Monday, May 5, 2014

Create Bravely: Thoughts on the 2014 NESCBWI Conference

Last weekend was the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference in Springfield, MA. I attended on Friday and Saturday, and gave a presentation Saturday afternoon with my editor from Viking Children's Books, Kendra Levin.

I attended my first such conference in 2006 in Nashua, NH. Since then the conference has outgrown one venue after another. I remember that first conference vividly. I had signed up for a critique for the first ten pages of the very first novel I ever wrote, which I called The Wassergeist. It means "the water ghost" or "water spirit," or so my German friend assured me. He may have been pulling my leg. The editor who critiqued the manuscript didn't whip out her checkbook on the spot, but she had encouraging things to say (as well as critical things), and said she'd be interested in seeing it again. I left flying high.

At that same conference, I listened to a joint presentation by an author, Kimberly Newton Fusco, and her editor from Knopf. They described the process of working together on Kimberly's debut, Tending to GraceIf I remember correctly, they had met at a NESCBWI conference via a manuscript critique. I was completely starstruck in such proximity to an actual author and her actual editor. I promised myself that someday I'd be where they were.


But attending these large conferences as a first-timer is daunting, and I imagine it's all the more so today. The sheer size of the group was overwhelming. If so many hundreds of writers were committed enough to shell the money and attend such a conference, how could I hope to make an impression in the industry? They were shiny, their hair was neat, they smelled pretty. Surely their lives and their prose were correspondingly superior. Were they my competitors? I didn't know a soul, but they all seemed to know each other, and to know so much more than I did.

Linda Sue Park was the keynote speaker that year. She said many wise and wonderful things, but the one that has stuck with me to this day was, "Just try it." When readers and critiquers suggest a revision strategy, don't resist it, just try it. You never know. If you don't like it, flush it, but try it. It takes no more energy to try it than it does to resist it.

I did one smart thing that first year, which was putting my name on the list of volunteers to help out the following year. It seemed like a good way to get to know people and learn more about the organization. For the next several years I was an active member of the conference planning committee.

At the next year's conference I returned with a few things. 1. A submission to the First Pages Panel. 2. A new novel in the works. 3. A warm rejection letter in hand from the editor I'd heard speak the year before. 4. A volunteer's badge, and now, many familiar faces. This time, my critique was unremarkable. The editor wrinkled her nose and said she didn't "do" fantasy. But an agent on the First Pages Panel said very nice things about my first page, so I ambushed her in the hallway. That was my agent, Alyssa Eisner Henkin of Trident Media Group, and that first page was the start of All the Truth That's in MeThe novel I critiqued was the opening to The Amaranth Enchantment

This weekend, when I arrived at the Springfield Sheraton, there was none of that first-time bewilderment or loneliness. An onlooker might have suspected a family reunion, albeit a huge one, for a family that wears name badges and euthanizes most of its males. Hang around this writerly community long enough, and true friendships form. Over the years, many NESCBWI members have gone from cheery acquaintances, to writerly colleagues, to critiquing and writing retreat partners, to close friends, whose lives and homes and families I know, and they know mine. Others testified this would happen at that 2006 conference, but I didn't fully believe it.

The workshop Kendra and I presented Saturday was titled, "Write What You Don't Know: A Workshop on Fleeing Your Comfort Zone." We had 140 people in the room, and it was marvelous. You might say it was another slant on Linda Sue's "Just try it" advice. Once again I was amazed by the size of the group, the energy, the willingness to learn, and the commitment level. With each writing prompt and exercise we assigned, the group fell into a reverent hush. The only sounds were scratching pens and typing fingers. The creative energy in the room so thick you could smell it. I felt embarrassingly, goopily, maternally proud of everyone there, and wanted to echo Jo Knowles's sentiments from her lunchtime remarks, accepting the Crystal Kite Award: "Don't give up. I believe in you."

