The Ink Splat: Bravery

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 Heart of a Tiger by Marsha Diane Arnold 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: Bravery

Imagine that you are an animal that lives in a faraway place. Describe what it’s like living there. What is your name?  What kind of problems might you encounter?

Try using this new word in your writing:

Valiant is an adjective meaning brave. The valiant cat reached her destination at last.

Submit your response HERE! 

Check out a few featured responses!

I live in the jungle. My name is Monkeyeta. Majulie is my best friend. I eat bananas, coconuts, and other fruits. I like to hang on vines and swoop to the next one. I live in a big hole in a tree. My favorite thing to do is sleep.  –Zorenza, 2nd grade

I am a sea dragon. My name is Dragabell. I live in Bahari Bay. It is very light at the top but as you go down it gets very dark. I mostly eat seaweed but I sometimes have dessert. My favorite dessert is iceweed. The humans call it ice cream. The bad thing about Bahari Bay is that any creature can come. Also the schoolteachers are so strict too.  -Kelly, 3rd grade

I’m Shelly! Im Shelly! Im a baby green sea turtle. My mommy left me. I have many friends/ They are Mr. Clownfish Jr., Elisa Urchin, and Crablet Crusty. I live on planet Bluseus. A planet you thingymaboppers never saw or heard of before. I mostly feast on dead plants. Oh, my mouth waters. And she’s off! –Somerset, 3rd grade

Hello, my name is Buffa and I eat fish. I am a bear and my problem is there is not enough fish for me to eat. A lot of animals live here and I am happy except for not having enough fish. -Josephine, 2nd grade

Submit your response HERE!

Heart of a Tiger by Marsha Diane Arnold

The naming of children is a significant ritual in many cultures. Taking its inspiration from the Indian ceremony of the namakarana, this richly illustrated book then explores the naming, and the progress toward self-realization, of a small, ordinary kitten. Small and ordinary, but as we learn, this kitten is full of grit and determination and bent on earning a name that reflects his inner strength. In the process, he braves the dangers of the hunters and earns the trust of the great Bengal tiger himself.

An Interview with author, Marsha Diane Arnold

Author, Marsha Diane Arnold, was kind enough to answer a few questions about Heart of a Tiger and her creative process. Thank you, Marsha Diane Arnold!

1) What inspired you to write Heart of a Tiger?

For years, when people asked me where I got the idea for Heart of a Tiger, I was uncertain.

Sometimes writers hear something or see something in their everyday life that gives them an idea for a story or character.  But sometimes we’re not sure where our characters come from.  Sometimes they just appear from nowhere and sit on our shoulder.  They may make us smile, they may make us think, but they always touch our heart and they refuse to go away.  Little Four, the main character in Heart of a Tiger was such a character.

In the story, he tells the Beautiful Bengal tiger,  “In my heart, I am more than what you see.”   I can’t say for sure where Little Four came from, but I believe it was from a deep longing within me to be more than I was.  I wanted to be a picture book writer, but, like Little Four, had never had the courage to pursue it.

In Heart of a Tiger, Little Four has a dream, finds a mentor (the Bengal tiger), and finally takes action, which is what we all must do to reach our goals.  So, in a way, through the story, I was showing myself the path to my dream, a published book.

Characters who come to us in this way are often parts of ourselves wanting to be expressed.  So, express yourself.  Magic may arise . . . or even better – stories.

2) Word choice is important in books with illustrations. What would you say is the most important thing to remember when working with words and pictures?

Sometimes I envy writers who are also illustrators.  They can play freely with the words and pictures in their books.  As a writer who doesn’t illustrate, I must always be aware of the choices and opportunities I give my illustrator in the text I provide.

I had no contact at all with Jamichael Henterly while he created the illustrations for Heart of a Tiger.  (I know.  That’s a surprising disclosure for many people.) I actually didn’t see any of the illustrations until my ten complementary books arrived in the mail.  I was so nervous when I opened the book.  But I loved Jamichael’s marvelous illustrations.  A few of them were very similar to the vision I had in my mind when I wrote the story.  When Jamichael and I met at the Washington State Children’s Choice Award ceremony for Heart of a Tiger, he told the audience, “Marsha and I are kindred spirits.”  My editor had chosen my illustrator well.It’s important to leave room for the illustrator’s creativity in your text.  If it doesn’t matter that your character’s skirt is red, then don’t use the word “red.”  Allow the illustrator to choose. Remember that with every descriptive word you use, you take a choice away from the illustrator.  Fewer words can bring your story to a whole new level, sometimes a surprisingly delightful one.

3) You worked with an illustrator, Jamichael Henterly. Did you encounter any difficulties while collaborating with another artist?

As I continued to work with my editor, she realized I wouldn’t push my ideas for illustrations onto her or an illustrator.  So she shared more and more illustrator sketches on future books.  I saw many sketches of Brad Sneed’s amazing work for The Pumpkin Runner.  For Prancing Dancing Lily and Roar of a Snore, my editor shared all the sketches John Manders and Pierre Pratt did. If I saw things that concerned me, I simply shared with my editor, who shared with the illustrator.  But there were very few.  John and Pierre are both brilliantly imaginative and they brought my characters to life.  I love their work.

It’s important for the writer to trust their editor’s judgment and their illustrator’s creativity.  The editor wants the illustrator to bring their own creative energy to the project, without the pressure and perspective of the writer.  So do I.

