monique polak

Monique Polak's Books

Feb
26

Lots of Characters at Westwood Senior High School

It's the last day before March break -- so you can't blame the students across Quebec for being excited. That helps explain the lively cast of characters I met this morning when I did writing workshops with three Grade Nine classes at Westwood Senior High School in Ste-Lazare.

So, let me tell you about some of the characters. Just before I started my first presentation, a guy named Jonah attempted to clobber a guy named Ryan using a vinyl pillow. It turns out there was a story behind this incident. (There is always a story!!) I thought Ryan was perfectly innocent, but according to Jonah, there was a prior attack for which he was seeking revenge. I also met a student named Elizabeth who was wearing cat ears attached to a headband. Elizabeth explained to us that her mom had made the ears -- most impressive! -- and that they are for a role-playing game that Elziabeth is into. Another interesting character was a young man named Brandon who showed genuine interest in learning about the semi-colon. (Let's just say that after 32 years in the classroom, it is unusual for me to meet a student with any interest whatsoever in punctuation!)

I worked with two teachers -- Miss Sanders and Mr. Grenier. Both teachers are keen on getting their students to write. When I was saying that reading great books inspires me to work harder, Mr. Grenier told us that he plays guitar -- and he remembers feeling similarly inspired after listening to great guitar performances.

I only had a one-hour session with each group, but I managed to cover most of my usual writing tips, and also to get the students writing. We talked about how writing can become a habit, and I mentioned some recent research I heard about that indicates you can form a habit if you keep it up for three weeks straight. I write three pages ever morning, but that is probably too much for most young people. But, as I told the students, even if you write a quarter of a page a day, or a couple of pages every weekend, well, that can turn into a habit too.

Wishing all of you a happy, healthy March break. Hey, there's good news -- we'll have plenty of time for our writing habits.

Special thanks to librarian Lynn Austin for the invite -- and the tea. I'll be back at Westwood Senior on March 19. I'm planning to stick around for lunch, so if any of you have stories you plan to work on, come show them to me!

 

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Feb
14

Back in the Basement!

When I was a kid, I used to play school in our basement. (That may help explain why I became a teacher!)

Well yesterday, about 45 years later, I taught school in the basement again. That’s because the same group of home-schooled kids who visited my Writing for Children class at Marianopolis College on Monday dropped by my house for a special once-in-a-lifetime writing lesson!

We did a lot of stuff in a little time. I gave the kids writing tips, read them from my WIP (that's work-in-progress), and got them to do some writing.

We talked about how doing research is an important part of writing a book. I knew from reading Zahra's mom's blog that on Friday, Zahra and a group of friends started working on an ice house. I suggested that because Zahra knew a lot about ice houses, she might use her experience as research for a possible story. Zahra liked the idea. As she put it, "To write a story it helps if you lived the occasion." I asked Zahra to share some DETAILS (details are also important when you write a book). She told us that she and her friends used water Zahra's mom had frozen in milk cartons. "We ripped the cartons open," Zahra said.

Don't you just LOVE the word RIPPED in Zahra's sentence? As I told the kids, I love strong verbs. Ripped sounds way better than opened, don't you agree?

We also talked about how trouble helps move a story forward. I was impressed when Neval, who is eight years old, commented about the book My Friend Flicka that, "there's too much trouble in it."

I was also impressed that ALL FIVE of the kids reported that they WRITE EVERY SINGLE DAY. Julia, who is also eight said, "I write about what happened to me and what I'm feeling."

It happened to be Sarah's 10th birthday -- sorry we didn't sing to you, Sarah! I wanted to, but then I got too busy teaching you guys stuff. And I also want to report that Dunia, who is nine, had a look around my house and said, "This is a nice place!"

Here's to young writers. Glad I got to do another class in the basement!

 

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Guest — Malak
It was a beautiful time spent and definitely inspired me to continue writing! Sarah has been in deep thought about what she writes... Read More
Monday, 15 February 2016 01:41
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Feb
09

Oh Happy Day!

I took today's pic this afternoon during my Writing for Children class at Marianopolis College. If Zahra, who is wearing the pink T-shirt, looks a little young to be in college, it's bcause she was one of five special guests -- a group of nine and ten-year-olds who came to pay us a visit. Class today started with a mini-lesson about using dialogue to add drama to a story, but then we moved to the really fun stuff: our young visitors responded to the picture book texts my students have been working on.

Not only did Zahra give my students useful feedback (such as "I think you could turn that story into something very great"), she also told us some awesome stories, including one about how a fox killed some of her family's beloved chickens.
I told my students not only to take notes on our visitors' comments, but also on the visitors themselves. Afterall, writers for children need to know their audience! And our visitors were pretty eager to observe teenagers. As Neval told me at the end of today's class, "I know what teenagers' favourite thing is: texting!" Neval's friend Dunia had a question for my class, "At what time do you finish your homework?" Theo, a lovely guy in my class, explained that, "it depends on the time of year."

You can expect to read more in this blog about our young visitors. That's because the five of them are coming to my house on Saturday afternoon for an extra-special private writing lesson. (I've agreed to do it because I'm friends with Zahra's mom Amanda.) Four of the kids are being home-schooled, so if there's time I have a few questions for them about what it's like to be home-schooled.

Now you know why I called this blog entry Oh Happy Day! Thanks to the young visitors for being such excellent listeners and critics. Thanks to my students for being your usual wonderful selves!!

