I Read White: The Issue of a Single Story

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

When I first started writing fiction I wanted to be intentional about representing a diverse cast of characters: race, culture, and socio-economic levels. For my first novel, which is still in process, my main character is black, her best friend is biracial and another central character is Latina.

Despite my desire to be intentional, I was also concerned about promulgating the stereotypes associated with race. This hope to handle well a people’s culture and race, a people’s story, has been one of the constant sources of writer’s block for me. What if I failed? What if I made a mockery of someone when I wanted to be honoring?

My reasons, of course, for being purposeful in character selection were well founded. I wanted to create a story that would have resonated with the eight year old me. A story that wasn’t accessible to my younger self but could fill the gap for another child.

I wanted to write a story where someone who looked like me, sounded like me, and acted like me, would take grand adventures and do amazing things in far off places. I wanted to write a book where main culture and lifestyle weren’t reserved for a single segment of the population but where anyone could take part in it. Such high hopes.

Every child deserves such a story.

My juvenile literary exploits were limited. Partly because of the topics that interested me and partly because of what was at my disposal More than anything, I had a fascination with white stories even though I wanted to see myself on the page.

Unfortunately, I read white. Regardless of how the characters are described, my mind generates Anglo images and I have to reframe what people should look like each time they appear in the story. It’s terribly annoying.

Sessions at the Festival of Faith and Writing 2014, like: It’s Just Fiction: Reading and Writing About Race, Culture, and Power with Mitali Perkins; The Power of Suspending Disbelief: Why I Read and Why I Write with Pam Munoz Ryan; and Issues Facing Writers of Color in Christian Publishing with Edward Gilbreath, Marlena Graves, Al Hsu, and Helen Lee; as well as the myriad of presenters, opened my eyes to a greater challenge …

As much as I encourage my dudes to read, I am guilty of raising another generation to read white. Looking at their bookshelves is a clear indication of how I’ve grossly neglected diversity in their literary lives.

How had I missed this?

I guess I could make excuses. I could say it’s because there isn’t enough diversity in their areas of interest. A sure sign that we as writers have work to do and we as readers need to support what is available.

How is it that I could be acutely aware of this injustice in my reading experience and miss the signs in the singular experience I am delivering to my dudes?

How had I, one who’d been victim to single story, been negligent? How could I see the importance of raising readers as a response to my personal history described in a recent post, yet overlook this distinction in theirs?

I could make excuses, but I won’t.

Honestly, I don’t know how I missed it. The good news is there’s time to change their reading trajectory and mine. I need to apply the same intention to selecting books for my family’s reading life as I’ve attempted with my writing life.

And, there’s so much more to “diversity” beyond what I’ve previously stated, like: religion, sexuality, politics, gender; the possibilities of variety are endless.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie beautifully conveys the issue of a single story in literature in this Ted Talk, recommended during an FFW session. I encourage all of you as readers and writers to take the time to watch this video.

Ahh! Awareness!

During teacher appreciation week I usually buy books for my boys classrooms. Mrs. B. responded to my inquiry for what books she was hoping to add to her class library with, “Of course, any books with multicultural characters.”

A wonderful reminder to me for which I am grateful.

Since hearing this cry for diversity at FFW, I notice it everywhere. My Amazon trolling looks different, my search criteria for a good book is broader, but it’s only the beginning.

Another reminder I am thankful for is the #weneeddiversebooks campaign that is currently storming the social media world keeps the issue in front of me. This article is one of many that shows how important it is to tell every story.

I wish I could accurately express how I feel realizing that I’ve fallen short. I wish I could help you understand how far we’ve yet to go. But it starts with being aware. It starts with passing it on.

Help me change the way I read. What books would you recommend, for my dudes and me, to expand our horizons and build a richly diverse library? How have you battled this issue? Please share…

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Best Beginnings

“There is no beginning too small.” ~Henry David Thoreau

Currently on my nightstand  ... some on loan from friends. © 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Currently on my nightstand … some on loan from friends.
© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

My best beginning is steeped in words and was the best beginning twice: once as a little girl and once as a parent.

My reading journey began with trepidation … halting steps.

Picture an awkward first grader, uncomfortable in her skin early in life, already different because of the color of her skin and body type. I wanted nothing more than to fit in, to be “normal”.

