Thursday, October 25, 2018

Why You Should Help Kids Write

By Mary Claire Branton

JH: We have something a little different today from a woman I met in June at the FL-SCBWI Conference here in Orlando. Mary Claire is a childrens' publisher--but not in the way you expect. Her company publishers books written by children, and encourages young artists of all types. I asked her to share her story, because I've met my own share of amazing young writers, and there's a lot authors can do to nurture the younger generation of writers.

Mary Claire Branton is a member of the Author’s Guild, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, the American Christian Fiction Writers, and serves as an editor and publisher of child authors and illustrators at Charlie’s Port. If you know of a child who is writing or has completed a book, you can send her a query at

Take it away Mary Claire...

I produce creative projects with children who write or perform comedic, religious, spiritual, political, esoteric, avant-garde, or barrier-breaking material for specific audience targets. If you think that’s crazy, now I’m publishing their books. How in the world and why? People underestimate kids.

Charlie’s Port is a fledgling organization, named after my little brother who passed away when he was fourteen. It is an organic phenomenon, serving as a security net and springboard for exceptional children and young adults. Since becoming a theater director in 2003, I’ve worked with a couple thousand children in various educational and professional arenas. I discovered that certain children possess extraordinary talents, wild ideas, brilliant writing capabilities, or God-given calls for social ministry that could change the world. Relationships developed with some of their families. Special projects sprouted and evolved.

I lost count of how many people have asked what we do. There are really no boundaries concerning the media Charlie’s Port utilizes. We love to create visual art, film, theater, and social missions, but most of our projects are now literary based. What unites our uncommon feats is that children are part of the equation in at least one fundamental aspect. Sometimes they are the illustrators, writers, or actors. Sometimes they are the missionaries. Sometimes they are the audience.

We helped an eleven year old demonstrate the need to save HIV infected babies in Africa. We wrote a screenplay with a bewildered teen about his father who was living with Lou Gehrig’s disease in order to convince Al Pacino to make a movie about their family. His father looked exactly like Al Pacino.

Our slogan is “Art. But different.” We are peculiar.

Can Kids Really Do This Stuff?

In addition to being a middle school cheerleader who engages in trite lunchroom banter, Mikayla Lowery is a writing machine. She wrote over 200 stories and completed her first novel by age ten. A child writing a book sounds unbelievable, but most of her chapters were short stories handwritten in notebooks, one at a time. She fell in love with a certain character that made her laugh. Eventually, Mikayla had penned many quirky adventures of a darling redhead who can’t stay out of trouble. We now have a 40,000-word middle grade comedy titled Zoey’s Zany Life. Mikayla is the youngest published author of 2018.

Zoey’s Zany Life hits shelves November 13th. It is listed by The Teacher’s Closet among the top seven books for children in 2018. It received rave reviews from KIRKUS, Portland Book Review, and many bloggers who I guess wanted to read something by someone so tiny. I hope they brace themselves, because the ARCs for Zoey’s Zany Summer go to print in January, and Mikayla is already working on the third title of the series.

So, yes. Kids really do this stuff.

You can also encourage kids to write, even those not destined to be the next Dostoyevsky or C.S. Lewis. Of course, there’s something in it for you too.

Authors Can Profit, too

There are extracurricular programs in most cities offering karate, ballet, swimming, piano, and even horseback riding. Parents pay for that. They want their kids to be healthy and well rounded. In addition to super athletes, drama queens/kings, math geniuses, and musical prodigies, thousands of young writers starve in corners of “time out” purgatory. They don’t know what to do with their craft. Some don’t know they can write at all.

Lead workshops in your community. Charge fees. You are an author. Karate instructors get paid. Violin instructors get paid. You are valuable. Receive payment for your services.

However, I don’t recommend operating in your home. When working with children, you should always work openly. The best organizations serving children have policies ensuring a child is never alone with an adult. Definitely adhere to this.

You can upstart workshops virtually for free. Use libraries or public recreation centers for space. Use chalkboards or electronics to communicate instead of wasting money on paper materials. Partner with libraries and schools for free advertising. You’re offering an opportunity to help their community. Bartering works.

As for creative curricula, that’s on you. Gather as much information on writing exercises as possible. Start with those related to character creation and world building that develop into short stories. Prose critiques naturally fall afterward. I’m sure you have tricks, habits, and rituals that work for you. Share those in workshop.

Once you cultivate creative material, lead constructive criticism among your groups. This will help them share ideas and appreciate what each other are doing. I guarantee you will have a story or book emerge that is so incredible, you will suddenly want to become a literary agent. So do that. Become a literary agent. Submit their work to presses part-time. When Simon & Schuster says no (which will probably happen) give us a shout. Though I wouldn’t bother with large presses. We’ve tried.

There is always the option of passing the submission task along to Mom and Dad after they praise you for a fruitful experience.

