Author Guest Post!: “How an Author Deals with Not Writing Something New” by Jordan Elizabeth, Author of The Escape from Witchwood Hollow


“How an Author Deals with Not Writing Something New”

I started telling stories as an infant.  My maternal grandmother recorded them for me on cassettes and would later write them down.  This went on until junior high (I had horrible handwriting) when I got my first computer.  After that, no one could stop my writing flow.  I whipped out stories like it was nobody’s business.

Short stories.  Novels.  The words flowed off my fingertips into the keyboard, messy handwriting thrown to the wind.

After high school, I set myself a goal.  Every night, I would write at least one chapter.  It is thanks to that goal that I now have 27 completed manuscripts and 9 published works.  Nothing could stop my writing streak.  I would lock myself into my bedroom and not come out – and not talk to anyone either – until I had completed that day’s chapter.

Okay, so nothing could stop my writing…except a pregnancy.  Not having the energy to write, losing that writing zone, was a blow.  I’d been sick before, but I’d always pushed myself to do at least a paragraph (it usually turned into my chapter).  Suddenly, I had no will to write.

It wasn’t a lack of motivation exactly.  It seemed to be a lot of things.  Stress, fear, exhaustion.  I would sit down at the computer, and when I pushed myself to do one paragraph, that’s all I got.  One paragraph.  One really crappy paragraph.

My characters reminded me of the characters in another of my books.  The setting was like the setting in yet another book.  I didn’t know where to take the story.  Such roadblocks had never happened before, and of course that just added onto my already huge array of negative emotions.

A writer has to write.


Wrong.  A writer has to be involved in books, but not necessarily writing.  I became depressed, feeling as if my writing career was crumbling, and I took that proverbial step back to reflect.  It sounds cliché, but it worked.  For me, at this point in time, writing wasn’t working, but I had to stay involved.  Since I wasn’t turning out new work, I could take a look at the old.

I called up one of my old manuscripts and gave it a fresh edit.  It wasn’t as tiring as writing something new and I could fully immerse myself in the fantasy world.  Pleased with this new edit, I let the story go into the world, and wouldn’t you know it found a home with a publisher?  The book is KISTISHI ISLAND, due to be released October 27, 2016 from Clean Reads.

I am now in the middle of editing another work.  Before, I would finish one and dive right into the next.  It feels great to explore these old worlds and beloved old friends without the guilt of not writing something new.  Yes, I am totally guilt free now about not writing and that is one less negative emotion on my plate.

People have told me being pregnant means I can eat anything I want without feeling guilty.  I have no urge to pig out yet (maybe that comes later?).  I’m changing that idea around into, “Being pregnant means I can edit all I want and not write without feeling guilty.”  I’ll get back into writing later.  For now, I have old manuscripts to keep me company.


About the Author: Jordan Elizabeth, formally Jordan Elizabeth Mierek, writes down her nightmares in order to live her dreams. With an eclectic job history behind her, she is now diving into the world of author. It happens to be her most favorite one yet. When she’s not creating art or searching for lost history in the woods, she’s updating her blog, Kissed by Literature.  Her published works include ESCAPE FROM WITCHWOOD HOLLOW, TREASURE DARKLY, BORN OF TREASURE, COGLING, RUNNERS & RIDERS, VICTORIAN, GOAT CHILDREN, and KISTISHI ISLAND.

Escape from Witchwood

About the Book: Everyone in Arnn – a small farming town with more legends than residents – knows the story of Witchwood Hollow: if you venture into the whispering forest, the witch will trap your soul among the shadowed trees.

After losing her parents in a horrific terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, fifteen-year-old Honoria and her older brother escape New York City to Arnn. In the lure of that perpetual darkness, Honoria finds hope, when she should be afraid.

Perhaps the witch can reunite her with her lost parents. Awakening the witch, however, brings more than salvation from mourning, for Honoria discovers a past of missing children and broken promises.

To save the citizens of Arnn from becoming the witch’s next victims, she must find the truth behind the woman’s madness.

How deep into Witchwood Hollow does Honoria dare venture?

Thank you Jordan for the reminder that writing isn’t only writing something new!

