<![CDATA[A NaNoWriMo novel for middle-grade readers! - Blog]]>Fri, 16 Mar 2018 21:44:41 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[Student Novels 2015: Book 14]]>Wed, 21 Oct 2015 01:04:07 GMThttp://myownmagic.com/blog/student-novels-2015-book-14PictureCover design by Vlad Verano of Third Place Press
For this final blog entry in the Student Novels 2015 series, I’m excited to tell you about 104, an extraordinarily well-crafted dystopian thriller by an 8th grade writer. I have described it to people as a “medical/military thriller” because the main problem faced by this not-so-distant-future cast of characters is the global devastation caused by a virus known as “104.”

While countries battle each other over rights and access to the antidote, normal people struggle to care for the inflicted and rebuild their lives after a huge portion of the world’s population has perished. We learn in the first few chapters that a rebel force exists, whose primary function is to bypass the corrupt government and develop a cure for 104 on their own. But germ warfare is big business, and the government is willing to put a lot of time, effort, money, and manpower into destroying the rebels and their growing network of spies and scientists.

The story opens post-apocalypse, and we meet the main protagonist, Skye, as government soldiers launch a surprise attack on her family’s home. The family is torn apart, and Skye’s mission becomes to find and rescue her mother.

Not far into the search she meets her co-protagonist, William, who has his own reasons for joining in her mission. At this point, the author breaks out into a dual first-person narrative. The narrative device works, because it allows the reader to know what each character is thinking when they’re in the same situations, and also to know what each character is doing and thinking when they are separated and have their own adventures.

There are two aspects that impress me most about this novel. One is that the author manages a complicated plot line with intersecting subplots. The second is the author’s ability—through her character’s interior thoughts and spoken dialogue—to develop organic and believable relationships. 

I’d like to point out one more thing, then you can read it for yourself. As you read the excerpt below, I want you to notice something pretty spectacular. Notice that there are spoken words between the two main characters, Skye and William. Those are in quotes. There are other people in this scene, but they don’t matter. All that matters is the building tension as Skye comes to accept that she and William must be separated.

Look at the third-to-the-last paragraph and you’ll see that the author told us what one of those other characters said, but we didn’t have to see it in quotes: we didn’t have to hear it. That other character fades into the background as the reader is pulled tightly into the emotional exchange between Skye and William.

I keep reading these paragraphs again and again, reminding myself that this wasn’t written by a New York Times bestselling author! Such vivid action; such superbly-rendered emotion. Just enough description of what their bodies are doing as the scene unwinds. Action that adds to the emotional tension. It’s absolutely captivating.

When I tell him about the parachute he looks confused. But only for a second. 

“Skye, you’re going with Philip.” He turns to steer again. 

“No—” I start. 

“Yes. Go tell him.” 

“We can’t just escape, and let the government catch you with Ryan tied up. They’ll put you in jail, or force you to tell them about Philip. Maybe worse.” I unbuckle myself and lean close to him.

“The government won’t hurt me.” William tries to sound convincing. Radio static interrupts us and a man’s voice comes on, giving orders to Philip. We ignore it. “Go and tell Philip.” William lets go of the joystick, startling me. The beeping starts again, fast and loud. He ignores that too. “Skye.” He puts his hands on my shoulders. “I’ll be fine. Go with Philip. Find your mother. I’ll be waiting for you when you come back.” 

“But I’ll never be able to survive without you.” I know I have no choice but to leave him. Philip yells for me to hurry. “I’ll come back for you,” I say with tears in my eyes.

“Just find your mother.” He looks into my eyes for a few seconds, then turns back to fly the Chinook. I duck out of the cockpit. Philip rushes toward me and secures the parachute. Then he goes back into the cockpit, probably to give William instructions. 

When he comes back, Philip pushes a button on the ceiling and a loud screech sounds in my ears. The door to our right opens slowly. The wind is so fast and loud I can barely hear Philip. He grabs William’s backpack with the codes, then hooks us together. He yells to me, saying that I don’t have to do anything except jump. He’ll open our parachute. 

We step to the edge. The Chinook hovers in midair. I look to my right and see two large red helicopters coming closer. Then I look down, and one thought goes through my mind before Philip jumps, pulling me down with him. I’m not thinking about how scared I am.

I’m thinking, Why am I leaving William?