The youngest child in my family who was replaced as such by a surprise baby sister, school was the environment where I could be myself and where I was most alive.

One challenge … academically I struggled. Often I was in the lowest levels of each subject: math, writing, reading. I didn’t care much about math but reading made an impression.

Life in the late 70s and early 80s wasn’t like today. Few people sent their kids to school knowing how to count to one hundred or read by sight. Back in those days reading went hand in hand with phonics.

It’s no wonder that I was “behind”.

There were lots of books in my home but they were mostly adult reads. Both my parents were insatiable readers but I don’t have memories of mom and dad reading to me, although they talk about doing so.

I was frustrated watching my friends and mortal enemies (as if that exists at 7) dive into more complex books than See Spot Run or Dick and Jane. They were growing their skills and vocabulary, sounding out words and counting syllables with fists striking tabletops. All my words were short single beats.

Devastated to find out I wasn’t equal, that I work to do, that I didn’t fit in, it was a heartbreaking time.

You’re wondering how this could possibly be the best beginning?

Well, it forced me to fight for written words. Envy drove me to become the best reader in my peer group instead of the worst. And in the process I fell in love with language, with literature.

Now I experience the world in words similar to conversation bubbles in comics and cartoons. (There’s a book, A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd, that I am dying to read because the description of how Felicity views the world feels like how I see it.)

Words and stories and books are how I fit in.

Their Spring Break reads which were done before Spring Break started. © 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Their Spring Break reads which were done before Spring Break started.
© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Round one of in my two part best beginning saga put me on the path of a life long love affair with great stories. Round two is less “hero’s journey” and more practical but no less tied for best.

Looking back at the initial trauma I lived through made me determined that my dudes would have a better tale to tell.

Their reading journey is my second trip to unlocking the wonder of words. It’s a personal mission. Even though it shares the title of best there is something sweeter about walking through it with my boys.

From board books to picture books and from comic books to chapter books and even eBooks to audio books, my boys have fallen in love with the power of stories. And it’s the only gift I felt qualified to give them.

What a rewarding opportunity to observe:

  • Stillness because they’re lost in another world.
  • Peels of laughter that is private joke between them and the pages.
  • Vocabulary beyond their ages and catches me off guard.
  • Expressions of sadness or anger that result in books being thrown down.
  • Conversations that start with “Mom you have to read this because…” Followed by a plot summary or character analysis (and they don’t know that’s what they’re doing).

At ages nine and seven, they own more books than I did when I was old enough to work full time and buy my own. Plus we take advantage of the local library and visit our local bookstores. Another joy is borrowing and loaning books to friends. This summer I hope to facilitate a “book club” experience for them and our small group buddies.

Readers surround them. They believe that readers are leaders.

How wonderful it is to have their reading origins shape their interests. My nine year old is planning a future as a comic book writer and illustrator. His seven-year-old little brother is a fledgling filmmaker.

I pray that this reading life is worthy of best beginning in their estimation. May storytelling stay in their blood. May they bring to words to life for others. May they continue the legacy of reading being the best beginning, twice.

What about you? What are your thoughts on beginnings? What is your BEST beginning?

 NOTE: This was a reflective journal exercise for me. Thanks to Lisa Sonora for sharing her 30-Day ROOT Journal Project with the world. And thank you to Stephanie at Visible and Real for writing the post that led me to Lisa.

Celebrating the Love of Reading …

I’ve been boasting to my dudes about how I used to stay up all night (2 or 3 in the morning and still getting up for school by 6AM) reading by flashlight under the covers.

Of course they thought that was cool and funny because I was breaking the rules.

My oldest expressed interest in doing the same thing. So I promised him a READ-A-THON. Maybe not the best name for our event. Still we pulled an all-nighter; complete with a carpet campout and picnic.

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint Grasshopper Cookies, York Peppermint Patties, and Honey Mustard Pretzels

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint  - Oreo Fudge Cookies and Cheetos Cheese Puffs

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint – Oreo Fudge Cookies and Cheetos Cheese Puffs

I purchased both dudes favorite snacks and drinks, along with some of my favorites. I made sure we all had new books to start reading that night.

The premise of the event was to see who could stay up the latest reading. We spent a couple of weeks throwing down the gauntlet. Each of us claiming the win, which just meant we’d earn the right brag.

