Monday, March 30, 2020

Write2Ignite 2020

If you write Christian fiction for children or young adults, here is an outstanding workshop with my mentor, Joyce Moyer Hostetter. I have learned so much from her--this is your opportunity to do the same!

Mark your calendars. Registration opens May 1.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Including "Real" People In Historical Fiction And A Book Review of WAR IN KOREA

One of the cool things about writing historical fiction is the people I have "met" in my research. Some are relatively well-known, some are names buried in history. It is especially cool if I'm able to include their stories in my WIP, Half-Truths.


For those of you who are unfamiliar with the plot, Kate Dinsmore, my protagonist, moves to Charlotte, NC in 1952 to live with her paternal grandparents. Her father has just left for the Korean conflict. Soon after moving in, Kate meets Lillian Harris, the granddaughter of her grandmother's cook. The girls uncover family secrets that bind them together in ways neither can ignore. 

There are several "real" people who I've included in my story. Carolina Israelitepublished by Harry Golden  is a newspaper that Kate's grandfather reads. Kate is a budding journalist and at the end of the book gets a job working in his office.  Kelly Alexander, the NAACP leader in Charlotte, NC from 1940-1980, is someone Lillian admires; his voice is heard in Half-Truths. The DeLaine case in South Carolina led to the landmark Supreme Court decision to integrate schools in 1957; Mrs. Harris reports about it at a NAACP meeting the girls overhear. (You'll have to read the book to find out how they're able to finagle that!) 

And then there is Marguerite Higgins

Kate first reads about Miss Higgins when she reads this quote in the New York Herald Tribune: I wouldn’t be here if there was no trouble. Trouble is news, and gathering it is my job.” Kate is inspired by Higgins' courage and bravery. 

By the way, Higgins covered WWII, Korea, and Vietnam and in 1951 was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Foreign Correspondence. The Pulitzer Prize jury wrote, “She is entitled to special consideration by reason of being a woman since she had to work under unusual dangers.”

Now, back to Half-Truths. At one point in my book, Kate chides herself for her lack of bravery. She writes this poem in her steno pad:

Daddy and Marguerite Higgins  
face bombs      
hidden mines       
swarms of enemy soldiers       
that kill, maim, and destroy.    
Thousands of miles away  
I’m safe    
from death’s grenade.  
I wanted to know more about Higgins and ordered her .25 cent autobiography, War in Korea, (Doubleday, 1951) off Amazon (now worth a bit more!) Her reporting was amazing given the dire circumstances within which she worked. As I often do with nonfiction books, I'm going to quote some of her outstanding observations of the war between June and December, 1950.


During one long wait, while a scouting party was looking for a place to ferry across the river, Colonel Wright noticed my gloomy air. "What's the matter, kid," he asked, "afraid you won't get your story out?" And after a pause he offered, "Look, stick by this radio truck and we'll try to send out a message for you if you keep it short."

It was now growing light, and in my elation I immediately get out my typewriter, put it on the front of the jeep, and typed furiously. Streams of retreating South Korean soldiers were then passing our stationary convoy. Many of them turned their heads and gaped at the sight of an American woman, dressed in a navy-blue skirt, flowered blouse, and bright blue sweater, typing away on a jeep in the haze of daybreak. I got my copy in all right. But as far as I know, communications were never established long enough  to send it." (p.12)

.....Before long the Americans were leading a ragamuffin army of tattered soldiers, old men, diplomats, children, and a woman war correspondent. (p. 13)

Can't you see these scenes unfold?

I was crouched by the side of the windy airstrip typing a quick story on his visit when the general [Douglas MacArthur] appeared. He was clad in his famous Bataan gold-braid hat and summer khakis with the shirt open at the collar. He smoked a corncob pipe....

