Archive for the ‘children’s books’ Category

What secret elements make a quest/adventure book great?

November 25, 2013

If you’d like to read a great new middle grade, choose Clare Vanderpool’s Navigating Early, a quest adventure story about a boy dealing with his mother’s death after WWII. Sent to a Maine boarding school, protagonist, Jack, is unhappy and feeling friendless until he’s intrigued with Early Arden, a unique character with a fascination about pi, who leads him through Appalachia.

Vanderpool’s poetic style lures the reader forward. Here is a scene where they fish with Gunnar, a minor character they meet on their journey. Gunnar carries an emotional, heart-wrenching past.

“You have a fine cast,” called Gunnar.

“I know. My brother taught me before he went to the war.” Early swished his line back and forth. The motion seemed to take him away somewhere.

Gunnar’s expression registered what he knew, what we all knew, of the fate of so many of those brothers who went to war. He looked at me, asking the question he didn’t want to say out loud. Did Early’s brother make it back?

I shook my head in answer. No, Fisher was dead.

Gunnar allowed the quiet to take over as Early moved farther out into the water and into his own thoughts.

Finally, Gunnar spoke, his voice so fluid and moving, it could have come from the river itself. “I once hear a poem about angling. It say when you send out your line, it is like you cast out your troubles to let the current carry them away. I keep casting.”

I liked the sound of that. The river pressed and nudged, each of us responding to it in different ways, allowing it to move us apart and into our own place within it.

Notice the unique dialogue of Gunnar, creating a fully formed person in just a few lines and a second layer of meaning within the words, so you’re not just reading a scene about fishing.

Another aspect which is fascinating about this book is how this Newbery Medal-winning author broke the rules. (In order to break the rules, you must first establish that you know them.) Although in writing adult novels (and nearly always in the movies), authors (and screenwriters) are allowed to fictionalize history for the sake of character and plot. In children’s books, this has been a distinct no-no. Why? We don’t want to confuse nonfiction facts with untruths for kids. But at the end of this book, Vanderpool has a page: PI: FACT OR FICTION? Here she lists the truths about this captivating number, since she has bent the truth within her story.

Writing Prompts:

1. Write a quest/adventure short story with the above elements in mind. Before you begin, think and wonder about your story, developing the plot and characters within you. Daydream, jot notes, and free write about the back story of each character first.

2. Can you write a quest poem? Any style you choose!

3. Create a piece of art with a quest/adventure theme.

4. As you begin reading a book, use post-it notes to mark the scenes that are evocative. Why do they work so well?

Best Quotes from Children’s Books

July 19, 2013

What is your favorite quote from a children’s book you have loved?

A few of my favorites:

“We’ll be Friends Forever, won’t we, Pooh?” asked Piglet.
“Even longer,” Pooh answered.
– A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

“But dying’s part of the wheel, right there next to being born. You can’t pick out the pieces you like and leave the rest. Being part of the whole thing, that’s the blessing.”
– Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.”
– E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

“A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others.”
– L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Writing Prompts:

1. What is your favorite quote from a children’s book? Use it to inspire a short story, poem or essay.

2. List your fifteen favorite children’s books. Do any of them inspire memories of your childhood? Write about them.

3. Choose one children’s book that has meant something important to you. Why is it special?

Here are some other great quotes from children’s books:

California Writers Club Young Writers Contest Luncheon Features Author Mike Jung

May 6, 2013

When I told an author friend who was speaking at our luncheon this Saturday, she YELLED into the phone, “YOU GOT MIKE JUNG?  I’M COMING!”  

She lives in San Jose, so it will be quite a ride for her.  “He’s hysterical!” she said.  “He’s one of the most entertaining and fabulous authors EVER!”

As for me, I can’t wait to meet the young writers who created such fabulous poems, short stories and essays.  What’s more, if you didn’t get a chance to read them yet, you can here.  They will be on display!  The students and their families, teachers, and friends as well as adult writers and members of the public will get a chance to meet everyone, see their work, play a game/quiz with the student writings, and learn the secrets of the writing and publishing industry from this fantastic author and speaker.  The information is below.  See you soon! 