It’s often thought that writers and illustrators collaborate on a picture book.  In truth, this is rarely the case.  Sometimes famous writers and illustrators do collaborate; sometimes husband and wife teams collaborate, but most often there is little or no contact between writers and illustrators of a picture book.

I see publishing a picture book as a team effort.  I, as a writer, write the text.  I send it to an editor at a publishing house, who decides whether or not he/she wants to make it into a picture book.  If the editor and acquisitions team agree the story should be a book, the editor searches for the perfect illustrator.  She knows many illustrators, she knows the style of illustration she wants, and she knows which illustrator will work best for my story.  The choice of the illustrator is almost always the editor’s.  I’ve been very lucky to have talented and professional editors and illustrators to work with.

4) Many of our young writers enjoy creating illustrations to go along with their stories. What advice would you give to them?

Keep doing both – creating illustrations and creating written stories!

I wish when I was younger, I’d decided to focus on art and drawing because when you’re a writer and an illustrator, it can give you an edge.  You can clearly illustrate the vision of your story through your art.

But if you aren’t interested in illustrating, that’s okay. Write.  I believe the right words can be as strong as illustrations when pulling a reader into a story.

5) What advice would you give young writers and illustrators in general?

When I visit students at schools, I often show them a poster with 13 large “nos” scattered around it and 1 tiny “yes” in the center. Why 13 no’s?  That’s the number of rejections I had for my first book, Heart of a Tiger, before I got that one wonderful yes from an editor who loved the story as much as I did.

Always remember that it only takes one “yes” to be on the way to where you want to be. Perseverance is a powerful part of becoming a published author or illustrator.

6) What are you working on now?

Right now I’m busy with two projects.

One thing I’m doing is exploring the new digital realm of book apps.  My Prancing Dancing Lily book app will be coming out by December 1st and will be available for IPads, IPhones, and Nook.  The original Prancing Dancing Lily was a picture book published by Dial.  It’s the story of a cow who doesn’t fit in with the herd.  Sadly, it went out-of-print last year.  So many children and adults love Lily.  I was most excited when RipplFX approached me and offered to make Prancing Dancing Lily into a book app.  Now, with the touch of a finger, readers will be able to see Lily whirl, do the stilt dance, moo, and more!  Look for it in the ITunes store soon.

I’m also writing a course for Dr. Mira Reisberg of Picture Book Academy fame.  We’ll be offering Writing Wonderful Character-Driven Picture Books by December 1st.

A lot will be happening in December!

There are always stories waiting to be told.  I have a number of picture book manuscripts I’d like to get finish, but also several middle-grade novels I’m starting.  Two working novels at the top of my list are Fortuna Freakmore and Noah and the Secret of the Yellow Dragon.

Thank you, Jena Brigantino and instructors, for inviting me to share with Young Inklings.  I hope all of you keep writing and drawing and creating.  And like Little Four in Heart of a Tiger, always choose the name that’s in your heart.

Thank you for the interview and the images, Marsha Diane Arnold. 

Purchase Heart of a Tiger by Marsha Diane Arnold and browse her many other books HERE.

Visit Marsha Diane Arnold’s official website HERE. 

Ink Splat: Interviews

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 Sylvia and Aki by Winifred Conkling 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: 

If you could interview any famous person, past or present, who would it be and why?

Try using this word in your writing: 

Berserk is an adjective meaning out of control, crazy.

When Lauren couldn’t find her lucky socks, she went berserk!

Last night, my dog saw a skunk in the backyard, and she went berserk!

Published Submissions: 

” I would like to meet the man that made the Mona Lisa… because I want to learn how to make lots of beatiful art.” -Ines

“Queen Elizabeth III so I could get some money for my allowance.” -Sophia

“I would like to meet Amelia Earhart because I want to know how to fly an airplane.” -Lauren

“Mohandas Gandhi because he saved India from the British.” -Parth and Saahil

“Harry Houdini because he does magic tricks.” -Alexander

“I would like to meet Sacajawea because she helped Lewis and Clark.” -Allison

“I would like to meet Mr.Bean because of how berserk and funny he is. He always cracks me up whenever I see him on T.V.” – Arvind

Sylvia and Aki by Winifred Conkling

Here is the remarkable story based on true events of Sylvia Mendez and Aki Munemitsu, two ordinary girls living in extraordinary times. When Sylvia and her brothers are not allowed to register at the same school Aki attended and are instead sent to a “Mexican” school, the stage is set for Sylvia’s father to challenge in court the separation of races in California’s schools. Ultimately, Mendez vs. Westminster School District led to the desegregation of California schools and helped build the case that would end school segregation nationally.

Through extensive interviews with Sylvia and Aki—still good friends to this day—Winifred Conkling brings to life two stories of persistent courage in the face of tremendous odds.

An interview with author, Winfred Conkling!

1.    How did you come across the stories of Sylvia Mendez and Aki Munemitsu?

A few years ago, I heard a story on NPR while driving my kids on an afternoon field trip.  The story was about the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education lawsuit, which led to the desegregation of the public schools.  One of the people interviewed was Sylvia Mendez.

Sylvia and her brothers had moved onto a farm in Orange County, California.  When they went to enroll in school, she and her brothers were told that they had to go to the Hispanic school rather than the white school closer to their home.  Sylvia’s father sued the school system; this was seven years before the Brown decision.  Sylvia described how the superintendent of schools testified in court that she and the other Mexican-American children were dirty and intellectually inferior to the other children.