On seeing me on the airstrip, the general came over to say hello and then asked if I would like a lift back to Tokyo. Since the Bataan [his plane] was the only means of flying back to communications and getting the story out, I gladly accepted. (p. 14-15)

Or, how about this:

It looked that afternoon, for a few brief moments, as if I would never leave Taejon. Late in the day I was jeeping unconcernedly past the compound of that enclosed division headquarters. Suddenly a roar of voices boomed to me to come back.

Looking back, I saw dozens of soldiers, their guns pointed in my direction, peeping around the compound fence. Tanks in front of headquarters also had their guns trained my way. So I hastily wheeled my jeep about and pell-melled into the compound, heading for the building we had adopted for the press. It was deserted except for Bill Smith of the London Daily Express.

Smitty and I went over to the headquarters building to try to find out the cause of the trouble. But about all we found was a number of headquarters men, how had never been shot at before, under a table... (p.56-57)


Joining the sad, dusty American exodus over the winding mountain road, we finally turned off at 21st Infantry Regimental Headquarters, located in a Korean schoolhouse. It was close to midnight and already the ain room was filled with snoring officers sprawled on the floor. Everyone slept in his clothes for the simple reason that you had to be ready to move at a second's notice. I quietly put my blanket done on the floor, doused myself thoroughly with flea powder, and went to sleep.

The astonished offer who woke up the next morning and found me next to him on the floor caused considerable amusement around headquarters by dashing into Colonel Stephen's room with the exclamation, "My God, sir, did you know we'd been sleeping all night with a lady?" p. 57

Seventy years later we might think this is funny, but Higgins faced considerable difficulties because she was a woman. 

Ultimately, her writing and reporting were stellar in a fearful and dangerous situation. 

General MacArthur's great gamble at Inchon had paid off. And in the forthcoming days I was able to fulfill the promise I had made myself--I walked back into Seoul.

It was not an easy or a pleasant walk. The United States Marines blazed a bloody path to the city. The going was particularly rough the day that Charlie Company of the 1st Marines seized a Catholic church in the center of Seoul. We did not know that the road was heavily mined until a medic jeep raced ahead of us. The jeep blew up directly in our path. Of the three people in it, only the medic survived. And his torn body and shredded, bloody face were a ghastly sight.

We quickly climbed out of our vehicles. The company commander shouted to us not to step on any freshly up-turned dirt--it might be a mine. On the rough dirt road it was difficult to follow his instructions, so we went forward on our toes. (p. 86)

Before finishing this blog I listened to President Trump's latest updates about the coronavirus. In Half-Truths, Kate Dinsmore is challenged by the courage of this journalist who wasn't afraid to risk her life to get the story right. 

She's also an inspiration to me to be brave in a different type of war. 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

You Heard it Here First: Dorothy Price signs with Agent, Miranda Paul

It's always fun to share publishing news with my blog readers--particularly if it's news from one of my own writing friends. I first met Dorothy Price 10 years ago when she joined my SCBWI-Carolinas critique group. I've read her manuscripts and she's read mine. Today I'm thrilled to share her story of how she recently signed with an agent. 

Take it away, Dorothy!


I am so excited to share my agent success story, after 11 years of writing kidlit!

This story began in October 2018, when I got a nudge from my writing friend, Tara Luebbe. She suggested I apply to the 2019 We Need Diverse Books Mentorship Program, to which I had zero interest. I was at a place in my writing career where I had gotten discouraged by rejection, and simply planned to stop submitting, to everyone and everything. But something about Tara’s nudge forced me to apply anyway, on October 31st—the very last day to submit. 

Two months later, I received an email from WNDB that I had been selected as a picture book winner, out of more than 100 entries! The amazing Samantha Berger became my mentor, and beginning in January 2019, we edited and revised three of my PB manuscripts.  

In November 2019, I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, even though I had failed to finish three times before. On November 30th, I finally completed my first middle-grade novel. 

Armed with three completed PBs and a finished MG, I was confident this would attract an agent. In January 2020, I began agent submissions. I had a list of six agents, but one, in particular, was by referral only. This agent was also on the WNDB team, so she had seen my PB submission that won the contest; however, her agency only accepted referral submissions. Enter Samantha Berger, who graciously referred me, which opened the door for me to submit to Miranda Paul with Erin Murphy Literary Agency. 

