The Frame-Up

June 5th 2018

The Frame-Up - Bookcover

Elly MacKay: A Canadian Author and Illustrator you NEED to know about!

 

I stumbled across and adored Elly MacKay’s art work long before I even knew it was Elly MacKay’s.

A couple of years ago, I decided to create a vision board to help inspire me as I embarked on my new journey towards being a published author. I found a picture of a girl rowing a boat in a magazine and cut it out to use as an inspiration for myself. In other words: like the girl in the picture, I was going to get to my destination, but it was going to require a lot of hard work and take some time.

elly mackay

This is the picture and you can buy your own copy, or another print of Elly’s wonderful work at her Etsy shop. See below for the link. Note: all illustration here are from Elly’s website or Etsy store.

 

Later, I “met” Elly via SCWBI Canada East and was shocked to discover she was the illustrator of the picture that had provided me with so much comfort and inspiration.

 

Not only that, I discovered I had other examples of her work in my home: Elly has done the illustrations for Tundra Books’ version of the Anne of Green Gable series (and the Emily of New Moon Series) and I was so in love with them that I bought the set, even though I already had a complete set. Of course, one can never have too many sets of Anne lying around…

 

anne elly

In addition to being a talented illustrator, Elly is a wonderful picture book author as well:

 

Butterfly parkif you hold a seedHoldaSeed_cvr

 

I own them all and delight in the wonder she brings to her readers.

There is something exquisite and ethereal about her illustrations, even as the texts themselves are wonderful vignettes about the importance of exploring and loving the natural world around us.

For me, the most wonderful aspect of Elly’s work is the WAY she creates her illustrations. Each picture is a created world, layered illustrations that give the reader a sense of depth and of stepping into another world.

You can read about her process here, but you also need to see it on video:

 

Her worlds are so compelling you want to crawl right into them and live happily ever after, if only for a few hours.

Once you buy the books, you are probably going to want to buy a print, or two or three. You can do that at Elly’s Etsy Shop, Theater Clouds.

Then go visit her website. Elly’s books are available at Chapters, Amazon and at local bookstores!

Eventually, I will own every book Elly has written or illustrated, and maybe, just maybe, I will get lucky someday and she’ll collaborate with me.

In the meantime, I think she is one of the finest illustrators in the business and I love all of her work!

I’m pretty sure that now you do, too!

 

How to encourage your kids to keep reading this summer

 

Even a kid who loves school is thrilled when June, and the promise of an extended vacation, arrives.

I finished the creative writing enrichment program I was offering at Garden Creek School yesterday, and the kids were wild. Wild in a good way, in the way that kids get wild when the world is warm and the days are long and if they only stick out their tongue they could taste freedom in the air.

Just as important as a well-deserved break, coupled with the promise of regular time spent outdoors, is the need to keep kids reading during the summer.

Key to that is helping them find the right book at the local library or book store.

Here are a couple of sites with great suggestions to engage your kids. I’m sure you can find many more when you dig. I also recommend following @shelfietalk on twitter – there are always great suggestions there!

 10 ways to get kids reading this summer

Summer Reading by Reading Rockets

 

But now, with trumpets blaring…

via GIPHY

and bears dancing….

via GIPHY

 

I am happy to present….

Wendy’s Summer Reading List Suggestions!

I’d like to offer some suggestions of books I think your later elementary school/middle grade child would love. The first bunch are from debut authors whose books I have read and adored. And please note I have NOT divided these into boy and girl category. Books are books. ‘Nuff said.

Debut Authors:

 

Artifacts BFF charlie price counting thyme dontgetcaught eye of midnight hours of the bees Last boy at St. Ediths last fifth grade maypop midnight war mOMOTARO seventh grade swing sideways the lost celt P1020799 P1020807 - Copy - Copy P1020806 - Copy (2) P1020806 - Copy - Copy P1020799 The Last 5th grade Treasure at lure lake paper wishes PB&J dragons tombwarrendistance to homebounders

 

 

Fenway and Hattie Cover - Lo ResLizziesticks and stones

 

Other Books Your Kids Will Love

 

Georgebrown girlcircus m So B Itpenderwicks in spring Raymie Nightingale The Night GardenerBookedbetsy tacy beezusAnne GG

This list is by no means exhaustive, and believe me, I will keep adding to it. But these books, a mixture of old and new, will not disappoint!

 

Happy reading!

How Middle Grade Books Help Children Cope with Sucky Situations

 

“As Hagrid had said, what would come would come and he would have to meet it when it did.” ― J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

 

Childhood is not easy.

We often look back at it with wistful, nostalgic eyes, happy to remember the Christmases where we got exactly what we wanted, or as a time without bills to pay, work to do. A time without a care in the world.

Should we dig further we know that isn’t true. How many stomach aches did we have over tests, bullies, parental disagreements, friends who we were on the outs with?

I know I did. Much as I look back with fondness at my childhood, I can also remember the painful things, the things out of my control.

