Wednesday, December 19, 2012

(Mostly) Wordless Wednesday: Finished!

I finished the hat I posted and in-progress picture of last week and decided it fit my daughter better! If only writing went so quickly. LOL!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Just Deleted Over 300 (unread) E-mails!

What a fun way to spend two hours of my evening. The sad thing is I still have 390 (unread) e-mails waiting for me to figure out what to do with them. There was one with the subject line "You have a new bill from ______ Credit Card" dating back to October 2011. Hopefully that was paid otherwise we will have a big surprise interest payment coming up. LOL! So much junk mail from so many on-line companies... obviously there was a big jump in these since the middle of November. As much as I hate having them clog up my inbox I do appreciate grabbing a coupon here or there or being "reminded" that I "need" to buy something.

How do you tackle the never-ending stream of e-mails? If you have a tip (besides using the delete button more often) please leave it in the comments.

And so, there is no MMGM today, again.

But I am reading Pickle: The (Formerly) Anonymous Prank Club of Fountain Point Middle School by Kim Baker and have enjoyed it so far. She is the Co-Coordinator for the Western WA region of the SCBWI and I enjoyed her fun sense-of-humor as she announced things at the conference this past April. Cool to be reading a debt from a local author!

Daughter (8 years old) is still loving the Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull. We went to the used bookstore yesterday and her picks were The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (which I read to her earlier this year but she wanted her own copy), A Little Princess also by Frances Hodgson Burnett (which I have a feeling I will be reading to her as well in the near future!) Little Men by Louisa May Alcott (because Little Women wasn't available) and Matilda by Ronald Dahl (which she scanned through and pointed out the word "ass" to me and then wanted to know why people use bad words. Uhhh...)


Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (MMGM) was created by Shannon Messenger. To find other bloggers participating in MMGM go to her blog for a list of links.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

(Mostly) Wordless Wednesday - Progress

Progress. Not in the writing sence, but in the wise words of my friend Amy "at least you are creating something." And soon my head will be nice and cozy!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Baby Faces Blogfest

This blogfest is hosted by Trisha. Go visit her blog for all the details... there is still time to join in the fun!

What are the requirements?

1. Between December 2nd and 3rd, post a pic of yourself as a baby, and/or;

2. Tell us a story about when you were a baby (no doubt you can't quite remember it yourself, but you've probably heard some stories from other members of your family).

How could I not join in this blogfest after finding this beauty of a picture! Baby Julie at seven months old. Unfortunately I don't have any fun stories to share at this time; I'll have to hit up my mom for a few when she is here next.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

MMGM: What we are Reading

Well it has been a while since I last posted, but sometimes life is just too busy. Here is an update on what we are reading in my house.

Son #1: (Age 10)
  • He is on the last book in The Inheritance Cycle Series by Christopher Palolini and is still enjoying them. I am looking forward to seeing what he picks up next as he has been reading this series for two months now!

Daughter: (age 8)
  • She just finishsed the last Harry Potter book! This girl was on a mission to finish the series and is understandably quite proud of herself. Bonus for the rest of the family - we got to watch the last four movies over the past month!
  • There's a Girl in the Boy's Bathroom by Louis Sachar. I got this book at a yard sale and didn't realize she had been reading it up in her room. She is almost done and last night I asked if it was a funny book. She turned it over so I could see the cover (and title) and said "What do you think?" So yes, she thinks it is pretty funny.
  • Not sure what the next book she picks up will be... I am trying to talk her into the Fablehaven series. Shhh... I bought the paperback set on sale this weekend for under $18 and will give it to both kids, probably from the cat!
Mom: (not revealing my age!)
  • Rise of the Evening Star (Fablehaven) by Brandon Mull. I read the first book in this series a couple months ago and wasn't planning on reading more. Not because I didn't enjoy the book but because I'm trying to diversify my reading. But I was in Barnes and Noble and picked up book #2 and wanted to keep reading. These books are fun adventures!
  • The Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow. This book is on the list for the Sasquatch Award in Washington state and my daughter got it at the school book fair, so of course I had to read it first. VERY quick read (about 2 hours for me) but it was fun! The book is done entirely in colored pencil drawings and handwriting, alternating between the two main characters like they are writing notes back and forth to each other. One handwriting is in cursive so it might be a little hard for a younger reader to get through it if he/she is not used to that type of font.
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (MMGM) was created by Shannon Messenger. To find other bloggers participating in MMGM go to her blog for a list of links.

