Monday, December 29, 2014

Writing Achievements from 2014

Children's author Julie Hedlund challenged participants of her 12 Days of Christmas for Writers series to post their writing successes on their blogs this year. She believes the way New Year's resolutions are traditionally made come from a place of negativity - what DIDN'T get done or achieved in the previous year.  Instead, she suggests we set goals for the new year that BUILD on our achievements. With that in mind, I've been thinking about my writing achievements from 2014:

1. In January, I signed up for Julie Hedlund's 12 x 12 (12 picture books in 12 months), with the goal of writing more picture book manuscripts. Although I didn't write one for each month, I did write more manuscripts than I would have otherwise. Most importantly, I re-discovered how much I love writing picture books!!

2. During the summer, I finished a draft of a new middle grade novel that I wrote "just for fun".

3. I also participated in Teachers Write with Kate Messner, Jen Vincent and Gae Polisner, which was a lot of fun and helped me with the new (still untitled) novel I wrote. 

4. I watched and worked through the PlotWriMo video series by literary agent Jill Corcoran and the "Plot Whisperer" Martha Alderson, to develop a deeper understanding of the process of revision.

5. In the fall, I revised another middle grade novel, Wild Girl Genius, the story of a city girl who stumbles into a wilderness adventure trip.

6. I attended CANSCAIP's Packaging Your Imagination conference to learn more about writing and connect with other writers and illustrators. 

7. In November, I participated in PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) organized by author Tara Lazar, and I completed the challenge by coming up with one idea every day.

8. I also bravely tweeted my pitch for Wild Girl Genius on #PitMad: When a TV wilderness show audition goes horribly wrong, city-girl Jade must use all her survival skills to get home alive.

When I took time to think about all of my writing-related accomplishments from 2014, it surprised me a little. In many ways, 2014 was a difficult year, yet I still managed to continue to develop and grow as a writer. What did you accomplish this year? I hope you feel good about your writing and reading successes!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Dreaming of a White Christmas...

The dogs and are I still hoping we'll see a little snow for Christmas... perfect for cozy-ing up inside with some new bones...and books (I hope).

But while we're dreaming and hoping, I'll be busy finishing off my last bit of shopping, hanging out with my girls, playing lots of board games and of course, going for walks. So I'm probably not going to be posting again (or doing much writing) until the New Year.

Wishing you a happy holiday! Enjoy, have fun and make lots of special memories!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Learning from Picture Books: This is a Moose

This book is so much fun! The publisher’s description calls it hilarious and I definitely agree. 

Here's the summary from Amazon:

Lights! Camera! Moose!

MOOSE? Yes, Moose! When a movie director tries to capture the life of a moose on film, he's in for a big surprise. It turns out the moose has a dream bigger then just being a moose--he wants to be an astronaut and go to the moon.

His forest friends step in to help him, and action ensues. Lots of action. Like a lacrosse-playing grandma, a gigantic slingshot into space, and a flying, superhero chipmunk.

In this hilarious romp, Richard T. Morris and bestselling illustrator Tom Lichtenheld remind us to dream big and, when we do, to aim for the moon.

This is a Moose, written by Richard T. Morris and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld, was first published in 2014 by Little, Brown and Company.,

My thoughts as a writer:

This book is a conversation between a director (unseen for most of the story) and the narrator as well as the Moose and a couple of other animal characters. It’s a great concept that is executed with lots of humor and surprises. There were a lot of interesting characters, especially Grandma Moose. 

This book shows a real partnership between the work of the author, the illustrator and the book designer. The text that is told through speech bubbles changes color, size and font to reflect the emotions of the unseen director.

My thoughts as a teacher:

Children will love the humor in this book! There is a wonderful message about being persistent and following your own dreams, though the message is subtle and secondary to the fun. It also would provide an opportunity to talk about animals and how they are adapted for their own habitats.

A fun activity related to this book might be to have students create their own short story about an animal of their choice that doesn’t act as expected in their own movie (involving research about their animal to find out what it’s normal behaviour would be). Another idea might be to take one of the characters in the story and think about what its secret dream might be and write or draw a picture about it.

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.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Fourteenth Goldfish

Since I have two daughters that both love science, I was happy to find this entertaining and science-related story. I wasn’t sure I'd like a story about a grandfather transforming to the age of 13, but the characters hooked me and I ended up really enjoying this one!

