Writing: Facts, Fiction, Fantasy, and Beyond

 

See below for How-tos, Helps, (and Advice from a Mouse); Ideas and Story Starters; Inspiring Imagination; Discovering Your Voice; Point of View; Going Graphic; Books With Characters Who Write; How Books Are Made; Pop-Ups, Accordions, and Story Books: Create a Book of Your Own; Getting Published; and Poems About Writing.

Also see Poetry I, Poetry II, and Letters and Letterwriting.

 

HOW-TOS, HELPS, (AND ADVICE FROM A MOUSE)

  In Kate Duke’s Aunt Isabel Tells a Good One (Puffin, 1994), Penelope – an enchanting little mouse – demands a story from her Aunt Isabel after supper. A good story, however, Aunt Isabel explains, needs just the right ingredients – beginning with “a When and a Where.” With a lot of imaginative input from Penelope, Aunt Isabel helps her weave a perfect plot, complete with setting, characters (valiant Lady Nell, a captive prince, a villainous Odious Mole), conflict, suspense, and a satisfying ending. For ages 4-8.
  More resources on mice? See NICE MICE AND AWESOME RATS.
  Peggy Kaye’s Games for Writing: Playful Ways to Help Your Child Learn to Write (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1995) is a mother lode of creative projects and activities for young writers. Kids, for example, make story maps and pretzel letters, invent acrostic poems, make shape books and family journals, create comics, write a play, or try their hands at producing the longest story ever written. For ages 5-8.
  In Joan Lowery Nixon’s If You Were a Writer (Aladdin, 1995), Melia’s mother – a writer, shown at a typewriter surrounded by sheets of scribbled-upon yellow paper – explains the writing process. “If you were a writer you wouldn’t tell about what happened in a story. You’d think of words that show what is happening.” The conversation is somewhat stilted – Melia’s mother doesn’t have a lot of pizzazz – but she does explain the essentials of the writer’s craft. For ages 6-8.
  Loreen Leedy’s Look at My Book (Holiday House, 2005) is a 32-page picture-book account of how to write and illustrate your own book, from choosing genre, characters, and setting, to making a rough draft, revising and refining, preparing a layout, and combining finished pages in a bound book. For ages 6-9.
The accompanying Look At My Book website has a downloadable cartoon-illustrated poster of the writing process from IDEAS and BRAINSTORMING to LETTERING, BINDING, and FINISHED BOOK.
  In Roni Schotter’s Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street (Scholastic, 1999), Eva is stumped by her homework assignment, in which she’s been asked to “write what you know.” Passing neighbors give helpful writerly advice – be observant (“The whole world’s a stage,” says Mr. Sims, the out-of-work actor), use detail and imaginative language, exaggerate, add action – and finally Eva, by feeding her leftover Danish to the pigeons, sets off a chain of events that leads to a couple falling in love, the invention of a marvelous mousse, the opening of a new restaurant, and a great story. For ages 6-10.
  Nancy Loewen’s Just the Facts (Picture Window Books, 2009), one of the Writer’s Toolbox series, is a nicely organized 32-page picture-book explanation of how to write a research report. (“First you’ll need to pick a topic. You’ll learn what experts have to say about your topic. You’ll take notes. You’ll organize facts. And when you’re done with those steps? THEN you’ll write.”) Each step of the process is clearly explained, using an example of a little girl writing a report about the duck-billed platypus. For ages 7-9.
  Other books in the Writer’s Toolbox series (Picture Window Books, 2009) cover different genres of writing in the same fashion, including playwriting, journaling, letter-writing, poetry, humor, horror stories, picture books, and fairy tales. Titles are Action! Writing Your Own Play, It’s All About You: Writing Your Own Journal, Make Me Giggle: Writing Your Own Silly Story, Once Upon a Time: Writing Your Own Fairy Tale, Share a Scare: Writing Your Own Scary Story, Show Me a Story: Writing Your Own Picture Book, Sincerely Yours: Writing Your Own Letter, and Words, Wit, and Wonder: Writing Your Own Poem.
  Linda Polon’s Write a Story (Good Year Books, 1998) is a 100-page workbook of (very short) story-writing exercises combined with grammar instruction.Covered are types of sentences, parts of speech, synonyms and antonyms, contractions, homophones and homographs, compound words, double negatives, prefixes, and suffixes, punctuation, similes and metaphors, and writing genres. For ages 8-11.
  Esther Hershenhorn’s S is for Story: A Writer’s Alphabet (Sleeping Bear Press, 2009) is a picture-book A-to-Z account of writers’ tools and techniques. Each page has short rhyme about the featured topic, a detailed explanatory paragraph or two, and a quote from a well-known children’s author, such as Andrew Clements, Katherine Paterson, Beverly Cleary, or J.K. Rowling. B, for example, is for Book, C for Character, N for Notebook, W for Word Choice. For ages 8-12.
From Sleeping Bear Press, the S is for Story Teacher’s Guide has activities and student worksheets to accompany the book.
  Gail Carson Levine’s Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly (2006) is a conversational and delightful guide for young writers, filled with stories about Levine’s own experience of writing, helpful information about the writing process, and writing exercises. In fact, it starts off – on the first page of chapter one – with a list of proposed first sentences that will have any young writer itching to grab a keyboard, pencil, or pen. For ages 9 and up.
For the same age group, also see Ellen Potter and Anne Mazer’s Spilling Ink: A Young Writer’s Handbook (Square Fish, 2010).
  Ralph Fletcher’s A Writer’s Notebook (HarperCollins, 1996) explains how to take notes to serve as seeds for stories, poems, and other writing projects. “A writer’s notebook gives you a place to live like a writer…wherever you are, at any time of day.” Included are samples of notebooks by both published writers and young beginners. For ages 9-12.
  Brigid Lowry’s Juicy Writing (Allen & Unwin, 2009) is a mix of inspiration and technical advice for young writers, with exercises that include such challenges as inventing a new religion, writing about a day in the life of a shoe, or re-casting your life as a fairy tale. A final chapter includes a resource list of websites and writer’s organizations. For ages 12 and up.
  By Alfred Rosa and Paul Eschholz, Models for Writers (Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 2012) is a collection of short essays, each accompanied by discussion questions, a vocabulary list, and related writing suggestions. The essays are used to illustrate technical aspects of the writing process – such as organization, beginnings and endings, transition, tone, figurative language –  or as examples of various essay types (narration, process analysis, comparison and contrast, cause and effect). An excellent and challenging resource for high-school-level students and up.
John Gardner’s The Art of Writing Fiction: Notes on the Craft for Young Writers (Vintage, 1991) is a classic of its kind, filled with astute observations on what to think about when writing fiction, what to watch out for, and what to remember – namely that “there are no rules for real fiction.” For older teenagers and up.
  Monica Wood’s The Pocket Muse (Writer’s Digest Books, 2004) – subtitled “ideas & inspiration for writing” – is a cleverly designed compilation of helpful hints, writing prompts, and creative thinking exercises, packed with quotations, photographs, and examples. Also see The Pocket Muse 2 (2009). For teenagers and adults.
  By Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter, What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers (William Morrow, 1991) is filled with excellent exercises on all aspects of writing: story beginnings, journaling and memory, characterization, point of view, dialogue, plot, story elements, resolutions, mechanics, writing games, and “Learning from the Greats.” For older teenagers and adults.
  Marianne Saccardi’s 178-page Books That Teach Kids to Write (Libraries Unlimited, 2011) is a treasure trove of suggestions, activities, and information on writing for kids in grades K-12 – all illustrated with excellent examples from literature, and accompanied by lengthy annotated book and reference lists. Various book sections deal with instilling a love for language, ideas for sparking reluctant writers, ways of creating a unique writer’s voice, approaches to inventing believable and memorable characters, modes of non-fiction writing, and suggestions for enhancing writing through drama. Appendices include reproducible activity sheets and a bibliography of books featuring characters who write.
  By Patrick Sebranek, Dave Kemper, and Verne Meyer, Writers INC. (Write Source, 2006) is a fat (600+ pages), nicely designed and organized tome on the writing process intended for high-school-level students. The book covers the writing process, forms of writing (personal, subject, creative, persuasive, academic, literary, research, workplace), writing tools, and proofreading. A useful reference.
See Write Source for more information on student writing handbooks, a list of writing topics categorized by grade level (1-12), student writing models, research links, and style criteria.
  The National Writing Project (NWP) is a national network promoting writing for students of all ages, from preschool to college. The website lists resources on all aspects of writing, including activities and projects for young writers, informational articles and essays, and research publications. There’s also an online bookstore devoted to writing education.
  ReadWriteThink has a long and excellent list of lesson plans for writers, categorized by grade level. Enter “Creative Writing” in the search box, for example, for projects in which kids devise stories to accompany wordless picture books using an online interactive story map; invent alternative endings for familiar books; investigate magic realism; write fanfiction; and much more. For a range of ages.
  What makes a good short story? The Annenburg Foundation’s Literature online unit analyzes short story writing, using as an example Susan Glaspell’s “A Jury of Her Peers.” Kids read the story (online at the site) and then explore plot construction, point of view, character development, setting, and theme. For ages 13 and up.
  Want to write a cookbook? Dianne Jacob’s Will Write for Food (DaCapo Lifelong Books, 2010) is a complete guide to food-writing, with writing exercises, examples, background information, suggestions for getting published, and a resource list. The book is aimed at adults, but could be the source of a great parent/child project.

