Tag Archives: middle grade

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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Filed under Book Giveaway, Book Launch, Celebrations, Interviews, Launch, middle grade, nonfiction, Uncategorized

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!

Initiate Interview of Erica Sussman, Editor of THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY

I’m delighted to introduce Editorial Director Erica Sussman of HarperCollins. She graciously agreed to be interviewed for Emu’s Debuts as we celebrate author Katie Slivensky’s debut middle grade novel, THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY. 

To begin, Erica, can you explain what was it about THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY manuscript that made you sit up and pay attention? When during your initial reading did you decide to acquire it for HarperCollins?

“I was drawn into the story from the very first page. Miranda is an incredibly sympathetic and relatable narrator, despite the fact that she’s in a pretty crazy situation! I was never a science buff, but Katie’s story is so accessible that I didn’t get confused by any of the technical aspects of the space travel—I was too busy trying to figure out what would happen next! And Katie’s manuscript also made me cry – in the best and most surprising way – which is a pretty tough feat! She’s crafted the most wonderful friendship between Miranda and Ruby, a robot that Miranda built. There’s a moment of such heartbreaking sacrifice in the book (I won’t tell you what happens, don’t worry!) that is handled so deftly – when I read it I knew I had to get Katie’s debut novel on my list.”

Confession: I haven’t read THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY yet. If I asked you for a book recommendation, how would you persuade me to drop everything and read THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY?

Here’s what I’d say: If you’ve ever felt out of your depth, if you’ve ever had to make new friends, if you’ve ever had to step up and be brave, if you’ve ever had to stand up for yourself or a friend, if you’ve ever longed for an out of this world adventure…PICK UP THIS BOOK.

I’ve had to face situations like those, but always right here on terra firma. This book’s readers, on the other hand, will encounter such relatable challenges as they thrillingly zoom through space. Much more fun and interesting.

What were your favorite books when you were a kid? Does THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY have anything in common with them?

I had a bunch of favorites, but the one that stands out in relation to The Countdown Conspiracy is SpaceCamp, which now that I think about it may possibly have just been the novelization of the movie with Lea Thompson. It was about a group of teenagers accidentally sent up into space and I think I read it approximately a zillion times. There was a lot about Countdown Conspiracy that reminded me of it in the best ways: unlikely friendships, strong characters, a great sense of humor, fast-paced adventure, danger—and, thank goodness, a happy ending.

And with that, we are GO for launch. Editorial Director Sussman, in six seconds and six words, please commence the launch sequence for THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY.

Six…BRAVE

Five…KIDS

Four…HAVE

Three…THE

Two…BEST

One…ADVENTURES

I couldn’t agree more! I can’t wait to blast off with Miranda and Ruby. Thank you, Erica, for all you do to bring exciting, uplifting books into the world. THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY will surely encourage in its readers an enterprising spirit and a love of science and space.

You can purchase THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY at your local bookstore or here:

Indiebound: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780062462558
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Countdown-Conspiracy…/dp/0062462555
Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/…/the…/1124860410

To learn more about author and science educator Katie Slivensky, visit her website. https://www.katieslivensky.com

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About Hayley Barrett

I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming in spring 2019 from Candlewick Press. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is also coming in spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka.

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Filed under Book Launch, Characters, Editor, Interviews, Launch, Middle Grade, Publishers and Editors, Uncategorized

Sweet Treats to Celebrate JASMINE TOGUCHI—Plus A Giveaway!

To celebrate the arrival of the first two volumes of Debbi Michiko Florence’s JASMINE TOGUCHI chapter book series, I asked the EMUs to tell me about their earliest kitchen experiences. From batter-covered beaters to Easy Bake ovens, it was a sweet trip down memory lane.

Sarvinder Naberhaus recalls, “I did learn to bake as a child, motivated by (and still motivated by) the objective —  to eat the sweet treats! Cooking was a chore but baking was fun! And who wouldn’t want to use Betty Crocker’s New Cookbook for Boys and Girls with all their fun presentations of food? 

Although I’m torn between sharing our Betty Crocker recipe for Carrot Cake and the cookie dough recipe from childhood, I think I’ll stick with my mentor, Betty.

BETTY CROCKER’S (AND SARVINDER’S) CARROT CAKE

Grease and flour a 9×13 cake pan. Preheat oven to 350. 

