Category Archives: For Kids

How Do Writers Get Ideas?

question-mark Every time I do an author visit, I get asked this question, and I always stumble as I try to answer it. Most writers I know dread this question. How do we explain what happens in our brains? How do we describe the way everything we see, read, hear, and do generates story ideas?

Interesting ideas are all around us and seem to hop into our heads all day long. As John Steinbeck said, “Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them and pretty soon you have a dozen.” Maybe the key is not how we get ideas, but what we do with them. Perhaps taking a peek into an author’s brain might clarify this process.

Say we walk into the grocery store and see a scruffy-looking girl with a backpack struggling to reach for a box of cereal. Nonwriters might think, “Poor girl, she looks a mess. I’m surprised her parents let her out of the house looking like that.” Or maybe, “I wonder where her parents are.” Some might judge her choice: “I can’t believe she’s picking that sugary cereal. Kids her age should have healthy breakfasts.” Caring souls might ask, “Do you need help reaching that cereal box, honey?” Suspicious people might wonder: “She doesn’t look like she can afford that. I hope she’s not planning to shoplift.”

dogWriters may think those thoughts too, but then their brains start racing. Hmm…what if she’s a mess because her family’s homeless, and this is their only food for the day? Where might they be living? In a homeless shelter? In their car? What would it be like to live there, and how did they end up there? What would a little girl like that want or need if she were living in a car? And the writer is off, plotting a new story or maybe even two. Perhaps all those questions might lead to a story like Barbara O’Connor’s How to Steal a Dog, where a girl living in a car is lonely and wants a pet so badly she decides to steal one.

Or the writer might think: That girl looks sad. What if her mom left, and her dad doesn’t pay much attention to her? Maybe she’s lonely and needs a friend. What if a stray dog wandered into the grocery store, and the girl tried to save it? Maybe similar thoughts ran through Kate DiCamillo’s head as she plotted Because of Winn Dixie, the story of a girl who misses her mother and adopts a stray dog.winn-dixie

Perhaps the writer notices the girl looks neglected. Her next thought might be: What if she looks so scruffy because her parents are dead. Maybe she lives with mean relatives who don’t take good care of her. But what if the relatives don’t realize she has secret powers? Hmm… what if she goes to a magical school and… Oh, I wonder if it would be better if it were a boy, and he goes to wizard school. The plot could easily turn into Harry Potter.harry

Another writer might think, That girl’s all alone. What if that older lady choosing a carton of oatmeal befriends her? Maybe the two of them could form an unusual friendship. Or wait… What if the old lady is a kidnapper, and when she sees the girl alone, she pretends to help her and she invites the girl back to her house and…

Or maybe the girl’s only pretending to look at cereal, but she’s really been stalking the older lady… Why would she do that? What if she thinks the lady is the grandmother she’s never met? Is it really her relative? If so, why wouldn’t she have met her grandmother? Maybe her mother ran away from home as a teen? So how did the girl discover the grandmother’s whereabouts? Will the grandmother be overjoyed to discover she has a grandchild? How will the mother react when she finds out?

And once again, several story ideas have formed in the writer’s mind. He can’t wait to get home and jot them down. Or if he carries a small notebook, as most writers do, he’ll scribble some notes in it. The whole way home, his brain will be whirling with what-if questions.

A fantasy writer might look at the girl and think: What if she took that box of cereal home, and a fairy popped out when she was having breakfast? Maybe the fairy could grant her one wish. I wonder what she’d wish for. It looks like her family needs help. Oh, but what if she has a brother who’s deathly ill? Would she give up her wish to save him?

Or the writer’s thoughts might run in other directions. What if the fairy was bad at spells and messed up the wishes? Wouldn’t it be funny if… Or What if that isn’t a backpack, but a jet pack? She could fly off with that cereal. But where would she go? And how did she get that jetpack in the first place? Once again, the writer has the seeds of plot or two.

We could keep going with story ideas just from seeing one girl in a grocery store. Now imagine living inside a writer’s head. Everything sparks ideas for stories. We’re always asking questions about what could happen. Or wondering why people do things. And everyone we see or meet becomes a potential story. Yes, even you. So beware when you’re around a writer. You never know when they might make up a story about you.

But what about you? Can you think like a writer? As you go through your day, ask yourself: Who is this person really? Why is she doing what she’s doing? What would he be like if he lived in another country or on another planet? What if that person is only pretending to be a teacher? What if she’s a superhero in disguise or a kid (or animal) who switched bodies with an adult? What if something magical or unusual happened to her? What if this person got into trouble? Who would save him? What does that person dream of? How could I make her wish come true in a story? What does that person need? What’s the scariest idea I can come with about this person? The most unusual idea?