I was stunned.  I actually pulled my car over on the side of the road and wrote down her name so I wouldn’t forget it.  I could not imagine how she must have felt as a 9-year-old girl being told she wasn’t clean enough or smart enough to go to school.  I wanted to learn more about the case.

In my research, I found out that another girl the same age, Aki Munemitsu, had lived in the same house.  Aki was allowed to go to the white school, but she and her family suffered unthinkable discrimination when they were sent to Japanese internment camps during World War II.  In Sylvia & Aki I wanted to tell the story of both girls, each dealing with discrimination in a different way.

2.    Did you encounter any difficulties in gathering research and interviews for your novel?

The first thing I did was track down Sylvia and Aki, now women in the seventies.  Fortunately, they were both still living in southern California, and they were very cooperative about being interviewed both on the phone and in person.

I also read through the court decisions and the trial transcript.  The courtroom scene pulls much of the dialogue directly from the actual testimony.  In the book I wanted to preserve the language used by the superintendent – the sting of those words were what drew me to the story in the first place.

3.    If you could interview anyone (living or deceased) who would you interview and why?

I would love to have a chance to interview the theoretical physicist Michio Kaku.  I’m not saying that because I understand higher-level physics (or basic physics for that matter), but because his work involves the practical impact of science and how it can be used to change the world.  Every time I read his popular work (written for non-physicist types, like me), I become excited about the possibilities of future technology.  He imagines the future and how science can be used to transform all of our lives.  For me, the fun of fiction is imagining “what if” and the fun of talking to Kaku would be imagining “what will be.”

4.    What advice would you offer to young writers who wish to write a story based on true events?

To stories based on true events, the challenge is to respect the line between fact and fiction.  For a story to be nonfiction, it has to be 100 percent true – no adding colorful details or making up quotes.  In fact, you shouldn’t use quotes unless there is evidence that the person truly uttered the words you put inside the quotation marks.

Sylvia & Aki is historical fiction because I wanted to tell the story in scenes with dialogue, but, of course, there were no records of what various people said in their daily lives more than fifty years ago.  The story was drawn from the information provided by Sylvia and Aki based on their recollections, but it’s not air-tight history.  It’s a story based on history.

It’s important for every writer – young and old alike – to know whether their story should be told as fiction or nonfiction.  There are strengths and weaknesses to both approaches.  Sylvia & Aki could have been told either way, but ultimately the author and editor must decide which approach best serves the story.

Thank you, Winifred Conkling!

Visit the author’s website HERE.

Purchase Sylvia and Aki by Winifred Conkling HERE.


The Ink Splat: Bicycle Flight

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 The Wall and the Wing by Laura Ruby 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: Bicycle Flight

Imagine that as you’re riding your bicycle down the street, it grows wings and begins to fly. What happens next? Where does it take you?

Try using this word in your writing:

Vile is an adjective meaning disgusting, wicked, or unpleasant. 

Lucas was right, the soup did taste odd and it looked vile.

Published Submissions:

If I were on a bike and it grew wings, it would take me to a magical land.

-Walter, 4th grader

I kept pedaling. Five hours later I fell asleep. The bike plummeted downward with incredible speed. I landed somewhere on San Nicholas Island. I started a city. It flourished. Everyone lived happily ever after. The End.

-Isha, 4th grader

 It takes me to the beach. I see a pelican. It flies over me then eats a crab. The crab pinches the pelican.

-Marco, 2nd grader

You fly into endless space, fall asleep, wake up thinking it’s a dream, get off your bike and fall asleep.

-Katherine, 3rd grader 

The Wall and the Wing by Laura Ruby

Would you rather have the power of invisibility or the power to fly? Gurl longs to be able to fly like everyone else in the city, but late one night she finds out that she out can do something better. She can turn herself invisible. But then she also discovers out that her power is more interesting—and more dangerous—than flying ever could be. And that certain people will do anything to get to her. 

 An interview with author, Laura Ruby!

1. When you started writing The Wall and the Wing, did you start with an idea of a character, or did you start with an idea of the fantastical world, or did you start somewhere else entirely?

When I was young, I liked asking people lots of ridiculous questions such as, “If everyone in the world is either a jerk or a creep, which one are you?” Or, “If you had to choose between riding a Ferris wheel for two years straight or having a thumb 21 inches long for the rest of your life, which one would you choose?”  

THE WALL AND THE WING started with a question that I think everyone has asked him or herself at one point or another: “Would you rather have the power of invisibility, or the power to fly?”  Most people I asked wished that they could fly.  But I, myself, always wanted the power to be invisible.  I wondered what it would be like if there was a world in which almost everyone had the power to fly, but only one girl was gifted with the power of invisibility, and that power turned out to be much more interesting — and dangerous — than flying.

2. You use a lot of specific details in your description and dialogue, which add humor to your scenes. Do you have any tricks for choosing such funny, unique details?

A lot of times, the humor comes to me in increments.  So, I might start with a line of dialogue or piece of description that’s pretty straightforward and not all that funny, and then revise it so that it’s a little more specific and a little funnier.  Then I revise it again, and again, till I have something that amuses me.  (I’m the writer, but I’m also my own first reader, so if I’m not amused, who else will be?)

3. You also use exaggeration in your stories to add humor. When you were drafting, did you ever push the exaggeration too far? If so, how did you know it went too far? How do you keep a balance between humor and believability?

