I love the combination of discipline and imagination required to write for children. You need discipline to be able to tell a story in concise, age-appropriate language. The word-count accepted by magazines for a children's story ranges from 500 to 1500 words. In that petite package, you have to pack a believable character, loads of action and a problem and solution that your protagonist initiates—all this in a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Imagination is key if you want to capture a child's interest and hold it.
I've taken a number of courses about writing for children to help me hone these skills. If you're thinking about writing for children and serious about the craft, I'd highly recommend that you do as well.
How Robin Saved Spring
Visit How Robin Saved Spring for the latest information about my children's book published in 2009 by Henry Holt and Company.
A Hero's Worth
Visit A Hero's Worth for information about my teen fantasy novel for reluctant readers.
Legend of the Ring
Visit Legend of the Ring for information about my latest teen fantasy novel for reluctant readers.
*Stay tuned for information about my upcoming teen extreme adventure novel for reluctant readers, Wave scheduled to be published by HIP Books Toronto late 2012/early 2013.
The following story, 'The Watcher', was originally published in Cricket Magazine in June of 2004.
Heimdall watched the sun peek over the hills. His keen ears heard shepherds rising from their beds, dew dropping from flowers. His pale blue eyes swept the horizon. A hundred leagues away, a gull dove into the ocean, snatching a fish for its breakfast. Heimdall flashed his golden teeth in a smile.
“Another day is born,” he said to Gulltop, his huge white stallion. “A quiet one, I think.”
Heimdall counted himself lucky for his gifts of sight and hearing. Being the Watcher of Bifrost was a demanding responsibility. Bifrost, the rainbow bridge, connected Midgard, the middle earth where people lived, to Asgard, the home of the gods. Heimdall’s job was to make sure that only the deserving crossed into Asgard. Needing less sleep than a bird allowed him to stand watch through the day and night. He rarely left his post.
“A warm day also, Gulltop.” Heimdall removed his ram-horn helmet and ran a huge hand through his long golden hair. A flutter started at the base of his stomach and moved up to tickle behind his eyes. His second sight warned him of something coming. “Perhaps not so a quiet a day after all,” he muttered into the damp morning air.
He cupped his hand over his eyes and watched a great ball of light slide down the rainbow’s spine. Heimdall smiled as he recognized the face of his father, Odin take shape before him.
“Come join me in Asgard, my son. I need your help.” Odin’s voice rumbled like thunder.
With his sounding horn, Giallar, held close to his side, Heimdall crossed the rainbow bridge into Asgard. He stood silently in the great hall, watching his father. The prickles of second sight ran up and down his spine. Something was coming.
Heimdall accepted Odin’s hand in welcome. “How can I help, father?”
“Only you can see into all nine of our worlds,” his father answered. “The goddess, Freya came to me this morning. That trickster, Loki has stolen her Brisingamen necklace. And I have promised her that she will have it back. I wish you to find him for me.”
Heimdall searched for Loki’s image in his mind; the serpent-thin body and tangle of black curls. Loki’s mischief was once harmless. Lately, it held darker shadows.
He searched the four corners of the earth. “I do not see him, father.”
“I fear he uses magic to hide himself and the necklace from us.” Odin placed his hand on his son’s muscled shoulder. “Will you help?”
Heimdall nodded slowly. He squeezed his eyes into slits as he peered through the nine worlds. Nothing. He stopped and moved his gaze back to a patch of ocean floor near the rocks of Singastein. There was the splash of a shiny black flipper and a ripple of water as a seal swam beneath a large smooth rock. Heimdall looked into the intense black of its eyes and grinned. “A clever disguise, Loki,” he said to the image, “but not clever enough.”
Heimdall swiftly mounted Gulltop, grabbed hold of its golden mane, and headed for Singastein to confront Loki.
“Loki,” Heimdall called into the rippling blue waters, “I have come with a message from Odin. He commands that you return the Brisingamen necklace to Freya.”
Heimdall watched the seal slide under another rock, laughing only as Loki could. The golden necklace hung heavy around its neck.
He dismounted Gulltop and moved to the water’s edge. “You underestimate me,” he said as he raised his hands above his head.
Heimdall’s legs fused together to the ankles. His fingers and toes combined into leathery flippers. A coat of coarse, sleek hair covered his shrinking body. He looked at his reflection in the water and saw a blue-eyed seal looking back at him. Within moments, he was comfortable in his new seal skin.
The icy water slapped against Heimdall’s sides as he swam smoothly downward. He searched the ocean floor and saw Loki hiding in his seal shape beneath an outcrop of rocks.
“Come with me back to Odin,” Heimdall demanded.
“Never,” laughed Loki.
Like a lance whizzing through the air, Heimdall used the powerful muscles in his hind body to propel himself toward Loki. He swam fiercely, wrestling and thumping Loki with his mighty tail. Loki answered by slamming his body against him until Heimdall’s teeth shook. For hours they battled. Water churned and rolled. The sea floor rumbled with the force of their blows. But Heimdall was the stronger of the two. Tired and defeated, Loki was brought up to the surface.
Back in his own skin, Loki was marched back to Asgard where he stood before Odin and Freya. Heimdall removed the Brisingamen necklace from around his neck and offered it to Freya.
“This is not the end of this, Heimdall,” cried Loki. “We will meet another day!”
Heimdall watched with a heavy heart as Loki left Asgard. He had made an enemy today. He allowed his second sight to take him into the future. He saw Loki leading the great Frost Giants in an attack against Asgard. He heard Loki’s cry again, “We will meet another day!”
