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The Big Move to Edublogs

Posted by Sandy Fussell on Monday, October 18, 2010 , under | comments (1)

ReadWrite Zone has a new home at Edublogs. You can now find us here

Thank you to all the teachers and students of Arncliffe Public School, Manor Lakes Specialist College and Smithfield Public School who participated in the successful Term Trial. In particular I would like to thank Cathy Edwards, Tye Cattanach and Vincent Albanese whose valuable feedback has ensured this project will continue.

Arncliffe Public School: 4. Setting the Scene

Posted by Sandy Fussell on Sunday, September 19, 2010 , under , , , , , | comments (0)

When we build the setting for a story we are answering the questions when and where – the time, the place and the circumstances. The setting is the background for the events that take place but this does not mean it is unimportant.

In fantasy stories the writers has to build the world. In historical fiction the writer has to research the time to make sure the facts in the story are correct. In real life stories the setting may be a place familiar to the writer. Even his/her own house!

The setting can impact upon the characters. It can limit what they can do. Girls could not join the army of ancient Rome. This might suggest a story where a girl pretends she is a boy so she can join the Roman legion and travel all over the known world. A boy cannot climb a large mountain in a day. This might suggest super hero powers so he can fly to the top.

Setting helps the reader visualise the story. The key to describing setting is the five senses – see, touch, hear, taste and smell. It is easy to describe what the character can see but a better description will also include some of the other five senses.

Here is the first paragraph from one of my favourite books Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing with Fire by Derek Landry. In this short paragraph we have see (the city), hear (laughter) and feel (brisk breeze, sense of height).

The church tower stood high and proud, looking over Dublin City, The night breeze was brisk and carried snatches of laughter from the street below. It was a long way down.

Choose one of the pictures below or find your own setting picture from a book or magazine.

What can you see? (Don’t forget to use adjectives)

What can you hear? (You might like to use onomatopoeia – a sound word like ‘woof’ or alliteration where words begin with the same sound – scritch-scritch-scratch

What can you smell? (You could use a simile, a description that says something is like something else, for example ‘it smells like a cake baking’

What can you feel? What can you taste?

Write a four sentence description of using at least three of the senses above.

What could you add to your description to tell the reader when? When could be the time of day, the time of year or the date? You could be direct. “It was a hot summer night” Or you could give a piece of information that provides the reader with clues. If you say “I heard an owl hoot” the reader knows it is night time.

Here is an example from one of my books Samurai Kids: Fire Lizard

Dawn peeks over the edge of the mountain. Like leftover noodles, the village curls sleepy in the base of its soup bowl valley, while the first rays of sun snoop into its hidden huts.

In this short paragraph we have see (physical scene), feel (sense of secrecy) and the time (early morning). Because this scene is in Korea, I have used images from Korean meals ‘like leftover noodles’ and ‘soup bowl valley’. While these images don’t tell us the place this give us a sense of geography –that this is probably somewhere in Asia.

And just for fun - you can make a Skulduggery Plesant avatar here or watch a You Tube for the coming film:
You tube link:

Manor Lakes Specialist College: 7. Is the Animal Story a Dead Duck?

Word around the publishing industry is that animal stories don’t sell. My author friends advise me not to waste my time writing them – they are too hard to get published.

But as a reader, I love animal stories - stories in which animals are the main characters. Animals are given human characteristics such as speech and any humans are the minor characters.

Two of my favourite series of books are about wolves (The Wolves of Time by William Horwood) and moles (Duncton Wood also by William Horwood). My all-time favourite book is about a mouse, The Tale of Despereaux. Apparently the movie was awful but the book is great. I also enjoyed the Redwall series (more mice), Watership Down (rabbits), Guardians of Ga’Hoole (owls) and Warriors (cats).

Does anyone else have any animal stories to add to my list? Do you like animal stories and if not, why? Some readers say it is a ridiculous idea to have talking animals. Or that such stories are only for little kids. But to me it is no different than having a story with dragons and those are my most favourite stories of all. Although none of those has the dragon as the talking character. Perhaps I should write one of those!