 

 

 

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Guest — Malak
Thank you Monique for your time! The girls loved it and Sarah is even Is even more inspired to continue writing and reading even M... Read More
Sunday, 14 February 2016 01:31
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Jan
25

St. Thomas High School -- Part IV

I'm just home from my last of four visits this winter to St. Thomas High School in Pointe-Claire. The girls in today's pic are Emelie (in grey) and Olivia (wearing a hoodie). I took their picture following a writing exercise I did in which I asked students to write about an object that was meaningful to them. Credit for this writing exercise goes to the girls' English teacher Miss Murphy. I had been telling the class the story of the monkey man charm I wear on a necklace around my neck, and Miss Murphy suggested I get the students to write about their own meaningful objects.

Must say the exercise worked! Olivia wrote about the ring she received as a gift from her best friend Clover. (I just love the name Clover -- don't you think I should use it in a book?) In the mini-paragraph Olivia wrote about the ring, she said, "I always touch it when I'm nervous and when I miss her." Emelie wrote about the silver cross she received as a gift from her grandmother in Greece. I got tingles when Emelie told me this about her grandmother: "she has memory loss so I'm not sure if she remembers me or not."

Like I was telling the classes today -- it isn't only people who have stories. Objects have stories to do. And if you ask me, it's our work, as human beings, to collect the stories that feel important to us and to pass them on.

I had lunch again in the library so that I could work with senior students who have the writing bug. One of the highlights of my day was reading dialogue by a student named Will. Will gave me his permission to quote it here. You need to know that in Will's story, a character named Mel has been shot and her friend Maksim is tending to her. "Tell me a secret," Mel says. "I love you," Maksim answers. To which Mel replies, "I said a secret." I don't know about you, but reading that gave me SHIVERS -- which is my body's signal that I am hearing or reading a really (excuse the adverb!) good story.

I hope to be back at St. Thomas this spring -- that's because I want to drop by some lunch time to celebrate the publication of Leggings Revolt, a book I could not have written without the terrific input of some students whom I worked with last year at the school -- and hey, one of those students was Will.

Thanks to the teachers -- Mr. Cloney, Miss Murphy, Mr. Canuel and Mr. Katz -- for sharing your classes with me, thanks to librarian Mrs. Pye for the invite, to librarian Mrs. Di Maulo for looking after me today, and to the students for being wonderful and working hard.

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Guest — Abbey K.
Thanks Monique Polak for sharing your DEATH TO ADVERBS advice with me today at lunch, it will stay drilled into my brain for as lo... Read More
Monday, 25 January 2016 22:00
Guest — Olivia Dillon
Thank you so much Ms. Polak for coming and sharing your stories with us! Much appreciation from Clover and I for putting our stor... Read More
Monday, 25 January 2016 22:50
Guest — Monique
Good morning, Abbey and Olivia, Thanks for your messages. Always makes me happy to get PROOF that kids are reading my blog. Great ... Read More
Tuesday, 26 January 2016 14:21
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Jan
20

St. Thomas High School -- Part III

You will, no doubt, be asking yourself what the point of this first pic is! I took the pic this morning, during my third day of writing workshops at St. Thomas High School. I was in the middle of telling Miss Murphy's grade nine class about how writers need to observe interesting details -- when I noticed that a student named Koby had a rather interesting eraser. (That eraser is the large blob in the pic.) Then, because part of Koby's pencilcase is mesh, I noticed he had two smaller chunks of the same eraser inside his pencilcase. At first, I thought maybe he had munched on the eraser, or that maybe Koby was the kind of person who does not approve of waste. But Koby told me that the little chunks of eraser come in handy. He also said, "I make a lot of mistakes in writing." Hey, Koby, maybe it'll cheer you up to know that I'm a professional writer -- and I make lots of mistakes too! I don't use an eraser very much these days, but I do hit the delete key on my computer a lot!!

When I was talking about how it helps to make writing a regular habit, I asked Mrs. Killorn (who was subbing for Miss Murphy) to tell us about her son Alex, who plays left wing for the Tampa Bay Lightning. "Does he only practice occasionally?" I asked Mrs. Killorn. She told us that Alex practises seven days a week. She also told us that he began playing hockey at age three. She said she knew he was going to be a serious hockey player when as a little boy, he played without any encouragement at all. So you see -- practise matters whether we are talking about writing -- or sports!

In this next pic, you'll see a group I am calling my LUNCH BUNCH. These are all students who turned up at the library to keep me company during senior lunch -- and to show me their work. Thanks, you guys, for totally making my day. I liked all of the stories I saw -- and I was impressed by how you all have a strong sense of voice in your writing. That's super important. And don't forget -- DEATH TO ADVERBS!!

I'm heading out now to teach Journalism and Writing for Children at Marianopolis College. You'd think I'd be tired -- but instead I feel energized after working with the classes (and my lunch bunch) at St. Thomas. I'll be back again on Monday for my final set of writing workshops there. Come for lunch and bring me your writing if you feel like it! Special thanks to teachers Miss Murphy, Mrs. Killorn, Mr. Katz and Mr. Cloney for sharing your classes with me -- thanks to librarian Carolyn Pye, for the invite and for feeding me delicious fruit -- and of course, thanks to the kids for being wonderful and for caring about writing and stories!!

