Books -- reading and writing.
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And whatever connections I can make between these chapters of my life.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Welcome, Shannon Hitchcock

(Shannon doing what we all do in Florida, enjoying the sunshine!)
It's a wonder our paths didn't cross before Florida. She grew up in North Carolina, a state I feel a real fondness for. Then she lived up the road from me in New Jersey. 

But we connected over writing and SCBWI and books when we first met in Tampa Bay. 
Shannon Hitchcock's first novel. THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL, just came out from Namelos. 
I loved every word of it. 
Richard Peck says she's recreated the "daily drama of a vanished world." So true! 

She agreed to answer a few questions about the book and her journey. And guess what? She's giving away a signed copy of the book to a commenter here or on Facebook.

Thanks for coming, Shannon. Here we go! 

Augusta: In my past career as both a school librarian and a reference librarian in a public library, I was frequently asked to recommend books for Book Groups. I see this novel as a great choice for a Mother Daughter Book Club, or even a women's group.

Can you think of a couple of discussion questions those groups might focus on?

In the first line of the book, “Sometimes when the kerosene lamp casts shadows, I think I see Ma’s ghost,” we learn that Jessie’s mother is dead. How do Jessie’s memories of her ma influence her actions throughout the book? Do you see any similarities with the relationship you have with your own mother?

Great answer. Great quote, too.
How about " book food" they might serve! (Maybe not corn pone.) Do you have any family favorites to share?

Shannon: We Southerners love a good pound cake! Make mine chocolate.

Augusta: Yum! 
I know you have a curriculum guide and lots of teaching ideas. How do you see your book used in a classroom setting?

Shannon: I posed this question to Keely Hutton, an eighth grade ELA teacher, and she has a great answer: “With THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL, you have the perfect opportunity to tie in non-fiction pieces about the time period, TB, women’s rights and roles in family/society, healthcare during epidemics, and historically what was happening during those years in the US and the world.”

Augusta: So many opportunities for classes who read your book. I know you'll be speaking to school groups. Describe your ideal class visit.

Shannon: Ideally the teacher and I would have worked together beforehand so that each student would have a family story to share. I would talk about how my son’s eighth grade history project inspired my book, about the 1920’s, rural North Carolina, tuberculosis etc., and give the students a chance to share their family stories with me.

Augusta: I think that story about your son's class project is pretty remarkable.

I loved how strongly you portrayed the characters. You write with such emotion and it shows in how they react to situations. For writers, do you have any tips about getting to that emotional depth?

Shannon: Don’t overwrite. Trust your readers “to get it.” I have the tendency to overdo it and my brilliant editor, Stephen Roxburgh, reminds me that less is more.

Augusta: There are a lot of us who could use a needlepoint of that thought!
If you were Book Talking this book, as school librarians often do, what would be the 1-minute take on Jessie Pearl?

Shannon: THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL is about the terror of tuberculosis, the thrill of young love, and a desire to see the world beyond your own hometown.

Augusta: What were your favorite books to read in middle and high school? Do you think those books influenced you to be a writer?

Shannon: Oh my yes! I loved the Little House on the Prairie books and HEIDI GROWS UP. The villainess, Liza Phillips, in my book is based on the two characters I loved to hate when I was younger: Nellie Olson from the Little House books and Liza Colby from the now defunct soap opera All My Children. When I was growing up, I watched soap operas with my granny. Honey, I told you I am Southern!

Augusta: So did I! She called them "my stories." We were particularly fond of As The World Turns.

When you were writing the novel, did you have a reader in mind?

Shannon: Not really. I wrote a book that I would enjoy reading. I’d like to be the Jan Karon or Lisa Wingate of YA literature.

Augusta: Who is your ideal reader? Teen girls, their moms, middle-graders, literary types? A younger version of yourself? All of the above?

Shannon: I don’t have an ideal reader. Anybody who enjoys my book is a newfound friend.

So true! Thanks for those great answers, Shannon. 
You can check out Shannon's website for more information:
Now it's your turn, blog readers. Just leave me a comment and you, too, could read this remarkable book.

Let's keep this going until December 7. That way, you'll have time to read it and still wrap it up for holiday giving. Though you will probably want to keep this forever and buy more for gifts! 
It's that good.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Stay Tuned. Giveaway!

My Tampa- via North Carolina and New Jersey- writing friend, Shannon Hitchcock,
has agreed to answer a few questions on my blog.

