Writing Beginning Readers and Chapter Books

In my Word by Word Facebook group, we are working our way through the book called “Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Beginning Readers and Chapter Books” by Nancy I. Sanders.
This is quite different from learning about picture book writing, which I focussed on last year.
Yet, I find that I am really enjoying the book so far.
In chapter 1, Nancy talks about the “Triple Crown of Success”. Nancy notes that people write for three reasons:
“1. for personal fulfillment
2. to get published
3. to earn an income.”
However, writers will get frustrated if they try to use one manuscript to accomplish all three goals. Therefore, you should be working on three different manuscripts at the same time to accomplish these different goals. Hmmmm, interesting…
So far I have found the idea of writing beginning readers and chapter books exciting! It is a world that is full of structure. Often the word list is provided and even things such as length of sentence can be controlled. This is definitely a world that is quite different than picture books.
The only drawback to this market is that it is hard to break into. <Sigh> However, with some persistence I believe it is doable.
What do you think of Nancy’s “Triple Crown of Success” theory? And have you tried writing beginning readers and chapter books?

Celebrate Chinese New Year with Books

Happy Chinese New Year! This year the new year falls on Thursday, February 19.

I have already reviewed one of the best books to read for the Chinese new year. It is called “A New Year’s Reunion” by Yu Li-Qiong. If you wish to read my review, click here.

I also recently wrote about “Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas” by Natasha Yim, a hilarious mash up about the Chinese new year. Click here to read that post.

The book I review today is not related to the Chinese new year. It is however, one well worth reading if you want to explore Chinese culture a little more deeply.

When I was doing PiBoIdMo last November, one of my ideas was to write about “the four pests campaign”. This campaign started in China in 1958. I am always interested in finding out more about issues related to my daughter’s heritage.
During the campaign, citizens were ordered to eradicate rats, flies, mosquitoes and sparrows. Sparrows were included because they ate too much of the wheat crop.
Specifically, I was interested in writing about the crusade to eliminate sparrows. However, the campaign to kill off all the sparrows either through heart attack or exhaustion by making as much noise as possible over three days isn’t exactly a light topic. Those birds were almost driven to extinction. How do you write about something like that without freaking out kids and depressing adults?
During my research, I found out that a picture book called “Sparrow Girl” (by Sara Pennypacker) had already been written about it. Hmmm, interesting. I decided to take it out via interlibrary loan and see how she tackled the subject.
Ming-Li doesn’t understand the plan to eliminate the sparrows. She likes sparrows and cannot imagine the skies silent. But Ming-Li is told not to question the leader’s plan. However, when Older Brother’s pigeon is killed along with the sparrows, the siblings conspire to save some sparrows.
This would not have been an easy choice. We in the western world perhaps cannot understand the unquestioning obedience Chinese people had towards their leader, but if you read enough Chinese literature, you will realize it was not an option. Ming-Li and her Older Brother were risking a lot to save the birds.
I wonder what I would do in that situation. When I read Older Brother say the sky was raining birds, I wanted to weep. Then when Ming-Li corrected him and said that the sky was “crying birds”, I had to put the book down for a moment. Bird and animal lovers may have a hard time with this book.
Yet, it is all made more bearable by the fact that the siblings manage to save 7 birds. Seven birds may not be a lot, but it gives you some hope.
Vesper Stamper talked about the necessity of hope in children’s books in this post:
“Whether the challenge is fear of closing one’s eyes to sleep, or losing a favorite bunny, or getting through the classic Grimms’ three-challenge arc, kids need to know that on the other side of something insurmountable is a green valley brimming with potential.”
When spring comes again, and Ming-Li reveals her secret, she is not punished for her disobedience. Instead she is recognized for what she truly is: wise.
I don’t know if I will ever tackle this heavy topic. I don’t know if I could do it justice like this story has.

A bonus for you:
I remember those years when I was in China while they celebrated the new year very well. When I lived in Beijing, the population was 18 million people. Now imagine the vast majority of them setting of firecrackers. My cat would always hide under the bed, and sometimes I wished I could join her…
If you ever wondered why the Chinese celebrate Chinese new year’s as they do, this is the story:

Breaking the Rules of Picture Book Writing

When I first started writing picture books, I did not realize that there were so many rules. Then the critiques started. Your story should be in three acts, said some. The main character should always solve his or her own problem, said others. Don’t write stories with “talking heads”, said more. My head was spinning!

Fast forward two years later, now I am a little bit wiser with a few courses under my belt. (Oops, I should have avoided that cliche. <Sigh> Another rule broken.)

What is one to do if you are a children’s book writer? After all, there are only so many times you can pull your hair out and rend your garments before you become a cliche yourself.

More than one author has given me some good advice. Know the rules! Then you can break them judiciously. Ah ha! So we can break the rules after all.

And rule breaking is happening all the time. When we read “Sophie’s Squash” by Pat Zietlow Miller in the Debut PB study group on Facebook, we discovered that here was an author whose first book had broken the 500 words or less rule. It’s 694 words. And the book is simply charming.

In the last book we studied, “Prudence wants a Pet” by debut picture book author Cathleen Daly, many rules were broken including the main character not solving her own problem. <Gasp!> But this 709 word book works.

Some people are turning to self publishing in order to break the rules. Zetta Elliot is one good example of this. Her books don’t fit the norm at all. Her award winning picture book, “Bird”, was traditionally published and is a rule breaker. Since then she has opened her own press in order to publish her other rule breaking books. Zetta finds it odd that although there is a big push for books with diverse characters, there is no push for books with diverse structures. Her books are groundbreaking.

Never fear dear picture book author. You need not become a cliche. There are many rules that are being broken.

Are there any specific rules you would like me to discuss in more detail? Leave a comment for me.

Book Review: “When Emily Carr Met Woo”

I finally got my hands on this book! I had been waiting for…such…a…long…time.

I read the title of the book to my daughter and explained that Emily Carr was a really famous Canadian artist. She piped up, “Then why have I never heard of her?”
Good question. Whatever the reason, “When Emily Carr Met Woo” is an excellent book to introduce Emily Carr to children.

One day Emily walks into a pet shop and sees a lonely monkey. She trades one of her puppies for the monkey, whom she names Woo. Woo is a very mischievous monkey, getting into all sorts of trouble, torturing the other pets and Emily’s sisters. But one day the mischievous monkey steals a tube of paint and eats it. Has Woo gone too far this time?

The story touches only briefly on Emily’s painting career, but the back matter fills in a lot of the missing information.

The author of “When Emily Carr Met Woo”, Monica Kulling, has written many excellent books, including one I reviewed before called “In the Bag”. For the review, click here.

She also wrote another charming book about a painter and his pet called “Lumpito and the Painter from Spain”. The story is about Pablo Picasso and the dachshund that won his heart.

Adults who are interested in finding out more about Emily Carr can read her book called “Klee Wyck” written by Emily herself. The book was published in 1941 and won a Governor General’s Award.

To see Emily Carr’s paintings, watch this video: