Perhaps I’m subconsciously creating an ad hoc series, as I was lucky enough to takeover another episode to chat to the very funny Kerri Sackville about Creativity and Parenting (which we could probably sub-title Creativity and Chaos).
We talk a lot about writing in the midst of chaos, squeezing the words in even as family life roils around us.
Things have changed for me as my kids have grown and my fiction writing has been able to move more into the centre of my working days. One thing that doesn’t change, however, is how much space children take up in your brain.
When they’re little, you spend a lot of time worrying about the eating, sleeping, breathing, whinging end of things. They’re constantly underfoot, demanding attention.
Then they get bigger.
Now they’re not underfoot all the time but that space in the brain that worries about eating and sleeping and breathing, well, it doesn’t switch off. And because they’re more absent there’s a whole lot more ‘what if?’ taking up residence.
And still I write.
One might think that having larger swathes of time would mean hours and hours spent at my computer, but, in truth, my days are not that different.
I still have a million non-writing-related things to do.
I still write fiction, on average, for about an hour a day. It seems to be my natural limit, or perhaps it’s simply been honed into a habit from years and years of fitting my writing in around other people’s lives.
One thing I know about creativity and parenting
The one thing I know for sure is that I’m glad I started when I did. When it was really tough to make it work and it seemed impossible.
If you’ve got little kids and a big dream to write a novel, I see you.
If you’ve only got time to write a paragraph a day, I see you.
If you’ve got one eye on soccer practice, and your mind is far way in a completely different world, I see you.
If it feels like you will never get to The End, I see you.
Getting kids to write – and to love writing – can be a battle for parents. We know this because these questions (and many more just like them) are posed to authors over and over again.
So much so, that Lucinda Gifford, Australian author and illustrator of picture books and junior fiction books, including the recently published (and very charming) novel The Wolves Of Greycoat Hall has created this post about her experiences in encouraging a love of writing in her own children.
Including the mistakes she’s made – and how she fixed them.
Take it away Lucinda!
Author Lucinda Gifford on encouraging kids to love writing
It’s a joyful moment when you see your child put pen to paper of their own accord. They’re being creative; they’re building worlds; they’re going to soar academically!
So what can you do to inspire and encourage your budding author, without overwhelming them? It’s a tricky balance, especially if you love books and writing yourself.
Here are some of the mistakes I’ve made (and I know I’m not the only one) – and what I’ve learned through them.
5 mistakes I made with my kids and writing – and how I made up for them
Mistake 1 – Correcting small errors
“I look over my child’s shoulder to peek at their work. Oh no! The first sentence goes on for two paragraphs. The spelling is all over the place. They’ve written the letter ‘a’ backwards.”
How I fixed it
I’ve learned not to point out small errors, especially at the beginning. It takes away the fun. And writing should be fun for as long as possible, so that kids keep writing.Now I focus on complementing what does work – illustrations, fun details, interesting words, character names… and ideas.
If a child feels confident in their ideas, then they’ll happily come up with more ideas. This means more creativity, more writing, more skill-building, more fun!
Mistake 2 – Forcing the narrative
“So what’s it actually about, darling? Did you know that proper stories have a beginning, a middle and an end?”
How I fixed it
I realised quickly that rules like these are stifling early on – and that our kids will probably be told about story structure hundreds of times at school.
These days, I’m happy to sit back and enjoy my children’s originality. I let their writing take me back to my own childhood thinking, before I became a grown-up immersed in Western narrative structures.
Maybe a child has written a tale which starts off with a dragon called Alannah in a volcano and ends up with Pete the ice-cream being eaten by a llama. Great! I’m happy to enjoy the journey (and any ice-cream that might be available).
Mistake 3 – ‘Being the teacher’
“Maybe this is a good time to point out the difference between a verb and a noun. So they’ll be ahead in class later.”
How I fixed it It is not a good time. Children meet lots of teachers in their life. School curricula cover adverbs, verbs, nouns, synonyms, homonyms, similes, metaphors…
Instead, I think about things I can do to bring their ideas to life – things that a teacher can’t do in a busy classroom.
For example: acting out a child’s story with favourite toys chatting about characters and ideas in relaxed down-time, reading younger children’s stories aloud in funny voices if permitted, and (our household favourite) discussing who would play the characters in a movie.
Mistake 4 – Oversharing
“Oooh! You’re writing about a dragon! Has you read Dragon Rider? Here it is! Oh look – here’s a picture of a dragon on Pinterest! We could get ‘Dragonology’ from the Op Shop? Oh there used to be a show about dragons when I was a kid. Let me look it up… Hello? Hello!”
