Hugs, Flags, and Award-Winning Sandwiches: A Visit to Birmingham Schools

This has been a whirlwind of a week for me so far in all of the best ways.  I spent three days as a visiting author in the Birmingham, Michigan School District, hanging out with amazing readers at Pierce, West Maple, and Quarton Elementary Schools.

On Monday morning, the Pierce kids and their librarian DaNita Bell greeted me with a flurry of American flags in honor of my mystery CAPTURE THE FLAG, which is one of Birmingham’s Battle of the Books titles this year.

After my morning presentations at Pierce, I had lunch with a small group of fifth grade readers, one of whom recently won a kids’ cooking contest. Gracie made her award-winning “Dice Up the Protein” sandwiches for our luncheon!

I loved my sandwich. It was an interesting mix of tuna and chicken salad with cucumber, lettuce, carrots, and tomatoe, plus a touch of horseradish for some added zing.  After the sandwiches, Alaina served a homemade cheesecake she made with her mom for dessert. Lunch heaven. And wonderful conversation, too!  My day ended with Pierce second graders interviewing me for the TV news program they put on the school cable channel.  Here I am with Amelia, who thinks she’d like to have a career in journalism when she is older. She’s off to a fine start!

On Tuesday, I visited West Maple Elementary. When I first arrived, some students were kind of hanging around the library. “They want to show you something,” their librarian, Mrs. Cornwall, said. It was this…

They’ve been working to create a Creativity Center in the library. It’s a place where anyone can go to write, or brainstorm, or just do any kind of creative work. The kids thought I might like to do some writing there during my breaks. (And they were right!)

I had so much fun talking with these students and answering questions that I forgot to take a photograph until they were all getting up to leave. But here they are…and you can see their lovely, bright library, too!

On Tuesday night, I visited the nearby community of Rochester, Michigan, which is hosting its Authors in April program this week. The organizers invited me to join them for the banquet, which was such a treat. I loved meeting the people in charge of this great program – all such great book lovers – and the librarians who host the authors, too!

School library media specialist Jenny Jones Bachman (center, in the photo above) was excited to tell me about some parent complaints that were filed after she started reading MARTY MCGUIRE to students at her school.  “She won’t wear cute clothes anymore!” one mom had lamented. Apparently, her daughter had decided to give up her princess outfits in favor of dressing like Marty for a while.

Jenny and I laughed about that, but I also promised to share a photo to prove that people who love mud and frogs and crayfish can put on fancier clothes sometimes, too. Here I am with Brian Floca, Marty McGuire illustrator (and 2014 Caldecott Medal Winner!) at the banquet last night, and yes…I am wearing a dress.
It was so nice to have some time to chat with Brian over dinner.  Sometimes, people assume that a book’s author and illustrator work together often and talk all that time, but that’s usually not the case. In fact, I’d only met Brian twice before this week – once for about three minutes when he signed a copy of MOONSHOT for my daughter at an ALA conference, and once right after the first MARTY MCGUIRE book came out. We sat side by side at the Scholastic booth signing for an hour but were so busy signing and chatting with readers that we didn’t really get to talk to one another.  So it was a treat to have some time to chat this week. I loved hearing about Brian’s research for LOCOMOTIVE and learning about his new projects in the works.
My last day of Birmingham visits was at Quarton Elementary School, and they rolled out the red carpet with a colorful greeting in the library.
The Quarton readers were just great.  When one student asked about the different stages a book goes through, I realized that I had two different books in my upcoming RANGER IN TIME series in my backpack, so I took them out for a little show and tell.
RANGER IN TIME is about a search and rescue dog who can time travel all over history to save people who need help. The first book in that new series, RANGER IN TIME: RESCUE ON THE OREGON TRAIL, comes out in January and is in the page proof stage now, so it’s looking more like a real book. Meanwhile, book 2 in the series is…still a mess.  I’ve been working on Draft #3 of RANGER IN TIME: DANGER IN ANCIENT ROME, so my current copy is all marked up with revision notes. (Just in case anyone’s wondering…the kids…or my editor…I finished revisions on the plane ride home. I’m going to read it one more time tomorrow & send it off to Scholastic!)
The Quarton kids sent me off to the airport with a giant group hug that still has me smiling.
And the Birmingham teachers and librarians were terrific, too!  On Monday evening, I gave a revision workshop for teachers and librarians at the public library. I so enjoyed writing with everyone and promised I’d share the PowerPoint presentation online. Here it is!

