monique polak

Monique Polak's Books

Jun
13

Book Makers Meet Up (don't you love the term book maker?)

I’m moving house, which means I’ve been packing boxes. And packing boxes! But today, I took a short break from – you guessed it, packing boxes! – to have a Zoom visit with grade three students at Park Avenue Public School, in Holland Landing, Ontario. A few weeks ago, their teacher, Miss Abalos (a writer herself -- that's her face that's visible at the top of today's pic), read the kids my picture book The Brass Charm, illustrated by Marie Lafrance (Scholastic). The book is based on an experience my mum had when, as a child, she was imprisoned in Theresienstadt, a Nazi concentration camp. It was my mum’s fourteenth birthday and a stranger, also a prisoner, gave my mum a brass monkey man charm.

So the first thing I did in this afternoon’s Zoom was show the students the charm – which I wear every day around my neck. I also told them it isn’t just people who have stories, it’s objects too. And I encouraged the kids to ask their friends and relatives about the objects they treasure. What are the stories behind these objects?

We also talked about the value of curiosity – and how it leads to learning and stories! So I was very pleased that the students had prepared excellent questions for me. I’m going to share a few of them in today’s blog entry.

Violet (I love the name, I must steal it for a book, and also Violet’s wonderful braids!) asked me, “Are you still in touch with Elodie?” I loved that question because I MADE ELODIE UP! I took that as a great compliment because every author wants their characters to feel real!

Jacob wanted to know how old I was when I wrote my first book. I explained that I published my first book at age 44, but I wrote my first book when I was eleven. Jacob told me, “I’m also a book maker!” I told him to keep at it, and to continue writing. I stopped writing for a while when I was a grownup – and I told Jacob never to let that happen to him.

Tefenet (another great name!) asked me, “Will you pass on the brass charm to your kid?” I explained that I already made silver replicas of the charm, and have given them to my daughter and soon-to-be-stepdaughter (which explains the moving houses!). When I asked Tefenet about her name, I learned something super interesting. She told me, “I’m named after the Egyptian goddess of moisture.” I told Tefenet she needs to write that story – about a modern-day Tefenet and the ancient goddess whose name she shares!

And now to end with something funny … Mosawer announced he had two questions. “Was it true you lost your house?” (That’s something that happens in the book.) I told him no, I never lost my house, but when I was around his age, there was a terrible storm in Montreal and two houses on the street where I lived lost their roofs. That memory stayed with me for over fifty years and found its way into my story…. Okay, now to get to the funny part. I heard Mosawer ask Miss Abalos, “Can I use the bathroom now?” so I called out, “Was that your second question?!!”

It does feel good to laugh. Especially after a day of packing boxes! But it especially feels good to hang around with kind, smart young people! Thanks to all of you for our time together, and to Miss Abalos for setting up today’s visit!

  525 Hits
Jun
09

Writing Workshop for Neuroscientists -- and their families

And now for something completely different -- I gave a writing workshop to neuroscientists (and their families)! That's because this weekend is the Neuro retreat -- an annual event which brings together employees of the Neuro (Montreal Neurological Hospital and Institute). My partner Guy works there and because I was coming along, I offered to give a writing workshop -- and to tie it in to my new book Remember This: The Fascinating World of Memory (Orca).

Ten people -- of all ages -- attended yesterday's workshop. And I must say there was a very special atmosphere in the room. I started by sharing some writing tips, then talking briefly about the Memory book... and then we did a writing exercise based on a memory. I asked the participants to remember a moment when they learned something important -- a moment of change. And oh, they wrote such beautiful stuff!

Sabrina, the librarian at the Neuro, wrote about the moment she learned to ride a bike: "I heard the sound of my wheels on the gravel.... I felt like I was flying." One of the wonderful things about memories and stories is they lead to MORE memories and stories! Reading Sabrina's piece reminded me of my old blue bicycle -- the one I was on when I first learned to ride a bike. David, who is eight, wrote something wonderful about learning to play football: "I heard the football flying through the air." Don't you love how sensory details (the sound of the bike wheels, the sound of the football) take us into a story? Mayra, a young neuroscientist who works in Guy's lab, wrote about learning to ride a horse when she was living in Argentina -- and she was only three years old at the time! There's a book in there, Mayra. Joanne and I both wrote about learning to swim, and Stephanie wrote about the pride she felt when she first learned to make a fire. There's a book in there too, Stephanie!

I can't finish today's blog entry without mentioning Yang Zhou's memory. First I should tell you I know Yang Zhou, a star neuroscientist. Well it turns out he is also a star writer. He wrote about his memory of learning to pick green tea. I didn't take any notes -- because I was trying not to cry! Yang Zhou, WRITE THAT STORY!!

We head back to Montreal this afternoon. I've been at three other Neuro retreats -- but this was my favourite. It helped that our hotel has an awesome pool. But best of all, I feel like I was able to make my own small contribution. And I got to talk about my favourite subject -- writing -- and see writers in action. Thanks to my friends at the Neuro for making this weekend possible. And thanks to everyone who came to the workshop. I won't forget our afternoon together!

  670 Hits
Apr
26

Writers Writing at Mackay Centre

I quite like today's pic because it shows you one of my favourite scenes: WRITERS WRITING! I was back at Mackay Centre & Philip E. Layton School this morning for Part 2 of my writing workshop for students in Grades 3 and 4. Many of the kids at Mackay are deaf, blind or visually impaired -- but all I noticed were KIDS! Fun kids who were eager to work on their stories!

Last week, we discussed basics such as including a complication (AKA trouble!) in every story. Teachers Ms. Melissa, Ms. Anna and Ms. Glenna have been doing a great job teaching their students the elements of story including character and setting. The kids are also learning how important it is to start their stories in an interesting way and to work towards a resolution.

I asked the kids, "Who wants a boring story?" (unless you have insomnia and need help falling asleep!). I was delighted when a student named John called out, "No one!!" I was also happy when Ms. Anna used the word "trickle" (she was talking about a couple of students who might be late coming to our class). I told the kids that we writers are WORD COLLECTORS and that I definitely want to use the word trickle in my own stories. It's so much more interesting and nicer-sounding than walk in or arrive!

When I told the students the story of the monkey man charm I wear around my neck, a student named Liam remarked, "Wow!" It is very motivating for a storyteller (or author) when someone enjoys their story!! Thanks for that, Liam!

Some of the students worked on stories about their own precious objects. Liam got busy writing about his blue hat. Avi wrote an amazing story about his stuffed animal Goofy coming to life. Avi gave me permission to quote my favourite line: "Goofy never came to life again at least while I was around." I really love the at least when I was around part!!

I only spent two mornings at Mackay this month, but I have to say that I felt right at home. Special thanks to the teachers for sharing your kids with me, to the kids for making me happy, and to the Blue Metropolis Literary Foundation for making possible my visits to Mackay. And now I'm off to the Blue Metropolis literary festival to learn and have fun!! Maybe I'll see you there this weekend!

 

  398 Hits
Apr
24

Bilingual Reading -- Lecture Bilingue -- à Morin Heights

I'm just back from a stimulating morning in Morin Heights, a lovely little town about an hour's drive north of Montreal. Stimulating because my brain was working non-stop in Canada's two official languages! I was reading from my work to local youngsters at the Morin Heights Public Library. Though most of the kids were aged three and four -- there were a few, such as Chloé, who were younger -- they were able to switch easily from French to English -- sometimes even in the space of a sentence!

I read from my picture book The Brass Charm (Scholastic Canada), illustrated by Marie Lafrance -- luckily, there's also a French version of the book called Le Trésor d'Oma. Anyway, I don't think I've ever gone so often from French to English and back again in one reading ... so it was good exercise for my brain!!

I explained to the kids -- and to the adults who were with them -- that the story of The Brass Charm is inspired by a real life incident. As a child, my mother was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp and she was given the brass charm on her birthday by a kind stranger.

I like my audience to be comfortable, so when I heard Kyanne complaining about not having a pillow, I offered her the pillow from the rocking chair on which I was sitting. Problem solved! I should mention too that Kyanne was wearing a ballet dress. When I was a kid, my favourite part of ballet class was wearing the dress! When I inquired whether Kyanne does ballet, she answered proudly, "I do!"

Let me tell you about a few other fun moments. A student named Wesley dazzled me with his questions -- and Wesley is only FOUR. He wanted to know about my mother. "How did she survive?" (I explained that she was lucky and that there were good people who helped her.) Later, when I couldn't find my note paper and I said out loud, "I can't live without my notes," Wesley had another question: "Why can't you live without notes?" And the answer to that is BECAUSE I'M A WRITER! WE'RE ALWAYS TAKING NOTES!

We also talked a little about writing stories. I explained that all my stories grow out of questions. When my mother passed the monkey man charm onto me, I asked, "What's the story?" In French, that's "C'est quoi, l'histoire?"

The kids who came to my reading today may be little, but as I told them, they're not too little to begin working on their own stories. Some of them are only beginning to learn to write, but they can always make drawings to tell their stories. I suggested they try writing (or drawing) about an object that is precious to them. Kyanne said her precious object is a rainbow necklace.

Another thing that made me happy was that when my reading was over, the kids wanted to show me library books they liked. Camille brought me the book l'Oeuf by Kevin Henkes and we read it together.

Special thanks to the Writers' Union of Canada for sponsoring my visit today to the Morin Heights Public Library, and to librarian Sandrine Gamache for getting things organized. Thanks to library volunteer Louise Cossette, who is also a city councillor for Morin Heights. Thanks to Catherine and Anne-Cécile from the local daycare, and to the parents (and grandparents) who brought their kids to the library to meet me and hear me read my stories. One day, I hope to be sitting in the audience when you kids are reading your own stories!
"

  198 Hits
Apr
19

Sweetest Morning at Mackay Centre

To celebrate the launch of this year's TD-Blue Metropolis Children's Literary Festival, I got to spend the morning at Mackay Centre & Philip E. Layton School, where some students are deaf, blind or visually impaired. I worked with a group of wonderful students who are in grades three and four. Today, my goal was to share some writing tips, and get the kids thinking about their own stories. I'll be back for another session next week, and hopefully, we'll be able to get their stories underway!

Usually, I post a pic of me and some students. In today's pic, though, I am with the PRINCIPAL, Ms. Margetis. But guess what? She USED TO BE MY STUDENT AT MARIANOPOLIS COLLEGE. (Which explains my giant smile.)

So -- back to my work with the kids! I covered some basic writing tips, including the importance of TROUBLE. All three teachers whose students were in my group -- Ms. Melissa, Ms. Glenna and Ms. Anna -- had already taught the students about complications (which is perhaps a nicer word than trouble!!). As Ms. Anna explained, "Complications make a story more interesting." Exaxtly!!

I also explained to the students that I collect cool names to use in my books. And several of the kids had cool names -- including Xander (with an X! how distinctive!), Devontae (you have to be a star with that name!) and Kahmar. Then I explained that I also collect cool hair (not specimens! just descriptions). That way I can give cool hair to the characters in my books. Coolest hair today belonged to Kahmar, who has dreadlocks and who explained to me, "They grow like that."

I learned from Ms. Melissa that Xander, Samuel (AKA Sam) and Kahmar work on books in their spare time! Apparently they are also talented illustrators. I was most impressed!

But I'll end today's blog entry with my favourite favourite favourite (that's a lot of favourites!) moment. After I told the students how readers are interested in reading about trouble -- or complication --  a student named Aiden looked at me and asked, "Can we start now?"

THAT MADE ME SO HAPPY. As I told the students, even with 34 published books to my name, writing continues to be difficult for me. But like Aiden, I'm also eager to get started on every new story. (Or in my case, to get back to work on a story I've already begun.) That feeling of excitement, of eagerness, well... it's what's behind every story, and every creation.

I'm already looking forward to next week's session. Can we start now?

Thanks to Blue Met for sending me to Mackay today -- and to Ms. Margetis, the teachers and all the helpers for sharing your kids with me. And a special thanks to Leyla, who was my scribe. See you all same time next Friday!

  1147 Hits
Apr
08

Back in a Classroom at McGill University

It's been many years since I was in a classroom at McGill University, where I got my BA degree in English Literature about forty years ago! But I was there this morning to speak with Professor Emily Kopley's "Holocaust Memoirs" class. I had about an hour-and-a-half with the students (that's Professor Kopley to the right of me in today's pic) and let's just say that when class was over, I didn't want to leave. School visits -- whether to elementary or high schools, and now to a university -- make me realize how much I miss having a class of my own!

The class is exploring some very complex questions -- can a subject as serious as the Holocaust be approached through fiction? And if so, how? How can books for children address the subject of the Holocaust? What is the role of survivors in passing on their stories -- and what about their children and even their grandchildren?

The students had read two of my books: What World Is Left, a novel based on my mother's childhood experience in Theresienstadt, a Nazi concentration camp; and The Brass Charm, a picture book inspired by a touching incident at the camp.

Basically, I talked about how the stories came to be -- and how I feel as if my role on Earth was to write What World Is Left. Some of the students were, like me, related to Holocaust survivors, but I had the impression that they all got it when I spoke about family secrets, and the power and importance of sharing difficult stories.

Sometimes, I instantly like a class -- which is what happened for me today. The first student I met, Matthew, spotted me wandering in the hallway of the Education Building, and led me into the classroom. I told the students they could interrupt with questions at any time during my talk, but they waited till I was done. And their questions really got me thinking -- in fact, I couldn't answer some of them! A student named Alice asked, "Why did you write your book [What World Is Left] for that demographic?" To be honest, I don't really know why I did. It just felt right to me. And I explained, I seem somehow to have remained fifteen years old (in my head anyway!!). A student named Eden asked me a similar question: "How can you tell if it's a children's book?" I explained that some books are what are known as crossovers -- meaning they cross over into different markets (so,, for example they become popular with kids and adults). But I shared one observation -- if your narrator is a kid (and not an adult looking back at being a kid), there is a good chance you are writing a kids' story.

A student named Shay (pronounced Shy) wanted to know about my relationship with Marie Lafrance, the illustrator of The Brass Charm -- and whether we worked together on the project. I explained that I didn't meet Marie (who has since become a friend) until after our book came out, but that I did see her sketches while she was working on her illustrations for the book. And as I told Shay, unless you are an amazing artist, it's generally wiser to try to sell an unillustrated manuscript.

I had a few lovely moments in the hallway after class. A student named Michelle asked me whether I was interested in writing about inter-generational trauma. I told her, "I've been waiting for a sign" -- to which she responded, "Maybe I'm your sign." And before Professor Kopley and I walked home together from McGill, a student named Milica told me a little about her background and that she wants to be a writer too. Go, Milica, go!

I should have mentioned that it was Total Eclipse Day here in Montreal -- and so it seems as if all Montrealers were united in our excitement. Class ended in time for us all to get to our viewing spots -- with our eclipse glasses for protection. But even before the eclipse, my day was already a wonderful gift. Thanks to Professor Kopley for the invite, and to every student in your class for your gentle, wise attention today.

 

 

 

 

  257 Hits
Mar
27

Big Day, Big Fun at Kingsdale Academy

I'm back from what was probably my biggest teaching day ever -- and I was a full-time teacher for 35 years! Today, thanks to the English Language Arts Network's ArtistsInspire program, I had a chance to work with nearly every student at Kingsdale Academy, an elementary school in Pierrefonds. I had seven sessions with different groups of students -- and though the day was a bit of a whirlwind, I had non-stop fun. And I took four pages of notes for this blog entry, but don't worry I'll try to limit myself to just a few of the highlights!

I'll start by telling you about Odean because he's in today's pic. Though Odean is only in Grade Two, he's already a star. You can tell from all the notes he took. I especially like note #!: "She likes notes.' I do. That's because, as I was telling the students, I only remember interesting things if I WRITE THEM DOWN! By the way, I'm also partial to Odean's note #8: "She funny."

I've been to Kingsdale several times, and have come to know some of the teachers, including Ms. Lara, who teaches Grade 6, and with whom I started the day. This is how she described her class to me: "These students are sparkling all the time." And you know what? Sparkling was indeed the perfect word for them! When I told the students I write three pages in a journal every morning, a student named Ava asked: "Let's say I start doing pages, what would I write about?" What I like so much about the way Ava phrased her question is that it suggests SHE MIGHT ACTUALLY START WRITING PAGES TOO! YAY! Anyway, I shared my strategies: to write about observations, feelings, thoughts and to include intuitive work too. After we discussed the link between writing and reading, a student named Milan asked, "How do you find a book you actually like to read?" I had lots of answers for Milan. First, start in the library with your librarian Ms. Ferstman (Ms. Ferstman happens to be the person who invited me to Kingsdale today), then ask your teacher and friends for their book recommendations. And also browse! Spend some time in the library, check out the back covers of books (they often include an excerpt) till you find the one that "speaks" to you. And here's the best advice of all: IF YOU CAN'T FIND THE BOOK YOU REALLY WANT TO READ, THEN WRITE IT!

My second group were Grade 4's, who were with their student teacher Ms. Jenna. When I told them writers need to practice and I compared us to hockey great Wayne Gretzky (whom I happened to see last weekend at the funeral for Prime Minister Brian Mulroney -- I told the students that part too) who had to practice a lot to become a superstar, a student named Alexia said, "The same happens for me when I do dance. Sometimes, I don't want to do it, but I do." Exactly, Alexia! In this group, I also met Nathan who liked what I had to say about the importance of including trouble in a story. "Trouble is basically my life," Nathan told me, "Wherever I go, trouble happens. It's mostly because of my younger brother."

At recess, some students came to hang out with me in the library. I was impressed by Giordano who showed me the book he's working on. Giordano's story is set in Japan, and his main character has a pet Tsushima leopard. Giordano learned about these leopards when he was doing RESEARCH for his book. (We had already discussed the importance of research even in fictional stories.)

Next, I was with Ms. Oles's Grade 4's. For some reason I cannot explain, we talked a lot about death and grandparents. Ms. Oles's students have A LOT OF STORIES. Audrey told us, "I have a box full of memories, including a bracelet from my great gramma." I loved that and you know what Audrey? A Box Full of Memories would make a great book title! I was pleased when Aiden told me he is working on a chapter book, and that "Every time I finish a chapter, I edit it." Super, Aiden! As I told the kids, rewriting is as important as coming up with the first draft -- and maybe even more important!

I met another Aiden in Ms. MacLean's Grade 6 group. This one greeted me with the following unforgettable words: "Want a cupcake?" (To which I obviously replied YES). Then Aiden went on to explain that today was his birthday. For fun, I told him I'd sing him Happy Birthday in Dutch -- and then another remarkable thing happened, there was a Dutch student in the class named Juliette -- and she came up to the front of the classroom and sang it with me. Juliette only arrived in Canada last July -- she comes from a town called Tienen, which I had never heard of before. (I plan to look it up after I finish this blog entry.)

After salad lunch in the teachers' room -- KIngsdale teachers bring salad fixings once a week, so today was my lucky day since I love salad. (It's especially nice after a cupcake!), I worked with Ms. Andrea's Grade 2's, Ms. Galang's Gr. 3's and Ms. Suzanne's Grade 3's.

Odean, whom I already told you about, is in Ms. Andrea's class. Ms. Galang's student Anysia wanted to know, "How do you even make a book?" I hope some of my writing advice helped answer that question.

I finished the day with Ms. Suzanne's kids. We actually did some writing exercises together. I asked them to come up with a word to describe how they hope tomorrow will be. Mehtaab said "epic" and Saabjit said, "be the smartest boy around the world!"

Just two more things before I end this blog entry. Ms. Galang's students had to leave for recess before I could read them one of my stories, but six students stayed behind. First, I read a little bit to them from Princess Angelica: Camp Catastrophe, and then I let them read Chapter 2 to me -- and it was beautiful. Thanks, girls, for that gift!

I'll end with some wise words from Shailyn, who's in Ms. Suzanne's class: "I think being an author is hard and easy. Hard because you have to think of the words and lines to put in the book. And easy because it's easy to be happy when you get published." And you know what else is easy, Shailyn? Getting to spend a day with wonderful, smart, fun kids like you -- and all the other kids I met today at Kingsdale.

Thanks to Ms. Ferstman for organizing my visit; to ELAN's ArtistsInspire program for your support; to Principal Ms. Byrne for coming to listen and for being such a great role model to the faculty and students; to all the teachers and support staff for being A+ and to the kids for stealing my heart today.

 

 

 

 

 

  1351 Hits
Mar
25

Teens from Programme Mile End HS Learn From and Energize Seniors in the Eva Marsden Seniors' Group

It's pretty normal to be relieved at the end of a workday, to want to go home and veg on the sofa! But that isn't at all how I feel today after my last session on the Blue Metropolis Literary Foundation project Looking Back for a Better Future. I don't feel relieved (more like sad it's over); I didn't want to go home, nor am I vegging on the sofa!

In today's photo, you can see teacher Annie Ogle (pretty much in the middle of the photo); Fréderick Gaudin-Lorin who coordinates educational programs for Blue Met (he's in the blue shirt at the front of our photo); Claire O'Brien who coordinates the Eva Marsden Centre's seniors' programs (she's next to me); at least one of the seniors who took part in the program; and some of the wonderful wonderful kids from Programme Mile End High School.

This was the second time the students met with "their" seniors. Videographer Alaric Boyle-Poirier caught some of their interactions on film -- because he's making a documentary film about the project. Very cool, no?!

So I'm going to go ahead and share a few of my favourite moments (and I had A LOT of them today!).

When I walked into the meeting room at the Montreal West United Church where the Eva Marsden program takes place, students Addison and Avery looked like they were still a little sleepy! But because I know and already like them, I joined them at their table. But when "their" senior walked into the room, Addison and Avery were suddenly wide-awake, calling out in unison, "Bill!" (You might have had to be there to see how cute this was.)

Addison and Avery asked Bill a tough question -- what was the hardest thing he'd ever been through -- and Bill told them it was the death eleven years ago of his "ladyfriend." This story led him to share some valuable life advice with the teens (and me too, since I was still sitting there). Bill said, "Cherish what's good. Always stress the positive." He added that if two good things and eight bad things happen, focus on the two good ones! You could tell that Bill really wanted to help make Addison and Avery's lives a little easier as they grow up.

A student named Andy wasn't there for last week's session and she was paired up with a senior who preferred not to tell us his name. "Call me Anonymous," he said. And you know what? Andy turned out to be a way better interviewer than me (even though I've done hundreds of interviews in my work as a freelance reporter). That's because Andy was PATIENT. I put the word in capitals because patience is a skill I lack. Anyway, I watched as Andy waited Anonymous out -- and listened to what he told her. "I was expelled from school. Within two weeks the police wanted to send me to reform school. Instead my parents sent me to a hospital," he told Andy. My heart felt like it was going to break when he added, "It was hell." But together with a friend, an older boy who was also hospitalized, they managed to escape through a bathroom window and set off to eventually find work in a nickel mine. I could not help thinking that that story would make an amazing novel or screenplay. Andy, you may want to consider writing it! If you do, I promise to provide some coaching from the sidelines!

I also caught a bit of Hurya and KR's conversation with a lovely woman named Eleanor. Eleanor told them: "Never is not in my vocabulary" -- which I thought was brilliant advice. Sitting with Eleanor and Hurya and KR gave me the odd feeling that I was in a fairy tale -- and that Eleanor was one of the magical good fairies I've always loved to read about. Eleanor had this to say about KR: "I like his insight. He's introspective like my nephew" and this to say about Hurya: "She's a real grownup. She's going to be successful because she's very focused." I felt like Eleanor was giving KR and Hurya each a blessing by putting into words the strengths she observed in them.

Now you can understand why I'm a little sad this beautiful project is nearly over. Looking Back for a Better Future has really made me see not just the importance, but the vital need for inter-generational connections. Thanks to Canadian Heritage for believing in our project, to Blue Met for making it happen, to Annie for sharing your students with us; to the seniors for opening up and sharing your stories, and to the kids for being AMAZING! Love to all of you from Monique

 

  773 Hits
Mar
18

"Clear Your Path" and other amazing moments from Looking Back for a Better Future

 

So the Blue Metropolis Literary Foundation team behind the educational project Looking Back for a Better Future spent the morning at Montreal West United Church, where students from Programme Mile End High School got to hang out with seniors in the Eva Marsden seniors' club.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll have already heard about the students I met last week at Programme Mile End and their wonderful teacher Annie Ogle. And if you need evidence that our project is working, and that the kids are deeeelightful, take at look at today's pic. That's Henry sitting across from a senior named Al, and that's Aiden sitting to Al's left. I love the way Henry and Aiden are focused on Al, and listening so thoughtfully to his story. YAY!

The whole point of Looking Back for a Better Future is to let young people learn from seniors in their communities, and to build inter-generational links. Well that's exactly what we witnessed this morning. And to be honest, I didn't need to work very hard. Annie and I had helped the students prepare questions, but when we walked around the room every single conversation seemed to be a good one -- and they were all happening quite naturally.

Okay, here come a few delicious tidbits for your enjoyment -- and to give you hope for our world. Because you can't hang around with wonderful teenagers and wise seniors and NOT feel hopeful. So... here we go....

Ryan looked around the room where we were and told me, "I've been here a million times" -- that's because Ryan used to attend Sparks in the same church.I love the circularity of that!

KR was excited to share the wisdom he and his partner (the kids are working in small groups to do their interviews) Hurria learned from their senior, Jamie. It's a piece of wisdom Jamie told them he'd learned from a friend: "Clear your path." I was so impressed I used that line for the title of today's blog entry. It's true, we all need to clear our paths in order to do what we were meant to do, what we need to do, what makes us happy -- and allows us to make the world a little better too.

Lana was being interviewed by Ryan, Emily and Roxanne. Lana told them she comes to the group for company, "Most of my friends are dead." That made the three friends reflect on how lucky they are to be young and to have each other. (They made sure to tell me they have a fourth close friend, but she wasn't present today.)

Angelita, who's 81 and from the Philippines told "her" kids, Ray, Rylee and Emilie, "I just don't like reading. I feel sleepy when I read." Of course, when I heard this, I had to intervene -- I am a writer afterall, and I need readers to stay in business!! But I had to laugh when Ray told Angelita, "Me too!" (Just writing this makes me chuckle.) Look Angelita and Ray, we'll be back together next Monday, so I figure I still have a chance to talk you into becoming readers! Maybe you just haven't found the right book yet!

Addison and Avery were interviewing a senior named Bill. But Addison explained she and Avery were not yet taking notes -- and I could see why. Because they were too busy just plain conversing! At one point, the three were discussing places they had visited. Then, when Avery told us he was at last year's Super Bowl game, Bill responded: "That's not fair!" Which cracked us up, and made us reflect a little on whether life is fair. (We decided "not always"!!)

Oh, here's another beautiful moment for you. On our way out, Hurya told me, "I don't want to leave!"

I'll end today's blog entry with a comment from Claire O'Brien, who is the on-site coordinator for the Eva Marsden Centre. I asked Claire why she agreed to take part in the project and her answer, well it was PERFECT: "I love the idea of inter-generational projects. This is a way for young people and old people to find out how alike they are." EXACTLY!!! And guess what? We'll be back next Monday, and we're invited for lunch afterwards!

Huge thanks to Blue Met; to our coordinator Fréderick Gaudin-Laurin; to Annie and Claire, to videographer Alaric Boyle-Poirier who is making a movie about the project, and especially to the students and the seniors. Thanks for the gift of sharing your stories, and listening to stories, and being open to new friends of all ages. See you next Monday, gang!

 

  899 Hits
Mar
13

Oh What a Morning at Programme Mile End High School!

I am just home after such a happy morning at Programme Mile End High School here in Montreal. I was at the school -- an alternative school that's part of the English Montreal School Board's Outreach Network --  to introduce students to a Blue Metropolis Literary Foundation educational project called Looking Back for a Better Future. The project, funded by Canadian Heritage, brings Quebec teens together with seniors so the students can interview "their" seniors to learn life lessons about getting through challenging times. In today's pic, I am with my friend, teacher Annie Ogle and my new friend -- a student named Alex, who I observed has an amazing smile. (He kindly agreed to demonstrate that smile for this pic.)

The students will be journaling about their experience, so I covered some journaling strategies, then moved on to interviewing tips. The students can choose to take part in the Blue Met project -- and my feeling is that many of them want to be involved. YAY! Also, there's going to be a documentary film made about the project!

I worked with three groups of students. After my session with the first group, Roxanne and Ryan stayed behind to tell me they both enjoy writing and they want to be part of the project. Ryan said, "I always try to start a journal and then I lose it. I don't have a pretty book." So I was delighted when Roxanne turned to Ryan and said, "I'll get you one." (Just telling you that little story makes me laugh -- and smile.)

At recess, a student named Zoie became my instant favourite when she asked me, "Are you the girl who's doing the writing thing?" I had to laugh because as I told Zoie, no one's called me a girl in at least 50 years!!

The second group was full of fun characters. Aiden is eager to be in the documentary. "It'd be cool to be an actor," he told us, "but for the documentary I'm not going to act, I'm going to tell the truth." I thought that was a beautifully-expressed understanding of the difference between say a feature film and a documentary. Avery told us, "I write poetry when I'm bored or when I'm mad." You know what Avery? I think you should use that line for the first line of your next poem! And Alex told us that a social worker told him to write in a journal when something good happens, "so I can remember it." I totally agree! Journals are for all our feelings -- the sad ones, the happy ones, and everything else in between.

Addison and Lily are excited about interviewing seniors. Addison told us, "I've been practicing all my life for this. There are so many old people in my family." Lily said, "I'm really good at talking to old people because I'm so curious." CURIOUS might just be my word for today. As I was telling the students, if they are curious they will learn a lot -- and they will also be giving a huge gift to the seniors. Because we all need to feel others are curious to learn more about us.

My last group was wonderful too. Shout-out to Steven who didn't need to be persuaded to be my notetaker! KR and Sadi had such interesting reactions when I explained the goal of the project is to learn what challenges the seniors faced, and how they overcame those challenges. Sadi said, "It sounds like a therapy session" and KR said, "It sounds like journalism." Those two responses really got me thinking -- maybe a really successful interview does a little of both those things. KR also said something that made me so happy: "What's the point of life if you don't have a story to tell?" EXACTLY! We all have stories to tell, and hopefully the students will be inspired by the stories they hear when we go to meet their seniors next week at the Eva Marsden Centre in Montreal West. I know the seniors are going to love these kids -- and get energized by their company (that's what happened to be me this morning!!). We'll be at the Eva Marsden Centre on March 18th and back again on the 25th. If you're CURIOUS to learn how things go, head right back here to find out!

Thanks to Annie and to Colin Throness who does creative writing workshops with the kids and who also popped by to say hello. And a huge thank you to the kids. You know the expression You made my day? Well, you did!

  1023 Hits
Mar
05

A Better Future for All of Us

Like many of us, I am concerned about the future of our world. Will the wars currently being fought ever come to a peaceful end? Is it possible to put an end to hatred? What about climate change? Will we ever be able to stop it? When we ask ourselves these questions, it's easy to feel discouraged and overwhelmed.

So -- I have an antidote for you. Look -- really look -- at the faces in today's photo. On the left you'll see a row of teenagers. Look also at their body language, the way they are leaning in to listen and learn. These are just some of Ms. Brown's Grade Ten students from Herzliah High School and they're at the Cummings Centre, where they've been interviewing Holocaust survivors in order to learn their stories -- and to learn how these remarkable people managed to carry on in the face of terrible, agonizing losses.

Here's something else that may help you feel less discouraged: The students and the survivors met through a Blue Metropolis Literary Foundation project called Looking Back for a Better Future. The program, which brings teens and seniors together, is taking place in several communities across the province and will be the subject of an upcoming documentary film. The program, which is funded by Canadian Heritage, made possible two visits to the Cummings Centre, but guess what? Ms. Brown's students wanted more. As she told me today, "They kept asking, 'When are we going back?'"

During their initial visits, the students -- with Ms. Brown's guidance -- prepared questions. But today, they just came into the room and got to work. Only I can't really call it work. And you kind of had to be there to see what happened. The kids just sat down with "their" seniors and started talking. And even if they were sometimes discussing difficult things, the atmosphere was HAPPY and HOPEFUL!

My plan was to move around the room and take notes. But I got so involved in listening I could hardly move. I heard Ted Bolgar (he's extending his hand in today's pic, who's 99, speaking with Elie, Eli and Jeremy. They were fascinated to learn that when Bolgar came to Montreal in 1948, he earned 49 cents an hour working as an electrician. I teased the boys about whether they listen so attentively in English class. They said they do! But then Elie looked over at Ted and told me, "We're like the last generation that's going to hear these stories." That's exactly right, Elie, and it will be your responsibility to pass them on.

I asked Ted whether he had any advice for the students as they grow older and encounter difficulties of their own. And I loved his answer: "There is no such thing as 'something is impossible.' Just try your best." Ted told us that before the Holocaust, his dream was to become a teacher -- but that as a Jew living in Hungary in the late 1930's, he was not allowed to attend university. We pointed out to Ted that in many ways he has become a teacher. He told us he'd never thought of that before.

Gundie Robertson, who volunteers at the Cummings Centre, was also sitting with us. I'll finish today's blog entry with what Gundrie had to say: "The way these students are listening, taking in the information, it gives me hope during all these challenging times in our world."

So I hope I have passed on some of that hope we found today. Wherever we are, let's take the time to really listen to others -- in the beautiful openhearted way these students were doing today. To their parents and teachers, thank you for raising such good people. To the Holocaust survivors, thanks for your courage and your commitment to telling your stories so that we can all learn from the past to create a better future.

 

 

 

 

 

  797 Hits
Feb
26

Waking Up in Bavaria

Okay, so I didn't really WAKE UP in Bavaria -- but I woke up TO Bavaria. That's because I had a Zoom meeting with Isabella and Sophie, two grade eleven students at Albert-Schweitzer-Gymasium in Erlangen, Germany. That's them in today's photo (Isabella is on the left; Sophie is on the right) with their teacher Vanessa (she's in the middle).

So it's true that writing is HARD WORK and that we writers often feel discouraged and overwhelmed! BUT and here comes a VERY NICE BUT, there are lovely surprises along the way!! So let me explain to you why I was Zooming with Isabella, Sophie and Vanessa this morning.

The English textbook used by Bavarian students includes a chapter from my YA novel The Middle of Everywhere (Orca). That novel is set in Kangiqsualujjuaq in Nunavik, a town commonly known as George River, and which I had the amazing privilege to visit for the first time in 2008. The grade elevens at Albert-Schweitzer-Gymasium are doing a unit on Life in the 21st Century --  and are looking at parts of the world they knew little about. Which brings them to George River!

Anyway, Isabella and Sophie had many questions for me about life in the North. I have been back to Nunavik more than ten times since 2008 -- even so, I feel I am only beginning to learn about the region and its people, most of whom are Inuit. I did my best to answer the girls' questions. But what I'm really hoping is they'll be able to connect with some students in Nunavik -- maybe they could do a Zoom in which the Nunavik students could ask questions about life in Bavaria, and Isabella and Sophie (and their classmates!!) could get far better answers to their questions about Nunavik than I could provide!!

Neither Isabella nor Sophie visited Canada. Both are especially curious of course about Nunavik. But Sophie admitted, "It seems lonely and far away." Isabella is especially interested in seeing a lot of snow, "We don't get snow all that often here."

That's one of the things I love about stories -- they help us to connect with others. And even when my work on a book is over, the book continues to create connections. SO maybe I shouldn't complain that writing is such hard work. Because you know what? IT'S WORTH IT!!

  823 Hits
Feb
20

Dazzled by the Kids at Solomon Schechter Academy

I'm not usually DAZZLED, but that is the right word to describe my reaction today to working with the Grades Two and Three students at Solomon Schechter Academy. I was invited to SSA by principal Ms. Doughan to discuss my latest non-fiction book, Open Science: Knowledge for Everyone (Orca). Though the book has been out since the fall and I've done a number of school visits since then, this was the first time my talk focused exclusively on the new book. And the timing was right because these students had just taken part in a giant science fair.

I had a lot to say about Open Science, which is an important new trend in science -- for scientists to openly share data and reagents (an example of a reagent is a blood sample) to speed up the discovery process. I asked the kids which word they thought was more positive -- open or closed? And they all called out together: "Open!" Then a student named Mia raised her hand and added the term "open-minded" to our discussion -- and I told Mia I wish I'd used that in my book too!

We talked about how everyone can do science -- kids included! And we discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic did a lot to promote Open Science. That's because by openly sharing their findings, scientists were able to come up with the first COVID-19 vaccinations in just eight months. Before then, on average, it had taken scientists an average of TEN YEARS to develop a vaccination!

Before I mention some of the kids' great comments and questions, I want to say a special thank you to a student named Oliver who took notes for us. I found Oliver when I asked "Who has note paper with them?" And Oliver was the only one who did! Oliver, that could be a sign that you will be a writer. (We writers never go anywhere without paper -- and a pen!)

Okay -- so why was I dazzled? It's because of the kids' reaction when I read from the book -- they were totally STILL and FOCUSED and because they had so many comments and questions. I had told the kids that I got interested in Open Science because my boyfriend (hey, he's now my fiancé, I nearly forgot!!)  is a scientist and a champion of Open Science. A student named Gaby raised her hand and said, "Maybe you should tell this to your boyfriend: I think I know how COVID started." Pretty impressive,no? Mia asked, "Why did scientists [in the past] have to be secretive?" (I explained how the focus used to be on getting famous and being promoted, and not so much on working together in teams.) Mia also told me something interesting when I talked about the difference between fiction and non-fiction books and how I write both. She said, "I have a book in my desk about Ruth Bader-Ginsburg." Since I'm a fan of Ruth Bader-Ginsburg's (she was a judge in the US Supreme Court) I made sure to write that comment down! Atara told me she writes fiction and non-fiction, and then Ms. Doughan added that Atara also illustrates her books. And finally, as Class 2A was filing out of the room, the students told me, "We are writing a book on our way to recess!"

So... if it sounds like I had fun at SSA today it's because I did! Special thanks to the awesome Ms. Doughan for the invite (I will never say no to Ms. Doughan!); to the school's marketing and communications director Nick Frai for taking pics (including the one in today's post); and to teacher Ms. Perez for also taking a great set of notes. And to all the students for DAZZLING me. Here's to being open-minded, and doing Open Science, and sharing knowledge and discoveries of every kind!

