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

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Books and Opinions

My first book was published in early 2012. 
(December, 2011, GLORY BE was already being shipped! Happy book birthday, Glory!)
And I got a lot of excellent advice. 

One thing my already-published friends said: Don't read reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Don't even look!
My editor said something even more comforting. "Long after those reviews are forgotten, your books will still be in libraries being read by kids who will love them." (I paraphrase, but that's the gist and it was just the thing a new author needed to hear. Did I mention, my editor is brilliant?)

So I don't read reviews unless I stumble onto Amazon or Goodreads. 
Sometimes I'm glad to run into a review. Sometimes I want to avert my eyes!
Today, I happened upon a lovely review of MAKING FRIENDS WITH BILLY WONG. 

And it made me think that I seem to be drawn to redeemable bullies. (Hello, Willis DeLoach!)

Recently I read something one of my favorite middle-grade authors, Leslie Connor, wrote in answer to a question from the National Book Award committee which had nominated a truly terrific novel of hers- THE TRUTH AS TOLD BY MASON BUTTLE:

(Apologies to Leslie if I don't have her exact quote. But I love the message and hope I have it right.)

"The NBA asked me what I learned by writing this story. Part of my answer was about my own misconception about bullies. I always thought they acted out of feelings of being unloved or fearful. But a social worker told me that bullies act out of an inflated sense of entitlement. Recent days have made me sure she is right."

Helpful advice, right?
Basically, all our characters are made up of many varied, often conflicting parts. But if you dig deep enough, there's a reason a character acts a certain way. The author's job is to understand and (hopefully) make that part of the character's personality and motivation.

Here's the review from Amazon, if you're interested-

February 20, 2017
I enjoyed this book on so many levels; the granddaughter learning to get to know, love and help her grandmother, adjusting to being away from all things familiar-family & friends, learning to find and make new friends-not only a boy but a Chinese boy, dealing with prejudice, learning to stand-up for what is right. discovering things and people aren't always what they seem and becoming aware of personal strengths. All this was neatly wrapped up in the historical prejudices suffered by the Chinese in 1950's Mississippi and Arkansas, accurately depicted through Ms. Scattergood's depth of research.

Augusta has penned a very enjoyable book guaranteed to capture young readers attentions without their realizing they will be learning and growing right along with Azalea, the main character.

The only disappointment in the book was the still unexplained story of Willis DeLoach. But then, maybe that was purposeful. Maybe we'll learn more about Willis in a future book.

Merry Christmas to all you readers and writers, reviewers and book supporters!

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Thank you, Indiana School Librarians!

When my first book came out, I'm not sure I appreciated how important state recommended book lists can be to a book's future. But they are!
Just when you think your novel's time in front of the world is simmering down, somebody finds it and adds it to a list of recommendations and just like that, new readers.

It's truly a terrific experience.

I am in awe of the librarians and teachers, parents and kids, who put these lists together.

Today I'm thankful to the hard-working school librarians in Indiana for adding MAKING FRIENDS WITH BILLY WONG to their list of Intermediate readers' recommendations.

Here's what they said about my middle-grade novel:

Azalea’s summer plans suddenly change when she is sent to Paris Junction, Arkansas to help a grandmother she doesn’t know. Shy and reluctant to talk to others, Azalea meets Billy Wong and finds an unexpected friend. 


HERE'S THE LINK to the list. 

I am proud and humbled to be included among some of my favorites and some I can't wait to read.

(If you're a writer interested in a list of various awards, check out CYNSATIONS, a blog filled with helpful information.)

Friday, November 16, 2018

Time to Skype!

Must pop into my sometimes overlooked blog to share what a fantastic week this has been.

First of all, if you have the opportunity to study with Patricia Lee Gauch, take it. I spent four days at a Highlights workshop and am still processing that fabulous time. 

Then I returned home to two great Skype experiences. Thank you to the fun kids in Jonesboro, Arkansas, for reading MAKING FRIENDS WITH BILLY WONG and for your excellent questions.

(Aside: While we were Skyping, it started snowing.  It doesn't snow every day in Arkansas! Which reminded me of my very first school librarian job in Atlanta. I had a group of kindergartners in the library when it snowed for the first time and they went crazy with excitement. So thank you for continuing to ask questions, kids!)

