Ciara O’Neal, writer (with many other hats), is hosting the Spring Fling Kidlit Contest for the third year in a row, but this is my first year participating! I am so grateful for the opportunity to play with words and connect with other writers in the kidlit community. I hope you enjoy my submission!
Spring's Best Enchanter
By Lexi Donahue
The earth leans towards the sun
And winter melts away.
In corners of the earth
Sit basins sealed in clay.
The water drenches all the ground,
The soil, silt, and muck.
Dry dormant eggs and seeds wake up
And feed the traveled duck.
Spring to life
And water clover
And piping plover
The wood frogs hop and croak and splash
While salamanders meander.
There's much to see in vernal pools.
Go visit spring's best enchanter.
Vivian Kirkfield, writer for children, hosts many writing contests through out the year that inspire, lift up, and create connections amongst writers. #50PreciousWords was the shift in revision I needed to build momentum around PB writing again!
I had a very rough draft of a PB inspired by my two year old, who very earnestly believed that the moon followed us on our afternoon walk. She traversed a wide range of emotions: scared, intrigued, and playful. I hope to never forget her discovery of the moon now that the moment is captured in these forty-nine words.
The moon was out
The moon followed.
When I hugged the tree,
the moon waited.
Up the hill
Slow and steady
The moon cheered
At the top,
I looked down
the moon by my side.
Then the moon followed me home
and wished me goodnight.
I found another new tradition to participate in this year: Susanna Leonard Hill’s 10th annual holiday writing contest! I love finding new traditions in 2020 almost as much as I love Hill’s theme, “holiday helpers.” Entries for the contest must…
-Be 250 words or less
-Be for children ages 12 and under
-Be about someone helping someone else during the holiday
-Have a complete story arc
To read the complete judging criteria, enter your own entry, learn about the wonderful prizes, and read other fantastic entries, check out the contest post.
I hope you enjoy my entry! I hope you go write your own holiday story. I hope you share your holiday story with me. I hope you enter it in Hill’s Holiday Contest. But most of all, I hope you have a terrific holiday season.
A Gift for the Giver
A Holiday Story by Lexi Donahue
Elidi the elf checked her list There were gifts for everyone else. But then she thought of Santa Claus He never gets a gift himself!
“Attention everyone, I have an idea…” She hollered atop her stool. The adults just shook their heads at her. “That youngin’ must follow THE RULE.
Sit down, little one, and craft those presents. Plan and build the gifts on your list. Your boys and girls, they did their best. They hoped, and dreamed, and wished.”
Elidi questioned, “If Santa says Giving is the best gift of all, Then who in the world gives him a gift After he ships the holiday haul?”
The elves looked to the right and left Had no elf made Santa a present? “Imagine the ground beneath Santa’s tree The emptiness, quite unpleasant!
We’ll fill the space with just the thing…” They painted and polished and wrapped Glitter and ribbon flew ‘cross the room, And once they were done, they clapped
The door creaked open and “Ho, ho, ho...” Interrupted all the emotion “What in the world are you building in here? I’ve never seen such commotion!”
The elves danced and jingled around Hoping that they could delay “Build and wrap the real gifts, quick! Send Santa on his way!”
Late that eve, when he came home A present surprised Santa there. He winked and Elidi smiled wide, “You gave me a gift this year!”
Halloween is by far a favorite time of year in the Donahue house. Costume prep, haunted houses, and carving pumpkins build our excitement towards passing out candy for the neighborhood trick or treaters and sharing some of our reptiles with them! This year, though, is of course…different. So when the opportunity to review some terrific Halloween books published by Candlewick Press arose, I couldn’t pass. I don’t know how books and writing haven’t been a part of Halloween yet since they are central to most other parts of my life, but these titles certainly broke ground for a new tradition.
Families with younger readers are going to love Gustavo The Shy Ghost by Flavia Z. Drago. The illustrations and content celebrate Day of the Dead and this friendly little ghost couldn’t be more lovable. Any writer looking for mentor texts around the theme of belonging will benefit from the tight story arc with a character that will warm any readers’ heart. Drago creates the perfect ending, without sacrificing Gustavo’s individuality. The illustrations make this picture book ideal for even very young readers. My two year old had a ball finding Gustavo hiding on every page, examining the other monsters, and cheering Gustavo on as he played his violin!
Readers and writers of middle grade novels looking for a spooky story that combines rescuing a pet will be hooked by The Rise of Zombert by Kara Lareau and illustrated by Ryan Andrews. This book is ideal for middle grade readers that have moved recently from chapter books into middle grade. The plot moves quickly, the writing is easy to follow, and the illustrations embedded within the novel as well as at the beginning of each chapter give children space to think and make connections across the text! The author weaves together four clear story arcs:
Mellie struggles to be noticed by her blog obsessed parents who spend all of their time recording her younger twin siblings…
Mellie and her best friend Danny attempt to deal with their arch nemesis, Carl…
Factory workers of the town’s biggest factory hunt down their escaped lab cat…
Mellie and Danny try to help a stray cat that may or may not actually be a zombie cat…
Some of these arcs are resolved, while the most compelling arc just reaches the climax as the book ends. I was relieved to see that Rise of Zombert is a part of a series, but I really wish the next book was already released because this cliff hanger is intense. Any writer trying to figure out how to create an ending to a book that will be part of a series could study this to see how some parts of the plot are resolved while others will lead the reader right into the next book.