Ingredients:
4 eggs, beaten
2 c flour
2 c sugar
1 1/4 Crisco oil or a bit less
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 c chopped nuts, if desired
2 c grated raw carrots

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, & salt to combine. In a medium bowl, blend together sugar and oil, then add beaten eggs. Stir dry and wet mixtures together gently. Fold in nuts and carrots last.
Bake 350 for 1/2 hour or so until the middle bounces to touch. When cool, adorn with:

Frosting:
1 stick butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 c powdered sugar
Beat all ingredients together thoroughly until whitish and fluffy. Frost cake and serve.

“I started learning how to bake at my mom’s elbow when I was four,” recalls recent EMU Fledgling Andrea Y. Wang. Mom was a nurse-midwife and worked a lot, so baking was my special time with her. My favorite thing to bake was chocolate chip cookies, because…CHOCOLATE, but I also loved making banana bread. It was so easy and mashing up the bananas was really fun—and way easier than pounding mochi rice! I still have the Betty Crocker cookbook that we used when I was little, and you can see all the stains on the banana bread page.
I even wrote the smaller amount of milk needed (only 3/4 cup) right on the recipe, because the mashed bananas added the extra liquid. Now that my mom is gone, using her cookbook and her mixing bowls keeps her close to me.

Katie Slivensky enjoyed annual baking bonanzas as a kid. “My childhood baking was cookie-related. Classic chocolate chip cookies throughout the year, or ALL THE COOKIES
at Christmas-time. My mom would have my sister and I help out with the mixing and measuring (and in the case of Christmas—decorating!) I mostly liked to help because that meant I’d get to eat the extra batter off the beaters. I also took decorating the frosted cookies for the holidays VERY seriously.

Here’s my mom’s Frosted Cookie recipe:

KATIE’S MOM’S CREAM CHEESE COOKIES

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Mix together:

1 cup shortening
3 ounces of cream cheese, softened
1 cup granulated sugar

Then add:
1 beaten egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour

Roll dough out will lots of additional flour. Dip cookie cutters into flour before cutting so dough won’t stick.
Bake cookies 9-12 minutes or until edges start to get light brown.

Cool completely before decorating with:

Frosting (3 batches of frosting to 2 batches of cookies)
1 1/2 confectioners sugar
2 TBL butter (margarine) softened
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 TBL warm water

Blend ingredients until smooth. Divide frosting into smaller glass bowls and use food coloring to tint. Have fun! After decorating, allow cookies to rest overnight so frosting sets up.

Jason Gallaher says, “My mom is a marvelous baker, and I remember sitting with her in the kitchen while she made a whole slew of goodies. Turtle brownies, chocolate chip banana bread, and oatmeal butterscotch cookies were my absolute fave. I wish I had a recipe to share with you, but I can’t recall any of the *actual* steps in how to make these treats, because the only steps I ever participated in were Dipping Fingers Inside the Batter, and Licking Serving Spoons Clean. But those are steps that I highly recommend in any recipe!”

POM BROKAW THINKS JASON IS SUPER SWEET! >>>>>>>>>>>

Judging from this adorable picture, Terry Pierce was a baking prodigy. Her fondest early childhood memory was baking cupcakes with her mom. “I loved to help pour, mix and my favorite part, licking the leftover batter. My brother and I had to alternate so that one of us got the bowl and the other got the beaters. When I was around five, I got my first Easy Bake oven. I found it fascinating that a light bulb could bake those small cakes! I loved the coveted chocolate cake mix. The vanilla tasted like cardboard!

I still love to bake. In fact, just this morning, I made a chocolate- cream-filled-ganache birthday cake for my family. Yum!

Christina Uss remembers, “Early baking experiences were all about my mom and me and cookies. Her Nestlé Toll House chocolate chip cookies were, in my opinion, far superior to all others. My best friend Karen and I started asking to cook them on our own when we were eleven, and to make sure we got the perfect results, we followed everything my mom did exactly, down to using the same mixing bowls and measuring spoons. It worked! Why? I figured my mom passed on some sort of cooking magic to us. It took meeting my husband who loves to bake but uses his grandma’s old Sunbeam electric mixer for every recipe to realize the real secret to my mom’s awesome cookies wasn’t specific mixing bowls, measuring spoons, or magic, but creaming the butter and sugar by hand with a wooden spoon. It’s hard work (especially if you forget to leave the butter out to soften until you start mixing everything else, which I always did), but gives the cookies this satisfyingly chewy texture that can’t be beat. So here’s my recipe – with two caveats.

