Thursday, September 11, 2014

Podcasts for Writers: Let's Get Busy

If you've been following my blog, you know I enjoy listening to podcasts while driving, mopping floors or walking the dogs (and there are more walks now, with three dogs). This summer I discovered a new and interesting podcast for writers, readers and librarians of children's books.

This podcast has been around for just over a year. Host Librarian Matthew Winner interviews "authors, illustrators, kidlit notables, education luminaries, and everyone in between."

I just finished listening to Matthew's discussion with Drew Daywalt, author of the best-selling picture book, The Day the Crayons Quit. It was inspiring to hear that it took almost ten years for Drew to get the book published. It just shows that it's true that you should never give up! 

If you want to get a sense of some of the great podcasts available, Coming Up On the Let's Get Busy Podcast lists the top five downloaded episodes. 

Matthew Winner is an elementary school teacher-librarian. He also has a blog, The Busy Librarian, where he highlights some of the content of the podcasts, as well as providing reviews of children's books, book trailers and other tidbits. A great resource for teacher-librarians and elementary school teachers!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Out of My Mind

I usually do a lot of reading over the summer, but this year was different. I ended up doing more writing than reading—when I wasn’t caring for the three dogs, that is. Of the few books I did manage to read, this one stuck out for me as meaningful and one I’d definitely want to read again. 

Today’s Pick: Out of My Mind

by Sharon M. Draper

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010

From Amazon: 

Melody is not like most people. She cannot walk or talk, but she has a photographic memory; she can remember every detail of everything she has ever experienced. She is smarter than most of the adults who try to diagnose her and smarter than her classmates in her integrated classroom—the very same classmates who dismiss her as mentally challenged, because she cannot tell them otherwise. But Melody refuses to be defined by cerebral palsy. And she’s determined to let everyone know it…somehow. In this breakthrough story—reminiscent of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly—from multiple Coretta Scott King Award-winner Sharon Draper, readers will come to know a brilliant mind and a brave spirit who will change forever how they look at anyone with a disability.

My Take:

This was a powerful and moving story. It gave me a glimpse into the perspective of someone with a life very different from my own. This is a wonderful book for students and classroom discussion. I enjoyed the twists and surprises in this book from several events that I didn’t see coming. I also appreciated the way the ending wasn’t too neatly wrapped up, just like real life.

As a writer, I especially enjoyed the main character’s voice. It gave her so much personality and really brought her character to life, which was so important in this story since Melody couldn’t speak.

Opening Line:

“Words. I’m surrounded by thousands of words. Maybe millions.”

Other Info:

Sharon M. Draper lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband and their golden retriever.

Out of My Mind  and her other books have received many awards and honors – far too many to list here. She has been honored as National Teacher of the Year and is a five time winner of the Coretta Scott King Literary award.

Here’s what she says about writing: “I love to write; words flow easily from my fingertips, and my heart beats rapidly with excitement as an idea becomes a reality on the paper in front of me.”

And she also talks about writing about a child with physical limitations: “I wanted to give those kids, who are often treated as if they are invisible, a chance to be heard, to be seen as the individuals they are, not the machines they ride in, or the disability that defines them.”

Some of the author’s other books include:

Little Sister is Not My Name – Sassy #1
The Birthday Storm – Sassy #2
The Silver Secret – Sassy #3
The Dazzle Disaster Party – Sassy #4
The Clubhouse Mystery Series
Copper Sun
Double Dutch

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 5, 2014

Learning from Picture Books: Hopper and Wilson Fetch a Star

Don't you love the stuffed toys on this newspaper airplane? This cover caught my eye and, after a few late summer evenings of sitting on the deck admiring the stars, I had to read it!

Hopper and Wilson Fetch a Star

written and illustrated by Maria van Lieshout

published by Philomel Books, 2014

From Penguin:

Have you ever wanted your very own star?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have your own star for a nightlight? It is this thought that begins Hopper and Wilson’s second adventure. They fill their airplane with lemonade and soar into the night sky. So many stars to choose from! One is too pointy. One is too heavy. Another is too bright! Taking a break on the moon, the two friends look directly above and spot it—the perfect star! As Hopper lays down for a nap, Wilson ventures off on his own, to the dark side of the moon. Yet now he is lost! How can he find his way back to Hopper?

The perfect star, of course. Wilson spots it in the sky and follows it back to his friend. In another deceptively simple story, Maria van Lieshout shows how sometimes the best part of nature is that it’s only found in nature—and that everything has its proper place…be it stars or even best friends, who always belong together.    

My Thoughts as a Writer:

I liked the unique concept of fetching a star for a nightlight. It was fun to think about the two friends studying each star to find just the right one. The illustrations really captured my attention, especially the ones of the night sky, which evoked the feeling of staring up at the real night sky in a very dark place. The newspaper that folded up into an airplane and unfolded into a blanket was a cute and creative detail.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

This book offers lots of possibilities for discussion, e.g. Is it okay to take things from nature? What would you do if you got lost? It would be nice to compare and contrast this story with others about stars and space, e.g. Eric Carle’s Papa Please Get the Moon for Me or Oliver Jeffers’ How to Catch a Star

Non-fiction books about stars and space would complement this nicely, for kids who want to know more. For some companion books, Delightful Children’s Books lists 11 Children’s Books About Stars and Space.

A fun exploration to go along with this would be paper airplane making using different kinds of paper. Looking at these illustrations sparked this question for me: Can you make really make paper airplanes from newspaper? A great question for students in primary grades to investigate.