And for so many children, the ability to articulate fears, ask questions of clarification, simply does not happen because they lack the language and emotional ability to pose them.

Which is why they so desperately need books.

Stories where the main character is struggling with challenging situations can be a comforting way for children to know they’re not alone.

I’ve read lots of books this year that hit this mark to a T and would highly recommend them:

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

 

Raymie Nightingale

The description:

Raymie Clarke has come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie’s picture in the paper and (maybe) come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante, who has a show-business background, and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss, and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship — and challenge each of them to come to the rescue in unexpected ways.

My thoughts:

Raymie’s stress and desperation is both heartbreaking and heartwarming and there is no better storyteller than Kate DiCamillo. Raymie is a heroine for the ages.

 

Paper Wishes by Lois Sepabhan

 

paper wishes

The Description:

Ten-year-old Manami did not realize how peaceful her family’s life on Bainbridge Island was until the day it all changed. It’s 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Manami and her family are Japanese American, which means that the government says they must leave their home by the sea and join other Japanese Americans at a prison camp in the desert. Manami is sad to go, but even worse is that they are going to have to give her and her grandfather’s dog, Yujiin, to a neighbor to take care of. Manami decides to sneak Yujiin under her coat and gets as far as the mainland before she is caught and forced to abandon Yujiin. She and her grandfather are devastated, but Manami clings to the hope that somehow Yujiin will find his way to the camp and make her family whole again. It isn’t until she finds a way to let go of her guilt that Manami can reclaim the piece of herself that she left behind and accept all that has happened to her family.

My thoughts:

Besides being beautifully written, Lois Sepabhan doesn’t sugar-coat the reality in which Manami finds herself, nor her misery and guilt at losing her beloved Yujiin. What she does do is show her readers that beauty and comfort exist in places both expected and unexpected, and that hope and dignity can never be taken from us.

 

Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin

 

counting thyme

The Description:

When eleven-year-old Thyme Owens’ little brother, Val, is accepted into a new cancer drug trial, it’s just the second chance that he needs. But it also means the Owens family has to move to New York, thousands of miles away from Thyme’s best friend and everything she knows and loves. The island of Manhattan doesn’t exactly inspire new beginnings, but Thyme tries to embrace the change for what it is: temporary.

After Val’s treatment shows real promise and Mr. Owens accepts a full-time position in the city, Thyme has to face the frightening possibility that the move to New York is permanent. Thyme loves her brother, and knows the trial could save his life—she’d give anything for him to be well—but she still wants to go home, although the guilt of not wanting to stay is agonizing. She finds herself even more mixed up when her heart feels the tug of new friends, a first crush, and even a crotchety neighbor and his sweet whistling bird. All Thyme can do is count the minutes, the hours, and days, and hope time can bring both a miracle for Val and a way back home.

With equal parts heart and humor, Melanie Conklin’s debut is a courageous and charming story of love and family—and what it means to be counted.

My Thoughts:

Bad things happen to good families. And it’s okay to feel like things suck and to be frustrated and scared. Conklin allows Thyme to be a full-bodied character, not Miss Perfect , and we feel her misery and jealousy and frustration right along with her. Beautifully done.

 

There are so many more books I could rave about here (and will in future posts!) but thought it would be nice to highlight three that are perfect examples of how children’s literature can support and comfort in subtle, but substantial ways.

These are all 5 star books and will be treasured by the child who reads them!

I’d love to hear what books you’d recommend that would help a child coping with the pains of the reality.

Walking in my old footsteps

 

I went home this week.

Some things will never change. Some things will always be the same. Lean down your ear upon the earth and listen.

– Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again

 

P1060714

p.s. for those of you reading this on ipad – sorry for the horizontal images – it was my camera and flash and I haven’t been able to sort it out yet!

I’ve been in my old stomping grounds these last few days, taking some video footage to include in the book trailer for It’s a Mystery, Pig Face!

I haven’t lived in St. Stephen since 1977. Honestly, I hardly know and hardly recognize many of its citizens now. But if you ask me where I’m from, I will always say St. Stephen. And whenever I’m back I always feel welcomed.

And as much as I hold the people I grew up with close to my heart – most of them have long moved on to other places both seen and unseen – it is the land that I roamed that stays with me.

The railway tracks I walked again and again and again. Today I suppose we would call this a dangerous endeavor, but only two trains went by daily, so it hardly seemed fraught with peril, save my ongoing fear that the evil M brothers (neighborhood bullies) might be lurking in the bushes smoking.

The Big Rock we found one summer in the woods and visited religiously. It was all the more desirable as it required crossing Dennis Stream. The threat of water, the need for leaps of greatness, the civil engineering involved in building plank bridges or placing perilously large and unstable rocks just so, made going there an expedition and who doesn’t love an expedition?

When I began to write my book there was only one place where Tracy and Ralph could hold their secret meetings: The Big Rock.

