Seattle's Child

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Seattle childrens book authors

Tips for young writers: 14 children’s book authors weigh in

Books that inspired them, encouragement for kid writers

The Puget Sound is home to numerous popular and award-winning Seattle-area children’s book authors. We caught up with 14 of them and asked them to reveal the books that inspired them to write their own children’s books, tips for aspiring writers, and what books — their own or written by other authors — they love reading to kids. Here’s what they had to say:

Nina Laden, The Night I Followed the Dog

What illustrated book was most inspiring to you as a child?

I still have some of my childhood books here. It’s hard to pick just one but if I had to I guess the one I most loved when I was really little was probably “Harold and the Purple Crayon,” because I loved going into my imagination and that’s what Harold did, went into his imagination. I loved “Where the Wild Things Are,” which, of course, is a classic. I’ve been into comics since I was a kid. Then later in my career, I was so inspired by “The Polar Express.” I remember saying to myself ‘This is a perfect picture book.’

When you talk to kids about your stories and storytelling, what do you most want them to hear?

First, I want kids to realize that they can escape into a book. And I want them to realize that making worlds between two covers is a way to have control over a story and, in a way, over the uncontrollable things in their lives. I was visiting a school in Oregon and a little girl came up to me in the hall randomly and told me ‘Every time you open a book, a little magic falls out.’ I believe that and I’m glad that she recognized it. What I really focus on when I talk to kids is that you can do this, make these worlds, and journaling is the way to start. I had sketchbooks as a kid and I tell the kids I meet that they should always write everything down and keep it. I tell them that they should never tear pages out. You never know where that seed for a great idea will come from.

Martha BrockenbroughThe Dinosaur Tooth Fairy

Any tips for young writers?

Read, read, read. The more you read, the more you will learn how stories work. When you’re working on one of your own, be sure to finish it. Even if the ending stinks, it’s something you can revise later. You can’t revise what doesn’t exist, and it’s good to finish what you start, because then you know you can count on yourself to get things done. 

Was there one book that made you want to become a writer?

Everything by E.B. White has made me want to be a writer. His children’s books, his essays for adults, and The Elements of Style. I love him. 

Corinna LuykenThe Book of Mistakes 

What do you read at bedtime?

Right now my 7-year-old daughter and I are reading Pippi Longstocking, as well as a few picture books. One of our favorites of the year is a collection of poetry called When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons, by Julie Fogliano and Julie Morstad.  

What’s the hardest part about writing for children?

Each book is different and has its own challenges. For The Book of Mistakes, the hardest part was the cover and the ending. I wrote the first half of the book in a day, but the second half took me almost a year to sort out. During that year, the book doubled in size. It was a difficult process, but it was absolutely necessary, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

John Skewes, Larry Gets Lost in Seattle

How do you inspire kids to read?

Comic books. They appeal to visual learners, so I always try to expose kids to see if they click. Bone is a good one to try, like a G-rated Lord of the Rings.

Favorite character?

Sherlock Holmes.

The book that made you want to become a writer?

Two, actually. I don’t think there would be a Larry Gets Lost in Seattle if there wasn’t a Wheedle on the Needle when I was a kid. But the one that really got me was Red Ranger Came Calling by Berke Breathed. I grew up on Vashon Island, and he moved there for a couple years and appropriated my local mythology right under my nose! It still burns. (You have to know how the book ends to understand.)

Favorite place to read in Seattle?

On a nice day, that one bench at Green Lake right across from Duck Island. On rainy days, Chocolati Cafe in Greenwood. There are so many rooms to hide in. 

Nikki McClure, To Market, To Market

How do you encourage your son to read?
I have read to him since he was a wee baby. He is now 12, and I still read to him. We always have a book that the whole family is reading, mostly at breakfast or dinner, or on the beach in the hammock, or on long car rides. His reading came slowly at school. Now he reads everything: Tolkien to Steinbeck to Heinlein. 

Any tips for young writers?
Notice and record. Take walks!! Write it down. Learn cursive!!!!

What’s on your own summer reading list?
Books about sailing around the world. On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder; The Summer Book by Tove Jansson; and more Ursula K. LeGuin.

Kate Endle, Augie to Zebra

Did you read a lot growing up?

My mother worked in a bookstore in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, for more than 32 years. She would take me and my sister to the library in the summertime and we would pick out books for a rewards program that we made up. We would make illustrated charts of our progress; each book read would earn a star sticker. At the end of the summer, we would tally up our stickers and turn them in for books from her store. She would read to us before bedtime: Little House on the PrairieMrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Choose Your Own Adventure books.

What’s the hardest part about making books for children?

I tend to get impatient when working on books; it’s a long process. I’ve written books that didn’t see the light of day for 10 years.

I am married to Chris Ballew (children’s musician Caspar Babypants) and we collaborate on art and music, so I can sell our books and my art at his shows, too. I sell my books on Etsy. A lot of my job as an illustrator/author is finding different venues for work. I never want to put all of my eggs in one basket.

Favorite book as a kid?

Roald Dahl’s The BFG with illustrations by Quentin Blake — the pairing of that author with that illustrator is genius.

Favorite local bookstore or library?

Vashon Bookshop and Elliott Bay Book Company.

Bonny Becker, A Visitor for Bear

Any tips for young writers?

