7 Canadian Books from 2017 for Middle-Graders

The holidays are always a great time to encourage kids to read. They have a lot of time on their hands and though the holidays are about spending time with the family, sometimes mom and dad just need a few minutes (like 2 or maybe 60!) to prepare a meal or relax. So here are 7 Canadian books, with varying themes, published in 2017 that you can stick in front of your children whether they are avid readers or not.

The list was inspired by bestselling lists, award lists, lists of the best books of 2017, and our KW4K authors. All recommendations are middle-grade reads except where indicated. Enjoy!

1. Knock About with the Fitzgerald-Trouts

by Esta Spalding (Author), Sydney Smith (Illustrator)
Genre: Adventure Fiction

This is the second book of the Dahl-esque series about the Fitzgerald Trout kids who have to fend for themselves as they can’t trust the grown-ups to do what needs to be done. Though this book is considered middle-grade, it seems to do well being read out to younger crowds as well. So if you have a child in middle school and another in elementary, this might be a good book for them to read together.

Book synopsis:

“Witty, full of heart and genuinely fun to read…a wacky, lighthearted romp.”–The New York Times Book Review

Welcome to the further adventures of the plucky Fitzgerald-Trout siblings, who live on a tropical island where the grown-ups are useless, but the kids can drive. In this second installment, the delightfully self-reliant siblings continue their search for a home. This time, their pursuit will bring them face-to-face with a flood, illegal carnivorous plants, and the chance to win an extraordinary prize at a carnival. Will they finally find a place to call home?

2. Shadow of a Pug (Howard Wallace, P.I., Book 2)

by Casey Lyall
Genre: Mystery

This fun detective story can be found on a few favourites lists around the internet and is sure to get kids minds buzzing with ideas as they solve the mystery along with Howard Wallace, P.I.

Book synopsis:

Middle-school detectives Howard Wallace and Ivy Mason are itching for a juicy case.

But when their friend and cohort Marvin hires them to prove his nephew— über-bully Carl Dean—didn’t pugnap the school mascot, they’re less than thrilled. To succeed, not only must Howard and Ivy play nice with Carl, they’ll have to dodge a scrappy, snoopy reporter and come face-to-face with Howard’s worst enemy, his ex-best friend Miles Fletcher. Can Howard deal with all these complications and still be there for Ivy when her life is turned upside down? Or will he once again find himself a friendless P.I.?

3. The Artsy Mistake Mystery: The Great Mistake Mysteries

by Sylvia McNicoll
Genre: Mystery

The Artsy Mistake Mystery is the second installment in The Great Mistake Mysteries series. It’s a fun read for parents and children alike and is especially nice for kids who are just a little different from their peers. This is also definitely a good way to remind kids that making mistakes is okay. (For more on what kids would love about this book, take a look at this insightful review.)

Book synopsis:

They say he’s been stealing art. But is Attila being framed?

Outdoor art is disappearing all over the neighbourhood! From elaborate Halloween decorations to the Stream of Dreams fish display across the fence at Stephen and Renée’s school, it seems no art is safe. Renée’s brother, Attila, has been cursing those model fish since he first had to make them as part of his community service. So everyone thinks Attila is behind it when they disappear. But, grumpy teen though he is, Attila can do no wrong in Renée’s eyes, so she enlists Stephen’s help to catch the real criminal.

4. The Explorers: The Door in the Alley

by Adrienne Kress
Genre: Mystery/Adventure Fiction

Here’s a book with a big sell that is sure to be a hit with your child. It’s the first in a series and has been optioned off to be turned into a Disney film. It has the excitement and thrill of adventure plus the wackiness of a free roaming imagination. It’s good for kids to continue to keep their imaginations active. And according to Book Riot, it’s an excellent book for reluctant readers!

Book synopsis:

Featuring a mysterious society, a secretive past, and a pig in a teeny hat, The Explorers: The Door in the Alley is the first book in a new series for fans of The Name of This Book Is a Secret and The Mysterious Benedict Society. Knock once if you can find it—but only members are allowed inside.

This is one of those stories that start with a pig in a teeny hat. It’s not the one you’re thinking about. (This story is way better than that one.) This pig-in-a-teeny-hat story starts when a very uninquisitive boy stumbles upon a very mysterious society. After that, there is danger and adventure; there are missing persons, hired thugs, a hidden box, a lost map, and famous explorers; and there is a girl looking for help that only uninquisitive boys can offer.

The Explorers: The Door in the Alley is the first book in a series that is sure to hit young readers right in the funny bone.

5. Masterminds: Payback

by Gordon Korman
Genre: Science Fiction/Mystery

Gordon Korman’s books come highly recommended from one of our KW4K authors, Christopher Smolej. Plus, this is the third (and possibly final) book in the Mastermind series so it’s a good time for the kids to read the whole series at once.

Book synopsis from HarperCollins.com:

The thrilling finale to the New York Times-bestselling Masterminds series from middle grade star author Gordon Korman. Perfect for fans of Rick Riordan and James Patterson.

After a serious betrayal from one of their former friends, the clones of Project Osiris are on the run again. Now separated into pairs, Eli and Tori and Amber and Malik are fighting to survive in the real world.

Amber and Malik track down the one person they think can help them prove the existence of Project Osiris, notorious mob boss Gus Alabaster, also known as Malik’s DNA donor. But as Malik gets pulled into the criminal world—tantalized by hints of a real family—his actions put him and Amber into greater danger.

Eli and Tori get sucked into even bigger conspiracies as they hunt down Project Osiris’s most closely guarded secrets—who does Eli’s DNA come from? With a surprising new ally and another cross-country adventure, the four will have to work together to overcome the worst parts of themselves if they are going to end Project Osiris once and for all.

6. Those Who Run in the Sky

by Aviaq Johnston
Age Range: 12+
Genre: Adventure Fiction

Those Who Run in the Sky is inspired by spiritual aspects of Inuit culture and is a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for young people’s literature (— text). Sharing this book with your child is a good way to continue to expose your child to different aspects of Indigenous culture.

Book synopsis:

This teen novel, written by Iqaluit-based Inuit author Aviaq Johnston, is a coming-of-age story that follows a young shaman named Pitu as he learns to use his powers and ultimately finds himself lost in the world of the spirits.

After a strange and violent blizzard leaves Pitu stranded on the sea ice, without his dog team or any weapons to defend himself, he soon realizes that he is no longer in the word that he once knew. The storm has carried him into the world of the spirits, a world populated with terrifying creatures—black wolves with red eyes, ravenous and constantly stalking him; water-dwelling creatures that want nothing more than to snatch him and pull him into the frigid ocean through an ice crack. As well as beings less frightening, but equally as incredible, such as a lone giant who can carry Pitu in the palm of her hand and keeps caribou and polar bears as pets.

After stumbling upon a fellow shaman who has been trapped in the spirit world for many years, Pitu must master all of his shamanic powers to make his way back to the world of the living, to his family, and to the girl that he loves.

7. The Winnowing

by Vikki VanSickle
Age Range: 12+
Genre: Fantasy/Science Fiction

This is for all the sci-fi fans out there. Vikki VanSickle presents a fantasy/sci-fi world that the author herself heralds as inspired by The X-Files. But this book is also explores the themes of friendship, loyalty, and the courage needed to grow up.

Book synopsis:

In a world where the familiar has sinister undertones, two friends are torn apart just when they need one another most. Can they both survive?

Marivic Stone lives in a small world, and that’s fine with her. Home is with her beloved grandfather in a small town that just happens to be famous for a medical discovery that saved humankind — though not without significant repercussions. Marivic loves her best friend, Saren, and the two of them promise to stick together, through thick and thin, and especially through the uncertain winnowing procedure, a now inevitable — but dangerous — part of adolescence.

But when tragedy separates the two friends, Marivic is thrust into a world of conspiracy, rebellion and revolution. For the first time in her life, Marivic is forced to think and act big. If she is going to avenge Saren and right a decade of wrongs, she will need to trust her own frightening new abilities, even when it means turning her back on everything, and everyone, she’s known and loved. A gripping exploration of growing up, love and loss, The Winnowing is a page-turning adventure that will have readers rooting for their new hero, Marivic Stone, as they unravel the horror and intrigue of a world at once familiar but with a chilling strangeness lurking beneath the everyday.

Bonus:

Stock up on some stocking stuffers with these short reads by our Kids Write 4 Kids winners that are sure to inspire your kids to do some writing of their own.

How to be an Abbott

by Olivia Simms (2017 Kids Write 4 Kids Winner)
Age Range: 8-14

Here’s what award-winning author Karen Bass has to say about it: “A tale of belonging with unforgettable characters. I loved discovering How to be an Abbott.

Book synopsis:

Noah Thompson feels like no one really understands him. But when he meets Evan, he learns a thing or two about friendship, belonging, and family.

Summon The Magic

by Emily Little (2017 Kids Write 4 Kids Winner)
Age Range: 8-14

Karen Bass, award-winning author says, “Summon the Magic casts you into a fantastic world of imagination and adventure. I relished every twist and turn.” We think your kid will too.

