Tag Archives: chapter books

Interview with Becky Shillington Picture Book and Chapter Book Author, Becky Shillington

“Interview with Picture Book and Chapter Book Author, Becky Shillington” by Joan Y. Edwards

Hello, Becky. Thank you for being a guest on my blog.

I am glad to be here.  I have lots to tell you.

Let’s begin. Everyone’s curious to find out all about you.

1. How did you do in English as a kid?

Growing up, language arts was always my favorite subject. In my eighth grade language arts class, I was the only kid who got excited about diagramming sentences, and in high school I actually looked forward to writing really long papers. I went on to major in English in college, and I always saved the homework from those classes as a “reward” for finishing everything else. Words, books, and writing have always fascinated me.

2.  When did you decide to become an author?

My first publication was a poem in the local newspaper in second grade. But I started making up and writing stories much earlier, probably around kindergarten. I knew very young that I wanted to write books one day.

3.  What’s your favorite book? Why?

I don’t think I can answer that fairly…there are so many books that I love! As a child, I enjoyed reading books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Judy Blume, and Beverly Cleary, among others. As I grew older I fell in love with the classics, and this continued into college. As an adult, I read children’s and adult fiction constantly. That being said, my all-time favorite book is probably PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

4.  Are your characters based on real people or events from your life?

None of my characters are specifically modeled after people I know, but I do sometimes use bits and pieces of real people in my writing. The main character in one of my picture book manuscripts was inspired by a little girl at Barnes & Noble who was wearing red cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. I overheard a little boy teasing her, saying, “Girls can’t be cowboys!” in a scoffing, dismissive manner. She immediately answered him with, “Yes they can!” and then turned around and picked a book off the display wall. At that moment, a character was born; I knew her name was Josie, that she wanted to be a cowgirl more than anything in the world, and that I needed to write a book about her!

5.  Do you outline and plan your books before you write them or do your stories flow on their own?

For my picture books I always have a rough plan, but I try to let each story grow organically to see where it goes. With my chapter books, I write up a short outline of what I think is going to happen chapter by chapter, but this often changes with the growth of the characters.

6.  What is your favorite genre?

To write: humor. To read: it’s a tie between humor and historical fiction. I have a historical fiction middle grade novel on the back burner, but I still have a lot of research to do and other projects are taking up my time right now. One day I hope to finish it!

7.  What is the most essential component of a good book?  How can we improve this component in our writing?

To me, a distinctive voice is the most essential component of a good book. If the voice is weak, a book won’t hold my attention (while reading or writing), no matter how great the story line is. The three main purposes of a distinctive voice are:

  • To draw readers into the story.
  • To enable readers to get to know the main character(s).
  • To give the story’s plot a vehicle through which to come alive.

To improve in this area:

  • READ books in the genre in which you are writing. Pick apart those books to see what works and what doesn’t work where voice is concerned. (I have re-read the same page over and over and over again doing this.)
  • Keep an “idea file” with profiles and personalities of possible characters in it. Write down interesting bits and pieces of conversations you overhear, or situations you observe. Each person has a unique way of dealing with life, and your characters should reflect this.
  • Get to know your main character and pay special attention to the authenticity of his or her voice. For example, would an eight-year-old little boy be more likely to say “Bob and I went to the movies,” or would “me and Bob went to the movies” be more likely to come out of his mouth? If the answer is “Bob and I,” by all means have your MC use the correct grammar. But if you know that your MC would be much more likely to say “me and Bob,” then give him permission to use incorrect grammar. I remember the controversy over Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones books several years ago, and hearing  parents and teachers say they wouldn’t let their children read those books because of Junie B.’s poor grammar. But, if Junie B. spoke correctly all the time, her voice would be completely different—and she wouldn’t BE Junie B.! Yes, I think there is a time and a place for correct grammar (if there were really “Grammar Police,” I would be the first to sign up!), but in the realm of fiction, there is wiggle room for digressions from the accepted norm.

8.  Becky, you are awesome at creating characters that are believable, unforgettable, and witty. How do you create your characters?

I always have a strong mental image of my main character before I start writing, of both her physical appearance and her personality. By the time I start writing a story, the character is almost real and has a LOT to say. Sometimes I even “interview” my main characters, and I always know random facts about them that will never appear in the books!

9. How do you know when your manuscript is ready for submission?

I get it into the best shape that I can, and then I let it sit a loooong time. Then I edit it again and send it to my online critique group, and/or take it to my in-person critique group. Most of the time, I will also give it to a writer friend to look over. After I’ve received feedback, I read the manuscript again with a critical eye and make any necessary changes. I usually let it sit awhile again before I submit it. No matter how long I wait, I can always find something to improve upon after a manuscript has “percolated” awhile.

