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.