Monday, September 8, 2014

Until We Meet Again

Over the summer I suspected I'd be writing this post when September hit and my blogging break ended, and sure enough, here I am. And it's a tough one for me to write because it's my last for a long, long while. I'm not shutting down my blog or deleting it, I simply won't be posting much -- if at all -- in the foreseeable future. The reasons are many but the sum total is this: my life is changing. The changes are good ones; they just don't allow me the time I need to be a good blogger -- and to me blogging means more than just posting here; it means spending time on your blogs too.

My kids are now ages sixteen and fourteen (a high school junior and freshman), and the time I have with them before they head off to college is precious and I don't want to miss a minute. And after a break from traditional classroom teaching for quite a few years, I'm back at it -- substituting right now, which is providing a perfect transitional phase for me.

But as I took my extended blogging break over the summer, I contemplated "What is it I most want to be doing?" And my answer was always "I want to spend my life living my life." And sometimes that means making really hard choices -- like not blogging and even sometimes not writing as much as I want to -- because first I must live life. All the rest comes second.

As far as sharing about middle grade books, I'll be using Twitter. Each Friday, I'll tweet under the hashtag #FridayReads to spread word about what middle grade book I'm currently loving. I even have a few giveaways planned.

And now as I close this post, I thank each of you for supporting my blog. Because without blog readers (who honestly feel more like friends), a blog is simply a journal. But because of you, this truly has been a blog.

Until we meet again,

Monday, June 16, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Crossover

This is a special book. Not just because it's well-written, inventive, creative, fun and serious all rolled into one, but special because my basketball-loving and basketball-playing daughter and I read it out loud together. And likely it will be the last book I can say that about because she's now fourteen years old and has read books aloud with me much longer than most kids would. So because this was our last read-aloud, The Crossover by Kwame Alexander is extra-special.

The premise: Thanks to their NBA-ability dad, Josh and his twin brother Jordan rule the basketball court, but when Jordan starts hanging with the new girl in school and Josh and Jordan's dad has some heart health issues, things unravel -- even on the court.

What I loved: So much. It's a novel in verse -- yes, that's right, a sports novel in verse. But it's a sports novel in verse that any reader can identify with because along with being about basektball, it's about brothers and family and second chances and living each moment. It's basketball. It's poetry. But you don't have to love either to love this novel.

For more middle grade recommends, follow the links at
Happy middle grade reading!

Monday, January 20, 2014

My Dad's Birthday

January 22nd, 1944, was the day my dad was born. The closest hospital to his parent's northeastern North Dakota farm was in Canada, so he was born a Canadian and naturalized as a U.S. citizen at age seven. There's much I could tell you about his life and his birthdays, but one birthday I clearly remember is the one when I was a second grader. I was sick. With the stomach flu. And my dad stayed home from work to take care of me. Not a great way for him to spend his birthday, but what a great dad.

Sadly, my dad died in 2010 shortly after his 66th birthday. Like many people, he died much too young, and because of his cancer, he suffered much too much before his death. And because he meant so much to me and my family and my kids, I used to make the lemon cake he loved -- every January 22nd.

In fact, I still do.

To remember who he was. To celebrate who he was. Because we miss him. Because we love him. And because we wish he was still with us. So this Wednesday, January 22nd, my family will eat lemon cake and remember.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace

Oh man. I adore this book. Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace by Nan Marino was on my to-read list for a long time, but finally I got my hands on a copy and had the chance to read it. I now have a hardcover copy in my bookcase, too, so you know it's among my favorites--because only my favorites get purchased in hardcover and get to live in my prized bookcase.

The premise: Cecilia Wreel lives in Wares Grove, New Jersey--a not much of anything town. But then Elvis Ruby arrives--to hide out. He was supposed to win the reality show TweenStar, but he froze onstage, and now he just wants to hide from the paprazzi and make some pancakes at his aunt's restaurant. But then Cecilia finds out who he is . . .

What I loved: This is a story about so much more than just the plot. So much more. It's about finding yourself -- even if (and especially if) who you are is someone different than everyone always said you were. It's also about finding friends, finding what matters most to you, and finding your music.