 

 

 

 

 

 

  968 Hits
Feb
01

Great Imaginations at Roslyn Elementary School

I'm just getting home after my last day of writing workshops with Ms. Julie's Grade Two students at Roslyn Elementary School. I spent four days with these kids -- working with each of Ms. Julie's classes twice. In our first sessions (which I blogged about last week), we covered writing tips. In this week's sessions, I read the students my picture book The Brass Charm and then we got to work! Some of the students were just getting started on their next assignment -- writing their own stories. Others already had work to show me. Though I wasn't wearing rollerskates I felt as if I was skating around Ms. Julie's classroom because my goal was to look at the work of every single student and try to give some feedback and suggestions.

So for today's blog entry I'm going to share some of my favourite writing from the kids. I actually have two full pages of notes, which would make for a very long blog entry, so I'll choose a few to share with you here.

I had told the kids their stories needed a beginning, middle and end. I also stressed the need to include TROUBLE. And of course, I told the students to do their best to develop the main characters in their stories and if possible, to include humour.

Wesley demonstrated a lot of creativity when he decided to write about condiments. Also, how many Grade 2's do you know who even know the word condiment? Wesley decided the condiment character he wants to focus on is Mayo -- and that Mayo's flaw will be that he is shy. (I suggested the students make their characters flawed since we're all flawed, right? Besides, no one wants to read about a perfect person -- or condiment!!)

Elorm wrote a powerful piece about a girl named Pala who lives with her grandmother. Pala has undergone a great deal of loss, including the fact that (I'm quoting Elorm here) "Even her four ducks died." An excellent detail, Elorm. Eloise came up with a great title (and idea) for her story: "Big Ben's Destruction." Romi wrote about a monster's cave. When I suggested Romi include some sensory details (such as what the cave smells like), she came up with something super: "it smells like dirty socks and a toilet bowl." That is some bad smelling cave, Romi!

At first Jack complained that he couldn't come up with a story idea. But then, towards the end of our time together, he popped by to announce, "I got one!" Yay! Jack is writing about a basketball player who gets injured. When I looked at his WIP (that's author-speak for work-in-progress) I suggested Jack write about the basketball player's feelings. Jack looked at me and said, "I don't want to. I don't feel like working on it anymore." I have to admit that cracked me up because I'm a professional writer and well... I sometimes feel that way too! But Jack and all the other Grade Two's, you will need to get back to work on your stories if you want them to get really good!

Today, I worked with the last two classes -- and I was impressed by these kids' imaginations and writing too. Alessia created great suspense in her story: "It came and tried to bite us. What was that?" I love the What was that? question, don't you? Sharon wrote a remarkably grown-up piece for someone in Grade Two -- and I didn't find a single writing error. Here's an excerpt I liked a lot: "Elion lived in a poor part of England and his dream was to become a soccer player.... He was the man of the match." Eloise used the word "rustling" in her story about two tigers and a bear. I had to help with the spelling of rustling, but like I told the students, spelling is no big deal and can easily be corrected. But not just anybody thinks of using the word rustling! Elizabeth came up with a great idea for a story she's calling "Someone Stole Valentine's Day." And Sienna demonstrated a lot of creativity when she invented a "unicorn bunny" for her story.

Writers need great imaginations. And sometimes grown-up writers like me can get inspired by hanging out with imaginative kids. Writers also need to work hard and stick with their stories even when they aren't always in the mood for sticking with their stories! Hopefully I inspired Ms. Julie's students too!

Thanks to Ms. Julie and her students for making my four visits so much fun. Look for me in the neighbourhood. (I often jog by your school.) And keep working on those stories. If you work hard the stories will continue to improve -- and you might want to enter them in the Westmount Library writing contest that we chatted about. I'm rooting for you guys!

  757 Hits
Jan
30

Another Happy Visit to Ecole Secondaire de la Seigneurie

Today’s blog entry comes to you from the ViaRail train. I’m heading home from Beauport, just outside of Quebec City, where I was working with Sec. 3 students at Ecole Secondaire de la Seigneurie. Some of the students there are reading my YA novel What World Is Left, based on my mother’s childhood experience in a Nazi concentration camp. Others are learning about the kind of work that goes into writing a book.

I started my day with Mr. Lord’s Enriched ESL class. Mr. Lord, who is teaching my book to his students, warned me that first period might require me to “tire les vers du nez!” Which, if you need help with your French, means I’d have to pull worms out of noses!! Indeed the students were a quiet group, but I managed to pull some worms from their noses!

A student named Alexandre (I started calling him Alexandre the First after I met another Alexandre in the same class) told me his dream is to become a lawyer, which as I pointed out, is a career that requires a lot of writing and reading – proving my point that everyone can benefit from improving those skills.

Alexandre the Second had prepared several questions in advance of my visit. My favourite was, “Where do your ideas come from?” My answer was EVERYWHERE! I explained how I keep an ideas file on my laptop, and that I often write about conversations I overhear, and also about issues or subjects I can’t get out of my mind.

Alexandre the Second also gave me a moment of hope when, after he told me he’s never enjoyed writing or reading and I said, “Maybe that will change now that you’ve met me” –  he replied: “YOU NEVER KNOW!” You will agree that “You never know” is way better than a straight “Never!”

Second period I had a special opportunity to work with four foreign-language students who have recently come to the school. That’s when I met Cheikh who cracked me up when I told the group I write three pages every morning and he called out, “M’am, you have too much time!”

With this group, I covered a few basic writing tips and then I read them Le Trésor d’Oma, the French translation of my picture book, The Brass Charm, illustrated by Marie Lafrance. Anyway, the students listened so attentively, and I translated into English as I went along, and well… it felt magical to share this story with them. Like What World Is Left, The Brass Charm was also inspired by my mother’s wartime experience, and though the story is sad, I think it manages to be hopeful too. Some of the students who were with me have also lived through great challenges, which I think made them extra-sensitive to the story of a child’s suffering.

I finished my day with Ms. Salomon’s Enriched ESL group. This was a lively group. One thing I like to do during school visits is collect interesting names for my future characters. I found two cool names in this class: Nessy and Esteban. Hey, in case you’re wondering what’s going on in today’s pic – that’s Esteban inspecting my boxing skills. When I told the students how I took up boxing as part of my research for the book Straight Punch, Esteban offered to come to the front of the room to show me his boxing moves -- and check out mine! Let’s just say there was a lot of laughter in the classroom!

Another highlight for me was when a student named Maxime told us, “I play basketball three or four times a week. I play at school and everywhere.” His comment helped me explain that writers, like basketball players, need to practise a lot. And when Maxime said he plays “everywhere,” I understood exactly how much he loves his sport – because it’s how I feel about writing. Even though I continue to find writing hard, I can’t seem to stop. I do it everywhere – even on the train!

Like me, a student named Alyssane enjoys asking “What if?” And when I told the class that I wrote three or four manuscripts before I sold my first book, a student named William had a great question: “Why was your fifth manuscript chosen?” You know, William, I had never stopped to ask myself this question before. I’m not even positive about the answer – except that I hope that as I continue to write, my writing improves -- that I keep learning as I go along.

That’s what I wish for my new friends at Ecole Secondaire de la Seigneurie – that you keep growing and that you find the things you love to do, like Maxime’s passion for basketball and mine for writing.

Special thanks to Mr. Lord for arranging today’s visit, and to Ms. Salomon for sharing her class with me. And to the Culture in the Schools programs for bringing authors into classrooms across the province.

 

  816 Hits
Jan
24

Happy to be Back at Roslyn School!

 I could've posted the pic of three boys balancing white boards on their heads, but I decided to start my first blog of 2024 with a more customary pic! That's me with teacher Ms. Julie and one of her four Grade Two English classes at Roslyn Elementary School here in Montreal.

I should tell you first that Ms. Julie was one of MY students when I taught at Marianopolis College. If I sound proud, it's because I AM. She is a delightfully warm, kind, fun and smart teacher who obviously cares a lot about her students. I also loved that there was a notice on Ms. Julie's white board saying: "Let's hope we find some trouble." That's because Ms. Julie shares my view that trouble gives energy to our stories. As I told the students today, writers need to be trouble-makers!!

Over the next eight days, I'll be doing two sessions with each of Ms. Julie's four classes. Another fun thing is that I met most of the students last year when they were in Grade One and when I visited Roslyn to read them my picture book The Brass Charm and do writing workshops.

Today and tomorrow, I'm doing introductory stuff -- next week I'll be helping the students develop their own stories which they'll be working on during the days I'm not around.

Besides sharing writing tips, we did a bunch of exercises. We did the word--a-day exercise in which I asked the kids to come up with a word to describe how their yesterday was and another word for how they hope today will be. In the first group, Elorm said yesterday was "normal" and Isabel said she hopes today will be "super crazy." In the second group, Max said his yesterday was "piano" (he explained that he had played piano) and Milu hoped her today will be "awesome" (which I pointed out is not an easy word for a grade two student to spell!!).

When I discussed how even fiction writers need to do research, I asked the students what topics they might be interested in researching. Wesley told us he is interested in bananas; Keila in Star Wars; Caël in soccer, Charles in toilets (!); Alison in monsters and Max in sports. I told the students that if they research any of these topics the material could well find its way into a book!

Then, because we were talking about my picture book The Brass Charm, I asked the students to write about their most treasured object -- and the story behind it. Sophie wrote about her precious rocks; Celia wrote about her two cats; many of the students wrote about their stuffed animals; Teresa wrote about a necklace that was a gift from her parents; and Jack B made me laugh when he told us, "I was going to say my Switch, but then I thought of my dog." I told the students that I've found objects can sometimes carry important stories!

I ended both of today's sessions with an exercise about memory. That's because I believe memory is an important writing tool that helps inspire many stories. I loved Aila's memory of her fifth birthday party because the memory was so detailed: "I remember my dad's beard. It was rough." See how the language is simple, but powerful?

I'll end today's blog entry with a quote from Eisley. The quote is about his most treasured object -- a brass button bear named Taylor. Here's what Eisley told me about Taylor: "If I'm sad, I rub this brass button. It makes me happy when I need it most." Such beautiful words. I told Eisley that not all writers -- even experienced ones -- are able to describe emotions in such an honest way.

Stay posted to learn what happens next with my friends at Roslyn. I think we're all looking forward to hearing more of this story!

 

  856 Hits
Nov
28

Looking Back for a Better Future -- FOR REAL!

Do I look like a lucky woman (that's me in the stripes in today's pic)?

Because I am.

I'm lucky to have been able to get to know the Grade 10 kids in this pic -- and their English teacher Ms. Brown (she's at the front of the pic, wearing glasses and her ski jacket). And to have been involved in a -- hard to find the right adjective here -- spectacular? transformative? gorgeous? heartbreakingly beautiful? (they're all true) -- Blue Metropolis Literary Foundation project called Looking Back for a Better Future. Funded by Canadian Heritage, the program is bringing five classes from across the province together with five seniors' groups in their communities.

Ms. Brown teaches at Herzliah High School here in Montreal. The seniors her students are paired with attend a group called Café Europa that meets weekly at the Cummings Centre. The members of Café Europa have a painful shared history -- they are all survivors of the Holocaust. For this project, they are sharing their stories of survival and resilience with the young people. And though we hoped the meetings would be a success, I don't think we ever expected the kind of closeness that is developing between the kids and the seniors.

Another cool things is that Looking Back for the Future is going to be the subject of a documentary film that will be screened at this year's Blue Metropolis Literary Festival. Today, we were lucky to have filmmaker Alaric Boyle-Poirier with us to film some of the interactions that took place.

It was the second time the kids and the seniors met. There was no need to reintroduce the participants or the project. They got right back into their conversations!

Today, Ms. Brown had the great idea of getting the students to ask the seniors about their experiences of anti-Semitism. With a terrible, shocking wave of anti-Semitism currently affecting the world, this question felt more important than ever.

Survivor Svetlana Ostrovskaya shared this advice for dealing with anti-Semitism: "Be strong and be safe." And her friend and fellow survivor Rachel Neubarth added: "Don't be afraid to express yourself."

Gyorgyi Nemes explained that as a young woman in Hungary she dreamt of being a designer. But even when one of her teachers wrote her an excellent letter of recommendation, she was not accepted at the college where she could have studied design. "Only one per cent of students could be Jewish," she explained.

Bill Lewkowict told the students that when he came to Canada after the Holocaust, Canadian teenagers didn't know what the word "camp" referred to, certainly not the concentration camp where Bill had been imprisoned. "They asked me, 'At your camp, did you have horseback riding?'" What I found so remarkable was Bill's sense of humour, which as I pointed out to the students, is an important tool for resilience. Our ability to laugh can help us get us through the toughest times in our lives. (I know this trait well from my mum, who was also a Holocaust survivor -- and one of the funniest people I have ever known.)

Ted Bolgar is a survivor of Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi death camp. He told students Arielle and Abigael about the moment, after liberation, when he learned that his father had also survived. Ted showed us his humour too when he heard that he'd be filmed, and he said, "I didn't have my makeup." To which one of the girls (I think it was Arielle) replied: "I have lip gloss." So amidst all the serious, heartbreaking stories, we had moments of laughter too!

I should also mention that the gentleman at the center of today's pic is Andrew Fuchs. Andrew is 87, and was one of many Jews saved by the remarkable Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. At the time, Andrew was a child of eight. Today -- nearly 80 years later -- he turned up at the Cummings Centre with a pile of Holocaust memoirs that he wanted to share with Ms. Brown's class. Amazing, no?

There are many many people to thank in today's blog entry -- the team at Blue Met, the terrific people at Cummings Centre, Ms. Brown and her helpers from Herzliah; Canadian Heritage -- but I'm back to not finding my words. Which is something for a talkative writer like me! I can't say a big enough thank you to Ms. Brown's students and to the members of Café Europa. You have dazzled me with your kindness, your decency, your willingness to share stories and to hear stories and make them part of you.

 

  950 Hits
Nov
19

"Solving the Picture Book Puzzle" -- QWF Workshop

See those ten happy faces in today's pic? That's me with nine of the eleven participants in the Quebec Writers' Federation (QWF) workshop "Solving the Picture Book Puzzle" I led yesterday. (We were just leaving the QWF office where the workshop was held -- we'd already said good-bye to the other two participants who'd been with us all day on Zoom.)

Yesterday made me realize that I do, in fact, miss teaching. (I retired 18 months ago after a happy 35-year career at Marianopolis College here in Montreal.) And though I do many school visits (popping in to classes throughout Quebec) to share writing tips and hopefully inspire young people, it isn't quite the same, I realize, as having MY OWN CLASS. Which could be why I enjoyed yesterday so much -- those eleven students were MINE (at least from 10 AM to 4 PM!!). I was telling my partner Guy that one of the reasons I think I liked teaching so much was that I got to be bossy (haha) -- and yesterday I got to direct how we spent our time (we read and analyzed several picture books; I shared writing tips; we reviewed handouts; we did several writing exercises and we critiqued four of the participants' picture books-in-progress). But the other reason I explained to Guy was the magic part -- that as a teacher, you never know what's going to happen in your class -- because a class takes on a life of its own.

Which brings me back to yesterday. I had the perfect class. My students were smart and kind and did they ever work hard! In fact, I had to tell them to stop writing during the writing exercises!!

I had seen the names of the workshop participants in advance. So I knew kids' book author Lea Beddia and author and poet Tanya Bellehumeur-Allatt would both be attending on Zoom. I also recognized the names of short story authors Susi Lovell and Mark Paterson. But then came some lovely surprises. Maya had been my students more than a decade ago at Marianopolis! Tina, who teaches at an adult centre, and I had met many years ago -- and her son Eric Deguire is also a teacher and writer. Mary (I met her first because we both arrived about twenty minutes before the doors opened) was a longtime teacher and now teaches student teachers; Tania (with an i) has a background in marketing; Emily is working on her doctorate in history and is a sci-fi fan; and Antonia is a psychiatric social worker -- so you can imagine how those four, and every other one of the participants, have interesting work and life experiences they can bring to their picture book projects.

Another thing people had in common was that many had started working on picture book projects long ago -- and were all feeling it was time to come back to them.

Oh, before I tell you a little of what we covered, I have to tell you that one participant had to cancel -- but apparently there was a waiting list! Which meant my friend illustrator Diego Herrera was able to attend too. You may know him better by his artist's name Yayo. And he brought not only his gorgeous work-in-progress to show us, but also brownies. (That may also account for some of the smiles in today's pic!)

So -- you may be wondering what we had to say about solving the pic book puzzle. Here's some of what we figured out. Pic books have to be short (they are rarely more than 900 words). It helps if they are funny. They tend to use repetition. They have to appeal to both kids and parents (since parents will be reading them over and over -- as Tania pointed out, when she read pic books to her sons she sometimes found the books boring). The characters have to feel real. There has to be trouble -- and growth.

Somebody -- I forget who it was -- asked Diego why he'd bother coming to a workshop on "Solving the Picture Book Puzzle" since he's already so accomplished. I loved his answer: "It's so important to learn all the time."

The four stories we heard were excellent -- and I loved how everyone pitched in with praise and suggestions. We decided Tina's story contained at least three separate stories (a nice problem for a writer to have!); that Mark's story was super funny and well-constructed, but that maybe it could be longer and even more profound; that Tanya (with a y)'s story was wonderful and poetic, but could perhaps be told in fewer words; and that Diego's story (it's actually written by his wife Talleen Hacikyan with Diego's illustrations)... well, we thought that project was ready to go!

For me, our six hours together flew by. I was allowed to give participants up to an hour for lunch, but I was dee-lighted when they agreed to only take a half-hour.

I'm pretty sure the participants had fun and learned quite a bit. But I can tell you for sure that one person was flying by the end of the day. Me!

Thanks to Lori Schubert and Riley Palanca at the QWF for helping make the workshop happen; to the QWF, but especially to my eleven "kids." Looking forward to the picture books that will follow!

 

  1137 Hits
Nov
17

Fun Afternoon at Ecole du Vieux-Chêne

I spent yesterday afternoon at Ecole du Vieux-Chêne in Terrebonne, where I had a lot of fun working with two Grade Six English classes. They were a large group (more than 60 students in all) and I had them for a whole afternoon. It's not always easy for kids (or adults!!) to stay focused for several hours, but these kids were pretty amazing. It was only towards the very end that I got the feeling they were ready to call it a day -- and put me and my writing tips and stories behind them!!

A student named Coralie told me she wants to be a writer too! Then she asked me, "Where do you get your energy from?" I explained that I get my energy from hanging around kids!! (Look at the pic in today's blog post for proof. I don't think I smile that much around adults!!)

My adventure at Vieux-Chêne started before I even arrived. That's because I got a little lost on the drive (I missed a change of highway!!) and I emailed teacher Ms. Tirtoaca to say I'd be a few minutes late. She phoned me while I was in the car and said, "I can meet you." When I arrived -- breathless -- in the classroom, I explained how kind Ms. Tirtoaca had been and how just speaking with her had calmed me down. Then I explained that I thought Ms. Tirtoaca had been offering to drive over to the highway to find me -- what she really meant was that she'd meet me in the parking lot of the school. So, together with Ms. Tirtoaca and the kids, we invented a story by asking one of my favourite questions: WHAT IF?

What if Ms. Tirtoaca enlisted the help of local firefighters who let her borrow their firetruck? What if all the kids from Ms. Tirtoaca and Mr. Nacer's classes had piled onto the firetruck and come to rescue me and lead me back to the school? Wow, that would have been fun. Let's add some TROUBLE which is, as I told the students, an essential ingredient in a story. What if the other drivers on the highway got upset with me for stopping traffic? What if they started honking or got out of their cars to yell at all of us? What if, to calm the drivers down, the students had started to sing -- and the whole thing turned into a concert on the highway?

As I pointed out to the students, none of this happened -- but making up a story IS FUN. It's one of the reasons I love being a writer.

I asked for three students to volunteer to take notes -- Darine, Léonie and Antoine were my official notetakers. But then Coralie called out, "Can I take notes too?" Coralie's question led to Mia and Maely calling out, "Me too!" That made me laugh and made me happy -- writing notes helps us remember stuff we learn.

Also a special shoutout to Akim, who actually helped me with my own notes (I need notes so I can write my blog entries). He also helped me locate the book I wanted to show the students -- a novel I am reading by Linda Amyot. When I couldn't find the novel in my pile of books, Akim found it! Thanks for that Akim -- and also for your excellent notes.

I also explained to the students that writers need to collect interesting details to use in their stories. That's why I wrote down something Akim said to me: "When I come back home, I'm going to have grilled cheese." I may need to use that line in a book -- because it tells me not only that Akim likes grilled cheese, but also that he wanted to share that information with me!

During the second half of my presentation, I told the students the story behind my picture book, The Brass Charm -- and I read them the book and showed them the beautiful illustrations done by Marie Lafrance. I explained how the story was inspired by a gift my mother received on her fourteenth birthday when she was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. I also showed the students the replica of the charm that I wear every day around my neck.

There was even time for two short writing exercises. This was also when some students got a bit restless. In one exercise, I had the students write about their own precious object -- in another I asked them to remember a moment from their pasts. Darine and Akim gave me permission to quote their work here. Darine wrote about a gift she received from her mother: "a pretty small trunk -- purple and gold with many seashells... I received it for my tenth birthday." Akim wrote about his memory of learning that his aunt had died: "I tasted my salty tears and it smelled pancakes that my brother made and I saw my parents' room and their sad faces." In both cases, Darine and Akim use details to take us into their worlds. Thanks for that!

Thanks to all the kids for doing your best during my visit! Thanks to Ms. Tirtoaca for the invite -- and to you and Mr. Nacer for sharing your kids with me. Oh, I forgot to explain that vieux chêne means old oak tree -- and we were trying to figure out where the oak tree after which the school is named is located. Apparently, there's an oak tree at the front of the school and another in the yard. You know what? I think the story of those two oak trees would be fun to write -- and read. Maybe next time I'm back at Ecole du Vieux-Chêne the kids might read me that story! So to the kids -- have fun, learn a lot, and don't forget to READ and WRITE!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  882 Hits
Nov
09

Remembrance Day Visit at Willingdon Elementary School

This Saturday will be Remembrance Day -- a day on which Canadians remember the brave men and women who served to protect our country. Because several of my books are set during wartime, my friends at the Blue Metropolis Literary Foundation arranged for me to visit Willingdon Elementary School's junior campus today to share writing tips, read my picture book The Brass Charm, and encourage students to be kind and work for peace.

So I spent a happy morning with two grade four classes -- taught by Ms. Leckner (whom I have known for many years!) and Miss Carole (whom I met for the first time). We were assisted by Ms. Amanda, and even the school's vice-principal Mr. McKelvie (whom I've also had the pleasure of meeting before) popped by to listen to my presentation.

The students were A-MAZING!! For one thing, they had loads of questions. In fact, there were so many questions and comments I had to ask some students to jot their questions down and ask them to me later -- because I was worried I wouldn't get to teach them anything about writing!

Here come a few of the questions/comments. Emilie shared a problem she faces when she writes: "I'm really good at starting novels, but then I get stuck." I explained that this is an EXCELLENT problem that many professional writers face too. My own trick is simple: keep writing! Julianna told us, "I want to write a book, but I never know what to write a book about." So I shared my tip about doing research. What topic are you most interested in learning about? Maybe answering that question will help Julianna focus in on the kind of book she might write. Naveen told us, "I keep a journal when I go on a four or five-day trip." Excellent news, Naveen! Don't throw those journals out. They could become the basis for a book some day. Odin told us, "I sometimes write books for my brother who's six." Having a younger brother is a great source of inspiration! Many professional writers, such as A.A. Milne (author of Winnie-the-Pooh) write stories for the kids they love.

After sharing a few writing tips, I told the students the story behind my book The Brass Charm -- and of course, I showed them the brass charm I wear around my neck every single day. They were a great audience -- kind, respectful and interested in the story and also in the illustrations by Marie Lafrance.

I ended today's session with a writing exercise I invented in honour of Remembrance Day. I asked the student to remember a fight they had either witnessed or participated in -- and then to write a little about that memory. (See there's another connection to REMEMBRANCE Day -- remembering is important for so many reasons!) There was a Part 2 to the exercise. I asked the kids to add a new ending to their memory -- to imagine a solution to the conflict.

Miles gave me permission to share what he wrote. Here goes: "I had a fight with X. He threw ice at me all winter. I could just walk away, or I could talk to him. I could say, 'I don't want you to hurt me.'"

As I told the students, it sometimes takes courage to remember (especially when we're remembering difficult times), and it also takes courage to write. I told Miles that he's a courageous young man.

We are living, of course, in a time of great conflict, with war in both Ukraine and the Middle East. As I was walking in the halls of Willingdon, thinking about the students' questions, comments, their writing, and their openness and curiosity, I had the strongest sense that things are going to be okay -- that stories can help to give us hope, and to create connection with others.

Thanks to spiritual animator Ms. Wilson for helping arrange today's visit; to the teachers, and to Ms. Amanda and Mr. McKelvie for sharing your kids with me; to Blue Met for making the visit possible -- but especially to the Grade Fours I met today. You guys ROCK! Big big big thank you!

  1068 Hits
Oct
20

Observations -- and Fun -- at Laval Senior Academy

I spent two days this week working with Grade Ten students at Laval Senior Academy. That's me in today's pic with Ms. Gosdanian at the left, and two of her students: Alexia (next to me) and Alessya (at the right). (Hey, thanks to Chelsea for helping me get the names right!!)

So in all, I worked with five classes: Ms. Gosdanian's and also Ms. Lambropoulos's. As usual, I shared writing tips and got the students to do some writing. We talked about the importance of observation. That's one of the reasons I wrote the word "Snoopy" on the white board -- writers tend to be snoopy sorts. We observe, we ask questions, and sometimes, we even eavesdrop!

So, let me tell you about some of the things I observed. I observed that Alessya had a splint on her finger. So I asked her what happened, and she told me, "I broke my finger during cheer doing a back flip." Which let me learn about Alessya -- that she does cheer and that she's daring. I also observed that she likes pink lipgloss!

Speaking of pink, I observed that a student named Sarah was wearing a light pink cropped sweatshirt that matched perfectly with her water bottle. I asked whether she'd done that on purpose, but Sarah said it was a pure coincidence. When we were chatting after class, Ms. Lambropoulos also observed that Sarah's nail polish was the same shade of pale pink! Which goes to show you that the more observers you have, the more you learn!

A few other fun moments from my visits this week: I had to laugh when a student named Antonio told me, "Your hair is grabbing my attention!" (If you don't know me, you may not know that I have BIG hair!)

This afternoon, Ms. Lambropoulos's students admitted they weren't too interested in writing, and did not dream of writing their own books some day. But when I talked about keeping a journal, I asked the students, "Do you want to know what I write about? Do you even care?" At first, no one said anything -- until a student named Michelangelo (GREAT NAME! LIKE I TOLD HIM, HE HAS A LOT TO LIVE UP TO!!) raised his hand to indicate that he cared! I took this to be a moment of great triumph -- I was getting Michelangelo interested in the writing life! Except when I suggested that maybe Michelangelo was just feeling sorry for me because no one had answered my question, well he gave me a look that suggested maybe he had been feeling sorry for me!

When I taught the students about my favourite question to get the imagination going -- What if? -- a student named Joseph told us, "At night, I always ask myself 'What if I'm Batman?'" Joseph, I think that could make a cool story!

Ms. Gosdanian' students will be writing a memoir piece and Ms. Lambropoulos's will be working on a monologue, narrated by a literary character they have read about. In terms of ideas for the  memoir, I tried a couple of exercises that involved returning to old memories. As I told the students, for me, memories are stories asking to be told. Nicolas gave me permission to share a little of his memory of the first day of elementary school: "I was so used to being with my brother and now I was on my own for the first time." I love how NIcolas uses words to take us back with him into the past. And today, a student named Christopher started his memory with a gorgeous sentence guaranteed to make readers want to keep reading: "I knew there was nothing I could do." Haunting, no? And I bet you want to know what came next!

For the monologue exercise, I told the students that stepping into another character -- which is exactly what they'll be doing when they write their monologues -- is a way to build empathy. We all spend so much time being us that it can be a great relief to be someone else -- even if this only happens in our imaginations. It's one of the things I love most about writing fiction.

We talked about the terrible situation in the Middle East -- and I shared my view that if enemies could find a way to step into each other's skins and lives, well, it might gives us a better chance of having peace. I know that for me, the last few weeks have been a sad, stressful time, but the best remedy for my sad feelings has been to spend time with young people. They represent the future and they represent hope. Even if they don't all want to be writers, I know they all want to do their part to make our world a better, safer place. And for that, I'm very grateful.

I'll be back at Laval Senior in November for a Blue Metropolis Literary Foundation project. I'll ask Ms. Gosdanian and Ms. Lambropoulos to let their students know when I'll be back in the building -- just in case they want to discuss their memoirs or monologues with me. Thanks to Ms. Gosdanian for organizing this week's visits, thanks to Ms. Lambropoulos for sharing you students with me, and thanks most of all to the kids for giving me hope for the future!

 

  369 Hits
Oct
17

The Need for Hope in Dark Times

Like many people around the world, I have been despairing and feeling hope-less. The October 7 brutal attacks on Israel -- and all the loss of life and suffering on both sides that has followed and which is likely still to come -- has left me practically without words.

Yet sometimes life gives you what you need most. For me, that is hope.

It came this morning when together with Herzliah High School teacher Ms. Brown, we brought one of her Grade Ten English classes to the Cummings Centre, where the students interviewed Holocaust survivors who are part of the centre's Holocaust survivors' support group. The activity, funded by Canadian Heritage, is part of a Blue Metropolis Literary Foundation educational program called Looking Back for a Better Future.

Before we left Herzliah, I told the kids they would be the recipients of a gift -- the survivors' stories, and that the students in turn would be giving a gift -- their attention, their interest, and well...  the joy they provide simply by being teenagers, full of life and possibility.

You'd have had to be in the room with all of us to understand the impact of the exchanges that took place.

When I looked around at the faces of the students and the survivors I saw goodness and connection. There were tears, but also laughter.

A few highlights --

Maya interviewed Angela, who is 78 years old, and was born in 1944 in -- and this is in itself a miracle -- the Auschwitz concentration camp. When Angela was liberated from the camp, she told Maya, "I was like a little bird without feathers." Angela also told Maya that when she was younger, she tried to remove Auschwitz as the place of birth on her passport. But it was Vera, Angela's mother, who talked her out of it: "She told me 'No!' You will have to tell the story." Which is, of course, exactly what Angela was doing today.

A student named Akiva interviewed a survivor named Andrew. Andrew is 87; both his parents died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Andrew told Akiva, "I grew up on the streets." He also told Akiva how, at the age of eight, he was tortured by the Nazis who had trapped him in a sewer. I had warned the students that their questions could upset the survivors, but Andrew said, "I feel good to tell."

A student named Adam interviewed Léon, who's 83 and spent part of the Holocaust in a French orphanage called La Colonie Scolaire. "All the children who were there came from families who had been deported," Léon told Adam. Adam has a grandfather living in Paris who was also hidden as a child from the Nazis. Because Adam wondered if it was possible that the two men had known each other, Adam phoned home and arranged for his grandfather to phone him from Paris. Again, it's a moment that's hard for me to describe -- we don't think in the end that the two men knew each other -- but Adam's openhearted interest in Léon's story and his desire to connect Léon and his grandfather... well, it moved me to tears.

Now to return to the subject of hope. One gentleman, a survivor sitting at the far end of the room, initially said he preferred not to be interviewed. But Bill, who is 88, and was born in Lithuania, changed his mind when he met the teenagers. He was interviewed by two students (hey, I didn't write their names in my notes, so if you are at Herzliah and can help me out, post the students' names in the comment section and I'll add them here). Bill's life was spared by chance -- he was visiting family in Poland when the Nazis rounded up the Jews of Vilna and forced them into a ghetto, which was liquidated in 1943. I happened to be walking by when Bill told the students who were interviewing him: "Life without hope is worthless."

Ahh. Thank you for that, Bill.

The students have only just begun their interviews with the survivors. But I think I was right -- it was a gift for the teenagers, but also for the seniors. It was certainly a gift for me. One for which I am so very grateful.

In these dark uncertain times, we need to listen to others' stories, we need to learn from the past, and we need, perhaps above all else, to continue to hope for peace and goodness.

 

  955 Hits
Oct
04

Snoopy Rules at Rosemere High School

The title of today's blog entry "Snoopy Rules at Rosemere High School" requires some explanation. This Snoopy has nothing to do with the dog from the old Peanuts cartoon. It has to do with being snoopy (another word for curious), which I consider a vital trait in a writer. I myself am extraordinarily SNOOPY! So during my visit this morning to Ms. Lawrence's Enriched Sec. I English class, I asked the students whether any of them were snoopy too. Check out the raised hands in today's pic -- those are all kids who admitted to being snoopy. YAY!

I had the best morning. I know school visits aren't supposed to be fun for me -- they're supposed to be fun and educational for the kids, but I CAN'T HELP IT. First of all, I had THREE HOURS for my workshop -- which means I got to work pretty intensively with the students. And I also got to tell a lot of stories -- and look at the writing work the students produced when we were together. Also, Ms. Lawrence and I have known each other for many years and as I was telling her, I feel like I'm part of the family. (She even made me banana muffins!)

Okay, back to the workshop -- since you're here to read about that and not banana muffins. The workshop took place in the school library (special thanks to librarian Sylvie Plante and her assistant Joanna Shields for hosting us). Also we had a lovely student teacher with us -- Jenny Novodad, whom Ms. Lawrence calls, "My Jenny." (I loved that and took note of it immediately for my blog -- details help us tell stories, and in this case, the detail shows the warm relationship between Ms. Lawrence and her Jenny! Another cool thing was that Monsieur Lalancette, a guidance counselor at the school, took part in the first half of the workshop. It's always fun when there's a surprise adult visitor -- I think it's proof for the students that you don't have to be a kid to learn! Finally, Ms. Lawrence invited some keen writers from the older grades -- some of whom I'd already met. So a special shout-out to Zack, Zed, Lily, Naoko -- there were others, but I didn't get all the names.

Now I'll move to some of my favourite moments from today's visit. Well, first of all, the moment when so many students admitted they were snoopy! Also when Naoko told me he had given himself the name Naoko. I asked whether it's Japanese (I'm going to Japan in a few weeks -- I know, lucky me!!) -- and Naoko said it is meant to sound Japanese, but it's not officially a Japanese word. "I just like the sound of it," he said. Which I love because it shows Naoko's pleasure in playing with words, which do not only carry meaning, but also sound.

I had a special bonding moment early on with a student named Sienna. That's because she was looking right at me and nodding when I said something smart (well, I don't remember what I was saying, but I hope it was smart!). I used Sienna as an example of a student with excellent body language. Then I explained that body language is another tool writers use to tell our stories.

I don't know how I found out that Lily doesn't eat breakfast. But I used this information to demonstrate curiosity and some interview techniques. Here's what I discovered: Lily went to sleep too late last night -- at 11:30 PM; she often skips breakfast; and our conversation made her hungry!

Ariana was wearing a T-shirt that said "Always joyful." (I forgot to take a picture of it.) That prompted me to ask Arianna whether she is always joyful. It turns out she is sometimes not joyful. I suggested she add the word "Almost" before "Always joyful." See, there we are playing with words again! Arianna consulted me about a writing problem she's been having. She said, "I have so many ideas in my head, but I don't know which ones to pick!" I explained that that is a GREAT writing problem -- and I suggested she write all her ideas down (I have an ideas file on my laptop) and that when she's ready to start a project, she should go through the list of ideas and choose the one calling to her the most loudly!

We did two writing exercises -- I had hoped to do three, but the second one was intense and I wanted to take the time to circulate around the library to see what the students had come up with. For the exercise, I asked the students to return in their memories to the hardest moment in their lives. I warned them in advance that if the exercise was too difficult, they could sit it out or put their heads down and take a rest instead. But they all did it! I also explained that writing is an act of courage. Not all of the students wanted me to see their work -- and I was good with that. I did suggest they could use their painful memory and rework it into fiction -- let the experience, or a similar one, happen to another kid at another school in another country.

A student I'll call J gave me permission to quote the beginning of his piece here. Get ready for some beautiful, powerful writing!

"2016, Summer, my parents separated. My house sold. My parents got two different apartments. Worst of all I had to give away my dog. His name was Pluto, like the planet. Just like Pluto is not a part of our solar system, he wasn't a part of our apartment."

See what I meant about beautiful and powerful? The part about Pluto, well it breaks my heart (because it's sad) and lifts my heart at the same time (because it's so beautifully written).

J wasn't the only student whose writing lifted my heart. There were many many other examples in the library, but I was too busy reading the writing and talking to the students that there wasn't time to write them all down. (J happened to stay after class so I had a chance to take a pic of his text and quote from it here.)

As I told the students, I am 63 years old and retired from teaching at Marianopolis, and I don't really need to keep working -- also I'm recovering from pneumonia -- but perhaps you can tell from this blog entry that working with kids, teaching them about writing, and hearing (and reading) their stories... well, I don't think there's much that makes me happier in this world.

Many thanks to Ms. Lawrence for the invite to come to RHS, thanks also to my friend teacher Lee-Ann Sacks for popping by (Vicki Fraser, you were there in spirit!!). Thanks to the students for being wonderful. I'm ENRICHED from my morning in your company!

 

  957 Hits
Oct
02

Perfect Start to the Week at Selwyn House

Well hello Monday and hello blog readers! Lucky me --  I've just had the perfect start to my week, working with Ms. Farnell and Ms. Russett's Grades 7 and 8 students at Selwyn House School, a private boys' school here in Montreal.

The teachers came up with a wonderful idea -- to have their students write a picture book, which they'll be reading to Grade Two students at the school. I was invited in to give an opening workshop about writing a picture book.

Most people think picture books must be a snap to write. Order a pizza, and write your picture book before it's delivered to your door! But that's not how it works. Picture books are, in my opinion, the hardest books to write -- even though they are generally the shortest. That's because every word counts. Picture books are also the most difficult to sell -- that's because they're expensive to produce and so many people are writing them!

I had two hours with the boys -- that's us in today's pic with Ms. Farnell -- and we did A LOT. I read three picture books -- Maurice Sendak's Pierre, David A. Robertson's When We Were Alone, and my own picture book The Brass Charm. I also covered a lot of writing tips, some just for picture books, and we did THREE writing exercises.

As I often do in my blog entries, I'm going to share a few of my favourite moments from this morning. When I asked a student named Bowie to spell his name for my blog (I collect interesting names to use for characters in future books), he hesitated and explained, "I'm not used to spelling my name out loud." I wrote that line down because well... it's interesting. I explained to the kids that many picture books use dialogue, so it's important to listen for interesting dialogue -- and write it down when we hear it!

