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Author School visits—It’s About the Kids

Student illustrations—Noodles and Snickers

I love interacting with kids about writing and my books. Recently I visited Carlin Park Elementary School in Angola, IN. For two days, I talked to them about writing poetry and fiction, and about being an author.

Near the end of my talk sessions the students had writing time. “Don’t worry about making it perfect,” I told them. “You can revise later.” At the end, some of them shared what they had written. I was truly impressed!

Students shared poems that made you ‘feel’ something, or that had a twist at the end. Others shared stories using great dialogue, imagination, and ‘showed’ what was happening with action. One boy even wrote some riddles for us to guess.

I’ve also had some recent book signings at Scholastic Book Fairs, where they feature my picture book, NAME THAT DOG. I love the questions kids ask me—at schools or book signings. Younger kids, especially, have interesting questions.

I get the ‘age’ question pretty often. And I’m prepared! On the ‘Kids’ page here on my website, there are clues for them to figure out my birthday and how old I am. So if they really want to know how old I am, they have to do the math.

I always get questions about my dog, Snickers. But I also like hearing about the dogs or pets that the kids have, and their names.

“Do I ever get writers’ block?” someone asked.
"Not usually," was my answer. There are so many things, and people, that inspire me with ideas to write about. And if I don’t expect to have a perfect piece of writing the first time I write it down, it frees me to just write. Sometimes after I write something, it doesn’t seem like a good idea any more, and I toss it out. But sometimes I go on to re-write it, change it and add to it. And it turns into something pretty good.

One boy asked, "How do you get a good idea to write about?"
"Write about something that you really like, something that gets you excited," I told him. If you like video games, then write about something to do with a video game.

I told the kids that many children’s authors also have other jobs besides writing, like teaching, nursing or being a parent. Knowing that I have six children, one girl with great insight asked, “So how can you write, with your kids arguing and stuff in the background? Isn’t that hard?”

“Yes, writing is not an easy job!” I told her. I have friends who get up at 4 o’clock in the morning to write and others who stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning. I would write after the kids went to bed at night, and during naps. But writing is fun, too. Like when you get something finished! Or when someone likes your story or poem. And when you have a book published and get to see how great it looks with the illustrations.

“Do I make my own illustrations?” they ask. Nooooo… And I show them why, with my drawing of a dog. Not a terrible drawing really, but not great either. And all of my dogs in the book would probably look the same. Boring!

At Carlin Park, the students illustrated the poems in my book, too. Each class was given a few of the poems from NAME THAT DOG, without the pictures, and were asked to illustrate them. They were awesome! I can see some budding artists here.

One of the perks of writing for children is being able to interact with them as an author. I love their wonder, and the questions they ask. I love to see the spark in their eyes when they suddenly think of something that they hadn’t thought of before.

No, writing is not an easy job. But what fun it can be! And it’s worth every minute of the work you put into it.  Read More 
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Caldecott Awards 2010

The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.

The Cladecott Medal winner for 2010 is "The Lion & the Mouse," illustrated and written by Jerry Pinkney (Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers).

2010 Honor Books include "All the World," illustrated by Marla Frazee, written by Liz Garton Scanlon, published by Beach Lane Books. And "Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors," illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, written by Joyce Sidman, published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

What wouldn't an author give to have their book chosen as a Caldecott Award Book!

But how can an author, who is not an illustrator as well, make a difference?

What if our words could inspire the most fantastic pictures in the mind of the illustrator! So much so, that their hands and fingers would magically translate those wonderful pictures to paper, which become pages in a book. And in the end, the eyes of a child could see into the heart of our story.

For an author, isn't that what's it's all about? Words, inspiring pictures, inspiring a child?

May our words and pictures work together to inspire the hearts and minds of children. I do so appreciate the illustrators who translate my words into pictures to that end. Read More 
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