Tag Archives: writing for children

The cut’s been made, please vote for your favourite story

It wasn’t until a friend sent me an email this evening saying she was sorry I didn’t make the finalists that I learned … my story, Blizzard Blessings, didn’t make the cut!  😦

Of course, I was quite disappointed, but I’ve had half an hour to let it settle in. It’s okay, mostly. Yes, I would have loved for mine to be one of the twelve stories chosen of the one hundred entries, but I knew it was going to be a hard decision to make. I didn’t envy Susanna and her helpers at all. I think I would have been more shocked than I am disappointed had I been in the twelve finalists.

I will be voting but I have it down to two stories and can’t decide between them yet. I’ll let it wait and read them again tomorrow before voting.

PLEASE GO HERE AND VOTE FOR THE STORY YOU LIKE THE BEST.   Thank you!

I haven’t given up on my little story, though.  There may be something good in store for it yet.

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂

My story entry in Susanna Hill’s 4th Annual Holiday Contest

Yesterday I found out that Susanna Hill is hosting her 4th Annual Holiday Contest right now. The challenge is to write a story for children in no more than 350 words, the theme being wild weather that impacts the holidays in some way. I decided to give it a try, so this is my first attempt. Next I have to link back to Susanna’s blog so my story can be connected to the contest, and then the entries are narrowed down to a few finalists whose stories are posted next Monday or Tuesday (Dec. 15 or 16). Those stories are then voted on by anyone wanting to read them. I hope you will go to Susanna’s blog and add your vote, even if it isn’t for my story. You have from Dec. 15 or 16 till Dec. 18 at 5 PM EST to VOTE.

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂

Now, here’s my story in 349 words.

 Blizzard Blessings

Suzie frowned out the window, her chin resting on her hands. It was Christmas Eve day and it was snowing – a lot! “Daddy, can’t we go to the pet store anyway?”

“I’m sorry, Suzie; there’s too much snow. The wind is blowing so hard we could get stuck in a snowdrift and not get back home tonight. Remember, you have to be in bed for Santa to come.”

Suzie pouted. “But you said for Christmas I could get a pet to live in the cage I found in the attic. I have it all ready!”

“Pouting won’t make the blizzard go away, Suzie. You have to wait until after Christmas now,” Daddy said. “How about we stay safe inside and read the Christmas story together?”

In the meantime, at the North Pole the elves were helping Santa load his sleigh. Soon he would be on his way, bringing gifts to all the girls and boys while they slept.

Santa picked up his warm red hat to wear that stormy night. When he gave it a shake out dropped a sleepy, little white mouse. “Sylvester! Ho! Ho! Ho! You can’t live in my cozy hat,” said Santa.

The little mouse sadly scurried away. Every time he found a nice place to live he was told “No!” – not in the dollhouse, not in the red fire engine, not in the drum set, not even in Santa’s hat. Where could he go?

That night Santa climbed into his sleigh. “Ho! Ho! Ho! What blustery weather for old Santa!”

Everyone was sound asleep when Santa landed his sleigh at Suzie’s house. He reached into his pack. “What’s this!” He pulled out a little white mouse. “Ho! Ho! Ho! Sylvester mouse! You can’t live in my pack, and it’s too stormy for you outside.” He looked around. “Look here! I see just the place for you. Merry Christmas, Sylvester.” Sylvester’s whiskers twitched from excitement.

Christmas morning Suzie squealed, “Daddy! Daddy! Look what Santa brought me!”

Under the Christmas tree, in the old cage from the attic, sat a happy little white mouse.

PiBoIdMo has ended – my update

Today is the first day of December … already!! Where did the time go? Yikes! And I love that it’s snowing on my blog. 🙂  (Thanks, Word Press!)

Soon it will be Christmas Day; I have a lot to do at home and at Dad’s to even feel ready for this special time of year, but I have begun – with help. I appreciate the beauty of this season (not the intense cold that comes with it) and especially the true meaning of Christmas.

