For Teachers

Interview with Jess Rinker and Giveaway

Our guest today is Jess Rinker, author of the middle-grade novels Out of Time: Lost on the Titanic, The Dare Sisters, and The Dare Sisters: Shipwrecked (coming this September). Jess has also written picture book biographies on feminist Gloria Steinem and Brenda Berkman, one of the first female firefighters for the New York City Fire Department.

Thanks so much, Jess for joining us at From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors! It has been fun witnessing your publishing success since meeting at the Highlights Foundation workshop several years ago. Can you offer a bit about your journey?

Thank YOU for having me! It’s funny, I always think about our time at Highlights as if it was “last summer”, when in fact it was four years ago! Wow. A lot has happened since then for sure—it’s amazing how connected we’ve all remained and hopefully, we’ll begin to cross actual paths again soon.

My journey started way before then, probably more around 2005 when I went from one of those people who said “someday I’ll write a book” to someone who actually sat down and wrote a book. It would be the first of many shelved manuscripts, but learning I could write a novel changed my life trajectory. Fast forward through years of practice, attending conferences, and taking classes, by 2014 I graduated with an MFA, signed with an agent the following year, and sold my first book Gloria Takes a Stand in 2016. I definitely put in my “10,000 hours” as Malcolm Gladwell says. 2018 was a bit of an explosion for me regarding book sales, and so now I just turned in my third middle-grade novel, which brings me to a total of six books by next summer. Whew.

I know you love the outdoors and rural settings, which shines through in your middle-grade works of fiction. Would you share your inspiration for these settings?

So far, yes, all of my middle grade takes place in rural/small town settings. (Even the super secret one we’re just about to pitch to my editor) I grew up in rural NJ and PA in the ’70s-’80s and my parents were pretty hands-off so I was free to explore all of the woods and creeks and rivers around me. Other than a library card, it was probably the biggest gift they gave me. I had few friends as a young child and the woods and wildlife became my entire world—the perfect place for an imagination to blossom. My mom gave me countless nature books as well, and so learning the names of flowers, trees, bugs, animals, even fish, and frogs, became a way for me to “know” the wildlife around me, as well as order my otherwise chaotic world. I think my mom always had an innate understanding that when you give something a name (or learn its name), you gain an appreciation for it. In my upcoming book The Hike to Home, I give my mom and my young self a little nod in that the main character has a similar proclivity to know all the names of the natural things around her. It’s something I still do and now living in a brand-new place—West Virginia—there are so many new creatures to get to know! West Virginia is an incredibly biologically diverse state with New River Gorge (The nation’s most recent National Park!) being the highest, I believe.

Your picture book biographies feature strong, independent women. Your middle-grade fictional work shares the adventures of strong and independent girls. Tell us a little bit about the background behind these stories.

To be completely honest, I never intended to “brand” myself and when I first started, I was writing angsty YA that didn’t sell. I’ve always approached the writing life—and publishing as much as possible—as someone who just truly loves writing stories. I don’t have a very altruistic sense until the book is on the shelf. Once it’s out there, it’s on its own, but before that it’s all mine and I treasure that creative stage. So ideas come and go and whatever grabs a hold of me the most, I write it. I have plenty of stories and ideas that are not strong-girl stories per se.

That being said, back in 2015 I was reading Gloria Steinem’s canon of literature and that, paired with the sale of the biography, fueled me in a new way as a woman and as a writer. I absolutely became conscious of wanting to write characters who had agency in their lives. I had next-to-none as a child, and many children are powerless because of their circumstances. I chose not to write about those circumstances (yet) and instead write stories that showed children the power they CAN have. Somehow, that turned into strong girls, strong women. I’m not complaining! But it was a natural evolution, driven by my own education and internal revolution, the love of storytelling, and a desire to empower children in whatever little way I can.

I know that you and your family experienced a tragic fire, which engulfed and destroyed your home, including all of your childhood journals. How has writing helped you move forward through that loss?