I know that doesn't really tell you much about the story, but my goal with MMGMs isn't to tell you a story's details; it's to entice you to read the story or pass along the title to someone you know. I hope I've done my job.

Enjoy more middle grade recommendations from the list on
Happy middle grade reading,

Monday, January 6, 2014

A Hopeful New Year

Every year we get this thing called a New Year. It's all shiny, bright, unblemished, untarnished and . . . new. Brand new. Full of things yet to be discovered. Granted, some of these things might turn out unpleasant, even downright ugly, but some of these things might be what we've always dreamed.

And while I'm not one to set resolutions (probably because when I was in college and had a health club membership that I used all year round, I found it a little sad that every early January, the club was bursting with folks -- only to find that by the 20th or so, the club was back to its regular patrons) . . .  at any rate, I'm not a resolution setter. But I am a 'hope' setter. Meaning I have all sorts of hopes for each New Year.

Usually they aren't huge things. Sometimes they're even everyday things. Things like I hope I smile more this year, I hope I listen better, I hope I hug people when they need it most, I hope I help people without even knowing I did. And with no way of measuring such things, all I can hope is that I actually do them.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Patches of Sunlight

People flock to beaches, parks and swimming pools on warm summery days. For the fun. For the warmth. To cool off in the water, yes, but mostly to soak in the sunlight. Even dogs (probably cats, too, I'm not very wise in their ways) seek out sunlight for afternoon naps. In fact, my dog is known to follow sunlight patches as they journey through our house.

What other reason would there be to nap on the stairs, especially when you don't fit on the stairs, except a perfect patch of sunlight?

And all the time, writing friends are patches of sunlight. They pluck you up, encourage you, warm you. Which is just what you all did for me a couple months ago when I admitted I was in a writing funk. So this is my thank you. Thank you for being my patches of sunlight.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Girl from Felony Bay

Here's a book about a girl, written in first person point of view from a girl's perspective, but is truly a book that boys will love. Granted, I'm a girl, but The Girl from Felony Bay by J.E. Thompson is an adventure and a mystery -- and an action-packed one. That's why I know boys will love it. As well as girls. It's also a book I checked out from my local library but by page 88 I knew I needed my own hardcover. And by page 156 I did have my own.

The premise: Abbey Force has lost almost everything in the last nine months. Her dad's been accused of an enormous robbery and her home, Reward Plantation, has been sold to cover his debts. Worst of all, Abbey's dad's been in a coma since all this came about and can't even clear his name. Then the 'No Trespassing' signs show up on Abbey's old property and she and her new friend Bee start poking around. Turns out what's going on dates all the way back to Civil War times and just might right the wrongs done to Abbey's dad.

What I loved: The adventure. The mystery. The action. Abbey's bravery. And I also love how J.E. Thompson blends the contemporary with the past and weaves needed healing with recent times and the long-ago. It's brilliant. The Girl from Felony Bay is reminiscent of Three Times Lucky with its mystery and its setting-that-becomes-a-character. A great, great story and one I'll read again and again.

For more middle grade recommendations, follow the links on
Happy middle grade reading!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Devil's Backbone (with giveaway!)

Last fall Rae Ann Parker contacted me about editing a middle grade novel she was writing. She sent me her work, I gave feedback and ideas, she worked on it some more, and now what was once a draft I edited is Rae Ann's full-fledged book! A real, live, physical book titled The Devil's Backbone. And I have a copy to give away to one of you!

The premise: To save his friend from getting expelled, David Baxter takes full blame for the graffiti painted on the school. It's David's first strike, so he only gets suspended for three days. But David's juvenile judge dad forces David to take a roadtrip with him along the Natchez Trace Parkway--an old trail into Nashville used by postal riders and other travelers. What David keeps from his dad is that he meets a ghost on the trip--a 200 year-old, teen-aged ghost carrying the last letter of Meriwether Lewis. A letter that can solve a 200 year-old mystery. And maybe it can help David figure out his dad and forgive his mom, too.

