Friday, November 1, 2013

Advice from Jane Kohuth



Jane Kohuth has written a book about Anne Frank for the Step Into Reading series, which wouldn't be an easy task for any writer. Jane impressed me with her ability to arouse empathy without going too far for young readers. 

Thanks for being on my blog, Jane!


When did you decide to be a writer?

I decided for the first time that I wanted to write children’s books when I was in elementary school. I loved creative writing -- it was my favorite part of school -- and I wrote a lot at home as well. By the time I was in fifth grade my best friends were already saying that I should write children’s books when I grew up.

I decided for the second time that I would be a children’s writer when I left a Ph.D. program for health reasons in 2007. I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and found a writing group (which is still going six years later). I started working seriously, drawing on my undergrad degree in creative writing (poetry), and learning as much about the publishing world as I could.


How did your first book publication come about?

It was a case of right place, right time. In 2008, I went to the New England SCBWI conference and submitted a manuscript for critique by an editor. The editor I was matched with, Christy Webster, worked on the Step Into Reading line of early readers at Random House. She thought that the manuscript I’d submitted, Ducks Go Vroom, which I had envisioned as a picture book for toddlers, would work well as a Step One reader, because of the simplicity and pattern of the language. She asked me to revise the manuscript to meet Step Into Reading Guidelines. I went home and set to work right away. I probably sent her my revision within a week! That was my first experience with the glacial pace of the publishing industry. Nine months later, I received the phone call that changed my life.



Your previous books vary widely, from early reader to early picture book to picture book. Now Anne Frank’s Chestnut book is a paperback. What age range is the easiest to write for? What age range is the hardest?

Anne Frank’s Chestnut Tree is a Step Three early reader. It’s suited for elementary students who are starting to read independently and can also be used as an introduction for classes studying the Holocaust or Anne Frank. For students who choose the book on their own, for interest or for a biography project, I strongly recommend that a parent or teacher read the book as well and be available for discussion. The books is available in a trade hardcover as a well as a paperback edition. It was quite a different experience from my other work to write a Step Three reader and a biography. The challenge of doing justice to a person’s life and work within the strict early reader guidelines was like doing a very complicated puzzle.

For me, the easiest age to write for is the preschool/early elementary school set. Coming from a poetry background, I tend to focus on catchy, interesting, and lyrical language which is attractive to very young listeners. I also tend to think in shorter, simpler stories. I’ve made attempts at a novel for young adults, but I find that very hard! Perhaps I can find a compromise and try a chapter book.




I see on your page that you tailor your author visits to a particular book. You also do in-person and Skype visits. What advice can you give authors about author visits?

I create special workshops for each book, and I can also change my general “How Do You Grow up to Be a Writer?” presentation depending on which book I’m featuring. Having a bit of teaching a experience was very helpful coming into author visits for the first time. I write up very detailed plans for the visit in the way I do for lesson plans. I try to be very familiar with what I want to say, so I can be loose and improvise a little based on students questions and reactions. I try to ask as many questions as possible, to keep students participating throughout my presentations, and to have a lot of visuals. I worked as an author visit coordinator for a bookstore, so I was lucky to see many other author presentations. I would recommend going to public events and watching what other authors do. Being a coordinator also helped me understand the kinds of questions I needed to ask the schools and other venues. Make sure you talk to them about the space you’ll be in, the set-up, the equipment you’ll need, how many students you’ll be seeing and their ages etc. Ask schools how they will make your books available for sale. You can help them out by sending them to your local bookstore or sending them your publisher’s guidelines for ordering books for school visits.


What are you working on next?

I’ve been doing more Skype visits, which lets me visit places all over the country.

I’ll be at the SCBWI sponsored “Inside Story” event at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, MA on Sunday, November 3rd at 1pm, along with a fabulous slate of writers and illustrators who have books out this fall. And for every book purchased, the organization First Book will donate a book to a child in need: http://www.odysseybks.com/event/society-childrens-book-writers-and-illustrators-inside-story-event

And I’m very excited for the Family Trees exhibit at the Concord Museum, which runs from November 27th-January 1st. I will have a tree, created by my sister and mother, who are artists, decorated in the theme of my picture book Duck Sock Hop. I will be at the museum for Author Day on December 8th: http://www.concordmuseum.org/special-events-family-trees.php

I’m at different stages, from second draft to submission ready for a few picture book manuscripts, and I’ll also be working on a new non-fiction picture book soon!





44 comments:

  1. Really enjoyed this- and love all things having to do with Anne Frank. What a great book it sounds like~

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    1. Shelly, I like that there's a book out there for early readers.

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  2. I am so excited to be visiting Anne Frank's rooms in Amsterdam in December. It will be a sombre experience. What a lovely idea to write this book to encourage new readers. Thanks for this great interview, Theresa. D

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    1. Denise, how wonderful you're getting to visit. I hope you post about the experience.

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  3. Hi Theresa .. what a great guest - and no wonder you wanted us to know about Jane, she seems to have had a great background and can inspire us ... as well as us give us guidance ideas ...

