Hope, Heart, Octopuses and Squids: An Interview with Agent Tricia Lawrence

The Benefits of Being an Octopus

Now that THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS has officially begun swimming into the hands of lucky readers everywhere, we Emus wanted to talk to one of author Ann Braden’s partners on her path to publication: agent extraordinaire, Tricia Lawrence of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Emu Emeritus Elaine Vickers caught up with Tricia to find out her perspective on Ann’s tenacity and heart, hope, and invertebrate creatures of the deep.

Elaine: THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS has already received rave reviews, including a star from School Library Journal. What is it about this story that makes it so special?

Tricia: This story is special because it’s an Ann story and each story she writes comes from a her heart. This one in particular was so apt and timely because of the economic disparities it focuses on and it gives kids who live this story every day a bit of hope, at least I hope.

Elaine: The title of the book comes right from Chapter 1 and is tied to a question Zoey’s teacher asks of the class–and a question I’m going to ask of you now: Which animal is the best? Like Zoey’s teacher, we’d love a few details to support your answer.

Tricia: I love a good octopus, but I’m a huge fan of the giant squid. Why? I always wanted one (before they were even seen on camera, when we only knew they existed but hadn’t filmed one yet). They are able to battle whales, and any cephalopod is just a cool animal.
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Elaine: What is your favorite thing about working with Ann?
Tricia: Ann is a professional, always. This is a confusing and frustrating business, but she makes it look effortless. Don’t let her fool you, it’s because she works hard and doesn’t give up. Ann has a big heart. It shows. She loves this work and the kids she writes for so much!
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Elaine: Who do you picture as the perfect reader for this book?
Tricia: Any reader who feels the world has passed them by, because there is always hope.
Elaine: What experience do you hope readers have with this novel?
Tricia: That they walk a little braver, stand up a little straighter, settle into who they are more than they ever have before.
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We trust you are even more intrigued and ready to read THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS, now available to spread hope and octopus facts everywhere. Please come on over to Ann Braden’s website to learn more about the author, upcoming events, resources for teachers and librarians, and what Tricia Lawrence might mean when she calls this moving book an “Ann story.” (And see if you can find out where she got this tentacular dress!)

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An Octet of Octopus Facts and Friends!

We continue to wrap our long, flexible arms around Ann Braden’s THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS in a giant, celebratory, Emu hug.

For my contribution to her launch festivities, I’ve pulled together an octet of informational tidbits about the cephalopodic creature that adorns Ann’s gorgeous cover.

1. Let’s talk about the OCTOPUS. That’s the catch-all name for one of about 300 species of soft-bodied, eight-limbed molluscs, order Octopoda, from the Greek for “eight foot.”

2. The PLURAL FORM of octopus is and always has been—brace yourselves—”octopuses” Say it with me three times fast: Octopuses! Octopuses! Octopuses!

Voilà!

Aren’t they beautiful? Aren’t they majestic?

What’s that? You can’t see them? Of course you can’t, because the next captivating cephalopodic characteristic is:

3. COMPLETELY CONFUSING CAMOUFLAGE!

Octopuses and other cephalopods have specialized cells called chromatophores beneath the surface of their skin. These cells contain sacs of liquid color, like ink-filled water balloons. As the cells expand or contract, the animal’s skin changes color. Specialized muscles under their skin—similar to ours that cause goosebumps—alter the animal’s texture. Chromatophores and specialized musculature make it possible for cephalopods to adapt their appearance, mirroring and mottling until they blend into their surroundings. Poof!

4. FREAKY-SMART INTELLIGENCE! (maybe don’t think about it too much)

 Octopuses have more neurons in their arms than they do in their brains. This means they think—independently of their brain—with their arms. They feel with their arms, sure, but they also taste with their arms. To some extent, scientist believe they even see with their arms. On a whole-body level, they are exquisitely sensitive, problem-solving, interactive creatures.

In fact, due to their intelligence, octopuses are listed in the U.K. and other countries as experimental animals, which means surgery may not be performed on them without anesthesia, a protection is usually limited to vertebrates.

5. OCEANIC BEEN THERE, DONE THAT!

Every ocean is home to the octopus. The habitats each prefers vary from shallow tidal pools to deep-ocean abyssal plains. Their preferred water temperatures range from hydrothermal vent-hot to icy-cold. Sadly, no octopuses inhabit fresh water.

6. 7. & 8. CHECK OUT THESE THREE PARTICULARLY SPECTACULAR CEPHALOPODS:

ABDOPUS (like octopus…with great abs) ACUEATUS, also known as “algae octopus,” the only “land” octopus. It lives on intertidal beaches and crawls along the sand from tide pool to tide pool in search of food. You have to see it to believe it, and remember, once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

 

 

GRIMPOTEUTHISa type of pelagic umbrella octopus, is more commonly known as the Dumbo octopus. I like the name “Grimpoteuthis” far better than “Dumbo,” but I get why this critter got it’s Disney-ish name. It flaps ear-like fins to propel itself, flying underwater like an animated elephant. It also has bright baby-blue eyes, just like—you guessed it!—Dumbo. 

 

 

8. The TREMOCTOPUS, or the blanket octopus, sports rippling sheets of webbing stretched between its arms.  The blanket octopus is immune to the viciously venomous sting of the Portuguese man-o-war. Since the female blanket octopus is 4000 times larger than the male, she’s the one who collects and brandishes the marine hydrozoan’s whip-like tentacles, Scientists believe the octopuses employ the tentacles for offense and defense. Look out, Aquaman!

Now you know  THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS. They’re capable, curious, color-transforming, consistency-copying, and altogether cool!  

 

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I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON, dreamily illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, celebrates the birth of a new family and will be published April 2, 2019 by Candlewick Press. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming in fall 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. GIRL VS. SQUIRREL, a funny STEM-based picture book illustrated by Renée Andriani, is coming from Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House in spring 2020. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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AN OCTOPUS IS BORN

The Benefits of Being an OctopusWe Emus are fluffing our feathers in proud excitement to announce that Ann Braden’s MG novel The Benefits of Being An Octopus will celebrate its book birthday tomorrow, September 4th.  If only we had tentacles to wave in joy as well!

Read on to learn more about the book’s amazing author and her axe-shaped necklace, about how teachers can’t wait to use it to help students expand their empathy, and how librarians can advise patrons on its appeal factors. We’ll also have a whole ‘nother post about the benefits of being an actual octopus!

 

An Interview with Ann Braden

by Anna Redding

Anna: This book is written in first person. To do that, you really have to know your character.  Zoey’s voice comes through crystal clear, illuminating her world

and way of thinking right out of the gate. It’s so well done, I have to ask, was that something yVersion 3ou focused on crafting or did Zoey’s voice come to you with this kind of clarity?

Ann: Zoey’s voice came to me like that. It’s hard to describe, but in my heart I was Zoey when I was writing the book, so I just wrote down what I knew she would say or think.  For me, it wasn’t about craft, it was just about listening.

Anna: When we first step into this incredible story, we step into a Zoey’s fascination with Octopuses (which we learn from her, doesn’t have to pronounced octopi, thank you very much). What is so brilliant, is that you suck us right into her irresistible curiosity, her enthusiasm, her lovable personality. The connection between reader and Zoey is immediate and as deep as when you bump into a new true best friend. Which is important, because this makes it possible for us to really go “there.” And, in this case,you are illuminating a story that often goes untold in America. Tell me about your decisions in crafting this aspect of the book.

Ann: When I was in the very early stages of conceptualizing the book, I read The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery, and I was utterly captivated. I loved that octopuses were so much like us –they form relationships,have different personalities, and are super intelligent – yet they had evolved in such a different way. I think there are parallels of that amongst people, too: we all have different experiences growing up (some vastly different), but at the end we’re all trying to do the best we can. And the more I explored the connection between octopuses and Zoey, the more she became just as obsessed with octopuses as I was. 

Anna: At the same time, this story will be familiar to many readers who see themselves and their families in these pages… and yet their lives and experiences are often not on the subject of books. Have you heard from readers or teachers about what an important story this if for readers to be truly ‘seen’?

