News & Events

SCBWI: “Finding Buried Treasure” presentation

If you’re interested in writing or illustrating kidlit, you can access a wealth of professional information, support, and networking opportunities at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Join our SCBWI Oak Park network online tomorrow, Sept. 9, at 7pm CST for a free presentation by SCBWI Illinois‘s Regional Adviser, Deborah Topolski, to learn about the treasures on offer.

Summer Creative Writing Competition, 2021

As we head toward Labor Day and the end of summer, the results of my creative writing competition are in! It was wonderful to connect with so many lovely young storytellers over the last few months. Thanks to all who submitted their stories. Co-judge Shawn Shiflett and I loved reading them. Click here to find out the winning entries, together with our comments about the things we loved most about each one.

Summer Enrichment Ideas for Advanced Learners

Looking for Ideas for Summer Enrichment for Your Child? Check out this list compiled by Illinois Association for Gifted Children members. There are many excellent resources. Please also see details about some of my upcoming creative writing summer camps! ✍📚😎

How Picture Books Can Help When Losing a Pet

Recently, my dear neighbor mentioned her concerns about her small grandson who is very attached to their aging family dog. How do you help a little person begin to understand ‘end of life’ issues? What can we do to prepare him, to find the words to explain at the right time? 

By chance, a few days later, the subject was raised again to me: wasn’t it strange that so many young children have to come to terms with the death of a pet?  I decided to  investigate so that I could make some suggestions. Thanks to the lovely SCBWI-Illinois community and my local library, I put together this list of books that may help.

Paws + Edward by Espen Dekko, illustrated by Mari Kanstad Johnsen

Paws & Edward by Espen Dekko, illustrated by Mari Kanstad Johnsen is one of my favorites. It a warm, loving story about a boy and his faithful old dog who is becoming so very tired, just wants to sleep. Now he only dreams about rabbits, whereas he once used to chase them. A lovely, gentle way of showing a natural end to life, celebrating the past, and cherishing memories after Paws has gone. 


Stay (a girl, a dog, a bucket list) by Kate Klise, illustrated by M. Sarah Klise

Stay (a girl, a dog, a bucket list) by Katie Klise, illustrated by M. Sarah Klise. This story also showcases a loving relationship between Astrid and Eli, the dog who greeted her when her parents first brought her home as a baby. We learn about the different life spans of the two friends as Astrid grows up and Eli grows old. Astrid creates a bucket list of things for them to do, although, in the end, it is the simple pleasure of time spent together that matters the most. 


By contrast, Harry loses his dog, Hopper, in an accident. His sensitive dad stays nearby as, night after night, Harry ‘sees’ Hopper. However, over the course of these nocturnal visits, Hopper changes and Harry slowly comes to terms with his loss. (Harry & Hopper by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Freya Blackwood). 


The Invisible Leash by Patrice Karst, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff

In The Invisible Leash by Patrice Carst, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, two friends find comfort in the love the remains after the loss of their pets.




The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Duith Viorst, illustrated by Erik Blegvard

The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Erik Blegvad, is an older book but a treasure. After the death of Barney the cat, a small boy is so sad that his mother suggests that he thinks up ten good things to say about his pet at the funeral. The boy lists nine good things, but the last one eludes him. As he helps his father in the garden, they talk about Barney and nature and life as the small boy discovers his final ‘good thing.’

The Rough Patch by Brian Lies

The Rough Patch by Brian Lies tells of Evan and his dog who are inseparable friends, especially in their beloved garden. But when the dog dies, Evan ‘slashed the garden to the ground… [made it] the saddest and most desolate spot he could make it.’ Until, one day, something new started to grow…

Ida, Always by Caron Levis, illustrated by Charles Santoso

I love and have already reviewed Ida, Always by Caron Lewis, illustrated by Charles Santoso. This picture book is about Gus and Ida, inspired by the real pair of polar bears at New York City’s Central Park Zoo. To read my review, click here.  A beautiful story. 


If there are any other titles that you would recommend, I’d love to hear from you.

