SCBWI

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Children's Book Writers
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Writing a Chapter Book Series with Debbi Michiko Florence

Post by Cam M. Sato, Tokyo, Japan

On February 16, 2019, a group of us gathered at Tokyo Women’s Plaza in Shibuya to learn about writing a chapter book series with Debbi Michiko Florence, author of the charming Jasmine Toguchi Series.

Gathering around Debbi Michiko Florence. Photo by Mariko Nagai.

After introducing herself to us (she used to work in a zoo!), Debbi explained the difference between Leveled Readers, Early Chapter Books, Chapter Books, and Middle Grade books.

The Jasmine Toguchi Series falls in the category of Chapter Books and is aimed at children who are between the ages of six and nine. What Debbi loves about writing for this age are the kids themselves. She said they can quickly go from being non-readers, to falling in love with a series, to graduating to Middle Grade. All in as little as three months! Not only that, they can become some of the most loyal, ravenous fans, returning to a series as soon as a new book comes out even though they have aged out of the series—just because they love the characters. I have to admit I still get excited whenever I discover a new Captain Underpants has come out.

Before Debbi was published, she studied the genre by reading tons of chapter books. She took notes on everything from how many chapters there were, the number of pages there were in each chapter, the number of characters, what the characters were like, the kinds of problems they had to solve, and she also noticed that the stories were straight forward with few subplots, if any.

Debbi Michiko Florence with some of her early work. She loved to write stories even at a young age. Photo by Mariko Nagai

In addition to her Jasmine Toguchi Series, Debbi has also done work for hire on The Dorothy and Toto Series and the My Furry Foster Family Series. Writing for hire means that the author gets paid a flat fee but has to work really fast. Debbi had to write one book a month!

Near the end of the session, Debbi gave us some writing exercises that got us thinking about two characters and what their emotional problems were and how that would fit into the story arc. After this one set of exercises, the ideas were flowing, and I had the beginnings of some interesting characters and situations for a chapter book. Now all I need to do is think about whether my ideas can be sustained through a series, because single chapter books just don’t cut it. A single book, as Debbi pointed out, would get lost in the sea of chapter book series.

Time to sharpen my pencils, put on my thinking cap, and get to work!

You can order Debbi’s Jasmine Toguchi series here .

Cam M. Sato is a poet, author, and editor. You can learn more about her at camsato.com.

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