Marilyn On Writing

How to Read a Poem Aloud

Poetry began as an oral art and, with the exception perhaps of concrete poetry, it needs to be heard.  But, whether it’s poetry for adults or for kids, it’s not always so easy to read poetry well aloud.  Here are some tips on how to do it.

(Click here for article.)

Read More »

A Deck of Children’s Poets

Besides the wonderful Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein, there are many other excellent children’s poets.  Here’s a list of fifty-two of them.  Look up their books!

(Click here to read the full list)

Read More »

What Is a Short Story?

At the time I compiled this, I had edited two collections of short stories: STAY TRUE: Short Stories for Strong Girls (Scholastic) and I BELIEVE IN WATER: Twelve Brushes with Religion (HarperCollins). The contributors to these two anthologies and several editors from different publishing houses attempted to answer this perennial question. Included are comments by Gregory Maguire, Jacqueline Woodson, M.E. Kerr, Virginia Euwer Wolff and many others.

(Click here for article.)

Read More »

What Makes a Good Poem?

In 2002, I asked a group of authors, editors, and other book people this question. Here are their responses, along with some recommended titles. There are answers from Jane Yolen, Nikki Grimes, J. Patrick Lewis, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Naomi Shihab Nye, Paul Janeczko and many others.

(Click here for article.)

Read More »

No More Piranhas!: Editors’ Thoughts on Conferences

Published in Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market, 2003

Have you heard the one about the editor at a writer’s conference? She’d been “on” for hours and was enjoying a much-needed moment of privacy in the bathroom. Then, from the adjacent stall, came an eager voice. “Hi,” it said. “I’m so happy to finally meet you. Let me tell you about this picture book I’ve written…”

Truth or urban legend? Well, maybe a bit of both. But the fact is with more and more publishing houses closing transoms to unsolicited manuscripts and more and more “pre-published” writers desperate for entrée, this kind of story isn’t far-fetched. Only slightly less dramatic stories have been verified, and they demonstrate the real frustration editors have with conferences.

Because of these tales, I decided to ask a number of editors what they like and dislike about these events. It’s my hope that both writers and organizers will benefit from their responses.

(Click here for article.)

Read More »

Frequently Asked Questions about Children’s Writing

Q: How long is a picture book? A: The number of words is not the crucial issue. Books range from several words to several thousand (compare Goodnight Moon to The Polar Express). More important is whether or not your book READS like a picture book–succinct, musical, pictorial. A key issue is the fact that picture books are 32 pages (storybooks, which are often fairy or folk tales, are sometimes 48 pages). Leaving space for titles, copyright, etc., your manuscript should break naturally into 28 to 30 pages, or 14-15 “spreads.” Some publishers appreciate authors “dummying” their manuscript–breaking the text into these spreads. Each page should be a “scene.” This is a useful exercise because it shows you whether or not the text has drama and is illustratable. Q: How long is a middle-grade or young adult novel? A: As long as it needs to be–mostly. Granted, it might be a bit tougher to sell a story that is especially long or short, but it is even tougher, if not impossible, to sell a book that has been padded or chopped for the sake of hitting a preselected length. A book can be shorter than Sarah, Plain and Tall, or longer than Hitty, Her First Hundred Years. The typical range is 35-65 pages for a chapter book, 45-90 for a low-middle-grade, 90-120 for a middle-grade, 150-250 for a young, young adult, but these are just averages. If you have questions about specific series of books, do some research–read the books, check the catalogues, contact the publisher, etc. Q: Should I send illustrations with my manuscript? A: Not unless you are a professional artist. In general, the industry believes that only a rank amateur submits someone else’s art with a picture-book manuscript. A few rare folks have done this and succeeded, but most have not. If a publisher accepts your manuscript, your editor will choose the illustrator. There is NEVER a need for you to hire one. Q: Is there a good vocabulary list for beginning readers? A: Some writers and editors think the concept of restricted vocabulary is abominable and most trade publishers do not require a fixed vocabulary. One of the best ways for children to learn new words is by reading them. As long as the difficult words can be understood in context or through other clues, there is no reason not to challenge the reader a bit. Q: Should I write my picture book in rhyme? A: It often seems to writers that children love rhyme–and publishers don’t. The truth is that good rhyme is extremely hard to write. Publishers are flooded with bad rhyme. If you can write brilliant verse, you’ve got a chance. If you can’t, chances are you don’t. Q: What if my story needs a scene about sex, death, etc.? A: Don’t throw anything in just to flout standards or to shock the reader. But if a scene is true to your story and necessary, put it in. Older YA novels are generally more

Read More »

Knock Poetry Off the Pedestal: It’s time to make poems a part of children’s everyday lives

Published in School Library Journal, April 2010

It was last October, and I was feeling self-congratulatory. I had already booked the 11 participants for the next “Poetry Blast,” the reading by children’s poets at the American Library Association’s annual conference. Once again, we were going to spread the good word that poetry is an aural art.

