Valentiny 2017

As Valentine’s Day approaches our thoughts naturally turn to…Susanna Leonard Hill’s second annual Valentiny contest!
This year, we have to “write a Valentines story appropriate for children (children here defined as ages 12 and under) maximum 214 words in which someone is confused!“ For the full rules, click here.
Last year at this time I was sweating in tropical Hainan, celebrating the Chinese new year. I remember desperately trying to find a place where I could connect to the internet to upload my Valentiny 2016 story. This year I am at home and it’s a totally different story. For one thing, IT’S COLD! But at least I have no problem connecting to the internet.

Candy Calamity

“Package delivery for Mr. Cupidus!”
“That’s me.” The head candy maker climbed down the ladder.
“Sign here, please.” Mr. Cupidus signed.
“Your load’s over there. Enjoy,” said the delivery man.
The head candy maker rubbed his hands. He danced over to the load of 1000 tons of chocolate, just waiting to be moulded into heart shapes.
Mr. Cupidus whipped off the tarp.
He stopped. He stared. He gasped.
Mr. Cupidus’ heart beat faster. “What’s this?”
Instead of a big brown blob there was a huge mound of red and white goop.
Mr. Cupidus sniffed. “Mint.”
He tasted. “Yes, definitely mint.”
He tugged at his heart shaped tie. “What am I going to do with 1000 tons of candy cane fondant?”
“Hey, Mister,” he yelled at the delivery driver. But the driver sped away.
Mr. Cupidus hung his head. “It’s too late anyway. Valentine’s Day is tomorrow.”
Then his head snapped back up. “Unless…I just adjust my controls?”
Mr. Cupidus jumped into action. “Yes, that’s it!”
The next morning, Mr. Cupidus looked at the newspaper.
The headline read:
     Heart-Shaped Candy Canes a Valentine’s Day Hit!
     Mr. Cupidus Declared a Genius!
Mr. Cupidus grinned. “I wonder…What should I do for Easter?”

Don’t forget to read some of the other stories. We participants appreciate it.
And Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope that you enjoy it with your partner and/or children or just giving yourself some self-love.

Book Review: “Meditation is an Open Sky”

“You know when you’re having a bad day and nothing seems to go right?” This is the first line of the children’s book “Meditation is an Open Sky” by Whitney Stewart.
I first heard of Whitney Stewart through a 12X12 webinar. I was very impressed by her, especially by how thoroughly she researches her material, travelling to places to research, and meeting people such as Sir Edmund Hillary. In fact, on her website, she bills herself as “a writer who travels the world”. Not everyone can do this, so it’s great that there are people like her with the ability to do so. It really does make her books come alive.
This book is no exception. It is based on her experiences in Tibet, Nepal, and India and with many meditation masters, including the Dalai Lama.
On Monday, my daughter came home in a cranky mood, so I decided that this was the perfect time to try the book. There are nine different meditations. I let her pick which one she wanted to try, and she decided to start with “jigsaw puzzle for wisdom”, for when you are “feeling all mixed up”. She decided that she wanted to try another one after this one, so the next choice was “bursting emotion for control”. After two more meditations, she was finished experimenting.
I asked her how she felt afterwards. She said that three of them helped, although interestingly enough the “bursting emotion for control” did not. How ironic! Perhaps more practice is needed? Her favourite was “jigsaw puzzle for wisdom”.
I did the meditations along with her. I found that the one I liked the best was “protection circle for security”, but that’s perhaps because of the current chaos in the world.
I recommend the book. It is more important than ever for our children to learn how to calm themselves. And many adults can use a lesson or two too!
If you want to learn a bit more about Whitney Stewart’s interest in Tibet, as well as her interview with the Dalai Lama, you can watch the following video.

To learn more about Whitney Stewart’s research process on one of her latest books, “Feldpost: The War Letters of Friedrich Reiner Niemann”, which is on my “to read” list, click here.
What authors are inspiring you these days? How are you keep calm and centred in the chaos of the world?

The Animals’ Twelve Days of Christmas

It’s time for the sixth annual holiday contest!