Monday, November 5, 2012

MMGM: Winner of The Secret Prophecy

You would think with an extra hour in the day I would have had a MMGM review all ready to post. Didn't happen. While it was really nice to have that extra hour in the morning for some reason by the time the kids went to bed I was done for the day as well! Go figure.

But I drew a name out of my son's fuzzy winter hat and the lucky winner of The Secret Prophecy is...

Kimberly Gabriel

Yay Kimberly! Send me your snail mail address and I will get that off to you this week. Happy reading!


Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (MMGM) was created by Shannon Messenger. To find other bloggers participating in MMGM go to her blog for a list of links.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Secret Prophecy by Herbie Brennan and ARC Giveaway

Today marks a first for me. The first time I get to post my thoughts about a book that has yet to be released! Don't tell my kids, but sometimes when you whine about something you actually get rewarded. And really I wasn't whining, but I mentioned in this post that I was jealous of other people who got to read and review ARCs. My new blogging buddy Joanne Fritz took pity and offered to send me an ARC she scored when working in the childrens' department of a book store and voila, now I am in the super-secret society of those who read ARCs. Well, probably not super-secret to anyone reading this blog, but I do feel a little special.
Title: The Secret Prophecy
Release Date: October 30, 2012
Book Description: (from Barnes and Noble)
Imagine your father has been found dead. Strange men armed with guns show up at his funeral. And those same men have begun to follow you. Now you're on the run.
When Edward Michael "Em" Goverton uncovers the key to a five-hundred-year-old deadly prediction by the prophet Nostradamus, personal tragedy morphs into international crisis. Soon Em finds himself enmeshed in a sinister web of shocking events where nothing is quite as it seems. Aided by Victor, a mysterious stranger, and Charlotte, a family friend, Em follows a trail of cryptic clues that leads the trio into a conspiracy of world-shattering proportions.
But the ominous forces behind the plot are not about to sit back and let their plans be ruined. Soon their net begins to close in on Em, and it's a race against the clock for the trio to finish what Em's father started—and prevent a catastrophe that threatens the lives of an entire generation. Bestselling author Herbie Brennan has crafted an edge-of-your-seat thriller that grabs readers by the throat and won't let them go until they've reached the very last page.

Why it is Marvelous: Herbie Brennan has written a fast-paced thriller and I was absolutely entertained. The main character is a young teenager so there were a couple places where as an adult, I questioned his trusting nature, but overlooked them because 1) he is a young teenager in a tough situation, and 2) I was enjoying the ride and chose to move on. I also enjoyed the overseas setting and dialect, the travel between London and France, and reading "mum" in place of mom. The conflict the author created was unique enough to keep me wanting to find out more without being too implausible. Add a teenager trying to put the pieces of his life back together, while on the run and maybe having a little crush on the young teenage girl who is helping him, and this would definitely appeal to the target age group of 10 and up.

ARC giveaway: Although my son is 10 and in the target age group, I am holding off on passing this one onto him. So lucky for all of you who would like a chance to win my copy. Of course the book will be released by the time one of you gets it, but I'm sure that will not take away from the enjoyment of this action-packed adventure!

Just add a comment and a way to reach you (if you don't have an e-mail attached to your blog account) and I will announce the winner next Monday. Open to US and Canada residents only please.


Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (MMGM) was created by Shannon Messenger. To find other bloggers participating in MMGM go to her blog for a list of links.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

I normally don't read fantasy... well OK, except for Harry Potter and Twilight! But I do like to attend "Meet the Author" events and Brandon Mull came to our area this past week. As I have mentioned here before we have an awesome library system and a great organization that supports the library by handing out free books by the authors they have invited to speak. So I picked up my copy of Fablehaven and dove right in without knowing much about the series or the author.