Heimdall didn’t know when this would happen, only that it would.
He returned to his post at the foot of Bifrost, the rainbow bridge where, by day and night, he could protect Asgard. He knew that if Asgard fell, so would Midgard, the world where people lived.
To this day, Heimdall watches and waits at the foot of Bifrost. He carries his sounding horn, Giallar close at his side. When he sees Loki leading the Frost Giants from a distance, he will sound his horn. The blare will be heard throughout the nine worlds, summoning all to protect the worlds of humans and gods.
The following story, 'A Boy, A Girl, and the Rainbow' was originally published in Cricket Magazine in June 2002.
A Boy, A Girl, and the Rainbow
(A Papago Indian Legend)
By: Debbie Ouellet
Long ago, there were two large families with many children. When planting time came, the families worked together to sow their fields. They went together into the mountains to gather acorns and berries. It was a time of harmony.
One family had a little daughter with hair as shiny and black as a raven’s wing and a smile like morning sunshine. Her laughter was as soft and sweet as raindrops.
The other family had a young son. He wasn’t like the other boys who rode wild ponies and worked hard in the fields. This boy was a dreamer. He was slow and showed no interest in the games that other boys played. But of all the boys, there were none that the beautiful little girl loved to play with more than him.
“See how the roadrunner scoots across the ground,” the boy called to her. “See the orange-and-black butterflies in the hackberry bush.”
The girl sat with him in the shade of a mesquite tree while he tucked golden poppies in her hair. “I am only happy when I am with you,” she told him. “You are my dearest friend.”
Many years went by. The girl grew to be very beautiful, and the boy still preferred watching the birds and butterflies to working in the fields.
It was the custom, in the long ago, for parents to choose husbands for their daughters. The girl’s parents found many fine young men who were willing to be her suitor.
“Here is a tall, strong man,” said her mother. “He can ride like the wind.”
“I do not wish this one,” her daughter answered.
“This one has fields of corn planted,” her mother urged. “You will never be hungry.”
The girl shook her head. “I want only my childhood friend for my husband.”
That’s when the trouble began.
“That one is slow and lazy,” her mother argued. “He has no fields or ponies. He sits and dreams when he should be working or riding with the other young men.” She placed her hand against her daughter’s cheek. “You are my beautiful girl. I will not allow it.”
The girl’s parents worried about their daughter. For many evenings, they discussed what should be done. Finally, they decided that the boy and girl must be separated. Arrangements were made for their daughter to marry a young man who lived on the other side of the mountains.
The heartbroken girl ran out into the desert where she found the boy under a saguaro cactus, watching butterflies flit across the sky. “They are sending me across the mountains,” she cried.
They talked long into the day, trying to find a way to stay together. As dusk drew near, the boy hung his head, but agreed that she must obey her parents and move across the mountains.
“I will miss our talks most of all,” he told her. “We must find a way to communicate when you are gone.” He scratched his head and thought. “We could send smoke signals.”
“No,” answered the girl. “The smoke signals will not rise high enough for us to see them over the mountains.”
“Perhaps the sun will help us.” They both turned to look at the fiery ball peeking over the horizon. The boy gathered colourful rocks and placed them where the sun’s rays could bounce off them. “We can send sunlight over the mountains.”
“No,” the girl said, sighing, when the rocks refused to glow. “They will not hold the sun.”
“Then I will ask my friends the birds to help us.”
He called to the great horned owl perched in the mesquite tree. “Will you fly messages across the mountains for us, friend owl?” The owl told him that he could not fly that far, so the boy asked the gold-and-black orioles. “Will you carry messages for us?” But they said they could not fly more than once over the mountains each year.
“There must be a way,” he said. “I will go find it.” He left the girl sitting under the tree and headed south. There, in the shade of a giant saguaro, he found a medicine woman. He told her his troubles and asked for her help.
“You must take these feathers,” said the medicine woman, handing him a fine woven basket. “When Cloud Man brings the rain, you and your friend must wait. When the sun returns, take out the feathers and wave them high above your heads.”
The boy looked into the basket. There were red feathers and orange feathers, bright blue and purple feathers. There were feathers as yellow as the sun and as green as leaves. They were so bright that they looked as if they were burning. He thanked the medicine woman and headed back north.
Many days passed, and the wedding preparations were almost completed. The girl and her mother filled baskets and ollas with food for the wedding feast.
One morning the girl looked to the south and saw the boy in the distance. She ran to him, wondering what he was carrying in the basket. “These feathers will help us communicate when you are far away,” he said.
The boy gave her half of the feathers and told her all that the medicine woman had said. “Now after each rain, I will know that you are thinking of me. Then I can be happy.”
When the time came for the girl to make her journey over the mountains, she placed her feathers tenderly in her little basket and waved good-bye to her friend.
The first time Cloud Man brought rain to her new home, she took the feathers out and waited at her door for the shower to stop. As the sun shone through the clouds, she took the feathers in one hand and raised them high above her head.
Sunlight bounced off the feathers and sent streams of colour rising into the sky. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet ribbons of light curved upward. She looked to the west and saw another band of colours rising over the mountains. They arced in the sky until they met in the middle, and this made the girl very happy, for she knew that the boy was thinking of her.
So true were the love and friendship of the boy and girl that to this day, after the rain, you will often see a rainbow rise up. It is their love shooting across the sky. Sometimes in the early morning or late afternoon, you might see a double rainbow. This is when the girl can no longer contain her happiness and waves her feathers in both hands.