Saturday, 17 March 2018

How to Write a Chapter Book Series by Melissa Stoller #ChaBooCha


Are you considering writing a chapter book series? Maybe you’re already working on book number two, three, or more? My first chapter book, THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION: RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND (illustrated by Callie Metler-Smith), released in August 2017 with Clear Fork Publishing. My second book in the series, THE LIBERTY BELL TRAIN RIDE, will be chugging down the tracks in 2018. There are many points to consider when writing multiple books in a chapter book series. Read on for practical tips about using mentor texts, and ensuring that your characters, voice, plot, heart, humor, and research stay consistent throughout your chapter book series.


I have written several pieces about writing chapter books: “Working Your Way Through ChaBooCha 2017”; “Top Ten Chapter Book Writing Tips”; and “How to Start Writing Your Chapter Book During ChaBooCha Lite 2017” I refer to these posts, and to other craft pieces about chapter books, as I draft my stories.

While writing Book Two, THE LIBERTY BELL TRAIN RIDE, I carefully considered how to make this second book consistent with the first. I started by re-reading Book One, RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND. I also read the first two books in other chapter book series. These mentor texts helped me determine how other authors handled writing the second book in a series. Here are some of my favorite chapter books and the areas of writing they helped with:

Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne (time travel, characterization, heart)

Sparkle Spa by Jill Santopolo (voice)

Super Happy Party Bears by Marcie Colleen (humor)

The Haunted Library by Dori Hillestad Butler (plot)

The Fantastic Frame by Lin Oliver (dialogue, adventure, time travel plot)


Then I prepared in the following big-picture areas:


I interviewed my main characters again. I asked questions about their favorite colors, foods, friends, books, movies and TV shows, hobbies, interests, likes and dislikes, pets, school experiences, family life moments, and other basic questions. Much of the material I collected didn’t find its way into Book Two, but I wanted to know my characters and add to their personalities.


I identified the voice of each main character. What were their quirks? Did they speak in certain ways? How did they dress? What were their habits? What were their goals and objectives? I maintained a detailed list to make sure I kept their voices consistent in Book Two.


My plot entails time travel to a historical period, an adventure, and a meeting and connection with an ancestor. I outlined the story with the goal that the second book have a similar well-defined adventure in a different time period and a compelling meeting with an ancestor.

I almost made one plot-detail mistake! In my first book, I wrote that the snow globes were kept in a large, locked curio cabinet, and Nana had the key. In the second book manuscript, I wrote that the twins simply opened the curio cabinet door. I forgot that it was locked. Luckily, I went back and re-read the first book and then noticed and corrected that detail.


It’s so important to ensure that each book in a series has heart . . . that almost intangible factor that makes the reader smile or sigh. In the first book, it was easy to capture heart because I was writing about how my grandparents met on a trolley in 1928 Coney Island. I tried hard in Book Two to ensure that the main characters would interact with each other and with the new characters in a satisfying way that would endear all the characters to the reader.


I included some humor in the first book, and wanted to do the same in the second. Re-reading helped remind me of the characters’ senses of humor and how they would react in different situations. And I added in what I hope is fresh humor that is consistent with the characters’ personalities.


For Book One, I researched Coney Island in 1928 and I visited the world-famous Cyclone Roller Coaster (although I didn’t take a ride!), the Coney Island Boardwalk, and Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs. For Book Two, I researched Philadelphia and San Francisco in 1915, at the time of the Liberty Bell’s last cross-country train ride to the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition. I also traveled to Philadelphia several times to visit the Liberty Bell for some first-hand research. I’m hoping to visit San Francisco as well!


During Chapter Book Challenge 2018, I’m working on Book Three in my series. It will be set in Washington, D.C. with the Library of Congress as a backdrop for the adventure. I’ll be using mentor texts, researching, and considering characters, voice, plot, heart, and humor as I’m drafting and revising.

Good luck working your way through ChaBooCha 2018. Whether you’re writing your first chapter book or the fifth in a series, I look forward to seeing your stories in bookstores and libraries soon!


Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection - Book One: Return to Coney Island and Book Two: The Liberty Bell Train Ride (Clear Fork Publishing, 2017 and Summer 2018); and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush and Ready, Set, GOrilla! (Clear Fork, Fall 2018). She is also the co-author of The Parent-Child Book Club: Connecting With Your Kids Through Reading (HorizonLine Publishing, 2009). Melissa is a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, an Assistant for the Children’s Book Academy, an Admin for The Debut Picture Book Study Group, and a volunteer with SCBWI/MetroNY. Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer and editor, and early childhood educator. Additionally, she is a member of the Board of Trustees at The Hewitt School and at Temple Shaaray Tefila. Melissa lives in New York City with her husband, three daughters, and one puppy. When not writing or reading, she can be found exploring NYC with family and friends, traveling, and adding treasures to her collections.

CONNECT with Melissa: 



Melissa has generously offered two prizes to give away:  a signed copy of her chapter book, THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION: RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND and a critique of the first 3 chapters of a chapter book.  If you are a signed-up member of ChaBooCha, all you have to do to enter to win one of the prizes is comment on this post. The winner will be selected by a random number generator at noon on March 31st and announced within one day of the selection. Two winners will be selected: the first chosen by the number generator will win the signed book and the second chosen by the number generators will win the critique.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Second Week Finished - On to Week Three! #ChaBooCha

We've finally finished two weeks into the challenge and are almost half-way to our goal date! Whether or not you are half-way to your writing goal doesn't matter; what matters is that you are closer to your word count goal than you were when you began the challenge.

The half-way mark can be difficult for many writers. Motivation can begin to wane, and the writing doesn't always flow as smoothly as it does in the beginning of a writing project. If you find this happening to you, try reading through what you have written so far. Is the story heading in a direction that is exciting to you? If you are getting bored with it, the chances are that your readers will get bored with it too. Are there any changes you can make to what you've already written to steer your writing into a direction that still inspires your muse?

Another thing you can try doing is think up different endings for your story. You probably already have one planned, unless you like to let the story dictate itself as you write, in which case coming up with different endings can sometimes inspire new directions for your story.

Something that always helps me when I start to struggle with a story is talking about it with someone else. Usually, for me, this is my husband. We go for walks and discuss my story. I will complain about having trouble with some aspect of it. My husband will then shoot a bunch of ideas my way to resolve the conflict, and I will then reject all of his ideas. But the thinking process involved in all of the discussion will prompt me to think up an idea of my own. There is something about talking about your story out loud that can help your mind process ideas and function more clearly when it comes to writing.

For more ideas on getting through the middle of your story, check out these previous challenge posts:

Happy writing!



Today's give-away is a copy of 

365 Days of Writing: Inspirational Quotes for the Writer (365 Days of Happiness) 

by MG Keefe. If you are a signed-up member of the Chapter Book Challenge, all you have to do to enter is comment on this post. Winner will be selected by a random number generator at noon GMT on March 31st and announced within a day of the drawing.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Common Issues with Chapter Book Beginnings by Alayne Kay Christian #ChaBooCha


I had initially planned to write a post sharing the top issues that I find when critiquing chapter books. But when I started reviewing my chapter book critiques, I realized that I would have to write an entire book. So, I decided to start with beginnings. What I offer is just a sampling of things to watch for.

Beginnings are a major stumbling block in most of the chapter books I critique. I share some of the areas that writers seem to struggle with below.

Who is the hero of the story? It is often difficult to determine who the protagonist is. This usually happens when there is a bunch of characters, problems, and descriptions introduced at the same time. If there isn’t a clear protagonist goal or problem established in the beginning, the reader doesn’t know who to follow through the story. They also won’t know why they should care about the story or any of the characters. If there are three characters introduced in the first chapter, and they each have a set of problems, the reader won’t know where to focus.

Is there an evident story promise? Many manuscripts I read are missing the story promise. In my opinion, the first chapter should tell the reader what the story is about. So, if your book is about a girl who finds an alien in her backpack, don’t wait until the story is half over to have her find it. If you are writing a mystery, don’t wait 100 pages before the mystery’s inciting incident is revealed. There should be at the very least a hint right up front of what’s to come. And that hint should tie in with the story’s hook and an idea of what your story is about. In the beginning, you want your story to say, by showing not telling, this story is about (fill in the blank).