Though I stand in a different place now, I'm still in awe of SCBWI, and specifically the New England chapter, for how it fosters creative drive, industry professionalism, and a profound sense of belonging to something both personally fulfilling, and much larger than any one of us alone: the crazy tribe of devoted souls supplying our generation's children with stories.

Colossal kudos and thanks to this year's organizers, and to those brave enough to pick up the torch for future years. I wouldn't be where I am today without SCBWI, and I expect to remain part of it for life.

*** Postscript:

I promised I would post the three titles we used as resources in our slides. They are:

Fiction Writer's Workshop, by Josip Novakovich, 2008, Writers' Digest Books, Cincinnati.
Creating Fiction, edited by Julie Checkoway, 1999, Story Press, Cincinnati










The Art of Fiction, by John Gardner, 1983, Vintage Books, New York


Monday, December 23, 2013

Books I’m gifting to kids on my list this year

These books were gifts for nieces and nephews, ranging from 3-12, and I’ve already given them, so there’s no harm now in me sharing my choices here. Last-minute shoppers, if you’re hitting your bookstore and looking for ideas for great reads, you might want to look for these. (And what, I ask, is the purpose of school vacation, if not to read read read?) 

Use the links under each title to see if your nearby indie has them in stock. If not, you can order them. 

Picture books

Monstergarten by Daniel Mahoney, illustrated by Jef Kaminsky. Adorably funny and monstery. 
Petey and Pru and the Hullabaloo by A. J. Paquette, illustrated by Joy Ang. My kids (who are much older than the neices & nephews I gave this to) adored this book and read it over and over before wrapping it. A delightful, playful use of big, juicy words, and a great choice for a brother with a sister or a sister with a brother. 
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown. How can I not gift a book about stripping one's clothes and roaring a bit? 
Big Mean Mike by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Scott Magoon. Really, really funny, and surprisingly fluffy, in the best of ways. Loved this. 
Please Bring Balloons by Lindsay Ward. I was delighted to find this beautiful, nostalgic, magical story, with such exquisite illustration. I'll be gifting this again. 
Very Hairy Bear by Alice Schertle, illustrated by Matt Phelan. Confession: I bought this book because I love Matt Phelan, but Alice Schertle's text is delightful. A winning combination. 
Library Lion, also by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. Every child on my list gets a copy of this classic, and because I often forget when I've given this book or not, they often end up with two. 
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. I always like to gift Keats, and if they're too young for John, we start them on Ezra Jack. Another classic every library needs. 

Novels

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein. I fear I'm going to have to buy myself another because I didn't have time to read this. 
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan. For more on how I love this book, visit this other blog post. This title was named Amazon's #1 Middle Grade title for 2013, and you should keep an eye on it come Newbery announcement time. 
The Real Boy by Anne Ursu. I'm hearing such good things about this title; may have to buy myself another one of these as well. 

The Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfield by John Bemelmans Marciano, illustrated by Sophie Blackall. I own a copy that I haven't read yet, but the dark humor looks delicious. A perfect nephew book. 

If you gift them, read them first! Enjoy. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Seven Superfluous Reasons to wrap All the Truth That’s in Me up with ribbon for someone you love

1. It’s shiny.

2. The cover has Christmas colors.

3. Mistletoe is romantic. So is the book. 

4. Sprinkle it with seeds and water, and it becomes a ChiaBook.

5. Before you wrap it, you can read it. She’ll never know unless you spill nacho crumbs.

6. It helps digest Christmas dinner. Flop on the couch with book and Tums.

7. “Crumbs” rhymes with “Tums.”


If you tweet a photo of your new book (at the store! coming out of the package!) and tell where you got it, I will mail you a signed bookplate, possibly smeared with salsa con queso.


 ¡Feliz Navidad! And happy shopping. Don’t forget to love your indie store.




