Monday, September 18, 2017

First Times by Charles Ghigna: A Review and a Giveaway

I met  poet and prolific writer Charles Ghigna (aka "Father Goose") several years ago at a reading and writing conference. Today, I am happy to introduce him, and his newest picture book, FIRST TIMES, to you.

In this engaging book in rhyme, Charles shows several characters celebrating their "firsts." Delightfully illustrated by Lori Joy Smith, a young reader will identify with the pride and pleasure of brushing her hair, tying his shoes, riding his bike, or picking a book out from the library. Is there a better way to inspire young children than to praise every milestone accomplishment?

Here are two sample spreads:

The Backstory

I asked Charles what his inspiration was for this book. He replied, 
"The idea hit me during one of my granddaughter's visits. We were at the park playing on her favorite slide when another little girl came by. The younger child stood at the bottom of the slide watching Charlotte Rose as she laughed and cheered her way down the slide. She then stopped to say something to the girl who promptly followed her on her next turn up the ladder. The little girl's eyes widened with joy as she slid down the slide. Charlotte Rose came by and whispered to me, "It's her FIRST TIME." 

Bam! My little six-year-old muse struck again. I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting on a nearby bench writing my new book, listening to the laughter of Charlotte Rose and her new friend. Like many of my books of the past few years, this one is dedicated to Charlotte Rose."
Charles, with his favorite little muse, Charlotte Rose when she was three. His
writing space is actually a tree house!

Lesson Plans and Launch

Teachers and home school educators, make sure you check out the lesson plan on Charles' website. Many of you reading this are in the Carolinas, but if you have friends or family in the Birmingham, Alabama area, information for his book launch is here. Pass it along!


Orca books is giving away TWO copies of this lovely picture book for you to share with your favorite young reader. Please leave me a comment by September 22 and will pick a winner. For extra chances, share this on your social media of choice. Tell me what you've done and if you are new to this blog, PLEASE leave me your email address in case you win!

Monday, September 11, 2017

You Heard it Here First--Linda Phillips' Second Novel Finds a Home!

As many of you know, I enjoy featuring my fellow writers' accomplishments. In that vein, I bring you news from my dear friend, Linda Phillips. Just for the record, Linda and I met 18 years ago when Fran Davis, the regional advisor for SCBW (there was no I back then) asked us to put together the 1999 conference. Linda and I hadn't even met before! But we pulled it off and became prayer partners and writing buddies. Here's proof that we are really "joined at the hip" as Linda often jokes.

When we went shoe shopping recently, we chose the same pair!

Without further ado, here's Linda to tell us about her next book.

What's the Pitch for Heart Behind These Hands?

Clair Fairchild is a teenage piano prodigyWhen faced with the news that both her younger brothers are dying of a rare childhood disease, she must reshape her musical dreams.

How did you come up with the idea for Heart Behind These Hands?

While this is not a sequel to my debut novel, Crazy, the seed for the story is buried (unintentionally) deep in those pages. When I needed to assign a devastating disease to a minor character in Crazy, coming up with Batten disease wasn’t exactly random.

I taught at The John Crosland School (formerly Dore Academy) and The Fletcher School, both of which serve students with learning differences.  At Dore, we had a student who was diagnosed with Batten in the third grade, and his younger brother met the same fate shortly afterwards.  At Fletcher a girl was ironically diagnosed by the same doctor in the same month.  This neurodegenerative disease robs children of all vision, mobility, cognitive and language skills. None of them is expected to make it far into their twenties.   

The girl, Taylor King, has a family that has formed a foundation, Taylor’s Tale, that has raised many thousands of dollars for research.  An older sister, Laura King Edwards, follows Taylor’s progress on her blog and has committed to running marathons in all fifty states to raise awareness. She has written a memoir, Run to the Light, documenting her first-hand experience watching the disease steal her sister’s life.
The first thing I did when I wanted to pursue a book with Batten as the villain, was to check with Laura and make sure my plans to write a fictional novel-in-verse depicting characters with Batten did not conflict with her memoir.  

We’ve since read each other’s work and are celebrating that our books will both be released in the fall of 2018. We’ve started to discuss ideas about the marketing possibilities that may present themselves under these fortuitous circumstances.  

What was your path to publication?

I began working on this book about ten months before Crazy came out.  During that time, you were the first (as always) to read my first twenty pages and then I sent off the first draft to my agent, Julia Kenny before I went into debut book frenzy.  She and I exchanged three rounds of drafts over the next year before she sent the first submissions out in early 2016.  It’s been wonderful having an agent both willing and able to step into the editorial role. 

