Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Top Tips from the Treadmill

Everything I know about writing I learned from running. Really.

1. One step at a time. You don’t try and conquer a mountain in one go. You just go slowly, slowly, watching your feet make a simple pattern beneath you. It’s the same with writing. You don’t bang out an entire opus in an afternoon. It’s one word at a time, one para at a time, one chapter at a time.

2. Showing up is half the battle. I knew, when I started running, that if I set a huge goal, like “run marathon” I’d freak myself out so bad I’d never get out of bed. So instead, I made a mini-goal – just get your butt to the gym. That’s all, I’d say to myself – you don’t even have to run when you get there. Of course once you’ve got your gym gear on and you’re looking at the treadmill, it’s pretty obvious you’ll step on it…and maybe even reach your daily target. But I didn’t start out with anything other than “Get there.” And yes, it’s the same with writing. Don’t freak yourself thinking about how much work lies ahead before you complete the novel. Just commit to sitting at your desk. Every day. You don’t even have to write when you get there. But I bet you will.

3. Make the time. I decided I wanted to run 10K, and lose 10 lbs. I knew that in order to reach these goals, I’d have to seriously increase my time at the gym, both to burn the required number of calories and get my fitness level and speed up to par. But time after time, I’d find that I’d left myself barely enough time to find an available machine. Then I blocked off two hours a day to work out. That gave me enough time to meet my 500 cal goal while moving at a pathetically slow pace, the only pace I could muster after 4 years “on the bench” with a knee injury. And lo and behold, the weight started coming off, and my running speed began to pick up. Within a month, I was moving fast enough to blast through those 500 cals in less than an hour.

That’s the way it works with writing too. You can’t expect to complete a novel if you only write during commercial breaks. Allot the time. You’ll start to see the results.

4. Stretch. If I don’t warm up and stretch those rubberbands I call muscles before and after running, I creep around like a lil ol lady the next day. But if I do stretch, I run better, and feel better too. Writers also need to stretch. First, you need to limber up. Start by writing something easy, or by editing a previous piece of writing. But that’s not all. Don’t forget to stretch in that other way too – by pushing yourself past your normal limits. Sure, it might hurt a bit. But the long term results will be more fluid and limber writing.

5. It's easier with a friend. The miles disappear beneath your feet when you're yakking with a buddy. Writing is also less arduous when you have a pal to help you through the rough patches. Join a writer's group. Go to Writer's Association meetings (like Find folks who understand what you do and why you do it - friends who can cheer you when you succeed, and kick you in the tush when you are feeling sorry for yourself.

6. Life is more fun when you're fit. You have more energy, more ideas, and more peace of mind. Running gave me the ability to perservere through the rotten times - and Lord, there were rotten times. I spent less time fretting, and more time laughing - an important difference when you get a gazillion rejection letters in your inbox.

Although I started out as the ultimate couch-clutching bookworm, I wound up becoming a real fitness hound. Naturally, my interests and passions slopped over into my work. For example, in my upcoming book, The Quiz Book for Boys (Scholastic Canada, January '10), I sneaked some fitness-oriented material in between the kooky quizzes such as What's Your Underwear Style? and Werewolf, Vampire or Zombie? The quizzes allow kids to test their fitness levels by doing pushups, chin ups, sit ups and other simple activities. With the trend toward childhood obesity, I think kids really need to be able to evaluate their own health in a concrete  - and fun - way.

I would have never come up with  The Quiz Book for Boys if I hadn't become a runner myself. Perhaps this fact illustrates that life is a karmic wheel, or dare I say, a cosmic treadmill? Your art will go where your feet lead. So maybe the best way to kick-start your career as a writer is to lace up your Avias and kick it into high gear.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Smelly Smelly Cinderelly

Smelly, smelly Cinderelly
Turned the prince to royal jelly
When he caught a whiff of her
Pungent underarm odeur

Gassed by Cindy’s potent charms
He swooned into her ample arms
And as the luckless royal fell
He succumbed to her ripe smell

The slipper sealed the prince’s fate
When his aromatic date
Stuck her stinky foot in it
And alas! The slipper fit!

