This year we received 200 applications from young writers across 7 states from over 35 different cities. Thanks to our star judges we have 23 winners and 58 finalists.
1st-4th GRADE STORY JUDGES
David Shannon: Internationally acclaimed picture book author and winner of many awards including Book Sense Best Picture Book, Golden Kite Award, and New York Times Best Illustrated Book List.
“Loved these stories – so imaginative and well-written. Usually it’s one or the other, even with grown-ups! It was really a pleasure to read them.” –David Shannon
Jennifer Fosberry: New York Times best-seller and author of the Isabella books.
“Wow what a difficult yet enjoyable task to judge these stories. I found it interesting to see that different authors showed different strengths and also different places to improve and grow in their craft. They were all so good. I am impressed at the level of story-telling and writing that I have seen with the Young Inklings competition.” –Jennifer Fosberry
1st-4th STORY WINNERS
Anabel Orozco –“Kai’s First Kiss/El Primer Beso De Kai” (Grade 1)
Dillon Mareth – “Mike’s Beaver Tail” (Grade 3)
Natalie Sharp – “The Skating Goat” (Grade 4)
Sahana Srinivasan – “The Mystery of the Disappearing Pets” (Grade 2)
Samantha Vargas –“Dusty” (Grade 2)
Sydney Goodwin – “Unspoken” (Grade 4)
Zoe Friedman – “My One-Inch Tall Life” (Grade 2)
5th-8th GRADE STORY JUDGES
Laura Ruby: Author of Bone Gap and winner of many awards, including the Printz Award.
“I was so impressed with the range of stories submitted, everything from historical fantasy, to folk tale, to humor. But more than that, I was impressed with the sheer talent of these young writers.” -Laura Ruby
Mandy Davis:Author of forthcoming middle-grade novel, Superstar.
“What a treat it was to read the writing of these talented young writers! While the pieces were all very different from one another, they all had one important thing in common: the unique voice of each writer shined through on the page.” –Mandy Davis
5th-8th GRADE STORY WINNERS
Aidan Wen – “Earth and Sky” (Grade 8)
Benjamin Hayes – “Whalewatching Past Westerndon” (Grade 5)
Erin Gray – “Saving Billy” (Grade 6)
Judge Cantrell – “The Ghost of the Underworld” (Grade 6)
Manasi Garg – “The Girl with the Light-Up Shoes” (Grade 7)
Maya Lopez – “A Journey to a New Land” (Grade 7)
Samantha James – “Hocus Pocus” (Grade 8)
Xiomara Guevara – “Silver Lining” (Grade 6)
1ST-4TH GRADE POETRY JUDGE
Tim McCanna: Author of 6 forthcoming picture books including Bitty Bot which comes out in October 2016.
“What an incredible range of poetic work from these Young Inklings! Sometimes quiet, sometimes fierce, sometimes super funny. But always fresh, inventive, and engaging. Exceptional work from an exceptional group of young writers.” —Tim McCanna
1ST-4TH GRADE POETRY WINNERS
Colin Chu – “Ten” (Grade 2)
Kendra Mills –“Leaves” (Grade 1)
Jasper Micheletti – “Beautiful Long Curly Hair” (Grade 2)
Juliana Baltz –“Whale Eating Contest” (Grade 3)
5th-8th GRADE POETRY JUDGE
Marilyn Hilton: Author of Full Cicada Moon and Found Things, winner of the 2015-16 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature.
“Poetry expresses the breadth and depth of the human experience using an economy of words. As a reader and writer of poetry, it was a joy to see how these young poets chose to express their personal and unique perspectives of the world. All the writers deserve huge congratulations for their work, and I felt truly privileged to be able to read them.” – Marilyn Hilton
5th-8th GRADE POETRY WINNERS
Cianna Brown – “Races” (Grade 7)
Karishma Miranda – “Broken Beyond Repair” (Grade 6)
Rafael Stankeiewicz –“Long Lost Love” (Grade 8)
Sophia Zalewski –“The Storm Inside Her” (Grade 8)
Congratulations, winners! Be sure to check your email. You’ll be meeting your mentor and start working on your revisions soon! To see the list of finalists clickhere.
These were tough decisions. We were highly impressed with all of the talented writers who submitted their stories and poems, and can’t wait to tell each of you exactly what we loved about your work. Soon, all applicants will receive a special letter from our team about your submission. Be sure to watch your email inbox–we’ll be sending those letters throughout the month of April.
The book and author spotlighted in this Ink Splat is Out of Left Fieldby Liza Ketchum. We even have an author interview! Submit a response to the challenge and you may have a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?
The Challenge: Making Memories
Take a few minutes to describe a place you know well. Maybe it’s the closet in your bedroom, or the den at your grandmother’s house…or a fort you built in a vacant lot or back yard…or your basement where you tinker with a chemistry set…or the stairwell in your apartment building where you sit and talk with your friends…or the corner grocery where the Korean owner slips you a piece of candy when you do errands…or your top bunk at summer camp…or your kitchen table, where you do homework while your dad cooks dinner and music is playing…or the grassy bank near the train tracks…or the school gym where you saw someone being bullied…or the beach where a storm has churned up big waves as you’re about to try surfing for the first time…
This should be a place that brings up strong emotions: joy, excitement, sorrow, fear, comfort, loneliness, laughter, safety, feelings of being trapped—etc. Use all FIVE senses, including taste and texture. And BE SPECIFIC. Don’t say it’s a “tree,” but a ponderosa pine. Not just a “bird,” but a red tail hawk. Not “bedding,” but an antique wedding quilt. And don’t forget colors. If there are people or animals in this place, describe them, too.
