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.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: A Hundred Horses

When I visited the library as a child, I always looked for stories about horses, books like The Black Stallion or Misty of Chincoteague. I signed them out many times and read them over and over. So I'm always thrilled when I find a new horse story to read.

Today’s Pick: A Hundred Horses

by Sarah Lean

Katherine Tegen Books, 2014

From Amazon:

From the author of A Dog Called Homeless, winner of the Schneider Family Book Award, comes another gentle novel with a touch of magic about the power of friendship and the truth of belonging.

Nell isn't happy about spending her vacation on a farm, but when she meets a half-wild and mysterious girl named Angel, the two girls are tied in an adventure that may help Nell discover something special about herself—and the most special of a hundred horses.

Girls and horses are a classic pairing, and fans of favorites such as My Friend Flicka and Misty of Chincoteague are sure to love the heartwarming friendship story and adorable—magical—animals in A Hundred Horses.

My Take:

This was an interesting book about two very different girls developing  a friendship and rescuing a horse and its foal. A touch of mystery kept me reading. It was interesting to me to see the farm setting through the eyes of Nell, who’d grown up in a city and was experiencing a different lifestyle.  There were many layers to this story, such as Nell sorting out her relationships and feelings with her father and her mother.

As a writer, I especially enjoyed the language and phrasing in this story. Some of the dialogue seems so true, you feel like you are inside the main character’s head, e.g., “It always feels like this when you’re away from your mom and you don’t know anybody and you’re not sure what to expect.”  

I also admired some of the descriptions like “I hear the shuffle of the quilt on the bottom bunk” because they are small details that are so in the moment of what is happening.

Opening Line:

“Mom was late picking me up from drama club again.”


“I’d found something unexpected, something that made me feel brilliant inside. Now it was gone, and it left my stomach churning.”

“She stayed frozen, breathing loudly through her nose, her eyes blazing, my question hanging in the air like ice.”

“They are just bits and pieces until they all come together. Then they make something extraordinary, something alive.”

Other Info:

Sarah Lean lives in Dorset, England with her family and dog. She used to teach school before obtaining a Master’s degree in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of Winchester.

This book, A Hundred Horses is also published under the title A Horse for Angel (possibly the UK version).

On her website, she gives this advice to aspiring writers: “Expect to get it wrong, again and again. Practice is paramount, expect to learn, love learning.”

Other Books:

A Dog Called Homeless
The Forever Whale
Jack Pepper

For more, visit Sarah Lean’s website or follow her on Twitter: @SarahLean1

Looking for more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday books? Visit Shannon Messenger’s blog for a list of bloggers reviewing great books today! Shannon is the founder of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and the author of the middle grade novels, Keeper of the Lost Cities and Exile (Keeper of the Lost Cities #2).

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cool Blog Quote: Helping Your Writing Grow

Recently, agent Laura Biagi gave this bit of writing wisdom to Middle Grade Ninja in 7 Questions For: Literary Agent Laura Biagi:

"...don't keep reworking the same piece for too long. Your writing can only grow if you give yourself new things to write---much like a plant can't grow bigger if you keep it in the same pot."

Laura Biagi, 7 Questions For: Literary Agent Laura Biagi, Middle Grade Ninja, July 14, 2014

This really hit home for me, because I have one novel that I keep revising and still can't get to work. I'm a terribly persistent person and hate to give up on something. 

But when I read the new project I'm working on, I can practically see what I've learned, because it feels so much more natural and alive. I often wonder if revisions can be overdone, drumming all the best parts from a piece of writing. I think they can.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The City of Ember

I’ve been busy writing my own novel, so I haven’t been visiting the library as often as I usually do. But every once and a while, I like to pull a favourite book from my own bookshelf. The City of Ember is definitely one of my favourites!

Today’s Pick: The City of Ember

by Jeanne DuPrau

Random House, 2003

From the Author’s Website:

Lights shine in the city of Ember—but at the city limits the light ends, and darkness takes over. Out there in the Unknown Regions, the darkness goes on forever in all directions. Ember—so its people believe—is the only light in the dark world.

And now the lights are going out.

Is there a way to save the people of Ember? No one knows. But Lina Mayfleet has found a puzzling document, and Doon Harrow has made discoveries down in the Pipeworks. With these clues, they start their search.

My Take:

I enjoyed this book when I first read it a few years ago and I still enjoy reading it now, even though many great dystopian books have come along after it. One of the reasons why I like this book is because I connected with the idea that resources have their limits and the “what ifs” that follow. It’s so interesting to think about the different perspective people might have if they grew up in an underground world.  I also liked the characters – Lina, who likes to see new places and draw, and Doon, who is interested in insects and figuring things out.

To me, this is a great example of book that is very definitely middle grade, with middle grade dialogue and concerns. As a writer, I especially enjoyed thinking about the details the author used to bring out the setting and this very different world.

Opening Line:

“When the city of Ember was just built and not yet inhabited, the chief builder and the assistant builder, both of them weary, sat down to speak of the future.”


