Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books

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Writing Contests for September 2020

Erica Verillo compiled this list of writing contests at Published To Death. None of the following 29 writing contests charge an entry fee. The prizes vary from being published to $10,000. The contests include various genres and forms.

Helen Schaible Shakespearean/Petrarchan Sonnet ContestGenre: Poetry. Prize: $50, 2nd Prize $35, 3rd Prize $15, three Honorable Mentions, three Special Recognitions. Deadline: September 1, 2020.

AILACT Essay PrizeGenre: Papers related to the teaching or theory of informal logic or critical thinking, and papers on argumentation theory. Prize: $700 top prize. Deadline: September 1, 2020.

The Sator New Works AwardGenre: Debut book-length work of fiction or non-fiction by an author who identifies as trans or nonbinary. Prize: $2,500 advance and publication. Deadline: September 1, 2020.

American-Scandinavian Foundation Translation PrizesGenre: English translations of poetry, fiction, drama, or literary prose originally written in Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian, or Swedish by a Scandinavian author born after 1800. Prize: $2,500. Deadline: September 1, 2020.

PEN Prison Writing ContestRestrictions: Anyone incarcerated in a federal, state, or county prison in the year before the September 1 deadline is eligible to enter. Genres: Poetry, fiction, drama, creative nonfiction. Prize: $200 top prize per category. Deadline: September 1, 2020.

Stories Out of SchoolGenre: Flash fiction. The story’s protagonist, or its narrator, must be a K-12 teacher. Stories must be between 6 and 749 words and previously unpublished. Prize: First-prize winners receive $1000; second-prize winners, $500. Deadline: September 1, 2020.

IWSGGenre: Science Fiction. Theme: Dark Matter. Word count: 4500-6000. Prize: The winning stories will be edited and published by Dancing Lemur Press’ imprint Freedom Fox Press next year in the IWSG anthology. Authors will receive royalties on books sold, both print and eBook. The top story will have the honor of giving the anthology its title. Deadline: September 2, 2020.

#PitMad Pitch Party. #PitMad is a pitch party on Twitter where writers tweet a 280-character pitch for their completed, polished, unpublished manuscripts. Agents and editors make requests by liking/favoriting the tweeted pitch. Every unagented writer is welcome to pitch. All genres/categories are welcomed. Deadline: September 3, 2020.

On The Premises Short Story Contest. “For this contest, write a creative, compelling, well-crafted story between 1,000 and 5,000 words long in which either a specific scent, or the sense of smell in general, is important to the story.” Prize: Winners receive between US$60 and US$220, and publication. Deadline: September 4, 2020.

Hubert Butler Essay PrizeRestrictions: Open to European Union citizens aged 18+. Genre: Essay on theme “Communal solidarity and individual freedom: antagonists or allies?” 3,000 words max. Prize: Up to 1,000 pounds. Deadline: September 4, 2020.

The Gotham “Manuscript-to-Market” FellowshipRestrictions: Open to people of color who have completed a book manuscript (or nonfiction book proposal) and are ready to go to market with their book. Three fellowships will be offered every year. Prize: Admittance to the Gotham Writers Conference—the panels and presentations as well as a seat at a pitching roundtable with two agents in your genre. The Gotham course How to Get Published or Nonfiction Book Proposal. A one-on-one Agent Evaluation session and a  Query Letter Coaching session, both with a literary agent. Deadline: September 8, 2020.

Young Lions Fiction AwardRestrictions: Open to US citizens 35 years of age or younger. Genre: Novel or a collection of short stories. Each year, five young fiction writers are selected as finalists by a reading committee of Young Lions members, writers, editors, and librarians. Submissions by publisher only. Authors may not submit their own work. Prize: $10,000.00. Deadline: September 11, 2020.

Green Stories Writing CompetitionGenre: Children’s books about building a sustainable society.  Prize: £200 for best pre-school/illustrated book (aimed at age 2-6) and £200 for best novel in young reader’s category. Deadline: September 14, 2020.

Artist Trust: La Salle Storyteller Award. Restrictions: Open to residents of Washington State. Students enrolled in a degree-granting program are ineligible. Genre: Fiction. Grant: $10,000.   Deadline: September 14, 2020.

Toni Beauchamp Prize in Critical Art WritingGenre: Scholarly essay. All work submitted must have been written or published within the last year. Prize: $3,000. Deadline: September 15, 2020.

What’s Your Story? Restrictions: Open to Victorian residents. (Australia) Genre: Poetry, short stories, CNF. Prize: $500. Deadline: September 15, 2020.

Toi Derricotte & Cornelius Eady Chapbook PrizeRestrictions: Open to Black poets. Genre: Chapbook-length poetry manuscript. Prize: $500 and publication. Deadline: September 15, 2020.

