Seeking Out Children’s & Young Adult Fiction in November

Children's & Y.A.

In November we’ve been seeking out children’s and young adult fiction on Writing to be Read. There are a few differences in writing for our younger readers from writing for adults. As authors, we are in a position to shape young minds, and that’s a big responsibility.

Fiction for adults relies on our words to paint a visual image for the reader, but stories for beginning readers rely heavily on illustrations to enhance our words for youngsters. Authors who have the ability to illustrate their own books may be at an advantage, because illustrations can be a sizable expense for authors like myself, who do not possess such abilities. (Long time Writing to be Read followers may be aware that I once tried to have the first book in the My Backyard Friends series published, but a halt was put on the project after a five year publication process, when the arrangement for illustrations fell through. So, I speak of this added obstacle for children’s authors first hand.)

My interview with author and artist Judy Mastrangelo talks about her Portal to the Land of Fae series and her other works, and shares several of the author’s bright and colorful illustrations. I found her work to be delightful in both text and illustrations in my review of Flower Fairies, and I’ve no doubt that her stories are enjoyed by both young and old.

Young adult authors are faced with a different dilemma, because the audience they write for still have the curiosity of children, but they are beginning to deal with adult issues in their lives, although they are not yet adults either. Controversial topics must be handled with sensitivity and finesse, because the Y.A. critics can be relentless, as is illustrated in this NY Times article about Y.A. author Amélie Wen Zhao.

On Writing to be Read, we looked at how Y.A. fantasy and science fiction author Carol Riggs deals with issues that might be frightening for adolescents in her Junction 2020 series on “Chatting with the Pros“, and saw how Jordan Elizabeth handles a dark fantasy story which deals with the controversial and often taboo topics of teen suicide, cutting, and depression in my review of Tabitha’s Death. Jordan also talks about the inspiration behind her fantasy novel, The Goat Children, which deals with the issue of Alzhiemer’s disease, on “Writing for a Y.A. Audience“.

Also in November, Robbie Cheadle also looked at the pros and cons of classic vs. contemporary children’s fiction on “Growing Bookworms“, and Jeff Bowles took a look at Disney’s new video streaming service, Disney+, on “Jeff’s Movie Reviews“, where we can find all the great tales of the Disney classics. What a great way to introduce our children to them, (or just re-watch them ourselves to indulge our own inner children).

In addition, we said goodbye to a great author, who was known and loved in the online writing communities in my “Tribute to Tom Johnson“. Tom was originally a pulp and science fiction author, but in recent years, he’s been writing children’s stories for the Wire Dog story collections. He will be greatly missed.

November has been a great month and we’ve explored a lot of children’s and young adult fiction. I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself as much as I have. There is no theme for December, as I’m taking this time to breathe before the next round. I’ll be updating you about the changes that will be coming for 2020 on Writing to be Read,  reviewing a couple of books which didn’t fit under this year’s themes, and throwing in a few surprises. I do hope you’ll all drop by and check it out.


Interview with children’s author & illustrator Judy Mastrangelo

Judy Masrangelo Framed

My guest today is an author and talented illustrator of children’s fantasy books. She seems a bit shy, but I was able to coax a few answers out of her, regarding writing for children and creating beautiful illustrations. Because, after all, at least half of writing for children is creating visual images, so an author who can do their own illustrations comes into the game a step ahead. Please help me welcome author and illustrator Judy Mastrangelo.

Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?

Judy: I’ve always enjoyed writing, ever since I was very young.

Kaye: Would you share the story of your own publishing journey?

Judy: As a child I would write little stories from my imagination, or about my everyday experiences.

Coming from a fine art background, I’ve always loved the wonderful artists of the “Golden Age of Illustration”, who illustrated books from about 1850 to 1925.  I like to think that I continue along this line in my own small way.  I enjoy writing stories that I illustrate, and also love illustrating classical stories in the public domain.

