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Getting Into Character highlights a simple strategy for helping young authors quickly develop interesting story characters--with just a few hats to set things rolling.
Oftentimes, DIALOG is overlooked in revealing characters. Read Character Talk to discover how the conversations in your story disclose amazing information--and help make the story so much more fun and readable.
Below I've included two templates for creating characters. If you want to you use a picture of your own, no problem. Write away!
Create a Character : Girl
Use the picture on the left to help you create a character by completing the form below.
AGE _________________ HEIGHT/WEIGHT ____________________
WHERE SHE LIVES ____________________________________________
TELL ABOUT HER FAMILY ________________________________________
FRIEND (S) ___________________________________________________
ANY PETS ____________________________________________________
From beginning to end, this book will help you shape a super story—perhaps even a monster story that you can illustrate!
Whatever you’d like to learn tomorrow—or throughout the summer, remember a good starting place is your local library or bookstore or online sites like For Kids here on my website or at the American Library Associations Great Websites for Kids.
I’d love to hear about some of the cool stuff you’re learning!
Jolly Fish Press has acquired my middle-grade fantasy series Monster or Die and will be publishing the first book, From the Grave, in Fall 2016. Editor TJ da Roza fell in love with my wacky and wonderful monsters with his first read—and who wouldn’t.
Frightful and fun.
Delightful and deadly.
These creatures bring a whole new meaning to monster.
Be sure to follow along the journey to publication. With monsters in charge, most anything might happen.
Summer is nearly here. School ends and fantastic summer reading begins.
Summer is the perfect time for kids to kick back with some books. Children who read during vacation will enhance their reading and educational skills—rather than backtracking and losing scholastic ground. With the incredible choices in quality children’s literature, every child can find an interesting book.
For younger readers, these diverse books are being made available through First Book, an organization which helps provide books to needy children.
It turns out that you are never too old to have a birthday--as in a 3,000-year-old birthday!!!
That's right. A mummy at the St. Louis Museum of Art will celebrate his birthday next month. His name is Amen-Nestawy-Nakt, and he lived in 900 B.C. He was a priest at the Temple of Karnak and must have done a good job to merit such a fancy mummy case.
Perhaps you'd like to celebrate mummies too. A great way to do it would be to explore a few books on the topic. There are a great many good ones out there at your school or public library or your local bookstore.
Here are a few I found:
SECRETS OF THE MUMMIES by Harriet Griffey This is a Level 4 reader that presents mummies from around the world.
MUMMIES IN THE MORNING by Mary Pope Osborne Another Magic Treehouse Mystery--this one finds Jack and Annie in Ancient Egypt encountering lots of adventures.
MUMMIES IN THE LIBRARY by John Perritano Who knew mummies and math go together? Well, it seems very beneficial to know division in order to embalm a mummy. Find out how it all works with this math challenge story from iMath Readers.
Hope you find someMUMMY special to hang out with! Happy reading :)
and SPRING to arrive, it's a great time to enjoy READING!
I usually highlight story books, but today I'd like to celebrate some fun research sites.
DK Publishing has a free online encyclopedia: FIND OUT The site is for simple searches on a variety of science-related topics. Results provide a colorful illustrated page with brief explanations and related topics. Of course, if one of the topics interests you, check at your local library for a corresponding DK book on the subject.
Another free online site, available through public and school libraries, is EBSCO Kids Search. This is a more in-depth database of magazines, encyclopedias, dictionaries, web articles, biographies, books, newspapers, and photos. A handy tool to have at your fingertips.
Kids Info Bits from Gale/Cengage Learning is search resource available through some libraries as well. It's a more simplified database of sources, including magazines, encyclopedias, dictionaries, and maps. It includes advanced search capabilities and is geared toward elementary school students.
So during this month focused on READ ALOUD time, choose a topic of interest (I know my grandson would pick Monster Trucks); use one of these kid-friendly sites or a book and read together for 15 minutes.
Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter--every season is just right for READING!
April has been a busy, crazy, fun, busy, poetical, busy, bunny business month--and it's not over yet. So before it gets any crazier, I'll share what I've been reading, doing, writing...
