Say What, Mary Poppins? Wise Words for the New Year

With a few days left in December, a new year hangs bright in our future beckoning us to make it even better than the previous one.  Many of us write New Year’s resolutions, set self-improvement goals, or simply pause to recalibrate our internal compasses before hurrying on.  But what if we left this to others – say to authors of books that we read and love?  What wisdom could they offer us through their characters as we forge ahead?

Here are fourteen golden snippets from popular kids’ books to help guide you through 2015:

Roald Dahl: The Mippins
Roald Dahl: The Mippins
wrinkle in time
Madeleine L’Engle: A Wrinkle in Time

.Judith Viorst: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day


Shel Silverstein: Where the Sidewalk Ends
Shel Silverstein: Where the Sidewalk Ends
J.K.Rowling: Harry Potter


P.L.Travers, Mary Poppins
P.L.Travers, Mary Poppins
Shel Silverstein: A Light in the Attic
Shel Silverstein: A Light in the Attic
Barrie: Peter Pan
J. M. Barrie: Peter Pan
J.K.Rowling, Harry Potter
J.K.Rowling, Harry Potter
L.Frank Baum: The Wizard of Oz
L.Frank Baum: The Wizard of Oz
Lewis Carroll: Alice in Wonderland
Lewis Carroll: Alice in Wonderland
Antoine de Saint-Exupery: The Little Prince
Antoine de Saint-Exupery: The Little Prince


noteriety Aesop



 Happy New Year, One and All!

Other posts you might enjoy:

Hanging Ornaments on Your Story Tree

Writer’s Friend: The Canadian Children’s book Centre

Rhymers are Readers – Maybe Writers, Too

Larry Verstraete ( is the author of 14 books for youngsters, the most recent being Missing in Paradise, his first middle grade novel.  Currently in a lull period, he is searching for the next great idea.

For Larry Verstraete, an award-winning author of books for young people, writing is all about the journey and often the perfect writing storm occurs when high adventure, science and history converge. An advocate for literacy, Larry often visits schools and libraries to share his passion.


benjamin-moore-paints-chip-color-swatch-sample-and-palette712-x-358xIn other words…Colours. Here’s something to help with colours in writing.

I recently read the first chapters of someone else’s work, by the end of which he’d repeatedly used the word ‘brown’ to describe the horses, the whatchamacallits, the whozits and the thingamagigs. He hadn’t noticed til I pointed it out. And yet he is a writer of considerable imagination and descriptive power.

Yes the dinglehoppers were brown, but why not toss in a little chestnut, or say the thingy was ‘of a shade resembling dried cow dung?’ Give your reader a chuckle.

It is true in many cases that men see colours in more conglomerate tones. There is medically proven-some difference in the receptors blah blah blah. Where most women break down purple into, eggplant, mauve, lilac, aubergine, plum, lavendar, mulberry, even dusk, men will puzzle their brows for a moment and if they’re lucky, a light bulb will float above their head and they’ll say, “Oh! Purple!” Again, I generalize.colors

So, addressing colours in writing. We don’t want to litter our writing with ultramarine, ivory, maroon, heliotrope, lemon, flame, wisteria, azure,cardinal, celadon, cerulean, chartreuse, goldenrod, indigo, mazarine. . . I could go on ad nausem. But neither do we want to flog ‘brown’ to absolute death.

How to deal?

1–Use a basic colour name when you don’t want to draw unnecessary attention to something, but just want to paint a basic picture for the reader.

2–If you want something to be noted more specifically, tag a good adjective in front of the basic colour (avoiding clichés like ‘flaming red’), or use a step-2 colour name like mauve–a little above basic and universally known.

3–At this level you want something to stand out. When you want to imply something indirectly. For example, a lady walks into the room. “Her silver heels sparkle out from under her trailing aubergine gown, shimmering dusk in the ambient light, as does her jet black hair, looped gracefully along her neck.”

I could have said, “Her silver heels showed beneath a long purple gown”. . . Snoring. . . Instead, the first description also sets the mood in the room and gives us an impression of the woman without relaying any physical description.

Word of caution before you wax eloquent with colour descriptions: Using the variant of brown above, “a shade resembling dried cow dung,” don’t use it to describe the hair of your fianceé. And don’t use “lemon yellow chiffon” to describe the pus from a zombie infection. No reader will be able to eat lemons again.