Even better. She's giving away an autographed copy of her just-published book: THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL. Which I loved. And you will, too.

Come back tomorrow. I can't wait to share Shannon's story with you.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What a treat.

Ah, the marvels of technology. I'm in sunny Florida. They're in snowy Maine.
Skyping really is such fun.
Just talked to a big group of 4th and 5th graders, an afterschool Book Club.
This is such a treat for a former librarian. 
They had some amazing, unusual questions about GLORY BE.

For example:

Which character is most like me?

Which character do I like the best?
Where'd I get my characters' names? Did any of them change over the editing?
(I'm telling you, these kids are smart!)

Will I always write historical fiction or do I plan to try another genre?
(Wish I knew the answer.)

 Who's my favorite writer?
They knew them all!  Cynthia Lord, Barbara O'Connor, Katherine Paterson- (I had to stop somewhere...)

So I asked that questioner who her favorite writer was. She thought a minute, then answered "Sharon Creech." When I told her I'd recently read The Great Unexpected, she said "Love that Dog was the first chapter book I ever read."

Isn't it amazing what kids remember about books?

Great great school librarians= enthusiastic readers.
Such fun sharing.

(I'm trying now to remember the first chapter book I ever read. I doubt it was as fun or as distinguished as Love That Dog. Who remembers the first book you ever read, all on your own, not an easy reader?)

Friday, November 23, 2012

What I've Learned

As my Debut Year comes to a close-- January 2013, GLORY BE will be one year old-- I'm reflecting on what I've learned so far. And how much I have to be thankful for.

Before Glory hit the shelves, I worried about its reception.
But a very wise person gave me good advice. Like it doesn't matter what reviewers say. It's the kids you are writing for. Your book will still be on library shelves and in readers' hands long after the review has yellowed on the page.

I think the most amazing thing about having a book out in the world isn't how many books you sell or when the reviewers say nice things about you.
Okay, that's pretty great, too.

But my favorite part of the year was when young readers, librarians, even somebody who hasn't read a Middle Grade novel since she finished Little Women back in her own childhood, stopped by a signing or a talk to say how much my book meant to them or their students.

This is Eliza. She came with her mom to my Children's Museum event in Jackson. Her mom told me about the difficulty her neighborhood friend was having in school. And how much my book helped Eliza understand the history of the 1960s.

I also loved hearing from a teacher I'd met at Anderson's AMAZING Literature Breakfast in Illinois. She shared that she was reading Glory Be aloud to her grandmother and some of her grandmother's friends. In the dining room of their assisted living facility.

See, stories like that make all that hard work totally worth while. And make this first year truly memorable. I am a very thankful person this season!

I'm inspired by my fellow debutantes. Caroline Starr Rose has written eloquently about what she's learned and what she hopes to remember. Click on her name to read her blog.

For a little more about the very beginning of my journey, if you missed that and if you care,

or Here (launch party recap)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Quaker Motto Calendar

Yes, it's probably too late to order for this Christmas. But it may not be too late to get them before January gets away from us.

I've blogged about the Quaker Motto Calendar a few times. You can read about it

This is the new order form, 2013 version.
(Sorry, I can't help expedite an order. I really have nothing to do with these little gems, other than spreading the word. Because I do love them and like to share what I love.)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Time for a Poem

When a whole bunch of people tell you You Need to Read This, I've learned to listen.

That's why I put my librarian skills to work to find Kathi Appelt's poem,

It's in a book, POETRY AFTER LUNCH, that I borrowed from the library.
I've now renewed it the maximum time. It needs to go back.

I'll share just a little bit of the Southern Drawl poem here. I love it.

Here in the south
we treat words like wine
letting them rest in our mouths
until they are ripe and
have soaked into the sides of our cheeks.
And sometimes they get so warm,
we have to cool them
off with iced tea
or Coca Cola

You can find other poems by Kathi on the Poetry Starter page on her website. Like this one about tomato sandwiches and FIGS. (You never saw that coming, did you. But you know I'm going to love a poem that even mentions figs.)
Here's the link to Tomato Sandwich, and some great ideas about teaching and using poetry in the classroom:

PS: I have a really terrible, but readable, scan of the entire ODE TO MY SOUTHERN DRAWL poem which I'll send anybody who leaves me a comment and lets me know where to send it.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Another Thing I Love

It's a grey day in Florida.
No, I don't especially love that. But I love hunkering down with a pot of tea and a great book.