Kellee Signature andRickiSig

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas


uncorker of bottles

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles
Author: Michelle Cuevas
Illustrator: Erin E. Stead
Published August 23rd, 2016 by Dial Books

Summary: The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles, who lives alone atop a hill, has a job of the utmost importance. It is his task to open any bottles found at sea and make sure that the messages are delivered. He loves his job, though he has always wished that, someday, one of the letters would be addressed to him. One day he opens a party invitation—but there’s no name attached. As he devotes himself to the mystery of the intended recipient, he ends up finding something even more special: the possibility of new friends.

Kellee’s Review: I love the premise of an Uncorker of Ocean Bottles even existing! There are so many notes (notes in a bottle, notes to Santa, etc.) that are out there floating around, so it is so much fun to imagine what happens to them. But the story is really about the Uncorker himself. What is it like to have a very important job yet be alone all the time? No matter how much you love what you do, is being alone ever going to be easy?  

Erin Stead’s art always makes me want to pick up a book! Her use of woodblock prints, oil pastels, and pencil give a perfect feel for this story of a man who didn’t even know he was lonely. The illustrations give a wistful feel that fits Cuevas’s hopeful story. 

Ricki’s Review: This is a book that readers will never forget. Years from now, I will sit in the sand on a beach and think of the Uncorker and all of his gentleness as a human being. His loneliness emanated from the pages, and I longed to go to him, to stay with him, and to become his friend. This would be a great book to discuss relationships and friendships with kids, and it also would be an excellent way to talk about loneliness. All people—kids included—feel loneliness, so a book like this will open up wonderful conversations about this emotion that is not discussed often. 

The illustrations make this book stand out. I felt as if they were freshly drawn for my eyes only. I have a print hanging up in my son’s nursery, and I love looking at it every morning.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: As a read aloud in a classroom, The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles would be a perfect discussion starter on many levels. At the beginning of the book, students can guess what they think some of the bottle say when all they are told is that they are “dipped in sadness” or “very old” or “made people quite happy.” The conversation can continue about how they would feel living alone, even if they were doing something important and something they loved. Then they can make predictions about the message that is revealed then analyze how it changes the Uncorkers life.

Discussion Questions: What do you think the messages say?; What would you write as a message in a bottle if you were going to write one?; What do you think the Uncorker is going to do with the unaddressed message?; Would you like living alone?

Flagged Passages: “While the Uncorker of Ocean Bottles loved his job, he couldn’t help but wonder if he would ever receive a letter. Truth be told, each time he opened a bottle, a part of him hoped to see his own name winking from the top of the page.

But then he remembered that this was about as likely as finding a mermaid’s toenail on the beach. For he had no name. He had no friends. He stank of seaweed and salt and fishermen’s feet. No one would ever write him a letter.”

Read This If You Loved: Little Tree by Loren LongLenny & Lucy by Philip C. Stead, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Recommended For:

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Author Guest Post!: “Building Stories with Words” by John E. Stith, Author of Deep Quarry, Manhattan Transfer, and others


“Building Stories with Words” 

The writing life is filled with challenges. Early on it might be the need to sell that first story. Later you could be irked that Hollywood picked that actor to play your protagonist.

Today’s focus is the early stage, where stories are being rejected too often, or some of your Amazon reviews mention grammar.

“I can always hire an editor,” you might say, and I would reply, “But you want to be a writer. You build stories with words. You have to know how to use the only tools you have.”

In fiction, when you get one detail wrong, and then another, readers start to doubt you. That undermines your entire job. And when you misuse words, readers start to wonder, “If this writer hasn’t yet spent the time to master basic use of words, how will the writer handle far more difficult stuff, like creating compelling characters and generating a satisfying ending?” Word misuse is a red flag.

What readers want from a story covers a spectrum, but most readers are going to notice, either subliminally, or directly, if you make spelling or grammar errors. I’m not talking about the rare typo, but the actual and consistent misuse of words.

Here are highlights from the list of problems I see most frequently in workshop manuscripts or books published by impatient writers who haven’t yet learned the craft.


Emphasis is typically not indicated with ALL CAPS. Don’t use the comic-book style of multiple exclamation points. (Use ! or ? or whatever’s applicable; avoid ?!, ??, !!, and variations.)