And if ever proof was needed that animal stories are not just for little kids, we only have to look at Animal Farm by George Orwell. Wrapped up in an animal story, this book is a social and political comment on corrupt leadership and how indifference, ignorance and greed can destroy a Utopian revolution. Time Magazine listed it as one of the 100 best English-language novels ever written.

When I was researching this post I discovered a computer animated film of Guardians of Ga’Hoole is coming out on 30th September! It was produced in Australia and features the voices of a number of Australian actors and actresses.

Here is a sneak preview. (to be added when YouTube available)

Smithfield: 4. You Can’t Judge a Book By Its Cover. Or Can You?

Posted by Sandy Fussell on Thursday, September 9, 2010 , under , , , , , , | comments (8)

Have you ever picked up a book just because the cover attracted your attention? I know I have. Lots of times. This is one of my favourites - The Eye of the Beast, the first book in the Moonshadow series by Australian author Simon Higgins. Set in feudal Japan, there's samurai, ninja and plenty of action.

Book covers are a very important factor in our reading choices. First of all, the over tells us important basic information – the title of the book, maybe a subtitle and the author’s name. Sometimes this alone is enough to help us make a decision. I know I wouldn’t hesitate to read every book that had the words Skulduggery Pleasant on the front or Derek Landy’s name. (Is anyone else a Skulduggery Pleasant fan?)

The style of the book cover is designed to catch the reader’s eye and most often this is the one feature that decides whether we pick up a book. A cover might encourage us to ask questions about the story. It might indicate the target age of the readers. It might also indicate the genre of the book. One look at the cover of Eye of the Beast and I immediately thought:- Japan, manga, sword and samurai. I couldn't tell from the cover whether it was historical or fantasy but I suspected a bit of both. The cover told me enough for me to know I wanted to read it.

Don’t forget the back cover. There you might find a ‘blurb’ – a few lines or maybe a paragraph designed to tell you just enough to hook you into reading the story. There might also be endorsements from other writers who write similar novels. On the back cover of Andy Griffiths ‘Just’ series are quizzes to determine if the reader is just disgusting, just annoying or just shocking.

Here’s a chance for you to judge a book by its front cover picture:

What can you deduce about each of these books? Things to think about are the target readers (age, boys, girls), the genre, the story, where it is set. Let me know in comments what you can work out. Bonus points if you recognise the book. I have been very sneaky and cropped off all the titles and authors! (Hint: There is one clue in this post!)

There are awards for the best book covers. You can see the Australian Publishers Association Award winners for 2010 here. What do you think of the choices? Do you have a favourite book cover from a book you have read or seen in the library?

Here is a YouTube on how book covers are made. While the book is one for adults, it is interesting to see how the elements are carefully chosen to convey a particular message about the story.

Manor Lakes Specialist College: 6. Steampunking

The first time I heard the word steampunk my interest was hooked. I love words, just for the sound they make, and steampunk immediately has an exotic, fantasy ring to it.

Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction. Stories are set in an era of spring gadgets, dirigibles, analog computers and steam power - often the 19th century Victorian era – and feature technology or futuristic innovations imagined by the people of the time. This technology of alternate history might include fictional machines or actual technological developments like the computer, but occurring at an earlier date.

Here’s the best definition I could find (see right). The picture is a bit hard to read but you can see it in all its glorious artistic detail here.

Historical steampunk is more science fiction than fantasy, but more recently the steampunk sub-genre has expanded to fantasy world settings that rely heavily on steam or spring-powered technology such as The Laws of Magic series by Australia author Michael Pryor (a favourite of mine).

I did a bit of research and discovered steampunk first became popular in the 1980s and early 1990s. But the word is quite new to me; I only discovered it last year, which is probably an indicator of its current publicity profile.