I was explaining that happy endings are out of style, but that most picture books include some... I wanted the kids to guess the word. I told them it happens when we eat. A student named Oliver made me laugh when he called out "Poop!" But then the class figured out the word I wanted was GROWTH.

A student named Aidan explained he prefers to be called Bruce. What I really liked was that Bruce TOLD US THE STORY OF HIS NAME. He said, "Bruce is my middle name. It's also the name of my grandfather who passed away two years ago."

When we were making a list of feelings that could be included in picture books, a student named Jiaang impressed me by calling out the word discombobulated. I love that word -- even though I don't love feeling discombobulated.

By the time I left, a few students had some preliminary ideas for their picture books. Bruce might write about the confrontation between a vegetarian and a carnivore. I love that idea! Make it funny! Nikolai might write about a kid who can fly, but who needs to learn humility. Very cool! And Liam might write about his dog, who sometimes sings along when someone plays harmonica. Excellent-o!

So now you know why my week is off to such a happy start. Thanks to Ms. Farnell and Ms. Russett for the invite -- and for doing all the exercises with the kids. Yay for teachers like you! Thanks to the boys for your excellent fun company. Good luck on your picture book stories. I look forward to hearing about your progress!

  805 Hits
Sep
21

Amazing Morning, Amazing New Blue Met Project

Today was what I'll call the "soft launch" of an amazing new Blue Metropolis Literary Foundation educational program called Looking Back For a Better Future. Students from one class at five different schools across the province will be interviewing local seniors (usually at a seniors' residence or seniors' activity centre) to learn their stories of resilience -- how they got through a tough experience in their lives. The students will write journal entries following each visit and then -- get ready for the big reveal! -- Blue Met is making a documentary film about the project. The film will be screened at the 2024 Blue Metropolis Literary Festival.

Do you love it already?

Can you tell I do?

So this morning, I biked over to Herzliah High School, a private parochial school in Montreal taking part in the project. What's extra-special is the students will work with seniors who are regulars at the Cummings Centre -- in particular we are hoping to connect the kids with a group of Holocaust survivors who meet regularly at the Cummings Centre. And I'll be offering the seniors a journal writing workshop too!

At Herzliah, I met the principal, Mr. Grintuch; the excellently-named and oh-so-kind English teacher Flannery Brown; and Ms. Brown's DELICIOUS Grade 10 English class. Well, maybe delicious is not the first word Ms. Brown or even Mr. Grintuch would use to describe the class -- but hey, I really miss teenagers and I even enjoy when they are a touch resistant (even to a brilliant idea such as ours!!). The thing that's fun about students who are a bit resistant is there is room for GROWTH and CHANGE.

Anyway, I only had an hour and even I don't know how I packed so much in! We covered journal writing approaches and interviewing tips. And there was even time for stories.

So some lovely tidbits from our hour together: A student named Maya literally shone in the classroom because of her smile! I explained that just that smile will help get her GOLD in an interview. I also explained I had a hunch she would like the Cathartic style of journal writing -- that means releasing our emotions on the page. Because a project like this one will provoke lots of feelings -- some of them, as I warned the students, might be difficult ones like sadness and fear. But I reminded them they can expect positive feelings too -- like hope, and an appreciation for all they have, and the knowledge that people have gotten through some very very tough things -- and that they (the teens) can and WILL too!

James distinguished himself by showing interest from the start (he was making such good eye contact I made all the other kids do the same! I explained that to get a good story, they'll need to look into the eyes of the person they are interviewing (and nod the right amount). And I reminded them that some well-timed nods make teachers happy too!

Abigail had a great question -- she asked, "Do we also write about the seniors' emotions?" Brilliant! And so important. In fact, I had to add the point Abigail was making to MY list of interviewing tips. The seniors' emotional reactions can be one of the most telling and meaningful parts of the story. I'm sure the documentary filmmaker will agree!

When I told the kids the story behind my book The Brass Charm, I asked them, "What did my mum give me that was more important than the charm?" Now I have to tell you something else very cool. Mr. Grintuch, the principal, attended the entire workshop. Not a lot of principals do that. Only about three in my many years of doing writing workshops. (One of them is now my friend Roger Rampersad -- in case he's reading this!!). So like I told the kids, they need to extra-appreciate Mr. Grintuch, who is obviously, like all principals, busier than most humans we know!! By being with us, he demonstrated his own and the school's commitment to the project. James was first to answer my question. He said, "Time. Your mother gave you time." I said no, that wasn't the answer I was looking for. So Mr. Grintuch ANSWERED. He got the answer I wanted -- that she gave me HER STORY. But then, a moment later, I realized JAMES WAS RIGHT TOO. She did give me her time and I was lucky to have it.

And that shows us another interviewing skill -- one that James made me realize -- DON'T DISMISS AN ANSWER BECAUSE IT WASN'T THE ONE YOU WERE EXPECTING (I had actually demonstrated the mistake). When we agree to be interviewed, we give something very precious -- our time. And when these young people go to the Cummings Centre, they will be giving something very precious in return -- their time as they listen and respond to the gift of a story.

I also told the kids I don't love the word grownups -- though I use it myself. What I don't like is that it sounds as if we are finished growing. Even the elderly people these kids will be interviewing are still growing and it's altogether possible (and I think likely) that their meetings with these young people will contribute to that growth.

Mr. Grintuch said something beautiful on his way out. He said, "This is bashert." In Yiddish, bashert can mean a soulmate, especially a marriage partner; and it is also used to mean fate or destiny -- but in a good way!

And then lots of kids said thanks (always a bonus with teenagers!!) and a student Peter, whom I somehow hadn't even noticed during the workshop (old eyes), stopped to tell me, "Have a magical day." But you know what Peter? You guys already made it magical!

Here's to all of us -- and for how lucky we were to have had such a perfect soft launch! Thanks to Herzliah, Cummings Centre, Blue Met and of course, Canadian Heritage, the project funder. But mostly to the kids. For the magic.

For today's pic, it's Ms. Brown, Mr. Grintuch and me; we wanted to get just the kids' backs since they don't all have permission to be in a pic -- but I said give a thumbs up if you learned something or had fun. Even my bad eyes can spot one thumb. Pretty sure it belongs to James! I'll take it!!

 

 

  804 Hits
Sep
20

The Wrong Monique!

I am always on the lookout for funny stories because well, I love to laugh and also because if they're really funny I can USE THEM. Which is what I'm doing with the funny story that happened to ME and all the students at Saint Bernadette School in Regina, Saskatchewan. I'm using it to entertain you guys, blog readers!

The school had set up a Zoom with me because my picture book The Brass Charm is up for the Shining Willow Award, a Saskatchewan prize. So at the end of morning announcements, which included the Bobcat Creed (students who go to Saint Bernadette are called Bobcats), the vice-principal, a lovely person (I'd been listening to him during announcements), started to introduce the special guest (ME!). Here's where things get funny! Now picture me, relaxing at my laptop, expecting to see a picture of me on screen or maybe a picture of the book... when instead of any of that, I see a picture of author Monique Grey Smith and her book I Hope, which is up for the same award!!!

Which is when I realized: YOU GOT THE WRONG MONIQUE! (or maybe just the wrong picture and book cover)!! I should add that I didn't just think the words "You got the wrong Monique!" I MAY HAVE SHOUTED THEM!! (I have a very excitable personality!!)

You will, however, be relieved to know that in the end, THINGS WENT SUPER RIGHT!!

I read The Brass Charm to 400 students who were watching the Zoom from their classrooms, including the little gang in today's pic, who were together somewhere near the vice-principal's office. I also told the kids the story behind the book -- that the brass charm was given to my mom (a child at the time) by a stranger when they were imprisoned at Terezin, a Nazi concentration camp and that my mom entrusted me with the brass charm and also ITS STORY. Are you beginning to see that I'm really into stories here? ;)

A little later, I got a beautiful email from Grade Five teacher Angie Sazynski -- I had explained to the kids that the brass charm I now wear is replica -- and they were curious to know the story behind the replica. What happened, they wondered, to the original charm? So you see, there are stories inside and behind stories, and our stories can inspire even more stories. Wow, this thought is making me very happy today.

Now for a PERFECT HAPPY ENDING TO MY FUNNY STORY: Ms. Sazynski came up with a great writing assigment -- for the kids to write about what could have happened to the original charm (FYI -- I lost him last summer on a trip to the US.) So I'm dee-lighted to report that my story is working the right kind of magic -- it's leading to new stories. Which is why I think that the end, in my own way, I was the right Monique.

 

  682 Hits
Sep
19

Quebec Roots 2023 Kicks Off

I'm not one to complain (certainly not here on my blog!), but I've been feeling a little under the weather. I have been fighting asthma for several weeks. But something finally lifted my spirits today -- a visit to Eric Rowles's Grade Three class at Saint Monica Elementary School! Mr. Rowles and his kids had me smiling in minutes!

Quebec Roots is a project sponsored by the Blue Metropolis Literary Foundation here in Montreal. Teams composed of a writer and a photographer will be visiting seven schools across the province. The photographer I'm paired with is my friend Pierre Charbonneau, who's not only a talented artist, but also has a great mellow vibe (let's say mellow isn't my strength, even with asthma).

The kis had to come up with a topic they be producing text and photos about -- they chose a fabulous topic. I've been doing Quebec Roots for 16 years and on my way home, I thought, "How come no other kids ever chose this topic?" The topic is: Friends: Real and Imaginary.

I gave the kids some basic writing tips -- such as trouble makes a good story (so they shouldn't only write about happy friendships. Perhaps they have felt disappointed by a friend, or perhaps a friend moved away.) We also discussed the importance of including SENSORY DETAILS -- which means stuff that has to do with the five senses. Is there a food you associate with a friend? Or a place you could describe -- such as two students Bill and M who met at the Benny Pool a few weeks before school started.

II loved what the kids had to say about imaginary friends. Chesrey has an imaginary friend named Stacey: "Every time," Chesrey told us, "I think of her I feel better." One student (I thought I wrote down his name, but I didn't -- send it to me in the comments and I'll add it to his blog post later) told us his imaginary friend is a golden retriever whose favourite movie is 101 Dalmations!

During Pierre's photography workshop, he helped the kids find ways to take some super pics. And this was only Day 1! He taught them about the importance of action photos -- and he gave us a useful tip that I can definitely use myself. If, when you take a pic with a telephone and it comes out blurry, use BOTH HANDS TO HOLD THE TELEPHONE. We tried it and it works!

We'll be back at St. Monica in three weeks from today. Kids, I need you to start writing some texts about friends -- real and imaginary. PS: Thanks for making me feel better and for coming up with a great topic.

Just want to add that I have a REAL friend named Stacey. One interesting thing (a sign of trouble!) is that we didn't hit if off at first!!), but especially this summer, we became very good friends. And it's good she's not imaginary, because though I told her NOT to do this, she just showed up at my door with a CARE PACKAGE. Which goes to prove that friendship (real or imaginary) can be very comforting!!

Okay, time for me to eat Stacey's soup. Here's to the new school year, Quebec Roots, and friendship of every kind!

  729 Hits
Jun
02

Lis! Ecris! Vis!

Ecris! Lis! Vis!

Last week, I was one more than 100 Québécois authors lucky enough to take part in the Salon du Livre d’Abitibi-Témiscamingue.

If you read the blog entries I wrote while I was there, you’ll know it was a meaningful week for me. I did many school visits, speaking to elementary school students about Le trésor d’Oma, the French translation of my picture book The Brass Charm, illustrated by Marie Lafrance and published by Scholastic. Though the story is written for young readers, it deals with a serious subject – the Holocaust – and was inspired by an experience my mom had when she was imprisoned as a child in a Nazi concentration camp. So I had the very good feeling that I was doing important work – speaking about anti-Semitism and the Holocaust to children who knew little, if anything, about these subjects.

I was one of the few anglophone writers at SLAT. In fact, I may have been the only one! So that made the week more interesting too. I felt like I exercised my brain! My French is good, but I’m not used to living entirely in French. And I did! I also made some new friends. They included Patrick Isabelle and Samuel Larochelle, both of whose kids’ book I had read, enjoyed and reviewed when I was a columnist for the ICI Radio-Canada show, Plus on est de fous, plus on lit! I also hit it off with Dominique de Loppinot, a children’s author whose work I am planning to dive into this summer.

Which brings me to the subject of today’s blog.

Last Sunday night, there was a barbecue for the SLAT authors who were still in Rouyn-Noranda. Many had left on Saturday – including Samuel and Dominique. It was a hot day, and I was feeling uncharacteristically lazy…. also we knew we had to be up at 3:30 AM to catch our flight back to Montreal. All this to tell you I was thinking about skipping the barbecue, and just having a sandwich in my hotel room.

BUT AM I EVER GLAD I WENT! (And not just because the salads and sausages and plum cake and grapefruit cake were way better than any sandwich! And not just because the barbecue took place at Livresse, a really cozy bar-bookstore in Noranda!) I was glad because I had an unforgettable conversation with my tablemates! And though I decided NOT to bring the notebook I bring ALMOST everywhere, I ended up taking notes in my agenda book. Because I didn’t want to forget the things I learned over dinner, and I also wanted to be able to share them with you, dear blog reader.

Perhaps you know the feeling of being at a party with mostly strangers, having a plate full of food, and looking for a table – anywhere! -- to sit down at?

That’s the feeling I had last Sunday night.     

As fate would have it, I spotted a friendly looking young man sitting alone at a nearby table. This turned out to be Jonathan Harnois, an author and part-time mariner, whose books include Je voudrais me deposer la tête. After I sat down, we were joined by two more authors: Richard Ste-Marie, a visual artist, musician and author of many books including L’Inaveu; and Jocelyne Saucier, a native of the Abitibi region, whose books include Il pleuvait des oiseaux, which in 2019 was made into a film. (I have to admit I went a little crazy when Jocelyne told me who she was – a friend recently gave me a copy of Il pleuvait… which happens to be at the top of my must-read pile next to my bed!)

Because I love asking questions, I asked my tablemates many questions, such as what advice they would give to aspiring authors. Which helps explain the title of today’s blog entry: Ecris! Lis! Vis!

Jonathan advised, “Ecris!” (For those of you who don’t speak French, that means “Write!”) He added, “Il faut écrire pour écrire” (which means “You have to write to write.”)

Richard advised, “Lire pour comprendre comment ça se fait” (“Read to learn how it’s done.”) He explained that as a musician, he often improvised – and to improvise well he needed to really listen to other musicians. Reading the work of other authors works in a similar way for him.

I asked a slightly different question to Jocelyne. Because she’s about a decade older than me, I asked, “What advice would you have given to yourself ten years ago?” And Jocelyne told me something beautiful. She said, “Vis” (which means live). She went on to explain that sometimes, she has been so involved in her writing that she has missed out a little on life. 

I left Livresse feeling very happy. I think I even sang on the walk back to the hotel. I’m left – nearly a week later -- feeling a little like a character from a fairy tale – the character who receives magical gifts from three fairies. In my case, those gifts were the words Lis! Ecris! And Vis! And now I have passed them on to you!

  877 Hits
May
25

Même les Elèves Virtuels en Abitibi Sont Super Bons!

Ça se peut que vous vous demandez ce qui se passe dans ma photo d'aujourd'hui! J'ai pris cette photo ce matin pendant que je donnais un atélier d'écriture virtuel -- les élèves étaient en première et deuxième année et je me suis dit qu'ils avaient besoin d'une pause avant que je leurs ai lu mon album Le trésor d'Oma. J'ai suggéré qu'ils fassent des étirements! Puis mon idée a bien fonctionnée, parce que les élèves n'ont pas seulement fait leurs étirements (regarde la photo pour voir la preuve!), après ils écoutaient mon histoire comme des anges!

J'ai donné deux atéliers virtuels aujourd'hui -- en après-midi, j'ai travaillé avec les élèves de troisième et cinquième années. D'habitude, je dois admettre que les atéliers virtuels sont un peu moins fun pour moi, mais aujourd'hui c'est bien allé et c'était pas mal FUN. Les élèves, mêmes les plus jeunes, étaient super bons. Et comme je leurs ai expliqué, quand on a une histoire à partager, ils nous faut des amis qui s'intéressent!

"Mes" élèves aujourd'hui venaient de loin -- d'Amos, de Val d'Or et de La Sarre. Mais grace à Teams, ils sont venus me voir dans ma chambre d'hotel ici à Rouyn! Je dois remercier Isabelle Bolduc, Marie-Pier Boisvert-Baril et Richard Martin pour leur support technique!

Je dois aussi aussi remercier tous les profs -- Mme. Rebeka, Mme. Caroline, Mme. Elizabeth, Mme. Marie-Eve, Mme. Cynthia, Mme. Amélie et Mme. Manon (si j'ai oublié un prof, envoie-moi un message dans la section de commentaires et je ferais la correction!) -- merci pour avoir partagé vos élèves avec moi aujourd'hui! Je me sens gâtée! (Envoie-moi aussi tes corrections -- je n'ai pas l'habitude d'écrire en français. C'est mon défi de la semaine!)

Je n'ai pas pas beacoup de temps pour mon blog aujourd'hui parce que je m'en vais bientôt au Salon du Livre d'Abitibi-Témiscamingue! Mais avant de partir, je veux partager quelques beaux moments de ma journée!

Quand j'ai demandé aux élèves ce matin s'ils voulaient avoir quelques conseils au sujet de comment devenir écrivain/e, un élève qui s'appelle Gabriel a secoué sa tête. C'était un petit geste, mais ça ma beaucoup plait! Il me semble que, si on veut apprendre, on apprendra beaucoup!

Même å l'age de 63, moi aussi je continue à apprendre! Grand merci à Mme.Caroline qui m'a appris le mot péripéties. Quel beau mot! J'expliquais aux élèves que les histoires ont besoin de "trouble" -- mais Mme. Caroline  avait raision -- le mot péripéties est beacoup mieux! Dans la vrai vie, nous préfèrons éviter ces péripéties, mais s'ils arrivent -- il faut les utiliser dans nos histoires!

Après avoir lu les élèves Le trésor d'Oma, une élève qui s'appelle Charlotte voulait me demander une question -- sauf c'était un commentaire et pas une question! Charlotte m'a dit: "C'est cool ton histoire!" Merci merci, Charlotte!

L'histoire que j'ai lu aux élèves est pas mal triste, mais c'est aussi plein d'espoir. L'album est inspiré par l'éxpérience de ma mère qui était emprisonnée pendant l'Holocauste à Terezin, un camp de concentration. Malgré tout ce que ma mère a vu et vécu, ma mère avait toujours beacoup d'espoir. Elle avait aussi un merveilleux sens d'humour. Ma mère est décédée en 2017 à l'age de 86 ans! Quand elle était en vivant, elle rejoignanit de temps en temps mes atéliers virtuels avec les jeunes élèves. Elle aurait eu beaucoup de plaisir avec vous autres aujour'dhui. Et d'une certaine façon, parce que je vous ai raconté son histoire et l'histoire de son petit homme-singe, elle était avec nous aujourd'hui!

Merci à tous! Quelle belle journée j'ai passé avec vous tous!

 

 

  429 Hits
May
24

24 Mai -- 80 Ans Plus Tard

Ce matin, quand je me suis levée à Rouyn-Noranda, je me suis dit que ce n'était pas seulement le 24 mai -- mais aussi le 80ième anniversaire du jour que ma mère a reçu le petit homme-singe en laiton qui a inspiré mon album, Le Trésor d'Oma, illustré par Marie Lafrance (Scholastic). J'ai marqué cette journée avec les élèves d'Ecole Notre-Dame-de-Grace å Rouyn.

J'ai travaillé avec trois groupes, tous des élèves de première et deuxième année. Leurs profs étaient M. Félix, Mme. Véronique, Mme. Valérie, Mme. Karine, Mme. Audrey-Alexandra et Madane Samantha. J'ai aussi rencontré Mme. Sophie Rivard, la directrice-adjointe de l'école, qui est venue me chercher et aussi la merveilleuse écrivaine Dominique de Loppinot qui donnait des atéliers aux élèves plus agés.

Okay, je retourne pour un moment à l'histoire de ma mère. Le 24 mai, 1943, le jour de son 14ième anniversaire, ma mère était imprisonné à Terezin, un camp de concentration en ce qui est maintenant la République tchèque. Ce jour là, une autre prisonnière qui ne connaissait pas de tout ma mère, lui a donné le seul cadeau que ma mère a reçu -- le petit homme-singe.

Alors, je rancontais tout ça aux élèves aujourd'hui -- et je crois que c'était un jour émouvant pour nous tous. Maintenant, je vais partager mes moments préfèrés!

1. Quand, avant de commencer à 8h45, je parlais avec les élèves de M. Félix au sujet de mon accent anglais quand je parle français, et Sam m'a dit, "C'est un bel accent."

2. Quand, après avoir entendu l'histoire de mon homme-singe, Ethan m'a demandé, "Vas-tu le donner à tes enfants?" (La réponse est oui.)

3. Quand, après que j'ai expliqué aux élèves que les histoires ont besoin de TROUBLE, Benjamin nous a expliqué pourquoi son ami Cristiano avait deux pansements sur son front: "La porte lui a cognée." (Ça fait mal, mais ça fait aussi une bonne histoire!)

4. Quand, en partant sa salle de classe, Sam m'a demandé, "Je peux vous texter?" (La réponse est non, mais tu peux toujours m'écrire ici dans la section pour commentaires!)

5. Quand, dans la deuxième classe, Clara nous a dit: "avant sa mort, mon grand-père a donné un collier avec la croix de Jésus à mon père" (Ça fera aussi une belle histoire, Clara.)

6. Quand Annabel a demandé, "Pourquoi ils font la guerre?" (On a parlé de pleins de raisons...)

7. Quand Charlie's m'a dit qu'il est nommé pour Charlie de Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, et que sa soeur Alice est nommé pour Alice au Pays de Merveilles (Alice au Pays de Merveilles est mon livre préfèré et je portais un t-shirt avec Alice!!)

8. Quand Thalia m'a demandé, "A quel age as tu commencé à ecrire?" (Neuf ans!)

9. Quand j'ai expliqué que je viens d'avoir 63 ans, et Clara m'a dit, "On n'est jamais trop vieux pour écrire les livres." (Je lui ai répondu: "On n'est jamais trop jeune pour écrire les livres.")

10. Quand j'ai souhaité aux élèves dans le troisième groupe qu'ils pourront élèver leurs enfants dans un monde en paix, et Jeanne a ajouté "et un monde avec de la liberté!" (Wow!)

11. Quand Mme. Audrey-Alexandra m'a raconté que, en quittant la salle de classe, son élève Ella lui a dit, "On est chanceux d'habiter dans un pays qui n'a pas de guerre."

J'écris ce blog depuis des années, mais c'est la première fois que j'utilise une liste. En relisant, je crois que cette liste vous explique pourquoi j'ai un coeur rempli. Merci aux profs, à la directrice-adjointe, au Salon du Livre de l'Abitibi-Témiscamingue, mais surtout aux élèves. Je me sens qu'avec vous autres, il y a de l'espoir pour notre monde. (Hey, je suis sûr que j'ai fait beaucoup d'erreurs de français dans ce blog. Envoie-moi tes corrections dans la section pour commentaires). XO DE MONIQUE

 

 

  798 Hits
May
23

Grande et Belle Journée à l'Ecole Le Prélude

Aujourd'hui je me donne un grand défi! Je vais tenter d'écrire ce blog en français. Je me débrouille assez bien en français, et aujourd'hui j'ai donné mes trois atéliers d'écriture aux élèves à l'Ecole Le Prélude entièrement en français... mais je n'écris pas souvent en français (parce que je fais trop d'erreurs). Mais comme j'ai expliqué aux éleves, il faut faire des erreurs pour apprendre!  Puis les élèves m'ont promis qu'ils corrigeront mes erreurs! Merci en avance, les amis!

J'ai commencé ma journée avec Madame Stéphanie et sa classe des élèves de sixième année. D'habitude je suis la seule "morning person" dans une chambre, mais aujourd'hui j'ai rencontré plein d'autres! Quand je suis entrée dans la salle, Maddox avait son bras élèvé. Est-ce-qu'il avait déja une question pour moi? Non, il voulait me souhaiter une bonne anniversaire (c'était mon anniversaire samedi). "Comment as-tu su?" j'ai démandé à Maddox, puis il m'a répondu, "J'ai fait des recherches." Impressionant, non?!

J'expliquais aux élèves que souvent les secrets intéressent les auteurs. Je parlais des histoires que les gens ne veulent pas partager. Madame Stéphanie m'a appris une belle expression: "tirer les verres du nez."

Adam, Ezéchiel et Samuel m'ont aidé avec ma prononciation ("C'est obServer, pas obZerver"). Et c'est Ezéchiel qui m'a emmené dans la classe de Madame Geneviève oü j'ai travaille avec des élèves en troisième année. Même si ces élèves sont jeunes, ils avaient des bonnes questions. Surtout, il voulait apprendre plus au sujet de l'Holocauste -- une terrible évènement historique que je traite dans mon nouveau album Le trésor d'Oma (Scholastic). Jean-Sébastien avait aussi une très bonne question: "Comment on fait pour bien écrire un livre?" J'ai adoré que Jean-Sébastien a inclut le mot bien!! Pour répondre à sa question, j'ai partagé mes meilleurs conseils!

Charlie m'a observé et m'a demandé, "Est-ce-que c'est le même collier qui est dans le livre?" Ma réponse était OUI!! Et Gabriel ne m'a pas seulement aidé avec mon français, en partant de la salle de classe, il m'a donné une roche avec or de fous. Gabriel, je garderais toujours ton cadeau!

Je dois remercier Isabelle Bolduc, bibliothèquaire responsable pour les écoles primaires ici. C'est Isabelle qui est venue me chercher tôt ce matin, et qui m'a rammené cet après-midi. Puis Isabelle a même assisté à mon dernier atélier. Nous étions avec Madame Sandra et ses élèves de troisième année. Ces jeunes avaient tant de bonnes questions! Logan G voulait savoir, "C'est quoi qui t'a inspiré à faire tes histoires?"

Dans la photo d'aujourd'hui, je suis avec la classe de Madame Sandra. Madame Sandra est cachée parmis les élèves à droit; Isabelle est en haut, dans le coin gauche.

Alors, Logan G -- ce que m'inspire le plus c'est les jeunes comme toi et les autres élèves qui j'ai recontré aujourd'hui -- des jeunes qui sont curieux, intelligents et doux.

Merci à tous pour la belle journée, et au SLAT (Salon du Livre d'Abitibi-Témiscamingue) pour avoir organisé mes visites aux écoles cette semaine. Quel plaisir pour moi d'être avec vous tous. Okay les amis, j'attends tes corrections dans la section pour commentaires!!

  792 Hits
Apr
28

More (Virtual) Fun at G Theberge School

You may be wondering why John, the student you can see smiling under his hand in today's pic, is smiling. Well I caught that smile after I told the students that I find a person who knows his or her way around a semi-colon SEXY!

This was my last virtual workshop with Ms. Webb's student at G. Theberge School. This morning before the workshop, I told my running buddy that I didn't expect the kids would have any writing to show me -- because when you give workshops you can't really assign homework. So, as I told my buddy, I had a Plan B in mind. But guess what? There was plenty of writing for me to listen and respond to! Yay for Ms. Webb's students!!

John started us off with a memory of a daring adventure. I was impressed by his use of strong verbs -- he included "launching," "blasting," and "sliced" in his piece. He also used a beautiful simile "like a shark through water." And I only caught one adverb ("instantly") which I suggested he nix. Thanks for being my first "victim" today, John!

Next up was Carter, who read us a short, but powerful piece about a man who wakes up in "dark, cold elevator." Cool start, Carter! Carter admitted he hasn't figured out what happened to the guy -- but as I said, some writers (I'm one of them) only figure out their plots as they write!

Corbin read the start of his piece which takes place in his grandparents' basement. He describes his popa's workshop, "it smelled like oil." I like that! I told Corbin I have a hunch he should write more about his family, and that he should try to find out his nana and popa's stories! The older I get, Corbin, the more I trust my hunches.

Hunter was my last "victim." He had said he had only written forty words, but this turned out to be a joke. So instead I asked Hunter a question I love asking, "What matters to you?" He answered straightaway: "My dogs." Well then, Hunter, I think you have the topic for a story!

I'll actually be in the Temiscaming region at the end of May for the Salon du Livre Abitibi-Témiscamingue (the city's name is spelled differently in French). And it turns out I'll have some free time on May 25th. I'm hoping to find a way to make the trip from Val d'Or to Temiscaming and meet Ms. Webb and her wonderful students in person.

Thanks to Mrs. Webb and the students for making my visits interesting and fun. Thanks to ELAN's ArtistsInspire program for making these workshops possible.

 

  478 Hits
Apr
24

Perfect Start to the Week at Kingsdale Academy

Many people dislike Monday mornings. But my own own morning -- and week -- got off to splendid start. (I have always loved the word splendid, but I seldom get to use it!) Mrs. Byrne, principal of Kingsdale Academy in Pierrefonds, had invited me to speak to the school's students in honour of I Love to Read Week. It turns out the students I met really do love to read -- and also ask loads of great questions (which is a big part of learning, and also comes in handy if you are doing book research).

I started the day in the gym with kids in Grades One to Four. There were a lot of them, but I must say I never had to shush a single one! I have a whole page of notes I took with comments from this group, but because I don't want this blog entry to go on forever, I'll just share a few. When I told the kids that I am curious, a student named Austin commented, "So you're Curious George." I liked this comment because it is LITERARY and shows me that Austin has good taste in books. A student named Hannah said, "I'm like you because I take notes and I'm almost finished making my first book." I told Hannah that her name is a palindrome -- meaning if you spell it backwards it's still the same word. Hannah knew that about spelling her name backwards, but she didn't know the word palindrome. So I'm super proud that I was the one who taught it to her. This discussion prompted a student named Lana to tell us, "Tacocat is a palindrome too." I immediately tested Tacocat by writing it out on my sheet -- and yup, Lana's right. FUN! And when I read the students my new picture book, The Brass Charm, a student named Layla commented that the character in Marie Lafrance's illustrations looks like me! (No one had ever told me that before, but I think it's true!)

Next I worked with the kindergarten classes -- they were fun and unusually attentive for such young kids. Oh, I forgot to tell you that it was Rainbow dressup day at Kingsdale, so I loved all the colours and also that Madame Yara (whom I had already met when I was parking my car) was wearing two different coloured sandals!! Special call out to teacher Ms. Talia who enjoyed that the narrator of The Brass Charm is named Tali. "I spent my life when I was growing up," Ms. Talia told me, "looking for another Talia."

After recess, it was on to the Grades Five and Six classes. These kids were wonderful! Again, I never really had to shush a single one of them. Whatever you teachers are doing at Kingsdale, it seems to be working! A student named Giordano had brought a copy of my book Princess Angelica, Camp Catastrophe with him -- so I ended up telling the students a little about how that story came about. And a student named Zeiler demonstrated his good sense of humour. When I mentioned that life gets easier as you grow up (you get to be more in charge of your own destiny), but in some ways it's also challenging, Zeiler commented, "Like you have to pay taxes." Not only did this comment make me laugh, but it reminded me I have to call the accountant and see if my tax papers are ready to submit! Later, when Ms. Irene brought over an extra chair for me to put my books on, Zeiler said, "The chair is for Non-Existy." I found that funny too, and I like how Zeiler used his imagination to invent the name Non-Existy. By the way, Zeiler, an invented word is called a neologism.

I read these kids The Brass Charm too (okay I did give them a minute to stretch and talk before) and they were my ideal audience -- focused and attentive and well... INTO IT! I know you guys clapped for me, but I feel like you deserved the applause for being so terrific.

I had several notetakers to assist me today. Thanks to Aleeza and Eliana in the first group, and Jackson and Ben in the last. The kindergarteners are a little young for taking notes! Thanks to the teachers for sharing your lovely students with me; a special thank you to Ms. Byrne, who is on my list of favourite principals ever. She stayed for all my talks, and she even led the Grades Five and Sixes in a proper stretch. I seldom get to meet the principal when I do a school visit, and Mrs. Byrne is smart and FUN. (My favourite combination in a person.) Thanks especially to the students. You were just what this writer needed on a Monday morning!

  647 Hits
Apr
23

Selfies With Words

It was pouring rain in Montreal today, making it the perfect day for my Selfie Poetry workshop at the Dorval Library. The workshop was moved from the library to the community centre next door, where every Sunday from 1:30 to 4:30 PM Dorval residents (and others too) can take drop by to take part in what's called an art hive. There are art hives all over Montreal, and they allow people to come and do art -- supplies are provided, and there are also artist supervisors on hand to give advice and encouragement. Dorval's art hive is run by Wendy Bayer and Laurence Laplante.

I have to give reference librarian Gail Warren credit for coming up with the idea of a selfie poetry workshop. We were tossing around ideas last year when Gail suggested this one -- so we decided I'd show participants how to make a selfie using words!

I think there were ten of us around the table today (I was too happy to count!) and judging from the laughter, it seems we all had a lot of fun. I did a super quick talk about writing, and then we started to discuss self-portraits. Artists (and many of today's participants are already artists themselves) say that the self-portrait genre affords the most freedom because the artist is his or her own model.

We had 90 minutes together, so we started with a warm-up exercise in which participants made a list of words that start with n. I said the words could be in any language. Diane came up with 24 words, including her favourite New Zealand! (the exclamation mark was included in what Diane wrote). Diane told us she recently spent a whole month in New Zealand. No wonder it was on her list. I had the word "nombril," which is French for bellybutton. When I told the group, Karine called out, "Oh je ne l'avais pas" -- meaning she wished she had the word nombril on her own list. This comment proved the point I wanted to make -- that words are FUN and WORTH GETTING EXCITED ABOUT.

After that, we moved onto our selfies. First, we used our cellphones to take pictures of ourselves, then we made simple sketches based on those photos -- and then we began to add words. Lots and lots of words! We were all astonished at how much Sarah-Alexia's word portrait looked like her! Nadine (who happens to be my boyrfriend's daughter and who came along for fun, but also because she loves art and is an excellent artist... shhh, don't tell her I said that!) included punctuation in her self-portait. Also, Nadine linked all her words so that the effect was somehow a little like knitting. Very cool! Diane added antennae to her portrait -- how creative is that?!! Diane explained that, "I added my own lines." Everyone teased me that I had a favourite (a chou-chou in French) -- Karine, who did an amazing self-portrait and who was filling her background with words. It's clear that Karine has a strong background in art -- she is studying visual arts at UQAM. But I'm the kind of teacher who likes to have lots and lots of favourites. Nikki Squiggly (her artist's name) likes to include snails in her artwork. Nikki told us why: "The snail is like me wanting to go quickly. But I'm slow and that's who I am." And another participant Martha McLean -- who did a beautifully detailed self-portrait on a smaller scale than the others had been my typing teacher in high school!! Finally, a shout-out to Kate -- we loved the mouth you created using words. And thanks also for being good company for sitting-next-to!

Be sure to check out today's pic! In it, you'll see most of the workshop participants and our selfie creations. And if you weren't there, try the exercise out for yourselves. Let me know what you discover along the way!

Thanks to Gail Warren for dreaming up the workshop, to librarian Maude for bringing Nadine and me over to the art hive, to Wendy and Laurence for hosting the hive, and especially to all the participants for making a rainy day feel positively SUNNY!

 

 

 

 

  638 Hits
Apr
21

Happiest Morning at Riverview Elementary School

I'm calling today's blog entry "Happiest Morning at Riverview Elementary School" -- and if you need proof that I'm telling the truth, check out today's pic. It's true that I'm a big smiler, but hey, that's an even bigger smile than usual on my face!!

I was invited to Riverview by teacher Amanda Tulli, who wanted me to read and discuss my new picture book The Brass Charm with Grades Five and Six students. I had 50 minutes with the students -- and I think Ms. Tulli may have gotten a touch worried when I started giving writing tips. My plan was to only give a few, but I kept thinking of more! Anyway, I did manage to read and discuss the book too -- so I think I'm still in Ms. Tulli's GOOD BOOKS. (Haha to my own joke!)

Oh were the kids ever wonderful! Though I did have to beg to get a volunteer to take notes -- but Robyn (with a Y!) finally agreed and I let her keep the blue pen I lent her (it's from the Montreal Neurological Hospital and Institute, where my boyfriend works). Thanks for taking notes, Robyn! The students had lots of interesting comments and questions. Luka did a great job describing writer's block: "It's when you're writing a small paragraph and nothing comes to your mind." I told the students that my solution for writer's block is to keep writing (even if I write mean things to myself) until I get unblocked. (Just be sure to delete the mean parts afterwards!)

Emory had a great question about doing research: "How does it work if you're writing a fictional story?" I explained that even fiction requires research, and I gave the example of my novel Straight Punch, which required me to learn a lot about boxing (I even took up boxing!).

I explained to the students that even if they wanted to write a novel set at Riverview, they'd probably need to do research. "Was a teacher ever fired from this school? Or was there ever a fire here?" I asked the students. My question prompted a teacher, Ms. Illya, to tell us: "There was once a flood here." Hey, that would make a cool story! Find out more about what happened!

After my talk, a student same Sarah Rose told me, "I had a question, but I was too shy to ask." So I got Sarah Rose to tell me her question. Also, I should explain that I adore shy kids -- maybe because they are so different from me. One day, I want to write a book about a shy kid! Maybe I'll name her Sarah Rose!! Anyway, Sarah Rose asked: "How did your mother survive the Holocaust?" I told her that that's a sophisticated question, and that to find out, she'll need to read my novel What World Is Left. But I also explained that my mum survived because of my grandfather, an artist who was forced by the Nazis to create propaganda art.

If you know me well, you will know that I am a huge fan of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Well, it turns out that yesterday was dress-up day at Riverview, but a student named Evelyn was absent -- so she wore her dress-up outfit today. And it was Alice!! That's Evelyn-Alice next to me in today's pic. And that helps explain PART of the reason for my giant smile!

Thanks to Ms. Tulli for inviting me to Riverview. Thanks to the kids for being A-MAZING. Read a lot, learn a lot, interview the old people who love you, and WRITE WRITE WRITE. Thanks for making me so happy today!

  568 Hits
Apr
20

Back in Temiscaming!