Here’s the Amazon description:
Believe in the possible!

Believe in the possible . . . with this "warm, witty, and wise" novel from New York Times bestseller, three-time Newbery Honor winner Jennifer L. Holm

Galileo. Newton. Salk. Oppenheimer.

Science can change the world . . . but can it go too far?

Eleven-year-old Ellie has never liked change. She misses fifth grade. She misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish. Then one day a strange boy shows up. He’s bossy. He’s cranky. And weirdly enough . . . he looks a lot like Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist who’s always been slightly obsessed with immortality. Could this pimply boy really be Grandpa Melvin? Has he finally found the secret to eternal youth?

With a lighthearted touch and plenty of humor, Jennifer Holm celebrates the wonder of science and explores fascinating questions about life and death, family and friendship, immortality . . . and possibility.

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm, Random House, 2014

My Take:

I didn’t know what to expect from the title, but I soon got interested in finding out more about Ellie and her scientific grandpa. Their characters really drew me in and kept me reading. I also enjoyed the different subplots related to Ellie and her friends and family. This story encouraged me to think about bigger issues of life and death, how we treat older people in our society and the way time moves on. I especially liked the science connections and Ellie’s thoughts about them.

I loved the simplicity and strength of the writing in this book. I could hear Ellie’s voice in my head while I was reading! I also admired the way the author was able to blend in back story and plot information in a subtle way that didn’t interrupt the flow.

Opening Line:

“When I was in preschool, I had a teacher named Starlily.”


“Maybe this part of me—the science part—was there all along, like the seeds of an apple. I just needed someone to water it, help it grow.”

“As my grandfather drones on, I wonder: shouldn’t there be a “law of friendship” that if you’re friends with someone practically your whole life, you can’t just suddenly stop and change directions without the other person?”

“But I think what you wear on Halloween is important. It says something about you—who you are and what you want to be.”

Other Info:

As a child, Jennifer liked to read all the time – even when doing chores such as raking leaves (this definitely reminds me of my daughters).

She collaborates with her brother Matthew Holm on the Baby Mouse graphic novel series and the Squish graphic novel series.

Her other books include:

Turtle in Paradise
Penny from Heaven
The May Amelia series
The Boston Jane series
The Creek

For more, visit Jennifer L. Holm’s website at

Looking for more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday books? Visit ShannonMessenger’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, December 4, 2014

Learning from Picture Books: How to Babysit a Grandpa

Today's feature is a good model for writers who are interested in including lists in their picture books. It's also a lot of fun for primary teachers to include in a unit on families.

Here's the summary from Amazon:

New York Times bestselling picture book about a child spending time with his grandpa. Written in a how-to style, the narrator gives important tips for "babysitting" a grandpa, including what to eat for snack (anything dipped in ketchup, ice cream topped with cookies, cookies topped with ice cream) what to do on a walk (find lizards and dandelion puffs, be on the lookout for puddles and sprinklers), and how to play with a grandpa (build a pirate cave, put on a scary play). 

Filled with humor, energy, and warmth, this is a great gift for or from a grandparent, and perfect for lap reading when Grandpa comes to visit!

How to Babysit a Grandpa by Jean Reagan and Lee Wildlish was  first published in 2012 by Alfred A. Knopf.

My thoughts as a writer:

This is another example of a picture book that takes a simple idea—spending time with Grandpa—and turns it into something special using the concept of a how-to or “instruction manual.”  Even though the idea was simple, there was a lot of humor in this story with all the lists and funny illustrations to go with them. 

It was really sweet how the book circled back to the beginning at the end when the parents came home, and touching when the child had to say goodbye to Grandpa.  I can see why this book became a bestseller. The end papers of the book are filled with cute “snapshots” of the child spending time with grandpa.

My thoughts as a teacher:

I’d love to read this to my students during an investigation of families, as a way to spark discussion about special relationships with family members and different special activities students do with family members. This book is full of fun lists that would provide a great introduction to list-making as a form of writing, which could be followed up by students writing their own funny “how-to lists.” 

A great companion to read would be the follow up book, How to Babysit a Grandma, by the same author-illustrator team. This would provide opportunities to compare and contrast the stories, as well as for discussion about individual differences and preferences.