So what are the titles of some steampunk novels? Here are two lists to start with: Share Ranks Best Steampunk Novels and Steampunk 20 Core Titles . I looked through these lists to discover many of the titles were old friends. When I started Year 7 I was so overwhelmed by the huge high school library (compared to our tiny primary school room!) I didn’t know where to start. So I started at A. I found Aldriss and Asimov and read nothing but science fiction for many years. I didn’t know it then, but a lot of those titles were from the steampunk sub-genre.

Steam punk is a great example of how a fiction genre can reach out into other areas – art, fashion and music. Here are some steampunk gadgets - just for fun! Thes eimages would also make great steampunk story starters.

My challenge for you today is: give steampunk a try. Give it the first chapter test – read at least one chapter from a steampunk novel and let me know the title and what you thought of it. If you are looking for suggestions, start with one of these:

  • The Laws of Magic series by Michael Pryor – Australian! - (definitely start here if you like to read fantasy. Read an interview with Michael here

  • Worldshaker by Richard Harland (another excellent Aussie steampunk. Read an interview with Richard here Review with Richard here
  • Leviathan by Scott Westerfield (I haven’t read this one but I hear it’s great. I think Tye has read it)
  • His Dark Materials Trilogy (The Golden Compass; The Subtle Knife; The Amber Spyglass) by Philip Pullman (love it!)
  • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne (an oldie but a classic goodie)
  • The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (another excellent classic)
  • Boneshaker by Cherie Priest. (I haven’t read this on but when I saw the blurb I put it at the top of my list. Zombies, steam-powered technology, airships, pirates, and mad scientists—What more could you want?
I also surveyed my Facebook friends who are always a treasure mine of information on books and they added Kenneth Oppel's Skyborn series, Phillip Reeve's Larklight (Michael Pryor's recommendation), Phillip Reeves' Mortal Engines series and James Roy's Icabod Hart & the Lighthouse Mystery (I haven't read this one but in my experience anything by James Roy is worth reading).

Check out Michael Pryor's YouTube Channel and the book trailer for Moment of Truth, the most recent book in the Laws of Magic series.

Manor Lakes Specialist College: 5. Twisting Words

Posted by Sandy Fussell on Thursday, August 26, 2010 , under , , , | comments (6)

It's no secret that I love words. I love making them up. Onomatopoeias are my favourite. I'm often making a lot of noise as I research sounds - banging my gong (that's Sensei in Samurai Kids!) and dropping rocks off my balcony (so I can hear the sound of Iluak tripping over the soapstone pots and pans in Polar Boy).

The other thing I really like to do with words is twist them into something the reader might not be expecting. There are lots of common phrases we all know well. For example if I said "White as..." I would bet my next book at least half the class would say "snow". And if I quoted an idiom like "the cat that swallowed the ..." the other half of the class would say "canary".

One way to improve your descriptions, and have some fun at the same time, is to always say the unexpected. And if possible, to relate the unexpected words you substitute, to the genre or tone of the book. For example in Samurai Kids, when I was describing a sly smile, I used "the cat that swallowed the crane". I specifically didn't want to say canary (like everyone would be expecting) and I chose crane because it was not only a Japanese bird but the spirit symbol of my main character Niya Moto.

Here are some common phrases for you to improve.

as white as snow
as dark as night
as hard as nails
as slow as a snail
as fast as bullet
as dead as a dodo
as weak as a kitten
squawking like a parrot
exploding like a bomb
crying like a baby
howling like a wolf
sparkle like diamonds
glitter like gold

And here are some idioms for a harder challenge. Don't forget to retain a sense of the meaning of the idiom. If I was writing a gothic horror story and the possibility of a character dying, I wouldn't say "I was afraid he might kick the bucket", I would say "I was afraid he might kick the coffin".
kick the bucket
cost an arm and a leg
jump the gun
let sleeping dogs lie
make a mountain out of a molehill
raining cats and dogs

Try and come up with truly unique twists. They might be genre relevant. Or really ridiculous and funny. Or beautifully descriptive. A favourite I remember from a workshop I did at the Sydney Writer's Festival was 'sparkle like a city of stars'.

Go on. Surpise me!

PS If YouTube was working for me tonight there would be a funny 'raining cats and dogs' link here. But alas... watch this space...

Smithfield Public School 3. Bookweeking - Ask the Author

Posted by Sandy Fussell on Wednesday, August 25, 2010 , under , , , | comments (22)

It's a really busy week for me, because it's Book Week. In three days I have spoken to almost 750 kids at 9 schools and visited 5 libraries. It is exciting, fun and exhausting. I have four more Book Weeking days to go. Did you have an author or illustrator visit for Book Week? Has anyone read any of the Book Week shortlisted books? One of my favourite ones was Pearl Verses the World by Sally Murphy and it was selected as Younger Readers Honour Book.

I am working on a special blog post for you about book covers - making a bit of a quiz so you can try to guess what is inside the cover. But it's taking me longer than I thought to find all the tricky covers, especially when I am visiting so many schools. So we'll do that one next week.

I thought this week maybe you would like to ask me a few "Ask the Author" questions. I'll start off by telling you the question I have been asked the most in the last three days. Probably once at every school I visitted. So that must mean it is something lots of people want to know.

Where do you get your ideas from?

And the answer is...drum roll... everywhere! Ideas are like flies, they are buzzing around all over the place. The hard part, just like with flies, is knowing how to catch them. You catch them with questions! Who, what, where, when and why. Whenever you see, hear, smell, touch or taste something interesting, ask questions and you will find a story idea!

On the weekend I went to the breadshop to buy a sausage roll for lunch and on the way out I saw someone had dropped a pie in the street. Splat. It was squashed flat! I started to think about what might have happened. Who dropped it? Why did it fall? I wondered whether some really hungry person had to go all day without anything to eat. Or maybe two kids were riding their bike down the pavement, pushing and mucking around until the pie fell out of the bike basket. Or... how did the pie feel? Maybe it was saying "I wish somene would tread on me and then I could travel all over the world on the bottom of a shoe." Sometimes I tell this story as an example - I do a great imitation pie voice.

I got the idea for Samurai Kids when I read that to be a samurai, you had to be born into a samurai family. It's not like deciding to be a teacher or a doctor. You can't decide to be a samurai, not even if you are really good at sword fighting. So I started to think about kids who didn't want to fight but had to - because that was the job they were born to do. And then I thought: what if they weren't any good at it? What if they weren't any good at it because they only had one leg? That's when a sentence popped into my head: "My name is Niya Moto and I am the only one-legged samurai kid in Japan."

Once I had that sentence I started to ask even more questions. What was Niya like? Who were his friends? What did samurai kids learn? Who would want to teach Niya? What worried Niya about training to become a samurai warrior? Suddenly I had lots of story ideas. Enough for a whole book!

So who has a different question they would like to ask me?

Manor Lakes Specialist College: 4. Heroes and Villains

A good story needs a protagonist (hero) and an antagonist (villain) although sometimes it can be hard to work out which one is the good guy and which is the bad guy. Conflict comes from characters and the struggle between good and evil is a plot classic. In a series like Samurai Kids where the heroes stay the same, in each new book, the plot is driven by a combination of changing setting and new villains.

So what makes a good hero? Does he/she/it have to be good looking? Or do they even have to be completely good? Most writers would agree that a hero needs likeable characteristics and to be proactive and take action rather than wait for things to happen. The hero is a positive influence and the reader wants to align with him (or her!) and take her (or his!) side.

Villains need to be a believable adversary, they have to have as much at stake as the hero. They most often represent negatives such as greed, jealousy and all sorts of criminal activity.

The greatest heroes always have a flaw and the greatest villains have redeeming features. I think that might be because as readers we want to empathise with both.

