Writing for Today’s Child, Chapter 1- Kids in Need

Photo courtesy of Bread for the World.

I’ve been doing some research about the lives of today’s children in my efforts to learn more about my audience, and I’ve come across some pretty startling statistics. For example:

  • 1 in 6 people in America face hunger. That means more than 1 in 5 children is at risk for being hungry during a regular school day. Among African American and Latino American children, the risk is 1 in 3.
  • For every 100 school lunch programs, there are only 87 breakfast sites and 36 summer food programs.
  • Nearly half of the 1 in 7 people enrolled in SNAP programs are children.
  • Over 20 million children receive free or reduced-price lunches each day at school. Less than half of these kids get breakfast, and even less than that have access to a meal program in the summer.
  • 40 percent of food is thrown out in the United States each year. That’s about $165 billion, and that amount could feed 25 million people.[1]

Yep, you read that right…$165 billion…enough to feed 25 million hungry people; and a grotesquely large number of those are children. Pretty overwhelming stuff, considering we’re at the end of the season of thankfulness and just opening the door on the season of giving.

So what do these numbers have to do with writing for kids? Well, think about that for a minute. One in 5 children ARE hungry during the regular school day. That means when little Johnny or Susie picks up a book during library time, most days all he or she can think about is, “When’s lunch?” And I don’t know about you, but when I’m hungry, reading, thinking or any kind of concentrating is almost impossible. Now imagine if that same child picks up a book about making pancakes, or having a meal with family, or sitting down to a table laden with holiday goodness? I mean, don’t we all get a little bit hungry, even when we’re not if food flashes in front of our eyes?

Now let’s talk buying books. If more than 20 million children across America receive free or reduced-priced lunches, how many of them have ever or will ever hold a book in their hands that they’ve purchased with their very own money? And how does that figure into school book fairs where some families must choose between paying the rent or buying groceries, much less finding some extra cash so a child can be like his or her classmates and visit the book fair? Part of developing a life-long love of reading is the feeling that comes when you crack open a book of your very own. The smell. The sound of pages turning. The brightness of brand new pictures and paper that isn’t stained or torn. All of this creates memories that draw adults back to books. I know ebooks have their place, but for book lovers, there’s just nothing quite like it. If this love of books never develops because books aren’t accessible or kids are too hungry to read them, how is this impacting society as a whole?

When I was a teacher I wrote a different inspiring quote on the chalkboard each day (you know, that long green thing that used to hang in the front of the classroom:). One of my favorites was, “Readers are leaders.” But even the child with the absolute most potential for greatness in the world can’t lead when she’s hungry, because all she thinks about is, well, being hungry.

It would be great if the answer were as simple as putting hungry children in our stories so they can see themselves in what they read. Or don’t put hungry children in our stories so they won’t feel marginalized. Or don’t put food in our stories so we don’t create more hunger. Or put more food in our stories, or, or, or… you see the problem here, right? I guess, as with many other types of social injustice, writing in the most thoughtful way possible with the goal of shining some light on the problem without singling out children and making their lives more difficult is the best approach. Pretty tall order, but you’re a writer for children, remember? In your heart, you’ve taken a sacred oath to do just that. And if you haven’t you should, or find something else to do with your time.

The other thing you can do is put legs on your prayers for hungry children by seeking out ways to help. I read a really great suggestion on Facebook the other day about going to your local school and paying off outstanding lunch charges for children in need. You may not know this, but hungry kids fall through the cracks all the time, and not all families who need free and reduced-priced lunches get them for a variety of reasons. When these kids’ lunch charges exceed a certain amount, they can no longer get lunch and are forced to eat a dry cheese sandwich or a bowl of Cheerios. Yep. It’s the truth.

Another great idea is to help your local school start a sharing table! Sharing tables are no-judgment zones in school cafeterias. They help reduce food waste by encouraging children to place the food they don’t like or don’t want to eat on the table and choose something they do like instead. At the end of the day, any extra food is donated to charity to help feed the hungry in the community. It’s a win-win because kids who didn’t get quite enough can feel free to pick something off the sharing table without feeling embarrassed, and food that otherwise would have gone in the trash gets eaten. Some schools even pack up the leftovers and send them home with needy kids so their families can have just a little more that night. You can read more about Sharing Tables here:

http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/news/a46885/school-share-tables/

Writers are doers. We “do” every day without having to punch a time clock. As long as we meet our deadlines, it’s all good. Put that writer “do” into finding ways to help end childhood hunger.

