Blogger Block Party & ARC Contest Winner

Thanks to all who visited a bunch of new bloggers to welcome them to the neighborhood at my little online block party last week!  As promised, I put everyone’s name in a drawing for an ARC of SUGAR AND ICE, but things…er…didn’t go quite as planned.

You see, when I asked my daughter what might be a fun way to do the drawing, she suggested that we let one of her pet Dumbo rats choose the winner.  So we put all the names on a blanket on the floor. 

Then we got Guy (rhymes with "tree" – he is a French-Canadian rat) out of his cage and put him down on the blanket with orders to run to whichever post-it note he liked best.

Unfortunately, Guy just milled around for several minutes and flat out refused to pick a winner. Must be he knows what nice people all the entrants are and couldn’t pick just one. So we fired Guy, put him back in his cage and got Chester out instead.  Chester took full advantage of his freedom, not to choose a winner but to dart under the couch. So once we got HIM back in the cage, we went the old names-in-a-hat route.

I know…not very original. But at least it was a fancy hat.

And the winner is…

 , please drop me an email with your mailing address, and I’ll get your ARC in the mail this week. (no thanks to Chester and Guy!)

Thank you: An Open Letter to the Association of Booksellers for Children

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Dear Indie Booksellers,

I have been thinking all day about what I could write that might possibly express how truly grateful I feel about THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. winning the E.B. White Read Aloud Award at BEA last night.

First, I thought I’d say thanks for all that you do — for authors and teachers and librarians, for families like mine and kids like my students — every day.  You cheer for our books, help our kids grow into young adults, help our young adults find their places in the world, and make our communities stronger. I was a fan of yours long before I had a book in your stores.

Then I thought might tell you a funny story about where I was – making dinner, still dripping wet from my first lake swim of the season – when my agent called from New York to share the news. 

But the truth is, I can’t even think about this award for too long without getting tears in my eyes. Because reading aloud is a very big deal in my world.

When I was growing up, the youngest of four kids in a busy house, I was always on the lookout for someone who might want to read to me. When my parents, brothers, and sister grew weary, I’d wait in the kitchen for unsuspecting visitors.  As soon as the doorbell rang, I’d run for the bookshelf.  My parents still have photos of a preschool me, bringing piles of books to the table at their dinner parties, hoping to find a reader.

When I became a parent, reading aloud became a huge part of my life again. It doesn’t matter that everyone in our house is an independent reader now; read-aloud time is a treasured part of every day.  Curled up by the fireplace in winter. On the deck by the lake in summer.  And just before bed at night.  I have read the end of CHARLOTTE’S WEB aloud more times than I can count, and never without tears. I have read every word of all seven Harry Potter books out loud – twice – since my kids are five years apart and were ready for them at different times. And my daughter and I were reading Grace Lin’s WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON, one of the other E.B. White finalists, the week the short list was announced. I’d picked up a signed copy at Flying Pig Bookstore after Grace’s author visit, when Elizabeth and Josie told me how much I’d love it.  They were right.

In addition to writing books for kids, I teach 7th graders. I read aloud to them almost every day.  No…they are not too old for read-alouds.  And yes…I do all the voices. We started our school year with Rebecca Stead’s WHEN YOU REACH ME. The kids voted on their next read-aloud by class, so one group listened to Ann Burg’s ALL THE BROKEN PIECES, while two more heard Nora Raleigh Baskin’s ANYTHING BUT TYPICAL and one shivered its way through Neil Gaiman’s THE GRAVEYARD BOOK.  We just finished Laurie Halse Anderson’s CHAINS as a whole team read-aloud, and by the time the last page was turned, Isabel and Curzon felt as real to my students as their classmates.

Reading aloud in the classroom holds special magic for kids who aren’t always successful in school, kids who might not have had those experiences at home. A guidance counselor stopped by my room one morning to let me know that one of my kids was having a particularly rough day and probably wouldn’t make it through class. When he arrived, I could tell he wasn’t himself, and he came up to me right away to tell me he was leaving for the study room so he wouldn’t get in trouble.

 “I can write you a pass to go if you want,” I said, “but we’re reading for most of the period because we’re at that good part. Do you want to give it a try and see how it goes?”