When I was writing Jaguar Warrior I wanted readers to get to know the villain really well so I wrote a number of alternating chapters told from the perspective of the Captain of the Temple Guard, Huemac. He is bloodthirsty, cold killer tracking the hero, a fourteen-year-old slave boy called Atl. However, Huemac also has some redeeming features (sorry, can’t give the story away *grin*). As I gradually allowed the reader into his life I wanted them to change how they felt about Huemac – to move from intense dislike to understanding why he behaved the way he did. I am not sure if I succeeded so if anyone reads the book, let me know.

I wonder if there are nay books written totally from the viewpoint of the villain. I might try that!

Some heroes and villains are inseparable – Sherlock Holmes and Moriarity, Harry Potter and Voldemort, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, Gandalf and Sauron, Peter Pan and Captain Hook. Can you think of any more pairings? Strangely enough, I found it was easy to think of villains - Dracula, Frankenstein and the White Witch quickly sprang to mind - whereas I had to struggle to think of heroes!

Was there are a hero and villain in the last books you read? What were they like – were they all good or all bad? Which one did you like best?

History is a wonderfully rich source of heroes and villains. I am thinking of writing about Attila the Hun although I can’t quite decide if he whether he is a hero or a villain. The BBC did a great series on Heroes and Villains and each is loaded on You Tube in 6 parts. Check them out by searching for “Heroes and Villains” “BBC series” and to get you started here is Attila the Hun 1/6 [Warning: A bit gory!]

Arncliffe Public School: 3. The Story Detective – Finding Stories in Pictures

Posted by Sandy Fussell on Sunday, August 15, 2010 , under , , , , | comments (27)

It’s fun to find stories in pictures. It’s all about being a story detective and looking for clues. A few months ago I was writer-in-residence at Wollongong Art Gallery as part of their Just Imagine Exhibition where primary and high school students participate in activities and a competition all about writing stories based on artwork. Now the NSW Department of Education is holding WriteOn, a competition where students from Years 1-6 write a story based on a photo. You can read all about WriteOn here.

So how do you find clues in a picture? It’s all about asking questions - and this blog post will be full of question marks!!! The big top secret tip is to think of the less obvious answer. The one that doesn’t jump out first. The one everyone else won’t think of. You don’t have to write about what you see in the picture, you can also write about what the picture suggests.

Here are some questions to ask. How does the picture make you feel? Ask yourself who, what, where, when and why. But the most powerful question of all is, what if?

Have a really close look at the picture. Is there something unusual about it? It might be the colour, or perspective. It might be an object in the picture. Or a person. Unusual features suggest story ideas.

You need to decide who the narrator is. Are you telling the story? Try putting yourself in the picture. Your own memories and experiences can help you find a story. Perhaps the narrator is someone you can see in the picture or someone looking at the scene the picture contains? Or maybe the narrator is not a person at all. Animals and even inanimate objects can tell a story.

Look at the story elements the picture suggests – are there clues about the setting, the character, dialogue, action or plot. When looking at the setting, where the story is taking place, don’t forget to use all five senses – touch, taste, see, hear and smell. Dialogue will give the picture a voice, by letting it talk.

What is happening in the picture? Now look outside the picture. What happened before? What is going to happen next? The answers to these questions will suggest a plot, storyline or action.

One of my favourites is a technique I call “putting your other glasses on”. By this I mean take another look at the picture in a different way. If you think it looks happy, try and imagine a way it could be sad. If you think it looks like a horror scene, turn it into a romance.

Still stuck? A good way to jump start your story is to make lists. Write down ten words the picture suggests. Write down five sounds in the picture – onomatopoeias, dialogue, noises. Write down five things about each character. Write a list of who, what, where, when and why.

Here is one of the pictures from the Just Imagine Exhibition. It is called Very, Very Important.

I decided that I would write my short story as a conversation between two pairs of shoes and that I would make it funny. While the very, very important meeting was going on the shoes were discussing who looked the best and who had mud showing, who had to carry the smelliest feet around and who got trod on.

Here’s another picture from the Just Imagine Exhibition. What story does it suggest to you?