Reading aloud helps.  If I’m bored while reading, or find myself wanting to skip over certain portions of the story, then I know those are the bits that need work. But it also helps to find those places in which I’ve gone way over the top.  I’ll read and think, “Oh, man, that’s just ridiculous,” so I know I have to tone things down. 

I have to admit, however, I’d rather be a little over the top than boring and predictable.  

4. Do you plot out your stories ahead of time or just plan as you go?

I write all kinds of summaries and synopses and do all sorts of research.  And then I start writing the book and all that planning goes out the window.  I’m really not a good planner.  (You can ask my family; most of the time, I don’t even know what day it is).  

5. Do you have favorite authors who inspire you?

A lot of authors and books have inspired me throughout the years.  When I was young I loved THE WESTING GAME, FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER, and many books written by Judy Blume.  More recently I have admired Louis Sachar’s HOLES, which I think is a nearly flawless book (and hilarious, too).   I’ve also admired Jonathan Stroud’s BARTIMAEOUS series, and Garth Nix’s ABHORSEN series, too.  There are so many great books and fabulous authors out there.  I’m always looking to discover someone new.  

6. What advice would you give to young writers who want to create a really unique fantasy world?

I think that the most unique fantasy and/or sci-fi worlds grow out of things already happening in the real world around us.  So, for example, Paolo Bacigalupi researched the devastation wrought by hurricanes like Katrina and imagined a world in which superstorms called city-killers happened with much greater frequency in his novel SHIPBREAKER.

But when it comes down to it, I think that you have to write the story you really, truly want to read. 

Thank you, Laura Ruby.

Visit Laura Ruby’s website HERE.


The Ink Splat: Map It Out

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 Children of Alcatraz: Growing Up on the Rock by Claire Rudolph Murphy 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: Map It Out

Take any toy or object from your room and hide it somewhere secret in your house. Now, take out a piece of paper and some markers to draw a map that would lead a person through different rooms in your home until they reach the room with the treasure! Think about an object from each room you can draw as a clue to what room the treasure trail should be followed through. For example, if the hunt goes through the kitchen maybe you can draw a fork or a spoon. Once you are done with your awesome map give Mom, Dad, or a sibling this Treasure Hunt Challenge! Have fun!

Submit your response HERE!

Try using this word in your writing:

Shirk is a verb verb meaning to avoid something.

All but one of the soldiers shirked from the morning patrol of the river.

Children of Alcatraz: Growing Up on the Rock by Claire Rudolf Murphy. 

When most people think of Alcatraz, they think of the high-security prison and the infamous criminals who resided within its walls. Not many know about the children who lived outside of them. What was life like for the children on Alcatraz?

The children lived on Alcatraz because their parents worked there. Soldiers and prison guards brought their families to live with them on the island, and later Native American families occupied the island. Life for the children on Alcatraz was different than life for children who lived in the city in many ways. This book gives a glimpse into those experiences, telling the stories of these children through the decades. These stories are full of vivid detail, ranging from going to school to playful adventures to safety concerns (and lack of them). Currently, not much research has been done on the history of the Alcatraz families and the communities they built there. Claire Rudolf Murphy’s book is changing that fact, using research, interviews, and photographs to chronicle those unique stories. Children of Alcatraz: Growing Up on the Rock is 64 pages. While recommended for ages 9-12, readers of all ages can enjoy the book’s clear descriptions and photographs. 

The timeline of Alcatraz’s history with children begins with the Native Americans that fished there, and continues on to include the lighthouse and military families, the prison families, and finally, the families of the Native American occupation ending in 1971. Now, large numbers of families visit the National Historic Park at Alcatraz, including the now-empty prison. The children who lived on Alcatraz during the late prison years and the Native American occupation are now grown up, but they hold many memories of Alcatraz that are shared in Murphy’s book.

Children of Alcatraz: Growing Up on the Rock by Claire Rudolf Murphy. ISBN-10: 0802795773 get it here

An Interview with author, Claire Rudolf Murphy.

Q: What inspired you to write about the children of Alcatraz? 

I can still remember the moment I stood in the little museum room near the dock, that featured photographs of the history of the island. 1953 Life Magazine photographs featured kids playing on the parade grounds and getting on the boat for school in San Francisco. How could that be, I wondered? Families living in this dangerous place? And then my research began and I found out that it was a wonderful place to grow up – safe and surrounded by community.  

Q: What surprised you in your research about Alcatraz? 

How kids have lived on the island ever since it was a military fort in the 1850’s and how later the inmates in the infamous federal prisoner weren’t the most dangerous ones in America, but rather ones more prone to escape. San Francisco Bay turned out to be a great deterrent, with only one successful escape in its 29 years as a federal prison.  

Q: If you could live in any time period from the past, which would it be and why?

So many periods in history appeal to me. That’s why I love to write about them. The writer Beverly Cleary (Ramona books) says, “Give yourself the gift in writing you don’t have in your life.” Right now I’d love to be a suffragist, working to win women the vote in America. I am working on an historical novel set in the final suffrage vote of 1920 and my newest book Marching With Aunt Susan: Susan B. Anthony and the Fight for Women’s Suffrage features a real girl in the 1896 California suffrage campaign. But that said, how lucky we are to live in 2011 when women can not only vote, but run for president, run a corporation and compete in the Olympics. 

THANK YOU, Claire Rudolf Murphy.

To purchase a copy of Children of Alcatraz: Growing Up on the Rock by Claire Rudolf Murphy click here


The Ink Splat: What’s Cooking?