This is my second visit to Birmingham this spring, and both were such wonderful experiences. Many, many thanks to the Birmingham Education Foundation, Barbara Clark, and her whole team of school library media specialists for making me feel so welcome.

Diversity in KidLit: Update to THE GREAT GREENE HEIST challenge!

I’ve spent the past two days at school visits just outside Detroit, talking with kids about books & writing, and talking with their teachers and librarians, too. One thing I’m hearing over and over?  We need more diverse books for our students. CAPTURE THE FLAG, the first book in my Silver Jaguar Society mysteries with Scholastic, features three kid sleuths from diverse cultural backgrounds and is on the Battle of the Books list here in Birmingham this year. I’ve been telling kids who loved that book that they should look for this one in May…

I loved Varian Johnson’s THE GREAT GREENE HEIST and reviewed it in detail here.  This is the kind of book these Michigan readers will love; it’s the kind of book we need to see on the shelves more often in libraries and schools and bookstores everywhere. And while asking for diverse books is great, it’s not enough. That’s why I issued a bit of a challenge this week. Those of us who want to see more diverse books need to ask not only with words but also with our purchases, by supporting books like this one.

And a whole lot has happened since that blog post. After I ordered two copies of THE GREAT GREENE HEIST from one of my local indies, Flying Pig Books, a bunch of you commented to share that you were ordering books from your great local bookstores, too. (Yay! And thank you!)

Eight Cousins Bookstore in Falmouth, MA challenged fellow indie booksellers at Odyssey Bookshop to see who can handsell the most copies of THE GREAT GREENE HEIST in its first month.

Odyssey Bookshop accepted the challenge.

Author Shannon Hale blogged about that and urged other indies to join in the contest. 

Red Balloon Books in St. Paul, MN tweeted that they were up for the challenge, too!

The spoils for the winning bookstore have yet to be determined, but here’s a start…

I’m offering up a free hour-long Skype writing workshop that the winning store can use for an in-store event or give away to a great teacher-librarian customer.

And John Green has offered ten signed copies of THE FAULT IN OUR STARS to any bookstore in the U.S. that handsells at least 100 copies of THE GREAT GREENE HEIST in its first month of publication.


I suspect there will be more excitement to come.

Want to join us?

Let me know with a comment if you’re a reader or teacher/librarian who’s pre-ordering THE GREAT GREENE HEIST from your local bookstore.

Are you a bookseller? Let us know if you’re up for the Eight Cousins/Odyssey/Red Balloon handselling challenge!

Thanks to everyone who’s been tweeting and Facebooking and Tumblring (Tumbling?) to help spread the word.  Supporting books with diverse characters – with dollars as well as words – is the very best way to send a message that we want more colorful bookshelves for all of our readers.

More Than Words: A challenge for everyone who’s been asking for more diversity in kids’ books

There’s been a lot of talk lately on social media about diversity in the children’s literature community, and it is wonderful to see so many people asking for more of it. Authors, illustrators, readers, teachers, and librarians have had a lot to say about events like ReedPOP’s homogenous all-star panel of children’s literature “luminaries” proposed for BookCon. The message was clear – our world is more diverse than this, and many of us want the public face of children’s literature to show that. Census estimates show that about half of America’s five-year-olds are members of racial and ethnic minority groups now, and there has been a strong call for books that represent that reality.

Speaking up is one great way to ask for change. But buying books may be an even better way.

At the end of the day, publishing is a business that needs to make money to survive. Given that reality, the best way for readers to ask for more diversity in children’s literature is not with words and tweets and blog posts alone but also with dollars.

If you read my recent blog post on Varian Johnson’s new middle school heist novel, THE GREAT GREENE HEIST, you know how much I loved this book, because it’s incredibly well written, a page turner of a read, and full of diverse, complicated characters.  It is exactly the kind of book many of us have been asking to see more often. So let’s try asking with more than words.

THE GREAT GREENE HEIST comes out on May 27th. I am pre-ordering two copies from one of my local indies, Flying Pig Books in Shelburne, VT. I’m going to keep one for my family and give the other one away in a drawing here on my blog after it arrives.

Who wants to join me?

