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Alice’s Magic Garden: Before the Rabbit Hole…
Author: Henry Herz
Illustrator: Natalie Hoopes
Published September 1st, 2018 by Familius

Summary: Curiouser and curiouser!

In this imaginative prequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice finds herself at a gray, dreary boarding school that is decidedly up the rabbit hole. From the relentless clocks to the beastly students, Alice’s world is void of color and cheer–until Alice finds a secret garden and begins tending its wilting inhabitants. When Alice’s love touches an ordinary caterpillar, a lorry bird, and a white rabbit, magical things will happen–and that, as you know, is just the beginning of the story. Filled with literary allusions and clever nods to its classic roots, Alice’s Magic Garden is a delightful prequel that begs an escape to the whimsy of Wonderland.

Review: I love when I find a twist on a classic story that is new and fresh! Herz’s story about how Alice’s garden came to be is so unique and definitely different than I’d ever heard or read before. While it holds true to the magic and silliness of Carroll’s original, it also adds a nice lesson in the vein of kindness and happiness which will lead to some great discussions as well.

I’m also a huge fan of the illustrations. I loved how color was used to show the shift in Alice’s surroundings and the way the illustrator separated the real from the strange. Additionally, I truly loved the style of the artwork which, in my opinion, was a perfect style for the story: classic with a bit of whimsy.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Use Alice’s Magic Garden as a mentor text for an imaginative prequel and ask students to create their own picture book as a prequel for a book they’ve read, a class novel, or a book club selection.

Also the story has some wonderful word choice that students can look at and discuss why the specific words were chosen.

Lastly, Alice’s could be used with secondary classes if the classic text is being read to look at allusions.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why does the illustrator go from grayscale to color drawings?
  • What allusions to the original story do you see in the picture book?
  • How did kindness save the day?
  • How is Alice different than the other girls in her boarding school?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Fractured fairy tales or other retellings, “Jabberwocky” and other poems by Lewis Carroll

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**Thank you to Familius for providing a copy for review!**

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The Kid’s Awesome Activity Book
Author and Illustrator: Mike Lowery
Published June 12th, 2018 by Workman Publishing Company

Summary: Pure interactive fun between two covers!

A book that begs to be doodled in with 96 wacky prompts, games, and crafts, and adorable creatures to boot, The Kid’s Awesome Activity Book is packed with activities that take delightful twists and turns, inviting kids to design, draw, and dream—and encouraging creativity on and off the page. Enter an ancient cave to decode a mummy’s message. Find your way through a beehive maze. Write a song for a cat rock band. Design a personalized spaceship—and so much more. Plus, plenty of goodies to return to again and again for hands-on play: paper dolls, finger puppets, bonus stickers, and a giant pullout poster designed to kindle curious minds and active imaginations.

A great boredom-buster for travel or rainy days, and a fun birthday or holiday gift. From the author and illustrator of the Doodle Adventures® series and based on the Kid’s Awesome Activity Calendar, the book showcases Lowery’s inimitable quirky style and humor that clicks with all ages—get the whole family in on the fun!

About the Creator: Mike Lowery is the creator of The Kid’s Awesome Activity Calendar and the Doodle Adventures® series. His latest book, Random Illustrated Facts, collects weird bits of news and knowledge. Mike draws in his sketchbooks and posts on Instagram daily at @mikelowerystudio. He lives with his wife and children in Atlanta, Georgia.

Praise: “With bold, goofy artwork, a plethora of activities, and more than 400 stickers, this jam-packed offering from Lowery (the Doodle Adventure series) lives up to its name…Jokes and wordplay accompany the cast of loveable, dopey, and deadpan characters, and a detachable poster makes this exhilarating interactive book even more multidimensional.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

Kellee’s Review: I am such a fan of Mike Lowery’s illustrations, so I was so excited to see that this awesome activity book was created by him!  And if you know his work, you know how fun he is which translates so well to this activity book. Additionally, I really liked the different kinds of activities throughout–he did a great job mixing up the activities so no one feels the same. My son, and all kids, are going to love completing this book!

