Night Buddies - Adventures After Lights Out

Stop Comparison in Its Tracks: Parenting in the Digital Age

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I’ve written a few times about the ways in which social media has an effect—both positive and negative—on children today, and how we as parents can best help them navigate through it. But the one thing I think we can’t separate from social media is the rise of the problem of comparison in our youth.

Every time they open Instagram, they have the opportunity to see someone who is living a life “cooler” than their own. Your child can come home thrilled about an A on his math test, and then feel crushed moments later when he sees on Facebook that someone else got an A+. With their self-worth tied up in how many likes their newest post gets instead of being the best version of themselves, it can be hard to figure out what to say and how to get children to see that comparing their lives to someone else is a sure path to misery and low self-esteem. (more…)

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There is No “Right” Time to Write

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One of the most common problems among new writers is when they say this: “I can only write when [insert arbitrary rule here].” Sometimes they think they can only write in the early morning, sometimes only when their children are out of the house, sometimes only when they feel inspired—but every single one of these answers is the root cause of a writer’s failure. I’ve found a lot of advice about writing to be insubstantial, but this one piece of advice is what I’ve heard every great writer say, and what has been proven to me throughout my journey as an author . . .

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There is not “right” time to write. Write anyway.

It is always going to be easier to not write than it is to write. Sitting down with no distractions, opening up a blank document unsure of what to fill the page with, staying there for hours, days, and years of your life until you feel like you’ve finally come close to what you wanted to say are just a few of the reasons why you should just close your laptop and give up on the novel you dreamed of writing one day. But those reasons won’t deter the passionate writers. The ones who dream of their stories every time they close their eyes. The ones who see the people walking down the street as characters. The ones who itch to get their words down on napkins, receipts, or the back of their hands when nothing else is available. To them, writing isn’t confined to a certain time of day, or a certain mindset. To them, writing is something that happens always, just because they are alive.

I agree with those who argue that setting aside a certain time of day, every day, will help a writer get their work finished. But relying on that time alone increases the risk of the writing never happening at all. Schedules change every day. Kids get sick and stay home from school, friends ask you to stop by for dinner, partners need someone to talk to after a stressful day. Writing time gets interrupted, and it can be hard to get back when you forget that all day, any day is the perfect time to write.

Louis L’Amour said it best when he wrote, “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

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Louis L’Amour

There will always be an excuse to not write; the timing isn’t right, there’s too much on your to-do list, you feel uninspired. Start writing anyway. You’ll be grateful you gave all the time you had to your story when your finished novel is in your hands.

What’s the best writing advice for beginners you’ve heard? Let me know in the comments below!

 

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Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Sit Down to Write Your Children’s Book

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So one day it hits you—that perfect idea, the one you know is your key to becoming a children’s book author. You do a little character developing, you download Scrivener, you’re ready to take that idea and turn it into a children’s book, right?

Wrong. Almost every person believes they have a book inside them, but without taking the time to consider your writing goals, those books never make it to “The End.” Before you sit down at your computer and start typing out that great bestseller you’ve been brewing, I suggest you take some time to sit down and think about these questions.

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Why are you writing this book? Do you desire fame, wealth, or critical acclaim? Do you believe in and love your story? Do you simply want to read the book to your child, family, or friends? I’m not going to say that any motivation for finishing a book is better than another (though I’m not holding my breath to become a millionaire author anytime soon), but I do think that without knowing what’s motivating you, you’ll lose steam around page thirty and your book won’t ever be completed.

What time commitment are you giving to this book? Will you write every day? Should you set a daily word count? Are you planning on writing whenever the mood or inspiration strikes? Giving yourself clear and realistic expectations for the amount of time you will dedicate yourself to this project will keep you from being frustrated if it takes you awhile to finish. Knowing ahead of time that you only plan on writing 100 words a day will allow you to realistically be aware that you’ll be working on this book for over a year or years to come.

How much of your story do you know? You don’t need to be the person that writes an in-depth outline before you start writing chapter one, but you should have an idea of what the beginning, middle, and end of your story will be. If you start writing the book with a strong, developed beginning, no clue as to what will happen in the middle, and a vague idea of the ending, you could get lost and give up the whole project.

Would you want to read this book? This is the most important question to ask yourself—and the one a lot of wannabe authors don’t give enough importance to. If you don’t believe your book is important, if you’re not having fun writing or reading it, and if you don’t care about your book as if it was your own child, you won’t have the energy to fight to get it written and eventually published. Don’t bother to start writing something if you don’t start the project with more passion than you’ve ever felt in your life.

Deciding to write a book is deciding to start one of the longest, craziest, emotional, frustrating, and rewarding journeys you’ve ever been on. If you feel confident in answering all of these questions, you’ll be prepared to see your book through to its end.