10. Becky, you are great at poetry. Which kind of poetry do you like best?

I love all kinds of poetry, but my current favorite is the haiku format. I love how so much can be said in so few words; it’s like looking through the zoom lens on a camera. Here is a haiku I wrote earlier this winter, and a picture of the tree that inspired it:

Winter Silhouette

 Bare branches reach up,

Fingers brushing a blue sky

So bright that I squint.

11.  Who or what has been the most helpful to you as a writer?

Without a doubt, my writer friends. I have several close friends who have been with me on every step of my journey, and who continue to cheer me on. Writing is such a personal business, and at some point you have to grow thick skin. But while you’re growing it, it is essential to have writer friends who understand the ups and downs of what you are trying to accomplish, and who can pick you up after setbacks and disappointments.

12.  What are you working on now?

I am substantially revising one chapter book, writing another, and doing a detailed re-write of a picture book.



Becky Shillington on the web:

Blog: www.beckyshillington.blogspot.com
Twitter: @BeckyinSC

Thank you, Becky for being a guest on my blog and sharing your Haiku poem and teaching us how we can improve the voice of each character in our stories. Good luck with getting your work published. I hope you find the right publisher this year for your stories.

Thank you for reading my blog. I hope you’ll leave a comment for Becky. She would love to hear from you.

Celebrate you every day.
You are a gift to our world
Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards

Copyright © 2014-2019 Joan Y. Edwards


What Are Chapter Books?

Flat Stanley Cover, Chapter Book, by Jeff Brown Copyright published by Harper § Row in 1964

“What Are Chapter Books?” by Joan Y. Edwards

Linda Andersen asked me to write a blog about Chapter Books. Technically, any book with chapters is a chapter book. However, chapter books defines the books that help take a reader in skills, vocabulary, from simple to complex. Chapter Books help each reader gain confidence in his abilities to read and find books that interest him from Easy Readers to Middle Grade Novels.

I wrote about what I know, what research told me, and put it all here. I hope it helps you get a clear idea of what Chapter Books are. Perhaps it might entice you to try your hand at creating one for your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or neighbors down the street.

Chapter Books vary with the number of pages and complexity of the words, sentences, and paragraphs. They are also divided into short chapters (from 7-12 pages or longer. Ages may overlap. Most contain a table of contents to make students feel like they are reading books like adults.

Some people call the Early Chapter Books as Easy Readers. This makes for confusion on my part. However, I think I’ve figured out a way to sort them by the number of syllables of the words and the number of lines on a page.

To understand a little more about the varying kinds of early and regular chapter books, click on the Amazon listing:

  • Check out the table of contents
  • Check out the first pages

You can probably tell by looking at these whether it is an Early Chapter Book (easier to read) or a Regular  Chapter book (a little bit harder to read).

Both may or may not have a table of contents, but I believe they should have one.
Early Chapter Books use 1-3 syllable words, occasionally a 4 syllable word.
Regular Chapter Books use 1-5 syllable words

Early Chapter Books

  • 6-9 years old (Grades 1-4) (Grade 1 & Up)
  • page numbers vary from 30 pages to 112 pages or more
  • chapters tells story through words
  • 2-4 sentences per paragraph
  • 3 syllable words (sometimes 4 syllable words)
  • a lot of action
  • black and white illustrations every few pages
  • table of contents
  • each chapter is one episode that stands by itself or a cliffhanger for an event that ends in a later chapter
  • ten or less chapters


Barbara Park Junie B. Jones http://www.amazon.com/Junie-Joness-First-Boxed-Books/dp/0375813616/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1322590086&sr=1-4#reader_0375813616, table of contents, 8-10 chapters, each chapter an episode in itself, but continues on with the story to the end, 3 and 4 syllable words.

