Homework Time: On Dragons and Space Travel

I’ve been struggling to get back into a writing routine lately. Since November, really. For some reason, NaNoWriMo 2017 just about did me in. Now, we’re on the eve of Camp NaNo 2018, April edition, and I need to kick things into gear.

In an effort to do just that I went to the library this afternoon with my five year old son. I wanted to pick up some research materials for the book I’m trying to write. I very studiously avoided the teen section of the library where I knew I’d find a book (or several) that I’ve really been wanting to read. I don’t need another fiction book to distract me right now. I have enough of those already. (See my 2018 reading list!)

So my son and I went straight upstairs to the children’s section and went hunting for books. As I’ve mentioned before, I love to do my research in the children’s library. I find it’s the best place to start learning about complicated subjects like dinosaurs, sixteenth century sailing ships, and spacecraft.

First, I had to look for a book from the I Survived series for my eldest son. I picked out two of the five or six titles currently available on the shelf, and of course, came home to find he’s already read both of them.

Next, we had to find a book on dragons. My five year old is doing research on dragons. We found a handful of books on the mythical beasts to bring home with us. One is an amazing collection of dragon tales. Another is a deliciously beautiful book on Dragonology that we might just need to find a copy of for ourselves. It’s got information on Western dragons and Eastern dragons, dragon hordes, and dragon eggs. It even has samples of dragon scales to touch! It’s fantastic!

Oh wait, I was working on writing my own book, wasn’t I? Despite the distraction of wonderful dragon books, I did manage to find a few books for myself. Here’s the titles I came home with, in no particular order:

The History of Space Exploration: Space Shuttles, by Robin Kerrod
Life On a Space Station, by Andres Einspruch
Space Travel, by Ian Graham
Machines Close-up: Spacecraft, by Daniel Gilpin & Alex Pang
Home On the Moon: Living on a Space Frontier, by Marianne J. Dyson
Exploring Space Travel, by Laura Hamilton Waxman
Exploring Space, by Martin Jenkins
Building a Spacecraft, by Tyler Omoth
Robots and Artificial Intelligence, by Nicolas Brasch

I haven’t read any of them yet, so I have no idea how useful they’ll ultimately be. But I’d best get started. I’ve got homework to do.

The Worst Birthday Party Ever

For this week’s writing prompt challenge, the dare was issued to send my characters to the worst party ever. Now several scenarios came to mind, none were quite as compelling as the birthday party I’ve already written for one of my middle grade novels. The book is written from the perspective of Mike Triplett who is the birthday boy.

The birthday party is hard enough for Mike, but for his twin sister AJ, it gets pretty awful. Between having to share her birthday with her brother and a baby sister who doesn’t recognize boundaries, things aren’t what AJ had hoped for. While this scene doesn’t belong in the novel, it seemed worthwhile to spend a little energy writing it anyway. I hope you enjoy it.

AJ’s Worst Party Ever

After the purple monstrosity of a cake, AJ didn’t think anything else could go wrong with her birthday party. And for all that, the cake wasn’t all bad. It was her favorite kind of cake on the inside, chocolate with raspberry filling. Her very best friends were here, and they would stay the night tonight. Her brother and his friends were leaving them alone, mostly. What could go wrong with what was left of the party?

“Time for presents!”

The shout rang out across the back yard and a dozen kids thundered into the family room where two piles of gifts sat waiting in the center of the floor. One pile was a tumble of blue, red and superheroes, while the other one had an overabundance of pink and white and unicorns. AJ wondered when everyone would realize she had long since grown out of unicorns.


Gabby made a mad dash for the pink pile, and before anyone could stop her, had snatched up a gift and run off with it, tearing the paper as she went.

“Gabriella! You get back here with that this instant!” Mother’s shout was about as futile as an umbrella in a hurricane.

Jonathan grabbed for the little girl, but Gabby jumped away with a shriek and a laugh. AJ could do little more than look on in horror as the contents of the package tumbled free of the gift wrap and landed right in Tommy’s lap.

Tommy held up an economy sized package of girls’ panties, and all the boys hooted in laughter. AJ only wanted to die and sink into the floor. Jonathan, seeing what it was, snatched it up and stormed out of the room.

Camp NaNoWriMo & Writing Poetry With Fifth Graders

For Camp NaNo this April I took on the “project” of writing a daily exercise. One of my goals in this was to recapture a sense of joy in my writing. Each day I’ve taken a new random writing exercise and tried to make the most of it.

Some of the daily prompts I’ve used include:

  • Find ten words in a foreign language that are the same or similar to English words. Use them in a creative writing session.
  • Go out on the town tonight, but carry a notebook with you. Write down any intriguing turns of phrases, jokes or ideas that you encounter.
  • Pretend you are a philosopher in ancient Greece. What would your theory of the universe have been in those days when the world was flat and the earth was the center of the cosmos?
  • Develop a newspaper story about an Elvis sighting, one similar to those that run in the tabloids. Be as humorous—yet convincing—as possible.

The best prompt so far, the one that has generated more thought and more words than any other came on day four. The daily exercise prompted  me to write a song, a poem—any piece of writing you have never attempted before.

While I have attempted to write poetry before, I never have tried a song. But I really didn’t want to write either.

Then I hit upon a grand idea. I would pass this assignment on to one of my fictional characters. And who better than an entire class of fifth graders? My two middle grade adventures series The Silver Compass Adventures and the sister series, The Golden Locket Adventures, center around three eleven year old boys and three eleven year old girls respectively. They hail from a small town, so it is not at all unreasonable that they would end up in the same fifth grade class.

