Introducing my plot bunny

How many times do you set an alarm on your phone as a reminder to complete a task?

I do it frequently, although not as often as I should. Because there should be an alarm going off every morning saying, “Get out of bed. It’s time to write.”

But I don’t set that alarm. And by the time my feet hit the floor, there are so many distractions it’s easy to forget all about writing. I can’t count the number of mornings my day begins with my husband asking if I’ve seen his keys, or his belt, or his wallet, or his [insert belonging here]. After the scavenger hunt is over, there’s cat puke to clean up, a litter box to empty, dishes to wash …

You get the point. Life as we know it.

The times I remember to write are when I have time alone to think. In the car, in the shower, in the waiting room while my oil gets changed. But those moments and environments aren’t exactly conducive to writing.

So I got a visual reminder. Meet Plot.

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Plot sits on my desk as a reminder: “Hey Julie. Get over here. It’s time to write.”

In NaNo writing circles, the phrase “plot bunny” gets tossed around a lot. A plot bunny is a story idea that stays lodged in your mind and nags to be written. Like real-life bunnies, plot bunnies have a tendency to multiply … one idea leads to the next.

The plot bunnies for The Mountain of Dempsey Molehill have been hopping around my brain for a long time, and I need to get them on paper so I can set free other plot bunnies that are starting to clutter up my head. So I decided it was time to get a writing mascot to catch my eye and keep me on task.

And what better mascot than Plot Bunny? Especially since 70 percent of the toys for sale right now are Easter bunnies.

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There’s always an excuse not to write

Thank goodness for paid vacation time and Camp NaNoWriMo.

It’s been weeks since I’ve written a word. The last time I had a productive day of writing was February 2. Since then, progress has been minimal.

But this week, I have five days off work. Camp NaNoWriMo is underway. And I’ve got a goal to knock out 30,000 words. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen, but at this point any amount of writing will be a win.

The original timeline for “The Mountain of Dempsey Molehill” was to release this summer, but each deadline got delayed. From September to December, I told myself it was okay to put the book on hold because I was picking up six-day weeks and overtime at work. Then I told myself it was okay to skip writing sessions because the husband and I were house hunting – and currently in the middle of housebuying, and then moving.

I almost talked myself out of working on my book this week. I scheduled vacation time for the first week of April months ago, specifically to write during the first week of Camp NaNoWriMo. But with a pending move within the next month, I started to convince myself I need to spent the next five days packing boxes.

That’s when the voice in the back of my head started nagging.

“There’s always going to be a reason not to write,” it said. “It’s time to make time.”

So even though I should be packing this week (and hopefully I’ll get some packing done), the first order of business each day is writing.

I don’t have time to write, but this week I’m going to make time.

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5 great TED Talks about children’s literature

I got hooked on TED Talks over the weekend.

Despite the fact I kept telling myself, “Just one more, and then I’m going to stop watching these,” I kept watching. (No regrets.)

Below are five talks about children’s literature worth a listen. It will be an hour and 10 minutes well spent.


Can a Children’s Book Change the World? (12:42)

Sue Park talks about reading for the development of empathy.

“Can a book help make a reader a better human being?” Park asks.

Spoiler alert: Yes, it can. Park explains how books like “A Long Walk to Water,” “Wonder,” “Crenshaw” and “All-American Boys” can help young readers understand others with different life experiences … and find in themselves the power to fight against the world’s unfairness.


The Windows and Mirrors of Your Child’s Book Shelf (12:23)

What happens if you never see anyone in a book who looks like you?

Grace Lin discusses how she grew up as the only Asian student in her elementary school. “It seemed like there was nobody that looked like me anywhere,” Lin says. Not at school, in movies, on TV, in magazine … and not in books.

She discusses the bigger picture of denying her heritage in an effort to blend in … and growing up to rediscover her heritage by writing the books she wished she had as a child. Her novel, which stars a minority main character, went on to win a Newbery Medal. The book gives young Asian American readers mirrors to see themselves in literature, and it gives other readers a window into the life of a minority protagonist.