Many of my paintings have been licensed for various markets, such as art prints, wall murals, greeting cards, jigsaw puzzles, oracle cards etc.  I have written and illustrated several published books.  And I have both illustrated and written the text to a new inspirational Oracle Card Deck which will be on the market next year, published by “RED FEATHER MIND BODY SPIRIT”, a division of Schiffer Publishing.

You can see and hear podcasts about my artwork on Youtube.

These include some radio interviews, plus several teaching podcasts about the steps I take in the creation of my Art.  To learn more about my Art and products, you can visit: www.judymastrangelo.com

Kaye: What’s something most readers would never guess about you?

Judy: I am a “movie buff” and enjoy many genres of film.

Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of writing for children?

Judy: I try not to “talk down to children”.  Just having fun at writing is what I enjoy doing, and making my stories come from my heart, expressing how I feel. My books are really intended to be appreciated by all ages ~ the young and the young at heart.  I attempt to appeal to the “Child in all of us”, and to rekindle the wonderful feelings we have all experienced in our youth, of the awe and beauty of the world around us.  As we grow older, life seems to become more mundane, with all the everyday things we have to do in order to survive.  The realm of art certainly plays an extremely important part in everyone’s lives, so that we may feel uplifted and inspired to higher worlds.

Kaye: What is the one thing you hope to teach children?

Judy: I like to impart the wonder and beauty of the world around us; sensitivity to nature and to all living beings, including animals, plants, and trees, as well as humankind are excellent lessons to understand.  I feel that developing creativity as an art form, and one’s imagination, are very important aspects of life. Many people seem to place imaginative painting and literature more in a children’s category, although I’m sure you’ll agree that the genre of fantasy art is appreciated by all ages.

CINDERELLAMany adults also enjoy themes, such as fairy tales, and other types of fantasy. I’m sure no one will dispute the fact that great authors such as William Shakespeare, Hans Christian Andersen, Robert Louis Stevenson, James Barry, etc. wrote memorable outstanding fantasy stories. And that’s why I feel that my writing and paintings can also appeal to any age person.

One just has to “let go” of their preconceived notions that fantasy, fairies, fairy tales, etc. are just for the young. It will keep us all “Young at Heart” if we believe in the magical power of art to unleash our imaginations.

Kaye: Your books are illustrated in bright, vibrant colors. What medium do you work with?

Judy: Acrylic paint on canvas is my medium of choice.

 

Kaye: What is the most challenging thing about illustrating your own books?

Judy: The art of illustration is very dear to my heart, something I have been developing my entire life. It is a labor of love for me, and I paint because I enjoy doing it so much. I usually paint slowly, because I am somewhat of a perfectionist, and as a result my paintings aren’t created very quickly. This can sometimes present a problem. But I do enjoy illustrating my own books that I also design. Many of my books I have written myself, and others have stories or poems that are in the public domain which I illustrate. It’s all great fun to illustrate, and I relish every moment I spend doing my paintings!

Kaye: What is the most important quality in a children’s story for you?

Judy: Delight, imagination, and fun.

Kaye: What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given?

Judy: Be true to my heart, be myself, and enjoy the process of creating.

Kaye: Flower Fairies is focused on the characters. What comes first in your mind, the character, or the story?

Judy: I’m a very visual person, and often I first get images in my mind of a painting that I would like to create. Often this “germ” of an idea or image leads to a story, or a series of paintings. So I would say that the story as a whole comes first.

Kaye: As a children’s writer, what kind of research do you find yourself doing for your stories?

Judy: I often research period costumes for my characters to wear, and I also consider other art forms which portray the ideas I wish to develop in my stories. I love all forms of great art, and often music, drama, dance and other literature is a great inspiration to me, as well as great painting of course. So I immerse myself in art that I love, as part of my research for a specific project. It brings me great joy to do this.

Kaye: Tell me a little about your Portal to the Land of Fae series?

