Friday, October 19, 2018

READ-4-LUCK: Porcupine's Pie

By Laura Renauld

READ-4-LUCK includes a book recommendation, book review, teaching tip, and writing lesson for children, parents, teachers, and writers.

  1 Clover: Not bad. Might read twice.

  2 Clovers: Fun read first few times. Would get from library again.

  3 Clovers: Very enjoyable. Wouldn't mind owning a copy.

  4 Clovers: Multiple readings please! May just have to buy it.

Summary of Porcupine's Pie

Author: Laura Renauld
Illustrator: Jennie Poh
Publisher: Beaming Books
Year: 2018
Word Count: About 428
Age: 4-8
Topic: fall, pie, forest animals
Theme: friendship, gratitude, teamwork, sharing
Resources: See the Teachers Section Below

Porcupine can't wait to share Fall Feast with her woodland friends, so when everyone she greets is unable to bake their specialty due to a missing ingredient, Porcupine generously offers staples from her pantry. When Porcupine discovers that she, too, is missing a key ingredient, the friends all work together to create a new Fall Feast tradition.


Children will likely want this read to them again and again. After the first reading, they will delight in looking at the illustrations to discover all the times Porcupine dropped his cranberries.


Parents of 4-8 year olds may want to buy a copy for a fun Thanksgiving time activity. There's even a recipe in the back for Friendship Pie!


Teachers could use Porcupine's Pie to introduce a unit on fall, friendship, teamwork, sharing, or Thanksgiving. There are plenty of patterns with words and repetition. It would be fun to teach a math lesson or a language lesson with this book. And bake a pie together as a class.


There is plenty to study in this book, as a picture book writer. Plot arc, patterns, and language make Porcupine's Pie a great mentor text.

Got a book you'd like to recommend? Or one you want me to review? Share in the comments!

You might also like: Preschool, Passion, and Prickly Porcupines, an Interview with Picture Book Author, Laura Renauld

How to Analyze a Picture Book with a Story Board


Keep on keepin' on...


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Outline Your Story in Less than a Month

Plot Like A Novelist

Many writers struggle with plotting their novels, books, and stories. If there was ever a writer who never struggled with plotting a story, I want to meet them! Plotting your novel doesn't have to be difficult, but it still takes effort.

There are some pretty big struggles with outlining a novel or plotting a story.

If you’re new to writing and have never outlined before, you might find that when you write by the seat of your pants, you run out of steam before you figure out where to take your story next.

If you’re finally catching on to plotting, but you wish there were something simpler than trying to figure out all the pressure points, pinch points, push points, plot points, and turning points, you’re in luck because the PLOT LIKE A NOVELIST is waaaaay easier!

If you've written a complete novel just to find out that it HAS NO PLOT and now you have to start all over and you don’t know where to begin, then I have a map that will ensure you have a plot that contains proper cause-and-effect events.

If you've ever tried NaNoWriMo, and failed, maybe this is why. Heck, even if you succeeded, are you STILL revising? Maybe there are some major plot holes that need to be fixed.


Lesson 1.1: Four Fundamentals of Story
Lesson 1.2: 26.2 Miles of a Marathon
Lesson 1.3: Five Main Plot Points

With five modules, you’ll learn all the necessary pieces to create a functional plot for your story. The eleven parts of a basic story arc will keep you on the right track, but still allow plenty of room for your imagination to roam.


Lesson 2.1: Pre-Race Life
Lesson 2.2: The Signup
Lesson 2.3: Second Thoughts
Lesson 2.4: The Gunshot

With the Marathon Method of Plotting, your framework is taken care of for you. The pacing falls into place and the characters’ goals, wants, and needs are woven into the actions of the story.


Lesson 3.1: Pit Stops
Lesson 3.2: The Halfway Point
Lesson 3.3: Runner’s High
Lesson 3.4: The Wall

This is the bulk of your novel. I'll even take you through some popular books and show you how the masters do it.


Lesson 4.1: Final Sprint
Lesson 4.2: The Finish Line
Lesson 4.3: After Party

In my opinion, this the most efficient and easiest to understand course on how to plot a novel.


Lesson 5.1: Writing Your Novel Synopsis
Lesson 5.2: Sticking to a Schedule

We’ll even discuss the things most courses completely ignore. Things like fear of not being good enough, feeling overwhelmed, how to stay motivated, being confident in your work, structuring a work schedule, procrastination, and rejection. You know... mindset!