I’m not going to lie – I’d love to see this title on the NY Times Bestseller list. I’d like every kid to meet Jackson Greene and Gaby de la Cruz.  We may not accomplish that, but if everyone who has been asking for more diversity in children’s literature pre-orders a copy (or two) from a local independent bookstore in the next three weeks, it sure will send one heck of a message to the people in charge of our industry and our book tours and panels.  Let’s show them that we really do want to see more books like this – books with diverse characters, written by men and women of all different cultural backgrounds – and that we’ll support those books with more than just words.

P.S. Does it matter where you buy your copy? It does. local bricks-and-mortar bookstores are essential in getting all kinds of books in front of readers. Pre-ordering from an indie helps a book by a) making it more likely that title will land on the bestseller list and b) letting indie booksellers know that this is a book they’ll want to hand sell. Varian Johnson will also be signing copies of THE GREAT GREENE HEIST pre-ordered from one of his local independent bookstores, and I’ll add details about that soon.

The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson

I am really excited for this book to come out next month.

THE GREAT GREENE HEIST by Varian Johnson is an Ocean’s-Eleven-esque middle school heist novel, with a cast of characters that I love more than any I’ve met in a long, long time.

There’s Jackson Greene, the smart, charming eighth grade athlete and con artist who swears he’s reformed (and is mostly telling the truth). There’s his ex-friend-and-crush Gaby de la Cruz, the smart, socially conscious basketball player who gives Jackson a run for his money.  She’s running for student council president against Jackson’s nemesis, Keith Sinclair, and when word gets out that Keith might be planning to steal the election, Jackson and his team of co-conspirators plan a brilliantly multifaceted, high-tech caper to try and stop that from happening.

This book is smart, funny, and a real page turner – and it’ll be loved in different ways by different readers. Writers will study this one for its craft. I have a keen interest in the way writers of all ages use mentor texts to learn craft, so much so that I’m on a proposed panel on this topic for NCTE in the fall. I was intrigued by Varian’s nod to the works that served as inspiration for this book in his bio. They included OCEAN’S ELEVEN, THE WESTING GAME, SNEAKERS, THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, and STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN. I can imagine young writers using THE GREAT GREENE HEIST as a mentor text for their own heist and caper stories set in school. And writers of all ages may want to take note: this book is also an especially good example for how to write third person that slips seamlessly into different characters’ points of view.

Diverse groups of kids will be delighted to see faces on the cover that look like theirs, and when they open the book, they’ll find smart, authentic middle school kids who defy pretty much every stereotype known to man and woman. Athletic con artist Jackson is also a passionate member of the school’s underfunded botany club. That pretty cheerleader the boys are swooning over? She’s also a tech club member who knows how to code.

Teachers and librarians will appreciate all of that and more. This is the kind of book that I spent my whole middle school teaching career looking for, so I could put it into kids’ hands and say “This! You are going to love this one so much.”

THE GREAT GREENE HEIST comes out in May from Scholastic. I support independent bookstores, and if this title is on your reading list, I hope you’ll ask for it at your local indie.

Extraordinary Warren by Sarah Dillard

I still remember when my daughter and I read our first graphic novel in Jennifer and Matthew Holmes’ BABYMOUSE series six or seven years ago. We read all of them together, passed them back and forth, and laughed like crazy. There are just a handful of other graphic novels for this age group that share that kind of specialness (Jarrett Krosoczka’s LUNCH LADY series among them) so I was thrilled to see a charming newcomer – Sarah Dillard’s spunky EXTRAORDINARY WARREN: A SUPER CHICKEN.

I’d seen some of Sarah’s early art for this book at a retreat we both attended a while back, so when she asked if I’d like to review the final version, I jumped at the chance, and I’m so glad that I did.

Warren is a chicken who’s tired of the same old clucking and scratching and pecking. But none of the other chickens understand why.  (As a kid who grew up in a small town, boy could I relate to this!). So he sets off to find something more, and like so many of us small-town kids with big dreams, finds himself in a bit of danger, even though he doesn’t realize right away that the hungry, double-speaking rat he meets intends to have chicken for dinner. (“Chicken SUPREME!” Warren says proudly.) The young chicken also finds a mysterious egg, too, and along the way discovers that he really is an extraordinary friend.

I love the way this book balances the playful art of a picture book with the character development and story arc of a chapter book. Its bright illustrations blended with just the right amount of text will have great appeal for kids who still love picture books but also want to start tackling chapters. Hand it to your BABYMOUSE and LUNCH LADY fans who need another great character to love.

