monique polak

Monique Polak's Books

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!!

 

 

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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!!

 

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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!

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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!

 

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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!

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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!

 

 

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

 

 

 

  477 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!

  136 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!

  193 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!

  139 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!

 

  65 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!

 

  128 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!

  191 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!

 

  70 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!!

 

  140 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!!

 

  146 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!

 

  135 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!

  146 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?”

 

  384 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

 

  520 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!

 

 

 

 

  303 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)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  228 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!

  515 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!

  391 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!

 

  335 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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  349 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!

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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!!

 

 

 

 

 

  430 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!

  454 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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

  452 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!

  413 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!

 

  501 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!

  527 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!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

  560 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.

 

  478 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!

  518 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!!

 

  534 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!

 

  459 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!

  393 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!

  488 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!

  1091 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!!

 

  521 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!

 

  710 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!

  694 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!

  904 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!

 

  625 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

  645 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!

  793 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!

  537 Hits
May
03

My CCBC Book Week Begins in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan

Okay, if it weren't for the pandemic, this week a team of Canadian children's authors, illustrators and performers would be traveling across the country, meeting young readers as part of the Canadian Children's Book Centre's (CCBC) Book Week. I'm lucky to be part of this year's virtual roster!

I kicked off the week with a visit to Ecole Arthur Pechey in Prince Albert, Saskatechewan. There turns out to be an upside to virtual visits.... Tomorrow, apart from a return visit to Arthur Pechey, I'll be traveling to Cranbrook, BC., and by Wednesday, I'll be in St. John's, Newfoundland! All this adventure without having to worry about catching a plane -- or losing my luggage!

This morning, I worked with Mrs. Mercredi's Grade Seven class. The Grade Eights are at home this week, on account of the pandemic, so some may have been watching from their kitchens!

I began by asking the students if they'd ever met a writer before. Sarah said, "I think I met a writer before" -- but she wans't quite sure! I told the class they'd probably remember meeting ME! I also warned them they'd need a nap after my presentation! (If you've met me before, you'll know I'm on the peppy side!!)

I shared all my writing tips! I told the students how my writing is good for the environment -- because I RECYCLE. For example, I recyle students' names. Today, I met two young men named Grayson -- hey one of them is in today's pic. I had never met anyone named Grayson before -- so meeting two in one morning seemed like an auspicious sign! The Grayson in the pic got the answer right when I asked, "What is the cousin of writing?" Grayson said READING! Writers, as I told the students, need to do a lot of both these activities if they want to develop as writers.

When I talked about recycling names, a student named Sara said, "I heard J.K. Rowling gets names from graveyards." Super cool! Which makes me think that next weekend, we should all try to take a walk in a graveyard -- and bring our notebooks!

That's the thing .... writers are always writing -- even when it doesn't look like it. We also talked about the importance of trouble in a story, and how it's generally best to avoid causing trouble. Life sends us enough of it! But as I told the kids, if I hadn't had a somewhat troubled early life, why, I'd never have become a writer.

I'll be back at Ecole Arthur Pechey tomorrow. I hope tomorrow's classes will be as lively as today's. Thanks to Vice Principal Ms. Gunville for organizing the visit; thanks to Mrs. Mercredi for sharing your kids with me (and I love your name too, Mrs. Mercredi); thanks to the kids for getting my week off to an amazing start; and of course, thanks to the gang at CCBC for making Book Week possible for all of us!

 

  1004 Hits
Apr
22

More Fun at Crestview Elementary

Hello, hello, blog readers! I’m feeling happy because I just had a super fun day with students from Grades One to Six at Crestview Elementary School. It was my third virtual visit to Crestview -- which meant that today, we focused less on writing tips, and more on the students’ writing.

That’s Ioanna in today’s pic. A Grade Two student, Ioanna came up with a great story about a talking mask! I had explained to the students that good dialogue adds life to a story. Ioanna’s mask says, “I will destroy you!” I’m sure you’ll agree that’s good dialogue! Also, I love the idea of a talking mask! I have to add that Ioanna stole my heart when she told me, “When I grow up, I want to make a dozen chapter books.” Then she added, “I’m going to write another one right now!”

Some of the Grades Three and Four students had used my writing prompt about remembering trouble during the pandemic. Maria Simone wrote about fracturing her collarbone. “I couldn’t play roughly with my brother,” she wrote – which I thought was an excellent detail. (Another thing we discussed was the importance of including memorable details.) I asked Maria Simone how she fractured her collarbone, which is how I learned it happened when she was sliding and another kid bumped into her. Maria Simone said the kid apologized, but that his dad was “kind of rude.” It’s too bad, of course, that that happened in real life, but the good news is that IT MAKES AN EXCELLENT STORY. GET THE RUDE DAD IN YOUR STORY TOO, MARIA SIMONE!

Peter wrote a story called “Berlik the Bunny.” I adore the name Berlik – and Peter, I’d like to read the whole series. Maybe Berlik will be as famous one day as Peter Rabbit!

Asna told us her favourite book is Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat. Which made me suggest that maybe Asna could write her own version of the story – in which a wacky visitor turns up at her house and causes a lot of trouble. I explained that in a way, all stories are inspired by other stories. That led Maria Simone to ask a brilliant question: “How did the first person create a story?” I’m afraid I had to admit I didn’t know the answer! But you know what would make an amazing story? A story about the first person to tell a story!

The Grades Five and Six students blew me away with their stories and story ideas. Kaylee wrote about a nineteen-year-old girl named Sarai who wants to move to her own place, but her mom “has some concerns.” Here, I suggested that instead of TELLING us the mom has concerns, Kaylee could try SHOWING us the mom’s concerns. Kaylee could even use dialogue to show us! Konstantinos read a beautiful story about his dad coming home and announcing sad news. I told Konstantinos my theory – that it takes courage to be a writer, courage to remember difficult things – and that writers often use their memories of difficult things in their stories. Get to work, Konstantinos! Luna, Jason and Minas cracked me up with their stories. Luna and Jason wrote about the care dogs in their classroom. Minas’s story is set in the year 2168. It’s about an inventor named Julia who was “tinkering with an atomizer. Atomizers,” Minas wrote, “can be very dangerous.” That cracked me up! (I also adore the word “tinkering.”) I told the students  it’s harder to make readers laugh than to make them cry – and that they should definitely continue to write humorous material if they have that gift.

So now you know why I had such a fun day with the kids at Crestview. Many thanks to their teachers Ms. Elise, Mr. Corey, Ms. Sandy, Ms. Ruth, Ms. Marta, Ms. Connie, Ms. Mary, Ms. Bella, Ms. Melissa and Ms. Christine for sharing your classes with me over the last couple of months. Thanks to Ms. Farrell for the invite, and to vice-principal Mr. Adams for making my visits happen. Thanks also to ELAN’s ArtistsInspire program for your support.

To the kids … thanks for being fun and wonderful and talented and working hard. I can’t wait to read your books one day soon!

  571 Hits
Apr
18

Report from the MASC Young Authors & Illustrators Festival!

Reporting in after yesterday's MASC’s Young Authors and Illustrators Festival!

Ever had such a fun day that it flies by? That’s what happened to me yesterday. Honestly, the all-day event felt like it took five minutes. Okay, maybe ten!

I was a presenter, along with Kevin Sands, Melanie Florence, Katherine Battersby, Kean Soo and Jessica Scott Kerrin (that's them in today's pic). We all gave two master-classes to amazing kids from Grades Six to Eight. My topic was “Bringing History to Life: Tips for Writing Historical Fiction.”

What I should have realized was that the students would be AMAZING. I've presented twice before at MASC events, so I know the students who sign up tend to be talented and motivated young authors (and illustrators). But what I should have figured out is that kids who sign up for an all-day master-classes DURING A PANDEMIC have to be extra talented and extra motivated!!

I’d prepared a ton of tips to share with my group. I began by explaining that one of the things I like most about writing historical fiction is that history gives us a kind of scaffolding on which we can “hang” our stories. But writing historical fiction also presents a giant challenge – getting the facts right! I explained that when I write novels set during the Holocaust, I am aware that some of my readers will never read a non-fiction book about the subject – so I have a responsibility to be as accurate as possible. Which is why doing research is such an important part of writing historical fiction.

Though I thought my tips were useful, the day got WAAAY more interesting when my workshop participants took over the conversation! When I talked about how for writers, reading is as important as writing, pretty much all my participants told me in the "chat" box that they were hooked on reading. Nandi wrote that, "My mom has to stop me from reading because I won't leave the house!" (I suggested she get her mom to join our Zoom so I could explain that Nandi is showing the signs of becoming a professional writer, and to let her read as much as she wants!!) I laughed out loud when I read Navaab's comment: "My parents: Go outside. Me: Brings my book outside. My parents: Face palm."

We did several writing exercises, including a couple of lists. (I had explained to the students that writing lists is a great way to get ideas flowing, or to un-block on a tough writing day.) I asked them to write a list of historical topics they were interested in exploring, and then everyone shared their "top" topic. I have to say I was dazzled by the topics, which ranged from Nadine's interest in the Romanoff family, to Grace's topic of the Underground Railway, and Madison's topic of the history of women's rights!

Because I got to spend three hours working with my "class," there was time for a longer writing exercise, and also for me to comment on the participants' writing. Again, I was dazzled (it's the right word) by the students' work. I did make some of my usual suggestions: show; don't tell... vary your sentence lengths... death to adverbs... include dialogue -- but what I want to do next is SHOW you why I was dazzled by sharing a few bits of what the kids wrote.Are you ready to be dazzled?

Nadine used the word "mottled" to describe paint on an old building -- I ADORE the word "mottled" and anyone who uses it!! Katie used the word "muttered" -- another one of my favourites. (I seemed to be in the Mood for M-words yesterday!) Nandi used the following line in her excellent dialogue: "Let the whole world wake up!" I SOOO LOVED THAT. Stephanie described "the musty scent of death [that] hovered in the air." I CAN SMELL IT! And Jenny wrote about a man's trial: "I feel his breath... he whispers, 'Convict me, Attorney Maya!'" I had told the kids that successful writing TAKES US THERE. And that's what they all managed to do yesterday. Perhaps my favourite part of the day was when Katie responded in the chat to Jenny's piece about the trial. Jenny wrote: "I was like in a trance haha."

See! That's what good writing does. It's kind of magical -- good writing does put us in a kind of trance, taking us there, wherever that may be. But it takes some talent and a whole lot of hard work to make that kind of magic.

Here's to the wonderful gang at MASC who made yesterday possible, including Faith Seltzer, Wendy, Nathalie, Vanessa and Roslyn (Nathalie and Vanessa, who were there to oversee all things tech did the writing exercises with the kids! and Roslyn stayed to listen to a good chunk of my class!); to my fellow authors and illustrators; to the wonderful event host Jamaal Jackson Rogers (you're the best, Jamaal!); but most of all, thanks to the kids for being amazing and working so hard. I look forward to reading your books in the not-too-distant future! Now what are you waiting for? Go get to work on those books!! xo from Monique

 

  765 Hits
Apr
13

Happy to Be Back at Crestview Elementary

Back in February, I did a day of virtual writing workshops with students at Crestview Elementary School in Laval. What I didn’t know was that I’d be invited back to do two more workshops with the same kids. So today, I’m reporting in after my second series of writing workshops at Crestview.

The students I’m working with range from first to sixth graders. And guess what? I decided to use some of the same writing exercises I’ve used with my seventeen and eighteen year old students at Marianopolis College! I simplified the language and concepts of course... but something I’ve observed is that it’s sometimes easier for younger students to use their imaginations than it is for older ones. Maybe the trick for us older writers is to hang out with kids like the ones at Crestview, or to return to our childhoods through the use of memory.

One exercise I did with the classes was for them to imagine being in a bookstore and coming across the book they most want to read. It’s an exercise inspired by an interview I did with Sophie Kinsella, author of the Shopaholic series. When I asked Sophie (her real name by the way is Madeleine Wickham) how she came up with the idea of writing the first Shopaholic book, she told me: “That was the book I wanted to read!”

Marie Soleil, a student in the Grades One and Two group, told me she wanted to read a story about a mouse. Ioanna wanted to read about fluffy brown animals, and Timmity wanted to read about Roman soldiers. I thought these were all great ideas. I suggested the students add the magic question “What if?” to the mix. What if a mouse befriends a cat who lives in the same house as the mouse? What if a fluffy brown animal comes out of hibernation in a grumpy mood? What if a Roman soldier meets a grumpy fluffy brown animal, or steps on a mouse? See! This is how inventing stories starts!

In another exercise, I asked the students to remember a moment from the pandemic. Cameron came up to the screen to show me what he had written about his pandemic memory: “I miss school.” He also drew a picture of his school. (You probably noticed that I used Cameron’s little story to illustrate today’s blog.)

Marie Soleil wrote, “I play happy.” I liked the sound of that sentence. So I suggested another kind of WHAT IF? What if “I play happy” is the first in a series of books? We could also have “I play nervous,” “I play excited” – and the students suggested two more ideas: “I play mad” and “I play funny.” (“I play funny” is my new favourite!!)

The Grades Four and Five students had great ideas too. Andreas explained, “Because I’m Orthodox, I’d like to read about the life of Jesus.” I suggested maybe Andreas could write a story about Jesus during the pandemic. Arsalan wants to write about Lebron James. “What if,” I suggested, “Lebron James turns up at Crestview? Or what if he’s driving your school bus?”

I was very touched during the second exercise, when Alex shared his pandemic memory. He remembered not being able to see his grandparents and having to attend on-line school. “It was too hard,” Alex wrote. Those are four simple words, but put together, they carry a lot of punch, don’t you agree? I had told the students that the best writing comes from our hearts, and I felt like those four words came straight from Alex’s heart. Nice work!

I ended the afternoon with the Grades Five and Sixes. That was when I met Hope and Bella. I bet you think those are names of kids. But nope! Those are names of dogs. Hope is a black lab, who is a service dog at Crestview. Bella is a golden lab, who is a service dog in-training! I think it would be amazing to read stories about those dogs and their adventures. Bella, by the way, was sound asleep when I met her. Apparently, she'd spent lunch hour playing with Hope. Miss Mary's class came up with a great story idea: "What if a happy dog named Hope gets lost?" Excellent use of the "what if?" technique, kids! I also met a student named Sebastian who came up with the idea of writing about what might happen if he didn't return a toy a friend had dropped. Sebastian had other ideas too, which is why I told him, "Sebastian, you are an ideas factory!" And you know what? Writers needs to be ideas factories!!

I'll be back for another virtual visit at Crestview next Thursday. The plan is for the students to continue working on the writing exercises they started today. That's because writing requires hard wiork and lots of RE-WRITING! Special thanks to Ms. Farrell and Mr. Adams, for organizing my visits to Crestview; to the teachers for sharing your students with me; to ELAN's ArtistsInspire program for making my visits to Crestview possible; and a special thanks to the kids (and the dogs) for being WONDERFUL!!

  680 Hits
Apr
06

In Which the Easter Bunny Attends My Writing Workshop

I knew I'd catch your attention if I told you the Easter Bunny attended my virtual writing workshop today with students from Onslow Elementary School in Quyon, Quebec. Which is why I have included photographic evidence!

I did laugh when I looked at my Zoom screen at 8:20 this morning and spotted the Easter Bunny! Because the students live in the Gatineau region, one of our "red zones" in Quebec, they are having fully on-line school this week. I must say they are a spirited bunch -- witness Noah AKA the Easter Bunny!

I worked with all three classes last week, so today was Part 2 of my workshop. I started the day with Ms. Savard's "Awesome Grade Fives" (that's what she calls them!). Since the students will be interviewing someone for this week's writing assignment, we reviewed interviewing techniques -- such as try to get your interview subject to drink something warm (like tea) so that he or she will tell you some secrets! Jeffrey said he plans to interview his grandmother whose dad was in the war. Jacob wants to interview his cousin, who lives with him. And Ruby asked, "Can we interview our pet?" That question made me laugh -- but I also decided that another fun assignment would be to interview a pet. For instance, imagine what your dog would have to say about the pandemic. Or your cat. (I've heard that dogs enjoy the extra company, but that most cats are annoyed their people are home all day, interfering with a cat's habit of sitting in the window and catching some rays!)

Next up was Ms. Peck's Grade Six class. These kids were real characters. They included Noah AKA the Easter Bunny! Ms. Peck's class is also working on an interview assignment this week -- they'll be turning their interview into stories. Ms. Peck had a great question for me; she asked, "how do you write up your story so it doesn't sound like a biography?" My answer was that the best way to avoid writing that sounds like an old-fashioned biography is to focus on SCENES and MOMENTS. If someone wants to read a simple biography, they can go to Wikipedia! We creative writers sometimes take real stories (like the ones we get in interviews), and focus on moments that are odd or funny or heartbreaking. We also sometimes make stuff up!!

I finished my visit to Onslow with Ms. Villeneuve's Grades Three and Four class. I was telling the students how I had a close encounter with a butterfly this weekend -- he got trapped in our screened-in porch and I helped him out... and I was saying that is a little scene I'd like to use in a story some day. Then I told the class that they need to use all their five senses when they write -- and a student named Hayden wisely observed, "I do not want to eat a butterfly!" Ms. Villeneuve's students are writing about the saddest moment they have experienced during the pandemic. Harlow shared her work-in-progress with the class. She is writing about how sad she felt when her hamster died. "I had a funeral for my pet hamster," she told us. I know it's a sad story, Harlow, but I think it would make a beautiful piece of writing. I've never been to a hamster funeral, and I'm curious to learn what it is like.

