Friday, May 15, 2009

Writing For My Readers - Katie Davis

Today I'm giving my blog over to another children's book author.  Before I do though, here is a little bit about her.  She was born in New York City, grew up and went to the American College of Paris (yes, that Paris!), and graduated with a Bachelor of Science from Boston University. Then she got married and had two incredibly cute and talented children.
Katie loves to go camping, which she never does, loves to play tennis, which she rarely does, and loves to eat Hot Tamales Candy, which she does too often. As Katie says, she's been writing and illustrating picture books-- really bad ones--for decades. Then in 1996, while attending the Society of Children's Book Writer's and Illustrator's national conference she got a clue.

Thank you, Katie for stopping by with your thoughts today. And with that, I give you, Katie Davis!

Thank you, Shelly, for inviting me to be a guest blogger. I can't think of a better way to celebrate Children's Book Week!

Since your blog is called Write for a Reader, I thought I'd blog about ... writing for my readers. Ingenious, huh? But then I considered the new teacher's guide for my novel, and how it will help support teachers and their efforts to get readers writing. So I'm going to touch on both.

While I'm writing a new book, I don’t think about what will happen once it's published. Things like, will libraries stock it? Will teachers use it in the classroom? Will it sell well? (I always HOPE it will, but it’s unproductive to dwell on that stuff during the creative process.)

Pre-publication work is all about the story. How can I tell it best? What compels my characters? How can I bring even the ancillary characters to life? How can I ratchet up the tension? How can I make the reader want more? Actually, I love the later drafts when I'm concentrating on fleshing things out - that's where I have the most fun.

And it doesn't seem to matter whether it is a picture book or novel. Right now I'm developing the illustrations on an incredibly simple picture book that I didn't write. In order to broaden the scope of the main character, I put him in a montage in the middle of the book. Just adding that spread has brought the story to another level.

I'm also working on a young adult novel about girl who is a kick-a** survivor. She's so strong that I feared she wasn't sympathetic enough, despite the abuse she's lived through. In the rewrite I am having her question herself more, which gives the reader the opportunity to feel more for her.

After publication is a whole other story. When I first started out over a decade ago, I didn't even realize that the majority of authors were responsible for their own promotion. Or that authors and illustrators go to schools to do presentations to teach kids and get them excited about books. With the crummy economy and the increase in numbers of books published per year, we have to do even more to support our own books. Having just written The Curse of Addy McMahon, I was wondering about Teacher's Guides and what went into them. I knew about them, of course, but hadn't put much thought into having one done for my novel.

Then author and education consultant Colleen Carroll came along and luckily, convinced me that she was just the person to write one for my novel. It's been amazing - I haven't even gotten them back from the printer yet, and have already had a slew of requests for them (I’m happy to snail mail the 11 x 17” version to any teacher who would like one, but there is an 8.5 x 11” PDF on my blog if you don’t want to wait).

I learned so much from her, and thought you might appreciate hearing straight from her too so I interviewed Colleen.

Q: When did you first start writing teacher's guides?

A: I've been writing teacher's guide since 1991, mostly to accompany video content for cable television outlets such as MTV (I wrote the nine-page guide for the Choose or Lose MTV forum with presidential candidate Governor Bill Clinton [remember boxers or briefs?], Nickelodeon [the first Big Help educator materials], Bravo, and CNBC. I began writing teacher's guides to accompany children's books in 1994 when I wrote the guide for See the City (Random House), by Matteo PericoliI. I've created guides for fiction, non-fiction, primary, middle grades, and YA literature, including Shredderman (Van Draanen), Tender Morsels (Lanagan, 2009 Printz Award winner), and The Edge Chronicles series (Stewart and Riddell).

Q: Why are they necessary? How do they help?

A: I believe that TGs are necessary because the help support teachers in their very busy lives. All good teachers want to bring great literature to their students, and they want those students to get the most learning they can from these books. Creating stimulating discussion questions and extension activities takes a great deal of thought and planning, and many teaches just do not have the time to devote to this type of task. Enter the teacher's guide. Teachers can use a guide to structure lessons before, during, and after reading. They can use the entire contents of the guide or pick and choose items in the guide to supplement their own original lesson plans.

Q: Of course, I've gotta ask...What was it about The Curse of Addy McMahon that made you want to take the job of writing the TG for it?

A: I love your work, as do my own children. You know how to make your readers laugh, and in my experience, that's why my kids keep coming back to your picture books over and over again. When I heard that you had written your first novel, I was curious to see how that humor and sensitivity would translate into a middle grade piece. It did not disappoint. Yes, it is funny and visually dynamic, but it is also deeply moving. You nailed the feelings that a young person has after losing a parent: the hurt, the anger, and sense of betrayal. As a person who lost her own father at age 17, after finishing the book for the first time, I knew I would write the guide. So in addition to loving your work, I made a personal connection with Addy that I felt compelled to extend to teachers and their students.

(Katie here again: I swear I didn't tell her to say that!)

Q: How will using this particular guide deepen a student's understanding of what he or she is reading?

A: This book is highly accessible, but there are so many sophisticated themes embedded in the story: themes that a middle grade reader might not automatically pick up on or think too deeply about. The guide highlights those themes by offering teachers stimulating discussion questions that challenge students to dig deeper, to ask questions of the main character (Addy), and to draw their own conclusions. The suggested activities for after-reading give students the opportunity to extend their reading by making text-to-self and text-to-world connections, important elements that deepen reading comprehension.


Unknown said...

Thanks for being a guest at Write for a Reader. :)

Becca said...

Nice post! I liked reading about Davis' creative process and I liked that she wrote an interview with the teacher's guide writer. Interesting!

You did a fabulous job with Children's Book Week, Shelley!

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