Confessions of a Book Lover: The Early Days

As a self-proclaimed book lover, I pride myself on my love of reading and all things book related. When I was very young, my parents introduced me to interactive, picture, and digital books (I still have my LeapPad to this day). While I admittedly can’t remember an exact instance or moment when, transfixed by the jumble of words and illustrations in front of me, it became clear that this activity would become a lifelong hobby, I do know that I always felt strangely entranced by magical tales of beautiful princesses, handsome princes, and faraway lands.

I was constantly reading these picture books but, at the age of 5, I realized I wasn’t fully satisfied. While picture books painted vivid pictures of distant kingdoms and lifelong friendships, I wasn’t fully convinced that this was an accurate representation of the world; there had to be something more.

That evening, for the first time, I picked up a copy of The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, which was 154 pages long. Seated on the couch, with my mother on one side of me and my father on the other, I began to read it aloud. Throughout the story there was a constant clash between good and evil, right and wrong. Along with reading and discovering this book came a newfound feeling of independence and confidence in my ability to read. I started to look for more and more chapter books to spend my afternoons reading, digesting, and absorbing.

The transition, though, was not easy. To go from reading 15 to 20 page books to reading one that is 154 pages in length (depending on the copy you buy, of course) was a big leap for me and daunting at first. Will I even be able to understand it?

How long will it take me to read? What if nobody else is reading chapter books now? These were all questions that ran circles in my mind as I was making my decision. Eventually I talked it out with my parents and realized that the decision to read chapter books would only make me a more informed and better educated, individual—and who doesn’t want that! At that point, my classmates at school were also starting to explore more challenging books; some were even reading chapter books like me. This did make me feel more comfortable making, what I thought at the time was, a drastic leap.

Although challenging ourselves to read more complex, lengthy books is important, children do not transition from picture books to chapter books, never to return. We live in an age of visuals; picture books teach visual literacy like no other teaching tool and every child should always have picture books on the go. Picture books should be read from birth to adulthood, and nowadays publishers cater for this with a plethora of picture book choices for all ages and stages. I started out by reading The Wizard of Oz, but there are so many wonderful options to choose from to make your chapter book debut, and with this in mind I have compiled a brief list of some great books to check out:

The Wind in the Willows (Easy Reader Classics)

by Kenneth Grahame

Mole, Water Rat, Badger, and, of course, Toad of Toad Hall: these characters have captivated young minds for over a century. Kenneth Grahame’s classic cast of animal friends enjoy life on the river, hit the road in Toad’s brand-new cart, get lost in the dark, and have adventures in the Wild Wood. These enchanting and humorous tales provide timeless enjoyment for all ages.

Paddington Novel Series (Love from Paddington)

by Michael Bond

Told through Paddington’s letters to his aunt Lucy back in Peru, this novel written by Michael Bond offers Paddington’s own special view on some of his most famous adventures. From stowing away on a ship to working as a barber, Paddington shares his charming, and hilarious, take on the world.

Charlotte’s Web

by E.B White

This beloved book by E. B. White is a classic of children’s literature that is just about perfect. Charlotte’s spider web tells of her feelings for a little pig named Wilbur, who simply wants a friend. They also express the love of a girl named Fern, who saved Wilbur’s life when he was born the runt of his litter. E. B. White’s Newbery Honor Book is a tender novel of friendship, love, life, and death that will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.

My Journey as a Writer

Growing up, I loved reading books and magazines, writing in my journal, and English was my favourite class; however, it never occurred to me that writing could be my career. I thought the only way to become a writer was to come up with the next Harry Potter and become an overnight success.

Since then, I’ve realized writing is everywhere. From tweets to advertising to websites to articles to blogs, words are an essential part of our day-to-day life. Across industries, there is a demand for writers.

I had my first taste of copywriting when I was working my way through university at a local restaurant. My boss asked for my help with social media, so I began posting on Facebook and Twitter about our menu offerings, events, and specials. Within a year, I doubled our Facebook following and gained valuable experience in community management and copywriting. I dabbled in journalism at the school newspaper, submitted poems to the university’s annual publication, and wrote press releases for the campus reading series events.

After graduating from university, I went on to work at an advertising agency where I wrote websites, commercials, and brochures for clients in real estate, finance, hospitality, and more. Today, I work at a fashion company where I write ads, social media posts, and scripts for video and radio. It’s a lot of fun!

Despite what some might say, there are many career opportunities in creative fields such as art, design, and writing. Look around: the books on your shelf, the name of your hand lotion, the voiceover in your favourite video game, and the dialogue in movies are all made possible by writers.

