Thursday, April 24, 2014

Common-Core-Aligned Classroom Activities for Storm Watcher by Maria V. Snyder

Are your middle school students studying weather? Then Storm Watcher by Maria V. Snyder is the perfect complement to your curriculum. Below are classroom activities, aligned with common core standards, that you could integrate into your language arts or science classroom.
Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
Analyze the interactions between individuals, events, and ideas in a text (e.g., how ideas influence individuals or events, or how individuals influence ideas or events).
Follow precisely a multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks.
Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually (e.g., in a flowchart, diagram, model, graph, or table).


1. Have students work in groups to research different weather instruments mentioned in Storm Watcher. Their research should include what the instrument is, how to make one, how meterologists use the data from it to predict the weather, and why such predictions are important.
2. Student should then make the instruments and set up a weather station in the school yard.
3. Students should collect data from the weather station and graph it to look for trends and make predictions.
4. Students should make write scripts for a weather report that can be shown on the morning announcements.

Note: While all of these activities can be conducted in a language arts or science classroom, if teachers are teamed it would be more efficient to share the tasks, such that #1 and #4 are completed in a language arts classroom, #2 is completed in the science classroom, and #3 is completed in a math classroom.

Possible extension: Have a meterologist come speak to the students about his/her job and take a field trip to a weather station.


Other possible research extensions when reading Storm Watcher are mental health issues. In Storm Watcher, the main character, Luke, struggles with Severe Weather Phobia. Current events indicate that our mental health system is inadequate and educating our students about some mental health issues could be a step toward positive change.


·       CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.2
Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
Include multimedia components and visual displays in presentations to clarify claims and findings and emphasize salient points.
Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient to support the claims.


1.     Students should choose a mental illness to research. Questions they should try to answer include what it is, symptoms, and treatment. When possible their research should attempt to determine the quality of the treatment available and any current event stories linked to the illness.
2.     Students should work in groups to put together public service announcements on various mental health issues. This might include writing press releases, creating a class blog, making videos for YouTube, creating Prezis, or recording podcasts.

Other possible research topics include: dogs and rescues

Look for my blog post here next month with possible discussion questions to use with Storm Watcher.


Mary Helen Sheriff lives in Richmond, VA with her husband, two children, and two cats. She has an MFA in children’s literature from Hollins University and is an experienced teacher of elementary, middle grade, and college students. Her most recent publishing credits include four middle grade short stories for a reading comprehension website and a YA short story for an anthology written for Ethiopians learning English. She is currently writing a novel and maintaining a blog where you can read her thoughts on writing and education. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Five on Friday: Erica at the Book Cellar

We’ve interviewed Erica at The Book Cellar.  Erica is a college student pursuing degrees in English Education and Professional Writing and Publishing.  After graduation, she wants to work in publicity in publishing.  She’s obsessed with anything Frozen and Tangled, and when she’s not blogging, she’s doing photography.  You can follow her on Twitter or on Facebook.  Of course, be sure to check out her blog.

What was your favorite book last year (2013)? 

Young adult wise, The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau. It is this brilliant dystopian (and I don’t even really like dystopian!) that is scary real.  It is kind of the idea of the SATs from hell.  It is brilliant.

What are three things you always have with you?

  • Chapstick
  • Kindle
  • Phone

What advice do you wish you could give to your younger self? 

Don't be so afraid of what others think. I used to be so cautious about what others thought and that had a big impact on my life. Now, I just kind of follow the motto of “let them think that, it doesn't matter to me.” I follow this policy for my blog too. I write what I would like to read about and just hope everyone else likes it as well.

What's your favorite season of the year? 

Summer. I am all about the warmth. To answer any hesitations about that, I'm pointing you to this video, since Olaf says it much better than I:

If you could pick anyone (living or dead) as a mentor, who would you choose and why?

This question is so tricky, but I'd probably say Jane Austen, because she is simply brilliant. She was so accomplished, even though it was an era where women were told they weren't allowed to do much.


Jessica Donbrosky lives in Richmond, VA, and is the youngest of 6 children.  She has a BS in Sociology from Brigham Young University – Idaho.  She spent her teenage years writing hundreds of horrid poems that she can’t bring herself to burn.  Now she uses her creativity to write YA and New Adult fiction.
When Jessica isn’t writing or reading she’s running local races in the Richmond area, working on developing her photography skills, and trying out new recipes for anything sweet.  You can check out her blog.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Need Help with Story Structure?

Registration Information
Click to register
April 28 - May 25, 2014

About the Workshop
An interesting and exciting beginning will draw readers in, but how do you keep their interest high throughout? A well-plotted story will keep them turning the pages and make them eager to read your next book. Both plotters and pantsers can benefit from knowing how to structure a story that readers can’t put down. Learn about different story structures that can keep your novel riveting from beginning to end and prevent sagging middles.

But story structure isn't only about plotting. A novel needs other basics to give it structure -- thematic resonance and character change. Adding these underlying elements can take any story from good to outstanding. If your goal is to write a bestselling novel, this is your opportunity to learn from an experienced editor. 

