Monday, September 22, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: A Snicker of Magic

It's a very gloomy Monday here - the perfect day to snuggle up with a good book. This one has a bit of magic in it, though if you are a big fan of Harry Potter, this probably isn't the kind of magic you're looking for. The real magic in this story is the magic of love, family and people caring about each other.

Today’s Pick: A Snicker of Magic

by Natalie Lloyd

Scholastic Press, 2014

From Amazon:

Midnight Gulch used to be a magical place, a town where people could sing up thunderstorms and dance up sunflowers. But that was long ago, before a curse drove the magic away. Twelve-year-old Felicity knows all about things like that; her nomadic mother is cursed with a wandering heart.

But when she arrives in Midnight Gulch, Felicity thinks her luck's about to change. A "word collector," Felicity sees words everywhere---shining above strangers, tucked into church eves, and tangled up her dog's floppy ears---but Midnight Gulch is the first place she's ever seen the word "home." And then there's Jonah, a mysterious, spiky-haired do-gooder who shimmers with words Felicity's never seen before, words that make Felicity's heart beat a little faster.

Felicity wants to stay in Midnight Gulch more than anything, but first, she'll need to figure out how to bring back the magic, breaking the spell that's been cast over the town . . . and her mother's broken heart.

My Take:

The fun twist on magic was a nice concept that intrigued me. I especially liked the idea of “word collecting”.  I’m not a big fan of novels that contain lots of little stories about people, but if you like books about small towns and the quirky people that live there, you’ll enjoy this book. As a character, Felicity is charming and caring and I was hoping throughout the story that she’d get what she wanted—to stay in Midnight Gulch.

From a writer’s perspective, I enjoyed and admired the language and phrasing in this story. I could tell the writer worked hard at creating Felicity’s unique voice and expressions. This is a good one to study carefully to see how the author brings a character to life.

Opening Line:

“They say all the magic is gone up out of this place,” said Mama.


“Just the thought of real magic sent shivers from my nose to my toes.”

“But good stories take your heart someplace else. My body’d never been out of south Georgia. But my heart lived everywhere. I’d lived a hundred lives without ever leaving my tree.”

“She told stories in such a way that I swear my heart heard them before my ears did.”

Other Info:

Natalie Lloyd owns a very sweet dog named Biscuit.

A Snicker of Magic is her first published book.

To find out more about her, check out this interview with Natalie Lloyd at

For more, visit Natalie Lloyd’s blog or find her on Facebook.

Looking for more great middle grade reads? Visit Shannon Messenger's website for a list of bloggers and their picks for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday! 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Learning from Picture Books: Bear, Bird and Frog

Summary from Amazon:  Bear and Bird are best friends. They live together in the middle of a beautiful forest. Bear and Bird have been planning an adventure all day - but when Frog turns up unannounced, Bear is so excited he forgets all about Bird. Bird is sulking because his big plans have been spoilt. But when Bear and Frog find themselves in trouble Bird has to swoop to their rescue - perhaps he will get his big adventure after all!

Bear, Bird and Frog, written and illustrated by Gwen Millward, published by Egmont Books, 2014.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

The concept of two friends leaving another one out came across really well with the animal characters in this story. This situation happens a lot in classrooms and day cares, so it's a theme children can easily relate to, yet it also has the possibility for much discussion about feelings. 

This book was a good one for studying picture book structure: the problem of the story was introduced within the first ¼ of the book, then it escalated and the reader could connect with Bird’s feelings, and in the last ¼ of the book, there was a crisis and Bird came to a realization. For me, the realization was a bit contrived since it became evident through a reaction to circumstances, but that may be just a matter of personal taste. I don’t think it would bother young readers.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

Any early primary students will easily relate to Bird and the feeling of being left out. This book will be useful to spark discussions about feelings and strategies to cope with them, as well as what it means to be a friend. I am always on the lookout for good books to help children understand that sometimes it’s okay for a friend to sometimes play with someone else.

A good activity for this book would be for students to take the roles of different characters (e.g. Bird, Bear, Frog) and talk about what happened from their point of view, to get different perspectives on the situation. The ending also invites the reader to imagine things the friends could do the next day, so another great activity would be to have students draw and write about what happened next.

