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, July 21, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (and more blogging break)

Turns out I'm sort of loving my summer blogging break, so I'm going to elongate it -- through the rest of the summer (other than this week). Life if busy but fun with two teenagers, one husband, and one big dog, and summer's short here in Minnesota, so I'm eating up every minute.

I have been reading though, because, let's face it, it's an awesome excuse to soak in some sun. Some of my favorite middle grade reads this summer are these. I'd love to share more about them (and maybe I will one day), but for now, trust me when I say they are marvelous.

Enjoy the rest of your summer. I'll be back in September.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Basketball Break Away

I'll be off my blog (and yours) for the next several weeks as my family and I follow my basketball-loving daughter to some out-of-town tournaments. She's fourteen and pretty much plays all year long, so every season is basketball season, but right now she's in the middle of her AAU season. We're turning these tournaments into mini-vacations to make them more interesting for my sixteen-year-old son who neither loves or plays basketball. Milwaukee and Lake Michigan is one stop. The other is South Dakota, Mount Rushmore, and the Black Hills.

See you July 21st!

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, June 9, 2014

It's Summer

I don't do this often, well, never until today actually, but I hand-chose the winners of Erin Moulton's two books I had up for giveaway because there were two people who I knew just fit the books. And so:

The signed ARC of Chasing the Milky Way goes to
Margo Berendsen
because she personally knows some moms who struggle with mental illness -- and this is the exact focus of this book. Enjoy, Margo, and may it help you in your relationship with those moms and kiddos.

And the signed paperback of Tracing Stars goes to
Michael Gettel-Gilmartin
because he has a son involved in theater -- and this book deals with two sisters and their summer working in the local theater. May you find connections to your life as a theater dad, Michael.

Hooray! Both winners, please email your mailing addresses to:

And now, on to other things . . . such as . . . summer.

The season that can't be long enough, ever. At some point in my life, I will live where summer lasts all year long, but until then, I soak it up while it's here. Windows thrown wide open, three meals a day on our deck, reading in the sunshine, walking my dog in rainshowers -- every single summer moment burned in my memory and stored in my heart.

Occasionally, on the deepest of cold winter days, I sneak the remainder of last summer's sunscreen bottle from the cupboard, close my eyes, and sniff. This transports me. I'm sitting on the beach, toes in the sun-warmed sand, watching boats purr by on a local lake.

But, right now, it really is summer, and I'm guzzling up every minute.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Chasing the Milky Way (with ARC giveaway!)

Lucky me! I won a three-pack of books from Erin E. Moulton, one of which was an advance reading copy of Chasing the Milky Way, set to release on June 12th. Also in that three-pack was a paperback of Tracing Stars, Erin's second book (my thoughts on it are here). Both the ARC and the paperback (I own a hardcover of Tracing Stars) are available for giveaway! Details at the end of this post. The last part of the three-pack was Erin's first book, Flutter, and that one was a hardcover which I'm hanging on to.

Premise: Lucy's ticket out of Sunnyside Trailer Park is a robot competition--the BotBlock--with her friend Cam. But Lucy's still reeling from her grandma's recent death, taking care of her younger sister Izzy, and living with a mom who struggles with mental illness and doesn't always take her medications, so things don't always go Lucy's way.

What I loved: The hard but honest but loving way Erin Moulton blends her story with something as difficult to depict as mental illness. In light of the recent push for #WeNeedDiverseBooks, here's a middle grade novel that deals with mental illness in a realistic but compassionate frame.

To be eligible for the giveaways, you need a United States mailing address and a comment on this post. Giveaway is open until 8pm CDT, Sunday, June 8, 2014. The two winners will be announced on Monday, June 9th.

For more middle grade greatness, follow the links on
Happy middle grade reading,

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day

The winner of my ARC of Circa Now is:
Yay! Please email your mailing address to

This week, I'm thinking about all who serve and have served our country. Thank you and thank you. Because of you, the rest of us enjoy our freedom.

A few years ago, my kids and I had the privilege of meeting a World War II veteran and having him speak to our small group. He was old, of course, but spry and full of life. And he talked about how many of those he served with have now died and how it gave him an even greater urgency to talk about his experience because soon there will no longer be any living veterans of World War II. He's an amazing person with an interesting perspective. And I know all veterans can't do what he does -- the experiences are too painful, too rough, and still too raw. My own great uncle was never able to share his World War II experiences, and I understand and respect that perspective also. But vetrans of any war, whatever your experience has been please know there are grateful people everywhere who believe in you and are thankful for you.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Circa Now (with ARC giveaway!)

It's always an honor to receive an ARC, and the very best thing I can do with one once I've read it is share about it and then pass it along as a giveaway. So that's what I'm doing with Circa Now by Amber McRee Turner, which officially releases May 27th. Details on the giveaway are at the end of this post.

The premise: Circa Monroe works with her dad restoring old photos. Sometimes they even 'shop' things into photos for fun and then create stories about them. But one day Circa's dad heads into a terrible storm to deliver one of the restored photos, and he dies in a tragic accident, leaving Circa with just her mom who's always been so dependent on Circa's dad. But then a mysterious boy shows up, a boy with no memories who needs their help.