That was a huge blow, for sure. Sometimes I don’t even remember it happened until someone mentions it and other times I look in my closet and mourn the loss of my favorite summer dress or those precious journals. I mentioned earlier that 2018 was a bit of an explosion for me book-wise, and I think that’s what really helped me quickly recover from that trauma—which was also caused by a literal explosion! I don’t know that we will ever be “over it”, only through the worst of it, but we have found a secure new normal since then. The book sales kept me focused. I’d lost everything I owned, but I still had my family and my job, and it completely kept me going. I’d also been married only a week before the fire, so while it slightly marred our anniversary month, which is August, we had a lot of love and joy.

Exactly a week after the fire, even though we were technically homeless, we still had our wedding party that had been planned for months. Sometimes I wish we could do it over again since my husband and I were in a bit of a fog, but I’m grateful we were able to celebrate. In another wonderful, but long story my wedding dress had been somewhat spared from flame and smoke because of the way it was stored, so a dear friend of mine stole it away, had it cleaned and repaired, and I got to wear it again at the party. We made the news for the fire and the dress. Kind of a beautiful juxtaposing, I think. Everything is writing material, right?!

Whenever I do school visits, both students and teachers are interested in my writing process. Tell us about yours.

Gosh, it changes so much all the time—especially with writing under a few different categories. This question is always tough to answer, but I suppose my main process is to first let myself be entirely swept away with an idea. Whether nonfiction or fiction, I dive into research, notetaking, scene ideas, dialogue, and especially character development before I really write anything. When I’m drafting, I’m in my PJ’s on the couch. Sometimes I try to get away to a place like Highlights where I don’t have to think about normal day-to-day stuff, but that’s not possible as much anymore since I’m also teaching now. I don’t have any fun rituals or anything—it’s just me, silence (when possible), the notebook or computer, and a comfy place to sit.

What stories did you enjoy reading as a child?

Everything. I was never once told I wasn’t allowed to read something so I read everything from the nature books to kids’ books to my mom’s collection of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. My favorite stories often involved survival aspects, like Island of the Blue Dolphin, or My Side of the Mountain, but I also loved classics like Little Women and The Secret Garden.  (Which, come to think of it, have survival aspects in other ways) All of EB White and Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and Katherine Paterson. But I quickly graduated to adult books and loved horror and dystopian. I weirdly enjoyed reading about grown-ups. I also really loved my grandparents’ shelves of encyclopedias and would page through them quite a bit. It wasn’t until having my own kids, and especially while working on my MFA, that I really got a good dose of the huge variety of children’s books.

I know you teach writers at the collegiate level. What have you learned through this process?

My husband and I were just talking about this! Teaching writing forces you to be a better writer and that’s one of the reasons we both really enjoy it. (Although don’t ask me that when I have 25 essays to grade in two days) Teaching stretches you, keeps you on your toes. Not only for the college but with freelance clients as well. We team up as a couple to coach writers through their projects and we bring different skills and insights to the table, so it becomes a pretty well-rounded process. When you have to help someone craft and revise an essay or plot a novel, it reminds you of all the things you do on a more subconscious level. It’s very eye-opening. My favorite part of teaching, however, is encouraging young writers who want to be better, assuring them that it is a lifetime of practice and devotion, and none of us masters it. We just get better. Hopefully.

As you are married to children’s book author Joe McGee, what is it like working and living with a fellow creative soul?

It’s pretty wonderful. I won’t say there haven’t been some tough spots, because when we first partnered, he was a bit “ahead” of me in the business. I was struggling to sell anything, as well as unable to find a decent job. I had a couple of years of a lot of disheartening “No’s” seemingly coming from everyone and we struggled financially. Those couple years were hard on me. I wasn’t competing with him, but I remember thinking if nothing ever happened for me, and I had to settle for retail jobs for the rest of my life, I didn’t know if I could survive the relationship. This came from my own personal baggage of always feeling like the cheerleader in my previous marriage, and I was very aware of that, and so was Joe. With patience and continued determination, it obviously all panned out. And Joe is probably my biggest cheerleader. 

