Lin Oliver’s List Challenge

First she made me laugh. Then she issued a challenge! Lin Oliver, the executive director and one of the founders of SCBWI (remember? Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), spoke at a local SCBWI meeting earlier this year. She urged us to create our own personal canon of the books we have loved and that have hung around in our psyches to most influence our lives. (Writers: Lin also advised us to write the kind of books we love to read.)

“Good ideas,” I thought. But after I wrote my list, I realized how powerful her suggestions actually are. My personal list helped me see what connects my favorite books and how to identify, refine, and stay true to my purpose as a writer. Many thanks to Lin Oliver for her words of wisdom that are also enormously funny and entertaining. (If you get a chance to hear her speak, take it.)

Lin is a prolific writer with a long list of book and screen credits.  She writes the Hank Zipzer series with Henry Winkler. Hank Zipzer is billed as “the world’s greatest underachiever.” He’s a smart kid with learning challenges. In Summer School! What Genius Thought That Up? (Grosset & Dunlap, 2005). Hank is facing summer school because of poor grades while his friends get to be Junior Explorers. Hank is funny (read a few of his lists) and clever. His kindness to a kindergartener ends up helping him learn to help himself with his reading and more. There is a nice balance in the book between Hank finding the way to  reach an immediate “kid” goal and discovering one way to help himself in the long-term goal of learning to be a good reader. The parents are kind and helpful adults who also say the kinds of things we adults are apt to think kids should take to heart, whether or not our kids think we’re being profound.

There are 17 titles on the Hank Zipzer list. If you know a student (eight and older) who likes to laugh and especially one who struggles with school and reading, check out these books.

I have also just reread Lin’s book Sound Bender (Scholastic Press, 2011, which she wrote with her son, Theo Baker (I’m trying not to be envious). It’s a really good read on multiple levels. I love its creative premise, its characters, and all its connections to real life. It blends science and science fiction with soulfulness. Thirteen year-old Leo discovers he has an amazing ability to hear the pasts of objects. This ability leads him on an adventure to rescue dolphins. The book definitely adds to the emotional map of coming of age and into one’s true self. It’s not necessary background, but, if you have read about any of John Lilly’s dolphin research, the book has an extra layer of meaning.

The only “list” connection I could come up with was that Sound Bender is Lin’s most recent addition to her list of books, but nooo . . . the penultimate book? . . . no to that also. Like I said, she has a long list of book and screen credits.

For next time, we’ll look at the books on my personal canon (or list). I hope you’ll also think about those books that helped form you as a child.


Three Days of Peace, Love, and Rollicking Books

Before it’s too far away in time, I want to tell you about the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Los Angeles Conference, which took place about two weeks ago,. The participants came from around the world. I met one woman who traveled from Australia and another who is not a writer, illustrator, agent, or publisher but comes regularly just because she loves children’s books.

If you are a writer or illustrator for children’s books and are not familiar with SCBWI, you especially need to read on to see why you will want to know more about this organization.

If you are a parent, teacher, kid, or someone who just loves children’s books, this post’s purpose is to give you a feel for people who write and illustrate children’s books. The overwhelming message I heard at the conference is to write one’s Truth—it will be what some child somewhere needs to read. Our job, as writers, is to go as deeply into our Truths as possible.

Children are not “one size fits all,” and they need a diverse village. It is eye-opening to see the incredible array of artists that engage in the making of children’s books.

Several author/speakers were reluctant readers when they were kids. They write what they would have liked to read when they were younger. A panel was asked who they write for. They tend to write for themselves first–to that inner four-year-old, ten-year-old, or teen. Then they evaluate and revise for those who are currently four or ten or teen-aged.

SCBWI (remember, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) was founded over forty years ago for mutual help and support among authors. The prevailing tone is one of cooperation and respect—Woodstock for writers and illustrators (agents and publishers, too). The conference was an inspiring and (dare I say it?) spiritual experience for me. Gary Schmidt, the closing speaker, told us to write what will give our readers “more to be a human being with.”

I am so touched to be part of this organization. More next time about SCBWI, and I will be blogging about some of the wonderful books those speakers wrote.

Quick, what does SCBWI stand for? If you want to know more about them, go to their website  Go now if you are a writer or illustrator.

Welcome to the Hundred Book Pile-up

Let me introduce myself. My name is Cindy Schuricht, a life-long bookworm, writer, gardener, beginning quilter, and retired teacher. Since I read and write children’s books, my blog will primarily review the children’s literature that I love.

Children’s books have been my passion since . . . well, since childhood. I don’t remember being read to (my mom had her hands full with four of us age five and under). So I anticipated learning to read in kindergarten and was greatly, greatly disappointed. In those days they didn’t teach reading that early. (To add insult to injury, they made you take a nap, but that’s a different blog.)

“First grade,” my parents assured me. “In first grade, you will learn to read.”

Again I was greatly disappointed to find out first grade did not mean a person could
magically read on the first day, as I so embarrassingly found out the first afternoon when I brought a book home from school, set my parents down at the kitchen table, and expectantly opened the book, only to find the marks on the page still did not sing to me.

A few days later, I met Dick, Jane, Sally, Spot, and Puff as the whole first grade struggled through the page that read, “Look, look, look, look, look.” The dawn of understanding—a word with the same design is the exact same word each time! (But who talks like that?) And so began the quest to read every book in my school (not as hard as it may sound; but, again, another story) and as many from the public library as possible. I found that books can be a map for the heart, and I desperately wanted those maps.

During adolescence and early adulthood, I read in different areas—sociology, semantics,
alternative education, political commentary, and adult fiction. Then my job in a bookstore
reintroduced me to children’s books. I decided that children’s literature is one of the genres that has both the best and the worst of the printed word. And I love the heart of the best—the kernel of truth that comes via a character to either open one’s eyes or confirm what is already known but, for some reason, unacknowledged.

A map won’t protect you from all of life’s pitfalls. Even with great maps, my Spacial Awareness Deficit has gotten me lost. But these heart maps have helped me recognize emotional landmarks, re-find my direction, given me the hope of a route to a beautiful destination.

I’m writing to add to the cartography, and I hope you’ll journey with me.

Please comment and let me know which books you would like to see reviewed.