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. The books on the list are categorized by theme and topic, and each one has a link to a blog that featured it, so you can get a few ideas about the contents and ideas for using it. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

WriteOnCon 2014: An Online Children's Writers Conference

Yay! It's almost time for WriteOnCon! I'm still on my blog break, but I couldn't let this slip by without mentioning it.

What is it?

A totally free, online conference for children's writers (donations in support of the conference are gratefully accepted).

I've attended at a couple of these online conferences in previous years. I've gotten valuable feedback on my writing, made new writing friends and learned a lot about what agents are looking for in their submission folders.

To see the list of fabulous agents and editors who will be sneaking around to get a peak at writer's latest projects, check out Announcing our Ninja Agents for 2014.

To get information on twitter pitch events, for a chance to have your pitch critiqued by agents, visit Pitch Event Instructions.

When is it?  August 26-27, but the forums are already open and writers are posting their work for critique and feedback from each other.

How to participate:

You need to register at http://www.writeoncon/forums if you want to participate in the critique forums (where the Ninja Agents will be on the prowl).

Otherwise, just visit their website at

nCon is an Online Children’s Writers Conference created by writers, for writers.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Cute Dogs and A Break

My blog posts have been less frequent this summer, because I've been immersed in working on a new middle grade novel. I still don't have a title but I've finished the first draft! One of the characters in my novel was inspired by this little cutie:

I'm dog-sitting her for a while, along with her big friend:

And of course, I still have my own dog:

Some days it sounds like a dog kennel around here! Perhaps I'll be inspired to write some more dog stories. 

Besides looking after the dogs, I've also been participating in Teachers Write with Kate Messner, Jo Knowles, Gae Polisner and Jen Vincent. It's been very motivating, and has encouraged me to set some goals for August:

1) revise one of my as-yet-unqueried middle grade novels, which is about a girl who heads off into the wilderness for a competition to become the co-host of an adventure television show

2) write a new picture book, to keep up with my goal of 12 picture books in 12 months (In January, I joined Julie Hedlund's 12 x 12 picture book challenge group.)

Between my writing goals, the dogs and setting up my newly renovated classroom, I'm going to be a little busy. So I'm going to take a blog break for August. 

Happy reading and writing! I look forward to returning to a more regular posting schedule in September.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: A Hundred Horses

When I visited the library as a child, I always looked for stories about horses, books like The Black Stallion or Misty of Chincoteague. I signed them out many times and read them over and over. So I'm always thrilled when I find a new horse story to read.

Today’s Pick: A Hundred Horses

by Sarah Lean

Katherine Tegen Books, 2014

From Amazon:

From the author of A Dog Called Homeless, winner of the Schneider Family Book Award, comes another gentle novel with a touch of magic about the power of friendship and the truth of belonging.

Nell isn't happy about spending her vacation on a farm, but when she meets a half-wild and mysterious girl named Angel, the two girls are tied in an adventure that may help Nell discover something special about herself—and the most special of a hundred horses.

Girls and horses are a classic pairing, and fans of favorites such as My Friend Flicka and Misty of Chincoteague are sure to love the heartwarming friendship story and adorable—magical—animals in A Hundred Horses.

My Take:

This was an interesting book about two very different girls developing  a friendship and rescuing a horse and its foal. A touch of mystery kept me reading. It was interesting to me to see the farm setting through the eyes of Nell, who’d grown up in a city and was experiencing a different lifestyle.  There were many layers to this story, such as Nell sorting out her relationships and feelings with her father and her mother.

As a writer, I especially enjoyed the language and phrasing in this story. Some of the dialogue seems so true, you feel like you are inside the main character’s head, e.g., “It always feels like this when you’re away from your mom and you don’t know anybody and you’re not sure what to expect.”  

I also admired some of the descriptions like “I hear the shuffle of the quilt on the bottom bunk” because they are small details that are so in the moment of what is happening.

Opening Line:

“Mom was late picking me up from drama club again.”


“I’d found something unexpected, something that made me feel brilliant inside. Now it was gone, and it left my stomach churning.”

“She stayed frozen, breathing loudly through her nose, her eyes blazing, my question hanging in the air like ice.”

“They are just bits and pieces until they all come together. Then they make something extraordinary, something alive.”

Other Info:

Sarah Lean lives in Dorset, England with her family and dog. She used to teach school before obtaining a Master’s degree in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of Winchester.

This book, A Hundred Horses is also published under the title A Horse for Angel (possibly the UK version).

On her website, she gives this advice to aspiring writers: “Expect to get it wrong, again and again. Practice is paramount, expect to learn, love learning.”

Other Books:

A Dog Called Homeless
The Forever Whale
Jack Pepper

For more, visit Sarah Lean’s website or follow her on Twitter: @SarahLean1

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, July 17, 2014

Cool Blog Quote: Helping Your Writing Grow

Recently, agent Laura Biagi gave this bit of writing wisdom to Middle Grade Ninja in 7 Questions For: Literary Agent Laura Biagi:

"...don't keep reworking the same piece for too long. Your writing can only grow if you give yourself new things to write---much like a plant can't grow bigger if you keep it in the same pot."

Laura Biagi, 7 Questions For: Literary Agent Laura Biagi, Middle Grade Ninja, July 14, 2014

This really hit home for me, because I have one novel that I keep revising and still can't get to work. I'm a terribly persistent person and hate to give up on something. 

But when I read the new project I'm working on, I can practically see what I've learned, because it feels so much more natural and alive. I often wonder if revisions can be overdone, drumming all the best parts from a piece of writing. I think they can.