Book Description: (from Amazon) Kendra and her brother, Seth, have no idea that their grandfather is the current caretaker of Fablehaven. Inside the gated woods, ancient laws keep relative order among the greedy trolls, mischievous satyrs, plotting witches, spiteful imps, and jealous fairies. But when the rules get broken, powerful forces are unleashed, and Kendra and her brother face the greatest challenge of their lives. To save their family, Fablehaven, and maybe even the world, Kendra and Seth must find the courage to do what they fear most...
Why it is marvelous: When I met Brandon this past week I told him I don't normally read fantasy but that I really enjoyed this book. I think that is because it is set in the real world, with two normal everyday kids as the main characters. And we are introduced to the fantasy element nice and slow. The reader discovers the magical world of Fablehaven right along with the two main protagonists, and this is a very interesting world to discover. The Fablehaven series deals with magical creatures we are used to, like fairies, demons, witches and trolls. But Brandon puts his own twist on them which pulls the reader in wanting to find out how this world works, and then when things go very wrong for Kendra and Seth, how mere humans could possibly prevail over the greatest evil at Fablehaven.
If I had the time I would definitely read on in this series as I am curious to go on another adventure with Kendra, Seth and their grandparents. Brandon's other popular series, Beyonders, leans even more toward the fantastical with a portal to another world via the mouth of a hippo and made-up races such as The Seed People who, when killed, can be reborn by planting a seed that pops out of the back of their head. My son seemed interested so we are now the proud owners of a signed copy of the first book in this series A World Without Heroes. But reader beware! From the reviews I see that this book is a bit gory and might be suited for a slightly higher age range.
It was interesting to hear Brandon speak about his professional writing and daydreaming... imagine getting paid to daydream! An interesting point he made was about the first book he wrote - at age 6! What was meaningful to him about that project was that he actually completed the book. He said lots of kids (adults too!) can start a story, that's easy. But only those who are dedicated will finish it! And his biggest pieces of advice to the kids in the audience was to keep writing.
My son getting his books signed!


Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (MMGM) was created by Shannon Messenger. To find other bloggers participating in MMGM go to her blog for a list of links.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Flying the Dragon and Interview with Natalie Dias Lorenzi

Today I have the pleasure of highlighting Flying the Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi. I found this book when Natalie commented on one of my MMGM posts and I went over to visit her site. And WOW! she had recently published a book. A real live author had made a comment on my blog! Well I had a big pile of books I was planning to read but I moved Natalie's up to the top of my pile and absolutely loved it.
Book Description: Skye and Hiroshi have never met. How could they, when Skye’s father hasn’t spoken to his Japanese family since before she was born? But now their grandfather is sick, and the family is coming to the US for his treatment. Skye and Hiroshi are stuck with each other.

Now Skye doesn’t know who she is anymore; at school, she’s suddenly too Japanese, but at home she isn’t Japanese enough. And as Hiroshi struggles to improve his English, he has to contend with Skye butting in on his rokkaku kite-flying time with Grandfather–time that seems to be running out.

Why it is Marvelous: I love the characters in this story and how they grow and learn from each other. I especially love that the main characters are all family. Although strangers at first, Skye and Hiroshi are forced to help each other. While neither likes the situation they both find ways to cope and start to see the world through the other's eyes. Through alternating points of view, I really felt the characters were real and vulnerable and flawed. I sympathized with them but also saw where each needed to grow and be more sympathetic to those around them. Great character ARC draws it all together in the end. It is hard to believe early drafts of this book had only Hiroshi as the main character and Skye as a girl in his class named Susan. I can't see this written any other way.


I excited to have an interview with Natalie for you today! When I started to research her I found she had already done a ton of fantastic interviews and answered most of the normal questions about her writing and book and getting an agent. All very interesting so if you would like that information please see the following blog posts.

Literary Rambles (7-23-2012)
From the Mixed Up Files... (7-23-2012)
One Word At A Time (9-4-2012)
Word Spelunking (6-25-2012)
That Happa Chick (7-27-2012)

I tried to come up with a few questions she hadn't answered yet so here you go!

1. What do you feel has been the most interesting thing about living in countries outside of the USA?

Living and traveling abroad has given me close-up access to a variety of cultures from Japan, China and Indonesia to European and South American cultures. But after miles and months of traveling, the culture that has been the most surprising to me is my own. It’s difficult to see your own culture while you’re living in the midst of it. It wasn’t until I stepped away that I could see what is and isn’t valued in our culture, and what really defines us as Americans. I realized that we value independence, which is a good thing. But I also saw how other cultures lean more on family and friends than we tend to do. A friend of mine who lives abroad told me recently that his ex-pat experiences have made him both more patriotic and more critical of his own culture. I agree with him 100%.
2. When did you decide you wanted to be a librarian, and what is left (schooling, exams, etc...) before you achieve that goal?

