Proud to Live in NY

Empire State Building lit in Rainbow colors – 6/24 – via @ThinkProgress

Tonight, NY Senator Stephen Saland stood up on the floor and explained how his parents taught him to treat people equally, to treat them with respect. That’s why he broke with his party to support New York’s Marriage Equality Act, which passed 33-29.

My parents taught me that, too, and I couldn’t be happier.


Over the past couple years, I’ve participated in quite a few bookstore events and children’s book festivals. Sometimes, kids who aren’t quite the right age for my books stop by my table. I’ve had three, four, and five-year-old kids pick up my middle grade novels, frown, and then look up at me with big eyes. “Do you have any books for me?”

The next time that happens, I’ll be able to say, “Yes!! Yes, I do!”

My first picture book, SEA MONSTER’S FIRST DAY, is out today from Chronicle Books!

My editor there, Melissa Manlove, had an early draft of this book on her desk a long time and helped me realize that my original book about a sea monster’s life in a lake full of fish (I think it was called CONFESSIONS OF A SEA MONSTER at the time) was really full of all the feelings a kid feels starting school.  Worries about fitting in. Building confidence to try new things.  She helped me shape this book into the first-day-of-school story it is now, and I’m so, so glad.

In the same email my editor Melissa wrote with her offer to buy this book, she told me that Chronicle already knew the perfect illustrator — Andy Rash.  I looked at his website and agreed that Andy’s bright, funny style would be a great match for my enthusiastic little sea monster. You can see more of his work here.

And here’s more about SEA MONSTER’S FIRST DAY:

Starting school is a big job, and it’s an even bigger job when you’re a sea monster! There are books to read, songs to sing, and field trips to take, but the biggest job can be making good friends. This funny, charming twist on the worries and joys of starting school will reassure and delight the smallest children and the biggest sea monsters alike.

Publishers Weekly called it “a splashy story about fitting in,” which I love because when I signed an early copy of this book for Chloe, a soon-to-be-kindergartner at the Hudson Children’s Book Festival this spring, I wrote, “Make a SPLASH in kindergarten!”

If you’d like a personalized, signed copy of SEA MONSTER’S FIRST DAY for your little sea monster, or kindergartner or preschooler, or a teacher you know… I’ll be signing books at two great independent bookstores that have offered to host virtual signings, too!

You can call The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid, NY at (518) 523-2950, no later than July 15th.  Or you can call Flying Pig Books in Shelburne, VT 802-985-3999 no later than July 8th. I’ll sign your books during my July events, and then the stores will ship them to you.

Better yet, join me for one of the Sea Monster reading & signing events!

Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, VT – Saturday, July 9th at 10am (with author Eric Luper signing JEREMY BENDER & THE CUPCAKE CADETS, too!)

The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid, NY – Saturday, July 16 from 3-5 pm (with regional authors Jim Krause, Tal Birdsey, Jacqui Marty, & Wynant Vanderpoel)

If you’d like to read more about the inspiration for SEA MONSTER’S FIRST DAY, I talked all about it in this guest post with Amanda Hoving this week. Hint: yes, it’s based on a real lake monster…and yes…I’ve seen it.  I think.

Hope you have a fantastic, splashy start to summer!

What I’ve Been Reading

I’m long overdue for a bookish blog post, so here’s a quick rundown of some books I’ve read & loved lately.

ME, JANE by Patrick McDonnell is one of those books that I knew was special the minute I picked it up. First, it’s a beautifully designed book, with thick, lovely paper that feels just right for the story of a girl who grew up with big dreams. This picture book biography of Jane Goodall was actually a gift from my editor at Scholastic — a gift that came to my house addressed not to me, but to my character, third grader Marty McGuire.  I laughed and loved the book, as I know Marty would have. Truly, it’s a great book for any kid who loves animals and adventure.

