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

Monday, May 30, 2016

Katherine Paterson

I think I could devote many posts to Katherine Paterson quotes.
In fact I have. (Type her name into my blog's search box, and you'll see what I mean.)

I was reminded of this just now when I saw Caroline Starr Rose's beautiful blog with another inspirational quote.

I'll wait while you click over there because it's not only inspirational to read, it's lovely to look at.

 This is one of my personal favorites:
"I think you tell your story and then the reader gets to decide what he or she will learn from your story. And if they don't want to learn anything from it, that's their choice."

- Katherine Paterson
from an NPR interview

And this:  Before the gates of excellence, the gods have placed sweat. –

She's always been a writing hero to me and to many others.
I have so many scribbled notes from things I've read and heard her say.

Now I need a beautiful picture to inspire us this weekend.
How about these- sunset on the Mississippi river- from my last visit "home."

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Studying a Book

I'll admit to worrying when young readers are asked to over-analyze literature. 
When I was a school librarian, I loved book discussions and exuberant exchanges of ideas between students. But as far as delving too deeply into theme or word meanings, I admit to being a little on poet Billy Collins's side here.

CLICK HERE if you're not sure what he has to say about that.

But then something happened. Several schools in Washington state adopted the "Read Side by Side" curriculum, which includes my middle-grade novel, GLORY BE. Other places and classes used my books for read-alouds, book groups, and all sorts of discussions.

And I started getting letters from readers. Many asked thoughtful questions. Some were downright funny, in a very good way.

These two are about food.
If they only knew how many references I edited out over the years. 
The writer of the second letter would have really been hungry!

But there are a lot of serious questions, which make me realize my book is helping these young readers navigate new territory. 
This makes me very proud.

Some send illustrations.

And then you get a photo from a class that's read your book. 
Santa could not have brought a better gift.

And another from the letter-writers. (I sent them bookmarks along with my answer.)


In case anybody's still reading (and I know it's a long post), I'm going to quote an email from one teacher who'd used Read Side-by-Side, and my book:

The books that we read throughout the year as part of this curriculum all revolve around the issue of power.  We started the year reading Poppy by Avi, then read The War with Grandpa written by David Kimmel Smith, Martin Luther King, Jr. by Rob Lloyd Jones, your book Glory Be and finally Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli.  All of the books are slightly above grade level which is why they are read alouds, but the kids all have their own copies.  During reading time, we stop and take notes about characters and character traits based on evidence from the text and inferences from the text, we make predictions based on evidence, talk about the problems the characters encounter in the book, the setting, and relate the story to outside readings. 

The jump from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” between 2nd and 3rd grades is a big one.  I’ve loved how through this curriculum and fabulous books like yours, my students have learned to love reading and the beautiful subtleties of weaving a wonderful story like Glory Be.  When we read the part about Laura’s sock being found at the public pool, some of the students naturally thought she trashed the locker room.  We went back to our character lists and character traits lists and asked ourselves, “Does what we know about Laura so far support that thought that she trashed the locker room?  If not, how would someone have gotten her sock?”  When we looked back to the kickball scene and reread the part about J.T. nodding to Frankie, it was electric in the classroom!  We all had goosebumps realizing the beauty of that subtle hint and the depth of your writing.

This is why we keep writing, isn't it. 
For that moment one student or a whole classroom might get goosebumps. 
I know the feeling. It's very hard to write those moments. 

I would love to hear your thoughts on writing goosebump moments. 
Or reading them with your students.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Thank you, Skype!

One of the fun things I've done this year is to Skype with more classrooms than ever. Perhaps it all started with World Read Aloud Day. Scholastic also supported some of my Skype sessions. But somehow, this school year, I connected with more smart kids and their teachers and librarians than ever before.

Check out the trailers these fifth graders at Pioneer Middle School in Yorkshire, NY, made. It's an amazing class project, and I thank Mrs. Rice and her smart kids for all their hard work. They'd read GLORY BE as a class, and you can tell they spent a lot of time, energy, and love on this.

I'm so proud of them!
One of my favorite comments? "Charming like Jesslyn's charm bracelet."
And such strong verbs- I suspect there are more than a few budding writers in Mrs. Rice's class. Not to mention film makers!

