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Reviews are important

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From The Day I Ran Away

You write a story that you love, you find an editor that loves it too, but the true test is the readers. Will readers love your story? Will they tell others about it? As the viable paths to publication grow, there are more books vying for the readers attention. So reviews are essential for book sales and book sales increase an author’s chance of future publications. There are usually reviews for a few months leading to a book release and a few months after. So it was a happy moment when I saw Melinda Johnson’s  review of The Day I Ran Away 18 months after publication. 

At her blog, More to the Story, Melinda, an author with a master’s in English literature, teases out the layers that make a story one to remember. Her reviews would be helpful to parents, but also great for teachers to use as the talk with students about writing.

When I write I story I’m thinking about some layers but Melinda found layers I didn’t even know I’d slipped into my story.  Here’s a excerpt:

The Day I Ran Away from Flashlight Press is like a well-choreographed dance. Three characters, two voices, three points of view, two timelines, two picture sequences, and a dog spin around each other with no missed beats. The threads fall together easily, and despite action and humor in Isabella Ongaro’s illustrations, the tone of the book is peaceful. The little girl’s growing drowsiness in the bedtime pictures makes sense. She’s been on a big adventure that never took her beyond the reach of love and safety. You’ll want to read The Day I Ran Away over again, even if you aren’t a preschooler, because there’s more to ponder each time you page through the story.

Please visit Melinda’s blog and read some of her thoughtful reviews. And, when you read book you like, write a review! An author will appreciate it!

On writing letters

0211181451_hdrFor any occasion that requires a card I carefully search for one that conveys my thoughts, and yet I can never just sign my name. On any card, I need to write something that is just from me.  And, I must confess, I am disappointed when others don’t do the same!

Long before I was a writer of stories, I was a letter writer. I grew up in the era when snail mail ruled. In college you’d check your mailbox on the way to dinner hoping for some news from home or maybe a love letter if your significant other was not at your college. The letters were read over and over, maybe saved, always answered. As a young mother far from family I wrote weekly to update the extended family on the doings of our family and eagerly waited to receive letters from them.

There are other ways letters or written words can be used. Since I was a child, I have used letters when I wanted to explain myself to someone or apologize.

When we speak our words come out unedited and the listener picks and chooses how they hear those words and their emotions react and they shoot words right back. But when we write words down, we take more care. We think about the words we’ve chosen and when we read them, maybe we “feel” them as the intended reader might. Maybe that helps us choose the best words to convey our thoughts.

And what about the reader? They have time to process the words, to reread before they respond. There is less chance of misinterpretation with those written words. The reader also realizes that, if someone took the time to write, it most be important.

So I think letters can be a tool to help resolve conflict. They can take some of the emotion out of situation. Sometimes a child or student (or adult!) may have difficulty discussing problems calmly. Their emotional reaction may prevent them from stating their points or hearing the other side. That’s a good time to try letter writing. Those involved in the conflict write to each other and respond in writing.

In the same way, written apologies sometimes carry more meaning than the quick “I’m sorry”. Written apologies might even be treasured. Like these from my daughter that is still displayed in our home!0314181432_HDR

In the era of texts and emails, letter writing is becoming a lost art, but it is a meaningful way to convey heartfelt messages. As adults, maybe we can model letter writing and teach our children the lasting power (I smile every time I read those “sorry notes”!) of written words.

And then…

evan bethWhen my children were small we would do add-a-line stories at a meal, in the car or if we were waiting somewhere. Someone would start a story. (You know, the once-upon-a-time kind of story).

Me:  Once upon a time there was a family of owls living in the forest.

Daughter:  They played hide and seek with the other birds.  And then…

Son:  they saw a fire breathing dragon. The owls were afraid because …

Daughter: they didn’t like fire, but the dragon’s fire was all used up. So…

Son:  The dragon went to the evil witch to see if she could help him.  And..

You get the point. My son was always adding the danger and my daughter trying to fix it!

0807181115_HDRRecently I read  Sam & Eva by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, (Simon & Schuster, 2017) and was reminded of this game.  In the book Sam is drawing when Eva joins him. He doesn’t want Eva to draw with him and so begins a drawing battle, as they keep changing the story with their drawings. When Eva’s Marmot is a superhero with a rocket, Sam’s velociraptor shoots lightning out of his eyes. Eventually even the text is being amended by Sam or Eva to change the story. A falling piano becomes confetti which becomes exploding confetti. Eva decides she doesn’t want to draw, but then things get out of hand for Sam as the drawings seem to take over, so Eva draws them a way out. And then it begins again!

While Sam & Eva are telling their story with drawings, I think add-a-line stories are a fun activity for home or the classroom. Maybe a big blank sheet of paper on the bulletin board each week with a story start and students can add to it. Collected over the school year they could be illustrated (maybe in art class), copied and students could go home with a book of stories they helped create! (Of course you might need some ground rules!)

Find lots of Debbie’s amazing “doodles” at Inkyelbows . They will inspire the artists in the room!