What I loved: The ingenious blend of history and contemporary. Rae Ann Parker takes a fascinating setting--the Natchez Trace--and skillfully weaves it with legends of yesterday and tales of today. It's a historical novel set in the present. (Ingenious, like I said!) And the ghost in this story has a burden, a burden only a contemporary boy can lift. In addition, Rae Ann's mastery of middle grade voice cannot go unmentioned.

To enter the giveaway for a (signed!) copy of The Devil's Backbone simply comment on this post by 8pm CDT on June 2, 2013, and have a United States mailing address. Winner announced on June 3. Check other middle grade recommendations at Shannon Messenger's blog.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Great Gatsby: The Book and the Movie

There aren't too many movies based on books that I'll see. For me, the reasons are obvious . . . the books are always so much better and the movies usually disappoint. But there's also a deeper reason. As one who loves the way words flow and create a movie in my own mind, I don't like seeing someone else's version. I don't want the movie version to become my book version. So I steer clear of most movies made from books.

Even the Harry Potters. I did not see a single one -- nor will I -- even though I've heard how well they were made, how true to the books, and so on. But my mind's version of all the Harry Potters is so much better than any movie ever could be.

But . . . a new movie version of The Great Gatsby releases on May 10th. And I plan to see it. Shocking, I know. It is for me, too. I love the book. I've taught it quite a few times to high school juniors as part of an American Lit class, and it continues to be one of my favorite units. But the movie trailers have me intrigued. As does the remake of the song "Happy Together" performed by Filter. It's a perfect tone for this grim, haunting, tormented story. What's typically a happy, light-hearted song, Filter spins into a forboding drama full of soft, then loud, and at times, even half-screamed lyrics. It's just right for The Great Gatsby. And I can't wait to see the movie.

My thirteen-year-old daughter and I read the book aloud together. My fifteen-year-old son is reading it on his own. My husband is not reading the book (nor has he), but we're all going to the movie. Soon. And I can't wait. (I said that already, didn't I?)

What about you? Do movie versions of books bother you? Do you watch them anyway?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Interview with Kristin O'Donnell Tubb

I'm thrilled to welcome Kristin O'Donnell Tubb to my blog today! Her third middle grade novel, The 13th Sign, released earlier this week. My questions for Kristin are in blue; her responses are in black.

What does a typical writing day look like for you?

Anything but typical! Most days start with email and coffee, and I start writing somewhere around 10 a.m. or so. I usually place myself back in the story by rereading what I wrote last and editing that before moving on to the next scene.

I don’t write every day (much to Stephen King’s chagrin!). For me, having time to really think about a scene before putting it on paper is helpful. And I usually only write a single scene at a time. I suppose this makes me a slow writer, but after a decade of freelance writing, I still truly love what I do, so I’m hesitant to make it feel too much like work!

And it’s working, so why fix it? :-) Do you write in a certain place all the time or do you write anywhere and anytime you have a minute?

The “anywhere and anytime” camp is more my style, although I’ll add that I do a lot of “writing” on the voice recorder on my phone. Some of my best ideas come while I’m walking the dogs or driving the kids. Large portions of The 13th Sign (and my latest manuscript, Island of Superstition) were voice recorded and then transcribed. Lesson: you probably don’t want to meet me in oncoming traffic!

Voice recording. I like that idea and will try it with the new, fancy phone I got for Christmas. From where or from what did the idea of The 13th Sign come?

After I finished writing Selling Hope, I knew I wanted to tell another space-oriented story. (I was, in a former life, an Aerospace Engineering major). The idea of astrology – and how much I loved reading my horoscope when I was a tween – popped into my head. But when I started researching and uncovered a missing 13th zodiac sign, I knew I had my story.

I was nervous, because it was obvious this story lent itself to a fantasy format, and I’d been successful with historical fiction in the past. But my wonderful agent Josh Adams loved the idea, as did my also-wonderful editor, Liz Szabla. They believed in me, and that made all the difference in this story coming alive.

I love when ideas percolate in writers’ brains for long amounts of time before becoming ‘something.’Could you share a bit about your writing journey and path to publication?