I'll end today with another fun, zany moment -- in keeping with the surprise appearance of the Easter Bunny! At the end of my second workshop today, I heard Ms. Peck tell her students, "You don't have to do any writing today." And then I heard a voice -- I don't know whose! -- say, "Thank god!" Which also cracked me up.

So, I really need to say a big thanks to the students at Onslow for making me laugh, and for having spunk. But hey, you do need to write -- like it or not!! It's like a multi-vitamin -- it's GOOD FOR YOU! Thanks to the teachers for sharing your classes with me. And thanks to Culture in the Schools for making my visits to Onslow possible. May we remember the Easter Bunny all year long!

  621 Hits
Apr
01

Pandemic Writing at Onslow Elementary

Today's pic makes me super happy!

Check it out!

Writers writing during a pandemic!

I did three virtual writing workshops today for students in Grades Three to Six at Onslow Elementary School in western Quebec. Those are some of the Grade Six students writing (about the pandemic, of course!) during today's writing exercise. I have to admit that early in the day, the students were ... well... a touch wild -- and then I learned that they had just been informed their school is about to be closed for eight days on account of the pandemic. They'd already packed up their belongings. No wonder they were feeling a little all over the place. I did my usual writing tips, and I tried my best to keep them on track -- but then the wonderful thing happened... I gave them a writing exercise, and they all got to work quietly and in a focused way. Look at today's photo again for proof.

Which helps demonstrate something I believe -- writing helps us cope. Writing can help us make sense of difficult, overwhelming times. If my exercise helped those students settle down, well, I feel like I have the best job in the world. I can pass on the benefits of writing, of taking the time to put our thoughts and feelings into words.

As usual, I'll share a few highlights of my day. One was meeting a Grade Six student whose name was Campbell. "Like the soup," the student's teacher, Ms. Peck, called out. I asked Campbell whether she'd ever seen Andy Warhol's famous painting of the Campbell soup cans. She said she hadn't. Check it out ASAP, Campbell! It's made for YOU! When I told the Grade Sixes that reading books is an important part of a writer's job, that it's like tasting food if you're a professional chef, a student named Noah said, "I don't know how to make food. I burn milk." Which gave me a chance to talk about TROUBLE and how trouble helps fuel a story. I wouldn't mind reading about a kid who burns the milk while he's trying to make an omelette.

A student named Kori demonstrated how playing with words can be fun. "What," Kory asked, "if you have a character named Mayo, and you call the character May for short?" I like that! Esepcially the Mayonnaise part!

During my session with Ms. Savard's Grades Four and Five students, I had to laugh when I saw a student hunched over at the back of the room, sneaking over to another desk. That's because I had just asked the students to try and stay in their desks during my talk. But honestly, the sight of this shadowy figure creeping along... well... it's something I could use in a book. As I told the students, we writers look for details that are odd, funny or sad. I'd say that creeping was odd and funny!

I ended my day with Ms. Villeneuve's Grades Three and Four students. It was hat day in Ms. Villeneuve's class, and when I asked about it, she explained, "They earned it because the students worked well." These kids worked well for me too. And even if they're the youngest ones I worked with today, I decided to give them a tough exercise -- to remember their saddest day so far during the pandemic.

I was delighted that several of the students wanted to share their pandemic stories. Luka wrote about staying in bed for three hours and of having nothing to do. Jessop wrote about being worried her friends would catch COVID. Molly wrote about having a new baby cousin -- and only being able to see him through a window. All beautiful, moving memories.

I'll end with Ethan's story: "When I got up, i forgot about the pandemic. Then I heard my parents talking about it. Then I told myself, 'Never give up!'"

I'd say that was a pretty special ending to a lively day. And a perfect ending for today's blog. Thanks to all the kids and their teachers for doing your best on a challenging day. Let's all try to be like Ethan -- and never give up.

I'm scheduled to work with the Onslow students again next Tuesday. If all goes well, they'll be joining me from their homes. More pandemic stories! Till then, everybody, stay safe, rest up, enjoy the long weekend. As we all keep saying in Quebec, Ça va bien aller!

  608 Hits
Mar
30

Morning in Mont-Tremblant

Okay, so I didn't really GO to Mont-Tremblant this morning, but I was there in my heart and soul! That's because I did a virtual visit with Amanda Juby and Penelope Barbe's English classes, as part of the Colloque du Centre collégial de Mont-Tremblant. Sociology prof Alexandre Laplante, coordinator of the colloquium, invited me to present. (That's Alexandre, second from the left, in the second row from the top of today's pic. Amanda is at the top right, and Penelope is in the Zoom box next to her.) I've been to CCMT before, so that's how I know Alexandre -- but Amanda and I go WAAAY back to Nunavik. In fact, I think I met Amanda's dog before I met her!!!

Anyway, I have to admit that this morning I was thinking I'm getting a wee bit tired of Zoom visits, but almost as soon as I met the classes, I started to buzz! Also, I was touched and amused by Amanda's introduction, during which she compared me to "a curly-haired Pokemon," explained that I'm a "bagel deliverer" and told the students, "You'll want to chat with her longer because she's a passionate collector of stories." THANKS, AMANDA! EVEN TYPING THAT NOW MAKES ME FEEL HAPPY ALL OVER AGAIN!

The students were A-MAZING. Most of them are French speaking, so at the beginning, Penelope asked me to slow down a little. But I have to admit, I got pretty excited talking to the kids, so I'm afraid I started speeding up again -- but I think by then, the students were used to me! We talked about a TON of stuff. I covered my usual writing tips, but because we had most of the morning together, I also explained how some of the trouble I experienced both as a kid, and later as a young woman, have fueled my stories. "Trouble," I told them, "made me a writer."

And even if it was a Zoom visit, I feel like I got a real sense of the students. When I was talking about how I always hate my first drafts and despair that I am not a better writer, I saw a look in a student named Aneska's eyes that told me she knew exactly what I meant. And I was right! Later, Aneska asked me, "What is the story behind your book The Taste of Rain?" Not only did I tell Aneska the story (the book was inspired by my editor Sarah Harvey, who was listening to a radio documentary about a prisoner of war camp in China), I asked Aneska whether she had used the term "What is the story...?" on purpose. That's because a little earlier, I'd told the students that that is a question that always runs through my mind. Aneska said no, she hadn't asked the question that way on purpose. Anyway, it's a small thing, but it made me happy that Aneska thinks like a writer.

The students had loads of excellent questions. In fact, they kept me busy well into their (and my) lunch period! Rose asked a brilliant question: "How are you able to elaborate on heavy topics while keeping your stories kid-friendly?" The answer came to me while I was answering Rose's question! If you write in the first person (as most kids' writers tend to do), then you will stay true to the voice and feelings of your narrator -- and even if you write about disturbing topics such as violence or abuse, you will see and feel them from a child's point-of-view. I also warned the students never to talk down to kid readers -- because kids are super smart, and they'll know! Luka wanted to know what books inspired me to write -- oddly I suddenly thought of all the poetry books I loved as a kid (one is still on the shelf here, next to me). I asked Luka what books inspire him to write, and he answered, "I read a lot of mythology." I suggested that maybe he could try taking a mythological story (say Hercules) and tell it from a modern perspective -- Hercules during the pandemic at Mont-Tremblant?!

I have to write about a few more great questions. Angelica (if you know me, you'll know I have a special fondness for that name!) wanted to know what inspired me to become a teacher. Hey, no one ever asked me that before! I explained that I've wanted to be a teacher for as long as I've wanted to be a writer. And I think the impulse is the same -- to share with others, and maybe make their journeys a little easier. I asked Angelica whether she wanted to become a teacher, and she told me something super cool, "I used to want to be a teacher. Now I want to be a detective." Ah ha! I love that! Detectives also hunt for stories!

I was especially moved by a student named Macelline who knew about my book, So Much It Hurts, in which a teenager struggles to leave an abusive relationship. "What advice do you have," Macelline asked me, "for someone who doesn't have the guts to leave?" Her question gave me goosebumps. I told her that we all have the guts -- even if we don't think we do. I also suggested that the person who thinks she doesn't have the guts should try reading my book -- that maybe it would let her see herself. Iris, my main character, thought she didn't have the guts to leave either. And if Iris feels real, it's because she is inspired by my younger self.

So even if I didn't get to visit Mont-Tremblant today, I feel like I did. Funny how we all long for connection -- perhaps more than ever during this pandemic. My heart feels very full thanks to the students I worked with today at CCMT. Thanks to all of you, and thanks to your profs Alexandre, Penelope and Amanda. Thanks also to UNEQ's Writers in Cegeps program for making today's virtual visit possible. Now... a special hug for someone who was with us in spirit -- Lorna Irons. Lorna was babysitting Lola, Amanda's dog, when Lorna rescued me on the streets of Kuujjuaq. It's a crazy, wonderful story -- but it'll have to wait for another visit! It's time for me to sign off. It's a balmy 13 degrees in Montreal and this writer is heading out for a walk with her friend!

 

  725 Hits
Mar
25

Happy Virtual Visit to Ecole du Vieux-Chène

I'm becoming a bit of an expert over here in on-line teaching! That's because between my own teaching at Marianopolis College, and the writing workshops I've been doing with students at other schools, I'm getting a lot of practice! This morning, I worked with Crina Tirtoaca's Grade Six class at Ecole du Vieux-Chène in Terrebonne. We used the Teams platform, and faced a bit of a challenge when I couldn't hear any sound from the other end. Luckily, the kids could hear me, and Miss Crina used the chat function to post comments and questions.

One funny moment was when I showed the students the monkey man necklace I wear every day (that necklace has inspired a picture book coming out with Scholastic Books). I held the monkey man charm up to my camera and told the students, "He's ugly" and they ansered in the chat box, "He is!" I also explained that, for me, the monkey man's story (he was a gift given to my mom in Theresienstadt, a Nazi concentration camp, on her thirteenth birthday) makes him beautiful.

Because I had 90 minutes with the class, there was time for writing tips, some stories, and even a mini-writing exercise. Miss Crina has 26 students. When I asked how many are interested in writing, Miss Crina did a quick survey -- and told me, via the chat, that half the class had answered yes. As you can imagine, that information made me happy!

When I talked about how most writers need to do some research before they begin writing a book, I used the example of my novel Straight Punch, which tells the story of a young boxer. I asked the class, "How do you think I learned about boxing?" Two boys, Chrisler and Ray, came up to the screen to answer my question. It turns out the pair are good friends. Miss Crina sent me Ray's answer in the chat: "you went to see a boxing match." Good guess, Ray! But I told the kids I did even better than that -- that I took four years of private boxing lessons. I even got up from my chair to demonstrate a straight punch!

The students had questions for me, too. My favourite question came from Alejandro, who wanted to know, "How do you create your characters?" So I told the class my secret -- I steal my characters! I gave them the example of Chrisler and Ray -- first of all, I like the sounds of the team "Chrisler and Ray" (I think it would make a great book title, don't you?) ... and then I added my favourite question "What if?" -- "What if," I asked the class, "one of those two is a hardworking focused student, and other one's a good student, just not so hard working?"

So you see, one of the reasons I enjoy school visits -- even virtual ones -- is that I get inspired by the kids I meet. Another funny thing happened at the end of class when Chrisler came back to talk to me. "How did you know about our qualities?" he asked me. Turns out I was correct -- one of the pair is slightly harder working than his pal! (I'm not saying which one!!)

You definitely should not steal people and stash them in your basement! But what I've found is that people are super interesting. Pay attention to everyone you meet. They could end up being your Chrisler and Ray!

Thanks to Miss Crina for inviting me to Vieux-Chène. Thanks to the kids for making me happy. And thanks to Quebec's Culture in the Schools program for making today's visit possible.

 

 

 

 

  879 Hits
Mar
23

More on the Caesura Project at F.A.C.E. High School

Today was the last of my six writing workshops with music students at F.A.C.E. High School. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know we’ve been working on a project called Caesura – the term refers to a musical pause – in which the students have been reflecting about what the pandemic has meant to them personally, and as young musicians. This afternoon, composer Tim Brady begins working with the same students. Tim will help them set their writing to music. I’m hoping the students’ final creations will be something I can eventually share with you, dear blog reader.

This morning, I spent our workshop time doing close reading and editing of some of the writing the Secondary V group has been producing. We used the “chat” function on Teams to communicate – and in some cases, the students submitted their work anonymously by having their teachers submit for them. The question of anonymity is an interesting one. I remember when I was a kid and thinking how some writer named “Anonymous” had produced a lot of interesting work! I think if writers feel most comfortable submitting their work anonymously, that’s what they should do. But at some point, you need to get in front of the microphone and sing. (That metaphor was inspired by a student I’ll call E, who has been working on a poem about the tiny, beautiful moment as she stands at the microphone, about to sing.)

One piece we read together – submitted anonymously – was called “The Pianist.” The author describes a “deeper blue, a color that reminded me of sorrow.” Ahhhh, I so love that. I had shared a line from sci-fiction writer Rad Bradbury with the students: “Creative is continual surprise.” Well that student’s line, in which a color and a feeling are connected, took me by surprise. Excellent writing, Anonymous!

Another student, whom I’ll also call E, included the refrain “Métro, boulot, dodo” in her poem. For those of you who require my translation services, that means “Métro, work, sleep” – but as you can see, the line sounds waaay more beautiful – and playful – in French. That was what I loved most about E’s poem, its gentle, playful tone, and yet she also managed to describe some of the uncertainty and sadness associated with the pandemic. As we were reading E’s poem, I happened to see one of the students’ teachers – Monsieur Létourneau – on my screen, and I could see from his face that he, too, was moved by E’s poem. Afterwards, Monsieur L told us, “We can discover people through their writing. You all have something to give.”

If you know me, you’ll have heard me say that I get goosebumps in my upper arms when I hear or read something beautiful or important. (It’s a handy trait in a writer!) Well, Monsieur L’s comment gave me goosebumps. Discovering others and ourselves, giving, sharing – for me, those are the things that writing is all about. And music too, no?

Special thanks to my friend, F.A.C.E. teacher Theodora Stathopoulos, for coming up with the Caesura project. Thanks to the F.A.C.E. teachers who have shared their students with me: France Arcand, Marie-Eve Arseneau, Angela Hemingway, Edwin Alirio Perdigon Nieto, Emmanuelle Racine-Gariépy, Catherine Bouchard, Raymond Letourneau and Catherine Le Saunier. Thanks to ELAN’s Artists Inspire program and the F.A.C.E. Foundation for making the project possible. Thanks to Tim Brady for taking over from here. And thanks to the Sec. IV and V EMSB and CSDM students in the winds, strings, keyboard and vocal departments. You guys are amazing. I was a little nervous when I heard I’d be working with 200 of you, but am I ever glad that I agreed to take part in the project. I look forward to watching – and listening to!! -- what happens next. XO to all of you from Monique

  584 Hits
Mar
16

F.A.C.E. Caesura Project Gets More and More Interesting!

Hello and bonjour, dear blog readers! I threw in a little French in my greeting because today, I'm reporting in again on Ceasura, a super cool bilingual project I'm involved in with Grades 10 and 11 students at F.A.C.E. High School. In a way, the students are working in three languages -- English, French and Music, since they are Music students at F.A.C.E. As I've already explained, the term Caesura refers to a musical pause. My role in the project is to help students use writing to explore how the pandemic, a caesura in their lives both as young people and musicians, is affecting them. Once I'm finished my writing workshops, composer Tim Brady takes over. He's going to help the students set their poetry and prose to music. And hey, you can meet Tim Brady today too -- because he popped into the workshop I gave this morning to the Grade Elevens, as well as to the one I did yesterday for the Grade Tens. That's Tim towards the bottom right in today's pic!

Tim wanted to get a feel for what the students were up to -- but he also ended up offering some useful advice about sharing our work. I was asking the students to post some of their rough work in the chat section on their screens, and I pointed out that sharing our creative work takes courage, and that it's always tough to be the first one up. Tim added, "You've got to be willing to get up on stage and see what happens. The first 27,000 times is scary. It gets fun the 27th thousandth and first!" EXACTLY!! Thanks for that, Tim. Today, when I was telling the group something my friend author Joel Yanofsky once said to my class, "All writing is problem solving" -- Tim made another wise comment. He said, "All life is problem solving!" Ain't that the truth?

I'm gong to share some of the beautiful words the students came up with. I'll use just first initials for the students' names. A student named N was one of the first to read her piece. She began by saying, "I don't have a poem voice." Which prompted me to ask, "What is a poem voice to you? And could you write about that?" N, I sooo want to read what you have to say about a poem voice! Also, if I may add, N has a beautiful voice -- a poem voice!

My next two examples are both in French, but don't worry I'll translate for those of you who need it. A student named M wrote, "Je joue jusqu'à très tard" (which means "I play until very late"). Simple words, but there is something haunting and gorgeous about them, don't you agree? And a student I'll call K, wrote: "Chaque seconde, les bruits deviennent des sons" ("Every second, noises become sounds"). K, I think you have to be a musician to have come up with that line!