IDEAS AND STORY STARTERS

  Enchanted Learning’s Writing Activities has printable writing prompt worksheets, draw-and-write pages, brainstorming worksheets, make-your-own writing prompt pages, thought bubble and speech balloon pages, and a long list of essay projects for elementary-level students. Only site members can actually print the pages. (A single-family membership costs $20/year.)
  At Scholastic’s StoryStarters, visitors choose a genre (Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-fi, Scrambler), a grade level (K-1, 2, 3, 4-6), a format (notebook, letter, newspaper, postcard), generate a story scenario, and then create an online story (with an option for illustrations). Examples: “Write about a thrilling experience for a graceful reindeer who accidentally sets the science fair on fire.” “Describe a celebration for a tricky pirate who rides a wild boar.”
  Bryan Cohen’s 1000 Creative Writing Prompts (CreateSpace, 2011) is a 132-page collection of story starters, grouped under such categories as “Holidays,” “Seasons,” “For the Kids,” “Art,” “Sports, “The Outdoors,” and “The Weird.” Adaptable for all ages. Also see Cohen’s 1000 Character Writing Prompts (CreateSpace, 2012), jumpstarts for inventing a wide range of characters, from superheroes and sidekicks to zombies, monsters, wicked stepmothers, and lawyers.
  By A.S. Newman and P.C. Trauth, 365 Things to Write About! (TNA Publishing, 2011) consists of 365 lined pages with a short writing prompt printed at the top of each. Examples include an airplane, Alaska, aliens, the color red, a galaxy, a potion, quicksand, the Taj Mahal, a trap door. Adaptable for all ages.
  From Capstone Press, the Fact Finders series is a collection of 32-page books “Using Photos to Inspire Writing.” Titles are Picture Yourself Writing Fiction (Sheila Griffin Llanas, 2011), Picture Yourself Writing Nonfiction (Jennifer Fandel, 2011), Picture Yourself Writing Poetry (Laura Purdie Salas, 2011), and Picture Yourself Writing Drama (Barbara A. Tyler, 2011). Each has helpful instructions for writers, a reading list, and a collection of terrific color photographs to serve as inspirational story starters. For ages 8-12.
  Hank Kellner’s Write What You See (Prufrock Press, 2009) contains 99 great black-and-white photographs to be used as writing prompts, each with a quotation, a short list of questions to consider, and suggestions for approaches or possible opening lines. For ages 12 and up.
  At Creative Writing Prompts, point your cursor at a number (1-346) for a writing exercise or story prompt. Examples: “Why would a speaker be afraid of cats?” “Use all these words in a poem: crash, crumpled paper, straw, gravel, ochre.” “Write a story about greed with a CEO as the main character and a chess board as a key object.” For ages 12 and up.
  From The Teacher’s Corner, Daily Writing Prompts has a writing suggestion for every day of the year, based on holidays, anniversaries, historical events, and the birthdays of famous people. Adaptable for a range of ages.
  The Daily Writing Prompt is a terrific source of prompts and story starters, variously categorized by genre or topic, or based on the calendar. Included are pages of writing prompts based on picture books, writing prompts paired with video clips,  journaling suggestions, and student portfolio samples. There’s also an option to publish your work online.
  At the online Idea Game for Kids, participants press a MAGIC BUTTON to get story ideas. “Please write a story about…a trip you once took, a book you like, autumn, your favorite toy, a place that was really cold.”
Story Writing Game for Kids is  a Mad-Libs-style writing exercise is which kids choose words to generate a ghost, romance, or spy story.
Language Is a Virus has a long list of creative writing games and aids, among them a Character Name Generator and a Writing Prompts feature.
  The New York Times Learning Network is a great source of innovative lesson plans, categorized by academic discipline. See, for example, Toy Stories, a creative writing project in which kids explore the cultural significance of popular toys, invent a game to share their knowledge, and write letters to their favorite toys, or The Plot Thickens? in which kids update familiar works of literature to reflect how plots and characters would have differed in the age of technology. What if Cinderella had had a cell phone?

INSPIRING IMAGINATION

Of course, almost any book is an inspiration for the imagination…

  In Leo Lionni’s Frederick (Dragonfly Books, 1973), while all the other field mice scurry about collecting food for the winter, Frederick – a talented and imaginative little mouse – dreamily sits, watches, and thinks, explaining that he is gathering color, warmth, and words for the cold days ahead. Finally winter comes, and as food stores run low and spirits droop, Frederick revives them all with his wonderful poems and stories filled with colorful images of the spring and summer. For ages 3 and up.
  In John Burningham’s It’s a Secret (Candlewick, 2009), Marie-Elaine wonders where her cat, Malcolm, spends the night – and discovers, on a magical journey, that Malcolm, wearing a hat with a plume, celebrates at midnight parties with the Queen of the Cats. (Where do you think cats go at night? Invent your own story.) For ages 3 and up.
  Dr. Seuss’s rollicking And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street (Random House Books for Young Readers, 1989) is a tale of imagination run amok: Marco hasn’t seen anything on the way home from school but a horse and a wagon (“That can’t be my story. That’s only a start.”) – so he proceeds to add imaginative embellishments, each more fabulous than the last. Marco is a born writer. For ages 3-8.
Learn more about And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street at NPR’s How Dr. Seuss Got His Start.
  In Mark Teague’s rhyming picture-book How I Spent My Summer Vacation (Dragonfly Books, 1997), young Wallace Bleff – giving a class report on a blah, but classic, back-to-school writing topic – explains that he was sent out west for the summer to recover from a too-wild imagination. His story then spirals into an improbable (but cool) account of a kidnapping by cowboys and a barbecue threatened by a cattle stampede, in which “Kid Bleff” heroically saves the day. For ages 4-8.
  In Nancy Carlson’s Henry’s Amazing Imagination (Puffin, 2010), Henry – an extremely imaginative mouse – regales his class at show-and-tell with fabulous stories of pet dinosaurs, giant snowmen, and visiting aliens. Accused of lying, Henry is crushed, until he discovers how to channel his amazing imagination into writing stories. For ages 4-8.
Writing is often a matter of creating imaginative new worlds. A wonderful example of this is found in Paul Fleischman’s Weslandia (Candlewick, 2002), in which young Wesley – an ususual boy who dislikes pizza and refuses to shave half his head like all the other boys – spends his summer vacation creating a whole new civilization. (Try it.) A wonderful read for ages 4 and up.
  Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick (Houghton Mifflin, 1984) is a marvelous picture book: eerie, evocative, inspiring, and utterly fascinating.  It consists of fourteen enchanting black-and-white pictures, each with a mysterious title and line or two of text. “Mr. Linden’s Library,” for example, shows a girl asleep with an open book, from which a leafy vine is now sprouting.  “He had warned her about the book,” the text reads. “Now it was too late.”  “Uninvited Guests” pictures a cellar: at the bottom of the stairs, light from a window falls on a tiny wooden door. (“His heart was pounding. He was sure he had seen the doorknob turn.”) For ages 4 and up.
  From ReadWriteThink, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick is a lesson plan in which kids write mystery stories based on the pictures in the book.
  Sarah Perry’s If… (J. Paul Getty Museum, 1995) pairs a simple text with fascinating surrealistic paintings: If zebras had stars and stripes…If mice were hair…If spiders could read Braille…If cats could fly…If the moon were square…Irresistible. For ages 4 and up.
  Sarah L. Thomson’s magical Imagine books – Imagine a Night (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2003), Imagine a Day (2005), and Imagine a Place (2008) – illustrated with evocative and surreal paintings by Ron Gonsalves, are wonderful inspirations for stories, as moonlit reflections of pine trees turn into ghostly girls with lanterns; a toy train becomes life-sized; and sunflowers have human faces.  For ages 9 and up.
  The Storymatic – “six trillion stories in one little box” – is touted as a writing prompt, a teaching tool, a parlor game, and a toy.  It consists of a box of 540 cards in two colors. Players draw two gold cards to create a main character – say, “royalty,” “gravedigger ,” “caretaker of an elephant,” or “pig” – and two copper-colored cards as story starters, such as “invitation from a stranger,” “burning house,” “handcuffs,” “pet is behaving strangely,” or “talking doll.” The challenge: to write, tell, or co-invent a story based on your cards. Thought-provoking and addictive for ages 12 and up. Also see The Storymatic Kids! for ages 5 and up, and – for historians – The Storymatic Colonial Williamsburg.
  Think-ets – the “Tiny Trinket Imagination Game” – consists of a pouch or box of assorted (and entrancing) teeny objects: a miniature compass, a bottle, a gold ring, a shell, a polar bear, an airplane, a bird’s egg, a thimble. Combinations of the objects serve as story starters.
  From Gamewright, Rory’s Story Cubes consists of nine dice, each with imagination-sparking images on each face – for example, a key, a magic wand, a mask, an apple, a shooting star. Roll them for story-generating combinations. About $15.