We got some lovely, rosy rejections on that first round, and then a second round went out in Nov. 2016. It was met with silence. We both felt confident about the story and went into it with eyes wide open about the uphill battle that novels in verse can encounter. We even had some discussions about the fact that the country as a whole was in a particular, political funk at the time, because Julia said more than one of her clients was encountering the same eerie silence. If you find yourself in the same position, don’t dwell on these mysteries. Dive into the next thing as quickly as possible no matter how uninspired you feel at the moment. I did, and I’m better for it, and more than halfway into my third book.   

The second most wonderful thing about my agent is that she temporarily cut me loose from the contract to explore small presses on my own, while offering her assistance to review any offers. I spent about a week considering whether or not to try self-publishing and I quickly realized I lacked confidence in handling the process.  I started sending out queries in January, one of which was to Light Messages, a publishing house represented at a joint WNBA/CWC meeting in March.  When I mentioned that I had submitted to them the editor emailed me the next day saying she hadn’t received it.  She requested it, we clicked, and I signed the contract shortly thereafter.  Note about querying:  don’t be shy about following up. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain, like a “misplaced” manuscript.

Why verse?

I get this question a lot, and all I can say is it seems to be the way I think, or I should say, have thought.  I started out just writing poetry, and moving into novels in verse was like floating down river on a lazy summer day.  However, now that I look upstream and see the wake of ambiguities among readers, librarians, students and most of all, publishers, I’m going to hang up the rubber raft for now.  That being said, to keep the metaphor going, in my current work in progress, I’m slogging along the bank in bare feet which requires a different set of skills. I now must write in complete sentences and use a truckload more words than I’m accustomed to. And then there’s all that punctuation and capitalization that needs to be addressed!  But it’s all part of the journey and who amongst us writers doesn’t love the challenge of a brand new learning curve? 


Monday, September 4, 2017


Congratulations to Connie Saunders who won Sheri Levy's Starting Over ARC.


Teresa Fannin and Bonnie Adamson, the SCBWI-Carolinas Regional Advisors, co-ordinated another great annual conference. For those of you who were unable to attend, here are some of my takeaways:

From two time Newberry Honor award winner Gary Schmidt's breakout session on Narrator and POV:
  • Make a conscious decision about who your narrator is. If you're stuck, switch POV (even to an inanimate object or animal). Even if you don't use that narrator, your story will be informed by what you discover. 
  • Use long vowels to slow your story down. Short vowels speed things up.

From my critique of Half-Truths with agent John Cusick (my reactions in red):
  • "Writing is polished and accomplished." (Woohoo!)
  • "Love the family relationships."
  • "Prose is solid, tight, and evocative."
  • "Characterization and dialogue feels a bit generic in places." (Fixable. I have to think harder, dig deeper)
  • Develop Kate's unique POV. (Ditto)
  • Sounds more middle grade than young adult. (I have received this feedback before. Middle grade, here I come.)
John had other suggestions as I go forward. The shift to middle grade will take some switching around in my head and on the page, but as I'm in the middle of another draft this is the time to do it. Since I tend to read middle grade more than young adult, I think that ultimately I'll be happy with this decision.


From my breakout session on "Wiki's 101": 
  • Be ready to improvise when technology doesn't work the way you expect. Thanks to my gracious attendees who made my moment of "Oops, the LCD isn't projecting the online wikis as I expected," less of a panic situation and more a learning experience. 

From agent, Jennifer Mattson's breakout, "Putting on the Architect's Hat":

  • There are several different narrative structures besides a straight linear one (Beginning, Middle, End.) The one that most interested me was pastiche. When I read Kathleen Burkinshaw's debut novel, The Last Cherry Blossom, I was intrigued by her use of headlines and snippets from radio broadcasts as part of her chapter headings. In fact, last week I was glued to the microfilm machine at the Charlotte public library searching articles from The Charlotte Observer, Charlotte News, and The Carolina Israelite for that purpose. Since I'm also including free verse and letters in Half-Truths, I'm glad to find a name for this type of novel!

Example of a pastiche novel.

From John Cusick's breakout, "Pacing- What to Cut. What to Keep and What Order to Put it In":
  • Physical description must reveal character.
  • Character should be revealed through ACTION. Not a decision to act.
  • Cut rhetorical questions.
  • "Start as close to the end as possible." Kurt Vonnegut.
  • Open with scene, not summary. 
From the bookstore:
5 grandchildren = going a little crazy in the conference bookstore!
From the first pages session:
  • Be careful of inner monologue that's not authentic.
  • Hook your reader with emotion first.
  • If you're writing historical fiction, make sure there is a good reason for placing it in the past. 
  • Be in the moment with your characters and scenes.
And last, but certainly not least, from my friend Donna Earnhardt:

"You are tackling a story that is not easy, yet you've made the effort to get feedback that was probably not easy to hear... and still, you keep on going. I am so proud of you and I think that you should be proud of yourself, too. Your tenacity encourages me to keep on keeping on - even when it's hard."
I confess to fighting discouragement over how long it has taken to complete Half-Truths. But Donna looks at my journey and sees perseverance. Which goes to show that often--in life and in books--there are two points of view. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Fall Writing Classes

The kids are back in school and now it's time for you to take a class too! If you're in upstate South Carolina, I'd love it if you could join me for any of the following workshops sponsored by EMRYS.