Okay, I wasn't really IN Temiscaming today. Besides, if I had been, I would definitely have taken a picture for you. But I did do my second virtual writing workshop with Mrs. Webb's Grade Eight English class at G. Theberge School. Only Mrs. Webb is away at a teachers' conference, so I have to thank Mr. Rowell, who was substituting for her. Thanks for handling the tech end of things, Mr. Rowell, and for keeping an eye on the class! Alas, we got cut off during the last five minutes -- which was when I was planning to take a photo -- so I've got no photo to go with today's blog entry.

Today, we talked about the stories we need to tell. My goal is to help the students find theirs! I explained that for me, those stories have a lot to do with the Holocaust and my relationship with my mum, who kept her childhood experience in a Nazi concentration camp a secret for more than 60 years. Until I pried the secret out of her, and used it to inspire my YA novel What World Is Left. I also told the class about the story behind the story of The Brass Charm, my new picture book, which is also connected to my mum's time in Theresienstadt.

Last class, I had the students write an imaginary blurb for the book they most want to read. Today, I had them write about an old memory. I explained my theory that memories are stories asking to be told. What I had hoped to do in the last few minutes of today's workshop was ask each of the students individually whether they had an idea for a story -- I was hoping they might have been inspired by our exercises or by my suggestion that they interview an older person (preferably someone who loves them and who might therefor be willing to share a SECRET!).

I didn't get to speak to each of the 12 students, but I did get to speak to a few of them before we got cut off. Corbin has an idea for a medieval story. He told me he was also inspired by the memory exercise. So I suggested he try combining the two sources of inspiration. When I asked Hunter if he had an idea, he said, "Yes!" Just the one word, but I have to say it made me HAPPY. John shared his memory of being at a park when he was five years old: "I propelled myself down a slide at Mach 1 speed." (I just looked up Mach 1 speed and it's super fast -- as in 1234.8 km/hr.) My favourite part of that story was John's use of the word PROPELLED. I like your voacbulary, John, and look forward to reading whatever you write for next week!

I explained that not all writers like to talk about their WIP (that stands for WORK IN PROGRESS). Some writers are more private and prefer to keep their ideas under wraps until they are more fully develooped. I'm the kind of writer who gets energy from sharing my ideas.

I'll be back "in" Temiscaming next Friday. Mrs. Webbs's students, try to have something to show me. Ideally, we'll work on a shared screen and I'll give you some feedback on your writing. If there's any extra time left, you can count on me to tell you a story (or two) -- or give you another writing exercise (or two!!). Thanks to ELAN's ArtistsInspire for making my visits to G. Theberge School possible.

 

 

 

 

  370 Hits
Apr
17

Fun Virtual Visit to G. Theberge School

I don't know about you, but my week is off to a great start! That's because it began with a virtual visit to G. Theberge School in Témiscaming, Quebec, where I worked with Mrs. Webb's Grade Eight English class. I'll be doing two more workshops with the same students -- thanks to ELAN's (that stands for English Language Arts Network) ArtEd program. It was 9:20 when our class together started, so I got to watch the students wake up! And though only one student, Corbin, gave me a (small) wave when I asked if anyone in the room might want to write a book one day, most of them were busy writing by the end of the workshop (see today's pic for proof!). There is little I enjoy more than watching young writers writing!

We started off with some writing tips. I told the students to look out for things that are a)odd b)funny and c)tragic. Then, as if to illustrate my point that odd is good, a black dog wandered across my computer screen! This, I learned, was George -- the principal's dog. When I asked about George's story, a student named Anna explained, "He walks around looking for food -- and pats." Not a bad life, don't you agree?

When I told the students that to develop their writing skills they need to both write and read regularly, Mrs. Webb introduced me to a student named Mikayla. "I often find her with a book in her hands -- and one that's not assigned," Mrs. Webb explained. Way to go, Mikayla! As for a student named John, he told me, "I don't mind it [reading]." I loved that line and wrote it down in my notes because I think it's a great example of dialogue, another important aspect of storytelling. To me, the line shows that John DOES like reading, but he didn't want to 100 per cent admit it!!

I'll be near Témiscaming towards the end of May for the Salon du livre de l'Abitibi-Témiscamingue (the French spelling has a 'ue' at the end). Though I'll be staying about an hour away, I am already trying to figure out a way to get myself over to G. Theberge School so I can meet "my" students in real life!

Special thanks to ELAN's ArtEd program for making my visits possible, to Mrs. Webb for sharing your class with me, and to the students for making me happy! Hey, don't forget to do your homework for me for Thursday!!

 

  499 Hits
Mar
30

Lively Days at Lajoie Elementary School

Today's pic was taken last Friday at Lajoie Elementary School where I did a writing workshop for one of Ms. Cristina's Grade Six classes. I was back at Lajoie today, working with two more of Ms. Cristina's classes. What all the students have in common is that they are LIVELY (which makes my days a lot more fun!!).

So let me start by telling you about Bianca. She's the student at the front of the pic with the fancy writing implements. Bianca showed me her feather pen as well as her giant pencil from Switzerland. "I got my feather pen at Salon du Livre," she told me. "It was five dollars." Bianca also told me, "I know a writer in this class." The writer turned out to be Santiago. Santiago and his family come from Colombia, and somehow I also learned that his favourite dessert is called pan de bono. I can't remember now how we got to discuss desserts -- it could be that I was comparing reading to cooking or baking. If you want to become a better writer, you need to read the work of other writers. The same goes for cooking and baking -- we get inspired by tasting others' creations! Anyway, I learned something else super interesting: that Santiago makes graphic novels and that HE SOLD ONE TO A STRANGER FOR $2! That's impressive, Santiago! And thanks, Bianca, for showing me your feather pen and giant pencil -- and for telling me about Santiago's successes!

When I walked into the school today, the kids were just coming in from lunch. One of them asked me, "Are you Monique Quelque Chose?" (For those of you who don't speak French, quelque chose means something or in this case something-or-other.) Anyway, that question made me laugh and I decided that I quite like the name Monique Quelque Chose. I think it suits me!

A student named Ishan also made me laugh when his hand was raised, but because I was in the middle of teaching a writing tip, I asked, "Is it a burning question?" When Ishan told me it was, I said go ahead. And he said, "Oops, I forgot!" But then a moment later, he remembered the question -- he wanted to know which of my books has sold the most copies, and I told him it was my novel What World Is Left, which is based on my mother';s childhood experience in a Nazi concentration camp.

I gave the first class this afternoon a writing exercise in which I asked them to remember learning something for the first time. Sepanta wrote, "I remember when I first learned the Persian alphabet." Cool, Sepanta! If you continue working on that piece, maybe you could describe how you felt the moment you realized you had learned the alphabet. Annabelle gave me permission to quote an excerpt from her piece: "I know of people who like kindergarten, but for me, it was different." Excellent start, Annabelle! As I told her in class, Annabelle has done something important -- and difficult to do -- she has hooked the reader! Keep working on that story, Annabelle! I want to know what happens next.

The last group was just as lively as my other two groups at Lajoie. A student named Mohammed told me, "We are actually writing a book ourselves. We just finished the phase of correcting the text." I love that these kids are learning firsthand about the importance of revising our work. As I told the class, writing a first draft is difficult, but the real work comes during the revisions.

We also talked about how one story leads to another. I told the students how my book 121 Express was inspired by a ride on a school bus, and Mehdi raised his hand and told us a great story about his schoolbus -- and how the driver lost his cool! My favourite part was Mehdi's use of dialogue. Mehdi said, "The driver shouted, 'Stop it, you rascals!'" I don't know about you, but I just love the word RASCALS. When I asked him if the busdriver had spoken in English or French, Mehdi explained that the whole incident happened in French and that the busdriver had said, "Arretez, les petits gamins!" So now I'm extra impressed with Mehdi for telling us a great story, for his great use of dialogue, and for his beautiful translation skills!

Thanks to Ms. Cristina Musila for inviting me to Lajoie; thanks to the kids for being so lively. When I think of you, I will use Mehdi's word: RASCALS. Now get working on those stories you need to tell!

  564 Hits
Mar
21

Loved My Kids at Allion Elementary School

The title of today's blog entry is "Loved My Kids at Allion Elementary School" -- so I'll begin by making clear that I know they are not MY kids. And I also want to make clear that I was only kidding about taking two of them -- Raffique and Javien - home with me!! But I had a great dose of FUN this morning working with Grades Five and Six classes at Allion. I was invited to the school by librarian Tiffany Clarke (that's Ms. Tiffany in the blue blouse to the right in today's pic). The kids were terrific -- focused and interesting and interested. Now it may have helped that school principal Ms. D'Adamo attended my workshops too (she is in today's pic too, at the far right, with blonde hair)! As I told Ms. D'Adamo, in all my years of doing writing workshops, I rarely get to even meet the principal. This was the third time ever that a prinicipal attended the writing workshop. Yay, Ms. D'Adamo, for being such a great sport and role model.And you know what else? Ms. D'Adamo made me a coffee. That's definitely the first time a principal ever made me a coffee -- and delivered it to me in the library!

By the way, I just gave you an example of how little stories and salient details can bring a story (or a blog entry) to life. Don't you love the word SALIENT? (I do.) It means NOTICEABLE. So if you've never heard of it before, you should definitely go ahead and use it!!

I worked with two groups of students -- the first was a combination of fives and sixes, the second group was all sixes. In both groups, I asked for volunteer notetakers. So shout-outs here to Anderson, Madison and Reagan, and later, Arianne, Javien and Mya for recording my writing tips. Maybe you can share the notes with your teachers and they can distribute them to the classes so you will be more likely to remember everything we discussed this morning!

One thing we talked about was the importance of rewriting. I asked the first group whether the fresh writing I plan to do at home later this afternoon will be any good. Olivia shook her head no and explained, "The first draft is never good!" Exactly, Olivia -- and that's basically the secret to all good writing. Rewrite, rewrite and then rewrite some more!

When we were discussing inspiration for stories, Amélie told us about her little sister "who hugs too much if she gets a sugar rush." I thought that that would make a funny, fun story. Get to work on it, Amélie!

One student who caught me eye during my presentation was Noemi. That's because she was sitting in an unusual way -- like she was ready to jump up. I took this sitting position to indicate that Noemi was super interested in my talk. And guess what I learned? A) She was and B) this one is really interesting and fun... NOEMI TRIED OUT FOR LONG-JUMPING YESTERDAY. So I was right to notice her prepared-to-jump-position. When my first workshop was over, Noemi stayed to tell me the following: "I've wanted to be a writer for a long time. Now you've inspired me to write one page every day. Maybe two. I'm going to work my way up." LOVE THAT, NOEMI. Maybe you will find that long-jumping and writing have some similarities such as having to work hard, having fun and keeping your eyes on your goal!

I told both groups about my novel 121 Express, which was inspired when a teacher jokingly described his students to me as "monsters." This story prompted Matesh, a student in the second group, to say, "What if the kids really turned into monsters?!" Great idea, Matesh! You should write that book. If you do, it could turn out to be even better than mine!

Another fun moment happened when I was talking about the importance of trouble in stories (that's because trouble brings life to a story), and I asked the students what they'd think if I wrote a book about a perfect kid, with a perfect family, with perfect friends and even a perfect dog. A student named Bridgid answered, "Meh!" Exactly, Bridgid, it would me MEH and we do not want to write (or read) MEH stories. So make sure your characters and their lives are IMPERFECT!

Thanks to the kids at Allion Elementary for making me so happy today; thanks to your teachers for sharing you with me; to your principal Ms. D'Adamo for EVERYTHING; and to Ms. Tiffany for the invitation and making me so welcome in your library. And hey, one more shoutout to Francesco for today's pic. We took a bunch of pics with all of us standing around, but I wanted a more fun one, and Francesco, you took it! See it's possible to tell stories in all kinds of ways -- through words, but through images too. So get to work on your stories -- and don't forget to have fun too!

 

  503 Hits
Mar
17

Perfect Friday Afternoon at Académie Saint-Clément

I was back at Académie Saint-Clément this afternoon to do my last writing workshop with the school's Grade Six students -- and they were wonderful. Maybe it's because their English teacher, Ms. Cristina, seemed to be having what we call "a word" with them before I came into the classroom. I think this is a lively group and she wanted to make sure they were on best behavior -- and they were. They were also lively, smart and fun.

Though being observant isn't technically one of my writing tips -- I often end up talking about the powers of observation and how they can improve our writing (and our lives). When I came into the classroom, Ms. Cristina was at the new smart board. I noticed that a student named Ahoura seemed to be trying to signal Ms. Cristina. What I didn't realize at the time was that Ms. Cristina was having trouble getting the smart board going. I did figure it out however when another student, Mariame, called out to Ms. Cristina, "You have to push on the pencil." I thought it was wonderful (and also funny) that now and then we adults need kids to help us with the latest technology!

In addition to covering my usual writing tips, and telling some stories, I also demonstrated my boxing stance, and there was even time to read the class my new picture book, The Brass Charm -- and to show them the monkey man charm that inspired the book. And I'm proud to tell you I invented a new exercise about SECRETS! The exercise went better than I expected (you never  know with a new exercise!) -- the students came up with some great secrets, some real and some imagined.

I was telling the class a story about a chihuahua I met last week and later, Pablo told me he's from Mexico. When I asked him what city, he told me Chihuahua! Then he added, "It's not full of chihuahuas." That could be my favourite line of the week. I even asked him to try to introduce me to a family he knows from Chihuahua that has two chihuahuas!

Malek was a great participator from the start. It turns out he writes songs, though there was some discussion about the kind of lyrics he favours. I suggested maybe he should be writing songs that could inspire listeners to make ours a better world!

When we were talking about the importance of having trouble in stories, Ahoura (another super participant, plus the first to spot the smart board problem!) thought of adding an ice cream falling on the floor to a story of a birthday party. Excellent example of trouble, Ahoura!

Ulysse told us about his grandfather who only learned to write when he was in his 50s. As I told Ulysse, ask your grandfather to tell you more about his childhood and the struggles he faced. And also ask about the pride he must have felt when he learned to write! All that would make an AMAZING story!

Oh, I was also impressed that a student named Vincent knew the word "tabou" (in French) -- taboo in English -- this word came up when we were talking about secrets and how they often are at the center of a story.

So if I sound happy and energized, it's because I am! Thanks to Ms. Cristina Musila for the invitation to work with your Grade Six students this week. Loved the kids; loved the atmosphere at Académie Saint-Clément!

 

  542 Hits
Mar
15

Fun Day -- and Fun Kids -- at Académie Saint-Clément

It’s lunchtime and I’m writing today’s blog entry from a bakery near Académie Saint-Clément in Town of Mount Royal, where I am doing writing workshops with three Grade Six classes. I did two this morning, and there’ll be another workshop after lunch. The thing is I already have so much to tell you I’m kind of hoping the last group will be DULL – so this blog won’t get too long for you!!

I was a little surprised to see a student wearing dark sunglasses walk into Ms. Cristina’s classroom this morning. I wondered whether Malek (learned his name afterwards) was a Hollywood star – or a gangster! But when I inquired (I am the inquiring sort), a student named Endre explained today is Wear Oversized Clothes at Académie Saint-Clément. So Malek was wearing his dad’s shirt, tie (united), and sunglasses. The things you learn if you only ask a few questions! By the way, you've probably figured out that that's Malek in today's pic.

I had 90 minutes for each workshop – which is my favourite since it gives me time to share tips, tell stories, and also get the kids to do some writing. We talked about the importance of curiosity. Some of the kids admitted they are not curious. So I asked the class, “What can you do about that?” And a student named Alexandra came up with the perfect answer: “Try to be curious.” Exactly, Alexandra!

We did a warm-up exercise in which the students all came up with words that started with the letter G. Gili Anne’s list included … you may have guessed it, her own name! Knox (who got best hair award from me today) had gorgonzola on his list. I was sorry I hadn’t thought of that one since I love gorgonzola cheese. And Nicholas had GigaChad on his list – I had never heard of GigaChad, but the class explained to me that he is a buff model.

For the longer writing exercise, the students wrote a book blurb for a book they want to read. I loved Dina’s blurb and she gave me permission to share part of it here: “Claire… is walking to the library to write her book she’s planning to release in a couple of years…. The building is filled with police.” I don’t know about you, but I definitely want to know what happens next!

My second class was even livelier than the first – and the first was already lively! I chose some immediate favourites – visitors can do that! Haha! They were Yasser, who has cool curly hair, blue glasses and who was smiling and nodding enthusiastically throughout the workshop. There was also Xinyao, who has the best posture I’ve ever seen – she says it might come from doing ballet. When I pointed out that Xinyao’s posture made her look smart, a student named Sophia said, “She has 10,000 IQ!” And then another student named William called out, “No! She has a billion IQ!” As you can see, I took notes about these comments, and also used them to teach the students about DIALOGUE – and how much it can add to a story (or a blog entry!).

Aileen told the class she writes in her journal every day after soccer practice. Jack told us, “I write one page every day before I go to sleep.” That’s amazing, you guys, because like I explained, writers need to keep our writing muscles limber!

With this group, I changed up the exercise and had them write about a memory of learning something important. Chloé wrote about learning to windsurf, and gave me permission to quote a line here: “I felt the wind pushing my hair back.” That makes me feel like I’m windsurfing too! Chloé also had some great questions about inspiration – just her questions made me feel she has the writing bug!

Okay, time for me to head back to school…. we’ll see if I can end right here – or if my last group provides further inspiration for today’s blog entry!

Well, I'm back -- with further inspiration from my third group. Adam made me happy when he looked at the little pile of books I had brought and said, "I think I saw one of those books in my dad's room!" Tamara said she likes to write at night, but added that she's never sure what to write about. So, rather than suggesting topics, I suggested four styles of journal writing that work for me (and explained each one): observation, catharsis (which means expressing emotion), reflection and intuition. Nicole had a great question: "To become a writer, do you have to go to university and get a degree?" My answer was not really, though I added that I have two degrees in English literature. But what you definitely have to do is write and read A LOT! Tristan said, "I really like writing books." He told us that he often gets ideas when he finds stuff on his walks. "But," he added, "I never know what to write for the end." I told Tristan not to worry, that I often don't know the end of my books either. That can be one of the most exciting parts of writing a book -- figuring out the ending as you go along!

I had the last group do a memory exercise -- they wrote about a memory from when they were five years old. Camille said I could share my favourite part of her memory of being in Pre-K: "my blue blanket kwith 'zzzz' written on it in white." For me, that's an example of a detail that helps bring Camille's memory to life. And as I told the students, old memories are often great jumping off points for a story. Don't be afraid to add a strong dose of "What if?" which is my code term for IMAGINATION. And don't forget that TROUBLE gives a story ENERGY.

Thanks to the students for such a fun day. The time passed so quickly -- proof I was having fun. And special thanks to the kids' lovely, calm and fun English teacher Cristina Musila for inviting me to Académie Saint-Clément. I'll be back to meet Ms. Cristina's fourth class on Friday. If they're anything like the classes I met today, I should have plenty to blog about after Friday's visit too!

  672 Hits
Mar
12

In Which I May Have the Most Fun of the Twelve of Us at Today's Writing Workshop

I don't think I'm supposed to have the most fun of everyone at my writing workshops. But that MAY have happened today. Let me explain from the beginning. I love bakeries. And I love kids and I love writing. Today was my second of two writing workshops offered through the Montreal West Children's Library. I was helping kids prepare their submissions for the library's Bill Foster Writing Contest. Well, because the school where the library is located has been undergoing renovations, today's workshop was moved to the Patisserie de la Gare, a bakery in Montreal West. So not only did i get to work with bright, fun, creative kids, I got to smell bakery smells and drink tea, and even grab a tuna sandwich!

In today's pic, you can see us gathered around a table at the Pat (which is what locals call the bakery). Several students came with stories they wanted me to critique. Others invented stories on the spot. And one student, Clara, won the contest last year. As I told her, she could have been running the workshop instead of me!

As usual, I will use today's blog entry to share some of my favourite moments from today's workshop. First, I heard a number of impressive words. Ian, who is working on a fun story about a cat named Claws, used the word "murky" in his story. I love murky! And Charlotte used the work "bleak" -- which I also love.

Because some students needed a little inspiration, I tried a writing prompt -- asking them to remember a moment when they first learned something important. Simone remembered learning to tie her shoelaces. Simone wrote, "My mom gave me a trick to do it. It had something to do with 'under the bridge' and 'over the tree.'" I loved that memory and suggested to Simone she ask her mom to give her the exact wording of the trick -- a detail like that adds a lot of life to a story. (Not to mention that it could help other kids learn to tie their shoelaces!!) Charlotte wrote about learning to do a half-pirouette, which is cool because her contest entry is related to the ballet world.

While we were working on the exercise and while I was giving feedback on the kids' ideas and works-in-progress, Simone came up with a whole new idea -- a story about a cat who does headstands all day! Fun!! That prompted me to pull out my ideas notebook which I happened to have in my bag. I told the kids that for writers, ideas are like gold or diamonds for miners. We need to collect them in a safe place!

The students have until April 23rd to submit their entries. Entry envelopes are available at the library. I also promised the kids that they could each send me one paragraph and one question -- but it has to be by the end of March since I'll be away from my desk for part of April. But don't worry, I'll have my ideas notebook with me at all times.

It was sooooo much fun to work with these students. Thanks to all of you for being delightful and so creative and such good listeners. And because the clock jumped forward overnight, my young writers lost an hour of sleep -- but they were wide awake for this morning's session. Thanks to all of you, and to librarian Ekaterina Valkova-Damova for the invite, and also to a special friend, my former student, translator, author, mom and library volunteer Sarah Brunel for being there today with her kids, and for connecting me with Ekaterina.

So kids who use the Montreal West Children's Library -- what are you waiting for? Get to work on those entries for the Bill Foster Contest!

  533 Hits
Mar
02

Impromptu Visit with International Homeschooling Class!

Well helllllloooo blog readers! You must be wondering what I've been up to (traveling and having way too much fun, but don't worry, also writing away!). I'm back with an impromptu blog about today's impromptu Zoom visit with an international group of homeschooled students and their teacher Dr. Michelle (Michelle Parrinello-Cason). Dr. Michelle is based in St. Louis, Missouri. A former college professor, Dr. Michelle teaches several homeschooling classes. The students I met today were mostly from the US (Florida, Nebraska and North Carolina), but there was also one from the UK! (That's me and Dr. Michelle in today's pic. Since I hadn't planned to write this blog entry, I didn't arrange in advance for permission to take the students' pics.)

Dr. Michelle and her students are reading my non-fiction book Why Humans Work and she got in touch to tell me the book is sparking excellent discussion (yay!) and that when I referred to autism, I called it a disease, when I should have called it a disorder. (I investigated, and Michelle is right. So we'll make the fix if there's another edition of the book.)

If you know me, you'll know I retired from teaching last May. Mostly, I'm still so busy I'm not missing the classroom -- until I get a chance to work with students and then I realize HOW HAVE I BEEN ABLE TO SURVIVE WITHOUT THEM?!!

I had agreed to chat with Dr. Michelle's class for ten minutes, but let's just say I KEPT THEM OVERTIME (haha). So I'm going to share a few highlights of this afternoon's Zoom. Dr. Michelle had given the group a cool assignment -- to write a personal narrative about an experience having to do with work. A student whom I'll call "E" told me about his piece. E, who is 14, and lives in Florida, wrote about running (I like that since I run too) and he told me his final line: "It is good to do hard things." YES YES and also YES. I told the class that that's exactly how writing feels to me -- hard, but oh so good to do!

There was also a student named Apple, who's 13 and lives in North Carolina. I don't know about you, but I LOVE the name Apple. Apple told me that both her mom and grandmother were teachers. "Like you," she said, "they both liked hanging out with kids."

And though I'm NOT ALLOWED TO HAVE FAVOURITES, I was delighted by a student named Cai, who's 14 and lives in the UK because Cai had so many great questions. Cai, I just realized I forgot to answer one of your questions! But don't worry, I'll do it now!! You asked if I write by hand or on the computer. I do both. That's why I pulled some of the journals off my shelf to show them to you. I write my morning journal entries by hand. I generally work on my books on the computer. But you know what? I believe that writing by hand can stimulate creativity. So I often work on my ideas by hand in a separate ideas/planning-my-stories notebook.

And guess what? Cai also writes every morning, "sometimes one page, sometimes six!" YAY, KAI! Kai wanted to know if I interviewed all the people I mention in Why Humans Work. That answer was YES. And how I get my inspiration for fictional stories -- I explained that many of my stories are rooted in real life, but the most important is that every single one of my stories comes from a deep place inside me. I need to really care about my subject and my characters if I am going to be spending months and even years in their company!

I'll end today's blog entry with a quote from Dr. Michelle. She told me that she often shares the following wisdom with her classes: "There's no such as a bad rough draft." LOVE IT.

Okay, that could be enough excitement for me for one day. I'm going back now to work on my latest book project. For a rough draft, it's definitely not bad!

Thanks to Dr. Michelle for getting in touch with me, and to your class. I so enjoyed your company today.

  716 Hits
Jan
28

Coaching Students for the Bill Foster Writing Contest

In today's pic, I'm with a lovely gang of kids at the Montreal West Children's Library, where I did the first of two writing workshops to help students prepare submissions for the Bill Foster Writing Contest. This was my first time visiting the library, and as soon as I stepped inside I could feel it was a fun, happy place! The library is located in the same building as Elizabeth Ballantyne School. The story of how I got invited makes me happy too. A former student of mine at Marianopolis College, Sarah Brunel, volunteers at the library, and she suggested to head librarian Ekaterina Valkova (oh she's in today's pic too, but kind of hiding out towards the back of the pic!) that I come to do the workshops. Ekaterina -- the kids call her Katia -- explained to me that Bill Foster, after whom the library's writing contest is named, was a longtime volunteer at the library. Bill died in 2021 and his wife Joan came up with idea of sponsoring the contest in her husband's name. Because I was a few minutes early, I posted a pic on Instagram and mentioned the contest -- and then a sweet thing happened. Two of my friends wrote to tell me that they were close friends of Bill and Joan's.

Okay, now about the kids! I had seven kid-participants, ranging in age from four to twelve. And there were two mom participants, including one of my former colleagues at Marianopolis, Brigitte (she brought all three of her kids!). Because the workshop was an hour long, I tried to pack a lot in. We talked about the importance of reading and writing, how writers need to do research, how stories need trouble, and how first drafts are just first drafts!

There was time for two writing exercises! Yay! Because I'm trying to help the kids generate story ideas for their submissions, I asked them to begin by remembering a moment of change in their lives. Amélie, who's eight, remembered the arrival of a family dog. (There was trouble when the puppy peed on her grandparents' sofa!). Mia, who's ten, remembered getting a mean replacement teacher at school. Ian, who's also ten, remembered learning how to write.

For the second exercise, I had the students imagine the story they would most like to read. Alonzo, who's eleven, wowed me when he read the following sentence to the group: "I would most like to read a book about health problems that are disruptive to a child's learning." See why I was wowed? Hey I was also wowed when Louis, who's six, used the word "chaos." How many six-year-olds do you know who go around using that word?!

Emilio, who's twelve, wanted to read a graphic novel that answers the question "What if the Soviet Union had won the Cold War?" I'd say that's also pretty WOW!

One of my favourite parts about today was the way in which, by sharing stories, the kids inspired each other. Amélie's dog story got Ian thinking about a cat action-adventure story! And Amélie's story about an ancient Egyptian pharoah got her brother Louis thinking about an ancient Egyptian mummy, whom Louis imagined "wrapped up in toilet paper." Great humour, Louis! Everyone loves a funny story!

There are some writers who tend to be super private about their writing. I respect that. But I'm the kind fo writer who loves sharing ideas and hearing other people's ideas. Those were the kind of young writers who turned up at the library today. Now I just hope one of them goes on to win this year's Bill Foster Writing Contest.

I'll be back at the library doing a second workshop on Sunday, March 12. The kids are under no obligation to return, and some already have plans for that day. But I suggested that those who cannot make the second workshop work on their stories and leave them with Katia. Then on March 12, I can say what I like about each story, and suggest a way or two to improve it. And if new kids turn up for the second workshop, that's fine with me too. You know why? Because hanging out with kids, especially ones who are interested in learning about writing ON A WEEKEND, makes me happy.

 

 

 

  477 Hits
Jan
26

Lots to Tell You About Today's Visit to Roslyn Elementary School

Let me start today’s blog entry with my happiest moment today at Roslyn Elementary School where I was back to work with Miss Julie’s Grades One and Two English classes. I was telling a student named Eliana that I was going to teach her class an important new writing concept, and you’ll never guess what Eliana did.

SHE CLAPPED AND CALLED OUT, “YAY!”

That made me SO happy. In fact, as I told the class, that’s exactly how I feel when I learn something new. Only because I’m an adult, I don’t get to clap and call out “Yay!” (By the way, that’s Eliana next to me in today’s pic – she’s wearing black and white.)

Last week, I taught the students about how important it is to have interesting characters (and to try to include foils, which means characters who are opposites) and whenever possible to include trouble in a story. Today, the important new writing concept I taught the class was SETTING. Setting refers to place and time, answering the questions “Where?” and “When?” I explained to the students that if setting is handled well, it can be just as important to a story as the characters that are in it!

To give the students an example of setting, I told them about my novel 121 Express (Orca) which is set almost entirely on a school bus. Then, and I did this in all four of Ms. Julie’s classes today, I asked the kids to close their eyes and imagine a great setting for the stories they are working on.

And boy, did they ever come up with some great ideas for setting! I’ll share some of my favourites with you now. Jack imagined a story in Candyland; Caël thought of a story set at a McDonald’s; Aaliyah imagined a story set in a cave; Eila even knew the name of the fictional town where she’d set her story: Witchville; Eric had the great idea of setting a story inside a human body (WOW!!); Charles wanted to set his story in the dressing room at a hockey rink; Alice wanted to use a snake park for her setting; and Mara had the idea of setting her story in a treehouse. (I told you they had some great ideas!!)

When I told the students that most stories have a beginning, middle and end, Wesley – who was in the last Grade One class I worked with today, raised his hand and asked, “Don’t you mean a beginning, a middle and a twist?” Which I thought was pretty brilliant. A twist at or towards the end of a story is a great idea!

Oh, I should tell you a few more of my favourite things the kids said today. A student named Quinn came into class and warned me, “I might fall asleep.” Quinn went on to explain that her tummy hurt and that she’d spent recess napping. And a student named Celia told me, “I like writing, but I want to be a paleontologist when I grow up.”

I’ll end today’s blog entry by sharing a little part of a story Wesley is working on. I asked Wesley to come to the front of the class to share his story with his classmates. Here’s my favourite part: “A magic banana boomerang turns people into bananas.” Pretty cool, Wesley!

I think students in Grades One and Two have a lot to teach the rest of us. Lessons such as it’s good to clap and say “Yay” sometimes! And that we all have amazing imaginations – like Wesley’s – all we have to do is USE THEM!

Thanks to Miss Julie for the fun invite. It was great being with you and your students today. If the kids have questions or comments, post them in the comments section here and I promise to answer ASAP. Thanks to the kids for being TERRIFIC!

 

  702 Hits
Jan
21

Meet Yves Casgrain -- Learning & Writing About the Holocaust

If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know I mostly write about school visits. But I’m changing things up today – because I want to tell you what else I’ve been up to in my work life.

Last spring, I retired after 35 happy happy years of teaching English and Humanities at Marianopolis College. My plan was to focus on my writing and school visits (that’s because I need to be around kids – they make me happy, and they also help inspire my stories!).

Somehow, without actually planning to, I seem to be becoming a Holocaust educator for young people. You may know that several of my books are set during the Holocaust, including What World Is Left (Orca), which was recently released in French as Vois tout ce qu’il te reste (Septentrion), translated by my friend Rachel Martinez. My new picture book, released in both English and French this fall by Scholastic is also a Holocaust story. It’s called The Brass Charm; in French, Le trésor d’Oma.

Current events also seem to be leading me towards this kind of work. That’s because of the recent rise in hatred of all kinds, including antisemitism – which means the hatred of Jews.

When last fall, I attended the Salon du Livre to promote Vois tout ce qu’il te reste and Le trésor d’Oma, I met journalist Yves Casgrain (that’s him with me in today’s pic). Casgrain, who specializes in stories connected to religion, has been writing for a website called Présence Information Réligieuse since 2015. He told me that he is fascinated by the story of the Shoah, the Hebrew term for the Holocaust. He also told me that he planned to read the two books I just mentioned and hoped to interview me afterwards for Présence Information Réligieuse.

So we finally met up last week – and the interview did me a lot of good because it made me feel like I’m on the right track in my work (like everyone, I sometimes have doubts!). And when I was finished answering Casgrain’s questions, I asked whether I could interview him – and share what I learned with you, dear blog reader.

So I know why I’m interested in the Holocaust – and for me, the answer is deeply personal. It’s because I’m Jewish, and because my mum spent over two years in a Nazi concentration camp called Theresienstadt. But when I meet someone who is not Jewish and does not have a personal connection to the Holocaust, but who is committed to learning and teaching about the Holocaust, well, I’m doubly impressed – and I always want to know WHY.

Casgrain told me that when he was in a Secondary V history class at Ecole Secondaire Calixa-Lavallée, he saw documentary film footage that he realized he would never forget. The footage came from the liberation of Auschwitz – the worst of the Nazi concentration camps – and included a horrific scene of corpses being scooped up by a bulldozer. When Casgrain shared that memory I got goosebumps – because I remember seeing the same footage, and later showing it to my students at Marianopolis.

That film footage made Casgrain decide to go on and study history at university. But, he says, he is mostly self-taught about the Holocaust. As a young man, he discovered Montreal’s Jewish Public Library where he spent many hours doing research.

In particular, Casgrain, who is Catholic, wanted to know more about the Catholic church’s role during the Holocaust. “It’s a story that upsets me,” Casgain said. “It’s a question of humanity. Men, women and children who did nothing wrong were affected. That touched me. And also that the Shoah was organized. I sometimes wonder that, If Hitler had won and killed all the Jews, who would have been the next victims?”

My conversation with Casgrain gave me a lot to think about. I’m grateful for that. And even more grateful that people like him believe, like I do, in the value of Holocaust education. And grateful for the feeling of being on the right track. I hope that whatever you are doing, whatever you are up to, wherever life is taking you, you sometimes feel that way too!

  658 Hits
Jan
18

Fun Day at Roslyn Elementary School

I’m back after a fun day at Roslyn Elementary School, where I worked with Miss Julie’s Grades One and Two English classes.  What made the day extra-special for me is that I met Miss Julie many years ago – when she was my student at Marianopolis College!

Let me start by explaining today’s pic to you. That’s a student named Theo making me laugh. The “back story” is I was sitting in a little kid’s chair (I am not much bigger than a little kid myself!) and Theo came over, dragging a regular-sized chair. “Do you want this one?” he asked me. Well, let’s just say Theo became my INSTANT FAVOURITE!!

I had already met these students in December, when I came to Roslyn to read from my new picture book, The Brass Charm. And quite a lot of the students remembered me. Some came in, pointed at me, and said, “I know you!”

Even though my students were quite young, I got them to do some useful writing exercises. I taught them about foils – how two opposite characters can help make a story interesting. Then I asked the kids to come up with two foils. A Grade Two student named Max wrote about “a giant and a tiny rat.” Theo came up with “an anxious cat and a bored guy.” I don’t know about you, but I’d definitely like to read stories with those characters!

I asked my first Grade One group to come up with a word to describe how their day was going – and to explain their word choice. Myles came up with word “Great” and he explained that, “It’s great because I got to show my Disney coin to the class.” When I used a similar exercise with the Grade Two’s (I asked them to find a word to describe their yesterday, rather than today), a student named Eliana wrote that her day was “Amazing.” Here’s why: “My parents let me see my friend, eat pizza and have a spa bath.” I love Eliana’s use of detail, an important element in storytelling. Also, you put me in the mood for a spa bath, Eliana!

I talked a lot about memory today – and how many writers find inspiration in their memories. I even read the kids from my book Princess Angelica: Camp Catastrophe which is based on an old childhood memory of mine. I was impressed when a Grade One student named Wesley made a connection between memory and dreams! Dreams are another important source of inspiration for artists. Wesley then proceeded to share a cool dream with us: “I had a dream about a chicken with a parachute who jumped off a building.” That sounds like the start of a fascinating story, Wesley!

I’ll end today’s blog entry with one of my favourite questions ever. A student named Shusha raised her hand, wanting to know, “How do you spell ‘question’?”

I’ll be back at Roslyn next week. I’m hoping the students will think more about their “foil” characters, and perhaps find some inspiration in their memories – and dreams. That way, they’ll be able to get deeper into their stories next week.

Thanks to Miss Julie for the invite. Oh, I sooo love how you and the kids sing Monday, Tuesday, happy days! together. I am going to start making that song part of my daily routine too!

  582 Hits
Jan
11

Happiest Day Ever at Ecole Secondaire de la Seigneurie in Beauport

I’ve been visiting Ecole Secondaire de la Seigneurie in Beauport, Quebec, for at least ten years –maybe more! I always come in January, and I always have fun – in part because I’ve become friends with English teacher Mr. Lord and more recently, with English teacher Ms. Alexandra. But today was my happiest day EVER at Ecole Secondaire de la Seigneurie and it wasn’t because of my friends (though I do like them!), IT WAS BECAUSE OF THE STUDENTS WHO DID INCREDIBLE WORK. In fact, I came close to tears when I read some of the students’ writing today. And though you probably don’t know this about me, I seldom cry. Not because I wouldn’t like to, just because I don’t cry easily.

I spent the morning with Mr. Lord’s Sec. III English class. When I asked the students if they were in the mood for a writing exercise (I have found that students are rarely in the mood for a writing exercise), a student named Anne-Clara called out, “We love to write!” I had a feeling Anne-Clara was teasing; my hunch was confirmed when her seatmate Mahlia called out, “She’s joking!”

You probably do know I’m OBSESSED with body language. Well I noticed that a student named Matis had perfect body language – he was smiling, nodding intelligently and making eye contact. When he told me his name and spelled it out for me, I asked if he had ever seen the works of the famous French painter Henri Matisse – Matis hadn’t, so I felt lucky to be the one to tell this Matis about the other Matisse!

When I was talking about how asking “what if?” can help move a story forward, a student named Marion asked, “Isn’t that kind of like overthinking?” I thought this was a brilliant insight. I think you’re right Marion, and if anyone out there is an overthinker, maybe you should consider a career in fiction writing!

