Monday, October 22, 2018

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl: A Review + a Giveaway!

Congratulations to Rosi Hollinbeck, my California blogger counterpart, who won the E-ARC of Lisa Kline's book, ONE WEEK OF YOU.


Authors are always encouraged to write an opening hook that will make the reader keep on reading. If this opening doesn't make you want to read more, I'm not sure what will:
I don't remember the moment that changed my life 4 years ago. Call it a side effect of being struck by lightning. That bolt of electricity burned a small hole in my memory. It also rewired my brain, transforming me into Lucille Fanny Callahan, math genius. (p. 1)

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl (Random House, 2018) is by North Carolina writer Stacy McAnulty, a former mechanical engineer. Stacy's previous career explains why she can write a book that seamlessly weaves math into every page of the book.  

Lucy's newly acquired brilliant math skills is central to this middle grade novel that both boys and girls will enjoy. But the book is much more than that. Along with Lucy's new skills, she struggles with obsessive compulsive habits that make her feel different than others and leave her perfectly happy to be home schooled by her grandmother. But, Nana has other ideas. When her grandmother insists she attends East Hamlin Middle, Lucy thinks,
...Nana is forcing me to be part of this germ-infested community where people are called my peers only because we are the same age. My real peers [people she interacts with online] are creating algorithms and solving problems. They'll be changing the world while I'll be wasting time memorizing textbooks and ducking dodgeballs. p. 23
In school, she is cruelly teased for her OCD habits, but, "The dirt and germs bother me more than the nasty comments." (p. 38) 

In an effort to blend in and not be seen as a freak, she deliberately makes mistakes in math class. 
Nana wants 1 year, 1 friend, 1 book, and 1 activity. I calculate this will be easier to achieve without being a freaky genius. I can be normal smart. It's only middle school. This is about survival. (p. 55)
Lucy is grouped with Windy (the girl who knows everything about everybody) and Levi (a quiet photographer who "sees things in an instant that I must miss every day" (p. 113) for a service project. When the unlikely trio bond over their project at a pet adoption agency, for the first time, Lucy has friends who stick up for her. Working at the agency takes this plucky protagonist out of her comfort zone and proves to be a turning point for her. Suddenly, people (and dogs) start mattering to her more than getting the right answer to a math problem. 

In the end, 
Since starting at East Hamlin, I've climbed the 55 steps in the school 232 times and counted all 950 lockers. I've grown 3/4 of an inch and gained 6 pounds. I've had 77 math classes with 1 amazing teacher. I've read 2 books in language arts class (or 91,255 words). I've helped save 23 dogs so far and fallen in love with 1. I've even made 2 friends. I can add it all up, but the total doesn't begin to tell the story. As it turns out, I'm more than just numbers. (p. 283)

Teachers will like the comprehensive Educator's Guide; Educators and Counselors will appreciate the Empathy Guide that stimulates discussion on stereotypes and relating to someone who is different than oneself. 


Random House is giving away a copy of LIGHTNING GIRL. Leave me a comment by October 25 for a chance to win. Make sure you leave me your email address if you are new to my blog. US addresses only. 

Monday, October 15, 2018

ONE WEEK OF YOU- by Lisa Kline's new YA novel and a Giveaway!

Congratulations to Jo Lynn Worden and Julian Daventry who won copies of DRIVE from last week's blog post. 

I am always honored when an author asks me to host their cover reveal. So, when Lisa Williams Kline asked if I was interested, of course I said yes! Her latest book, ONE WEEK OF YOU, (Blue Crow Publishing, February 2019) stars 15-year-old Lizzy who has to carry a flour baby for a week for her health class. During that time there are three prank fire drills and evacuations at school. In just one week, Lizzy realizes that adulthood brings complicated responsibilities


Lisa Williams Kline
Here Lisa shares some of the backstory of the book. 

CAROL: What prompted the story idea?

LISA: This story is fictionalized from two different real events. One year in high school my daughter had to carry a bag of flour for a week in her health class called a “flour baby.” I thought this was an interesting way to address human sexuality that had some comic potential. 