At one point the oldest dude said, “I’m going to win because you need your rest and I don’t. You’re old and I’m not.”

Thanks for that! I am definitely older. My days of hiding under the sheets reading till the wee hours of the morning have long since expired.

But the most important part of doing this event was celebrating the new found love of independent reading that my dudes have discovered. They’ve always loved Momma reading to them at bedtime, but now they each ask for 5 minutes or more to read quietly before lights out.

Yes, I’m grinning from ear to ear.

My husband and I wanted to make a big deal out of their summer reading accomplishments, by awarding certificates of achievement. Also, we took the time to write each of the dudes a personalized note expressing our pride and joy.

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint  - Lots of book options

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint – Lots of book options

Our oldest dude read 10 books since school ended with the shortest being 192 pages. Many of the books he read within 48 hours of getting them. He also read lots of comics.

The sitter said he would lay on the floor while the smaller children crawled all over him. And still he read, unhindered by the fact that he was a human jungle gym.

Our youngest dude read 12 books within his reading ability. He’s great at sounding out words and remembers words that you’ve only helped him with once.

He also delved into the world of comic books, Sonic the Hedgehog being his favorite. At first I thought he was just looking at the pictures but when I asked him to tell me the story, he could.

I’m telling you these are the happy Momma moments. When something you’ve desired for your children manifests itself you can’t help but throw a party.

You may have noticed I get a little obsessive about my boys being readers. Leaders are readers, right? 

There are other things I need to be obsessive about for their sake. But this is the one that bubbles up most often, the one I feel most equipped to tackle, and it’s one they can carry with them everywhere they go.

More than once during our READ-A-THON event, I heard my 6 year old say, “You’re the best Momma ever,” primarily due to the junk food feast.

It was a special night. Great fun even though I conceded at 1:15AM to my 9 year old. He won the bragging rights but decided not to exercise them because he “didn’t feel right about it.” So sweet and naïve.

I don’t know that I would have been as generous to him. I would have bragged it up. I guess there’s always next year because guess what? They asked if we could make it an annual event. Yay!

Thankfully, there were a lot of people who knew about the event. I updated Facebook every 20 minutes or so, which means he’s received kudos from people in our circles of influence. I appreciate their acknowledgement because it reinforces his love of reading, his championship title, and his good sportsmanship.

To keep dudes going during the school year we have a new incentive which we kicked off the night of the READ-A-THON. I call it READ RACING.

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint – What you measure is what gets done.

Nothing fancy … just reading goals outside their school work for the first semester.

  • 6 year old = 500 pages within his reading level
  • 9 year old = 1000 pages within his reading level
  • Me – 3000 pages

Part of the new challenge: I get to pick one of their reads and they each get to pick one for me. So we’ll be forced into trying something we wouldn’t necessarily choose on our own.

If they complete their race, I will give them each a $20 gift card for Amazon (which I believe they’ll use for buying toys because they know Momma will buy their books).

I am encouraged and hopeful and inspired. See what good stories can do for you. Good stories move us!

What has inspired you or made you grin from ear to ear this summer? What can we celebrate together?

The Booker Award

Thank you to my dear blogger friend, Jenni, of News of the Times for the nomination of this award. Her blog keeps me informed of issues in the world but not like reporting the news. She also has some stunning pictures that she shares. Take a moment to check out her site.

Accepting this award includes:

  • Nominate other blogs, as many as you want but 5-10 is always a good suggestion. Don’t forget to let your recipients know.
  • Post the Booker Award image.
  • Share your top 5 books of all time.

Listing my top 5 books of all time is more difficult than listing 7 things about myself, but here goes …

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

“Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” The injustice that takes place in this story still amazes me. Even with proof we choose the path of ignorance and conformity to maintain our status in a flawed societal structure. We hide behind the law or religious belief and label our crimes against our fellow man as something other than what it is. I read this for the first time in high school with the naïve hope that one day it would not be true. And even though we’ve come a long way there are still places in this world where this type of injustice exists.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

One of the teens in my life suggested this read. It’s a great book for generating discussion around topics like teen pregnancy, adoption, abortion, and government involvement in such issues. It shines a light on how our decisions for the sake of humanity can be just as horrific as the travesty we are fighting against. It has a creepy factor, like slowing down as you drive past an accident. Wondering if you’ll see something you don’t want to but secretly hoping you do.