Today, teacher Ms. Le Saunier told the students, "Silence is music too." WOW, I had never thought of that, but somehow, I know what Ms. Le Saunier means.. Maybe hanging around with the F.A.C.E. crowd is making me a little more... well... tuned in!... to music.

A student I'll call A described the moment before her vocal performance, "waiting for my turn, the microphone at my lips." What A did so well in her poem was to write about the brief moments before sharing her song with an audience. A kind of caesura, no? A, keep working on your poem. I want to know more about that magic moment.

Special thanks to Ms. Stathopoulos for dreaming up the Caesura project; thanks to the teachers for sharing your talented, wonderful students with me; thanks to the students for being wonderful and talented and open; thanks to ELAN ArtistsInspire and the F.A.C.E. Foundation for making this project happen. Signed, happy Monique

 

  742 Hits
Mar
09

Caesura Continued -- Working with F.A.C.E. Music Students

If you've been following my blog, you'll know I'm working on an exciting project called Caesura with music students from F.A.C.E. High School. These students are talented musicians who, because of the pandemic, are uanble to take part in the live performances that would usually have been the highlight of their school year. Which is why my friend, F.A.C.E. music teacher Ms. Stathopoulos came up with the idea of my doing a series of writing workshops with the students in which they'll reflect on what this caesura (the musical term for a "full stop") has meant to them. When I am finished helping them with their texts, the students will get to work with musician Tim Brady, who will teach them how to set their texts to music.

I was looking forward to today because I knew the students were going to start writing. And a couple of students were brave enough to share their work not only with me, but also with their classmates.

The students I worked with today are all in Grade Ten. There was some time for questions, answers and comments -- while the teachers were helping me get access to the students' work on the Teams platform. (I have to admit I was a rather slow learner.) A student I'll call G remarked, "I can't think of what to write. I can only think of the music." I thought that G's comment reflects how many musicians must think and feel. So I suggested G write a piece describing that experience -- of being more comfortable expressing herself through music rather than words.

The two students who agreed to share their work were T and L. T opened her piece with the haunting lines: "Dust on my instrument; dust on my talent." Beautiful, no? I told the students how great stories and beautiful writing give me goosebumps -- that's what T's piece did for me. And you know what? T's work was just notes -- but I'm pretty sure she's not only a musician, but a poet, too! (And now I'm re-reading this blog and thinking... hey notes can refer to taking notes, but why not also musical notes?!) L's piece was in French (Caesura is a bilingual project). One of my favourite lines in her piece was, "J'entends ma propre voix" -- which means "I hear my own voice." L went on to describe what her voice has been telling her -- and I suggested perhaps she could try using dialogue in her piece -- that way she'd make room for her own voice. You know, L ... one of the goals of writing is to find your own voice, so it's pretty amazing that you can hear yours in your head! Keep listening!

Before I finish up today's blog entry, I'd like to quote something teacher Marie-Eve pointed out to the students: "Music is all around you. It's the birds around you...." Marie-Eve gave more examples, but I had stopped writing because I was just reflecting on what an important point she had made. And it helped me to understand better the connection between words and music -- and what the Caesura project is all about.

So, if it sounds like I'm learning as much from Caesura as the students, it's because I am!

I'll see these students again next week -- and I'm hoiping that by then, I'll have read more of their work, and will be able to share more comments and suggestions.

Thanks to the students for working hard, and being so open; thanks to the teachers for being wonderful; to Ms. Stathopoulos for thinking up this project, and to ELAN ArtistsInspire and to the F.A.C.E. Foundation for making this project possible. Here's to words and music and the sounds of everything, including birds!

  700 Hits
Feb
25

Working With More Young Musicians at F.A.C.E.

I was back at F.A.C.E. this morning (at least virtually), this time to work with the Sec. IV music students on our Caesura project. As I explained in an earlier post, a caesura is a musical term for a pause -- which is exactly what's been going on in all our lives lately. But the caesura is perhaps even more pronounced for young music students, most of whom live to perform. My friend music teacher Ms. Stathopoulos came up with the idea for a creative project that would make up (at least a little) for the students not having their usual end-of-the-year concert. I'll be supervising the students' writing, and then -- even cooler! -- the students will work with a professional musician who'll help them set their words to music.

I took today's pic when I noticed teacher Mr. Edwin giving me two thumbs up! (That's him at the top left of today's pic.) He gave me that signal when I was discussing the connection between writing and music. I was explaining (at least I think I was!) how strong emotions bring writing to life -- and I said I was pretty sure the same was true for music. (That's when I got the double thumbs up, indicating I was on the right track!) Another big connection between writing and making music is they both require discipline. These students understand that they can't become better musicians by lying on the couch; they need to get up and play their instrument or sing or compose!

There was time at the end of my visit for a few students to share comments. In response to what I said about sometimes hearing my characters speaking to each other when I'm in the shower (I know, I know, it sounds weird, but it happens, and it's wonderful when it does), a student named Nika told us how, last summer, she'd written a short film. "I heard the characters talking," she explained. See! I'm not the only one it happens to! A student named Chiara made me happy by telling me she'd read some of my books -- and enjoyed them. And a student named William wanted to discuss motivation -- which I found super-interesting since my own students at Marianopolis College brought up the same subject yesdterday. I didn't see William's face, but I did hear his voice -- and he didn't sound unmotivated to me! Also I could see his teacher Ms. Marie-Eve smiling while William was speaking -- a sign that he's a good student. Sometimes, I think, we all need a bit of a break from being hard-working and motivated. Maybe that's part of what this caesura in our lives is about too. And I also wanted to mention a student named Elie, who just wanted to say thank you, but whose voice sounded like music in my ears.

So thanks to the F.A.C.E. students and their teachers for making me so happy this morning. Thanks to Ms. Stathopoulos for the great idea -- and to ELAN's ArtistsInspire program and the F.A.C.E. Foundation for making Caesura possible. 

  587 Hits
Feb
23

Back at Ecole Secondaire de la Seigneurie

I spent my morning with two Secondary 3 classes from Ecole de la Seigneurie in Beauport, Quebec. I've visited there in person many times, but today, because of the pandemic, we settled for a virtual visit. In my pic, you can see the two teachers -- that's Ms. Rodrigue at the top right, and in the middle is Mr. Leclerc-Lagacé. A funny thing that happened was I noticed Mr. Leclerc-Lagacé smiling, and looking like he was having a great time -- and I suspected that he was a student sending private messages to a friend! Maybe it's because I'm getting older, but it seems to me that teachers look younger and younger all the time.

It's hard to explain what made today's visit special... but there was something special about it. Even though I only saw a dozen faces at a time, I had the feeling that the classes were engaged. It helped that I got interesting questions in the chat box. Noemy asked, "How can we make writing a habit? I'm really trying!" I loved what Noemy said about "really trying." I told her that that's all she has to do -- really try -- and writing will become a habit. It's the genuine desire to do something that makes it happen. Naomi -- I had noticed her pigtails and that she looked like she was thinking a lot! -- asked, "Have you ever had trouble staying in character?' I explained that though it may sound weird, I enjoy forgetting all about my own life, and crawling into another person's skin -- for some reason, I seem to especially like being a teenaged troublemaker. Which is kind of funny when you consider I am sixty years old -- and I seldom cause trouble! So the answer is no. Writing is hard for me, rewriting is even harder, but staying in character isn't usually a problem.

I've been asking students to write about the pandemic. Today, because I felt the group could handle it, I asked them to remember the hardest moment of the pandemic. I could tell from their faces while they were working that it was a challenging task. One or two even turned off their cameras. But as I told the students, remembering takes courage. Writing takes courage too.

You know what I'm hoping? That one of these students, maybe more than one, will continue writing their pandemic story, and that maybe they'll even expand the memory, ask some "What if?" questions... and turn it into a BOOK!

Thanks to Mr. Lord for arranging today's visit; thanks to Ms. Rodrigue and Mr. Leclerc-Lagacé for sharing your classes with me. And thanks to the students for being I-can't-even-explain-why wonderful!

  777 Hits
Feb
19

New Friends at Crestview School

It’s not every day I get to work with students from kindergarten to Grade Six! But that’s what happened yesterday during my virtual writing workshops at Crestview Elementary School in Laval.

My friend resource teacher Monic Farrell invited me to Crestview – and my visit was sponsored by ELAN’s ArtistsInspire program, which allows artists in many disciplines to share their skills with kids across the province.

I started the day with the kindergarten to Grade Two classes. And I’m not exaggerating when I say I taught them pretty much the same pointers I teach my students at Marianopolis College – I just used simpler words. We talked about how memories sometimes inspire stories. And teacher Miss Demetra reminded me to show the students my Princess Angelica books – which grew out of my own memories of summer camp. There was even time to give the students a mini-writing exercise, though I told them they could draw a picture instead of using words to tell their stories. I asked them to use their memories to remember a happy moment from the pandemic we’re all living through. A student I’ll call “A” came up to the screen to show me the picture she’d made of herself and her mom – and she allowed me to share her picture with you in today’s blog! And a student I’ll call “S” drew a birthday cake, which was her way of telling the story of her pandemic birthday party.

Later, when I worked with the Grades Three and Four classes, I noticed a student wearing a blue sweatshirt who started dancing whenever I taught his class a new writing tip. He told me his name was Phoenix (which I thought was a cool name and worth borrowing for a future book!) When I asked the students if they want to write – if writing MATTERS to them – well Phoenix started dancing again. You know what? I could tell that meant yes! I also noted that Phoenix is a seriously good dancer!

I ended my day with the Grade Sixes. You’d think I’d be tired by then, but these kids energized me. We talked about the importance of trouble in stories – how trouble acts like fuel to help move a story forward. Because these students were older, I told them my mom’s story – how she survived the Holocaust, and how she wanted to keep her experience secret, but that I convinced her to share it with me, enabling me to write the book What World Is Left.

A student named Ty asked me a beautiful question which I’m going to share here: “Before your mom died, what was the thing you mostly did with her?” I had to think for a minute before I realized the answer – it was listen to her TELL STORIES. My mom never wrote a book, but in her own way, she trained me to be a writer because she loved telling stories, especially funny ones!

I think you can tell it was a special day for me “at” Crestview – even if I only visited by Zoom. Thanks to all the teachers for sharing your kids with me, thanks to Ms. Farrell for the invite, and thanks to the students for being FUN and DELIGHTFUL!!

  533 Hits
Feb
18

Caesura -- Working with Young F.A.C.E. Musicians

Have you ever heard the word "caesura"?

I hadn't.

But it came up recently, during a conversation with my friend, F.A.C.E. music teacher Ms. Stathopoulos. She was telling me about how challenging the pandemic has been for her music students at F.A.C.E. That's because these kids are gifted young musicians, and because of the pandemic, live performances are cancelled and there will be no giant end-of-the-year concert. So Ms. Stathopoulos came up with the idea of inviting me to do a series of writing workshops with the students. She explained that in a way, the students' lives are "on pause." So I asked whether there is a musical term for a pause -- and it turns out there is one -- CAESURA. And that's how the name of our project was born!

I'll be doing six workshops in all -- three with Grade Ten students, and three with Grade Elevens. At first, the plan was for me to work with two classes, but it's turned out that all the Grade Tens and Elevens are participating -- which gives me about 200 students to work with! And to add to the challenge, I'm presenting in both English and French. The Caesura project gets even better because when I've finished the writing part, the students will get to work with a professional musician and set their literary creations to music!

So here's a confession. After 35 years of teaching, I never feel nervous before a presentation -- BUT I DID TODAY. So many kids! Two languages! And all of them experts in music, a field I know little about. But guess what? We had our first workshop at eight this morning and I had a blast. (I'm hoping the students did too, and that they learned a thing or two along the way.) They'll each be writing about what the caesura has meant to them... and the best pieces will be published in an on-line book that I'll be sure to share with you, dear blog readers.

I didn't see the students' faces today, but I did get to read their comments in the chat box. A student named Alison commented, "Can we write about what we miss?" To which I answered YES YES YES. Such a beautiful topic! And a student named Karla asked, "Can we write about what gives us life?" OH SO BEAUTIFUL. There was also a student named "Claret" -- whose name I plan to steal for a future book! And on one of the teachers' screens, I spotted the words "Le jour silencieux" (the quiet day, for those of you who don't speak French). What a perfect title. I want to read what music students have to say about a quiet day. What does it sound like to them?

You know what makes me super happy? LEARNING. Even at sixty years old, I am still learning -- and this makes me feel lucky. I hope the music students at F.A.C.E. will learn something from me about writing. But if there's one thing I know for certain it's that I'm going to learn a lot from them. Thanks to everyone who took part today, to Ms. Stathopoulos for coming up with the idea, and to ELAN ArtistsInspire and the F.A.C.E. Foundation for making these workshops possible. And grand merci -- thank you -- to the kids for being exactly who you are!

 

  918 Hits
Jan
18

Actor Sylvain Massé Gives Me Some Pointers About Reading Aloud

You must be wondering who the man in today's pic is -- and what he's doing!

It's Quebec actor and puppeteer Sylvain Massé, helping me improve my reading aloud skills.

First of all, I need to tell you I already thought I was very good, even excellent(!), at reading aloud. (I love doing it, and I do it a lot -- just ask my boyfriend!!). But I learned many new tricks from Sylvain!

Here's some background to explain why my path crossed Sylvain's. For a special Blue Metropolis Literary Foundation project, I was asked to write two short stories for kids. Both stories are connected to the pandemic. One is for readers aged around 11 or 12; the other story is for older teens. Next week, I go to a recording studio to record the stories, which will be available on Blue Met's website. And Blue Met hired Sylvain to coach me, and to direct next week's recording session.

I wasn't expecting to take notes during my "lesson" yesterday with Sylvain -- but it turned out to be so interesting that I grabbed a piece of paper and started writing stuff down. Sylvain told me that for him, reading a story out loud is an "auditory caress." I LOVE THAT! I've always felt that reading aloud is a gift we give to someone else -- Sylvain feels that way too. Only he said it in French: "c'est un cadeau qu'on donne à quelqu'un."

Sylvain listened carefully as I read my first story, "Gramma's Pandemic Birthday." Afterwards, he pointed out that I needed to work on "la metronomie." He explained that my pacing was too even -- that I should try speeding up occasionally, then slowing down in other parts of the story. He pointed out that this is what we do when we tell a story in real life. Though it might sound obvious to you, this pointer is something I'd never realized before.

Sylvain also reminded me of something super important -- "Have fun!" he told me. That's something I often tell my students when they are working on a writing project. The reader -- or the listener -- can tell if the writer (or storyteller) is having fun.

My second short story is called "Zoom Lessons" and it's about a teenager who has a crush on a girl named Laurence Tessier. I tell you this because it helps explain Sylain's expression in today's pic. He suggested that every time the narrator mentions Laurence, the word should have a kind of magical effect -- because the narrator is mesmerized by Laurence.

My favourite part of yesterday's lesson came when Sylvain asked me about Laurence's personality. "What kind of girl is she?" he wanted to know. To be honest, I hadn't thought that much about Laurence until that very moment. And when I did come up with an answer, it helped me understand my own story a little better -- and I think it also helped improve my reading.

So the point of today's blog entry is: we are never too old to learn new things, and we need to get deeper into our characters whether we are writers or actors or people who read their stories aloud. Also, this morning was the first day of the new semester at Marianopolis College, and as I always do on the first day, I read my students Maurice Sendak's book Pierre. And you know what? Thanks to Sylvain's lesson, I think I read a little better than usual.

Hope you have someone to read aloud to. Or that you have someone who reads to you. Either way, it is a gift -- and also a cadeau!

 

  1258 Hits
Jan
16

Saturday Morning With Some Girl Guides

The title of today's blog post is "Saturday Morning With Some Girl Guides." You are probably wondering why I'm hanging out with Girl Guides on a Saturday morning -- and not sleeping in! Espeically because we've had a lot of snow and it was a perfect day for sleeping in -- and hibernating!!

But if you look at the top left corner of today's pic, you'll see Heidi Shapiro, whom I taught more than 20 years ago at Marianopolis College. Heidi recently got in touch to tell me she helps run a Girl Guide troop, and that her fourteen-year-old daughter Kaelyn, an aspiring writer, is a member. Also, several of the girls had read my historical novel, The Taste of Rain, which is set in China and tells the story of a group of kids who, during the wartime, found the strength to survive great difficulties by adhering to the Girl Guide code.

When I was telling the girls that rewriting is the secret to writing well, I asked them whether, now that I've published 29 books, my first drafts are any good. Sarah answered, "Maybe. Maybe not." I like the sound of those two sentences,don't you? And then I told Sarah, "Not!" I went on to explain that this is perhaps the most important writing tip I can share: that first drafts are always awful -- even after you publish many books! Writing is just as hard for me now as it was for me when I was the age of the girls I spoke to this morning.

When I asked the girls whether they enjoy reading, Coralie made a face that seemd to say "so so." When I asked her about her experience reading, Coralie talked about a book her teacher had been reading in class, but which Coralie did not enjoy. I told Coralie to talk to her friends to get book recommendations. That's what I do! There is a book for every reader -- we just need to find it! And later, I must say I was pleased when Coralie showed me her copy of The Taste of Rain. It turns out I had inscribed it -- and that I'd met Coralie's mom at a Girl Guide event last year. It also turns out that Coralie goes to Lauren Hill Academy because in my inscription, I'd asked her to say hello to my friend Mr. Adams, who teaches there -- and Coralie told me she'd done it. It's a little story, but it makes me happy! (Also the real Mr. Adams is a character in my book 121 Express -- but that's jsut a side note.)