So the prince and Cindy wed
But soon the smell killed that prince dead
And that’s the tale I have to telly
Of smelly, smelly Cinderelly.

Smelly Smelly Cinderelly by Helaine Becker
copyright 2007
This morning I had a quick correspondence with a twitter pal, @feedtheteacher, who was teaching a Saturday morning class. Teacher was asking for contributors' favorite fairy tales, and this is the one I supplied. It's one of the more popular pieces I read when I visit schools. I've noticed that with kids, you can never go wrong with stuff that stinks.
This poem is included in the kooky book of miscellany I wrote a few years ago called Mother Goose Unplucked. Jokes, comics, puzzles, games, and yes, poems, all poke fun at familiar Mother Goose rhymes and fairy tale characters. I personally think it's the funniest and cleverest book I've written; I particularly like the Ugly Duckling origami in which you can first make the ugly duckling, and then turn the figure into a swan. It took me ages to work out how to do that one!  And I like the Humpty Dumpty tangrams, in which you take the broken egg pieces and put them pack together again, or use them to make a wide variety of fairy tale birdies. I'm also fond of the Wee Willie Winkie mapping puzzle, and the Jack Jumped over the Candlestick game, and the comic about Old MacDonald's Dog..
Hmmm...I think I'll forget the errands and just go back and reread the whole thing. There's nothing an author likes better than a truly appreciative audience for her books. ;)

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Insecto-Files and What's the Big Idea? Are Launched!

How can flies walk on the ceiling without falling onto your head? More than 30+ kids and countless adults ('coz I didn't count 'em!) got the chance to find out at yesterday's very buzzy book launch at McNally Robinson in Toronto. It was my first book launch ever, so I was just a tad excited - and a little nervous. I knew friends and family that had never witnessed me in action would get to finally see what I get paid the big bucks for - acting like an idiot.
Friend and fab author Patricia Storms took these  pictures. What, you ask, is hanging from that plastic cup? It's a paper fly, which kids cut out from photocopies of a page from The Insecto-Files. By dipping their feet in "miracle stick solution" - aka ordinary tap water - the flies were made to stick to the cup and "walk" upside down. A little adhesion magic for the under 12 set!
We also asked invention trivia questions, ripped from the pages of What's the Big Idea?, and winners names went into a draw for prizes.

Here I am demonstrating the magic of water with my big mouth in its natural state - open!

Everyone left with a chocolate ladybug thank you, a wee bag of popcorn, sample issues of Owl magazine, and signed books.
Many thanks to author Helene Boudreau (Acadian Star, Nimbus) (pictured at left) for bringing the cuties in costume, and author Jennifer Lanthier (Hazel Frump series, HarperCollins) for her scissors skills!

We also enjoyed visits from the creme de la creme of Canadian kidlit - Mahtab Narsimhan (Silver Birch Winner for The Third Eye) and Debra Kerbel  (Girl on the Other Side)  - and parenting poobah Kathy Buckworth (The Blackberry Diaries).

Also, shout outs to Kendal Gerard from Owlkids who masterminded and organized everything, and the wonderful staff at McNally Robinson, Don Mills, for hosting the event.

Giving out handmade chocolate ladybugs from Toronto's Chocolate Concepts.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Top Ten World-Changing Inventions?

For a new exhibit, The Science Museum in London unveiled its top ten list of inventions that have changed the world. Naturally, I was curious to see how their assessment compared to my own selections for What's the Big Idea? Inventions that Changed Life on Earth Forever.

Not surprisingly, all of the Museum's pics had made my shortlist. Their number 1 choice, X-rays, is featured on the "Doctor's Office" pages in my book.

But is the X-ray really #1? When I visit with school kids, after heated discussions, we decide that neither x-rays nor x-box are the top invention of all time. Instead, we opt for the spinning wheel.

What???? Do kids really have a soft spot in their hearts for this homely, old-fashioned device? Is their love for threadmaking really intense enough to push even mp3s, computers and TV out of the winner's circle?

