Explore the Wonderous World of Children's Literature
A few months ago when I was choosing my courses for my Spring/Summer session at University, I came across a full-year course called, “Children’s Literature”. My first thoughts were, “Man, this will be a breeze! After all, how difficult can it be to study children’s literature?”
The following week when the postman brought a box - heavier than my oldest child - filled to the brim with children and youth books, I knew how wrong my initial statement had been. First, this course was not going to be “a breeze”. Second, children’s literature has many colorful layers within it the same as other genres. Third, and a point I’d forgotten when registering for the course, children’s books are filled with fantasy – a genre I hadn’t ventured into much.
With an open mind, I dove head first into the deep pools of this wonderful area of writing I hadn’t explored before and was pleasantly surprised. So far, I’ve been taken on adventures in alternative worlds [The Princess and the Goblin
(George MacDonald), The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
(C.S. Lewis), The Tombs of Atuan
(Ursula K. Le Guin)]; brought along on quests [The Hobbit
(J.R.R. Tolkien), Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
, (J.K. Rowling)]; had my eyes opened in Realistic Fiction [The Great Gilly Hopkins
(Katherine Paterson), The Hatchet
(Gary Paulsen)]; taken back in time [Anne of Green Gables
(L.M. Montgomery)]; and reminded of the preciousness of life [Tuck Everlasting
Even though each of these books are very different in terms of characterization, voice, setting and plot, all share a common theme: they explore different parts of a child’s vivid imagination. Fantasy isn’t all “Star Wars-like”, as I mistakenly thought. It’s being taken away to a different place, a different time or being able to see the world through another person’s eyes. Isn’t that what reading is all about? And isn’t that what we, as writers, try to achieve in our work – no matter what the genre we represent?
This has been the most difficult course I’ve ever taken (which says a lot considering I’m majoring in Psychology). Not because the work is hard but more because the readings challenge me to do what we sadly forget to as we get older: explore the world through a child’s eyes.
My course took me back to younger days when I was a gangly freckle-faced girl who would go to the library every week and take out as many books as my scrawny arms could carry home. It reminded me of why I fell in love with books in the first place and why I wanted to become a writer. Why not take a trip to your local library or bookstore and delve into the glorious world of Children’s Literature and Fantasy? Go on an adventure, follow a quest or just get comfy and allow yourself to be absorbed between the pages.
OH! And don’t forget to check out WOW’s October issue where the ladies will be exploring the world of Children/YA Literature. Maybe I’ll have a book review or two to check out. =o)
Labels: Children's Literature, Chynna, fantasy
Jane E. Johnson is All Heart
There are times when you read a story and enjoy it so much that you want to know about the person who wrote it. Sometimes that person turns out to be just as you expected, and other times that person surprises you! Jane is more than we expected and full of wonderful surprises. Getting to know her has been a gift.
Finding out the motivation behind Jane's story shows her true spirit. Listening to her 'speak' through her words is a blast! She's warm, caring, funny, and a down-to-earth person with a huge heart.
Join us as we interview Jane E. Johnson, our gracious first place winner, and find out why a fresh outlook like hers is bound to take her anywhere she wants to go.
WOW: Jane, congratulations on winning First Place in the WOW! Winter 2007 contest! That's quite an accomplishment. In fact, you found out that you won before we officially went live! Can you share with our readers how you 'caught us in the act'?
Jane: Thank-you, it was really fun to win a contest put on by such fun and encouraging people. I feel like we are all winners. And I really love all of the entries. It's a funny story about my finding out that I won. I was up late and reading some great articles on the WOW! website. I clicked on an article and when the new page opened, all of a sudden I saw my picture. You can imagine my great joy and happiness. I immediately e-mailed the WOW editors that I was sitting right there and was so excited to have won.
WOW: I remember that... we were close to midnight (Pacific Time) and were scrambling, like always, to get the issue up. Then you e-mailed us! Now that reaffirms that people ARE watching... so we better make those deadlines! ;-)
Jane, we loved your story "Funding a Memory," which is loosely based on true events. Could you tell us which parts are true and which are fiction?