Are you a first-time writer? What are some of your answers to these questions? Let me know in the comments below!

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From Father to Master Storyteller: Tips for Telling the Best Bedtime Stories!

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So you’ve decided you want to tell a story to your child every night before they go to bed, but you’ve read every book in your house over and over, and the only thing you can think of on your own is, “Once upon a time . . .” But as someone who created a series of books out of my simple bedtime stories, I can tell you that becoming a master storyteller isn’t so complicated. Here are my top tips for telling bedtime stories your child will adore!

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Cater to your child’s interests. Think about which books your kid loves to read. Are they about horses, sports, magic, pirates? Draw your subject from there, or even combine some of them! You could tell a story about a magic pirate and his horse companion competing to become World Champions in a horse race. The more creative you get with your child’s interests, the more interesting your story will be to them.

Keep it short. Kids don’t have very long attention spans, and by bedtime they should already be pretty wiped out. Just keep the storyline simple—you have a character, there is a problem, the problem gets bigger, and then the character resolves the problem. You should be able to keep it under ten minutes. If you have more to tell, continue on the next night.

Make your child the star! You’re always telling your child that they can be anything they want to be, right? Well here’s your chance to tell them a story about becoming president, discovering cures for diseases, getting a record deal, or whatever it is their biggest dreams are. Even if you put them in stories that are unrealistic, like how I put my son John in the Night Buddies stories, hearing about themselves as protagonists in the stories you tell will boost their confidence and help them realize that you truly believe in them to do and be anything they want.

Tell the story together. I’ve said before that my son John is the one who came up with our red, talking crocodile friend Crosley, and I think it truly goes to show that the best stories are ones that you and your child come up with together. Ask them to create a character, a storyline, or a setting. Tell the story back and forth to each other a sentence at a time. They will feel proud for having created something fun, and it will bond you two closer together.

What are some bedtime stories you’ve told your child? Any tips for the new storytellers out there? Let me know in the comments below!

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How Roald Dahl Inspired Me as a Children’s Book Writer

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Even before I got into writing the Night Buddies books I was a fan of Roald Dahl—author of books including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and James and the Giant Peach. He is known as one of the 20th century’s best children’s authors, and I can certainly say that as a reader his books never failed to captivate my imagination and pull me inside the stories; he had me hooked from his first word to his last. But when I took on the task of writing my own book series, I started looking to Roald Dahl not only as my favorite author, but also as one of my biggest writing inspirations.

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Dahl began his writing career by writing down the things that he knew. His first published story was about his experience as a fighter pilot in World War II, and his first children’s book, The Gremlins, was about “mischievous little creatures that were part of RAF folklore.” This is where I learned my first lesson in storytelling: writing what you know, even in books that take place in worlds far from reality, will always get you the best results. In Night Buddies, even though the books are entirely fictional, I had to use emotions, situations, and types of relationships that I knew in my life in order to make them come alive on the page.

Books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory reach children because they are unique, they are told from the voices of children who differ from the norm, and they use more imagination than most people could ever dream of having. Dahl didn’t feel the need to make everything in his books “pretty,” the way some children’s authors do, and is in fact known for his dark humor and sometimes grotesque scenarios. This kind of writing inspired me to write the Night Buddies books in the most real, authentic way I knew. The creativity he used in his stories inspired me to keep thinking further outside the box in order to create books I can now say I am proud to have written and feel confident that children will love.

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“I have a passion for teaching kids to become readers, to become comfortable with a book, not daunted. Books shouldn’t be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful.”

This quote by Dahl stuck with me throughout my writing experience, and should inspire any of you attempting to write your own children’s books. In the process of writing a book, sometimes it is easy to get caught up in using impressive language or trying to come up with sweeping universal themes, but remembering that what children need is a book that they are going to have fun reading makes the entire writing process much less intimidating, and always leads to a better book being written.

If you haven’t read one of his books, I suggest you drop everything and go pick one up now. You’ll be a happy reader—and a better writer—for it.

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4 Steps for a Radical Adventure

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1. Find a partner to adventure with. If you asked either John or Crosley to go on a Program alone, they’d call you nuts. It’s important to have someone to go on your adventures with, not to mention loads more fun! Team up with your brother or sister, your best friend, or you can even create someone in your imagination to adventure with. As long as you have someone to share your experience with, your adventure will be all the more worthwhile.

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2. Build your adventure craft. The Night Buddies wouldn’t get very far on their Programs without their Far-Out Flying Machine, and likewise, you’ll need to find something to go on your adventures in! Look around your house for an old cardboard box, some tape, scissors (with your mom or dad’s approval) and markers, glitter, or stickers to decorate it with. Make your adventure craft look however you want it to look . . . just make sure it’s uniquely yours!

