Wednesday, June 10, 2015

New MOOC- Writing for Young Readers: Opening the Treasure Chest

I'm excited to share 'Writing for Young Readers: Opening the Treasure Chest'. It's a newly minted series of international MOOCs (massive open online courses) that make free, high-quality writing instruction available to children's writers across the Commonwealth nations. This great work is an initiative of the Commonwealth Education Trust in collaboration with At Summit Educational Services/At Summit Asia Pacific Ltd. The first course is now up on the Coursera website and can be found here

Filming my interview segment at the Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad.
We ended up not using the footage, but an interesting experience nevertheless.

I had fun filming my guest speaker segment for the course and enjoyed being interviewed via Skype by New Zealander children's author Maria Gill. My interview can be found under the Week 4 module; Maria and I discuss the ins and outs of editing and proofreading. I'll be moderating a forum during the course as well, so look out for my forum underneath my interview video which can be found here

MOOCs are changing educational culture and these courses will break ground in helping to diversify and support global children's literature, with particular focus on developing countries. Taught by established children’s authors from across the Commonwealth, this MOOC series is designed for aspiring authors who would like to write for children but who currently have little access to the support and expertise of established authors, editors and publishers. My hope is that lots of people in the Caribbean will sign up for this excellent professional development opportunity. 

'Writing for Young Readers: Opening the Treasure Chest' is the fruit of long work and careful planning. In the fall of 2013, while I was still living in Philadelphia, I was invited to participate in an international think tank to brainstorm the curriculum for the course. The think tank met for three days in a cozy conference room at the Hilton Inn on the University of Pennsylvania's campus, and what a stimulating three days they were. Judy Curry, Chief Executive of the Commonwealth Education Trust; Alice Curry, then the Children's Literature Adivsor with the Trust (now the Founder and Director at multicultural children's book publisher Lantana Publishing), led the planning and brainstorming sessions with Uma KrishnaswamiLani Wendt YoungShelley TanakaTololwa Mollel, and myself. Finegan KruckemeyerJohn Agard and Gene Luen Yang participated in absentia. 

It was a pleasure working with these amazing children's and young adult authors, and I'm pleased to say that along with David Hill and Maria Gill, most of us are also guest speakers and/or instructors in the course. 

From left: Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach (our superb minutes-taker), Alice Curry, Tololwa Mollel, Lani Wendt Young, me, Uma Krishnaswami and Shelley Tanaka.

Seated are Alice Curry (left) and Judy Curry.

The curriculum planning workshop: Brainstorming in full swing.

Al Filreis, Faculty Director of the Kelly Writers House and an early pioneer of MOOCs in the humanities, and Julia Bloch stopped in to chat with us about the use of MOOCs to teach poetry at the University of Pennsylvania (my alma mater!).

Like all Coursera courses, 'Writing for Young Readers: Opening the Treasure Chest' is provided on-demand which means you can take your time in completing the course with all of the material available at once. The course is accessible for free and there is also the option of paying a fee to join the "Signature Track." Students on the Signature Track receive verified certificates, appropriate for employment purposes.

To sign up for the course, visit:

And please spread the word about this amazing opportunity! 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Client Interview: Amanda Smyth on 'The Blessing of Charlie Sand'

Last year, I edited the picturebook The Blessing of Charlie Sand by Amanda Smyth. Award-winning Trinidadian children's illustrator Colin Bootman illustrated the book which happens to be Amanda's first children's book.

The book's publisher asked me to write a blurb for the back cover of the book and here's what I wrote:

Friendship is a gift we can share with many is the message of this gentle, magical tale about two boys whose close bond is threatened by the presence of a newcomer. The Blessing of Charlie Sand will inspire children to trust in the wisdom that comes from both beyond and within. The emotionally measured text and the immediacy of Bootman's understated illustrations draw the reader in.

Amanda Smyth was born in Ireland to Irish and Trinidadian parents. She grew up in Yorkshire, but visited Trinidad regularly. She is the author of the adult novels Black Rock (The book's US title is Lime Tree Can’t Bear Orange) and A Kind of Eden. She was awarded an Arts Council Grant for Black Rock. The book was nominated for a NAACP Image Award in the Outstanding Literary Work – Debut Author category, and was chosen as one of Oprah Winfrey’s Summer Reads. Her short stories have been published in New WritingLondon Magazine and broadcast on Radio 4.

Here's my one-minute interview with Amanda about The Blessing of Charlie Sand.

Amanda Smyth

Where did you get the idea for The Blessing of Charlie Sand? What inspired you to write the story? 

I was living in Trinidad at the time, next door to two little boys, and it's through knowing them that the idea came along. After I wrote the story, I made a short film of the narrative, casting local children and filming in the area where my mother lived.

Please tell us in your own words what The Blessing of Charlie Sand is about. What value would you say this story has for children?

It's a story about friendship, jealousy, love, belonging. And I wanted to explore the idea that there is some part of our mind which knows things our conscious mind doesn't, and it can offer healing, awareness, transformation. This is shown in the story through the encounter with the bird-like creature Sirus meets at the top of the mango tree.

You're the author of several books for adults but this is your first children's book. What compelled you to try your hand at writing for children and can you share what you learned as a newcomer to children's books?

I wrote the story before I wrote my published adult fiction. Although the first draft came easily enough, when it came to editing for the book itself, it was challenging: having to pare it back and stay with the essentials of the narrative.

What was the editing process like for you? Was there anything you grappled with and how did you resolve it?

It was a very interesting process and I soon realised how little I knew about writing for children. It's easy to think children's fiction is an easier form, but actually, it's much harder than I thought.

Do you have plans to write another children's book or books and if so, do you have any idea what type of book you'd do next?

My next book is a novel set in Trinidad in 1928 and it is for an adult readership. But I have other children's stories that I'd like to explore, so who knows!