Tag Archives: writing inspiration

My Kids Made Me a Writer

“Mommy.”

My four-year-old daughter’s voice was a whisper in the dark. I sat quietly on a chair next to her bed, vigil against monsters and other worries.

“Mommy,” she repeated, with some urgency. “I take care of unicorns.”

Of all of my children–indeed, of all children I’ve ever met–she is the one of whom I could believe that to be true. She cares fiercely. When she walks into room, she spots the older person in pain, the lonely child, the uncertain non-English speaker. She goes to that person without hesitation, and offers a blanket, a stuffed animal, a small hand on the shoulder. She also lives a fanciful life. There is no snark in her world. Her room is pink, and so are her sunglasses.

If there are unicorns, I know she will find them, and protect them.

When I tell people I am a writer, as well as a lawyer and mom, they express amazement. “Three kids?” they ask. “How do you find time?” Advice on writing while parenting tends to be dire. You’ll need to squeeze in writing during naptime, or while sitting in the carpool lane. Don’t have more than one child. Motherhood will exact a heavy toll on your creativity and mental energy.

The message is clear that motherhood is a hindrance to a writing career. I cannot deny that the challenges are real. My own days more closely resemble a seesaw than a balance beam. But today, I want to speak not of the burden, but of the gift.

The reality for me is that if I were not a mother, I would not be a writer. My first book grew out of that late night conversation with my daughter. The book I am writing now sprouted from my realization in mother/daughter book club that all girls want to talk about in fourth grade is friendship. It turns out I have a lot of thoughts on friendship and fourth grade, too.

I am inspired by them all the time—the things that frighten them, fascinate them, make them laugh. I eavesdrop shamelessly. I steal their vocabulary and syntax.

In addition to inspiring me, my children give me the will to write. I strive for clarity and honesty because I want to show them a truth about the world. My commitment to my kids keeps me going through the long nights of toiling away. I want to create something worthy of them.

Their presence in my life is also a good salve for the slings and arrows of writing. This is not an easy business, my friends. Knowing that I have these three young ones keeps me grounded, and a snuggle on the couch cures most ills.

I would imagine many of you who write for kids do it for the same reasons. As middle grade writers, our audience is not our peers, but rather, children—our own, or those in our lives, those in the world. And aren’t we lucky?

Kate Hillyer lives, writes, and mothers in Washington, D.C. She blogs here and at The Winged Pen. You can also find her at www.katehillyer.com, on Twitter as @SuperKate, and on her book blog, Kid Book List.

 

 

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Six Titles for Your Writing Workshop Bookshelf

There are some things about being a teacher that stay with you  – even after you’ve packed up your posters and curriculum binders and left the classroom for other adventures. It’s been a few years since I’ve been in a classroom, but I still consider the true start of a year September 1 – regardless of what the calendar and my accountant says. And I still create lesson plans in my mind – especially when I come across books that I know my students would have loved.

Lately, I’ve been thinking  a lot about what makes a writer – and how we can nurture and support that yearning early on – especially in kids who would never dare to imagine that being an author is even a possibility for them. So, I’ve put together a book list for teachers (and parents) who might want a little writing workshop inspiration on their shelves for those kids – the ones who just might become our future favorite authors if we only let them see that it’s possible.

Our Story Begins:  Your Favorite Authors and Illustrators Share Fun, Inspiring, and Occasionally Ridiculous Things They Wrote and Drew As Kids – edited by Elissa Brent Weissman

“From award-winning author Elissa Brent Weissman comes a collection of quirky, smart, and vulnerable childhood works by some of today’s foremost children’s authors and illustrators—revealing young talent, the storytellers they would one day become, and the creativity they inspire today.

Everyone’s story begins somewhere…

For Linda Sue Park, it was a trip to the ocean, a brand-new typewriter, and a little creative license.
For Jarrett J. Krosoczka, it was a third grade writing assignment that ignited a creative fire in a kid who liked to draw.
For Kwame Alexander, it was a loving poem composed for Mother’s Day—and perfected through draft after discarded draft.
For others, it was a teacher, a parent, a beloved book, a word of encouragement. It was trying, and failing, and trying again. It was a love of words, and pictures, and stories.

Your story is beginning, too. Where will it go?”

I want to go back in time and give this book to 10 year old me. I was well into adulthood before I saw an early, unpublished draft from a “real” writer’s notebook. I remember the feeling that came over me when I realized that this Pulitzer Prize winner’s work wasn’t just magically wonderful. In fact, his early draft wasn’t really any better than some of the stuff I was producing at my desk late at night. It was the first moment I realized that Writers (with a capital W) weren’t somehow a super special subgroup of our species who emerged filled with brilliance and wit and talent from birth. They were just people who wrote – and rewrote – and rewrote again and again until they got it right. Imagine how empowering it would be to realize that as a young reader and writer.

Some Writer:  The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet

“Caldecott Honor winner  Sweet mixes White’s personal letters, photos, and family ephemera with her own exquisite artwork to tell the story of this American literary icon. Readers young and old will be fascinated and inspired by the journalist, New Yorker contributor, and children’s book author who loved words his whole life. This authorized tribute, a New York Times bestseller, includes an afterword by Martha White, his granddaughter.”

