And the winner is…

Happy Valentine’s Book Giveaway Day!  In the spirit of sharing the book love, I held a contest on my blog to give away a signed ARC of Linda Sue Park’s incredible MG novel Keeping Score

And in the spirit of entertaining my children, we devised a fun, Valentine-loving way to pick a winner.

First, I wrote the names of everyone who entered on little foam heart stickers.  If you entered, you’re on one of these.  I promise.

Then we stuck all the hearts to the dartboard in the basement. 

Then the kids closed their eyes and took turns shooting darts at you. 

You can be assured that it was done fair and square, even at great risk to our personal property.  E almost threw a dart through the door window you see next to the dartboard.  When I suggested that she open her eyes and just try to hit the board, she vehemently refused.  She would NOT compromise the integrity of the random selection process.

This took longer than I thought it would.  Bedtime was late. There were many near misses.  Many darts that just grazed the edges of some of your names.  But we were looking for a true piercing of the heart, Cupid style.  Finally, J was successful.

Can you read this?

How about now?


!  Please email me your address, and I’ll mail out your signed ARC of Keeping Score.  Happy  Valentine’s Day, everyone, and thanks for entering!

Edited to add a special LJ “Sharing the Love” note… 

has requested that her prize be sent along to

to help her recover from a knee injury (and I know it will help!).  So, whiskersink, please send me your address, and newport2newport….thanks.  Your kindness this morning made me smile a huge smile. I love this community. 


And don’t forget… Valentine’s Day also means the announcement of the Cybils winners!  Congratulations to the winners and all of the nominees for this year.

Blog Soup

Sometimes I try to make soup out of all the leftovers in the refrigerator.  Today’s post is blog soup — all the little notes I’ve been meaning to mention but haven’t had time. 

One of my favorite indies, Flying Pig Books in Shelburne, VT,  was nominated for the Lucille Micheels Pannell Award honoring bookstores that “excel at inspiring the interest of young people in books and reading.”  If you’ve ever been to see Josie & Elizabeth at Flying Pig, you know  their children’s section is fabulous, and they have a steady stream of guest authors (I’ll be there on April 5th!). The nomination is a well-earned honor!  (Congrats are also in order for winning stores, Books & Books of Coral Gables, FL and Wonderland Books of Rockford, IL. The descriptions of these stores make me want to visit them all.)
Laurie Halse Anderson (

) and her husband are training tirelessly for the Lake Placid Half Marathon.  They’re running with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training to raise money for cancer research.  Even if you only run when being chased, you can click here to contribute to their efforts.

I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting…and this Thursday, the Cybils Award Winners will be announced.  I served as a panelist for MG fiction, and I can’t wait to see what one of our eight finalists the judges choose.

Kerry Madden (

) is having a cool school picture contest on her blog, and she’s giving away signed copies of Jessie’s Mountain.  Here’s your opportunity to profit from that 3rd grade school photo where your collar was tucked in and your hair looked like devil horns.

Speaking of contests, don’t forget that I’m giving away a signed ARC of Linda Sue Park’s Keeping Score.  Check out this post for the details. You have  until 6pm EST on Wednesday to enter.  The winner will be announced on Valentine’s Day.

And finally, have you checked out Nonfiction Mondays?  I love the idea of a blogging day devoted to nonfiction.  I missed today’s roundup, but I’ll be participating next Monday.  I hope you’ll stop by to check out my interview with Jim Murphy, award-winning author of fantastic non-fiction titles like The Great Fire, Blizzard,  An American Plague, and most recently, The Real Benedict Arnold.

Seeing Sky-Blue Pink

Most of the Cybils finalists for the middle grade fiction category were skewed toward the higher end of middle grade, more appropriate for the 10-12 crew than for kids who are 8-9 years old.  That said, those of us who served on the nominating panel read — and loved — some wonderful books for the younger set.  Candice Ransom’s Seeing Sky-Blue Pink is one of them.

This isn’t an action-packed book. There’s nothing nerve-wracking or edgy about it.  But it’s a book that I would have read and loved with a passion when I was eight years old.  I would have kept it on a special place on my shelf and wanted to do all the things that Maddie got to do.

Maddie is eight years old herself, and she’s got a lot to deal with when the book opens.  She’s just moved to a new house in the country from her old house in town, and she has a brand new stepfather.  He’s not the stereotypical evil step-parent.  He’s loving and funny and kind, and he introduces Maddie to a delicious summer of new experiences in her new home that almost make up for the special sundaes she used to eat with her mother on their shopping days in town.

The characters in Seeing Sky-Blue Pink are likable and memorable.  The language is simple and lovely.  If you long for the days when kids enjoyed old-fashioned pleasures like staring at sunset skies, treasure-hunting in creeks, and building tree houses, you’ll feel right at home in these pages. 

Novels in Verse…Not just for girls!

