monique polak

Monique Polak's Books

Special Morning at LCCHS

So what if I took a bridge I didn't have to and got totally lost -- and had to put in an emergency SOS phonecall -- on my way to Lasalle Community Comprehensive High School this morning? It was ALL WORTH IT because the two groups of students I worked with ... well... they made me happy! (Hopefully I taught them some stuff too!)

I started the morning with Miss Di Criscio's Grade Seven class. When I asked if any of them tend to ask themselves what I call the "magic question": "What if?" Abigail answered, "I ask 'What if?' all day every day!" Way to go, Abigail! You sound like a writer! You know how I'm always on the hunt for cool names to use for future characters in my books? Well, one of the Grade Seven students was named Blade. When I asked him how his parents came up with that name, he told me, "They were into medieval stuff." Très cool, Blade. (I also met a student named Karma -- but she was in my second group. Love her name too.)

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know how I love observing small, interesting things. I noticed that a student named Fardin is detail-oriented. When I asked the students to write something down, Fardin asked, "Is there a comma?" I think it would be fun to use a character like Fardin in a story, don't you? I also noticed that a student named Alyssa was kind -- this is because, when I mentioned that my mom died four months ago, Alyssa looked at me and said, "Sorry for your loss."

During my break, a talented Grade Ten student named Alice dropped by the library to show me some poetry she's been working on as part of a project called Leave Out Violence. I gave Alice a few tips for tightening up her poems -- such as to reduce the number of words whenever possible, and to avoid rhyme when it sounds forced. I also asked Alice for permission to share one of her lines that I liked most. It comes from a poem called "Funerals": "Funerals aren't for the living/ They're for the dead." What I like about these lines is that they are clear, concise and powerful. Keep writing, Alice!

I ended my morning with students in the school's Phoenix program, an alternative program that lets them complete their Sec. IV and V classes. (You can see a few of them in today's pic.) These kids have stories! When they first sat down in the library, I noticed that a student named Sabrina was sitting alone. When I mentioned this, another student -- Austin -- got up from his table and went to sit with her. I loved that. Also, it would make a great scene in a book. Thanks for the inspiration, Sabrina and Austin.

I gave both groups of students a short writing exercise. A student named Kyle said I could go ahead and quote my favourite line from what he wrote. Here goes: "I am addicted to the feeling of helping others." That line really touched my heart. Thanks, Kyle, for letting me share it here.

Also, I often say the same things when I do school visits, so it was exciting that today I came up with a new line -- especially for the Phoenix kids. I told them, "Cash in on your misery and write about it!" What do you think of that wisdom? (I like it a lot!)

Special thanks to my friend, librarian Miss Lumi, for inviting me to LCCHS today -- and for helping me find my way from the Mercier Bridge. (That's Miss Lumi next to me in today's pic.) Thanks to the students for being wonderful. Let's just say -- I needed you today!

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Writing Workshop for Seniors (and Two Imposters!) at the Blue Met Festival

Yesterday afternoon, I did a workshop called "Finding the Story You Need to Tell" at the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival. The workshop was meant to be for seniors -- but two young women turned up to join us. All I can say is we had a magical afternoon together. The workshop was 2-1/2 hours long, but I never once checked my watch!

I tried to bit of everything. That means some of my usual writing tips (the same ones I pass on to high school students), as well as writing exercises. I made sure to do exercises that were quick and fun, as well as a couple that were more difficult and required a little more "giving."

When the workshop started, I asked everyone to introduce themselves. Carol made us laugh when she told us her reason for coming to the workshop: "I'm avoiding my income taxes!" Sylvia explained that she's been writing since she was a little girl: "I had to write books for my parents for birthdays and at Christmas." It sounds to me like you had great parents, Sylvia! Several of the participants were retired teachers. One of them, Nigel, who also works as a translator, said he needs to follow the same advice he used to give to his students at Champlain College when they were avoiding their writing assignments: "Trip yourself up! Walk backwards -- go blind!" Cheryl, another retired teacher, said that at this stage in her life, she finally has time to write. "When I was working," Cheryl said, "I was too exhausted to do all the things I wanted to do."

I must say I never felt for a moment like I was working. At the end of the workshop, Cheryl (the income tax-avoider!) told me: "I've got two short stories blooming as a result of your exercises. They've been rattling around."

Here's to blooming, here's to rattling -- here's to writers of all ages and stages in their careers!