For all the readers out there that gravitate towards texts structured in a nonfiction format, Ghostology: A True Revelation of Spirits, Ghouls, and Hauntings is the perfect Halloween read. The book is filled with folklore and facts about spirits and ghost hunting, but the best part is that his book is currently haunted. The evidence provided in the book of this spirit creates a mystery all readers will want to solve. There are clues hidden within the book and across the book and the reader plays a very active role in deciding how far they want to go to solve the mystery of the spirit haunted within this book. I can’t wait to read other books in the Ology series!
This Halloween covid-19 will prevent my family from trick or treating, sharing a good spook in a haunted house, or carving pumpkins with our extended family, but these books sure added to our fall festivities. Reading new spooky books will definitely be a tradition we carry on, even though we hope we can enjoy all of our other traditions in October 2021!
A big thank you to Candlewick Press for providing these titles for review!
The best way to survive a tornado? In the Elephant’s Girl by Celesta Rimington, Lexington knows how to endure a storm better than most. If only she could feel as confident on the calm weather days when she ventures away from her home base, the zoo. She rarely leaves the zoo due to her special connection to one of the zoo’s elephants and close relationships with the zoo staff. Rimington portrays Lex’s ache to have a family of her own, the impressive loyalty of her friendship with Fisher, and her strong desire to find confidence to overcome her anxiety. Any reader will root along with Lex for the adults in her life to honest and make morally just decisions. This mystical adventure will satisfy readers who love animals, baseball, trains, storms, geography, restoration of antiques, and wandering spirits!
After reading a description of Pine Manor’s Plotting your Novel class instructed by Brandom Kiely, I was inspired to map out Lex’s motivations and how Remington raises the stakes as she moves the plot from one chapter to the next. Writers of middle grade will appreciate Rimington’s ability to raise the stakes chapter after chapter, weave enthralling backstories for main and side characters, and connect their conflicts masterfully. The use of personification of weather and description of visual communication will inspire writers to create unusual characters and rethink which character should reveal information! The use of setting as a boundary for safety plays an important role in this novel and the impact of this boundary shifting over the course of the story mirrors Lex’s growth as a character. This idea of tying setting to conflict is definitely a writing move I want to try as I revise my own MG WIP!
All in all, I highly recommend The Elephant’s Girl to readers who love treasure hunts, stories of friendship (whether between people or people and animals), and stories of finding where you belong!
To say that my niece is obsessed with pugs is putting it lightly. We have read countless pug books together, with many pug stuffies tucked into enjoy the story. So naturally when I came across this picture book I knew I had to review it with Samantha.
The thing we found when we literally gobbled up this delicious read, was pure joy. Joy in the vibrant, fun illustrations. Joy in the goofy activities Pugtatos “spuddies” tried with Thing. Mostly though, joy in the unexpectedly adorable nature of the vegetable animals. Samantha emphasized Corrigan’s entertaining cast when she said, this story is “different because it combines vegetables and animals.”
Page by page Samantha and I went back and forth guess what Thing could be. “It looks like…” she pointed at the illustration. Page turn. “No wait!” we burst out on more than one occasion. The mystery of Thing as it was misidentified throughout the story (by us and the “spuddies”) propelled the pages forward with such speed that we were almost sad when the book ended.
Almost sad, but not actually sad. How can we say we were sad when Samantha’s first words after reading it were “Pugtato is the funniest.” Not only that, but the ending also has the two key components of every great picture book. Pugtato manages to solve the mystery all on his own, and once the mystery is revealed, it seems obvious, even though we didn’t foresee the answer. Samantha sums up our thoughts beautifully. “At first, Pugtato didn’t really believe in himself, but in the end he figured it out on his own. It was a good ending. I liked the whole book.”
So that’s our take on Pugtato Finds a Thing. A definite must read for pug lovers everywhere and for anyone who wants a good laugh wrapped up in a satisfying story.
January 2020 has arrived and I can’t wait to vote for my favorite MCBA book! For those of you who don’t live in Massachusetts, or just don’t know about MCBA, it stands for Massachusetts Children’s Book Award. Children around the state have the opportunity to vote for their nominated favorite book. It’s an award powered by kids’ choice!
As a teacher, I also read the books nominated. I loved every book which means I need time to think long and hard before voting. There are two books that stand out to me for opposing reasons: I knew I would love the one about the dog, but I didn’t expect to like the ‘basketball’ book.
