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

Thursday, August 29, 2019


This morning when I woke up, I realized it's my THIRD book's THIRD birthday.

Happy birthday to you!

I spent a lot of time with this book (Okay, true confessions, I spent a lot of time with the others, too. I'm a sloooowwww writer!). 

The history of Chinese immigration to the Deep South before the Civil Rights era surprised a lot of people. Even my Chinese American non-southern friends. 
But having grown up surrounded by the Chinese-owned grocery stores, to me, it was yet another piece of the complicated history of the Mississippi Delta where I was born and raised, a history so intriguing that I wanted to share it. 

And I wanted to tell the story of a girl who's not so brave and spunky and not totally happy to be helping a grandmother she hardly knows.
And yet, she did it. Better still, it all worked out for Azalea.

The tiny beginning of an idea for this book came from my high school friend Bobby Joe Moon. The librarian's perspective, amazingly remembered details and many deep conversations came from a newer friend, Frieda Quon. It was important to get every detail right. I asked a million questions. Frieda became my first reader. Bobby, my PR guy.
I loved that Scholastic let me include photographs shared by the two people who helped me most with getting the details right. 

I also used the remarkable resources and treasures of the Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum on the campus of Delta State University in my hometown. 

If you're interested, click on that link to the museum and enjoy the photographs. 

For those teachers who might be interested in including this book for your students this year, I have additional resources HERE, 
and a fun Pinterest page, HERE,
AND here.
(Oh, and I love Skyping with classes who've read my books. 

So bring on the cake and let's celebrate books that require a lot of sweat and even a few tears. Let's celebrate the friends who help us, the libraries we love, the editors and early readers.



Monday, August 26, 2019

A Read and a Re-Read

This weekend I had the opportunity to chat about A HANDFUL OF STARS with a young reader in my acquaintance. She'd added it to her list of summer reads. She liked the length, the story, the characters. I'd read it so long ago, I had to reread parts of it so I could have a halfway intelligent conversation.


And then tonight on a delightful walk, I thought about Cynthia Lord and some excellent advice she gave to a roomful of writers a few years ago.

When I went back to my blogpost about that conference (see above for link), it cracked me up. I named no names and kept my details to a minimum. But it was a remarkable event for me and I'm forever indebted to Naomi Milliner (who has just published her first and fabulous middle-grade novel) for setting me up with a critique with the agent who now represents me and has been a friend since that first morning we chatted.  

Some things have a way of working out really well, don't they? How lucky for me!

Cynthia told us to get in touch with feelings from your younger self. To sit and remember. Not necessarily the same, specific event or action or moment that evoked those feelings, but the embarrassment when you wore the wrong dress to a party or your big brother caught you doing something you shouldn't have, or the way your heart ached when your parents split or your grandmother died. Or as my friend Susan recently told me when I reached out with wringing hands to vent about how hard it is to write strong emotions: 
 ...the trick is to get in touch with the emotion from our memories. Really in touch, with a time in our lives that recalls the same sort of joy, anger or pain that our characters are experiencing. So in touch that if we need to write pain, we’re willing to hurt all over again to express honesty on the page.

This writing emotion things is harder than it sounds, Cynthia and Susan! 

But I've been thinking about it as I read another book, filled with strong emotions as well as humor. Gary Schmidt is one of my favorite authors. I've loved everything I've written by him. THE WEDNESDAY WARS is one of my favorites. How's this for a first line:

Of all the kids in the seventh grade at Camillo Junior High, there was one kid that Mrs. Baker hated with heat whiter than the sun.

And now, there's a new middle-grade novel to read and enjoy. 
Have you read this one? 


Cricket? (the game not the bug)  A butler?
Really, Mr. Schmidt, where do you get your amazing ideas.
But it's not all candybars and laughs. There are some really sad things happening in Carter Jones's world. 

I've read a lot of interviews with this author. This one, about Writing the Hard Stuff, via SCBWI, says a lot.  

I'm still thinking about what he says concerning the trust he gives his readers:  "... the reader has a lot of work to do to figure out what is going on, and so has to become invested in doing part of the work of the novel."

If you don't know what SCBWI is, and you're even remotely interested in writing for kids, click on the link and check out the website. Those funny initials stand for the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, by the way.

So, it's Monday again. Almost September. 
Hats off to my teacher and librarian friends who are saying goodbye to summer. I so look forward to hearing what you're reading with your students and to seeing the photos of your classrooms and your new libraries and your clever displays to inspire your readers. Enjoy!



Monday, August 5, 2019

Catching Up on a Monday

I love these Monday, IT'S MONDAY WHAT ARE YOU READING posts. Because it makes me actually think about what I've been reading. 
Since I'm no longer a librarian with a host of young readers waiting to share their next great book recommendations and talk about how they love the characters, I mostly read to see how they're written. Does that make sense?

So I did a little re-reading this week. 
How many of your kids have read (and loved?)  HOLES?
Wow. Talk about a fast, fun read. 

(That's a totally awesome cover, isn't it? It's not the one I'm familiar with but it's sufficiently creepy while artistic, and I really like it.
Don't get me started on the importance of cover design!)

My buddy Barbara O'Connor recently shared that HOLES was edited by Frances Foster (now deceased), her long-time FSG editor. Since Frances is basically known as a dream editor and brilliant, I took a closer look, trying my best to "read like a writer."

Speaking of closer. THIRD PERSON CLOSE is the point-of-view and man, does Louis Sachar nail it. I love reading third person close, but I've struggled to write it. In fact, I tried with THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY. Started that story in what I "hoped" was a Close Third Person point-of-view.
Nope, wasn't happening. While journaling in first person to get into the head of my main character, Theo, I realized it was working better in first person and I switched. 

If you haven't read HOLES in a while but want to see what I mean and don't have the book handy, check out this preview from the beginning 30 pages. The physical description of Stanley and how "close" you are inside his head. Perfect. I not only felt like I knew him from the get-go, I knew how he was being fooled and yet, there was a tiny niggle of a doubt...

If only I were Louis Sachar.
Though I didn't really like the follow-up to that book, did you? True confessions, I skimmed it so maybe I missed something.

I discovered a book I hadn't read by Kevin Henkes. Now, there's a surprise! I'm a big fan of his novels and his picture books. Publisher's Weekly called this one touching and funny, and I totally agree.
It's a book about mini-golf, sort of, which is what originally led me to it. But it's really about families and friendships and all those things that tug at the hearts of kids, big and little. Henkes really knows how to do that. And okay, while searching for an image for this book, I see he's written a couple of novels I didn't even know about. More to read! 

Can't wait to see what my teacher and librarian friends have been reading as their summers wind down!

Thanks for reading!

 A card from a student, saved from my years as a librarian.
Who would have expected I'd write three books of my own. Not me. Not in a million years.