 

P1060696

Up at the top. The rock is 10 feet high and 25 to 30 feet long; a great sleeping giant, and rocky remnant of the Appalachian Range perhaps.

 

Our route this time involved parking behind the mall and crossing the swampy, spongy ground to the forest beyond. My preteen bravado of walking (or scurrying) through the old junkyard at the far end of the gravel pit was replaced by the middle-aged me worrying about trespassing, though I think that next time (and there will a next time) I will just check in and ask for permission. Maybe they’ll buy a book.

Still there was a muscle memory to the walk across that field. I recognized those grassy humps immediately, the feel of them underfoot and how they kept me perpetually off-balance. I was thrilled to jump over the stream (even if I did get stuck once), and as I walked into the woods I felt such a profound sense of belonging somewhere, of knowing someplace, that it was overwhelming.

P1060700

At the top, remnants of a small fire remained, reminding me that we were not the first to find and use The Big Rock, nor the last.

P1060697

 

I stood on the top for quite awhile. In the distance I could hear the sound of traffic, the boom-boom-boom of the heavy equipment at the gravel pit. I was surprised at how close this small woods was to everything, but was reminded that we were only kids then and that a quarter of a mile into the woods made us feel like modern day Jacques Cartiers and Samuel de Champlains (who’d only lived a few miles up river).

The ghosts of my friends were everywhere. I saw the spot where I fell and split open my chin, refusing to go home to have it dealt with in case I missed some kind of excitement (a personality trait I have yet to drop). I have no idea how I sopped up the blood – leaves probably – and I still bear the scar on my chin today.

P1060699

The place where we began to climb up the rock and where I imagined Tracy and Ralph hiding the money they’d found. Sadly, we never found money…

I’ll spare you the wobbly video I took; I’m sure I got enough for the trailer.

Later, we stopped on my street and took some pictures. We scouted book launch locations. We took my nearly 92 year-old friend for lunch.

 

P1060688

 

The thing about going home is that, of course, everything is different.

I wanted to knock on doors, shout: “Here’s where I fell of my bike!”, “Here was Brown’s Corner Store”, “Mrs. Getchell made the best ginger snaps!”, “Alton had the best matchbox cars!”, “We played baseball and road hockey here”, “My dog Charlie liked to lie in the sun here”, “There’s where I cried over my first crush.”

I like to think that when my book is published local kids will easily find all of the spots in the book.

They’ll forge the stream, climb to the top of Big Rock, be positive that someone is spying on them, bicycle to get a Popsicle afterwards.

I can’t wait to meet those kids.

I’ll tell them to dream big, read like crazy, be thankful that they live where they’re living, if only for the beginning of their life.

And I’ll remind them how important it is to get outside, explore your world, have adventures.

Everything changes, but The Big Rock endures. I think it will be pleased to have a starring role in the book.

 

 

 

 

Guest Speaking at UNB!

 

So excited to be asked to speak at the following event, June 9th:

 

UNB Associated Alumnae Annual General Meeting
 Thursday, June 9 | 6 p.m. | Alumni Memorial Building

Register Now


Please join us at the annual general meeting of the UNB Associated Alumnae on Thursday, June 9 from 6 – 8 p.m. The meeting will be held in the President’s Room of the Alumni Memorial Building on the UNB Fredericton campus. We will be welcoming two-time UNB graduateWendy McLeod-MacKnight (BA’85, MA’89) as guest speaker.


Wendy McLeod MacKnight grew up in St. Stephen, New Brunswick with a library card as her prized possession. She completed her BA in Sociology in 1985 and her MA in Sociology in 1989. Over the course of her professional life, she’s taught Sociology at UNB and worked for the Government of New Brunswick, ending her public service career as Deputy Minister of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. One day she woke up and decided it was time to pursue her life-long dream of writing books for children. Her debut novel, It’s a Mystery, Pig Face!, will be published by Sky Pony Press on Feb. 7, 2017. Any resemblance between the main character and the author is purely intentional.

Please join us to reconnect with fellow alumnae and meet new friends! Light refreshments will be served.

Please RSVP by June 2 via our event page, by email or phoning the Alumni Office at (506) 453-4847.

We look forward to seeing you on June 9.

Martine Stewart
President, UNB Associated Alumnae

YA NOVELS JERKBAIT and SUMMER OF SUPERNOVAS OUT TODAY (AND YOU SHOULD BUY THEM!)

 

Two very different but very compelling books are being released today that I absolutely adored!

jerkbait

 

The first novel is #Jerkbait by Mia Siegert.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Mia about this book for the Swanky Seventeens blog, which you can read here.

Here’s the description:

Even though they’re identical, Tristan isn’t close to his twin Robbie at all—until Robbie tries to kill himself.

Forced to share a room to prevent Robbie from hurting himself, the brothers begin to feel the weight of each other’s lives on the ice, and off. Tristan starts seeing his twin not as a hockey star whose shadow Tristan can’t escape, but a struggling gay teen terrified about coming out in the professional sports world. Robbie’s future in the NHL is plagued by anxiety and the mounting pressure from their dad, coach, and scouts, while Tristan desperately fights to create his own future, not as a hockey player but a musical theatre performer.

