Teen Writers Bloc

A Blog by the New School Writing for Children MFA Class of 2012

Reading Bad for Kids, New Study Shows

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On April - 1 - 2013

ID 10053661 300x199 Reading Bad for Kids, New Study ShowsScientists at the National Institutes of Health have published the results of a groundbreaking longitudinal study in this month’s Journal of Psychology and Education. According the study, which followed six thousand children from ages seven through thirty-five, reading reduces both educational and career outcomes over a person’s lifetime and is linked with an increase in criminal behavior. The scientists measured the amount of reading done by the children using self-reports and parental reports as well as by monitoring the children’s library card usage. The results show that library use is particularly pernicious—there was a direct correlation between the number of books checked out per year at ages seven through fourteen and the number of arrests suffered by the children as adults. One in five of the heaviest readers (one hundred or more books per year) failed to graduate from high school, while those who read the least (zero to five books) were the most likely to have a graduate degree. Readers were also more likely to be divorced and less likely to have health insurance. Teen Writers Bloc spoke with Dr. Ralph Schumaker, the lead author of the study.

“Some people might find the results surprising,” said Dr. Schumaker, “but we’ve always known that reading impedes children’s development of social skills. Since success in life is based on likeability and not intelligence, we can expect to see some disadvantages. Readers get frustrated by their inability to connect with their TV-watching peers, and they retreat into lives of vice and crime.” Dr. Schumaker then described the life of one study participant, Paul Fletcher, who read two hundred books per year as a child and is now incarcerated in Federal prison. “His wife left him for a normal TV-watcher, and he lost it and went on a bank robbery spree,” said Dr. Schumaker. “He wore a mask with giant glasses painted on it. I guess he was making some kind of statement, but you know, it’s sad. If he had just read fewer books, he could be making a good living.”

The study also revealed that the heaviest readers tended to get pooped on by birds more regularly than non-readers, but the authors note that causation in that case has not been proved.

What does this mean for children’s authors like the members of Teen Writers Bloc? “We’re all in shock,” said Teen Writers Bloc member Alyson Gerber. “We love writing books, but we don’t want to be responsible for bank robbery or bird poop. We’re going to have to think long and hard about what to do now.”

What do you think? Should we stop writing children’s books and burn our library cards? Tell us in the comments!

Photo credit: Phaitoon

Alyson Thinks Your Point of View Matters Most

Posted by Alyson Gerber On March - 11 - 2013

TheListBook Alyson Thinks Your Point of View Matters Most“Always remember that it is of no consequence to you what other people think of you. What matters is what you think of them. That is how you live your life.” – Gore Vidal

When I heard Gore Vidal give this advice on Charlie Rose, I didn’t just pause my DVR. I swear, I felt my life pause. He seemed to be talking directly to me—writer/secret seventh grader (posing as an adult) who worries and wonders way too much about what other people think. I know I am not alone in the self-doubt department, especially among authors. But the idea that my perspective matters the most and that the way I see things is how I live my life—that got me thinking—not just about my personal point of view, but also about the characters I write and their perspectives.

Why are some characters able to hold our attention? Is it the way they see other people? Themselves? Their world? Is it the choices they make? And when a story requires more than one perspective, how can all the points of view matter? Do they have to matter equally?

I’ve done my best to read most of the new releases in Middle Grade and YA, and from what I’ve learned, there is no formula to writing a believable, engaging perspective. There isn’t one way to tell a story. Anything goes, as long as it is done well. But the way your characters see things—regardless of the first, second, or third person—matters a lot. It’s like any magic potion—lots of love, a pinch of common sense, and a few funny, unexpected ingredients.

Before I read The List by Siobhan Vivian, I was skeptical about a book told from 8 points of view. Anyone else feel that way? I wasn’t sure I’d be able to connect with the characters or follow all of the story lines. I have trouble juggling so many details. But it works. I was surprised as I read along that I didn’t get lost or have to flip back and re-read. I liked having the chance to dip into different people’s minds, to see the story of The List their way, and experience how each of them viewed the world around them. I liked that the novel belonged to each of them for a moment. For me, it solidified Vidal’s point, that what matters most is the way you see things—your point of view.

Book cover image courtesy of PUSH

What’s on Alyson’s 2013 Wish List?

Posted by Alyson Gerber On January - 1 - 2013

wish list Whats on Alysons 2013 Wish List?

You might remember that I am a New Year’s resolution failure. Well, that hasn’t changed. When it comes to creating a routine and sticking to it, I am awful. Absolutely incapable.