Finding images that fit perfectly with their words = what a super learning experience.

Here's the link, again,  to watch their trailers:

Here we are, Skyping!

Thank you, Mrs. Rice, her fifth graders, and Maria Muhlbauer their super librarian who set it all up.

And thank you for the lovely note that arrived in my mail today!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Words of Wisdom

"Sometimes the glittering lights is nothing but show. The real things in life aren't always fancy, and the true path just might be that winding country road."

Super Chikan, Delta bluesman,         
as quoted in DELTA MAGAZINE.

Listen to him play here:

Friday, May 6, 2016

School Library Month, Podcasts, and all sorts of fun stuff

This morning I ambled around my sunny neighborhood with earbuds and my podcasts. 
I chose randomly- I'm so far behind. But I picked perfectly.

Click here--> It's a MUST LISTEN: librarians talking about their own libraries- childhood, school, professional. How they came to love books.
A terrible, possible future for kids without libraries.

School Library Month was April, but we should always celebrate libraries and the connections librarians make between readers and books.

I smiled when John Schu said he'll always call himself a librarian, even though he's moved on(?), away(?), sideways for a bit.
I feel the same way. Once a librarian, always a librarian. Or media specialist. Or whatever we choose to call ourselves.

While you're here, note my new blog title. (Thanks, Eileen!)
And my own chapters: writer, book reviewer, librarian. 
(I've worn a lot of hats- haven't we all at this point!)
Okay, enough about me. Hurry on over to that podcast

Librarians: Making Hearts Large Through Story 

(John Schu, Scholastic librarian Deimosa Webber-Bey, and Kristina Holzweiss, the 2015 School Library Journal School Librarian of the Year)


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Happy almost birthday, Richard Peck

Yes, I missed the exact day. But it's April so I'm going with that.

I love this blog's "literary birthdays" feature.

Click on it quick. Some great quotes from Mr. Peck.

My favorites are the last two:

  1. Nobody but a reader becomes a writer.
  2. The only way you can write is by the light of the bridges burning behind you.

For more great Richard Peck quotes, check out Irene Latham's post, written after he spoke at the KAIGLER BOOK FESTIVAL in Hattiesburg, MS at the University of Southern Mississippi a few years ago.

Quotes like these:

"Childhood is a jungle, not a garden."

"Kids are not looking for authors in books; they are looking for themselves."

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Thank you, Pope Elementary

Skyping is so much fun!

This week a great group of readers from Jackson, Tennessee, appeared on my screen, fully prepared to present me with their reaction to THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY.

The first thing I saw upon answering their Skype call? A whole room full of kids waving their copies of "Destiny" in the air.

And then they held up illustrations and explained why they'd chosen that moment to feature. 

Here they are. 
(Apologies in advance. My Skype image was a little fuzzy that day.)

Here we go!

 Green birds!
(Guess what? They're making a lot of noise right outside my window today.)

  Mr. Dawson and his Bait Shop. 
This student told me she thought he played an important role in the book.
I confessed that he is a character I like a lot. Even if he had to be beefed up when I edited.

 The piano. No explanation needed!

 Bird's eye view of the piano (no pun intended), modeled after the book cover image.

Thank YOU, Pope Elementary!

And a special thanks to my friends at Scholastic who made this particular Skype event possible.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Just Like Me

(Is that a perfect book title, or what?)

Happy Book Birthday Week to my friend Nancy Cavanaugh's third fabulous book.

I'm beyond excited that she's stopped by to introduce you all to this newest middle-grade novel.

Kick off your flipflops and stay awhile, Nancy. Let's talk!

You've drawn from your own life for your previous novels, is there a little bit about you in this book? Were you a camper? Counselor? Do you love or hate swimming/ canoeing/ hiking/ soccer? As a former camper, counselor, and lover of summer camp, I think you described the camp activities so well.

