Kirsten W. Larson used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. She’s the author of WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek, 2020), A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Her Who Changed Everything, illustrated by Katy Wu (Clarion, 2021); THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars are Made of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle, 2023), THIS IS HOW YOU KNOW, illustrated by Cornelia Li (Little, Brown, 2024) and THE LIGHT OF RESISTANCE, illustrated by Barbara McClintock (Roaring Brook, 2023) along with 25 other nonfiction books for kids. She's a geek, LEGO lover, and sock enthusiast. Find her at kirsten-w-larson.com or on Twitter/Instagram @KirstenWLarson.
Previously, I shared a “girlfriends” Wonder Woman gift guide aimed at teens and adult fans. While some of those gift ideas might work for little fans too, in this post, I want to focus on gifts perfect for the younger set. So without further ado…
Of course, you should start with the book, which is now available whever books are sold. If you would like a signed copy, Once Upon a Time bookstore has you covered, plus you’ll be supporting America’s oldest children’s bookstore.
Is there a lady in your life with her head in the clouds? I’ve got a few great gifts for women and girls who were born to fly.
WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane by Kirsten W. Larson, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek: 2020). This is the true story of self-taught engineer Lilian Todd, the first woman to design her own airplane in 1910. Buy it wherever books are sold.
If you’re a writer or a writing teacher, you’ve probably heard of National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. Every November, writers around the world attempt the big, audacious goal of writing a 50,000-word novel in a month. These drafts are not meant to be New York Times best sellers, but rather messy drafts full of plot holes and gaps that will be filled in and shaped later. In other words, these drafts are a starting point.
I’ll be honest. I’ve never “won” NaNoWriMo by hitting 50K words. But when I commit to to the process (as I am this year in an attempt to finish a middle grade historical fantasy), I always write more than I would otherwise. A lot of writing is overcoming resistance and excuses that keep us from getting started. For me, those excuses are things like “but I haven’t done all the research,” or “I haven’t finished my plot outline.” Honestly, I could ALWAYS spend more time researching or outlining and never put a single word on the page. Who’s with me there?
Yet once I overcome my internal resistance and start writing, I know it’s easier to keep writing. For me, that’s what NaNoWriMo is about — finding that inertia (a writer in motion stays in motion). Maybe it’s just for a month, but sometimes that inertia carries me into December or at least until I run into a big fat editorial deadline.
Bottom line, NaNo is about finding the motivation and the time to get the words down on the page so you have something to work with later. And it can be incredibly useful even if you aren’t writing a novel.
So here’s your challenge…Find a length of time — a month or even just a week — grab a few writing friends, and commit to writing something every day. Here are some ideas to get you started.:
Set a timer and write something (anything) for 15 minutes a day. Put an x on your calendar each day you do.
If you’re a picture book writer or illustrator, work on one two-page spread each day.
Write a poem every day, just to flex your writing muscles.
If you’re at the revision stage, why not commit to revising a chapter a day for a month?
OR hit whatever your daily word count goal is (for me, it’s 1,000 a day each weekday).
Anything you do is progress.
The NaNoWriMo website has some wonderful resources for preparing to write a novel, which you can use all year long. You’ll find them here.
Waiting for reviews is always the hardest part of being an author, in my opinion. It’s the first indication of how everyday readers might receive your book. Well, today I can breathe a sigh of relief since our first review for THE FIRE OF STARS is in — and it’s a 🌟!
Don’t miss the double read-aloud of a star’s formation told alongside the formation of astronomer Cecilia Payne as a scientist. The book is written by me, illus. by the uber-talented Katherine Roy. Coming 2/28/23 from Chronicle Books.
Looking for some special gifts for your group of girlfriends or another Wonder Woman in your life? I have you covered with this list of gifts for the Wonder Woman fan perfect for teens or grown ups.
A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything by Kirsten W. Larson, illustrated Katy Wu (Clarion Books) Celebrate strong women and the hero inside each and every one of us with this picture book perfect for grown-up gifting. Find buy links here.
Each month, I’ll spotlight a book-based educational activity teachers and homeschooling parents can use with their students. These activities are pulled from the educators’ guides developed for my books by author and former educator Marcie Colleen. You can download the full A TRUE WONDER educator’s guide here.
The Hero In Me
Brainstorm a list of the qualities and actions that make Wonder Woman a hero. Then undertake the following project:
Have each student lay down on a large piece of butcher paper while someone traces their body with a pencil. Alternatively, download a printable worksheet, like this Superhero Cape printable from Nurtured Neurons for students to use.
Once the student has the silhouette of their body or cape, they can write the things that make Wonder Woman a hero outside the outline.
Inside the outline, they can write some of the qualities they share with Wonder Woman or ways in which she has inspired them.
Then students can decorate their silhouette or cape. Photos and other images can be added to create a collage.
If I could share one thing with young writers of all ages, it’s that creativity is never a linear process. It’s always full of detours, rabbit holes, and dead ends. And that’s frustrating, but it’s also wonderful! There’s magic in that messiness.
