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

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Counting Down the Days

It's such fun to share a new book with the world.

It's even more fun when I have special writer friends to spread the news.

(left to right, Kirby Larson, Winston the Wonder Dog, Sue Long, me, Barbara O'Connor)

AND it's tons of fun when the four who started this journey together all have books appearing in the same year. 

Two of us, my friend Barbara O'Connor and I have books appearing on the VERY SAME DAY.

(Although, rumor has it-- sorry, Barbara-- that there may be some early copies for sale at the fabulous MISSISSIPPI BOOK FESTIVAL, a Literary Lawn Party, next weekend!)

Click HERE for Barbara's excellent post about how we four friends connected.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Middle Grade Gets Real

Everybody knows that middle-grade readers deal with all sorts of drama. Some true, some imagined, but all very real to them.

These four fabulous authors have teamed together to talk about their books, using the hashtag

Here they are and here are their books.

·      Shannon Wiersbitzky—WHAT FLOWERS REMEMBER (Alzheimer’s)
·      Kathleen Burkinshaw – THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM, (Hiroshima)
·      Joyce Moyer Hostetter—COMFORT, (War Trauma)
·      Kerry O’Malley Cerra—JUST A DROP OF WATER, (9/11)

I've read three of these books and look forward to reading the others.

Give them a look, buy them for your library, reach out to the authors.

They created this excellent bibliography filled with books on every topic middle-grade readers care about. The real stuff.

It's posted here on the Pragmatic Mom blog, and shared lots of places.

And check out the NCTE blog next week. 
Rumor has it, there's a super BOOK giveaway!

(#MGGetsReal giveaway (open to educators) will be kicked off on August 16 at the NCTE blog.  Please do enter for a set of five books on tough topics.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

All Rise for the Honorable

No doubt those of us who read a lot of books have our favorites. This is one of mine.

I read middle-grade novels like they're going out of style, fast and furiously most of the time. And true confessions, sometimes I forget them just as quickly, even the ones I liked a lot.


I loved this book. It's funny. It's smart. It's complicated. 
It's so very kid-friendly.

(I also loved Leslie Connor's previous book, WAITING FOR NORMAL. I listened to that one, something I don't do often enough, and didn't want my car trips or my walks to end.)

When I read THIS ARTICLE in last week's Washington Post, it reminded me of Perry and his mom.

Yes, Leslie Connor created her story. It's fiction. But she did a lot of reading about incarcerated moms.
Kimberly Hricko's newspaper piece last week made me think about how little we truly know about what really happens. 
The backstories behind the news. 
The layers of stories in people's lives.

Also making me think how hard it is to write multi-layered characters. 
And Leslie Connor sure nailed it with ALL RISE FOR THE HONORABLE PERRY T. COOK. I am in awe. I am about to read the book again to see if I can figure out how she does it.

Don't take my word for it. Check out what everybody else said.
“With complex, memorable characters, a situation that demands sympathy, and a story that’s shown, not just told, this is fresh and affecting. Well-crafted, warm, and wonderful.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

“Rich characterizations give the novel its big heart: Jessica, Big Ed, and the other Blue River inmates are nuanced, vivid characters whose stories of perseverance after tragedy embody the novel’s themes of redemption, hope, and community. This beautifully written work will send readers’ spirits soaring.” (School Library Journal (starred review)

Every so often, a novel comes along to remind us of that what we hope is true, is true: that understanding is stronger than what seems to be justice, that kindness is deeper and fuller than anger, and that goodness can heal brokenness. This is one of those novels.” (Newbery Honor-winning author Gary D. Schmidt)

Friday, August 5, 2016

Thank you, Goodreads

While I'm not sure I ever thought I'd type those words, today I'm feeling very appreciative of the lovely people at GOODREADS.

When there's a lot of hate thrown at your book, or at least extreme dislike (my grandmother taught me not to use that word hate but I was allowed to say I disliked something extremely), it's hard to appreciate the good words on Goodreads.

But when your book isn't out yet and you're wondering what people will think about it, believe me, teachers and librarians like the ones who've posted reviews there now really make my day.

You can click RIGHT HERE to read a few. 
While you're there, there's a giveaway running for at least a few more days!

I'll share some of the nicest things they've said. I'm blushing with delight.

From Holly:
I love summer stories, stories of days gone by, and stories of childhood filled with ordinary problems against a back drop of history - Scattergood is an expert at all these elements, and this book has them all. 

