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.

Writing Update and Writer’s Block

Today I am meeting my local critique partner, Beverley Baird, to go over my two potential contest submissions for the CANSCAIP Writing for Children Competition 2016. Are you entering? The deadline is July 31. I may submit three to the contest: the two I am going to go over with Bev, and one I am working on with my SCBWI Canada East mentor, Lizann Flatt.
How’s it going with you? Are you writing? If not, then watch the video below that has some good suggestions how to overcome writer’s block.

Morning Pages

So recently I have been listening to some of the lectures from the Hay House World Summit 2016. The summit provides free lectures from experts around the world. I have listened to lectures about everything from sound therapy with Dr. Jeffrey Thompson to weight loss with Dr. Libby Weaver to epigenetics with Bruce Lipton.
There were plenty of lectures related to writing too. One thing I want to explore more in depth is Gail Larsen’s unique approach to public speaking. Like most writers, I feel uncomfortable with making presentations, and Larsen’s tip about using real stories to connect with your audience is intriguing.
Another presentation related to writing that I thoroughly enjoyed is Julia Cameron’s. Julia Cameron’s most famous book is “The Artist’s Way”. Many of you I am sure have read it, and I did too, when I first declared that I wanted to be a writer. Back then I used to do morning pages, but I have not done them in a few years.
After listening to Cameron’s lecture though, I decided that I needed to get back to doing them. I have been struggling with focus lately, and guess what? Writing the morning pages has helped me start to regain that focus!
So what are morning pages? They are three pages of longhand writing that you do first thing in your morning. They can be about anything. I use them to write about things that are bothering me, so that the bothersome thoughts don’t keep whirling around in my head, taking away my energy from other things. But I also use them to write down what I wish to do and goals I wish to achieve.
Watch the following video to see how Julia Cameron does morning pages.


So what about you? Do you do morning pages?

I am looking forward to next year’s Hay House World Summit. I hope you join me.

Brian Henry’s Guelph Mini Children’s Writing Conference

This year instead of attending the Canada East SCBWI conference like I did last year, I decided to attend one closer to home. I went to one facilitated by Brian Henry in Guelph. I have always wanted to take a course with Brian Henry of Quick Brown Fox fame.
I thought with it being close to home, surely there could be no difficulty with delays like at my last two conferences. Well, I managed to get there on time, but, unfortunately, Brian Henry was 1&3/4 hours late due to a bad traffic accident on the 401.
Brian did make it up to us, staying later and giving out critiques. I stayed afterwards and got a fabulous critique.
Besides Brian who talked about the different type of children’s books, what kids are interested in, and how to get rejected, there were three guest speakers:

1. Jennifer Mook-Sang talked about the process of getting her first middle grade novel “Speechless” published. “Speechless” was one of the finalists of a CANSCAIP Writing for Children Competition, a competition she highly recommends as all 10 finalists have their work submitted to three Canadian publishers. Speechless has been shortlisted for a 2016 diamond willow award (grades 4-6).

2. Kira Vermond is a nonfiction writer who hails from Guelph. I actually have had the pleasure of eating lunch with her at a CANSCAIP conference. This time I bought three of her books, including her latest, “Half-truths and Brazen Lies: An Honest Look at Lying”, which of all her books she is the proudest of. Kira talked about the top 6 things you should know when writing nonfiction for kids. She also mentioned that if you think about your writing as a gift to others, your writing anxiety will melt away. Cool philosophy!
My 9-year-old daughter’s favourite book of hers is “The Secret Life of Money: A kids’ guide to cash”.

3. Yasemin Usar is currently a senior editor at Kids Can Press. She has 18 years of experience in the industry. At Kids Can Press, they will accept picture book manuscripts of up to 1000 words. You should look at their catalogue to see if this is the publisher for you. Yasemin answered many questions including the much debated one about illustration notes. Her opinion was that illustration notes are acceptable as long as the notes were not every step of the way, and as long as they helped to understand the author’s vision.

I hope that there will be another local mini conference like this soon.
I will also attend a course in July in Kitchener on revising. For more information on Brian Henry’s courses, go to his website called Quick Brown Fox.

Three Favorite Blog Posts from RhyPiBoMo 2016

That is, so far…RhyPiBoMo is not quite done.
I have always admired people who can write rhyming picture books. Two years ago I joined a rhyming critique group during RhyPiBoMo, but my rhyming manuscript was largely a dud.
Still it was fun to try. And I am growing more and more interested in rhyming picture books. Who knows? Maybe that’s what I was really meant to do. I just have to push back that mental block that says it’s too hard.

Here’s what my favorite blog posts are so far:

Verla Kay’s “Cryptic Rhyme” Blog Post
This is a fascinating post about how she turned bad rhyme in great rhyme.