Now that you are a fully fledged story detective (*smile*), you might like to try writing a story based on the photo in the WriteOn competition.

The Value of Snippets via a great extract from Lohgan

Posted by Sandy Fussell on Friday, August 13, 2010 , under , , | comments (8)

A common theme in our discussions has been how valuable snippets are in our decision whether to read a book or not - whether it's a book cover, a first line, a first paragraph, a blurb or even a review. Here's Lohgan's snippet post - an extract from Mortlock by Jon Mayhew:

'As the two of them straightened up, Josie glanced over at Cardamom. She was almost taller than him now. Out in the street, they would have made a curious sight: he stocky, with dyed red hair, clipped moustache and red-lined cloak, she dressed in leggings and a light shift, her long blonde hair spilling from under a black bow. But onstage, they still made a perfect fit.'

I was immediately draw in. I wanted to know what the genre and time period were. A quick search of the net told me it was a chilling Victorian gothic fantasy. How excellent does that sound? And then I found this trailer:

I didn't even know this book existed until Lohgan told me but I'm definitely going to seek it out now.

Manor Lakes Specialist College: 3. Picture This – A Writing Tool

I was so impressed with the two pieces of writing that Tegan and Tanaya shared with me that I thought I should share something the writers among you might find useful. This might sound basic but it’s a very powerful technique. Pictures are a great tool to have in your writing toolbox.

Pictures help fill in the gaps when you are describing a character. I don’t see clear visual images of my characters; instead I will start with a strong feel for their personality. Sometimes I notice my characters develop a certain sameness when I am writing a physical description. That’s when I go to my ‘mug shot book’. It’s an idea I got from a friend who is a writer. She suggested I should cut out pictures of interesting faces and paste them into a scrapbook. Then when I get stuck with a description, I should look through the scrapbook. It works really well for me.

When I was writing Fire Lizard, which is the fifth Samurai Kids book set in Korea, I found this marvellous book called Korean Culture: Legacies and Lore by Lee Kyong-hee. It was about the ‘living treasures’ of Korea and how their skills were being lost as the older craftsman died. There was there was no money in things like ropewalking, pyrography and papermaking so no young people were interested in learning from the old Masters. I found this very sad. But the pictures of the craftspeople were wonderful and Ang Lee, the pyrographer in Fire Lizard, is based on a story and picture I found in Korean Culture. In case you are wondering, pyrography is an art form where a heated iron is used to burn pictures onto bamboo items like flutes and decorative hair combs.

If you feel like giving it a go, find a picture (anywhere will do – a magazine, book, internet) and write a six line description (or more!) to share.

Sometimes a description might tell us something more than what a person looks like. Here is a description of Lali who is an Aztec girl in my most recent book Jaguar Warrior, as told in first person by Atl, a slave boy. Not only does his description tell us something about what Lali looks like (her hair, eyes, nose and that’s she’s pretty) but the tone tells us about the relationship between Lali and Atl (he thinks she is an arrogant, irritating show-off).

Lali is short and wiry, with long straight black hair that spills like a waterfall. It splashes around her waist when she shakes her head. When she smiles, her pointy nose wrinkles and her eyes dance like moonlight on water. She’s not bad to look at but she’s awful to listen to. She never stops talking. Lecturing. Showing off. Her voice drags like a mason’s knife against stone. Scritch. Scra-a-a-tch. Scratch .

Grab a book off the library shelf, maybe one whose story you already know, and find where the character is introduced. Somewhere in the vicinity you should be able to find a description. Any character description will do. Doesn’t have to be the first one or the main character. Let me know the book title, author and character name and whether the description helped you visualise what the character looked like or helped you understand how the character felt about things. If the description didn’t draw a picture in your head, what was missing?

A few months ago I was asked to be involved in a project at the Wollongong Art Gallery called Just Imagine which was all about writing from pictures. They even ran a competition where students wrote stories about specific pieces of art in the Gallery. It was a lot of fun and I blogged about it here. Also check out the pyrography site of Australian artist Sue Walters.