And Emily:
I absolutely loved this book! The heart of the story is friends come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. Give people who are different than you a chance, and you might have more in common than you think!  

And Scott:
Azalea learns about being careful about jumping to conclusions. She also learns that everyone in a family is different and every family is different. 

Okay, I'll stop before my head gets too big. 

Yes, every book isn't for every reader and I know there will be some who don't love MAKING FRIENDS WITH BILLY WONG. That's okay. I get that. 
But I can't thank those of you enough who moseyed over to Goodreads or wrote on your blogs or will write on Amazon. It means a lot.

 (Here's another post I wrote (kind of) about GOODREADS.)


Sunday, July 31, 2016

Mary Ward Brown

One thing I love about a rainy day and a screened porch in an old house is finding old magazines-SMITHSONIAN, July-August 2014 (hey, that's not so old!). 
Here's the link to the piece I'm reading in the rain:

Mary Ward Brown died a few years ago, well into her 90s.
She didn't begin to write until she was past 60.
Or at least she didn't publish her stories until then.  
Click here to read her obituary.

I was introduced to this amazing writer years ago when my friend Ivy gifted me with Mary Ward Brown's short stories. I've read them many times.

In the Smithsonian article, "Soul of the South,"  Paul Theroux mentions her memoir,

Which I've never read but think I'll order right now.

For the next rainy Sunday afternoon in my life.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

MAKING FRIENDS WITH BILLY WONG. Many, many versions...

In case anyone thinks a book springs fully-formed from an author's head, let me say that's not my experience. Most of my writer friends go through many drafts, many versions, and tons of edits before an editor ever sees a word of what they've written.

While writing/ revising/ editing, I use a terrific software program called SCRIVENER.
Read a few of my thoughts on Scrivener here.

Today, while pulling together a few things for my soon-to-be updated website,
I found this page. 
One of my early drafts of my soon-to-be-published book, MAKING FRIENDS WITH BILLY WONG. 
(Coming in just over a month!)

First of all, I almost fell off my chair reading the date.
And then I almost fell off again.

What on earth could I possibly have been thinking? UFO's?

You know that writing advice that says "What's the worst thing that could happen to your character? Write that!"

Well, a lot of things could have happened. And, thankfully, didn't. 
Aren't you glad I didn't have Azalea and Billy chasing after a UFO?


Monday, July 11, 2016

Quaker Motto Calendar

Okay, folks. It's that time of year.

These lovely, inspirational little calendars can now be ordered for 2017.

Here's an order form:

CLICK HERE for a bit about the history of the calendars, from a previous blogpost.

Please note the email address if you have questions. Or you can contact me via this blog and I'll forward the email to my sister-in-law, Marion Ballard, calendar maker extraordinaire. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Thought for the Day

(Totally copied from my friend KIRBY LARSON's wonderful blog, because I'm carrying a lot of books around with me and thinking about gardens and proverbs. Funny how things connect, isn't it?)

"A book is like a garden carried in the pocket."

Chinese proverb

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Have a Super Summer!

I am in awe of two teachers who pulled off one of my best ever Skype Q&A sessions on their LAST DAY OF SCHOOL.
(Okay, officially it was Facetime, not Skype, but it worked equally well, if not better than Skype...)

Their students were literally out the door! I mean, who would even attempt this? Two super teachers from Syracuse, that's who.

These same teachers from Jamesville-DeWitt Middle School were the first Skype visit I ever had, way back in spring, 2012. They've shared GLORY BE with their sixth graders and we've Skyped ever since. What a treat.

Today the questions were serious, funny, thoughtful, and challenging. I'm still thinking about the boy who asked if I could change places with one of my characters, what would I do differently. 
Or whether I saw the "times" as the antagonist/ villain. 
And how about that age-old question, asked by every writer: How do you know when your book is finished?  

(See below for more of the questions, just emailed to me.)

I suspect these kids are great readers and I hope they (and their fabulous teachers) and ALL you amazing teachers and librarians out there have a summer filled with books, friends, and maybe even time to write.

(When they asked what I would recommend for their summer reading, I just happened to have these books on the table right next to my computer!)