Their English assignment then, is this:

Write an ‘ode’ which is a poem in praise of something. It could be about someone or something you admire. Your poem should be 6-20 lines in length.

So my assignment to write a poem – something I didn’t want to do in the first place – grew into writing six poems. Yikes!

However, this turned out to be an interesting exercise in character development. I spent a great deal of time figuring out how each of the six fifth graders would approach the assignment. Would they groan about it much like I had? Would they embrace it? What would they choose to write about?

I had so much fun responding to this fictional homework assignment that I’ve ended up developing a new obsession with Albert Einstein. I learned a few things about baseball. And oak trees.

I discovered one of my three boys could probably write truly moving poetry if he would only take the assignment more seriously. Another boy gets too caught up in the rhyme and the rhythm and forgets all about the beauty of poetry. One of my girls surprised me by choosing to write a tender tribute to her grandmother.

In the end, it was almost more fun for me to write about writing poetry than to actually write the poetry. However, since this assignment gave me the perfect excuse to write some bad poetry, I went ahead and wrote the six poems. My goal was to convey the six different voices of each of my fifth graders.

So, here they are, in no particular order:

Ode to Baseball, by Mike Tripplet

Nine players take the field
The crowd stands and cheers.
My heart pounds as I wait,
Between second and third, I stand ready.
The wind up, the pitch, the crack of the bat.
Line drive headed my way,
I move in front of it, scoop it up.
A perfect throw to first. Out!

My Grandmother, by Kira Green

Your eyes are bright and full of wisdom
Your face is lined by years of worry.
Side by side we sit in silence,
My hand in yours, there is no hurry.

You hold me close, don’t let me go,
Patient through my frustrated tears.
You teach me to be true, to see inside
How to stand tall despite my fears.

On a foundation of laughter, family and faith
Your kindness shines through all the pain.
I see your strength in the face of adversity,
And never once do I hear you complain.

Einstein, by Elijah Capelli

He developed the theory of relativity
By asking questions with creativity.
A little strange and wild-haired,
He wrote that E equals M C squared.
A winner of the Nobel Prize,
In physics. Who wouldn’t recognize
Einstein’s the greatest scientist of all time.

Ode To My Dog, by Tommy Cooper

I love your wiggly butt dance
When you greet me at the door.
As soon as I get home from school
You’re ready to play ball.
Snuggled together on the floor
You help me through my homework.

Ladybug, by Jordyn Blackwell

The heavens cover the Earth like a dome.
Pinpoints of light blink in the darkness.
Half-moon sends down shafts of light
Like fairy dust on angel’s wings.
Moon beams fade with amber light
As darkness turns to day.
Branches glisten, shiver with the morning chill.
Wind whispers softly through the boughs.
A rustle of feathers is owl returning home,
While with birdsong, sparrow greets the day.
Morning sunlight shines on green,
Turning dew drops into emeralds.
Down below the flowers bloom
In pinks and reds and yellows.
Silently you take to crimson wing
I watch as you alight on a golden flower.
I take you gently in my hand
And I count your star-shaped spots.
I lean in close and watch in wonder,
Until upon your back, the universe I see.

The Tree in the Courtyard, by A. J. Tripplet

There’s a tree in my dad’s courtyard.
It’s taller than the second floor windows.
A tire swing hangs from one of the branches.
It makes me feel like I can fly.
The leaves change from green to brown
Before falling to the ground.
My bed sits by the window, and I see the tree outside.
A squirrel leaps onto the roof over my window.

I’m not much of a poet. But this wasn’t me writing poetry. This was me channeling six eleven year olds as they wrote poetry. I hope I did credit to their individual voices. Writing poetry turned out to be a lot of fun after all.

The Silver Compass Adventures: An Introduction, part 3

Over the last few weeks, I have introduced my current work-in-progress, a novel series titled The Silver Compass Adventures. It has been my Camp NaNoWriMo project through the month of April, and I am very nearly finished with the first book of the series. I have introduced you to two of my main characters, Mike Triplett and Tommy Cooper. Now, here is the third member of the adventurous trio, Elijah Capelli.

Elijah comes from a large Jewish Italian family. His parents are both professors at a local university. He has three older brothers and one older sister. Jerry, the oldest, is in the Marines, and currently deployed overseas. Then there is Isaiah, Annie and Zeke. Elijah is the youngest.

Four years ago, the Capelli’s moved from Chicago, to the small community just outside the state capitol where they now live. Elijah is a bit shy, and the move was not an easy one for him. He became fast friends with Mike Triplett when it turned out they shared a love of classic video games. Mike’s friend Tommy Cooper was a bit harder to convince, but before too long, the three boys were inseparable.

Elijah would trust his friends with anything from his most embarrassing moments, to his newly discovered fear of outer space. But there’s one thing he can’t bring himself to share. He really likes Mike’s sister, A.J. Really, really likes her. And to share this secret would be to invite ridicule from Mike and Tommy which would just be more than he could bear.

Too small for sports, Elijah prefers books to physical activities. He knows his way around a chess board far better than a baseball field. Still, he has great respect for his friends and their athletic abilities. Cautious to a fault, he’s become the voice of reason for the little group.

Elijah isn’t one to back down from a challenge, however, and when Mike is given that compass from his granddad, he is immediately sucked into the mystery of how it works. And any good experiment must be repeated.

Therefore, although not as eager as the others to rush headlong into whatever might come, he can’t resist the Silver Compass Adventures.

Photo credit: Katie Aguilera