Although I had two other agents to consider, when Miranda emailed me back a couple hours later and said she was happy to receive my query and asked to speak two days later, I knew she was the agent for me. Her intensity, energy, and passion were something I truly wanted in an agent.

Before we ended the call, Miranda offered representation, and after praying on it, a few days later, I accepted. If it hadn’t been for Tara’s nudge to enter that contest, I’m not sure I would have an agent today. The plug for that is, contests DO help, and I strongly encourage writers to submit! 

Things have been going well so far and I am enjoying every minute of the process. I can honestly say, if you put in the work, believe in yourself, and never quit, dreams will come true. 


Dorothy H. Price is a long-time member of SCBWI Carolinas. Two of her nonfiction stories were published in Teaching Tolerance’s 2019 Teaching Hard History: American Slavery series. Her first picture book, Nana’s Favorite Things was published in 2016. You can connect with Dorothy on Twitter

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Boats Will Float: A Picture Book Review

The range of picture books which Sleeping Bear Press publishes never ceases to amaze me. This rhyming book slips in information and illustrations about more than fifteen different boats in a book that a young reader might think is "a day in the life of a boat." 

Think quick. What image comes to mind when I say "boat?" Perhaps a fishing boat, rowboat, or sailboat. I guarantee that some of the boats that author Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum included in Boats Will Float may not be what you thought of. As you'll see below, the illustrations by Brett Curzon enhance this fun picture book. 


Starting on the first page the reader discovers a family waking up on a houseboat.

Next, the reader meets dragon boats,

and a speedboat pulling a grandmother.

Sunlight sizzles, hot and bright, 
Speedboat launches human kite  
Soaring up and sailing free, 
Crystal spray and aqua sea.

The author plays with onomatopoeia on several pages.

After portraying many different kinds of boats, the author returns to the beginning and shows the house boat's interior.

At the back of the book there is a two-page spread with information about each boat mentioned in the text. Have fun with your pre-schooler and find the boats that float throughout the pages of this colorful, informative book. 

Sorry, no giveaway this week. A new baby in my neighborhood will enjoy this with her family! But you know me--more giveaways to follow soon. Click here for a free activity page that readers can print out to go along with the book. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

You Heard it Here First: Kelly Dyksterhouse Joins Raven Quill Literary Agency

When I heard that Kelly Dyksterhouse, a hard-working member of the SCBWI-Carolinas region, had recently become a literary agent, I asked her if she would share her journey as well as what type of books she is looking for. Take it away, Kelly! 

It’s interesting for me to look back and try to trace how I got where I am today. Upon reflecting, I have to say that it started with SCBWI. A little over 16 years ago, Donna Earnhardt hosted a Mingle for writers in Davidson, and I went, knowing no one, but knowing that I loved to write and loved kids books. From the Mingle, we formed a critique group, calling ourselves The Mudskippers after a lovely picture book manuscript by one of our members, Gay Rudisill. Though we don’t meet any more, The Mudskippers are cherished friends, and many of them have published books now, which is so exciting. (This is a plug for SCBWI, Mingles, writing friends, and critique groups, fyi). 

As I gained confidence as a writer in this group, I attended more SCBWI events. At a weekend spring retreat, the Carolinas RA at the time, Stephanie Greene, told me about the low-residency MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults  program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. The teaching author at that retreat was Sharon Darrow, who was also on faculty at VCFA. Thanks to both Stephanie and Sharon, I went home, researched VCFA, and applied. So I started a 2 year program of intense study that consisted of reading and annotating hundreds of children’s books, writing and revising pages of creative work, and writing many, many critical essays and papers. All I can say is that hard work has never been so much fun.