Book synopsis:

For six teens in the small town of Hillside, the start of a new school year is anything but ordinary. It brings the discovery of strange powers, dragons, and a mission to save a whole other world.

Once your middle graders are done reading, if they want to do some writing of their own, don’t forget to get them to submit their creation to the 2017-2018 Kids Write 4 Kids writing contest. Submissions end on March 31, 2018. Go to this online form to enter.

 

An Open Letter from Last Year’s Kids Write 4 Kids Winner

Since I began working on Kids Write 4 Kids, one of the most rewarding experiences for me is the positive feedback I receive from kids, parents, teachers, and volunteers. Sometimes they are in the form of a phone conversation, but most of the time, it’s just a sentence or two in an email.

Last weekend, I received an email from Olivia Simms, one of last year’s winners, who wrote How to be an Abbott. After reading the email, I just knew it was something I needed to share since the letter wasn’t address just to me but to the Writer of the Future:

Hi Ivy,

I’ve been back in school for about a month now and although things have felt a little hectic, I can’t begin to explain how much the KW4K experience has helped with my self-confidence in dealing with new challenges (like starting high school!).

 Also, I put this together quickly. It’s a letter, not a blogpost…I just wanted to say something to this year’s participants.

Dear Writer of the Future,

Congratulations, you’ve found one of the best opportunities for young writers in Canada! Kids Write 4 Kids absolutely changed my life and I firmly believe it will continue to help kids across the country realize their writing dreams. But enough about me. What does this mean for you?

Maybe you’re doing this as a school assignment, maybe you’re chasing your dream of becoming an author one day. Maybe you’re doing both! In any case, being published “one day” doesn’t have to mean a trillion years from now. It can mean in a couple months. It can mean by the time summer rolls around, you’re a published author. And if you’re like me, those two words make your heart race and your head spin.

Though some people might question you, make you wonder what business a kid under the age of fifteen has publishing a book, let me tell you: you have every business. If you have a story to tell, you are no different from the Rowlings and Hemingways that came before you. Your experiences in this world are inexplicably unique, not because of the things that happen to you, but how you think of them.

If you take part in this challenge, please don’t do it to impress anyone but yourself. Yes, maybe your teacher is making you do it and you “don’t think you have it in you to write well.” But here’s the secret I’ve learned in talking to authors and becoming an author: everyone feels that way sometimes.

 Don’t just write what you think everyone else will like. Write something that you think is funny. Write something that you’d like to read yourself. Write something that changes the reader, but more importantly, changes you. Because if by time you submit your story, you’ve grown as a person and as a writer, you’ve already won.

What are you waiting for? You’ve got writing to do!

Olivia Simms
Author of How to Be an Abbott

Thanks Olivia, it’s fabulous to hear Kids Write 4 Kids has given you such a positive experience. I believe that it’s powerful for kids to inspire other kids, so thank you, Olivia, for your encouragement to this year’s participants!

About Kids Write 4 Kids

The 2017-2018 Kids Write 4 Kids Creative Challenge was officially launched on October 1st.  This will be our 6th annual writing contest for grades 4 – 8.  There’s still plenty of time for students to get started in writing a great story as the submission deadline is March 31st, 2018.  All the details can be found on Ripple Digital Publishing website.

Would you like a chance to meet one of Kids Write 4 Kids first published authors and win a copy of her book?  Safaa Ali, author of Why Peacock have Colorful Feathers will be reading from her book on Wednesday, October 25th at Indigo’s Manulife Centre location in Toronto. Click here for more details.

My Experience in a Classroom Book Club

Becoming a book club member, whether at your school or in a local group within your community, provides opportunities to listen to others, meet new people, and explore new things. In my freshman English class, I was involved in a small book club assignment. The class was divided into four groups of approximately six people.

As a member of one of these groups, I was able to observe some of the great things that one can experience and learn when involved in an activity such as this.

1. Listening to Others

Since the core purpose of an exercise such as a book club is to get people to think about and share their own interpretations and questions regarding the book they are reading, you are bound to hear the perspectives and opinions of others in your group. This in turn expands your worldview, exposing you to ideas you may never have considered before and brings you closer to those involved—more on that later. The basis for our discussions when we congregated for book club stemmed from things we’d discovered while fulfilling the duties of the “roles” we’d been assigned, and which we rotated at each meeting. One particular role, which really got my creative juices flowing, was Discussion Director.

