What does a Baking Challenge have to do with Writing?

Recently my daughter and I have started to watch the “Holiday Baking Championship”. Have you ever seen it? Several bakers compete for the title of champion baker, which goes with a 50,000 dollar prize.

Originally I was surprised that I was interested in this series. I stopped regularly baking years ago due to some challenging food intolerances. But from the first episode I was hooked.
I soon realized why I am hooked. Each baker is confronted with the same set of parameters, and they almost always come up with entirely different dishes. I am always fascinated by every baker’s unique creativity. It’s like when a group of writers is given a writing prompt. Every writer in the room will come up with a different story.
At the end of the challenge every baker presents their creations to three judges. Now the interesting thing is that very rarely do the judges ever agree (unless something is either truly awful or truly spectacular.) One judge will say that a dish is very bland while another will say that it is bursting with flavour. I wonder sometimes if they are eating the same dish. In fact, it’s just that each judge’s taste is different. Again, this reminds me of the writing world. In this case the judges are the editors and agents. And like food connoisseurs, editors and agents all have different tastes.
It’s something I have to continuously remind myself of. Just because one editor or agent doesn’t like the flavour of my story, doesn’t mean another won’t.
So I have recently sent out one of my favourite manuscripts again. It’s one that has received a wide range of comments, everything from “I really wanted to like it” to “It is my personal opinion that you are suited to writing picture book biographies”. Such varied comments on the same manuscript! I just have to keep trying until I find the right master chef to guide my recipe into a stunning creation.
Next up for some more inspiration: “The Spring Baking Championship”.

Three Writing Games to Spark your Creativity

I hope that you have started off the new year well. I continue to accumulate ideas through the Storystorm challenge. As of today, I am up to 28. Hey, not bad! Certainly not all of them will turn into stories, but the more I have, the more chance I have of at least one being a winner.

Are you writing? I am trying to write when I can, and when I am not working on a story, I have been trying out several creative writing games that I was fortunate enough to receive as Christmas gifts.

game 1

It also includes a timer.

1. The Writer’s Toolbox
There are three different sets of devices in the toolbox:
a) Four palettes to spin to come up with a protagonist, goal, obstacle, and action.
b) Sixth sense cards: those are cards with a description using one of the senses or a memory that you are supposed to use to write a sensory landscape. It is one of my weaknesses, so I am trying to do this more often. Yesterday I started with “last year in Berlin”. Not that I was in Berlin last year, but I was there in 1994, so I managed to incorporate those memories into the story. After three minutes I drew the card “mouldy oranges”. Yikes! That took a rather compelling turn…
c) Sticks that allow you to start with a first sentence and then after a few minutes require you to add an unusual twist. There are also sticks that prod you to write about conflict, often a weakness in writers. I know it is one of mine.

game 2

2. Storymatic
This is a deck of cards that promises “six trillion stories in one little box” .
There are several ways you can use the cards, but the one way I like the best so far is choosing two gold cards to create a main character and then choosing two copper cards to lead you into the character’s story. For example, yesterday’s character was an animal psychic who carried a grudge. I had to incorporate a roller coaster and the main character leaving town in the story. Interesting…
It also has a junior edition I would like to try with the younger set.

game 3

3. Writer Emergency Pack
This is a deck of cards with two types of cards in it: an idea card and a detail card.
There are several ways you can use the cards. For example, you can pick out a matching set if you are stuck in a story to see where it takes you. I did that with my animal psychic story to see where it would lead me.
I also chose to do the writing exercise of using a well known story or fairy tale and then applying the cards to the story to see where my story could go. I chose “lose the cavalry”, that is, what happens if the “cavalry” doesn’t come to rescue the main characters, but instead they have to rescue themselves? I decided to write a piece of “Star Wars” fan fiction: what if Leia Organa rescued herself, this being a sore point with many people including myself. Why wasn’t she trained to use the Force? That would have been a whole different story!

I highly recommend all of these games. They allow you to work on different skills and provide some unexpected but also fascinating twists to your stories.

Have you ever tried any of these games? Do you have any creativity games you would like to recommend? I have written about this topic before here and here and here, if you would like more suggestions.

Leave me a comment below about your thoughts on creative writing games.

Five 2017 Picture Book Biographies About Inspirational Women

The year 2017 was a great year for picture book biographies about inspirational women. Their stories are inspirational, because despite the odds being against these women they still succeeded.