Avoid dialect. Show different speech patterns and word choices in ways that are easier on the reader.
“Aggravate” means to make worse, not to irritate.
“All right” is preferred over “alright.”
“Alot” isn’t correct when you mean to say, “A lot of the…”
“Anxious” isn’t the same as “eager.”
“Awhile” means “for a while.” “For awhile” means “for for a while.”
“Farther” is for distance; “further” is for metaphorical use or to mean “additional.”
“Grey” is the British spelling; “gray” is the U.S. version. Use all US spellings for the US market and all British spellings for the British market. Arbitrarily mixing them makes you look inexperienced or pretentious.
Watch out for misusing “hopefully.” “Hopefully the tree will survive” is wrong unless the tree truly is hopeful.
“It’s” means “it is.” “Its” is possessive.
Look up “lie” and “lay” if all country songs sound grammatically correct to you. Look them up anyway.
If you’re tempted to write “close proximity” look up the meaning of “proximity.”
“Return back” is redundant. Use “return” or “go back” but don’t try to get them both into the sentence.

Hyphenate compound modifiers, but “ly” adverbs don’t take hyphens.

Almost always, starting a sentence with “so” is superfluous.

Be careful with gerund phrases, e.g. “Dialing the phone, I broke a nail.”  Unless you add a qualifier such as “before” or “after,” “while” is implied at the start of the gerund phrase. (While dialing the phone, I broke a nail.”) If you mentally put in the “while” you’ll probably find it harder to mistakenly complete the sentence with an action that does not happen concurrently. To belabor the point: “Dialing the phone, I asked the store what time they opened,” is wrong because the events are sequential, not concurrent. For sequential actions put “after” at the beginning.

Here’s a good example from Dan Brown’s ANGELS & DEMONS. “After parking the cart on the wide lawn directly behind St. Peter’s Basilica, the guard escorted Langdon and Vittoria up a stone escarpment to a marble plaza off the back of the basilica.” (He uses the old-fashioned–most would say sexist–technique of last name for male and first name for female, but the gerund usage is correct. A less careful writer would have skipped the “after.”)

Use “said” ninety percent of the time, or more, for dialogue (or omit speech tags); using your thesaurus for substitutes just calls attention to the substitute. Write dialogue clear enough that you don’t have to resort to writing things like: “You always get the good ones,” she said enviously.   Don’t use a substitute that doesn’t actually mean “say.”

Look carefully when you’re reading published fiction by a pro to see how dialogue is punctuated.
WRONG: “Hello,” he laughed.
RIGHT: “Hello.” He laughed.
RIGHT: “Hello,” he said with a laugh.

Set off direct address with commas.
WRONG: “Yes sir.” “Hello Frank.”
RIGHT: “Yes, sir.” “Hello, Frank.”

Think about the huge difference between these two lines:
“Let’s eat, dad.”
“Let’s eat dad.”

Semicolons can join related and complete sentences; don’t use them to join fragments. Semicolons are not interchangeable with commas.
WRONG: “The mist was clearing, Samantha could tell it was going to be a beautiful day.”
RIGHT: “The mist was clearing. Samantha could tell it was going to be a beautiful day.”

Don’t splice complete sentences together with commas. Don’t just guess when to use a semicolon (and don’t sprinkle apostrophes around just in case if you haven’t learned how to differentiate between contractions, plurals, and possessives.)   Use the serial comma (the last comma in the previous sentence and AKA the Oxford comma) because sometimes it really matters and being consistent helps clarity. Newspapers don’t use them, and newspapers have other stylistic ways they differ from fiction. Newspapers also use single quotation marks, where in fiction the double quotes are used–except when the sentence itself is in quotation marks.
WRONG: The car was advertised ‘as-is.’
RIGHT: The car was advertised “as-is.”
RIGHT: “The car was advertised ‘as-is,'” Sally said.

Additional note on the serial comma. The whole point of normally using the serial comma is for clarity, especially in the rare cases when the sentence is correct without it. For example: “The menu included the choices of pancakes, waffles, fish and chips.” If you normally use the serial comma correctly in other instances, the reader will know the omission of the serial comma here indicates the last choice on the menu is fish and chips, not chips.

Be consistent with singular and plural. “He” is singular, as is “she.” “Their” is plural. Some new writers try to avoid sexist writing merely by substituting “their” for “his” for instance, and some new writers just don’t understand the issue. With no more effort, any sentence can be written gender-neutral without introducing grammatical errors. Example:
OLD: A writer should express his own opinions.
WRONG: A writer should express their own opinions.
NEW: Writers should express their own opinions.