Karina asked an excellent question: "Did you ever stop writing a book because you weren't interested in it anymore?" You know, no one ever asked me that before. And I said the answer was yes. It's okay to put projects aside, but it's also important to stick with a project -- and it's normal to sometimes feel fed up with a project. Now I wish I'd told the girls something author Tamora Pierce once told me, "No word a writer writes is ever wasted." I SO LOVE THAT. AND IT IS SO TRUE.

I had to laugh when Emma Rose asked me, "How is it after 29 books, you still have ideas?" So I told her, "It's because I'm an IDEA FACTORY." I laugh even writing those words now. I hope you are an idea factory too. All it takes is a notebook, a pen, and the desire to pay attention to the world around you. Stories are everywhere. It's up to us to find them!

  611 Hits
Jan
13

In Which I Travel to Beauport, Quebec -- Virtually

For many years, I have visited Ecole Secondaire de la Seigneurie in Beauport, Quebec to work with Mr. Lord's students. Today, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the students and I settled for a virtual visit. When Mr. Lord and I were reviewing our plans yesterday, I told him that if he felt the virtual visit wasn't working, he could fire me! But guess what? He didn't!

I worked with Mr. Lord's two Secondary Three "Langues-Etudes" students. I told the students I'm a little jealous of them because though I speak French well, when I try to write in French, I make many errors. These young people are already more bilingual than me!I

I'm going to share a few highlights of today's visit. When I told the students in the first class that writers need to be curious, a student named Félix said, "I am curious about sports. I love to learn the history of sports like basketball." I told Félix there's a huge demand for kids' books about team sports, including basketball -- and that maybe he should write one! Afterwards, when I was explaining that writers hate their first drafts, I caught a student named Eve nodding -- which made me happy because her nod indicated she knows the feeling. And as I explained, hating your first draft is a sign that you are meant to be a writer! I also liked when, while I was talking about finding the story you need to tell, a student named Emryck said, "My life is a story. Like everybody else's." I told Emryck that I love "My Life is a Story" for a book title. Don't you agree?

The second group was special because they were all young women -- so I threw in a little life advice along with my writing tips. I shared my view that it's important for women to be able to earn a living -- so they can always be independent. Even if they choose one day to stay home to raise kids, I think it's important to know they can earn a living if they have to. My favourite moment with this group was when I used the chat function to ask them, "Are you curious? Do you know the smell of trouble and are you able to keep rewriting even when you think you can't do it anymore?" AND GUESS WHAT HAPPENED? TWELVE people (including Mr. Lord) answered yes. The others were: Coraline, Maria, Rosalie, Floriane, Jade, Emilie, Lena, Beatrice, Maxim, Léonie and Andréanne. For me, answering yes to those questions means these people have what it takes to become writers. So that's a lot of writers in one classroom!

Hopefully, I'll be back in person next year in Beauport. If I am back, I hope the students I met today will come to say hello (or bonjour) -- maybe when I am eating lunch in the school cafeteria. Thanks to Mr. Lord for arranging today's visit -- and for not firing me!! Thanks also to the students. As we say in English, "You made my day!" Stay safe, stay healthy, read and write. See you next year!

 

 

  618 Hits
Dec
15

Working with Young Writers at Laval Junior Academy

I bet you think the kids' in today's pics are clapping because I did such a good job during my writing workshop! But that isn't why! That picture was taken at the start of this morning's workshops (before I had a chance to do a good job!!) when Ms. Milea, the students' English teacher, asked me whether I'd gone for my usual morning run. It's minus 10 in Montreal today -- I think it's the coldest day we've had so far this season -- so the class clapped for my bravery!! But as you can tell from my smile, I did enjoy that clapping!!

So onto some thoughts and observations related to today's workshops.

This was my second session with two Grade Seven groups, which let me concentrate more on THEIR stories! I tested out a new writing-about-the-pandemic-exercise -- I asked students to write about a memory associated with a pandemic birthday. For those of us born between March 13 and December 15, we've had a pandemic birthday. But even winter babies have stories to tell about other people's birthdays. How, for instance, did you celebrate a sibling's birthday, or your best friend's birthday, or a grandparent's birthday?

A student named Angie came up with a super idea. "What if," she said (note that WHAT IF is my favourite question in the world) "you have a party and the police come?" Ah ha! Excellent work, Angie. I like that this idea is FULL OF TROUBLE. You may remember my view that TROUBLE IS LIKE FUEL. TROUBLE MOVES A STORY FORWARD!

Ms. Milea talked about how the students were a little put off by all the comments and corrections she had made on their English assignments. To cheer them up, I shared the story of how my old boxing coach never let me give up, even when I told him I was too tired to punch hard. Ms. Milea admitted that there's an upside to students being dissatisfied with their grades: "I love it when they are mad they didn't get the grade they wanted." Because of course, the fact that we are edited -- and it's important to realize that every writer needs an editor -- motivates us to do a better job!

My second workshop was with a smaller group -- and there was more time to share stories. Ms. Milea even told us about HER pandemic birthday -- when her dog went chasing a doe! She told us, "I saw a fluffy tail in the bushes, and then a mass of fur leapt out." See how the use of details takes us into the story!

Joshua shared his pandemic birthday story too. I loved how he started telling me the story, by saying, "Let's fast forward five hours." Joshua, I think you should try to keep that line in the written version! In Joshua's story, he stays up until 4 AM the morning of his birthday, and later that afternoon, some friends from church pass by his house. One of his friends shares his own hockey cards with Joshua -- which is pretty special. I advised Joshua to add some TROUBLE to his story. WHAT IF Joshua's parents get upset with him for staying up so late? What if the friend wants his hockey cards back?!

My last reader was Michael, who gave me permission to share the title of the book he's been working on: "The Forest of Madagascar." I love the sound of that title, don't you? I especially love the word Madagascar. Neither Michael nor I have ever been there, but Michael, it might be worth doing some Googling over the holidays to see if you can add some real life details about Madagascar to your book! I loved that Michael's story has an animal high school, that he included the theme of bullying, and that he used dialogue. One of the bullies says, "Are you going to cry to your daddy now?" I love that line because it's just the sort of thing a bully would say. I shared a bit of well-known writing advice with Michael -- that he should SHOW; NOT TELL. For instance, instead of telling us that a character is "mean and scary," why not find a way to SHOW IT? (like he showed us in with the dialogue I just mentioned).

So that's it for my school visits for 2020! Thanks to Ms. Milea for arranging my visits to LJA -- and for making the Zooms fun. I'm planning to spend my holidays WRITING and also READING. I hope those two items will be on your agenda too. Happy holidays to all! Stay safe -- and don't forget to take notes for your future books!

  913 Hits
Dec
11

Meet My Friend, Author Mary McCown

Today I want to introduce you to my friend, Quebec City journalist and author Mary McCown, who just released her first kids’ book, Wigglesworth in Lutinland (Austin Macauley Publishers). * (That's Mary's lovely face in today's pic.)

Wigglesworth in Lutinland is a Christmas story, which I just started reading this week. I laughed out loud while reading Chapter One when I got to the cookie recipe that called for one cup of salt. Poor Santa!

I met Mary a couple of years ago when I was doing a writing workshop at the Morrin Centre in Quebec City. She covered my presentation for the city’s English newspaper, The Chronicle Telegraph. Since then, Mary and her family have moved to St-Stanislas-de-Champlain, which is about an hour away from Quebec City. Their household has increased in size because they’ve been joined by four dogs, eight chickens and four goats!

Mary was born in Alabama. She’s been in the Quebec City area since 2016; before that she and her husband lived in Manitoba. Mary knew little French when she first came to Canada. That experience of struggling to learn a new language informs Wigglesworth’s story. He’s an American elf who accidentally lands in Quebec City. Like Mary, he needs to learn French if he’s going to make friends and start a new life for himself.

Mary says that what learning French as an adult taught her is that, “Mistakes are good.” There’s a similar message in her book. “The first two years in Quebec, I felt like someone ripped my personality out of me. I was afraid to speak. Now I hear my own mistakes and I think they’re funny. When I laugh, everyone relaxes around me!” Mary told me.

I asked Mary to share a writing tip. Here’s what she came up with – and what I’m delighted to pass on to you: “For me, I realized if I tried too hard to make a perfect story, I’d go nowhere. So I sort of just had fun with it. Then you clean it up later. Also, I sleep with a notebook by my bed.”

Over the years, Mary and I have discovered we have a lot in common. We both jog, and we both love food, and laughing and having fun with stories. But now I know we have something else in common – I also keep a notebook by my bed! I hope you do too! It’s great for writing down ideas that come in dreams, or when we are falling asleep or waking up.

I’m glad you got to meet Mary too. Perhaps you’ll meet Wigglesworth next!

  931 Hits
Dec
09

Fourth Virtual Visit to Forest Hill Senior

We've had snow today in Montreal, so it was actually a perfect day for a Zoom visit -- otherwise, I'd have been nervous making the drive to St. Lazare to work with students at Forest Hill Senior Elementary School. This was my last of four visits there, and though the visits were virtual, I am starting to feel like I belong at FHSES!

In today's pic, you see the last group I worked with -- Ms. Lindsey's Grade Sixes. When I asked if they had paper for taking notes, they waved their sheets in response! Which made me laugh -- and also made me reach for my camera so I could capture the moment for you, dear blog reader!

I started the day with Ms. Black's Grade Fives. Two students were participating from home -- Mia and Bella. I was impressed by this pair because they were ready with pen and paper. The other students were in Ms. Black's classroom -- they had to go and grab writing supplies. It's the first time I saw a class with Christmas lights, and when I asked about the decorations, I learned they are what Ms. Black described as "permanent fixtures." I'm all for bright lights -- especially this time of year, and especially this year!

Something that made me laugh in that class was that every time I introduced a new writing tip, say Tip #2, a student would flash the appropriate number of fingers in front of the screen. That turned out to be Luca, whom I credited for "special effects."

My second group was Madame Jessica's Grade Five class. Here, I met a student named Sidney who has an interesting story that he gave me permission to share in today's blog. Sidney was attending class from home -- that's because someone on his bus tested positive for COVID-19. I asked Sidney if he was feeling nervous, but he told me, "I'm not nervous. I feel good. And it's comfortable at home." I learned more about Sidney when I heard a dog  barking (which prompted me to ask, "Is that a dog or a relative?"). That's how we all got to meet Baloo, Sidney's toy poodle. If you've been reading my blog lately, you'll know I am getting more and more interested in pandemic stories. Sidney, I think you should write yours -- about a boy who has to stay home while his classmates are at school, and don't forget to give your character a dog!

I was telling the class how my mum, who survived the Holocaust, always said there was only one thing the Nazis could not take away from the people who, like her, were imprisoned in concentration camps. I gave the students a moment to guess the thing my mom was talking about. No one ever figures out the answer -- but a student named Jacob got it. He called out, "Hope!"

I'll end today's blog with my favourite question of the day. A student named Beatrice wanted to know, "Do you write your characters before you write your books?" Beatrice, this was a sophisticated question for a student in Grade Five. My answer is that I usually get to know my characters WHILE i'm wriitng my books, but I think it's a better idea to know your characters in advance. So maybe, Beatrice, I will let your question guide me when I start my next book -- hopefully next week!

Special thank to librarian Ms. Hausen for arranging all my visit to FHSES; thanks to the teachers Ms. Black, Madame Jessica and Ms. Lindsey, for sharing your students with me today, and for being so brave in your classrooms. And thanks to the students for a wonderful grand finale to this season's visits to your school! Now go write!!

  675 Hits
Dec
08

Writers Writing at Laval Junior Academy

What I love about today's pic is that it depicts WRITERS WRITING. Which is exactly what writers need to do to keep their writing muscles limber!

Even though I've been teaching my own students at Marianopolis College on-line since August, this was the first time I had students do a writing exercise while we were "Zooming." And it worked! Yay to Ms. Milea's Grade Seven English class for helping me with this experiment. And I just want to mention that Ms. Milea told us she's been working on a final paper for a university course she is taking, and last night, her professor told Ms. Milea and the other students about how she (the professor) once had to rewrite a paper at the very last minute. See, that story goes to show that WE ALL HAVE TO REWRITE. There is, I think, no good writing that has not been rewritten a lot!!

Back to today's writing exercise -- I asked Ms. Milea's students to remember the most challenging moment they have had since the pandemic began. I warned them that doing this memory exercise could be painful, but that we writers try not to be afraid of pain -- because it can often lead us to the heart of a story. Then I did a little bit of abracadabra stuff to activate the students' memories. I think my abracadabra also worked!

Once the writing portion of our workshop was over, a few brave students shared their work with their classmates, Ms. Milea and me. And I got permission to share a few examples here.

Lilly wrote about having a meltdown when she was trying to do her homework. She wrote, "I started to cry. My dad started to yell." Then Lilly went to hide in the bathroom. "The floor," she wrote, "was cold." Ohhh, do I ever love that story. I love it because it's honest and it's as if I can feel the cold bathroom floor too. Now that's a sign of good writing!

Gypsy's piece took the form of a conversation between parents who disagree about how much information to give their kids about the pandemic. In Gypsy's dialogue, the mom says, "You're overstressing them. They're too young to know!" Excellent dialogue, Gypsy. I bet a lot of parents around the world have been having similar conversations. I suggested Gypsy add some sensory detail. Did the parents raise their voices? Perhaps the walls shook or the cat ran under the couch! Little interesting details would make this dialogue come even more to life.

Julia-Rose wrote about her pandemic birthday and how she missed her friends: "The pandemic had locked me away from them." I love the use of the words "locked me away." Powerful and poetic! I think pandemic birthday stories are super interesting. If your birthday was between March and December, you have a pandemic birthday to write about too!

I'll be back at Laval Junior Academy next Tuesday for my last of four writing workshops. I'm already looking forward to hearing or reading hte students' stories. Great work, guys! And thanks, Ms. Milea, who knows how to get great work out of her students!

 

  742 Hits
Dec
07

Another Day, Another Zoom! Back at Forest Hill Senior!

The only time I left my house was early this morning to go for a run, but it was still a busy day! That's because I had two Zoom visits with six Grade Six classes from Forest Hill Senior in St. Lazare. That's me on the screen in today's pic, telling the kids the things I wish someone had told me about writing when I was their age.

Maybe today, I'll tell you what some of those things are -- the stuff I needed to know about writing when I was in Grade Six. One is: it's a great sign if you hate your first draft! That's what a first draft is supposed to be -- hateful and no good at all! When I was a kid, I used to think that because my first drafts were so horrible it meant I was a terrible writer. In fact, what it meant was that I had the makings of a writer already -- because I was beginning to understand the absolute necessity of rewriting. Another thing I wish I'd known is: writers generally need to do research before writing a book. Because in order to write a book, you need to know a thing or two about something!

Now I'll share a few highlights from today's visits.

In the morning, one of the classes was attending by Zoom -- so on my screen, I saw about a dozen students in their own homes. At one point, a student named Gabriel disappeared! When I called out, "Gabriel? Where did you go?" he answered back, "I'm writing!" -- which of course, I took as excellent news!

I was also happy when a student named Juliette told us, "I usually get my ideas when I dream." That happens to me sometimes too, and Juliette's comment gave me an opportunity to tell students to jot down their dreams -- that dreams can be an important source of inspiration.

Jayden had a great question, "When you write, do you sometimes mess up?" That was an easy one for me to answer, so I told him, "All the time!" Messing up at stuff, including writing, is how we get better at it!

We talked about how trouble fuels a story, helping it to move forward. At the end of my first workshop, one of the teachers, Madame Messier, told her students, "We can see our problems as treasures that will become fascinating books!" Exactement! (I put that in French because Madame Messier is a French teacher, and what she said to the students was in French -- I just translated it here for my English-speaking blog readers.)

The kids I worked with in the afternoon stayed attentive till the last minute -- which is a feat on a busy school day this time of year. Annabelle told us, "Usually when I get home, I write for a bit!" Now that is news I like to hear!

I'll end today's blog with another funny moment. I was telling the students about my book 121 Express, which is based on a real-life bus where the students get kind of wild. When I explained that, as part of my research, I had taken the bus, a student named Aaden wanted to know, "What exactly did the kids on the bus do?" I told Aaden that if I answered his question, I didn't want him to get any evil ideas -- to which he answered, "I don't take the bus!"

Thanks to the students today for being super listeners, and for making me laugh. Thanks to all the teachers -- Madame Messier, Mrs. Tawadrous, Madame Maria, Mrs. Pharand, and Madame Christine for being real-life heroes during the pandemic, and  also for sharing your students with me. Thanks to Ms. Hausen for arranging the visit. And an extra thanks to Mrs. Tawadrous for today's pic. I'll be back on Wednesday for another Zoom visit to Forest Hill Senior!

 

  584 Hits
Dec
04

Special Morning at Laval Junior Academy

Hello hello, blog readers! Today's entry is called "Special Morning at Laval Junior Academy" -- so you must be wondering what made it special for a person like me who does a lot of school visits! Well, the back story is that when I woke up this morning, I thought, "I've got three Zoom class visits in a row. How in the world am I going to make THAT interesting?" But you know what? It wasn't a problem. Because the students made it interesting!

