Are You Game for Expert Writing Advice?



LEVEL UP:Quests to Master Mindset, Overcome Procrastination, and Increase Productivity. A Guide for Writers, Entrepreneurs, and Creatives

By Rochelle Melander    October 2019      Dream Keepers Press

Rochelle Melander wears many caps. She is a writing coach with experience in support of individual, spiritual, and professional development. She has multiple books to her credit, including Write-A-Thon. She brings a wealth of life and professional experience to this new project, a book that is both playful and play-full, jam-packed with solid guidance, plenty of smiles, and nods if recognition for anyone interested in making the most of their creative potential. The QUEST she set for herself in this book was to offer both new and familiar tools in a way that is not just useful, but FUN!

And she succeeded.

Melander mentions early in the introduction that much of her language will refer to writers and writing challenges, but her advice will transfer readily to those interested in launching a business, engaging in visual or other arts, or contemplating any complex creative task.

Although I absorbed most of her advice from the perspective of a writer, it felt obvious to me that the strategies she offers are, indeed, suitable across the board. I pictured friends and family who are crafters, antique car rebuilders, home-based caterers, all of whom are talented and productive. Those creators often  also grump and grumble about getting behind schedule, juggling so much that important balls are dropped, or otherwise feel less than successful in their chosen creative pursuits than they believe they could be.

Melander’s title reflects the language of digital game play, while the subtitle makes clear exactly who the “players” are and what the book will offer. The premise of her approach is twofold: first, there is NO WAY that any piece(s) of advice will suit every creator, every time, in every way; and, second, in order to succeed, creators would benefit from being able to access and use the best advice at the right time and place.
Those points may appear to be in conflict with each other, and perhaps with the very idea of a book labeling itself as a “guide”. And yet Melander has found a clever way to make a very powerful point (and tool) to integrate those two truths. She has written this as a gaming insider guide, beginning with the advice to take a big picture overview before beginning. By doing so, readers will see a comprehensive table of contents, a useful and precisely worded index, a useful “power up” resource, and will quickly identify the way each two-to-three page “chapter” is organized.

Beginning with the table of contents, Melander has identified five areas of struggle for creatives: visioning and planning an ideal creative life; discovering and implementing your own best practices; mastering your mindset; ditching distractions; and overcoming obstacles.

If you’ve done any reading or attended workshops, webinars, or conferences, you will recognize these topics as frequent (and well-attended) program targets.

What Melander has done, playfully and effectively, is to treat the many elements within each broad topic as gaming tips. Each coaching tip is simply labeled, often as a skill or strategy, followed by a BRIEF focusing introduction. Next she frames the skill as a QUEST, indicating the tools, shortcuts, locations, and steps to achieve and measure the activity or approach. She then provides GAME PLAY TIPS, noting pitfalls to avoid and shortcuts that may help, as well as ideas about modifying  tasks to make the QUEST more achievable in your own circumstances. Finally, She defines FOR THE WIN, indicating ways to measure success and recognize how achieving the quest will move you toward your much larger goals.

This simple framing of information that so often feels overwhelming, confusing, unrealistic, redundant, or otherwise undoable puts the game control into the hands of the player- allowing full control to attempt, to skip over, to return to, or to ignore as best suits that player at that time, in that project. This consistent framing also turns a massive and valuable trove of information into “modules” that need not all be read or processed or used sequentially or according to some master plan.

Because I was reading this material to review, I did “play through” from start to finish. Along the way I quickly noticed Melander stating clear permission to dip in and out, to utilize the chapter titles, index, and other well organized tools to troubleshoot current issues in creativity or productivity. For novices or someone with lifelong experience, there is value in both approaches. Speaking for myself, I found my head nodding in recognition of many QUESTS and GAME PLAY TIPS, I discovered new approaches, and noted many areas of my own life for which the QUESTS were well established but not currently in use. Others, though, made me eager to give them a try and felt ideally suited to an ongoing or back-burner project.