Ann – Yes. For kids growing up outside of the white, middle class culture, books that also take place in that culture can be an extra reminder that they don’t belong. (And of course, on the flip side of this, kids who are growing up in that culture can too easily ignore the range of other experiences if that’s all they see.) When I was teacher myself, I taught in several different schools, and I knew that there were kids like Zoey in every single one of them. My gut told me this had to be true on a broader scale, and the feedback I’ve been getting from teachers has confirmed that. And too often those kids have become so good at making themselves invisible that they fall through the cracks. But when we have books that discuss the issues that are central to their lives (but are rarely talked about in school) we are creating an opportunity for those students to see themselves as valued and to potentially connect in a way they hadn’t before. And EVERY SINGLE STUDENT deserves to feel valued and connected. 

Anna: I loved what School Library Journal had to say about THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS in their starred review: “Heartbreaking, beautifully written…Braden’s story raises many thought-provoking and timely questions about the difficulty of escaping poverty and the prevalence of fun violence.” That is such a powerful summary of a powerful book. What do you hope readers will take away from the pages of your book?

Ann: I hope that they come away recognizing their own strength (even if it’s not something that can be seen by others)and realize that how much money someone has has nothing to do with how hard they are working. And that no matter how powerless you feel, you always have the power of your voice.yelling emu

Anna: This is a ‘must-read’ for schools and classes. How can teachers tie this into curriculum and for students, who are inspired to take action in their own communities, what ideas do you suggest or resources can you point them to?

Ann: I’m really excited about the conversations this book has already started. And since the book brings up topics that aren’t often discussed, it can be good to have supports in place. Here is an Educator’s Guide that I put together in partnership with Equity Solutions, a non-profit focused on leading powerful conversations about economic class with people from all kinds of class backgrounds. Besides discussion questions, it includes extension activities, such as analyzing a budget of someone who only gets paid minimum wage and working to find the common ground of a controversial topic in the community. I also created a Flipgrid where educators can reflect on key questions in the books and discuss. Plus, the introductory video on the Flipgrid highlights a few key ways to make sure that discussions of the book are empowering for kids. 

Anna – Lastly, sometimes in life, in the most difficult of circumstances, you can see a lifeline emerge from the fog. For Zoey, it’s joining the debate club. What would you say toreaders about paying attention to those unexpected lifelines?

Ann – We never know where a choice will lead us, and it’s amazing what can happen when we say “Yes” to things. Even a small step forward can shift the ground beneath us in the best of ways. Still, sometimes if your head is down and you’reworking as hard as you can, no matter how many steps forward you try to take it seems like nothing will ever change. That’s when we need to be able to rely on allies who are ready to listen and those who are ready to team up and work to change the  underlying systems that make it so hard for some to make end meet. We all have to look for the opportunity to be lifelines for each other. Because when you’re in that fog, it’s often not possible to do it on your own. We have to remember that we’re all in this together.

Anna – Okay, one more question. For all readers (of all ages), there is a message about taking hold of your own potential, which is why this book is hopeful. What would you say to us about this idea of claiming your own power as your hope?

 Ann – Our own power is the tool that is ALWAYS with us, whether we can see it or not, and it’s up to us whether we wield it. When I was about two years into leading a movement in support of common ground gun laws in Vermont, something that I had never thought I would do and something that taught me I was far stronger than I had thought, I was catching my breath in the midst of months of 60-hour weeks. And in that quiet moment I was reminded that way back in middle school I had also discovered that I was stronger than I thought because that was when I first got into chopping wood. In that moment, I splurged on a small axe charm and I hung it around my neck because I knew there were many more steps I needed to take to help get gun laws passed, and I wanted to make sure I always remembered my own strength – and most importantly, remembered to wield it.Silver-Axe-Accessory

 I kept that necklace around my neck in am-packed statehouse committee rooms and when I was the target of online bullying. And those people who were trying to intimidate me into silence weren’t able to. Because at the end of the day, my eyes were focused on the kind of civil discourse I believed the issue deserved and I had faith in myself that I could help make that happen. That’s why I had hope, and, ultimately, landmark legislation was able to get passed. Zoey’s situation is similar. She had hope because she had memories of what her mom used to be like, and she found a way to keep her eyes focused on what she loved. And when that hope was combined with her courage to use her voice, it shifted the ground beneath her. Maybe all kids get that same chance to find their voice and use it.

 


The Realities Students Face: A Discussion with Teachers

by Kat Shepherd

Ann Braden’s long-awaited debut, The Benefits of Being an Octopus, is a powerful read that is sure to be a staple for schools and libraries for years to come. It received a starred review from School Library Journal, and it’s gone into a second printing before it’s even been released. Following the story of seventh-grader Zoey, it is a deftly-told tale that is both heartbreaking and hopeful. Octopus highlights struggles faced by students living in poverty, and takes an honest and compassionate look at how those struggles play out both inside and outside the classroom. Zoey’s teacher, Ms. Rochambeau, plays an important role in Zoey’s life, so I decided to invite some educators to share their thoughts on this beautifully-written novel.Octopus123

Q: When I read Zoey’s story I so wanted her to have that fairytale ending where everything works out perfectly, but the ending of this book, while hopeful, isn’t that perfect fairytale. Why is it important for kids to have books that don’t always have the perfect happy endings we want for characters?

Erin Varley: There are so many books out there that already have the fairy tale endings, so it’s just as important to have a lot of books that don’t have that ending. Life isn’t fairy tale perfect and kids figure that out really fast. In fact, for kids like Zoey, they figure it out too fast. For a kid to see that life, while not perfect, can still offer hope, well that’s just as important. Kids know when they are being lied to, and sometimes fairy tales can seem like that. They don’t buy the lies. Books like Octopus offer an alternate path that still is positive, but also realistic.

Kristin Crouch: I love the ending and agree that it not being perfectly wrapped up is a strength of the novel. In my school, I have so many fifth graders in transition. I’ve taught children in shelters, children who’ve moved several times through a year, children who move in with friends (resulting in 14 people in one two bedroom apartment), children in houses that have been condemned, children living in hotels until a new apartment is found (and those are just housing transitions!). Ending the book with Zoe in transition shows my students that transition is not, in and of itself, an ending… It proves what the teacher tries to convey to Zoe~ that she is not the product of her circumstance. She can, and will, make more of her experiences, but that doing so is not a quick, easy fix. It will take years of working hard to overcome her challenges.

Jennifer Druffel: I loved that it was not a fairytale ending! Kids need realistic books that mirror their own lives and see characters that can be strong despite their circumstances. Also, for kids who have never experienced such hardships, it helps them put themselves in someone else’s shoes and be less judgmental about their peers’ circumstances.

Cassie Thomas: Real life is not perfect, in any way. It’s so important for kids to be able to relate to stories, and if every student just reads books where everything turns out good in the end then in their life they may feel defeated and unsure. Every year I read Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson out loud to kids and the ending is not happy, it’s not perfect, but it’s real, and it leaves my students with jaws dropped and questions. Then they realize that in life they don’t get happy endings for every single thing. It’s a great message to have discussions over.

Q: Many adults have concerns that books dealing with issues like poverty and domestic violence are “too adult” for children to be exposed to. As a teacher, how do you respond to those concerns?

EV: Well, first I like to make sure each parent is heard. To be honest, I defer to the parent. If a parent tells me they don’t want a certain title being read by their child, I respect their wishes. However, I don’t remove the book from my library. Just because the book isn’t right for one certain child, doesn’t mean the same thing for every child. There might be another child in that same class that finds that book to be a lifeline, as I know Octopus might be.

KC: While I’m on the bandwagon that yes, these topics and concepts are too tough for kids, the fact is the kids who are exposed to it must know they are not alone. They are not invisible, they should not be hiding, and they will get through it.

JD: I would never force a student to read such a book. And if a parent is concerned, I’d ask them to read it first before they let their child read it so they can be the judge for their own child, but NOT for other people’s children!

CT: I teach 5th grade, and this comment irks me in a lot of ways. These students are SO mature and they truly know so much already. If they don’t, they are so eager to learn. When discussing social justice last year I had some outside people say this exact same thing, and my response was Do you know what your child is watching on TV? On their iPad? What the lyrics in their music actually say/mean?  Because they do, they totally know. They are smart and they want to be treated like an adult, especially at this age. I make sure I choose my words wisely, but we do have discussions. The reality is that some kids in class ARE experiencing that life, who are we to act that it doesn’t happen when it is reality for some.

(Name Withheld): When I read Octopus I immediately said… “THIS is what my kids deal with.” Honestly… this book is exactly what some of my kids go through on a daily basis. The trailer park, watching their younger siblings, new boyfriends/girlfriends all the time. Not that this makes any of the parents bad people or bad parents, and I know that everyone is doing the best they can, but I know that some of my students deal with a lot and have a lot of responsibility that I never had as a kid. Which makes this book even more important to include in my library!! It is the first book I’ve read that I really felt MY student’s struggles come through.