I’m often asked which is my favorite book that I’ve written…do you have a favorite?

I get that question a lot too—especially from kids. I always tell them my favorite is the one I’m writing right now because it’s true! It’s that special creative time where the story is all mine and I can be lost in it before handing it over to the world. So right now, my favorite book is the one we’re about to pitch to my editor…hopefully more on that very soon!

What is your absolute favorite thing about writing for children?

I do not know. How’s that for an answer! But I really am not sure how to choose one thing. Writing is what I love and it just happens to be for children. I’ve been writing for myself since I was a kid, and then when my kids were little, and I read to them all the time, I thought, “I could totally do this”. So, I did and I never looked back. I’ve never tried writing an adult book, I never have ideas for adult books, and I’m fine with that. I could get super psychological and really pull it apart on a deeper level that has to do with suffering a lot of trauma as a child, and the fact I was treated like a peer to my parents from day one, and so never had a true, care-free childhood….but nah. It doesn’t really matter. Because those very things also made me the writer I am. The fact is, the ideas and voices in my head are always kids and teens, and I just love writing their stories. When a young reader tells me they loved the book, or a parent tells me that it’s the first book their kid ever finished, that is a major heart-warming bonus, for sure. But I’d keep writing regardless.

 

Thank you, Jess! To learn more about Jess, visit her website, www.jessrinker.com. Jess has graciously offered to give a copy of both The Dare Sisters and the upcoming Dare Sisters: Shipwrecked to one lucky winner. Enter here by July 15 for your chance to win. Note: Only residents of the contiguous United States, please.

 

 

STEM Tuesday — The Living Seas– Interview with Patricia Newman

STEM Tuesday

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the last Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Patricia Newman, award winning author of the newly released Planet Ocean.  Combined with Annie Crawley’s stunning photography, Patricia’s research provides an immersive experience for readers of all ages. You’ll also meet some of the people fighting to maintain the ocean’s vital role in sustaining life on our planet.

Before you start, check out this fascinating trailer featuring video shot on location and fascinating facts about the ocean ecosystems:  “Why your library needs Planet Ocean”

Planet Ocean is a beautiful book. It explains the subject material in a beautiful way and the photographs are incredible.  A must read with your children. 

Jeff Bridges, Academy Award winning actor and environmentalist

* * *

Patricia NewmanChristine Taylor-Butler: Patricia, in a past life you have been a teacher, a computer programmer, and an Assistant Director for Cornell University’s regional office. In those capacities, you’ve traveled all over the world, including Kenya with a geneticist as a volunteer for the San Diego Zoo. Do you ever slow down?

Patricia Newman: My husband asks the same question, Christine. I confess I have a hard time sitting still and I enjoy working on multiple projects simultaneously. That said, I relish quiet time, too, to read, soak up nature, and allow my brain to make the connections that ultimately inspire book ideas.

 

CTB: You received the Sibert Honor award for your book Sea Otter Heroes. You mention that a teacher once described fiction as “heart” and nonfiction as “facts.” You said it hurt your feelings. Could you elaborate?

Sea OttersPatricia: The conference speaker was asked to define fiction and nonfiction. She said, “Fiction is the heart and nonfiction is the facts.” And you’re right, Christine. That bland, watered down definition hurt my feelings because she implied nonfiction authors don’t add heart to their work. What about children’s biographies profiling people that empower children to reach for the stars? What about the scientists in books such as Sea Otter Heroes who inspire the next generation of scientists? What about books on focused topics, such as sharks, bugs, or space, that feed the curiosity of young readers? Nonfiction authors write from personal experience and passion. Our topics come from who we are as people and light fires within us. And we want to share that passion with young readers – both as they read our work and as they write. I’d advise teachers out there to pick up a copy of Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep edited by Melissa Stewart. Share with students the essays from 50 nonfiction authors and try to mimic our pre-writing process to add heart to student work.

