Thursday, July 30, 2015

Podcast Picks for Children's Writers July 2015 - Social media tips + writing non-fiction

Social Media Tips for Writers with Frances Caballo – The Creative Penn Episode Episode #225


I learned a ton of new stuff about social media in this interview with Frances Caballo from

My thoughts:

Probably one of the most useful podcasts I’ve ever listened to!! 

Lots of great information here about using social media, no matter what level of experience you have. Afterward, I immediately checked out Frances Caballo’s blog. I really love that this is geared specifically for writers. I also noticed that she has her own podcast for writers.

Frances Caballo: "So images are really important and because we have a short attention span, images are easier to absorb than text."

In case you don’t have time to download the podcast, The Creative Penn always posts a transcript – very useful in this case for finding all the resources Frances mentions.

Miranda Paul: The Long Journey of Storymaking - The Picturebooking Podcast Episode #31


Miranda Paul is an author of two amazing new non-fiction picture books (ONE PLASTIC BAG and WATER IS WATER). She is also doing some amazing work for children’s literature through SCBWI, and We Need Diverse Books.

My thoughts:

Hearing Miranda Paul talk about her books with host Nick Patton left me inspired to think about my own writing goals. It was so interesting how her books have developed from her own experiences and philosophy about life. I especially enjoyed listening to her read a short excerpt from her book WATER IS WATER. It reminded me of how fun it is to come up with new angles for traditional subjects, in this case, the water cycle. 

The excerpt also convinced me that her book would be a great addition to my classroom library!

On a side note, I have used Miranda's and found it very useful for finding out about strengths and weaknesses of my manuscripts.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - Kinda Like Brothers

Summer is speeding by! Even though I was hoping to catch up and even get ahead on my Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts, I find I'm doing more writing than reading. This book appealed to me because I didn't know much about what it would be like to be part of a foster family.  

Here’s the Amazon description:

Jarrett doesn't trust Kevon.

But he's got to share a room with him anyway.

It was one thing when Jarrett's mom took care of foster babies who needed help. But this time it's different. This time the baby who needs help has an older brother -- a kid Jarrett's age named Kevon.

Everyone thinks Jarrett and Kevon should be friends -- but that's not gonna happen. Not when Kevon's acting like he's better than Jarrett -- and not when Jarrett finds out Kevon's keeping some major secrets.

Jarrett doesn't think it's fair that he has to share his room, his friends, and his life with some stranger. He's gotta do something about it -- but what?

From award-winning author Coe Booth, KINDA LIKE BROTHERS is the story of two boys who really don't get along -- but have to find a way to figure it out.

Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth, published by Scholastic Press, New York in 2014.

My Take:

This is a strong contemporary novel with realistic characters and problems. The characters came alive for me, especially the main character, Jarrett. I really enjoyed his project of making a horror movie trailer. Since I have two brothers, I could relate to the struggles he had to get along with Kevon. It was fun reading about his attempts to impress Caprice. 

For writers, this is a great example of a novel with an authentic voice. The author blended in real world issues in a very natural way.

Opening Line:

“He’s leaving. Kevon. He’s in the corner of the room, throwing stuff in that stupid army bag he got, trying to be real quiet.”


“I wished they would let me read the kinda stuff I wanted to read. Like, if I could have a book about horror movies or something like that, I would do good on all the tests.”

“Sometimes a guy had to do big things for the girl he loved.”

 “The truth is, my brain was spilling over, like lava coming outta a volcano, all because of what I’d heard on that laptop.”

Other Info:

Coe Booth is a full-time writer and part-time writing teacher, living in the Bronx.

Kinda Like Brothers is her first middle grade novel, but she has written three other YA novels.

In an interview at EI Space – The Blog of L. Marie, Coe Booth says: “My hope is that I can write something that can grab kids who don’t like to read and possibly change the way they think about books, too.”

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Learning from Picture Books - Kenta and the Big Wave

This book was on the list of nominees for the Blue Spruce Award from the Ontario Library Association this year, but I was absent the day the librarian read it with my class. I'm sorry I missed all the interesting discussion that undoubtedly took place! I'm so glad I can share it here, because it would be a wonderful addition to any classroom or school library. 

