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

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


I'm a fan of Lisa Graff's books. 
You can plug her name into my blog's search box and find several mentions. 
Check it out HERE.

I finished her newest novel right after we sat next to each other at our BOOKS OF WONDER panel. Really, you won't find a nicer, funnier person to share a table with than Lisa. We had some great questions that day from the audience. 
(One young book enthusiast asked what books had influenced or inspired us. Lisa answered HOLES, among others.)

Three Things I really like about LOST IN THE SUN:

1. Fallon Little. What a great character. Unusual girls are not easy to write, let me just say (from experience). 
Lisa has created a likeable, funny, smart, but not necessarily the expected sassy and spunky girl. 
I love Fallon.

2. The emotions in this book are so true to middle-graders, especially one who's angry at himself, at life, at his family. Writing kids' honest reactions to situations can be difficult. 

Check p. 138 to see what I mean. 

For example:

Fire in my chest.
Intestines boiling.
Fingertips twitching with heat.
Kick and yell.

Trent is mad. And with a good reason. Lisa writes it so well.

3. A teacher who isn't perfect, isn't universally loved, but is exactly what Trent needs, even if he doesn't realize it. Love Ms. Emerson.

And now, of course, there has to be a follow-up to this book. I'm hoping Fallon's story is going to be told. 
Okay, Lisa? 
How long do I have to wait?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Listen Up! and a Giveaway!

True confessions.
It's very strange hearing your own book read by somebody else.

But I'm excited about the new audio versions of GLORY BE and THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY.

Glory's narration is read by Cassandra Morris whose CD of A SNICKER OF MAGIC won an Odyssey Honorable Mention for the best recorded book from the American Library Association.

CLICK HERE for a little sample of her reading my own book.

If you buy the entire audio version, at the end you'll hear ME reading my Author Note and Acknowledgements. Thanks to my friend, Kirby Larson, and my editor Andrea Davis Pinkney, I was brave enough to ask if I could do that. 
(Because they did it on their own awesome audiobooks and I loved it.) 

And the Scholastic audio guy, the fantastic Paul Gagne, said yes.

THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY is available as a real 4-disc CD.
Michael Crouch is reading. A sample is here.
A quite nice School Library Journal review is HERE.

(I love what it says on the front cover. I'm a BONUS!)

Thanks, Scholastic audio and your great actors. Thanks Paul for your super work.

I gave away a handful of the CDs last week via Twitter. But I have at least one more I can share. I'll pick the winner soon. In a few days. When I think I can get to the post office! Sorry to be so random but it is almost July 4th.

Leave me a comment and let's see what happens.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Happy Father's Day!

Today I'm thinking about how much my own father sneaked his stories into mine.

My daddy died way too young. But every single Sunday of my life until I left for college, we gathered after church around the dinner table. There were often a few guests. My friend Keith, my own grandmother (always!), Keith's grandmother (frequently) and at least once a month, the preacher came. Oh did those stories flow!

A couple of "dining" scenes from in my first novel,  Glory Be, began directly from those memories.

Last week on Twitter, somebody started a hashtag #iwritehere. It was fun seeing the writing spaces of favorite writers!

This is mine.

Yep. That's Dr. Jack, watching and inspiring me every day!

Happy Father's Day to a real-life character!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Value of a Dollar

Or to be more precise, the value of $5.00.

That was the question I got today while chatting with the entire class of Ms. Emann's fourth graders who'd just finished THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY.

Literally finished the last sentence this morning. How cool is that.

And were their questions excellent!

When I explained how carefully copyeditors eye manuscripts, I used a financial transaction for my example.

Theo goes into the laundromat. 
He stuffs two quarters into the machine. 
The copyeditor thinks that's too much. 

After all, it was the dark ages of 1974.

I polled my friends.

Most agreed that it should be a quarter.

But just in case, off I went to the county library, checking the Cost of Living index. And promptly changed the sentence to a quarter (p. 23).

While sharing this story today, a student raised his hand. I'd told them about a poetry prize from Captain Jerry's Kids Page in the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper when I was much younger than they are. 

