Creative Writing Competition, Spring 2021

My students this year were a talented bunch. Each of the  submissions to this competition surprised me, created a world in my head. There is something lovely to celebrate in each one. Several themes threaded through the stories — dreamy qualities, trees, swimming, and stars. My co-judge, novelist and creative writing professor, Shawn Shiflett, was also astonished by the quality of the stories from these sixth graders. Bravo!


Gianna Parolin – “The Stars in my Head .

This unusual story is told from the point of view of a ‘Down syndrome kid’, Neville, who has an inventive and original way of interpreting the world. I would enjoy spending time amongst the stars that he imagines in his head! The writing is tight and draws us in immediately right through to the satisfying ending.

Audrey Tromp – “Taken by the Tide.

The atmosphere in this story is very different as we join twelve year old Roselle Ashford in her rural life with her great uncle. I found the attention to the detail of the character’s life compelling, the writing poised, and the slow measured description of the hunting scene felt very ‘real’. 


Sophie Picha – “Trees in the Deep”. This was another strong submission, also illustrated by Sophie. She deftly creates an atmospheric setting for her story with particular attention to sensory detail. The plot moves apace as our heroine is confronted by ghosts, curses, and dark mysteries of the past. 

Helena Vadbunker – “The Night of Memories”. This piece has a dreamlike quality, as the protagonist faces his past in order to move forward in life. Phrases such as ‘the pixely figures dancing across the empty, mysterious nothing,” were especially evocative in creating the landscape of memory.

To find out more about other competitions I have run, click here.

Behind the Scenes with Sarah Hammond, interview with Carol Spelić

This month, Shake Rag Alley feature an instructor interview with me in the light of my upcoming  Writing for Young People workshop at this year’s fifth annual Mining the Story Writing Retreat. Here’s a sampling of my interview, with link to full article on the Shake Rag Alley News page here:

Q: There are so many genres when it comes to writing.  What inspired you to pursue writing for children?

A: That’s an interesting question because, as I pondered my answer, I couldn’t remember ever sitting down and making that conscious decision. It is a passion that I always just felt. Ever since I was a child myself, I have told stories and the things I want to write about are suited to children. As Maurice Sendak once said: “I don’t write for children… I write — and somebody says, ‘That’s for children!’”

Grants and Awards for Kidlit Writers and Illustrators

If you are a writer or illustrator of children’s books, SCBWI is a pretty important organization to consider. It offers so many resources to help kidlit professionals at all levels of their career. I am a co-representative for one of the SCBWI networks in Illinois. We run a monthly program which is open and free to the public, online at the moment of course. For up to date details of our meetings, click here. Last week, we gave a presentation and had a discussion about the SCBWI awards and grants that are available for kidlit writers and illustrators. There is an impressive range of opportunities out there — check out this link if you are interested.

Writing For Young People – My Kidlit Class at the Mining the Story Writing Retreat

Interested in learning about writing kidlit? I’m excited to be teaching a 3-day class at Mining the Story – 5th Annual Writing Retreat at Shake Rag Alley from May 21-23. We’ll be covering story craft from picture books, to middle grade, and young adult fiction. There are lots of other writing treats scheduled, too. 📚 ✍️ Check out this link for details. Hope to see you there!  

How To Foster Creativity in Young Storytellers — Ten Tips and Tricks

I’m delighted to have been invited by the Illinois Association for Gifted Children to give a webinar about promoting creative thinking and storytelling in the upper elementary/middle school classroom.

I will discuss the structure of a fiction writing session and give ten tips and tricks to boost creativity in students. Topics covered will include: ways to spark imagination, how to deepen story craft techniques, and a discussion of writerly processes to improve conditions when working with the imagination. There will also be an opportunity for a Q&A. Attendees will leave with practical resources to help their pupils’ stories to soar! Click here to learn more and register.

Creative Writing Programs 2021

I had a lovely start to the new semester this week. These three books came up in my first eighth grade class of the year, along with story beginnings about equal rights, dream sequences, and discussions about how to write a good argument. If you’re interested in learning more about my creative writing program options, click here.

Responsible Adults

I was thrilled to learn that one of the short stories, titled Salvage, in Patricia Ann McNair’s latest collection was born in one of my writing classes. Responsible Adults is published by Cornerstone Press and the virtual book launch with Women and Children First bookshop, including the lively reading and conversation between Patty and novelist Eric May (pictured here), was fun.

Full Zoom Ahead

Wow! What a weekend at SCBWI-Illinois’ Full Zoom Ahead online conference for kidlit authors and illustrators! I was sad to take off my Committee member badge when it ended. In these strange times of social distancing, it was such a treat to connect and be inspired in live and interactive sessions with industry professionals.  I had the pleasure of moderating chats with these two wonderful editors, Esther Cajahuaringa from Little Brown Books for Young Readers and Meghan Maria McCullough from Levine Querido, alongside Darcy Day Zoells and Jennifer Wagh.

In addition to craft sessions, pitch sessions, inspiring keynote speeches from Commander Herrington, kidlit author and the first Native American astronaut, and Vanessa Brantley Newton, author, illustrator, crafter and champion of diversity, we celebrated Sarah Aronson’s Just Like Rube Goldberg and other #ReadLocalIllinois recent publications at the SCBWI-IL Crystal Kite Gala (what a poignant acceptance speech...), and had so many chances to connect during socials and Office Hours.

There were contests for writers and illustrators alike. Check out the two winning entries for the Portfolio Showcase.

Kudos to those organizing a brand new online format for an interactive conference: Deborah Topolski, Jenny Wagh, Cedric Gliane and the rest of the Committee. Thanks to the faculty and all the attendees. I love the kidlit world, feel inspired to get back to work today.

Shake Rag Alley, Writing Retreat 2020

That was fun — my Zoom workshop, Inner Child: An Exercise in Narrative Distance. I heard so many wonderful ideas and childhood memories. Thanks so much to Shake Rag Alley (and Artistic Director, Patricia Ann McNair) for inviting me to the Writing Retreat this weekend. At a time when we can’t meet in person, it was wonderful to gather online and build community, share stories and learn nonetheless. Check out Shake Rag Alley’s upcoming events in arts and craft. It’s a gem of a place.

Folk and Fairy Tales

I am thrilled to be hosting Dr Janice Del Negro at our Oak Park and Near West Suburban Network SCBWI October meeting.  The event is free and open to the public. All are welcome! Janice is a storyteller, author, educator and professor at Dominican University with a special expertise in this area. She will talk to us about the history of folk and fairy tales, ways that we can use them, of misappropriation, of tools for finding them, and also give more information about the Butler Children’s Literature Center’s Ellin Greene Folk and Fairytale Collection. Click here to find out more.

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