When the offer came in from Charlesbridge, I was elated. It was a moment that I’d dreamed about for so long. Knowing that I would be a published author prompted me to take stock in my professional life and made me question what it was that I really wanted to do.

I loved teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) students, but I felt bogged down by all the paperwork, data, and non-teaching responsibilities of my job. I drew a line down the middle of a piece of paper and listed what I loved about my job on one side (working with kids and everything related to that) and what I didn’t love on the other (paperwork, paperwork, paperwork). Then I asked myself what it was that I really wanted to do for the next 20 years before I retire. The answer was so obvious that I think I laughed out loud—why hadn’t I thought of this before?? I would become a school librarian.

I’d still be working with kids and literacy, I’d be surrounded by books all day long, and a big part of my job would be to get kids to love books and reading. What could be better? So two months later, I started the first of eight graduate courses that I would need for my LMS (Library Media Specialist) endorsement. The next school year, my principal offered me a half-time ESOL, half-time librarian position working alongside a full-time librarian. How lucky I am! My last librarian course will be this spring, and I’ll then be looking for a full-time librarian position for the 2013-2014 school year. I really do have the best job ever.

3. You recently had a book launch at Barnes and Noble (put off since July due to those crazy east-coast storms and power outages!) Can you tell us what you did to prepare for that?  And how did it go? 

The derecho storm was a bit crazy, but even crazier was the thought that I could schedule a book launch the day before we left for Italy for the summer. My husband, who grew up in Italy, is also a teacher, so we have the summers free to spend with his family. Things are always crazy leading up to our summer departure, and this summer was no different. I think that if I’d had my book launch as scheduled on July 1, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as I did on September 15.  

I did do some advance planning—I had postcards and bookmarks printed for kids from my Title I school who might not be able to purchase books, and I had chopsticks for everyone along with “fun chops,” which hold chopsticks together at the top for those who might not be practiced in the art of eating with a pair of chopsticks!
The people at my local Barnes and Noble did a beautiful job in setting up the space with my book displayed all over the walls. My daughters helped set up the table with the origami kite craft, as shown here:

I saw people I hadn’t seen in ages, like my friend and fellow agency-mate Michelle Ray (here below).

I did a short talk followed by an even shorter reading. When I thanked everyone for coming, I told them that the day felt kind of like my wedding day, in that there were people from different chapters of my life all in the same room—colleagues from 20 years past, colleagues from the present, family, relatives, friends from high school, and on and on. That kind of thing doesn’t happen often, and it felt magical.

4. When do you find time to write? Do you have a schedule, or squeeze in time between your mom/kid activities and obligations? 

Finding time to write is definitely a challenge. As a teacher, summer is when I have the most time to write, but I also fit it in during other times. My critique group and I do our own version of NaNoWriMo where we set a daily word count, and then we check in with each other via email at the end of each day with only our daily word count in the subject line. But on a day-to-day basis, I tend to fit in writing when I can, instead of having a daily writing routine. Some days I’ll write nothing, and other days I’ll write 1,000 words—it just depends.
5. What are your top three tips for writers wishing to get published?

1. Connect with other writers and find a critique group. I’ve been with my group for over seven years now, and I so value their feedback. If the first group you try doesn’t seem like a good fit, don’t give up! Find other writers who give respectful—and honest—feedback and whose opinions you trust. That doesn’t mean you always need to agree with their suggestions, but it’s helpful to see how others react to your story.
2. Attend conferences or join online forums. I joined SCBWI when I first started out, and my very first writers’ conference was a small SCBWI gathering in Munich, Germany where Markus Zusak was the keynote speaker. I walked away inspired and ready to dive back in to my work-in-progress. I also joined the discussion boards at Verla Kay’s (, which is like taking several courses at once—on writing, marketing, the pursuit of an agent, and the list goes on.