Here’s a couple of links for fancy-pants colours to help you paint the writing town red Alizarin crimson:


Christina’s motto is:
“Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?” (George Bernard Shaw)

Three Lessons I Learned from Working with an Editor

“Edit until your fingersOne of the things I looked forward to in having one of my manuscripts accepted for publication, was the opportunity to work with an editor. I thirsted to go to the next level in my writing. I wanted to learn more and grow as a writer. When Enslavement was accepted for publication, I was thrilled at the prospect of one of my manuscripts getting published, but also really looking forward to the editing process.

My first round of edits came back with seven pages of notes and oodles of comments on the manuscript. Some of it seemed overwhelming, but I took them one at a time. The second round was even more daunting. There were hundreds of comments on the document. Again, I took a deep breath and fixed what needed fixing.

By the time the process was complete, I’d learned a few things about myself, my process, and my writing.

  1. Just write it. If I feel like I should write a scene, I should write it and keep it. I’d always heard of writers having to cut scene after superfluous scene, so I assumed I would need to do the same. So, I did. I cut. And I second guessed myself about the validity of writing certain scenes–were they really that important? Apparently they were. Almost all the issues I had plot wise were a result of me cutting some scenes or never writing others. I cut too much. I was too minimalist in my approach.
  2. Balance. Always balance. Every writing rule you will learn requires balance. I went too deeply into my characters emotional state, which distracted from the story as a whole. We need to know the characters emotional state, but that has to be balanced with all the other elements of the story.  I ended up cutting a lot of heart pounding and teary eyes.
  3. Sequencing. I had my chain of events out of order. It was subtle. For example, mentioning someone stopped cold before mentioning that a dead body lay on the floor. The character would see the body, then stop cold. Sometimes I felt like an idiot for not seeing some of these things during the 20 some edits I put the manuscript through, but it’s difficult to see your own writing clearly.

So as I go into the editing process on Enslavement‘s sequel, I hope I’ve already corrected many of these issues. But, I’m sure there will be other problems this time. Learning to write is a lifelong process. There will always be more to learn. And that’s one of the things I love about being a writer.


Melinda Friesen writes short stories and novels for teens. Her first book, Enslavement, the first book in the One Bright Future series, was recently released from Rebelight Publishing Inc. Find it on Learn more at

Melinda Friesen authored Enslavement, a young adult dystopian novel, released by Rebelight Publishing. When she’s not writing, Melinda works as marketing director and acquisitions editor at Rebelight Publishing Inc.

Is Children’s Non-Fiction in Decline?

imagesN3URCGZYNot long ago I had a back-and-forth email conversation with an editor at a major children’s publishing house.  We’d worked together on a number of non-fiction books and I valued her opinion and her gentle, but firm approach – even when it meant, as it did in this case, that she was rejecting my proposal.

Children’s non-fiction is tough sell right now,” she wrote. She cited a few reasons.  The high cost of production.  Stiff competition from big leaguers like National Geographic.  Print-on-demand and ebooks taking a slice of the publishing pie. The rise of the Internet where every child with a computer, tablet or cell phone has access to information in an instant.

My editor-friend added that of dozens in-the-works projects on her desk, only a few were non-fiction.  Those were of two types.  Books about sports, especially hockey (no surprise there), and books about military history (cross-hairs are locked on WWI and WWII anniversary dates). “Our marketers,” she added. “are reluctant to invest in other subjects.”

Is this an accurate assessment of non-fiction’s current status?  In a letter to The Guardian in 2012, a group of twenty-six British children’s authors argued that almost overnight, the market for children’s non-fiction had ‘vanished’. “We got to the end of our collective tethers,” Jenny Vaughan, one of the twenty-six said. “We thought that something had to be done – that we’ve got to start making a noise about this before children’s non-fiction is obsolete.”

Many reasons cited in the letter echo the ones my editor-friend mentioned, but the group also blamed shifting library and school markets.  Rather than simply being repositories of books and information, libraries were redefining their purpose in the face of new technology, shifting their focus away from being guardians of information to becoming conduits in the information-gathering process.  With a greater chunk of the budget going to purchasing computers, tablets, smart boards and software, fewer dollars remained to purchase books.

images1S5AN90TOn a recent book tour, I noticed this trend in many of the schools I visited.  Instead of libraries, many schools had ‘learning commons’ – open spaces peppered with computers and surrounded by only a few shelves of books.  Instead of teacher-librarians, ‘technology assistants’ manned the places. The focus was no longer on pulling dusty books off the shelf, but on manning students with the means of finding current information for themselves.