Friday, November 22, 2013

Blog hop: Sarah Albee > Julie Berry > Carol Lynch Williams, Sara B. Larson, & Cal Armistead

A few years ago I attended Kate Messner’s Swinger of Birches writing retreat on Lake Champlain for the first time. Many authors I met there have become writer pals for life. One who leaped out at me (figuratively! Ahem.) was Sarah Albee. Smart, funny, clever, talented, and kind could describe every writer there, but there was something so cool about Sarah. (Don’t you want to hang out with the author of Poop Happened? I do!) She’s a rockstar writer, a jock, a scholar, a fascinating blogger, a living Pantene commercial (check her gorgeous hair), she worked for Sesame Street, and, for kicks, she knows *everyone.* I mean everyone. She’s dined with diplomats and celebrated with celebrities. She puts Kevin Bacon to shame. Next to her, I grew up under a rock. But she didn’t mind meeting maggoty me. I’ve been so slow in joining her blog hop that I’m, perhaps, a blog flop, but here goes.
Sarah Albee is the author of dozens of books for children, across ages, genres, and even names – she writes under several pseudonyms. (Learn why here.) She writes fiction and nonfiction, and she even gets to write about celebrities (told you she knows everyone) like Elmo, Dora the Explorer, Diego, and SpongeBob. Her nonfiction works, including Poop Happened: A History of the World from the Bottom Up (Walker Books, 2010) and her forthcoming Bugged: How Insects Changed History (Walker Books, April 2014), ingeniously blend insightful social history into deliciously disgusting subject matter. Don’t let the comics fool you; Sarah is a rigorous and incisive historian. Check her blog for thrice-weekly doses of the same magic.
Find Sarah elsewhere online: Twitter, Facebook.
Thanks, Sarah, for inviting me!
The rules of this blog hop are that I now need to answer Sarah’s four questions, then pass the baton onto three more writers I love, whom you should get to know. Here goes.
Sarah: What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a new YA for Viking, set in medieval France. It’s got passionate romance, arranged marriage, burning heretics, vengeful clerics, a mystic, a matchmaker, a fortune teller, and a cat. There should always be a pet. I’m also finishing copyedits for my upcoming middle grade called TheScandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place (fall 2014, Roaring Brook).
Sarah: How does your WIP differ from other works in the genre?
The particular chapter in history on which my YA (currently nicknamed Mystique) is based is one that hasn’t been written about much in young adult literature, or, for that matter, adult literature. I’m excited about that aspect of it. But also, I believe the format and voice I’m attempting to use will be, yuk yuk, rather novel.
Sarah: Why do you write what you do?
Mainly because I love to. I feel fortunate in my work in that respect. I get to write the sorts of books I’d like to read. I especially love the research involved. I think I would have enjoyed an academic career. Writing allows me to delve into, learn about, and research any topic that interests me, put my findings to creative use, and then, when I’m done, move on to another interest, possibly one entirely different.

Sarah: What is the hardest part about writing?
Finding time to do it can be really hard. I have four sons, a house to neglect, and an otherwise busy life. I also spend a great deal of time visiting schools, traveling, and speaking at conferences and writing events. Those things can become consuming. Creative inspiration is a fickle thing, too. While I’m a firm believer in writing regularly and not waiting for one’s muse to show up, I do admit that the spark that brings writing to life can be elusive. The challenge is to press on anyway.
 
Enough about me. It’s time to meet three fantastic authors I adore!

Carol Lynch Williams and I met at Vermont College of the Fine Arts in the same incoming class group, and we bonded instantly. She’s raw, real, and hilarious, combining the kindest heart with an uncensored wit. She calls it like she sees it, which I love. She’s prolific, and more importantly, she’s good. Good good. A masterful storyteller with a pitch-perfect ear for honesty in voice.

Carol Lynch Williams is the mother of five daughters and the wicked step-mother to more than 30 books for middle grade and young adult readers. She has an MFA in Writing for Children and Adolescents from Vermont College, teaches creative writing at Brigham Young University and runs Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers (www.wifyr.com), in its 14th year. Her novels include THE CHOSEN ONE, MILES FROM ORDINARY, GLIMPSE and WAITING with four titles forthcoming in 2014: THE HAVEN, SIGNED SKYE HARPER and two titles in the Just in Time series written with coauthor Cheri Pray Earl. You can read about Carol and her newest book sale on her blog www.throwingupwords.wordpress.com. You can also find her on Twitter.