The second event took place several years later when there was a week in which there were three bomb threats in my other daughter’s high school. I was interested in the way the students handled that week. When I started writing this story, I thought, what if there were scary disruptions to the school schedule during the same week the kids had to carry the flour babies. I was partly interested in combining a somewhat comic story thread with one that wasn’t comic at all, and that has been one of the challenges in writing this story. It’s also a story of a first crush, and I based that on a combination of a couple of high school crushes of my own. And I have always been a forgetful person, and I incorporated that character flaw into my main character Lizzy. 

CAROL: Did you interview or research the book in anyway? If so, who did you talk to and how did you research it?

LISA: Yes, for example, part of my story involves student hacking of the school computer system, and I interviewed an IT expert on how the students could do this hacking. I also interviewed a teacher about school evacuations. I also had some teens read it and give me feedback about the voice. 

CAROL: I understand that you put aside the manuscript for awhile and then came back to it. Had the story changed in your mind in the interim? If so, how?

LISA: The story has evolved quite a bit over the time that I have been working on it. I put it away when I was working on the Sisters in All Seasons series. When I took it back out, I thought, hey, I think I can work on this again, there are some good moments here. Various editors and agents have all had suggestions for changes, and the story is quite a bit different than it was starting out. 

CAROL: What is the message you hope your readers will take away?

LISA: I wasn’t really thinking about a message when I wrote this book. I just wanted to tell a story that I hoped would be engaging. Many of my books end up being coming of age stories, and I think this one is too. I guess if there’s any message it would be to be kind to everyone. 

CAROL: Can you share some of your path to publication for ONE WEEK of YOU

LISA: While I’ve had an agent in the past, I do not have an agent now. I sent the manuscript directly to the editors at Blue Crow Publishing. 

I queried Blue Crow Publishing and in a few weeks they asked for the manuscript. Lauren Faulkenberry wrote me about six weeks later, after she’d read it, with a revision request. In that revision, she wanted me to mostly ramp up the tension more and make a change to the ending. I worked on that revision for a little more than a month, sent it back, and after a few weeks she send me a publication offer. I was absolutely thrilled!

Lauren and Katie at Blue Crow have been wonderful to work with. After I signed the contract, Lauren wrote me an editorial letter in which she asked for more changes, such as fleshing out the setting more and describing the characters more fully. I also did another round of revisions for Katie. Blue Crow is an indie press, and the personal attention has been fantastic. I really feel as though Lauren and Katie were one hundred percent behind me and my book. So far it’s been a great experience. 

CAROL: Thanks for sharing all of that, Lisa. It's great to hear of an indie press that's working hard for its authors! And now for the moment you've all been waiting for (unless you cheated and scrolled down)--here is the lovely cover for Lisa's new book!


Leave your name (and email address if I don't have it) to enter the giveaway of an eARC for ONE WEEK OF YOU. Enter soon! Giveaway ends October 18!

Monday, October 8, 2018

DRIVE: A Review and Two Giveaways!

Congratulations to Clara Gillow Clark and Dorothy Price who won the downloadable version of Eyes on the Prize from last week's blog.

The night that I stayed up late to finish reading Joyce Hostetter's fourth book in the Bakers Mountain Stories series, DRIVE (Calkins Creek, 2018), I texted Joyce: "This is going to be a hard book to review. There are too many wonderful things to say about it. Somehow you're able to catch the heart of emotions so well. I'm still crying."

The funny thing is that I almost didn't read the book. I'd read several drafts and thought that I knew the story. Boy, was I wrong!

After all the brainstorming, outlining, and drafting that I'd read, Joyce added layers of characterization, sensory details, and plot points that deepened the story. Having read those earlier drafts, I look back and see how she added flesh to the bones of her story--and I got to see a book develop and grow. 

One other interesting background note. When Joyce was brainstorming DRIVE, I had just given up writing Half-Truths from two points-of-view. I told Joyce of my struggles to make each character act and sound differently from the other. There's no mistake: Joyce pulls this feat off beautifully. This is a story of twin sisters vying to hold onto their sisterhood at a time when they're growing up and apart.



Mommy says Ida was born ten whole minutes ahead
   of me
and I spent the first years following after her,
doing what she did
and trying to be as good as she was.