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.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Hidden Agenda of Sigrid Sugden

I can't remember reading another book about a bully trying to change their ways. I was intrigued right from the beginning. This is a novel that really makes you think, but also one that hooks you and keeps you reading until the end.

Jill MacLean
Here’s the Amazon description:

Sigrid Sugden is a Shrike, a member of one of the toughest group of girls in school. They are experts at blackmail, extortion and bullying their terrorized classmates.

But one day, the Shrikes go too far. Sigrid realizes that their favourite victim, Prinny Murphy, is in real danger. She makes a decision that will save Prinny from danger but will turn the Shrikes anger and bullying against the former friend who betrayed them to the authorities.

For Sigrid, this is a transformative moment. She wants to be a better person and begins to reflect on the events that led to her being a Shrike. Participating in their mean pranks made her feel powerful and safe. But now, she realizes she needs and wants to turn over a new leaf - make new friends and be kinder to others. But overcoming her bad girl image is a whole lot harder to do than she originally thought. No one likes her, no one trusts her - no one is willing to give her a second chance. But then an unlikely ally comes forward to help her convince the rest of the students at school that she really does want to be a better person - her former victim, Prinny Murphy.

The Hidden Agenda of Sigrid Sugden by Jill MacLean, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2013

My Take:

I got very wrapped up in this story. Some parts surprised me and other parts reminded me how cruel kids can be towards each other and others. I wasn’t sure I liked Sigrid at the beginning, but by the end, I was rooting for her. The characters and situations in this story are realistic and take the reader on an emotional journey. This is a fast-paced story that didn’t take too long to read. It's not a book to turn to if you want a happy ending with everything tied up neatly, but it had a realistic and hopeful ending that left me thinking. It would be a great book to read with a class to discuss issues related to bullying.

The writer in me admired the way the author managed to dig right in to difficult issues and convey the struggle and emotion the character faced. This novel is written in first-person, so it’s a good one to study to see how to create a unique character voice.

Opening Line:

“Show her the photo, Sigrid,” Tate says.”


“It feels like the walls are closing in on me, the air so stale I can scarce breathe.”

“The dandelions smear into yellow streaks as I hit the ground.”

“Crazy, I know, major crazy, but fears are fears because they grasp you by the throat, not by the brain cells.”

Other Info:

Jill MacLean lives in Nova Scotia, Canada.

This is the third book in Jill MacLean’s trilogy of books set in Newfoundland. The others are The Nine Lives of Travis Keating and The Present Tense of Prinny Murphy. She has also written two YA books.

This book is shortlisted for The Manitoba Young Readers' Choice Award, 2015 and is also a 2015 Silver Birch Fiction nominee.

For more, visit Jill MacLean’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, November 20, 2014

Courses for Picture Book Writers

Lately, I've noticed that there are so many courses and resources for children's writers springing up everywhere--especially for picture book writers! Sometimes it's hard to decide which ones to spend your money on, so I thought I'd share a little about what I've found useful. Today, I'm posting about courses on picture book writing.

Courses I've Taken:

Jill Corcoran and Martha Alderson's How To Write and Sell Your Picture Book

Jill Corcoran is a literary agent and Martha Alderson is otherwise known as "The Plot Whisperer". The reasonable price of this course during the summer made it too good to pass up. I'd already purchased and watched their course on novel revision Revise Your Novel In a Month and found it extremely useful. The picture book course provides lots of examples of picture books to read and study to improve your craft, as well as how to study them. I appreciated all the information about concept, since it's such a big part of creating a picture book.

Some of the principles in this course were the same as for the novel revision course, but they gave me a new perspective when applied to picture books. I like the idea of being able to revisit the videos as many times as I want for a year.

Courses I'm Considering:

Jodell Sadler's Pacing Picture Books to WOW!

Jodell Sadler is a literary agent who enjoys working with writers to help them improve their stories. I'm intrigued by this course after following a picture book chat with Jodell on Twitter: Pacing in Picture Books #PBPacing last May.  

Susanna Leonard Hill's Making Picture Book Magic

Susanna Leonard Hill has a huge following on her popular blog, with weekly "Would You Read It?" pitch contests and a list of great picture books from Perfect Picture Book Friday. I've heard her course is excellent -- and reasonably priced -- though I haven't had a chance to take it yet.