Q: When you read this book how did you envision it as a teaching tool in your own classrooms?

EV: I’m not sure I plan to read this book as a read aloud, but def as one to include and book talk in my classroom. I thought perhaps an excerpt would work as a discussion tool. Many tough topics are written with grace and hope, and kids need to see that tough times are not the end of the world, that things can get better, and that sometimes people need help or are doing the best they can in that moment.

KC: I was hoping to use this book to spark a discussion about verbal abuse. What it is, what it can sound like, and how it can affect your own thoughts about yourself and your abilities. From there, I was hoping to discuss negative and positive self talk as well. Even the character of the boyfriend’s father who lived in the house added to the stress. While he was less insulting toward the kids, they were living in a home in which people didn’t adore them~ they barely tolerated them. This affects the psyche, and I want my students to be able to recognize it so they can try to protect themselves any way they need to.

JD: I would book talk this book to my classes and then students can choose to read it if they wish!!

CT: As an educator I can’t even begin to explain to you the quiet importance that Ms. Rochambeau plays in this story. This will be a book that will not only be a very vital window for students to look in, but also a mirror to know they aren’t alone. Ann has touched on topics that I know for a fact students experience, or something similar, on a day in, day out basis, but are not quick to speak up. I feel as though all middle grade students and teachers need to read this book, and soon… One of our school wide behavior expectations is empathy and this book provides the opportunity to teach and understand empathy in Zoey’s life.

Q: I love that Ann views books as means of bridging the divides between people, as is evidenced in her excellent podcast with Saadia Faruqi. One thing I loved about Octopus is that it delves into the the complexity of issues that are often painted as simple black-or-white answers in the cultural narrative. What can educators do to help students find the complexity in these hot-button issues?

JD: It would be awesome to have a book club of students discuss this and their opinions on those issues!

CT: A way that I foresee us bringing up the complexity is giving multiple experiences and then having discussions, constantly. Everyone’s story isn’t the same in real life and Zoey’s story is one that some may relate to in SOME ways but not all ways, or the entire way. Another way is that I love for students to start figuring out solutions. What could we do as a community to help make these situations better.

Q: My husband, who grew up poor, talks often about how profoundly his life was impacted by a teacher who encouraged him to apply to a free Jesuit high school in Manhattan. He is still moved when he talks about what it meant for him to have an adult see him and believe that he had something great to offer the world. Jarrett Krosoczka still remembers being in school and having an author visit from Jack Gantos. Jack complimented Jarrett’s drawing of a cat, and it’s part of what encouraged him to become an author/illustrator. Zoey has Ms. Rochambeau. Who were those adults in your lives that encouraged you, and how do you see your role as teachers in helping kids reach their potential?

Octopus123 EV: I think about coaches first, actually. I was so involved with swimming and my coaches were the ones who stick out in my mind. They believed in me and saw potential in me that I didn’t always see. Encouraging kids and helping them see their good and their successes are what I try to do as a teacher. Always staying positive and helping develop a growth mindset are also things I try to encourage.

JD: I strive to let EVERY child I teach know they are valued for who they are. I notice strengths in each child and point them out often. I listen to let them know their voice is important. I can only hope that this will make a difference!!

CT: One of the educators who played the biggest role in my life was my middle grade creative writing teacher. I was going through a lot. Bullying was unbearable (to the point where we moved my 8th grade year), but Mrs. Ward helped me learn to write, how to escape that reality that I was dealing with and get thoughts out on paper through poetry. I was published. I was proud. I was finally happy. I knew that at that moment I wanted to be that light for students. There were a lot of teachers who weren’t there for me because they were friends with the parents of the students who were being ugly, so they just brushed my stresses aside. I knew then what I did NOT want to be as an educator. I feel that it has helped me significantly in building relationships and also with helping place that heart print book in the hands of a child who needs it. I don’t ever look at myself as a “savior” but an extra mom so to speak. I have told them I wear many hats as a teacher and I want nothing more than our classroom to be a safe place for them. So far it has proven to be just that.

Many thanks exceptional educators like Erin, Kristin, Jennifer, Cassie, and others for taking the time to chat with me and celebrate the debut of The Benefits of Being an Octopus. We are so excited to help welcome this wonderful book into the world!  For teachers who want to join this discussion, please visit Ann’s Octopus Flipgrid.


The Appeal Factors of Being An Octopus

by Christina Uss

Let’s not forget how librarians are going to get this tender, tough, many-tentacled story into the hands of readers. I was lucky enough to get some training as a library assistant last year and learned about successfully matching a reader with their next read as a reader’s advisor.  One of the keys to advising wisely is ferreting out a book’s APPEAL FACTORS, which turns out to be way cooler than solely recommending titles by t

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he same author or the pushing the newest thing in the same genre. Thanks to the metadata librarians at NoveList, we’ve got a whole list of potential appeal factors, and I consider it an honor to be the first to point out to all librarians how they might describe The Appeal Factors of Being An Octopus:

  • Character – the main character is believable, relatable, courageous, likeable, spirited, strong, and well-developed. Kids are going to wish Zoey was their big sister, especially those who already know all about the eight-armed juggling that comes with taking on caregiving tasks for siblings (and sometimes parents) at a young age.
  • Writing Style – candid, compelling, engaging, with well-crafted dialogue. The book satisfyingly fills our minds’ eyes with rich details that make Zoey and her friends and family come alive (and our minds’ mouths with the comforting scrunch of Easy Cheese and crackers.)
  • Pace – intensifying. Will everything work out for Zoey and her family? How??
  • Storyline – both plot- and character-driven, mixing uncertainty in plot with Zoey’s determination
  • Tone -often intense with an emotional edge, moving from heartwarming to heart-wrenching, hopeful, sobering, eye-opening, thought-provoking, with a strong sense of place.

I can’t wait until Tuesday when my library system will load in its first copies of this fabulous and I can start advising readers to check it out!


Ann Braden writes about kids struggling to find their voice despite the realities of life, and about cultural divides and possibilities for bridges across.  She writes because even when life is throwing the entire kitchen at you…there is HOPE.  Come chat with her on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.


Ann's schedule

 

 

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Breezy Battles and Baseball Bloopers, Plus a HUGE Giveaway!

I left you (and Sly Stallone) hanging yesterday, but now I’m back to give you exactly what I promised and more!Cliffhanger 2

Yesterday, GOOGLE IT! author Anna Crowley Redding gamely answered questions about her past work as an investigative television reporter.  I saved an extra-special, best-for-last anecdote for today’s post.

Anna, what is your funniest memory from when you were on TV?

There are a lot, but one comes to mind. I was asked to throw the first pitch out for Charlotte, NC’s minor league team. I did not grow up playing sports, so I was secretly VERY nervous about this whole proposition. I practiced and practiced and practiced. I really just wanted the ball to make it to the plate.Anna Baseball 1

I get to the ballpark, they call my name, and I head out there to get ready. But I was in big trouble immediately. What I did not prepare for… was the catcher. He was so handsome! I mean, he looked like he had just walked off a soap opera set . . . and he smiled at me just as I started to throw the ball. Anna Baseball 2I don’t even know where the ball went, but certainly nowhere near the plate. To say it was embarrassing is an understatement.

Even worse, I had to anchor the news the next morning for three hours. My co-anchor had video of the whole thing and played it over and over again, and every time, I turned from serious journalist into this puddle of giggles. Oh, Lawdy! That was a doozie.

As we wrap up this interview, Anna, I have to ask you the question that’s on everyone’s mind. What is the weirdest, wackiest, most way-out topic you’ve ever…Googled?

Most of my random Google searches come from my boys (ages 6 and 9), and it goes like this “Hey, Google! Tornado vs. Hurricane. What happens?” And luckily, we always get a solid answer!

 

That’s one big-time battle of the breezes!

Anna’s Google search highlight is way more exciting than mine, but I happen to know that if you Google “Squirrel Expert,” Squirrel gradyou’ll find one. I did!

Many thanks, Anna, and congratulations on your debut book, GOOGLE IT! IMG_8310

GIVEAWAY ALERT! To celebrate the launch of Google It: A History of Google,  Teachers and Librarians have a chance to win a classroom set of 25 copies! The lucky winner will also receive a classroom set of Google It! bookmarks plus a free Skype visit. A winner will be picked on September 4, 2018. Click here to enter.