Ricki’s Review: Mike Lowery’s books emanate fun. My son is still a bit young for them, but we have such a blast doing the pages together. These are great books to stretch kids’ creative thinking. In many ways, they act as story starters. This book would be a wonderful resource for elementary school teachers seeking to integrate more creative writing in their classrooms. Students could pick pages that inspire them and use the ideas to generate story ideas. 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: There is so much to do in this activity book! It would be a great investment to get one of these for each student in you class to use during creative enrichment time. Activities include mazes, drawing, writing, word searches, and so much more. The recommendation of classroom library + read aloud below is meant to represent using the activity book with students in classrooms.

Discussion Questions: The entire book is filled with questions and activities! Check out the Flagged Passages to see:

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Interactive activity books filled with fun and educational activities

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**Thank you to Workman Publishing for providing copies for review!**

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The Struggles of Writer Wannabes by Paola M. and Amy C. (6th grade)

(Kellee’s note: These girls are already writers, not wannabes, but they titled their piece, so I didn’t want to change it.)

So, you want to be a writer? Truth is, it’s not as easy as it seems. Take it from two author wannabes. We could come up with the greatest ideas, but as soon as we pick up the pencil or or place our hands on the keyboard we realize we have nothing to write! And this is only one example of the struggles authors go through every day.

Coming Up with Story Ideas

Everyone comes up with ideas differently. You could be riding your bike when an idea about talking dogs talking over the wold hits you. But honestly the real problem isn’t how you come up with your ideas, it’s actually coming up with them.

If we’re being completely honest here, a big problem that writers like us have is coping with the planning stages of writing our stories. Now, I know you must be confused. What does planning have to do with coming up with ideas? Answer: Absolutely everything! Planning is basically thinking about the basic elements of your story (like theme and characters). What makes it especially difficult to deal with is the fact that you need to have everything ready to write. Which means you need to be able to explain your ideas off the bat if someone asks for your synopsis (that’s a fancy word for summary).

Another problem we have while coming up with our ideas is second-guessing ourselves. We keep questioning what we’ve written because we get nervous about what other people might think of our story or we start thinking about whether or not this is relevant to the story. Problems like these, fellow writers, is what causes writer’s block.

Writer’s Block

Ah, writer’s block. Don’t take it personally but nobody likes you. Currently, we’re dealing with this mess which makes writing (very) hard. You’d think writing about writer’s block while having writer’s block (wow that’s a tongue twister) would make things easier for us. Sadly, that’s not the case.

Writer’s block is pretty self explanatory. It’s when a writer can’t come up with new ideas or doesn’t know what to write next in his or her story. The problem about writer’s block is that no matter how hard you try you CANNOT come up with anything. You have to do something else to occupy your mind and get the creative juices flowing. The good thing is that while you’re doing chores (or anything else, for that matter) you can get some pretty amazing ideas. But sometimes doing something else can just be distracting.

Distractions

We can’t wait for the live action Mulan movie (that has no songs whatsoever) to come out!!! Oops! Wrong blog post… As you can see from our totally off topic starter sentence, we’ll be talking about some distractions that get writers off their game.

One thing that distracts aspiring authors from writing is the Internet. People can get so distracted with videos, social media, Netflix, games, and researching stuff for their books they forget about the most important thing: WRITING!!! This happens most often when you write on the computer. You can be searching something up real quick and come across an article that is interesting enough to keep you off task.

Procrastination plays a HUGE part here. Procrastination is the act of avoiding something. So basically when writers procrastinate they try to delay or avoid writing. Procrastination is a pretty big problem because we get absolutely no work done. And if you ever want to publish something… well let’s just say you can’t show an unfinished story to a publisher.  

This is probably a very weird one but too much noise, or even no noise at all, can distract writers. If there’s too much noise some writers won’t be able to concentrate. But if there’s no noise at all it can make some writers weary and unable to focus on their writing. Distractions can also cause another problem: A hiccup in time management.          

Not Having Enough Time to Write

As we have previously mentioned, distractions can cause many problems. Like time management problems. Sometimes writers just can’t find enough time to sit down and actually write.

For us the biggest problem is having so much school work to finish. For others it might be actually having to go to work. Whatever the reason, may it be homework, your job, having to run errands or see family members, it’s hard to set apart some time to do what you love, which is (hopefully) writing. The worst part? If you have no time to write, then you probably have no time to edit.           