You betcha. Especially once kids realize that without needles and thread, spinning wheels and looms, they'd be playing video games in the buff. In this frosty Canadian climate, kids catch on quickly that comfy, cozy clothing is the key to, well, everything.

What other inventions did the London Science Museum select for their list? You can find out at

For my picks, check out What's the Big Idea?, available at bookstores now. Just don't forget to don your woolies before you head out.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Book a School Visit - Get a Chance to Win a Complete Set of Non-Fiction Books

In March 2010, Mapletree Press will be publishing my tenth non-fiction title, Magic Up Your Sleeve. To celebrate this milestone, I’ve decided to give away ONE COMPLETE SET OF ALL TEN MAPLETREE/BECKER BOOKS – a $129.95+ value.

Here’s how to qualify:

BOOK an author visit from me BEFORE December 31, 2009.

HOLD the author visit BEFORE April 30, 2009.

For EACH author visit, your name will go into the draw barrel once. E.g., if I do one presentation, your name goes in once. Four presentations, you name goes in four times.

Additionally, if you RECOMMEND ME to another teacher that books and holds an author visit, your name will go in again for each presentation they hold.

One winner will be drawn from all the qualifying entries in May.

Good luck to everyone, and I look forward to seeing you soon!

The Complete Set of Mapletree titles will include: Magic Up Your Sleeve, What's the Big Idea? The Insecto-Files, Science on the Loose, Secret Agent Y.O.U., Mother Goose Unplucked, Like a Pro, Funny Business, Are You Psychic?, and Boredom Blasters.

PS Please book EARLY: I am expecting to be very busy this winter!

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Insecto-Files Nominated for the Silver Birch

I'm so excited! I just found out that my book The Insecto-Files has just been shortlisted for the Silver Birch Award. I've had two previous Silver Birch winners - Boredom Blasters in 2006 and Secret Agent Y.O.U. in 2008. Will The Insecto-Files make it a hat trick???

If you're not familiar with the Silver Birch, it's part of Ontario's Forest of Trees Reading Program. More than 40,000 kids across the province participate, reading and choosing their favourite books from shortlists of ten. Kids vote in the spring, and the winners are announced at an incredible ceremony in May. For writer-attendees, it's like being a rock star! Fans waving banners and begging for autographs scream out their favorite authors names and books. Thousands of kids fill the space with an ungodly roar - all for the love of reading! Check out the program and see this year's lists of nominees at all reading levels here.

Adventures in Winnipeg

I've just returned from a whirlwind trip to Winnipeg, Manitoba. The trip was planned so I could present 4 sessions at the annual Science Teachers of Manitoba regional conference. In addition, I was able to present at two local Winnipeg Schools, Cecil Rhodes, and St. Jean de Brebeuf.

The trip was awesome. Despite all the dire warnings from so-called "friends", the weather was pleasant, with autumn leaves in every color of the rainbow wreathing the trees. I was hosted by the lovely and talented writer/editrix Anita Daher, who is the author of Spider Song, Two Foot Punch, and many other adventure books for middle grade and YA readers. In addition, Anita edits YA books for Great Plains publishers.

The science conference was busy, extremely well-organized and well-attended. I was both pleased and terrified to discover all four of my sessions were completely full. The first session was entitled Real Science, and was based on material I had gathered when writing Science on the Loose and The Insecto-Files. My goal for this session was to present ideas for how to incorporate scientific thinking and hands-on activities into the class so as to be able to answer the question, "What do we need this for anyway?" in a meaningful way. With an audience that ranged from grade-6 teachers straight through to grade-12 physics pros, I had my work cut out for me! I was thrilled when evaluation forms came back with mostly 4s and 5s out of 5  stars - I guess that means I did good!

The second session was called Magic Up Your Sleeve and was based on material of my upcoming book of the same name. In this session, we tested out some incredibly easy magic tricks, all of which were based on scientific principles. The tricks are good attention-getters, introductions to a new unit, or just a great way to add some fun to a ho-hum day. Some of the attendees volunteered their own tricks and shared them with the group - we can now tie each other in knots and make a card appear to levitate on its own.