Some new writers are tempted to skip the basics, or they succumb to the perception that they need to get out lots of books instead of great books, or they make marketing errors like ending a book with a cliffhanger to get people to buy the next.


Some of your potential audience might not give you a second chance.

John, Crested Butte, 2011, cropped

About the Author: John E. Stith is a Nebula Award nominee for Redshift Rendezvous (Ace Books). His backlist is being reissued by ReAnimus Press during 2016 and 2017. Find him at, on Facebook at, and on Twitter @JohnEStith.

John Stith

Thank you, John, for this post! We, as English and reading teachers, couldn’t agree with you more. 

Kellee Signature andRickiSig

Whose Story Is This, Anyway? by Mike Flaherty


whose story is this anyway

Whose Story Is This, Anyway?
Author: Mike Flaherty
Illustrator: Oriol Vidal
Published May 3rd, 2016 by Sterling Children’s Books

Summary: What’s this book about? That depends on who you ask. Our humble narrator thinks he’s got a great story for you, but he barely begins before he’s interrupted . . . by a scallywag pirate with a thrilling legend of mermaids and sea monsters! Soon an entire cast of colorful characters—including a hungry dinosaur, an alien bent on world domination, and a heroic knight—derails the boy’s saga. Everyone has a tale to tell—but if they can all get on the same page, this might turn out to be the best story ever!

About the Author: Mike Flaherty is an author and occasional hockey coach trying to keep up with his two kids and rather voracious cats. His secret lair is hidden somewhere in New Albany, OH, and he would be the world’s greatest super-villain if he could figure out how to get his Doomsday Device working. Until then, he’ll just keep writing stories.

About the Illustrator: Oriol Vidal is an illustrator and storyboard artist based in Barcelona, Spain. He graduated from UB Barcelona with a degree in Fine Arts. Including illustrating books and magazines, Oriol has worked in animation where he developed character designs and storyboards for clients in the US, France, UK, South Korea, and Spain. He happily works and lives with his little daughter, his wife, his cat, and his rowdy budgie.

Kellee’s Review: This book made me laugh out loud. The characters are zany, the premise is fun, and the outcome is perfect. I also loved the comic-esque layout of the book with dialogue bubbles and colorful illustrations. Trent and I were enthralled with the cast of characters–the author really made sure to include all kids’ favorites.

Ricki’s Review: This is a book that somehow manages to cram in almost all of my son’s favorite things—and in an interesting, humorous way! With each page, my son says, “Ooooh!” because he is so excited by the characters. I particularly like how the narrator has a cat. Too often, male narrators always hold dogs and female narrators always hold cats. My son, who loves cats, is catching on to this, and it frustrates me. The creativity in this book is admirable, and kids will love it.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book will be such a fun addition to the classroom. It can be used for writing activities and for discussions (or as a mentor text) for point of view, voice, dialogue, humor, or narration. First, it would be really fun to rewrite this story from different points of view. Since each character thinks it is their story, their view of how things went down would be very different than the boys. It is also so great how the author gives each character their own voice and personality which would lend it to be a good mentor text for distinguishing voice and using dialogue. Also, students would have so much fun writing their own story about how each character ended up on this particular beach with this boy.

Discussion Questions: Why does the boy change is mind at the end of the book?; Which character would you want a whole story about?; How do you think each character ended up at this beach?; How would you have reacted if you were the boy?

Flagged Passages: 

Whose Story Spread

Read This If You Loved: Faraway Friends by Russ Cox, By Mouse & Frog by Deborah Freedman, Little Red Writing by Joan Holub, Nibbles by Emma Yarlett, Journey by Aaron Becker

Recommended For:

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

Author Guest Post!: “How to Love the Language Your Students Use” By Matthew Jobin, Author of The Nethergrim series


“How to Love the Language Your Students Use”
By Matthew Jobin, Author of The Nethergrim series

In sooth, I know not why I am so sad:
It wearies me; you say it wearies you;
Antonio, The Merchant of Venice (slightly abridged), Act 1, Scene 1.