Then what will we have? More kids with satisfied tummies and books in their hands (the ones with your name on them). More readers. More leaders who remember what it’s like to be “that kid” and who work to change their world.

[1] “11 Facts About Hunger in the US.” DoSomething.org | Volunteer for Social Change. Accessed November 28, 2017.


Sensibility- Writing is a reflection of life, and sometimes life isn’t pretty. Reflect it, as often as possible, with grace and kindness.

Sense- Find out what your community does to fight childhood hunger and get involved.


  What are some things your community or school district does to fight childhood hunger? 

Aside

Who is Today’s Child?

My big kids humored me a few years ago with one last photo with Santa!

Every time I write a new story, I think about the child that might read it. I think some about the current children’s book market, what’s new and what’s coming down the pike in a few years, but I think more about the child that might one day pick up a book that bears my name.

I think about her a lot. 

Is she tall? Short? Plump? Thin? How does she see herself when she looks in the mirror? Are her jeans too tight or not the right style? Does she have a favorite doll? Stuffed animal? Game? Is she so smart it scares her sometimes and is she afraid to raise her hand in class and give the answer. . . again? Does she believe in magic and fairies and Santa Claus even though everyone else stopped believing long ago? Does she feel like she could fly if only she could just find a way to grow a pair of wings?

And what about him?

Is he skinny? Short? Fast? Slow? Does he hate baseball? Does he love football? Does he love hunting? Does he want to learn to cook or plant flowers or sing? Is he afraid of spiders just like his sister even though he isn’t supposed to be? And what if he never likes reading? So what? Will he ever be able to sit still in class, even for a minute? And what if he can’t? Will he still feel OK in his own skin? What if he likes wandering in the woods better than just about anything else? What if he feels he could fly if only he could just find a way to grow a pair of wings?

We hear an awful lot these days about what we should be writing about. What teachers want for their students, what parents want for their kids and what society says we should be giving them instead of something else. And all of those are very good things. But I didn’t start this very long journey for any other reason than to write for that girl or that boy. I truly believed, and still do, that simple stories with universal truths that meet kids where they are and take them where they need to be are the best kind for growing amazing little people into amazing big adults. Stories of compassion, kindness, goodness and love, woven with adventure, courage and fantasy about heroes kids can trust, believe in and identify with. Those are the kinds of stories I gave my own children, and all three of them have turned into amazing big adults ready to take on the world.

Having the big empty nest I mentioned in a previous post has given me time to think about the why of things. . . why we make the choices we make, why this world is the way it is; why children seem to be busier than ever, have more access to programs and experiences and opportunities than ever and are still killing themselves at an alarming rate with prescription opioids and heroin. Why? Why aren’t they satisfied and happy? I have a few theories, but that would take its own blog post.

So I’m going on a little journey to discover as much as I can about the children for whom I write, and I’m starting by reading C.S Lewis’s Letters to Children and Other Worlds: Essays and Stories. I’ll be sharing what I learn in a series of blog posts over the next few months, not every week, but as often as I can. I think it will be a fascinating journey. I hope you’ll join me.

 


Sensibility- For writers, not knowing your audience could find you producing stories something akin to a broccoli birthday cake or a Thanksgiving turkey made entirely of cheese.

Sense- Get to know your audience by reading both timeless books and what is trending now.


What are some of your favorite books on writing or writing for children?

Aside

2017 Best in Rhyme Award Top 20

Each year I participate in Angie Karcher’s Rhyme Revolution! It’s an awesome program that I highly recommend to anyone writing in rhyme. Today, Angie posted her Top 20 in this year’s Rhyme Revolution 2017 Best in Rhyme Award! Congratulations to all the winners!