DISCOVERING VOICE

In writing, voice is more than the thing you use to talk, sing, and yell – it’s a unique expression of personality, the creative quirk that gives color and pizzazz to language.

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large mater – ‘tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning. (Mark Twain)

  Josephine Nobisso’s Show; Don’t Tell! (Gingerbread House, 2004), illustrated with wonderful blocky folk-art-ish animals by Eva Montanari, features a writing lion who demonstrates how to choose just the right nouns and adjectives to best communicate a story. For ages 8-11.
  Nancy Dean’s Discovering Voice (Maupin House, 2006) a collection of creative writing lessons aimed at analyzing and developing a writer’s voice, using as examples excerpts from the works of published authors, paired with discussion questions, activities, and writing projects. Topics covered include diction, detail, figurative language, imagery, syntax, and tone. An exercise on diction, for example, begins with a quote from Virginia Hamilton’s M.C. Higgins the Great: “M.C. heard him scramble and strain his way up the slope of Sarah’s mountain.” Visualize it, Dean says. “How would it change your mental picture if Hamilton had written: ‘M.C. heard him walk up the slope of Sarah’s mountain’?” An excellent and thought-provoking resource for ages 12 and up.
  Also by Nancy Dean, see Voice Lessons: Classroom Activities to Teach Diction, Detail, Imagery, Syntax, and Tone (Maupin House, 2000), using examples from a wide range of well-known writers, among them Barbara Kingsolver, E.B. White, Annie Proulx, Seamus Heaney, John Steinbeck, William F. Buckley, Elie Wiesel, and Langston Hughes. For high-school-level students.
  By Thaisa Frank and Dorothy Wall, Finding Your Writer’s Voice: A Guide to Creative Fiction (St. Martin’s Griffin, 1996) explains that voice is what differentiates one writer from all the others in the world. The book discusses “raw” voice, narrative voice, and varying characters’ voices, with writing exercises and many examples from published authors. For older teenagers and adults.
  Characters need distinctive voices too. From Wordplay, How to Create Distinctive Character Voices has a handful of exercises for experimenting with character voice. (What would J.K. Rowling’s Professor Snape say about his first glimpse of Disneyland?)
  Need a good example of character voice? One of my favorites is that of the Big Friendly Giant of Roald Dahl’s The BFG (Puffin, 2007), who – once heard – can never possibly be mistaken for anyone else: “By ringo, your head must be so full of frogsquinkers and buzzwangles, I is frittered if I know how you can think at all!” (Now there’s a voice.) For ages 7 and up.

POINT OF VIEW

There are books told from the points of view of dolls, toy soldiers, and stuffed rabbits; of horses, dogs, cats, birds, and mice; and, of course, of all possible kinds of people.

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it. (Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird)

  Jon Scieszka’s The True Story of the Three Little Pigs (Puffin, 1996) is the familiar classic told from the point of view of the villain. The Wolf – Alexander T. Wolf, that is – insists he’s been wronged: he only wanted to borrow a cup of sugar from the pigs to make his grandmother a birthday cake. And all the huffing and puffing? He had a cold. For ages 4 and up.
More resources? See FAIRY TALES.
  In Anthony Browne’s Voices in the Park (Dorling Kindersley, 2001), a snobbish society mother, her buttoned-up son, Charles, and their pedigreed Labrador retriever visit the park at the same time as an unemployed father, his daughter, Smudge, and their rambunctious mongrel. The story is told in four different voices, from four very different points of view. All the characters are anthropomorphic apes. For ages 7-11.
  Rob Buyea’s Because of Mr. Terupt (Yearling, 2011) is the story of a life-changing teacher and a disastrous accident, told from the varying points of view of seven very different fifth-grade students. For ages 9-12.
  Paul Fleishman’s Bull Run (HarperCollins, 1995) is the story of the Civil War, told from the points of view of sixteen different people, with sixteen widely different attitudes and backgrounds. For ages 10 and up.
  Paul Fleischman’s Seedfolks (HarperTrophy, 2004) is told in thirteen different voices, beginning with nine-year-old Kim, daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, who plants some bean seeds in a vacant lot. Thus begins a community garden, with its growing cast of multicultural narrators, each with a different array of goals, problems, and perspectives. For ages 10 and up.
  Anna Sewall’s classic Black Beauty, available in many editions, was originally published in 1877. The story of Black Beauty’s life, from pampered carriage horse to abused cab horse to peaceful retirement, is narrated in the first person from the point of view of the horse himself. For ages 12 and up.
See HORSES.
  Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad (Canongate, 2006) is a new view of the Odyssey, told from the perspective of long-suffering Penelope and her twelve maids, the latter all hanged by Odysseus when he returned home. (“I knew he was tricky and a liar, I just didn’t think he would play his tricks and try out his lies on me,” Penelope says.) For older teenagers and adults.