 

My thanks to the EMUs for these scrumptious stories. I think I’ll go bake some cookies now and tuck in with my copy of JASMINE TOGUCHI.


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. It will be illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Filed under Book Giveaway, Book Launch, Celebrations, Dreams Come True, Families, Happiness, Launch, middle grade, Middle Grade, series, Uncategorized

Embracing the Imperfect

Our lives are set up around milestones: memorable, noteworthy events that we mark with rituals and celebrations. In my own life, I can recall events that mark those big occasions: important birthdays, graduations, weddings, my godson’s baptism. There was a set moment for each of those, a moment that I can look back at and say, “Oh, yeah. I’ll never forget where I was and what I felt when that happened.”

For many writers, the journey to publication is marked with the same joyful celebratory dinners, champagne toasts, and group hugs as any of the more traditional life milestones. I love hearing friends’ stories of getting that agent phone call and bursting into tears, their families beaming with pride beside them. Their stories are beautiful, and my own heart bursts with happiness to cheer and celebrate all of that magic. But what if your own journey looks different?

Through circumstances beyond anyone’s control, my own first book milestones have been bittersweet. That heart-stopping call from my agent? I was on my way to work, and my husband was 3000 miles away on a business trip. He happened to fall asleep that night without charging his phone, so I carried my bottled-up joy to work with me. I finally couldn’t keep it in anymore, so I eagerly spilled the beans to my ten-year-old student, who could not have been any less impressed or interested. Humbling, to say the least.

A few weeks later my deal announcement appeared in the trades; seeing my photo and name in there made everything feel so real, and it meant I was finally free to share the news publicly.  However, just minutes after I saw the announcement, my husband called to tell me that his dad had been diagnosed with cancer. As our family worked together to help my father-in-law navigate the complicated world of cancer treatment, celebration couldn’t have been further from our minds. And now that he has successfully completed chemotherapy, his improved health and happiness feels like a much more special milestone for our family to mark.

I am incredibly lucky to have a publishing deal, and I am beyond grateful to have the chance to earn money as a writer. But, much as it pains me to admit it, when I remember these first Big Author Moments, while there is joy and gratitude in those memories, there is also loneliness, worry, and disappointment.  I have a book deal and a supportive circle of friends and family, but I still can’t help but wish that those first moments had been a little different. And then I can’t help but feel ashamed of myself for wishing that. It shouldn’t matter, I think. I am a jerk for caring about this.

Every writer I know has worked incredibly hard to get this far, and we all remember the wistful feeling of seeing other writers ahead of us, hitting those milestones. And while everything might look rosy and golden from a distance, there is no doubt that up close, everyone’s road is littered with frustrations and slights and missed opportunities.

So, and I’m saying this as much to myself as I am to anyone else, the journey toward publication is magical and thrilling and awesome and inspiring. But a lot of it can also be kind of sucky. That’s OK. Embrace the suck.  The disappointing, difficult, exhausting moments mean that all of this is actually happening. Living the Dream doesn’t mean turning your life into a dream; it means you’re turning your dream into real life. Your very own messy, imperfect, glorious life.


Kat Shepherd is a writer and educator living in Los Angeles with her husband, two dogs, and a rotating series of foster dogs. Her wonderful father-in-law lives nearby. They are planning a massive celebration when the first book from her Babysitting Nightmares series (Macmillan/Imprint) debuts in fall 2018. You’re all invited. You can find Kat at katshepherd.com or connect with her on Twitter @bookatshepherd.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Celebrations, Dreams Come True, Families, Guilt, Happiness, Inspiration, Thankfulness, Writing and Life

There is Room for All of Us

My first real fiction writing was in college, when I wrote and performed in a sketch comedy group.  It’s been twenty years since I’ve seen or read anything we wrote back then, so I have no perspective on whether what we produced was good or terrible. But I know that we believed in the work we were doing, and we were always driven by the simple motto of our group’s president: Something for Everyone. Every show was a melange of of slapstick, satire, jokes that landed, and jokes that didn’t.