My first semester at VCFA I also started interning for Susan Hawk, a literary agent at The Bent Agency. Thanks to Susan, I got tons of experience reading slush and full manuscripts. Susan moved to Upstart Crow Literary Agency several years ago, and I moved with her and continued to refine my editorial skills. Susan was (is) truly a stellar agent, a super kind person, and the best mentor anyone could ask for. It was while working for Susan that I learned that I got just as much of a thrill editing other people’s work as I did writing my own, and I was pretty good at it. That is also where I first met Jacqui Lipton, who was also interning for Susan. At the time, Jacqui and I talked briefly about starting our own literary agency, but for me the time was not right with my family, and she went on to work as an agent at another agency. A couple of years later, we ran back into each other and Jacqui informed me she was founding Raven Quill Literary Agency and asked me if I wanted to join her. This time, the timing seemed right, and with much encouragement from Susan and others, I took the leap! And I have to say that I am having the time of my life!

And here’s why I had to start so far back in this journey: Sharon Darrow was the author/faculty at the SCBWI retreat who first told me about VCFA. Now 12? 13? years later, Sharon also happens to be one of Raven Quill Literary Agency’s first clients, repped by Jacqui. Some people call this coincidence, but I call it Providence. I love how people circle back into your life, and I’ve learned this is not unusual in the kidlit industry. 

Now, for what I am looking for: I have a basic #MSWL on posted on twitter and on my Publisher’s Marketplace profile. I rep everything from PB to YA, with MG probably being my sweet spot. For PB’s I love the subversive plots, stories that celebrate imagination, and that have a surprise or humorous twist. For novels, I love fantasy that has a vivid world and themes that feel relevant to today. For contemporary novels, the voice has to be really unique and strong, and the characters compelling. I also have a real love for stories with ensemble casts (think The Penderwicks, The Vanderbeekers in MG, and Heist Society and Six of Crows for YA). Really, I am open to any genre as long as it is well written, carries me off into the story, and has characters I can’t forget. 

People can find me on twitter at @kellydhouse and can query me at: http://QueryMe.Online/KellyDyksterhouse

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Ticktock, Banneker's Clock: A Picture Book Review and Author Interview

Congratulations to the following winners from last week's blog:

Deborah Allmand, Jana Leah, and Carol Nelson won BEHIND THESE HANDS.

Joyce Hostetter and Sandra Warren won RUN TO THE LIGHT.

Danielle Hammelef and Connie Saunders won THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM

It's amazing what you can learn through picture books. 

Ticktock Banneker's Clock is another engaging and informative picture book biography by Shana Keller. I recently featured Shana for her new book, Bread for Words about Frederick Douglass. Ticktock's text, along with illustrations by David C. Gardner, depict an important episode in Benjamin Bannker's remarkable life.

Born in 1731, Benjamin, was a self-taught free African American farmer, naturalist, author, and surveyor.  He corresponded with Thomas Jefferson on the topics of racial equality and slavery and authored several almanacs. One of Benjamin's accomplishments was carving a striking clock. The book was voted as one of the best STEM books in 2017.


The story opens with a beautiful drawing showing Ben working on his farm in the Chesapeake Bay.

After his harvesting work was done, he had "time to dream." Sometimes he played the flute or violin, but this day he was fascinated with the inner workings of a pocket watch.

He decided to make a time piece, one that could sit on a mantel or hang for a wall. He took the watch apart, studied the tiny gears, and made diagrams. He carved the clock pieces out of wood, but found that the pieces snapped and broke. 

So, he dried the wood--a time consuming process--and then re-carved the pieces. 

This time, the wheels, pins, and gears didn't break! He had a bell made and timed the clock with the sun. 

Neighbors from far and near came to see his invention; the clock chimed every hour on the dot for the next forty years.

Ticktock Banneker's Clock will make an excellent curriculum resource for grades K-3. Sorry, no giveaway this time, I'm adding it to my library. Instead, I asked Shana what led her to writing this book. Here's her answer. 


