#summersparks DAY 1: In Celebration of Summer Magic by: Kelly Halls

Summer Sparks

Hello everyone and WELCOME TO SUMMER SPARKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Kelly Halls is kicking off our writing challenge by blogging about non-fiction. What better way to celebrate? So dig in and get those creative juices going…


by Kelly Halls

People often ask me why I write the strange books I write. And my answer should be, “Summer magic.” Because growing up in suburban 1960s Houston, magic was all around me. It was not the fictional kind that transformed Harry Potter, but it was magic none the less. And summer brought that magic to life.

Every morning, June to August, I’d fill my belly with cereal and set out to explore with my best friend Craig. At school, I was confined to little girl dresses and the lady-like expectations that went with them. But in the summer, I was truly free. In t-shirts, jeans and sneakers, I’d hike with Craig deep into the woods to build a fort — shade against the relentless heat of the summer tropics.

The quest for the perfect hiding place, revealed creatures looking for the same thing; animals I considered kindred spirits. There were frogs, toads, lizards, salamanders and garter snakes we could touch; there were coral, copperhead cottonmouth and rattle snakes we could not. But accidents happened.

At seven, I slipped my hand into a four inch hole. Deeper and deeper I reached, until my body was flat on the ground, my cheek firmly pressed against the warm dirt. That’s when I felt it — the cool, smooth skin of a living thing at the bottom of the hole. Far too smooth. “Where are the bumps,” I remember wondering, as I gently pulled the creature to the surface. The answer was soon chillingly clear. The bumps — the whole toad was inside the smooth, cool body of the venomous copperhead snake. And I was lucky to be alive. But there was magic in danger averted, too.

Once we found the perfect place, Craig and I made the fort our own. A sun baked cow scull marked its secret entrance. Tiny discarded bottles dangled from scraps of fishing line on branches bent by hurricane gales. A broken shard of ancient pottery became a priceless treasure and the corner stone of our make-shift wilderness kitchen.  Flat stones became shovels to dig deep, damp holes in the ground — secret spaces in which to hide our rations; peanuts and animal crackers highjacked from home in brown paper lunch bags.

As we dug the subterranean pantries, we discovered beetles and earwigs, pillbugs and millepedes, juicy wriggling worms. We never felt the need to dispatch the creatures of the woods, poisonous or not. For us, they were not enemies, they were soulmates — proof of balance in our natural world.

Each day ended when we heard our fathers whistle — two fingered trumpeting that flew through the air to remind us it was time for dinner. Craig would run his way and I would run mine. Then we’d meet after dinner to play four square in the driveway or kickball in the neighbor’s giant front yard. As the light sunk behind the trees, we’d spin, circles in place, eyes turned skyward until we collapsed to watch the dizzy swirl of stars above us.

Once the stars stilled, lightning bugs appeared with bioluminescent beacons. They’d float and turn, rise and fall, each in search of a mate Fueled by the ache to continue their species, they’d herald their enchantment with shimmering green light. And we’d run barefoot, chasing the glow to feign the hope to capture. It was fun to pretend, but trial and error had taught us — fireflies were fragile and far to delicate to contain. The beauty only survived if they did.

None of my explorations were about the hunt. They were the physical manifestations of joy, and kinship with the natural world. They were the celebration of my magical world.

I live far from Texas now. Fireflies don’t visit Spokane, Washington. The winters are too cold to sustain them, even in hibernation. But the memories are as clear today as they have ever been. They are just as clear as the reason I now write the books I do. I loved learning to explore, but I am afraid today’s kids might not know how.

Are today’s kids celebrating discoveries of their own? Or are they lost in a world too busy, too technologically focused, and too far removed from the concept of wilderness to spark the inspiration to explore?

I am afraid of the answer to that question, but I do not surrender. I call instead to people prepared to write nonfiction for young readers. I ask them to remember the magic that inspired their curiosities, and to consider passing it on.

I want kids to know there are rocks to raise, forts to build and secrets to unearth even if the wilderness I once knew has been beat back by urban growth. I want them to know magic is alive and well in their natural world, if they are willing to search for it. We as nonfiction writers can spark the flame. We can build a bridge from the past to the future. We can inspire new questions and the passionate search for answers unknown.

We can keep the magic alive, but only if we celebrate its wonder. So I’m hoping, how I’m hoping, that you will. Long live the magic of our natural world. And long live the writers willing to share it.

