Books -- reading and writing.
Home, cooking, the weather.
And whatever connections I can make between these chapters of my life.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

It's Been Too Long

 (Why does that title feel like it needs singing? Maybe we've been listening to Alexa playing country music way too long up here in the mountains...)

But what I mean is that it's been way too long since I blogged. Almost the entire pandemic, it seems. 

There's nothing left to say about Quarantine/ masks/ social distancing/ homeschool so I won't even try.

But I did want to say that, sadly, there are no more QUAKER MOTTO CALENDARS.

The Scattergood family has produced these lovely gems for generations. But for various unanticipated reasons, 2020 is their last year. 

I'll try to share a few quotes here, as that was my favorite part of these perfectly-sized calendars.

Here's one the family loves. Perfect for late summer and early fall.

Enjoy your trees, wherever you are!

"Time is never wasted listening to the trees;

If to Heaven as grandly we arose as these.

Holding to each other half the kindly Grace,

Haply we were worthier of our human place."

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Poem of the Day

This morning I woke up determined to get more accomplished than a jigsaw puzzle (no judging! It's keeping us sane.) or baking cookies (ditto).

Outside my window the rain is drizzly and grey, but after weeks of temps in the 80s and high humidity, I welcome the rain. 

A perfect day to dust, right? 
So I'm dusting and tidying up my bookshelves.
And I ran across this gem. A skinny book, it was hiding between my thick Flip Dictionary and a very old guide to using Scrivener. 

I rescued GETTING THE MAIL by Cathy Cultice Lentes to read again.

And I found the perfect poem for today.

The first line made me put away my dust cloth: "I will never have clean windows."

The last lines made me roll up my sleeves:
"I dry my hands, reroll my sleeves, for the real work to be done."

And Cathy isn't talking about washing windows. 
She has the heart of a poet. 
Here's the book:

 (note my dust cloth, at rest)

GETTING THE MAIL, published by Finishing Line Press. You may order from your favorite independent bookstore.

Take time to enjoy a poem today.  After all, it's April and that's Poetry Month, you know.


Monday, March 30, 2020


Today's Monday, though sometimes it's hard to keep up. 
But this is not really a #IMWAYR post. It's more of a It's Monday and I want to Remember What to Read. 

I've seen the word HUNKER used more in the past two weeks than I have in the past two years. (Though, honestly, it never left my vocabulary, but maybe that's a Southern thing.)

So I'm hunkering down and escaping into books.
This is a post to list books everybody's recommending.
Just a list. I'll never read them all!
Possibly I'll be the only person reading the post. It will be messy. I don't really remember where most of these suggestions came from (from whom they came...), but if I do, there's a little note/ name by the book title that will mean nothing to anybody but me. 

I'll keep adding and maybe comment as I read. 

I'm not attempting to pretty it up. Or verify the titles, unless I can't help myself. (All that librarian training and experience may kick in, who knows.)

Some are books to reserve though I've maxed out my Libby reserves. (Thank you public library people for an App for e-books and saving readers during hunkering down times.) 

I'll add links that have really touched me, made me laugh, made me want to read that book! Like these!

Now, here goes my own PANDEMIC BOOKLIST (ouch, that was hard to type, sounds much too light-hearted, but I guess we have to maintain our senses of humor while hunkering).

The first few books on my list were from a social media post by Tracy Winfield Holczer asking for something easy and fun to read. I find my British mysteries do the trick. I couldn't resist jumping in with TANA FRENCH. I'd also recommend Ann Cleeves. And the Jackson Brodie books by Kate Atkinson. But since I've read almost all of the novels by those women, they aren't on my #TBR/ reserved list. And some might not think they're exactly "fun" or light! My definition of fun and light (granted, this is a stretch) is anything that keeps me turning pages and doesn't creep me out so that I can't sleep.

So, everybody, what are you reading right now?

