By ‘big’ I mean full. Expansive. Teaching kids to read sets their imaginations on fire. So does playing, coloring—even a video game can spark some juice up there.
But nothing works like reading.
Teaching Kids to Read: Exercising the Gray Matter
Why is reading so important for developing the imagination? Because reading is work. Think about it. When you watch a great movie, the director has created all of the scenes for you. All you need to do is sit back and enjoy. Certainly, good films can go straight to your heart, but they don’t have to work too hard to get there.
Like developing a muscle, reading requires your brain to run through the neural exercise of developing scenes, connecting the plot and filling in all of the gaps. Reading doesn’t use any of your senses. (Sight? Not really. Black slashes on a white page—hardly stimulating. Unless it’s a picture book, you’re on your own.)
Teaching Kids to Read: Sending Imagination on a Lifelong Journey
A well-developed imagination knows how to solve problems. It has a way of mobilizing when something needs fixing. Should we do A or B? What would the ramifications be of each? What could the outcomes be in each scenario? Dreamers think big and figure out how to move mountains when they need to.
Imagination can release someone from a traumatic situation. Re-framing a tragic event by telling oneself a new story about it can relieve suffering and soften a painful memory. Without imagination, the mind can get stuck on ‘what happened.’ This is okay, of course, if someone needs to hold on to the story. But repeating the same story can last a lifetime, and moving on to a happier existence might mean a creative re-scripting of the past.
People with great imaginations are never bored. Waiting in a long line? No problem. One’s own dream world can occupy the mind for hours on end, so that stretches of time with nothing to do invite flights of fancy that take you to faraway places.
And speaking of faraway places, teaching kids to read gives them the chance to travel. Differences between nations and their inhabitants blur when kids read about people who live in unfamiliar worlds. Readers become the characters in books. Children have an intimate knowledge of what it’s like to go to wizard school, be a vampire or get stung by a scorpion as an Olympian half-blood, simply by snuggling up with a bound stack of paper with printed letters on it.
Teaching Kids to Read: Manifesting Big Dreams
In some circles, imagination is the real thing, and reality is merely what we’ve decided is true in order to keep things small, manageable and not scary. I happen to ascribe to this. The universe and its powers are vast, and scientists are demonstrating in new ways how the mind creates ‘waves’ of energy that seek similar frequencies.
These matching frequencies can create new realities that are more suitable to the thinker by ‘magically’ making things happen that seem impossible. When someone applies their imagination to what they want to create in their lives, things begin to happen.
Like amazing coincidences. Or meeting the right person. Or getting a job that had no chance of happening. People who are tapping in to this ‘secret’ are using their imaginations to create new life situations for themselves, their families and even the world. Learn about the easy to use online phonics program.
And who wouldn’t want that for any child?
If you grew up on a steady diet of good children’s literature, you know what your child is missing if he or she doesn’t spend much time reading. But getting kids to read isn’t easy. Today’s culture doesn’t set aside down time for doing ‘nothing’ the way we used to.
As kids, we turned to books on hot summer days when there was nothing to do. Or on rainy days, when it was too cold and wet to go outside. And who doesn’t remember those temperate, not-a-cloud-in-the-sky Saturdays when mom or dad told you to put that book down and go out and get some sunshine?
If this was part of your childhood, you most likely want that for your child, too. Try these 5 tips for getting kids to read.
Getting kids to read: 5 tips
1) Books by mail. Kids love to get mail. Join an online book swap, so your child can choose his or her own book and order it from another reader. You will be pleasantly surprised to see your child checking the mailbox for the latest book, then reading it as soon as it comes in. The only cost you incur is postage to send your contribution to another little reader.
2) Front yard libraries. Start a Little Free Library—you can buy one or make your own. These free-standing libraries hold about 20 books, and you can set them up in your front yard or on community property. You may want to restrict this “Take a Book, Leave a Book” concept to children’s books only, or you can extend the service to everyone. Your child will love checking it every day to see which books were taken and which ones were dropped off. As an added benefit, neighbors with children will stop in front of it, giving your child a chance to meet new friends.