Then, when Daddy came home from war
with hurts we couldn't see
and moods he couldn't predict,
the uncertainty hit Ida hardest of all.
She pulled back like a turtle inside its shell,
slowing down while I sped up.
I soon realized I liked running ahead,
hearing people cheer for me.

But sometimes, it was Ida they'd be bragging on,
And when they did,
I always felt that I was losing.
Life became a competition that one of us had to win.

And I was determined that the winner would be me. (p. 5)


Competition. This theme pervades the book as Ellie and Ida prepare to enter their first year of high school. As the reader meets the girls, we see how Ellie thinks she's not as good as Ida and aches for a normal family:
I wanted a father who didn't get frazzled over a bad dream or loud noises. And a mother who wasn't always aching over her husband. I didn't actually want another family; I just needed to not be embarrassed by the one I had. (p.28)
Ida, who describes herself as the quiet one, avoids the spotlight and feels as if Ellie has the drive to succeed but she doesn't. 
...I stared at the red velvet curtain on the stage and thought how I never got to pull it open and shut. It was the only job I ever wanted in any play we ever did. But thanks to being a twin, I almost always had to be out front, doing something cute with Ellie and feeling like a country bumpkin in the shadow of a movie star. (p.29)
I loved seeing the sisters from each other's POV. This is Ida talking about their different reactions to their father:

Ellie wasn't scared of Daddy the way I was. She was more like Ann Fay. Bold. Always acting like there was no mountain so tall she couldn't climb it. No race so fast she couldn't win it. And no daddy so mean she couldn't charm him. (p.42)
In this section, Ellie thinks about taking Latin in school.
Ida wouldn't want me to because then we wouldn't have all our classes together. But that also meant I wouldn't always be compared to her. I could have a class that was all my own. A hard one that she couldn't show me up in.  (P.59)
Ida feels lost and shy in their new school but Arnie, a fellow freshman, reaches out to her. Ellie who is used to being the strong twin, sees Ida with Arnie and suddenly realizes that Ida might not need her anymore. What's worse is that Ellie has a huge crush on Arnie. This conflict leads to more tension and misunderstanding between the sisters. 

Throughout the book the word drive is used in a number of ways. One of the plot threads is Ellie's passion for racing and the Hickory Motor Speedway. Whereas Ida can't stand the noise and grit of the races, Ellie thrives on the excitement and exhilaration of watching the cars zoom around the track. Unfortunately, this love for a thrilling adventure leads to a devastating accident. Without a spoiler, let me simply say that Ida is the only one who can bring Ellie out of the no-man's land of her near-death injury. 

Joyce interlaces history throughout this skillfully written story.  The 1952 presidential election, the threat of communism, and the Korean conflict are all important backdrops to the drama taking place in the little town of Hickory. 

But that's not what made me tear up. Forgiveness, love, character growth, individual accomplishments against high stakes--all of these made me root for both Ida and Ellie, as I'm sure you will too. Although written for the upper middle grade reader, adults will also resonate with the coming-of-age theme interwoven into DRIVE

As I told Joyce, I'm a lot like Ellie. I think many of us will see a little bit of ourselves in the two sisters. And isn't that what a great book is about?



After Daddy came home from war
with wounds we couldn't see
and moods he couldn't predict,
I pulled back and let Ellie take the lead.

I didn't mind so much if she wanted to run on past
and steal the show from me.
I didn't need to be seen or heard the way she did.
Art was my voice.

But then in her race to be first
Ellie crashed
and I had to go around her--
to face scary unknowns
and accept good things that came my way.

I think we both learned
that life is not a race with one of us winning
and the other losing.
We can drive on our own separate tracks
without competing.
And when we do
We'll each come out a winner. (p. 342)


Since so many of Joyce's fans read my blog, Boyds Mills Press kindly agreed to give away TWO copies of DRIVE. Leave me a comment by October 11 with your email address if you are new to my blog. If you want additional chances to win, share this on social media or follow my blog and I'll add your name twice to the hat--but make sure you tell me what you did. 

And while I'm on the topic of Boyds Mills Press--who wants the Bakers Mountain Stories to be published in audio format? I think they'd be perfect! If you agree with me, please join me in tweeting @boydsmillspress. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

Eyes on the Prize - Audio Book review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Megan Hoyt and Becky Scharnhorst who won copies of Viviane Elbee's book, Teach Your Giraffe to Ski.