IT’S RAINING CUPCAKES by Lisa Schroeder spent months on my “currently reading” shelf on GoodReads because I was reading it during silent reading time with my 7th grade students…and one of them kept giving me “that look.” (If you teach, you know the look…it’s the one that says, “I sure wish you would hurry up with that book because because I want it NOW.”) So I gave the book to the kid, figuring I’d finish when she was done. Only the book didn’t come back to me when she finished. She gave it to her friend, and that friend passed it on to another friend, and only now with the school year winding down, has it finally come home for me to read the rest. I understand now why it was gone all those weeks. IT’S RAINING CUPCAKES is warm and wonderful and absolutely charming.

Isabel is a kid who dreams of seeing the world, but what she gets is a view of her sleepy Pacific Northwest home town and her mother’s moods, which match the cloudy sky more often than not. While her mom is opening a cupcake shop that she hopes will finally make her happy, Isabel enters a baking contest for kids with a New York City trip as the grand prize. There are plenty of delicious cupcake scenes in this book to make readers drool (I am SO craving cupcakes now), but there’s more here, too — an honest, balanced look at life with a parent whose mood swings really affect the family, a realistic portrayal of friendships with all their ups and downs, and a snapshot of a small-town neighborhood that reminds us what makes local businesses and the communities they serve so special. Highly recommended, especially for older elementary and middle school readers who aren’t quite ready to make the leap to older YA titles.

THE CHIMPS OF FAUNA SANCTUARY is equal parts heartbreaking, and hopeful – and completely fascinating. Author Andrew Westoll spent several months volunteering at Fauna Sanctuary, a huge farm and sanctuary for retired and rescued lab chimpanzees. Its founder, Gloria Grow,has made it her life mission to give back to the chimps who have given up so much. The chimps’ stories are personal and heartbreaking; subjected to years of medical research, they are both psychologically and physically damaged. They’ve been infected with human viruses, undergone numerous surgeries, been knocked out repeatedly by dart guns, and separated from the family groups that are so important to their species. And yet…somehow on a farm in the Canadian countryside, they’ve found ways to begin healing and trusting again.

The author blends the very personal story of Gloria’s chimps with the history of human beings’ relationship with chimps, the debate over lab research and the Great Ape Protection Act, and the sociology of these fascinating animals with whom we share more than 94% of our DNA. This book is marketed as adult nonfiction, but I think it’s one that high school and older middle school students will find both fascinating and moving.

Usually, people say not to judge a book by its cover, but I think with this book…it’s okay. IMAGINARY GIRLS by Nova Ren Suma fits this gorgeous, haunting cover perfectly — it’s  fresh, evocative, stunningly written – and paints such an amazing sense of place in the Hudson Valley town where it’s set that the place itself feels like a living, breathing character. And in some ways…it is.

The story opens at the town’s reservoir, where Chloe and her captivating older sister Ruby are at a party. When Ruby encourages Chloe to swim across, Chloe makes a horrifying discovery in the middle of the reservoir — the body of a classmate, adrift in a rowboat. But things aren’t always what they seem, and when Chloe moves away for two years and then comes home to Ruby, things unravel even more until she can’t be sure what’s real — and what’s not. Saying much more would spoil too much, so I’ll leave it at this. IMAGINARY GIRLS is a gorgeously written book – you’ll want to read it slowly enough to savor the voice and the language. Highly recommended for high school – middle school teachers will want to read it first & decide which kids are mature enough to be a good fit for this one.

What about you? What have you read lately & loved?

Diamonds and Frogs

Last weekend, my family hit the road for a trip south, first to Fishkill, NY for the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators regional conference. I’d been asked to attend to receive SCBWI’s Crystal Kite Award for SUGAR AND ICE, but the day before we left, I got an email from the coordinator telling me the actual award hadn’t arrived yet. Would I still be able to come and…well…pretend to accept it?  Sure! After all, when you’re in a room full of children’s writers & illustrators, there’s no shortage of imagination.

I gave a short talk and asked the audience to ooh and ahh a bit over the invisible award for my invisible book (I forgot to bring a copy). And Nancy Castaldo presented me with a temporary substitute – a tiny Herkimer diamond, which made us all smile. The real Crystal Kite Award, I’m told, is lovely and will be sent shortly, so I’ll be sure to share a photo when it arrives.

After the conference, my family and I headed to New York for the rest of the weekend for a musical, some good food, and a little museum time.