Summer camp is one of my most vivid childhood memories.  Notice that I didn’t say my “fondest” childhood memories.  My camp memories include the good, the bad, and the ugly.  The “good” was always the active fun of activities with my friends (swimming and boating were my favorites) and enjoying a week of complete freedom away from my parents.  The “bad” was the camp arguments with difficult cabin mates, strict counselors, or the time I got strep throat at camp.  And the “ugly” was that awful camp oatmeal, the really bad bug bites, and the way my clothes felt damp all the time.  (Oh yeah, and the sand that always ended up in the bottom of my sleeping bag when I didn’t brush my feet off well enough before I crawled inside. I always HATED that!) 

In spite of all that, I really did love going to camp, and I think summer camp really changes kids.  At the end of the week, everyone returns home a slightly different person, which is why I chose Camp Little Big Woods as the setting for this story.        
But my daughter and her friends going to summer camp were the real inspiration for JUST LIKE ME.

AUGUSTA: I know Chaylee is proud of her mom!

Tell us a little about the design of this book? I love love love the puzzle pieces at the head of each chapter, the fabulous cover design of canoes, the uber cool little envelopes for page breaks. Who gets to decide what goes where and why? 

I LOVE the way JUST LIKE ME looks too, and I can say that without bragging because I didn’t have anything to do with the way the book looks. Thank goodness for that!  The art design team at Sourcebooks is responsible for how wonderfully creative all my books are in terms of design.  The art team works closely with my editor to come up with a concept for how everything will look and how it ties together with the story.  Throughout their process, my editor does show me the ideas they are working on. She not only asks for my input, but also asks if I have any ideas of my own. It really is such a team effort.   

AUGUSTA: Speaking of teamwork, there's a wonderful subplot about teamwork and helping friends in your book. Is that one thing you hope kids will take away from JUST LIKE ME?

As a former teacher, I spent lots of years encouraging the students in my classroom to not only get along, but to actually work together. I think it’s one of those things that I’m always trying to impress upon young people because it’s such an important life lesson.    

AUGUSTA: Ah, yes. Life lessons. I love that about books! I know kids will read this novel for fun and they'll get those lessons, because it feels very true. But there's also a serious side to Julia. Was that hard to write? 

Though this book was inspired by my daughter who was adopted from China, the character of Julia is completely fictitious, and finding Julia’s story was quite a struggle. I’m an adoptive mom, but I myself was not adopted. I really had to dig deep into my imagination and emotion to put myself in Julia’s shoes and figure out what her struggles and issues would be. 

AUGUSTA: And you did that so well!

Here's a bonus question, just for fun and because so many writers who aren't lucky enough to be published yet would love to know more about school visits, which you're so great at.
What's the funniest question you've ever been asked at one of your many school visits? (Other than Are you a millionaire?!)

When I do my school presentation for my book THIS JOURNAL BELONGS TO RATCHET, I bring engine parts and talk about how taking apart an engine and putting it back together again is very similar to how we as writers take apart our writing and put it back together when we revise it. Well, at one school visit a couple years ago, the microphone was acting up during my presentation, and it kept making that really annoying buzzing sound. A student interrupted my talk to ask, “Since you know how to take apart an engine and put it back together again, would you be able to fix the sound system?”  I’ll let you guess what my answer was.

Want to know more about Nancy and her books?

Check out her website, HERE.

Monday, March 28, 2016

WISH by Barbara O'Connor

 In the interest of full disclosure:  
I read a very early kind of/sort of draft of this novel when Barbara first shared it at our fabulous writing retreat with Kirby Larson and Susan Hill Long,
over a year ago.

It was a few chapters, heartfelt characters, and a dog. I loved it.
We all loved it.

Here we are, working hard on four manuscripts that all will appear- or already have- in 2016.
That's Winston the Wonder Dog, ready to host the first ever Pet Book Group.
(See below.)

Truthfully, I've been a fan of Barbara's since our mutual friend Leslie Guccione asked her to read my very first manuscript, many years ago, and she offered some sage advice that helped turn that into my first novel, GLORY BE.
(Okay, it took about a zillion more drafts, but Barbara's encouragement was crucial.)

Her blog advice about writing craft ("Writing Tip Tuesdays") is invaluable to newly-minted writers. 
Click on that link to see what I mean.

