Writing Workshops at my Old Elementary School!

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Last month, I had the privilege of giving writing workshops at Westpark Elementary School. I always enjoy giving workshops, but this was a particularly thrilling experience.
Why, you may ask?
Because….wait for it….
I used to attend Westpark!

That’s right, many years ago, a Goomie-bracelet-wearing (remember those??) fresh faced little Lydia spent 7 years of her life there. It was and is such a huge part of my life. So I was so excited to return and relive that part of my childhood. Here I am below in a class photo, with my “Cindy Lauper hair” and all.

The morning of my workshops, I was bursting with excitement. As I entered the school and made my way down the hall, memories came flooding in. I remembered almost everything. I remembered where the principal’s office was – Mr. Herman used to call me “princess” and give me stickers, too bad he was no longer there! I remember the gym, and chuckled when I saw they still had the same wooden ladders up on the walls from the 1980s! I even remembered where the milk fridge was. The school had of course evolved, but it was basically the same. That was somehow comforting to me. I had some seriously happy times at that school. I didn’t just learn about math and how to spell, but I also developed friendships and became who I am today.

When I made my way to the first classroom for my workshop, I shared my past with the students. They were intrigued. One student even asked me, “So how old are you anyway, like a hundred?” I had to laugh. I remember thinking, in grade 3, that age 40 was ancient.

I spent 5 days at the school and met many students. I have to say, they were all very charming and made my stay even more special. I taught my curriculum, we played games, we talked and we shared stories about our favourite books. My time at Westpark rocked! It was so special to have attended the school, and then return to teach the new generation of students years later. Look at all the smiling faces!

A special thank-you to Ms. Bakalis and the entire staff for hiring me. I hope to return again one day…

 

 

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Q & A with author Ellie Sipila plus GIVEAWAY!!

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog. For this Q & A, please welcome the talented author Ellie Sipila. Here she is discussing her fictional book for children entitled Mark-Napped!. And exciting news, Ellie will be doing a GIVEAWAY for one lucky winner (in Canada or the continental US). Click HERE to enter the contest.

Can you describe the journey to publication for this book?

Yes! This book has an unusual backstory. I went to university for book publishing with a specialization option for children’s books. One of the courses I took—editing for children—gave an assignment in which students had to find a hole in the market and propose a book idea to fill it. The idea was to illustrate that often in nonfiction publishing, an editor might look for and discover an underrepresented area in the children’s book market, then find a qualified author to write the proposed book—different than in fiction publishing. For the assignment, everyone was to come up with an idea and pitch it to a small group, then the winners of the “pitch contest” were to develop their ideas into full-fledged book proposals and pitch them to the rest of the class. Well, my idea won. Huzzah!

When the course was finished, my professor, a former acquisitions editor for Kids Can Press, pulled me aside and said that she thought my idea really had merit and encouraged me to complete it. I was busy at that time and didn’t do it, however. Student life. You know how it is.

Some time later, when I was taking book design, I used the idea again. This time the assignment was to take a nonfiction book—any nonfiction book, real or imagined—and come up with a cover and some of the interior layout and artwork for it. I used Mark-Napped!, and again when the class was through, the same thing happened—my prof said she loved the concept and told me she thought I should develop it further. Things began happening in my head.

When this thing with the profs encouraging me to finish the proposal happened one more time, this time in the “agenting” course, I knew I had something really special. One cannot ignore such a thing three times by three different industry professionals. I sat down and completed the manuscript.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?

My kids, mostly. And my own primary school education. Learning about punctuation is boring. It just is. I saw my kids struggling through their English homework, and, as an editor, it pained me. Like, physical pain. They could not get the concept of when to use a semicolon and what, exactly, was an independent clause. Kids struggle to learn when they don’t really care about a thing, and they don’t really care about a thing if it’s boring. So I thought…there must be a way to fix that. There has to be a way. And there was!

Please share some of your writing process.

This book didn’t really have much of a process, actually. Because it was half written for an assignment, left for a while, then completed later for another assignment, it didn’t really fit into any of the usual writing processes. I wrote the first few chapters in about a week, maybe two, and the second half in a matter or days. Once I had the concept (and the helpful pointers of my peers and teachers), the writing part just happened.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always been a writer. I don’t know exactly. I have a number of fiction items (short stories, a novelette, even a full-length middle grade novel) published under a pen name. I don’t think I ever woke up one day and thought…you know, I think I’d like to write. It’s just one of those things that you do or you don’t to (like brushing your teeth, according to my son).