Then I got an email from Richie Partington, friend, critic, and kids’ lit missionary. He’d been invited to teach a class on children’s and young adult poetry at San Jose State University’s School of Library and Information Science. “What important concepts about poetry would you like library school students to learn about?” he asked.

“Well, Richie,” I started to reply, “as I’ve always said, to appreciate poetry, you have to hear it.” But then all of my assurance went out the window. Surely, I thought, that isn’t the only concept that future school librarians need to embrace. I know firsthand that most kids seem to like poetry. But something amiss happens along the road to adulthood, and many of those same students end up actively disliking poetry or not relating to it. And who can blame them? Poetry is often presented as a rarefied thing that exists only to be analyzed by professorial types or as greeting-card sentiments to be enjoyed by love-struck girls (and the guys who hit on them). So, I mulled, what can librarians do to buck this trend? I know! I’ll ask some other poets who write for young readers.

(Click here for article.)

Read More »

Ten Tips For Writing Poetry

1. Pay attention to the world around you—little things, big things, people, animals, buildings, events, etc. What do you see, hear, taste, smell, feel?

2. Listen to words and sentences. What kind of music do they have? How is the music of poetry different from the music of songs?

3. Read all kinds of poetry. Which poems do you like and why?

(Click here for all ten.)

Read More »

Poetry Goes Full Blast

Published in School Library Journal, October, 2005

It began where lots of good ideas do—in the library. To be specific, in the cafeteria of the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Branch. I was having lunch with Barbara Genco, Director of Collection Development, former president of the Association of Library Service to Children (ALSC), and an old friend. We were discussing one of our favorite topics—how to give poetry more press. I’d coorganized and participated in a panel about poetry at a previous American Library Association conference, and I wanted more. So did Barbara.

“Poetry needs to be heard,” one of us said. The other one of us nodded. And who better to read it than the poets who wrote it, we agreed. Excited by the prospect, we wrote out a wish list of poets and an outline for the event—there would be 15 poets whom Barbara and I would alternately introduce and each would read for seven minutes. We named it the First Annual ALSC Poetry Blast, to be held in Orlando, FL. A bit cocky, those words “first annual,” but we hoped to establish a tradition. Then we submitted a proposal to ALSC detailing the program. We were thrilled when it was accepted. Easy, right? Well, not exactly…

(Click here for article.)

Read More »

How to Read a Poem Aloud

Poetry began as an oral art and, with the exception perhaps of concrete poetry, it needs to be heard.  But, whether it’s poetry for adults or for kids, it’s not always so easy to read poetry well aloud.  Here are some tips on how to do it.

(Click here for article.)

Read More »

A Deck of Children’s Poets

Besides the wonderful Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein, there are many other excellent children’s poets.  Here’s a list of fifty-two of them.  Look up their books!

(Click here to read the full list)

Read More »

What Is a Short Story?

At the time I compiled this, I had edited two collections of short stories: STAY TRUE: Short Stories for Strong Girls (Scholastic) and I BELIEVE IN WATER: Twelve Brushes with Religion (HarperCollins). The contributors to these two anthologies and several editors from different publishing houses attempted to answer this perennial question. Included are comments by Gregory Maguire, Jacqueline Woodson, M.E. Kerr, Virginia Euwer Wolff and many others.

(Click here for article.)

Read More »

What Makes a Good Poem?

In 2002, I asked a group of authors, editors, and other book people this question. Here are their responses, along with some recommended titles. There are answers from Jane Yolen, Nikki Grimes, J. Patrick Lewis, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Naomi Shihab Nye, Paul Janeczko and many others.

(Click here for article.)

Read More »

No More Piranhas!: Editors’ Thoughts on Conferences

Published in Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market, 2003

Have you heard the one about the editor at a writer’s conference? She’d been “on” for hours and was enjoying a much-needed moment of privacy in the bathroom. Then, from the adjacent stall, came an eager voice. “Hi,” it said. “I’m so happy to finally meet you. Let me tell you about this picture book I’ve written…”

Truth or urban legend? Well, maybe a bit of both. But the fact is with more and more publishing houses closing transoms to unsolicited manuscripts and more and more “pre-published” writers desperate for entrée, this kind of story isn’t far-fetched. Only slightly less dramatic stories have been verified, and they demonstrate the real frustration editors have with conferences.

Because of these tales, I decided to ask a number of editors what they like and dislike about these events. It’s my hope that both writers and organizers will benefit from their responses.

(Click here for article.)

