Reading and Writer’s Block

Recently our local Arizona indie bookstore, Changing Hands, held a stellar event for those interested in children’s books. Changing Hands does a wonderful job attracting dynamic and popular kidlit authors and illustrators, as well as others industry insiders, to give an annual panel discussion (in the past they have featured local author Stephenie Meyer).

The discussion this time was lively and entertaining, an informative exchange between the experts and the audience. At one point an audience member brought up the topic of writer’s block. Two of the participants stated something that surprised me. They admitted that reading their way out of writer’s block did not work for them.

One author said that he had read a lot as a kid and before he became a writer. Now that he writes, however, he doesn’t want to read anything. First of all, when he has his editor mind working, he finds himself being critical of others. Also, he admits that he is afraid he will pick up other writer’s voices, something that certainly does happen.

Another panel member chimed in that he doesn’t read either. He is concerned he will read something really fantastic (he mentioned Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games), and it would be too discouraging. He thought it would make him want to quit because he would compare himself to that standard and not be able to reach it.

These remarks make a lot of sense. I had always thought that writer’s block occurred when “your well is empty” and you need to read to refurbish yourself. Maybe reading doesn’t make you a better writer after all, at least not when you are actively writing.

Another panel member suggested that blocks are often the result of problems you don’t know the solution to yet, and that walking away or free writing might help the process along. Going to a movie or taking a walk might give that part of your brain that is chugging away on the problem a chance to finish processing.

I have to admit that when I have “my editor’s hat on,” I find it extremely difficult to be creative. Recently I had a copy editing job that continued on for several weeks. Every time I set down the job and tried to do my own writing I would stumble around looking for the perfect words for each sentence I wrote. Now the job is over, the words flow.

What do you do when you are struggling with writing? What do you think of the idea that reading might not be helpful?

Helping Children Grow

Grow: A Novel in Verse written by Juanita Havill and illustrated by Stanislawa Kodman is a delightful book that pushes the boundaries of middle reader fiction. First of all, Grow is written in appealing verse, which leaves much of the page open for whimsical illustrations and gives it a lighter, more delicate feel. Secondly, it is filled with strong, and realistic adult characters, which are often left out of children’s and young adult’s fiction.

Kate, a twelve-year-old girl, is the main character. She helps her neighbor, a large woman named Berneetha, to start a garden in an abandoned lot. At first all the neighbors seem skeptical, but soon they are drawn in by the lure of growing plants and Berneetha’s welcoming spirit. Along with the plants, a sense of community develops as well.

That is not to say this is a light-hearted story, it does have depth. Early on a vehicle hits one of Berneetha’s cats, killing it. Later the garden is threatened when the lot changes ownership. Harlan, a boy that has been working on the garden, is accused of stealing a truck. And underlying is a message about female body image and weight, as Kate struggles with both.

Grow is a book you want to share and discuss. It would be perfect for a literature circle or book club, because it doesn’t take long to read and yet it offers a wealth of material to think and talk about. Reluctant readers would find it appealing because the action is fast paced. Think about how fun it would be to start a garden, or grow some plants, as a supplementary activity. At the very least, this book should be accompanied with a bouquet of fresh flowers and a tray of garden vegetables for a snack.

Juanita Havill, a gardener herself, knows the therapeutic value of mucking around in the soil. Spend some time with this great little book and you will too.

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 144 pages
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers (April 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1561454419
ISBN-13: 978-1561454419

Edit: Book Review Blog Carnival #24 is now up at Inkweaver Review.

Father’s Day Books for Kids and Dads

Just in time for Father’s Day, some books for children and one for dads.

Board Book

Daddy Hugs by Karen Katz

A good first book

Picture Books for Children

What Dads Can’t Do by Douglas Wood and Doug Cushman (Illustrator)

Humorous approach to fatherhood for the younger set.

Just Me and My Dad by Mercer Mayer

Little Critter goes camping with his dad in this sweet book.

Ages 9-12

My Funny Dad, Harry by Karen Arlettaz Zemek

A true story of a funny and quirky father

For Dads:

Halfway to Heaven: My White-knuckled–and Knuckleheaded–Quest for the Rocky Mountain High by Mark Obmascik

The humorous story of a stay-at-home-dad who decides to climb all of Colorado’s 14,000 feet mountains and what he discovers along the way.

Hope you enjoy them with your dad!

Linnea in Monet’s Garden: A Children’s Book Review

Are you ready for a trip to Paris, or at least a pretend one?

After completing the list in the previous post of children’s books set in each of the 50 United States, I tried to think of books with strong settings from other countries. I immediately thought of an older book, Linnea in Monet’s Garden by Cristina Bjork, Lena Anderson (Illustrator), and Joan Sandin (Translator). This unique book is a combination travel journal and biography, all wrapped into a beautiful piece of art in itself. The exquisite illustrations and superb photographs are enchanting.

In the book, our tour guide to Paris and Monet’s gardens is Linnea, a lively and charming young girl. Interested in nature and art, Linnea goes to Paris with her knowledgeable older friend, Mr. Bloom, to see Monet’s water lilies. On the way they encounter the sights like the River Seine, Notre Dame Cathedral and the second oldest tree in Paris. They take the train to Giverny, where Monet’s house and gardens have been turned into a museum.

Linnea’s descriptions make us feel like we are traveling right along with her, seeing the sights as she does. Particularly compelling is how the authors show a painting of a water lily close up and from far away, demonstrating how Impressionism works in a memorable way. On another page we see four paintings of the same bridge Monet did over his lifetime. We can see how the details change as his eyesight began to decline.

It is a marvel how the author and illustrator have packed so much information into 56 pages. In addition to descriptions and examples of Monet’s work, the book covers a detailed treatment of the restored gardens and a brief, but intense description of Monet’s life (warts and all), all woven into a compelling story. Also included are photos of Monet and his family, some previously unpublished.

If you are traveling to France with children, this book is a must. If your children are interested in France, art, photography, art history, Monet and nature, they will enjoy it as well. Finally, if you are simply ready to be carted off to a lovely garden/art museum for a few minutes, then you are ready for Linnea in Monet’s Garden.