So is children’s non-fiction really in decline?  If we’re talking traditional book publishing, perhaps. With so much available online, with access so easy, and with the focus changing to do-it-yourself research of daily fresh sources, traditional book publishers face stiff competition.

That’s not to say that the market has dried up completely, but it does mean that non-fiction writers have to be clever.  There will always be a need for current, clear and concise information and writers who can deliver it in a palatable and interesting way to children.  But we have turned a corner and there is no going back. To survive, writers must adapt and seek new venues beyond traditional print forms, or at the very least produce material that surpasses whatever young readers can find so easily for themselves with a click of a mouse and a leap on to the Internet.  Creative slants, fresh takes, inventive forms, vibrant writing, new topics that challenge, entertain, and raise questions beyond the obvious – books with these ingredients, I believe, still have a place on bookshelves.


Other posts you might enjoy:

Hot Topics Made Palatable for Kids

Batting 1000 With Kid’s Non-Fiction

Nothing But the Truth

Larry Verstraete ( is the author of 14 books for youngsters, the most recent being Missing in Paradise, his first middle grade novel.  Currently in a lull period, he is searching for the next great idea.

For Larry Verstraete, an award-winning author of books for young people, writing is all about the journey and often the perfect writing storm occurs when high adventure, science and history converge. An advocate for literacy, Larry often visits schools and libraries to share his passion.

In-depth Writing Exercise

  1. Characteristics: Please circle up to ten of these:
unstable conscientious rebellious upright
shaken criminal uptight treasonous
hypocritical self-appointed self-centered adventurous
dedicated driven energetic exuberant
intrepid rugged flitty bored
disinterested crippled languid lethargic
charming frank elegant generous
  1. Fill in these:
This person has ___________skin, ___________eyes and _____________hair.
They have a ___________ ________shaped face and _________________eyes.
They are __’ __” and have a _________________ build.
Their clothes are ______________ fashioned and they prefer them to be ___________ coloured.
They often wear __________________________________________________.
A notable feature is_________________________________.(impediment, habit, etc.)

  1. Circle a number:

6 9 12 15 17 21

  1. Create an old world Pub or Shop names: You need a noun and an adjective or two. Ex:

The Bofors Gun And Giblets
The Bull And Politician
The Horse’s Replacement
The Dog’s Breakfast
The King’s Legs

Extra slots here for practice:
  1. Here are the names of some exotic food dishes. Choose one or two and explain what they are:
    a. Kopi luwak
    Casu marzu
  2. Choose one adjective and one location to combine:
Wild Paris
Cloistered (or pastoral) Ghost town
Quarantined Moor
Crime-ridden Quarry
Nefarious Mountain
Ancient Fair grounds
Bustling An Alley
Infested Rainforest
Communal Harbour
Cheerless An oasis
Chilling The Colosseum
  1. Circle weather from below or list your own. One is enough.
Ball lightning Ice storm tornado Cats & dogs
Sand storm Debris Cloud Humidity Blustery
El Nino Flash flood Flotsam and Jetsam earthquake
Greenhouse effect Cumulo nimbus Tsunami Heat wave
  1. Circle 5 nouns:
button circle chin committee
company distribution edge insect
ink flight ground hole
kettle horses morning pancake
mountain sidewalk pencil song
spiders push quicksand scent
writer veil window spy
stove summer stretch crime
  1. Circle 1 item: This will be your McGuffin. — n.) an object or event in a book or a film that serves as the impetus for the plot.
  1. Just a few themes to think about before we write: Circle one:
Bondage/Enslavement Crossroads & Choices Danger
Death Deception Doomsday
Evil Family Freedom
Friendship Health Hope
Turmoil Isolation Knowledge
Loss Love Mystery
Perseverance Pride Purity
Sacrifice Duty Conformity
Greed Betrayal Rebirth

Righty-ho. Now we write:

  1. Take the characteristics from #1 and #2. The circled number at #3 is their age. Choose a gender and name the person.
  1. #4 shows where they are, #5 shows what they are eating.
  1. Write down the location with adjective from #6 and the circled weather from #7
  1. Tag on your 5 nouns from #8, add your MacGuffin from #9 and theme from #10:
  1. You may begin! And you must use as much of the set up as possible.


Christina’s motto is:
“Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?” (George Bernard Shaw)
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