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 All four, who three years ago were unpublished, had very different stories.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?

Three Publishers Accepting Unsolicited Children’s Picture Book Manuscripts

It’s hard to believe that summer is almost over. In less than two weeks school starts, and then a more structured and scheduled life begins again.

I know that I have neglected this blog a little bit in the past few weeks. Although I will miss the free and spontaneous nature of summer, I am also looking forward to having a bit more structure in my life.

I will miss my morning glories

I will miss my morning glories!

In the past week, Brian Henry of “Quick Brown Fox” has generously shared three publishers accepting children’s picture book (and other) manuscripts.

The first is Albert Whitman and Company. They are accepting picture book, middle grade and YA manuscripts. Picture book manuscripts for ages 1-8 can be either fiction or nonfiction, and they can be up to 1000 words. For submission guidelines click here.

I am going to direct you to Brian Henry’s website to read about the other two. This is as a thank you to Brian Henry, because he’s very generous with sharing his knowledge. As well, his website is chock full of information about agents and publishers, and he prints some great stories by his students. It’s worth your while to receive his newsletter.

For the next publisher (picture books to YA), click here.

For the final publisher (picture books and novels), click here.

As always, make sure that you research these publishers to see if they are a right fit for you.

By the way, at Brian Henry’s last course I attended, I met a student who told me that Highlights magazine is now taking submissions online, so you no longer have to mail them. Click here for more details. I have recently submitted two pieces. Wish me luck.

What publishers do you know that are taking unsolicited children’s picture book manuscripts?

Review: Susanna Leonard Hill’s Story Cards

I am just back from a vacation in Quebec City, one of my favourite cities in the world. I had a fabulous, fun-filled five days there!
Although I was away from home, I still continued to do creative things. That included observing the clouds from the plane for a story I have in mind.

The basis of a future story

The basis of a future story

I also played dress up at the Museum of Civilization. The museum had this awesome exhibition where you could dress up as fairy tale characters. I had a blast there. I even dressed up as more characters than my daughter! As I have written before, it’s important to remember to play to continue to light your creative fire.

Do I rock this costume or what?

Do I rock this costume or what?

Before I left, I met my local critique partner, Bev, for a writing session. We tried out Susanna Leonard Hill’s “What’s the Story” cards, which I won from Susanna’s Holiday Contest. (Yes, I meant to do it earlier, since I won them around Christmas. Just think of this blog post as a celebration of Christmas in July.)… Anyway, to read my winning entry, click here.
To read a short description of the cards by Susanna, click here. It is at the end of the blog post. The basic idea is that you use words from different categories (i.e., problem, setting, goal) to write a story. You can either use a story card that gives you suggestions or you can draw your own.
I had tried the cards once with my daughter. We had done a preliminary informal session where we had used the cards to tell stories orally. That was a lot of fun.
This time with Bev we decided to write down our stories. We set a time limit of 5 minutes for each story and did three stories. Instead of jumping into each story immediately like I usually do, I decided to take Bev’s lead and brainstorm first before writing each story. I think that her way is a great way to do it.
For the first exercise, we each used a different “What’s the Story Card” to inform us what categories to use. You can check out my picture to see my card choices. I accidentally replaced cake with birthday, but no matter. And my character completely surprised me! I will tinker with this story to see if I can make it work.

My selection of story cards

My selection of story cards

For the second exercise, we each drew our own categories. This was the hardest of all three exercises for both of us.
The third exercise was the most fun. We both used the same “What’s the Story?” card with the same choices. Not surprisingly, we came up with completely different story lines! Bev came away from that exercise with a story that she wants to use! Hurrah!
So as you can see, the whole writing session was a success with both of us coming away with a workable story. So I’m giving the cards a two pens up!

What I like about these cards:
They are very flexible:
• You can use as many or as few cards as you wish.
• If you don’t like your choice you can draw another card, as Bev did one time.
• You can brainstorm first or not.
• You can set a time limit of a few minutes or no time limit at all.
• You could save a particular story to work on later, as Bev did.
However, my favourite part is the category choices, and I think that this is the strongest point of the cards.

Who could use the cards:
Well anybody really, but here are some suggestions that Bev and I came up with:
• People who want to work on a certain category that they are weak in (One of my weaknesses is themes, so this will be one I will concentrate on.)
• If you have writer’s block
• For warm up exercises
• As a confidence booster: see, you really are creative!
• Beginners who think they have no ideas
• On a day when none of your ideas appeals to you

Any drawbacks?
Well none, really. The only time I struggled was when I pulled a card from every category. I think though, had I brainstormed first, it would have been manageable.

How do you get your hands on these cards?
Click here to go to Susanna’s website to order them.

Thanks, Susanna, for your generosity and for creating such an excellent tool.