Melander’s clever and original approach makes the overwhelming challenge of independent creativity and productivity feel not just doable, but FUN! As an admitted quote-collector, I was in awe of the many and varied sources on which the author drew to launch a QUEST, illustrate a point, inspire, amuse, and empathize throughout these many topics. These words of wisdom are not randomly inserted nor quoted as directives or authorities. Rather, each quote feels like a collaboration with a fellow human, one who also struggles, ponders, succeeds, and fails. By underscoring the range and universality of the obstacles and efforts that characterize complex lives, these quotes made what can be a very isolated pursuit feel shared. Characteristic of the effective structure of every part of this book, there is a comprehensive listing of each quote’s source in the back matter.

From concept to implementation to actual book, Melander has created a one-of-a-kind resource that I highly recommend. I read this via advance PDF, but intend to purchase a paper copy as soon as it is available. Using my own best strategies, I’ll insert sticky note tabs and jot quick reminders, making it as useful and dependable as a favorite cookbook. And, just as with my favorite cookbooks, there are some QUESTS/recipes I will follow exactly, some I will modify to suit my taste and interests, and some that will simply remind me of my own helpful strategies from the past.

Despite being someone with NO experience with or interest in digital game play, I found the premise, format, and task-labeling to be effective and appealing. I have no doubt that would not be the case were it not for Melander’s powerful organization, exhaustive expertise, and writing quality that shine through and elevate this work. I appreciate learning new approaches and strategies, but I feel I was learning even more by the example of her writing: attention to detail, voice, and awareness of audience. It’s easy to recommend this book highly for everyone to read and use. My advice is not to shelve it after finishing, but to keep it handy for ready access throughout a lifetime of projects.

Despite her very busy life, Rochelle agreed to answer a few questions about this latest project and other pursuits. I’ll share her responses in the next post in a few days. If you don’t want to miss it, use the easy “subscribe” option in the sidebar>>>. You’ll enjoy sampling her voice and insights in the remarks shared here.

Rochelle Melander is a certified professional coach, experienced book strategist, and the author of eleven books, including, Level Up: Quests to Master Mindset, Overcome Procrastination and Increase Productivity. She provides solutions for people who feel stuck, overwhelmed or confused by the writing and publishing process. She is the founder of Dream Keepers, a writing workshop that supports children and teens in finding their voice and sharing their stories. Visit her online at

Twitter: @WriteNowCoach



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It’s That Time of Year: CYBILS Awards for Outstanding Books for Kids/Teens

It has been my privilege to serve as a Round One panelist for various categories of books for the past four years. I’ve been part of remarkable teams working to evaluate releases for the current year in the categories of fiction picture books, poetry, and nonfiction for elementary and middle grades. I’m so excited to participate again for the FIFTH year, this time in the dual category of elementary and middle grades nonfiction books. I am every bit as excited this year as I was back in 2015 when I was a newbie to the process.

You, reader, are an essential part of this process. CYBILS relies on those who read books to, for, and with young readers (and that includes those amazing teen novels and information books!) to think about your favorites from the past year. Here are the full directions. No worries if you don’t have faves in every category. You can nominate in a single category, several, or ALL! The directions are not really hard, but be sure to read through the linked post to click and read the rules, and then read the post until you find the words “Follow this link to nominate”– where you can click and proceed- until October 15.

I’ve already maxed out my hold list at the library and will be hauling books in and out of my home for the next two months, winnowing and exchanging ideas with the other panelists in my group. Don’t think I’ll neglect this site, though. I have some wonderful books to share right here, on this very blog, that aren’t part of the competition, along with a very special author interview. That’s because, even when reading dozens (nay, hundreds?) of books for the awards, I still love to read fantastic books about writing, books in other genre, and anything that is well-written.

Hope you are doing the same.

And if you’ve never checked out my picture book blog before, I’d love to have you take a look and follow along with my Cybils posts about some incredible books (and eventually the results). You may even want to subscribe to get those posts sent to your inbox as they appear.

