Several years ago I interviewed Jon Scieszka, author of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales and so many other wonderful books. He had just started his campaign to get boys—universally known among librarians, parents and educators as reluctant readers—to read more books. He launched the site, http://www.guysread.com/ and has since edited several books of short stories by authors just for boys.

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I'm a fan of Stephen Colbert, who seems to suceed at any cause he takes on. But I knew that as soon as I saw his interview earlier this year with famed children's author Maurice Sendak, that this time his cause would lead to a bad end. Colbert's complaint was that it's easy for celebrities to get their children's book published regardless of the quality, and he "wanted in." And so he presented Sendak with a ridiculous premise: I Am Pole (And So Are You), a silly little story about a pole trying to find a job. By Colbert's own admission, it didn't take long to write. Yet I'm sure I don't have to tell you that he quickly found a publisher, without even trying.

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Last week an article in the Wall Street Journal declared that "Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?"...

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One of my mantras is that if you want to write for children successfully, you must read what others have successfully written. There are no better examples than those who win Newbery and Caldecott prizes. Read this article from Publisher's Weekly and then visit your library or bookstore to read them all. It's a worthwhile research project. Have fun.

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-book-news/article/45733-vanderpool-stead-bacigalupi-win-newbery-caldecott-printz.html?utm_source=Publishers+Weekly%27s+Children%27s+Bookshelf&utm_campaign=97ba746ea7-UA-15906914-1&utm_medium=email

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Scholastic Books has just named the 10 trends for children's books in 2010. It's all good news, I think, and opens our options as writers (though not as much if you want to write picture books). Take a look:
 
1. The expanding Young Adult audience
2. The year of dystopian fiction
3. Mythology-based fantasy (Percy Jackson followed by series like The Kane Chronicles, Lost Heroes of Olympus and Goddess Girls)
4. Multimedia series (The 39 Clues, Skeleton Creek, The Search for WondLa)
5. A focus on popular characters - from all media
6. The shift to 25 to 30 percent fewer new picture books, with characters like Pinkalicious, Splat Cat and Brown Bear, Brown Bear showing up in Beginning Reader books
7. The return to humor
8. The rise of the diary and journal format (The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dear Dumb Diary, Dork Diaries, The Popularity Papers, and Big Nate)
9. Special-needs protagonists
10. Paranormal romance beyond vampires (Linger and Linger, Beautiful Creatures, Immortal, and Prophesy of the Sisters)

So pick a number and start writing.

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It seems like vampires and werewolves have been dominating the children's book market for over two years, especially in the YA market. But the word from publishing houses is that they will soon be looking for realistic fiction again. So if vampires and werewolves don't easily fit into your plots, never fear. Our time is coming again soon.

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I don't mean to sound ornery, but doesn't it seem like a lot of very successful adult fiction writers are lately honing in on our market? First it was James Patterson with his series for kids that, despite bad reviews, is on the NYT Bestseller List. And now John Grisham will be writing a middle-grade series as well.  Gentlemen, it's already a crowded market out there. Please save some shelf space for the rest of us.

What do you think about author celebrites writing for a new age group? Carl Hiassen certainly did a good job when he moved to the children's book market, and others have deservedly won awards for doing so, like Sherman Alexie. But I wonder: Is this just another case of publishers going with the proven name, regardless of quality, just because they know it will sell books?

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The winners of the National Books Foundation Awards were announced last night, and the winner in the Young People's Literature category was Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose (Melanie Kroupa Books, a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux). The finalists were: Deborah Heiligman, Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith (Henry Holt); David Small, Stitches (W. W. Norton & Co.); Laini Taylor, Lips Touch: Three Times (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic) and
Rita Williams-Garcia, Jumped (HarperTeen/HarperCollins). 

Why does this matter? Quite aside from the fact that these books make good reading is the research it provides you, the writer. Not only should you read them to see what is recognized as quality writing and a good topic. You can also see which publishers are on this list since they're the ones who at one point took a manuscript query, recognized the quality and sent it to print.  

Three of these books are nonfiction, by the way, a reminder that fiction isn't the only genre you can concentrate on when writing for children.

    

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        It has been a while since my last blog because who knew that being a magazine publisher would be a 21-plus-hour-a-day job? I've always worked hard, but never this hard. Doesn't matter though because it's worth it when I get letters, e-mails and calls from readers and advertisers who say they enjoy the articles and the way the magazine looks. I just wanted to keep something I loved going, and if all goes well, that will continue. And there's something so gratifying about having produced a magazine from an idea through to the printed product.
       But I do miss writing for children, even though I'm now writing a book column in each issue of Long Island Parent magazine called "Family Bookshelf." It's my sneaky way to stay connected to the children's book industry while doing my regular work. And I do manage to find some time to read and in fact just finished the moving Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, a story that's both about teen suicide and about how easy it is to cause lasting harm with careless (or deliberate) comments. A lesson to us all, no matter what our age. I recommend it as not only is it a good story, it also has a sophisticated structure worth studying. The author alternates the main character's story with the story of his dead classmate through cassette tapes. Check it out.
        To see my latest magazine and new Web site, visit www.liparentonline.com  Now I must get back to work. My next issue is due at the printer. Then I plan to do some children's writing. Wish me luck.

  

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             I lost my job in December, becoming one of the millions who are victims of the economic downturn. Only in my case (well, perhaps all cases), it was political. At least that's what I believe. The powers-that-be at Newsday, the parent company of the magazine division for which I worked, decided to shut down all of the magazines. I had been editor of Newsday's Parents & Children magazine for nearly 10 years. It was a role I enjoyed and my readers were loyal followers. The excuse for the shut down was the economy, but a certain VP had been lobbying for it for years for personal reasons. The economy became his convenient excuse, and the other white shirts bought it. 
        After a couple of weeks of both feeling lost, and certain that now I can finally make all those changes to my YA novel All the Answers But One I've wanted to have the free time to work on, I made a decision. I have started my own magazine and Web site, Long Island Parent magazine and liparentonline.com. Because why not make a crazy decision like that in a bad economy when you've never run a business of that complexity before? I figured if I don't do it now, I never will. It has been a baptism by fire, but a manageable fire. Tomorrow I send my first issue to the printer, and next Sunday the Web site goes live. I've had the help of many others who were laid off with me, as well as my talented writers with whom I've worked for years, and a few new staffers who are already part of the team. The magazine looks fabulous and the editorial is solid. I have big plans for the future of my new company, Wordsmiths Media LLC. And I have but one regret: Why didn't I allow myself to enjoy being unemployed for a short time so I could finish my book? What was I thinking? 
    Ah, well. At least I've made time to listen to Laure Halse Andersen's YA novel Twisted during my many errands by car. A fabulous example, once again, of how a writer can draw a word portrait of raw emotion and a believable character. Makes me miss my character Beth. Maybe next week I can get back to her. We'll see.

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Nonfiction Children's Books

Liza’s focus as a children’s book author has until now been nonfiction books to...