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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

 

 

Certain questions get asked repeatedly. I want to answer each one individually, but if I do that, I'll have to give up writing. Can't do that!! So here are answers to the most frequently asked questions. If new questions pop up repeatedly, I will add new answers.  And if you have a big compliment or or even a tiny compliment, or a problem, please e-mail me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

1. How can I help readers younger than 7?

Consider making a buddy of the nearest children's librarian. Collect her recommendations. Spend a little profitable time examining her catalogs from publishers. Choose picture books for yourself as well as for the child. A really good children's picture or story book will withstand many readings. Children WANT to be familiar with the story so they know what's coming. Ask other parents which books their children enjoy the most.  Gradually stretch your child's attention span with longer and longer books. I'm not convinced that we have more ADD or AD/HD children than we ever had, but we are identifying those problems better and reading to children far less.

2. Can you help me with my writing or read my manuscript and tell me what to do?

No…not unless I give up my writing, which I cannot do. I am a writer. I must write. I'm a witch when I don't. If you feel that way, then you're probably a writer yourself. In that case, you don't need my advice. You will persist until you get your work published, just like the rest of us did.  If you're unsure about whether to try writing or not, try some. Sit at the computer (or hunch over a yellow pad) and write until you have something you really like. Then write another piece like that…and another…until you think you have something publishable that you can submit to an editor.If you didn't enjoy this writing and re-writing, then you are probably not a writer. Asked about his lifestyle, Norman Mailer replied,

"Writers don't have lifestyles. They sit in little rooms and write."

If you're serious about writing, not only must you write regularly, you need to know your field --newspapers if you want to be a journalist-- children's books if you hope to write for children, and so on. You cannot write well for a field if you aren't extremely familiar with what's out there, what is getting published, and by whom. You might compose Little Women, but TODAY no one would publish it, because it is too didactic and its world view is dated, according to the majority of today's editors. (And yes, this is dumb.)

Examine a book titled Writer's Market. Published yearly, this book tells you which editor wants what stuff. Enroll at your local community college or the nearest university and take some writing courses. You'll learn a great deal, whether you decide to write more or not. Few things are more stimulating than going back to school as an adult. If you want to write for children and young adults, read Writing Juvenile Stories and Novels: How to Write and Sell Fiction for Young People, by Phyllis Whitney. It's the best source. Also, join the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Their website is www.scbwi.org and you'll learn a lot there.

One way of sneaking into a writing career is by writing for your local papers --mackerel wrappers we call them, in downeast Carolina. I wrote for several papers when I lived in Princeton, NJ, and the work was amazingly helpful.

Last, buy one or two of the books I've recommended under WRITING TIPS on this site, to help you do your very best writing.

3. How can I get your book about a dyslexic child?

The book is Aunt Morbelia and the Screaming Skulls, plus its sequel, Beware the Ravens, Aunt Morbelia. Both of Todd's stories are currently out of print, sad to say, but used copies are still available online. I created Todd Fearing because I know so many wonderful dyslexic kids, and I feel that kids and adults need to understand more about this learning problem. But I get little joy from "problem novels," so I wrote fast-paced, funny books about a boy with dyslexia.

Aunt Morbelia, an older, former teacher who has moved in with Todd's family, figures out how to help him, but she is tricky to live with, and she tells ghost stories that scare Todd, even though they delight his friends. Also, Aunt M sees bad omens in the darndest places. (Did you know that parsley is an unlucky plant?) She also bakes fresh bread and rolls that Todd and his friends adore. Aunt Morbelia is a true dilemma. How Todd resolves the situation is what keeps readers reading.
     Aunt Morbelia and the Screaming Skulls was a Starred Review in School Library Journal and listed on many statewide Reader's Choice Lists.

Beware the Ravens, Aunt Morbelia, also published by Little, Brown, is an English mystery that takes Aunt M back to the ancestral Fearing estate in England. Todd and best friend Jeff accompany her, but no one is prepared for the weird events that follow. Reviewers loved this book, thankfully, but children's literature doesn't stay in print long today unless it wins major awards.

You might also want to read About Dyslexia, by Priscilla Vail. This book is widely recommended.

