Monday, October 20, 2014

Spooky Good Reads for Halloween

by Kris Kahrs and Susan J. Berger

Gather round Chickens! The Pen and Ink Blog has compiled a list of spooky good reads for you and the kidlets this Halloween. So, chuck the candy, pull up a stool, grab a swig of apple cider and read on...

Monstore by Tara Lazar, Illustrated by James Burke (2013)

Monstore, a Crystal Kite finalist, is currently 1.99 for your Kindle App on Amazon. (Hurry)
We read this last Saturday at Reading to Kids. Big hit with kids and readers.

The Monstore is the place to go for all of your monsterly needs. Which is perfect, since Zack definitely has a monsterly need. The problem? His pesky little sister, Gracie, who never pays attention to that “Keep Out” sign on Zack’s door—the one he has made especially for her.
But when Zack’s monsters don’t exactly work as planned, he soon finds out that the Monstore has a few rules: No Refunds. No exchanges. No exceptions.


Ten Little Tricksters by Penelope Cole, illustrated by Kevin Collier. 2014

The art of learning how to count both backwards and forward is a milestone for children. Pair it with the antics of Halloween and a classic children’s book is born. Each group of Halloween characters approach a different house at various times, each clustered in the number they represent. Find out how the fun-filled adventure concludes for these Halloween creatures in Ten Little Tricksters.
Also available as a PDF for 5.00 at Guardian Angel Publishing

Go Away, Big Green Monster! by Ed Emberley (1992) 

Pre-K and up. This die cut book is a lot of fun to read to kids. As you turn the pages, the monster grows piece by piece and as you keep going, the kids get to interactively tell the monster off and it disappears bit by bit.

Skeleton Hiccups by Margery Cuyler and S.D. Schindler (Aug 9, 2005)

Ages three and up. You can just imagine the problems of a skeleton with hiccups. Now imagine how difficult it would be for him trying the various methods of getting rid of the hiccups and you'll have an idea how visually funny this book is!

The Hallo-wiener by Dav Pilkey (Sep 1, 1999)

Ages four and up. Oscar the Dachshund gets a special costume from his mom to wear for Halloween. One problem -- it a hot dog costume and guess who's supposed to be the wiener that goes inside the bun? By the author of Captain Underpants.


Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (Aug 25, 2003)

Ages four and up. A rhyming story of a witch and the friends she picks up as she flies through the night. Is there room for one more? You have to read it to find out!

The Halloween Kid by Rhode Montijo (Aug 3, 2010)

Ages Kindergarten and up. Rhode Montijo is the author and illustrator of this superhero story of The Halloween Kid and how he keeps Halloween safe for all. The retro illustrations are the real treat.

Bone Soup by Cambria Evans (Sep 8, 2008)

Ages 6 and up. This is the Halloween version of the old tale "Stone Soup". A story I still tell to my son at night. In this retelling, Finnigin the always hungry skeleton is looking for his next meal on Halloween and needs to convince the townspeople to share a meal with him.

Sounds Spooky by Christopher Cheng and Sarah Davis (May 1, 2012)

Ages 5 and up. SCBWI homeboy, Christopher Cheng's book Sounds Spooky is the perfect read for Halloween. He uses the Onomatopoeia of words to help the reader hear the sound as well as set the tone for the story.

The House With a Clock In Its Walls (Lewis Barnavelt) by John Bellairs and Edward Gorey (Aug 3, 2004)

Ages 8 and up. A deliciously chilling tale for the older crowd, John Bellairs writes a couple of different series for this age group that are thrilling but not too scary and that have an upbeat resolution. At 179 pages, you won't finish reading this to the kids on Halloween, but the good news is that they'll keep coming back night after night asking you to read more.

Vampirina Ballerina by Anne Marie Pace and LeUyen Pham (Aug 7, 2012)

Ages two and up. This is a charming, funny read. Being a ballerina is every girl's dream, especially so for Vampirina, but this little dancer has the extra challenge of also being one of the undead.

Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown (Aug 21, 2012)

Ages 4 and up. How would you feel if your favorite snack all of a sudden became alive and started stalking you? That will give you a good idea of what happened to Jasper Rabbit one day while noshing on his crunchy treat. There's some lovely illustrations you'll enjoy, parodying cinematic classics. Put down the cupcake and back away slowly.


In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories (I Can Read) by Alvin Schwartz. Illustrated by Dirk Zimmer (1985)

An oldie, but goody. This level two reader was my second grader's favorite chapter book.
From The School Library Journal: This collection of short stories (HarperCollins, 1984) retold by Alvin Schwartz are just creepy enough to give youngsters shivers without causing nightmares. The seven tales were collected from a variety of sources and include some classics such as "The Green Ribbon" (holding on a severed head) and "The Night It Rained" (a man discovers that his hitchhiker was a ghost)

There are lots more spooky reads out there. Please add to our list and share your favorite Halloween Stories.

 One More thing:

Scary Mommy Blog is coming out with a new book. The Scary Mommy Guide to Surviving the Holidays, It comes out November 17th from Simon and Schuster and has a wonderful collection of writers. Your purchase of this book (2.99 eBook) goes to help Scary Moms help moms in need. Their blog is wonderful and I love this project.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Dispatch #28: Where Do Dreams Go?

by Lupe Fernandez

Where do dreams go?

I wanted to be an astronaut, feel the rumble of the rocket in my bones, hear the pop of Capcom in my headset, listen to ventilation fans in deep space. Didn't happen.

I wanted to be a movie director, walk in the cool shadow of sound stages, feel the pages of a script, shout instructions over a crowd scene. Didn't happen.

 I knew an actor who dreamed of being cast in films, winning an oscar. Didn't happen. The actor became an spokesperson for a drug company.

Whenever I read someone remark, "Hey I did (fill in blank of amazing feat). Don't give up. Follow your dreams!", I wonder what happens to those who don't make it. Is there a statue of limitations on dreams? Maybe I wasn't realistic. Or it wasn't meant to be. Or I was meant to be (fill in blank of something else).

Where do dreams go when they're not fulfilled?

Maybe my thinking is too limited. Maybe there's a island somewhere in South Pacific where trade winds rustle palm trees, where foamy breakers hiss on a sandy shore, where dreams come to vacation on creaking hammocks and sip sweet pog.

Maybe there's a cool cave carved into tan sandstone cliff, where the wind whistles through dry arroyos, where a gray mouse skitters under scrub brush, where tall dunes sing in afternoon, where dreams drinks cold water, feel the crunch of eons old gravel under their feet and watch the stars under a night sky.

Maybe there's cabin in a forest, where a woodpecker hammers on the bark, where river flows around polished rocks, where falling pine needles sound like rain, where wood crackles in campfire, where dreams roast marshmallows on a stick and watch them puff up into a globe of swollen sweetness.

Where do dreams go when they're unfulfilled?

A psych-unit?

A Twelve-Step Program? "Hi, my name is I Want to be An Astronaut and I'm a dream."

A dank, dungeon where putrid luminescent creatures gibber and slosh in flabby oils.

Tonight, I will go to sleep and dream.

And then wake up the next morning and type.

Monday, October 6, 2014

2014 Crystal Kite Finalists Australia/New Zealand and "Other International"


By Susan J. Berger


At last. The sixth Crystal Kite Post covers the finalists and winners in the final two regions: Australia, New Zealand and Other International. Several of these has no first lines available.

I linked to the publisher when I could not find a US link.


Again: The annual Crystal Kite Award is a peer-given award to recognize great books from 15 SCBWI regional divisions around the world. It is a rather odd award in that there are no Categories. Therefore a picture books compete against chapter books and young adult novels.