Jane: There is a lot of truth to it. I am like JB, and I have two brothers with names beginning with the letter M. I also really do have 9 siblings, "steps halves and wholes". We really did go on a family vacation back in the 70s in a VW pop-top camper. My step dad is very ill. And he really did answer that he would like to go to Reno, (before the doctors determined just how ill he is). His pet name for my mother is "Reb" because he is a 'Yamn Dankee' from Philadelphia Pa and she is a Rebel from Mississippi.
The fictional part is that it was my younger sister who was actually there with me and Mom in the hospital room with Pappaw. My real brothers and my little sister would probably be in the RV with me -- not giving me a hard time about taking him on a trip -- but I needed a conflict for JB. He really did call me Jitterbug when I was young. Probably because I couldn't sit still and I talked a lot. (Imagine that!) I don't get to take him on a trip, but I believe this fictionalized account really helped him to see how much I care for him.
WOW: I believe it has. Did he get a chance to hear it?
Jane: My mother read it to him just after I told them that I won first place. She said he got a tear in his eye. He's proud of me and happy to see that I am writing again.
WOW: We're proud of you too! Believe me, there were a lot of entries. And like most contests, we recommend that writers get their entries in early, but yours came in not too long before the deadline! Do you think the adrenaline helped to write the story, or was it emotion?
Jane: Adrenaline, emotion, anger and frustration that his life couldn't last longer. As I wrote the story I already knew that it would never come true. But it was truly the desire of my heart to take my parents on a trip somewhere. I have been talking about it with them a lot over the last year and we were planning to go to Branson MO, this summer.
I wrote the story the night before the night that it was due. I was in a hotel on my way back from just bringing him home from the hospital. I cried and cried as I wrote it. But it has been shown that some of the best artistic creations come from pain. It is fun to write things out the way you wish they could be.
WOW: That's the magic of stories... and they help heal the soul. As you were caught in the moment, did you have a tough time with the word count?
Jane: I went over by about 100 words. So I tweaked and edited and cut it down to just under 500. It was a great experience. I usually have a problem with ending my stories, but the word limit really held me in tight. It was a fun exercise because it really helped me to look quickly for a punch line. I believe what I cut was mostly details about the VW pop-top camper trip. It was about 1:00 a.m. when I finished and I was exhausted emotionally and physically, but felt a therapeutic relief from writing it all out and sending it to WOW!.
WOW: I'm glad, because you did the same for us. I remember when you wrote us the night you won, your e-mail couldn't have come at a better time. It was therapy for us in the midst of a lot of stress. Feeling your enthusiasm made both Beryl and I smile, even shed a tear.
You'd told us that one of your family's wishes was to see you become a successful writer. That shows the love between you and your family. We also know that you've written a 500-page middle-grade manuscript. Can you tell our WOW! readers what it's about?
Jane: When my six children were young, I would sit outside in the hallway at bedtime and make up stories for them. The characters in the stories where always ogres, fairies, wizards and other fantastic creatures. I have three boys and three girls, and a lot of times the boys were the ogres and other beasts, while the girls were the beautiful magical fairy princesses.
About six years ago, when my oldest was 16, she asked if I would write down some of those stories. I couldn't remember very many of them. But I sat down and plotted out a story where all six of them are wizards. It grew into this amazing tale that sends them out on a quest to conquer an evil dragon by the name of Gwandoya. My problem with the manuscript is that it is written in third person omniscient. I have been told that it really should have been written in third person limited and am on hold right now as I get some opinions and critiques and decide if I need to change it to just one child's point of view. (You try to tell the other five that they don't get to ride shotgun!)
WOW: That is a hard feat. Although, recently, I was reading a book where third person limited jumped from several characters' points of view throughout the story. As long as you change paragraphs and make smooth transitions, you can do it without the reader even realizing it's happening!
So, do you have an agent to guide you through this process?