It’s the kind of motto that’s so simple that it seems almost silly to repeat.  Of course there should be something for everyone.  Of course. But back then it was a reminder that there isn’t just one kind of comedy. An audience is made up of a lot of different people; what’s eye-rollingly lame for one person may be hilarious to someone else, so don’t yuck anyone’s yum.  There’s room for all of it.

I was recently at a writing retreat with brilliant, inspirational speakers.  One speaker gave a beautiful presentation, and she told a story about an art student who was devastated when a professor told her, “Your art looks like something I could find at Crate & Barrel.” Part of the talk was about how to avoid writing a Crate & Barrel book. After the lecture, my friend turned to me and said, “But I like Crate & Barrel.”

I laughed and said, “Dude, Crate & Barrel is all I write.”  My forthcoming book series, Babysitting Nightmares, is a fairly-commercial spooky adventure series that is billed as Babysitters Club meets Goosebumps.  I love poignant, thought-provoking symbolic writing; reading a beautifully-written book is like savoring a gourmet meal.  It’s just not what I happen to be interested in writing right now.

That same speaker reminded us of the resonance and impact of writing. She said that once her first book was published, she realized that sales numbers didn’t matter; awards didn’t matter. If just one kid could read her book and say, “This means something to me,” then that is enough.  That is the reason to write.

In my mind, I write the books I write for a specific imaginary kid. It’s the kid who flounders during free reading time, because she can’t find a book that pulls her in.  It’s the kid who has almost no stars on the classroom reading chart. It’s the kid who says I don’t really like to read. I hated seeing those kids feel like they were always missing out on something, like reading was a punchline that everyone else seemed to get. Somewhere out there is a book that that kid will pick up and be able to say, Yes, I am a reader, too.

What I love about kidlit is also what I loved about comedy: the bandwidth is almost unlimited. We have so much freedom to tell the stories we want to tell.  We need every kind of story to be out in the world, because we have every kind of kid looking for a way to connect.  Something for everyone.  There’s room for all of it.  And I think that is why the kidlit community is such a supportive one.  We celebrate one another because we know that with every new book comes a new opportunity for a child to find the reader within.

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Kat Shepherd is a writer and educator living in Los Angeles with her husband, two dogs, and a rotating series of foster dogs. She has been an avid reader since childhood, and as a teacher she worked to bring that same joy to her students. She is thrilled to be creating fast-paced, spooky stories that can engage all types of readers. The first book from her Babysitting Nightmares series (Macmillan/Imprint) debuts in fall 2018. You can find Kat at katshepherd.com or connect with her on Twitter @bookatshepherd.

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Filed under Reaching Readers, reading, Writing, Writing and Life

LIKE MAGIC Launch Week: Our Biggest Summers

like-magic

Elaine Vickers LIKE MAGIC is a lovely story about Grace, Jada, and Malia, three girls looking to belong. It’s a story about the biggest summer of their lives, the summer so much changes. Talking about this special summer got Emus thinking about the biggest summer of their childhood. Twelve to thirteen seemed to be the sweet spot for these Emus.

Haley Barrett remembers the exact moment when she realized she wasn’t a little kid anymore. “It was a summer evening. I was at a 4H fair and on a carnival ride. We were flying and spinning and Heart’s BARRACUDA was blasting. I felt daring and pretty and like an almost-teenager.”

For Jason Gallaher his twelve-year-old summer was made special by his Grandma Joan. “She took me and my brother on a trip to the Mediterranean. We saw the south of France, the west coast of Italy, and Malta. It was the first time I had been out of the country. She may not have realized it, but Grandma made me realize how big the world was and how much of it I wanted to see. From that summer on, I knew I wouldn’t stay in my hometown as an adult – I’d go discover where on the planet I felt most myself.”

The summer Kate Slivensky was turning 13, was her second summer volunteering at the local zoo. She got to work with more exotic animals than the summer before. “My first day on the job that year, I helped a zookeeper separate fighting rhinos. I remember thinking, ‘This isn’t something they’d let a kid do. I must be growing up!’ I was really proud of myself. As an adult looking back, I have a different opinion of that moment (mild horror, to say the least). But as I write middle grade, I use it to remember what kids are capable of accomplishing. (Far more than adults give them credit for!)”