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Guest — Averie Tucker
Thank you for your time today! I appreciate the suggestions that you have given me in terms of my writing and all the journalism a... Read More
Wednesday, 20 January 2016 19:57
Guest — Adamo
Thank you so much for today! I really enjoyed the way that you were able to see a different flare in all of us, and seeing how phy... Read More
Thursday, 21 January 2016 00:00
Guest — Anna Paquette
Thank you so much for today. It was great when you came to our class and pointed out all the little details about different people... Read More
Thursday, 21 January 2016 00:34
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Jan
18

St. Thomas High School -- Part II

I'm just home from my second of four visits this winter to St. Thomas High School. In all, I'll be working with eight classes and I'll see each group twice -- which gives me time to talk about writing, tell some stories, and get the students writing, too!

In today's pic (sorry that it isn't quite right-side-up), I am chatting with Hailie. Like me, Hailie gets shivers when she hears a good story. Hailie also told me why she loves writing. She said, "I feel like I have so much to say and writing is the only way I can get it all out." I LOVED THAT -- BECAUSE I THINK IT'S HOW ALL WRITERS FEEL. Like we have no choice except to write! Hailie struck me as a natural storyteller. She explained how the other day she saw a picture of a blue house by the beach, and now she is inspired to write about a girl who lives in that house.

As I told the students today, writers need some talent. But I told them what my opa (the Dutch word for grandfather) told me -- that talent is only a small part of artistic success (Opa was a painter). He told me that what matters -- perhaps even more than talent -- is HARD WORK!!

With a few of today's groups, I tried a writing exercise in which the students had to come up with two characters who are opposites (we call that FOILS) and put them in an interestig situation ... and then produce some dialogue. A student named Sean was planning to write about himself and his younger brother, who is a bit of a troublemaker. I'd love to read a story about you two, Sean!

Later in the day, I was explaining that my mum is a Holocaust survivor. I asked the class, "How do you think she survived?" A student named Olivia said, "Did she have a talent?" I thought that was a great answer. In fact, it was my grandfather who had a special talent that kept his family alive.

At lunch time, I worked with two junior students -- Charlotte and Sarah -- who came to show me the stories they have been writing. Super work, you two! I gave them some basic feedback (DEATH TO ADVERBS! Show; don't tell!), and encouraged them to read each other's work. I'm hoping they will continue to exchange their writing now that they have met.

I'll be back at St. Thomas on Wednesday, and then on Monday next week. I'm planning to have my lunch at the library with the senior students on both those days -- so if any of you want some feedback on your writing, bring your lunch and come on by!

Special thanks to the students, their teachers and librarian Mrs. Di Maulo, who was filling in today for Mrs. Pye! See you guys on Wednesday!

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I had shivers all over my body reading this blog because I feel that writing is also the only way I get feeling out of me and mak... Read More
Tuesday, 19 January 2016 01:30
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Jan
13

St. Thomas High School -- Part I

I love today's pic -- that's because you will notice that all the kids in the pic are WRITING! (There is nothing a writer and teacher likes more than seeing kids WRITING.)

Today's blog entry is called "St. Thomas High School -- Part I" because I am doing four visits there in the next few weeks. I get to work with four different classes and I'll see each group twice. I love that because it means I can get a lot done, and there is time for writing excercises!

I'm kind of a familiar face at St. Thomas. I've been visiting there for several years -- and in fact, one of my spring 2016 books, Leggings Revolt, was written with the help of a small focus group of students at St. Thomas. And guess what? The book is dedicated to my friend librarian Carolyn Pye. If she hadn't invited me to St. Thomas in the first place, well, Leggings Revolt might have been just a dream!

I had a whole sheet of notes to use for today's blog entry, but unfortunately, I think I left them on Miss Ditchburn's desk. Hey, if you're in her class, can you ask her to stash those notes safely until I come back next Monday?

Because I don't have my notes (boo!), I need to rely on my 55-year-old memory to write this blog entry. I showed all the classes today the journal that I write in every single day -- and a student in the first group (remind me of your name and I'll adjust this blog entry!!) noticed that my journal says "120 pages" on the cover. You know what? I never noticed that. And as I told the class, being OBSERVANT is an important trait in a writer.

I must say that a student named Alena in my second group stole my heart. That's because she got a little choked up when I told the story of my monkey-man necklace and how another prisoner gave it to my mom when she was in Theresienstadt, a Nazi concentration camp, during Wolrd War II.

I told the students that writers need to ask the question "What if?" in order to advance a story's plot. I explained that I can't turn off the "what if?" switch in my brain. Alena told me her parents sometimes get upset with her for asking "what if?" so much. So I told her to tell them to stop getting upset --  and simply to explain that she is a writer-in-training.

Today's pic was taken during my third session when I had two classes together in the library. To be honest, I thought it might be hard to manage such a large group, but they were wonderful. (As you can see from how hard they worked on my writing exercise!) You might be wondering what writing exercise worked so well... and it so happens that I INVENTED THE EXERCISE THIS MORNING IN MR. KATZ'S CLASS. I got the idea when we discussed the importance of trouble. I told the students that without trouble, you don't really have a story. So I asked them to remember a time they got into BIG trouble.

Last period, I asked the students why they think I bother writing in my journal every single day. A student named Anthony answered, "So it won't be as hard to write." You know what I LOVE about that answer? It's Anthony's understanding that writing IS HARD -- even if you practise a lot in a journal the way I do. But you know what else? I think I'm hooked on writing because it is hard. If it were easier for me, I might get tired of it.