How I fixed it This is the mistake I make the most often. I get overexcited and can’t wait to share my knowledge, swamping my children with references. Much better to imply one has fascinating information, and then wait to be asked.
Step back and be subtle. (ps. If anyone has tips on subtlety, please get in touch.)
Mistake 5 – Expecting a finished piece of work
“But you started off so well – aren’t you going to finish it?”
How I fixed it My child had a grand vision. They designed a fabulous, multicoloured dragon cover for their story and wrote a short but promising blurb for the back. Now, half a page in, they’re staring out the window.
I’ve learned to accept this might be it. In time they’ll need to develop their perseverance and learn organisational skills. But for now, writing is fun!
Pushing a child to keep working on an idea they’ve moved on from is not the same as encouragement. I mutter a favourite phase of my school art teacher “Process not product”, and leave it for a while.
And if my child doesn’t go back to this particular story idea, I put the fabulous dragon cover on the wall. Maybe I’ll write my own story about a dragon.
After all – writing is fun!
Lucinda Gifford is the author/illustrator of The Wolves Of Greycoat Hall (Walker Books) and the Whitney and Britney picture books (Scholastic), along with a host of others, as well as being the illustrator of a slew of titles ranging from picture books to middle-grade novels.
Would you love more writing advice for kids? Check out my Creative Writing Quest, a 12-module online course with the Australian Writers’ Centre that takes kids, step-by-step, through the process of creative writing – from idea to producing an edited story. All the course details are here.
Finding suitable books for a child who is reading at a level well above their age can be a minefield. Your child may be demanding more, more, more, but books for older kids or adults can contain subject matter that young readers are just not ready for.
On the other hand, some kids get stuck in a rut, re-reading Diary Of A Wimpy Kid, or similar, over and over again because they haven’t really found a longer book that ‘grabs’ them. Well-meaning adults will throw all the ‘usual suspects’ at them (think Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, et al), but nothing really sticks.
Extending a reader might mean moving ‘up’ or it might mean moving sideways. Either way, it’s about trying something different. So the Your Kid’s Next Read team (Allison Rushby, Megan Daley, Allison Tait/me) put our minds to the problem and came up with this list.
Whether you have an advanced reader of nine*, or you’re looking to extend your middle-grade reader into books that make them think, feel and wonder, this list has something for you.
Ada’s fight for self-worth and a life to call her own is absolutely heartbreaking, as is her carer’s backstory of love and the loss of her partner. Together, these strong-willed characters manage to help each other strive for a happy ever after in troubled times.
Quinn is content with life on the farm, but he is selected to become a mapmaker. He soon finds himself racing across the world against other ships, battling sea monsters and searching for treasure. What lies off the edge of the map is more than he could have ever bargained for.
When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s a girl. When her teacher won’t let her try out for the female lead role in the school play, George and best friend Kelly come up with a plan to show everyone who she really is.
This childhood memoir verse novel sees Jacqueline Woodson growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. It covers an incredible amount of topics, from race to religion, to the divide between the North and the South and the Civil Rights movement, using imagery that will stay with you forever.
Each day Aster must do a good, right thing – a challenge she sets herself, to make someone else’s life better. Nobody can know about her ‘things’, because then they won’t count. And if she doesn’t do them, she knows everything will go wrong. Then she meets Xavier.
A classic tale of survival, adventure and finding your true self, told through the eyes of Buck, a farm dog who is kidnapped and ends up pulling sleds in the Klondike region of Canada during the goldrush.
Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents and when they are tragically taken from her and Willow must find a way through her grief.
Meg is struggling and hides out in sick bay to avoid other kids. Riley doesn’t want to go to sick bay, but has type 1 diabetes and an over-protective mother. Together, the unlikely pair find the space and courage in sick bay to be themselves.
On the day Cassie was born, they drowned her town. Twelve years later, she and her classmate Liam are drawn to the man-made lake and the mysteries it hides. As summer heats up and the lake waters become lower and lower, secrets are slowly uncovered. Can Cassie bring the shocking truth to light before it’s too late?
Neoma and Jag and their small community are ‘living gentle lives’ on high ground surrounded by the risen sea that has caused widespread devastation. When strangers from the Valley of the Sun arrive unannounced, the friends find themselves drawn into a web of secrecy and lies that endangers the way of life of their entire community.
Ava is desperate to communicate with her family, but Rett Syndrome makes this impossible. That is, until some new people in her life allow this strong, driven character to finally show the world her true personality.