Judy: The world of nature spirits has always been fascinating to me. I love the realm of fantasy. And the tiny folk, such as fairies and elves are of particular interest. For many years I’ve done paintings of these lovable spirits, and have enjoyed writing about each painting I create.  I love writing poems to go with my artwork, and have enjoyed describing my feelings about the fairy world. The idea of making a series of books incorporating these works was an intriguing one for me, and four categories developed from them:

Flower FairiesFLOWER FAIRIES: This book tells about the precious Elves and Fairies who live amongst the Flowers, such as: the graceful ROSE FAIRY, and the comical little SWEET PEA ELVES.  I often depict Flower Fairies to appear as graceful ballet dancers. In this genre of art, I have been inspired by the Flower Fairy paintings of British artists Cicely Mary Barker and Margaret Tarrant.

 

 

SECRETS OF THE FAIRIES COVERIn my SECRETS OF THE FAIRIES, I portray the secret life of elves and fairies that I imagine to exist in amazing places.  There are many delightful things that i depict these creatures doing.  They often enjoy frolicking and playing in a garden.  These secrets tell of the hidden world of elves and fairies, little known to mortals. I’ve also written and illustrated depictions of the four seasons with the fairies, and their beautiful romantic lives.

 

FAIRY TALE FAIRIES, various forms of fantasy have always been the closest to my heart.  They include fairy tales and myths.

The world of fairies has often inspired the arts of other great literature.  Some excerpts from classical literature for this FAIRY TALE FAIRIES book are included in this volume. You will see some of my illustrations from Hans Christian Anderson’s Thumbelina, Cinderella by Charles Perrault, Peter Pan by James Barrie, and many others. Sometimes authors and painters depict elves and fairies in a darker way, but I prefer to focus on depicting the lighter, more cheerful and spiritual side of the fairy realm.

MYSTICAL FAIRIES COVERMYSTICAL FAIRIES:  In this volume, I want to share my feelings of Spirituality and Goodness, Love for Life and Nature, and the Healing power of Art. I feel that Elves and Fairies, are beautiful, Magical, and Spiritual Beings which can inspire and uplift one to higher realms.  I often depict them as radiant beings, which glow with an inner light, with radiating and sparkling auras, glow like spiritual Angels.

 

Kaye: Your Come Play with Me series includes bonus features. Would you like to tell us about the series and bonus features?

Judy: My Come Play With Me book series is designed to give readers high quality illustrated storybooks in full color.  They also include some delightful interactive bonus pages.  These books include fun filled things, such as How to Draw pages, coloring pages and recipes, etc.

THE STAR COVERMy first book in this series, THE STAR, illustrates the entire famous TWINKLE TWINKLE LITTLE STAR poem, written by Jane Taylor.  I’ve interpreted this beloved poem, as a fanciful, Dream-like adventure.   I’ve included a delicious bedtime snack recipe, some “how to draw” pages, a creative writing section, coloring pages, and some decorative gifts to cut out, etc.  An Audiobook of my book THE STAR is also available, where people can listen to this song being beautifully sung.  If the kindle ebook, or paperback versions of my book THE STAR are purchased also, along with the audio book, people can sing along with the audiobook as they read it interactively.

Two other books in this series have a Bunny theme: The first one, entitled WHAT DO BUNNIES DO ALL DAY? is my original story of a little Bunny’s first adventure.  Some interactive pages include Mama Bunny’s recipe, coloring pages, creative writing and drama ideas, and decorations to cut out from the book.  An audiobook of this story will be available soon, to be listened to interactively along with reading this book in kindle or paperback.

 

The second Bunny book in this series, LEARN TO DRAW BUNNY AND HIS FRIENDS, is a companion book to my book WHAT DO BUNNIES DO ALL DAY?  In it I show easy to do, attractive, and fun ways to learn to draw little Bunny’s animal and flower friends that he meets in the book about his first adventure.

 

Some of the animals I show how to draw are rabbits, frogs, butterflies and turtles. Then daffodils, daisies, and buttercups are several of the flowers I describe drawing, all in three easy steps.  It’s a delightful interactive book, which also includes special pages for people to draw their own pictures, with small border decorations for inspiration.

Kaye: Which character is your favorite? Why?

