Monday, June 30, 2008

Book Review: Holes

Title: Holes
Author: Louis Sachar
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 233 pages
Publisher: Dell Yearling (May 2000)
An imprint of Random House Children’s Books
ISBN: 0-440-41480-6

Holes is the 1999 Newbery Medal winner and joins the ranks of classic children’s literature. I have been reviewing Newbery Medal winner's for the past couple of months now and am hoping to instill a renewal of love for these incredible classics.

I highly recommend this book for parents and children from eight on up.

About the Author: Louis Sachar was born on 20 March 1954, in East Meadow, New York. In 1976, he went to the University of California, where he studied economics. While at university he became a teacher's aide to gain extra credit; it turned out to be his favorite class and inspired him to write children's books. After graduation he worked in a sweater warehouse in Connecticut and wrote at night. After he was fired from that job he moved on to law school. In his first week of study, Sideways Stories from Wayside was published. After completing his studies in 1980 he became a part-time lawyer but was compelled to concentrate on his writing full-time.
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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Writer's Block: Free UP Your Creativity With Writing Prompts

Do you need a swift kick in the pants to banish the writer’s block in your head? When you look at a blank page does your mind respond with blankness? I know all writers have been there so I have a little help for you today.

Practice free writing from the five prompts below. Take ten minutes and don’t think about punctuation, grammar or anything like that. Free writing is one of the best tools for blasting writer’s block and filling up empty space in your mind. Choose one for today and save the others for later.

1. Electricity is a recent discovery. Think of 12 things to do when there is no power.

2. Write about the color of hunger.

3. A picture is worth more than a blank page. Take out those dusty photo albums and pick out photo number 14. Start your count on any page you want but make sure you stop at photo #14. Look at the photo for 2 or 3 minutes. Then for 10 minutes write all the feelings that photograph made you feel. Don’t censor yourself. Just write.

4. What are things you can do in 3 minutes? List them.

5. In 200 words describe a hot day.

OK, that was easy. After you have written your piece set it aside until tomorrow. Begin your writing session tomorrow by rewriting your work that you did today. You will be surprised at how many more ideas will pop into your head just from that one prompt. Before you know it you will have a short story or perhaps the first chapter of a novel.
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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

First Kiss: Ten Reasons Girls Should Never Kiss Boys

  1. At what age did you experience your first boy-girl kiss? Mine was at the age of six. However, the beneficiary of my affection was not a happy camper. I knew this how? Because, after I tackled him, I plastered smooches all over his face. His arms were flapping up and down and the weight of my body on top of his kept him from running away. Parents, save yourself and your daughter some embarrassing moments.

    Ten Reasons Why Girls Should Never Kiss Boys:

    1. You don’t know what he had in his mouth before he came to school.

    2. Your daughter’s teacher is filming the first day of school and the kissing incident becomes the leading story on the six-0-clock news.

    3. His father MIGHT be the principal of the school.

    4. His father IS the chief of police.

    5. The boy will bite her nose.

    6. The boy’s parents will take you to court for assault.

    7. Your daughter will be expelled from kindergarten.

    8. Her teacher will make you come to the class room and write on the blackboard 100 times: “I will never rip film from the teacher’s camera again.”

    9. You will be banned from the PTA.

    10. Last but not least your daughter will develop a kissing phobia that will send the entire family into therapy for five years.

    This is based on a true story. The real reasons have been changed to protect the guilty. It may be necessary for parents to warn their daughters that kissing can cause cooties. However, when she turns twelve, you will have to explain why you lied.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Monday: Writing Links For the Curious Writer

Here are some direct links to some articles I know you will enjoy. However, don't try to read them all in one day. Spread it out over several days then apply what you learn. is a fabulous website and is for writers of all genres.

Editing Secrets by Laura Backes will help you make your work shine if you want to get it in front of the editor's eyes. This article has the low-down.

Writing for Young Readers by Eugie Foster is also an eye opener.

