Category Archives: Authors

Where Do I Begin…

imgres-2

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.

champagne-215642__180

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!

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

Today we are pleased to host Ami Polonsky on the Mixed-Up Files. She’s the debut author of Gracefully Grayson, releasing on November 4.

From Indie Bound: Grayson Sender has been holding onto a secret for what seems like forever: “he” is a girl on the inside, stuck in the wrong gender’s body. The weight of this secret is crushing, but sharing it would mean facing ridicule, scorn, rejection, or worse. Despite the risks, Grayson’s true self itches to break free. Will new strength from an unexpected friendship and a caring teacher’s wisdom be enough to help Grayson step into the spotlight she was born to inhabit?

Q: Welcome, Ami, and congrats on your debut middle grade novel! How would you describe Gracefully Grayson for those who haven’t yet heard of it?

A: Hi, Michele! Thank you so much for having me here on the Mixed-Up Files! Gracefully Grayson is a coming of age story about a transgender girl. Grayson was born into a boy’s body and the book chronicles her journey out of hiding and into plain sight. From a universal standpoint, it’s a story about having the bravery to be who you are, regardless of what others might think.

gracefully graysonQ: Tell us what inspired you to write this story.

A: My son and daughter were young when the idea for Gracefully Grayson came to me. It was the summer of 2011 and, until that point, I’d spent several years as a stay-at-home mom. I could often be found sitting (or lying) on the floor next to my mug of coffee, watching my kids play. We’ve always had a variety of toys in our house — from cars and trucks to dolls and balls — and I never noticed either my son or daughter gravitating toward stereotypically “male” or “female” toys. They both played with everything. I began to wonder just how much of a child’s gender identity was prescribed by the media and adults’ preconceived notions about how to raise a boy or girl. The idea that a child’s blossoming sense of self could be influenced by (potentially misguided) outside forces really bothered me. One of my goals as a parent has always been to raise children who see the world with an open mind. I couldn’t bear the thought of a young child whose true self was being squelched as their world tried to mold them into someone they weren’t, and Grayson’s character was born from that emotion.

Q: Is there a scene in the book that is your favorite?

A: I love when Grayson stumbles upon an envelope containing hints to her true identity. I’ve always been entranced by the idea that all the answers to somebody’s questions about their past could be tied up in a neat package that’s just waiting to be found.

Q: Can you share a favorite quote from the book?

A: “Well, I think to be brave, you have to be scared at the same time. To be brave means there’s something important you have to do and you’re scared, but you do it anyway.”

Q: Wow! So what are some books and authors that have inspired you?

A: The first book I ever loved and read over and over again was Autumn Street by Lois Lowry. I remember reading and re-reading certain passages because I was so impressed by the beauty of the language. Much of the book was, content-wise, over my head at the time, but I think that reading it taught me how beautiful language can be. As a teacher, I loved discussing Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech with my students. I’ll never forget when one of my sixth graders burst into tears when he realized that Sal’s mom had died. Walk Two Moons is a powerful model of an excellent book because the reader experiences the emotions around Sal’s revelations at the same time that Sal does. Creating this parallel experience between characters and readers is something that I strive to do in my own writing.

ami polonskyQ: Gracefully Grayson is your first novel. How was it to get “the call?”

A: Surreal, amazing, baffling…I still don’t think I’ve processed the fact that this is actually happening. I got “the call” on a beautiful October day. I was home with my daughter because she had a day off from preschool. We were in the living room, where she was building a pirate ship out of couch cushions, and my cell phone rang. I went to the kitchen to answer, and saw that it was my agent calling. She’d told me upfront that she always emails with bad news and calls with good news, but as the phone rang and rang, I still couldn’t make sense of why she would be calling me. My daughter was yelling for me to get back on the pirate ship (“the sharks are coming!”) and I was staring at my ringing phone. Finally, I picked up. The phone connection was kind of crackly, but I was able to make out something about “Hyperion” and “incredibly excited,” and the rest is history!

Q: What a great story! Are you working on a second book?

A: I am! It’s another middle grade novel, and it’s about very different characters and a very different situation. I’m really excited about it, but it’s still a baby, so I can’t say much about it just yet!

Q: Where do you like to write? Tell us about your writing routine.

A: When I wrote Gracefully Grayson, I had very little time to myself. About three mornings a week, I’d write at the library while both of my kids were in school. Now, my routine is different. My ideas for the book I’m currently working on come to me when I’m exercising. The combination of movement and listening to music allows me to visualize the next chapter and feel the emotions that need to be conveyed. I take notes as I exercise, and then, the next morning, I write that portion of the book. What could be better — exercise and writing ideas, all in one fell swoop! (And it’s nice to have some serious motivation to climb onto the elliptical every day!)

Q: You’ve been a teacher and literacy coach. Did those experiences help you write a novel for middle grade readers?

A: I never would have become a writer if I weren’t first a middle school Language Arts teacher. From 2001-2006, I taught reading and writing to fifth and sixth graders at Onahan Elementary School in Chicago, and I taught my reading lessons through novels. I had discussion groups going on in each of my four classes, so on any given day, I was discussing up to sixteen middle grade novels with my students. Needless to say, I became very familiar with lots of great books. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the plot structure, pacing, and thematic constitution of the middle grade novel were being burned into my mind. When I eventually sat down to write, I was able to call upon this knowledge and understanding.

Q: Now for the fun stuff! Where would we find you on a Sunday afternoon? What’s your favorite ice cream flavor? Do you have any pets? What’s your best childhood memory?

A: Sunday afternoon…that would be my daughter’s soccer practice. I’m a fan of just about any flavor of ice cream, but given the choice, I will always pick a combination of peanut butter and chocolate. I have a big, deaf, arthritic sixteen-year old mutt named Winnie. She was my first baby and she’s Superdog — I think she might live forever.