I worked with three of Ms. Milea's Grade Seven English classes. That's the first group saying good-bye to me in today's pic. I told them my theory that writing is like cooking -- you need good ingredients and you have to sample other people's meals, in the same way that writers need to read the work of other writers. When I asked if any of the kids like cooking, a student named Alessandro said he did. So, being me, I bombarded him with questions! Here's what I learned: Alessandro knows how to make homemade pasta. And he learned the recipe from his nonno, which is Italian for grandfather. "So," I asked Alessandro, "why do you think I read other people's books?" Not surprisingly, Alessandro figured out the answer. "To get tips!" he said. Exactly! I was also telling the class that it helps if a writer is CURIOUS. If I hadn't bombarded Alessandro with questions, I might never have learned about how his nonno taught him to make pasta -- which I think is pretty cool.

Heracles, one of Alessandro's classmates, told me, "I am writing a comic book and I'm planning on publishing it." Excellent news! I told Heracles that one day, I want to take a course on how to write a graphic novel, since it requires a different set of skills than writing a novel-novel. Ms. Milea told me that Heracles is one of several students in her class who are gifted artists. Get going on those graphic novels, all of you!

The mood was completely different in my second group. Many of the students had read my books and they had tons of great questions -- so I spent more than half the period answering those questions. Also, becaue we had some technology glitches, we lost some time at the beginning. I was trying to start speaking even though Ms. Milea told me to be patient. So I cracked up when a student named Kaylen walked up to the computer screen and told me, "M'am, you gotta wait a bit!" Hey, Kaylen, I guess you aren't used to people like me -- ones who are bad at waiting!!!

A student named Alex wanted to know where I read and write. The answer for both was "pretty much anywhere." Many wanted to know why Auschwitz concentration camp was worse than Theresienstadt, the concentration camp where my mother was imprisoned for three years. So I explained that though many prisoners died in Theresienstadt, there were no gas chambers the way there were in Auschwitz. These were difficult things to talk about, but the students wanted to know, and when I checked with Ms. Milea, she felt that they were mature enough to handle the information.

I'd already met my third group -- so this was our second visit. I'd left them with a writing prompt -- to write about their experience of living through the COVID-19 pandemic. What's been hardest? What's been good? So several students came up to the screen and read me their work -- which made me super happy! You'll understand why when I tell you a little more about what they come up with.

So here goes. In each case, I asked the student's permission to share a line or two from their stories.

Emma wrote about seeing her grandparents after a long time. It wasn't until the moment she saw them that she "realized how much I missed them." I thought that was a beautiful description, and I asked Emma if she'd let me borrow that feeling for a pandemic story I am planning to write over Christmas. She said yes! Thanks, Emma! And keep working on your own story!

Anthony wrote about going to the airport with his parents, who had told him they were picking up boxes from Greece. Only the boxes weren't boxes; they were Anthony's grandparents! "First I saw my Grampa, then my Gramma," he wrote. Cute story, no? And you can tell that Anthony has a fun family!

Kelly wrote about her family too -- how her mother has been working hard during the pandemic, and how Kelly's big brother had to have surgery following a sports injury. Kelly's mom bought Kelly's brother a bell to ring when he needs someone to bring him something. "Now I get to spend time with him," Kelly wrote. "I'm his little sister -- and little servant." Which cracked us all up -- and made me remind the students to use humour whenever possible in their stories.

A student named Giada wrote about missing her Grade Six graduation: "It's a moment we'll never get back." I found that line heartbreakingly beautiful! Keep writing, Giada! We need your story!

I'll end with Calvin, who wrote about not minding the pandemic so much at first because, "I had myself to talk to." Fun! I told Calvin I think he should write a story about the conversations he's been having with himself. I'd definitely want to read it!

So now you know why my day was happy. So much fun to tell stories and hear stories and be inspired by each other. Thanks for another great day at LJA. Thanks to the kids for working hard, and to Ms. Milea for the invite -- and for sharing your kids with me!

 

  1027 Hits
Dec
01

Virtual Visit to Laval Junior Academy

I started my day with a virtual visit to Laval Junior Academy, where I worked with two of Ms. Milea's Grade Seven classes. A year ago -- so on last Deceber 1st -- who would ever have dreamed author would be visiting schools (even local ones) by Zoom and that the students we'd "meet" on our computers would be wearing masks! Our world has certainly changed in a short time! But as I pointed out to the students today, they will have stories to tell about the COVID-19 pandemic for the rest of their lives. When you think about it, young people have a front row seat to history-in-the-making. WHICH IS WHY I TOLD MS. MILEA'S STUDENTS TO TAKE A LOT OF NOTES!!

I'm happy I'll get to work with each of Ms. Milea's English classes twice. That gives me time to review the writing tips I cover in my usual workshops, and also time to discuss the students' story ideas and give them some feedback on their writing.

As usual, I'll share some fun moments from today's workshops. Here goes! I asked the first class to guess how I learned about boxing so I could write my YA novel Straight Punch. Kelly said, "You went to a boxing ring to see what it's like." Luca said, "You interviewed a boxer." Mya said, "You watched videos." Anthony said, "Maybe you have a friend who's a boxer." I told Kelly, Luca, Mya and Anthony they were all correct -- but that I'd done even better research than that -- that I had taken four years of boxing lessons! That's when I heard Anthony call out, "Oh my god!" -- which cracked me up!!

I do believe in doing on-the-spot research whenever possible. Talking about that led me to talking about how writers need to use the five senses -- or at least some of the five! So I was impressed when Ms. Milea explained that in September, these students had worked on poems about the fall, and that they'd had to include sensory details. YES to that writing exercise!!

I also compared writing to cooking (another thing I love to do). I told the students how including TROUBLE in a story gets things moving -- turns up the heat on, for example, spaghetti sauce. (Can you tell I'm in the mood for spaghetti?) I also talked about adding WHAT IF? to the recipe. I ask myself the WHAT IF? question all the time when I am developing a story plot. What if a character, for example. contracts COVID-19 and transmits it to someone she loves? WHAT IF? also helps to get our stories cooking. I asked the students whether any of them are WHAT IF? thinkers. A student named Many said he was. He said, "I think, 'what if I ordered something else at a Greek restaurant?'" Then Ms. Milea added some sensible advice: "When you go to a Greek restaurant, you order everything!"

As I told the students, it's great to add humour to a story -- even to a serious or sad story. (That's why I like to include funny moments in these blog entries.)

The second class I worked with was quieter, but super-focused. At least I think they were super-focused! At the end of my talk, a student named Michael asked, "What inspired you to be a writer?" I told Michael I think the answer is that I have always loved stories. And I still do. I can't seem to stop reading and writing them. I hope if you're one of the young writers I worked with today, or if you are just someone reading this blog, that you are also hooked on stories.

Thanks to Ms. Milea for arranging today's visit, and for not minding that I wanted to "travel" by Zoom. Thanks to the kids for being smart and fun (an excellent combination if you ask me). I'm already looking forward to my second session with you guys!

  598 Hits
Nov
24

Oh happy day! Virtual Visit to Forest Hill Senior

I called today's post "Oh happy day" because that's the song I was singing before I started writing this blog.

I did have a happy day -- I was "Zooming" (have you noticed how that's become a word?) with three Grade Five classes at Forest Hill Senior Elementary School in St. Lazare. Must say the kids were smart, fun and full of life. I think I was supposed to energize them, but I know for sure they energized me!

Here are some highlights of the day --

I started with Ms. Rousseau's class, where among other things, I discussed the IMPORTANCE OF OBSERVATION. To demonstrate, I observed a student wearing a sparkly dress. In all my years of teaching (34!), I have never taught a student who sparkled like that. That's how I learned it was Shelby's birthday -- and that her dress was a "disco dress." Now that's just the kind of UNUSUAL DETAIL a writer could use in a book!

We also discussed how the pandemic is shaping the world of stories -- and I told the students to be sure to take notes about their own experiences during this challenging period of history. So I was delighted when a student named Gurdeep told me she took notes when her classes were online. "I kept notes about life and lessons," she explained. Way to go, Gurdeep! I hope you'll use those notes in a book one day!

And I had to laugh when a student named Jack asked, "Do your hands ache after a long period of writing?" As I told Jack, I never really thought about it -- because I'm always so happy after a long period of writing... that I don't pay much attention to my hands!

Before lunch, I worked with Ms. Fraser's class. When I talked about the necessity for rewriting, I heard Ms. Fraser say, "Oh gosh yes" -- that also made me laugh. As Ms. Fraser went on to explain, "Once we Grade Fives put our ideas on paper, we're done." Well, Grade Fives, you're now done with being done after you put your ideas on paper. First drafts are JUNK. But they're an important start. Imagine how good your writing will be once you're on draft three, or four ... or nine!

One of Ms. Fraser's students, Chloe, asked me, "When you write something sad, do you ever get emotional?" I thought that was a beautiful, sensitive question -- and the answer is YES. As I told Chloe and her classmates, I'm not afraid of being sad. Also, it's an important emotion in many stories.

I finished the day with Madame Sarah's class. To be honest, I was a wee bit tired, but boy, did they ever liven me up! That's them (or at least some of them) in today's pic. Usually, in my workshops, I cover seven or eight pointers, but with this class, i covered ELEVEN! I have never done that before! I think it's because I could tell the students were really absorbing my pointers! Laurie had three questions. Here they are: 1. "Did you like the smell of the boxing ring?" [the answer is yes]. 2. "Did you write any books with other people?" [the answer is no, but maybe I will one day] and 3. "What was the first book you made?" [the answer is a book I made in Grade Five].

How cool is that? I was working with students who are the same age I was when I wrote my first book!

And you guys have way more interesting lives than I did. So, here's my advice -- get cracking on your stories.

Thanks to Ms. Hausen for arranging today's Zoom sessions; thanks to Ms. Rousseau, Ms. Fraser, and Madame Sarah, for sharing your students with me; thanks to the kids for an oh-so-happy day.

  846 Hits
Nov
10

Virtual Visit to Mount Pleasant Elementary School

You may be wondering why, in today's pic, a class of Grade Five students are waving sheets of paper at me! It's because I was doing virtual class visits at Mount Pleasant Elementary School in Hudson, and I wanted to know whether the kids had paper for taking notes. To answer my question, they waved their sheets at me -- and I must admit that cracked me up!

My day started with Ms. Malone's Grade Six class. Actually it started with a gentleman at the other end of the computer, trying to figure out how to get the audio working on Ms. Malone's whiteboard. I asked the gentleman whether he was the school's "computer guy" and he answered, "I'm the caretaker, the computer guy and I wipe noses sometimes." A few minutes later, he added, "I'm also the principal!" So that's how I met Mr. Massarelli, Mount Pleasant's principal. As I told him, and the students, Mr. Massarelli would make a great character for a book. I have met a lot of prinicpals, and my favourite all have a good sense of humour!

My chance meeting with Mr. Massarelli let me teach the students something important about being a fiction writer -- we steal stuff! By that, I do not mean going to the store and stealing a chocolate bar. That is wrong, and punishable by law. I mean stealing characters, their traits, and even their jokes for your stories. A nicer word than stealing is borrowing -- also we can't get sent to jail for borrowing, can we?

I also worked with Ms. Martel's Grade Sixes, and Mr. Klein and Ms. Kennedy's Grade Fives. I told one of the groups (sorry, I can't remember which one!), to PAY ATTENTION TO THE WORLD AROUND YOU. If you do, you will always have something interesting to write about!

A funny thing happened when I was talking about the importance of rewriting. I was telling the students, "Don't hand in your first draft to Ms. Malone" when I heard Ms. Malone say in the background, "I love you!" That made me laugh too (and also feel happy).

One of Ms. Martel's students Adelaide (great name, I plan to steal, er, I mean borrow that too!) asked me, "Why did you want to become a writer?" I told her it was because I have always loved stories. I bet you can tell that from this blog entry because I even notice I am telling you stories here!

Speaking of stories, I was telling Ms. Martel's class about my meeting with Mr. Massarelli and a student named Theo told me a story. "I remember," Theo said, "I once saw Mr. Massarelli coming to work wearing a pink suit." USE THAT IN A BOOK, THEO!

I ended my day with the Grade Fives -- the ones waving paper in today's pic. I must say they made me laugh, which was just what I needed to end my workday. I asked them, "What's the first thing you need to do if you want to be a writer?" A student named Emmett called out: "Have a pencil!" (The answer I was looking for was WRITE, but Emmett's answer made sense too.)

Thanks to all the teachers -- Ms. Malone, Ms. Martel, Mr.Klein and Ms. Kennedy -- thanks of course to Mr. Massarelli, thanks to librarian Ms. Hausen -- for making today possible... and thanks especially to the students for making me happy! Hope you learned a thing or two today about writing!

  747 Hits
Nov
09

In Which I Visit Evergreen Elementary -- Virtually!

Usually, when I get home from a school visit and start my blog, I begin by writing, "I'm just home from a visit to..." -- only today, I never left the house (except for a run early this morning). Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am doing mostly virtual school visits. Today, I worked with students at Evergreen Elementary School in St. Lazare, and IT WORKED. I'm pretty sure the students learned some useful pointers from me, and I'm absolutely sure I had a blast. (I consider that last part important too!)

My friend, librarian Ms. Hausen went to a lot of trouble to arrange for my visits to several LBPSB schools. And together, we came up with a plan -- I'm speaking to Grade Five classes about a new subject: Writing About the Pandemic; and with the sixes, I'm covering Historical Fiction, so that I can tell them about the process behind my two latest historical novels, The Taste of Rain and Room for One More.

I think it turned out to be a good plan -- especially since many of the Evergreen students had heard me when I visited their school in 2018. So, I whipped through the basic writing tips I usually focus on in a first school visit -- and got down to business.

Here come some highlights from the day!

Teacher Mr. Khoury got things off to a fun start when I overheard him tell his Grade 5/6 class, "Calm down. It's not a dance party!" (To be honest, I kind of liked the idea of a dance party myself!)

I "met" a student named Mitzi -- I told her I am stealing her name for a future character. Mitzi is a spunky name. And I will give the character Mtizi's colorful leggings too. This example is to show you how authors steal/recycle/borrow people from the real world to use in our stories!

Writers also need to be observant. Today I observed a student named Nicole turning her head upside down so she could fix her ponytail. (Another great detail to steal/recycle/borrow for a story), and a boy (was his name Max? help me out here in the comments, and I'll make sure to include his correct name) boogying in his seat!

When we talked about how the pandemic has not only changed our world, but also the stories that we will tell, a student named Mia suggested, "You can write a book about a girl and how the pandemic affected her." I could do that, Mia, but I think YOU should write that book -- since you have firsthand knowledge of being a girl going through the pandemic! When I showed the students the diary I write in every day, a student named Maeva (that's her in today's pic) asked, "Did you write about the first three days of the pandemic?" My answer was yes, but then Maeva's question made me think that a story about the very beginning of the pandemic -- what life was like in theose first three days -- would be cool!

When we discussed historical fiction, a student named Logan had this to say: "Historical fiction is about a story you're making; it's not as real." Logan's comment led to what I thought was a pretty grown-up conversation about the intersection between fact and fiction. Historical novels need to be as accurate as possible when it comes to historical events --not to mention things like what people eat and how they dress. But the weird thing for me is that fiction -- which happens when we make up characters and put them into complicated, interesting situations -- has a strange way of telling the truth. However I also reminded the students that what's been going on in the United States has taught us the necessity of truth. When Donald Trump declared that he had won the presidential election before all the votes were counted -- that could not have been true.

The students at Evergreen gave me a lot to think about today. I hope I got their brains working too! I came up with a new bit of advice that I haven't given before, so here it is -- TELL THE STORY THAT MATTERS MOST TO YOU. I like that advice. What about you?

Special thanks to Ms. Hausen, and to teachers Mr. Khoury, Ms. Weir and Ms. Bilodeau for sharing your students with me. It was not a dance party -- but it was close!

 

 

  623 Hits
Oct
24

Fill 'er up!

Twenty-five or so years ago, when I was just dreaming about writing books for kids, my friend, author Rina Singh told me I had to go to CANSCAIP’s annual Packaging Your Imagination conference. (In case you don’t know ... CANSCAIP stands for Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers.) So I did! And attending the conference, which up until this year, has always taken place in Toronto, helped make my dream of writing – and publishing -- books for kids come true. Rina, as usual, was right!

So you’ll understand how thrilled I was that today, I got to present at Packaging Your Imagination. I could tell you about my talk – which was about doing the research that goes into fiction writing – but I’ll save that for a different day. Today, I want to tell you about some of the many things I learned from attending other authors’ workshops.

Get ready! There’s a lot to tell! But how about I share my absolute favourites?

In this morning’s keynote address, author and storyteller Adwoa Badoe (that's Adwoa in today's pic) not only sang to us, she also told us the story of how life turned her into a writer. “I take risks with my imagination,” she said. “If you don’t like your status quo, then jump and see what happens.”

Frieda Wishinsky shared tips for writing picture book biographies. She explained that, “What happens with the people you write about – they become your friends.” Frieda advised those of us interested in doing historical research to, “look for juicy details” and “find pivotal moments.”