Then—try changing this place in one way, so the atmosphere shifts. Does a sudden wind come up, whipping the curtains at your grandmother’s house? Do you hear a noise you’ve never heard in that spot? Does a stranger who scares you—or dares you to do something bold—suddenly appear? Do you come home to find that someone has painted your favorite place a strange color without your permission? When you hurry down the stairs in your apartment building, do you find a wild animal trapped there?
See what story might emerge from this exercise. And have fun!.
The summer of 2004 is full of promise for Brandon McGinnis. He has a job, a spot on the varsity swim team, loving parents, and loyal friends. Brandon and his dad, ardent Red Sox fans, wonder: could this be the year the Sox finally win the World Series? Then Brandon’s father dies suddenly. His will, signed just before his death, reveals a secret kept for thirty years. As shadows of the Vietnam War bleed into the escalating War in Iraq, Brandon sets out to solve the mystery his father left behind. His journey takes him to Canada’s Cape Breton Island, where he uncovers bittersweet truths about the past, and a family facing their own hidden demons. Brandon’s courageous search throws him into life’s game with its devastating losses, unexpected curve balls, and thrills as wondrous as a home run on an autumn night.
An Interview with author Liza Ketchum:
1.What inspired you to write Out of Left Field, and how did baseball play a part in that?
Out of Left Field had its beginnings in a short story, Sable Mouvants, which I wrote long ago for an anthology called On the Edge: Stories at the Brink. (Simon and Schuster, 2000, Lois Duncan, Editor.) Settings often inspire my stories, and Sable Mouvants (which means quicksand, in French) was no exception. My husband and I had visited the D-Day cemeteries in Normandy, France, where thousands of young soldiers had died. We also went out to Mount St. Michel, where strong tides create deadly quicksand. In the short story, my character, Brandon, finds out that his father—who has just died—may have had a son in Canada, where he lived during the Vietnam War. After the story was published, the situation gnawed at me. Was it true that Brandon had a brother in Canada? Why did his father keep that a secret? Would Brandon want to find this lost sibling?
The Vietnam War was also an inspiration for this novel. For years, I’d been haunted by events that took place during the Vietnam War, when my cousin and a close friend both died. I’d tried to write about the war many times, but hadn’t found the right path into the story. Then, in 2004, our country was embroiled in two wars far from home (Iraq and Afghanistan.) At the same time, my beloved Red Sox suddenly looked as if they could win a World Series for the first time in 86 years. I started asking myself the “What If” questions that are so important in fiction: What If Brandon and his father were Red Sox fans? What If his dad’s will exposed a family secret? What would Brandon do? I wrote the novel to answer those questions.
2. Your writing really captures each character’s voice. What advice do you have for young authors who are writing from the perspective of a character that they may or may not have a lot in common with?
Thank you. This is an important question. As a writer, you need to live inside your character’s skin, as if you were playing him or her in a play. In fact, one of the best ways to understand characters is to be involved in theatre productions. I went to theatre school for a summer after high school, and I learned a lot about character development from that experience.
It also helps to jot down a complete inventory of your character. You need to know everything about him or her: their appearance; what they wear; their families, pets and friend; their hopes and dreams; their strengths and weaknesses. (Look for some good prompts on creating characters on other Inkling posts. Also: check out Marion Dane Bauer’s excellent book for young writers called “What’s Your Story?”)
Some questions you can ask yourself: Does your character have a secret? What does he or she carry in her pockets? Purse? Backpack? But voice is the key element for me. I can’t write from a character’s point of view until I hear his or her voice in my head.
Brandon’s voice came to me right away. I listened for it and I knew, from the beginning, that the novel would be in first person, even though I’m female and no longer a teen! I could also hear Cat’s voice easily. She reminds me of a few feisty young girls I’ve met over the years. But Quinn’s voice was the toughest to capture. I had to imagine what it might be like to find out, when you’re an adult, that your family has been keeping dark secrets about your past. I finally remembered a conversation I had years ago, with a woman who discovered, when she was an adult, that one of her parents was not her biological parent. It turned her world upside down. That helped me to understand Quinn’s anger and confusion.
3. How did the multiple settings affect the story when you were writing Out of Left Field?
My husband and I have visited Nova Scotia many times. We went on a whale watch from Freetown on Digby neck, and saw a right whale breech near the boat. We spent time in Baddeck, on Cape Breton Island, and explored the province. Settings are like characters, in my stories. I try to capture the sensory experience of a place: its sights, smells, sounds, and atmosphere. I pay attention to wildlife and the natural world. I keep journals when I travel, where I jot down the names of plants, trees, birds and other animals we see. I also take pictures and keep notes on interesting people, their jobs, the food they eat, their clothing—anything that might help to add significant details to the story. As I wrote Out of Left Field, I read over my Nova Scotia journals and pinned up photos of the area.
If it’s possible, I prefer to write about a place I know. That’s true of Fenway Park in Boston, where the Red Sox play. My husband and I are big baseball fans, and we’ve been to the ballpark in all kinds of weather, for big wins and sad losses. I love the electricity of the park, the enthusiasm of the fans, the smell of hot dogs, popcorn, and cotton candy, the beauty of the emerald grass in late afternoon, and the way the ballpark rocks when we sing “Sweet Caroline” in the 8th inning.
4.How did you so seamlessly weave such big themes such as the impact of war and dealing with grief into the story?
That’s a lovely compliment. Thank you. From the moment I started this novel, I knew that I needed to balance Brandon’s grief and confusion over his father’s secret, with something that would give him pleasure. Baseball was something he shared with his father and a game he loved himself. Emotional depth is very important to me in my stories and I drew on my own experiences for this novel. When my good friend and my cousin were killed in Vietnam, I was lucky that my grandmother, some older friends of my parents, and some friends I’d grown up with, helped me to deal with my sorrow. I decided that Brandon needed an adult who would understand and help him, which is why I created Tony, the guy in the ticket booth at the ballpark. Marty and Brandon’s aunt and cousin were also important supports to Brandon during this hard time.