Sure! I started writing for kids by writing coloring and activity books – Scooby-Doo, Holly Hobbie, Strawberry Shortcake, and more. That’s when I knew for sure I’d found my niche. I wrote two really horrible middle grade novels and (embarrassingly) queried several agents and editors with those monstrosities. Then I got the idea of Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different (Delacorte, 2008) while on a freelance newspaper assignment. Something clicked for me, writing that story, and I truly felt like this story was one that needed to be told.

I met Wendy Loggia, Autumn’s editor, at a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference in Nashville in 2006. Twelve publishers had already rejected Autumn when she requested the full. And…she rejected it, too! But she asked for a revision, and accepted the story after that. My debut!

I still didn’t have an agent, though. I attended an SCBWI conference in New York in 2007 and saw Tracey Adams of Adams Literary speak. It was obvious that she genuinely loved her clients and her career, so I queried her. Her husband and co-agent, Josh, became my agent several months later. I feel very, very lucky to work with this team; it is both a partnership and a friendship. (And they’re both black belts! Hiyah!)

Josh sold Selling Hope to Liz Szabla, whom I’d also met at that same SCBWI conference. I’ve been delighted to work with Feiwel & Friends on both Hope and The 13th Sign.

The moral of this story? Join SCBWI!

Wow! What great opportunities SCBWI provided. Do you/can you work on more than one writing project at a time?

I think most writers, when they are serious about making a career out of writing, must do of this. The projects won’t all be in the same stages, of course. But researching a new story while writing another and editing/promoting a third is a necessity, I think.

Well said, Kristin. What is the best writing advice you have or have heard?

Not to quote myself, but: Join SCBWI! SCBWI allows you to meet and network with like-minded professionals while providing many, many outlets for honing craft. It strikes a balance between the business of publishing and the art of writing for children. Plus, the friends you meet through SCBWI will be friends for life. I’m now the Regional Advisor for Tennessee and Kentucky, the Midsouth chapter. I’m delighted to give back to this organization that has made my dreams come true.

One tiny extra: I invite everyone to come take a fun quiz to find out your 12-sign horoscope, your 13-sign horoscope, and which horoscope sign you ACT like! The quiz lives at It’s fun- please come play!

That does sound fun! Thank you, Kristin, for your insight. And a giveaway of my ARC of the just-released The 13th Sign is still open, simply scroll one post below!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The 13th Sign (with ARC giveaway!)

The 13th Sign by Kristin O'Donnell Tubb releases on January 8th! Woohoo! To celebrate with Kristin, I have a signed ARC I'd like to give away. Giveaway details are at the end of this post.

The premise: Every birthday, Jalen and her grandma visit Madame Beausoleil's shop to have Jalen's horoscope read. Even though Jalen's pretty sure she doesn't believe in "dis hoo," she comes on her thirteenth birthday mostly because her beloved grandmother is sick and she wants to honor her 'Nina.' This year, Jalen finds a book in the shop, a book which--when unlocked--releases the 13th Zodiac sign. And accidentally, Jalen releases this sign, the sign of the Healer. But then everyone's personalities shift . . . and the other twelve signs are furious . . . with Jalen.

What keeps readers reading: The action. Jalen has twenty-three hours to battle the twelve zodiac signs before the changes she unleashed become permanent, so this novel moves fast. Jalen, her best friend Ellie, and Ellie's brother Brennan barely catch their breath as the story races along. And readers are breathless right beside them.

What I loved: There is a healing theme woven throughout this story. It's a story under the main story, but to me, it is the more important story. It involves a healing of the heart, not the body, and centers around Jalen, her grandmother, and Jalen's father who disappeared at a crucial moment in Jalen's life four years ago.

Because of its intricate plot and underlying theme, The 13th Sign is designed for upper middle grade readers. To snag my (signed!) ARC, simply comment on this post by 8pm CST on Sunday, January 13th, 2013. Blog followers get their name in the drawing twice. U.S. residents only. Winner announced next Monday.

For more middle grade fun, check the links on
Shannon Messenger's blog.
And on Thursday I have an interview with Kristin O'Donnell Tubb!
Happy middle grade reading! 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Buttoning Down: Interview with Anne Ylvisaker

Writing brings people and worlds to life that never would exist if someone hadn't written them down. This, I think, is my favorite part of writing--the endless possibilities. Today, author Anne Ylvisaker shares some of her thoughts on writing and other things. And . . . Anne's last name is pronounced: ILL-vi(as in victory)-soccer(just like the sport). My questions are in blue, her responses are in black.