Revising and Editing

Editing and revising are such a pain! And it gets even worse when you have no time to write. The problem is that it’s necessary. You need to edit and revise some parts of your story to get the best results for your book. Sometimes you need to cut out whole chapters or just fix a word to improve your story.

Editing and revising is a multi-step process. You need to know what you need to change and then you have to have the time and patience to actually edit and revise your story. We usually dedicate a couple hours to a day of editing and revising, so that we can get most of that work off our to-do lists. But as we have said countless times before: People do things differently. And getting over these writing struggles is yet another example of that.

In Conclusion…

From not being able to cook up some new ideas to not being able to write about those ideas, we have talked about some of the most painful struggles that we, as writers, go through every day. All of these things are hard to overcome and sometimes we might want to give up (Please don’t). In the end, though, this is all part of the story-making process and we kind of have to learn to deal with it.

Thank you to my wonderful students, Paola and Amy, for sharing your hilarious and thought-provoking reflections on being a kid writer!

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Daring Dreamers Club #1: Milla Takes Charge
Author: Erin Soderberg
Illustrator: Anoosha Syed
Published June 5th, 2018 by Random House

Summary: When you follow your dreams, the possibilities are endless!

Milla loves nothing more than imagining grand adventures in the great wide somewhere, just like Belle. She dreams of traveling the world and writing about her incredible discoveries. Unfortunately, there is nothing pretend about the fifth-grade overnight and Milla’s fear that her moms won’t let her go.

Enter Piper, Mariana, Zahra, and Ruby. Together with Milla, they form the Daring Dreamers Club and become best friends. But can they help Milla believe she’s ready for this real grand adventure?

Diverse, talented, and smart–these five girls found each other because they all had one thing in common: big dreams. Touching on everyday dramas and the ups and downs of friendship, this series will enchant all readers who are princesses at heart.

About the Creators: 

ERIN SODERBERG lives in Minneapolis, MN, with her husband, three adventure-loving kids, and a mischievous Goldendoodle named Wally. Before becoming an author, she was a children’s book editor and a cookie inventor and worked for Nickelodeon. She has written many books for young readers, including the Quirks and Puppy Pirates series. Visit her online at erinsoderberg.com.

ANOOSHA SYED is a Pakistani illustrator & character designer for animation. She received her BFA in illustration at Ceruleum: Ecole d’arts Visuels in Switzerland, and now lives in Canada. Visit her online at anooshasyed.com.

Praise: 

“Though core issues of identity, independence, and teamwork ground the novel, Disney Princess devotees will likely be the most charmed. —Publishers Weekly

“I cannot wait to “hear” the stories of all the other girls! Brava Erin SD for kicking off a new series for the younger MG set! Positive messages for kids! —Goodreads Praise

“Young readers will be able to relate to the story, there is a positive message, and the characters provide a model of friendship, showing how friends work together and support on another. Loved meeting these girls!” —Goodreads Praise

ReviewI know that at first this book may seem like a book that only Disney or Princess lovers would like, but it is so much more than that! So please do not judge this book by that idea! Instead you will find a story about girls who find a deep friendship within each other after being placed in a group at school together. With the guidance of an amazing educator, they look deep within themselves and join as a group while still celebrating their individuality.

Now, as someone who DOES love Disney and Disney princesses, I loved the angle that this book took! After the first assignment by their group teacher, the girls are asked to write about a princess who they connect with. Milla and her friends are using the strengths of the princesses as inspiration to build their own strengths. For example, Milla feels like her life is very sheltered, and she loves to write, so she finds inspiration in Belle. Ruby, who is athletic and prides herself in her strength, first struggles to connect with a princess but then she realizes that Mulan is a person that is very much who she would like to be. And each girl does her own reflection (written in her own words in a journal format).

This first book focuses on Milla, but we get to know all the girls through the inclusion of the journals and from Milla’s point of view. I assume that future books will also be in different points of view to allow readers to get to know more in depth each of the characters. I look forward to future books to see where Piper, Milla, Mariana, Ruby, Zahra and Ms. Bancroft go next!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I love Ms. Bancroft! And I think that how she had the girls introduce themselves and her first assignment that she gave the Daring Dreamers Club would be wonderful activities in a classroom:

  • “I’d love for each of you to introduce yourself and share one of your big dreams.”
  • “I want each of you to think of a princess you connect with or feel inspired by and explain why. Dig deep and really think about your answer.”

