Posts Tagged middle grade books

Writing For Children: 11 Ways to Rediscover Your Childlike Wonder

When I was a kid I used to sneak into people’s coat closets when visiting with my parents, hoping to find a Narnia world on the other side. I would huddle in the dark, beneath winter coats, imagining an older world long gone as I hid among musty wool. If I sat long enough I just knew I’d be transported there!

Now, as a children’s book author and writer of fantasy, I get to step through doors into other worlds. The easy part is stepping into that new world. The hard part is creating a world, characters, and story from a child’s point of view. How to get into that view? By finding my childlike wonder again.

Do you remember what filled you with wonder as a kid?

I do. Or at least I try. I walked along rock walls under the stars when the world was asleep. I climbed trees and sang songs to the woods. I swam all day becoming as brown and leathery as an armadillo. I reveled in first snows and made snow angels. I hid away in rose bush caves to write – all the while believing that magic existed, and every day held little miracles.

But what evokes childlike wonder now as a grownup? And as adults writing for children, how can we recapture that? 

Regaining a childlike sense of wonder isn’t about returning to a childlike state, it’s about letting yourself be awed by the little things in your grownup life. Our mundane responsibilities can often dull our wonder, but just because every day is filled with little things it doesn’t mean they aren’t miraculous.

However, keeping our childlike wonder can be difficult when grownup duties mount. In order to do my job well as a children’s author, I often need to rekindle and sustain my kid wonder. But how?

Here are 11 ways to evoke childlike wonder:

  1. Re-visit pictures of ourselves as kids. Search through specific memories. Journal in our voice from that moment. What were we excited about? What did we most desire? What made us sad?
  2. Did you write diaries as a child or teen? Re-read them to inspire that voice of youth in your own writing.
  3. Look at the world from an unfamiliar perspective. Make a snow angel. Hide in a closet. Climb a tree. Be pulled along in a little red wagon (if you can fit!). There are Big Wheels for grownups now. Try it!
  4. Create a new bucket list with your kids or grandkids. What do they dream of doing that you could do together?
  5. Do your kids write stories? Read them to grasp a worldview through their own words. What do they notice? How do they feel?
  6. Revisit the age of your characters. Go back to that time in your life and draw a map of your neighborhood. Walk through it in your mind and journal about it. What do you see? How do you feel? How did you react to events there?
  7. Do a stand-up dramatic read-aloud of a scene in your story.
  8. Face a childhood fear (mine was going down in our creepy 200-year-old cellar where I was sure bodies were buried).
  9. Engage in child’s play with your kids. Hide-n-Seek, Tag. A favorite of my son and mine was battling sock wars to Irish music.
  10. Eavesdrop on kids at the mall or park. Take notes of their conversation.
  11. Visit those places you spent time at as a child. Walk in your childhood shoes again.

I did #11 not so long ago. I resurrected an old manuscript rich with one of my childhood settings. It prompted me to go back in time to the campground my parents owned and operated in New Hampshire. When I drove up, I was zapped back to the 1970s.

Suddenly, I was nine-years-old again. I swam in the pool, fished with my dad, romped through the woods, collected dead butterflies and shotgun shells, whizzed about on strap-on roller skates, played pinball machines, and spun 45 records on the jukebox.

Returning was an emotional gut punch. I could be a child again in that place of innocence but just as it resurrected joyous moments from childhood, it also brought back painful ones.

I also rediscovered how every day as a kid was about being lost in the magical moments. Like finding tiny miracles over and over–in the little things.

What did I take away from this trip for my writing?

  • Vivid feelings of childhood – the good and the bad – to enrich my writing.
  • Revisited my creative foundations and reinforced my yearning to write for kids.
  • Fortified the connection from childhood to adulthood.
  • That I can mend my past while forging my future from it.
  • A renewed sense of childlike wonder, boxed up with a crooked bow and broken seams.

Most importantly, I remembered how awesome it was to be a kid again, to be lost in the moment. And that every day as a kid held magic. By renewing my own sense of childlike wonder, I could once again be lost in it while writing – and tap into the magic of the little things.

I also realized that in order to do my job well as a children’s author, and to find joy in it, I needed to rekindle my kid wonder not just once—but again and again. Just as I pondered this, a video of babies going through tunnels popped up in my Facebook feed. I couldn’t help but laugh at their wonder—and knew I would keep finding mine and seek it out in unexpected places that surround us every day.

How do you tap into your inner childlike wonder and write from a child’s point of view? Share your tips!

BAREFOOT DREAMS OF PETRA LUNA~Interview With Author Alda Dobbs + #Giveaway!

Thrilled to share my interview with Author Alda Dobbs and her recent middle grade release BAREFOOT DREAMS OF PETRA LUNA – an inspired story about the Mexican Revolution and how one girl is set to keep her promise.

THE BOOK

Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna

BOOKSHOP | WEBSITE to other purchase links.