GOING GRAPHIC!

  The main character of Jules Feiffer’s The Man in the Ceiling (HarperCollins, 1995) is young Jimmy Jibbets, who loves making comic books and wants to be a cartoonist someday – despite a total lack of support from his family. A witty take on art and the human condition for ages 8-12.
  Art Roche’s Art for Kids: Comic Strips (Sterling, 2011) has complete instructions for creating 3-panel comic strips, variously covering story line, characters, layout and design, and the tricky business of making an effective joke. For ages 9-13.
  Barbara Slate’s 200-page You Can Do a Graphic Novel (Alpha Books, 2010) is a guide to graphic novels in the form of a graphic novel. It covers all the basics, including drawing, creating characters, plots, and layouts. One chapter is devoted to samples of student work. For ages 11 and up.
The You Can Do a Graphic Novel Teacher’s Guide is a detailed guide to accompany the book, with instructions, suggestions, and printable worksheets and templates.
  In Matt Madden’s 99 Ways to Tell a Story (Chamberlain Brothers, 2005), Madden tells the same story in 99 single-page comics, each time in a different way. The story isn’t much – a man goes to the refrigerator and then forgets what he’s looking for – but the possibilities are fascinating, as Madden adds characters and points of view, and experiments with flashbacks, free verse, color effects, art styles, page design, close-ups and long-shots. A great potential project for ages 14 and up.
  By Jessica Abel and Matt Madden, Drawing Words and Writing Pictures (First Second, 2008) is a 15-lesson all-in-one-book course on making comics, manga, and graphic novels. For teenagers and adults.
  Scott McCloud’s Making Comics (William Morrow, 2006) is a comic-book-style explanation of how drawings can be used to tell a story, covering everything from the “reader’s camera” to facial expressions, figure drawing, word balloons, background, tools and techniques, and publishing markets. For older teenagers and adults.
  From ReadWriteThink, Comic Creator is an online tool with which kids and teens can design their own comic strips.
  From the New York Times Learning Network, That’s the Story of My Life is a lesson in which kids create storyboards for a graphic novel about their lives.
From Donna Young, at Comic Strip Printables, visitors can choose among many different cartoon panel templates. Print your own comic-strip and graphic-novel paper.

BOOKS WITH CHARACTERS WHO WRITE

  In David Ezra Stein’s Interrupting Chicken (Candlewick, 2010), a patient father rooster (in spectacles and carpet slippers) tucks his offspring, a little red chicken, into bed and attempts to read a bedtime story – only to be continually interrupted by his daughter, who can’t bear the suspense. “Out jumped a little red chicken,” she cries, as her father reaches a crucial point in Hansel and Gretel, “and she said ‘DON’T GO IN! SHE’S A WITCH!’ So Hansel and Gretel didn’t. THE END!” Finally the little red chicken decides to write a story of her own, only to be interrupted by her tired father’s snores. For ages 3-7.
  Henrietta, of Mary Ann Auch and Herm Auch’s The Plot Chickens (Holiday House, 2010), is a very bookish chicken who decides, since she so loves reading, that it would be fun to write a book. Unfortunately it’s rejected for publication – and when Henrietta self-publishes, it gets a terrible review. Henrietta is thoroughly discouraged – until she discovers that the children at the library have voted her book one of the best of the year. There’s a lot of wordplay based on the word “egg.” For ages 4-8.
Also see CHICKENS, CHICKS, and LITTLE RED HENS.
  In Tad Hills’s Rocket Writes a Story (Schwartz & Wade, 2012), Rocket – with the help of the little yellow bird, his teacher in How Rocket Learned to Read (2010) – creates a wonderful word tree, hung with all his favorite words (feather, tree, snail, rock, bug, book, bird, dog). Then he decides to write a story using his word collection and – though he hits some bumps on the way (there’s crossing out and growling) – he eventually, adorably, succeeds. For ages 4-8.
  In Kate Banks’s Max’s Words (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2006), Max’s brother Benjamin collects stamps and brother Karl collects coins – so Max, who wants a collection too, decides to collect words. (“Very funny, Max,” said Karl.) Max begins with small words cut from magazines and newspapers, then proceeds to bigger and better words, and finally begins to arrange them to make stories. The word illustrations are wonderful, in a range of sizes and fonts. Some are miniature concrete poems: “hungry” has a bite taken out of it; “park” is surrounded by trees; “baseball” is shaped like a baseball bat. For ages 4-8.
Max’s Words is a lesson plan to accompany the book: kids make their own word collections and use them to create stories; write “pass it on” stories based on the final sentence in the book (“Once there was a big brown dog…”); and illustrate selected “Wow” (particularly cool or image-promoting) words.
  Ralph, the mouse of Daniel Kirk’s Library Mouse (Harry N. Abrams, 2007), lives behind the reference book section in the library and spends all his time reading. He enjoys books so much that he eventually decides to write one about himself – Squeak! A Mouse’s Life – using a little mirror to draw his self-portrait. He follows it up with a mystery story (The Lonely Cheese and the Mystery of Mouse Mansion) and soon is so popular that the librarian invites him to “Meet the Author” day. When the children arrive, however, they find – instead of the author – a series of blank books and mirrors to help them write books of their own. For ages 4-8.
The World of Library Mouse is a teaching guide with activities to accompany Daniel Kirk’s Library Mouse books.
Also see LOVE THE LIBRARY.
  In Frank W. Dormer’s The Obstinate Pen (Henry Holt and Company, 2012), Uncle Flood’s new pen has a mind of its own. When he tries to write “The following story is all true,” the pen – who doesn’t believe him – instead inscribes “You have a BIG nose.” Uncle Flood, frustrated, finally chucks the pen out the window, where it ends up passing through the hands of several grown-ups, forcing each of them to write something far more honest (and ruder) than they had planned. Finally it reaches the hands of Flood’s story-writing little nephew Horace, who knows how to make it cooperate. For ages 4-8.
  In Sarah Sullivan’s Once Upon a Baby Brother (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010), Lizzie’s story-telling talent is admired by all – until her baby brother Marvin comes along. Lizzie, feeling neglected, begins writing stories about a beautiful princess and a villain – Marvin as ugly prince, fearsome Marvinosaurus, dangerous Marvinfish. Challenged to write a comic book by her teacher, however, Lizzie suffers from writer’s block – until Marvin returns from a visit to Grandma. Once she realizes that she loves her little brother after all, inspiration strikes, and she creates “The Amazing Adventures of Marvin (with Big George the Wonder Dog).” For ages 4-9.
See Sarah Sullivan: Activities for a teacher’s guide to accompany Once Upon a Baby Brother and a downloadable bookmark featuring Lizzie, Marvin, and Lizzie’s Princess Merriweather pencil. Among the activities: use Lizzie’s many story snippets as story-starters. (“The brave young girl rescued her teacher from an alligator pit.”)
  “Stories are everywhere!” Ralph’s teacher insists – but Ralph, of Abbie Hanlon’s Ralph Tells a Story (Amazon Children’s Publishing, 2012) has a massive case of writer’s block. Finally Ralph remembers finding an inchworm in the park, which – with the help of questions from classmates – turns into a lively story. By the end of the book, Ralph’s endless stack dismal papers with nothing on them but his name has turned into an entire library of books, with titles like “When Milk Came Out of My Nose” and “The Scariest Hamster.” For ages 6-8.