Me: I always love asking this (for authors who write for kids): Why have you chosen to write for kids?

Anne: I don’t think I consciously chose to write for kids so much as I found my voice when I discovered Isabelle, Harold, Tugs, and Ned, characters who happened to be children. Childhood is fascinating. The daily life of a child is intense and in the moment. There is a bottomless well of emotion and growth to explore.

Me: Oh! I love that writing for kids chose you! What did your path to publication look like?

Anne: I feel very lucky to have made a match with Candlewick Press through an SCBWI conference. While I was working on Dear Papa, my name was drawn in a lottery for one of eight individual meetings with an editor. I was paired with a Candlewick editor who was very encouraging and suggested I submit the completed manuscript. I experienced plenty of rejection before and during that year as well, with Dear Papa and earlier projects, but ultimately, thanks to that conference and editorial meeting, I found my home at Candlewick.

Me: Rejections and writing seem to go hand in hand. That's encouraging (in a weird way) for writers like me who are finding their way. What is your favorite part of the writing process?

Anne: The match-making! Thesaurus is one of my favorite Billy Collins poems. The last stanza goes like this:

I would rather see words out on their own, away
from their families and the warehouse of Roget,
wandering the world where they sometimes fall
in love with a completely different word.
Surely, you have seen pairs of them standing forever
next to each other on the same line inside a poem,
a small chapel where weddings like these,
between perfect strangers, can take place.

I love those moments when a unexpectedly perfect word match is made, when a whole sentence erupts that articulates precisely what I want to say, the sensation I want the reader to feel, a sentence that makes a character come alive. And then when the words keep volleying...those are the moments that keep me working.

Me: That's such an interesting way to think of writing--as word match-making. What part of the writing process is hardest or most frustrating for you?

Anne: The constant decision making is a challenge for me. Every sentence written is a choice made about character, plot, tone. Everything a character says or does shapes them. Every action sets in motion every following action. Once I am well underway it gets easier, but at the outset of a story particularly, I find myself saying but what if, or what if a lot. When I leave the page for the day I am decisioned out. I’m worthless at the grocery store after writing. Wheat or multigrain? Strawberries or raspberries? Vanilla or chocolate? At least that one’s easy. Chocolate.

 Me: "Every sentence written is a choice made . . ." Powerful, Anne. Do you have a habit or ritual while writing?

Anne: I really don’t have any writing rituals. If anything, I guess I spend a lot of time looking out the window while I write. It’s a bit like playing the piano. If I look at my hands while I play I stumble all over the place. I suppose it has to do with letting go of the mechanical part of my brain and letting the wandering part take over. Now that I think about it, I spend a lot of time gazing out the window before writing, too. And taking thinking walks. Anything that allows me to slide away from daily life concerns and into my imagination.

Me: Window gazing and thinking walks. I do both of those while writing too! What is the best writing advice you have or have been given?

Anne: Read. When I met my late mentor and friend Judy Delton, she overwhelmed me with reading assignments. She’d think of something late at night and call me to say, listen to this! Read this! She encouraged me to read a wide variety of authors and poets and subscribe to several literary periodicals. Reading good writing does for the act of writing what following the path of a trail groomer does for a cross country skier. The more I read, the better I glide. 

Me: That's great advice. I wish I could have met your friend Judy. And just because I'm curious, are you a dog or a cat person?

Anne: We have cats, but I like dogs, too. I fall in love with certain animals because of their personality, whether they are cats or dogs. LeRoy, the dog in Little Klein, is the dog I would love to have because he is takes so seriously his role in the family. Leopold, the cat in The Luck of the Buttons and Button Down is a lot like our cat Perot, a regal wanderer, with a dash of the mischievous nature of our cat Leo.

Each writing path is so unique. Thank you for sharing yours, Anne. And if you haven't already, enter the giveaway for an ARC of Anne's just-released Button Down. Simply comment on the post below.