monique polak

Monique Polak's Books

Day 2 at the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival: Jewish Public Library

I'm still flying from my second morning at this year's Blue Metropolis Literary Festival. Today, I was at the Jewish Public Library working with Miss Horvath's Grade Seven students (there were some Grade Six-ers too) at Hebrew Academy. If I may say so myself, I got a lot done in my one-hour presentation -- and there was even time for writing -- and lively discussion!

I started with my usual writing tips, and then I turned the subject to stories about bullying and my new book, Bullies Rule. I explained how most stories about bullying focus on the victim, and how I think it'd be interesting to read more stories from the bully's point of view and also from the bystander's point of view. During the short writing exercise I did with the students, I was impressed with a student named Miriam's opening line: "I was a bully a few years ago because I was scared to be bullied." The first thing I did (well, okay, the first thing I did was tell Miriam I liked her work), but then the next thing I did was suggest she leave out the words "a few years ago." So we tried the line out this way: "I was a bully because I was scared to be bullied." Don't you agree that it reads even more powerfully this way? (I follow the rule that the fewest possible words are usually best.)

Because I am always HUNTING for stories and a SNOOPY person by nature, I noticed that a student named Yehuda was wearing a rather unattractive cast -- the thing that made it unattractive was that it was on his left forearm and also two of his fingers. Well, it was a good thing I asked Yehuda about the cast because he ended up telling me a story that gave me goosebumps (goosebumps happen when I hear a story I might end up writing about!!). It turned out Yehuda was playing basketball with Baruch (a boy sitting two seats over from Yehuda this morning) and Baruch accidentally broke Yehuda's finger. "Did you cry?" I asked Yehuda. I got the goosebumps when he answered, "Yes." I also asked Baruch how he felt about what had happened and whether he had tried to make it up to Yehuda. "I called him afterwards. My dad thought I should buy him something." I smell a story there. Do you?

When we were talking about re-writing, a student named Ben said something I considered wise: "It's not like you can expect it to be perfect. It's not like you can write a book and it has no mistakes." I hear you, Ben! For me, writing is all about re-writing, and then re-writing some more. Followed by more re-writing!

At the end of my session, I told the students about the monkey man charm I wear around my neck -- and I told them how the story formed the basis for what will be my first picture book. A student named Gavi had a great question, "Is that how you wrote it?" -- Imust say that question impressed me a lot. So I explained that no, I had to inject a lot of imagination into the real story to turn it into something that would appeal to kids today. And that I also relied on my memory of a shocking thing that happened during a giant storm when I was a kid. Memory, I told the students, is a big part of a writer's toolbox.

You can probably tell that I had a great time with the kids at the Jewish Public Library today. In fact, I was having so much fun that I forgot to get someone to snap a pic. Luckily, a few students came back to chat with me while I was packing my book bag! In today's pic, you can see those girls, as well as their teacher, Miss Horvath, who is standing between them. The JPL's children's librarian Talya Pardo is at the far left. And next to her is my surprise visitor -- the library's director of  financial resource development, my former student Alyson Lozoff!

I'll be back at the festival every day this week. Stay tuned for more updates!


Recent Comments
Guest — Gavi Aspler
My name is Gavi not Gavin
Tuesday, 25 April 2017 18:23
Guest — Monique
Thanks, Gavi. Just made the fix. See -- all writers need editors!
Tuesday, 25 April 2017 22:25
Guest — Janice Camlot
Hi Monique, Our students really enjoyed their time with you today. I wanted to mention that six of the students, including Ben who... Read More
Wednesday, 26 April 2017 00:39
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Day 1 at the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival: Kirkland Library

It's Day 1 of this year's Blue Metropolis Literary Festival. I kicked off the week with a super-fun visit to the Kirkland Library where I worked with about 60 Grade Five students from Kuper Academy.

I bet you're wondering why so many of them have their hands raised in today's pic! It's because I asked them, "How many of you write something and immediately hate it?" When so many kids raised their hands, I told them, "Don't move. I need to take a pic of you guys!" and then I told them, "If you feel dissatisfied with your first drafts, it's a sign that you could be REAL WRITERS!" Or as a student named Kayleigh explained, "A first draft is horrible." Exactly, Kayleigh! And what distinguishes amateur writers from professionals is that we re-write and re-write, and re-write all over again -- until, finally, we start to like our own work!

I was at the library to do a workshop about my latest book, Bullies Rule. I also made time to give the kids some basic book-writing tips. And we did an exercise in our heads (I explained that that's where all writing starts: in our imaginations). I asked the students to recall a memory of being bullied/being a bully/ or having been a witness to bullying. I explained that most stories about bullying focus on the victims, and I challenged the students to try, instead, to write a story from a bully's point of view. (That's what I did in Bullies Rule.)

