Tag Archives: kwame mbalia

30 TIPS for Writing Delightful Children’s Books Day 4


What is the difference between a book that stays on the Bestseller list for years and the one that is dumped after the first three chapters? What is the difference between the book that keeps you up all night, flipping the pages, when you have 1001 things to do and the one that you need to be bribed to read? What is the difference between the truly memorable and unputdownable books and the bleh ones?

5 elements!!!

Like a good pot of soup, every story needs some essential ingredients (elements) to create a memorable sensory feast for the consumer. Can you imagine making tomato stew without tomatoes? 😊 In the same way, you cannot create a good story without these elements.

Here they are: The five MUST-HAVE elements of a good story.
Character: Every good story must have a character or characters. These are the persons, animals, creatures or things who perform the action in the story. Our stories revolve around them. There are two main types: the main character(s) (the protagonist) and the supporting character(s) (secondary and tertiary characters). You can have multiple main and supporting characters. 

Plot: In simple terms: What happens in your story? The plot is the series of related actions that make up your story. What happens to the characters in your story? What do they do?

Setting: Three things to consider: Place, Period and Mood. Place: Is your story set in Nigeria, Japan, your village? Earth, Mars, an imaginary world? What about the period: 2000 years BC, 3014 AD, the 16th century? Some place where time means nothing? Mood: Is the atmosphere ominous? dark? hopeful? peaceful? tense?

Theme: This is the heart of your story. The story itself. Often the reason why readers will love your book and return to it over and over again. What universal truth does your story proclaim? Love conquers all? One good turn deserves another? Unity in diversity?

Point of View (POV): Who is telling the story? A narrator? The main character? The main character and several supporting characters? Or wait for it!! The narrator, the main character and the supporting characters? How is this person telling the story? Are they talking to themselves? Talking to another character? Telling a story or talking directly to the reader? There are 3 types of POV: First, Second and Third person point of view.

Other important elements:

Humour: Is your story humourous? If yes, what type: dark? satirical? ironic? hyperbolic? Juvenile? The Magnificent Mya Tibbs by Crystal Allen
Literary Devices: Do you employ literary devices to make your words sing or to make your story lyrical? The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson
Scenes: Are the scenes in your story action packed? Do they have a clear goal and a beginning, middle and end? Love, Sophia on the Moon by Anica Rissi
Poetry: Is your story in verse: that is, structured like a poem? Is it free verse or does it rhyme? Star Fish by Lisa Fipps
Structure: What is the layout of your story? Does it use the rule of threes? Is it a parallel story featuring 2 stories playing out at the same time? Meanwhile Back at the Ranch by Trinka Noble. Does it feature the 3 or 4 act structure? Or the hero’s journey? Is it an epistolary? Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School by Mark Teague

1. Action: Identify these 5 elements in the books you love

Is there a book you have read more than once? Yes? That’s the one you need. 😊 
a.	Identify the 5 elements in this book
b.      Figure out how the author used these elements to make this book memorable.

2. Read.
Here are some of my favourites:
For characters: Children of Blood and Bone (YA) by Tomi Adeyemi: Prince Inan and Amari and The Junie B Jones Series (CB) by Barbara Parks: Junie B Jones.
Note that books with memorable characters will most likely be part of a series. Memorable characters form the backbone of most series. 

For setting: Zahrah the Windseeker (MG) by Nnedi Okoroafor and Amari and the Night Brothers (MG) by B. B. Alston; Tristan Strong Punches A Hole in the Sky (MG) by Kwame Mbalia

For Theme: How To Find What You’re Not Looking For (MG) by Veera Hiranandani and Echo (MG) by Pam Munoz Ryan

For POV: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (PB) by Mo Willems and Hello Universe (MG) by Erin Entrada Kelly

For Plot: Holes (MG) by Louis Sachar and All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team (MG Nonfiction) by Christina Soontornvat

Some of these books ticked multiple boxes for me. 