Here are five that my ten-year-old daughter and I enjoyed:

“Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code”, Written by Laurie Hallmark and Illustrated by Katy Wu
Grace Hopper broke many barriers and accomplished many firsts in the world of computer science. For example, she was assigned to work on one of the first computers, the Mark 1. Very few people had ever programmed before, so she had to teach herself how to do it. Grace Hopper was also the first to create a program that used English words instead of computer language.
In the book, you will find out where the name computer “bug” came from.
Bonus: Grace Hopper’s inspirational quotes are peppered throughout the book.
To see a Google Doodle honouring her, watch the following video.

“Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved The First Lunar Landing”, By Dean Robbins and Illustrated by Lucy Knisley
Margaret Hamilton’s curiosity led her into the world of computers and a job with NASA, eventually leading her into the role of director of software programming at a time when there were limited opportunities for women. She thought of everything that could go wrong with a spacecraft and so the scenarios were written into the code of Apollo 8-Apollo 11’s journeys. When Apollo 11 was trying to land on the moon, the computer started to overload as it was trying to do too many tasks, but it was Margaret Hamilton’s code that allowed it to focus on the landing.
You may have seen the picture of Margaret Hamilton standing next to the code that she used for the Apollo 11 moon landing. It is as tall as she is. If you haven’t seen it, it’s in the following video.

“Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire”, by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville and Illustrated by Bridgette Barrager
Mary Blair was one of the first women to land a job at Walt Disney Studios. However, her sense of colour just didn’t fit into their world of black and white. Though she did manage to get teal, aquamarine, and lime green into some of the Disney movies, eventually she left to pursue more freedom in her art, until one day Walt Disney asked her to design the “It’s a Small World” ride. Mary Blair agreed with one condition: she would be the one in charge. The ride is still one of the most beloved today.
You can check out some of Mary Blair’s creations in the following video.

“Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe”, by Deborah Blumenthal and illustrated by Laura Freeman
Ann Cole Lowe is most famous for designing the wedding dress of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. However, Ann Cole Lowe was an African American, and that made her designing journey particularly difficult. For example, when she went to drop off the wedding and bridesmaid dresses, she was told that she would need to use the black entrance meant for workers. She refused, saying that if she had to do that the bridal party would not be wearing her dresses, winning the right to go through the front door.

“The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin”, Written by Julia Finley Mosca and Illustrated by Daniel Rieley
My daughter told me that she studied Dr. Temple Grandin in her veterinary courses, because she is famous for inventing ways to make transportation more comfortable for livestock. Dr. Grandin is also famous for speaking about autism. She says that autism makes her “different, not less”.
The book chronicles her journey from childhood until present through all her ups and downs. The message is that everybody’s brains are unique and that the world needs everybody’s ideas.
Bonus: The book is written in entirely in rhyme.
Watch the trailer for the book in the following video.

There were lots more picture book biographies about inspirational women published in 2017, such as “Lighter than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot” by Matthew Clark Smith and illustrated by Matt Tavares and “Long-Armed Ludy and the First Women’s Olympics” by Jean L.S. Patrick and illustrated by Adam Gustavson. The trend is continuing. I am excited to see that there is a new picture book called “Hidden Figures” coming out in 2018. The book is about the four black women who helped NASA get men into space despite their limitations of the time. I recently watched the movie of the same name, and it is fabulous!

Ask your local librarian for some recommendations. Leave a comment below for me letting me know which related books you have enjoyed.
By the way, have you signed up for Storystorm 2018? It’s not too late. Registration is open until January 9.

Halloweensie 2017: Monster’s Delicious Treat?

It’s one of my favourite times of year again. Yes, it’s time for Susanna Leonard Hill’s Halloweensie contest.

Here is a condensed version of this year’s rules, as taken from her website:

“Write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (children here defined as 12 and under) (title not included in the 100 words), using the words candy corn, monster, and shadow. (Candy corn will be counted as 1 word.)”

I hope you enjoy reading this year’s story as much as I liked writing it.

Monster’s Delicious Treat?

Monster wished that kids would run screaming from his Hallowe’en decorations instead of from his mom’s treats.
Carrotgrams instead of candygrams.
Cauliflower instead of marshmallows in the s’mores.
Sardinecicles. Yuck!
“Why must everything be nutritious? I just want it to be delicious,” said Monster to his best friend, Shadow.
“Boys, I have a treat for you. Candy corn,” yelled Monster’s mom.
“Candy corn?” The boys dashed to the kitchen.
Mom held out a plate covered in long shapes.
“What’s this?” asked Monster.
Mom smiled. “It’s candy covered corn on the cob.”
“Awwww, Mom…”

Come early to get my daughter's origami with your treat!