I also remember the different ways that families responded to the Vietnam War. When my friend Mike died, his family marched and protested the war; my family did, too. But my cousin’s parents believed the war was a good thing, which caused a lot of tension in my family. I also remembered that we didn’t treat our veterans very well during that time, which is why Brandon meets a troubled veteran in a later chapter. Most of all, I have joyous memories of that fabulous Red Sox season, when our team nearly lost the playoffs but came back to win the whole thing. The Boston area was delirious with happiness.
5. Is there anything else you would like us to know about OutofLeftField?
Although I wrote this novel for young adults, I have been delighted to hear from a number of adult readers who have written to me about the book. Many also experienced the Vietnam War and have strong memories of that period. One thing for young readers to know: I first had the idea for Brandon’s story in the late ‘90s. The novel was finally published in 2014. Sometimes it takes many years for a story to emerge. Don’t give up on your writing, even if it takes a long time to find an audience. I believe that everyone has important stories to share. If you have other questions, feel free to visit my website where you can send me a message.
We are getting so excited for the Inklings Book Contest 2016!
March 15th is just around the corner, and we can’t wait to see which wonderful stories and poems will make up this year’s anthology. This year, we’ve brought on some superstars judges to help choose the winners! Submit your story or poem now to have it read by one of these illustrious authors…
Tim McCanna (1st-2nd grade fiction judge) author of 6 forthcoming picture books including Bitty Bot which comes out in October 2016.
Jennifer Fosberry (3rd-4th grade fiction judge) New York Times best-seller and author of the Isabella books.
David Shannon (5th-6th grade fiction judge) internationally acclaimed picture book author and winner of many awards including Booksense Best Picture Book, Golden Kite Award, and New York Times Best Illustrated Book List.
Laura Ruby (7th-8th grade fiction judge) author of Bone Gap and winner of many awards, including the Printz Award.
Mandy Davis (1st-4th grade poetry judge) author of forthcoming middle-grade novel, Superstar.
Marilyn Hilton (4th-8th poetry judge) author of Full Cicada Moon and Found Things, winner of the 2015-16 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature.
Stories and poems must be submitted to the Inklings Book Contest by March 15! Find out more and submit your story or poem here.
The book and author spotlighted in this Ink Splat is Playing Julietby JoAnne Stewart Wetzel. We even have an author interview! Submit a response to the challenge and you may have a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?
The Challenge: Starting Things Off Right
The first sentence in your story is the most important sentence that you write. It’s the hook that catches your readers’ attention and pulls them into the story. Here’s three first sentences that made me keep reading. I had to discover the answer to the question each one raised and find out just how bad the situation was.
“Where’s Papa going with that axe?” from Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
There’s a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrub, and he almost deserved it. from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis.
The day that Henry cleaned his room, reporters came. from The Day that Henry Cleaned his Room, a picture book by Sarah Wilson.
Write the first sentence in your story. Try to raise a question that will hook your readers so they have to read more. Here’s the first sentence I wrote for my middle-grade novel, Playing Juliet. Did it hook you?
There’s a play by William Shakespeare that’s so unlucky, no actor ever says the title outloud. from Playing Juliet by JoAnne Steward Wetzel.
Beth Sondquist, age twelve and a half, dreams of playing the part of Juliet…but for now she’s just the cat in Cinderella. One day, though, she’s determined to become a real actress! But all her hopes for an acting career come crashing down when the Oakfield Children’s Theater is slated to be closed. Beth and her best friend, Zandy, are willing to do whatever it takes to save the theater, but their plans quickly go awry when Beth’s father catches her sneaking back into her bedroom window well past bedtime. With eviction looming, the children’s theater director decides to close the theater with the same play the theater opened with fifty years ago—Romeo and Juliet. But Beth’s grounded for the next two weeks, and won’t be able to try out. How will Beth pull off playing Juliet if she can’t even make tryouts? Only Beth can play Juliet as the kid that she is…with a little bit of luck, maybe she’ll get her chance.
An Interview with author JoAnne Stewart Wetzel:
1. What is your connection to theatre? did you ever play or want to play Juliet?
I saw my first play, Peter Pan, on Broadway when I was seven years old. The children could fly! Ever since that evening, I’ve known something magical might happen in a theater at any moment.
Years later, I saw another magical production, Shakespeare’s play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It had fairies who battled with flowers so furiously that a few landed on my lap. That night I vowed to see a production of every play by Shakespeare. In 2014, I flew to Hawaii to see my 39th Shakespearian play, Edward III.
My husband and I have a daughter who began acting at the Palo Alto Children’s Theatre when she was nine. My first book was a photoessay about putting on a play at that theater, OnStage/BackStage (Carolrhoda), which I wrote and illustrated with Caryn Huberman. My latest book, Playing Juliet (Sky Pony Press) is also set in a children’s theater. I’ve acted at school, and in community theaters, but I’ve never played Juliet.
2. There are many lessons one might learn from Playing Juliet. Is there one that stands out or rings most true to you?
If you have a problem, try to solve it. It’s silly to worry without doing anything about it.
3. This Winter, we’re focusing on mischief and mayhem with our Boarding School Stories at Inklings! Beth makes some mischief of her own. What advice do you have for weaving playful mischief into a story?
Give your character a good reason for taking the actions that lead to mayhem. If he or she has the best of intentions and a desperately important reason for heading into mischief, the reader will be able to sympathize with the character, no matter what disaster befalls.