What’s important to the protagoinist and why? Related to the above, the beginning should introduce the hero/protagonist and what they want externally and internally (consciously and unconsciously). Often characters think they want something for one reason, but there is an inner struggle or unconscious need that is driving them. The reader should learn something about the protagonist and his story conflict right away. This should be something that will cause the reader to get behind the protagonist and champion his cause. If there is no understanding of what’s important to the protagonist and why, it will be hard for readers to get behind him.

What is this story about? What can the reader expect? Also related to the story promise, there should be information in the beginning that creates questions and expectations in the reader’s mind. You want your reader to start imagining what might happen next, how things will unfold, how things might end. Whether what they imagine is right or wrong, creating expectations and curiosity is what will drive reader’s to keep reading. I’m not suggesting that the story be predictable. I’m suggesting that you work to keep the reader guessing, wondering, and feeling for the protagonist and other characters. Offer information that will lead them to guess about how it will all resolve.

Inciting incident. What kicks off the story? Sometimes, in the manuscripts I read, there is no true inciting incident. What moves your protagonist out of his normal world and into the world of the story that you have built? This should come early in the story, and preferably in the first chapter. At an SCBWI conference, Judy Blume stated that novels should begin on the first day that something different happens in your character’s life. Readers don’t want to see characters in their humdrum normal life for pages on end. They want something interesting and exciting to happen.

Introducing or dumping to much on the reader at one time. Character dumping can interfere with a strong beginning. Sometimes there are so many character and setting introductions that the story and the protagonist get lost in the mix. Naturally, there will be secondary characters and antagonists that readers need to meet in the beginning because they are super important to the plot, but make sure there aren’t so many characters or so much description that it gets confusing. Also related for beginnings and anywhere in the book, avoid info dumps and lengthy description.

Action is king (or queen ;-) ) in chapter books for young readers! I can’t stress this enough. While it is important to establish the “who, what, where, when, and why” of the story in the beginning, it is just as important to balance all of that with action. If this balance doesn’t exist, your reader will likely become under-engaged, overwhelmed with the information being dumped, and unmotivated to read on.

Avoid or limit backstory. Backstory can drag a chapter book beginning to its knees. I often see paragraphs of heavy backstory. This can be an indication that you should ask yourself, “Does my story start in the right place?” It would also be good to ask yourself, “What purpose does this backstory serve?” This is a really important question because it can’t possibly serve to move the story forward. Because backstory takes the reader backward, it is considered static narrative. Some other questions might be, “How important is this backstory, really?” “Is this backstory really warmup writing to get me (as a writer) to the true beginning?” “Is there a way to dribble this information in little bits here and there as the story moves along instead of dumping it all at once?”

I will repeat, action is key in chapter books. Backstory usually halts any possible action. And remember, you want the story to begin with action or an engaging event that relates to the protagonist’s problem or goal.

Don’t avoid backstory to the degree that you start the story too quickly and the reader has no idea why events are happening or what is driving your protagonist to act.

Lacking a great opening line that hooks. This one pretty much speaks for itself. I recommend pouring through chapter books for the age you are writing for and reading the first sentence and then the first paragraphs. Pinpoint the ones that capture you and pull you into the story. Notice the ones that don’t have that power. Which kind of first sentences and paragraphs would you prefer for you chapter book?

Watch for your reactions to the openings. If you can put yourself in a child’s place, all the better. Does the opening make you smile or chuckle? Does it make you sad or worried for the character? Does it make you curious? Does it make you ask questions? Does it make you develop expectations? Does it stir any emotion or sense of fun? Does it invite you in in some way that makes you want more? Does it offer information that you can relate to? Sometimes relating can come in a way that is not fully relatable but presents something familiar to you that is also different from your world. This type of relating can really ignite the imagination and curiosity. Think about how you can write a beginning that accomplishes the above.

As with all writing, there are no steadfast rules. There are only guidelines. You will see chapter books with backstory and/or info dumping. You will see chapter books that lack action. You will see chapter books with weak opening lines. Only you can decide what will make your chapter book the best that it can be. I personally believe the tips I offer is an excellent place to start. Following is a couple good blog posts about beginnings in novels. I highly recommend you read them.