Check out the FAQ's that will take the mystery out of some misdirected rumors.

Writing-World also has departments for Beginners World, Business World and I really like the Freelancer’s World. Tips Queries, submissions. Everything you need to get started.

Verla Kay is a veteran children's author and always has a wealth of information on her site. I ran across a character chart she developed that works for her, she says. Go here to see it. It's detailed right down to the TV shows they watch. Now that's developing.

Have fun.

Write it down,


Friday, June 20, 2008

Book Review: A Year Down Yonder

Title: A Year Down Yonder
Author: Richard Peck
Reading level: Ages 10-14
Hardcover: 130 pages
Publisher: Dial books for Young Readers
a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.
Jacket cover by Steve Cieslawski
Publication: 2000

I loved this book. Humor, sorrow and triumph span the range of emotions. The year was 1937 and fifteen year old Mary Alice was sent from the big city of Chicago to rural Illinois to live for one year with her Grandma Dowdel. Mary Alice was no stranger to rural Illinois because she and her brother Joey would visit there every summer with Grandma Dowdel. But this was to be for a whole year. Mary Alice would have to attend the one room school house and be the outsider and “rich girl” from Chicago in spite of her worn coat.

Grandma Dowdel was a very intimidating woman according to Mary Alice’s description of her. “As the train pulled out behind me, there came Grandma up the platform steps. My goodness, she was a big woman. I’d forgotten. And taller still with her spidery old umbrella held up to keep off the sun of high noon. A fan of white hair escaped the big bun on the back of her head. She drew nearer till she blotted out the day.”

However, the tough exterior of Grandma Dowdel is softened as the reader discovers her warm heart and gentleness which is hidden from everyone except Mary Alice. Grandma Dowdel is full of surprises. When she agrees to make cherry tarts for Mrs. Weidenbach’s DAR celebration of George Washington’s birthday, no one could have known the surprise guest Grandma had in store. Not to mention the special ingredient of Old Turkey Bourbon for the punch. By the end of the party an impostor was exposed and long lost sisters were united and you are left rolling on the floor with laughter.

About the Author.
Richard Peck captured the voice of a teenage girl flawlessly. His immersion into the teen age mind and heart was excellent. Richard Peck has produced over twenty-five acclaimed novels. A Long Way from Chicago was named the 1999 Newbery Honor Book, a National Book Award finalist, and an ALA Best Book for young Adults. From these pages Mary Alice and Grandma Dowdel made their debut in A Year Down Yonder the 2001 Newbery Award winner.
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Monday, June 16, 2008

Book Review: Mrs. Marlowe's Mice

Title: Mrs. Marlowe’s Mice
Author: Frank Asch
Ages: 5 to 8 years
Hard Cover: 32 pages
Illustrator: Devin Asch
Publisher: Kids Can Press
ISBN: 978-1-55453-022-9
Publication: 2007

Mrs. Eleanor Marlowe leads a double life. During the day she works at the Purrington Street Library as a respected feline librarian. By night she harbors a family of mice. Every day she has to sneak by her nosy neighbor Mrs. Godfrey who suspects Mrs. Marlowe of hiding something.

Mrs. Marlowe’s mice keep the apartment spic and span while she works and she keeps her mice well fed with lots of cheese. Some of the mice wonder if Mrs. Marlowe is trying to fatten them up for the kill.

“Oh, what a horrid thing to say Albert!” squeaked Aunt Gerty. “You know perfectly well that Mrs. Marlowe invited us to come live with her out of the kindness of her heart.”

“And at great risk to her own welfare, I might add!” said Grandpa Paul.

Mrs. Marlowe lives in Catland and cats that shelter mice are severely punished. The Department of Catland Security keeps a close watch for mice and those cats who would harbor them. One day two security cats; Lieutenant Manx and Sergeant Baxter, come pounding on Marlowe’s door demanding to search the premises.