The writerly news is …

PiBoIdMo ended at midnight November 30 …

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Just at the last moment I came up with the cutest title which has me thinking of a story to go with it. The great news is I completed PiBoIdMo with a win. The goal was to have 30 ideas, be they ever so small or detailed, and I got almost 50. YAY!

vinvogel_piboldmo_winnerPicture Book Idea Month is truly helpful when one is pursuing creative writing goals. Now Tara Lazar has begun a week of Post-PiBo posts which are a fantastic way to end this month-long event. She is genius in her contribution to the world of writing for children, and I’ve been very encouraged along the way – thanks to her.

The next fun part is after all this ends Tara has the task of giving out prizes to those of us who completed the challenge. Of course, with so many of us signed on not everyone will win a prize, but we are all winners if we participated in this event and took in what all the authors, illustrators and agents shared with us. It’s been an especially good PiBoIdMo for me at a time when I really needed to put my mind on creative things.

Did you take part in PiBoIdMo; if so how did you do? OR … Do you have any other successes to share, or goals you wish to achieve?

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings! 

The Case for Good Taste in Children’s Books – (reprinted by permission)

It has been very hard for me to “buckle down” and “just write”, likely because I feel used up in one way or another almost every day. I’m trying to get back into blogging more because I enjoy it and because I hope I’m posting things of help to you, my readers.

The following article is long but one worth sharing, and I’m doing so with permission. You can check out the publication in which it’s printed: here.

PLEASE NOTE: THIS ARTICLE IS NOT INTENDED FOR YOUNG READERS BECAUSE OF SOME OF ITS CONTENT.

The Case for Good Taste in Children’s Books MEGHAN COX GURDON has been the children’s book reviewer for the Wall Street Journal since 2005. Her work has also appeared in numerous other publications, including the Washington Post, the Washington Examiner, the San Francisco Chronicle, National Review, and the Weekly Standard. In the 1990s, she worked as an overseas correspondent in Hong Kong, Tokyo, and London, and traveled and reported from Cambodia, Somalia, China, Israel, South Korea, and Northern Ireland. She graduated magna cum laude from Bowdoin College in 1986 and lives near Washington, D.C., with her husband and their five children.The following is adapted from a speech delivered at Hillsdale College on March 12, 2013, sponsored by the College’s Dow Journalism Program.ON JUNE 4, 2011, the number one trending topic on Twitter was the Anthony Weiner scandal. I happen to remember that, because the number two topic on Twitter that day—almost as frenzied, though a lot less humorous—had to do with an outrageous, intolerable attack on Young Adult literature . . . by me. Entitled “Darkness Too Visible,” my article discussed the increasingly dark current that runs through books classified as YA, for Young Adult—books aimed at readers between 12 and 18 years of age—a subset that has, in the four decades since Young Adult became a distinct category in fiction, become increasingly lurid, grotesque, profane, sexual, and ugly.Books show us the world, and in that sense, too many books for adolescents act like funhouse mirrors, reflecting hideously distorted portrayals of life. Those of us who have grown up understand that the teen years can be fraught and turbulent—and for some kids, very unhappy—but at the same time we know that in the arc of human life, these years are brief. Today, too many novels for teenagers are long on the turbulence and short on a sense of perspective. Nor does it help that the narrative style that dominates Young Adult books is the first person present tense—“I, I, I,” and “now, now, now.” Writers use this device to create a feeling of urgency, to show solidarity with the reader and to make the reader feel that he or she is occupying the persona of the narrator. The trouble is that the first person present tense also erects a kind of verbal prison, keeping young readers in the turmoil of the moment just as their hormones tend to do. This narrative style reinforces the blinkers teenagers often seem to be wearing, rather than drawing them out and into the open.

Bringing Judgment

The late critic Hilton Kramer was seated once at a dinner next to film director Woody Allen. Allen asked him if he felt embarrassed when he met people socially whom he’d savaged in print. “No,” Kramer said, “they’re the ones who made the bad art. I just described it.” As the story goes, Allen fell gloomily silent, having once made a film that had received the Kramer treatment.