Summer 2016 Writing

It’s summer, and it’s hot! But my writing is not…
Well, that’s not completely true. I have made a breakthrough in my writing, which has actually lit a bit of a fire underneath me. I have recently realized that my writer’s block is sometimes due to the fact that I am frustrated. I get frustrated not knowing where I am going wrong and how to fix the problems in my manuscripts. Why continue to write when I seem to be doing the same things over and over, and it’s not getting me anywhere?
That’s why it’s important to continue to study the craft of writing. So I am currently taking an excellent self directed course called the Art of Arc. Alayne Kay Christian’s course goes really in depth into picture book writing, and it has allowed me to make that breakthrough I was talking about. The course comes complete with worksheets that allow you to analyze published picture books plus your own manuscripts.
Anyway, the reason that my writing is not as hot as I would like it to be is because summer is always a chaotic, unscheduled time. My daughter is off school. We go on vacation. And so on. I hope to continue my blogging every two weeks, but if not, understand it’s due to an often chaotic schedule. For example, I realize that I am one day late for today’s blog post. Oops! That’s actually because I have spent the last two days driving my dad around to various appointments. But I am planning on doing a session with my local writing partner, Bev, on Friday, which will lead to my next blog post. Bev and I will work on our writing using Susanna Leonard Hill’s “What’s the story” cards. Click here to read a short description of the cards that Susanna has added to the end of a blog post.

badge-final-4x4-brighter-heart
In the meantime, I am getting excited for this year’s Kidlit Summer School. If you haven’t already signed up, you still can until July 15. Click here for the information.
I wish you heat in your writing this summer. But keep cool in your life and in this weather.

Book Review: “Our Canadian Girl”

One of my favourite times of the day is reading to my daughter, age 9, before she goes to bed.
Recently we have become captivated by the “Our Canadian Girl” chapter book series. This is a series of books geared towards children ages 8-12. Every series of four books stars a girl set in different places and times in Canadian history. Though the girls may be bound by the conventions of their time, they are free spirits who don’t like following the rules, making them easier for today’s youth to relate to them.
I love these series for introducing ways of living and ideas that are unfamiliar to children in a way that they can understand them.
These are the series that we have been reading so far:

1. The Angelique series

The series starts in 1865. In book 1, “Buffalo Hunt”, Angelique is a 10-year-old Metis girl living in the Red River Valley, who is participating for the first time in a buffalo hunt. Angelique is allowed to do the job of looking for the beaded gloves that mark her father’s buffalo kills, traditionally a boy’s job.

My daughter loved this book, and asked if we could recreate the buffalo hunt this summer. So we have started to make the bags that carry the buffalo meat in them, although using scraps of material instead of the buffalo hide.

Book 2, “The Long Way Home”, in which Angelique saves their family’s buffalo runner, Michif, the skilled horse used in buffalo hunts, was also very popular with my daughter.

2. The Ellen series
The first book is set in the “dirty thirties” of the depression, and the series continues into the time of WWII.

In “Hobo Jungle”, book 1, set in Vancouver, Ellen and her family have been forced to move in with her grandpa, and Ellen is wishing for a whole lot of things that are no longer available to her: ice cream cones, a new dress, even her own bedroom. But when she meets Will, one of the out of work men who rides the rails in order to find odd jobs, she begins to see the world in a different light.

My daughter could not understand why Ellen would be afraid of using a wringer washer. I don’t think that she has ever seen a wringer washer being used, so I introduced her to the machine.

The most thoughtful and thought provoking discussion came when we were reading book 2, “The Wishing Time”. World War II has started, and one of their new classmates, Marjorie, has had to flee Shanghai, China due to the Japanese invading. Things come to a head during Hallowe’en when Ellen’s best friend Amy, a Japanese Canadian, wears her kimono, and bad memories return for Marjorie.

3. The Millie series

My daughter proclaimed this the least favourite of the series we have read so far, but I still like it, because it is set originally in Toronto and then the Kawarthas, areas more familiar to me. It allowed me to introduce, for example, something I think all Canadians should experience, the haunting cry of the loon. Check out the following video.

Though these books aren’t new–some books are already over ten years old–they will hopefully continue to captivate generations to come.

My daughter has learned so many things about Canadian and world history, geography, and social conventions through the “Our Canadian Girl” books. I have too!

We voted–yes it was very democratic–to next read the Rachel series, set in Nova Scotia in 1793 about a girl who has escaped slavery in South Carolina. Then we want to read the Penelope series, which is set in Halifax in 1917 during the Halifax explosion. Eventually we hope to read them all.
And I hope that you will check them out and enjoy them as much as we have. Let me know in the comments below if you plan to or if you already have, and what you thought.