Have you always dreamed of writing a novel? Then today is the day to start!

I’ve taught novel revision since 1999, when I started a Novel Revision Retreat. (Email me for information on hosting a retreat in your area.) To attend the retreat, writers must have a completed novel; we spend the weekend talking about how to improve the novel. Many writers have had break throughs and gotten their first novel published.

A retreat for intermediate writers is fun. But I also wanted to do something for beginning writers.

Start Your Novel: Six Winning Steps Toward a Compelling Opening Line, Scene and Chapter

Start You Novel - On the iPhoneAfter years of reading and critiquing manuscripts from beginners, I started to see some areas where I could help. First and most important, is to focus your idea. Often storytellers just begin writing and the story wanders hither and thither. Drifting around a story is a sure way to get lost.

I know–some of you are panicking because you think I’m going to ask you to outline. Well, sorta. You don’t have to have a full-blown outline (though it really helps beginners); but you do need something to focus the story. You need a plumb line that say, “No, that doesn’t belong in THIS story.”

Let’s take Cinderella as an example. Will the story focus on Cinderella’s poverty, her status as an orphan, the step-daughter/step-mother relationship or her relationship with her sisters?

Poverty: This is the story of how a young woman struggles to rise above her circumstances.

Orphan: A young woman struggles with an overwhelming grief and finds a measure of peace in her work, until a party invitation pulls her back to life.

Step-mother: A young woman longs for the mother she never had and allows an abusive relationship in the hope of someday earning love.

Step-sister: A young woman fights with her cruel step-sisters until she’s forced to abandon her childhood home in search of a better life.

If you take the time to think through a story, your first draft will be more focused–and more compelling. Any of these would make for an interesting retelling of the Cinderella story with a modern twist. Planning the story before you start to write will save you hours–and many tears!

Learn five more steps toward a great novel by reading this book.

Six Steps Toward a Winning Opening Line, Paragraph, and Chapter | MimsHouse.com

Today is Video Day at Mims House. Did you know that many of our books have book trailers? If you want to use these in your classroom, but your school blocks YouTube, simply email me and I’ll give you a link to a DropBox version that you can download and show.

Wisdom, the Midway Albatross

On February 4, 2014, Wisdom hatched a new chick. At 63-years old, she is probably the oldest mother in the world.
On February 4, 2014, Wisdom hatched a new chick. At 63-years old, she is probably the oldest mother in the world.

A couple years ago, I helped with a Summer Audubon Camp and the kids there did a couple videos. This one is about Wisdom, the oldest bird in the world. Albatrosses have the widest wing span of almost any bird, almost 8 feet from wingtip to wingtip. Kids had fun comparing that to their own “wingspan.”



If you can’t see this video, click here.


This one entices the reader with images of Wisdom and a hint that she’s the oldest bird in the world, and–at over 60 years old–she’s still laying eggs and hatching chicks.
If you can’t see this video, click here.

Click here for more book trailers.


The oldest bird in the world and her contemporaries. | See Wisdom on Video. | MimsHouse.com

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”
—Michelangelo

Ideas for a story come from many places. When I read Michelangelo’s quote, I wondered how something–or SOMEONE–would get into that stone. What if. . .

Stories are made from a series of “what if” questions.
What if there was something of value inside that block of stone?
What if there was a doorway into and out of that block of stone?
What if an unscrupulous sculptor could trap someone inside a block of stone, just so he could carve them?

What if an sculptor could trap someone in stone, just so he could carve them? It's the premise of this fantasy novel. | MimsHouse.com

Master Gimpel, a deformed stone carver, intrigues Laurel and Jassy, her gypsy friend, when he offers a path to untold riches. Master Gimpel explains that his Troll’s Eye, a red jewel, is a doorway into the stone world where a treasure cave awaits. From the moment Laurel looks through the Troll’s Eye, she and her gypsy companion enter a dangerous race for their lives. Two go in, two must come out.

READ A SAMPLE CHAPTER

Read a sample chapter from THE GIRL, THE GYPSY AND THE GARGOYLE. (pdf download)

Read an outtake! This prologue, which explains the back story of the Gargoyle Man , didn’t make it into the final story. It’s offered here as an extra to the novel.


AudioBook Sample

Listen to narrator Paula Bodin’s lovely voice.


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One of the most common questions about children’s books is about finding books for a certain topic. perhaps, you’re studying frogs with second graders, and you need a list of books for that lesson. Or you need books about stars and astronomy for first graders. Where do you find the right books?

I’ve been collecting these types of themed reading lists on a Pinterest board and I hope it will become a great resource for you.

Follow Darcy Pattison – Children’s Book Author’s board Themed Children’s Book Lists on Pinterest.