Following are some other blog posts I’ve written about chapter book writing.

About the Author

Alayne Kay Christian is an award-winning children’s book author. She is the author of the Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy chapter book series and the award-winning picture book Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa. Alayne is the creator and teacher of a picture book writing course, Art of Arc. She is a professional picture book and chapter book critique writer. And she is in her third year working as a critique ninja for Julie Hedlund’s 12 X 12. Alayne is a graduate of the Institute for Children’s Literature and she has spent the last ten years studying under some of the top names in children’s literature.
Link to Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy: Trying to Make it Rain: 


Today's give-away is Rory's Story CubesIf you are a signed-up member of ChaBooCha, all you need to do to be entered into the drawing for this book is comment on this blog post. Winners will be selected from a random number generator on March 31st at noon (GMT).

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

First Week Finished - On to Week Two! #ChaBooCha

I almost didn't get today's post up as we had an incident today. My 12 year old daughter Isabella was hit by a car this morning. First off, let me emphasize that she is absolutely fine. she gets off the bus before me as she likes to stop in at her friend's house and walk with her friend to school. Her 11 year old brother gets off the bus at the same time and goes straight to school early, but their younger sibling stays on the bus with me until it comes back around on the other side of the street where he and I get off the bus and I walk him to school. 

This morning, on my way back to the bus stop after dropping my son off at school, I noticed Bella on the ground surrounded by her friends. At first, as our family is prone to clumsiness, I just assumed that she had fallen. Then I noticed that there were a lot of people around her, including some adults. She was talking with the people around her and partially sitting up (propped up by the backpack on her back). When I got to her, I found out that she had stepped in front of a car and been hit by it. She had looked one way before crossing the street and looked the other way while simultaneously stepping into the road where she was then hit by the car.

The driver, a mother of a classmate of Bella's, hadn't been going too fast, thankfully. I was told that Bella had bounced off the car's bonnet and was flung 6 feet in the air. She landed on her back which was protected by her backpack, so she didn't hit her head. Her ankle hurt and she was shaking like a leaf though.

Paramedics came with their sirens blaring and then the police showed up. Bella admitted to her carelessness in crossing the road. The paramedics decided to send her to the hospital because of her ankle, so she got her first ambulance ride. When we got to the hospital, they put her in a wheelchair and, many hours of waiting later, she was seen by a junior doctor. By then, Bella had been complaining about how boring it was to be there and she had given the wheelchair to another patient who needed it more as the hospital had told the patient they had no more wheelchairs. She walked on her foot into the examination and didn't appear to be in too much pain. It only hurt when they touched the back of her ankle, but she was okay with putting weight on it and moving it around. The doctor insisted on an x-ray anyway. Needless to say, the ankle wasn't even sprained. 

You would never have guessed, to look at her, that she had been hit by a car. Another patient's mother even commented to her, "For someone who has been hit by a car, your hair still looks amazing!" 

Bella was very fortunate and will hopefully be more careful in the future, but this event meant I spent many, many hours at the hospital today, so this post almost didn't go up. It's a short post today though and it follows below:

As of today, our first week of the Chapter Book Challenge is completed and we are moving on to the second week of writing. Week two can often be a challenge. The inspiration and new-story impetus that you begin with can start to wain. you might want to take a peek at some posts from previous ChaBooCha's to help keep you writing, such as How to Avoid Writer's Block and Get Your Story Written (by me), Make Writing Fun by Victoria Boulton, or How to Write More - Tips and Tricks for a Quick first Draft by Jo Hart. There are many posts that can help with inspiration, putting off procrastination, plotting, research and more throughout the blog, so help yourself to some blog reading if you need it.

How are you doing on your story so far? Please let me know in the comments. For most of the days of this challenge, I have done no to little writing. However, I had one day where during a 12-hour time-slot, the words flowed and just poured out of me easily. That one day, I wrote over 10,000 words and it made up for the other less-than-spectacular writing days. So even if you are behind in your writing at the moment, don't despair; there is still plenty of time.