Kelly Halls



Kelly Halls is  a nonfiction writer for young readers.  And it all started in elementary school.

Kelly says:
“When my third-grade teacher in Friendswood, Texas, told me I was a good writer, I didn’t really understand what she meant — that I should be a professional writer.
I’d always been the weird kid – the kid who asked too many questions, the kid who couldn’t stop talking to her neighbors, the kid who couldn’t find a book she wanted to read. But the thought of being a writer at first drew a complete blank.
     High school in California brought my  third-grade teacher’s words back to me, thanks to the high school newspaper.  Journalism was a forum for questions and conversation, and it turned out that elementary-school teacher was right.  I could write.  
     Writing for adults didn’t really work for me.  I got bored, plus I didn’t have that  “killer” instinct to go for the BIG stories, even if people got hurt.  Writing for kids was ideal.  Weird topics.  No mean stuff.  So I started with magazines and newspapers.
Within five years, I’d been paid to write more than 1,500 bylined articles and reviews for publications including 
Highlights for ChildrenAsk!,DigTeen PEOPLEGuidepost for Kids,Guideposts for Teens,  the Chicago Tribune KidNews, the Atlanta Journal Constitution News for Kids, the Denver Post, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Washington PostWriters Digest,BooklistBook Links, The Book Reporter Network, and dozens of others all over the country.
     When editor Tanya Dean Anderson leftGuidepost for Teens to help create a publishing house expressly for reluctant readers, a new phase of my career was born.  Together, we created six critically acclaimed nonfiction picture books that made being “weird” really cool.
     Kids respond, and I know it–thanks to school visits all over the country. I’m living my dream.  I’m not just writing fun books, I’m helping kids know it’s okay to be whoever they turn out to be.
Weird is no longer a bad word once we share a day together. Weird is a destination we share. Weird is a really fun state of mind.





Think back to your childhood. What was some of the things you enjoyed doing? Did you have any interesting hobbies? Do anything different from the rest of your friends? Write down a list or a paragraph of these things and see if any sparks begin to fly.


Kelly will be giving away one copy of …

In Search Of Squatch book


to those of you who PRE-REGISTERED, COMMENT on this post, and COMPLETE the challenge.

Go to this RAFFLECOPTER LINK TO ENTER into the drawing to win under Kelly’s post!




Missed a SUMMER SPARK? Don’t worry, you can find them here:

Day 1: In Celebration of Summer Magic  by Kelly Milner Halls
Day 2:  The Power of Doodling  by Alison K. Hertz
Day 3: Cause & Effect  by Alayne Kay Christian
Day 4: How to be a Marketing Ninja  by Corey Rosen Schwartz
Day 5: A Visual Writing Prompt: Begin at the End  by Julie Gribble
Day 6: The Final Word  by Jodi Moore
Day 7: Inspiration Station  by Susanna Hill
Day 8: Voice and Word Choice in Picture Books by Tara Lazar
Day 9: Platform Building Can You Build It? Yes, You Can!  by Tracey M. Cox
Day 10: 5 Ways to Hook Your Reader with Your Very First Line  by Kirsti Call
Day 11: Burning Down the House aka Revision by Donna Earnhardt
Day 12: Persistence  by Donna M. McDine
Day 13: Writing Your Way to a Spark  by Kris Dinnison
Day 14: Hope In Your Heart  by Carol Gordon Ekster
BONUS: What Songs Rock Your World?  by Claire Rudolf Murphy
Follow-up #1: TIPS
Follow-up #2: 9 Ways to Tighten Your Story
Prize Announcement: Winner! Winner! Chicken Dinner!

48 thoughts on “#summersparks DAY 1: In Celebration of Summer Magic by: Kelly Halls

  1. Hi Kelly,

    Your childhood memories brought goosebumps from head to toe. I was immersed from the onset and it opened the floodgate of childhood memories for myself. We were called home by the Mets horn each evening for supper. After cleaning the dishes we eagerly joined our neighborhood friends of hit the bat on our dead end street with the shimmer of the single street lamp.



  2. Donna,
    I think she did a great job too. I can remember chasing lighting bugs when I was little, climbing trees, racing dirt bikes… I was a tomboy, can you tell? hahaha.
    Happy writing!

  3. What a lovely post, Kelly. As I read, I felt like I was right there with you in Houston, and it sparked some of my own childhood days in the country. Thank you for sharing your childhood memories and encouraging others to bring their own childhood memories back to the forefront.