Editor and author Shelley Tanaka did a talk about finding the theme of your story. She believes writers need to ask themselves, “Why are you writing this story in the first place?” Shelley reminded us that, “Writing is not a straight line to perfection.” She had the wonderful suggestion that sometimes we writers hide our themes in odd places. Look, Shelley suggested, for “seemingly inconsequential details that you will remember later.” Shelley called those details, “little sizzles.” And I had one of my proudest writer moments EVER when Shelley talked for a few moments about one of my books – and how behind the zany plot, it deals with the theme of imagination and truth. “Can,” Shelley asked about my character Angelica, “a funny, inventive kid get away with making up things?”

In a panel about kids’ book publishing, three publishers filled us in on what’s happening behind the scenes. Groundwood publisher Karen Li spoke eloquently about the importance of diversity in kids’ books. “It’s not a trend,” she told us. “This is a long time coming. This is a course correction.”

And if you are thinking a wonderful day couldn’t get any better, you’d be wrong. Author and Canadian kid-lit star Teresa Toten delivered the closing keynote, openly describing the struggles she’s faced both in her career and personal life. And she managed to be funny at the same time! “I really want you to learn from the bad bits,” she told us. She shared her list of things writers need to “get up from”: rejection letters, manuscript “surgery,” reviews, and prize lists. But despite the potentially painful parts of the writing life, Teresa explained that, “We do it because we have to do it.” She also stressed the importance of writers supporting other writers: “Let’s be aggressive cheerleaders of each other’s work.” Teresa pointed out that, “What we do is lonely and confusing. It’s so important to fill ourselves up.”

Yes yes yes and yes again to all these wonderful lessons and pointers from today’s conference. Packaging Your Imagination was the perfect way for this writer to get filled up. Thanks to the organizers (they include Heather Camlot, Sharon Jennings, Helena Aalto), presenters, and all the writers for kids, who, like me, do it because we have to. Now go get filled up!!  

  1172 Hits
Aug
31

Back to Teaching Writing at Marianopolis -- Virtually

Hello hello, blog readers! I had my first fully on-line class just now -- and I told my students the most important thing about their journal-writing is that it has to be honest. So, I'm going to follow my own advice and confess that I was DREADING going back to school as an on-line teacher. Last semester, when the pandemic hit, we had already had half a semester with our students, so switching to on-line delivery was challenging, but not that bad... I think because we had already gotten to know our classes.

But I've got happy news! Though I didn't meet my Introduction to English class in person, I ALREADY FEEL FOND OF THEM. This is for me the magic of teaching -- and I honestly didn't think the magic could really happen online. Maybe it's that teenagers are my favourite age group. Maybe it's that even on-line, I could feel my students' interest and CURIOSITY. (We also discussed how curiosity is essential because it leads to learning.)

I thought I'd share a few fun moments from today's class. When I asked the students if any of them actually enjoyed writing, a student named Diana answered, "Yes... but if it's hard, it won't be pleasure." I took that moment to explain my philosophy -- THAT WRITING IS ALMOST ALWAYS HARD, BUT IN A WEIRD WAY THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT MAKES IT A PLEASURE! Even at my age (sixty!), and after publishing a lot of books, I STILL FIND WRITING HARD. (But doing hard things feels good!)

We talked about the kinds of writing a person can do in a journal. I explained that cathartic writing allows us to express and process our feelings. A student named Maxine told us, "My mom makes me write to express my feelings." Maxine didn't know the word cathartic -- and I told her to tell her mom that she's doing a great job -- and to teach her mom the word cathartic too (in case she doesn't know it).

We also talked about self-care -- and how, as the pandemic continues, we all need to look after others, but also ourselves. I mentioned a few self-care strategies such as reading, writing, being out in nature, getting exercise and being kind to others. A student named Ashley suggested "skincare" -- but because the sound was a little muffled, I thought she had said "kincare" -- which is not a real word, but which I decided that I liked. Skincare is good too, but the word "kin" refers to family (and friends). So, I loved the idea that caring for family and friends is good for us too. And we invented a word during our class -- kincare! 

So here's wishing you, wherever you are, no matter your age, a good back-to-school season. Despite the challenges our world is facing, it's heartening to know that curiosity and learning and caring for others all remain alive and well. My first morning back at Marianopolis College -- even on-line -- reminded me how privileged I am to be a teacher! Special thanks to my Introduction to English students for making me feel this way! Welcome to Marianopolis!

  1072 Hits
Aug
04

Fun to Meet Up With Catherine Austen

If you love Canadian kid lit, you will have heard of my friend, author Catherine Austen. Well, guess what? I met up with her today. Not in person, alas (we are in the middle of a pandemic, and even if we weren't, Catherine lives outside of Ottawa), but via Ziom -- and we had fun! Catherine is the author of many books, including two of my favourites, Walking Backward and All Good Children, both published by Orca Books. Last semester, before the pandemic struck, I read the beginning of Walking Backward to my Writing for Children class at Marianopolis College and they loved it -- it's about a boy coping with his mom's death, and his dad's kookiness. Catherine's next book is a picture book, coming out in spring 2021. Like me, you will not be able to resist the title: The Squirrel Stole My Sister (Fitzhenry and Whiteside).

This morning, Catherine interviewed me for her upcoming podcast that you will be able to find at CabinTales.ca. For the podcast, Catherine will be sharing spooky stories, along with tips from other Canadian kids' authors. She had a lot of interesting questions for me, including "Do you have a setting you're afraid of?" and "Would you rather me a zombie, a vampire or a ghost?" Her question about a scary setting prompted me to tell Catherine that I have a bit of claustrophobia -- and that I have trouble in elevators, especially when they stop unexpectedly between floors. As for a being a zombie, vampire or ghost, I didn't have a strong opinion -- though I said that if I were a ghost, I'd like to be one who could intervene -- kind of like a Jewish-mother-ghost (I am a Jewish mother, so it would fit). When I said that, Catherine pointed out that the Jewish-mother-ghost story could make a good book. See, that's a fun part about hanging out with fellow authors (even on Zoom!) -- you get to kick around ideas!

The first episode of Cabintales.ca should be out by the end of the week. I hope you're looking forward to it. I know I am. Oh, I asked Catherine why she decided to write a picture book about squirrels, and she told me that she had a "squirrel friend" when she was a child. Ah ha! That ties into my philosophy that we carry stories with us in the form of memories. USE THEM!!

Hope, dear blog reader, that today's entry finds you well and feeling hopeful. This pandemic has changed our lives in expected and unexpected ways. But if you are interested in writing, perhaps you will have found more time to pursue that dream. Check out Catherine's podcast to hear some great stories and get some practical writing tips!

  1224 Hits
Jul
02

Reporting on Part 2 -- How to Write a Picture Book Workshop

This afternoon was Part 2 of my on-line writing workshop "How to Write a Picture Book" (offered through ELAN's ArtsInspire program) -- this time the students mostly took over. You can see two of them in today's pic -- Julie and Lisa -- both of whom turn out to be talented artists in addition to strong writers. And just last week, I told the class, it's very rare to have a talent for both writing picture books and illustrating them -- only it seems I had two exceptions in my class!

There were many more participants, and several were kids -- but we didn't have the right permission papers to allow me to post pics of the kids. So you'll have to take it from me that they were wonderful. In fact, my favourite part of today's workshop was seeing how beatifully the kids and adults interacted. I think it's because we all felt equal. The kids were super smart, and focused -- and the adults, well, let's just say they're kids at heart. (Those are always my favourite kind of adults.)

Some highlights of today's workshop -- Before Tristan read his story, he explained, "I wrote it for people your age." I told Tristan I was a little surprised he'd written a picture book for adults, but then I thought a second longer and I realized he had come up with a genius idea. If adults write picture books for kids, why can't a kid write a picture book for adults?!! Tristan has a lovely way with words and a good sense of story. I especially loved his line "A bit of everything" (this was in response to a dad asking his son what kind of homework he had to do). I think you've got yourself another great book title, Tristan!

Alexandra told us about waking up after a dream and wondering, "Am I still dreaming?" We thought this might make for the beginning of a cool story. Hayden wrote a story with a friend about "Nopeland" -- a place where people say nope a lot! We discussed in Part 1 of the workshops how stories need trouble, and a land where everyone says nope sounds like trouble to me!

Lisa read us a story inspired by arguments she used to have with her daughter, whose hair was difficult to brush. And Julie read us about a certain pasty-inspired captain who's trying not to lose his cool. As I said at the start of this entry, both Lisa and Julie had begun illustrating their stories and the results were gorgeous.

So, I guess I did my job if my "students" came up with such good stuff, right? Or maybe I was just lucky to have such wonderful students. Thanks to Guillaume for getting us organized, to ELAN's ArtsInspire program for making the workshops happen... and most of all, thanks to the students. You've made me super happy, and also proud that i was able to work with you! KEEP WRITING AND READING AND TAKING NOTES. XO FROM MO

 

 

 

  1393 Hits
Jun
25

In Which I Teach a Virtual Class on Pic Bk Writing

Hello blog readers! I’m in the BEST mood because I just TAUGHT A CLASS! It was supposed to be fun for the participants, but I think I had the BEST TIME OF EVERYONE.

So here are the “deets” (cool word for “details” in case you didn’t know that).

My class was called How to Write a Picture Book. And I did it on-line of course since we’re having a pandemic. It’s a two-part workshop, offered by ArtsInspire, an ELAN Quebec project. I was assisted by the lovely Guillaume Jabbour, a musician, who’s also an ArtsInspire project coach.

So I had an hour with my class, and we have another hour together next week. I read two picture books to them – oh, that was fun. I chose Maurice Sendak’s Pierre, and Maureen Ferguson’s A Dog Day for Susan (illustrated by Monica Arnaldo). I read the books as a way to teach my class some important picture book tips, such as picture books need to be FUNNY, they need to have HEART, they need DIALOGUE, there is often REPETITION and VARIATION and you should leave out the boring parts!

I knew some of my participants. One was my dear friend Elena and her mom. Elena lives in Boston. Another was my friend Debbie, and also my current friend and former student (now a teacher too!) Lea. Lea was there with her kids. Sooo sweet for me to see them. I also met several new friends. One was a boy named Tristan who told us, “I have a big imagination.” THAT’S GREAT, TRISTAN. I think you are on your way to becoming a writer. Also, I love that line you said at the end of the workshop – “This is what it is” – I hope you’ll take my advice and use that for a book title one day. There was also Jesse who, during the magic memory exercise, came up with a super funny story about an egg that leads him into another world.

Hey, even if you missed today’s workshop, you can join us for Part Two next week – Thursday, July 2 at 3 PM. Of course, you won’t be quite as smart as the kids and adults who took Part One today!! Just joking! Hey, thanks Guillaume, thanks ArtsInspire and ELAN, and thanks especially to the participants. You made my heart sing! See you next week

  1249 Hits
May
15

Lemme Tell You About Tim Wynne-Jones's Book Launch Today!

I've been to loads of book launches, but never a virtual one. And never such a fun and interesting one as Tim Wynne-Jones's launch for his new short story collection, War at the Snow White Hotel and Other Stories. Which is why, while it was going on this afternoon, I knew I had to take notes for you, dear blog reader.

So Tim read the first story in his book -- it's the one that gives the collection its title. I don't want to give too much away, but the story has two bullies in it, delightfully named Buzzcut and Squirrel. And just when Rex, the narrator (fans of Tim's work will recognize Rex) gets into deep trouble, he hears the Roy Orbison song "It's Over." (I couldn't help LOL'ing when Tim read that part.)

Tim, who's won the Governor General's Prize, is probably Canada's most famous chilidren's writer. And though he could be snobby, he's down-to-earth and super fun and funny. (And he's even come to my house for supper!)

Anyway, after his most amusing reading, Tim answered questions which we posted on line. That's when I started serious note-taking!

Here's what i learned today from Tim:

He talked about the importance of story during this pandemic. (This was in response to my favourite question, posed by his son Lewis.) Tim said, "I'm chain-reading -- lighting the next book after the last one. Stories resolve themselves. In a time of chaos, [we need] ... stories. Keep telling each other stories!" (That advice totally made my day.)

He said about fairytales  -- this came up because, as you figured out, the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves helped inspire Tim's new collection -- that "they are the DNA of stories. They can lie around for centuries -- just add some water."

He also compared what we are currently living through with war. "For our generation, it's our first war. But it's such a weird enemy. It's really hard to hate a string of proteins with a furry jacket on." Can you tell from the way Tim expressed that thought that the man is a writer?!

He told us that sometimes, when he's asked where he gets ideas from, he tells kids, "I get my ideas from the idea store." That made me very happy. I love the idea store too -- and you don't need to wear a face mask when you shop there!

Asked about the difference between writing short stories and novels, Tim told us, "Basically, I'm a novelist. In novels, things keep getting worse and worse and worse." I loved that too -- and if any of my own Writing for Children students are reading this blog entry, you may be able to connect Tim's comment with our ongong discussion about the necessity of trouble in stories!

Tim thinks we need more short stories for young people. Like Edgar Allan Poe, Tim likes the idea of a piece of literature that can be read in one sitting. "I think," he told us, "that a really solid short story is a great thing for a young reader."

You know what else is a great thing for a young reader -- and an older one too? It's the chance to spend time in Tim's company. You can do that by reading one of his many many fine books. And if you're on Facebook, visit  Tim's author page. You should be able to catch a recording of today's launch there!

 

  1770 Hits
Apr
13

Writing -- and Teaching -- During a Pandemic

Hello out there, Wide World! Who could ever have imagined we'd find ourselves INSIDE THE STRANGEST BOOK WE EVER READ?

Usually, I write blog posts when I do a school visit, or after I interview someone inspiring. But today, I'm reporting in from the world of self-isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic. One thing I know for sure is that when all this is over, are we ever going to have a lot of stories to tell!

First, because I work with young readers, I really want to say how grateful I am to all the kids out there. By staying home, by maintaining social distance, you are protecting the rest of us. And that's pretty amazing. Thank you.

In-school classes ended in mid-March across Quebec, so that means I have been transforming myself into a "remote" teacher. That's been a lot more work than any of us could have imagined. And of course, we weren't prepared for the transition. On the positive side, we teachers have been adapting pretty well. I've been posting youtube lessons for my students, and reading their responses to study questions on-line. The biggest surprise for me is that I usually HATE correcting essays -- but now I've actually begun to appreciate it (if not quite LIKE it). That's a big change after 33 years of teaching. I think it's because, for the first time, correcting feels like a conversation. And for the first time, I have the sense that my students are actually reading my comments -- not just hurrying to the last page to check their marks!

As for the writing life... well... let's just say... it's wonderful. All of us writers out there (and that includes you, dear blog reader because we're all writers with stories to tell), we finally have TIME TO WRITE. Some of my writer friends say they've been finding it hard to feel calm and centered enough to focus, but what I find is that writing calms and centers me. So if you're feeling jumpy, maybe you should write it out... and see if after you've written about feeling jumpy or anxious or sad or worried... well, it leads you to a story.

If you ask me, stories will never be the same after this pandemic. That's because we're all deeply affected by what we are experiencing, and will experience. All of that will find its way into every story that we will ever write in the future.

Happily for me, I've been asked to do lots of on-line book-related activities. Yesterday, I took part in Blue Met's Cosy Reading Hour. It's a program in which Quebec children's writers are reading live every morning through April 20... visit Blue Metropolis's official Facebook page to learn more about this fun program. I've also posted one of my first youtube "lessons" -- it's what I like to call in the real classroom "a special treat." (I do believe in special treats on a regular basis.) It's me reading from the beginning of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland -- my favourite book of all time, and the one I'm teaching to my Stuff of Nonsense classes at Marianopolis.

I miss the "real" world like crazy. I miss my real students. I miss rushing to class. I miss saying at the end of what felt like a great class, "Okay, get outta here!" But I feel super privileged to be able to continue to connect through words -- and of course with the help of technology -- with the people I love, and that includes my students and readers. Stay safe all of you, and keep reading and writing!

  1590 Hits
Mar
13

Fun Day at Centennial Park School!

This morning, I did four writing workshops at Centennial Park School in Chateauguay. I told the students I planned to treat them the same way I treat my students at Marianopolis College -- even though the kids at Centennial are way younger! In fact, one class I worked with today consisted of kids in kindergarten and Grade One, and the oldest Centennial Park students I met today were in Grades Three and Four! But you know what? I managed to cover a lot of the material I do with much older students at Marianopolis! So if you're reading this blog entry, Centennial Park students, congrats for working so hard and paying such close attention to my writing tips!

I started the day with Miss Fruciano's Grades Three and Four class. There, during one of my writing exercises, a student named Jackson came up with a great idea for a book. Jackson gave me permission to quote his idea in today's blog. Here goes: "My book would be about a dog and a boy who go to a hockey game." Now that's definitely a book I would want to read! And when we were discussing writing tips, a student named Conor raised his hand and said, "In the book Captain Underpants, George says, 'the best way to make a story is to create characters.'" I love Conor's comment because it shows he's a reader who pays attention, and also because I agree with George. The best stories tend to be what we call "character-driven" -- meaning that the plot (what happens in the story) is determined by the characters who people the story.

I spent second period with Ms. Kustec's Kindergarten and Grade One class. I must say these kids were super cute and super smart! I learned that it was Emma's birthday. It turns out that several kids in this class are already avid writers -- including Emma, who told me, "I'm already starting to write books. I'm writing about unicorns." Because most of the kindergarteners in the class don't yet know how to write, I let them draw pictures for the writing exercise -- and that turned out to be fun. Plus I got to see some wonderful, creative drawings!