3. Decide on a goal. Each Night Buddies Program has a specific goal in mind, and it usually has to do with stopping the evil Iguana Gang. Decide what you want to accomplish on your adventure—whether it’s stopping evil, discovering something new to you, or solving a problem that has been bothering you—and then go after it. Every good adventure has an end goal in mind, but make sure you remember to have fun along the way!

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4. Always, always use your imagination. It is possible for you to do anything, go anywhere, and meet anyone, as long as you are open to using your imagination. If you allow yourself to see your living room turn into outer-space, your adventure craft flying in the sky, and yourself as the hero bringing all evil to justice, you can go on an adventure every day. Whenever you read about all that John and Crosley do on their Programs, remember that you can be with them every step of the way, as long as you are using your imagination just right.

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John and Crosley: The Makings of a Dynamic Literary Friendship

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Crosley picked out John to be his Night Buddy, for starters.  There must have been a lot of reasons, but the only one Crosley mentions is middle names.  Crosley doesn’t have one, and neither does John, so they have this in common.  Crosley thinks it makes you a little sharper, too.  And hey, we know that John is really sharp, and Crosley is definitely no slouch, so maybe there’s something in it.

The two characters couldn’t help but hit it off with each other.  John doesn’t want to go to bed, so Crosley rescues him and takes him out on adventures.  Crosley for his part gets a genial and very capable partner for his “Programs.”  Sharing these adventures, the good and the bad parts, bonds the two all the more.

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John and Crosley are very different, obviously, and before I go any further, I have to confess something.  After I finished The Pineapple Cheesecake Scare, I realized I had used a device made famous by Cervantes and Mark Twain.  (When you steal, steal from the best.)  I don’t know whether Mark Twain had Sancho Panza and the Don in mind when he wrote Tom Sawyer (I promise I wasn’t thinking of any of them when writing my story), but Tom and Huck are very similar to Cervantes’ two protagonists.  There Tom is, the impractical romantic (Don Quixote), and there’s Huck, the no-nonsense, pragmatic sidekick that Tom needs in order to stay grounded (Sancho).  Two pairs of opposites who rely on and complement each other.

Exactly like John and Crosley.  John is the sensible, down-to-earth partner, and Crosley is goofy, full of wild ideas, and ready to fly off to Mars at a moment’s notice for a few pineapple cheesecakes.  And just like those other characters, they appreciate and honor each other’s differences.  They are a team that’s better than the sum of its parts.  This, and their mutual adventures (and maybe a little insomnia) are the essence of their friendship.

And having no middle names doesn’t hurt.

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“Wise Words for Writing Dialect” by Ol’ Sands

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It goes without saying that you need to be very familiar with any dialect to capture it on paper. You need to be able to speak it yourself and “hear it inside your head” while writing it down. You need some innate talent, a natural “good ear,” in the same way that good musicians are “born.”

With that said, writing dialect is a balancing act. The trick is to deviate from standard orthography enough to impart the flavor and the distinctive “sound” you want, but not so much that the reading becomes difficult. And try to err on the standard side. If you write too phonetically, few will understand you (or put in the effort to try to). This is true for the King’s English (a dialect), Brooklynese, or southern Georgia. By definition, dialect departs from standard speech, but don’t overdo it. Use just enough in your writing to get by.

Let me illustrate this point with two pretty fair practitioners of black American dialect, William Styron and Roark Bradford:

“’Yam,” Arnold replied . . . ‘Majah Riblees he lib dar, ap yonnah road ap yonnah . . . Yam, me tek ‘ee dar, missy, me tek ‘ee dar . . . Yam, missy, me tek ‘ee Majah Riblees!’” (Styron, The Confessions of Nat Turner, pp. 262-3)

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“’Anywhar you says, John Henry,’ Julie Anne told him. ‘You go and den turn around and you see me standin’ at yo’ side. All de time like dat, John Henry.’” (Bradford, John Henry, p. 121)

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See the difference? To be fair, Styron was trying to make a sociological point with his almost un-readable Afro-Virginia patois, and that small sample is all that he uses. Otherwise his book would suffer.

I have to say that Bradford has struck a more proper balance. To be phonetically “true,” he could have written:

“’Anywhar you says, John Henry,’ Julie Anne told him. ‘You go an’ ‘en tuin roun’ an’ ya see me stannin’ at yo’ side. All uh time lak dat, John Henry.’”

But he didn’t take it this far, and his version works much better than my corruption of it. It gives us the Louisiana flavor without stressing the reader.