Here’s the summary from Amazon:
Ruth Ohi

When tragedy strikes Kenta's small village in Japan, he does all he can to hang on to the things that matter to him most. But amidst the chaos of an emergency evacuation brought on by the tsunami, Kenta and his family must quickly leave their home. Climbing to safer ground, Kenta watches helplessly as his prized soccer ball goes bouncing down a hill and gets swept away by the waves, never to be seen again... that is until it washes up on a beach on the other side of the world, into the hands of a child who takes it upon himself to return the ball to its rightful owner.

In this evocative picture book, Ruth Ohi's glowing art transports the reader to Japan with gentle images that offer reassurance amidst the background of an environmental catastrophe. Inspired by true stories of personal items being washed ashore thousands of miles away after the tsunami of 2011, Kenta and The Big Wave is about the strength of the human spirit and the power of Mother Nature. An afterword explains tsunamis to young readers.

Kenta and the Big Wave was written and illustrated by Ruth Ohi, published by Annick Press, 2015.

My thoughts as a writer:

The opening line drew me in: “When Kenta heard the warning siren, he ran to school.” The text has a lovely, poetic rhythm that fits with the serious mood of the story. I really liked the subtle way this story showed how people triumph by making do as best they can. It shows children that even though the world is much bigger than they can imagine, they can make a difference to another person.

My thoughts as a teacher:

This would be a thought-provoking story to read and discuss with students or your child. It could be used to start a discussion on many different topics:
-  tsunamis and geological-related events
-  what life is like in Japan or other cultures
- what other things might be floating in the ocean (and the environment).
-  ways to be kind

Themes: tsunamis, kindness, global awareness

Ages: 4 – 7

Grades: preschool - 2

Follow-Up Activities:

Visit Ruth Ohi's website to try a message writing activity. 

Make a list of other things that might be washed away during a tsunami. Think about what you might be able to do to help.

Draw or write about something important to you that you would miss if you lost it.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - We Are All Made of Molecules

This is one of my favourite middle grade reads so far this year!

Here’s the Amazon description:

Award-winning author Susin Nielsen has created two narrators who will steal your heart and make you laugh out loud.

Thirteen-year-old Stewart is academically brilliant but socially clueless.

Fourteen-year-old Ashley is the undisputed “It” girl in her class, but her grades stink.

Their worlds are about to collide when Stewart and his dad move in with Ashley and her mom. Stewart is trying to be 89.9 percent happy about it, but Ashley is 110 percent horrified. She already has to hide the real reason her dad moved out; “Spewart” could further threaten her position at the top of the social ladder.

They are complete opposites. And yet, they have one thing in common: they—like everyone else—are made of molecules.

We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen was first published by Scholastic Press, New York in 2015.

What I Liked as Reader: 

This story was funny, touching and even made me angry at times – and I love it when I can feel so much emotion as I read. I definitely felt connected to the characters. At first I was drawn more to the (nerdy) character, Stewart, but by the end I saw popular Ashley in a whole different light. I also really liked that this story includes some of the complicated situations that come up in everyday life. 

What I Liked as a Writer:

What a great example of a novel told by two voices! Both voices were distinct and, though I read fast and tend to ignore chapter headings, I was never confused about which narrator it was. I’d read this again to think about how the author deal with contemporary issues such as homophobia, without them taking over the whole story. The dialogue and humor was very natural. 

Opening Line:

“I have always wanted a sister.”


“I needed them to see things from my point of view for a change, and instead it was all turning into a big joke.”

“When I walked through the front doors of the school, it would have been perfect if it had been filmed in slow motion, with a wind machine blowing my long brown hair back, and a great pop song playing in the background.”

“I followed his gaze, and a truly awful day became worse. A single word was spray-painted in big black letters on the side of his laneway house for the world to see.”

“Sometimes my eye for fashion is a curse, because being at Borden Secondary is a daily assault on my eyes.”

