Wednesday, October 29, 2014



I grew up on a diet of mysteries and adventure stories. You know the fare if you’re of my generation – Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, all the Enid Blyton books, boarding school stories, the Black Stallion series, Tolkien and The Hobbit and so on. Pure fun and escapism for the most part. Books about divorce, suicide, drugs, depression and war just didn’t exist for kids.

I loved books. I devoured books. And I wrote my own long rambling stories, stealing plots and characters from my favourite books without the slightest guilt. I think it’s because I wanted to be that character in the book I was reading or writing – I wanted to ride that black stallion, crawl into the smuggler’s tunnel, have midnight feasts at boarding school. Basically I wanted to BE in the book. Do kids feel the same way about the books they read today?

Kids today have access to such a wide range of books, much more than I ever had. But what kind of books are they? In the latest Quill and Quire I saw a review for a  book which deals with rape and suicide with the disclaimer that it might be too disturbing to a twelve year old. Twelve?  Really? I’m not saying that there’s not an important place for this kind of book (I wrote a young adult novel called If Only that deals with sexual assault) but more and more I’m starting to think that the dark disturbing books are taking over our library shelves and bookstores. There is even a recently published picture book that is set in a concentration camp!

My nephew and daughter, both great readers, turned to fantasy, I suspect,  because they weren’t interested in reading about contemporary teens with dreadful unhappy lives.

Back to my question: do kids want to be inside the book the way I did? Some may identify with the character’s problems but do they actually want to climb into the book and be that character? I’m not sure they do. And for me, that was the magic of a really great kids book.



Wednesday, October 15, 2014



“Picture book writers don’t have the novelist’s luxury to creep into a story. Your opening has to be quick, grabbing the audience from the get-go.”

That’s a quote from Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul

I know that. It’s . . . . well, a no-brainer.  She goes on to say that a strong opening addresses the questions WHO IS YOUR MAIN CHARACTER? And WHAT DOES YOUR CHARACTER WANT?

In my picture book that is out in the wide world right now, looking for a home,  my main character wants to buy a special birthday present for his grandfather. It took me five sentences before I got to that. Five sentences too many! And the frustrating thing is, I didn’t realize that until I’d sent the manuscript out to twelve different publishers!

Help! Can I get it back? Nope.

What was I thinking???

I actually had the manuscript sealed in a brown envelope and waiting on my kitchen table, ready to go out again, when I went for a walk (Oh, the power of walks!) and had my great epiphany. I raced home, tore open the envelope and rewrote the beginning.

Now my FIRST sentence is: Felix didn’t have a birthday present for Grandad.

How could I have made such a mistake? How did I not see something so obvious . . .  and so important? A  painful lesson but I won’t make that mistake again.

And by the way, I don’t agree with the statement that novelists can creep into a story. Certainly not authors of kids novels! You need to plunge the reader into the story with your first sentence – introduce your character and at least hint at the  conflict that lies ahead.