Archive for category: Writing

Guest Post: Write a book with your child

Jack By Nicole Plyler Fisk

If you want to get a kid reading, get him writing. A great way to do that? Create a story with your child. Even better? Self-publish it. It sounds hard, but if you’re at all book-y, it can be a simple and fun process. Here’s how:

1) Brainstorm

Talk with your child about their interests — those things that make them unique — and make a list of fun combinations. See the photo above? That’s my son Jack, circa 2013, resplendent in his pirate hat and Thomas the Train tattoos. What if, I asked him, a pirate family had a train instead of a ship? Coolest book idea ever, Jack said.

2) Research

Once you have your book idea, you need to research it to find some cool facts that can be peppered through your story. Google is your friend. We typed in “gem hunting, usa” and voila! Thank you, Jamie Pearson, for “Top Seven Places To Go Gem Hunting On Your Next Family Vacation.” With one click, we had something my son was interested in reading; the setting for seven pirate train books—and a list of future Fisk family vacation destinations!

3) Write

4) Illustrate

Maybe your kid wants to illustrate his own book. If not, consider hiring an illustrator. This requires research (see: your friend, Google). Commission some samples, and let your kid help with both choosing the illustrator and writing instructions for the illustrations.

5) PublishThe Pirate Train cover

Thank you twenty-first century and self-publishing sites like for making this as easy as uploading a document file.

6) Read it (over and over and over again) with your child

Introducing our book: The Pirate Train. A book that your child wrote himself will be read so many times you won’t even believe it.

Your biggest problem?  Selling enough copies/making enough money to do it again… times seven.

Nicole PlNicole Fisk headshotyler Fisk has a PhD in English (“Dissertation on the Brontë sisters, anyone?”) and homeschools her two children, Jack and Arina. She and Jack created The Pirate Train last year and are working on more books in the series. Visit her website at Here’s a link to an online reading of the book.

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Getting kids writing – a book that worked for me

Just Write: Here's how by Walter Dean MyersDo you have a budding writer on your hands?

Here’s a terrific, fast-reading book that aims to get young people writing.

Walter Dean Myers has written more than 100 books, including the best-selling Monster.

He is currently the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature in New York.

His books tend to be about the young, urban black experience in America. And he knows whereof he writes.

Being able to write lifted Myers out of his sometimes difficult home life. It gave him possibilities. It saved him.

He wants young people to be able to make the journey that was so important for him.

Just Write: Here’s How! is a book I picked up at the library because I was stuck. Having a been a journalist for more than 25 years–and writing nearly every day that I can remember–I was stuck. I had several looming book-related deadlines and I needed something to help me get unstuck, and fast. I’m delighted to say that Myers’s book has done just that.

I didn’t have time for boring, introduction-heavy tomes that were written from atop some author’s high horse. And kids don’t either.

Just Write doesn’t beat around the bush. It tells you how to start, how to plan, how to plot and how to revise. It’s practical and specific. “Here are the tools; it’s not easy, but you can do it.”

For instance, Myers plans his novels using a “six-box model.”WalterDeanMyersPhoto
The boxes are:
1) Character and problem
2) Obvious solutions
3) Insight and inner conflict
4) Growth and change
5) Taking action
6) Resolution

The writer fills in each box to create a plan. Later, each box is fleshed out to create an outline.

Myers also advises writers to pin photographs of their characters on a wall near where they’re writing. It’s a good idea.

Although it was great for me, Just Write is aimed at young people. Myers recounts his collaboration with a young writer who happened to send him an email. (I’m not sure how he got Myers’s email address, by the way, because I’ve been scouring the Internet for it and can’t find it anywhere–so right off the bat, this must have been an exceptional kid.)

The two–experienced writer and absolute beginner–began planning their book and then writing it, a chapter at a time, until they had something that could be published. Their book, Kick, was published by Harperteen (Harper Collins) last year.

Myers does a lot of work with kids in correctional institutions. He figures that without writing, that’s likely where he’d have wound up. He knows that there are kids in there who have something to say; he wants to help them get a chance to say it.

I love that although I’m not black, I’m not male, I’m not young, I’m not in crisis, I’m not a new writer and (I hope) I’m not headed for jail… this book helped me to write. If you know a kid who is even one of those things, I’m sure it will help them, too.

This is a book that will help kids get–and keep on–writing.

Related links
A collection of Myers’s books with descriptions.
Myers’s website.

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Writing contest for Canadian kids grades 4 to 12

Madonna with Writing Child, by Pinturicchio, 1490s.

Madonna with Writing Child, by Pinturicchio, 1490s.

If you’re a Canadian kid in grade 4 to 12, you could win a great prize in a writing contest sponsored by the Canadian Children’s Centre and TD.

Here are some details:

  • Deadline is Feb. 1, 2013;
  • Fiction or non-fiction stories or poems;
  • Entries must be mailed in (no emails or faxes);
  • Must include an entry form — found here;
  • Prizes: $250 book gift certificate for a winner in each grade plus two honourable mentions ($50) from each grade.