A Writing Challenge from Tanaya

Posted by Sandy Fussell on Monday, August 9, 2010 , under , , | comments (8)

Tanaya from Manor Lakes Specialist College is the first person to share their writing with us all. I've posted Tanaya's wonderful piece of work, with her permission, on a new Tab called RWZ Writers. Have a look. Now Tanaya has thrown down the challenge to everyone else:

I just hope other people will put their writing on there as well ..... PLEASE encourage the others to write their own stuff, because I don't want to be the only one.

I would love to see other work. Doesn't have to be a long story - just an excerpt. But if you would like to send a longer story - you can email it to me. and repalce ~at~ with @ when emailing.

Arncliffe Public School: 2. Writing the First Paragraph

When I’m writing I always begin at the beginning. Now that might sound a silly thing to say but many writers start by thinking about a big scene, the characters or the big picture story. Not me. I really do start with the first few lines and at that point, it’s often all I have.

If my first lines can grab me as a writer and a reader then I start to work on the story by asking myself questions. When I was writing White Crane, a sentence popped into my head. My name is Niya Moto and I am the only one-legged samurai kid in Japan. I imagined Niya yelling ‘Ayeeagh’ and doing a onelegged karate kick. I knew what would happen then. Famous for falling flat on his face in the dirt.

I didn’t know anything yet about what adventures lay ahead for Niya, or who his friends were. But I knew because I had the first few lines, I would get to know the characters and find their story. And I did, although I changed the line order in the end.

Some people find it hard to get started writing a story. Do you? I have three favourite ways to begin a first paragraph. Sometimes I begin with a sound. In the beginning of Polar Boy, Iluak trips over a pile of soapstone pots and pans. Krash Klunk-tunk. Konk Tunk. Onomatopoeias, words that make a sound, are my favourite. I listen to noises and make them up!

Another way I like to begin is with dialogue. Let a character say something interesting. Jaguar Warrior begins with “Why isn’t that boy dead yet?” When the Captain of the Temple Guard shouts even the walls shiver. My third favourite way to begin is with an action scene. Fire Lizard, Samurai Kids 5, begins with The tiger roars. It bares its teeth and staring directly at us, bellows even louder than before. Kyoko drops her pack in fright.

Have a look at some books in the library. Do any of them begin with a sound, dialogue or a big action scene? There are lots of different ways to begin. Smithfield Public School and I have been talking about great first lines we found. (PS If you find a good one and you can add it to our blog conversation here).

Think of a story you know. Maybe it’s a book you’ve read, a movie you have seen or something you saw. Use one of my three tips to write a new first paragraph – hear something (begin with a sound), say something (begin with dialogue) or make something happen (begin with action). I’d love to read it if you post it in the comments below. And if you want to start a new story of your own instead of one you already know – that’s excellent too.

In our last blog we were talking about the books we remembered from our childhood and Bence mentioned a pop-up book. This reminded me of some of the pop-ups I still enjoy by Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart. Here is my favourite one - Megabeasts.

Manor Lakes Specialist College: 3. Hating Books

Yes you are allowed to! Even on this blog.

When I was younger I had this silly rule that I would always finish every book I started. What I hadn't realised then was reading is for fun - it is not a competition. I read a lot of boring books becuase of that stupid rule. But when I got to high school I found a book I just couldn't keep reading no matter how hard I tried.

It was called The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Apparently there were some issues about the translation from the Russian because of the clever things he did with language but to me it was the MOST. BORING. BOOK. EVER. If you see it on a library shelf, run a mile! But if you wnat to take a peek, you can read an extract on Google Books here.

I didn't have to read it for class so the only thing making me was the rule. That's when I ditched the rule forever. Now I only read books I want to although that sometimes means I might read it for a different reason other than the story. I might read it because I want to learn something about a time or place or maybe something to improve my writing skills.

Have you ever started to read a book and decided you hate it? What made up your mind? Perhaps the cover and the blurb weren't very accurate and it was about something you weren't interest in?