 


About Hayley BarrettHayley's Author Photo-2 MB-JPEG

I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming in fall 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. GIRL VS. SQUIRREL, a funny STEM-based picture book illustrated by Renée Andriani, is coming from Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House in spring 2020. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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You know you want to GOOGLE IT!

IMG_8310Anna Crowley Redding’s lively nonfiction debut, GOOGLE IT!: A History of Google from Feiwel & Friends brightens up nonfiction shelves across the nation tomorrow, August 14, 2018. We here at Emu’s Debuts can’t recommend it highly enough – read on to learn how Anna’s book will enlighten students and engage reluctant readers, plus find out how editor Holly West started Anna down the path to publication.

GOOGLE IT: Curriculum Connections

by Ann Braden

I tore through my copy of Google It like my life depended on it. There have only been a few books that have been as much of page-turner for me and one of them was The Hunger Games, so you get the idea. For me, the fire it lit inside me was my teacher fire because suddenly here was this amazing story of two (big) kids who ran with an idea, weren’t afraid of failure, and were creative as all get out to make it work.
A turning point in my teaching career was when I was introduced to the concept of “Effective effort.” It recognized that saying “Good job!” or “You need to put in more effort” often didn’t have much impact, and that instead we needed to break down “effort” into meaningful, concrete chunks. Six chunks, specifically. As soon as I saw this list of six, I immediately made posters for my classroom for each one.
Six Types of Effective Effort
1) Putting in the Time
2) Being Focused
3) Reaching Out for Help When You Need It
4) Using Different Strategies and Alternatives
5) Getting Feedback and Using It
6) Sticking With It Even When It’s Hard
IMG_9311Suddenly, I could point to Poster #4 to congratulate a student for finding a new way to attack a problem, or point to Poster #1 when a student tried to turn in a rushed assignment. It made it clear that there was no such things as smart or stupid: the only difference was one’s willingness to attack something with whatever kind of effort is needed. It was empowering for me, and most importantly, for the students.
For me, reading GOOGLE IT got at the same empowering essence. The story of how two college students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, transformed the Internet (and our daily lives) is not just riveting; it also demonstrated step-by-step the power of Effective Effort.
Example #1 — Putting in the Time: When their thesis project started exploding and going international Larry and Sergey actually dropped out of college (very much against their parents’ wishes) so that they would have the time to dedicate to their project. (Their parents later agreed that it had been the right decision.)
Example #2 — Being Focused: Larry and Sergey prioritized this project over everything else at the time.
Example #3 —  Reaching Out for Help When Needed– Larry and Sergey had lots of ideas about new ways to approach technology, but they didn’t actually know much about running a business, so they found someone who did and made him the CEO.
Example #4 — Using Different Strategies and Alternatives – Google is based on the idea of using different strategies to approach the Internet and that failure is only teaching us what hasn’t worked yet, but here’s just one example: Larry and Sergey actually built their first server using legos.
Example #5 — Getting Feedback and Using It: Larry and Sergey make a practice of listening to their employees and giving them time to explore their own projects. For example, Gmail grew out of one of these employee-driven projects.
Example #6: Stick With It Even When It’s Hard — When Larry and Sergey didn’t have enough server capacity when they were first experimenting with their idea, they “borrowed” servers from other college departments and keep going. When at the beginning Google kept losing money, and losing money, and losing more money, they didn’t give up. They found someone who could be a good CEO, and they kept going.
Not only does story of Google help us understand how the things we take for granted now (e-mail, online maps, internet searches), but it helps students understand that they have the power to make their OWN mark on the world.
Plus, as a sidenote, I’ve seen Anna Crowley Redding  with kids, and she would be an amazing author to have for a school visit. Check out her website here for some of the school programs she offers.
P.S. Teachers and Librarians! Keep reading, for your chance to win a classroom set of 25 copies of GOOGLE IT!

Three Cheers for Nonfiction Books!

by Kat Shepherd

I am so excited to celebrate Anna Crowley Redding’s fabulous new book, Google It!, a delicious read that is chock full of fascinating facts about one of the most recognizable companies in the world. I was drawn in from the very first page, and within minutes I was yelling across the house to my husband: “Hey! Listen to this! Did you know…?”

pangolin peekingI have avidly devoured nonfiction since childhood, partly because I love learning new things, but even more so because every new book reminds me that the world of facts is far more interesting than we could even begin to imagine. Pangolins! Winchester Mystery House! Biddy Mason! Thank you, nonfiction. (And thank you, Google!)

Nonfiction can be a draw to any curious kid, and in my classroom I found that boys in particular would ask me for recommendations from the nonfiction bin. My fourth grade nephew, Leo, who eschews fiction books as ‘lies’, loves taking true-fact deep dives into some of his favorite subjects: soccer, presidents, and the Revolutionary War. Many a time I have been approached by dismayed parents who lament, “My kid just won’t read,” as they gesture toward a gleaming pile of award-winning novels. When I suggest they offer magazines, news articles, encyclopedias, or how-to guides, they suddenly find an engaged scholar who is begging for more.)

I recently returned from a national conference for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, where Melissa Stewart moderated a panel on nonfiction. At the beginning of the panel, Melissa threw out some surprising facts about expository nonfiction, which she shared in this excellent blog post for The Nerdy Book Club. She also wrote,

Many students connect more strongly to books with an expository writing style, and they’re most likely to develop a love of reading if they have access to fact-filled books with clear main ideas and supporting details, intriguing patterns, analogies, concepts, and calculations. These children read with a purpose. They want to understand the world and how it works and their place in it. They want to understand the past and the present, so they can envision the future stretching out before them.

This is why the world is so hungry for fabulous books like Google It!. Redding has given us a high-interest subject for tech-savvy kids, and she has presented the info in a way that students love to read. And not only are books like Google It! meeting student demand for engaging expository texts; they’re also preparing kids for the kind of reading they will absolutely rely on as they enter the world of adults. So as you’re preparing your classroom library for the year or taking a back-to-school book shopping trip, don’t forget to stock up on plenty of nonfiction books for satisfying, fact-filled reads!


An Interview with GOOGLE IT editor Holly West

by Christina Uss

Holly, what was it about Google It that drew you in and made you decide you wanted to publish it?
The original concept for Google It was something that I had wanted to  publish for a long time. I’m most interested in non-fiction that expands upon or explains things that are relevant to our lives today, and I don’t know about you, but I use Google, and Google based products and services several times a day. Whether its holding meetings with authors over Google Hangouts, using Google Maps to find the restaurant I’m going to, constantly checking both my work and personal Gmails, or simply googling that thing I can’t quite remember.  And when I noticed how omnipresent Google was in my life, I decided I wanted to know more about it. And then I realized that September 2018 was going to be the twentieth anniversary of the founding of Google, and I knew the time was right to publish a book.
I didn’t realize a publisher might have a nonfiction project in mind and then go looking for the right author to bring it to life. How did you connect with Anna? (Did you Google her?)
did Google Anna at one point early on. As I mentioned above, I had been wanting to do a non-fiction book about Google for a while, but I was having a hard time finding the right author to tackle this subject. But then a colleague of mine introduced me to Anna’s wonderful agent, Joan Paquette at Erin Murphy Literary, and she told me all about this new debut author she’d just signed who she thought would be perfect for the book. One Google search later, and I was writing Joan and asking for an introduction. And many moons later, we have this wonderful book!
The format of the book is so appealing: chock-full of facts with plenty of sidebars and side notes set off from the rest of the text. Did you and Anna come up with these layouts together? How did you decide what would be part of the main text and what would be pulled out as an extra tidbit?
I love the design of this book as well! The actual layouts were the work of our fantastic England, Wiltshire, Longleat Maze, aerial viewdesigner, Raphael Geroni, who did a wonderful job.  But Anna and I did have a few conversations about the inclusions of sidebars and inserts. We wanted to book to feel right to an audience used to reading online, and we both have a tendency to take “Wiki Walks” when browsing online, where if you want more information on something or have a question like the one she opened the book with: “How many stacked pennies would it take to reach the moon?”  you can immediately open a new tab and Google the answer. So we wanted a way to have those answers and extra information readily available without disrupting the flow of the main text. And there were definitely some discussions mid-edits about which stories needed to be part of the main text and which tidbits and explanations could live in the sidebars.
What was your favorite part of working on this book with Anna?
Anna was just lovely to work with all around, but I think my favorite bit was always reading the new draft and seeing what wonderful new stories and facts she’d found.  She used to be an investigative journalist, so her research skills are top-notch!
Each new draft must have been so much fun to read. Any advice for other nonfiction kidlit authors on how to polish their manuscripts to have as much appeal as Google It?
I think the most important thing for authors is to find a topic that you can be passionate about. If you think what you are writing about is fascinating, then that will probably come through for your readers. Also, you are going to spend a LOT of time thinking, and writing, and reading, and rewriting, and re-researching information about your topic, so it better be something you enjoy!
We here at Emu’s Debuts know Anna’s genuine enthusiasm is on every page, and it’s sure to hook readers right from the beginning.  What are you waiting for? Google how close the nearest copy is to you right now!
Attention Amazing Teachers and Librarians, to celebrate the launch of Google It: A History of Google, you have a chance to win a classroom set of 25 copies! The lucky winner will also receive a classroom set of Google It! bookmarks plus a free Skype visit. A winner will be picked on September 4, 2018. Click here to enter.

