Monday, June 30, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The 14 Fibs of Gregory K

Since one of my daughters and husband both love math and frequently have math-related conversations over dinner, I could really relate to the main character in this book who loves writing!

Today’s Pick: The 14 Fibs of Gregory K.

by Greg Pincus

Arthur A. Levine Books, 2013

From Amazon:

Gregory K is the middle child in a family of mathematical geniuses. But if he claimed to love math? Well, he'd be fibbing. What he really wants most is to go to Author Camp. But to get his parents' permission he's going to have to pass his math class, which has a probability of 0. THAT much he can understand! To make matters worse, he's been playing fast and loose with the truth: "I LOVE math" he tells his parents. "I've entered a citywide math contest!" he tells his teacher. "We're going to author camp!" he tells his best friend, Kelly. And now, somehow, he's going to have to make good on his promises.

Hilariously it's the "Fibonacci Sequence" -- a famous mathematical formula! -- that comes to the rescue, inspiring Gregory to create a whole new form of poem: the Fib! Maybe Fibs will save the day, and help Gregory find his way back to the truth.

My Take:

I loved this book! It’s always fun to read about how a character’s attempts to get out of trouble just make things worse. And it’s even better when the book is written with lots of humor and an engaging main character.  The story moved along quickly and I finished this book in a day (probably because I was enjoying it so much). The chapter titles were great (e.g., Writing About Math Won’t Be as Easy As Pi) and each of the 14 chapters started with one of his “Fibs”, poems based on the Fibonacci sequence. Did I mention that I love books where kids explore some kind of unique passion or hobby? Gregory even learns something— to follow his heart, even when other people (like his parents) might not agree with his choices.

From a writing perspective, this book would be worth re-reading to study the dialogue, which seemed quite realistic; the humor, which was so right for the target age group; and the voice, which was distinctive and engaging.

Opening Line:

“Some days you just need pie.”


"The next day at school, the test met all of Gregory's expectations. Unfortunately, that was the only positive about it."

“But as he grew up, he realized that the attic was basically like a foreign country: Mathland, the spot where his father retreated when he wanted to think and work and play with math.”

“The world always needs poetry.”

“Like, I subtract all the time, trying to figure out how many minutes are left in Mr. Mason’s history class, so I understand why math matters there. But Fibonacci numbers? Didn’t seem like they’d come up.”

Other Info:

Greg Pincus is a screenwriter, a children’s poet and a novelist. He lives in Los Angeles with his family and a dog. The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. is his first novel.

For more, visit Greg Pincus at his website or follow him on Twitter: @GregPincus

Looking for more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday books? Visit Shannon Messenger’s blog for a list of bloggers reviewing great books today! Shannon is the founder of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and the author of the middle grade novels, Keeper of the Lost Cities and Exile (Keeper of the Lost Cities #2).

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Author Interview with Pam Torres

I'm so excited to share with you an interview with Pam Torres, author of the recently released middle grade novel, It's NOT Just a Dog, part of the Project Madison series. In case you missed my Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post, here's a brief summary of the book, which is published by Legacy Media Press:

School's out for the summer and straight-talking Madison and her friend Cooper have big plans for the summer: working at the kennel, training service dogs and creating a dog-walking business—besides writing her dog-blog. Her stepdad has agreed to make Lilly, Madison's foster puppy, a permanent member of the Morgan family, and Madison wants to make the adoption special.

When an injured dog is abandoned, Madison's determined to discover the truth about the orphaned dog. To crack this crime she'll have to sneak around some shady characters. It'll be tricky since her dad isn't happy about her animal detective activities. Her promise not to get into trouble won't be easy. Madison convinces Cooper to strike out on their own, but Lilly is dognapped and Madison finds herself locked in a shed with no way out. She regrets her crime-fighting obsession and realizes her snooping has endangered everyone she cares about. Cooper rallies an unlikely group of rescuers to bust her out.

