~ By Amanda Smith
Our final classroom take-over for the 2019/2020 school year comes from an amazing group of 7th and 8th graders. Back in the fall when I had asked them about their favorite books, none of us could have imagined the way this school year would end. Missing them as I work through their responses, I am reminded why I write for children. Our readers, these kids, draw hope and strength from our stories. They escape into fantasy worlds where they learn how to deal with reality. They gather compassion and empathy, grow strong and kind. And they become our heroes.
As I worked through the questionnaires, I found it interesting that the majority of 7th and 8th grade students focused their answers on characters and endings. So, as writers, we should make sure we listen and give them well rounded characters and satisfying endings. Let’s see what they have to say.
What kind of characters do you like?
Adrienne—I recently read the book WE ARE OKAY by Nina Lacour, where the main character is always there for her friends. I like this character because of the way she cares for and loves her friends. I would be friends with this character because she is sweet and loving, and matches my personality.
Avery – In MATCHED by Ally Condie, I like the main character, Cassie because she is relatable. I can connect to her and know what she feels when she doesn’t want to follow the rules.
Ella H. – In WINGS OF FIRE, Tui T. Sutherland creates a character named Sunny. Sunny is a small nightwing-sandwing hybrid and she is always happy and optimistic. I would be friends with her because she is basically the dragon version of me.
Ella K. – I look for depth in characters’ feelings, details of characters’ thoughts and an elaborate display of characters’ motives for the decisions they make. I look for these things, because it makes me feel connected to the main character and the people around them.
Claire – Glory is my favorite character form WINGS OF FIRE. She is a dragon who can change her color and spit venom with her fangs. She is not aggressive, but will fight when it is necessary. I think if she was real, we would be good friends.
Sebz -- Ben Ripley from SPY SCHOOL is a character I like, because he is sarcastic.
Marley – The character in JELLY BEAN SUMMER by Joyce Maghin is a young girl like me and I liked her so much, because her inner thoughts were very funny. I would be friends with her because she is kind and clever.
Elyssa – I would be friends with Frances from RADIO SILENCE by Alice Oseman, because she is relatable and headstrong.
Carolyn – I liked Raina in GUTS (Raina Telgemeier), because she is a good friend and sounds like she would be easy to get along with.
Caden – I think I would be friends with Oliver in THE UNEXPECTED LIFE OF OLIVER CRAMWELL PITTS (Avi) because he is nice and very kind.
Inspiring or brave characters:
Julia and Hannah B —I loved the character, Sara from WHITE BIRD. What I liked about her is that she almost gave her life just to save Julien, and her loyalty. She has courage, honesty and a kind heart.
Jonathan – I liked how Julien from WHITE BIRD (R.J. Palacio) overcame hardship and hid his friend. I like characters that are positive friends.
Georgia – In the book I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU by Ally Carter the main character is Cammie Morgan. She has a lot going on, but she seems to stay cool and she has two best friends. They stick together through everything.
Jake – Alex Rider us a teenage spy and goes on lots of intense missions. I like this character because there is always a surprise at the last second.
Damian – I like Harry Potter, because he is brave and adventurous, but I wouldn’t want to be his friend, because he can be selfish.
Makenna – Katniss Everdeen is from THE HUNGER GAMES. She doesn’t give up and will do anything to keep her family and friends safe.
Hayden – I liked Link from OCARINA OF TIME by Akira Himekawa, because he is fun-loving and mischievous, as well as courageous. I would like to be friends with him to have fun adventures.
Megan – Recently, I read A TALE OF MAGIC by Chris Colfer. The main character, Brystal Evergreen was a strong role model, because when her teacher was taken, Brystal gathered her friends and found her.
Kelsey – Auggie from WONDER (R.J. Palacio) is my favorite character, because he stayed positive and strong. I would want to be friends with him, because he would always be there for me.
Daniel – Cup from THE HOUSE OF ROBOTS by James Patterson is always loyal.
Brianna – I recently read ESCAPE FROM MR. LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY by Chris Grabenstein. I liked Kyle, because of his sense of adventure and team leadership.
Characters that provide deeper insight and personal growth:
Chloe – The book I’m currently reading, FORGET ME NOT by Ellie Terry, is about a girl with Tourette’s. I like reading books form the point of view of people with disabilities. I like these books, because it gives me insight.
Hannah – I like the characters Anya and Siobhan in ANYA’S GHOST by Vera Brosgol. I like how Anya grew to like herself for who she is and how Siobhan didn’t care what anyone thought of her.
Scarlett – In the book THE CUPCAKE QUEEN by Heather Hepler, I like the character Tally, because she accepts who she is. She isn’t afraid of anything, and she shows other people to stand up for themselves not matter what body-type they are.
Kaylin – In the book WAITING FOR SARAH by Bruce McBay, Mike has a very interesting personality. He was different from a standard character. He is angry at the world for what happened to him and blames everyone else.
Camdyn – Lizzie from LIZZIE FLYING SOLO by Nanci Turner Steveson is positive and never gives up. Maybe I would be friends with her because I sometimes need positivity.
Margaret – I liked Savannah in HIDEOUT (Gordon Korman), because she never gave up on Luthor. I would love to be friends with her, because she would push me to be better.
What kinds of endings do you like?
Just as with the 6th graders we hosted in March, these students appreciate a good cliff-hanger - provided a sequel is close at hand. But don’t leave them hanging with unresolved threads. Like Ella B. said, “You can’t just end a book with a major cliff hanger and never write another book explaining what happens.” What I have noticed, though, is that these discerning readers expect an ending to deliver more than just a neatly wrapped up story.