When my oldest daughter was in the first grade, she came home with a small paragraph about a man named Benjamin Banneker. Even though I had majored in African American history in college, I didn’t recall seeing his name before and suddenly, I was on this path of research that led from one surprise to another. 

After reading everything I could find online and at the library, I visited the Benjamin Banneker Historic Park and Museum in Catonsville, Maryland. I met with Justine Schaeffer the director at the time and explained my interest. We discussed all things Banneker. I toured his lands which is where the park and museum are located. I saw his recreated cabin (Banneker’s burnt down days after his death). And, I met with some of Benjamin’s collateral descendants - children of his nieces and nephews. I also met with a griot, a storyteller, who was familiar with Banneker’s history. 

I discovered many intriguing things about Benjamin Banneker. He was a landowner. He was never enslaved and mostly self-taught. He was well respected in his community and often relied upon to calculate math problems. He wrote almanacs. He corresponded with Thomas Jefferson about civil rights. He was an astronomer. He helped survey the land where the nation’s capital would stand. And of course, he built a striking clock using a pocket watch as his guide. Given all of his accomplishments, I realized there was a lot to choose from and focus on. The achievement that struck me the most was how he built his clock. Benjamin’s goal was to never stop learning, and so is mine!

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Rare Disease Day and SIX Giveaways!

Like me, you might never have heard of Rare Disease Day. The following three authors have intimate acquaintance with rare diseases. Giveaway details below.

Linda Phillips 

Linda Phillips Skyping with a class in International School of Nanshan Shenzhen, P.R. China (Hong Kong)
Linda is no stranger to my blog. Here is her story:

My involvement with rare disease began during my teaching career when I met two students at two different schools with Batten disease.  While I never taught either of them directly, the schools were small enough for faculty to know many students outside their classroom. I watched with concern as 8-year-old Brandon Hawkins' cognitive and motor skills began to decline instead of thrive as they typically might at a school designed to address learning differences. Concern heightened when his vision began to fail and after extensive testing, his parents shared the diagnosis none of us had heard before: Batten, a rare neurodegenerative disease that has no cure and is often fatal by the early twenties. Not far away at another specialized school, Taylor King, the same age as Brandon, was diagnosed by the same doctor with a form of the same disease.  Brandon moved out of the area, but the crowning blow came when we learned that his younger brother, Jeremy, received the same diagnosis, a phenomenon that's not uncommon when both parents are carrying the defective gene.  

My first book, Crazy, is an autobiographical account of my coming to terms with a mother with bipolar disorder. Watching the unfolding tragedies of the Hawkins brothers and Taylor evoked emotional issues similar to those I had experienced growing up with mental illness in my family. I wanted to explore how a gifted and highly motivated teen would deal with her brothers' physical debilitation and probable early death.  In both Crazy and Behind These Hands, the teen protagonist has no control over the devastation happening before her eyes.  She must find a way to accept a new reality and to react with compassion and love.  I didn't realize how closely related the two books are until I began making presentations through Skype in the Classroom.  My topic is "Compassion:  The Key to Understanding Mental and Physical Disabilities." I'm finding it extremely fulfilling to advocate for compassion towards those with mental illness and rare physical disabilities with teenage classrooms all around the world. 

You can find Linda online at: Skype in the Classroom:

Laura King Edwards

Laura and Taylor
I featured Laura and her book on my blog also. Here is more of her story:

Each year on the last day of February, Rare Disease Day raises awareness of rare diseases and their impact on 400 million people worldwide. It's a day to celebrate not only progress toward treatments and improved quality of life, but also what's special about each of those patients and the people who love them. People battle rare diseases year-round (and not just on a single day set aside to recognize them).  

I lost my little sister to a rare disease called Batten disease in 2018, so Rare Disease Day hits especially close to home. Since the devastating and shocking diagnosis in 2006, I've worked hard to save first her life and, later, the lives of other children like her. Taylor had a special kind of courage. She inspired everyone who knew her (and many strangers) in her too-short 20 years on Earth. Watching her overcome incredible obstacles to learn braille, run 5Ks and more pushed me to be the best version of myself, and it pushed me to fight for change. In 2013, I ran a half marathon blindfolded to bring attention to the cause. The race achieved that goal but also saved my life at a time when I wasn't sure I had the will to keep going. 

