Dear Teachers, Homeschoolers, Librarians, Parents, and Guardians—all adults who care deeply about our nation’s kids and their education:

Welcome to Empowering Young Writers!

The fundamental need to read books in order to write well is at the heart and soul of the NCBLA’s Empowering Young Writers Resource Center. Empowering Young Writers is designed to help teachers—especially upper-elementary and middle school teachers—guide their students on the path to writing well.

When my first books were published, I was frequently invited to elementary and middle schools as a visiting author. Spending time with teachers in and outside of the classroom, I learned that most were eager to learn more about ways to teach writing and the writing process. After listening to their questions and concerns, building on my own experiences as a teacher, artist, and writer, I designed a series of writing workshops for elementary and middle school students. For well over two decades, I worked hands-on with students and teachers across the country, sharing writing workshops and critiquing thousands of students’ stories, essays, and articles. The NCBLA’s Empowering Young Writers slideshows and educational support materials were inspired by those experiences.

Today’s students, living in an increasingly screen prevalent world, are more visually oriented than past generations. With that in mind, we have created a series of slideshow presentations that form the unifying hub of Empowering Young Writers. The slideshows feature excerpts and art from a highly diverse sampling of young people’s trade books to illustrate writing elements and skills. In addition, each slideshow is accompanied by teacher guides and student handouts that employ tried-and-true educational tools, including writing prompts and explorations, classroom discussion questions, and cross-curricular activities.

Here are some recommendations for using the slideshows and supporting educational materials:

  • The slideshows and supporting educational materials are not meant to supplant any school’s writing curriculum. Rather, we offer the shows and materials as additional tools. Though designed for use with fourth through ninth graders, initial feedback informs us that primary grade, secondary, and special education teachers have also found aspects of the slideshows and support materials useful. You are the experts on your students’ educational needs. Please review all the shows and materials and use what works best for you and your students.
  • Find detailed instructions for starting and viewing the slideshows here.
  • The Empowering Young Writers slideshows are designed as shared interactions between educators and students to inspire thoughtful class discussions and activities. Consequently, each slide must be advanced manually, at a pace appropriate to your and your class’ needs. We encourage you to read the slide content aloud to your students, or have your students help with the narration! You can choose to show a presentation in its entirety or just the section needed for a particular class. You may want to pause a slideshow for class discussion and questions. Because grades, students, and teachers will have different needs, we cannot offer a time length for each show that universally applies. You and your students’ needs will determine the time length of each slideshow presentation.
  • Because we must meet the needs of a highly diverse group of young people from every socioeconomic group who live in a wide range of locations across fifty states, we have chosen to err on the side of providing more choices, rather than less related to writing prompts, class activities, and writing exercises. We have also included a variety of cross-curricular activities for curious and motivated students.
  • One possible approach is to first use the slideshow as an overall introduction to your students, then revisit sections to share class discussions, activities, and writing explorations. We hope you use the slideshows and supporting materials as a starting point, adding your own unique gifts and knowledge to the ideas and information offered, enriching the experience for your students.
  • The Empowering Young Writers content and slideshows are organized in six sections. The Writers’ Tools, Story Basics, Characters, Plot, and Setting slideshow sections are complemented by comprehensive educator guides, student handouts, and bibliographies.

This section features an introduction by beloved author Katherine Paterson, as well as links to all the participating authors and illustrators, extensive writing and reading resources, writing assessment suggestions, and student peer critiquing guidelines.

Writers’ Tools
The Writers’ Tools slideshows demonstrate how a student’s five senses, experiences and memories, imagination, and creativity provide the foundation for good writing.

Story Basics
The Story Basics slideshows define story, both fiction and nonfiction, sharing the evolution of story in all its varieties; exemplify how and why writers use power words to write; define and depict the concept of “Show Don’t Tell;” and demonstrate story structure by defining beginnings, middles, and endings.

The Characters slideshows highlight how characters determine story. They also explain how to create believable characters and natural dialogue.

The Plot slideshows define plot and conflict and offer examples of how plot evolves. These slideshows also share hints, such as how withholding information increases story interest and how starting the narrative on a day that’s different can set the plot in motion.

The Setting slideshows define setting and demonstrate the importance of using sensory language when writing about time and place. They also demonstrate the power of “compare and contrast” to craft settings and show the importance of research when creating settings for both fiction and nonfiction writing.