Take a look:
Rosemary – The ending of THE KINDOM (Jess Rothenberg) was great. It did not end with a “happily ever after.” It ended with a nice resolution to the plot, but left the rest to the readers’ imagination.
Erin – I liked the ending of THE OUTSIDERS (S.E. Hinton). The ending is similar to the beginning.
Grace – I liked the ending of WHITE BIRD, because it had a good message and made me think of what I can do to change the world.
Corbin – REBOUND by Kwame Alexander ended in a way that linked up well with the first book THE CROSSOVER.
Emelyn – The ending of AN INQUISITOR’S TALE (Adam Gidwitz) revealed identities of mysterious characters and tied the whole book together really well.
CJ – I liked the ending of TYRANT’S TOMB (Rick Riordan), because it ended with a battle. I don’t like books that end with “happily ever after,” because it makes it feel as if nothing had changed since the beginning.
Hannah – TO CATCH A KILLER by Sheryl Scarborough ended so nicely and all the pieces fit together. It made me feel like life could be like that someday.
Seventh and Eighth graders fall in that obscure place in the market – that crossover spot between upper middle grade and young YA, which can make finding the right book tricky. I doubt that they care much about marketing labels. However, they are clear about what they want: Adventure, escape, and hope. A call to action. Glimpses of who they are. Examples of who they aspire to be. And inspiration to be brave and be the very best version of themselves.
Other books and authors mentioned by these students:
AMULET SERIES by Kazu Kibushi
BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys
BLINDSIDED by Priscilla Cummings
BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson
DEEP BLUE by Jennifer Donnelly
GEMINI SUMMER by Iain Lawrence
GIRL STOLEN by April Henry
GREYSON GRAY by B.C. Tweedt
GYM CANDY by Carl Denker
I WILL ALWAYS WRITE BACK by Martin Ganda
LAND OF STORIES by Chris Colfer
LOST IN THE SUN by Lisa Graff
MISSING by Margaret Peterson
PART OF YOUR WORLD by Elizabeth Braswell
PERCY JACKSON by Rick Riordan
SO B IT by Sarah Weeks
STORMRISE by Jillian Boehme
THE ABILITY by M.M. Vaughen
THE BILLIONAIRE’S CURSE by Richard Newsome
THE COMPOUND by S.A Boden
THE EXTRA YARD by Mike Lupica
THE FOURTH STALL by Chris Rylander
THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins
THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY by Trenton Lee Steward
THE PERFECT SCORE by Bob Buyea
THE RED STAR OVER CHINA by Edgar Snow
THE SECRET KEEPER by Kate Messner
THE THIEF OF ALWAYS by Clive Barker
THE WESTING GAME by Ellen Raskin
WEDNESDAY WARS by Gary Schmidt
WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS by Wilson Rawls
by Annie Cronin Romano
March is National Reading Month, and in honor of this auspicious occasion, we at 24 Carrot Writing have decided to share some of our favorite kidlit books. I'm starting off this series by highlighting five books which have reached into my reader/writer's heart and made it skip a beat.
THE DARK DESCENT OF ELIZABETH FRANKENSTEIN, a young adult novel by Kiersten White, kept me enthralled from chapter one. This YA retelling of Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN is told from the perspective of Elizabeth Lavenza and takes the reader on a journey of darkness, devotion, love, and survival that leads one to wonder who the monsters among us truly are. Atmospheric and haunting!
I adored R.J. Palacio's WHITE BIRD. This middle grade graphic novel depicts the horrors of one Jewish girl's experience during the Holocaust with tenderness and hope. Engaging illustrations add to the vividness of this story. Readers who have enjoyed WONDER and AUGGIE & ME will appreciate the connection to those stories as this story is narrated by Julian's grandmother.
One of my all time favorite middle grade novels is Sharon Creech's WALK TWO MOONS. Salamanca Tree Hiddle is a 13-year-old on a journey from Ohio to Idaho with her grandparents. During the trip, Sal entertains her grandparents with the tale of her friend, Phoebe Winterbottom, and their quest to find out why Phoebe's mother abandoned her family. Sal's story emerges through the narrative, which alternates between Sal's memories of her own mother and her telling of Phoebe's story. Layered and bittersweet, this Newbery Medal winning book of family ties, loss, and understanding the experiences of others is a must read.
If you need a smile, then reach for A LIGHT IN THE ATTIC, by Shel Silverstein. This humorous collection of poetry and sketches will add a bit of joy to any day. Full of Silverstein's imagination and whimsy, these poems grasp the minds and hearts of young readers, leading them to laugh and ponder. You're certain to crack the spine of this book again and again for another dose of wit and insight.
Enjoy a good laugh and and unexpected heroine? Than grab TYRANNOSAURUS REX VS. EDNA THE VERY FIRST CHICKEN. Tyrannosaurus Rex may frighten all the other dinosaurs, but he cannot scare Edna! This hilarious picture book, written by Douglas Rees and illustrated by Jed Henry, shows that just because you're small doesn't mean you're weak. The defiant Edna will leave you cheering!
Kelly and Amanda will share some of their favorite kidlit titles in the coming weeks. In the meantime, please tell us what some of your favorites are!
~Hosted by Amanda Smith
Welcome to the final installment of 24 Carrot Writing's Graphic Novel Virtual Panel Discussion. Over the last two weeks (Part 1 and Part 2), our talented panelists have shared insights about the strengths of graphic novels and their process as creatives.