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 Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu 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: What’s Cooking?

Go into a kitchen and choose 3 ingredients. What do these ingredients look like? Smell like? Taste like? Using your senses describe these objects without giving away the name. Post your descriptions and see who can guess your ingredients!

Try using this new word in your writing:

Gallant is an adjective meaning brave or heroic. For example; she had made gallant efforts to pull herself together.

Published Submissions:

1. By Gianna B.

Thing 1: This is hard and smooth. The bottom is uneven. It smells good. It comes it many different colors and flavors. Green, Red, Sweet and sour… Etc. 

Thing 2: This comes in a container and i keep it in my fridge. it smells of strawberries. and i like it on my bagels. 

Thing 3: This comes in a box that is tall and thin. some people like them dry and some like them in a bowl with a “cold, white liquid” there is an “original” and a “honey nut” flavor. 

2. By Naomi D.

Ingredient One: This ingredient is small, black, and round with white flecks. When I bite into it, it stings my tongue with spicy flavor, almost too spicy all by itself. When I put my nose in the bottle that holds this ingredient, my nose itches and I feel like I might sneeze.

Ingredient Two: This ingredient is pale green and comes in a clump. Each small oval is smooth on the outside and sweet and juicy on the inside, and the smell reminds me of summer picnics. 

Ingredient Three: This ingredient is tan and white, and each one is a tiny, crunchy knot. It tastes salty, and is delicious dipped in chocolate or peanut butter. It smells a little like baked bread or crispy pizza crust without the toppings.

 3. By Emily G

Ingredient 1: When I hold this ingredient it feels smooth and bumpy. It’s about the size of a ball your dog would chew on. It’s yellow, and it smells like summer. 

Ingredient 2: I like this ingredient on sandwiches and hot dogs. It’s also yellow and it comes in a plastic bottle or glass jar. 

Ingredient 3: This ingredient is yellow, too, and also comes in a plastic jar–but this ingredient is see-through. On your fingers it feels slimy. This ingredient helps food “stick to your ribs.”

4. By Kiarra

Ingredient 1: one is brown, smells good and is bumpy

Ingredient 2: Another is yellow rough and sour

Ingredient 3: Last but not least it is purple smooth and sweet

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

Hazel and Jack are best friends. They play together, go to school together, and hide from the harsh realities of the world together. But one day Jack’s heart grows cold and instead of sledding and making up epic superhero baseball stats with Hazel, Jack climbs into the sled of an icy woman in furs and enters the unknown of the magical woods. Hazel, being one of the few that does not believe that Jack is away visiting his elderly aunt, follows the breadcrumbs into the forest and plans to only return with Jack by her side. Will Hazel be able to get Jack back or will she be fooled by the Snow queen into asking for something completely different?When you have a great imagination like Hazel, it is not always easy to let go of the fairy tales you grew up with and focus on making new friends at your new school. Lucky for Hazel  it is her imagination and   big heart that serves her in the end. This month’s Spotlight on pick is the perfect mixture of real life adventure and a little bit of magic. Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu tells the story of Hazel and her best friend Jack growing up in a world that does not always make sense. Breadcrumbs is 320 pages and is suitable for ages the 9-12.

Order Breadcrumbs here.

An interview with author Anne Ursu:

1. In the Cronus Chronicles, you based a large part of your story on mythology, and now, in Breadcrumbs, you have incorporated many of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale characters and themes. What appeals to you about building your stories around classic literature 

I think some of it is that I just liked these stories so much when I was a kid. I loved Greek myths, and I love the clash that happens when you take these old great myths and put them in the real world. I loved fairy tales, too, and I think it’s really interesting to tell contemporary stories through their lens. These old stories have such powerful themes and there’s so much you can do with them. And I think it makes what the characters go through feel more epic and important—which of course it is, to them! Fairy tales, folktales, and myths are great ways of finding inspiration.

2. You went through many options before settling on Breadcrumbs as your title for this book. A lot of our young Inklings have trouble finding the just-right title for their books–can you describe the process that you went through?

It’s so hard to find a good title. When I settle on one, I tend to get wedded to it, and suddenly it’s impossible for me to think of the story as anything else. This was always called “The Snow Queen” in my head, but it wasn’t a good title for the book since the book strays so far from the original fairy tale. So I made lots and lots of lists, did a lot of brainstorming, looked through the book for good phrases that might work, complained a lot—and it finally just came to me. But it required a lot of thinking and flailing to get there.

3. Your revision process on this book was extensive. How did you feel when you got a really, really long editorial letter from your editor, after you’d worked so hard on the book already? What was your revision process like?

The first draft of my book was about 150 pages. And when I handed it in, I felt pretty good about it—I couldn’t see what needed to be done. So when my editor gave me a 22 page letter with comments for revision I was pretty freaked out. The process of revising always feels really intimidating at first—you feel like you already wrote the book, now you have to write it again. I was very overwhelmed. But I kept reading the letter again and again, and started to take notes on some of it. With revision I tend to start doing the small and manageable things—because it’s too hard if you think about doing all of it. I picked little things at the beginning of the book to work on and didn’t even think about the rest of it. That way, I could really get back into the rhythm of the story again. And then I just took it piece-by-piece. The final draft of the book was over 250 pages!