Earth’s Children Series by Jean M. Auel

  1. The Clan of the Cave Bear
  2. The Valley of Horses
  3. The Mammoth Hunters
  4. The Plains of Passage
  5. The Shelters of Stone
  6. The Land of Painted Caves

Book 1 is my favorite in the series. Watching a young orphaned girl who is different; because she’s capable of forming words and has a rounded forehead, get adopted into a nomadic family who communicates without sounds. It shows us the first structures of authority we learn:  familial hierarchy, community, and then world. It gives us the chance to experience being different to the point of being ostracized. I have to admit that I haven’t been able to read Book 6, which came out in 2011, because it didn’t get good customer reviews and I don’t want to ruin a story line I’ve been following for 14 years. Eventually, I will read it so I can see what’s next for Ayla and Jondalar but for now I am content.

Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins

  1. The Hunger Games
  2. Catching Fire
  3. Mockingjay

Again a recommendation from a teen reader, she keeps me in interesting books. Although this story is one of personal discovery, fighting the system, overcoming and a romantic subplot, the real story is about power. How we gain and lose it. How we wield it. How when liberated we may make the same choices (or worse) as those who were relieved of their power. There is a burden of responsibility, to do what’s right or best, that goes with the authority we have over others. Violent and tumultuous but a good way to look at the world we live in today.

Watership Downby Richard Adams

The first time I read this book it was because I wanted to know the story behind the animated movie I watched as a kid. For some reason animation can make something serious seem a lot lighter than it really may be. The struggle to get to safety. The challenge of deciding who to follow and why.

Again, a difficult list to narrow down but hopefully, you’ll add some new books to your “must read” list both from here and from the following nominees, once they’ve posted their lists:

Thank you again to News of the Times for giving me the chance to share favorites from my bookshelf.

Happy reading …

Reading to My Children, Books They Love to Pieces …

My husband and I have been reading to our children since the womb. We would crawl into bed and choose from a stack of rhyming books to read my rounded tummy.

When my husband read he could usually illicit movement as a response, a kick or punch. Sometimes there would be a somersault or full body stretch.  One of the things I loved most about pregnancy.

Our oldest son, at birth would try to turn toward my husband’s voice because he knew it so well. It was amazing to see a swaddled baby turn his head in the direction of his Daddy’s voice.

We received a copy of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom as a baby shower gift. A sing song story about the alphabet which I still have memorized to this day. Its bright colored pages took us from womb to tummy time. We would prop it up in front of him while he lay on his tummy. I would read it to him while he played in his bouncy seat.

As a toddler the book went with him everywhere as a constant companion; it was always under his arm. He carried it to and from the sitters. We eventually had to buy a copy to keep at her place. He carried it to Grandma’s house. He held on his lap during car rides. We had to read it every night at bedtime. This is how he learned his alphabet.

Here’s his third (well worn-well read) copy:

We had to buy our youngest son his own copy to destroy. And since we’d changed sitters we had to buy a new copy for her daycare library. So we’ve paid retail for this book at least 6 times, I’ve lost count. Crazy? No.

Reading to our boys is a joy, not just for them but for us as well. They still find comfort in hearing the sound of our voices as we experience new or favorite stories together. It’s humbling really.

It’s not just reading the words but finding ways to make the words come alive for them. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is more fun if it’s read (or recited in my case) with drama. Reading out loud is like performance art (think Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry Jam). Reading is NOT boring and I want my boys to understand that. When my oldest says, “I can see it playing like a movie in my head,” I know we’ve done our best by the author’s words.

Transitioning from rhyming books to picture books and now chapter books has been a wonderful journey. Watching my oldest read to my youngest fills me with a sense of pride and peace.

Here’s what on their bookshelf right now …

I love it when they laugh at the funny parts. I am thankful when they are empathetic to characters’ embarrassments, disappointments, and triumphs. Their comprehension is evident when I hear them tell the storyline to others.

We are reading, The Genius Files:  Mission Unstoppable, which I feel is too mature for them. But it just means we can have conversation to unlock the mystery of what they don’t know.

No matter what … my boys understand that words have power. And they love a good story. They know good stories are meant to be shared through voices of love.

