Friday, March 31, 2023

GARVEY'S CHOICE: A Middle-Grade Verse Novel and a Giveaway

Long-time readers of my blog may remember that I am one of Nikki Grimes' many fans. In the past, I reviewed Ordinary Hazards, Between the Linesand Words with Wings.  Nikki's poetry sings and she captures the conflicts and emotions of adolescents beautifully.

Garvey's Choice (WordSong, 2016) is no different. is different. Each of the 100+ poems which tell Garvey's story is written in tanka. WOW. At the back of the book Nikki mentions that she challenged herself to write a novel using this Japanese form of poetry. All I can say is that the result is lyrical, impressive, and AMAZING. 


As I often do when I review a verse novel, I'm going to share a few of my favorite poems. It was hard to narrow my selections down. 

From page one, readers learn that part of Garvey's story is his problems with his dad. The sparse yet evocative language also hints at how he handles his pain.


It Figures

                    When I was seven

                    and crazy for Mr. Spock,

                    a Star Trek lunch box

                    was all I craved. Instead, Dad

bought one blaring the logo.

of some football team

I'd never even heard of

I shoved that thing in

the coal black of my closet,

then celebrated with cake. (p.1)

Garvey's best friend is Joe with whom he shares a love for astronomy, chess, and knock-knock jokes.  

One time after being dissed again by his father for not wanting to play basketball, Joe calls.

Phone Call

All evening long I 

try tucking in my sadness,

but it keeps getting

snagged on my voice when I speak.

Joe catches it when he calls.

"Hey! What's up? Joe asks.

Should I tell him? "Nothing you 

haven't heard before.

I wish my dad could see me.

That sounds crazy, huh?"

"Not really," says Joe.

"I get it. Seriously.

But you've got a dad.

Mine skipped out long time ago."

Why'd I open my big mouth?

Joe shrugs off his hurt.

"Knock, knock!" he says. "Not now, Joe."

"Come on, man! Knock, knock."

I give in. "Who's there?" "Your friend,

Joe, who's always here for you." (p. 19)

At school, Garvey is teased for being overweight. Nikki tucks small references to Garvey finding refuge in music. Listening to his music and his dad's music, and humming (to drown out teasing) are all part of how Garvey copes. 

Along the way, Garvey learns some things about his father's love for music and how his father used football to bring the two of them together. The musical insights and details about his father slip in and foreshadow the climax. 

Morning Classes 

Blue notes, sad as me,

wail their way from a classroom

I've never been in.

"Chorus," says Joe when I ask.

"It's a new club. You should join.

You're always singing,

or at least humming out loud."

"Yeah, but I don't know."

"Look," says Joe, "your voice is choice.

You should let others hear it." (p. 46)

Garvey makes a new friend in chorus. Manny is an albino who wants to be a chef.



"I was wondering 

how you stand kids teasing you."

"I'm honest," he says.

"I've got albinism. Fact.

I look strange. No changing that.

Is there more to me?

Sure. Kids yell 'albino boy.'

I don't turn around.

Choose the name you answer to.

No one can do that but you. (p. 66)


Changes begin to happen.

When I Sing

When I sing, my heart

floats full and light, as if I'm

a balloon of song, 

rising with every lyric,

reaching the edges of space. (p. 75)

Spring Thaw

Peeled myself from bed

for the morning rush to school

(Better beat the bell!)

Belted a blue-jean surprise:

loose weight by nearly one size!

Round still, but that's fine.

Feeling good outside and in.

Maybe I'm not thin

But skinny isn't perfect.

The perfect size is happy. (p. 99)

The climax is Nikki Grimes perfect.

The Talk

"Son, I should tell you,

I used to sing in a band,"

Dad says in the voice

he saves for secrets. I smile,

and pretend that I'm surprised.

"Really? When?" I ask.

"Oh, it was a long while back..."

That's how it began--

the longest conversation

I've ever had with my dad. (p. 104) 



I will be giving this book away through the upcoming issue of Talking Story on CHANGE. Leave me a comment along with your email address, and I will add your name to the list. If you're an educator or librarian let me know and I'll add your name in twice. U.S. addresses only. 

Congratulations to Danielle Hammelef who won DOWN TO EARTH on last week's blog.