I don't like spy stories much except I do like the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz. And I don't like detective stories except I love Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. So I'm always willing to give a book a try in case it's an 'except'.

This is my favourite Alex Rider book trailer - for Snakeshead - the Australian connection!

Sometimes I don't like the way a book is writtem - especially of it's slow with lots of description. Some people like books like that. Not me. I like my description with lots of action. Even as I write that comment I am reminded of an 'except'. I read a book called The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. Lots of reviews said it had too much travelogue description - but it was such a great story I didn't even notice that. It's a Dracula story with a difference - a marvellous blend of storytelling and folklore. Not horror but something different. Eerie.

Here's a challenge for you. Grab a fiction book off the library shelf based on the cover and blurb - one you think you will like. Read the first page. Give it a "I'll read it" rating out of 5. 1 = Awful 2 = Only if I'm bored stiff 3 = I might 4 = I'll read a chapter and decide then 5 = Gonna read it.

Then do the same for a book you don't think you will like.

Smithfield: 2. The Movie or the Book?

Whenever one of my favourite books is made in to a movie or a television series, I can’t decide whether to watch it. I don’t mind if the director changes the story a bit – but not too much. I liked how Paul Jennings short stories were made into the first two series of Round the Twist. Even though the characters in the individual short stories weren’t related, in the television series they were. That was okay with me but I don’t like it if whole chapters get changed or new main characters with new roles are added.

A year ago one of my favourite books, The Tale of Despereaux (which is about a mouse) was made into a movie. Just in case you are thinking a book about a mouse doesn’t sound exciting, don’t forget Stuart Little. Before the movie, there was the book by E B White who also wrote Charlotte’s Web. And if you are looking for a really exciting mouse story, you should read the Redwall series. Those mice live in an Abbey and have heaps of weapon-filled adventures! Guess what? I went to find a link for the books and here I found it has been made into an animated TV series!

When I saw the pictures of Despereaux I was worried. He looked too cute. I had a different image in my head. Then the reviews of the movie came out and everyone hated it. And everyone I knew who saw it hated it. So I didn’t go because I didn’t want to see my favourite book turned into an awful movie. Here is the movie website if you want to take a look.

Have you ever been to see a movie or watched a television series that was based on a book, or comic? What was it and which did you like best – the movie or the book?

Here are some of the movies I’ve seen that were based on book: The Chronicles of Narnia, Spiderman, Lord of the Rings, Lockie Leonard TV series, Bridge to Terabithia, Harry Potter (all of them!), Round the Twist TV series, Stuart Little
….. and lots more.

Sometimes I even see the movie first and then find out later there’s book. Then I have to read it to see which one I like best. Sometimes I even like the movie best. That’s how I felt about The Never Ending Story. Which do you think should come first – reading the book or seeing the movie? I visited a website devoted to the Never Ending Story and found this comment which is really relevant to what we are talking about today:

There have been three movies based on Michael Ende's novel [The Never Ending Story]. Many people complain that these movies don't live up to the novel, and it's true. The novel goes so much beyond the stories and themes of the movies, but that's the inherent nature of novels and movies. It should be noted that the movies have sparked the imaginations of millions, and as Mr. Coreander says to Bastian, "There are many doors to Fantasia, my boy." Getting to Fantasia is more important than how nice the path is.

That's a very important point. Whether we read the book or see the movie, we are still experiencing the magic of the story.

Has anyone seen the Deltora Quest cartoon? I love Deltora Quest and I love anime but I don’t think that style is quite right for Deltora Quest. I really like the illustrations by Marc McBride in the books and I wanted the characters and monsters to be in that style. What do you think? If you haven’t seen you can preview it here:

What book would you like to see made into a movie? One of my favourite books is The Dragonkeeper by Carole Wilkinson and I think it would make a wonderful movie. She’s an Australian author and the book was Book of the Year in 2004. Dragon stories are my favourite (even more than mouse stories!) Anyone know any good dragon stories?