In today's pic, that's me with Miss McGee and her Grades Two and Three class. Miss McGee had already taught her students how to write an "information" book, but I hope they learned a little from me about writing fiction. One thing I discussed with this class was the connection between memory and fiction writing. A student named Brendan told me he learned that, "We need to remember stuff." That's absolutely true, Brendan -- and writing about your memories will help you remember even more interesting stuff! For their writing exercise, I asked Miss McGee's students to write about a memory from when they were five years old. I loved how a student named Cassandra started her piece: "I smell cats." Which got me wondering -- what do you think of The Smell of Cats for a book title? (I love it!) Cassandra, get to work on that book!!

I ended today's visit to Centennial Park with Miss Lacey's Grades One and Two class. These kids were super listeners and participators -- even though it was the period before lunch and I bet they were hungry! My only regret is that I didn't ask the name of the boy who helped me pack my book bag! But if you're reading this, young man, I want to say that when I look back on my fun day, that is a very sweet memory. Thanks for being so helpful and kind.

Life at schools around the world has been pretty stressful lately -- with everyone worrying about contracting the Covid19 virus. But today's visit to Centennial Park reminded me of how wonderful and heartening it is to be around young students. I'm scheduled to return next week -- if our schools remain open. In the mean time, wash your hands, be kind to each other, read a lot, and WRITE WRITE WRITE!!!

Special thanks to ELAN'S ArtistsInspire program, to Madame Sirois for arranging today's visit, to the teachers for sharing their students, and to the students for making me so happy!

  1686 Hits
Feb
18

Today's Virtual Visit to St. Francis Elementary School

Usually, when I do a blog post after a school visit, I begin by saying, "I'm just home from a visit to..." -- except today I DIDN'T LEAVE HOME. Which is a good thing since we're having a snowstorm here in Montreal and the roads are icy!

In January, in even worse weather, I drove to the Bas Cantons east of Montreal to do writing workshops at St. Francis Elementary School School. Only that day the weather was so bad (and it didn't help that I took the long road), I arrived late and missed my first workshop with the school's Grade Sixes. But luckily, I got to do my workshop with them today -- and I'd say it went well!

Here's a pic I took while I was working with the students. (I think I need to clean my computer screen!!)

It couldn't have been easy for the students to start their day paying attention to some curly-haired woman giving them writing tips, all from a computer screen. But the students were super attentive and I was happy to see them taking lots of notes. In today's pic, they are actually doing a writing exercise -- something I never tried before during a virtual visit.

One of the things we discussed was that writers need to be OBSERVANT. I made the students laugh when I pointed out a student at the second table who was TWIRLING HIS PEN. I also noticed a pair of boots near the second table. They seem to have no apparent owner. Something about those boots makes me think they have a story. We also talked about the importance of asking "What if?" to move a story forward. What if, at the end of the day, no one comes to claim those boots? How would the student to whom those boots belong get home in the snow without them? And what would those boots do after school in an abandoned classroom?

Because the sound connection wasn't perfect this morning, and because the bell rang, the students didn't have time to ask me questions. I'm hoping they'll do it here in the comments section. In which case, I can answer here too.

Special thanks to Siu-min Jim for the invite to St. Francis, and for making today's virtual visit work. And thanks to the students for being AWESOME. Remember what I told you -- those memories you came up with during today's writing exercise are STORIES ASKING TO BE TOLD. Now go and tell them. Work hard on the first draft, and even harder on your re-writing! Over and out from Monique

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1185 Hits
Feb
01

Meet Natasha Deen

You should definitely meet Edmonton-based kids' writer Natasha Deen! I did!

Here's a selfie Natasha and I took yesterday at the Ontario Library Association Super Conference.

Natasha and I have been virtual friends for a couple of years -- we are both published by Orca Books -- and when we finally met in person, we clicked!

Also, because I'm always thinking about YOU, dear blog reader (and also about my Writing for Children students at Marianopolis College), I did a mini-interview (I wrote my notes on the back of an envelope!!) with Natasha and gleaned some useful tips!

Natasha is the author of 17 books, including In the Key of Nira Ghani (Running Press), which is up for the Red Maple Award! The novel is about a Guyanese immigrant. Natasha comes from Guyana too. When I asked if Nira is based on her, Natasha told me: "She's like the me I hoped to be. She's a lot sassier than I was!"

It turns out that Natasha is drawn by sassiness! She told me she is working on several projects now ("because," she said, "you never know what'll stick to the wall." One of those projects is about a kid and a senior citizen. It turns out the senior citizen is based on another sassy person in Natasha's life -- her mother-in-law who died in 2016.

I was just telling my students last week that authors tend to draw on real-life memories, sometimes transforming them in their stories. Natasha told me she has included a scene in her work-in-progress that was based on something she really saw her mother-in-law do: get into a tug-of-war over a green basket at a super store! "I remember she had a muppet scowl on her face," Natasha said. The funniest part of the story is that the man involved in the tug-of-war was so much taller than Natasha's mothr-in-law he didn't realize what was going on!

Natasha also explained that her mother-in-law was a private person, and so before her mother-in-law died, Natasha asked her permission to base a character on her. And her mother-in-law agreed.

What I like so much about this story is that it's not only funny, but that it's also full of love and respect. And it celebrates sassiness.

I'm looking forward to reading Natasha's books. Hope you are too!

  1506 Hits
Jan
17

Just the Right Amount of Trouble in Richmond, Quebec

Because I'm taking part in an event called La Nuit de la Lecture this weekend in Mebourne, Quebec, I was invited today to visit the nearby Richmond Regional High School and also St. Francis Elementary.

I'm always telling students that STORIES NEED TROUBLE -- that though we'd rather not have trouble, it makes great story material. So listen what happened to me. I accidentally took the scenic route to the school, and instead of taking me TWO HOURS it took me nearly THREE! Grrr! At one point, I knew I had to turn right on a steet called Principale. The trouble happened when I saw a street that went right. Only the street sign was covered in a thick layer of fresh snow. So... I got out of the car to wipe off the sign, but I WAS TOO SHORT TO REACH IT! It's an example of trouble that in retrospect is funny -- though I wasn't amused at the time!

When I finally arrived, I worked first with Miss Sullivan's Sec III class. When I had them do the memory of being ten years old exercise, a student named Harrison wrote this: "I'm in my dad's class. The boys always had a bite of our sandwiches before lunch. Our teacher never really appreciated that." Harrison, I think a story about a kid whose dad is his teacher would make a great book. WRITE IT.

At St. Francis, I met Miss Stpehanie's Grade Fives. These kids wanted to do a Q&A with me -- and they had great questions. Matis asked, "How much time does it take to write a book?" I explained that there are a lot of steps in book-writing. The first draft usually takes me between six months and a year, then another six months or so re-wiriting... and then I have to wait for the publisher to add my book to their catalogue. Noah asked, "What made you want to write?" I told him that I want to write because I LOVE STORIES. Stories I read, stories I hear people tell... every kind of story.

I'll try to add a picture to this blog entry tomorrow. Thanks to the kids for being fun, thanks to Siu-Min Jim for arranging today's visit. I promise to make up the time I lost sign-cleaning in a Skype with the kids. Thanks also to ELAN's ArtistsInspire grant program. Now if only I was five foot six!!

 

 

 

 

  1190 Hits
Jan
14

Getting to Know My Way Around Laurentian Regional High

Hello dear blog readers! I'm back from my second day of writing workshops at Laurentian Regional High School in Lachute. I'm feeling extra-happy -- I think because it was fun to get a second visit with Mrs. Vero's Grade Ten students. We got to go a little deeper into writing tips, stories, and of course, writing!

When I told the first group that I get some of my best ideas in the shower (and that lots of writers report the same thing), a student named Cloée said, "I fight with imaginary enemies in the shower. I think about what I'm going to say the next day to someone I'm in a fight with." Ooh, that made me happy. Not only because I think it's cool and creative, but also because I think that I might STEAL THAT BEHAVIOR and make one of the characters in my book do the same thing! Thanks, Chloée-- hope that's okay with you!!

When I do writing exercises I always tell the students who don't feel "into it" to write about how annoyed tthey feel, and how they hate my writing exercises! (I figure any kind of writing is good for the brain!) Anyway, that's what a student I'll call "F" did -- grumbled about my exercise. Only when I read his grumbling, I found a GORGEOUS LINE. F gave me permission to quote it here: "I am sad when I wake up and sad when I go to bed." F, I think you need to start writing a book and use that as your first line! (Also, you may find that writing improves your mood.) When I said to F, "You're a writer," he answered, "No thank you." Hey, I thought that was very funny -- another skill writers can use! Now quit grumbling, F, and use your talents!

A student named Graeme also showed his gift for writing. His piece was in pencil, so it was hard for me tor read... but it was worth squinting for! He described a "blistering day" and he wrote, "I'm in suburban hell." Excellent use of language that really grabbed my attention, Graeme, which is exactly what writers need to do!

The second group was also wonderful. (They're the students in today's pic.) Tianna (the student who stole my heart during last week's visit) also gets good ideas in the shower. "I've even thought of time travel in the shower," she told us. Later, when we were talking about dads, "Tianna said, "I've had four... concussions." But during that pause (indicated in the last sentence by my use of ellipsis -- the three dots -- I thought Tianna was saying, "I've had four DADS." Which made me think -- wouldn't that make a great opening line for a book? Tianna, get on the case!

Special thanks to Mrs. Vero for the invite to work with your lovely students, to the students for being lovely (and smart and warm), and to ELAN and their Artists Inspire program for making my visits to LRHS possible!

 

 

 

 

 

  1619 Hits
Jan
09

Meeting Characters -- and Inspiring Young Writers at Laurentian Regional High School

I'm just home from a day of writing workshops with Mrs. Vero's Sec IV students at Laurentian Regional High School in Lachute. I met a lot of CHARACTERS (yay, we writers love that!)... and hopefully I managed to inspire some young writers!

Here's a pic taken at the end of my second workshop. Meet Emily (Emily, I hope I got your name and the spelling right... if not, post a comment and I'll fix it ASAP!) and Jessy, two of the students I worked with, and their lovely teachers Mrs. Vero.

Here are a few highlights from today's visit. They'll also give you a sense of the CHARACTERS I was talking about.

A student named Tianna stole my heart -- I think because I could tell she was having fun before I even started my talk. Also she asked me, "Are you coming back next week?" And the answer is YES -- I'll be back next Tuesday to do the second part of my workshop with the same classes.

Now a student named Joe was, shall I say, less enthusiastic than Tianna. But I did feel him warming up -- and I look forward to seeing his writing next week.

When I showed the students the journal I write in every morning, a student named Ryan commented, "Like anything you need to practise." Right on, Ryan! Or maybe it's more accurate to say Write on!

It was when I was telling ths students that they need to make writing a habit, but that it doesn't matter if they write every day the way I do, or perhaps even just once a week... say every Sunday for the rest of their lives. That's when a student named Rebecca said, "That would make an incredible book." Wow, I use that example all the time, but I never thought of how it could be a real book. You're right, Rebecca. So get started this Sunday!

For my name collection (authors collect names for future characters), I met a student today named JUSTIS Cool name, cool spelling!

And Jessy (he's in today's pic) stayed after the second workshop to tell me, "I'm more of an artist. Do you think the techniques you talked about can be applied to art too?" YES YES YES. Whether you work with words or images, you need to practise a ton, you need to revise (redraw), and you need to study the work of other artists. And you need to be prepared for obstacles -- and then jump over them!!

Tianna gave me permission to share what she wrote when I asked the students to remember something important from when they were five years old. Here it is: "I can hear the sound of my heart pounding harder by the minute as I am trying to tell my mother I like males and females." Wow, Tianna, great detail (the heart pounding) and what an important subject -- a child of five already beginning to become aware of sexuality and attraction. That takes courage, Tianna -- you should write that story from the point of view of your  five-year-old self!

As I told all the students today, writing -- and living -- take COURAGE. I had the second group do an exercise I rarely experiment with -- I asked them to write about the most difficult thing they ever experienced. Something told me these kids could handle it. And they did. Now for homework, I want them to write about how they SURVIVED the difficult thing.

That's it for today's blog. I hope I gave you a lot to think about -- the way Mrs. Vero's kids gave me a lot to think about -- and feel. Thanks to Mrs. Vero for the invite, and to the kids for inspiring me. Hey, I should mention I was there as part of a new ELAN program called Artists Inspire. So thanks to them too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1357 Hits
Jan
08

Today's Visit to Polyvalente Charlesbourg

Hello again, blog readers! I’m writing to you from the train – heading home to Montreal after two fun days of school visits in Quebec City.

Today, I worked with Mr. Royer’s Secondary IV students at Polyvalente de Charlesbourg. I knew my day was off to a lucky start when I hopped into a cab in Quebec City, and my cab driver knew exactly where to go – his daughter goes to that school! Unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet her, because she’s in Sec. I.

Mr. Royer’s students are taking Enriched English. I made sure to tell them how lucky I think they are to be (or to be becoming) fully bilingual. I explained that though I read and speak French, I have never written a story in French – and that they will grow up to be people who can read, speak and write fluently in at least two languages. Pretty impressive and as I told them, a kind of passport to a richer life!

The students were super-focused, which made my work easy… in fact, it didn’t feel like work! I told them that one of the reasons I enjoy doing school visits is that I remember how, when I was their age, I had no one to talk to about my dream of becoming an author. I didn't meet a published author until I was at university. So somtimes I think that maybe someone like the kid I used to be will be in my audience -- and that young person will be able to benefit from some of my experience.

Today, it felt as if many of Mr. Royer's students were the kind of young people I just described... eager to learn tricks of the trade! When I told the students that even after publishing 29 books, I still find writing difficult, and I often make a GRRRR noise when I am working at my desk, a student named Lara said she could relate. "I sometimes feel GRRRR," she said. "But I like to write. I don't know why. I write to myself to remember." I loved what Lara said about writing to remember, especially since I had the students do a writing exercise that focused on memory. I think memories are not random; rather they are stories asking us to tell them!

When I asked the students why reading is as important as writing, a student named Yasmine came up with an answer I liked. She said, "Reading lets you learn more styles." Exactly, Yasmine! Then I showed the students the book that I am reading, Le Miroir de Carolanne, which happens to be written by my friend, Quebec author Marie Gray.

If you read my blog, you know that I collect names for future characters. Today, I collected the name Polina -- I like it because it's an unusual spelling of a pretty name. Polina, don't be surprised to find your name in one of my books one of these days!

I'll end today's blog entry with a word about Xavier. Let's just say he's one of the few students who didn't seem so "into" the writing exercise. I noticed he only wrote three words about his memory... at first, I wasn't impressed, until I read the words: "vomit/shame/fun." Whoo, Xavier, there's a story there. My favourite part is in the middle word -- shame. It's a feeling that few people are brave enough to write about. And as I told the students today, writing takes COURAGE. Go for it, Xavier. Here's your challenge: turn those three words into a story.

So, I think I caused enough trouble for today! Time for me to finish Marie's book. Special thanks to Mr. Royer for arranging my visit (to Mr. Lord at Ecole Secondaire de la Seigneurie for coordinting the two visits), and to all the kids for being AWESOME.

  1598 Hits
Jan
07

Bonjour from Beauport

You will wonder what the students are doing in today's pic. Taking a nap? Meditating?

No, they're WRITING!

That's because, as I explained to the students at Ecole Secondaire de la Seigneurie today, all writing begins in our heads.

I'm in Quebec City for two days of writing workshops. I've been to Ecole Secondaire de la Seigneurie many times before. You'd figure I'd know my way around by now, but I don't! Today, I worked with Mr. Lord's and Miss Alexandra's Sec III students. Most are French-speaking, but their English is excellent. And I was not supposed to speak a word of French with them, though I slipped up a couple of times!

I thought I'd begin today's report with something funny. Mr. Lord introduced me to Miss Alexandra, then before he went to his own class, he warned me, "Don't French!" I know he meant "Don't speak French!" but the verb "to french" also refers to serious kissing. No problem, Mr. Lord, I'll save my serous kissing for a more appropriate occasion!!

One of the things I love about school visits is meeting "characters" -- I mean students of course, but the truth is they inspire me when I create my own characters! Let me tell you about a few ccxharacters I met today.

There was William, who admitted he wasn't too interested in learning about writing. I asked him, "What do you like?" and he answered "Nothing." I told William that he helped me come up with a great book title, I Like Nothing. What do you think? Look, William, I'm pretty busy writing books right now. How about you get started on that book? After all, it's your title.

A student named Lea caught my eye because of her striking black hair. I also liked how she was dressed: she was wearing a T-shirt over a long-sleeved maroon top. I think I am going to let one of the characters in the book I'm working on dress like Lea.

There's always a student who steals my heart. Today it was Anthony. I noticed little things about him, such as that he is prone to blushing and that he drums his fingers on his desk. Also he told me he enjoys writing -- which accounts in part for why I liked him so much!! At the end of my talk, Anthony commented that, "There's a million ways to write." True, Anthony. Now your task is to find your way, and maybe borrow a couple of my tricks if they prove useful to you.