Can Mrs. Marlowe out wit her accusers? Everything is going fine until little Billy falls from his hiding place. No one could have predicted what happened next. Is Mrs. Marlowe a mouse sympathizer or not? There is just enough suspense to the story to give a child’s imagination a lot of imagining room. No one knows for sure whose side Mrs. Marlowe is really on until the end of the book.

Adding to the suspense are outstanding computer generated graphics. The pictures complement the book's overall tone and theme and look a little like tinted photographs. The composition and sequence of the pictures give the book a movie picture quality. The Computer illustrations show a mixture of realism and surrealism that go along with the book’s creative use of pure fantasy. Toddlers and young elementary students will enjoy this book about good cats versus bad cats.

About the author: Frank Asch and Devin Asch are a father and son team. Frank Asch has been writing and illustrating children’s books for over 40 years. Devin Asch is an accomplished photographer and illustrator. Mrs. Marlowe’s Mice is the second major collaboration between this talented father and son team. Their previous book together, Mr. Maxwell’s Mouse, has garnered many honors and starred reviews.

The graphics in Mrs. Marlowe’s Mice is what first caught my eye on the library shelf. Adults may read other perspective views into the plot and this is what makes the book so original. The moral of the story? If cats and mice can find a way to get along, then anything is possible.
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Friday, June 13, 2008

Why Johnny Can't Write

This article by Mark Pennington addresses what kids need to know about writing informed and convincing essays for their college professors. In high school many kids are non-linear thinkers and don't know how to write persuasive essays with concrete details. Read the article to find out how Pennington's method of structural variety can help students improve their writing skills.

"Johnny is a creative story-writer, but he can't write an essay to save his life." Does this ring true for your child or student?

Johnny has had some good writing instruction. He can recite the steps of The Writing Process from the posters he has seen in every classroom throughout his elementary school years. He knows all about Writers Workshop. He would know what to expect if the teacher had written "Writers Conferences" or "Response Groups" on the white board as parts of her daily lesson plans. Johnny's writing portfolio is chalk full of fanciful stories and writing pieces in the sensory/descriptive or imaginative/narrative writing domains. He has been encouraged to unleash his creative mind-although that story that he wrote last year about the student boycott of the cafeteria may have been a bit too creative for the principal's tastes.

However, if you give Johnny a writing prompt, asking him to "Compare and contrast the cultural roles of women in Athens and Sparta," sixth grade writing paralysis would surely set in. Or worse yet, Johnny might begin his essay with "Once upon a time in a far-away land called Greece, two young women from Athens and Sparta..." His difficulties would, no doubt, increase if this were a timed assessment.

Unfortunately, most of the writing that Johnny will need to complete throughout his academic and work careers will not take advantage of his story-writing experience. Instead, most of what Johnny will be required to compose will be some form of writing that informs or convinces his reader. Additionally, most of his writing will be subject to some kind of time constraint. Johnny has just not had the instruction and practice in this kind of writing. His college professors probably will not hand him a "blue book," tell him to write a story of his own choice, and then turn it in after multiple revisions when his final draft has been published and properly illustrated.

Students need to learn how to write structured essays designed to inform and convince their teachers and professors. But how do you transform a creative, non-linear thinker like Johnny into an organized and persuasive writer? Take the mystery out of essays by replacing the confusing terminology of thesis statements, topic sentences, concrete details, and commentary with simple numerical values that reflect the hierarchy of effective essay structure.

For example, assign a "1" to introductory strategies, a "2" to the thesis statement, a "3" to the topic sentence, a "4" to the concrete detail, a "5" to the commentary, and a "6" to the conclusion strategies. Telling a student that a "5" is needed to support a "4," which supports a "3" is much more intuitive-and students get it!