The next day, I spoke to a really lively and smart group of sixth graders in Worthington, Ohio. 
They'd read a mix of my books and had some great questions, too.
Example: Why do your characters talk so country?
And then I explained that that's how southerners talk whether they live in a city or in the country. 
That is, if they're natives. 
And especially if it was a "while back."

Books Mentioned
(I always try to tell them about at least one book other than mine. Sometimes time doesn't allow too much other than Q&A though!)

Sunday, November 11, 2018


I didn't make up the term. But I totally get it.

I read it on Janice Hardy's excellent post about whether or not to pull that "trunk manuscript" out of the drawer and revise. Here's just a tiny bit of what she has to say:

Does it fix what went wrong? Before you dive in and spend who knows how long just to wind up in the same spot, try outlining or summarizing the new direction. Does it fix the original problems?
Is the draft salvageable or do you need to start over? Reworking an old draft that didn’t work risks turning it into a Frankendraft (pieces of novel sewed together to form a plot, but it really doesn’t fit), so consider how you want to proceed carefully. Starting over can seem like more work, but not if it takes you three times longer to revise what’s there. 

Thank you, Rosi Hollinbeck, for your excellent blogposts that always give me something to ponder. AND she almost always has a book to give away!

(And, maybe this is actually what I'm doing here...) 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Monday Reading Report

Man, have I read some great books recently.
Lucky for me, it's Monday and I get to share.

Yesterday I finished a book I LOVED. 
Jonathan Auxier's new middle-grade novel, SWEEP: THE STORY OF A GIRL AND HER MONSTER- don't miss it. 
Chimney sweeps, a taste of late 19th century history, interesting tidbits about golems, characters to break your heart. 
I literally couldn't put this one down. 
Last night, dinner had to wait for a chapter ending. 

I know many teachers and librarians like to share authors reading and talking about their own books.
Here's Jonathan booktalking SWEEP (recorded before the book was published).  
Click this link and check out his website for up-to-date info.

Another book I recently reviewed is Meg Medina's newest. Here's a little adaptation from my Christian Science Monitor round-up of new middle-grade novels:

Merci Su├írez Changes Gears 
Mercedes Suarez, Merci for short, lives with her exuberant extended family in south Florida. But she spends school days trying to fit in at the prestigious Seaward Pines Academy. She and her brainy brother are scholarship students and are expected—by their family and the school—to give back, set an example, and never ever cause trouble.

Medina mixes humor with poignancy and affection for her characters with a fast-paced story. The Cuban food and culture, the love tinged with embarrassment typical of many pre-teens make this novel perfect for discussion and for reading together with a friend, a teacher, or a family member.

So many books I want/ need to read! (The part of my bookshelf NOT pictured at the top of this post is my towering TBR shelf. Many of which may not be read, but I'll peruse each of them.)

I'm off to a Highlights Foundation writing weekend and I've loaded my Kindle app. Just in case I have time to read. 

Can't wait to hear what all my #IMWAYR buddies have to share this week.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

On Naming a Character Thelonious

October 10th is the birthday of that great jazz pianist, THELONIOUS MONK.

Here's an image of his fabulous portrait, via the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery (which may be my new favorite DC museum):

His music and his name inspired a little backstory in my second middle-grade novel, THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY.

Theo was named by his musician parents. But they died when he was quite young and the grandparents who raised him lived on a farm and weren't exactly music or jazz aficionados so he never fully understood the significance of his name. 

I love creating backstories like his. Even if my readers never know them, they deepen and complicate a character. There may not be a lot of middle-grade readers familiar with Monk's music. Perhaps after reading my book, they'll be curious to listen. But that's not why I chose the name. It's part of my Theo's story. And when I happened upon the reason to give Theo that name, it opened a part of the plot that I hadn't figured out yet.

Here's a little more about CHOOSING CHARACTER NAMES.

From Writer's Digest. Great "rules" which of course can be broken.

This one has a thought or two about the ethnicity of names.

And a name generator!
"Aim to have the name suggest something about the character. Think of the book Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and that family of girls. Beth was the quiet, gentle daughter; Jo the strong, boisterous one; and Amy the baby of the family." 

(I'm about to name a character after a great guy I worked with. Doesn't Mr. King sound like somebody you'd trust?)

So Happy Birthday to Thelonious Monk. Here's a little music for you, your students, or to save for later:

Monday, September 17, 2018

Funny Books

Not funnybooks. (Those things from my childhood that I read ravenously. Archie, Little Lulu, etc.)