Come early to get my daughter’s origami with your treat!

Thanks for stopping by!

To read the rest of the rules and some more Halloweensie stories, which are sure to get you in the mood for Hallowe’en, click here.


On Kindness and Making the World a Better Place

Last Thursday I had the honour of seeing Leon Logothetis of “The Kindness Diaries” speak. He was speaking at a fundraiser for Mom2Mom Africa, a local Cambridge group. Mom2Mom’s vision is “to empower students in Tanzania, and supporters worldwide, through education”.
My dad came from Tanzania (although when he lived there it was called Tanganyika), and I am always looking for ways to support the nation. So I was there due to the Tanzanian connection. Quite frankly, I did not even know who Leon Logothetis was. It’s true! I don’t have Netflix, and, in fact, I have no cable connection at all. I can hear the gasp from some of you. But, to be honest, as a writer, I would far prefer spending my time reading.
So for those of you who are like me and who have never seen “The Kindness Diaries”, here is a trailer for it.

It looks pretty impressive, and I do hope that I can see it someday. I am already reading the book.
Despite not knowing who he is, I was impressed with Logothetis’ message. He believes that one of the biggest problems in western society is that we lack community. We no longer need each other. He also believes that a solution to this is kindness. Kindness is free. It also allows people to be seen, and we all want to be seen. Kindness says that we are not alone.
One of Logothetis’ projects is a postcard one. He gave members of the audience postcards. Our homework was to write to him on the postcard we received with an act of kindness we had done. For every postcard he receives, he will donate a book to a child, up to 10,000 books. What a fantastic idea! If you are a teacher and wish to receive postcards for your class, you can contact him on Facebook with your request.

Another thing that Logothetis talked about is the media’s fascination with the negative in the world. They put a microscope to everything that is bad. If that is the case, he asked, why could they not put a microscope to the good? To be honest, this is another reason why I stopped watching TV, especially the news, a long time ago.
This leads me to my book review, which addresses a similar issue. In “Come with me” by Holly M. McGhee, a little girl is frightened by the anger and hatred she sees on the news all over the world. So she asks how she could make the world a better place. First her papa and then her mama take her out into their community and show how her what to do. When she asks to go by herself, the parents hesitate but then decide that “They would not live in fear” and so allow her to go. She invites her neighbour, the boy across the hall, to go out into the community with her in order to make the world a better place.

This is a brilliant book and one that is appropriate for all ages. I challenge you to turn off the TV, read the book, and then go out into your community. Because, as the back cover says, “Because as small as it may seem, your part matters to the world.”
I have already sent out my postcard to Leon Logothetis telling him that my daughter and I made rocks and bookmarks with inspirational words on them for people to find. Maybe you think this is a small act, but if everyone lifted up each other with positive messages, imagine what kind of world we would live in.

What random act of kindness have you done lately? I love to read your comments.

Have You Got the Creative Blahs?

Sometimes we all need to kickstart our creative side. When I am feeling that need there are several books I turn to.

1. “Rip the Page: Adventures in Creative Writing” by Karen Benke
This book is full of creativity exercises, which are interspersed with pieces of advice from writers.
One of my favourite creativity exercises from this book is “list poems”. “You can make a poem from a list of just about anything…” states Benke at the beginning of the exercise. She goes on to give several examples such as, “10 Things I Thought About As I Walked From School Today” or “What My Father Taught Me”.
Here is an example that I did in April:
10 Things that make me happy
A rainbow, especially if it’s a double one
Waking up to the sound of birds singing
Violets covering the lawn
Taking a walk in the sunshine
Laughing with people
Colouring in my colouring book
Something yummy baking–mmmm
Cream in my tea
A purring cat
Sitting in front of a fire

2. “Leap Write IN! Adventures in Creative Writing” by Karen Benke
This is the followup book to the first one. It is similar in format to the first one without the writers’ advice.
One of my favourite exercises in this book is found poems. Benke has this to say about found poems: “OK, so all you need to find found-poem treasure is to copy down words, phrases, fragments, and entire sentences exactly as you see them written or hear them spoken…They’re everywhere…On ordinary road signs. The covers of magazines. In book titles, chapter headings, and newspaper articles. Written on candy wrappers…”
One place that this is fun to do is in the car, especially on a long drive.
Here’s one I wrote in May from 1 newspaper headline, 2 notices written by my student, 1 sentence from a colouring set, and 1 sentence from a letter from school.