Join our panel as we jump into the last two meaty questions:
Middle school students seem particularly drawn to graphic novels, and often graphic novels are set in middle school. What does that communicate about the market for upper middle grade/ lower young adult readers? Are graphic novels purposefully aimed towards the middle school reader, or is there something in the graphic novel format that perfectly mashes with the middle schooler’s brain?
Breena Bard: Middle schoolers are taking their first steps toward independence, developing their own beliefs and opinions in a way that they hadn’t before. They are exposed to a diversity of ideas and people, and as they begin to open their minds, they are perfectly primed to receive a radical new method of storytelling. Kids are free of the biases that keep many adults away from comics, and they aren’t pressured to maintain a high-brow reading list. And as long as adults react to graphic novels by wringing their hands or turning their noses up, graphic novels will also have a certain rebellious spirit that might attract middle school readers as well. Plus, comics are just super fun!
Terri Libenson: I’m not sure, really. My characters are all 13 and in seventh grade, yet most of my readers are younger, often in third through sixth grade. Many kids read “up”; that is, they tend to read about characters older than them. I’m not as knowledgeable about what 7th-9th graders are reading, but I personally think there is an opportunity for graphic novels geared for that age bracket.
Tom Angleberger: Middle school is such a weird time when kids sometimes feel like they should be giving up the type of books they loved in elementary school and reading big thick books. The growing acceptance of graphic novels creates a loophole here. A kid who read Smile in third grade can read Guts in seventh grade. (Of course, as far as I’m concerned, kids should keep reading great kids’ books with pride FOREVER!)
Terry Ebbeling: Middle-school students are high energy and don’t often have a lot of “sit” in them. They are also visual learners. Graphic novels appeal to this age because of the pictures which break up the prose and allow students to “see” the story. While middle-school students enjoy graphic novels, there are also a number of authors who gear their graphic novels towards upper elementary students and even high schoolers. Honestly, I like them, too!
What would you like to say to those well-meaning adults who act as gatekeepers regarding graphic novels? To those who see graphic novels as inferior reading?
Kayla Miller: Comics ask readers to use different skills than prose books. To really read a graphic novel, you have to read not only the text, but also to observe environments, body language, and facial expressions. It can be a really engaging and emotional experience. When reading prose, you have to imagine the visuals based on the descriptions given to you and fill in details about the world around the characters, but when you’re reading comics you have to fill in the characters’ inner worlds and use context clues from the art to decipher what they’re thinking and feeling. I don’t think the skills developed reading comics are any less important or useful than those that students gain while reading prose novels. I also get comments all the time from parents that their reluctant readers become eager readers when it comes to graphic novels. If you believe that fostering a love of reading in younger generations is important, you’re only getting in your own way when you disregard graphic novels.
Breena Bard: They should try reading some :) Really though, the fact that graphic novels are told with pictures should not disqualify them, and in fact makes them more accessible and engages students’ brains in a really unique way. Perhaps there is fear because graphic novels are a relatively new medium, but so were computers and tablets, and most schools utilize those to great success. Take time to read some of the new middle grade graphic novel classics (ask a middle schooler and they will surely have a list for you!) and keep an open mind to the possibilities these stories and this exciting format have to offer. They really are quite wonderful!
Terri Libenson: It couldn’t be further from the truth (and if it helps, I avidly read comics as a kid, and now I read such a wide range of books, from non-fiction to fiction, including – yes – graphic novels for adults!). As I mentioned, graphic novels can be quite layered as well as visually stunning and rich in story. And then some are just plain fun, and that’s okay. Graphic novels vary just like prose books. And they are, indeed, BOOKS.
Tom Angleberger: I think people are hung up on word-count. They assume 100,000 words is better than 1,000. Or 100. Or zero, in the case of wordless graphic novels. Well, that’s just dumb. Do they also assume that a novel by Joe Smedlap is better than a sonnet by Shakespeare?
I think we should judge books on how many brain cells they light up. Trust me, Dog Man lights up a lot more brain cells than Tom Sawyer Abroad. (I was forced to read Tom Sawyer Abroad in 7th grade and am still mad.)
Terry Ebbeling : I would tell those reading “gatekeepers” of graphic novels that there are different strokes for different folks in all areas of life, including reading. If students enjoy graphic novels, they are READING! Yay! I do not recommend a steady diet of any one genre, including graphic novels. But, if this genre gets kids into books, then let’s allow and encourage graphic novels.
Thank you to Terri, Breena, Kayla, Tom, and Terry for a fabulous discussion. I know I am paying closer attention to details in the settings and characters, as well as other context clues when I read graphic novels. I am also inspired to think visually and cinematically about the scenes I write, and I cannot wait to get my hands on our panel's new releases in May (if I can pry them from my own middle schooler's hands!)
Terri Libenson is the cartoonist of the internationally syndicated daily comic strip, The Pajama Diaries, and the author of the best-selling illustrated middle grade novels, Invisible Emmie, Positively Izzy, and Just Jaime. She was also an award-winning humorous writer for American Greetings for 22 years.
The Pajama Diaries launched with King Features in 2006 and currently runs in hundreds of newspapers throughout the country and abroad. Pajama Diaries has been nominated four times for the Reuben Award for “Best Newspaper Comic Strip” by the National Cartoonists Society and won in 2016.
Terri lives with her family in Cleveland, OH. Her newest novel, Becoming Brianna will be available in May 2020. To learn more about Terri, visit http://terrilibenson.com/
Breena Bard writes and illustrates comics, drawing inspiration from her childhood in Wisconsin, and the stacks of graphic novels on her bedside table. Her graphic novel debut, Trespassers, is set to release May 5, 2020. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, two kids, and cranky but lovable cat. Visit http://www.breenabard.com/about-1 to learn more.