Angie Karcher

2017 Best in Rhyme Award logo

2017 Best in Rhyme Award 

TOP 20

Please take time to read these wonderful rhyming picture books!

Congratulations to the all the authors and illustrators!

2017 BIRA Top 20

Here’s the official 2017

Best in Rhyme Top 20 List!

CAPTAIN BLING’S CHRISTMAS PLUNDER by Rebecca Colby
DORIS THE BOOKASAURUS by Diana Murray
GRIMELDA AND THE SPOOKTACULAR PET SHOW by Diana Murray
EVERYBUNNY DANCE by Ellie Sandall
NOTHING RHYMES WITH ORANGE by Adam Rex
MONSTERS NEED TO SLEEP by Lisa Wheeler
SANTA’S GIFT by Angie Karcher
TRAINS DON’T SLEEP by Andria Rosembaum
THE CASE OF THE STINKY STENCH by Josh Funk
LOVE IS by Diane Adams
GRANDMA’S TINY HOUSE: A COUNTING STORY by JaNay Brown-Woods
MIGHTY, MIGHTY CONSTRUCTION SITE by Sherri Duskey Rinker
THE POMEGRANATE WITCH by Denise Doyen
MONSTER’S NEW UNDIESby Samantha Berger
READY, SET, BUILD by Meg Fleming
LITTLE EXCAVATOR by Anna Dewdney
TWINDERELLA by Corey Rosen Schwartz
FLASHLIGHT NIGHT by Matt Forest…

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The Beauty of Space (Not the Star Wars Kind) and a Critique Special!

Me and my sweetheart at the very top of the Mitten’s UP in beautiful Copper Harbor.

A few weeks ago, after almost 20 years of first-day pictures, new backpacks, shiny, white sneakers and packing lunches, my husband I finally made it to the empty-nest club. To celebrate, we took our first extended trip without any kids or pets, and headed north to Michigan’s gorgeous and remote Upper Peninsula. It seemed like the perfect way to ease into our new roles- drop our daughters off at school, pick up the ferry across Lake Michigan and have an adventure. It was amazing. We talked, laughed, hiked, ate, rested and looked at each other without interruption for 5 whole days! “This empty-nest thing is a piece of cake,” we said. “We’ve got this!” And then we came home.

Yep, you guessed it. The other shoe fell sometime during the second evening of our newly-found, empty-nest bliss. I looked at my husband after our second or third episode of the West Wing and said, “What time is it?”

“Eight-thirty,” he answered.

“That early?” I responded.

“Yep,” he said.

“So this is how it’s going to be?” I questioned.

“I guess so,” he said.

I’m not sure if we both cried right then, or if a number of tears I shed over the next few minutes were enough for two, but there were waterworks a-plenty. It felt good to let it out after all the busyness of getting the girls supplied, packed up and delivered to school while at the same time preparing for our own trip. It was the end of a very long marathon that began the previous September with the last set of senior pictures, homecoming, etc. You know, all that “last time, last kid” stuff we do to send our babies off into the big college world. We trudged upstairs and went to bed, weary from weeping, while at the same time strangely refreshed.

It took me a while to get back into a routine, especially since a week later we made a trip south due to a loved one’s medical emergency. But after we got back home again, I fell into a groove, and it felt good. It was now time to take care of some long-neglected items on my to-do list, and one of those was my bulletin board.

Ever since I became a teacher (once upon a time), I’ve loved bulletin boards. So there’s always one in my kitchen where everyone can see it. It has a nice calendar and lots of room for whatever notes, business cards, receipts, etc. that I need to keep in a safe place. It’s been our family hub for a long time. So, I started removing every piece of paper thumbtacked to the cork. Everything I touched was outdated or no longer needed. I didn’t find anything important. Nothing. Zilch. When I finished, this is what was left:

The empty cork with lonely thumbtacks and a blank calendar almost made cry. . . almost. But before the floodgates opened, I realized something. That emptiness represented space in my life. Something I haven’t had much of since hearing those first amazing words, “It’s a boy!” Those were the absolute best years of my life. There’s nothing better than being a mom! But wow, that space, that cracked, well-used corkboard space looked hopeful somehow. What to do with it?

