Top 10 Homes in Middle-Grade Fiction by Keir Graff

It’s true, a well-imagined setting can make a story pitch a tent in your heart forever. I’ve read many of these books in Graff’s top ten list of middle grade books with memorable home settings, and I can attest to the influence they have had on me as an author. Settings are sometimes my favourite bits to write. Enjoy!

Nerdy Book Club

Homes are important in kids’ books, probably because visiting other people’s houses awakens our first wonderings about how other people live—and, by inference, how we might live once we get to make decisions about such things. (Imagining others’ circumstances also has a lot to do with the development of empathy, too.) I’ve spent a lot of time lately talking about the real-life inspirations for my new middle-grade novel, The Matchstick Castle, which had its genesis in my notion of writing a story in which a house was a character. Strangely, it only recently occurred to me to think about the fictional houses that wormed their way into my imagination—or maybe it was the other way around. Please note that this is my top 10, not a claim to being THE top 10, and, with only a couple of exceptions, reflects my 1970s childhood and the titles that were widely read…

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A New Kind of Book Club by Sarah FitzHenry

Okay. I know I keep stealing blogs from the Nerdy Book Club, but seriously, if you haven’t subscribed to their blog feed, do it! Such inspiring stories about librarians, teachers and authors finding innovative ways to promote book culture! This one is about a librarian who suffered from shyness as a child in her school book club, so she found a way to engage all types of learners in her library’s book club, and succeeded in spades! I just shared this post with Kwame Alexander on twitter and he said it made him all emotional ❤ I can’t wait to read his free verse novel called “Booked”!

 

Nerdy Book Club

Book clubs. As educators, we love them – but for student participants, they can be intimidating. Some students aren’t strong readers; others don’t like talking in front of groups; some readers, like me, can struggle to put their feelings about a text into words. As a child I loved to read. But during book discussions, I found myself lost and confused, feeling like an inconvenience to the group. While I often loved the book, I feared the inevitable discussion. I wanted to move and dance and celebrate the text in a way that felt special to me – instead, we sat around a table while I dreaded my turn to talk. I left most book discussions feeling discouraged and embarrassed; I couldn’t seem to express how much the books meant to me. When I became a school librarian, I knew that I wanted to create a new kind of book…

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Can You Make Someone Fall in Love? by Emily Hill

I love this blog by Emily Hill – an honest admission that she is not a naturally quick reader, but that she works at it still as an adult and instills the love of reading in her children by making books a part of their everyday enjoyment. She teaches them that it’s okay not to like a book, that you just have to keep searching for the ones that you do like, and that the search is part of the fun. I used to gobble up books as a child but as an adult I got more and more picky and I barely read anything in my twenties. Then, I worked at it. I remembered how much I loved reading as a child, how comforting and fulfilling it had felt to me. And I wanted that again. Now I, too, rarely finish my book club’s book per month, but I do read the books that I like and I keep searching until I find the ones that do. And if some lay on my floor unfinished? Oh well! On to the next one. 🙂

Nerdy Book Club

georgia-readingLast week, I posted a picture of my three-year-old sitting in our dog’s bed reading a book. It was a precious little moment that I was lucky enough to capture. After I posted the picture, a friend and former colleague of mine suggested that I write about how I work to instill a love of reading in my children.

And it truly is something I “work” towards.

I am not a person to whom reading comes easily. Yes, I was a high school English teacher. Yes, I have a Masters degree in reading. Yes, this does sound crazy, but I am a struggling reader, and my passion for reading took a few decades to develop.

I grew up with parents who read and valued education. My mom is, and always has been, a voracious reader. I always had books in my house and saw her reading every night. Yet, I…

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When All We Know is Love: Post-Election Thoughts by Travis Crowder

A very important read. We can choose to spread love, empathy and cultural understanding in the forums that we have as teachers and writers. It is not a political choice to stand up for others who are persecuted, it is a humane choice, as Travis so eloquently reminds us.

Nerdy Book Club

“We can take comfort in knowing that each moment we have with a child is a moment to improve the world.” -Christopher Lehman

“Spread love.” -Kwame Alexander

Hurt. Despondent. Belittled. Mortified. Uncertain. Angered. These are the emotions that are circulating through my heart and mind at this moment in time.  Like many other Americans, I really do not know what to feel, or how to begin qualifying the emotions I’m experiencing. I’ve tried to live my convictions, knowing that goodness, intellect, and love are pillars of a respectful life, and I’ve tried to inculcate within my students the same values.  I want them to respect and to understand the beautiful souls that comprise humanity, loving as widely as they can.

Several months ago, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, and came across a picture posted by Penny Kittle.  It was an image of the inside of Crush: Love Poems…

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The best kind of fan mail is not mail at all…

Recently I was humbled by the talents of a young girl in Saskatchewan. Through my author facebook page, her friend’s mother was very kind to send me some writing this young girl had done. To my complete surprise, it was The Stowaways Part 2, something I’ve been trying to write for ages! (What a relief… I wondered what having a ghost writer might be like, and now I know — it’s fantastic! )

But seriously.  Bryn wrote this wonderful work in grade 3. Look at the thoughtful cover and dedication page; the way she drew those twigs and vines, with careful consideration about the Stowaways’ environment, in nature. And the dedication: “To the writer of the Stowaways, who I have admired for starting my writing career” (That’s me!)

