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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Idea-Snatcher?

I have a friend who has such a great idea for a children's book, she can't tell anyone (including me) her idea because she's afraid someone might steal it. She's not the only one. It seems that many people I meet, who have a children's book idea or manuscript locked away somewhere, never pursue getting it published because of this same fear. (Some are lawyers--so I guess it's their job to be fearful.)  

Personally, I think it's a waste of energy to worry about idea-snatchers. There are trillions of ideas out there and what are the chances that someone will choose your idea, as unique as it is? I'm not saying you should post your best ideas on Facebook or Twitter or on a billboard in Times Square, but I do think you'll be better off channeling that worry-energy into something more creative.  

Have I ever had an idea stolen? Yes--and not just an idea. One day I was at Barnes & Noble and saw that a book I had written--same title, same text, and illustrations that followed my art notes--had been published under the name of an illustrator I had hired to do a sample illustration for my book. How dare she?! I thought at the time, and I was pretty bummed out. I got a lawyer, scrounged around for correspondence, and didn't believe her story about how she had tried to track me down (not a difficult task) to ask my permission. Case over; her book is still out there. 

But even still...I got over it and, in the long run, went on to write books I liked better than that one. The more I write, the more ideas I have, and the more ideas I have, the less time I have to write them all down. I believe that's true for most children's book writers. If I'm every stuck for ideas, I just go to New York City and look up at the thousands of windows everywhere, and remember that there is a world of stories that haven't yet been written--or at least not in the way I would do it.

If someone steals your idea, take it as a compliment and know you'll come up with another one...or two...or ten. Look up at the city windows or twinkling stars and remember that you live in a world of abundance. Old ideas are always being recycled; new ideas pop up when you least expect them.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

If a Child Really, Really, Really Wants a Book, Why Insist He/She Buy a Different One?

I hadn't thought of the classic Now We Are Sixby A. A. Milnein years--and then I overheard this conversation in a Barnes & Noble:

Mom: Choose a book and I'll buy it for you.
Son: I want THIS one!
Mom: I'm NOT buying that for you. It's too young.
Son: But I really, really, really want this one. Pleease.
Mom: That book is too babyish for you. It's called Now We Are Six--but YOU just turned seven.

I wanted to pop out from behind the shelves and 1. inform the mom that her son had made an excellent choice, having selected an ageless, timeles, classic poetry book; 2. read them "Sneezles", one of my favorite poems in the book; and 3. buy one copy of the book for myself and another for the boy.) But knowing it really wasn't my business, I did nothing. 

As a parent, I understand how the mom might want her 7-year-old to choose a book that's right for his reading level. But as a book lover who is passionate about choosing her own books, I can't help but wish for children to be allowed a similar freedom. 

As a children's book author, I participate in many book fairs and often hear parents trying to steer their children into making the "right" book choices. I'm so used to this that when a child is interested in my picture book City Witch, Country SwitchI automatically tell the parents that it's not a Halloween book. Why? Because younger kids who fall in love Bus to Booville or You Can't Scare Me--two of my books that ARE Halloween books--are often told "no because it's not Halloween," as if kids don't love monsters, ghosts, and spooky stuff all year around!  

When a child really, really, really wants a book, what's wrong with responding with an automatic "no"?
1. The child might feel he makes poor choices.
2. It robs him of the chance to explore, enjoy, and learn from a book she was drawn to.
3. It implies that there's a "right" and "wrong" answer in choosing a book. When a parent asks the child to "choose" a book, shouldn't he/she be able to do just that?

If your child buys a book that's too easy, so what. Suggest he read it to a younger kid. If he chooses a book that's too difficult, either read it to him or save it until he grows into it. If the book never gets read, arrange for your child to donate it to a library or charity. It's all good! And your child will know that you value his taste in books.

My 9-year-old son has always gravitated to non-fiction books way above his level. If I'd said no because of reading level, he'd never have gotten frustrated with the words...and I'd never have ended up reading to him...and he'd never have learned as much as he knows now about spies, mummies, pyramids, pirates, venomous creatures, and World War II as he does. Did my son learn to read? Of course--all kids do. But because his earlier book choices were not on his level, he now knows more than I did at his age, and he chooses his books with confidence and excitement.

Fortunately, there are plenty of parents who leave the book choice up to their child--regardless of level. Many adults still enjoy their childhood favorites like I do--which reminds me. I'm going to read A. A. Milne's poem Sneezles before my son comes home from school. I hope a copy finds its way to the boy from Barnes &Noble via a librarian, teacher, grandma, or--better yet--his mom who eventually comes to her senses.