Cece is starting at a new school, one where she is the only kid with a giant hearing aid strapped to her chest. And then she discovers her superpower – she can hear her teacher in the teacher’s lounge and the bathroom. If only she could channel her superpowers into making a true friend …
An exciting, action-packed story. When Sam hears a struggle in the apartment above and sees someone fall (pushed?) from the sixth floor, he goes to wake his father, Harry – but Harry, a crime reporter, is gone, and when Sam goes downstairs, so is the body. The next 24 hours are a heart-stopping ride.
Are you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, and I’m the author of two epic middle-grade adventure series, The Mapmaker Chronicles and The Ateban Cipher, and a new ‘almost history’ detective series called the Maven & Reeve Mysteries (you’ll find book #1 THE FIRE STAR here).
*As always, particularly with advanced readers, suitability comes down to knowing your individual reader. Please check the full description of each book for an insight into themes, level of tension, and more. Clicking the book title will take you to Booktopia. See contact page for details.
When times get tough, the tough… give away children’s and YA literature!
More than ever, kids need books right now, and, equally more than ever, children’s and YA authors need our support.
With the cancellation of literary events and book launches across Australia for at least the next few months, many authors – from debut author to old favourites with new books – have been left stranded.
If you can’t talk about your books, how will anyone ever fall in love with them?
So the team behind the Your Kid’s Next Read Facebook group – Megan Daley, Allison Rushby and Allison Tait (that would be me) decided that what we really needed was a BIG event, all online.
And so the #30BooksIn30Days #YKNRAussieAuthorSuperTour was born.
The idea is simple – we’re GIVING AWAY books by Aussie authors, to raise awareness of books and Aussie authors, and share some ‘glad’ with our community.
When you see the daily post – which will go up at 10am each day (AEDST until April 5 and then AEST after that). Each daily giveaway is open until 8.30am the following day. Comment on the post of a book you’d like to win by answering the question and you’re in.
Winners will be announced as soon as possible after the 8.30am close (in the group and here, under WINNERS), and the next book goes up at 10am.
Just like that.
For 30 days.
We’ve got an amazing array of incredible books by Aussie authors lined up for you, so get ready!
And good luck!
Giveaway #30: 21 April 2020. BUMPER BOOK PACK from PENGUIN BOOKS. Click the title links to buy now from Booktopia*.
Your Kid’s Next Read is an Australian-based Facebook community of 11,000+ members, made up of parents, teachers, authors, bloggers, booksellers, publishers, and other interested parties, all of whom are focussed on helping other members find the perfect next book for the young readers in their lives.
The group is managed by #TeamYKNR:
Megan is a teacher librarian (recently awarded the Queensland Teacher Librarian of the Year by the School Library Association of Queensland, as well as the national Dromkeen Librarians Award, presented by the State Library of Victoria), and general children’s literature advocate from way back. Megan is the author of Raising Readers: How to nurture a child’s love of books and blogs at Children’s Books Daily.
We’ll announce winners right here as they come to hand each day from 23 March onwards. We’ll also provide a link* to buy the book if you miss out. Or call your local bookshop – they’d love to hear from you!
Terms and conditions for the #30booksin30days #YKNRAussieAuthorSuperTour giveaway
The giveaway will begin at 10am (AEDST) on Monday 23 March 2020, and run for 30 days (ends 8.30am (AEST) Wednesday 22 April). Entry is open only to members of the Your Kid’s Next Read Facebook community with an Australian mailing address. Books cannot be posted internationally.
Each day, a new giveaway book will be posted in the Your Kid’s Next Read Facebook group, with a question to answer, and entries will be via comment on that post. Entries for each daily post will be open from 10am (AEDST until April 5 and then AEST after that) on the day of posting until 8.30am (AEDST until April 5 and then AEST after that) the following day. Winners will be judged by #TeamYKNR and announced in the Your Kid’s Next Read Facebook community as soon as possible after closing. No correspondence regarding the judged winner will be entered into.
Once announced, winners will need to email their postal address as indicated in the announcement. Books will be sent out by individual authors as soon as is practicable and are not the responsibility of the YKNR admin team. If the postal system is interrupted for any reason, books will be posted as soon as possible after that date.
*Winners names will also be added to this post as the giveaway progresses, along with links to buy the books that have been offered in the giveaway. Some of these links may contain affiliate links, which means when you click on those links and make a purchase, it can result in a small commission that will be credited to Children’s Books Daily, to help Megan keep the pages turning on her incredibly useful site. Others will be links to other Australian booksellers, large and small, who offer online sales.