4. One thing that many of our Inklings love about your writing is all the humor you build into the story, particularly through the intrusive narrator, who’s always commenting on the action of the story. Some of our young writers have tried to use an intrusive narrator in their own work, too. Do you have any advice for these writers? How do they strike the right balance between storytelling and playfulness? How does one create an intrusive narrator?

I think the first thing to do is to read a lot of books with intrusive narrators just to get the hang of it. Maryrose Wood’s The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place is great, and N.E. Bode’s The Anybodies, and A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz. The trick with these narrators is that they are guides that lead you into a story, but after that you want the characters to really take over. You want your story to be told through active scenes, and if the narrator’s getting in the way of that you might need to tell him to pipe down!

5. If you could give young writers one piece of advice, what would it be?

Read. Read everything you can. And read books again and again; you’ll discover so much about how the author does what she does that way.

6. If you, yourself, could live inside any story, which story would it be?

That’s a great question. A lot of fantasy worlds are pretty dangerous. I think I would like to live in The Phantom Tollbooth—everything is so imaginative and so funny! And there’s only so much trouble you can get into, most importantly. 

Thank you Anne Ursu!

Order Breadcrumbs here.

Visit Anne Ursu’s website here.


The Ink Splat: Make A Splash

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 The Lost Years of Merlin by T.A. Barron 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: Make a Splash

Imagine you are a droplet of rain falling from the sky. What happens next? Where do you end up?

Try using this new word in your writing:

Do you know what the verb strive means? Strive means to attempt or try hard. For example: Bobby is striving to get an A in math.

Submit your response HERE!

The Lost Years of Merlin By T.A. Barron

When you think of any story with a magical twist one of the first characters you are likely to think of is King Arthur’s loyal friend and trusted wizard Merlin. What these stories rarely tell us is where did Merlin come from and how did he become the most powerful and memorable wizard ever? Well in this month’s Spotlight On pick, The Lost Years of Merlin by T.A Barron we learn just that! The Lost Years of Merlin is the first in a twelve book series. It is a 304 page novel and it is best suited for ages 9-12, but adults are allowed to read it too!

In The Lost Years of Merlin, we join Emrys a boy who mysteriously washes up on the shores of Ancient Wales, without any knowledge of where he has been, who he is, and how he got there. After he realizes that he will never find a home in Wales, Emrys embarks on a journey to the misty isle of Fincayra where he hopes to discover his true name, his home and the years of memories that were taken from him.  It is only with the help of his newfound friends: Rhia the forest girl and the very small giant Shim that Emrys stands a chance of defeating the evil Rhita Gawr, understanding the true nature of his powers and saving the isle of Fincayra from the disastrous blight that plagues it. We know that he will eventually become the greatest wizard of all time, but how does he get there?

Buy The Lost Years of Merlin through Amazon here.

To visit T.A Barron’s website click here.

An interview with author, T.A. Barron! 

Which character in this story do you relate to most?

T.A.B: My writing incorporates the subtleties of my own nature so, in some way, I relate to each character. Making characters come alive is one of the trickiest, but most important elements of writing. I usually take extensive notes about each character before I start to write, then expand that description as I get to know them better with every draft. When you see how they look in your mind, and can hear their voice echoing, then you’ve begun to know who they are. But it’s not until they lean close and whisper to you their innermost secrets—their deepest fears, their highest hopes, and their innermost longings—that they are truly real. And if they are fully real for you, as the writer, they will also be real for your reader.

There are not many origin stories focused on Merlin so exclusively, what ultimately led to this project and how long did it take you to actually start writing the story?

T.A.B: Ever since my days as a student at Oxford, I have loved the character Merlin-his richness, his depth, his appreciation for both the weaknesses and virtues of humanity. And his love for Nature, his greatest teacher. When I was researching Arthurian lore to write Kate’s undersea adventure, The Merlin Effect, I was struck by the fact that of all the thousands of stories about Merlin written over the past 1500 years, almost none are about his youth. He is the ancient wizard, the mentor of King Arthur, the co-creator of Camelot. But where did he come from? And what made it possible for him to become the greatest wizard of all times? That mystery got me going-although when I started out trying to fill in the gap of Merlin’s lost years, I had no idea what a big project it would be. Here you had this wondrous tapestry of myth about him, woven over fifteen centuries, and it had a big, gaping hole: Merlin’s lost youth. But the weaving needed to be delicate as well as bold; honoring tradition as well as original.

To make things even more challenging, I started out with a boy who washes ashore, with no home and no memory-the absolute opposite of a great, exalted wizard. For Merlin to grow in a believable way, from that humble beginning to his glorious destiny, required more than just three books. That’s why my original plan of a trilogy swelled to five books. And that’s also why it took me almost a full decade to write the five books of The Lost Years of Merlin.

Did you research for this story exclusively through the use of books and other mediums or did you also travel?

T.A.B: Extensive research is a must. If I as a writer am going to convince you as a reader to come with me to some fantastic place or time, I must first win your confidence. Your trust. The only two ways to do that are: first, to engage every one of your senses fully; and second, to do my research.

Long before I began writing The Lost Years of Merlin, I buried myself in all the Merlin lore I could find: Celtic myths, ancient ballads, the writings of T. H. White and others, even Shakespeare’s references to Merlin.  I spent nearly two years reading texts about Merlin before I began to write The Lost Years of Merlin books.  Starting with the ancient Welsh Mabinogian, I read the poems of Robert de Boron, the writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth, and as many Celtic ballads as possible.  That’s just the beginning.  Then, of course, I read more modern treatments such as The Once and Future King by T. H. White.  My attitude was, if I was going to be so bold as to try to fill in the gap in Merlin’s lore about his youth, I had better know as much as possible about the rest of Merlin’s lore.  Also, this process filled me with the richness of Celtic language and imagery, as well as the music of the old names.  In the end, I created Fincayra and all that came with it, but I hope that these new threads still fit into the greater tapestry of Merlin myth. 

