feeding change — blogging learning & creativity for young minds

feeding change

blogging learning & creativity for young minds

Ganked gets non-gamer goodness on Amy’s Marathon of Books

June 1, 2014

Ganked-drop-shadow2525-500W Support Amy's Marathon of Books

One of my biggest worries when writing Ganked, was that non-gamers wouldn’t get it.

Ganked is a straight-ahead YA mystery, but steeped in the world of video games and as a result packed with gamer terminology. But I didn’t want all the talk about MMOs, PvPing and Ganking to get in the way of the story and make it unreadable to non-gamers.

After reading Amy Mathers’ review of Ganked on the Marathon of Books site, I think I’ve unlocked that achievement (that’s another gaming reference.)

Amy isn’t a gamer but that didn’t stop her from enjoying the book. Here’s some of the nice things Amy said about Ganked:

“From witty humour to dramatic action scenes, it was an entertaining read with a great mystery. Definitely a must read for teen gamers.” – amysmarathonofbooks.ca

I couldn’t be happier.

I’m also very happy (and honoured) to be included in Amy’s Marathon of Books project.

Amy is reading a new Canadian YA book every single day during 2014 to raise money for the Canadian Children’s Book Centre and establish a Canadian teen book award. Her inspiration comes from two Canadian icons:

Inspired by Terry Fox’s and Rick Hansen’s Canadian journeys, Amy Mathers decided to honour her passion for reading and Canadian teen literature while working around her physical limitations through a Marathon of Books. Realising that Terry Fox could run a kilometre in six minutes during his Marathon of Hope, she figured out that she could read ten pages in the same amount of time.

Thus, on her journey, ten pages will represent one kilometre travelled across Canada. Amy will be reading teen fiction books from every province and territory, exploring Canada and promoting Canadian teen authors and books by finishing a book a day for each day of 2014.  – amysmarathonofbooks.ca

It’s an inspiring challenge and one I’ll be watching (and supporting) for the rest of the year, as Amy travels west across Canada.

I encourage you to check out the many ways to support Amy on her marathon of reading across our great (and large!) country.

Thanks, Amy for including my little addition to Canadian YA lit to your amazing journey!


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Having a blast creating comics with kids at Toronto Public Library

May 17, 2014

My mug at the Toronto Public Library. Thankfully, there’s been no reports of patrons running away in fear. Yet.

I’m mid-way through running a four week writing workshop for kids at the Toronto Public Library and I’m having a blast.

This is the second year I’ve run the Get Graphic: Writing Comics (When You Can’t Draw) workshops and I’m having more fun than ever before.  The kids are bursting with ideas for comics and are natural writers – diving into our writer’s challenges, bouncing ideas off each other and generally being awesome.

Around this time last year, I posted some outlines for the first two sessions. You can check them out below:

Writing Comics Workshop for Kids Session 1: Brainstorming and Story Seeds

Writing Comics Workshop for Kids Session 2: Creating Characters

This week, we’re building the plots for our stories and getting our characters into big trouble! Watch for the Session outline here in the coming weeks!

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How my talk on comics got hijacked (and then saved) by that blocky game

April 29, 2014

So, here’s the scene:

It’s a busy Saturday at the Toronto Public Library’s Book Bash children’s festival. There’s kids running around everywhere in the TPL’s Northern Branch. There’s stacks of books (obviously). There’s busy balloon-animal maker.  And then there’s me talking comics to a room full of kids.

I have a lot of fun giving my Panel Power presentation to libraries and school groups around Canada and last Saturday’s Book Bash talk was no different. I was about halfway through the talk, showing kids how I come up with my ideas when disaster struck.

The Power Point presentation on my laptop crashed.

I’m talking one of those, crash-so-you-can’t-click-anything kind of crashes. It just froze. And to be honest, so did I.

I made a few uncomfortable jokes, which the adults in the crowd laughed at politely. I clicked a few buttons and generally tried to look like I was in control.

I wasn’t.

One of my clicks must have gotten through because suddenly Power Point closed and my desktop wallpaper was projected on the large screen behind me for all to see.

This is what they saw:


This is what I heard:


Instantly, the frozen laptop was forgotten. Many of the kids in the audience were suddenly sitting up in their seats, eyes wide and ready to talk. And talk we did. Ender Dragons, Withers, World Edit plug-ins and more.

For a few minutes, we chatted back and forth excitedly about video games, that other alternative literacy that, like comics, is big with reluctant readers everywhere.