Since each of the girls’ answers are shared in the book, they would be a great thing to share as well.

In addition, this book is going to be LOVED by realistic fiction fans! I cannot wait to share it with my students.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which of the five main characters do you connect with the most?
  • If you had to choose a princess you connect with, who would you choose?
  • Do you think Milla went about getting her moms to trust her correctly?
  • How does Ms. Bancroft inspire the girls? How is she different than the last music teacher?
  • What is one of your big dreams?

Flagged Passages: “Milla loved reading and writing just about anything, but there was nothing she enjoyed more than creating adventures for herself. In Milla’s stories, she was always a brave hero without fears or worries of any kind. One of the things Milla most loved about writing was that she was totally in charge and got to make all the decisions about what would happen on her adventures. The only limitation was her imagination, and her imagination was vast.” (p. 6)

Read This If You Love: Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M. Martin, Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson, Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol, Whatever After by Sarah Mlynowski

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Disney’s Dream Big, Princess–Be a Champion Campaign: 

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**Thank you to Sydney at Penguin Random House for providing a copy for review!**

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Edwin C.’s Book Wish (7th grade)

I’ve never seen a book with a motive or change like this: I want it to be your typical protagonist and they have to stop someone. The author makes the protagonist look all nice and like they are the one doing the right thing then suddenly the protagonist shares their true intentions and they show they are actually the antagonist. And the antagonist is actually the protagonist. I think this would make a very interesting story, and the big plot twist would drag someone into the book.

Alejandro S.’s Book Wishes (8th grade)

  • One of my book wishes is for there to be more teenager reincarnation into a fantasy world where they are strong and smart enough to survive.
  • Another one of my book wishes is for there to be books where a person is transported inside a game and the game turns into real life.
    • Kellee’s note: Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde would fit this wish!
  • I wish there were books about surviving in a fantasy world as the main character has to purge the demon king and has to keep his power a secret to stay safe.
  • I wish there was a book about a main character who starts out weak in a fantasy world then unlocks a secret power which allows them to grow stronger at a faster pace and they have to save the world from chaos.
  • I wish there was a book with a main character who is a dragon who has to deal with monsters and humans.

Lucas D.’s Book Wishes (8th grade)

  • I wish there were more books about a kid who has it rough and only basketball helps him ignore it.
    • Kellee’s note: Slam by Walter Dean Myers would fit this wish!
  • I wish a book existed about a kid who rules the school but a simple mistake ruins his whole career in basketball.
  • A wish for me is for there to be about a book where there’s two kids left on Earth, and there are clues on how to live.
  • Another wish is for a book about a man who is hard working and dedicated to going to the NBA but ends up playing in the G-league, so he’s now nonstop training to make his dream come true.
  • I wish there was a book about a struggling kid who has nothing to live for and no one to help him in life or school, but when he picks up a basketball, everything changes.

Christian U.’s Book Wishes (8th grade)

  • I would like a book like Rescued by Eliot Schrefer but from the ape’s point of view. Many books are from the primate’s owner’s POV, and it would be interesting if one would accurately describe the behavior of an ape in real world situations.
  • I would like a book about a chair that holds secrets from WWII that could potentially stop WWIII from happening.
  • I would like a book about the life of an abused child because it can show how hard one’s life can get and the hardships they face and how they overcome it.
    • Kellee’s note: A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer would fit this wish!
  • I would like a book about the hardships Black Americans face today. This information can help show readers what it is like and potentially stop racism, discrimination, and other hardships.
    • Kellee’s note: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, Tyler Johnson was Here by Jay Coles, and more would fit this wish!
  • I would like a book about an utopian community that seems perfect but the main character is facing many hardships. Readers would relate to hardships when everything seems perfect.

Lizzie S.’s Book Wishes (6th grade)

  • I wish there were more books about:
    • Middle schoolers discovering their sexuality.
    • Camp life.
    • Sexual assault survivors.
    • Funny things little kids say.
    • The struggle of being a woman.
    • Dying coral reef.
    • Deforestation.
    • Women becoming themselves.
    • Endangered species.
    • Characters who are enemies and the narratives alternate.