 He nodded and went to his seat, and I kept an eye on him as I read. I watched the story change his afternoon. I watched his hands unclench and his face relax, and watched him leave in a better place than he was when he came. And it wasn’t my doing; it was Isabel and Curzon, I think, who made him feel like things might be okay, and it was those funny British soldier wives who made him laugh.  I saw him later in the day, too, and he still seemed to be doing all right.  I wasn’t surprised.  Stories stay with us.  They nurture us, long after the reading is through.

So anyway, indie booksellers, this is my big, long way of saying thanks.  That gold sticker with the spider web means an awful lot to this reader.

 With much gratitude,


Fireworks in the Garden…and some thoughts on Science and Art

Even though I planted them years ago, these flowers in my garden always manage to surprise me when they bloom.

Somehow, I never remember that big, bursting, blue fireworks are going to appear, and I’m always delighted.  This is a big, blue fireworks sort of post…because some ideas in life and writing show up that way, I find.

I’ve been kind of quiet about my current work-in-progress because it’s different than anything else I’ve written. It’s a new genre for me —  upper-MG dystopian — and the draft is happening faster than most.  I think that’s partly because of my excitement for the project, partly because the proposal is already with my editor, and partly because using Scrivener for planning and note-taking along the way makes things move along more quickly.

Anyway, I got to a point this weekend where the characters and the plot and the themes were all pushing me to stop for a little while and think…about science and art and where the two intersect.  Should they intersect?  And when we insist on separating the two, do we lose some of the potential for each?

Since I live with a scientist (my husband’s a meteorologist), I asked him what he thought, and his initial reaction was no…art has no place in the science of forecasting.  But what about those times when two or three meteorologists look at the exact same set of data, the exact same numbers and models, and come to different conclusions about what a storm will do?  Might some of that intuitive stuff be considered art?  (He didn’t like this idea much.)  Eventually, we got to the thought that even though there probably is an artistic element at work, scientists always feel safer discussing the numbers.

And then…I was reading a few more pages of ART AND FEAR by Bayles and Orland (thank you, all of you who recommended that recently!) and there in the middle of a paragraph about artists writing about process is a mention of Watson and Crick, the scientists who discovered the structure of DNA and kept detailed journals of their process.  Just dropped into the middle of a bunch of photographers and painters as if it were a foregone conclusion that scientists are artists, too.  Of course they are.

I am still thinking about all of this.   And have requested this book from my library….

…hoping for more fireworks.

Welcome to the Blogosphere Block Party! (and ARC giveaway!)

When Jo Knowles, Carrie Jones, and I gave our workshop about blogging at the New England SCBWI Conference last weekend, we talked a lot about community, about how one of the unexpected benefits of a blog is the very real, live-and-in-person friendships that can grow out of it. But sometimes when you’re just starting out in the blog world, it can feel like you’re posting away and the only one reading is your mom. (*waves to Mom*)  So I had this idea…

A Welcome-to-the-Blogosphere BLOCK PARTY! 

(with virtual brownies and a chance to win an ARC of SUGAR AND ICE)

Last week, I asked anyone with a newish blog to drop me a comment or email.  Look at all the new voices here!

Ginger Johnson
Kathi Appelt
Sarah Mullen Gilbert

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to turn up the music, pour yourself a cold drink, and visit each of these blogs some time this week. Leave a comment to introduce yourself and say hi.  After you do that, stop back here and let me know by leaving a comment, and I’ll enter you in a drawing to win a signed ARC of SUGAR AND ICE, my middle grade figure skating novel that’s due out from Walker/Bloomsbury in December.   How about we set next Saturday night at midnight EST as the deadline, okay?

(This cover, by the way, is not final-final, but it’s pretty darn close and is the cover on the ARC. Like the cover for THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. the art is by Joe Cepeda, who is pretty much a god in my book. He has captured Claire’s spirit perfectly here.)

THIS MEANS WAR by Ellen Wittlinger

In Ellen Wittlinger’s new middle grade novel THIS MEANS WAR, Juliet Klostermeyer is a typical bike-riding, roller skating, candy-bar-eating kind of kid, navigating the changes that always come with growing up. Her parents argue, her older sister keeps kicking her out of their shared bedroom to listen to music and talk about boys with her friend, and Juliet’s best guy friend is hanging out with new neighborhood boys instead of her.  Typical kid stuff.