Don’t get discouraged. As a professional writer, I’m learning every day. I sometimes still have to look up spelling and grammar, and I welcome feedback from others. You don’t have to be perfect.

If you get writer’s block, try flipping through a magazine or book. Take notes on your favourite words, themes, and ideas. Expand on those with related words, connecting themes, and bigger ideas. Mix and match them to see where they lead.

The deadline to enter Kids Write 4 Kids is on March 31st, 2018 and it’s a great opportunity to get creative and practice your writing. I encourage all youth with an appreciation for language and storytelling to enter and show off your skills.

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.

 

Life As an 8th Grader and What I Learned From It

When grade 8 came, we were thrilled and excited as it was our final year before high school. At the same time, our teachers, guidance counselors, and our parents began to pressure us. It was also around this time when the pressure of deciding on our “ultimate destination” – that what we chose to study in high school would inform what we did for the rest of our lives.

There were schools that came to promote their specialized programs. I remember when a representative from my home school (a school designated for you based on your address) came to promote their outstanding math, science, and technology program. Another representative from a different high school came and promoted the same type of program. My middle school’s guidance counselor promoted other programs (e.g., arts, French immersion, etc.) whose representatives weren’t able to come. There were also people who came to promote the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP), Cooperative Education, and Dual Credit programs.

Then, everyone around me began to change. People who were interested or who were pressured by parents to apply to programs became competitive. They strived to get high marks. They joined many clubs and other extra-curricular activities. They filled out applications, made portfolios, practiced their talents in performing arts, took entrance exams, and prepared for interviews, if there were any.

I, too, did the same. After considering my strengths and weaknesses in my school subjects and the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) path, I decided that I wanted to get in to a math, science, and technology program. I became fierce and focused on that one goal. I visited high schools.

I filled out applications and took entrance exams for my home school’s program and my current school’s program. I didn’t get into my first choice, which was my home school’s program, and cried. I thought of myself as weak and stupid at that time, but then, I got into my current high school’s program, which returned my confidence.

In January, guidance counselors and teachers began to bother us more to pick the type of courses we would take in grade nine before the end of the month. There were three types of courses: applied, academic, and locally developed. But for me and my class, the choices were between grade 9 academic and applied courses. Parents urged us to pick academic grade 9 courses, the way to university; because they told us it’s the “right path.” “Applied is for the dumb” became the norm, so almost everyone picked academic courses. But I and others that were in specific programs had little-to-no choice, as majority of our courses were mandatory.

Finally, we graduated and moved on to high school.

Fast forward to today. I’m now in my last year of high school, deciding which university to attend and what program I should choose, as well as aspiring to be a published author. Right now, I’m working hard to keep my math mark high enough for university applications and interning for Ripple Foundation as part of my school’s co-operative education.

I’ve graduated from my school’s math, science, and technology program last year, successfully completing all the enriched math and science courses from grade 9 to 11. I’ve written short stories, poems, a first draft of my first novel, this blog, and I’m about to begin writing my second novel. Since graduating grade 8, I’ve accomplished a lot of things.

Did I arrive at my “ultimate destination?” No. In fact, between grades 9 and 11, I’ve realized that there is no such thing. At points in our lives, we will change our paths and they will lead us to destinations. My path went from STEM to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math), and my destination right now is to be a writer.

Did I like the program or did I regret it? There were times when I didn’t like it, but I did not regret applying to it and attending. It taught me to handle pressure and which habits I should fix. It gave me opportunities, like trips to Microsoft and workshops like Think About Math!

Also, looking back, I find it insane and ridiculous to consider people “dumb” if they were put into grade 9 applied courses and “smart” if they were put in grade 9 academic courses. As I moved forward in high school, I realized how close-minded we were. I learned that in life, it isn’t about who is smart or not, or what makes you smart. It’s about if you will find something that will satisfy you and make you happy.

Sure you will have those marks in the 50s and 60s; sure you took those boring high school courses; but later on, those will be traces of ash. No one will care about it or they’ll forget about it.

My advice to eighth graders? Be open to opportunities and change and don’t fall to pressure; life doesn’t end at grade 8.

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.

Back-to-School Reading Recommendations: Some Childhood Favourites

I have always loved reading recreationally. However, during back-to-school time, I often found that I pushed aside my recreational reading so that I could deal with everything the new school year would throw at me. When I did make time to read, though, it became some of the most valuable time to me and I discovered countless books that I have loved ever since. I have compiled a list of recommended back-to-school reading, comprised of some of my childhood favourite books and series.