Sarah H.’s Book Wishes (8th grade)

I want more books that talk about LBGTQ+ in middle school because middle school is already hard and questioning your sexuality doesn’t make it easier. Reading about people/characters in the same situation help push you in the right path. More books like that will help kids/students feel less alone and find people who are facing the same problems or thinking the same questions they are.

Estela R.’s and Ashley F.’s Book Wishes (8th grade)

  • Here are some ideas for books that Estela and Ashley wish existed:
    • Tabitha is just a normal 17 year old girl, except for the fact that she goes to Gloria Steinem School of the Arts, a Performing and Visual Arts School. During junior year she sees her dad die in a car crash, so she becomes a foster child of one of the most popular stars on Earth, Gavin DiCaprio, the son of Leonardo DiCaprio.
    • Lilia is in her senior year at Jackson High School in Prescott, Arizona. In 8th grade, her best friend, Justin, moved to a boarding school in England. He suddenly comes back for senior year and although Lilia remembers him, he has no clue who she is. She plays it off like they never met before; however, at a party, she goes into his room with him, and she sees all these pictures of her and him when they were little.
    • Every year teens from 13-18 go to a camp. They each get put into 4 different groups: cliste (smart), athletau (athletic), terreux (down to earth), and dirigeants (leaders). Bellamy and his sister, Maxwell, go to a camp where they have to take three official tests with their group to survive and not get illuminated (which means death).
    • Lee was a “normal” 8th grader, but his life changes when he gets stuck in his favorite horror movie “Skin.” He meets the main character, Victoria, and they have to work together to kill Skin for Lee to be able to go home.
    • Casey and Maisy are internet best friends. They have bonded for months over shows, movies, and more! They Facetime and text everyday until Casey gets into a coma, and Maisy has to figure out why she’s not texting anymore. Then she wants to somehow get to her.

Kim J.’s and Serine M.’s Book Wish

  • Here is an idea for a book that Kim and Serine wish existed:
    • The story is based off of a kidnapping. The main character has to be kidnapped to save others. What if she fails? But the world needs to change, and she’s the only one that can do it.
      • Main character: Adelyn Wyer
      • Friends: Julie, Kalia, Angelica
      • Other characters: Calyn, Wybie, Mr. Smelly, Doodle, Pete
      • Parents: Alex Wyer, Melissa Cargener

Thank you to my wonderful students, Edwin, Alejandro, Lucas, Christian, Lizzie, Sarah, Estela, Ashley, Kim, and Serine, for all their wishes and ideas!

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Masterpiece Robot and the Ferocious Valerie Knick-Knack
Author: Frank Tra
Illustrator: Rebecca Evans
Published April 17th, 2018 by Tilbury House Publishers

Summary: Masterpiece Robot pays tribute to the power of a child’s vivid imagination, which can transform a suburban autumn backyard into a futuristic battleground and Laura’s lively siblings into unwitting but enthusiastic participants in a fight for a planet’s survival. We begin in Laura’s bedroom where she is struggling to find her way into the story she wants to write, and we end there with Laura putting the finishing touches on her triumphant tale.

When Laura―a.k.a. Masterpiece Robot―heads into the backyard with her little sister Molly―a.k.a. Sidekick―her active imagination places them instead on patrol around the perimeter of a dystopian city, guarding against super villains. Then older sister Amber―a.k.a. Valerie Knick-Knack―throws handfuls of fallen leaves at them, unknowingly initiating a battle for the ages.

This one is such a fun read, and one kids will definitely relate to! It also lets adults relive those childhood memories where ordinary things – such as a pile of leaves, or a large cardboard box – can turn extraordinary with just a bit of imagination. The transitions back and forth from suburbia to dystopia in this story within a story are deftly rendered with contrasting palettes. The rollicking interactions of the sibling heroes and villains make Masterpiece Robot pure fun to read.

About the Author & Illustrator: 

A child of Vietnamese immigrants, FRANK TRA proudly calls Wichita, Kansas home. Frank attended the University of Kansas to wrestle and write comic books. While there, he also earned a Doctorate in Pharmacy. He has been a cancer pharmacist for the last ten years. Frank’s writing credits include two graphic novels and several comic books. Masterpiece Robot is his first children’s book. Dr. Tra resides in a quiet neighborhood with his wife, Katy, and their six children: Amber, Laura, Roman, Molly, Tommy, and Isaac. He spends his spare time writing, fishing, and coaching his high school wrestling team.