(Especially since I just saw some good news for Warren – a second book in the series, coming in October!)


I support independent bookstores. If you’d also like to see your locally owned book shops stay in your community, please consider asking for Warren at your local indie!

Shark Valley: An Everglades Bike Ride

When I was researching my science thriller WAKE UP MISSING, I spent a lot of time exploring the Florida Everglades, where the story is set. With my notebook, camera, and usually at least one of my kids, I went kayaking with alligators and hiking in some of Florida’s most gorgeous, remote (and also snake-filled) wilderness. Now that the book is out, I find that I can’t quite let go of my love for this place, so I convinced my family to join me on another Everglades adventure during our vacation last week.

The Shark Valley Visitor Center is the jumping off point for a fifteen-mile bike ride that loops through the Everglades and promises lots of wildlife encounters. We showed up bright and early one morning and set off on our bikes. It wasn’t long before we had our first encounter.

Mama alligator- note her striped babies in the background!

Because the bike path runs right along the water, we scared up some incredible birds, including an enormous blue heron that burst from the weeds just a few feet away from us as we were riding past. And of course, the alligators were everywhere.

When I say they were everywhere…I do mean everywhere. Including sprawled over the bike path. We saw this one from quite a distance.

The older man who rented us our bikes had warned us this might happen. “Just ride past them,” he said. “They won’t bother you.”

“It’s okay to do that?” I asked. “Even if they’re right on the path and there’s not much room?”

“If you’d feel better, you can get off your bike and walk it with the bike between you two,” he said. “But the alligator won’t care either way.”

The alligator in the photo above was on its way back into the high grass by the time we rode up to it.

After a few more miles, we got pretty comfortable “just riding past.”

Just before the halfway point on the Shark Valley Loop Road, there’s an observation tower. We parked our bikes and walked up to enjoy the view of the Everglades from above.

When we were just starting out on our ride, one of the regulars warned us that the return trip would be a lot more challenging with the wind against us. She was right; the last eight miles felt like twenty, but we were rewarded with one last surprise at the end of the trail — another mother alligator with her babies all around her (and on top of her, too!)

If anyone is spending time in South Florida and considering this bike ride, I can’t recommend it enough. If bringing your own bikes is an option, you’ll want to do that. (The rentals are just cruising bikes with no gears.) But either way, it’s a  spectacular way to see a truly amazing environment. If you want to rent bikes, get there early. We arrived right at 8:30 and all was well, but by the time we returned from our ride at noon, the parking lot was full, and there was a waiting list for rental bikes.Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and a camera.

You may want to bring snacks, too, but don’t leave them in the bike basket when you go up to the observation tower. When we returned to our bikes, they were covered in birds who’d made quick work of our granola bars – unwrapping and devouring them – and were about to make off with my sunglasses, too.  We were impressed with their resourcefulness and decided that a few granola bars was a small price to pay for three hours of fresh air, exercise, and wonder.

Thank you, Texas Librarians!

I enjoyed a whirlwind trip to Texas this week for the annual Texas Library Association Convention in San Antonio. I was ion the ground in the Lone Star State for all of 16 hours and made every one count.

View from my hotel window – Good morning, San Antonio!

My writing buddy on the hotel lobby balcony. This is a yellow crested night heron. I think he wanted to be in my book. He’ll have to settle for a blog post instead. When my feathered muse and I finished up work on Chapter 5, it was off to the convention Center!

Here’s the crowd for our author panel, “It Can’t Be Science! It’s Fiction!” It was pretty awesome to see so many librarians and teachers excited about putting science-related novels and chapter books  into kids’ hands.

And here are the members of our panel – BIG kudos to our organizers for taking care to include a mix of men and women. (Science doesn’t belong to one gender!)

First row, left to right: Moderator/Author Shirley Duke, Wendy Mass, Suzanne Selfors, Megan Frazer Blakemore. Second row, left to right: me, Nate Ball, Matthew Kirby

After the panel, Megan and I hurried off to sign books with the fabulous Bloomsbury team.