Ideas are all around us. You don’t need magic to create a story, only a little imagination, a lot of curiosity, and many, many questions.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A former teacher and librarian, Laurie J. Edwards is now an author who has written more than 2300 articles and 30 books under several pen names, including Erin Johnson and Rachel J. Good. To come up with ideas for her books, she people-watches and eavesdrops on conversations in public places, which starts her brain racing with questions. To find out more about Laurie, visit her website and blog.

December New Releases

Looking for some great holiday gifts? Check out this list of new releases. These books will make fantastic presents for kids (or adults)!

The End of Olympus (Pegasus) by Kate O’Hearn  (Aladdin)

Emily and Pegasus face their greatest challenge yet when they venture back to Earth to save a friend in this sixth and final book of an exciting series that puts a modern thrill into ancient mythology. As Emily and her friends delve deeper into the CRU’s history, horrible discoveries are made. Not only about the victims the powerful agency has been trapping and abusing for centuries, but about the very origins of the secret agency itself.
Origins that lead directly back to…Emily.

 


Dog Man Unleashed (Dog Man #2)  by Dav Pilkey  (Scholastic)

Dog Man, the newest hero from the creator of Captain Underpants, is still learning a few tricks of the trade. Petey the cat is out of the bag, and his criminal curiosity is taking the city by storm. Something fishy is going on Can Dog Man unleash justice on this ruffian in time to save the city, or will Petey get away with the purr-fect crime?

All Heart: My Dedication and Determination to Become One of Soccer’s Be  by Carli Lloyd (HMH Kids)

In the summer of 2015, the U.S. women’s national soccer team won the World Cup behind an epic performance by Carli Lloyd. Carli, a midfielder, scored three goals in the first sixteen minutes the greatest goal-scoring effort in the history of World Cup finals. But there was a time when Carli almost quit soccer. She struggled with doubts and low confidence. In All Heart, adapted from When Nobody Was Watching specifically for younger readers, Carli tells the full inspiring story of her journey to the top of the soccer world an honest, action-packed account that takes readers inside the mind of a hardworking athlete.


Crystal Storm:A Falling Kingdoms Novel by Morgan Rhodes (Razorbill)

An epic clash between gods and mortals threatens to tear Mytica apart . . . and prove that not even the purest of love stands a chance against the strongest of magic.

 


Word of Mouse By James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

James Patterson’s newest illustrated middle grade story follows the illuminating journey of a very special mouse, and the unexpected friendships that he makes along the way.
What makes Isaiah so unique? First, his fur is as blue as the sky–which until recently was something he’d never seen, but had read all about. That’s right–Isaiah can read, and write. He can also talk to humans…if any of them are willing to listen After a dramatic escape from a mysterious laboratory, Isaiah is separated from his “mischief” (which is the word for a mouse family), and has to use his special skills to survive in the dangerous outdoors, and hopefully find his missing family. But in a world of cruel cats, hungry owls, and terrified people, it’s hard for a young, lone mouse to make it alone. When he meets an equally unusual and lonely human girl named Hailey, the two soon learn that true friendship can transcend all barriers.

 



Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina  by Misty Copeland (Aladdin)

Determination meets dance in this middle grade adaptation of the New York Times bestselling memoir by the first African-American principal dancer in American Ballet Theatre history, Misty Copeland. As the first African-American principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, Misty Copeland has been breaking down all kinds of barriers in the world of dance. But when she first started dancing—at the late age of thirteen—no one would have guessed the shy, underprivileged girl would one day make history in her field.

 


The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey (Scholastic Press)

They sound like bad guys, they look like bad guys . . . and they even smell like bad guys. But Mr. Wolf, Mr. Piranha, Mr. Snake, and Mr. Shark are about to change all of that…

 

 


Spy on History:Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring    By Enigma Alberti (Workman Publishing)

Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring introduces an exciting interactive series for middle grade readers Spy on History, where the reader gets to experience history in a whole new way. Meet Mary Bowser, an African American spy who was able to infiltrate the Confederate leadership at the highest level. Enigma Alberti dramatizes Mary Bowser’s suspenseful story how she pretended to be illiterate, how she masterfully evaded detection, how she used her photographic memory to copy critical documents. Using spycraft materials included in a sealed envelope inside the book, a canny reader will be able to discover and unravel clues embedded in the text and illustrations, and solve the book’s ultimate mystery: Where did Mary hide her secret diary?

