Tuesday, February 28, 2012


While I have not moved forward with my writing in the past week, I have been reading children's books as well as a few chapters in my book on editing. One night I was explaining some of the things I had learned from the editing book to my husband, and comparing those points to what I have read in successful children's books, showing him how it didn't seem to apply in the same way, and he told me he was impressed with my progress on this project so far. I was not expecting him to say that and it was very nice to hear!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Busy but not Productive

Things I have done recently. I have read three books: My Best Frenemy by Julie Bowe, Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows (several times - my daughter loved it), and Princess Posey by Stephanie Greene. I found Princess Posey because I was looking at the different authors who had visited my kids' school, and Stephanie was one of those authors. Princess Posey is short - under 3,000 words, and the main character is in 1st grade. So this book would target a different age group then my story, but still good for getting a broader look at what is out there in children's chapter books.

I bought a book on editing, with the idea being that I will learn the mistakes I would make and need to fix BEFORE I make them and do it right the first time! Ha, ha... we will see. The name of the book is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King. I have to admit though, the reason I purchased this book is because it was the ONLY book on editing in the "how to write" section at Barnes and Noble. I just pulled it up on Amazon and it has a 4.7 out of 5 stars rating (178 reviews) so I am feeling good about the purchase!

I am up to about 4,450 words now. I jumped ahead to a chapter that will come later in the book. I am pretty sure this would not be the advised way to go about writing a book, but I am kind of winging it anyway. Ideally I would have an outline showing what happens in each chapter and write from there. Maybe this is something I should do now, as I do think it would help me focus. I have read advice that you should just get the entire first draft done before going back and making any changes, but I keep re-reading what I have so far and tweaking it... especially when I am not sure how I want to contine the story.

Lots of things have been keeping me away from writing. I am a digital scrapbooker and sometimes that is where my creative urges pull me. Birthdays... my son's this past Friday, my husband's yesterday, and my daughter's tomorrow. Treats to be made for the kids to bring to school, parties to plan and last-minute presents to buy. Spending time with the kids today, home from school for Presidents' Day. Snuggling on the couch watching TV with my husband... every year I say I don't need to watch American Idol and every year I end up watching it anyway.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Thoughts about Accelerated Reading

As a mom, I thought I was pretty familiar with the Accelerated Reading (AR) program which my kids' school uses to track their reading progress. Now that I am digging a little deeper it gets very confusing! In my previous posts I have been assigning an AR number to each book, but the number is actually an ATOS level. I get most of my information from a site called AR Book Finder, which our school website provides a link to. ATOS is basically a formula used to determine how hard the text is to read, for example length of the sentences and difficulty of vocabulary words. So an ATOS level of 3.6 would be suitable for the average child in his/her sixth month of third grade. Here is where it gets a little confusing, because even though the text may be suitable for the child, the content may not be. I found a pretty good article called a Parents Guide to Accelerated Reading explaining the AR program in greater detail.

So when choosing books for a child, you can't go on the ATOS level alone. The AR Book Finder site also provides an interest level, broken down into four categories: Lower Grades (K-3); Middle Grades (4-8); Middle+ (6 and up); and Upper Grades (9-12). Therefore it would be possible to have a book with an ATOS level of 4.5 but based on content suitable for kids in the Upper Grades category.

To make it more confusing there are other scales out there for determining reading levels. The Lexile Framework for Reading is one, and as stated in Wikipidia is "Recognized as the most widely adopted measure of reading ability." A Lexile reader measure is indicated by an "L" after the number and can range from below 200L for new/beginning readers to above 1700L for higher-level/advanced readers. Others you might find are the GRL (Guided Reading Level) and DRA (Developmental Reading Assessment) numbers which, as a mom searching for the right books for my kids, confuse me even further! A good site to make some sense of this is Scholastic. There is an area called Book Wizard that will tell you any of the different leveling systems for a particular book. I think in the end you just have to use your best judgement based on each kid.

As an example of how subjective this whole system seems to be, my 4th grade son took a STAR reading test that put his reading level at 11.5, which would be mid way through 11th grade! The report said he should read books in the ATOS range of 6-13, but his interest level is mostly still in the 4th to 5th grade range. Now a STAR test only takes about 10 minutes, so really, how much can a computer learn about a human in such a short time, especially when the test is multiple choice?! One of my son's favorite books so far this school year was The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan and that has an ATOS level of 4.5! The 4.5 is on the low end of the interest level which is middle grades (4-8) but right where my son should be reading.

The main reason I wanted to research this more, is to make sure if I am going to write a book that it falls into the appropriate reading level AND interest level for my target age group. So if my intended interest level is lower grades (K-3) then I want to make sure the ATOS level would not be over 4.0 or the equivalent in other rating systems. And to keep the reading level down I would need to keep my sentences shorter and vocabulary fairly simple. Off to check my manuscript! LOL!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Middle Grade Books

Moving on. I asked at the book store about titles similar to Judy Moody and the others on my initial list, and this gave me another list of books to research. These recommendations ended up being much longer reads and also a slightly higher age range. But I was glad to get through this group because I am now beginning to see the distinction between the middle-grade and early chapter/lower-grade books.

The Accidental Cheerleader by Mimi McCoy, A Candy Apple Book, Scholastic (word count 29,744; pgs. 160; AR 4.3) Age Range: 9 and up; Middle Grade: 4-8

Allie Finkle Rules for Girls: Moving Day by Meg Cabot, Scholastic Press (word count 39,959; pgs.228; AR 5.0) Age Range: 8 and up; Middle Grade: 4-8

My Best Frenemy by Julie Bowe, Puffin (word count 37,914; pgs. 234; AR 3.4) Age Range: 8 and up; Middle Grade: 4-8

Monday, February 13, 2012

Slowly but Surely

And here we are seven or so months later with only three and a half chapters, just over 4,000 words, in first-draft form. I never said I would write it quickly! It is coming along though and I am enjoying giving the story some substance.

Recently I decided if I was going to take the time to write a book, then I would want to see if it was good enough to be published. Something which kids other that my own, who by law must say it is the most wonderful thing they have ever laid eyes on, would be interested in reading. So I have done some research into books that I feel are in a similar age range to what I am writing, trying to determine about how long the book should be. In addition to jotting down the length and other facts about each book, I have checked out and read as many of them as my local library has availabe. This has been in between reading books for my own pleasure, as I just had to finish the last installment of The Hunger Games series! I saw a piece of advice in the 2012 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market that said you should "Read at least 200 children's books in the age group and genre in which you hope to be published. Follow this by reading another 100 children's books in other age groups and genres so you will have a feel for the field as a whole." I was lamenting the fact that I barely have time to do the laundry (although as noted above I do make time to read for my own pleasure) let alone go read 300 kids books, and my husband pointed out that I probably already have, seeing that I am constantly reading to my kids who are in my target age group! Unfortunately my kids are currently obsessed with the Hardy Boys books (the original series) so I’m not gleaning any great tips on modern children’s writing from those. But we are all learning the meaning of words that even I need to look up in the dictionary to explain the definition properly!

Judy Moody by Megan McDonald, Candlewick Press (word count 11,249; pgs. 176; AR 3.5) Age Range: 6-10; Lower Grades: K-3

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, Hyperion (word count 12,706; pgs.160; AR 4.5) Age Range: 7-10; Lower Grades: K-3

Ivy & Bean by Annie Barrows, Chronicle Books (word count 7,888; pgs.120; AR 3.2) Age Range 6-9; Lower Grades: K-3

Junie B. Jones Cheater Pants by Barbara Park, Random House (word count 8,174; pgs.96; AR 3.1) Age Range6-9; Lower Grades: K-3

Only Emma by Sally Warner, Puffin (word count 13,763; pgs. 144; AR 3.9) Age Range: 8 and up; Lower Grades: K-3

Now I do feel the need to add here that I am a little upset with Judy Moody’s mother. I am also a mom, with kids in 2nd and 4th grades, and my husband and I are trying like crazy to implement a proper amount of discipline in our family. At this point in the war on discipline, if my son responded to a simple request to wake up and get ready for school with a “ROAR,” that would definitely be the WRONG answer. Maybe it is possible that when the pages of the book close (or the e-reader shuts off) that little Miss Judy gets a talking to, as some parents feel it is not kind to scold their child in public, but I’m thinking not. I was explaining this particular Judy Moody behavior to my husband recently and he was like “Hey, our son says that.” And I said, “Yes I know, this is where he got it from.” And thanks, Judy Moody’s mother, for that.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Adventure Begins

This past summer, for something fun to do as a family, I suggested we sit down and come up with a book idea. I already had the title of this book in mind - a nick-name my son gave to my daughter when they were both pretty young. I can’t remember how my son started calling her this particular name, but it was super-cute and one that both my husband and I remembered. So we all sat around the dining room table while the baby was napping, and started with a list of characters and their descriptions, followed by a simple plot and several conflicts to be presented and resolved throughout the book. My son made a cover page with the title drawn out and wrote “Planning Binder” under that which sounded rather official to me! It was a fun process and I told the kids I would take these ideas and actually turn them into a book. So that is how this idea of trying my hand at writing came to be.

I decided to start a blog to keep track of my progress while writing this book... my research of the specific type of book I am writing, and the learning process for actually trying to get the book published.