September 23A Fast Blast Intro to Writing Short Stories and Novels- Part I. Joe's Place, Greenville, SC.
Topics will include:

  • Build a set of writing tools.
  • Create an authentic character and determine what she or he wants.
  • Develop a sensory setting and learn how to set your story's mood.
  • Consider the variety of conflicts your character might encounter.
Topics will include:
  • Differentiate between internal and external goals.
  • Figure out your character's over-riding problem and obstacles.
  • Develop a plot sentence.
  • Map your story.
  • Consider point of view.
  • Hook your reader.
  • Arrive at a satisfactory ending.
November 9. Start Your Blog! Joe's Place, Greenville, SC. 

December 2. Slow Down and Focus! Joe's Place, Greenville, SC.
Topics will include:
  • Deep point of view and world building.
  • The role of the antagonist.
  • Dialogue that moves the story along.
  • How to build a story one scene at a time.
  • Pitfalls to avoid.
  • Your path to publication.
  • Writing resources.
Hope to see some of you there! Questions? Contact me at 

Monday, August 28, 2017

STARTING OVER: A Review, ARC GIVEAWAY, and Interview

Sheri Levy’s passion for training service dogs shines in her second Trina Ryan book, Starting Over (Barking Rain Press, 2017). Middle school girls will enjoy re-connecting with puppy raiser Trina, who Sheri brought to life in her first book, Seven Days to Goodbye. 


Having said goodbye to her first dog, Sydney, Trina is determined to start over with a new puppy, despite the pain she’ll feel when she must turn him over to his forever owner. Colton proves to be a handful, occasionally showing his mischievous and playful side, but he is also cuddly and smart. As Trina and Colton bond, the reader learns the patience and painstaking care involved in training a service dog. 

When a new girl, Morgan, comes to the barn where Trina works and takes riding lessons with Chancy, Trina is challenged by the girl’s stiff unfriendliness. In her characteristic helpful manner, she tells her friend Sarah that they can reach out to Morgan using similar tactics she's used as a puppy trainer:
"...what if we don't react to Morgan? I tried being nice when she met us in the woods. She got flustered. My other friends at school last year mentioned the same problems with their brothers or sisters. They say that refusing to respond makes them change their behavior or go away. It's kind of like how I train Colton." (p. 45)

Trina teaches Morgan how to make friends with Knight, Morgan’s beautiful yet stubborn horse, and in the process gives Morgan some insights into friendship. When Knight refuses to let Morgan put the bit into his mouth, Trina advises: "Well, I don't think he knows what you expect, yet. Just like you don't know what to expect from him. It takes time to know each other." (p. 61)

Trina’s acceptance, Knight's warming up to Morgan, plus Colton’s playfulness, pay off and eventually Morgan's tough exterior crumbles. She shares the problems she has with her parents and Trina lends a kind, empathetic ear.   

An untimely accident leaves Trina on crutches. Forced to give up her dream of training Chancy to be a show horse, Trina has to re-evaluate her goals. Slowly, it dawns on her what she was meant to do. Her decision is one that provides a great ending to this book and nicely paves the way for the next book, For Keeps. 


Sheri, Please tell us a little bit about your work with PAALS.

When Seven Days to Goodbye was published, I needed help with my website. By accident, I connected with the PAALS web designer, Sue Goetcheus. She has become my PR person, partner, and collaborator. 

My first school visit was at her daughter’s school. Sue and I both spoke to the students about PAALS. Soon afterwards, schools with a PAALS spirit club invited me for school visits. If possible when I visit a school, a volunteer with a new puppy in training or a client with their own service dog demonstrate what a service dog does. The students love this interaction.   

PAALS and I support each other. They call our connection, "PAALS touching lives through literacy." Most of the proceeds from my book events are donated to PAALS. They are 100% non-profit and their needs continue to grow. 
Mulligan is the Black Tri-Aussie, Sheri's rescue dog who is 9 yrs old.
The black and white is Slater, a Blue-Merle Aussie, 8 1/2 yrs old.
I knew you were in love with dogs, but I didn’t know you had a similar passion for horses. Tell us how you got the idea for including horses in Starting Over.