Marion and a student named Amy stayed for a few minutes after class. It turns out they both want to be writers, and I suggested they form an informal writing group and share their work. Amy told me she is considering becoming a mortician! How interesting is that?!

I tried a new writing exercise this morning – I asked students to write about a moment that had shocked them. Amy wrote an astonishing piece about someone she loves – and she said I could quote my favourite line for you here: “Every Friday night she became everything she hated about her own mother.” All I can to say to that is WHOAH and also WOW! Amy, that is such powerful writing and it has so much insight. And you’re only in Sec. III – if you keep writing, and I think you should, I can hardly imagine how accomplished you’ll be when you’re 62!! NOW GO FOR IT!!

After lunch with Mr. Lord at our favourite Mexican restaurant in Beauport, I worked with Ms. Alexandra’s Sec III class. What was special is that I had these students for THREE hours, which gave me time to share a lot of writing tips, but also to do two writing exercises. This is where my day turned AMAZING. I did one short exercise where students wrote about a treasured object and what it means to them. Camille wrote about her necklace with a cat charm: “My grandmother always wore the necklace…. She loved cats. It reminds me of her.” See how the writing is simple, but touching. I love that sort of writing!

I also tried the other exercise with this gang – writing about a shocking moment. I warned the students the exercise might be hard, and that writing – like remembering itself – can require courage. A student named Gabrielle wrote a stunning piece about a heartbreaking death. And a student named Ludovick wrote about comforting his own mother. His description included the following beautiful sentence: “I could feel her heavy breathing warming my neck.” I asked for Ludovick’s permission to read that line to the class, and to share it here in my blog. As I said to the students, how much better is Ludovick’s line than if he had simply written, “She hugged me”?!

It was Ludovick who nearly made me cry today. It happened when we were talking about interviewing old people. I suggested the students ask old people (perhaps their grandparents) “What is the hardest thing you ever went through?” Then I told the students they need to ask a second question – that they cannot ask that first question without the second one. “What’s the question?” I asked the class.

The class was silent for a moment, and then Ludovick raised his hand and said, “What got you through?”

Ahhhhh. And ahhhhh. And thank you, Ludovick, and all the students in your class who shared their work with me today. I didn’t mention all the other students by name, but I read the work of at least a dozen students, and every piece was beautiful.

So, here I am on the train back to Montreal feeling like the luckiest writer in the world. Thanks to Mr. Lord for the invitation to your school, thanks to both you and Ms. Alexandra for sharing your students with me, and thanks to the students for your beautiful writing. And for nearly making me cry.

Oh, I nearly forgot to explain today's pic! I was asking Ms. Alexandra's class, "Raise your hand if you consider yourself a curious person!" And look how many students raised their hands! (I think I see 15 raised hands, but I have OLD eyes.) Anyway, I told the kids that curiosity is another important trait in a writer!

 

  578 Hits
Jan
10

Back to School in 2023 -- Reporting to You From Ecole Secondaire de la Seigneurie

I'll begin this blog entry by explaining what is going on in today's pic. Why am I laughing so hard? And why are we all raising our fingers in such a weird way?

So... here's the STORY! I am in the Quebec City area for two days this week, doing writing workshops with Sec. III students at Ecole Secondaire de la Seigneurie in Beauport. This morning, I worked with one of Ms. Alexandra's classes, and this afternoon with one of Mr. Lord's groups. Anyway, that's Ms. Alexandra wearing black in the pic. Next to her, at the far right, is a student named Sheylann. And yes, don't worry, I'm coming to the explanation for why we're all raising our fingers in a weird way!!

So, I was telling the students that I once read that writing is like EXHALING. Then I asked them, "What do writers do to INHALE?" Instead of raising her hand high into the air the way I used to do when I was a student, Sheylann raised her finger, holding it to the side of her head. I LOVED THAT for many reasons. One is that in 35 years of teaching, I'd never seen a student do that. But the other reason has more to do with WRITING. That's because this small action gave me a glimpse into Sheylann's personality. I decided she's gentle, and perhaps a touch shy. If you know me, you may know I am fascinated by SHY people. I think it's because I am so NOT shy!

Which leads me to tell you about one of the exercises I did today. I taught the students about foils -- characters who are complete opposites in some way. I told the students that having characters who are foils adds interest to a story, and can also help create conflict (which isn't fun in real life, but is absolutely necessary in a story!).

I also read both groups my new picture book, The Brass Charm. This is the first time I've read the story to teenagers -- and I LOVED IT! If a picture book works, it should appeal to people of all ages -- including teenagers. Anyway, it was fun for me to feel the old pleasure of reading aloud -- something I have always loved to do. As I told Mr. Lord's students, stories are gifts. When people tell them to us -- and this includes all people, not just authors -- we need to appreciate them. That's because when someone tells you a story, they are sharing a part of themselves with you.

Here are a few more special moments from my day -- In Ms. Alexandra's class, three students told me they wanted to write a book one day: Andrea, Louna-Kim and Noémie. But before she left the classroom at lunchtime, Sheylann said, "I really want to be a writer." But I did discover something cool -- that Ms. Alexandra's students LOVE FOOD. That's because they reacted positively when I told them writing is like cooking -- that we have to taste other cooks' creations in the same way that we have to read other writers' work.

Along the same lines, Ms. Alexandra told me she had done a "book-tasting activity" with her students. That's a play on wine-tasting, which would not be legal for a Sec. III class -- but a book-tasting is legal and brilliant!

Mr. Lord's class was on the quiet side, but a few students stood out for me. Doric commented that, "Trouble in stories is interesting." YES YES YES! And when we were talking about observing body language, Lili pointed out, "Body language gives emotion." ABSOLUTELY! I also loved when I asked "Why isn't a first draft good?" and Lili answered, "Because it's the first!" EXACTLY!

I'll be back in Ecole Secondaire de la Seigneurie tomorrow, then I take the train home to Montreal. Which, if the Internet on the train is good enough, will give me the perfect oppportunity to let you know how tomorrow goes. Apparently, the students I'll meet tomorrow tend to participate a lot. Of course that's fun. But you know what? I wouldn't change a moment about today. Thanks to Mr. Lord and Ms. Alexandra for the invite. And a big thanks to the students for starting out my 2023 in such a happy way! Hey, I'll be in Mr. Lord's classroom at 9 AM sharp tomorrow in case any of you want to show me the work you did on the writing exercises. A demain! (Don't tell Mr. Lord that I spoke to you en français ici!!!)

  612 Hits
Dec
07

Glorious Afternoon at Roslyn Elementary School

Glorious is a nice-sounding word, don't you agree? This is the first time that I've used the word glorious in a blog title -- but it feels like the right word to describe this afternoon's visit to Roslyn Elementary School.

What, you must be wondering, made today's visit glorious? For one thing, spiritual animator Mikaella Goldsmith found a way for me to share Marie Lafrance's illustrations for my new picture book, The Brass Charm, on a screen all the kids could see. And you know what else? Vice-principal Ms. Tehbelian turned the pages for me! (She did this on a computer.) I've never had a vice-principal help me do my presentation before!

I worked with the school's Grades One and Two students -- and they were super! I told the kids I'd never worked with such a big class before, to which a student named Sadie responded, "We're a group, not a class." Excellent correction, Sadie! I do strive for accurate language!

I shared some writing tips, which a lovely student named Janicia volunteered to write down for the entire group (not class!). Then I told the story behind the story of The Brass Charm, and read the book (with Ms. Tehbelian's help).

The students had loads of questions and comments. A student named Eric told me his family comes from Germany, and like Tali in my book, Eric calls his grandmother Oma too. A student named Talia pointed out her name sounds a lot like Tali. Samuel told me something cool -- that his great-grandfather was born in a train station during a bombing. I asked Samuel if he knew in which country his great-grandfather was born. Samuel didn't know, but told me that he was going to find out! Way to go, Samuel! Once you've found out, you should consider writing your great-grandfather's story!

A student named Helena caught my attention because she was wearing a headband with kitten ears. Helena wanted to tell me that she wrote a book called Pete and Patata. When I asked who Patata was, Helena told me, "It's just a name. I made three copies of my book."

I did my talk in the gym and at 2:45, another group of students was coming in for gym class -- so I couldn't answer all the questions. That prompted me to tell the students they could post questions in the comments section of this blog entry. Or they could always stop me when I am jogging by their school -- which happens about twice a week!

Many thanks to teachers Mme. Valérie; Mme. Mireille; Mme. Mélanie; Mme. D; Mme. Andrea; Mme. Marie-Louise and Mme. Anabel for sharing their students with me. Special thanks to Ms. Goldsmith for the invite, and to Ms. Tehbelian for her assistance. Nice to meet you, Ms. Hawat, a new spiritual animator with the English Montreal School Board. Thanks most of all to the kids for being GLORIOUS! Don't forget to look for me (and ask questions) when I'm out for a run!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  848 Hits
Dec
05

Working with Lively Young Writers at St. Monica Elementary School

M

I hope your week is off to a good start. Mine is! That's becauase I started this week with a visit to St. Monica Elementary School, which just happens to be a two-minute walk from my house, and where I have many friends.

My day started with a happy surprise -- you can see him in today's pic. That's Grade Four teacher Nick Hamel (the kids call him "Teacher Nick") whom I recognized straightaway, because guess what, about 12 years ago HE WAS IN MY ENGLISH CLASS AT MARIANOPOLIS COLLEGE!! How fun is that for a retired teacher to get to work with a former student who is now a wonderful inspiring teacher?!!

I was invited to St. Monica by Ms. Venuta, another grade four teacher, and I also worked with Madame Banon's grade fours. Together, thse kids made a lively group and we had a long session -- nearly three hours. Hey, I think I promised to give the kids some time to run around, but I just realized I got too busy, and I didn't keep my promise. Sorry, guys! But at least you got a break from me at recess!!

I had met about half of the students before when I visited Ms. Woodward's Grade Three class last year. Anyway, I was pleased that many of the students remembered my writing tips -- and my story of the brass monkey. Also in today's pic is Gahye, whom I met last year. When I explained that in July, I lost the original brass monkey (I now wear a silver replica of the monkey around my neck), I asked the kids what is more important than the object-- and I told them the answer begins with the letter S. The word I had in mind was STORY, but Gahye impressed me when she answered, "Sentimental value"!! Wow, those are pretty big words for a student in Grade Four.

I don't think I have ever managed to do some many writing exercises with one group of students! That shows you how creative and high-energy this gang was. We started with a word game -- the students had to come up with words that start with the letter A. I was blown away when Muntasir came up with the word arachnaphobia. I had to chuckle when Muntasir admitted he had forgotten what the word means -- so I reminded him that arachnaphobia is a fear of spiders.

I also asked the students to make a list of three older people they could interview. (I had told them that in my opinion, older people have the best stories and the most SECRETS!). Gahye has four grandparents, all of whom live in Korea, but she explained she can interview them on Kakao -- which is like a Korean Zoom. Cool, no?

We also did an exercise in which the students wrote about their favourite object -- the one they'd pack up if they had to leave their homes in a hurry. For Muntasir, it was his glasses, because he wrote, "they help me see." For Dasia it was a blanket she received from her nana. Dasia described the blanket as "white, green and teal." I loved that Dasia even knew the word teal -- and that she spelled it correctly! For Penelope, it was her favourite book, "called Bounce Back because I love to read it non-stop and I got it at the book fair." Lovely use of details, Penelope! And Jahquil cracked me up with his clever answer: "I will bring my house because the suitcase can be any size." You outsmarted me there, Jahquil!

As if those weren't ENOUGH exercises, I did two more before the end of my visit. In one, the kids imagined the book of their dreams. For Dasia, it was "a book about a unicorn with rainbow poop." Original and funny, don't you agree? Foulques's dream book would be about "a dragon named Deathbringer." Wow, that's some name, Foulques! I hope you write that book about Deathbringer.

I also read the students my new picture book, The Brass Charm. For me, that was a very special part of the day -- especially because many of the students recalled having seen the original brass charm when I visited St. Monica last year.

Many thanks to the teachers for sharing your kids with me; extra thanks to Ms. Venuta for the invite; to Teacher Nick for making me proud; to principal Mr. McKelvie for coming to meet me and for reminding me that we had met many years ago when he was a young teacher (he's now a young principal!). Thanks most of all to the kids. You may have required a bit of shushing now and then, but hey! you were amazing writers -- and your imaginations and sense of fun helped make today's visit a great start to this writer's week!! Don't forget to look for me and say hello when I'm jogging by your school!!

 

 

  794 Hits
Nov
30

Happiest Morning at Solomon Schechter Academy

Ever have one of those mornings that flies by because you are having so much fun? That's what happened to me this morning at Solomon Schechter Academy, where I worked with students in Grades Two, Three and Four.

First, let me tell you about today's pic. That's me with the Grade Fours at the end of my presentation. When I told them there was time for questions, I looked out and saw all these raised hands! That's how many of the students had questions for me!!~ Before I started to answer, I asked whether I could get a pic of me with all the kids whose hands were raised! I LOVE QUESTIONS! That's because questions are a sign of CURIOSITY and curiosity leads to LEARNING!

So I have lots of interesting stuff to share about today's visit to SSA. I should start by explaining that principal Maya Doughan and I go back a long time! I used to visit her class when she was a teacher at Marymount High School -- and I'm rather star-struck by the course of her career. Anyway, I was thrilled when Ms. Doughan invited me to SSA. It was also very special that she sat in on my talks today, as did head of school, Steven Erdelyi. (And a special shout-out to assistant head of school, Julie Schneider, who was a close friend of my daughter's when they were growing up, and whom, I also felt, used to come to our apartment to play with me too!!!)

So -- a few highlights from this morning. When I told the students I've been writing a journal for over 30 years and that I'm now 62, a Grade Two student named Jacob called out "Whoah!" That cracked me up (Jacob clearly thought 62 was super old!!). And of course, I wrote the comment down because we writers are always looking for funny things to include in our stories!

I also wrote down that Ms. Doughan calls her students "chicken nuggets." And I overheard another second-grader named Jonah tell Ms. Dougan, "I have chicken nuggets for lunch." Writers can't make this stuff up -- which is why we write it down, blog about it, and sometimes use it in our books!

I spoke to a student named April and asked whether she was born in April. She told me, "No, I was born in February." But then, April forgot the question she wanted to ask me. April, if you remember it, or if any of the other students still have questions (there wasn't time to respond to every raised hand!!), go ahead and post your questions in the comments section of this blog, and I promise to answer each and every one of you -- say in the next week.

I spoke to all the kids about the story behind my new picture book, The Brass Charm -- that the story was inspired by a brass charm given to my mum when she was imprisoned as a child in a Nazi concentraton camp. This story prompted a student named Karter, who's in Grade Three, to tell me, "I have a gold and silver collection."

I loved when Emma, who's also in Grade Three, asked me, "What if you mess up?" I told Emma that MESSING IS UP IS AN IMPORTANT PART OF THE WRITING PROCESS. Hey, come to think of  it, it's an important part of being alive. I mess up all the time when I write stories, but then I rewrite and make it better. As I told the students, the real work for me isn't coming up with stories -- it's rewriting them!

Another third-grader named Alexia touched my heart when she told me why she loves to read: "Whenever I'm having a bad day or whatever, I go to my bedroom and I read a book and it makes me happy." Me too, Alexia!

One of the Grade Four students asked me a question on the way out of the small chapel where I did my talks. Sophie wanted to know, ""How many breaks do you take in a day?" The answer is LOTS, but even when I'm taking a break -- for instance, when I'm making tea or going for a walk -- I'm always thinking about my stories. (Which is why I always have my notebook handy!)

Special thanks to Ms. Doughan for today's wonderful invite; to Mr. Erdelyi for attending my talks; to librarian and author Ms. Birdgenaw for the library tour; to teachers Mme. Chantal, Ms. Shoshanna, Ms. Nicole, Ms. Geyda, Ms. Esther, Ms. Cynthia, Ms. Amal, Mr. Sergio, Mr. Samuel, Mr. Medrick, Ms. Shari (who is also the school's director of English studies), Ms. Jordyn and Ms. Lesley for sharing your students with me. But thanks most of all to the students -- for your enthusiasm and never-ending questions. Look for me jogging in your neighbourhood!!

 

  737 Hits
Nov
27

Special Visit to Hebrew Academy's Afternoon School

Today’s blog post is about a special visit I did last week at Beth Tikvah Synagogue in Dollard-des-Ormeaux. The synagogue is home to Hebrew Academy’s Afternoon School, and school director Aviva Miller contacted Montreal’s Jewish Public Library to see whether they knew of a Montreal author who might come to the school to help celebrate Jewish Book Month.

Aviva spoke to my friend, Barbara Whiston, the head of the JPL’s children’s library, and Barbara recommended me. Which is how Barbara and I spent part of last Wednesday afternoon catching up in my car – and the rest of the afternoon with the kids from the afternoon school.

The kids were from kindergarten through grade four, and afternoon school starts for them every Wednesday at 3 PM and goes till 5 PM. You’d think they’d be falling asleep by the end of the day, but they were a wide-awake and wonderful audience.

Most of them attend Westpark Elementary School, and even the littlest members of the audience were quiet and attentive when I told them about the story behind my new picture book, The Brass Charm, and then read the book to them. They even clapped for me – which was THE BEST!!

Barbara introduced me to the kids – and told them about the JPL. She asked the first group – those were the kids in kindergarten and Grade One – whether they knew what a librarian was. A little girl named Sophie answered, “It’s a person to go get books.” Barbara also told the kids that her favourite part of the job is sharing books with kids.

I spent my second hour with the older students, who had lots to say about writing and many questions to ask about my story. Leni told me she is also hooked on writing: “When I come home, I like to write about my day.” Keep doing that, Leni! Benji impressed me when he guessed correctly that I spent FIVE YEARS (that’s a lot!) working on The Brass Charm, even though the story is only 900 words!

I was astonished by a question Ethan, who’s in Grade Three, asked after I explained that stories need to have trouble in them. “When you write your stories,” Ethan wanted to know, “when do you like there to be a problem – at the beginning? Or in the middle?” That’s a super smart question. Notice that Ethan didn’t ask about adding a problem to the end of the book – which is generally not a good idea, unless you are writing a series-book and you want to end with a cliff-hanger. Anyway, I told Ethan that I like there to be a problem at the beginning, and then I let it get bigger and bigger as the story goes along. By the end, there needs to be some sort of resolution.

Riley asked me, “When was the first time you ever knew how to write?” I think I made the kids laugh when I admitted that even after having published 32 books (and I’ve got two more coming out in the next two years), I’M STILL LEARNING HOW TO WRITE. I think that’s why I like writing so much – because I’m always learning, and always trying to get better at telling stories.

Thanks to Barbara Whiston at the JPL for your company and for bringing me to work with the students at Hebrew Academy Afternoon School; thanks to Aviva Miller for coming up with the idea of bringing in an author for Jewish Book Month; thanks to the teachers and helpers for sharing your kids; thanks to the kids for ASTONISHING me – and a special thank-you to your parents for making such curious and interested young readers and writers!

  550 Hits
Nov
25

Nice Long Writing Workshop at Rosemere High School

A funny thing happened during yesteerday's viist to Rosemere High School -- I was so excited to be working with Ms. Lawrence's enriched Sec. I students (and a few talented writers from other grades) that I FORGOT TO TAKE A PIC OF THE STUDENTS! (I have never forgotten to do that before.) Luckily, I did get a pic of me with RHS librarian Sylvie Plante, whom I had never met before. And it's a fitting pic (even if there are no students in it) because though I've visited RHS many times, this was my first time doing a writing workshop in the school's beautiful new library.

The best part of yesterday's workshop was that I had the students for THREE HOURS STRAIGHT (just one short recess break) -- which meant I had the time to do all the things I love: share writing tips, do writing exercises, and of course, TELL STORIES.

I often ask about students' names. Zed, whose birth name is Zoe, prefers to use the name Zed. But I had to laugh when I learned that Zed's parents sometimes call Zed "Lola" -- the name of the family dog. That prompted a student named Aaminah to tell us that her parents sometimes call her sister "Ivy," which is the name of their dog! I love how one story leads to more stories!! (Plus I'm always hunting for funny details to include in my books. That one HAS to go in!!)

When I told the students that I lost the original brass charm that inspired my book The Brass Charm, a student named Zayden said something so kind, "Maybe somebody gave him to another child!" I sure hope so, Zayden!

We played a writing game with the letter "R"; we talked about memories as a source of inspiration; and the students did an exercise based on an old memory. I was so busy reading the students' work that there wasn't even time to take notes about what they had written. I don't think that that has ever happened to me either during a writing workshop!

But I blame the students for being so talented -- and for transporting me to another world with your stories about your memories!

Thanks to Ms. Lawrence for the invite and for sharing your students; thanks to Ms. Plante for sharing your library; but most of all, thanks to the students for making me forget to take a pic with you, and to take more notes! Now get back to reading and writing!

 

  849 Hits
Nov
23

Lots Happening This Morning at Westmount Park Elementary School

The title of today's blog entry is "Lots Happening This Morning at Westmount Park Elementary School" -- hey that's becase I was there!! But really, Westmount Park Elementary School is quickly becoming one of my favourite schools. You can feel the fun and learning going on in that building!

I started my day with students from Grades One and Two. A second grader named Deekshitha got my day off to a good start when she told me, "I read a book and it was by your name!" I was invited for today's school visit by Ms. NIcole, so I worked first with her students, and also Ms. Arielle's and Ms. Dirya's. We also had great helpers named Carmela and Daniela.

Deekshitha and a student named Pratik offered to take notes for their classmates. We covered the basics of writing -- that the kids need to practise their reading and writing, that trouble adds life to a story, and that the real work comes during the rewriting phase.

I was delighted when a student named Sadn told me, "When I grow up, I want to be a storyteller. I've wanted this since a long time ago. It makes me feel unique." Wow! I love Sadn's plan and I also love that she used the word UNIQUE, which is a beautiful-sounding word, and also not the kind of word you'd expect to hear from a student in Grade Two.

After recess, I worked with Ms. Sabrina and Mr. Gaspirini's Grade Six classes. Let's just say these students were a wee bit harder to manage than the Grade One's and Two's!! During the first half hour of my visit, I had to shush them several times, but they became ANGELIC during the second half hour! PHEW! I think I might have got their attention by telling them the story of my monkey man charm. Also, we had an excellent discussion of -- about all things -- are you ready? ERASERS!!!

It turns out that several students in the class have brought their erasers with them from other countries. Gusd brought his eraser (quite dirty I noticed, which means he must do a lot of erasing, which is great because it means he is REWRITING!!) from Belgium; Mahanya and Asmee brought their erasers from India; NIls's eraser comes from France; and Kian's eraser (on the end of his pencil) comes from Iran. "This pencil has gone through a lot," Kian told me.

Today's pic makes me happy. A student named Deréon came up to me at the end of my workshop and showed me her notes -- and that she'd drawn a picture of me. I thought it was an excellent likeness! What do you think?

I don't know about you -- but I'm thinking about ERASERS!! There is a lot to say about erasers, but I never realized they could tell us so much about the world, and all the places students come from.

Thanks to Ms. Nicole for bringing me to Westmount Park Elementary School today. Thanks to the teachers and helpers for sharing your students with me. Thanks to the kids. You've given me lots of story ideas (even if I had to shush too much during that first half hour with the older kids!!). Hope I gave you some writing ideas too!

  649 Hits
Nov
22

Big Group, Great Kids -- Ecole du Vieux-Chêne

I'm just home from Ecole du Vieux-Chêne in Terrebonne, where I worked with three wonderful groups of Grade Six students. Also, these kids had me for TWO HOURS (with recess in between, and one break to stretch when I thought they needed it), and they were attentive and smart. When I realized that I'd have the same group for two hours in a row (Instead of two one-hour sessions with different kids), I was so happy I nearly danced. Which made a student named Stefania (correct my spelling if necessary, since it wasn't one of the names I wrote down in my notes) look a little well... worried!

Grade six teacher Crina Tirtoaca organized today's visit, where I worked with Ms. Crina's students and also Ms. Marie-Pierre's (that's Ms. Marie-Pierre at the back of today's pic) and Ms. Joanne's classes. Sometimes large groups can be hard to manage, but these kids made my job easy and super fun.

Amine and Jayden (both in today's pic) offered to be my notetakers. Both were SUPER -- and I think they wrote a lot of stuff down for their teachers to share with the classes. When I told the story of the story behind my picture book, The Brass Charm, Amine commented, "I think you would have done the same as the woman who gave your mother the brass charm." Oh, Amine, I'm not sure I could have been so kind, but I do hope so! My feeling is that Amine demonstrated HIS kindness by even having that thought!!

When I told the students that for me, The Brass Charm and What World Is Left (both of which are based on my mum's experiences during the Holocaust) feel to me like the stories I was put on Earth to tell, and that I hope they find the stories THEY were put on Earth to tell, a student naher med Camille (she's wearing a pink sweater in today's pic) nodded in a quiet and thoughtful way. Which was when I knew that Camille is a writer! And when I asked her about my hunch, she told me, "I love to write."

Jayden had many excellent questions, including "How did your mother survive?" That question led me to explain a complex and difficult issue -- that my mother owed her survival to my grandfather, who was forced by the Nazis to produce poropaganda art. Which led us to talk about family secrets -- and I told the students that it's THEIR job to find out the stories the people they love DON'T WANT TO TELL THEM. I even shared a few of my favourite tricks for uncovering secrets!

One of the characters in the story I'm now writing is Romanian. And then I remembered that Ms. Crina is Romanian -- YAY! During the recess break, I asked Ms. Crina a few questions which will help me when I get back to my story later this week. See, we writers are always doing RESEARCH -- even during recess breaks.

Jayden also wanted to know if my daily journal is "for ideas." Wow! I wish it were! I write three pages every day, but it's not all ideas. But Jayden gave ME an idea -- maybe we should all keep IDEAS books! And I was super pleased when a student named Clarken guessed that it took me FIVE YEARS to write The Brass Charm, even though the book only has about 900 words. "I knew it was a big number," Clarken said when I asked him how he was able to come up with the right answer.

If I sound happy, it's because I am. I was very moved by how interested the students were in learning about the Holocaust. I grew up in a Jewish community, where we all knew about the Holocaust, so somehow it's extra-special to me that kids from non-Jewish communities are also interested in learning about this dark chapter in human history. As I told the students, it's sometimes painful to learn about the past, but we need to know the truth, and we need to fight injustice and take every opportunity we can to be kind -- the way that woman was kind to my mom when she gave her the brass charm.

Many many thanks to Ms. Crina for the invite, to her and the other teachers for sharing their students, and to the students for being AMAZING. Now get to work uncovering secrets -- and writing about them!

 

 

  731 Hits
Nov
18

Happy Days at LCC

If you live in Montreal, you probably know that LCC stands for Lower Canada College -- a private school formerly just for boys, but now co-ed. I live just a few streets away from LCC and I jog by several times a week. This week, I got to know the school and its Grades Five and Six students better because I spent most of Wednesday and all of this morning doing writing workshops at the Junior Library.

There is so much to tell about the wonderful students I met. I actually have several pages of notes, so I have a lot to choose from. Hey, that ties in to one of the writing tips I shared with the kids -- that a writer needs to be OBSERVANT, and then a writer needs to SELECT DETAILS.

So how about I share some of my favourite snippets with you?

A student named Aryeh was in the first group I worked with on Wednesday. His teacher is Ms. Armstrong and the kids paid me a big compliment when they said, "You remind us of Ms. Armstrong!" Aryeh told me that his name is the Hebrew word for lion. Cool! When I told the class I get some of my best story ideas when I am out on a run, Aryeh suggested, "You could try a marathon and write during it." That would make a funny story, Aryeh! But you should be the one to write it, not me!

Chloe, who is in Aryeh's class wanted to know, "When you write a book, does it ever hurt your hand?" I had to think about that one. When I'm writing, I really get into the "zone," so I wouldn't even notice if my hand was hurting!

I also collected some cool names on Wednesday -- there was Aryeh, and also Finn and Arabella. Here's something you may not know: a lot of kids' book authors get our characters' names during school visits!!

I also met Ms. De Toni and one set of her Grade Fives on Wednesday. One of my favourite moments happened with this group when I was telling the kids I usually feel like I'm suffering when I'm writing -- because it's hard work and I am seldom satisfied with what I've written. At which point a student named Nat called out, "Same!" That cracked me up!

I was also impressed to learn that Nat writes down his dreams (dreams are a great source of inspiration!), and that a student named Aishani sings and comes up with stories when she's in the shower. "Then I write about it," she told me. Aishani wanted to know what kinds of books I read when I was a kid. My answer was inappropriate ones! My parents kept the grown-up books in my bedroom and I read all sorts of books I could not really understand! But that didn't stop me from enjoying them!!

Here's something else interesting: Ms. De Toni teaches her students to include a "kick-off" in their stories. "Every story needs a kick-off," she explained, and she said she learned about the kick-off technique from a story program the class is working with. I definitely need a kick-off to get me hooked when I start reading a book! And even if I didn't learn the term until Wednesday, I definitely try to start my books with a strong kick-off!

This morning I was back at LCC working with Ms Rashotte's Grade Sixes, and then Ms. De Toni's second Grade Five group. We were talking about how writers can observe body language, then use it in their stories, when I noticed some fascinating body language. Gio (which is short for Giovani, though his parents call him Jo) raises his right eyebrow when he thinks. I love that! Also, Gio, who is in Ms. Rashotte's class, thinks a lot, which is a great thing in a person of any age. I know Gio thinks a lot because I was watching that right eyebrow of his!

When I asked Ms. Rashotte's students, "Do you all want to develop as writers?" Francesca stole my heart when she answered, "Maybe." I loved her answer because it is so HONEST.

I finished my day with Ms. De Toni's second group. Abigail struck me as a sensitive, thought-full person. She told me, "I've wanted to be a writer since first grade -- kind of. I actually like doing writing homework." Of course, that made both Ms. De Toni and me happy!

We also played a little writing game together. Inspired by a student named Matthew who was sitting up front and answering all my questions, we all came up with words that start with the letter M. I admit I got the most words (29!), but some of the students had way better words than mine. Abigail got min fadlack, which she explained means thank you in Arabic! (I had told the students their M words could come from any language.) Felix kept thinking of more M words. When I said that I liked my word marjoram, he called out, "Margarine!" And Ms. De Toni came up with the word meticulous, which means precise and attentive. So I asked Ms. De Toni whether she was meticulous, and we both laughed when she admitted she wasn't -- and I told her that I wasn't meticulous either!

When we discussed eavesdropping as a possible source for stories, a student named Nelly said, "I'm very nosy." That prompted me to suggest she should write a book called Nosy Nelly. But then Ms. De Toni thought there already was a book with that title -- and so she Googled it, and indeed, an author named Linda Mason already wrote Nosy Nelly. I suggested that Nelly might call her book Extra-Nosy Nelly.

I'm going to end today's blog entry -- the last blog entry after a busy week of school visits -- with my favourite comment of all. It's from Abigail, who raised her hand and said, "Maybe one day you'll find a book of mine on the shelf next to yours!" Abigail, I can hardly wait!

Thanks to librarian Laura Sanders for arranging my visit to LCC; thanks to all the other wonderful librarians I met during my visit including Marie-Noël; thanks to members of the communications team who came to take pictures (and who also listened to my talks!); thanks to director of the junior school, Alison Wearing, who came up with the idea of inviting me in the first place. But most of all, thanks to the kids -- you DAZZLED me with your energy, cleverness, sense of fun and especially your love for stories. Now get to work! You've got loads and loads to read and write!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  846 Hits
Nov
17

Today's Visit to Westmount Park Elementary School

I know what you're wondering -- what exactly is going on in today's pic?

Well, I'm showing some of the Grade Three students at Westmount Park Elementary School my monkey man charm. That's because I was at Westmount Park Elementary School this morning to read the grade three's my new book, The Brass Charm, which was inspired by a monkey man charm my mom gave me. The charm, in turn, was given to my mom when she was a child prisoner in Theresienstadt, a Nazi concentration camp. I think if I had to say in only one word what my book is about, I'd say kindness.

So it was very special that the first thing I learned when I walked into the school was that each student has recently received a kindness card. When their teachers "catch" them doing kind things, the students get a hole-punch in their cards. Once they get ten hole-punches, they go to vice-principal Ms. Holly's office. "I have a treasure box," Ms. Holly explained, "and the students can choose a treat from the treasure box, for instance a colouring book." I LOVE THAT IDEA! DON'T YOU? I think I love it so much because we all know school is for learning stuff, but I don't think people realize that kindess is also something that can be taught and learned.

So, I have to tell you more sweet and interesting things that happened during today's visit!

When I showed the students my monkey man charm, a student named Tyrese said, "I can't see him because he'e swinging." I thought the word "swinging" is a pretty fancy word for a student in Grade Three to use. Also, I love strong verbs and "swinging" definitely qualifies. For the record, I stopped the monkey man from swinging so Tyrese could get a better look.

Laila had a great question. "What's brass?" she wanted to know. What I loved about this question is that I bet other kids had never heard the word "brass" before either, but Laila was brave enough to ask. See! Asking questions takes courage! I explained that brass is an inexpensive metal, and that the original monkey man was made of brass.

Another question that I totally LOVED came from Eyad. He asked, "What does talent mean?" (He asked because I told the kids that my grandfather -- a painter -- told me that if I wanted to make it as a writer, I'd need a bit of talent, but A LOT of hard work!) I asked Eyad if he was naturally good at anything -- he told me his specialities are chess and a game called chopsticks. "Nobody ever beat me at that game," he explained. We can be naturally good at certain things, but to get REALLY REALLY REALLY GOOD, we need to practise A LOT!! (I'm still practising my writing!!!)

Another one of my favourite moments was when a student named Isabella asked me what I found to be a very sophisticated question: "What inspired you to write this book?"  I did notice that Isabella was holding a little piece of paper -- that was a clue to me that she had prepared her question in advance. So, being the snoopy sort, I asked about the paper in Isabella's hand and I learned something super interesting. Ready? That her teacher, the lovely Miss Marie, had prepared some questions for Isabella to ask! That gave me a great chuckle -- and it's why I have decided to include a second picture in today's blog entry -- Isabella with her note from Miss Marie! Take a look!

I am chuckling again as I write this post and look at that picture! I hope you enjoy it too!

So, a giant thank you to Mike Cohen from the EMSB for the invitation to Westmount Park; to spiritual and community involvement animator Mikaella Goldsmith for arranging the visit; to the teachers for sharing your wonderful students with me; to Ms. Holly for your treasure box -- and for my beautiful flowers. Oh, I nearly forgot to tell you that the kids made me a thank you poster which I have hung on the wall of my office at home! And there were flowers too, in a very fancy paper holder! Biggest thanks of all to the kids. I know I only spent an hour with you, but you amazed me with your focus and your great questions and your KINDNESS. xo from Monique

 

 

 

  1086 Hits
Nov
16

Yesterday's Visit to Our Lady of Pompei Elementary School

It's hard to get cute pictures during school visits. Most of my pics (as you may have noticed) are shots of me talking to a class, or posed with a class in front of a blackboard. Which is why I'm so fond of today's pic from yesterday's visit to Our Lady of Pompei Elementary School in Saint-Michel.

I did two readings and mini-writing workshops at Our Lady of Pompei Elementary School, one for students in kindergarten through grade two, and another for students in grades three to six. In the pic, I had just finished my second presentation and a polite young gentleman wanted to shake my hand and say thanks on his way out of the gymnasium. I was so impressed I asked him if we could recreate the moment for a photo, which he agreed to do, except he added, "If you don't mind, I need to leave now." See! Great combination of truth-telling and good manners. (Only I didn't write down this student's name. If you're reading this blog entry and you want to tell me his first name -- I know you only see his back in the pic, but maybe you can still figure out who it is -- well then, I'll add that info to this blog entry. By the way, I think the student in the pic could be Damien.)

I was invited to Our Lady of Pompeio by Mikaella Goldsmith, the school's spiritual and community involvement animator. Ms. Goldsmith works at FOUR English Montreal School Board schools -- tomorrow I'll see her again when I go to Westmount Park Elementary School, another one of her schools.

Ms. Goldsmith invited me in honour of Jewish Book Month. So it was fitting that I focused on my new picture book The Brass Charm, a Holocaust story for young readers. Even the younger group had lots to say about the subject of the Holocaust -- and my book. An observant grade two student named Sara looked at the book's cover and the necklace I was wearing and asked, "Is that the necklace on the cover of the book?" And Sarah was right! The book was inspired by a brass charm that my mum gave me. I wear a silver replica of the charm -- a monkey man -- on the chain around my neck.

When I told the kids that, "A lot of sad stuff has happened in our world and continues to happen," a lovely Grade One student named Paolo nodded and said, "Very very sad." That was for me such a sweet moment. Paola's parents, if you're reading this blog entry, you are raising a wonderful kid!

When I told Isabella (I'm pretty sure she's also in grade two) that I wanted to include her question in this blog entry, she kindly offered, "Can I spell you my name?" Isabelle (correctly spelled) asked a question about the beginning of my story: "Why did the roof blow off the house?" I answered that when I was a little girl back in the 1960s, the roof really did blow off one of the houses on my street -- and I used that memory to get my book started. I needed something big and upsetting to happen to my character Tali -- something that would make her need her oma's wisdom and support. (Oma, by the way, is the Dutch word for grandmother.)

The older kids were what people might call "a piece of cake" -- meaning they were yummy -- and easy to work with. Though I'm not supposed to have favourites, I sometimes get a special feeling about certain students. That's what happened with a grade four student named Kristina, whom I happened to bump into at the school library before my talks. Kristina asked me, "Did you ever go to your mother's concentration camp?" -- and I answered that yes, I visited Theresienstadt to do research while I was writing an earlier book, What World Is Left.

Damien wanted to know what year my mom died -- it was 2017. But that question prompted me to tell the students something else that felt important. "My mum," I told the kids, "always told students that the Nazis took everything away from their prisoners -- their homes, their schools, their families, their possessions. But," she liked to say, "there was one thing the Nazis could never take away from us. And that was hope."

So, that feels like a nice place to end today's blog entry -- on my mum's message of hope. Thanks to Mike Cohen at the EMSB for helping to get Ms. Goldsmith and many other teachers and schools interested in my work. But thanks especially to the students at Our Lady of Pompei Elementary School for being lovely! Keep reading and writing and finding stories wherever you go!