The QueryLetter:com Writing ContestGenre: Back cover blurb of 100 words or fewer that sets the stage for a novel, establishes the characters, and raises the stakes in a way that makes readers want to find out more. Prize: $500 top prize. Deadline: September 15, 2020.

Harvill Secker Young Translators’ PrizeRestrictions: Open to anyone between the ages of 18 and 34. Genre: Short story translation from Japanese to English. Entrants will translate ‘Yakyoku’ by Yusho Takiguchi. Prize: £1,000.00. Deadline: September 16, 2020.

Three Cheers and a Tiger. Genre: Science fiction/fantasy short story. Prize: Winning stories are published in the December issue of Toasted Cheese. If 50 or fewer eligible entries are received, first place receives a $35 Amazon gift card & second a $10 Amazon gift card. If 51 or more eligible entries are received, first place receives a $50 Amazon gift card, second a $15 Amazon gift card & third a $10 Amazon gift card. Deadline: September 20, 2020. Opens September 18.

Bodley Head/Financial Times Essay PrizeRestrictions: open to anyone between 18 and 35 years old. Genre: “A dynamic, authoritative and lively essay of no more than 3,500 words in English, on any subject.” Prize: £1,500 cash and an e-publication with The Bodley Head, publication in the FT of their winning essay and a mentoring session with The Bodley Head. Two runners-up will win £500 cash each and an e-publication with The Bodley Head. Deadline: September 24, 2020.

Cullman Center FellowshipsFellowship. The Cullman Center’s Selection Committee awards up to 15 fellowships a year to outstanding scholars and writers—academics, independent scholars, journalists, and creative writers. Foreign nationals conversant in English are welcome to apply. Award: A stipend of up to $70,000, an office, a computer, and full access to the Library’s physical and electronic resources. Deadline: September 25, 2020.

Iowa Short Fiction and John Simmons Short Fiction AwardsGenre: Short story collection. The manuscript must be a collection of short stories in English of at least 150 word-processed, double-spaced pages. Prize: Publication by the University of Iowa Press, royalties. Deadline: September 30, 2020.

Jerry Jazz Musician Fiction ContestGenre: Short fiction. Prize: $100. Deadline: September 30, 2020.

L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest is held four times a year. Restrictions: The Contest is open only to those who have not professionally published a novel or short novel, or more than one novelette, or more than three short stories, in any medium. Professional publication is deemed to be payment of at least six cents per word, and at least 5,000 copies, or 5,000 hits. Genre: Short stories or novelettes of science fiction or fantasy. Prizes: $1,000, $750, $500, Annual Grand Prize: $5,000.  Deadline: September 30, 2020.

Victoria Literary Festival Writing CompetitionGenre: Short story: 1500 words, taking into consideration the theme of the 2019 VLF festival: Hats Off. Prize: First prize will receive 350 CDN$ with four runners up receiving 50 CDN$ each. Deadline: September 30, 2020.

Johnson and Amoy Achong Caribbean Writers PrizeRestrictions: Open to writers of Caribbean birth or citizenship, living and working in the Anglophone Caribbean and writing in English, over the age of 18 by 30 September, 2018 and have no previously published a book-length work in the genre in which they are making a submission.Genre: Literary non-fiction work in progress.    Prize: $20,000TT (or the equivalent in US dollars). Deadline: September 30, 2020.

Owl Canyon Press Short Story HackathonGenre: Short story. ” Writers are invited to create and submit a short story consisting of 50 paragraphs. The contest provides the first and last paragraph and the short story writer crafts the rest.” Prize: First prize is $1000, 2nd prize is $500, and 3rd prize is $250 with the winning short story published in an ebook short story anthology for Amazon, as well as an invitation to give a public reading at Inkberry Books in Niwot, CO. Twenty-four (24) Finalists will also have their short stories included in this ebook anthology. Deadline: September 30, 2020.

Michael Marks Awards for Poetry PamphletsRestrictions: Poetry pamphlet. Only pamphlets published in the United Kingdom between September 2018 and this year’s closing date are eligible. Genre: Poetry. Prize: £5,000. Deadline: September 30, 2020.

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Interview with Children’s Author Lee Bennett Hopkins

Lee Bennett Hopkins is recognized as “the world’s most prolific anthologist of poetry for children” by Guinness World Records. He has received the Christopher Award for his BEEN TO YESTERDAYS: POEMS OF A LIFE (Boyds Mills Press/Wordsong). Among many other honors include the National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, the Regina Medal, and induction into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.

For what age audience do you write?

I write for all ages. I have written professional books, picture books, novels, poetry, and have compiled over 120 anthologies, including the first I CAN READ POETRY BOOK, SURPRISES (HarperCollins).

Henry: Wow!

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book, WORLD MAKE WAY is a collection of especially-commissioned poetry, all inspired by art from The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the largest museum in the Western Hemisphere, and the world’s most encyclopedic art museum. I was thrilled when I was approached by Abrams Books for Young Readers to engage in this project.