But the year is 1962. The Cuban Missile Crisis is looming large over Juliet’s Air Force base town, and she is afraid. In a voice that is equal parts funny and poignant, Wittlinger captured that feeling perfectly in passages like this one, when Juliet reacts to a news bulletin and speech from President Kennedy on TV:

Juliet had her legs tucked underneath her and her arms wrapped around her chest; she hadn’t moved through the whole speech. "I wanted to watch Mister Ed with Mom," she said, and then the tears began to trickle down her cheeks. It suddenly seemed as if President Kennedy and the Russians and the newscasters had all stolen something precious from her that she could never get back.

And this one…just a few pages later, when Juliet looks to her teacher for reassurance:

Juliet tried to look deep into Mrs. Funkhauser’s eyes to see if she was telling the truth about not being worried. But it was hard to tell with teachers.  They all looked like they had varnish on their faces — it was hard to see if there were any cracks underneath the shine.

(As a teacher, I particularly love that line!)

A contest between the boys and girls of the neighborhood serves as a great way to lighten the feeling of menace for a while, but even that challenge, which starts with things like running races and roller skating, escalates.  It ends up serving as a great allegory for the kind of one-upsmanship that punctuates international relations in this period of history.

Overall, THIS MEANS WAR is a funny and wonderful book that will really give middle grade readers a sense for what it was like to be a kid in October of 1962.  Highly recommended, and it would make a terrific class read-aloud. (Recommendation based on a review copy sent to me by Simon & Schuster)

Now I need to read Deb Wiles’ book COUNTDOWN, also about the Cuban Missile Crisis, which I’ve heard is terrific as well. Sounds like these two would be great paired together with some nonfiction about this period in history!

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New to the KidLit Blog World?

Would you do me a favor? 

If you are a children’s writer or illustrator — published or unpublished — with a relatively new blog, would you drop me a note in the comments to let me know your username (for LJ) or the URL if it’s another blogging platform?  In an upcoming post, I’d like to share a list of newer bloggers so that those of us who have been here a little longer can say a proper welcome.

For example,   is a writer who attended the blogging workshop that Carrie Jones, Jo Knowles, and I presented at NESCBWI this past weekend.  She’s just posted her first blog entry, with some gorgeous pictures of where she lives, and I know she’d love it if you dropped by her new blog to say hi.

Who else out there has a shiny new blog that some of us might not have discovered yet?  Don’t be shy… Leave a comment so we can all say hello, okay?

More Moments from #NESCBWI10

Are you awake?

That was the subject line of the email in my box early Sunday morning at the New England SCBWI Conference. It was Loree Griffin Burns, summoning me for a hike. She needed some exercise and fresh air and knew a trail nearby. Did I want to come along?  I did!  I just barely caught Loree in the parking lot, and off we went.

After a few minor wrong turns (we were exploring…we weren’t lost), we climbed to the top of some gorgeous rock ledges.

This little guy joined us to enjoy the view for a little while before his owners caught up to him.

Then it was back to the hotel for Kelly Fineman’s workshop on free verse poetry, which was as interesting and informative as I knew it would be. If you love poetry, Kelly’s blog is the place to be – she’s   here on LJ.

I had to sneak out of Kelly’s session the tiniest bit early to get ready for my last presentation of the conference, a panel on blogging with two smart, kind friends, Jo Knowles and Carrie Jones

The audience members had great questions about blogging, how to balance personal and professional selves online, and dealing with friend requests. (Just for the record, if you are a friendly, nice person, I am happy to be your friend just about anywhere, online or in real life!)  I’m in the process of converting our presentation for SlideShare, so it will be available on all of our blogs, along with all the links, later this week.

Overall, the conference was absolutely fantastic, thanks in large part to all the volunteers who made it happen, especially the ever-energetic co-directors, Anindita Basu Sempere and Greg Fishbone.  I’m already looking forward to next year!