4. What was it like writing from the perspective of a character who is not your own age?
It’s easy to write about someone who is not my age as long as the character is younger than me. I remember what it was like to be 12 and a half because I was once. I think it would take some research to write about someone who is much older than I am, because I’ve never experienced life from that perspective.
5. Is there anything else you would like us to know about Playing Juliet?
William Shakespeare helped me write this. A quote from one of his plays appears as an epigraph at the start of each chapter to forecast what’s coming next in the story. Shakespeare also wrote some of the dialogue. When Beth, my main character, is grounded for some serious mischief, (for which she had a desperately important reason), she quotes Juliet’s speeches about being locked away to her parents each time she is sent back to her room. 2016 is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. He was born and died on the same day of the month, April 23rd. Will you celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday in 2016? You get ideas on how to honor his birthday or you can share your ideas on Facebook at Happy Birthday Shakespeare!or starting in February at www.playingjuliet.com.
The book and author spotlighted in this Ink Splat is Clementine For Christmasby Daphne Benedis-Grab. We even have an author interview! Submit a response to the challenge and you may have a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?
The Challenge: Getting To Know Your Character
Characters are the heart of a good story and the best, most memorable characters come alive as we read about them. Characters come to us in all kinds of ways but when you have one the next step is getting to know them, making them fully formed and three dimensional with their own backstory, preferences, and quirks. So once you have a character in mind, try interviewing them using the following questions and any others that feel relevant.
Where do you live and who do you live with?
How old are you and when is your birthday? What did you do for your birthday party when you turned 5?
What makes you happiest?
What is your deepest fear?
What is a secret you share only with your closest friends or maybe not with anyone at all?
What is your favorite kind of ice cream?
If you were an animal, what kind would you be and why?
What are six words that you would use to describe yourself?
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
Not everything you discover about your character can or should be in your story – but knowing all this information makes the character come alive as you write.
It’s the holiday season in Frost Ridge! Josie usually keeps to herself at school, but the holidays are her favorite time of year, and she comes out of her shell when she and her dog, Clementine, volunteer with the kids at the local hospital. Josie loves dressing up in silly costumes, singing carols, and helping to prepare for the big Christmas Festival. That is, until she learns that this year’s Festival has been canceled. Meanwhile, Oscar’s parents’ constant fighting makes his home feel like a battle-field. To make matters worse, he gets into trouble at school and has to spend the holiday season volunteering at the hospital – even though he hates Christmas. Gabby’s life seems perfect…but Gabby also has a secret that could ruin everything, and when she winds up in the hospital, she’s sure the truth will be discovered. As if things couldn’t get worse, Josie’s beloved Clementine disappears, Oscar’s parents separate, and Gabby’s secret is uncovered. Together, can Josie, Oscar, and Gabby find a way to save the holiday, or will this be the worst Christmas ever?
An Interview with author Daphne Benedis-Grab:
1. You’ve written more than one book set at Christmas time, what is it about this season that inspires you?
I adore pretty much everything about the Christmas season: the carols, the tree trimming, the lights, the cookies. Then there are the deeper things that touch on the meaning and mystery of Christmas, that spirit of giving and friendship and love. I enjoy writing books that celebrate these things and also show the struggle to get past our own fears to a place of connecting with others.
2. In Clementine for Christmas, the story is told from multiple perspectives. How did you move the plot along clearly while still developing each character’s side story?
It took a lot of edits. But I started with an outline. I find that with the different characters, who each have their own arc and are also tied in the central story, I have to think the whole thing through. Each chapter has to turn the wheel forward, moving towards the final resolution, and for me that is the easiest to achieve if I map it all out before digging into the actual writing.
3. Clementine for Christmas has quite a surprising twist towards the end! What advice do you have in terms of setting up and revealing a twist?
I love a good twist and I’m pleased to hear it surprised you! I think the secret is having it carefully plotted, with seeds planted early on, so that a reader can go back, examine each event that happened, see the seeds and realize it all fits together and leads up to that twist. The trick is seeding it enough that it does make sense, yet not giving away too much because then readers will see it coming and it’s not a twist at all. I find for this to work, it’s important to have a critique partner read through an early draft and tell me how well it’s working and how I can make it even better.
4. There are many lessons to be learned from Clementine for Christmas: the value of friendship, learning to be oneself, the power of an apology and forgiveness – the list goes on! Which is your favorite and why?
All of these values are extremely important to me but there are moments in my life where one is especially central to my thinking, and right now that would be the power of apology, of owning our mistakes instead of denying them or hiding from them. It’s one of those things that is simple and easy to say, yet so hard to actually do.
5. Is there anything else you would like us to know about Clementine for Christmas?
That I hope readers connect to the characters and have moments that make them laugh, make them tear up a bit and leave them with something to think about. To me it’s essential that a book have an emotional impact and I very much hope that that’s what people experience when they read Clementine.
The book and author spotlighted in this Ink Splat is Dark Sparkle Tea by Tim J. Myers. We even have an author interview! Submit a response to the challenge and you may have a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?
The Challenge: Dreaming Up Possibilities
When you think about it, sleeping and dreaming are very mysterious. We spend a third of our lifetimes asleep, and a lot of that time dreaming. Come up with ideas about why we sleep and/or dream and use them as the basis for a piece of writing. You could perhaps write about beings who don’t sleep and/or dream, or of humans who have special powers of sleep or dreaming, or you could write about the meaning of your own dreams. There are lots of possibilities!