Other Info:

Susin Nielsen lives in Vancouver, and is a television writer as well as an author. Some of the other books she's written:

Word Nerd

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen

To learn more about the author, find out what inspired her books or see cute pictures of her cats, check out Susin's Neilsen's website.

If you're looking for more good middle grade books, visit author Shannon Messenger's blog for a list of bloggers featuring their picks for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Revisiting Summer Favorites - Teacher's Write!

Last summer I discovered Teacher's Write! with Kate Messner, Jo Knowles, Gae Polisner, and Jen Vincent. It's a free, mini writing workshop with exercises and feedback, hosted on blogs and Facebook (or check out #TeachersWrite). I really enjoyed participating in the workshop last year. It helped motivate me to keep working on the novel I was drafting and I really liked the interesting writing challenges and perspective I got on my work. 

This Monday, it started again, and it runs for the month of July. I had fun with the first writing warm up, posted on author Jo Knowles' blog. She called it White Page Day. Even if you don't want to participate in the workshop, it's worth checking out this exercise for the new perspective it gives you on your work. It would also be great for getting back into a work you've set aside.  

Here's something quick I wrote about the novel I'm revising:

The Dog Cure

Voices crashing together, 
At her? 
She's scared. 
Not normal scared of a sound in the dark or spiders or that moment when you realize the house is quiet and you're alone, but
the heart-racing, chest-squeezing panic of
saying the wrong thing or
making a mistake or
not being good enough. 
Until the dog comes. 
Is this the cure? 
The miracle that will help her
make a new friend, 
plan a lizard-themed birthday party, 
talk to the cute lizard-owner, and
finally get over her mom's accident. 
Or maybe the miracle is already inside,
just waiting for 
the right lines on the page, 
the right words, 
the right time, 
to be brave.

And just for fun, here's a peek at my recent visit to Brickfete in Toronto, a Lego fan festival. I'm always impressed by the amazing structures people create (kind of like the time and effort that goes into creating a book).

Lots of inspiration here for writers, if you think about these creations as possible story settings. It shows you how effective interesting details can be.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Learning from Picture Books - Power Down, Little Robot

I suppose I should have a Canadian selection today, in honor of Canada Day yesterday. But I really liked this cute bedtime story.

Here’s the summary from Amazon:

It's time to power down for the night, but Little Robot isn't ready! He quickly opens his stalling program. Luckily, Mom Unit knows exactly how to get him into his sleep module.
From a debut picture book author and the illustrator of Little Boo, this funny twist on a familiar nighttime routine will click with bedtime avoidance experts everywhere.

Power Down, Little Robot, was written by Anna Staniszweski and illustrated by Tim Zeltner, published by Henry Holt & Company, 2015.

My thoughts as a writer:

This picture book shows a clever execution of a good concept. There are lots of cute references, like “Will you read me a manual?” and “systems functioning normally.” The ending line fits the story perfectly.

The illustrations reminded me a bit of the old television show “The Jetsons”, evoking a little nostalgia for me. I liked the softness the illustrator brought to the robot theme, which makes it very suitable for a cozy read at bedtime.

My thoughts as a teacher:

Although I don’t usually read many “bedtime” stories at school, I think students would enjoy this, especially if they are showing an interest in robots. This story could spark imaginative play with student-constructed cardboard robots and encourage students to write their own stories about them.

There's a cute trailer for this book that would a be fun backdrop for kids to improvise a dance.

Themes: bedtime routines, family

Ages: 3 – 5

Grades: preschool - 1

Follow-Up Activities:

- create a cardboard box robot
- find your favourite page in the story and explain why you like it
- draw or write a bedtime story about your favorite toy

If you're looking for more great picture books to investigate as a writer or to share with your children over the summer, consider checking out the list of Perfect Picture Books, put together by author Susanna Leonard Hill. Her weekly feature, Perfect Picture Book Friday, is on a break during the summer time, but the list is there and is especially useful if you're looking for a book with a specific topic or theme.