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Day 4 at the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival: Westmount Library

It's me again! Reporting in from Day 4 of this year's Blue Metropolis Literary Festival. Don't you love today's pic? Mett Melea (on the left) and Kashuf (on the right). I was at the Westmount Library, doing a writing workshop for their Grade 8 class at Westmount High, when I spotted these two students in perfect "concentrating" position. So of course, I whipped out my cellphone and took a pic that I could post here for all the world to see.

I also explained to the class that I love love love the old writing rule, "Show; don't tell." I could TELL you that the girls were concentrating. But it's way better to SHOW you that they were resting their chins on their hands, taking notes and looking right at me.

More exciting news: the students' teacher, Miss Tevel, was one of MY students at Marianopolis College. Makes me think I must do a good job!!!

I love learning stuff about kids, and of course, I write everything down for possible future use in a story. I loved that a student named Mohammed was keeping track of which number point I was on. "Maybe I want to be an engineer," Mohammed told me. Sorry, by the way, for hopping around between points, Mohammed. As you can guess, I would have made a terrible engineer!

I was also kind of fascinated by a student named Josh. (I told the class that if I'd had a son instead of a daughter, his name would have been Josh.) Anyway, Josh looked a little sluggish (leaning way back in his chair, not taking notes), but also quite smart (could have been on account of his glasses). When I asked him to write a list of ten things he hated, I discovered that Josh is a creative thinker. Now go use that talent, Josh!

The other students wrote about a memory connected to bullying. I absolutely loved Nikitas's first line: "It was 3:06 dot on." The "dot on" part really catches my attention. Cyrus wrote about how his older brother "hit me with a belt as a joke" -- that's powerful material, Cyrus. And Hang wrote something really really beautiful that I think she should develop into a book. She described her memory of being in Grade 4 in China: "It was HELL. There was a rumour going around about the fact that I'm Japanese." When I asked Hang more about the rumour, I learned something super interesting -- that it was only afterwards that Hang learned that she is actually part Japanese. Whoo! How interesting! I wish I could write a book about Hang's experience -- only problem is that Hang would do a way better job since she lived it. Hang, start writing!

I had another great morning at the festival. Thanks to my friend, Westmount Library's children's librarian Wendy Wayling, for hosting me; thanks to Miss Tevel; to the other adults who were present; and special thanks to the kids. I had a blast with you guys this morning. Now, go write and read!!


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Day 3: Blue Metropolis Literary Festival: Mini-Workshop, Max-Pleasure

No kids in today's pic -- just me at the Montreal Children's Hospital. I was there this morning to do a mini-workshop. I had four participants, all teens who are being treated at the hospital. But as I explained in the title of today's blog entry, I had maximum-pleasure. What a treat to work so closely with a small, talented group!

As usual, I did my usual: writing tips, stories. I warned the kids beforehand that they would probably need a long nap after they met me! One of them, who has had trouble sleeping lately, thought that was great news! Who knew that I could have a medicinal effect?!!

When I talked about the importance of making writing a habit, "S" (I'm not using any real names in today's blog entry) said that she writes every day. "Farrell" said, "I text my friends rants or else I text them about my dreams." So S and Farrell are already cultivating the habits that could turn them into professional writers. Make sure you back up all those texts, Farrell!

Here's a funny snippet of a mini-conversation we had during today's mini-workshop:

S: Can I ask you something?

Me: You can ask me anything.

S: That's good to know.

That line, "That's good to know" cracked me up. What do you say, S, should one of us use it for a book title: "That's Good to Know"? If I use it, I will credit you!

There was a time for a writing exercise! Yay! I asked the kids to write about a moment of change in their lives. Here's how "Luna" started her piece: "Her eyes examined me. Up and down, up and down." I have to admit I was a little JEALOUS when I read that!! That's because I usually hate the first line I write when I am getting started. But Luna's first line was PERFECT.

And here's a little tidbit to wrap up today's blog entry. If you know me, you know I love to tell the story of the monkey man charm I wear around my neck. I asked the kids if they wanted to touch the charm. "Veronica" didn't want to touch it. In fact, I noticed her giving me a weird look (I suppose it is a little weird if some energetic lady with curly hair invites you to touch her monkey man charm!). But guess what? When I finished telling the story of the charm, Veronica wanted to touch it! That made me happy in a way that is hard to describe here.

So, thanks to Blue Met for sending me to work with this lovely group today. S, Farrell, Luna and Veronica -- keep writing. I feel like the luckiest woman in all Montreal today that I got to work with you!

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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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