Monday, June 29, 2015

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: A Handful of Stars

This is a good “summer time” story to read with a slice of blueberry pie! I liked all the bits of information about having a blind dog, but the best part of this story was the friendship between the girls.

Here’s the Amazon description:

When Lily's blind dog, Lucky, slips his collar and runs away across the wide-open blueberry barrens of eastern Maine, it's Salma Santiago who manages to catch him. Salma, the daughter of migrant workers, is in the small town with her family for the blueberry-picking season.

After their initial chance meeting, Salma and Lily bond over painting bee boxes for Lily's grandfather, and Salma's friendship transforms Lily's summer. But when Salma decides to run in the upcoming Blueberry Queen pageant, they'll have to face some tough truths about friendship and belonging. Should an outsider like Salma really participate in the pageant-and possibly win?
Set amongst the blueberry barrens and by the sea, this is a gorgeous new novel by Newbery Honor author Cynthia Lord that tackles themes of prejudice and friendship, loss and love.

 A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord, Scholastic Press, New York, 2015

My Take:

I really loved this story about friendships and how to be friends with more than one person at a time. I learned right along with Tigerlily as she found out more about Salma’s culture and background. The story and characters felt very natural and authentic, and reminded me of some of the feelings I had when I was around 10 or 11. I definitely recommend this one!

As a writer, I want to read this book again to study the pacing of the story, the natural way details are embedded in the story and the dialogue between the characters. I think I might just have to buy it to keep on my own shelf.

Opening Line:

“The only reason I ever spoke to Salma Santiago was because my dog ate her lunch.”


“Only having half of something after you’ve had it all is a special kind of sadness.”

“It’s always weird when I invite a friend to our apartment for the first time. Most kids don’t live above a store with their grandparents.”

“It’s scary to try something different when you don’t know how it’ll work out, but that’s when the best things happen.”

Other Info:

Cynthia Lord lives in Maine. She wrote the Newbery Honor book, Rules. She also writes the Shelter Pet Squad series and the Hot Rod Hamster series.

For more, visit Cynthia Lord’s website.  

You can find more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday books by checking out author Shannon Messenger’s blog! Shannon is the founder of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and the author of the middle grade series, Keeper of the Lost Cities.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Podcast Picks for Children's Writers (and Readers) -- June 2015

There have been some really great podcasts this month, and I've tried to keep up. If you've come across any that I've missed, feel free to mention them in the comments.

Literary Agent Steven Malk -- Let's Get Busy Episode 157

DescriptionSteven Malk (@StevenMalk), literary agent at Writers House, stops by to talk about the way every single decision an author makes has a large or small impact on a career, how his clients all believe making a picture book is the best thing in the world, and the reverential feeling he experienced meeting authors at his parent's bookstore when he was young.

My thoughts: I enjoyed listening to Steven Malk’s perspective on what he loves about being an agent and how his career developed. This is a great podcast to learn about a literary agent’s role and how they might work with writers. As a writer, this also might help you think about your own writing goals and decisions. I will probably end up listening to this one again.

Steven Malk: “…I’m a big believer in, sort of, owning all your decisions. And I think in order to really do that, you have to understand where you want to go and what your goals are.”

A Conversation with Elise Parsley - PW Kids Cast Episode 80

DescriptionDebut author-illustrator Elise Parsley talks about her picture book, ‘If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don’t!’, in which a girl named Magnolia reveals the pitfalls of taking a daring approach to show-and-tell.

So interesting to hear how Elise's picture book developed! Also, since she is represented by Steven Malk, this gives a different perspective on the writer-client relationship. After hearing Elise's enthusiasm for her work, I'm really looking forward to reading her book one day.

Hooking Younger Readers – Writing Excuses Episode 10.24

Description: Kiley Snyder, Media Specialist at Discovery Middle School in Indiana, joins us to talk about hooking younger readers. Five days a week she hands books to the very people for whom you’re trying to write (sometimes she even gets those books back from them.) We ask her about reluctant readers, about the common elements she sees in the books that hook her students, and about the power of shelving.

My thoughts: One of the things they discussed was how teen readers connect with books and the importance of voice in YA books. I also was intrigued by their discussion about gender and reading books.

Kiley Snyder: “Write about what interests you and do it in a voice that interests them.”

Children’s Book Writing Panel – Summer Reading List 2015  – CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter

Description: How do you know summer is coming?  Here at The Next Chapter, we mark it by the arrival of the Children's Book Panel.  Michele Landsberg and Ken Setterington are our steadfast purveyors of excellent book recommendations for young people and they're back with their 2015 summer reading list.