Anna Redding

Anna Crowley Redding’s inquisitive nature lends itself perfectly to nonfiction writing for kids. She can tell you how many stacked copies of her favorite books it would take to reach the moon.

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Filed under Book Launch, Editor, Interviews, nonfiction, Uncategorized

Don’t Know Who Anna Crowley Redding is? GOOGLE IT!

She’s smart. She’s curious. She’s dig-down-deep determined to get her story. Meet today’s dazzling debut, the one and only Anna Crowley Redding!Google It!

Anna, I’m excited your first book—GOOGLE IT! A History of Google—is on bookshelves at last. Young readers will love learning about how Google—the idea, the software, the company, the verb, the proprietary eponym—began and how it became what it is today.

How did you decide to write this book?

Holly West, my brilliant editor at MacMillan’s Feiwel & Friends, first approached my agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette. Then Holly called me to talk about her idea… a book about Google! I jumped at the chance! It’s a fascinating company and the people and very human experience behind the company is compelling, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant.

Before you began writing for children, you were a real-life investigative reporter, and I have a picture to prove it!AnnaCR 1

How did you decide to become a journalist?

Becoming a journalist was a path I began walking as a child. I have always loved writing, loved to find stuff out (and tell everybody)! I also have a deep sense of justice and advocacy, a respect for the truth and for fighting for people. That’s a fundamental part of journalism, caring about people and telling their stories in a way that gets others to connect with them.

What education and training did you need to start off in television reporting? 

I earned my journalism degree from Northeastern, and they require students to work in their chosen field as part of the curriculum.

I remember walking into New England Cable News (NECN) for the first time. News was breaking. There was a mad rush to the set, and people were barking information and directions. It was chaos, but it was a special chaos. It made sense to me. Then came the countdown, and on cue, massive professionalism and topnotch storytelling. I knew had to do this work.

Back in the olden days, we had radio, newspapers, and scheduled television news programs. That’s it. Today’s journalists-to-be can’t imagine our limited access to information. We couldn’t Google anything!

What’s exciting for young journalists today, those just learning their craft, is the opportunity to start reporting right now using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, etc.

Can you tell us about what the work was like? What did you enjoy? What was difficult?

There was a lot that I loved. The camaraderie of the entire team, the thrilling pace, those instances where storytelling or digging into an investigation really changed someone’s life were deeply satisfying. And newsrooms are rife with humor. It’s how we got through the raw, emotional intensity of the work. I loved the head-thrown-back belly laughing.

But the schedule is punishing. When you first get in to the news business, the intensity is super fun. Eventually, it can be tiring. The news cycle is insane, and I feel for reporters who sacrifice themselves (time with family, sleep, vacations, you name it) to cover it all. And then to face massive admonition? It’s tough. Balance is not a word often used in newsrooms.

How does your experience with journalism inform your new job? 

Writing nonfiction books is an extension of journalism in a longer format. The years of working on deadline, digging for details and facts, reaching out to people for information or interviews, and finally organizing everything into a cohesive story, all of it helps.

I’m fascinated, but we should get back to GOOGLE IT! *inserts giant picture*IMG_8310

What was it like to retell Google’s history in a kid-friendly, kid-interesting way?

Our middle schoolers and teens are so smart. I tried to approach the subject in a way that really honored that. For me, that meant having fun with it while also being cognizant of making sure I explained terms specific to business or technology.

One of the most important and interesting things I learned from researching Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page is how to take life’s problems, any problems, and look at them as a puzzle that needs to be solved and can solved.

A message we all need to hear and sure to resonate with many readers. Thanks for letting me pepper you with questions, Anna. I have just one more:

What is the weirdest, most random topic you’ve ever Googled, Anna?

Cliffhanger 2

(Cliffhanger! Tune in to Emu’s Debuts tomorrow for Anna Crowley Redding’s answer to this all-important question. There will also be a funny story involving Anna and a baseball.)

 

GIVEAWAY ALERT! To celebrate the launch of Google It: A History of Google,  Teachers and Librarians have a chance to win a classroom set of 25 copies! The lucky winner will also receive a classroom set of Google It! bookmarks plus a free Skype visit. A winner will be picked on September 4, 2018. Click here to enter.

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Hayley's Author Photo-2 MB-JPEGAbout Hayley Barrett

I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming in spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. GIRL VS. SQUIRREL, a funny STEM-based picture book illustrated by Renée Andriani, is coming from Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House in spring 2020. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

 

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Filed under Book Launch, Interviews, nonfiction, Uncategorized

My Dad and My Book at Costco

nothing is under controlMy book baby is over a month old now.  Because I’ve been a part of Emu’s Debuts for quite a while, I knew that launching my debut novel wasn’t going to be like crossing a finish line, but more like crossing a threshold out of a now-slightly-familiar maze named I HOPE I GET TO PUBLISH THIS into a new maze, named something like HOLY COW, MY BOOK IS OUT IN THE WORLD AND I SURE HOPE PEOPLE LIKE IT.

As I explore the first twists and turns of this fresh jumble of experiences, please let me share some things I’ve discovered:

  1. I am grateful twelve ways to Sunday to have a group of fellow authors with Austin bookstorewhom to share this experience. I not only have my Emu Team, but also a big ol’ Facebook group of 2018 YA and MG debut authors called the Electric Eighteens. I can’t recommend it enough. Future debuters: do whatever you have to do to find an Author Friend Tribe. Shared worries get lessened, shared joy gets increased. And they’ll send you plenty of pictures of your book out on shelves in the wild. (This never gets old.)
  2. How many people buy and enjoy my book is not my control. Very little about anything at this point is under my control. (This is the same lesson I re-learn over and over again as a parent.) I did everything I could to get my book ready for readers. Now readers get their turn with it.
  3. If I’m wrong and it turns out that how many people buy and enjoy my book IS in some way under my control, it better not depend on how breezy and fabulous and well-connected I am at posting things on social media. But does it? Might it? This thought wakes me up in the night and makes me feel small and sort of stabby.
  4. Hanging out with kids and talking to them about books is THE BEST.  Launching my book means I get to stop talking only to grown-ups about my book. Kids are excited for you, they are excited by books, they are excited by so many of the tiny good things in life.
  5. Reviews are for readers, not for writers.
  6. Even if I tell my dad very firmly that reviews are for readers, not for writers and that I don’t want to know what my reviews say on Goodreads or Amazon, he will insist on telling me about them, even writing down the lousy troll-written ones to read out loud to me when I stop by for dinner. He wants to assure me how clueless these reviewers are and pick apart their criticisms one by one, not realizing I’ll be hearing those criticisms replaying inside my head in the middle of the night while I’m also worrying about my social media skills. My midnight mind isn’t always my friend in these matters.
  7. I can’t hold anything against my dad because he is undoubtedly a force for good. He goes to our two local bookstores and stands near my book, loudly exclaiming to anyone within range, “Oh boy, they have that bicycle book here! This is one of the best books ever written! Have you read this yet?” He checks on the display at Costco nearly every day, counting up how many have sold, making sure my books don’t get covered by any towering piles of James Patterson hardcovers by accident. He’s hand-sold my book to practically everyone he knows and a bunch of people he doesn’t, like the lady who took his prescription order at Express Scripts yesterday.