BOOKS for my Corona quarantine

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely fine 
Goodnight, June
Princess Bride
Rachel's Holiday

Evvie Drake Starts Over

Nothing to See Here

Corduroy Mansions

Sookie Stackhouse novels

Goodnight June

Bridge of Clay

Winter Solstice

Walter Moseley. The truth of fiction

Never have I ever. Joslyn Jackson

Joanna Trollope  

if the creek don’t rise.
Peter Swanson

Len Deighton

Blum. What I learned??  (Ron)

Eliz Stroudt. Short stories. Anything is possible

Others by OVE.   (Lyn) 

The good thief
Engineer of beasts
Owl in love

Flight behavior. Audible

News of the world(Monika)
Gesture life.

Gift of rain. (Suzanne)

In the garden of beasts. Larson. Before WW2

Gary Paulson. Winter dance

Miss Jane

Recommended books

James Sallis. Drive

We love you Charlie Freeman

Almost Famous Women. Short stories

Thunderstruck. Elizabeth McCracken

Cool beautiful world

The Wangs vs the world.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Read My Book, please! Read Aloud Permission and Links

For teachers navigating the new normal, here's the link Scholastic has shared with information about reading our books to your students.

I read Chapter One of GLORY BE here:

If you'd like:
Here I am, reading a chapter from THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY.

There are many resources on my blog and my website. I'll continue to post here if new ones turn up.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Monday Again!

This has been my week for reading, and hiding from the world. 

The world has slowed down here in Florida. Yes, we still have our share of spring-breakers, mostly families, but the roads don't seem as crowded, the shops are empty, and spring training has shut down. 
It's a tough time for so many.
My heart goes out to all you teachers and librarians with plans for your kids that are on hold.

SO, with all the craziness in the world, let's read some good books!

First up- a perfect Middle-Grade novel. Such kid-appeal. The clever math connections, the friendships, the strong writing and plot- all make it an easy, fun, and interesting read. 
Perfect sweet spot for MG, ages 9-12. 

Here's a link to Stacy McAnulty's website with reviews, activities, a sample chapter. Good stuff! 

Another terrific middle-grade with a hint- okay more than a hint!- of a ghost story is JUST SOUTH OF HOME. This is Karen Strong's debut, and I'll be on the lookout for her next book. 
Again, this is a story with a lot of kid-friendliness. (Is that a thing?)
Family dynamics in a small southern town, some serious civil rights history woven in, kids who aren't perfect but figure things out pretty well. I loved that the narrator has a strong sense of right and wrong. 
Don't miss this one.

I'm not quite finished with Leslie Connor's newest novel, A HOME FOR GODDESSES AND DOGS, but I'll add it to today's collection. The publisher's suggested age level is 10 and Up, and I agree. Mostly because (at least so far) though there's nothing too advanced about the topic, the language feels older. Lydia, the narrator, is 13 and has recently lost her mother, but she lovingly grieves in the care of her aunt and her aunt's wife. I love the animals, Lydia's lovely memories, the winter setting. 
It's quite different from Leslie's previous two books (All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook is as good as- or better than!- any middle-grade novel I've ever read). Her newest novel may appeal to different kids, those special readers willing to invest in a quiet-ish story with heart. 

I'm not sure what made me reread SARAH PLAIN AND TALL. I hadn't read it since I worked as a librarian and that was too many years ago to count!
What a perfect book. 
If it's been a while since you read this Newbery winner, do yourself a favor and find your copy. It will make your day. A perfectly lovely, small gift of a book that takes us away from the world swirling around us.

I'm not much of a Young Adult reader, but that may change now that I've read this one by STACIE RAMEY. 
So good!  The main character is a bright girl with cerebral palsy, a crush on a boy, a mostly/usually amazing family, and a best friend. IT'S MY LIFE will have teens turning pages and then searching for Stacie's other books.


Last but not least, may I recommend a fun book about words, and writing, and grammar and all the things you never have time to think about?

This one's been on my shelf since Christmas, when my brother gifted it to me. So happy I had time to organize bookshelves!

Our lovely little public library just announced it's closed "for the foreseeable future" so I'll be using their Libby app even more and tidying up my own bookshelves.

Sending love and great reading vibes to all my #IMWAYR pals!


Thursday, March 5, 2020

What Great Kids!

It was like Old Home Week, with new people.


A few of the fabulous moments 
from my short two days in Mississippi.

 Packed and ready!