Missing Adventures: Diversity and Children’s Literature (16:20)

Purchasing children’s books is a source of frustration — and even trepidation — for Brynn Welch. That’s because she has a hard time finding books that feature characters who look like her son, who is black. Of 3,200 children’s books received by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center in 2015, only 240 had a black protagonist. Fewer than 80 starred Latinos, and fewer than 30 featured Native Americans. Only 16 percent of children’s books that year featured people of color.

“Most of us don’t notice who’s not there,” Welch said. Until someone points it out, anyway.

It matters who children see represented in children’s literature, she says. She discusses gaps she has found in children’s literature and where she would like to see better, more diverse representation.


Why We Should All be Reading Aloud to Children (9:30)

Rebecca Bellingham, as a teacher and a mother, has read a lot of books aloud to children. To her experience, it’s rare for children not to enjoy the chance to hear a story and “get inside a book.”

Bellingham talks about the impact reading aloud has on young readers’ independent reading lives.


Inspiration Through Children’s Literature (17:35)

Children’s literature has something to offer to readers at many stages of their lives, including adulthood. This video is a bit lower quality than the previous ones listed above, but it’s also my favorite (especially since there’s the bonus of Drew Vodrey reading a children’s book aloud during the presentation, complete with fantastically giddy laughter).

Vodrey describes children’s literature as a Rorschach test for our lives and touches on how we touch back to kid lit and its lessons throughout our lives.

“Don’t discard children’s literature as something simple,” Vodrey says.

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Guess how many words I’ve written in 3 weeks?

Zero!

(That’s the answer to the headline, in case you were wondering. Sorry … I didn’t give you a chance to guess.)

Zero is the sum of words I’ve written in “The Mountain of Dempsey Molehill” this month.

You’d think I would use a sad face or ellipsis behind that zero instead of an exclamation point. Writing nothing for three weeks isn’t exactly something to gloat about.

But there’s a silver lining to the periods when writers aren’t writing.

After being away from writing for 20+ days, my desire to hit the keyboard is re-energized. The time between writing sessions is a good time to stockpile ideas, and I’ve got a notebook full by this point. (Although a good chunk of them are ideas for new writing projects that I want to tackle …)

The down side is I’m behind schedule on meeting a couple of deadlines, so I need to use that excitement to make up some ground in the coming three weeks.

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Representation matters. Here’s why you should care.

diversity

I didn’t think much about diversity in childhood.

I grew up in a rural Midwestern elementary school district primarily comprised of white middle class students. A portion of the student body was Hispanic and Latino.

Throughout my entire grade school and junior high career, we had one black student. Her family moved to the area, stayed for about a year, and then moved out of the district.

It was easy for me to find likeness all around me. In my classroom, in my community, in literature, in television shows. It took effort to find differences. I never lacked a sense of belonging over issues like my race, religion, gender, physical abilities, etc.

I didn’t know that there were thousands of students elsewhere in the U.S. without that luxury.

Why representation matters

This is Exhibit A for why representation is important.

At first glance, Emma Bennet looks like an average 10-year-old girl. It’s on second glance that you can spot she wears a prosthetic right leg.

Emma’s parents reached out to a prosthetic company to make a smaller scale prosthetic leg so she could have a doll that looked like her. A Step Ahead Prosthetics accepted the request and sent the lookalike doll to her with a note saying the doll was ready to live “without limitations,” just like Emma.

Her reaction says it all. For the first time, she finds herself reflected in a doll. The emotion is overwhelming for her – and, quite likely, for those who see the video.

This is Exhibit B, shared by a friend on Facebook.

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Here’s Exhibit C, a viral anecdote making the rounds on social media.

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Exhibit D comes from Jacqueline Woodson’s poetic memoir “Brown Girl Dreaming.” Woodson grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, living part of her life in South Carolina and part in New York. Her words let me step into her shoes and take a few baby steps toward understanding what it meant to be a black child in those decades.

One particular passage in her poem “stevie and me” stands out:

If someone had been fussing with me
to read like my sister, I might have missed
the picture book filled with brown people, more
brown people than I’d ever seen in a book before.

The little boy’s name was Steven but
his mother kept calling him Stevie.
My name is Robert but my momma don’t
call me Robertie.

If someone had taken
that book out of my hand
said, You’re too old for this
maybe
I’d never have believed
that someone who looked like me
could be in the pages of the book
that someone who looked like me
had a story.