Teach structural variety by having students write 3-4-5-4-5 paragraphs and revise with 3-4-5-5-4-5-5 paragraphs. Have students analyze text structure by numerically coding their science book or a newspaper editorial. Use this approach to develop sequenced writing skills, incorporating different grammatical structures and sentence structure. Teaching Essay Strategies.

by Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist and author of Teaching Essay Strategies ©2002 Pennington Publishing

©2002 Pennington Publishing provides a systematic program of essay skills instruction. Need more ideas? Check out the wonderful freebies for teachers and parents at
Article Source:

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Can Jigsaw Puzzle Play Make Your Child Smarter?

This is a wonderful article by Nora J. Campbell. The reason I like this article is because she stresses how jigsaw puzzles play an important roll in the cognitive development of your child. Sadly, many children grow up not knowing how to go about obtaining objectives. Enjoy the article below.

Can Jigsaw Puzzle Play Make Your Child Smarter?

Perhaps. Did you know that almost everything children learn during the early childhood years is accomplished through play? The toys your pre-schooler plays with are actually important tools in his or her development. And jigsaw puzzles are one of the best toys for a child's cognitive development. Most pre-schoolers really enjoy constructive play, especially building projects with a finished product at the end. That's why wooden toys like jigsaw puzzles and blocks are ideal for children at this age.

Many educators today agree that the skills needed to complete a jigsaw puzzle are fundamental. The humble jigsaw puzzle can help stimulate your child's concentration and logical thinking processes. Jigsaw puzzles can teach reasoning and problem solving skills as well as hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness.

If your child is a kinesthetic learner, he or she will derive even more benefit from jigsaw puzzle play. Kinesthetic learners do best when there's lots of hands-on activities involving touching, forming or shaping things with their hands as a part of the learning or problem-solving experience.
Besides being loads of fun, jigsaw puzzles can help your children develop their ability to pursue and achieve objectives.

Since solving a jigsaw puzzle is an activity a child can easily share with friends, siblings or other family members, it's also a great way to introduce your child to team activities where more than one player is working toward a common goal.

What's more, jigsaw puzzle play can easily facilitate a broader learning experience. Whether it's a pre-schooler just learning his colors or a fifth grader learning about the cosmos, the subject matter and difficulty level of the puzzle can assist and reinforce a pre-schooler in learning colors or an older child in learning the planets in the Milky Way.

Puzzles are also great for seniors. It's a low-stress, yet highly effective way for seniors to help keep their cognitive abilities sharp as long as possible. Jigsaw puzzles can be fun and beneficial for just about everyone. Certainly for kids of all ages and seniors, and also as a way to relieve stress for busy adults or stressed-out moms and dads. The jigsaw puzzle is truly a unique, inexpensive and entertaining resource.

Nora Campbell is a former educator and avid writer. She has utilized educational games and toys with her own children and now maintain an informative blog concerning traditional and educational games, toys, and other useful family resources.

Nora invites you to visit her blog at: Your comments, feedback and suggestions are welcome.
Article Source:

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Monday, June 9, 2008

Make Creative Writing Fun for Kids

Here is a great article by Carolyn Cordon on encouraging kids that they can write and be creative. Enjoy her article here:

Creative Kids? Get Them Writing

Students often feel unconnected from the idea of writing. Most of them aren't interested in creative writing, some will be extremely anti it, but every now and then you'll find one who actually likes to write and shows a natural talent for it. These are the easy ones. If they're given time and permission to write, they're in heaven. And when you read their words, you can be in heaven too, when their talent shines bright enough to light your day.

The students who aren't interested in writing are trickiest. The way to get to them, is to let them write about something they're passionate about, and their passion for their pony or whatever it is, can shine in the words they write. With the extremely anti ones, generally, but not always boys, you have to work even harder to find something that will light a spark for them. Ask what they like to do, what shows they like on TV.

One tip for getting uninterested students interested is the following:Ask the student what his/her favourite ad on TV is, then suggest they write a story or poem about that.

It's a good idea show the students you are interested in writing creatively yourself. If the teacher doesn't care either way, the students sure won't care either.