 

CTB: Your body of work is such a joyful exploration of both science and the human spirit that seeks to explore and improve the environment. Where did that passion come from?

Patricia: When I was young, I watched bugs. I grew vegetables. I scoured tidepools. I compared the shapes of leaves. Like all children, I was a natural scientist, and my questions led my “investigations.” I guess I’m one of the lucky ones because I never lost that desire to question. I still spend as much time outdoors as I can. Because of my love of science, I understand our connection to our natural world – how it feeds our souls, how it supports life on our planet. Whenever I hear about an amazing scientist working to help others understand this connection, I look for the story.

I often hear librarians say that history is people. What I’d like to hear more of is history AND science is people. The scientific skills of observation, investigation, and analysis form the bedrock of the discovery process in any discipline, whether history, language, culture, or mathematics.

 

CTB: Let’s talk about Planet Ocean. It’s an amazing work. You collaborated with Annie Crawley, a professional diver and photographer who explores oceans all over the world with a dive team. How did you first meet?

Planet ocean coverPatricia: Planet Ocean is my third book with the amazing Annie Crawley. We first met while I was working on Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. After the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition (SEAPLEX) returned to dry land, I contacted the scientists I wanted to interview for the book. I also contacted Annie because she was the expedition photographer, and I knew no one would have the kind of images she had. At the time, not too many people were willing to talk trash, and Annie was thrilled to showcase the expedition’s disturbing findings in a book for kids. Plastic, Ahoy! was one of the first children’s books about marine debris and it has inspired more children than I can count. One middle school reader later wrote her college essay about how Plastic, Ahoy! inspired her to study ocean plastic.

 

CTB: When Annie traveled to take location shots, she uploaded audio and video so you could stay connected with the source material. Was it hard to live the adventures vicariously?

Crawley with Whale

Crawley

Dive/Photographer Annie Crawley

Patricia: I was fortunate to travel to Seattle where Annie and I began our research for the Salish Sea chapter of Planet Ocean. We interviewed several scientists and experts by phone and in person. I also spoke to Annie’s Dive Team about communicating science through writing.

Annie already had science expeditions planned for Indonesia and the Arctic, so I knew early on that I would have to live vicariously. (One interesting note: Publishers rarely fund nonfiction research expenses.) Annie recorded and, in many cases, videoed the interviews, she traveled with my questions in hand and frequently added her own, and often included messages to me from our experts. When Annie and composer Stella Sung met for a performance of Oceana, they called me from the car to celebrate!
Note: Find out more about Annie Crawley at: www.anniecrawley.com and www.ouroceanandyou.com

 

CTB: The book is a wonderful marriage of science and profiles in courage. I was taken with the enormous diversity of people featured who are active in their local communities combating activities that threaten the health of our oceans. Who stands out the most to you? Is there one particular story that stayed with you after the book was finished?

Patricia: I feel like you’re asking me to pick my favorite child, Christine! I love all the stories – Aji Piper who’s not fighting for climate change, but human change; Eben Hopson who makes films to give his Iñupiat people a voice; Helen Pananggung and her indomitable group of children who clean their Indonesian beach every week; Nicole Helgason who replants coral; Dana Wlson who mourns the lack of salmon in his native waters; the kids and teens from Annie’s Dive Team who lobby the state legislature and made two inspiring films for Planet Ocean.

Divers

photo credit: anniecrawley.com ouroceanandyou.com.

These people and their stories are connected by their love of and their dependence on the ocean And they are working as hard as they can to make sure we all understand that connection.

The stories also demonstrate how readers can take action in their own lives and become a voice for the sea. Annie and I ultimately want readers to love the ocean because we protect what we love.