The sun is setting, the moon begins to peek out from behind a cluster of wispy clouds, grown-up eyelids grow heavy as yawns make their way into the evening…but for us kids, it always seems like there should be at least five more minutes of play-time before bed! Dark Sparkle Tea, a collection of original poems by Tim J. Myers, offers a solution to such a predicament. With silly poems about a smelly skunk family all the way to touching lullabies, Dark Sparkle Tea is bound to have something for everyone in the family…and turn the bedtime stand-off into a giggle-fest with poems and illustrations that will ignite kids’ imaginations, nurture a love for language, and send them off to a snoozy dreamland.
An Interview with author Tim J. Myers:
1. Where did you come up with the idea to write Dark Sparkle Tea?
This book grew directly out of my in-the-trenches experience of parenthood. It’s amazing how consistently kids don’t want to go to bed at bedtime. A conflict as old as time: The parent knows the kid needs her sleep (as does the parent!), but the kid is wide-eyed and, as my wife puts it, “more than wiggly.” It’s a natural stand-off.
During the years when I went through this with my two young sons, I established a bedtime limit: two stories and then you sleep. One day I realized that, since they always wanted more, I could manipulate them, as it were, by offering a poem after the stories were done. In their lust for wakefulness they immediately agreed. So I started collecting various poems—beautiful, powerful poems, many of them written for adults—and my sons came to love them. For example, Harold Monro’s haunting “Overheard on a Salt Marsh”, which you can find here. (To this day, when one of my sons wants something he’ll sometimes say, “Give it me”).
Then I realized I could write my own poems for the bedtime ritual, an idea that warmed me to the bottom of my heart. And my first thought was—make it work for the kids AND the grown-ups. So Dark-Sparkle Tea was born, with its combination of crazy energized poems and slow, soothing, soporific ones. My main selling point is that the book is a kind of bait and switch: Pull the rug-rats in with wild and funny poems, then lull them with the lullabies.
2. It seems that each poem in this collection tells its own unique story. How did you generate ideas for each poem, and did you write them all at once or did they come together over time?
I’m always writing, so some of these poems already existed. But most were written for the book. Some came from my own experience, some from memories from childhood. Many were born, though, purely out of sound—that is, a certain beat to a line, and certain qualities of words coming together in phrases in ways that pleased my ear. That’s often what leads me into a poem.
I was also definitely influenced by Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. And my editor worked with me to trim the collection, dropping certain poems— those that were more literary, less action-oriented, dreamier, stranger.
3. What role does imagery play for you when you’re writing? And how do you translate the pictures in your head so vividly into words?
Well, first, thanks for saying that!
Imagery is—jeeze, I hesitate here, because it’s hard to specifically characterize something so fundamental. Sometimes I think poetry is like having a head full of fireworks and straining to get them onto the page. But not just huge loud fireworks— quiet glowing ones too. I love to read “Bees at Night” to an audience, both for the sound of it and because the images of homey, happy bees and the beauty of the night are so intoxicating to me. In a similar way—but with a very different result—I got a huge kick out of visualizing Frisky, my electric-guitar-playing hamster. Some of this, as I mentioned above, comes at least in part from my own childhood. I love, for instance, to visually imagine a train that comes to take you to Dreamland, as in the opening poem. If you’ve ever seen the superb animated movie Little Nemo in Dreamland, you’ll know what I’m talking about. So imagery is a huge part of my life as a writer, like an endless fountain flowing within me.
4. You use several different poetic forms in this book. Do you have any advice for young poets who might feel overwhelmed or struggle with form, rhyme, and other devices that give structure to poems?
I do have advice about that, but it’s really no different from what a coach or a teacher or a music teacher or anyone else teaching any craft will say. It’s difficult to master a form. It takes time and dedication and hard work. The trick, it seems to me, is to see the why of it. Artists tend to be those people who get so excited when they experience great art that they’re more-or-less permanently dazzled. Once you get that bedazzlement into you, it drives you—you can’t help it. You start to see all the labor as only a means to a end, a glorious end, so it stops feeling so difficult.
That’s why it’s crucial, in my opinion, that in teaching young people any craft we spend time sharing great works with them and helping them learn to love how those works affect them. Poets usually come to love form because of what it allows them to do. They don’t feel constrained by it, but liberated.
And a liberation that doesn’t come to us until we give deeply of ourselves—that’s a liberation you can trust.
5. Is there anything else you would like us to know about Dark Sparkle Tea?
There is something else—thanks for asking!
I wrote Dark-Sparkle Tea to make kids laugh and feel good, and to knock the little Tasmanian devils out. But this book comes from a deep part of me, from a place in my depths where who I am as an adult and who I was as a child aren’t separated as they are in daily life. This book is predicated on a way of seeing the relationship between children and adults. To me that relationship is utterly sacred.
Bedtime is more than just one more practical transition in a kid’s daily life. It’s a natural sacrament, I think—that is, if parents or guardians understand it and treat it as it’s meant to be treated. The world is often a hard and terrible place. But it isn’t all darkness. And at bedtime we grown-ups can give our kids a way of seeing the world, a way of feeling their lives, that’s based on all the great good the world also offers us.
At bedtime this great cosmic good takes on a small but powerful form. It’s an adult or guardian saying, “I love you. You are precious to me. You are good. And look at the good in the world.” All this can be said even if those words are never used. Because we sit close, and we share a story or a poem (or both!), and the adult gives all his or her attention to the child. For a child to feel safe and loved—this is a quiet goodness I can’t find adequate words to express. It’s a good that renews the world, not to mention what it means to the adult that child will grow up to be.
Here’s a poem that didn’t make the book. But I like it, because, even if only tangentially, symbolically, it speaks to that sense of being loved and being safe, both physically and psychologically, which is so powerful in making our children happy and strong:
The Ink Splat is our monthly activity letter filled with idea sparking challenges and resources guaranteed to inspire your creativity. The book and author spotlighted in this Ink Splat is The Pumpkin Runner by Marsha Diane Arnold. We even have an author interview! Submit a response to the challenge and you may have a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?