What about you? … What are the books from your childhood that fell apart because you read them so much? Is there a book that you always have a copy of on your bookshelf?

The Suspension of Disbelief in Writing

My boys know I am writing a novel. My oldest even remembers to ask me how it’s going from time to time. I love that about him. He’s very thoughtful.

Recently, he wanted an update:

“Mom, when will your book be published?”
“Well, I have to finish it first.”
“When will that be?”
“Next year I hope.”
“Okay. And then you’ll get it published.”

I love the fact that he assumes publishing is the automatic next step. He doesn’t know how difficult it can be. He doesn’t know that it may not happen. I am glad that he isn’t limited by the realities of chasing a dream. I hope he keeps that innocence.

I wish I still had the attitude of an eight year old; the child-like faith. Remember when we believed anything was possible? Remember feeling invincible? Remember thinking we would conquer the world? Well it’s still inside of you!

When I sat down a year ago to write my novel, I had this naïve outlook. Nothing was going to stop me. I thought it would be easy. What was my goal?

  • Goal #1:  90,000 words in a year and a completed manuscript.
  • Goal #2:  6 months to edit and send to publishers.
  • Goal #3:  Publish the manuscript.
  • Alternate Goal #3:  Self-publish. (Okay, so maybe it’s Goal #4)

And I wasn’t afraid. It was do-able. I believed I could pull it off. I’d made the decision. Nothing else was necessary.

Until I sat down to write. I wrote 4 paragraphs that were flat. They didn’t match the pictures in my head. I realized I didn’t know what I was doing. But it was still possible so I kept my goals intact and invested in learning what I needed to achieve my goals.

Writing is a process. It starts with an idea. Sometimes those ideas flourish and sometimes they fizzle out and die. Sometimes they can be resurrected.

I’ve talked about some of my writing rescues before. This one is new. I subscribe to a blog called WRITEtoDONE. In a recent post, Unleash Your Writing With This Trick from the Movies, they talk about “suspension of disbelief”. This concept helps me view my writing in a whole new way.

As August 31, 2012 draws near and I’m only a third of the way to my first goal, I’ve decided to reset the clock. I will add a year to my project counter in Scrivener. I’ll adjust the word goal accordingly.

I will sit down and write in a state of suspended disbelief. The realities of life won’t hold me back. My story will unfold as it does in my head. I’ll wait to ask questions like:  “Is this possible?” or “Is it realistic?” or “Will my readers believe this?” I’ll reserve my judgment on issues like:  “How will this plot idea work?” or “Is the dialogue authentic?”

My Suspension of Disbelief … my new affirmations …

  • I am a novelist. It’s possible.
  • I am an author who is invincible.
  • I can conquer the world of writing. Why not?

Reclaim your child-like faith. Believe again in the impossible being possible. Dare to tell people you’re invincible and then leap. Start conquering the world around you in every positive way.

Writing: Failing Forward

“I didn’t fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong.” ~ Benjamin Franklin 

I failed to complete my writing goals for this week. They weren’t overwhelming or outside of my grasp.

I committed to my writing partner that I would:

  1. Finish a scene that is labeled Back-to-School Blues.
  2. Continue working on scenes that are labeled Counselor Visits.
  3. Jot 1500 words by doing the first two bullets.

Not one was accomplished. But it’s okay, because my failure this week gave way to success in a different area of the writing process.

“Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” ~ C.S. Lewis

Things are starting to fall into place. I finally know where my story begins and where it will end because I have my villain. My characters can move forward with purpose.

Knowing their purpose allowed me to do something that I haven’t been able to do since I made the decision to sit down and write. I was able to plan.

I spent my writing time this week planning out the story. For the sections I already have written, I was able to determine the order they should go. I created an outline and started moving scenes around in Scrivener. I know changes that need to happen within most of the scenes for them to connect within this order.

I was able to see what’s missing. I identified scenes that I need to write for the story to make sense and move from the beginning to the end. I can see where I’m going.

“Failure is a detour, not a dead-end street.” ~ Zig Ziglar

Isn’t that exciting? To have direction when I was wandering aimlessly before waiting for the story to start? To have answers to questions that have been with me since I started?

I am just over 30,000 words and now I feel like it will flow easily because I have a plan. A short term plan because something could happen during my next writing time that could change everything.