Jack Prelutsky (Harper Collins I Can Read Book 3) My Parents Think I’m Sleeping) http://www.amazon.com/Parents-Think-Sleeping-Read-Book/dp/0060537221/. table of contents,  4 chapters, 4 episodes,  48 pages, written in rhyme, 4 syllable words

J. C. Greenburg. Andrew Lost http://www.amazon.com/Dog-Andrew-Lost-1/dp/0375812776/ Ages 6 and up; 96 pages, table of contents, 10 chapters, 3 syllable (hyphenated words) ultra-digital,

Lewis Carroll (adapted by Mallory Loehr) (Random House Chapter Books, Stepping Stone Books). Alice in Wonderland http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/alice-in-wonderland-lewis-carroll/1100190508?ean=9780375866418&itm=4&usri=stepping+stones+series; 112 pages, 3 syllables, smaller print, wider margins, more words on one page, 3-4 sentences in a paragraph

Nick Eliopulos (Random House Chapter Books, Stepping Stone Books). Gulliver’s Travels
http://www.amazon.com/Gullivers-Travels-Stepping-Stone-Book/dp/0375865691  112 pages, 3 syllable words, no table of contents

Patricia Reilly Giff (Dell). The Beast in Ms. Rooney’s Room (The Polk Street School Series) http://www.amazon.com/Beast-Rooneys-Room-Street-School/dp/0440404851/ 80 pages, no table of contents, 22 lines on a page, black and white illustrations, 3 syllable words, no table of contents

Ron Roy A to Z Mysteries http://www.amazon.com/Absent-Author-Z-Mysteries/dp/0679881689

Chapter Books (Regular) Intermediate Readers

  • For Ages 7-10 (Grades 2-5)
  • Tells story through words, not pictures
  • Many illustrations throughout the book (may be in black and white or in color)
  • 45-60-96 pages (5,000 to 25,000 words)
  • table of contents
  • more complex stories than Early Chapter Books
  • 3, 4, & 5 syllable words are allowed
  • A lot of action
  • sentences longer and more complex structure
  • paragraphs still short (2-4 sentences is average)
  • chapters end in cliffhangers to keep the reader turning the pages
  • short chapters offer children a chance to stop reading and pick up with a different episode when they come back
  • ten or less chapters, I’d say go with 10 if you’re writing a Chapter Book.

Suzy Kline (Puffin) Herbie Jones Series, 96 pages, Grade 2 and Up http://www.amazon.com/Herbie-Jones-Suzy-Kline/dp/0698119398/ 7-10 page episodes by chapters, 4 & 5 syllable words

Beverly Cleary (Avon Camelot Books) Ramona Series, Ramona Quimby, Age 8 http://www.amazon.com/Ramona-Quimby-Avon-Camelot-Books/dp/0380709562, 11-20 pages in a chapter; episode for each chapter, 4-5 syllable words

Joanna Cole (Scholastic) The Magic School Bus Chapter Book Series The Truth about Bats http://www.amazon.com/Truth-about-Magic-School-Chapter/dp/0439107989/, 80 pages, 4-5 syllable words

For steps on how to Write a Chapter Book, read the following Wiki How.com article: http://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Chapter-Book

More titles that may be Chapter books or Easy Readers to help you test your knowledge or help you get a better grip on it.

Best Selling Chapter Books on Amazon

I suggest that you check out about 25-100 of the Early Chapter and Regular Chapter Books. Look and see how the book you’re reading compares with the ones on my list. You’ll learn to distinguish the information necessary to write one yourself.

P. S.

Random House has a series for Chapter Books called Stepping Stone Books. Harper Collins has I Can Read Chapter Books are for Grade 3 & Up. (Not to be confused with I Can Read books in the Easy Reader area: I Can Read, I Can Read 2, and I Can Read 3: 63 pages, Grade 1 and Up, Table of Contents.)

Can you tell why these are not on my Early Chapter Book or Regular Chapter Book list?

Arnold Lobel (Harper Collins I Can Read Book) Frog and Toad Are Friends I Can Read Book 2 http://www.amazon.com/Frog-Toad-Friends-Read-Book/dp/0064440206/ 64 pages, Ages 4 and Up, K and Up, table of contents, Five chapters, 9-10 lines each page, larger font, 1-2 syllable words

Elsa Holmelund Minarik (Harper Collins I Can Read Book) Little Bear http://www.amazon.com/Little-Bear-Can-Read-Book/dp/0064440044/ 63 pages, table of contents, 4 chapters, 5 lines or so each page. Easy Reader, 1-2 syllable words, Age 6 and up (Grade 1 and up)

Answer: 1 & 2 syllable words only; few lines per page; few chapters

Linda Andersen, I hope this helps you and other readers decide what a chapter book is and gives you some idea of what to put in it, and how to organize it for a manuscript. I know my criteria might not match up with everyone else’s. However, it makes sense to me. I look forward to hearing what you think.

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Enjoy Writing.
Enjoy Reading.

Enjoy Living
Enjoy being you.
Joan Y. Edwards

Copyright © 2011 Joan Y. Edwards