The Challenge: Truth or Fiction
Some stories, like The Pumpkin Runner, arise from a true incident. Marsha Diane Arnold used information about a true event and a real man to build a fictional story. Think about the exaggerated incidents in her story, like a ten-year-old running 24 miles in a day or a jeep filled with pumpkins. (You can read again the author’s note at the bottom of the last page to remember what parts of the story are true. You might also look at Warm as Woolby Scott Russell Sanders, another story inspired by a fragment of information.)
Think of a real person you admire or find an interesting article or news story. Build your own fanciful story around the real person or the true news article.
Fall is finally here and pumpkins are beginning to pop up everywhere!…but for Joshua Summerhayes, pumpkins are a more than just a halloween decoration. The Pumpkin Runner, by Marsha Diane Arnold, tells the tale of an Australian sheep farmer who prefers running to any tractor or horse that he could use to check on his sheep. Always seen with his trusty Yellow Dog trailing behind him, Joshua Summerhayes decides to put his love for running to the test by entering a race from Melbourne to Sydney. Most people laugh when old Joshua arrives at the race, quietly nibbling on some pumpkin to keep himself energized. But soon, the crowd leans forward as he pulls into the lead, and proves that winning isn’t the only reason to run a race….
An Interview with author Marsha Diane Arnold:
1. The Pumpkin Runner is inspired by a true event. How did you find out about this event, and what drove you to write a book about it?
I decided I wanted to write The Pumpkin Runner when my friend Jim asked me to attend a workshop he was leading. To demonstrate perseverance, Jim told the story of Cliff Young, a 61-year-old farmer who entered, and won, an ultra-marathon against professional runners!
But, you may ask, where did Jim find out about this 500-mile race from Melbourne to Sydney, Australia? All Jim had was a clipping from Sports Illustrated magazine – one small paragraph about the race.
When I heard the tale of this improbable hero, I knew I wanted to share his real story through a fictional book. People laughed at this unlikely runner, but Cliff surprised them by winning the race. Then he surprised them again by sharing the $10,000 prize with all the other runners. Cliff hadn’t run for the money. He ran for the love of it. Isn’t that a tale that deserves telling?
2. What kind of research did you have to do in order to feel like you did the story of The Pumpkin Runner justice?
The book was published in 1998 and I was probably working on it in 1995. That was a long time ago to remember research! But I do remember sitting in my study, pouring through National Geographic magazines about Australia. At that time I’d never been to Australia and I wanted to get the feel just right.
When I wrote my story, I could find almost nothing about Cliff Young and the race. In a way, I had to make up a fiction story. The Australian Information Service informed me that Cliff trained for the race by running in gumboots around the farm, herding cattle. He didn’t actually run the race in gumboots and overalls, but I thought it made a good story.
My sources said Cliff Young was a potato farmer and helped his brother raise cattle. I decided to make my character, Joshua, a sheep rancher because there are lots of sheep ranchers in Australia and because I thought sheep would make great illustrations. But years after I wrote the story, I found sources that say Cliff was a sheep rancher, that he had both cattle and sheep on his farm.
Research is tricky. When I search the internet today about Cliff Young, I find lots more information. Still, some is correct. Some not. Cliff Young has passed away, but he enjoyed running all his life. He remains a folk hero in Australia.
3. The great thing about picture books is, well, the pictures! What is it like working with an illustrator to bring your story to life on the page?
Writers and illustrators don’t usually work together. My editors select my illustrators. I’ve never met most of them. Though I do correspond with a few of them through Facebook and e-mail now, I didn’t in my early career.
Brad Sneed, the illustrator of The Pumpkin Runner, is different. I’ve met Brad on several occasions at Children’s Book Festivals and conferences. He’s one of my favorite people in the world – kind, gracious, funny, talented.
Brad worried as much as I did about being sure our story had the feel and look of Australia. Brad had never visited there either. He studied lots of photos of Australia before and during his work on the illustrations. Our research paid off. The Pumpkin Runner was selected as a Smithsonian Notable Book. It was also chosen to be in the Houghton Mifflin 4th grade reader for over ten years. But just as important is that people who live in or have visited Australia say we got it just right. I was lucky to have Brad do the illustrations for another of my books, The Bravest of Us All. It was inspired by my father’s family and my growing up in Kansas. This setting was a bit more comfortable for Brad as he lives in Kansas and knows those wheat fields and windmills really well.
4. What do you think are some important themes and/or messages in this book?
There are so many! I don’t think about themes and messages when I’m writing a story, but when I finish the story, I see them. My readers see even more! I enjoy reading stories with many layers and many meanings. I think that’s why I subconsciously write stories with many layers too.
First, there’s lots of education fun that The Pumpkin Runner leads to: geography (the setting is Australia and other towns in the world are mentioned,) sheep ranching, the history of the jeep, physical fitness and good nutrition, architecture (Brad shows the Sydney Opera House in one of his illustrations,) the metric system, cooking (preferably pumpkin!), the physics of ballooning, and flora and fauna (wattle, grove, eucalyptus, platypus.)
But the more important themes involve things like being laughed at or dealing with people who are braggers and cheaters, like Damien Dodgerelle. The story tells of “young ones” snickering and giggling at Joshua. “Yellow Dog growled, but Joshua just said, ‘Never mind now.’ ” The story shows Damien’s cheating and how Joshua never got angry. He was flexible and didn’t despair. He decided to keep on running: perseverance. Another theme is sharing. Joshua (and the real Cliff Young) divided his winnings with the other racers; and remember that Joshua includes Damien Dodgerelle in his sharing. He forgave Damien: forgiveness. Joshua shows how to be humble, honest, and forgiving, very important themes.