Or maybe I just need a plan so I can not follow it and feel like I’m breaking the rules. You never know. But I am optimistic.

“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”  ~Truman Capote

I am so thankful that I failed this week. I am glad that I fell short in my writing. I have a sense of accomplishment that I wasn’t expecting. I’ve learned quite a bit about what it will take to finish this novel.

I dare you to fail forward in your writing. Know that it’s okay when things don’t go according to plan; when the plan reveals itself differently. Remember, you’ll end up exactly where you’re supposed to when you’re supposed to …

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal:  it is the courage to continue that counts.” ~ Winston Churchill

Now I am off to my accountability call to tell my writing partner the great news:  I failed!

Writer’s Block: Take Another Step, Add a New Character

The process of writing has been slow. I committed to my writing partner that I would produce 1500 new words last week. With two and a half days left in the accountability week, I was sweating proverbial bullets.

My small start moved me forward. And for that I am grateful. I am glad that I have the desire to create new words for my novel.

Changing venue helped but I needed to take another step. Increase my stride. Move at a faster pace.

Cover of "Immediate Fiction: A Complete W...

Cover via Amazon

One of my writing rescues is Immediate Fiction by Jerry Cleaver. He states this:

“There are more conflict and more scenes, but what account for them? One thing and one thing only:  MORE CHARACTERS. More characters, who are more trouble, more scenes, more pages. Believe it or not that’s all there is to it. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. It takes work, but it’s that simple … Additional characters cause more trouble, forcing the other characters to act and reveal more of themselves. The novel is longer because the problem is bigger, the conflict more complicated and longer running. That larger, longer conflict is created by the presence of more characters. In terms of story elements, more characters are the difference between the short story and the novel.”

I wasn’t adding characters for length. My story line has so many possibilities that length isn’t an issue, unless you’re describing what I need to leave out because it’s getting too long.

New characters are energizing. Adding one new (unplanned, surprise) character reinvigorated me and reconnected me to the story I was worried had gone stale.

Introducing a new character created unexpected conflicts; unnamed environments; and undefined characteristics. The “un’s” need words to make them something.

I was able to explore the conflicts to see how they moved the plot along. I experimented with the environments to test out images. I was able to bring evolution to a character idea until the person was real for me.

This new character and her interactions with my existing characters have made writing this story fun again. It has created momentum … Surprisingly, this new character didn’t just help me write the 1500 words I’d listed as my goal but I was able to write double that number because of the conflict she represents.

I finally have my villain, my antagonist. Now my story is moving!

You don’t have to be stuck. If changing venue didn’t help … take another step and add a new character … I’d love to hear how this works out for you.

Joint Venture: Summer Reading Tips from Raymond Bean, Award-winning Author

Summer Reading Tips

I read the jotter’s joint post on summer reading from May 10, 2012, and it resonated with me.  Gail recommended one of my books, which won me over immediately, but it was the message in the post that I connected with as a father, teacher, and writer.  She expressed many of the complexities parents encounter when attempting to spark the love of reading in their children.  Summer reading can be especially daunting.

If you’re like many proactive and dedicated parents you’re stressing out a bit about summer reading.  Creating a summer reading routine that works for you and your child is multifaceted.  You want your young reader to WANT to read, initiate trips to the library, and seek out new books for that new digital reader you bought him.  You envision him snuggled up on a rainy, July day with a classic, perhaps a favorite book from your childhood (insert title of your choice here).  He wants to play XBOX 360.

I’ve taught elementary school for fourteen years and every year around this time parents begin to ask about summer reading.  I’ve put together a list of a few strategies that I’ve found helpful over the years.  Full disclosure, last summer I struggled with my then nine-year-old son over his reading, but that’s another story entirely.  Like Gail, I was attempting to help him learn to appreciate and read chapter length books independently.  I had a long list of books I was sure he’d love because I love them.  It turned out that I had just that, a list of books that I love.  Without meaning to, my son taught me that my job wasn’t to help him love my favorites, but to help him find favorites of his own.

We all know that there’s no perfect strategy or plan to help your kids with summer reading, but you’d better have one or it will be the last week of August before you can say, “Where’d you put your summer reading log?”