3. “Unjournalling” by Dawn DiPrince and Cheryl Miller Thurston

This book promises exercises that are “NOT introspective, NOT personal, and NOT boring”. Certainly the exercises are fun.
One exercise asks you to write about “What are the best reasons for doing nothing? List them.” Another asks “How many ways can you find to say no…without using the word no?” What do you think?

These books are ones I also like to use with my daughter and my writing student, who are both in grade 5.
Leave me a list poem or found poem in the comments below, if you want. I’d love to read it.

Telling Tales Festival 2017

I wrote in my blog last week that I had submitted a micro fiction story to 50 Words Stories. Well guess what? I received word on Sunday that I was going to have my piece published on Monday! Yay! Click here to read my submission, which is called “Lost”. It’s been a while since I have been published, so this was certainly a confidence booster.
My next target is Commuter Lit. I am planning on revising and then submitting the story that I submitted to the WOW contest. For Commuter Lit’s submission guidelines, click here.
Now I know I wrote in my last blog post that this week’s subject would be books on creativity. However, I forgot that it was the Telling Tales Festival in Rockton last week, so I will push the books on creativity blog post to another week.

Melanie Fishbane introduces "Anne of Green Gables" and "Anne of Avonlea"

Melanie Fishbane introduces “Anne of Green Gables” and “Anne of Avonlea”

My daughter and I arrived just in time at the festival to hear Melanie Fishbane talk about her novel “Maud”. “Maud” is a historical fiction about writer L.M. Montgomery, who is most famous for her book “Anne of Green Gables”. “Anne of Green Gables” is one of my favourite books of all time, so I can’t wait to read this novel about Montgomery’s life, although it is to a certain extent fictionalized. However, Fishbane certainly did her homework when she researched Montgomery for the story. It took Fishbane 4.5 years to write the book, and she used many primary sources including Montgomery’s journals. I was surprised to hear that Montgomery was actually very funny and satirical. That was never my impression of her. Was it yours?

Elizabeth MacLeod

Elizabeth MacLeod

Next we listened to a talk by Elizabeth MacLeod, who wrote “Canada Year by Year” to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. I was surprised at how much knowledge MacLeod imparts in her book. In her presentation, she talked about people from a wide range of history starting with Alexander Graham Bell and ending with Craig Kielburger. How was she able to research it all? MacLeod was very engaging and got the audience involved with her questions and props.

Melanie Florence

Melanie Florence

The final speaker was Melanie Florence. I loved Florence’s first picture book called “Missing Nimama”. At this talk, Florence was introducing her second picture book called “Stolen Words” . This story is based on a conversation she wished she could have had with her Cree grandfather. Her grandfather attended residential school and erased all records of his life before attending residential school. They don’t even know what his name used to be. Can you imagine? I admire Florence for her ability to make difficult topics accessible to younger readers. Both books are well worth a read. I look forward to reading her soon to be published third picture book called “My Blue Suitcase”, also about residential school.
What I most like about the Telling Tales Festival is that it is still small enough that many of the author talks feel like intimate gatherings. I really enjoyed my time there, and I am already looking forward to next year’s event.
Have you been to any recent book events? Are there any new books that you have read recently that you recommend? Leave me a comment below.

Writing and Life Update, September 2017

After a long hiatus, I have decided to start blogging again.
It’s been a busy time for me in the last few months. We had a great summer, going to several places including to Vancouver via the No 1 train, the Canadian. This is the trip I’ve always wanted to do, and I was not disappointed. We saw everything from the rocks and trees of Northern Ontario to the canola fields of the Prairies to the Rockies of the west. It’s an eye opening experience to the diversity of Canada.