Tips and Suggestions: 

Sometimes taking courses takes valuable time away from actually writing (though many courses do help you work through the process of writing a picture book). However, they are enormously motivating and inspiring. Some of the things I ask myself when deciding whether or not to take a course:

1. Will I have time to make the most out of the course? Sometimes I do take courses just to "collect information" but it's better when I have time to actually work through the exercises. Work-at-your-own pace or online courses are easier to fit in, but will I actually do the work without a real deadline?

2. How much does it cost? I appreciate that it's necessary to invest in myself and my writing if I want it to be more than a hobby. But it's important to me that the courses I choose give good value for the money. With writing group organizations to join, conferences, all adds up.

3. What do other people say about it? I like to read reviews about what others have experienced so I know what I'm getting into. It helps me keep my expectations realistic and also to decide whether it might be valuable for me.

Have you taken any useful courses on writing picture books? What would you recommend?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Swift Boys and Me

If you enjoy a book where you get attached to the characters and their problems, then this is a good one for you. It’s all about a family falling apart and how one girl tries to deal with it.

Here’s the Amazon description:

Eleven-year-old Nola Sutton has been best friends and neighbors with the Swift boys for practically her whole life. There's the youngest, Kevin, who never stops talking; the oldest, Brian, who's always kind and calm; and then there's Canaan, the ringleader and Nola's best-best friend. Together, they have a summer of fun adventures planned.

But then everything changes overnight.

When the boys' dad leaves without even saying good-bye, it completely destroys the Swift family, and all Nola can do is watch. She tries to hold on to them, but they are changing. Kevin stops talking, Canaan starts hanging out with mean boys, and Brian is never around. Nola just wants things to go back to the way they were -- the way they've always been.

Is Nola strong enough to save the Swift boys from themselves, or has she lost them forever?

The Swift Boys and Me by Kody Keplinger, Scholastic, 2014

My Take:

I liked the slightly different take on this story about family in this novel. Nola wants to help her best friends (who are boys) but everything is changing for them, and for her. She’s also trying to raise some money for a visit to the circus. I thought the characters were quite realistic – they all had different personalities and no one was perfect. 

I especially liked the subplot of Nola becoming friendlier with her grandmother, even though at the beginning she was using visits to her grandmother as an excuse to do some spying.

Opening Line:

“I never told the boys I saw their daddy leave that night.”


“I imagined tiny little Kevin in the boys’ dark closet, curled up in a ball on the floor. The thought made me want to cry.”

“I woke up to the sound of firecrackers down the street, and for the first time in my life, it didn’t make me smile.”

“Since Felicia was brave enough to be honest with me, I decided to be honest with her, too. I hoped she’d take it okay.”

Other Info:

Kody Keplinger lives in New York City with her German Shepherd. The Swift Boys and Me is her first published middle grade book. 

She’s also written several YA books, including The Duff and Secrets and Lies. She was 17 when she sold her first book, The Duff.

Check out Kody’s vlog about The Swift Boys and Me.

Author Shannon Messenger posts a list of bloggers reviewing middle grade books every Monday. Shannon is the founder of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and the author of the Keeper of the Lost Cities series.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Learning from Picture Books: One Cool Friend

This book has so many layers! It's fun to think about as a writer, from the perspective of character and plot, but it's also a good one to engage students and provoke discussion.

Here's the summary from in case you haven't read it yet: 

On a spontaneous visit to the aquarium, straight-laced and proper Elliot discovers his dream pet: a penguin. When he asks his father if he may have one (please and thank you), his father says yes. Elliot should have realized that Dad was probably thinking of a toy penguin, not a real one… Clever illustrations and a wild surprise ending make this sly, silly tale a kid-pleaser from start to finish.

One Cool Friend, written by Tony Buzzeo, illustrated by David Small, published by Dial Books for Young Readers, 2012

My Thoughts as a Writer:

Elliot’s quirky personality is clear right from the first page of this book. I love the line where he finds the penguins: “In their black feather tuxedos with their proper posture, they reminded Elliot of himself.”  The plot had surprising twists that kept me reading to find out what would happen next. And I thought Elliot’s relationship with his father was realistic and really helped create another interesting layer for the story. 