 

CTB: Planet Ocean features QR codes that link to videos of Annie and the dive team on location. It really brings the book alive and puts the reader in the middle of the action. I found myself stopping to explore beyond the text. How did that idea come about?

Patricia: I’m so happy you watched them! When I wrote Eavesdropping on Elephants, my editor loved the idea of including QR codes to hear the elephants talking just as the scientists did in the forest. The QR codes are a popular feature of that book.

QR exampleWhen Annie and I partnered again for Planet Ocean, her filmmaking skills seemed like a natural fit for QR codes. We wrote and designed Planet Ocean with an underwater perspective. The QR codes give readers the opportunity to dive below the surface to witness what happens for themselves.

 

CTB: To help you get up close and personal with the material, Annie and her team taught you how to scuba dive. What was that like?

Patricia: Annie began with a classroom lesson that included how to breathe through a regulator, how to read my portable computer to keep track of my air supply, how to clear my mask, and the science of diving.

Newman and CrawleyThen I dressed in my wet suit, flippers, mask, snorkel, buoyancy vest, and air tank. The air tank is astonishingly heavy on land! We dove in an indoor pool – the water in the Salish Sea hovers around 45 degrees and requires a dry suit and more diving skills than I currently possess. I learned how to breathe slowly, remain neutrally buoyant, and maneuver in the water with all the equipment. We also practiced safety techniques, such as communicating with our buddy. Of course, the Dive Team swam circles around me.

The real challenge was the underwater photo – holding my end of Annie’s camera housing steady while maintaining neutral buoyancy – not sinking too deep or floating to the surface.

 

CTB: You’ve written a wide range of nonfiction topics. Many people don’t know that books often start with an idea and a pitch to an editor. It’s a lot of research to conduct for a project that may not find a home. How do you find the right balance?

Patricia: Longer form nonfiction usually begins with a proposal or sales document that provides an overview of the concept, a chapter outline, and a list of the experts I plan to interview. And you’re right, Christine, balance is key.

Before beginning the proposal, I contact the scientists I’d like to feature to get their buy-in. I explain the time commitment involved after the book sells. If they are interested in working with me, I read to acquaint myself with the topic and develop a list of questions. I then set up a 20- to 30-minute interview with the scientist(s) to get at the highlights and dig deep enough to discover a possible narrative thread but not take advantage of the scientists’ time. I must be extremely efficient. If you’re interested in proposal writing, explore this article I wrote for Melissa Stewart’s Celebrate Science blog.

books

 

CTB: You’ve done a number of articles and interviews about your passion for writing. But the one that stuck out was your call to action in Publisher’s Weekly about conventions where publishers and vendors give away thousands of plastic items and tote bags in the quest to sell books. You make some sensible suggestions for sustainable options. Could you give a few here?

Patricia: All my environmental titles include a call to action because we must be grateful for nature and begin giving back. Page 53 of Planet Ocean includes several concrete suggestions. In addition, please consider the following:

  • Eat sustainably. Buy organic when possible and purchase seafood caught using sustainable fishing methods (Seafood Watch publishes handy guides to help you). Consider eating one plant-based meal per week.
  • Use your purchasing power to change corporate practices. Refuse goods packaged with too much plastic or produced by companies that pollute the planet. Some of my favorite alternatives, include:
  1. Bamboo utensils for to-go meals instead of single-use plastic. Use a refillable coffee mug for your designer coffee and skip the plastic cup/lid/stirrer.
  2. Bites Toothpaste Bits to refuse the plastic toothpaste tube, plastic dental floss box, and plastic toothbrush. Ask you dentist to stop giving out plastic toothbrushes.
  3. Etee reusable beeswax food wraps instead of plastic wrap.
  4. Who Gives a Crap sustainable toilet paper, paper towels, and tissues. They also donate 50% of their profits “to build toilets because we believe access to a safe, dignified loo is a basic human right.”
  5. Ten Tree for clothing made with sustainable materials. And for every item you purchase, Ten Tree plants ten trees.
  • Email corporations who continue to flaunt environmental guidelines. I have emails ready for Amazon and Target for unsustainable shipping practices that include loads of single-use plastic.
  • Research electric or hybrid vehicles as a family. What are the pluses and minuses of switching?
  • Take your political leaders to task at the local, state, and federal levels. Our health, clean air, clean water, and adequate food supplies start with a healthy ocean and sustainable habits.