So, I hope that even without my trusty notes, this blog entry came out okay. Special thanks to Mrs. Pye for inviting me back; to Mr. Katz, Mr. Cloney, Miss Murphy and Miss Ditchburn for sharing your students with me; to the students I worked with for being such a great audience; and also to some of the members of last year's focus group for coming by to say hello -- and admire the advanced reading copy of Leggings Revolt! Three cheers for all of you at St. Thomas High School!

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Thank you so much for coming in you really gave me a bit of a push to never give up! I thought about giving up because writing ... Read More
Wednesday, 13 January 2016 23:11
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Jan
11

Happy Day in Beauport

I'm writing this blog entry from the train -- we're about to leave Quebec City. I was in town to work with three Grade Nine classes at Ecole Secondaire de la Seigneurie in Beauport, a suburb of Queec City. It was my fourth visit to the school -- so I must say I feel very at home there!

My morning started with a laugh when a student named Emilie (tht's her in today's pic -- sorry that it's upside-down) asked, "Why do we need to write down your tips?" My first answer was BECAUSE, but then I added that I know that if I don't write things down, I forget all about them! And I do hope the students I met today will remember at least SOME of what we talked about.

Students in all three classes I visited are reading my historical YA novel, What World Is Left -- and so, though I talked about writing tips in general, I also told the students about the story behind the story they are studying. For instance, I told them that my mum, whose story inspired the novel, knew the real Anne Frank, but that my editor felt it would be a bad idea if the real Anne Frank appeared in my novel -- so we changed her name to Eva.

I explained that one of the reasons I like to do school visits is that I believe it's important to tell the truth about writing. When I was 14 and 15, the ages of the students I met today, I never met a professional writer. So when I do school visits, I try my best to tell students what I wish someone had told me way back then! Such as that WRITING IS FRUSTRATING and IT IS NORMAL TO BE DISAPPOINTED WITH YOUR WORK and SOMETIMES YOU FEEL LIKE GIVING UP!!

A student named Fréderique wanted to know if my mum ever read the book I based on her story. The answer was: not at first, but eventually. I had to explain to my mum that I was fictionalizing her story in order to make it appeal to young readers. I know my mum would have preferred if the girl in my story did not question her father's actions, but when I told her what I planned to do, my mum gave me her blessing. She said, "Do what you need to do to make it the best possible story. But I won't read it." Only, she did end up reading the book, and in fact, last week, she told me that she was going to start re-reading it all over again.

Elodie (of the upside-down pic) wondered whether writers need to be selfish. I must say that remark gave me pause. I told Elodie that writers need to be RUTHLESS. But you know what? It's my own mum, who was an amazing storyteller, who taught me that the story comes first!

With two of the groups, I did writing exercises to help them access old memories. "Our memories are stories asking to be told," I said to the students.

And a student named Gabriel helped me to translate the only writing rule I really teach (I'm not a rules-sort-of-person): "Show; don't tell." En français, it's "Montrez; pas dire."

So, many thanks to teachers Yves Lord and Maxime Jacques-Gagnon for sharing your students with me. I had a great day with all of you. Thanks for your interest in a book that is so close to my heart. And thanks to the students -- you guys were wonderful and I miss you already!

 

 

 

 

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Jan
07

The Moniques Take Kahnawake Survival School by Storm!

The Moniques are back in action! That means this Monique is teamed up again with her dear pal, photographer extraordinaire Monique Dykstra! This winter, we're working with four grade nine classes at Kahnawake Survival School, helping them to produce a chapter in this year's version of Quebec Roots. The project, which aims to help youngsters across the province tell their stories through words and photographs, is sponsored by the Blue Metropolis Literary Foundation.

I'm always the one who goes first. That's because -- let's be honest -- the students tend to be a lot more interested in learning about photography than writing. So Monique Dykstra is their reward after they've worked with me!

One of our goals today was to help the students brainstorm to come up with a topic for their chapter. That exercise went super well. The students had several good ideas including the prevalence of guns in their community, as well as depression in their community. But the topic that was by far the most popular had to do with the creation of their school and how it was a response to Bill 101, which limited students' eligibility at English schools. Many of the students know people who were involved in the walk-out that led to the creation of Kahnawake Survival School nearly 40 years ago.

Though I have heard Monique Dysktra do her photography workshop before, I always learn something new when she works with young people. Today, for instance, she told them, "Building a photo is like building a house. You need to start with a good design." That made me think about writing too -- and how having an outline (or in building terms, a blueprint) can help a lot!

A student named Kiana wanted to have a look at my historical novel, What World Is Left -- and next thing I knew, she was busy reading it. Later she told me, "I look forward to the writing. I like writing -- but for myself." That is something for you to think about, Kiana -- are you ready to write for others? When I start out, I am always writing for myself -- but the longer I work on something, well, the more I want to share it!

A student named Gary made me laugh when he told me that when he heard we were coming this afternoon, he wanted to skip class! But luckily, he didn't because he said, "You got me excited about writing!" YAY, Gary! He also recommended a book called Spirit Bear by Ben Michaelsen. I'm going to order a copy!

And I was impressed by a student named Luna who took a creative approach to our topic. She suggested that someone could write about what the world would have been like if their school was never created. "Maybe I wouldn't have even been here," Luna said. I think that would make a great addition to the chapter, Luna -- and perhaps a perfect concluding piece.

