Last January, Katie and I attended the NYC conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. As anyone who’s ever been to a conference of 1200+ people can imagine, it was a weekend of contagious energy, slightly numb rear-ends, and spinning minds. No doubt Katie and I could both write endlessly about all the things we thought about at the conference and have discovered since. Today I’d like to talk about ideas and where to find them.
Surely, lots of ideas come from our own experiences or people watching or imagining what-if situations. But Regina Brooks of Serendipity Literary Agency gave me a new idea (though it may be old hat to you). She suggested writing about a current news headline from a child’s perspective. Now I scour the paper for ideas and have a clipping file.
Here’s a sampling from today’s Jackson Hole Daily, a local paper in my hometown:
Latin Resource Center rings in Cinco de Mayo
How ‘endocrine disrupter’ chemicals negatively affect us
4 students killed at Syrian university
Pepsi revives Michael Jackson promotion
and my personal favorite,
Inmates take on cats as pet project
What a range of topics — some political and disturbing, others emotional and heartfelt. And don’t forget, humorous. Think of all the places you could run with any of those headlines. Endocrine disruption could be sci-fi or dystopian. Pepsi and Michael Jackson might inspire a dance-off for a middle grade novel. A dual language book about a community Cinco de Mayo celebration would be fun as well as informative.
The recent news of student deaths in Syria is both shocking and severe, and I apologize if the inclusion of that headline seems to cross some invisible line. But to say that kids — albeit older young adults — wouldn’t be able to handle such a topic would do those readers a disservice. Writing about emotionally and intellectually charged books can be done tastefully and without judgement. Take, for example, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. The book details a teen’s journey during Stalin’s forced relocation of Lithuanians during World War II. Ms. Sepetys’s story is heartbreaking, but so important and eye-opening. So, do not be afraid.
I encourage you to experiment with headlines – for your writing, teaching, or whatever else you do. As for the headlines above, they’re fair game. Let’s see what you can come up with.
I’ve found that I love scouring the paper (and yes, it’s actual paper and not internews, and yes, I do read the articles) and my clipping file is overflowing. So I say, Thank you, Regina!, and hope that someday I might do one of those headlines justice.