 

CTB: You describe writing these books as “meeting the emotional need in me.” So now I’m intrigued. Is there a project you are dying to write about?

Patricia: One idea in particular tickles me, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, the time is not yet right. Hopefully in the not-too-distant future…

 

CTB: You’ve been amazing asset to children’s publishing. Do you have any books on the horizon we should keep an eye out for?

Patricia: I have a nonfiction picture book releasing in the fall of 2022 illustrated by Natasha Donovan. All I can say right now is that it’s a conservation story with a happy ending.

CTB: Thanks, Patricia, for taking time out to talk to us!

Win a FREE copy of “Planet Ocean.”

Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below. The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (within the U.S. only) to receive the book.

Good luck!

Newman headshotPatricia Newman studied child development at Cornell University. While there, she also studied French, Italian and Childen’s Literature. Patricia’s books encourage readers to use their imaginations to solve real‑world problems and act on behalf of their communities. A Robert F. Sibert Honor recipient for Sea Otter Heroes, Her books have received starred reviews, Green Earth Book Awards, a Parents’ Choice Award, and Bank Street College’s Best Books honors. Patricia speaks at schools and conferences to share how children of any age can affect change.

To learn more about Patricia and her books, please visit www.patriciamnewman.com. You can follow her on Twitter @PatriciaNewman. Or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/patricia.newman.9275

 

author christine Taylor-butlerYour host is Christine Taylor-Butler, MIT engineering nerd and author of Bathroom Science, Sacred Mountain: Everest, Genetics, and more than 70 other nonfiction books for kids. She is also the author of the middle grade sci-fi series The Lost Tribes. Follow @ChristineTB on Twitter and/or @ChristineTaylorButler on Instagram

What Makes It Tick?

The creative mind is a wonderful and mysterious thing.

Serendipity. Déjà vu. That sweet feeling when one thing enters the equation and the answer snaps into place like pieces of a puzzle. The workings of the human brain are sublime. Humans have worked for centuries to define the nuts and bolts of how our brains work.  The neurotransmitters, the ion gradients, the neurons, the processing centers, and the communication patterns are biologically understood. Understanding creativity, however, is a whole other thing. We can record Peter Brown’s brain activity but we fall short trying to understand exactly how his brain can take a shipwrecked cargo of robots, a remote island, and wild animals and then create the world of The Wild Robot.

A wonderful and mysterious thing, right?

What makes the creative mind tick? That’s a question I’m constantly investigating.  From voice to style to structure to wild, unadulterated imagination, the facets of a creative mind are the gears that drive the bus to its destination. I find this creative engine that floats inside our skulls amazing and worthy of study. What makes 1000 writers come up with 1000 unique stories even after being given a fairly strict and narrow writing prompt?

I want to know! 

Several months ago, while driving home from work, a memory of author/illustrator Bill Peet’s autobiography popped into my head. I remember reading it in the early 1990s after checking it out from the public library. I always liked Bill Peet’s illustration work so I enjoyed his illustrated autobiography immensely. That said, I hadn’t thought of the book in well over 20 years. The memory just popped out of nowhere and I made a mental note to see if the library still had a copy in circulation. 

I made no mention of this to anyone and soon forgot to investigate further.

The weird, wild, and serendipitous part of the story is that last week, my wife came home with a certain author/illustrator’s autobiography she pulled out of the culled pile of books from the library at the elementary school she teaches at. As if it appeared from thin air, I stood, open-jawed, holding a copy of, Bill Peet: An Autobiography.