Tom Angleberger is the author of the New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestselling Star Wars Origami Yoda series. He is also the author-illustrator of Fake Mustache and Horton Halfpott, both Edgar Award nominees, and the Qwikpick Papers series, as well as many other books for kids. But he always wanted to draw comics and he’s finally gotten the chance to draw with Geronimo Stilton and the Sewer Rat Stink! (Available May 5, 2020) He’s married to acclaimed graphic novelist Cece Bell, who wrote and illustrated El Deafo. To learn more visit https://origamiyoda.com/the-books/
Kayla Miller is the author and illustrator of the best-selling Click series of graphic novels. The third book in the series, Act, is coming out in May 2020 and a fourth book is currently in the works. To learn more about Kayla, visit https://www.kayla-miller.com/
Terry Ebbeling has been teaching grades 7 and 8 ELA for the past eighteen years. She enjoys delving into reading and writing with her students and finds young-adult literature far more riveting than adult literature!
This week's reading list:
CLICK and CAMP by Kayla Miller
INVISIBLE EMMIE, POSITIVELY IZZY and JUST JAIME by Terri Libenson
SMILE, SISTERS, and GUTS by Raina Telgemeier
DOG MAN by Dav Pilkey
~Hosted by Amanda Smith
Welcome back to 24 Carrot Writing's Graphic Novel Month. Last week our panel discussed the unique strengths of graphic novels for readers, but also, for them as creatives. If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.
Lets join our panel of Graphic Novel authors for Part 2.
Often those opposed to graphic novels think about these books as shallow or “comic” books, yet today’s graphic novels deal with difficult subject matter such as addiction, racism, startling historical events, and peer pressure. Why are graphic novels such an effective medium for telling these kinds of stories?
Terri Libenson: I think a big part of it is because many kids love comics and/or illustrated stories; therefore, difficult subject matter won’t have to be forced on them -- they will automatically want to read about it in graphic novel form.
Examples of graphic novels dealing with heavier subjects
Many graphic novels have an autobiographical aspect. Why, do you think, does this format lend itself well to autobiographical storytelling?
Terri Libenson: Well, all kinds of books have an autobiographical element. But I think good artists have a gift for retelling their memories in a visual way that connects immediately with readers. It can also be fun to “see” the setting and clothing of a different era rather than just read about them.
Breena Bard: I’ve never thought about this before! I wonder if it’s because, just like our imaginations, our memories tend to exist in our minds largely as images. If a writer is able to put those remembered images on page as pictures, they can retain some of the vivid detail that might be lost if translated into words. There are some emotions and feelings that can be conveyed better by pictures, and when a picture won’t do, graphic novelists also have written words in their toolbox. It’s the best of both worlds, and for telling something so nuanced and complex as a personal story, I can see why writers would be drawn to a format that’s so flexible and accommodating.
Raina Telgemeier's series of graphic novel memoirs.
Graphic novel characters are often established fairly quickly and with few words (often one or two speech bubbles.) Please share with our readers some of your character development strategies. What happens behind the scenes, before the reader sees the character on the page for the first time?
Breena Bard: For me, characters emerge when I am playing in my sketchbook. The harder I try to “design” a character, the more wooden and forced they feel. But when I let my mind and my pen wander, I am often surprised by the different characters that emerge. I try to spend a lot of time on this earlier side of character development, doodling a new character in every possible facial expression, pose and setting. And if I’m lucky enough to have two characters come to life, I can play with putting them into a variety of vignettes, or mini-scenes. Sometimes these scenes make it into my eventual script, and when they do, they are some of my favorite scenes.
Kayla Miller: I think you can say a lot about a character's personality through their appearance and their actions. Every day we make choices about how to present ourselves to the world and comic artists make those decisions for their characters. Clothing, posture, facial expressions, and way of speaking do a lot of the work, but another great tool is drawing a character’s room (or other spaces they decorate and store things in, like a desk or locker). One panel of a character in their living space could be worth paragraphs of description about their personality and interests.
Terri Libenson: Well, I have an advantage, as my books are hybrids: part illustrated novel and part graphic novel. The illustrated novel portion contains much more text, so I can set up a character’s story in detailed prose. The GN portion is much more of a challenge, character-wise. One technique: I frequently have characters introduce themselves. And I think dialogue or inner monologue quickly establishes their personalities.
Behind the scenes, I try and get to know these characters well so that they seem convincing on paper. They usually have aspects of my personality and memories. Some are also inspired by people I’ve known – although they tend to develop differently as I write.
Tom Angleberger: For me it was the matter of redrawing a famous character, Geronimo Stilton, in my own style. And, since he narrates his novels, I had to pick and choose which words of his to use in my panels. But, I’ve been a Geronimo fan for so long that all of that came very naturally.
Thanks to our fabulous panel! Join us next week for the last of the panel discussion posts. We will be talking about the middle schooler's brain (ooohhh!) and gatekeepers!
A reading list for this week:
CLICK and CAMP by Kayla Miller
INVISIBLE EMMIE, POSITIVELY IZZY and JUST JAIME by Terri Libenson
NEW KID by Jerry Craft
HEY KIDDO by Jarrett Krosoczka
THE FAITHFUL SPY by John Hendrix
SMILE, SISTERS, and GUTS by Raina Telgemeier
AWKWARD, BRAVE & CRUSH by Svetlana Chmakove (great notes on characterization and setting in back matter)
~ hosted by Amanda Smith
For too long the literary value of graphic novels has been questioned. There are parents who tell their kids to pick "real books," while some teachers confiscate graphic novels when their students dare to bring them to class. However, just a week ago, history was made when Jerry Craft's graphic novel, New Kid was awarded the Newbery Medal. The John Newbery Medal is awarded for "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children" by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC). Yes, a graphic novel won a prestigious literature award!