It is a truism, or at least a trope, of adult life that we grownups inevitably begin to hear slang uttered by children and teens that we fail to understand. It’s never fun to hear words bandied back and forth between your juniors and be unable to follow it. Worse still, an adult might justifiably fear breaking into the conversation of younger people with the equivalent of ‘Hey, cool cats, I sure am hip to your rad lingo!’. No one has to deal with this divide more than teachers, who are not only grownups in constant contact with children, but also the gatekeepers to those students’ future. One of the things I learned in graduate school studying anthropology is that language serves many functions, only one of which is the simple conveyance of information. Another major function is inclusion within or exclusion from a group. Using slang correctly is a way of waving a door pass to get into a club. If you use the words the same way the cool kids do, then the cool kids either have to admit you know what they are talking about or change the slang to make sure you no longer do. The latter is, of course, the most likely occurrence of a fortysomething bursting into a gang of teenagers uttering “O hai random swag is amazeballs, bae!” or something to that effect. Knowing that there are words set up to exclude you from youth culture can sting (though to be honest, I’m fine with no longer being fifteen), but more importantly, a teacher might worry that he will have trouble getting ideas across in full to his students.

One way to talk across that barrier without breaking it down is to show students how language changes over time, and thus how what now sounds archaic was once the latest slang. Consider the currently hated word ‘literally’. It drives many people nuts to hear the word used to emphasize truth in a statement. It drives me especially nuts to hear it emerging from my own mouth from time to time, knowing all the while that I was getting by just fine without saying it nearly so much five years ago. It is easy to simply dismiss this as a symptom of the lazy thinking that goes on these days, or lax standards in the home, or not enough ten-year-olds reading Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, or some such. Don’t go that way; the kids are all right, just like you were. I am not saying that it is nice to hear ‘literally’ overused, but consider, though, what this use of ‘literally’ actually means. It is a way of saying “I assert the truth of this statement”. Can you think of other ways to say this? Have a look up at the Shakespeare quote from the top. Yup, that’s right. “In sooth” and “forsooth” do more or less the same job as “literally”. We might not talk exactly the same way they did in 1602, but we have mostly the same things to talk about. Connecting students to the fact that slang is ever-changing but at the same time never really new might give them a fresh perspective on the classics.

“I literally do not know why I am so sad:
It wearies me; you say it wearies you;”
Antonio, The Merchant of Venice (slightly abridged), Act 1, Scene 1.

Let’s go one step further. Some of you might have taken on the task of teaching Beowulf, a text in English so old that it is no longer intelligible to the untrained reader. The very first line, however, begins with “Hwaet!”, the call from the poet for the listeners to shut up, put down their mead cups and bend an ear. The word is an opener, a way to convey the idea that the speaker needs to to start listening so that he can tell you what he needs you to hear. That sounds an awful lot to me like “Listen up!” or even “O hai!”.

Is not “boon companion” another way of saying “bruh”? Is not “Zounds!” a form of “Wow. Just wow.”? Meanings shift and change context, but the basics of human life do not. The struggle for personal identity that characterizes late childhood and adolescence is much older than Shakespeare and the Beowulf poet. It is something fundamentally human, something our language hints at over and over in ever-changing guises through the years.

Personally, I would love to hear young folks bandying around ‘forsooth’ and ‘yea verily!’ for a while, just for a change-up. If any teacher out there can make a game out of that, she might find that she has squared the proverbial circle and made learning fun. Good writing deals in universals, and the interested reader will find more similarities than differences between his world and the world of the book he reads. This is because we are humans making human stories for humans. The jargon of Shakespeare might seem at first as impenetrable and intimidating as a gang of cool kids uttering the very latest gatekeeper slang around a teacher (or a nerd), but once the bridge has been crossed and the student understands that with slang, ’twas ever thus, he might begin to see the outlines of the very familiar ideas underneath the archaic forms of speech. After all, many of Dickens’ works are exposés of social injustice and inequality. Romeo and Juliet, rather famously, is partly about a gang war. If you read The Canterbury Tales and do not feel like taking a gap year and going backpacking through Europe, then I think you must be reading it upside-down. Slang, usage and jargon is surface; the depths are the common experiences of human life.

We few, we cray, cray few, we band of bruhs;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my bruh; be he just some random n00b,
This day he shall be totally amazeballs.
Once more unto the breach, bruh. Yolo.
Henry V, King Henry V (slightly abridged and a bit mashed up), Act 4, Scene 3-ish.