 My new buddy, Heather Wood, super librarian, 
stacking books for me to sign!

 Front and center- lots of smiles!

Photo over the booth where we ate lunch. 

Also, the terrific music teacher at Petal Elementary played all Elvis tunes as the kids came into the auditorium. 
One 3rd grader on the front row knew all the words to Hound Dog!

Petal is just outside Hattiesburg, MS, the place my mother grew up and a town where I spent lots of summers. My grandmother took us to the zoo on the bus!  

This is the church where my parents were married and a few beautiful flowers just now blooming all over Hattiesburg.

It wouldn't be a trip to Mississippi without food! 

My brother, sister and I did some seriously good eating. But I practiced enormous restraint and didn't buy those fig preserves. 
I feared the TSA agents would grab them at the New Orleans airport.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Happy Birthday to my Blog!

February 22, 2008
My very first post!

Did I ever expect, some 1,245 posts later, I'd still have a thing to say?
Okay, that was a rhetorical question. No need to comment. ;)

What was fun while scrolling back a little bit was remembering all the books I'd read and reviewed. And all the friends I've made along the way.

Danette and our Insomniacs Club. She and I accept parallel parking challenges. I first wrote about her book in 2008 and I still love her books!

A few years ago, my buddy Eileen redid my logo. All these clicks later, I love it as much as when she designed it.

I met Rosi Hollenbeck at a Highlights Foundation Workshop, also a while back. Now I love reading her blog and she kindly comments on mine.

Just a few friends who've made this writing thing so much fun.

I started this blog before I'd published a book. But I had a dream!

 Thanks, everybody, for reading! Hope you'll stick around!

Birthday Thought for the Day:

Monday, February 17, 2020

Monday Reading

Again, I've been lax.

I read a lot of books and forget to blog about them. If it weren't for
#IMWAYR, I'd probably never remember what all I've read.

BUT this has been a great week for reading Middle-grade Fiction.

First off, a book from a writer whose books I admire so much. Susan Hill Long writes funny, she writes poignant, she writes adventure and she writes books with true heart.

This one just came out and I predict kids will love it. Publisher's Weekly agrees.

Yes, there's a baseball subplot going on. And this is my favorite time of year to read baseball-related novels. But oh that Josie! How I love her.

I also just I finished an ARC, sent by the publisher. (Pubbing early March, thank you FSG!)

I was interested in this novel because I know a woman with Turner Syndrome, and have known her most of her life. But I've never read much about it and certainly not a middle-grade book.

WHAT STARS ARE MADE OF is a debut novel by Sarah Allen. The writer has Turner Syndrome and the book felt very authentic about the disorder. Libby, the 12-year-old narrator isn't so great at making friends or knowing the right thing to say and I loved how the author developed an unusual friendship between Libby and a new girl in her class. The story moves quickly along, and the narrator is definitely a character kids will relate to.
In the publicity material I received along with the book, the author quotes C.S. Lewis: "We read to know that we are not alone." So true.

Another Advance Reader Copy I was privileged to read is Rebecca Stead's newest


Thank you, NetGalley!

The book's publishing in April, 2020.  I'm a huge fan of Stead's, and I bet a lot of kids will love her new book.
Two dads, a loving mom who's in the picture, a big blended family, a kid with all sorts of fun things in her life, a wedding and a lot of good things to eat.  :)

And of course, she's worried that her world will change with her new family.

Here's the starred review from Publishers Weekly.
I'm sure many more will follow, or maybe already have.
Plus, love that cover, don't you?

In my grownup reading world, I finished and enjoyed another Ann Cleeves book and I'm reading my second detective/ thriller/ mystery by another Brit, Mick Heron. My guilty pleasure/ nighttime reading.

I also read a ghost story, something I don't do often. It kept me awake at night, so think I'll avoid that genre.

Can't wait to hear all the book recommendations from my It's Monday What Are You Reading? pals!

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Consider Your Heroes

Perhaps now more than ever, it's important to choose role models kids can look up to. Is it because we know more now about our heroes than we ever did? Is it the culture, the ability to read everything anybody does, good and bad?