Join 24 Carrot Writing this entire month, as we CELEBRATE the strength and beauty of graphic novels and their place on our bookshelves! We've got a distinguished panel and weekly Graphic Novel blogs ready to go. Welcome to Graphic Novel Month at 24 Carrot Writing.
MEET OUR PANEL:
Terry Ebbeling is a seventh and eighth grade English Language Arts teacher and reading advocate extraordinaire.
Why did you decide to tell your stories in graphic novel format as opposed to prose novels?
Kayla Miller: The art side of things is actually what I committed to first. I’ve always liked both writing and art, but I was more focused on art and chose to go to college to study illustration. I wrote and illustrated comics while I was in school, but I still thought I’d end up illustrating other people’s words and ideas once I graduated. I considered writing a hobby, and art my profession for such a long time that it was sort of a revelation when I realized that people actually liked my stories as much as my drawings. I think comics are just my natural format.
Breena Bard: My stories generally unfold in my imagination as movies, and almost before I have any words or even a plot, I can see my characters moving around and interacting in the world. Since I’m not a filmmaker, but I am able to draw, it seems most natural to tell my stories with pictures. And there is a lot you can do with a graphic novel to tell a story as cinematically as possible!
Terri Libenson: I studied illustration in college and have drawn cartoons for most of my life. Before I started creating graphic novels, I was a syndicated newspaper cartoonist. I’ve always loved writing, too, so the combination of art and writing suits me very well.
Tom Angleberger : I’ve written quite a few prose novels now and will write more. But I’ve almost always had a desire to have more than just text in them, whether it’s origami instructions or a nice map. If a funny picture is funnier than a text block, why not draw it? And, the same goes for any emotional response you’re trying to get from a reader.
What do you see as the unique strengths of graphic novels?
Breena Bard: There is an immediacy to comics and graphic novels that make them very accessible to readers of all ages. I don’t think it’s just the inclusion of artwork, which makes them “faster” or “easier” to read (aka, fewer words). There is something very unique going on in the way the words and images interact, perhaps because they engage very different parts of our brain, that brings a reader right into the story and keeps them there. It’s not uncommon for someone to remark that they finished a graphic novel in just one or two sittings (and as a mom of two with precious little spare time for reading, I consider that a huge strength!)
Terri Libenson: Graphic novels are perfect for the reluctant reader or for those who are simply drawn to visual storytelling. And they can be so literary and layered – something most kids know but many adults are just starting to learn.
Tom Angleberger: After writing so many books for kids, I’ve become almost obsessed with removing any barriers or stumbling blocks that are going to stop a kid from finishing a story. And one of the biggest stumbling blocks is description. Some readers may be able to read a page of text and “see” a vivid landscape, but some of us never make it through that page. We put the book down after a couple sentences and are never compelled to pick it up again. Meanwhile, the graphic novel reader is gaping in wonder at beautiful artwork. (Well, not in my book, but in some books! Nathan Hale’s One Trick Pony for example.)
Terry Ebbeling: While I was a skeptic at first, thinking graphic novels were inferior to “regular” books, I have come to appreciate them for middle-school readers. Students these days are visual readers, so the graphics help them comprehend and stay interested- especially reluctant readers. And I have been amazed by how detailed the graphics are! My students recently read White Bird by R.J. Palacio for Pizza and Paperbacks, and I read through that graphic novel twice. The first time I concentrated on the plot line and glanced at the pictures. But, during my second reading, I really appreciated the fine points in the pictures that told a story in themselves. And, when discussing the book with my students, they found even more depth in the pictures that gave them a greater understanding of the darkness of WWII. While graphic novels may not be for every reader, I find the combination of text and pictures to aid in comprehension and enjoyment for some of my readers.
Join us again next week as our panel discusses character development and difficult subjects. And while you wait, pick up a few graphic novels and discover for yourself the intricate combination of storytelling through words and pictures.
This week's reading list:
Click and Camp by Keila Miller
Invisible Emmie, Positively Izzy, and Just Jaime by Terri Libenson
One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale
White Bird by R.J. Palacio
New Kid by Jerry Craft
A SPOOKTACULAR KIDLIT BOOKS SAMPLER
By Annie Cronin Romano
October is well under way with leaves of amber and crimson, cool, crisp evenings, apple cider, winding corn mazes, and, of course, Halloween! Whether it’s carving pumpkins or choosing what costume to wear trick or treating, most families have traditions they enjoy throughout the fall season. As you embrace Halloween preparations, don’t forget to visit your library or bookstore to snag a few Halloween and seasonal books, and add some new favorite reads to your October rituals. This list contains just a sampling of the entertaining spooky and autumn-themed kidlit books to be discovered. Included are both older classics and newer releases. Most I have read and enjoyed myself. A few were suggested by other avid readers. Pick one or all of them, and dive into these stories of pumpkins, scarecrows, and things that go “Boo!” in the night!
MR. PUMPKIN’S TEA PARTY by Erin Barker
ROOM ON THE BROOM by Julia Donaldson, Illustrated by Axel Scheffler
THE SCARECROW by Beth Ferry, Illustrated by the Fan Brothers
LOS GATOS BLACK ON HALLOWEEN! by Marisa Montes, Illustrated by Yuyi Morales
SAMURAI SCARECROW: A VERY NINJA HALLOWEEN by Rubin Pingk
OAK LEAF by John Sandford
BIG PUMPKIN by Erica Silverman, Illustrated by S.D. Schindler
THE LITTLE OLD LADY WHO WAS NOT AFRAID OF ANYTHING by Linda Williams, illustrated by Megan Lloyd
THE NIGHT GARDENER by Jonathan Auxier
THE JUMBIES by Tracey Baptiste
WATCH HOLLOW by Gregory Funaro
THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman
TOOK: A GHOST STORY by Mary Downing Hahn
SCARY STORIES FOR YOUNG FOXES by Christian McKay Heidicker
GHOST: THIRTEEN HAUNTING TALES TO TELL, a collection by Illustratus
And a few YOUNG ADULT…
MARY’S MONSTER: LOVE, MADNESS, AND HOW MARY SHELLEY CREATED FRANKENSTEIN by Lita Judge
MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN by Ransom Riggs
PUMPKIN HEADS: A GRAPHIC NOVEL by Rainbow Rowell, Illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks
Please share some of your favorite kidlit Halloween/fall season books in the comments.
And HAPPY HALLOWEEN!
On Being Your Own Audience
~Guest blog by Angela Burke Kunkel
When you think of a picture book being read, what--- or more precisely, who--- do you see? A child snug on the lap of a beloved parent or grandparent? A teacher, perched on the edge of a tiny classroom chair, reading aloud to a rapt class seated criss-cross-applesauce on the rug? A toddler, alone in their room during quiet time, studiously turning the pages and reciting a favorite book from memory?
Or is the audience . . . you?
Sometimes, in our journey to become writers, we study so much advice and so many mentor texts and blog posts and craft books that we lose sight of our own voice, our own relationship with books, our own relationship with words.
We write for children, after all, many of us in a particular genre or format. Picture books present their own unique set of challenges, with the industry standard of 32 pages and that ever-fluctuating “sweet spot” for word count. And, of course, you have other considerations: room for the illustrator. The child. The reader. It can be enough to crowd out why you’re doing this in the first place.
And, selfishly, it is okay if that’s you.
Allow me to back up for a moment: In my daily professional life, I work as a teacher-librarian in a school that serves grades seven through twelve. My entire career, I’ve only worked with tweens and teens--- never with elementary or preschool-aged children (and, may I just say, bless those early childhood and elementary educators). When social conversations wind their way round to writing, teens and even other adults often express surprise that I don’t write YA. After all, that’s who I interact with on a daily basis. And there is incredible work for young adults out there. I love reading it and talking about it, especially with young people.
But it isn’t what my brain reaches for right now, emotionally or structurally, in terms of my own writing. As someone who wanted to write novels for a very long time--- and never, ever finished a complete draft--- I found myself circling back to picture books. As I rediscovered them through my own young children, and through using them in classroom instruction with middle and high schoolers, I realized I also enjoyed them for my own aesthetic reasons. I loved how wordless titles felt like a silent movie unfolding. I loved the deceptive simplicity of clever refrains or circular structures. I loved the lyrical language and pacing of others, as metaphorical and gorgeous as any Mary Oliver poem. And yes, I’d read them with a child snuggled on my lap, or to a classroom of students (albeit at tables, not criss-cross-applesauce), but the aesthetic experience was a personal response for me. And eventually, I found myself reading them . . . by myself. When I had the itch to write after many years away from it, I allowed myself to consider the possibility of picture books.
As Ann Whitford Paul notes in Writing Picture Books, picture book form is unique because they are books written for people who cannot yet read, “usually read by an adult reader to a nonreader . . . The pictures are there to entice the nonreader to listen and also help construct meaning from the words.” And she’s right, but I also think as writers we can expand our vision beyond that, while still respecting it. After all, aren’t all good stories, regardless of form, about the experience of constructing meaning?
While it’s important to write with your primary audience in mind, remember that you can also have multiple audiences. I’d encourage aspiring writers to not only focus on how children might experience their book, but teens and adults as well. There are so many books I have used or want to use at the high school level--- from Faith Ringgold’s Tar Beach to Yuyi Morales’s Dreamers. Seeing teens, often stereotyped as cynical or disaffected, engaged in a picture book with the same wide-eyed wonder as a kindergartener reminds me that these stories serve a purpose for everyone. We just need to allow for that possibility.
So my challenge to you is this--- when you’re writing, and especially during those free writes and first drafts--- allow yourself to let go of that image of the lapsit reader or the elementary classroom. Disregard that editor voice in your brain that questions things like appropriateness and marketability and Lexile level. And, just for a little while, allow yourself to play. Swim around in words that make you feel like you’re engaging in a beautiful piece of language that isn’t cataloged “E” because it’s Easy. It’s “E” because it’s for everyone. And maybe, in that space of openness and play, you just might surprise yourself (and ultimately, your reader) with something beautiful.
Angela Burke Kunkel's debut picture book, DIGGING FOR WORDS: JOSÉ ALBERTO GUTIÉRREZ AND THE LIBRARY HE BUILT (illustrated by Paola Escobar and published by Random House/Schwartz & Wade) releases in Fall 2020. In addition to being an author, Angela works full time as a school librarian. She is a graduate of Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts. Angela is represented by Liza Fleissig at the Liza Royce Agency. You can contact her here. You can also connect on Twitter and Instagram.
A Guest Post by Book Marketing Coach Colleen Riordan
Imagine for a moment that your books sell like cronuts in Brooklyn every time you publish a new title. Readers are flocking to the bookstores. They’re hyping your book everywhere—even before they’ve had the pleasure of cracking it open.