  4. Hi Susanna,
    Nice to jog those memories, because children really haven’t changed all that much over the years… Okay, that have some really cool technology to play with, but they still find interests in the same things we did. *the horror!!!! hahhahaa* My children would say. 😉

  5. Great post, Kelly. I was reminded of those days that my sister and I would “play house” in the front yard in a cave of trees and bushes. What fun times!

  6. I have actually written a picture book (not published – yet?) about this and was wondering about something. My friends and I did such crazy things that I’m afraid a publisher wouldn’t publish for fear of being sued. Like we would see who could stand the longest time on the asphalt driveway (iow, who had the “toughest” feet), get lost in the woods (lawsuit in these times?), make a big whirlpool in a round pool (kind of dangerous). What do you think?

  7. Thank you for inspiring me to write vivid scenes full of sensory experiences, Kelly! Out of three children, only one of mine loves to be outside. 😦 Even when the Texas heat is not blaring or the pool is an option, outside is rarely chosen as the place my kids want to spend their time. And when we lived in Wisconsin, it was “too cold.” It is so sad. Like you, I spent my entire day running around with the neighborhood kids, pedaling my pink banana seat bike and catching fireflies. Kick the Can and Capture the Flag were two favorite games we would play. I’ve shared my special memories and games with my kids. It baffles me that the simple things don’t seem to stick with them for long. Thank goodness they love to draw, create card games, and read!

  8. Naturelady:
    I think it would be in the way you did a few things:
    1)presentation – how is the situation presented
    2)handling – how do your characters handle or react to the situation
    3)consequences – are there consequences to the situation that happened.
    By incorporating this, I think almost anything is a go. It’s about finesse, knowing where and when to push the boundaries, and wrapping the story up tightly.
    Hope that makes sense.

  9. Hi Kelly!

    I was in one of two places growing up… My nose in a book or OUTSIDE! 🙂

    I can remember running around the blocks with my friends. We would go to the school playground, play tennisball (made-up sport combining tennis and baseball) or roller skate in the school parking lot, go walking down the tracks (yes, the railroad tracks… gosh we were stupid), ride our dirt bikes on the trails, make hang-outs, capture minnows are the oil refinery (another stupid thing my mother never knew about), chase fireflies, and on and on and on. Sometimes I wonder how my friends and I survived our childhood. :-O

    Son#3 asked me what I did when I was his age when he was 11. I started to answer and then I realized what all I did do! YIKES!!! I told him I read a lot and played with my friends. hahahhahaha. Not lying one bit, just didn’t give all the details.

  10. Kelly, you are a wonderful storyteller! I loved catching fireflies in a jar and would climb a red maple to sit and read when I was supposed to be doing chores.

  11. Thank you so much for all your amazing responses. I love that we all share so many memories of our childhoods, and I have faith we will find a way to launch the children in our lives toward similar discoveries, as modern life will allow.

    Judy, have you tried playing the games WITH your kids outside? Both of my daughters lived in our back yards growing up in Colorado and Washington, though exploring wasn’t really possible in more urban settings. But I often had to start them out by doing things WITH them.

    Carrie, what you’re describing sounds more like a middle grade novel for kids just discovering chapter books. I don’t think you’ll have to worry about lawsuits as long as you tell the whole story — the consequences for bad choices. For example, my parents warned me and warned me about not climbing the giant oak a developer had cut down to prepare for building a new house. But I could not resist. So I climbed out on a branch and it shattered. I hit the ground so hard it knocked the wind out of me. Craig thought I was dying, so he wanted to go get my Dad. I begged him not to, because I wasn’t supposed to be there. I paid a price for my choice. If you tell the whole truth, it’s just part of growing up.

    Write your story, the story you want to tell. Then you and your editors will decide what stays and what doesn’t. But first GET IT DOWN! : )


  12. Thanks for the post. I never refer to myself as having been the “weird” kid but I was the one who followed the tune of a different drummer and still do. During weekends in middle school and high school when all the other kids were playing softball and riding bikes and going to the mall, I was performing in an all youth circus. So, I understand about being the one who stands out for being herself and use my own writing and illustrating to try to get that message to kids. Be yourself. Follow your own tune. I’m glad that snake didn’t bite you. Wow! Scary.