My favourite part of the trip: the Rockies of Alberta

Besides the fun of summer travelling, there were couple of major changes for me. For one, I have been training to sell doTerra oils. I have always been interested in natural health products–having struggled with health problems most of my life–and I am impressed with doTerra’s ethics as well as the purity of its products. They have a great membership program. One of my favourite oils so far is a blend called “Serenity”, and you can read about it by clicking here.
The second change was a sad one for me, which was that my dad passed away at the end of the summer. I have blogged before a bit about my dad’s situation, and you can read about it here. My dad was 87, and although his life was challenging, it was also interesting. He was very responsible and respected, and I am touched reading all the sympathy cards that we are receiving. May you find peace after all the difficulties you faced, Dad.
Despite all the chaos, I continue to write. I am still working away on my ICL course, learning how to write magazine articles for children. But I have also gone back to writing for adults. Perhaps it is my way of coping with the grief of my father’s decline and death, as many of my adult stories deal with his illness. For example, our slightly fictionalized relationship was the subject of a story I submitted to a WOW contest. I didn’t win, but I got some great feedback. If you haven’t heard of WOW’s contests, head on over to this page. They have one for every season. As well, I just entered a micro fiction story based on my dad’s life to Fifty-Words Stories. I have always loved writing short stories, and the challenge of writing one in exactly 50 words appeals to me. Check out submission guidelines by clicking here. Read the 2016 winner, a subtle death story, by clicking here.
I intend to divide my time between writing for adults and children. I have already signed up for the Picture Book Summit, which is in October. This online conference is in its third year, and it has never failed to disappoint. This year one of the superstar keynote speakers is Tomie dePaola. I look forward to hearing what he has to say.
I am undecided as to whether I will attend the CANSCAIP conference, which is in November, this year. I may attend virtually this year. In the meantime, I am awaiting results of their Writing for Children Competition. I entered one of my picture book stories this year.
Finally, I continue to volunteer tutor a grade 5 student in writing. Stay tuned for my next blog, which will highlight several books that I use to spark her and my own creativity.
So what have you been up to? Please leave me a comment below.

Two Picture Book Biographies about Inspirational Women

Every March I discover so many fabulous new (to me) picture books through ReFoReMo!
I love picture book biographies. My daughter and I often learn about someone we have never heard about, and, if we are really interested, we can do some study on our own to learn more.
This year I will share with you two picture book biographies I was introduced to through ReFoReMo about inspiring women.

1. “Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine” by Laurie Wallmark, Illustrated by April Chu
This book was mentioned in this blog post about comparison titles.
I was curious to find out more about one of the main characters in “The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency” series by Jordan Stratford, one of my daughter’s favourite middle grade series. (For more on that click here.)
The book does not disappoint. The illustrations are equally as remarkable as the words.
Ada Lovelace was always fascinated by numbers. As a young woman she met Charles Babbage, a famous inventor, who showed her his “Difference engine”, a mechanical calculator. If you want to see a “Difference engine” and how different it is from today’s calculators, you can check out this video.

Imagine having to take this to school!
Charles Babbage also told Ada Lovelace about his “Analytical Engine”, a mechanical computer. But this device had never been built. The “Analytical Engine” was the inspiration for the world’s first computer program, written by Ada Lovelace.
I look forward to Laurie Wallmark’s next picture book, which is called “Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code”.

2. “Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois” (Words by Amy Novesky, Pictures by Isabelle Arsenault)
This book was introduced to me in this blog post of mentor texts for books that are layered in both art and writing. The luscious language combined with the gorgeous illustrations do indeed make this a fabulous read.
Louise Bourgeois grew up surrounded by tapestries as her mother ran a tapestry workshop. She studied math in university but after her mother died she turned to art, eventually becoming a world famous artist. She is most know for her spider sculptures. Many people find spiders scary, but Louise Bourgeois did not. Spiders are weavers, like her mother was, spinning and repairing webs.



I realized after I read the book that I had seen one of her famous spider sculptures (Maman) and even posed in front of it for a picture when I was in Ottawa.
Here is a video explaining more about the Ottawa installation.

Amy Novesky has also written about Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, and Imogen Cunningham.

Both of these books are also mentioned in this ReFoReMo blog post by Vivian Kirkfield for having great first lines.

Have you been following ReFoReMo? If not and you are looking for some mentor texts for picture books, I highly recommend it.

Have you found some new favourite picture books?

50 Precious Words Contest 2017

Yay! It’s time! It’s time! It’s time for the 2nd annual 50 Precious Words Contest hosted by the charming Vivian Kirkfield. Have you entered yet? If not, there’s still time. The contest closes March 6.

And if you haven’t heard about the contest, you can swing on over to Vivian’s website and read the rules.

I am always up for a challenge, so here’s my entry for this year, which is exactly 50 words.

Snow Child

Fun snow.
Soft snow.
Happy in the snow.
…in the snow.
Like jam in my toes…
Oh oh!
Mama runs
Out the door.
Gets …
…my boots.
…my socks.
Runs inside…
Warm toes before the fire.
Looking out at the snow.

My own snow child...but with boots!

My own snow child…but with boots!

There’s more fun to be had over at Vivian’s website. Take a moment and read some of the other entries. I am always interested to see how others are able to write a story with just 50 words.