So. Holy cow, my book is out in the world now, and sure hope people like it. Let’s see where this next turn of the maze leads…


The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle Author Christina Uss wants you to know that she likes you and appreciates you even if she doesn’t know how to properly answer you on Twitter or Facebook. If you meet her dad at Costco, please tell him you’ll buy a copy of her book, The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle, because it’ll make him really happy. 

http://www.christinauss.com

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Filed under After the Launch, Book Launch, Promotion, Uncategorized

THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE is Launched!

It’s the release date for the incredibly engaging and moving story, THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE by Christina Uss and the EMU’s Debut Group couldn’t be more excited! A novel about “a girl who loves her home in the Nearly Silent Monastery, but the pull of friendship leads her on a coast-to-coast cycling adventure, complete with hauntings, runaway stallions, lucky inventions, and a mysterious black-clad pursuer.”

Here is Elizabeth Acevedo‘s interview with the brilliant editor of BICYCLE, Margaret Ferguson.

Interview with Margaret Ferguson, Editor of THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE

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What was it about Christina Uss’ THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE that first got you interested in acquiring it and that made this book strike a chord for you?

Every once in awhile, an editor is lucky enough to have a manuscript come across their desk that seems unique and that’s how I felt about THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE. I loved that it was about someone who is an introvert and that it captured that special relationship some children have with their bicycles and all the freedom that goes with being able to get on a bike and go somewhere by yourself.  And I loved the sense of community and that so many people care and watch out for Bicycle on her journey.

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Would you say you were a big cycling fan prior to acquiring this book?

I will admit that I have never been a fan of cycling–it is a very time consuming sport and my husband spends a lot of time on his bike when I think he should be doing other things–but after I read THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE I came home and said, “I get it now.”

Who is you favorite character from the book and why are you drawn to them?

There are too many to pick from–but if I have to, it would be Griffin G. Griffin, the friendly ghost who haunts Bicycle’s bicycle for part of her journey. He is such a good friend–he sings when the pedaling gets tough, offers wisdom, and has her back. Those kinds of friends are hard to come by.

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A book that reads and fast as Bicycle’s bicycle, Clunk, this is a fresh take on  an adventurous twelve-year old looking to find her place in the world. As the Kirkus
starred review claims: “Readers will eagerly join Bicycle and “pedal headfirst” into this terrific adventure, which is chock-full of heart and humor.” Buy your copy here, or here, or here.

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Thank you, for that fabulous interview, Elizabeth! And now the celebration continues with Hayley Barrett and a Bookish Bike Ride.

A Bookish Bike Ride

The Emus are celebrating with Christina Uss! Her debut novel, THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE, follows intrepid cyclist and friend-finder Bicycle as she pedals across the United States.

From the start of her ride in Washington, DC on trusty, rusty Clunk to when she dismounts The Fortune, her whiz-bang, Inspector Gadget-style bike, in San Francisco, Bicycle’s determination and resourcefulness pave the way to her success. She pushes ever onward, through prairies and over mountains, despite challenges and troubles. Along the way, she helps and is helped by others, including a ghost named Griffin, an herbivore named Cannibal, a chef by the name of Marie Petitchou, and a big-hearted pie-fryer called Jeremiah. Finally, Bicycle victoriously concludes her two-wheeled tour of the USA surrounded by new friends and reunited with those who loved her from the start.

I enjoy biking, but unlike Christina, I’m no adventure cyclist. Reading THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE made me realize I’ve rarely pedaled more than a few miles. I wondered where I would go if I decided to try a longer ride. California was immediately out of the question. I needed a doable destination, someplace far but not too far, and because this ride was inspired by a book, someplace with a literary connection. The answer was easy:

Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House!

For now, I’ll pedal there in my imagination. Let’s go!

Orchard House is two hour bike ride from home, but given my lack of experience, I’ll probably get there in three. I coast past my own childhood home, but I have to walk (and huff and puff) my bike up the steep Lowell Street hill. I remount and continue into Wilmington, Woburn, and Burlington. The roads are busy, but most drivers are courteous. I wave my thanks to those who slow down and give me space.

I spin through neighborhoods, past strip malls and industrial sites. After two hours, I’m in Lexington. The landscape gets greener here, with fewer houses, more conservation land, and almost no commercial areas. I have to hustle through Tophet Swamp to outrace the mosquitoes. (note to self: John was right. Remember bug spray next time!)

When I skirt the edge of the tree-hidden Air Force base, I know I’m in Concord. I pedal along the pretty country roads, listening to birdsong, and appreciating the shade offered by old, gnarled maples with soft, new leaves. I pause by the big farm near the Battle Road and admire their Highland cow’s sturdy calf. 

I go a little further, swing around the bend, and speed down the final stretch of Old Bedford Rd. At last, I reach the big brown house and dismount. I’m glad to see the parking lot across the street is full. A woman in a old-fashioned dress (Marmee?) greets a tour group at the front door. Kids on a field trip laugh and bump each other as they roll hoops on the lawn. I remember doing that with my friend Diane when we were kids.

I park my bike and take my lunch.  The gardens are in their summer glory. Bees zip around the swaying sunflowers and hollyhocks. I choose a spot beside Bronson Alcott’s church-like schoolhouse to enjoy my solo picnic. LITTLE WOMEN’s four March sisters loved to picnic, so I feel right at home. 

As I rest and eat my sandwich, I can almost hear one of Christina’s characters, Sister Wanda. She asks her usual question, “What have you learned from this?”

Here’s what I’d say:

Riding a bike is a great way to experience the world.

Know when to heed good advice about bug spray.

This land is beautiful from sea to shining sea and full of helpful, generous people, delicious food, sunflowers, and wonderful books like Christina Uss’s THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE.

Lastly, cookies rule! Good thing I brought some. I’ll need them for the long ride home.

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Cookies, of course, are good both on and off the bike. You might want to go get some to munch on as you enjoy Anna Redding‘s interview of Christina herself!

Anna Redding’s Interview of Christina Uss

The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle launches today and I have to say I was charmed THROUGH and THROUGH by this amazing middle-grade novel. And you will be, too. It’s one of those stories, the world is so richly drawn, the characters so lovingly crafted… that they come to live with you forever. You just find yourself thinking about these characters, their lives, long after you have read the last line.

I am so thrilled to be able to have a conversation with author Christa Uss about her novel, The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle.

Anna–  I want to start with a couple of questions about craft. From the first sentence of The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle, I was swept away. Your world building and character development are so complete and rich, and yet effortlessly falls off the page. And into that, you’ve worked in marvelous pacing and tension. (Readers, I’m not kidding, wait until you open this book, better have a comfy seat!) I’m curious about your process. Was this book inside of you and developed that way? Was the conscious effort? Please, give us fellow writers some insight!

Christina –  This book literally began with its title. My husband was commenting on how I was doing a lot of freelance writing about bicycling while also reading all these books from my childhood when I wanted to relax, and he said, “Someday, you’re going to write a children’s book.” And I said, “Oh yeah? What will that book be?” And he replied, “It’ll be called The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle.” I leapt out of my chair and said, “YES. I AM going to write that book. Why is she called Bicycle? What adventures does she have? I think she rides her bike across the United States.” And I ran upstairs and the story started pouring out of me. (This was before I had my twins, so I could write on a whim instead of having to schedule and protect writing time like I do now.) I wrote nearly every day for weeks, and edited for months. It was so much fun to dive into this universe that was balanced somewhere between reality and the way I wish reality was and ask my characters What Happens Next? And they always had an answer for me.

Anna–  Authenticity is an important aspect of any writing and it’s clear that you have some experience cycling! Was it fun to bring your own experiences into the book? And how do you mine your own experience to inform your writing?

Christina –   It was THE BEST to bring in my own experiences riding a bike across the United States into the story. I felt completely confident that everything I was writing about cycling was as true as I could make it – the thrills, the exhaustion, the chasing dogs, and especially the unstoppable kindness of people towards a two-wheeled traveler who shows up on their doorsteps. I faithfully kept journals from the two times I rode across the country (first east-to-west, then north-to-south), plus during my years working as an adventure tour guide all over the U.S., and I frequently went back to those journal entries to make sure I was capturing what I’d really felt, heard, seen, smelled, and tasted on my own journeys. 

Anna–  Reading The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle, I felt constantly surprised which is a rare gift for readers…surprise. Thinking about that, part of the surprise is the sweetness between your cast of characters, and unlikely friendships. There is a real love that comes through the pages of this book and fills you up as you are reading, even though there is still tension, even though we are marching forward. How did you do that?! Where does that come from?

