Inspiration in Writing
Children's and YA Books


ABCS OF WRITING FOR CHILDREN: 114 CHILDREN'S AUTHORS AND ILLUSTRATORS TALK ABOUT THE ART, THE BUSINESS, THE CRAFT & THE LIFE OF WRITING CHILDREN'S LITERATURE compiled by Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff (Quill Driver Books, 2003). Sort of like sitting down to tea one-on-one with 114 of the brightest minds in the business. Candid, funny, informative. A great way to get a priceless feel for the culture of the industry.

An Address and a Map: Discovering Your Genius as a Writer by Tim Wynne-Jones from The Writers' League of Texas. Peek: "...I'm talking about the genius that each of us possesses to some degree: a natural ability or capacity or quality of mind; the special endowments which fit each of us for our work."

Art and FearART AND FEAR: OBSERVATIONS ON THE PERILS (AND REWARDS) OF ARTMAKING by David Bayles and Ted Orland (Image Continuum, 1993). As relevant for writers as musicians as painters as photographers as dancers, this economical slim paperback is a godsend for anyone who's a human being and trying to create art. Suggested by Nancy Werlin; VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

THE ART OF WRITING FOR CHILDREN: SKILLS AND TECHNIQUES OF THE CRAFT by Connie C. Epstein (Archon, 1991). Written by the former editor-in-chief of Morrow Junior Books.

Attend to Your Work by Deborah Heiligman from I.N.K.: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. Deborah talks about the words her grandfather left her. Peek: "I hope you will indulge me and let me tell you about him. I think it relates to what we are all trying to do here."

Baby Names for the New CenturyBABY NAMES FOR THE NEW CENTURY: A COMPREHENSIVE, MULTICULTURAL GUIDE TO FIND THE PERFECT NAME FOR YOUR BABY by Pamela Samuelson (HarperCollins, 1994). Not a bad place to find the perfect name for your character either.

Beating the Jealous Bug by Jan Fields from Writer's Support Room - Work Habits from the Institute of Children's Literature. Peek: "The first time the Jealous Bug bit me was when I saw writers who I knew had fewer years in their craft landing book contracts while my picture book was making it to acquisition meetings but no further. Part of me wanted to roar, 'Why not me?'"

Be Kind to Failure by Tami Lewis Brown from Cynsations. Peek: "Creativity is all about moving into new directions. Taking chances. Being risky. Breaking the rules. And when you break those rules you're upsetting the applecart, for others and for yourself. You're grabbing failure by the neck and giving it a good strong shake."

Blurring the Lines by Kathi Appelt from Hunger Mountain: the VCFA Journal of the Arts. Peek: "If you think that we can participate in this industry without becoming advocates for children, then that is a mistaken notion. It’s our job to write for all of our citizens, not just children, but especially for children."

Challenges and Rewards by Cynthia Lord. Peek: "Most authors who write about serious subjects will make some people angry or hurt, and I am no exception."


Choosing Your Own Path by R.L. LaFevers at Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: "So here’s the thing. There are at least a hundred different paths to success. No, I'm not kidding."


Craft, Career & Cheer from Cynsations: a series of interviews with children’s-YA book creators about what they love about their creative lives. Featured authors included Bonny Becker, Bonnie Christensen, Carolyn Crimi, Heather Vogel Frederick, Warren Hanson, David L. Harrison, Kimberley Griffths Little, Michelle Markel, Claudia Guadalupe Martinez, Melissa Walker, and many, many more.

DARKNESS by Mildred Pitts Walter, illustrated by Marcia Jameson (Simon & Schuster, 1995). Ages 3-up. In this picture book, Walter's celebration of darkness is worth a look for any reader and even more so for any writer. It inspires us to think hard about our assumptions, to see true beauty in all its hues.

Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula NordstromDEAR GENIUS: THE LETTERS OF URSULA NORDSTROM collected and edited by Leonard S. Marcus (HarperCollins, 1998). Eavesdrop on this legendary editor's role in the creation of such classics as: GOODNIGHT MOON by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd; CHARLOTTE'S WEB by E.B. White and illustrated by Garth Williams; WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak and HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON by Crockett Johnson.