Cost: Premium Member $20 / Basic Member $30

About the Instructor

Kat O’Shea is Editor-in-Chief at Leap Books, a small, innovative publishing house for teen and tween novels. She has 20+ years of editing experience with a variety of publishers, and she has been published under several pseudonyms in both the YA and adult markets.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Special Spring Bargain

Want a scary read for only 99 cents? Pick up Lisa Cronkhite's Deep in the Meadows Thursday April 3rd through Saturday April 5th for this rock bottom price. If you're an Amazon prime member, it's free.

If you miss this sale, you can still get it for less than 1/2 price -- only $1.99 -- on April 6th & 7th.

If you like horror or murder mysteries, you'll love this book.


Bianca “Bee” Thompson’s brother, Jimmy has been dead for ten months, yet she still feels his presence lingering. And one question haunts her: Was Jimmy’s death an accident?

Probing into the events on the night of Jimmy’s death, Bee hears strange voices. The voices lead her to a blood-splattered room, a terrifying threat, and a deadly trap. Is Bee on the trail of her brother’s murderer, or is she entangled in a totally different and much more diabolical plot?


Mid-West author Lisa M. Cronkhite fell in love with writing when she was a teen, while journaling about her first boyfriend in high school.

Today Lisa writes about different things she’s in love with—paranormal mystery and suspense thrillers for teens. You can find Lisa’s work online and in print magazines such as The Skyline Review, The Storyteller, Ruminate Magazine, Poetry Salzburg Review, Ascent Aspirations, and more. She is also the author of three other novels, Dreaming a Reality (2011), Demon Girl (2011), and Disconnected (2014).

Lisa now lives near Chicago with her loving husband (that same boyfriend) and her two children. She spends most of her days writing outside on her patio table and thinking of her next YA novel.
Friend Lisa on Facebook, Twitter, or read her blog.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

True Crime Becomes Fiction

For me, it is SO easy to make things up. I begin with a story or character or even a place, and then I just go with it. Most of the time I have no idea what is going to happen, but apparently my pen does.

When I am at school in the summer I can let my imagination run wild through the many assignments given to me throughout the program. I love it! However, when I return home I have to switch my brain back to AP format and a journalist point of view.

When I became a journalist I thought, This job won't be that difficult, I write all the time. Oh, how wrong I was.

Recently I got a phone call from a local law enforcement officer explaining there had been a shooting in a nearby town. Throughout the course of the day, different people called in and gave their side of the story and information they had.

By the afternoon the story was that a man had hurt a younger girl, and the younger girl called her father, so the father flew in from the West Coast to get revenge. A shoot-out began as the two men drove at high speeds down a major highway in our county. One of the men was shot in the shoulder, but managed to kill the other man and another woman before he was shot in the head. He still got up and walked afterwards.

Sounds a little crazy, right? That's because a lot of it is. It would make an interesting murder mystery, but in the world of journalism and reporting the news, the truth is key.

This is where my job begins. Because the case was spread over multiple small towns in the county, I first talk to each sheriff. If I can't get in touch with them, I call the police chiefs in each of the towns. Most of the time, with cases like this, I get turned over to the bureau of investigations, which opens up another can of worms, in that they have a press department to deal with reporters, which means I typically don't get much information.

Piecing together a story that is accurate takes a lot of time, and people don’t want to wait. If they hear of a shooting, they want to see an immediate story on our Twitter or Facebook page. If they don’t, they wonder why on earth this is not being reported. This is news!! It is, but every single detail in this story MUST be confirmed, which is not so in creative writing.

The beauty of my job is, I not only get to gather information and figure out what actually happened in a jumbled-up case like this, but I am inspired to create new characters.

We can find characters all around us. I love turning people I talk to on a daily basis into characters. Not everything has to remain the same, but if I think it's funny that the local police chief enjoy hunting and prank calling his friends, I might use that later for one of my characters.

It's always a good idea to write down interesting places or characteristics because you never know what you might need later on for a story. While I have to work hard to find out the truth, the original rumors are much more interesting and can be turned into something later through my creative writing once I leave the newsroom.

So, here is a challenge: Go to dinner alone; try a fancy restaurant. Why not treat yourself? Be sure to bring a notebook and watch the people around you. Try to describe everything the girl several tables down does. Does she use her cell phone throughout her meal? Does she have fancy shoes on? Maybe she looks as if she’s dressed for a date but she’s alone. Take those descriptions and create her character.

PS: I did this in a restaurant a few weeks ago, and the family a few tables over thought I was so strange for eating alone (why is that? I love it!) and talked about me the entire time. The result? I created a nosy woman who talks too loudly about others because she has a hearing problem. See? It's not that difficult! Now, let's see what you come up with!


Courtney Warren is a writer for her local newspaper, as well as a graduate student at Hollins University where she is pursuing a degree in Children’s Literature. She has a bachelor’s degree from Delta State University, the home of the Fighting Okra (which she is incredibly proud of). She loves to read just about anything placed on the shelves but has a special place in her heart for the Harry Potter series.

When she is not writing about herself in third person, she loves to write stories about middle schoolers with spunky attitudes who intend to save the world, as well as drinking Earl Grey tea from a very prissy teacup.

Check out her blog, Tea, the Spirit, & a Pen.