After my first novel, The Amaranth Enchantment, released, I met a pair of bloggers from Utah who wrote to me enthusiastically about it. I traveled to Salt Lake City to do a signing, and Stacey Ratliff and Sara Larson joined me there. We’ve stayed in touch ever since – in fact we now have a traditional dinner date every time I come into town. It’s thrilling to see Sara Larson now on the brink of releasing her first novel with Scholastic, DEFY.

Sara B. Larson can’t remember a time when she didn’t write books, although she now uses a computer instead of a Little Mermaid notebook. Sara lives in Utah with her husband and their three children. She writes during naptime and the quiet hours when most people are sleeping. Her husband claims she should have a degree in “the art of multitasking.” On occasion you will find her hiding in a bubble bath with a book and some Swedish Fish.

Sara is represented by Josh Adams, of Adams Literary. Her debut YA fantasy novel, DEFY, will be published by Scholastic in January of 2014.

Find Sara online:  Twitter, Facebook.

[Back to Julie] One of my favorite local bookstores is Willow Books in Acton, MA. They take such good care of me there and always have plenty of my signed books in stock. I remember meeting Cal Armistead years ago there, and her telling me she was shopping for an agent. Then she had one. Then she’d sold Being Henry David. Then it was in stores, and earning glowing reviews. It couldn’t happen to a nicer person. Here’s Cal:

Cal Armistead has been a writer since age 9, when she submitted her first book, The Poor Macaroni Named Joany to a publisher. Sadly, this literary gem did not make it to print. But Cal continued pursuing her lifelong passion, and wrote copiously for radio, newspapers and magazines (Cal has been published in The Chicago Tribune, Shape Magazine, Body & Soul Magazine, Christian Science Monitor, Chicken Soup for Every Mom’s Soul and others). Although it took years for Cal to try her hand again at fiction writing, her first young adult novel (Being Henry David) was published by Albert Whitman & Co. on March 1, 2013. Cal holds an MFA in creative writing from the Stonecoast program at the University of Southern Maine, works at an independent book store, is a voice-over actress, sings semi-professionally, and lives in a Boston suburb with her amazing husband and a dog named Layla.

Find Cal on Twitter and Facebook.


Check out these brilliant authors and their brilliant books. Thanks again, Sarah!  

Monday, November 4, 2013

Book Blogging & Creative Writing in an Author Community: the Author in Residence Program at Chenery Middle School

            Since 2010, I’ve visited Chenery Middle School in Belmont, MA every year to give author presentations and creative writing workshops to the fifth grade. Belmont rolls out the red carpet for authors! I love the enthusiasm I find there in the teachers, in the administration, in the library, and in the kids.

Over the summer of 2012, Chenery library media specialist Karen Duff proposed we try something different. We met at Starbucks and she outlined for me her vision of a yearlong program that would harness the kids’ enthusiasm for creative writing and sustain it beyond an annual author visit. Together we brainstormed and developed an ambitious author-in-residence initiative to engage and instruct 300 fifth grade students in:
·       Avid, thoughtful, enthusiastic reading
·       Relentless creative writing
·       Revising and preparing their work for publication
·       Peer critiquing skills as part of participation in an author community
·       Digital publishing tools
·       Safe and appropriate social media engagement

We might have been a little crazy. But we believed it was possible. Karen and I wanted the kids to live like authors live for a year – reading the way authors do, writing freely and regularly, revising bravely, critiquing kindly, publishing professionally, and responding thoughtfully. I thought of it as a 5th-grade MFA.
The program that emerged from our planning was made possible with support from the fifth grade teachers at Chenery, the PTO, the Foundation for Belmont Education, and the wonderful students and families themselves, who responded enthusiastically to the program.
            Our author-in-residence initiative kicked off in November with a two-day author visit. I gave a creative writing assembly presentation “Adventures with Stories” that walked through the storytelling process and reviewed the essential elements of fiction. Afterwards, I met with each class for hands-on creative writing workshops entitled “Let’s Make a Story” where they used what they’d learned to develop their own ideas, characters, and plots, step-by-step. Here's a playlist of short clips from the workshop. 