Margarita Engle’s Post “Occasional Rhymes” Post
I’m going to be studying her texts more closely, as she is a non traditional rhymer.

Susan B. Katz’s “Rhyme Will Stand the Test of Time” Post
It’s written entirely in rhyme. Wow!

Bonus: Here’s a video Eric Ode made about rhythm and rhyme in picture books.

What’s your favorite rhyming book? Leave me a comment below.

I am revising

Last year in 12 x 12, I wrote 25 picture book manuscripts. Wow! I am very proud of myself. You can watch the winners’ video and celebrate my success as well as the success of all the other winners in 2015’s 12 x 12 challenge.

This year in 12 x 12 I have written a total of ZERO picture book manuscripts. Yes, that’s right: not even one…Now why is that? I know that I had decided this year to focus on craft, after being rejected by all the 12 x 12 agents last year. But still, I wasn’t even revising any of my manuscripts. That is until now. I have suddenly become a revision machine. I’m going to share with you what kickstarted the process.

1. ReFoReMo
I started to use mentor texts to improve my “how-to” manuscript. Inspired by the suggestions and list in this post by Tammi Sauer, I was able to look at my manuscript with fresh eyes. Already I am seeing positive changes in the manuscript that I was stuck on.

2. Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen’s webinar in 12 x12
This is one of the best webinars that I have ever seen. I have always struggled with writing character driven picture books. I tend to write story driven manuscripts. But the way Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen laid out how to write a character driven picture book suddenly made sense to me. She based her examples on Star Wars, although she was quick to point out that in a picture book, there is not supposed to be a mentor. Instead we as the authors are the mentor. Cool, huh? I can’t wait to take her next character building picture book course. In the meantime, I am applying what she taught to the manuscripts I have already have written. And some of them are already looking spiffier.

2. Laura Purdie Salas’ picture book fixes course
Currently reasonably priced at 10 US, Laura Purdie Salas goes through five common picture book mistakes that keep you from being published. Module one takes you through discovering the difference between a picture book manuscript and a short story manuscript. A short story manuscript is something that would be printed in a magazine. I’ve always wanted a more concrete way of judging this, and Laura Purdie Salas gives a good foundation. Right now I am busy comparing magazine articles to picture books, one of the exercises. This way I can discover if some of my manuscripts are really better suited for magazines. After all, if a publisher is going to be spending thousands of dollars to publish your picture book, they are going to be very picky, and so you want to make sure that your manuscript is in top shape before you submit it.
So if you are stuck on your manuscripts, don’t give up hope. Just keep researching and learning and something will come up that will make you see things in a whole new way.

Writing Update, March and April 2016

So what have you been working on lately?

This is a wrap up of the writing projects I have just finished, as well as the writing projects that I am working on:


1. ReFoReMo
ReFoReMo is wrapping up this week. I am a winner! I analyzed and logged 87 picture books with some more to still come. I concentrated mainly on books with sparse text, and I think I have found some tricks of the trade. I am going to try them out anyway and see what people say.
Click here for a good post by Laura Purdie Salas on minimal word counts.
By the way, there is a new site for ReFoReMo. You can go to the site by clicking here and register for the newsletter.

2. Chapter Book Challenge
This is also the last week for the Chapter Book Challenge. This year I wrote two emergent reader manuscripts. One I love and one I hate. I am thinking about changing the format of the one I hate to a similar format that I used for the one I love. Can’t hurt to play around with it!
My favourite post was a very comprehensive one by C. Hope Clark about character building. To read it, click here.

3. Word by Word Book Club
We have finished reading “Save the Cat” in this Facebook group and will be starting to read “Second Sight” by Cheryl B. Klein starting the first week of April.

4. Debut Picture Book Group
The current picture book that we are studying in this Facebook Group is “One Plastic Bag” by Miranda Paul, which is excellent. I definitely hope we have an author chat with the author!
We will study “Snappsy the Alligator” by Julie Falatko in April.

5. RhyPiBoMo
RhyPiBoMo starts at the end of the week. Registration is until April 8, so you still have time.
If you want some basic tips about writing verse for children, editor Audrey Owen has a free course, which I am currently taking. Click here for more details.

By the way, if you haven’t read the stories of the winners of the 50 precious words contest, go on over and do so. You’re in for a real treat. Click here to read my entry, but I admit that my quality is not near as high. Ah, something to shoot for next year!

So what writing projects are you up to?

