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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Holiday Gifts: A Hanukkah Celebration for Writers and Readers

It seems like it was just yesterday that I was dumping a leftover turkey carcass into my crock-pot along with an onion, carrot, celery and eight cups of water. Then the next thing I knew, it was time to celebrate Hanukkah!

Oh wait! It was just yesterday that I was making turkey soup - and it is already time to celebrate Hanukkah. The celebration of Hanukkah is determined by the Hebrew calendar which changes each year in relation to the Gregorian civilian calendar. This year Hanukkah happens to begin quite early, on December first. And since the Route 19 Writers are blogging on the theme of "Giving and Receiving" for the month of December, I'm here with timely Hanukkah gifts for our readers. Enjoy!

The first gift is a little info about Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights. The holiday, a relatively minor one in the Jewish calendar, celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. There’s a hero named Judah Maccabbee, a candleholder called a Menorah and a miracle involving oil that burned for eight days. For a good read about Hanukkah I’d recommend the Caldecott Honor Book by Eric Kimmel, Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins and for kids celebrating both holidays, My Two Holidays: a Hanukkah and Christmas Story by Danielle Novack.

Your next gifts are a series of tips on writing how-to books. These days I'm spending a lot of time working on fiction, but I’ve written a few craft books in my day, all for Williamson Publishing, which is now an imprint of Ideals Publications. For several years I was also a contributing editor for Parenting Magazine where I devised crafts based on various found materials, my favorite being the lowly toilet paper tube from which I crafted a noisemaker, elephant, ring toss, candle holder and tree trunk! In the process of writing directions for literally thousands of crafts and supplemental activities and from teaching lots of arts and crafts classes, I've gotten pretty experienced (and efficient) at writing nonfiction instructional books.

Tip Number 1 Begin by asking yourself why anyone would want to read your book. It may sound like a harsh first step, but if you aren't pretty sure you have something to offer a decent-size audience, there's probably not much point in proceeding. 

Tip Number 2  Come up with a unique twist on your subject. There are lots of how-to craft books out there, not to mention lots of free stuff on the internet. In Big Fun Christmas Crafts & Activities I included a section titled, “Customs Around the World” that offers a multicultural learning  experience for teachers and home-school parents, and I always include plenty of supplemental material to make each craft a “whole learning” experience; these features make my books worth their cost to my audience. While you're at it, it's not a bad idea to come up with a title that's an attention grabber - one that promises to provide the reader with entertainment as well as knowledge - but as my titles show, the winning selection is likely to be one that clearly states what the reader will find within.

Tip Number 3 Write an outline of your book. Structure is incredibly important so begin with the major sections of your book. It sounds obvious, but it's overlooked often enough that I'll say it anyhow: group like with like. That's better than being clever for busy users. Then flesh out your table of contents. Subtitles need to be explicit - and appealing.

Tip Number 4 Keep directions clear and concise. It's harder than you'd think - so find some testers to give them a shot. Are you missing steps? Unnecessarily wordy? Is anything confusing? Remember that illustrations, diagrams, and other images can add clarity so don't duplicate their information.

Tip Number 5 Do your research and check your facts whether you’re writing biography, history, travel or memoir. It may be time-consuming but there’s nothing worse than having a reader report an “error” to your publisher after your book has been published. A reputation for inaccuracy will end your career faster than an indifferent review.

The next gift is a craft that is quick and easy for all Little Hands to make as a holiday gift. Pair it with an appropriate book for the perfect present:

A Snowman Bookmark

Here’s What You Need:
1. Construction paper (any dark color) cut into a 2” x 8 1/2” strip, plus scraps
2. White stick-on dots (found in office supply stores)
3. Clear Contac paper
4. Hole punch
5. Ribbon

Here’s What You Do:
1. Stick dots onto the paper strip for a snowman. Use markers for the snowman’s eyes, mouth and arms.

2. Cut out trees and other decorations from scraps of paper and glue them on.

3. Wrap the bookmark in clear Contac paper then trim around the edges.
4. Punch a hole in the top of the bookmark and thread ribbon through the hole. Ta-Da!

And one final gift: A simple, healthy recipe to polish off the last of the turkey leftovers:

Easy Slow Cooker Turkey Stock
1 turkey carcass (you can add the giblets and other gross bits if you'd like)
1 med or 1/2 large onion, skin removed
2 small carrots, scraped
1 stalk of celery
8 cups water (you can substitute chicken broth for some of it if you want)

Cook on high for 4-5 hours or low for 5-6 hours. Discard solids and strain stock and it's ready to use in your favorite soup recipe. It also freezes well.

So all in all, that makes eight gifts - one for each night of Hanukkah!


  1. Great craft, Judy - and a very timely recipe. I keep meaning to try making stock in my crockpot and I'm so glad to have directions for doing so.

    And your writing tips are right-on. I find it incredibly challenging to craft clear, concise directions when I'm writing tutorials. I'm always impressed by how effortless you make it look - and how well-written and easy to follow they are.

  2. Great tips for writing how-to books, Judy. I think with a few minor tweaks, they're very applicable for how to proceed with all writing projects.