I envy people who order the same salad for lunch everyday, who consistently check the forecast and leave home (all responsible) with an umbrella and a weather-appropriate jacket, who do the same things over and over again (or at least more than once). I wish I could be that way. It looks so much better, especially when it rains. But I am not. I can’t help it. Maybe I need things to be a little chaotic. I am pretty sure no matter how hard I try, I will always be a little bit of a hot mess. Or at least, I will see myself that way. It is part of my charm. I hate routines, and I don’t thrive on them. So, why have I been pushing myself to write the same amount of words, at the same table, with the same cup of coffee everyday? It makes no sense, and I am done doing it.

There is only one thing on my 2013 Wish List—I am making a resolution that won’t fail. I am giving up trying to be someone I am not. I am going to be okay with the fact that I am someone who writes best on my phone, and on random post-its, and on paper table clothes, and on the subway, anywhere but on my computer. Except, of course, when I have finally given up on staring at my computer, given up on my 2,000 word goal for the day, when I have accepted that I can’t write anymore, that is exactly when I can’t stop typing. It makes no sense, but it is me. It’s what I do, and this year, I am going to be okay with it, because my chaotic way of doing things is actually working. I can feel it every time I work on my new book. Every time I send pages out to be critiqued. Just being me is working, and I’m not going to stop.

 

Alyson Is Always Holding Out Hope for the Next “To Kill A Mockingbird”

Posted by Alyson Gerber On November - 30 - 2012

546909x480 Alyson Is Always Holding Out Hope for the Next To Kill A Mockingbird

Despite the endless list of disappointments — The Indian in the CupboardHarriet The SpyTuck Everlasting — where the film adaptation just did not live up to what went on inside of my big, crazy imagination when I read the book, I cannot stop myself from going to see the movie version almost as soon as it comes out. 

The worst part is that when I walk into the theater, I really believe it is going to be magical, especially when the cast is amazing or when I love the director. I am already so excited for the new version of The Great Gatsby that I am re-reading the novel right now. More often than not, I leave feeling sad and defensive when the picture I had invented in my mind does not show up on the big screen. But I am always holding out hope that the film adaptation will do the book justice or better yet add another layer to the story. For this, I blame To Kill A Mockingbird. 

When I read Harper Lee’s novel for the first time in seventh grade, I could see Atticus, Scout, Calpurnia, and everyone in Maycomb, Alabama so clearly. They felt more important than characters. They become real people to me. After falling in love with the book, I watched the black-and-white version of the movie at home with my dad. I am sure I rolled my eyes and huffed, when he told me it was his favorite movie. But to Dad’s credit, nothing about the film adaptation disappointed me. Gregory Peck was Atticus Finch, just as I had imagined him. It challenged me to think about the story through a different lens, and it made reading the book better when I went back to it again and again.

So, when I shell out $13.50 to see a novel-turned-movie in theaters, I am always holding out hope that it will be the next To Kill A Mockingbird. 

 

Alyson’s Really into Fresh Starts

Posted by Alyson Gerber On October - 31 - 2012

2302950648 7399b32c8e Alysons Really into Fresh Starts

I’ve written a lot on TWB about how much I hate change. You might remember how excited I was for second semester last year. I only threw a few temper tantrums.

Well, over the past five months, I’ve changed almost everything about my life—my apartment, job, and book. Honestly, it was really scary. I mean, nothing was that wrong. My Village apartment was nice and big by New York standards. My job was—a good learning experience. The MG novel, I was working on could have been reworked (and I probably will go back to it eventually).

But it turns out, I was totally wrong about the whole not being open to change thing. Really—I’ve never been more wrong about anything, ever. Change is awesome. Exhibit A. My new apartment has two floors. That’s right. I am currently living my personal New York dream. I can officially say, “Hold on one second, I just need to run downstairs (or upstairs) to grab (insert anything awesome).” Exhibit B. My new job, where I’m in charge of digital assets (websites, blogs, social media, etc.) for a college, is so fulfilling and exciting. I love it! In case that enough, I work four-days-a-week, which leaves a lot more time for writing and running up and down stairs. Exhibit C. My new book—it’s all heart. Thinking about it and workshopping it with my amazing MFA-ers makes me smile.

So, I’m really into fresh starts. Bring on the change!

 

Alyson’s Ode To R.J. Palacio

Posted by Alyson Gerber On October - 1 - 2012

wonder Alysons Ode To R.J. PalacioWonder. I wish I’d written it. I’d like to cross out R.J. Palacio and write in Alyson Gerber. It’s everything I love about middle grade in one book.