Illinois Association for Gifted Children — 26th Annual Conference

Are you looking for new approaches to promote creative thinking and storytelling in the classroom? A great way to inspire students is to explore strategies used and suggested by professional authors. Join me at the 26th Annual IACG conference as I discuss How To Foster Creativity In Young Storytellers. 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 for details.

Thoughts about a Writing Retreat

I have just returned home, tired but happy, after teaching a Writing for Young People class at the 5th Annual Mining the Story Writing Retreat at Shake Rag Alley in Mineral Point. The final part of the experience, for me, is to reflect on the retreat. What were some of my favorite moments?

      • Spending time talking and thinking about stories, in particular ones for young people, energizes me. Workshops were lively and thoughtful thanks to my lovely students. It’s nourishing for the soul to do something you love. I recommend it.
      • Sharing your story with strangers can be hard. Our writing is personal and we can feel vulnerable when we offer it up for comment and critique. But there is also a wonderful moment in a workshop when we break through that ‘stranger barrier’ to becoming ‘writers-in-arms’. I was thrilled when, at the end of the weekend, arrangements were afoot in my class for a new student critique group to be birthed.
      • Wisconsinites, I have learned, are fiercely knowledgable and passionate about their home State. A student gave me some locally foraged mushrooms (Morel, Yellow Oyster, and Pheasant Back) along with some cooking tips. (They were absolutely delicious, by the way). Stories often centered around a love of the Driftless Area. Isn’t that a romantic, wistful name? In fact, it refers to a local geological phenomenon. Parts of southern Wisconsin escaped the flattening glaciers of the last Ice Age and the land has retained its forested ridges, river valleys, waterfalls.
      • Mineral Point was once a mining town, worked by Cornish miners. As a Brit, I had a sense of coming ‘home’ as I recognized the influence of Cornish architecture in the downtown area. There was also a sense of coming home as the town, rather like Cornwall, has a strong artistic community.
      • When I gave my presentation for the Literary Citizenship panel, I talked about SCBWI. If you are interested in writing kidlit, I wholeheartedly recommend joining this wonderful organization. It was instrumental in helping me find my writing ‘pack’ over here in America.
      • I was made so welcome by the other faculty, by the students, by the Shake Rag Alley Center staff. A special thanks to the Executive Director, Sara Lomasz Flesch, and the Retreat Artistic Director, Patricia Ann McNair.
      • Learning something new and valuable makes my heart sing. I did not just teach; I also attended various classes.
        • Eric May taught me about considering my ‘opposite’ in creating a fictional character.
        • Shawn Shiflett reminded me of the power of the unconscious, of harnessing the gifts it gives us in our dreams, when storytelling.
        • Sheree L. Greer gave empowering tips for us to take charge of our revision process.
        • Christine Maul Rice reminded us of the dilemmas faced by editors in her role as founder of Hypertext Magazine.
        • Philip Hartigan taught us about the craft of book-making.
        • Patty McNair impressed on us the importance of a writing community. She closed the retreat by aptly quoting the African proverb:“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”


Mentorship Program in a Pandemic

What a great finale to an online creative writing mentorship… After adapting to Zoom and connecting virtually every month since September 2020, I finally got to meet my lovely mentee in person (albeit masked) yesterday for our last session. Nora was a pleasure to work with — I enjoyed getting to know her and also her characters. All the best in your onward journey to high school. May the Muse be with you!

The Ins, Outs & All About Writing with a Passion & Sustaining Your Career

There are plenty of disadvantages to the pandemic, but one bonus is that geography doesn’t stop us from connecting online. I’m thrilled to be hosting this event on behalf of my network in SCBWI Illinois with Jennifer Ward who will be talking about The Ins, Outs & All About Writing with a Passion & Sustaining Your Career. Wherever you are, you can join us to chat with Jennifer, author of 26 books for children over the course of 23 years (and all books still in print!). The live event is free and the first five registrants will win a copy of one of Jennifer’s books. Click here to find out more/register. 

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!’”

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