I love seeing glimpses of young E.B. White’s life and writing. I especially love seeing how these young experiences are reflected in the novels he wrote as adult. I think kids will enjoy seeing the revisions White did on the books we know know as masterpieces.

Writing Radar: Using Your Journal to Snoop Out and Craft Great Stories by Jack Gantos

“The Newbery Award–winning author of Dead End in Norvelt shares advice for how to be the best brilliant writer in this funny and practical creative writing guide perfect for all kids who dream of seeing their name on the spine of a book.

With the signature wit and humor that have garnered him legions of fans, Jack Gantos instructs young writers on using their “writing radar” to unearth story ideas from their everyday lives. Incorporating his own misadventures as a developing writer, Gantos inspires readers to build confidence and establish good writing habits as they create, revise, and perfect their stories.”

Funny. Smart. And full of motivation and great tips. This book is a fun way to help kids see that their lives are already story worthy. They just need to notice everything that’s going on around them and write it down in their trusty journal.

Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan

“Priscilla “Cilla” Lee-Jenkins is on a tight deadline. Her baby sister is about to be born, and Cilla needs to become a bestselling author before her family forgets all about her. So she writes about what she knows best―herself! Stories from her bestselling memoir, Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire, include:

– How she dealt with being bald until she was five
– How she overcame her struggles with reading
– How family traditions with her Grandma and Grandpa Jenkins and her Chinese grandparents, Nai Nai and Ye Ye, are so different

Debut author Susan Tan has written a novel bursting with love and humor, as told through a bright, irresistible biracial protagonist who will win your heart and make you laugh.”

Cilla Lee-Jenkins is simply a delight. She’s also a great role model for writing about your life (and your feelings) in a fun and interesting way. Kids who like to write will relate to Cilla immediately – and may even begin thinking about (and writing down) their own life stories.

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan

“Eighteen kids,
one year of poems,
one school set to close.
Two yellow bulldozers
crouched outside,
ready to eat the building
in one greedy gulp.
 
But look out, bulldozers.
Ms. Hill’s fifth-grade class
has plans for you.
They’re going to speak up
and work together
to save their school.
 
Families change and new friendships form as these terrific kids grow up and move on in this whimsical novel-in-verse about finding your voice and making sure others hear it.”

The 5th graders in Ms. Hill’s class have a lot going on this year. And they chronicle it all – their doubts, their worries, their friendships, and their desires –  in a poetry project. Kids can see that writing really can make changes in their lives – and that their voice really does matter. Bonus: the book is full of poetry how to’s and prompts to help kids create their own poetry project.

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo

“Holy unanticipated occurrences! From #1 New York Times best-selling author Kate DiCamillo comes a laugh-out-loud story filled with eccentric, endearing characters — a novel interspersed with comic-style graphic sequences and full-page illustrations, all rendered in black and white by K. G. Campbell.”

So much fun! Part graphic novel/part traditional novel – Kate DiCamillo’s story of comic book loving Flora and her super hero squirrel buddy is page-turning fun. It’s also a great look at imaginative story-telling at its finest. A fun way to get kids thinking creatively about the stories they want to tell – and how to best enhance the telling. Best of all, it will give them permission to  let their imagination go a little wild. Kid me would have loved this – and would have come up with a dozen super hero style stories that would have made me laugh out loud while I was writing.

BONUS Title:
Humongous Book of Cartooning by Christopher Hart

“Chris Hart’s Humongous Book of Cartooning is a great value book covering everything the beginner needs to master cartooning. It teaches how to draw cartoon people, fantasy characters, layouts, background design and much more. This latest cartoon title from Chris Hart, the world’s bestselling author of drawing and cartooning books, packs a wallop. It’s the cartooning book that has it all: cartoon people, animals, retro-style “toons'”, funny robots (no one has ever done cartoon robots in a how-to book before, and movies like “Wall-E” and “Robots” were smash hits and prove their appeal), fantasy characters and even sections on cartoon costumes, character design, and cartoon backgrounds and composition. The Humongous Book of Cartooning is humongous, not only because it’s so big, but also because it includes a huge amount of original eye-catching characters and copious visual “side hints” that Chris is famous for. There is more actual instruction in this book than in any other of Chris’ cartooning titles. In short, if you want to know how to draw cartoons, Chris Hart’s Humongous Book of Cartooning is for you.”

Every writer gets a little stuck sometimes. Sometimes moving from words to pictures helps break the log jam. Doodling some basic character sketches activates a different part of the brain – and can often move you from stuck to full of ideas again. This book makes drawing characters fun and easy – even for someone who mostly deals in words all day. Kids will like the simple how to and the funny characters – and I’ll wager that more than one imaginative story will come from drawing some of these cartoons.

These 6 (okay, 7) books are on my inspirational writing workshop bookshelf right now. What’s your favorite “Get kids writing” book? Or even your favorite “Get me writing” book? Let me know in the comments below.

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