Want to write a story for children, don’t know where to start? Tell me all about it and we can figure out the theme and some mentor texts for you! 

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30 Tips for Writing Delightful Children’s Books Day 2


Stephen King

15 years ago, I met my ‘then’ role model and I excitedly asked her the million-dollar question: “What can I do to become a world-famous writer like you?” I expected a million-dollar answer, a one-way ticket to stardom, the secret to Enid Blyton’s success, something utterly profound.

What I got was:

Read Read Read.

Mschew, I thought as I walked away.

A decade and some later, I know now that she gave me the best piece of writing advice in the world! In fact, this should have been Tip #1. 😊 Do you want to become a bestselling children book author? Please read hundreds of books by other children’s book authors! Hundreds! Thousands! Set a monthly reading target! There is NO OTHER WAY.

Also ….

A… Read what you would like to write

If you love historical fiction and you would like to write a piece of historical fiction set in Nigeria with a 12-year-old main character, please read at least 20 middle grade historical fiction novels set in Africa before you start writing. Read another 20 after writing your first draft. Note: Novels which provide examples of good writing are called mentor texts.


BRead like a writer.

When you read, look out for craft elements* that the writer used to perfection and write them down. Note the way the writer uses them. Elements to look out for: point of view, character development, plot, theme, worldbuilding/setting, dialogue, scenes, literary devices, etc.

  1. Action: Create a Read like a Writer Journal.

For every book you read, write the craft element that appealed to you in your journal.

Here’s what mine looks like:

1Beasts Made of NightTochi OnyebuchiMemorable Action ScenesYA, African magical realism
2Zahrah the WindseekerNnedi OkoroaforWorldbuilding!!!!!!YA, African magical realism
3Aru Shah and the End of TimeRoshani ChokshiWorldbuildingMG, Mythology
4Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the SkyKwame MbaliaWorldbuilding, themeMG Mythology
5Lalani of the Distant SeaErin Entrada KellyWorld Building, Xter Development (Hetsbi)MG, Magical realism
6How to Find What You’re Not Looking ForVeera HiranandaniCharacter, 2nd person Point of view, emotional connection with writer: lots of heart, theme,MG, Contemporary, Historical Fiction, Disability, Discrimination
7Children of Blood and BoneTomi AdeyemiWorldbuilding, Excellent Xter Development (Amari + Prince Inan), internal dialogue, 1st person point of view x 3YA, Yoruba Mythology, The Orisha
RLAW Table

This table shows you the stuff I loved/learnt from the books I’ve read in recent times but it also shows you something else: the nature of the story I’m currently working on and the type of story I’d like to try after this project.

I am currently working on a middle grade piece of historical fiction with elements of magical realism. The bit on mythology is for my next project. 😊

2. Read.

So, figure out the theme/genre of your next writing project and start reading.

Want to write a story for children, don’t know where to start? Tell me all about it and we can figure out the theme and some mentor texts for you!

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*post on craft elements coming soon

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Tristan Strong Punches a Hole In The Sky

Title: Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in The Sky

Author: Kwame Mbalia

Publisher:  Rick Riordan Presents

Number of pages: 528

Type of Book: Middle Grade, African, African Folktales, African American, Mythology.

Age: 8 – 12

Buy it here: https://www.amazon.com/Tristan-Strong-Punches-Hole-Novel/dp/1368042414/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Price: $ 8.99


Seventh grader Tristan Strong is down in the dumps. He has just lost his best friend as well as his very first boxing match. His parents send him off to Alabama to spend a month with his grandparents to cool off. There, he literally punches a hole in the sky and falls through earth into another dimension and the adventure of a lifetime!


UP: The world building, the setting and the characters particularly, the folktale heroes, Anansi!!!!, the 10” tall doll baby Gum Baby, the iron monsters, the haunted bone ships and the burning sea! I loved them! It’s an adventure story with some of my favourite Ms: magic and mythology. The specificity Mbalia uses to describe the setting is out of this world! The worldbuilding was extraordinary and I feel like this book is a good mentor text for writers on the subject of setting.