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?

Well, I do have some thoughts for the next books in the Mark-Napped! series… The next will be about math symbols. Then we will have music notes and elements from the periodic table. My alter ego, the fiction writer, has two or three half-completed manuscripts in the making…but we’re not talking about her right now.

Please share your favourite kidlit books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book. What is it about them that moved you?

My favourites change all the time. Mark-Napped! is a mystery, and I wanted to give it a bit of a spooky feel, like The Monster At the End of This Book (Jon Stone), where readers simply cannot help but turn the pages. Shall we say Sherlock Holmes was an inspiration too? I think it is elementary my dear readers to say that it was! I read so much contemporary stuff. Right now I am in a sci-fi phase; at present, sci-fi is my favourite. Will it last? Who knows? Sometimes I like YA; sometimes I like murder books. I could not pick favourites. I’m fickle. I cannot get into kissing books though (barf).

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?

Who cares if your writing doesn’t fit a mould? There is power in being original.

And a bonus Q- If you could be any flavour of ice cream, which one would you be and why?

Ew. I. Dislike. Ice cream. I love potato chips though! Sour cream and onion are my favourite—they’re classy, but also a little spicy. They are my soul chip.

BIO

Ellie Sipila produces children books through her own freelance business, Move to the Write, an editing and book production company. She earned a specialization in children’s book editing from Ryerson University Publishing Certificate Program.

Website: http://www.movetothewrite.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/movetothewrite/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MoveToTheWrite

Q & A with nonfiction author Laura Purdie Salas

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog. For this Q & A, please welcome the talented author Laura Purdie Salas, whose engaging nonfiction books serve as mentor texts for me (and countless others). Check out what she has to say about her new book Snowman-Cold=Puddle:

Can you describe the journey to publication for this book?
I had been submitting manuscripts to the awesome Alyssa Pusey at Charlesbridge for several years. A couple had come close, but nothing had been the perfect fit.  I first sent her just the equations–no sidebars, though I envisioned sidebars from the beginning. After she expressed interest, I did a revision (maybe two) and added the sidebars (an early version of them). Then Alyssa took the manuscript to an acquisitions meeting, and I got the good news that I would finally get to work with her. (“Good news! Equations + poems + science = high publisher interest!”) I got to have a lot of input into the choice of illustrator and the concept of how the book would look. It was such a great collaboration between illustrator Micha Archer, the Charlesbridge team, and me, even though of course Micha and I never talked directly with each other. (I also share more about the path to publication for this and my other two spring 2019 books in this video: https://youtu.be/iOUtTtQKDRY)

Where did you first draw inspiration the book’s inspiration?
The inspiration for this book came strictly from the format. I was brainstorming different ways to share nonfiction content with kids, and in my picture book ideas list, I wrote: “___ + ___ = _________. Bees + flowers = honey. Short equation. Then longer prose explanation. All science-related. BECAME SNOWMAN – COLD = PUDDLE!”

Please share some of your writing process.
Because the format came first, my writing process started with spewing out dozens and dozens of equations on tons of different topics. Eventually, I realized I needed to narrow things down. First, I tried a year in a park–all four seasons. It still felt too jam-packed. So I decided to focus on spring. So much transformation happens in spring, and equations are all about how different elements change each other to create some new result. I did a lot of research to get the chronology of these spring events in a typical, logical order. And I spent a lot time on the language in the sidebars, too. I wanted the prose there to be just as playful and inventive as the equations themselves.

Why are you drawn to nonfiction?
I like to write all sorts of things, but I do think nonfiction calls to me because I’m 1) curious and 2) constantly amazed by our incredible world. I hope introducing kids to how cool the world is will lead to their loving it and valuing it.

Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I hope to keep having more and more picture books come out–and maybe some easy readers, too, though those are very hard to sell! In the next 12 months, I’ll have three books come out: Snack, Snooze, Skedaddle! How Animals Get Ready for Winter (rhyming non-fiction, Millbrook, 2019); If You Want to Knit Some Mittens (humorous nonfiction, Boyds Mills Press, 2020); and Clover Kitty Goes to Kittygarten (fiction, Two Lions, 2020).