Not that writers haven't always tried to hold up good examples! 
I started writing THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY over ten years ago. The seed of an idea for that book came from a childhood experience --one degree of separation from a baseball hero. But that hero had taken a big fall since my childhood memory. And an editor who read the manuscript (and rejected it with a lot of nice comments) suggested "my" baseball player might not be the best hero for the kids of Destiny, Florida.

I'd lived in Atlanta when I was a young librarian just beginning my career. I knew Hank Aaron was a hero. It was an easy switch.

So choose your heroes carefully, writers. If you're placing a character on a pedestal, be sure he or she deserves it.

There are a lot of interesting stories out there about Hank Aaron. He doesn't mind speaking up about things he believes to be wrong. 
Here's his take on the recent cheating scandals in baseball. 
He started a foundation that has helped so many kids.
He's an all-around good guy. 
A perfect book character. 
Somebody kids should remember.

My buddy Eileen, who still lives in Atlanta and follows the news, shared this resource via her local TV station and a Facebook page., on the occasion of Aaron's 86th February birthday. 
(Photos and a letter from the president via the John F. Kennedy Library.)

This is the kind of sports hero our kids need to know about.

Friday, January 24, 2020


Cleveland, Mississippi. My hometown.

The title of this movie recently changed and I love the new title: FAR EAST DEEP SOUTH.  

They're beginning to show it all over the country, including the Oxford Film Festival and of course, several places in California, where the producers live.

If you have a chance, do see it. I can't wait!

Also, this is the story behind MAKING FRIENDS WITH BILLY WONG. So, if you're intrigued by the immigration story of southern Chinese, you may be interested in my book and this movie.

Here's the trailer. Quite beautiful and what a story!

Far East Deep South Trailer from Only Won on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Happy Birthday, GLORY BE!

Was it really January 1, 2012? Wow.

I remember the first time I saw my first book in a hardcover, book-jacketed, fabulously cover-arted edition. It was real! It was a book!

As a librarian, it was a thrill.
As a writer who'd worked ten years, off and on, through a number (ahem!) of rejections, it was sheer joy.

Still is.

Thank you to everybody who brought this book into the world. Thank you to the teachers and librarians who've put it on their states' children choice award lists. 
Thank you for the great reviews, over all these years. 

 The sheet cake my daughter ordered to celebrate GLORY BE's beginning!

I'm proud of GLORY BE which chosen by Mississippi to represent our state at the National Book Festival, awarded the 2013 Crystal Kite Award, and given lots of other really amazing accolades.

Resources and links may be found on my blog, HERE.

Oh, and PS- There's a certain online site that has the HARDCOVER on sale for $8.
(I didn't think you could even buy a hardcover edition most places.)

 Fun Author Visit memory. My first visit "home" to a Mississippi school.

I'm a big fan of Skype visits, too! 

 Cookies! I need one of these! Right now!
(from a very special NYC Book Club night. )

Friday, December 6, 2019

Good advice

Like Linda Sue, I also believe in learning from the best.

In this instance, Linda Sue Park together with Lois Lowry.
That's some serious writing firepower there!

Years ago, I took a short workshop with Linda Sue and she explained the way she begins a novel.

This link is from 2000.

I wonder if it still holds true for her process. I bet it does.

One of my favorite parts of this advice:

What I like best about Ms. Lowry's outline is that there is NO step labeled “Theme.” I think she believes as I do: That theme should grow out of the character and the story. If a writer begins with theme, the story is likely to be heavy-handed and messagey ... the kind of book kids run away from. And I'm running right beside them!

(from my desk, my inspiration for today...)

Monday, December 2, 2019

Happy Monday! Happy December!

I wish I were better at #MWAYR (It's Monday, What Are You Reading?) posts.

I love connecting with teachers and librarians and other bloggers.
But sometimes Mondays get away from me. Especially the Monday after a holiday.

I did read a lot of books this week. I'm still working on a couple but I'll add them. 
If something terrible (or wonderful) happens in the end of these two books, please don't tell me.

I love the beginnings!

This one's on the list of New York Public Library's Best Books of the Year.
Here's the link. Lots of great titles.

I read a few chapters with a young Thanksgiving visitor. He loved it. I loved it. But it was his book and it went home with him. Now I've reserved it from our library because I need to know what happens. Such a strong beginning.