It is as good as I remembered. However, I’m still perplexed at the pure, blind fortune that resulted in the book resting on my shelf. Was my mind sending electromagnetic energy into the universe about Bill Peet’s autobiography? Was this simple luck and the coming together of unrelated events? The answer may never be known; at least not to my feeble brain.

The creative mind yearns to understand. 

I’ve always had this blessing (or curse) to understand how things work. I’ve dissected everything from lampreys to cow eyes to dogfish sharks to learn anatomy and how it relates to function. I’ve set up elaborate experiments in attempts to figure out how infectious diseases work and how the host fights them. I’ve taken apart old furniture, radios, televisions, and computers in an attempt to understand their workings. The problem in my case is I’m not so good at putting these things back together properly. 🙂

Perhaps this is why I became a scientist and why I enjoy writing and studying the processes of how stories are built. Yes, part of being a writer is to understand how to build a story and then how to best build your stories. It’s akin to studying how Seurat, Van Gogh, or Kadir Nelson create their art masterpieces.

In short, in order to build a house, you first have to know what a house is and understand what the important bits are. 

The creative mind is curious.

Confession time…

I like writing craft books. I own too many. I probably spend too much time reading and re-reading them instead of actually writing. I know many of you can relate. Writers also learn to read with a purpose. Reading a book with an eye on the author’s craft involved in creating the work. Reading to find out what made that story, that book, that graphic image effective. Kidlit-ology!

There’s also an often untapped resource out there to help understand what makes authors tick.

The kidlit creator autobiography. 

As I hinted at above with my love of the Bill Peet book, I enjoy autobiographies. I really enjoy author autobiographies. They are often different from true biographies because they’re told through the lens of the person and not from a third party. The autobiography is told through a completely different filter. Author autobiographies are like taking mom’s sewing machine apart to see its workings; they are a peek into what made them the writer they grew up to be.

After an “extensive” internet search, which, in my case, is typing “children’s authors’ autobiographies in the search box, I unearthed an interesting list of kidlit author autobiographies. Some I own, some I’ve read, and many are new to me but are now on the TBR list.

On My Shelf List

  • Bill Peet: An Autobiography by Bill Peet
  • Boy: Tales of Childhood & Going Solo by Roald Dahl
  • When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed
  • Writing Radar: Using Your Journal to Snoop Out and Craft Great Stories by Jack Gantos

Ones I’ve Read List

  • El Deafo by Cece Bell
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Becoming Kareem: Growing Up On and Off the Court by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  • Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos (Not exactly 100% reality but as the description says, “Melding the entirely true and the wildly fictional…”)

 

 

The TBR List

  • Knots In My Yo-Yo String by Jerry Spinelli
  • 26 Fairmount Avenue by Tommie DePaola
  • A Girl From Yamhill by Beverly Cleary
  • Gone To The Woods: Surviving A Lost Childhood by Gary Paulsen
  • Smile by Raina Telgemeier
  • Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing Up by Jon Scieszka
  • The Abracadabra Kid: A Writer’s Life by Sid Fleischman
  • It Came From Ohio!: My Life As A Writer by R.L. Stine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you read any of the books on the list?

Do you have other kidlit author autobiographies to share? I’m particularly interested in reading and studying more autobiographies from diverse creators, especially Native and Indigenous creators. If anyone knows of any, please share these books in the comments. I’d be very interested in adding them to the TBR list! 

Learning and growing. That’s what a writer does. Writing is a constant, ever-shifting process. Each piece is different in its own, unique way while carrying a core consistency that’s coined as “voice”. 

The mind is indeed a weird and wonderful thing. A writer’s mind is doubly so. A middle-grade writer may triple or quadruple that!

Have a creative spring and then carry it over into summer. Take inspiration and knowledge from those who came before us. Be a source of inspiration and knowledge to those who will come behind us.

Learn and grow. Every day.

You got this, friends.

Read. Write. Repeat.