As their season progresses and friends turn out to be enemies, Robbie finds solace in an online stranger known only as “Jimmy2416.” Between keeping Robbie’s secret and saving him from taking his life, Tristan is given the final call: sacrifice his dream for a brother he barely knows, or pursue his own path. How far is Robbie willing to go—and more importantly, how far is Tristan willing to go to help him?

My thoughts on the book:

I couldn’t put this book down! The story of two hockey-playing brothers, Tristan and Robbie, this book deals head-on with the issue of gay athletes, the stereotypes associated with sports & artistic endeavors. This book is a roller coaster ride, and our hearts break for the two brothers, who initially not close at all, are thrust together after a suicide attempt. But should one brother be his brother’s keeper? And if the students in their school are bigoted, they pale in comparison with the boys’ parents who have invested everything in achieving a certain end at all costs. I actually know some hardcore hockey parents who live vicariously through their junior league hockey children, and while this may some far-fetched, it is actually pretty accurate. This book is all greys and nuance – the characters are three-dimensional and often do things we don’t want them to do. Such an amazing debut and a book that deserves widespread distribution. I loved these boys and am still rooting for them!

The book has had high praise from those in the world of sports:

“Every athlete, parent & high school kid, gay or straight, will see some of themselves reflected in #Jerkbait” -Brian Kitts @YouCanPlayTeam

“#JERKBAIT was an excellent read on the complex issues facing LBGTQ athletes” – Chris Kluwe, former NFL player.

A fantastic book by an author who is a rising star! Five stars!

 

mia

Congrats Mia!

 

The second book is SUMMER OF SUPERNOVAS by Darcy Woods

 

summers of supernovas

 

This book is pure, gorgeous romance.

The description:

Fans of Jennifer E. Smith and Jenny Han will fall in love with this heartfelt and humor-laced debut following one girl’s race to find the guy of her cosmic dreams.

When zodiac-obsessed teen Wilamena Carlisle discovers a planetary alignment that won’t repeat for a decade, she’s forced to tackle her greatest astrological fear: The Fifth House—relationships and love.

My take:

I’m not going to lie: I signed up to read an advanced readers copy as soon as I read the blurb about this book. As an otherwise sensible Capricorn, I cop to reading my horoscope daily and keeping an eye out for mercury in retrograde. The heroine of this book, Wil, does the same.

Wil has 22 days to find the love of her life, the love pre-destined in the astrology chart her late mother prepared for her on the day she was born. Her mother ignored her own chart when it came to love, with disastrous results. Wil is determined not to make the same mistake. But then she meets Grant, and Seth, and things become, well, complicated.

The characters in this book seemed so real to me! I loved Wil and her best friend Irina, Gram felt just like I thought Gram should feel and the love interests were, to put it succinctly, hot. This book is going to be devoured by fans of YA romantic fiction and good storytelling and I predict when the book comes out (which I believe is when the Zodiac is in Aries) many astrological charts will be plotted…. Well done Darcy Woods!

If you want to hear a wonderful interview with Darcy, take a listen here.

 

Congratulations Darcy! Love this book to the moon and stars and back!

Order your copies today, guys, these are guaranteed enjoyable reads!

The “To Be Read” Pile

 

There’s always another great book to read…what are you looking forward to most in your to be read pile?

Source: http://fblchildrensblog.tumblr.com/

 

I love to read.

Well it kind of makes sense, doesn’t it, since I love to write?

Yes, but there is a dark side to reading, a side to reading that haunts the most stalwart among us and makes us barter with the Universe.

You know where I’m going with this…

The dreaded “to read” pile.

It starts out innocently enough. You pick up a book here that you’ve heard a lot about. Then you run into another book, and another.

A trip to the library results in more.

And then there’s your kindle for those books you just HAVE to buy that very instant.

Doesn’t include the two on my nightstand or the others in my kindle…

 

It’s like a terrible sickness, this ache to read almost everything you come across, and it has been added to ten-fold this year, as I try to read as many of Sweet 16 authors that I can, justifying to myself that “it’s part of my job”, “they need me”, and “what if it’s ME that puts them on the bestseller list?

But I’m lying.

I see the book’s description and it sounds amazing. I imagine myself holding the book and enjoying it.

I’ve come to realize that when it comes to reading, I’m quite a lot like this fellow…

 

Me, all buggy-eyed having spotted a book down in that foul lake…

I suppose there is a cure, though I will fight it to the death. So many books, so little time.

Anyone else have an out-of-control to-read pile at all times?

Everybody Dance Now: Review of My Seventh Grade Life in Tights

 

seventh grade

Live it, Work it, Bring it

Two important points before we get to the review:

  1. I love to dance
  2. My dance skills are – ahem – more in the Dillon-at-the-beginning-of-the-book category.

Phew, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, we can proceed!