“Running made her feel strong and big-hearted, it made her love the places she ran through and the people whose messages she delivered.”

“The trouble with anger is, it gets hold of you. And then you aren’t the master of yourself anymore. Anger is.”

“There were plants, they discovered, taller than they were, with stems as hard and thick as the walls of houses, and leaves that spread out over their heads.”

Other Info:

Jeanne DuPrau is a writer living in California. She has a dog named Jockey and enjoys gardening and reading.

The City of Ember is American Library Association Notable Book.

On her website, Jeanne DuPrau says this about the idea for the story: “…once I'd written The City of Ember, I hoped it would make people think about our world—about the sun and the moon, the forests and the ocean, the wind and the rain—and how precious it all is.”

There is a movie of this book, which to me had a very different tone and feel from the book, as well as different events, so I found it disappointing. But it would be interesting to read the book and then watch the movie to compare them and think about the differences and the effective elements in each.

Other Middle Grade Books:

The People of Sparks
The Prophet of Yonwood
The Diamond of Darkhold

For more, visit Jeanne DuPrau’s website.

Looking for more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday books? Visit Shannon Messenger’s blog for a list of bloggers reviewing great books today! Shannon is the founder of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and the author of the middle grade novels, Keeper of the Lost Cities and Exile (Keeper of the Lost Cities #2).

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Podcasts for Writers: Writing for Kids

Middle grade author Alexandra Amor recently started the Writing for Kids Podcast to "inspire, encourage and inform" children's writers. This podcast follows a conversation format and covers topics such as creativity, writing practices, self-publishing, and book marketing.

I listened to Episode #5: Writing a Series with Becky Citra. Along with some insights from Becky about writing a series, I was interested in their discussion of the writing and drafting process. They also talked about the challenges of getting into a kid's perspective in the 21st Century, technological world.

I've featured Becky Citra on my blog a couple of times for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, so it was very interesting to hear her take on writing middle grade. And I really enjoyed listening to a podcast that was specific to the age level I write for, even though the topics and issues are relevant to writers of other age categories too.

I'll definitely listen to more of these. When I visited, they weren't listed on iTunes yet, but Alexandra's website says they will be soon. Until then, you can play them directly from the Writing for Kids Podcast site.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The 14 Fibs of Gregory K

Since one of my daughters and husband both love math and frequently have math-related conversations over dinner, I could really relate to the main character in this book who loves writing!

Today’s Pick: The 14 Fibs of Gregory K.

by Greg Pincus

Arthur A. Levine Books, 2013

From Amazon:

Gregory K is the middle child in a family of mathematical geniuses. But if he claimed to love math? Well, he'd be fibbing. What he really wants most is to go to Author Camp. But to get his parents' permission he's going to have to pass his math class, which has a probability of 0. THAT much he can understand! To make matters worse, he's been playing fast and loose with the truth: "I LOVE math" he tells his parents. "I've entered a citywide math contest!" he tells his teacher. "We're going to author camp!" he tells his best friend, Kelly. And now, somehow, he's going to have to make good on his promises.

Hilariously it's the "Fibonacci Sequence" -- a famous mathematical formula! -- that comes to the rescue, inspiring Gregory to create a whole new form of poem: the Fib! Maybe Fibs will save the day, and help Gregory find his way back to the truth.

My Take:

I loved this book! It’s always fun to read about how a character’s attempts to get out of trouble just make things worse. And it’s even better when the book is written with lots of humor and an engaging main character.  The story moved along quickly and I finished this book in a day (probably because I was enjoying it so much). The chapter titles were great (e.g., Writing About Math Won’t Be as Easy As Pi) and each of the 14 chapters started with one of his “Fibs”, poems based on the Fibonacci sequence. Did I mention that I love books where kids explore some kind of unique passion or hobby? Gregory even learns something— to follow his heart, even when other people (like his parents) might not agree with his choices.

From a writing perspective, this book would be worth re-reading to study the dialogue, which seemed quite realistic; the humor, which was so right for the target age group; and the voice, which was distinctive and engaging.

Opening Line:

“Some days you just need pie.”


"The next day at school, the test met all of Gregory's expectations. Unfortunately, that was the only positive about it."

“But as he grew up, he realized that the attic was basically like a foreign country: Mathland, the spot where his father retreated when he wanted to think and work and play with math.”

“The world always needs poetry.”

“Like, I subtract all the time, trying to figure out how many minutes are left in Mr. Mason’s history class, so I understand why math matters there. But Fibonacci numbers? Didn’t seem like they’d come up.”

Other Info:

Greg Pincus is a screenwriter, a children’s poet and a novelist. He lives in Los Angeles with his family and a dog. The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. is his first novel.

For more, visit Greg Pincus at his website or follow him on Twitter: @GregPincus

Looking for more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday books? Visit Shannon Messenger’s blog for a list of bloggers reviewing great books today! Shannon is the founder of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and the author of the middle grade novels, Keeper of the Lost Cities and Exile (Keeper of the Lost Cities #2).