Learn How to Plot Like a Novelist

This course goes through lots of examples to see how plot works in real stories. It's not a bunch of fluffy, high-falutin' philosophies.

Prepare yourself to write your novel by taking a few weeks to get your story straight from the very beginning. The best results happen when you work consistently and incrementally through the lessons and you can go at your own pace.

When you join the wait list, you'll get invited to the next 5-Day Challenge or Webinar.

Keep on keepin' on...


Monday, October 15, 2018

Preschool, Passion, and Prickly Porcupines with Laura Renauld

An Interview with Picture Book Author, Laura Renauld

I recently had the opportunity to interview Laura Renauld about her debut picture book, Porcupine's Pie! Here's your High Five, Laura!

Title: Porcupine's Pie
Author: Laura Renauld
Illustrator: Jennie Poh
Publisher: Beaming Books
Publication Date: October 2018
Word count: About 428
Short summary:

Porcupine can't wait to share Fall Feast with her woodland friends, so when everyone she greets is unable to bake their specialty due to a missing ingredient, Porcupine generously offers staples from her pantry. When Porcupine discovers that she, too, is missing a key ingredient, the friends all work together to create a new Fall Feast tradition.

An Author's Favorite Picture Books

What are three of your favorite picture books? Just three mind you.

You must know this is a nearly impossible question to answer! These are the three that popped into my head just now. (My favorites are subject to change at any time )
  1. Lyrical, tugs at the heart-strings, and always makes me cry:
    All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan and Mike Wimmer
  2. New 2018 release filled with quirky wit that made me laugh out loud:
    Potato Pants! by Laurie Keller
  3. Expert mentor text for language-precision, tension-building, and focusing on a small moment:
    Come On, Rain! by Karen Hesse and Jon J. Muth

What It's Like Writing For Children

What is your biggest challenge in parenting? Do you read picture books to your own children?

Sometimes the biggest challenge is slowing down enough to enjoy the company of my children. Making dinner, homework, music lessons, and play dates all take time. I relish story time at the end of the day. Right now, I am reading aloud the fourth book in the Harry Potter series, but we still share picture books together. There is something magical about an illustrated story and the snuggle-time that ensues during the sharing of it.

Teaching with Picture Books in the Classroom

How might teachers use your book in the classroom?

Porcupine’s Pie takes place in the fall and centers around the themes of friendship and generosity. It would make a good read-aloud for community building when the school year begins and for Thanksgiving since the characters are preparing for Fall Feast Day. There is also a recipe for Friendship Pie at the end. Using that in a fractions unit would be fun!

All Roads Lead to Publication

What was your road to publication like?

It’s been twelve years since I started dabbling in kidlit, seven years since I joined SCBWI, four years since I wrote my first draft of Porcupine’s Pie, two years since I won the Beaming Books Picture Book Writing Contest and learned it would be published, and one week since Porcupine’s Pie released. It been a long journey, but one filled with learning, joy, new friends, and now, a book to share with kids! And that’s what it’s all about.

Writing Tips From a Published Author

What are your top three writing tips you can offer to writers seeking publication?
  1. Writing is (usually) a solo activity, but your life as a writer doesn’t have to be. Seek out your tribe by joining SCBWI, find a critique group, participate in online conversations about kidlit, and have coffee regularly with a writing friend who can share your ups and downs.
  2. Read. A lot. Take advantage of your library’s hold service and request books that have been newly acquired. Use their suggestion service to recommend books that you want to read. Dig deeper and study the format: what works, what doesn’t. Steep yourself in recently published books and you will begin to internalize the genre you are writing.
  3. If you are passionate about writing, make it a priority. That will look different for each person, but for me, when I started taking writing for children seriously, that meant using 45 minutes – 1 hour of my kids’ 3-hour preschool class for writing. Laundry, groceries, etc. could wait. It wasn’t a ton of time, but the consistency paid off. My craft improved and I felt like a serious writer because I made time for something that was important to me.

LAURA RENAULD is a former third grade teacher who now spends her days imagining and creating. When she is not writing picture books about porcupines, pirates, and pickles, Laura can be found on a trail, at the library, or in the kitchen. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and their two story-telling sons. Porcupine’s Pie is her debut picture book. Look for her forthcoming picture book biography Fred’s Big Feelings: The Life and Legacy of Mister Rogers in Fall 2019. Find out more at, where you can also subscribe to her newsletter and blog.

You might also like: Porcupine's Pie, also by Laura Renauld.

Please join me in congratulating Laura Renauld on her debut book! Share your HIGH FIVE in the comments below!