DOWN: A lot of description slowed the action down. Because life is what it is, the actual highlight of the novel was also its undoing. Oh my!!! The description was just too much. I feel like I was buried under a mountain of details. I have been trying to read this book for 8 weeks but I still haven’t made it halfway. It is unbelievably putdownable, in fact, 1 of 2 things happens each time I pick it up: I come up with something more interesting to do or I fall asleep. In summary, I still haven’t finished reading it but at this point, I honestly cannot. go. on. This will be the first time I am consciously abandoning a book halfway, I am sad and I really struggled to avoid this but …


🌟 🌟 🌟


  1. Read an excerpt (Chapter 1) here: https://www.readriordan.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Tristan-Strong-Hole-in-Sky_pp1-33.pdf

CHALLENGE: Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in The Sky


  1. Write a 300-word essay on any African God.

Send your answers to ugochinyelu.anidi@gmail.com.

Entry requirements: Entrants must be within the 8 – 12 age range. The first correct entry will be announced on this page and will win a copy of this book.*

Answers must be submitted before 11:59 p.m. on Friday, January 15th 2021.

Next Book of the Week:


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*open to US residents only

Idia of the Benin Kingdom

Title: Idia of the Benin Kingdom

Author: Ekiuwa Aire; Illustrator: Alina Shabelnyk

Publisher: Our Ancestories

Number of pages: 40

Type of Book: Picture book, Fiction with elements of Non-Fiction

Age: 4 – 8

Buy it here: ;  https://our-ancestories.com/product/idia-of-the-benin-kingdom-childrens-book/ ; https://www.amazon.com/Idia-Benin-Kingdom-Ekiuwa-Aire/dp/1777117925/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Price: $17.99; $13.99


Idia was an ordinary little girl who had an extraordinary dream about a brave female warrior with magical healing powers. Curious, she begged her father to teach her how to be a warrior and her mother to teach her the art of magic and medicine. Little did she know that she would become the brave warrior in her dream as well as the first Queen mother of the ancient Benin Kingdom. Read this story of perseverance and courage to learn about the history of one of Africa’s most illustrious queens.  


UP: I have read quite a bit on Queen Idia as I mentioned in an earlier post but I have never read a book about her childhood so I absolutely loved this one. The author used sprinkles of rhyme and repetition and lots of lyrical language to make this picture book a great read. Blending fact and fiction, she described the life – particularly the childhood – of Queen Idia with some detail and quite a bit of flair.  

One of my favourite paragraphs:

People buzzed with excitement in the center of the village. The Oba (King) was there. Hands slapped drums. Fires were started to cook the feast. Idia adjusted her beads and greeted all her friends.

The illustrations blew my mind. They are vibrant, detailed, apt, evocative and sublimely different from the norm, they truly gave life to the words and made the book shine!

I also loved the use of Edo words. The icing on the cake was the historical factsheet at the end of the book. I loved everything about this book and I would highly recommend it for lovers of Edo culture and their children. 😀

DOWN: None.


🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟


  1. Read it for free via Kindle Unlimited.
  2. Register with http://eepurl.com/g8iB-D to receive a free digital copy of the Idia of the Benin Kingdom coloring and book.
  3. Watch a video trailer here:
  1. For more information about the book, visit https://our-ancestories.com/product/idia-of-the-benin-kingdom-childrens-book/

CHALLENGE: Idia of the Benin Kingdom


  1. Draw a warrior queen (4 – 6 year olds)
  2. Find four words which can be used to describe Idia in the crossword puzzle below (7 – 8 year olds)

Send your answers to ugochinyelu.anidi@gmail.com.

Entry requirements: Entrants must be within the 4 – 8 age range. The first correct entry will be announced on this page and will win a copy of this book.

Answers must be submitted before 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, December 13th 2020.

Next Book of the Week:


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photo credit: amazon.com