Friday, May 31, 2013

A Wonderful Project

Back in January, I received an email from Joanne Rowe, Digital Age Curriculum Coach for public schools in Birmingham, Michigan.

She was working with a 6th grade language arts class in connection with a project called "online inquiry book clubs." 

Here's how she explained it to me:
"I connect two classrooms from across the state or the country (right now we (Michigan) are  partnered with California). The participating teachers select books based on a theme which have moral and/or ethical issues (endangered animals and zoos, prejudice, child labor, etc.) and the kids are (based on their interest primarily) placed in online book clubs made up of students from both locations. 

The students have mini-lessons on writing "thick", open-ended questions (usually that can be backed up with evidence from the text). 

Students post questions after reading and then members of the book club post responses... As students complete the novel, they write lingering questions that they would like to learn more about

Each book club decides their own essential question and then the students each research a focus question which culminates in a jigsaw- multimedia presentation (completed online...coordinated with skype planning conversations between book club members, wiki discussion tab, posting the research to the's a collaborative project, then kids choose the tool based on accessibility and consensus of the group...imovie, photostory, etc.).

Finally, the projects are posted on the wiki to bring awareness globally...usually there is a public service announcement component to the presentation."
Ms. Rowe thought that my book, How to Steal a Dog, would be the

perfect book for a 6th grade language arts class in her district to use for the book club.

The project has been a great success. Ms Rowe says:

The students have become focused readers...taking notes on sticky pads, on the whiteboard or on their mobile devices (all self-inspired). They have become a collaborative group...helping each other spell and clarify ideas. 

And here's the fun part for me. I was invited to join the students in their wiki discussions! I was amazed at the thoughtful and thought-provoking questions the students asked one another and the ensuing discussions about the book. 

What a treat to be able to discuss my book with readers.

AND - it gets better!

A group of 3rd graders from a school in a neighboring district also chose How to Steal a Dog for their book club. So Ms. Rowe's 6th grade book club became online "Mentors" for these third graders and constructed (and posted) the questions for the 3rd grade book club.

They gave the students online support with things they may be confused about from their reading and encouraged them when they posted discussion questions of their own.

Now check out these pictures of this fantastic group of readers:

The How to Steal a Dog Book Club with the amazing Joanne Rowe

Some members of the club

Recording thoughts and questions from classmates:

Writing questions that come to mind while reading the chapter.

Such great questions. The students have really thought about the story, theme and characters.

6th grader Morgan helping the 3rd graders with their questions

And when they were finished, I got to meet them via Skype. What a great experience!

And THEN....

I got to Skype with the third graders when they visited the sixth graders:

At their pizza party:

What a joy for an author to connect with readers like this!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Things I Love Thursday

I love getting letters like this:

Dear Mrs. O'Connor,

 Hello, I'm a fifteen year old freshman living in land-locked Indiana and I am in love with your novel "Moonpie and Ivy". This book really inspired me. The setting is a place I can relate to, the land set up is similar to my grandparents. I first read that book at my grandparents when I was in fifth grade. I saved money just to buy this book. Every year since, I have read it during the summer or whenever I need an escape. I also love the attachment Pearl has to her aunt who becomes a mother figure almost, because Ruby is off who knows where. 

Now the reason I am writing this is because I am trying to write a novel myself but don't quite know where to start. I have ideas but they never seem to last or take off from the ground. Recently I have been writing a journal and keeping notes on things I see, hear, and experience. How did you get inspired to write "Moonpie and Ivy"? How do you get an idea to take flight and actually become something? What tips do you have for an author to be? Anything helps.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Writing Tip Tuesday

Remember that Gloria Estefan song, The Rhythm is Gonna Get You?

[This video takes a couple of seconds to start...patience....]


Dang.! She makes me want to be a hot, Cuban chick. But, um, I guess that's not gonna happen.   

So...anyway... Rhythm of writing is important to me. I know when the rhythm is off. I know when something is needed to make the rhythm better.  I almost NEVER leave blanks in drafts - you know, typing in [INSERT SOMETHING HERE LATER]. I hate doing that. But sometimes, I just have to. I know something is needed and I just can't come up with the perfect thing but I need to get on with the writing. And often, that something has to do with rhythm.   