5. Do you have any advice for young writers?
I’ll share four things:
1. Like many other writers, I suggest reading! It’s good to read all kinds of books, but I think if you want to write wonderful stories and poems, it’s best to read the best. Read the classics, read the Caldecott and Newbery winners and honor books, read the winners of your state Children’s Choice awards. Usually, the writers of these books have a deep understanding of language and rhythm. When you read their words, their sentences, their paragraphs, the language and rhythm sounds inside you and it will hold as a standard for your own writing.
2. When you’re reading, note the characters and what you like about them and what you don’t like about them. Most books are popular because of the wonderful characters that populate them.
3. Observe and listen. When you’re aware of your surroundings, or your world, you’ll find so much to appreciate that will inspire you to write. As Young Inklings you know that writers are always listening, always looking, and always aware. There are stories out there! They’re just waiting for us.
4. And like The Pumpkin Runner – have perseverance, don’t give up, and do what you love just for the joy of it.
6. Are there any other fun facts we should know aboutThe Pumpkin Runner?
The Pumpkin Runner is still “running” strong after 17 years in print. Although it has nothing to do with Halloween, it seems to be a popular story in October. I know of at least two schools that celebrate The Pumpkin Runner with races, games and activities. This will be the fourth year I’ve skyped with the wonderful community at Walter Jackson Elementary to help celebrate their annual Pumpkin Run day a the end of October. It’s an all day affair and the whole community takes part in the mile run. Next year they’re going for 5 miles! They run for the joy of it, just like Joshua Summerhayes.
I would also like to tell you that, if you enjoy The Pumpkin Runner, I have a new book, Lost. Found., a Junior Library Guild Selection, coming out in early November.
The Ink Splat is our monthly activity letter filled with idea sparking challenges and resources guaranteed to inspire your creativity. The book and author spotlighted in this Ink Splat is A Hitch at the Fairmont by Jim Averbeck. We even have an author interview! Submit a response to the challenge and you may have a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?
The Challenge: Writing In Circles
Randomly circle one word on each list, and create a story using them:
Who can resist a story full of mystery, adventure, and even a few laughs? A Hitch at the Fairmont by Jim Averbeck with illustration by Nick Bertozzi is a 416 page novel for young readers, set in our very own San Francisco, California! After the death of his mother, Jack Fair moves to the fancy Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco to live with his evil Aunt Edith. Jack fears that his life will now consist of nothing more than serving chocolates to his awful aunt and her pet chinchilla – until one night when Aunt Edith goes missing! Jack is left with nothing but a mysterious note written in… chocolate? He sets out to find his aunt alone, until he meets an unlikely partner: the one and only Alfred Hitchcock! Together, the two crime-solvers embark on a journey full of secret doorways, sinister clues, and hopefully the answer to what really happened to Jack’s mother and missing aunt!
Tips from author Jim Averbeck:
SYI: A Hitch at the Fairmont has such a unique setting. How did you decide on this setting? How did you research this setting?
JA: Richard Peck once said “We don’t write what we know, we write what we can research.” This scared me a little because I remembered doing a lot of dull research on assigned topics in high school and college. So I realized if I was going to be required to research, I had better like the topic. The two things that I thought of, that I read up on just for pleasure, were Alfred Hitchcock and San Francisco history. Luckily the two intersect, as he shot several films here, most notably was VERTIGO in 1956. So my setting was, well… set.
I researched San Francisco in many ways. I read what was online, and went to the library, of course. But because I live in the city I also visited any of the places I wanted to include in my story. I questioned people who lived here in 1956, including a friend’s father who was a policeman, and knew a lot about crime in that era. Another friend had a cousin who worked at the Fairmont Hotel. She arranged for me to interview the concierge (who met Hitchcock in 1976!) and also to have a tour of the hotel, from the $10,000 a night penthouse to the narrow dim corridors of the “back of the house” – the underground area where the staff works and stores all that is needed to run the place. One of my favorite things was browsing through the ephemera collection in the library. This is a collection of odds and ends from the period – cocktail napkins from the Tonga Room, menus from the hotel restaurant, postcards, etc. And of course, when all else fails – ask a librarian. I needed to know the price of taxi fare in 1956. The librarian I asked rubbed his chin for a minute or two, then went right to a book which had the information. Amazing!
SYI: At SYI, we talk about how nearly every book has a bit of mystery in it. Your book is a true mystery, though. What do you think writing a mystery taught you about writing that you’ll apply to your other books?
JA: I had to make a giant chart of when a clue dropped, how the character observed it and how he finally put the pieces together. I was constantly in the character’s head asking “Does he know this yet? What has he seen and what did he think about it?” So I guess my mystery writing taught me to stay close to the character’s point of view and to keep organized. It’s important to remember where that charter is emotionally and intellectually at any point in the story.
SYI: You’re also an illustrator. What role do visuals and visual thinking play in your writing process?
JA: I always envision a scene before writing it. In A Hitch At The Fairmont this envisioning process was made into a part of the book. Because the characters use cinematic conventions to solve the mystery, we used storyboards, like the ones used to lay out a movie before it is shot, to illustrate the action in each upcoming chapter.
SYI: How long did it take to write and revise A Hitch at the Fairmont? What was the most unexpected part of the process for you?
JA:I wrote it over a ten year period, but with many interruptions to work on books that came under contract. I would say the total time actually writing, from inception to publication, was probably one-and-one-half to two years. The most unexpected part was that it was my first novel and it sold on the first submission.
SYI: At SYI, we talk a lot about revision and in particular, about specific strategies to try out when we revise. Did you learn anything about revision while writing your book?