Who says libraries are just for books? Not the Lorain, Ohio children's librarians! They are encouraging kids to explore their creative side in fashions with "Sew Lorain Kids." A long time ago I worked in a couple of libraries in the Cleveland area. I'm so glad to see that the librarians there are continuing to be innovative. There are so many great craft how-to books in libraries, but why not give kids a chance to actually put the lessons into practice. My hats off to all of you in Lorain!!!
I've been working on a variety of writing projects--one of them is an easy reader narrative nonfiction book on stars. So I was delighted to see a new book by Kathleen T. Isaacs which highlights picture books dealing with nature: BUGS, BOGS, BATS, AND BOOKS. Young readers--as well as their parents--often need help in finding age-appropriate books on various nonfiction subjects. This title also including science activities relating to various topics in the book. Look for this book at the library or ask your librarian to help you find some delightful nonfiction books to share with your children.
Kuddos to another librarian--this time with the focus on poetry. Thinking totally outside of the norm, Cathy Jo Nelson, a South Carolina educator, blogs about "The Unexpected Perks of Poetry." She and a teacher collaborated on a poetry assignment--encouraging the students to create poems from words in book titles: spine poetry. Ms. Nelson elaborates in her blog about the many bonuses of this activity for both students and faculty. Poetry always seems to expand the world for us.
I'm writing the rough draft of chapter book with a poetic ghost in it. Although the story didn't start out with a lyrical ghost, she just appeared out of thin air--so to speak. And who am I to tell her that she doesn't belong in this story. I might be haunted for eternity...so I continue writing.
Apparently April is also NATIONAL HUMOR MONTH. Although I was unaware of this, I have been reading some humorous picture books of late. A couple of favorites are CREEPY CARROTS by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Peter Brown. Here is a video by the illustrator explaining how he envisioned the sneaky carrots. My two-year-old grandson loves this books. We've read it over and over again. I've even made him his own creepy carrots with real carrots and a black sharpie. Beware biting into that next crispy, orange carrot! There may be many more lurking in the shadows--just waiting to pounce!!!
The other fun picture I've been studying of late is WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN by Jodi Moore, illustrated by Howard McWilliam. The author uses the "what if" storyline to create an elaborate beach day fantasy complete with fire-breathing dragon. And the illustrator brings the creature to life with humor and charm, sure to entertain children of all ages. But of course, there is the dilemma--once a dragon moves in how do you get him to move out??? Rather like the moles in my backyard, I'm afraid. :)
So here's hoping April is poetically humorous--and beware of carrot-eating dragons, or something like that!
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This will be the seventh year in which you can choose a favorite book to win the CHILDREN'S CHOICE BOOK AWARD. The award is given by the Children's Book Council.
You'll find the list of books in the running for the award at the link above. The voting continues into May, so you have plenty of time to read all of the books in your age bracket. The winners will be announced during Children's Book Week, May 12-18. When you visit the Children's Book Week site, you'll find cool freebies:
You can also find out above local events that you can participate in. Most likely your school or a local library will be planning something special during Children's Book Week--because we all know how very special both books and children are!
Today we had a break from the cold winter temps, so my dog Holly and I enjoyed a long walk. But we'd barely made it back inside, when it started pouring rain.
Now if I'd been writing a story, this would have been much too easy a course for my characters. They took a nice walk and escaped the drenching rain without batting an eye. Absolutely no TENSION or CONFLICT.
In a real story, poor Holly and I would have been bent over double, battling the high winds. The thunder would have rumbled around us, lightening sparked. And of course, we would have scrambled and scraped to make it back in time--only to have been walloped with a downpour mere steps from safety.
A good story needs plenty of TENSION and CONFLICT. Here's some examples in books I've been reading:
DIRTY GERT by Tedd Arnold. A young child adores dirt, so much so that she finally starts to sprout.
THE DARK by Lemony Snicket. A young boy is terribly scared of the dark, and one night it invites him into the basement.
FOG ISLAND by Tomi Ungerer. A boy and girl become lost in their boat during the fog. When they land on Fog Island, they climb the slippery stairs and meet an enchanted wizard.
Can you find examples of TENSION and CONFLICT in one of your favorite stories? Can you write a story filled with TENSION and CONFLICT?