REBECCA EVANS worked for nine years as an artist and designer before returning to her first love: children’s book illustrations and writing. Her children’s books include Someday I’ll Fly; Friends in Fur Coats; The Good Things; The Shopkeeper’s Bear; Naughty Nan; Amhale in South Africa; Vivienne in France; Mei Ling in China; Marcela in Argentina; Tiffany in New York; and Tatiana in Russia. She lives in Maryland with her husband and four young children, shares her love of literature and art regularly at elementary schools, teaches art at the Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts, and works from her home studio whenever time permits. Rebecca’s boundless imagination enjoys free rein at www.rebeccaevans.net.

ReviewI love this book! I love the story, I love the spread of imaginative play, and I love the humor! It is so smart how the author and illustrator told both stories: the literal and the imaginative, and both stories are developed and fun to read together AND separately. This made for a quite complex book which is also really appealing to kids (and parents/teachers). I’m also a big fan of the artwork in the book. The illustrator did an amazing job changing the style just a bit for the imaginative and the reality but also kept her signature style in both. The illustrations definitely added to the narrative making this book a must get. I also loved that this is a sci-fi picture book because not many exist.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: There are a few different ways I envision this book being used in a classroom. First, I would like to say that it’s best would be in a read aloud with a conversation around the reality versus imaginative. There is also some great word choices and vocabulary throughout. Lastly, the reality has very little narrative, so students could write the story of what is actually happening. The discussion questions shared below will also lead to some great activities and discussions.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What character in real life was the imaginative characters?
  • Compare and contrast the reality and imaginative story.
  • How did the illustrator change her style for reality versus sci fi?
  • Think of a chore that you do at home. What could you imagine you were doing when you are doing your chore?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Zathura by Chris Van Allsburg, Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, Not a Box by Antoinette Portis, Going Places by Paul and Peter Reynolds, Weslandia by Paul Fleishman, and other books that promote imagination and creativity

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TwoSpells
Author: Mark Morrison
Published February 21st, 2018

About the Book: TwoSpells is a magical tale about a set of teenage twins, Sarah and Jon, who find out that they’re heirs to an ancient, magical realm containing an enchanted library that can transport a reader to anywhere or anytime the author has written into the story. They soon realize that moving through multidimensional worlds isn’t the safest or wisest of choices.

They’re immediately pulled into an inter-dimensional war erupting between goodness inherent within her kind and new evil forces flowing from parallel universes now looking to claim the library’s unique magical enchantment as their own portal to besieging and conquering their world and all realms outside their own.

Along the way, the twins meet astonishing and fascinating characters of a wide variety of species, both Regulars and Irregulars, who can do amazing things. Some are good and some are of unspeakably horrific creations bent on one thing: destroying the two strange intruders who have entered and disrupted their sacred two-dimensional domain.

Sarah and Jon have left behind their much simpler life as Regulars and embrace their new positions as successors to a very special kingdom designed for their kind only, the Irregulars.


Excerpt: Chapter 12

THE FRONT DOOR LAY FLATTENED, hinges bent and twisted and the sliding bolt-lock contorted. The door jam was broken and splintered.

“What is this?” Grandpa roared, waving his walking stick at the mountainous intruders. “Which one of ya’ is gonna pay for all this?”

The dust settled and the two ominous figures stood just outside the doorway, the bright moon blazing behind them. Tattooed across their pale blue foreheads were the numbers thirty-seven and thirty-eight. Each was stuffed into a suit two sizes too small and busting at the seams, barely able to contain their hulking, muscular bodies. Black, wraparound sunglasses hid their eyes from view and Sarah could tell that something strange lay behind them. One muttered into a small microphone curled toward his lips and the other stared straight ahead.

Grandpa rolled up behind them. “Collectors!”

“Collectors?” Sarah whispered to Jon. He shrugged.

“You know why here,” Thirty-seven grunted, flipping one side of his jacket open and exposing a peculiar gold badge attached to his belt. It was a cluster of mechanical gears embedded with astrological symbols and a mechanical winged dragon clinging to a peculiar orbs.

“We do not!” Grandma shouted, leaning on her walker.

“Overdue book,” the other one boomed, holding out a six fingered hand.