Encourage your kids to pick up one of the following titles (and maybe even pick one up yourself – a good book has no age limit under which to be enjoyed!) and make recreational reading a priority this school year.

The Doll People

By Ann Matthews Martin

What It’s About
This story follows a doll named Annabelle who comes to life alongside her doll family, unbeknownst to her owner, Kate. Annabelle’s life becomes more complicated when a new doll family, the Funcrafts, move into the home. Change can be something unusual to adjust to, but a new friendship and some adventure lie in store for Annabelle.

Why It’s Worth Reading
First published in 2000, this book is nearly twenty years old. Considering I first read it when it was nearly a decade old, I believe it is still very much a worthwhile read. It’s great for imaginative readers and anyone who ever fantasized about their dolls coming alive. The characters are charming, the plot engaging, and, if your kids enjoy it, there are currently four other books in the series to keep them entertained throughout the school year.

The Secret Series

By Pseudonymous Bosch

What It’s About
A five-book instalment, The Secret Series is just that: a series about a secret. It follows the adventures of eleven-year-olds Cass and Max-Ernest as they search for a missing magician, face off against a villainous chocolatier, and maybe, just maybe, discover the truth about that one mysterious secret that follows them for the course of the books.

Why It’s Worth Reading
This series was one of the most enthralling I read in my childhood. It was interesting, gripping, and I could never wait to get my hands on the next novel in the series. Unfortunately for me, I had to wait for them to be published. Fortunately for new readers, the entire series is out and ready to be enjoyed. These books would be fantastic for any young reader with a curious side, as I personally found the twists, turns, and resolutions near-impossible to predict. Plus, immersing themselves in a world as vibrant as this one crafted by Pseudonymous Bosch is a sure way to take their minds off the stressful side of back-to-school.

The Baby-Sitters Club Graphic Novel Series

Written by Ann M Martin, Illustrated by Raina Telgemeier

What It’s About
An illustrated reimagination of a classic series, these books follow best friends Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia, and Stacey as they navigate the wild world of babysitting, and of course, the trials and tribulations of growing up.

Why It’s Worth Reading
This series is both touching and hilarious, and readers will find themselves rooting for these characters through struggles big and small. While the plot alone is wonderfully crafted, the beautiful illustrations bring the story to life perfectly and take these books to the next level.

School of Fear

By Gitty Daneshvari

What It’s About
Facing one’s fears can be pretty terrifying in itself. In this book, Madeleine, Theo, Lulu, and Garrison, a group of students enrolled in the six-week School of Fear summer program, find out just how terrifying it will be. These students must conquer each of their individual fears at the mysterious school where failing is not an option.

Why It’s Worth Reading
Anyone who’s ever been faced with a fear will be able to relate to these characters. I found the plot of this book to be unique and intriguing and I am sure young readers today would find the same. While I was very glad I wasn’t a character in the book and forced to confront what scared me most, I also found this book to be hopeful. Fear itself can be more harmful than whatever it is one is afraid of, and this book shows readers that we can all at least try to defeat said fears.

Dear Canada Series

By Various Authors

What It’s About
This series details different stories throughout and relevant to Canadian history, all told from the perspectives of young girls who lived through these events.

Why It’s Worth Reading
Arguably the most educational recommendation on this list, this series imparts a lot of important, historical knowledge to those who read it; however, that’s not to say these books are boring. In fact, quite the opposite is true! This series is engaging and written in a way that makes the issues feel relevant to young readers. I always found that when reading these books, even if I could not relate to the exact situations of the characters, I could relate to how they were feeling and I could recognize the importance of that piece of history. This series is also extensively long, currently comprising of thirty-seven books. The books are all unrelated, meaning that they do not have to be read in any specific order, so readers can pick and choose which titles interest them most. Or, if they are willing to take on the challenge of reading all thirty-seven, readers will be engaged and fulfilled by this series for a long time.

If you or your kids read any of these books, feel free to share your thoughts on them in the comments!

 

Writing, Typing, and Brain Processes

There are constant discussions about writing tools and writing styles – by pen or by keyboard, cursive or print – and how they affect literacy and learning. The discussions range from the importance of continuing to teach cursive writing in schools – does it help with learning or is it just for tradition – to an even more pertinent question of whether we should continue to treat writing by hand as an important skill at all. With these discussions, I have found that each medium is pit against the other as polar opposites; you can either have this or that. Either we keep cursive writing in the curriculum or we take it out entirely. Either writing by hand is important or typing is the way.