I think it's quite fun to amp up wattage in a story. Give it a try. It's nice for your characters to arrive eventually at a happy ending--but don't make it too easy for them.
I'm in the middle of revising one of my fantasy novels. This one involves fairy tale characters, so there has to be at least one castle, right? And a giant and...yeah, lots of fun characters and settings.
When one of Rich Davis' drawing posts came into my mailbox last week, it reminded me how fun the illustrations will be for this story I'm working on. Too bad I'm not a super illustrator like Rich. But with his step-by-step instructions, most anyone can become an artist.
Here's the link to his "Draw a Castle." I hope you'll give this picture a try--or try one of the other drawing lessons on Rich's site.
As you can see below, I truly do have a CASTLE in my very own backyard. And a friendly GIANT lives there. He loves to go sledding with the children who drop by. :)
A fun way to celebrate the holiday season for children of all ages is to create poetry. The poetry could be part of a Christmas card greeting, or a decoration to hang on the tree, or just a celebration of the winter season.
For young children, the poem can be a simple free verse phrase or two. For older children, rhyme and rhythm can be incorporated. For all, the choice of subjects abounds from wintery scenes, to well-known Christmas themes, or even end of year reminiscing.
A simple poem exploring a winter scene is Winter Treats, found on my website. Use this poem to encourage children to look outside and describe a scene they see. Can they bring the scene to life with their words?
An example of a Santa poem at Essential Learning Products is Hip! Hip! Hooray! by Beverly McLoughland. This poem could be used with children to jump start their poetry writing. It also could be used as a geography lesson, traveling the globe with Santa.
For a more spiritual poem, read Christmas Day, also found on my website. Have the child find a Christmas card picture or perhaps an ornament that he likes. Then have the child use this image to create a poem in rhyme, free verse, or haiku.
Poetry should be a fun and creative process. There are no rights or wrongs--only writes!
I hope you can join me this Friday evening at the first annual Missouri Author Expo at the Webster Groves Public Library. This event is designed for readers of all ages with authors of both adult and children's works. Numerous authors will be doing readings from their books, as well as selling copies. What a fun way to meet some local authors and perhaps start your holiday shopping. Here are the details:
Fri, November 8, 6pm – 9pm
Webster Groves Public Library – Adult and Teen Events
Come meet local authors! Enjoy readings from their books! Get a head start on holiday shopping! Fiction, non-fiction and children’s books! Refreshments!
Here it is October already and, of course, Halloween is just around the corner. But if you are looking for some fun reads besides ghosts and goblins, then Guardian Angel Kids new online magazine is waiting for you!
In the DOWN ON THE FARM issue, you'll find chicks, and pigs, and even alpacas. There are stories, poems, and articles about farming and farm animals. Plus, a recipe for making your own butter--no churn required! You'll find lots of other activities included as well--games, videos, and coloring pages to download.
A very courageous librarian in Whitestone, New York--Susan Scatena at the Queens Library--promised eager summer readers that if they read at least 4,000 books she would read to a real life alligator. Well, close to 350 students signed up and read nearly 5,000 books, so Ms. Scatena did what she promised.
She read "There's An Alligator Under My Bed" to five-foot Wally, a female alligator--and to hundreds of amazed children. Wally made no comment about the Mercer Mayer picture book, but she seemed mesmerized during the story time. A good book will do that to a reader.
I must admit that I'm much braver reading or writing a story ABOUT an alligator than actually reading TO one. But my hat is off to brave Ms. Scatena. She proved just how important children's literacy is to her. Hopefully, you'll be just as committed in helping the children you know--or yourself--be the best reader(s) possible.
The library--at your school or at the public library--is always a great place to start. There are so many choices of interesting, exciting, funny books that you can choose from. And I bet you can find a helpful librarian there as well.
Last week, I had the opportunity to spend an evening listening to Patricia Polacco--the incredible children's picture book author and illustrator. And this week, I was quite excited to have the opportunity for a live presentation with British children's author, Jonathan Stroud--the creator of the Bartemaeus Sequence. I'd read the books some time ago and loved their rich storytelling, adventures, and humor. I thought it would be quite a treat to meet Mr. Stroud in person, as well as learn of his new series--LOCKWOOD & CO: The Screaming Staircase.
