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'Light up the Year': Author offers tips to young writers at Lakeland Elementary in Willmar

Erica Dischino/Tribune Children's author Debbie Hoven speaks about writing and drawing to second-grade students Tuesday at Lakeland Elementary School in Willmar. 1 / 6
Erica Dischino/Tribune “Norman Loves the Lake” is one of the children's books author Debbie Hoven spoke about while speaking earlier this week at Lakeland Elementary School in Willmar. 2 / 6
Erica Dischino/Tribune Author Debbie Hoven shows second-grade students her book Tuesday at Lakeland Elementary School in Willmar. 3 / 6
Erica Dischino/Tribune Author Debbie Hoven holds up one of the books she wrote while speaking to students Tuesday at Lakeland Elementary School in Willmar. 4 / 6
Erica Dischino/Tribune Second-grade student Esai Valdez, 8, holds up his hand to ask a question of author Debbie Hoven during her presentation Tuesday at Lakeland Elementary School in Willmar. 5 / 6
Erica Dischino/Tribune Children's author Debbie Hoven presents to second-grade students on the process of creating children's books Tuesday at Lakeland Elementary School in Willmar. 6 / 6

WILLMAR — Use a pencil and write lightly when drawing, and don't be afraid to try again if a drawing doesn't seem quite right. Always have an eraser handy.

Keep stories written in school — even those from elementary school — in a folder. Someday, they could lead to an idea for a book.

Those are some of the tips children's book author Debbie Hoven shared with students at Lakeland Elementary School in Willmar this week.

Hoven, a retired teacher and a Willmar native, has published several children's books. She spent most of her career teaching kindergarten and preschool.

She now talks to children in schools and works with writing workshops for young people. She tells young people about her work and gives them tips on getting started.

As she was retiring from teaching, she said, she started writing and illustrating her first book, "Light up the Year."

One year, as she was putting away Christmas lights, they "told" her they didn't want to be packed away. They wanted to stay out and light up other occasions.

The book, written in rhyme, follows the string of lights to holidays and other occasions through the year.

Then came "Norman on the Lake," a book about her black lab Norman and their lake home in Alexandria. It's a rhyming ABC book following Norman's antics from one season to another.

Her most recent book, "Light Up the States," brings back the adventurous Christmas lights to tour the country. In each drawing, the string of lights makes an appearance — as a sash on the Statue of Liberty, lighting the way along the Appalachian Trail, wrapped around the Washington Monument.

"Light Up the States" was recently named a Mom's Choice Award Distinguished Honoree. "Norman at the Lake" received honorable mention in children's literature in the Northeastern Minnesota Book Awards for books published in 2015.

Story ideas can come from anywhere, Hoven told the students. That's why she told them to save stories they write in school. Years later, they could be the inspiration for something bigger.

Hoven suggested they start drawing an object by drawing the outline first. That's what she did with her dog Norman, she said.

She illustrates her books with colored pencils, and she wasn't sure how to give detail to the features of an all black dog. Starting with his outline helped her find her way, she said.

In drawing Norman, she said, she watched him run and play so she could draw him in different situations. For some drawings in ""Light Up the States," she looked at photos.

"It's not cheating to look at something" as a guide, she told the students.

Hoven advised students to take their time when working on a project. "If your teacher says you could do better on a story or drawing, just give it a little more time," she said. If she's frustrated about her work not going well, she said, she will wait until the next day and try again.

Hoven's books are available at Amazon, Cherry Creek Books in Alexandria and from Mill Pond Mercantile in New London. Autographed copies may be ordered from her website,

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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