Comics, Activities, and Graphic Novels for Kids, with Jarret Lerner
Plus a cross-country move to the Magic Kingdom!
From the Writing Desk: So first of all, I have some life news…I moved to The Magic Kingd—er, I mean, Orlando! Why? Well, here’s why:
I’m slowly getting into a new routine at my new place. I’ve found a couple places in the parks that make really good writing spots. I may or may not have moved to Orlando so that I can write the end of my current spooky middle grade while I’m in line for Haunted Mansion.
That middle grade novel, a book about monsters and anger and why vultures are awesome, is the biggest project on my plate. Or at least one of them. I’m also at work on a couple chapter books that I’ll be able to talk about soon, and couple collaborative projects with some author friends that are turning out to be really cool.
The other big news is that we’re only ONE MONTH AWAY from Nightmare House. I can hardly believe it! This book…well it’s a bit weird and more than a bit personal, and I’ve been anxious about how people will respond to it. So I was so thrilled and honored when Booklist gave it a starred review (!!!!!). Check it out:
Penny’s poems weave their way through the narrative, fortifying Allen’s own lyrical writing and adding to the overall message that strength can be found in words and creativity . . . Fans of Jonathan Auxier’s The Night Gardener (2014) will find the Fear Maker alluring but may suffer some nightmares of their own after following Penny to his door. Allen deals in both beauty and terror, rendering this a sophisticated choice for horror readers.” —Booklist, starred review
Like I said, this book was one of the most cathartic, personal things I’ve ever written and I’m anxious and excited to see what people make of it. Thank you everyone for reading!
3 Questions About Comics and Activities for kids with Jarrett Lerner:
One of the best examples of a middle grade/kidlit author platform online is Jarrett Lerner. He spent the pandemic providing fun activities and comics for kids on his website and on social media, and continues to create hilarious and adorable work. As I work on building my own platform, a lot of what I hope to accomplish comes from his work. Just last month, his latest book was published—an incredible, important, and heartfelt illustrated novel in verse called A Work In Progress. Jarret generously answered some of my questions about creating activities, comics, and graphic novels for kids:
1- What has been the response to the comics and activity pages you have on your website?
Unreal and overwhelming — in the best possible ways. I had been sitting on a bunch of these activities, and back in March of 2020, when it became clear remote learning was going to last longer than just two weeks, I began sharing them. The response was wild. Many people shared my concern that kids would lose many of their essential opportunities to explore and express their creativity, and educators and librarians and parents were also eager for material they could easily share with their students and kids. The support and appreciation I received for sharing what I’d made (and the increasing obviousness of the need for such things) inspired me to make more and more and more. Within weeks, they’d reached six continents and I couldn’t hope to keep up with the work being shared with me. And though people were thanking ME, I honestly felt like the lucky one. Making and sharing my activities allowed me to keep active and feel productive in a very strange and scary time. It also kept me connected to this community I love so much and knew I might not be seeing for some time. To this day, the Activities page of my website gets loads of daily traffic and downloads. It’s just beyond anything I could’ve imagined. And the fact that I got to make a couple activity books because of it all was the icing on top of an already incredible cake. I’m still making and posting more activities, too. They’re a blast to create — and it’s even more enjoyable to see all the unique and creative ways in which educators, librarians, parents, and especially KIDS use the activities and expand on them. The whole thing has, and continues to be, a highlight of my career.
2- What would be your biggest piece of advice for someone wanting to create graphic novels for kids?
Read as many of them as you can. Then go and read a whole bunch more. Nothing can beat that. And when you find a book (or even just a portion of a book, or even just an approach or format or style) that you react strongly to, either good or bad, study that closely and figure out why. Bring all that knowledge to your own creations.
3- I LOVE the fact that your latest book, A Work In Progress, mixes verse and graphics. What was it like writing in that mix?
I always write, at least initially, like that — with words and drawings combined. It’s how I think and how I best get my ideas (which hopefully turn into stories) out of my head and onto paper. It’s only once I’ve emptied my brain and begun to get a sense for the shape of any given story and what kind of audience it may be primarily for that I start to consider what sort of from it will take, whether it’ll be only text or if it’ll contain illustrations and, if so, in what way and to what extent. For this reason, I start all of my book projects longhand, usually in a regular old composition notebook. And for A Work in Progress specifically — that format came about after a lot of exploring, a lot of trail and error, and I ultimately based it on the notebooks I kept back when I was the protagonist’s age. I wrote and doodled and drew, and often did the writing in free verse (though I had no clue what that was yet — I sort of just stumbled upon it naturally) because it freed me from having to worry about getting out perfect sentences, from even writing sentences or punctuating or anything like that. In some ways, I see it as giving me permission to use words almost like I use lines and shapes in my drawings. These sorts of ways of going about things — they’ve always been my preferred methods of self-expression.
Thank you so much Jarrett for giving us your amazing insight and wisdom about creating activities, comics, and books for kids! Make sure to check out Jarret’s website and his incredible books!
What I’m Reading: Speaking of graphic novels, one of my recent favorites is Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter, by Marcus Sedgwick and Thomas Taylor. It has a soft-hearted butler to go along with our spunky monster hunter Scarlett, and that soft and hard odd couple trope is one of my favorites. Check it out!
What I’m Watching: This is an old favorite, but worth mentioning. If you haven’t ever seen an episode of Would I Lie To You, bless your life. Let the brilliance and wit that is David Mitchell make your life more than you ever thought it could be.
An Incredible Review of Breathing Underwater: This incredible video review was too great not to share. This kid got exactly what I was hoping for with Breathing Underwater. I couldn’t watch this without getting emotional.
What I’m Drawing: Taking a leaf from Jarrett’s book, I’m working on activities and comics for kids, posted weekly on my blog. I hope this is helpful for parents, teachers, and anyone else looking for a little extra weekly fun!
Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It's a way of understanding it.
Writing Opportunity: An amazing kidlit deadline is coming up—submit to Highlights High Five! magazine before July 16! Highlights doesn’t open to submissions very frequently, so if this is of interest to you, don’t miss it!
Teacher or Librarian? I would love to do a free virtual Q&A with your class or book group! If you’re interested in scheduling a visit you can reach out to me via my website. Let me know how I can support you! I’ve also got free classroom resources to accompany each book. You guys are rock stars!
Thanks for coming along everyone! I’d be honored if you forwarded this to anyone you thought might find it useful. Onward!
Thanks for reading!