But alas, this author event was forced to be cancelled due to some misfortune with Mr. Stroud. It seemed rather like one of the blocked avenues in his tales when the protagonist's best laid plans goes awry. Lucky for me, however, I stumbled upon an online interview with Mr. Stroud, via PUBLISHERS WEEKLY. In fact, they have a number of interviews with various children's authors available for a listen.
So while the online interview couldn't take the place of a live author sighting, it was great to hear Mr. Stroud. I enjoyed his enthusiasm for his books and characters and felt privileged that he shared some of his writing insights.
I hope to listen to more of these online interviews--hope you can too! But I plan to keep all the lights on :)
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I had the wonderful opportunity to listen to the amazing author/illustrator PATRICIA POLACCO on Monday evening. She discussed a few of her books--in particular THE KEEPING QUILT and THE BLESSING CUP. Both of these heartwarming stories are based on her own true family stories.
Ms. Polacco said that she came from a family of "amazing storytellers." Every evening her grandmother would share a story, embellishing them more and more as the years went by. "Of course it's a true story," her grandmother would say when asked. "But it may not have happened."
The author went on to explain that "the truth is the journey one takes through the story." She also shared her feelings on her illustrations. "Art is like breathing," she said. "I can't imagine life without it."
I encourage you to share the journey through one or many of Patricia Polacco's endearing picture book stories. You'll be so glad that you did.
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Continuing with story basics, today I'll talk about Outlining the PLOT.
Sometimes a scene or a story comes into my mind almost whole, so I just need to capture it quickly and write in down. But that’s only sometimes.
More often I discover bits and pieces—character ideas, a hint of a setting, possible problems. For me, this is a good time to do some brainstorming. My best brainstorming happens when I let my mind wander. I take my dog for a walk, or unload the dishwasher, or pull weeds in the garden. In other words, I let my body do something so automatic that it doesn’t really require my brain to be involved in the activity. This frees my brain to wander—to explore the “if’s” and “or maybe’s.” All the possibilities.
After diving into the possibilities, I can usually begin to sort them out. They fall into place—more or less. Then I sit down and do the briefest outline—the taking aim. If it’s a short story, the outline is probably no more than a few sentences—beginning, middle, and end. If it’s a novel, the outline is by chapter—still only a sentence or two for each chapter. Any, or all of this, could change—be totally rearranged, before the story becomes whole. But by taking aim—lining up my shot—I know exactly where I’m trying to go. I rarely become stuck—no writer’s block or running into a wall or lost meandering.
Of course, that doesn’t mean every attempt hits the mark. But it generally comes close and makes the revising much easier.
So give it a try. Next time before beginning your story, take aim. Who knows—you may hit a hole in one on your first shot!
Writing a story takes a lot of revisions. Believe me, writers don't get it right the first time. But good writers are excellent at making just the right revisions to take even a so-so story to grand heights!
A new writer friend asked me last week to review a picture book story that she needed to revise quickly for an interested editor. It was a Christmas story that hopefully would go into print in 2014. So she had no time to lose in presenting a polished story to the editor. A story the editor would love.
Well, the story meandered way too much--like a young duckling I recently saw. He strayed far away from Mama and his four other siblings. Yes, he's not in the picture because he refused to join the group--even after Mama left the others behind to coax him back.
Unlike the wayward duckling, my friend handled my suggestions for getting her story back on track. Plus, she added her own touch to create the story that she wanted to tell. After two pretty grueling revisions, she had a polished Christmas story to submit.
And-- so as not to keep you in suspense-- her editor thought it was "fantastic!"
Last week, I suggested ideas to spark children with the writing their own stories. That's the first step. Revising their stories--like my writer friend did--is the second step. Stay tuned and I'll offer some suggestions for helping the child in your life polish his/her story. The changes required will probably stir up some waves but ultimately create a better story.
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Do you want to encourage a child you know to write a story? Grab a few hats! Look in your halloween costumes or perhaps toy box. Or if necessary, visit a dollar store. You can usually find cheap play hats there. I've collected baseball hats, cowboy hats, construction hats, wizard hats, viking helmets, and so on. Have each child choose a hat or you can randomly plop a hat on each one's head. This is the start of building a story. This hatted creature is going to become the main character in each story.