So, hope that was not too random, but anyway, meh whatever. Hungry. Time for noms.

Matthew Jobin’s latest book, “The Skeleth”, second in the Nethergrim series, will be published May 2016.

Author Bio: A native of Canada, Matthew Jobin holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from Stanford University. He lectures in anthropology at Santa Clara University. The idea for The Nethergrim came to Matthew as a young boy exploring the forest surrounding his home. Intent on telling the story of this fantasy world, he’s been developing it and its inhabitants ever since. Matthew lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife, Tina.

For more information visit his website at: and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

nethergrim nethergrim 2

By Matthew Jobin
Series: The Nethergrim (Book 1)
Published by Puffin Books
Paperback: 368 pages
Age Range: 10 and up
February 5, 2015; $8.99 US/$9.99 CAN; 9780142422687

The Next Great Fantasy Epic is here! For fans of Ranger’s Apprentice and the Chronicles of Narnia.

Everyone in Moorvale believes the legend: The brave knight Tristan and the famed wizard Vithric, in an epic battle decades ago, had defeated the evil Nethergrim and his minions. To this day, songs are sung and festivals held in the heroes’ honor. Yet now something dark has crept over the village. First animals disappear, their only remains a pile of bones licked clean. Then something worse: children disappear. The whispers begin quietly yet soon turn into a shout: The Nethergrim has returned!

Edmund’s brother is one of the missing, and Edmund knows he must do something to save his life. But what? Though a student of magic, he struggles to cast even the simplest spell. Still, he and his friends swallow their fear and set out to battle an ancient evil whose powers none of them can imagine. They will need to come together–and work apart–in ways that will test every ounce of resolve.

In a story reminiscent of the Ranger’s Apprentice epic and the Chronicles of Narnia, Matthew Jobin weaves reality, magic, and adventure into the next great fantasy phenomenon.

The Skeleth
By Matthew Jobin
Series: The Nethergrim (Book 2)
Published by Philomel Books
Hardcover: 400 pages
Age Range: 10 and up
May 10, 2016; $17.99 US/$23.99 CAN; 9780399159992

Discover for yourself why reviewers are comparing The Nethergrim to Lord of the RingsNarnia, and Ranger’s Apprentice! The next great epic fantasy is here . . .

For the lords of the north, land is power. The Nethergrim, now awoken and free to wreak its evil upon the world, offers the promise of victory to those ruthless enough to accept its foul bargain. One ambitious lord, eager for the chance to conquer and rule, succumbs to temptation and helps to free the Skeleth — eerie, otherworldly beings said to be unstoppable in battle. The Skeleth merge with the bodies of their victims, ruling their minds and turning them into remorseless killers. Worse yet, to kill the man inside the Skeleth only frees it to seize a new host, starting a cycle of violence that has no end.

Such chilling tales are not enough to stop young Edmund, innkeeper’s son and would-be wizard, from seeking for a way to turn back the oncoming tide of destruction. Along with his best friends — Katherine the trainer of war-horses and Tom the runaway slave — Edmund searches for a magical weakness in the Skeleth, something that might allow him to break their never-ending curse. The three friends join with the legendary hero Tristan in a battle of courage, wisdom, wits, and sacrifice to stop the Skeleth from ravaging their homeland and all they hold dear.

This adventurous tale that marries earthly greed to otherworldly evil is perfect for fans who enjoy the epic worlds of John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice, Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. Discover for yourself why so many are making the comparisons!

Thank you Matthew for this thought-provoking post!

Kellee Signature andRickiSig

Review and Giveaway!: Can You Canoe? and Other Adventure Songs by The Okee Dokee Brothers


can you canoe

Can You Canoe? And Other Adventure Songs
Author: The Okee Dokee Brothers
Illustrator: Brandon Reese
Published April 19th, 2016 by Sterling Children’s Books

Summary: Can You Canoe? invites you to journey cross-country with The Okee Dokee Brothers through twelve of their irresistible, boot-stompin’ tunes. You’ll encounter hungry black bears and tall-tale spinners; quiet canoes and cozy camping tents; a jumpin’ jamboree and a bullfrog opera. As you listen to the songs and follow along with the illustrated lyrics in this collection, you might even be inspired to head out on some outdoor adventure of your own!

