Thursday, March 02, 2017

Review: SHY by Deborah Freedman

Sometimes we readers like to completely lose ourselves in the pages of a book, and that is a good thing. But the best books do so much more than provide a temporary means of escape. As I've said many times before, to my children and others, books are meant to enhance life, not replace it.

SHY, by Deborah Freedman, gently encourages the most timid and shy among us to step out of the pages and take part of a bigger story--the story of life and being a part of a big, big world.

SHY is a beautiful book, both in concept and execution. The warm, rich illustrations will drawn you in as the text inspires you to go on an adventure--even if that adventure is as simple as talking to someone you don't know. A book that can do those two things at once deserves to be on every picture book shelf!

I encourage you to check this book out for yourself. Find it at your local library or buy a copy from your favorite bookseller! For more information, visit Deborah Freedman online.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Interview with Ellie Terry (and a GIVEAWAY!)

Today I am excited to share an interview with Ellie Terry, whose debut novel releases next month! Ellie is the author of FORGET ME NOT, soon to be published by Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan. In case you haven't heard of it yet, here is a blurb from the publisher:
It would be nice 
to stay in one place 
long enough to make a best friend . . .  
Astronomy-loving Calliope June has Tourette syndrome, so she sometimes makes faces or noises that she doesn’t mean to make. When she and her mother move yet again, she tries to hide her TS. But it isn’t long before the kids at her new school realize she’s different. Only Calli’s neighbor Jinsong, who is also the popular student body president, sees her as she truly is—an interesting person and a good friend. But is he brave enough to take their friendship public? As Calli navigates school, she must also face her mother’s new relationship and the fact that they might be moving—again—just as she starts to make friends and finally accept her differences.

Ellie is one of my oldest online writing friends. Long before either of us were published, we followed each other's blogs and critiqued each other's writing and generally cheered each other on. A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to read and critique an earlier draft of what is now her soon-to-be-published novel. It was a beautiful manuscript and I fell completely in love with it, so I was thrilled, but not at all surprised, when she announced that the manuscript had sold! 

Of course, I couldn't resist the opportunity to help her spread the word about her beautiful book. I hope you enjoy this interview and that it inspires you to read the book for yourselves. Be sure to read through to the end for information about the giveaway!

What was your inspiration for FORGET ME NOT? 

It was really several things.
1.) A story from my mother's childhood
2.) Discovering my daughter had Tourette syndrome
3.) Something my neurologist said when he diagnosed ME with Tourette syndrome 

Besides having Tourette Syndrome in common, what other ways are you and your main character, Calliope June, similar? 

Hmmmm. We both hate moving to new towns and starting over... we both love the moon and outer space... and we both love Cheetos. 

What are you hoping readers will take away from this story?

I hope they come away with a better understanding of what Tourette syndrome is.
I hope they have a renewed desire to see others in a positive light.
I hope they recognize and embrace what makes each of them different.

I can honestly say that all three of these were true for me when I read your manuscript way back when!

FORGET ME NOT is written in a combination of verse and prose, and from two different perspectives. Why did you choose to write it that way? 

The first draft was actually a friendship story between Beatriz (the bully) and Calli (the mc). Jinsong was just a random boy next-door. But it wasn't long before he started bothering me to give him a POV as well. I really wanted readers to be able to feel all sides of the story. During Pitch Wars 2014, mentor Joy McCullough gently pointed out to me that Beatriz's story was overpowering Calli's, and I agreed, so I ended up dropping her POV and keeping Jinsong's. 

As for the verse... I didn't purposely set out to write Calli's story in verse, it just came out that way. But I've been writing both rhyming and free verse poetry for a lot of years, so it felt very natural for me. Jinsong's POV was also originally written in verse, but his felt forced, so I changed it to prose. I really like the way it all turned out. 

What was the most challenging part of writing FORGET ME NOT? 

The most challenging part of writing FORGET ME NOT was also the easiest part of writing FORGET ME NOT. You see, the story itself flowed out of me pretty easily, easier than anything I had written, because writing about something so close and painful to my heart (Tourette's) was very therapeutic for me. BUT. Writing about Tourette's every day caused me to think about Tourette's every day, which made my Tourette symptoms worse every day. Even now, if I read a page that talks about Calli's tics... I tic. Some of them I don't mind, but the painful ones, like thrusting my jaw forward or swallowing air and forcing it back up, I could do without. Let's just say I'm glad I'm done revising this novel!

