What to Read When You Want to Write

Do you have a book in you? When people hear I am an author, they often want to tell me about their story ideas. I listen, and then as soon as I can I suggest they join the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). There is no better group to understand the basics of writing, revising, submitting, and publishing.

SCBWI just had its huge annual conference in Los Angeles. I didn’t make it but I always pay attention. You can read what happened by searching the hashtag #LA15SCBWI or reading the official blog (which is where I gathered the following quotes).

If the conference is out of your budget, start local and small (there are chapters everywhere). Another way is to read the books by the authors who were invited to speak. These authors and their works are respected for a reason. Here are three middle grade authors to read:

crossoverKwame Alexander has written many books, and his latest, The Crossover, won the 2015 Newbery Medal and received five starred reviews. In this middle grade novel in verse, twins Josh and Jordan must come to grips with rivalry, growing up on and off the basketball court, and the health of their father, their coach.

Alexander led a rousing interactive speech that included this poem:

hustle dig/grind push/run fast/change pivot/chase pull/aim shoot/play hard/practice harder/work hardest!

Goose-GirlShannon Hale is the New York Times best-selling author of fifteen children’s and young adult novels, including the award-winning The Goose Girl. It’s a retelling of the classic Grimm tale in which Ani eventually uses her own special ability to speak to animals to find her way to her destiny.

Reading novels creates empathy, Hale said at SCBWI, and we are asking boys to live in a world that is 50 percent female while telling them not to read books about girls. We need to give books about girls to boys, and say, “I think you’ll like this book because it’s funny, etc.”

TheGreatGreeneHeistVarian Johnson is the author of The Great Greene Heist, an ALA Notable Children’s Book Selection, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year, and a Texas Library Association Lone Star Reading List selection. It’s the story of Jackson Greene, who has changed his ways, but when his nemesis runs for school president against his former best friend, he pulls together a crack team to make sure the election is done right.

I’ll let Johnson have the last word: If you want to write a children’s book, do it. As he said at SCBWI, “”It’s hard. It’s supposed to be hard. But it doesn’t have to be impossible.”

Jennifer Gennari is the author of My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer, a 2013 ALA Rainbow List selection.

1 Comment
  1. Wish I could have gone but I do go to the regional conferences. Thank you for the update.