Australia, New Zealand 

Ali Berber and the Forty Grains of Salt by Sheryl Gwyther  

Ali Berber is a young merchant, keen to impress the King of Alhambra with the amazing flavour his salt brings to food. The king is impressed – until Ali’s forty grains of salt disappear. Now, instead of being rewarded, Ali is in danger of being beheaded! Can he solve the mystery of the disappearing salt before it is too late?
This is an early reader only available in Australia/New Zealand from Pearson.


Big Red Kangaroo by Claire Saxby

Far inland, the sun floats on the waves of a bake-earth day. Big Red and his mob of kangaroos wait for night-time when they can search for food. Young male kangaroos wait too - ready to challenge Red and take his place as leader. 

This is in their True Nature Story series

Granny Grommet and Me by Dianne Wolfer, Illustrated by Karen Blair

My granny and her friends go to the beach, and I go too. When they hit the surf, they duck and dive and twist and turn. It looks like lots of fun. But I don t want to go in the water. There are strange things under the waves
This was based on real surfing Grannies. Go to
Diane Wolfer’s Website to read about it.


The Boy on the Page Written and Illustrated by Peter Carnavas

One quiet morning, a small boy landed on the page. At first, there was nothing else.
Then very slowly, a world began to appear.
New life emerged. Things started to grow…and so did the boy.

I would love to read this. I wish it was available in the US

The Wishbird Written and Illustrated by Gabrielle Wang
In the ancient Banyan tree the Wishbird lay still and silent. His breath was thin, the thread between the Kind and himself growing ever weaker. Soon it would break and when that time came, both would die, and so would the city, for its heart would be lost forever.
But death did not worry the Wishbird. He had lived for a thousand years and more. And he would go on living, in another shape, another form –in the clouds in the earth, in the lakes and seas.
What did worry him was Oriole. Sweet Oriole.


Welcome Home Written and Illustrated by Christina Booth

Welcome Home is the story of a young boy and a whale as she swims into the river harbour seeking safety and a resolution to the violent past relationship between whales and man. This prosaic journey, accompanied with soft, sketchy watercolour imagoes, reveals how the past can impact our future. Can the boy make amends for the past? Can the whale forgive and return to what was once her ancestors' home

Welcome Home won the 2014 Environment Award for Children’s Literature. You can visit Christine at



Zac and Mia by AJ Betts

A newbie arrives next door. From this side if the was I hear the shuffle of feet, unsure of where to stand. I hear Nina going through the arrival instructions in that buoyant air hostesss way, as if theis “flight” will go smoothly, no need to pull the emergency exit lever. Just relax and enjoy the service. Nina has the kind of voice you believe.

I kept reading. It starts out in a cancer treatment center and Wow! I’m going to see if I can get hold of this.

Other International

Blossoms of Scarlet Illustrated by Marjorie van Heerden

Blossoms of Scarlet is an exciting love story from a new voice in teenage fiction. This fantasy is packed with action and emotion and will transport its readers on a dramatic trip into another world.

I took this from
Marjorie’s website
“My gaze fell upon the family coat of arms on the carriage floor. It was dark purple, with snakes of the same colour winding around the edges. Unbidden, cold fear gripped me. What if this was to be the year that the Great Prophecy came true? I feared I would not be strong enough for the fight it would bring. But most of all, was afraid to have my people suffer under my reign.”

The Oracle has warned that the land of Orenda will be attacked by a powerful warrior, who is yet to be born. It is the duty of the beautiful young queen, Karalina, to lead the fight against this evil and vanquish the threat.


The Lost (And Found) Balloon Celeste Jenkins Illustrated by Maria Bogade

Molly O’Doon ties a note to her red balloon, lets it loose, and off it goes on a buoyant adventure. Who will answer Molly’s letter? Someone in a different state or a faraway country? Or maybe, a new friend much closer than she could ever imagine.  

The Lost (and Found) Balloon is the winner of the 5th annual Cheerios® New Author Contest. Selected from more than 8,000 entries by a team of editors, teachers, librarians, and General Mills staff, The Lost (and Found) Balloon will also appear in a bilingual (English/Spanish) mini-paperback edition in 1.5 million specially marked boxes of Cheerios.