I don’t presume to have a nose as sensitive as Hilton Kramer’s—but I do know that criticism is pointless if it’s only boosterism. To evaluate anything, including children’s books, is to engage the faculty of judgment, which requires that great bugbear of the politically correct, “discrimination.” Thus, in responding to my article, YA book writers Judy Blume and Libba Bray charged that I was giving comfort to book-banners, and Publisher’s Weekly warned of a “danger” that my arguments “encourage a culture of fear around YA literature.” But I do not, in fact, wish to ban any books or frighten any authors. What I do wish is that people in the book business would exercise better taste; that adult authors would not simply validate every spasm of the teen experience; and that our culture was not marching toward ever-greater explicitness in depictions of sex and violence.

Books for children and teenagers are written, packaged, and sold by adults. It follows from this that the emotional depictions they contain come to young people with a kind of adult imprimatur. As a school librarian in Idaho wrote to her colleagues in my defense: “You are naïve if you think young people can read a dark and violent book that sits on the library shelves and not believe that that behavior must be condoned by the adults in their school lives.”

What kind of books are we talking about? Let me give you three examples—but with a warning that some of what you’re about to hear is not appropriate for younger listeners.

A teenaged boy is kidnapped, drugged, and nearly raped by a male captor. After escaping, he comes across a pair of weird glasses that transport him to a world of almost impossible cruelty. Moments later, he finds himself facing a wall of horrors, “covered with impaled heads and other dripping, black-rot body parts: hands, hearts, feet, ears, penises. Where the f— was this?”

That’s from Andrew Smith’s 2010 Young Adult novel, The Marbury Lens.

A girl struggles with self-hatred and self-injury. She cuts herself with razors secretly, but her secret gets out when she’s the victim of a sadistic sexual prank. Kids at school jeer at her, calling her “cutterslut.” In response, “she had sliced her arms to ribbons, but the badness remained, staining her insides like cancer. She had gouged her belly until it was a mess of meat and blood, but she still couldn’t breathe.”

That’s from Jackie Morse Kessler’s 2011 Young Adult novel, Rage.

I won’t read you the most offensive excerpts from my third example, which consist of explicit and obscene descriptions by a 17-year-old female narrator of sexual petting, of oral sex, and of rushing to a bathroom to defecate following a breakup. Yet School Library Journal praised Daria Snadowsky’s 2008 Young Adult novel, Anatomy of a Boyfriend, for dealing “in modern terms with the real issues of discovering sex for the first time.” And Random House, its publisher, gushed about the narrator’s “heartbreakingly honest voice” as she recounts the “exquisite ups and dramatic downs of teenage love and heartbreak.”

The book industry, broadly speaking, says: Kids have a right to read whatever they want. And if you follow the argument through it becomes: Adults should not discriminate between good and bad books or stand as gatekeepers, deciding what young people should read. In other words, the faculty of judgment and taste that we apply in every other area of life involving children should somehow vaporize when it comes in contact with the printed word.

I appeared on National Public Radio to discuss these issues with the Young Adult book author Lauren Myracle, who has been hailed as a person “on the front lines in the fight for freedom of expression”—as if any controversy over whether a book is appropriate for children turns on the question of the author’s freedom to express herself. Myracle made clear that she doesn’t believe there should be any line between adult literature and literature for young people. In saying this, she was echoing the view that prevails in many progressive, secular circles—that young people should encounter material that jolts them out of their comfort zone; that the world is a tough place; and that there’s no point shielding children from reality. I took the less progressive, less secular view that parents should take a more interventionist approach, steering their children away from books about sex and horror and degradation, and towards books that make aesthetic and moral claims.

Now, although it may seem that our culture is split between Left and Right on the question of permissiveness regarding children’s reading material, in fact there is not so much division on the core issue as might appear. Secular progressives, despite their reaction to my article, have their own list of books they think young people shouldn’t read—for instance, books they claim are tinged with racism or jingoism or that depict traditional gender roles. Regarding the latter, you would not believe the extent to which children’s picture books today go out of the way to show father in an apron and mother tinkering with machinery. It’s pretty funny. But my larger point here is that the self-proclaimed anti-book-banners on the Left agree that books influence children and prefer some books to others.