4. How Do I Inspire My Homeschooled Kids to Write?

Hoo, good question!
a) Let's start with reading what is on this site about the writing process.
I think you can inspire them to write in several ways, but it will take repetition. Writing is hard, but satisfying. Young writers have to write enough times to begin to feel more comfortable doing it, and feel themselves inching toward the satisfation of it all.

b) Always write yourself when you ask your students to write.

c) Read finished work aloud. Students find many of their own errors by reading their work aloud. You have to read aloud also.

d) Do not always correct grammatical errors. Sometimes correct only for organization.

e) Stress outlining. An outline is a road map. It makes the job easier and faster, giving the writer more confidence. A bad outline can be scrapped if the writer hates it, and a new, better outline designed.

f) Read part way into a story and stop, letting the students finish the story in their own ways.

g)Offer a helpful prompt, such as: My worst nightmare was.... My best memory is.... My idea of a perfect dog (or cat) is.... Some children think they can never get a good idea and depend on prompts to get going.

h)Stream-of-consciousness writing is another good way to get going. Type out a page of your own stream-of-consciousness writing with no punctuation or capitalization WHATSOEVER. Ask your students to read the page. This exercise usually makes the point about punctuation, which is so important for readers. So is capitalization. I give my students part of the benjy section from Faulkner's The Sound and The Fury. Their eyes glaze over and they pay excellent attention to punctuation after that.

Good luck, and don't give up. Write some every day, even if only for 15 minutes. We all basically teach ourselves how to write. Frequent writing is key.

5. Excellent books for slow readers

Shorter books for older kids have always been in demand, fortunately. I can't list dozens, but a children's librarian will be of great help to you and your son. Let’s begin with some excellent books with gripping titles and fast-moving plots:

Rick Riordan's books, e.g., The Lightning Thief, (Percy Jackson and the Olympians), --all other wonderful titles!

 Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen. (Paulsen writes fast-paced books, set outdoors, that really appeal to boys)

The Stone Fox, by Gardiner (Alaska—sled dog race)

The Pinballs, by Betsy Byars (3 orphans in one foster home—well-written, realistic, very funny, very thoughtful)

–my own books for boys are not lengthy, also funny and realistic—try one

David Macaulay’s books that are half art, half factual information. Some titles are Ship, Unbuilding, Pyramid, Cathedral, Castle—all award-winners

Maniac Magee, by Jerry Spinelli—a mite longer, but gripping

Diary of a Monster’s Son, by Ellen Conford (very funny)

Gone-A-Whaling, by Jim Murphy (factual literature, and another award-winning author)

 

Note: Your son may prefer factual literature. Many boys do, and since we live in the Golden Age of factual lit for kids…how lucky!!!  Also…your son probably just reached the age when he should be reading alone, so don’t feel that you’ve wasted time. Start with short reading periods for a few weeks, than add only 5 minutes. Later on, add 5 minutes more, but move slowly so you don’t spook him.
Be sure your ADD child gets LOTS of exercise so that he’s ready to be still for a while and focus on a book. Learning to read for both pleasure and information is one of the most important skills we learn, as you know. Best of luck!

6. Need some Great Read-Aloud Titles?

Basically, you want the very best writing you can find, because it will read better. Today's writing is heavy on dialogue, which always is fun to read, and fun to listen to. Reading aloud reveals where the writing or story "bogs down," and that's why professional writers always read their work aloud--to themselves. And to any who will listen. Your family will most appreciate stories that move right along. They'll enjoy being pulled into a tense situation, full of conflict. They'll love humor. With all these ideas in mind, here are some titles for you to consider. Whenever you find an author your family likes, read more by that writer! Pay no attention to the target age of a book. If it's good enough, everybody will enjoy it!

The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

Skink, by Carl Haissen

Babe The Gallant Pig, by Dick King-Smith

Harry Potter series---These read aloud extremely well. Lots of tension, conflict, and humor.

Gary Paulsen's books, e.g., Hatchet; Winterdance (running the Iditarod--true); The Foxman; Dogsong, etc.

All Creatures Great and Small, by James Herriot (country vet in England; wit and heartwarming)

Enslaved by Ducks, by Bob Tarte--hilarious true stories of a couple and their "pets"

Cold Sassy Tree, by Olive Ann Burns

Anything by Mark Twain, esp. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson (funny attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail)

Books by Katherine Paterson, esp. The Great Gilly Hopkins; Lyddie; et.al.

Books by Leon Garfield--set in 18th/19th century England; gripping; great characters--one of the best writers for young people in the 20th century. All ages love his books.

Books by Richard Peck, esp. A Long Way From Chicago, A Year Down Yonder; Fair Weather; and The Teacher's Funeral

Happy Reading