3) Book clubs. Start a book club for a small group of your child’s friends. Your child will look forward to reading the book, and the ensuing discussion will help him or her come to understand books in a new way.
4) Book shopping. This one may sound simplistic, but it works. Let your child buy a book every now and then. Ownership creates responsibility. If your child spends his or her time at a bookstore choosing the perfect book, the likelihood of that book getting read goes up. If there are no bookstores near you, try a book-of-the-month club. The point is, let your child choose the titles.
5) Role models. If you have your nose in a book, chances are, your child will, too. Rather than reading at night before you go to bed, read during the day so that your child can see that reading is a ‘big people’ thing to do. Better yet, each of you grab a book, go to Starbucks and order a latte for you and a smoothie for your child. Curl up in those big, comfy chairs and read away. As an added bonus, sometimes bookstores are connected to coffee shops. You can make a day of it!
If you are tired of nagging your kids to read, try some of these tips. Make it a family affair, and you will foster that love of reading that you so badly want for your children. Getting kids to read is a lot easier when you make it fun!
Leave a comment. What do you do to get your kids reading?
A lot of people have one inside of them. A novel, I mean. They think about it, they tell people about it—they might even sit down and write a few pages. But why do so few actually finish writing a novel?
For starters, it’s a big job. And when you have a lot of other things to do, it’s easy to shove your book off to the side, to be written when you have more time.
But if you are able to save it for later, it’s probably not burning a hole inside of you. (And if that’s the case, ‘later’ might never come.) If your unwritten novel haunts you when you’re at work, if you’re developing plots at night before you fall asleep and you’re annoyed with yourself when you see a novel that you could have written hit the bookstores, perhaps it’s time to figure out what’s stopping you.
Write a novel: a secret one
One way to make sure your novel stays where it is now—inside of you—is to tell everyone about it. While some of your friends will be staunch supporters, the people closest to you might feel threatened that you are branching out and trying something new. They might say things like this:
Or: “Shouldn’t you start with a short story?”
Perhaps you have someone in your life who’s even more blunt:
“But you can’t write.”
Most likely, you know who these people are. And if you find yourself unable to resist sharing your enthusiasm with them, you may want to ask yourself why you are opening yourself up to their lack of faith in you. Could it be that they are mirroring something inside of you about your ability to do this? If so, be aware that you will continue to seek naysayers until you believe you can see this project through to the end.
If you need to confide in someone, choose somebody who has always been your champion. As for everybody else? Resist the temptation to share. That way, their negative vibes won’t bring you down.
Write a novel: schedule it
If Phileas Fogg can get around the world in 80 days, you can certainly write a novel by then, too. Consider this: if you write 1,000 words a day, you will have completed your first draft of an 80,000 word novel (a good length for most debut novels) in less than three months. Writing for kids? You’ll be done in six weeks.
But maybe 1,000 words a day demands more resources than you have to spare. No worries. Cut it down to 500 words. Still too much? Shoot for 250. The point is, if you break it up into bite-sized chunks—whatever that means for you—it will be easier for you to set up a schedule and stick to it. By doing this, you'll end up with a completed novel, ready to pitch to agents in 2015.
Let your time with your book be your favorite part of the day. Look forward to it. Savor it while you are engaged in the work you ‘have’ to do. You will find that once you begin writing on a schedule, your novel will stop torturing you. Rather, you will find that the mere thought of it can buoy you up—even when other parts of your life are weighing you down.
Write a novel: choose your partner
Why not tackle this mountain with a climbing buddy? You probably have a friend who wants to write a novel, too. If not, I suspect you do have a friend who would be willing to hold you accountable, and perhaps even read chapters to give you feedback as you write.
Or maybe you feel as though you need a real taskmaster to help you get through this. For those of you who are tired of ‘wanting’ to write a book and ready to get it done, you might benefit from the upcoming National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo is a non-profit organization that provides support for first-time novelists who are willing to commit the month of November to writing that first draft. On an international scale, you can join with other writers who are sick of hearing themselves talk and are ready to write—a whole book in 30 days. Through this organization, you can enjoy pep talks, inspirational stories, contests and forums, but most importantly, you can join thousands of new novelists who have decided that the time is now (or more precisely, November) to get that story written.