 

BAREFOOT DREAMS OF PETRA LUNA by Alda Dobbs

Release Date: September 14, 2021

It is 1913, and twelve-year-old Petra Luna’s mama has died while the Revolution rages in Mexico. Before her papa is dragged away by soldiers, Petra vows to him that she will care for the family she has left―her abuelita, little sister Amelia, and baby brother Luisito―until they can be reunited. They flee north through the unforgiving desert as their town burns, searching for safe harbor in a world that offers none.

Each night when Petra closes her eyes, she holds her dreams close, especially her long-held desire to learn to read. Abuelita calls these barefoot dreams: “They’re like us barefoot peasants and indios―they’re not meant to go far.” But Petra refuses to listen. Through battlefields and deserts, hunger and fear, Petra will stop at nothing to keep her family safe and lead them to a better life across the U.S. border―a life where her barefoot dreams could finally become reality.

Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna was inspired by the experiences the author’s great-grandmother endured during the Mexican Revolution.

 

THE INTERVIEW

From the moment I read about this story, I knew I wanted to share it. It’s wonderful to have you visit us, Alda. Tell our readers a little about your main character Petra Luna.

Petra Luna is a twelve-year old girl who makes it her purpose to keep her family safe in the middle of war and chaos. Despite the turmoil and suffering around her, she remains faithful to her dreams of learning to read and write and to a promise she made to her father before he was forced to fight in the war.

💚💚💚

Why will young readers relate to Petra?

Petra’s dreams and her way of seeing the world are often at odds with her grandmother’s views. Young readers will see how differences in perspectives between generations is a universal theme that transcends time. Readers can also see how Petra’s journey to escape violence in her homeland and reach the safety of the United States is something that is relevant to today’s times or might have happened in their own ancestor’s pasts.

If Petra could pick three things to take with her on a deserted island, what would they be?

Petra would likely take her hatchet, her black rock, and maybe a pencil and slate?

What about you?

I would take pen & paper, my laptop, and an espresso machine. Not sure where I’d get the coffee, milk, and chocolate syrup for my mochas, though.

BAREFOOT DREAMS OF PETRA LUNA is inspired by your great-grandmother’s experiences during the Mexican Revolution of 1913. How did it feel learning this information from real-life family experience?

I had always enjoyed listening to family stories but took them lightly most of the times. For one particular story, my favorite one, I embarked on a long research journey, and after many months, the day I found out that this family story had been true and accurate all along, is a day I will forever remember. Ever since, I became much more grateful for my family stories, knowing they were not exaggerations. Also, through the many photographs I came across in my research, I saw, learned, and appreciated all that my family had gone through – the harsh poverty, the prejudices, the violence – and the enormous effort and sacrifice they made to give me a better life. After completing my book, I felt closer to them than ever before.

Such a vital story and piece of human history to share with younger generations, but also because it’s so close to your heart.

Did you do much outside research for the book as well?

Yes, I researched many things, even the most mundane, and some never made it into the book but it allowed me to know the characters and setting intimately.

Ooh, that’s a super important fact of writing: Lots of researched information doesn’t make it into the book, yet it influences the writer.

I researched the Mexican Revolution, desert plants, curanderismo, Aztec mythology, Náhuatl, music from that era, etc. I also printed out segments of Sanborn maps and assembled them together like puzzle pieces to let me know what streets Petra Luna had walked on. When I cross-referenced the map with old photographs, I could see buildings she came across and even walked into. I kept a timeline handy that followed actual dates chronicled in newspapers to help weave in the fiction.

Why do you believe this story is important to tell?

The history of the Mexican Revolution is complex, but I believe young readers should be exposed to it in a way that they get a sense of its causes, its consequences and, most important, of what women and children went through. This is a part of history that isn’t taught in schools nor mentioned in books, yet it changed the landscape of both Mexico and the United States forever and still resonates in our current world.

What do you hope middle school readers take with them after they’ve read the book?

I hope that they learn that they too have the power and determination to be a leader like Petra. Sometimes we adults don’t give children enough credit yet they are capable of so much if we give them the space and confidence to grow and figure things out on their own. I also want them to realize that no matter the circumstances, they can look to their dreams for guidance and strength during dire times.

WRITER’S CORNER

For our writing readers, what is your writing routine like? And what is one piece of advice you can offer?

I’ve never really had a writing routine (after 10 years of writing, I’m still striving to find one!). Ever since signing my publishing contract, I’ve been more conscientious about writing time since I now have real deadlines. I’ve always been a night owl and tend to be more creative at night, but as a mother of two young kids, I’ve had to adjust my times. One piece of advice I’d say is to try to write every day, read books of fiction or on craft, listen to audio books, take workshops, attend conferences, in other words, always keep yourself immersed in words or on learning how to best put them together.

Are you working on a new project? If so, care to share?

I am! Right now, I’m working on Book 2, the follow-up to Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna. This story will follow Petra and her family to a refugee camp in Eagles Pass, Texas and then to San Antonio where 30,000 refugees settled during that time. I’m also working on the Spanish translation of Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna and will soon record the Author’s Note for the audio book. I’m also kicking the idea of a picture book and a historical YA. Stay tuned!

Wow! A picture book and historical YA . . . sounds great. Make sure you let us know so we can share it with everyone. All the best with this. Thank you so much for sharing this important story of history, hope, and resilience.