It’s the dream, right?
Avid readers want good stories. They want your stories. And, if they’re anything like you, then you know how excited these bookworms get. They’re scouring Goodreads and book blogs right and left, on the prowl for their next favorite story. But, they can’t love your book if they don’t know it exists.
This is precisely why authors need email.
The best book marketing, in its simplest form, is just passionately sharing your story with the readers who already want it.
Email makes that easy.
The 3 Myths of Author Email
Authors often argue that they don’t need to use email to communicate with readers. They feel it’s unnecessary, outdated, and time-consuming.
Can you blame them? Social media is exciting and ubiquitous. It’s easy to throw email to the wayside and chase the shiny new toys. Email has been around since the 1970’s, but that doesn’t mean it’s out-of-date. In fact, email is one of the most effective marketing tools today.
Let’s tackle some of the myths that authors believe about why they don’t need to email readers.
Myth 1: Email is unnecessary. Readers will find the books if they really want them.
Imagine if you had an email list of people eager to read your books the moment they get published. These readers are already passionate about what you do, which means they’re more likely to preorder or run out to the bookstore during that first week. If you had enough fans like that, you could hit the bestseller lists book after book.
The book industry has a vast reach. Books are promoted on television, social media, newspapers, and park benches. It’s fantastic because at any moment you might stumble across your next favorite story.
However, books have a lot of competition. Over your average day, you have access to entertainment non-stop. Your phone, computer, television, and radio are filled with high quality content. A great book has to break through all of that noise.
Take a moment to think about how you found the last book you read.
Did you stumble across it on the library shelves? Did your best friend gush about it for weeks? Did you use specific keywords to search for it (or something like it) online?
Most of us don’t have a system for discovering new books. We hear about them on television. We spot our favorite authors reading them on Instagram. We ask our librarians for recommendations.
But between the incredible entertainment already at our fingertips and the sheer volume of advertising we see everyday, even the most die-hard fans are missing out on new book announcements.
Typically, books in a series are published a year apart. That’s a long time for a reader to wait. You can’t expect them to religiously check your website or the bookstore on the first of each month, eagerly awaiting the next book’s release.
Can you see the flaws in this system?
You can’t rely on fate to notify readers about your books. It’s not reliable. It’s not repeatable. You need a method of notifying readers about your books every time something comes out.
If you want to a career as an author, you can’t put the responsibility of hearing about your books on your readers. You need to reach out to them and tell them about these amazing stories. This is why email is perfect.
Myth 2: Email is outdated because social media has taken over the internet.
Social media is an entertaining way to interact with readers. You can quickly share photos, broadcast new messages, and engage with fans in real-time.
So, why not only use social media?
Social media networks like Facebook let readers follow their favorite author’s online presence. Here’s the catch: Facebook is not a direct communication channel. When an author posts their latest book announcement to their Facebook page or profile, Facebook’s algorithm decides which of your followers see it and when.
On average, less than 8% of your audience will see one of your organic posts on Facebook. These are your everyday, unpaid posts. For the average business page, the rate goes down to 2%. That means that a very small portion of your audience is seeing the post you worked so hard to create.
This percentage is variable of course. If you have an incredibly active and engaged audience who love you and regularly comment on your posts or share them, the algorithm will broadcast your posts to more of your followers. However, it still won’t be all of your followers.
Now, 8% might seem tiny, but it doesn’t mean you should skip Facebook entirely. It just means you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket. All of your social networks have this problem. You simply cannot reach everyone who is following you.
Why? Because Facebook—or whichever social network you’re using—is the middleman. You don’t get to decide who sees your posts. They do.
Social media networks limit the reach of a post for several reasons.
First, they tailor the newsfeed experience for individuals to show them more of what they already like and less of what they don’t. This is based off the how often someone engages with posts like yours and how much engagement your posts get.
Second, social media is technically considered ‘free.’ (It’s not. You’re exchanging your data for use of their platform.) However, Twitter, Facebook, and the rest of the social media networks are all businesses that need to make money to survive. One of the ways they monetize their platforms is by asking you to pay to reach more people through ads or sponsored posts.
With email, there is no middleman deciding who sees your message.
It’s direct communication. You write, and your subscribers get to make the active choice about whether they’ll read your email.
Myth 3: Email is difficult and takes time away from writing.
As you can see from what we covered in the previous two myths, you can’t afford to NOT use email.
Without email, you’re taking the risk that even your biggest fans will never find the sequel to books they already loved. They won’t get the chance to share your new release on social media or borrow it from a friend. You’ll waste weeks on carefully constructed social media posts promoting something that few followers will ever see.
To choose to avoid email is to choose to spend more time on your marketing just to reach the same number (or less) of people.
Imagine having an eager audience just waiting to hear from you—with a smile and open arms.
With email, you can have that.
At the core of your book marketing, you need a reliable, one-on-one method for communicating with your fanbase. Email excels at creating real relationships with your readers.
In the author-reader relationship, it’s your responsibility to reach out with news about your upcoming releases, entertaining activities, and book signings or events. Readers have a plethora of entertainment to choose from. You can’t even become a choice if they don’t know you have something coming out.
Through email, you can personalize your messages and treat each subscriber as a unique, book-loving, fan—not just an email address. When your emails are entertaining, educational, and/or aspirational, you are rewarding each and every one of your fans, who will in turn, share their love of your books with the world.
Colleen Riordan is a book marketing coach and the founder of Wild Ink Marketing. She has over eight years of experience in marketing and communications and a deep passion for teaching authors and illustrators how to sell more books and build their careers through the power of book marketing.
