The Scoop: Writing for Children




            One of my great joys is having two-day workshops in my home for teachers and other adults who have a burning desire to become children’s book authors. As a child addicted to reading all kinds of fiction, the authors of the books I read were mysterious, intriguing individuals so far beyond my reach that I could never hope to see one, much less meet one. Yet, the more I read, the more I knew that one day I wanted to create terrific stories and other worlds for kids to lose themselves in (I know the previous sentence ends with a preposition, but I’m an author for Heaven’s sake. I can twist and manipulate words as I choose).

            I wrote as a child, I wrote as a teen, and I wrote as an adult. I dreamed about writing books for children, but I had no idea how to go about it. I still had not met a real, live author to guide me along the way, so I made every embarrassing mistake along my quest to becoming a published author. I was as green as a pickle. Somehow, because of some budding talent and a huge will and a dogged determination not to be turned away, I got into the vast and curious world of writing for children. Along the way I earned a master’s of fine arts in writing for children from Vermont College. I met and learned from scores of authors, many of them legendary in the field of children’s books.

            I am still on my journey, learning more each year of my life, but I enjoy helping others join the party. It is thrilling to sit at my dining-room table and answer questions from would-be children’s authors. Teachers make terrific writers. After all, they spend hours upon hours with children, answer their questions, and listen to their fantasies. They know what colorful and obscure topics kids are interested in or curious about. I love to listen to story plots and nonfiction topics and discuss which ones might make the best children’s books with the eager future authors who come to the workshops with all the same fears and insecurities I once had (I still probably have some). A writing workshop revs me up and gets my creative juices flowing.

One writer who came to my workshop 15 years ago has published 25 plus nonfiction books. One writer from two years ago is now working with an agent from Los Angeles to turn her children’s series into television or movie property. Another writer last year published a beautiful picture book about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the effect it might have on animals. What could be more wonderful than creating something children will enjoy and treasure?

            Sometimes we have as many as 22 at the workshops in my home; sometimes we have as few as four. Several weekends ago was just such a workshop: four eager beavers who wanted to learn as much as they could about story arcs, memorable characters, current topics that would be of interest, publishing trends, and so forth. We moved from the dining-room table to the living room. One activity on descriptive writing had us blowing bubbles in the front yard. The eight hours each day melted as quickly as butter left in the sun as we encouraged and enthused, analyzed and considered, created and developed every idea we could think of and then some.

            Now, it is up to my fledgling writers to go home and do the long, intricate, solitary work it takes to write and develop a manuscript so that it is ready to be presented to an editor. We need good books for children. We need teachers and other loving adults who want to spin the stories that will transport kids to wondrous, imaginative worlds.

            I wish them well. I wish them every success. I wish them magic.