It's hard to review a book that covers the entire Civil Rights period in as much detail as Eyes On the Prize by Juan Williams does. The book, suitable for adults and young adults, is simultaneously comprehensive, academic, and personal. Williams wrote it as a companion to the first season of the NPR series with the same title. As noted below, several segments are now on YouTube. 

Even though I have read many books on the civil rights era, William's book showed how one event led to another--like dominoes falling in succession. I recommended it to one of my experts, Vermelle Ely, who enjoys audio books. When we had talked previously my questions were about Charlotte and Second Ward High. When I asked her about Little Rock she said, "Sure we knew about it. But back then, news didn’t travel so fast." Her remark was historically revealing.

Although I have chosen different portions of the book to highlight, it is very difficult to summarize any of these historical events. For more detail--please read the book!


Charles Hamilton Houston served as a mentor to a generation of black lawyers leading up to the Civil Rights period. He was instrumental in attacking the "separate but equal" rules that governed the Jim Crow South. He investigated educational discrimination by creating movies of the schools for black children. Although he started with elementary schools, his goal was to develop graduate programs that were nonexistent for blacks. Houston was instrumental in pulling together the cases (including the historic challenge in Clarendon County, SC as I blogged about here) to create the lawsuit that eventually led to the Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954. Interestingly, Williams said that Emmit Till's murder did more for civil rights than Brown vs. the Board of Education as it brought the plight of southern blacks to national attention. 


Since blacks frequently used buses for transportation to work, Williams noted that it was no accident that bus boycotts throughout the South became the stage of protest. "Indignity suffered alone was debilitating, but indignity shared was powerful."  Although blacks feared white reprisal for their boycotts (losing their jobs and physical violence) a growing sentiment was that the time had come to take a stand for freedom. 

During this time Martin Luther King, Jr. preached nonviolence. Segregationists put pressure on white commissioners not to give in to black boycotts. The boycotts received national attention and
bus segregation started to be challenged in courts. 

The behind the scenes politics in all the cities, but especially Little Rock, AK were fascinating.  Desegregation was a political football from the local level all the way up to President Eisenhower. The politicians, including Governor Faubus, were often more interested in grandstanding than fair play. 

It was also interesting to track the role of the NAACP Youth Council as young adults and college students became involved in the movement. Williams features Diane Nash, John Lewis, and Jim Lawson who were leaders in nonviolent protests at lunch counters throughout the South. President Kennedy was deeply influenced by the student protests and became an important advocate of civil rights. An interesting segment at the end of the book details where these individuals were in 1987 when the book was published.


In this section I heard the sad story of Medgar Evars, a WWII veteran and civil rights activist who was murdered in 1963 by a Klansman. "All we wanted was to be ordinary citizens. If the Japs and Germans didn’t kill us, it looked like white Mississippians would." He was rejected at the University of Mississippi law school and was very active in the NAACP. This invovlement could lead blacks to being called niggers, alligators, apes, coons, possums and was often equated with being a Communist. 

Similar to the political maneuverings in Little Rock, the behind-the-scenes events among the Mississippi delegation and Lyndon B. Johnson's negotiations at the 1964 Democratic convention were insightful and fascinating. 

I can't possibly summarize Freedom Summer in 1964 when blacks were trying to register to vote. Whites threatened economic reprisals even though at times the blacks were better educated than the whites registering them. It was a summer of violence when President Johnson was spending money on Vietnam while blacks were being killed. But black teenagers singing the Star Spangled Banner and the marches from Selma to Montgomery were a source of inspiration to many. 

Williams noted that the decade between 1954 and 1964 saw more social change and more court decisions than any other decade. The lives of blacks and whites were forever changed because of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954, the Civil Rights Act of 1960, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Television forced the print press to be more honest. The white perspective was no longer the only one heard.

Listen to this audio snippet of the book and see what a fine job actor Sean Crisden did. 


Leave me a comment by October 4 with your email address if you are new to my blog. Tantor Audio will provide a code for the winner to download the book.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Teach Your Giraffe To Ski- A Review and Giveaway

Seriously, if you had a giraffe, wouldn't you want to teach her to ski?