The summer Andrea Wang turned 13, her family moved from rural Ohio to a suburb of Boston. “I was a painfully self-conscious kid, and suddenly finding myself in a large, racially-diverse city was heaven. I loved the freedom of anonymity, of blending in, of being one of a crowd. I made friends with other Chinese American kids and felt seen and heard in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. That move made me feel like I could finally belong somewhere.”

Go get yourself a copy of Elaine’s LIKE MAGIC. The sweetness of the friendship summer will get you thinking about your own special summers. Here are some links where you can buy the book: Amazon, IndieBound, and B&N.


darceyhighresDarcey Rosenblatt’s debut novel will be published by Henry Holt/MacMillan in August 2017. LOST BOYS, an historic fiction, tells the story of a 12-year old Iranian boy sent to fight in the Iran Iraq war in 1982. With her critique group she runs the Better Books Workshop – an annual small deep craft conference held in Northern California. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her fabulous husband and perfect daughter, some fish, a cat and the best dog in the world. By day she is an environmental planner and when time permits she paints and costumes for a 5-8 year old theater.

 

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When We Were Twelve—EMUs’ Advice To Their Younger Selves

All this week on the blog we’ve celebrated the launch of Elly Swartz’s debut middle grade novel, FINDING PERFECT.

finding-perfect-2

FINDING PERFECT’s sweet, sensitive main character, twelve-year-old Molly, wishes her life was perfect, but family and school problems keep her in turmoil. She attempts to counteract these upsets with comforting rituals, only to find that these same rituals, bit by bit, begin to control her. As her anxiety escalates, it becomes clear that Molly needs someone to advise her, to assure her she is capable of positive change, and to help her look forward to stronger, better days.

Perhaps the best person to guide Molly would be her older, wiser self. With the perspective that comes with years, an adult Molly would know how to be supportive while encouraging growth. With this in mind, I asked the EMUs what advice they would give their twelve-year-old selves.

We’ll start with the author.  Elly’s advice to Elly Junior? “Be brave. Be kind. Be curious. And always stay true to who you are.”

IMG_955220160119_142212-1

Isn’t Elly Junior adorable? See the light of creativity and compassion in her eyes? Bet this kid will grow up to be a writer or something.

The Debbi Michiko Florence of today advises her younger self, “Don’t worry so much about following trends like Farrah Fawcett feathered hair – really, it doesn’t work on Japanese stick-straight hair.”

farrah

(I admire you, Debbi, for even trying. While my sister expertly wielded her round brush and can of AquaNet every morning, I slept in.)

Debbi goes on to recall a relatable tween dilemma with all its requisite drama. She asks her younger self, “And that gold belt trend you just had to follow? Remember how you begged and pleaded with your mom to get you that gold belt and how you lost it the first day you wore it to school? And remember how you convinced the teacher to let you go look for it and then convinced your friend’s teacher to let her leave her class to help you look for it? And how you looked and looked and couldn’t find it and you were so afraid you were going to get in trouble and you were freaking out? Then upi found it. The belt had slipped under your shirt and you were still wearing it! Don’t sweat the small stuff ! Or even what you think is the “big stuff.”

web_edit6xx8t3624sleepy-duckling

I don’t have a picture of Debbi  back then, but I know she was much, much cuter than a sleepy desktop ducking.

PierceHeadshotUCLA (2)little-terry

Like the seasoned picture book writer she is, Terry Pierce is superbly succinct. She advises young Terry to, “believe in yourself, be courageous and strong. Stand up for yourself if someone wrongs you. Don’t let others define you. You’re bright, a hard worker, and have a kind heart, and that will take you far in life.”

IMG_2512 - WEBJason Gallaher gives his former self a real pep talk, exhorting him, “to not stress out so much about how things are going to turn out in life. Everything is going to be just fine, so sit back and enjoy the ride.

Right now, dear 12 year-old, you’re quirky, a bit gangly, and your suspicions about liking boys are correct. But don’t worry about that because everything turns out better than fine.Keep focusing on your dreams because they will come true. And I know you’re going to roll your eyes and say, “Everybody says that.” But I’m not just saying this like your teachers or guidance counselors say it. I’m saying it knowing this for a fact about you, about us.

Every dream you have comes true: You move to a big city, your quirky talents get appreciation from people in a legitimate industry (publishing, in case you’re wondering), you *finally* get past that horrible middle stage when you grow out your hair and find out what it feels like to have long locks (You’re robsessed with it. Also, when Robert Pattinson becomes a thing you’ll understand the term “robsessed”), and you find love.