My Seventh Grade Life in Tights is Brooks Benjamin’s debut novel, and if this book is any indication, he has a long and important career ahead of him!

Like me, Brooks is a fellow Sweet 16er, and he also blogs over at Middle Grade Minded.

And man, can he write!

What’s NOT to love about this book?

First: you have amazing characters, all with their own agendas. You have dancing. You have friendship. You have competitions. Did I mention dancing?

And you have a lead character with heart. Dillon wants to be a real dancer, not just a guy with ninja leaps and karate kicks. So when he hears that the local dance studio (the same dance studio his friend and crush Kassie quit) is offering a scholarship, well, he can’t resist sending in an audition video. Everybody has an opinion about what Dillon should of should not do, but ultimately, he is faced with a choice: follow his heart or make others happy? Is there are way to do both?

What this also is is laugh-out-loud funny! The quips between Dillon and his friend Austin are particularly good – something tells me that Brooks is listening very carefully to what he’s hearing in the hallways of his school.

Mostly what this is is an ode to friendship and following your dreams. I loved every part of this story and can’t recommend it enough! Witty, clever, and heartwarming, this is going to appeal to all your middle graders!

If you want to read more about Brooks, by all means, hop over to his website!

And for a special treat, here’s the book trailer to whet your appetite!

 

Congratulations Brooks!

Here in Canada, you can order your copy here.

or order from Indiebound or Amazon.

How My Yard Work Helps my Writing

I am doing a lot of writing outside these days

And no, I don’t take a pen and paper….

I have been in the midst of revisions all week. I love this stage of writing a book. Every change makes it better and I can see first base in sight.

No, I wasn’t wrong when I said first base – there are so many stages after you hand your book in to your agent that really, you have only begun your journey, not finished it.

I have also been in the midst of serious yard work. I live on a little more than acre, and for some reason, I decided it was a swell idea to make lots and lots of gardens. Did I say lots?

And every spring, they must be raked and cleaned.  Soon things will have to be divided. The work never ends.

But it’s all worth it, because it results in this:

 

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and this

 

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But what I have also discovered is that while I meditate on the manual labour, I am also usually meditating on my work in progress. I solve a pesky conundrum hauling brush. I finally understand a character’s motivation while weeding. I wear myself out physically, but the me that returns to the keyboard seems remarkably refreshed and coherent.

And then the revisions result in something like this:

 

Pig-Face Cover

 

My Spring yard work is, I see, just another sort of revision. Which makes my aching muscles seem somewhat worth it…

 

 

 

A Great Day for Middle Grade Fiction!

I love book release days for the Sweet Sixteen Debut Authors.

It’s like watching baby birds fly from the nest, taking their goodness with them as they go!

Today there are four new MG novels being released that you need to know about!  I’ve read them and highly recommend them!

 

Making this an extra-special MG release day is that today is the 100th birthday of author Beverly Cleary, literary and MG legend!

 

beezus  Mouse and motorcycle

Read this great article about Beverly Cleary in the New York Times.

Then get on over here and read 100 amazing facts about her!

I hope the authors listed below have careers equally wonderful!

 

In alphabetical order, with their Amazon Books descriptions, here are today’s releases:

 

seventh grade

All Dillon wants is to be a real dancer. And if he wins a summer scholarship at Dance-Splosion, he’s on his way. The problem? His dad wants him to play football. And Dillon’s freestyle crew, the Dizzee Freekz, says that dance studios are for sellouts. His friends want Dillon to kill it at the audition—so he can turn around and tell the studio just how wrong their rules and creativity-strangling ways are.

At first, Dillon’s willing to go along with his crew’s plan, even convincing one of the snobbiest girls at school to work with him on his technique. But as Dillon’s dancing improves, he wonders: what if studios aren’t the enemy? And what if he actually has a shot at winning the scholarship?

Dillon’s life is about to get crazy . . . on and off the dance floor in this kid-friendly humorous debut by Brooks Benjamin.

 

counting thyme

 

When eleven-year-old Thyme Owens’ little brother, Val, is accepted into a new cancer drug trial, it’s just the second chance that he needs. But it also means the Owens family has to move to New York, thousands of miles away from Thyme’s best friend and everything she knows and loves. The island of Manhattan doesn’t exactly inspire new beginnings, but Thyme tries to embrace the change for what it is: temporary.

After Val’s treatment shows real promise and Mr. Owens accepts a full-time position in the city, Thyme has to face the frightening possibility that the move to New York is permanent. Thyme loves her brother, and knows the trial could save his life—she’d give anything for him to be well—but she still wants to go home, although the guilt of not wanting to stay is agonizing. She finds herself even more mixed up when her heart feels the tug of new friends, a first crush, and even a crotchety neighbor and his sweet whistling bird. All Thyme can do is count the minutes, the hours, and days, and hope time can bring both a miracle for Val and a way back home.