How to Analyze a Picture Book with a Story Board

Read more Picture Book Author Interviews and give them a big virtual high five!

Keep on keepin' on...


Monday, October 8, 2018

A Character with No Goal is as Boring as Dry Toast

So Give Your Character a Goal (and a little bit of jelly).

We've been talking a little bit about character lately. And why not? I mean, it IS one of the four fundamentals of story. So we better know how to create a great character, right? Sometimes, that's easier said than done, though. Today, we're diving into HOW to do this.

With a couple of examples to help you, this post may be a bit longer than usual. But stick with me because it's going to really help. We're going to work backward, and then (with a completely different storyline) move forward again.

When writing a novel, your character needs to have a goal. || how to choose a story goal that your character agrees with |

Shrek in Reverse

Okay, so let's take another look at Shrek and work backward as writer. Let's say the writer wanted to give an ogre a happy ending, a marriage to a beautiful princess. This was even hinted at in the very beginning. Shrek was using the outhouse and reading his fairytale "magazine" (as men are oft wont to do) and read the classic storybook ending. Then he laughed out loud and said, "Yeah, right, like that's ever gonna happen."

So, if the author (yes, even if it's a team of Hollywood screenwriters) wants that to be the ending, then what obstacles can get in the way? Let's say that we're able to get an ugly, stinky ogre to meet and fall in love with a beautiful princess. But we can't just let them get married even if they had to travel 100 miles to rescue her and fight a fire-breathing dragon. It's still too easy.

There has to be a low point, hence The Wall. In Shrek, The Wall is when there's a huge misunderstanding between the princess and the ogre. She decides to marry the prince since that seems to be her only option at this point. Of course, it sends Shrek into a sad funk of depression and Donkey has to step in to help out.

In order to reach The Wall, they have to actually fall in love. That's the Halfway Point. Remember, we're working backward here. In order to fall in love, they have to meet. So, how in the world is a big green ogre going to meet a princess? That is the question!

What better way to meet a princess than to have to rescue her?! I mean, it was even hinted at in the opening scene - the opening song even! So how are you going to get an ogre to rescue a princess when that's the furthest thing from his mind? He's certainly not dreaming of getting together with a princess.

Why... you make him, of course! But how? WHO is going to make an ogre do anything?! Oh my, we have a problem. We're going to have to make the ogre want to rescue the princess on his own. But why? How? He's going to have to have another problem to make him want to do something he would normally never care about.

But if he doesn't care about rescuing the princess, somebody else does. Lord Farquad wants Fiona as his princess and he simply needs someone to rescue her for him. But why would Shrek want to help somebody else? He's an ogre!

Enter the fairytale creatures infesting his swamp. SHREK WANTS HIS SWAMP BACK. But his internal need is to be loved. That's the author's goal too. When he finds out who sent them to the swamp, Shrek vows to "get his swamp back."

Thus, we have a bargaining chip. Shrek will save the princess to get his swamp back. And the character has a goal. And it's not as boring as dry toast.

Outline Your Novel:
Learn How to Study Books and Movies So You Can
Map Out a Basic Plot For Your Own Novel

Play the "What If" Game

I know I said we would go forward after we went backward, but really going backward is the way to go forward. This time, though, I'm going to use a very unfamiliar story line. Because it's one of my very own! In order to come up with the plot, I had a character with a goal. Not a piece of dry toast with no jelly.

Once you have a goal, you can create a plot. Just keep playing "what if" and work your way backward.

The main character's name in my MG (middle grade), GLEEK, is Art Schaeffer (aka Gleek). Gleek is a video game loving, snake nerd who skates by on C's and never gets to go on any of the overnight field trips because his mom can never afford it even though she works two jobs. More than anything, he wants to go to the week-long summer camp, Snakes Alive, where he can immerse himself in all things snake-ish and generally have the time of his life.

So that's his goal. To go to Snakes Alive Camp. But clearly he knows he'll never be able to go if he relies on his mom being able to pay for it. Let's have a little Shrek moment here, "Yeah, right, like that'll ever happen."

So how could he get to go? Maybe he could win some money and pay for it himself. Maybe he could inherit a large fortune. Maybe he could start a business and earn the money to go. Maybe he could win a trip to the camp.

Okay, so if he wins a trip to Snakes Alive, how would he win it? It's a contest of some kind. Maybe he has to write an essay. Maybe he'll even get to choose which camp he goes to. What if the winner of said contest got to choose between Space Camp, Snakes Alive, Cooking School, or Race Car Heaven. What if the winner doesn't get to choose? Is it a radio contest? A community contest? A school contest?