This is a good book to study to learn about story layers and plot twists. It’s fun to go back through the story and look at the clues in the illustrations that point towards the ending.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

My students would enjoy the humor in this story and the idea of ‘fooling Dad’, which of course is proven out differently in the end. This book would be a fun one to read when talking about penguins, aquarium visits or habitats and how to care for a living creature. And it’s a great story to show how the writer and illustrator used their imaginations. 

A good activity for this book would be for students to think of an animal they’d like to take home from the zoo or aquarium and think about how their own environment would have to change to support the animal. Students could also investigate the explorers Magellan and Captain Cook, and look for places mentioned in the story on a map, e.g. Great Barrier Reef, the Galapagos Islands.

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.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Ice Dogs

I’ve been waiting for my library to get this book for a very long time! It was well worth the wait. I enjoyed this book so much I’ll probably buy a copy for myself.

Here's the description from Amazon:

Victoria Secord, a fourteen-year-old Alaskan dogsled racer, loses her way on a routine outing with her dogs. With food gone and temperatures dropping, her survival and that of her dogs and the mysterious boy she meets in the woods is entirely up to her.

The author Terry Lynn Johnson is a musher herself, and her crackling writing puts readers at the reins as Victoria and Chris experience setbacks, mistakes, and small triumphs in their wilderness adventure.

Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson, Houghton Mifflin, 2014

My Take:

This book was fast-paced and the action kept me wondering whether Victoria would survive. I also liked the storyline that followed her growing friendship with the “city boy” and how the two of them learned to get along as the story developed. Even though Victoria is 14 and this is listed as YA, I think it’s a good read for older MG students, especially if they are interested in dogs or survival, with a touch of romance.

The author was so successful at bringing the setting to life using details and lovely language! As a writer, I’d read this again to study the language and how every word counts.

Opening Line:

“All eight of my dogs are stretched in front of me in pairs along the gangline.”


“I see the cloudless night sky lighting our campsite with the glow from the stars and half a moon.”

“My legs feel rooted to the trail and for an awful second, all I see is black.”

“The ice around us tinkles and creaks like glass.”

Other Info:

Terry Lynn Johnson lives in Northern Ontario, where she works as a Conservation Officer. Ice Dogs was inspired by a team of crazy huskies she used to have. 

In an interview with Natalie Aguirre at Literary Rambles, Terry says she doesn't like giving writing advice because her process is different every time. But she does give this tip: “…one thing I do each time is try to keep questions in the readers mind. Adding answers slowly throughout the story is one way of rewarding a reader.

Terry Lynn Johnson’s first book, Dogsled Dreams, is about twelve-year old Rebecca and her goal of becoming a famous sled dog racer. I’m looking forward to reading it one day!

For more, visit Terry Lynn Johnson’s website

Looking for more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday books? Author Shannon Messenger posts a weekly list of bloggers reviewing great middle grade books. Shannon is the founder of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and the author of the Keeper of the Lost Cities series.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Celebrate Picture Books and Inspire Imagination!

November is Picture Book Month, "an international literacy initiative that celebrates the print picture book during the month of November."

Different members of the literary community are posting their thoughts on the importance of picture books on the Picture Book Month blog.

Some examples:

Chris Barton: "...the subject of a picture book can introduce moms, dads, and little ones alike to unfamiliar faces of our fascinating world, which in turn can lead to some pretty marvelous conversations between generations."

Kelly Bingham: "Picture books teach us--young and old alike--lessons about ourselves, our world, our feelings, our realities."

Stefan Jolet: "Picture books unlock children's imaginations and inspire them."

And if you love writing picture books, the way I do, November is doubly exciting because it's also PiBoIdMo, Picture Book Idea Month! Author Tara Lazar created this fun challenge for picture book writers as an alternative to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

Participants try to come up with one idea for a picture book story on every day of the month. This year, I'm keeping track of my ideas on a calendar, and so far, I haven't had any trouble getting at least one idea per day. Some days, I end up with two or three. Too bad I don't have time to create a book for them all!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Ooooo, It Is Scary on Hallowe'en Night!

Happy Hallowe'en!

It's a great time to get story ideas, too, with all the possibilities for secret identities and disguises, all the sights and sounds and smells. [I wrote the short story The Scary Spell, around this time last year.] Wishing you lots of yummy treats and Hallowe'en adventures!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Swallow

With Halloween just around the corner, why not read a ghost story? I enjoyed this surprising and spooky story about two neighbours. I borrowed the e-book from my local library.