Ever hear about the legendary warrior who led his troops by sea onto enemy shores? When they reached land, he ordered them to burn their boats. Think about what it would take for you to embark on this adventure, with no turning back. Once you’ve written one novel, it’s a lot easier to write the second one, which is how most novelists turn writing stories into a career.
How about you? Do you have a novel inside of you? Tell us about it!
Not all boys hate to read. But a lot do, and those are the ones we’re talking about here. If a middle-grade boy is a reluctant reader, he’s setting himself up for a lifetime of problems he could have skipped—if only he knew how to read.
Let’s face it. Poor readers stress about school, tend to have lower confidence outside of school and often grow up with the intention of quitting their education as soon as they are allowed (by the state, mom or dad).
And where does that leave them?
If you’re a parent with a boy who doesn’t like to read, you are probably desperately seeking ways to inspire him to pick up a book.
How to encourage boys to read: start with the obvious
What does your son like to do? Is he a baseball fan? Does he like to cook? Is he into dinosaurs, bugs or spaceships? Surround him with books about his favorite topics. There is no need to offer him variety. If he only wants to read about World War II military strategy, let him. I know one fourth-grade boy who only wanted to read about that, and he exhausted the supply of books on military history at the local library.
There are certain genres of books your son might enjoy. One mom told me that her reluctant reader really liked books with talking animals. They weren’t easy to find, but she worked hard to keep him in a steady supply until he became an independent reader. If your son likes one book, find out why and hunt down more of the same.
If your boy likes comic books, take regular trips to the comic book store. Try a subscription to a magazine. The stories are short and there are lots of pictures. Video game fanatics might be more willing to read stories online. Download books for your gamer to read on his computer. This article has a list of websites where you can get books for children online. Some of them are read aloud, but others are digital downloads.
How to encourage boys to read: stoop to bribery
Make a trade. If your son reads a book, plan a reward that relates to the book. If he finishes a book on baseball, take him to a baseball game. If the book is a fictional account of an historic event, take him to a site where he can learn more about what really happened. And if he reads a book about two kids going on an adventure and getting in trouble, let him set up a tent in the back yard and have a sleepover.
One great way to encourage your son to read is to let him watch movies that are based on books--after he’s read the book. There are some great books for kids that were made into movies:
Some of the books on this list may be too challenging for your reader. If that’s the case, choose the abridged or graphic version if it’s available. Usually, the graphic version of a novel is shorter, and of course, children love the artwork that illustrates these timeless stories.
Break your reading challenge into manageable chunks, and your son will be more likely to get through the whole book. For example, give him a gold star when he finishes a chapter. That way, he can see tangible results as he works toward his goal.
One caveat: Be careful not to make the experience punitive by constantly reminding him that he doesn’t get the prize if he doesn’t read the book. Let him be in charge of his own destiny. If he chooses to forgo the prize, let that be up to him.
How to encourage boys to read: go back a few years
Becoming a good reader takes practice. Reading grade level material is hard work for a reluctant reader. Rather than making your son struggle through books that other fifth graders are reading, go back down to fourth grade. Find easier books that your child might like. Or even two grade levels below—whatever it takes for your son to be able to enjoy reading.
If your son is willing to keep his nose in a book for younger children, he will get all the practice he needs, simply because he is reading. Reading for enjoyment will advance his skills faster than powering through a book that is too hard for him. After all, that’s how his classmates became good readers—mastering easy books and then moving on to harder ones. What you are giving your late bloomer is the gift of taking all the time he needs.
And finally, don’t stop reading aloud. Choose books that you think your son could read by himself. Spend time reading to him before he goes to bed, but stop when you get to the most exciting part in the chapter. Lay the book on his nightstand and let him know that it’s now time for lights out. Except, of course, if he wants to finish the chapter on his own.