With Mr. Lord's first group, I experimented with a new writing exercise. I asked the students to write a paragraph about someone they know who "has a story." Ariane wrote about her grandmother. I asked Ariane's permission to quote a line from her description. Here it is: "My grandmother is the only one who understands me." I LOVED THAT. Ariane, you need to learn your grandmother's story -- and make it yours.

My last class of the day was with Mr. Lord's other group. There, I worked with the memory exercise I often use during writing workshops. I asked the students to remember an event from when they were five years old. Though there wasn't much writing time, a student named Laurence came up with something lovely, which I think she should develop into a story. Laurence also let me quote her, so here goes: "He was my first frisnd who was a boy." Great topic, Laurence -- and well worth exploring -- first friendship between the sexes.

Okay pages, I'm writing to you today from a coffee shop in old Quebec. Time now to kick back, drink my coffee, and listen in on conversations -- it's another trick I have for finding inspiration.

Thanks to Mr. Lord for arranging today's visit, and to him and Miss Alexandra for sharing their students with me. And a special thanks to the students for getting my 2020 off to a happy start. Write and read -- then repeat as necessary!!

 

 

 

  1456 Hits
Dec
06

It's A Wrap! The Mysterious Story of the Twins...

All fall, graphic novelist Laurence Dionne and I have been working together with students at Père-Vimont School and Courtland Park International School on a Blue Metropolis Foundation project called The Mysterious Story of the Twins. We've visited each school three times, and the students (who have not yet met in person) are working together on shared stories.

What makes this project even more interesting is that it's bilingual. The Père-Vimont kids have been writing in English; the Coutland Park kids, in French. And they've all been studying a third language too: ART!

Here's a pic from today's visit:

For many of the students, learning about drawing and in particular, illustrating a graphic novel, was their favourite part of the project. That's what Caleb and Majdouline told me today, during our final visit to Père-Vimont. Youssef learned a lot about drawing too, but you can imagine I was pleased when he said, "Writing makes me happy." Me too, Youssef!!

In their stories, the students have been writing and drawing about a pair of red-headed twins who get separated when they are infants. The twins grow up speaking different languages. When they meet up again, in the students' stories, things get interesting!

All the graphic novels the students have been working on will be published in a collection that will be released this spring. And there'll be a book launch too -- and you can come! As Leticia told me, "It was fun to write with kids from another school. We can't wait to meet them!"

Special thanks to Blue Met for making this project possible, and to the super teachers who made our visits a success, Miss Annie at Père-Vimont, and Monsieur Geoffrey at Courtland Park. Congrats and félicitations to all the students for your hard work -- and great ideas!

  1155 Hits
Dec
04

The Meilleur Kind of Travail Together

The bilingual title of today's blog entry "The Meilleur Kind of Travail Together" is in honour of an amazing bilingual Blue Metropolis project I've been working on together with graphic novelist Laurence Dionne.

That's Laurence behind me in today's pic. We spent the morning at Courtland Park International School in St. Bruno, and on Friday, we'll be at Ecole Père-Vimont in Laval. We've been working in French with the Courtland students, and in English with the kids at Père-Vimont. Together, the students are working on graphic novels about a pair of twins -- one English-speaking, and one French -- who were separated at birth.

Here's a fun thing about collaborating on creative work. I don't remember who came up with the idea for this project! I think it was William St-Hilaire, president of the Blue Metropolis Foundation, the organization behind the project. But Fréderick Gaudin-Laurin, who is managing the project for Blue Met, thinks it was MY idea! See, that's what happens when people work well together ... we don't even remember who thought of what!

The students' graphic novels are nearly done -- and they'll be published in 2020. Also, we're going to have a bilingual launch-lancement.

Today, the Courtland Park students worked on a group poem describing themselves and their experience with the project. Our first draft of the poem included the line, "we speak two languages: français and English." But then a student named Olivier came up with the very good suggestion that we change the line to, "we speak two languages: French and anglais." I told the students that it struck me as more playful to name the language using another language! And they all agreed!

While Laurence was showing the students tricks for transferring their drawings onto the computer, she needed to return to a previous slide. A student named Juliet called out, "Tu peux back-er up."

I once heard that the most bilingual people are capable of thinking in two languages -- and that sometimes it happens it one sentence -- like it did for Juliet when she invented the French verb "back-er up"!

I think you'll be impressed when you see the kids' drawings and read their stories. We'll be at Père-Vimont on Friday -- to finish up the story of the twins. Special thanks to the wonderful teachers -- Mr. Geoffrey at Courtland Park, and MIss Annie at Père-Vimont... and to the students for their wonderful "travail" together!

  1764 Hits
Nov
27

An "Ah Ha" Moment at Rosemere High School

Today's blog is about an "Ah ha" moment -- the kind of moment where something just clicks. You suddenly understand a concept that didn't make a lot of sense to you before.

Here's a pic I took of Samuel having an "Ah ha" moment. (Actually, to be completely honest -- I only lie when I am writing FICTION -- it's a photo taken a few seconds after the "Ah ha" moment, but I asked Samuel to do his best to replicate his "Ah ha" expression and hand gesture).

You will be wondering of course what Samuel was ah-ha-ing about. I'm just getting to that!

I was at Rosemere High School this morning to work with two groups of enriched English students. Samuel was in the first group -- their teacher is Miss Enea. I had asked the students to write about a memory from when they were ten years old. I told them they didn't have to let me read it because I know that sometimes these memories feel too private to share. When I walked past Samuel, he was hiding the paragraph he'd written. So I explained that there are creative ways to take difficult personal material and transform it into literature. "Why not," I suggested, "make whatever happened to you happen to someone else -- a kid who isns't named Samuel, who isn't in Sec. II at Rosemere High?" -- that's when Samuel had his "Ah ha" moment. It was also a happy moment in my happy day today.

Miss Enea explained that not all the students in her class were enriched. And though I'm not supposed to have favourites, I found one today -- Tommy, a lively young man who told me he wasn't in the enriched stream. But when I finished my workshop, he stopped to say, "You enriched me!" Hey Tommy, you enriched me! I never had a son, but I think if I had one, I'd have liked him to be like Tommy!

I told the class how trouble makes a story interesting, and I said, "We don't want to read about someone's perfect life." A student named Angelina (hey Angelica, made an interesting point. She said, "I think it WOULD be interesting to read a story about someone's perfect life." Then we discussed how, for a story like that to work, we'd probably need to learn that the supposedly perfect life was not so perfect.

After recess, I visited Ms. Fazia's Sec. I's. They were quiet at first, but wow, were they ever focused! I gave them a writing exercise I usually only use with CEGEP students: to write about the hardest thing they've ever gone through. Somehow, I felt that these students could handle the topic. On my drive home, I was thinking I should also have asked them to describe HOW THEY GOT THROUGH THEIR MOST DIFFICULT MOMENT. (So Miss Fazia, if you're reading this -- tell them to add a paragraph for me.)

While the students were working, I told them how I believe writing takes courage, and that sometimes, the stories that are hardest for us to tell are our most important stories, and the ones we really need to tell. And as I explained to Samuel, if it gets too hard to write, change things up. That's what fiction writers do. It's the feelings that have to be real.

So... if today's blog entry was a little more intellectual than my usual blog entry, it's not my fault. Blame those enriched students at Rosemere -- for being so smart. Special thanks to my friend, Rosemere High teacher Ms. Lawrence for arranging my visit, and for coming to hear me speak for the one hundredth time and not being bored. Thanks also to Ms. Enea and Ms. Fazia -- and to all the students.

Here's to courage!

 

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Nov
26

Re-writing is Writing! Back at McCaig Elementary...

Ever have one of those mornings that goes so quickly, you don't know where it went? It could be that I had TWO espressos this morning, but it might also have been the influence of Mrs. Fraser's wonderful class at McCaig Elementary in Rosemere.

Artist Thomas Kneubuhler and I were back at McCaig for our second writing and photography workshop -- part of a wonderful Blue Metropolis Literary Foundation project called Quebec Roots. Teams of writers and photographers are helping students across the province tell stories about their communities using words and photos.

Speaking of which... here's a photo!

In today's pic I'm editing -- okay, I'm taking a wee break from editing to chat with a student ABOUT EDITING!

Thomas and I were at McCaig for three hours, and while Thomas looked at photos and took photos with the students, I pulled little groups out to another small room and we edited the pieces they had written on the topic of SECRET PLACES. (The students came up with that topic during our first visit earlier this fall.)

The thing about writing is that it INVOLVES A TON OF RE-WRITING. I've spent the last three weeks rewriitng a project of my own. I find it hard work, but it's so satisfying when the work starts to get better.

What made today extra fun is that the students were receptive to my comments, and that we really worked together in teams to improve the writing.

Here's a small example. Consider the following phrase "caramel in the center of a chocolate." Now do you prefer "gooey caramel in the center of a chocolate" or "caramel in the center of a delicious chocolate"?

I hope you picked "gooey caramel"!! Because we discussed all three options and decided that the word "gooey" goes a long way to describe caramel. Unlike the word "delicious," which is, as I told the students a "blah blah" word!

A student named Lily wrote a beautiful piece about feeling comforted and inspired by nature. She included the line, "Think of tulips standing strong and tall" ... I had a wee suggestion here. Why not add the word "proud"? Lily thought that worked, so we changed the line to, "Think of tulips standing strong and tall and proud." We could have dropped one of those "and's", but I like the rhythm. What do you think?

That's another thing about writing. There's never a clear right or wrong. But it's challenging and fun to figure out what works best and sounds best.

I asked a student named Michael to tell me what he learned about editing today, and he answered, "You need to reread it a lot of times!" That's for sure, Michael!

So keep your eyes peeled for the 2020 edition of Quebec Roots, a real-live published book which will be launched this spring, and which will include a chapter from Mrs. Fraser's class at McCaig. Thanks to all of you for being more delicious than espresso!

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Nov
08

The Moniques Are Back in Action!

The Moniques -- in case you are not familiar with this fabulous team!! -- consist of myself and my good pal photographer Monique Dykstra.

We've been teamed up several times over the years to work on Quebec Roots, a Blue Metropolis Literary Foundation project that brings a writer and photographer to English-language schools across the province. We help students tell a story in words and photos about their community -- and their chapter will be published in sping 2020 in the form of a real-live book!

That's me in today's pic with some of the students at William Latter School in Chambly. Sorry you don't get to see the other Monique -- she was out in the schoolyard teaching the kids about photography. Apparently, after only one mini-lesson, they were already taking impressive shots!

We worked with Miss Kim's Grade 5/6 class. Miss Kim had done a great job preparing the students, who understood that today we had to decide on a topic for their chapter. We started off with two topics: emotional troubles, and finding your passion. To our surprise, as the result of the democratic process, the students chose to focus on emotional troubles -- definitely a tough topic that will require courage!

I had to laugh when a student named Amy guessed I was Monique-the-author. She told me, "I knew you were the author because Miss Kim said you have a lot of energy!"

I wrote down some of Monique D's lessons about photography -- because they apply to writing too. She told the students, "When you're taking photos, you have to listen to the voice in your head that says, 'Oh this is a good photo!'" She also told them, "The trick in life is to keep looking at thing with fresh eyes." Beautiful, no? Now you know why I love being friends with her -- because she says such cool stuff!

We divided the class into groups so that each Monique would have time to work on her speciality with the students. In my groups, we worked on stories and poems. A student named Emil gave me permission to quote his work here. He was writing about a difficult time in his life -- after he first learned that his mom had cancer (she's dong great now, thank goodness!). He ended his piece with the sentences, "It felt good to write this poem/ I never really shared this with people."

I told the students that when I hear or read something beautiful and important, I get goosebumps. Emil, Molly and Emmanuel, your three stories all gave me goosebumps today. I'm already looking forward to our return visit. Something tells me yours is going to be a wonderful chapter. Thanks to all the kids, thanks to Miss Kim for being so organized, and thanks to Blue Met for giving the Moniques the opportunity to have so much fun!

 

 

  1375 Hits
Oct
25

Quebec Roots Kicks Off A New Season

If you've been following my blog for a while, you'll know I have an especially soft soft-spot for a Blue Metropolis Literary Foundation project called Quebec Roots. I've been involved in the project for more than ten years. It brings together English-speaking students from across our province with a writer and photographer. Which explains what I was doing this morning at McCaig Elementary School with artist-photographer Thomas Kneubuhler and Ms. Fraser's wonderful Grade Five class. (It also explains why I look so happy in this photo, taken with a student named Christopher.)

I gave a mini-writing workshop and Thomas gave a mini-photography workshop, but mostly our task was to help the students come up with a topic for their chapter, which will be published in a real-live book this spring. Thomas and I will help the kids use photos and words to tell a story about their community.

The kids came up with several good topics, but thanks to democracy, they decided on SECRET PLACES. I like this topic a lot because it combines two of my favourite things: secrets and places! We did some brainstorming, some writing, and we also went out for a walk during which the students took some great pictures.

I liked when Thomas told the class, "You have to play." He meant that you have to move around when you take photos -- see what the shot looks like when you are on the ground, or stretched out on a table. I think writers need to play too -- and also work hard! I asked a student named Laurence what she learned about writing, and she told me: "I learned it takes more than one day to write!" That's definitely true for me, Laurence!

A student named Krystal learned something similar about photography. As Krystal put it, "You have to take more than one photo. The first one isn't always perfect."

I liked how Ms. Fraser gave the students this advice when they were taking photos: "Think about telling a story." YES YES and YES! (Did you hear me say YES?!)

We wrote a group poem about the class gecko whose name is Ronnie. It turns out he has a secret place too -- under the paper towel he is supposed to poop on!

I guess it was a day for poop jokes because Dante made us all laugh with the story of his little cousin, who, at a family dinner, made such a big poop that "it exploded and got on her shirt." Uh oh!

A student whom I'll call K described her secret place as "a lot more Zen." (I think K should write a poem and call it "A Lot More Zen.") And Laurence, whom I mentioned before, said, "I like being alone and quiet." Laurence, you can use that line in your writing too.

So I'd say the 2019-2020 edition of Quebec Roots is off to a great start. Thanks to Blue Met for making the project happen, thanks to Thomas for being a super partner, and thanks to Ms. Fraser and your class for being FUN and SMART. (My favourite combination!)

  2698 Hits
Oct
23

Recycling Kids at Joliette High School

The Secondary I students at Joliette HIgh School were a little creeped out this morning when I told them that I recycle kids. Logan shuddered, and a student named Benoit said, "It made me think you'd put us in one of those recycling machines that would squish us up!"

But, as I explained to the students, that's what writers do. We recycle life experiences, and that includes the places we go and the people we meet, into our books!

Here's a pic from today's visit.

 If you're wondering why I look so happy, it isn't only because the three groups of students I worked with were fun, focused and had loads of good questions. It's also because their teacher (she's the lovely young woman standing next to me), Ms. Beddia, USED TO BE MY STUDENT!

Here are a few highlights from today's visit. I loved what a student named Lyana wrote when I asked students to reflect on how they feel about writing: "I kinda like writing because you can put your feelings into another character." Exactly, Lyana! In that way, writing helps us gain distance from our own feelings, which can get pretty complicated sometimes. And another thing you can try to do when you write is imagine being someone with completely different feelings. For instance, I could try imagining what it would like to be SHY (if you know me, you will know I am extremely un-shy!).

When I asked the class to write about a memory of being five years old, Logan wrote a lovely paragraph about playing hide 'n seek with his brother, and getting trapped in a closet. I asked Logan's permission to share it with you here. "I couldn't get out. I was laughing because I thought he was holding it [the door] closed. When I heard his footsteps, I knew the door was locked and I started to worry." Excellent suspense there, Logan!

At lunch, a student named Bianca came to show me a story she's been writing called "An Amazing Weekend." I told Bianca she's a fine writer, who writes excellent sentences, but that she needs to focus more on individual scenes and also include some feelings. Also I have to admit I was touched when I got to the end of Bianca's story and read these words: "Thank you so much Monique Polak for reading my text. It means the world to me." Well, Bianca, thanks for sharing your story, for hanging out with me at lunch, and also for showing me the shortcut out of the school. Thanks to you, I did not get stuck in traffic on the way home.

After lunch, I worked with two more classes. I asked the first group to practise their observation skills by observing something or someone interesting in the classroom. Joey observed that a student named Doriano wasn't doing the exercise! Then I observed that Doriano has the kind of smile tht must make it easy for him to get away with stuff!

The last class was super lively. A student named Shawn asked me if the cardboard thingy I was handing out was a bookmark. When I told him that yes it was, Shawn said, "YESSSSS!" A student named Charly (love that name, I think it must be short for Charlene) wanted to know how many drafts I write for every book. I told her it's got to be at least 50 if you count all the re-writing I do at my computer before my editor gives me a whole new set of comments and suggestions for improving the manuscript.

A student named Michael wanted to know which of my books was my favourite. I told him that that's like asking a parent which child is her favourite. Then Nathan called out, "It's always the youngest!" Very funny, Nathan... and guess what I found out? Nathan is the eldest of three siblings!

So thanks, you guys for a wonderful day. Thanks to Ms. Emond for helping to arrange the visit, and to Ms. Beddia for being wonderful with her students and also with her former teacher!

Keep writing, all of you. Stay out of trouble in your lives, but include trouble in your stories. I feel lucky that I got to hang out with all of you today!

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