I have never ridden! Our daughter, Trina, at an early age begged to ride. We ignored her request until one day she came home with a phone number on a torn piece of paper from a friend. The riding facility’s number was written in big numbers. 

We told her she could take lessons, but not to expect getting her own horse. She worked at the barn to help defer the cost of lessons and used the barn’s schooling horse. She showed such an interest and a talent, we broke down and bought her a horse. Then we swallowed all of our other “Nevers”. We bought a large truck and a horse trailer. The horse boarded at a barn close to our home, with Mrs. Brown, and Trina worked long hours at the barn to help with the cost. She would have slept in the barn with her horse, if we’d let her! 

It was fun adding horses to the story. But I needed Trina and Google to include the correct details on the horse characters. 
Sheri's daughter, Trina, competing during high school.

I assume when you wrote Seven Days to Goodbye, you didn’t know this was going to be a series. How was writing Starting Over easier or more difficult than Seven Days to Goodbye?   

Hoping for a series, I started working on Starting Over while I was submitting Seven Days to Goodbye. While I was in the revision stage with Barking Rain Press my publisher asked what I had next. I told her I had begun a sequel and had it named, Starting Over.  She surprised me by adding on the last page- Coming Soon From Sheri S Levy: Starting Over.

The sequel was fun to write because it followed the same characters I already knew. But it was scary not knowing if the story would be received as well as the first. I finally had to tell myself to just write and let the publisher decide if she’d publish it. I am fortunate to have an awesome editor who I work well with. 

Can you give us a peak at book Three?

For Keeps uses the same characters with the addition of one new person. The novel begins in the same location as Starting Over, my former neighborhood in Greenville, S.C. And the story will end on Edisto Beach. If I say more, I will spoil Starting Over!
Now here’s Sheri's question to you, if you read Seven Days to Goodbye:

I’d love to hear from readers. Who would you like to see in the next story. And why?


For a chance to win this autographed ARC, please leave me a comment 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 put your name in twice. Winner's name drawn on August 31. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Life After Publication: A Conversation with Kathleen Burkinshaw and a Great Giveaway!

Congratulations to Linda Andersen for winning Kathy Wiechman's ARC of NOT ON FIFTH STREET.

It is my pleasure to host Kathleen Burkinshaw on her TLCB Blooming Anniversary Tour.

What has life been like for you since The Last Cherry Blossom was published?

This past year has had wonderful, surreal moments as well as frenzied, bittersweet ones.  To hold The Last Cherry Blossom (TLCB) the first time and see it in a bookstore, a library, or in schools was so rewarding. 

A surreal moment was being on stage for my first Author’s roundtable and autograph signing at the 2016 SCBWI-Carolinas conference. When I hear from readers that words I wrote about my mom’s experience growing up in Hiroshima has them thinking about the world differently, I feel humbled and most grateful.

The frenzied moments, for me, were the worry of how and where do I market TLCB? Are there awards that I should consider?  What conferences should I submit a request for proposal? Which ones can I afford to attend? I’m so thankful that SCBWI awarded the Book Launch Honor Award to me. It helped with some of the fees for conferences and allowed me to be an author sponsor of Multicultural Children’s Day this past January, which I wouldn’t have been able to do on my own.

What events and/or marketing have you done? 

I had bookmarks printed while my ARCs were being prepared.  My agent suggested that my publisher give out the bookmarks at the 2016 BEA, ALA, and BookCon in New York, since they would not be giving out copies of my ARCs. This built some buzz for the book.

I had my book launch at a local independent book store, Main Street Books, Davidson, NC.  They had offered to have my ARC reviewed by their teen book club, and suggested that one of the members do a reading with my daughter. I had book swag, such as cherry blossoms, silk fans, cherry blossom lip gloss, bookmarks, and even homemade chocolates in the shape/color of cherry blossoms. At middle school events ahead of time, I gave out bookmarks announcing the launch. 

I also joined a fantastic 2016 debut author group for MG and YA authors, The Sweet Sixteens. Members in this group helped one another by marketing each other’s books/events, and hosting various blog interviews. In addition, we encouraged each other through the highs and lows of pre-publication and afterward. 

A few months before my pub date, my friend, Joyce Moyer Hostetter asked if I’d like to be part of a group with her, Shannon Hitchcock, Shannon Weirsbitzky, and Kerry O’Malley Cerra. Our books all deal with difficult, emotional, or diverse issues that many middle graders face every day. The group is called #MGGetsReal. Kerry O’Malley Cerra painstakingly compiled a list of books by other authors that deal with tough topics which she continues to update. We did blog posts about one another, and with each other.  We also presented at the NC Reading Association discussing #MGGetsReal and our books.