Run to the Light is the story behind the race, but more than that, it's about how to find hope and meaning in the face of life's biggest challenges. It's Taylor's story, but it's also a universal tale of courage and faith. My sister showed others how to dig deep and persevere, no matter what they were facing. On Rare Disease Day and every day, I hope Run to the Light does the same.  For more information please go to Taylors Tale

You can connect with Laura on, or

Kathleen Burkinshaw

You may have already met Kathleen on my blog. Here is her story:

Nineteen years ago, instead of enjoying a candlelit dinner with my husband to celebrate Valentine’s day we sat in a dimly lit room by the low lights of an ultrasound in the ER. The ultrasound revealed that I had a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). What started out as a routine three- day hospital stay to treat the blood clot turned into over a month in the hospital from complications that nearly killed me. My souvenir from my stay- a diagnosis of ReflexSympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) (also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)) as a result of nerve damage from the blood clots. Definitely would’ve preferred one of those ‘All I got was just the lousy t-shirt souvenir’ instead! 😊
RSD is a chronic, progressive pain syndrome caused by damage/malfunction of the peripheral/ sympathetic nervous system as well as the immune system. (Which is why doctors have said that my mother's exposure to radiation from the atomic bomb on August 6th has played a role in my RSD). Over the years RSD pain crept in taking over my legs and hands. Although, it has taken a lot from me, I’m not ready to give up everything. It did give me time with my mom when she opened up and shared the horrific memories and awful loss she dealt with on August 6th. And I learned that even though I couldn't be the active mom to my 4-year-old daughter(at the time) as I had been or continue in my past career as an executive in the health care field; I found my own ways to be a dedicated/involved mom and realized my brain could still work/be creative through writing. I'm so grateful for the support and love from my family, friends, doctors, and now readers of The Last Cherry Blossom. Their past and continued encouragement, along with my faith keeps me from giving up emotionally or physically.

Connect with Kathleen on Twitter @klburkinshaw1,  Instagram @kathleenburkinshaw,  Facebook @authorkathleenburkinshaw, and her  website


Each author is giving away TWO copies of her book. To enter this super-giveaway, please comment with your email address including your email address if you are new to my blog. Books will be drawn randomly and will be personally autographed to the winners by the author. Enter soon! Giveaway ends on February 29.  

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

After I Passed: Lillian's Poem

Congratulations to Jo Lynn Worden for winning "You Are Mine, Porcupine." She is my cousin-in-law  and has several porcupettes she'll read the book to!


Some writers use prompts or free writes when they're trying to figure out what their character is thinking or feeling, or what happens next in a story. I use poetry.

Since I'm writing HALF-TRUTHS from Kate's POV, the following poem, from Lillian's POV, may never appear. (If you are new to my blog and are unfamiliar with the young adult historical novel that I am writing, please click on the link.) I wanted to explore how Lillian felt after she successfully passed at the Woolworth's lunch counter. Because she is light-skinned, the waitress doesn't realize she's a Negro. But in order to sit down at the counter, she and Kate walk past her friends who her standing at the end of the counter eating hotdogs. Afterwards, Kate is jubilant because Lillian sat at the WHITES ONLY counter, but Lillian realizes she hasn't proved anything.



What does this girl know about me?
Does she think 
I am a chameleon who just blends in with its surroundings?
I think she thinks we’re friends. 
But, how can we be friends when she doesn’t understand
who I am: 
my past, 
my present. 
My struggles,
my people’s struggles. 
She’s like every other white person who thinks she knows what’s best for me.

What did I get in return? 
Humiliation in front of my friends.
They saw me try to pretend.
They saw me try to be someone I’m not. 
They saw me turn my back 

I should have nothing to do with her.
She is white bread without even 
           of butter. 