After reading Glory Be, I felt that Emma kind of replaced the mom role to Glory.  Did you mean to do that?
What gave you the idea to make JT so mean? 
What made you decide to bring fact and history into your book instead of having it all fiction?
Have you written any other books?
How did Frankie's back story come to life or Who inspired Frankie's back story?
How do you know when your story is the way you want it? 
In the process of making your book how did you give (develop) Glory's personality?
Why did you choose July 4th as Glory's birthday?
How do you organize yourself for your book?
Were you a big fan, like Glory, of the Beatles, Elvis and Nancy Drew?

Monday, June 20, 2016

Margaret and Me

You know when you meet somebody and have an instant connection? That's how I felt when I met Margaret Simon. Yes, we're both Mississippians and writers, two things that drew us together. And we have a bunch of "do-you-know" friends, as do all Southerners. 

But she's also a great reader and an amazing teacher. So when she asked if I'd answer a few questions about writing my new book, I jumped at the chance. 

HERE WE ARE, chatting away! 
(Click that link to read the interview.)




Saturday, June 11, 2016

Kate Messner and The Seventh Wish

If you haven't tuned in to the book challenge of Kate Messner's new book, CLICK HERE to read what she has to say.

If you'd like to read a short, honest review, recently posted on the Barnes & Noble site, here it is.

 I'd like to add my two-cents worth. First of all, as a former librarian, I know how tricky book selection can be. You have a limited amount of funds. You want to buy books your students and teachers will check out and use, or books they need for many reasons. Books you can in all honesty recommend, either from your personal reading or professional reviews. There are all kinds of reasons not to buy every single book that has a good review, even several starred reviews.

But I have a lot of trouble understanding why this book and Kate's author visit wouldn't be allowed into ANY school.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me say I know Kate Messner.
I've met her in person at events our (shared, but not for this book) publisher has sponsored.
This summer I'm even taking part in her amazing initiative, TEACHERS WRITE.

But long ago I decided never to recommend a book I haven't read. Or at least carefully skimmed and read about. I'll "share" others' opinions/ booklists/tweets and posts with a comment that I'm looking forward to reading this book or I've heard great things. But I'd never review a book or rave about it or even blog about something I haven't actually read. No matter WHO writes it.

So yesterday, I read THE SEVENTH WISH.

If you're still with me, let me say I'm highly recommending this book.
I'm planning to buy it for at least one middle-grade reader I know. I think she'll enjoy it for many reasons, as I did. The story has wonderful layers, from Irish dancing to friendships and a humorous hint of a boy-girl crush which turns into friendship. A magical talking fish.
There's even ice fishing!
But none of those storylines are what got THE SEVENTH WISH banned from a school.
And this is where I have trouble with book selection.

There is absolutely nothing in Charlie and her sister's relationship that didn't ring true.
There is absolutely nothing, as far as I could tell, that wasn't validated by Kate's extensive research on drug addiction.
I know from personal, sad experience how families struggle with these issues. Young readers who need this book will take away a lot of truth. Nothing good comes from not talking about an addiction. If libraries and librarians are the places and people we hope kids come to for information and support and safety, THE SEVENTH WISH--and books like this-- are what they need to find there.

Today Kate shared the update on this issue and I recommend that all of us CLICK OVER TO HER POST and read about the conversation she's having with the librarian and principal at the school which cancelled her visit.
As I said before, I totally understand the difficulties of "book selection" and I applaud the open dialog between authors and schools that this situation requires.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

More Letters

As the school year draws to a close, my mailbox fills with wonderful messages, mostly from students who've read GLORY BE as part of their curriculum. Some illustrate their letters, some hope I'll write back, some are obviously part of an assignment.

But mostly what they're saying truly comes from their hearts and funny minds.

Two from today's batch:

"My favorite part of the story was when Glory hid in the back of the car and went with Robbie and Jesslyn. She was sneaky. Like I usually am."

"I think overall that was one of the best books I've read in a while and trust me I have read alot of books."

Way to make my day, kids!

When they illustrate scenes that make me think I have possibly written my descriptions well enough to show what's really happening, this reminds me always to add the details.

Five senses, fellow writers! And don't forget the sunshine!


Speaking of scenes: 
Good info for writers, including a new (to me- don't you love learning new editing words?) term: 
Soft Hiatus... Though I find fewer books use any kind of asterisk in the finished book, right?

"Visually, in a manuscript a new scene is usually signified by the start of a chapter, by a break of four lines (called a soft hiatus) between the last paragraph of one scene and the first paragraph of the next one, or sometimes by a symbol such as an asterisk, to let the reader know that time has passed."

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.