3. Keep writing. It may sound trite, but it’s true! I know writers who write and rewrite and polish the same manuscript over and over and never write anything new. I feel like I grow as a writer with each manuscript. Starting a new project always feed my enthusiasm for story. I like having more than one manuscript in the hopper so that if I’m stuck on one project, I can play with the other to help jumpstart my brain.

6. What is one question you have not been asked, but always wanted to answer... and please provide the answer! :-)

Good question! Here it is:

What kind of reader did you have in mind when you wrote FLYING THE DRAGON?

I often wonder if people think I wrote FLYING THE DRAGON with multicultural readers in mind. As an ESL teacher, I can tell you that kids from all cultures want to see themselves reflected in the books they read. So yes, I hope that children from Japan and kids who feel caught between two cultures will see themselves in Skye and Hiroshi in FLYING THE DRAGON. But I really wrote this story for all kids who have ever felt that they didn’t fit in. As the child of a military dad, it felt like I was always starting over from one school to the next. I also quickly learned that cultures can differ widely from one state or town to the next, so you don’t have to be from another country to feel that befuddlement that comes with moving to a new place. I hope that readers from all backgrounds with connect with Hiroshi and Skye’s experiences, even readers who have never tried eating with a pair of chopsticks. ;-)

Thanks so much for hosting me on your blog, Julie!
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (MMGM) was created by Shannon Messenger. To find other bloggers participating in MMGM go to her blog for a list of links.

Monday, October 1, 2012

MMGM: What we are Reading

Another week I have let the time slip away and forgotten to notify Shannon of my participation in Marvelous Middle Grade Monday. Not that I have not been productive today. I asked for a little time to myself so I could write and finished a little over 1,000 words on my own marvelous manuscript.

What we are reading now.

Son #1: (Age 10)
  • Has started The Inheritance Cycle Series by Christopher Palolini and is really enjoying it. After a week and a half he is more than halfway through the second book. It helps that his screen time has been revoked but still, he is plowing through them quickly! What is amazing about this series is that the first book was written (and revised) when the author was between 15 and 17 years old. WOW! So understandably the reviews are all over the place. This is definitely not my kind of genre so I can only say that my son gives them a thumbs up.
  • Geronimo Stilton and the Kingdom of Fantasy #4: The Dragon Prophecy by Geronimo Stilton. He just loves these books. They are a super-quick read for him but I often find him reading them again or just looking at all the amazing artwork throughout the books. I think these are a great choice for reluctant readers too because of all the different fonts used and the interesting illustrations.
Daughter: (age 8)
  • Has started the Judy Blume pack she got from the Scholastic Book Club order through her classroom. She brought them home from school last Wednesday and has already finished Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Superfudge.
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. She attempted to read this one earlier in the year and didn't finish. I could tell it was a struggle for her. Now she is breezing through it and, from conversations with her about the book, also understanding what she is reading. She is two thirds of the way done and excited to finish and collect those 44 hard-earned AR points at school! 
Mom: (not revealing my age!)
  • Fablehaven by Brandon Mull. I heard about this book via an e-mail promoting his upcoming author visit at our local library. We have an awesome library system as well as an organization that supports the library and donates books (to give out to patrons for free) when the author visits. So I stopped by to pick up my free copy last week and have been pleasantly surprised by my interest in the story. Usually I don't like fantasy, but the main characters are (mostly) human which gives it a more normal feel for me. I am looking forward to meeting the author next week!

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (MMGM) was created by Shannon Messenger. To find other bloggers participating in MMGM go to her blog for a list of links.


Monday, September 24, 2012

MMGM in Real Life!

Well, I had every intention of e-mailing Shannon with my MMGM pick for this week but I started reading a new book and soon it was too late. Missed the boat. And I have to admit I was pampering myself a bit. Today at the library I grabbed a 2012 release by Harlen Coben. Yes, an adult book! This is only the second adult book I have read this year, but I do like this author's writing and his books are always quick reads for me.

So I'll just post a MG-related anecdote instead.