And, yes, all of my travels have influenced my writing in one way or another – they have influenced me. The two most influential places have been Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, so full of nature’s wonder and beauty, and England (when I was a student at Oxford), where I first explored the land that gave birth to Merlin.

You use a very diverse vocabulary in your stories, but the story is written in a way that even if a child does not know the word they can infer its meaning by how it is used in the story.  Was this intentional?

T.A.B: I believe deeply in the power (and also the poetry) of language. And I make a point of never “writing down” to young readers.  As a result, my books are, I hope, both occasionally challenging and always fun, with lasting questions for the reader to ponder.

I always provide a lesson or example in my writing such as in The Lost Years of Merlin epic and The Great Tree of Avalon trilogy, Merlin is a real human being. He has struggles, sorrows, joys, and aspirations-and, hidden deep within him, a remarkable talent. Or gift. Or magic. In that way, Merlin is no different from all of us-burdened by the human experience while at the very same time exalted by it.

That is the remarkable metaphor of Merlin. This metaphor I truly believe lies at the very heart of the whole Lost Years of Merlin epic. Just like the young Merlin, all of us are washed ashore, half-drowned, at some point in our lives. All of us have hidden struggles-and hidden potential. And all of us, like the greatest wizard of all, have magic within us-and the ability to reach for the stars.

Thank you T.A. Barron!

For more advice from T.A. Barron click here.


Caught on Camera


In collaboration with the San Jose Public Library, Society of Young Inklings' invites writers of all ages to participate in the summer writing challenge, Caught on Camera: Extraordinary Tales of Extraordinary Objects. Here's how the challenge works:

Step One: Transform an everyday object into a character! 

Step Two: Take your character on four outings over the summer. On each outing, snap a photo of your character and write an account of your character's extraordinary tale. Be as imaginative as you wish. (No, it doesn't have to be real!)

Step Three: Submit your episodes to the Caught on Camera blog

Participants who complete the series of an initial character interview and four episodes will be invited (with their characters) to an end-of-the-summer writing party at San Jose Public Library's Willow Glen branch, with a Skype visit from author, Lisa Yee, games and, of course, treats! Out of town participants who complete the challenge will receive a special surprise via email!

Are you ready? Start here:

The Ink Splat: Animal Talk


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 The Outlandish Adventures of Liberty Aimes By Kelly Easton 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: Animal Talk

If you could communicate with one animal in the world which animal would you choose? What would you ask this animal? Describe your conversation

Try using this new word in your writing:

Do you know what the adjective obscure means? Obscure is a word meaning difficult to understand or unclear. For example: Mr. Gold’s lesson on grammar was very obscure.

Submit your response HERE!

The Outlandish Adventures of Liberty Aimes By Kelly Easton 

Who doesn’t enjoy a story with a larger than life adventure?The Outlandish Adventures of Liberty Aimesby Kelly Easton is a 224 page novel with Illustrations by Greg Swearingen for ages 9-12 as well as adults!Liberty Aimes lives in a “crooked” house: “If it could walk, it would limp. If it could talk, it would stutter. If it could smile, it would have rotting teeth. You get the picture.” This story highlights the adventures of Liberty, a daring and smart young girl and her goofy and strange parents. So strange in fact that they create potions for communicating with animals and for levitating! Liberty begins a unique quest to find the Sullivan school and along the way encounters quirky characters and sticky situations!

Tips from author Kelly Easton:

“It’s funny. The Outlandish Adventures is the type of book I’ve been meaning to write all along, but somehow, I needed to make my way through realism to get there.  My inspiration for writing it is the love I had for my favorite books as a child, and wanting to give that type of zany delight and revelation to a reader that I had reading The Phantom Tollbooth; Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; “Oz”; and James and the Giant Peach. 
Back in my day, many centuries ago, there were not very many books like this: fanciful (as opposed to fantasy), wildly imaginative, funny, yet with an intellectual or philosophical undercurrent.  I still remember the day I learned that there were no more books by Roald Dahl.  I was crushed.  He was still alive, but didn’t seem to be writing any more of them.  As an adult, the closest thing I could find was the work of Kurt Vonnegut.

Underlying so many of the books I love, including more recent ones like Holes, by Louis Sachar, is humanism, a deep concern for human suffering and injustice. 

Moving forward to the present, I can only envy young readers for the Smorgasbord of literature: Schools for Wizards, Greek Gods, Unfortunate Adventures; Wayside School, and Camp Green Lake where boys dig holes, among the many many I have yet read.  What luck!

My tips for young writers:

  • Daydream (even if you sometimes get in trouble for it).
  • Spend more time staring out the window, or at the sky, or the sea, than on-line, texting, or watching You Tube.
  • Read, read, read everything you can get your hands on.
  • Be true to yourself.
  • Be brave.
  • Evolve your empathic skills so you can literally relate to anyone.
  • Do not let anyone stop you.
  • Be kind.”

Thanks Kelly Easton!

The Outlandish Adventures of Liberty Aimes (Wendy Lamb Books) A Jr. Library Guild Selection is available at Amazon!