So big thanks to the teachers -- Jocelyn Dockerty, Heather White, Krissy Goodleaf and Christie Chandler -- for sharing your kids with the Moniques -- and to the kids for being so positive and attentive. See you bright and early on February 3 -- until then, start interviewing folks about their memories of their old high school and the walk-out... and of course, take lots of photos!

 

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Hi Monique its me gary I'm so excited to work with you on a book can't wait email me when you get a chance gary-jace9@hotmail.com ... Read More
Thursday, 07 January 2016 22:43
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Dec
17

Oh Happy Day With Special Students at John Rennie High School

Oh no, another upside down photo! (I think that means it was taken upside down on my phone.)

I'm not going to fret about the upside down photo. (Or the fact that the roofer can't figure out why my roof is leaking!) Instead I'm going to tell you about my special morning with some very special students at John Rennie High School in Pointe-Claire.

This was my last school visit for 2015 -- and I'm considering it a gift, since it was not only a privilege, but also a lot of fun to work with this gang.

These were students with special needs. Some are in John Rennie's Resource Department; others are part of the LIFE (Learning Independence Through Functional Eduction) at Lindsay-Place High School.

I took a lot of notes -- so get ready for a lively blog entry.

When I told the students that trouble helps fuel a story, Hayley, a student with long red hair and a giant smile, called out, "I'm born with that!" It turns out Hayley loves to write and has been hard at work on a short story. Hayley, turn your trouble into art! (That's what I do.)

I gave the students several writing exercises. One excercise involved accessing a memory from long ago. A student named Tevin started his piece by writing, "Lost in bushes beside swimming pool." Well, that opening certainly has trouble in it -- and makes me want to know what happened next.

A student named Maria spent recess WRITING!! She remembered an incident at pre-school when she accidentally swallowed bubbles. Maria's story had a happy ending: "My teacher fed me some grapes and I think I felt better." Maria shared her story with the class and everyone loved the swallowing bubbles part -- not only is it trouble, but it's the kind of trouble that most of us never got into. So it's INTERESTING. INTERESTING TROUBLE is better than regular trouble!

A student named William remembered Miss M, his gym teacher at Forest Hill School. William wrote: "She would make me set up the gym and she would always make me happy. I still remember her smile." Hey, if any of you blog readers out there know Miss M, maybe you could send her the link to today's entry. I also suggested to William that he write a postcard to Miss M and let her know that he has not forgotten her. See, that's the power of words for you!

I ended my session with an observation exercise. I asked the students to explore the library and find something interesting to observe. Maria found nearly a dozen things! A student named Josh discovered yellow tape on some of the shelves. Mrs. Lukian, the John Rennie librarian, explained that she uses yellow tape to indicate where the reference books are. Nice observing work, Josh!

If it sounds like I had fun, it's because I did. Special thanks to the Pointe-Claire Library for making today's visit possible and to Pointe-Claire Library's children's librarian, Madame Blanchet, for coming to the workshop -- and for being fun. Thanks to Mrs. Lukian for hosting us in your library; thanks to Margo Edwards, the special ed. tech at John Rennie who helped organize my visit; and to your team. But thanks most of all to the students for listening, for doing such a great job on the exercises and for sharing your stories. You guys are my favourite Christmas present!!

 

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Dec
15

Day 2 at Horizon School -- Success!

Okay, the picture is WRONG-side-up, but my second day at Horizon School was ALL RIGHT. In fact, it was better than ALL RIGHT -- it was WONDERFUL (well, in my opinion, anyhow!).

Horizon is an alternative high school in Pointe-Claire. The classes are small and let's just say these students have plenty of stories. I've been working with junior and senior students at the school. Yesterday, I shared a lot of writing tips and did one writing exercise. Today was mostly about writing.

We started with a couple of playful exercises (I explained to the students that for me, writing is a constant mix of work and play -- I need to work hard, but I need to have fun with words too). We started by making a giant list of words that start with w. A lot of us included the word wonder, but I especially liked how one student came up with the word withdrawal. That led us to discuss how people don't just suffer from withdrawal when they try to get off drugs or alcohol; we can also experience withdrawal when we try to get over someone who has meant a lot to us.

The next playful exercise was writing with the non-dominant hand. (I've found this is a good warm-up activity in my home office too.) A student named Elizabeth came up with the line, "Smoke the devil's lettuce." I really like how she combined the devil and a vegetable. That inspried me to write a Ray Bradbury line on the board: "Creativity is continual surprise." Good work, Elizabeth, in the creativity department!

I asked a student named Arkela for her permission to share what she wrote with her left hand -- and she agreed -- so here goes: "I am writing with my left hand/ Although my writing is all messy and ugly/ I think I am doing an okay job." Arkela seemed surprised when I told her I thought what she had written was beautiful. I tried to explain that, for me, her words are very symbolic. Maybe that's all any of us can ask for -- to think we are doing an okay job.

I'm not supposed to have favourites in a class, but a guy named Darren wrote some amazing stuff. And a guy named Tazz, who was born in Nunavik, also earned a special spot in my heart when I asked him about his experience up north and he said, "Ain't about that life." I wrote that on the board and told Tazz it would make a great book title. So, Tazz, when are you gonna get started on that book?

Today, the senior students' teacher, Miss Pion, was with us. Miss Pion and I had a short, but interesting talk about different approaches to working with students who have gone through tough times. Miss Pion says she has found that it's important for her students to take a break from the drama. Or as she put it, "I choose not to bathe in problems that are happening here, and to go somewhere else for fifteen minutes." Which led us to talk about writing as both a form of escape, as well as a way of turning our own difficulties into something beautiful we can share with others.