After the conference, the teachers were treated to a wine and cheese party at McNally Robinson (Grant Park), where they received a special discount. You should have seen the books flying off the shelves - a beautiful sight indeed for this writer! Our hosts, Lynn Popham and her wonderful staff, made this visit an absolute pleasure. Cameron showed me an ab-fab book called The Black Book of Colors by Menenna Cottin. see review from CM here  I was completely blown away. It's a picture book, in braille! It works on so many levels, and is an example, truly, of thinking outside of the box. I heartily recommend it to everyone!

The following morning, I had yet another treat in store. Anita was going to be on a panel of authors, speaking on the topic of "What Inspires You?" for an audience of women entrepeneurs. The panel was moderated by Charlene Diehl, the director of Winnipeg's Thin Air Writers' Festival I begged an invite so I could watch Anita in action.

The other two speakers on the panel were authors who were new to me: Deborah Schnitzer and Chandra Mayor. They were both fabulous, with lots of intriguing insights that got the audience's minds going and made everyone laugh out loud.

Some of the choice comments included Deborah Schnitzer's observation that writing is all about "learning to pay attention." Anita agreed, saying that she tries to "live her life like a sponge."

Chandra Mayor said, "Inspiration knocks very lightly. If you don't answer, she just goes away." And Deborah pointed out that for her, "a book comes alive in conversation. It's like choreography, a dance of ideas." I particularly loved when Deborah described the first time she read Virginia Woolf's The Waves. She said it just knocked her flat - she experienced " a coincidence of consciousness" and "rocked herself into morning reading..."

Charlene Diehl did a fabulous job moderating, but also offered her own insights as a writer and editor. She said that what inspired her to write was her long-held interest in "the place where language turns into music." She said she's been a fan of jazz music for years, and also is very interested in science, though not at all capable as a scientist! Since I feel the exact same way, I'm certainly looking forward to sitting down with Charlene sometime, with some Pat Metheny or Molly Johnson on the stereo, a glass of wine in hand, and discussing the connection between science and art...

And what's a trip out of town without a little dining and dancing? An afternoon of dim sum, which included a Winnipeg original I'm sure - Chinese pierogies - was great. As was the venison dinner partay prepared by Anita's husband Jim.

Can't wait to go back to Winnipeg - really!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Book Hooks with Linda - a video review of books for kids who like science

My friend and former associate from Mapletree Press, Erin Walker, is now getting her masters in Library Science in London, Ontario. I was thrilled, earlier today, when she emailed me a link to a video review of Science on the Loose by Linda Ludke, the Children's Collection Manager for the London Public Library. You can check it out for yourself here. Let me know what you think!

I'm going to be leading two sessions at the Science Teachers of Manitoba regional conference on October 23rd, based on some of the material in Science on the Loose. I think we're going to have lots of fun, especially as we try out experiments on  falling toast, dimples and farts! Think you might like an outline/summary of the presentation? Just send me an email. I'll be happy to zap one to you.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Mark your calendars Nov. 8 Toronto Book Launch!

Party Alert! Party Alert!


If you are in the Toronto area, McNally & Robinson at the Don Mills Centre (see map below) will be hosting a little celebration of my two newest books from Mapletree Press: The Insecto-files and What’s the Big Idea. SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 8, AT 3 PM. As a special lure for my favorite people of all, teachers and librarians, all teachers – and anyone who brings a teacher or librarian – will receive a FREE GIFT (you’ll like it! Can anyone say “chocolate?”) There will also be a draw for fab prizes.Kids are welcome too.

Please pass the message along to your friends, colleagues, and anyone else who you think might enjoy an afternoon of fun. Keep in mind since the event is being held in a bookstore, in November, it will also be a great opportunity to get the jump on your holiday shopping!

Hope to see you there!

The Don Mills Centre is located at Lawrence Ave. East at Don Mills Road.

View My Saved Places in a larger map

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Teachers, Librarians: Book aan author visit, get a chance to win a complete set of my non-fiction books - $129.95++ value

In March 2010, Mapletree Press will be publishing my tenth non-fiction title, Magic Up Your Sleeve. To celebrate this milestone, I’ve decided to give away ONE COMPLETE SET OF ALL TEN MAPLETREE/BECKER BOOKS – a $129.95+  value.