And don't forget to check out Greg Pattridge's wonderful collection of middle-grade book reviews every Monday.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

DOWN TO EARTH: A Middle Grade Book Review by Guest Blogger, Elliot Kurta and a Giveaway

As a freshman in high school, Elliott Kurta, one of my first student guest bloggers, is pretty busy with his academic workload and volunteer work at the library. But he returns to my blog today with a book he genuinely enjoyed, Down to Earth by Betty Culley


In Down to Earth, Henry Bower, an aspiring scientist, and water dowser, witnesses a meteorite fall from the sky and land in his backyard. Henry, his sister Birdie, and his best friend, James, are at first in awe of the gigantic, space-borne stone. But soon, as the meteorite draws attention around his rural Maine town from the press and the scientific community alike, the meteorite is cast in a negative light. A gushing river has spouted near where the meteorite has landed, forcing the Bower family to evacuate their home, and all of the wells in town have begun to run dry. As the community begins to turn on the Bowers, Henry finds his voice to stand up to what he knows to be right. Aided by his sister, parents, best friend, and a genteel museum curator, the meteorite inspires Henry to find his place in the world.

Henry, the intrepid protagonist of the novel, is without a doubt the heart of the story. His curiosity and earnestness serve to heighten the story; this novel is worth reading for his narration alone. One example of Henry’s simultaneously warm and analytical voice is his use of percentages to measure his emotions as he tries to work through his conflicting feelings. Henry’s narration is light-hearted but realistic, even as the townspeople become disgruntled that Henry’s family happened to recover the meteorite, for which a large reward has been offered. Despite the optimism expressed by the Bowers throughout the novel, the arrival of the meteorite is foreshadowed by tragedy, as the Bowers lose their home early in the story due to flooding caused by the meteorite’s landing.

            An important, recurring element in Down to Earth is the connection Henry and his family share with nature. Henry has grown up watching his mother forage for food in the nearby forest, collecting fiddleheads and cattails. His father is a dowser, and works alongside his brother, Henry’s uncle, to drill wells for the townspeople. The deep respect Henry feels for the natural world can be seen when he first greets the meteorite, on page 24.

            I want to say something to the big rock myself, to welcome it the way my parents make visitors, or even strangers, feel at home. Then I remember what my mother says when she finds a mushroom or fern she can’t identify.

            “I don’t know your name, but I’m glad to meet you,” I say to the big rock.  

            Down to Earth is written for the natural scientist in each of us, and recaptures the wonders of childhood while at the same time showing Henry’s journey as he finds his place in the world. Henry’s optimism and respect for the natural world around him serve to root the story, and his narration makes even the most prosaic of things—such as a seemingly ordinary rock—take on a new life. The novel, through Henry’s exuberant narration and the coincidences that lead Henry to discover his voice, makes a powerful case for living life down to earth. 

Elliott is a prolific reader of various genres who is more than happy to share his opinions on books. In his free time, he enjoys writing, reading, and running. He is a 9th-grade student in Charlotte, NC.    


If you are interested in winning this book, please leave a comment by March 28. Make sure to include your name and email address if you are new to my blog. U.S. addresses only. Please note that your comment will not show up until I approve it. 

Don't forget to check out the other wonderful middle-grade books on Greg Pattridge's MMGM site. 

Thursday, March 16, 2023

MOON TREE: The Story of One Extraordinary Tree-- A Review, Book Journey, and Giveaway

Sometimes authors stumble upon their stories. And even though that story takes time to write, that initial connection remains strong when the book is brought into the world. 

As you'll read in the book journey below, that was the case for Carolyn Fraiser's debut STEM picture book, MOON TREE: The Story of One Extraordinary Tree (Reycraft Books, 2022) illustrated by Simona Mulazzani


Carolyn Fraiser, my SCBWI-Carolinas friend, makes writing a picture book look easy. The text is sparse yet lyrical.  But actually, the process of uncovering the "of course!" structure came only after many revisions. 

The story seems to begin with an ordinary sycamore in an ordinary forest. But actually, here is the true beginning many years before that tree was alive:

One ordinary boy

who dashes among the trees

At home, he watches

war planes soar

in the Oklahoma sky

and dreams that one day 

he will fly. 


He grew up to be...

He became a pilot who races through the skies. He watches others touch space.  Maybe one day, he'll fly even higher.

He does! And becomes,

the one NASA astronaut who packs his bag with seeds to honor the men who rescue trees.

But, back on earth, the container holding the seeds breaks and the seeds scatter. 

Along comes one forest researcher who watches them sprout and,

decides to send the "Moon Trees" to camps, schools, and state forests to celebrate the bicentennial. 

