what is next?

That’s up to you. The first question I ask a sincere author-to-be is what’s your goal?  Is it to save your children’s stories as a family legacy? Is it to become the next J. K. Rowling? Do you envision yourself as a serious professional writer in the future or is this a one time fun project?

Writing is an art and like other arts it can take many forms. A concert pianist who plays (or dreams of playing) at Carnegie Hall has a different level of training and commitment than an at home piano player who’s the hit of every family gathering and neighborhood party. There’s nothing wrong and a whole lot right with both paths.

First stop in my completely unbiased (!) opinion is visit the resources on our From The Mixed-Up Files website. We have a whole page devoted to aspiring authors and you won’t find a more accessible place to find out what to expect when trying to move forward with writing and publishing a children’s book.

Another blog I recommend (okay I’m one of the founding members there, too) is www.ThroughTheTollbooth.com  It’s a children’s writer’s craft blog written by a rather stunning group of super successful children’s authors (plus me) trained at Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children & Young Adults masters program. Search the archives for just about any how to topic and you’ll find the answer (well lots of different approaches and answers) in The Tollbooth.

And perhaps the best advice is head to your local chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators – aka SCBWI.   Annual SCBWI conferences can seem pricey, but they’re well worth the investment whether you consider writing for children a casual hobby or a serious vocation, and most chapters have smaller less expensive or free events sprinkled through the year. You’ll meet kindred spirits, and you’ll learn not just what you think you need to know, but things you never knew you didn’t know, or never knew you’d need to know or… well you get the picture. There’s loads of great information on the SCBWI website, too, so be sure to pay a visit!

Finally (and by now the person who’s asked me “what next’s” eyes have usually glazed over because all they wanted to know is my editor’s personal phone number) I strongly recommend a bit (okay a whole lot) of reading.

Most adults haven’t read many children’s books since they left elementary school. Go to the children’s department of your library. Go to the children’s book section of a bookstore. Even poke around in the children’s book category of an online bookseller if you have no other alternative. Don’t focus on the books you remember from your childhood. Get a feel for what’s in style now. You don’t want your literary pride and joy to be the book equivalent of a bustle skirt or a moth eaten zoot suit– even if it is historic fiction. While you’re there pick up a copy of a good guide to children’s books and publishing like Harold Underdown’s The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books. And pick up Anita Silvey’s 100 Best Books For Children  It’s not her only children’s book guide. It may not even be her best children’s book guide. I love her Book A Day Almanac. But if you love children’s books and you want to write them, even as a casual hobby or fling, make it your responsibility to be familiar with everything on this list.

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So what’s my advice when someone says “I’ve written a children’s book. What’s next?” I say raise a glass of champagne. You deserve it!!  (and invite me to toast you!) Then get back to work.

Tami Lewis Brown bids a very very fond farewell to From The Mixed-Up Files with this post about just starting out. I’ve enjoyed every golden moment of this wonderful community and welcome all who join behind me!

Not-The-Newbery– Children’s Book Awards You May Not Have Considered

When I was a newly minted middle-grade reader I had one easy trick for finding a great book.

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Do you remember Cover To Cover?  All through second, third, and probably fourth grade I was entranced as elementary school teacher/ artist John Robbins  sketched scenes from Newbery winners while the calm voiced narrator read scenes from the book guaranteed to hook even the most reluctant reader. After the Egypt Game episode there was a near riot in our school library over who got first dibs at the checkout desk.

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Robbins’ endorsement and the shiny Newbery sticker (awarded each January by the American Library Association’s Association for Library Service to Children Division) assured we’d found a great read.

But what about books beyond the Newbery?

Every year there are hundreds of fantastic middle-grade books that miss out on a Newbery award or honor. Thankfully many of these great books are recognized by other organizations or entities. And these days with internet access award lists are just a click away.

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Here at the Mixed-Up Files we strongly support recommendations from great children’s lit blogs and each year dozens of outstanding bloggers are selected as judges for the CYBILS Awards. From upper YA to early picture books you can find finalist list of great books. Last year’s middle-grade fiction winner was Ultra by David Carroll. Next year’s awards will be announced, as always, on Valentine’s Day—so keep an eye out.

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Still searching for a good book?  Nearly every state has book lists or awards and many (or most) seem focus on middle-grade books.    Some standouts are Texas’ Bluebonnet Award and my personal favorite, Vermont’s Dorothy Canfield Fisher award.  

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Did you know children’s lit’s stellar magazine The Horn Book sponsors annual book awards—coupled with fantastic acceptance speeches open to the public? Last year’s fiction award winner was decidedly YA but many years there are plenty of middle-grade offerings.

Another less obvious for young readers, but incredibly prestigious, book award is the (aptly named) National Book Award. From the wide ranging long list announced in early fall to the short list of five frontrunners to the gala banquet where the final winner is announced, year in and year out the award for Young People’s Literature, selected by writers and leaders in the children’s lit community, goes to an outstanding selection. Middle-grade books like last year’s winner, Cynthia Kahdota’s The Thing About Luck, to 2012’s Goblin’s Secrets by William Alexander to Thanhha Lai’s  Inside Out & Back Again from 2011 and 2010’s Mockingbird by Katheryn Erskine middle-grade work consistently stands tall in this open field. Plus, in years past, CSPAN has broadcast the awards banquet live– watching some of children’s literature’s heroes arrive on the red carpet and accept the trophy is the next best thing to being there.

I also love specialty awards like the Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards for books that engage children in thinking about peace and justice and the Amelia Bloomer Project that collects the best feminist books written for children each year. There are even great awards for books of particular genres – whether canine (the Dog Writers’ Association of America’s Maxwell Medallion ) or criminal (the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Awards)

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What is your favorite “not-the-Newbery” children’s book award?

Tami Lewis Brown hasn’t won a Newbery medal (yet) but she’s been dreaming about those shiny golden stickers since second grade.

Low Tech Lemonade and Simpler Times

It’s summer. Time to relax.

Have a glass of lemonade and take things easy.

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These lazy days even super readers love a stack of picture books. So how about these picture books that celebrate the simple things…

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Go back to the basics with Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, a classic story of the triumph of out dated technology and a return to simpler days. Mike and his old-timey shovel Mary Ann can’t keep up with the  new backhoes on the block, but when they dig themselves into a hole (literally!) Mike and Mary Ann make the best of it, with Mary Ann serving as the brand new building’s boiler.

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Have your kids even heard of a typewriter (that old-fangled noisy thing we used to write on, before computers!) Everyone will have a clattering good time with Doreen Cronin’s Click Clack Moo Cows That Type, a tale of a barn yard of journalistic bovines who have their say as soon as the farmer’s back is turned. Get typing!

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Olden days weren’t always golden days. And a jump rope today could have been something very different in times gone by. Explore serious themes with your kids while reading Jacqueline Woodson’s beautiful This Is The Rope.

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I love the next one so much– It kills me that I didn’t think of it first. The Day The Crayons Quit. And if you have a quirky sense of humor you’ll love it as much as your kids do, too!

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Steamy today, sweater weather come author. Get ready for knit one, pearl two with Extra Yarn!

I can’t think of anything better than snuggling on a porch swing with my favorite reader with a big stack of gorgeous books and a glass of ice cold lemonade. And I can see these books prompting lots of great discussions– not just about how things used to be but also how things ought to be!  

Read any wonderful old fashioned books lately? What’s your favorite simple summer pleasure?

Tami Lewis Brown is attempting to write her next novel on a clickety clackety old fashioned typewriter but she hasn’t given up on the internet. She’ll blog about that next Thursday at Through The Tollbooth.