I don't actually get to Barnes and Noble very often, but my husband and I were out last night and dropped by for the last 10 minutes they were open. Of course I headed to the childrens' section and browsed the new releases. I was surprised to see how many books I recognised by the cover and/or title and/or author from the past couple months of participating in MMGM and blogging in general. I should have taken a picture! There was The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand, What Came from the Stars by Gary D. Schmidt, One Year in Coal Harbor by Polly Horvath, Third Grade Angels by Jerry Spinelli , Malcom at Midnight by W. H. Beck, and Mira's Diary: Lost in Paris by Marissa Moss. Just to name a few! They looked so pretty sitting there, smug little rectangles of perfection. Yes, they know they look cool. MG book covers are the best and (since in the new release section the books face outward) it is a treat to see them all together. I was sad not to have more time to admire them.

I was also slightly jealous. I realized that for people to have blogged about these books they must have had an ARC. I have yet to read an ARC and think it would be fun to be one of the first. One of the first to (hopefully) enjoy and then spread the word. For now I will put these on my mental TBR list and look for them at the library (I have a very low, if not non-existent book budget.) We did decide to let the kids order from the Scholastic Book Clubs but they have to put up half the price. Unfortunately there is no one to put up half for me when I am salivating in the book store!

Happy Monday everyone!


Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (MMGM) was created by Shannon Messenger. To find other bloggers participating in MMGM go to her blog for a list of links.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Winner! and One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia

First of all I would like to announce the winner of Cinderella Smith and Cinderella Smith: The More the Merrier by Stephanie Barden:

Akossiwa Ketoglo

Yay Akoss! Send me your e-mail and I will pass your information on to Stephanie as she has graciously offered to mail these out to the lucky winner!


This week I have decided to highlight One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia. I grabbed this from the Book Fair at my kids' school last May and what caught my attention were the four awards that decorated the cover: a 2011 Newbery Honor Book, the 2011 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, a 2010 National Book Award Finalist, and the 2011 Coretta Scott King Award Winner.

Book Description: (from Amazon) Eleven-year-old Delphine has it together. Even though her mother, Cecile, abandoned her and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, seven years ago. Even though her father and Big Ma will send them from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to stay with Cecile for the summer. And even though Delphine will have to take care of her sisters, as usual, and learn the truth about the missing pieces of the past.

When the girls arrive in Oakland in the summer of 1968, Cecile wants nothing to do with them. She makes them eat Chinese takeout dinners, forbids them to enter her kitchen, and never explains the strange visitors with Afros and black berets who knock on her door. Rather than spend time with them, Cecile sends Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern to a summer camp sponsored by a revolutionary group, the Black Panthers, where the girls get a radical new education.

Set during one of the most tumultuous years in recent American history, one crazy summer is the heartbreaking, funny tale of three girls in search of the mother who abandoned them—an unforgettable story told by a distinguished author of books for children and teens, Rita Williams-Garcia.

Why it is Marvelous: I read the paperback version of this book and now that I see the hardcover version I just had to add an image of both covers... they each have a different feel, yet both convey important aspects of the book. I think the one thing that sticks with me the most from this book is the voice of the narrator. It is told in first person from Delphine's POV and the reader knows what she is all about from the get go. She is the oldest and has to take care of her sisters... she promised her father and Big Ma. Delphine is absolutely up to that challenge, but you can tell there is something missing. Whether she admits it out loud or not, she needs to know her mother cares about her, approves of her, and it just might take all summer to build some new, fragile bridges, not only with her mother but with the new people she meets at summer camp. 
I also enjoyed the aspect of them wandering around town on their own, off to the pool and summer camp. While my memories don't include Black Panthers, I remember the days spent at our community pool and center, where there were daily activities for the kids. Very fond memories... in fact I still have a soup can decoupaged with stamps (made at the community center) that we use as a pencil holder!


Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (MMGM) was created by Shannon Messenger. To find other bloggers participating in MMGM go to her blog for a list of links.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Cinderella Smith, Iterview with Stephanie Barden and 2-Book Giveaway!

When I decided to get more serious about writing, I looked for books that I felt were similar to my manuscript. I had read Judy Moody and Clementine, a few well-known series for my target age group, but wanted to expand my knowledge of this section of the middle grade market. I was quite happy to stumble upon Cinderella Smith by Stepahnie Barden!