I've never read a book by SARAH ARONSON. My loss! She's a super writer. She also is an excellent writing teacher.
What I love about this book, so far, is how she creates a kid who's Jewish, a soccer player, a younger brother with big shoes to follow, and he's a great character. Good strong family dynamics.
I also love the quotes from presidents at the head of each chapter. Perfect!

Follow her on various social media and maybe even take a class. Here's her website:

My fall round-up appeared recently in the Christian Science Monitor.
I loved all the books I reviewed. Then again, I only review books for them if I like them. Often they'll assign the books, sometimes I add one or two.

One picture book really touched me.

Here's my review. You can click that link up there if you want to see my reviews of the other books, a bit of middle-grade and a collection of picture books.

The Love Letter (ages 4-8), written by Anika Aldamuy Denise and illustrated in lovely muted colors by Lucy Ruth Cummins, is a joyful celebration of friendship. Hedgehog, Bunny and Squirrel, three unlikely chums, each receive the mysterious letter telling them “You are a joy, a light, a secret hope.” The power of this simple thought carries these three through their day, feeling cheerful or helpful or carefree. And, in the end, loved. A perfect picture book to be treasured and read many times.

Another of the books I reviewed introduced me to an artist I didn't know.

Love this photo of my friend Jeu Foon reading to his grandson.
This is how he describes PAPER SON:

"This book is the best I have ever seen or read about Tyrus Wong’s life and the creativity he expressed in his Disney Bambi artwork and in his magnificent flying kites. 
The author, Julie Leung, and the artist, Chris Sasaki, honor Tyrus’ journey as a “Paper Son” in historic detail and with much heart. The book’s artwork reminded me of Tyrus’ sublime style of painting foreground and background around his subjects.
If you know who Tyrus Wong is, then you know he is a legend. Please read this book ... you will be inspired by a truly gifted man ..."

So, there you have it! My kids' books for the week. 

I'm still plowing through quite a few grownup mysteries and even a writing craft book.
I reread a bit of PARDONABLE LIES (Maisie Dobbs- I've read them all!) because a friend and I have been talking about ole Maisie and how we love her.

I'm almost finished with Michael Connelly's DARK SACRED NIGHT. This is the second book that features Renee Ballard. Love his new female character. 

I'll look forward to jumping around to a few blogs this Monday morning. Hope everybody had a lovely Thanksgiving, filled with turkey, dressing, and tons of books.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Books! Books! Books!

And hey, it's Monday!
I can join the IT'S MONDAY, WHAT ARE YOU READING gang.

I've been thinking about Boy v. Girl books. I don't like that division but I'm willing to admit that there are some girls and some boys who like certain types of books better than others. Often, publishers push this with their cover designs.

But recently at our monthly workshop for the Tampa Bay area SCBWI group (The subject matter of the workshop taught so well by Nancy Stewart was Genre Jumping. We explored ways to connect your books and keep your readers, even if the books are different genres or sub-genres.), somebody asked if it was okay to write a boy character if you're female. And vice versa.

I can't imagine a hard and fast rule about this.
Having read many books written by male authors, with female protagonists, that I loved, I don't want to restrict this, not even a little bit.
(Hello, The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise! Written by a guy!) 

The best book I read this week might seem to lean toward being a boy-ISH book. 
I don't think so! Such a good book- for anybody!
Loved Esme, the female supporting character, written by a guy of course. (She has a clever connection to the story. Excellent plotting!)
Some of the many things I loved about ON THIN ICE:
1. It's funny. The main character has so many issues-- physical, emotional, family-related, school problems. But he pretty much keeps his sense of humor through everything. 
2. It's fast-paced. I have a ton of admiration for writers who know how to do this.
3. The cover is totally cool. 

Another novel I finished last week that took me by surprise. Mostly because I knew so little, really nothing, about the history behind it.
Here's a bit of the review I wrote for UNDER THE BROKEN SKY by Mariko Nagai.