So keep trucking along. Love yourself, which I know will be a struggle, but in times when you feel down, know that even now, nearly two decades later, I love you and wouldn’t have made it here if not for you.

Sadly, Jason didn’t provide a tweenage picture of himself, so I’ll just leave this here.

robert-pattinson-2

 

Oh, and this:

robert-pattinson

Only one more, I promise.

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Darcey Rosenblatt says, “I would tell myself there will come a time when you truly treasure all the things that make you weird and different than the normal kids – really – trust me.”

e.”DarceyHighResdarcey-at-12

Spoken like a true environmental planner/scuba diver/mother/artist/story farmer/hiker/conference founder/wife/costume-maker/ soon-to-be published author, Darcey. You put the actual in self-actualized!

EMU Elaine Vickers advises her young self to value friendships, saying, “There are great things ahead, 12-year-old Elaine! You will soon outgrow this hairstyle and this shirt. But the friends you make this year will stay with you. You’ll laugh and grow and travel together. One will sing at your wedding, another will help deliver your babies. And one day, they will take you out to dinner the night before your first book launches. Hang on to these friends.”

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Stay true to yourself. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Stand up for yourself and be kind. Love yourself. Treasure what makes you different. Hang on to good friends.

Good advice for FINDING PERFECT’S Molly and everyone else. Congratulations and thank you, Elly!!!

Enjoy the day,

Hayley

 

Curriculum Guide for FINDING PERFECT:

http://images.macmillan.com/folio-assets/teachers-guides/9780374303129TG.pdf

A Teacher’s Guide For FINDING PERFECT

images.macmillan.com

A Teacher’s Guide For FINDING PERFECT About the Book To twelve-year-old Molly Nathans, perfect is: • The number four • The tip of a newly sharpened No. 2 pencil

To purchase Finding Perfect:

http://amzn.com/0374303126

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780374303129

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/finding-perfect-elly-swartz/1122889663?ean=9780374303129


hayley-at-12Hayley's Author Photo

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. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Filed under Advice, Anxiety, Book Launch, Character Development, Characters, Inspiration, Launch, Panic, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

The Essential Glimmer of Hope

Middle grade readers are engulfed in emerging awareness of the world around them. They have a lot to learn, a lot to to try and understand. That’s plenty right there, but it’s not all that’s required of them. They have to learn about themselves too. Sometimes that process is straightforward, if painfully and memorably awkward.

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Sometimes it’s decidedly not straightforward. Peer conflicts and personal challenges loom large. Young people encounter problems that threaten to get out of hand and actually hurt them. They may not know how and when to seek help. Fear and shame stop them in their tracks.

The Scream

When this happens, they need an antidote to the poison of despair. They need hope. They have to have it.

This is where a deftly written, sensitive novel like Elly Swartz’s upcoming FINDING PERFECT (OCTOBER 2016) comes in. I just finished reading the ARC—the pre-publication Advanced Reader Copy—and emerged feeling both enlightened and heartened. This is a story that trusts readers with hard truths while encouraging them to turn away from despair and step toward hope.

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Twelve-year-old Molly, FINDING PERFECT’S main character, finds that her efforts to control life’s turmoil backfire. Habits that once brought comfort and security become traps that steal her peace. Her pain is very real, yet throughout her story, there is an essential glimmer of hope. Hope that she can and will find her peace again. That with courage and support, she’ll find her way—step by small step—out of a thorny tangle that once felt inescapable.

Hope doesn’t smooth over life’s snags and scars with a veneer of perfection. It shines light onto them, eliminating dark corners of doubt and fostering strength and growth.

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This is what a book like FINDING PERFECT can offer to the beleaguered and bewildered middle grade reader. A chance to experience a trial and emerge triumphant with a bit of hard-won hope of their very own.


Hayley's Author Photo

I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. I’m currently expecting two picture books, BABYMOON (Candlewick Press) and WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, spring 2019, (Simon&Schuster, Beach Lane Books) illustrated by Diana Sudyka.

Come hang out with me on Twitter @hayleybwrites, Facebook, or in the meadow: http://hayleybarrettwrites.wordpress.com.

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Filed under Anxiety, ARCs, Character Development, Characters, Uncategorized