As the name suggests, whoever happened to be the Discussion Director would think of questions (usually 10) relevant to the book and the specific chapter being read. When I assumed the role of the Discussion Director, I posed these questions to everyone, and directed the general ebb and flow of the conversation.

This led to a lively discussion where my peers would bounce ideas, theories, and even more questions off of each other. Feeling oddly satisfied that I had stimulated my peers enough to have them actually shouting animatedly at each other over the table about what a character’s intentions really were, I’d even contribute a few ideas of my own and then proceed to the next question. If you can get people talking with one another, there is no limit to the ideas you can discover!

2. Getting to Know the People around You

Chances are that the book club you have joined (or are considering joining) is in your school or community, so wouldn’t it follow that these are people you would be seeing on a day-to-day basis? If so, wouldn’t you like to get to know them better? If the answer is yes, then book club is the activity for you! As a freshman in high school, I sometimes felt like a small fish in a huge pond. It’s in moments like that where you feel that the more people you know and can call friends, the more at home and comfortable you are. However, there will always be people that you wouldn’t naturally be drawn to or would consider being friends with. Personally, I had good friends in my English class, but there were some people I had never even talked to before. Luckily, some of these people ended up being in my book club group.

It was an amazing experience, getting to know them in non-traditional way. Instead of discussion about background, family, life goals, and hardships, I got to know them through the ideas and opinions they put forth in discussion. I found this to be the most intimate way to get to know someone and the most rewarding.

3. Exploring Different Genres

Being randomly assigned books, as many book clubs do, is a great way to branch out and read novels in genres you might never have considered reading before! Personally, I’m more drawn to classics and heavier books, such as Vanity Fair or Great Expectations. I have never been picky about the books that I read, however, so I’m always open to new things (this summer, for example, my aunt introduced me to science fiction, and it was great fun—looking forward to reading Ender’s Game soon!).  For my particular book club group, we read a book called Unwind, which falls into the genre of dystopian fiction. This is not a genre I would naturally pick off a shelf.

Consequently, I was exposed to new writing and new ideas. Plus, dystopian fiction really gets you thinking a lot about what ifs in regard to the systems of government we have in place, the way social rank is determined, the ways that we entertain ourselves, etc. In this way, I explored a new genre and had fun doing it!

4. Broadening your Vocabulary

Expanding your vocabulary, as well as your knowledge of figurative language, is yet another unique advantage of participating in a book club. This will help you to express thoughts, opinions, and ideas more clearly (in conversation or on paper) and strengthen your communication skills—who doesn’t want that!

In our book club, we had the role of Literary Luminary to thank. As the name suggests, the Literary Luminary picks specific, strange, or singular words from the book, researches their meaning, and shares it with the group.

Another part of the role is discovering different ways that the author of your chosen book uses figurative language within the text (things like metaphors, similes, and hyperbole), why they do it, and what effect it produces. It’s quite fascinating.

5. Make Better Connections with the World around You

Being able to make meaningful links between the books you read and your everyday life gives what you read more significance, and—at least I found—it becomes more enjoyable. When a substantial connection is made between your life and what you are reading, the book stops being a random made-up story that someone just came up with and starts to seem like a more thoughtful, meaningfully worded and depicted story. Believe it or not, there is another book club role for this!

The person assigned to this role is the Connector. They are responsible for trying to find as many links as possible between what the group is reading and things occurring in our world today (for example: stereotypes, government policies, controversial topics, and even our own lives).

They then relate their findings to the group for discussion; some people may agree, some may disagree. Either way, there is always lots to talk about with this one.

Hopefully, with a small dose of my experience, you have learned a bit about what book club involvement is like and why it’s so great!

Why Writing is Vital to Your Child’s Education

In the past 15 years or so, educators and parents have warned that budget constraints threaten to eradicate music and art education in schools. There are compelling arguments why that would be a huge mistake. Creative right-brain activity helps young brains develop, aiding in problem solving. It’s also a breath of fresh air for the more predominant left-brain.

However, in all that discussion, writing is never mentioned. I went to high school in the 1970s, in Ontario, and despite a well-funded school system that allowed for choir, instrumental music classes, and art classes, from grade 9 through 13, there was only one grade 13 class that was strictly for creative writing.

Notwithstanding the benefits of any creative activity, I suggest all students benefit more, in the long run, from creative writing classes, than from music or art classes. On a practical level, the ability to write concisely and creatively is vital to them advancing in their careers.

Put another way, being unable to write clearly, including poor grammar, sentence construction, and spelling, will hamper their career advancement. It will subject them to a kind of intellectual prejudice.