Henry: Who wouldn’t be thrilled?

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

Looking at artwork by such masters as Mary Cassatt, Fernando Botero, Winslow Homer, and the contemporary work of Kerry James Marshall, and reading poems written from hearts of America’s greatest poets writing today including Marilyn Nelson, Naomi Shihab Nye, Carole Boston Weatherford, brings together an aesthetic experience for readers of all ages to appreciate. It is of utmost importance we bring the arts into children’s lives.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Writing of any kind is challenging. Poetry, in particular, is among the most difficult genre, being able to create brief stories with limited words that must fall in place like chords in a symphony. Not only does each word count, each syllable must be thought out.

Henry: Yes. I jokingly send novice rhyming picture book writers to http://www.dontdorhyme.com.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?

Reaching children to bring books into their lives is not only a powerful lesson, but a powerful responsibility. Reading is powerful. It can change minds, hearts, and generations of being.

Henry: True. “With great power, comes great responsibility.”

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

My life has been blessed with so many memorable experiences. To reach the age of 80 and have a book such as WORLD MAKE WAY appear is like an out-of-body experience. To be in the Met! To bring poets’ words into the Met! To pair their work with artistic masterpieces. It is as Julie Fogliano writes in “Cat Watching Spider” based on a work by Oide Toko, ‘…all prowl and prance/and teeth and claws”. Centuries after art was produced poets are writing about the artist’s work. What a tribute to our culture.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Read, read, read. It will help you find your own voice.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

A favorite quote of mine comes from Langston Hughes’s poem “Dreams: Hold fast to dreams…”. I truly believe if we do hold fast, dreams will come true. Thanks, Lang, for your insight.

Henry: On a first-name basis, are we? Impressive.

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you work?

Not really. I am very intense at whatever I’m writing.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

To bring peace to the world, to have each and every person treated with respect and dignity, to be a world of one.

Henry: You have my vote.

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

Langston Hughes, Walt Whitman and Carl Sandburg. We could possibly change the world before dessert.

Henry: I would happily cook that dinner for you.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

Shop! And shop I do.

Henry: Like a boss.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

R.I.P. – He Rests In Poetry.

Henry: Well played, sir.

Where can readers find your work?

See my site at http://www.leebennetthopkins.com

Henry: Thank you for spending time with us!

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Interview with NY Times bestselling children’s author Nikki Grimes

New York Times bestselling author Nikki Grimes is the recipient of the 2006 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. Her distinguished works include ALA Notable book WHAT IS GOODBYE?, Coretta Scott King Award winner BRONX MASQUERADE, and Coretta Scott King Author Honor books JAZMIN’S NOTEBOOK, TALKIN’ ABOUT BESSIE, DARK SONS, THE ROAD TO PARIS, and WORDS WITH WINGS. Creator of the popular MEET DANITRA BROWN, Ms. Grimes lives in Corona, California.


For what age audience do you write?

I write books for all ages, from board books to adult historical fiction.  My books run the genre gammit: poetry, prose, biography, historical fiction, novels and novels-in-verse.

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book is POEMS IN THE ATTIC, a picture book story-in-verse about a little girl who discovers poems written by her mom when her mother was a girl.  Mom grew up as a military brat, and her poems reflect special memories of the places in which her family was stationed.  The book is written in paired poems, one set from the daughter’s point of view, the other set from the mother’s.  The form of poetry switches back and forth between free verse and tanka.

Henry: Wikipedia helpfully offers: “Tanka is a genre of classical Japanese poetry and one of the major genres of Japanese literature. Tanka consist of five units (often treated as separate lines when romanized or translated) usually with the following pattern: 5-7-5-7-7.” An example by Ishikawa Takuboku:

On the white sand
Of the beach of a small island
In the Eastern Sea
I, my face streaked with tears,
Am playing with a crab

What do you hope readers will get from that book?

Growing up in a military family, with the frequent absence of one parent, plus the constant reassignment from one post to another, one city, or even one country to another, can be challenging for a child. There’s nothing children can do to change that circumstance, of course, but they can control how they mark those times of transition, and those periods of parental absence.  Capturing their thoughts, feelings and experiences in poetry can be a powerful, positive way to navigate the challenges.  Writing is also a way to celebrate the unique and wonderful adventures of living in different places.  In fact, poetry can be a powerful tool for any child facing his or her own challenges, whether they’re from a military family or not.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

The first draft of a novel, because it can be excruciatingly difficult to power through the story, from beginning to end, without stopping, and I need to do that.  Otherwise, I risk losing the thread of the story.  The temptation is always to stop and make corrections, or edits along the way. If you do, you lose both the momentum, and the thread, which is always tenuous, in the beginning.  Think spider’s web.  So, my rule is to write first, edit second!  Rewrites are for revisions, not first drafts!