The Young Writers Contest Award Winners will be honored at the next meeting of the Mt. Diablo Branch of the California Writers Club (CWC) on Saturday, May 11, 2013 at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant, 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill.

Special Guest speaker, Mike Jung will address the contest winners, members and guests.  His topic is “Writing—It’s Not for The Chicken-Hearted”. He will explain how to choose your idea, find your process, and share your work.

Mr. Yung is the author of Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities, a superhero novel.  His essays have appeared in the anthologies Dear Teen Me (Zest Books, 2012), and Break These Rules (Chicago Review Press, 2013).

Sign-in is from 11:00 am to 11:30 am, with presentations and luncheon from 11:30 pm to 1:30 pm. Registration is $20 for CWC members, $25 for guests.

Reservations are required, and must be received no later than noon on Wednesday, May 8. Contact Robin Gigoux at or by phone at (925) 933-9670.  Expect confirmation only if you e-mail your reservation.

The California Writers Club Mt. Diablo Branch web address is:

Contra Costa Reading Association Writers at Work

March 6, 2013

Please Post

The Contra Costa Reading Association presents:


                                                                                                Writers at Work

Join us for a morning filled with inspirational ideas from a children’s author, as well as writing sessions presented by outstanding local teachers of writing.  Our featured author is

Elizabeth Koehler Pentacoff

Our keynote speaker is children’s author, teacher and is an energetic presenter who shares her love of drama and words in instruction to promote a love of writing.  She has presented at schools throughout the state.

This author’s books include: Jackson & Bud’s Bumpy Ride, The ABC’s of Writing for Children, John Muir and Stickeen; An Alaskan Adventure, Curtain Call; Games, Skits, Plays & More,  Louise, the One and Only, Wish Magic, Help, My Life is Going to the Dogs, You’re Kidding, Incredible Facts About Presidents,  and Explorers.

Writers at Work is for students in grades 2-6 who are interested in writing, parents who are looking for ways to motivate and enhance their child’s writing and teachers looking for ideas to use in the classroom.

Please note: CSUEastBay now charges $5.00 for parking.  If possible, please carpool with your friends.

 When:           Saturday, March 9, 2013, from 9:00-12:30

Where:         California State University East Bay, Concord campus

4700 Ygnacio Valley Road, Concord

Cost:              $5.00 per child (accompanying adults are free)

$5.00 per adult, unaccompanied by a child

Please make checks payable to CCRA

Stay in touch with CCRA’s events by visiting our website

Publisher’s Weekly Article: The Children’s Industry

August 10, 2012

If you weren’t able to make the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator’s Summer Conference, read this article to get some of the highlights:

Write a Picture Book by Reading One

December 21, 2011

One of the best picture books of 2011 is Jon Katz’s Meet the Dogs of Bedlam Farm.  It surprised me to discover that the author writes adult memoirs, short stories and novels and this is his first work for children. 

Why should this surprise me? Just because someone writes for adults doesn’t mean writing for children will be a natural transition.  Contrary to what many assume, it’s not easier to write a picture book.

I’ve heard when a best-selling adult author suddenly writes a picture book and foists it off onto their publishers’ children’s group, the editors there roll their eyes and run scared.  Why? The prospect of a poorly written project they must face.  If the author well-known and rakes in money for their house, the editor may face a “hands off” policy on the project, allowing the book’s quality to suffer.  

No worries here, as Katz’s editor must have hugged and kissed him. Meet the Dogs of Bedlam Farm is a treasure from first to last page.

Since the author has a daughter, I think:

He’s read picture books out loud to her.  

Why is this important?  Reading picture books aloud helps you to feel the rhythm of the words.  Picture book writing is like poetry.  Read one thousand picture books out loud before you write one. 

What qualities make this book terrific?  