Leave a comment! Is your boy a reluctant reader? Share your own stories about what worked for you.
Character development in middle-grade fiction: make sure your readers know your people as well as you do
Let's say your main character is a kid who rode on your school bus when you were eight years old. Or, your main character is you when you were eight years old. But now you’re all grown up and this guy or gal is only in your head. Good character development gets these people out of your head and onto the page so they are no longer inside of you. By the time you type The End, your characters should belong to the world.
So how do you do that?
Start by re-introducing yourself to your long-ago friend. Sure you knew this kid twenty-five years ago, but that’s a long time. Remember, if you’re writing in the time-frame of your own childhood, that would be an historical novel. Maybe you wore neon orange and lime-green parachute pants as a kid, but make sure your characters dress the way kids do now.
And notice how confident elementary school children are today. They’ll say anything to anybody. Even to grown-ups (with whom they’ll be on a first-name basis). These kids tend to have a better idea of what they like—and don’t like—and they’re not shy about letting you know.
Today’s boys and girls are more likely to be best friends with each other than they were back then. They’re tech savvy, and they’re less likely to be playing jump-rope or monkeying around on jungle gyms.
And in what appears to be an evolution of consciousness, the children of today are more comfortable with talking about how they feel.
Character development: let your characters speak for themselves
You want your readers to get to know your characters by what your characters say and do. Let’s say that you want to show the reader that your eight-year-old protagonist (Jason) is lacking confidence in his ability to swim.
Here are three ways you can handle that:
1) You spell it out for your reader:
Jason hung back. He wasn’t a very good swimmer, and he always felt embarrassed when he thrashed his way across the pool.
2) Jason tells them, but in case your reader misses it, you tell them, too:
“Hey, Jason! Come on in!”
“I can’t. I forgot my towel.” Jason had hoped that no one would notice that he wasn’t swimming.
3) Let JASON show your readers how unsure he is:
Sam and Eddie dove into the deep end. The water was a shade darker—and colder, Jason thought—when the drain was so far down you could hardly see it. He grabbed a kickboard from the deck and jumped in.
"Look! I'm Eddie! I'm a big baby!" Jason held his nose with two fingers and began splashing his way across the pool. The spastic sound of his feet slapping the water trailed behind him, but all he cared about was the clock on the wall over the picnic tables. Two more minutes, and the lifeguard would blow the whistle for adult swim.
Character development: be consistent
A general rule of thumb is this: when your character talks, the reader should know who’s doing the talking without any prompting from you. While this can’t be the case for every line (Wow! Cool!—all kids say that), it’s helpful to think about this ‘test’ as you’re writing dialog. Each character should have a unique voice. I recall reading a book one time and wondering why it wasn’t working for me. It wasn’t until after I had finished the whole thing that I realized all of the characters spoke in the same witty banter.
While there might be one quirky character in a book, they can’t all be. The others need to be something different to provide contrast.
Mostly because that’s how it is in real life. Everybody’s different. And in order to create a scenario that your readers can get lost in, they need to feel the way they do when they meet real people—interested, curious and wanting to know more.
So you’re ready to write that novel. It’s been festering in the back of your mind for weeks—or years—and something about this moment is making you say “It’s time.” Short of a professor who threatens you with an ‘F’ if you don’t turn it in, how do you make sure you get it done?
Join a writer’s group. Or start one.
It’s not easy to add one more commitment to a long list of things you have to do, but if you want to hold yourself accountable for writing a whole book, you’re going to need help.
Step One: Stop reading
You’re going to need about two hours a week to meet with your new group, and about ten hours a week to write your book. So where’s the time going to come from?
You need to quit something. And the first thing that’s gotta go is reading. Stop curling up with a juicy book. Quit your book club. Reading (a lot) is the key to becoming a good writer, but writing is more important for you now. (Besides, if you are a writer, you’ve probably already done a good job on the reading part.)