You’ll find more details, the address to send your entries to and the entry form on the Canadian Children’s Book Centre website, here.

(Oh, the image? Yeah, that’s a child in the 1400s. He’s writing. In a book held by the mother of Jesus. Don’t worry, he’s not eligible for the contest–not Canadian. Phew!)




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A book full of book bites

Breakfast On A Dragon'sTailIf you’re looking for an activity that will get your kid writing, Breakfast on a Dragon’s Tail, by Martin Springett, is a new and interesting concept book.

Dragon’s Tail gives you the beginning of a story, and your kid writes the rest.

There are 13 book bites in all, each one an intriguing start, whimsically illustrated, to a story that your child will finish.

Here’s my favourite:

Dracula and Son

“Wake up, son! It’s time to terrify the neighbourhood!”

Papa Drac stretched and yawned, flexing his long, white hands and testing his bright, white fangs with a handy fork.

Ping! They were solid and scary–ready for all the terrifying stuff he had planned for the surrounding countryside, the lonely farmhouses, and the craggy castles.

“Nah, I’m tired,” said Drac Junior. “I wanna sleep in.”Dracula And Son

“You’ve already slept in for nine months! It’s Hallowe’en–time to sharpen those pearly whites and to practise blood-curdling screeches, climbing down walls, and flapping about in a creepy way!”

It goes on, but you get the idea.

Dragon’s Tail would be great for homeschooling, for teachers and for parents with kids who are keen to write but need a bit of inspiration.

And best of all, kids can go to the book publisher’s website and upload the endings they’ve written for any of the stories. Fun!


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Advice from a young author: Dare to suck

Do you have a kid you’re trying to encourage to write more?

Is your kid discouraged because she’s worried that her writing isn’t good enough?

Here’s some great advice from a young author, Maureen Johnson, who is currently working on her 10th novel for teens.

She will tell your kid (in her own inimitable way) that in order to write well, first you need to suck. (3:56 but it goes fast.)

Here’s a link to Maureen’s website.

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TDSB writing contest – win a laptop!

TDSB Prize pack for writing contest 2011.It’s time to get writing again – and here’s a wonderful incentive for kids in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB).

Write 150 to 250 words about what you’re most looking forward to this school year.

And you could win a Dell Inspiron Duo Laptop (value $550) or a backpack full of back-to-school stuff including a Kobo reader and a digital camera (value: $400).

Here’s the link to the contest where you’ll find all the details.

The contest is open to TDSB students, kindergarten to Grade 12. Four winners will be chosen (two elementary and two secondary). Winners will be judged on originality, style and overall impression.

Email your entry to before Friday, Sept. 16, 2011.
Include your full name, student ID number, grade and school.

So… get writing, and good luck!



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How a pencil can help your child become a writer

Palomino Blackwing pencils in a boxI have a theory that a really great pencil might get your kid to do more writing.

Now, hear me out. (And let me assure you right now this isn’t an ad and I’m not being paid by anyone.)

I’m not just talking about a pretty pencil. It’s not some “normal” pencil with a fancy topper. It’s not sparkly and it doesn’t write in three colours. I’m talking about a pencil that is so special, so outrageously beautiful to use that it makes you want to keep writing and never stop.

To understand the Blackwing Palomino you have to go back a few years, to the 1990s when Eberhard-Faber stopped making them. (Those original Blackwings have sold on eBay for up to $40 each.) The Blackwing came back last year, produced by Cal Cedar. They did extensive research to figure out how to reproduce, as closely as possible, the pencil that Eberhard-Faber used to make.

I purchased a box from after reading this review on

Now here’s my review… and the reason why the Blackwing is the only pencil I will ever use… and the reason I never let my Blackwings out of my sight… and the reason I think that giving one to your kid will actually help his schoolwork.

The first thing you’ll notice is the cool, white, square-topped flat eraser. It is armoured in a shiny golden ferrule. You can pull up the eraser to extend it as you use it – or you can replace it altogether. The pencil itself is matte black, accented with a band of gold just below the eraser.

Then there’s the feel of the pencil in your hand. It’s soft and smooth, almost warm to the touch. You want to caress its perfect octagonal sides. You do.

But the best thing about the Blackwing is the way it writes. As the graphite glides along the surface of your page it lays down a fine, soft, black trail. If you’ve ever written with a stick in hard moist sand on a fine beach, you’ll know something about how this feels. There is a satisfying friction as the lead glides over the page, tracking its lines along your paper.

It is a soft, warm, smooth writing experience. Easy to erase, and to write and to smudge. It is an artist’s experience, but it is just as much a writer’s experience, or a mathematician’s. Or a kid’s.