Many of the 7th grade girls I teach LOVE novels written in verse.  They devour anything by Sonya Sones, and then I usually steer them to Karen Hesse and others who seem to capture that same magic but in different ways.  Novels in verse, well written, pack a lot of punch with few words, and they usually offer lots of white space on the page, so they’re fantastic for reluctant readers.  I haven’t found too many that appeal to boys, though, which I why I was so happy to read these two standouts in the books nominated for the CYBILS.

G. Neri’s CHESS RUMBLE is appealing to reluctant readers, especially boys, on a number of levels.  Neri nails the voice of a boy growing up in the inner city in a way that’s reminiscent of Walter Dean Myers.  Neri’s main character, Marcus, is a young man dealing with family troubles and fights at school, until he meets a powerful mentor and learns to fight his battles on a chessboard instead.  This novella in verse is full of language that’s vivid and accessible, and Jesse Joshua Watson’s illustrations in shades of black, brown, and gray help to set the mood.  This one has serious kid-appeal — not just for the kids who already love to read but for those who don’t often find books on the library shelves that seem to be written for them. This one is.

Katherine Applegate’s HOME OF THE BRAVE is another novel in verse that will appeal to boys as well as girls.  It may help that plenty of middle grade readers already know Applegate from the ANIMORPHS series, but this book has a completely different feel to it.  HOME OF THE BRAVE is about Kek, a Sudanese immigrant who recently arrived in America after witnessing the death of his father and brother. He left his mother behind and wonders every day if she is alive.  The poems that explore Kek’s emotional state are poignant and accessible to young readers, and the more traumatic scenes are set alongside lighter stories of Kek adapting to life in America and experiencing new things, from snow to washing machines.  This is a kid-friendly story (those who love animals will have an additional connection) that explores a dramatic issue in current events in a manner that is personal, sensitive, and hopeful.

Pippi is back!!

I remember loving Pippi Longstocking when I was seven or eight years old.  I was a rule-follower, but there was something about Pippi’s attitude that absolutely enchanted me.  I loved that she slept with her feet on the pillow.  I loved that she had a monkey for a pet and threw dishes out of a tree.  I loved that she told the teacher exactly what she thought of those math problems with all the apples that came and went so quickly you couldn’t keep track of them.

I still love Pippi, and so I was thrilled to see this new translation of Astrid Lindgren’s story in a big, beautiful, illustrated package from Penguin.

Pippi’s story is the same (happily, no one has gone through to make her more politically correct), and I predict this new translation by Tina Nunnally will be irresistible to young readers.  Lauren Child’s illustrations in this oversized hardcover are bright and playful and full of Pippi’s spirit.  My six-year-old daughter put a bookmark in this one after breakfast yesterday and said, “I can’t read any more right now.  I’m saving the rest.”  I understood exactly what she meant. Pippi’s stories are worth saving and worth sharing all over again.

Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam

Certain books should come with a warning label:  Do not read in a room full of 7th graders (unless they’re already used to seeing you sob your way through middle grade novels). Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam is one of those books.

I know what a gifted writer Cynthia Kadohata is, but I still wasn’t expecting to fall in love with this book the way I did.  I’m…er…not exactly a dog person.  There are certain dogs I really like, but I don’t like it when strange dogs come bounding up and jump on me during my morning run.  Anyway, I thought this might be a book for dog people, but it’s much more than that.

Cynthia Kadohata does a remarkable job letting us inside the minds of Rick, an angry young man who is sent off to Vietnam as a new dog handler and his dog, Cracker.  When  the narrative slips into Cracker’s point of view, it does so seamlessly and convincingly.  Not surprisingly, Rick is changed dramatically by his experiences in Vietnam and by the relationship he forges with Cracker.  Cracker, too, becomes a different kind of dog – more in tune with her instincts and committed to the job she has been given.

Cracker’s story is compelling and eye-opening, and this novel provides a realistic look at what went on in Vietnam while remaining appropriate for older middle grade readers.  This is probably one for the 10-14 crowd, and it’s not a book that’s just for boys.  The 7th grade girl I loaned it to this week returned it with a glowing review the next day.

Meanwhile, I’m still wiping my eyes, but in a good way.  Cracker, Rick, and Cynthia Kadohata won my heart with this one – a historical novel and dog story that’s not just for dog lovers and history buffs, but for all of us.

The Wild Girls

The Wild Girls is a book for writers.  It’s a book for girls who don’t always follow the rules and for girls who play with spotted newts.  As a girl who enjoys writing, newts, and occasional rule-breaking, I fell in love immediately.

 Pat Murphy tells the story of two girls — the rule-following Joan (aka Newt), who just moved to California from Connecticut and has always written the kinds of stories she thought her teacher would like, and Sarah (aka Fox), who hangs out throwing rocks in the woods near the run-down house where she lives with her dad, a motorcycle-writer-guy who doesn’t fit the image of any dad Joan has ever known. Fox and Newt form the kind of bond that can only be forged in secret clearings and treehouses, and together, they weather the storms of family trauma and trying (or not) to fit in among their peers.  More than anything, though, they learn about writing and about the power of story to help us see truth — especially when truth is different from the story that the grownups are dishing out.