I prepared a spread sheet for my publicity person at Sky Pony Press so she would know whom I had given information to, and who I hoped they could send a press release and copy of my book. I included local newspapers and TV stations, as well as Japanese book reviewers. In addition, I organized a list of awards and their deadlines, where I thought Sky Pony could submit TLCB.

My major marketing strategy is what I call my “Research, then throw it out there and see what sticks." I researched the names of various nuclear disarmament groups, Hiroshima/Nagasaki survivor groups, Japanese American societies, and Asian American publications. I signed up to receive various industry newsletters and writing blogs. I commented on blog posts and if on topic, I would mention my book. I requested a review from the Smithsonian Asian Pacific children’s book review blog, Book Dragon, and was pleasantly surprised when they agreed. 

Because I feel the school market is my best target audience, I researched school library, reading, social studies, and history associations.  I had set up a twitter account less than a year before my pub date. Interestingly, by direct messaging the NC School Library Media Association, I found out how to write a proposal and did my first conference presentation at their annual conference last year. 

I highly recommend Twitter. I’ve met some wonderful teachers, historians, and bloggers through various tweet chats. These look daunting at first, but it’s not as difficult as you might think.  It’s a wonderful way to connect with readers and authors all over the world. 

I also have enjoyed writing my blog, Creating Through the Pain. I started it at least a year before I had a publishing contract. I continue to meet some wonderful people through my blog.

Lastly, I am glad that I learned how to Skype with a class so that I could participate in World Read Aloud Day. Skyping with a class is a great way to meet students when traveling is difficult.

Which would you not repeat?

The tough thing about marketing your book is “that you don’t know what you don’t know.”  I didn’t know that there were certain lists to submit your book to be on their list--for example the Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. If your publisher doesn’t know about it and you don’t know it exists, it doesn’t get submitted. Now working on my second book, I’m keeping notes so that I can be sure the second book doesn’t miss out on opportunities.

What advice would you give for the year(s) following publication?

For the year following publication, aside from working on your next book, visit classrooms, and connect with teachers or state school library associations, submit your book to various school library lists in different states that allow you/publisher to recommend your own book, and write guest blog posts. 😊

It is a delicate balance for every author between family, work, and anything else in life and their writing/marketing time. My difficulty is balancing all of these efforts in the middle of pain. There was a large stretch of time, I couldn’t even research or write because all my energy was spent on marketing.  I’m learning to balance my time better to hopefully cut down on pain flare ups. 

But, the most important message is ENJOY, have FUN, and CELEBRATE every exciting step. Remember, you worked hard honing your craft to get to this point. Take it all in, smile, be proud of yourself, and then get back to writing. 
If you would like to enter Kathleen's giveaway for the items shown below, please go to: Two winners will be chosen at random on August 31. (US or Canada residents only.)

Monday, August 14, 2017

Not On Fifth Street: An Interview with Kathy Cannon Wiechman

As promised last week, here is my follow up interview with Kathy Wiechman, author of NOT ON FIFTH STREET.

CAROL: Just like in LIKE A RIVER, you wrote NOT ON FIFTH STREET from two points of view. What led to that decision? 

KATHY: NOT ON FIFTH STREET is about a rift between two brothers. When I was a kid and got into a dispute with one of my siblings, my mother always said "There are two sides to every story." And she wanted to hear them both. I felt the only way to give Pete and Gus an equal chance to tell their sides was to write it that way. Since doing that had worked well for me in LIKE A RIVER, I felt comfortable doing it again.

CAROL: Unlike RIVER, Gus’s POV doesn’t follow after Pete’s. You go back in time and show the reader what everything looked like from Gus’s POV. What led you to writing it in that manner? Why didn’t you flip-flop chapters between the two?

KATHY: Part of Pete's worry in Part 1 was due to him not knowing where Gus was or if he was all right. If I had alternated chapters, the reader would have known more than Pete about Gus's circumstances and wouldn't be able to commiserate with him about it, and I think empathy with the POV character is always one of an author's goals. I felt it was a good way to add to the suspense in Part 1.

CAROL: This conflict between Pete and Gus is crucial to this story. How did you come up with that? 

KATHY: When I wanted to write a book about the '37 flood, I knew the flood itself wouldn't provide enough conflict. I grew up in a house with six siblings, my husband grew up with six siblings, and together we raised four children. I am quite familiar with sibling rivalry and the rifts that can cause conflict in a large household. It felt natural for the brothers' feud to be the key to the story. When I began my first draft, the first line I wrote was "Pete had never seen his brother so mad." In the final draft, that line appears in Chapter 2, but I let those words set the mood for the story.