 My prize was $5.00. 

He asked what does that mean in today's dollars? 
(Okay, I told you these kids were bright, right? And resourceful.)

I promised I'd look it up. 

Though I don't really remember what exact year it was, I picked a decade. 

$43.97 is quite a lot of money for a second-grader to win for a really terrible poem.

I challenged them to write a much better poem tonight.

It was fun chatting, kids at Kings Road School! 
And a special thank you to my friend Sheila who invited me to my local, easy-to-find, nearby school -where she taught for a few happy years. 

(And kudos to sharp copyeditors.) 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Way to Stay in Destiny

When your book first appears, you have no idea whether the audience it's intended for really gets it. Or not.
Oh, reviewers may rave and reviewers may Boo. 
Bloggers may invite you. Teachers may Tweet.
But it's the kids we're trying to reach, isn't it.

Then,  if you're lucky, you'll hear from your actual readers. 
Which in the case of my books mostly means Grades 3-7. 
(And their teachers, librarians, parents, too.)

From groups like the after-school Book Group in Jackson Township's Christa McAuliffe Middle School, just up the road in New Jersey, I learn as much from great questioners as they do from reading and interviewing the author.

When I Skype with a class, I try to scribble notes. 
(Since it's the end of the year, I didn't have time to verify the names and the quotes, so don't hold me to this. It's hard to Skype and scribble at the same time.)
If I decipher my notes correctly, here are a few observations.

After Allison called DESTINY awesome and Glory Be amazing (Be still my heart, on both counts), she asked specific writing questions. She wants to be a writer. She IS a writer, according to her teacher.

I told Vinnie he reminded me of the picture in my head of Theo!

Others said they liked how I incorporated baseball and piano. They wanted to know why I chose Hank Aaron. Had I ever actually heard Thelonious Monk perform, in person.

Tyler asked about the parrots! Which are real and a real nuisance where I live in Florida. Though fascinating and unusual- which he told me added to my setting.

Zander read the book in one day. (He reminded me a bit of my own visual image of a character I'm now writing. Glasses, dark hair. Adding his name to my collection, too.)

Others asked about Anabel and why she was the way she was. 
They wanted to know about backstory.

And whether I'd ever moved to a brand new place, like Theo. 
If not, how did I know exactly how it felt.

Now, those are careful readers and writers. 
Hats off to their amazing and awesome teachers, Nancy Dell'Osso and Linda Fera.

For a post about my actual, in-person visit to this school two years ago, with pictures, CLICK HERE.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Getting Near to Baby

One of my favorite books ever.

I re-read parts of it periodically, just to remind me what terrific writing really is.

I'd forgotten it was her debut novel though I remembered it won a Newbery Honor.

 If somehow you've missed this middle-grade novel, and you admire truly beautiful prose, go read it right now.

This is what Booklist said when the book first appeared:

''Couloumbis' first novel wears its heart on one sleeve and its humor on the other. Together, they make a splendid fit." - Booklist, boxed review

(Perhaps having roofers walking above me has made me think of this book again this morning. If so, thank you new-roof guys. As frightened as you make me when I look way up at you, I adore the scenes Couloumbis set on the rooftop.)

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Girl v. Boy

I've been pondering this topic for a while.

In books, that is.

Might as well put the true confessions part up front. Much of my school library career was spent in all-girls' schools. Not all, but the more recent years. So I probably had it in my head that some books were more likely read by young women than by the other gender.

But that's so not really true in the real world. Or it shouldn't be.

I was about to blog about the recent Shannon Hale school visit story. And make a few astute comments about why boys read books about girls and that goes both ways.

Then I discovered, quite serendipitously  --Okay, it was a tweet about our names being alphabetically quite close-- the blog of writer Kurtis Scaletta. 
And he said all you need to know about the subject.

Hop on over to his blog and read it.

While you're hopping, check out this list of books with female leads that will certainly appeal to boys.

And if you're still not convinced, this will do it. 
 A flowchart.

(Also from my next-door name fellow author, Kurtis.)

Don't miss it.