Here’s how to qualify:

BOOK an author visit from me BEFORE December 31, 2009.
HOLD the author visit BEFORE April 30, 2009.

For EACH author visit, your name will go into the draw barrel once. E.g., if I do one presentation, your name goes in once. Four presentations, you name goes in four times.

Additionally, if you RECOMMEND ME to another teacher that books and holds an author visit, your name will go in again for each presentation they hold.

One winner will be drawn from all the qualifying entries in May.

Good luck to everyone, and I look forward to seeing you soon!

The Complete Set of Mapletree titles will include:

Monday, September 14, 2009

What if Paper Were Invented Today?

I came across this hilarious blog post while wasting time, I mean, researching, on Twitter. In What's the Big Idea? there's a pretty important section having to do with the real invention of paper, so naturally, this topic caught my eye.

I'm reprinting it in its entirety from, so here's a hearty shout-out to author Andy!

Boss: “So, Jim, I got your carving about this new invention of yours called [looks down at the heavy flat slate rock in his arms] pap-par?”

Jim: “It’s pronounced ‘pay-per’! And yes, I believe it will revolutionize how we keep information!”

Boss: [eyebrow arched] “Is that so?”

Jim: “Yeah! We wouldn’t have to keep things on slate or granite or rocks or walls!”

Boss: “Alrighty then, let’s see it!”

[Jim pulls out a sheet of paper and hands it to the Boss]

Jim: “Ta da!”

Boss: “Whoa! It’s so… thin! And light!”

Jim: “I know! With this, we won’t have to carry around heavy tablets! And check this out! [takes the sheet of paper from the Boss’s hand] We can use the same ink that we use to paint on it! [starts drawing lines and writing words] And once you are done, you can roll it or fold it for easy storage.” [folds it over and hands it back to the Boss]

Boss: “Amazing. Simply amazing.”

Jim: “I know!”

Boss: “This is great, Jim! This could change everythi- [the paper tears slightly] What the-”

Jim: “Oh, yeah, the paper is easy to tear. Be careful with that.”

Boss: “I see. We’ll have to mark that down on the label. ‘Use caution: May easily tear.’ [apprehensive pause] Is there anything else I should know about this?”

Jim: “There might be some other things that would turn off potential consumers.”

Boss: “Like?”

Jim: [sighs] “It’s flammable.”

Boss: “How flammable?”

Jim: “Quite.” [holds up a match to the cover of the page. It lights quickly.]

Boss: “Oh my-”

Jim: [patting out the flame] “Yeah… that will have to go on the label as well. ‘Caution: Flammable’”

Boss: [pulling the partially burned page from Jim’s hand] “Well, Jim, I think this still has potential. Marketing can handle those drawbacks and we can run that little text at the bottom of the screen for the television ads. So long as we put the warning labels on, we should be in the cl- Oww!” [drops the paper to the floor and pulls his hand to his face]

Jim: “What!”

Boss: “The edge of this pap-par! It- it… cut me! [starts sucking on the paper cut] That really stung!”

Jim: “Look, it’s only a scratch! And it goes away quickly!”

Boss: “Oh, so do you want to answer those lawsuits when people cut themselves worse on this? [grimaces at the sheet of paper lying on the floor] Next you’ll say is that it was made using chemicals.”

Jim: “Not exactly…”

Boss: “But?”

Jim: “It is made from wood pulp. [Boss cocks his head to the side looking at Jim] Which comes from grinding up trees.’”