Picture a Classroom of Word Collectors

0806181636_HDRI like to encourage students to be word collectors. Words are easy to collect from everyday conversations, music, TV shows, books, magazines, comics or any place language is seen or heard. When you become intentional about collecting words vocabulary grows. While a large vocabulary helps a student’s writing, it also helps their ability to express themselves in conversation. Being able to communicate effectively increases self-confidence.

One of the things I love about picture books is that rich vocabulary and more complex sentence structure can be used because the book is usually read to the child. The person reading the book can explain words or nuances that the child does not understand. This helps a child’s vocabulary and their use and understanding of language grow.

All students, even older ones, can benefit from reading picture books. Send them on a quest to fill a journal with words collected from various sources, including picture books. Challenge them to:

  • look up words they don’t know
  • use words from their journal in their writing
  • share a favorite word with the class
  • Write a word from each student on the board-How many can be used in one silly sentence?

The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds (Orchard Books, 2018) would be a wonderful book to use to introduce this idea. In the book Jerome collects words instead of the normal things people collect.  He collects words he sees, hears and reads. One day, as he carries a pile of scrapbooks filled with words, he stumbles and words come flying out. He sees new combinations of words. He strings them together to make poems and songs. To communicate with others he uses his simple powerful words such as: I understand, I’m sorry, thank you and you matter. One day he releases his collection and is happy as he watches other children start collecting them.

Collecting words isn’t just for students. Start your own list. I find I read more carefully, listen more intently when I’m on the quest to find new and interesting words!




Picture Books about Writing

Picture books about writing are a great tool for teachers to have in their classroom.


Teachers know that we all have different learning styles. They strive to have materials available for all the learners in their classroom.  Sometimes a visit from an outside speaker can spark something new in a student and so I enjoy when I’m invited to a school to talk with students about writing.  While my visit may jump start some creative writing, it’s helpful for teachers and students to have other materials to keep the momentum going.

Over the next few posts I’m going to talk about some picture books about writing that would be fun to have available to students of all ages! They are great examples of presenting information creatively. Even middle grade students will be inspired by these books and the pictures help those visual learners.

The publication dates range from 1995-2013, so some are no longer in print, but I did find them all in my local library.

From Pictures to Words: A Book about Making a Book, Janet Stevens, Holiday House, 1995

Synops0503181706b_HDRis: An illustrator shows her process for writing a story. The “characters” she sees in her head interact with her and each other, and help her write the story. These interactions are humorous. She starts with an image, then creates a problem for her characters. As an illustrator, she sees it in pictures first and then writes the words.

I like:

  • Seeing her “ideas” tell her to write a story about them
  • That her imagination is in color, but real world in black and white. That helps readers focus on the process.
  • That it shows her eliminating characters she likes for the sake of the story
  • Seeing the characters explain setting and plot
  • That she takes from real life experiences (mountains where she lives, camping she did), but shows how you change that to make a story.
  • Seeing her use sketches to figure out beginning, middle and end
  • The characters saying its’ boring to show the need for problems and tension.
  • How she uses a storyboard to map out story with images and then writes words.
  • That it show continued revision as she works with an editor

Arthur Writes a Story: Marc Brown, Little Brown & Co., 1996


Synopsis: Arthur’s assignment is to write a story. His teacher says to write about something important to him, so he writes about getting his dog Pal. But his sister says the story is boring and he should add elephants, so he does. As he shares his story with friends he changes it in the ways they suggest. Eventually his story is nothing like it started. His family thinks it’s confusing. He shares it with the class (by now it is a song and dance story) and they don’t like it. He says it started about his dog. His teacher asks to hear that story. Everyone likes it.

I like:

  • That is shows you shouldn’t let others influence you too much
  • Showing that story can start from what you know, your life
  • The different types of story touched on-humor, mystery, etc
  • It’s simplicity for younger students

I didn’t like that it seemed to say that if you are writing about something that really happened, you have to stick to the story. I like to tell students they can take an event or moment and let their imagination help them change it to a creative story. Fiction, of course!

Author: A True story: Helen Lester, Houghton Mifflin 1997

0503181657_HDRSynopsis: The author tells the story of writing from when she was small-writing grocery lists (illegible at the age of 3) till now. It shows her struggling as a child to think of ideas, getting stuck in the middle, and the difficulty of making changes teacher wants. She was frustrated! She became a teacher and loves to teach writing because it taps children’s imaginations! After 10 years a friend says she should write a children’s book. The book then talks about how writers work. It shows that hurdles are part of the process.

I like:

  • She was a mirror writer and has a good explanation of that
  • Shows how it is hard to think of ideas, make changes
  • Shows rejection and how, even though she feels bad, she writes again the next day.
  • Even though she is an author, she still struggles, gets frustrated, wonders why she does this
  • She keeps a box of fizzled thoughts and half-finished books and uses them for new ideas
  • Talks about revision and show some
  • Talks about writing anytime anywhere-writers are always thinking
  • Even though she’s an author, she’s human. She was sad at a book signing because famous authors had more people in line.
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