  The narrator of Eileen Spinelli’s The Best Story (Dial, 2008) wants to win the library’s story-writing contest: the prize is a roller coaster ride with her favorite author. Her brother Tim thinks the best stories are packed with action – but adding a pirate, a tornado, and a great white shark doesn’t seem to do the trick. Her father claims the best stories are funny; her Aunt Jane wants a tearjerker; her cousin Anika wants romance. Finally her mother suggests that she write from her heart – and finally she comes up with a “best story” all her own. For ages 6-9.
  Harriet, of Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy (Yearling, 2001) plans to be a famous author someday – and as practice she keeps a notebook  in which she writes down observations and opinions derived from spying on neighbors and classmates. When Harriet’s classmates get their hands on the notebook and read Harriet’s comments, they’re furious, and form a Spy Catcher Club devoted to making Harriet’s life miserable.  Harriet eventually works it with out, with advice from her nanny, Ole Golly, and her performance as editor of the school newspaper. For ages 8 and up. (For grown-ups who miss Harriet, see Miss Buncle’s Book below.)
Harriet the Spy, the 1996 film version of the book, is available on DVD. Rated PG.
Learn more about the book at NPR’s Unapologetically Harriet, the Misfit Spy.
In Jeanne Birdsall’s The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy (Yearling, 2007), Rosalind, Skye, Jane, Batty (age four, who wears butterfly wings) and their Latin-quoting botanist father vacation at a cottage next to a massive estate, where they meet two rabbits, the dreadful Mrs. Tifton, her even more dreadful boyfriend (Dexter Dupree), and Mrs. Tifton’s very nice son, Jeffrey, whom they save from military boarding school. In honor of which, ten-year-old Jane, an indefatigable writer and author of the exciting Sabrina Starr novels, writes her latest in which Sabrina Rescues a Boy. For ages 8 and up.
  Avi’s A Beginning, A Muddle, and an End: The Right Way to Write Writing (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2008) – charmingly illustrated by Tricia Tusa – features Avon, a very well-read snail, and his friend Edward the ant, characters who first appeared in The End of the Beginning (2004). Now Avon is determined to write a book – which he proceeds to muddle through, with a list of writer’s rules, a lot of clever word play, and some not-always-helpful help from Edward. For ages 8-12.
  Andrew Clements’s The Landry News (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2000) is the story of a young writer making a difference. New girl Cara Landry, upset that her fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Larson, “does not teach,” begins publishing a newspaper, The Landry News, and criticizes his behavior in her first editorial. Soon the entire class is involved with the newspaper; Mr. Larson, fired up, is teaching again; and the school principal and the town are involved in a struggle involving the First Amendment. For ages 8-12.
  The title character of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, originally published in 1908, is bookish, dramatic, and trouble-prone orphan Anne Shirley, who writes overblown romances but ultimately realizes where her heart lies – and writes a successful book about the life she loves in Avonlea. Seven sequels. For ages 9 and up.
Of the many film versions, Kevin Sullivan’s award-winning Anne of Green Gables, with Megan Follows, Richard Farnsworth, and Colleen Dewhurst, is generally thought to be the most true to the books.
  Following on Nory Ryan’s Song and Maggie’s Door, Patricia Reilly Giff’s Water Street (Yearling, 2008) continues the tale of Irish immigrants in 19th-century America. The year is 1875; the Brooklyn Bridge is going up; and main characters 13-year-old Bird Mallon and Thomas Neary live in the same Brooklyn tenement building. Bird wants to be a midwife and healer, like her mother; Thomas wants to be a writer.  (“Thomas had made himself a notebook with cardboard covers and sewed the pages, but if the book wasn’t handy, he used anything, paper bags from the market, or even the edges of the newspaper. He wrote stories about anything he saw, and he saw a lot.”) For ages 9-13.
  In Rebecca Rupp’s After Eli (Candlewick, 2012), 14-year-old Danny struggles to come to terms with the death of his older brother by writing in his Book of the Dead, in which he chronicles how people die, and why. Starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly; winner of a Parent’s Choice Gold Award. For ages 9 and up.
  In Guus Kuijer’s award-winning The Book of Everything (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2006), Thomas – a very unusual nine-year-old, who sees things no one else does, loves one-legged Eliza, and has heart-to-heart talks with Jesus – comes to terms with life with his abusive father by recording all his thoughts in his Book of Everything. For ages 12 and up.
  Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women, originally published in 1868, is available in many editions. Everyone’s favorite character is creative tomboy Jo, who writes family plays, short stories, and a newspaper, and eventually – after a couple of false starts, and with the advice of German professor Friedrich Bhaer (with whom she falls in love) – becomes a published author. For ages 10 and up.
The 1994 film version of Little Women stars Winona Ryder as Jo and Gabriel Byrne as Professor Bhaer, which casting helps a lot of readers get over the fact that Jo didn’t marry Laurie. Rated PG.
  In D.E. Stevenson’s Miss Buncle’s Book (Sourcebooks Landmark, 2012), originally published in 1934, dowdy Barbara Buncle has written a book about life in the little English village of Copperfield – which exactly replicates the people and events of her own village, Silverstream. Readers, seeing themselves, either become outraged or have sudden revelations or both. It’s delightful and ends with Miss Buncle marrying her publisher. For older teenagers and adults who miss Harriet the Spy.