At my second signing with Scholastic, a team of Houston librarians came up to the table and let me know they were members of the committee that chose my mystery CAPTURE THE FLAG for their district’s Horned Toad Tales Award List. It was great to see the faces behind that honor and so, so nice to meet them all in person. It’s always such a gift to an author when a book ends up on a state or local award list. Usually, I don’t get to thank the people who put it there in person, so this was extra special.

Many, many thanks to the Bloomsbury & Scholastic teams and especially, to all of the Texas librarians who came by our panel and signings to say hello. Thanks for being awesome – and for putting books in kids’ hands every day.

Rhyme Schemer by K.A. Holt

I read some great books on my airplanes to and from the Texas Library Association Convention in San Antonio this week. On the way to Texas, I finished UPSIDE DOWN IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, a heartbreakingly wonderful Hurricane Katrina story from Julie Lamana. I loved this book & reviewed it here.

On the return trip, I read this…


The wonderful Tamra Tuller of Chronicle Books put RHYME SCHEMER by K.A. Holt into my hands when I stopped by the booth to say hello on Wednesday. “You’ll love it,” she promised. “It’s about a bully who gets bullied, and it’s a novel in verse and it’s funny and it just invites so many neat poetry activities.”  She was right – I did love it, and all of that is true.

7th grader Kevin is not exactly a model student when the book opens. He shoves other kids around, makes fun of them, and rips pages from library books to create “found poetry” that he leaves around school.  Typical troublemaker, except…he writes poetry. When Kevin’s beloved notebook is lost and found by a rival, the tables turn, and Kevin finds his whole way of dealing with people turned upside down.

This is a terrific middle school book. The white space of the verse and the defacing-books-to-make-poems element give it special appeal for the reluctant reader crowd, but it’s really a book that many different kinds of kids will love. Coming Fall ’14 from Chronicle Bookks.

Owning Our Words: Gatekeepers and Gender in Children’s Books

When I was teaching seventh grade English, one of the most important things I ever taught my students was this:

Words are powerful. We own the words that come out of our mouths, and we own the impact those words have upon the world and the people around us. So use your words well.  Use them carefully. Use them for good.

Today, I want to talk about some words I’ve heard coming out of grown-up mouths lately. Words spoken by great people. Words that were meant as friendly, harmless fun, I’m certain. Words that are having an impact that their speakers probably didn’t intend.

I was honored to be part of a magnificent panel at the Texas Library Association Convention this week. “It Can’t Be Science! It’s Fiction!” featured six authors of science-based novels and chapter books for young readers – two men and four women. It was one of the most enjoyable panels I’ve ever been on because the conversations felt rich, smart, organic, and fun. I so appreciated that the organizers made it a point to include both men and women, something TLA and ALA have been working hard to do. But at the same time, something about the panel troubled me.

I sat between Megan Frazer Blakemore, who wrote THE WATER CASTLE and THE SPY CATCHERS OF MAPLE HILL, and Nate Ball, who writes the ALIEN IN MY POCKET chapter book series. Both are talented writers, kind human beings, and brilliant thinkers who share a passion for science and getting kids excited about it. Both inspired me with their words and their genuine excitement for their work. And I think most of the people in our nearly all female audience would agree on that.

But Megan and Nate saw different reactions from the crowd.  Megan, from what I saw, received some lovely compliments on her books and her presentation. Nate did, too. He was also asked for photographs. Someone came up to him and said, “Oh! You are hot! I’d heard you were hot.”  Other comments were easy to pick up as people filed out of the room.

“He is so cute!”

“I wonder if he does school visits!”

“He’s just adorable.”

Now, I’d never fault anyone for thinking those things. Nate, a PBS personality, is by all accounts, a perfectly good-looking guy. But is that really want we want to focus on in the words we speak aloud?  On a panel about science in books for young readers?  I’d argue that doing so produces a couple of results that the good-hearted people who spoke them probably didn’t intend.

1)   It devalues Nate’s work. He’s an accomplished mechanical engineer who owns his own company, has devoted much of his life to doing cool science things, and now devotes even more of it to helping kids discover science. He is also someone’s son, someone’s husband, and someone’s dad. As teachers and librarians, we tell our students that the things that matter are character and kindness, curiosity and passion and hard work. These would be wonderful things to praise aloud, whether the writer/speaker is male or female.