If you're a writer, how do you get deeper into your character's POV? If you are a reader, do you consider POV when you read a book? What makes or breaks it for you?

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

You Are Mine, Porcupine: A Picture Book Review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Jana Leah B. for winning AMERICAN ROAD TRIP on last week's blog.

Fortunately for you and me, Sleeping Bear Press keeps me well stocked in picture books. This week's book, in time to celebrate Valentine's Day, is the sweet picture book You are Mine: Porcupine written by Helen L. Wilbur and beautifully illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman


If you've ever wondered about what it's like to be a scared or curious porcupine, you'll find your answers in this book written from Mama porcupine's POV.

"Just a little porcupup
With lots to learn as you grow up."

After that introduction, Mama proceeds to instruct her porcupette (the real word for a baby porcupine!) on what to eat, where to sleep, how to fend off the dangers around him, and when it's time to play.

She shows her baby how to sleep in "porcupine-trees,"

and the little one enjoys exploring his world. Until....he wanders too far and meets a wolf! But his instinct and his mama's lessons pay off.

His mama praises him and they end the night peacefully.

I love the porcu-word play and the vivid illustrations. Teachers, parents, grandparents, and caregivers will enjoy reading this book to their own little porcupines--I can picture many of you reading this with a little one snuggled on your lap. Even though I have provided only a few samples of the illustrations, I hope you can see how the colors convey the mood of the story, ending with bright, peaceful colors in the last spread.  

The last two pages provide more information about the "might fine porcupine."


Interested in sharing this book with your favorite porqupette? Leave me a comment by February 14 and will pick a winner. Please leave me your email address if you are new to my blog. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

American Road Trip: A YA Audio Book Review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Danielle Hammelef who won BREAD FOR WORDS from last week's blog. A word to all of those who also want to win books. Sometimes I run "specials." If you share my post on social media, you'll earn extra chances. That's why Danielle's library is growing. Look for these specials so yours can too!


I'm trying to figure out a good lead-in sentence for American Road Trip by Patrick Flores-Scott. But all I can think to say is, "This is a very good book that young adults should read." Totally unoriginal and unimaginative, but there's my opinion in a nutshell. I listened to this audio book, courtesy of Recorded Books. The narrator, Luis Moreno, portrayed the character's voices authentically. Don't believe me? Listen to this audio clip


Teodora ("T") Avila's family is falling apart. Ever since his oldest brother, Manuel, left for the Iraq War, (with his father's blessing, but not his mother's) nothing has been right. His parents lose their jobs and only his mother finds another one. Teodora's older sister Xochitl (pronounced Soe-cheel and nicknamed Xoch) is a fantastic singer who wants to hold their family together. Each family member thinks that when Manny comes back, everything will be better.

But, Manny comes home and it is clear that his presence is not the family medicine everyone hoped for. In fact, he has PTSD, refuses treatment, and turns to drugs and alcohol. T's life is miserable and he's close to flunking out his junior year. When he sees an old friend, Wendy, at the University of Washington ("U-Dub"), he tries to impress her by saying he plans to attend there. 

Their budding romance (mostly through texts) inspires T to hit the books. He is accepted into the AVID program, and gets a job to pay for tutoring. But when Manny punches through a wall into T's bedroom, T escapes to his friend's house. "I'm done hoping for us, but not for me." 

Xoch comes up with a plan. Under the pretense of helping Manny reconnect to good memories, she drives her brothers to see their maternal grandmother. Except T doesn't realize this is the beginning of a long road trip. Manny has his ups and downs, Xoch's old car breaks down several time, and T is furious that his summer plans to prepare for his senior year are ruined. The theme of lying to protect oneself or to get help for someone you love permeates the book.

Along the way, T learns family history that sheds light on his parents, sees Wendy and sparks fly, goes to a funeral for a distant cousin, hears of Manny's suicide attempt, and realizes how messed-up his brother is--and how he truly needs to help him. 