Of course, the child can choose to write the obvious story--a cowboy story to go with a cowboy hat. (especially for younger children this works well) But for students from maybe third to fifth grades, try to encourage the character to have a problem. What if the cowboy had to move to the city? How does he deal with the noise and all the people? Did he have to leave his horse behind? How will he make new friends? WIZARD HAT: What if the wizard can't do magic? BASEBALL CAP: What if the winning pitcher on the boys' baseball team is a girl? TIARA: What if the young princess wants to tame dragons instead of learning how to dance? Check out my website for worksheets that also help with character building. For a GIRL character. For a BOY character. Don't make it too easy on your characters. Problems make for an interesting story. How will your character attempt to solve his or her problem? Another tip I give young writers is this: decide if each story is realistic fiction--like it could really happen. Or if the story is fantasy--magic, dragons, and unreal stuff like that. This should help keep the story more focused. And I'm not saying that a writer can't mix the two--like in Harry Potter. I just want young writers to be aware of what they are doing. An author is like a chess master--the better she knows how to move her pieces around the board the more effective she'll be in playing the game. So grab a hat! Be creative. Let your imagination run wild. (but it may be hard to hold onto your hat if you do that :) Some great suggestions for books on writing: Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine Live Writing by Ralph Fletcher What's Your Story? by Marion Dane BauerAdd a Comment
I admit to having a sweet tooth. Resisting a delectable cupcake is nearly impossible. As you can see below, Sam thinks so too!
And just in time for summer celebrations is a new children's cupcake cookbook, WHAT'S UP CUPCAKE? by Dana Meachen Rau. The recipes will teach you how to make "food art" with cupcakes. And while you're munching on your cupcakes, you can read one of Ms. Rau's other kids' books--she's written a bunch. Everything from fireworks to how your stomach works.
I visited the library a few days ago and checked out a huge bag of books. Here are some of my favorites:
WHAT WILL HATCH? by Jennifer Ward & Susie Ghahremani. This simple nonfiction book explores seven different animal eggs and challenges the reader to guess what's inside. Cut-outs on each two-page spread add to the fun.
PENGUIN and PINECONE by Salina Yoon. A penguin befriends a little pine cone. After many adventures together, the penguin realizes he must return the pinecone to its warmer home. He does and leaves a sweet reminder of their friendship.
1 + 1 = 5 and Other Unlikely Additions by David LaRochelle and Brenda Sexton. This math challenge book is a blast! The colorful illustrations hint at the answer to solving each problem. For example: 1 + 1 = hundreds??? I'll not spoil your fun by giving the answer away.
How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans by David LaRochelle and Mark Fearing. Yes, the story is just as fun as the title. Martha hates green beans and proves that they are up to no good in this silly adventure escapade.
NUGGET & FANG by Tammi Sauer and Michael Slack. I've been a fan of Ms. Sauer for some time, and her latest book does not dissapoint. Another sweet friendship story, this one packs in plenty of goofy goodness--along with sharp teeth--and proves a minnow and shark can be pals.
BEING FRANK by Donna W. Earnhardt and Andrea Castellani. While being truthful is an important lesson for everyone to learn, this entertaining tale points out that honesty is often "best served with sugar." A laugh-out-loud read.
Congratulations to author, Debra McArthur, for her book--A VOICE FOR KANZAS--which was chosen as one of the 15 Kansas Notable Books by the Kansas Center for the Book. The middle grade story takes place in Lawrence, Kansas in 1855. Kansas is not yet a state. Many in neighboring Missouri don't want Kansas to become a free state. Trouble quickly mounts for 13-year-old Lucy, the book's main character, as she faces the hostile Border Ruffians. Lucy must decide what she stands for--slavery or freedom--and then be brave enough to follow through.
I'm reading the book right now, and I had the privilege to attend a workshop by Ms. McArthur earlier this year in Overland Park, Kansas. She talked about her writing and research on the novel. Since I'm working on my own historical fiction novel set in Kansas--although at a different time period and location--I was quite interested in hearing the author's reflections. It was well worth my trip.
Click on the author's name above, and you can watch an interesting book trailer on A VOICE FOR KANZAS.