Kellee’s Review: We love music in my house, so anytime a book and music can be connected really makes me happy. I think the Okee Dokee Brothers’ music is catchy, knee-slapping, sometimes funny, and have great messages. I love how they all promote the out doors and adventure. And just when you think it cannot get any better, you see the illustrations. Brandon Reese’s illustrations are perfect! They are so colorful and loud and cartoon-ish. Just the type of fun you think would be in a book by the Okee Dokee Brothers. 

Ricki’s Review: This book is pure fun. My toddler was bouncing around the room as I played the CD. My husband is an outdoorsy guy, so he particularly liked the messages within the songs. The rhymes are great, and they will help my son learn the lyrics as we listen/read. I’ve never been to an Okee Dokee concert, and now I want to go to one! We’ll be bringing this CD along for long car rides. Below, we include an illustration, and you can see the pure beauty of this text. I will be buying it as a gift for my music-loving friends.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: We love using music during my poetry lessons because it helps students hear poetry and not be as afraid of it like they are with classics. Starting with music and lyrics allows you to help them understand how to read poetry differently than prose while using something they can easily understand. Can You Canoewould be a perfect text to use this for because you can analyze for poetic elements and meaning, but the Okee Dokee Brothers also have a field journal in the back which help give background information about each song making analyzing them less of a guessing game.

Can You Canoe? would also be a wonderful poetry mentor texts. The authors talk about how they find ideas for their songs and many of their songs have a format that could be emulated (like Jack in Love that Dog) if you wanted to go that route in class.

Discussion Questions: How do the authors use rhythm and rhyme in their lyrics?; What is a time that the authors used descriptive language to help the reader imagine the scene they are describing?; What is a time the authors used figurative language to add imagery to their songs?

Flagged Passages:

“There’s a country store
In a country town.
Every Friday night
The people dance around.
It don’t look like much
And it ain’t no chore,
But while they’re dancin’
They polish that floor.

They play this song
Right on key.
They play this song –
It’s called JAMBOREE.”


Check out their You Tube channel to hear some of their music:

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**Thank you to Lauren at Sterling Publishing for providing a copy for review!**

Author Guest Post!: “Finding the Joy in Writing” by Laurisa White Reyes, Author of The Kids’ Guide to Writing Fiction


“Finding the Joy in Writing”

Any parent knows that if you want a kid to really hate something, just tell him he has to do it, or else. That was my son’s reaction when I told him he had to write a five paragraph essay. My instructions were met with so much whining and moaning you would have thought I’d asked him to scrub the bathroom with a toothbrush. His reaction, however, was not an unusual one. Many parents can attest to their children’s seemingly built-in aversion to writing. While some kids seem naturally drawn to writing, others would rather carry a load of rocks up a mountain than write a compound sentence. This is why I wrote The Kids’ Guide to Writing Fiction, because within every child is a story waiting to be told, whether they realize it or not.

Make Writing Fun

Remember the classic children’s film Mary Poppins? Jane and Michael Banks live in turn of the century London. These conniving pranksters manage to chase away every nanny their father hired for them. Their parents are at their wits’ end. Then Mary Poppins arrives. One of the first tasks she requests of the children is to pick up their room. Jane and Michael balk and whine. To them it is a tedious, pointless chore. What does Mary Poppins do to change their attitudes? She throws in a spoonful of sugar and makes the whole thing a game. In no time at all the room is clean and the children are tucked neatly in their beds.

Now, obviously, real life doesn’t work quite like that. We have no magical carpetbag from which to pull out hat racks and measuring sticks. But as parents and/or educators, we do have the same power as Mary Poppins to create an atmosphere of cooperation and optimism in our homes and classrooms. Whether or not our children will hate what we ask them to do, or do it willingly and cheerfully, depends largely on us.

I started teaching creative writing classes to children and teens about the same time my son was learning to write those essays. I looked for ways to encourage my students to write, and met with great success. Once I applied what I was using in my classes to my son, his attitude toward writing changed. And although it is still not his favorite activity, he has become a capable and skilled writer.

