On Building a Picture Book: Failure and Finding Your Voice by Vern Kousky

If you’ve ever wondered why an artist can take years to complete a project or feel remotely satisfied with an idea, this blog by Vern Kousky is as good an explanation as I could ever muster. I spend a good deal of time taking photos (see Instagram @meghanmouse) that are just not quite what I had in mind, even though to the outsider they look like a completed scene. This last round of photos I took of Mouse at the campfire took two nights of lying on the ground with my neck at a weird angle, completely immersed in the moment, trying to make sure the flames were at the right height, the lighting was authentic, and that Uncle Mus was sufficiently out of focus in the background. And then when I came out of it, I realized I’d missed the mark. The shots were good, charming even, but I hadn’t caught that magic angle on Mouse’s face that could give me an inner belly smile, or provoke a tear or some sort of emotion other than ‘hygge’ (that Danish word we all love for ‘cozy moments’). Because that is what Mouse is all about for me… capturing an emotion, a thought, a reflection, and I had let myself get too bogged down in the logistics of the shot. I’ll keep working on this photo in my head even if I’m not down there on the ground, shooting it over and over (it took 450 shots under a tarp in the rain to get this one!)… When I get back to this shot at a later date, I know it will have evolved in my head, and the magic I was looking for will translate on camera. It’s all part of the process.

Nerdy Book Club

I first came up with the idea for The Blue Songbird during a trip to the Japanese galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This is a place I often go when I have a spare moment or two. The rooms are generally quiet and dark and much of the work there has an illustrative quality that seems to me both modern and timeless. On this particular visit, a collection of books from the 18th and 19th centuries was on display. These books were wordless, composed entirely of woodblock prints, and centered around a distinctive theme.  In short, they were the picture books of their time. One such book was The Korin Album by Nakamura Hôchû. The page to which the book was turned showed a flock of birds in flight. All save for the last had their beaks open as if in song. As I examined the print, I…

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Message on International Women’s Day

I want to share this blog with you from the Orange Street News, written by a 12 year old girl, Hilde Kate Lysiak. You might have heard of her – the 9 year old who was repeatedly told to go home and play with dolls when she began her newspaper in her small town, USA. I’m glad to say she is still reporting! She is a bright light in this world. But still, she is often told to go play with dolls instead of being praised for being an intellectual, inquisitive human being. She has a great attitude about it, and gives me hope for the women of our future. She had this to say for International Women’s Day:

Orange Street News


By Hilde Kate Lysiak

When I first started the Orange Street News three years ago I never intended to be a role model to other girls. The truth is, I just wanted to be a reporter. All I cared about was getting the news to the people.

But it wasn’t long before I became a role model, whether I wanted to be or not. Every day I get messages from girls from all around the world who have heard about my work.

Many even say they are inspired by me. That is very flattering.

A lot of them first heard about the OSN after I was first to break the story on a murder in my hometown of Selinsgrove. After my reporting (which was much better than the competing newspaper who didn’t even get to the scene until more than two hours later) many people in my town were angry…

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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!)

Bryn Hengen 1Bryn 2

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.” 🙂