Karen unveiled the new feature for this year’s initiative: blogging between the classes and me about books and creative writing. Over the year I read titles along with the class and composed blog posts about them with accompanying writing prompts, and the students blogged back responses to the book and the prompts. I tried to reply to as many blog posts as I could with individual feedback, but the response to the blogs was overwhelming.  I also posted to a general creative writing blog with periodic musings on the creative process, and more writing prompts. Teachers assigned blog responses as homework for the kids, so they learned how to log into the blog from any location and enter their responses. The classics we discussed together were (links will take you to the blog posts about each title): Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, Fromthe Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsberg, Esio Trot by Roald Dahl, Holes by Louis Sachar, Love that Dog by Sharon Creech, and a collection of folk tales. (Visit the blog at chenerybookblog.blogspot.com. Word to the wise: "CFG" is shorthand for "Chenery Fifth Graders." Do visit the blog links -- these kids' posts will amaze and amuse.)
The blog was kept anonymous and moderated by Karen Duff, who coached students on how to compose respectful, relevant blog comments on the titles and prompts. Students and teachers drew from the blogs to develop new creative stories and to enrich their reading experience as they examined titles from an author’s point of view. In a year-end survey we conducted about the program, more than half of the students called the blogs a high point of the entire program. They loved interacting with an author online.
Author Erin Moulton & a fan, Winter Book Festival.
In early December, we put together a Winter Book Festival and Author Panel for the entire school. We invited other authors to discuss their titles, sign copies, and meet with students and parents at an evening event. Jack Ferraiolo (Sidekicks, The Big Splash, The Quick Fix), Erin Dionne (The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet, Moxie and the Art of Rule-breaking), Erin Moulton (Flutter, Tracing Stars, and new release Chasing the Milky Way), Diana Renn (Tokyo Heist), and I rounded out the lineup. Author Diana Renn told me afterwards that the best part of the evening was having so many of the kids tell her, “You’re an author? I’m an author too!” These were fist-pumping moments for Karen and me.

As the winter progressed, students worked on creative pieces derived from our first workshop and the writing prompts. Most students wrote at least four or five pieces, while a few enthusiasts reported writing 20 or more!
Revision workshop in February
In February, I returned to the classroom to give a new revision workshop I developed specifically for this program. The workshop, “The Revision Show,” leads students through a fun, interactive set of worksheets and guided exercises focusing on eliminating confusion and fluff; using stronger, zippier verbs; maximizing word choice; and manipulating the flow of time. This was harder, more cerebral work, but Chenery’s fifth graders rose to the challenge. They turned around and started holding me accountable for following my own suggestions! Brilliant.
Author Tea: Karen & I present awards as parents watch.
Working with the students to develop their own stories encouraged kids to see themselves as strong writers and creative thinkers. Other the year, they got to see their own progression, from their initial pieces, replies to prompts, and efforts in the revision workshop, to honing their editing and self-publishing skills. In the spring, a combined Author’s Tea and end of year party commemorated their hard work over the year as students presented a complete portfolio of their pieces to parents and peers. It was a well-deserved celebration of the kids’ creative growth and animated interest in reading. 
Silliness hoping to inspire a student writers' club. 

We hoped they would start to see the vital role author communities play in developing a writer's craft. Few writers work in utter isolation. Critiquing others' work, and having one's own work critiqued, cultivates vital editing skills that help all writers move from ebullient creativity to polished work worth sharing. Plus, it's fun. I urge students everywhere to form writing clubs. It's wonderful to see them popping up in middle and high schools everywhere, led by inspired teachers and librarians. 
By integrating reading, creative writing, and online media, Chenery’s author-in-residence program created a unique overlap between a classical grounding in literature and storytelling and a primer of modern communication skills. The excitement of doing something groundbreaking showed everywhere throughout the year. I was honored to be part of it.

