Monday, December 29, 2014

Writing Achievements from 2014

Children's author Julie Hedlund challenged participants of her 12 Days of Christmas for Writers series to post their writing successes on their blogs this year. She believes the way New Year's resolutions are traditionally made come from a place of negativity - what DIDN'T get done or achieved in the previous year.  Instead, she suggests we set goals for the new year that BUILD on our achievements. With that in mind, I've been thinking about my writing achievements from 2014:

1. In January, I signed up for Julie Hedlund's 12 x 12 (12 picture books in 12 months), with the goal of writing more picture book manuscripts. Although I didn't write one for each month, I did write more manuscripts than I would have otherwise. Most importantly, I re-discovered how much I love writing picture books!!

2. During the summer, I finished a draft of a new middle grade novel that I wrote "just for fun".

3. I also participated in Teachers Write with Kate Messner, Jen Vincent and Gae Polisner, which was a lot of fun and helped me with the new (still untitled) novel I wrote. 

4. I watched and worked through the PlotWriMo video series by literary agent Jill Corcoran and the "Plot Whisperer" Martha Alderson, to develop a deeper understanding of the process of revision.

5. In the fall, I revised another middle grade novel, Wild Girl Genius, the story of a city girl who stumbles into a wilderness adventure trip.

6. I attended CANSCAIP's Packaging Your Imagination conference to learn more about writing and connect with other writers and illustrators. 

7. In November, I participated in PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) organized by author Tara Lazar, and I completed the challenge by coming up with one idea every day.

8. I also bravely tweeted my pitch for Wild Girl Genius on #PitMad: When a TV wilderness show audition goes horribly wrong, city-girl Jade must use all her survival skills to get home alive.

When I took time to think about all of my writing-related accomplishments from 2014, it surprised me a little. In many ways, 2014 was a difficult year, yet I still managed to continue to develop and grow as a writer. What did you accomplish this year? I hope you feel good about your writing and reading successes!

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).