My thoughts: What is great about this discussion is that the panelists describe the books and explain the reasons why they chose them for their list. You really get a good feel for whether you might want to read one of their picks. I’ve already read We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen (loved it!) and just signed out The Dogs by Allan Stratton from my local library.

They have thoughtfully provided a .PDF of their Children’s Book Panel Summer Reading List 2015.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

I Have a Literary Agent!

I am very happy to announce that I've signed with a literary agent. I am now represented by Janine Le of Sheldon Fogelman Agency!!

Getting to this next stage in my writing career is the result of hours and hours of struggling over getting the right words, as well as sending out many submissions and receiving many rejections, a sign that my writing just wasn't ready yet. 

About a year and a half ago, I decided to go back to writing picture books. I didn't stop working on my middle grade novels, but I started working on picture books too, because they are so fun to write. After all, I do teach kindergarten, where practically every day I come home with a great story idea. 

In January of 2014, I joined Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Challenge, where the goal is to write twelve picture books in twelve months. In case you haven't heard of the 12 x 12 Challenge, it's a whole community of writers, working on writing picture books. Being part of 12 x 12 really motivated me to work on my picture book writing, and I began to study the craft of writing picture books and started writing more of them. Meanwhile, I took some great online courses from Jill Corcoran and Martha Alderson's A Path to Publishing to continue to work on my writing and my revision skills. 

In the Gold level of 12 x 12, once a month there is also a special opportunity to submit a picture book manuscript to an agent. Last fall, I submitted one of my manuscripts to Janine Le at Sheldon Fogelman Agency through this 12 x 12 opportunity. Janine requested more of my work and shared it with her colleagues. In the meantime, I continued to work on my writing projects, writing new picture books and revising a middle grade novel I wrote last summer. 

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when Janine e-mailed and asked if we could talk on the phone. I was both nervous and excited! We spoke about some of my writing experiences and goals, and about the work I had submitted to her. A couple of days later, she told me she wanted to represent me!!! So exciting!!! 

I'm so appreciative of my critique partners, many of whom I found through the 12 x 12 Challenge, and most especially the MiG Writers, who have stuck with me through lots and lots of ups and downs. 

I am also very grateful to Julie Hedlund and the 12 x 12 community for their support and encouragement.

I'm not sure where this new path will take me, but I'm so excited to find out!!

Monday, June 15, 2015

What I've Been Reading

So, once again I don't have a Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post. I've been writing more middle grade than reading it as I continue with novel revisions (and taking breaks for marathon-watching one of my favorite shows, Suits).

I did read a couple of noteworthy and absorbing YAs. They are quite different, but both were engaging reads for a couple of rainy Sunday afternoons.

The Color of Silence by Liane Shaw

It was hard to put this down. A touching, sad and hopeful story told from the perspective of two teen girls who are silent for different reasons. I didn't want the story to end.

From Second Story Press:

At seventeen, Alex feels as if her life is over. She will never recover from the trauma of the car accident that took the life of her best friend, Cali. All joy left when Cali died, including their shared love of singing. Why even bother speaking? Alex blames herself for the accident, and no one would want to hear what she has to say anyway. Ordered by a judge to do community service, she must spend time at a hospital with a girl named Joanie, who has minimal control of her body and no speech. Never having known another way of being, Joanie has an extraordinary internal life. She has been listening and watching as the world goes on around her, but Joanie is so full of words, thoughts and images that if she could ever figure out a way to let them loose, they would come swirling out in a torrent of syllables. She would fill every room with the colors of her dreams until the whole world became a rainbow of her making.

Brought together by accident, Alex and Joanie have experienced the helplessness of silence. Their growing connection may lead them both to find the power of their voices.

Visit Liane Shaw's website:

The Heir by Kiera Cass

After reading other three books in this series, I'm kind of hooked on it (much in the same way you can get hooked when you turn on The Bachelor). It was quick, fun read with an interesting character. 

From HarperCollins:

Kiera Cass's #1 New York Times bestselling Selection series has enchanted readers from the very first page. In this fourth romantic novel, follow Illéa's royal family into a whole new Selection—and find out what happens after happily ever after.
Twenty years ago, America Singer entered the Selection and won Prince Maxon's heart. Now the time has come for Princess Eadlyn to hold a Selection of her own. Eadlyn doesn't expect her Selection to be anything like her parents' fairy-tale love story...but as the competition begins, she may discover that finding her own happily ever after isn't as impossible as she's always thought.
A new generation of swoonworthy characters and captivating romance awaits in the fourth book of the Selection series!
Visit Kiera Cass's website:

Friday, June 12, 2015

Learning From Picture Books - By Mouse and Frog

I've seen this book featured a few times on other blogs, so I decided I had to read it for myself. I'm really glad I did! This would be a great addition to a classroom or school library collection.