There will be further guest blog posts going up this week, so expect to get some more e-mails.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Diversity in Children's Books by Adam Wallace #ChaBooCha

Diversity in Children’s Books:

Why it is important for every kid to feel included in the stories they read

Diversity. It’s the in word, for TV shows and movies and definitely in children’s books. Our books must have diversity, so that all children can relate to the stories and the characters. They must be able to see themselves in the stories so that they can feel included. If they are, for example, Asian, and they read a book or see a show that has no Asian characters in it, they are seeing a world foreign to their own.

They are not represented.

This is absolutely correct and important and I have no argument with it. We do need to see more representation of different races and different cultures. 

There are a couple of asides that I believe aren’t always looked at that are equally as important.

The first is this. If we just throw characters into our stories for the sole reason that we have diversity, we start to lose authenticity. We start to lose the truth of our story, and we are writing for a different reason. Diversity is important, yes, but not at the cost of truth.

The second thing is just as, if not more important, to me at least. Diversity, I believe, doesn’t just include race or religion or gender, it’s personality and interests as well. What’s the point in having someone of your race in a book you are reading if they are nothing like you? You won’t be able to relate to that anyway. We have kids who are shy and kids who are funny and kids who like sport and kids who hate sport and kids who are brave and kids who are scared and kids who do maths and kids who play the flute and kids who have goals and dreams and kids who like watching movies.

There needs to be diversity in this way as well, so that the children actually see themselves in a story, not just because of how they look or what church they go to, not just some generic representation, but actually who they are. 

What they like and what they are like.

If we write honestly, if we write from our hearts, if we write from our experiences, then that will come through the story, there will be a range of characters and personalities and friends and enemies, from all races, religions and genders, all of whom exist not only in our worlds but in the worlds of the reader as well, and that is what the children will relate to.

That is where they will see themselves, as who they are or who they want to be.

So yes, have diversity in your stories but remember to be diverse in your diversity as well.


About the Author

A qualified Engineer and Primary School Teacher, Adam Wallace settled on writing books for children as his career of choice. With more than 20 published, including Better Out Than In and the How to Draw series, Adam is fast becoming a well-known name in the world of children’s books. You can find Adam's books at Adam Wallace Books and his Facebook author page here.


All you need to do, as a signed-up member of the Chapter Book Challenge, to enter into the drawing for "Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly" by Gail Carson Levine is to comment on this blog post. (If you are reading this in your e-mail, you will need to click on the link that will take you to the actual post and then comment.) Winners will be selected by a random number generator at noon on March 31st, 2018 and announced the same day.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Welcome to the Chapter Book Challenge 2018! #ChaBooCha

It's time for another Chapter Book Challenge!

For those of you who are new to ChaBoocha, here is a little bit about the challenge (all of which you can find on the "About" page for this site):
The Chapter Book Challenge, otherwise known as ChaBooCha, was created by Rebecca Fyfe and first ran in 2012. It runs every year in the month of March. The challenge is to write one completed first draft of an early reader, chapter book, middle grade book or YA novel in the month of March, starting on the 1st of March and finishing on the 31st of March. 
During the month of March, there are helpful blog posts from published authors, agents and publishers to help members hone their craft, and there are prizes available throughout the challenge. 
ChaBooCha has a very relaxed atmosphere where members help each other to achieve writing goals. You can sign up on the website using the sign-up form, and you can also join the Facebook page for updates and information. There is aTwitter page at and members interact with one another throughout the year in the Facebook group.
It is completely free to join the Chapter Book Challenge. 
ChaBooCha's mascot: Nabu the badger

You also might be wondering about our logo. The Chapter Book Challenge logo is all about our mascot Nabu the Badger. Nabu loves to read, and he is really looking forward to all of the new chapter books, middle grade books and YA books that are going to be written and published as a result of this year's ChaBooCha. Nabu was named after the Babylonian patron god of scribes, wisdom and literature. Nabu became our "mascot" back in 2014, just two years into the Challenge.

This year's badge is going back to the basics. In 2014, when Nabu first joined us, we used our logo on the badge for that year's challenge, and this year, we are doing so again.