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I won’t post her writing unless she tells me I can (we writers have to stick together on keeping our work secret sometimes), but I will say it’s the best writing by anyone her age I’ve ever read. She did exactly what I teach kids even older than her how to do–to capture the essence of the characters through actions and dialogue, without describing their personalities with boring old adjectives — to show, not tell! Bryn already knows how to do that. She wrote nine pages of fun, imaginative, and accurate writing. Nine more pages than I’ve written in a while!

I will think of Bryn’s Part 2 often as I continue work on my Book 2…. Maybe she was humming while she wrote it. Maybe she was lying on her belly on the floor, kicking her feet through the air. Maybe she was sitting calmly at her desk. I don’t know. All I know is how uplifting it feels that a person as talented and motivated as her spent time writing a sequel to a book she liked. I feel joy that it was my book.

I wrote Bryn a  postcard (I wonder if she got it yet?). I’m not sure if I remembered to say thank you for inspiring a writer like me to keep going. Sometimes it can be tough to write a whole book. I sure hope she keeps going, too.

P.S. I showed your work to my editor, Bryn! She was “really impressed” and said you are “definitely a writer in the making.” 🙂

 

 

 

Life is for real, baby. Live it.

Toot toot! I’m back! I’d like to say it was a peaceful break, full of delightful trips down Creative Writing Lane – but it was void of any ‘productive’ work, barring labour and delivery.  No, not a baby! A TV show.

Outside of writing for children, I work in the film industry as a costume maker for film and television. Clothing the lithe and famous — that’s one of my games, yo! Have been doing so for nineteen years now. I just finished a contract on an HBO show called Lewis and Clark, starring Casey Affleck, which was shooting in Calgary, Alberta. (Sadly I’m not allowed to post photos of what we work on until it airs! And if you want gossip on the stars, you’re gonna have to befriend me and gain my trust somehow. LOL! There are some CRAZY stories to tell….)

Calgary was an unexpected journey but not an unwelcome one, in the end. I was getting over a relationship that ended rather sadly, and unable to concentrate on writing Book 2 of The Stowaways. So what better time to experience a completely new place? I took the contract and just went with it, even though I had been planning on writing the whole year. When the words don’t come… what can you do? Do something else.

I am happy to report that after the first six weeks of misery in Calgary, grumbling and moping over not writing (I am a certified Master of Resistance), Alberta won me over! What a positive, sunny place to heal your broken heart. I spent loads of time with bubbly Nicole McInnes, of OhDina fame, who was milliner on the show and also became a close friend  (Need a flower crown? Yeah, we all do sometimes. She’s your gal). Because of time with her, I rediscovered my fun side and came back to Halifax  feeling able to steer life again.

Sometimes you have to give yourself time to rehabilitate and strengthen before you can emerge from under a Rock of Pain. And sometimes you need someone to kick you in the, er… “posterior” and tell you to enjoy your darn self for once! Nicole was just that person.

Here’s a sample of the giggles we had at the Gopher Hole Museum in Torrington, Alberta. Yeah, that’s right. Stuffed gophers. It’s not for everyone but if you leave without a smile on your face, I’ll be surprised!

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“I’m a beautician, not a magician.” (!)

gopher hole museum

“Is this for real?!”

Yeah, it’s for real. Life is full of unexpected side-swipes, and though we may crash and burn for a bit, there is always the rest of today to turn it around. And there is always a Gopher Hole Museum to remind you that you won’t be sad forever.  You’ve laughed before, and you will laugh again!

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As My Day Goes, So Does My Life…How I have fun when I write

As per my last blog, you know that writing can be a struggle sometimes, just to get going. And once I do get going, it’s still a struggle to pull the words out of my brain.

Some ask, “Why do you do it, then, if writing is so hard?”

I do it because it took 15 years of my adult life to figure out that I’m a writer, and writing being “hard” feels like a small hurdle when I look back at those years when my heart ached for meaning day and night. Thankfully, I finally realized that everything I enjoy is writing-related and everything worky that isn’t writing-related feels like a part of me is dying. Dramatic, maybe, but true.

To fulfill this destiny, I know I have to sit in a chair for hours a day, pulling my brain apart, for up to a year on one project.

So how do I make that fun?!

1. I do what my characters do. I walk outside every day, no matter what the weather, and I experience nature like my mouse characters might. Sometimes it’s beautiful, sometimes it’s dreary, sometimes it’s exciting (when the wind whips freezing rain in my face!) but all of it is super fun for me, because I get to stretch my imagination and BE a mouse. I crawl under trees, I sit in the snow til it melts and I’m soaked, I smell the earth and I lick the icicles. Yes, I really do. (And, no, I don’t do it when anyone is watching!)

2. I edit out loud in funny voices. When I edit — which is every day, for most of the day (it takes only an hour to write 1,000 words, then several hours to edit it)– I read my work out loud in different accents, with emphasis on different words, just to test it all out. This makes me downright laugh sometimes, especially when Gran speaks with the uppity voice of Queen Elizabeth or Renaud like “Lumiere” in Beauty in the Beast. It’s so silly and fun, and yet so useful!

3. I mess around on the internet. Yup, this is all part of it. When my brain just won’t play anymore, I let myself go on the internet and poke around and tweet and find cool stuff that may or may not have to do with mice – but always has to do with psychology and interaction between people, which informs my writing while letting me wander.

“As your day goes, so does your life.”

It’s a must for me to not look back at my life and see myself sitting in a chair 8 hours a day, struggling. I want to look back on my writing time as fun, balanced and expressive. It’s a privilege to spend so much time with fictional characters, and watch them emerge in a child’s world. I can’t think of anything more fun.

Me in my natural habitat. Photo by Nicole LaPierre.