2)   It sends a strong message to the people who put together panels for teachers and librarians: Teachers and librarians like panels with men. Cute young men are good. Bonus points if they are also funny and charming.  And while many cute, young, charming, funny men are also darn good writers, the end result of filling panels with these men is that publishers are leaving out women who might be just as talented, funny, and smart. Words matter. When we gush over writers because they are men, when we say, “He’s just adorable!” what publishers hear is “Send us your men. We will buy their books.” And publishing is a business. So that is what happens. It is happening more and more often.  

Today’s Publisher’s Weekly headline shouts, “Four Children’s Luminaries Headline BookCon Panel at BEA!” In a world where statistically, women write more of the books, our luminaries are men. Why? Maybe because that’s what we’ve been asking for with our words.  And words are powerful.

I’ve been that teacher in the audience before – the one who turns to a friend and says, “He’s adorable!” I didn’t think anything of it. I didn’t think I was helping to perpetuate sexism in an industry where even though women write more books and hold more editorial positions, men hold a disproportionate number of spots on bestseller and award lists. Conversations like this one, mostly had with my colleagues, have changed the way I think about that kind of comment.

It’s not harmless, no matter how I intended it. It affects the male colleagues whose work I respect, the female colleagues who should be getting the same kind of attention but aren’t, and perhaps most importantly, the kids. When we send out an all-male panel, we are sending a strong message to our girl writers. This business of making funny, popular books? It does not belong to you.

We all speak some words that we wish we could take back. We all carry biases of one sort or another, as readers, as writers, as teachers, as librarians, as humans. And the very best thing about being a person with powerful words is this: we get to think about the impact of our words. We get to choose every day, which ones we speak aloud.


Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere

I finished Julie Lamana’s UPSIDE DOWN IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE on the plane to the Texas Library Association Convention this week, and  I have two things to say about this book up front.

1. I loved it.

2. But the ending killed me.

Here’s why…on both counts.

I’ve always had a fascination with natural disasters – hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanoes, earthquakes – so I’ve read a fair number of Hurricane Katrina books. This was the best of them all, and when I think about why, it comes down to two things – setting and characters.

I’m a place person. I love some of the places I’ve lived and visited with a loyalty and passion usually reserved for family. Cut me open, and you’ll find the woods behind the house where I grew up and the lake in my backyard now etched on my heart. So when a story breathes that kind of life into the place its characters inhabit, I’m pretty much smitten. UPSIDE DOWN IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE does just that for the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. I understand how much Armani loves that old creaky porch swing that needs painting, how the smell of that run-down donut shop means home to her.

But this is a story about Hurricane Katrina. So we all know what happens to home. Those perfect details come crashing down in the sounds and smells that seep into the later pages and make the reality of this story truly heartbreaking.

The main character, Armani, is just flawed enough to be perfect, if that makes sense. She makes the kinds of mistakes that we all make when we’re ten – wanting things that feel selfish, taking family members for granted, tossing impatient words at a little brother or sister. But most of us, at that age, aren’t left in charge of younger siblings for days on end, while the world falls apart around us. The strength and spirit of this book are palpable and gorgeous and so, so true.

Very vague spoiler ahead that is related to the ending – Skip the next paragraph if you want it to be a total surprise.

The ending of this book – without giving away its secrets – is not happy. And oh, I wanted it to be, even though I know the real story of Katrina and understand how it couldn’t be. I wanted that happy ending for Armani, for all she’d been through. I am a happy ending person, and I don’t let go of that easily. I struggle with darkness. I can’t always watch the evening news and be okay. Unanswerable questions vex me, in real life and fiction alike.

Major spoiler ahead for a different book: If you haven’t read the Harry Potter books, skip the next paragraph.

Confession: I spent the last half of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince waiting for Dumbledore to come back, truly believing it could happen, and waiting for the page turn that revealed he wasn’t gone. Not really. When I finished the book and didn’t get that, I cried all over again. Then I thought about why I couldn’t have what I wanted. And cried some more.

UPSIDE DOWN IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE is like that, too. If I were still teaching, this is one of those books I’d be putting in kids’ hands along with a pack of Kleenex. I know some of them would come back to me angry about that ending. But we’d talk about it, about the way an ending can be hopeful and sad, all at once, the way an author might choose honesty over neatly tied loose ends. So in a way, I loved the ending, too.

This is a book to read and talk about and share. (Available now from Chronicle Books.)

I support independent bookstores. If UPSIDE DOWN IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE is on your to-read list, please consider asking for it at your local indie.