Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


Journals: A Personal Resource of Ideas, Experiences, and Emotions

The pile of journals pictured to the left is only part of my archive of ideas and experiences gathered over the years. I began journaling at age fourteen when my parents took me out of school for six weeks to travel around Europe. Because my father was a flight engineer for Pan American Airways, we could fly for free if there were empty seats on the plane. The journal I faithfully wrote in every night of that trip is now a priceless account of my teenage emotions and excitement about that memorable trip through Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, England, Scotland, and Ireland. When I first dug it out of the bottom of a desk drawer years later, I laughed at some of my childish words, but I was also amazed at the details I had included. Memories of that wonderful family trip flooded back. Since then I’ve used bits and pieces from that journal as well as many later journals whenever I find I need specific details about setting, emotions, characters, or images. Some of the same details have been used more than once in my poems and stories. Since they are my own words, I don’t have to worry about plagiarism.

When I keep a journal, I feel a sense of freedom. I don’t have to worry about plot or character or theme. I simply write what comes to mind or strikes my fancy. I use it as therapy when going through a difficult time. I use it to describe places I visit and people I meet and don’t want to forget. I use it for phrases, words, snatches of dialogue I’ve overheard and may want to use in future stories. I often have more than one journal going at once.

For me, a journal is akin to an artist’s sketchbook. It hones my writing skills and acts as a supplement to my imagination. It has a certain random quality—sometimes a place to store things that have caught my attention and started my imagination rolling, sometimes a place to experiment or to try out first lines. Often it is an account of my day-to-day existence and is essentially private. Above all, it is a resource I can return to time and again.


Resource Books

Pictured above are two of my all-time favorite books relating to children's literature. CHILDREN'S BOOKS AND THEIR CREATORS, edited by Anita Silvey, is a wonderful encyclopedia of children's authors, illustrators, and their work. If I'm looking for the author of a particular book, and I want more information than I'd find at Amazon.com, this handy resource gives me interesting facts about the author or illustrator along with other works she/he has created. There are also many short essays by the authors and artists themselves, telling about what led them to create books for children. This is a wonderful book to browse, revisiting favorite books and authors and discovering new ones. The book was published in 1995 and I hope that Ms. Silvey will produce an updated version to include recent titles; I'd definitely buy it for my bookshelf.
The second book, DEAR GENIUS:THE LETTERS OF URSULA NORDSTROM, collected and edited by Leonard S.Marcus, is a fascinating look into the life of the woman who edited such luminaries as Maurice Sendak, Shel Silverstein, Margaret Wise Brown, and Garth Williams. I suppose it's not really a resource book, but I'd recommend it to any writer who hasn't read it yet. How lucky these authors were to have an editor who cared so deeply for them and their work.


New discovery

Reference materials for illustration are completely different than those used for writing, but for either task I look at everything I can get my hands on. I examine both online and library sources. When possible I go to relevant locations and exhibitions. I talk to people with first hand knowledge. The specifics vary.

A constant companion for all writing is my old thesaurus. In contrast to Stephanie’s college roommate, I look for short, clean words. Brevity excites me. Mem Fox said, “One-syllable words, like a good man, are hard to find.” I use my rhyming dictionary often too, finding inspiration on those dog-eared pages! Recently I offered to lend these books to my daughter as she worked on a poetry assignment, but she just smirked. The same tools are available to her on line. I decided to try her approach while I was working on a poem for my Stanford class. I stumbled on an interactive word map/visual thesaurus.
I love the free association, intuitive dynamic. Language is rich with nuance. Try this out!



Our topic this week is resources. What do we rely on for writing advice or information? This got me thinking about what absolute lasting information I have in my head about writing, and where it came from. Yes, I have my standby books, like Stephen King's On Writing, which I recommend all the time to students and fellow writers. But a few of my writing "commandments" got burned in my head way before I read that book, and even before I became a writer.

One of my first classes in college was English 110. My instructor, Dr. T., was tall, with silver hair, and he terrified me. But he knew the subject. And many of the things he taught us are still with me today.

The first thing he taught us? Obfuscatory Scrivenry. Foggy writing. Don't do it.
My freshman roommate was a perfect example of this. When she had a paper to write, she sat down with her typewriter and her thesaurus. Every other word in her paper had at least four syllables, usually more. Dr. T. told us to use words we knew. If it wasn't a word we used, then it shouldn't go in our paper.
But, he also was a big fan of expanding our vocabulary so we had more words to choose from. We had a vocab quiz every Friday. And I remember a word from the first quiz, which I flunked, big time.
Jingoistic. (If you know it, good for you. If not, I'd love you to put your guess below.)

I learned my lesson, and I got an A on every subsequent vocabulary quiz. Which leads me to a word of advice I got from my high school teacher Mrs. Laverty. She told us that if you use a new word three times on the day you first learn it, the word will be yours forever.

Near the end of that first quarter, Dr. T. called me up after class with a "Miss Stuve." ( He addressed all of us with our last name and a Mr. or Miss) Then he said, "I don't think you are capable of this, but I'm required to inform you anyway."
He then handed me a form that said I'd qualified to test out of the next quarter of English.

(I never said he was a nice guy.) Determined to show him, I tested out. And I imagine Dr. T. would be rolling over in his grave if he knew I ended up to be an award-winning writer...