Book Description: (from Amazon) Cinderella Smith has problems with a capital P. Her new teacher laughs at her name, she has to sit at the smart-boys table, and her old best friend is ignoring her. Now the new girl, Erin, has asked for her advice on wicked stepsisters. But Cinderella doesn't have any stepsisters, wicked or otherwise! And to make things worse, she's got to find her ruby red tap shoe before the fall dance recital!

How will Cinderella solve her capital P problems before it's too late?

Why it is Marvelous: This book is full of great material for the lower middle grade crowd. What happens when you loose your best friend, and the joy of finding a new best friend. How it feels when you are not allowed to get your ears pierced and what you do when your friends think you are being a baby for holding your mom's hand in the mall. Cinderella Smith handles each situation with great integrity. She stays true to herself which is why I have enjoyed this series so much.

Cinderella is a very likable character. She is a good kid who tries her best to make everyone happy, and shines with the support of her parents and a few friends she can trust.

Diane Goode's illustrations bring life and such wonderful expressions to this fun cast of characters!


Interview with Stephanie!
1. I have read about how you landed an agent and it is an inspiring, and sad, and hopeful story. Can you talk a little about that and what you learned from the experience? 

Craig Virden plucked me out of the slush pile, signed me up and helped me polish up Cinderella Smith. He had just sent it out to potential editors when he unexpectedly died. When his agency called me with the sad news, I feared that was the end of my writing career. However, in his honor, his co-workers “vowed to get my book published”! Craig was highly respected in children’s literature, so I’ve always felt it was his “stamp of approval” that got editors to look at my manuscript. I dedicated my first book, in part, to him and feel like he’s my writing-guardian-angel.  

What did I learn from the experience…hmm… 

Knowing that Craig believed in me, I gained the confidence to start thinking of myself as a writer. I’m sure if his agency hadn’t kept me on, I would have persevered and looked for another agent.

2. When I met you at the Western Washington SCBWI this past April we only had a couple minutes to chat, but you admitted to not reading a lot of MG books. You said this was because you didn't want your writing to mimic other authors. I think I would be lost without all the MG reading I have done this year. Why does this work for you?

I love MG books and read a ton of them, but not while I’m actively writing first drafts. When I’m chatting with someone with an accent I find myself adopting it ~ and I’m always afraid that will happen when I write too! I know Cinderella’s voice now, so it wouldn’t happen with her, but I’m afraid a new character in a new book might end up sounding like Wilber in Charlotte’s Web or Arrietty in The Borrowers!

3. I also read that you didn't have a critique group when writing Cinderella Smith. Do you have one now?

Last spring I started meeting with two writer friends every week. We haven’t critiqued each other’s work yet, (although we always intend to). Instead we’ve been sharing potential story ideas, writing challenges and helpful hints. Sometimes we do some writing, but usually we just chat, chat, chat!

4. Your job at the Woodland Park Zoo sounds like a lot of fun. What is your background (job-wise) and do you think writing will ever become a full-time career?

I came to work at the zoo after several years as a docent. I didn’t have any teaching experience when I started, just a love of kids and animals and an appreciation of the natural world.  
As much fun as the zoo is, I’d love to be a full-time writer. My goal this fall is to create a writing schedule, keep with it…and NOT let the dog, crow or my darling neighbor singing “Puff the Magic Dragon” at the top of her lungs distract me!

5. Does working with kids in your job give you any particular insight when writing for that age group?

Absolutely! I think it’s critical to spend time with the age group you’re writing for in order to sound “authentic”. I probably ask my students as many questions about them as they ask about the animals! I counter the students: “Why is the ocelot doing that?” with: “What words would you use to describe him? Handsome? Scary? Weird?” The third Cinderella book, coming out in April 2013, actually begins on a school field trip to Woodland Park Zoo. I used an awful lot of my zoo-experiences in the first few chapters.

6. In my opinion, Cinderella Smith is such a wholesome character who (while flawed) is able to stand up for what she believes in. Did you intentionally write her this way?

Not initially ~ I didn’t have a real game plan when I started this series. I had a basic idea, (a shoe-losing kid), and a name, (Cinderella Smith), but no plot and no character sketches. (And I admit, this isn’t a very smart approach!) I just launched right in and CS came to life as I wrote. She became the kind of kid I was friends with growing up ~ respectful, courteous and always trying to do the right thing. She’s a good kid, but not a “goody-two-shoes”. My favorite description of her came from a student during a school visit: 
“Cinderella Smith is nice, but not so nice that you can’t stand her.”
7. Also, I love the character of Charlie! Can you talk a little bit about his role and why (from a writerly angle) he is there? 