Indeed, in the early years of the Cold War, many left-wing creative people in America gravitated toward children’s literature. Philip Nel, a professor at Kansas State University, has written that Red-hunters, “seeing children’s books as a field dominated by women . . . deemed it less important and so did not watch it closely.” Among the authors I am referring to are Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) and Ruth Krauss, author of the 1952 classic A Hole is to Dig, illustrated by a young Maurice Sendak. Krauss was quite open in her belief that children’s literature was an excellent means of putting left-wing ideas into young minds. Or so she hoped.

When I was a little girl I read The Cat in the Hat, and I took from it an understanding of the sanctity of private property—it outraged me when the Cat and Thing One and Thing Two rampaged through the children’s house while their mother was away. Dr. Seuss was probably not intending to inculcate capitalist ideas—quite the contrary. But it happened in my case, and the point is instructive.

Taste and Beauty

A recent study conducted at Virginia Tech found that college women who read “chick lit”—light novels that deal with the angst of being a modern woman—reported feeling more insecure about themselves and their bodies after reading novels in which the heroines feel insecure about themselves and their bodies. Similarly, federal researchers were puzzled for years by a seeming paradox when it came to educating children about the dangers of drugs and tobacco. There seemed to be a correlation between anti-drug and anti-tobacco programs in elementary and middle schools and subsequent drug and tobacco use at those schools. It turned out that at the same time children were learning that drugs and tobacco were bad, they were taking in the meta-message that adults expected them to use drugs and tobacco.

This is why good taste matters so much when it comes to books for children and young adults. Books tell children what to expect, what life is, what culture is, how we are expected to behave—what the spectrum is. Books don’t just cater to tastes. They form tastes. They create norms—and as the examples above show, the norms young people take away are not necessarily the norms adults intend. This is why I am skeptical of the social utility of so-called “problem novels”—books that have a troubled main character, such as a girl with a father who started raping her when she was a toddler and anonymously provides her with knives when she is a teenager hoping that she will cut herself to death. (This scenario is from Cheryl Rainfield’s 2010 Young Adult novel, Scars, which School Library Journal hailed as “one heck of a good book.”) The argument in favor of such books is that they validate the real and terrible experiences of teenagers who have been abused, addicted, or raped—among other things. The problem is that the very act of detailing these pathologies, not just in one book but in many, normalizes them. And teenagers are all about identifying norms and adhering to them.

In journalist Emily Bazelon’s recent book about bullying, she describes how schools are using a method called “social norming” to discourage drinking and driving. “The idea,” she writes, “is that students often overestimate how much other kids drink and drive, and when they find out that it’s less prevalent than they think—outlier behavior rather than the norm—they’re less likely to do it themselves.” The same goes for bullying: “When kids understand that cruelty isn’t the norm,” Bazelon says, “they’re less likely to be cruel themselves.”

Now isn’t that interesting?

Ok, you say, but books for kids have always been dark. What about Hansel and Gretel? What about the scene in Beowulf where the monster sneaks into the Danish camp and starts eating people?

Beowulf is admittedly gruesome in parts—and fairy tales are often scary. Yet we approach them at a kind of arm’s length, almost as allegory. In the case of Beowulf, furthermore, children reading it—or having it read to them—are absorbing the rhythms of one of mankind’s great heroic epics, one that explicitly reminds us that our talents come from God and that we act under God’s eye and guidance. Even with the gore, Beowulf won’t make a child callous. It will help to civilize him.

English philosopher Roger Scruton has written at length about what he calls the modern “flight from beauty,” which he sees in every aspect of our contemporary culture. “It is not merely,” he writes, “that artists, directors, musicians and others connected with the arts”—here we might include authors of Young Adult literature—“are in a flight from beauty . . . . There is a desire to spoil beauty . . . . For beauty makes a claim on us; it is a call to renounce our narcisissm and look with reverence on the world.”