One could say that essay writing in high school will cover both grammar and composition, but many post-secondary professors beg to differ. Students arrive at college or university lacking basic writing skills and fumble through some basic freshman-year instruction. After that, colleges and universities don’t impose any writing standards.

Creative writing, as opposed to essay writing, allows students of all ages to approach the task of learning how to write in a fun way. It will encourage them to read more and it will stimulate that right-brain activity.

Quite simply, grade school students with superior writing skills will do better in high school. High school students with superior writing skills will do better in college or university. And on and on, throughout their lives, whatever their career-track might be.

Academic or business-oriented graduates will one day have to write compelling project proposals if they are to get ahead. More creative, right-brained graduates, like visual artists, will have to write their own proposals or express their artistic point-of-view in writing. Musicians who write their own lyrics will benefit from writing poetry. Even trades-people must communicate via email or through websites with their clients. Creative writing, as a fun way to encourage children to improve their writing skills, is vitally important to any student’s ability to succeed in life.

Creativity: An Outlet of Expression for ALL Children

In today’s society, children engage their creativity through a number of ways: art, drama, and writing to name a few. Creativity is a form of expression, and can be possessed by all no matter an individual’s capabilities. Our bodies provide us with tools that help in expressing ourselves and our creativity to others. For example, our hands help us write an imaginative story, our eyes to read, our voice to read a personal poem, our muscles to act out a dramatic scene. However, a lack of such capabilities doesn’t prevent creativity, but forces children with certain disabilities to think of a new way to engage in certain activities. An experience that has opened my eyes to the different methods of creative expression was when I began to tutor an incredible little girl, Sophie Sullivan.

In February 2012, Sophie Sullivan, a healthy eight-year-old girl, suffered from a brain hemorrhage due to an eruption of an arteriovenous malformation. As a result, her fine and gross motor skills were affected, as well as her ability to communicate verbally.

After the incident Sophie couldn’t speak and as time passed, she began to make sounds, although still not words. Being a friend of the family for the past five years, I became Sophie’s tutor in October 2015. My first task was to try and develop an easy and convenient way for Sophie to express her thoughts and ideas. With help from her speech therapist, we created cards with letters on them that I taped onto a large board. From this alphabet board, Sophie used her eye movements and sounds to pick out letters to spell words and form sentences.

This strategy emphasizes how seeking alternative forms of communication can allow children with certain disabilities to effectively communicate and show their creativity. This opened up a whole new way of communication for Sophie and allowed her to express her opinions and ideas to myself, her family, and her friends Before, all those who interacted with Sophie had an idea of what she wanted or how she felt. But now, the board allows Sophie to explicitly tell us what is on her mind, her goals, and her dislikes—we know without a doubt. Her first Christmas card to her parents in 2015 emphasized how much Sophie appreciated her family and everything they did for her. It was extremely moving and made me realize that there is probably a lot this little girl has to say.

Children with disabilities should be able to participate in creative activities like their peers. A child’s ability to express themselves helps in development, but also gives them the opportunity to show others who they are as an individual – their values, beliefs, passions, and goals. Following the Christmas card, I encouraged Sophie to use the alphabet board to help her with her writing.

Over the summer of 2016, I discovered Sophie’s love of stories and fairy tales and thought it would be fun for Sophie to create her very own and wow, did she not disappoint! Princess Sophie’s Amazing Adventure is a fairy tale about family and coming together. It is full of excitement and adventure, and is centred around Princess Sophie, a princess who embodies love, forgiveness, and courage. Seeing Sophie’s excitement as she wrote and the creativity that progressed made me finally realize how writing can be about personal expression. It is a way for individuals to communicate to others their morals and important messages that are deeply rooted in who they are as a person. This story doesn’t only show how important Sophie’s family and friends are to her, but it also portrayed her as a caring, adventurous, and forgiving girl.

After reading about Sophie, I hope you see how anything is possible when there is determination and perseverance. Sophie’s accomplishment shows that anyone can reach their goals and be whatever they desire with the right attitude and support behind them.

Her disability did not stop her from pursing her love for writing stories; instead, it made those around her come up with a suitable, alternative form of communication that she could easily use to show her creativity. For families with children that have disabilities similar to Sophie or any disability in general, do not be discouraged.

It might take time to figure out a suitable method of communication for your child, but time does not correlate to impossible, rather, to patience. When the incident first happened in 2012, Sophie’s eye gaze and her ability to make sounds were not as nearly developed and controlled as they are today. Time is what Sophie needed to get to a place where she can effectively communicate with others and engage her inner creativity. Her story is a testament of how far she has come and proof that children with disabilities can engage in creative outlets that will make them feel heard and acknowledged.