JA: I learned that one way to approach revision is to do like tasks together. That is to say, go through the manuscript pass by pass, working on a specific thing each pass. My first draft was a little bit of setting, but mostly dialogue and humor. Then I went through and fleshed out the setting descriptions. Then I worked on character emotions. Then I added sensory detail. So I was in a specific mode for each pass, and didn’t need to keep shifting gears, or get overwhelmed by all the work. It was like building a lasagna, one layer at a time.
SYI: Do you have any advice for our community about ways to come up with original story ideas?
JA: Learn the rules. Master them. Then subvert them.
Thanks Jim Averbeck!
The A Hitch at the Fairmont is available on Amazon!
For more information about author Jim Averbeck and his books visit his website here.
The Ink Splat is our monthly activity letter filled with inspiration sparking challenges and resources guaranteed to inspire your creativity. In this Ink Splat, the book and author spotlighted is Finding Serendipity By Angelica Banks along with an author interview! Submit a response to a challenge and you may have a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?
The Challenge: Reaching The End
For this month’s challenge, write a story by starting with the end! What’s the final scene in your book? Write it out, then work backwards from there.
Reread some of your favorite endings, and try and figure out what makes them work. Is it some big reveal, a twist, a sudden realization by the main character? Then try and do the same thing in your ending!
Finding Serendipity by Angelica Banks
When Tuesday McGillycuddy and her beloved dog, Baxterr, discover that Tuesday’s mother—the famous author Serendipity Smith—has gone missing, they set out on a magical adventure. In their quest to find Serendipity, they discover the mysterious and unpredictable place that stories come from. Here, Tuesday befriends the fearless Vivienne Small, learns to sail an enchanted boat, tangles with an evil pirate, and discovers the truth about her remarkable dog. Along the way, she learns what it means to be a writer and how difficult it can sometimes be to get all the way to The End ~ Angelica Banks is the pen name of two authors, Danielle Wood and Heather Rose, working together.
About the BOOK:
Q: What do you think is the coolest part of the magical world you have created?
A: It was only when we started writing together that we discovered we had a few shared fantasies. An unusual one was that we had both dreamed of being locked in a library overnight. So, one very cool thing that we created together was the great library where every story ever written is housed in an enormous and beautiful book room with a vast ceiling and shelves that go on almost forever. But another dream that we each had is one that we probably share with just about every child reader and that is the fantasy of being able to walk into the world of a book that you love. Tuesday has read all her mother’s stories about Vivienne Small, and loved them, but in Finding Serendipity she has the opportunity to go there in person.
About the PROCESS:
Q: Baxterr sounds like he’s just as involved in the story as Tuesday. What’s it like writing an animal character?
A: Baxterr with a double r was based on a very fine real-life dog called Axel Rooney, to whom Finding Serendipity is partly dedicated. There’s an old saying that dogs are the nicest people. Indeed, there really is nothing like the devotion, loyalty, courage, and optimism of a truly good dog. So I think you can tell that we really enjoyed writing Baxterr, not least because we could rely on him to be pure of heart at all times.
Q:How did you decide on your character’s names? Do you have a particular process?
A: One of the wonderful things about writing in a partnership is that neither one of us has to know everything about our stories. And it so happened that each of us knew the names of about half of our characters. Danielle knew the name of Tuesday McGillycuddy and Heather knew the name of her mother, Serendipity Smith. The name of the villain, Carsten Mothwood, though, was one that we made up together, as was the name of our loveable but irritating superstar teen writer Blake Luckhurst.
Q: Where did this wonderful idea come from?
A: Well, like most book-length ideas, this one came to us piece by piece. Some parts as if by magic and some by long, hard toil. There were some chapters that we wrote over and over and over again until we got them just right, and others that fell into place on the first try. Writing is a mysterious business. As our dear Librarian tells Tuesday: ‘a story is like a giant jigsaw puzzle: a jigsaw puzzle that would cover the whole floor of a room with its tiny pieces. But it’s not the sort of puzzle that comes with a box. There is no lid with a picture on it so that you can see what the puzzle will look like when it’s finished. And you have only some of the pieces. All you can do is keep looking and listening, sniffing about in all sorts of places until you find the next piece.’
Q: What’s it like working as one author?
A: It’s been an amazing amount of fun. Surprisingly it doesn’t take us any less time, but it certainly has made the long-distance marathon of novel writing more like a good bushwalk. There have been many conversations, fabulous companionship, good food, and an encouraging voice when one of us is losing confidence.
Q: A story about writing sounds like it could be very education for our young writers. Do you agree? In what ways could it be useful?
A: Heather has older children so she’s been helping out in classrooms for years and she noticed that many children not only never meet a ‘real’ writer, but they also have no books that help to teach them what the writing process involves. We hope Finding Serendipity is first of all a wonderful adventure series. And for those readers who are also budding writers, we hope it will inspire and encourage them to follow their writing dreams. Plus, we hope it gives all our readers a little bit of an insight into what it takes to be a writer, and the fun that can be had with words.
Q: Can we get a hint or two about the upcoming book in the series?
A: Ooooh, it’s very hush hush. But what we can tell you is that it’s called A Week Without Tuesday. We can also tell you that Tuesday, Vivienne and Baxterr return, along with some other favourite characters from Finding Serendipity. But there are also new characters including some surprising villains. Our readers get a glimpse into the extraordinary worlds that writers can create – and what it takes to look after them. Vivienne and Baxterr have to beat a seemingly relentless enemy, while Tuesday has to make the biggest decision of her life. We have loved writing this sequel and think our readers will love it too. It comes out in February 2016 in the USA so we apologise that our US readers have a little while to wait!
Check out more on the website here! Finding Serendipity is available on Amazon!