We can go to the Palazzo Borghese in Rome and stand before Caravaggio’s painting of David with the head of Goliath, and though we are looking at horror we are not seeing ugliness. The light that plays across David’s face and chest, and that slants across Goliath’s half-open eyes and mouth, transforms the scene into something beautiful. The problem with the darker offerings in Young Adult literature is that they lack this transforming and uplifting quality. They take difficult subjects and wallow in them in a gluttonous way; they show an orgiastic lack of restraint that is the mark of bad taste.

Young Adult book author Sherman Alexie wrote a rebuttal to my article entitled, “Why the Best Kids Books are Written in Blood.” In it, he asks how I could honestly believe that a sexually explicit Young Adult novel might traumatize a teenaged mother. “Does she believe that a YA novel about murder and rape will somehow shock a teenager whose life has been damaged by murder and rape? Does she believe a dystopian novel will frighten a kid who already lives in hell?”

Well of course I don’t. But I also don’t believe that the vast majority of 12-to-18-year-olds are living in hell. And as for those who are, does it really serve them to give them more torment and sulphur in the stories they read?

The body of children’s literature is a little like the Library of Babel in the Jorge Luis Borges story—shelf after shelf of books, many almost gibberish, but a rare few filled with wisdom and beauty and answers to important questions. These are the books that have lasted because generation after generation has seen in them something transcendent, and has passed them on. Maria Tatar, who teaches children’s literature at Harvard, describes books like The Chronicles of Narnia, The Wind in the Willows, The Jungle Books, and Pinocchio as “setting minds into motion, renewing senses, and almost rewiring brains.”

Or as William Wordsworth wrote: “What we have loved/others will love, and we will teach them how.”

* * *

The good news is that just like the lousy books of the past, the lousy books of the present will blow away like chaff. The bad news is that they will leave their mark. As in so many aspects of culture, the damage they do can’t easily be measured. It is more a thing to be felt—a coarseness, an emptiness, a sorrow.

“Beauty is vanishing from our world because we live as if it does not matter.” That’s Roger Scruton again. But he doesn’t want us to despair. He also writes:

It is one mark of rational beings that they do not live only—or even at all—in the present. They have the freedom to despise the world that surrounds them and live another way. The art, literature, and music of our civilization remind them of this, and also point to the path that lies always before them: the path out of desecration towards the sacred and the sacrificial.

Let me close with Saint Paul the Apostle in Philippians 4:8:

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

And let us think about these words when we go shopping for books for our children.


Copyright © 2013 Hillsdale College. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the following credit line is used: “Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.” 

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Any comments? I’m interested in knowing your thoughts on this topic.

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings! 🙂

Happy New Year!

How can it be? Another new year is soon to begin!

new_year_icon_554642012 has been a mix of many things in my little world. This blog has captured much of it and has been a source of relief for me, a way of venting, sharing, seeking, growing. Through blogging and writing I have been blessed to meet some very special people who have become my long distance friends.

As my dad’s condition steadily worsens, and my husband’s healing is continuing, our hope is for the strength needed as this new year brings whatever surprises and challenges it holds for us as a family.

In looking back over 2012 I wonder what I accomplished.

  • I blogged, and yet never enough;
  • read books .. again never enough;
  • introduced books and their authors to you on my “Have Read” pages;
  • wrote book reviews for you – with more waiting in queue with their authors; (I’m sorry family things had to take priority)
  • offered exciting book giveaways;
  • offered some writers’ helps on my page of the same name;
  • wrote several drafts for children’s books, thanks to 12×12 in 2012, but not as many as I had hoped to, and I missed out on the community there that so many writers found helpful;
  • added more to my novel in National Novel Writing Month in November, and have almost completed the story;
  • had thought to take on Picture Book Ideas Month that I so enjoyed in November 2011, but had to sacrifice that one this year;
  • realized today that I missed out on signing up for the inspiring Month of Poetry for January 2013 as the closing date was December 29!  [Sorry, Catherine; 😦  I had intended to, but it’s too late now.]

So what will the new year bring to this blog?

  • more book reviews;
  • more author interviews;
  • more book giveaways;
  • hopefully less whining.

