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Writing for kids 101

The Vicious Circle launches new series exploring the ins and outs of effective writing for children



They're the only readers that will read a book cover to cover, night after night, learning the words by heart. And while kids are definitely the least pretentious crowd of literary lovers, they are probably one of the toughest to truly win over; they mercilessly dissect the plot, ask questions that are almost unfathomable to an adult reader and tirelessly return to the same tomes, night after night.

Well, Whistler's writing group, The Vicious Circle, is offering writers an opportunity to hone their abilities to win over this discerning crowd, hosting a new, six-week series, "The Toughest Audience of All: Writing for Kids," at Myrtle Philip Community School.

Up until now, the 10-year-old community group had been hosting guest lecturers and workshops occasionally, but the larger focus of their group was their annual Whistler Writers Festival. That event, however, has been cancelled this year. While local literary enthusiasts don't have the annual writers festival to look forward to this summer, the group is hoping to draw their programming out through the year, providing opportunities for people to hone their craft through regular workshops and speakers.

Sara Leach is one of the directors of the Vicious Circle and helped introduce the idea of a special workshop for people interested in learning about writing specifically for children.

"We decided that we'd like to do either a series or some kind of one-off lecture a couple times a year as part of what the Vicious Circle offers to try and connect with new writers and provide professional development," Leach said.

Leach also has a personal connection with writing for children. Not only does she work as a teacher-librarian, she has had two books - Jake Reynolds: Chicken or Eagle? and Mountain Machines - published in the last year. Currently she has another mid-grade novel in the works.

"I've been a teacher for 15 years and I've always loved reading children's literature," Leach said. "When I first started writing, my first child was a baby and I think that's just kind of where I was."

Rebecca Wood Barrett, another local writer and member of The Vicious Circle, said they have encountered many people who seem eager to tell kids' stories, but just don't seem to know where to start.

"I think there is a real hunger out there amongst parents and caregivers to write, and the children's genre is so accessible, because in a way, like poetry, you don't need three years to finish your novel," Wood Barrett laughed.

"One of our mandates is that writing should be accessible to everyone and that everyone should be able to participate, and there's a lot of people out there who want to get started and they just aren't sure how."

The series is designed to appeal to the novice writer and the more experienced writer who is interested in exploring the boundaries of the medium.

And at the heart of children's literature is a simple, solid storyline.

"I think that a good kids' book crosses boundaries, a kids' book is just good writing, period," Leach said. "...It is about writing for kids, but if you can write well for kids, you can write well for adults, too."

At the upcoming series, Leach will teach participants the forms of children's literature - picture, chapter books and mid-grade novels - which should help them to develop and market their stories to publishers.

"Although I hate to use the word 'rule,' as in anything, it's important to know what the rules are before you break them and in children's literature there are very specific categories and you need to know what age group of child would read those, what the typical length would be for those types of books. For example, a picture book generally is less than 1,000 words, so if you're submitting a 3,000-word picture book... right away, you're saying to them: 'I don't really know what I'm doing.'"

Wood Barrett is teaching the workshop alongside Leach, Michel Beaudry and Cindy Filipenko, who will lead discussions on "The Power of Story" and "Visual Storytelling," respectively. Wood Barrett will help students complete a short project or outline for a longer project over two sessions in "Drafting A Story."

The series costs $120 to take part in and starts on Thursday, May 13, running for six weeks. Anyone interested in registering should do so as soon as possible. Visit www.theviciouscircle.ca to sign up.