What are Gleek's weaknesses? Well, we know he's not super smart, so perhaps it should be a school contest where he has to exhibit mental prowess to earn his way to camp. Like the school science fair. You know, make it really hard.

So if he has to win the science fair, he might have to get tutored. Or at least a little help along the way. What if he makes a really great project and he feels confident he could win. How can we make it harder?

If Gleek never had a single desire, there would be no story. Play "what if". Give your character a goal. And work backward.

Open Your Story with a Promise

The promise will likely become your character's goal. It's a hint at what's to come.

In Shrek, the promise is when he laughs and says, "Yeah, right. Like that'll ever happen."

In GLEEK, the promise is in the opening chapter when Art comments that he never wins anything. He doesn't even seem to be able to beat his new video game.

In Wonder Woman, the promise is in a memory. Of looking back to a time where she longs to feel love again. A memory of love lost. We know we're ultimately going to get a love story, even though it's a story about war.

In The Bridge to Terabithia, Jesse wants his dad to love him. He has a bunch of annoying sisters and he'd give all of them away just to have a dog. He feels invisible and like his parents don't even see him, let alone love him. This is hinted at from the actions of his family, when the dad shows Jesse's little sister favoritism. Sweet goodnights. Hugs and Twinkies in her packed lunches. The promise is that he'll find acceptance and that his dad will love him.

So, how can you hint at your own story promise? What is your character's goal? The story goal? Explore. Play "what if". Give it a go. I promise, you'll be glad you did!

Got another example of a story promise? Or an un-boring character with a goal to not have dry toast? Share in the comments!

Outline Your Novel:
Learn How to Study Books and Movies So You Can
Map Out a Basic Plot For Your Own Novel

Keep on keepin' on...


Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Loaded Potatoes and Costume Parties

How a Loaded Word Can Make a Great Theme

The other day, I was thinking about how there are a lot of loaded words out there. Words that have so much meaning attached to them that they can cause heated arguments. I'm talking about a word or phrase that has "strong positive or negative connotations beyond its ordinary definition."

Words like: love, hate, black, white, sex, race, war, food, church, God. Notice how they all happen to be single syllables too. There are more, though. Money, religion, addiction, freedom... Pretty much any number of words that carries with it strong connotations.

How Loaded Words Can Make Great Themes || How to write theme in a story?

Loaded Potatoes

So is a loaded potato a good thing or a bad thing? Or is it even a thing at all? I know potatoes are full of carbs, but I don't care. To me, they are delicious. I can make a meal out of loaded baked potato: butter, cheese, bacon, sour cream, green onions, maybe even some broccoli and mushrooms. Potatoes can be cooked so many different ways: baked potatoes, potato au gratin, mashed potatoes, potato salad, boiled potatoes, fried potatoes, potato wedges, stuffed potatoes, and dozens more!

Words are the same way. Take "love" for example. Why do so many people hate Valentine's Day? Because they've had their hearts broken and they don't think they'll ever find love again. Is love overrated? Maybe. But probably not. We all take something different from our experiences and attach meaning to all kinds of words.

Costume Parties

When was the last time you went to a costume party? What did you dress up as? Was there a theme? Did everyone dress up in masks for the masquerade ball? Favorite book characters like a lot of kids do at school? Scary costumes for halloween with witches, goblins, vampires, and werewolves? A lot of costume parties have a theme. Not always, though. And that's okay too.

But when the parties have a theme, it's easier to feel like you fit in. I wouldn't want to accidentally dress up like a T-Rex for a fancy masquerade ball. You don't talk about certain adult topics in children's picture books, either. There's a certain expectation set for that particular age group.

Themes of Stories

Which leads me to say that books, novels, stories all have themes that we, as readers, and humans, like to explore. Themes like love, war, race, freedom, God, etc. There are plenty more themes with multiple variations of each. I'm boiling them down here to the barest of essentials in the broadest way possible.

Again, take love for example. There's forbidden love, unrequited love, love for God, for country, even for enemies. There's the love of friends and the love between lovers. And all kinds of other statements about love for everything in between.

My point is that when you hear a loaded word, jot it down in your journal. And the next time you get invited to a costume party, you may just find a new character who can explore that theme for your next book.

What will you dress up as? (Halloween's right around the corner...) Share in the comments!

Keep on keepin' on...



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