<![CDATA[Student Novels 2015: Book 13]]>Sat, 10 Oct 2015 15:24:49 GMThttp://myownmagic.com/blog/student-novels-2015-book-13PictureCover design by Vladimir Verano of Third Place Press
Many writers bog down the beginning of a novel with too much backstory. I’ve noticed, however, that my student novelists rarely make the same mistake. Today’s novel is a perfect example. Look how the story begins—and I don’t mean the scene is set, but the story truly begins—in the first sentence:

Waking up with a start, Stitches looked down and realized that she had old rusty chains restraining her paws.

Like a veteran writer (though only 12 when she wrote this), the author manages in just a few pages to bring the reader into a world similar to our own, but different. In this world, humans, called “Plain Ones,” live alongside another race called the Kin. When Stitches asks her new friend Pink why they’ve been locked up in a cell with dozens of other Kin, Pink is incredulous:

Pink groaned. “Oh, you gotta be kidding me. Have you been living under a rock your whole life or something?” . . . Pink shook her head and sighed. “Well, Stitches, prepare to be amazed! While you have been livin’ in your lil’ hole in the ground or whatever, the world around you has been going crazy. The Plain Ones, or what’s left of ‘em, have decided that us animal freaks are a threat, and now they’re hunting down whoever has a tail or unnatural abilities; pretty much anyone who’s not entirely human, you might say.” She flicked her tail. “Most of us are just shot on sight, and those are the lucky ones, believe it or not. The unlucky ones would be you and me and the others captured and held at these facilities where we are tortured for the rest of our lives.”

Stitches finally starts understanding what’s going on, and desperately wants to escape their prison. She says, “I don’t want to be here! I need to find my parents. I—”

She was interrupted by a stinging pain on her cheek, only to realize that Pink had slapped her. “You listen to me right now,” Pink said in a stern voice, holding Stitches’ shoulders and looking straight into her eyes. “You can’t freak out like this! I don’t know what your entire story is but you gotta be tough. News flash: this is the Wasteland. You gotta be tough in the Wasteland or you ain’t gonna last long. You wanna escape, huh? You wanna find your mommy ’n’ daddy? Well guess what? There are Kin out there who don’t have mommies or daddies ‘cause they’re all dead! You have to be strong, all right? That means no freaking out and making a scene!”

There is so much that works well in this story: the author’s strong sense of the world she’s created; the distinct voices of individual characters, which includes the use of dialect and slang; and the effective increase of tension as the stakes rise and the true threat becomes more evident.

Cell 22 is a stylish and smart novel with a graphic novel intensity and steampunk fun.

<![CDATA[Student Novels 2015: Book 12]]>Sun, 27 Sep 2015 23:14:50 GMThttp://myownmagic.com/blog/student-novels-2015-book-12PictureCover design by Vlad Verano at Third Place Press.
I’ve read the opening lines of this novel to so many people I’ve lost track. Listen to this:

I watched the green hills pass by out the window. A lone bull elk stood majestically on top of a knoll, surveying the nearby valley. Off in the distance a competitor bugled, and he answered back, defending his territory . . . Bison grazed in the foreground, pronghorn galloped in the background, a family of moose tramped the Lamar River, a grizzly and two cubs wandered through the sage brush, and an eagle soared over all.

Yellowstone Survival is the story of 13-year-old John, who visits Yellowstone National Park with his parents and his camera, and it’s a stunning tribute to the beauty and majesty of this incredible wilderness reserve. The author is a true naturalist who deftly weaves facts about animals and their habitats with an intriguing story of survival in the wild.

I think the author struggled a little in the early drafts of this novel because a different kind of writing is required when the antagonist is the natural world. There’s no villain to act and speak, and the enemy can’t be faulted for having weak human traits like greed or jealousy. 

After much thought and work, though, the author delivers an exciting, dramatic world of danger. Here’s a long excerpt that illustrates my point:

Then I noticed that the wolves seemed excited about something they saw downstream. I couldn’t see what they were interested in because of a willow thicket on the river bank, which made me curious. The wolves settled into crouching positions and slowly made their way toward the thicket. As soon as the first of them entered, a bellowing grunt arose from the willows. The wolves had attacked a snoozing bison. The grunt quickly turned into a panicked bellow that echoed around the valley. The bushes shook as the bison bulldozed away from the wolves, leaving a trail of trampled greenery. A few of the wolves leapt on him, but he bucked violently, throwing them off like rag dolls. Even the wolves could not take him out right there; he was obviously a full adult male, not someone to mess with without support. Apparently the wolves agreed, because as soon as they came back into view, they all howled for reinforcements. They were quickly answered by a howl over the ridge of the valley. By the sound of it, the rest of the pack would arrive soon, and the herd animals had better be on even higher ground.