On you can also buy one of the finest (cheap) pencil sharpeners you will ever use, and this I recommend for the Blackwing. It uses a two-step process; one hole cuts away the wood from the lead and the second one sharpens the lead itself. And there will be a great deal of sharpening with the Blackwing. The smooth, lazy writing experience comes at a price–you will have to sharpen often and well because the graphite is so soft.Two-holed pencil sharpener, called KUM

But it will be worth it.

A non-disclosure: I don’t work for Blackwing, nor did I get anything from other than a box of Blackwing 602 pencils, which are not the ones I have reviewed above. (The 602 is also a superb pencil; it is grey matte with a black eraser. It lays down less graphite and doesn’t need as much sharpening and for that reason some people say that the Blackwing is for artists and the 602 is for writers. But I am a writer, and I heartily disagree. Take back my 602s and replace them with more Blackwings, I say.)

In a media release from Blackwing, I see that they’re coming out with a line of premium notebooks in September. If they’re one iota as satisfying as the Blackwings that are meant to write on them, I’ll be rushing to get one.

Palomino Blackwing 602

Palomino Blackwing 602



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One-sentence journal is perfect for kids

Kid Zombie journal from guess the idea of a one-sentence journal isn’t new. But I’d never heard of it before I read about it on Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project blog.

She started a one-sentence journal because she wanted to jot down happy memories but knows she could never sustain keeping a normal journal for any length of time.

I thought: What a great idea for kids. Every day, all you have to write is one sentence. (Or draw a picture – or even take a photograph, for that matter).

That’s it – just one sentence. You put the date, and under it your write whatever comes to your mind when you think back on your day. Maybe it was something that made you happy (or sad or excited). Or maybe it was someone you saw or talked to, or something you did that was a little different.

Or maybe something you learned. A life lesson! Imagine being 30 or 40 years old and being able to look back at your top-of-mind thoughts from when you were a kid, all the things you learned? That would be pretty cool.

Kids would get lots out of keeping a one-sentence journal. For one thing, boys especially often don’t get enough opportunities to express their emotions and a one-sentence journal is a great place to do that. And if your kid is like mine maybe his or her fine motor skills aren’t great, so writing is sometimes a chore. But they can write one sentence a day.

Or, they can type their journal on the computer. My son doesn’t get weekday video or computer time, but I’d make this an exception each evening. He’d like that.

Since I read Gretchen Rubin’s post, I’ve been keeping my own one-sentence journal. So far I’ve got some pretty fun stuff — and we’re only on day two (but to be fair, one of the days was April Fool’s Day so that’s automatically going to be a juicy one). I can’t wait until I can look back at a month’s worth of one-sentencing.

I’m also going to start my son on a one-sentence journal. And we won’t wait too long before we go back and read the entries, so he’ll have some supporting gratification right away, for having done it.

And you know, it occurs to me now that not only is one sentence a day a “doable” amount to write–but it’ll also be a reasonable amount for kids to read, as well. A one-sentence journal is a great way to get your kid writing – and reading.

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Writing a review

Is your older child writing a book or movie review? Here’s a five-minute clip of arguably two of the best movie critics ever, Siskel and Ebert, talking about what makes a good film review–the discussion also holds for book reviews, restaurant reviews, or any other piece of writing you’re doing in which you must be critical.
Basically, they’re saying: start your review with what happened in the movie or book – what it’s about; convey your personal experience with the movie or book; and take risks.
Hard to believe it’s been 12 years since Gene Siskel passed away.
Worth watching – stay with it after 1:14.

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Write your kid a letter

Have you sent your kid a letter this summer?

What a great thing to do!

When you’re bored at work – instead of re-checking your e-mail for the tenth time, or surfing, do something that will help your kid… write her a letter.

It takes, like, 10 minutes and it will be one of the most rewarding things you will do all day. Use a big, easy-to-read font like Times 18. (Resist using a cartoon or handwriting font. They may look fun, but they’re very hard to read. The easiest ones to read are serif fonts, like Times.)

You don’t have to say anything profound. Just chat, let her know what’s happening at work, tell her that you’re proud of her, ask her what she wants to do this weekend.

A letter from you will let her know that you’re thinking of her, it will give her some insight into your day and it’s a great way to get your kid reading!

When you’re finished your letter, actually mail it – don’t just bring it home. Half the excitement is going to the mailbox and getting something that’s been sent to you.

It’s also a good idea to include a self-addressed, stamped envelope that your child can use to write you back. (And if you use your work address, you’ll get something at your desk in a couple of days besides conference flyers and departmental invoices!)

Writing your kid a letter is one of the greatest ways to spend 10 minutes. For you, and for your kid.

Don’t have a kid? Write your grandchild a letter. A neighbour. A friend’s kid. Santa (don’t need a stamp for that one!). Snail-mail is fun… and it’s still pretty cheap (especially if you sneak your letter in to the company mailbox and let the firm pay for your postage).

Image: Wikimedia Commons, by Deadhoax.
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