CAROL: Did using your father’s story make writing this book more or less difficult?

KATHY: I was surprised at how much more difficult it was to get into Pete's head because he was based on my dad. I created Pete and he had to be Pete, not Dad. But that was tough to do. The part that was easier was knowing Dad's story so well, I always knew what would happen next. I also spent a lot of time in my grandma's house as a child, and I could always picture my setting so clearly, from the homemade picnic table in the sunroom to the back bedroom overlooking the garage to the mantel clock in the living room.

CAROL Can you give us some idea of how much is fiction and how much is fact? Obviously the flood and the fact that your father evacuated his family was fact. What else?

KATHY: Much of what Pete does, like taking the motor out of the refrigerator, my dad did. And like Gus, he was listed as missing. And my grandmother dug in her heels about evacuating because she didn't know where he was. His family did have his name mentioned on the radio as missing, and that call was put out by WLW from Cincinnati. Dad was not 14 or 15 like Pete and Gus. He was 20, but my Uncle Bill who marked the garage wall with the height the flood reached was only 12.

CAROL: How has life changed for you since receiving the Grateful American Prize?

KATHY: My day-to-day life is the same. I write or work on some part of the process every day. It might be research or promotional, but it's for my books. What has changed is my connection to the phenomenal team of people with the Grateful American Book Prize, who believe, as I do, that knowing American history is essential for today's young people. This group pays attention to what I am doing and they continue to help promote LIKE A RIVER even two years after it won the award. And the cash prize that came with the prize helps to fund my research trips.

CAROL: What’s next?

KATHY: I am working on another Civil War novel. This one takes place in Wilmington, North Carolina during the final months of the war. And I am doing a bit of preliminary research for a possible sequel to LIKE A RIVER.

For a chance to win my ARC, please leave me a comment along with your email address if you are new to my blog. A winner will be chosen on August 17. 

My husband's uncle, Robert Toupal, is
always eager to read well-written historical novels. He often
greets me with, "Got any new books?"

Monday, August 7, 2017

Not on Fifth Street: A Review and ARC Giveaway- Part I

If you're one of my faithful followers, than you're no stranger to Kathy Wiechman's historical fiction for middle grades. I'm proud to review her newest book, NOT ON FIFTH STREET (Calkins Creek, 2017), a fictionalized account of the flood of the Ohio River in 1937

Two feuding brothers + one record-breaking flood = a fast paced middle grade book for boys and girls they won't be able to put down.

After you read the book you'll understand
why this is a perfect cover.

The Review

Thirteen-year-old Pete doesn't understand why his big brother, Gus, has become more interested in a girl named Venus than spending time with him and their friend Richie. They had been the Three Musketeers up until Gus met Venus. On top of that, a New Year's dinner where Venus is the guest goes sour and it's all Pete's fault. 

Then the rain starts. Within days the mighty Ohio river is rising and the folks in Ironton, Ohio fear flooding. Pete looks at the river and thinks,
...out in the middle, the river surged like a fierce animal, whipping into waves that rose and hurried downriver. A tangle of branches floated past, carried in the swift current. Were they branches from an Ironton tree? Or had they traveled all the way from Pittsburgh?
Pete looked at houses and imagined them with muddy water up to the second-floor windows and people using rowboats to go places. He and Dad had fished on the river before. But that river was nothing like this wild, alive one. He hurried away as though it might reach out and grab him. (p. 32)
Pete's father asks Gus to come with him to help out on the riverfront and Pete is devastated. He's the one who works around the house--not Gus, who would be rather reading Shakespeare and "who doesn't know which end of a shovel to hold." Why is he being left behind with the women and children?

Even though he's angry with his father and jealous that Gus was chosen to fight the flooding river, his practical knowledge of their home proves useful to his mother and two siblings. After he starts moving household items to higher ground his mother says:
"Your dad knew what he was doing, Pete, leaving you here to take care of things." 
Was she right? Was that why Dad had taken Gus to the West End? Because he wanted Pete to take care of Mom and the kids and the house? Maybe Pete had been wrong about Dad. (p. 59)
As the rain continues to fall and street after street is flooded, his worries increase over not hearing from his father and Gus. Where are they and why hadn't they been in contact? As he evacuates the family to the second floor the reader feels the impending doom, "He almost felt the river lapping at his heels as he kept moving." (p.86). The ticking clock of the rising river parallels Pete's growing anguish and remorse over his misunderstandings with Gus. 