For one thing, there’s no caramel coating. August — a 10-year-old boy with extreme facial abnormalities — tells it like it is. He isn’t afraid to speak the truth, as he sees it. I drink my coffee black — no sugar — so this makes me very happy.

August is real, likable, and at times hilarious, but the book is serious and the emotional core is deeply rooted in his painful experience and journey. Nine to fourteen-year-olds can handle tough topics. And whether we like it or not, I think they do. So they should be addressed in literature.

While this story is specific, there is a universal element. On the inside, August wants the same thing as every other fifth grader (and I would argue as every person, at any age) — he wants to belong somewhere. He wants to find friends and a place where he can be himself. He wants acceptance.

August is an ordinary ten-year-old boy on the inside, which by nature makes him a part-time tough guy. He’s just starting to reject his parents’ affection and fighting for a sense of independence, yet he still has moments that remind us he’s only ten (and they are so sweet). The intricate balance of extremely guarded, but also vulnerable is beautifully done here. It’s hard not to laugh and cry at the same time.

Here are a few additional things that make me think R.J. Palacio is a genius:

#1. August never describes his physical appearance and yet I can see him so clearly. It’s like I’m Summer and we’re eating lunch together right now.

#2. Wonder has eight parts. Parts one, six, and eight are told from August’s perspective and the other five are written from other points of view, all in first person. Oh, and did I mention that the story is seamless and each perspective adds another amazing emotional layer? I mean, come on. It’s too good.

Photo courtesy Knopf

Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Ninth Ward Is “That” Book For Dhonielle

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On September - 17 - 2012

Ninth Ward 000 Jewell Parker Rhodes Ninth Ward Is That Book For DhonielleSometimes you come across a book at the precise moment in time that it changes you for awhile — makes you disregard anything and everything else, makes you wish the world within the pages was the world around you, makes you think about the characters long after you’re finished, makes you — if you’re a writer — wish you could create something like it. When I was in elementary school that book was Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy, when I was in middle school it was Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and in high school it was Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

As an adult who reads exclusively children’s and young adult books (aside from the non-fiction books I must read for research), I hadn’t had that “AH” moment in a long time. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read books that I loved and could not put down (like Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian’s Burn for Burn), and especially ones written by my friends — Corey Ann Haydu’s OCD Love Story, Kate Milford’s The Boneshaker, The Broken Lands, and The Kairos Mechanism, Jess Verdi’s My Life After Now, Amy Ewing’s The Jewel, Christine Johnson’s The Gathering Dark, Caela Carter’s Me, Him, Them, and It, Heidi Ayarbe’s newest novel, Mary G. Thompson’s Wuftoom and Lisa Amowitz’s Breaking Glass, and awesome works-in-progress from Alyson Gerber, Riddhi Parekh, Cynthia Kennedy Henzel, Pippa Bayliss, Trish Eklund, and many more. These are stories that only they could write, from their individual creativity and awesome imaginations.

But to stumble across the book that ‘I wish I had written’ is a huge feat. But then one day Corey Ann Haydu texted me and said that I had to read Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Ninth Ward. She had read it and promised that it would not disappoint. I looked it up and instantly fell in love with the hardcover image — a little girl floating above the water in a boat (see above). I didn’t buy it immediately, but wandered into Books of Wonder a few days later and spotted it. I read the first page and then the second. I sat on the floor of the store, blocking children from perusing the shelves, and read the whole first chapter. I was swept into it. The book is not a page turner as people like to use in the book publishing world when a book is full of action and adventure and suspense — instead this book sweeps you away, tugging at your heart. You have to know what happens next because you care about the people in this world.

Ninth Ward speaks to my inner child and it is weaved with a southern mysticism that makes me feel like I’m at home and around my grandparents who have passed on. The rhythm of the language brings back childhood memories and little details lost to me from time. If you haven’t heard of this book, check it out — here’s how our friends at Amazon describe it:

“Twelve-year-old Lanesha lives in a tight-knit community in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward. She doesn’t have a fancy house like her uptown family or lots of friends like the other kids on her street. But what she does have is Mama Ya-Ya, her fiercely loving caretaker, wise in the ways of the world and able to predict the future. So when Mama Ya-Ya’s visions show a powerful hurricane–Katrina–fast approaching, it’s up to Lanesha to call upon the hope and strength Mama Ya-Ya has given her to help them both survive the storm.