Share a little bit (or a lot) about this story's journey to publication. 

I started drafting it in August 2013. In August 2014 I entered it into a contest called Pitch Wars and was chosen to be mentored by Joy McCullough. As I mentioned before, I cut out an entire POV during that revision. In 2015, I revised the last 1/4 of the novel in an R&R for my agent, Steven Chudney, before he signed me. We were lucky that the novel sold quickly (2.5 weeks) on sub to Liz Szabla at Feiwel & Friends. With the guidance of both of my editors: Liz Szabla and Anna Roberto, the novel became tighter and better focused. Now it is almost ready to enter the world!

What is your favorite verse novel? 

Oh wow. Super hard question. It would be a toss up between LOVE THAT DOG and OUT OF THE DUST. 

Those are two of my favorite verse novels too!

Any other books on the publishing horizon? 

No new contracts yet, but I am currently working on two MG projects--both verse novels--and both boy main characters, so we'll see how that goes!

Good luck with your new projects. I look forward to hearing about your next sale!

FORGET ME NOT's release date is March 14, also known as Pi Day. Will you be celebrating with pie? 

Oh my goodness. YES! There is a lovely little pie shop twenty minutes from my house in a tiny town called Veyo, UT. They have quite possibly the best pies in the world. My kids will be out of school for spring break, so we are going to drive there to get some pie and celebrate the book birthday! And the day after is my daughter's birthday and then a few days later is the launch party. So basically the whole week will be one long celebration!

What perfect timing that your book will release during spring break (and on Pi Day) so that you can celebrate with your kids!

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers? 

Read. Join a critique group. Read. Never give up. Read. Write lots of stories. Read. Take yourself seriously and those around will follow suit. Read. Don't be afraid to try new things. Also... read. 

Great advice, Ellie! Thank you so much for sharing with us today. 

Be sure to order Ellie's book here or at your favorite retailer! 

About Ellie:

Ellie Terry writes heartfelt contemporary fiction for middle-grade readers. Her middle-grade debut, a verse novel titled FORGET ME NOT, will be published March 14, 2017 by Feiwel & Friends, an imprint of Macmillan. She lives in southern Utah with her husband, three kids, two zebra finches, and a Russian desert tortoise.


Would you like a chance to win some fun SWAG? Ellie is giving away a signed bookplate, bookmark, postcard and cute poppy headband to one reader. Click here for rules and to enter.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Five Little Things that Can Hurt Your Productivity as a Writer

Over the past several months I have been very busy as a writer. You might even say productive. I've gotten so much done: creating marketing plans, contacting dozens of schools about possible visits, nailing down a social media strategy, and so much more. But, when it actually came down to writing, my productivity often suffered.

It is for that reason that I chose focus as my word for 2017. I have decided to be more productive as a writer this year! In order to do that, it was important to nail down the things that were hurting my productivity. So I listed them here, hoping that it will help you be more productive this year too!

1. Distractions

My biggest distractions are text messages from my kids. Social media notifications can also draw my attention away from more important things. Other distractions can be things on my desk, books within arm's reach, etc. It's easy to get distracted when you're not in a writing groove. But you won't get into a writing groove if you let those electronic (or hardbound) sirens draw you away!

My advice: Leave electronic devices in another room. Only answer the phone for the most important people (spouse, children's school, etc). Clear your desk. Look away from those tempting tomes! And make sure the people and pets in your life give you the space you need (this may mean walking the dog before you start and writing during nap time--whatever works).

2. Lack of a routine

Sometimes I let household chores or writing business take over my writing time. Are you spending more time folding laundry, posting on social media, or checking your email than you are on writing? You may be be hurting your productivity when some little voice tells you that you have so many more urgent things to do, and you fall for it.

My advice: Carve out blocks of time for specific tasks. Check emails after meals. Schedule social media posts on the weekend. Browse social media (to like, comment, and retweet) during lunch. Fold laundry before bed. Even if you don't have a rigid schedule, blocking out your time will help you avoid letting your writing time get overrun by mismatched socks.