From Amazon:

In 1960s Toronto, two girls retreat to their attics to escape the loneliness and isolation of their lives. Polly lives in a house bursting at the seams with people, while Rose is often left alone by her busy parents. Polly is a down-to-earth dreamer with a wild imagination and an obsession with ghosts; Rose is a quiet, ethereal waif with a sharp tongue.
Despite their differences, both girls spend their days feeling invisible and seek solace in books and the cozy confines of their respective attics. But soon they discover they aren't alone--they're actually neighbors, sharing a wall.
They develop an unlikely friendship, and Polly is ecstatic to learn that Rose can actually see and talk to ghosts. Maybe she will finally see one too! But is there more to Rose than it seems? Why does no one ever talk to her? And why does she look so... ghostly? When the girls find a tombstone with Rose's name on it in the cemetery and encounter an angry spirit in her house who seems intent on hurting Polly, they have to unravel the mystery of Rose and her strange family... before it's too late.
The Swallow by Charis Cotter, Tundra Books, 2014

My Take:

From the beginning, I was intrigued by the idea that one of the girls was able to see ghosts. The mystery of the angry ghost and what exactly the connections were between the ghosts and the girls kept me reading!

This story was told from two different points of view, which is always a challenge for a writer. To learn from this book, I’d look more closely to see how the writer used these different points of view to keep the story unfolding, and ways that she worked to keep them distinct.

Opening Line:

“There’s no place for me. I’m getting squeezed out of my own house.”


“I’m always trying to become invisible in this house, trying to find the one place I can be myself where no one can bother me.”

“It would surprise a lot of people in the world if they found out what ghosts are really like.”

“She was wearing her long black dress with the white collar and staring at my father with that same, hungry, longing look that I recognized from the eyes of every ghost I had ever seen.”

“Cold from the stone steps was seeping up through my cloak and turning me to ice.”

Visit Newfoundland author Charis Cotter at her website:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Tidbits from CANSCAIP's Packaging Your Imagination 2014

There's nothing like a conference to inspire your writing! Last Saturday I attended the Packaging Your Imagination conference held by the Canadian Society for Authors, Illustrators and Performers. Not only did I get to see my super-amazing MiG Writer friend, Debbie Ridpath Ohi, I met lots of other aspiring writers, illustrators and reconnected with a writer/puppeteer I met last year.  I also got to soak in so much writerly wisdom it will take weeks for me to absorb it all. Some tidbits:

Details: How Little Things Bring Your Writing to Life
Erin Bow, author of Plain Kate and Sorrow's Knot reminded us: "Good details are the heart of good storytelling."

I loved all her strategies for using details to draw the reader's attention to what is important in the story. You can read about how she uses a ladder system to match the level of detail to the emotional intensity of a scene in an interview with Erin for the CANSCAIP blog.

After this session, I decided to add another level to my revision process!

Arc is a Four-Letter Word: Plot Structure for the Architecturally Challenged

Lesley Livingston, author of the Wondrous Strange series, the Never series, and the Starling saga provided another perspective on plotting and how it really all stems from character and setting.

"Make your setting a character. Use that to drive your story and your character's journey through your story."

She highly recommends drawing a map and finding interesting places in your story world to build into the plot.

This was a refreshing approach for many of us who feel overwhelmed by all the pointy triangles in traditional plotting diagrams.

Whose Voice Is It, Anyway?

According to Shelley Tanaka, long time fiction editor of Groundwood Books, one of the biggest distractions when reading children's book submissions is when the narrator steps out of the child's voice. An important question to ask is: "Would a child say or think this?"

She pointed out that adults are often more sentimental than children are and that's one way the adult perspective can intrude into the child's voice.

"Good writing is not random: It involves artistic decisions, big and small, and the decisions you make about voice may be the most important of all."

Lightning Rods, Agents & Book Deals: Building Your Personal Brand

Though I didn't get to attend this session with my writing buddy Debbie Ridpath Ohi, I heard it was very useful! You can catch some of the details on the CANSCAIP blog. Debbie is the illustrator of I'm Bored, Naked! and the author-illustrator of the forthcoming, Where Are My Books? She has also posted her take on the Packaging Your Imagination conference with lots of visuals.