THE FOREST FOR THE TREES: AN EDITOR'S ADVICE TO WRITERS by Betsy Lerner (Riverhead, 2000). Your best source for savvy and the soul. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

For Those We Lose Along the Way by R.L. LaFevers from Shrinking Violets. Peek: "I know of three authors who simply gave up after their first book, completely disillusioned and demoralized by the publishing process and the lack of support they got from their publisher, the lukewarm sales and reviews their book received." Highly recommended.

Getting Out of Your Own Way from Gail Giles.


Inner Critics and Time Wasters by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "Our inner editor sometimes keeps us from seeing what’s in front of us. We are constantly 'revising' the facts. So what’s the problem with that? You can’t accept–and get peace about–what you can’t honestly see or face. You stay stirred up–a condition rarely suited to being creative."


Is Your 'But' Too Big? by John Gibbs from An Englishman in New Jersey. Peek: "Be wary of such people. Many of them carry a virus, Excusitis, a mental affliction which can kill writing dreams by causing the person suffering from it to doubt themselves and their ability. Symptoms include excessive use of the phrases like 'I wanted to be a writer, but...', 'I’ve always thought I had a book in me, but...', 'I love writing, but...'"

IT TAKES A CERTAIN TYPE TO BE A WRITER edited by Erin Barrett and Jack Mingo (Conari Press, 2003). A collection of quotes and trivia about writers. Caveat: the section on "Kiddie Lit" (ouch) isn't exactly reverential but neither is the rest of the book. A plump resource for finding speaking fodder.


LIVING THE WRITER'S LIFE: A COMPLETE SELF-HELP GUIDE by Eric Maisel, Ph.D. (Watson-Guptill, 1999). Even though I think that self-help guides are often indulgent and goofy, this one is an entertaining read and makes some good observations about dealing with the flux of emotions that come with being a writer. A potentially helpful book for writers throughout their careers, this book may be the answer if you're, say, too blocked to begin or struggling with professional jealousy (on either end). Worth reading for the quotes.

Nervous? by Jennifer R. Hubbard from writerjenn. Peek: "People are sometimes surprised at how nervous writers get—about writing first drafts, editing, submitting a book, doing public appearances, reading reviews, and so on."

On Not Everyone Appreciating Your Book The Way You Hope They Will from Jay Asher. Peek: "Your part of the author/reader conversation ended the moment you turned in your edits. From then on, the only thing that will change about your story will be the people reading it."

Positivity by Adrienne Kress from The Temp, The Actress, and The Writer. Peek: "Twitter wisely. By which I mean, if you find you are following someone that you constantly feel jealous of, or if you find you are following someone who only wants to post links to articles about how crappy the writing world is these days, stop following them. Follow people who inspire you, follow people you care about; you have the choice."

self-doubt - see, doubt of self by Sara Zarr at Teen Fiction Cafe. Peek: "Try to show yourself at least the decency and compassion and wisdom that you'd show a friend. This may involve a lot of talking to yourself, but that's okay."

Seven Characteristics You Need to Get Published by Carolyn Kaufman from Peek: "The first thing every real writer needs is a willingness to learn and grow. All agents or editors—no matter how busy—are interested in quality work."

The Seven Deadly (Publishing) Sins from Waxman Literary Agency. Peek: "These seven no-nos will put your career on ice faster than you can say 'remainder.'"

The Six Friends Every Writer Needs from Jackson Pearce, author of As You Wish (HarperCollins, 2009). Peek: "Every red mark on your manuscript is an opportunity to make it better. She just gave you a hell of a lot of opportunities. Tide gets bloodstains/ink stains out of most fabrics."