How Kids Write 4 Kids Winners are Chosen

Over the last five years, I’ve been asked many times how winners of the Kids Write 4 Kids contest are selected. Let me start by saying I’m actually not involved in selecting the winner.

We have a judging panel that consist of twelve people. Of the twelve, six of them have been on the judging panel since the inception of Kids Write 4 Kids in 2012. They all come from different professional backgrounds – writer, marketer, lawyer, doctor, director, and a production artist. But the one thing they all share is that they all read a lot of books–as much as one a week–and to me that’s very important. You need someone who has read a lot of books to recognize originality and what’s consider a good story. The rest of the panel is made up of guest judges that changes year after year.

They consist of previous Kids Write 4 Kids winners, accomplished published authors, such as Karen Bass, Margriet Ruurs, and Joyce Grant to name a few, and people in the publishing or education industry. You can visit our website to view profiles of our recent judging panel.

It’s with this mix that I believe we are able to select the best story for the masses. To date we’ve published ten titles and all of the stories are very different, ranging from murder mystery, humour, fantasy, fable, and even a collection of poetry.

The judges don’t actually read all the entries, only the top ten stories. We have two very important ladies that go through all the entries to identify the top ten stories for the judges. They are professional editors that work for a big publisher so they know what they are doing! All the stories go through a checklist that we also include as part of the entries submission. Here’re story checklist items:

  • Does my story have a title?
  • Does my story have rising action, a climax, and falling action?
  • Does my story make sense when I read it out loud?
  • Are my sentences complete? Have I checked the spelling and punctuation and grammar in my story?
  • Is my story consistent? Are places, people, and things described in the same way throughout?
  • Is my story fiction or a collection of poems?

Once they have identified the top ten stories, each story is formatted in Times New Roman font, and blinded (that is, all author information removed) with only the title included, so that all the stories are presented in exactly the same format. This is to ensure there is no bias on whether this was written by a 9 year–old-boy or a 13-year-old-girl.

When all the judges finish reading the top ten stories, each judge rates the story online. The judging panel never meets to discuss the stories, so no one is influencing one another.  Each story is rated based on three criteria:

  • Creativity and originality of plot and/or themes – 40%
  • Story structure, characters, and setting – 40%
  • Style and tone; the quality of writing – 20%

All the scores are then entered into an Excel spreadsheet with a formula that allocates the percentage from each of the criteria to produces an accurate score. The story with the highest score wins and gets published. Over the past two years, we’ve published the two titles with the highest scores.

Official winner announcement is made on June 1st and it’s posted on our website. This year, the two winners are Summon The Magic written by Emily Little, a grade six student from Northport Elementary School in Port Elgin, Ontario and How to Be An Abbott, by Olivia Simms, a grade eight student from Glashan Public School, Ottawa, Ontario. We also post the list of runners up to encourage these kids to continue their writing journey.

As a not-for-profit organization, we are 100% volunteer run so all of our judges and editors give their time without any compensation. There are no words that can express our gratitude for their contribution. If you are a published author or someone that works in the educational industry and are interested in being part of our judging panel for 2017-2018 Kids Write 4 Kids Creative Challenge, you can reach out to me at ivy@ripplefoundation.ca

About Kids Write 4 Kids

Kids Write 4 Kids is an annual writing contest that celebrates the best creative stories written by grades 4 – 8. The winning stories are published both in print and digitally for the world to read. All the books are available at Amazon, Apple iBookstore, and Kobo. To support youth literacy in communities across Canada, Ripple Foundation has committed to donate the annual proceeds from book sales to that year’s winner’s schools. For more information, visit our website and sign up to be notified when the next contest start.

 

 

The March Break Literacy Race

March Break–it’s a great time to relax with your family, catch up on sleep, and make room for recreation. However, amongst the fun and games during a week off, kids tend to lose their motivation to accomplish anything school-related. That’s where the March Break Literacy Race comes in! This race challenges participants to complete a new literacy-related task each day, and offers opportunities to develop both reading and writing skills. The best part? It feels like fun, not school!

This race is adaptable to nearly anyone’s March Break schedule. Kids who are relaxing at home can challenge themselves when they start to feel bored with their newfound free time and kids on exciting family vacations can busy themselves when the beach gets too hot or the lines get too long. Encourage your kids to stick with the race by getting the whole family involved, or suggest they use it to stay connected with their friends. Kids can share what they read and write with each other, allowing them not only to develop their own literacy skills, but learn from others as well. Additionally, by challenging their friends to participate, kids’ competitive natures will kick in and motivate them to see the race through to the very last day.