Important and interesting information is presented on every page as John fights to survive and return to his family, and the story acknowledges both the destructive power of nature—whether it’s fast-flowing water, a sheer cliff, or a predatory animal—and the seductive power of nature and our desire to be part of it. This young author strikes a perfect balance between the two ideas with the wisdom and voice of a philosopher.

The protagonist makes friends with a wolverine, who follows him around like a puppy. At the end of the story, John realizes he’ll have to say goodbye to his new friend. I knew that wolverine had changed my life forever, in a few ways. For one, he had saved me during the cougar attack, and for another, he had been a great companion overall, providing moral support in his own funny way, like following me to the river.

In Yellowstone Survival, nature is portrayed as a force that can save us or destroy us—and that is simultaneously beautiful and terrifying—which means the author succeeded in everything he tried to do. It is a riveting and memorable story.

<![CDATA[Student Novels 2015: Book 11]]>Sun, 20 Sep 2015 15:52:19 GMThttp://myownmagic.com/blog/student-novels-2015-book-11PictureCover design by Vlad Verano of Third Place Press
The protagonist who gives her name to this novel shares center stage with her friend Basil, and both of them are launched into a life-and-death adventure when they escape a future that has been imposed upon them against their will. It’s a “not romance” story of two young people who are drawn together by circumstances, but defy the potential fairy tale element that might make them the perfect couple.

When Basil, the male protagonist, starts explaining how he ended up with Ebony, he says, “Well, I was trying to protect this girl . . .” But the man he’s talking to interrupts with, “Ahhh, is this going to be a gooey love story? Because if it is, I might as well leave now.” After hearing the story, the man accuses Basil of being predicable. Basil retorts, “I’m sorry if saving someone’s life is considered cheesy or predictable.” 

“Hey, it’s all right,” says the man. “Just for next time, when you are telling your friends about it, make it more exaggerated.”

What’s fun about this story is the great dialogue and interior thinking of the characters. Ebony is conscientious about her looks even when she’s in danger or concerned about someone else: “I must frighten most people I stumble upon; they always turn away, or walk the totally other direction. I don’t blame them. My hair is ratty and matted. My clothing is ripped, and is covered in dried blood and dirt stains. One of the legs of my jeans has been cut off. I’m not sure why they haven’t put me in a hospital gown. Even to me, I sound quite terrifying . . . I smile, trying to let people know that I am not a serial killer.”

Beyond the non-stop action, there is a lot in this story that speaks to the question of identity, and assumptions about the roles we play in life. It seems to me this teenage author is asking all the right questions: who are we, what does society expect of us, and who or what am I willing to make a stand for? There are radical, archetypal shifts going on in the world these days, and I’m fascinated to see how the conversation is shaped by young authors in fictional stories like Ebony Thorne.

This is a story with twists and turns, and I can almost guarantee the end will surprise everyone.

<![CDATA[Student Novels 2015: Book 10]]>Sun, 16 Aug 2015 18:05:01 GMThttp://myownmagic.com/blog/student-novels-2015-book-10PictureCover design by Vladimir Verano of Third Place Press.
In case you don’t already know, NaNoWriMo is NOT a writing project with rules and regulations; it’s a freedom-granting opportunity to write what might not have been written otherwise. I contemplate that idea with a big grin on my face as I think about this week’s novel, because I’m pretty sure it would not have been written without NaNoWriMo.

Sometimes when kids are told, “Write what you want,” there are rules attached: it must be at least 500 words, or it has to rhyme, or it should be based on a real-life experience, or it should include an introduction and conclusion, or it has to be completed within 50 minutes. Ugh! 

The author of Stories of Doughnutville had not done much writing before last November. In fact, I think he was inspired to write by the novels published by some of his classmates the year before. And while intrigued by the creative possibilities, the project was a bit daunting.

That’s why I love the “yes-ness” of NaNoWriMo. Can I write short stories instead of a novel? Yes. Can it be silly and fun and wacky? Yes. Can all the characters be doughnuts? Yes! Doughnuts, and eclairs, and maple bars!!

In this illustrated collection of short stories, all the pastries—I mean, characters—live in Doughnutville. It’s a big city with tall buildings and a factory far from the inner city. There are a lot of jobs and tons of farms. Here is an introduction to two of the main players:

Bob is a doughnut. A plain, chocolate doughnut. He likes adventure. He is round and skinny. He has strawberry jelly blood. He sometimes lives by himself. When he is not living by himself he lives in his big apartment building with Mo.