Think of it like this. If you were going to be a chocolate maker, you would need to sample a lot of chocolate. But at some point, you’ve got to stop eating chocolate and start making chocolate. Over-indulgence will make you sick. You’ll get frustrated by all of the bad chocolate out there and how you could do it better. And when you taste a heavenly bite? You’ll get depressed, wondering if you could ever be as good.
Sound familiar? If this is how you feel when you browse through a bookstore, it’s time to stop reading and start writing. When you’re deep into your novel, you can start reading again. That’s when reading becomes an education rather than a pastime.
Step Two: Lay some ground rules
One woman I talked to who joined (and quit) a writer's group said that nobody wanted to say anything bad about anybody’s writing. She didn’t feel she was getting enough guidance. The group was too ‘nice.’
Mine wasn’t. My group was mean. And because of it, I have a much better novel. Finished and polished.
Make decisions about how you will all work as a group:
Step Three: Find your people
Talk to people you know. Most likely, there is another closet novelist in your office, school or neighborhood. But if not, go to www.meetup.com or www.craiglist.com —two great sources for finding like-minded individuals. And if you can’t generate local interest, go wide. You can hold your meetings via Skype or Google Hangouts.
Don’t worry about needing to find people who are writing in the same genre as you. A good book is a good book. The members of your new writer's group will have been voracious readers for years. They can help you identify qualities about any style of writing that are uniquely yours—the good, the bad and the ugly.
Writing for kids is easy. The words are short, the books are short—the readers are usually pretty short. They’ve got to be less discerning than adults, right?
If your book is about wizards, mean girls or vampires, you might have a shot at going viral with a mediocre tale. But don’t count on it. Children have a sensor inside of them that gravitates toward good writing. Well-written children’s books rise to the top. And although it might look like an author simply got lucky by thinking up a good story, if you were to deconstruct that story, you would find an intricate piece of work that took a lot of time, thought and false starts to write.
Children are people, too. Myths, archetypes and human struggles resonate with them as they do with us. Kids want to cry, laugh, side with the hero and imagine themselves in the situations they are reading about. If the language is trite or the plot is forced, nothing happens inside. Write for the heart and you’ve got something worth reading.
In some ways, writing for children can be more challenging than writing for adults. If you’ve ever seen sketches of Picasso’s bull, you will know what I mean. Picasso went through multiple iterations of a finely detailed sketch before stripping everything away. In the end, The Bull was a simple form—a suggestion of a bull—now on display at the MoMa.
Make sure your book has substance, especially between the lines. Your readers might not see it, but they’ll feel it.
Children's books have a singular theme.
Harry Potter aside, children usually prefer to follow one story at a time. Subplots bore them. If they’re headed down one path, they don’t want to be taken down another. Adults are a little more patient with this. We like to savor our books, make them last. If we have twenty minutes before bedtime to read, we feel lucky.
Children inhale books. They want to get to the end, even if they’re having a good time on the way. If the hero is on the verge of discovery (or death, or losing some kind of conflict), it’s best to stay on that track.
And if you are going to introduce a subplot, that’s okay if it advances the action. Just make sure that it supports the hero’s journey and the arc of your story. And please make sure your side trip doesn’t include parents or teachers. There’s no getting around that one. Adults should be background noise at best in a book for kids. (Remember the adults in the Charlie Brown TV shows? All they ever said was “Wah, wah, wah.”)
Writing for kids and the concept of time.
Pick up any work of middle-grade fiction—Harry Potter aside—and you will find that most of them take place within a few days. Maybe a few weeks, but seldom will they span a year. Kids have a limited view of the future. If something big is going to happen on Saturday, that’s about as far out as they can see.
Young readers are going to want to experience your hero’s day. A rock comes through the classroom window with a note attached to it. The new kid smells like a banana. A best friend’s desk is empty, and the teacher looks like she’s been crying. The math problem on the board is a string of mysterious—yet strangely familiar—numbers. A secret code, perhaps?
All of this needs to happen even before the bell rings for lunch.
Pacing your middle-grade novel.