Joan and Sarah call themselves the Wild Girls — thus the title — and through this new sense of self, they’re able to confront questions that always lurked in the shadows before.  This book reminds me of Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman ArchetypeWomen Who Run With the Wolves is non-fiction aimed at adult readers, but the spirit of the two books feels the same.

There are so many fantastic moments in The Wild Girls.  My copy is riddled with Post-It notes marking my favorite passages.  One of them comes when Azalea, a colorful character Joan meets during a writing class on the Berkeley campus, offers her a chance to try walking on stilts.

I hesitated, thinking about it. “I don’t know. I’d probably fall.”

Azalea frowned fiercely, shaking her head.  “That is the wrong attitude.  That’s a Failure of the Imagination.”  When she said that, I heard it in capital letters.  By her tone, I knew that a Failure of the Imagination was a terrible and contemptible thing.  “All it takes to walk on stilts is imagination. If you believe that you can walk on stilts, then you can.”  She looked at me.  “What do you think?”

What do I think?  I think I after reading this book, I could walk on stilts…or finish my WIP…or jump across a stream…or…or….just about anything.  It’s empowering in that way, and that makes it a perfect choice for kids, especially girls who love to read and write. 

Leepike Ridge

The used book gods were smiling on me last weekend.  Somehow,  a copy of Leepike Ridge ended up in the Barnes & Noble bargain room for three dollars.  I scarfed it up and read it in two sittings that would have been one sitting if people around here hadn’t started getting hungry on Sunday.  It was that good.

I read a review (I think it  might have been from Fuse #8, but I’m too lazy to go hunting for it right now) that made comparisons between this book and Louis Sachar’s Holes.  This kind of comparison always makes me skeptical.  “We’ll just see about that,” I thought.  I read it.  I saw. And I get it now.  This one is worthy of that comparison — and then some.

Leepike Ridge is a book for every kid (and every grown kid) who played in refrigerator boxes, caught critters in the woods, and floated down creeks on homemade rafts.  It’s a fantastic story with a grand adventure, a heroic boy, bad guys that you love to hate, a loyal dog, and a hidden treasure.  The fact that it’s beautifully written with magical, transporting descriptions is gravy.

If you know and like a boy between the ages of, let’s say 9 and 13, you really ought to pick up Leepike Ridge for him this holiday season. 

Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree

This story begins Emma Jean Lazarus opens a door.  Literally, it’s the door to the girls’ bathroom at school, where she finds Colleen Pomerantz (a kind, sensitive girl and not one of the usual 7th grade criers) sobbing over a problem with a friend.  Figuratively, it’s the door we all open when we make the sometimes scary decision to reach out to another human being.  This is a big deal for all of us, but especially for Emma Jean, who’s one of those brilliant, wise-beyond-her-years kids who seems to watch everything from the sidelines.  She reminds me a lot of Lisa Yee’s Millicent Min, Girl Genius.  Because Emma Jean is brilliant at math and logic, just like her father who died two years ago, she uses logic to find solutions to her classmates’ problems, with results that are hilarious and heartwarming.

There’s a lot to love about this book.  If you’re a writer, you should read it because it’s a fantastic example of how to pull off changing points of view in third person narrative.  If you spend any time in a middle school, you’ll love it because the characters are so real.  As a middle school English teacher, I recognized these kids.  I’ve seen Emma Jean watching the other kids at lunch.   I’ve comforted Colleen when one of her friends was mad at her.  And I’ve seen them all in their specially picked outfits at that first middle school dance.  Author Lauren Tarshis has nailed middle school to a tee; she even understands one of the great secrets of school hallways: that the custodians are the real heroes.

Emma Jean Lazarus goes out on a limb in this middle grade novel (and yes, she really does fall out of a tree).  Her journey is one that manages to be funny and sad and uplifting and true, all at once.  You’ll love this book.

Me and the Pumpkin Queen

This is one of those books that sneaks up on you.  It caught me off guard.  Based on some positive reviews I’d read and the back cover blurb, I expected it to be cute. I thought I’d kind of like it.   I didn’t expect to be so swept up in Mildred’s quest to grow the perfect giant pumpkin that I was tempted to ignore my 7th period English class today.

But I was.

Marlane Kennedy captures the voice of a fifth grader who has settled into life with her dad after her mother’s death and explores the very real issues that face fifth grade girls – shopping for a first bra, getting ears pierced, and dealing with a bossy aunt.  I found hints of Judy Blume in the coming of age parts of this book and big servings of warm humor on just about every page. Add to that one huge issue – growing a HUGE pumpkin, and protecting it from bugs, fungus, drought, and tornadoes – and you have one amazing book. 

I was enchanted by the story and terribly intrigued by the process of growing a giant pumpkin.  I kind of want to try and grow one myself now. Mostly, though, I want to stand up and cheer for Mildred and for Marlane Kennedy.  ME AND THE PUMPKIN QUEEN is a little book with a giant-pumpkin sized heart.