We have some authors and editors already set up to do guest posts for this challenge; some of them you might recognise.

Mira Reisberg
Melissa Stoller
Melissa Khalinsky
Adam Wallace
Alayne Kay Christian
Susan Lubner
Dianna M. Winget 
Victoria Boulton

Hopefully, more authors may be added as the challenge progresses, as this number of guest authors is lighter than we usually have for the challenge.

For those of you who were not with us in past challenges, we have several posts from previous challenges that might be helpful to you, from such authors as Tamora Pierce, Darren Shan, Angela Ackerman, Becca Puglisi, Lee Wardlaw, Yvonne Navarro, Nancy Holder, Nancy I. Sanders, Wendy Orr, Kimberly Griffiths Little, Emma Walton Hamilton, George Ivanoff and agent Carole Blake, among others. As is usual with ChaBooCha, there will be prizes during the month. You have to be signed up to the challenge in order to be eligible. There will be books on writing and trinkets and handmade goodies offered during select guest posts and an overall gift of a Kindle Fire for one lucky member. I'd love to hear from you in the comments what you are working on this month, or if you are still deciding.

Happy writing!
A side not to Australian members: Posts will probable come out to you a day late, quite frequently, due to the time differences.

ChaBooCha Regional Ambassadors

The Chapter Book Challenge has been growing year on year and, there are some things I cannot do because of the restrictions of my location, such as meet-ups. As a solution, in places where there are more than just one member, ChaBooCha has Regional Ambassadors. 

ChaBooCha regional ambassadors are the people who coordinate Chapter Book Challenge events within their region. In order to become a regional ambassador, there first needs to be more members in your region than just you, and your main duties are to arrange write-ins and meet-ups with other members within your region and also to spread the word about the challenge within your region.

Promotional materials, when they are in the budget, get sent out to our Regional Ambassadors, and printable files will be sent as well. A special RA badge will be created for RAs to use on their blogs and websites, if they so choose. Regional Ambassadors will receive a ChaBooCha RA badge to wear in their first year of joining as an RA and in their second year as an RA, they will receive a ChaBooCha keychain. As things move along, there may be more perks added for RAs. 

If you think this is a role you might like to take on within your region, send me an e-mail. (There is only one RA per region, but they may choose a co-RA.)

Teapot Tales anthologies

To help fund the challenge, from prizes to advertising to RA gifts, we have created a series of anthologies with stories all written and donated by members of the challenge. There are currently three Teapot Tales anthologies available for purchase and a fourth will be available soon. As it has taken me much longer to put together the fourth anthology in the series than normal, we will not be creating a fifth one this year, but we may put together another in the series at a future date. Proceeds from sales of the anthologies go towards funding the Chapter Book Challenge. The anthologies can be found on Amazon. There were also two themed anthologies written and contributed to by past members which also help fund ChaBooCha: Ghostly Echoes (Halloween-themed) and Jingle Bells (winter holiday-themed).

Teapot Tales: Volume 1

Teapot Tales: Volume 2

Teapot Tales: Volume 3
Ghostly Echoes

Jingle Bells

Badges and banners for you to use on your websites and blogs:

(right-click for full-sized versions)

Saturday, 30 September 2017

ChaBooCha Lite - Final Day! #ChaBooChaLite #ChaBooCha

The final day of the ChaBooCha Lite has arrived. I hope this day finds everyone who participated, if not finishing their books, then at least having written more this month than they would have done without the challenge.

We have some prize winners to announce for three of the four give-aways this month.

The winner of the Novel Under Construction writing journal is Melissa Stoller! Congratulations Melissa! Please contact me with the mailing address that you would like your journal sent to.


The winner of the signed copy of THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION: RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND is saputnam. Congratulations! Please contact me or Melissa with the mailing address you would like your book sent to.


The winner of the hand-made mermaid charm bookmark (different from the one shown in the picture; pictured is a cat charm bookmark) is Meli Glickman! Congratulations, Meli! Please contact me with the mailing address you would like your book sent to.


I hope everyone has enjoyed this "lite" challenge and found it aided them in being more productive with their writing! Feel free to let me know a little about your book in the comments below. And thank you for joining us!