So... I must say the students (and teachers!) at Horizon gave me a lot to think about. Hopefully, I gave you guys some ideas for your own stories and creative projects. Special thanks to Madame Dubreuil from the Pointe-Claire Library, who not only helped to make my visits to Horizon possible, but who attended both workshops and did ALL the exercises.

On the home front, my roof is leaking and so far, the roofer has not been able to locate the problem. But hey, writing is a mix of work and play -- and living is a mix of problems and sweet moments. Overall, I'd say my visit to Horizon had more sweeet moments than problems. Thanks to the kids who participated. NOW GO WRITE!!!

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Guest — Marie-Andrée Dubreuil
Thank you Monique for your stories and your tips. It is very generous of you to share them with us. You inspire and motivate. S... Read More
Wednesday, 16 December 2015 18:29
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Dec
14

Expanding My Horizon(s)

I am just home from my first of two mornings at Horizon High School -- an alternative high school in Pointe-Claire. I was there to do a writing workshop with a group of students from grades eight to eleven. I must admit some of them were a bit of a handful -- and two students didn't make it through my entire session. (I'm still hoping they might give the workshop another go tomorrow, but who knows?)

I started with my usual writing tips and we ended with a writing exercise. Tomorrow, I hope to focus more on writing. Today, a student named Taz asked, "Does it [meaning whatever the students might write] have to be an appropriate story?" My answer was ABSOLUTELY NOT. I don't think writers should worry about being appropriate. I think we need to worry about WRITING WHAT MATTERS. (Even as the author of many books, I still need to remind myself that this, for me, is what writing is all about: finding stories that matter to me, and telling them in a way that will make them matter to my readers.)

A student named Hayden told me, "I'd rather read than write." I shared my view that if a person enjoys reading (Hey, Hayden -- I hope you noticed that I did not say "if a person loves reading"), then that person usually also has a gift for writing. That's because reading and writing are so deeply connected. Sometimes, for me anyhow, they feel like one activity.

To be honest, it's a little discouraging when students are not open to what I have to share -- so I was disappointed to lose two of them this morning -- but I did cheer up when I read the work that some of the students did during the writing exercise. One student wrote about an old memory having to do with sports and I was deeply moved by his words; another described her memory of having an allergy attack (I suggested she ask the question "What if?" in order to develop her piece); and another student wrote about her preference for drawing over writing (I suggested maybe she could write about her earliest memory of drawing -- and that seemed to get her pen moving on paper). Hey, you can see on of this student's drawings in today's pic!

So... all this to say, it was a special morning for me. Not always easy, but always interesting. And hey, I'd take interesting over easy any day.

Special thanks to the junior students' English teacher Qaadira Decoteau for your help and for sharing some of your students with me. And thanks to the Pointe-Claire Library for making these workshops possible -- and to librarian Marie-Andrée Dubreuil who attended the workshop too. And finally, thanks to the students. Get ready for more Monique tomorrow morning!

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Dec
10

A Secret About School Visits: Thursday at Lindsay Place

Here's my secret about school visits: I get invited to schools to help inspire students to write... but guess what? I'm the one who ends up getting inspired!! That's what happened to me this morning when I worked with three of Mrs. Russell's classes at Lindsay Place High School in Pointe-Claire.

I worked with grade seven and eight students. Mrs. Russell's grade seven groups are doing a unit on prejudice, and some of the students have read (or will be reading) my historical novel, What World Is Left, which is based on my mum's experience in Theresienstadt, a Nazi concentration camp. With all three groups, I started by sharing some tips about writing, but then I moved on to talk about my mum and the research that went into writing What World Is Left.

I had a great time with all three groups. The first group was the smallest and included many students who love writing; the second group was larger, also focused and bright; and the third group (they were the grade eights) had so many great questions that Mrs. Russell worried she might get a detention if she let them stay any later than she did!

Today's pic was taken at the end of my last presentation. The blonde girl next to me is Angelica and I got the impression she is very angelic -- which makes me think I should include an angelic-looking girl named Angelica in my next book! (Only I might make MY Angelica a bit of a trouble-maker, which Mrs. Russell assured me the real-life Angelica is NOT!). On my other side is a student named Melissa. I loved her answer when I asked the students, "What do you think I did yesterday when I re-read the writing I had done in the morning and found it crappy?" Are you ready for Melissa's brilliant answer? She said, "You see where it went wonky and then you work backward to see where you can fix it up." Right on, Melissa! Plus, I loved how you used the word WONKY -- which definitely describes how writers often feel about their writing!

I told all three groups that one of the reasons I do school visits is because when I was in grades seven and eight, I never had a chance to meet a professional writer. So, during my visits, I try to tell students the things I wish someone had told me long ago -- such as that writing is hard, and that we are seldom satisfied with our work, and that our first drafts are total disasters!

So, many, many thanks to the students I worked with this morning. Like I said, you inspired me with your energy and questions (and interesting body language such as sharpening a pencil!!). Thanks too, to Mrs. Russell for doing such a great job with your classes, and to librarian Betty Dunning for arranging the visit.