But I vowed a long time ago never to review a book I couldn't say nice things about.
Even if a friend writes it. ESPECIALLY if a friend writes it.
Of if I know the author. And by "know" I include social media.
Knowing an author has become very easy.

I have nothing but great things to say about WISH.

First, the characters will tug at your heart. Oh that redheaded boy with the up-down walk, Howard Odom. Big time, heart tug! A Backpack Buddy who shakes hands when he first meets Charlie on the bus. Tiny details say so much. That's the way Barbara writes her novels.

And poor Charlie. You will love this girl whose real name is Charlemagne. So unlikable and yet- well, I don't want to say too much. I want everybody to read this book when it finally appears, 11/1/16.

The entire time I was reading my Advance Reader Copy of WISH, I kept hearing it in my head.
A read-aloud kids won't forget. Ever.

I would love to share my copy, especially if you're a teacher or a librarian or someone who would continue to share.

Leave me a comment or a Facebook message or a Twitter reply, and I'll choose a winner early Thursday morning, just before I have to make a trip to the post office!

Oh! And there's a Doggie/ Kitty/ Bunny Book Group forming.
Post a picture of your pet reading the book on Twitter or Facebook.
Join the fun and celebrate another perfect Barbara O'Connor middle-grade novel.

Remember! Leave a comment before March 31st at 10 AM EDT and I'll pick a lucky winner.
You don't have to own a pet to be a fan. Or a winner.
In fact, you don't even have to love dogs to love this book.

We have a winner! Erin Preder, via Facebook.
But I drew two extra names, because I may have extra ARCs. Stay tuned! 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

What I'm Reading Now

THE BEST AMERICAN SPORTS WRITING 2015, edited by Wright Thompson.

The book fell open to "Precious Memories."

Although I'd read Tommy Tomlinson's beautiful tribute to Coach Dean Smith when it was first published and shared from the ESPN magazine, reading it today caught me off guard. 

"Here is the special cruelty of it: the connector has become disconnected. The man who held the family together has broken off and drifted away. He is a ghost in clothes, dimmed by a disease that has no cure."

I also love what Thompson says in his introduction to this year's volume, about writing.
Writers can't hear this enough.

I'm often wondering if I'll write a good story again, or wondering how I've written some good ones in the past, and over and over I find my way out of the darkness by reading a story I love, one that inspires me to be better and makes me afraid that I'll fail.

This book is full of not only good sports essays. 
These pieces are just plain good. 

Monday, March 7, 2016


My book-to-be has a title and a cover and even a blogpost on Mr. Schu's WATCH CONNECT READ.

You can see them all by clicking HERE.
(Find a bit about the story, about the books I'm reading, and about my writing buddies there.) 

I'm so excited about the cover. There's even more on the back cover! I'll share it soon. 

The book's coming in August. Which will be here before I know it.
I think you can already pre-order it on all the usual places. 
It must be really happening!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Things That Inspire Us

I've spent the past few days submerged in writing and learning new things about books for kids. If you find yourself in the Pacific Northwest about this time next year, do not miss the 14th Annual Children's Literature Conference at Western Washington University. 

Not only did I hear some fabulous writing wisdom, I met some fabulous teachers, writers, librarians- lots of librarians! 
I made new friends and hung out with old. 

One new friend, Adam Shaffer, just posted the most amazing Nerdy Bookclub post about historical fiction, specifically about Kirby Larson's awesome book, DASH.

I'm putting the entire link here so you won't overlook it. Teachers, be inspired. Writers, take a lesson from a master and read Kirby's book.

Adam has a lot of excellent ideas about historical fiction and using it in the classroom. I could quote the entire post, but I'll begin and end here: 

"There is enormous value in reading these books. We
 are more knowledgeable, more compassionate, more understanding people when we read historical fiction."

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Reading Aloud to Kids

 Next Wednesday is WORLD READ ALOUD DAY.

If you're a teacher or a librarian and haven't scheduled a free Skype reading by one of your favorite authors, next year be sure to check Kate Messner's post about it. 

I suspect most of her list has already filled their slots. But if you hurry on up to that link, there could be a few left.

I'm really excited about reading to kids, always one favorite part about being a school librarian. I'm choosing my WRAD selections and thinking hard about what book to pick.