 



 Pallas the Pal By Joan Holub; Suzanne Williams (Aladdin)

Pallas, the daughter of Triton and messenger of the sea, enrolls at Mount Olympus Academy in this twenty-first Goddess Girls adventure!


 The Stolen Chapters By James Riley (Aladdin)
Owen Conners’s whole life changed the day he found out his classmate Bethany was half-fictional, and could take him into any book in the library. Which story would they jump into next? Another fantasy, like the Kiel Gnomenfoot, Magic Thief books? Maybe something with superheroes? Owen’s up for anything except mysteries those just have too many hidden clues, twists that make no sense, and an ending you never see coming.

 Hidden Rock Rescue (Secrets of Bearhaven #3)
By K. E. Rocha (Scholastic Press)

Spencer and the team will have to sneak in, find his parents in the maze of the zoo, and make their escape. Or at least that’s the plan. But when it starts to go wrong and Spencer and Aldo are cut off from the rest of the team, it will take some fast thinking, some serious stealth, and a lot of teamwork to get everyone out safe!

Reasons to be Cheerful

Whatever your political leaning, you probably agree that it’s been a bruising couple of weeks. So for my last post on this blog, I’d like to share a few things that have made me happy lately.

truth-or-dare_final1- A book club for girls at Forgan Middle School in Forgan, Oklahoma chose to read my latest middle grade novel, TRUTH OR DARE. For the club’s seventh and eighth grade girls, as well as their teachers, to be able to buy their own copies, they needed a sponsor. And you know who sponsored their purchase of 23 hardcover copies? Delbert, the school custodian. The idea that this lovely man stepped up to buy all those copies of TRUTH OR DARE for a group discussing girls’ body issues, self-esteem, and related topics–well, it makes my heart burst.

A lot of folks want to keep kids reading–and they’re not just teachers, librarians, and publishing world insiders. Let’s be sure to celebrate the Delberts of the world. They’re definitely out there.

star-crossed-jpeg-516kb2-My next middle grade novel, STAR-CROSSED, will be published by Aladdin/S&S in March 2017. It’s about a middle school production of Romeo & Juliet in which the girl playing Romeo realizes she has a crush on the girl playing Juliet. This book is very much a middle grade novel–positive, gentle, and, unlike Shakespeare’s play, a comedy. Despite its lightness and wholesomeness, STAR-CROSSED would surely have been deemed too edgy for mainstream publication just a few years ago. But when I proposed STAR-CROSSED to my publisher, Simon & Schuster, they embraced it immediately–in fact, they recently highlighted it in their Spring 2017 Library/Education newsletter as a book promoting diversity. I’m also delighted to report that Scholastic has just licensed STAR-CROSSED (with a specially designed cover) for sale through book fairs and book clubs.   

So yes: #weneeddiversebooks on middle grade shelves. And you know what? We’re getting them. Joining STAR-CROSSED, LILY AND DUNKIN, GRACEFULLY GRAYSON, DRAMA, GEORGE,  LUMBERJANES and others, there’s Jen Petro-Roy’s PS, I MISS YOU coming Fall, 2017.  For more middle grade titles with LGBTQ characters, click here.

3-A related development in middle grade fiction: tough topics explored with special sensitivity for the age of the reader–for example, Nora Raleigh Baskin’s NINE, TEN, A September 11 Story

 

and RUBY ON THE OUTSIDE,

and Kate Messner’s THE SEVENTH WISH.

 My other book launching next year, HALFWAY NORMAL (Aladdin/S&S Dec 2017), deals with a different sort of tough topic. It’s about a girl who, upon returning to middle school after two years away for pediatric cancer treatment, feels as if she can’t communicate her story–until the class begins its study of Greek mythology. Not once did my publisher fret about the subject matter being too dark for middle grade readers; they trusted me to write something age-appropriate and even (yes, really, I promise!!) fun.

Ultimately, what I think HALFWAY NORMAL and STAR-CROSSED are both about is how books give kids a language to express themselves, and connect to others. I’m truly encouraged by the way publishers have embraced stories like these, which promote empathy, inclusiveness, self-expression and self-esteem. We’re expanding the notion of what middle grade books should be–reaching more kids, touching more hearts, and opening more minds. We’re also making kids smile. As we give thanks this week, let’s remember that middle grade books are better, and more important, than ever. Cheers!        

BARBARA DEE is the author of six middle grade novels published by Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, including TRUTH OR DARE, which was published in September.  Next year Aladdin/S&S will publish STAR-CROSSED (March 2017) and HALFWAY NORMAL (December 2017).