Here is a condensed version of the rules, as taken from Susanna Leonard Hill’s website: “Write a children’s holiday story (children here defined as approximately age 12 and under) using the basic format/concept of The Twelve Days Of Christmas!  Your story may be poetry or prose, silly or serious or sweet, religious or not, based on Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or whatever you celebrate, but is not to exceed 300 words.”
Now this is a challenge! After starting with 424 words, I managed to whittle it down to 299. I hope you enjoy it.

The Animals’ Twelve Days of Christmas

Blinky Elf rubbed her hands together. Winky Elf stomped her feet.
“I just don’t understand why we have to do this,” said Winky.
“You’ll see,” said Blinky.
Winky frowned. “We have to do this how many places?”
“You’ll see why…”
Both cleared their throats.
“On the first day of Christmas…my true love gave to me…Some black oil sunflower seeds.”
Blinky scattered the seeds.
“On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me…Two bales of hay.”
Winky put down the hay.
“On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me…Three pine cones.”
Blinky hung them up.
Winky saw a few birds land.
“On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…four corncob pipes…”
The elves stopped and looked at each other.
Blinky shuffled the papers. “Ah, this is the right version.”
“On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…four cobs of corn.”
Winky dropped the corn.
“On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…five water tubs…”
Both elves heaved the tubs of water over.
Rabbits and squirrels joined the birds.
“…Six balls of suet.”
Blinky hung up the suet.
“…Seven tempting raisins.”
Winky saw some deer now and more birds.
“…Eight yummy flowers.
Blinky put them down.
“…Nine scrumptious hawthorns.”
More and more animals arrived.
“…Ten tasty carrots.”
Blinky flung the carrots.
“…Eleven luscious berries.”
Winky scattered the berries.
“Last verse,” said Blinky.
“On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…twelve fragrant apples.”
Blinky threw the apples.
“OK, let’s go,” said Blinky. “We have a tight schedule.”
Winky looked back. Deer, rabbits, mice, cardinals, chickadees, sparrows, squirrels, nuthatches, and woodpeckers feasted.
Winky smiled. “We have to do this how many places?”

<Phew!> I look forward to reading the rest of the entries.

And for those of you who want to sing it, here’s the whole last verse:

On the twelfth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me:
Twelve fragrant apples,
Eleven luscious berries,
Ten tasty carrots,
Nine scrumptious hawthorns,
Eight yummy flowers,
Seven tempting raisins,
Six balls of suet,
Five water tubs,
Four cobs of corn,
Three pine cones,
Two bales of hay,
And Some black oil sunflower seeds.

And if you haven’t read the distinctly Canadian version “A Porcupine in a Pine Tree” by Helaine Becker, you’re in for a treat. See a preview in the video below.

Merry Christmas! Happy holidays!

The Gift of Inspirational Words

I love Alayne Kay Christian’s idea of “giving the gift of inspirational and touching words” to blog readers. She is doing this for a contest; however, we should make this a regular feature in our kidlit community, don’t you think?

My journal

My journal

While looking for an appropriate quote, I revisited my journal, one where I had saved quotes and pictures and cartoons over the years. I had not looked at it for many years, and I really enjoyed myself. I should do it more often.
In the end I decided to go with two quotes that I have had hung up for years. But because they have been hung up, they have sort of blended into the landscape. Yesterday I read them with fresh eyes.
Both quotes have to do with the topic “Believe”. “Believe” is something especially relevant to my life right now, as I have been really struggling with my writing since September. Last week’s five rejections in three days didn’t help…
And so I present to you my two inspirational quotes. I hope you like them as much as I do.


When you come to the edge of all that you know, you must believe one of two things:

There will be earth to stand on,
or you will be given wings to fly.

Author unknown


Come to the edge.
No, we will fall.

Come to the edge.
No, we will fall.

They came to the edge.
He pushed them, and they flew.

Guillaime Apollinaire


I look forward to reading the other inspirational quotes. Perhaps I will find several to add to my journal.
I encourage you to take a look at the quotes too. Maybe you will find something that you needed today.
And if you want to enter the contest, it is open until December 25.

CANSCAIP 2016 Conference

Yesterday, I attended my third CANSCAIP conference. As always, I came home inspired and full of new ideas.
I will wrap up my experience by giving you one insight I gained from each speaker.
Ashley Spires, who has written several fabulous picture books including “The Most Magnificent Thing” and “Small Saul” (our gift this year), was the first keynote speaker. She spoke on author insecurity, which she called “the not-good-enoughs”. She ended her lecture by telling us that coming to a conference like this one is like shouting in the face of the “not-good-enoughs”. I agree!