Everyone forgets about the trees until one third-grade girl finds a sycamore at her camp that is "named after the moon." She is curious and encourages her class to find out why it is called a moon tree.

In the end, the girl and the class discover the story of the Moon Tree--the book that your students, kids, or grandkids, will enjoy reading over and over again.  As you can see from the images I've included in this review, Simona Mulazzani's illustrations are out-of-this-world imaginative, and beautiful!


I spent 20 years writing for adults before I decided to pursue writing for children, and it still took me 10 years to get a book published! Since I had written a lot for adult magazines, I started with children's magazines and had several pieces published. But book publishing was harder. I wrote and submitted many stories before I even started working on Moon Tree. 

I wanted to write Moon Tree from the day I stumbled across our local moon tree at the Cradle of Forestry in Pisgah Forest. I had never heard of the moon trees and the story fascinated me. I spent 6 months diving deep into research. I wasn't sure how to approach the story so I looked at it from every angle I could -- from Stuart Roosa's biography to the history of the Apollo program. I interviewed people with NASA and the US Forest Service, listened to interviews, read tons of newspaper articles, and watched every documentary I could find on the Apollo program. When I came across the story of the 3rd-grade class project, I had the opportunity to interview the teacher, and I knew I wanted to include that angle in my story. But my initial drafts were far from what ended up being published. 

My first draft was close to 1500 words with lengthy sidebars on every page. Then I wrote a fictionalized version from the perspective of the tree. I tried some other angles, but none of them really stuck. Then an agent challenged me to try a lyrical approach, which was more in my wheelhouse than anything else I had been trying. I let the idea simmer for several months before trying again. 

 began to think about each element and person of the story and how if any of those pieces were missing, the story might not have happened or may have been lost to history. That's what gave me the idea of starting with the concept of "one" because each one made a difference -- right down to the third-grade girl. I didn't know if it would work, but it did!   
I literally put all my research away and focused on the essence of the story. What came out was the final version that ended up in print

Rejections? Oh, there were A LOT! I think I had about 50 rejections from this manuscript alone, but most were from early versions of the story. Once I had the final version, I saw interest pick up almost immediately. 

I had been familiar with Reycraft from my research with various publishers and friends who had published through them. I had been selected for a mentorship with Vivian Kirkfield who convinced me that the version I had was ready to go out. I think I put the pitch out there for a few Twitter pitch contests. A friend saw it and thought it would be a good fit for Reycraft. She suggested that I submit it to them, so once I got the green light from Vivian, I did. 


As you know, I love giving books to my grandkids. MOON TREE is one that I'm sure will be read over and over again. The boys loved counting all the trees! And of course, my granddaughter insisted on reading it herself. 


Reycraft is donating a copy of MOON TREE. I'm giving it away through the spring issue of the Talking Story newsletter. Leave a comment with your email address if you are new to my blog and I'll add your name to the giveaway list. A winner will be chosen on April 17th. U.S. addresses only. If you are an educator, decide to follow my blog, or also leave a comment through the newsletter, I'll enter your name twice.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

What's Next?

 Six weeks ago, I shared my excitement that HALF-TRUTHS was finally on submission. At that point, the answer to the question, "What's Next?" was to query agents and editors. For those of you who are writers, you know that process can take a long time. Agents and editors are backed up and although I've sent the full manuscript in response to a few requests, it can still be months before I hear back from anyone.

Meanwhile, the best antidote to obsessively checking my email is to get busy with a new project. Without further ado, I want to introduce you to my next WIP (Work in Progress) a middle-grade graphic novel that I've tentatively titled ESCAPE FROM NURENBERG. The story is based loosely on my father's and grandfather's experiences in Germany from 1935 to 1938.

When my parents died, I became the keeper of their papers. These included an assortment of documents and photographs. There were several versions of my father's autobiography, personal letters, my grandfather's report cards from medical school in the early part of the 20th century (that a friend translated), and a speech he gave to doctors in Ohio after he immigrated to the United States. 

My father, Henry Federlin, is on the left. He is standing with
 his mother Elsie and his father Sigmund.
Circa 1945
As I looked through these precious documents and pictures I wondered if there was a story that I could write. I usually answered that question with "no" because there are already so many Holocaust stories for kids. But there was one unique event in my grandfather's life that occurred before he left Germany. It wasn't a story by itself. But maybe it was the ending. And when I thought about my father's account of how he was bullied in the public school I thought--that could be the beginning. 

