Monday, September 30, 2013

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - Money Hungry

Today’s Pick: Money Hungry by Shannon Flake

Published by Jump at the Sun, Hyperion Books, 2001

From Scholastic:

Thirteen-year-old Raspberry Hill is starved for money. She will do just about anything legal to get her hands on the almighty dollar. Memories of being homeless, sleeping in the streets, and eating from handouts keep Raspberry's eye on the only prize that matters to her: cold, hard cash.

But even money can't answer the questions that keep Raspberry awake at night. Will she and Momma ever move out of the projects? What did Ja'nae do with the two hundred bucks Raspberry loaned her? And what's really going on with Momma and that rich doctor?

This unforgettable novel will keep you glued to each and every page. Bank on it.

My Take:

This story takes you into a different place and opens your eyes to another life. It wasn’t a fast-paced story, but I had enough questions in my mind that I wanted to see how it ended. Raspberry is a strong character and I enjoyed her determined attitude and wish to make things better for herself and her mom, as well as her loyalty to her friends. I read this one as an e-book from my local library.

As a writer, I’d study this more to see how to create an interesting opening – it puts a question in the reader’s mind right away. I’d also pay attention to the way the author used small details that Raspberry would notice to help develop her character.

Opening Line:

“Some people think I would do anything for money.”

Favourite quotes:

“I try not to do what I always do when dollars grease my palm—smell the money like its chocolate chip cookies straight out the oven.”

“But as long as I got two hands, I ain’t never living in the street no more. Ain’t never gonne be broke, neither.”

“I got too much on my mind to be a thirteen-year-old. That’s what I’m thinking on the bus ride home.”

Other Info:

Sharon Flake went to college to become a pediatrician, but ended up majoring in writing instead.

I love the inspiring message for readers she posted on her website. Here’s a bit of it, but I encourage you to check out the whole thing:

As you read my novels, believe that you can do and accomplish more than you know. After all, you have so many gifts, so many talents, so many opportunities to accomplish what you will. You’re human, so you’ll make mistakes along the way. We all do. But don’t you dare give up on you.”

Other Books by this Author:

The Broken Bike Boy and the Queen of 33rd Street (2007)
Bang! (2005)

Who Am I Without Him? Short Stories About Boys and the Girls in Their Lives (2004)

Begging for Change (2003)

The Skin I'm In (1998)

For more info, visit Sharon Flake’s website.

You can find more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday books by checking out Shannon Messenger’s blog! Shannon is the founder of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and the author of the middle grade novel, Keeper of the Lost Cities.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: A Dog Called Homeless

Today’s Pick: A Dog Called Homeless by Sarah Lean

Published by Katherine Tegen Books, 2012

From Amazon:

Praised by Newbery Medal–winning author Katherine Applegate as "graceful" and "miraculous," this Schneider Family Book Award–winning novel tells how one girl's friendship with a homeless dog mends a family's heart.

Cally Fisher knows she can see her dead mother, but the only other living soul who does is a mysterious wolfhound who always seems to be there when her mom appears. How can Cally convince anyone that her mom is still with the family, or persuade her dad that the huge silver-gray dog belongs with them?

With beautiful, spare writing and adorable animals, A Dog Called Homeless is perfect for readers of favorite middle-grade novels starring dogs, such as Because of Winn-Dixie and Shiloh.

My Take:

I really enjoyed this story, partly because I love stories with dogs in them. But this was much more than just a dog story. This story is about a girl learning to cope with the loss of her mother, trying to hold her family together, and finding her own voice. I loved the friendships Cally made with Jed, a homeless man, and Sam, a boy who is deaf and blind. I will definitely look for more books by this author! I read this one as an e-book from my local library.

I loved the way the author painted images with her words that connected to the feelings she created in the story. This was another story where every word counts.

Opening Line:

“Dad’s birthday, and I got up before anyone.”

Favourite quotes:

“Sometimes you just have to prove people wrong. Sometimes you just want someone to believe you’re more than they think you are.”

“Homeless smelled like a toy rabbit I had when I was little. I laid my head on him, forgot about the time.”

“I already knew then that Sam didn’t see things like we do, that the reason he leaned so close was that that was how the world talked to him—through his skin.”

Other Info:

Sarah Lean lives in Dorset in England with her family and dogs. She started writing when she was around ten years old, but she became a teacher before she started her writing career.

A Dog Called Homeless is her first published novel. On her website, Sarah Lean says, “Inspiration is everywhere, just like stories. For me, the key is to just look, just listen, wherever I am.”