Kathy Stinson

Kathy Stinson

Kathy Stinson, best know for “Red is Best” (Canada’s “Where the Wild Things are”) and the more recent “The Man with the Violin”, talked about several challenges of writing picture books. She said that most beginnings of picture book manuscripts sounded like a lot of “throat clearing” before a speech. That is, there were many unnecessary words before the actual beginning of the story. So if you are looking for a good place to cut words, then look at your beginning first.
Helaine Becker, the hilarious and very straightforward author of many nonfiction books, gave us a lot of information in her one hour lecture on nonfiction books. She told us that when evaluating an idea, the “kiss of death” is when the information about the idea is readily found on the web.

"Breaking In" Panel

“Breaking In” Panel

My next lecture was a panel of four newly published authors (Joyce Grant, Mahak Jain, Kate Blair, and Caroline Fernandez) who shared their road to getting published. All four, who three years ago were unpublished, had very different stories. They also had loads of advice. One thing that was suggested is to go to the Ontario Library Association (OLA) SuperConference, at least to the expo. There you will find most of the kidlit publishers, as well as librarians, teachers, and book store owners. Hmmmm, I have never been, but it looks like an excellent opportunity.

Patricia Storms shows us her storyboard for "Never Let You Go"

Patricia Storms shows us her storyboard for “Never Let You Go”

My final lecture was on storyboarding with Patricia Storms, author of “Pirate and Penguin” and “Never Let You Go”. She suggested that even if you are not an illustrator, you can draw pictures along with your text when you storyboard. That way you will see what you can leave up to the illustrations and so cut out of your text.
We wrapped up the day with a final keynote from David Booth, an author and educator. He talked about how Canadian children’s books used to be and how they are today, reflecting more of actual life. He reminded us that the future of Canadian children’s books is in our hands. As he so eloquently put it, you can kill a dog in a children’s story, as long as there is a puppy later. In other words, always leave a child with hope.
Bonus: One of the comments made during the breaking in panel by a member of the audience was about the CSARN mentorship. Check it out. It’s free!
What new and/or inspiring writing information have you learned recently? Feel free to share in the comments.

Bringing History to Life

On Sunday, I attended a fabulous talk by Mary-Eileen McClear, a storyteller for more than 30 years, called “Bringing History to Life”.

These are three of the many things that we talked about:

1. You have to know what your story is about. Try diluting it into six words.
I had heard about writing what your story is about in one sentence to maintain focus, but never in six words. This was a fun exercise, and one I will revisit. For some inspiration, go to the six word stories website.

You can also watch this video done by Larry Smith about how six words are often the way in.

2. Story ideas are everywhere.
To prove her point McClear randomly handed out articles she had saved. It was fascinating to hear what stories and connections people came up with based on the article they received. My subject was one that I am going to research more to see if I can turn her story into a children’s story.

That very day I started to read Jane Urquhart’s book called “A Number of Things: Stories About Canada Told Through 50 Objects”, in which she talks about Canada’s history as seen through 50 objects. The author suggests we find 50 different objects and make another version of Canada’s history. I think this is a valuable exercise. Perhaps you do not want to do it about a country’s history, but instead your local history or even your own family history. Who knows what stories there are just begging to be told? Perhaps it is an exercise that is valuable to revisit at the next PiBoMoId in January.

3. Find your way into a story by first discovering why you were intrigued.
You need to connect to your story first so that you will be able to help your reader connect to it. So what intrigued you about the story in the first place? And what emotions did the story bring up? Your readers also need some sort of emotion to connect with.

The afternoon was a fun filled one, and I definitely want to participate in future storytelling seminars.

For now though I have a lot of ideas to work with. One suggestion was to listen to storytellers like Syd Lieberman. Listen to the story called “The Johnstown Flood of 1889” for an exceptional example of making a story come alive through senses. Enjoy!

Halloweensie Contest 2016: Serena’s Shadowy Hallowe’en

It’s that time of year again. It’s time for one of my favourite contests, the Halloweensie contest! Here are the rules from Susanna’s website:

“Write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (title not included in the 100 words, children here defined as 12 and under), using the words spider, ghost, and moon.   Your story can be scary, funny or anything in between, poetry or prose, but it will only count for the contest if it includes those 3 words and is 100 words (you can go under, but not over!)”