Christina –  Awww, I love that you said this. I certainly hope kids feel the sweetness. Traveling by bike endlessly renews my faith in humanity. I and many other long-distance cycling friends experience so much surprising generosity whenever we pedal into the unknown – people giving us sandwiches! fresh peaches! cookies! ice-cold lemonade in the desert! a place to sleep! a place to shower! letting us borrow a car to watch fireworks! giving us lifts to the emergency room!  – finding those connections time and time again never stops being magical.  I wanted to communicate to kids that when you meet people face-to-face, especially if you’re perched on the seat of a bike, their first instinct is to help you. 

Anna– And on riding! Bicycle’s packing list for her backpack shows us what’s most important to her, the must-have’s before a top-secret cross country journey. What would you put in your own pack?

Christina –  Oooooh. My favorite riding clothes made out of space-age fabric that keep me warm even when I’m wet, as many snacks as I could cram in including lots of Trader Joe’s crunchy peanut butter and a big ol’ spoon, a credit card, maps from the Adventure Cycling Association, a book of Rumi poetry, and a nice thick journal and a pen. And postcard stamps. I would not bring a phone – I’d stop at libraries and email home when I could!

Anna–  I think the idea of having the freedom to find your own destiny, your own identity, and your own friends is so powerful. Has there been a moment in your own cycling where you touched that, an experience, a chance meeting, a decision that really formed you?

Christina –   I moved away from my home when I was eleven due to my dad changing jobs. (I remember telling my parents I wasn’t going to move with them, I was going to live with my best friend and sleep on her family’s couch for the rest of my life instead. Somehow, that plan didn’t materialize.) When I went in to the first day at my new school, the teacher showed me a seat next to a nice-looking girl with very long hair and said, “Nancy, you be Christina’s friend, all right?” And Nancy did just that – she not only became my instant friend, she made sure all of her friends became my instant friends as well. We’re still friends to this day. Something about that convinced me that if you’re open to the possibility, friendships can happen anywhere, anytime, with anyone –  it it’s one of the beautiful mysteries of life.  

Readers, all I can say, is we all have some book shopping to do!

Enjoy!
Anna

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To close out our celebration, here’s Ann Braden with Curriculum Connections.

The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle: Curriculum Connections

Kirkus gave The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle a STARRED review and said: “Readers will eagerly join Bicycle and ‘pedal headfirst’ into this terrific adventure, which is chock-full of heart and humor.”

This will be a fabulous book to have on classroom shelves. Introverts especially will be able to connect with this AND imagine going on an amazing cross-country adventure. As we all know the imagination can be a wide open expanse in the middle grade years, and when we’re willing to tap into it as educators, the learning can be remarkable.

I still remember (in vivid detail) the project I did as a sixth grader for a unit on Canada. With three friends I got to plan our own cross-country trip across Canada’s provinces, determining where to stop and what to do there, driving distances, what to bring, etc. We kept a journal to document our (virtual) trip, and my memories are so strong it’s as though I actually went on the real trip.

Not only is The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle a fun story, but it could be a great tool to prompt students to plan out their own cross-country bike trip. Where would they go? How long would it take to get from one place to another? What would they have in their pack? It brings it math, geography, and the all-important investigation into a student’s priorities and passions.

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Here’s to The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle! And here’s where you can buy it: Indiebound (it’s on the 2018 Summer Kids Indie Next List!), Barnes and Noble, and Amazon!

Happy reading!

 

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The Countdown to BABYSITTING NIGHTMARES by Kat Shepherd…3..2..1…

Babysitting Nightmares: Shadow Hand by Kat Shepherd is launching into the world TOMORROW, and we are counting the down the minutes!

To start off our countdown, we have Anna Redding with an interview of Kat herself!

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Anna Redding’s Interview with Kat Shepherd

Oh, Friends! Make an appointment for a cozy couch with a comforting blanket and plenty of lighting! When you open the pages of Kat Shepherd’s new Babysitting Nightmares: Shadow Hand, you aren’t going to move until you get to the bottom of this thrilling, spooky and FUN first installment in a new series. Young readers will delight in all the spooks of sounds heard and shadows seen in their own babysitting. And the rest of us former babysitters will adore the chance to remember that deliciously terrifying period of time that occurs immediately after you put the kids to sleep, but an eternity before the parents come home! But first, before you lose yourself in this book, I had a chance to interview author dynamo, Kat Sherpherd!

 Anna–  How I wish I had this series back in my own babysitting days! Were you a babysitter? Did you ever get so freaked out or terrified over the smallest sounds? or did you ever encounter a shadowy hand?

Kat – I babysat a lot when I was younger, and everything always went swimmingly until I put the kids to bed. I never watched horror movies (still hate the jump-scares!), but I did read a lot of horror and suspense, so those quiet hours after the kids were asleep and before the parents got home always had my imagination working overtime. The house always seemed too dark, and the TV room was like a little oasis of light I was loathe to leave except to check on the kids. There were definitely a few thunderstorms, but the power never went out. There was one time I heard a late-night knock at the door. That freaked me out, but it turns out it was just my older brothers’ friends coming by to check on me.

Anna–  One of the aspects of Babysitting Nightmares: Shadow Hand  that really struck me is that you really nail the fun of getting spooked while maintaining the razor edge tension that comes with a good ole fashioned scary read. By the end of the first chapter, you have us. Creaks, sounds, storms, and things out of place, and no explanations for the unexplainable. We MUST read on. And yet, it’s terrific fun ripping through the pages as fast as you can possibly read to find out WHAT IS HAPPENING! So, ‘fear’ and ‘fun’––how did you balance the two?

Kat – I am a former teacher, so I thought a lot about how readers read, and what drives even the most reluctant reader to stick with a book. Short chapters and cliffhangers keep kids turning pages. We speed up our reading for exciting or suspenseful parts, and we slow down for parts with lots of description or exposition. So for those spooky moments I had to intentionally slow the pace to draw out those creepy chills. Much of my storytelling background came from working as a freelance script reader in Hollywood, so everything I write I try to pace the way I would want to see it on screen.

It was also really important to me to write “safe scares.” I wanted readers to have a great ride full of thrills and chills, but I also wanted them to have moments of relief, lightness, and fun. Partly because the contrast makes for a better thrill when something spooky happens, but partly because we need those moments of silly fun to relieve the tension. I also tried to create times when you could stop reading for the night and still be able to fall asleep! At the end of the day, my hope is for the books to feel like a safe place where kids could explore being scared and overcome those fears, knowing that everything would turn out okay.

Anna–   Best news of all for readers, Babysitting Nightmares: Shadow Hand is the FIRST in a series! Without giving anything away, where will you take us next?

Kat – Book 2 is called The Phantom Hour, and it stars Rebecca’s friend, Clio. Clio loves history, and she is thrilled when her latest babysitting gig takes her to a fascinating old mansion that had been vacant for years before the new family moved in. But when supernatural events begin threatening Clio and her friends, they realize the only way they can save the family is by unlocking the house’s secret past. The story has a lot of twists and turns, and it also introduces a new character into the mix. It comes out January 29, 2019, and the ARCs are heading to the printers as we speak. I just turned in Book 3 as well, so we’ll see what it looks like after revisions are done!

Anna–  I love the science pop culture references like NdGT, shorthand for my favorite astrophysicist. Are you a huge science fan and what was it like sprinkling fun references into the pages of your book? And what inspired you to add so much texture to the story with these fun tidbits?

Kat – I do love science, although I love math even more. (I could do algebra all day!) I’ve always been really interested in biology and chemistry, and I read a lot of nonfiction books about science, math, and history. Right now I’m reading The Disappearing Spoon, which is all about the periodic table. I’ve written science curriculum, and I used to oversee the fifth grade science fair at the last school where I taught. I loved helping kids design controlled experiments and thinking about variables and how to correct for them. So I thought about how if I might approach the supernatural from that perspective. I’ve always loved researching stuff, and part of the pleasure of writing is that it’s so much fun to actually use all of that random information I’ve collected over the years! I’m a huge NdGT fan, too; my husband even took me to see him one year for my birthday!

Anna–  I love your main character, Rebecca. Her thought process is so interesting and informed and empowered. For one, the stakes are high. She’s babysitting this cherub she adores. And she has to figure out what is going on. And here is where she really becomes interesting to me because she is going back in forth in analyzing science-based possibilities, and paranormal. And her ability to navigate both worlds as she reasons is sooooo cool. Tell me how that came to be. Why you decided to give her that kind of agency and smarts!