I'm talking about books that make me smile, laugh a little, or even a lot. 
Funny BOOKS.

I've just created a Pinterest board of books that handle humor well. 

I don't mean bodily function jokes, which I'm sure kids love. But I love sweet humor, wise-cracking or eye-rolling characters, descriptions which make me say Oh Yes! and even laugh heartily.

So on this Monday of IT'S MONDAY WHAT ARE YOU READING, I'll share a few of the books on the new board.

I read this one a while ago, for inclusion in a Christian Science Monitor middle-grade roundup. You can see it HERE. I pulled it out this week while scouring my shelves for funny books.

 It's written by a fifth grade teacher, so you can bet he knows what kids love. The book is funny, occasionally scary, and the characters seem so real.

(I have been thinking a lot about characters recently. And the advice to know them well before you put pen to paper. I wrote about this HERE on an earlier post and linked to some good tips.)

 This week I've re-read MS. BIXBY'S LAST DAY. From start to finish. Well, to almost-finish.

(Spoiler alert: If you haven't read this terrific book, skip the next paragraph.)

Now before you remind me that this book is about somebody actually dying, let me say that I absolutely loved these three boys. They are each such individuals. They say typical kid things, that are truly funny. Their teacher was funny, too.  I've been putting off reading the ending and maybe I'll stop right where I am. The boys have busted into Ms. Bixby's hospital room and are having a picnic, which they've gone through hoops to bring to her. I know what's about to happen. But right now, it's squarely in my Love this Funny Book corner. 
Since the book received three starred reviews and lots of accolades, I'm sure everybody's read it. PS I was on a panel with John David Anderson once, and he's a very funny guy.

Two books I'm just beginning but know they're on my Pinterest Funny Books Board.

The cover illustration (and others inside) by Dan Santat cracks me up. And the book had me laughing at chapter one. (Very clever chapter titles, Kate!)

I met Crystal this summer in Arkansas. We signed books together and she had me laughing the whole time. Her workshop had everybody LOL. Can't wait to finish her book.

Next up, coming at the end of the month: Can't wait to read THE HOUSE WITH CHICKEN LEGS. I don't know much about it, but I sure love that cover. Funny, no?

Speaking of Witness Protection (see above)... And funny.
Great line from a TV show that I wish would come back:

"I wanna figure you out myself. You're like a crossword puzzle with B.O."

                                        (Marshall to Bad Gang Guy, In Plain Sight)

An example of the kind of humor I like. A 4th grader made this for me when I visited his school. 
As he was explaining it, he had the whole class laughing.
He originally left out the L in Glory.  GORY BE.  
He decided it would make a great title.

Then he fixed it.

It's hard to explain what makes one person laugh and not the other, isn't it? 
But I'd love to know what books tickle your kids' funnybones.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Mississippi Book Festival, 2018

In Pictures!

I'm proud to have been a part of the 2018 Mississippi Book Festival. This was my third festival, and they just keep getting better. This year, with Ellen Ruffin's magic touch, there was a kick-off event at the fabulous Pass Christian Books. Our panel of kids' writers signed books and spoke a little about our books and then had the most fabulous dinner with Margaret McMullan and her family.


(Dinner was shrimp and grits. And a yummy dessert called Bayou Bites.)

I had breakfast early Friday morning at the bookstore and it may have been the best breakfast I've ever eaten. The tea! The view! Surrounded by books, I was fortified for the day ahead.
(side note, I spent a lot of time as a little girl on Mississippi's Gulf Coast, including a week in Pass Christian at Camp Kittiwake. The little town is so beautiful now.) 

First stop, with my new buddy, Rose Brock, who edited a book I can't wait to read. She and I headed to the schools in Bay St. Louis.

I spoke to two groups (over 200 kids!) at the Bay Waveland Middle School. (Can you guess this item from my Junk Poker shoebox?)


Thank you, Emily, for playing Super Hero Librarian. Really had a fun time.

 (Loved the t-shirts worn by many! The tech and lighting guys saved the day!)

And the winners were...

Next, Stone County, Mississippi. Thanks to Kathryn Lewis and the McMullan Family Foundation, and of course, Ellen Ruffin for making this day happen. The pictures from Perkinston Elementary School speak for themselves. I had a ball talking to these fourth graders.