Here’s my entry with a word count of 99.

Serena’s Shadowy Hallowe’en

Serena looked up at the Hallowe’en moon, wiping tears from her eight spider eyes. There would be no one to go trick or treating with this year. Her 70 siblings had been splatted or squashed since last Hallowe’en. Hallowe’en had been her favourite time of year. Not now…
She opened her eyes. Silvery shadows hung in the air.
“Hello, Serena,” they said. Serena rubbed her eyes, but seventy silver shadows still shimmered in the air.
“We are ghost spiders, allowed to appear every Hallowe’en,” her siblings said.
Serena smiled. “Hallowe’en still is my favourite time of year,” she thought.

If you haven’t already been creeped out, then here’s a video of the real ghost spiders.

There are plenty of other contest entries to be read to get you even more into the Hallowe’en spirit. Click here to go to Susanna’s website.

Three Children’s Magazine Markets

Recently I have been researching children’s magazine markets. I have not abandoned my picture book writing. However, some of my stories I believe would be better suited to magazines.
Here are three children’s magazines I have submitted to and that you might want to too:
1. Cricket Media
Cricket Media has five literary magazines and six nonfiction magazines you can submit to. Submit your story through submittable for the literary magazines and send a query if you are interested in the nonfiction magazines. Click here for more information.
2. Kayak Magazine
I recently sent a query to the editor of Kayak magazine, a Canadian history magazine for children ages 8 to 13. Unfortunately, I got a rejection the same day. However, it’s nice to know that the editor is open to querying. Here is the list of e-mails for Kayak magazine and its magazine for adults, Canada’s History.
3. Highlights Magazine
Highlights has several different magazines you can submit to through submittable. Click here for more information.

Watch this podcast by Katie Davis for some tips about writing nonfiction for children’s magazines. She’ll even give some links to a couple of nonfiction children’s magazines you can submit to.

Right now we are studying “Anatomy of Nonfiction” by Margery Facklam and Peggy Thomas in my Word by Word Book Club on Facebook. I highly recommend this book for people who are interested in writing nonfiction articles and books.
I am also considering attending The Institute for Writers. By the way, they have a holiday contest. The deadline is October 31. I am dusting off one of my old manuscripts and submitting it. Maybe you would like to too? Here are the details.

“Meet the Publishers” Talk at the “Telling Tales” Festival

I have always wanted to go to the Telling Tales Festival, but something has always come up. However, when I heard that there would be a publisher’s panel there, I knew I had to clear my schedule and make it a priority to attend.
I wasn’t able to arrive until around 2:00, but that still allowed me to experience enough to make me want to go back.

Great crowd!

Great crowd!

The crowds were large as you can see here at Kevin Sylvester’s lecture. I attended the second half and learned a thing or two, such if you want to be an artist, make sure you study math. Why’s that? Many pictures are based on mathematical principles.

Bill Slavin ready to talk

Bill Slavin ready to talk

After his lecture, I had a little bit of time to attend the first half of Bill Slavin’s presentation. It was his first time there, but he said he definitely wanted to come back. I observed his presentation through the eyes of an author. One thing I noticed is that he had plenty of audience participation, which kept the audience engaged.
Another thing I noticed is what a great read aloud book he had just had published. “Who Broke the Teapot?” had the members of the audience–and not only the children–yelling out the repetitive line, which is, you may have guessed, “Who Broke the Teapot?” With a mystery in it, and a total twist to the ending, this book makes a great mentor text. I highly recommend it for children ages 4-7. Well actually children of all ages.
I headed on over to the publisher’s panel next. You may be wondering if it’s worth your while to attend these panels after you’ve been to several. Doesn’t the information get repetitive? Aren’t the questions and answers the same? But my take is that you will always come out with several golden nuggets that you will not get elsewhere. These publisher panels are great places to do research on publishers, and you often will find out information during them that are not to be found elsewhere.
For example, publisher Sheila Barry of Groundwood Books admitted that on their website it states they don’t accept picture book manuscripts. However, even though it states that, if you send them a picture book manuscript, they will read it. They read everything. Groundwood Books accepts unsolicited manuscripts by the way. For submission guidelines click here. But do your research to make sure that it is the right fit for your book.