And my best childhood memory… One winter when I was about ten, I went skiing with my family.  My parents sent me to ski lessons and I was mad and nervous because I was a shy, timid kid. I was also a very cautious skier. I met a girl named Christy in my ski class, and she was really brave and daring on the slopes. Something about the situation allowed me to crack out of my shell. I remember barreling down the slopes with Christy, trying to “catch air” off of moguls. It was crazy — I was being who I wanted to be, but who I typically wasn’t able to be. I think it’s an important memory because it shows that if the conditions are right, even a timid child can step out of her comfort zone and do something bold.

Thanks, Ami, for visiting today! We’re giving away one copy of Gracefully Grayson. Please enter on the Rafflecopter link below. One random winner will be chosen. Find Ami on Twitter @amipolonsky and visit her site at amipolonsky.com.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days (Wendy Lamb Books 2014) and Calli Be Gold (Wendy Lamb Books 2011). Visit her at micheleweberhurwitz.com.

 

The Industrial Revolution for Kids: Interview and Giveaway

Welcome Cheryl Mullenbach, a former middle and high school history teacher and state education department consultant, to the Mixed-Up Files!

Industrial Revolution for Kids The (2)

Cheryl is here to talk about her new book, The Industrial Revolution for Kids, which  introduces young readers to the Industrial Revolution in a “revolutionary” way—through the usual people, places, and inventions of the time: the incredibly wealthy Rockefellers and Carnegies, dirty and dangerous factories, new forms of transportation and communication. In addition, readers experience the era through the eyes of everyday workers, kids, sports figures, and social activists whose names never appeared in history books.

MUF: This is your second nonfiction book for young readers. Given your teaching experience, American history is a logical choice of subject mattter. But what made you decide to focus on the Industrial Revolution?

CM: I like to tackle traditional topics in history by exploring them through new, fresh perspectives. The Industrial Revolution is usually a popular topic for middle school and high school history courses. The focus for studying the Industrial Revolution in America is usually on the “greats” – Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Vanderbilt. The era had such a major impact on the way we live today. I wanted to scratch below the surface and feature some of the ordinary and overlooked individuals (including kids) who made the Industrial Revolution possible. That’s why readers of The Industrial Revolution for Kids will learn about the contributions of Andrew Carnegie to the steel industry at the same time meeting an 11-year-old boy who was thrown into a room with rats when he was caught breaking windows.

MUF: The Industrial Revolution is a big topic. How did you narrow it down to information that would be most relevant and interesting to kids?

CM: It was challenging to present an overview of 100 years of American history in only 40,000 words! The role of immigrants could hardly be overlooked in any book about the Industrial Revolution. Labor unions. Child labor. Urbanization. And while those at first blush may not be appealing to kids, the stories of real people who were affected by immigration, unions, child labor and urbanization reel in young readers—the five children of Thomas Healy who lost his life in a gunpowder factory explosion in New York; 12-year-old Charles Neudinger whose body was pierced by needles when a machine in a textile factory accidentally trapped him; a group of school boys in Massachusetts who vandalized their principal’s house when they were banned from associating with the local factory girls.

MUF: Wow, those are some incredible stories. Thank you for giving them a voice. The inclusion of twenty-one hands on activities and crafts really extends the learning opportunities provided by the book. Was it hard to come up with ideas? Can you give us a short description of your favorite example?

CM_head1CM: Well, I think anyone who has taught middle school kids becomes quite skilled at designing resources that capture the attention of those little darlings! One of my favorite activities in the book is “Listen to Talking Walls.” It incorporates local history and language arts as well as research skills. Kids are asked to focus on a section of buildings in their community. They analyze the exteriors and interiors to learn about architecture and history. My hope is that kids will look at their surroundings and realize that there’s history all around them.

MUF: Who is the target audience for your book?

I hope middle school history and language arts teachers, public and school librarians, and home school educators will use it as a resource for their students. I think parents will find it a helpful tool to pique a child’s interest in the past. Children who are learning English as a second language will find stories and activities that they can relate to. As educators look for resources to infuse informational text into their curricula, they seek out text in content areas that will motivate students. I think stories of real people, places, and events from the past can intrigue young readers. The format of the “For Kids” series by Chicago Review Press benefits struggling readers. Text is “chunked up” or pulled out in the sidebars woven throughout the chapters. Reluctant readers are pulled in by the archival photos. Many of the photos capture images of young children—getting dimes from John D. Rockefeller, stuffing sausages in a meatpacking plant, selling newspapers on city street corners, and playing on tenement roofs. A college instructor told me she plans to use The Industrial Revolution for Kids with her undergraduates to give an overview of the Industrial Revolution!

MUF: That’s great! According to your website, you have another book forthcoming in 2015. Can you tell us a little bit about that title?

CM: It’s another in the “For Kids” series. The Great Depression for Kids: Hardships and Hope in 1930’s America tells the stories of everyday Americans struggling to live, work, and play during this troubled time. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Readers meet packhorse librarians; Bossy Gillis, the Massachusetts mayor who encouraged kids to skip school to attend the circus; Scotty, a film star’s dog that had his own pink satin sofa; and 7-year-old Betty Jane Kolar, the “world’s youngest magician.”

Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Cheryl Mullenbach, and offering a copy of The Industrial Revolution for Kids to one lucky reader. To enter the draw, please follow the rafflecopter link. Winner announced September 23rd. Good luck!

Yolanda Ridge is the author of Trouble in the Trees (Orca Book Publishers, 2012) and Road Block (Orca Book Publishers, 2011).