Henry: Thank goodness I write picture books of 500 words or less.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?

Words matter. I get letters from readers around the corner, and from around the world, who write to tell me that my words have inspired, moved, comforted, or challenged them in some significant way. Sometimes my words have changed the way they think, or motivated them to change the way they behave, or how they treat their classmates or their parents. They tell me that my words have turned them into avid readers where, once, they didn’t like to read at all. At other times, my words have awakened in them a desire to write, themselves.

Words are powerful. That’s the lesson!

Henry: Can I get an Amen!

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

Dinner with President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush, at the Library of Congress, and breakfast with the First Lady at The White House. I attended both as an author invited to the National Book Festival. I’ve been three times, but this first was most memorable.

Henry: Um, AWESOME!!

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Read, read, read and write, write, write. You cannot be a good writer without first being a good reader. Read broadly and deeply because every genre has something to teach you. And write voraciously because writing is a muscle that needs to be exercised. Otherwise, you won’t grow as a wordsmith or a storyteller. Finally, hone your craft patiently before seeking publication. Don’t shortchange yourself, or your audience, by sending your story out into the world before it is the very best that it can be.

Henry: Ah, but that raises the follow-up question, “How do you know when it’s ready to submit?”

Do you have any favorite quotes?

I don’t have any favorite quotes, but there is a Swahili saying I’m partial to: “Pole, pole, tu ta fika.” It means “slowly, slowly, we will arrive.” It reminds me to be patient with myself, and with my work. Patience, as I like to tell young writers, is the difference between a good book and a great one.

Henry: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time” and “Patience is what you get, when you didn’t get what you wanted”

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?

Not really. I often pray over my work, but I don’t consider that strange. I pray over every important aspect of my life. It’s just natural.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

I wouldn’t want a superpower—too much responsibility. It’s tough enough being a regular human being, trying to live with integrity. A superpower would just throw me out of balance.

Henry: Clearly, you are not cut out to become a villain. The image of Galadriel refusing the One Ring of Power just flashed in my head.

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

Anne Lamott, Toni Morrison, and Lucille Clifton. I’ve met two of the three, but would relish the opportunity to spend an evening with them all because I admire their strength, their faith, and their full immersion into the world of lyrical language and linguistic invention. They not only move me, but they all excite a sweet literary jealousy. They make me want to be a better writer! That is reason enough.

Henry: Wikipedia helpfully offers:

Anne Lamott is an American novelist and non-fiction writer. She is also a progressive political activist, public speaker, and writing teacher. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, her nonfiction works are largely autobiographical. Marked by their self-deprecating humor and openness, Lamott’s writings cover such subjects as alcoholism, single-motherhood, depression, and Christianity.

Toni Morrison is an American novelist, editor, and professor. Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed characters. Among her best known novels are THE BLUEST EYE, SULA, SONG OF SOLOMON and BELOVED. She won the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award in 1988 for BELOVED and the Nobel Prize in 1993. On May 29, 2012, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Lucille Clifton was an American poet, writer, and educator from Buffalo, New York. From 1979 to 1985 she was Poet Laureate of Maryland. Frequent topics in her poetry include the celebration of her African-American heritage, women’s experience, and the female body. She was also nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

Unicorn because, like the wild horses that inspired them, they are noble creatures.

Henry: With notable exceptions, as in UNICORN THINKS HE’S PRETTY GREAT by Bob Shea. 🙂

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Usually some form of art. I knit, make beaded jewelry, make hand made cards and journals, paint watercolors, and mixed-media art pieces. I enjoy nothing so much as making art.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

Here lies a woman of integrity.

Henry: “lies” and “integrity” are giving me cognitive dissonance. 🙂

Where can readers find your work?

My books can be found at independent bookstores, bookstore chains, Barnes & Nobel, and Amazon.com. If a brick and mortar store doesn’t have the title you want, (I’ve published more than 60), just ask them to order it for you. If you’re not sure what titles are available, check my website. There you’ll find titles, reviews, excerpts and, in a few cases, audio clips.

This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.


Interview with picture book author/illustrator Douglas Florian

Douglas Florian has written and illustrated more than fifty children’s books including beast feast, winner of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, MAMMALABILA, winner of the Claudia Lewis Poetry Award, and INSECTLOPEDIA, a national bestseller featured on National Public Radio and The Today Show. He has recited his poetry at Carnegie Hall, The White House, and The Museum of Modern Art in New York.


For what age audience do you write?

I think most of my books can be appreciated by all ages of people, but my favorite audience to recite my poetry is second and third graders. They are my biggest laughers.

Tell us about your latest book.

In my newest book, HOW TO DRAW A DRAGON, I show boys and girls how they too can draw dragons while enjoying such things as a bike ride, soaring flight, violin lesson, and marshmallow roast. The end papers give some practical tips, and the ending has a big fold-out surprise. The idea for this book took shape at a school library in Houston, Texas, where a humongous dragon was suspended below the ceiling.