SOME WRITERS DESERVE TO STARVE! 31 BRUTAL TRUTHS ABOUT THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY by Elaura Niles (Writer’s Digest, 2005). Funny, thoughtful, conversational, this hip, small volume is jam-packed with street smarts. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

STONES FROM THE MUSE: RUNES FOR THE CREATIVE JOURNEY by Emily Herman and Jennifer Richard Jacobson. Ever want to sit your muse down for a long cup of tea? Or reach out to her with the kind of hug that says "we can do it!"? Here's the way to really connect. This charming paperback and accompanying runes offer a mix of inspiration, motivation, and advice for the soul. Keep the book on your desk, and revisit your stones often. They offer the magic to survive and prosper in a writing life!

Striving for Contentment from Kristi Holl at Writers' First Aid. Peek: "To be honest, if you want to enjoy the writing life–if you want to enjoy the process, and not just the final product–you'll have to find a way to embrace both contentment and the urge to grow and improve." See also Restoring Balance to Your Life and A Writer's Renewal.

TAKE JOY: A BOOK FOR WRITERS by Jane Yolen (The Writer Books, 2003). A celebration of writing, a reminder that it is such a wonderous experience and to enjoy it. Plus, a lot of very true and helpful how-to thoughts. Good for beginners and the well published. Worth the price for p. 49 alone, though the quote on p. 51 is particularly insightful, too. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Taking Risks from Gail Giles.

Top 10 Productivity Pitfalls for Writers to Avoid by Sage Cohen from Writer's Digest. Peek: "It’s easy to focus on the negative in writing and in life. But when we turn our attention to what’s working and what we appreciate from moment to moment, our sails turn into the wind."

Unlocking Your Potential by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "Some of my most brilliant students gave up after a rejection or two and never were published. But I have books on my shelf from medium-talented students who refused to give up on their dreams–books published by large New York publishers."

Walking on AlligatorsWALKING ON ALLIGATORS: A BOOK OF MEDITATIONS FOR WRITERS by Susan Shaughnessy (HarperCollins, 1993). A quote, a consideration, a call to action. This gem of a paperback is a must-have for the writer's peace of mind and piece of soul. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

What It Takes to Succeed as a Novelist by Libby Koponen from Crowe's Nest. A list of eight qualities.

When adversity strikes....: the first in a series of posts about challenges in the writer's life from Sarah Aronson at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "It would be nice to learn from the low moments, but as an avid Dear Abby reader, we should at least be able to acknowledge them, smile in solidarity, and move forward." See also More Adversity (when your editor hates your new manuscript), Another Common Problem (another author has published a book similar to your work in progress), Review Angst, and Antidotes for the Low Points.

Why It's Important to Stay Positive by Salima Alikhan. Peek: "If you have the capacity to step back from your work, see it as an entity separate from yourself, critique it objectively—all while loving it tenderly and being brokenhearted over it and praying every day that it bears fruit and cradling it like a baby—you are a remarkable human being."

WRITERS IN THE KITCHEN: CHILDREN'S BOOK WRITERS SHARE MEMORIES OF THEIR FAVORITE RECIPES by Tricia Gardella (Boyds Mills, 1998). Featured authors (and their recipes) include Marsha Qualey, Jane Kurtz, Sara Jane Boyers, Lynea Bowdish, Jackie French Koller, Joseph Bruchac, Peni Griffin, Jane Yolen, Bruce Balan, and Kathi Appelt. If we are what we eat, these recipes may double as secrets to success. Or at least we can use that as a justification to dig in.

WRITING FOR CHILDREN & TEENAGERS by Lee Wyndham, revised by Arnold Madison (Writer's Digest, 1989). In addition to the overview subjects (characters, conflict, etc), this book also offers special chapters on interests such as: researching, writing mysteries, writing picture books, writing hi-lows and easy-to-read books, and writing non-fiction.

Writing on a Unicycle: Making Time for What You Love in a Life out of Balance by Deborah Brodie. Peek: "Unless writing is your day job, these tips are for you. And if you have other ideas, and the time to write them down, please send them to me so I can share them with others."

WRITING PAST DARK: ENVY, FEAR, DISTRACTION, AND OTHER DILEMMAS IN THE WRITER'S LIFE by Bonnie Friedman (HarperCollins, 1993). Worth twice the cost for the chapter on envy and the "anorexia of language" alone.