Author Archives: Ann Braden

About Ann Braden

Debut MG novel THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS (Sky Pony Press, Fall 2018), Local Love Brigade Founder, Former Middle School Teacher

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

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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Filed under Book Launch, Editor, Interviews, Launch, middle grade, Uncategorized, Updates on our Books!

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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Filed under Celebrations, Launch, middle grade, Uncategorized, Updates on our Books!

And They Persisted

As an aspiring author, getting to read the success stories of others – about what it’s like to get the out-of-the-blue (and life-changing) call from an agent or editor that says “yes” – was like candy. They gave me hope.

Except after years of reading those stories and believing success was right around the corner (only to find that it wasn’t), I started to need a different kind of story. I needed stories about persistence. So, to all of those who are persisting in the querying and submission trenches, this is for you.

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The first manuscript I wrote was cringe-worthy. It was short – just 28,000 words – but I had written it one-handed while my baby boy nursed, so it was pretty darn long considering. I wrote it having no idea whether I could write a novel and no idea how you actually publish one (like knowing an appropriate word count for a MG novel.) But it made me realize that I COULD write a novel. Of course, once I immersed myself in figuring out the process for getting published, it quickly became clear that this manuscript wasn’t going to cut it. I started writing manuscript #2.

Manuscript #2 had a snazzy title (SWIMMING WITH TCHAIKOVSKY – it makes you pause, right?) and a good concept. Out of the 100+ queries I sent to agents, I got 30 requests to read the full manuscript. But none of those requests turned into an offer. Looking back I can understand it more clearly now why: the main character was too passive, the plot was complex in certain ways, but too thin in others. I had more work to do as a writer.

I promised myself that I wouldn’t query Manuscript #3 too soon. This time, I would make sure the meat of the story was as good as its concept—an all-girl science club (Sciencetastic Supergirls) that basically has to save the world. Plus, by this point my time in the querying trenches meant I had developed wonderful friendships with other aspiring MG authors who had become invaluable critique partners. And this time, everything came together. To test the querying waters, I entered my first page one of Miss Snarks First Victim’s Secret Agent Contest (http://misssnarksfirstvictim.blogspot.com/) and not only did I love the agent’s feedback on each of the entries, and not only did she end up choosing mine as the winner and requested a full manuscript BUT she was Tricia Lawrence, an agent at the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. This was an agency

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I even have my very own Emu that sits prominently in our living room. Hence, the extra longing.

I had been pinning after since the beginning. A month later she wrote me an email that used the word “love” SEVERAL times. My growing son had been waiting for me to go for a walk in the woods when the e-mail came in. Then, he had to wait more and it started to rain. But then, I was ready and we ran together through the woods with the rain on our faces, and he didn’t quite get why his mama was screaming with happiness, but it sure made for a fun time.

The supergirl manuscript went on submission, and over the course of a year it got a request from an editor to revise and resubmit, but it didn’t end up leading to an offer. But in the meantime, I had learned from my previous manuscripts that the only way to stay sane when submitting work is to be starting something new. As my next manuscript (#4) took shape I could see that it was far bolder than anything I had written before. In part this came from the amazing, intangible benefit of having an agent who believed in me, and in part because in another area of my life I was becoming the leader of the gun violence prevention movement in Vermont, a role that was teaching me I was far stronger than I originally thought. I decided I want to stop submitting Manuscript #3 and focus instead on the new stories I was writing (Manuscript #5 was similar in that dove deep into issues people didn’t necessarily want to talk about – but needed to).

But…. neither of Manuscript #4 nor #5 found a home. Even though they both got very close to big deals – and I was on the edge of my seat, eating absurd amount of chocolate for months expecting to hear the good news any day and even showing up at social events holding a ROCK in one hand because I needed to squeeze something to keep myself from exploding—it didn’t happen.

Thankfully, before I hit that emotional roller-coaster, I found the space to start writing Manuscript #6. When I started it not only did I have an agent who believed in me, but I was fully convinced that I would have an editor by the time it was done. I was sure that this would be my second book and that it didn’t need any shiny jazz hands to grab someone’s attention. Instead, it could just be honest.

I bet you can see where this is going.

A year later I had spent a whole lot of time building up a protective wall around my emotions when it came to the submissions process. I had read the wise Tamara Ellis Smith’s words about longing and how to sit beside it rather than letting it consume you. But still, the best I could do at the time (if I wanted to keep my sanity intact) was to try to sit on top of it. When Tricia told me she was sending out this novel on sub, I had no reaction. Those were just words. The e-mails would go out. Rejection and silence would come back.

But then, a month later, I was driving home from a daylong board meeting (during which I hadn’t managed to find time to pee), late for school pick-ups, scrambling to find someone to pick up one of my kids, hightailing it to pick up the other, and oh-my-goodness did I have to pee. And then I saw out of the corner of my eye an e-mail come in on my phone. It was from Tricia and it had the words “offer” and “love.” Even now, my whole body goes numb just remembering it. I was like a zombie picking up my daughter from pre-school. I even ran into a friend who is an aspiring author himself, and when he asked me if I was okay (because I must have look like someone died), I told him that I really needed to pee. And then cautiously I told him about the e-mail. He, in turn, cautiously said (still looking my somebody-died-face), “But that sounds like a really good thing.” I swallowed. “It does, doesn’t it?”

It took me about a month and many conversations with my writer friends for it to sink in that this story rooted in simple honesty was going to become an actual book. THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS is about a 12-year old girl at the edge of poverty who has to find her voice. There are no bells and whistles. Instead, it is seeped in the realities of the class divide, the gun debate, and complex family relationships. It is about finding hope and pushing forward no matter how much the odds are stacked against you.

And isn’t that what we all need to do?

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About Ann Braden

Ann Braden writes books about kids struggling to find their voice amidst the realities of life. She founded GunSenseVT, a grassroots group focused on championing the common ground on the issue of guns in Vermont, which successfully got gun violence prevention legislation passed. She also helped found the Local Love Brigade, which now has chapters all over the country sending love postcards to those who are facing hate. She is a former middle school social studies teacher. Ann’s debut novel The Benefits of Being an Octopus comes out in September 2018 from Sky Pony Press. The novel is a close, personal look at life on the edges of society, through the eyes of one girl just trying to find her way forward, recommended for fans of Jason Reynolds’ Ghost. You can connect with her at her website, on Facebook, on Twitter, or on Instagram.

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Filed under Inspiration, Patience, Persistance, Query Letters, Rejection, rejection and success, The Call