It goes without saying that a kid’s book should move along at a pretty good clip, Harry Potter aside. (Sure, the Potter books move. But they also spend a lot of time meandering in the halls, the cafeteria and out on the school grounds.) Keeping the pace up is not always easy to do. There’s backstory that needs to be established, locales to describe, and characters to introduce.
Try doing it with dialog.
Kids love when the characters talk to each other. How to talk like a kid is a topic for another day, but dialog is a great way to fill in the gaps and keep the story moving at the same time.
Be careful with this. Using dialog to clue the reader in can backfire if it’s too obvious:
“My parents told me they’re getting divorce and I have to go live with my dad. He’s moving to Chicago, so I have to start at a new school. I’m really bummed.” Alexander kicked at a pebble with his toe. He didn’t look up, but he knew that Casey was staring at him.
Now take a look at a more natural unfolding:
Alexander kicked at a pebble with his toe. “I’m not coming back next year,” he said.
“Why not?” Casey asked.
“Because my mom and dad are stupid.” Alexander wondered if Casey had heard that his parents were splitting up.
You may have heard that good dialog sounds the way people really talk. Well, it doesn’t. In real life, people aren’t that clever. And articulate. And they’re not always telling a story, which is a role you can never break when you are writing one. Good dialog is a delicate balance between sounding natural and moving the story along.
Now about Harry Potter.
The Harry Potter series violates almost every rule for writing a good children’s book. Genius is like that sometimes. If you have a genius inside of you, throw the rulebook away and follow your muse.
By teaching your child to read, you are sharing wisdom that — until the last one hundred years or so — was imparted to only a chosen few. Not so long ago, reading was reserved for the elite, the revered and the powerful.
And if you’re using a phonics-based method, you’re going all the way back to the early Greek alphabet, adapted by the Greeks from the Phoenician alphabet. The Phoenicians were known to have used symbols to help native speakers recognize sounds of words they knew. In the beginning, the ability to read these symbols (consonants only—no vowels) was related to the culture, and a person needed contact with native speakers to understand them.
The Greeks changed all that. They added vowels and a system that made their alphabet more portable to other communities. The sounds were no longer attached to meanings. Rather, they were merely assigned to sounds in a word. A writer could actually mix them up to create new words, based only on the sounds.
Then the Romans ran with it and created the alphabet we still use today.
In other words, it all started with the Phoenicians. The genius of a phonetic alphabet stems from the innovative nature of this early civilization. And did you know that Phoenician means ‘Purple People’? The Greeks dubbed them that because the Phoenicians made the purple dyes for the robes of Mesopotamian royalty, and the dye-makers’ skin would often be stained a purple hue.
Think of yourself as a mentor or a guide, passing on a wisdom tradition that as the ‘elder,’ you are being called upon to do.
Kids don’t get enough lap time. If you have a preschooler or a kindergartner, is he or she getting at least some time each day on your lap? At the end of a long day—work, daycare, bills to pay, cars to fix, meals to make—is your child getting the one-on-one attention he or she needs from you?
Don’t blink. That soft, downy hair with the baby sweet smell will soon be a wistful memory. Much sooner than you know. And when your child is on your lap and turns to look up at you for reassurance with those bright, wide-open eyes, you will never feel so able to provide it as you do at that moment.
You are the elder. With your child on your lap, you are passing down knowledge to him or her that is endemic to a life well-lived. We text, email, post, blog—that’s our tradition. But sadly, many people aren’t very good at it. And just as in 1,000 BC, lacking that skill can separate people. Keep them shut out. Limit their choices.
You’ve been chosen. You’re the right person to teach your child to read, opening up a world of choices for him or her.
Phonics-based teaching methods.
It seems odd to discard a tradition that has stood the test of (a really long) time. If you are teaching your child to read, I would encourage you to start first with a phonics-based method. Phonics can never harm your child’s effort to learn how to read. That’s because English is a phonetic language. You’re teaching your child exactly what is on the page in front of him or her.