 Such a good book- PINNED by Sharon Flake. I'm rereading it today and loving it all over again.
Fast-paced story, female wrestler, two strong character voices. 

And my tea?
I discovered a box of  Mariage Frères Earl Grey, hiding in the back of my cupboard. I am in heaven.
Thanks, Julie, for sending me to the Mariage Frères teashop in Paris for their yummy Marco Polo tea.
Thank you, Kate, for finding the tea in your Dean and Deluca!

Thank you, Sharon Flake, for writing such a fabulous book.

All's right with the world.
Happy weekend, everybody.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Glory Be!

My book has been named to Amazon's Top Middle Grade Books of the Year list.
Woo, boy! Holy Moly mashed potatoes!
(as somebody I had a big crush on used to say, back in Glory's day)

I'm so proud of my book. And amazed and surprised!

Here's the link:

And here's the living proof!

(Well, the blurry living proof. Tricky screenshot... You'll just have to trust me on this one.)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Calling all Parents

What a great honor to receive this award. And check out the other books,
including THE FALSE PRINCE, by my fellow Scholastic debut year author, Jennifer Nielsen.

Here's the link to my book. Click around and see what else they recommend.

From their website:
The National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA) is one of the oldest and most respected awards programs in the country. With over 20 years of experience in the industry, we have been continuously celebrated as the “go-to” source for parents and professionals seeking the best products for their children and families.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


On so many levels, this storm has been remarkable. The stories coming from friends in New Jersey and New York continue to astound me. It's already snowing in my little town in NJ.
Just what they need.

No. That's not what they need! They need this:

This fund-raising effort is pretty amazing.

This writing cottage in Austin is speaking to me.
How about the rest of my fellow writers?

And teachers and librarians? School visits! Class sets!
Check out the link. Round 2 starts next week.

But there's still time to get something amazing in ROUND ONE.

Here's the link again. Go ahead, click away.

(All proceeds going to the Red Cross.)

Monday, November 5, 2012

POV, à la Betsy Byars

 I blame it on Anita Silvey and Mr. Schu, librarian.

I'd spent some recent time pondering Point of View, the vantage point for telling the story.
Just for fun.

Then those two brought up Betsy Byars. A favorite from my early days of librarianing. (Hey, everybody's inventing verbs, why can't I?)

I took to the shelves, so to speak, in search of Summer of the Swans and The Pinballs.
(What a great voice, that Carlie. )

Alas, I was confounded. Newbery-winning Byars is all over the place with Point of View. Do we call this omniscient? Not really. The protagonist in each book is a strong voice. But the author slips into the heads of the other players. And you know what? It works. I loved rereading them both.

But what about new books? Just published Middle-grade novels.
Does the all-knowing single narrator still rule?

I took count, and hmmmm- what's that you say?
Several of my absolute favorite really new books didn't stick to "first" or "third," in a single character's head. They branched out, spread their narrator wings, so to speak.

ON THE ROAD TO MR. MINEO'S. 8 different characters, woven into one fabulous story.

PINNED. Two classmates, different voices. Phenomenal writing, lovely book.

WONDER. What more can be said of this that hasn't been said? Not much. Superlative.

THE GREAT UNEXPECTED. Those funny, mysterious old ladies in Ireland keep sneaking in!

See what I mean? There's more to Middle Grade than one viewpoint.

For an in-depth discussion about Point of View in kids' books, check out Nathan Bransford's blog, linked HERE.

Since I'm on a Betsy Byars kick this week, here's her writing advice. Timeless.
Even if the word processor and the trip to the mailbox aren't...

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Picture Books!

And with that thought, I'm off to INKWOOD BOOKS today to welcome Rob Sanders' Cowboy Christmas to the book world.

COWBOY CHRISTMAS book launch at Inkwood Books (Armenia Ave., Tampa, FL)
2:00-4:00 p.m.

I just saw Rob's Facebook picture. There will be cookies. Yippee!

 Click here to go to Rob's very helpful Picture Book blog.

CLICK HERE for a terrific interview with Rob. A really terrific interview, in fact. With the illustrator of his new picture book series, RUBY ROSE, first book out in 2014.

Love this line: I’m trying to work smarter, not harder these days.
And isn't that what we all should be doing, Rob!

Save some cookies for me! See you at Inkwood, Tampa book people.