Mo is a kind of long skinny doughnut. He is Bob’s friend. He lives in Bob’s apartment building. He is Bob’s roommate. He works at Doughnuts, Inc. He makes cars. He is Bob’s best friend.

I love that Doughnuts, Inc. makes cars! In sharp contrast to these first two delicious characters, Mr. Boss makes a menacing antagonist:

Mr. Boss is the boss of Dark Factory. He makes all the coal and it is really black and disturbing in there. He is a mean, square, glazed doughnut. He works with businessmen from other companies selling and buying factories and ripping people off. He is also known as Mr. Lame.

Stories of Doughnutville contains tales of action, adventure, and loyalty, and they are filled with sound: BOOM! Zing! Slurp, slurp. Whirl, whirl, whirl. Klang! Klang! Bob’s dog, Gum, only ever says, “Arf, arf!” but the two of them keep a dialogue going and Gum always seems to say just the right thing at the right time.

That’s probably why I appreciate NaNoWriMo so much: it inspires kids to write in joyful, noisy language, reminds them that they have a story only they can tell, and encourages them to write just the right thing at the right time. 

Hooray! Klang, klang!! Arf, arf! 

Ha ha! I couldn’t have said it better myself.

<![CDATA[Student Novels 2015: Book 9]]>Sun, 09 Aug 2015 17:48:30 GMThttp://myownmagic.com/blog/student-novels-2015-book-9PictureCover design by Vlad Verano at Third Place Press.
Words delight me. 

Individual words, evocative phrases, masterful descriptions, and witty dialogue totally make my day. I fell in love with the sound of spoken words as a preschooler, and as soon as I could read, in a book was where I wanted to be.

My favorite writing captures the flow and rhythm and surprises of life. It provides me with new vocabulary to think not only about objects and people, but also intangible things like belief systems and emotions. Words—and the spaces between them—help me shape and create meaning from life’s experiences . . .

. . . which is a pretty deep way to introduce an adventure story! So let me explain: today’s author is, like me, the kind of reader who absorbs stories in every form and is delighted by the magic of words. How do I know that? It’s obvious by her extraordinary ability to put them on a page.

At only 11 years old, she is already a consummate writer. Words come so easily to her that she plays with them, like a juggler, blithely tossing them over her head for the sheer joy of it. There’s a kind of self-awareness to her characters that often makes me feel like they have a sense of humor about themselves.

Take, for example, the antagonist of the story. He’s self-aware enough to have a nameplate on his desk that reads: Butch Stone, Professor of Evil. When another character asks him, “Who are you?” Mr. Stone replies, “Have you not seen my shiny silver nameplate? I am the most wicked man on the planet!” As he tells his backstory, he explains, “One day, the police told me that because I own the old orphanage building, they need me to run it. I had a wonderful life, torturing kids and scaring them terribly.”

Then there’s the thug who argues and complains that Mr. Stone calls him “Dog.” Or the family who is “weary of risk” but must embark on one more dangerous mission. I laughed out loud when the dead end was described as “actually a DEAD end. There were arrows being shot back and forth and more lava.” And how about this precocious observation: “The door looked like it was made of pure gold. Slowly, the shining door creaked open. Autumn thought it was funny that such an opulent door needed oil.”

These sorts of details, presented as they are, make the reader feel involved in a private joke . . . like the author is saying, “Look here, Reader, I’m going to play around with words and characters and plot, and you’re invited to share in the fun!”

The Heart of Stone is a book-lover’s book. With lots of action, snappy dialogue, interesting and numerous settings, a super-evil bad guy, and a spunky protagonist who is more clever and resourceful than any of the adults in the story, it is an absolutely delightful read.

(Yes—I purposefully used three forms of “delight” when writing this review!)

<![CDATA[Student Novels 2015: Book 8]]>Sun, 26 Jul 2015 20:24:53 GMThttp://myownmagic.com/blog/student-novels-2015-book-8PictureCover design by Vladimir Verano at Third Place Press
What I like to do with these book reviews is write about the first thing that strikes me as being especially unique or powerful about each story. In the case of Hit and Run, it’s the author’s portrayal of adults and family life that seems particularly insightful.