All I needed was the middle.

I made a note to myself in my phone:

  • Learn how to use Scrivener for writing a script.
  • Learn how to write a graphic novel.
  • Learn what was happening in Germany during this time period.
  • Come up with a story arc. 

In the last six weeks, I've done all four.


Based on what I read online, Scrivener's scriptwriting program was ideal for writing a graphic novel. The only problem was that I had no idea how to write a script! Fortunately, I found a ton of images and tutorials online and within the Scrivener software itself. Since I learn better by trying my hand at something rather than reading about it, I jumped in and created a project. Like all software there's a learning curve, but I'm getting there. I love keeping track of my research, the story, and images all in one project--with the ability to simultaneously work in two documents:


I spent 16 years writing HALF-TRUTHS and I wanted a break from that form of storytelling. I also asked the KidLit 411 Facebook group how to tell if an idea was better suited for a "regular" novel or for a graphic novel. I tagged Kirsten W. Larson and she responded, "I would think about the visual possibilities for your story. Like picture books, graphic novels are visually driven. You have to ask yourself the same questions about whether you have scenes that are visually interesting and distinct from each other." Since I was already picturing the action in many of the scenes, I thought I was on the right track. 

This blog post describes the process that I stumbled into. A graphic novelist imagines each panel as the reader will encounter it.  Kirsten Larson told me that the process of "paneling" takes time. I believe it. Imagining what will be shown on a page of panels can easily take hours of research. 

I'm also studying graphic novels and seeing how the author employs transitions, and shows dialogue, captions, and narrative information. As I did with HALF-TRUTHS, I'll be reviewing some of these books here


I'm a hands-on learner. Whereas some novelists may choose to research and then write, I prefer to jump in, learn, save new information, and incorporate it into my WIP.

Although my parents were both born in Germany and had family who died in the Holocaust, by the time my brother and sister were born in 1950, my parents were ready to put those events in the past. I came along three years later and my parents rarely talked to any of us about their childhood growing up in Germany. My best friend's mother had a tattoo on her arm from being in a concentration camp--but we never talked about it. I knew the names of the cities where my parents grew up, but it wasn't until I was an adult, that my father started sharing some of his experiences before leaving Nuremberg

Fortunately for my siblings and I, my father composed several short, type-written autobiographies. My mother's memory wasn't as good as my father's, but I interviewed her a few times and have some glimpses of her life as a child in Speyer.

I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I knew only a thimbleful of information about the Holocaust. I am rapidly rectifying that situation through books and amazing websites like the United States Holocaust Museum with information such as this about children. When I enter various museum websites it's like diving into a deep hole. I go from link to link and come back to Scrivener having forgotten what I was looking for. 

When my dad told me he grew up in Nuremberg, I didn't realize how Hitler used that centrally-located city as his propaganda launching pad. Not only did it have a huge park that Hitler transformed into his political Rally grounds, his antisemitic follower Julius Streicher, published the virulent Der Stürmer newspaper there. 

This is what my father had to say about Striecher:

"My public elementary school was right across the street from an anti-Semitic weekly newspaper, Der Stürmer published by one of Hitler's favorite cronies, Julius Streicher, Nazi boss of Franconia, a noted pervert and one of the most unsavory characters in the Third Reich."

As I pictured my father attending school across the street from a widely-read tool of Nazi propaganda--my story became more real. 

A group of young German boys view Der Stürmer, Die Woche, and other propaganda posters that are posted on a fence in Berlin.
A group of young German boys view Der Stürmer, Die Woche, and other propaganda posters that are posted on a fence in Berlin. ——US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Julien Bryan Archive


I had story nuggets for the beginning and the end but I didn't know what was going to happen from Point A to Point Z.  My unofficial "research assistant," my sister Barbara Federlin, and I brainstormed possibilities.  The more I read, researched, and imagined what my father's and grandparents' lives were in Nuremberg, the more a story began to take shape.

Fifteen years ago I toured Nuremberg with
my oldest daughter, Lisa, and my husband.
We visited the medieval city and saw the street
where my father grew up. These images help construct my story too.


Kirsten W. Larson is mentoring me as I plunge into the graphic novel world. I took a webinar with her last year which convinced me that the Kidlit publishing world is wide open to this genre. She encouraged me to create a synopsis using this template. You can use it at any step of your writing process. Filling it out even if your WIP is not a graphic novel and even if it might change, will help you imagine your entire story arc.