50 Precious Words Contest 2016

I always love the short story contests that Susanna Leonard Hill runs. So I was excited when Vivian Kirkfield announced that she was running a 50 words or less contest. You can see the rules if you click here.
I admit that this was quite the challenge. Events of the past week drained me emotionally. So I decided that I would try to modify one of my 100 words stories. But it was way too hard, and I don’t think the story actually was understandable with only 50 words.
So yesterday when my daughter was on a playdate with a friend who had recently moved, I listened to their conversation, hoping for some inspiration. Bingo! I decided to base my story on one of their conversations about how they would keep in touch. Certainly the actual conversation was much longer and what they decided in the end was different, but the contest story is only supposed to be 50 words or less…I am thinking that their full length conversation could be turned into a picture book manuscript.
I hope you enjoy it. Be sure to go to Vivian’s website to read the other stories too.

Friends Forever

Friends Forever

Friends with Imagination
50 words

Cam was moving.
“I know,” Annie said. “Let’s share an imaginary friend.”
“Annie, we’ll hardly play with each other anymore.”
“But Cam…we can have a book where we write about our imaginary friend’s adventures.”
“You get the book first. When we see each other again, I’ll get it.”

Let me know what you think in the comments.

Alzheimer’s and Dementia Picture Books

This week’s post is a little late, because the day before yesterday was the day we put my father in a senior citizen’s home. It was a heartbreaking decision, but he could no longer be safe at home.

Because of this, I am not getting much writing accomplished this week. But one thing I am doing is keeping up with the ReFoReMo posts. So far my favourite post is this one by Tammi Sauer about structure. It gave me some ideas about a “how to” manuscript I have been working on. If you have not signed up, it’s too late to register for prizes but not too late to follow the blog posts.

I am also doing some picture book research for a personal project that I am working on. My dad has Alzheimer’s, and it is rapidly progressing, which is the reason we had to put him in a home. So I decided that I would use the time during ReFoReMo to study how Alzheimer’s and dementia is explained via picture books. I want to find out if and how I can tell my father’s story and more specifically my 8-year-old daughter’s experience of her grandpa with Alzheimer’s.

There are two books that I read that I want to recommend. The first one is called “Grandma” by Jessica Shepherd. I like this book, because it concentrates on the transition of the grandma to the senior citizen’s home and what life is like for her there. I think that’s an important topic that needs to be written about more. In many books, it is just touched upon.

My husband and I were the ones who dropped my father off the day before yesterday, so my daughter has yet to see his new place. But already she was asking questions, questions that I know came from reading “Grandma”. Can we have a tour when we get there? Who lives next to him? How big is his room? I appreciate that the book is helping her understand the transition.

I also liked that “Grandma” talked about the anger that many seniors with dementia have including my dad. There is also a back matter section if the parent wants to go into more detail with the child. The book won the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Best Book Award.

Recently my daughter brought back “Mile-High Apple Pie” by Laura Langston and Lindsey Gardiner from her school library. Now this is an older book, but it won several accolades including being nominated for the Blue Spruce award, and it is still very relevant today.

I liked this book for several reasons. One is that it is set in the present time from the beginning. Many other picture books I read did a lot of reminiscing–some for far too long. The fact that it is set in the present immediately drew me into the story. Perhaps that is because I am living it. Another thing is that the grandma lives with the family, which is the situation we were in. My dad lived with us. I know that’s an unusual arrangement, so most books show the grandparent living in their own house. Therefore, “Mile-High Apple Pie” shows the necessity of having respite care from the situation. (Our recent respite care was our trip to China.)

My daughter noted that the child cried in this book. That was a complaint she had about other books. “Why does nobody ever cry,” she asked me. It is a heartbreaking situation, and there are certainly going to be tears.

Certainly these picture books are more reflective of our experience of Alzheimer’s. If you have others that you would like to recommend, please leave a comment for me.

3 Things I Learned from Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic”

Wow, my life has been a wee bit chaotic lately. I was away in Hainan, China to celebrate Chinese New Year. That was an awesome week! I even got to go to the beach.

The Beach

While I was there, I managed to post my entry for Susanna Leonard Hill’s Valentiny contest. That was an adventure: posting my story on my cell phone in a restaurant with an incredibly slow internet connection. But I got it done! If you did not get to read my entry, you can click here. And click here to read all the finalists in the contest. (Update: I’ve been awarded honourable mention. Yay!)

This week I decided that I was going to post about a recent favorite book that I recommend all creatives read, “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Here are three things that I learned from the book:

1. Stop complaining about being a creative. Sure being a creative is tough. But not only is complaining about it annoying, but it also scares away inspiration. Instead start affirming “I enjoy my creativity.”
2. You are only in charge of what you create. You are not in charge of how others interpret it. And if people absolutely hate what you create, then you can politely suggest that they go and create their own art.
3. If you ever worry about your store of ideas drying up, then go watch some children for inspiration. They never stress about where ideas come from and whether or not they will have new ideas.

If you like these examples, there are plenty more like them in her book. Have you read it? Feel free to comment below about one of your favorite nuggets from her book.