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Writing with All the Feelings by Liz Garton Scanlon

This week at Two Writing Teachers we will be featuring seven published authors and illustrators. We hope this blog series will inspire you to read, write, and create. Also, we hope these posts will be useful to you in the classroom when you use an authors'/illustrators' texts with your students. 
This week at Two Writing Teachers we will be featuring seven published authors and illustrators. We hope this blog series will inspire you to read, write, and create. Also, we hope these posts will be useful to you in the classroom when you use an authors’/illustrators’ texts with your students.

At nearly 50, I hale from the “chin up and cheer up” generation. When I was a kid, feelings weren’t something to be discussed so much as dispatched with. Being good meant being happy – or at least acting happy.

But here’s the thing. Those feelings – the other ones – the ones like jealousy and worry, anger and fear? They never went away; they just went into hiding. (And ended up making some of us feel repressed or explosive or both!)

Flash forward to raising my own children. “Cheer up” is a hard habit to break. These are not easy-to-embrace emotions we’re talking about, especially if they roll out in the form of a four-year-old having a total conniption in the paint aisle at the Home Depot. And I’m speaking from experience here.

But one of the ways I’ve been able to practice being a little more emotionally inclusive is through my work. It’s there that I’m able to see and express all the complicated stuff – even in the littlest of people – the stuff that maybe isn’t the easiest or most attractive but, in the end, is the realest, the most true. And isn’t that what we’re all aiming for in literature? That no matter how fantastical it gets – no matter how futuristic or dystopian, no matter how many talking animals or magicians or muggles – it feels, at its heart, true.

Recently, I had a student ask me if I thought she’d be better at writing funny picture books or tender ones – as if a single book couldn’t be both and as if, god forbid, there were no other options in between. What about books in which the main characters are sad or ashamed, what about when they’re wry or shy or just plain upset?

In my various picture books, I’ve created characters who are pissed off and rather petulant (The Good-Pie Party), way too self-deprecating (Noodle & Lou), a little bit timid and confused (Happy Birthday, Bunny!).



The picture books I most love to read and learn from are equally mucky emotionally –Victoria Chang’s Is Mommy?, Deborah Underwood’s The Quiet Book, Audrey Vernick’s First Grade Dropout are all stellar examples.

There’s no “chin up” mandate here – it’s come-as-you-are, or as the kids say these days, “you be you.” It sounds flip, but honestly, they use that phrase because that’s what they want us to say to them! And that authenticity they’re hoping for in real life? It seems like we ought to give it to them in books too.

Ditto novels, by the way. This is not just a picture book experience. When I read reviews for middle grade and young adult novels, the phrase I’m always on the lookout for is “too easy” because that usually means it’s pat, easily resolved and not, at its heart, true. In my book The Great Good Summer, Ivy Green reckons with grief, worry and doubt, and she expresses herself with everything from sarcasm to selfishness, sweetness to rage. She’s twelve, and not everyone loves to see all of these things in a budding adolescent. But if I’m honest, they are some of the things I remember most about being twelve, and I’m not going to pretend for Ivy the way I pretended for me.

Still, censorship’s not dead and there are lots of well-meaning people out there – mostly parents – who are so worried about exposing their children to things that are painful or scary or sensual or, well, just complicated, that they want books to cheer up or shut up.

I get the fear and worry – really, I do. But I’m more worried about what all these kids are going to do with feelings and truths they’re not able to share, get help with, or fully understand. There’s a lovely quote I’ve heard echoed often in Buddhist circles that goes like this:

Three things cannot be long hidden.

The sun, the moon and the truth.

That makes this whole thing pretty inevitable, right? Who we are, as people, will be revealed, it just will. And I think part of my job as an author is to help with that revelation – carefully, consciously and responsibly. In that way I’m writing for the child I was, the children in my books if they were real, and all the other children – yours and my own – who are wholly real, imperfect, emotional, inspiring and deeply lovable.