Read More »

Frequently Asked Questions about Children’s Writing

Q: How long is a picture book? A: The number of words is not the crucial issue. Books range from several words to several thousand (compare Goodnight Moon to The Polar Express). More important is whether or not your book READS like a picture book–succinct, musical, pictorial. A key issue is the fact that picture books are 32 pages (storybooks, which are often fairy or folk tales, are sometimes 48 pages). Leaving space for titles, copyright, etc., your manuscript should break naturally into 28 to 30 pages, or 14-15 “spreads.” Some publishers appreciate authors “dummying” their manuscript–breaking the text into these spreads. Each page should be a “scene.” This is a useful exercise because it shows you whether or not the text has drama and is illustratable. Q: How long is a middle-grade or young adult novel? A: As long as it needs to be–mostly. Granted, it might be a bit tougher to sell a story that is especially long or short, but it is even tougher, if not impossible, to sell a book that has been padded or chopped for the sake of hitting a preselected length. A book can be shorter than Sarah, Plain and Tall, or longer than Hitty, Her First Hundred Years. The typical range is 35-65 pages for a chapter book, 45-90 for a low-middle-grade, 90-120 for a middle-grade, 150-250 for a young, young adult, but these are just averages. If you have questions about specific series of books, do some research–read the books, check the catalogues, contact the publisher, etc. Q: Should I send illustrations with my manuscript? A: Not unless you are a professional artist. In general, the industry believes that only a rank amateur submits someone else’s art with a picture-book manuscript. A few rare folks have done this and succeeded, but most have not. If a publisher accepts your manuscript, your editor will choose the illustrator. There is NEVER a need for you to hire one. Q: Is there a good vocabulary list for beginning readers? A: Some writers and editors think the concept of restricted vocabulary is abominable and most trade publishers do not require a fixed vocabulary. One of the best ways for children to learn new words is by reading them. As long as the difficult words can be understood in context or through other clues, there is no reason not to challenge the reader a bit. Q: Should I write my picture book in rhyme? A: It often seems to writers that children love rhyme–and publishers don’t. The truth is that good rhyme is extremely hard to write. Publishers are flooded with bad rhyme. If you can write brilliant verse, you’ve got a chance. If you can’t, chances are you don’t. Q: What if my story needs a scene about sex, death, etc.? A: Don’t throw anything in just to flout standards or to shock the reader. But if a scene is true to your story and necessary, put it in. Older YA novels are generally more

Read More »

Knock Poetry Off the Pedestal: It’s time to make poems a part of children’s everyday lives

Published in School Library Journal, April 2010

It was last October, and I was feeling self-congratulatory. I had already booked the 11 participants for the next “Poetry Blast,” the reading by children’s poets at the American Library Association’s annual conference. Once again, we were going to spread the good word that poetry is an aural art.

Then I got an email from Richie Partington, friend, critic, and kids’ lit missionary. He’d been invited to teach a class on children’s and young adult poetry at San Jose State University’s School of Library and Information Science. “What important concepts about poetry would you like library school students to learn about?” he asked.

“Well, Richie,” I started to reply, “as I’ve always said, to appreciate poetry, you have to hear it.” But then all of my assurance went out the window. Surely, I thought, that isn’t the only concept that future school librarians need to embrace. I know firsthand that most kids seem to like poetry. But something amiss happens along the road to adulthood, and many of those same students end up actively disliking poetry or not relating to it. And who can blame them? Poetry is often presented as a rarefied thing that exists only to be analyzed by professorial types or as greeting-card sentiments to be enjoyed by love-struck girls (and the guys who hit on them). So, I mulled, what can librarians do to buck this trend? I know! I’ll ask some other poets who write for young readers.

(Click here for article.)

Read More »

Ten Tips For Writing Poetry

1. Pay attention to the world around you—little things, big things, people, animals, buildings, events, etc. What do you see, hear, taste, smell, feel?

2. Listen to words and sentences. What kind of music do they have? How is the music of poetry different from the music of songs?

3. Read all kinds of poetry. Which poems do you like and why?

(Click here for all ten.)

Read More »

Poetry Goes Full Blast

Published in School Library Journal, October, 2005

It began where lots of good ideas do—in the library. To be specific, in the cafeteria of the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Branch. I was having lunch with Barbara Genco, Director of Collection Development, former president of the Association of Library Service to Children (ALSC), and an old friend. We were discussing one of our favorite topics—how to give poetry more press. I’d coorganized and participated in a panel about poetry at a previous American Library Association conference, and I wanted more. So did Barbara.

“Poetry needs to be heard,” one of us said. The other one of us nodded. And who better to read it than the poets who wrote it, we agreed. Excited by the prospect, we wrote out a wish list of poets and an outline for the event—there would be 15 poets whom Barbara and I would alternately introduce and each would read for seven minutes. We named it the First Annual ALSC Poetry Blast, to be held in Orlando, FL. A bit cocky, those words “first annual,” but we hoped to establish a tradition. Then we submitted a proposal to ALSC detailing the program. We were thrilled when it was accepted. Easy, right? Well, not exactly…

(Click here for article.)

Read More »

Privacy Policy | Terms & Conditions
©2018 Marilyn Singer, Author