As usual, I collected cool names for possible inclusion in my future books. My favourites today were Gage, Spiro, Aniruddha, Cinar and Ilgaz (Cinar and Ilgaz happen to be twins). I also learned cool stuff, such as that Kayleigh is a TRIPLET (Write about it, Kayleigh!!), and that, like me, a student named Ella wears a necklace that is precious to her, and which is connected to the Holocaust (Write about it, Ella!).

I'll end today's blog entry with something a student named Lauren told me -- it's actually something Lauren's older sister told her: "Books make you homesick for a place you've never been." Don't you just love that line?

Thanks to Blue Met for sending me to the Kirkland Library to work with the kids from Kuper. Thanks to teachers Madame Assya (my former student!!!) and Miss G for sharing their classes with me. And thanks to the universe for a happy start to this busy week. Stay tuned for lots of blog entries this week -- direct from the Blue Met Literary Festival!

Recent Comments
Guest — Assya Knox
Dear Monique,We wanted to thank you for your amazing presentation yesterday! We learned so much. Thank you for the shout-outs! Lov... Read More
Tuesday, 25 April 2017 12:08
Guest — Monique
And I just woke up thinking -- I hope the kids from Kuper wrote a comment on the blog! Well, thanks for another great start to a n... Read More
Tuesday, 25 April 2017 12:30
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Great Start to the Week at Laurentian Regional High School

My week got off to a great start with my visit today to Laurentian Regional High School in Lachute. That's me in the pic with a lovely student named Chris who kept me company -- and discussed writing and photography -- during my lunch break. More about Chris later....

I worked with two groups: first, Miss Matthews's grade nines, then Miss Welden's grade sevens. You know how I  LOVE TROUBLE? (Well in a story, anyhow!!) These kids were perfect -- they caused no trouble at all. That meant I got to cover a lot of writing tips and also tell some stories.  As Louis, one of Miss Welden's students, said, "There's always a story." I couldn't agree with you more, Louis.

Both classes had amazing questions which they'd prepared in advance. One of Miss Matthew's students, Cassidy, asked, "Do you feel a personal connection to your characters?" When I said yes, Cassidy laughed. That's when I knew she was a writer too. Later, when we chatted, Cassidy told me she is working on a project that has over 80 characters. I told Cassidy that I'm reading a novel I really love, Men Walking on Water by Emily Schultz, and it's also what I described as an "ensemble piece" with many characters, all of them fascinating!

Kalina asked, "When you get an idea, do you write about it right away or do you think about it?" Instead of answering, I asked Kalina (who had only known me for about an hour) to guess my answer. She said, "I bet you write about it right away." That was my turn to laugh. Kalina was right. I figure things out by writing about them, though I certainly know other writers who mull a lot before they start typing. I guess I mull at the keyboard.

I explained to both groups that it's important to do research and ask lots of questions. I also told both groups about the monkey man charm I wear around my neck. So I was super-impressed when Mathys, one of Miss Welden's students, asked about the other necklace I wear. Because I like to be as honest as possible at all times, I told the students something I have never told any other kids -- that I had the necklace made after my second marriage broke up. It was a way to use the diamond that I used to wear on my left hand. Mathys, who is SUPER SMART, then asked me, "Is it like you moved on -- but you don't forget the past?" Mathys, I couldn't have put it better myself. Thanks for teaching me that!!

I'll end today's blog entry with a word or two about Chris, who also goes by the nickname Red (because he loves red foxes). Chris is a talented photographer. I know because he showed me some of his nature pics and they are really remarkable. He turned out to be FULL OF STORIES (no wonder I enjoyed his company so much). When Chris was 14, he worked as a baker at the local Tim Horton's. Here's how he described it: "It was hell." These days, Chris says he has a problem with motivation. "I haven't done homework for years, but I'm still passing everything." So Chris, and any other blog readers with a similar approach to homework, here's what I have to tell you: GET SERIOUS, YOU'RE SMART AND TALENTED -- NOW GO USE THOSE GIFTS. AND DO YOUR DANGED HOMEWORK!!

Many thanks to librarian Megan Bryan for inviting me to Laurentian Regional today. And to Miss Matthews and Miss Welden for sharing your wonderful kids. And to the kids for being wonderful.

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Another Special Morning at Mackay Center School

I was back at Mackay Centre School this morning for a second series of writing workshops. If you don't live in Montreal, you probably don't know what a special place Mackay is -- many of the students there have motor, speech or sensoral difficulties. Yet despite those challenges, the mood in the school is totally upbeat. As librarian Anne o'Connor told me this morning, "I love the spirit of the kids -- there's a joy here."

In today's pic, I am actually working with a group of visually impaired students who go to Philip E. Layton School -- located inside Mackay Centre. I was able to get through a lot of my writing tips with this bright gang of kids. One boy (no names in today's blog) had lots of interesting questions, such as, "Are you allergic to cats?" and "Are you right-handed or left-handed?" Hey, maybe I should include a character in my next book who asks cool questions! (Yes, I'm allergic to cats and I'm right-handed.)