That's the story that author, Viviane Elbee, brought to life in her lively, imaginative debut picture book, TEACH YOUR GIRAFFE TO SKI (Albert Whitman and Co, 2018)

Why didn't I think of a clever idea like that? Maybe because unlike Viviane, I never was brave enough to bring my young children to a ski slope and my days of skiing ended in a close encounter with a tree many years ago...

But, back to Viviane's fun story of a young boy who learns to overcome his fears while, of course, teaching his giraffe to ski. Here is a glimpse of her text and the kid-friendly illustrations by Danni Gowdy

First things first:

Next, you remind your giraffe that she's got to start small.

Then you teach her important moves like doing a pizza, making french fries and S's, and the importance of good manners on the slopes.

Even if she gets tangled up, you stick with her.

But what do you do when your giraffe races away and you have to keep her safe? What if she heads towards the SCARY ski lift on the VERY BIG slope? 

You'll just have to buy the book and find out for yourself!


Last spring I had the privilege of hosting Vivian on my blog with her cover reveal. I started a (long!) list of people who wanted to receive the ARC. Albert Whitman is also offering a hard copy of the book when it releases in November. So go ahead, leave me your name (and email address if you are new to my blog) and I'll pick two winners on Thursday, September 27!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Puritan Girl, Mohawk Girl-- An Audio Book Review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Nancy Frederick who won SHE STARTED IT ALL on last week's blog.


PURITAN GIRL, MOHAWK GIRL (Amulet Books, 2017) written by John Demos and narrated by Christina Moore, is based on the true story of Eunice Kanenstewnhawi Williams who was kidnapped (along with her family) by the Mohawks when she was seven and taken to Canada. The attack on Deerfield Village, where she lived with her Puritan minister father, John Williams, her mother Eunice, and siblings, was in 1704. This attack was part of a series of raids and conflicts between the English and French as part of Queen Anne's War. As Demos notes in the prologue, different Native Americans tribes allied with both countries. 

Like Sandra Warren whose book, SHE STARTED IT ALL, was reviewed last week, John Demos wrote this work of fiction after researching and writing a nonfiction account The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America which was published in 1995. 

I presume that the author used John Williams book, The Redeemed Captive, his account of being kidnapped and returned to Massachusetts. (The hard copy of PURITAN GIRL, MOHAWK GIRL includes substantial author's notes on the historical documentation along with details filled in by the author's knowledge of French Canadian, Puritan, and Mohawk customs and beliefs. Unfortunately these were not a part of the audio recording.)

The story graphically depicts Eunice's capture, the death of her mother and younger sister, and her abduction by the Mohawks. She is adopted by a woman who has lost her daughter. One year later, John Williams travels to try and get her back but is rebuffed by the chief who says that she belongs to them now. He leaves with the image of Eunice begging him to take her back home. 

Eunice receives a Mohawk name (Waongote), learns the language, and the history of the tribe. Two years later when a trader comes to the village and tries to convince her to come home, she has no desire to leave her Mohawk family and has totally forgotten the English language. When her father hears of this, it is a source of great grief and sorrow and he never truly gives up hope that she will return. 

When she is a teen of marriageable age, she receives the name Kanenstewnhawi and marries a Mohawk man who has already converted to Catholicism. The priests didn’t want to marry them in the church knowing how her father and the English will be upset that she was married as a Catholic Mohawk. They also didn’t want them to live in sin, so they're faced with a political and spiritual dilemma. The couple ends up getting married in a very small ceremony in the church. The priests want to keep it secret, but news gets back to her father through traders. Reverand Williams was shocked. How could she become Catholic and marry a savage?

As an adult, memories finally return to her of her former life and the raid; she blames her father for her mother's death. Long after her father dies, she returns to Massachusetts to see her brothers. Despite her family's prayers and petitions, she remains a Mohawk until her death. She is interested in receiving her share of her father's estate but is unable to receive it as a Mohawk. 

John Demos certainly dug deep to write this story, but the book reads more like an historical narrative than a work of fiction. The reader will gain a lot of information about the French Mohawks as well as the conflict between the Puritans and Catholics during colonial times, but the narrator tells the story, rather than Eunice herself. This distant storytelling technique make the novel less immersive. Other book reviewers mention this problem likening it more to a biography than a work of historical fiction.