Dragon Fire by Dina von Lowenkraft

Chapter 1
The Circle Tightens
The candle flickered in the subzero wind but Anna made no move to protect it. She stopped on the hill in front of Tromso's three-year high school and watched the water of the fjord shimmer below. Even though it was mid-afternoon there was no sun, just the luminous reflection of the moon.  The procession of students continues on without her, leaving only the fading sound of crunching snow in their wake.
This isn't a world I know. I read on and I do want to read this one.


Chick-o-Saurus Rex by Lenore Appelhans, Illustrated by Daniel Jennewein
The humorous story of a little chick who proves his mettle to the farm's big bullies when he discovers he has a very mighty lineage. Writing as Lenore Jennewein.
I couldn’t find a preview copy of this book, but I did find the
author’s website and the book trailer.

I hope you found a book you want to pursue. If you haven't read them, here are the other 2014 Crystal Kite Posts:
Crystal Kites Atlantic, Mid South and Southeast
California Hawaii and the West
Southwest and Midwest  New England, New York and Texas/Oklahoma  UK/Ireland, Middle East/India/Asia and Canada

Happy Reading

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Kid Publishing Platforms

Publishing Options for Kids.
by Hilde Garcia

So in addition to writing, I teach writing.  There are days where I see many, many stories in my head, dancing around like sugar plums or grammatically incorrect sentences, but the best part of all those stories is seeing my students bring them to life.  It almost makes me want to be a kid in today's day and age so I, too, can get published for the bargain basement price of $24.99.

But all kidding aside, many of us are teachers, librarians, parents, people who reach children and inspire them, so here is a mini review of two sites that help kids get their voices out there.

Tikatok is a digital publishing platform that integrates project based-learning and the Common Core while allowing kids to walk away with a hard copy of their book.  It's completely interactive and fun, very user friendly and kids can't get enough of it.  Three years ago, I had my 6th grade students create original novels in Word and then they cut and paste them into Tikatok's platform. 

They also illustrated their pages, laid out their story, created a style that matched their novel.  My students mastered editing techniques and created plot and setting.  I had a very reluctant group of students who did not want to write and they were the ones that wrote the most.  I think they surprised themselves but it was truly the interactiveness of the site that made them want to write.

I mean who wants to write with pen and paper these days when a computer gives you a much better product?

So how much for this platform? The basic subscription to is $14 for the year and that gives you access to all templates and unlimited student accounts.  The digital plus package ($75) gives you unlimited downloads and 15% off hard cover copies in addition to the basic package's options.  The premium package gives you all of that, but you also get 25 custom-printed hardcover or softcover books and free shipping on the first 25 books for only $399.  For most teachers like me, that later two options are out as our budget doesn't cover pencils, let alone digital publishing, but the first one is very, very doable. And if you can fundraise or use a booster club at school to help you purchase the books, like I did, every kid can take one home.

All the plans have full customer support and access to hundreds of templates and story starters sure to engage even your most reluctant writer.  The quality is wonderful and every one of my students was thrilled with their copy.  It allowed them to also do a cover, a book flap copy and photo and even a dedication page.  The pricing has changed though. The site used to be free and you only paid for the books you ordered, anywhere from $3 for a download to $20 for a hardcover book.

Which is one of the reasons I switched.

Scribblitt™ is a launch pad for creativity where kids grab an idea, and using tools provided and collaboration with other kids, teachers, writers and publishers, take it where they want to go, making their own characters, story and illustrations come to life in a professional product.

It was started by a mom and her two daughters who wanted to collaborate on a book together and this labor of love now helps many more children share their voice.

In a world that is ever changing and one that seems to drown out young people or makes them grow up too soon, it's nice to know that something like this can give them the platform they need to stand up and speak out.