Short Stories:· Print out 3 clip Art images on one sheet of paper - have students write a story with all three things in the story (have several different sheets to give them a choice).· Limit the number of words allowed, but stipulate they must be proper stories - beginning, middle, end. You can have success with 100 words, 150 words. This teaches editing skills, and it's not so many words that the student gets bogged down.·

Give a theme - birds, pets, food, seasons, whatever - let them know they can interpret the theme as widely as they like - as long as they can explain how their story fits the theme if it's not immediately obvious.

Poetry: Again, themes - try: · favorite animal · what their dream job would be · favorite food · least favorite food

Particular forms of poetry - Haiku, pantoum, poetic styles based of syllables. There is a style based on syllable counts, 3 for 1st line, 5 for 2nd, 7 for 3rd , then new stanza, reverse the syllable count, and so on. This helps a new poet know when to end a line and start a new one. It also teaches skills in editing and playing with words.

Others to try are:· Favorite ad on TV, again· Favorite song
You could publish the efforts of the students - produce a book to go in the school library. Students could illustrate it too, depending on likes and abilities. Getting their name in print can be a real buzz for anybody, not just students!

Make it fun, keep them keen.
Carolyn Cordon
dreamer, dog breeder, poet, writer

Friday, June 6, 2008

Book Review: Bud, Not Buddy

Reading Level: Ages 9 - 12
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Delacorte Press (2000)
Cover Design: Trish P. Watts
ISBN-10: 0553494104
ISBN - 13: 978-0553494105

It’s 1936 during the Great Depression and ten year old Bud, Not Buddy Caldwell is on the lam from an abusive foster home and an orphanage in Flint Michigan. Bud’s mother died when he was six and now four years later he sets out to find his supposed father. The only clue Bud has is a blue flyer with a picture of legendary jazz musician Herman E. Calloway, a stand up-bass player for the Dusky Devastators of the Depression.

Bud reasons in his ten-year-old philosophers' head that this must be his father because Bud remembers the angry look his mother got every time she looked at his picture.

Bud is very determined to get to Grand Rapids and as he sets out on foot he escapes a monster infested tool shed, escapes a police raid, steals a vampire’s car and even experiences his first kiss. Bud’s responses to his situation are very believable from his youthful point of view. In order to survive after his mother died, Bud made up a set of survival tactics called "Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar out of Yourself”.

This book has a Forest Gump type of humor. On explaining what it feels like being six and losing teeth Bud says

“Six is a bad time too ‘cause that’s when some real scary things start happening to your body, it’s around then that your teeth start coming a-loose in your mouth. …Unless you’re as stupid as a lamppost you’ve got to wonder what’s coming off next, your arm? Your leg? Your neck?”

"Bud, Not Buddy” was the first book to be awarded the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Medal in the same year 2000.

The author, Christopher Paul Curtis was born in Flint, Michigan and worked on the Ford assembly line and went to college at night and wrote in his spare time. Many of his characters are based on real people from his life which gives this tale a warmth and sweetness and a little family folklore sprinkled through out.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Book Review - The Candy Shop War - Brandon Mull

The Candy Shop War by Brandon Mull is a fantastic novel. Go over to The National Writing for Children Center to read my review. Then pick up a copy of The Candy Shop War for yourself and read it.

Also, Brandon Mull is the New York Times bestselling author of Fablehaven. Book three is due out this summer. Check out the Fablehaven website here.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Three Ways to Ignite Your Writing

I know writers are always looking for tips and information in order to further their craft of writing. There is an excellent article by Jesse Hines at Copyblogger on how to make your articles and stories come alive. Jesse Hines gives examples on three ways to tweak your writing with resumptive, summative and free modifiers. It's a great brain tweaker.

This is an excellent article and I highly recommend writers of all genres read it.

Also his blog on June 2 Five Tips for Good Writing from C. S. Lewis is outstanding. The study of your craft is never over.

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