I had to set the book down when I read that last stanza for the first time. “If someone had taken that book out of my hand … I’d never have believed that someone who looked like me could be in the pages of the book.” She’d never have believed that someone like her could have a story.

But we all have stories. Every single person who lives has a story. And every one of those stories is important. Those stories need to be told so others can say, “That’s just like my story. I can relate.” And so others beyond them can say, “I never knew your story – it’s different than mine, but it helps me find our mutual ground. It helps me understand you. It helps me respect you.”

Why diversity matters to the already-represented

I mentioned earlier that I never had problems finding myself represented in the community, books, TV shows, etc. So why should I care?

For years, I didn’t know I was missing out on anything. But what I didn’t know did hurt me, in a way. Not as much as it hurt the others who struggled to find themselves reflected in media and community, but it stunted me.

Representation in media builds empathy and understanding. Representation builds perception. It matters to have the Mexican man cast as the hero and not always as the villain so society doesn’t subconsciously (and unjustly) characterize Mexicans. It helps me understand a fraction of what it meant to grow up black in the south during the 1960s and 1970s.

For a long time, “diversity” seemed to be little more than a buzzword. College admissions essays asked for descriptions of diversity in my life. Workplaces discussed how to hire a diverse staff and why it was important. It wasn’t until I immersed myself in children’s literature that I truly began to grasp why diversity is more than a buzzword.

Children need to see themselves reflected in the world around them. They need to know there is a place for them – a welcome place. They need to know there’s a seat at the table. And those who are already at the table need to know it only enriches them to make room. It truly is “the more the merrier.” The more we know of each other, the more we learn about the each other, the happier and more harmoniously we’ll live.

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Happy birthday! Here’s a book giveaway

Today I turn 30.

I can’t recall if any of my childhood wishes on candles included seeing my name on a book cover; if it was, then there’s definitely some reliable magic in birthday wishes.

Birthdays are a big deal when you’re a kid. Once the 30th one rolls around, though, they lose a bit of their shine. Still, they can still be fun … I especially love other people’s birthdays because the fun is in the giving.

To celebrate this year, I’ve decided to forgo the gifts and instead be the giver. In honor of my 30th birthday, I’ll be giving away 30 books. Enter by filling out the form below between Jan. 7 and Jan. 14, 2017, and 15 winners will be drawn to receive one copy each of “Sarah & Katy and the Imagination Blankets” and “Sarah & Katy and the Book of Blank.”

bookgiveaway

Information in the form above will be used only to ship books. Information will not be kept on file and will not be used for future marketing or mailings.

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A writer’s goals for 2017

WriterGoals.png

Let’s take a moment to call New Year’s resolutions what they really are: goals.

Even though goal-setting is applicable in any season, the new year is as good a time as any to look ahead, make plans, and set goals.

Here are my 2017 goals as a writer. If I remember once December rolls around (I make no promises, and if I were you I wouldn’t place any bets …), I’ll come back to this list and see how well I’ve fulfilled my plans.

  1. Have more of an online presence on my blog, Facebook, and Twitter pages.
  2. Dabble in other forms of social media … maybe it’s finally time to check out Instagram and tumblr.
  3. Write more stories in between chapters of longer projects.
  4. Finish writing “The Mountain of Dempsey Molehill.”
  5. Take more solitary walks. (These are great brainstorm sessions … the blood starts flowing, and so do ideas.)
  6. Read more books with diverse casts.
  7. Write more with diverse casts.
  8. Focus on regularly networking with other children’s authors.
  9. Attend a writing conference.
  10. Get organized with a monthly plan for blog posts and website content.
  11. Spend more time engaging with young readers and getting to know them.
  12. Also spend more time at the keyboard writing.
  13. Don’t let writing time come at the expense of ignoring family time … and vice versa.
  14. Get out of the house. (I’m something of a hermit by nature, but there are loads of story ideas out and about in the community.)
  15. Travel more. (Again … loads of stories beyond home.)
  16. Just write. Write badly. And brilliantly. Write when inspired and when I absolutely do not feel like it. Write when I have time, and make time when I don’t have it.

And one last general goal: Buy new bookshelves, because the old one finally collapsed.

bookshelf

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