The project team and I will present at the National Council of Teachers of English 2013 Annual Convention this month (November) to discuss the program and how to adapt it for other schools and grade levels. Our presentation, “Book Blogging & Creative Writing in an AuthorCommunity: Integrating reading, writing, digital publishing, and social mediaskills in the fifth grade classroom,” will be Saturday, November 23rd, from 4:15 – 5:30 p.m..
            We hope to take what we learned in this ambitious pilot year and fine-tune it for future years. I would love to see more schools develop similar programs, and Karen and I would be happy to talk with any schools considering it about what we learned along the way. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Next Big Thing blog tour: All the Truth That's In Me

Hannah Barnaby, acclaimed author of Wonder Show (2012, Houghton) was my first graduate school writing mentor. She slogged with me through the jungle of the first novel I ever wrote, one which will never see the light of day, and never once told me to sharpen my skills at my day job. I owe her hugely.

Hannah recently participated in The Next Big Thing Blog Tour, which started in Australia and is now looping its way from blog to blog around the cosmos. She tapped me in her blog post as her NEXT Next Big Thing nominee, so I’ll now answer the questions and pass the baton. But first, a little about Wonder Show. In Hannah's own words, it's the story of a fourteen-year-old girl named Portia who finds herself with very few friends and no family at all, having been deposited in a home for wayward girls that is owned by the nefarious Mister. When a traveling carnival sideshow crosses Portia's path one day, she seizes the chance to run away and follows the Wonder Show folks on their dusty, dismal journey through post-Depression America. Read more about Hannah and Wonder Show here or on my earlier blog post here

My upcoming novel, All the Truth That’s in Me, releases September 26, 2013 from Viking – just under a month from now. Judith, a young woman living in a colonial village, has suffered a trauma that left her unable to speak. Years prior, she and her best friend went missing from their small village. Soon after, the friend’s body washed up in a river. When Judith returns two years later, she can’t speak. She’s assumed to bear moral guilt for what’s happened, so she becomes an outcast in her repressive, Puritanical community. All her life she’s been in love with a young man named Lucas, but he’s beyond her reach forever, now. The whole book is written as an address to him – not as a letter, but as an outpouring of all her thoughts to him – as though she’s telling him all that she would, if she could.

Now for the questions.

1) What was the working title of your book?
As I wrote it, I called it Lucas, since it was addressed to him – he was the “you” of the book, and the focal point of Judith’s preoccupation. In hindsight, I’m glad my editor prevailed upon me to choose better.
2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
I was reading a discussion in a craft book about point of view in literature, and I read about the infrequent use of second person narration. I thought, “Hm. I wonder if I could write a second person novel?” So I opened my laptop and let my mind wander. The first line of the novel popped into my head, followed in rapid succession by the entire first (short) chapter. I had tons left to figure out, but I definitely felt I was on to something. As it turned out, what I’d written wasn’t true second person, since the “you” figure was a character within the story (as opposed to the reader). That’s okay. Any prompt that gets you writing is a good one, even if the result isn’t quite what you’d planned.
3) What genre does your book fall under?
It’s definitely young adult. People call it historical, because it’s set in the past, but it’s not affixed to an actual historical period, so I’m not sure that’s quite right. It’s a made-up place and time that feels like Colonial America, but isn’t ever specifically named as such. It’s realistic fiction, and it’s been called a romance, a mystery, and a thriller. A YA romystiller?
4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Oh, I am terrible at these questions. I don’t watch enough TV or movies to know who’s who. A disproportionate number of the characters in the movies I do watch are comic book monsters or Orcs. I suppose I can’t cast Lady Arwen and Legolas?  

(I did not just say that, did I?) 
My husband, indie film actor Phil Berry, nominated Chloe Grace Moretz as Judith. As for Lucas, I’m at a loss. Suggestions welcome! 