For more about author Kelly Easton and her books visit her websithere.


The Ink Splat: From Way Down 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 Oggie Cooder by Sarah Weeks 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: From Way Down Here

Make a list of five activities you enjoy doing outdoors. Next time you have spare time go do one activity. Try describing the activity in writing from a different perspective than your own, perhaps from an ant crawling by.

Try using this new word in your writing:

Do you know what a whim is? A whim is noun meaning an impulse or a sudden idea! For example: John had a sudden whim to take a midnight walk in the forest.

Share your completed writing challenge by submitting HERE!

Published Submissions:

By M. Bailey

I flew overhead and saw two girls rolling in a fresh and green backyard. Then, like one of them had had a sudden whim, she changed direction and crashed into the other girl. I came back the next day and saw the same girl climbing a tree and trying to reach the highest branch. Every day I flew over the house with the big backyard and I saw the girl collecting moss and trying to grow seeds in it, having a picnic with her friends, or playing hide and seek when it was pitch black outside. I couldn’t wait to find out what she would do next.


Oggie Cooder by Sarah Weeks

Oggie Cooder is a chapter book for kids ages 9-12. Oggie is an unusual kid who suddenly becomes an unlikely hero based on his talent for “charving” (carving cheese with his teeth). Read the book and leave a comment below! Why do you think having an unlikely hero is appealing to readers?  

An interview with author Sarah Weeks:

“The two Oggie books have been a lot of fun to work on. Oggie is such a great character to climb inside of.  He’s strange for sure, but he’s got a big heart and in the end that’s what you really look for in a friend, isn’t it?”

“Kids always ask me why I wanted to write about someone like Oggie and I always say that unusual people are a lot more interesting to work with, than ordinary people.  An ordinary person uses ordinary words and has ordinary thoughts but not Oggie.  He’s full of “prrrrips” and “yeppers” and you never know what he might do next.”  

“As for Donnica Perfecto – I think we’ve all known somebody like her at some point.  I thought back to my school days and tried to take the most annoying characteristics I’d ever seen in a person and put them all into her character. She’s a real stinker!”

Thanks Sarah Weeks!

For more about the author and her books visit


The Ink Splat: Cloud Gazing


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 Shades of Truth by Naomi Kinsman. Submit a response to a challenge and you may have a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?

The Challenge: Cloud Gazing

Go outdoors, lie down and gaze at the clouds outside for three minutes. How many images or objects do you see? Can you create a story or poem that includes what you saw in the clouds?

Try using this new word in your writing:

Do you know what a borborygym is? A borborygm is a rumbling of the stomach. For example: did you hear that big borborgym Grandpa made?

Submit your response HERE!


Shades of Truth by Naomi Kinsman

Sadie thought she’d have a perfect fresh start when she moved to Owl Creek, Michigan, but finding her place in her new school proves harder than she expected. In this divided town, Sadie’s father’s job mediating between bear hunters and researchers doesn’t help her social life. Sadie’s art instructor encourages her to explore her beliefs and express herself through her sketchbook, and things improve after Sadie befriends a kind girl from school and a researcher’s son—but she can’t stop worrying about the bears. As everything swirls around her, Sadie must learn what it means to have faith when you don’t have all the answers.

An interview with author, Naomi Kinsman!

Q: Have you always wanted to be a writer?

A: I always loved writing, as well as reading and telling stories. When I was a little girl, I spent hours in our elementary school library discovering new books. I lost myself in the lives of the characters, whether they lived in a real world or a fantasy one. When I was in third grade, I had the opportunity to attend a writer’s workshop because I won a writing contest in my school. The experience was overwhelming- to go to a college campus and learn about writing from professors! But, I also loved the theatre, so when I grew up I got an acting degree and pursued directing and teaching theatre. In the theatre, I bring all my favorite classic stories to life. Even so, I never let go of the dream to write a story that would end up being a book, a real book that I could set on my bookshelf next to the other books I love.

Q: Who is your favorite character in the From Sadie’s Sketchbook Series?

A: Sadie is my favorite character in the series, but Frankie is a close second. When you read the first book that will surprise you, but as you read the next books, I think you’ll understand why.

Q: What kind of research did you do for the From Sadie’s Sketchbook Series?

I had the amazing opportunity to spend some time with a scientist, Lynn Rogers, who studies black bears in their natural environment. I was able to learn a lot about bear behavior and biology from my experience. It’s funny, when I was a girl, my parents made me hike down a path to a creek, and on the path there was a sign warning us about bears, specifically that they would go after food if you brought it down the path. My parents knew we were relatively safe, but I just wouldn’t believe them. I could hardly eat, because I was so focused on listening for approaching monsters in the bushes. It’s hard to believe, then, that I had a complete 180 degree change of heart, after observing the black bears in person. I learned that they really aren’t as aggressive as I thought. Bears want food and safety, and mostly they just want humans to leave them alone. So, as long as we stay out of their way, and we keep our food in safe containers, we’re safe, and the bears are too.

Q: Do you draw, like Sadie does?

A: I LOVE to draw, and I try to sketch a little every day. I’m not a natural artist, though, so I have to work hard at improving my skills. One of the most fun parts of getting to know Sadie as a character was learning from books and illustrator friends and workshops how to draw. It makes me so very happy that lots of people who read the From Sadie’s Sketchbook series are inspired to learn how to draw, too!

Thanks, Naomi

Visit Naomi’s website HERE.


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