In the end Madison learns she can depend on her friends and her stepfather. And when it comes to people and dogs, relationships are never simple, and a dog is never—JUST a dog!

And now, on with the interview!

Pam, did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

I've always been a writer. As a small child I loved to tell stories and would create my own books using pictures from greeting cards and magazines. I think I started doing it because at that time, reading was taught with "readers" that were very boring to me. Jane said run and Dick said go, didn't keep my interest. 

Unfortunately, my active imagination didn't help my reading skills and I soon fell behind. The negative feedback I received left a horrible taste in my mouth and reading became a chore and it would be many years later before I learned to read for enjoyment. During all that time I filled notebooks and journals with my words, stories and poems.

Writing has always been how I figure my world out and I'm still doing that. 

I'm like that too. Writing is how I think through things. How did the idea for your story emerge?

It started with my granddaughter, Kayla, who's loved dogs since she was a baby. Her first love was White Puppy, a fluffy stuffed dog who still holds an important place on her shelf. Then came Tasha, our Samoyed, a dear gentle lady who brought us love and loyalty, she's been gone for several years, but she'll never be forgotten. Kayla has grown into a compassionate animal lover and tween.

So I asked myself: Could I write a book that would appeal to middle grade children that involved dogs?  I didn't want to write the I-want-a-dog story. I wanted to write something that would entertain and bring awareness to the plight of dogs all over the world. The more research I did the more I realized how much I didn't know. I learned that I could have given Tasha and the other dogs in my life a more fulfilling life. I also became aware of all the dogs and animals in the world that need our help. So, Project Madison was born. 

What was the most challenging aspect of writing your story?

Getting the bones of the story down is the hardest part of creating a story. I usually start with a character or idea and ruminate on it for a while. Scenes will come to me, but they are usually out of order and I’ve learned to sit down and write them immediately. 

Once I have several scenes, then I start piecing together a plot. I’m very visual so these end up on my wall as 3x5 cards that I move around until I start to see the right pattern. Then comes the task of writing my first draft. 

The hard part is pushing through, jotting down notes as I go, leaving blanks so I don’t get lost research until I have the bones down. Once I have the bones of a story then I can start revision. For me this is where the fun begins, adding the meat, the connecting joints and tendons, and finally the seasonings and dressing. 

So interesting! I find it really hard to write my scenes out of order. Each book I write teaches me something. What did you learn through writing your book?

I always do a huge amount of research when I write and this book wasn’t any different. I have notebooks, file folders and filed with notes from books, articles and websites where I gleaned information. This time, besides adding to my already large stack of canine research, I also did a fair amount of Native American research. I came to appreciate their connection to the land and their traditions. 

Do you read other books to inspire or mentor your own writing?

 I have several writing books that I look to for inspiration and mentoring. Recently I read The Breakout Novelist by Donald Maass, an inspiring book that breaks down the important elements of a good novel. I have two books that I often refer to during the writing process, Blake Snyder's Save The Cat! and Elizabeth Lyon's Manuscript Makeover. I always try and read at least one new writing book each year. I see myself as a coachable writer who strives to always improve my writing by learning new ways to express myself and my ideas more clearly.

Is there anything else you'd like to share about your book or an upcoming project?

I tend to be quite tight-lipped about my projects until they come into the revision stage. I will say that I'm working on the last book in the Project Madison trilogy and this time I'm looking to my readers for where they'd like to see Madison go in this one. So I'm encouraging them to send me their ideas. 

I've also begun a new adventure fantasy with some great characters who explore new worlds. But, that's about all I'm prepared to say. LOL

I'm sure your readers will be looking forward to that. It's such a cool idea to get input from your readers! Thanks for stopping by my blog!

During the month of June the Project Madison Facebook Fan Page will be conducting contests and giveaways, so be sure to check there frequently for a chance to win some great prizes. 