Their road trip ends at Tio Ed's green chile farm in New Mexico. Tio Ed, a Vietnam veteran, understands what Manny is going through and gets him help from the VA and support from other local veterans. 

Wendy ends up at the farm as T's tutor. Although there is clear sexual attraction, they discuss the slippery slope of sex and agree to be intentional; T follows through on his promise to "be a gentleman." They burn off sexual tension building a chile stand together and T discovers a passion for architecture. 

Readers may object to T's occasional offensive language and the references to sex. I was impressed by their mutual decision to exercise restraint and wish other young adult books would follow this example.  

The whole time he and Wendy are together, T fights his fear of failing and showing his "stupid self" to Wendy. When she does find out he lied to her back at U-Dub, he has a price to pay. 

It turns out that everyone has a price to pay. Manny paid a enormous price in Iraq. Xoch decides to make a huge sacrifice for their family which inspires T to make a difficult decision. Although T’s transformation is most obvious, each member of the Avula family has a journey of their own. Who is the hero or heroine? Read the story and decide for yourself. 

Teachers: Click here for an educator's guide.


Leave me a comment by February 8 if you're interested in entering this giveaway. Remember! Leave me your email address if you are new to my blog. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Bread for Words-- A Frederick Douglass Story: A Picture Book Review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Danielle Hammelef who won Galapagos Girl from last week's blog.

As the new blog coordinator for the SCBWI-Carolinas blog, I was excited to "meet" Shana Keller through email and schedule her blog on writing picture book biographies. When she told me that her newest biography, Bread for Words was being published by Sleeping Bear Press this month, I immediately requested a book to review and give away. Beautifully illustrated by Kayla Stark, this is another wonderful picture book to add to your personal collection.  Kindergarten through 4th grade teachers should add it to their classroom libraries and use it during Black History Month.


Written in the first person point of view, the book opens with this remarkable statement: "I know where I was born, not when."

Frederick wasn't at all happy about giving up his freedom and although he met his brothers and sisters at the Great House Farm, he was so sad to leave his grandmother that he didn't even play with them. 

He met Daniel, the young boy who lived in the great house and they hunted and fished together. "Except for the color of our skin, it was hard to know why we were different."

Frederick wanted to learn how to read and write, but he learned early on that it was illegal, unlawful, and unsafe for him to become literate.

Perhaps it was because he showed the master's family that he was just like Daniel, he was sent away from the plantation to live with the family's kin. Conditions were better for him and the master's wife began to teach him.

But, his new master disapproved and forbade her teaching.

"From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom. If I learned to read, I could loosen the changes of bondage."

Frederick's jobs including escorting young Thomas to school and running errands for the family. When we met some hungry boys on the streets, he remembered how it felt to be hungry and he came up with a plan. 

Frederick copied letters he saw at the shipyard and wrote them on fences, brick walls, and the pavement. He copied letters from Thomas's discarded copybooks. 


This inspirational book ends with a summary of Frederick Douglass' life and why Ms. Keller chose to write the book as she did. Notice in some of the illustrations above, the words in bold are Frederick's exact words taken from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. In keeping with Ms. Keller's example, I put words in bold that I copied from Bread for Words that were Mr. Douglass' exact words. 


As I consider writing a picture book biography, I plan to look for the nugget in each book around which the person's life (and thus the biography) revolves. For Galapagos Girl, it was Ms. Cruz's passion for her native island and animals. What do you guess the story nugget is for Bread for Words? Hint: I think there are several "right" answers.


For a chance to win my copy of this book (which I hate to give away--but I will for some fortunate reader's sake!) please leave me a comment along with your email address if you are new to my blog. Giveaway ends on February 1. For extra chances, share this on social medial. Just let me know what you do. Continental United States Only

Write2Ignite 2020

If you write Christian fiction for children or young adults, here is an outstanding workshop with my mentor, J oyce Moyer Hostetter...