Please share your favorite kidlit books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
I’m going to call Dav Pilkey’s 1999 God Bless the Gargoyles my “classic” book. Does that count? When I read that melancholy story full of yearning and fell into its saturated art, my mind spun with the possibilities of the kinds of moods and stories picture books could share. Lola Schaefer’s An Island Grows is a book that made me see nonfiction picture books in a whole new way and introduced me to the idea of rhyming non-fiction. So many other books have inspired me, of course, but those two I clearly remember making a little bell ding in my head. An Island Grows was definitely a mentor text when I wrote A Leaf Can Be….

What is the best piece of advice you would give to other writers?
You learn more from writing five different picture books than you do by polishing the same picture book manuscript for five years. Don’t be afraid to let go of a manuscript (even a good one) and move on to the next one!

Bonus Q- If you could be any flavour of ice cream, which one would you be and why??
Amaretto with toffee bits–because it’s a good mix of the familiar and the unexpected. I’m a pretty ordinary, everyday person, but I’m of course weird in many ways.

Portrait of Laura Purdie Salas on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, in Plymouth, Minn. (HMH/Andy Clayton-King)

BIO
Laura Purdie Salas has written more than 125 books for kids, including Meet My Family!, If You Were the Moon, Water Can Be…, and BookSpeak! Her books have earned the Minnesota Book Award, NCTE Notables, starred reviews, and more. She offers resources for children’s writers at https://laurasalas.com/writing-for-children/ and has a Patreon community with extra resources for Patrons: https://www.patreon.com/LauraPurdieSalas  She enjoys teaching and speaking at writing conferences around the country.

site: https://laurasalas.com/
Twitter: @LauraPSalas
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LauraPSalas/
Newsletter for kidlit writers: https://laurasalas.com/sign-up-for-a-writer-can-be/
Patreon community: https://www.patreon.com/LauraPurdieSalas
Writing for Children Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/WritingForChildren1/

Grades 1 & 2 Put on a Puppet Show!

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Our mission? To teach fractured fairy tales to Grades 1 and 2, and have them each write out their very own fractured fairy tale, build puppets, and put on a puppet show.

And, we only had a few weeks to put it together.

Was this even possible? It was a lot of work, and not very much time.

But I’m happy to say we did it!

The Grade 1 class focused on the fairy tale The Three Little Pigs, except their main characters were green space pigs! And Grade 2 used the fairy tale The Little Red Riding Hood, expect their main character became the Little White Snow Boy. Very original!

Here are some of their creations:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here I am reading one of my stories, and then the kiddies were lucky enough to get “fairy tale” inspired treats at the end!

A special thank-you to the amazing, one of a kind educator Kendra-Ann Fabes from St. Dorothy School, and to the talented Nancy Saltarelli from Une École Montréalise pour Tous for spearheading the project.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q & A with Amy Losak

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog. For this Q & A, please welcome the talented author Amy Losak. I remember her struggles in trying to publish her mother’s poetry book, H Is For Haiku, years ago. But I also remember how she persevered and kept knocking on doors until she eventually found the right home. She explains her journey below.

Can you describe the journey to publication for this book?
The journey to publish my mom Sydell Rosenberg’s poetry picture book, H Is For Haiku, was anything but straightforward, and it was filled with obstacles and bumps (many of them self-imposed). I hemmed and hawed and used every excuse in the book to keep from starting this project after she died suddenly in 1996. Of course, many reasons for my delay were valid and justifiable – the ups and downs of life got in the way. But what held me back for so long was my ongoing grief after her death, and my deep fear and anxiety that I would not be able to honor her work properly.

Finally, around 2011, thanks to the unstinting support of family and many others, I began slowly to mobilize. This meant organizing some of her voluminous and scattered, packed-up piles of papers and writings, mostly her poetry and specifically, her haiku. I researched the children’s book industry (the KidLit community is generous, and social media has been great for knowledge-building). In April of 2015, I was ready: I mailed out her manuscript – which I had slightly edited from one or two of hers I had located – to several publishers that don’t require agents.