In the middle of the book, Kathy Wiechman switches over to Gus's point of view. In a manner in which I've never seen before, (and which she'll explain in my interview with her in next week's blog), Kathy begins Gus's POV from the time he leaves with his dad to work on the riverfront. It's a clever device that shows not only what some were doing to battle the rising river while others were trying to survive, as well as each brother's misconceptions and fears about the other.

At first Gus is thrilled to be chosen to do men's work. But after unending hours of filling sandbags, eating little, wearing soaking wet clothes, and blisters blooming on his hands, he feels like a chain-gang prisoner. He can't imagine that Pete really likes this kind of work. In fact, when he asks if his father shouldn't call home to tell his mother they're okay, his father replies, 
"I don't have to worry about home," Dad said. "Pete's there. He can handle things as well as I can." 

Gus had been easing down to the floor as Dad spoke, but he landed hard when the impact of Dad's words hit him. Dad hadn't left Pete at home because Gus would be a good worker, or because Dad wanted to do something with Gus. Dad needed Pete at home because Pete was the reliable one. The one who can handle things as well as I can.  
Julius Caesar couldn't have felt worse when Brutus stabbed him, Gus thought. (p. 139)

In a "love conquers all" moment, when the river continues to surge and the National Guard send the men home, Gus decides he must check on Venus, who lives on the other side of the river. The trip is perilous and Gus proves his mettle as he risks his life to help her family.  While stranded at her house, Gus spends a lot of time thinking about his family, realizing what is important, and wanting to make things right with Pete.

Maybe reading to David (Venus's younger brother) was a way to push the rising water to the back of his mind. But the back of his mind was already filled with shame for the way he'd treated Pete. And regret for failing to tell Mom where Dad was. The flood wasn't his fault, but so much else was.  (p. 198)

I've probably already given away too much of this fine story, but I'll just tell you this--the ending will bring sighs of relief and smiles to readers' faces.  
Navigating the flood in Kentucky

A Classroom Resource

This would be a great classroom resource for history, science, and English classes. I'll use it as an example of "man vs. nature" the next time I teach problems that characters encounter. (Here is my Plan a Problem worksheet.) Teachers could have great discussions about family misunderstandings and trying to see a situation from another family member's point of view. 

The Giveaway

Next week Kathy is going to talk about how her father's experiences in this flood inspired this book. This ARC giveaway will last two weeks. Leave me a comment today and I'll enter your name once. Leave a comment on both blog posts and you'll be in twice. Please leave me your email address if you are new to my blog. Winner will be drawn on August 17th. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

SmartARTS: Art Integration in Greenville, SC

Congratulations to Sandra Warren who won "JUST FLY AWAY" from last week's giveaway.


Some of you have seen my previous blogs about how I'm getting involved in the arts community in my new hometown, Greenville, SC. Today you'll get a glimpse into an amazing arts integration program sponsored by the Metropolitan Arts Council

When I first moved to Greenville, I looked for opportunities to teach writing and was excited to discover the Council's program of training artists to work with teachers in the classroom. An organization committed to enhancing content instruction through the vehicle of visual arts, drama, music, dance and writing? Sign me up! Based on my enthusiasm (and maybe because I wrote Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8), Gayla Day, Director of Arts Education, asked if I wanted to attend their summer training. That's like asking if I love chocolate!

Last week I participated in my first SmartARTS Institute, a four-day instructional event for teachers and teaching artist candidates. Our first day we considered the inquiry question, "What is Arts Integration?" True to the emphasis on experiential learning (students learn content more effectively when they are active physically, mentally, and emotionally) we were given a variety of tasks to perform. One activity was answering with a team "What is Arts Integration?" by ONLY considering sensory information. (My contribution was that it was like a smorgasbord or stir fry. The texture person thought it was like layering fabrics or weaving metal pieces into cloth). In small groups, we created tableaux to answer that same question by using only three words and one phrase: Noun, Verb, Adjective, and Prepositional Phrase. 

The dance class introduced us to a variety ways of moving through space using various body parts and then we choreographed small dances out of tableaux. In a group of four, two students received locomotion cards (examples: hop, gallop, slither, skip) and two non-locomotor (examples: whirl, explode, rise, jump). Our task was to first order the words and then create a tableau going from one word to another. Our group ordered reach, close, creep, and hustle. I'm proud to say we were the only group that created a story: a burglar reached for a open window, closed it, crept, and then hustled away. What a way to teach vivid verbs!

Tuesday we attended theater and music immersion workshops, as well as a session entitled "What is Inquiry?" 

We watched a powerful powerpoint about Hurricane Katrina and in groups of four created tableaux that showed what it looked like before, during, and after the storm hit. 

Here is one group's interpretation of during:

And after. 