I knew from the title that I would love Patricia Maclachlan’s The Poet’s Dog. Even with my high expectations, the communication between Teddy (the dog) and the two children exceeded all expectations. I laughed at dog antics. I cried over Teddy’s loss. When I was done, I gave my own pups an extra squeeze.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander was a book I avoided as I made my way down the list. Maybe I didn’t want to read it because of my terrible experience during a fourth grade P.E. basketball skills class (which is a story for another time). But the basketball loving students in my current classroom devoured this book. They passed it to other kids. They held it high above their heads’ and claimed that I had to read it. So I did…and I was wrong. This book is about so much more than basketball. The father-son relationship and the use of verse to tell the story makes me want to read it again, and then pass it along to the next reader echoing my students’ insistence: “You have to read this.”
Voting hasn’t happened yet and you only need to have read 5 books from the MCBA list! For more information, check out:
Five years ago, in the middle of a math lesson on a snowy day in January, our school librarian sprinted into my classroom and interrupted (read saved) the kids from having to finish simplifying a mixed numbers problem. She handed out a list of books and said “If you’ve read at least 5 then vote for your favorite book at lunch tomorrow!”
Replay this scene every year. And every year, I am mad at myself because I didn’t read five. So this summer I jumped straight in. This vote won’t sneak up on me this January.
Here are the books I’ve read so far:
Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon. I absolutely loved the hamster humor in this book and admired Harriet’s strong, fearless adventure. The illustrations in this graphic novel are beautiful.
The Poet’s Dog by Patricia MacLachlan. As a writer and pet lover, this book tugged all my heart strings. The flashbacks and the distinctive voice of the narrator, Teddy, made this a book that I will love reading again and again. It’s a great example of how a ‘short’ book can still carry the biggest of life’s themes.
Ancient Egypt by Ken Jennings. Jennings talks directly to the reader right from the first page. His clever description of time travel and ability to frame the setting in a way that kids can relate to is going to make this a read that everyone can learn a lot from! I’ll report back with my favorite fact when I am finished.
I hope you will join me in this year’s MCBA adventure! Here is the website for more information:
Time for…Rehearsal! No, no, I am not in theater. No, no I am not playing an instrument. No! I am not singing. I am writing!
Thanks to Andover Public Schools funding, I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend Teacher’s College’s writing institute at Columbia University for the second time. Whenever there is talk about teaching writing, there is talk about the process…which of course starts with rehearsal.
You know what I noticed this week, though? Whenever authors talk about rehearsal, it is usually paired with something. Jack Gantos talks about rehearsing as he is climbing the stairs in the library. Leslie Connor talks about her morning walk with her dogs in the woods. Educator Meghan Hargrave spoke yesterday about rehearsing as she runs. And I know you’ve heard people say, “I do my best thinking in the shower.”
Why? My hypothesis is that these tasks are automatic. We don’t have to think about them so our minds are freed up to wander, plan, and consider new ideas. In these situations, our minds are not distracted by advertisements, TV, facebook, news, or twitter. They are just free to dream, explore, rehearse.
Now picture where you are in your writing process. Where do teachers ask kids to do brainstorm? I ask my fourth graders to talk out loud to their partner, sitting down, in a timed, pressured situation. But what if I told my class about a writing skill before P. E., recess, or if during morning work I gave them five minutes to do a few laps outside and think about their writing and goals.
I must have this discussion with the kids I teach. We should talk about rehearsal and discuss where they feel most comfortable rehearsing for their own writing.
Let me know your rehearsal routines. I’d love to dig deeper into this pattern.
“I don’t like Koala,” written by Sean Ferrell and illustrated by Charles Santoso is a picture book worth reading. It is creepy. Not what you’d expect from a picture book right? But as I read through the book, I couldn’t help not liking Koala either…there’s something not quite right about that Koala!
Now, don’t get me wrong, this picture book isn’t all creep. The unexpectedness of the creep factor is witty and will have you laughing out loud. It is crafted magically and is fun to read aloud. It is all the things I hope my book will b.
How I’m using this book as a mentor text:
I received a thoughtful critique of a manuscript I am working on that recommended I bring the story back around to the way it started. Have you ever been attached to an ending? Too attached? That’s how I felt about this ending. I was convinced I would rather change the beginning of the story to match the end rather than revise the ending.
Enter: “I don’t like Koala.” From a wording perspective, the ending comes full circle. On the other hand, from a concept perspective, it is literally a cliff hanger. (I told you, creepy!) I have never thought to try out a cliff hanger at the end of a picture book. In fact, a cliff hanger doesn’t really fit the manuscript I’m working on now. Still, Ferrell’s ending made me rethink the predictability of coming full circle and inspired me to begin revising that ending I thought I loved. Some day soon, maybe my current work in progress have an ending worth reading too.