(I love to recommend books. This time I recommended a few and told a funny story about my friend, Barbara O'Connor, advising me not only on writing but dancing. Here we are demoing a shuffle-ball-change.)

Signing books and reading books!

 Now, on to Jackson, to the Book Festival!

 (A different Middle Grade group was moderated by Clara Martin. 
Photographed by Ellen Ruffin.)

I got to moderate this panel of Mississippi-connected Middle Grade Authors. Jo Hackl, Deborah Wiles, Jimmy Cajoleas

Somehow Linda got left off the above photos, 
so here's a wonderful picture of her with James Meredith!

Loved the Picture Book Panel, and especially hearing Irene Latham and Charles Waters speak about CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR. The Book Festival folks gave a lot of copies of this one to Jackson school kids. So many great things about this Festival.

(I've blogged about their book, and you can read it here.)

(Sarah Frances Hardy, Margaret McMullan, and a wiped-out me at the end of a really fabulous day...)

 The book Swag

The Booksellers! Lemuria Books, the best.

Another thing I love about this festival. Being with friends and family. This year I didn't take a single photo of my family. But they were there!
I did take a picture of the supper my best friend forever, Ivy Alley,  provided one night. I told her all we needed was "cheese and crackers." 
(Friday night she'd served me and our friend, the fabulous writer Minrose Gwin, fried chicken-- including a small side of chicken livers as per my request, zucchini fritters, and I forget what else yummy was on the plate. Because, no photo.)

I did take a picture of my "cheese and crackers."  Ivy is a fabulous hostess. There was caramel cake, a gift from my brother and sister. Thanks, Jack and Jane!

On Sunday, I visited the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. 
This quote seemed appropriate for the weekend.   

Recap by the numbers:  300 kids, 2 schools, 1 bookstore, more-than-I-care-to-count fabulous meals:
A small sample:
Shrimp and Grits
Bayou Bites and brownies
Fried chicken
Caramel Cake
Vegetable plate (field peas and turnip greens!)
Biscuits for breakfast, twice, with bacon
Bread pudding AND pecan pie
Dinner at Saltine with family
"Cheese and crackers" supper

Monday, August 27, 2018

My MONDAY READING: Barbara O'Connor and Kristin O'Donnell Tubb

 It's Monday, my favorite book sharing day!

 Tomorrow lots of things happen. Okay, voting. Let's all get out and vote!

But also, it's the birthday of two of my favorite middle-grade novels of the year.

My friend, Barbara O'Connor's newest book, WONDERLAND.

And a book I've had a lot of fun reading and figuring out, THE STORY COLLECTOR by Kristin O'Donnell Tubb.

(Sharing my favorite photo from recent Facebook posts. Barbara loves dogs!)

WONDERLAND is told from several points of view, including the retired racing greyhound pictured on the cover. Barbara has that illusive thing called "voice" nailed, in all her books. But to write from that many different characters' voices? My friends, you need a special talent and a lot of skill to pull that off. 

This one's a winner! 

Barbara O'Connor is the champion of Author Visits. She'll be doing a bunch of them to celebrate her newest book, but if your school isn't one of the lucky visits, contact her via her website to see about bringing her to you. 

Teachers and librarians, she has some truly excellent tips for hosting an author, HERE.

HERE'S A LINK to various places to buy the book.
You can also read the first chapter and see some great reviews. 
I'll add my two-cents worth. This is a super book to read aloud. So many things to discuss in all of Barbara's books. 

My second book recommendation on this glorious Monday? 

Okay, I'm a former librarian who loves to visit the New York Public Library. So the bits about raising pigeons on the roof, snooping around after hours, climbing up a card catalog drawer by drawer, tickled me a lot. I love a good mystery, and I know kids do, too. Historical fiction's also my thing. This book was a total win for me, and I bet for lots of middle-grade teachers, librarians, and their readers.

Betsy Bird, former children's librarian at the NYPL, wrote a great piece for School Library Journal. HERE'S THE LINK. 

I couldn't possibly say it better than Betsy.

If I still lived near NYC, I would find a young reader to take to this event. Can you imagine your book having its own scavenger hunt at the New York Public Library?  
 Check it out HERE.  

There are a whole lot of other fun activities listed on Kristin's blog- including a launch party at what must surely be a totally cool bookstore, Parnassus Books. (My goal is to visit one day!)
(I bet you can call ahead and pre-order a signed copy.)