With equal parts heart and humor, Melanie Conklin’s debut is a courageous and charming story of love and family—and what it means to be counted.

 

Treasure at lure lake

 

I couldn’t believe what I saw: a map of a river next to a house and leading to a lake. Beside the lake was a tree, and beside the tree was an X.

Bryce’s best-laid plans for a backpacking trip with his grandpa seem about to fall through. But when he finds a treasure map in his grandpa’s barn, he just knows it’s going to lead to something good. One thing is certain—no matter what the treasure map leads to, this is going to be the biggest adventure of Bryce’s life!

 

The Last 5th grade

 

Laura Shovan’s engaging, big-hearted debut is a time capsule of one class’s poems during a transformative school year. Families change and new friendships form as these terrific kids grow up and move on in this whimsical novel-in-verse about finding your voice and making sure others hear it.

Eighteen kids,
one year of poems,
one school set to close.
Two yellow bulldozers
crouched outside,
ready to eat the building
in one greedy gulp.

But look out, bulldozers.
Ms. Hill’s fifth-grade class
has plans for you.
They’re going to speak up
and work together
to save their school.

These books are going to delight and entertain you and probably make you a little teary-eyed!  They are amazing!  Congratulations guys!

 

My First School Visit as an Author!

 

There is a first time for everything, and this past Monday was my first time doing a school visit as author!

 

Garden Creek School

Luckily for me, the school is an awesome one – Garden Creek Elementary School here in Fredericton – and the students were a delight!

For the next 6 weeks I will be conducting a creative writing class with 15 wonderful students every Monday afternoon.

I learned my first lesson on Monday: prepare, but remember that these are kids and they are going to ask a LOT of questions. I will know better for next Monday!

All I could think while I was talking to them was “This is the most fun ever.” Not a bad way to spend an afternoon and what a wonderful school to indoctrinate me into the world of school visits!

Heartfelt thanks to Principal Moffitt and the great kids at Garden Creek!

 

Daily Gleaner Interview!

 

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Tara Chislett from The Daily Gleaner, my local newspaper, about my transition into writing:

 

wendygleaner

Three years after leaving a seemingly successful career in the New Brunswick civil service, Wendy McLeod MacKnight is about 10 months away from publishing her debut children’s novel, It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! Photo: Tara Chislett/The Daily Gleaner

 

NB woman leaves successful civil service career to pursue her dream

Telegraph-Journal |

Wendy McLeod MacKnight wrote the first draft of a middle-school novel sitting at a kitchen table on Vancouver Island.

It was the mid-1980s. A St. Stephen native, MacKnight found herself thousands of kilometres away from home on the opposite coast, struggling to find a job while her husband, Barry, worked as an officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

“It was almost a bit of a love letter to my neighbourhood growing up,” she said. “It was really fun.”

When she finished, she bound it together and, along with a self-addressed stamped envelope, sent it away in the mail.

Then, she waited.

The first submission effort ended the way most do: a rejection letter.

The publisher had recently published a similar book, she said, but the feedback was kind. They encouraged her to keep going, to keep working on her novel.

“And I put it in a drawer,” she said.

“I kept reading in the genre but I didn’t keep going.”

Instead, she joined the New Brunswick civil service in 1989 and spent the next 23 years working her way through the ranks to eventually become the deputy minister for the province’s education department – a job that often meant putting in 80-plus hours a week, tethered to a constantly buzzing BlackBerry.

It wasn’t until she found herself sitting at her dying father’s bedside in a nursing home that she came to a fork in the road: despite working her way to a successful career, she wasn’t doing what she loved.

“I thought, you know, at some point, I packed my dream away,” she said.

“(Publishing a novel) was what other people did. You can never get published. You’ll never make any money. I fell into that.”

That moment, she said, marked the beginning of the end of her first career. She left the civil service in May 2013. Three years later and her debut middle grade novel, It’s a Mystery, Pig Face!, is a reality.

The novel, slated for release in February 2017, follows Tracy Munroe, an 11-year-old girl with three big goals to accomplish before she goes back to school: figure out a fantastic end to a summer adventure with her best friend, Ralph; make sure her little brother, Lester, AKA Pig Face, doesn’t tag along; and get Zach, the gorgeous new boy next door, to notice her.

But then Tracy and Ralph discover an envelope stuffed with money in the dugout at the baseball field. Suddenly, they have a mystery on their hands – did someone lose the cash or did someone steal it? Along with Lester, who forces them to let him tag along, the pair hunts for the truth in St. Stephen before they can be accused of the crime themselves.

McLeod MacKnight called the work involved in transforming that original draft into one it is today a “mortifying, year-and-a-half-long process” that challenged the perceptions she had about her skill as a writer.

“I was a policy analyst for years before I continued to move up. I can write a good briefing note. Still, I could write you one today on anything. I love writing,” she said.

“Then I realized I didn’t really know any of the mechanics of creative writing. I knew I read widely but I didn’t know the mechanics.”