Jane: I do not have an agent, but a few years ago I did contact Sandy Ferguson Fuller. Her assistant Lynn Volkens wrote back and let me know that she would love to take a look at my manuscript. They offer a critiquing/editing service and were recommended to me by an author friend of my other Dad's. That was about 3 years ago though. I just came across their name again and am most likely going to send the manuscript to them soon.
WOW: How has the submission process been going for you?
Jane: I haven't submitted my book anywhere because I know it needs a lot of work. But I sold 4 stories to children's magazines several years ago. I love getting the mail of a writer. Even if it is a rejection. If you are not getting the mail of a writer, you are not a writer.
WOW: So true... and with a positive outlook! The life of a writer includes many sacrifices. And we know from your bio that you have six children! How did you manage being a mom, a wife, getting a Bachelors' degree, and still find time to write?
Jane: I put my writing on a back burner for the past four years while I finished my Bachelors' degree. I just achieved that goal in December and immediately started to think about writing again. I pulled out old files and found at least 20 short story manuscripts waiting patiently to be sent out. I have already updated and sent out 2 short stories to magazines, entered WOW's flash fiction contest, entered another contest for Kansas writers, SCBWI Kansas, joined a critique group, and I'm going to the Poconos (back in my home state) for a writers' conference next week.
I love children and find that the best way to raise children is to take them on adventures with you. Many of my early short stories and two that I sold to a magazine with a younger audience were based on true events that happened with my children. So the laundry may not get done, but we have a lot of fun making memories together. Sometimes it is difficult to switch gears but now that they are all in school I try to write during the day and focus on them when they get home. I don't sleep much. I often do my best writing late at night. Sleep is overrated anyway ; )
WOW: We know that one personally Jane, and we admire your drive! It's not only sleep that's overrated, but laundry too! So, now that your children are in school, what are you working on?
Jane: I have sent the first 15 pages of my book out to be critiqued at the writer's conference I am attending. I'm also working on a new middle grade novel. This one is a historical novel based in Philadelphia in the 1970s. Can you believe the 70's are historical now! I am also researching magazines again and am looking into writing short pieces for assessment tests. I am a substitute teacher and will be entering a teacher prep program in June. I have a soft place in my heart for special needs kids and will go on to get my Masters so I can teach them. But one thing I noticed is the lack of materials out there for these children. They need text written in language that is more easily understood. And tests that don't confuse them or trip them up.
WOW: I totally agree. That's such a good idea, and one that NEEDS exploration.
Jane, you are a pioneer. You have a wonderful heart, a clear vision, and drive to accomplish everything you set out to do. Winning First Place in the WOW! Winter 2007 contest is only the start in your adventures -- we guarantee it! Overall, how has entering the WOW! contest been for you?
Jane: This has been an amazing experience all around. I have told everyone I know to enter next time and especially to get on your website and read all of the encouraging words and wonderful informative articles. My sister just called me today and told me that she did write up an entry using the next prompt. She is so excited for me and I knew that she and my other sister and my two adult daughters would have a fun time with the flash fiction idea.
WOW: We sincerely thank you! We only hope that with more entries we can provide greater opportunities for writers. And Jane, when you get published, you have to grant us your first interview!
Jane: I love how you say When. I am sure with your encouragement it will be "when" and not "if". Thanks to Angela and Beryl and all of the contributors at WOW! I'm so glad I came across your website, just surfing along a couple of months ago. Wow.
Be sure to read Jane E. Johnson's first place story, Funding a Memory.
To contact Jane E. Johnson for kudos, interview requests, PR, or MS requests on her upcoming novel, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
We hope you've enjoyed this interview with Jane. She's shown us the true spirit of a winner: gracious, honest, warm, self-sacrificing, and down to earth. A woman with a story of kindness. A woman going places.
Thank you Jane for making this a wonderful interview, and we wish you the best in all your endeavors.
Labels: books, fantasy, First Place, flash fiction contest winner, interview, Jane E. Johnson, WOW Winter 2007 Contest, YA