This story is about a professional baseball player who is accused of using illegal performance-enhancing drugs. He’s been framed, of course—our hero would never actually do something like that—so there’s a who-dunnit aspect to the story, but what carries us page by page is the detailed and complicated daily emotional life of the protagonist.

Consider this: in a novel of 8,600 words, the main character deals with the steroids catastrophe, sick children, bills, identity theft, an elderly father who resurfaces after three years of no contact, betrayal by a loved one, and traffic (an issue addressed by many Seattle-area writers, although this story takes place in Boston). In action and conversation, the protagonist navigates relationships with friends and teammates, a wife, two young children, a twin brother, and his estranged dad. Through minimal backstory, we learn of childhood dreams, and the death of his mother in a car accident a few years ago. That’s pretty amazing!

What I especially enjoy is reading this young author’s portrayal of family life. The protagonist, Tristan McWrong, is 30 years old, his wife is 33, and their sons are 8 and 4. The husband and wife share household chores and childcare. Look how sensitively Tristan responds when he discovers that someone has accessed their finances:

Tristan still couldn’t believe that their bank account had been hacked. Although they had cancelled all their cards, so they were safe, the thing was, he didn’t feel safe. Tristan felt unsafe. Fragile, that was the word. Like if someone touched him he could crumble.

When his father suddenly reappears after years of no contact, Tristan goes straight to his wife and asks if they can have a “serious talk.” They are attentive and helpful to each other during every crisis, no matter whether it’s large or small.

And look at this final paragraph, keeping in mind that the author is a 12-year-old boy:

Crack! He watched to make sure it was a home run, then Tristan McWrong looked up into the stands as he rounded first base to see his family: his wife Aria, his little boy, Jordan, and his youngest boy, William. Yep, this is an awesome life, he thought as he stepped onto home plate and into a screaming mob of teammates. The final score was Mariners: one, Red Sox: ten. Game over.

Hit and Run was written by a young man who loves sports, but who is equally intrigued by the game of life. It’s evident that he’d like to see both played with respect and integrity, and it’s a real treat to see him explore that idea in writing. 

<![CDATA[Student Novels 2015: Book 7]]>Sun, 19 Jul 2015 20:31:13 GMThttp://myownmagic.com/blog/student-novels-book-7PictureCover design by Vladimir Verano at Third Place Press.
Over and over again I’m impressed and, frankly, surprised by the depth of emotional intelligence in my young writers. As I read through the novels, I wondered how these kids got so smart. Was I that deep when I was in middle school? Maybe. I can’t remember. But it’s a privilege to read through their complicated examinations of the nuances of human emotion and personal growth.

In Enigma, the protagonist—fifteen-year-old Bohnnie—is searching to define her own identity, which is one of my very favorite themes. In the first chapter of the novel, we see Bohnnie (a) questioning how she fits into her adoptive family; (b) testing her own independence through conflict with her adoptive mother; (c) observing her own judgment of others and how there are “in” cliques that she wants to be part of; and (d) realizing that sometimes emotions are larger than the words we have to express them.

What I really like is how the author presents those ideas for scrutiny--without getting bogged down in backstory, and without trying to provide one-size-fits-all answers. Like this:

Now was her chance to apologize. But how? Bohnnie knew she had hurt her mum pretty bad, she just didn’t know how to make it up to her.

This internal confusion makes Bohnnie respond angrily when given unexpected news, which only increases her confusion, and now she feels guilty too! She calls her friend Riley to vent:

“Aren’t you overreacting?” Riley asked. Bohnnie got defensive and finally Riley agreed that her mum had been really unfair and rude.

Bohnnie’s mother confronts her and they have an argument that results in Bohnnie’s being grounded. But the School Fall Festival is that night. In an uncharacteristic move, Bohnnie ignores her mother’s rules and makes plans to sneak out with Riley. Something happens, of course, and Bohnnie finds herself in trouble for all kinds of reasons. Big changes are made, she meets new people, she exercises her independence, and she learns that she’s more exceptional than she ever imagined.

I love this! The author so beautifully presents us with normal, everyday scenarios, and reminds us that from those moments we learn, grow, and shape ourselves into the people we’re designed to be. 

Stories like this help us all see that life constantly presents us with chances to become ourselves; and that insight is relevant whether we’re 15 or 95. Enigma is a very smart book written by a young woman supremely tuned in to the world of human emotion.