Here’s the first paragraph:

In the morning after mist has cleared from the path, four dogs go out together for their first walk of the day.  They circle and sniff the wet ground carefully, listening and seeing things that only dogs can sense. 

Katz sets the scene visually; the main characters are in action, showing the qualities that set them apart from their readers. There are NO wasted words

We discover who each of the four dogs are, what their jobs are on the farm, and find out their uniqueness.  The text blends together Katz’s amazing photographs which make the reader feel like reaching out and petting Rose, Izzy, Lenore and Frieda right on the page. 

I want to meet these animals. 

At the end of the book, I realize I have. 

I won’t give away the ending.  It’s simple but very satisfying.  Which makes the picture book just right.

Katz has the rhythm and pacing of his picture book down perfectly.   

Want to learn how to write a picture book?   Read Meet the Dogs of Bedlam Farm aloud to internalize the rhythm and truth.   

If you don’t want to learn how to write one, read it for enjoyment, or read it to a child.  You and the child will be glad you did.

Amazon Buys Marshall Cavendish: Children’s Publisher Morphs into Selling Industry

December 8, 2011

Gulp.  I can’t (puff, puff) keep (puff, puff) up.  I’m running as fast as I can.  The changes in the publishing industry are zooming ahead of me.  I learn Amazon has just bought Marshall Cavendish, a children’s publisher. 

What does this mean for creativity?   In my last post I talked about balance of time.  This time we need to search for balance for creativity. 

Already, the big box stores and Amazon have been successful in making big money-making deals larger and the small independent projects smaller or non-existent. 

Now they’ve gulped a creative source. 

As a person who tries to see the positive in every move, yes, I know this means a new life for books as in e-books for children. 


Another big guy strikes against art. 

Follow the money.

What to Write? Suggestions from Children’s Librarians

November 16, 2011

Do you enjoy writing nonfiction for kids?  Wonder what librarians need on their bookshelves?  Wonder no longer:

When Death Happens in Your Writing Group

August 28, 2011

 You’re never really prepared for death, are you?  But when it strikes someone who isn’t elderly or sick, it’s particularly difficult. 

Last week a friend and member of our writing group emailed us for suggestions on titles for her current book.  She needed them by the weekend for her agent.  Emails flew back and forth, so on Friday afternoon when I logged on, I wasn’t surprised to see another email from her. 

But this time it was from her husband stating she passed away that very day from a routine hospital procedure – an endoscopy.  He couldn’t find her phone numbers, and he was in a hurry . . .

You know those emails you get from what LOOKS like it’s your friend’s email telling you she’s in London and stranded and please send her money immediately? 

My first reaction is someone hacked their way into her account and this guy was pretending to be her husband.  Who had a vendetta against them?  This just could not be. 

I called David’s cell.

But it was all too true.  

Once people were called, we realized we needed to create a scrapbook of thoughts, pictures, illustrations and memories for her.  People sent me amazing poems, anecdotes, thoughts, feelings and art.  (Thank you all!) 

And then I realized after I put it together, it was as much for US as it was for her.  It expressed Marisa’s joy and love of life, words, books, animals and the color pink!  It showed her strength and her determination.  She never let the pain of her rheumatoid arthritis stop her.  If she couldn’t make it work one way, she figured out another. 

Born in Puerto Rico, Marisa Montes moved at the age of four to Missouri, and then to France when she was seven, because her father was in the army.  She had the thrill of living in Toul, France, which she loved, for a few years before moving to the Monterey Peninsula in California when she was in the sixth grade.  

 Diagnosed at age 16 with the painful RA, she didn’t let that stop her. She was a member of her high school’s drill team, a cheer leader, AND a competitive roller skater! 

She went on to become a family and immigration lawyer for a few years before turning to writing law materials. After ten years of writing for the legal world, she found her home in children’s books, where she published many award-winning books for children, including the wonderful picture book, Los Gatos Black on Halloween which won the Pura Belpre Award and the Tomas Rivera Award.   

Interviewed by Patricia Newman, Marisa said, “I was happier writing every day in pain than at all my other jobs.  Physically, I was in agony, but emotionally and mentally I was in Shangri-La!” 

