The author of more than 135 children’s books, Candice Ransom picked up a pencil when she was five and drew a lady wearing a ball gown and a diamond tiara in her older sister’s spelling book. It was an inauspicious beginning for an award-winning writer who would publish in every form in the field of children’s literature: board books to biographies, picture books to historical fiction, mysteries to nonfiction.
Candice learned to tell stories by listening to her mother recall the “days long ago” and by taking note of her sister’s outrageous excuses for cutting school. The combination of reminiscence and creative fibbing became the basis for her popular chapter books and middle grade novels, often set in her native Virginia. Her latest novel, Rebel McKenzie, earned a star from Booklist, and was a CBC Children’s Choice and Texas Bluebonnet nominee.
A veteran speaker and writing teacher, Candice has given hundreds of presentations to schools, libraries, conferences, and literary festivals. In addition to writing and speaking, she currently teaches writing and literature at Hollins University in the graduate children’s literature program. Her education includes an MFA in writing for children from Vermont College, and an MA in children’s literature from Hollins University, but those degrees came much later in her career. She taught herself to write at the School of Hard Knocks.
Candice lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia, with her husband and two high-maintenance cats.
Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten
Illustrated by Christine Grove
Amanda wants to be a school bus driver when she grows up, but first she wants to go to kindergarten. There, she wants to do all of the things her brother Lewis did. She plans to write her name in big letters on the chalkboard, so everyone will know who she is. She will build the tallest block tower, and she will run faster than everyone else (provided they are only running downhill). On the first day of school, an excited Amanda gets to the bus stop, where she finds a girl her age dressed in brilliantly-bright pink. Although Amanda tries to ignore her, the pink girl follows her onto the bus and sits down next to her. She introduces herself as Bitsy, but Amanda does not feel like being polite, so she does not answer. At school, Bitsy writes her name in big letters on the chalkboard, taking up most of the room and leaving Amanda only a very small area for her name. No matter what Amanda tries to be best at, Bitsy gets in her way. After recess, Amanda sneaks into the line for Lewis’ grade and sits next to him at his class. Amanda’s feet do not reach the floor, and she cannot read the words on the board. Just when she’s feeling especially low, she sees Bitsy at the classroom door, looking quite lost and sad. Turns out she went looking for Amanda and got lost. Amanda realizes her mistake in quitting kindergarten, so she takes Bitsy’s hand and leads her back to their classroom. Amanda discovers it does not hurt to be kind. This is a sweet story with adorable illustrations that combine panda traits with human traits. Teachers have many discussion points to use in class. Reviewer: Sarah Maury Swan (Children’s Literature).
Ransom (Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the World) again creates a heroine with an unusal passion: 12-year-old Rebel McKenzie wants to be a paleontologist, and her goal this summer is to attend the Ice Age Kid’s Dig and Safari. Instead, she is stuck babysitting her seven-year-old nephew, Rudy, in a mobile home while her 26-year-old sister, Lynette, attends beauty school. An outgoing smart aleck with a talent for “burp-talking,” Rebel decides–along with new friend Lacey Jane–to enter a local beauty pageant to win the money she needs for the Dig. Peopled by offbeat characters–including an annoyingly perfect pageant winner named Bambi, elderly Odenia Matthews, a former hand model who trains the girls for the pageant, and an enormous cat named Doublewide–the book is especially strong in the development of Rebel’s relationship with Rudy, who talks to God at lunchtime and is obsessed with fashion–for corpses. Surprises in both plot and character development create a quick pace, extra material like Rudy’s cartoons and pages from Rebel’s “field notebook” provide welcome and often amusing insight. 2012, Hyperion/Disney, Ages 9 to 12, $16.99. Reviewer: Publishers Weekly.
Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the World
Illustrated by Heather Ross
Iva Honeycutt is looking forward to the summer after third grade. She has found what she believes to be a treasure map in some old magazines of her great-grandfather’s and is determined to locate the buried gold she thinks it shows. Her great-grandfather is often described as somewhat different, a description that fits Iva as well. Fiercely proud and self-sufficient, she is content to not have friends, other than a few adults. She particularly wants separation from her family, most particularly her “double” first cousin, Heaven (their mothers are sisters who married two brothers). It is easy to understand why–Heaven is a pain in the neck who often lies, bullies, and tattletales yet manages to get away with her obnoxious behavior with no apparent consequences. When Heaven horns in on Iva’s friendship with Miz Compton, it’s nearly more than Iva can bear; but she soldiers on in her efforts to find the treasure, with the help of her dog Sweetlips. However, it becomes clear she needs help digging in her chosen spot and so begrudgingly invites Heaven along as a helper and silent partner. Set in a small Virginia town populated with adults with unusual names and characteristics, the often-humorous story reads quickly. More a story of friendship and loneliness than an adventure, it realistically sets up the relationship between the two girls. Readers looking for a story about some independent girls trying to figure out what friendship means will enjoy this light read. 2012, Hyperion/Disney, $14.99. Ages 7 to 9. Reviewer: Peg Glisson (Children’s Literature).