While my laptop sorted itself out and I chatted to the kids, I was struck (once again) with just how important these other forms of literacy are to young readers. Parents might roll their eyes, librarians and teachers might scoff (but many don’t!) at the mention of video games in general and Minecraft in particular.

I remember when the same could be said of comics in the classroom and the library. And I’m happy to see this attitude changing.

I’m also happy in my choice of computer wallpaper.

As a gamer-geek and  elementary school teacher, I often have Tech Teaching ideas to share with fellow educators, librarians, homeschoolers and parents/guardians. I deliver these resources and ideas to your inbox in my monthly e-newsletter Reading Change.

If this sounds like something you’d like to receive, then subscribe to Reading Change. You can unsubscribe anytime and I won’t share or sell your data. Honest.




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Feeding Change Media gets a logo

March 31, 2014
» by in: writing news

Since diving into the world of being a hybrid writer (one who publishes through traditional publishing and self-publishes), I have learned a ton of stuff about the business.  Most of it through mistakes. Many mistakes.

First, I realized I needed to give my publishing company a name. That came pretty quickly. I’ve run this blog for over a decade and it’s always been called Feeding Change. It’s a name that, for me, captures the spirit of what I’m trying to do with my writing.

So, it was a natural fit to call my publishing company Feeding Change Media.

The Media bit at the end gives me room to do other things than just books.

Now, all that was missing was a logo for this little venture. For that, I turned to my pal and amazing illustrator Mike Deas. His art has always captured the playfulness of my writing without treading into that area of cutesy-kidness.

I gave Mike a quick brief about what I wanted and he created this:


I couldn’t be happier with it. There are many other versions, black and white, no text, etc.

I  love the playfulness of the robot eating the book (that’s the feeding bit, get it? ;)

I can’t wait to see this on the spine of Ganked in a few weeks and on all the current Tech Tales and other releases coming soon from Feeding Change Media.

Making that happen is the next learning curve for me in this new world of being a hybrid author.

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Minecraft Students are evolving. They’ll pwn teachers (and servers). And that’s awesome.

February 18, 2014

“You’ll never know more than your students. And that’s okay.”

I find myself saying that a lot to teachers looking to bring Minecraft into their classrooms. Any adult who’s been within a block’s throw of a Minecraft kid knows what I’m talking about.

I’ve written about the encyclopedic knowledge of some Minecraft students around upcoming patches, crafting recipes or the latest must have modpack.

It wasn’t always like this. The knowledge of kids playing Minecraft has increased exponentially every year I’ve used the game in my classroom.

And Teachers should be afraid. Very afraid.

They should also be excited.

Before I tell you why, here’s a look at the Evolution of the Minecraft-Playing Student (as seen by me.)

2011: Mine-what?

In the spring of 2011, I brought Minecraft into the classroom for my first time, after playing it myself for about six months.  I had a small group of students,  six who came to me for reading and writing support. I asked them if they had ever heard of Minecraft. None of them had, but when I showed them this trailer, they were all into it.

They were clueless n00bs, the morning was chaotic and there was so much learning to be had.

2012: Minecraft? Yeah I heard of it.

The next year with a new group at a new school, the reaction a vague knowledge around the game. The kids had heard of it but none had played it. Our early sessions were messy and loud, which was expected. What was a surprise was how quickly these students found the growing catalogue of resources online, from Minepedia, to Yogscast videos and more.

By the end of this year, the students were Minecraft pros and a few had got the game and were now playing at home.

2013: Minecraft? Yeah my brother plays it. I hate it.

My third year using Minecraft was the first year I got push-back from a student about using it. Her brother played it, so she officially hated it. But she gave it a go and was the first one in the group to figure out how to chat in game. From there, she was hooked.

The others in the group had also played Minecraft, either at home or at a friends. They knew the commands, how to build and were off.

The first day wasn’t as messy, but it was still fun.

2014: Minecraft? Yeah, I play and I’m gonna hack your server!

This year is the year I’m seeing things really change. Each student had played Minecraft before.

Two ran their own servers at home and immediately set to work trying to crash the server. They ran World Edit commands, they tried to get Command Blocks, the whole bit.

I was thrilled.

They were poking at the edges of this play space we’d created for them. They were testing the boundaries, trying out their theories and seeing if they could get under the hood of the game. These students felt powerful. They felt in charge.

To them, Minecraft wasn’t a video game you just consume. It was a form of media to be manipulated, hacked and reshaped into their own thing (e.g. a broken server!)