Scouring the internet to get a balanced viewpoint of the advantages of hand writing and typing, I came across a lot of articles that defined typing based off of the advantages and disadvantages of writing by hand. But, to me, a disservice is done by not exploring typing in its own terms rather than as a “how it differs from handwriting” kind of definition.

In my opinion, typing is not writing by hand, it’s typing. It has a rhythm; one that allows you to flow through a piece of writing coursing through your mind or pummel through a report that needs to be done. It’s convenient and fast but it’s also allow you to be more creative because you can get more on paper, or should I say, onto the screen.

With writing by hand, you feel what you write. As quite a few articles pointed out, writing by hand forces you to slow down. It works with the muscles in your brain, creating a muscle memory that can help you remember and learn and be more involved with whatever you are writing. (Cursive writing fans will be pleased to know that joining letters together helps children recognize groups of letters as words, minus the fancy curls which are not as important.)

So maybe the solution is not to choose one over the other but to understand how each works for us and employ it that way. In a classroom where students can enhance the learning process as they take notes or where we, as parents, teachers or influencers in their lives, want them to dig deeper, maybe they can be encouraged to write by hand. If the students have an avalanche of words in mind that have to be ousted immediately, then perhaps let them take the waterfall that is typing and run. All we have to do is guide them to know which is which.

So maybe the question we should be asking whether our students are being given enough tools that will help them express themselves in written form. What are your thoughts? Are they?

 

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.

 

 

Why The Library is an Important Resource for the Whole Family

In today’s age of instant gratification and Internet accessibility, a valuable resource is often overlooked: the public library. While the Internet is an undeniably wonderful tool, and yes, going to the library will require leaving your house, there is a certain magic to exploring rows and rows of paper-bound information “in the flesh.” Below are some of the many reasons why libraries are so important and how you can make them a part of your family’s life.

Libraries Have Books

Quite obviously, libraries have books. While this is common knowledge, many of us have likely not taken the time to consider the significance of having such a wide range of books available for free use. Libraries contain everything from fiction to non-fiction, classics to undiscovered hidden gems. As a result, these books can provide everything from entertainment, teaching a new skill, and information on just about every topic under the sun.

Libraries Provide Opportunities for Learning

The vast range of books at the library provides near-endless opportunity for learning. Be it an informative non-fiction book, a biography of an important historical or public figure, or a fictional story with an important message, there is a wealth of knowledge available at the library. This knowledge can be helpful for kids’ schoolwork, can assist us in becoming more aware of our surrounding world, or can guide us in the learning of a new skill. Does your child have a research project to complete? Take them to the library to find some original and fascinating information that will set their assignment apart. Are you or one of your family members looking for a new hobby? Peruse the how-to section of the library for some inspiration. Further, not only does the library provide concrete information, it can also facilitate the teaching of real life lessons. Learning to take care of, keep track of, and return on time their library books will teach children responsibility, accountability, and how to share.

Libraries Offer Entertainment

Books are often seen as a purely intellectual pursuit, and while reading is undoubtedly good for the brain, books can be wildly entertaining as well. The vast range of books available at public libraries means that there will be something there to engage everyone. You could even start a family book club, which is a great way to connect and reflect on what you are reading. Additionally, many libraries also have DVDs, so you could also select a few titles to have a family movie night. When you’re tired of flipping through seemingly endless and seldom interesting television channels, head to the library for some fresh and exciting entertainment.

Libraries Provide a Quiet Space

Today’s society is a fast-paced one and it can be difficult to find space to take a moment for yourself. Libraries provide the solution to this dilemma. They are quiet, calm spaces, accessible to anyone who needs them. They can be a great place to study, read, write, or work, and the serene environment will help to improve focus and productivity. Take the whole family to the library to work on homework, quietly foster personal creativity, or simply escape from life’s stresses for a few hours.

Libraries Connect Communities

Libraries can be a central part of the community they inhabit and provide a number of opportunities to get involved. Many libraries host various workshops and events, which are often led by or feature local talent. Getting involved in these events can be a great way to both learn from and give back to your community. Libraries can also provide various ongoing work and volunteer opportunities, which is a great chance for your older children to gain real world employment experience. Supporting and getting involved with your local library will help to make you and your family an integral part of the community fabric and could open you up to great new experiences.

The aforementioned reasons are only a few of many as to why libraries are still precious in today’s societies. There are endless ways that you and your families can make use of this resource and allow libraries to enrich your lives. Feel free to share below why you think libraries are important and what they mean to you and your families!

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!