Oh, Charlie. He’s based on two little boys I grew up with. “Tarles” was my very first friend and Tommy was my first crush, (at four years old). Every day I asked him how he thought I looked. If he approved, I stayed in what I was wearing. If he didn’t, I went back inside and changed. (Just like Cinderella does with Charlie.) 
Charlie Prince is certainly Cinderella Smith’s “prince charming” ~ although I’m not sure what that really means today. If I can convince HarperCollins to let Cinderella grow up, perhaps there will eventually be a YA romance between the two!

8. I love your promotional photo for your books and website. Is that in your house, and did you go through a professional photographer?

That is my house in the background. I had a professional photographer, (and a friend), come over and take my picture ~ and my dog, Otis, raced around us the whole time! He nearly knocked over lighting-umbrella-things several times. Twas a bit of a circus, as is life, I suppose.


And now for the giveaway!
Stephanie has offered a paperback copy of Cinderella Smith and a hardback copy of Cinderella Smith: The More the Merrier for my giveaway this week! All you have to do is leave a comment and I will draw one name next Monday and announce the winner then. It would be nice if you signed up to follow my blog, but not necessary to be entered in the drawing.

No international entries. US and Canada only.
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (MMGM) was created by Shannon Messenger. To find other bloggers participating in MMGM go to her blog for a list of links.

Monday, September 3, 2012

MMGM Winner! And a little Randomness

First let me announce the winner of Sleuth or Dare #1: Partners in Crime.

Natalie Dias Lorenzi who commented as bibliolinks.

Yay Natalie! And a coinkidink that I just finished her book Flying the Dragon yesterday and let me tell you, it was AWESOME!


I will be back next week with a new MMGM, interview with author Stephanie Barden and a two book giveaway!


And now for a little randomness. The first thing is a repost. I like to reply to my commenters via e-mail and sometimes that is not possible because there is no e-mail connected to their blog account. Sad face...

Blog Education

Not everyone has an e-mail connected to their blog account. So when I try to reply to a comment via e-mail sometimes it goes to a address. I have sent many e-mails to this address before I realized I should check first. So if you would like to add an e-mail to your account here is what you need to do... in Blogger anyway.
  1. Go to Dashboard
  2. Go to Edit Profile
  3. Look in Privacy section
  4. Check the box that says "show my email address"
  5. Go to Identity section, and enter an email address
  6. Click Save Profile
I got this information from Julie Musil's blog. If you would like to see that info first hand, see her

Reading Now

Son #1 (age 10, 5th grade) - This kid has read four books in the six days. Granted, three of them have a 4th grade AR level, but still.
  1. NERDS: M is for Mama's Boy by Michael Buckley - The first book in this series won the 2012 Sasquatch Award from the WLMA (Washington Library Media Associaton).
  2. Flight of the Phoenix from the Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist series by R.L. LaFevers - This book was also a nominee for the 2012 Sasquatch Award and while he didn't read it last year, picked it up at the library this past week and has read the first three in the series very quickly and is just starting the fourth.
Daughter #1 (age 8, 3rd grade) - She is not reading any new books right now, but has instead concentrated on taking her AR tests for books she read over the summer. I believe she has taken five tests for a total fo 25 AR points in the first four days of school. She was pretty proud!
  1. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate - This was one that I read out loud to the kids (again my son couldn't wait and finished it without us!) and my daughter really enjoyed it. When we were reading the acknowledgements I remembered a tweet about (the real) Ivan passing away at Zoo Atlanta and she had a good perspective saying "he was old, it was his time."

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Best Thing About Finishing a Book

The absolute best thing about finishing a book is the opportunity to start a new one!

Here is a selection of what I have around the house... one I bought at my kids' school book fair this past May, one I saw in the "newly released" section at Barnes and Noble, one was a Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendation, two I know about through the Sasquatch Award nominee list, and one I grabbed off the shelf at the library. I think I am going with One Crazy Summer first!

What books are waiting for you?