“I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about ya’ thug,” Grandma said, rolling her walker closer. “Who’s gonna fix me door?”

The Collectors muttered something in another language to one another.

“We haven’t even been ta’ the bloody library in years,” Grandpa argued. “Ya’ have that written in your records?”

Thirty-seven moved closer, his hand out again. “Special text overdue.”

Sarah and Jon eased backward a little. The tone of its voice sounded threatening.

About the Author: Mark was born number seven of eight children in a small town in Ohio. His family moved to Florida where he grew up, met an incredible women, got married and raised four fantastic children, three boys and a girl. Many years later an empty nest left him to his true calling, storytelling. His first remarkable story is about a heroin whose courage and unrestrained personality, like his daughters, breathes passion and fervor into this adrenaline packed fantastical story.

Author Guest Post: 

“The Uh… Game”

Hello Everyone,

I’m Mark Morrison. I’m originally from a teeny-tiny town in Ohio called Salem. My father used to say that it was the armpit of the country. Peeuuw! I have seven brothers and sisters, a slew of nieces and nephews and a couple dozen great nieces and nephews. I now live in Florida with my loving wife, four children and two beautiful grand-babes. It’s hot down here, but it’s just a sticky, obnoxiously wet heat. Hahaha.

My father used to say that I was an uneducated genius. I’m not exactly sure what he meant by that. I suppose he thought that because I spent most of my time in school more involved in sports and art classes than mathematics, history or science. I did, however, sneak in several elective credits as a librarian’s assistant. That was a whole lot of fun and I was able to read a ton of awesome books.

As a boy I grew up reading things like The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries, and classics, like Huckleberry Finn and Charlotte’s Web. I topped those off with some outstanding comic books and MAD magazines. But as I got older my taste changed. I was really into Isaac Asimov, George Orwell and Edgar Allen Poe. And I watched a lot of television as well. Star Trek, Dark Shadows, The Twilight Zone, Dr. Who, Andy Griffith, Mary Tyler Moore, the Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island rounded out some dull afternoons when I didn’t have a book in hand.

As most folks with large families know, board games are an inexpensive way to entertain ourselves. We’d always get a batch of new board games at Christmas along with a new pair of socks and underwear. On one particular low budget Christmas, my father introduced us to a game he claimed he’d invented called, “Uh!”

Our family would gather in the living room and Dad would elect one of us to start the game. The starter would have to create a totally fictitious story out of thin air using heavy inflection and hand gestures to embolden the story. After a sentence or two they’d pause mid-sentence and let the next player take over from there. This continued around the room until someone hesitated or said “uh” while trying to think of an idea. That player was out and the game continued until only one person was left. The stories were extremely creative and often incredibly strange, because each player was attempting to make the next in line chuckle and fumble. It was an awesome game of improvisation and I credit my love of storytelling, and wild hand gesturing while I speak, to that silly game.

Picture this scenario: A teacher in a room full of school children chooses an order to play a really fun and improvisational game. The teacher determines the first to play, a child in the front row seat was chosen and starts a story with a simple partial idea like this, “Once upon a time there was a young giraffe by the name of George who woke up one morning and realized he had lost his spots and…”

The child next in order adds to it, “Cried because he felt naked and embarrassed that all the other giraffes still had their beautiful spots and he didn’t. He searched the plains where he lived for hours on end, even searched the nearby forest with no luck at all. His spots had seemed to have just disappeared in the night. He decided somebody must have…

The next in order has to add to that, “Stolen his spots while he slept. Being the tallest creature in the neighborhood so continued his search further from home. He scanned the new surroundings until he saw what he thought were his missing spots on a creature perched on a tree limb in the distance. The creature was called a…

The next in order continues, “Leopard. George was furious that someone would take his precious spots. He ran to the tiny leopard and cried out….uhhhhh…”

That child slipped up and paused, therefore they’re eliminated and the game continues on from there to the next player rounding the room over and over until every child is eliminated except one.

The stories can turn into some very bizarre abstract worlds full of nonsensical ideas but hilarious sometimes. My family would have a ball for hours and hours playing UH! And for free. It was a fantastic way to teach us how to think fast and improvise. I lend that game to my ability to pretty much create a story out of any idea thrown at me in an instant.

Thanks for listening!

And thank you, Mark, for sharing your story!

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