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.

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!