3. Caring too much

There are times when I get caught up in the quality (or lack thereof) in my writing when I should be focused on getting something down on the page. It's easy to obsess over details even when I'm writing a first draft! Are you getting so hung up on perfection in your early drafts that you're not getting your story written?

My advice: Ignore your inner critic. Remind yourself that first drafts are meant to be rough. That one line you're spending way too much time on will probably change anyway! If you're having trouble shutting up your inner critic, try this: set a timer for five minutes, then write non-stop until the timer goes off. You might be surprised at how much you can get written.

4. Not taking breaks

Sometimes I will feel so determined to reach a certain point in my story that I will stubbornly sit and stare at that spot on the page for far too long. Not only do I not get any writing done, but it's like my brain is stuck in the mud! Do you find yourself stubbornly refusing to quit until you figure something out? It's probably a big waste of time.

My advice: Take regular breaks. This goes beyond getting up to stretch now and then. When you reach the end of that passage, get up and go walk the dog. If you find yourself stuck or struggling with revising a chapter, go take a shower or run the vacuum. Get your mind away from the "problem" and loosen it up with a mundane task. Sometimes the best writing is done when you're not trying.

5. Other people's writing

Most often, when I read something that wows me, I'm inspired. But I admit that there are times when I read other people's work and I think to myself, "Who am I kidding? I'll never be this good!" Do you get caught up in the comparison game and let it crush your confidence? That may be the biggest productivity killer of all!

My advice: Be realistic. Your writing is your own. There will always be people, published and unpublished, of varying skill levels. You may never feel like the most brilliant writer ever, but I'm guessing that those you think ARE the most brilliant ever have had plenty of times when they haven't felt that way. So just be content in becoming the best writer that you can be.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Fun with Faces! A WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? Extension Activity

In WHAT ABOUT MOOSE?, facial expressions are big part of the illustrations' part of the story. In the case of Moose himself, as he tromps about giving orders, his facial expressions range from smile to scowl and everything in between.

A reading of WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? is the perfect time to talk about facial expressions and what emotions they convey with children. Here are some ways to explore this idea during story time:

  • Point to an image of Moose (or another character) that shows a clear emotion. Talk with kids about how that character is feeling, and why.
  • Make faces! Ask your kiddos to show various emotions on their faces. Make a game of it by changing your expression and having them guess which emotion you're conveying.
  • Have children tell about a time when they've made a sad or angry face.
  • Draw faces! If you like, use the above image as a guide and have kids draw their own versions of Moose's facial expressions on this printable template.

Do you know other books that feature expressive characters? These ideas will work with those books too!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Book Review: IF YOU WERE THE MOON by Laura Purdie Salas

IF YOU WERE THE MOON by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Jaime Kim

In this informational picture book, a sleepy little girl says to the moon, "I wish I could do exactly nothing, just like you." But the moon answers back, explaining to the little girl--and the reader--that what looks like nothing is actually quite something! With simple phrases and imagery that young ones will be sure to understand, IF YOU WERE THE MOON explains the mystery of the moon and the role it plays in its place in the sky. Factual blurbs throughout the book explain the science behind each wonder described on the page, and a short glossary at the back defines several possibly unfamiliar terms.

The accompanying illustrations make the meaning on each spread clear. They are dark like the night sky, with a quiet, restful feel that makes this book a good choice for bedtime. I especially like the spread about nocturnal animals because of the warm colors and stark contrasts, which make for a stunning visual.

A perfect introduction to the moon for the youngest readers.

I received a "fold & gather" of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published in March, 2017. You can find more information about IF YOU WERE THE MOON here.

Friday, January 06, 2017

You've Written a Children's Book? Read This! (part 2)

Don't read any further until you've read Part One of this two part feature.

Have you read it?


And have you followed the directions (or are you at least planning to)?

Okay, then read on!

You've Written a Children's Book? Read This! (part two)

You may not want to hear this, but you need to. After you get your manuscript polished to its most brilliant shine, your polishing work is far from over. But this time you'll be polishing a cover or query letter instead.

I'm getting ahead of myself, though.

Once you've polished that manuscript, you'll want to send it to agents or editors. Which will it be? Get an agent first, or send directly to publishers (or both?). There is no wrong decision; this is completely up to you. However, there a couple things you will want to keep in mind:

1. Many publishers/editors do not accept unsolicited manuscripts or queries from unpublished authors. So having an agent will probably mean your work will be seen by some who would not have seen it otherwise.