Fine print: This competition is not associated with Facebook. Entrants are required to leave a comment on the Facebook associated with the competition. Entry is open to residents of Australia and the prize is as stated each day. Winners will be selected all eligible entries received – this is a game of skill with entries judge on originality. If a winner is unable to be contacted or does not claim their Prize within 14 days the prize will be forfeited. In the event of forfeiture a further draw will be conducted within 14 days and a new winner will be selected.
One last thing
If you win a book and you would like to share your excitement on receiving it, feel free to post in the Your Kid’s Next Read group or tag us on social media (don’t forget to use our hashtags: #30BooksIn30Days #YKNRAussieAuthorSuperTour)
For many years, my friend Allison Rushby has been a ‘go-to’ source for me for ‘classic’ children’s stories. The woman has read everything, particularly if there’s a green and pleasant English setting involved, and is the team member we turn to when a question about ‘classics for kids’ comes up in the Your Kid’s Next Read Facebook group.
Classics are an interesting area. Some of them withstand the test of time beautifully, but others just seem tired and old-fashioned.
I will never forget reading Around The World In Eighty Days by Jules Verne to my oldest son, then about eight. We spent an awfully long time wading through travel description waiting for the balloon to show up and then were disappointed when it did.
It gave me the opportunity to discuss writing in different eras with him – a time when nobody much had seen the world versus a time when it’s at your fingertips thanks to Google – and may, in fact, have indirectly and subconsciously fed into the reservoir of inspiration that became The Mapmaker Chronicles series, but oh my word it was a hard slog at the time…
But I digress.
Allison has kindly put together a list of classic reads for children that she feels are as exciting and engaging today as they were when first written. As she candidly admits, this list is heavy on English novels, so we’re also working on an Aussie classics list (my all-time favourite Callie’s Castle by Ruth Park is sadly no longer available, but my love of turrets remains).
In the meantime, take it away Al!
Beyond the usual suspects
There are certain “classic” children’s books that seem to be suggested time and time again. And for good reason! Charlotte’s Web, Anne of Green Gables, Pippi Longstocking and The Secret Garden have become classics due to their marvellous storytelling.
But there are so many, many other classic children’s books that I know hold a special place in my heart right alongside these popular titles and I find when they come up in conversation, I long to reach for them and delve back into their familiar pages immediately.
I’ve been keeping a little list of these many, many books in one of my (many, many) notebooks. When I came across the notebook a few weeks back, I thought it was time to write a post listing some of these beautiful classics that don’t get suggested quite so often (feel free to blame my Nana for the list being solidly English in nature).
I find Ballet Shoes still gets recommended a lot (don’t hate me, but I personally find the Fossils and GUM/Great Uncle Matthew a bit much). I prefer White Boots, hanging out at the chilly ice rink in a cardi and being a part of the burgeoning friendship of Harriet and Lalla.
A magical old house, lots of spirits (including a demonic tree spirit!) and a crazy boat ride to get there. Fun times. I am still kicking myself that I lived down the road from Lucy M. Boston’s house (the inspiration for the novels) for a full year and had no idea it was open to the public.
When you break it down, this is a mighty strange book, but it just works. Tottie Plantaganet (what a name!) is a doll and lives in Emily and Charlotte’s doll house. And all is good. Until evil Marchpane moves in… I have only listed one Rumer Godden book, but I adore all of her writing, especially The Story of Holly and Ivy and Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. Her books are always unusual and unexpected, but in a way that feels as if you’ve found the exact story you were looking for.
The year is 1290, Catherine is fourteen, an avid diarist and very concerned that she will be married off to someone horrid (and she most definitely should be concerned). More for the YA crowd, as there is violence, sex, death in childbirth and death in general (it is the Middle Ages, after all).
There’s just something about Frog and Toad. These are very easy to read stories for early readers, but I’m quite sure I read them again and again right up into my teens, because Frog and Toad are just plain funny and everything friends should be.
I feel like this book is often overlooked as Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden is invariably recommended first and foremost, but it really is top notch (have just taken one for the team and had a little re-read to make sure). When Sara Crewe’s fortunes change suddenly, her kind and generous personality does not. Of course you know she’ll win out in the end, but it’s a lot of fun waiting for the payoff.
A good option for readers who love Anne of Green Gables and What Katy Did, Pollyanna’s optimistic “glad game” errs on the side of cloying, but you’d have to have a mean, withered little black heart not to enjoy this read.
I still want to be Milly-Molly-Mandy when I grow up and I am 45! Millicent Margaret Amanda lives in a darling little village in a nice white cottage with a thatched roof and wears a fetching pink and white striped dress. Her friends include Little Friend Susan and Billy Blunt. So, so twee, but incredibly comforting, like a tummy-full of your favourite childhood pudding. Really, does it get any better than this? I think not.