The temptation to fill it up to stop the loneliness came. . . and went! Are you kidding me? How about pausing, exhaling and letting God fill the space? Or not fill it! What an incredible feeling- to have space that didn’t need filling, just repurposing.

And of course I’m using my part of that space to write, and write and write some more. In the emptiness, creativity has flooded in (and I’m getting my paying work done too). I’m enjoying my quiet hours more than I ever thought I would. Oh, I still cry. And there are many evenings when I ask my husband, “Is it that early?” I mean hey, we’ve only been at this a few weeks. And thankfully, my kids are close enough to us that if the need for a cup of coffee with them becomes overwhelming we can get to them easily. But that space. Wow.

It’s been a week or so since I cleaned off the bulletin board, and it’s still empty. Even the calendar for October is empty (not the one I keep on my computer, but still). I think I’ll keep it that way a while longer. It’s a great reminder to cherish the space as a gift, rather than fill it with more things that don’t really matter.

Happy Writing!

And as a way of celebrating this new season, I’m running one of my famous BOGO Critique Specials. That’s right! Now through November 17th, purchase one picture book critique at the regular price and get a second critique absolutely free. Just click on the PGWRites Critiques tab above for more information. Looking forward to reading your stories in the coming weeks!

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Sensibility- Life’s seasons can be challenging. Keeping a positive attitude and looking for the unique joys each one brings keeps us moving forward.

Sense- Find yourself with some unexpected space? Fill it with creative projects. They are the best kind of food for the soul!

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Aside

Getting Back Into the Writing Groove!

My friend, Kristin Bartley Lenz, shares some sage writing advice in this week’s Mitten blog post:

The Grown-Up Version of What I Did This Summer, or How I Rediscovered My Writing Mojo

Kristin is the author of YA novel, THE ART OF HOLDING ON AND LETTING GO (Elephant Rock Productions, September 2016). The book was a Junior Library Guild Fall 2016 Selection and chosen for the 2017-2018 Great Lakes Great Books statewide literature program. Kristin’s success led to lots of speaking engagements and a flurry of activity as the book gained popularity. But what’s a newly-minted author to do when the process of promoting a book zaps your energy and leaves you feeling unable to write anything new? Kristin answers this important questions and more in this fabulous post that provides an honest perspective. Hope you enjoy it!

You can Learn more about Kristin at www.kristinbartleylenz.com.

 

Coming Soon on Sensibility and Sense. . . a fall picture book critique special and giveaway! Stay tuned!

Aside

The Science of a Fiction Picture Book (#STEAM) by Leslie Helakoski

Fabulous post on the Nerby Book Club today by my friend, Leslie Helakoski! Leslie talks about adding #STEAM to fiction picture books! Great job Leslie!

Nerdy Book Club

Even a fictional picture book can engage young minds in scientific thought. Comparing and contrasting are great tools for learning and what better way to explore this concept than a fun story?

 

HOOT & HONK Just Can’t Sleep began as an exploration of a nocturnal owlet, sleeping during the day and active at night, and a diurnal gosling, with the opposite schedule. But as the story developed, the chicks ended up in each other’s nest and I took comparing and contrasting to a new level. Beyond physical characteristics and sleep patterns, the story delves into the two birds’ activities and showcases the side-by-side patterns of the chicks’ days and nights.

This set-up allows for comparing several concepts: sunrise/sunset, nocturnal/diurnal, dark/light, sleep/wake, open/close, up/down, moon/sun and herbivore/carnivore all inside the lyrical story of two displaced chicks finding their way home.

The illustrations make the compare/contrast structure stronger. The reader sees…

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To my friends who write for teens

I love this post from my dear friend, Vicky Lorencen, so much that I wanted to share it with you! Hope you all are having a wonderful summer. I’m enjoying having my girls home for a few more weeks before we are official “empty-nesters.” Maybe that’s why this post resonated with me so much today. Hope it speaks to you and then you speak to some lonely, lovable and wonderful teenager through your own words and writings.

Welcome to Frog on a Dime

Dear Friends Who Write for Teens,

new frog background Collage by Vicky Lorencen

Car-less high schoolers in my neighborhood must meet at a bus stop a stone’s throw from my house. I heard them gathering this morning as I lay in bed. A loud-mouth girl shouted to her friends down the street. Other kids laughed. And although I didn’t peek out my bedroom window, I imagine there was at least one stoic kid standing solo in a sweat-drenched cocoon, clutching a sack lunch.

I rolled over on my pillow and thought about those kids. My heart went out to all of them, to the loners for certain, but truly to each of them, even Ms. Loud-Mouth. I knew that once they boarded that bus, they were headed to an emotional meat grinder. Part of me wanted to open my window and yell, “Listen! There’s some important stuff you need to know!” and then I’d talk as fast as…

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Rhyme Revolution 2017 Day 16 ~ Helen Docherty ~ Rhyme Schemes

Helen Docherty, author of The Snatchabook and many others, talk about rhyme scheme and how to use it to set the mood and pacing in your stories. Another great post in Angie Karcher’s Rhyme Revolution!

Angie Karcher

Red StarsThe Storybook Knight

The Story Book Knight

Written and Illustrated by

Helen and Thomas Docherty

2016 Best in Rhyme Award Top 10

Congratulations Helen and Thomas!

2016-best-in-rhyme-logo

See the Top 20 Best in Rhyme Books for 2016

One blue star

Rhyme Schemes

By Helen Docherty, author of The Snatchabook

and The Storybook Knight

I’m going to start with a confession: I never actually set out to write in rhyme. The first stories I wrote were in prose. But when the idea for The Snatchabook came to me – and it came pretty much fully formed – the story itself seemed to dictate that it should be written in verse. I knew that I had to create an atmosphere of suspense and mystery, and to draw the reader in from the very beginning of the story. Writing in rhyme seemed an effective and natural way to achieve this.

Helen 1

One dark, dark night in Burrow Down,

A rabbit called…

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Rhyme Revolution 2017 Day 11 ~ Deborah Underwood ~ Musicality of Words

Ever hear music in your head when writing in rhyme? Well, you should! Deborah Underwood shares this important rhyming advice in today’s Rhyming Revolution post. Great stuff Angie and Deborah!

Angie Karcher

Red StarsGoodnight

Goodnight, Baddies

by Deborah Underwood

Illustrated by Juli Kangas

2016 Best in Rhyme Award Top 10

Congratulations Deborah!

2016-best-in-rhyme-logo

See the Top 20 Best in Rhyme Books for 2016

One blue star

Musicality of Words

by Deborah Underwood

For many years, I sang with a chamber choir that performed new compositions. This was a joy—and sometimes a challenge. On occasion, we’d sing through a newly-composed piece for the first time and it would be obvious that the composer was used to writing for instruments, not voices.

The giveaway? The word stresses and the musical stresses didn’t align, making the text difficult to sing.

If you tap out the musical beats while singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” you’ll see that the beats line up with the accented syllables of the words. Because of this, singing the song is natural and easy:

ROW, ROW, ROW your BOAT, GENT-ly DOWN the STREAM
Now substitute text that…

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Rhyme Revolution 2017 Day 7 ~ Author Sue Fliess ~ It’s NOT About the Rhyme!

Totally reblogging this for my own sake. We all need this reminder that story comes first, always! Thanks Sue and Angie!

Angie Karcher

Red Stars

A Fairy Friend

by Sue Fliess

Illustrated by Claire Keane

2016 Best in Rhyme Award Top 20

Congratulations Sue!

2016-best-in-rhyme-logo

See the Top 20 Best in Rhyme Books for 2016

One blue star

It’s NOT About the Rhyme!

By Sue Fliess

It’s not about the rhyme. It never is. Well, at least, it never should be.  But what it always is about is the story. Or at a very basic level, it’s about the idea you’re trying to convey with words. Writers should think of rhyme as a mechanism or tool—just as illustrations, free verse, graphics, photography, or prose are all ways of telling a story.

My readers ask me all the time, why do you like writing in rhyme? or why do you write in rhyme? And what I tell them is that I always first have an idea or concept for a story. I jot down those ideas, characters, or fragments. When…

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