  1. Be Flexible:  Don’t push a book on your child.  The more you push it, the more he’ll find reasons to dislike it.  You may not love the book he’s reading, but it’s not about you.  I bet he doesn’t want to read the book you’re reading.
  2. Search Smart:  Try searching for new titles on sites like Amazon.  Start by having him type the title of a book he already read and liked.  For example, type in Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  Then scroll down to the “frequently bought together” category.  Books will naturally “pair” with similar titles.  If he likes book x there’s a good chance he’ll like book y.  Most books have a “Look Inside” feature.  Use this to your advantage to weed out clunkers and minimize the chances of him selecting a book he doesn’t like.  Read a few pages before making a decision.
  3. Set Goals:  I’m not a fan of time based reading goals.  Many kids simply wait out the clock and ask, “Am I done yet?”  Instead experiment with page based goals.  Consider the number of total pages in the book.  Work with your child to decide on a manageable number of pages to be read per day.  Don’t go nuts!  Help your child set reasonable and achievable daily goals.  Once daily goals are set, determine a completion date for the book.  This strategy will help your child read more, and also provide experience planning, setting, and meeting goals.
  4. Read:  Practice what you preach!  Don’t tell your child it’s time to read and park yourself in front of the computer or text your friends.  Reading with your child when he’s making the transition to chapter length books is extremely valuable.  Join in on the fun, and share the book.  If he’d rather read alone, read near him.  Snuggle up on the couch or at least in the same room, and read something you like.  Have a reading goal of your own, and share it with your child.

Last summer was the summer my son transitioned to chapter books.  Thankfully he’s found many favorites of his own and read extensively this year.  Lately he’s after me to read titles that he loves, and I haven’t had a chance to read yet.  What a difference a year makes!  Thanks to Jotter’s Joint for inviting me to stop by.  Please post strategies that have worked for you in the comments section.  Happy summer reading.

Read, Write, Laugh,

Raymond Bean

www.raymondbean.com

raymondbeanbooks@gmail.com

From the Jotter’s Joint, I extend a special thank you to Ray for sharing his insights on reaching reluctant readers.

I also want to say a personal thank you to Ray for his Sweet Farts Series which has made chapter book lovers out of my boys.

Please take the time to check out Ray’s website and blog.If you’re looking for summer books for your kids, Sweet Farts may be the right fit. My boys vocabulary for describing bodily functions has grown but at least I know they’re paying attention.

Happy Summer Reading,

Gail

Writing: I Can’t Believe I Wrote This!

Am I bored with my own story? I created the characters, the worlds they live in, and the things they do, but I’ve been stuck at 26,300 words of my novel for about 2 months now.

I’ve been ignoring my manuscript because I am mildly obsessed, okay I can’t lie, I am completely obsessed with blogging. It’s a fun distraction. And, as I’ve said before blogging allows you to write and you have a finished product at the end.

Usually, reading through the words I’ve already written (good, bad, or indifferent), helps me reconnect with the story and find new inspiration. It allows me to rewrite and edit what’s there which can take the story in new directions.

The most recent attempts to read through my own words have found me abandoning the task quickly. Only making it through the first 10-20 pages before I give up and find something else to do.

Writing is an emotional business. It’s a love-hate relationship.

I found great advice in How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card:

The Writer’s Image. Writers have to simultaneously believe the following two things:

1. The story I am now working on is the greatest work of genius ever written in English.

2. The story I am now working on is worthless drivel.

It’s best if you believe both these things simultaneously … Of course, believing two contradictory facts at the same time is sometimes referred to as madness – but that, too, can be an asset to a writer.

When I am most unkind to myself about writing, these words (along with those of my loving and supportive husband as well as my writing partners) come to mind and encourage me through the rough patch.

But I find myself riding the pendulum of indecision right now. Swinging between these two extremes of loving my work and hating my work and waiting to be centered and still.

I am riddled with doubt about my skill to bring life to my cast of characters so there is identification with readers (including me). I am gripped with fear by the thought that I will leave behind a great story that needs and wants telling. Yet, I am hopeful for having a renewed energy and sharpened creative skills to finish well even though the break seems to be dragging longer and longer.

Fellow authors, if there is any advice you can give me about picking up where I left off and moving forward, please pass it on.

Because one thing I know to be true:  I haven’t abandoned this story and its characters won’t let me go!