She has this advice for writers: “Expect to get it wrong, again and again. Practice is paramount, expect to learn, love learning.

Other Books by this Author:

The Forever Whale

A Horse for Angel

For more info, visit Sarah Lean’s website.

You can find more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday books by checking out Shannon Messenger’s blog! Shannon is the founder of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and the author of the middle grade novel, Keeper of the Lost Cities.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Cool Blog Quote: Turning a No into a Yes

I love finding inspiring quotes on other writing-related blogs! Here's a great one:

"Assume every editor is looking for a reason to say no. Don't give it to them."

Monica Trasandes, 6 Keys to Revising Your Fiction, Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents Blog.

I've heard this before in different ways from different sources. Right now, I'm immersed in a tough revision. This reminds me to work a little bit harder, to not be satisfied until I've written the best story I can write. I love the other tips in this article too, especially the one about not getting stuck at the beginning.

Sneaking back to my writing now, determined to move on from the place I've been stuck at for several days (it's not the beginning, but it's been holding me up).

Monday, September 16, 2013

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Dot

I know this is a picture book, and not technically targeted for readers of middle grade books. But since International Dot Day was on September 15th and this is a book that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages, I decided to feature it today. If you're a regular follower of my blog, you know I did this last year too, but this book is one that stands up to re-reading! Plus, it’s one of my favourites!

Today’s pick: The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds

Candlewick Press, 2002

Publisher’s Description:

An enchanting invitation to self-expression - from the illustrator of the Judy Moody series

Her teacher smiled. "Just make a mark and see where it takes you."

Art class is over, but Vashti is sitting glued to her chair in front of a blank piece of paper. The words of her teacher are a gentle invitation to express herself. But Vashti can’t draw - she’s no artist. To prove her point, Vashti jabs at a blank sheet of paper to make an unremarkable and angry mark. "There!" she says.

That one little dot marks the beginning of Vashti’s journey of surprise and self-discovery. That special moment is the core of Peter H. Reynolds’s delicate fable about the creative spirit in all of us.

With a simple, witty story and free-spirited illustrations, Peter H. Reynolds entices even the stubbornly uncreative among us to make a mark - and follow where it takes us.

My take:
I think anyone, no matter what their age, can relate to the feeling of not feeling good enough to even try. I know I’ve felt that way as a kid (I was terrible at sports) and sometimes still as a writer (there are days when I want to give up).

This book has many important ideas about taking a chance, practicing, persevering and feeling proud of your accomplishments. I love the idea that something simple like a dot could change someone’s perspective. It’s worthwhile to think about how a bit of encouragement plus some time for thinking and experimenting can lead to something amazing.

I also love the illustrations in this book, the simple lines and beautiful colours seem just right to convey the story’s message.

How I discovered this book:
This book has special meaning to me. As a volunteer at my daughter’s school, I attended an assembly where the principal read this book to the entire school. The principal passed away a year or two later, but when I read the book, I think of him and how caring and fair he was to the students.

Other info:
Peter Reynolds is the illustrator of the Judy Moody series of books. He is also the co-owner of a bookstore, The Blue Bunny, in Dedham, Massachusetts. He has a twin brother named Paul.

The Dot has won many awards, including the Chapman Award for Best Classroom Read-Aloud, Irma S. and James H. Black Honor from the Bank Street College of Education, The Christopher Award, and was named an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award Winner. It is also an animated film by Scholastic/Weston and FableVision.  
On the publisher’s website, there’s a great quote from Peter Reynolds, “…when it comes to expressing yourself, you can invent your own rules.”

Other picture books written and illustrated by this author include:

Rose’s Garden
The North Star
So Few of Me
The Best Kid in the World
My Very Big Little World
Ish (a sequel to The Dot)
Sydney’s Star
For more, visit Peter Reynold’s website or The Dot website.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday was dreamed up by the incredible Shannon Messenger. Visit her blog for an up-to-date list of all the bloggers who are participating and posting about middle grade books today!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Canadian Children's Book Centre Award Finalists

This week, the finalists for the 2013 Canadian Children's Book Centre Awards were announced! These prestigious Canadian book awards are presented in October.  Congratulations to all the nominated authors and illustrators!