9920817-on-a-black-white-background-with-floral-pattern-is-abstract-writing-pen

For me this blog is not only about writing, it is about living. Perhaps that is not the way to do it, but with the way things are in my life now I struggle with keeping up and keeping going through all the stress. If you are faithful to stay the course with me I will continue to try to deliver. You can’t possibly know how much I love and appreciate you and the encouragement of knowing you are reading my words. My goal still is to write for children, and my hope is to keep on keeping on.

Now I wish you all a very happy and healthy 2013. May it be a year of fulfillment and accomplishments, pleasant surprises and inner joys, depth of growth and flourishing of creativity. Above all may you find Love in all the right places. 🙂

Psalm 67: 1,2 – May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face to shine upon us, that Thy way may be known upon earth, Thy saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise Thee, O God; let all the peoples praise Thee!

Psalm 91 (the whole of it)

What wonderful things did 2012 bring to you? Is there anything you plan to do differently in 2013?

happy-new-year-stars

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂

Are you living your dream?

When I was a little girl, my mother would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Of course, I wanted to be a singer or an actress or dancer, but most of all I wanted to be a mommy. And I used to tell my mother that when she got old I would take care of her.

Have I been able to live my dream? Well, you could say that I have. I had four little girls of my own, and when my dear mother was dying (only in her 70’s) I helped take care of her the last month of her life. Perhaps that was a love commitment more than a dream.

My childhood dream has not been my only one. I have had several over the years, as I’m sure you have. As we grow we learn new things and try our hand at them. I sewed clothes, made toys and crafts and quilts, tried sketching and painting, wrote poetry, and dreamed dreams. I took voice lessons but I’m shy and nervous about public singing. I dance but mostly when I worship the Lord in the privacy of my home. And the acting? Uhh, No. 🙂 But I keep returning to writing – ministry things, poems, stories, plays, songs, articles, blogging.

Again my dream is to be a writer and author of children’s books. Having accomplished NaNoWriMo, perhaps by sheer determination, then shouldn’t I be able to write a book for children, perfect it for publication, and stick with it until that happens?

But what do you do when life happens, when the time you had which didn’t seem to be enough is now split in half? How do you see those dreams fulfilled?

How do you choose what to sacrifice and what to push to the forefront?

It is a challenge in which, so far, I don’t feel I’m succeeding. With all the reading I try to do, my writing is taking a backseat. With the book reviews and author interviews I committed to, my newsletter publishing is delayed. But do you see the connections? In some way they are all to do with writing, so I haven’t completely left it behind, I just need to discover my balance. What I must do is trust the Lord to lead me in all of these things in my life. If I’m meant to continue them all then He will show me how.

Then there are the unexpected things that crowd in. I gave my piano to our oldest daughter who loves to play. She told me Tuesday that the movers will be here Thursday morning. That meant today’s time was devoted to rearranging things for the piano to be maneuvered around in order for the movers to get it up the stairs and out to their truck. This also means there will be more space for my stuff! 😉 Such as more books? Umm, maybe for all the fabric I have. (Yes, I love fabric too, which is intended to be listed for sale on my business website.)

Do I have too many irons in the fire? Too many interests and not enough focus? Too many ideas and not enough ‘stick-to-it-iveness’? Or maybe I dream too big? – forgetting I’m only one person and nobody else will be interested in my dreams – so I live a little of this one and a little of that one.

I don’t ever stop dreaming.

What about you? Are you a dreamer of dreams? Are you living your dreams? Or have you given up on them?

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings! 🙂

A writing contest – ending soon

Do you like to enter contests?  Do you write for children or do you know someone who does?

I recently found the blog of Christy Wright Wild which you writers may wish to visit at  http://christiewrightwild.blogspot.com

This month (which is almost over, so hurry!) she is putting on a contest with more chances to win than her usual offer.  If you write for children, this may be of interest to you.  Check it out and follow her directions at  http://christiewrightwild.blogspot.com/p/contests.html

I’m giving it a try.  And if you enter and win then please let me know.  I’d love to hear about it.

Do you like to share your written work before it’s accepted by a publisher?  Do you enjoy taking a chance at winning contests by entering your work?

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