And if you found this blog accidentally, feel free to subscribe right over there on the side bar>>> to have my posts on this website blog sent to your inbox, too.

Happy reading!



CAPTAIN ROSALIE: A Jewel of a Book About the First World War

Captain Rosalie

by Timothee De Fombelle

Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

Translated by Sam Gordon

Candlewick Press, 2019

ISBN 978 1-5362-0520-6

This slim and gentle book will surprise you. CAPTAIN ROSALIE could easily slip under the radar, but I urge you to take time to find it and read it. The effort won’t be great, not in the search or in the reading. The impact, though, will be enormous. In fact this sixty-page picture book/novella hybrid is an ideal read-aloud for those very reasons.

Within a few pages, CAPTAIN ROSALIE will burrow into the hearts of readers/listeners. Its simple but deep text combines with occasional but emotionally powerful  images using limited colors and  sketchy lines. Together they bring to life a heartfelt view of perhaps the most horrific war of all time. That war was too often overlooked by young and old today. The first “world war”, the one that most said would “END ALL WARS”, unleashed a blend of conventional, innovative, and atrocious weapons that revealed the pointlessness of centuries of strategy and the inhumanity of chemical and other technical weapons.

The magic behind making those long ago times and events matter lies in the voice of Rosalie, whose first person narrative leads us into her heart and exposes the broken hearts of war. This is written as if in a journal, by a spy “disguised as a five-and-a-half-year-old girl”. This little redheaded waif occupies an empty desk at the back of a classroom of older students, hiding among the coats while her mother works at a factory after her father “went off to fight”.

As she honestly reports in the  first line, “I have a secret.” She pretends to draw while observing, learning, and revealing her inner observations and worries to us, the readers, in hints and hopes, gradually trusting us to share her mission. We soon meet her gentle veteran teacher who lost an arm in battle. We realize that only one older student, Edgar, even seems to know she is there. She does some chores, accepts Edgar’s occasionally gentle attention, and eagerly greets her mother when she finally arrives at the school to pick her up each day- long after everyone else has left.

This opening quickly established a pattern for Rosalie and her mother and her spying days. Unable to read, Rosalie welcomes letters from her father which her mother reads aloud- presenting loving, reassuring, and confident words that are meant to calm and support Rosalie. Even so, she resents not being able to read them for herself, to access a direct link to her father. His style of simple drawings on each letter feels familiar, even though they show trenches and forests and barren fields. But Rosalie’s spy instincts are alerted when her mother continues reading on and on even though each is only a one-page letter.

Within only a few pages of this book there is a knock at the door and other news is delivered. In the remainder of the book, Rosalie executes a plan to sneak home and read those letters for herself. She doesn’t read fluently, but she has used her spying time well, learning how the alphabet works. When Edgar follows her home one day he becomes a trusted ally, offering support but respecting her orders.

Rosalie soon learns that her father’s letters reveal a horror that is nothing  like the idyllic descriptions in her mother’s words. She finds and reads (partially) all of his past letters but not the ONE letter that caused her mother to gasp, to change, to confuse Rosalie. The one that made her mother no longer feel like the mother she knew and loved.

A high-tension conclusion unfolds quickly, one that is both heartbreaking and satisfying. Rosalie’s need “to know” and her mother’s willingness to share her grief are by no means rare, but are also distinctly specific to these two, to this small and vulnerable family.

Trauma seems to surround more children than it spares, these days more than ever. The quiet “spies”among us know (and ache) so much more than we can begin to imagine. The events in this story are anchored in history from more than a hundred years ago. Even so, the tragedy of loss and grief in these individual lives is universal and will resonate with the specific and personal losses, worries, and pain in the lives of young people today.

The language and storytelling in this seemingly simple little book will appeal even to readers who live protected and privileged lives. Despite that, those “safe” young lives are being lived with an awareness of the fears of this little spy- noticing and knowing far more than we can even imagine. I hope you will search for, read, and share this book.