And if you want to learn more about Pam or get in touch with her: 

You can find It’s NOT Just A Dog! at the online stores below:


Monday, June 23, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: It's NOT Just a Dog

I enjoy reading dog books, so when I heard about this one, I wanted to read it! Luckily, author Pam Torres sent me a copy to review and invited me to be part of her blog tour.

Today’s Pick:  It’s NOT Just a Dog

by Pam Torres

Legacy Media Press, 2014

From Amazon:

In the second book of the Project Madison series, things get complicated as Madison and Cooper try to navigate their new relationship. School has ended and they're spending more time together, blogging, working at the kennel, training dogs—including Lilly. When Jonah, the new neighbor who has moved into Paige's old house, begins to spend more time with Madison, Cooper isn't at all happy.

Jonah's uncle, a Native American, shares his knowledge about Madison's power to see and feel canine memories and emotions. The mysterious white wolf returns and fills her mind with dreams and more questions. Madison starts a dog-walking business and discovers Ben, a crotchety old man whose dog is skin and bones. When the kennel receives a dog that has been brutally injured, Madison is determined to find out what happened. She and Cooper realize they're going to need Jonah and Donald to bust this investigation wide open and save the dogs. But getting to the bottom of the mystery will threaten not only Madison, but everyone she loves.

My Take:

I liked the concept of a girl being able to read the emotions and memories of dogs, and how it connected to the Native American culture. This was a unique idea which I haven’t come across before in any middle grade books. There’s lots of info about dog behaviour and dog training in this story, too, which I enjoyed.

Madison expresses some of her reactions as #hashtags, and I wondered whether readers of middle grade fiction would relate (that may just be based on my personal experiences, since my own kids scorn Twitter). But Madison’s adventures and the problems she has to solve opened my eyes to some of the things that happen to animals. This book makes you think about animals and how they are treated.

Opening Line:

“On a sticky-hot Saturday, Henry, my stepdad, was driving me to the Second Chance Dog Shelter to help with a new litter of pups—this was out of the ordinary since the whole litter had been left in a bag on Netta’s doorstep.”


“I remembered what Jonah had said about the land and the animals all having spirits. He’d said animals were here to teach us, and I wanted the answers.”

[I love the idea of learning from animals! It makes me wonder what my dog has taught me!]

Other Info:

Pam Torres was born in Logan, Utah and spent most of her childhood in Prairie Village, Kansas. Besides playing Dorothy during tornado weather and digging Peter Pan-like underground forts she also played piano and ran cross-country.

Ten percent of the author’s proceeds from sales of this book go to the ASPCA®, animal shelters and other programs to benefit homeless or abused animals.

Anyone who emails (torres dot pam3 at gmail dot com) a JPG of a tween holding her book, will receive a personalized letter from Madison and signed by Lilly dog.

Check back on Thursday for an interview with author Pam Torres about her writing process!

Other books by this author:

Madison Morgan: When Dogs Blog

For more, visit Project Madison on Facebook. 

Looking for more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday books? Visit Shannon Messenger’s blog for a list of bloggers reviewing great books today! Shannon is the founder of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and the author of the middle grade novels, Keeper of the Lost Cities and Exile (Keeper of the Lost Cities #2).

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday Fail

I didn't get to my usual Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post this week. There is just way too much happening in my life at the moment. But I'm posting today to let you know that next Monday I will be featuring a great middle grade read and, on Wednesday, an interview with middle grade author, Pam Torres. She writes stories about dogs, so that will be lots of fun!

In the meantime, if you're looking for middle grade book to read, Shannon Messenger's blog, the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday headquarters, has a wonderful list of options.

I'm also excited today because I found out that one of my favourite podcasts is back! After a 6-month hiatus, Sara Zarr has returned to This Creative Life, where she talks with writers and other creative artists about their processes and challenges.

Hmmm....I think my dog is going to get an extra long walk today so I can listen to this one. If you want to check it out, here's the link:

Author Stephanie Kuehn - This Creative Life Ep 32

Hope you have a great reading & writing week!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Tips for Children's Writers: Growing Up "Google"

One of the hard things about writing for children, and especially writing middle grade, is capturing the perspective and world view of the characters in the age group. I'm always reminded of this with a jolt when my own kids have no idea what a cassette is or see an old rotary phone in an older movie and say "What's that?"