Thanks for joining me on my next writing journey. I'll be sure to let you know what happens next. 



Congratulations to Becky Scharnhorst who won THREE CANADIAN PIGS and to Marci Whitehurst who won GOOD MORNING, SUNSHINE. Thanks to everyone who entered. Stay tuned for more contests--I have a stack of books to review and give away!

Monday, March 6, 2023


This week I have two very different picture books for you courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press; both are related to Canada's national winter sport--hockey. If you want to win either of these books, make sure to include your name and email address when you leave a comment and let me know which book you're interested in. 

The Three Canadian Pigs  by Jocelyn Watkinson, illustrated by Marcus Cutler

Jocelyn Watkinson took The Three Little Pigs, gave them a Canadian twist, and produced a fun picture book that children--and the adults who read this book to them--will really enjoy. 

When Wolf chases him down in his fancy Zamboni, the pigs cry out, 

"I'm sorry there, Wolf, you are sorely mistaken--"

and Wolf responds, 

"Oh no!  But I'm not! You're Canadian bacon!"

The puns and Canadian references only get better from there. 

Of course, Wolf goes to their modern-day snow fort cleverly designed by Marcus Cutler and of course, he tries to "huff and puff and blow it down." And of course the pigs reply,

Despite enlisting his friends Bear and Moose, the snow fort cannot be shaken. The pigs demand to settle their feud the "Canadian way"-- which of course, means on the hockey rink.

It's no surprise that the pigs take the lead. Wolf gets mad and resorts to some nasty moves.

Moose and Bear come to the pigs' defense and Wolf leaves with an empty tummy. But since the pigs are an honorable sort, they invite everyone back to their fort.

Now, wait up there, eh! There's no need to take off!
There's tons of great food back at home in our trough!

Wolf apologizes, "Pigs, I'm so sorry that I was a brute."

They wave him off with,

Then they all turned on the game, and they put up their feet...

and Wolf announces,

Being friends with Canadian bacon is sweet! 

Jocelyn told me that she wrote The Three Canadian Pigs because she had moved to the U.S. and was homesick for Canada. She was working on some fractured fairytales when her mother said, "Do the three little pigs but make them Canadian!" This goes to show, we ALL need to listen to our mothers!

GOOD MORNING SUNSHINE! The Joey Moss Story by Lorna Schultz Nicholson, illustrated by Alice Carter

Lorna Schultz Nicholson has crafted a heart-warming story about Joey Moss, a man who became a Canadian hero.

The first spread shows the reader how Joey Moss loved to make people smile--just by being himself.  Then the book flashes back to September 1963 when Joey was born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. 

The fact that he was born with Down Syndrome didn't change how his family of eleven siblings welcomed him and incorporated his tambourine playing into their musical act.

Joey graduated from a special school for children with developmental disabilities and got a job working at a local bottle depot. It wasn't much fun and Joey had to catch several buses to get to work.

But, things changed when a family friend, Wayne Gretzky, saw Joey shivering at a bus stop one day.

Wayne helped Joey get a job working in the Edmonton Oilers equipment room. Despite being made fun of at times, Joey loved it!

Joey worked hard and the team loved his friendly enthusiasm.

The TV cameras focused on him when he sang the national anthem before games. After the Canadian Football League asked him to work for them also, he became so popular that people asked him for his autograph!

He helped out at charity golf events and modeled clothes at the Edmonton Down Syndrome Society fashion shows. 

Whether it was belting out "O Canada!" before a hockey game,

or helping people, Joey loved making people smile.

For the rest of his life, Joey Moss continued to be an inspiration for people and an advocate for those with disabilities.

Just by being himself, Joey showed the world that everyone can be a force for good, active in their community, and a positive role model.

Joey Moss was an inspiration to Lorna and she is happy that she got to dance with him at the Edmonton Down Syndrome Society fashion show. The illustrations by Alice Carter are warm and inviting--just like Joey was. 

Here is a Joey Moss Tribute video that will help you realize why Lorna wrote this inspirational book. 


I am giving away both of these books! Leave a comment with your name and email address, or send me an email if you prefer. Please let me know which book you prefer. If you share this on social media, you will get one extra chance; if you follow my blog you will get another chance. Tell me what you have done and I will enter your name accordingly. U.S. postal addresses only.  Please note that your comment will not show up until I approve it. The giveaway ends on March 9. 


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