In 2016, thanks to a haiku poet, editor, and teacher, Aubrie Cox Warner, I connected with Penny Candy Books, a terrific independent publisher started by two poets, Chad Reynolds and Alexis Orgera (pennycandybooks.com), They shared my vision for mom’s work. H Is For Haiku was released in April of 2018: National Poetry Month. Sawsan Chalabi (Schalabi.com) is the wonderful illustrator.

H Is For Haiku has been selected by the National Council for Teachers of English as a 2019 “Notable Poetry Book.” It also was a Cybils finalist this year in the poetry category.

What draws you to poetry?
In hindsight, I grew up with haiku – it was a pervasive part of my childhood. Mom, a New York City teacher and published writer, was a charter member of the Haiku Society of America in 1968 (hsa-haiku.org). She studied, practiced, and wrote this form for decades. This briefest but arguably most expansive form of poetry became a part of her personality, I think. It validated and at the same time helped to shape her keen way of looking at the world around her. I didn’t understand this when I was young. Perhaps I didn’t take her passion seriously enough. But I and other family members always knew how important her literary life was to her.

When I began in 2011 or so to organize and leverage her haiku in various ways – including a partnership with the New York City non-profit arts education organization, Arts For All (arts-for-all.org), I found myself drawn to this form. Surprisingly, I began to write my own haiku … badly, but I wrote! And I read the haiku of other fine poets. I joined HSA. I’ve slowly improved. But I’m a late and eternal beginner. I have a lot to learn..

Please share some of your writing process.
Haiku – and of course one can say this about most creative endeavors – requires me to slow down and pay attention to my surroundings. As a hyper New Yorker, I’m always in a rush. I’m constantly distracted or in a hurry to get somewhere. This restlessness can cause me to lose sight – literally – of what matters. Haiku requires a sensory focus on things that matter, however small. In a way, haiku is poetic mindfulness. But it’s much more than that, as well. So now, I try to take the time to linger over small moments, and appreciate them – make them “big.” This takes effort, sometimes. But even if nothing “poetic” comes of this approach to experiencing small slices of life, I’m enriched as a result.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve long enjoyed writing, but I never had any “serious” aspirations about becoming a creative writer. I’ve been a public relations professional for a long time, and I’ve done my share of business writing. As the steward of my mom’s literacy legacy, however, I’ve come to enjoy writing short poems, and I hope to continue.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
Yes, I have another haiku picture book sketched out. Right now, it features more of my mother’s lovely work, but I may add some of my own to make it a mother-daughter haiku book for kids. We will see what happens on this new journey!

Please share your favourite kidlit books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book. What is it about them that moved you?
These are not mentor texts, and they are both classics, but two books – and the heroines in them — that had a profound influence on me growing up (and still do today) are A Tree Grows In Brooklyn and Anne of Green Gables. I explain why in this blog post: https://www.pennycandybooks.com/blog-1/losak

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Over the years, my mom’s decades-old dream to publish a kids’ book became my dream – ours. So my advice to other writers is simple: “It’s never too late to pursue a dream. You have nothing to lose – and everything to gain – by trying. Go for it!”

And a bonus Q- If you could be any flavour of ice cream, which one would you be and why?
That’s easy: Rocky Road! I’m a chocoholic, and this luscious, chock-full flavor expresses my journey to publish H Is For Haiku perfectly!

BIO

Amy Losak is a veteran New York public relations professional specializing in the healthcare industry. She was inspired to write haiku by her mother, Sydell Rosenberg. Amy’s short poems have been published in a variety of poetry anthologies, journals and sites, including: Frogpond, Modern Haiku, Akitsu Quarterly, Failed Haiku, Prune Juice, Asahi Haikuist Network, Daily Haiku, The Heron’s Nest, Blithe Spirit, Newtown Literary, and more.

The photo on the left depicts Amy Losak.

Grade 5 Students Write a Picture Book in THREE Days!

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I love writing!

And, I love giving writing workshops. I especially love when my students get really enthusiastic about their own writing.

I recently worked with Royal Vale Elementary and I had the privilege of teaching two classes of Grade 5. Our mission? To create a complete picture in just three days. (Even I can’t do that!)