What say you, fellow #IMWAYRers? I know you've been busy this week, but for those of you savoring the last days of summer with a book, I can't wait to hear what you're reading.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Making Friends With Billy Wong

(And the winner is...  Janice Raspen!  Congrats and let me know your mailing address.)

My book is TWO years old!
This week is the anniversary of MAKING FRIENDS WITH BILLY WONG's publication.

To mark this book birthday, I'm giving away all three of my books, plus an assortment of bookmarks, etc.

(Hardback copies= perfect for your library!)

If you'd like to enter, please comment here on my blog or my social media accounts.  
This giveaway is for teachers and librarians only.  
(Mailing to US school or library address)

I'll draw a name in just two days, on Thursday, August 23, 8 PM.

Good luck. 
And for those of you who've read and shared MAKING FRIENDS WITH BILLY WONG since August 2016, Billy, Azalea, Grandma Clark and I thank you.

 (Elvis popped over from the pages of GLORY BE to thank you, too.)

Friday, August 10, 2018

Ghetto Cowboy

I'd never heard of Greg Neri until I moved to Tampa Bay.
Truthfully, maybe a lot of people hadn't heard about his books then. He was just beginning to be published. But Greg became a big advocate for the Tampa Bay writing community. Workshops, support, encouragement--he did it all. And he did it while writing, learning, and working hard to publish his first book.

Before I really knew who "G. Neri" was, this book really touched me. I reviewed GHETTO COWBOY for the Christian Science Monitor. 
You can read my review HERE.

Now one of my absolute favorite actors has joined the team to make GHETTO COWBOY into a movie. IDRIS ELBA! (Yes, that would be Luther of TV fame, among a lot of other fabulous roles.)

Here's the link about the movie: 

And the cover of the book, in case you somehow don't know it. It's a quick read and a perfect discussion about so many things.

(All my Philadelphia friends and family are going to love this one!)

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Mr. Schu's Summer Road Trip

Hey, John? Remember when you had time to leisurely enjoy your summers? Read a ton of books? Travel around sharing them?

(Okay, you still do that last part!)

But a big thrill of my writing life was when you traveled to Mississippi on a summer roadtrip with GLORY BE on board.

Here's what popped up in my social media memory today.


CLICK HERE for lots more photos of Mr. Schu tripping all over Mississippi, including stops at the University of Southern Mississippi and the Welty Library. Cool beans!

(There's a Cactus Museum in Mississippi?)

Monday, July 16, 2018


It's Monday and what am I reading?
I've been re-reading a review copy of my friend Janet McLaughlin's new book. It's available for pre-order (see link below) now and will be published in August.

I think middle-grade readers will find this novel so very appealing. 
What's inside may surprise you-- and them. I don't know of many books for kids this age about Tourette Syndrome.

This is such an important book. But it's also fun and complicated and beautifully written in Izzy's appealing and spot-on voice.  

Books written from the heart can take a long time to percolate, get written and revised many times over!- and find a home. Janet was not about to give up on this book. I'm so happy that DIFFERENT is now ready for the world.

Here's a little of what she says in her very helpful Author's Note about what inspired her to write about Tourette Syndrome-- a family member she's calling Madison:

What was going on in Madison’s head when she couldn’t walk down the street without stopping and touching the ground every few minutes? When she couldn’t leave a room unless she flicked the light switch on and off at least three times. How did she feel when she lost control and went into a screaming rage? I could only guess.
And that’s what I wanted to contribute to the world with this book. I wanted to let the world know about this neurological condition on an intimate level— what it’s like to actually live with the condition.

This is the link to the publisher's website. You can order the book, read more about it, and see this great endorsement from a long-time educator:

“As an educator for more than thirty years, it is wonderful to find a text that promotes an understanding of differences. I have had several students with Tourette Syndrome... This book lends itself to class discussions about what it means to be ‘Different.'”
Lora Netherland
M.ED Special Education Teacher

JML Author Photo 2.17.17.jpg
You can contact Janet for Author Visits, Skype sessions, or to ask her about her this excellent novel, via her website HERE. 

(I love the It's Monday! What Are You Reading? meme, and I usually am reading a ton of middle-grade books. But now I'm on vacation in a very quiet place and I've also been reading a bunch of grownup books for a change. I'm particularly loving Anne Tyler's newest novel, hot off the press, CLOCK DANCE.)