Friday, September 25, 2009

Get 'Em While They're Young

This past Thursday through Saturday, I attended the National Newspaper Association's 123rd Convention in Mobile, Alabama.

Meeting publishers and editors of community newspapers -- mostly weekly papers -- from all parts of the United States reinforced my conviction of just how vital their work is to the overall health of an area.

Thanks to Dr. Jennifer Greer, journalism department chair at the University of Alabama and my master's project advisor, she and I were invited to present the paper and project as part of NNA's Community Building Symposium.

We heard lots of good ideas presented by people doing everything they can to help newspapers find their way to continue serving their communities through a changing economic and technological landscape.

I maintain one key is largely overlooked -- instilling the news habit when kids are young. Common wisdom says you don't wait until your child is an adult before you teach him or her to brush his or her teeth.

The problem is that not much in most newspapers is targeted to kids, is about kids, or is on a child's reading level. Our study showed less than 7% of available news space was targeted to or referred to children age 14 and under -- about 20% of the population.

Material targeted to children is largely puzzles, games, general knowledge articles, and coloring pages.

I applaud any newspaper who does that much. They have invested money and space in those products in an effort to include the youngest members of their communities in the readership of their community publication.

But most of the material we found -- even material targeted directly to children -- was written at a higher-than-9th-grade reading level.

I contend newsrooms can do more -- much more.

Part of a newspaper's responsibility is to help citizens "navigate society," according to Bill Kovach and Ted Rosenstiel, authors of The Elements of Journalism. But how credible is the map if 20% of the population is largely missing from the picture? And how useful is the map to the community's youngest citizens if they can't read it?

Want to know more about how to write real local news -- government meetings, community events, community issues, and more -- from a "kid angle" and in simple language?

Reply to this blog posting or send me an email ( I'd love to talk to you about scaling down local news without dumbing it down.

Our children (and their parents and teachers) can use all the help they can get in finding their way through their local world.

Kid-sized real toothbrushes, kid-sized real news -- makes sense, yes?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Twenty Years, Twenty Plus Stories

"Just Kidding," the lead story in this month's issue of Pockets® magazine for children, a publication of Upper Room Ministries, is by yours truly and marks twenty years since my first children's story was published -- also in Pockets®.

I can still feel the envelope in my hand. Not thick with a returned manuscript of several pages, but thin.

I can still remember reading the letter advising me that a story I had submitted to Pockets® magazine for children had been accepted for publication. Sign the enclose contract card, the letter said, return it, and they would send me a check. Not at publication, but now.

I can still remember thinking, "Maybe I really can can be a real writer."

Since then I've had more than two dozen children's stories published, most in Pockets® and a few in other magazines. The first dozen appeared between March 1989 and October 1991, and were written while I worked with my husband in a construction business we owned.

Then we closed the business, I went to work elsewhere full-time, our three sons hit their teens, and our parents' health began to fail. Writing children's stories went by the wayside.

Writing didn't, however. I wrote/edited a weekly newsletter at work for seven years, discovered drama, and wrote vignettes and plays for church programs.

As I neared age 50, I decided it was now or never if I was going to be "a real writer." I quit my job, went back to school, and went back to writing. I sold some of my dramas to CSS Publishing and began writing for a local newspaper. My second round of children's stories began appearing in 2003, exclusively in Pockets®.

Why Pockets®?

Because they take children seriously. They take God seriously. And they take their publication seriously, meaning the stories are well-written, the illustrations and graphics are top-notch, and the magazine is full of thoughtfully planned content.

There is very little that is "cute" in Pockets®. God is not "sweet."

Instead, Pockets® presumes that children face the same questions we all face: Why am I here? How can I get through today without messing up? What's in it for me? Does God really care about me -- even when life doesn't go the way I think it should?

Pockets® presumes children are spiritual creatures, as well, who talk to God and who listen for God to talk to them.

I deliberately targeted Pockets® magazine for children when I started writing children's stories. Over the years, I have written about:
  • a child who has to repeat fourth grade because of a learning disability
  • a girl who has her head "in a bait bucket," as her older brother says, because she's so focused on a Saturday fishing trip she misses the things that happen "this day"
  • a child with a rambunctious dog
  • a boy who realizes that, if Jesus needed a step-father, maybe it's OK for him to have one, too
  • an immigrant girl whose brother died during a war
  • a boy who doesn't know how to pray for his very ill coach
  • a boy who wonders if God watches TV
  • a child with an alcoholic mother
  • a boy falsely accused of stealing something
  • a child who grumbles that God mustn't want us to have any fun because there are so many rules--things like never cut another kid's hair and never throw food in the cafeteria
  • a child in a group foster home who wonders whether God knows he's there
  • a child who thinks "just kidding" is a good enough excuse to cause mischief
  • a child whose best friend steals something from him
Real children, real world, real God.

It's been a privilege to be a real writer.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Happy New Year!

This is for all of us who grew up going back to school the day after Labor Day. The First Day of School meant a new school year, a new teacher, new classmates, new books, new room.

Today's kids will mark mid-August as a time of new academic beginnings.

There are other New Year's Days, as well. Later this month, Jews around the world will celebrate Rosh Hashanah, which has come to be known as the Jewish New Year. Christians begin their religious calendar with the first Sunday in Advent, which is either the last Sunday in November or the first Sunday in December.

Then there's the January 1 New Year we inherited from the Romans. Orthodox Christians, who still follow the older, Gregorian calendar, celebrate Orthodox New Year in mid-January. Later in January (sometimes early February), the Chinese New Year and Tet Nguyen Dan, the Feast of the First Morning, or the Vietnamese New Year, are celebrated in Asia.

There's another Jewish New Year in the spring time. Leviticus 23:5 puts Rosh Hashanah in the seventh month of the year. Leviticus 23:34 says Passover is during the first month of the year. One would assume the new year began the first day of the first month; but, as with our academic calendar versus our civil calendar, that's a good example of assumptions being dangerous things.

And, just to keep things interesting, the Islamic New Year will be on December 18 this year (2009), but was on August 2 in 1989 and was on April 17 in 1999. The year 2008 saw two Islamic New Year's Days -- one on January 10 and one on December 29 -- because the Islamic year is 11-12 days shorter than the Julian calendar.

Because of the number of different religions and ethnic groups, India had 30 different calendars until 1957.

Maybe the point is that every day is a new beginning--the first day of the rest of your life, as someone wisely said.