Day One:

March Break is just beginning and the possibilities are endless! Being as creative as possible, write a short paragraph detailing your dream vacation. There are no limits on time or money spent on this vacation and it does not have to be realistic.

Day Two:

Read something non-fiction for fifteen minutes. It can be anything from a book, a newspaper, a magazine, or even a brochure. Get comfortable, find something that interests you, and focus completely on enjoying and absorbing what you are reading.

Day Three:

Find a friend or family member who can help you out. Together, you will co-write a twenty-line story. Alternate contributing single lines and do your best to work with each others’ ideas. Try to create a clear beginning, middle, and end to your story. The catch? You cannot communicate with your co-author in any way outside of providing your lines for the story.

Day Four:

March Break can be full of new experiences, so take this opportunity to learn a new word. Have a conversation, flip through a book, and look at billboards. When you come across a word you don’t know, find out the definition, and try to use it in at least two sentences throughout the day.

Day Five:

Teach someone else a new word. Sharing is instrumental to learning, so today, you will help spread some knowledge. Think of the most interesting word that you know, and tell someone who does not know that word. Share the spelling and definition, and show them how to properly use it in a sentence.

Day Six:

Read aloud to someone else. A great way to practice both literacy and communication skills is by reading out loud. Pick something that interests both you and the person you are reading to, and have fun playing around with things such as volume, tone, expression, and character voices.

Day Seven:

The week is coming to an end, but hopefully, it has been a lot of fun! Write a poem detailing your favourite experience of this March Break.

While this race is specifically designed for March Break, it can be adapted to any time off. You can make it an annual challenge, and compare the progress made on each task year-to-year. March Break is a great time for kids to improve their reading and writing skills, but oftentimes, that can be difficult to do. This race is both manageable and engaging, so it won’t feel like another tedious school assignment. When kids are faced with the inevitable, “what did you do over March Break?” assignments upon their return to school, this literacy race will give them something interesting to write about.

Share in the comments below if your family plans on participating in the March Break Literacy Race!

Shaking the Back-to-School Slump

Our brains react to new sensory stimuli in our surroundings, forcing us to be more attentive. So, after the holidays or even after the weekend, when students are least likely to be motivated to learn, you can encourage engagement by doing some brain stimulating activities in class. Here are some ideas for the first week of school after the holidays:

Let students have their way

After a holiday, there are lots of stories students want to share. Allow them to tell their holiday stories but add an extra requirement: for every story involving a gift they received or a trip they took, have students share something meaningful they did for someone else. Or you can have them create a holiday memory book. Tell students to draw or bring in a picture of their favorite event, outfit, or gift from the holiday, then ask them to write a few words about the image.

Do a physical activity

Physical activity stimulates the brain but to really get those neurons shooting, do exercise that involves brain. A common way of doing this is to hold up cue cards with words requiring a physical activity, like “jump” or “skip” or “wiggle down,” and asking your students to do what is written on the cards while reading the words out loud.

Go outdoors

Taking your students outdoors for the beginning of class (or for the whole lesson) can create a memorable experience for students because of the change in learning environment. As a bonus, most people will agree that doing a creative activity outdoors will be an unforgettable class. A simple creative activity could be doing a quick grammar game (get some ideas for a grammar game from our previous post).

Go on a field trip

Why not start the new school term with a field trip? Okay, so budgets may be tight and that can impede the likelihood of one, but it does not have to be a costly trip. Is there a monument close to the school grounds or on the school grounds that would help the lesson? Are you discussing flowers? Why not go out to look at some? And if nothing is available close by, why not go on a visual field trip? Watch a video or go through an interactive tour of a place, allowing students to guide you while you discuss.

Be weird, be creative, have fun

As the teacher, why not get involved in the back-to-school fun by dressing in an unexpected way–maybe in a period piece or costume if you are doing a historical study—that is sure to get your students’ attention. Or, you can play games with your students to review work they were doing before the break, perhaps in a gameshow format. And don’t forget to let students be creative–can they explain the lesson in story form? Or act it out?

Don’t forget, the Kids Write 4 Kids creative challenge is still open! The deadline is closer than ever now: March 31st. Remind your students to send in their stories!

As always, we would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Which of these do you plan to try out? Do you have suggestions for some games?