  13. Enjoyed reading what you wrote. I visited your website, and saw some of your interesting non-fiction books.

  14. Hi Kelly and Tracey, what a fabulous first spark. Having had the wonderful opportunity to grow up exploring the outdoor world, climbing trees, building forts and turning over rocks, your post brought me back to my childhood. In some ways my life is, perhaps, no different; I love being outdoors watching the birds at my feeders, the fish and frogs in my pond, and digging in the earth planting flowers and vegetables. My brother recently returned to the east coast after having lived in Colorado for 25 years. He said he couldn’t wait to see the fireflies again. Thanks for a great first post.

  15. Linda, when I do school visits, I tell the kids I get paid for being weird. I tell them weird is my favorite thing to be. I own my weird, wear it proudly like a favorite pair of socks. And in standing proud, I take the sting out of the word. I also signal to all kids who secretly believe THEY are weird that they are exactly who they are meant to be. A unique point of view is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s something to be celebrated, and I want them to know it.

    That’s my approach, but you’ve found your own way to herald what makes you special, and that’s great. But whenever we can free a child from expectations and encourage them to find their own bliss, that’s a good thing.

    Teresamis, I miss fireflies like crazy. So glad you and your brother can share them again. So glad you haven’t lost the wonder that made childhood so great. The same things can keep us young at heart as grown-ups and well grounded as children’s writers!

    Thanks again to all of you for sharing your memories with me. It’s been an honor, and I’m grateful.


  16. What a terrific first spark, Kelly! I really enjoyed reading about your childhood adventures which were very similar to mine, all except for the copperhead that is. Although I did have one that involved climbing up onto a wood pile and hearing the buzz of rattlesnakes. I made a beeline off the pile and headed to the farm house to get Grandpa Bill. It turned out to be a nest of rattlers!

    I am currently working on a chapter book that is taken straight from one of my dumb, dumb, dumb adventures and involves a blizzard, a Victorian slate roof and a daring rescue… oh, and my little brother was with me.

    Sorry to be late posting this but I spent the majority of yesterday at the Vermont History Expo
    http://vermonthistory.org/expo soaking up many summer sparks and I will be back there again today

  17. Absolutely LOVED this post – real life IS magic, and you described it beautifully. Will definitely be jotting down some childhood ideas for stories – cuz that’s when the magic REALLY was. Excited!

  18. Love the wonderful memories this post sparked for me: rhubarb growing in the backyard, tending my grandfather’s garden, digging holes to China in the one spot where grass never seemed to grow, and running through the field of wild flowers next door.

  19. Kelly: What an outstanding Summer Sparks post! The sparks are *sparking* as I recall similar childhood memories of playing and exploring throughout the neighborhood with many friends. Tracey: There truly is magic in the season of summer. Thank you for hosting such an inspirational writing challenge. ~Suzy Leopold

  20. I lived in a Houston suburb also and your post brought back many of my own memories. We lived outside in the summer, period. I especially related to you comment about building forts. Thanks for bringing back these memories in such a lovely way.

  21. Pingback: Day 3: Cause and Effect by Alayne Kay Christian | a writers blog by: Tracey M. Cox

  22. Pingback: DAY 2: The Power of Doodling by Alison Hertz | a writers blog by: Tracey M. Cox

  23. Hi Kelly and Tracey, great post. Took me back to summers in SF East Bay, California. We had forts, played Cowboys and Indians, wild horses– we roamed the streets and yards playing Hide and Seek and Capture the Flag. We were totally free until it grew too dark to play outside. Then our parents’ calls would start, relayed down the street to wherever we were playing that night. We’d go home for baths and bedtime stories and songs. Such a life. I only hope kids today have wonderful memories of their childhoods that aren’t all about smart phones, video games, TV shows, and movies. Thanks for sharing.

  24. Pingback: DAY 4: How to be a Marketing Ninja by Corey Rosen Schwartz | a writers blog by: Tracey M. Cox

  25. Pingback: DAY 5: A Visual Writing Prompt: Begin at the End by Julie Gribble | a writers blog by: Tracey M. Cox

  26. Pingback: DAY 6: The Final Word by Jodi Moore | a writers blog by: Tracey M. Cox

  27. Pingback: #summersparks DAY 7: Inspiration Station by Susanna Hill | a writers blog by: Tracey M. Cox

  28. Great blog sent me right back to my childhood and the happy hours I use to spend exploring the salt lake on our farm. I try and take my children back there as often as I can so they can experience the freedom and magic of farm life

  29. Pingback: IN CELEBRATION OF SUMMER MAGIC | My great WordPress blog

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