Henry: Dragons AND marshmallows!? Sign me up!

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

I’m sure readers will enjoy the wide variety of dragons and start creating their own dragons and dragon adventures.

Henry: I also think drawing dragons should be added to Common Core requirements.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

The most challenging aspect of writing is to keep things fresh and also create something new and different from what I’ve done before. I want each book to be better than the one’s I did before. It’s also a challenge to make sure my facts are accurate if I’m incorporating information in a poem.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?

I think it’s important to believe in your own work and to constantly improve it, but at the same time to be open to suggestions from an editor or designer. My book HOW TO DRAW A DRAGON went through many changes, but in the end it soared as high as it could.

Henry: Yes, book publishing is truly a team effort.

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

It’s been a great pleasure to recite my poems and show my artwork to students across the country. The response I get from them is inspiring and deeply rewarding.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

My advice would be keep your eyes open, keep your ears open, and keep your mind open. Read a lot. Write a lot. And re-write a lot.

Henry: Yes, the concept of revision is alien to many people, particularly young people.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

Nobody is sure where this originated but someone once said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” I have found that to be true in most cases. I also like this quote from the scientist Niels Bohr: “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.”

Henry: “Fortune favors the prepared.” And don’t get me started on quantum mechanics…

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?

Yes, I only write when there is a full moon. I’m just joking. My only writing ritual is to have no ritual. I can write any time, any place. In fact I just wrote a chapter book while writing this sentence.

Henry: Damn, you’re good!

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

I would like to have four or five clones so I would have more time to do all the things I want to do, like fly to Mars.

Henry: And think of all the writing that clone could accomplish on the long commute to Mars!

If you could have three authors (alive or dead) over for dinner, who would it be?

I don’t think I would want a dead author at the dinner table, but if I could bring three authors back to life I would enjoy meeting Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, and Emily Dickinson. Twain because he was so witty, saying such things as “The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” Poe, because I think he would be creepy, scary, and spooky, and it’s good be creeped, scared, and spooked once in a while. Lastly, Emily Dickinson because she is one of my favorite poets. Meeting her would be a unique and memorable experience, and she wouldn’t hog all the food, I imagine.

Henry: There was a dead poets society, so why not a dead authors dinner? After such a dinner, the expression “neither the twain shall meet” would take on new meaning for Poe and Dickinson.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

I’m partial to dragons, and they, unfortunately, are partial to me.

Henry: Gee, I did not see that coming.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I usually like to track down tarantulas, komodo dragons, and boa constrictors. Actually, I love to read or go to an art museum.

Henry: You just gave me a picture book idea: Kimono Dragons.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

His day is done. His time is through. He wrote a witty poem or two.

Henry: The creatures he drew, many a mind blew. He’s run out of time; here’s his last rhyme.

Where can readers find your work?

In Outer Mongolia and libraries through the world.

Henry: Your works are ubiquitous, though they haven’t yet reached Inner Mongolia.

This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.

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The 8 Essential Kinds of Books That Every Kid Should Own

from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-m-burns/essential-kinds-of-books-that-every-kid-should-own_b_6327148.html

I’ve never been a big fan of lists like “50 Books Your Kid HAS to Read” or “The 100 Best Children’s Books OF ALL TIME.” Typically, they make my blood pressure spike, tossing me between joy (“Ooh, good pick!”) and rage (“No Sylvester and the Magic Pebble? Those Philistines!”), and I spend more time debating their selection criteria and omissions than enjoying their recommendations. That said, I do think there are certain TYPES of books that every kid should be exposed to — the kinds of books that truly introduce them to the best of what the written word has to offer.

Here are my (very subjective) picks for the EIGHT essential kinds of books that every kid should have in his or her home library:

1. Board books.

Board books are more of a format than a literary genre, but their impact can be profound. They are the training wheels of literature. They can be given to crazy little toddlers, and those ankle-biters can browse them, chew on them, do whatever they want with them… those thick cardboard pages will ENDURE. They teach kids that books are there to stay, AND they allow their chubby little fingers to perfect the art of the page flip, which is possibly the greatest technical innovation in the history of reading. (Sorry, eReaders, but you can’t compete with the awesome power of the perfectly-placed page turn.)

2. Mythology.

Our world has a ridiculously rich and involved cultural history, and it would be a shame not to introduce your child to it at a young age. And I’m not just talking about Greek myths, which, granted, can have a bit too much god/animal coupling for young readers. I’m talking about the stories, the BIG STORIES, that everyone in our world knows. The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Cinderella, Noah and the Flood, Scheherazade’s One Thousand and One Nights, stories of Anansi, King Arthur, Superman, and Strega Nona — the foundational stories. The stories that are referenced throughout every other story your kids will be reading for the rest of their lives. That foundation HAS to be laid somewhere, and it should start at home.