Boss: “Are you KIDDING me? If the environmentalists get a hold of that fact, they’ll have a fit. They’ll want to know what kinds of tree are used and how many and where they are coming from and what they are displacing when you cut them down! This is a NIGHTMARE! It tears easily, it catches on fire from the tiniest of flames, the edge can cut you, and now you are telling me that THIS [picks up the torn burnt paper and starts shaking it in the air] is made from TREES? Are you F-ING kidding me? This thing will have a scariest warning label in the HISTORY of the INDUSTRY. There is NO way that ANYONE will BUY this. At least with stone tablets, we just tell people ‘Oh, mind your feet if you drop it’ and ‘Carrying it around is like another exercise workout’. There is a positive spin we can put on tablets. [waves his finger at the paper] There is NOTHING we can SAY about THIS, this, this pap-par that will overcome the inherent DANGER! Who wants to buy something that says ‘Warning: Flammable. Easily tears. Edges are sharp and may cut you.’ We might as well throw in a ‘Do not eat’ to round it out! I mean, HONESTLY, how in the HELL are WE supposed to SELL this as a REPLACEMENT to the stone tablet?!?” [Boss stands there a moment, nosily breathing in and out as his anger swells]

Jim: [meekly] “…I can work on it some more.”

Boss: [puts his arm around Jim] “Jim, it’s a good step. But, it’s not ready for prime time. There are just too many potential lawsuits and liabilities at this time. But, I know you’re on the right track. Someday, we’ll replace these heavy stone tablets. Maybe, you could work on a lighter stone tablet. Strong rock but lighter. Something that won’t break your toes when you drop it on your foot. Something that you could either chalk or chisel. That’s the future, my boy.”

The Wall Street Journal's 2009 Technology Innovation Awards

What's the Big Idea of the future? The Wall Street Journal has summed up their top ten contenders. For the full story, check out the WSJ webpage at!


Att: Teachers ! In March 2010, Mapletree Press will be publishing my tenth non-fiction title, Magic Up Your Sleeve. To celebrate this milestone, I’ve decided to give away  ONE COMPLETE SET OF ALL TEN of my  MAPLETREE BOOKS – a $129.95++ value.

Who will win this prize? It could be you! Here’s how to qualify:

BOOK an author visit from me BEFORE December 31, 2009.

HOLD the author visit BEFORE April 30, 2009.

For EACH author visit, your name will go into the draw barrel once. E.g., if I do one presentation, your name goes in once. Four presentations, you name goes in four times.

Additionally, if you RECOMMEND ME to another teacher that books and holds an author visit, your name will go in again for each presentation they hold.

One winner will be drawn from all the qualifying entries in May.

Good luck to everyone, and I look forward to seeing you soon!

The Complete Set of Mapletree titles will include:

Boredom Blasters

Funny Business

Like a Pro

Are You Psychic?

Mother Goose Unplucked

Secret Agent Y.O.U.

Science on the Loose

The Insecto-files

What’s the Big Idea?

Magic Up Your Sleeve

Sunday, September 13, 2009

If you can #read this, thank a #teacher! #parenting #teach #fb

What's the Big Idea Fun Fact of the Day

Roman Emperor Nero used emeralds as spyglasses to help him watch gladiator fights. #fb

Who knew connecting up could be so hard?

Twitter feed to blog? Blog feed to twitter? Connect to website? Facebook? Argh! This s/b easy, but nooooo...the computer programmers are running the show. What they all need is a competent WRITER to communicate for them.

From the Insecto-Files

The Insecto-files, my 8th non-fiction book for fab publishers Mapletree Press (now owned by Owlkids; ironically, Owlkids and Mapletree were once one company and they split a few years ago into a book group and a magazine group, with two different owners. Now the happy family is reunited!) came out in March. The reviews are just starting to come in now. CM Magazine, Canada's #1 on-line reviewer for kids' book, gave it four ladybugs, I mean stars. And the Quill gave it a starred review - woo hoo! 
I'll be "launching" the book at the upcoming Word on the Street kickoff party on September 22.
Other performers will include Cary Fagan, who's written a new Jacob Two-Two book, Paul Quarrington and his musical group Porkbelly Futures, kids' entertainer Little Fingers (he's so good-looking, kids' moms will enjoy him too!) and illustrator Kagan Mcleod will create gorgeous art right before your eyes.
Plus, you might win a Sony E-Reader worth $450 loonies!!!
Did you get your invite? Contact Word on the Street ASAP. See you there!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Off to the races

So first I'm dragooned into Twitter. Then a blog! Where will it all end? With a little luck, someplace tropical.

Because: Science!