On a side note, how long has it been since you read THE LITTLE PRINCE by Antoine de Saint-Exupery? All the while I was reading Captain Rosalie, and after, I was reminded of this short classic. I’d be willing to bet that this iconic little book has been read by anyone reading these words, and that it left you with a residual emotional tug. I’m sure I read it several times when young, but it has been so many decades that I checked it out of the library and read it again. CAPTAIN ROSALIE called THE LITTLE PRINCE to mind, but after rereading I struggled to put a word (or more) to why they felt so related. I’m sure that the determination, resilience, anxiety, and intentions of both Rosalie and the Little Prince triggered that link, but I’m still working out the many other ways that they seem to share space in my heart and mind. If you happen to read both, I’d love to know how you respond to my reaction to this for paired reading.
Please stop by and comment, if you have an interest. And whether that invitation appeals to you or not, please accept my advice to read CAPTAIN ROSALIE.



A Biography-In-Verse: It Rained Warm Bread

Christie Ottaviano Books, 2019 (Henry Holt)

IT RAINED WARM BREAD: Moishe Moskowitz’s Story of Hope (A Novel in Verse)

Story by Gloria Moskowitz-Sweet, Poems by Hope Anita Smith, Illustrations by Lea Lyon

Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York 2019

ISBN: 9781250165725, 160pp.


Holocaust survivor Michael (Moishe) Moskowitz was a Jewish child in 1936 when Hitler’s Nazi rise to power turned his homeland, Poland, into a very dangerous place. In short but soul-stirring, first -person poems, his experiences are revealed in stages/chapters. The 1936 collection recounts bullying and physical attacks, Crystal Night, family life, and bartering his school smarts for the protection of two burly peers allows him to make his way back and forth from home to school without being attacked. The next section, 1939, includes his family’s failed attempt to escape and hide, their regret about not escaping earlier, and the accelerating presence of soldiers, tanks, dogs, and barbed wire fences. Bullies have become beasts, and one last attempted-escape by his father is too late- the borders have closed. Chapter 4, the Kielce Ghetto, escalates the horror of his life in an enforced Ghetto, an isolation-rationing-starvation-execution enclosure within the city itself. Play, friendship, cunning, and his school-smarts buttress his battered spirit and provide bartering material to enhance his chances for survival, but just barely. By August, 1942, the section is named LIQUIDATION and the first of several evacuations to death camps results in Moishe losing his mother and being separated from his father.

Finally, From Camp to Camp finds Moishe hanging on to hope, struggling for life, and relying on luck and hope to sustain himself and his friend. He values the example of  the few adult men with enough strength to encourage and occasionally help him survive. One poem shares its title with the book, IT RAINED WARM BREAD. During one of many open-cattle-car transports between camps, near the end of the war, Czechoslovakian women defy the guards to raid a bakery and hurl warm loaves of bread over the tops of the cattle car to the starving, freezing prisoners. Moishe retains the scent of their courage longer than the aroma of fresh bread. The conclusion describes his final death march, one that did not end Moishe’s life. Read for yourself to learn about how he survived and then dedicated his life to the survival of their stories. This book is his daughter’s effort to keep that story alive after her father can no longer do so.

My thoughts:

For a few years I’ve been studying and preparing to be a Holocaust Educator in the Milwaukee area. Through this structured program I’ve gained so much in knowledge, nuance, and appreciation for the overwhelming task involved in transmitting to a new generation the immeasurable horror and impact of the Holocaust. I had spent a lifetime reading fiction and nonfiction on this topic, actively researching scholarly and personal accounts, digesting and processing a reality that is mind-numbingly horrific and yet undeniably true.

The task is overwhelming, and yet a worthy challenge. I’m neither Jewish nor a survivor, and yet I am invested deeply. Why? Because I am human, and this was a HUMAN atrocity. It is the humanity of the Holocaust that makes the genre of novels so effective and powerful as a tool of education, especially for the young. First person accounts are important beyond measure, but a novelized story, one that is well-researched and prescreened by sensitivity specialists, can reach a place in readers’ hearts and minds that might otherwise be closed off to direct instruction and/or academic materials.