HOW BOOKS ARE MADE

  Aliki’s 32-page picture book How a Book Is Made (HarperCollins, 1988) describes the many people who participate in the process of making a book – the author, who thinks of a story, then the editor, publisher, designer, proofreader, and more – until finally the finished book lands in the hands of a child. All the characters are very well-dressed cats. For ages 6-10.
  In Eileen Christelow’s What Do Authors Do? (Clarion Books, 1995), neighboring authors are simultaneously inspired to write books about their two pets – Rufus, a shaggy dog, and Max, a black-and-white cat. Through a combination of short text and fun cartoon-bubble illustrations, readers learn all about the process of creating a book, including revisions, research, illustrations, writer’s block, and interactions with editors, designers, and printers. For ages 5-8.
  In Janet Stevens’s From Pictures to Words (Holiday House, 1996), an author/illustrator, with the help of three chatty animals (Cat, Koala Bear, and Rhino), shows how a picture book is made, covering characters, plot, and setting, sketches and storyboards, making a book dummy, and creating the final art. For ages 6-9.
  By the author of Tacky the Penguin, Helen Lester’s Author: A True Story (Sandpiper, 2002) is the funny and delightful picture-book story of how she became an author, beginning at age three when she wrote “useful lists” for her mother (they read the same right-side-up or upside-down), and in elementary school, when her handwriting was the prettiest in the class – but it was also “perfectly backward.” A tale of the perseverance it takes to become a published author. For ages 5-8.
  In W. Nikola-Lisa’s  Magic in the Margins (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2007), set in the Middle Ages, Simon, a young orphan, has been taken in by the local monastery and is being educated in book-making by Brother William, master scribe in the monastery’s scriptorium.  His first assignment: to “capture” the monastery’s mice. Simon does, with pen and ink. For ages 7-9.
  In Bruce Robertson’s Marguerite Makes a Book (J. Paul Getty Museum, 1999), set in 15th-century Paris, young Marguerite, the daughter of a book illustrator, must complete her father’s work on an illuminated prayer book after her father breaks his glasses. A lovely look at the process of early book-making, with illustrations by Kathryn Hewitt. For ages 8-12.