For instance, in The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester, there is a scene where the main character and his friends are looking for something beside a railroad track. Here's what I wrote:  

 They found a bicycle wheel with broken spokes. They found a bullet-riddled stop sign. They found the bent-up frame of an aluminum lawn chair. They found a mildewed, mud-covered sofa cushion. They found a grocery cart with two missing wheels. They found cinder blocks and broken bottles and ____.   

I knew that the last sentence needed three things to make the rhythm right. But I just couldn't think of the third thing.... I left a blank. Which is what made me think about rhythm in writing. (By the way, I did later fill in that blank with rusty cans.)   

But now that I look at that, I'm thinking I have too many sentences - I should delete one - or maybe even two...but, dang, I like all those things. I hate murdering my darlings.   

Anyway... Here's another example. I spent quite a while on the following paragraph because, once again, I knew I needed three sentences (after the first one), each starting with an -ing verb:

 Maybe he should be swimming freely around Graham Pond. Gliding gracefully through the water. Floating among the rotting oak leaves that had settled on the surface. Sunning lazily on the moss-covered logs along the edges. 

I also knew that the word logs needed an adjective. It was just a rhythm thing.  

Kids often ask me why the pigeon, Sherman, is a one-legged pigeon. The answer? I needed the rhythm of "one-legged."  

So here's my point: Pay attention to the rhythm of your writing. 

Some writing voices/styles have more rhythm than others - but no matter what your voice is, there is some sort of rhythm in there.

Maybe it's the balance of short and long sentences.  

Maybe it's the length of paragraphs or even chapters.  

Maybe it's the word choice.  

Maybe it's all of the above.  

Write with an ear to your own personal rhythm and learn to recognize when it is "off." The rhythm is gonna get you.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Authors Honor Sandy Hook Victim

Over thirty authors (including me)—many of them award winning and New York Times best selling authors—have come together to honor Catherine Violet Hubbard, a little girl with a big dream: to provide a sanctuary for homeless animals. Tragically, that dream was cut short when Catherine was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
Since then, Catherine’s parents and The Animal Center in Newtown have set up a fund to raise money for the Catherine Violet HubbardSanctuary. People from around the country have donated to make this little girl’s dream come true.
After reading about Catherine’s dream, author Bobbie Pyron decided to do something to help raise money for Catherine’s sanctuary. “I just wanted something good to come out of this heartbreaking tragedy.” She contacted other authors, most who write for children, and asked if they would donate a signed copy of their book to be auctioned off on line as a fundraiser for Catherine’s sanctuary. 
“I was overwhelmed and humbled by the enthusiastic response! Many of these authors are Newbery Award winners, National Book Award recipients, and New York Times best selling authors,” Pyron says. “Everyone was deeply touched by Catherine’s dream and wanted to be a part of helping her dream come true.”
Starting June 3rd, Pyron will be posting signed copies of books that can be bid on. The auction will end June 16th. “Bids can be submitted on all the books until midnight on the 16th,” she explains. The signed books will be posted on her website at as well as details on how the auction works.
Some of the signed books to be auctioned include Sarah, Plain and Tall (Newbery winner), A Dog’s Purpose (NYT best seller), Wonder (NYT best seller), Moon Over Manifest (Newbery winner), Mockingbird (National Book Award winner), Divergent (NYT best seller), and books by Newbery award winners Sharon Creech, Cynthia Lord and Ann M. Martin.
“I love collecting books I’ve had signed by the author,” Pyron says. “But these books would also make great gifts for the book lover in your life or donations to your local school or public library.”
 Why not bid on a book and help Catherine's wish come true?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Things I Love Thursday

I love fan mail!

Who wouldn't?

But how many authors get fan mail like this?!

Dear Ms. O'Connor: Yoo-Hoo! From Mrs. Maiese's class! We hope that you are having a ball this time of year. We have been having a ball reading all of your other awesome books. Thank you for continuing to put a smile on all of our faces. We hope this ball puts a smile on yours! Your #1 Fans

Thank you to Mrs. Maiese's 3rd grade class at Titus Elementary School in Warrington, PA!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

KidLit Cares - Help for Oklahoma

Author Kate Messner has done it again - organized a wonderful way to donate to victims of the Oklahoma tornadoes and a chance to win kids' books - all rolled into one!!

I've donated The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis.