If you're looking for more great picture books to read to your class or to investigate as a writer, author Susanna Leonard Hill has a wonderful list of Perfect Picture Bookscategorized by theme and topic. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Podcasts for Writers: Let's Get Busy

If you've been following my blog, you know I enjoy listening to podcasts while driving, mopping floors or walking the dogs (and there are more walks now, with three dogs). This summer I discovered a new and interesting podcast for writers, readers and librarians of children's books.

This podcast has been around for just over a year. Host Librarian Matthew Winner interviews "authors, illustrators, kidlit notables, education luminaries, and everyone in between."

I just finished listening to Matthew's discussion with Drew Daywalt, author of the best-selling picture book, The Day the Crayons Quit. It was inspiring to hear that it took almost ten years for Drew to get the book published. It just shows that it's true that you should never give up! 

If you want to get a sense of some of the great podcasts available, Coming Up On the Let's Get Busy Podcast lists the top five downloaded episodes. 

Matthew Winner is an elementary school teacher-librarian. He also has a blog, The Busy Librarian, where he highlights some of the content of the podcasts, as well as providing reviews of children's books, book trailers and other tidbits. A great resource for teacher-librarians and elementary school teachers!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Out of My Mind

I usually do a lot of reading over the summer, but this year was different. I ended up doing more writing than reading—when I wasn’t caring for the three dogs, that is. Of the few books I did manage to read, this one stuck out for me as meaningful and one I’d definitely want to read again. 

Today’s Pick: Out of My Mind

by Sharon M. Draper

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010

From Amazon: 

Melody is not like most people. She cannot walk or talk, but she has a photographic memory; she can remember every detail of everything she has ever experienced. She is smarter than most of the adults who try to diagnose her and smarter than her classmates in her integrated classroom—the very same classmates who dismiss her as mentally challenged, because she cannot tell them otherwise. But Melody refuses to be defined by cerebral palsy. And she’s determined to let everyone know it…somehow. In this breakthrough story—reminiscent of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly—from multiple Coretta Scott King Award-winner Sharon Draper, readers will come to know a brilliant mind and a brave spirit who will change forever how they look at anyone with a disability.

My Take:

This was a powerful and moving story. It gave me a glimpse into the perspective of someone with a life very different from my own. This is a wonderful book for students and classroom discussion. I enjoyed the twists and surprises in this book from several events that I didn’t see coming. I also appreciated the way the ending wasn’t too neatly wrapped up, just like real life.

As a writer, I especially enjoyed the main character’s voice. It gave her so much personality and really brought her character to life, which was so important in this story since Melody couldn’t speak.

Opening Line:

“Words. I’m surrounded by thousands of words. Maybe millions.”

Other Info:

Sharon M. Draper lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband and their golden retriever.

Out of My Mind  and her other books have received many awards and honors – far too many to list here. She has been honored as National Teacher of the Year and is a five time winner of the Coretta Scott King Literary award.

Here’s what she says about writing: “I love to write; words flow easily from my fingertips, and my heart beats rapidly with excitement as an idea becomes a reality on the paper in front of me.”

And she also talks about writing about a child with physical limitations: “I wanted to give those kids, who are often treated as if they are invisible, a chance to be heard, to be seen as the individuals they are, not the machines they ride in, or the disability that defines them.”

Some of the author’s other books include:

Little Sister is Not My Name – Sassy #1
The Birthday Storm – Sassy #2
The Silver Secret – Sassy #3
The Dazzle Disaster Party – Sassy #4
The Clubhouse Mystery Series
Copper Sun
Double Dutch

Looking for more great middle grade reads? Visit Shannon Messenger's website for a list of bloggers and their picks for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday! 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Learning from Picture Books: Hopper and Wilson Fetch a Star

Don't you love the stuffed toys on this newspaper airplane? This cover caught my eye and, after a few late summer evenings of sitting on the deck admiring the stars, I had to read it!