3. Books you loved as a kid.

It’s true that you can’t expect your child to have the exact same taste as you, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to share your favorite books with your kid. At the very least, it will show him or her what it looks like when a book truly has a profound effect on a person, when a book is treasured and loved. And who knows? They may surprise you.


4. Books that suit their personality.

This may be hard to hear, but if your kids love talking about farts, burps, and boogers, you should buy them some books about farts, burps, and boogers. That doesn’t mean that you should ONLY let them read about what they want — but if you really want your kids to enjoy reading, they have to know that their interests are represented in the books they read, even if those interests are completely incomprehensible.

5. Poetry.

I know a lot of adults who don’t enjoy reading poetry personally, but I can’t stress enough how powerful poetry can be for young readers. If normal prose is a Volvo, poetry is a Lamborghini — it takes language, floors the accelerator, and really shows you what words can do. Poets like Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein teach kids that, when assembled correctly — even in ways that don’t seem to make sense — words can make a person feel a ridiculously deep range of emotions, and kids LOVE THAT.

6. Nonfiction books.

Because kids can’t learn about the world from the Internet alone. Because the Internet won’t stay still. Because kids always know that they’re one click away from a video of a monkey peeing into its own mouth. But nonfiction books, the best kind, offer the real world to a child as a beautifully-wrapped gift, and allow them explore and peruse and ponder at their own pace. Atlases, shark books, histories, biographies, encyclopedias, and collections of oddities — they all take kids by the hand and introduce them to the weird, wonderful world in a way that a web page simply can’t.

7. Books that are too old for them.

A kid can’t survive on Goodnight Moon alone. Eventually, every kid is going to be ready for the next step in their reading evolution, and it’s a good idea to have some of those books handy. Because reading should be aspirational. Kids should want to master board books, so they can move up to picture books, so they can graduate to chapter books, and so on. And having those books in your house as a target, as a goal, as something to be coveted, can be really motivating to a young child in a positive way. You want to read Harry Potter one day? Let’s work on getting there together…

8. Blank books.

2014-12-15-essential3.jpgOne of the best gifts I ever gave my daughter was a blank notebook. Because that notebook was an invitation — an invitation to write her own stories. An invitation that said she had just as much potential to write something great as ANY other author on her bookshelf. All she had to do was try. Sometimes she writes about her day; sometimes she writes terrible fan fiction; sometimes she writes nonsense. But every time she writes anything, she’s learning how to use her tools. She’s learning how stories are made, and, in my experience, that connection to the written word only makes her love reading all the more.


There are many other kinds of books that I love sharing with my kid — picture books, comic books, funny books, sad books, photography books — but most of them fall into one of the eight categories I’ve listed above. They’re all variations on universal themes, and introducing those themes to my daughter has been one of the most satisfying parts of being a parent.


This post originally appeared on Building a Library: Finding the Right Books for Your Kid.


Interview with picture book author Alison McGhee

Alison McGhee began writing novels, for adults, and then branched out into books and poems and essays and stories for all ages. “Have laptop, will write,” is her motto, and that means that she writes wherever she is: hotel rooms, airplanes, her kitchen table, coffee shops, bakeries, you name it, she’s happy to sit down and write. She is happiest when cooking, baking, playing games, dancing and laughing with the people she most loves.



For what age audience do you write?

I write for all ages and in all forms: poetry, novels, picture books, chapter books, blogs, essays, Facebook posts. Writing in a new form feels like a huge and scary challenge for me, and I like huge and scary challenges, which probably explains why I keep trying out new genres.

Henry: Huge and scary challenge is right. Writing novels is a completely different animal than writing picture books. And soon you will run out of new genres. Oh, the humanity!

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book comes out in the late fall. It’s called STAR BRIGHT, and it’s sort of a Christmas story. A young angel knows that a baby’s about to be born and she wants to give him the perfect gift. But she’s so small, and the world is so huge, and she doesn’t know what to do.

Henry: Some people are just very hard to buy for…

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

I hope that readers will know that the perfect gift is one that brings light, in a tiny or huge way, to someone else.

Henry: Like the gift of a good story! Well played.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Even though I’ve been writing almost every day since the day I got out of college, I still find it nearly impossible to sit down and begin. I fret and avoid and get angry at myself and silently yell at myself just to SIT DOWN AND WRITE, and yet it’s still so hard.

Henry: Life is filled with distractions. And yet, distractions are what feed our muse.

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

When someone writes to me, or comes up to me at a reading, and tells me quietly that something I wrote gave them the strength to keep going when they didn’t think they could. That something I wrote made them feel that they weren’t alone.

Henry: Nice. I once had a parent tell me that their kid will now eat mushrooms after reading my book NIMPENTOAD. So, I got that going on.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“A diamond is a piece of coal that stuck with the job.”