Judy: One of my favorite characters is Little Bunny in my book WHAT DO BUNNIES DO ALL DAY? He is a sweet innocent little rabbit who is delighted and excited at the opportunity of investigating the big world all by himself for the first time.  I’ve modeled this little animal on our own dear little Netherlands Dwarf pet rabbit, who is very loved by my husband and me.  He gives us both a lot of Love in return.  Knowing this adorable Little Bunny intimately was a great inspiration to writing and illustrating my story.

Kaye: Where does your inspiration come from?

Judy: My inspiration comes from many things: my love for nature, for instance.  When I am in a flower garden, I imagine delightful Flower Elves and Fairies living there.  I visualize them wearing costumes made of leaves and flowers, acorn caps, etc.  I collect things such as leaves, pine cones, berries, ribbons, and scarves, to give me ideas for their fanciful clothing.

I take photos of beautiful places that I visit, to give me ideas of backgrounds for my paintings. Great art of the past and present is always an inspiration to me, such as: wonderful films, great literature, beautiful music, ballet dancing, and beautiful paintings. They always kindle my enthusiasm.

Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your creative process?

Judy: I have developed a method I call “Mind Painting”.  This is my own personal way of capturing ideas and images for my paintings and writing, which develop in my mind.  This is a procedure used by many creative authors, composers, painters, poets, choreographers, etc. throughout the ages. I just close my eyes and “visions” appear in my head.  I do this during the day, or at night before going to sleep. These images often develop into stories which evolve into my books. It’s a delightful process.

Kaye: What is your greatest achievement to date in the literary world?

Judy: Reading and hearing the wonderful and appreciative compliments from people who have read my books, and who have seen my illustrative paintings, has always been very encouraging to me.  I receive these compliments from all kinds of people, worldwide, and of all ages.  I feel that these wonderful responses have been the greatest achievements in my literary and artistic world.

I want to thank Judy Mastrangelo for sharing with us here today, both her wisdom and her fabulous illustrations and book covers. You can learn more about Judy and her children’s books on her website or on her Goodreads Author or Amazon Author pages.


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“Writing for a Y.A. Audience”: Are they real?

Writing for a Y.A. Audience

SPOILERS AHEAD

I was at a book signing in October. A woman came up to my booth and asked for a quick synopsis of each story. I was happy to oblige, and when I got to GOAT CHILDREN, the woman teared up.

Goat Children

I wrote GOAT CHILDREN based on my experiences taking care of my grandmother when she suffered from dementia. This woman’s mother was diagnosed with dementia. She went on to share a few examples, and I could identify with all of them.

The woman bought the book for her daughter, who feels alone while helping her grandmother. The other kids in high school don’t understand.

I went through the same thing when I was in college and high school.  My grandmother was “weird”. I was a “freak” for trying to take care of her. She was “scary”. Okay, the unpredictable moods were scary, but she was still my grandmother. Fear goes hand-in-hand with dementia.

After the woman bought the book and moved onto the next book at the fair, my mind kept returning to GOAT CHILDREN. It was one of my first books published and one very dear to my heart. Now come the spoilers…

The Goat Children are a mythical warrior class who the fictional grandmother, Oma, believe to be true. The main character, Keziah, can’t figure out if they are real or not.  The story provides glimpses into the truth behind the female warriors.

My grandmother believed in little people living in her fireplace and dancing in her basement. When we asked her if she was scared of them, she said no, they comforted her. The Goat Children comfort Oma too.

firewood burning in fireplace

Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

At the end of the story, the grandmother and Keziah both leave Earth to live with the Goat Children. They are together and strong, and immersed in a world of magic both of them longed for. I decided to make the Goat Children real because I always wanted the little people to be real too, taking care of my grandmother, keeping her safe.

Jordan Elizabeth currently lives in the house her grandmother lived in. She’s still looking for the little people in the fireplace. You can connect with Jordan via her website, JordanElizabethBooks.com.