Although I can't dispute Mr. Demos's research, it feels like a bit of a stretch that Eunice is so immersed in the Mohawk culture that she totally forgets who she is. She is Caucasian with light hair and obviously looked very different than the people around her. Wouldn’t she have questioned that?  

These concerns aside, I still think PURITAN GIRL, MOHAWK GIRL would be an interesting curriculum resource that will spark considerable classroom discussion.

Here is a snippet from the book, courtesy of Recorded Books


If you are interested in entering this giveaway, please leave me a comment along with your email address if you are new to this blog. I will be giving it away in mid-October in conjunction with the fall issue of TALKING STORY on Colonial America. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

She Started it All- A Review and Giveaway

Some of you may remember my review of Sandra Warren's book, We Bought a WWII Bomber: The Untold Story of a Michigan High School, a B-17 Bomber and The Blue Ridge Parkway. After she wrote and published it, I challenged her to use her research to write an historical novel. She knew the story inside and out--so she had half the work done!

She took my challenge seriously and the result is her first foray into middle grade historical fiction, SHE STARTED IT ALL


Told in two points of view, SHE STARTED IT ALL brings the story of the "forgotten" bomber- a plane purchased with money raised by Michigan students during WWII--into Joe Gerrard and Sandi Howard's eighth grade classroom. 

Of course, when the two students receive their history assignments they don't know what lies in wait for them. All they know is that they receive topics they don't like. Sandi wants to cover the music of the time period and instead is asked to report on WWII aircraft; Joe wants to do a project on the bombers he's passionate about, but instead he's required to research United States War Bonds and War Loan Stamps. Their teacher, Mrs. Bradley, says, "As you work through your projects, maybe you'll discover something that will make history itself." A statement that proves to be true in unexpected ways.

If you add to this set-up the fact that Sandi is a shy "Brainiac" with a secret crush on Joe and that he is the popular jock at school--then you have a recipe for conflict. In fact, their constant misperceptions of each other and the cliff-hanger endings to each chapter make the book a page-turner. 

The author does a good job of including historical facts so that the reader learns about WWII without feeling overwhelmed with information. The contemporary setting of a modern middle school and authentic language also makes the book accessible to today's readers. 

I'm a huge fan of using facts in fiction (including real people when possible) as well as inter-generational stories. Both of these are present in this novel. Both Sandi and Joe receive help from elderly primary sources which adds further authenticity to the story.

As for the ending? Well, let's just say it's perfect.


If you'd like to receive a personally autographed copy of SHE STARTED IT ALL, please enter my giveaway! Leave me a comment by September 13 along with your email address if you are new to my blog. Share this on social media (and tell me what you did) and I'll enter your name twice!


Monday, September 3, 2018

Triple Play @ ALA!

Earlier this summer three of my friends attended the American Library Association's Annual Conference in New Orleans. I asked Jo Hackl, Rebecca Petruck, and Linda Phillips to share their perspective on presenting their books to thousands of librarians.

I found this picture on Facebook. A writer just happened to be
in New Orleans during the conference and shared this photo.
Isn't it terrific?

I asked them the following questions: 
1. What was the highlight of your experience? 
2. What did you learn? 
3. What would you pass on to other authors?

Jo Hackl

Librarians and educators are my favorite kinds of people and the highlight of my experience was connecting with school media specialists interested in exploring ways to engage students in reading. I also loved connecting with other authors. And seeing my book in the Random House booth was a thrill.  All in all, an amazing experience.

I learned more about the incredible array of resources the ALA offers. I thoroughly enjoyed each session and made some great connections with librarians and media specialists.

My top pieces of advice:
     * Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll do a LOT of walking. At one point my “voice to text” wrote “exhausted all” instead of “exhibit hall.”  I don’t think that was that far off. The convention center was over a mile long.
      * Bring business cards and small swag.
The ALA community is the best in the world. Where else can you connect with thousands of librarians passionate about getting books in the hands of readers?