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Guest — Melissa B.
I'm super glad you came to talk to us, you are really inspirational ... Read More
Thursday, 10 December 2015 20:12
Guest — Emma
This is Emma, the one in the red shirt on the left side of the picture, and I really enjoyed your writing and your presentation! S... Read More
Thursday, 10 December 2015 20:20
Guest — Casey Madison
Soooo glad you came t our school today and told us all your little tips because I want to be a writer someday BTW my name is Casey... Read More
Thursday, 10 December 2015 23:52
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Dec
09

Writing Lessons From a Dear Visual Artist Friend

Yesterday, a friend and I got a private showing of Thomas Kneubuhler's exhibit, Land Claim. Thomas came to meet us at Galerie B-312 in the Belgo Building downtown, where his work is being displayed. (He has a second exhibit going on now in Montreal too. More about that later.)

Thomas and I became friends when we traveled together to Nunavik for a Blue Metropolis Literary Foundation project called Quebec Roots. What I never expected is that I would learn about writing from a visual artist! And it happened again yesterday when the three of us were chatting while we looked at the photos and videos that were part of Thomas's show.

That was when I whipped out a sheet of paper and a pen from my purse (Writing Tip #1: Always have paper and a pen handy!). Thomas was explaining to my friend how he comes up with a subject for a visual art project. What he said applies to writing too -- and how we need to feel inspired in order to begin a project -- and stick with it! "There's usually a trigger," Thomas said. He explained that the trigger for Land Claim came when he heard about Raglan Mine, an iron mine in Nunavik, and learned that the company's head office is located in Switzerland, where Thomas was born. Thomas added that a subject may be "something where you have access that no one else does, something that is personal and that you have a personal connection to." Thomas also explained that there's a great deal of research behind his projects (same is true for writing stories, of course). Finally, Thomas talked about the effort that goes into his art. He never just snaps a photo or turns on his video recorder. Here's how Thomas put it: "It's often very hard work and it involves a lot of things!"

Thomas's show at Galerie B-312 runs until Dec. 19. Same for his show at Patrick Mikhail Gallery. If you're in Montreal, check them out! (I've included a link to his website at the top of this blog post -- you'll find the addresses and times for the exhibits there.) Hey Thomas -- thanks for the private tour -- and the inspiration!!

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Nov
25

My Mom and I Travel to Dumas, Texas

Okay, it's a slight exaggeration to say that my mom and I traveled today to Dumas, Texas -- but we were certainly there, and we certainly connected with about 200 students at Dumas Intermediate School, thanks to Skype and the miracles of modern technology.

This was "our" third "visit" to Dumas Intermediate. Our is the right word because Cathy Craigmiles, the school librarian, asked me to speak about my historical YA Novel, What World Is Left, which is based on my mom's experience as a prisoner in Theresienstadt, a Nazi concentration camp -- and so I went to my parents' house to do the visit, which meant that the students could have a chance to meet my mom too.

I worked with two groups of Grade Six students -- and they were wonderful. A virtual visit can usually never compare with a real-life one, so maybe it was the students (they were really engaged and focused), or the material, or the fact that my mom made a guest appearance (so did my dad, but my mom is the real star of today's blog entry), but today's visit felt pretty wonderful. Most of the students were 11 or 12 years old, which made the experience especially moving for me since my mom was 12 when she was rounded up by the Nazis and shipped to Theresienstadt.

I could not resist sharing some writing tips, but mostly the students wanted to know more about the story behind my book. We talked about propaganda and I explained how my opa (the Dutch word for grandfather) was forced by the Nazis to create propaganda art. As an author, I am especially interested in "grey" areas because, to me, the world is never black and white. My opa could not have been glad to do what the Nazis forced him to do, and yet he must have known that his actions might help keep him and his family (including me) alive.

My mother is 86 (and-a-half), quite deaf and fragile, but she was well enough to say hello at the end of both sessions -- and to answer a few questions. Luckily for us, the students had amazing, thoughtful, deep questoins.

A student named Keaton wanted to know what the scariest part of my mom's experience was. She told him it was the transports -- never knowing if she would be on the list of prisoners who would be transported to Auschwitz.

A student named Andrea asked about my mom's immediate post-war experience, and you know what? My mom ended up telling a little story I had never heard before. She told Andrea, "I went back to Holland. I remember the first time I saw a slice of white bread. It was so bright it hurt my eyes." Hey, Andrea, good interviewing work!

Raigan wanted to know if, after the war, my mom ever saw anyone she knew from Theresientadt. I helped my mom with the answer to this question -- I told the students about an old friend of my grandmother's -- this woman had lost her husband before the war, and her only son was sent to Auschwitz where he was murdered, and yet she had it in her to be loving to my mother... and, in 1960, when I was born, the woman (who by then was living in New York) took the Greyhound bus to Montreal so she could come in person to meet my mother's first daughter -- me!

I told the students how, when I hear something beautiful, the insides of elbows tingle. And you know that happened to me today when, after my first session, my dad was chatting with Mrs. Craigmiles and he asked her, "How come your students are so interested in the Holocaust?" -- and she answered, "They've been studying it for the last six weeks." All I can say to that is -- wow, and thank you, and that gives me hope for the future.

I think it's only fitting to close today's blog entry with my mom's words. When we were about to say good-bye to the kids at Dumas Intermediate, I asked her what advice she could offer young people who may be experiencing their own hardships. She told them, "Food they can take away. But hope is in you. Hope is the most valuable thing. Nobody can take it away."

So many many many thanks to my young friends in Dumas -- for being great listeners, for opening your hearts to stories, and for caring about other people's experiences. May you open your hands to catch many stories, and may you always have hope. Thanks, too, to Mrs. Craigmiles, who has become my friend over the years.