To learn more about Colleen and Wild Ink Marketing, please visit Colleen at https://www.wildinkmarketing.com/.
by Annie Cronin Romano
A few weeks ago, I arrived at a storytime and book signing for my recent picture book, Night Train: A Journey from Dusk to Dawn. I was greeted by one of the booksellers, who informed me they’d been getting sparse attendance at their Saturday kids’ events. I told her not to worry as I realized these types of events were hit or miss. A few minutes passed and, apart from a fellow writer and her friend, no others had arrived. A woman who’d been lingering nearby approached and asked if I was the author doing the event. She said her two teenage sons—a senior and junior in high school—needed to attend an author event for their AP Literature class so she’d brought them to my signing, not realizing that I wrote for children and would be reading a picture book that morning.
“Where are they?” I asked.
“Upstairs. They don’t want to come down.”
I laughed and told her I understood. Personally, I was relieved because at this point, with just a couple minutes until my reading was to begin, zero children had arrived. Nada. This gave me an audience, though not the demographic I’d been expecting. I told her, “Have them come down. I’ll talk to them about my writing process and answer their questions. And I won’t make them sit and listen to me read.”
The young men arrived—with hesitation—and I introduced myself and told them a little about my writing. I was about to ask if they had any questions when their mom said, “Really, I’d like you to read your book. That’s why you’re here.” My writing friend wanted to hear me read as well, so I asked the boys to humor me, filled them in on the inspiration for the story, then read.
When I finished, the tone shifted as the two teenagers started asking me questions. One after another. First about the story itself. Then about the writing process. Then about publication. We discussed writing in rhyme versus prose, the editing process, and how picture book writing differs from novel writing and the unique challenges it presents. The dialogue was amazing, and the experience of seeing these young men realize that picture books are not babyish as they’d thought was one I will never forget. They realized the significant work that goes into constructing a children’s story, even one just a few hundred words in length, and they seemed to understand that the age of your target audience does not define the level of effort needed to create quality writing.
A few minutes later, some little ones arrived and asked to participate in the storytime and craft. I said goodbye to the teenagers and turned my attention to what had been my intended audience. But my heart was already singing at the fact that those teenage boys had come downstairs to the children’s room reluctantly and returned upstairs with a newfound appreciation for what goes into writing for children.
A very good--and unexpected--storytime, indeed.
Guest Post by Lisa Rogers
Please welcome author and librarian Lisa Rogers to 24 Carrot Writing.
Lisa is an elementary library teacher in a K-5 school in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Her debut picture book, 16 WORDS: WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS AND THE RED WHEELBARROW (Random House/Schwartz & Wade Books) will hit shelves in the spring of 2019.
From her unique seat as both an author and a librarian, we asked Lisa to share her thoughts on how books are selected for classroom and school library shelves.
Thank you so much for joining us Lisa!
How do librarians and teachers choose their books? And how can you get your book in front of them?
Here’s how I choose: Readers, teachers, budget and time. Ideally, I would know and be able to read all of the new books and order the ones I think my readers would most enjoy. I preview as many books as possible before ordering and I've been focusing on books that offer characters and perspectives that reflect our diverse world. It all comes down to choices.
First, my readers. What do students want? What do they like, and what might I present to them? Sometimes, choices are simple: yes, that new Fenway and Hattie; Jasmine Toguchi, definitely. When School Library Journal advises grades 5-8 for a middle grade book that sounds amazing, I request it from the public library and read it before buying. And, I must think about readers like the first-grader who desperately sought nonfiction truck and tank books. For that, I dug into my book distributors, Mackin and Follett, and used their filters and previewing tools to make sure the books I chose were age-appropriate and had enough information to satisfy my student.
Next, teachers. What can I buy that might help them fill a hole, refresh an old reading list or invigorate a lesson? That takes curricular familiarity as well as a deep knowledge of my own library’s strengths and shortcomings. When Carolyn Crimi’s The Louds Move In came out, I knew it would be perfect for the third-grade teacher looking for onomatopoeia-based picture books. Miranda Paul’s Water is Water, I knew, would fit in two places: kindergarten study of the water cycle and third-grade nonfiction genre study.
Budget. It’s tight, and books are expensive. If the review journals flag a book for “a larger collection” or suggest giving it a pass (rare, but it happens), it’s unlikely to make it onto my order.
Time. School districts committed to having librarians might not have assistants to circulate books, shelve them and inventory them. Librarians often serve multiple schools—with a different collection of books in each, making it even more difficult to make choices. Teachers have constant pressure to learn new curriculum and ever-tighter time frames to deliver it to their students. They depend on my knowledge of our library’s books as well as lists that come with their curriculum—but those lists often include outdated, out of print materials.
That provides an opportunity for authors to get teachers’ and librarians’ attention. Teachers love lists organized in ways that support their curriculum. Teachers love Pinterest, so if you have a board or are blogging, create lists of books (including yours, of course!) around a teaching point: voice, point of view, theme, author’s purpose. They’ll ask their librarians for these books or order them on their own, and once they find a winner, it’s likely to be shared at grade-level meetings, and might find a place in the curriculum.
Educators care deeply about the quality of what they introduce to their students. If you’ve written a book that will connect to the curriculum or have enormous reader appeal, you can be sure they want to hear about it.
Work your connections to befriend your school librarian and local bookseller. Find a teacher who can spread the word. And write the best book you can.
To learn more about Lisa, please visit her website www.lisarogerswrites.com/
Peruse blogs for advice and tips from KidLit creatives.
Click to set custom HTML
Click on the RSS Feed button above to receive notifications of new posts on this blog.