You can read my review of Jo Hackl's debut novel, SMACK DAB IN THE MIDDLE OF MAYBEhere

Rebecca Petruck

The highlight of ALA is always the librarians. Not only because it's ALWAYS fun to meet librarians and geek out talking books, but also because I love to hear what kids are REALLY reading and why.

It's not so much what I learned as what I was reminded to remember and cherish: Librarians LOVE books, and they love SHARING books. They are classic "Connector" personality types, and that's a lucky thing for all us readers!

Because today's authors generally have to do a lot of self-promotion, we can get overwhelmed and start behaving like newsboys, shouting, "Read all about it! Read my book!" For me, this happens when I've worked myself into a panic state that I'm not doing "enough." Attending ALA reminded me to LISTEN. Connection is a two-way experience, and listening filled me with inspiration and renewed energy to write. 

ALA typically chooses "cold" locations for the winter conference and "hot" locations for the summer conference because they are less-expensive times for the convention center and hotels. Talking with an author at ALA, he was genuinely taken aback to learn this information and admitted he thought organizers were sadists. Ha! We all love librarians, but I think many of us have a memory of that ONE librarian who terrified us about being quiet and not damaging the books. :) 

You can read my review of Rebecca Petruck's book, BOY BITES BUG here.

Linda Phillips

Rebecca and Linda found each other
in the miles of books!

This was my first ALA experience, and you’re going to laugh, but I didn’t realize it was one huge giveaway (duh). Somehow I thought we would be selling books, and honestly, that put a huge pit in my stomach.  What if I was in the next booth over from Kwame?  My line would never compare!  First of all, my booth was a safe distance from Kwame as it turns out, and secondly, even I had a line.  Statistics aside, no bookstore experience will ever compare to the exhilaration of seeing your books evaporate in less than a half hour.  

Back to Kwame.  Four years ago, when my first book (Crazy) came out, verse novels were at best a hard sell.  But I was elated to hear from librarians and young folks who were excited and eager to read a novel in verse.  You know that feeling about being in the right place at the right time?  So as soon as my signings were done I hightailed it to Kwame’s line to personally shake his hand (and subtly drop one of my books on his table) and thank him for what he has done for verse novels.  I may be wrong, but I think his influence has made a big difference.  Even middle school boys, for heaven’s sake.  

I’m a small fish in a very big pond. The first half day I spent wandering around the maze of thousands of books and hundreds of publishers in a daze, wondering where to start and how to take it all in. At first, admittedly, I felt like I was swimming upstream against a swiftly moving current full of overwhelmingly big fish. But in between all the wandering, I got to hear some really big fish who, amazingly, made me feel so connected to the human stream and so proud to be in the pond at all.  Michelle Obama, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Salley Field, Gayle Donley—each shared her wisdom, told down-to-earth, heartwarming parts of her story, assured all of us that telling the story IS a big thing to be doing no matter who you are.  

Don’t worry about where you are in the scheme of things in this world, in this industry, in this line of authors and potential authors.  If you have a story that is burning inside of you, don’t hold it back, don’t hide it under a bushel, and don’t let the tide of others overwhelm you.  Your story is important, otherwise it wouldn’t be pushing to get out.  Take it one step at a time, and don’t try to do it alone.  Get into a critique group, go to conferences, read as much as time allows, and write every day.  I’m sure some of you have heard this before, but maybe you needed to hear it one more time?

You can read my review of Linda Phillips second novel in verse, BEHIND THESE HANDS, here

Monday, August 27, 2018

Fundamental STEPS to Writing Historical Fiction-- Highlights 2018

Congratulations to Joyce Hostetter who won THE HERO TWO DOORS DOWN and to Clara Gillow Clark who won PACO'S PAINTBRUSH. Clara Gillow Clark is the blogger from whom I won FOOD FIGHT FIESTA. (And no, I didn't rig the contest. always picks my winners!)

Several weeks ago when I blogged about teaching at Write 2 Ignite, I mentioned that I have another opportunity to teach this fall. I'm thrilled to share that I'll be part of the faculty for Highlights Foundation's Historical Fiction Workshop led by my friend and mentor, Joyce Hostetter

Following the acronym STEPS, this is what Joyce and her team will cover:

STORY: Finding stories embedded in history and embedding history into our stories.