You’ll find a collection of books here on all sorts of topics: stars, pirates, endangered animals, farms, fall, fractions and much more. If you have a topical list you’d like to see, please leave a comment and I’ll try to put together a list for you and pin to the board. If you know of other lists that have a great image, I’ll be glad to pin it.

Our other Pinterest boards that might be helpful:

Please send me ideas for Pins!

Elizabeth Bird of the Fuse8 Blog on the School Library Journal website, said this about animal biographies in general, and my book, Wisdom the Midway Albatross, in particular:

If I had a better knowledge of my nonfiction children’s history then I might be able to tell you the exact moment that biographies of individual animals took off. Technically we’ve seen them for years, in books like the Newbery Honor winning Rascal (which is considered nonfiction in spite of some creative liberties) from 1963. The picture book animal biography feels comparatively new to me. I think they may have existed in spurts here and there but in the last ten years there’s been a veritable explosion of them on the scene. This is a very good thing. When done well a good animal bio can provide insight into an otherwise unapproachable species, foster concern beyond our own human lives, and give a glimpse into the wider natural world. True to life incredible journeys of wild animals are difficult to tell, though. If the animal is truly wild then how do you extrapolate its life without relying on fantasy and conjecture? Wisdom: The Midway Albatross offers at least one solution to that question. Add history to facts to the glorious innovation of banding wild animals and you have yourself a bird bio that’s easy to distinguish from the flock.

Bird is right: animal biographies are capturing the imagination of folks more than ever before. When The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate won the 2013 Newbery, the most prestigious award in children’s literature, it highlighted the interest in animal biographies. She followed the fictionalized version of Ivan’s life with a nonfiction version, Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla. Applegate had originally wanted to write the nonfiction story, but took the leap into fiction. And we’re glad she finally managed both.

True Animal Biographies - Nonfiction Children's Picture Books for Common Core | Mims House Books

Mims House has two animal biographies available, and a third coming out in Fall, 2016.

  • Wisdom, the Midway Albatross: Surviving the Japanese Tsunami and Other Disasters for Over 60 Years is the story of the oldest known wild bird in the world and how she survived the tsunami. Wisdom, a Laysan albatross, has been continually banded since December 10, 1056. She’s survived earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tropical storms, plastic pollution, longline fishing, and much more in her years. This story received a Starred Review from Publisher’s Weekly. Read more about her story here.
  • Abayomi, the Brazilian Puma: The True Story of an Orphaned Cub tells how a mother puma is killed, leaving her cub to fend for himself in the wild. It’s a hopeful story, as Abayomi’s story isn’t over yet. Scientists hope to return him to the wild soon. Along with Ivan’s story, this story was named a 2015 National Science Teacher’s Outstanding Science Trade Book. Read more about his story here.
  • Nefertiti, the Spidernaut, which will be released in Fall, 2016, tells the story of a Johnson jumping spider who goes to space. Sent to the International Space Station, she was the focus of an experiment testing how jumping spiders adapt to weightlessness. Can they still jump to catch their prey? Or will they float helplessly in the microgravity environment? Join our newsletter to get advance notice when it’s available.
  • You see a children’s picture book online that you think you’ll like. But it’s hard to justify spending money until you examine it closer. Mims House has just made that easier than ever with a Pinterest Preview book. We’ve put an ENTIRE book on a Pinterest board for you to preview.

    Follow Darcy Pattison – Children’s Book Author’s board I WANT A DOG on Pinterest.
    If you can’t see the preview of the board, click here.

    I Want a Dog: My Opinion Essay

    The Read and Write Series: Dogs, cats, and writing--it's a natural combination in this series of fun books.For over twenty years, I’ve taught professional development classes on the topic of teaching kids to write. I constantly look for children’s books that teach writing in fun and exciting ways, that I believe will actually be useful. Fun, exciting and useful? It’s a hard combination!

    Finally, I decided to write the book I’d been looking for. And it’s turned into a series, THE READ AND WRITE SERIES.

    The biggest problem kids have in writing opinion essays is basing their opinions on solid facts or reasons. In I WANT A DOG and I WANT A CAT, cousins Dennis and Mellie discuss what kind of dog or cat to get. They use nine criteria to evaluate different breeds of dogs or cats. For dogs, they look at:

    • size
    • energy level
    • need for exercise
    • need for play
    • affectionate or not
    • gets along with other pets
    • easy to train or not
    • guard dog or not
    • grooming needs

    For cats, they discuss:

    • activity level
    • playful or not
    • need attention or not
    • need for affection
    • Noisy or not
    • hard or easy to handle
    • intelligence
    • independence level
    • grooming needs
    • gets along with other pets

    To these criteria, a classroom teacher or parent might add even more criteria: family tradition of breeds, cost, allergy concerns, adaptability to local weather, male or female, availability in your area, and specific needs such as a cat to show or a dog trained as a duck hunter.