Author Alda DobbsABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alda P. Dobbs is the author of the upcoming novel Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna. She was born in a small town in northern Mexico but moved to San Antonio, Texas as a child. Alda studied physics and worked as an engineer before pursuing her love of storytelling. She’s as passionate about connecting children to their past, their communities, different cultures and nature as she is about writing. Alda lives with her husband and two children outside Houston, Texas. WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | INSTAGRAM

 

GIVEAWAY

Enter for your chance to WIN a signed copy of BAREFOOT DREAMS OF PETRA LUNA and some book swag! Ends 09/26/2021; US only. Winner announced via Twitter.

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“What I Didn’t Do This Summer” and Other MG Narrative Writing Ideas

A hearty thank you to all the teachers and librarians who are off and running in a new school year! We certainly wish you the best. Educational settings of all types have seen wild change and plenty of challenges in the last year and a half, but educators continue to rally, adapt, instruct, and inspire.

For those of you on the lookout for ways to offer your middle grade writers new and creative ideas, here are some suggestions to try!

These ideas:

  • Capitalize upon and promote students’ start-of-the-year enthusiasm and excitement.
  • Can be used as icebreakers and in peer-response circles (in which each student provides one “This is awesome!” and one “This is just a suggestion!” remark for a fellow writer).
  • Will fulfill one of the most fun Common Core State Standards—Narrative Writing (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W3)!
  • Will connect to (relatively) pain-free grammar and composition mini-lessons as students revise and edit, which account for additional Writing Standards.
  • Will connect to Reading: Literature CCSS if you tie the writing lesson to the study of a novel and Speaking and Listening CCSS if students share their original work aloud (with a bit of coaching on presentation skills).
  • Can serve as a foundation for powerhouse lessons and quality use of instructional time–not to mention a chance for kids to use imagination along with skills in a memorable and fun writing experience.

The “What I Didn’t Do This Summer” Composition

Students might need a little explanation if they are not aware of the traditional “What I Did This Summer” essay that kicked off each year of English class for so many generations of students. Then, turn the notion on its head: Kids write an imaginative piece that includes events their summer certainly did not showcase: didn’t talk to penguins at the South Pole, didn’t go back in time and meet pirates or ninjas, didn’t even try to dig a hole to the other side of the world, didn’t get the cell phone to work as a portal to another planet. Offer more structure to those who don’t jump in on their own, for example, “Three Adventures I Wanted to Try This Summer But Didn’t,” or “Three Things I Wouldn’t Have Done This Summer Even for Ten Thousand Dollars.”

The First-Line Fest

The best part about a First-Line Fest is the time involved; you can spend a few class periods on this activity, use it for a five-minute filler, or utilize any length of time in between. You might want to start by offering a read-aloud of first lines from some great test-of-time middle grade novels (and letting kids guess the titles is a nice intro). Some possibilities:

“It was one of those super-duper cold Saturdays.”

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number Four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

“There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.”

“I am born on a Tuesday at University Hospital / Columbus, Ohio, / USA— / a country caught / between Black and White.”

“My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni and cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog.”

Then, coach students to compose an attention-getting first line to a story or novel that they do not have to write. Use whatever guidelines or fun twists suit your purposes: must be a full sentence with an action verb; must contain at least two characters; must jump in with a conflict; must be a setting description with an animal; must be more than 20 words but fewer than 25; etc.  Or, throw rules out the window (except, of course, for your classroom-appropriate guidelines 😊 ) and see what first-line creations students come up with.

The Favorite Genre Never-Been-Done Premise

Explain the concept of a premise to your would-be writers and allow them to guess a book based on its premise. Knowing what books they covered as a class the previous year ensures success here, so for example, if they read Other Words for Home: “A seventh grade girl leaves Syria for Cincinnati, bravely auditions for a musical, and remains hopeful for the safety of the missing brother she left behind.”

Next, review genre as a literary characteristic, and have kids narrow their favorite genres. Finally, assign a fun one-to-three sentence premise for a story or novel in their favorite genre they’d love to someday read or write. Some facet of the imagined storyline must make the premise never-been-done before (a challenge, as we writers are well aware!). Look to recent releases in some favorite genres for inspiration and recommended reads for your students to dovetail with this writing assignment:

Fantasy: The Ship of Stolen Words by Fran Wilde, The Hidden Knife by Melissa Marr, Arrow by Samantha M. Clark

Sports/Outdoors/Activities: Samira Surfs by Rukhsanna Guidroz, Soccer Trophy Mystery by Fred Bowen, Much Ado about Baseball by Rajani LaRocca

Scare Stories: Ghost Girl by Ally Malinenko, The Forgotten Girl by India Hill Brown

MG contemporary: Thanks A Lot, Universe by Chad Lucas, To Tell You the Truth by Beth Vrabel, The Magical Imperfect by Chris Baron

Also, consider genre mash-ups to make the never-been-done objective a little easier—and a lot more creative.

Have a great year filled with creative opportunities for your middle grade writers, and thank you again for your devotion to educating kids.

 

First lines: The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis;  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling; Holes by Louis Sachar; Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson; Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo