Thank you, Freeman-Kennedy School!

One of my last school visits of 2014 was at the wonderful Freeman-Kennedy School in Norfolk, MA. When I first arrived, I wasn’t sure about which door to use, but this sign was a great clue that I’d found my way…

These signs, it turned out, were all over the school. It’s tough not to feel welcome in a place like this!

After my morning presentations, Harper and Anthony interviewed me for their school’s morning show.  Here’s their video!

 And here’s a photo of me with super-librarian Sharon Lavallee, who coordinated the visit.


Thanks so much, Freeman-Kennedy School, for a great day of talking reading & writing!

Bullet Journaling (Children’s author version!)

I’ve seen a lot of social media talk lately about the concept of bullet journals, an organizational tool I’ve been using since October.  It’s basically a monthly calendar, notebook, and daily to-do list all in one. If this is a new idea for you, you might want to watch the official bullet journal video here. Thanks to Gwenda Bond for linking to it this fall & getting me started.  Recently, some writer friends have asked me how I use my bullet journal, so here’s a glimpse inside the pages…

First things first… Here’s my notebook.

It’s a 5.75 x 8.25 inch Leuchtturm Medium Notebook with dots on the pages, and you can read more about it here. I love this notebook, but you don’t need it to bullet journal – any notebook will do.

As the video suggests, I make a two-page spread for each month, with scheduled events on the left and a list of tasks for the month on the right. Here’s October – you’ll note that some tasks are broken down into smaller pieces, which keeps me from getting overwhelmed (and allows me to check things off even when I’ve just taken a small move toward completing the task. Baby steps!)

Here’s November:

As tasks are completed, I check the box next to each one.  If a task doesn’t get done in that month, it gets an arrow, showing that it’s been moved to the next month. I thought I might finish my 7th WISH novel draft in November (a girl can dream) so I put that on the list but ended up moving it to December. Ranger #3 revisions didn’t happen in October or November because my editorial letter didn’t come until later on. But I totally got to check that off in December, too.

For each day of the month (most days, anyway) I make a separate entry with tasks & events for that day. I try to include everything that’s important to me – not only the work-related things that need to be done, but also my kids’ events, getting some exercise, and other things that I really want to do that day. Some – but not all of these things – are on the monthly task list, but others – phone calls, making spaghetti sauce for dinner – aren’t significant or long-term enough to warrant that, so they just pop in on the days when they come up.

Aside from the monthly and daily calendars, I have lots of other pages in the notebook that I use for story ideas, organizational charts, phone call note-taking, grocery lists, manuscript notes, lists, etc.

(I promise you, the above scribbles make perfect sense to me. They’re lines & ideas for a maybe-story that occurred to me while I was driving to a school visit this week. I pulled over, scribbled them down in my bullet journal, and continued on my way.)

One of the reasons I chose the notebook I did was because it has page numbers and a table of contents in the front. Whenever I add an entry (other than the daily to-do lists), I add it to the table of contents so it’s easy to find later.

One thing you’ll notice here is the serendipitous nature of the whole thing – story ideas live side by side with phone call notes, brainstorming charts, grocery lists, and jobs I need to do in my role as a skating club parent volunteer.

After three and a half months of bullet journaling, I’m pretty much hooked. I am a particularly task-oriented person, so this system makes me more productive and less likely to fritter away time on social media, which is great, but it also forces me to own what’s important to me each day. If it goes in the bullet journal, it matters, and I’ve found that I’m more likely to honor my exercise plans and small writing goals when I write them down here. I’ve always kept paper to-do lists, but this is different, somehow, in its permanence. Today’s list doesn’t get tossed in the trash tomorrow, and for some reason, that adds to my motivation to keep those commitments.

I know some other writers & other book industry friends are trying this out in the new year, and I’d love to hear how it’s going for you so far!

New Books in 2015!

2015 will be my busiest book year ever, with seven new titles coming out!

I know…that’s a serious pile of books for just one year, but sometimes, things just work out that way. My new Ranger in Time series with Scholastic is on a two-books-a-year schedule, and two picture books that I wrote years ago are illustrated now and ready to meet the world. Add to that my 2015 novel, a new book for teachers and writers, and a calendar full of travel, and it’s going to be a pretty exciting year.

First on the calendar is RANGER IN TIME: RESCUE ON THE OREGON TRAIL, which releases January 6th in both hardcover and paperback, from Scholastic. This is the first in my new chapter book series, about a time-traveling search and rescue dog. His first mission is to help a family traveling west on the Oregon Trail in 1850.

School Library Journal featured Ranger in its Early Chapter Books to Cheer About feature: “This excellent story contains historical details, full-age illustrations, and enough action to keep even reluctant readers engaged. A wonderful author’s note at the end is full of quotes from authentic journals, factual information on search-and-rescue dogs, and suggestions for further reading. This is a stellar choice for readers just starting full-length chapter books and would be a hit with young history buffs and dog lovers as well.”

On January 13th, 59 REASONS TO WRITE comes out from Stenhouse. Officially, this is a book of mini-lessons, writing prompts, and inspiration for teacher-writers. But really…it’s for anyone who has always wanted to make more of a commitment to writing. You can preview this title here.

On January 27th, my new middle grade novel, ALL THE ANSWERS, comes out from Bloomsbury. It’s about an anxious 7th grader named Ava who finds a magic pencil that answers any question she asks. Almost. Booklist liked it —  “Although Ava is constantly worried, the novel’s tone remains bright and cheerful. Yes, there’s a magical pencil, but this remains an emotionally resonant portrait of a sweet girl whose struggles are firmly rooted in reality.” — and I hope you will, too.

I’ll be on tour for ALL THE ANSWERS from January 26th-February 6th – visiting schools and bookstores in Detroit, Chicago, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Boston, Vermont, and Northern NY.  If you can’t make it to an event but would like to order personalized, signed copies of RANGER IN TIME or ALL THE ANSWERS, you can call The Bookstore Plus at 518-523-2950. I’ll be signing there on February 4th and will sign all pre-orders then.

In May, HOW TO READ A STORY comes out from Chronicle Books. It’s a playful celebration of the fine art of sharing a story aloud. This book has been a long time coming (I sold it back in 2011!), and I am so excited about how it turned out. Mark Siegel is responsible for the charming illustrations.

If you loved OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW, you’ll be happy to know that illustrator Christopher Silas Neal and I have a follow-up title coming in March.

 UP IN THE GARDEN AND DOWN IN THE DIRT explores daily life in a vegetable garden, spending time with a grandmother and child weeding and watering as well as the earthworms and beetles working away down in the dirt, doing their own part to keep the garden growing.

Some of my 2013-2014 Scholastic titles are coming out in paperback this spring, including the last two Silver Jaguar Society Mysteries. HIDE AND SEEK comes out in paperback March 31st. MANHUNT and MARTY MCGUIRE HAS TOO MANY PETS will be out in paperback April 28th.

The second Ranger in Time book launches this spring, too.

RANGER IN TIME: DANGER IN ANCIENT ROME will be out June 30th. Also a simultaneous hardcover/paperback release, this book sends Ranger back to the days of gladiator fights at the Roman Colosseum.

I plan to spend my entire summer sitting beside Lake Champlain with a cool drink in my hand, recovering from all of these book releases. (Not really. I’ll also be writing and hopefully traveling to research a new project.)

Then, in the fall, TREE OF WONDER comes out from Chronicle. I don’t have a final cover yet, but here’ s a peek at the incredible art…

Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 3.56.20 PM

This picture book, illustrated by Simona Mulazzani, celebrates biodiversity and math as it explores the multiplication of life in a single rainforest tree.

I’ll be visiting a number of schools, libraries, bookstores, and festivals throughout the year. You can find my appearance schedule here, and if you’re near one of the cities I’ll be visiting, I do hope you’ll come say hi and introduce yourself.

Happy 2015!