Kids’ Writing Workshop: Summer Reading Inspirations

On Friday we read excerpts from the middle grade books that are available as prizes for Summer Reading Challenge participants. Then we explored how those books can teach us something about writing.


To learn about writing a first page that will “hook” the reader, we read the first page of The Last Kids on Earth and the Cosmic Beyond written by Max Brallier and illustrated by Douglas Holgate. Jack, the narrator, tells the reader that he and his friends are about to be “astro-blasted. Catapulted and launched.” We discussed why that beginning is exciting and then tried to write new first-sentences for fairytales, replacing “Once upon a time” with something scary or exciting.

Character and Motif

We learned about writing quirky characters and running themes or motifs with an excerpt from Gabby Garcia’s Ultimate Playbook by Iva-Marie Palmer and illustrated by Marta Kissi. We discussed how sports references are a major motif in the book and wrote our own characters who have hobbies or obsessions and how that could be used as a motif.

Get Gabby Garcia’s Ultimate Playbook as an eBook here

Tone and Perspective

We learned about tone by comparing two different passages from Front Desk by Kelly Yang. One passage presented the main character Mia’s poverty in an upbeat way, focusing on how she and her immigrant parents try to make the best of it by enjoying things like “free air conditioning” whenever they can. The other passage presented a more painful view of the way poverty and hard work are wearing Mia down. One had a happy tone, the other was deeply sad. Then we tried to write about things that might be seen as either happy or sad depending on the person’s perspective.

Get Front Desk as an eBook or audiobook here

Humor and Fantasy

We saw to get a funny perspective on fantasy and mythology in an excerpt from the book The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta and illustrated by Vivienne To. In the excerpt, the main character Kiranmala informs us that riding a winged horse isn’t all its cracked up to be. We played with some other ideas of cool experiences one could have, like riding a dragon, or growing your own wings, and tried to show a funny downside to them. This was probably my favorite activity of the class, judging from how well the kids did with it. They came up with great reasons why each cool thing would be a curse in disguise!

Get The Serpent’s Secret as an eBook or audiobook here

Mystery and Suspense

We learned about one of the key ways that the reader is kept in constant suspense in the mystery novel Finding Mighty by Sheela Chari. You never know whom to trust in this book, since almost everyone you meet is introduced as someone you shouldn’t trust. The mystery of the brother’s disappearance and the puzzling artifacts he left behind keep you guessing and turning pages! We did an activity working with story starters that could be the first sentence of a mystery story, and added sentences 2 and 3.

Get Finding Mighty as an eBook here



If you’d like to view all the slides from this program, click here:


(UPDATE 7/23/20)

I recorded the workshop because of how long it went and the difficulty for some kids to stay for the whole thing. But in the interests of protecting children’s privacy, I can’t post the recording here. If your child participated in the workshop or signed up for the workshop, and you would like the recording, please email me at akolakowski[at]cityofpasadena[dot]net. I will first verify if your child was signed up and then I will share the recording, if it is still available. Because of digital storage limitations, I cannot guarantee that the video won’t be deleted at some point. Thanks for understanding.


Summer Reading

If you’d like to sign up for the Pasadena Public Library Summer Reading Challenge, click here and you’ll be able to choose one of these great books to keep as a reward for joining!

From July 6-15, Sign Up to Get a Free Journaling Kit!

As part of our Take and Make Crafts series where patrons can sign up to reserve a free take-home craft for pickup from one of our libraries, we’re offering a journaling kit to everyone who signs up before July 15, WHILE SUPPLIES LAST. The kit comes with a journal, pencils, a stencil, and writing prompts. These kits are for patrons of ALL ages and we encourage you to use them to submit your stories about your Covid-19 stay-at-home experiences to the California State Library. They are compiling a collection of people’s thoughts, feelings and experiences during the COVID-19 quarantines. Submit your entries to for inclusion in the State Library’s project, and make your story part of history.

Survey to Register for a (COVID) Diaries Kit (all ages):

Our next Writing Workshop is going to be on Friday, July 24 at 2 pm, and will focus on writing comics! I hope you can join us! Sign up here to receive the meeting info.

AnnMarie Kolakowski

I'm a youth services librarian currently working at the Lamanda Park Branch Library while Central Library is closed for seismic repairs. I purchase juvenile fiction for grades 2-8, and some foreign languages. I do a lot of programs with school-age kids, including 3 regular book clubs (Windows and Mirrors, Read Around the World, and Lucha Libros), as well as writing workshops and STEAM/science programs. I also Infant/Toddler Storytimes and Preschool Storytimes, and outreach to local area preschools. I love what I do, working with kids of all ages to inspire them to learn and use their curiosity and imaginations. Outside of my work at the library, I am also the author of a book on creative writing activities for kids.

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