2. If you have an agent, your days of stressing over query and/or cover letters are done! You can focus more on writing, and isn't that what we all want?

3. If you are a hands-on kind of person, it may be a challenge for you to "let go" and let your agent do his or her job. Then again, maybe you'll find an agent that will give you plenty to do!

Once you've decided which approach to take, you need to know to whom you want to send your manuscript. And that means you will need to do research!

Don't make the mistake of sending your manuscript off to every agent or editor you've ever heard of. Agents and editors are people, and people have different tastes. Not only that, but they have RULES about how to submit.

So, here's what you do:

1. Compile a list of agents/editors who represent/publish your kind of book.

2. Look at specific titles they have worked on. Is your book similar (but not too similar) to other books on that list? I don't necessarily mean a similar story, but similar in tone or style or format.

3. Search #mswl on twitter and visit to see what people are looking for.

4. Use social media. Follow agents and editors to get a feel for their tastes. Read blogs, interviews, and articles in which they are featured. Participate in pitch parties (such as #pitmad) on Twitter.

5. Go to conferences. Can't afford it? Check out WriteOnCon, a conference you can attend from home! This conference, combined with a twitter pitch party, led me to my agent.

Once you've narrowed your list of potential agents/publishers, it's time to polish that query letter. This can be a daunting task, but there is help. Check out this article from Writer's Digest or this blog post from which deals specifically with queries for picture books.

Have a few of your fellow author friends read your query for you if you're unsure. But it's nearly impossible to feel 100% confident when clicking that send button (or sealing that envelope). Just follow a basic query letter format and don't stress too much over it.

Now that you've polished your query and are ready to send your manuscript out into the world, be sure to follow submission guidelines, which are usually easy to find on agencies' and publishers' websites. You wouldn't want your query to go unread after all that work.

Phew! Time to breathe a little. And wait. And while you're waiting, work on that next manuscript!

Happy writing!

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

My Favorite Books of 2016

I read 134 books in 2016, assuming my Goodreads count is accurate. Admittedly, at least half of those were picture books, but that's still a lot of reading. I made it a point to read as many new books (that is, books published in 2016) as I could. And there were a lot of great ones! But there were a few that stood out more than others.

So here are my favorite books from 2016.

Picture Books

THE FORGETFUL KNIGHT by Michelle Robinson is maybe my favorite picture book ever. It is so funny and clever, and it has impeccable rhyme. Those qualities combine to make the perfect picture book. This book is so much fun that I have read it aloud to myself just for laughs, and insisted that my whole family allow me to read it to them as well. If you haven't read it, you are missing out! I recommend this for anyone who enjoys rhyming picture books.

A HUNGRY LION OR A DWINDLING ASSORTMENT OF ANIMALS by Lucy Ruth Cummins made me laugh out loud. I love it because it is clever and funny and full of twists. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys clever picture books with a bit of dark humor.

Middle Grade

Sharon Creech is one of my favorite authors, so I was not surprised at all when I read MOO and fell completely in love. It is such a touching story, written in verse, about the way a young girl's life gets rearranged when they move to a new town. I loved the way the character adapted to all the changes in such a natural way, and learned a lot about herself and her family in the process. Beautiful book! Recommended for those who enjoy verse novels, feel-good contemporary fiction, and quick reads.

THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON by Kelly Barnhill is as lovely inside as it is on the cover. A story about a girl who is rescued as a baby by a witch, and accidentally enmagicked, this book tells a tale of family, healing, and the power of love. And, of course, magic! It is lyrical and lovely and richly layered. I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys fantasy fiction full of vivid details and unique characters.

Young Adult

As I looked through my list of books read in 2016, I realized that I hadn't read a lot of young adult books. That is not surprising since I purposely focused on catching up on some of my middle grade reading over the past year. But it turns out, of the young adult books I did read, only one of them was published in 2016! Even so, I think that this book would still have had a good chance of making it onto this very short list of favorites.

CALAMITY, book three in THE RECKONERS series by Brandon Sanderson, was a lot of fun to read. An exciting and satisfying end to a fascinating series. Recommended for fans of action-packed sci-fi/fantasy adventures or super hero stories, and those who like books with a lot of guns and a bit of romance.