The Many Ways to “Play” Minecraft

I can’t say that’s how these students saw themselves or their attempts to OP themselves, make //sphere TNT 1000 or anything else that would have brought down our GamingEdus server (running on some high end university equipment). They were just testing boundaries, pushing limits and playing Minecraft the way any 11 year old with his own server would play.

They were playing the way a server admin would play. And that shouldn’t be surprising or shocking.

Because outside of the physical building known as “school” and after 3:30 pm, that is who they are. And I’m honoured to have them as builders in our lunch time Minecraft club.

The kids will always know more about Minecraft, or whatever game comes next into your classroom. And that is fine. As teachers, hopefully that doesn’t scare you. Hopefully that gets you charged up (as it does me) to have these student push their learning, and your server into uncharted territory.

How many times can you say that about something you’re doing in your classroom?



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Why I’m changing the way I talk about writing to students

February 16, 2014

When I visit schools or run writing workshops for kids (which I’m doing this spring at the Toronto Public Library), I’m often asked how to get started as a writer.

It used to go something like this:

1. Write a great story.

2. Send it to Publisher.

3. Wait for 1 year.

4. Got published? Yes: go to 5. No go to 1.

5. Hold up Finished Book proudly.

6. Go back to 1.

That’s how it works with my books from traditional publishers, like Tank and Fizz from Orca Book Publishers.


I followed the traditional publishing path with Tank and Fizz.

The New Writer’s Typical Day

But now there’s another way. Next time I talk to kids (or teachers!) about what a writer does all day, it’ll be something like this:

1. Write a great story.

2. Hire an editor.

3. Hire a cover designer.

4. Approve the cover and the final manuscript.

5. Jam manuscript into varying formats (epub, mobi, pdf) so it all looks nice.

6. Upload it.

7. Price it.

8. Market it.

9 Go back to 1.

This is what I did this weekend when I published Pixelhead, the latest story in my Tech Tales series for Middle Grade readers.


I wrote it, created the cover and formatted Pixelhead across a range of platforms.

The second list is definitely longer. It also requires a range of diverse skill sets that go far beyond writing. As I’ve moved into self-publishing books like Ganked and my Tech Tales short stories, I’ve used skills I never knew I had.

New Writing = New Skills

Hiring editors, deciding on covers, wrangling text to look nice are all the domain of the publisher and their army of editors, artists and designers. And while you could argue that the writer becomes the publisher when they self-publish, I still approach this as a writer.

The modern writer needs above all to write a great story (something I hope I do.) But they also, if they wish, have the power to get that story directly to readers.

If they wish to take the path of independent publishing, then the definition of a “writer” changes and so does the job description and the skills needed.

Now, when students ask me about how to get started writing, I tell them about their self-publishing options and writing communities like Wattpad. While I stress the importance of Step 1, I also emphasize that things are changing. The path of tomorrow’s great writers will definitely be different from those writing super stars of today.

Teaching Modern Writing

As an educator, I try to ensure students see themselves and their world in the stuff we learn. Peddling out the myths of a writer’s life does them an injustice. And besides they won’t buy it.

In a tech-filled world of uploads, remixes and user generated content, why should publishing stories be any different?

What do you think? How do you teach your students about being a writer? Let me know in the comments below.


As an award-winning children’s author, gamer-geek and elementary school teacher, I often have Tech Teaching ideas and project news to share with fellow educators. I deliver these resources and ideas to your inbox in my e-newsletter Reading Change.

If this sounds like something you’d like to receive, then subscribe to Reading Change.

You can unsubscribe anytime and I won’t share or sell your data. Honest.





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Pixelhead: my latest mind-bending Tech Tales story coming soon

February 6, 2014
» by in: writing news

pixelhead-drop-250H Pixelhead

Tech Tales #3

“I knew I was in trouble when I deleted my breakfast.”

When Nathan wakes up with the head of a video game villain on his shoulders, he knows he’s in for a world of trouble. The question is, which world?

Award-winning children’s author, Liam O’Donnell mashes reality with the pixelated world of video games in this latest Tech Tale short story for Middle Grade reluctant readers.

The third short story in the Tech Tales series, this DRM-free ebook includes a Teachers Guide and rights for classroom distribution and photocopying.

Available soon for all e-readers, tablets and computers. Read and share Pixelhead on your Kobo, Kindle, Ipad or computer of your choice. Each story also comes with a link to a pdf version for easy printing. Learn more about Tech Tales.

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