Hopper and Wilson Fetch a Star

written and illustrated by Maria van Lieshout

published by Philomel Books, 2014

From Penguin:

Have you ever wanted your very own star?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have your own star for a nightlight? It is this thought that begins Hopper and Wilson’s second adventure. They fill their airplane with lemonade and soar into the night sky. So many stars to choose from! One is too pointy. One is too heavy. Another is too bright! Taking a break on the moon, the two friends look directly above and spot it—the perfect star! As Hopper lays down for a nap, Wilson ventures off on his own, to the dark side of the moon. Yet now he is lost! How can he find his way back to Hopper?

The perfect star, of course. Wilson spots it in the sky and follows it back to his friend. In another deceptively simple story, Maria van Lieshout shows how sometimes the best part of nature is that it’s only found in nature—and that everything has its proper place…be it stars or even best friends, who always belong together.    

My Thoughts as a Writer:

I liked the unique concept of fetching a star for a nightlight. It was fun to think about the two friends studying each star to find just the right one. The illustrations really captured my attention, especially the ones of the night sky, which evoked the feeling of staring up at the real night sky in a very dark place. The newspaper that folded up into an airplane and unfolded into a blanket was a cute and creative detail.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

This book offers lots of possibilities for discussion, e.g. Is it okay to take things from nature? What would you do if you got lost? It would be nice to compare and contrast this story with others about stars and space, e.g. Eric Carle’s Papa Please Get the Moon for Me or Oliver Jeffers’ How to Catch a Star

Non-fiction books about stars and space would complement this nicely, for kids who want to know more. For some companion books, Delightful Children’s Books lists 11 Children’s Books About Stars and Space.

A fun exploration to go along with this would be paper airplane making using different kinds of paper. Looking at these illustrations sparked this question for me: Can you make really make paper airplanes from newspaper? A great question for students in primary grades to investigate.

If you're looking for more great picture books to read to your class or to investigate as a writer, author Susanna Leonard Hill has a wonderful list of Perfect Picture Books. The books on the list are categorized by theme and topic, and each one has a link to a blog that featured it, so you can get a few ideas about the contents and ideas for using it. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

WriteOnCon 2014: An Online Children's Writers Conference

Yay! It's almost time for WriteOnCon! I'm still on my blog break, but I couldn't let this slip by without mentioning it.

What is it?

A totally free, online conference for children's writers (donations in support of the conference are gratefully accepted).

I've attended at a couple of these online conferences in previous years. I've gotten valuable feedback on my writing, made new writing friends and learned a lot about what agents are looking for in their submission folders.

To see the list of fabulous agents and editors who will be sneaking around to get a peak at writer's latest projects, check out Announcing our Ninja Agents for 2014.

To get information on twitter pitch events, for a chance to have your pitch critiqued by agents, visit Pitch Event Instructions.

When is it?  August 26-27, but the forums are already open and writers are posting their work for critique and feedback from each other.

How to participate:

You need to register at http://www.writeoncon/forums if you want to participate in the critique forums (where the Ninja Agents will be on the prowl).

Otherwise, just visit their website at

nCon is an Online Children’s Writers Conference created by writers, for writers.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Cute Dogs and A Break

My blog posts have been less frequent this summer, because I've been immersed in working on a new middle grade novel. I still don't have a title but I've finished the first draft! One of the characters in my novel was inspired by this little cutie:

I'm dog-sitting her for a while, along with her big friend:

And of course, I still have my own dog:

Some days it sounds like a dog kennel around here! Perhaps I'll be inspired to write some more dog stories. 

Besides looking after the dogs, I've also been participating in Teachers Write with Kate Messner, Jo Knowles, Gae Polisner and Jen Vincent. It's been very motivating, and has encouraged me to set some goals for August:

1) revise one of my as-yet-unqueried middle grade novels, which is about a girl who heads off into the wilderness for a competition to become the co-host of an adventure television show

2) write a new picture book, to keep up with my goal of 12 picture books in 12 months (In January, I joined Julie Hedlund's 12 x 12 picture book challenge group.)

Between my writing goals, the dogs and setting up my newly renovated classroom, I'm going to be a little busy. So I'm going to take a blog break for August. 

Happy reading and writing! I look forward to returning to a more regular posting schedule in September.