TIME: Allowing the historical era to shape characters, dialogue, actions, and more. Lila Weaver will present a talk on going from an eyewitness to a story teller.

EXPERTS: Seeking insight from archivists, specialists, eyewitnesses, and survivors. This is MY talk!! (I guess Joyce decided that after hearing my excitement over finding each new expert for Half-Truths, she would have me share my experience with others.)

PLACE: Infusing the story with a sense of locality and culture. This talk is by Julie Chibbaro.

SOURCES: Researching history and documenting resources.


Check the schedule and you'll see that besides talks on these subjects, participants will meet one on one with Joyce. They will have time to work on their manuscript and receive input from the faculty and other attendees. Carolyn Yoder, Joyce's editor, will also join the group for a question and answer session. 

 If you don't know Joyce, then here's the link to the Highlights blog where she talks about her journey as an historical fiction novelist. It's always fun to hear how she wrote BLUE without a thought that it would turn into a series. DRIVE is coming out this fall and Joyce is now writing her fifth book in the Bakers Mountain Series!

If you want to make history come alive to middle grade or young adult readers, then this is the workshop for you. To read more about the workshop and enter the great giveaways that Joyce is offering, click here for the special newsletter on the workshop. 

Hurry! The workshop is limited to eight students and is filling up--but Joyce and I would love to see you there too!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A Paintbrush for Paco: Backstory, Picture Book Review, and Giveaway

I'm getting ready to fly up to Philadelphia to visit my new grandson and want to give away another book before I do. This is a short giveaway--I'm drawing the winner on Saturday so the book can be mailed out the following Monday. Get your comments to me ASAP!

Two years ago I was fortunate to attend Highlights Summer Camp and met a number of great writers who are now publishing their books. YEAH! A PAINTBRUSH FOR PACO is by one of my fellow campers, Tracey Kyle. (little bee books, 2018).


Here's a word from Tracey on her journey:

I was totally unprepared when I switched from teaching high school Spanish to teaching middle school.  I quickly found out that I needed to mix up my instruction by assigning more creative projects and doing less traditional testing to assess their skills. 
That was the seed for A PAINTBRUSH FOR PACO: a book that celebrates kids’ creativity and honors their need for movement and activity.  My students began asking me, “When’s the next project?” They welcomed the chance to draw, design and color. They were calmer in class and happier overall.

A PAINTBRUSH FOR PACO underwent countless revisions over a two-year period, but the main theme of the book never changed. I worked on it for two years in between grading papers and preparing lessons, sometimes getting up at 4:00 a.m. so I could think before the chaos of the day.  I brought it to two summer camps at the Highlights Foundation, and revised it with their insightful and talented faculty.  I sent it out to my critique partners. Even after my awesome agent, Jennifer Unter, sold it to little bee, I continued revising until the editors were happy. I grew so attached to PACO that he felt like one of my students. When I saw Joshua Heinsz’s brilliant illustrations, I knew PACO was (finally!) ready.


Paco has a problem. In school, he would rather be outside pretending he is a matador,

or drawing a picture.

Fortunately for him, his Profesor is very understanding.

Paco is thrilled to discover the art classroom where he can paint and create as much as he wants. 
Azul. the blue in a beautiful sky. Blanco. the white in the clouds floating by. Amarillo, the rays of the sun shine bright. 

After being complimented by his teacher, Paco realizes he is a painter. 

Later that night, Paco crawled into bed, a palette of colors swirling in his head. Negro y blanco, azul y rosado. Rojo y verde y anaranjado.

The book is told in lovely rhyme and the bright, bold illustrations by Joshua Henisz will make the story stick in a reader's mind. The book includes an author's note on the importance of encouraging creativity in children, and a glossary. This book is perfect for a K-first grade classroom. 


To enter, please leave me a comment by Saturday August 25. DON'T FORGET: Leave your email address if you don't think I have it. 


PACO'S PAINTBRUSH is Tracey's third book. I won FOOD FIGHT FIESTA from Clara Gillow Clark's blog and it's packed in my suitcase for my grandson's big sister and her mother who is also a Spanish teacher.  I hope you'll hop on over to Clara's blog to check out this fun book too. 

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl: A Review + a Giveaway!

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