Henry: A high pressure job, though. 

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

I’d fly! With just my arms! My whole life I’ve dreamed of flying, swooping up and over mountains, skimming through the air, hovering on the wind like a hawk or an eagle. This is my favorite dream. It was also, come to think of it, the inspiration behind my picture book “Only a Witch Can Fly.”

Henry: SCUBA diving is like flying underwater.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I love to travel. I travel constantly, by car and plane and foot. I’m a lifelong adventurer. 

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

“She was kind.”

Where can readers find your work?

They can find my work in bookstores, both brick and mortar and online.

This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.

Click to Tweet: Interview with picture book author Alison McGhee at http://wp.me/p31Xf4-Jr via @Nimpentoad


Interview with legendary children’s book author Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen, often called “the Hans Christian Andersen of America” (Newsweek) is the author of well over 335 books (she has lost count), including OWL MOON, THE DEVIL’S ARITHMETIC, and HOW DO DINOSAURS SAY GOODNIGHT. Her work has won an assortment of awards–two Nebulas, a World Fantasy Award, a Caldecott, the Golden Kite Award, three Mythopoeic awards, two Christopher Medals, a nomination for the National Book Award, and the Jewish Book Award, among many others. She has been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize. She is also the winner (for body of work) of the World Fantasy Assn. Lifetime Achievement Award, Science Fiction Poetry Association Grand Master Award, the Catholic Library’s Regina Medal, the Kerlan Medal from the University of Minnesota, the 2012 du Grummond Medal, the Smith College Alumnae Medal. Six colleges and universities have given her honorary doctorates.

Henry: I’d call you the Leonardo da Vinci of American literature. Damn! Just, damn.


For what age audience do you write?

All ages, all genres except hard science. (Though I have written a lot of Natural Science.)

Tell us about your latest book.

These three books are my latest: ‘How Do Dinosaurs Say I’m Mad’ (Scholastic), ‘The Hostage Prince’ (middle grade fantasy, first book in the Seelie Wars Trilogy, Viking), and ‘Sister Fox’s Field Guide to Writing’ (adult poetry collection for Unsettling Wonder).

Henry: Indeed, Apatosaurus anger management was a literary niche waiting to be filled. Well played.

What do you hope readers will get from reading those books?

Enlightenment, entertainment, and an appreciation for poetry.

Henry: My poor poetry-writing ability is limited to limericks involving the word “Nantucket.”

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Getting editors to get back to me!

Henry: Hah! Well, editors are notoriously overworked. And with over 300 books under your belt, something tells me anyone would have trouble keeping up with you.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?

Never give up, revise, and keep my BIC (butt in chair).

Henry: For those not familiar with the term, BIC refers to focusing on doing the writing. Technically, if you prefer to write while standing or bathing, that is also acceptable.

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

Getting letters from children and grownups saying that my stories and poems and essays had changed their lives.

Henry: If only we could have gotten Vladimir Putin to read ‘How Do Dinosaurs Say I’m Mad?’

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

If you give up at the first rejection or the first bad review, you will never make it in publishing.

Henry: A writer must be thick-skinned. Like the Ankylosaurus!

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“Touch magic, pass it on.”

Henry: “See how she leans her cheek upon her hand. O, that I were a glove upon that hand. That I might touch that cheek!” ― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?


Henry: No hard rock music blasting in the background? No dinosaur models on a nearby shelf?

If you could have one superpower, what would it be? 

To bring world peace and the perfect story to the world.

Henry: Nothing like aiming high! And that is the most altruistic superpower anyone has mentioned on this blog.

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would you choose?

Emily Dickinson, James Thurber, and Isak Dinesen. Because they would make great conversation, tell amazing stories about their lives, and might possibly drop wisdom into my ear.

Henry: That’s a lovely trio. For the younger readers of this blog, Wikipedia helpfully elaborates:

“Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (1830 –1886) was an American poet. While Dickinson was a prolific private poet, fewer than a dozen of her nearly eighteen hundred poems were published during her lifetime. Dickinson’s poems are unique for the era in which she wrote; they contain short lines, typically lack titles, and often use slant rhyme as well as unconventional capitalization and punctuation. Many of her poems deal with themes of death and immortality.”

“James Grover Thurber (1894 –1961) was an American cartoonist, author, journalist, and celebrated wit. Thurber was best known for his cartoons and short stories, published mainly in The New Yorker magazine and collected in his numerous books. One of the most popular humorists of his time, Thurber celebrated the comic frustrations and eccentricities of ordinary people.”

“Karen von Blixen-Finecke (1885 – 1962), née Karen Christenze Dinesen, was a Danish author also known by her pen name Isak Dinesen. Blixen is best known for ‘Out of Africa’, her account of living in Kenya, and one of her stories, ‘Babette’s Feast’, both of which have been adapted into highly acclaimed, Academy Award-winning motion pictures.”

