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.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Podcasts for Writers: Let's Get Busy Learning About Picture Books

I know I recently featured the Let's Get Busy podcast, but now that I've found it, this podcast is quickly becoming my new favourite. As my passion for picture books continues to grow, I am fascinated by the discussions that the host, teacher-librarian Matthew Winner, has with illustrators and picture book authors.

Let's Get Busy Podcast (#81) - Mac Barnett

This was a valuable interview for picture book writers, especially if you are a writer trying to understand how to leave space and collaborate with an (as yet to be determined) illustrator. 

Mac Barnett: "The work that the illustrator does is story work, it's real story telling."

One of the discussion points that I'd never thought about before was Mac Barnett's take on the "three levels of interaction" a book can work on:  a kid alone reading, a parent reading to a child, and a one-to-many situation where a teacher or librarian can read a book to a group. It was interesting to think about how not all picture books work on all three levels.

They also discussed the experience of reading aloud a book and how it is like a performance.

Let's Get Busy Podcast (#79)  Kelly Light

Kelly Light was delightful to listen to, because of her passion and enthusiasm for illustrating. She talked about creating her recently released picture book debut Louise Loves Art. It was so interesting to hear about some of the artistic choices she made while creating the illustrations.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Boundless

It’s that time of year again! Book bloggers are getting ready to vote for the best children’s books published between October 16, 2013 and October 15, 2014 for the Cybils Awards. If you’ve read any standouts this year that qualify, feel free to visit the Cybils nomination pages before October 15. I also enjoy checking out the nominations to get ideas for new books to read. 

Another way I find books to read is just by browsing at the public library, both in person and online. I found today’s MMGM by browsing online. The version I read was an e-book. 

Kenneth Oppel
From Amazon:

All aboard for an action-packed escapade from the internationally bestselling author of Airborne and the Silverwing trilogy.

The Boundless, the greatest train ever built, is on its maiden voyage across the country, and first-class passenger Will Everett is about to embark on the adventure of his life!

When Will ends up in possession of the key to a train car containing priceless treasures, he becomes the target of sinister figures from his past.

In order to survive, Will must join a traveling circus, enlisting the aid of Mr. Dorian, the ringmaster and leader of the troupe, and Maren, a girl his age who is an expert escape artist. With villains fast on their heels, can Will and Maren reach Will’s father and save The Boundless before someone winds up dead?

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel, HarperCollins, 2014
My Take:

This was an action-filled adventure that incorporated some elements of Canadian history (e.g, the building of the railway across Canada). I read it fairly quickly because I wanted to see what was going to happen.

It’s fascinating the way this author puts together interesting elements to create excitement in his stories – in this case Sasquatch, a train ride, a circus, the threat of an avalanche and muskeg (that reminded me of growing up in Northern Ontario). From a writer’s perspective, I admired the creativity in the way these different elements were woven together.

Opening Line:

“Three hours before the avalanche hits, William Everett is sitting on an upturned crate, waiting for his father.”

Randomly Selected Quotes:

“He throws his body forward and thrashes wildly, trying to stay atop the churning sea of snow.”

“Long trestle tables run the length of the car, leaving narrow aisles that are crammed with people carrying platters heaving with pancakes and roasted potatoes and rashers of bacon and cornmeal muffins and baked beans and pitchers of milk.”

“The afternoon air carries the cold promise of snow.”

Other Info:

Kenneth Oppel is the author of many books for children and teens, including the Silverwing trilogy and the Airborne series. At around age 12, he decided he wanted to be a writer. He had his first book published at the age of fourteen (with the encouragement of Roald Dahl).

To find out more about Kenneth Oppel and his books, and to see a trailer for The Boundless, visit his website:

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! 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Middle Grade Writer Fellowship Opportunity

If you write middle grade fiction, you may be interested in this fellowship opportunity:

The Christine Eldin Memorial Fellowship has been established to honour the memory of aspiring middle grade author Chris Eldin, who was passionate about writing and supporting the writing community. The fellowship aims to "provide recognition and financial assistance to an unpublished middle grade fiction writer whose work-in-progress reveals potential for a successful writing career".


Any English-language, unpublished middle grade manuscript without a publication contract at the time of submission.

Submission fee: $10.00

Deadline: December 31, 2014.

For all the details, visit

Monday, September 29, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Allegra Biscotti Collection

Even though you might not be able to tell from the way I dress, I enjoy reading about fashion and watching fashion-related TV shows. So I couldn't resist picking up this unique middle grade novel about a young fashion designer. 

Description from Amazon:

Emma Rose is SO not a diva.
She doesn't want her turn on the catwalk-she'd rather be behind the scenes creating fabulous outfits! So when a famous fashionista discovers Emma's designs and offers her the opportunity of a lifetime-a feature in Madison magazine (squeal!)-Emma sort of, well, panics. She has only one option: to create a secret identity.
And so Allegra Biscotti is born.
Allegra is worldly, sophisticated, and bold-everything Emma is not. But the pressure is on. And Emma quickly discovers juggling school, a new crush, friends, and a secret identity might not be as glamorous as she thought.

The Allegra Biscotti Collection by Olivia Bennett, Source Books, 2010

My Take:

It was fun to be in on Emma’s secret identity as Allegra Biscotti. I was intrigued by the problem of how she’d keep up her secret identify and finish designing her collection, while at the same time continuing to act like an ordinary middle school student with typical school issues— keeping friends, crushing on boys, and who to sit with at lunch. I really liked the sketches of Emma’s designs that were sprinkled throughout the story. This was definitely a fun read for anyone interested in fashion!

When I put on my writer’s hat, I noticed how the author used details to show the world from Emma’s perspective, describing the details of their outfits and accessories, the feeling of fabric, her thrill at sewing a new design. At one point, it was interesting that the author “broke the rules” of writing middle grade by having an adult step in to help her with a tricky sewing issue, but if anything, I thought it helped to make the story more realistic.

Opening Line:

“Definitely the faux-fur scarf. But not in teal…maybe an eggplant with silver flecks would work.”


“If your clothes didn’t fit in, neither did you.”

“When Emma finally hung a finished piece on the rolling rack against the back wall, it was no longer simply an item of clothing. It was the beginning of a story that would unfold when someone put it on for the very first time.”

“Maybe we just have to figure out how to be friends, I don’t know, differently than we did before.”

Other Books in This Series:

Who, What, Wear: The Allegra Biscotti Collection (#2)
Bead-Dazzled: The Allegra Biscotti Collection (#3)

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! 

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.