Writing is a Means of Self-Expression   

Writing well demands that the writer enjoy writing. When writing is nothing more than an assignment with no purpose except to earn a grade on a report card, chances are that the student will come to dread writing. He will view it as chore, just like washing the dishes or making his bed.

Is this the attitude we want our children to have about writing? Do we want them to write five-paragraph essays just for a grade? Is that really the purpose of a writing education? Of course not. The ultimate goal is for our children to feel confident in their writing skills, to use writing as a means of self-expression. But to achieve that goal requires that we, as adults, help our kids find the joy in writing.

In my writing classes, I taught students how to write. I did not, however, grade anything, nor did I spend much time critiquing their work. In fact, my students didn’t even realize they were learning to write well, because they were so excited about what they were doing. Over the years, I’ve heard from many of my students’ parents about how their children were transformed from reluctant writers to kids who wouldn’t put their pencils down. The key to this transformation was that I made writing fun.

To me, there is nothing more enjoyable than sitting alone at my computer in the middle of the night to write. I would rather do that than just about anything else. The question is, how do we transfer this love of writing to our kids?

The first step in helping kids write well is to take writing out of the picture. Writing is a means to an end, a tool for getting what is inside someone’s head onto paper. What’s really important is the message or information writing conveys.

Think of words as clay. Clay by itself is nothing but a gray lump on a potter’s wheel. But in the hands of the potter, the clay begins to take shape. If the potter doesn’t like the form, he can squash it and start all over again. He can do this over and over until he gets it just right. Once it is finished and the piece is fired and glazed, we see not the lump of clay, but a beautiful piece of art or a functional object, such as a vase.

Writers use words to create something beautiful and useful. They are not as concerned with the words as they are with the finished product. When children focus on that finished product, be it a poem or essay or story, words become tools, the medium by which they can bring their dreams to life.

The Storyteller Within

One the most effective ways to help kids fall in love with writing is by helping them discover the storyteller within. We are all storytellers. A storyteller is someone who relates events in a logical order to someone else. Think about the last time you told a friend about a movie you a saw, or an event you attended, or even just something that happened that was interesting. How did you share that information? Most likely, you told it in the form of a story.

The reason so many children and teens are averse to writing, particularly in school, is because they have not yet tapped in to their own natural storytelling abilities. That is my objective with The Kids’ Guide to Writing Fiction. In this book, I teach kids about the six fundamental building blocks needed to create stories: characterization, setting, plot, perspective, imagery, and dialogue. I take them step-by-step through the process of crafting a story and help them excavate their own imaginations for ideas. Then I help them put those ideas into words and onto paper.

Once a child has written a story of his own, he feels a great sense of satisfaction. He discovers that writing is fun. This discovery is what can tear down the walls of resistance and self-doubt, and can build confidence in his ability to learn other forms of writing, such as those dreaded 5 paragraph essays.

The ultimate goal of a writing education is to teach kids to write well, but if they hate writing, that goal is nearly impossible to achieve. However, once a child discovers the joy of tapping into his own creativity, then, like Mary Poppins’ carpet bag, writing becomes limitless…and magical.

The Kids’ Guide to Writing Fiction


About the Book: We are all storytellers. Whether weaving mythologies in ancient times or describing the plot of a favorite movie today, humans have, since the beginning of time, loved to tell stories. In The Kids’ Guide to Writing Fiction, students explore the building blocks needed to construct a story: characterization, setting, plot, perspective, plot, imagery, and dialog. Then, using these building blocks, they create their own stories.

Accessible to both the struggling student and the budding novelist—as well as to teachers, parents, and even adult aspiring writers, author Laurisa White Reyes presents key elements of story writing and clarifies them with examples and worksheets. Concepts are explained in simple, clear language while gently introducing vocabulary words.The Kids’ Guide to Writing Fiction offers welcome guidance to storytellers of all ages.

Twitter: @lwreyes


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About the Author: Laurisa White Reyes is the author of four novels for young readers, including the 2015 Spark Award winner, The Storytellers. She is also the author of The Kids’ Guide to Writing Fiction & Teaching Kids to Write Well: Six Secrets Every Grown-up Should Know. In addition to writing, she also manages to squeeze time into her busy life to teach college English; run her own editorial/publishing business, Skyrocket Press; and be mom to her five children. You can learn more about her at:

Thank you to Laurisa for this very helpful post!

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