<![CDATA[Student Novels 2015: Book 6]]>Tue, 07 Jul 2015 16:31:16 GMThttp://myownmagic.com/blog/student-novels-book-6PictureCover design by Vladimir Verano at Third Place Press
When a class visits a science lab called DREAM for a field trip, they find more than they expected. Sucked away into what seems like Earth, they are shocked to discover everyone over the age of 20 has mysteriously vanished. The class must face challenges that test their ability to survive in this new cruel world.

This powerful dystopian novel begins with characters lightheartedly joking and teasing their frazzled teacher, and ends with heart-wrenching pain, tragedy, and loss. It’s a story of facing fears, navigating change, deciding alliances, making wise choices, and coping with consequences. The stakes are high and lives are on the line.

The POV narration of this story shifts from chapter to chapter: often the chapters are told from the point of view of the survivors (i.e., the under-20 kids who survived the DREAM lab), but as the group separates and new characters enter, the story evolves through the perspective of individuals.

But it works! The writing is strong and clear and there is never confusion about whose perspective we’re in. It’s fun to shift from one group to another, and there’s an organic sense of suspense as the characters and action spin tighter and tighter until the dynamic climax at the end.

Everything about this novel works—dialogue is smart, conflict is well-defined, setting is vivid, characters are unique and distinct—and the combination of elements creates a rich, emotional story. You can open this book anywhere, read a paragraph, and get instantly sucked in. Like this:

Lance made his way through the city, keeping to the alleyways when he could. Finally, he turned a corner and there it was—the Atlanta Hospital. He stood in the shadows for a few minutes, waiting and watching; trying to decide whether to keep in the alley till he got closer, or dart across the open street where there was minimal cover. Eventually, he decided to play it safe and travel through the back alleys where there were plenty of escape routes. It turned out to be a good call. As he passed through one alley, he looked out into the open space between him and the hospital and saw, not just the two who had been chasing him, but three other gang members as well—all armed and definitely dangerous. 

You want to keep reading, right? That’s the sign of good writing.

<![CDATA[Student Novels 2015: Book 5]]>Mon, 29 Jun 2015 15:35:33 GMThttp://myownmagic.com/blog/student-novels-book-5PictureCover design by Vladimir Verano of Third Place Press
Like many authors today, the author of “The First Story” has a series in mind. This novel is Book 1 of the Dawn of Adventure series, inspired, as the author tells us, by The Warriors series by Erin Hunter. Like The Warriors, this book features a cast of non-human creatures, like a tiny arctic fox, a winged leopard, and a shapeshifting feline.

What really stands out for me with this novel is the author’s developed sense of voice and character. It’s a character-driven first person narrative, although the author opens with a clever use of second person POV. (Second person is when the narrator speaks directly to the reader.) Here is the very first paragraph of the book:

OK, who are you? What are you doing here? Humans aren’t allowed to go through the portals. Never mind that. I guess I have to be polite. I hate being polite. Name is Dragon. I have dark gray fur. Well, never mind that. You will figure stuff out later. What’s your name? Never mind, we have no time for that. What’s this, you ask me? What’s going on? Well, I can tell you what’s going on. You are reading my story. There, happy? Whatever. We have no time at all.

That’s a really strong voice—and remember, this author is ten years old! Even the way she purposefully clips her sentences, like “Name is Dragon”, gives us a specific picture of this character’s personality. That voice, by the way, stays perfectly consistent throughout the novel. After the introduction it shifts into a true first person narrative except in the chapter headings, where the narrator provides some humorous text letting us know her opinion of the chapter titles.

When a writer understands voice like this, characterization seems to develop almost magically. Here’s how the narrator introduces us to her friend Leonardo (we’ve already been told that Leonardo is a flying leopard):

Suddenly another loud, angry growl came from the shadows. It was Leonardo, my other best bud. She’s the toughest animal here. Everyone fears her, except me and Ice. Instantly Coconut turned around and quickly padded away, her evil minions following her. Leonardo snorted and headed to class. “Come on, fish brains. Let’s get to class!” she grumbled and slowly walked through the long hallway, her claws clicking on the floor. I ran up to her and gave the grumpy winged leopard a nudge, telling her thank you. She just snorted and pushed through the door, slamming it on Lily. “Oh, my mistake,” she apologized and sat down on one of the long chairs. 

Can’t you just see her? This character’s grumpy dialogue and action make her memorable and distinct from every other character.

Voice is supposed to be one of those hard-to-define components of writing, and hard to teach. But who needs to teach it when a writer gets it like this? She sees and hears her characters so clearly that the task of getting it on the page is playful and fun . . . and her characters come alive because of it.