Candice offers a variety of programs. Most are supplemented by PowerPoint, all are peppered with enthusiastic discussions, and stories about the writing life from someone who started writing when she was seven, decided to be a writer when she was ten, and began writing children’s books for publication when she was 15. Programs for each grade level fall into two categories: book talks and writing workshops.
The Big Green Pocketbook, Tractor Day, Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten
Three autobiographical picture books—one based on a fun day when Candice was five, one based on the family gardening tradition, and one based loosely on her first day of school—help young children realize it’s okay to write “what you know.” Grades K-1. PowerPoint, 45 minutes.
Pumpkin Day, Apple Picking Day, Snow Day
Candice’s series of rhyming readers features a brother and sister having fun on special family outings. In this program, students will learn how to create stories based on their own fun family days. Teams will also participate in a Rhyme Challenge. Grades 2-3. PowerPoint, 50 minutes.
Emus, Monster Trucks, Possums, and The Worst Cat in the World
This program focuses on Candice’s experiences in writing true stories (over 40 nonfiction titles) and the importance of writing you don’t know. Candice knew nothing about monster trucks or endangered amphibians when she wrote books on those topics. Students will learn how to ferret out true stories on the Internet, then dig deeper with books, articles, local travel, and interviews. Grades 3-5. PowerPoint, 50 minutes.
Rebel McKenzie’s Great Adventure
In this program, students will be introduced to Rebel McKenzie, a character drawn from Candice’s life. Rebel, who longs to be a paleontologist, digs a big hole for herself when she befriends a bully, alienates the trailer park beauty queen, teachers her nephew to belch-talk, and enters a beauty pageant to earn money for Ice Age camp. Partly told through comic strips, field notebooks, beauty newsletters, the book surprised Candice by requiring non-narrative forms to advance plot and develop character. Students will learn how to combine different media in a story, and be encouraged to create their own traditional stories augmented with newspapers, cartoons, journal entries, text messges, etc. PowerPoint. Grades 4-6. 50 minutes.
“Write Where You Are: Large-group Student Writing Workshops”
In response to teachers asking how to motivate their students to write more, Candice created large-group workshops based on her own image vs. idea writing process. Each workshop is geared to meet the curriculum needs of K-1, 2-3, 4-5.
- Candice uses her own childhood writings to show how her stories fizzled out (lack of planning!). She also uses her published texts to demonstrate how picture books and novels grew from personal stories.
- Students will bring notebooks and pencils, prepared to write. They’ll leave with at least one focused topic, opening sentence, lists of strong verbs and nouns, questions to propel narrative, and the energy to write completed pieces from their own personal place.
- Candice uses her own books to demonstrate the process. To get the most out of these programs, students should be familiar with her work. For K-1: The Big Green Pocketbook; Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten. For 2-3: Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the World; Terrier Trouble! And More True Stories of Animals Behaving Badly. For 4-5: Rebel McKenzie.
In-Service for Teachers:
“You Are Here: Personal Geography and Maps as Story Starters”
This workshop reinforces Candice’s own writing process of image vs. idea, and is based on her highly successful classes at Hollins and weekend writing retreats. Students learn to create personal maps that serve as the foundation for memoirs, stories, and nonfiction. Through “deep-mapping,” students access images that strengthen their writing and learn to sharpen their observation skills. Writing is seeing! Exercises, handouts, bibliography. PowerPoint, 1 hour.
Candice will give up to three presentations per day and is comfortable with large group combining two grade levels. For schools within a 50-mile radius of Fredericksburg, her honorarium is $300 per session ($800 for a full day of three sessions—a little price break!). Schools within two hours of Fredericksburg are $350 per session, with a minimum of two sessions ($700—$950 for a full day). School visits requiring three or more hours of travel will be $400 per session, with a minimum of two sessions ($800—$1000 for a full day). Full-day school visits also include an autographing session and a small-group lunch with students at no extra charge. The Teacher’s In-Service is an extra $100.
To learn more about Candice Ransom and her publications please visit www.candiceransom.com.