  631 Hits
Nov
14

Such a Happy Afternoon at Hebrew Foundation School

Did I ever have a happy afternoon at Hebrew Foundation School today! I was invited to the school in honour of Jewish Book Month. I worked with Mrs. Shapiro's and Mr. Cohen's grade six classes -- and were they ever smart!

We only had an hour together, but I got a lot done. I shared writing tips; I told the story of my monkey man charm; and I read the kids my new picture book, The Brass Charm. But best of all, the kids had AMAZING questions and comments.

Here are some of my favourites:

On the whiteboard, I wrote a list of writing tips. Number 1 was "Write!" and Number 3 was "Research." A student named Andy had a great question, "Shouldn't research come before writing?" Pretty smart observation, if you ask me! Though, being me, I had an answer. I explained to Andy that I was talking about the kind of free-writing I do every morning -- and I compared that to how a hockey player laces up his skates and gets out on the ice to practise. But Andy is right, when it comes to writing a book, it's more customary to research before you get started on the actual writing.

When I showed the students the journal I write in every morning, a student named Izzy had a great question too. She asked, "Can you read us some of them?" That cracked me up. Also, FYI, I answered, "No!"

When I told the students about my mum's childhood experience in a Nazi concentration camp, a student named Jeremy wanted to know, "Does your father have a story?" I found that a very mature and sensitive question. I explained that my father, who is only half-Jewish, was hidden on a farm in the Netherlands. But Jeremy is right, my dad does have a story, and since he's already 91, I had better start asking him more about his past ASAP! Thanks for the nudge, Jeremy!

I also explained that even after publishing a lot of books, writing is still hard for me. This prompted a student named Ariella to ask, "Why write if it's not enjoyable?" Another excellent question! I answered that I think I enjoy doing difficult things -- maybe that's what has kept me hooked on writing all these years.

I told the students that writers like to ask the "WHAT IF?" question -- that question gets our imaginatuions working. At the end of my talk, I explained I'm still hoping for a plot twist in my own story -- that I will somehow learn more about the woman who gave my mother the brass charm on May 24, 1943 -- nearly 80 years ago. To which, Mr. Cohen replied, "What if?!"

Thanks to Mrs. Shapiro for arranging my visit to HFS. Thanks to student council members Aiden and Olivia for meeting me downstairs, to Julia for introducing me, and to Alex and Matthew for your kind thank you at the end of my talk. Thanks to the members of the news and photography committee for the interview they did with me afterwards.

Oh, special shout out to my former student, the delightful Ms. Amanda Meltzer-Shapiro, who now works in communications at the school. You were my special joy of the day, Amanda.

And thanks to the students for impressing me with your intelligence and sensitivity. I feel super lucky to have met you all today. Now go read and write and continue to make all of us proud!

  695 Hits
Nov
09

Quebec Roots Goes to Chapais

Today’s blog entry comes to you from Chapais, a town in Quebec’s James Bay region. Artist Thomas Kneubuhler and I are in Chapais for a Blue Metropolis Literary Foundation project called Quebec Roots. We have spent a day-and-a-half working with English teacher Gabrielle Chouinard’s Secondary III class at Ecole Secondaire Le Filon  – and I think we all fell a little bit in love with each other – and of course with writing and photography!! (That is Gabrielle and her class in today's pic.)

The students needed to choose a topic for their chapter, which will be published in spring 2023 in a real book! The class decided to explore the topic of “Nothing to Do/Lots to Do.” That’s because at first glance, you might think there isn’t much to do in a remote town like Chapais, which has a population of 1,600 – and where one of the only restaurants is also a bar, so only people aged 18 and over can eat there!

But as the students showed us in their writing and photographs, there is actually plenty to do in Chapais. A student named Emmy Bélanger wrote a piece called “Liberty.” In it, Emmy describes Chapais as “a town of liberty” where “everyone knows everyone.” She also pointed out that there is no police precinct in Chapais; the nearest one is 41 kilometers away in the town of Chibougamau.

Océanne Dion wrote a beautiful poem about a tragic fire that took place in Chapais on January 1, 1980 and which claimed the lives of 48 people. Océanne’s poem is narrated from the point of view of a woman whose son died in the fire. Océanne used dialogue to help bring her poem to life. Here are some of my favourite lines from the poem; “I shouted as loud as I could/ ‘Get out! Get out! Denis! Please get out! Everyone, get out!’ My cheeks were wet with tears.” Powerful writing, don't you agree?

From Thomas, the students learned a ton about photography – about light and composition, and that every element in a photo matters. From me, they learned that good writing is a matter of REWRITING.

Thomas and I have visited many schools for the Quebec Roots project, but as we were saying to each other on our walk back to the hotel, we have rarely worked with students who were so open to learning and so happy to have us in their classroom. A student named Jacob told me he’s come to an important decision. Are you ready for it?

I started a new paragraph to build suspense!

“I’m thinking,” Jacob told me, “that I might like to be a writer and a photographer!”

Yay for our students at Ecole Secondaire Le Filon, yay for their teacher Gabrielle Chouinard, yay for Fréderick Gaudin-Laurin from the Blue Met team who is with us in Chapais… and yay to the Blue Metropolis Literary Foundation for coming up with the Quebec Roots project!

  725 Hits
Nov
02

Celebrating #IReadCanadian Day at Cégep de Saint-Jérôme

Today's #IReadCanadian Day and I celebrated it with students at Cégep de Saint-Jérôme. In today's pic, we are doing what Canadians are doing everywhere today -- reading from a Canadian kids' book!

I worked with two classes -- Ms. Dodwell's and later, Ms. Lavinia's. All the students were wonderful and attentive -- you guys made me miss being a CEGEP teacher!

I also did a writing "atélier" -- that was only for motivated students -- and there were quite a few of them.

Some highlights of my day -- a student named Angélique said she wants to research a fascinating, but disturbing family story. It turns out Angélique's grandmother was kidnapped when she was a young woman. That will be hard for your grandmother to talk about, Angélique, but I hope she will agree to do it.

A student named Roxana told me she really liked a line I quoted from writer Anais Nin who believed writers get to "live twice." As Roxana told me, "Maybe everyone gets a second life when we daydream." How beautiful!

I think however that the best part of my day was working with the atélier participants. They are working on stories for their teacher, Ms. Isatis. Vivianne is writing a wonderful piece about a schoolyard game. It turns out she was inspired, in part, by Shirley Jackson's short story, "The Lottery." I told Vivianne to get rid of adverbs, and I think we all liked her story more when she followed that suggestion. David and I worked a lot on his dialogue. I suggested he leave out anything boring -- that though a lot of real life dialogue is dull, in stories, dialogue needs to SING. And Oliver taught me a new word: JANKY. "It means," he explained, "something you find in a dumpster." All first drafts, I told the students, are JANKY. But when we rewrite, our work gets better and better.

Thanks to Ms. Dodwell for arranging today's visit. Thanks to the kids for being fantastique!

 

  515 Hits
Oct
24

Repeat After Me: It is not right to have favourites! Day 4 at Laval Senior Academy

The title of today's blog entry is "Repeat after me: 'It is not right to have favourites!' Day 4 at Laval Senior Academy." And it's true, teachers -- and writers who go into schools -- should not have favourites. But hey, it sometimes happens. You can meet my favourites at LSA by checking out today's pic. Those are Ms. Lambropoulos's Grade 9 Enriched English students. I met with several classes several times, but I worked four times with this group (which may help explain, in part, why they became my favourites.) More on them a little later in this blog entry.

I started the day with Ms. Gosdanian's Grade 10's. Let's just say they are a little more BLASÉ than Ms. Lambropoulos's class. But I got some good work and interesting comments from these students too. A student named Ali wanted to know whether, for his memoir assignment, he could write about the feeling of anger. YES YES YES. Any strong emotional experiences make great material -- and I think anger is a feeling that perhaps does not get enough attention in stories. Go for it, Ali!

In second period, I shared some tips for interviewing seniors (I told the classes that older people have the best stories and that they are sometimes more willing to share them with teenagers than with their own children). A student named Peter told us about a man he described as, "an old Greek dude at my gym." I love that description, Peter! It turns out that Peter and the dude already chat -- in Greek -- at the gym. Peter, I hope you'll find a way to interview your dude!

I asked the students in Peter's class to write about a memory from when they were ten years old. Lorenzo wrote about being in Grade Five: "I moved houses and I had to change schools." That would be a lot of tumult for a ten-year-old and a subject worthy of a memoir assignment. Lorenzo also told us his mom was a teacher at his new school -- hey, that's a great twist to add to your story, Lorenzo!

Now... on to my favourites. Because it was my fourth time working with Ms. Lambropoulos's class, there was time for a real-live writing workshop -- which I haven't done since I worked with my own students at Marianopolis College last spring (just before I retired from CEGEP teaching). It felt great and the students did beautiful work. A student named Ash wrote about winning third place in a triathalon in Alberta when he was only ten. Ash wrote, "My run grew into a sprint" -- a lovely simple sentence that takes us to the triathalon with Ash. Olivia wrote something exquisite about her grandmother: "She would religiously buy perfume not for the scents, but for the bottles." As I told Olivia, though I never met her grandmother in real life, I feel as if I somehow did get to meet her. Thanks for that, Olivia!

So, that's it for my four days of writing workshops at Laval Senior Academy. Thanks to Ms. Gosdanian and Ms. Lambropoulos for the invite. Thanks to Ms. Song, Ms. Gosdanian's lovely student teacher. Thanks to the students -- I hope you'll be able to use some of my tips as you write your stories. Now get to work!

 

  596 Hits
Oct
21

A voix haute -- Reading Out Loud

I can't fully explain why, but I've always adored READING OUT LOUD. Or, as we say in French, la lecture "à voix haute." When I was a little girl, already in love with stories and writing, I used to read out loud from books, and when I worked on my own stories, I'd test them out by reading them out loud too. Even so many years later, I still stop after I've written a few paragraphs and read my work out loud. Somehow, hearing the words out loud brings the text alive in new ways, and I often make important revisions during this phase. When I was a a teacher, I always advised my students to read their work out loud before handing it in.

Which brings me to today's picture and "A Voix Haute," an amazing Quebec literary project in which actors read parts of a book out loud. The bilingual program is the brainchild of Quebec author, my friend, Governor General's Prize winner Linda Amyot. And last night, actors Elisabeth Tremblay and Pascal Parent were at Bibliothèque Rina Lasnier in Jolieette reading from Vois tout ce qu'il te reste (Septentrion), Rachel Martinez's 2022 French translation of my historical novel What World Is Left.

I've read that book aloud several times -- both in English and French (Rachel is another Goivernor General's Prize winner -- you will think I only hang out with people who've won this prize!!). Yet, hearing parts of the book read by Elisabeth and Pascal was... looking for the right word here... an incredible gift. Also, they didn't just read -- they embodied the characters.

The drive to Joliette wasn't easy -- it was raining, and I'm a slow driver, so several truckers honked at me and made rude gestures! But when I listened to my story being performed A Voix Haute -- let's just say I forgot all about those truckers. My heart could not have felt more full.

After the performance, Linda and I did a mini-conference. I was able to share with the audience the story behind the book -- how it was based on my mother's experience as a young teenager in Theresienstadt, a Nazi concentration camp -- and how my mother did not share her story for more than sixty years. I urged the audience to uncover and write about secrets too.

My boyfriend wasn't able to be there (he's have driven if he'd come!! haha!!) because he had a work dinner downtown. But this morning when I was telling him about last night's event, I said, "I don't think I've ever felt prouder to be a writer."

I am very moved that so many people from Joliette came out on a rainy night, and that they are interested in learning about the Holocaust. I even met Elisabeth's parents Robert and Claire. Special thanks to everyone who attended, and to Elisabeth and Pascal for their beautiful, thoughtful, touching performance. Thanks to librarian Nadine for making us all feel welcome at your beautiful library. And thanks, especially, to Linda Amyot for bringing stories to all of us through A Voix Haute!

Here's a pic we took at the end of the evening.... I think you can tell that we all had an amazing night. Pascal and Elisabeth are at the top right. Linda is in red next to me. Nadine is at the front right.

A la prochaine!

  748 Hits
Oct
19

Day 3 at Laval Senior Academy

In this morning's writing workshop at Laval Senior Academy, I invented a new exercise! It just happened on the spot -- and I THINK IT WORKED. I was telling the story of my monkey man charm to Ms. Gosdanian's Grade 10 class (if you know me, you know that the monkey man inspired by latest book, The Brass Charm), when I asked the kids to write about a treasured object. I asked them to write about what the object looks like, how they got the object, and what the object means to them.

In today's pic, I am sitting with Lekeyel. Lekeyel wrote a beautiful piece about his sketch book. But his friends in class teased him, saying, "Are you going to write about your brush?" Which led me to learn that Lekeyel always keeps his hair pick close by -- and ke kindly agreed to pose with it -- and me -- in today's pic. Thanks for being a good sport, Lekeyel! I loved Lekeyel's honesty, which was apparent when he wrote: "When I look at my sketch book, I feel disappointed at where I am now, thinking of how much potential I have." The students are supposed to write a memoir essay for their next assignment, and I suggested to Lekeyel that he might write about the role of his sketch book in his life -- how he used to sketch a lot, and how lately, he has stopped. Get sketching again, Lekeyel!

A student named Vanessa shared an amazing story that I also hope she'll develop in her memoir assignment. Her treasured objects are the casts she keeps in her closet. Last year, Vanessa was seriously injured in a ski accident, and she continues to do physio for her injuries. Recovering from that accident must have taken great courage -- she was hospitalized for a month and missed a lot of school -- but as I told her, writing about the experience will also require courage. I sense that you can do it, Vanessa!

Enzo wrote about his Sherwood hockey stick: "I got it when I started playing hockey." Christina wrote about a bracelet her mom gave her when Christina was a baby: "I'm really sad becaue it doesn't fit anymore."

What all these bits of writing have in common is that they come from the students' hearts and lived experience. That makes good memoir material.

I'm writing today's blog from the Carrefour Laval, where I came to get a quick coffee before I meet with Ms. Lambropoulos's class. It's my third day of workshops at Laval Senior Academy and I'm starting to feel at home there. Hey, I even met the principal Ms. Rollin -- even at 62 years old, I'm still a little nervous around principals! So I laughed when Ms. Rollin told me she feels a little nervous around authors! It's amazing how a humorous moment can bring people together.

Thanks to everyone at LJA. I'll be back next Monday for my last day of wriitng workshops. Students, get some work ready for me to take a look at!

 

  588 Hits
Oct
13

Reporting in: Day 2 at Laval Senior Academy

I'm always telling everyone (including kids) to TAKE NOTES. Well I need to add something new to that advice: DON'T LOSE YOUR NOTES! I took two pages of notes during my visit today to Laval Senior Academy -- and I can't for the life of me find them. So I'm going to have to reconstruct today's events. And hey, LSA students, if you see that I'm writing about you (or one of your classmates), post the student's name in the blog and I'll make the fix! UPDATE; IT'S FRIDAY MORNING AND I FOUND MY NOTES. SO I'M GOING TO ADD THE NAMES THAT WERE MISSING!

So I started my day with a new group -- one of Ms. Gosdanian's Grade Nine English classes. We covered a lot of writing tips! We talked about how stories need TROUBLE, and how writing is really about RE-WRITING. Because the students are working on a memoir assignment, we also talked about memory and how it works -- and about the connection between the five senses and memory. There was time for a short writing exercise at the end. I asked the students to write about a life-changing moment. One student, Riley, wrote about his memory of his younger sister crying and how he tried to comfort her. I found that was a beautiful memory because it's about love. And Lianna wrote about how her life changed when she met her best friend Allysson. And then a funny thing happened: Allysson (who's not in the class) happened to pop by and Lianna introduced us!

My second group was Ms. Lambropoulos's Sports-Etudes class. I'm only going to see these students twice, and to be honest, I was having a hard time getting them excited about writing. But I came up with a way. YAY, MOI! Inspired by a student sitting at the front named Leo, I asked the students to make a list of every word they could think of that starts with the letter L. I did the exercise too, and came up with twenty words. But Kali (correct me if I've spelled that wrong!) came up with forty-four words. That's a lot of L-words! And then we started talking about which L-words we liked. I personally liked the word LOST. Christopher had the word LIVERPOOL. And a few had the word LAUGHTER (which I had missed). And two students had my favourite L-word today. Are you ready? Lambropoulos!! Anyway, as I told the kids, the point of the exercise is to show them that words are fun and exciting. They need equipment to do their sports; I need WORDS to be a writer.

I shouldn't have favourite students or favourite classes (favourite words are okay!!), but sometimes well... it happens. Ms. Lambropoulos's last group were students I had met yesterday -- in fact, today's pic (me and a student named Matthew, that name is correct!) was taken yesterday. Matthew stole my heart because of the two books he had on his desk: The Hobbit and The Communist Manifesto. Quite a combo! Matthew wanted to know about writer's block -- which led me to tell the class my trick for when I get stuck: I just allow myself to get angry on the page, to insult myself, or my work, sometimes even to use swear words... and then the block disappears. Hey, if you try it, just make sure to delete the bad stuff afterwards!

We also talked about voice -- and the important role it plays in memoir writing. My view is that if you write honestly and with an open heart, readers will be engaged by your voice. I also told the students something I hadn't planned to talk about or teach because it's kind of a complicated concept -- that writing helps us FIND OUR VOICES. That's one of the wonderful things writing did for me.

Even if I lost my notes (temporarily only), I still had fun writing this blog. That's because I had a blast today with the students at LSA. I'll be back again two more times -- do some writing in advance you guys, then how 'bout I stay at lunch time on Wed. Oct. 19 -- so we can eat our sandwiches together and I can look at your writing?

Thanks to Ms. Gosdanian, Ms. Lambropoulos and Ms. Song for sharing your students with me today. Thanks to the students for making my day so fun and here's an L-word for you: LIVELY!!

 

  644 Hits
Oct
12

Lots of Raised Hands at Laval Senior Academy

Why, you must be wondering, do so many kids have raised hands in today's pic? Well, it's for an excellent reason. I had just asked Ms. Lambropoulos's Grade 9 enriched English class at Laval Senior Academy whether any of them have had the feeling of reading their own first drafts and thinking, "This is awful! I have no talent whatsoever!" As you can see, nearly all of them said they knew the feeling. Which was, in my opinion, proof they are REAL WRITERS. We real writers know that first drafts are just a start, and that the hardest part of writing comes afterwards when we are RE-WRITING! (I also told the students that if someone had told me that when I was in high school, I would have had a much easier life!!)

I will be spending four days this fall at Laval Senior, where I'm working with Ms. Lambropoulos's Grade 9's and Ms. Gosdanian's Grade 10's. I'll be seeing some of the classes twice, some of them three times -- and some four times (lucky kids! Kidding! I hope they won't get too tired out by my energy and enthusiasm for writing and reading!!).

I had met some of Ms. Lambropoulos's students when they were younger, and enrolled at Laval Junior Academy. It was fun to see them so grown up! Matthew (whom I remembered from LJA) asked, "Is your writing advice for all genres?" I thought that was a smart question, and I liked Matthew's use of the term "genre." My answer was YES. In my view, good writing is good writing, wherever we find it or do it. Matthew told me he's interested in writing about politics and economics. Which prompted me to say that these days, a lot of our most important fiction looks at these issues. I mentioned Angie Thomas's novel The Hate You Give -- so you can imagine how pleased I was when a student named Tristan waved his copy of the book at me! YAY for readers and reading!

Second period, I worked with Ms. Lambropoulos's Sports-Etudes students. I found it was easy to find connections between writing and doing sports, which all these kids do. Both require practise and dedication, and are often hard to do. For me, even after publishing so many books, writing remains difficult. A student named Nephia had this to say about her sport, basketball: "This summer I was practising in front of my house and I felt like I was messing up. But I did it over and over again till I got it right!" Well put, Nephia -- and great attitude!

I finished my day with Ms. Gosdanian's Grade 10's. Also I got to meet the class's student teacher, Ms. Song, who used to be a student at Marianopolis College, where I taught until last spring. Too bad for me I never had Ms. Song in my class. I do remember seeing her in the hallways though and thinking she was a cool dresser! This class was great -- they were relaxed and focused at the same time, my favourite combination. A student named Justin impressed me when, in response to my question, "What does it take to write non-fiction?" he answered "Creativity and imagination!" I had been looking for the answer CURIOSITY, but then I realized Justin was right too.

I'll be back at Laval Senior Academy tomorrow. I'll be seeing two groups for the first time -- and going a little deeper into the writing process with Ms. Lambropoulos's Grade 9 enriched class. If you're curious to know how things go, you know where you can read all about it -- right here!

Many thanks to Ms. Gosdanian, Ms. Lambropoulos and Ms. Song for sharing your kids with me. I know school visits are not supposed to be about ME having fun, but I DID!!

 

  688 Hits
Oct
05

Morning in Chapais -- for Quebec Roots

So artist Thomas Kneubuhler and I weren't actually IN Chapais this morning -- but we will be there in about a month from now! Chapais, in case you didn't know it, is located in the Jamésie region of Quebec, near Chibougamau. This morning, we had an intoductory Zoom with English teacher Gabrielle Chouinard and her students at Ecole Le Filon. The group will be taking part in this year's edition of the Blue Metropolis Literary Foundation project Quebec Roots. Thomas and I will be teaching the students about photography (that's Thomas's specialty) and writing (that's where I come in).

This morning, we met Gabrielle's class and learned a little bit about them and Chapais. Chapais is a "young" town (if a town can be considered to have an age). It was founded in 1957, which makes it just three years older than me! I told you it was YOUNG! The kids hunt and fish -- though it's only the boys in the class who hunt. Two students, Léa and Lily-Jade enjoy writing. And at least one student -- Jacob -- has friends who are Cree and live in the nearby town of Oujé-Bougoumou. Jacob met these friends because they are fellow hockey players.

Thomas and I shared some of our tips of the trade. I told the students they'd need paper and pen to take notes. Which helps explain today's photo -- the class waving their papers at me! As for my tips, I explained how stories need TROUBLE, and how REWRITING is the key to good writing. Thomas talked about the importance of light. "Photography," he told the students, "is all about capturing light." He added that light matters no matter whether photographers are working with film, digital cameras, or even cellphones. He also told the class that photographers need to ask themselves, "What do you want to express?" Though I have worked with Thomas for many years, I find I always learn something new from him! I loved the part about considering what you want to express before you take a photo. I am going to try to ask myself the same question before I start writing tomorrow morning!

The students will need to come up with a topic for their chapter. This morning, we brainstormed ideas. What's important is that the topic matters to the students. If it matters, they'll produce better writing and take better photos. For now, we decided to play around with the topic of "Nothing to do." We'll see how that goes. Personally, I have found that having nothing to do can be boring, but it can also be amazing. Not just because it's relaxing, but also because it sometimes to leads to good ideas! Jacob told us he has lots to do -- so I suggested he try writing a kind of rap-poem about all the stuff he's got to do.

And I just had a funny idea. You know how people are always talking about TO DO LISTS? That makes me wonder what a NOTHING TO DO LIST would look like!! Gabrielle, if you and the class are reading this, why don't you put that title on the board and see what the class comes up with?

So stay tuned for more news from Chapais -- and from me and Thomas. We're super excited to be teamed up again for this year's edition of Quebec Roots!

 

  612 Hits
Sep
27

The Moniques are Back!

There's only one Monique (this one) in today's pic. But there were two Moniques working with Miss Lawrence's Grade Nine English class today at Rosemere High School.

The Moniques -- if you don't know this already -- are me and my good friend, the wonderful photographer Monique Dykstra. We are partnered up again for the Blue Metropolis Literary Foundation project Quebec Roots. Seven classes from seven English-language schools across the province are participating this year. A team composed of a writer and photographer will help the students produce a chapter in a book that will be published in spring 2023.

Monique and I both talked about how we do what we do -- and shared some tips of the trade. I stressed the importance of observation -- a skill that matters in photography too. I also talked about rewriting and how stories need trouble to keep them moving forward. Monique talked about the importance of connection. She said, "Just because you have a big camera does not make you a photographer. For me, photographing people [Monique is a portrait photographer] is all about connection." I LOVED THAT. I also love seeing the links between photography and writing. When I do interviews, I also need to establish a connection with my subject before I can get to work.

Monique also showed students photos taken by Diane Arbus. She reminded us that there's a Diane Arbus exhibit currently on at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. It's on the top of my fun-stuff-to-do list! You should go too!

The most important part of today's visit was helping the students as they try to come up with a topic for their chapter. Suggestions included: music, the multi-cultural nature of the school, the new no-cellphone rule; and the fact that there is a full-time police officer in the building this year.

Can you guess which topic the class was most interested in?

Yup, the one with the police officer. See! It's a topic based on trouble, though hopefully, there will be plenty of positive things to report too about improvements the officer's presence has brought to the school.

In addition to Ms. Lawrence's thirty or so students, we also met Mr. Cooper, the student teacher. It's Mr. Cooper who told us that some kids at the school have been flipping locks -- making them difficult to open. He thought (and Monique D agreed) that a flipped lock would make a great photo. We also talked about the kinds of questions the kids might ask the police officer on duty at the school.

The Moniques stayed for recess. As you would expect, most of the kids bolted when the recess bell rang, but four keen writers stayed to do a little writing exercise (the subject of today's pic -- thanks to student Jake for taking it!). YAY for my keen writers! Emma and Rebecca are both interested in becoming reporters. Emma-Rose had a great story to tell. And Camille, well my hunch is that Camille is a poet.

The Moniques will be back at Rosemere High School in a couple of weeks -- when we'll look at the writing and the photographs the students have generated by then. If you're like me, you're eager to learn more about the behind-the-scenes stories at Rosemere High School!

  672 Hits
Sep
19

Back in CEGEP -- with Gazette Columnist Allison Hanes

This was my first day back in a CEGEP classroom since I retired from Marianopolis College last May. And I’ve missed it! Which is why I’m super happy I got to hang out with teenagers today.

I was at Dawson College to listen to Montreal Gazette city columnist Allison Hanes speak to students in Andrea Strudensky’s Journalism class (That’s Allison in the beige blouse in my pic, Ms. Strudensky in the lumber shirt, and a student named Julio in the Dawson sweatshirt.) If you know me, you know I love to talk (especially with teenagers), but I sat quietly at the back of the classroom and took lots of notes to share with you, dear blog reader.

Allison began with a joke: “We print journalists are better writers than speakers.” This however, proved not to be true because Allison covered a lot of material in an informative but also fun way. She talked about the various roles she had at The Gazette during her 22-year career – including being a court reporter, an editorial writer and an assignment editor.

As the paper’s city columnist, Allison gets to share her opinions with readers. But she stressed that in the world of journalism, opinions must be based on facts. Allison had this to say about what journalism is all about: “finding out facts, verifying the facts, holding people in power to account – journalism is a pillar of democracy – and telling people’s stories.”

Allison spent most of class answering Ms. Strudensky’s students’ questions. I’ve been at talks where it’s time for questions and there’s an awkward silence – but that didn’t happen today! The questions kept coming!

I thought I’d share a couple of my favourite questions – and Allison’s answers. A student named Ben asked, “Did your talents and skills help you become a journalist?” Allison explained that when she was growing up, she wanted to become an architect – until she realized how much math was involved! But she also told us she was always “a good reader and writer” with an interest in current events. “I was always a political nerd,” she joked. Then she added that aspiring journalists need to be able to “think critically. And you have to be curious.”

A student named Alexa asked, “Do you have any writing rituals?” (I have to admit I’ve always been fascinated by details of the writing life.) Allison said, “I drink coffee and read to see what’s going on.” I especially liked what Allison said about reading the work of other journalists: “It’s important to keep your brain thinking about language.” YES YES and also YES to that!! Allison also shared her strategies for getting herself un-stuck (all writers get stuck sometimes!): “If I have the time, it helps to walk away. I walk the dog. I have a coffee. I let my ideas percolate.”

What I liked most about Allison’s presentation was her honesty. When a student asked what journalists earned, Allison didn’t avoid the question -- she said a starting salary at her newspaper was about $50,000. Allison also told us she regularly asks herself, “How can I do better?” Ahh, I loved that – since it implies that though Ms. Strudensky invited Allison to class so she could teach the students, Allison herself is still learning and growing. If you ask me, that’s what life is all about – no matter our age!

After class, Allison and I ducked out for a coffee. We talked about a lot of stuff, including my upcoming picture book The Brass Charm – which will be released TOMORROW by Scholastic Books. That’s because Allison is going to be writing a story about the story behind my story!! How’s that for a fun sentence?

Anyway, it was great to be back in school. So for all you students out there, take this blog entry as a friendly reminder of how lucky you are to be spending your days learning (I know, I know, you have tests and assignments, but that’s part of the learning too – sorry to sound like a teacher!!). And for those of us who aren’t in school, we need to be like Allison, constantly learning and asking ourselves, “How can I do better?”

 

  1057 Hits
May
31

Good to have OPTIONS!

Helloo helloo blog readers! I spent part of this morning at Options High School here in Montreal. And as I said in the title of today's post, it's good to have OPTIONS! Options High School is an alternative school. In today's pic I'm with English teacher Natalie who's been studying my YA novel, Straight Punch, with her Sec V students. Two of the six or so students I worked with are in the pic too -- meet Shauna and Christian, both of whom have the writing bug! Yay for the writing bug!

Straight Punch is set at an alternative school, but as one of the students -- we'll use his alias only, Tate -- pointed out, the kids at Options know more about the kinds of kids who attend alternative schools than I do! That's why I told Tate he should go ahead and write a better book! And that he probably could!

Hey, one of the first people I met at Options was head teacher Paul Berry -- who told me his mum was Susyn Borer. That made me happy because Susyn and I have known each other for many years. In fact, she was the principal of Royalvale School, when my daughter started there in kindergarten -- more than thirty years ago! And I taught Paul's brother Michael. Anyway, those kind of intersections make me happy.

The first student who turned up in the classroom was Jamal. At first, I couldn't see his face because he was wearing a hoodie and not looking my way. But Natalie told me, "He's my favourite." The only problem with that is that I soon discovered that all of Natalie's students are her favourites!

We talked a little about shyness as a trait. Natalie had told me that Jamal only seems shy. But I loved how Jamal had this to say about himself: "I don't like it when all eyes are on me." I suggested he might work a variation of that line into the title of a novel. How about a book called All Eyes on Me? I do like the sound of that title.

I asked the students why they think I enjoy visiting alternative schools. Christian had a great answer. "There are more personalities here," he said. EXACTLY!

Shauna was super focused and attentive. She was the only female student in the class today. I suggested to Shauna that a first person story about being the only girl (or perhaps one of two) in a mostly boys' class at an alternative school would make fascinating reading. I had noticed Shauna on my way into the school -- mostly because I loved her magenta hair. (We discussed the right word for Shauna's hair colour. I said purple. Shauna said pink. I think it was Natalie who came up with magenta!). Anyway it wasn't until I put on my sweater for the pic that I realized I was wearing a magenta sweater today. Shauna, let's take that as a sign we were meant to meet, and you are meant to write your story!

I'll end with a funny moment. I told the kids I love words and stories. I taught them the word "obstreperous" which means "stubbornly resistant." So I nearly laughed out loud when a student named Daniel said to his neighbour, "Stop being obstreperous!" ... I think that means I taught the students a thing or two today.

So thanks to Natalie for the invite. Options students, if you think of more questions about Straight Punch, go ahead and post them here and I promise to answer ASAP.

I'm glad you guys have each other, that you have Natalie, and also that I had the chance to work with you today. Like I said, for some of you, your "thing" may not be reading or writing. But I hope for you that you all find your thing -- a creative outlet that brings you pleasure, even if it's hard work -- and that you hold onto it as you make your way in the world.

Happy summer! Take notes!

Signed, Monique

 

  1232 Hits
May
30

Joyeuse Visite à Ecole Birchwood

I just finished a joyful virtual visit with students at Birchwood Elementary School. Twelve Birchwood students took part in the Qui Lira, Vaincra competition -- and one of the school's two teams made it to the finals. If you've been reading my blog lately, you'll know that winners of Qui Lira, Vaincra get a fun prize: ME!!! (Haha, I do like to think of myself as a fun prize. Perhaps not everyone who knows me would agree.)

Alors, j'ai fait ma visite plus ou moins entièrement en français, mais j'écris ce blog en anglais parce que j'ai peur de faire trop d'erreurs. Even though I did tell the students that we learn by making errors. (I'd just rather not make them here on my blog!)

First of all, you will be wondering what in the world is going on in today's pic. I asked the kids to show me if they had pen and paper for notes, and they waved their papers at me. Which led me to ask them if they knew the French word to describe "waving" papers in the air. Madame Bournival, one of the teachers, and coach of Birchwood's Qui Lira teams, told me the answer: "lever le papier." Which led us to discuss how some words are better in either French or English. If you ask me, English wins in this case. I'd rather write about waving a paper, than lever un papier! I don't know about you, but I love thinking about words IN ANY LANGUAGE!

Because I had met most of these Birchwood students when I visited their school last fall, I didn't do my usual writing workshop. Instead, I came up with the idea of sharing interview tips -- and I suggested to the students that they use my tips when they interview either old people or else people who have no voice (which means they are the kind of people others might overlook). I'll admit that some of my tips are a bit zany -- such as serving your interview subject a warm beverage, and putting away your pen and paper at the end of the interview!

I asked students why they thought I was recommending they interview old people. A student named Anthony wanted to answer the question, but somehow he momentarily disappeared on his way to the front of the classroom. That led me to come up with a good book title: THE CASE OF THE VANISHING STUDENT. Luckily, Anthony reappeared and he had a great answer for me: "Because old people have the most stories." EXACTLY, Anthony!

There was time for questions at the end of my presentation, and before I shared a writing exercise. I remembered Logan from my previous visits. What I didn't know was how beautifully Logan speaks French. I have to admit I was jealous -- Logan has no English accent when speaking French. Hey, I forgot to write down Logan's question -- I think because I was too busy being impressed! Logan, if you want to remind me of your question in the comments section, I will update this paragraph!

Srishti wanted to know if she could interview her grandparents even if they hadn't lived through a war. (This question came because I explained how my mum survived World War II.) I told Srishti that everyone goes through hard times, and that doesn't have to be a war. Sometimes the hardest times have to do with our families, and the people we love and lose.

Benjamin wanted to know what hobbies I have besides writing and reading. I told him that just this morning I jogged and biked. Then I explained that yesterday I got an excellent book idea while biking. So I suggested that writers need to get exercise!! Benjamin wanted to know what the idea was -- great curiosity, Benjamin! -- so I explained that I'm writing a non-fiction book and decided to include a sidebar about Remembrance Day.

Alyssah impressed me with what I thought was a super sophisticated question: "For fiction, do we still need to do interviews?" I told her the answer is YES YES YES. I believe that even the best, most imaginative fiction has roots in reality.

Dia wanted to know how else I find stories, besides from interviewing people. I explained to Dia my theory that THE AIR IS THICK WITH STORIES. PAY ATTENTION, ASK QUESTIONS AND THE STORIES WILL COME TO YOU.

Blake wanted to know what I write about in my journals and I explained that I write about EVERYTHING, and that after every journal entry, I feel grateful. I suggested Blake try writing regularly too, and he looked up at me and said, "I'll try." Which pretty much made my day.

So... huge merci's to the teachers who shared their students with me today -- Madame Bournival, Madame Zoe, Madame Lucie, Ms. Roberts and Ms. Sellito. Thanks to Sylvie Campeau at the LBPSB for making me the prize!! Thanks to the kids for being awesome et en français FORMIDABLE. Summer's coming, you guys... there will be time to eat ice cream, and go swimming, and lounge in the hammock... and there will also be time to READ and WRITE. Thanks to all of you for making today's visit so fun!

 

 

 

 

  818 Hits
May
25

Virtual Visit to Margaret Manson Elementary

Hello, blog readers! I just "returned" from a fun virtual visit en français to Grades Five and Six students at Margaret Manson Elementary School in Kirkland. The Margaret Manson team were runners up in Qui Lira Vaincra, a reading competition organized by Sylvie Campeau of the Lester B. Pearson School Board. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know I'm the prize for the three winning schools. Don't get me wrong: the students don't get to keep me on the shelf like a trophy, they get to take a writing workshop from me!

So today, I shared my usual tips -- such as that if you think your "brouillon" -- the French word for rough draft -- is awful, it's a sign you just might be a writer!

I also told my favourite story -- the one about the brass charm I wear aound my neck every single day. And I told the students how that story is coming out in book form this fall with Scholastic -- it'll be a picture book illustrated by the amazing Marie Lafrance.

I even introduced the students to Pepper -- my boyfriend's kids' dog. That's because this week, I'm staying with my boyfriend's kids -- keeping an eye on them, and also on Pepper. I coaxed Pepper into my lap so that the students could see how cute he is (check him out in today's pic). I told the students, "Isn't he the cutest dog ever?" and I had to laugh out loud when one of the students called out, "My dog is cuter!" (Personally, I find that hard to believe.)

Even though my visit was virtual, the kids seemed to be astonishingly focused and well-behaved. Unless the misbehavers weren't on screen -- haha!

There was time for the memory-as-story-inspiration exercise that I love to do. A student named Kaya shared her memory of being five, and she agreed to let me include it in this post. "I remember being bullied. They were rude and they talked bad about me." I told Kaya that writing that story would be good for her, but that most importantly of all, it could help the many other kids who have had to deal with bullies.

A student named Hannah shared her memory of winning first place. Hannah said, "I won first place medal for something, but I forget what. I think it took place in the gym though. My grandparents were there and we had fun." When I asked the students what was missing from Hannah's story, Kaya knew the answer: "Trouble!" Yup, though we try to avoid it in our lives, trouble makes stories move forward and gives them energy.

Grand merci to Madame Campeau for organizing today's visit, and to teachers Madame Mercier, Ms. Dykerman, and Ms. Yule for sharing your students with me today. If the kids have questions, tell them to go ahead and post them here in the comments section! Over and out from Monique (and Pepper)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  748 Hits
May
17

Prize Delivered to Dorval Elementary School

Students at Dorval Elementary School recently won the Lester B. Pearson School Board competition Qui Lira, Vaincra. (The runners up were Birchwood and Margaret Manson Elementary Schools.) For the competition, participating students had to read 13 books en français and answer questions about them in public, under a lot of time pressure. No easy feat!