Meet the Publishers

Meet the Publishers

Vikki Vansickle , author of “If I Had a Gryphon” and marketing and publicity manager at Penguin Random House Canada moderated the discussion, and the third panelist was Denise Anderson, marketing and publicity manager at Scholastic Canada. Denise Anderson did say 99% of the published manuscripts at Scholastic Canada were agented. Hmmm, I wonder about the other 1%.
Next year I hope that I can arrange my time so that I can arrive earlier. I would have loved to have seen talks by Ruth Ohi, Barbara Reid, and Helene Boudreau. And if there is another publisher’s panel, so much the better.

Five Fabulous Middle Grade Series

One thing I love about summer is the summer reading program that our local library has. It always motivates my 9-year-old daughter to read more.

One of the games at the library program

One of the games at the library program

This summer during the program we discovered several great series.

1. “The Strange Case of Origami Yoda” series by Tom Angleberger
My daughter is a big fan of “Star Wars”, so I thought she would enjoy reading this series. In fact, this turned out to be her favourite series, and one I really enjoyed too. Actually, it is the only one of the series where I read all of the books.
In the first book, which was the favourite book of both of us, the story centres around a group of sixth grade kids trying to figure out whether or not the origami finger puppet “Origami Yoda” that Dwight, a loser, brings to school is real or not. “Origami Yoda” supposedly can predict the future. But can he really?
After finishing the series, my daughter was totally into making “Star Wars” origami characters. She even spent an hour making an elaborate 6 origami character birthday card for her cousin’s birthday.
The following video will teach you how to make “Origami Yoda”.

Go to the website for more “Star Wars” origami tips.

2. “The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency” series by Jordan Stratford
I wanted my daughter to learn more about some famous females in history, so that’s why I picked this series for her. I love the fact that there is back matter telling the real life stories of the main characters, as well as the stories of the characters that they meet during their adventures.
In an alternate universe, 14-year-old Mary Shelley (author of “Frankenstein”) and 11-year-old Ada Lovelace (the world’s first computer programmer) meet and form a detective agency. It’s fabulous that they use math, science, and critical thinking to help them solve their crimes.

3. “The Imaginary Veterinary” series by Suzanne Selfors
I picked these books for my daughter, because she wants to be a vet.
Dr. Woo’s Hospital for Imaginary Creatures arrives in small town Buttonville one day. 10-year-old Ben, a visitor to the town, has befriended Petal, and both of them become apprentices to the vet, leading to a series of mysterious adventures.
To read an excerpt from the first book, “The Sasquatch Escape”, click here.

4. “The Ninja Detective” series by Octavia Spencer
My daughter is learning karate and aspires to be a black belt, and so she loved the main character.
Twelve-year-old black belt Randi Rhodes is the world’s first ninja detective. Randi solves crimes with the help of fellow ninja detectives D.C. and Pudge.

5. “The Jedi Academy” series by Jeffrey Brown
Like #1, I thought my daughter would like the series, because it is related to “Star Wars”.
Middle school aged Roan has always wanted to be a pilot, but he fails to be accepted into pilot school, and instead he finds himself in Jedi Academy. The series is an imaginative mix of text, drawings, and doodles.
My daughter is writing her own version with the main character as Tegan.

Bonus: “The Anne of Green Gables” series by L.M. Montgomery
This was one of my favourite childhood books, and I was so excited when I was finally able to read it to my daughter. I was worried that she would find it a bit old fashioned, but she loves it, although at times she finds some things weird. For example, she asked me to stop saying “bosom friend” and instead use “best friend”. We often talk about how different things were 100+ years ago.
The book is about a spirited, imaginative, talkative 11-year-old orphan called Anne, who is adopted by Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert of P.E.I., changing their lives forever.
I sometimes find that reading the book aloud is a challenge, due to Anne’s long speeches and her use of big words, so you may want to get your child to read it to herself or himself.

These books are great for both girls and boys. And if the main character is a girl, don’t discourage your boy from reading it, as you may inadvertently be doing, as explained in this article.
I am always looking for new books for us to read. One series that I have just discovered is called “The Mysterious Benedict Society” by Trenton Lee Stewart, and I am looking forward to delving into it.
What middle grade series do you recommend?