To brush up her skills, McLeod MacKnight said she turned to the Internet, where online courses and experts were available at her fingertips. She started rewriting the book, taking in workshops and seeking out critiques whenever she could.

One of the people she reached out to was Sheree Fitch – a well-known Canadian author, who’s also from New Brunswick, and sister of a close friend.

“I said, ‘Listen. I really need you to tell me if I have any talent. I can do something else,’” she said.

The feedback she received was encouraging but also challenging. Fitch told her she could write, and encouraged her to dream big. She should try to break into the United States market. And the only way to do that, Fitch told her, was to find a literary agent.

“They’re the gatekeepers,” McLeod MacKnight said.

Having gone through a course and completed several rewrites, McLeod MacKnight said that became her focus. She started submitting again and getting requests for partial and full manuscripts.

Then it happened: In November 2014, Lauren Galit of the LKG Agency in New York City picked her manuscript out of a slush pile, read it and fell in love with the old-fashioned charm. She wanted more edits, but asked if McLeod MacKnight would sign with her.

By June 2015, McLeod MacKnight said her book had been purchased by Sky Pony Press, the children’s book imprint of Skyhorse Publishing in New York.

There’s still work to do and edits to be done, but sitting in her Hanwell living room, sipping a cup of sugar cookie tea, she said the three years since she left her job have been a whirlwind.

But there’s no secret to her success, she said.

“To completely change careers and actually break through? It’s all about tenacity.”

And although following the process – including the waiting, the rejections, the editing process – hasn’t always been easy, McLeod MacKnight said it’s been worth it.

“My worst day of writing is better than my best day in the civil service,” she said.

“I really feel like this is all about me. I gave my first career to the people of New Brunswick and the second one is about me but I’m also hoping it’s for the people of New Brunswick. My books are going to be set here. I really feel passionate about that.”

McLeod MacKnight said she hopes, through her books and telling her story, that she’ll be able to encourage others in New Brunswick – especially young people – to not limit themselves because of where they’re from.

That’s a message she plans to bring with her when she visits schools, whether it’s during the six-week creative writing enrichment program she’s set to lead at Garden Creek School this semester or when she returns to St. Stephen Elementary School to talk to the kids when her book is released.

“To me, it’s really important to talk to kids about that,” she said.

“That’s the one thing I try to tell everybody: figure out what you want to do. You can’t necessarily always do it the day you figure it out, but you can do it. It just means you have to put aside some time to do it.”

For McLeod MacKnight, that time is now. With publication on the horizon, she said she’s already got other projects on the go, including a novel set in Fredericton and the outline of the follow up to her debut.

She still puts in long days, but it’s different now.

“I loved my job (with the government) at various points. There were lots of things I was really, really proud of. I don’t regret it at all,” she said.

“But if you asked me would I rather have started this when I was 25? Yeah. Then I’d be publishing 50 books before I die instead of probably the 40 I’ll get out.”

 

Dig Too Deep and The Last Great Adventure of The PB&J Society are out today!

 

Two books I recently reviewed are out in the world today:

You can read my review of Amy Allgeyer’s YA novel Dig Too Deep here.

 

dig too deep

 

You can read my review of Janet Johnson’s MG novel The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society here.

 

PB&J

 

Excellent books from wonderful debut authors!

 

 

 

Learning Curves on the Road to Being a Writer

 

If only the acquisition of knowledge and experience were a straight line.

 

reality versus expectations

 

When I embarked on my new career, I knew it would take time to learn the skills and knowledge required to master writing.

Malcolm Gladwell posits that it takes approximately 10,000 hours to gain mastery.

I estimate I invested between 60,000 and 70,000 hours in my previous occupation. No wonder I felt like I had a handle on what I was doing!

I am starting all over again. I reckon that in the past three years I have accumulated around 6,000 writing hours. I’m inching towards 10,000, but it sure doesn’t feel like it sometimes.

I also have the uncomfortable feeling that at least half of those hours don’t even count, as I didn’t have a clue what I was doing! Wait – I’m still not sure I know what I’m doing half the time…

 

I knew it would be humbling to start over, just not sure I knew it would be SO humbling!

Am I being hard on myself? Probably. On the other hand, if you expect someone to publish your book and someone to read it, you should be hard on yourself I think.

Last week I handed in a manuscript to my agent. I have worked hard on this particular book over the past six months. I have written and rewritten it, edited and revised it, gotten excellent critiques and suggestions, and yet I am still on pins and needles. I love the work, but I am afraid I have missed something. I love the work, but I’m afraid she might think otherwise.

In my old career, I knew for sure whether or not something I passed in would pass muster. I am not yet there with this new career. And it is very disconcerting!

But I will keep writing, rewriting, reading, researching, doing whatever I need to do to put in the time until I can accurately and objectively assess my work with the same accuracy I once employed.

the meantime, I will light candles…

arghhh

The horror of it all!