Kat – All of my characters are based in some part on people I know, especially kids I have taught. There is a certainly a lot of me in Rebecca, in that I love to organize and plan and feel in control; when I take the babysittingnightmares.com personality test, I always come out like 100% Rebecca! But for the rest of her I drew a lot from these confident, strong girls I have been fortunate enough to know and teach through the years. I also think Rebecca’s point of view is just as much a function of her age. Middle graders are in that sweet spot where they’re beginning to be educated and informed and form their own opinions, but they’re also still open to the possibilities of the world. They recognize that there’s a lot still left to know, so they don’t rule anything out yet.

And I think that middle graders do have a lot of agency, probably a lot more than we often give them credit for. There are so many kids in the world that look around them and see problems that the adults in their lives can’t or won’t do anything to fix, and so those kids are stepping up and saying, “Well, I guess it’s on me, then.” Our country has an amazing generation of younger activists, like Mari Copeny, Asean Johnson, Marley Dias, and Sophie Cruz. All of these kids were making an impact on the world well before their thirteenth birthdays!

Anna–  Another really cool aspect of the story, is the friendship between Rebecca and her friends. Tell me what inspired you to create these kind of friendships between your characters.

Kat – When I was a kid I loved reading horror and adventure and action, but it was my friendships that lay at the heart of my life. Friendships for me at that age were deep and powerful and complicated, and not always easy to navigate. With this series I knew I wanted it to be spooky and fun, but it was important to me to ground it in the relationship between the girls. And as with any relationship, when crisis arises it either brings people closer or pulls them apart, so I wanted to explore that a little, too. I think a lot about Elly Swartz’s wonderful book, Smart Cookie, which is all about finding your herd. These girls have found their herd, and they’re learning about what it means to really support one another. Nobody can do it alone.

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The countdown continues with Hayley Barrett and a spooky babysitting story of her own…

The Baby That Wasn’t There—A Real-Life Babysitting Nightmare

As the Emu Debuts celebrate Kat Shepherd‘s first book in her creeptastic BABYSITTING NIGHTMARES series, The Shadow Hand, I thought I’d tell a spooky tale of my own. 

But first, a bit of back story.

My late Scottish grandmother, Granny, kept her own counsel. She didn’t like to be questioned, most especially by a child. If she thought a question impertinent, she’d dismiss it with a puzzling retort. For instance, if the phone rang and Little Hayley asked, “Who was that, Granny?” She’d reply, “Och… It was The Little Man Who Wasn’t There.”Granny and Grampa

I spent my entire childhood TERRIFIED of The Little Man Who Wasn’t There, and he lived anyplace she didn’t want me to be. Under the porch? He was there. In the rickety shed? There too. ***shivers***

I never did meet up with The Little Man, but I did experience something—or someone—strange when I was 15.

It was an ordinary afternoon. I was in the kitchen having a cup of tea in with my mother and aunt. My baby sisterHayley and Andrea at Myopia Andrea was napping upstairs. No one else was home.

We all heard the baby’s cry, and because I was closest to the stairs, I jumped up and said, “I’ll get her.” I remember listening to the sound as I climbed. It was a familiar “come get me” cry. There was nothing unusual about it, and I wasn’t at all concerned. Doorknob

But then something strange happened. The split-second I touched the doorknob—to my utter astonishment—the crying stopped.  There was no sound coming from inside the bedroom. Although we had heard the crying downstairs in the kitchen, the upstairs hallway was now silent. I hesitated but knew I needed to check on the baby. I turned the doorknob and eased the door open.

Typically, little Andrea awoke from naps drenched in sweat. She’d fling her blanket off, stand up in the crib, and cry until someone came for her. This time, I tiptoed across the dim room, and peered into the crib to find her curled up, cool as a cucumber, and deeply asleep. I was mystified. There was simply no way this peaceful toddler had been crying a moment ago. I didn’t want to wake her, so I tiptoed out, shut the door, and headed back downstairs.

When I entered the kitchen with empty arms, my mother and aunt looked at me curiously. Without hesitation, Mom exclaimed, “You heard it this time!” Over the years, and well before the arrival of Andrea, I’d listened to stories about a mysterious baby cry heard in our house. It usually happened the middle of the night. Once, both of my parents heard it so clearly they went outside and searched the yard with flashlights, searching for an abandoned baby.

Yes, I had encountered The Baby Who Wasn’t There.

I hope this real-life babysitting nightmare whets your appetite for more shivery stories and exciting adventures from Kat’s BABYSITTING NIGHTMARES series. Start now with The Shadow Hand, and visit the series website for fun crafts, quizzes, and more paranormal pastimes. The next two books in the series, The Phantom Hour and The Ghost Light, will be available in 2019.

 

 

 

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The final stop on our countdown is Educational Connections with Ann Braden

Babysitting Nightmares: Educational Connections

Kat Shepherd has been a teacher, and she knows just the kind of book that students are going to gobble up like candy. This book has been described as The Babysitters’ Club meets Goosebumps, and now that I’ve read it, I can say that that is spot on. This is a book with the relatability of the Babysitters’ Club characters with the page-turning thrill of Goosebumps. It’s spooky in just the right ways, and it will appeal to all kinds of readers. This is a book that you’ll want to have in your classroom library––and once you do, you’ll never see it because it will just go from one student to another.

As educator Michele Knot says on her blog: “A combination of babysitters and scary books….. what’s not to love?  Any series with the word “babysitter” in it is instantly popular.  Scary series are always high on checkout lists.  Combine them?  It’s an instant hit.”

And here’s School Library Journal’s verdict: “Fans of ‘Goosebumps’ and the updated “Baby-Sitters’ Club” graphic novels will find lots to like in this delightfully monstrous mash-up.” Kirkus concludes, “Frightful (but not too frightful) fun for preteens.”

Based on her experience as a teacher, Kat has written about the importance of giving kids the freedom to choose what to read. “To create more joyful, enriching reading experiences in our middle-grade classrooms,” Kat writes, “we have to do one very important thing: We have to trust our readers.” Kat even has a page for teachers on her website that includes some of the strategies she used to build a community of readers in her classroom.

This is a book that will have readers counting the months for the next book in the series. This is a book that will make sure students discover their love of reading.

You can buy it here, here, or here right now! And then tomorrow, you can sit back, feeling accomplished that this fun book is headed your way!

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Demi Moore Isn’t The Only One

Demi Moore isn’t the only one who’s ever seen a ghost.

Stories haunt writers. They rattle at us, whisper to us, ceaselessly tap-tap-tapping at our imaginations. When we least expect it, they emerge to surprise and maybe even scare us, leaving us puzzled, shaken, full of longing.

To write is to reach for something you sense could exist, something that almost exists. Occasionally when I read a manuscript, I experience a sort of déja vu. The story reaches for me as I reach for it. It flickers in my imagination, briefly takes form, and becomes a maybe-book. When it happens, the maybe-book feels so real, so familiar, so full of potential, I can almost touch it. 

But alas, it isn’t real, or at least, it isn’t real yet. Turns out, creative clairvoyance isn’t enough to wrest a book out of thin air. Hard work, attention to craft, dedication, and resilience are required before ephemeral maybe-books have a chance to transform and be embodied in smooth pages and dark ink.

It’s up to the individual  writer to pursue their ghostly maybe-books and capture them. This is a daunting prospect and hiding under the covers—a posture which, according to a friend in the know, is universal ghost-speak for “go away”— may seem an appealing alternative.

But there’s a problem with that option. Duck-and-cover won’t work. You can hide but you can’t…hide. Stories know where to find you, and no mere blanket is going to stop them. Perhaps people who don’t believe in regular ghosts never see them, but the ghosts of Stories Yet-To-Come are different. Even if we don’t believe in them, they believe in us, and boy, are they persistent!

So let’s pluck up our courage, throw off the covers, and shoulder our proton packs. We’ll keep the mysterious channels of communication open and reach for what haunts us. Stories know they belong here, and they depend on us, the writers, to invite them into our world.

Here a few of my favorite ghost books:

ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE by Christina Uss. (June 5, 2018)

 

 

 

GUS WAS A FRIENDLY GHOST by Jane Thayer

RULES FOR GHOSTING by Ammi-Joan Paquette

ghost book image credit: BHG.com

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About Hayley Barrett

I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press in spring 2019. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming in fall 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. GIRL VS. SQUIRREL, a funny STEM-based picture book illustrated by Renée Andriani, is coming from Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House in spring 2020. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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