Resources used to create this post that might be useful to you too:
http://www.teachhub.com/post-holiday-classroom-activities
https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/jan/03/how-engage-students-lessons-after-holidays
http://minds-in-bloom.com/10-ways-to-make-learning-fun-and-engaging
http://minds-in-bloom.com/20-three-minute-brain-breaks
http://www.stressrelief4teachers.net/getting-students-revved-back/

2017 Resolutions to Help the Whole Family Improve Their Reading and Writing

Every January is met with a variety of different resolutions, covering everything from personal health to self-improvement. Two months into the new year, are you still keeping up with yours? Take the opportunity to encourage the whole family to improve their reading and writing. As your kids hit the midway point of the school year, a New Year’s resolution could be the perfect challenge to revive their enthusiasm for academics. The follow suggestions are manageable resolutions that will help everyone–from the young to the young at heart–enhance their literacy abilities.

Take ten minutes every day to read or write

A little goes a long way! Introducing ten extra minutes of reading or writing each day is a low-commitment resolution, but sums up to approximately 56 hours over one year! This is a great resolution for kids to improve their reading and writing skills beyond the curriculum. Parents can take up this resolution alongside their kids to keep them motivated and have ten minutes of personal time each day!

Read one book each month

Reading an entire book every month may seem daunting, but it is doable! Pick books that you’re interested in, as you’ll be more likely to stick with a resolution that seems recreational. Encourage the kids to do the same! Monthly reading will be immensely beneficial to them academically and by letting them chose books that appeal to them, this resolution will also help them foster their own interests and ideas. Get the whole family involved by resolving to start a family book club. Every month, a different family member can select a book for everyone to read, or you can each read books of your own selection and share them in a monthly meeting. This will help your family motivate each other to stick with the resolution and gives you an opportunity to reconnect in a special way each month!

Write thank you notes

After the holidays, you and your kids likely have many people to thank. Writing thank you notes is a great way to get your kids to exercise their penmanship and writing abilities. Mostly importantly though, your kids will be reminded of the importance of expressing thanks and appreciation, which never goes out of style.

Write your own story over the course of a year

The thought of writing a story, even a short one, can be intimidating. However, by breaking up this task over one year, it becomes something anyone can do! Write at least one line each day, and by the end of the year, you will have a 365-line story! Challenge the whole family to take up this resolution, and look forward to reading each other’s stories at the end of the year!

Enter the Kids Write 4 Kids Annual Writing Challenge

If your kids are interested in writing, encourage them to enter the Kids Write 4 Kids Annual Writing Challenge! Kids from Grades 4 to 8 can enter their original stories and have the opportunity to get published. Entries are being accepted until March 31, 2017, and the full details of the challenge can be found here.

These are just a few suggestions as to how you can encourage the whole family to improve their reading and writing this year! The key to sticking with a resolution is to make sure it is achievable, so feel free to adapt these recommendations to fit your own lifestyle. If you decide to stick with one of these resolutions, or come up with your own literacy-related goal for the New Year, please share in the comments below!

Holiday Reads

Give your students the gift of reading this holiday season by suggesting a good book! Here are some filled with holiday spirit that are sure to make your students want to write stories of their own:

  1. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
    This is a Christmas classic that can be read every year as a tradition. As kids read the original tale of the the ghosts of Christmas Past, of Christmas Present and of Christmas Yet to Come, they too can create their own version of Christmas ghosts.
  2. How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr Seuss
    This is an all-time favourite! Most kids might have heard the story but not everyone has read the book. This book is a great reminder to be nice to people and also a good way to encourage kids to write, not as a school project, but just for themselves. For example, they can write their own continuation of the story on behalf of Grinch.
  3. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe C.S. Lewis.
    The  first in The Chronicles of Narnia series, it is a tale of four siblings who discover the land of Narnia through the passageway in their uncle’s wardrobe. This is a great book to read over the winter break to immerse yourself into the icy, cold, mysterious kingdom that might leave you wanting to create your own fantastic world as well. How many possible adventures can we go on if we change the direction of the plot? Maybe your students can find out. An added bonus? There are six more books in the series for your students to discover!
  4. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
    After presents, food is the next major component of the holidays. This book, full of candy adventures and the spectacularly sweet world of Willy Wonka’s factory, will set any kid’s imagination free. A big bonus is the tight-knit Bucket family portrayed in this novel, reminding students to appreciate the family time that this season brings even more.
  5. The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
    This book has no words, just breathtaking illustrations. But the lack of text should not be a deterrent to suggest it to your students. It helps them to think outside the box and gives them an alternative perspective on what a story can look like. Why not encourage them to create new storytelling forms of their own?

What other books are great for this time of year? Share with us in the comments.
Remember the Kids Write 4 Kids creative challenge is still open! One or more of your students could write the next Christmas classic. Don’t forget to remind your students to send in their stories.