And today I found what could well be my favorite statement about the joy of reading aloud. 
 I absolutely adore the blogpost from Colby Sharp.

Something that should be framed and hung or at the very least needle-pointed and turned into a pillow:

"The next day we once again met at the carpet for read aloud. Our days can be a little crazy at times, but this is one appointment we never miss."

CLICK RIGHT HERE to see what Colby did to mix Winn-Dixie and Willy, two of my very favorite dogs in kids' books. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Stone Soup

When you write a book-- for what seems like ages!-- it goes out into the world with a wing and a prayer. Writers hope their words will be read, but you have no assurance.

The reviews come in- some great, some so-so, some even disheartening. But nobody loves every single book, so we authors develop a thick skin.

Then you get word that the perfect young reader has loved yours. And she shared what she thought about it. That makes every single moment of research, writing, re-writing, hand-wringing and re-writing some more totally worth every minute.

This review is copyrighted by the magazine. It will appear in the March issue of STONE SOUP.

When I was a school librarian, this was a magazine my students read, enjoyed, and even contributed to a few times. Soon, you'll be able to read the content online. It's a terrific place for budding young authors. It's a great place for all authors.

(If you click on the page images below, it's easier to read.) 

I was going to include a few of Lena's sentences, but I couldn't choose. They are all so heartfelt, wonderfully written and descriptive. Thank you for possibly the best review anybody has every written of my book.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Things I Love

Yes, I know, all that hoopla about creative people working in messy spaces. Those researchers obviously didn't consult anyone who'd wanted to be a librarian since she was in fifth grade.

We recently closed up our place in New Jersey. Packed a few boxes that I couldn't live without. Offloaded some stuff. 
But I don't work well in messes. So I'm delighted to have unpacked THE LAST BOX. And even more delighted with my beautiful new bulletin board. 
Full of things I love (Thanks, Jay!).

You can't read this in the photo, but there's a little corner, bottom left, full of writing advice-- and life advice!-- mostly scribbled while talking to my brilliant editor over these past almost six years we've been together.

Usually we're talking so fast and I'm writing editorial notes and trying to answer thoughtfully and wisely. But even over lunch, she says smart things I want to remember. 

Here are a few from my beautiful blue bulletin board. 
From Andrea and other sage writers and editors.

What's the page turn?
Create oh-my-gosh moments.

I call that the "glittery hand of God."
(from the very first time my new editor and I talked on the phone and I told her about our connections)

Read each chapter and look for small astonishments. (Joyce Sweeney workshop)

You can never go home again, but the truth is you never leave home, so it's all right. 
 (Maya Angelou)

If anybody cares, also pictured is a card from the Rose Window at the National Cathedral sent by a friend, after my daughter's wedding. A photo my brother book of our daddy's fishing camp on Lake Beulah, MS. The Blue Angels. The Eiffel Tower. A beautiful postcard from the Rothko exhibit in Houston (thanks, Kirby). My 2016 Quaker Motto Calendar. A photo from my 4th birthday...

Monday, February 1, 2016

Historical Fiction...

Journalism allows its readers to witness history; fiction gives its readers an opportunity to live it.


 (My thought for the day...)

Maybe writing with quill and ink will speed things along?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Prehistoric Googling

I love this picture. And that's what the person who shared it called it: Prehistoric Googling.

In the Olden Days, before computers, we librarians answered patrons' reference questions from books, The Readers Guide to Periodical Literature, microfiche/form, the many index volumes of the New York Times, numerous encyclopedias-- you name it. But it always in a book or on microfilm. 
Google hadn't been invented.

My favorite card catalog story is about a cataloger I worked with during my early career, a five-year stint at a public library. 
That's what my friend did and that's what she liked: cataloging books.
If there was absolutely no one else available, occasionally, she'd be called to work the Reference Desk.

When she needed to file cards at the big wooden catalog in the middle of the library, she would perch her handbag across her arm and stare intently at the cards. As if she were just another patron, checking for a book. 
She was brilliant, but she did not want to be bothered answering some pesky reference question.

Those were the days.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

So B. It

Having not read this book in at least ten years, I checked it out of the library, thinking I'd re-read it quickly.