After written reflections and group sharing we found out that the inquiry question for our "unit" had been, "What is community?"

We made books on Wednesday in the art immersion:

I enjoyed seeing the variety of ways the teachers covered their papers with color.  The facilitator's instruction that "there's no right or wrong" freed us all, even as we considered the elements of art we incorporated.

 Our instructor showed us how to fold, cut, and glue the 18x24 watercolor paper.

The end products were as diverse as the teachers themselves. The books could be used as a journal for a field trip, a repository of poems or stories, or a collection of recipes.

Throughout the art immersion classes the instructors gave examples of how to integrate their discipline into content areas. I heard about teaching fractions and a number timeline through music; how the Pythagorean Theorem could be applied to imagining, conceiving, and building a structure that would withstand an earthquake; how dance movements could teach South Carolina history; and how poetry could be used to explain science and reflect on history (think: layering meaning about light and dark times in history with the upcoming solar eclipse.) 

I watched Vera Gomez, the poet who I will shadow this fall, teach the writing immersion and then plan a unit with a second-grade teacher. I was impressed with how she responded to the teacher's goal (showing her students how to include more details in their writing) with a wide variety of written, art, and dramatic activities that will meet second grade standards.  

In the role of student, I learned and practiced new concepts. I considered other art disciplines that will invigorate me as a writer. And I'm about to enter a new phase of teaching writing: becoming a teaching artist in the classroom. My brain is stuffed with new ideas that keep me awake at night.

I'm pumped! 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Just Fly Away: An Audio CD Review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Connie Saunders who won THE WOLF'S BOY.

Please note that since this is a review of an audio CD, the following quotes might not be exactly correct; I did my best to capture the words.



What do you do if you find out that your father had an affair eight years ago and you have a half-brother you never knew about?

That is fifteen-year-old Lucy Willows' problem and the crux of JUST FLY AWAY (Algonquin, 2017), the debut YA book by actor Andrew McCarthy. When her father discloses the information to her and her sister Julie, Lucy is furious. How could her mother continue living with him? How can anything ever be normal again? How could he have lied to them--pretending they were a perfectly regular family--all this time? Lucy begins a quest to find her brother Thomas. In her suburban New Jersey town this proves to be pretty easy--he lives within biking distance of her home. 

Soon after Lucy finds out about Thomas, she "falls in love" with her best friend's brother, Simon. In Save-the-Cat language, Simon provides the B-story; the love interest who supposedly provides some nuggets of truth. To be honest, as a secondary character, Simon fell flat for me. Although Lucy is crazy about the way he looks and how he kisses, until the end of the book Simon doesn't do a whole lot to warrants her effusive affection. When Lucy tells Simon how angry she is about Thomas, Simon remarks, "It's not his fault you know." True, but not an earth shattering revelation. 

In my opinion, the book bogs down in the middle. There were too many scenes that didn't show more than two teenagers smoking dope and kissing. I kept waiting for more to happen. The book became more interesting when Lucy impulsively decides to run away from home and take a bus to her grandfather's house in Maine; although I wasn't convinced that this type of impulsive behavior was built into her character. In fact, it's not until she happens to see a poster of Maine that she makes this decision and throughout the journey shows little emotional reaction to leaving home. The bus ride had some interesting moments but felt drawn out. 

I love generational stories so I found Lucy's interaction with her grandfather to be the best part of the book. As they walk along the rocks near the coast, Lucy dares to ask him why he is estranged from his son. His answers helps her to understand that her grandfather wrongly took his anger out on her father. Her grandfather remarks, "We see them [people] the way we see them. Other people may see them a different way...We never see our parents as just people. They're our parents. And that ought to be enough for them. But it's not enough."

The walk along the breakwater is the most suspenseful part of the book. Although the walk ends in tragedy, it ultimately leads to more risk-taking and honesty between Lucy and her father. 

In the car back in New Jersey, Lucy asks her father, 

“I guess you can never really know everything about a person, can you?”  
"The best we can try and do is let another person know who we truly are. To let them see us. That is, if we love them and trust them enough. And to do that, we have to reveal ourselves to the other person.” 
Her father admits that he covered up the affair because he didn't want to be seen in a bad light. Lucy babysits for Thomas and while at their house picks up a book that had been her favorite as a child. In it a Japanese farmer wisely looks at several different events from both a positive and negative point of view. At which point Lucy concludes that maybe it's not so bad having a little brother after all- a satisfying ending.


This book could be used as a conversation starter for a teen who has gone through an event such as this or is just having trouble talking with her parent.

I am giving away the audio CD, courtesy of Recorded Books. Leave me a comment by July 28 to be entered in the giveaway. Make sure you leave me your email address if I don't have it.