Thursday, June 30, 2011

Kids writing for pleasure and for purpose: The Learning Partnership's Entrepreneurial Adventure program

A teacher/parent recently asked me if I'd be willing to talk with her son about writing books. It seems Turner has written his first book and wants to know how to go about getting it published.  He's in Grade 1.

So I told her I'd be happy to discuss his options, but it's really quite simple: revise and rework it until it's the best it can be, research suitable publishers, read their submission guidelines, and send it off.

So what if the author hasn't left primary school yet? Go Turner, say I.

All writers want to see their words in print. We all see ourselves at the top of our craft, piles of books flying off the shelves of bookstores, reviews and interviews on the Books pages of newspapers. That's the glam side of writing.

But the less glamourous side is the effort it takes to think, write, revise, and slog your way through a writing project. Kids like Turner make me smile: for them it's the pure pleasure of expressing themselves by putting words on a page. "Pure" is the operative word.

And if that pleasure extends to purposefulness, who can resist? Consider the grade 5/6 students at Springvale Elementary School in Halifax. Under the direction of their teacher, Valerie Dockendorff, the kids have written What If? (for sale here by Nimbus Publishing imprint, Acorn Press), a book of hope that addresses the question: What if the world's problems didn't exist?

This project was entered in the recent BMO Financial Group "Entrepreneurial Adventure" program, along with innovative, charity-based school projects from across the country. Young writers exploring their creativity and putting it towards good works: it doesn't get any better.


Read more about the Entrepreneurial Adventure program at The Learning Partnership. Here's a blurb from The Learning Partnership's press release about the 2011 BMO Financial Group's national student innovation awards:

Word by Word
Springvale Elementary School, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Students: Grades five/six
Teacher: Valerie Dockendorff
Business partner: Troy Yeo, CA, Accountant Staffing

The 18 grade five/six students at Springvale wanted to raise awareness about problems faced by kids all over the world and they wanted to do this by imagining what it would be like if the problem didn’t exist! In Social Studies, the students had been learning about social justice, diversity and global cultures. They’d also been learning about determining the impact kids have – or don’t have – on important local and global issues as well as significant decision making. The student-driven decision to create a book as their venture got its inspiration from an earlier class visit by an author/illustrator. Their book’s title is What if … The students painted beautiful illustrations demonstrating what a perfect world would look like if the problems mentioned didn’t exist. Messages of hope, positive images and concrete ways to take action – all created by the kids – are incorporated in What if … ,  to hopefully change people’s actions...Word by Word. The book has been published by Acorn Press, selling, for $9.95.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The good, the bad, and the ugly: Reviews that help or hurt

A few months ago, I went looking for people to review my books.

It was a bit scary, because a long time ago, my first novel, Wild Dog Summer, was trashed by a reviewer in a highly-respected journal of children's literature. It was a terrible review - paralyzed me for weeks! - but I got over it, and my book continued to resonate with young readers and their teachers. In fact, the publisher continued to print and sell Wild Dog Summer across Canada for ten more years. During that time, many envelopes stuffed with enthusiastic reader responses arrived in the mail.

So does a review really matter? Well, yes, I think it does. A review gets readers' attention, for better or for worse, and after a few years of being less than noticed, I figured it was time. I put the word out on this blog and in the Twittersphere: I'm looking for reviewers.

CM: Canadian Review of Materials, a publication from the University of Manitoba, agreed to review my two novels, Wild Dog Summer (now re-issued by my own imprint, Pugwash Publishers) and The Toymaker's Son. The review appears in the current issue, and while the reviewer didn't gush, she certainly picked up on the important themes in the books and pointed out their goods points. And their bad points. Unfortunately for me, the "Recommended with reservations" falls far short of my expectations.

This isn't a completely sad story, however.  I was also approached by Sarah Butland, a writer, blogger and reviewer from Moncton, New Brunswick, who wanted to interview me and review The Toymaker's Son for her blog.

Sarah is a writer herself, with a particular interest in promoting literacy, writing, and a love of reading. Her website is full of prompts, suggestions and information for kids, parents, writers - anyone who gets a buzz from the written word.

Here's Sarah's review of The Toymaker's Son, and here's the interview (which includes my strategies for avoiding procrastination, views on how to hook reluctant readers, opinions of school reading lists, my 92-year-old uncle's description of the role of e-books...and more).

Thanks for the opportunity to talk about my writing life, Sarah!

So the good (getting some positive attention), the bad (reviews not meeting expectations) and the ugly (Recommended with Reservations): such is the life of a writer. Imagination, talent, discipline, and a very thick skin required.