Boy was I wrong.

There was just too much to take in. 
Too many sentences to linger over.

It's always been a favorite. I'm a Sarah Weeks fan. Love her newer books, too. We met last winter at the American Library Association conference and later connected over Authors Readers Theater. (She's a whiz!)

But So B. It is truly a gift to readers.

A few things I'd forgotten I love:

1. The chapter titles are one word long. Perfect.
2. The complicated young narrator, Heidi. I totally believed she would get on that bus.
3. The language. Just one of many examples: "While Mama finished napping, I let myself float suspended like a lily pad in my private little pool of hope."

Recently I heard a writer remark that she thinks voice really means the author's voice. I'm not sure I agree. Each of Sarah's books is different, special in its own way, and not necessarily this author's own voice.

So B. It- What a story, perfectly woven.

This is Sarah's newest book, coming soon. Amazing cover image, no?
 (I borrowed  the ARC's photo from Brenda Kahn. Thanks, Brenda!)

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Hooray for Book Fairs!

I am a huge fan of a good Book Fair. 
For kids have no access to a real bookstore with books to touch and smell and share with friends and parents and little brothers and sisters, what could be more fun?

In fact, if invited to a Fair that's in my comfort zone (an easy drive from my house), I often turn up. Just to see all the books and hear what the kids are saying.

I also love it when my librarian friends send photos of their students enjoying my own book. 

So thank you very much, my North Carolina librarian buddy, Crystal Joyce, for these great photos.

I'll be smiling the rest of the week.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Happy Birthday, Elvis!

I think all there is to say about me and Elvis has been said. By me.

You can read a little of it, or a lot. 
Or move on to the next blog you're reading.


HERE it is.

The closest I've gotten to The King lately was at a memorable school visit. Pelahatchie, Mississippi is a small country town near Jackson.  
Here I am with their really super former librarian, Brenda Black. 
And Elvis, of course.

(Yes, that's a jukebox behind me and a neat clock on the wall. Did I say what a great little library this was?)

If you're really a fan, to celebrate Elvis's birthday, you could attend the celebrations going on at GRACELAND right now.

If you're interested in hearing more about my book GLORY BE, and the Elvis connection, here's a blast from the past blog interview. 

Speaking of Author Visits, here are some truly remarkable ones, via Publisher's Weekly.
 (School Visit ideas, CLICK HERE.)

Oh, and Happy Birthday, Elvis! 
I think I'll go have a peanut butter and banana sandwich.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Ruby Lee & Me

I'm so proud of fellow Scholastic author, Tampa and N.C. resident Shannon Hitchcock's new book.

Isn't this cover the greatest?

My favorite character might be Granny. Not a crotchety old lady, but a resourceful, warm grandmother who seems to anticipate what Sarah needs. 

One of the many things that struck me when I first read this book was how well it will fit into a classroom. It's an easy read, just enough excitement, excellent characterization. 

Reading it aloud is going to provoke a lot of thoughtful discussions.

Happy Book Birthday, Shannon and Ruby Lee & Me!

Excerpts from the book's excellent reviews:

* "A heartening and important offering for younger readers." -- Booklist, starred review
From School Library Journal
Gr 3–6—After a tragic accident leaves her younger sister Robin hospitalized, 12-year-old Sarah must move in with her grandparents. Miss Irene is Granny's neighbor and friend, and her granddaughter Ruby Lee has been Sarah's best friend since she can remember. The trouble is, Sarah is white and Ruby Lee is black—and it's 1969 in North Carolina. The local school will be integrated this year, and the first black teacher has been hired. Tension is high in the tiny town of Shady Creek. Forced to leave her home and start over on her grandparents' farm, Sarah must come to grips with her guilt about her sister, her anger and confusion about Ruby Lee, and the uncertainty of relationships among whites and blacks in the rural South. Balancing the heavier topics are home-style recipes, strong storytelling, and Southern charm, which will engage younger middle grade readers. The characters are well developed and the historical setting realistic. VERDICT Tenderly told, this appealing story explores racial tensions during a key moment of the civil rights movement.—Carol Connor, Cincinnati Public Schools, OH