I loved this novel-in-verse approach to recounting a portion of the life of Michael Moskowitz, a very young Polish Holocaust survivor. IT RAINED WARM BEAD: Moishe Moskowitz’s Story of Hope is the story in free verse poems that was lovingly shared by his daughter, Gloria Moskowitz-Sweet to the Poet/Author, Hope Anita Smith. Illustrator Lea Lyon has enhanced this story with its own power by skillfully inserting sepia-toned line sketches throughout the story in exactly the right moments.

Christie Ottaviano Books, 2019 (Henry Holt)

This novel in verse offers a poetic revelation of one man’s memories of the years he spent in ghettos and camps throughout the war years in Europe. It’s an up-close view of the physical and emotional price paid for being Jewish in the midst of the unprecedented Nazi genocide.
The format and scenes introduce a tragic and overwhelming slice of history to somewhat younger audiences, and these days it feels necessary to begin that exposure sooner rather than later.

A book like this is an ideal way to introduce younger readers to a personal story from the Holocaust. It is only one of millions, (MILLIONS! ) of individual stories. Each person experienced a different story of survival, of suffering, or of death. Even so, one detailed story, well told, can be a more effective way to grasp and connect with that ONE personal story than to generalize and imagine, wrongly, that all of those individual experiences were the same.

Sometimes, one story is enough.

Flights of Fancy: Creativity Pompts from “The Greats”


Don’t miss this treasury of

writing wisdom and wit:

Anthology from Walker Publishing, 2019

FLIGHTS OF FANCY: Creative Inspiration from Ten Award-Winning Authors and Illustrators is an anthology of essays and writing prompts by the first ten Children’s Laureates of the UK: Malorie BlackmanQuentin Blake, Anthony Browne, Lauren ChildJulia DonaldsonAnne FineMichael Morpurgo, Chris RiddellMichael Rosen, and Jacqueline Wilson, with an introduction by Anita Silvey.

This is a delightful picture book as a literary work, incorporating essays, storytelling, writing prompts, poetry, illustration snippets, and creativity prompts that are suitable for novice or veteran teachers, or self-directed writers and artists. As a whole it is a hefty but accessible volume with colorful images and language, suitable for front-to-back consumption or dip-and-sip random searches. The magnitude of the laureates featured is undeniable. It isn’t surprising that such icons should have both wisdom and wit to offer, but each does a magnificent job of stepping off any presumed-pedestal and plants them very firmly in the camp of the curious audience, providing a wide array of opportunities to consider creative ventures but also reframing the brilliance of their familiar published works in a new perspective. Readers can sense that these brilliant laureates are collaborators, unconvinced that they know the way or have answers or even see a light at the end of a tunnel.

What stuck me as most powerful in each case, from each unique approach, is the bravery displayed. Each seemed able to view a blank page or open space or unformed thought as an opportunity, not as a  block or obstacle to be overcome.

I can’t begin to count the many times I’ve heard young people (or people of any age) repeat some version of “I can’t think of anything to write (or draw)”. The overall impression I gained from this book, the powerful message I hope any reader will take away from this book, is to see those openings, those blanks, those gaps as invitations, convinced of our capacity to celebrate and welcome them, to move toward them with open arms and minds.

This is my feeling, and one I plan to revisit in this book the next time I find such negative thoughts encroaching. There are no drastic or magical aspects to the suggestions and prompts, and yet they are far from trite or familiar. What’s more, these make me even more eager to consider possibilities that the work of creators I admire may serve as mentor prompts in even more ways than I had previously considered.

Please take a look, and share!

***When you have some time on your hands, go back up to that first paragraph to click each contributor’s name. You’ll  see what really BIG DEALS these folks are and also find suggestions from among their many published titles.