Sunday, 28 June 2015

Weird Stories Gone Wrong, bundles and bookmarks!

Jake and the Giant Hand & Myles and the Monster Outside

They're troubling.
They're bizarre.
And they just might be true.

They're Weird Stories Gone Wrong...

"Here are two spectacularly spooky stories from acclaimed children's author Philippa Dowding that will have you wondering about tall tales, giant flies and mysterious monsters in the dark."

I'm really delighted by how great my next two books look together, and what a wonderful job my publisher Dundurn Press did with the books and the bookmarks. Thanks also to Shawna Daigle for her fabulous covers and illustrations.

The books are soon to be available as a 2-book bundle, as soon as Myles and the Monster Outside comes out in September 2015. There's a third book in the series which is just about to begin the editing process: Carter and the Curious Maze.

Here's what a few people have said about Jake and the Giant Hand so far:

"A well-crafted horror story with a suspenseful buildup and truly creepy details."-School Library Journal

"Philippa Dowding has cooked up a delicious blend of mystery, humour and adventure that middle-grade readers are sure to devour!"-Richard Scarsbrook (Author of The Monkey-Face Chronicles)

For more reviews, check Goodreads.
Read my author letter which accompanies the ARC of Myles and Monster Outside.
To request an ARC please contact Dundurn Press or request an E/ARC from NetGalley now.

Monday, 15 June 2015

10 tips for running a children's writing workshop

Budding authors at Sophie's Writing Workshop

"Dear Philippa, Thank you soooooo much... I learned so much from you. Please have this workshop again next year."-Zoey (9)

Somehow it's over. Last week was the end of Sophie's Writing Workshops at the Toronto Public Library, Palmerston Branch. For four weeks in a row, seventeen young writers between the ages of 8-12 joined my children's writing workshop called Be the Beanstalk: Grow a Story. It was an honour and a lot of fun, thank you TPL for asking me to take part.

Here's a little about Sophie's Writing Workshops
Sophie's Studio was created to support literacy, creativity and writing skills in children from a young age thanks to a bequest from long-time library lover and user Sophia Lucyk.

Quietly working away
At first I had no idea what to do for four sessions, but after 60+ hours of research and preparation I did come up with four separate but linked 1.5 hour workshops. It was a lot of work but very rewarding. I also gained wisdom and insight from writer's who had done the program in the past, thank you to L.M. Falcone, Evan Munday and Andrew Larsen for their help.

For anyone preparing a children's writing workshop, here are 10 ideas that really worked for me:

1. Themed classes. Each week we did a different theme: what is descriptive writing, how to develop a character, books, blurbs and bios, games, games, games. I started each class with a really brief 2-3 minute talk/powerpoint slide presentation about what we were doing that class.

2. Use powerpoint or other media. I had a powerpoint slide show to enhance our work each week, nothing like large colourful images and funny cartoons to keep kids engaged. I had a picture and explanations for whatever we were doing on the screen and a mantra: there are no bad ideas, there is no bad writing, just keep writing ...

3. Hire an assistant. I hired my 20-year-old daughter, an English student, to help me each week. She got excellent experience working with kids and the kids loved her, plus they got more one-on-one time with an adult if they needed extra help (some of the younger kids did need quite a bit of help). If you don't have a young adult on hand, there are plenty of university/college students looking for experience with kids.

4. Share work aloud. I'm a big believer in sharing your writing. After each writing exercise or game, the kids were invited to read aloud. At first there was resistance but by week 4 almost everyone got up to read their work. It was fantastic to see the amount of pride and support kids got from this simple act.

5. Play music. During free writing time, we'd put on some music. Very calming and helped the kids concentrate. I love music when I'm writing.

6. Invite another expert into the class. On the third week I invited my illustrator, Shawna Daigle, to come into the classroom. I provided illustration materials, blank bookmarks and books (handmade by me), and talked about what goes into a good front cover design and the often overlooked work of good back cover design, plus provided worksheets on how to write a marketing blurb and an author biography. Shawna showed the kids how to illustrate a simple image. It was a fantastic session.

7. Write along with the kids and read aloud. My daughter and I did every writing exercise along with the kids, and read our work aloud too (often one of us had to start off the read-aloud portion).

8. Have a lot of short, fun activities and games planned. We did each activity for about 20 minutes tops, so be prepared with at least 4-6 activities per session and use whatever you didn't get to the next week. I provided a lot of worksheets, many of them I adapted from this wonderful free website by Bruce Van Patter (thank you Bruce): Let's Get Creative! With a large group and a large age spread, there could be three or four activities going on at once, so I had a lot of worksheets available on the same theme to keep the faster kids engaged.

9. Play games every session. We started each session with a writing game to get everyone laughing and ready to write. I adapted a few games from Bruce Van Patter (thank you again for sharing your wisdom), and a few I picked up from my own writing group years before, most notably a time-tested 200-year-old writing game called The Exquisite Corpse Loves a Blue Piano (thanks to Nate Simpson for that gem).
Sophie's Writing Workshops 2015

10. Provide a snack/drink. This seems like a no-brainer, but my sessions were held after school and the kids were hungry. No one can concentrate when they're hungry, I know I can't. The library provided a snack trolley and water, I brought the sliced apples and baby carrots. No one was starving, everyone was engaged.

If you're thinking of running writing workshops for young authors, go for it. It's rewarding, fun, and the kids benefit from the time you spend with them and you'll learn a lot too. You forget how much you actually know until you share it. Have fun!

Here's my Canadian Children's Book Centre page, 
with more information about the workshops by week: Philippa Dowding, CCBC