Scribblitt does many of the same things that Tikatok does, but the interface is much cleaner and a bit more grown up, for my very savvy 5/6th graders. It also has one click art where students can create a multitude of images to then later import into their story.  They are also adding an option for students to create a comic book- "graphic novel." 

It has guest blogs, contests, writing tips, games, and many resources for students to use and encourages students to share and discuss their work as they can send each other messages and even send me ones too.  

There is a celebrity corner and currently they are featuring Lois Lowry.  Scribblitt promotes a writing community and the graphics are easier to follow. There's even a cool internal message board that only students logged into Scribblitt can access. It's a great safety option.

This site also lets students create note cards with their own images or photos so they can then purchase it and that gives students something personal that can be connected to their book. The notecards start at about $12.99.

Scibblitt even offers gift cards and has an option for fundraising!  A typical $24.99 hard cover book will give the writer about 17 pages, which for my students is a great amount. Additional pages are .50 a page- cheaper than Tikatok's quote a few years back.

When they choose me as their teacher on the site, they receive 15% off of their book.  I also love this company's One for One program.  A child in need gets a book when you buy one.  

I think that's what sold me to try them. If everything else didn't sell me on them before, this ticket item did.

The One Pitfall

The only drawback to either of these sites is the inability to import a document. If you created something in a word program, you have to cut and paste it into their pre set pages one paragraph at a time.  And if you are not careful, your text will over flow, so you have to watch the bottom line to make sure you don't go passed it. 

If it were an automatic page flow, then that would be ideal. I asked them about it… they are working on it. For now, my students and my own kids, which are so excited to begin using this, will have to master the art of cutting and pasting just right so not one of their precious words gets lost.

If you have or know young people in your life, these are great sites to share. Share them with teachers or people in your writing community. Wish you could do your own fun book? You can. Adult members are welcome. I think I am going to co-author a book with my incredibly funny kids.  My daughter's will be about horses, my son's will be a tie between chess and football.

Happy Writing!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Dispatch #27: How to Start a Story...

by Lupe Fernandez

"Felson McGoo shot me with his Captain Norge X52 Dis-integrator and now I'm going to itch all recess. Today's playground forecast is 80% chance of Dimension X Spiders. Felson McGoo should've known better."

Some kid gets shot by a gun? Fantasy or not, school shootings are a serious business. I better try something else.

"I was in the back of Freddo's car with Lira Ballard watching Freddo make-out with his newest girlfriend Isela Lee. I figured Lira wanted the same so I kissed her with a lot of tongue action and put my hand up her blouse. Believe it or not, this was my first kiss."

Heavy petting in the backseat of a car? On a first date? Reads like sexual harassment to me. I'd never get it past an agent. I'm probably get stamped as a perv author. Let's try dystopian.

"Holly Wa Ming stoops in the carbolic crop field, her boots hiss in the acid runoff. A countdown booms from the Balboa Missile Base across the marsh. She stands and stretches her numb back. Holly Wa shields her eyes from the light of the ascending war rocket. The exhaust flickers like a snake's tongue. The shock wave sends a ripple through the field, revealing the hundreds of other harvesters bend like rusty nails. Holly Wa dreams of catching the snake's tongue, riding the monster to its target and killing the enemy."

Harsh working conditions. Military action. Killing the...who? Enemy? Shouldn't she want peace and a better life? Too militaristic. Needs a handsome, brooding love interest. I can't write handsome, brooding love interest.

Okay. Paranormal. Romantic vampires. It's a sure thing.
"I vant to suck your bloodddd..."
Nope. Can't do it.

I keep wondering who will this piece offend? Will I shock parental sensibilities? Just because I'll read it don't mean the the words will past the proverbial editorial mustard. Second guess. Second guess. Triple guess. Quintuple guess.

I should stop reading so many "How To Write In 134 Easy Steps"  blogs and hermetically seal myself with my keyboard and type away.

The rest is chance and circumstance, and perhaps a good query letter.