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Moments from the NESCBWI Conference

I’m in Fitchburg, MA this weekend for the New England Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Conference, and this morning, I’m up early and pretty much overwhelmed with gratitude that I get to be part of this world. It’s been an amazing conference so far. Among the highlights…

  • Hearing Allyn Johnston & Marla Frazee discuss their editor/illustrator collaboration.
  • Listening the inspirational Cynthia Leitich Smith talk about change and challenges in a writing life.
  • A long and unhurried dinner conversation with smart, funny, kind friends. Good pizza, too.
  • Seeing my awesome agent, Jennifer Laughran, in real life for the second time. We live on opposite coasts, and almost all of our conversations are via email, so getting to talk and laugh together face to face is a treat.
  • Giving my workshop on Skype author visits, having all the technology work well, and hearing people say it was helpful.
  • A late-night conversation with Harper editor Molly O’Neill about one of the projects she’s been working on. Listening to Molly tell the story of acquiring a YA novel called YOU that releases in August, I was so impressed with her passion for the book. I think as writers, we’re used to hearing other writers gush about their characters with that kind of excitement, but we don’t often get a chance to hear editors talk about their work. It was a great reminder that they care about our words and stories just as much as we do, and that these are their book-babies, too.  Also, I am now dying to read YOU.
  • Having Jo Knowles & Carrie Jones sign a couple books for my classroom library. (*waves to students*  I am bringing you presents!)  Here are a few photos from yesterday’s book signing. 

Marla Frazee signs ALL THE WORLD, with Frank Dormer & Erin Dionne as autographing neighbors.

Here’s Erin Dionne visiting with a reader/writer friend. See the stacks of Oreos?  Erin brought them to go along with her terrific tween novel MODELS DON’T EAT CHOCOLATE COOKIES.  Because the signing was many hours after lunch, this made Erin very popular.  Erin is funny and wonderful and popular anyway, but you know…Oreos always help.

Here’s Jo Knowles, signing a copy of JUMPING OFF SWINGS.

Here’s Jo, Cynthia Lord, and me at our signing table. See the blue book between Cindy and me?  It’s an ARC of her upcoming novel TOUCH BLUE, a middle grade book set on an island in Maine, and I had a chance to read it recently. It’s beautiful and full of heart, like her Newbery Honor Book RULES, but special in its own different ways, too.  Look for it in August.

The photo that I don’t have but wish I did?

Cindy crawling UNDER the table and emerging from beneath the white tablecloth so she could get over to a different table to have Matt Phelan sign a book. Our signing table was long and pushed back close to the wall, so in order to get out from behind it, you had to squeeze past the other people signing, stepping and tripping over bags and backpacks.  Cindy’s shortcut was much faster.

On the agenda today? A free verse poetry workshop with Kelly Fineman that I’ve had my eye on since the conference program was first released. Kelly is a gifted poet, and I’m looking forward to hearing her talk and taking some ideas back to my creative writing class, especially since a few of our kids are working on free verse novels as their extended projects.  Then I’m talking about blogging on a panel with Jo Knowles and Carrie Jones.

I’ll leave you with the question Linda Urban asked that got us all thinking at dinner last night…  Is there a project that you’ve always wanted to do but don’t feel ready to write yet? 

Those of you who read this blog regularly know I’m a big fan of dystopian novels.  I’ve always kind of wanted to write one, but I never felt like I had the right idea at the right time until this spring, when things came together in my head for an upper middle grade dystopian that I’ve been writing fast and furiously.  My agent recently sent a proposal to my editor, so my fingers are crossed.  And it turns out that a couple other people at our dinner table are in the same place…just beginning to work on that "someday project."

What about you?  Is there a book that you’ve been waiting for the right time, the right inspiration to write? 

Making Time

"…there is nothing you can buy, achieve, own, or rent that can fill up that hunger inside for a sense of fulfillment and wonder. But the good news is that creative expression, whether that means writing, dancing, bird-watching, or cooking, can give a person almost everything that he or she has been searching for: enlivenment, peace, meaning, and the incalculable wealth of time spent quietly in beauty."

~from Anne Lamott’s essay "Time lost and found" 

This piece is one of a million reasons I am in awe of Anne Lamott. You can read the full essay here.