Natsu lives on a farm in Manchuria where she and her young sister are lovingly cared for by their father. But when he’s conscripted into the Japanese army and the Soviets occupy their country, Natsu and Asa must make a grueling escape. The 1945 Soviet occupation and the loss of  the woman who’s cared for them create an unbearable situation, and the older sister sells Asa to a Russian woman. A detailed Afterword enhances this period in history and the resulting refugee experience.
I suspect this story will be new to young readers and to many adults. Suggested for ages 10-14. 

I'm rereading LIZZIE BRIGHT AND THE BUCKMINSTER BOY by Gary Schmidt. Everything he writes astounds me. I'm wowed by his perfect use of "close first" person. A POV I really love but man, is it hard to write well!
For the first time in eons, I read a bunch of PICTURE BOOKS. 
All so very good. More on these soon.

Grownup books I've been reading:
New to me, author Ann Cleeves's RAVEN BLACK. Because I'm still on a British detective/ mystery kick and I'm getting in the proper mindset for the new Starz series, Dublin Murders based on the books by Tana French. 
Also, THE LAST ROMANTICS for a book club. Jury is out on this one. A fast read, but I saw the plot twist coming a mile away. Hate when that happens...

And now it's time to scurry around all the fun IT'S MONDAY WHAT ARE YOU READING POSTS, which you can find and link to HERE.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Catching Up with the Links

No, I'm not playing golf today.
Or ever, for that matter. ☺
Though I do love a good game of Putt-Putt.

But I've been reading a few blogposts and writing craft articles and other inspiration, and I decided to share.

My friend Rosi Hollenbeck always does this! And I always find something helpful. Here's her link->

Just now, while gathering her link, I found this quote. 
I'm not sure if I've ever made a million think. But I like this thought.

“A drop of ink may make a million think.”
~ Lord Byron ~

(Okay, you need to hurry over to Rosi's blog. I could stay all day reading her fabulous quotes! Here's another.)

“Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.”
~ Mark Twain ~

Just in case you have some time to Wander around the Web this weekend, here are some more ways to spend your time!
On what to do with a negative review:

For those of you who blog book reviews, check out and join up with Greg's "Middle Grade Monday" collections. I found him via Rosi's blog, too.

My writing group is headed out on a short retreat. We have lots to celebrate and plenty of work to do. I read this in preparation for the time away. Read all the way to the end for advice on ways to get into your character's head:

If you're a newly-published author, if you have a new book coming soon, you might want to be one of my buddy Kirby Larson's Friday friends. Here's her blog. You meet the nicest people there. AND check out her Wednesday Wisdom quotes. I could fill my entire bulletin board with them:
Hey, here's an idea. I'll spend/ waste quality time and re-arrange my bulletin board. Inspiration Awaits! 

(A peek at one corner of the bulletin board above my desk)

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Read all about it!

The States, that is.

If you didn't make it to the fun and fabulous NATIONAL BOOK FESTIVAL, sponsored by the Library of Congress this summer, here's a link to the books featured in the Parade of States. 

Since I happened to be nearby, of course I popped into the Convention Center to check out the Festival. 
(When GLORY BE was new, Mississippi chose my book. That was the last year I attended, and I got to sign books and it was pretty amazing.)

Each state picks a representative book to flaunt!
Now that the Festival has moved inside to the convention center, there are lots more authors and tons of kids having a ball getting their "parade" cards stamped, finding books they may have missed, enjoying the book buzz.

If you're a teacher who's tried to find a book from each state, you know it's not that easy. 
I blogged about this once before, HERE. 
And I included this list to all sorts of books, new and old, with the state(s) the books are set in. 
Here the link:

At the festival, I loved seeing Kerry Madden-Lunsford's book front and center on the Alabama table.  Set in the Great Smokey Mountains, this picture book begs to be read aloud. There's even a cornbread recipe in the back! No sugar added, I'm happy to say. At heart, Kerry, who now lives and teaches in Alabama, is a true southerner.

Thursday, August 29, 2019


This morning when I woke up, I realized it's my THIRD book's THIRD birthday.

Happy birthday to you!

I spent a lot of time with this book (Okay, true confessions, I spent a lot of time with the others, too. I'm a sloooowwww writer!). 