LOTS of other authors have donated LOTS of other books.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Writing Tip Tuesday

Here's a little writing mistake that I find is easy to make:

Forgetting about the setting.

Sometimes I lay out the setting at the beginning of the book. I throw in all those great details to show the reader where we are...

...and then I amble along (or ramble along) with the story and forget to remind the reader about the setting - to toss in more sensory details so the reader can still see where she is.

So - don't forget to remind the reader about the setting.

It doesn't have to be anything major.

One little sentence.

One little phrase.

Just enough to keep the reader grounded in the place and time.

For example:

I just finished writing a scene that takes place in the main character's bedroom.

The reason he is in the bedroom, instead of being outside where he really wants to be, is because it is raining.

And not just rain, but a thunderstorm.

But I got all caught up in action of the scene in the bedroom...

...and I forgot that it was storming outside.

When I went back and added the rain pattering against the window and the thunder rumbling in the distance - the whole scene came alive and reconnected with the previous scene in the story.

So - don't get so caught up in the action of the story that you forget about the setting.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Happy Anniversary, Martha

A year ago today, Martha came to live with us.

Waiting anxiously for Martha to arrive

Heading to her new home

With new sis, Ruby

 Special thanks to Michelle and Doggie Fun and Fitness for helping me help Martha feel at home.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Writing Tip Tuesday

Subject today?

Point of view.

Jumping out of point of view is a common writing mistake because it's so easy to do.

I love, love, love writing in first person point of view.

But the trick is to get into a zenlike mode and BE that character.

That means every single teeny tiny little thing in the story is presented ONLY through the eyes of the narrator.

Which means......

....unless the narrator (i.e., main character) is looking in the mirror....

....she can't see herself.

So that means, you can't write sentences like this:

My face grew red.


My forehead glistened with sweat.

The character can feel her face grow red or her forehead sweating.

But she can't see it.

So you need to write something more along the lines of this:

My cheeks burned.


I wiped the sweat from my forehead and stuffed the tissue back in my pocket.

See what I mean?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Things I Love Thursday

How can I not love this?

Writing by a fourth grade boy: a paragraph showing the setting of an attic in an old house--

Tip! Tap! was the sound he heard as he walked up the steps. He smelled the smell of the old things. He could taste the dust as he turned on the light switch. Click!

He saw the creepy boxes covered with cobwebs and spiders. "Eek!" he screamed as a giant bug slithered out of the smallest box and crawled toward him. Slowly, he walked backwards until the light flickered and then...blackness.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Writing Tip Tuesday

I've said it before and I'll say it again:

Resist the urge to repeat yourself.

This little snippet of advice applies to many areas of writing - words, scenes, plot elements.

But it also applies to characters, particularly secondary characters.

Each and every character in your story should have his own role and function.

Ask yourself if there is any one character who "repeats" another character - that is, serves the same function within the story.

Ask yourself: If I take this character out of this story, what will change? Will the story be affected? Will anybody miss him?

If not, it's probably time to murder your darlings.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Dorothy Canfield Fisher Conference

This past weekend, I had the honor of speaking at the Vermont Dorothy Canfield Fisher Conference.

Unfortunately, it was held at a place that had a really lousy view:

But I got over my disappointment and had a lovely dinner with members of the committees:

And I finally got to meet, play with, dine with, laugh with the amazing, Grace Worcester Greene, Youth Services Consultant for Vermont Public Libraries. (Thank you, Grace, for everything.)

Grace Worcester Greene (left) and me

AND, I finally got to meet the UBER talented author Kate Messner. (Kate, HOW do you do it all???)

Kate Messner (left) and me
Signing books with Kate Messner (left)
Me looking kind of stupid at the signing.
Me saying some really deep, intelligent and important things (like redneck jokes).
Me with some of the great kids who did presentations at the conference.
And I took some pics of some of this year's nominees for the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award (I'm looking at YOU, Scattergood, Pyron, Knowles, Hunt...and others):

You can see the complete list HERE.

Many thanks to the Vermont gang who made that day so special.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Things I Love Thursday

I love school librarians who greet me like this:

Me with librarian, Roxanne Scott

And who makes sure the students have access to all of my books:

A big thank you to the students and staff of Hunnewell Elementary School in Wellesley, MA for making my visit there so special.

And thank you to Roxanne Scott for being such a great librarian.