For example, I’ve recently become reacquainted with my notebook pages from when I was first noodling around with a new structure for THE FIRE OF STARS (five years ago now!). Below are my messy and illegible notes. Don’t worry. I’ve included captions to help with the translation.
Before I got to this point with THE FIRE OF STARS, I’d been researching and working on various drafts for almost three years, trying to find just the right way to tell the story of astrophysicist Cecilia Payne. But nothing had come together in quite the right way — yet.
Creating these messy scraps in my notebook through scribbling , experimenting with words, and (badly) sketching led to my eventual creative breakthrough with the book.
The process is a lot like star formation. It stars start with tiny “bits” — dust and hydrogen atoms. Soon the tiny pieces start to clump together, slowly growing until they explode in a breathtaking show of light.
This is also the way Cecilia Payne worked. She tried different things, hit obstacles, and needed a lot of patience before everything came together in her final, ground-breaking discovery.
Creativity — whether writing or science — is messy … and that’s a beautiful thing. So grab your notebook and collect scraps of words, snatches of an idea, and all your swirly scribbles.
Each month, I’ll spotlight a book-based educational activity teachers and homeschooling parents can use with their students. These activities are pulled from the educators’ guides developed for my books by author and former educator Marcie Colleen. You can download thecomplete WOOD, WIRE, WINGS educator’s guide here.
Piloting Lilian’s Plane ~ creative story
Imagine that you have been chosen to pilot Lilian Todd’s airplane as she observed and took notes. Write about your experience.
Who are you? Where do you live?
How were you chosen to be the pilot? What experience do you already havewith flight?
What was it like when you saw the airplane for the first time?
Once aboard, how did you feel? Were you nervous?
How did Lilian react? What did she say to you before and after the flight?
What was the best part? Would you pilot a plane again? Is there anything youwould do differently? Research photographs from 1910 to aid students in placing themselves in the time period. Photographs can be found through the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum website and the Library of Congress. Have students share their stories of piloting the airplane with the class.
A couple of weeks ago, I hit a moment of real despair on a picture book manuscript I’d been working on for at least two years. Some critique group feedback had me feeling like a total hack. (Note: This was not my critique partners’ fault. They are lovely. This was my own frustration with myself and my inability to get what was in my head on the page.) In that moment, I questioned whether I was a “real writer.” I pounded my fists and wondered why it never gets easier. In short, I felt like giving up. It felt a lot like the “all is lost/dark night of the soul” moment of every hero’s journey in a book or movie.
And then it hit me, I’ve been here before. Many times. In fact, I always have a dark night of the soul with every manuscript. And it’s normally before I get some kind of big breakthrough. Sure enough, a couple of days later, I opened a blank page, and wrote something very different from what I had, much shorter and more visually driven. And now it feels “right.”
So what’s the takeaway? Writing a book is a series of ups and downs, trials and failures, moments of triumph and despair, just like those we put our characters through. If we can recognize where we are on the journey, we can find the courage to keep going until we hit “the end.”
Let’s look at some of the key writer’s journey beats using Blake Snyder’s beat sheet as our guide.
Opening Image – Fade in, an ordinary day, a writer (me) going about her everyday business (probably chauffeuring children, walking the dog, etc.)
Catalyst – I overhear something, read something, watch something on TV, and lightning strikes. A story spark!
Debate – Is this MY story to tell? How strongly do I feel about this story idea? Do I think it’s marketable? Can I get my hands on the research materials I need to write it?
Break Into 2/ B Story – I commit to the journey. One of the first steps is to find some mentor texts. For those who know Save the Cat, the B story (or “love story”) is where mentors are found.
Fun and Games – What’s the most fun part of writing nonfiction? Research, of course! Lots of reading, watching documentaries, interviews. Plus early drafting, those moments of writing before expectations set in, can be fun too.
Midpoint – This is where it gets real, and the stakes are raised. Normally, this means I show the manuscript to critique partners and get feedback. Or discuss it with my agent. Now there are expectations. It feels like the manuscript has to be something. And then I have to revise over and over again based on the feedback I’m getting. This is where the journey starts to get difficult.
Bad Guys Close In – Self doubt is the real “bad guy” here, as expectations grow for the manuscript. When what I want to say isn’t coming across on the page, self doubt rears its ugly head until…
All Is Lost/Dark Night of the Soul – This is the lowest moment of any book journey, aka the pit of despair. Something sends me over the edge, and I feel like I’ve totally forgotten how to do this. I’ll never sell a book again. My career as an author is over. (Blake Snyder talks about the “whiff of death” during this beat. I’ll tell you what’s dying here — my career.)
Break Into Three – Normally, after I’ve given up all expectations and attachments to the manuscript, I get some kind of breakthrough. This normally requires opening a clean sheet of paper and being willing to throw out everything I’ve written to date.
Final Image – The now-ecstatic writer (ME!) sends the manuscript to her agent, feeling like she’s finally told the story she wanted to tell. And there’s a chance this one could sell! The writer toasts her success with coffee. Fade to black.
Does your writing journey have these kinds of ups and downs? How do you find the courage and confidence to push through at those “all is lost” moments and make it to “the end?”