POP-UPS, ACCORDIONS, AND STORYBOOKS: CREATE A BOOK OF YOUR OWN

  Kits from Creativity for Kids include “Create Your Own Books,” “Create Your Own Enchanted Storybook.” “Create Your Own Popup Books,” and more. “Create Your Own Books,” for example, includes two hardcover blank books, with blank squares for illustrations and lines for text, a list of story-starter ideas, colored pencils, and decorative stickers. Kit prices range from about $15-$22.
  Gwen Diehn’s photo-illustrated Making Books That Fly, Fold, Wrap, Hide, Pop Up, Twist & Turn (Lark Books, 2006) has step-by-step instructions for an array of truly beautiful and creative books, among them an accordion-fold book with pockets, a ring-bound journal, and a tetraflexagon book. Cool projects for ages 9 and up.
  Want to make a pop-up book? A good introduction is Joan Irvine’s Easy-to-Make Pop-Ups (Dover Publications, 2005) which has clear illustrated instructions for many pop-up projects for beginners. Make a talking-mouth, a trapeze, a rocket, a fire-breathing dragon, a turning circle, and an entire zoo. A final section discusses using your new skills to make a pop-up book. Also by Irvine, see Super Pop-Ups (Dover Publications, 2008). For ages 9 and up.
  Pam Scheunemann’s photo-illustrated Cool Stuff for Reading and Writing (Checkerboard Library, 2011) is a collection of snazzy crafts for writers and booklovers, among them a Fancy-Nancy-style flower pen, felt book covers, a creative writer’s notebook, bookmarks, and bookends. For ages 9-12.
  Kathleen McCafferty’s Making Mini Books (Lark Crafts, 2012) is an enchanting collection of small and very small books – among them a rainbow book that unfolds into the shape of a rainbow, matchbook books, and a book tiny enough to be worn as a necklace. For ages 10 and up.
  Esther K. Smith’s How to Make Books (Potter Craft, 2007) – subtitled “”Fold, Cut & Stitch Your Way to a One-of-a-Kind Book” – has instructions for making basic “instant” books, accordion books, envelope books, pamphlets, journals, and sketchbooks, all with beautiful drawings and photographs of finished products.
From Education.com, Make Peek-a-Boo Books has illustrated instructions for making simple word-and-picture books. (See the word, lift the flap, and see the picture.) A nice project for preschoolers and early-elementary-level kids.
  Artist Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord’s Makingbooks.com has instructions for making eight simple book projects – among them a wish scroll, a stick-and-elastic book, an accordion book, and a step book, as well as an extensive resource list and helpful teaching tips.
  Vicki Blackwell’s Let’s Make Books has instructions for many types of books and booklets, among them circle books, folding house books, fan books, accordion books, and flip flap books.
  From Favecrafts, Handmade Books has book-binding tutorials and instructions for making a variety of books, among them a keyhole book, a cupcake recipe book, a journal, a memory book, and a soft book (great for toddlers).
  The Instructables Envelope Book has illustrated step-by-step instructions for a book made from 12 vintage envelopes. Assemble and fill with cool stuff.
From Bird and Little Bird, Bookmaking with Children: Accordion Books has step-by-step photo-illustrated instructions for making a particularly attractive and colorful accordion book.
  From Artists Helping Children, Book Making Crafts for Kids has instructions for beginner book-binding  projects, scrapbooks, journals, and themed books, among them a heart-shaped book and an alphabet book.

GETTING PUBLISHED!

  By Jessica Dunn and Danielle Dunn, A Teen’s Guide to Getting Published (Prufrock Press, 2006) covers the writing craft, freelance publishing (including how to prepare submissions and what you should know about rights and copyright), feedback, and market venues. Appendices list writing camps and workshops, and book publishing opportunities.
  The Writer’s Slate publishes original poetry and prose by writers in grades K-12. Three issues are published each year.
Stone Soup publishes stories, poems, and art by kids ages 8-13. Six issues are published each year; an annual subscription costs $37.
  New Moon Girls – “by girls, for girls” – is written largely by girls ages 8 and up. Available either on paper or as an e-magazine; subscription rates vary.
  Merlyn’s Pen is a magazine of short stories, essays, and poems by teens. Check the website for writing samples, submission requirements, and an archive, searchable by genre, topic, or author grade level.
  For the young non-fiction writer, The Concord Review, a quarterly history journal, is a highly respected publisher of academic essays by secondary students. Visit the website for instructions, sample essays, and the table of contents of the current issue. An annual subscription costs $40.
  Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month, a literary marathon event during which all participating writers share the goal of completing an entire 50,000-word novel in the month of November. A subset of the program – the Nanowrimo Young Writers Program – is designed for K-12 groups or for writers ages 12 and under writing solo; in this case, total word count is left to teachers, parents, the group, or the individual kid. The benefits of Nanowrimo are said to be legion: among these are increased verbal fluency, self-confidence, and creativity, and an enhanced understanding of time management, since churning out a novel in a mere thirty days necessarily requires focus, scheduling, and dedication.
  November is not just for fiction writers. WNFIN – Write Nonfiction in November – is an annual NaNoWriMo-type challenge to write a nonfiction book in 30 days.
  The Machine of Death (MOD) is a recent writing contest that so far has produced two books of collected short stories. The premise: a machine has been invented that can tell you, by taking a sample of your blood, just how you’re going to die. The machine gives you no specifics – simply generates a card printed with a single word or phrase (DROWNED, CHOKED ON A TACO, BURIED ALIVE). Now…write a story.
  If you need help with your MOD story, decks of Death Prediction Cards are available for purchase. Each deck contains 50 death cards (ELEVATOR SHAFT, SPIDER BITE, ABSOLUTE ZERO) and costs $18. Or, of course, you can invent dozens of your own.
  In the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, participants compete to write the first sentence of the world’s most dreadful novel. The contest is an annual event, with thousands of applicants, enthusiastic media coverage, and numerous subcategories, among them Adventure, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Children’s Literature, and Purple Prose. The rules for entry are described as “childishly simple:” applicants simply submit their awful sentence in an e-mail or via snail mail on an index card. Or your multiple entries: there are no limitations; contestants can submit as many awful sentences as they want. The annual deadline is April 15, but entries are accepted year-round. The BLFC website is targeted at teenagers and adults but the contest itself is potentially fun for a wide range of ages.
  Also see the BLFC website for the truly dreadful sentence by Victorian novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton that inspired the whole thing. It’s from the long-forgotten novel Paul Clifford, which begins “It was a dark and stormy night…”
Scriblitt provides online tools with which kids can create and print their own illustrated story booklets, comics, and stationery.
Storyjumper is an online site at which kids can create and edit books, using a variety of provided props and settings. Finished books can be shared online or printed.
Electronic Storybooks is a self-guided tutorial to alternative book projects, among them various types of e-books, live books, and talking books.

POEMS ABOUT WRITING

  Compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins, Wonderful Words (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2004) is an illustrated collection of 15 poems about the joy of language in reading, writing, speaking, and listening by such poets as Emily Dickinson, Carl Sandburg, David McCord, Eve Merriam, and Karla Kuskin.
  Charles Bukowski’s So You Want to Be a Writer explains when not to write: “If it doesn’t come bursting out of you/in spite of everything/don’t do it.”
  Richard Wilbur’s poem The Writer begins with his young daughter writing a story.
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