Deborah FreedmanHere’s the summary from Amazon:

A spritely read-aloud about the challenges—and joys—of collaboration.

Fastidious Mouse has one idea about how to tell a story. Free-spirited Frog has another. What happens when Frog crashes into Mouse's story with some wild ideas? Chaos!...followed by the discovery that working together means being willing to compromise—and that listening to one another can lead to the most beautiful stories of all.

In her best book yet, the visionary creator of Blue Chicken and The Story of Fish and Snail has crafted another subtle, clever book-about-books that's also a delightfully entertaining story featuring adorable characters who will win readers' hearts.

By Mouse and Frog by Deborah Freedman was published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Group, in 2015.

My thoughts as a writer:

This is a good picture book for studying characterization. The personalities of Frog and Mouse are so clear, right from the beginning. I liked how the illustrator played with the “real” and “imagined” to create images that are lively and full of fun.

My thoughts as a teacher:

I am going to read this book to my kindergarten students to show them about cooperation! I really liked the subtle way Frog changes and starts asking Mouse about what they should do. A great discussion point for students.

Themes: cooperation, friendship, story writing

Ages: 4 – 8

Grades: K - 3

Follow-Up Activities:

- work with a partner to draw and write your own story
- talk about beginning, middle and ending of a story
- discuss the ways that Frog and Mouse's friendship changes through the story
- make frog and mouse puppets to act out the story

If you're looking for more great picture books to read to your class or to investigate as a writer, consider checking out the list of Perfect Picture Books, put together by author Susanna Leonard Hill.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Learning from Picture Books: Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt

With all the gardening I've been doing lately, this one seemed appropriate! I borrowed it from my local public library.

Here’s the summary from Amazon:

In this exuberant and lyrical follow-up to the award-winning Over and Under the Snow, discover the wonders that lie hidden between stalks, under the shade of leaves . . . and down in the dirt. Explore the hidden world and many lives of a garden through the course of a year! Up in the garden, the world is full of green—leaves and sprouts, growing vegetables, ripening fruit. But down in the dirt exists a busy world—earthworms dig, snakes hunt, skunks burrow—populated by all the animals that make a garden their home.

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal was published by Chronicle Books in 2015.

My thoughts as a writer:

I really admired the rhythm of the opening line: “Up in the garden, I stand and plan—my hands full of seeds and my head full of dreams.” The language and imagery makes this book appealing. The pattern of above ground and then below ground keeps the story moving forward.

I liked how the illustrator used the full page, going right past the edges, seeming to show that the images are only a snapshot of a much larger world, both below and above.  

My thoughts as a teacher:

This book will capture the interest of young primary students who are curious about the world around and below them. I liked how underground and above ground life is given equal time and importance. The back matter provides lots of extra material for discussion or to explore with interested students.

Themes: gardening, nature, caring about the environment, life cycles

Ages: 4 – 8

Grades: K - 3

Follow-Up Activities:

- talk about the seasons that are shown on different pages of the book
- create one of the creatures from the story using art materials and write a fact about it
-compare life above with life below – how is it different? how is it the same?
- plant bean or sunflower seeds in a clear cup and make observations about what happens above and below

For another take on this book and more activities, visit Ms. Meghan Makes.

If you're looking for more great picture books to read to your class or to investigate as a writer, consider checking out the list of Perfect Picture Books, put together by author Susanna Leonard Hill.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Podcast Picks for Writers -- May 2015

I’ve been doing a lot more driving lately, and I find that’s the best time for listening to my favorite podcasts. I also like to listen while I’m doing boring household chores and sometimes, while I’m walking one of the dogs (though sometimes I've been listening to the sounds around me, after watching Pico lyer). Just click on the heading to go to the link.

Literary Agent Michael Bourret - This Creative Life, Episode 40

I always enjoy Sara Zarr’s interesting conversations with people who do creative work. 

This one will be especially interesting for writers who are trying to get an agent or are curious about what it might be like to work with an agent. Michael also talks about his perspective on what's ahead in publishing.

This interview makes the process of writing and illustrating a picture book sound like so much fun! I recently read her book, Here Comes the Easter Cat, and it was so interesting to find out more about the process for creating the Cat series.

There’s lots of information in this podcast for anyone who is thinking about hiring an independent editor to help take their work to the next level. Some great quotes from the interview:

Joanna: “If you are expecting to make money from your book as a business, then you need to invest money in that book to make it the best product it can be.”

Jen: “You shouldn’t feel like you’re being beaten up when you are being edited.”

If you don’t want to listen to this as a podcast, the transcript is also available.

I was introduced to this Ted Talk by @MetroMorning and it’s definitely worth watching or even just listening to if you engage in any kind of creative endeavour. It gave me a lot to think about.