  • We recommend that you share the slideshows with your students in the order they appear on the website because later presentations related to characterization, plot, and setting build on the Writers’ Tools and Story Basics slideshows. But do use any slideshow anytime to enhance your students’ learning or your curriculum’s needs.
  • The slideshow presentations spotlight beautiful and inspiring art and story excerpts created by gifted young people’s book illustrators and writers. We hope you and your students will seek out the books featured here from your school and local libraries and bookstores. With that in mind, a bibliography is provided for each slideshow. Additionally, the author and illustrator index provides direct links to each featured author’s and illustrator’s website.

The illustrations featured in the slideshow come from books published around the world. Each individual illustration can stand independently as a thought-provoking writing prompt, and we encourage you to use them as such to motivate your students’ writing.

  • Each slideshow’s Student Handouts include a content summary of essential information. If collected in a folder or binder, with student handouts from other Empowering Young Writers slide presentations, the accumulated materials will form a personalized writing handbook. You might also consider encouraging students to keep a writing journal and/or a sketchbook.
  • Both NCBLA websites contain educational content that may be of interest to you and your students, including, but not limited to:
    • The companion website to the NCBLA’s award-winning book Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out,, stands as an educational resource independent of the book. It features additional historical and presidential information and articles, classroom discussions, and activities.
    • The NCBLA partnered with The Library of Congress to create The Exquisite Corpse Adventure, an interactive adventure story and book, complete with classroom lesson plans and writing activities.
    • The NCBLA partnered with author Jeff Kinney’s An Unlikely Story Bookstore and WETA/PBS Reading Rockets to create two educational videos for teachers and parents: How to Get and Keep Boys Reading, featuring authors and illustrators Jack Gantos, Jeff Kinney, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Jon Scieszka, and Gene Luen Yang; and Celebrating Heroines in Fact and Fiction, featuring authors and illustrators Jeannine Atkins, Ekua Holmes, Heather Lang, Katherine Paterson, and Rita Williams-Garcia.

A Word About Copyright

The NCBLA has been generously granted gratis permission by publishers, illustrators, and authors to use the included book illustrations and excerpts because Empowering Young Writers is being offered free to students, teachers, parents, and guardians across the United States. It is an extraordinary and unprecedented gift.

No one, including educators, is permitted to download the slideshows and make their own custom copies of the slideshows or alter them in any way. The slideshows are the property of the NCBLA and/or its publishers, authors, illustrators, licensors, partners, or third party content providers and are subject to U.S. Copyright Law. Please refer to our Terms of Service for complete details.

On a Personal Note ~

When I began my own writing and illustration journey, there were no MFA programs in writing or illustrating for children.

I had to devise my own educational program, seeking teachers and mentors. I was extraordinarily blessed. My teachers and mentors were creators Katherine Paterson, Natalie Babbitt, Jane Yolen, and David Macaulay. I also learned about the writing and illustration process from the authors and illustrators who served on the NCBLA board over the past thirty years: Steven Kellogg, Susan Cooper, Patricia MacLachlan, Fredrick and Patricia McKissack, M.T. Anderson, Nikki Grimes, Linda Sue Park, Gregory Maguire, and Lois Lowry. I am deeply grateful to have been able to learn from these remarkable creators.

I would like to thank the current NCBLA board for their shared wisdom and ongoing support of the Empowering Young Writers project: Steven Kellogg, Nikki Grimes, Helen Kampion, Renee Lyons, and Jodi Rzeszotarski. Thank you to the NCBLA’s and my personal editor, Karen Lotz, for her support and encouragement. And thank you to Annisha Jeffries, the Youth Services Manager at the Cleveland Public Library, who gifted us with her many talents serving as our children’s literature and diversity advisor.

I am most grateful to three remarkable individuals not only for their abiding support on Empowering Young Writers, but for the wisdom and joy they have brought to my life. NCBLA Vice President Katherine Paterson has been my guiding light since the inception of the NCBLA. Quite simply, I love and adore her. NCBLA Assistant Director Geri Eddins, with humor, compassion, and grace, has worked tirelessly for the NCBLA. I am deeply grateful for her many gifts as a colleague and friend. And thank you Richard A. Groth Jr., dear husband, for 49 years of love, support, and . . . patience!

Teaching: one of the few professions that permit love. —Theodore Roethke, Poet and Educator

As a child and teen, my home was not a safe haven. I found my safe haven at school and at my local public library. I can never fully thank the teachers and librarians who helped me find my way; I can only pass along the gifts they gave me to others. Empowering Young Writers has been created to honor all of our nation’s teachers and librarians who work tirelessly, with love, to educate and guide our nation’s children.

With best wishes,

Mary Brigid Barrett

Mary Brigid Barrett
President, Executive Director, and Founder
The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance

Learn more about Mary Brigid Barrett.