What, you may be wondering, do I have to do with all this? Well... I'm the prize. (Haha, I think the only person who really ever thought I was a prize was my mum, and she didn't think so always!) Anyway, Madame Campeau, a pedagogical counselor at the LBPSB was the one who came up with the idea of making me the prize. Which is why I did a writing workshop this morning for about 50 students -- mostly Grade Sixes, and the Grade FIves who were on the winning team -- in the library at Dorval Elementary School.

I know it's about the kids learning a lot and having fun, but I must admit I had a lot of fun too! I did my woirkshop in French, and told the students to go ahead and correct me if I made mistakes. Either I didn't make many mistakes or they were too polite to correct me, because it was mostly me saying, "is that a le or a la word?" I did laugh when I was talking about the meal we eat at around six PM -- I tend to mix up the French words "souper" and "diner" -- so I asked (In French) "What do we call what we eat at six PM?" and a student named Liam called out, "PIzza!" Good one, Liam! Thanks for cracking me up -- and your classmates too!

I shared as many writing tips as I could and told a couple of stories to demonstrate how trouble helps move a story forward. Then we moved on to a writing exercise. If you know me, you'll know I'm obsessed with memory. In fact, I'm even working on a non-fiction book about memory! Anyway, I had the students remember a moment from when they were five -- and write about it. Several gave me permission to share what they came up with... so here goes!

A student named Elisabeth wrote about how she shares her birthday with her Uncle Chris: "We were eating cake and he shoved my face in my piece." That makes a dramatic moment for sure. I suggested to Elisabeth that she write a story about a niece who gets even with Uncle Chris!

Jacob wrote about his memory of his class's "Build-a-Bear." I love the idea of a Build-a-Bear -- and Jacob added an excellent drawing of the bear to his piece of writing.

Madeline wrote about her memory of learning about her grandfather's death. Her mom was the one who broke the news. Madeline remembered her mom saying, "He would want me to be happy, and that the pain was relieved from his fighting for his life from cancer." That powerful line made me feel a wave of affection for both Madeline's grampa and her mom too.

Sierra wrote about smiling when she saw her mother waiting for her: "My cheeks feeling like they wanted to explode." I can't tell you how much I love that line -- it's so playful and creative and gives us a perfect understanding of Sierra's love for her mom.

Adelka wrote about a moment in which she defied her mom. (Hey, now that I think about it, we had a lot of mom-related memories today!) Adelka included her mom's words to her, "Don't slide." But five-year-old Adelka was not about to listen. That moment of defiance makes such an interesting story, and is especially interesting when told from a five-year-old's point of view (or the now eleven-year-old).

Next week, I'll visit Margaret Manson Elementary School by Zoom, and I'm still waiting to arrange a date for my virtual visit to Birchwood. Thanks to Dorval Elementary teachers Madame Danielle, Mrs. Mastocola and Ms. Ines for sharing your students with me. Thanks to Madame Campeau for choosing me to be the prize. Thanks to the kids at Dorval Elementary for being "formidable" et fun! You guys were MY prize today!

  1270 Hits
May
01

YAY for the YAFest!!

Ever have one of those wonderful days that feels like it all happened in about five minutes? That's what my today felt like. It was Montreal's fifth annual YAFest and there were over 40 YA authors taking part. Lucky me, I got to do the closing keynote. (That's what I'm doing in today's pic. The festival was virtual, which is why I'm at our dining room table.)

I took a TON OF NOTES!! So for today's blog entry, I'm going to share a little of what I learned. Gavriel Savit, author of Anna and the Swallow Man, did the opening keynote. He told us, "Honor the kid you were who picked up the book not because he had to." He also told us he took up writing when he was working answering the phone at a Mexican restaurant in New York. Savit said, "I made up stories to pass the time."

I taught a writing workshop with J.F. Dubeau, author of A God in the Shed. I showed participants in my workshop how to turn a memory into a story. Dubeau taught his particpants about world-building. I loved when he said, "World-building is anything we're trying to construct for our readers' minds." In other words, it isn't only fantasy writers who build worlds; we all do!

Editor and former librarian Talya Pardo talked, among other things, about self-publishing. She observed, "Self-publishing is not going away. But it's important that the standards of publishing are not sacrificed." She told us about the three C's of editing: clarity, consistency and completeness.

Rob Kinew read from his first YA book, Walking in the Woods, and how he dedicated it to students at Pelican Falls First Nations High School in northern Ontario. This school was built on the site of a former residential school. Kinew told us that, "Elders often tell us, 'Walk in two worlds'" and that that wisdom helped inspire his novel.

There were loads of panels, including one I went to on activism, and another on LGBTQ+ voices. Caroline Van Rooyen, author of Any Girl, the story of a rape survivor who fights back after she encounters another survivor, told us, "I wrote a book to encourage action." Kristen Lee, author of Required Reading for the Disenfranchised Freshman, told us how her book grew out of the racism she experienced while attending a predominantly white university. Kekla Magoon, author of Revolution in Our Time, a non-fiction book about the Black Panther party, explained, "I want the reader to take away a sense of their own voice, their own power." YESSS!

Adib Khorram, the author of Kiss & Tell, pointed out something important, but obvious: "Queer people exist." Then he added, "I cannot conceive of not including queer characters in books. Why not write about being gay?" Julian Winters, author of Right Where I Left You, said something I plan never to forget: "No one story fits all of us."

I only wish I'd had a little more time to work with the teens who were in our writing workshop. Emma B stole my heart because her personal photo was of what I thought was a lizard -- only she told me in a message that the creature was a pangolin. Pangolins, as you may know, have been getting a lot of bad press lately! Grace's memory had to do with meeting a giant puppet on her tenth birthday. And Susan, one of the grown-up participants, also remembered her tenth birthday. Funny how that happens -- as if there can be surprising connections betweeen people's memories and stories -- even during a virtual writing workshop. And Caitlin needs to be a writer because she is from Australia and attends The School of Isolated and Distant Learning. If the name of her school isn't a book title, well I don't know what is!

Huge thanks to Barbara Whiston, children's librarian at the Jewish Public Library, for spearheading this year's YAFest. I know it was a ton of work, Barbara, but you have a way of making hard things seem easy!

Now I'm going to need to mull over the many things I learned and thought about today. Thanks to everyone for making seven hours feel like five minutes!

  894 Hits
Apr
27

Blue Met Visits Willingdon Senior Campus

I was back in action today for the TD-Blue Metropolis Children's Literary Festival. I love today's pic -- not just because it's a nice pic with a lot going on, but because it was taken by a vice-principal -- Ms. Doughan! It's not every day a vice-principal pops in during an author visit, nor is it common for a vice-principal to take photos! Three cheers for Ms. Doughan, and for Ms. Hindler, the teacher whose Grade Six class I visited at Willingdon Senior Campus this morning. But the three biggest cheers of all go to the students. I had told them I planned to teach them six writing tips -- but we got up to nine, with four extras on the side of the whiteboard!

We talked about how stories about people with perfect lives don't make good stories. "A perfect life is boring," a student named Lydia remarked.

I want to tell you more about some of the kids before I talk about the writing work they did during today's workshop. A student named Che told me, "I'm named for Che Guevara" which is pretty cool if you ask me. If you didn't hear of Che Guevera, he was an important figure in the Cuban Revolution. Che's comment got us talking about activism, and it turns out these students are activists. They are collecting school supplies for Ukrainian kids, as well as making a legacy gift to an organization that supports the homeless. When I asked for the name of the organization, a student named Emma spelled it for me: "Le Grand Pas." And a student named Mila popped up from her chair and went to get me a handout with all the information about the project. All that led me to tell the kids that stories need to include inmportant details. If I just told you the kids were activists, that would be less interesting that learning how Emma spelled the name of the group, and Mila brought me the handout. Details help bring our stories to life.

Now for the writing exercise: I had the students write about a memory from when they were ten years old. I warned them that the memory could be difficult, but that writing requires courage. A student named Emile wrote about the time "when my Grampa and my uncle died." But that's where Emile's story ended. I told him that for me, I often stop writing just when things get difficult (and interesting)... but that I've learned to push a little harder, and write some more. I compared it to squeezing toothpaste out of a toothpaste tube.... With writing, the stuff that comes out when you push is often the best material of all.

Olivia wrote about her tenth birthday: "because of COVID, I made individual cupcakes and delivered them to my friends' houses.... I was sad because I couldn't see my friends in person." Nice work, Olivia! We learn a lot about Olivia from this story -- for instance that she cares about her friends, and that she knows what sadness feels like. Writers need to be brave and include feelings in their stories. Like details. feelings also help bring stories alive!

When I was just about to leave, Lydia wanted to know, "Could we add something fake?" Well, thanks Lydia for my favourite question of the day! Yes yes yes (and yes some more)... definitely add something "fake." That's how writing works. At least for me. When I write fiction, I often start with a true feeling, or an incident that really happened, then I ask myself WHAT IF? What if this happened? Or that happened? And that's pretty much how I make my books. Oh yeah, as I told the kids, I also do a TON OF REWRITING. The first draft is always awful. In fact, my first ten drafts are usually always awful. But the more I rewrite, the better my writing gets!

Thanks to Blue Met for sending me to Willingdon Senior Campus. I'm trying to find the right word to describe my morning with Ms. Hindler and her class. AWESOME. Yup AWESOME is the right word!

 

  866 Hits
Apr
25

Blue Met Fest Visits St. Monica Elementary School

I have entitled today's blog entry "Blue Met Fest Visits St. Monica Elementary School." Only the whole TD-Blue Metropolis Children's Festival did not drop in at St. Monica Elementary School in NDG to do a writing workshop. I did!

Blue Met sent me to St. Monica so I could teach Ms. Woodward's Grade Three class how to be writers, and to discuss my Princess Angelica book series. They didn't sent me so that I would have fun. But that's actually what happened! (I hope the students learned a thing or two along the way!!) There is something amazing about teaching writing to eight and nine year olds -- that's because they don't worry about being good the way older students (and older people) do. These kids just wanted to hear stories, and most importantly, write their own!

Usually I post a pic of me with kids, but today I thought I'd change things up and post a pic of a student named Dasia's notes -- because they are spot-on. And because when I asked how she spells her name, Dasia told me: "A 'D' and then the continent!" I LOOOOVED that. How many kids (or adults) get to have a whole continent in their name?

You will notice that on Dasia's list, tip number three is TROUBLE. I explained to the kids that stories about people's perfect lives are BORING. Trouble is difficult in real life, but it's great for stories. I told the kids that if they've experienced trouble (even if they're only in Grade Three), they should USE IT in their stories. I compared it to having excellent ingredients for a recipe -- I even gave the example of having the most delicious lentils and mushrooms (I told the kids I wanted to give a vegetarian example). Which is how I learned that two of the students in Ms. Woodward's class -- Kennedy and Angelina -- are vegetarians!

The students were A-mazing participators. Kennedy told me, "I have three things to say: I have a neighbour named Monique. I'm working on a story. And did you say Mtelus?" (I have to explain the Mtelus thing. Mtelus is a concert venue here in Montreal. But I'd actually said "Blue Metropolis" -- which does kind of sound the same.) Angelina told me, "Every time I read, I make stories." That's how it works, Angelina! Great that you've got that figured out! And Kai told me something cool: "My mom really likes plants. Every time she gets a new plant, she writes a story about it!" Now that sounds like a great book! Kai, do you think your mom would let you help her with the book? You could try using some of the writing tips I shared with you guys today.

There was even time for a writing exercise. And I was deee-lighted to see the students understood my lesson about trouble. Dasia wrote about how in kindergarten, on "show and tell day, my teacher would bring food for us. But I would never eat what she brought. I don't like kiwi. But I would pretend that I liked it." Kennedy wrote about her fifth birthday party and the cupcakes "with all sorts of toppings of them." But then Kennedy remembered to add trouble! She added a memory about summer camp to her story: "I slipped on the monkey bars and fractured my wrist." Uh oh, bad news, but good story! Angelina wrote a beautiful piece about getting separated from her mom (I think they were at a park) -- I found Angelina's description super poetic: "I remember mushrooms, the smell was like spice and the feeling was like a soft big round thing." Hmm, Angelina, you sure give this reader a lot to think about! And that's pretty impressive for a writer who's in Grade Three!

So thanks to St. Monica Elementary for hosting me today, and to the TD-Blue Metropolis Children's Festival for making the visit happen. Thanks to teacher Mr. Trister for connecting me with Ms. Woodward; thanks to school principal Ms. Crigna for your support; thanks to Ms. Woodward for being fun and for sharing your kids with me this morning. But most of all, thanks to Ms. Woodward's students. You reminded me of why I love to write! Because like you guys, I just want to tell stories!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  911 Hits
Apr
05

Meet Kathy Kacer -- and BookFlap

That's Canadian kid-lit star Kathy Kacer in today's pic (and me, at the top of the screen, taking a photo -- with my mouth wide open!). Kathy, who lives in Toronto, is the author of 29 kids' books -- and her stories are set during the Holocaust. Her most recent is Under the Iron Bridge (Second Story Books), and in the fall, Second Story will releaase Hidden on the High Wire, the story of a Jewish circus performer hidden in another circus during the Holocaust.

Kathy "Zoomed" (notice that "to Zoom" has become a verb, thanks in part to the COVID-19 pandemic) me for BookFlap -- an on-line platform that profiles children's authors. BookFlap was launched in 2021 by Kathy and her friends, fellow-writers Teresa Toten, Vicki Grant and Marthe Jocelyn. At the start of the pandemic, the four "met" regularly on-line. "Somebody -- I have no idea who it was -- had the idea of putting together the platform: a one-stop shop for children's literature," Kathy told me. "What I've learned is that people are hungry for information about children's literature, writing, editing and promoting. We live in little bubbles and we don't connect enough with others about sharing that information," Kathy added.

Kathy and I had a lively, smart discussion about For the Record (Owlkids) -- I forgot to say that was the purpose of today's Zoom: to discuss my latest middle-grade novel... but I took the opportunity to ask Kathy a few questions too!

I wanted to know if Kathy finds it hard to continue writing about the Holocaust -- and what motivates her to keep doing what she does. She admitted that her work can sometimes feel draining, but that telling Holocaust stories has become her mission -- especially in a time when hatred, intolerance and anti-Semitism are all on the rise. "When I'm at the computer," Kathy told me, "it pulls on me emotionally. But if I want to get the story right, I have to let myself go to the dark places and feel completely." 

I often tell my students that writing is an ACT OF COURAGE. I was reminded of that today during my conversation with Kathy. And I'll end today's blog entry with another wonderful, thoughtful quote from Kathy. This one was in answer to my question about why she continues to write stories set during the Holocaust: "You think you've heard everything and read everything. Then another remarkable story comes along and you think, 'I have to write that one.'"

Do I ever love that quote! So here's what I wish for all of us -- that remarkable stories come our way, that we pay attention to them, and for those of us who cab't stop writing, that we WRITE THEM DOWN. And do check out BookFlap!

  863 Hits
Feb
12

Fruitful Friday at Mount Pleasant Elementary School

It’s lunch time at Mount Pleasant Elementary School and I’m getting an early start on today’s blog entry.

Today is the last of my three visits to work with Grades Five and Six classes at Mount Pleasant. The plan was for the students to share the stories they’ve been working on, and for me to give them some feedback.

During my last visit, I suggested some story prompts, such as writing about a moment that changed the students' lives, or interviewing an older person to find out what the hardest thing they ever lived through was – and how they got through it.

Abigail, one of Ms. Malone’s Grade Six students, was the first to share her work. She’d written a story about her uncle who has a metal rod in his back. Abigail began her story with the line, “He was my mom’s uncle and now he’s my uncle.” I told Abigail that what I liked about that line is the voice. I can hear Abigail speaking, can’t you? Abigail described how challenging it is for her uncle to go out in winter because “the metal in his back freezes.” She also explained about the accident that nearly killed him – and which led to her uncle having the metal rod in his back. Abigail ended her story with the lines: “I’m so glad that he is not dead. I wouldn’t be able to know him.” Again, that lets me hear Abigail’s voice – and sense her love for her uncle. I asked whether Abigail had shared the story with her uncle, and when she told me she hadn’t, I suggested she send it to him for Valentine’s Day, which just so happens to be coming up next week!

I’ve been back and forth all morning between Ms. Malone’s Grade Six classroom and Madame Sarah’s Grade Five room… only Madame Sarah is away, and Ms. Jennifer is substituting. In both classes, I’ve put a list of pointers on the board, such as that stories need details (but not too many, just the right amount, and always interesting ones!!), that dialogue adds life to a story, and that adverbs are generally (hey, generally is an adverb!!) a waste of words! Reread my last sentence and you will agree that I could have skipped “generally.” See!

At recess, I worked one-on-one with Annie, one of Ms. Malone’s Grade Sixes. Hey, that's Annie in today's pic. Annie is hard at work on what looks like a promising book. She is calling it “Wrecked” and it’s set at a sailing camp. Annie is great at coming up with names. So far, I have “met” her characters Zephyr, Poppy and Oleader! I told you Annie was great at coming up with the names! In the opening paragraph, the narrator walks in on his little sister (Poppy) frowning. Then Annie writes, “he got the feeling that this frown actually meant something.” Sooo original, sooo good, Annie! I also noted that Annie was open to my edits. She even smiled when I made suggestions! Yay you, Annie!

After recess, one of Madame Sarah’s students, Anya, read a beautiful piece called “The Flickering Candle.” Anya managed to read her story despite the fact that she has a mild case of stage fright. Way to go, Anya! This was my favourite line: “Maya was turning ten. That was her family’s lucky number.” I just love that a family has a lucky number. Dee-light-ful!

Ms. Malone’s second Grade Six group had prepared a lot of writing to share with me. Beatrice won my prize for best opening line of the day. Here’s how Beatrice started her story: “I was dreading the moment when I would have to let go of Mom’s hand.” That one line drew me into Beatrice’s story, and already let me learn important things about her narrator. Lauren and Katie both wrote about getting their puppies from the same breeder. Later, they told us the pups are sisters. That prompted me to suggest they co-author a story about two friends who have pups that are sisters. What if the friends have a fight, and the pup sisters bring them back together? A student named Phoenix suggested it might be cool to tell the story from the pups’ points of view. Excellent idea, Phoenix! Get to it, Lauren and Katie!

Later a student named Greta read us a lovely story about moving to a new home. She included this gorgeous line: “watching the blurry images of our future home come into view.” I can just feel it!

I ended my day at Mlount Pleasant with Miss Sarah's group -- a rather lively bunch! Jasmine and Liv asked if I'd ever written a romance. Claire wanted to know if I'd ever written a horror story. Leia wanted to know if I'd ever written a sad story. Guess what I told them??!! That THEY should write all those stories!!

See why I called this blog entry Fruitful Friday at Mount Pleasant Elementary School? Thanks to the teachers for sharing your students with me; thanks to librarian Ms. Hausen for arranging my visits, and thanks to ELAN's ArtistsInspire grants for making the visits possible. Most of all, thanks to the students for being fun and for working so hard on your writing! Stay wonderful always!!

 

 

 

 

 

  908 Hits
Feb
02

Happy Visit to Ecole Secondaire de la Seigneurie

I know what you are thinking — what is that thing in today’s pic? And what in the world does it have to do with yesterday’s writing workshops at Ecole Secondaire de la Seigneurie in Beauport, Quebec?

Well, one of the things that I told Mr. Lord and Ms. Alexandra’s Sec. III students with whom I worked, is that writers need to be observant. So when Mr. Lord and I got back from our excellent lunch at the local Mexican resto (subject for a food blog), and I spotted this creature on another teacher’s knee, I stopped to observe him (the creature, not the teacher!) And I even got to pet the creature! In French, he’s called a “phasme.” In English, he’s a stick bug. I have visited hundreds of schools, but this was my first encounter with a phasme!

I did my usual writing workshops, but I focused on my Holocaust stories. That’s because Mr. Lord’s students are reading What World Is Left. Some of the kids had amazing questions for me. Isaac asked me, “How do you find the time?” That led me to talk about values and
goals. I told the students that if they value something they need to make time for it (like I do with my writing).

When I showed the students my “morning pages” (the three pages of free writing I do every morning), a student named Derek called out, “All in one morning?” — which cracked me up!

A student named Léanne told me something beautiful: “I keep a journal. I go there when I have hard times to remember what I
did to get out of it.”

Ms. Alexandra’s students were super fun and focused. I have to admit I was captivated by Nathan, a young man with purple hair and a big personality. It turns out Nathan is full of stories and he enjoys doing research about what he calls his “obsessions.” All this will serve you well in your writing, Nathan!

Nathan’s classmate Zara has invented a fictional character named Nevi — whom she likes to draw. Another student Elodia (let me know in a comment if I spelled that wrong, kids) asked me: “Is it a good idea to base stories on dreams?” To which I answered YES
YES and also YES!!

I finished the day with another one of Mr. Lord’s classes. By then, I think, we were all a little tired, but we still managed to have a lively discussion and to do one writing exercise. A student named Réol stole my heart with the little piece he wrote, which he has permitted me to share with you: “None of it matters as you dribble the ball in the paint. It’s just you… one soul… in space.” I told Réol he’s not only a basketball player, he’s also a poet!

I had planned a second writing exercise for the last group, but when I suggested we skip it, a student named Alexandre called out, “Yup!” — which made all of us laugh, and which was the perfect end to a pretty perfect day. 

Thanks to the kids for being smart and fun and funny. Thanks to Mr. Lord for the invitation, and thanks to him and Ms. Alexandra for sharing their students with me. Grand merci à tous de Monique!

  957 Hits
Jan
28

Dazzling Day at Mount Pleasant Elementary School

This was my second day this week working with Grades Five and Six students at Mount Pleasant Elementary School in Hudson. But it was my first time meeting the kids in person, since Monday'a visit was virtual. Oh, I had such a great day. The problem is I have four full pages of notes for this blog entry! So I need to do what I tell students to do: SELECT THE BEST STUFF!

I'll start by explaining today's pic. It was taken at the end of my fourth session today (with one of Miss Sarah's Grade Five classes). At the end of the session, I got kind of swarmed by students waving their story ideas at me! But it was a good kind of swarmed! All you can see is my hair and my hand, but I can tell you I was grinning behind my mask! Great work today, kids!

I started the day with Ms. Malone's Grade Sixes -- then It was back and forth between Miss Sarah's and Ms. Malone's classes. (I hope that makes sense. If not, don't worry about it!) I'll start with a funny moment. It happened when a student named Jahsiah raised his hand to ask me something. Now Jahsiah had this look in his eyes that gave me the feeling it was going to be a profound question.... (building suspense here!) ... and then he asked, "Can I sharpen my pencil?" I chuckle just writing this part down! But later, during our coming-up-with-story- ideas exercise, Jahsiah had a great idea which he allowed me to share with you: "A man named Tony who lived in a small town gets hit by a car on his way to work. The driver of the car becomes Tony's best friend." I'd say there's already A LOT of interesting stuff going on -- and that's only in two sentences. Also, I love stories set in small towns -- the fact that people tend to know each other well adds all kinds of story possibilities! Landyn came up with a powerful memory of the pandemic that might work its way into her story -- it was about her dog getting injured during the pandemic when he jumped off a neighbour's lap. This story, by the way, was the first of several pets and pandemic stories the kids wrote about today.

When I said hello to Miss Sarah's first class, a student named Adam called out, "How much money do you make a year?" That also made me laugh. I explained to Adam that that's probably not the best question to go around asking grownups. But then I explained how authors earn a royalty for every book sold. Which isn't bad if you're like me and you write a lot of books and sell many copies of them!! This class also came up with some great ideas. Rachel is thinking about writing a story called "The Mind's Eye." Super intriguing title, Rachel! Anya wrote about the death of her grandma's dog during the pandemic. The dog was named Jiggs. Anya wrote, "This made me cry for six hours. I grew up with him." I found those sentences so beautiful because we can feel Anya's sorrow. I'm sorry about Jiggs, but Anya, you have found a way to turn something sad into something beautiful. That's a gift!

Next, I was back with Miss Malone's second class. I actually spent the most time with these kids because I stayed to eat my lunch with them. Thanks for the company, you guys! Also I have to admit I had a favourite student today: Mitchell. That's because BOTH lenses suddenly popped out of my reading glasses. What are the chances of both lenses popping out at once? Now when you are 61 and 3/4 like me, that is a serious problem!! But Mitchell popped the lenses back in for me. And then he explained, "My dad's a mechanic ." Well thanks, Mitchell, and pass on my thanks to your dad too -- since you seem to have inherited his mechanical skills! Mitchell is contemplating writing about the following story: "This book is about a young soccer player who becomes professional. When he leaves soccer, he becomes a mechanic for the rest of his life." Hey, I wonder where Mitchell got the mechanic part from!! At lunch, Phoenix showed me the songs lyrics he's been working on. And he said I could share one of my favourite lines with you. Here goes: "You picked me out of that bowl like you pick out candy." Phoenix! Keep using that originality. I love the surprising link you have made between people and candy.

I've already told you about the last group when I explained about today's picture. But I'll close today's blog entry with what they said when they walked into the classroom. Amelia showed me her notebook, and said, "I've always liked writing. This is my scribble book." (I love the idea of a scribble book.) Jasmine said, "I want to be a writer." Leia added, "Me too." Isobel said, "I also want to be a writer." Kenora said, "Me too. I already wrote my first story." And James asked, "Do comic books count?" To which I answered, "Of course they do!!"

I'm afraid this turned out to be a rather long blog. And I still left out a lot of good stuff. I'll be back for a third visit to Mount Pleasant Elementary some time soon. In the mean time, Mount Pleasant Grades Five and Six students, I want you to work on your three paragraphs for me. And my plan is to read every single one of your little stories and give you some suggestions for how to turn them into books.

Thanks to Ms. Malone and MIss Sarah for sharing your kids with me, thanks to librarian Ms. Hausen for arranging the visit, thanks to principal Ms. Daoust for wanting to help your students develop their literacy and creative writing skills. Thanks to ELAN's ArtistsInspire program for making my visits possible. But most of all, thanks to every single one of the young writers with whom I worked today. You have dazzled me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

  953 Hits
Jan
24

Happy Morning With Mount Pleasant Students

Hello blog readers -- and because this is my first blog entry for 2022, Happy New Year!

Speaking of happy, I've had a happy start to my day -- thanks to ELAN's ArtistsInspire program, I'll be doing a series of writing workshops for Grades Five and Six students at Mount Pleasant Elementary School in Hudson. We had out first session together this morning, via Zoom, and I have officially fallen in love with the students! Today's pic is a bit blurry, but it'll help you understand my affection for the classes -- they were super hardworking and focused (as you can tell from the picture, taken during the writing portion of today's workshop).

My goal is to get all of these students started on a book! Today, I shared some of my writing tips (I've kept a few for my second visit!); told a story (I love telling stories!); and got the students to do some writing. There was also a little time for questions. A student named Anya asked, "Can we combine fiction and non-fiction in our stories?" I had the strangest urge to hug Anya after she asked that question -- of course, that's impossible during a Zoom, and not recommended during a class visit either (especially not during a pandemic!!). What I loved about Anya's question is that she seems already to be "getting it" -- that, as I see it, all fiction writing is rooted in reality -- in true feelings and lived experiences. One of the best parts of being a fiction writer though is that we get to change things up -- invent our own endings! As we all know, that doesn't always happen in real life!

Claudia had a good question too: "Why did you start writing?" Oddly, I don't think in all these years of doing school visits that I've ever been asked that question. So I had to come up with an answer quickly!! I told Claudia I started writing because I love stories. I collect them the way that some people collect shoes or teapots! And I also came up with another explanation that even made me laugh. Earlier, I had said that writers need to read -- and I compared that to how chefs need to taste other people's cooking. So I said that for me the need to write is a little like a chef who gets amazing ingredients. If you're a chef and someone hands you a gorgeous cauliflower, well you'll want to turn it into soup or a soufflé! When I observe interesting things going on around me, or read about interesting stuff, I get this urge to turn it into stories.

At the end of my sessions, a student named Phoenix wanted to know, "Are we going to present our stories?" I told Phoenix I really liked his question and I could tell he's a good organizer. Afterall, he was getting me organized too! I even suggested to Phoenix that he might make a good prime minister one day!! So yes, Phoenix, and all the other kids in Grades Five and Six at Mount Pleaasant, here's the plan: if possible, use the writing prompt I gave you today to start a story. Try adding the "what if?" technique I taught you this morning. If you can write a paragraph or two, I'll do my best to give you some writing advice during my next visit. And in a wrap-up session, those of you who are willing can present your stories to the class. But no pressure!

Anyways, thanks to all of you today for being so smart and fun and focused. Thanks to your teachers Miss Sarah, Madame Stéphanie, Ms. Malone and Madame Valérie for sharing you with me. Thanks to librarian Ms. Hausen for arranging the visit and thanks to principal Ms. Daoust for her enthusiasm. Thanks also to the ELAN ArtsInspire team. I'm already looking forward to having more fun with my friends at Mount Pleasant -- and to reading your stories!

  880 Hits
Jan
20

Getting Inspired By Other Authors! Today's Booklist Panel

I just finished taking part in a kidlit panel organized by Booklist. The Topic was "Authors and ARC's" -- ARC's is an industry term for advanced reading copies. So basically all nine of us authors who took part were talking about our upcoming books, which for the moment exist only as ARC's.

I hoped I'd learn something and get some inspiration from listening to other authors -- but I ended up learning and feeling far more inspried than I expected. So how 'bout I use today's entry to share some of what I discovered? (I knew you'd say yes.)

Gillian McDunn kicked off the event by telling us about her new middle-grade novel Honestly Elliot (Bloomsbury). Elliott has ADHD, but he's in his element when he's in the kitchen. He's also a fan of a cooking show chef who hurls muffins at people when he's upset. Now that's a funny detail I will not forget! McDunn also talked about something I didn't know -- that "desperation pies" were popular during the Depression; they were basically made from ordinary ingredients in people's fridges or pantries.

Ellen Hagan blew us away with her reading from Don't Call Me a Hurricane (Bloomsbury). It's a novel in verse about a group of environmental activists. "I wrote it as a way," Hagan told us, "to address my own anxiety about climate change."

Julie C. Dao based her new novel Team Chu and the Battle of Blackwood Arena (Macmillan) on her relationship with her two younger brothers. "We love each other and fight with each other," Dao told us. She also showed us a family photo -- and those two little brothers aren't so little anymore!!

Leonarda Carranza was born in El Salvador, but now lives in Ontario. She has a Ph.D. in social justice and her picture book Abuelita and Me (Annick) is a beautiful exploration of social justice. Carranza told us she was inspired by a story her own abuelita (Spanish for grandmother) told her -- about being accused by a bus driver of not having paid her fare.

K.C. Oster is the illustrator of Rabbit Chase (Annick), a graphic novel written by Elizabeth Lapensée. I fell in love with Oster as soon as I learned that, like me, she is obsessed with Lewis Carroll's Alice books! In fact, Rabbit Chase is an Indigenous retelling of Alice in Wonderland. Woo-hoo!!

I was already a fan of Jennifer Ziegler's work, so it was fun to "meet" her on Zoom. Her new book is Worser (Holiday House) and she explained, "This novel is a love letter to words." She also said something that really resonated for me: "Writers are always working towards a truth -- something they're trying to understand about themselves." That's how it works for me for sure!

Crystal Maldonado was the funniest person on our panel. Her new book No Filter and Other Lies (Holiday House) is about "a fat Latina girl discovering herself" (these are Maldonado's own words!). She explained that she wanted to see more books about people who look like her -- such an important issue for every writer to think about.

I got so busy telling you about the others I forget to mention what I was doing on the panel -- discussing my upcoming middle grade novel For the Record. It's coming out in March with Owlkids. But I promise to tell you all about it in future blog entries. In the mean time, huge thanks to Owlkids, in particular to marketing manager Allison MacLachlan for getting me invited to today's panel. Thanks to Booklist for making it happen, especially to host Ronny Khuri and behind the scenes wiz Grace Rosean. To be honest, I'm a little sad it's over! At least I've got lots of great books to read -- and loads to think about!

 

  1014 Hits
Dec
09

Bonjour! Bonjour! from Ecole Lajoie

There is something about seeing kids writing that makes me happy. Which is why I took today's pic while a group of Grade Six students at Ecole Lajoie were working on a writing exercise this morning. I think the picture captures how much the kids were concentrating on their stories -- which also makes me happy!

I was invited to Ecole Lajoie to work with Ms. Cristina's three Grade Six English classes. It's a French school, but most of the students I met are comfortable speaking and writing in English too. How lucky they are to be growing up so bilingual!

The students in the pic were writing about a memory from when they were five years old, and seeing if they could add a little trouble (my favourite story ingredient!). Yoana wrote about being in kindergarten and getting stuck in an elevator for half-an-hour with seven other kids. Ohhh, that's good trouble for a story, Yoana! What, I wondered out loud, if one of the kids had to pee? Erlens wrote about the time he pushed his brother so hard his brother's foot hit a piece of furniture -- and started to bleed. And Cécé (hey, I'm definitely stealing your name for a book, Cécé!) wrote about walking barefoot on the beach when she lived in New Zealand -- and cutting her feet. All good story ideas!

The kids in my after-lunch group were super focused -- and hey, I often find with my own students that after lunch they're in the mood for a nap! Rayane let me share his desk, and told me which whiteboard could be erased without his teacher minding too much. And when I said that writing is like playing hockey because you need a lot of practice, a student named Arnaud called out, "Ya!" I take it Arnaud is a hockey fan. (Hopefully I've turned him into a writing fan too.)

My last group had more students, and some of the kids at the back gave me the impression they'd had it for the day! To make up for that though I had several eager young writers. Among them was a student named Gabriel who impressed me with his research skills -- that's because he'd checked out my website before today's visit, and had also gone to the school library, where he learned they have two of my books! Excellent research work, Gabriel! And then there was Clara who told me, "I write every day because I'm working on a book. Every night, I think about what I'll write the next day." Hey, I think we should all take a lesson from Clara! When I go to bed tonight, I am going to think about what I'll write tomorrow. Why don't you try that too?

Special thanks to Ms. Cristina for inviting me to Ecole Lajoie, and also to Madame Lavoie, the school principal, who popped by during one of my writing workshops to say bonjour. To my new friends at Lajoie, have a great holiday. Use some of your free time to work on stories. Don't forget some of the lessons we learned today: be snoopy! collect interesting details! add trouble! and of course, rewrite -- then rewrite and rewrite and rewrite some more! Thanks to all of you for a fun day!

  1120 Hits
Dec
08

Heavenly Morning at Rosemere High School

Now I don't think I've ever used the word "heavenly" in a blog title before!

But it's the closest word I could come up with to tell you how wonderful my morning was with Ms. Lawrence's and some of Ms. Sacks's Sec. I students at Rosemere High School -- plus there was Erica, a special guest from Sec. IV, who let me share her desk and told me, "I really want to pursue a career in writing."

Usually, when I write a blog entry about a school visit, I start with my observations, then end with some samples of what the students came up with during our writing exercises. But today, because the writing was so extraordinary, I thought I'd start with that! Also because my workshop was nearly three hours long, there was time for the kids to do a lot of writing exercises. I think we did four in all! Yay moi, but especially yay for the kids!!

Okay, it's time for some of those writing samples. What do you think of the opening of Alex's story: "I love hamburgers. Actually, I think hamburgers are the best thing that ever happened to me"? I LOVE IT. Great humour, Alex, and I already feel I am getting to know your funny, clever narrator! When I asked the class to write a book blurb for the book they most want to read, Massimo came up with the following blurb: "a book about my life and how I got successful." Yay, Massimo -- go for it! And Zakary (okay, I'm not allowed to have favourites, but let's just say Zakary stole my heart today!!) wrote about imagining himself in the future, working as an automechanic. Except when you read what Zakary wrote, you'll agree that sure, he should pursue his dream of becoming an automechanic, but he'd better be a writer on the side! That's because he wrote: "The smell of hot metal and gasoline tickles my nose. The feeling of a rubber tire or a big chunk of metal in my hand..." See what I mean? You almost make me want to become an automechanic, Zakary!

The thing about these students' writing -- and maybe it's because most of them are twelve years old -- is they have a confidence and a freedom that I don't often see in my college students. I told today's class to try never to lose those feelings, and that pleasure they take and ease they have in putting words on paper. Honestly, they inspired ME -- when really, I was invited to Rosemere High to inspire them!!

And now for a few random observations. If you know me, you know I'm OBSESSED with body language. So when I noticed a student named Mattéo playing with his hair, I remarked on it. Mattéo said, "I play with my hair when I'm thinking a lot." Of course, I grabbed my pen and wrote that down! That's because I also love to listen for, and collect dialogue -- sometimes for using in my books. I think in the next story I write, I will have a kid who plays with his hair when he's not just thinking, but thinking A LOT (which is even better!)!!

Yasmine told me that though she was 20 minutes late to the workshop (she had a science test), "I took three pages of notes!" That made me happy, Yasmine! Alex, who wants to be a writer when he grows up, had an excellent question: "How do you start?" I explained that some writers do a lot of advance planning; others just dive in. When there's a lot of research to do, I start with that,.. but to be honest, I'm more the diving in sort. So I told Alex, "Think of the Nike ad -- Just do it!"

Another heavenly thing -- I had met several of the students a couple of years ago. That's because they were in Ms. Fraser's class at McCaig Elementary when photographer Thomas Kneubuhler and I worked with the group to produce a chapter for the Blue Metropolis Quebec Roots book! And one more heavenly thing, a student named Zoe told me her Grade One teacher was a writer too -- so I said, "Was it Jennifer Lloyd?" -- and of course it was! I'm proud that Jennifer's my friend too!

Okay, thanks to Ms. Lawrence for the invite. You do amazing work with your young writers! Great to meet you today, Ms. Sacks. Special thanks to my new friend Kaylie (did I spell that right? If not, someone send me the correction!) -- whom I got to meet even before today's workshop started. And thanks to all the young writers. Just promise me one thing -- that you'll never stop writing!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1092 Hits
Nov
20

Working with Young Neighbours in Val-d'Or & Rouyn-Noranda

I bet you don't know too many teenagers who would turn up for a writing workshop at 4:30 PM on a Friday afternoon! But I do!

Yesterday, starting at precisely 4:30, I did a Zoom writing workshop for English-speaking high school students living in Val-d'Or and Rouyn-Noranda. The workshop was organized through a partnership between Neighbours, a community association based in Rouyn-Noranda, and the Atwater Writers Exhibition here in Montreal. In all, I had seven participants -- and they were amazing. And okay, I have to admit they didn't come just for me -- they also got pizza, which they seemed to enjoy a lot!