Some kids I know cringe at the thought of actually talking to someone on the phone -- it's easier to text and/or message someone online.

This kind of mindset is very different from what many writers grew up with, but I think it's important to think about it if you want to understand where your readers are coming from. 

I liked this post by Terry Heick at Te@chThought on June 12, 2014:

40 Things That Have Credibility With Google Natives

It really makes you think about what it's like to be a kid in today's world. Some examples: 

2. Believing that they know technology better than adults (it’s like a secret language)

8.  Brief bursts of communication (as opposed to extended dialogue)

14. Free everything (music, games, downloads, apps, etc.)

What do you notice about the perspective of your readers? Any tips to share?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: One Came Home

I listened to the audiobook version of One Came Home during some long car rides, and it was a perfect choice. Listening gave me a chance to really appreciate the distinctive voice for the narrator that the author created using specific words and phrases (notice I don’t mean the sound of the voice of the woman who read the story).  

Today’s Pick:  One Came Home

by Amy Timberlake

Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2013

From Random House:

In the town of Placid, Wisconsin, in 1871, Georgie Burkhardt is known for two things: her uncanny aim with a rifle and her habit of speaking her mind plainly.

But when Georgie blurts out something she shouldn't, her older sister Agatha flees, running off with a pack of "pigeoners" trailing the passenger pigeon migration. And when the sheriff returns to town with an unidentifiable body—wearing Agatha's blue-green ball gown—everyone assumes the worst. Except Georgie. Refusing to believe the facts that are laid down (and coffined) before her, Georgie sets out on a journey to find her sister. She will track every last clue and shred of evidence to bring Agatha home. 

Yet even with resolute determination and her trusty Springfield single-shot, Georgie is not prepared for what she faces on the western frontier.

My Take:

I liked the mystery of Georgie trying to find out what happened to her sister, and that’s what kept me listening. It took me a little while to get into the story, since the main character and narrator Georgie seemed to get sidetracked with reminiscing. I think upper middle graders will easily relate to some of the themes in the story, like Georgie feeling responsible for her sister’s death, having a crush on a boy, and stubbornly trying to solve problems without help. It was also fun to read a “wild west” novel and learn a bit about life in the 1870’s.

If you are interested in learning more about creating a character with a strong voice, this is a good novel to read. I loved Geogie’s style and her vocabulary!

Opening Line:

“So it comes to this, I remember thinking on Wednesday June 7, 1871.”

Other Info:

Amy Timberlake lives in Chicago with her husband. Besides writing, she loves cooking and taking photos.

One Came Home is a Newbery Honor Book, an ALA-ALSC Notable Children's Book and a Winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Juvenile Novel.

Other books by this author:

That Girl Lucy Moon
The Dirty Cowboy (picture book)

For more, visit Amy Timberlake’s website.

Looking for more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday books? Visit Shannon Messenger’s blog for a list of bloggers reviewing great books today! Shannon is the founder of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and the author of the middle grade novels, Keeper of the Lost Cities and Exile (Keeper of the Lost Cities #2).

Friday, June 6, 2014

IODE Violet Downey Book Award Winner: An Infidel in Paradise

I'm excited to share the news that my fellow MiG Writer, Susan Laidlaw, has won an award for her first novel, AN INFIDEL IN PARADISE.

AN INFIDEL IN PARADISE won the National Chapter of Canada IODE Violet Downey Book Award. This award is given annually for "the best English language book containing at least 500 words of text (preferably with Canadian content) in any category..."

You can get some insights into why Susan wrote the book, hear her thoughts on winning the award, and listen to her read a little of the story on the IODE website.

For more information about Susan Laidlaw, her other books and her interesting international adventures, visit her website at or follow her on twitter @SusanLaidlaw1.