And I’m happy to say that we accomplished our goal! Here’s how it went down:

Day 1

We had an intensive first session to get the creative juices flowing. The students learned everything from character and plot development to how to write authentic dialogue. After a lot of back and forth, they also decided what the theme of the book would be.

Day 2

This workshop was the most challenging. The students first created the characters in the story. Then we all developed the plot and the structure of the story. After that, I separated the students into four groups and each group wrote a chapter of the book. There was so much to do, so we had to work fast!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 3

On the last day, I edited the chapters with the students. We also created the list of illustrations, which they drew out. The last task was to decide on details like dedication, and paper and font colour.

I brought everything home and after a lot of editing and layout magic, the finalized books were sent to the printer. When the students saw them, they were ecstatic! It was a wonderful reward for all their hard work.

Check out their final books Immigration to the States and The Condimental Worlds.

Love & Light,

Lydia

Q & A with author Vivian Kirkfield

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Hello all!

Welcome to my book blog. For this Q & A, please welcome the talented author Vivian Kirkfield. Her engaging nonfiction book SWEET DREAMS, SARAH is one of her many new releases. I was grateful she took the time out of her busy schedule to answer some of my questions.

Can you describe the journey to publication for this book?
The manuscript was written the month after I took a class in writing nonfiction. I was excited to tell the story of one of the first African American women to secure a U.S. patent…I turned to librarians to help with the research and I turned to critique buddies to help with polishing what I had written. As soon as I signed with my agent, she sent out the story to about a dozen editors…and one of them bought it. The editor asked for a few revisions/changes here and there…nothing major. Unfortunately, the illustration process took quite a long time…over three years…but that is how it happens sometimes. However, the finished product is beautiful and SWEET DREAMS, SARAH has been receiving glowing reviews!

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
I love to write nonfiction stories about people who have struggled, people whom history has sometimes forgotten. When I discovered that Sarah E. Goode had been a trailblazer, but that she hadn’t been properly recognized in her own time, I knew I wanted to tell her story.

Please share some of your writing process.
When I am writing nonfiction, I find a topic (watch TV or listen to people or surf the internet in order to find ideas) and then I research it. Then I decide what is the focus of the story…what do I want young kids to take away from the book. I fashion a pitch…that helps me to find the thread/heart of the story. And then I write the first line. For me, the first line is really important. It is the way into the story and sets the tone for the rest.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I always loved writing…but never considered writing a book until my children were grown and I wrote a parent/teacher book…the book I wished I’d had when I was younger. And then I discovered a world of writers who wanted to write picture books and I realized that was what I wanted to do also…it was right after I went skydiving at the age of 64.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I just turned 72…and I tell people that I need to live to be at least 100 because I have another 30 years of stories to write. I’ve got three debut picture books that just launched this year…with two more in the pipeline for 2020: Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books, Spring 2020) and From Here to There: Inventions that Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin, Fall 2020). My agent has two or three other manuscripts out on submission and I have many more stories ready to go. We also just sent a nonfiction picture book manuscript to one of my editors who requested a specific book…fingers crossed that I have written the book she is looking for.

Please share your favourite kidlit books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book. What is it about them that moved you?
I’ve always loved The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton…I loved the story of a house that felt out of place…where change was happening all around her…and then finally, she is rescued and brought to a new surroundings where she can start a new life all over again. Newer picture books are mostly nonfiction: Laurie Wallmark’s Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine; Nancy Churnin’s Irving Berlin: The Boy Who Made America Sing; Hannah Holt’s The Diamond and the Boy. The writing in all is so lyrical…and the characters make a hero’s journey. I love them because they are inspiring stories for children and adults.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Nothing is impossible if you can imagine it!

And a bonus Q- If you could be any flavour of ice cream, which one would you be and why?
Moosetracks…chocolate with nuts and caramel!!!! And you ask why? Because I LOVE chocolate and the nuts and caramel only make it better!

BIO

Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more than five words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing and banana-boat riding. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books in the quaint village of Amherst, NH where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her young grandson is her favorite board game partner. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog, Picture Books Help Kids Soar. She is the author of Pippa’s Passover Plate (Holiday House); Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book (Pomegranate); Sweet Dreams, Sarah (Creston Books); Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books); and From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). You can connect with her on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Linkedin, or just about any place people with picture books are found