 

 

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Guest — Tatiana
Hi my name is Tatiana I was one of the students at Dumas intermediate school I was so glad to hear that we were going to meet a... Read More
Thursday, 26 November 2015 02:40
Guest — Monique
Hi Tatiana, Thanks for posting this comment. My mom and dad are out for the day, but I am going to call them later and read it to ... Read More
Friday, 27 November 2015 19:33
Guest — Malysa
Here is a question "What is you're favorite book you've written? Sincerely, Dumas Intermediate school stud... Read More
Friday, 27 November 2015 19:22
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Nov
24

Heroes in My Backyard: Virtual Visit to Laurentian Regional High School

I spent part of today with a group of keen, talented Grade 11 students from Laurentian Regional High School in Lachute, and their English teacher Mrs. Vero. We are working together on a Blue Metropolis Literary Foundation project called Heroes in My Backyard. The goal of the project is for students to make a one-minute film related to the subject of war and heroes -- and I'm helping with the script.

I had two one-hour sessions with the students -- one this morning with Mrs. Vero present, and one in the afternoon with just the students. And though you might think it would be hard to do a virtual brainstorming and writing workshop, thanks to the wonders of Skype, it worked!

This morning, I shared a bunch of writing tips -- such as that it's important to make writing a habit, that reading is every bit as important as writing, and that revising is essential. This afternoon we spent our time bouncing around ideas for a possible narrator. We also have a possible title for the project. It's "Dear Future" and it was invented by a student named Cassandra. Another student, Liane, turns out to already be a talented filmmaker. A short film she posted on line entitled "NUmbers" has already had 36,000 hits! We talked about using a female narrator for the film, and Liane suggested our narrator might be a girl who becomes a drummer for the army. Since our story is set in the past, the girl would have had to pose as a boy. Which makes for all kinds of interesting story possibilities!

As yoy can probably tell, I am starting to get excited about this project. What's especially fun is the fact that it's a group collaboration. I asked the students to do a short writing exercise in which they imagined being the girl drummer. They came up with some beautiful material. Haily wrote about how the girl traveled "through nights and into city" -- which I found beautiful and poetic. Brianna pictured a scene at a loading dock, where her narrator "tastes the salt of her tears" and Brad imagined gunfire "choking" his narrator's lungs.

So... for now, we're just tossing around ideas. Playing. For me, writing is a curious mix of work and play. Thanks to the students I worked with today for reminding me of the playful part -- and for working hard. I look forward to reading more of your work and to our film project!

 

 

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Aug
24

Holocaust Stories

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"Every Holocaust story is amazing," Dana Bell told me yesterday. That's Dana is the pic that goes with this blog entry. We shared a table at yesterday's Holocaust Survivor Memoirs event organized by the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre. I must admit that when I first sat down next to Dana, she was deep in serious conversation with someone else and I didn't expect that we would hit it off -- but you know, sometimes life brings happy surprises, because by the end of the afternoon, Dana and I were chatting like old friends. What a fun, inspiring and wise woman!

Dana is the author of Danusia: The Story of a Child Survivor. It took Dana nine years to write this book and in the end, she decided to self-publish it. (Which led us to a interesting discussion about the world of self-publishing). In her book, Dana describes what happened to her and her family after they were deported to Siberia. Dana was only two years old at the time.

Dana told me that for her, the biggest compliment is when her readers say, "When I read your book, I heard your voice in the room with me." I consider that high praise. As I tell my students, one of the hardest and certainly one of the most important parts of writing is finding your voice. For me, I always feel like my stories begin to come alive when I hear my narrators' voices in my head.

Like me, Dana enjoys doing school visits. She also speaks to visitors and classes of students at the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre. I hope to catch her in action one of these days. In the mean time, I look forward to reading her book. And I couldn't agree more with Dana -- every Holocaust story is amazing.

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Apr
24

Reporting in: Day 3 at the MASC Young Authors Conference

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Meet Alan! That's him in today’s pic. Alan was in my last workshop today on the final day of the MASC Young Authors Conference at Ottawa’s Aviation Museum. As you may already have figured out, Alan collects bookmarks! Usually, I only hand out one bookmark per student, but Alan collected a few extra, and when I was discussing examples of body language I happened to catch him in the act – making a fan out of my bookmarks. I decided it was photo-worthy.

So I had two more great groups of students today. In her introduction this morning, MASC’s Faith Seltzer told the students: “Pick the authors’ and illustrators’ brains and I’ll let you in on a secret: they’ll be picking your brains too!”

That’s definitely the truth!

In today’s entry, I’ll tell you about some excellent brains I picked! I learned that a student named Aashaz has an indoor rink in his basement. Though it’s made of plastic, Aashaz and his brother skate on it while wearing real skates! (I had never heard of that before, and I think it’s super-interesting and belongs in a book. Don’t you agree?)

This week I began experimenting with a new writing exercise. I asked students to use any of their five senses to observe something interesting in our room, but I told them that I wanted their observations to evoke emotion. Here’s what a student named Moumita came up with – she saw one lone marker on a shelf, and for her, it represented “one lonely person at school.” Nice work, Moumita!

If you’ve been following my blog over the last few days, you’ll know I had an amazing time at the MASC Young Authors Conference. I got to hang out with great kids, and great authors, and work with a great team from MASC and their out-of-this world volunteers. Hey, how am I going to get back to real life tomorrow?

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