Category Archives: children’s books

Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner

Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner

This book is a classic by now. How did such a thin little book become both a classic bestseller as well as a major motion picture?
Because it is a good story! A heart string pulling, tear jerking good tale.

Little Willy’s grandfather is sick, and it’s up to Willy to save their farm from tax collectors. Their only hope is the prize money from the National Dogsled Race. But a lot of other people want to win the race, too, including Stone Fox, who has never lost a race in his life.
Do Willy and his dog Searchlight stand a chance against the toughest racers around? Can they win the race to save the farm — and Grandfather — before it’s too late?

I was lucky to have met the author, John Gardiner. He seemed a very kind man and was supportive of me as a fellow writer. We had a great chat about the struggles of writing, editing and rewriting. He showed me his first original manuscript. The paper was covered in red. It seems that every single word of it had been crossed out and edited. “I am dyslexic. I couldn’t write at all…”, he said.
I was in awe that his story had gone on to do so well.

Then, to my utter surprise, a few weeks later I received the Dutch version of Stone Fox in the mail. “I can’t read it anyway so you enjoy!” he said.
And enjoy Stone Fox I have! A book that every teacher and parent should read aloud with their children.

Lesson Plans:

Pick One and Finish the Story

Pick one of these story starters and finish writing the story!

• ‘Jason knew he shouldn’t be waiting for Greg. He knew that the bell was about to ring. Mrs. Jackson would be mad if he came in late. But he just had to find out why Greg had gone into that alley. And why hadn’t he come back yet?…’

• ‘“Stacey Jacobs!” The teacher’s voice was loud. Stacey startled out of her day dream and back into the classroom. She had no idea what he had asked her but all the children were staring at her. She took a deep breath and said…’

• ‘The dog came out of nowhere. It ran across the square, in between two parked cars and then straight toward me. I didn’t know what to do. If I didn’t pretend this was my dog, the cops would catch it and take it to the S.P.C.A. And then what would happen to him? So I didn’t think much, I just…’

After you write the first draft, do what all writers do: read your story and rewrite it.

Lose the Rhyme!

Take your poem from a few days ago.
Retell the story in short, poetic sentences but lose the rhyme!
Don’t worry about find words that rhyme but do see if you can use some aliteration.
Use humor.
Use short,  snappy lines.

Which format tells a better story?
Which version do you like best?

While I like rhyming poems, I love free verse. Free verse is a story told in poetic, often short, sentences that do not rhyme.

Some of my favorite free verse novels include:
Out of the Dust, Karen Hesse
Love That Dogs, Sharon Creech
May B, Caroline Starr Rose
The Dancing Pancake, Eileen Spinelli

Free Fall Writing

Today, take a sheet of paper and a pen to a comfortable spot: the table, your desk, a lawn chair, anywhere.

Then spend FIVE minutes writing free fall.
This means ANYTHING that comes up in your head. Just write for the sake of writing. Don’t try to think of a character, or a setting, or a description. Just write what comes to mind. Even if it is “I don’t know what the heck I’m writing…”

Free fall writing helps to clear your mind, helps to bring new ideas to light. It will make writing easier than when you always try to write with a clear idea in mind. It is even used as therapy. Google ‘free fall writing’ and you will find many websites and books devoted to the topic.

Try it.
If you like it, do it again tomorrow. Just five minutes.
After a few days, make it ten minutes. Pretty soon, your free fall writing might take a shape, show you a pattern. But don’t look for it soon.
Just write. Anything that comes to mind, without taking your pen off the paper!

Rhyme for a Reason

Read several books of great poems for kids:
• any title by Jack Prelutsky
• Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
• a Dr. Seuss book. Look up poetry books by Bruce Lansky, David Greenberg, Kenn Nesbitt (

• Read poetry books by Sheree Fitch and Loris Lesynski!!

• Read The Party and Two by Two, by Barbara Reid!

Now write a poem about a boy who did not do his homework.
Make up wild and funny excuses.
Use rhyme.
aa, bb.
Or a, b, a, b.


Use dialogue to create a believable character.
An adult sounds different from a four year old. A teen speaks different from a senior. And a trucker may sound different from a lady selling yarns. Select one of the following dialogue exercises, or do them all!

• Write a page of dialogue between a man working in the hardware store and an elderly lady who comes in looking for a tool.

• Write a page of dialogue between a pilot and air traffic control. Make it exciting.

• Write a page of dialogue between six year old Anna and her friend Michael. They are in the backyard. Show me, through their dialogue, what is happening.

Which children’s books have great dialogue? Read a Clementine book, and a book by Wendy Maas.

Paint Pictures

Several of my picturebooks won children’s choice awards selected by blind kids. That helped me enormously to realize that text has to work without art. As writers we have to paint pictures in the reader’s head with words.

Describe an object. Pick a flower, a puppy, a doll, the house across the street, a pine cone, anything. Describe it in detail for yourself on paper. Note its color, shape, size, texture. Now feel it. Describe how it feels. Or listen to any sounds and add them to your description.

Did you write half a page, a full page of description?
Now try to sum this all up by painting a picture of it. What does it compare to? Use a few poetic words instead of the long tedious paragraph.

In my book Emma’s Eggs I did not describe the chick yellow, round, fluffy, soft, etc. But after making this list I compared her and called her “a dandelion chick”. Does such a comparison work for your description?

All the Write Moves…

Having just spent an intense week at the Oregon Coast Children’s Book Writers’ Workshop (, I decided to write some posts aimed at helping (beginning) writers. Most of my blog has been aimed at fellow booklovers and reading. However, many of you might also enjoy doing some writing activities.

So, I will aim to put a new writing activity on this blog each day for the next month or so. Just a short one. Something aimed at helping you to write each day for the sake of practise. We’ll look at description, voice, tense, dialogue and more. See how this fits into your day. Write for 5 minutes, if that’s all you have. Or expand my short activity into an hour of writing for you. Do it as a stand-alone exercise or fit it into a piece you already have… Just write.

So, for today, here we go.
The golden rule we’ve all heard about: SHOW, don’t tell.
Take me for a walk along the harbour. SHOW me what it looks like. Be sure to include the smells, sounds and feels of a harbour front on a… sunny day, or blustery day.