    Dog and cat experts praise these books:
    “. . .remarkable children’s book. . .” Fred Kampo, President of the Labrador Retriever Club
    “. . .absolutely delightful. . .” Joan Miller, Cat Fancier’s Association
    “. . .as informative a cat book as any text out there. . .” Alexis Mitchell, Maine Coon Cat Breeders of CFA
    “I would highly recommend this book to young writers.” Julie Keyer, CFA Breed Council Secretary, Oriental Cats

    But you don’t have to take their word for it.

    Preview the entire book, I WANT A DOG, on Pinterest.

    Buy I WANT A DOG ebook on the Mims House website.

    Or, order at your Favorite Online Bookstore

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    I WANT A DOG: A Pinterest preview of a children's picture book. Read the whole book on Pinterest | Mims House Books

    For Eliot, sixth grade will be a challenge. His almost-adoptive-stepmother is in charge of a fund raiser, The Bread Project. Can a simple bread recipe save Eliot’s family? If the Bread Project succeeds, will she sign the adoption papers? A heartwarming middle grade novel, LONGING FOR NORMAL, will challenge kids to think about families in new ways.
    Eliot desperately needs a forever family. But he's only got Griff's sourdough bread recipe. Will it be enough? | Middle grade novel | MimsHouse.com

    What’s a Bread Project, you ask? So does everyone else. It’s crazy. It can’t work, Eliot is convinced. It’s a math problem that can’t result in any kind of fund-raising. But it has to. Or Marj won’t adopt him.

    Week 1 of the Bread Project. One student receives a jar of sourdough starter.
    Week 2 of the Bread Project. The first student splits his sourdough starter and now, two students have starter.
    Week 3 of the Bread Project. The two students split their sourdough starter and now, four students have starter.
    Week 4: 8 students have starter.
    Week 5: 16 students have starter.
    Week 6: 32 students have starter.
    Week 7: 64 students have starter.
    Week 8: 128 students have starter.
    Week 9: 256 students have starter.
    Week 10: 512 students have starter, the entire school.

    It’s a crazy Pyramid scheme! But it has to work. With Alli’s help, Eliot MAKES it work–the future of his family depends on it.

    Now, everyone bakes. French bread, Indian naan, Polish chleb (kleb), and sweet Mexican pan dolce are just a few of the creative ways that the community uses the sourdough starter. At the Thanksgiving celebration the breads are auctioned. Eliot starts the auction by buying pretzels for his step-mother. But will she sign the adoption papers? Will he really be her son?

    This heartwarming story is in the tradition of Newbery winner, Dicey’s Song by Cynthis Voigt; it’s the story of two foster kids who search for a family and a home—using a simple sourdough bread recipe.
    Can Eliot save his family with a simple bread recipe? Longing for Normal is "a rare book" says Booklist.

    Booklist says, “Pattison’s characters provide a reason to keep reading. In voices old before their time, due to years in the system, they describe their desperate attempts to stay relevant to the adults in their lives. A rare book. . .” 3/10/15

    Order eBook on the Mims House Website
    (Or read a sample chapter)

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    The New Kid ALIEN in School

    The Struggle to Fit in is Universal. Help kids make it through the first day and week of school by reading this book with them. | Back to School Books from MimsHouse.com


    Imagine you’re starting a new school. It’s a struggle to fit in.

    Making new friends is hard. Getting used to a new school building, new teachers, and new ways of working are hard.

    Now, imagine that you’re an alien who is stranded on Earth. In the last year, you’ve mostly managed to learn the language, but Earth culture is pretty confusing.

    Meet Kell, the Alien. He’s struggling to fit in.

    Kell’s life was turned upside down when his father’s dovitch (sorta like space coffee) spilled on the controls of his family’s space ship. They spiraled out of control and crash landed on Earth. Somehow, Mom, Dad and Kell survived. They finally sold the old space ship to a museum and bought a house with the money. Kell is starting school and everything is looking up, except one thing. Mom and Dad don’t have jobs.

    How does an alien make a living on Earth? How does an alien buy food, pay electric bills, and pay for clothing?

    Bree, Kell’s neighbor, is having a birthday party. On impulse, Kell tells her that his family could do a great birthday party for her. She wants an alien party! But what do aliens know about what humans think aliens are like?

    Publisher’s Weekly called this book “amusing” and “engaging and accessible.”
    http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-62944-021-7

    School Library Journal says this about The Aliens Inc. Series “Kell’s struggles to fit in will resonate with readers. . . This fun chapter book series is out of this world.” 2/1/15

    There’s a Teachers Guide and more available here.

    Help your students with their “struggle to fit in.” Start the year by reading this aloud to K-2, or letting the 2-4 graders read it themselves.

    Order eBook on Mims House website.

    OR Order at your Favorite Online Bookstore

    Kell, the Alien: The Struggle to Fit  In is Universal

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