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A Farewell Tribute to Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture

Last week, we lost a dear friend of mine and a member of the Writing to be Read author family, Tom Johnson. Tom was a multi-genre writer for most of his life, mostly pulp fiction in the traditions of the classics, but in recent years, he dedicated himself to children’s fiction, with the intentions of creating stories for today’s children which reflect old fashioned values and morals in the traditions of the stories his mother read to him as a child. Tom took part in Round 2 of my “Ask the Authors” blog series, (which will become a published book by WordCrafter Press soon), and I interviewed Tom about his children’s stories back in 2018. He had some great things to say about writing for children that may be relevant here, since the Writing to be Read theme for November is young adult and children’s fiction. With that in mind, I’m reprinting that interview in part here, (you can read the full interview here), as we remember our friend and fellow author. Tom may be gone, but his wisdom lives on. This is what writing for children meant to him.


Kaye: Although in the past, you’ve written and published many different genres, you are currently writing only children’s stories. So, let’s talk about that. Tell me a little about your stories.

Tom: My children stories are about 1k and meant as bedtime tales, and to be read in classroom or library settings. They are short stories with little morals to teach children something about life.

Kaye: Are they a series or stand alone?

Tom: They are a series, and published in anthologies about once a year. There have been four anthologies so far. I was invited to participate beginning in volume #3. The anthology is called Wire Dog Storybook. Here is the background. True story. A young girl, Ellen Walters, asked her father, David Walters, if she could have a dog, and he said, “No.” So she found an old wire hanger and shaped it to resemble a dog, and called it wire dog. David Walters was fascinated by her ingenuity and created the Wire Dog storybooks. So the stories usually feature Ellen and Wire Dog, but always Wire Dog. Five of my stories have been published so far, and I’ve written three more for the 2018 yearbook when it comes out at the end of the year.

Kaye: What age group are they aimed at?

Tom: I feel that we should begin reading to our children by age one. With that in mind, my stories are aimed at the age group of 1 to 5. However, older children will enjoy the stories, as do adults.

Kaye: What differences do you see between writing for children and writing adult fiction?

Tom: Adult fiction usually means, “no holds barred”, while writing children stories you want to stay away from violence, horror, and adult themes. Keep in mind, young children absorb what they hear quickly, and some themes could have an adverse effect on young minds. When writing for children we must keep this in mind.

Kaye: What appeals to you about writing for children?

Tom: Do you remember the old radio show for kids, Let’s Pretend ? It produced shows for children that acted out fairy tales and light adventures – nothing as harsh as today’s cartoons that are aimed at our youth. Well, I have the chance to import my love for adventure in tales easily understood by young people; children who some day may also experience that same love to pass on to their children. Stories that give our children a moral to live by, not “It’s clobbering time!” Or Pow! Bang! Boom! It’s something my mother did for me when I was little, and now I have the same opportunity, and I’m not going to pass it up.

Kaye: You have wanted to write for children since you were little and your mother used to read to you.

Tom: Oh, yes. I hope that mothers are still reading to their children. They learn at such a young age, and we’re missing an opportunity if we fail them when they’re young. They will never forget what they learn as children, it’s when their minds are growing and grasping at everything. I think one of the first words they learn is, “Why?”

Kaye: What were your favorite children’s stories?

Tom: Really, I would have to look them up in the book of fairy tales on my shelf. There were so many she read to me. Knights saving young damsels come to mind. I remember one particular fairy tale where the princess was on a glass mountain, and the young knight had to save her. She watched each day as a knight riding brown horse attempts to scale the glass mountain, then a knight on a white horse, and so on, until the final day when a knight riding a great steed scales the mountain, and we find out that he was the knight on the brown horse, the white horse, etc. It wasn’t the color of the horse, but the persistence of the knight that finally achieved the goal.

Kaye: In what ways do the stories you write emulate those favorites from your childhood?

Tom: Like the fairy tale I mentioned above, my stories will also have a similar moral – it’s not the color of the horse, or the knight’s armor, but his persistence that wins the hand of the princess. Do the right thing, for the right reason. Persevere. If you don’t succeed today, try and try again.