I started my day with two kindergarten classes. These kids were so cute and bright, I wished I could take them all home! I was inventing a story for the kids (to demonstrate the need for TROUBLE to make a story move forward) and I came up with something about running into traffic. One student raised her hand because she wanted to add to my story: "You'd be like a pancake!" she said. I thought that was a great twist -- and also a great way of putting it ("You'd be like a pancake" is a simile which sounds a lot better than "You'd be flattened.")

I asked the kindergarteners to come up with their own examples of trouble -- and they did a gret job. One girl told me, "I didn't listen to my parents." Another student remembered when he "lost an airplane in the park."

I also worked with a group of deaf students. Thanks so much to their teacher, Glenna, for signing so that the kids could follow everything I was saying. If you know me, I'm a quick talker, so I made Glenna work hard! When I told the students that first drafts are usually junk, one of them nodded like crazy. I loved that -- because it shows he understands that the difference between junky writing and good writing is REWRITING!! When we were discussing trouble, two students shared memories about getting lost -- one on a train, and another in a clothing store. Great use of details, you two!

To be honest, I'm a little sorry that my visits to Mackay are over. I feel super inspired by the young people I met at Mackay this week. You know, of course, that you guys have great stories to tell and to share with the world. Readers need to learn about the kinds of challenges you face. The world can learn a lot about humour and resilience and kindness from you. SO GET WRITING!

Thanks to my friends at Mackay (and Philip E. Layton) for having me at your school(s). Thanks, especially, to my friend Sebastian Piquette and to librarian Anne O'Connor. And to the kids, THANKS FOR BEING AMAZING. Signed, Grateful Author

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"Oh Happy Day" -- Visit to Mackay Center School

I'm an awful singer, but when I'm in a really good mood, I sometimes catch myself singing the song, "Oh Happy Day." That's what I did on my way home this morning from Mackay Centre School, a school where many of the students have motor, speech or sensorial difficulties. I was there to do writing workshops with big kids and little kids -- and they all have giant hearts!

I did mini writing workshops with kids in pre-k, and more complex workshops with kids in grades one through six. I jotted down some of the highlights of my visit to share with you here. In the pic below, I am working with grades three and fours. Thanks to my lovely niece, Erica Lighter, who works at the school and who popped in to attend my workshop -- and act as official photographer!

The library where I did my presentations has a carpet with all the Canadian provinces on it. A student named Hebe sat down on top of British Columbia and explained, "it's because my aunt lives there." When I told the kids that I keep a daily journal, a student named Junior said, "I have a comment book that I'm making." I like the sounds of that, don't you? Maybe I should start calling my journal a "comment book" instead!

I was impressed that a Grade One, Nevina, had already checked out my website. I also laughed when, after I told Nevina's class that I'd published 21 books, Nevina called out, "No way, Jose!!" And later, when I was making up a story for the class (I was demonstrating how asking the question "What if?" can help move a story's plot forward), I invented a story about scraping my knee on the way to the school this morning. "What could happen next?" I asked the kids. Nevina really touched my heart when she said, "Your mom could wash you off."

A student named Thelma impressed me with her cool outfit -- plaid shirt, hot pink pants, and orange socks. Maybe I'll use a girl dressed like Thelma in one of my next books. And I also laughed when a student named Bishal wanted to know, "Do you write in small letters or big letters?" I told Bishal I write in ALL letters!!

I had the pre-k class just after recess. Simone, one of the pre-k kids saw me and remarked, "Oh there's someone new." Simone also told me that she keeps "a yellow journal." Wow, that's impressive for a pre-k student!

I ended my visit to Mackay today with the grades five and six students. They were super smart and focused. When I told them that I learned boxing in order to research my novel Straight Punch, a student named Asher called out, "I'm scared of you right now." Later, when the students did a writing exercise, Asher described the first time he came to Mackay. He wrote, "It smelled like new carpet." Can't you just smell it?

There was a tall, confident-looking young man sitting at the back of the room. His name is Androel. The funny thing that happened with Androel is that I thought he was the principal -- and not a student!

So, I hope this blog entry gives you an idea of why I had such a happy day at Mackay. Many of the students at this school face major challenges -- but they're smart and funny and COURAGEOUS (in my view, courage is the most important gift of all). So thanks to wonderful teacher Sebastian Piquette for the invite, thanks to all the teachers for sharing your students with me, and thanks to the kids for being AMAZING. I'll be back at Mackay on Friday for another morning of writing workshops. LUCKY MOI!!

Recent comment in this post
Guest — Grade 4 Students of Mackay
Hi Monique!The students from Grade 4 at Mackay read your blog post and we would like to leave you some comments about your visit!M... Read More
Wednesday, 05 April 2017 14:49
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