Dialect is an important component in much of children’s literature, notably in Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer.  Twain tells us he used the dialect of Hannibal, Missouri, his home town.  It reads like this:

“Hang the boy, cain’t I never learn anything? Ain’t he played me tricks enough for me t’know better? But old fools is the biggest fools there is. He pears t’know just how long he can tease before the anger starts.” (Twain, Tom Sawyer)

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Dialect should be used gently in children’s literature, as it is above, since children are just starting to get the hang of reading grammatically correct English. However, using dialect does help them to sound out words and figure out their meanings based on that, so don’t be afraid to use dialect if you’re writing for kids!

Again, try to tread lightly whenever you use dialect.  No reader, regardless of age, wants to be alienated by the language used in your book.

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What Makes Good Children’s Fiction?

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Writing a book that children will fall in love with at a young age is an important goal for many reasons, the most important of which is that one good book can turn a child into a reader for life. Do you remember your favorite book as a kid? Ol’ Sands does. When asked in an interview what his favorite book as a child was, he answered, “The OZ series. Critics said Frank Baum had no literary merit, and I understand what they meant, but kids weren’t interested in literary merit. They knew what they liked, and that guy had a captivating imagination if anybody ever did.”

So that brings us to the question, what makes a good children’s book? Should it possess the same qualities of adult literature? What makes it special?

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If you’re an aspiring author or simply someone who loves juvenile fiction, and you’re trying to answer these questions yourself, here are some of the answers that we have found.

The more imagination used, the better. Kids love to use their imagination, and their favorite books tend to take their imaginations to new levels. Think about the most popular children’s books—Harry Potter, Where the Wild Things Are, even the Oz series—they all use enormous amounts of imagination, and kids remember them for life.

Strong, memorable characters. Children’s fiction is not the place to play around with unlikeable, complex characterization. You need a hero, and you need a hero that your young readers will want to be best friends with. In Night Buddies, John is the character that kids relate to, but Crosley is the one that stands out to them, because they want to be his best friend too!

There must be a lesson. Good children’s books don’t need to end with a cheesy, “And this is what he learned,” line, but they do need to offer kids insight into some kind of moral or life lesson that they are still trying to grasp in their lives. We go to books to understand something about the world we live in, whether we are reading as children or adults, and it is important that children get this from the very first books they read.

If you’re a writer, try incorporating these tips into your own stories and see how it goes. Let us know if you have any other answers to the question, “What makes a good children’s book?” in the comments!

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Rescuing Bedtime Stories: 4 Ways to Create Stories When You’re Storied Out

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Sharing bedtime stories with your child is an important night-time ritual for many parents. In fact, research has shown that children of parents who have bedtime stories show increased brain activity, particularly vocabulary and logic skills. Those skills will serve as the foundation for a better reader for the rest of their life. Bedtime stories also deepen your relationship with your kids and help to establish a bedtime routine (something every parent needs for their child). It’s also a time for both parents and children to wind down for the day.

Having said that, coming up with a bedtime story for your child EVERY night can be a little overwhelming. You can only read the same books so many times before your child gets bored. You can only talk about the same characters (princesses and superheroes) for so long.

Courtesy of Pixabay

Courtesy of Pixabay

So what do you do when your child asks for a story and your mind goes blank?

 

1. Put your child in the story.

Whether it’s princesses or superheroes (or superhero princesses), allowing your child the opportunity to be in the story stretches their thinking muscles and enhances their linguistic skills. It also gives the chance to develop and enhance another muscle, their imagination.

Courtesy of Pixabay

Courtesy of Pixabay

2. If you are reading a book, ask  them, “What do you think happens next?”

Courtesy of Pixabay

Courtesy of Pixabay

3. Put your child in the storyteller’s seat. Ask them to tell you their favorite story.

Asking your child to retell a story back to you gives you (the master storyteller) a break. In addition to allowing them to practice another important skill, memory. Because children (actually everyone) remembers what they believe is important, allowing your child to tell the story gives you a front row seat into what your child values.

Courtesy of Pixabay

Courtesy of Pixabay

4. Take an old  story and add a unique spin to it.

This is an old trick that people ranging from writers to Disney use. Take an old story that everyone knows like “Red Riding Hood” and re-imagine it. What is Red Riding Hood could fly? What if Jack didn’t climb the beanstalk, choosing to take the elevator?

Courtesy of Pixabay

Courtesy of Pixabay

The point of these suggestions is to make storytelling fun and interactive. Storytime should not be a tired old routine that you do because you have to. Storytime should be an important time for your child to relax and develop the skills that will serve them in their lifetime.

 

 

 

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Children's Museum of Alamance County
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