But you can cause problems if you skip phonics. Phonics is a code. Obvious to some, but to others, a mystery. If a child is not able to decipher that code, he will struggle. And it’s much harder to teach it after he has tried to learn another way but has failed. Because now you are dealing with much more than a missing skill. You will most likely spend years undoing the belief that has developed in your child’s heart that reading is hard and he isn’t very good at it.
Nobody wants that for their child. Which is why we take our children on our laps and start teaching them everything we know. Like all the families, tribes and societies that have gone before us.
Tell your kids you are teaching them the ancient Secrets of the Purple People. They’ll love that.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. How do you write a novel? Make yourself sit down at your computer. Then, get up, go to the kitchen for a snack, eat it over the sink, sit back down again, look out the window and finally, go to Starbucks.
At least, that’s the way it was for me.
Getting started was the hardest part. After that, stopping was the hard part. I found that I had been thinking so long about my book, that when I actually sat down to write it, the first half or so seemed to write itself.
And the rest followed pretty quickly. But then it got hard again. Because once it’s done, you’ll most likely need to start over.
It took me about six months to write my 50,000 word middle-grade novel, and about two more years to do enough rewrites to get it in good enough shape to pitch to agents.
The main character in my book is named Skyler. When I completed my first draft, my oldest son read it. After he finished, he turned to his brother and said, “Skyler talks like mom.” Since Skyler is only twelve years old, that wasn’t a good thing. Twelve-year-olds don’t typically say things like “Why don’t we think this through?” Or “Darn it. I’ve got homework. I can’t go.”
My second draft was me writing the whole book over, starting with page one.
Editing your middle-grade or YA novel
Writing is a solitary pursuit, but editing is not. Here are some of the reasons I’ve heard that people won’t show their stuff to anyone else:
Let’s pretend that all of these are good reasons to skip the part where you let friends, family and strangers (if they’re willing) tear your stuff apart. Because it is pretending. It’s a bad, bad idea to not get feedback on your book.
Solicit as many warm bodies as you can to read it. Your neighbors, your boss, your kids. Join a writer’s group. Upload your book to www.lulu.com or www.amazon.com and self-publish it. Not to sell it, but to hand a paperback to each of your readers. It will be much easier for them to read on paper than online, and they will be more likely to do it. Tell them to read it with pen-in-hand and make notes in the margins.
If you do this, I promise you will get depressed. You’ll get so many put-downs about your book, you’ll be tempted to quit. (Or you’ll find yourself wondering how people can be so stupid and that maybe you need new friends.)
And the worst? When nobody can seem to get through it. I’ve been sooo busy. But I’ll get to it. I promise. After I finish watching the last seven seasons of House in the next few weeks or so.
That’s feedback, too.
Taking a fresh look at your middle-grade or YA novel
But after you’ve stuck your book in a drawer for awhile, the feedback you’ve been getting will start to percolate. You’ll notice patterns. What your (suddenly smarter) friends are saying will start to make sense. You’ll figure out how to fix it. And when you do, the next round of readers will reflect that. They’ll come back to you a few days later and say “I couldn’t wait to find out what happened.” And instead of telling you what’s wrong with your book, they’ll start musing about the characters and about what happened to them.
More like a book club than a billy club.
Here’s something I find interesting. I’ve seen writers defend the way they’ve written a phrase, a paragraph or even a plot-line, even though their readers are telling the author that he or she has missed the mark. Think about that one. Is the writer going to have the opportunity to explain his or her logic to everyone who buys the book?
If you’re not writing for the reader, you’re writing for yourself. Which is OK, as long as you’re not interested in getting published.
Leave a comment! We’d love to hear how you feel when people give you feedback on your writing.
7 tips for teaching a fidgety child how to read.
Children want to learn how to read, but let’s face it, sometimes it feels like work. In the early lessons, there are some basics that need to be covered before the real fun begins. Learning all the sounds of the alphabet can take a long time for some kids, but until they know those, they don’t get to enjoy sounding out words and, well, reading.
When you are working with your child (on anything, for that matter!), does she wiggle a lot? Does he want to talk about what he found on the bottom of his shoe the other day? Does she look at everything but what you are trying to show her?