Ninth Ward is a deeply emotional story about transformation and a celebration of resilience, friendship, and family–as only love can define it.”

 

Alyson’s Summer Reading: Confessions of a Goodreads Addict!

Posted by Alyson Gerber On August - 29 - 2012

Document1 600x301 Alysons Summer Reading: Confessions of a Goodreads Addict!
It all started about three weeks ago in Penn Station. I was 30-minutes early (as usual), bored, and Facebook had nothing left to offer me. While I waited for the train and my boyfriend, who was securing my extra-spicy Chipotle burrito, I decided to activate the Goodreads account I’d opened back in the spring. I was curious what other people were saying about the middle grade novel — Wonder — that Corey Haydu had recommended to me earlier in the day. After reading the first 30 out of 3,000 reviews, I added it to my ”currently-reading” shelf. By the end of my ride to Boston, I’d switched it to “read,” downloaded the following books to my Kindle Fire, and added them to Goodreads:

#1 One For The Murphys

#2 The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet

#3 Models Don’t Eat Chocolate Cookies

#4 The Secret Identity of Devon Delaney

#5 Deenie

#6 See You At Harry’s

#7 Out of My Mind

#8 When You Reach Me

I’ve never been a fast reader, and I’m definitely not the competitive type. I’m more of a slow-and-steady-wins-the-race/ I’m up against myself kind of girl. I should also mention that as far as I know I do not have an addictive personality. Yes, I am passionate and potentially obsessed with a handful of things/topics. Namely: horoscopes, The Gilmore Girls, manicures, and Sugar Babies (a popular 1990s caramel candy), but something about clicking on “currently-reading” pushed me to finish nine books in three weeks. That is more than we read per week in David Levithan’s lit class. I’m not sure if it is the act of announcing my progress to the world (if it is, dear Internet coders of the world, please invent this app for writing), or if it’s been part of a reading community, but whatever the reason, I am definitely addicted to Goodreads.

Alyson’s Take on Comp Titles

Posted by Alyson Gerber On July - 30 - 2012

Clarissa Explains It All clarissa explains it all 20688951 640 480 Alysons Take on Comp Titles

 

I write middle grade contemporary novels, which means I spend a lot of time thinking about first crushes and kisses, best friends, and flavored lip-gloss. Most of the time in my real life, I feel like I am still in seventh grade—afraid to be left behind or, worse, left out and desperate to be okay (maybe even happy) with the fact that I don’t fit in anywhere, and probably never will. So, it makes sense that I am constantly exploring the experience of feeling alone and different in my work.

I like to think that my writing is sort of Clarissa Explains It All meets Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. My characters are fun and energetic, but not superficial. They have depth, a sense of their own reality, and real consequences.

I’m not sure about comp titles. I’m not convinced that they are ever that accurate, but they set the mood. Plus, they are fun to think about in a very seventh grade way. For example, when I was 12, I would have wanted someone, anyone,  to describe me as Saved By The Bell‘s Kelly Kapowski meets Alex Mack with a boyfriend like Dylan McKay. In reality, I was more like Deenie.

Alyson’s Ready—Almost

Posted by Alyson Gerber On June - 28 - 2012

if you were waiting for a sign Alysons Ready—Almost

Now that I am finishing up my (hmm) fourteenth round of edits, I am finally, almost ready to hand over my middle grade manuscript to my agent—almost.

Well, my manuscript is ready to go. The problem is that I am not. I’ve been fussing over every detail. I want my book to be as close to perfect as possible. What else is new? But even when I’ve nit-picked every single thing, I’m not sure I will be ready to let go. For one thing, it’s really scary. Once I send it off into the world, I am no longer in control. Anything could happen. This does not make me feel calm. This makes me want to pace around a lot, spend my days and nights watching the Gilmore Girls seasons one through seven, eat gallons of mint chocolate chip ice cream (with chocolate sprinkles), and pull out my hair.

Luckily, I have the best writing group ever to save me from myself. Not to brag, but I love them and sometimes I don’t have a clue what I would do without them. They are brilliant writers. They give the most incredible feedback. And they make me feel like I’m not alone or the only one who is afraid to fail. Sometimes I think the most important part about critique group is being around other people who get it. Thanks to their encouragement and advice, I started a new project, and I’m really excited about it. So, when I finally find the courage to send in my manuscript, instead of being crazy and taking out my anxiety on my normally very happy life, I will have something else to obsess over. Phew!

pixel Alysons Ready—Almost
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