The stories that we hear and read in childhood often stick with us into our later years. Even though Tom wrote other fiction through the years, as he grew older, it was the stories that his mother read to him as a child that inspired him. That’s what writing children’s fiction is all about.

Tom Johnson Books

Tom’s other works included pulp, crime and science fiction stories right up there with the best, and many may be familiar with his promotions for them on Facebook. His covers seem to reach out and grab your attention.  He published over eighty books during the span of his career. In that previous interview, Tom claimed that Alien Skies was born from his most unusual inspiration and the Guns of the Black Ghost was written as a homage to Walter Gibson’s The Shadow radio drama. You can read my review of Pangaea: Eden’s Planet here.

Tom Johnson and wife Ginger

Writing was a big part of Tom’s life. It was important to him. But, Tom was more than just a talented and dedicated writer. He was also a loved life partner to his lovely wife Ginger. She was supportive of his writing, and I believe she edited some, or perhaps all of his work. With Ginger at his side, Tom lived a life doing what he loved – bringing his characters to life.

Tom, farewell. You will live on through the plethora of books and stories you’ve left us with, but you will still be greatly missed.


Are you a Tom Johnson fan? If so, feel free to leave a few words in the comments telling us what Tom meant to you, or share a memory, or just tell me which of his books is your favorite.  Thank you all for joining me in saying good-bye.

 


“Tabitha’s Death”: a Y.A. novel that dares to journey into taboo realms

Tabitha's Death

Tabitha’s Death, by Jordan Elizabeth is a dark fantasy journey into death and beyond. This book is masterfully crafted to present the often taboo subjects of depression, cutting and teen suicide. Speaking as someone who has lost a son to teen suicide, I thought the subject matter was handled with sensitivity and tact. Even as a work of fiction, Tabitha’s Death carries messages many teens may need to hear.

Tabitha thinks she wants to die and tries to take her own life, but she finds it’s not that easy.  The Grey Man snatches her away from death and won’t let her die until she completes certain tasks for him. As she journey’s through the strange realms beyond death, she learns that there’s more going on beyond death’s doors than she’d realized and her life maybe wasn’t so bad.

A truly inspirational approach to Y.A. fiction, resulting in an entertaining, yet thought provoking story. I give Tabitha’s Death five quills.

five-quills3

Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


“Flower Fairies: Portal to the Land of Fae”: A delightful introduction for young and old

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Flower Fairies, by Judy Mastrangelo, is book 1 in her Portal to the Land of Fae series and a delightful introduction into their world, no matter what your age. Each page is filled with colorful images which highlight the natural world and enmesh it with the world of fantasy. Laugh with fairies and elves as they dance and play among the plants and flowers. Manstrangelo’s bright illustrations bring her well crafted descriptions to life and immerse you within the imaginary world of fea. There is no age restriction on the hearts these tiny fairy children will capture.

I’m looking forward to my next adventure into this magical land when I read the rest of the books in this series. I give Flower Fairies five quills.

five-quills3

Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


“Not My Father’s House”: A work of historical fiction true to western genre

Not My Father's House

Historical fiction has almost as many flavors as there are time periods to write about. Not My Father’s House, by Loretta Miles Tollefson is an historical novel with a western flavor that leaves the reader smacking their lips for more. A true frontier wilderness tale, Tollefson takes true events and places from the annals of the wild backwoods of old New Mexico territory and crafts a tale of the struggles and hardships of frontier life in the untamed mountain wilderness.

Suzanna is a young bride of mixed blood, soon to be a mother when she moves from her father’s home in the village of Don Fernando de Taos, venturing into the backwoods of New Mexico territory to make a home of her own and raise her family with her husband Gerald and their friend Ramon. She knew she’d have to battle the elements and critters in the untamed mountain valley, but she never expected to have to battle with herself when cabin fever sets in each winter. Nor did she ever imagine that her biggest threat in the wilds would come from a predator that stalks her on two legs instead of four.

A story of female strength and courage in a time when the lands were still wild. Not My Father’s House is a finely crafted story in the western tradition. I give it five quills.

five-quills3

Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.