Do lots of reading! Most writers were huge readers as kids. In school, you’ll be learning a lot of the rules about writing, but when you write for yourself, just play around. Write about a place you wish you could go to, a crazy character you wish you could meet, an adventure you wish would happen to you. It’s your story, your adventure — so have fun!

Favorite book as a kid?

I loved the Oz books. Like the Harry Potter books today, they took me to a place of magic and adventure that I wished so much I could be a part of, and when I was reading the books, I felt like I was a part of.

Do you have a favorite fellow Seattle children’s book author or illustrator?

Seattle has so many great ones. A lot of people may not know that Karen Cushman, author of the Newbery Honor winner Catherine, Called Birdy, lives in the area. My good friend, Kirby Larson, is a Newbery Honor winner for her book, Hattie Big Sky. Among the many wonderful picture-book writers are Nina Laden, Kathryn Galbraith, Laura Kvasnosky. Julie Paschkis is a fabulous writer and illustrator. So is Margaret Chodos-Irvine, who won a Caldecott Honor for Ella Sarah Gets Dressed. There’s just too many! I’m missing dozens more. My favorite children’s author anywhere is the great E.B. White.

Julie Paschkis, Apple Cake: A Recipe for Love

Favorite book as a kid?

When I was little, we went to the library every two weeks (on Fridays). I had a very early bedtime because I shared a room with my younger sister, but I could stay up as late as I wanted if I was reading. Books took me to another world. My favorite character was Harriet the Spy.

Favorite place to read?

Lopez Island. There is no internet where we stay. Time slows down and happiness spreads.

Wendy Wahman, Don’t Lick the Dog

Any tips for young writers?  

A story is like a friend waiting to be made. Greet your new friend with an open mind, patience and a whole lot of questions.

Was there one book that made you want to become a writer?

After reading Harriet the Spy, I started keeping a journal and seriously eavesdropping. 

Elizabeth Rose Stanton, Henny

How do you encourage kids to read?

The best way to get little people reading is to get books into their hands. I am not particular at all about how that happens: Whatever it takes!  Even if they can’t read yet, they can look at the pictures. We read to our kids every night when they were growing up — everything from picture books to the Redwall and Harry Potter series, and it truly instilled in them a lifelong love of reading.  

Any tips for young writers?

To keep reading anything they can get their hands on, with an eye on their preferred genre. Actually this is my advice for a writer of any age! My first book was released when I was 61, after I’d worked at a variety of careers: architect, designer, portrait and fine artist, and scientific illustrator. Never stop reading and writing. Connect to other writers. Never give up and get the best education you can. 

Favorite place to read in Seattle?

My favorite place to read, besides my home, is either on a light rail train, or at one of my local libraries, I’m right between the Columbia City and Beacon Hill branches.

Sanae Ishida, Little Kunoichi, The Ninja Girl

What was your favorite book as a kid?

Growing up, I was an avid Japanese comic book reader and my favorite was called Ribon. Every month, my parents took me to the Kinokuniya bookstore in Los Angeles to pick up the latest issue.

When did you want to become an author?

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I started reading around 4 or 5. My parents are both from Japan, and my introduction to books were these amazing Japanese folk stories like Momotarō (Peach Boy) with gorgeous illustrations. I also devoured classics from around the world — Heidi, Anne of Green Gables, One Thousand and One Nights, Hans Christian Andersen — but they were all Japanese translations!

What’s your favorite local bookstore?

I love them all, but Queen Anne Book Company has an extra special spot in my heart because that’s where I met my delightful editor Tegan (Tigani), and where I’ve spent countless happy hours browsing.

Laura McGee Kvasnosky, Zelda and Ivy

How do you encourage your kids to read?

By acquainting them with the primo experience of reading together. I loved sitting in a big chair in a circle of lamplight, the kids fresh from their baths, their heads damp against my chest; the quiet of the neighborhood settling around us, the warmth of their small selves as we opened the cover of a book and entered a story together.

What is the hardest part about writing for children?

I once overheard a shoeshine guy in the New York subway tell the guy whose shoes he was shining, “We’re all in sales. We just don’t all know it.” The sales part of my job is the hardest. After pouring heart and soul into making a book, a whole different set of skills is required to launch it into the world.

Laurie Ann Thompson, My Dog is the Best

Any tips for young writers?

Think about what you read and what you like about it — or not — and why. When you find something you love, try to imitate it in your own work and your own words. 

What’s the hardest part about writing for children?

You can’t slip anything past them. They notice everything! Also, they get bored easily and have so many other entertainment options, so things really have to be tight to hold their interest.

Julie Kim, Where’s Halmoni?

What did you read as a kid?

I came to U.S. from Korea when I was 7. I didn’t pick up English until I was in third or fourth grade, at which point I was getting into young adult novels. I still read lot of Hans Christian Andersen stories, which I adored, as well as Greek myths and fairy tales. I love libraries. I thought it was the best thing when we moved to U.S., and still do. My brother and I would go to our local library almost every other day. It felt like a treasure hunt, and I felt quite “wealthy” having access to so many books!

* Cheryl Murfin contributed to this article

More at  Seattle’s Child:

The Seattle Reading Guide for Kids from Children’s Booksellers

“The day I followed Nina Laden”

“Curious Kids Nature Journal by Seattle’s Child contributor Fiona Cohen”

About the Author

JiaYing Grygiel