Tuesday, April 25, 2017

National Poetry Month: Verse Novel Reviews

When I set out to read as many verse novels as I could this month, I had hoped to read more than six of them. I got through my library pile fairly quickly, but haven't made it back to the library to get more. What can I say? April has been busier than I had anticipated!

Stil, I read several new verse novels and reread an old favorite. It's been a good reading month! It's rare that I manage to read two whole novels in a month, much less six of them!

Here is a list of the verse novels I read for the first time this month, along with a quick review of each. I hope this inspires you to do a little verse novel reading of your own.

GROW by Juanita Havill

Gardens and friendship - two things that grow well together. This book is a sweet story about a young girl helping her neighbor start a community garden on a vacant lot. As the garden grows, friendships develop. And when the owner of the vacant lot decides to build on it, the friends must work together to find a way to keep their garden growing.


I loved RHYME SCHEMER by this same author (see my review here), so when I heard about HOUSE ARREST, I had to read it. It is the engaging and heart wrenching story of a young boy who must write in a journal as a condition of his house arrest, a consequence of a desperate act of theft. He had stolen a wallet in hopes that it would help his family buy his baby brother's medicine. Throughout the story we see his attempts to convince the "authorities" that he's not a bad kid, his family's struggle to keep afloat while dealing with the baby's illness, friendships strained, other friendships grow, and a journey from desperation to hope. It's a book that will make you laugh and cry.

LITTLE DOG, LOST by Marion Dane Bauer

Anyone who enjoys stories of lost dogs finding love in a new home will enjoy this book. It is written in third person point of view, which is something I've never encountered before in a verse novel. But it works. I like the way the author tells the story from a few different angles and brings them all together in a satisfying and heartwarming conclusion. It's a quick read too. It took me a little over an hour.

LITTLE CAT'S LUCK by Marion Dane Bauer

This book is a companion to LITTLE DOG, LOST. I liked that book, but I LOVED this one. I found the writing to be a little bit more poetic, though the author employs the same storytelling method as in  LITTLE DOG, LOST. This book focuses more on the animals, and the friendship that develops between the two main animal characters is wonderfully sweet and completely believable. It is a fun, charming, wonderful book that had me fighting back tears.

UNBOUND by Ann E. Burg

Ann E. Burg has a gift for writing gripping, emotional, multi-cultural stories. UNBOUND is the story of a slave girl named Grace and her family's quest for freedom. I enjoyed Grace's voice and her spunky, indignant attitude that ends up being the catalyst for the events that lead to her family's escape into the swamp.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

National Poetry Month Plans

I didn't make any official blogging plans for National Poetry Month this year. This is mainly because I've been so busy writing! Corey and I have some manuscripts in the works. I recently wrote and polished a new picture book manuscript. And, I've been furiously revising a middle grade novel in verse.

So, with novels in verse on my mind, I decided that during April I would read as many novels in verse as I could get my hands on. I began with the middle grade book GROW by Juanita Havill. It is a sweet story about a little girl working with her neighbor to create a community garden on a vacant lot.

Yesterday I reread LOVE THAT DOG by Sharon Creech, which is one of the most brilliant books I've ever read. Read it. It'll take you less than an hour, but it will stick with you forever!

My current read, which I will possibly finish today, is HOUSE ARREST by K. A. Holt. She is the author of RHYME SCHEMER, which I reviewed last year. So far, HOUSE ARREST is every bit as good.

So that's my unofficial, unplanned, unorganized National Poetry Month observance. How are you celebrating poetry this month?

Thursday, March 30, 2017

30 Non-writing Skills Every Children's Book Author Should Learn

It's no secret that being an author involves a lot of writing and writing-related skills. Storytelling, proofreading, plotting, revising...the list goes on. But there are just as many--possibly even more--skills that have nothing to do with writing that are key in helping you be a successful children's author. Many of these skills I've started developing over the past few years, and I've used them all! Most of these skills are essential. All of them are useful.

1. Reading aloud

This may seem obvious, but some people are naturally better at this than others. Practice reading aloud using inflection and facial expressions. You don't want to read your book aloud in monotone and put your audience to sleep!