Thank you, Marisa for showing the rest of us how determination, passion and creativity shined through you. 

May all of you feel the joy in writing that she did.  To learn more about Marisa, visit her website at

Of Tom Hanks, Publishing, and Your Summer Must List

June 6, 2011

In a recent issue of a Entertainment Weekly, celebrities were asked to name MY SUMMER MUST LIST.  Bravo for Tom, in listing BOOKS, BOOKs, BOOKS as one of his.

  Here’s what he wrote:  “I still carry a bag of books around all summer, as I am not enamored with the tactile experience of reading books on Kindles or iPads.  (Magazines, scripts, and newspapers, sure, but my policy on books is: Buy, Read, Keep.)  Waiting for a plane?  Book it.  Kids frolicking safely in the surf?  Check on them as you turn the page.  Fried clams taking forever to hit the table?  Finish a chapter.”

I have lovely memories of my son receiving gifts of books as a child.  What’s the first thing he’d do?  Crack it open, press his nose into the middle and inhale deeply.   The euphoria on his face said it all.

I love the smell of books too.  So does my dog.  At least the ones that come from used bookstores and the library, where many hands have touched them. 

Upon coming home, books in my arms, I’ll call to her. “Zoie!  I’ve got library books!”  She’ll zoom from her bed and bound over to the stack I’ve placed on the floor, like I’ve presented her a T-bone steak. 

Our favorite activity?  While I read these very books, after she thoroughly checks them out with her good sniffs, Zoie will curl up in my lap for a snooze.  

And what about the touch of the book itself?  The feel of the crisp paper, the joy of completion upon reading page after page.  The weight of the book in your hands; running your hands over the cover to feel its texture. Does it feel smooth?  Are the letters of the title raised? 

I will agree that for some huge weighty books, like the book recently released containing Mark Twain’s wonderful words and wit,  an electronic device would have been more convenient than setting it upon a pillow.  But then it would have deprived me of bragging rights.  Oh, poor me . . . (cue violin music) . . . holding up that huge book . . .

But I agree with Tom.  The actual book itself is an experience to be enjoyed.

My Summer Must List: 

1. Books: 

Besides reading a pile of books for research on a current project I’m writing, I’d love to take a break and read Betty White’s book, If You Ask Me:  (And of Course You Won’t) because I’ve always admired her work with animals and her work as a comedic actress.

Countdown, by Deborah Wiles, is about the 1960s Cold War era, and everything by this incredible author is terrific so I can’t wait to read this one.   This probably will be my first reward after I get some of my research done.

Modoc, The True Story of the Greatest Elephant that Ever Lived by Ralph Helfer.  A biography set at the turn of the century, I’ve heard wonderful things about this story and can’t wait to read it. 

2.  Movies

My goal is to see more old movies, because the scripts are delightful.  As I watch them, I pay attention to the story and character development just as I do when I read a book.

Movies I need to re-watch . . . Born Yesterday, Bringing up Baby, It Happened One Night,  Strangers on a Train,  oh my gosh. I shouldn’t get started.

I suppose I should actually go OUT to see a movie too.  Locally, we have a marvelous old theater with a huge screen that we adore.  A couple of weekends ago we saw Midnight in Paris, a must for anyone who loves literature and/or art.  If you can get past Owen Wilson always acting like Owen Wilson, it’s a terrific lose-yourself-in-the-film time.  I especially enjoyed Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein.

3.  Spend time in nature.  In WARM nature. 

I love the warm weather, and I’m hoping our Northern California’s cold rainy May and early June will soon change.  But even if it doesn’t, long walks and communing with our natural parks and trails is on my must-do this summer. 

4.  Visit historical sites.  Local history in small towns is everywhere and it’s fascinating.    Talking with locals who have lived in one place forever are not only entertaining but the anecdotes and details may flavor one’s writing in the future.


Check out this great blog about writing and publishing:

 The Passive Voice.