Keynote: Confessions of a Word Nerd

It was so much fun to laugh along with Susin Nielsen, author of the forthcoming We Are All Made of Molecules as well as Word Nerd, Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom and The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen.

She talked about loving reading, emotional memories and perseverance.

"Everything we write, it only makes us better."

Monday, October 20, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Who What Wear

It might seem like I just featured the first book in this series, The Allegra Biscotti Collection. But when you find a book you really enjoy, don’t you rush off to look for another book by the same author? I got this paperback from my public library and enjoyed it as much as the first one!

From Amazon:

Emma Rose is SO not famous.

So how did she score inside information on the most talked-about party of the year? Because Emma is secretly the hottest new fashion designer-Allegra Biscotti-and hired to whip up a Sweet Sixteen dress for the guest of honor. emergency! How can she create a fiercely fashionable dress and keep her secret? There's only one solution: Emma must go undercover-as her own intern!

But when Emma feels the pressure by her BFF to explain how she got an invite from the in-crowd and an ultra-fabulous fashion internship-just when Jackson finally starts paying attention to her-she knows she has to make it work...

...or will it all come apart at the seams?

Who What Wear: The Allegra Biscotti Collection #2, Olivia Bennett, Sourcebooks, 2010.

My Take:

In this book, the story continues as Emma tries to keep her big secret from her best friend, Holly. She’s comes under even more pressure when she’s hired to design a sweet sixteen party dress for a popular girl at her school. I really enjoyed reading about all the fashion details, complete with small illustrations to show Emma’s ideas. A great read for girls who are interested in fashion. [Also see my thoughts on The Allegra Biscotti Collection #1.]

As a writer, this is a good one to study to see how to use small details to show the world from the character’s perspective. Emma is always noticing fashion colours, details and accessories, and it really adds to the believeability of her character.

Opening Line:

“Emma Rose dug through the pile of clothing. Soft, caramel-colored herringbone wool pants. Plum, cap-sleeved silk cocktail dress. Camel, V-neck cashmere sweater. Totally luxe, but totally boring.”


“She could—and sometimes did—spend all day wandering the cramped aisles, drinking in the sight and touch and smell of the silks and the poplins, the eyelets and brocades, the crisp cottons and flowing chiffons.”

“This woman couldn’t actually be suggesting she make Rylan’s dress that totally cringe-worthy shade of the mold that grew on the bagels her mom kept on the counter too long.”

“All you can do is be true to yourself, trust your instincts, and let the rest fall into place.”

For another opinion on this book, check out this review from BookLoons.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

2015 Forest of Reading Nominees!

For the past few years, I've been following and trying to read some of the fiction nominees for the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading. Every year kids across Canada read the nominated books and vote for their favourites in the spring. Nominees for the 2015 awards were announced yesterday. This year, my goal is to read all of the Silver Birch nominees (fiction for grades 3 - 6) and all of the Blue Spruce nominees (picture books for grades JK - 2). 

I'm excited about these lists, because I haven't read any of them yet! These are the nominees for the 2015 Silver Birch Award: 

The Creature Department - Robert Paul Weston

Dial M for Morna – The Dead Kid Detective Agency - Evan Munday

The Hidden Agenda of Sigrid Sugden -  Jill MacLean

The Madman of Piney Woods - Christopher Paul Curtis

Me & Mr. Bell - Philip Roy

Night Gardner - Jonathan Auxier

Red Wolf -  Jennifer Dance

Saving Houdini - Michael Redhill

September 17: A Novel - Amanda West Lewis

Striker - David Skuy

Here are the nominees for the 2015 Blue Spruce Award:

The Day my Mom Came to Kindergarten - Maureen Fergus

The Highest Number in the World - Roy Macgregor

Kenta and the Big Wave - Ruth Ohi

Loula is Leaving for Africa - Anne Villeneuve

The Man with the Violin - Kathy Stinson

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress - Christine Baldacchino

The Most Magnificent Thing - Ashley Spires

My Blue is Happy - Jessica Young

Oddrey and the New Kid - Dave Whamond

Young Frank, Architect - Frank Viva

Congratulations to all the nominees!

You can find summaries of the novels on the Silver Birch nominee page at the OLA Forest of Reading website. Summaries of 

the picture books are listed on the Blue Spruce nominee page at the OLA Forest of Reading website.