    Interesting to read she's written about Anne Frank ... and then the Concord Museum's Family Tree exhibition ... looks to be a great place to visit ... I hope you can do so ... post some pictures and tell us more ...

    Cheers - Hilary

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  4. Anne Frank has fascinated me since I was in elementary school. How wonderful that there's a book for younger children! It's nice to meet you, Jane! Now, I have to go over to Amazon and put some books on my wish list :) Thanks for this, Theresa!

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    1. The Words Crafter, I couldn't agree more. And truthfully, there are so many children who are older, but struggle to read. This kind of book would be perfect for them too.

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  5. You don't hear a lot about easy readers. Thanks, Theresa, for introducing us to Jane and her work.

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    1. Ruth, it's true, we don't hear a lot about easy readers. But when my kids were at that reading level, I scoured those early-reader books that would be meaningful to them.

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  6. It's so important to have interesting books at that stage to help all kids love books! These sound great :)

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  7. Visiting schools would be fun and rather scary at the same time. My job prevents me from doing live visits, although I've exchanged emails and done interviews with several classes.

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    1. Alex, I've taken a couple of workshops on school visits and I've observed them, so I feel somewhat prepared. Even with all that and the fact that I teach, I'd still be terrified.

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  8. Theresa, thanks for hosting Jane - I love this post. A biography in an easy reader is brilliant!

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  9. Very interesting interview. Thanks.

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  10. I didn't realize children's books were divided into steps like that. Very interesting! Also, nine months to hear from the editor must have been agonizing.

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    1. Missed Periods, these are for the earliest readers. I believe there's 1, 2, 3, and 4. It's a good transition.

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  11. Oh, I always loved Step Into Reading books and what a great subject! It's about time. Anything to do with Anne Frank is worth reading.

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  12. I first read Anne Frank's diary when I was in the sixth grade; it was a major reason that I kept writing in diaries for years. So it's great that a book about her has come out, because more kids should learn about her.

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    1. Neurotic Workaholic, I didn't know that. I think I was in fourth grade when I read her diary and it made a huge impression on me. I think about Anne Frank often.

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  13. Writing books for those early readers -- as well as writing books for readers whose skills are at this beginning stage, but whose intellect is older (ie: special ed, English language learner, struggling reader) is especially challenging and takes a special knack!

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    1. Dianne, I agree. I like that Jane has tackled a subject like this because those who can handle the bigger picture here, but don't have the reading skills for Anne Frank's diary can learn a lot from this book. Jane's book can be used on many levels.

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  14. I love how this book introduces Anne Frank to younger readers - her story and historical setting are not the easiest subjects to discuss but they are so so so important and must be read and disseminated for the next generation too!!

    I'm loving the words Duck Sock Hop!! I keep repeating the phrase - sounds utterly adorable! Take care
    x

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    1. Old Kitty, I agree about Anne Frank as well. And I love how Duck Sock Hop sounds too!

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  15. I love that you decided to become a writer twice. Also, I had never thought of doing much of anything with Skype, that's really interesting to do author visits that way. Good luck with release!

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  16. Thank you, Theresa, for sharing this interview with Jane. I love the Duck Sock Hop title and I can see how writing poetry can help with the pre-school and elementary manuscripts. Good luck to Jane with all her endeavors, and thanks again, Theresa, for sharing this with your readers.

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  17. I'd love to read this book. I enjoyed reading about the author's publishing journey and what she does for author visits.

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  18. What a great book! And I think her approach to the workshops is perfect. Very nice to meet this author.

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  19. Hi, Theresa and Jane! Jane, your experiences as a teacher and author visit coordinator sound ideal for a writer. I bet your school visits are great! Theresa, excellent interview! Jane, it was great to learn about you!

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  20. What a great idea, an early reader about Anne Frank. Thanks for the interview!!

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  21. Oh thanks for introducing us to this author, Theresa.

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  22. This sounds like something my daughter would love, and with my oldest constantly discussing the holocaust, that might not be a bad thing. =)

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  23. Great interview!
    The Step Into Reading series sounds intriguing, Jane. And thanks for all the advice about author visits!

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  24. Wonderful interview, Theresa! And lovely to meet Jane. I don't read a lot of younger reader books but I know of a lot of my CBW-LA members who would enjoy this. I love Jane's approach to her author visits and the advice she gives is something to take to heart!
    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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  25. This age group definitely needs this book. I'll buy it. It sounds wonderful. It's the kind of book that makes me wish I'd thought of it first. :-)

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  26. Good interview! I think it would be daunting to write a book about Anne Frank for that age group, but, as a former teacher, I'm glad she did. It's important for young people to develop an awareness of such matters early. These lessons stay with you for life. I agree with Jane, though, that parents and teachers should be available for talking to young readers after they read it. Even while they are reading it.

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  27. Thanks to everyone who commented. This month has been particularly busy with school and work, so I've been behind with blogging. But I think of you all and feel guilty about not responding enough. I'll visit your blogs and post again soon.

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  28. I've been crazy busy too! Great interview. Nice to be able to visit again :) xx

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  29. Wow this sounds like a wonderful but challenging story to write.

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