If so, good! Your child is perfectly normal. And fortunately, teaching reading with phonics is simple, straight-forward and works like building blocks. Over time, even the most distracted pupil can learn how to read.
7 tips to help you teach a child to read.
But until that happens, here are 7 tips for keeping your child focused on what you are trying to do:
You CAN teach your child to read—even fidgety ones.
In any reading program, the lessons really must stick to a 5 minute limit to accommodate the short attention span of a small child. (Or a busy mom!) One of the biggest downfalls is the overzealousness of the parent. It’s tempting to keep pushing everything along so that you can start seeing results.
If this is how you feel, please don’t rush your child. There are no deadlines. Try to remember that each lesson is a time of enrichment, not measured success. 'Showing off' your child's reading skills to friends and family may put undue pressure on her. Believe me, as your child's confidence grows, she will proudly display on her own what she has learned!
Add to these 7 tips! I'd love to hear how you have helped your child sit still. Leave a comment.
Children's books do something to you.
Do children's book titles hold the same enchantment for you as they do for me?
Anne of Green Gables, The Long Winter (Laura Ingalls Wilder), The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, The Little Princess (or Sara Crewe), All-of-a-Kind Family, The Secret Garden, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.
I imagine you have your own list.
For me, these mere words take me back to the world I dreamed up as a kid. A happy world. One that had cozy houses (which all looked the same in my mental construct), bosom friends (to quote the aforementioned Anne) and kids that got to be the star of their own show.
Stuff I always wanted.
Sure, bad things happened. But deep down, I knew that all would be well in the end. Even if someone died. It was just a matter of finding the good in it, which most of the characters managed to do.
Children’s books do that for kids. They create threads of feeling inside that stick with them, sometimes for life. They put a frame in place that helps children respond in a more thoughtful way to the real-life story that is happening around them.
Kids who read learn how to cope
Sometimes, real-life stories have more drama going on than the ones in children’s books. But happy endings in books give young readers hope. It empowers them. If Sara Crewe can rise above her bleak fate (even before she gets rich in the end), maybe I can, too.
Well-written, beautifully illustrated books for young readers also help you as a parent. (Sure—go ahead and read them! But that’s not where I was going with this.)
First of all, voracious young readers can keep themselves busy (and quiet) for hours at a stretch.
But even more, books offer comfort. And big ideas. A book is a friend—especially for the child who could use one. Books don’t judge you. They take you places. And they inspire kids to think in a less linear fashion than they typically do.
A good book can flesh out all of the great things you want your children to know but aren’t quite sure how to tell them.
Which is why it’s so critical that every child learn how to read.
Welcome to my blog
This is my first entry in a blog about reading, writing and kids. Three of my favorite things, which seems like a pretty good way to pick what you’re going to blog about.
We’ll talk about reading and children’s books. We’ll share anecdotes, ideas and tips about Teach Your Child to Read™, my phonics-based reading program for teaching young children to read. And writing! If you love to write (especially for kids), be sure to sign up so we can send the blog straight to your inbox.
And at any time, I would love to hear from you. This is a much better journey when taken in good company.
And so the story begins.
Tell us about some of your favorite children's books!
SPEAKING OF KIDS: Musings, stories, and tips about teaching, reading, and parenting.
ABOUT MARY FOLLIN
Mary is the author of TEACH YOUR CHILD TO READ and ETHYR, winner of the Moonbeam Children's Book Award and the Gertrude Warner Book Award. She is mom to two grown sons and enjoys sharing her more seasoned perspective with parents of younger children.
ABOUT KRISTI CROSSON
Kristi Crosson is a freelance writer, homeschooling mom of three children, and author of Healthy Mom Revolution, a blog that offers insights on healthy parenting.
Suzanne Johnson, mother of five children and grandmother of six, is an illustrator, book cover designer, and author of the Realms of Edenocht series.
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Gertrude Warner Book Award
Moonbeam Children's Book Award
An adventure for kids ages 8-12— especially if they like video games!