The history of Chinese immigration to the Deep South before the Civil Rights era surprised a lot of people. Even my Chinese American non-southern friends. 
But having grown up surrounded by the Chinese-owned grocery stores, to me, it was yet another piece of the complicated history of the Mississippi Delta where I was born and raised, a history so intriguing that I wanted to share it. 

And I wanted to tell the story of a girl who's not so brave and spunky and not totally happy to be helping a grandmother she hardly knows.
And yet, she did it. Better still, it all worked out for Azalea.

The tiny beginning of an idea for this book came from my high school friend Bobby Joe Moon. The librarian's perspective, amazingly remembered details and many deep conversations came from a newer friend, Frieda Quon. It was important to get every detail right. I asked a million questions. Frieda became my first reader. Bobby, my PR guy.
I loved that Scholastic let me include photographs shared by the two people who helped me most with getting the details right. 

I also used the remarkable resources and treasures of the Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum on the campus of Delta State University in my hometown. 

If you're interested, click on that link to the museum and enjoy the photographs. 

For those teachers who might be interested in including this book for your students this year, I have additional resources HERE, 
and a fun Pinterest page, HERE,
AND here.
(Oh, and I love Skyping with classes who've read my books. 

So bring on the cake and let's celebrate books that require a lot of sweat and even a few tears. Let's celebrate the friends who help us, the libraries we love, the editors and early readers.



Monday, August 26, 2019

A Read and a Re-Read

This weekend I had the opportunity to chat about A HANDFUL OF STARS with a young reader in my acquaintance. She'd added it to her list of summer reads. She liked the length, the story, the characters. I'd read it so long ago, I had to reread parts of it so I could have a halfway intelligent conversation.


And then tonight on a delightful walk, I thought about Cynthia Lord and some excellent advice she gave to a roomful of writers a few years ago.

When I went back to my blogpost about that conference (see above for link), it cracked me up. I named no names and kept my details to a minimum. But it was a remarkable event for me and I'm forever indebted to Naomi Milliner (who has just published her first and fabulous middle-grade novel) for setting me up with a critique with the agent who now represents me and has been a friend since that first morning we chatted.  

Some things have a way of working out really well, don't they? How lucky for me!

Cynthia told us to get in touch with feelings from your younger self. To sit and remember. Not necessarily the same, specific event or action or moment that evoked those feelings, but the embarrassment when you wore the wrong dress to a party or your big brother caught you doing something you shouldn't have, or the way your heart ached when your parents split or your grandmother died. Or as my friend Susan recently told me when I reached out with wringing hands to vent about how hard it is to write strong emotions: 
 ...the trick is to get in touch with the emotion from our memories. Really in touch, with a time in our lives that recalls the same sort of joy, anger or pain that our characters are experiencing. So in touch that if we need to write pain, we’re willing to hurt all over again to express honesty on the page.

This writing emotion things is harder than it sounds, Cynthia and Susan! 

But I've been thinking about it as I read another book, filled with strong emotions as well as humor. Gary Schmidt is one of my favorite authors. I've loved everything I've written by him. THE WEDNESDAY WARS is one of my favorites. How's this for a first line:

Of all the kids in the seventh grade at Camillo Junior High, there was one kid that Mrs. Baker hated with heat whiter than the sun.

And now, there's a new middle-grade novel to read and enjoy. 
Have you read this one? 


Cricket? (the game not the bug)  A butler?
Really, Mr. Schmidt, where do you get your amazing ideas.
But it's not all candybars and laughs. There are some really sad things happening in Carter Jones's world. 

I've read a lot of interviews with this author. This one, about Writing the Hard Stuff, via SCBWI, says a lot.  

I'm still thinking about what he says concerning the trust he gives his readers:  "... the reader has a lot of work to do to figure out what is going on, and so has to become invested in doing part of the work of the novel."

If you don't know what SCBWI is, and you're even remotely interested in writing for kids, click on the link and check out the website. Those funny initials stand for the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, by the way.

So, it's Monday again. Almost September. 
Hats off to my teacher and librarian friends who are saying goodbye to summer. I so look forward to hearing what you're reading with your students and to seeing the photos of your classrooms and your new libraries and your clever displays to inspire your readers. Enjoy!