What I loved: The twisty-turny plot that carries just a hint of magic -- the magic of hope. In the same vein as her first novel Sway but yet in a brand new manner, Amber McRee Turner weaves this magical hope into her latest novel in so many beautiful ways.

To enter the giveaway of my ARC, simply have a United States mailing address and leave a comment on this post. The giveaway is open until 8pm CDT, Sunday, May 25, 2014. Winner announced May 26th.

For other great middle grade recommendations, follow the links on
Happy middle grade reading,

Monday, May 12, 2014


My family and I drove to my mom's house for Mother's Day weekend. She still lives around Fargo, North Dakota, where I grew up, although not in the house where I spent my childhood. But every time I'm there, as I drive the streets where my friends lived, pass churches and schools I attended, and gaze at parks and bike trails where I played and biked, I remember. Memories wash over me, snippets of my life return, and I'm seven or seventeen all over again. It's powerful, as memories tend to be.

And it's also beautiful because I had a wonderful growing up, but I know many kids do not and have not. And this is why I write for kids. Because memories -- whether good or bad, lovely or hard, things we want to remember or things we'd rather forget -- mold us into who we are and who we are becoming. And maybe, just maybe, books can be part of the good, the lovely, and the things we want to remember. And maybe they can help heal the bad, the hard, and the things we'd rather forget.

I hope to have books out there someday that do these things.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Marvelous Midde Grade Monday: A Snicker of Magic

Ahhhh. One of my favorite reads so far this year is A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd. It's her debut, and what a debut it is with its fun twist on lost magic, characters that touch your heart, and a plot that keeps readers guessing. There's a little something in this one for everyone, including ice cream.

The premise: Felicity Pickle is a wanderer. Mostly because her mom never settles in one place for too long, and so Felicity longs for home. She also see words everywhere, even shimmering in the air over people's heads sometimes, and collects them. So when Felicity's family roams into Midnight Gulch, all sorts of words tumble her way, but two of the most important are home and magic.

What I loved: The way Natalie Lloyd strings words together. Felicity might be a collector of words and discovering a unique magic in Midnight Gulch, but Natalie Lloyd has a magic all her own when it comes to sewing just the right words together sentence after sentence. This is one of those books that stays with you long after you've read the last page. And magical ice cream only adds to its perfectness.

For more middle grade magic, check the links on
Happy middle grade reading,

Monday, April 28, 2014

Good Advice

 The winner of my gently-used ARC of What the Moon Said is:
Woot! Email your mailing address to barbarawatson94(at)gmail(dot)com.

And now, today's post . . .

Advice isn't hard to find, but good advice can be. Many people offer opinions disguised as advice, and we have to sift through the opinions and separate out what is advice, and then, out of that, figure out what's good advice. And even if it's good advice, we further decide whether or not the advice applies to us and if we're going to follow it. It's quite a process really.

Mix in the fact that for writers, you get loads of writerly advice, and phew! It's exhausting to even type words on a page because sometimes all that advice holds the words in more than it frees them. So for me, this is true: I know writers each have their own way of doing things. And most of those ways are neither right or wrong, they're just different, and different things work differently for different people. What totally clicks for you, clunks for me. You get the picture.

So now, after having said all that, here's a quote attributed to Terry Pratchett. And I suppose it's another of those writing advice nuggets, but for me, it's made all the difference.

What have you heard that's made all the difference? And it doesn't have to apply to writing.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: What the Moon Said (with ARC giveaway!)

Even though we received eleven inches of snow on April 4th, I still enjoyed my spring blogging break. Thankfully, all that new snow melted by April 6th, the same day we broke out the deck furniture and had our first family outdoor dinner of the season. And now, the trees are budding, the grass is greening, and . . . I'm back blogging with an ARC giveaway to celebrate.

Thanks to Pamela Klinger-Horn, who loves books and is the school and outreach coordinator at Minneapolis indie bookstore Magers & Quinn, I received an ARC of What the Moon Said by Gayle Rosengren. And that means you have a chance to win it. Details about the giveaway are at the end of this post. Also due to Pamela, I'll be enjoying an evening out with Gayle Rosengren (and Pamela) in several weeks! (At least, I think, so. Plan still a go, Pamela?) (Follow up: It's a go. I'm excited!)

The premise: The Depression is tough on everyone, and when Esther's dad loses his job in Chicago, he moves the family to a Wisconsin farm. Esther sees it as an adventure, a time for new things, including the pets she's always wanted. But more than anything, Esther wants her mother's love, and so she follows Ma's belief in 'signs' as best as she can. But then, one of Ma's signs becomes one Esther cannot follow.

What I loved: The movement of the story. Esther, always looking for the good, grows and changes and begins to understand things she hasn't before. Told in a tender style with family at its heart, What the Moon Said is a story to cherish for any reader in any generation. The back cover says, "Fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder will flock to this exciting debut," and that says it pretty perfectly, I think.

To enter the giveaway of my ARC, simply comment on this post and have a United States mailing address. That's it. The giveaway is open until Sunday, April 27, 2014, at 8pm CDT. Winner announced Monday, April 28th.

For more great middle grade reads, follow the links on
Happy middle grade reading,