This year, there will also be a chance for kids to vote for their favourite from a selection of shortlisted titles for the TD Canadian Children's Literature Fan Choice Award

I was excited to see that a couple of the books I've enjoyed this year as part of my 100 book challenge are up for awards:

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. LarsenNeil Flambé and the Tokyo TreasureMaking Bombs for HitlerSeraphina

And even more exciting, there are other books I haven't read yet! I've been looking for more good middle grade and YA reads. These ones caught my eye:

Shadows Cast by StarsYesterday's DeadViolins of AutumnKids of KabulRescuing the ChildrenOne Year in Coal Harbour

I've also heard a lot about this picture book, but I haven't read it yet:

The Stamp Collector

Actually, all the rest of them look good too. I guess it's off to the library for me this weekend! If you have any other recommendations for me, I'm always on the lookout for good middle grade and YA books to read!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - Cherry Blossom Winter

Today’s Pick: Cherry Blossom Winter by Jennifer Maruno

Published by Dundurn Press, 2012

From Amazon:

Ten-year-old Michiko wants to be proud of her Japanese heritage but can't be. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, her family's possessions are confiscated and they are forced into deprivation in a small, insular community. The men are sent to work on the railway, so the women and children are left to make the trip on their own.

After a former Asahi baseball star becomes her new teacher, life gets better. Baseball fever hits town, and when Michiko challenges the adults to a game with her class, the whole town turns out.

Then the government announces that they must move once again. But they can't think of relocating with a new baby coming, even with the offer of free passage to Japan. Michiko pretends to be her mother and writes to get a job for her father on a farm in Ontario. When he is accepted, they again pack their belongings and head to a new life in Ontario.

My Take:

It was interesting to learn about the life of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War, especially through Michiko’s eyes. This is a quiet novel but I liked the sense of family and the details about life in a different time and place. This book is the second in a series of three about Michiko’s life. After finding this second book at the library, now I'd like to read the first one!

I admired the writing style, especially the way the author wove in memories to develop the characters and background for the story. Details are carefully chosen to enhance and not overwhelm the writing.

Opening Line:

“Michiko,” her mother called up the back staircase, “please come down.”

Favourite quotes:

“Their whole life changed because of the stupid war. It made her burn with indignation when she thought about it.”

“There seemed to be hope in Kiko’s words but Michiko didn’t believe her. The chances of her family leaving town were as slim as a ghost.”

“Michiko carried the spade. She stepped across the grass, careful not to tread on anyone’s bones.”

Other Info:

Jennifer Maruno started writing in grade 3, creating stories for a make believe Daily Planet newspaper and entering writing contests. She won a tour of a pickle factory and a year supply of pickles!

She lives near Toronto and used to be a school principal. As a teacher and principal, she created curriculum materials for teaching math using literature. Now she writes full time. The idea for her story came from the memories and photographs of her mother-in-law.

On her website, Jennifer Maruno has some wonderful advice for writers: “you have to learn the craft - not a formula”. She also suggests “you have to hang out with writers - they are the only ones in the world that really understand what you do”.

Other Books Include:

Kid Soldier


When the Cherry Blossoms Fell

War Bird


For more info, visit Jennifer Maruno’swebsite.


Marvelous Middle Grade Monday was dreamed up by the incredible Shannon Messenger. Visit her blog for an up-to-date list of all the bloggers who are participating and posting about middle grade books today!


Friday, September 6, 2013

Resources for Writing Better Picture Books

A couple of weeks ago, I participated in the online writing conference, WriteOnCon 2013 and I decided to check out what it had to offer for picture book writers. There were these specific posts:

Does Your Picture Book Premise Have Promise? by author Jean Reidy

Making Picturebooks: A List of the Top 5 Things I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me… by author Lindsay Ward

Rhythm and Rhyme by author Debbie Diesen

There was also a forum where you could post your query, first 250 words and first 5 pages (in many cases this is the entire story) and get feedback from other writers. Reading through the forums gave me a sense of:

a) the kinds of stories other writers are working on and different ways to handle a concept or idea

b) examples of how to structure a picture book pitch or query letter and the kinds of things to watch out for

It was a great place to connect with other picture book writers.

I ended up making changes to strengthen two query letters, as well as changing the beginning of a manuscript to improve the opening, based on feedback from other writers. So I felt like it was a worthwhile experience, considering I didn't have to go anywhere to attend.

The key to having a good experience with this online conference was to plan on learning as much as possible and to make an effort to connect with other writers. I appreciated the chance to really think about why some stories worked and made me laugh, and why others seemed flat and in need of more work.

What resources have you explored lately that are helping to improve your picture book writing?