What do you like to do when you’re not writing? 

Read, go for a walk, watch a movie, go to live music or live theater, wander a museum or castle, or play with a grandchild.

Henry: The only castles nearby in which I can wander are in my imagination.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

She wrote many good books and one great one

Henry: I think it’s safe to say you’ve created a powerful legacy already.

Where can readers find your work?

Wherever books are sold or can be ordered, and in any school or public library. Also there are some on kindle and other ebook readers.

This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.

Click to Tweet: Interview with legendary children’s book author Jane Yolen http://wp.me/p31Xf4-Av via @Nimpentoad

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Interview with children’s book author & poet Ann Whitford Paul

Ann Whitford Paul became inspired to write after years of bedtime reading to her own children.  She has published nineteen books, including fiction and non-fiction, rhymed and unrhymed, early readers, a collection of poetry and an adult book ‘Writing Picture Books:  A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication’.


For what age audience do you write?

While I write primarily for the picture book audience, I have two stories that need to be told in a longer format, so am working on middle-grade novels. It’s a whole new way of writing, and I struggle, and sometimes enjoy, the process.

Tell us about your latest book.

One of my latest published books, ‘Word Builder’, is directed at elementary age students who are just beginning to write. It was originally a poem in a collection titled ‘Wonderful Words’ by Lee Bennett Hopkins. An editor thought it would make a great picture book. Talk about concise. It’s only 88 words.

This Christmas I’ll have a new book out titled ‘Twas the Late Night of Christmas’ – a retelling of the famous poem especially for exhausted parents. It is illustrated by the talented Nancy Hayashi.

Henry: 88 words!? Happily, picture book writers are not paid by the word. 🙂

What do you hope readers will get from reading ‘Word Builder’?

I hope they’ll learn that writing is not unlike construction work, writing one letter at a time, combining them into words, pounding words into sentences, stacking sentences into paragraphs, etc. I hope thinking about writing in that way will make it less scary.

Henry: I’m reminded of the old saying. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Easily first drafts. It’s so painful for me to get that down and it invariably is nothing like the idea I had in my mind. Unfortunately it’s only when I get it down that I can do the fun part of revising and shaping it into something I’m proud of.

Henry: Ditto for me. Revisions are easier than first drafts. That said, I can do a first draft on my own, while I find the involvement of critique group members invaluable to my revision process.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?

The most powerful lesson I’ve learned from being a writer is not to expect perfection right away, and that hard work pays off. I’d also add that talent is important, but not everything. More critical is your willingness to revise and to be persistent.

Henry: Indeed, I’ve heard that before. Successful writers must have strong craft and a strong work ethic.

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

Recently I visited a kindergarten classroom and met an autistic boy who loves my book ‘Manana Iguana’. He reads it many times a day, and keeps a copy in his classroom, one at his after-school center and one at home. I was so touched I sent him the rest of the books in the series.

Henry: Lovely story.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Read lots and write more. It’s been said that it takes 10,000 hours to master any skill, and I believe it. Keep on writing and ignore people who don’t support you in your dream.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” Gustave Flaubert

“Is there any prettier sight in the world than the sight of someone sticking their neck out?” Ursula Nordstrom

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?

None that I know of, but perhaps you should ask my husband that question.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Perhaps I’d like to be invisible. Then I could listen to conversations (only related to understanding character better) and apply those quirks and mannerisms to my books.

Henry: Ah, the old “fly on the wall” ploy. And you could indulge your childhood fantasy to be a CIA agent…

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

Jane Austen because I love her books—such strong characters and such well-constructed and well thought-out sentences. The letters she has her characters write are as close to perfection as I know. Also appreciate her caustic humor. Margaret Wise Brown because of her lyrical picture books that capture not only the essences of childhood, but the cares and concerns of preschoolers. And just to liven things up a bit, I’d add F. Scott Fitzgerald who I’m sure would have too much to drink and say lots of things that would shock the ladies.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

Peter Rabbit because he is curious and independent and then learns a very important lesson – listen to your parents!  I visited Beatrix Potter’s home in England and the garden looked exactly like Mr. McGreggor’s.

Henry: Art imitating life.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Like many writers, I’m an introverted person.  I enjoy peaceful moments, knitting, sewing, cooking. I also love listening to my cat purr, watching spiders spin webs and snails paint their trails.

Henry: Spiders spinning and painting snails! Very poetic, and you have far more patience than I.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

I don’t want a tombstone to be remembered. To live is enough for me.

Where can readers find your work?

Libraries, bookstores and soon in e-books. You can sign up for my email newsletter on my website. It comes out only about once a month if I’m good and more likely once every two months—filled with thoughts about writing, suggestions of books and upcoming workshops.

This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.