We had ninety minutes together, which giave me time to share writing tips, tell a few quick stories, and get the students writing. As usual, I took notes too.

I thought it was funny that I met one student's hands before I met her. That's because on my screen, in the left bottom corner, I spotted a pair of hands -- and the fingers were moving around a lot! That was my introduction to a student named Kim -- who turned out to have a beautiful, profound idea for a story (which I'm not going to tell you about. Kim, get to work! It's great!)

When I found out that two of the students (who are friends and were sitting together) were both named Aaron, I suggested they might consider writing a story called "The Two Aarons." I like the title a lot, but I wouldn't be the right one to write that story. The Aarons have way better material to tackle that task than I do!

During the writing exercise, Aaron #1 came up with the idea of writing about a family reunion -- lots of interesting possibilities there! Aaron #2 wrote about getting a dirt bike that stopped working after two days. How a character would react to a broken dirt bike so soon after getting it also has great story possibilities!

Chloe came up with the idea of writing about a girl who remembered having been close with her older brother. Catherine was interested in the subject of nostalgia -- which I thought was deep and unusual since we usually associated nostalgia with old people looking back. But why not write about a nostalgic Sec.II student? And Sandrine wrote about a birthday party that was less than perfect. As I told the group, TROUBLE makes stories move forward.

As you can tell from this blog entry, my pizza-eating friends gave me a lot to think about yesterday. Oh, I should mention I also met teacher Lisa Silver -- now she works in Val d'Or (which, if you need the English translation, means Gold Valley)... I love the idea of a story about named Ms. Silver who works in Gold Valley. Don't you? And the youth coordinator for Neighbours also attended our workshop. She has a great name too: Laurie Boast. Laurie, if you don't mind, I think I need to steal your last name for a story!

Thanks to all the participants, including Ms. SIlver and Ms. Boast who did the writing exercise too! I had a great visit with all of you. Write and read ... and stay in touch! Thanks to Neighbours and the Atwater Writers Exhibition, and to my friend, author Elise Moser, who also helped arrange yesterday's visit.

 

  1018 Hits
Oct
23

Back at Birchwood Elementary!

I had another fun afternoon yesterday at Birchwood Elementary School in Saint-Lazare, working with the Grades Five and Six students I hadn’t met on my last visit.

I started the afternoon with Ms. Sellitto’s Grade Sixes. If you know me, you know one of the many reasons I enjoy school visits is it gives me a chance to collect NAMES for my future books. When students ask me questions, I always ask them to tell me their names first. A student who told me her name was Petra wanted to know which books I’d written. (I’ll skip my answer.) So I asked Petra if she knew there was an archaeological site named Petra. Then I asked her if she’d ever visited Petra. She said she hadn’t. But then another student named Zoe called out, “I’ve been to Petra’s!” Zoe meant she’d gone to Petra’s house – not to the archaeological site! It turns out the two girls live on the same street. Anyway, that cracked me up, and made me happy – partly because I knew this story would make for good material for this blog!!

Kailey, another one of Ms. Sellitto’s students told us, “I write stories about by dog Bailey. She was abandoned as a puppy.” You probably know I am OBSESSED with TROUBLE. (That’s because trouble makes a story move forward.) Bailey’s rough start in life is trouble for sure… so Kailey, take care of Bailey… and keep writing those stories about her!

A student named Ethan asked, “Do you ever have days when you’re stuck and can’t write?” I told Ethan the answer was yes – and also no. Yes, to the first part – I do have days when I feel stuck, but no to the second part. I can always write. So I shared my secret (okay, not-so-secret now) method for getting unstuck. I use all capitals and write all the bad things I am thinking – such as YOU ARE A TERRIBLE WRITER and STORY, YOU ARE DRIVING ME CRAZY! (Sometimes, I even use swear words.) Anyway, this method works for me because eventually after writing out all that bad stuff, something useful comes to me! Try my method next time you get stuck. Just don’t hand in any rude part to your teacher!!

I ended the afternoon with Madame Nathalie’s class (and some of Ms. Roberts’s students who weren’t at Birchwood on the day of my last visit). That’s me in today’s pic with one of the class rabbits! In this group, I covered a lot of writing tips and we ended the afternoon with a writing exercise. I thought because it was so late in the day, the students would have trouble focusing on writing, but they didn’t! They came up with all kinds of great story ideas. Anthony wrote about a pigeon who wants to become an eagle. I love that idea, Anthony! Marcus wrote about a zombie who had this to say about humans: “Humans are smelly, and when I say smelly, I mean it!” That’s a great line, Marcus –  it made me laugh out loud. And of course, readers love to laugh.

Thanks to librarian Ms. Hausen for arranging my visits to Birchwood. Thanks to the teachers for sharing your wonderful students with me. And thanks to the kids for being wonderful. Now just keep reading and writing!

  979 Hits
Oct
14

Young Writers Writing Away at Birchwood Elementary

You see the kids in today's pic? They're Ms. Roberts and Mme. Bournival's Grade Five students at Birchwood Elementary in Saint-Lazare. (Hey, I kept mixing up fives and sixes yesterday, so if I got that wrong, one of you Birchwood students better tell me so in the comments section!!) I had also worked with Ms. Sellitto's Grades Sixes -- and you know what all the kids had in common? They wanted to KEEP WRITING!! Let me tell you, as someone who does A LOT of school visits, most kids do not want to keep writing, and many of them don't even want to start writing!!

So a funny thing happened yesterday... I was telling Ms. Sellitto's GRADE SIXES (I just realized they are Grade Sixes because Ms. Sellito taught them last year too, when they were in grade five) the story of how I set all the action in one of my novels on a schoolbus -- and they said they knew that already... which made me realize I'd already done my usual how-to-become-a-writer presentation for these kids last year. So guess what? And I don't mean to sound  show-off-y here, but I am kinda proud of myself... because I INVENTED A NEW PRESENTATION ON THE SPOT.

Because the kids will be writing a narrative for Ms. Sellitto, I gave them all my pointers for storytelling -- such that a narrative requires a beginning, middle and end; the characters have to be well-rounded; the narrator needs a strong voice; and of course, there needs to be TROUBLE! Then I gave the students an exercise in which an imaginary person talks to them... and well... they got so busy writing, and I was so busy reading over their shoulders that someone had to come and get me because I was five minutes late for Ms. Roberts' and Mme. Bournival's students! (And later, on my way out at the end of the day, I ran into Ms. Sellitto, and she's the one who told me HER STUDENTS WOULDN'T STOP WRITING!!!)

Then it was on to the Grades Fives -- and these kids were just as enthusiastic and hardworking as Ms. Sellitto's. I shared my writing tips and if you know me, you'll know I told a couple of stories. I find that hearing (or reading) stories inspires us to tell stories. So while I was there, Wesley told us a great story that I think belongs in a book. Wesley gave me permission to share it here: "My mom said I could get a bird if I researched about it. So I did." That's the story of how Wesley ended up with a budgie named Sunshine. I smell TROUBLE in the part where his mom told Wesley he'd have to do research -- if you write that story up, Wesley, maybe you can make the narrator (based on you) NOT WANT TO STUDY. See! That would add good tension to your story, and make the resolution more satisfying.

When we were talking about birds, a student named Dia impressed me by saying, "I read Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I read all the time. I read about immigrant women." All I could say to that was WOW WOW and then again WOW. Dia, one day, you need to write your own book about an immigrant woman!

Later, Ben told us, "I have an idea for a story, but it's kinda weird." That made me like Ben's story (about an evil man and a dog) right away. Weird is great for stories!

I'll be back next Friday, Oct. 22 at Birchwood -- and because I'm hoping the students will keep working on the stories they started, I plan to get to school early and hang out with the students when they are eating their lunches. So if you're one of those young writers I met at Birchwood yesterday, add me to your agenda -- and do some writing!

Thanks to my friends at Birchwood, and to librarian Ms. Hausen for arranging my visit. And thanks especially to the teachers for letting me in to your classrooms -- even though I realized the visit hadn't been confirmed, so I was a bit of a surprise. But hey, that makes a good story too!!

 

  991 Hits
Oct
13

Quebec Roots On a Roll!

You're probably wondering what in the world is going on in today's pic! For one thing, you're looking at a photo of a photo, taken by students at St. Mary's Elementary School in Longueuil. In fact, it's a photo of St. Mary's. And to the right, that's me working on-line with Ms. Gerlick's class.

My fellow Monique -- photographer Monique Dykstra -- was also Zooming with us. We were "there" for our second visit for a wonderful Blue Metropolis Literary Foundation project called Quebec Roots. Teams of writers and photographers are traveling across Quebec, helping students produce a chapter for a real-live book that will be published this spring.

This year, the schedule is a little tighter for our project. We were at St. Mary's a few weeks ago, when the students came up with the brilliant topic of SILENCE. Since then, they've been taking photos and writing about silence. Both the photos and the writing wowed the Moniques! I'm used to teaching CEGEP students, and of course I love that age group, but the thing about younger kids -- these ones are in Grades Five and Six -- is that I think they feel more free to experiment in creative ways.

Monique D had read the students' first drafts, and she had this to say about their writing: "You showed me how to see the world from a kid's eye-view." (I was so proud that I immediately wrote that down in my notes!)

When the final book comes out, you'll see that the photos are astonishing. There was one of a girl, her face lit up ever-so-slightly... well, it gave me shivers. (That happens to me when I see something beautiful or hear something that I think would make a great story!)

If I may say so myself, I sometimes come up with cool ideas! Reading the kids' pieces inspired me to test out a new exercise. I asked them, "If you could shout at silence, what would you say?" and "If you could whisper to silence, what would you say?" We came up with two "group poems" in which students just called out their ideas and I acted as a scribe, and made a few small edits. My favourite line in the whispering to silence poem came from a student named Gillan: "I'd say thank you for cancelling out the chaos." That gives me shivers too!

The students will keep working on their photos and texts. Monique D and I will keep giving them feedback over the next couple of weeks. Ms. Gerlick has been working wonders with these kids. Our first visit was in-person, and virtual visits are always a little tougher -- but the kids were focused and working hard till the last moment of yesterday's workshop.

Thanks as always to the kids; to Ms. Gerlick; Ms. Beauregard, CLC coordinator who found us Ms. Gerlick; to resource teacher Ms. Paluzzi -- and to Blue Met for sending the Moniques out on such fun assignments!

 

  870 Hits
Oct
09

Super Workers at Namur Intermediate School

Yesterday, visual artist Thomas Kneubuhler and I spent the afternoon at Namur Intermediate School in Namur, Quebec. Namur is a two-hour drive northwest of Montreal, and this lovely little town was founded by Belgian settlers. There's a Namur in Belgium too, and hey, we have a Namur métro station in Montreal!

Thomas and I were in Namur to work with Mr. Curtis's grades five and six students. These kids are taking part in the 2021 edition of the Blue Metropolis project Quebec Roots. Their texts and photos will be published in a real live book coming out in spring 2022!

The first thing we had to was come up with a topic for the students' chapter. Luckily, Mr. Curtis had done some brainstorming with his class, so they were well-prepared and we settled on the topic of nature.

Thomas and I have worked together many times for Quebec Roots, but yesterday, we tried something new. We divided the class into two groups -- and then switched groups. This strategy gave us time to do photography and writing sessions with about ten students at a time. Of course, we also shared our writing and photography tips with the kids.

I asked some of the students to close their eyes (if you know me, you'll know that's a trick I often use to get young readers focused), and remember a moment from their past when they were in nature. Then I asked them to use that memory as a prompt. Gabriel wrote about feeling afraid when he was feeding his pigs. That's going to make an awesome story for your chapter, Gabriel!

With my second group, I changed things up a bit. I suggested they write letters to Mother Nature -- and they came up with some cool stuff -- but I don't want to give away too much here!

I had a few special happy moments yesterday at Namur Intermediate. One was when a student named Lydia asked me, "Do you ever read a book and forget all about dinner?" That made me soooo happy, not only because it happens to me sometimes too, but also because it shows how much Lydia loves reading. All writers love to read!  Another happy moment was when a student named Amy gave me her picture -- which I will display on my refrigerator!

Thanks to Mr. Curtis, for sharing your wonderful kids with us. You know what? The students even agreed to skip recess so they could keep writing and taking photographs. I'd say that's a sign that the kids at Namur and also Quebec Roots ROCK!

  818 Hits
Sep
29

Happy Afternoon at Ecole du Vieux-Chene

I'm just home from a happy afternoon at Ecole du Vieux-Chene in Terrebonne, where I worked with the school's Grade Sixes. This was my first in-person visit to the school; last year I popped in via Zoom! The students have been studying the Holocaust and are learning about Anne Frank, so teacher Ms. Crina invited me to talk about my book What World Is Left, a novel based on my mum's childhood experiences in a Nazi concentration camp called Theresienstadt. My mom knew Anne Frank -- they were the same age, and both attended a school called the Joodse Lyceum.

We were a large group today -- Mme. Marie-Pierre and Monsieur Charlie's students were there too -- but the kids were great. I was impressed that they managed to stay focused for two hours (with just one five minute pee break!!). I did my usual writing tips, talked about the Holocaust, and how my mum and her family managed to survive Theresienstadt. The students also had a lot of good questions. I jotted some down to use in today's blog entry.

Elizabeth told me she is currently writing a book. Yay, Elizabeth! "How old were when you started writing?" she wanted to know. I told her I think I was about eight or nine. To be honest, I can't remember a time when I wasn't writing a book!! Christian made me laugh with his question: "When will you stop writing?" I told him, "I don't know! I hope NEVER!" Samuel was looking at the notes I was writing on the whiteboard, and he asked, "Do I have to write it down?" That also made me laugh -- I told Samuel he could write down whatever he wanted to. Then I explained to him that for me, writing something down helps me remember it better. I suggested he might try that technique too! Justin wanted to know, "Does it happen when you're writing a book that you lose an idea?" I thought that was another cool question. I'm sure it has happened, but that's why I try to write all my ideas down as soon as I get them. Which explains why there are little notes in every room of my house.

Hiba had the deepest question: "How did your mom survive?" I told the class the answer, but I'm afraid I can't tell you, dear blog reader, since it would spoil the story I shared in What World Is Left.

We spent the last ten minutes on a writing exercise... I think by then, the students were running out of energy -- so let's just say not all of them were working super hard! I tried having them remember a moment from when they were five years old. That's because memories often provide the seeds for stories. Walid came to show me what he had written and he gave me his permission to share it here: "I run, swim and smile always." I love the rhythm and the feeling of that sentence, Walid. Now use my writing tip and ADD SOME TROUBLE. When I shared that advice with Walid, he told me there was no trouble in his life when he was that age. "Lucky you!" I told Walid. But then I added that he can USE HIS IMAGINATION to find some trouble and add it to the story to help bring it to life.

Thanks to Ms. Crina for the invitation and thanks to the other teachers for sharing their students with me. Thanks to the students for being such attentive, lively listeners. I wish you lots of good books to read, and lots of interesting adventures for you to write about!

  959 Hits
Sep
21

Quebec Roots is Back -- St. Mary's School!

Quebec Roots is back!

In case you never heard of Quebec Roots, it’s a Blue Metropolis Literary Foundation project in which teams composed of a writer and photographer travel to English-language schools across the province, and help students produce a chapter in a book that actually gets published!

Today my pal, photographer Monique Dykstra, and I visited St. Mary’s School in Longueuil. We were there to work with Miss Gerlick’s Grade Five class. One of the first things “the Moniques” (that’s what we call ourselves when we are teamed up on a project) have to do – besides give students some pointers about photography and writing – is to help the kids decide on a topic. These students were super well-prepared; they had a list of great topics. The kids voted (a little like in yesterday’s federal election, only we got a majority!) and decided they wanted to work on the topic of silence. By the way, Miss Gerlick; the Moniques; Ms. Beauregard, the community learning center (CLC) coordinator; and Ms. Paluzzi, the resource teacher (who used to be my student at Marianopolis College) all ADORE this topic!

A student named Felix gets credit for coming up with the topic in the first place. Felix told me that he was inspired by his own life because he has what he described to me as, “a quiet room in the basement.” Gillan came up with these words to talk about silence: “the creepiest of woods.” Nicholas was sharing an idea with the class, and he told us, “This sounds weird in my head.” (I love how that sentence sounds, Nicholas!) And Klowie told us she enjoys cooking in silence. Klowie also used the words “Before before before” – and I think I had better write that down because I think it makes a gorgeous book title. If I ever use it, Klowie, I promise to give you credit!

During the short writing exercise I did with the students, Klowie came up with a sentence that I adored: “One time it got so quiet I could hear the wind.” Hey, Klowie, I hope you’ll keep writing that piece for our chapter!

Right now, the students are out with Monique D, shooting photos. That’s because there’s no better way to learn something than by doing it – same goes for writing. As for me, I’m in Miss Gerlick’s classroom, enjoying the relative silence (I can hear some shouting in the hallway, someone walking by, the distant sound of a movie or a TV show, and happy sounds from the playground outside) while I write this blog entry.

Here’s to silence… and writing… and photography… and having fun… and learning… and Quebec Roots!

  1604 Hits
Aug
24

Shepherding Readers to Good Books!

You're probably wondering who the young man in today's pic is. Why, It's Ben Fox, who runs a cool book recommendation site called Shepherd.

I started my day on Zoom with Ben, who has been living for the last year or so in northern Portugal. Ben was raised in Arkansas; he's an entrepreneur working in the tech industry. He started working on the Shepherd website last December, and the site went live in April. Ben and his team reach out to authors and ask them for their book recommendations -- usually related to a single theme.

Which is how I met Ben. He'd heard of my middle grade novel, Planet Grief, and asked for my suggestions about other books I might recommend on the subject of grief. I shared several of my favourites, including some by author friends Alan Silberberg and Diane Terrana.

I was curious to meet Ben and find out why he started the Shepherd website -- so we arranged this morning's visit. Ben explained that since he was a kid (he's now 40), he's been hooked on reading: "I read a lot of books. I read really fast. I love walking through a bookstore and letting my eyes roam. I wanted to recreate that experience for readers, and help authors at the same time," he said.

So far, more than a thousand authors have posted their recommendations on Shepherd. Pretty cool, no?

I asked Ben why he picked the name Shepherd for his project. He told me, "We're guiding people to new, cool things."

I love that! Like Ben, I have always relied on book recommendations. If a certain friend loves a book, I know I'll love it too. Check out the Shepherd website ASAP. And for author friends reading this post who'd like to take part in Ben's project, visit https://forauthors.shepherd.com/faq

Here's to great book recommendations and happy reading! And special thanks to Ben and the folks at Shepherd for your excellent shepherding work!!

 

  947 Hits
May
19

Morning at Ecole de la Source

In today's pic, you will meet some of the students I worked with this morning at Ecole de la Source in Mascouche. (You will also see the top of my mop of hair!!)

I was "at" Ecole de la Source to work with Ms. Manon's English-as-a-Second-Language Grade 6 class. (Last week, I worked with one of her classes at Ecole Jean-Duceppe -- Ms. Manon is a busy teacher with students at two schools.)

These kids are studying the Holocaust, with a particular focus on Anne Frank -- so while I shared my usual writing tips, I focused mostly on what I learned about the Holocaust while I was researching and writing What World Is Left, a historical novel based on my mum's childhood experience in a Nazi concentration camp called Theresienstadt.

I told the students my view that I think we learn much more from one person's story than we do by studying statistics. For me, that helps explain why stories matter so much, and why it is our responsibility to share stories!

The students have been writing their own fictional stories about Anne Frank -- so I gave them a few suggestions for improving their work. These suggestions included USE DIALOGUE TO ADD DRAMA; DEVELOP SETTING; CONSIDER INCLUDING A CHARACTER WHO CAN ACT AS A FOIL TO YOUR MAIN CHARACTER, AND INCLUDE SOME (BUT NOT TOO MUCH!!) SENSORY DETAIL.

There was time at the end for a few questions. Mathias wanted to know if I'm planning to give my monkey man charm (it's a gift my mom received at Theresienstadt on May 24, 1942, for her 13th birthday) to my daughter. I told Mathias I'm not sure -- perhaps the monkey man charm belongs better in a museum. Eliott wanted to know what happened to my dad during the Holocaust. I explained that my dad is only half-Jewish, and that he was sent to live on a farm during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. But Eliott's question reminded me of something important -- I need to try and get my dad's story too.

May 24 is coming up in a few days. A woman my mum didn't know gave my mum the monkey man charm. I like to imagine the woman's face if she could have known that very close to 79 years later (minus five days), the little girl's daughter -- who by then would be 60 years old -- would be telling students in Mascouche, Quebec, the story of the monkey man and the woman who gave it to my mum. I think the woman would have been pleased, don't you? See what I mean about stories mattering?

Thanks to Ms. Manon for the invite to Ecole de la Source. Thanks to the kids for being good listeners (at least as far as I could tell!). Good luck with your stories!

 

  1239 Hits
May
13

Visit to Ecole Primaire Jean-Duceppe

Wow! I sure am getting around during this pandemic!! Last week I was in Newfoundland, Saskatechewan and BC!! Today, I was in Repentigny, which is about a 40-minute drive from Montreal. But thanks to the wonders of Zoom, I was there in seconds!

I worked with Ms. Manon's Grade Six ESL (English as a Second Language) class. Most of my writing workshops last an hour, but I had two hours with these students. I expected they might get restless, especially since their first language is French, and I was presenting in English -- but they were super focused and well-behaved. Thanks, Ms. Manon for the work you've been doing with them this year. I had to laugh when, towards the end of my presentation, I was about to give a writing exercise and a student named Samuel wanted to ask another question -- that's when Ms. Manon told Samuel, "I'm the boss -- not you!!" 

Not only did Ms. Manon's comment crack me up, I also grabbed my pencil and wrote it down so I could remember it -- for this blog, and also for a possible future story. Ms. Manon's comment prompted me to share another writing tip with the students -- writers need to LISTEN IN FOR INTERESTING MATERIAL. Ms. Manon's line -- which can be considered DIALOGUE -- helps us learn about her character. We can see that she is funny, but also firm with her students. (I happen to like these qualities in a teacher, and I think I may possess the same qualities. At least I hope I do!!)

The class has been studying the Holocaust. They are working on their own stories about Anne Frank, and so they were impressed to learn that my mum, who died four years ago, KNEW ANNE FRANK. They were the same age, and both in grade seven, at a school called the Joodse Lyceum in Amsterdam. (They weren't in the same class, but my mother remembered seeing Anne Frank often.)

We talked about my book What World Is Left, which is a work of historical fiction based on my mum's childhood experience in a Nazi concentration camp called Theresienstadt. We also talked about SECRETS. I think that if I hadn't pushed my mom into telling me her story, she would have taken her secret to the grave. And I also think that, in the end, she was glad to have shared her story with me -- and ultimately, with lots of kids around the world.

Charles-Olivier wanted to know, "When did you think you wanted to be a writer?" I told him I knew when I was a little kid, but that it was my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Browman, who gave me the enouragement I needed. She treated me like I was a writer! I showed the students my recent historical novel, Room for One More -- because it's dedicated to Mrs. Browman!

This morning's visit made me happy. And guess what? I have the afternoon off -- no marking, no school visits... WHICH MEANS... TIME TO WRITE! Hope you get some writing (and reading) time today too. Thanks to Ms. Manon for the invite, and thanks to the kids at Ecole Primaire Jean-Duceppe for being such a keen audience!

  1184 Hits
May
10

Lots of Fun With the Kids at St. Mary's Elementary School

There's a lot I like about giving virtual writing workshops... but there is one BIG challenge. And that's coming with interesting pics for you, dear blog reader!

So today, when I was asking the Grades Three and Four classes at St. Mary's Elementary School in Longueuil whether they had pencil and paper for taking notes, they all opened up their desks -- and I snapped this photo. At least it makes a change from boxes on a Zoom screen, right?

I spent the day with students from kindergarten to Grade 6. And I pretty much treated them -- even the youngest ones -- the way I treat my students at Marianopolis College here in Montreal. And none of the kids at St. Mary's seemed to have any trouble following me!

As usual, I'm going to share some highlights from my day.

I had to laugh when I asked one of my favourite questions, "What's the cousin of writing?" (The answer I was looking for was "Reading.") Well, a student named Sereh called out, "Sleeping!" Thanks to Sereh, I threw in an extra point about the importance of dreams, and how many writers (and painters and musicians and filmmakers) use their dreams as a source of inspiration.

When I said that I get some of my best writing ideas when I'm in the shower or out for a run, or just making tea, some students in Ms. Vanessa's class posted in the chat that, "We get our best ideas while washing our hair!" Hey, I'm going to try that next!

Patrick told us his dad's girlfriend wrote a journal called "Anxiety Journal" and that she's posted it on-line. I'm a fan of every kind of journal, and that one does sound interesting -- and important since we know that anxiety has been on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Damien asked, "Why do fiction stories always end well?" I told him that I tell my students HAPPY ENDING ARE OUT OF STYLE. For me, a story that ends "well" means that the main character or characters have GROWN in important ways. Growth will never be out of style!!

I worked with the Grades Five and Sixes next. I told these kids that for me, writing is almost always hard. Amishi agreed. She said, "Writing gets hard when you write too many pages. Then your pencil starts getting low." I had never thought about writing that way, Amishi, but it's true!

Momen (cool name!) told me how his older sister told him, "Make a journal about how you're surviving the pandemic. It would be really amazing." I TOTALLY AGREE with Momen's older sister.

I ended my day with the kindergarteners, and Grades One and Two groups. I went through ALL my writing tips with them, and then there was time for a few questions, and even a mini-writing exercise. The questions were... well... amazing. Vicky asked, "How long does it take to write a book?" I explained that that's a question I tend to get from much older students -- the answer is anywhere from six months to a year, but then I can easily spend another year re-wriitng and then re-writing some more! I'll end with Swara's question -- "When we write, are we supposed to use our imagination or write what really happened?"

Now THAT is not the kind of question I expect from a Grade Two student. I told Swara maybe she should transfer to Concordia or McGill! For me, writing fiction lets me combine imagination and my own lived experience. So, my personal answer would be, "a bit of both."

Many thanks to Rachel Wagner at the South Shore Reading Council for organizing today's visit; to Annie Beauregard of the Seaway CLC for her help; thanks to the many teachers I worked with today -- Ms. Paluzzi, Ms. Chanelle, Ms. Fortin, Ms. Vanessa, Ms. Gerlick, Ms. Thibault, Ms. Wong, Ms. Bobal, Ms. Mason, and Ms. Roselli for sharing your kids with me; a special extra hug for Ms. Paluzzi, who WAS MY STUDENT AT MARIANOPOLIS!!; and thanks to the kids, for being sooo sooo smart. Here's to all of you!

  1447 Hits
May
07

It's a Wrap! Friday of CCBC Book Week

It's Friday of the Canadian Children's Book Centre's Book Week! Like all the other children's writers, illustrators and performers on tour, I've been traveling virtually across the country. In my case, I've been to B.C., Saskatchewan and Newfoundland -- all in the last five days!

My tour ended at the A.C Hunter Public Library in St. John's, Newfoundland. On most days, I teach teenagers at Marianopolis College here in Montreal. But I was working with a MUCH younger crowd at A.C. Hunter! In fact, the youngest participant -- named Abigail -- was only ten months old!

In the picture at the top of today's blog entry, you'll meet two other workshop attendees -- Angelica, who's four, and her big sister, Johanna, who's six. You can bet I was pretty excited to tell these kids the story of my Princess Angelica book series. And even though the Princess Angelica series -- three chapter books -- are geared for slightly older readers, I decided to read from one of the books, and the kids in my audience listened attentively! (Okay, I can't vouch for Abigail because her mom had turned off the video at that point!!)

I used my full hour with the kids. I did offer them a strech in between, but they didn't want it! And you know what? Even though my participants ranged in age from 10 months to nine, I taught them many of the writing lessons I've been sharing all week with older kids. Such as that it's important to write a lot, and that I pesonally keep a daily journal. To which Johanna proudly replied, "I have tons of journals!"

In this second picture, you'll meet my friend, librarian Emily Blackmore, who also helps coordinate Book Week visits in Newfoundland. That's her daughter Izzy in the pic with her. Izzy is six too, and already shows signs of being hooked on reading! I guess that happens when your mom's a librarian!

I showed the kids (and their parents) a simple journal exercise -- write a word to describe how your today is going, and then write a word to describe how you'd like your tomorrow to be. Izzy came up with the word "exciting" to describe her today, and "fun" to describe her tomorrow.

We also discussed TROUBLE and how it helps to move a story forward. Izzy shared a super smart observation: "There is trouble in fairy books when goblins steal kids' magic items." EXACTLY!

Another attendee was nine year old Steve. Though we never got to see his face (his video was off), I could tell from the chat that he likes stories. So I was delighted when he wrote in the chat  "I learned a lot." And you know what's kind of wild? Steve told us he lives in North Carolina! But somehow, thanks to the magic of the Internet, he found out about my visit to A.C. Hunter and decided to come!

Next year, I have my first ever picture book coming out! So my workshop at A.C. Hunter gave me a fun preview of what's in store when I work with extra-young readers.

Thanks to Emily for organizing yesterday's visit; thanks to the kids and their parents for attending; thanks to the CCBC for a wonderful Book Week, and also to Newfoundland and Labrador Public Libraries for the invite. I really hope that one day, I can visit the A.C. Hunter Public Library in person!

 

  1076 Hits
May
06

Some Days, Magic Happens: Day 4 of CCBC Book Week

Some days, magic happens.

That's how I feel after the virtual visit I just had with students at J.L. Crowe Secondary School in Trail, BC. I was "in" Trail to celebrate Day 4 of the CCBC's Book Week.

What, you may be wondering, made the visit magic?

Well, for one thing, when I demonstrated my boxing moves (I took up boxing while I was doing the RESEARCH for my YA novel Straight Punch), Ms. Smith's class (check them out in today's pic), got up from their desks and did the moves too!

Another thing that added to the magic, I think, was the presence of teacher-librarian Ms. Lunde. She's the person at J.L. Crowe who helped arrange my visit today, and she "attended." There she was in one of  my Zoom boxes -- obviously having fun because she was smiling a lot, and also sending me encouraging messages in the "chat." So looking back, I think that having such an enthusiastic "student" as Ms. Lunde, well, it made my usual high-energy get a little higher (if such a thing is possible!)

Okay, but what really made the visit magical was the students' questions. There were so many that I spent a little extra time with the classes, and even when the students were allowed to leave, a few stragglers stayed behind to ask more questions. The thing is -- and this is unusual -- EVERY SINGLE QUESTION WAS THOUGHT-PROVOKING. What, I wonder, do they feed the kids in Trail to make them so smart?!

Marcus wanted to know, "When you start with a book, how do you keep with the idea, and how do you not let it turn into ... well... a mess?" I told Marcus that because I sign book contracts in advance, I have no choice but to stay focused. But you know what? Writing this blog makes me realize I have an even better answer for Marcus -- sometimes a book HAS to turn into a mess before it gets good. it's all part of the process!

Ollie said, "i don't really want to be a writer... but to be a writer, how do you get noticed?" An interesting question which led me to talk a little about social media and its importance, but also to emphasize my view that writers need to write the stories that are calling to them -- I think it's better not to write to get noticed. If we do get noticed, why, it's bonus!

Jackson wanted to know, "Is it better to leave stories on a cliffhanger or to know what happens?" I didn't really have an anawer for Jackson, except to say that I notice a trend towards book series lately. But even when I read a book that is part of a series, I feel like I want some sense of satisfaction at the end of the book, a sense that issues have been resolved and that the main characters have grown.

Keirra asked, "How do you show emotion without stating it?" I told Keirra that I'm hooked on body language. For instance, I observed that she was clutching her hands -- a sign of a little bit of nervousness. Writers look for small signs to help us show our readers' feelings.

Presley wanted to know which story trope I like the least. I told her it was the one where a girl has a crush on a boy who pays no attention to her. Arghh! Then I asked Presley, "What's your least favourite trope?" I loved her answer, which was: "Happy endings." Which led me to tell Presley that in my own Writing for Children class at Marianopolis College here in Montreal, I tell my students to lose their happy endings. But I also tell them that their characters need to GROW.

So here's to growth and magic and great questions and the CCBC Book Week. Thanks to Ms. Lunde for arranging the visit, to teachers Ms. Smith, Ms. Tekavicic and Ms. Eggert for sharing your kids with me. And thanks, of course, to the gang at the CCBC for all you do to make book week possible. Signed, One Happy Writer

  1130 Hits
May
05

I Finally Get to Newfoundland -- well, kind of!

So it is one of my life's dreams to visit Newfoundland. And in 2020, when I was selected to be part of the roster for the Canadian Children's Book Centre's Book Week, I was over the moon when I learned I was going to visit Newfoundland and Labrador. And then, of course, the pandemic happened. Last year's book week was postponed, and this year's book week has gone virtual. But you know what? I still enjoyed my visit to St. John's this morning -- even if it was virtual -- and I'll be back in town tomorrow too!

Today, I worked with three Grade Eight classes at Leary's Brook Middle School. There were about 90 kids in all, and when I asked if there were any who hadn't seen an iceberg, a couple of students raised their hands. (This cheered me up because I was hoping to see icebergs on my visit to Newfoundland!!)

I had an hour with the students -- and I must say I got pretty excited talking to them! I told them all my favourite writing tips, the ones I wish someone had told me when I was in Grade Eight. These include WRITE, READ, INCLUDE TROUBLE IN YOUR STORIES, ASK WHAT IF, AND REWRITE, THEN REWRITE SOME MORE!!

I also told a story -- the one about my monkey man necklace. And I got to meet a few -- but not many -- of the students. I'm not supposed to have favourites, but one student impressed me a lot because he was taking a lot of notes and nodding a lot too. (It's true that he was sitting in the front of Mr. Bowden's class so that made the student easier for me to see.) Anyway, meet Jacob -- that's him in today's pic. If you are wondering what weird hand gesture Jacob is making, it's because I had asked the classes, "Are you interested in writing?" and Jacob used his hands to tell me "so-so." Do you recognize the so-so hand gesture? Anyway, that hand gesture led me to invent a brand new writing tip; HONESTY MATTERS. If a writer writes honestly about feelings (including the so-so feeling), it bodes well for the writing.

I'm a little sorry my time with the students at Leary's Brook went soooo quickly. There wasn't time for the usual Q&A, so if you guys have questions or comments, post them here in the comments section and I promise to answer every one.

Thanks to the kids for being, as you described yourselves, "énergetiques" (hey, we have that in common!!); thanks to the teachers Ms. Hopkins, Mr. Bowden, and Mr. Butt for sharing your students with me; thanks to Principal Mr. Matchim for helping arrange today's visit. Thanks also to the Canadian Children's Book Centre and to Newfoundland and Labrador Public Libraries for bringing me to Newfoundland!

  1299 Hits
May
04

May the Force Be With You -- Day 2 of CCBC Book Week

Oh, the things an author learns during CCBC Book Week! For instance, I learned that May 4th is Star Wars Day because, as Finn, a student at Laurie Middle School in Cranbrook. BC, explained to me, "May 4th sounds like May the force!" And Finn even brandished (don't you LOVE the word "brandished"?) his light saber for one of today's pics. Check it out here!

I started my day in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, back at Ecole Arthur Pechey, and I ended the day in Cranbrook. (Okay, I didn't leave my house to do the visits, but we're in the middle of a pandemic, so CCBC Books Week has gone virtual!)

At Arthur Pechey, I worked with Grades Five and Six classes taught by Ms. Bender, Ms. Guenter, and Ms. Primeau. The students were awesome and funny too! When a student named Townsen came up to the screen, I mentioned his blue T-shirt. He told me, "It's not blue; it's grey!" which prompted me to say, "Don't get mad at me!" That little exchange gave us all a good laugh. Laughing isn't only fun -- humour is great in books too. Which is why I took a note of my conversation with Townsen, so that I could make you laugh while you read this blog entry!

I asked the kids if they'd ever met an author before. Jam (great name!! I love jam!!) said she had. "My auntie is an author. Jessica Stewart or Jessica Wallace. Or whatever her last name is!" That comment made me laugh too. And I wrote it down as an example of great dialogue. Dialogue helps us learn about character. You can tell from her words that Jam is funny and spunky. That's one of the reasons authors like me make a habit of listening in on people's conversations. So we can borrow/recycle/steal bits for our books!

In today's last pic, you'll meet Brooke, a student at Arthur Pechey. She asked me, "Have you ever written a comic book?" I had to tell the truth of course, that I hadn't. But I pointed out my hunch -- that Brooke wouldn't have asked the question if SHE HADN'T BEEN INTERESTED IN WRITING A COMIC BOOK HERSELF! And it turned out I was right. Brooke! Get to work!!

Now on to some details (writers love details because they help bring our stories to life) about my visit to Laurie Middle School. There, I worked with Ms. Pocha's lively Grade Eights. You already met Ethan. Many of these kids had read my books and prepared super questions for me. They were especially curious to know whether my novels for kids were based on true experiences. The answer was kind of complicated. Usually I start with something true -- for example that the kids who take the 121 bus in Montreal behave like monsters -- and then I add my favourite question: "What if?" What if I was a new kid at school, and didn't know where to sit on the bus... with the studious kids at the front, or the cool kids at the back. So I went ahead and prerhaps you've guessed it, I made the narrator of my book 121 Express sit in the middle!!

You have already seen a rather strange pic in today's collection. What are those two arms doing anyway? That happened when I asked Ms. Pocha's class, "What do you think I brought with me when I rode the real-life 121 Express bus?" They figured out the answer: paper and pen! In the pic, Ms. Pocha is answering by showing me her paper and pen. FUN!

I warned all the students that after hanging out with me (even virtually), they'd likely need a long nap. But you know what? I'm not tired at all! In fact, it's nearly dinner time here in Montreal, and I'm revved up from CCBC Book Week and from having the chance to hang out with kids from Arthur Pechey and Laurie Middle School. Thanks to all of you for being good listeners and a fun audience; thanks to your teachers for sharing you guys with me. Thanks also to Arthur Pechey Vice Principal Ms. Gunville for helping get things organized; to the John M. Cuuelenaere Public Library in Prince Albert, for supporting one of my visits to Arthur Pechey; and to my friend Melanie Reavley for helping to organize the BC portion of this week's tour and for popping by to say hi!

I'll be back tomorrow, reporting on my visit to St. John's, Newfoundland! Yay for young readers and writers and CCBC Book Week!

  995 Hits