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
"Judith can’t speak, but she can lay down her life to save her village if it offers a hope of survival to Lucas, whom she loves from afar – but doing so resurrects ghosts and secrets better left forgotten, and exacts from Judith a painful price to tell her tale."
Oof, that’s a monster of a sentence. Where’s an editor when you need one?
6) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

See #2.

7) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
So far, the international markets have been very receptive to All the Truth That’s in Me, which will appear in 12 other countries or territories outside the US and Canada. Reviewers have been kind, too; the novel has three stars so far. On a more personal level, I think Lucas is pretty swoon-worthy, but then, I might be biased. Check out a 35-page excerpt of the novel here
Next on the Next Big Thing blog trail, check out my dear and funny friend Erin Dionne


Friday, August 9, 2013

Two Great Books That Eat Well Together

What do picture book The Day the Crayons Quit and middle grade novel Counting by 7s have in common? Absolutely nothing.



Except that they’re both published by Penguin, and that I got to hobnob with illustrator Oliver Jeffers (of Crayons fame) and author Holly Goldberg Sloan (7s) at a promotional dinner at ALA in Chicago. They were witty; they sparkled; between courses, they had the audience in stitches.

Look at Oliver. This should surprise no one. 

Doesn't Holly look like your best friend since forever? That's what meeting her feels like. 

Here, then, for your dining pleasure, are their books.


In The Day the Crayons Quit (a New York Times #1 bestseller! Give a cheer!), Duncan’s crayons have had enough. They’ve been overused and underappreciated, they’ve colored outside the lines, and they dream of different things to draw. Each crayon complains to Duncan through a series of letters accompanied by Jeffers’s illustrations (in crayon, of course). Twelve hilarious crayons create a colorful (ahem) cast of personalities and grievances. Woebegone Black, for instance, pines for a black beach ball to color, while overworked Red and Blue are at their wits’ end. The entire 49-cent box has a swelling sense of empowerment kids will appreciate and parents will giggle at – it’s collective bargaining, Crayola style. Filmmaker/author Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers skewer clich├ęd coloring with tongue-in-cheek encouragement to think outside the box. Recommended for readers – and artists – of all ages. A fabulous gift for preschoolers through second graders who are sampling the delights – and the power – of drawing and writing. Find it at your local bookstore.


Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan was a story I couldn’t leave behind when it ended. I moped around for days, wishing I could go back into Willow Chase’s life for a while. I woke up insanely early on a Saturday morning to finish it before the other inmates of the Berry home could devour my attention, and if you know me, you’ll know how reluctantly I relinquish my Saturday sleep-in. This is a book well worth any sleep it costs you.

In this contemporary middle grade novel, girl genius and middle school outsider Willow Chase’s comforting, orderly world of gardens, diagnosing medical maladies, and counting by sevens vanishes in a moment when her parents’ death by car crash leaves her utterly alone. Grief overwhelms her, but like a stubborn seedling determined to break through tough soil, Willow grows, gradually, almost imperceptibly, as she constructs for herself the unlikeliest of new families.

Willow’s resolve knits together a motley crew, at times most unwillingly. There’s Willow’s fiery older friend Mai Nguyen; Mai’s surly brother Quang-ha, and their force-of-nature mother Pattie; Jairo, the taxi driver trying to pull himself up by his bootstraps; and Dell Duke, a professional underachiever, slob bachelor, and delinquent school counselor. Holly weaves these masterfully specific and memorable characters into a compassionate, warm, at times hilarious narrative. The writing is lovely; the people will never leave you. An engrossing and tender novel for middle schoolers on up through teens and adults; a book that absolutely should top your gift-giving list for young readers. Counting By 7s releases August 29th, 2013; pre-order it now through your local bookstore.

To quote, as I so often do, "Guy" from Galaxy Quest, "I'm just jazzed to be on the show," rubbing elbows on the same list with books like these. Enjoy. And get used to me talking about these books, because that's what I'll be doing everywhere I go this fall.