I think my character Marty McGuire would LOVE this exhibit at the Museum of Natural History…

It features frogs from all over the world. Here are a couple of my favorites.

This African bullfrog amazed me. He (or she? hard to tell…) was the size of a small cantaloupe.

I’d like to see Marty McGuire sneak this one into school in her jacket…

And by the way…with all this frog-talk, it seems like a good time to say a big thank you to all of you who have shared MARTY MCGUIRE with your classes and kids and libraries. I’ve been blown away by the response and the letters I’m getting from kids and parents. One question that’s come up a lot is “When will there be another book in the series?”  And I’m happy to report that MARTY MCGUIRE DIGS WORMS is done, and Brian Floca is working on illustrations to get ready for a February 2012 release.  After that…well…stay tuned!

The Books They Loved Most

At the end of every school year, I ask my 7th graders to make a Top Ten books list — their favorite books of the school year, ranked in order. I use these to make a Team Favorites list that the kids use as a starting place for their own summer reading plans.  Many kids listed series rather than individual titles, so series are listed separately here. Planned series for which only one title is out now are listed on the stand-alone books list.  As for our ranking system, a book gets five points for each #1 ranking, three for a #2 rank, two for a #3,  and one point for an appearance in the top ten. All of the books listed below appeared on multiple top ten lists.

And do note…these are favorite books the student read this year; many also have favorites, especially in the MG genre, that don’t appear on this list because most kids have already read them by the time they get to me.

Ready? Here’s the list, starting with stand-alone titles.(All links are to IndieBound. Please support local booksellers when you can!)


Favorite Books

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Nothing by Janne Teller

Girl, Stolen by April Henry

Cracker: The Best Dog in Vietnam by Cynthia Kadohata

Raider’s Night by Robert Lipsyte

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

Halo by Alexandra Adornetto

Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall by Wendy Mass

Matched by Ally Condie

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson

Perfect by Natasha Friend

Warp Speed by Lisa Yee

Bitter End by Jennifer Brown

Dirty Little Secrets by C.J. Omololu

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

Alabama Moon by Watt Key

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Million Dollar Throw by Mike Lupica

Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson

The Mermaid’s Mirror by L.K. Madigan

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Impossible by Nancy Werlin

I Heart You, You Haunt Me by Lisa Schroeder

Stolen by Lucy Christopher

The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet by Erin Dionne

Where the Truth Lies by Jessica Warman

How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor

Last Shot by John Feinstein

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Break by Hannah Moskowitz

The Enemy by Charles Higson

What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones

White Cat by Holly Black

Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin

Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen

Sean Griswold’s Head by Lindsey Leavitt

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

The First Part Last by Angela Johnson

Tentacles by Roland Smith

Peak by Roland Smith

Middle School is Worse than Meatloaf by Jennifer L. Holm

Travel Team by Mike Lupica

The Summer of Moonlight Secrets by Danette Haworth

Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork

Trapped by Michael Northrop

The Candymakers by Wendy Mass


Favorite Series

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Maze Runner/Scorch Trials by James Dashner

A Child Called It,The Lost Boy, etc. by Dave Pelzer

Baseball Great by Tim Green

Need, Captivate, Entice by Carrie Jones

Life As We Knew It, Dead & the Gone, This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Twilight, New Moon, etc. by Stephenie Meyer

Chronicles of Vladimir Todd (8th Grade Bites, etc.) by Heather Brewer

Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard

Football Genius by Tim Green

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

The Clique by Lisi Harrison

Dork Diaries by Rachel Russell

Percy Jackson & the Olympians by Rick Riordan

Shiver, Linger by Maggie Stiefvater

Shadow Children (Among the Hidden, etc.) by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Gallagher Girls (Cross My Heart & Hope to Spy, etc.) by Ally Carter

Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce


That’s our list… Now it’s your turn. What were your Top Ten Books of the 2010-2011 school year?  We’d love to see your lists in the comments!

In lieu of profound words of wisdom…

Here are some geese that have been hanging out on the lake near our house lately.

I’m working on writing one novel right now, while simultaneously revising another. Blogging may be sparse for a while, and deep thoughts are currently reserved for those projects, but enjoy the goslings!