 

 

 

Lions and Titles and Bears – Oh My!

via GIPHY

Writing Book Titles is not my forte.

In fact, you’ll be surprised to learn that the original title of It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! was Me, The Gang, and The Man in the Dark Suit.

What you will find most surprising about this is that when you read the book next year – for surely you will, dear reader – you will discover the last version of the book does not have a man in a dark suit.

I think I’ve proven how inept I am at coming up with an appropriate title. Even if the man in the dark suit was still running around, surely I could have done better than THAT.

In fact, the title It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! is actually taken directly from a line in the book.

I can thank my sister for pointing it out to me.

For the past week, I have been torturing myself as I try to find a suitable title for my work-in-progress.

So far there have been at least six titles. There were many more options on the scrap of paper upon which I wrote random plot-related words.

I am happy with the final title, but too superstitious to share it yet. After weeks of  rewriting and revising after comments, corrections, etc., I am about to pass it along to my agent.

A good title is a thing of beauty.

Some favourites:

  • A Wrinkle in Time
  • I Capture the Castle
  • The Sound and the Fury
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls
  • American Gods
  • Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
  • Nights Below Station Street
  • Symptoms of Being Human

 

Some titles are literal, some are thematic, some are allusions. But a good one captures the essence of the book.

Maybe, just maybe, I’ll figure out how to do it well!

Please – share your favourite titles – I’d love to hear them!

 

 

 

The Winged Pen Blog Interviews Me!

 

the winged pen

I love the new blog, The Winged Pen.

So I was absolutely honoured when Kristi Wientge asked if I’d like to talk about my publication journey and flash the cover for It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! again – as if there was any doubt!!!

The interview was so much fun and you can read it here!

And then you should subscribe to The Winged Pen, as it is full of great information and inspiration!

Thanks Kristi!

Review: The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society!

PB&J

 

It’s not always easy maintaining a boy-girl friendship in Middle Grade

But Annie and Jason are doing a pretty good job, at least until the economic downturn forces Jason’s parents to sell their house and move for work.

Janet Sumner Johnson’s debut middle grade novel is everything I want in a middle grade novel: it’s sassy, funny, cozy, mysterious, heart-warming, and a little sad.

First of all, the cover is killer. Kids will definitely want to see what’s going on inside.

From the very first page the reader is completely taken with Annie and her best friend Jason, the two members of the PB&J Society.

Navigating family tensions, a new and odd friendship with an old foe, trying to maintain their boy-girl friendship in the face of teasing, and their desire to figure out a way to ensure that the PB&J Society doesn’t have to disband, we root for them every step of the way.

What I really love is how real their friendship feels.

There are ups and downs and Johnson doesn’t take the easy way out at the end, as some authors might have.

There are valuable lessons for kids in this book, but they are hidden in the sandwich.

I for one hope that we get more of Annie’s story, because she is just such a fun and perfectly imperfect character.

This book is sweet and funny and clever and very well written and I highly recommend it!  Plus, if you visit Janet’s website, you get a bonus story and the PB&J rules!

 The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society comes out April 1st!

Books as Change Agents

 

symptoms and girl who fell

One of the most important roles books can play in our lives is to shine a light on a particular social or political issue.

We are hardwired to learn and absorb information through stories, so it is no surprise that they are the perfect vehicle to open our hearts and minds.

In the past two weeks I’ve had the pleasure of reading two YA novels:

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

The Girl Who Fell by S.M. Parker

Jeff’s book explores the world of gender fluidity, something which I wasn’t particularly knowledgeable about before I read the book, but which I was passionately supportive of by the end.

 

symptoms of being human

The tagline says it all: Boy or Girl? Yes.

Human Beings have a tendency to want to categorize things, and this categorization begins as soon as we are born and our parents are told we are male and female.

But what if you identify as both, depending on the day or even the time of day?

Garvin, and our protagonist Riley, help us understand gender fluidity in heart-warming and heart-wrenching ways. We walk in Riley’s shoes in this book and we are all the better for it.

I am convinced everyone, of all ages, should read this book. Garvin has found a way to educate us and entertain us, a fine balance to achieve and masterfully done here.

 

Likewise, Shannon Parker takes us into the world of intimate partner violence in The Girl Who Fell.

 

the girl who fell

 

Zephyr Doyle seems like a girl who’s on top of the world when we meet her. But as is the case for many young girls, Zephyr is insecure and reeling from her father walking out on her 18th birthday. When cute new boy Alec wants to date her, she is swept off her feet.

Parker has done her homework: she builds Alec’s controlling tendencies slowly, and we watch in fear as he isolates and belittles Zephyr, feeding on her insecurities like a vampire.  This is exactly how these predators work and the book does a wonderful job of showing why Zephyr stays, until it is almost too late.

Every high school in the US and Canada needs copies of these books in their libraries and in the hands of their guidance counsellors.

Pretty impressive debuts and available in bookstores everywhere!

 

Author of Children's Literature

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