Teachers Can Make the World a Better Place

Even though it’s frowned upon, I know teachers have favorites. Many teacher’s pets end up running the world for a reason. If any of your students have a proclivity to writing, don’t ignore it beyond words of encouragement or extra “Great Job!” stickers.

There are government grants out there. Start writing clubs, after school workshops, writing contests, or give extra credit assignments. Pay attention to characters and plots that could grow into a novel.

Science and math teachers, keep your eyes out for quirky projects that could be the seeds of how-to or self-help books. Art teachers, look for the illustrators who knock your socks off. Drama teachers, don’t just produce established plays. Produce plays your students write.

Don’t tell kids they can be a writer or artist whenever they grow up. They might be able to be one now. Did I mention that we publish plays and books kids write or illustrate?

Librarians Can Improve the Literary Marketplace

Much of the above applies to librarians. You librarians also have access to Edelweiss, book distributor catalogues, and possess purchasing authority. Make it a priority to showcase the work of child authors, particularly those in your community who self-publish. Start book publishing workshops where children learn how books are developed, printed, and distributed. Have them produce their own in a workshop series. I guarantee you will discover a winner.

Parents Can Make Their Child’s Dream Come True

The best way to encourage and improve creative writing in kids is getting them to read. The more they read, the better they will write. Honestly, the better they will do anything. Tap into the power of your trusty dictionary. A monthly manifest is magnificent, and you only compile it once every four or five weeks.

Pick a rainy day and sit at your computer with a cup of tea. Sift through Merriam-Webster and gather a list of words, cutting and pasting their definitions into a calendar and put it on the fridge. Using them in sentences is a fabulous way to improve grammar and spark meaningful conversation. Simple SAT vocabulary like “amiable” will do, but you could go for words like “sesquipedalian” if you want to push the envelope. Think about the power you have, guiding the family dynamic. Oh, the places you’ll go while eating casseroles!

Ask your children where they want to go. Have them write descriptions. Ask them about interesting people they know, or animals. Have them fictionalize those. Ask them to draw fantastic situations and then describe them in words. Drawing is a great way to begin a story, because it can sit as inspiration a foot next to the pen or keyboard. When kids spend time drawing, characters come alive and inspire plots. Read what they are writing and offer wholesome feedback, void of harmful criticism.

Most of our submissions received come from parents. We look forward to hearing from you.

Here’s How Charlie's Port Can Help You…

Charlie’s Port accepts “agented” and un-agented submissions. I’ve received content on Hello Kitty paper. We’re dealing with kids here.

Children have a tremendous capacity to communicate complex ideas in many forms. Submit their work to us. As an emerging press, Charlie’s Port strives to be a traditional publisher in the flavor of university presses. We do not charge parents to publish their child’s book. We are a non-profit organization offering traditional publishing contracts in a highly selective acquisition process. Technically, we are self-publishing selected books with POD technology.

This structure is not profitable to us in the slightest. Quite the opposite, in fact. Thus we are obtaining our 501(c)3 status, which will enable us to receive public funding in addition to making the private donations that currently sustain us tax-deductible. This sustainable model prevents economic discrimination. If a child has a brilliant idea, it isn’t fair if her family can’t afford its fruition.

We will never become a commercial endeavor. Yet, our model does not disable commercial success. We may discover the next J.R.R. Tolkien or J.K. Rowling. We hope that happens! It will allow us to publish more books, pay adult authors to do workshops, or hire them to write screenplays or books for our kid illustrators. If you are an adult author, we might be looking for your voice too.

Why Does All of This Matter?

Piano prodigy, Ken Noda, warns that many geniuses undergo midlife crises in their late teens or early twenties if imagination is not replenished with experience. If children can do something well, we should encourage them. Reasonably. Balance is key.

In the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik points out that “for every prodigy doomed to misery by early success, we can cite another who started off strong and kept going.” It is best to strive for balance in every child, eliminating the teeter-totter between helicopter parents and apathetic relativists. It is one thing to encourage and nurture precocious youngsters with exceptional proclivities. Yet, constructing fascist home environments that demand perfection from every toddler mastering Beethoven in a booster seat is absolutely insane.

It truly is about nurturing nature. I leave you with sage wisdom from the little author that could, Mikayla Lowery: “When you write, you can romp through infinity with just a piece of paper, a pencil, and your mind. The only thing that limits you is your imagination.”

Oh, the mouths of babes…

About Zoey's Zany Life

With a perfect twin sister and friends who have everything, Zoey Song can't catch a break from quirky mishaps and hilarious accidents. Trouble follows this mischievous redhead everywhere. Can Zoey find a place in her world where life isn't unbearable? Let's just say, sixth grade becomes quite the journey from self-loathing to self-confidence.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. I'm so glad to hear about this. Can't help but think how my life would have been so different if I'd had encouragement, classes, or a mentor when I was young.