2. Dressing in a way that disarms children without alarming adults

Kids are drawn to fun patterns, book/movie characters, and colorful shoes! Be professional, but kid friendly! Need wardrobe help? Cathrine Denton's capsule wardrobe tips helped me figure out how to dress.

3. Public speaking

Essential for any author that wishes to do school visits or book signing events. Brush up on those high school speech class skills. Practice with small crowds of people you know.

4. Social media networking

Social media networking will help you connect with authors, educators, and other book people, which will ultimately lead to people learning about you and your books!

5. Graphic design basics

Even if you're the kind of person that will hire a graphic designer to create postcard and bookmark designs, you'll want to learn some graphic design basics. This will help you quickly create timely images to share on your website, blog, and social media sites. I like using PicMonkey for my blog graphics. Canva is another popular one, and it has lots of templates that you can use for free!

6. Talking about yourself with cheerful confidence

This isn't just for those public speaking events! Conversations will naturally lead to questions about what you do. Be prepared!

7. Using Skype or other video chat programs

Seriously. This part of being an author should not be missed!

8. Taking criticism well

Negative reviews are going to happen. Learn from them, but don't take them too hard!

9. Kid humor

Even if you don't write "funny" books, knowing how to elicit a few giggles from a crowd of kids will be a handy skill to have!

10. Crafting

Book themed crafts are good extension activities. Design your own or search for some that will work with your books. Either way, be a master with scissors and glue!

11. Introducing yourself to strangers

Like book store managers and people at conferences and book fairs!

12. Explaining your book's plot quickly and concisely

The last thing you want to do is bumble your words when describing your book! An "elevator pitch" can be useful in everyday conversation.

13. Waiting without obsessing

Of all the non-writing skills, this one may be the most helpful in keeping yourself sane.

14. Playing

You write for kids. Do I have to explain this one?

15. Creating printable activity pages

A handy skill that will save you some money. Kids seem to love word searches, by the way.

16. People watching

Not to be confused with stalking. But it's good to observe people, especially kids, and pay attention to how they interact with each other. Volunteering in a classroom or in the kids' area at church can help with this.

17. Signing your autograph

Trust me. It's not like signing a check.

18. Video editing basics

Whether you want to create a book trailer or simply record a vlog, this skill can be very useful in helping you engage with your audience.

19. Photography basics

People like visual content. So take pictures. Good ones. I like using Instagram because the available filters and other editing tools can help make almost any photo look great!

20. Powerpoint

Useful for creating slideshows for school visit presentations. Also handy for putting together activity pages.

21. Reading for research

You need to know the market. What's being published? What's selling well? Read mentor texts, old and new. Plus, kids will ask you what your favorite books are. It will be wise to share about new books as well as old favorites.

22. Engaging a rowdy crowd of youngsters

Nobody wants to present to a group of kids that aren't interested. Learn how to engage with kids who seem disinterested. Interactive presentations are a good start. This may require some trial and error. Of course, enthusiasm on your part is vital!

23. Creating an attractive table display

For school visits, author appearances, book fairs, etc. Stuffed animals are a big draw. And other props. Make it fun and inviting.

24. Planning extension activities

This goes beyond crafts and activity pages. Coming up with unique games or group activities that you can share with teachers or use during your visits will help you stand out in a crowd, and make you a hit with the kids.

25. Navigation

Even in the age of GPS, it's good to know how to get around. When you're driving to an unfamiliar area for a school visit, you're gonna want to be able to get there even if technology fails you. Hint: Ask your school contact about traffic issues, parking, construction, etc.

26. Time management

Building a platform, maintaining a platform, promoting your books, visiting schools, writing. You've got a lot on your plate. Finding a good balance is essential.

27. Self-promotion

You're going to have to promote your own books, even if your publisher does publicity too. It can feel a little awkward at first, but it's necessary. The good news is that much of this is just getting out there and getting to know people. But you've got to talk about your books too. Don't be shy!

28. Bookkeeping

Keeping track of income and expenses is essential, and being organized makes tax season much simpler.

29. Thinking on your feet

Kids (and adults) might ask questions you didn't anticipate. So, expect the unexpected, and practice pausing without saying "umm."

30. How to inspire a child!

Writing a book that children love is part of it. But there's more to it than that. Hint: Think of your own childhood. How can you use that to connect with children today?

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!