Liz Garton ScanlonLiz Garton Scanlon is the author of numerous beloved books for young people including the Caldecott-honored All the World and her debut middle-grade novel, The Great Good Summer. Liz lives in Austin, Texas, with her family, and is a frequent and popular presenter at schools, conferences, and literary festivals.



  • This giveaway is for autographed copies of The Great Good Summer and In the Canyon. Many thanks to Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster for donating the copies of Liz’s books for four lucky winners (one book per winner). 
  • For a chance to win this copy of either of Liz’s books, please leave a comment about this post by Saturday, June 4th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. We’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names will be announced at the bottom of this post, by Monday, June 6th.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, Liz will sign your copy of her book and will ship it out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner one of the books, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING — LIZ GARTON SCANLON. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

Comments are now closed. Thank you to everyone who left a comment on this post. And thanks to Liz for responding to some of the reader comments! The following people’s commenter numbers came up when I used the random number generator (i.e., Mari Miyagi, Maureen Ingram, Meg Ouellette, and Vanessa W.) so they’ll win one of Liz’s books.

40 thoughts on “Writing with All the Feelings by Liz Garton Scanlon Leave a comment

  1. My son is almost 15 and I’ve been trying to talk with him about the power and complexity of emotions. And I have to remind myself as well. Stories can be so helpful m


  2. So important for students to know they can be real and honest when expressing how they feel and that there are appropriate ways of expressing all of those emotions, and that we are there to support them through that process, validating them for the beautiful individuals that they are.


  3. I too worry that some of my students will only read happy stories.
    It is so important for students to reach outside of their comfort zone and read about how characters handle hard things.


  4. So much of my Writer’s Workshop is spent talking with my students about feelings in their writing. It’s the feelings that keep us invested in and connected to the books we are reading. Thank you for this post!


  5. I love these books and the emotions they show and let children know that everyone has them. Thank you Liz Garton – wonderful post.


  6. I love how you have described your characters . . .
    “I’ve created characters who are pissed off and rather petulant (The Good-Pie Party), way too self-deprecating (Noodle & Lou), a little bit timid and confused (Happy Birthday, Bunny!).”

    Great characteristics to refer to in the future!


  7. Being aware of your own emotions helps you know who you are and someone understanding your emotions helps you feel you are accepted. I think this is the biggest part of our lives and kids are even more sensitive to it, so we can emotionally embrace and protect them. With the books! I love this post. Thank you for sharing!


  8. I love books that are real. Thanks for including all the emotions. It’s how kids learn to recognize them. It’s like given them vocabulary.


  9. One of my favorite belief statements is “Feelings are neither right nor wrong. It’s what we DO about those feelings that can be right or wrong.” Denying, covering, and dismissing feelings is wrong. Great books show us ways that people face their feelings and work through them. Allowing kids to see that some ways of owning our feelings are healthier than others teaches them to live a full life and empowers them to embrace all that the circumstances that life has to offer as opportunities to learn and grow.


  10. As a mom of two, I definitely can relate to keeping issues like violence hidden from my children but I love the message in this book that all this does is create children that can’t rationalize, empathize and comprehend their feelings. I can’t wait to read this book!


  11. Reading books with kids that allow them to feel the emotions of the character, to show the rage, to feel indignant about what is happening, is amazing and powerful. Makes me reflect on consciously creating opportunities for students to do just that!


  12. Thanks, Two Writing Teachers, for having me! And thanks to you all for your thoughtful comments. Betsy, your comment cracked me up! 🙂


  13. So of course this post is amazing, like all of your books. I read it three times. I am a huge fan of reading things that make kids feel, react and rage a little. Books give us a place to figure out so much or at least be beautifully confused.


  14. Having your feelings validated is so important, at any age. Like you, I grew up in the generation of repressed feelings and spent a lifetime carrying that burden. Thank you for being the kind of author I really needed decades ago!


  15. Creating characters who are real and flawed and wrestling with emotions is such a gift for readers- young and old. Thank you for that! As I read your piece, I kept thinking of Kate DiCamillo. I think she is another writer who also does this for kids.
    I love The Good Pie Party!


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